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On Wednesday, August 29, 2012, there appeared to be a good chance that Rimsha Masih, the young Pakistani Christian girl falsely accused of blasphemy against Islam and arrested on August 17, 2012, would soon be cleared of those charges. Rimsha’s attorney, Tahir Naveed Chaudry, was confident that the little girl’s case would be transferred from the local court in Pakistan’s federal capital of Islamabad to the more lenient juvenile court. But after the hearing on Thursday, August 30, Naveed expressed deep concern that threats against the court made by Islamists would result in the judge yielding to mob rule.
This precarious condition demonstrates that even when an individual defendant is cleared of such charges, it is only one more Band-Aid on the festering open sores that are Pakistan’s anti-blasphemy laws. Just the existence of these laws, included in Pakistan’s Penal Code, squashes free speech and religious freedom and ensures a life of misery and persecution for Christians and other religious minorities. The government of Pakistan needs to deal with those who make the initial accusations, the religious clerics and others who foment riots, and the resulting mobs that carry out the violence.
Being cleared would not mean that Rimsha would be welcomed back into the bosom of the Muslims in her village of Maherabad in Islamabad. Compass Direct News Service on August 30 quoted Naveed, who said that “as with every blasphemy accused, Rimsha and her family won’t be able to return to their home as it may put their lives at risk.” For that matter, defending the little Christian girl, who is believed to have Down syndrome, may put the life of lawyer Naveed, an assemblyman from Punjab Province, at risk, as well. And as Naveed revealed, neither is the judge safe from the Islamist mob.
From the moment the accusation of burning pages of the Noorani Qaida, a booklet used to learn the basics of the Koran, was made against Rimsha, the mob mentality kicked in. According to Barnabas Fund, “the alleged incident was broadcast over the loudspeakers of the mosques in the area.” Barnabas Fund reported that enraged Muslims severely beat the little girl and members of her family, and torched the houses of two Christian families.
Most of the Christians in the area had to flee their homes and hide in the woods, since what passed for Friday prayers at the mosques was a pep talk against Christians by the imams. It ended with Muslims taking an oath to drive the Christians out of the area. Barnabas Fund reveals that Muslim shopkeepers vowed not to sell food and other essentials to Christians and that Muslim landlords would end tenancy agreements with them.
Rimsha was arrested under Section 295-B of Pakistan’s Penal Code which stipulates that desecration of the Koran must be punished with life in prison. She is in a maximum-security jail. It is no surprise that she is reported to be extremely traumatized by what she has been through. In spite of the trauma, though, Rimsha and her family are safer under protective custody. The imam of the local mosque called for her to be handed over to the mob and publicly burned. As unbelievable as that sounds, consider that just the month before, on July 4, such a mob dragged out of police custody a mentally-deficient Muslim man accused of blasphemy and burned him alive.
Attorney Naveed has been courageous to take the case to defend Rimsha. Attorneys before him who have defended Christians accused of blasphemy have been assassinated. He has also been courageous in his persistence in demonstrating both the falseness and irrationality of the charges. According to the Compass Direct report, Naveed “hinted that the blasphemy accusations against Rimsha may have been motivated partly by overtures toward her older sister being rebuffed.”
This would not be unusual. Christians and Muslims alike have been accused of blasphemy over land or other property disputes, business matters, and any kind of personal grudges. Christians in particular have been targeted for refusing attempts to force them to renounce their faith and convert to Islam, for protesting against the rape of their daughters (or sons), or for having the temerity of wanting to eat ice cream out of the same bowls used by Muslims.
In Rimsha’s case, the complaint against her was registered by a man named Malik Ammad, the son-in-law of the Masih family’s landlord. Naveed informed Compass Direct that Rimsha’s family told him that the man “had made several attempts to ‘befriend’ Rimsha’s older sister but had been unsuccessful.” This is just one more hardship of Christians in Pakistan. Christian girls are routinely abducted, raped, and forced to convert to Islam. In addition, Christian girls, particularly the daughters of pastors, are considered by Islamists to be trophies of jihad.
Hearteningly, many prominent Muslim groups, including the country’s leading body of Muslim clerics, have joined in the call for Rimsha’s release and for prosecution against those who falsely accused her. Allama Tahir Ashrafi, the chairman of the All Pakistan Ulema Council (APUC), condemned the mobs that regularly accuse people of blasphemy. He said it was it was like the “law of the jungle”, and called for the government to “make this case an example so that nobody will dare misuse the blasphemy law in future.” The Muslim groups have also spoken up for the other Christians who were forced to flee, asking the government to protect them and saying, “This is inhuman that those who have nothing to do with the case or are not a party to it are also being harassed.”
Attorney Naveed worked masterfully to overturn the blasphemy case. The case against Rimsha is based on “willful desecration of the Koran,” but the girl is both “too young and too mentally incapable” of intentional desecration, he said. A medical board supported Naveed’s claim that Rimsha was both a minor and “that her mental age is not compatible with her physical age.” But just as it seemed that her case would probably be transferred to a juvenile court, and that rational thinking would overrule the irrationality of the mob, Compass Direct reported that the prosecutor in the case made veiled hints that there would be violence if Rimsha was freed.
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