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Father Recovers Forcibly Converted/Married Daughter

Police found Farah Shaheen, 12, chained in a home in Faisalabad, Pakistan on Dec. 5, 2020. (Morning Star News)

Kidnapped 12-year-old Christian girl in Pakistan was found chained in home of ‘husband.’ 

Pakistan (Morning Star News) – Asif Masih beamed with joy to have his 12-year-old daughter back home on Tuesday (Feb. 16) in Faisalabad, Pakistan following her alleged kidnapping and forcible conversion and marriage to a 45-year-old Muslim.

“Praise God, for He has answered our prayers and rescued my daughter,” Masih said hours after Faisalabad Session Judge Rana Masood Akhtar ordered that Farah Shaheen be released from a government shelter “because she wants to go with him.” In a Jan. 23 hearing, Farah had told the court that she wanted to live with her so-called husband, Khizar Hayat – a statement made under threats and pressure at the shelter, her lawyer said.

The court verdict states that since the marriage between Farah and Hayat was not registered and a Nikahnama (Islamic marriage contract) was not verified by the area union council, she could not be kept in the shelter indefinitely.

“She’s deeply traumatized and fearful, but my child is very happy to be back in her family,” Masih told Morning Star News. “Just when we thought that we had lost her, this miracle happened. May God keep all daughters in His protection.”

Masih, a Roman Catholic daily wage laborer, had fought for Farah’s recovery since she was allegedly kidnapped by three Muslims from the family’s home in the Ahmedabad area of Faisalabad in June. The child was allegedly raped, forcibly converted to Islam and forced to marry Hayat.

Although intercourse with a girl below age 16 is statutory rape in Pakistan, in most cases a falsified conversion certificate and Nikahnama influences police and courts to pardon kidnappers.

Hayat was taken into custody and released on bail, but he has yet to be charged for alleged kidnapping or rape, and fears for Farah’s security remain.

Police found Farah chained in the suspect’s home on Dec. 5 after Masih reported she had been kidnapped on June 25, and a judge ordered her to be kept in police custody; she was then sent to a government-run shelter home while her case went to court.

Church leaders and rights activists said they fear that such shelter homes, police and courts were facilitating the forced conversions of Christian girls.

Rights activist Lala Robin Daniel told Morning Star News that Hayat and his alleged accomplices would remain a threat to Masih and his family until they are taken into custody and punished.

“All those who were involved in this case should be given exemplary punishments so that people have a fear of the law,” Daniel told Morning Star News. “Unless stern legislation is brought against forced conversions of minor girls and the accused are punished, there is little hope for safety of our children.”

Legislation on Religious Conversion

A parliamentary panel on minorities has forwarded key legislation to the government on curbing forced conversions of minority girls in Pakistan, recommending that only adults should be allowed to change religion and only after appearing before a senior district judge.

The Parliamentary Committee to Protect Minorities from Forced Conversions on Tuesday (Feb. 16) recommended that the Stymie Forced Religious Conversion Bill be forwarded to the Senate, which will decide whether to forward the draft to the relevant ministry.

The bill includes recommendations for validating conversion, stating, “Any person who is not a child and able and willing to convert to another religion will apply for a conversion certificate from the additional sessions judge of the area where the person ordinarily resides.”

The bill calls for an application form that would include conversion candidates’ current religion, age, gender, national identity number, reason for conversion and details of parents, siblings, children and spouse if any.

The committee suggested that the additional sessions judge shall set a date for an interview within seven days of receipt of the application for conversion.

“On the date provided, the person shall present himself/herself before the additional sessions judge who shall ensure that the conversion is not under any duress and not due to any deceit or fraudulent misrepresentation,” the bill states.

The additional sessions judge may, upon the conversion candidates’ request, arrange his/her meeting with religious scholars of the religion the person wishes to convert to, according to the draft. A clause also empowers the additional sessions judge to grant 90 days to the person to undertake a comparative study of the religions and return to the office of the judge.

“Only after satisfaction, the additional sessions judge may issue the certificate of change of religion,” the draft states.

Skepticism

Church leaders endorsed the recommendations in the bill but questioned the will of the government to address the issue.

“This is not the first time such practical recommendations have been proposed to the government, but unfortunately all such pro-minority legislations are either put on the back-burner or outright dismissed under pressure from religious groups,” said Pakistan National Council of Churches President Bishop Azad Marshall.

The Senate’s Standing Committee on Religious Affairs recently rejected a bill seeking protection for Pakistan’s minorities against religiously motivated violence.

Committee chairman Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri, of the far-right Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, claimed in a Feb. 2 meeting that minorities in Pakistan already enjoyed “unprecedented religious freedom” and that therefore there was no need for more legislation. Sen. Sirajul Haq of the hard-line Jamaat-e-Islami derided the bill as part of the agenda of Non-Governmental Organizations.

Bishop Marshall said it was unfortunate that some religious leaders have created hindrances to such crucial legislation over the years.

“Forced conversions, misuse of blasphemy law, hate speech and religious violence are real issues affecting the minority communities that need to be tackled together as a national cause,” he said.

Former parliamentarian and rights advocate Mary James Gill said the protection for minorities bill introduced by her Muslim party colleague, Sen. Javed Abbasi, was a sincere effort to curb forced conversions and other issues facing non-Muslim citizens, especially Christians and Hindus.

“It’s time that the government and opposition parties should rise beyond party lines and seriously work on these issues,” she said. “Intolerance and extremism are increasing in our country, and if we don’t stop them now, this fire will eventually devour all of us.”

Gill lauded the recommendations made in the religious conversion bill but, like Bishop Marshall, she too voiced concern over how Islamist parties and groups would react to it.

“Religious leaders need to understand that legislation for protection of minorities does not mean an attack on their faith,” she said. “Matters like forced conversion and misuse of blasphemy laws are serious human rights issues, and all of us need to take a firm stand against it.”

