The link below is to an article that appeared in Christianity Today concerning early marriage and the Christian. It’s probably a little simplistic and clearly ‘self-centred (and I don’t mean that in a bad sense here).’ Any thoughts out there on early marriage and the Christian – would love to read them in the comments.
Maher El-Gohary and daughter apply for asylum in France.
ISTANBUL, April 21 (CDN) — A father and daughter who fled Egypt to Syria after spending two and a half years in hiding for becoming Christians have arrived in France and yesterday applied for asylum there, human rights advocates said.
Maher Ahmad El-Mo’otahssem Bellah El-Gohary, 58, had become the target of Islamic ill will in Egypt after he tried to change the religious affiliation on his national identification card from Muslim to Christian. He and his daughter, 17-year-old Dina Mo’otahssem, arrived in Paris from Syria on March 30 after having fled to Damascus on Feb. 22 in the wake of the revolution in Egypt that deposed then-President Hosni Mubarak.
The Jan. 25-Feb. 11 protests in Egypt also weakened the Ministry of the Interior, an agency that had harassed El-Gohary and prevented him from leaving the country.
El-Gohary had fled to Syria because it was both the fastest and the easiest way to get out of Egypt, but he said he also feared Islamic opposition to converts in Syria and growing political unrest in Damascus.
“When we got to the French embassy in Syria, we were so scared because of what was happening in Syria at the time,” he said.
It took him more than a month to secure a visa to leave Syria. Previously in Egypt, he had been able to leave because he had received a court decision ordering the Ministry of the Interior to allow him to leave the country; taking advantage of the confusion gripping Egyptian government agencies in the wake of the anti-Mubarak protests, he left with his daughter.
Eventually El-Gohary and his daughter hope to gain a visa to the United States and then immigrate.
Despite their newfound safety, El-Gohary and Dina are still shaken by their ordeal. They said they are afraid that a Muslim extremist in France could seek them out and attack them. They also have unresolved medical issues from the physical stress of two years of hiding and from not being able to receive proper medical care during that time.
On Monday (April 18), El-Gohary went to the Embassy of the United States in Paris to apply for U.S. asylum as well. According to a Coptic activist who requested anonymity, the embassy advised El-Gohary that his best option was for his wife, who lives in the United States, to apply for a visa to allow him to enter the country. El-Gohary is also applying for a tourist visa to the United States. Human rights activists have advised El-Gohary to stay in France while he applies for asylum rather than go to the United States on a tourist visa, which may leave him financially exposed and hinder his immigration efforts.
Meantime, El-Gohary’s application for asylum in France qualifies him for an automatic three-month extension on his visa to France, which was set to expire at the end of the month. The extension can be renewed as long as his case is unresolved. It also qualifies him for certain government benefits.
‘Miracle from God’
El-Gohary and his daughter were forced into hiding in August 2008 immediately after he filed his lawsuit to change his ID card’s religious designation. The suit caused uproar in a country where, according to a recent Pew Research Center poll, 84 percent of Muslims in Egypt believe those who leave Islam should be executed.
El-Gohary filed the suit, he said, because he wanted to spare his daughter the persecution he suffered when he became a Christian in his 20s. In theory, the religion listed on his ID card would be used to determine the religion listed on Dina’s.
In Egypt, it is illegal for adults not to have a national ID card, and it is nearly impossible to survive without one. It is necessary for opening a bank account, renting an apartment and obtaining medical care. Also, being identified as a Muslim in Egypt makes one subject to Islamic civil law, which would have prevented Dina from marrying someone identified as a Christian.
Freedom of religion, including the right to change one’s religion, is guaranteed in Egypt by law. But in practice, while it is easy for Christian converts to Islam to change the religion listed on their ID cards, it is impossible for a Muslim convert to Christianity to do the same.
For the time that El-Gohary and his daughter were on the run, they lived a marginal existence, moving from one safe house to another about once every month. On different occasions, he and Dina were attacked. On one occasion, El-Gohary said, Dina had acid thrown on her. On another, he said someone came at him with a knife.
