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Rape Suspect Flees Pakistani Court

Compass News

by Peter Lamprecht

(Compass) – Police looked on as rape suspect Muhammad Kashif fled a Faisalabad, Pakistan courtroom on October 24, moments after his request for pre-arrest bail had been rejected.

Kashif and another man are accused of raping Ribqa Masih and threatening to kill the 22-year-old Catholic and her family unless she converted to Islam.

Kashif had requested that the case be adjourned because his lawyer was not present. Judge Muhammed Ejaz Sial of the Faisalabad Additional District and Sessions Court called the absence of Kashif’s lawyer a “lame excuse.”

Sial said that, due to allegations of rape, the suspect was “not entitled to the grant of extraordinary relief of pre-arrest bail.”

The decision to deny bail came after Investigation Officer Malik Muhammed Aslam told the judge in open court that “Superintendent of Police Investigation Rana Tauqeer Hayat conducted the investigation and he found all the accused guilty.”

But an eyewitness told Compass that the six policemen from Faisalabad ’s Dijkot police station, including Aslam, did nothing to stop the suspect from escaping the courtroom after bail was denied.

Kashif, along with already jailed Ghulam Abbas Hussain, is implicated in the kidnapping and rape of Masih last month. Hussain’s mother and sister, Musarat and Humaira, are also charged with abetting the crime.

According to Masih, on September 2 Musarat Hussain convinced her to accompany Humaira Hussain on the 10-mile trip from her village of Chak 86 to Faisalabad . The mother and daughter had secretly arranged for Ghulam Hussain and Kashif to meet the young women at a bus stop in the city, she said.

Masih said Kashif and Ghulam Hussain drugged her and drove her to a house 60 miles away in the city of Lahore . They raped her throughout the night, she said, and threatened to kill her and her family if she did not convert to Islam.

The next day Masih’s captors gave her to another man who raped her over the next three days before finally returning her, bleeding and unable to walk, to Faisalabad , she said.

Police appear to be cooperating with Masih’s alleged attackers. Kashif and the two Hussain women are still at large almost two months into the investigation.

Bribe Power

Four weeks after Masih’s return, her lawyer, Khalil Tahir, filed an official complaint against the Dijkot police station, accusing police of aiding the rape suspects in avoiding arrest.

The October 5 document requested that the investigation be transferred to another station “on the premises that the police [were] in league with the adverse party.”

Although Judge Sial rejected Humaira and Musarat Hussain’s application for pre-arrest bail more than two weeks ago and ordered their arrest, officers from Dijkot have still failed to apprehend the women.

In order to avoid jail, the mother and daughter have reportedly left the village of Chak 86, where their family members are powerful landlords.

But lawyer Tahir does not believe that the women’s move has foiled police.

“They are not in the same village, but you know the police can arrest them if they want,” Tahir told Compass. “But the police are not arresting the accused because they are taking illegal money to protect them.”

The police system is very corrupt, Tahir said. “Police maneuvering,” he said, was the only way to explain Kashif’s escape from a courtroom filled with officials.

Masih and her family have paid a high price for their willingness to seek justice against the wealthy suspects. In addition to police corruption, the Masih family also faces intense social pressure from angry neighbors.

“Ribqa’s whole family is under threat by the [Muslim] majority of the area,” Masih’s priest, Father Paschal Paulus, told Compass. “While traveling on village buses, she was hearing insulting remarks.”

Taunting and threats from classmates have also forced two of Masih’s younger siblings to transfer to schools in other villages. Her other four siblings have not attended classes since classmates began calling them “prostitutes” last month.

Adding to the pressure, both Masih and her lawyer have received threatening phone calls from Kashif since his escape on Monday.

But a few supportive neighbors signed statements, testifying that Muslim villagers had threatened to do violence to the family if they did not drop the case.

In a society where raped women are sometimes killed by their own families in the name of “honor,” Masih is aware that her chances of marriage are poor. “If this kind of incident happens with any girl in Pakistan , usually no one is ready to marry with her,” said Tahir, who took Masih’s case pro bono.

According to Fr. Paulus, Masih still has spells of uncontrollable weeping, often brought on by court sessions and police interrogations where she comes in contact with Kashif and the Hussain family.

Profile in Courage

Yet despite police corruption and threats of violence from neighbors, the Masih family has waged an aggressive campaign to have its case heard.

In an attempt to pressure police to fulfill court orders and arrest Ribqa’s alleged attackers, lawyer Tahir organized local clergymen and politicians to raise the issue with law enforcement officials.

On October 13, Fr. Paulus and two other clergymen joined Masih and Tahir to discuss the situation with investigator Hayat. Two days later, local politicians Joel Amir and Patrick Jacob met with the police superintendent to do the same.

Claiming that the case was creating “fear and insecurity” in the lives of the Christian family, Tahir also applied for the case to be transferred to an Anti-terrorism Act (ATA) court.

“Justice delayed is justice denied,” Tahir told Compass. He said that current delays would be eradicated if the case were transferred to an ATA court, where the trial would last no longer than 15 days.

“We will go anywhere we can,” the lawyer promised. He claimed that he and the Masih family would seek justice even if it required protests “in front of the governor’s house or our prime minister’s house in Islamabad .”

“I am ready for any trial for justice,” Masih told Compass, with the help of a translator. “I want that people should be punished so that in the future no one will have courage to destroy the life of a poor woman.”

Last week it appeared that police were beginning to cooperate after investigator Hayat appointed the new officer, Aslam, to arrest Musarat and Humaira Hussain.

But those hopes dimmed with Aslam failing to halt Kashif’s speedy exit from court, and Musarat and Humaira Hussain still at large.