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Pakistani Christian girl arrested, accused of blasphemy

Monday, August 20, 2012    

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ISLAMABAD, Pakistan  (AP) — Pakistani authorities have arrested a young Christian girl after hundreds of furious neighbours gathered outside her house and accused her of violating the country's strict blasphemy laws by burning pages of the Muslim holy book, police and neighbours said Monday.

The girl's age was not immediately clear, with reports ranging from 11 to 16 years old, and some have raised the possibility she might be mentally handicapped.

Under Pakistan's blasphemy laws, anyone found guilty of insulting Islam's Prophet Muhammad or defiling the holy book, or Quran, can face life in prison or even execution.

The laws have been an ongoing source of controversy even though those convicted are rarely executed. Rising extremism in the country often means religious minorities live in fear of persecution and accusations of blasphemy.

The latest case exploded on Thursday, when neighbours angry over rumours a Christian girl had allegedly burned a Quran gathered outside her house in a poor outlying district of the capital, Islamabad, said police officer Zabi Ullah.

He said the police took the girl to the police station and she is being held for 14 days while authorities investigate the allegations. Several police officers suggested she may also be being held for her own protection.

"About 500 to 600 people had gathered outside her house in Islamabad and they were very emotional, angry and they might have harmed her if we had not quickly reacted," he said. The crowd demanded that the police take action against the girl. Another police official, Qasim Niazi, 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 there was no Quran among the papers.

Muslim residents of the neighbourhood insisted they treat their Christian neighbours with respect, and that while some Christians had left out of fear immediately following the incident on Thursday, most had returned. Christians in the neighbourhood were reluctant to talk, but many said their landlords had told them they had to leave their rented houses by the end of the month.

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