Pakistani Christian girl's arrest leads to probe

WASHINGTON (BP) -- Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari has asked the country's Interior Ministry for a report about the arrest of a Christian girl on blasphemy charges for allegedly desecrating pages from the Quran, Voice of America reported Aug. 20.

Police say the girl was taken into custody on Thursday (Aug. 16) after angry neighbors surrounded her house in Islamabad and accused her of burning pages inscribed with verses from the Quran. Others said she was burning papers from the garbage for cooking.

Police say the girl will be held for 14 days while the case is investigated. President Zardari on Monday (Aug. 20) took "serious note" of the girl's detention and called for a report on her arrest.

There are varying reports of the girl's age, with some saying she is as young as 11. Others quote police who say she is 16. There are also reports that the girl is mentally handicapped.

Human rights activists say the blasphemy law in Pakistan is sometimes used to harass religious minorities.

Presidential spokesman Farhatullah Khan Babar said blasphemy cannot be condoned, but no one would be allowed to use it to settle personal scores.

Last year, Pakistan's Minister of Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti, the only Christian member of the federal cabinet, was gunned down in Islamabad. And Punjab province's governor, Salman Taseer, was killed by one of his bodyguards for opposing the controversial blasphemy law.

On Monday, Bhatti's brother, Paul, told VOA's Deewa Radio that "the girl is not mentally fit and also the law calls for medical examination as a prerequisite. She is a 12-year-old girl and we have talked to religious scholars on the issue and hope there will be some way out." Paul Bhatti currently serves as the prime minister's national harmony adviser.

Christians are the largest non-Muslim religious minority in Pakistan, making up about 5 percent of the population.


This article is adapted from Voice of America's news site at www.voanews.com.

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