‘Koran burning’ girl held in Pakistan
Pakistani authorities have arrested a Christian girl and are investigating whether she violated the country’s strict blasphemy laws, after furious neighbours surrounded her house and demanded police action.
Pakistani police officer Zabi Ullah said the girl was arrested last Thursday after hundreds of people, angry over reports she had allegedly burned religious papers, gathered outside her house in a poor, outlying district of the capital, Islamabad. “About 500 to 600 people had gathered outside her house in Islamabad, and they were very emotional, angry and they might have harmed her if we had not quickly reacted,” he said.
“Some Muslims from the area claim the girl had burned pages of the Koran, and we are investigating, and we have not reached any conclusion.”
Another police official, Qasim Niazi, said that when the girl was taken to the police station, she had a shopping bag containing various religious and Arabic-language papers that had been partly burned, but no Koran.
Another police officer said the matter would probably be dropped once the investigation had been completed and the atmosphere defused, saying there was “nothing much to the case”.
There were varying reports on the girl’s age and whether she was mentally disabled. Mr Ullah said she was 16, while other officials said she was either 11 or 12.
Mr Niazi said that when the girl was taken to the police station, she was scared and unable to speak normally, but he did not know whether she was mentally handicapped.
Christians often live in fear they will be accused of blasphemy, and critics say the law is sometimes used to settle scores.
Angry mobs have been known to take the law into their own hands and beat or kill people accused of violating the blasphemy laws. In July, thousands dragged a man accused of desecrating the Koran from a police station in the central Pakistani city of Bahawalpur, beat him to death and set his body on fire.
Attempts to revoke or alter the country’s blasphemy laws have been met with violent opposition. Last year, two prominent political figures who spoke out against the laws were killed, in attacks that raised concerns about the rise of religious extremism in Pakistan.
Liberal politician Salman Taseer was shot and killed by one of his own guards in January 2011, and two months later, militants gunned down Shahbaz Bhatti, the only Christian minister in Pakistan’s cabinet.
In the neighbourhood where the incident happened, residents were convinced the girl had desecrated the holy book. One possible explanation for the confusion is that few people in Pakistan actually speak or read Arabic, so anything with Arabic script on it is often believed to be from the Koran, sometimes the only Arabic-language book people have ever seen.
Some Muslims gathered at a local mosque said Christians in the mixed area had to respect Islamic traditions and culture.
“Their priest should tell them that they should respect the call for prayer. They should respect the mosque and the Koran. We are standing in the house of God. This incident has happened and it is true. It was not good,” said Haji Pervez.
The possibility the girl could be as young as 11 did not faze angry neighbours. “Even a three-year-old, four-year-old child knows,” said local shopkeeper Mohammed Ilyas.
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