Persecution of Christians in Pakistan: on October 19 we reported that a 13-year-old Christian girl, Arzoo Raja (identified as Arzoo Masih in the earlier report), had been kidnapped, converted to Islam, and forced to marry her abductor. Now, in yet another example of the sadly recurring phenomenon of official sanction for the persecution of Christians, a judge has validated her Islamic “marriage,” even as the girl’s Christian family was not even allowed to enter the courtroom.
This is unfortunately nothing new. Most of the victims of kidnapping, forced conversion, and forced marriage charge that Pakistani authorities frequently refuse to help the victims, and even side with the kidnappers.
Pakistan’s small and courageous Orthodox Christian community is as vulnerable to this persecution as are the rest of Pakistan’s Christians. The Order of Saint Andrew the Apostle, Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, once again implores international human rights organizations to take action to protect Christian families in Pakistan.
For previous coverage of forced conversions and the persecution of Christians in Pakistan in general, see here.
“Judge in Pakistan Validates Marriage of Muslim to 13-Year-Old,” Morning Star News, October 28, 2020:
LAHORE, Pakistan (Morning Star News) – A 13-year-old Christian girl kidnapped by a Muslim man in Pakistan leapt toward her mother when she spotted her outside a courtroom on Tuesday (Oct. 27), but her family was not permitted to enter as a judge validated the 45-year-old abductor’s Islamic “marriage” to the child, sources said.
Refusing to acknowledge documentation of the girl’s age and the Catholic family’s pleas that Ali Azhar forcibly converted Arzoo Raja to Islam, Sindh High Court Justice K.K. Agha ruled the marriage was valid and instructed police not to “harass the newlywed couple,” said rights advocate Ghazala Shafique.
“All of us, including Arzoo’s family and people supporting their cause for justice, are in deep shock and grief after the high court allowed the accused to walk away with the minor girl in front of our eyes,” Shafique told Morning Star News.
In trial court earlier in the day, Azhar’s defense team argued for dismissal of the kidnapping charges while the legal team for the family asserted that Arzoo was the victim of forcible conversion and marriage, Shafique said. The family and their legal team were awaiting a court ruling after the hearing when they learned that Azhar’s team had filed a petition in the high court, she said.
“We rushed to the high court where Arzoo and the accused Azhar were present along with his family members and several lawyers,” Shafique said. “As soon as Arzoo saw her mother, she leapt towards her, but the police and Azhar’s family members dragged her away and forced her into the courtroom of Justice K.K. Agha.”
When the girl’s family and their legal team tried to enter the courtroom, they were manhandled by police and Azhar’s family, Shafique said.
“We begged them to let us in, but they refused to budge from the door,” she said. “They did not even allow Arzoo’s parents to enter the courtroom.”
A few minutes later police brought the accused out of the courtroom and said the judge had ordered that Arzoo be sent to a government shelter for women.
“But it was a lie, because when we read the judgment, it stated that Arzoo had admitted in court that she had converted to Islam and married Azhar willingly,” Shafique said.
Underage girls in such cases in Pakistan come under intense pressure, including threats to them and their families, to give false statements in court.
“Justice Agha gave this verdict because he did not get to hear the family’s side of the story,” Shafique said. “Had the police and family members of the accused let Arzoo’s parents enter the courtroom, they could have informed the judge that the documents presented in court regarding their daughter’s age were fake and the photo of the girl pasted on the papers was not Arzoo’s.”
Azhar abducted Arzoo in Karachi’s Muhalla Railway Colony West Camp Road locality on Oct. 13, according to the family, which registered a kidnapping case on the same day. On Oct. 15 police summoned them to the local station and showed them documents claiming that Arzoo was 18 years old and had willingly converted to Islam after marrying Azhar.
Advocate Tabbasum Yousaf of the Sindh High Court said the underage marriage of Arzoo was a violation of the constitution and law, and that the judge failed to consider these legal provisions.
“If somebody is forced into marriage, it’s tantamount to sexual assault,” Yousaf told Morning Star News….
Pakistan ranked fifth on Christian support organization Open Doors 2020 World Watch list of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian, and on Nov. 28, 2018, the United States added Pakistan to its blacklist of countries that violate religious freedom.