Scottish Christians and other supporters for religious freedom in Pakistan gathered outside the Pakistani Consulate in Glasgow on the morning of Friday 31st August to protest the case of Rimsha Masih, a young teenager with learning disabilities, who was charged with blasphemy and faces a death sentence. The event was supported by the British Pakistani Christian Association (BPCA).
Attacks by Muslim mobs calling for her to be burnt alive meant that her entire community has fled in fear from their homes. BPCA's chairman, Wilson Chowdhry said
A community has been besieged. The residents have fled into a forest. They are building homes from wood cut from the trees and holding church worship in a similarly makeshift church building. Their properties have been looted. They have lost. And this was the aim all along. The Mullah who incited the violence and is now pressing charges of Rimsha openly admitted on Pakistani TV to stirring up the violence with his sermons. This is typical tactics by Islamicists, and a similar pattern is being repeated on an almost daily basis across Pakistan. Their openly stated aim is to religiously cleanse areas and ultimately the whole of Pakistan of all non-Muslims by forced conversion and violence and threats.
As well as chants and speeches, the protesters handed in a petition to consular officials in front of the TV news cameras. The officials declined to comment.
The event was supported by the Scottish Asian Christian Association whose Chairman Sheem Gill said
We are here today because we want to support our brothers and sisters in Pakistan. They are suffering a great deal, and most of it doesn’t get on the news. They live in fear, caught between warring factions, extremists, criminals and extremists, and all too frequently those attacking them have the tacit and sometimes open support of the police. The blasphemy law creates an excuse for anyone to attack the weak, the powerless, or someone you have a dispute with, and there is no punishment provided for those who abuse this law, which makes it all the more tempting for people to misuse it.
The initiator of the protest, Anila Athar Hasan, of the Rationalist Society of Pakistan said
As we speak, we are honouring and celebrating those with impairments at the Paralympics in London, but in Pakistan they are beating and burning them. The mob that surrounded the police station demanded Rimsha be brought out so they could burn her alive. This was not an isolated threat. A few weeks ago a Muslim man, also with a mental impairment, was arrested on similar grounds. A 2000 strong mob stormed the police station, dragged him out and beat and burnt him alive in the street outside the station. This is the mentality out there. Pakistan, when are you going to stop killing your children?
The BPCA is holding a similar rally today, 1st September, outside the Pakistani consulate in Manchester.
Notes for editors.
Rimsha Masih is a young girl, aged 11 - if you believe her church and family, or 14 if you believe the official medical report - with a mental or learning impairment. Her family say she has Downs Syndrome, the medical report stated that her 'mental age appears to be below her chronological age. Rimsha was accused of blasphemy by burning pages said to contain verses from the Quran.
The background is that the local Imam, who is pressing charges against her, had been stirring up hatred of Christians through his sermons, calling on Christians to be evicted from their homes. One of his followers then accused Rimsha of having burnt and torn pages with Quranic verses in her bag. She and her family were attacked and beaten, and mobs attacked and looted Christian homes in the slum in Islamabad where she lived. Hundreds of Christians fled the area. Rimsha was arrested, and a mob gathered outside demanding the police hand her over to be burned alive.
The lawyer acting for the Imam in pressing charges against Rimsha has accused her and the state of being complicit in creating an illegal medical report, and has said called for her to be killed extra-judicially if the courts acquit her.
For further details, both about the Rimsha case, and Christian sufferings in Pakistan in general, please see postings on the BPCA blogspot http://britishpakistanichristian.blogspot.co.uk/