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Pakistan: Forced Marriages Of Religious Minority Women

AHRC-STM-159-2011

October 25, 2011

A Statement from the Asian Human Rights Commission

The forced conversion to Islam of women from religious minority groups through rape and abduction has reached an alarming stage which challenges interfaith harmony due to the total collapse of the rule of law and biased attitude of the judicial officers. It appears today that no one, from the judiciary to the police and even the government has the courage to stand up to the threats from Muslim fundamentalist groups. The situation is worse with the police who always side with the Islamic groups and treat minority groups as lowly life forms.

The dark side of the forced conversion to Islam is not restricted only to the religious Muslim groups but also involves the criminal elements who are engage in rape and abduction and then justify their heinous crimes by forcing the victims to convert to Islam. The Muslim fundamentalists are happy to offer these criminals shelter and use the excuse that they are providing a great service to their sacred cause of increasing the population of Muslims.

In a recent case of rape and forced conversion to Islam which occurred in the month of August, the owner of a kiln factory, Muhammad Amin alias Sony, forcibly entered the house of one of his employees, a 13-year-old Christian girl and allegedly raped her at gunpoint. Sony then forced the victim to place her fingerprints on a set of marriage papers to provide himself with legal protection if he was to be accused of rape. Anwar Masih, the father of the victim and a resident of Harbans Pura, Lahore, the capital of Punjab province, was working in Sony's factory for daily wages with his wife and daughter. During August, because of heavy rains the kiln was closed and the victim's parents went out in search of work leaving their daughter alone in the house.

Immediately following the incident the parents filed a case with the Harbans Pura Police Station. However, to date, the police have not taken action against the accused person as he is a powerful man. Also, he sought the help of a Muslim religious group who has threatened the police that if any case is filed against the alleged rapist the houses of the Christian community will be burned. On October 22, after many delayed proceedings, the Session Court of Lahore ordered the Harbans Pura police to file the case which should have been done immediately. However, once again the police no action has been taken and the police are avoiding their sworn responsibilities.

In Sony's factory there are around 70 employees most of whom are Christians. One lady worker who was widowed two years ago has become pregnant and Sony has been forcing her to convert to Islam but the Christian community is trying to prevent it. They have accused Sony of being responsible for the pregnancy and have reported the matter to the police who once again refuse to file a case against him. Instead the police have threatened the Christians with dire consequences should they proceed. This lack of action by the police is due to threats by a Muslim group that the police themselves will suffer dire consequences should they side with the Christians.

There have been many cases reported by the Christian rights groups concerning rape and forced conversion. The following cases which all involve Christian women are but a few:

Sidra Bibi, (14) in the district of Sheikhupura in Punjab, is the daughter of a worker in the cotton industry. A Muslim from the village had his eye on her and began to molest her, and eventually abducted and raped her before threatening her with death. Physically and psychologically abused, the girl became pregnant. She managed to escape from her tormentor and is now back, in a state of exhaustion, with her family. The police have refused to accept her complaint because of the involvement of a Muslim religious group and now the CLAAS lawyers are handling the case.

Tina Barkat, (28), was approached by a Muslim friend who, after being friends with her for several months, asked her to convert to Islam. His family began to read her verses from the Quran, kidnapped and threatened her, and then gave her in marriage to a Muslim family member. Her lawyers have a current action to dissolve the marriage.

The same fate has befallen Samina Ayub, (17), who lives with her family near Lahore. Kidnapped by a Muslim, she was forcibly converted to Islam, and renamed Fatima Bibi and was forced to marry in the Muslim rite. Her family reported the abduction but the police have not prosecuted those responsible. The case remains unsolved and the family calls for the mobilisation of civil society to save Samina.

Shazia Bibi, (19) from Gujranwala, in Punjab, worked as a maid in the house of a Muslim woman, the owner of a grocery store. A Muslim boy from the shop fell in love with Shazia and in agreement with the owner, held a conversion and forced her into marriage. The plan was successful but now, thanks to Shazia's family the case has ended up in court.

Uzma Bibi, (15), from Gulberg, and Saira Bibi, (20), a nurse from Lahore, were taken by force by Muslim neighbours, converted to Islam and then forced to marry in the Islamic rite. The families of the girls have reclaimed their daughters and the cases are currently before the High Court of Lahore, represented by lawyers provided by CLAAS. (PA) (Agenzia Fides 13/4/2011)

Two Christian sisters Rubecca Masih and Saima Masih from Jhung, Punjab province were kidnapped and forced to convert to Islam. Both sisters were on their way home when by Muhammad Waseem and his five friends abducted them in and sped off in a vehicle. Muhammad Waseem married Saima Masih the day after her kidnapping. Jhang is an area where the majority of Muslims are radical. They believe that if a woman marries a Muslim, she automatically embraces the faith of her husband as a direct consequence.

Farah Hatim (24), of Rahim Yar Khan in Southern Punjab was abducted on May 8, 2011 by Zeeshan Ilyas and his brothers Imran and Gulfam. After this, she was forced to convert to Islam and marry Zeeshan. Human rights organizations and the Catholic Church have condemned the act and demanded action against the violation of her human rights.

