President Zardari's intervention may signal that moderate
coalition parties in the government will take up the issue of
reforming the blasphemy law again.
The fate of an 11-year-old Christian girl in Pakistan who was
jailed last week after being accused of burning religious texts
hangs on a pending medical report from authorities confirming that
she is mentally disabled.
Under Pakistan's controversial blasphemy law, the desecration of
Islamic scriptures is punishable by death. Local media have reported
the girl has Down's Syndrome, which could give authorities a means
of exonerating her.
Pakistan has struggled to handle blasphemy cases in recent years.
With the country in the global spotlight, such cases bring strong
condemnations not just from elites and minorities here but from an
international community worried about Pakistan's heated religious
climate. Pakistani leaders also face pressure from local communities
prepared to violently punish any accused blasphemers.
In this case, Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari has stepped
in early, saying he is taking "notice" of the issue and directed
officials to investigate. Some analysts here see that as a silver
lining in the case.
The case demonstrates the growing bigotry in the society where
people cannot even spare a mentally challenged child, says Raza
Rumi, a noted columnist, adding that efforts to even conduct a
debate on the colonial-era blasphemy law have resulted in murders
and threats to progressive Pakistani Muslims. However the
intervention by the president is a healthy sign indicating that the
moderate coalition parties in the government may take up the issue
of reforming the blasphemy law again, he adds.
Locals from the slum outside Islamabad where the girl lived say
the case has sparked tensions between Christians and Muslims,
forcing the Christian minority to flee.
We are living with our relatives in Rawalpindi till the situation
calms down in our area, says Shabnam, who works as a maid for
wealthy families in Islamabad, the capital city of Pakistan. Our
landlord, who is a Muslim, told us to leave the house and go away
for some days because he says it is dangerous for us to stay there
after the arrest of the girl accused for blasphemy.
Shabnam says she does not know when her family of eight will
return home. She says the Muslims in her area also tried to attack
some of the houses where Christians are living but police
intervention stopped it from happening, a claim Paul Bhatti, adviser
to the prime minister for National Harmony, verifies.
The girl was arrested Aug. 16 after hundreds of neighbors
gathered outside her house and demanded that police take action. The
crowd had heard rumors she had allegedly burned a Qaida, a learning
guide to the Quran which includes excerpts of the Islamic
On Friday I got reports that in a village on the outskirts of
Islamabad, some 1,000 men had gathered after the Friday prayers
sermons where the local cleric had asked for the massacre of
Christians in the neighborhood over blasphemy by a Christian girl. …