Date: August 30, 2012
By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service
PAKISTAN (ANS) -- The father of the eleven year old Christian girl who was jailed last week after being accused under Pakistan's controversial blasphemy laws has appealed to President Asif Ali Zardari to pardon her.
President Asif Ali Zardari Via
Under Pakistan's blasphemy law, she could be sentenced to death if she is found guilty of insulting Islam, the Prophet Mohammad or the Holy Koran.
The Telegraph reported that critics and human rights groups say the law has been used by Muslims to settle personal feuds and business disputes with members of the country's religious minorities.
According to the Telegraph, calls to change the law to stop its "misuse" have met with violent reaction. The governor of Punjab province Salmaan Taseer, a close aide to President Zardari, was murdered by his own bodyguard in protest at his support for the Christian woman, Asia Bibi, who was sentenced to death for blasphemy. A few months later Pakistan's minorities minister, Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian, was assassinated for criticising the blasphemy law.
The Telegraph said Rimsha's father Misrek Masih spoke out over his daughter's treatment with support from local Christian groups and the human rights organisation, Avaaz. In an open letter released through Avaaz, he said an angry crowd had threatened to "burn her alive." "She has Down's syndrome and often isn't in control of her actions, but she is charged with desecrating the Koran, and we are afraid for her life."
He added, "She appears in court this week charged under Pakistan's anti-blasphemy laws that carry the death sentence. I'm asking President Asif Ali Zardari, who has already called for further attention into my daughter's case, to pardon her and to prevent other people from being persecuted under these harsh laws like my daughter."
The Telegraph said Rimsha had been arrested after she was somehow found by Muslims with pages from the Koran in her bag.
According to the Telegraph, Misrek said, "This caused an angry crowd to gather and demand that the police arrest her - some even threatened to kill her and burn down the houses of Christians. I pray that when the medical assessment is released she will be freed as she has struggled with learning difficulties her whole life."
His daughter's arrest, following the assassination of Shahbas Bhatti, had spread fear throughout Pakistan's Christian community. "It's such a sensitive situation that many of our Christian neighbours from our Islamabad slum have had to flee their homes," Misrek said.
"We are a Christian family, we respect the religious rights of others. We simply wish for the safety of our daughter and our community and wish this had never happened," the Telegraph reported he added.
Hopes of a humane outcome increased on Tuesday after a medical examination to determine his daughter's age confirmed she was a minor, and that her mental development did not match her age.
The Telegraph reported that her lawyer, Tahir Naveed Chaudhry, said the examination ruled she is between 13 and 14 years old, which means her case will be dealt with by a juvenile court where she is expected to be treated with greater leniency.