By BosNewsLife Asia Service with reporting by BosNewsLife Special Correspondent Xavier P. William reporting from Pakistan
ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN (BosNewsLife)– A Christian girl in northeastern Pakistan has been removed from school for “blasphemy against Islam” after she made “an innocent” spelling mistake, area Christians and an advocacy group said Friday September 30.
Faryal Bhatti, 13, spelled out the word ‘laanat’ meaning ‘curse’ instead of ‘naat’ meaning ‘hymn’, during her Urdu language exam Thursday, September 22, explained the independent Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS).
“Bhatti and her mother apologized for the mistake during a meeting of clerics and school teachers and assured that no harm had been intended,” the group added.
Yet, Muslim religious leaders reportedly condemned Bhatti’s error during Friday sermons last week, demanding action by local authorities against the schoolgirl and her family.
On Saturday, September 24, school officials expelled her from Sir Syed Girls’ High School near Abbottabad city, some 50 kilometers (31 miles) outside the capital Islamabad, CLAAS and local Christians said.
MUSLIM LEADERS ANGRY
Muslim religious leaders reportedly also condemned Bhatti’s error during Friday sermons last week, demanding action by local authorities against the schoolgirl and her family.
BosNewsLife was not immediately able to reach Bhatti family members who hiding, Christians said. It was unclear Friday, September 29, when and if the family would return home.
Security forces have helped to calm down tensions in the Ordnance Factories colony where the school is located, residents said.
“It is absolutely ridiculous that blasphemy charges could be brought against an eighth grade student because they made a spelling mistake in a class test,” CLAAS Coordinator Nasir Saeed told BosNewsLife.
MAKING “INNOCENT MISTAKE”
“The consequences of an innocent mistake have proved very serious for Faryal, who will now have to find another school and live with the stigma of being a blasphemer.”
It comes amid a debate in Pakistan about controversial legislation that calls for the death penalty, or at least life imprisonment, for blasphemy against Islam.
“Her expulsion and the demands for criminal charges prove the extent to which the blasphemy law is being utterly misused in Pakistan and wreaking havoc in the lives of people who have done absolutely nothing wrong,” added Saeed.
Authorities have not yet commented on the case, but several Christians have been detained on charges of blasphemy.
CHRISTIAN PRISONER DIES
Earlier this month a Christian accused of blasphemy against Islam died in a Pakistani prison after he was allegedly denied medical care.
Rights investigators said an autopsy indicated that Aslam Masih died September 9 from Dengue virus because prison officials refused to allow treatment.
His death has also raised concerns among Christians about the safety of Asia Bibi, a Christian mother sentenced to death for “blasphemy”.
She is in jail awaiting her appeal to be heard by the Lahore High Court.
Several Christians accused of blasphemy have either been killed while in detention or in court, according to rights groups and local Christians.
Two senior officials, Pakistan’s only known Christian government minister Shahbaz Bhatti and and Punjab province governor Salman Taseer, were assassinated this year for opposing the blasphemy legislation.
Christians comprise less than 5 percent of Pakistan’s over 187 million people who are mainly Muslim, according to estimates by the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). (With editing by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos. Follow BosNewsLife’s Newsfeed via Twitter or http://www.twitter.com/bosnewslife ).