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Forcibly converted Christian girls sent to a shelter by High Court In Pakistan

By Aftab Alexander Mughal

7/29/08 Pakistan (Minorities Concern of Pakistan) – Today, July 29, Justice Saghir Ahmed, a judge of Multan Bench of Lahore High Court, Pakistan, sent two under aged Christian girls to a “darul aman” in Multan, a central city of Southern Punjab, for their safety. Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani is also belongs to this ancient city. Darul aman is the name of institutions set up by government for the shelter of women needing temporary sanctuary or protection.

The Christian sisters; Saba Younis, 13 years old, and her sister Anila, 10 years old, were kidnapped on June 26 by a Muslim man Muhammad Arif Bajwa and then forcibly converted to Islam. When the matter came to the court, Main Naeem Sardar, District and Sessions Judge Muzaffargarh, on July 12, ordered that the girls cann’t go with Christian parents because the girls are Muslim now. The father of the girls Younis Masih filed an appeal to the high court where a Muslim lawyer Rashid Rehman pleaded his case. The court did not believe that the girls have accepted Islam by their own conscious therefore the girls were sent to a ‘darul aman’ so they should come out from the pressure of the Muslims. The girls will again appear in the court on Aug. 4 and then the case will be decided according to the girls’ statement.

Although the situation around is not very favorable, the court’s decision is a very positive out come so far. “At least now the girls would be out of some pressure from those Muslims with whom they forcedly lived for 34 days,” Rashid Rehman advocate, a Muslim lawyer appeared before the court on Masih’s behalf, told Minorities Concern of Pakistan.

The girls were kidnapped by a Muslim fruit vendor in Chowk Munda, a small town of Tehsil Kot Aadoo in District Muzafargrah (South Punjab) Pakistan. They had come from Chak No. 552, T.D.A, a Muslim dominated village, to Chowk Munda to see their uncle. Bajwa kidnapped the girls at gun point and told them to remain silent otherwise they would be killed. The girls were taken to an unidentified place and later on sold to another Muslim man Falak Sher Gill , a criminal known for his notorious acts.

On June 27 the girls were forcefully converted to Islam and on June 28 Saba Younis was made to marry Gill’s son Muhammad Amjid after receiving a Fatwa (religious decree) from a Muslim religious leader, to justify their action. Later on, it was disclosed that the Muslim religious leader was cheated to get ‘fatwa.’

When Masih, the father of the girls, went to Gill to get his daughters back Gill refused to let them go, threatened him and said that now the girls had accepted Islam they could not return to their Christian family. Masih begged Gill to let his daughters go as they are so young. Ashfaq Fateh, a Christian social worker from Toba Tek Singh told Minorities Concern of Pakistan that Gill warned Masih that if he filed a case against him his family would be killed. He also claimed that he could not be caught by the police or found guilty by any court.

Despite these threats, Masih reported all the details to the local police however, no action has been taken to get the girls released and the police have told him to keep quite about the whole affair.

This incident has created terror among the Christians of Chak 552, T.D.A and adjoining areas where Christians are now very frightened to speak out against what has happened for fear of their lives and honour. There are 158 Muslim families in the Chak but only 14 Christian ones. The law and order agencies are silent and hesitant to take actions against the culprits because they are Muslims.

Khalid Raheel, the uncle of the abducted girls, has contacted Minorities Concern of Pakistan by telephone to report that Ahsan ul Haq a local member of provincial assembly (MPA) who belongs to the ruling PPP party is supporting the abductors. Raheel stated that when the Christian members of the local government visited the police station for help they were totally ignored. He went on to say that in this awful situation, they feel helpless.

The alleged culprits filed a case of harassment against Masih and his family claiming that as the girls have accepted Islam, Masih is threatening them and the other Muslims connected to the case. On the other hand, Masih also filed a petition in a local court for the recovery of his girls. Main Naeem Sardar, District and Sessions Judge Muzaffargarh, on July 12 declared because the girls admitted they are Muslim now so they can not go with Christian parents instead with Gill. According to Masih, the judge did not allow him to have word with his daughter. “The girls’, who were in the company of 16 Muslim men and are so young, confession, was under pressure. It is a common interpretation under Islamic law that a Christian cannot have custody of a Muslim.

This is the second time, in a very short space of time that Christian girls from this area have been kidnapped and forcibly converted to Islam and then made to marry a Muslim man without their consent.

In another incident about six months ago, a Christian woman Jamila Akhtar from the same village was kidnapped in a same area and sent to Karachi, the financial capital of Pakistan. The Police did not help to find the missing woman and her aggrieved family is still waiting for a miracle to happen to bring their daughter back to them.

Although there are many such incidents in the cities and especially in the villages in which girls of poor families are kidnapped by powerful people, it is easier to kidnap Christian, Hindu or Sikh girls, forcefully converted them to Islam and then make them marry any Muslim man. In such incidents, religious minorities generally struggle alone without the support of the authorities. The police and majority of the local Muslim community does not support non-Muslim families saying that ‘when a girl has accepted Islam’ she can not go back to her non-Muslim parents. Many cases of kidnapping of Christians girls in Punjab and Hindu girls in Singh have been reported by the human rights group but very few get media attention.

Religious minorities are only 3 percent (Christians are only 1.5 per cent) of the total population of Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Under the constitution, religious minorities do not have equal rights as Muslims. Mainly minorities are poor, belong to labour class, and are living under constant pressure from the state and society.

There are however a few recorded cases of kidnapping of Christian girls as follow:

– On June 4, 2008 a Muslim Ramzan kidnapped two (2) Christian sisters of Chak 285-JB, a village in Toba Tek Singh of Punjab province.

– On March 28, 2008, a Christian girl Farzana Rashid, 14, was kidnapped by policemen from her house in Lahore Cantonment. Later on, she was raped and charged under a false case.

– On May 14, 2008 a Christian girl Sumaira Rafiq Masih was raped by 3 influential landlords of the area while she was working in the fields near Patoki, Punjab province. Police have still not arrested the culprits.

– On Aug. 5, 2007 in Faisalabad, Punjab, two (2) Christian girls aged 11years and 13 years were kidnapped, forcibly converted to Islam and then married off to strangers.

– In another heinous crime on May 26, 2006 a six-year old Sikh girl was forcibly converted to Islam at Peshawar, capital of North West Frontier Province (NWFP).

– In 2005, about 50 Hindu and 20 Christian girls were kidnapped in the country and majority forcibly converted to Islam. END