Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Pakistan Christian Girl Accused of Blasphemy Moves to Canada over Security Fears

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Pakistan Christian Girl Accused of Blasphemy Moves to Canada over Security Fears

Article excerpt

Pakistani girl accused of blasphemy now in Canada


OTTAWA - A Christian family has been spirited out of Pakistan and into Canada after spending months in hiding following false accusations that their daughter had burned Islam's holy book.

Rimsha Masih's case attracted international attention on Pakistan's harsh blasphemy laws following her arrest in August in Islamabad.

She was accused of burning pages of the Qur'an as fuel for cooking, but a Muslim cleric was later accused of fabricating evidence.

Masih, who had been held in jail, was acquitted but her family was forced into hiding fearing vigilante justice.

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said he'd been following the case and was prompted to act when a Pakistani contact asked him in January whether the family could come to Canada.

"I said absolutely, if they could get her out," Kenney said in an interview with The Canadian Press on Sunday.

"So a number of people did some very dangerous, delicate work to extricate her and her family from Pakistan and we provided the necessary visas."

Kenney issued what's known as a ministerial permit in order to facilitate their arrival.

He said he has now instructed immigration officials to process their applications for permanent residency under humanitarian and compassionate grounds.

The girl had been facing threats and was moving constantly, said a Muslim cleric who lobbied on the girl's behalf.

"I am sad that this innocent girl had to leave Pakistan. She had been acquitted by the court, and despite that it was not possible for her to live freely," Tahir Mehmood Ashrafi said.

It's rare for Kenney to comment on individual immigration cases and his department had previously refused to confirm whether the family was in Canada, citing privacy concerns.

But he said family members gave their consent to have their story made public after a blog post reporting on their arrival subsequently drew international media attention.

Kenney said he met with the family in Toronto in April, a few weeks after they arrived.

The case had been under scrutiny in part because of the girl's young age and questions about her mental abilities. …

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