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Rimsha goes into hiding after release

14 September 2012

AP

In hiding: Rimsha Masih is escorted towards a helicopter, after her release from prison earlier this month

In hiding: Rimsha Masih is escorted towards a helicopter, after her release from prison earlier this month

THE young Pakistani Christian girl, Rimsha Masih, accused of desecrating the Qur'an, is in hiding after being released on bail last week.

Rimsha was freed after a Muslim cleric from her home district of Islamabad was arrested for allegedly planting evidence to incriminate her (News, 7 September).

Pakistan's Minister for National Harmony, Paul Bhatti, denied reports that she and her family had been flown out of the country, but told media that they had been moved to a "safe place selected by the authorities". He said: "She will not face threats, because everybody believes she is innocent."

Rimsha, who is understood to have learning difficulties and be aged about 14, had been held in a high-security prison for three weeks after being accused of burning pages from the Qur'an. On her release, she was immediately flown by helicopter to a reunion with relatives in an undisclosed location.

In an interview with the US TV network CNN, Rimsha expressed fear for her life, but said that she was happy to be back with her family. She refused to answer questions about the alleged incident, but asserted that she was innocent and was falsely accused. Her father said that no one in his family would dishonour the Qur'an.

Rimsha's case has excited tremendous international interest and focused attention on Pakistan's blasphemy laws. Two high-profile politicians were assassinated last year after they demanded reform of the law and the release of Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman sentenced to death (News, 4 March 2011; 7 January 2011).

Rimsha's case has found sympathetic coverage in the country's media, however, and several leading Islamic clerics have offered support and asked for the charges to be dropped.

Blasphemy is a highly sensitive issue in Pakistan, where 97 per cent of the population are Muslim. In the past, accusations of blasphemy have led to vigilante killings.

The Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS) welcomed Rimsha's release. CLAAS's UK Co-ordinator, Nasir Saeed, said: "There are, however, many accusations of blasphemy against Christians and other minorities in Pakistan that never make the news headlines. . . Even those who do not fall victim to extra-judicial killings face the death penalty or years in prisons, where the conditions are terrible."

The World Council of Churches will be holding an international hearing on the misuse of the blasphemy law and religious minorities in Pakistan next week in Switzerland. The public hearing in Geneva will examine the concerns and reported human-rights violations of persecuted religious minorities in Pakistan.

Last Saturday, Pakistani Christians from Birmingham, Walsall, and Coventry demonstrated at the Pakistani Consulate in Birmingham over the detention, but dispersed after news of her release came through. The chairman of the British Pakistani Christian Association, which helped organise the protest, Wilson Chowdhry, said: "The battle does not stop here, and Rimsha will still have to undergo a full trial; moreover, other victims continue to suffer. We can rejoice, however, as a small step towards success was achieved with today's result, and a child is back with her parents."

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