ISLAMABAD – Following the US government and others, Amnesty International has urged Pakistan to reform its anti-blasphemy laws and protect a young Christian girl arrested for allegedly burning pages inscribed with verses from the Holy Quran.Rimsha, who is between 10 and 13 years old and is reported to have Down’s Syndrome, was taken into custody in an Islamabad slum on Thursday after local Muslims demanded she be punished.Some reports suggested Rimsha had burned papers collected from a garbage pile for cooking in her family home in Mehrabad neighbourhood and someone alerted the local cleric after spotting the remains being thrown out as rubbish.Police said the girl was arrested last Thursday and remanded in custody for 14 days. Reportedly her relatives have fled the area in fear at Muslim anger over the incident but witnesses said there was total calm and those who fled the neighbourhood were returning now.President Asif Ali Zardari has already ordered officials to explain the arrest. The president on Monday took “serious note” of the arrest and called on the interior ministry to submit a report on the case, state media said.Polly Truscott, Amnesty International’s South Asia director, said in a statement issued late Tuesday that the case showed the “erosion of the rule of law” in Pakistan and the dangers faced by those accused of blasphemy.The Muslim-majority nation’s anti-blasphemy laws make defaming Islam or desecrating the Quran illegal and potentially punishable by death. Human rights activists say the law is often used to settle petty disputes.“Amnesty International is extremely concerned for Rimsha’s safety. In the recent past individuals accused of blasphemy have been killed by members of the public,” Truscott said. “The continued failure to reform these laws has effectively sent the message that anyone can commit outrageous abuses and attempt to excuse them as defence of religious sentiments,” he said.Truscott welcomed Zardari’s response but warned it would count for little unless there were “greater efforts to reform the blasphemy laws to ensure they cannot be used maliciously to settle disputes or enable private citizens to take matters into their own hands.”The US on Monday also welcomed President Zardari’s initiative, calling the arrest of the young girl “deeply disturbing”. “This case is obviously deeply disturbing,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters in Washington. “We think that the president’s statement is very welcome, and we urge the government of Pakistan to protect not just its religious minority citizens but also women and girls,” Nuland said.There has been growing concern in the West over what they deem ‘religious intolerance’ in Pakistan following the assassinations of Punjab governor Salman Taseer in January 2011 and minorities minister Shahbaz Bhatti two months later for their opposition to the blasphemy law.A Christian mother sentenced to death for blasphemy in late 2010 remains in prison, while last month, a mob snatched a mentally unstable man from a village police station and beat him to death in central Punjab province after he allegedly burned pages from a copy of the Quran.Rimsha’s house was locked from the outside on Monday and no one was at home, said an AFP reporter. The streets were quiet as Muslims celebrated Eidul Fitr, the biggest celebration of their religious calendar. Neighbours were reluctant to speak about the incident, saying that they had not witnessed the alleged desecration themselves.But one Christian neighbour told AFP that he had never left the area, not feeling any danger. Local shopkeeper Muhammad Tahir said the girl was handed over to the authorities immediately after the incident “so that no one would hurt the family” and said there had been only a “very small protest” on Friday.A senior official of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance, Tahir Naveed Chaudhry, told AFP that Christians who fled for shelter with relatives elsewhere in Islamabad were now gradually returning to Mehrabad.He said the girl had Down’s Syndrome – a condition which causes various degrees of learning difficulties – and disputed the age given by police.The Women’s Action Forum, a leading Pakistani organisation fighting for the rights of women, condemned Rimsha’s arrest. Spokeswoman Tahira Abdullah demanded her immediate release and expressed outrage at the “total inhumanity” of the men who lodged the case with police. Police should have dealt with the case under the Juvenile Justice System, she said, accusing police of not allowing lawyers to visit the girl.