Pakistan led the world in forced marriages, with about 1,000 Christians married against their will to non-Christians from November 2019 to October 2020, according to Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2021 World Watch List report. In terms of abductions, the report listed Pakistan as fourth with an estimated 100 kidnappings.

Overall, Pakistan was ranked No. 5 on the 2021 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.

According to the Center for Social Justice, 162 questionable conversions have appeared in the media since 2013. About 52 percent of allegedly forced conversions occurred in Punjab Province, and 44 percent in Sindh Province, while 1.23 percent each were reported in the federal and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa areas. One case was reported from Balochistan Province.

The data show that 54.3 percent of the girls and women were Hindu, 44.4 percent were Christian and 0.62 percent belonged to Sikh and Kalash communities.

More than 46.3 percent of the victims of forced conversion were minors – with 32.7 percent between the ages of 11 and 15 – while only 16.7 percent of the victims were above 18 years old, though lower courts did not always verify those ages through records of the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) and schools.

VOP Note: Please pray for the many Christian girls who are kidnapped, forced to convert and married to their abductors. They suffer horrific abuse with physical and mental injuries.

Christian Nurse and Two Studying Bible in Park Charged with Blasphemy

Pakistan (Morning Star News) – Police in Lahore, Pakistan have charged two Christians with blasphemy after Muslims objected to their Bible study in a park last weekend, the attorney for one of the accused said.

Haroon Ayub Masih, 26, and friend Salamat Mansha Masih, about the same age, were studying the Bible in Lahore’s Model Town Park on Saturday (Feb. 13) when a group of Muslims approached and told them they should not read the Bible in public, attorney Aneeqa Maria of The Voice Society said.

When Haroon Masih told them that reading the Bible in public was not a crime in Pakistan and that they had no right to stop them, the Muslims began questioning them about their Christian faith and asked if they had any reading material to help them understand the Bible, Maria said.

“On their insistence, Haroon gave them a Christian book entitled, ‘Zindagi Ka Paani’’ or ‘Water of Life,’” said Maria, who represents Haroon Masih. “The youths took the book and left Haroon and Mansha for the time being.”

Haroon Masih returned home a few minutes later, while Mansha Masih remained in the park, she said.

“A few minutes later, the Muslim youths returned to the spot where Mansha was present and attacked him, claiming that he and Haroon had blasphemed against their prophet,” Maria told Morning Star News. “They also summoned the park’s security and lied to them that the two Christians were evangelizing to Muslims in the park and had used derogatory words for the Koran and the prophet [Muhammad].”

Maria said someone from the group of Muslim friends, which was led by Haroon Ahmed, then called the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), a far-right Islamist political party reportedly behind most blasphemy cases against Christians and the Ahmadiyya, a sect originating in Islam that Muslims repudiate. A TLP co-founder, Muhammad Afzal Qadri, called for the death of three Supreme Court justices involved in the 2018 acquittal of Christian Aasiya Noreen (Asia Bibi), who had been wrongly convicted of blasphemy and condemned to death.

TLP leaders arrived, and under their pressure police registered a case against the two Christians for derogatory remarks against Muhammad (Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code), punishable by death; defiling the Koran (Section 295-B), punishable by imprisonment for life and fine; and deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings (Section 295-A), punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a fine, Maria said. The complainant is listed as Haroon Ahmed.

“Mansha was taken into custody from the spot, while we have managed to obtain pre-arrest bail for Haroon Masih till Feb. 24,” she said. “Haroon and Mansha were not preaching to the Muslims as alleged in First Information Report [FIR] No. 61/21. In fact, they were reading the Bible and discussing it amongst themselves when a group of Muslim boys, including Ahmed, overheard them and objected to their Bible study.”

She said both Christians come from poor families, and Haroon Masih’s family has had to go into hiding out fear for their safety.

“Haroon will now join the investigation and record his statement with the police,” she said.

The case comes after a Christian nurse was charged with blasphemy in Karachi on Jan. 29 under pressure of an Islamist mob hours after police had dismissed the accusation against her. Staff members of the Sobhraj Maternity Hospital in Karachi on Jan. 28 slapped, beat and locked nurse Tabeeta Nazir Gill, 42, in a room after baselessly accusing her of blaspheming Islam, sources said.

Police had questioned and released Nazir Gill after concluding that the accusations against her were false and based on a co-worker’s personal vendetta, but a Muslim mob later besieged the police station when the complainant called on Muslim leaders to mobilize them. Nazir Gill and her family have gone into hiding since the registration of the FIR.

In a video circulating on social media that a hospital staff member recorded of the attack, Nazir Gill, said to be a Catholic who is also a locally popular gospel singer, is seen crying for help as Muslim hospital personnel slap and punch her, and in one clip they thrust a notebook and pen into her hands to try to force her to sign a confession.

They call for her to “confess your crime in writing” amid a din of accusations and curses, and a staff member strikes her with a broom.

“I swear to God I haven’t said anything against the prophet [Muhammad],” Nazir says in the video clip. “They are trying to trap me in a fake charge.”

Staff members at the Sobhraj Maternity Hospital where Nazir Gill has worked for nine years locked her in a room after trying to force her to sign the confession

False Allegations

False accusations of blasphemy in Pakistan are common and often motivated by personal vendettas or religious hatred. The highly inflammatory accusations have the potential to spark mob lynchings, vigilante murders and mass protests.

Many of those accused of blasphemy never reach the courtroom; violence has killed 62 accused people since 1990, with few prosecutions. Lawyers defending those charged with blasphemy, presiding judges, and individuals speaking against the law are also targeted.

In Pakistan 24 Christians are in prison due to blasphemy charges. They are defendants in 21 blasphemy cases at various levels of the judicial process.

