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An 11-year-old girl with Down’s syndrome has fallen foul of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. Should we really continue to support this anti-Christian country?

What will Mr Cameron say or do about this gross barbarity? Just carry on supporting Pakistan regardless?

By on Monday, 20 August 2012

David Cameron meeting President Zardari in Islamabad last year (Photo: PA)

David Cameron meeting President Zardari in Islamabad last year (Photo: PA)

The British Pakistani Christian Association has posted a report of what they, surely quite rightly, describe as “a new and appalling low in the ongoing abuse of blasphemy laws”. It is alleged that a copy of the Koran “was found with some of its pages burned by Muslims in a Christian area of Islamabad – in previous cases the burning has nearly always shown to have been done by Muslims, or by mentally unstable people – and worse, they have had an 11-year-old Christian girl with Down’s syndrome called Rimsha Masih arrested and charged with the crime. Rimsha was arrested on August 17 2012.

“Muslim extremists are threatening to burn down every Christian house in the community. Several thousand Christians have fled the suburb and are in hiding, along with the family of the victim. Mobs of over a thousand Muslims have surrounded the community and are burning tyres.”

Christian human rights workers have, it is reported, persuaded local mullahs not to authorise the threatened attacks after Friday prayers. But the police are simply assuming the guilt of this 11-year-old. Some Christians went to the local police station and say that the situation on the ground is very bad. It is quite evident, they say, that the police they talked to have already assumed her guilt. They refused to allow the human rights workers to see the FIR (the First Information Report, an important document because it sets the process of criminal justice in motion. It is only after the FIR is registered in the police station that the police take up investigation of the case).

The FIR was placed by a Muslim called Alsyed Muhammad Ummad. The police were aggressive and hostile when approached, and immediately called Muslim youths to the police station to harass the Christian workers. The police said: “She has burned our holy book and you are here to protect her.” It is quite clear that the police are hostile to the accused, presume her guilt and have no regard for her status as a minor or as one with Down’s syndrome. The Christian rights workers were planning to apply for bail for her immediately after the Muslim Eid celebrations. I suspect that they have little hope of success.

This case reminded me of a report last year of remarks by the Archbishop Lawrence Saldanha, formerly of Lahore, who has retired to Toronto (a fact which tells its own story). According to Archbishop Saldanha, in the more than 50 years since his priestly ordination, his country had slid from corrupt oligarchy to military rule to mob rule.

Fear, he says, has silenced the voice of Pakistani Christians since the political murder of Shahbaz Bhatti. “People,” he says, “are very sad, very bitter. They say: ‘If that happens to him what happens to us?’ ” Bhatti’s killers remain at large. The convicted murderer of Salman Taseer, the former governor of Punjab, however (his own security guard, who disagreed with Taseer’s opposition to Pakistan’s outrageous blasphemy laws), was greeted in court with rose petals and garlands.

In this atmosphere of impunity for anyone who kills a Christian, says Archbishop Saldanha, many educated Pakistani Christians are leaving the country, and those who remain are keeping their heads down and their mouths shut. “In such a situation,” he says, “minorities don’t have much place. There’s no tolerance for other religions. Either you convert or you leave. This is the choice.” So he left. Archbishop Saldanha made his comments to the Catholic Register, a Canadian Catholic weekly.

But what about those Pakistani Christians who can’t leave? Their situation is very serious. Among the cases reported by Aid to the Church in Need since the death of Shahbaz Bhatti are these (go to this link for more detail and many more cases, and also for details about how you can support Aid to the Church in Need’s vital work):

March 2011: Three churches near Islamabad and Hyderabad were attacked by armed men, with two killed. The violence came after US Pastor Wayne Sapp burned a copy of the Qur’an.

April 2011: Islamist group Tahreek-e-Ghazi Bin Shaheed ambushed a Protestant clergyman and his family, opening fire on his car and seriously wounding the minister’s 24-year-old son. The Rev Ashraf Paul had earlier received threats and demands for money but he refused to pay.

April 2011: Sehar Naz, a 24-year-old Christian woman, was abducted and raped by a man claiming to be a police officer.

May-July 2011: Farah Hatim, a Christian woman aged 24, from southern Punjab, was abducted by Zeehan Ilyas and his brothers Umran and Gulfam and was forced to convert and marry one of her kidnappers. The incident sparked international outrage but when the Catholic Church’s Justice and Peace Commission brought a case against her abductors, the Supreme Court ruled she should stay with her new family.

May 2011: Bookshop owners Gulzar Masih and his son Suleman fled Sialkot they after they were accused of burning a copy of the Qur’an. Fr Naeem Taj suggested that the burnt pages were planted to frame the Christian businessman. “The blasphemy law is being used once more as a pretext to settle a personal score,” said the priest.

