Detention of Pakistani Christian Girl Extended in Blasphemy Case

A young Christian girl, believed to be mentally disabled and who has been in judicial custody for 15 days on charges of "blasphemy," will be held for another fortnight, a court ruled Friday. Her accuser has threatened extra-judicial action if the girl is not convicted.

Rimsha Masih, who was arrested from the Mehria Jaffar area on the outskirts of Islamabad on Aug. 16 and has been in Adiala Jail in Rawalpindi since then, was produced in the judicial magistrate court in the national capital amid tight security on Friday.

The face and torso of the girl with Down syndrome were covered with a white sheet as she was taken into the courtroom by policewomen and armed police guards. She was accused of burning a Noorani Qaida, a booklet used to learn the basics of the Holy Quran. It was also alleged that she had thrown the booklet in garbage after putting it in a plastic bag. Blasphemy is punishable by death in this Islamic country.

The investigating officer told the court that the probe had not been completed and that more time was needed to frame charges against the girl, according to Press Trust of India. The judge allowed two more weeks for the police for initial investigation.

Rao Abdul Raheem, the lawyer representing the man who accused the Christian girl of blasphemy, warned that people might take the law into their own hands if the girl was not convicted. The threat was an apparent attempt to pressure the court.

Raheem also rejected a medical report that said Rimsha was around 14 years old and her mental age was apparently below her true age.

Relatives and human rights workers argue that she should be exempt from blasphemy laws, saying she is only 11 years old and has Down syndrome.

Xavier P. William, president of the rights group Life for All, condemned the court's decision. "This is highly condemnable because she is a minor, but she is being treated like a criminal," he was quoted as saying. "This is just insanity because she is just a child. We demand that Rimsha's case be transferred to the juvenile justice system. If that is not done, at least the hearings in her case should be conducted within Adiala Jail as we have concerns for her safety."

The girl's family will seek bail on Saturday.

After the girl's arrest in mid-August, more than 600 people had to flee the Christian neighborhood out of fear.

Raheem said the nation had many who support people like Mumtaz Qadris, who assassinated Punjab's Governor Salman Taseer last year for his advocacy for Pakistani Christian woman Asia Bibi. Bibi was convicted by a trial court for blasphemy.

After Taseer's killing came the assassination of Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian and minister for Minority Affairs, for his criticism against the notorious blasphemy law.

The blasphemy law, embedded in Sections 295 and 298 of the Pakistan Penal Code, is frequently misused to target religious minorities – Christians, Shi'as, Ahmadiyyas and Hindus – and allows Islamists to justify killings. Extremist Islamists believe that killing a "blasphemous" person earns a heavenly reward.

Just an accusation is enough to have a person arrested. There is no provision in the law to punish a false accuser or a false witness of blasphemy. Some local Muslims seek revenge by making an allegation against his or her adversary who is a non-Muslim. Many who are accused of blasphemy are killed by mobs extra-judicially.

The World Council of Churches has organized a meeting in Geneva next month to discuss Pakistan's blasphemy laws and the case of Masih.

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