With no presumption of innocence in Pakistan, anyone accused of blasphemy can be jailed, often for years, while those who make false allegations go unpunished. In 2018, a Senate Special Committee on Human Rights and the Islamabad High Court had recommended that those making false blasphemy accusations be given the same punishments as those for blasphemy convictions, but the government dismissed the recommendation. The recommendation also stated that anyone registering a blasphemy case at a police station must bring two witnesses.

While punishment for blasphemy ranges from several years in prison to death in Pakistan, a person making a false accusation faces potential punishment of only six months in prison or a fine of 1,000 rupees (US$6). Successive governments have acknowledged that the blasphemy laws are blatantly misused, but little effort has been made to stop the abuses.

Rights activists say it’s unlikely that any government will move to repeal or amend the blasphemy laws due to fierce Islamic religious sentiments in the Muslim-majority country. They say Pakistani authorities must be urged to immediately implement effective procedural and institutional safeguards at the investigative, prosecutorial and judicial levels to prevent abuse of these laws.

The U.S. State Department on Dec. 7 re-designated Pakistan among nine other “Countries of Particular Concern” for severe violations of religious freedom. Previously Pakistan had been added to the list on Nov. 28, 2018. The other countries on the list are Burma, China, North Korea, Eritrea, Iran, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. Sudan and Uzbekistan were removed from the department’s Special Watch List due to improvements in their religious rights records.

Pakistan ranked fifth on Open Doors 2021 World Watch list of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.

Police in Pakistan Find Christian Girl Chained in Kidnapper’s Home

Pakistan (Morning Star News) – A Catholic family’s five-month search for their 12-year-old daughter who was kidnapped, forcibly converted to Islam and married to a 45-year-old Muslim in Faisalabad, Pakistan, ended on Saturday (Dec. 5) when police found her chained in her abductor’s house, sources said.

The discovery came on the heels of the killing of a young woman in Rawalpindi, allegedly shot dead by her Muslim suitor for refusing to renounce her Christian faith and marry him.

Earlier this year the father of 12-year-old Farah Shaheen reported his daughter was kidnapped on June 25, forcibly converted to Islam and married against her will. Asif Masih said police refused his efforts to register a case against the suspect, Khizar Hayat.

Police finally registered a case against Hayat on Sept. 19, but officers reportedly remained reluctant to arrest him and recover the child. Under pressure from a court and the Punjab Province government, police on Saturday (Dec. 5) recovered the girl and produced her before a judge.

The investigating officer told the court that after a surprise raid on the house, police found Farah chained in a room. Hayat and his suspected accomplices escaped arrest, he claimed.

A police source told Morning Star News that the kidnappers subjected Farah to physical and mental torture.

“The dark marks on her ankles show that she was fettered for most of her time in captivity,” the source said.

The court has handed her to police custody, ordered an ossification test to determine her age and ordered registration of a case against six suspects, including Hayat, he said.

“It severely reprimanded the investigation officer of the case, Sub-Inspector Mehtab, for intentionally misreporting Farah’s age to be 17 in the inquiry report,” the source said.

The girl’s father, a single parent who works as a daily wage laborer, pleaded for custody of his daughter.

“I’m grateful to the government and the court for ensuring my daughter’s recovery, and I hope they will also punish the men who did this cruelty,” he told Morning Star News.

He added that the court should give custody of Farah to her family so that they can comfort the traumatized child.

Although intercourse with a girl below the age of 16 is statutory rape, in most cases a falsified conversion certificate and Islamic marriage certificate influences police to pardon kidnappers.

Christian Woman Killed

In Rawalpindi, Sonia Bibi on Nov. 30 was shot in the neck and killed while on her way to work. She was 24.

Her mother, Teresa Bibi, told Morning Star News that her daughter, the eldest of six siblings, was murdered by two Muslims after she refused to renounce her Christian faith and marry one of them.

She said that the main suspect, identified only as Shahzad, had been terrorizing her daughter for five months.

“He also sent his mother to our house for the marriage proposal,” she said. “We refused because we belong to different faiths.”

Shahzad continued to follow her daughter whenever she left home for work, often threatening to kill her if she did not change her faith and marry him, Bibi said. She said the other suspect, identified only as Faizan, used to accompany Shahzad in stalking Sonia.

Bibi said her daughter left their home for work at around 9:30 a.m., and about an hour later her employer informed the family that police had found her body on a roadside. Officers who discovered the corpse had discovered her employee card on her person and called her employer.

Police have arrested Faizan, while Shahzad is still on the run.

Sonia Bibi began supporting the family as a housemaid two years ago, after her mother injured her arm.

“She was our breadwinner, and I’m still unable to reconcile with the fact that she’s no more,” Teresa Bibi said.

National Commission for Minorities Member Albert David said that they had taken notice of the gruesome incident and would make all efforts to provide justice to the family.

“The girl’s father is a sanitary worker, and she was helping him in providing for the family,” David said. “The main accused is still at large, but his accomplice, Faizan, has surrendered to the police and is currently in custody. Police are grilling him for information.”

In October a committee formed by the National Commission for Minorities announced that it had finalized a draft law to curb forced conversions. The bill, however, will be finished only after consultations with provincial leaders and representatives of various religious, social and political groups.

Stopping Forced Conversion/Marriages

A key aide to the country’s minister on religious harmony recently announced that the government has taken notice of Christians’ concern over the increasing number of cases of forced conversions and underage marriages and ordered investigations on a “case-to-case” basis.

“No one, whether a person or a group, would be allowed to exploit minor children in the name of religion,” Allama Tahir Mehmood Ashrafi said at a Nov. 30 press conference after a meeting of leaders of the two mainline Protestant and Catholic churches in Pakistan. “We have found out that a majority of such cases are an outcome of sexual exploitation and have no relation with Islam. Our religion forbids forced conversions, and all people using religion to cover their crimes will be brought to justice.”

