Sisters Abducted, Forced To Convert To Islam
Repeatedly raped, minor and 18-year-old now face societal rejection.
01/19/09 Pakistan (Compass Direct News) – The ordeal of two teenage Christian sisters in Pakistan is over after Muslims allegedly abducted and raped them and forced them to convert to Islam, but they fear a future of societal rejection.
Parvisha Masih, 18, and Sanam Masih, 14, said three Muslim men kidnapped them last November, raping them several times during two weeks of captivity.
“We are happy to return to the family, but we are feeling ashamed because there is no respect for us in society now,” Parvisha Masih said. “We don’t want to go back to school and have to face our friends.”
They face a long legal battle that will inevitably bring them into contact with their captors – who have already assaulted their family in court.
“We feel very afraid, and we are still receiving threats,” Parvisha Masih told Compass. “We are worried about our family and about ourselves. I don’t ever want to see those men again.”
On Jan. 2 the sisters recorded statements concerning their alleged abduction, rape and forced conversion to Islam before a local magistrate in Gujranwala. Earlier, they gave statements in Karachi, where they had been taken by their captors some 840 miles to the south. Two First Incident Reports (FIRs) have been filed.
In Gujranwala, Muhammad Irfan, Muhammed Mehboob and Muhammed Rafique, Mehboob’s brother-in-law, are charged with kidnapping.
Irfan and Mehboob, suspected of involvement in a human trafficking ring, at first made contact with Parvisha Masih accidentally.
“Parvisha received a wrong number call and talked to Muhammad Irfan,” said Katherine Karamat, an investigative officer for the Center for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS). “Some days later, Irfan called again and told her that he had a beauty salon, and if she wanted training he could arrange that for her.”
Eager to earn extra money for the family, Masih convinced her younger sister Sanam to join her in accepting the offer, according to CLAAS.
Irfan arranged to drive them to their first day of work in his car. At 10 a.m. on Nov. 12, Irfan and Mehboob picked the sisters up from their home.
“This is a common practice now,” said Michael Javaid, a Pakistani member of parliament based in Karachi. “They offer poor people from the villages a good job, and the parents are poor so they trust them, but then they bring these girls and sell them to other people.”
According to the sisters’ testimony, Irfan stopped the car after roughly half an hour to buy beverages. He offered them both a bottle of fruit juice that they drank, unaware that he had drugged it.
En route to Karachi, Irfan and Mehboob then drove the sisters to a motel in Mianwali, threatening them at gunpoint and telling them they would be killed if they tried to escape. The sisters reported that the men then raped them.
In the morning they were ushered back into the car and driven to the coastal city of Karachi, where they were held captive at Rafique’s house. Over the next five days, they said, the men raped them repeatedly.
Masih and Sanam then were taken to a madrassa (Islamic school), where a mufti issued certificates stating that the two had become Muslims. Parvisha Masih was renamed Sana, and her sister received the name Tayyaba.
Javaid and lawyers from CLAAS challenged these certificates, asserting that the sisters did not sign them.
“Anyone can get these papers by giving some kind of a bribe; [clerics] feel it is a service to Islam,” said Javaid. “They will issue a certificate without knowing the will of the person, whether this is a forcible conversion or not.”
Following their forced conversion at the madrassa, the Muslims took the sisters to the office of lawyers Nayer Zia-Ul-Din and Kokab Sahab-Ul-Din. Irfan explained to the lawyers that the sisters had converted to Islam and did not wish to return home to their Christian family, but instead wanted to stay at the government-run Dar-Ul-Aman shelter for women. Before leaving, Irfan told Masih and Sanam that they would be freed after the lawyers brought them to court the following day.
The lawyers told the sisters to sign blank sheets of paper, forging testimony from the pair that they planned to use to support their case, according to CLAAS. The attorneys told the sisters that they could stay with their family that night and took Masih and Sanam to their home, but no other family members were present.
After the sisters had fallen asleep, according to CLAAS, Sahab-Ul-Din took Parvisha Masih into a separate room and sexually abused her. Police found medication in Sahab-Ul-Din’s apartment indicating that the sisters were again drugged. Sanam said she woke up when she heard her older sister crying for help.
“I took the mobile of the lawyer and called 15 [the emergency police number in Pakistan],” she told Compass. “One lawyer had left; the other was with Parvisha.” She was able to escape the house and describe her location to authorities.
Police arrived at the scene shortly afterward, immediately referring Parvisha Masih to a hospital and arresting Sahab-Ul-Din, whom they took to the Ferozabad police station. The other lawyer, Zia-Ul-Din, had left but was later arrested at his home.
At the police station, Sanam called her father, Arif Masih, who rushed to Karachi to bring his daughters back home.
Assaulted in Court
The following day (Nov. 22), the sisters appeared before a magistrate to give testimony, accompanied by their father and other relatives. Defendants Zia-Ul-Din and Sahab-Ul-Din, both charged with rape, were also present. Upon learning that the sisters’ father was in the room, they located him and began to attack him.
“The magistrate was in his chambers, and so the lawyers attacked the father and relatives, beating them, even the women, there in the courtroom, which never happened before!” said Javaid. “All the police were called, the FHO [court police], the superintendant and deputy superintendant, and they took them to the lock-up for safety.”
Javaid said he plans to take a strong contingent of associates when they next appear in court to protect the sisters and deter another attack.
This is the second known case of its kind in recent months. Saba and Aneela Masih underwent a similar ordeal last July, and although 10-year-old Aneela has been returned to her family, her 13-year-old sister, forced to marry one of the men who kidnapped her, remains with her captors.
Christian girls from poor families make easy targets, and many cases go undocumented, Javaid told Compass. High legal fees often make it impossible for poor families to bring a case to court. Corrupt lawyers, easily swayed by bribes, often create further expense.
On top of this, a biased legal system that favors Muslims over Christians is particularly reluctant to pass judgments that would undermine conversion to Islam.
“Because both [Parvisha and Sanam Masih] are Christian and the accused were Muslim, to save their skin they made [the sisters] embrace Islam forcefully so they can marry them maybe or whatever they want,” said CLAAS lawyer Samson Joseph.