Pakistan: 11-Year-Old Christian Girl Detained for Blasphemy

An 11-year old Christian girl, Rimsha Masih has been accused of blasphemy and has been remanded for 14 days to a juvenile prison in the twin city of the Pakistan capital, Rawalpindi. There are conflicting reports on whether she has Downs Syndrome or not.

Rimsha is accused of burning pages of Noorani Qaida, an Arabic learning lesson for beginners, and putting them in a plastic bag. The incident happened on August 16, 2012 in the slum Meherabadi in G-12, Islamabad where she lives with her family. A local police station filed a First Information Report (FIR) after a neighbor made a formal complaint against her.

The blasphemy offence comes under Article 295-B of the Pakistan Penal Code and the offender can get life imprisonment or a death sentence. The news was taken up by a website ‘Christians in Pakistan’ on August 18.

The report became big news on Pakistan's mainstream media five days later on August 22. Prior to her arrest some locals of the area blocked a main highway in the capital. The mob apparently wanted to do the justice themselves. Last month a mob burnt a mentally unstable man in Bahwalpur; the man was also accused of blasphemy.

Pakistan's Minister for National Harmony, Dr. Paul Bhatti, said in an interview to BBC world service that 600 Christians have fled their homes in Islamabad after the 11-year old was arrested for blasphemy. The Christians are afraid and are hiding; the memories of 2009 Gojra attack are still fresh in their minds when a Muslim mob burnt houses of Christians and police didn’t come to help them. According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, the Gojra riots were pre-planned and the local administration was involved.

Anthony Permal a Pakistani Christian based in the UAE brought tweeter users attention to this story:

‏@anthonypermal: Confirmed- Police in #Pakistan have arrested an 11 year old Christian girl suffering from Downs Syndrome for blasphemy.

Soon an online petition was circulated for asylum of Rimsha:

@MohsinSayeed (Mohsin Sayeed): Raise your voice to save lives of Rifta&her family. Escape to a secular country is the only option. They will kill her: …

The online petition requests the secular western countries to provide asylum of Rimsha’s family:

Pakistanis of good conscious are signing this petition because the State of Pakistan even failed to protect their own Governor who spoke out against the draconian blasphemy law, where mere accusation of blasphemy will ensure Jail and perhaps worse for the accused.

There is another petition that is calling on Pakistan’s Minister of Human Rights and the government to protect and release Rimsha Masih.

Meanwhile, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari called on officials to explain the situation to him. The Pakistani Ambassador to the USA tweets:

@sherryrehman: Pres Zardari has taken serious note of reports of the arrest of a minor Christian girl on the charges of blasphemy & called for a report.

Amnesty International urges Pakistan to reform Blasphemy laws:

‏@amnesty (Amnesty International): #Pakistan must ensure safety of Christian girl arrested for ‘blasphemy’ whose life is at risk

France’s foreign ministry has called the Pakistani authorities to free the young girl. Irshad Manji, Muslim Feminist and author of ‘Allah, Liberty and Love’ condemned Pakistan’s blasphemy law.

‏@IrshadManji: My @RFI_English interview about #Pakistan's blasphemy law, which has led 2 jailing of #Christian girl named #Rimsha:

The situation is condemned by Pakistani Human Rights campaigners and activists and few politicians on twitter.

‏@Ali_Abbas_Zaidi (Syed Ali Abbas Zaidi): The most tragic short story to have been written about misuse of #blasphemy law in Pakistan: “She was just 11 years old.”

@MaheenAkhtar (Maheen Akhtar): Where the hell is suo motto of Cheif Justice Pakistan, is he sleeping…..Oh wait is this “Blasphemy”

‏@beenasarwar (Beena Sarwar): The important issue in accusations of ‘blasphemy’ is that of intent, niyat, of the accused. That's something the accusers ignore. #Pakistan

Ruling Pakistan Peoples Party and Pakistan Tehreek Insaaf condemned the incident. Leader of PTI Imran Khan tweets.

@ImranKhanPTI: Shameful! Sending an 11yr old girl to prison is against the very spirit of Islam which is all about being Just and Compassionate.1/2

@SundasHoorain: @CMShehbaz Still waiting for action & condemnation from PML-N on an 11yr old getting accused of blasphemy, beaten & arrested #FreeRimsha

All other political parties are afraid of talking about this issue. It is considered sensitive. However no one from Pakistan demands to repeal this law.

@anthonypermal: We can't repeal blasphemy law. A) mobs would go on vigilante sprees with no qualms & b) cops couldn't stop open shia killing, how this?

