Police ridicule Christian mother for kidnapping complaint; others demand money, labor.
LAHORE, Pakistan, June 4 (Compass Direct News) — The Christian mother of a 12-year-old girl in Punjab Province who was kidnapped, coerced into converting to Islam and forcibly married to a 37-year-old Muslim hopes to recover her daughter at a court hearing next week.
The reaction of Pakistani law enforcement authorities to Sajida Masih’s complaint so far — ridiculing her and asserting that there is nothing she can do because her daughter is now a Muslim — does not encourage her hopes of recovering her daughter Huma at next Thursday’s (June 11) hearing.
Masih said that Muhammad Imran abducted Huma at gunpoint on Feb. 23 from Hanif Kot village in Gujranwala district, forcibly converted her and then married her. Imran has since disappeared along with his first wife, three children and new child-bride.
Masih, who worked alongside Imran as a farmhand, said the kidnapping occurred on her son’s wedding day. Masih said that when she sent Huma and the child’s aunt out of their home to see if transportation had arrived for the wedding party, Imran — who had helped in preparing for the ceremony — was waiting and told her to sit on his motorbike.
Huma did not understand and, with her concerned aunt tightly holding her hand, she refused.
Masih’s attorney, who requested anonymity for security reasons, said Imran took out a pistol and told Huma that he would shoot her as well as her parents if she did not obey; he also pointed the weapon at her aunt and said that he would kill her. Huma got onto the bike with him; her family has not seen her since.
Masih immediately ran to the owner of the farm where she and Imran work, Khan Buhadur, who told her to first finish the wedding and then see him in the evening. Masih’s attorney said that when she and relatives went to Buhadur after the ceremony, however, he said only that Imran had fled with his family along with the girl, and that he did not know where they were.
Suspecting that Buhadur was complicit in the kidnapping, Masih went to Sadar police station in Gujranwala. Police officers first ridiculed her, the attorney said, and then told her to go back to Buhadur because “only he could do something.” For several days officers and Buhadur shuttled her back and forth between them.
Unable to get police to register the case, Masih submitted a report with the help of a lawyer and took it to the police station, where officers consigned it to the dustbin.
Three days after the kidnapping, police finally registered a First Information Report (FIR) on Feb. 26 — but changed the age of the kidnapped girl from 12, as her mother reported, to 16. Moreover, Investigating Officer Niaz Khan told Masih that the FIR was useless since she was too poor to hire a lawyer, and that she should try to reach an out-of-court agreement with Buhadur — implying that he knew of the child’s whereabouts.
The Masih family learned from a friend of Imran, identified only as Javed, that Huma had converted to Islam and had married the fugitive father of three. Javed further said that Imran had told him police would do nothing as he had paid them 50,000 rupees (US$620).
The family subsequently received a court notice, the attorney said, stating that Imran had requested nullification of the FIR on Huma’s abduction, claiming she was an “adult” and had “willfully” converted to Islam and married him.
According to Huma’s birth certificate, issued by St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Gujranwala, she was born on Oct. 22, 1996. The attorney said that Imran had submitted a fake birth certificate stating she was born on Dec. 23, 1990, which would make her 18 years old. The legal marriage age for girls in Pakistan is 16.
Only then did Masih obtain the pro bono services of the lawyer who is now handling the case.
A hearing on the case had been scheduled for May 6, but because of a change of judge a new date was set for June 11. Unwilling to wait, the family and their lawyer went with a court bailiff to a factory owned by Buhadur in Gujranwala on May 14, hoping to get help in recovering Huma, but Buhadur did not cooperate.
Buhadur had been demanding that Masih pay him 100,000 rupees (US$1,240) that she had supposedly borrowed from him, but this demand only surfaced after the kidnapping — an implied attempt to extort money from her in exchange for information on the whereabouts of her daughter, according to the lawyer. Buhadur withdrew this pressure on Masih after the visit from the court bailiff and efforts by the attorney.
At a meeting of villagers on May 16 at the Sadar police station, Buhadur said that Imran owed him money and that he would inform officers if he learned anything of his whereabouts.
Another land owner, Karamat Ali Saroyya, subsequently called Masih saying that Huma was in Muridke, near Lahore, but when Masih and her lawyer set out again and met with Muridke police, they were unable to find her.
Saroyya later demanded that Masih work on his fields for one year in order to get her daughter back.
Masih’s lawyer and other legal representatives said police and officials at the Municipal Corporation’s office, which keeps birth and death records, have been reluctant to help, saying that Huma had converted and that therefore there was no reason that she should be returned to non-Muslim parents.