‘Down’s syndrome girl’, 11, faces execution in Pakistan for desecrating Koran

An 11-year-old girl thought to suffer from  Down’s Syndrome is facing the death penalty in Pakistan for apparently burning  pages from the Koran.

Furious mobs of Muslim locals gathered  outside the home of Christian girl Rifta Masih after she was found with charred  pages of the Islamic holy book.

She was arrested and has been held in custody  for the last 14 days under Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy laws. A conviction  could see her executed.

Anger: Furious mobs similar to these gathered outside the home of an 11-year-old Christian girl accused of burning pages of the Koran (file picture)

Anger: Furious mobs similar to these gathered outside  the home of an 11-year-old Christian girl accused of burning pages of the Koran  (file picture)

 A Pakistani police officer, Zabi Ullah, said  today that the girl was arrested after hundreds of neighbors gathered outside  her house in Mehrabadi, a poor outlying district of the capital, Islamabad.

He said the police took the girl to the  police station, and that she’s been held for 14 days while authorities  investigate.

‘About 500-600 people had gathered outside  her house in Islamabad, and they were very emotional, angry and they might have  harmed her if we had not quickly reacted,’ he said.

‘Some Muslims from the area claim the girl  had burned pages of the Koran, and we are investigating, and we have not reached  any conclusion,’ he said.

Another police official, Qasim Niazi, said  when the girl was brought to the police station she had a shopping bag that  contained various religious and Arabic-language papers that had been partly  burned but no Koran.

Officers added that the matter could be  dropped once the investigation is completed and the atmosphere is defused,  saying there was ‘nothing much to the case.’ He did not want to be identified  due to the sensitivity of the case.

Meanwhile, Pakistan’s president Asif Ali  Zardari said he had ‘taken notice’ of the reports of the arrest and asked  Pakistan’s interior ministry to present a report to him.

There were varying reports on the girl’s age  and whether she suffered from Down’s Syndrome. Ullah said she was 16 while other  officials have said she was either 12 or 11. Niazi said that when the girl was  brought to the police station she was scared and unable to speak normally, but  he did not know whether she suffered from mental health issues.

The arrest of the girl and outrage among the  local community demonstrates the deep emotion that suspected blasphemy cases can  evoke in this conservative Muslim country, where rising extremism often means  religious minorities live in fear of persecution.

Sacred: A Pakistani Muslim woman holds up a copy of the Islamic holy text the Koran

Sacred: A Pakistani Muslim woman holds up a copy of the  Islamic holy text the Koran

Christians often live in fear that they will  be accused of blasphemy, and many critics say the legislation is sometimes used  to settle scores.

Angry mobs have been known to sometimes take  the law into their own hands and beat or kill people who are accused of  violating the blasphemy laws. In July, thousands of people dragged a Pakistani  man accused of desecrating the Koran from a police station in the central  Pakistani city of Bahawalpur, beat him to death and then set his body on fire.

And there were furious protests earlier this  year after U.S. troops were accused of burning the Koran. Effigies of Barack  Obama were burned in the street amid demands for an apology.

Attempts to revoke or alter the blasphemy  laws have been met with violent opposition, however.

Last year, two prominent Pakistani political  figures who spoke out against the laws were killed, in attacks that raised  concerns about the rise of religious extremism in Pakistan.

Liberal politician Salman Taseer was shot and  killed by one of his own guards in January 2011, and in March 2011, militants  gunned down Shahbaz Bhatti, the only Christian minister in Pakistan’s Cabinet.

A spokesperson for Pakistani President Asif  Ali Zardari, Farhatullah Babar, said the president has ‘serious note’ of reports  of the girl’s arrest and has asked the Interior Ministry to look into the case.

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