Assassinated Pakistani Minister Shahbaz Bhatti called for changes in the country's controversial blasphemy law. CNS photo

Help needed for family of Down syndrome girl arrested under Pakistan's blasphemy laws

By 
  • August 27, 2012

OTTAWA - The family and community of an 11-year-old girl with Down syndrome who was arrested under Pakistan's draconian blasphemy laws face threats of mob violence and burning, warns International Christian Voice (ICV).

ICV founder and chairman Peter Bhatti said Rimsha Masih's family and much of her 1,500-strong Christian community is in hiding because extremists have said that because the girl burned pages of the Koran her whole family must be burned.

"We request that the rest of the Muslim community come forward to help the Christians of Pakistan," Bhatti said. He also appealed for financial assistance for the displaced families.

Bhatti is the older brother of Pakistan's assassinated Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, the first Christian to hold a cabinet post in the Pakistan government. He was the second prominent political leader in Pakistan to be assassinated by extremists after publicly speaking against the blasphemy laws. His brother, Dr. Paul Bhatti, is now acting as an advisor to the Pakistan government on religious minorities.

Shahbaz Bhatti was ambushed by gunmen on March 2, 2011, only two months after the slaying of Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer.

Masih was charged under the blasphemy laws and put in jail, a move that drew condemnation from Canada's Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird.

"I am deeply troubled by reports that a young girl with developmental disabilities has been arrested for alleged blasphemy in Pakistan and that her family faces threats of violence," Baird said in a statement. "Canada is concerned about the safety of the girl, her family and their community. We have learned that local religious leaders are working together with authorities to calm the situation.

"We urge Pakistan's political and religious leaders to continue to co-operate to protect the family and community," he said. "Canada strongly condemns any act of religious persecution. We urge Pakistan's government to ensure equal rights for all Pakistanis, including members of minority communities."

ICV, founded to provide support for persecuted Christians and other religious minorities in Pakistan, is holding a fundraising dinner Sept. 14 to raise money for the persecuted community.

Bhatti also expressed alarm over the brutal slaying of a 14-year-old Christian orphan from Faisalabad, a city 255 km south of Islamabad. Suneel Masih's mutilated body was discovered Aug. 21 with his nose, ears and tongue removed and acid splashed on what remained of his face. His limbs had been pulled off. Internal organs, including his liver and kidneys were also removed. The boy had gone into a local market to buy a shirt when he disappeared.

Christians are not the only vulnerable minority in Pakistan. Hindus and some Muslim groups outside the mainstream are also targeted, according to news reports.

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