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Rimsha Masih, Pakistani girl accused of blasphemy, finds refuge in Canada

Rimsha Masih and her family given visas to help get them out of hiding after allegations she burned the Qur'an

Rimsha Masih is taken away by helicopter after being released from prison on bail in September. Photograph:

Rimsha Masih was arrested on August 16, 2012, for allegedly burning pages from the Quran. While carrying trash in a plastic bag in the neighborhood where she lived she was told by a Muslim boy (Hammad) to let him inspect the contents of her bag. The boy then took the bag to the imam of a local mosque, Hafiz Mohammed Khalid Chishti who accusing Masih of desecrating the Quran, gave police burned papers from the trash as evidence against her. On August 24 Chishti told AFP news service that he thought Rimsha had burned the pages deliberately as part of a Christian "conspiracy" to insult Muslims, and that action should have been taken sooner to stop what he called their "anti-Islam activities" in the area. Outrage by local Muslims forced 300 local Christian families to leave their homes and to attempt to "find shelter in one of the Islamabad forests".

A Christian girl who was falsely accused of burning Islam's holy book in a case that focused international attention on Pakistan's harsh blasphemy laws is in Canada with her family after spending months in hiding, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said.

Rimsha Masih was arrested in August in Islamabad after a Muslim cleric accused her of burning the Qur'an. She was held in jail before getting bail, but the cleric was later accused of fabricating evidence and the case against the girl was dropped.

Kenney said he had been following the case and was prompted to act 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."

On Saturday the girl's lawyer said she was in Canada, but Canada's immigration service at first said privacy concerns prevented them saying whether she was in the country.

Kenney said he had instructed immigration officials to process the family's applications for permanent residency on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.

It's rare for Kenney to comment on individual immigration cases, but he said family members gave their consent to have their story made public.

Kenney said he met 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.

Even though the case against her was thrown out, people 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.


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