Sunday, September 9, 2012

Girl with Down syndrome accused of Koran burning is granted bail - but she could face mob justice and death if freed

A Christian girl arrested for Koran burning in Pakistan has been granted bail after a Muslim cleric was detained for trying to frame her. 
It remains unclear when Rimsha Masih, reported to have Down's Syndrome, will be released - it could be today if a payment is made. 
There are worries the child, reported to be between 11 and 16, could be in danger if she remains in her homeland. 
In Pakistan the mere allegation of causing offence to Islam can mean death.
Those accused are sometimes killed even if they are found innocent by the courts.
Robinson Asghar is an aide to Pakistan's minister for national harmony. He claimed if bail was met Rimsha would be reunited with her family at a secret location. 
He told Reuters there were no plans to send the youngster abroad.
Rimsha was arrested after accusations by Muslim neighbours of burning Islamic religious texts.
But police took cleric Khalid Jadoon into custody after witnesses claimed he ripped pages from a Koran and planted them in Rimsha's bag with burned papers. 
Activists and human rights groups insisted Pakistan's anti-blasphemy law was vague and widely abused.
They claimed it dangerously discriminated against minority groups. 
Amnesty International called the bail decision 'encouraging.'
A spokesman said: 'The Pakistan authorities must take concrete steps to show that no one can commit abuses and attempt to excuse them as the defence of their religion.
'Today’s decision by a Pakistan court to grant bail to Rimsha Masih, a 14-year old Christian girl accused of blasphemy, is an encouraging step, but the Pakistan government must urgently reform its blasphemy laws to prevent similar cases in the future.
'Rimsha and her mother were first arrested by police on August 16 after an angry mob had gathered outside their house in Islamabad, accusing her of burning pages of the Koran, a crime punishable by death under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. 
'The case took another turn last week when police arrested a local cleric, accused of planting the burned Koran pages on Rimsha. 
'This morning, a judge set a bail of one million Pakistani rupees, about £6,200, for Rimsha.
'Although Amnesty  welcomes the judge’s decision, serious challenges remain.'
The human rights group claimed Rimsha, her family, and the Christian community in Islamabad remained in 'serious danger.'
Wilson Chowdhry is chairman of the British Pakistani Christian Association. 
He said: 'Although this is a small step towards justice, she will still have to undergo a full trial unless granted asylum in a western nation.  
'Her safety is paramount and security at today's court hearing was significant. 
'However the killing of Governor Taseer illustrates that extra-judicial killings are hard to prevent.'
He was killed because he opposed the blasphemy law.
'We have asked the Foreign Office on their position with respect to granting asylum to Rimsha Masih and await a response,' Wilson said.  
'MP Andrew Stephenson of Pendle has said it is highly likely that the UK would grant Asylum.'
Rimsha's arrest triggered an exodus of several hundred Christians from her poor village after mosques reported over their loudspeakers what the girl was alleged to have done.
Christians, who make up four percent of Pakistan's population of 180 million, have been especially concerned about the blasphemy law, saying it offers them no protection.
Convictions hinge on witness testimony and are often linked to vendettas, they complain.
In 2009, 40 houses and a church were set ablaze by a mob of 1,000 Muslims in the town of Gojra, in Punjab province following reports of the desecration of the Koran.
At least seven Christians were burned to death during the attacks.
Two Christian brothers accused of writing a blasphemous letter against the Prophet Mohammad were gunned down outside a court in the eastern city of Faisalabad in July of 2010.  
Amnesty International warned the case could cause problems for 'communal harmony' in Pakistan. 
'In the recent past individuals accused of blasphemy have been killed by members of the public, often in incidents where the victim has not been formally charged by the authorities,' the Amnesty spokesman said.
'Hundreds of Christians have fled Rimsha’s neighbourhood in Islamabad since she was accused, fearing violence. Her family remains in hiding.  
'The Rimsha Masih case highlights the profound danger to communal harmony and rule of law caused by Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.
'Such cases will continue to occur, especially against vulnerable religious minorities, unless the Pakistan government urgently reforms the blasphemy laws to ensure they cannot be used maliciously to settle disputes or enable private citizens to take matters into their own hands.'
Amnesty called on the authorities to ensure perpetrators of attacks on religious minorities were brought to justice in court that met international standards - without recourse to the death penalty.
'Amnesty welcomes the condemnation of the charges brought against Rimsha Masih by a wide cross-section of Pakistan society, including even from religious leaders who have in the past vilified religious minorities and advocated strict application of the blasphemy laws, including the imposition of the death penalty,' the spokesman said.
'But more important are legal, policy and social reforms to address the general climate of vilification on the basis of religion that has lead to almost daily intimidation and deadly attacks on Christian, Shi’a, Ahmedi, Hindu and other minority communities across the country.
'The Pakistan authorities must take concrete steps to show that no one can commit abuses and attempt to excuse them as the defence of their religion.'

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