By Michelle Huberman, Harif creative director
When I received an e-mail that a little girl with Down''s syndrome was arrested and jailed in Pakistan, my stomach felt like it had been kicked. Rimsha is from the Christian village of Maherabad in Islamabad. She was severely beaten by local Muslims before being arrested. She is reported to be in very bad shape and has bruises on her face and hands. Other Christians and their homes were attacked and an ultimatum issued by the Mullahs for Christians to leave the area. More than 600 Christians have now fled. BBC report here.
Toys for Rimsha left outside the Pakistani High Commission in London
Rimsha was allegedly throwing away rubbish that included burned Islamic religious texts. Whether this is true or not is beside the point. The question is how could the local Imam incite his Muslims followers to beat up a special-needs child and threaten to set her on fire? How could the Pakistani police have torn this traumatised child away from her family and thrown her into a rat-infested adult prison? Why are none of the world''s ambassadors demanding her instant release? Where are the cardinals and the archbishops? Is blasphemy in Sharia law really too hot for anybody to handle?
We see a lot of angry Muslims on the streets of our cities. When are we going to see them march and say "not in our name" to these atrocities?
Since I heard this news I have had nightmares visualising this innocent little girl separated from her family. I have a child with Down''s syndrome and know how special and sensitive our children are. Not an ounce of malice in them. When you have a child with a disability, you become part of the worldwide family of parents whose child has that condition. I can be visiting another country, and if I see a child with Down’s syndrome at another table I am compelled to go and talk to their parents. Even if I don''t speak the language. Likewise, people from abroad approach me and my beautiful daughter on the streets of London to tell me they have a special Down''s child in their family. So now Rimsha is part of my family. I cannot begin to imagine what her parents must be going through.
Wednesday night, along with the British Pakistani Christian association, I went to a demonstration outside the Pakistani High Commission in Knightsbridge, London. From the microphone I appealed for this child to be released back to the bosom of her family. My daughter and her friends with special needs came along too. They wrote cards and brought their own toys for this little girl - to comfort her in her dark moments in the prison. We left them on the steps of the building.
Protestors in London demanding freedom for Rimsha
The cruelty to Rimsha continues with the prison inspectors refusing to meet with her lawyers. Tahir Naveed Chaudhry, one of Rimsha''s lawyers, said "I myself contacted the inspector general (of prisons) by phone and he told me that he will call me back, but I am still waiting to speak to him." Christian activist Xavier William, who had visited Rimsha at the police station where she was first detained, said she was "frightened and traumatised." More here.
I represent Harif, an organising representing Jews from the Middle East and North Africa. We know the meaning of bigotry and ethnic cleansing. We Jews were among its first victims in the Arab and Muslim world. We were branded criminals, just because we were Jews. Now it’s the turn of the Christians. When the Christian Copts were being killed this year on the streets of Cairo, Levana Zamir, a Jew born in Cairo, told me "that''s what they did to us when we lived there. Thank G-d there was a State of Israel in 1950 where we could flee to".
Sharia law is criminalising Christians just for being Christians. If you are mentally handicapped or not, it makes no difference. The law makes no allowances. It simply will not tolerate the Other.
Please write to the Pakistani authorities and your politicians and demand her immediate release. Please pray for Rimsha.
Updates are on the British Pakistani Christian Association website.
Michelle Huberman can be contacted at email@example.com