Asif Ali Zardari, Pakistan’s president, has ordered an investigation into the arrest of a Christian girl after neighbours surrounded her house, demanding police take action over allegations she had burned religious papers.
In Pakistan, anyone found guilty of insulting Islam’s Prophet Muhammad, or holy book, the Quran, can be sentenced to anything from a fine to the death penalty.
Zabi Ullah, a police officer, said on Monday that the girl was arrested on Thursday after hundreds of residents gathered outside the house in Islamabad.
Ullah said the girl was 16 while other officials have said she was either 12 or 11.
There were also reports that the girl suffered from a mental disability, with officials saying she could not properly answer police questions.
Ullah said the police took the girl to the police station, and that she has been held for 14 days while authorities investigate.
“About 500-600 people had gathered outside her house in Islamabad, and they were very emotional, angry and they might have harmed her if we had not quickly reacted,” he said.
“Some Muslims from the area claim the girl had burned pages of the Quran, and we are investigating, and we have not reached any conclusion.”
Al Jazeera’s Imtiaz Tyab, reporting from Islamabad, said: “President Asif Ali Zardari has ordered his interior minister to launch an investigation into this case which has attracted much attention not just in Pakistan but around the world.
“The question the president wants answered is why this girl was charged under the country’s blasphemy laws and not as a juvenile because she is only 11 years old.”
Qasim Niazi, another police official, said when the girl was brought to the police station she had a shopping bag that contained various religious and Arabic-language papers that had been partly burned but no Quran.
A police officer that did not want to be identified due to the sensitivity of the case said the matter would likely be dropped once the investigation is completed and the atmosphere is defused, saying there was “nothing much to the case”.
Angry mobs have been known to sometimes take the law into their own hands and beat or kill people who are accused of violating the blasphemy laws.
In July, thousands of people dragged a Pakistani man accused of desecrating the Quran from a police station in the central city of Bahawalpur, beat him to death and then set his body on fire.
Attempts to revoke or alter the blasphemy laws have been met with violent opposition.
Last year, two prominent political figures who spoke out against the laws were killed, in attacks that raised concerns about the rise of religious extremism in Pakistan.
Liberal politician Salman Taseer was shot and killed by one of his own guards in January 2011, and in March 2011, armed men assassinated Shahbaz Bhatti, the only Christian minister in Pakistan’s cabinet.