This week, a strange twist of fate might result in the freedom of a young Pakistani girl accused of blasphemy. Over the past two weeks, the world has tuned in as a Christian girl (who is reportedly between 11 and 14 years old) has been on trial after being accused by her neighbor of burning pages in a Quran.
The facts of the case, including her age and her physical and mental health, have been conflicting; a medical report released by the state indicate that she is 14 while neighbors claim she is 11. Other sources suggest that she suffers from Down syndrome and that her age and mental state are not correlated.
However, on Monday a policeman’s testimony has turned this case, and the girl’s fate, on its head. The policeman testified that a Muslim cleric, Imam Khalid Jadoon Chisti, had framed the girl by planting torn pages of a Quran as evidence. Now Imam Chisti faces charges of blasphemy and evidence tampering. An advisor to Pakistan’s president has suggested that the evidence against Chisti is “strong” and that the girl may be “released by Monday.”
Regardless of the case’s outcome, the highly publicized events of the past few weeks have drawn attention to Pakistan’s disturbing pattern of religious persecution and harsh penalties for cases of blasphemy. The Christian minority in Pakistan is often the subject of government-imposed persecution (upon hearing of this young girl’s arrest, even her Christian neighbors felt the need to flee the area for fear of arrest). Since the 1980s over 1,000 blasphemy cases have been tried (often based on hear-say or unsubstantiated claims) and, while some of these cases drag on for years, others end with gruesome punishment. At least eight accused of blasphemy have been burned to death, while many others have been killed by mobs after their sentencing.
Our tradition teaches us that: “God said to Moses: Is there anyone whom I do not respect? Whether it be Israelite or Gentile, man or woman, slave or handmaid, whoever does a good deed, shall find the reward at its side” (Midrash Yalku Lekh Leka 76). The Jewish community has been the quintessential victims of religious persecution, and of all people, we understand the duress of this persecution and will devote ourselves to any measures designed to lessen its impact.
As we continue to follow this girl’s case, we emphasize that religious persecution, in Pakistan or anywhere else in the world, will cannot be tolerated. For more information see the recently released 2012 State Department report on International Religious Freedom.
Image courtesy of Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images