According to a Compass Direct report on Friday, August 31, Rao Abdur Raheem, a lawyer for the man who has accused Rimsha of blasphemy against Islam declared in court that she was guilty and said, “If the state overrides the court, then God will get a person to do the job.” Naveed called this an “open threat” that was meant to intimidate the court into trying Rimsha as an adult. Raheem challenged the medical report that gave evidence of the girl’s young age and mental condition. He asked the court to annul the report because, “the doctors and the State were supporting the Christian girl.” At that point, rather than ruling on the case, the judge postponed the trial until Saturday.
Raheem made additional threats that day. He had been the attorney for Mumtaz Qadri, the man who, in January 2011, assassinated Punjab Governor Salman Taseer, a heroic reformer who called publicly for reform of the blasphemy laws. At Rimsha’s hearing, Raheem said, “Every person advocating (Rimsha’s) release should know that if she is allowed to walk free, there are many Mumtaz Qadris in this country.” He added that “if the court is not allowed to do its work, because the state is helping the accused, then the public has no other option except to take the law into their own hands.”
The irrationality of the charges against Rimsha Masih recall the charges against another Christian teenager, Salamat Masih. In 1993, when he was 12 years old, a local imam brought a blasphemy charge against Salamat, and his two uncles, Rehmat and Manzoor Masih, accusing them of writing insults against Mohammed on the wall of the mosque. Apart from the unlikely situation of Christians being foolish enough to write deliberately on the wall of a mosque, Salamat and both of the adult men were illiterate! But it didn’t matter to the mob. All three were imprisoned and charged with a crime punishable by death.
Manzoor Masih received his death sentence early, though, when he and the others were shot by members of an Islamic jihadist group on their way to court from the office of their defense counsel. Manzoor was killed instantly. Salamat his remaining uncle, along with a Christian advocate, John Joseph, were critically wounded, but survived. They were sentenced to death in February 1995, but the High Court overturned the sentence. The two Christians were settled in Germany since their lives were at risk in Pakistan. But as is now threatened by Islamist attorney Raheem regarding Rimsha’s case, the senior High Court judge who wrote the acquittal was murdered in his office by a religious extremist.
Naveed fears that Rimsha’s next court appearance is going to be “very volatile.” The Compass Direct story quoted him as saying, “Although the case is quite clear, it solely depends on the judge if he is willing to show courage and release the poor child on bail.” Naveed referred to another recent case in which a judge refused to give bail to a Christian man falsely accused of blasphemy on the pretext that he was safer inside the jail. He continued, “The judges are also under immense pressure, and since this case has already attracted immense media coverage and consequently attention of extremist elements, I can just hope and pray God works in this situation.”
Response from the U.S. State Department to this latest farcical case of blasphemy in Pakistan has been confined to a few statements. On August 20, State Department spokesman Victoria Nuland called the case “deeply disturbing” and urged the Pakistani government to protect her. The State Department commended Pakistan’s President, Asif Ali Zardari, for “his quick reaction,” but spoke in terms of the “misuse of the blasphemy law.” To his or her credit, a reporter challenged her, “Is there any correct use of the blasphemy law in Pakistan? You said “misuse.” What would be the correct use?” Nuland replied that she was in a position to “parse this law and how it might stand up to other laws around the world.” In other words, the State Department will not defend the concept of universal human rights that include freedom from such draconian laws if they may in any way challenge Islamic law.
As Nina Shea, human rights attorney and director of The Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom, has pointed out, the U.S. must oppose the blasphemy laws, not their abuse. Others, like Governor Taseer, a Muslim, and Pakistan’s Federal Minister for Minorities Affairs, Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian, have died opposing them. The least the U.S. government could do would be to denounce those laws that violate international standards of individual religious freedom and freedom of speech, and use the bully pulpit in opposition to them. (They could also penalize Pakistan’s government for failing to defend the minority populations by cutting – or at least threatening to cut – some of the billions of dollars in foreign aid we give them, but that’s another story.)
As for Rimsha’s family, they just want her back with them, and safe from harm. Of course if she is released, she and her family will have to flee to some other country for the rest of their lives. Her father, Misrek Masih, appealed to President Zardari, “We are afraid for her life… I’m asking President Asif Ali Zadari, who has already called for further attention into my daughter’s case, to pardon her and to prevent other people from being persecuted under these harsh laws like my daughter.” Allowing these harsh laws and the irrational people to use them and respond to them to thrive is allowing a climate that is ripe for terrorism and violence to thrive. The U.S. government should assist the Pakistani government to quash the Islamic extremists and provide protection and justice for vulnerable little girls like Rimsha and for all of Pakistan’s religious minorities.
Freedom Center pamphlets now available on Kindle: Click here.
Pages: 1 2