Impoverished father had received ultimatum from employer who loaned him money.
RAWALPINDI, Pakistan, May 31 (CDN) — A Christian woman who was kidnapped, forced to marry a Muslim farmer and told to convert to Islam amid a dispute over a loan said today she has returned home after weeks of “captivity and torture.”
Sania James, 33, was kidnapped April 5 by armed men who stormed her parent’s house in the small town of Rawat, just outside Rawalpindi, neighbors confirmed to Compass. The gunmen allegedly told her father that he would see his daughter again only if he paid off a loan of 250,000 rupees (US$2,930) plus 30 percent interest – a rate much higher than previously agreed upon.
James said the armed men took her to farmer Mohammad Shahbaz Ali and forced her to marry him.
“I have been tortured, forced to convert and forcefully married,” said James, who escaped earlier this month.
She refused to convert to Islam and was continuously tortured, James said without elaborating.
“One night I managed to escape and returned home,” she said. “I have contacted Christian rights groups to help me.”
Shahbaz Ali reacted angrily when asked about the alleged incidents.
“I refuse to say anything,” he told Compass.
Neighbors who said they watched the kidnapping said they were unable to intervene.
“We have been warned by Shahbaz Ali that if any one tries to help these Christians, they will have to face dire consequences,” said one of the neighbors, Mohammad Hamza. “Everyone is scared.”
The kidnapping came five years after the woman’s father, James Ayub, allegedly took the loan from Shahbaz Ali, his long-time employer, to pay for his oldest daughter’s wedding.
Ayub, who worked at Shahbaz Ali’s farm for two decades, was initially told that the interest rate on the loan would be 15 percent, but the rate was later doubled, family members said. Shahbaz Ali allegedly told Ayub in February that his family would be attacked unless he paid off the loan within two months.
In a bid to raise the money, Sania James said she had begun to work on the farm along with her elderly, impoverished father. James said that her father was “thrown out of the farm,” and that she was subsequently kidnapped.
Local Pastor Faraz Samson, who tried to mediate in the conflict, said he went to Shahbaz Ali to end “the injustice, but he didn’t listen.”
Police officials reportedly said they were unable to halt the alleged kidnapping, saying Shahbaz Ali was a very influential man.
“I am shocked that a daughter of a poor man has been kidnapped, and the law can’t do anything,” Pastor Samson said.
The kidnapping was not an isolated incident, according to rights activists. They have expressed concerns that Christian women and girls have been kidnapped across Pakistan, a predominantly Muslim nation, often amid disputes over land and money.
Advocacy organizations Life for All and Peace Pakistan have condemned the incident.