Pakistani girl jailed for blasphemy now in Canada
From The Star
A teenage girl jailed in Pakistan last year after being falsely accused of burning a Qu’ran is now living in Canada, says a Christian organization helping her family settle.
Rimsha Masih, 14, made international headlines when she was arrested in August 2012 in Islamabad after a Muslim cleric accused her of desecrating the holy book. The cleric was later accused of fabricating evidence and she was acquitted.
Facing persecution in Pakistan, the family has fled to Canada and hopes to start fresh in their new home, said Peter Bhatti, chairman of International Christian Voice.
“They want to be new people and they want to start a new life,” he said, adding that the girl, believed to have Down’s syndrome, is thriving.…
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“She is wonderful. She is going to school and getting better every day,” he said. “She is feeling better because she feels she has freedom.”
The family lives in an undisclosed location in southern Ontario. They feel safe in Canada, but want their location kept secret for privacy reasons, said Bhatti.
Masih and her parents, three sisters and brother left Pakistan on March 14, The Associated Press reported.
Tahir Mehmood Ashrafi, a Muslim cleric who had lobbied for her release, said the family had been facing threats and was moving constantly.
“I am sad that this innocent girl had to leave Pakistan. She had been acquitted by the court, and despite that it was not possible for her to live freely,” he said.
Citizenship and Immigration Canada said privacy legislation prevented it from confirming the family was in the country.
Masih’s arrest sparked international outrage last year in part because of her age and apparent mental disability. The case also shed light on Pakistan’s strict blasphemy laws and treatment of religious minorities.
The teenager was freed from jail after 25 days, because police said they found evidence that a cleric had ripped pages from a Qu’ran and planted them in a garbage bag she was carrying.
Even though she was acquitted, those accused of blasphemy in Pakistan often become targets of vigilante justice. Two prominent politicians who have suggested changes to the blasphemy laws have been killed.
The news of her arrival in Canada was first reported by Tahir Gora, a Pakistani-Canadian journalist whose wife spotted Masih in a shopping mall in their neighbourhood.
“We had seen her photo in the newspaper many times,” he said. “(My wife) was shocked and amazed to see her here.”
He called International Christian Voice, who confirmed the girl and her family had recently arrived in Canada. Gora, founder of Progressive Muslim Institute Canada, had been lobbying the Canadian government to help Masih flee.
“It was a moment of joy to learn she was here,” he said.
“The situation of Christians in Pakistan is terrible, really terrible . . . She and her family, they were in hiding. When she’s here, she doesn’t need to hide anymore.”
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Posted by Theodore Shoebat