Rimsha Masih was jailed after she was accused by a neighbor
The neighbor says she burned pages of the Quran, the Muslim holy book
Rimsha denies accusation, her lawyers say neighbor was settling a score
A Muslim cleric has been accused of planting evidence against her
In a period of about three weeks she went from being a virtually unknown 14-year-old Pakistani girl to making headlines around the world as a Christian teen facing a life sentence for allegedly burning pages of the Quran.
In her first-ever public interview since being released on bail, Rimsha Masih said she’s happy to be back with her family but still fears for her life.
“I’m scared,” she told CNN by phone. “I’m afraid of anyone who might kill us.”
Rimsha spoke in short sentences – often answering “yes” or “no” in a shy and nervous voice. She wouldn’t reveal where she was because she was speaking from her hideout.
In Pakistan, suspects accused of blasphemy often face vigilante justice, with some cases even resulting in murder.
When we asked Masih how she was doing, she said she was good.
We asked her if she ever burned pages of the Quran. “No, no,” she replied instantly.
Were you falsely accused? “Yes,” she said.
However, Rimsha wouldn’t answer questions about what exactly happened on August 16 this year.
Pakistani investigators said Rimsha’s neighbor accused her of burning pages of the Quran to use as cooking fuel. The young man accused the teenager of blasphemy, shouted in protest, and attracted an angry mob, police said.
But Rimsha’s lawyers denied she desecrated the Muslim holy book in this way. They said the neighbor wanted to settle a personal score with Rimsha because the two didn’t get along.
The lawyers told CNN this may have been because he liked her but she didn’t like him back.
Within minutes hundreds of residents from this poor Islamabad neighborhood surrounded the terrified girl, witnesses said.
There are conflicting accounts about what happened next. Some neighbors said Rimsha was beaten, while others claimed she frantically raced back home and locked herself inside.
The police eventually arrived and took Rimsha into custody
Her case made international headlines and sparked outrage among rights groups who have long accused the Pakistani government of allowing the country’s controversial blasphemy laws to be used to settle scores and persecute religious minorities.
According to rights groups such as the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and Human Rights Watch, most innocent victims of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws belong to minority Muslim sects like the Ahamadis, who are often viewed as non-believers by Pakistan’s majority Sunnis.
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.
“We respect the Quran just like we respect the Bible,” said Mizrak Mashi. “We couldn’t imagine committing blasphemy let alone doing it. Our children would never do this either.”
Last week, under growing pressure from rights groups who were outraged that a juvenile had spent more than three weeks in jail, a judge finally approved Rimsha’s request to be released on bail.
Her case is still pending but she seemed to gain fresh support earlier this month when police arrested a Muslim cleric and accused him of planting torn pages of the Quran in Rimsha’s bag in an apparent attempt to bolster evidence against her.
Meanwhile, a family spokesman said aid groups from the U.S., Italy and Canada have already offered to give Rimsha and her family a home outside Pakistan.
But Rimsha said, for now, she doesn’t want to go anywhere other than back to life as she knew it, away from the spotlight.
“I love Pakistan,” Masih said. “I won’t ever leave my country.”