The extraordinary scenes were carried live on Pakistani television. A military helicopter landed inside the Adiala jail in Rawalpindi to transport Rimsha Masih to a safe location to await trial on charges of blasphemy. Rimsha is somewhere between 11 and 14 years of age and has been characterized as a Downs syndrome child by her family and neighbors. Her family are garbage gatherers, and she was reported to the authorities for blasphemy after a local cleric was told she was seen holding burnt pages of a Noorani Qaida, a book used to teach Islam to children. When arrested, pages from several Islamic texts were found in her backpack. The Masihs are Christians.
The case drew international attention because of the girl’s age, her mental disability, her family’s occupation and the third-hand nature of the accusation (neighbor boy told his father who told the cleric.) Those who are accused of blasphemy in Pakistan end up dead even if they are acquited. Most of the family’s Christian neighbors have fled the town of Mehrabadi because the cleric who made the accusation against Rimsha has been stirring up hatred toward them.
But the cleric has been arrested on suspicion of planting false evidence to create the climate of resentment that has driven Christians out of the town. The number of accusations of blasphemy has been rising recently and authorities fear these accusations are being used to settle private disputes.
Bail was granted for Rimsha on Friday, and on Saturday she was airlifted to a safe location pending determination of the evidence. Her mother had been incarcerated with her. Her attorneys, who are acting without remuneration, have applied to have the charges dismissed.