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Compass – A Pakistani woman has charged three men with raping her earlier this month and threatening to kill her if she did not convert from Christianity to Islam. Ribqa Masih, 22, testified at last Thursday’s court hearing that Ghulam Abbas and Mohammad Kashif drugged and kidnapped her on September 2.

Masih had made the 10-mile trip from her home town of Chak to the city of Faisal Abad that morning with her Muslim friend Humaira Hussain. Hussain said she wanted help in gaining entrance to a Dominican boarding house in Faisal Abad, where Masih had previously stayed while receiving her teacher’s training.

Unbeknownst to Masih, she said, Hussain had arranged to meet Abbas and Kashif at the bus stop in Faisal Abad, where the two men offered Masih a drink of water that made her lose consciousness.

She said the two men took her to a house in the city of Lahore , approximately 100 kilometers (62 miles) away, and raped her repeatedly throughout the night. They threatened to shoot her and to kill the rest of her family, she said, if she did not repeat the Islamic creed, an act which, if done in the presence of two Muslims, is considered a valid form of conversion to Islam.

Masih refused to convert, saying that she would rather die than change her religion. The next morning her kidnappers handed her over to another Muslim man, whom they said would return her home.

The Catholic woman’s new captor, however, repeatedly raped her over the next three days and threatened to kill her if she told anyone, Masih testified.

On September 6, the man finally returned Masih to Faisal Abad and left her at a public bus stop. Unable to walk due to vaginal injury, Masih hired a rickshaw to take her to her uncle’s house, where she telephoned her parents.

Police have apprehended only one of Masih’s attackers, Abbas, who denied accusations of rape at Thursday’s hearing. He called the charges “election enmity,” claiming that the case was politically motivated.

“In the last election, he and the Masih family voted for the same candidate,” Masih’s lawyer, Khalil Tahir, objected. “Neither family has anything to do with politics.”

For her part, Masih told Judge Adeela Altaf, “No woman would put her honor at stake for an election.”

In a country where honor is a matter of life and death, Masih’s words highlighted the gravity of her situation.

Masih’s priest, Father Paschal Paulus, said that when he first saw her after the alleged kidnapping, “she was sitting, and I asked her to get up, but she was just crying, and her father told me that she still had difficulty walking.

“This girl used to always sing and do the readings at daily mass. But the whole time I was there, she was just in fear, tears were coming from her eyes and she was very upset. She still has difficulty walking.”

Tahir, who is also representing Sonia Naz against members of the Pakistani police in a rape case that has received national media attention, said three or four instances of women being raped appear in local newspapers every day.

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The priest said that the Masih family was unusual in their willingness to take a stand on their daughter’s rape. Despite his vulnerability as a poor Christian living in a Muslim village, Ribqa’s father, Rafique Masih, sought out Fr. Paulus and asked for his help in taking legal action.

“This is a very courageous family,” the priest said. “But in this case, if you are really becoming courageous, then you really have to carry your cross.”

That cross has come in the form of threats from Muslim neighbors. The Masih family has been told that if they do not retract the court case, they will have one opened against them. Ribqa Masih’s six younger siblings have all withdrawn from school, where they faced constant taunting from classmates who called them “prostitutes.”

The Masih family has also received threatening phone calls from two of the alleged kidnappers, who remain at large. Fr. Paulus and the family suspect that the police’s failure to arrest these men signifies a deliberate attempt to protect them.

Tahir, who agreed to represent Masih pro bono, has appealed for the proceedings to be moved to an Anti-terrorism Act court on the basis that the “incident has created a sense of fear and insecurity in the minds” of the family. The lawyer has taken statements from several of Masih’s neighbors, who witnessed to the fact that the family is living under immense pressure…[Go To Full Story]