The president of the National Council of Churches in Pakistan, Bishop Azad Marshall, said at the press conference that girls are suffering physical, mental and emotional trauma as a result of abductions and forced conversion/marriage. The recent cases of Farah, 13-year-old Arzoo Raja of Karachi and 14-year-old Maira Shahbaz of Faisalabad, were highlighted in the media but represent the tip of the iceberg, he said.

“There are many other cases that go unreported due to societal pressure and fear of reprisal by the accused,” he said, adding that current laws are not being fully enforced.

Catholic Archbishop of Lahore Sebastian Shaw echoed his Protestant counterpart’s remarks, saying the rising number of incidents was spreading fear in the minority community.

“An administrative and policy intervention on an urgent basis is necessary to protect the rights of religious minorities, especially of women and children,” he said, adding that the government should strengthen institutional protection of minority rights by undertaking legal, policy and administrative measures against forced conversions.

The Center for Social Justice reports that 162 questionable conversions have appeared in the media since 2013. About 52 percent of allegedly forced conversions occurred in Punjab Province and 44 percent in Sindh Province, while 1.23 percent each were reported in the federal and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa areas. One case was reported from Balochistan Province.

The data shows that 54.3 percent of the girls and women were Hindu, 44.4 percent were Christian and 0.62 percent belonged to Sikh and Kalash communities.

More than 46.3 percent of the victims of forced conversion were minors – with 32.7 percent between the ages of 11 and 15 – while only 16.7 percent of the victims were above 18 years old, though lower courts did not always verify those ages through records of the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) and schools.

Pakistan ranked fifth on the Open Doors’ 2020 World Watch list of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian, and on Nov. 28, 2018, the United States added Pakistan to its blacklist of countries that violate religious freedom.

VOP Note: Keep praying for this young girl to soon be returned to her family and for recovery of all she has suffered.

Pakistan: Muslim man shoots and kills Christian woman for refusing to marry him

 

Forced marriage (100, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0&gt;, via Wikimedia Commons)

In a report sent to Voice of the Persecuted, it shares the heartbreaking news of a Christian woman, Sonia, 24, from Rawalpindi who was fatally shot in the head by Muhammad Shahzad, a Muslim man, for refusing to marry him.

Sonia’s father Allah Rakha Masih, who works as a janitor, said that 13 years ago he moved to Rawalpindi with his two daughters, Sonia, and Nazish, 18, who worked as housekeepers and were a great financial help for the family.

Sonia and Nazish usually went to work together but on the morning of November 30, the day Sonia was killed, she left Nazish at the entrance of the Air Force Colony, where they lived in a rented house, and headed to Behria Town, where she was working.

As she was crossing the G.T. highway, Shahzad shot her in the head and killed her.

Masih said that Shahzad is Muslim and runs a photography studio in the town. For the last 4-5 months he was following and harassing Sonia. He had even proposed to Sonia, but even after her refusal he continued following her and insisting that she marry him.

Sonia kept telling Shahzad that it was not possible as she was a Christian and he was Muslim. She told him they came from two different religions and it was not acceptable in society, but he didn’t agree and kept on threatening Sonia and eventually killed her on 30 November.

Masih said that Shahzad even sent his parents to their home to convince them to agree to the marriage. “But I told them that it is not possible as we are Christian and you are Muslim,” Masih explained. He added: “We are Christians from generations, and Sonia was a “true Christian and strong in her faith and she has been killed for following her Christian faith.”

The police have registered a case against Shahzad, but he is still at large.

Nasir Saeed Director CLAAS-UK said that in the recent year a record number of forced conversion and forced marriage cases have been recorded.

He added: “Although the Pakistani media for some reason, maybe intentionally, or because of instructions from the government, has failed to publish all these cases, thanks to social media platforms for keeping us and the world informed about the ongoing situation of forced conversion, kidnapping and rape cases of young Christian girls.”

He further said that this is not the first case of this nature but there have been several cases in the past like Asma Yaqoob, 24, from Sialkot who died in a Lahore hospital on 22 April 2018 after suffering 80% burns following an attack by a Muslim man, Rizwan Gujar.

He tried to force Asma to marry him but Asma told him he was Muslim and she was Christian, and her faith didn’t allow her to marry somebody outside of her religion, but if converted to Christianity it may be possible.

But Rizwan wanted Asma to convert to Islam. When he lost all hope, one night he bought petrol and poured some on the ground and said that if none of us can convert then let us die together. He said in his statement to the police that he lit the match only to threaten her, but the match fell, she caught on fire and he fled from the scene. Although Rizwan was arrested and put in prison, Asma’s parents cannot get their daughter back.

In another case a Christian girl, Binish Paul, 18, from Karachi was thrown from a 2nd story building by Muslim man Taheer Abbas for refusing to convert to Islam and marry him.  Binish sustained severe fractures to her legs and spine.

Mr Saeed said: “There are dozens of examples of such brutal acts of violence against Christians girls, normally they are asked to convert and marry them (Muslim men) and when the Christian girls refuse they are kidnapped, forcefully converted to Islam, and married to the men.

“It is sad as the government of Pakistan is aware of this problem but is not taking any action to stop this ongoing persecution of Christians and Hindu girls.

“What worries most is the attitude of the police and the courts’ decisions in such cases. The police side with the kidnappers and courts, and instead of following the law decide cases in favor of Muslim perpetrators.

“They give the custody of underage Christian and Hindu girls to their kidnaper as we have seen with Farah and well-known case of Maira Shahbaz, who escaped her abductor and is now in hiding from her abductor because she knows that Pakistani laws cannot protect her because of her Christian faith.”

 

Pakistan: Christian father of kidnapped daughter told to be for her conversion

 

 

Policeman told Christian father to be happy for his daughter’s conversion to Islam instead of registering a case against the kidnapper.

In a report sent to (Voice of the Persecuted), a Pakistani Christian father, Asif Masih, of Gulistan Colony, Faisalabad, who is still struggling to get his daughter back from her kidnapper says the police and courts are biased, and instead of registering a case against the kidnaper and recovering his daughter, the policeman told him to forget about his daughter and be happy because she has converted to Islam.

