The girl, whose authorities claim is a teenager but a leading human rights advocate says is “just 11 to 12 years old,” was arrested and charged with blasphemy, which is punishable by death in Pakistan. She has been imprisoned in a police station since her arrest.
Livid Muslim demonstrators took to the streets to demand swift punishment for Rimsha, who will be brought before a court by the end of the month. Angry Muslim mobs in the Mehrabad neighborhood where Rimsha’s family, along with as many as 800 Christians, live forced many Christians to flee in fear for their lives.
Dr. Paul Bhatti, Pakistan’s Minister for National Harmony, told the BBC that it appeared “unlikely she (Rimsha) purposefully desecrated the Koran.”
“From the reports I have seen, she was found carrying a waste bag which also had pages of the Koran,” Bhatti said. “This infuriated some local people and a large crowd gathered to demand action against her. The police were initially reluctant to arrest her, but they came under pressure from a very large crowd, who were threatening to burn down Christian homes.”
“Her (Rimsha’s) parents were also taken into protective custody because they were frightened of threats against them,” he added.
Women’s Action Forum (WAF), a Pakistani women’s rights organization, slammed Rimsha’s arrest.
“WAF is outraged at the total inhumanity of the men who lodged the First Information Report (FIR) in the police,” spokeswoman Tahira Abdullah is quoted by AFP. The group is demanding the girl’s immediate release. Abdullah said that the Juvenile Justice System should have handled the case. She also accused police of not allowing Rimsha access to legal aid.
In Pakistan, blasphemy is punishable by death and desecration of the Koran can result in a life sentence. Often, people convicted of blasphemy are murdered by angry Muslim mobs. Last year, Mohamed Imran, who was tried but exonerated of blasphemy charges, was murdered by Islamic vigilantes despite being cleared of any wrongdoing.
There have been dozens of these murders, with two high-profile politicians, Punjab governor Salman Taseer and Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti— a Christian, murdered for attempting to reform blasphemy laws.