21st August, 2012
The Australian Christian Lobby is urging the Australian Government to pressure Pakistan to change it's blasphemy laws following news that a young Christian girl has been jailed after being accused of burning pages of a religious text.
The organisation is urging Foreign Minister Bob Carr to make representations to the Pakistani Ambassador in Canberra that the girl be freed and placed in child protection.
Jim Wallace, managing director of the ACL, says the Australian Government should insist Pakistan allow religious freedom and change its "inhumane blasphemy laws".
“Every effort must be made to save the life of this young child and remove the death penalty for any blasphemy law in Pakistan. Religious freedom is a fundamental human right and our government must do everything it can to pressure the Pakistani government to meet its international human rights obligations."
The Pakistani Government is facing increasing pressure around the world to release the girl, Rimsah Masih, who was jailed with her mother on Friday after a local Muslim cleric accused her of burning pages from a religious textbook.
A number of the family's Christian neighbours have reportedly fled their homes in fear of their lives. Local authorities have reportedly dismissed suggestions made by neighbours that the girl has Down Syndrome and was only 11-years-old with one official quoted as saying she was 16.
The outcry over the jailing of the girl around the world is growing. Among those who have raised concerns are Dutch legislator Joel Voordewind and European parliamentarian Peter van Dalen who have urged the Dutch foreign minister to "summon the Pakistani ambassador and appeal for her immediate release".
Farrukh H. Saif, executive director of Pakistan-based rights group World Vision In Progress (WVIP), told BosNewsLife that "1,000 Christian families" have fled their homes in the wake of Friday's arrest.
"It's a very desperate situation, many are on the streets in the rain," he said.
He said his group now supports some 500 Christians with food packages, but added that's not enough as "1,000 Christian families" fled Islamabad's slum area Meherabadi.
Muslims have reportedly set up barricades to prevent the already impoverished Christians from returning home.
"They claim the Christians are guilty of blasphemy and even threatened to kill them," added Mr Saif, who has been in close contact with the girl's family and police.
"Some 4,000 Christians now stay in church compounds or just on the streets in the open sky. They have nowhere to go," he said.
In Pakistan, the government is investigating the situation, he said, amid mounting international pressure.
"However our Christian leadership both in churches and government should do more to help them," Mr Saif stressed.
- DAVID ADAMS with STEFAN J BOS of BosNewsLife