Wed 22nd Oct 2014 | Last updated: Wed 22nd Oct 2014 at 18:57pm

Facebook Logo Twitter Logo RSS Logo
Hot Topics

Comment & Blogs

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.

  • Jonathan West

    I think it is worth noting that I have made no personal attack on you. I have merely expressed views which are at variance with your own, and pointed out evidence in support of  my views which you have been unable or unwilling to address.

    Would this girl have been worthy of your support had she been a Hindu rather than a Christian? It’s a reasonable enough question to ask in the context of your article, but you appear not to want to hold a “normal on-topic discussion” about it.

  • rjt1

    I take it Pakistan is thought to be important by Britain because it borders on Afghanistan and is therefore considered a bulwark against threats from that quarter. Britain is pursuing its own interests there and wouldn’t want to upset the applecart. Possibly, also, liberal Britains find it difficult to accept that persecution of Christians is a reality or is significant. Seems like a blindspot.

  • Alan

    It goes without saying, and I’m sure Mr. Oddie would agree, that she would have been just as worthy of support.  But it is understandable, and natural, that Christians would want to be in the forefront of protests in this case, just as Hindus would want to be in the forefront if she had been a Hindu.  Ditto, had she been of your own persuasion (atheism).
    I do take exception to your reference to it being a crime “in the name of religion”.  Islam does not advocate behaviour of this kind in response to Koran-burning.  These people are ignorant fanatics, guilty of a grotesque perversion of religion.

  • Michael Petek

    Pakistan is a nation of blasphemers. It isn’t advisable to stand in the way of God’s punishment of them.

  • nytor

    “Possibly, also, liberal Britains find it difficult to accept that persecution of Christians is a reality or is significant.”

    You forgot “and in any case, they don’t care”.

  • Jonathan West

    It goes without saying, and I’m sure Mr. Oddie would agree, that she would have been just as worthy of support.
    You say that he would agree, but he’s offered no sign that he does agree. I try not to assume things about what other people think when I have no evidence of it. It’s an approach I would commend to you. he has an opportunity to state his agreement (or disagreement) in order to put the question beyond doubt.

    But it is understandable, and natural, that Christians would want to be in the forefront of protests in this case, just as Hindus would want to be in the forefront if she had been a Hindu.  Ditto, had she been of your own persuasion (atheism).

    I disagree. I’m perfectly happy to support her even though she is not of my religious persuasion. People deserve protection from this sort of thing irrespective of whether they hold religious views I do not share.

    I do take exception to your reference to it being a crime “in the name of religion”.  Islam does not advocate behaviour of this kind in response to Koran-burning.  These people are ignorant fanatics, guilty of a grotesque perversion of religion.

    You’re engaging in the “No True Scotsman” logical fallacy. The poeple involved are engaging in behaviour that stems from their understanding of God’s will, and therefore can only be described as religiously motivated.

    You can only justify describing their beliefs and action as being a “grotesque perversion of religion” if you are able to demonstrate that your religious beliefs are correct and divinely ordered, and theirs are not. From their point of view, your religious beliefs are perverted in your tolerance of such abominations as heresy or blasphemy. You both call on God as the justification for your beliefs. So, how is somebody supposed to tell which of you is right?

  • Blundlebus554

    Unfortunately Meena has been banned.

    “When it gets too hot burn them” – they can think freely and might spread the disease.

  • Blundlebus554

    Jabbapapp’s comment removed, but he isn’t banned.

    All must continue suffer. It’s good for you, you know – even when you are dying.

  • Olrorson71

    she has been banned by the management 

  • JabbaPapa

    Well I certainly agree that you’re a hypocrite, if that helps.

    Sanal Edamarku is charged with “incitation to religious hatred”, not “blasphemy”.

    He is not an 11-year-old girl with Downs Syndrome falsely accused, he is a notorious troublemaker well known for his extreme degree of hostile behaviour towards those that he disapproves of — and he has both vilified and insulted hundreds of complete strangers and made a great big public spectacle of doing so.

