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Amnesty Urges Pakistan To Reform Blasphemy Laws, Protect Detained Christian Girl
274 days ago
(RTTNews) - Amnesty International has called on the Pakistan government to urgently reform its blasphemy laws and ensure the safety of Ramsha Masih, a disabled Christian girl arrested by police for allegedly committing an act of blasphemy.
"This case illustrates the erosion of the rule of law and the dangers faced by those accused of blasphemy in Pakistan," said Polly Truscott, Amnesty International's South Asia Director.
Ramsha Masih and her mother were arrested by police in the Pakistani capital Islamabad on August 17. The police reacted under pressure from people who were demonstrating after a local preacher accused Ramsha of burning pages of a religious text. It is an offense that may be punishable with death under Pakistan's blasphemy laws.
Truscott said Amnesty was extremely concerned for Ramsha's safety, as in the recent past individuals accused of blasphemy had been killed by members of the public.
On hearing the accusations, some residents of the neighborhood attacked Ramsha's mother and other members of the local Christian community. Up to 300 Christian residents fled the area and the Masih family remains in hiding.
The day after, the Pak President ordered an investigation into the case and called on the authorities to "protect the life and property of everyone."
Amnesty welcomed President Asif Ali Sardari's swift response to the case, but said "the President's actions will count for little unless they are followed by greater efforts to reform the blasphemy laws to ensure they cannot be used maliciously to settle disputes or enable private citizens to take matters into their own hands."
Truscott added that now is the time for the Pakistani government to act after four years of failing to deliver on repeated promises to review laws that are "detrimental to religious harmony" like the blasphemy laws.
"The continued failure to reform these laws has effectively sent the message that anyone can commit outrageous abuses and attempt to excuse them as defense of religious sentiments," according to Truscott.
Pakistan's blasphemy laws make it an offense to destroy, damage or defile places of worship or sacred objects like the Holy Quran or Prophet Muhammad. Penalties range from a fine to life imprisonment or death.
But their vague formulation, along with inadequate investigation by authorities and intimidation by mobs, spurred on by some local preachers and religious groups, has promoted vigilantism in Pakistan and especially in the Punjab province.
"The authorities must also ensure Ramsha Masih, a child, who reportedly suffers from downs syndrome, her family and Islamabad's Christian community, are protected against intimidation and attacks," Truscott said.
The authorities have been urged to prosecute all individuals who incite the community to commit acts of violence on the basis of the blasphemy laws.
Religious minorities have been disproportionately accused of blasphemy. But a large proportion of victims are from the Muslim majority, says Amnesty.
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