Pakistan Police Arrest Christian Mentally Challenged Girl For "Blasphemy"

Friday, June 19, 2009

By Worthy News Asia Service

ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN (Worthy News) -- Pakistani police detained and interrogated a mentally challenged Christian girl for allegedly burning pages of the Koran, seen as a holy book by Muslims, amid mounting international concern about Pakistan's controversial blasphemy laws, an advocacy group said Friday, June 19.

International Christian Concern (ICC) told Worthy News that the girl, who was only identified as Nazia, was arrested June 4 after Muhammad Abid Raza, the secretary general a fundamentalist Muslim party, accused her of blasphemy.

ICC said the problems began June 3 when Raza arrived home in the city of Kharian in Punjab province to find his younger brother had saved burnt pages of the Koran in plastic bags. The younger brother claimed the pages had been burned by Nazia, their Christian neighbor, ICC explained.

"Even though it was 10pm, Raza said that he immediately alerted the Saddar Police Station" accussing her of blasphemy, ICC said. "The next day, police arrived at Nazia's home and took her and family members to the police station for questioning," for 16 hours, the group added.


ICC investigators said police realized she was mentally challenged when she failed to respond clearly to basic questions. "When police asked her name, she responded, "Nadia." A few moments later she suddenly said, "No, my name is Shaista," and then, "No, my name may be Nazia',".

Raza reportedly dropped the charges of blasphemy after inquiring about her with neighbors and discussions with Muslim clerics. Nazia was released June 5, Christians said.

However, "There are two major concerns with this story. First, this is another example of why Pakistan's blasphemy laws are morally and legally bankrupt," said ICC's Advocacy Director Jeremy Sewall. "Second, it shows that not even the mentally challenged are adequately protected from harassment and persecution. Praise God that Nazia was released, but her case illustrates
exactly why Pakistan must repeal its extremist blasphemy laws."

Under the blasphemy legislation Christians and others accused of blasphemy can potentially face the death penalty if convicted. In many cases Christians have however received long prison sentences.