By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
THE HAGUE/ISLAMABAD (BosNewsLife)– Dutch parliamentarians urged the Netherlands and the European Union on Monday, August 20, to demand freedom for an 11-year-old Christian girl who has been jailed in Pakistan on charges of blasphemy against Islam.
The ChristianUnie (‘ChristianUnion’) party’s Dutch legislator Joel Voordewind en Europarliamentarian Peter van Dalen told BosNewsLife that they made the appeal in official questions to Dutch Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal and Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s foreign policy chief.
They expressed concerns about reports that the girl, Rimsha Masih, is thought to suffer from Down Syndrome, still a taboo topic in Pakistan, a heavily Islamic nation of some 190 million people.
“This girl has to be released immediately,” said Voordewind in a statement to BosNewsLife. “I urge Minister Rosenthal to summon the Pakistani ambassador and appeal for her immediate release.”
Rimsha has been accused of burning a Koranic book for children, but rights activists told BosNewsLife she has denied wrongdoing and cannot read.
Voordewind said Rosenthal should step up efforts that both the Netherlands and the EU will unite in condemning the controversial detention.
Colleague Van Dalen proposed that Ashton would lead an international initiative to pressure Pakistan to end criticized blasphemy legislation under which Christians have been detained throughout the country.
“This ridiculous legislation made many victims. Some have been even sentenced to death. The international community should pressure Pakistan to overturn the blasphemy regulations, if necessary with EU sanctions, including freezing aid for Pakistan,” he said.
Monday’s appeal came shortly after BosNewsLife published details about the girl’s imprisonment amid reports that thousands of Christians were forced to flee their homes in Pakistan’s capital Islamabad, following her detention.
“It’s a very desperate situation, many are on the streets in the rain,” explained Farrukh H. Saif, executive director of Pakistan-based rights group World Vision In Progress (WVIP).
He told BosNewsLife his group now supports some 500 Christians with food packages, but added that’s not enough as “1,000 Christian families” fled Islamabad’s slum area Meherabadi.
Muslims reportedly set up barricades to prevent the already impoverished Christians from returning home. “They claim the Christians are guilty of blasphemy and Muslims even threatened to kill them,” added Saif, who has been in close contact with the girl’s family and police.
“Some 4,000 Christians now stay in church compounds or just on the streets in the open sky. They have nowhere to go,” he said.
In Pakistan, the government is investigating the situation, he said, amid mounting international pressure.
“However our Christian leadership both in churches and government should do more to help them,” Saif stressed.