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US calls blasphemy arrest 'disturbing'
Urges Pakistan government to conduct thorough and transparent investigation of the charges
- Philip Bader, Bangkok
- August 21, 2012
In her daily press briefing on Monday, spokesperson Victoria Nuland welcomed reports that President Ali Asif Zardari had directed the Interior Ministry to review the arrest of the young girl, identified by local media as Rimsha Masih, whose age has been given as between 10 and 16 years in various media reports.
â€śWe think that the presidentâ€™s statement is very, very welcome. And we urge the government of Pakistan to protect not just its religious minority citizens, but also women and girls.â€ť
Nuland further noted that â€śwhat is being touted as an abuse or an intentional act for religious purposes may, in fact, have been something else.â€ť
Masih was arrested on Friday in a Christian enclave in Islamabad on suspicion of blasphemy, which can be punishable by death.
A report by the New York Times said a local cleric had accused Masih, who Pakistan media have said suffers from Downâ€™s Syndrome, of possessing burned pages of a religious textbook used to teach the Koran to children.
Masih is reportedly being held at Adiyala jail in Rawalpindi.
Police investigator Zabhiullah Abbasi said Masih would be detained until August 25, after which she would be charged in court with blasphemy, according to a report by AFP, which further noted that she is being held in the same jail that houses the killer of former Punjab governor Salman Tasser, who was murdered in January 2011 for his opposition to the countryâ€™s blasphemy laws.
Abbasi told AFP that Masih was illiterate but did not suffer from Downâ€™s Syndrome.
â€śThe girl is 16 years old as per the medical report and she is normal,â€ť he said.
The arrests have further stoked religious tensions in the country, with many Christian families fleeing their homes over fears for their safety, according to reports.
State media said Monday that President Zardari had taken â€śserious noteâ€ť of the incident and called for an explanation of the arrest.
In a report by online Pakistan news agency dawn.com on Monday, Nafisa Shah, head of the human rights unit of President Zardariâ€™s Pakistan Peopleâ€™s Party, was quoted as saying Masihâ€™s arrest was a â€śglaring exampleâ€ť of the misuse of the countryâ€™s blasphemy laws, which have been the subject of widespread criticism at home and abroad.
â€śAll political parties and religious leaders must come together to find a solution to this issue which is creating insecurity among minorities,â€ť Shah was further quoted as saying.
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Muslim man burned alive by mob
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