El-Gohary called his escape from Egypt a “miracle from God,” but when he arrived in Syria he was quickly faced with the reality that he was alone in a country in which he had no support network and felt almost as unsafe as he did in Egypt. Also, his expectation that he would be able to quickly obtain a visa to the United States proved false. Frustrated by what he described as a cold reception at the U.S. Embassy in Damascus, he began to look for any country in Europe that would give him an
On advice of the Vatican Embassy in Syria, El-Gohary went to the French Embassy in Damascus, which issued a short-term visa the same day.
“I really appreciate what the French ambassador did for us,” El-Gohary said. “The French saved us.”
El-Gohary was able to get to France with the support of Egyptian Christians and advocacy groups, most notably the United Copts of Great Britain. Dr. Ibrahim Habib, a Copt and the chairman of the group, said his organization arranged accommodation for El-Gohary and Dina with an Egyptian Christian in France. Habib said El-Gohary, motivated by fear, left for France unprepared.
“He was going to France without knowing anybody at all,” Habib said. “He was just going to land in the airport and start thinking, ‘What are we going to do?’”
Report from Compass Direct News
Two brothers die, third in critical condition, after complaining they were not paid.
GUJRANWALA, Pakistan, December 15 (CDN) — Muslim employers of three Christian sanitation workers at a banquet/wedding hall here allegedly poisoned the three workers yesterday, killing two of them; at press time the third was struggling for life in intensive care.
The father of the three workers, Yousaf Masih, said the owner of the hall, along with the manager, poisoned his sons because they were Christians who had dared to ask for pay owed to them.
Imran Masih, 29, and Irfan Masih, 25, died at the Ferozewala Pul Banquet & Marriage Hall after being forced to drink something that was heavily poisoned, Yousaf Masih said. The third worker, 23-year-old Aakash Masih, was in critical condition at the Intensive Care Unit of Civil Hospital Gujranwala, in Punjab Province.
“It appears from the position they were in that they were forced to consume some kind of poisoned drink, or a drug, and they were left there to die,” Yousaf Masih said. “The administration of the banquet and wedding hall did not call a hospital or take them to a hospital – instead they called us after the death of two of our loved ones.”
The Peoples Colony police station has registered a murder and deception case against Imtiyas Warriach, owner of the Ferozewala Pul Banquet & Marriage Hall, and hall manager Abid Virk. At press time they remained at large.
The chief of the Peoples Colony police station was not available for comment, but an officer told Compass that the two suspects would be arrested soon.
The family learned of the deaths when another of Yousaf Masih’s sons, 21-year-old Javed Masih, received a telephone call at home from the owner, Warriach, saying that his older brother Imran Masih was lying dead on the floor of the wedding hall.
Because they had not been paid, the three brothers had left the hall to work elsewhere before returning this past weekend. Javed Masih said he spoke by telephone on Friday (Dec. 11) with Warriach, when the owner called asking for his three brothers to return to work.
“The owner and manager of the wedding hall called me in the early morning of Dec. 11 and pleaded for my three brothers to rejoin and start working,” Javed Masih said. “They promised to reimburse their previous outstanding wages, as well as pay them a Christmas bonus and overtime. At this my brothers agreed and went to work the next morning.”
When Yousaf and Javed Masih were summoned to the wedding hall yesterday, they found Imran Masih and Irfan Masih dead. Aakash Masih was alive but lying still on the floor, they said.
Yousaf Masih said his sons had long told him that owner Warriach and manager Virk refused to pay their daily wages, and that the managers and staff members at the hall spoke derogatorily to them for being Christians.
“On demand of their daily wages, the owner and manager had threatened them that they would continue to work without payment or face the dire consequences,” Yousaf Masih said. “After my sons rejoined as sanitation workers, both Warriach and Virk started to make fun of them for leaving the job previously. Both the Muslim men mocked my sons for being Christian and called them by pejorative names such as ‘Choohra.’”
Yousaf Masih, 47, told Compass at the Sargodha offices of human rights group Rays of Development Organization that his sons had worked at the same wedding hall since the day it opened in 2005. Sobbing, he said that the owner and manager had never paid them their full wages during that time, so they had begun looking for other work a few weeks before the Islamic festival of sacrifice, called Eid-ul-Azha.