Farah Shaheen, 12, was kidnapped, forcefully converted to Islam and married to a 45-year-old Muslim kidnapper, Khizar Hayat, in June 2020. But her father hasn’t lost hope and is running from door to door for justice for his daughter, despite finding it very hard especially being a Christian. Asif said that after the kidnapping, Khizar (kidnapper) took Farah to a nearby Mosque and announced that a 12-year-old Christian girl who has now converted to Islam is married to him.

Merely three days after the abduction Khizar converted Farah and married her against her will. Farah, who lost her mother five years ago is the second among six siblings. After her mother’s death she was the one who was raising her younger brother and sisters.

Asif said that soon after the abduction, he approached the police immediately but it was all in vain as instead of cooperating with him and getting his daughter back, the police were siding with the kidnapper, trying to protect him and refusing to take any meaningful action.

“I went to the local police station several times, but it was no use. I pleaded with them to bring my daughter back, but they refused to take any action against the kidnapper.

“I also wrote an application to the Central Police Officer (CPO) of Faisalabad but that too was not enough to get the attention of the law enforcement agencies. Finally, I decided to file a writ in the court following which the police registered an FIR. The entire process took about four months,” explained Asif.

Asif said that when he went to register a complaint about his daughter’s kidnapping at nearby Sarghoda Road Police Station, the police officers rebuked him, told him to leave the police station, and intentionally registered a very weak case against the kidnapper.

The policeman also threatened Farah’s father, saying that if he ever went back to the police station, they would register a blasphemy case against him and he would have to spend the rest of his life in the prison. Asif further said that even after the registration of the FIR against the kidnapper, the police refused to take the case seriously. Instead, they started harassing him saying that he himself had hidden his daughter somewhere.

Finally protests by Faisalabad’s Christian community forced the police to produce Farah in the magistrate’s court. Farah said in her statement that she had married Khizar of her own free will. But Farah had already been in the kidnapper’s custody for months by then and must have been threatened as happens in these cases.

Surprisingly, the court completely ignored the fact that Farah is visibly a minor and without second thought allowed her to go back with her abductor. Asif calls the attitude of the police humiliating and the court’s decision biased as both were favoring the kidnapper and it was only because he is Christian.

“When I visited the police station to meet the investigation officer, Mussadiq Hussain, he got angry at me for sitting on a chair. Calling me “chuhra”, a derogatory term used for Christians in Punjab,” said Asif. He added: “He used to use abusive language and used to say that Christians are meant to clean gutters not to sit in offices.”

Asif’s neighbour, Jamal Haider, confirms Asif’s allegations. Jamal said: “Once I accompanied Asif to a village near Hafizabad to meet the young Farah. It broke my heart to see such a little girl forcefully married to such an old man. How can the magistrate allow such an incident to take place?”

Nasir Saeed, Director CLAAS-UK told Voice of the Persecuted that the situation is worrisome as the number of rape and forced conversion cases against Christian and Hindu minor girls continues to rise because of police and judicial bias. He added: “I am also concerned the government is not taking this matter seriously as it is the government’s responsibility to protect and ensure justice to all its citizens without distinction of race and religion.

“Ignorance and inaction from the government is encouraging the perpetrators to continue committing such heinous crimes against Christians and Hindu minor girls, which are not acceptable at any cost in a civilised world.

“While minorities continue to demand justice and legislation to protect their minor girls.

“Recently we have seen there are several cases of Christian girls like Arzoo Raja, Shiza, Huma Younis, Farah and Shiza.

“We have also seen the condemnable conduct of the police and the courts, and Christians’ protest against them as the laws were ignored and the institutions that are supposed to respect and follow the laws, made a mockery of them.

“It is not [only] Christians or Pakistani minorities, but the world is concerned about the treatment of minorities in Pakistan. Human rights are being violated daily by the law enforcement agencies and the government is not paying attention. Pakistan has ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)  and therefore it is the government’s responsibility to bring its law in line with the treaties and punish those who are committing crimes against minor girls and taking children from their parents, which cannot be accepted at any cost.

“It is important that the government intervenes, ensures justice and returns all minor girls to their parents. Taking away Christian and Hindu girls from their parents in the name of Islam is not acceptable and the government must stop it.

“Minorities are feeling insecure and are concerned about their future in Pakistan.”

Christian Girl, 13, Forcibly Married, Converted in Pakistan, Father Says

Protest for recovery of Arzoo Raja in Karachi, Pakistan. (Morning Star News photo courtesy of Ghazala Shafique)

Pakistan (Morning Star News) – Police in Karachi, Pakistan are ignoring the kidnapping and forcible conversion to Islam of a 13-year-old Christian girl by a 45-year-old Muslim whose two brothers are police officials, sources said.

Ali Azhar, a neighbor of the victim’s Catholic family, abducted Arzoo Raja on Oct. 13, and her family went to police that same day, said her father, Raja Lal.

“When we failed to find Arzoo, we registered a kidnapping case with the local police station,” Lal said. “On Oct. 15 we were summoned to the station, where we were shown documents which claimed that Arzoo was 18 and had willingly converted to Islam after marrying Ali Azhar.”

Police have shown no interest in arresting the accused in spite of National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) records showing Arzoo’s age as 13, as she was born on July 31, 2007, he said. Sexual intercourse with a girl below the age of 16 is statutory rape and carries a death sentence or a minimum sentence of 10 years in prison in Pakistan.

Ghazala Shafique, a Karachi-based Christian rights and social activist, said police were doing little in the case.

“Two brothers of the accused are police officials, and they are using their influence to protect him,” Shafique told Morning Star News. “Attorney [Noor Naz] Agha brought this to the court’s notice during the hearing on Saturday [Oct. 24] and also demanded that Ali and all other people involved in the case, including the cleric who signed the Islamic conversion and marriage certificates of the minor Christian girl, be arrested and tried for their crime.”

