Reform blasphemy laws: Amnesty to Pakistan

A mentally challenged minor Pakistani Christian girl has been arrested on charges of blasphemy.

Updated: Aug 23, 2012, 14:31 PM IST

Islamabad: Amnesty International (AI) has urged Pakistan to reform its controversial blasphemy laws, after the arrest of a mentally challenged minor Pakistani Christian girl on charges of blasphemy, which has triggered international outrage.

Rifta Masih, 11, who reportedly suffers from Down’s Syndrome, was arrested for allegedly burning pages from the Holy Quran. She was taken into police custody from a low-income area of Islamabad last Thursday after a furious mob demanded she be punished.

Amnesty International’s South Asia director, Polly Truscott, said the case showed the "erosion of the rule of law" in Pakistan and the dangers faced by those accused of blasphemy.

"Amnesty International is extremely concerned for Rifta`s safety. In the recent past, individuals accused of blasphemy have been killed by members of the public," The Express Tribune quoted Truscott, as saying.

Truscott welcomed President Asif Ali Zardari`s move seeking an explanation for the arrest, but warned it would count for little unless there were "greater efforts to reform the blasphemy laws to ensure they cannot be used maliciously to settle disputes or enable private citizens to take matters into their own hands."

"The continued failure to reform these laws has effectively sent the message that anyone can commit outrageous abuses and attempt to excuse them as defence of religious sentiments," Truscott said.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) too condemned the incident, saying: "The fact that the girl is a juvenile and suffers from Down`s Syndrome only makes the charge more preposterous and barbaric. It is also extremely disturbing to note that the police allowed a mob to surround the police station and demand that she be handed over."

The HRCP statement expressed concern over the country’s political leadership being unwilling to speak out against extremism and injustices towards non-Muslims, and added that the authorities should immediately release the girl.