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July 23, 2017

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Pakistan girl fears for life in blasphemy case

ISLAMABAD--A Christian family and their daughter, who was bailed after spending three weeks in a Pakistan jail on blasphemy charges, fear for their lives despite government promises to protect them, media reports said.

Rimsha Masih was arrested on Aug. 16 for allegedly setting fire to papers that contained Quranic verses in an impoverished neighborhood of Islamabad.

Her plight attracted an international outcry because she is underage, illiterate and said to suffer from learning difficulties.

"I'm scared," CNN quoted her as saying on Tuesday by telephone, from a secret hiding place with her family. "I'm afraid of anyone who might kill us."

But she said she would never leave the country.

"I love Pakistan," said Rimsha, who is thought to be 14.

According to CNN, she often answered just "yes" or "no" in a shy and nervous voice, and firmly denied she had burnt pages of Quran.

She said she was falsely accused, but would not answer questions about what exactly happened on Aug. 16.

Blasphemy is hugely sensitive in Pakistan, where 97 percent of the population is Muslim, and allegations of insulting Islam or the prophet Mohammed prompt fury.

Insulting the prophet Mohammed is punishable by death and burning a sacred text by life imprisonment. Two politicians who spoke out on the matter were killed last year.

According to CNN, Rimsha's father — a Christian house painter who earns a few dollars a day — said no one in his family would dare dishonor the Quran.

The BBC quoted him as saying the family were threatened by neighbors.

"They were saying: 'We are going to burn you inside the house,'" he said. "'We are not going to spare you or your kids. Then we will burn the homes of the other Christians.'

"Even after we left the area they were saying: 'Bring the girl and the family to us. We want to kill them.'"

"We are worried that we can be attacked and killed any time," Rimsha's father said. "Before, when cases like this have arisen, people who were accused were killed."

According to the BBC, Rimsha's mother said she was assaulted after a mob tried to enter the house before her daughter was arrested.

"A woman hit me," she said, "and slapped my face. People started running into the house to catch my daughter. I was scared they might kill us. We were all crying. My daughter was very upset."

The family said Rimsha's 14-year-old sister was also traumatized.

"A lot of people had gathered," the BBC quoted her as saying, "and they were saying: 'We will cut off the hands of the people who burned the Quran.' Rimsha wouldn't come out of the bathroom. Later the police came and took her away."

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