A Christian girl with Down syndrome who is suspected of burning pages of Islamic text could be put to death in Pakistan for the offense. Fox News reported Monday that the girl, identified as Rimsha, was allegedly seen holding burned religious pages in public. The assumption that she had burned the text led to a protest by 500 to 600 activists outside of her home in Islamabad before she was arrested Thursday on blasphemy charges.
Naturally, this issue has humanitarians including those in Pakistan outraged. The idea of punishing blasphemy with the death penalty, particularly if committed by someone with a mental disability, is unthinkable to Americans and many others around the world. In the U.S., murderers can avert the death penalty if they are found to be mentally incompetent.
Police speculate that if they had not quickly taken Rimsha into custody, she may have been harmed by the angry and emotional protesters. According to AFP (All Pakistan Minorities Alliance), Rimsha is currently being detained in Islamabad ahead of a court appearance set for the end of the month.
Defaming Islam, the Koran or the Prophet Muhammad is a capital offense in Pakistan. As a result of this incident, Christians were forced to temporarily flee the girl's Islamabad neighborhood of Mehrabad, due to religious tensions and rallies involving Muslim protestors.
Some police officials have doubts as to whether Rimsha actually burned the Koran. The Los Angeles Times reports that Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari, has ordered his Interior Ministry to investigate the arrest. One officer predicts the matter will probably be dropped once the investigation is complete. A Pakistani rights group, the Women's Action Forum, accused police of not letting lawyers meet with Rimsha in custody.
Some important facts of the case are unclear, such as whether or not Rimsha is, in fact, mentally challenged, and her age. Some officials have stated her age as 16, while others have said she was as young as 11 or 12.