A violent mob spent hours blocking a main highway into the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, demanding the death penalty for a mentally disabled child, according to a Pakistani human rights activist.
Shalom Bashara told WND the child, Rimsha Masih, was accused of burning and destroying pages of Arabic-language religious material. There have been conflicting reports of her age. Some media have said she’s 11, others 14, and a police official said she is 16.
She’s now in jail in Rawalpindi after her arrest Aug. 16.
Masih is accused of blasphemy because, Barnabas Aid reports, a neighbor claims he saw the girl burn the pages, put them in a bag and take them to the trash.
Barnabas Aid said the pages apparently were from the “Noorani Qaida,” a booklet used to learn the basics of the Quran.
That put the Muslims in a violent rage.
“The mob encompassed the Christians’ houses and demanded a ‘blasphemer’ to be hanged. The angry mob abused Rimsha and her parents and the Christians of the locality,” Basharat said.
“They blocked the main Kashmir Highway for hours and chanted slogans against Rimsha and the Christians. The mob demanded the death penalty for the blasphemer and was planning to attack the Christians’ houses; however the situation was controlled by the police,” Basharat said.
Police were called to the scene, and Rimsha and her mother were arrested and taken to the police station. The young girl has been charged with blasphemy under Section 295-B of the Pakistani penal code.
Masih has spent five nights in jail, reports said.
Said one, “The alleged incident was broadcast over the loudspeakers of the mosques in the area, stirring up local Muslims; they chanted slogans against Rimsha and severely beat the girl, members of her family and other local Christians. The mob also torched the homes of two Christian families in the area.”
Polly Truscott of Amnesty international said this is the type of treatment religious minorities can face in nations that suspend the rule of law.
The organization is also calling on the government of Pakistan to protect the child and her mother.
As a result of the arrest and the riots, more than 800 Christians in the Mehrabadi neighborhood on the outskirts of Islamabad, where Masih’s family lives, have had to leave their homes.
A source in Pakistan, who asked not to be named for security reasons, told WND the Christians had to flee for safety.
“Hundreds of Christian families reportedly left their houses unlocked soon after the incident and shifted their beloveds to nearest areas,” according to the source. “The mob attacked the Christians’ houses and damaged the main gates, doors and windows.”
He added not everyone was able to find shelter right away.
“Some of the Christians spent that night on the footpaths and the next day in the parks without food and water,” the source said.
He said local churches were able to help some of the families.
“However later the church leadership and political representatives including Fr. John William, the diocesan director of Justice and Peace Commission, Fr. Rehmat Hakim, the parish priest, Mr. Paul Bhatti, adviser to prime minister for national harmony and chairperson All Pakistan Minorities Alliance, played a vital role and provided shelter and food to the displaced Christian families,” he said.
International Christian Concern’s Pakistan analyst, Aidan Clay, said President Zardari’s assurance of an investigation into the matter is inadequate as long as Pakistan keeps its draconian blasphemy law.
“Pakistan’s blasphemy laws continue to crush religious freedom by emboldening Muslims to commit violent acts against Christians under the protection of Pakistan’s penal codes.
He pointed out that more than 46 people charged for blasphemy between 1986 and 2011 were killed by mob violence while awaiting trial or after having been acquitted.
“Whether a Christian is officially convicted in a Pakistani court or merely accused of blasphemy by a neighbor, the offense may still merit the death sentence in one form or another,” Clay said.
For that reason, he said, his group “takes little assurance in the promise by Pakistan’s president that Rimsha’s case will be investigated.”
“Even if Rimsha is acquitted, what home will she return to?” Clay asked.
He said she would be killed if she’s killed if found on the streets of Islamabad.
“Justice will only be carried out when the hundreds of Muslims who went after Rimsha and attacked Christian homes in Islamabad are arrested and prosecuted,” Clay said.
“Pakistan’s Christians will never be secure until strong action is taken and the precedent is set that anti-Christian violence, under any circumstances, will not be tolerated,” he added.
Clay is asking for action from Zardari.
“We call on President Asif Ali Zardari to arrest those responsible, to guarantee the safety of Rimsha and her family, and to repeal Pakistan’s oppressive blasphemy laws,” he said.