Muslims refrain from marrying during the Islamic month of Muharram, so in the small window of time between the start of that month and the end of the Eid-ul-Azha festival, wedding halls thrive and require all available help, he said.
Javed Masih said the bodies of Imran Masih and Irfan Masih were moved to the morgue at Civil Hospital Gujranwala for autopsy.
Report from Compass Direct News
Christian natives of Somaliland face opposition from authorities, relatives for sharing faith.
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia, September 16 (CDN) — A convert from Islam in Somalia’s self-declared state of Somaliland has been jailed for distributing Christian materials, and another is on the run from both family members and police upset over his new faith.
Christian sources said Somaliland native Osman Nour Hassan was arrested on Aug. 3 for providing Christian literature in Pepsi village, on the outskirts of the breakaway region’s capital city, Hargeisa.
Promotion of any religion other than Islam in Somaliland is prohibited, contrary to international standards for religious freedom such as Article 18 of the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 5(1-2) of the Somaliland constitution states that Islam is the state religion and prohibits the promotion of any other faith, according to the U.S. Department of State’s 2008 International Religious Freedom Report, and Article 313 outlines penalties for Muslims who change their religion.
Hassan was accused of providing Christian literature to a village Muslim boy, who later showed it to his family and friends. The boy’s Muslim family reported the incident to the police, the sources said, leading to the arrest of the 29-year-old Hassan. He was taken to Hargeisa central police station.
The arrest has upset underground Christians who see it as a muzzle on religious expression. They said other Muslim villagers had received Christian materials from Hassan and took no offense, and that Christian Ethiopian refugees in the area have distributed the same literature without problem.
On Aug. 6, the Muslim family who accused Hassan met with his family and agreed that Islamic teachers, or sheikhs, should go to see him in jail to advise him on Islamic doctrine. Two sheikhs met him in the police station cell and implored him to stop spreading Christianity.
“You are from an Islamic family, and therefore you should not disgrace or paint a bad image of the family,” argued one of the sheikhs, according to a source who spoke with Hassan. In response, according to the source, Hassan told them that he had received the Christian materials as educational material for himself and for others who cared to read them, and that Jesus was his Savior.
Convinced that Hassan had truly left Islam, and angered by his defiance, the sheikhs urged authorities to take him to the harsher conditions of a jail in Mandera, 60 kilometers (37 miles) away, but at press time Hassan was still incarcerated in Hargeisa.
“His stand is that he is waiting for the coming of Issa [Jesus], just as the whole world is also waiting,” said one neighbor.
Somaliland, which is vying for international recognition as a nation, is bordered by the Gulf of Aden to the north, by Ethiopia to the southwest and by Djibouti to the northwest.
Another Somaliland convert to Christianity, Mohamed G. Ali, is on the run from both authorities and family members. Ali has fled to neighboring Ethiopia, but the 27-year-old father of three said this will not be enough to deter relatives who seek to punish him for leaving Islam.
He said relatives previously abducted his wife, who is expected to give birth to their fourth child within the next two weeks, and that they are again looking for ways to kidnap her as well as the children.
The native of Hargeisa said he has already survived several attempts on his life by Muslim fanatics since becoming a Christian in 1998. Family members, close relatives within his tribe, the larger community and local officials have all done him harm, he said.
He first came to Ethiopia in April 2002, subsequently marrying Fatumo Mohamed at the Church of the Nazarene. News of his Christian marriage circulated, preceding him upon his return to Hargeisa; soon after his arrival, he said, Muslim fanatics kidnapped his wife and demolished his house.
Fatumo Mohamed remained captive for several months, later managing to escape and rejoin her husband. For more than three years, as they were displaced from the community and went into hiding, he faced open and official threats. When life became unbearably dangerous, they decided to flee to Ethiopia in August 2005.
Speaking only in general terms to protect loved ones he left behind, Ali said Somaliland authorities were seeking him for reasons related to his Christian faith; other sources confirmed this.
Even after he arrived in Ethiopia, Ali was sought by the Somaliland government, which published a notice on April 11, 2007 displaying his photo in two local Somaliland newspapers, Jamhuuriya and Maandeeq. The notice ordered him to appear before a district court within 30 days, saying failure to do so would result in stiff action being taken against him.