In 2010, Ambassador Sherry Rehman filed the ‘Amendments to the Blasphemy Laws Act 2010′ in the National Assembly as a member of the parliament. On December 20, 2010, the Council of Islamic Ideology also announced proposed amendments to the law to prevent its misuse. But religious parties in the house -Jamat-i- Islami, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Pakistan, and Sunni Tehreek and others threatened a mass protest. Sherry Rehman later received death threats and was confined to her house.

In January 2011, the Governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer a vocal critic of Pakistan's blasphemy laws, was publicly gunned down by his own guard, Mumtaz Qadri for his beliefs. Incidentally Qadri is also in Adiala jail where Rimsha has been sent. When Qadri was on his way to trial, his supporters showered him with rose petals.

The Sunni Tehreek party rally in favor of Mumtaz Qadri, the killer of Salman Taseer, and they demand his release in Hyderabad, Pakistan. Image by Rajput Yasir. Copyright Demotix (09/01/2011)

The Sunni Tehreek party rally in favor of Mumtaz Qadri, the killer of Salman Taseer, and they demand his release in Hyderabad, Pakistan. Image by Rajput Yasir. Copyright Demotix (09/01/2011)

Malik Siraj Akbar in his blog for Huffington Post says that discriminatory laws deepens religious intolerance in Pakistani society:

Despite such frequent unpleasant events, Pakistan has made almost no progress in reforming its deeply flawed and discriminatory law involving blasphemy. Such laws, on the one hand, discriminate against religious minorities and, on the other hand, further deepen religious intolerance and fanaticism in Pakistani society. They provide the murderers a license to kill people and easily get away with such heinous crimes in the name of religion.

Mehdi Hasan in his blog writes:

Personally, I've never quite understood why so many of my co-religionists are so keen to kill or maim those who ‘insult’ Islam, Prophet Muhammad or the Quran. What is behind such rage and, dare I add, insecurity? Is their God so weak, so sensitive, so precious, that He cannot withstand any rejection?


  • Taswar

    Dear Q. Zaman,

    I personally visit the area,
    (Mehra Abad) this is an unplanned, un-authorized locality in suburbs of
    Islamabad. The land was previously used as agricultural land and later on the
    landlords (Maliks-A Cast) constructed small homes and rent it over to low
    income communities (mostly Christians). With the passage of time this locality
    become shanty town of thousands of houses with no roads, no portable water,
    poor electric system and worst law and order situation. This is unique locality
    of Christians where they are living along with Muslim community otherwise
    generally Christian community are separately build

    According to Christian community
    on the day of incident suddenly a boy told people that this girl did blasphemy
    act inside her home and call in all people living around. People gathered and
    took hold of the poor family and within hours situation become worst. Almost
    450 families left their houses and vacant the area. Houses were found locked
    and local people told that many people faced thefts in their houses. (a Man told
    that all of dowry of her sister stolen by some unknown people). People also
    told that there was boy who had relations with girl of that house and after
    getting failed to get her he made plan to fix blasphemy on the family

    According to Muslims, the
    incident is 100% true and mother and girl both accept it and asking for pardon
    when police capture them.

    The biggest issue is not that
    either blasphemy act was true or not, but real dilemma is that 450 Families
    left their houses and now living in threat somewhere in the City. More than
    2500 School going children lost their schools which are going to open on 31
    after summer vacations

    While talking to Christian
    Fathers and religious leaders, they told that they are owning the families and
    trying to arrange food and daily needs. They refuse to take any kind of help
    (tents cash etc) but they are asking for permanent solutions by providing them
    living anywhere in the city

    Tasawar Waris,

    Researcher, Coordinator,
    Associate Producer

    Dunya News

    For more details

  • Roger

    If a state cannot protect its weak and marginalized citizens, it is at best a decaying state. How Pakistan and Pakistanis treat this girl with downs syndrome would pretty much define them as barbaric.

  • Hannie Lutke Schipholt

    Who has a mental problem here? I have nothing against Islam. This doesn’t even have anything to do with Islam, except in the minds of these immature people. We should all pray for their souls (in whatever way we prefer). Where is compassion in their way of thinking? Or is compassion only for the ones who think the way they do themselves? That’s too easy, if you take any religion seriously.

  • Ishfaq, Dhaka, Bangladesh

    Pakistan today truly represents an end state of an Islamic state – cruel, brutish, putrid, pitiless and virulemtly infested.

  • […] used twitter to find means to verify the news and reach out to the authorities to take action [see Global Voices report]. Mainstream media coverages followed and online petitions have been filed since. […]

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