A large number of poor Christian residents of the Mehrabad slum near Islamabad’s G-11 Sector have reportedly fled the area fearing religious violence after an 11-year-old scavenger girl was charged under the blasphemy law two days ago.
According to reports, Rimsha, daughter of Misrak Masih and suffering from Down Syndrome, has been charged with allegedly burning pages of a Noorani Qaida, a booklet used to learn the basics of Arabic and the Holy Quran.
A case No 303/12 under Section 295-B of the Pakistan Penal Code was registered against Rimsha at the Ramna Police Station on August 17 after a local man named Al-Syed Muhammad Ammad complained that he had seen the girl burning the Noorani Qaida along with other garbage.
Soon after the incident, residents of the area gathered to register their protest. They also blocked the Kashmir Highway and demanded immediate arrest of the 11-year-old.
Some of the protesters reportedly beat up Rimsha and her mother, while the rest of the girl’s family managed to escape. The police arrived at the scene and took the girl into custody. She has been sent to the Adiala Jail on judicial remand.
According to local sources, over 1,000 Christian residents of the slum have left the area fearing violence as some local religious groups are reportedly threatening to burn down the Christians’ homes.
A Christian rights activist, asking not to be named, told Pakistan Today on the phone from Islamabad that they visited Ramna Police Station on Saturday to seek information about the incident, but found the officials there “extremely hostile”.
“The duty officer asked us why we wanted to pursue the case,” the activist said. “The girl has desecrated the Holy Quran and has been rightly charged with the crime…you should leave lest the people come for you,” he quoted the duty officer as saying.
The activist said that Christian leaders, including Minister In-charge of National Harmony Dr Paul Bhatti were in contact with Muslim religious leaders to prevent any further violence in the area. Dr Bhatti’s phone went unanswered.
“A large number of Christians of the slum have sought refuge with their relatives in other areas of Islamabad and Rawalpindi, and it could not be said when they would be able to return to their homes,” said the activist.
Officials at the Ramna Police Station told Pakistan Today that the 11-year-old “had admitted to her crime”.
“Rimsha admitted that she set the holy pages on fire and a case was registered against her after that; due process of law was followed in the case,” said Muhammad Ahmed, the investigating officer of the case.
Section 295-B makes willful desecration of the Holy Quran, or use of an extract in a derogatory manner, punishable with life imprisonment.