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» 08/20/2012
Paul Bhatti against NGOs and activists who "speculate" on blasphemous disabled girl affair
by Jibran Khan
The prime minister's special adviser on national harmony is working closely with Muslim leaders to keep a lid on the situation and save Rimsha Masih from prison. He expects "positive developments" but is highly critical of those who are exploiting the incident for their own "gain." Islamabad bishop slams distorted versions and "immature" attitudes.

Islamabad (AsiaNews) - A "sad" incident has caused the flight of "more than 600 families [. . .] fearful of violence," said Paul Bhatti, the prime minister's national harmony adviser, as he spoke to AsiaNews about the arrest of an 11-year-old girl with Down's syndrome who could get life in prison for alleged blasphemy. The Catholic politician does not spare activists and human rights organisations from his criticism. In his view, they have manipulated the facts and speculated on the matter for personal gain. Mgr Rufin Anthony, bishop of Islamabad-Rawalpindi, agrees. In his view, "many social network users don't understand that their comments have an impact on the affair."

Rimsha Masih, an 11-year-old girl with a mental disability, was arrested a few days ago for violating the 'black law.' She is accused of burning ten pages of an Islamic booklet, Noorani Qaida, used to learn basic Arabic and the Qur'an. She is also said to have thrown them into the garbage inside a plastic bag. In reaction to this, a mob of hundreds attacked the girl's family, threatening to do the same to the local Christian community. The girl is now in a juvenile centre in Rawalpindi, after she was remanded in custody for 14 days on Saturday.

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari is closely following the affair. Yesterday, he ordered the Interior Ministry to investigate the matter. At the same time, he said that Christian lives and property must be protected. "We will not allow the misuse of the blasphemy law at any cost," he said. "We want to ensure that it is not used by anyone for a personal gain," he added.

For his part, the prime minister's Special Adviser on National Harmony Paul Bhatti summoned Muslim religious leaders. He wants their cooperation to keep a lid on the situation and avoid any further incidents. He also set up a three-member committee to monitor security in the area.

Speaking to AsiaNews about Rimsha Masih, the Catholic leader noted that "she suffers from Down's Syndrome" and did not do anything "intentionally." Her actions should be seen in light of her age and health. "The situation is under control," he said reassuringly, "and we will have positive developments soon."

At the same time, Bhatti, who is the brother of Shabbaz Bhatti, the Catholic Minority Affairs minister slain on 2 March 2011 by Muslim extremists for his opposition to the blasphemy laws, does not mince words about human rights activists and NGOs. In his view, they have exploited the matter, each "telling its own version," and manipulated "Christian suffering."

He said they acted "immaturely," playing with the lives of more than 600 Christian families. "They have no interest in human life." The Internet and social media should be used more responsibly. "They should stop posting anything without confirmation" for their own "gain."

Mgr Rufin Anthony, bishop of Islamabad-Rawalpindi, agrees with Bhatti. The prelate, who condemned the incident, noted that the girl "did not do anything intentionally," and that she has been "traumatised" by the course of events.

He said human rights activists were "immature" for posting "personal versions" of the incident and "distortions" of the facts.

The bishop praised Paul Bhatti for his work, who has been "making efforts to keep the media away" because they would end up distorting the facts.

"Not only are the lives of Rimsha and her parents at risk, but so are those of more than 600 local families," he explained. "Many social network users do not understand the impact their comments can have."

According to Human Rights Monitor 2011, the annual report by the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) of the Catholic Church of Pakistan, at least 40 people were charged with blasphemy in 2010, including 15 Christians, 10 Muslims and 6 Ahmadis.

The 'black law' has led to murder of 37 people, 18 Christians and 16 Muslims, mostly in extrajudicial executions.

From 1986, when the law came into effect, to 2010, 1,081 people have been charged with blasphemy (138 Christians, 468 Muslims and 454 Ahmadis).

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See also
11/11/2013 PAKISTAN
Lahore: life of Christian pastor accused of blasphemy in danger
by Jibran Khan
09/01/2012 PAKISTAN
Pakistan, Rimsha Masih bail hearing adjourned
by Shafique Khokhar
09/07/2012 PAKISTAN - ITALY
"I am very happy for my daughter's liberation," Rimsha Masih's father tells AsiaNews
by Dario Salvi
11/20/2012 PAKISTAN
Pakistani Christians happy about Rimsha Masih verdict, Islamists talk about "manipulation"
by Jibran Khan
08/29/2012 PAKISTAN - ITALY
As Rimsha Masih waits for her fate to be decided, Christian activists campaign for her release

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