Despite lack of evidence, Rimsha Masih faces 14 days in police custody
by Tiffany Owen, World On Campus International News
People gathered outside the locked house of a Christian girl in suburbs of Islamabad, Pakistan on Monday, Aug. 20, 2012. (AP Photo/B.K. Bangash)
Pakistani police officials detained a Christian girl in Islamabad on Thursday after a mob claimed she broke blasphemy laws by burning a Quran.
According to a police officer on the scene, hundreds of angry Muslims gathered outside Rimsha Masih’s home demanding police action. When officers brought her to the police station, Masih had a shopping bag that contained various religious and Arabic-language papers that had been partly burned. But the bag did not contain a Quran.
Almost everyone in Masih’s neighborhood insisted she had burned the Quran, but police said they had found no evidence of it. Police are holding the girl for 14 days while authorities investigate the allegations.
Reports differ on Masih’s age. Some accounts say she is only 11, while others list her as 16. Comments from Pakistan’s Human Rights Commission, which has condemned the mob’s behavior, indicate she may be mentally handicapped.
“The fact that the girl is a juvenile and suffers from Down syndrome only makes the charge more preposterous and barbaric,” the Commission said in a statement. “It is also extremely disturbing to note that the police allowed a mob to surround the police station and demand that she be handed over.”
Under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, anyone found guilty of insulting Islam’s Prophet Muhammad or defiling the Quran can face life in prison, or even execution.
The blasphemy laws have been an ongoing source of controversy although those convicted are rarely executed. Rising extremism in the country often means religious minorities live in fear of persecution and false accusations of blasphemy. Those convicted of blasphemy can spend years in prison and often face mob justice provoked by extremists when they are released.
Angry mobs have been known to beat or kill people accused of violating blasphemy laws. In July, thousands of people dragged a man accused of desecrating the Quran from a police station in the central city of Bahawalpur, beat him to death and then set his body on fire.
Attempts to revoke or alter the blasphemy laws have been met with violent opposition. Last year, two prominent political figures who spoke out against the laws were killed in attacks that further raised concerns about the rise of religious extremism in the country.
Christians in the neighborhood were reluctant to talk. Paul Bhatti, Pakistan’s minister for national harmony, said hundreds have fled the area and others face eviction.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.