Human Rights Activist Says Pakistani Blasphemy Case Is Concocted

Christian, Muslim Lawyers Try to Defend Girl Accused of Burning Islamic Book

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ROME, AUG. 28, 2012 (Zenit.org).- A leading Catholic human rights activist in Pakistan is calling for charges to be dropped in the case of a young, special needs girl accused of blasphemy.

Peter Jacob, executive secretary of the National Commission for Justice and Peace for the Church in Pakistan, told Aid to the Church in Need that he strongly doubts the allegations leveled against Rimsha Masih.

She is accused of burning 10 pages of the Noorani Qaida, an Islamic booklet used to learn basic Arabic and the Koran.

A police case was registered against Rimsha and she was placed in custody.

Intentional desecration of the Koran carries a sentence of life imprisonment according to Section 295B of the Pakistan Penal Code.

Jacob told Aid to the Church in Need today that efforts toward Rimsha’s release should be redoubled after medical experts reported today that Rimsha’s physical age is under 14 and that her mental age is lower.

The findings mean that Rimsha’s case will be heard by Pakistan’s juvenile court system.

Amid reports that Rimsha has Down syndrome, Jacob highlighted evidence that Rimsha is illiterate, adding: “I would say the case against Rimsha is concocted – engineered.”

Jacob said a team of Christian and Muslim lawyers were now preparing a petition for her release which would be put before a judge, with a hearing due possibly on Thursday. 

He went on to appeal to Pakistan’s government to “show more political will” in its response to the Rimsha and other blasphemy cases.

“There is seldom a clear investigation into such cases," he said. "The government is reluctant to take a stand.”

Mr Jacob said a change in the blasphemy laws was only possible with pressure from the international community.

Also speaking today to Aid to the Church in Need, Bishop Sebastian Shaw, apostolic administrator of Lahore, referred to attacks on people’s homes in Islamabad, where Rimsha lives. "Minority people are very much afraid," the bishop said. 

He said he had spoken to Rimsha’s bishop, Rufin Anthony of Islamabad-Rawalpindi, who recently visited the girl’s family.

Bishop Shaw said: “We are all very sorry about Rimsha. Bishop Rufin has consoled the family and it is clear they are very afraid.”