Agha, a prominent Muslim lawyer, has taken up the case pro bono, a great relief to the grief-stricken parents who have lost their jobs in the search for justice, Shafique said.

“We have asked the police to include the Child Marriage Restraint Act [in the case], but the police are reluctant to include it,” Shafique said. “The court should also ask the police why it has ignored the documents issued by NADRA and Arzoo’s school that clearly state her age. We are also ready for conducting medical tests to determine Arzoo’s age, so why are the police reluctant to produce her in court?”

She said she is demanding that Arzoo be presented in court and that special arrangements be made for recording her statement in a way that would preclude fear from coercion by her abductor.

Shafique said it was the second case of forced conversion of underage Christian girls in Karachi in a year. In October 2019, 14-year-old Huma Younas was kidnapped and forcibly converted to Islam, she said.

“Forced conversion is often disguised as voluntary conversion and both the provincial and federal governments need to act against this persecution,” she said.

In Faisalabad, Punjab Province, 14-year-old Maira Shahbaz was kidnapped and forcibly married and converted to Islam earlier this year. After sending her to a shelter, a court in Lahore on Aug. 4 ordered her to be returned to her abductor based on forged documents, but she escaped on Aug. 22. She told Morning Star News her abductor had blackmailed her into giving false court statements that she had willingly converted and married him.

In Karachi, the accused in Arzoo’s case, Azhar, was Lal’s neighbor in the Muhalla Railway Colony West Camp Road locality.

Lal and his wife, who have three other older children, have been hard-pressed to feed them after losing their jobs and were thankful for the pro bono legal help.

“Thankfully, our pleas have been noticed by Christian rights activists and political leaders, and they are helping us in highlighting the case,” Lal told Morning Star News. “My wife and I have been running from pillar to post since [reporting the case], but the police are not showing any interest in arresting the accused and investigating the case impartially.”

Police did not respond to attempts by Morning Star News to contact them by phone and text message.

Pending Legislation

In spite of growing concern over a rise in abduction of girls from minority communities, particularly Christians and Hindus, and forcibly marrying them and converting them to Islam, successive national and provincial governments have failed to pass laws against perpetrators.

A bill against forced conversions introduced in 2016 in the Sindh Provincial Assembly remains pending after Islamists threatened violent protests.

Last week a federal government commission on minorities announced that it would draft a bill to curb forced conversions only after consultations with provincial and religious leaders. Christian political and church leaders told Morning Star News that state institutions and government parties should not succumb to pressure by Islamist parties.

“The government should bring the legislation on forced conversion to parliament without capitulating to any party that objects to its contents or underlying spirit,” said National Council of Churches in Pakistan President Bishop Azad Marshall.

He said that forced conversion is not seen as a crime, much less as a problem that should concern “mainstream” Pakistan.

“But it is a very serious crime against the minority population, and the government must show some spine in addressing the matter,” he said.

Marshall added that Pakistan’s entire legal system, from police to the courts, are violating laws and facilitating such conversions especially of minor girls.

“When the parents present a certificate that the age of the girl is below 18 years, the police usually do not attach this document in the FIR [First Information Report], but we have women protection laws in the country, and we need to implement them,” he said. “Besides that, Pakistan is signatory to several international obligations, and such incidents bring a bad name to the country.”

Pakistan is a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that no one shall be subject to coercion to change their religion. The European Court of Human Rights has given some guidance regarding the distinction between permissible persuasion and coercion.

Amir Naveed Jeeva, a Christian lawmaker of the opposition Pakistan People’s Party and a member of the parliamentary committee tasked with investigating forced conversions, said the committee is trying to build consensus on the draft bill.

“One suggestion is to introduce a new marriage rule that includes the mandatory presence of a guardian at the time of marriage and the establishment of shelters managed by the district administrations to house underage girls who want to get married, in order to clear the confusion between force and consent,” he said.

Shunila Ruth, a ruling party Christian lawmaker and parliamentary secretary on human rights, said that forced conversion needs to be addressed at the federal level.

“There is a difference of opinion on the issue at the state level, but things are gradually heading in a positive direction, and we hope that all stakeholders will succeed in formulating a solution to this issue,” she said.

According to data compiled by the Peoples Commission for Minorities’ Rights and the Centre for Social Justice, of 156 incidents of forced conversions which took place between 2013 and 2019, a vast majority of the girls are minors, with numerous cases of girls as young as 12 years old. Muslim groups oppose a minimum age for conversion or marriage, claiming that this is not sanctioned by Islam.

Although intercourse with a girl below the age of 16 is statutory rape, in most cases a falsified conversion certificate and Nikahnama, or Islamic marriage certificate, influences police to pardon kidnappers.

Pakistan ranked fifth on Open Doors 2020 World Watch list of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian, and on Nov. 28, 2018, the United States added Pakistan to its blacklist of countries that violate religious freedom.

Christian Girl Kidnapped in Pakistan Says Muslim ‘Husband’ Raped, Threatened Her

Grand Jamia Masjid in Bahria, Lahore, Pakistan. (Meemjee)

Pakistan (Morning Star News) – The Muslim who regained custody of a 14-year-old Christian girl he had kidnapped threatened to kill her and her family unless she gave court statements that she had married him and converted to Islam of her own free will, the girl told Morning Star News.

Maira Shahbaz, who escaped from Nakash Tariq five days ago, told Morning Star News by telephone that he had raped her and filmed her naked in order to blackmail her into giving the court statements. The Lahore High Court on Aug. 4 ordered her return to Tariq after dismissing documents proving she was a minor and evidence of a fake marriage certificate because she testified that, “she’s 18 years old, recited the Kalma Tayyaba to prove she had embraced Islam without any duress, and married Nakash Tariq by choice.”

