By BosNewsLife Asia Service with reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos
ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN (BosNewsLife)– Pakistani authorities have detained an 11-year-old Christian girl in the capital Islamabad because she allegedly burned the Koran, viewed as a holy book by Muslims, an advocacy official told BosNewsLife Friday, August 17.
“Rimsha Masih, a resident of Islambad’s slum area Meherabadi, was sent to the [nearby] Adiala Jail,” said Farrukh H. Saif, executive director of Pakistan-based rights group World Vision In Progress.
“A Local Muslim, Muhammad Amjid, filed a complaint in Ramna Police station that she had burned the Koran,” added Saif, whose organization provides legal aid to the girl and her family.
He said police soon detained Ramisha, under controversial blasphemy legislation that has been criticized by the West. She was only identified by her first name, amid apparent security concerns.
It came shortly after Muslims found a torched Koran Friday, August 17, in Meherabadi, an impoverished neighborhood of some 2,000 Christians, he added. “The Muslims accused the Christians that they had burned Koran and those Muslims announced the incident in all the mosques” around Friday prayers, Saif said.
“Now almost 5000 Muslims have surrounded that area and the lives of the Christians is in danger,” Saif claimed. He said he had urged Christian supporters “to please pray” for fellow believers in Pakistan to ensure that “God may protect them from any mishap.”
It was not clear Friday what Ramisha’s role, if any, was in the burning incident.
Officials could not immediately be reached for comment.
Rights groups have expressed concern that throughout Pakistan, thousands of children are locked inside police cells or overcrowded jails. They say the children are victims of a justice system that treats the very young much the same as adults.
Kids as young as seven can spend years behind bars – before the courts have even decided if they are innocent or guilty, according to observers familiar with the case.
“We estimate that there are as many as 4,500 juveniles in Pakistani prisons,” said Ansar Burney Trust, an advocacy group supporting various projects in Pakistan and abroad.
“These include children who are awaiting trial, those already sentenced and even those who were born into imprisonment; with no fault of their own but because their own mothers were prisoners there,” the group added in a statement monitored by BosNewsLife.
There has also been pressure on Christians in prison to convert to Islam, activists and Christians say.
Several have been detained on “blasphemy against Islam” charges, including Asia Bibi, a mother of five. Bibi, who was sentenced to death and still awaits her appeal, has been behind bars since June, 2009.
Christians comprise less than 5 percent of Pakistan’s heavily Muslim population of 190 million people, according to the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).