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Girl with Down’s syndrome held in Pakistan, accused of burning Quran pages

Islamabad, Aug 21 (): An 11-year-old Christian girl with Down’s syndrome, identified as Ramsha, has been arrested accusing her of violating the nation’s strict blasphemy laws by burning pages of the Quran in Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad.

On Sunday, the president’s office said the girl was accused by a local resident of burning pages of the Muslim holy text after she gathered paper as fuel for cooking.

Defaming Islam, the Quran or the Prophet Muhammed is a capital offense in Pakistan. Rights activists have for a long time insisted Pakistan to reform the laws, under which a person can be jailed for life for desecrating the Quran. The case has induced fears that Pakistan’s radical Islamic sections might try again to use the blasphemy laws to target the country’s religious minorities.

The case has stressed the tremendous sway radical Islamic groups hold over society in many parts of Pakistan. A furious crowd in Islamabad demanded she be punished and the Christian girl could be punished by death in Pakistan.

But some police officials doubt reports that Ramsha burned parts of the Quran.

The police officer in charge of the station near where the incident took place, Qasim Niazi said the girl does not have a mental disorder but is illiterate and has not attended school. He said when the girl was brought to the police station she had a shopping bag that contained various religious and Arabic-language papers that had been partly burned, but no Quran.

President Asif Ali Zardari’s statement said he has called for an urgent report on the incident and added that vulnerable sections of society must be protected “from any misuse of the blasphemy law.”

The Women’s Action Forum (WAF), a Pakistan rights group, blasted the arrest and accused police of not letting lawyers meet Ramsha in custody. The Forum claimed the girl’s immediate release and expressed outrage at the “total inhumanity” of those who lodged the case with police. WAF said the case should have been dealt with under the juvenile justice system.