Unexpected intervention: Top cleric urges fairness for ‘blasphemy’ girl

Medical report says girl’s ‘mental age appears below her chronological age’.

Afp August 29, 2012
Unexpected intervention: Top cleric urges fairness for ‘blasphemy’ girl


Calls for an impartial investigation into the case of a young Christian girl accused of blasphemy came from an unlikely quarter on Tuesday when the head of the country’s leading body of clerics demanded fair treatment of the girl and hoped that her case would serve as a turning point for the country’s blasphemy laws.

“The government should make this case an example so that nobody will dare misuse the blasphemy law in future,” said Allama Tahir Ashrafi, chairman of the All Pakistan Ulema Council.

Ashrafi added that if Rimsha, accused of burning papers containing verses from the Holy Quran, was found to be innocent, her accusers should face justice. The cleric said protesters who staged demonstrations to demand punishment for the girl were following the “law of the jungle”.

Rimsha, who has been held since August 16 under blasphemy laws, was taken on Monday from prison to hospital for tests after conflicting reports about her age, which said she was “approximately 14”, according to the assessment by a seven-doctor panel.

However, the medical report submitted in court on Tuesday was rejected by Judge Raja Jawad Hassan, who directed the deputy commissioner of Islamabad to constitute a medical board and submit another report to determine her age and mental level on August 30.

Rimsha’s lawyer Tahir Naveed Chaudhry said they had applied to have her case proceed under juvenile law. Judge Raja Jawad Hassan adjourned the proceedings until Thursday (August 30) after defence lawyers submitted a bail application.

Medical report

The cleric who handed Rimsha over to police insisted on Friday that she was fully aware of what she was doing when she burned the papers, but the medical report suggested she may be mentally impaired.

“She appears uneducated and her mental age appears below her chronological age,” the single-page report said.

Around 120 uniformed police officers guarded the hospital during Rimsha’s visit, a senior doctor said requesting anonymity.

‘Law of the jungle’

Ashrafi urged the government to take action to protect Christians in the Islamabad suburb of Mehrabadi, where Rimsha lives, and encourage Christian families – who had fled the area after the incident in fear of a backlash – to return.

“This is inhuman that those who have nothing to do with the case or are not a party to it are also being harassed,” Ashrafi told AFP.

“It is just like the law of jungle that 500 people approached a police station and got a report forcibly lodged with the police.”

Ashrafi said Rimsha’s case should be a watershed for the country’s blasphemy laws.

“We demand an impartial and thorough investigation into the case. Strict action should be taken against all those accusing the girl if she is found innocent,” he said.

The intervention from Ashrafi, a prominent member of the Defence of Pakistan Council (DPC), a coalition of right-wing and hardline religious groups, was somewhat unexpected, but he warned that if the case was mishandled it would reflect badly on Muslims.

“It happened many times that weak probes in such cases led to defaming our religion. It is because of this reason that we have demanded a thorough and fair probe,” he said.

The Child Rights Movement (CRM), a coalition of likeminded national and international child focused organisations, also urged the government to arrange the release of Rimsha.

(with additional reporting by obaid abbasi)

Published in The Express Tribune, August 29th, 2012.


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