A few days ago I was very pleased to hear the comments of religious scholar, Allama Tahir Ashrafi regarding Rimsha Masih, a Pakistani Christian girl who has been accused of blasphemy. Ashrafi said that she is Pakistan’s daughter and she will get full justice.
He gave a few impressive Islamic references in support of Rimsha, but on Thursday the mood turned sour again when her accuser’s lawyer, Rao Abdul Rehman, challenged the medical report which gave her age as 14 and stated that she was, as reported, mentally impaired.
Nobody was expecting any opposition and it was assumed that Rimsha would be granted bail as Christians all over the world have been praying for her security and her release. Now everything has changed.
Does the lawyer really have an objection to her age? Or is it her religion that is the real issue here? I can’t help but feel the latter is true.
It is my hope that on Saturday, when her court hearing takes place, that Rimsha will be granted bail. Otherwise we may see more unexpected actions by Islamists and Islamabad’s lawyers and a repeat of previous cases where pressure has been put on judges and threats have been made against Christian lawyers.
It is not easy to forget what happened to Judge Pervez Shah, who sentenced Malik Mumtaz Qadri to death. Qadri freely admitted to and even boasted of killing the Governor of Punjab, Salmaan Taseer. The lawyers opposed the verdict, surrounded the court, threatened the judge and demanded his removal.
There are regularly false accusations of blasphemy made against Christians, as well as attacks – sometimes deadly - on churches and Christian villages. These have caused relations between Christians and Muslims to deteriorate and have brought a bad name to Pakistan on the international level. Pakistan is now associated not only with terrorism and extremism, but with religious intolerance and blasphemy too.
Rimsha’s physical age may be debatable but her mental age is certainly assessable and the report leans towards the claim of her family that she has Down’s syndrome. Do our leaders and judges really think it appropriate to apply the rule of law to a person who has no ability to understand the law? Not only that, but Rimsha is illiterate. How she could possibly tell the difference between a sacred Kuranic text and ordinary every day writings is anyone’s guess.
It is tragic that our most vulnerable citizens in need of care and understanding are treated like criminals. And it is a double tragedy when those vulnerable citizens happen to be Christians as they are in for a tough life rendered insecure and unpredictable as a result of the hatred of radical Muslims.
We need to understand that Pakistan cannot survive in isolation but needs international support to overcome its challenges. It is only right that some of this support has come on the condition of improving the human rights situation for religious minorities.
Digital media and the advent of social networking have made the world a much better connected and transparent place; it is no longer possible to hide the injustices against minorities in Pakistan. The lawyer’s objection to Rimsha’s medical report has been commented on in the British media, which is following this case closely. I hope the huge global media interest makes all the difference to the outcome.
Sincere efforts are needed on the part of the Pakistani government, politicians and ordinary people living side by side with the country’s minorities in order to bring about the vision of its founder, Muhammad Ali Jinna, or Quaid-i-Azam (Great Leader).
Our political leaders speak of making “Quaid’s Pakistan” and yet every political party has strong extremist elements and no one is speaking openly about this issue. Can we really believe the moderate rhetoric?
Those of us who love Pakistan must react fast to condemn the growing hate against religious minorities and it is the government who must assure their protection and security, and bring about changes to the blasphemy laws.
Rimsha is a small helpless child and yet, by the grace of God, she has done what no powerful leader has managed to do – put the spotlight of the world on the plight of Christians in Pakistan. She has shown the whole world how Christians here are being treated, she has persuaded the whole world to speak about the injustice she is experiencing and the tyranny of the blasphemy laws, and she has united the people of the world who believe in human rights and a common humanity.
Her family must be proud of her and Pakistani Christians must be grateful to her. She is our daughter who has raised the profile of our persecution. She has taken our burden on her tiny shoulders and her suffering could wipe our tears, but her persecution could become the news of salvation for many and a strength to all of us who are working, hoping and praying for a better Pakistan. Let’s pray for her release, for her long life, and believe in her innocence.
Rimsha has exposed the tyranny of Pakistan's blasphemy laws to the world
Published 31 August 2012 | Nasir Saeed, CLAAS UK