A Christian girl who was detained after being accused of burning pages of the Koran in Pakistan has said she is scared for her life and fears “anyone who might kill us”.
In her first public words since the controversy erupted last month, Rimsha Masih said she was happy to have been returned to her family after securing bail but that she was still frightened. “I’m scared,” she told CNN, speaking by phone from an undisclosed location.
The girl, who may be as young as 11 but who is believed to have a much younger mental age, was released at the weekend from a maximum security jail where had been held in solitary confinement for three weeks after a court granted her bail. She had been detained after Muslim neighbours in her Christian community in Islamabad claimed she had been spotted burning pages of the Koran, an offence considered to be blasphemy and which technically could result in the death penalty.
When she was asked whether she had burned pages of the Koran, Rimsha, speaking in just short sentences, immediately replied: “No.”
The girl’s family adamantly denied the claims and in a rare instance of the authorities in Pakistan standing up to potentially false claims of blasphemy, Khalid Jadoon, an imam at the local mosque and one of those who had accused her, was accused of fabricating the burned pages and was himself charged.
Her father, Mizrak Mashi, a painter, said nobody in his family would dishonour or damage the Koran. “We respect the Koran just like we respect the Bible,” he said. “We couldn’t imagine committing blasphemy let alone doing it. Our children would never do this either.”
Campaigners say that Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, which date from the days of British rule, are regularly abused and are used to settle personal grudges. But the government has been reluctant to respond to demands for their reform, fearful of triggering a backlash from religious groups.
One of those who spoke out against the laws was the governor of Punjab province, Salmaan Taseer, who was as a result shot dead by his bodyguard in January 2011. Another government minister who wanted to reform the laws was shot dead several months later.