    It is starkly obvious that there must be limits to these sorts of behaviour, simply for the purposes of social peace and stability — and it is equally obvious that the incitation of religious hatred is a Crime.

    And I am of course utterly unsurprised that you should view that ghastly troll as some sort of “hero” or something.

  • Anon

    I understand there have been several US unmanned drone attacks on border villages in Pakistan recently; as with the misuse of blasphemy laws, the Devils may be in the detail, but ordinary humans    (with Divine assistance) have to bring about an improved situation. 

  • scary goat

     Ok, I can take an educated guess at what that says, but I’m afraid my Latin is a bit…ummm….basic :- (
    Not too much Latin please, Jabba, otherwise I can’t follow the  discussion.

  • Olrorson71

    People should never be described as “creatures”.

    Get rid of all those who have not had their brains pickled at an early age and with what will you be left? 

  • Olrorson71

    NOW they tell me!!
    It’s not a Monty Python website then?

  • Olrorson71

    You make it up as you go along, don’t you?

    Fresh from the “brain” of JabbaPoppo.

  • Olrorson71

    It’s not that “it’s said” that religion was the cause of this foul and nauseating behaviour — it’s rather the Christians themselves who have claimed that these atrocities were carried out for their god and religion.

  • Olrorson71

    But you constantly accuse others.

  • JabbaPapa

    Some sort of viciousness, anyway, and no I don’t understand it either.

  • JabbaPapa

    Not falsely.

  • JabbaPapa

    Wonderful, have fun with your new sockpuppet.

  • Parasum

    True only for some of your data. Certainly not true for all. I see there is no mention of items that don’t fit the accusation – no atheist society seems to have got round to organising an atheists’ “Truce of God”. Isn’t 95 years – since 1917 – long enough for atheist states to learn from the crimes of Christians, and to put them to shame by being more peaceful, less oppressive, more truthful, and better all round ?

    Seriously – if Christians have been guilty of atrocities, you atheists who charge us with them surely need to show that you are morally better than us; otherwise, you are failing to show that you, if in our place, would do any better.

    What I find really odd is that for all the criticisms made of the crimes of Christians, atheist states seem to be no more innocent of bloodshed, coercion, & deceit. This is not surprising, given original sin; but that does not stop the lack of superior virtue  on the part of atheist states being sad. At least Christians have the advantage of not believing than man is inherently good. That men, even if Christians, are capable of great evils, is not a surprise if one allows for sin. To disbelieve in human sinfulness leads to an unrealistic estimate of human nature and society.

  • Parasum

    What is a “woo” site LOL ?

  • JabbaPapa

    Original response gone, but if you think that accusing an 11-year old girl with Down’s Syndrome of blasphemy is the same thing as accusing this obnoxiously aggressive anti-religious activist of “incitation to religious hatred” ie NOT blasphemy, then it’s a bit rich for you to accuse others of hypocrisy, isn’t it.

    Inciting religious hatred is, as I’m sure you’re aware, a CRIME.

  • Jonathan West

    Well, we don’t have evidence one way or the other as to whether Mr Oddie does agree. Let’s restrict ourselves to what the evidence supports and simply say that we don’t know.

    I disagree that we should want to be at the forefront of protests because she is “one of us”. Persecution for blasphemy is wrong, and it remains wrong even if the person being persecuted doesn’t share my religious views.

    As for these people being guilty of a “grotesque perversion of religion”, they would probably say the same of you, in that you support tolerance towards the abomination that is blasphemers and heretics. How are you in a position to demonstrate to them 9or even to me) that your religious views have divine sanction and theirs do not?

  • JabbaPapa
  • JabbaPapa

    How are you in a position to demonstrate to them 9or even to me) that
    your religious views have divine sanction and theirs do not?

    What on EARTH does this have to do with anything ???

    Let’s say you were a participant in some nice and cosy little atheist event, then some people barged in chanting whichever religious slogans, and loudly denouncing the atheist views being put forth there, and did so to such a degree of scope and effect that the entire event was ruined for all of you.

