CCCB applauded for expressing concern to Pakistan government about girl charged with blasphemy
By Deborah Gyapong
Canadian Catholic News
OTTAWA (CCN) — A letter from the Canadian Conference of Catholic
Bishops to Pakistan’s High Commissioner is among many interventions
International Christian Voice (ICV) chair Peter Bhatti credits with the
release from prison on bail of Rimsha Masih Sept. 7.
Masih is a girl with Down syndrome who was imprisoned Aug. 16 for allegedly
desecrating the Quran. Some news reports indicate the girl may have been
framed by an extremist religious leader.
“She just came out from bail,” said Bhatti, who is the brother
of Shahbaz Bhatti, the assassinated former Minorities Minister and first
Christian in the Pakistan government’s cabinet. “Her case
is not finished yet, and we’re not sure how long it will go.”
In the meantime, she and her family continue to need protection from
extremists who have threatened to burn the family alive and have threatened
her 1,500-member Christian community, most of whom have gone into hiding,
“I would like to thank the Canadian Catholic bishops’ conference
for intervening in this issue,” Bhatti said.
The CCCB’s human rights committee chair sent a letter
Aug. 31 to the High Commissioner of Pakistan expressing concern for Masih.
“This serious situation has prompted the president of Pakistan,
His Excellency Mr. Asif Ali Zardari, to call for an investigation,” wrote
Saint-Hyacinthe Bishop Francois Lapierre to High Commissioner Mian Gul
Akbar Zeb. “We welcome this gesture, given the circumstances not
only of the girl herself but also of Pakistan’s religious minorities,
including Christians, who are regularly the target of fundamentalist
groups, in particular regarding anti-blasphemy laws.”
“This year marks the 20th anniversary of the adoption by all states
in 1992 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Persons from
National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities,” Lapierre
wrote on behalf of the CCCB’s human rights committee. “In
view of this declaration and the initiative of the president of Pakistan,
we ask your government to take the necessary measures to find a solution
that ensures this girl’s freedom, peace and security.”
“These measures would be a testimony to the encounter of our two
religious traditions and their holy books in their appeal to God’s
mercy,” Lapierre said.
A copy of the letter was sent to Foreign Affairs Minister
John Baird who has also publicly expressed concern for the girl’s
plight as well as those of others targeted through the blasphemy laws.
Bhatti said he was thankful for the interventions not only of the bishops
and Baird, but also Immigration Minister Jason Kenney and many other
members of Parliament who have continued to put pressure on Pakistan
to repeal its draconian blasphemy laws.
Shahbaz Bhatti was assassinated in 2011 for his opposition to these laws
and now his brother Paul Bhatti, an eye surgeon, has been serving as
National Harmony Minister in the Pakistan government as well as chair
of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA).
APMA has put up the bail for Masih that amounts to about $10,000. Minorities make up three per cent of Pakistan’s majority Muslim population and includes Christians and Hindus.