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Her name is Rimsha Masih

(Vatican Radio) Her name is Rimsha Masih. She is between 11 and 13 years old. She is a Christian and comes from a poor family of street sweepers. She is from Pakistan. As of Wednesday, August 29th, Rimsha has spent 13 days in a high-security jail in Rawalpindi, far from home, because Muslim protesters claim she burned pages from an Islamic holy book. Rimsah is the one of the 1,100 victims of Pakistan’s infamous blasphemy laws and its youngest to date. Emer McCarthy reports Listen: RealAudioMP3

“13 days in jail is inexcusable, its incomprehensible” says Peter Jacob, President of the Pakistani bishops National Commission for Justice and Peace. “It’s a punishment without any judgment”.

On the insistence of the mob who surrounded the child on Aug. 6th and fearing violence, the police arrested Rimsha and immediately filed blasphemy charges against her. If she is found guilty, she faces life in prison.

Her family and human rights activists say said she is 11 years old and is mentally impaired, which would make her exempt from the blasphemy laws. On Tuesday court appointed medical experts ruled instead she was 14, but that that her mental condition “does not match her age and physical condition”.

But the mob’s anger has not been quelled by Rimsha’s arrest. Jacob reports that 250 families Christian families have been forced to leave there homes in the area. Rimsha’s parents are reportedly in the protective custody of the minister for national harmony, Paul Bhatti. Last year his brother, Shahbaz Bhatti, was shot dead outside his Islamabad home. Shabaz, the former minorities minister, together with assassinated Punjab Governor Salman Taseer championed the battle against the Blasphemy law and the release of Asia Bibi , the first Christian woman to be sentenced under the law and who still remains in prison.

“There is a lack of political will on the part of the government to do anything while the country. We need urgent reforms, juridical, political and civic reforms. Above all we need to remove hate material from the [school] curricula. That is what is needed to bring peace to this country”.

Speaking at the Rimini Meeting last Saturday on “International politics and religious freedom”, the President of the Vatican Council for Inter-religious dialogue, French Cardinal Jean Louis Tauran called for dialogue and transparency in her case, stating : "This is a girl who can neither write nor read, who collected garbage for a living, and found the fragments of the book that were among the rubbish. These facts must be checked before claims are made that she desecrated a sacred text. "