August 2012

 

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No Justice for Rimsha: Judge in Pakistan Disrespects
the Orders of President Zardari


Khalid Shahzad
 


Rimsha (Photo from www.onejerusalem.com)

In the capital of Pakistan where there are many government and non-governmental institutions working for the protection of child rights, special children rights, human rights and the rights of women, only one of them has come out calling for the release of Rimsha, a 14-year-old Christian girl who has been charged with blasphemy. It has now been revealed that Rimsha does not suffer from Down’s Syndrome but is, in fact, a slow learner with a mental age of around 10 or 11.

Rimsha has been charged under the country’s blasphemy laws, which carry the death penalty, and has now made two court appearances. In the first hearing, the judge refused bail, citing the fear of retaliation by Islamic fanatics. On Aug. 30, she was presented to the additional sessions judge, Raja Jawad Hassan Abass, in Islamabad for her bail petition. The lawyer from the All-Pakistan Minority Movement, Chaudry Tahir Nazir, who is also a member of the Punjab Provincial Assembly, produced a medical certificate from the medical board of the Poly Clinic Hospital, an official hospital, that she has been declared by the medical board to be a slow learner and illiterate so she should be granted bail. Rimsha has little or no education and cannot read or write; she cannot recognize any letters or numerals. This fact in itself should be evidence enough that she had no intention of insulting Islam by the blasphemous act of burning the Holy Book, the Qur’an. However, the judge refused to accept the contents of the medical report and used the excuse that, since he had not asked the lawyer to convene a medical board, he was under no obligation to accept the findings. The previous board was formed on the orders of President Asif Ali Zardari, whose findings were also refused by the additional sessions judge.

Rimsha is being held in a very small room at the Adiala Jail in Rawalpindi in Punjab Province. This jail is the same one in which high-profile terrorists are held, including Mumtaz Qadri, the killer of the former governor of Punjab, who enjoys all facilities necessary to communicate with others. In direct contrast to this life in prison, Rimsha’s cell is so small that she can barely walk about, and her parents have been denied permission to visit her. These circumstances in themselves are a gross violation of the most basic of human rights. Religious minority groups are not expecting the judiciary to do justice for the child despite her innocence in view of the threats from powerful militant groups.

It has been witnessed in many previous cases concerning the blasphemy laws that the judiciary, in general, is extremely biased in cases where the prosecution of religious minorities is concerned. This bias may be the result of the well-established threat of physical violence by Muslim extremists.

According to Sections 295B and 295C of the Pakistan criminal code—part of the country’s blasphemy laws—there is no division of age, religion, personality, gender and educational or any mental disorder. This imprecision in the law provides the opportunity for any Muslim to blame anyone, even another Muslim, for using blasphemous words against the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Therefore, the police and culprits can use this ambiguity in the blasphemy laws to kill the accused without any investigation or proof. The police and other law enforcement agencies rarely investigate any killing on such a complaint. In this particular case, Rimsha is a slow learner and is not able to read or write, but the additional sessions judge in his wisdom has seen fit to place her in a situation where she is living with high-profile criminals. There cannot possibly be any justification for her imprisonment given her mental and educational background.

The question begs to be asked in this instance, Who is the slow learner, Rimsha or the judge?

The government of Pakistan must take charge of this matter and act according to the Declaration on the Rights of Disabled Persons that was proclaimed by the U.N. General Assembly in 1975 to respect their human dignity; offer them the same fundamental rights as their fellow citizens; the same civil and political rights as other human beings; undertake measures designed to enable them to become as self-reliant as possible; ensure medical, psychological and functional treatment and develop their capabilities and skills to the maximum in order to hasten the process of their social integration or reintegration; to ensure their right to economic and social security and to a decent level of living; and finally, according to their capabilities, the right to secure and retain employment.


* Khalid Shahzad is the director of the Dorothea Center for Special Children in Lahore, Pakistan, and may be contacted by e-mail at <nonstick777@yahoo.com>.