A 14-year-old girl, Rimsha, was arrested in Pakistan on August 17, 2012 after her neighbor accused her of burning pages which contained text from the Muslim Holy Book, the Quran. It was reported that the neighbor did not actually see Rimsha burn the pages but brought her belongings – shopping bags with ashes and the partially burned pages that Rimsha had been carrying – to the local cleric, Khalid Jadoon Chishti, to be considered as evidence. Rimsha claims she was using the pages as fuel for cooking. The girl was accused of blasphemy and arrested that same day. She currently remains in jail as her attorneys negotiate the possibility of bail.
The accusations facing the minor spurred a violent nation-wide reaction from devoted Muslims. Rimsha’s Christian family was forced into hiding. On the day of her arrest, a group of 150 angry Muslims flooded a predominately Christian neighborhood and threatened to burn down their houses. Pakistan’s Penal Code prohibits blasphemy against any recognized religion and repercussions range from the imposition of fines to the death penalty. Accusations and charges of blasphemy have been known to arouse violent threats and attacks from various religious sects. While Pakistan has been criticized for the harshness of its blasphemy laws, the modification of these laws has been strongly resisted, particularly by Islamic parties. Given this, it is no wonder that Pakistan authorities are already planning for Rimsha’s safety should she be released on bail, for fear of retaliation from outraged Muslims.
Following Rimsha’s story, recent developments illuminate an interesting twist. Pakistani police claim that the Muslim cleric, Chishti, planted certain evidence to guaranty that Rimsha would be charged with blasphemy. Police allege that Chishti himself tore pages out of the Quran hoping to secure a blasphemy charge against Rimsha, fearing that pages with Quran text alone would not be sufficient grounds to invoke a blasphemy charge and impose punishment. Three witnesses were able to corroborate this claim; a judge is currently addressing these accusations and the cleric taken into custody. Given these recent accusations, there is a stronger chance that a judge may grant bail for Rimsha. Authorities are also looking into whether she had a medical condition and whether she was even aware that the burned pages contained text from the Quran; police investigators believe that Rimsha was illiterate. Chishti, it seems, did a horrible job of choosing his victim.
One would ask, why would a Muslim cleric want to frame an innocent teenage girl? Pakistan’s blasphemy laws seem to provide an answer, in that Muslims may be using the laws and their grave consequences to entrap minorities. In the United States, we use our laws to prevent intimidation. Take, for example, our laws forbidding cross-burning; this action is technically protected speech, unless it is proven that the insignia burning was intended to intimidate or harm another. In Pakistan, religious followers are using the laws themselves to produce the same sense of fear and intimidation. Does anybody else see something wrong here?