Ernest Dempsey — Cases of religious minority members accused of blasphemy are not rare in Pakistan. But the latest case happening in the country’s capital has evoked worldwide concern, especially among human rights groups. The reason seems to be the age of the accused. This time, it is an 11 years old girl, a child. What is worse, she is said to be suffering from a debilitating physical and mental condition.
CNN reported on Monday that the girl was arrested by the police after she was accused of burning pages of Islam’s holy book Koran. Though the reports of the girl, named Ramsha, having Down’s Syndrome could not be confirmed by media, the incident of accusing a child of blasphemy has again sent shockwaves across the country and beyond. The girl says she does not know anything about the pages, whether they were of Koran, or how they came to be in the papers she burnt as fuel.
Not surprisingly, an angry crowd gathered in the area and threatened to burn the child alive to avenge the desecration of Koran. This led to evacuation of the area by the Christian families who lived there.
Voices of concern are being raised from across the globe over this incident. Today, France condemned the victimization of the child through blasphemy charges. The United States and some human rights organizations have already expressed their concern over the incident, welcoming the order of President Asif Ali Zardari for investigation into the case, but saying that this does not suffice. American organization Human Rights First stated that it was time for lawmakers to act since these kinds of cases have repeatedly been happening in Pakistan.
In Pakistan, blasphemy law requires minimal evidence to convict the accused and has been used as a tool of victimizing members of religious minorities, but also other Muslims who happen to run into a row with people over property or other disputes. In one famous case, a Muslims man confessed to burning Koran which had led to terrible violence against Christians in Gujranwala (Punjab). Punishment for blasphemy ranges from fine to execution.
The latest incident has reinforced the fear that the country’s lethal blasphemy law, which led to the death sentence of Asia Bibi, is all set to engulf children of religious minorities in the country.