Tariq and accomplices kidnapped Maira, of Medina Town, Faisalabad, on April 28, according to family members.

“Nakash and two other men took me to an unknown place at gunpoint, where Nakash repeatedly raped me,” Maira told Morning Star News. “He also videotaped me naked and threatened that he would kill me and my family and also upload the video on social media if I told anyone what he had done to me.”

She said she had been forced to sign blank papers and denied that she had willfully become a Muslim.

“I was coerced into making those statements in the courtrooms,” she said. “They threatened to kill us all.”

When her family challenged the underage marriage, a judge had sent Maira to a women’s shelter on July 28 before the Aug. 4 verdict returning her to Tariq.

Maira contracted false marriage with the already married Tariq on Oct. 25, 2019. A family attorney asserted that the cleric whose name was listed on the marriage certificate denied involvement in the sham marriage.

Maira’s attorney, Sumera Shafique, said she had applied for police protection for the girl at the Lahore High Court’s Rawalpindi Bench because Tariq posed a serious threat to her life.

“The judge has ordered the regional police officer to ensure Maira’s security and also probe the video used to blackmail her,” she told Morning Star News. “I have also filed a suit for cancellation of her marriage and forced conversion in the family court.”

She said that Tariq had filed a kidnapping case in Faisalabad against Maira’s mother and other relatives alleging that they had forcibly taken away his “lawfully wedded wife” from his home.

“The family is in hiding due to the case registered by Nakash,” she said. “I was told that the accused is searching for the girl to stop her from revealing the truth, which is why we decided to appear before the Rawalpindi bench of the LHC as a security precaution.”

She said Maira will appear before the Regional Police Officer on Friday (Aug. 28) to record her statement.

Earlier this month, while ruling on a petition filed by Tariq seeking custody of Maira, a Lahore High Court bench presided by Justice Shahid Mahmood Abbasi stated, “The statement of Maria [sic] Shahbaz as well as her general appearance unambiguously show that she is a grown-up young lady who seems to have attained the age of puberty and who acknowledges Nakash Tariq as her lawfully wedded husband.”

The verdict acknowledged that the judge dismissed evidence her family’s attorney provided that the minor could not have contracted marriage without the consent of her guardian and that the marriage certificate was fake.

“As far as proof of marriage is concerned, the other formalities can be ignored and simple acknowledgement of husband and wife regarding their Nikah [marriage] is sufficient to prove the same,” the verdict states. “In such circumstances, the mandatory requirement of presence of two witnesses can be ignored.”

Regarding authenticity of the marriage certificate, the verdict stated, “Only the family court would be in a better position to resolve the controversy between the parties regarding genuineness or otherwise of ‘Nikah Nama.’”

In February the forced conversion to Islam and marriage of another 14-year-old Christian girl was validated in a court ruling in Pakistan. The High Court in Sindh Province on Feb. 3 dismissed a petition to have the marriage and forced conversion of Huma Younus overturned, ruling that both were valid since a girl under sharia (Islamic law) can marry after her first menstrual cycle.

Huma, a Catholic, was taken from her home in Karachi’s Zia Colony on Oct. 10, 2019 while her parents were away and was forced to marry the man who abducted her.

‘Forced Conversions Must Stop’

National Council of Churches in Pakistan (NCCP) President Azad Marshall said that Maira’s case and similar incidents called for immediate steps to ensure that minors from minority communities are not forced into false marriages and conversions.

“Forced conversion and marriages of children belonging to the minority communities is a major issue facing our communities,” said Marshall, who is senior most bishop of the Church of Pakistan.

Pakistan’s senate has introduced a bill calling for seven years of prison and a fine of 100,000 rupees (US$590) for those found guilty of forced conversion. The bill also proposes 10 years in prison and a fine of 100,000 rupees for forcing someone to change religion for marriage.

Marshall said enforcement would be key.

“Legislations are made by parliament, but unfortunately we have witnessed that their implementation is lacking,” he told Morning Star News. “The bill for protection of minority rights is a step in the right direction, and we hope that the government will not only ensure its approval but also make sure that the law enforcement agencies implement it in letter and spirit.”

Under the Protection of the Rights of Religious Minorities Bill, the state would take measures to curb forced conversion of minority communities and would also support victims. Marriage of a minor arranged after changing her/his religion would be considered “coerced” and be declared void.

In a bid to further strengthen protections for minority communities in the 96-percent Muslim country, the draft proposes three years of prison time and a fine of 50,000 rupees (US$295) in case of hate speech or maltreatment of a member of a non-Muslim community. It also bans discriminatory chapters in textbooks.

Those found guilty of discriminating against anyone on the basis of religion would be jailed for one year in addition to a fine of 25,000 rupees (US$147). The bill also protects religious symbols of non-Muslim Pakistanis, proposing a seven-year sentence and a fine of 50,000 rupees in such a case. All of these sentences would be non-bailable.

The senate chairman has forwarded the bill to the relevant standing committee for consideration.

Pakistan ranked fifth on Open Doors 2020 World Watch list of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian, and on Nov. 28, 2018, the United States added Pakistan to its blacklist of countries that violate religious freedom.

Verdict in Pakistan Portends More Forced Marriages/Conversions of Christian Girls

Pakistan (Morning Star News) – A court decision in Pakistan to return custody of a 14-year-old Christian girl to the Muslim who allegedly kidnapped her and forced her to convert to Islam and marry him will make more Christian girls vulnerable to such trauma, sources said.

Lala Robin Daniel, a rights activist based in Faisalabad assisting the family of Maira Shahbaz, said the Lahore High Court’s refusal to take into account the documented age of the girl and the falsification of documents, including a fake marriage certificate, was unprecedented and would lead to more such cases.