June 2011: Islamist extremists called for a ban on the Bible, claiming some passages were “blasphemous” and “pornographic”.

October 2011: Saqib Masih, a 22-year-old Christian man, was killed and 37 others were injured when a mob of around 60 extremists descended on the village of Mian Chiannu, Punjab, to claim a plot of land “sold” to two Muslims by a workman.

March 2012: Research by the Catholic bishops’ National Council for Justice and Peace showed that up to 30 per cent of Christian and Hindu women in employment have faced sexual harassment. The report also showed that 43 per cent faced religious discrimination in the workplace, schools and other educational establishments and in their local neighbourhoods.

In July, 2011 a petition with more than 6,000 signatures was presented at 10 Downing Street, calling for action to reform Pakistan’s notorious blasphemy laws. I wonder what Mr Cameron did about that? A year before that, in August 2010, almost exactly two years ago, President Asif Ali Zardari visited Mr Cameron. I find that on that occasion I commented in this column that “there is … one thing a British Prime Minister would at one time have said which I rather doubt that Mr Cameron even mentioned. I cannot imagine Mr Gladstone … failing to protest vigorously at the rampant persecution of Christianity in Pakistan.

“He would have gone into some detail. He would undoubtedly have mentioned the failure of the public authorities (a failure amounting to complicity) to protect the burning alive of eight people, including two children, in what Aid to the Church in Need describe as “one of the bloodiest attacks against Christians in the country’s history”. They died in August last year, when nearly 3,000 people rampaged through the Christian quarter of Gojra city in the Punjab province …. The blasphemy laws, in particular, are used to make it almost impossible for Christians to express themselves in public without appearing un-Islamic, a legal offence with the most deadly consequences. Did Mr Cameron, as Prime Minister of a Christian country, say anything (as Mr Gladstone would certainly have done) about the blasphemy laws?”

We never got an answer of course, nor, I suspect, did the petition presented last year. But there is surely one thing he ought actually to do rather than to say, which perhaps we ought to be urging on him: he should suspend all aid to Pakistan until that benighted country repeals its blasphemy laws, which have nothing at all to do with blasphemy, and everything to do with the legalised oppression of non-Muslims. Go to the link for the British Pakistani Christian Association (above), which is running a campaign to achieve this. It will be an uphill struggle, but at least it’s doing something – though it is increasingly clear that persuading Cameron to support any remotely Christian objective is probably a lost cause: something we ought perhaps to remember at the next general election.

  • Meena

    Try not to be offensive. I know it’s hard – but try.

  • Meena

    JabbaPappa seems to make it up as he goes along.

    Here he is following his church throughour history.

  • Meena

    I think you may be going off the deep end again.

  • Lee Der Heerskinderen Lovelock

    The key difference with Christianity is informed fellows of Christianity whether wrong or right would condemn each other and SOMETIMES, proceed to banish those who promoted heterodoxy from within the community. The difference now is we are dealing, like how uninformed Protestants were and some still are, with heathen who not only believe in a crypto-nationalistic political machine which has the Bible all upside down and completely wrong with added fabrications and woeful historical truths, but furthermore, encourages misunderstanding and a very material conception of the world. When one sees it from this point, then what is happening here is entirely becoming of a ‘religion’ which is nothing more than a political cover-up of pan arabic cultural nationalism. That is why this is even worse and why protestantism throughout the Reformation was bad as well, it was based mainly on nationalism and twisting truths into outright lies and then fabricating more lies alongside.

  • JabbaPapa

    tu certe, ego ad contrarium lego scriboque latine

    scribo male certe, volgareque, sed hic non ad me importat

    adrogantia, insanitas, ignorantia tua paenitet ad multos

    vae Modernis !!!

  • Acleron

    Your ability to deal logically with any situation is sadly lacking. If you had a rebuttal you would produce it. As you have not it appears you cannot.

    But let’s make it very clear for you, although the argument is already pellucid. If religion was not present in that area a small child would not be in prison and many people would not be forced away from their homes. But perhaps you think religion has nothing to do with this particular problem?

  • JabbaPapa

    I can’t see that he asked any.

  • JabbaPapa

    What, that you’ve provided nothing in the way of any argument against anything I’ve said except atheistic doctrine, personal opinion, and obnoxious anti-religious trolling ?

  • JabbaPapa

    What a great conspiracy theory !!!

  • JabbaPapa

    Thank you for your accusation.

  • JabbaPapa

     A student at Edinburgh University named (IIRC) Thomas Aikenhead, was hanged for atheism (a form of blasphemy) in 1795

    Blasphemy — 1697 — under Puritanism — oooh look exactly what I said earlier…

    Witch burnings like the 1720s one are directly comparable to lynch mobs

  • JabbaPapa

    And you’re not very good at checking your source materials before making your statements, are you.