    Do you think that such people should be prosecuted ? Why ? And on what charges ?

    How would you respond to people defending them on the basis that is was a free event, open to all comers, and they were just exercising freedom of speech ?

    Would you personally feel inclined to go out into web forums such as this one to denounce the views of such people, and wouldn’t this actually be because they contradicted the doctrines and personal beliefs of your atheism ?

    Do you not in fact ALREADY go into websites such as this one to denounce what you view as being false representations of atheism ?

    Is this not functionally equivalent to accusing people of heresies and blasphemies in religious discussions ?

    Do you think that you might be entertaining some measure of double standards concerning what you conceive of as being proper contents for public conversations ?

  • Jonathan West

    On an atheist web forum, I would welcome opposing views and attempt to answer them. 

    As for barging in to an atheist event, I think you are under the mistaken impression that you are on the Pussy Riot thread.

    And as for “accusing people of heresies and blasphemies” I have done no such thing. I asked how you can show that your religion has divine sanction and the religion of those persecuting this girl is (as Alan described it) “a grotesque perversion of religion”. If Alan is to make that claim, I don’t think it is so terribly unreasonable to ask him how he knows it to be true.

    Perhaps you could answer the question for me?

  • Acleron

    If you haven’t come across the term, here is one for you. Don’t spend too long there, you’ll never come back. 

  • Acleron

    Stop making up lies Jabba, you  just look silly. 

    He is accused of hurting the feelings of theists by showing them that their ‘tears’ from a statue was in fact raw sewerage. People were drinking this. Get it yet Jabba? He was doing them a favour. Of course, getting believers to your church by pretending something supernatural is present is an old trick. Your lot were upset at being found out. To try to condone his persecution is just a demonstration of what this loving religion is really about.As for inciting hatred, just who was he inciting to hate that group? Criticism is not incitement to hatred, pointing out falsehoods is not incitement to hatred. Having blasphemy laws leads to hatred. Religion it self is just some hatreds of others strung together.

  • JabbaPapa

    He’s calling this rabid hounding of a mentally handicapped little girl a gross perversion of the Islamic religion (not of Religion in general) — and for what it’s worth, I pretty much agree with him.

    Whilst I’m not myself a Muslim, about 80% of my immediate neighbours are, and I cannot imagine any of them viewing this sort of abuse as anything other than perverted, wrongful, and evil.

    Thank you for not answering most of my questions anyway, though I’m unsurprised that you didn’t.

    I was clearly, blatantly, referring to comments by you passim & ad nauseam in the past, not just to the sole contents of that particular post — which reference I’d hazard you actually understood, but decided to ignore.

  • JabbaPapa

    What a load of >b-word< !!!

    The man is an extremely extroverted self-publicist thriving on the conflictual situations that he fabricates in order to fill his own bank account.

    He is a professional anti-religion activist.

    If you care about people’s health, you do so quietly ; if you respect their religious freedoms, you ensure that your actions to help these people are discrete ; if the only thing you care about is maximum publicity and maximum income, you do exactly what this atheist troll has done, and you ruthlessly attack the people who’s health you’re “so concerned about”, and you do so in the full light of as many media as you can grab around yourself, in order to maximise your insulting of as many people as possible with the maximum possible efficiency.

    Deliberately provoking such vast numbers of religiously-minded people in such an ugly fashion *IS* an incitation to religious hatred.

    Quite apart from which, the greatest of God’s miracles are the ones that have the most cast-iron scientific explanations you can think of.

    Countless quadrillions of stars exist in billions of galaxies scattered around an unimaginably vast cosmos — but our Sun is most certainly a wonderful miracle.

  • JabbaPapa

    That does not answer the question.

  • Acleron

    Obviously he cannot.

  • Acleron

    Your lies and misdirections are pretty futile. No matter how much you bluster, both events are due to blasphemy laws being used by religious groups.

    Your stance, apart from being deceitful is grossly hypocritical.

  • JabbaPapa


  • JabbaPapa

    hrm hrm — Moderators ???

