Canada provides refuge for Pakistani Christian accused of blasphemy

by Rachel Lynn Aldrich
Posted 7/01/13, 12:48 pm

A Christian girl fled Pakistan with her family after a Muslim cleric falsely accused her of burning pages from the Quran. After spending months in hiding, Rimsha Masih and her family are now in Canada, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said over the weekend.

Masih was arrested in August in Islamabad after the cleric made the accusation. He was later accused of fabricating the evidence and she was acquitted, but those accused of blasphemy in Pakistan are often subject to vigilante justice. Mobs have been known to attack and kill people accused of blasphemy, and two prominent politicians who have discussed changes to the blasphemy laws have been killed. The girl left Pakistan with her parents, three sisters, and a brother on March 14, attorney Tahir Naveed Chaudhry said.

A Muslim cleric who lobbied for her release, Tahir Mehmood Ashrafi, said Masih had been facing threats and was moving constantly.

“I am sad that this innocent girl had to leave Pakistan,” he said. “She had been acquitted by the court, and despite that it was not possible for her to live freely.”

Kenney said he’d been following the case when a Pakistani contact asked him in January whether the family could come to Canada.

“I said absolutely, if they could get her out,” Kenney told The Canadian Press on Sunday. “So a number of people did some very dangerous, delicate work to extricate her and her family from Pakistan, and we provided the necessary visas.”

Privacy concerns prevented  Canada’s immigration service from saying whether she was in the country at first, but the girl’s lawyer confirmed it on Saturday.

Kenney said he has instructed immigration officials to process their applications for permanent residency under humanitarian and compassionate grounds. Kenney usually doesn’t comment on individual immigration cases, but he said family members gave their consent to have their story made public. Kenney said he met with the family in Toronto in April, a few weeks after they arrived.

The case received widespread attention in part because of the girl's young age and questions about her mental abilities. An official medical report at the time put her age at 14, although some of her supporters said she was as young as 11.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Rachel Lynn Aldrich

Rachel is an assistant editor for WORLD Digital. Follow Rachel on Twitter @Rachel_Lynn_A.

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