US, Amnesty call for release of minor girl accused of blasphemy


The United States and Amnesty International have termed the case of a young Pakistani Christian girl’s arrest over blasphemy charges as “deeply disturbing” and urged the Pakistani government to protect her, as the Islamabad Police registered a case against 150 people for violent demonstrations.
The US State Department welcomed President Asif Ali Zardari’s quick reaction to arrest of the young girl, who reportedly has Down syndrome and is 11-year-old.
“This case is obviously deeply disturbing, the arrest of a young Pakistani girl on blasphemy charges,” State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said.
“Our understanding is that President Zardari has now asked the interior ministry to look into the arrest and has underscored that vulnerable populations have to be protected from misuse of
Polly Truscott, Amnesty International’s South Asia director, said the case showed the “erosion of the rule of law” in Pakistan and the dangers faced by those accused of blasphemy.
“Amnesty International is extremely concerned for Rimsha’s safety. In the recent past individuals accused of blasphemy have been killed by members of the public,” Truscott said in a statement issued late Tuesday.
Truscott welcomed Zardari’s response but warned it would count for little unless there were “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.”
“The continued failure to reform these laws has effectively sent the message that anyone can commit outrageous abuses and attempt to excuse them as defence of religious sentiments,” Truscott said.
In an interview with BBC, Islamabad Police spokesman Muhammad Naeem said the arrested persons were accused of damaging government and private properties, breaking car windows, and blocking roads with burning tyres. According to the police, the names of only 25 persons have been mentioned in the FIR [First Information Report], while the rest of them have been termed “anonymous”. The police said that a person named Amir was at the forefront of the whole protest, and that a case had been registered against him.