Pakistani Girl Falsely Accused of Blasphemy Moves to Canada

The government of Canada helped a Christian girl from Pakistan, who was falsely accused of burning the Quran last year and forced into hiding, to flee her country and settle with her parents in the North American nation due to concerns for her safety, a Canadian TV channel reported Saturday.

Toronto-based CTV News quoted Canada's Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Jason Kenney as saying he personally intervened to help Rimsha Masih, who was arrested last August after being falsely accused of desecrating Islam's holy book. She was also charged with throwing the religious book in garbage after putting it in a plastic bag.

Rimsha and her family fled to Canada in March amid concerns for their safety in the highly restive country plagued by terror and religious extremism.

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"This was an extraordinary example of brutal persecution," Kenney told CTV News, of the girl from Islamabad who is believed to be between the ages of 11 and 14. "Rimsha was accused of blasphemy which was completely trumped up by people in her local village."

Rimsha was later acquitted after reports suggested that the cleric of a nearby mosque tampered with evidence by putting pages of the Quran into the bag the girl was carrying. However, death threats followed her acquittal.

A Christian activist in Pakistan, Sajid Ishaq, told Agence France Presse that the Canadian government is supporting Rimsha and her family. "They are presently doing a foundation course to learn basic English," he said.

Rimsha is also reportedly going to school and attending church services.

Just an accusation of blasphemy is enough to have a person arrested in Pakistan. Reports say local Muslims often seek revenge by accusing their non-Muslim adversaries of blasphemy. Many accused have been killed by mobs extra-judicially.

A prominent Pakistani Christian, Shahbaz Bhatti, elected member of the National Assembly, was assassinated in March 2011 for his efforts to repeal the country's blasphemy law. Minister of Minority Affairs, Bhatti was killed two months after Punjab's Governor Salman Taseer was assassinated for his advocacy for Pakistani Christian woman Asia Bibi, who had been convicted by a trial court for blasphemy.

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 Islamist extremists to justify killings. There is no provision in the law to punish a false accuser or a false witness of blasphemy.

Apart from killing of members of religious minority communities, Pakistan routinely witnesses terrorist attacks.

A car bomb targeting a convoy of paramilitary troops killed at least 16 people and wounding 42 others the northwest Pakistani city of Peshawar on Saturday while British Prime Minister David Cameron was visiting the capital city of Islamabad. Most of the dead and wounded were civilians, according to The Associated Press.

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