Blasphemy Arrest of Pakistani Christian Child Condemned
Washington, D.C. – Human Rights First today condemned the recent arrest of a young Christian girl in Pakistan who has been accused of blasphemy because she allegedly burned pages that had Islamic text and Koranic verses written on them. Reports note that the girl, who has Down Syndrome, burned the texts while cooking. A conviction of blasphemy is punishable by death in Pakistan. According to news sources, the police have not allowed lawyers or civil society representatives to visit the girl as she remains in custody at a police station. Though Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari has asked for an investigation on this case, the girl has faced mob violence from angry protesters and Pakistani police have confirmed that she will be detained for 14 days as the case is investigated. “This case is outrageous and should refocus the world’s attention on the abuse of blasphemy laws around the globe,” said Human Rights First’s Joelle Fiss. “President Asif Ali Zardari has called for an investigation into the case, but his words are not enough. He must call for calm and an end to the mob violence and intimidation this young girl and her family now face. Pakistani authorities must also protect her rights as she awaits her fate in an Islamabad jail. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen Pakistan’s blasphemy laws trigger violence and be applied arbitrarily. It’s time for lawmakers to act.” In March 2012, Human Rights First published a report documenting more than 100 recent cases from 18 countries that demonstrate the gross abuse of national blasphemy laws. As the report shows, blasphemy laws are frequently used to stifle debate and dissent, harass rivals, and settle petty disputes among neighbors, business partners and political adversaries. Increasingly, these laws also trigger violence. It has become commonplace for mobs to gather in and around courtrooms where blasphemy cases are tried. In many cases, vigilantes are often called to arms over the loudspeakers of local mosques and stand prepared to take the law into their own hands if the court does not hand down a guilty verdict. Human Rights First notes that President Asif Ali Zardari’s promise of an investigation will be of minimal value unless the government renews its efforts to reform the country’s blasphemy laws. Discussion of such reform in Pakistan came to an abrupt halt after the assassinations of Governor Salmaan Taseer and Minister of Minority Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti in 2011. Both men were murdered because they spoke out in favor of reforming the laws and against the proposed death sentence of Aasia Bibi, a Christian farm worker and mother of five, convicted of blasphemy following a disagreement with a Muslim co-worker. She has been jailed since November 2010 and remains in solitary confinement to protect her from other prisoners. Earlier this year, Human Rights First submitted recommendations to the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights for Pakistan’s Universal Periodical Review. The recommendations are designed to prevent human rights abuses that stem from blasphemy laws. Pakistan is scheduled for review at the Human Rights Council on October 30 2012.