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Pakistan: Down-syndrome child arrested on blasphemy charge

Catholic World News - August 20, 2012

A young Christian woman with Down syndrome has been arrested for allegedly violating Pakistan’s blasphemy law.

The arrest of 11-year-old Rimsha Masih has sparked angry protests among Christians and human-rights activists. But a Catholic representative of Pakistan’s ruling cabinet is urging calm, saying that “we will have positive developments soon.”

The young girl was arrested after neighbors complained that she had burned several pages from a book that is used in teaching Arabic, and contains verses from the Qu’ran. Paul Bhatti, who advises the Pakistani government regarding religious minorities, said that the girl had no intention of insulting Islam, and noted that her mental disability should be taken into account.

Rimsha Masih was taken into police custody after an angry Muslim crowd gathered around her family’s home in a poor section of Islamabad. A witness told Vatican Radio that the girl might have been physically attacked if the police had not promptly intervened.

While stressing the girl’s innocence, Paul Bhatti—whose brother Shahbaz Bhatti was assassinated in March 2011 because of his criticism of Pakistan’s blasphemy law—complained that some Christians had aggravated the situation, and increased tensions between Muslims and Christians, by their inflamed protests and inaccurate accounts of the incident. He scolded human-rights groups for exploiting “Christian suffering” to advance their own causes.

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