Canadian Catholic News
A letter from the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (CCCB) to Pakistan’s High Commissioner is among many interventions International Christian Voice (ICV) chairman Peter Bhatti credits with the release of Rimsha Masih from prison Sept. 7.
Masih is a girl with Down syndrome who was imprisoned August 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, Masih and her family continue to need protection from extremists who have threatened to burn the family alive and threatened Masih's 1500-member Christian community. Most of those Chrisitians 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 chairman Bishop Francois Lapierre 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 Bishop 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,” Bishop Lapierre continued. “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.”
A copy of the letter was sent to Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird who has also publicly expressed concern over Masih'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 chairman of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA).
APMA has put up the bail for Masih that amounts to about $10,000. Minorities make up 3 per cent of Pakistan’s majority Muslim population and includes Christians and Hindus.