Mentally Disabled Christian Girl Faces Life Imprisonment for 'Blasphemy'
The Story: In Pakistan, a twelve-year-old mentally disabled Christian girl is in jail on charges of blasphemy. If convicted, she could face life in prison.
The Background: Although details about the incident remain unclear, the girl, Rimsha Masih, is claimed to have burned a Koran for cooking fuel. The child is said to have confessed, but she is believed to have Down Syndrome and is not aware of her actions.
Police officials said the girl was arrested to protect her and her family from the threat of violence after a crowd of several hundred angry Muslims gathered outside her home and called for the child to be burned to death as a blasphemer. Because of the incident, as many as 600 Christians have fled their colony bordering the capital, fearing for their lives.
"The one who burned the Koran should be burned," said Shaukhat Ali, an assistant at the local mosque.
Under Pakistani law, those found guilty of defaming Muhammad face the death penalty, while defiling the Koran can bring a life sentence. This is the fourth blasphemy charge in recent months in Pakistan. According to the Washington Post, human rights advocates say the "law is frequently used to persecute Christians and also has been unfairly applied to the mentally ill---including some Muslims."
Why It Matters: At a press briefing, U.S. State Department spokesman Victoria Nuland said this incident was a "misuse of the blasphemy law." But as Nina Shea, director of the Hudson Institute's Center for Religious Freedom, says,
It is time for U.S. diplomats to recognize that this is not a problem of "misuse." No reform or legal tweaking can perfect this law. It is an irredeemably unjust statute that is routinely used to persecute minorities, crush reformers, and in the process subvert the rule of law and individual freedoms.
Western governments and human rights organizations should use their influence to pressure Islamic nations to change these unjust blasphemy laws. in the meantime, we need to continue to pray for our brothers and sisters-like Rimsha---whose lives and freedom are threatened by Islamic religious intolerance.