OTTAWA (AP) -- A Christian girl who was accused of burning Islam’s holy book in a case that focused international attention on Pakistan’s harsh blasphemy laws is now 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 Quran. The cleric was later accused of fabricating evidence, and the girl was acquitted.
Kenney said he’d 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."
The girl’s lawyer on Saturday said she was in Canada, but Canada’s immigration service at first said privacy concerns prevented them from saying whether she was in the country.
Kenney said he has instructed immigration officials to process their applications for permanent residency under 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 with 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.
The Associated Press is withholding the girl’s name because it does not generally identify underage suspects.
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.