Hundreds Of Christians Hiding In Pakistan After Girl's Arrest

Aug 20, 2012

"Hundreds of Pakistani Christians are hiding out at a priest's compound, praying for the safety of an 11-year-old member of their community" who is in police custody, NPR's Lauren Freyer reports from Islamabad. The Christians also fear their own safety.

The cause of anger directed toward them by some in the Muslim nation: The girl may have burned some Islamic religious materials. According to The Associated Press:

"A Pakistani police officer, Zabi Ullah, said Monday that the girl was arrested Thursday after hundreds of neighbors, angry over reports she had allegedly burned religious papers, gathered outside her house in a poor outlying district of the capital, Islamabad.

"He said the police took the girl to the police station, and that she's being held for 14 days while authorities investigate."

Lauren tells our Newscast Desk that other neighbors of the girl say she is mentally impaired and didn't know what she was doing. There are reports in local media that she has Down Syndrome. There are also reports that she may be as old as 16.

Pakistan's Dawn newspaper says that President Asif Ali Zardari has "called on officials to explain the [girl's] arrest.

The Guardian notes that Pakistan's blasphemy law allows for the death penalty to be imposed if someone is judged guilty of desecrating the Quran or other Islamic materials. It adds that:

"[The law] has a proven track record of ensnaring people on the flimsiest of evidence and being cynically used to intimidate communities or settle quarrels over money and property. Even though no one has yet been executed for blasphemy in Pakistan, long prison terms are common – one Christian couple was sentenced to 25 years in 2010 after being accused of touching the Quran with unwashed hands."

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