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)
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
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.