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Christian Girl’s Release from Pakistani Prison to be Determined Tomorrow

Washington, D.C. (September 6, 2012) - International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that the fate of a Christian girl arrested for blasphemy in mid-August may be determined tomorrow at a court hearing in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. Following the arrest of a Muslim cleric earlier this week who allegedly tried to frame the girl for blasphemy, Pakistani Christians and human rights activists are hopeful the girl will be released on bail. There is grave concern, however, that if released, the girl and her family will no longer be safe in Pakistan.

Rimsha Masih, a 14-year-old girl with mental disabilities, was arrested for blaspheming Islam on August 16 after she was allegedly spotted by neighbors with a plastic bag containing burned pages of the Quran in Mehrabad, a poor district of Islamabad. The case took an unexpected twist on Saturday when Khalid Jadoon Chisti, a local imam, was accused by a member of his mosque of planting the burned pages in Rimsha's bag with the intent to drive Christians out of his Islamabad neighborhood. A Pakistani cabinet minister is hopeful that allegations against the imam will result in Rimsha's release.

"On the 7th we are very hopeful that she would be released," Paul Bhatti, the Minister for National Harmony told Agence France-Presse in an interview on Monday. "We are quite sure that [the blasphemy] law is often misused and innocent victims are the target."

Rimsha will remain in jail until at least Friday after her bail hearing was postponed for a second time Monday, her lawyer Tahir Naveed Chaudhry told The Associated Press. The child, who is being held at the high-security Adiyala jail in Rawalpindi, does not understand the charges brought against her. "I met the girl at the police station when she was arrested and she is suffering from trauma," Xavier P. William, the Country Director of Masihi Foundation Pakistan, told BBC. "The crowd wanted to burn her alive.... She is an innocent child - she doesn't even know what she did. She is in a state of shock."

Even if released, there is little hope that Rimsha and her family will be able to return home. "They shouldn't risk their lives by returning home," said the director of a Pakistan human rights organization in Lahore who asked that his identity not be disclosed for security reasons. "Once you have been accused of blasphemy it means the relocation of your family even if you are acquitted by the court. The people who were willing to burn Rimsha alive are now even angrier that their imam was accused of something that they couldn't imagine him being guilty of doing. Even a government minister said that she is safer in jail than outside. There is no way she can go back to the same place."

Aidan Clay, ICC Regional Manager for the Middle East, said, "While ICC welcomes the positive news that Rimsha may soon be released, it does not negate the fact that a 14-year-old girl has unjustly suffered three weeks of imprisonment on false charges as a result of Pakistan's oppressive blasphemy laws. Moreover, there is a possibility that Rimsha's court hearing will again be postponed after having been delayed twice already. In an effort to ensure Rimsha's quick release and safekeeping, ICC has launched a petition urging Pakistani officials to take immediate action so that Rimsha does not become another victim of mob violence or a casualty of abused blasphemy legislation. The international community must not stand idly by, lest Pakistani Christians and other innocent minorities continue to be thrown in prison and even executed on false allegations of blasphemy. No one, adult or child, should fear being killed by their government or burned by a mob simply because they are a member of a minority religious community."

Rimsha needs your help. Join ICC today in calling for the Pakistani government to immediately release and ensure the safety of Rimsha. Click here to sign our petition and help free this innocent girl from her unlawful imprisonment.

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