x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Pakistan girl and family fear for their lives in blasphemy case

A Christian family and their daughter, who was bailed after spending three weeks in a Pakistan jail on blasphemy charges, fear for their lives despite government promises to protect them.

ISLAMABAD // A Christian family and their daughter, who was bailed after spending three weeks in a Pakistan jail on blasphemy charges, fear for their lives despite government promises to protect them, media reports said.

The girl was arrested on August 16 for allegedly setting fire to papers that contained Quranic verses in an impoverished neighbourhood of Islamabad.

Her plight attracted an international outcry because she is underage, illiterate and said to suffer from learning difficulties.

"I'm scared" CNN quoted her as saying on Tuesday by telephone, from a secret location with her family. "I'm afraid of anyone who might kill us."

But she said she would never leave the country.

"I love Pakistan," the girl said, who is thought to be 14.

According to CNN, she often answered just "yes" or "no" in a shy and nervous voice, and firmly denied she had burnt pages of Quran.

She said she was falsely accused, but would not answer questions about what exactly happened on August 16.

Blasphemy is hugely sensitive in Pakistan. Insulting the Prophet Mohammed is punishable by death and burning a sacred text by life imprisonment. Two politicians who spoke out on the matter were killed last year.

According to CNN, her father — a Christian house painter who earns a few dollars a day — said no one in his family would dare dishonour the Quran.

The BBC quoted him as saying the family were threatened by neighbours.

"They were saying: 'We are going to burn you inside the house,'" he said. "'We are not going to spare you or your kids. Then we will burn the homes of the other Christians'.

"Even after we left the area they were saying: 'Bring the girl and the family to us. We want to kill them.'"

"We are worried that we can be attacked and killed any time. Before, when cases like this have arisen, people who were accused were killed."

According to the BBC, Rimsha's mother said she was assaulted after a mob tried to enter the house before her daughter was arrested.

"A woman hit me," she said, "and slapped my face. People started running into the house to catch my daughter. I was scared they might kill us. We were all crying. My daughter was very upset."

The family said the girl's 14-year-old sister was also traumatised.

"A lot of people had gathered," the BBC quoted her as saying, "and they were saying: 'We will cut off the hands of the people who burnt the Quran.' [she] wouldn't come out of the bathroom. Later the police came and took her away."