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 a religious text.
Police say the girl was taken into custody Thursday after angry neighbors surrounded her house in Islamabad and accused her of burning pages inscribed with verses from the Koran. Others said she was burning papers from the garbage for cooking.
Authorities say the girl will be held for 14 days while the case is investigated. President Zardari on Monday 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 years old. Others quote police who say she is 16. There also are reports that the girl is mentally handicapped.
In Washington, a State Department spokeswoman called the case “deeply disturbing.” She urged the government of Pakistan to protect not just its religious minority citizens but also women and girls.
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 that no one will 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 said 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 advisor.
Christians are the largest non-Muslim religious minority in Pakistan, making up about 5 percent of the population.