Quantcast
Connect with us

11-year-old Pakistani girl faces death penalty for Quran burning

Published

on

An 11-year-old Christian Pakistani girl said to suffer from a mental disorder could face the death penalty under the country’s notorious blasphemy laws, after she was accused by her neighbours of deliberately burning sacred Islamic texts.

Rifta Masih was arrested on Thursday, after complaints against her prompted angry demonstrations, and Asif Ali Zardari, the president, has ordered the interior ministry to investigate the case.

ADVERTISEMENT

As communal tensions continued to rise, around 900 Christians living on the outskirts of Islamabad have been ordered to leave a neighbourhood where they have lived for almost two decades.

On Sunday houses on the backstreets of Mehrabadi, an area 20 minutes drive from western embassies and government ministries, were locked with padlocks, their occupants having fled to already overcrowded Christian slums in and around the capital.

One of the senior members of the dominant Muslim community told the Christians to remove all their belongings from their houses by September 1. “I don’t think anyone will dare go back after this,” said one Christian, Arif Masih. “The area is not safe for us now.”

A few brave souls have stayed behind, but shopkeepers have refused to serve their Christian neighbours or supply them with water. Locals say only about 10% of families in the area are Christian, renting cramped houses from Muslim landlords. They tend to do dirty, menial jobs such as sewer maintenance.

ADVERTISEMENT

Relations between the communities had been simmering for months after complaints were made about the noise coming from three churches in the area during religious services. Two of the landlords who owned the buildings had already ordered an end to worship and some services had been forcibly broken up.

But there was no indication that all the Christians would be forced out so suddenly until Rifta was accused of the provocative act of burning the sacred words of Islam.

It sparked immediate demonstrations by crowds estimated at between 600 and 1,000 people, some of whom blocked the nearby Kashmir highway, the major road running west out of the capital.

ADVERTISEMENT

The police, initially unwilling to take action, eventually charged the girl with blasphemy and took her into custody. The rest of the community, including her parents, fled.

As with many other aspects of the incident, there is disagreement about exactly what was burned. Some say it was a small pocket book of Qur’anic verses. Others claim it was pages of the Qur’an. Either it was a relatively small quantity of ash carried in an earthenware dish, or it was around half a kilogram of refuse that filled a small plastic shopping bag.

Hammad Malik, a 23-year-old with a shaven head and bushy beard who is deemed a “scoundrel” by the Christian community, said he saw Rifta walking out of the tiny, single-room dwelling where she lived with her parents and sister at some time after 6pm.

ADVERTISEMENT

He said it was pure chance that he noticed her bundle.

“I looked at it but did not know exactly what it was but I could see it had words written in Arabic,” he said.

He concedes that no one actually saw her burning anything as the offence allegedly happened inside the house, and she was caught while finding somewhere to throw away the remains. However the local mullah claims there was a witness: another young girl who caught her in the act and then ran to the mosque to raise the alarm.

ADVERTISEMENT

One thing the Muslim community does agree on is that claims in the local media, sourced to the police, that the girl has Down’s syndrome are false.

“She is a completely normal girl,” said Kamran Khan, cousin of the Masih family’s landlord. As the largely male and grownup crowd gathered outside the house last night all nodded in agreement, a young girl who said she knew Rifta said that, actually, she did behave oddly – she talked to herself and walked in a peculiar way.

The other point of general agreement is that “the law should be followed”. Unfortunately, the law in question is Pakistan’s blasphemy law, which has a proven track record of ensnaring people on the flimsiest of evidence and being cynically used to intimidate communities or settle quarrels over money and property.

ADVERTISEMENT

Even though no one has yet been executed for blasphemy in Pakistan, long prison terms are common – one Christian couple was sentenced to 25 years in 2010 after being accused of touching the Qur’an with unwashed hands.

There have also been cases of people killed by lynch mobs demanding instant punishment. Daring to criticise the law is incredibly risky and few do it. In 2011 Salman Taseer, the former governor of Punjab province, was gunned down by his own bodyguard after he had spoken out against the case of Aasia Bibi, another Christian woman accused of blasphemy.

The Christian community of Mehrabadi say the whole thing is a plot. They too have conflicting accounts of what happened. In one version, according to local priest Boota Masih, a Muslim neighbour asked the girl to throw out the ash into which the desecrated pages had been placed.

ADVERTISEMENT

Either way, one hotly contested incident involving a very young girl looks set to change the complexion of the neighbourhood for ever.

“They have done this to provoke the Muslims, like they have with their noisy banging and singing from their churches,” said a local mullah, who would not give his name. “We are not upset the Christians have left and we will be pleased if they don’t come back.”

© Guardian News and Media 2012

ADVERTISEMENT

[Girl in hijab via Shutterstock]

Enjoy this piece?

