Washington: A bipartisan group of eight American Senators has written a letter to Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari, asking him to address the growing religious intolerance in his country and release the minor Christian girl arrested on a blasphemy charge.
The girl, identified as Rimsha Masih, is reported to have Down`s syndrome. She faces the death penalty for allegedly burning pages with verses from the Quran.
Seeking to ensure the safety and equitable treatment under the law of all Pakistanis, regardless of their religion, the Senators said the recent cases of religious discrimination, including the case of Masih, have underscored the worsening situation for religious minorities in the country.
Writing the letter after a Pakistani judge ordered that the 11-year-old girl continue to be held, the Senators urged Zardari to undertake a serious effort to end the unjust imprisonment of Rimsha.
Led by the New Jersey Senator, Robert Menendez, the letter was signed by Senators Roy Blunt, Ben Cardin, Mark Kirk, Bob Casey, and Mike Johanns.
"As you know, last week a young, mentally-disabled Christian girl, Rimsha Masih, was taken into custody in Islamabad for allegedly burning pages inscribed with verses from the holy Quran and was charged with blasphemy - a crime that could be punishable by life in prison or death," the letter said.
"The mere allegation has forced Christians to flee her neighbourhood due to fear of retribution. We have welcomed the efforts of Dr Paul Bhatti, the Prime Minister`s Advisor on Interfaith Harmony, to aid the girl and her family and avoid violence," it said.
"However, we remain deeply concerned that the law continues to victimise innocent people. We urge your government to do more to prevent abuse, as blasphemy allegations have resulted in the lengthy detention of, and violence committed against, Christians, Ahmadis, Hindus and other religious minorities, as well as members of the Muslim majority community," the Senators wrote.
"While we do not condone the destruction of any religious document or artefact or the defamation of any religion, the application of Pakistan`s blasphemy laws undermines the States obligation to protect the rights of all religious groups in Pakistan and in fact has repeatedly been used to harass and intimidate members of minority religious groups," the Senators said.
The Senators also expressed concern over the condition of Hindus in the country.
"Other religious freedom abuses raise further concerns about the protection of religious minorities. Hundreds of Hindus are fleeing Pakistan due to growing religious intolerance in the country," they said.
"Among the acts alleged by Hindus leaving the country are harassment, theft, rape, kidnapping and forced conversion. Members of the Ahmadi community also continue to experience acts of murder, violence and discrimination, as do Shia Muslims," the Senators wrote.
According to the Senators, discrimination, violence, and persecution on the basis of religion are a direct affront to the fundamental values of freedom and personal choice nations subscribed to as signatories to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
"It provides that `everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms` set forth in the Declaration `without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion`. It further provides that `everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion`.”
These violations run counter to the Pakistani Constitution and the vision of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founding father of Pakistan, when he stated "you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this State of Pakistan," the Senators said.