  • JabbaPapa

    Thank you for your irrational rant.

  • JabbaPapa

    cripes, you should go to your Univ and demand your money back !!!

  • Parasum

    I notice – it is pretty unmissable ! – that when Christians do something considered evil, religion is said to be the sole cause of it. 

    When, OTOH, they do something considered good – trying to abolish slavery, promoting the use of chloroform (?) for women in child-birth – then, all of a sudden, their religion is said to play no part or very little part in what they have done.

    This is very funny. And based on no clear principle – other, perhaps, than that consistency is not needed in anti-Christian argument; what counts is that the conclusion should be anti-Christian. That is not a good way to argue. Regardless of one’s beliefs.

    Do people never use religion for less worthy ends ? And do those who criticise the use of torture  by Christians in the past never live in societies in which things happen that future generations regard as heinous ? The Spanish Inquisition burned about 5,000 peoople in just over 300 years. In a tenth of that time, about 1,000 times as many have been aborted in the UK *alone*. Those who criticise past Catholic activities about which they can do nothing, while not criticising present-day evils about which they are in a position to do *something*, are on weak ground.

    If atheists insist on believing that Christianity is nothing but evil, & refuse to see anything else in it, they will lose the ability to see anything else in it. That Communism, Catholicism, Islam, or whatever it may be has a lot of blood on its hands, tells one very little about it – it is human to kill & murder and lynch and massacre and torture: one can do be a first-rate shedder of human blood without being a Christian. Genghis Khan did rather well as a killer of men without ever being a Christian. So the fact that Christians have (often) shed torrents of the stuff, does not  prove that Christianity is evil – it indicates that Christians are not Christian enough.

    Rather judging a religion by its worst manifestations, we ought to judge it by its very best and highest. Not by what is average, not by what is worst, but by what is best. There is more to Catholicism than Hitler and the raping of minors: raping of minors is not even peculiar to Catholicism – it’s a hideous action that even an an atheist might commit. If we are going to criticise Catholicism, to criticise it because it has done things that any atheist might do is a poor objection to it.

    Besides, if Catholicism is – as many say – a false religion, then it makes no sense to complains it does evil. What else is to be expected of it, if it’s false ?

  • James

    We shouldn’t be giving aid to any country which has enough money to develop nuclear weapons.

  • Acleron

    Yes, yes, we all know you’ve learned a new word, but stop using it in nearly every post, you’ve already worn it out.

    So no argument just more insult.

  • Acleron

    Agreed, and that applies to India as well.

  • JabbaPapa

    True, I can see no argument, nor anything other than insult in this latest offering of yours.

  • Guest

    Irony: You’re doing it right

  • Parasum

    “The Catholic Church fought the Smallpox vaccine (usual nonsensical “reason” of interfering with natural law).”

    ## Having heard a few accusation of this kind, for which no sources are given, ISTM you’d be doing a lot of us a favour if you would give us a bit more info about this.

    Do you have any dates, references, quotations ? 

    It’s difficult the merits of the case, if one has only a single unfriendly assertion to go on. And by “Catholic Church”, do you mean the Papacy, a single bishop, a group of them, or what ?

    I rather suspect your info is – ultimately – from Andrew Dickson White’s “A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom”; his book is a quarry for info (& fiction) about the “warfare” between Christianity and science.

  • JabbaPapa

    Actually, that’s “sarcasm”.

  • nytor

    Continue to support? We shouldn’t have supported it for a long time, since the first evidence of persecution of Christians. Not that that will cut any ice with our uber-liberal PM. If you could unearth evidence of persecution of gays the aid would be axed sharpish – but Christians are fair game.

  • JabbaPapa

    Bah — give us the dosh or we’ll start using our nuclear threat to squeeze some out of the little boy down the road…

    And you seriously think people are going to stop giving aid to the USA any time soon ?

  • nytor

    Can’t someone get this offensive “Meena” creature banned?

  • nytor

    Not a very good one, in that case – and from what I have seen of your postings, you have a nerve accusing anyone else of being semi-literate. Begone with you, troll.

  • Acleron

    You only get this response on the religious/woo sites. Ever wondered why you are quite free to post on the atheist/scientific sites and nobody demands you leave because of your opinion or for bringing up inconvenient facts?

  • Adam Thomson

    I live in Manila. Can you give me details please? 

