Thursday, 23 August 2012 00:33
ISLAMABAD: Amnesty International has urged Pakistan to reform its blasphemy laws and protect a young Christian girl arrested for allegedly burning pages inscribed with verses from the Quran.
Rimsha, who is between 10 and 13 years old and is reported to have Down's Syndrome, was taken into custody in a low-income area of Islamabad on Thursday after furious Muslims demanded she be punished.
Police said Wednesday they had registered a case against more than 150 people over the protest for damaging public property, a spokesman for Islamabad police told AFP.
A report has been passed to senior officers who will decide what action to take, police said.
Polly Truscott, Amnesty International's South Asia director, said the case showed the "erosion of the rule of law" in Pakistan and the dangers faced by those accused of blasphemy.
"Amnesty International is extremely concerned for Rimsha's safety. In the recent past individuals accused of blasphemy have been killed by members of the public," Truscott said in a statement issued late Tuesday.
President Asif Ali Zardari on Monday ordered officials to explain the arrest, while Christians fled the neighbourhood of Mehrabad in fear at Muslim anger over the incident.
Truscott welcomed Zardari's response but warned it would count for little unless there were "greater efforts to reform the blasphemy laws to ensure they cannot be used maliciously to settle disputes or enable private citizens to take matters into their own hands".
"The continued failure to reform these laws has effectively sent the message that anyone can commit outrageous abuses and attempt to excuse them as defence of religious sentiments," Truscott said.
Neighbours said Rimsha had burned papers collected from a garbage pile for cooking in her family home and someone alerted the local cleric after spotting the remains being thrown out as rubbish.
Copyright AFP (Agence France-Presse), 2012