“If the courts of this country start validating underage marriages of girls belonging to the minority communities, it will encourage people from the majority faith to target them with even more impunity,” he said. “A minor child can easily be influenced or coerced into renouncing their faith and marrying someone. This practice needs to be stopped.”

Daniel and the family’s attorney correctly refer to the girl as Maira in court documents, but the court mistakenly called her Maria in its verdict. A Catholic from Medina Town, Faisalabad, Maira contracted false marriage with the already married Muslim, Nakash Tariq, on Oct. 25, 2019 – six months before he allegedly abducted her on April 28, according to her mother, Nighat Shahbaz, a single parent and domestic worker.

According to court documents, Nighat Shahbaz said she and her family were unaware of the fake marriage until after Maira was allegedly kidnapped and appeared in Faisalabad Sessions Court on July 23. At that hearing, Maira told Judge Rana Masood Akhtar that she was over 18 years old, had converted to Islam of her free will and wanted to live with her Muslim husband.

Since the family had challenged the underage marriage, the judge sent Maira to a women’s shelter on July 28 until her age could be determined, as the 2019 Child Marriage Restraint (Amendment) Act bars marriage of a child under the age of 18.

Khalil Tahir Sindhu, lawyer for Nighat Shahbaz and a member of the Punjab Assembly, told Morning Star News that the Lahore High Court (LHC) presided by Justice Shahid Mahmood Abbasi allowed Maira to go with Tariq without considering evidence that the girl was underage and that the marriage certificate was fake.

The cleric whose name is listed on the marriage certificate denied involvement in the sham marriage, and the document failed to show proof of consent from Tariq’s first wife, with whom he has two children, Sindhu added.

“In my arguments before the learned high court, I submitted evidence that according to NADRA [National Database and Registration Authority], Maira’s date of birth is Oct. 30, 2005, and the same is recorded in her school leaving certificate,” the attorney said.

He also argued that the investigating officer of the case, Assistant Sub-Inspector Shahid Wahla, had made no effort to verify the documentary evidence under Section 8 of the Juvenile Justice System Act 2008, which requires determination of age based on birth certificate, educational certificates, and in absence of any such documents, a physical examination by a doctor, Sindhu said.

“When we objected to the inefficient and shoddy investigation by ASI Wahla, the probe was entrusted to Deputy Superintendent of Police Rana Ataur Rehman by the Faisalabad District Standing Board, which oversees complaints against the police,” the lawyer said.

Sindhu added that cleric Muhammad Abu Bakar, under whose name and seal the fake Nikah Nama (Islamic marriage certificate) had been produced in court, had also filed a case against Tariq for presenting a fictitious document.

“It is appalling that the honorable judge ignored these key facts while writing the verdict, even though presenting fake documents in court is a criminal offense and punishable under the law,” Sindhu said, adding that his team will file an intra-court appeal against the single bench’s order and also approach the Supreme Court if it is not accepted.

Sindhu said it was likely that Maira stated she married and converted of her own will due to fear or coercion, as her family has had no contact with her since she was allegedly kidnapped.

“It’s not very difficult to threaten a minor to say what you want them to say,” he said.

Court Admits Dismissing Evidence

The high court’s verdict states that Maira’s family was denied custody because “she stated that she’s 18 years old, recited the Kalma Tayyaba to prove she had embraced Islam without any duress, and married Nakash Tariq by choice.”

“The statement of Maria [sic] Shahbaz as well as her general appearance unambiguously show that she is a grown-up young lady who seems to have attained the age of puberty and who acknowledges Nakash Tariq as her lawfully wedded husband,” the verdict states.

The verdict acknowledges that the judge dismissed evidence her family’s attorney provided that the minor could not have contracted marriage without the consent of her guardian and that the marriage certificate was fake.

“As far as proof of marriage is concerned, the other formalities can be ignored and simple acknowledgement of husband and wife regarding their Nikah [marriage] is sufficient to prove the same,” the verdict states. “In such circumstances, the mandatory requirement of presence of two witnesses can be ignored.”

Regarding authenticity of the marriage certificate, the verdict states, “Only the family court would be in a better position to resolve the controversy between the parties regarding genuineness or otherwise of ‘Nikah Nama.’”

In February the forced conversion to Islam and marriage of another 14-year-old Christian girl was validated in a court ruling in Pakistan. The High Court in Sindh Province on Feb. 3 dismissed a petition to have the marriage and forced conversion of Huma Younus overturned, ruling that both were valid since a girl under sharia (Islamic law) can marry after her first menstrual cycle.

The Catholic girl was taken from her home in Karachi’s Zia Colony on Oct. 10, 2019 while her parents were away and was forced to marry the man who abducted her.

Supreme Court Advocate Saiful Malook told Morning Star News that sharia (Islamic law) allows girls who have reached puberty to marry, and that previous court judgments have endorsed this interpretation.

“Islamic law says that if a girl has attained puberty she shall be treated as a major, and a full bench of the LHC has already declared that a major Muslim girl needs no consent of the Wali or guardian for a valid marriage,” Malook said. “This judgment of the LHC was endorsed by the Supreme Court in a case reported in 2004.”

Malook said that the verdict in Maira’s case follows precedents established by the LHC and Supreme Court, particularly when a girl has repeatedly told courts that she is the legally wedded wife of the accused and desires to lives with her husband.

Malook, a Muslim who represented Aasiya Noreen (better known as Asia Bibi), in Pakistan’s most high-profile blasphemy case and won her freedom, said that forced conversion contradicts the Koran.

“It is clearly stated in the Koran that no person can be forced to renounce their faith and embrace Islam,” he said. “In Maira’s case, the girl has repeatedly proclaimed that she has converted to Islam without duress, hence prima facie it cannot be said that it is a case of forced conversion unless the girl retracts her statements given in court.”

Pakistan ranked fifth on then Open Doors 2020 World Watch list of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian, and on Nov. 28, 2018, the United States added Pakistan to its blacklist of countries that violate religious freedom.

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