An illiterate Pakistani girl with learning difficulties has been imprisoned for supposedly burning pages from the Qur’an. The witness who instigated charges against her has been accused of falsifying evidence in a case highlighting the persecution of religious minorities in Pakistan.
On the 18th of August, Rimsha Masih went outside her house in the suburb of Mehrabadi (Islamabad) to find some paper she could use to light her stove. A man watched as she did it.
This neighbour then went to the authorities and accused her of blasphemy, saying that she had taken pages of the Qur’an and set fire to them. He claims he found her carrying a bag containing ashes and pages of the holy Muslim book. This act, under the tough and controversial laws of the country, can be punished with the death penalty.
Rimsha is under 14 years old and suffers from mental illness. In spite of this, after the neighbour’s accusation, a mob of vigilantes threatened to burn the child alive, according to her mother, Misrek Masih. In the tumult, due to pressure from extremists, city police detained the young girl. Since then, she has been in an adult prison in Adiala, Rawalpindi, close to Islamabad, accused of the premeditated desecration of a sacred text, in spite of the fact that no one saw her burning the pages.
Her family have since been begging for her life, claiming their daughter was not in control of her actions, according to her lawyer Tahir Naveed Choudhry.
The police have now confirmed that the girl is illiterate. According to Rimsha’s statement made at the police station she was not aware that the pages of the Noorani Qaida, a book for learning the Qu’ran, were amongst the papers she is said to have burned.
Suspicions of religious persecution
Given the circumstances of her imprisonment and the case being brought against the young girl, sectors of the country’s population claim she has been persecuted due to her and her family’s Christian beliefs. Critics of the controversial blasphemy law claim that it is used to persecute religious minorities.
A Muslim man was detained last weekend accused of falsifying evidence in the case against the girl. According to a report by television company Geo, it has been suggested, in the light of other witness testimonies, that a representative of the Islamic religious authorities added pages of the Qur’an to those that had been burned by Rishma.
After hearing about the case, the president of the country, Asif Ali Zardari, made a statement calling for the protection of vulnerable sectors of Pakistani society against such misuses of the law.
It is estimated that upon hearing about Rimsha’s case 600 Christian families in the region have fled from their homes to safer zones, after groups threatened to burn down Rishma’s house. The girl’s family have also fled from their home.
Fears for the minor’s life
Pakistani authorities have confirmed that Rimsha suffers from learning difficulties and that she is under 14, going against the mass of accusers and police, who state that she was in full control of her mental capacity and that she is over 16 years old.
Although this could see Rimsha released from prison, she will not be safe from possible attacks from Islamic fundamentalists who, on other occasions, have killed those facing similar accusations after they have been declared innocent and freed from prison.
In a similar case in July, a man was accused of blasphemy. The victim was burned alive by an Islamic mob carrying out their own form of justice. Many sources who know of the reality in Pakistan have therefore said the only way to safeguard the girl is for her to leave the country.
Members of the public, in Pakistan and internationally, have come together to make a stand for Rimsha, whose case will be judged by the High Court in Islamabad in the coming days, seeing it as yet another example of the injustices committed against citizens under blasphemy laws in Pakistan.
To sign a petition to the president of the country, Asif Ali Zardari, pleading for the liberation of this young girl visit: http://www.avaaz.org/es/pakistan_save_my_daughter/?fp.
(Translated by Claudia Rennie – Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)