Rimsha Masih is a young Christian girl accused of burning pages of a beginner's guide to correctly reciting the Quran. She is being held under Pakistan's anti-blasphemy laws. Some reports say Masih is just eleven and has Down's syndrome. Other reports say authorities arrested her to keep her from being killed by an angry crowd.
Ayeshal Haq a civil rights activist and lawyer said: ""I think it's a bad law to start off with – it's a man-made law and it has nothing to do with religion. If you look at our history, the history of Islam and that of our Holy Prophet - he was exceptionally tolerant to those who were abusive towards him." There have been some Christians protesting in Karachi demanding the release of the girl and the repeal of the law. However, many other Christians fear for their own lives. There have been many cases of violence against those critical of the blasphemy laws.
In November of 2010 Asia Bibi a laborer and Christian was sentenced to death after a co-worker accused her of insulting Islam. Although the sentence is under appeal Bibi is still incarcerated. Even important politicians have suffered the wrath of those supporting the laws.
Governor Salman Tsser as well as Federal Minister Shahbaz Bhatti called for the laws to be amended. They were subsequently both killed. In July of this year thousands of Pakistanis dragged a man who was accused of desecrating the Quran out of a police station in Bahawalpur and beat him to death.
The punishments under the laws are draconian and the possible offenses wide-ranging. One section of the laws read:“Whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation, or by imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad shall be punishable with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall be liable to fine.”
The blasphemy laws date back to the British Colonial era stretching back to 1860. However from 1929 to 1982 there were only nine blasphemy cases in Pakistan but over the last 15 years there have been thousands. That laws such as these should exist on into the twenty-first century is no doubt shocking to most westerners but other countries such as Iran and Saudi Arabia no doubt have similar harsh laws. For more see this article.