Monday, February 27, 2012

PAKISTAN: The forced marriages ofreligious minority women must be annulled and the victimsreturned to their families andcommunities (Article)

October 25, 2011

A Statement from the Asian Human RightsCommission

PAKISTAN: The forced marriages ofreligious minority women must be annulled and the victimsreturned to their families andcommunities

The forced conversion to Islam of women from religiousminority groups through rape and abduction has reached analarming stage which challenges interfaith harmony due tothe total collapse of the rule of law and biased attitude ofthe judicial officers. It appears today that no one, fromthe judiciary to the police and even the government has thecourage to stand up to the threats from Muslimfundamentalist groups. The situation is worse with thepolice who always side with the Islamic groups and treatminority groups as lowly life forms.

The dark side of the forced conversion to Islam is notrestricted only to the religious Muslim groups but alsoinvolves the criminal elements who are engage in rape andabduction and then justify their heinous crimes by forcingthe victims to convert to Islam. The Muslim fundamentalistsare happy to offer these criminals shelter and use theexcuse that they are providing a great service to theirsacred cause of increasing the population of Muslims.

In a recent case of rape and forced conversion to Islamwhich occurred in the month of August, the owner of a kilnfactory, Muhammad Amin alias Sony, forcibly entered thehouse of one of his employees, a 13-year-old Christian girland allegedly raped her at gunpoint. Sony then forced thevictim to place her fingerprints on a set of marriage papersto provide himself with legal protection if he was to beaccused of rape.  Anwar Masih, the father of the victimand a resident of Harbans Pura, Lahore, the capital ofPunjab province, was working in Sony's factory for dailywages with his wife and daughter. During August, because ofheavy rains the kiln was closed and the victim's parentswent out in search of work leaving their daughter alone inthe house.

Immediately following the incident the parents filed a casewith the Harbans Pura Police Station. However, to date, thepolice have not taken action against the accused person ashe is a powerful man. Also, he sought the help of a Muslimreligious group who has threatened the police that if anycase is filed against the alleged rapist the houses of theChristian community will be burned. On October 22, aftermany delayed proceedings, the Session Court of Lahoreordered the Harbans Pura police to file the case whichshould have been done immediately. However, once again thepolice no action has been taken and the police are avoidingtheir sworn responsibilities.

In Sony's factory there are around 70 employees most of whomare Christians. One lady worker who was widowed two yearsago has become pregnant and Sony has been forcing her toconvert to Islam but the Christian community is trying toprevent it. They have accused Sony of being responsible forthe pregnancy and have reported the matter to the police whoonce again refuse to file a case against him. Instead thepolice have threatened the Christians with dire consequencesshould they proceed. This lack of action by the police isdue to threats by a Muslim group that the police themselveswill suffer dire consequences should they side with theChristians.

There have been many cases reported by the Christian rightsgroups concerning rape and forced conversion. The followingcases 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 Muslimfrom the village had his eye on her and began to molest her,and eventually abducted and raped her before threatening herwith death. Physically and psychologically abused, the girlbecame pregnant. She managed to escape from her tormentorand is now back, in a state of exhaustion, with her family.The police have refused to accept her complaint because ofthe involvement of a Muslim religious group and now theCLAAS lawyers are handling the case.

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

The same fate has befallen Samina Ayub, (17), who lives withher family near Lahore. Kidnapped by a Muslim, she wasforcibly converted to Islam, and renamed Fatima Bibi and wasforced to marry in the Muslim rite. Her family reported theabduction but the police have not prosecuted thoseresponsible. The case remains unsolved and the family callsfor the mobilisation of civil society to save Samina.

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

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

Two Christian sisters Rubecca Masih and Saima Masih fromJhung, Punjab province were kidnapped and forced to convertto Islam. Both sisters were on their way home when byMuhammad Waseem and his five friends abducted them in andsped off in a vehicle. Muhammad Waseem married Saima Masihthe day after her kidnapping. Jhang is an area where themajority of Muslims are radical. They believe that if awoman marries a Muslim, she automatically embraces the faithof her husband as a direct consequence.
Farah Hatim (24), of Rahim Yar Khan in Southern Punjabwas abducted on May 8, 2011 by Zeeshan Ilyas and hisbrothers Imran and Gulfam. After this, she was forced toconvert to Islam and marry Zeeshan. Human rightsorganizations and the Catholic Church have condemned the actand demanded action against the violation of her humanrights.