The Justice and Peace Commission are leading the case which they took to the Session Court under the FIR, Case No. 150/11 US/ 365-B CR.PC. The police have since been threatening the family because of the religious angle. The Session Judge, Khawaja Mir, realised the seriousness of the case and had it transferred to the High Court (the High Court being a higher authority), for hearing due to the sensitivity of the matter.

Once the appeal was taken to the High Court it was presented by the Justice and Peace Commission and APMA (All Pakistan Minorities Alliance). Justice Khalil-ur-Rehman from the High Court Bahawalpur bench instructed the District Police Officer based in Rahim Yar Khan, and the families involved in the case, to appear.

The Judge questioned Farah Hatim as to whether she was kidnapped or went with Zeeshan by her own free will. After a few moments of silence, she replied, "I went with my own will". After a few more questions, the judge announced that Farah would be living with her new family. The young woman broke into tears as the court announced the decision.

It is unclear if the High Court took note of other cases involving women who have been kidnapped or if the High Court took into account the consideration of fear.

Farah Hatim was allowed a few moments to meet with her family. Her brother said, "I am shocked at what Farah said in the court, she was under threat, now all hopes are gone for her return. Why us? Why did we have to face this? Only because we are Christians (that we are treated like this)."

According to the Justice and Peace Commission, "Farah became a victim of the racket that is involved in prostitution. Zeehan IIyas had tried to force her into prostitution while she was a student at the Sheikh Zaid Medical College in Rahim Yar Khan, but she refused. Then Zeehan IIyas took his revenge. The current decision by Farah is possibly because she is pregnant and fears that her family will be killed if she tries to go back. Therefore, even if she had taken a brave stance of returning, she wouldn't have been accepted by society as she was kidnapped and raped. The fear of rejection is also a possible reason?"

The Justice and Peace Commission commented that ''thousands of girls from minorities are kidnapped and forced into marriages (against their will)''. The Justice and Peace Commission also stated that ''we are fighting against the cancer of kidnapping and forced marriages''.

Therefore, it is more than evident that the legal system and other important institutions are failing the religious minorities in Pakistan and women can become victims at any time.

Ironically these realities are a continuous issue for Christians, Hindus and other religious minorities and generally it is thought that the purpose behind this action by Islamic fundamentalists is to make Pakistan pure. The religious minorities reside in fear because legal institutions and other institutions are either biased or live in fear of the militant religious groups themselves.

Approximately 90 percent of the Christians and Hindus are the poorest of the poor and live in slum areas. They are forced to do the jobs of scavengers, sweepers, garbage collectors and other types of the lowest menial work. Their access to education is very limited.

This is a very basic issue of the rule of law in that the police take it upon themselves to act as judge and jury when it comes to a conflict between Islam and the religious minorities. They decide which FIRs to accept and even then when they deign to record the complaints they seldom make any investigations into the cases unless ordered to do so by a court. And even then, they delay the issue for as long as possible. An FIR is the first step in the registration of a complaint and every police station has the non-transferable duty to record them. It is very simply not their choice to decide which FIR to file. No action can be taken into a complaint until the FIR has been registered and therefore this alone is ample evidence that the police collude with the perpetrators.

Similarly, the lower judiciary fails in their responsibilities. In the vast majority of cases the judicial officers, including magistrates and judges question the traumatised victim in open court in full view of her family members, the alleged perpetrators and complete strangers. They do not considered the sensitivity of the feelings of the victim and pay no attention to the sanctity of the women, regardless of their religion.

All of this is a direct result of the government's appeasement policy towards the Muslim fundamentalist groups. Whether out of fear of a religious uprising that might dethrone the existing government or genuine feelings of the righteousness of what they are doing, is not known. What is known is that if the government does not take a firm stand against religious extremism they can hardly expect the judiciary and the police to do so. Article 20 of the Constitution of Pakistan clear states that protection must be provided to all citizens regardless of their religion.

The Asian Human Rights Commission strongly urges the government of President Zardari to stand behind the Constitution and ensure protection to each and every citizen of Pakistan.

The cases mentioned above, in which FIRs have been filed, must be properly investigated.

The perpetrators must be brought to trial, prosecuted and made to answer for the heinous crime of rape, especially against under aged girls.

The police officers who turn a blind eye and refuse to take action against the perpetrators must face the most severe disciplinary action. Once again, especially where under aged girls are the victims.

Those marriages which were forcefully or illegally conducted must be annulled forthwith and the girls and women given the choice of returning to their families and communities.

In view of the fact that apostasy is forbidden in Islam the government must take steps to cancel any and all conversions that have been done under duress. The Christian and Hindu women who have been forcibly converted must be provided with a safe environment to decide which religion they wish to follow.

# # #

About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation that monitors human rights in Asia, documents violations and advocates for justice and institutional reform to ensure the protection and promotion of these rights. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.

ENDS

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