Immediately release Rimsha, stop using the blasphemy law!

Press release
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Paris, Lahore, 6 September 2012. The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and its member organisation, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), call for the immediate release of Rimsha Masih, a 14 year-old Christian girl with learning difficulties, held in custody since August 16th in Adiala Jail, Punjab, under Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy law.

“It is a travesty of justice that the minor girl continues to be kept in prison in spite of new evidence that she was falsely implicated. It is the government’s responsibility to provide security to her and her family and enable their safe return and resettlement. Claiming to keep her in custody for her own safety means the authorities are abdicating their responsibility”, said Zohra Yusuf, HRCP Chairperson.

For the past weeks, the detention under the blasphemy law of Rishma Masih has provoked public outcry in Pakistan as well as internationally. Following two weeks of widespread media coverage, the arrest of a local imam on September 2nd for allegedly planting the burnt pages of the Koran in Rimsha’s bag, has been presented as a turning point in the case. It is expected that in the light of new evidence she will be acquitted and released at the next hearing on September 7th.

While FIDH and HRCP would not approve of the arrested cleric being charged under the blasphemy law, appropriate laws of false accusation must be applied. It is also hoped that the trial of the imam will serve as a deterrent to others against misusing a flawed law.

“Rimsha’s case once again puts the spotlight on the infamous blasphemy law, which blatantly violates international human rights standards and should immediately be repealed. FIDH therefore welcomes international reactions reaffirming that the very existence of the crime of blasphemy infringes upon fundamental freedoms”, said Souhayr Belhassen, FIDH president.

Since 1988, thousands of cases have been lodged in Pakistan for desecration of the Koran and blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad. Hundreds have been sentenced and twelve of them have been given death penalty. The blasphemy law is commonly used against religious minorities, especially Christians, Ahmadis and Hindus. In January and March 2011, critics of the law, including the former Governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer and the minister for Religious Minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti, have been murdered in Lahore and Islamabad. A bill passed on to a parliamentary committee for vetting was withdrawn in February 2011 under pressure from religious groups as well as some opposition political parties. Asia Bibi, who was condemned to death in November 2010 for insulting Prophet Mohamed and whose case also prompted international outcry, is still in prison to this date.

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