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Down’s Syndrome child in prison for blasphemy

KARACHI/RIMINI (SE): The arrest and imprisonment of Rimsha Masih, a young Christian girl suffering from Down’s Syndrome for desecration of a holy book in Islamabad, Pakistan, has caused both fear among other Christians in the area and sparked a strong call from minority rights’ advocates for reason to prevail over prejudice.

Masih, who is said to be 11-years-old, was brought to the police station after being confronted by an angry group of Muslims at her home in Sector G-11 on August 16 and accused of burning pages of the a religious textbook, the Noorani Qaida, that contained passages from the Qur’an.

The police transferred her to a prison in Adiyala in Rawalpindi.

However, the All Pakistan Minority Alliance says that not all is lost. Committee member, Tahir Naveed Chaudhry, told UCA News, “Support from government officials is overwhelmingly strong. Top clerics in the country are condemning the injustice.”

He added, “We were hoping for her release, but the holidays (for the end of Ramadan) delayed it.”

While some thousands of people in Islamabad and Karachi have fled their Christian ghetto homes for fear of further reprisal, on the other side of the world, in Rimini, Italy, Pino Morandini, a magistrate and member of Movement for Life, said that if the girl was to be found guilty, it would be a great setback for the way those who are most vulnerable are treated.

Speaking at a musical concert attended by a group of children afflicted with Down’s Syndrome, he said that many people just do not understand how much affection these children are capable of giving and accusations, like that made against Masih, put the lives of all of them at risk.

Zenit.org quoted him as explaining that some mothers have told to him that the affection they receive from their child with Down’s Syndrome is equivalent to the total affection they receive from all their children put together.

While Masih’s family have gone into hiding, Chaudhry, who is a lawyer, said he will visit the prison where the young girl is being held with a group of priests and seek power of attorney for her, so he can run a case in the court.

Chaudhry appealed to the Muslim community to refrain from hate talk against Christians during this sensitive time.

“We asked them to stop anyone from promoting hate against Christians during Friday sermons,” he told UCA News. “We have planned meetings with grassroots clerics and will interact closely with them so that we win their support in case of future incidents.”

However, it was reported that about 25 families were taking refuge in local church.

Nathaniel Allarakha related that at about 11.00pm on the night of the arrest, one local mosque began calling on people to wake up and physically stop Christians from leaving the area.

“Children were crying. We stuffed our families into vehicles without salvaging anything. I have been wearing the same shirt for six days,” he said.

Allarakha said that he is not so hopeful that a peaceful resolution is possible, explaining that those who have already fled have been receiving telephone calls from the Muslim leader of the Sector G-11 urging them to return and retrieve their belongings and then leave the community for good.

He promised safe passage on the condition that they would agree to leave their homes.

Local media reported that police in Islamabad have filed cases against 175 Muslims for illegal assembly during the days following the arrest of Masih.

The National Justice and Peace Commission in Karachi said in a call to end abuse of the Blasphemy Laws and persecution of religious minority groups that enough is enough.

“It is sad to see that this widespread abuse, spanning over decades has gone unnoticed by the superior judiciary and gross human rights violations in the area of dispensation of justice have not been addressed,” the commission said.

Father Emmanuel Yousaf Mani, the national director of the commission, called on both the federal and provincial interior ministries to tackle the elements responsible for bringing false charges against members of religious minority groups.

“The people of Pakistan need to be informed about the gap between intent of the law and the practice at hand,” he said. “A fair debate would only be possible if the threat of violence is removed to allow civilised discourse.”

The commission is accusing certain sections of the media of profiting from popularism at the expense of minority groups.

“This section of the media relying on popularism needs to understand the seriousness of the matters linked to human rights,” the press release concludes.

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