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

Once the appeal was taken to the High Court it waspresented by the Justice and Peace Commission and APMA (AllPakistan Minorities Alliance). Justice Khalil-ur-Rehman fromthe High Court Bahawalpur bench instructed the DistrictPolice Officer based in Rahim Yar Khan, and the familiesinvolved in the case, to appear.

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

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

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

According to the Justice and Peace Commission,"Farah became a victim of the racket that is involvedin prostitution. Zeehan IIyas had tried to force her intoprostitution while she was a student at the Sheikh ZaidMedical College in Rahim Yar Khan, but she refused. ThenZeehan IIyas took his revenge. The current decision by Farahis possibly because she is pregnant and fears that herfamily will be killed if she tries to go back. Therefore,even if she had taken a brave stance of returning, shewouldn't have been accepted by society as she was kidnappedand raped. The fear of rejection is also a possiblereason?"

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

Therefore, it is more than evident that the legal systemand other important institutions are failing the religiousminorities in Pakistan and women can become victims at anytime.

Ironically these realities are a continuous issue forChristians, Hindus and other religious minorities andgenerally it is thought that the purpose behind this actionby Islamic fundamentalists is to make Pakistan pure. The religious minorities reside in fear because legalinstitutions and other institutions are either biased orlive in fear of the militant religious groups themselves.

Approximately 90 percent of the Christians and Hindus arethe poorest of the poor and live in slum areas. They areforced to do the jobs of scavengers, sweepers, garbagecollectors and other types of the lowest menial work. Theiraccess to education is very limited.

This is a very basic issue of the rule of law in that thepolice take it upon themselves to act as judge and jury whenit comes to a conflict between Islam and the religiousminorities. They decide which FIRs to accept and even thenwhen they deign to record the complaints they seldom makeany investigations into the cases unless ordered to do so bya court. And even then, they delay the issue for as long aspossible. An FIR is the first step in the registration of acomplaint and every police station has the non-transferableduty to record them. It is very simply not their choice todecide which FIR to file. No action can be taken into acomplaint until the FIR has been registered and thereforethis alone is ample evidence that the police collude withthe perpetrators.

Similarly, the lower judiciary fails in theirresponsibilities. In the vast majority of cases the judicialofficers, including magistrates and judges question thetraumatised victim in open court in full view of her familymembers, the alleged perpetrators and complete strangers.They do not considered the sensitivity of the feelings ofthe victim and pay no attention to the sanctity of thewomen, regardless of their religion.

All of this is a direct result of the government'sappeasement policy towards the Muslim fundamentalist groups.Whether out of fear of a religious uprising that mightdethrone the existing government or genuine feelings of therighteousness of what they are doing, is not known. What isknown is that if the government does not take a firm standagainst religious extremism they can hardly expect thejudiciary and the police to do so. Article 20 of theConstitution of Pakistan clear states that protection mustbe provided to all citizens regardless of their religion.

The Asian Human Rights Commission strongly urges thegovernment of President Zardari to stand behind theConstitution and ensure protection to each and every citizenof Pakistan.

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

The perpetrators must be brought to trial, prosecuted andmade to answer for the heinous crime of rape, especiallyagainst under aged girls.

The police officers who turn a blind eye and refuse to takeaction against the perpetrators must face the most severedisciplinary action. Once again, especially where under agedgirls are the victims.

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

In view of the fact that apostasy is forbidden in Islam thegovernment must take steps to cancel any and all conversionsthat have been done under duress. The Christian and Hinduwomen who have been forcibly converted must be provided witha safe environment to decide which religion they wish tofollow.

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About AHRC: The Asian Human RightsCommission is a regional non-governmental organisation thatmonitors human rights in Asia, documents violations andadvocates for justice and institutional reform to ensure theprotection and promotion of these rights. The HongKong-based group was founded in 1984.

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Baseer Naweed
Senior Researcher

Sign our Petition: Stop Disappearances in Pakistan
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