  • Jonathan West

    Well, we can restrict the issue to a consideration of the Islamic religion if you like. 

    You do not subscribe either to your neighbours’ version of Islam nor to the version which motivates the persecutors of this girl. 

    Your neighbours (you imagine) call this version of Islam as “perverted, wrongful, and evil” and the other are clearly following a genuinely-held religious conviction and would (I imagine) would condemn your muslim neighbours for their tolerance and what they would regard as apostasy.

    Both religious beliefs are held with equally strong conviction, both with an equally sincere claim of divine approval.

    So how are you able to determine in which of those two conflicting versions of Islam is the belief in God’s approval mistaken?

  • la catholic state

    And where also are the Celebrities protesting for justice for this child?! The silence is deafening.

  • JabbaPapa

    What a creep you are !!!

  • Oconnord

    No one expects the Inquisition!!! 

  • Oconnord

    Not a creep, raised a valid question. But let me place a simpler one. 

    If you saw a neighbour tear up a Bible and denounce Jesus, how would you react?

    But if your tore up a Koran?… If you even gave the slightest of criticisms of Mohammed’s legitimate understood history?

    What would be the difference in reactions?


  • Oconnord

    Okay. Then you’ll support me.

    In my religion, we cut off children’s ears. No harm done… They can still on perfectly well. And no one can compare because ears don’t grow back. I know we get the odd case where a rusty knife is used and the kid dies. That’s a risk we take, as old laws are more important than our children.  

  • scary goat

    Prophet Muhammad (pbuh):“The pen does not record the deeds of three persons: the child until the age of puberty; the sleeping person until he wakes up; the insane until he is sane.” (Reported by Aḥmad and at-Tirmidhi.)A person who is mentally disabled, will not be held responsible for anything. All people born with mental disorders (whether Muslims or non-Muslims) will go to heaven by the Will of God. Since they didn’t have the mental capacity to reason and accept God, God doesn’t hold them responsible for any of their acts.Allah knows full well who deserves to go to Heaven and who deserves to go to Hell, Why would Allah punish someone who doesn’t even know what they’re doing? Allah is the most Mercyful, He is the most kind, he would never do anyone unjustly.   

    Took me all of 2 minutes to find this in a quick slapdash search.  The vast majority of muslims know perfectly well that people who lack full mental capacity are not to be held responsible for anything.
    If you spent half the time doing a bit of research as you do arguing for the sake of arguing we wouldn’t need to argue about what is pretty obvious to most people.

    People do bad things in spite of what their religion teaches them…..except atheists, of course, who are paragons of virtue.

  • scary goat

    People are always creatures.  Creature is of French origin and simply means creation.

  • scary goat

    LOL……well, I’ve seen some things on here but wow!

    One way and another I’m really starting to be convinced that religion is the root of all evil.  Those darned religious people always fighting and forcing their beliefs on others.  Really, we can’t breathe around here these days for all the Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and all the other miscellaneous religious groups who keep invading our cyber-space and attacking our beliefs and throwing insults around. 

  • JabbaPapa

    Incitation to religious hatred is NOT a blaspemy law.

  • JabbaPapa

    What a ridiculous strawman !!!

  • JabbaPapa

    If you saw a neighbour tear up a Bible and denounce Jesus, how would you react?

    That would depend greatly on the circumstances, wouldn’t it ?


    But if your tore up a Koran?

    I wouldn’t.

    If you even gave the slightest of criticisms of Mohammed’s legitimate understood history?

    What would be the difference in reactions?

    This isn’t even a hypothetical, I’ve already done so — result : an interesting 20-minute conversation on the differences between our religions.

  • JabbaPapa

    Latin origin, originally meaning something like “beings issued forth from creation”.

    Very quickly, even IIRC in Late Latin and Vulgate Latin, came to mean any living being — and then by extension in Philosophy, any natural or supernatural created or engendered being.

  • Oconnord

    How useful are the external parts of your ears?…. Not a strawman… just an extreme example.