Members of the media and residents gather outside a mosque Aug. 23 near the locked family house of Rimsha Masih, a Pakistani Christian girl accused of blasphemy, on the outskirts of Islamabad. CNS photo/Faisal Mahmood, Reuters

Work under way to free Pakistani girl accused of blasphemy 

By  Catholic News Service
  • August 24, 2012

VATICAN CITY - Pakistani institutions and religious leaders are working together for the release of a Christian girl accused of blasphemy and to reduce the risk of Muslim-Christian violence over the incident, said the Pakistani prime minister's special advisor on minorities.

Paul Bhatti, the Catholic advisor, told the Vatican's Fides news agency Aug. 23 that those working to secure the girl's release included Muslim leaders.

Fides, the news agency of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, has reported that the girl, Rimsha Masih, is an 11-year-old with Down syndrome. She was taken into custody Aug. 18 after allegedly being found with burned pages of the Quran, the Muslim holy book. When the police took her away, hundreds of angry Muslims were reportedly gathering in the mainly poor Christian neighbourhood of Islamabad where she lived.

Hundreds of families have fled the neighbourhood, and the police presence has increased.

"The situation is under control," Bhatti told Fides.

Catholic leaders in Pakistan and human rights activists have said the country's anti-blasphemy law, which includes offenses against the Quran, has been misused to persecute Christians and other minorities in the country.

Daughter of St. Paul Sister Daniela Baronchelli, who works in Pakistan, told Vatican Radio Aug. 20: "We have been told that the girl cannot respond to the interrogation. They found her with a bag that had parts of a burned Quran inside. They don't know, however, who gave it to her or where she got it; they don't know anything."

Sr. Daniela said the angry crowd "wanted to burn her alive because they say it was a great offense against the Quran."

The unjust use of the anti-blasphemy law "unfortunately is becoming all too common. The fact is that the extremists don't want the Christians here any more, so any little thing — true or not — is enough to incite a revolt," she said.

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