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Free girl held on blasphemy: US Senators

Dated: 2012-09-02

WASHINGTON: A bipartisan group of six American senators has written a letter to Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari, asking him to address the growing religious intolerance in his country and release the minor Christian girl arrested on a blasphemy charge.

The girl, identified as Rimsha Masih, is reported to have Down's syndrome. She faces the death penalty for allegedly burning pages with verses from the Quran.

Seeking to ensure the safety and equitable treatment under the law of all Pakistanis, regardless of their religion, the Senators said the recent cases of religious discrimination, including the case of Masih, have underscored the worsening situation for religious minorities in the country.

Writing the letter after a Pakistani judge ordered that the 11-year-old girl continue to be held, the Senators urged Zardari to undertake a serious effort to end the unjust imprisonment of Rimsha.

Led by the New Jersey Senator, Robert Menendez, the letter was signed by Senators Roy Blunt, Ben Cardin, Mark Kirk, Bob Casey, and Mike Johanns.

"As you know, last week a young, mentally-disabled Christian girl, Rimsha Masih, was taken into custody in Islamabad for allegedly burning pages inscribed with verses from the holy Quran and was charged with blasphemy a crime that could be punishable by life in prison or death," the letter said.

"The mere allegation has forced Christians to flee her neighborhood due to fear of retribution. We have welcomed the efforts of Dr Paul Bhatti, the Prime Minister's Advisor on Interfaith Harmony, to aid the girl and her family and avoid violence," it said.

"However, we remain deeply concerned that the law continues to victimise innocent people. We urge your government to do more to prevent abuse, as blasphemy allegations have resulted in the lengthy detention of, and violence committed against, Christians, Ahmadis, Hindus and other religious minorities, as well as members of the Muslim majority community," the Senators wrote.

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