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Entries in Blasphemy (2)

Sunday
Sep092012

Pakistani Christian Girl Accused of Blasphemy Released on Bail

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- Her nightmare is finally over.

After three weeks behind bars, Rimsha Masih, a mentally challenged Christian girl whose imprisonment drew condemnation from religious rights groups around the world, was released Saturday.

The young girl was whisked away, along with her mother, from an Islamabad jail, a day after a judge granted her bail. She was taken to an armored vehicle, and then transferred to a helicopter, which flew her to an undisclosed location.

The case has sparked a firestorm of controversy. Opponents argue the country's blasphemy laws are used as a weapon to persecute the country's religious minorities. Supporters of the law say it serves to safeguard the sanctity of their religion.

Masih was arrested on Aug. 16 after local Muslims in her neighborhood found her carrying burned pages with Arabic writing in a plastic bag. Though it's unclear whether the pages were of the Quran -- Islam's holy book -- or even where the bag came from, the neighborhood erupted in fury.

Pakistan, like many Muslim countries, considers any desecration of the Quran a criminal offense, punishable by life in prison or death.

The angry mob surrounded her tiny, one-bedroom home in a mixed Muslim-Christian neighborhood on the outskirts of Islamabad, demanding she be arrested. When the mob grew violent, police moved in and placed the girl under arrest. Fearing a backlash, several Christian families in the area fled their homes.

Last week, the case took a bizarre twist when the imam of the local mosque in her neighborhood, Khalid Jadoon, was arrested himself, accused of framing the young girl by planting the evidence in her bag.

Speaking exclusively to ABC News the day before he was arrested, Jadoon insisted the girl is guilty.

"She confessed," he said. "That's why we took her to the police station.

When asked why he, as a religious leader, didn't intervene to calm the raging mob that had surrounded her home, Jadoon was unrepentant.

"Why should I have stopped them?" he said. "It's a matter of my religion. If there's a threat to Islam, if our government doesn't stand up to that person, then the people will. I'll be the first of them."

Now, in a twist of fate, Jadoon is locked up in a Pakistani jail, charged with blasphemy, facing the same uncertain fate as Masih did.

In the girl's neighborhood, most Christian families have returned and are celebrating her release.

"When the case started, we thought all Christians in the entire country would suffer," Yusuf Masih, a Christian villager says. "We're happy about the verdict."

Rimsha's case has drawn an unusual amount of support in the conservative country, including calls from the country's top Muslim clerics that she be released.

Many Muslims in her village hope her release will allow the community to move on.

"The issue became too emotional" said Abdul Khaliq, a Muslim village elder. "Whether we're satisfied or not, this was a decision of a competent authority."

Now that she's been granted bail, Rimsha's lawyers hope the judge will dismiss the charges entirely -- a move that would defuse tensions in one of Pakistan's most volatile cases, one that pits Pakistan's moderates against its extremists.

As for Rimsha herself, the only indication she ever lived in her impoverished neighborhood is the padlock on her family's tiny home.

Neighbors say they don't expect her to return.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Monday
Aug202012

Girl, 11, Could Face Death in Pakistan for 'Blasphemy'

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(ISLAMABAD) -- To some, she's an innocent victim, an apparently mentally challenged Christian girl swept up by a rising tide of irrational Islamic extremism. To others, she's God's enemy, guilty of a crime so vile the only suitable punishment is death.

On Monday, Pakistani police arrested the girl, known only by her first name, Ramsha, after accusations that she burned pages of the Koran, Islam's holy book. In Pakistan, it is a crime to utter derogatory statements or insult the Prophet Muhammad or the Koran in any way. Blasphemy convictions carry an automatic death sentence.

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The accusations, made by the girl's neighbors in a mixed Christian-Muslim neighborhood, sent area Muslims into a fury, with some police reports suggesting an angry mob of hundreds of men descended on her home, demanding authorities arrest her and charge her with blasphemy.

They then allegedly went on a rampage, attacking the girl's family and setting Christian houses on fire. The girl's parents are now in protective custody and, according to reports, several Christian families have left the neighborhood, an impoverished district in the country's capital, Islamabad.

Police officials put the girl in jail for 14 days, but suggested the charges might be dropped for a lack of evidence. When she was brought to jail, she reportedly had a shopping bag filled with religious and Arabic-language papers, but it was unclear whether the papers were pages of the Koran.

Some have said the girl is mentally challenged and suffers from Down's syndrome.

The case is drawing worldwide condemnation, including from senior officials in the United States, a key military and political ally that gives billions in annual aid to Pakistan.

On Monday, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland referred to the case as "deeply disturbing."

"We urge the government of Pakistan to protect not just its religious minority citizens, but also women and girls," she said.

Critics say Pakistan's blasphemy laws are often misused and applied vindictively, often as a way to target minorities.

"It has been exploited by individuals to settle personal scores, to grab land, to violate the rights of non-Muslims, to basically harass them," said the head of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Zora Yusuf.

Pakistan's blasphemy laws have met with controversy in the past. Last year, a prominent Pakistani politician who advocated reforming the law was gunned down and killed by his own bodyguard while leaving an upscale Islamabad cafe frequented by westerners.

Pakistan's president, Asif Ali Zardari, has ordered an investigation into Monday's incident.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio







ABC News Radio