… then let us make a small request. Like you, we here at Raw Story believe in the power of progressive journalism — and we’re investing in investigative reporting as other publications give it the ax. Raw Story readers power David Cay Johnston’s DCReport, which we've expanded to keep watch in Washington. We’ve exposed billionaire tax evasion and uncovered White House efforts to poison our water. We’ve revealed financial scams that prey on veterans, and legal efforts to harm workers exploited by abusive bosses. We’ve launched a weekly podcast, “We’ve Got Issues,” focused on issues, not tweets. And unlike other news outlets, we’ve decided to make our original content free. But we need your support to do what we do.

Raw Story is independent. You won’t find mainstream media bias here. We’re not part of a conglomerate, or a project of venture capital bros. From unflinching coverage of racism, to revealing efforts to erode our rights, Raw Story will continue to expose hypocrisy and harm. Unhinged from billionaires and corporate overlords, we fight to ensure no one is forgotten.

We need your support to keep producing quality journalism and deepen our investigative reporting. Every reader contribution, whatever the amount, makes a tremendous difference. Invest with us in the future. Make a one-time contribution to Raw Story Investigates, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you. Click to donate by check.

Enjoy this piece?

… then let us make a small request. Like you, we here at Raw Story believe in the power of progressive journalism — and we’re investing in investigative reporting as other publications give it the ax. Raw Story readers power David Cay Johnston’s DCReport, which we've expanded to keep watch in Washington. We’ve exposed billionaire tax evasion and uncovered White House efforts to poison our water. We’ve revealed financial scams that prey on veterans, and efforts to harm workers exploited by abusive bosses. We’ve launched a weekly podcast, “We’ve Got Issues,” focused on issues, not tweets. Unlike other news sites, we’ve decided to make our original content free. But we need your support to do what we do.

Raw Story is independent. You won’t find mainstream media bias here. We’re not part of a conglomerate, or a project of venture capital bros. From unflinching coverage of racism, to revealing efforts to erode our rights, Raw Story will continue to expose hypocrisy and harm. Unhinged from corporate overlords, we fight to ensure no one is forgotten.

We need your support to keep producing quality journalism and deepen our investigative reporting. Every reader contribution, whatever the amount, makes a tremendous difference. Invest with us in the future. Make a one-time contribution to Raw Story Investigates, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you.



Report typos and corrections to: [email protected]. Send news tips to: [email protected].
READ COMMENTS - JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Continue Reading

Breaking Banner

Top DHS aide resigns amid Trump anger that new anti-immigration plan didn’t get better TV ratings: report

Published

on

The Trump White House has long been plagued by record turnover and now Axios is reporting that yet another Trump administration official has found himself out of a job.

According to Axios, Andrew Meehan, a top aide to acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan, stepped down this week amid tensions between DHS and the Trump White House.

Continue Reading

Facebook

New images from asteroid probe offer clues on planet formation

Published

on

Photographs snapped by a shoebox-sized probe that explored the near-Earth asteroid Ryugu have offered new clues about its composition, insights that will help scientists understand the formation of our solar system.

The German-French Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout (MASCOT) hitched a ride on Japan's Hayabusa2 spaceship, touching down on the 900-meter (3,000 feet) wide asteroid, whose orbit lies mostly between Earth and Mars, on October 3, 2018.

Ryugu's gravity is 66,500 times weaker than Earth's, and the forward motion of wheels would have launched MASCOT back into space.

Continue Reading
 

2020 Election

Ex-Trump official bashes White House ‘apologists’ who haven’t quit yet: ‘There’s not much hope for them’

Published

on

A report on the silence coming from first daughter Ivanka Trump and her White House advisor husband Jared Kushner after Donald Trump attacked American Jews turned to the future of White House aides who are either complicit in the president's policies or stand idly by as he lurches from controversy to controversy.

In an interview with CNN's Brianna Keilar, former Trump adviser J.W. Verret pointed out there are still some "adults in the room" with Trump, but CNN's Kaitlan Collins first pointed out that -- as of late -- Ivanka and Kushner are not among them.

"This fits a pattern that we've seen from Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump at times during times when the administration tried to repeal parts of Obamacare, and of course, the big one the president has made about Jewish people who are supporting Democrats," Collins explained. "Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump are both Orthodox Jews. They've been involved with the president on many things. but neither of them have said anything publicly about the president's comments. and when we asked the white house have they been advising the president privately on this, the White House did not get back to us."

Continue Reading
 
 

Thank you for whitelisting Raw Story!

As a special thank you, from now until August 31st, we're offering you a discounted rate of $5.99/month to subscribe and get ad-free access. We're honored to have you as a reader. Thank you. :) —Elias, Membership Coordinator
LEARN MORE
close-link
close-image