As most of the western world remains in shock over the news in Pakistan that an 11-year-old Christian girl believed to have Down syndrome was imprisoned over the nation's strict blasphemy laws, the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD) has praised the World Council of Churches (WCC)'s decision to hold an urgent international conference on the issue.
"At the best of times, the situation for most of Pakistan's Christians is deplorable. They live in extreme poverty and degradation, limited to the lowest of job and educational opportunity. But there is hardly ever a best of times. They always live under the Damocles sword of this abominable Blasphemy Law, never knowing when they could be accused, or what ridiculous issue will cause mobs to form," said IRD Religious Liberty Program Director Faith J.H. McDonnell in a statement.
Rimsha Masih, the young Pakistani girl, was put in jail for allegedly burning pages from a book containing Islamic scripture, although reports varied on whether the girl herself burned the pages, and whether she actually has a mental disability. She was also apparently attacked by the villagers in her community in mob-induced incident, but the vagueness of the details has not stopped the larger part of the international community to react with deep concern about the case.
"It is inconceivable that human beings could treat a little girl, let alone one with Down syndrome, in such a brutal manner. The mob was intent on killing Rimsha and other Christians in the community, unless she was turned over to the authorities and put in prison," McDonnell continued. She added that she hopes that Pakistani Muslims, who make up 95 percent of the South Asian country, will stand up against this injustice and make sure that Rimsha is protected rather than persecuted.
The World Council of Churches in the meantime has scheduled the international conference for September in Geneva, Switzerland. There, they hope to raise global awareness about the treatment of religious minorities in Pakistan, including the controversial blasphemy law which seeks to punish any instances of projected offense against Islam, and under which Rimsha was punished.
"The public hearing aims to heighten discussions at international levels on the deteriorating situation of the human rights of minorities in Pakistan and the misuse of the blasphemy law," said WCC official Mathews George Chunakara.
"The international hearing will also create a platform to address the concerns of persecuted religious minorities to make their voices heard in the international arena and particularly at the United Nation's Human Rights Council," he added.
Although Pakistani President Asif Al Zardari has called on officials to clarify the situation over Rimsha's arrest, international human rights groups, such as Amnesty International, the Barnabas Fund and the International Humanist and Ethical Union have all called for the blasphemy law to be placed under global scrutiny.
"This latest affair just highlights the total hypocrisy of Pakistan, and its supporters, in the Human Rights Council," said Roy Brown, chief representative at the U.N. in Geneva of the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU).
Reports by NBC News also revealed that Pakistan's Christian population is protesting Rimsha's imprisonment in Faisalabad, Pakistan – but whether their pleas will be heard by Pakistan's authorities and how soon or if the girl will be released remains to be seen.