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September 21, 2017

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Pakistan leader seeks report on blasphemy case

ISLAMABAD -- Pakistan's president Monday called on officials to explain the arrest on blasphemy charges of a Christian girl with Down's Syndrome who allegedly burnt pages inscribed with verses from the Quran.

There is a growing debate about religious intolerance in Muslim-majority Pakistan, where strict anti-blasphemy laws make defaming Islam or desecrating the Quran punishable by death.

The girl, Rimsha, was arrested in a low-income neighborhood of the capital on Thursday and remanded in custody for 14 days after furious Muslims demanded she be punished, police said.

Speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case, police said the girl was 16 years old.

Activists and neighbors say she is between 10 and 13 years old.

President Asif Ali Zardari took "serious note" of her arrest and called on the interior ministry to submit a report on the case, state media said.

His government has been heavily criticized in the West for refusing to reform the anti-blasphemy law, despite the assassinations of a leading politician and a Christian cabinet minister who spoke out against the law in 2011.

Human rights activists say the law is often used to settle petty disputes.

Some reports suggested the girl had been burning papers collected from a rubbish pile for cooking when someone entered her house and accused the family of burning pages inscribed with verses from the Quran.

Muslim anger over the alleged incident forced Christians to flee the mixed neighborhood of Mehrabad, 20 minutes' drive from Western embassies.

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