Mentally impaired child arrested under Pakistan’s anti-blasphemy law

Islamabad, Pakistan, Aug 21, 2012 / 03:59 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A young girl who suffers from Down's Syndrome has been arrested in Pakistan for allegedly burning a page from the Quran and could face the death penalty.

Police confirmed that they arrested a young girl named Rimsha on Aug. 16 at the urging of neighbors who claim they saw her burning pages of the book outside her home, according to Vatican Radio.

Some reports describe the girl from Islamabad as a teenager, while others say she could be as young as 11 years old.

A police officer said that had they not reacted quickly, the girl could have been seriously harmed by the hundreds of angry neighbors outside her home.

The alleged offense has sparked religious tension resulting in the flight of many Christians from the area.

Parvez Iqbal, President of the Holland Chapter of the Pakistan Christian Congress has condemned the arrest and called for the Rimsha's release.

In a Jan. 2011 interview with CNA, then-Archbishop of Lahore Lawrence Saladanha said that Pakistanis “face a dark future, if the radicals take over power and impose their brand of the Islamic way of life.”

“It is time for the 'silent majority' to wake up and take action. Otherwise, they will be pushed back into the dark shadows of medieval times,” he said.

According to the anti-blasphemy laws of Pakistan, anyone found guilty of defaming the Prophet Muhammad or the Quran can be punished by death.

“The illiterate people are under the influence of the narrow, literalist interpretation of ultra-conservative Islam,” Archbishop Saladanha said.

Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari has reportedly taken “serious note” of the arrest of Rimsha and has called on the Interior Ministry to look into the case.

President Zardari and his administration have come under criticism for failing to reform the rule despite some high profile applications of the law in recent years.

In 2010, Asia Bibi, a 45-year-old Christian mother of four, was sentenced to death by hanging after being convicted of blasphemy against Muhammad.

Bibi has said that she is being persecuted for defending her faith to Muslim co-workers who said Christianity was a “false religion.”

Pope Benedict XVI called for her release during a Nov. 17, 2010 general audience, saying that she should be granted “complete freedom … as soon as possible.” But Bibi remains in prison.

On March 2, 2011 Pakistani Cabinet Minister Shabaz Bhatti was assassinated for speaking out against the anti-blasphemy law, which he said was consistently used to harass and intimidate religious minorities.

 

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