Monday, 27 August 2012

Follow up to the Pakistan "blasphemy" case.

Last week I wrote a post about the brutal injustice suffered by a child in Pakistan, who had been arrested on charges of "blasphemy" after being accused of burning pages from the Qur'an.  My thoughts at the time can be seen here. Although the story was everywhere for a few days - with the USA, laudably, officially registering their "concern" about the case - little has been heard since the child's arrest so I thought I should do some digging.

I'm pleased to report that - possibly due to the outrage expressed by multiple media outlets as well as pressure from other nations - the news is better than I was tempted to expect.

It is now being reported by outlets in India and in Pakistan itself that there is no hard evidence that the burned material found in the child's possession included any part of the Qur'an.  Let me make something clear; this is not me validating, conceding or in any way assenting to the view that THIS is what makes burning a book OK - I'm just passing on what I've learned. Reading between the lines from previous information and another couple of interesting "clarifications", part of me thinks there may well have been Qur'anic material, but that pressure has persuaded the Pakistan authorities to deny this.

In a related clarification, police official Zabi Ullah now states that girl can be held for only fourteen days while the matter is investigated. Another police official who did not wish to be named stated that the evidence against the child is such as to mean there is "nothing much to the case", and that he expected her to be released at the end of the holding period once anger in the region has dissipated. That, of course, is a matter of huge concern; a community of several hundred people has been driven from its homes by a mere accusation; in such an atmosphere, it is not unreasonable to fear that the child and others of her community may remain at risk when she is released.

There is still much confusion on the case; the age of the child has been variously given as eleven and sixteen. There are still reports that she may be mentally disabled. The Times of India quotes a Vatican representative who states she is entirely illiterate. None of that affects or ameliorates the horror of arresting a child, of course - or the insanity of arresting anyone for something so banal as burning a book.

Sadly - and perhaps tellingly - the Pakistan Ministry of Human Rights is offering no comment or press release material specific to this matter that I was able to find.

It may well be that this matter will resolve itself more justly than we might have expected, although of course it's disgraceful that it ever happened in the first place. However, this is by no means certain and if the clarifications given are more a concession to pressure than an elucidation of existing facts (and I by no means state that as a fact), that tells us that pressure may still be necessary. If, like me, you are concerned about what will happen to this girl and to her family, I encourage you to visit this page and send emails to the people who may be able to influence the outcome.  The content is up to you, of course, but I recommend registering your opinion on "blasphemy" laws and seeking reassurance that the child will be released once it is safe (preferably with mechanisms in place to assure that latter point) for her to return to her community.

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