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Pakistan Clerics Want Impartial Blasphemy Probe for Minor

  • VOA News

Local women walk past locked house of Christian girl in a suburb of Islamabad, Aug. 20, 2012.

Local women walk past locked house of Christian girl in a suburb of Islamabad, Aug. 20, 2012.

The lawyer for a Pakistani Christian girl accused of blasphemy says she is a minor and that her case will likely be heard in a juvenile court.
The girl, Rimsha Masih, was taken into custody earlier this month after angry neighbors surrounded her house in Islamabad and accused her of burning pages inscribed with verses from the Quran. Some say she was burning papers from the garbage for cooking. Blasphemy is punishable by death in Pakistan.
On Tuesday, her attorney, Tahir Naveed Chaudhry, said a medical board has determined that the girl is 14 years old, but mentally younger than that. He told reporters in Islamabad that as a minor, Masih can be tried in the juvenile justice system.
Chaudhry said a bail hearing has been scheduled for Thursday.
Also Tuesday, the head of Pakistan's leading group of Muslim clerics called for an impartial investigation into the girl's case.
Maulana Tahir Ashrafi, the chairman of the All Pakistan Ulema Council, told reporters that "if she is innocent or suffering from Down's Syndrome, then the people of the administration who arrested her and those elements who [helped to promote phony charges]" should be punished.
Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari has taken "serious note" of the girl's detention and called for a report on her arrest.
Human rights activists say the blasphemy law in Pakistan has been used to harass religious minorities and settle personal scores. Amnesty International last week called on the government to urgently reform its blasphemy laws and protect Masih and her family against possible intimidation or attack.
Last year, Pakistan's Minister of Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti, the only Christian member of the federal Cabinet, was gunned down in Islamabad. And Punjab province's governor, Salman Taseer, was killed by one of his bodyguards for opposing the controversial blasphemy law.
Christians are the largest non-Muslim religious minority in Pakistan, making up about 5 percent of the population.
The United States has called Masih's case "deeply disturbing" and urged Pakistan's government to protect not just its religious minority citizens, but also women and girls.

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