  • scary goat

     How on earth can mr Oddie be a troll?  It’s his site, he works here.  This is a catholic paper intended for a catholic readership. The editorials are opinions on matters of catholic interest. No one is forcing you or anyone else to come here and read. People can and do disagree over whatever the topic may be, but the whole point for the trolls coming here seems to be to turn every comment forum into a battle between religious and non-religious, irrespective of the original subject matter.  It is really becoming very tiresome.  To my knowledge no-one has ever been banned from this site for stating opposing opinions….that’s what discussion forums are for….but it’s getting ridiculous. Politely advising that we do not engage with repeat-trolls seems very mild actually. 

    ps. to editors.  Could we not have some sort of stated code of conduct for commenting like no personal insults etc.  and repeated violations will give rise to a ban?

  • scary goat

     Try not to be offensive. I know it’s hard – but try……………..says one of the most offensive posters on here.

  • Oconnord

    Yes… have her arrested and have a group of catholic posters threaten her family and community!!!!

    She’s a blasphemer…. Burn her… Stone her… See if see floats…(sorry but it’s getting all Monty Python)

  • Oconnord

    Person who uses a sci-fi crimelord smoking a joint as an avatar accuses someone else of smoking weed.

    You really don’t understand irony.

    And, yes, I am being somewhat sarcastic. 

  • JabbaPapa

    Smoking a joint ???


  • JabbaPapa

    the atheist/scientific sites

    Again with the atheist propaganda — there is no intrinsic link between atheism and science, no matter *what* your doctrines teach you.

  • Acleron

    And again, the link is casual but there. Most of these sites describe themselves as ‘science’, they also have a lot of atheists and not so many theists posting. 

  • Maria Pragasam Sojanar

    Sanal Edamarku is not facing a blasphemy law that is asking for his life and India is not Pakistan.

  • Lazarus

    Even on the basis of the CNN report, the case is rather odd. There would be nothing necessarily wrong (under the principle of ‘double effect’) in starting chemotherapy even if this endangered the child.
    One of the proponents of the constitutional ban on abortion makes a similar point: 

    ‘ Prior to the girl’s death, Pelegrin Castillo, one of the writers of Article 37, said that the abortion ban was not designed to prevent the teen’s doctors from administering chemotherapy.”It’s an artificial debate,” Castillo told CNN. “What we have clearly said is that in this case doctors are authorized by the constitution to treat the patient. They don’t have to worry about anything. They have the mandate of protecting both lives.” ‘ 

  • JabbaPapa

    Ah, so most of these sites promote this propaganda then.

  • Jonathan West

    I’m still waiting for you to tell me why you won’t acknowledge that Paul Ryan has denied (and therefore lied about) his previously well-documented attachment to the philosophy and theories of Ayn Rand.

    If you aren’t prepared to engage with those who hold views that differ from yours, then you aren’t holding a discussion.

    And could you explain to me what is inflammatory about pointing out that the girl would have been just as worthy of support had she been a Hindu rather than a Christian? Are Islamic blasphemy laws of no concern except when Christians are on the receiving end?

  • Acleron

    Oh it’s ok if they are just going to imprison him in India is it?

  • Acleron

    I’m sure that to somebody who studies metaphysics, science must appear as propaganda. 

  • mkjohn

     Jonathan West clearly states that this girl deserves our support, yet you call him a troll. He is merely pointing out the fact that arresting her was was wrong – full stop.

  • buckingham88

     Just looked it up, you are right.Its hard to get platelet rich plasma, it really has to be fresh.If chemo destroys the bone marrow then the patient bleeds to death anyway without platelets to help the clotting cascade.

  • nytor

    I’d never post on an “atheist” site. I am quite at a loss as to why an anti-Catholic would feel the need to seek out the website of a Catholic newspaper and wind up the denizens, frankly.

  • JabbaPapa

    It’s hard for India to imprison someone no longer located in that country.

  • Acleron

    What does that have to do with anything except of course highlighting that he has been hounded out of his own country by catholics applying blasphemy laws because their scam was exposed?

  • la catholic state

    Not just uber-liberal…..but anti-Christian (which are the same thing).  Cardinal O Brien has accused the government of pursuing apparently anti-Christian policies.

  • JabbaPapa

    What blasphemy laws ?

    He was charged with something like “inciting religious turmoil”, which incitation would be a crime in most Western countries too BTW, not that *that* will stop any of you lot carrying on in here as if no such laws existed, eh ?

    Translated into English, he has obviously engaged in aggressive attacks against religious faith, has certainly engaged in the deliberate insulting of several hundreds or thousands of people, all in the name of his own private little agendas in exactly the same way that such trolls as yourself are agitating in this place.

  • Acleron

    These blasphemy laws.
    Section 295 of Indian Penal Code.

    So you condone the persecution of Edamuruku but condemn the persecution of Rimsha Masih. 

    The whiff of hypocrisy has just become a stench.

    Both events are wrong and both are caused by religious beliefs.

  • W Oddie

    simply ignore him.