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Pak: Furore over minor Christian girl held for blasphemy

August 25, 2012 17:10 IST
A minor Christian girl arrested on a blasphemy charge in Islamabad continues to be held in a high-security jail despite her case being taken up by Pakistan's ruling Pakistan People's Party.

Hundreds of Christian families fled Mohalla Badyal in the low-income Mehria Jaffar area on the outskirts of Islamabad following Rimsha Masih's arrest on August 16 after she was accused by Muslims of burning pages of the Quran. A mob beat up Rimsha and other members of her family before she was detained by the police.

"Rimsha is still in Adiala Jail and her family is in hiding somewhere in Islamabad," Xavier P William, president of the NGO Life for All, told PTI.

"We are expecting a breakthrough as an application seeking bail for the girl has been filed," said William, who is among the activists working for Rimsha's release.

There has also been confusion about Rimsha's age.

Though initial reports said she was 11 years old, the girl's family -- which is very poor and has no birth certificate for Rimsha -- claims she is 14 or 15 years old.

Rights groups have expressed concern at the girl being detained at the high-security Adiala Jail in Rawalpindi. Terrorists like Lashkar-e-Tayiba commander Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, charged with involvement in the Mumbai attacks, are being held at the same prison.

Though PPP leaders had said steps would be taken to move the girl out of the jail, she continues to be in detention. Civil society groups have also expressed concern at the girl being arrested despite reports of her suffering from Down Syndrome.

Though the police claimed she did not have mental disabilities, William said Rimsha appeared to have some form of problem. "She is very slow in communicating, which shows she has some problem," he said.

"A medical test was conducted on Rimsha to ascertain her mental status and a report is expected soon," said William, who has met Rimsha in prison.

He said she had been assaulted by local residents before she was arrested.

An estimated 600 families moved out of Mehria Jaffar area due to tensions following Rimsha's arrest, civil society groups said. "If you go to the area, things appear normal now. But there is still some aggression among the residents, who say that they won't allow Rimsha's family to return," William said.

Christian groups have called for an FIR to be registered against the local cleric who had demanded that police should hand over Rimsha to local residents so that she could be burnt.

However, the cleric -- Hafiz Khalid Chishti -- has claimed he handed over the girl to police to protect her from mob violence.

Chishti further claimed the girl was fully aware of what she was doing and described her actions as a "conspiracy and not a mistake".

Meanwhile, Malik Ammad, the man who filed a complaint against Rimsha to the police, has gone into hiding and cannot be traced.

A large number of residents of Mohalla Badyal, mainly belonging to the Malik clan, are opposing the local clergy in support of Christians, the Dawn newspaper reported.

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