The blasphemy law in Pakistan has been the focus of a heated debate yet again, after a 14 year old girl was accused of burning pages of Noorani Qaida, a lesson for Quran. Rimsha Masih, was arrested on August 17, 2012, after an angry mob of over a hundred brought her to the local police station. The news was first reported by the website Christian in Pakistan, which routinely published news regarding persecution of the christian community in Pakistan. As the news broke several people used twitter to verify the news and reach out to authorities to take action [see Global Voices report]. Mainstream media coverages followed and online petitions have been filed since.
But activism aside, there have been a quite few conflicting reports about the case. The most significant one being a picture of a girl, that has become the face of the #SaveRimsha campaign.
The issue of her name and picture
When the news first broke several mainstream media outlets referred to her as “Rifta’ instead of “Rimsha’ the name initially reported by the website Christian in Pakistan. Popular media outlets like Dawn, Express, the Guardian and even human rights group Amnesty International referred to her as Rifta in their official press release demanding her release and the repeal of the blasphemy laws. Meanwhile, another case, of an 11 -year old Christian boy burnt to death was also reported, while it remained unclear whether this was a hate crime based on religion, a few readers reacted to the mainstream media's error in reporting facts:
The last report using the name Rifta was perhaps the 23rd of August. It is also interesting to note that news outlets have since corrected the name to Rimsha, but there has been no acknowledgement of the factual error in reporting; a standard rule in reporting. As numerous petitions and calls for protests appeared, many of them used picture of a little girl as Rimsha's picture.
Having seen the picture of the girl being used for several campaigns in the past, I decided to do trace the picture source in order to discourage people from using the picture for Rimsha. Google Images drag and drop feature was really handy to determine the source of the image, first published in April 2006 the image is of a girl in a temporary school camp in Balakot, Kashmir, taken after the 2005 earthquake (by Maciej Dakowicz).
The image of the girl has also been used by reporters and websites without verification. The Examiner.com, Huffington Post and France 24 carried the picture, but Huffington post later removed the picture.
Naeem Shamim @naeemshamim: Even marxist poets like #Faiz remained silent when State & Mullahs were persecuting #Ahmadis ! (August 27,2012)
A video from protests in London, shows people carrying placards with the girl's picture:
Radio France International used the picture while interviewing author Irshad Manji over the issue
@sanasaleem the author of a HuffPo article mentioned to one of my team that the pic he/she used was “some random girl”. Disappointing.
Despite the picture being used by multiple news sources, only one advocacy group – Citizens For Democracy issued a clarification and an apology to discourage the use of the image:
CFD apologises for using a misleading photo with the visual earlier posted on this blog regarding the demonstration in Karachi on Aug 25. We realise that there is a need to be more thoughtful with the visuals we use with our campaigns. Please read the note below, sent to the petition owners of the Free Rimsha campaign, from a health professional in Lahore: “The photo being used with the Rimsha Masih campaign is fake and misleading. As a member of the healthcare professionals community, I can assure you the child in the photo clearly lacks any of the characteristic facial features of Down’s Syndrome [..] It is unfortunate that this photogenic-but-normal child’s picture has also been snapped up to make press club banners and illustrate other articles without appropriate verification, almost unchanged and with the incorrect labeling still intact…”
Unless mainstream media outlets recognize the error on their part it will become increasingly difficult to limit the use of the picture. Given the risks involved in cases of blasphemy, publishing a misleading picture and identity can put many people in danger.