That was just one more episode in a journey of faith that began when he broke his leg in 1996. Receiving treatment in Djibouti, he stayed with a close relative who told Ali the New Testament account of Jesus forgiving an adulterous woman brought for judgment. Amazed at Jesus forgiving the woman, Ali began researching Christianity; three years earlier, he had witnessed the stoning of five young women accused of committing adultery in Hargeisa.
“At that point I failed to see the meaning of compassion in Islam,” he said. “Many questions started coming to my mind – that not even a single person in the midst tried to call for compassion for the young ladies. I felt that it could have been even better to kill them with a gun than subjecting them to such inhumane killing.”
Ali, who is seeking asylum and has conveyed his security concerns to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, is struggling to meet the basic needs of the family – food, shelter, education and clothing – and he is facing an urgent health concern. For three years he has been living with a bone infection, he said, and the danger of paralysis is rising. Looking worried and frightened, and that without asylum he could lose his family as well as his life.
“I will continue trusting in God’s protection, for blessed are those who are persecuted for His sake,” he said.
Report from Compass Direct News
Christian woman tells TV audience imprisoned clergyman did not know of false ID.
ISTANBUL, May 22 (Compass Direct News) – An Egyptian convert from Islam who forged Christian identification papers and later used them to marry a Coptic man has appeared on a television show declaring the innocence of a priest serving a five-year sentence for marrying the couple.
The priest’s lawyers, Ramses El-Naggar and Peter Ramses, submitted a recording of convert Mariam Nabil’s TV interview to Prosecutor General Abdel Meguid Mahmoud in support of their appeal of the Rev. Mattaos Wahba’s conviction for conducting a marriage ceremony with false documents.
“We are sure that if we can review that case in front of the high court, Father Mattaos will be free, because the decision from the court is the wrong decision,” said Ramses. “But until now we didn’t present the case.”
The priest of Archangel Michael Church at Kerdasa, in Geza, and two other men were charged with converting Nabil and aiding her in forging a Christian ID card. The other two men are in hiding.
Wahba was arrested last October, with the added charge of knowingly conducting a marriage ceremony with false documents. He was convicted of this charge and sentenced to five years in Cairo’s Tora prison.
Nabil maintains that Wahba had no involvement in obtaining the false documents and was not aware that they were forged when he married the couple.
Safwat El-Baiday, spokesman for the Evangelical Church in Egypt, said priests should not be made responsible for verifying documents.
“We as a church do not believe that a priest who sees the documents and the witnesses can be put in jail,” El-Baiday said. “If there are witnesses and a bride and a groom, it is not our job to investigate if their documents are right or wrong.”
The conviction met with a public outcry, and international Coptic rights groups have petitioned Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to release Wahba.
Consequences of Conversion
Despite the risk to herself, her husband and his family, Nabil went public with her story on April 24, appearing on the TV show “Daring Questions,” which is produced outside of Egypt and airs weekly on the Christian Al-Hayat station.
Nabil, born Reham Abdel Aziz, originally converted from Islam to Christianity in 2004. After suffering harsh treatment from her family due to her conversion, she sought to leave them and live freely as a Christian, leading to her need for new identification documents. Using the birth certificate of a deceased woman, she managed to obtain a government identification card stating her religion as Christian in 2004.
Later she fell in love and married. Shortly after their marriage in 2006, Nabil and her husband fled Egypt to escape her family members, who had threatened to kill her. When Nabil’s relatives learned of her marriage, they informed police, who discovered the forgery. She left Egypt before the falsified ID was discovered, and authorities still seek to arrest her and her husband for forged documents.
The host of “Daring Questions” told Compass via telephone that because there is no legal means for converts from Islam to designate it on identification papers, they are often left with no option but to break the law. In Egypt, a Christian man is not allowed to marry a Muslim woman.
“From one side I am against forging documents, but from the other side I think that the government is pushing Christians from a Muslim background to forge documents,” he said. “They give them no choice.”
Officially changing one’s religious status away from Islam is not legally possible in Egypt. Two Christian converts involved in a legal battle for this right, Maher El-Gohary and Mohammed Hegazy, are in hiding under threat of death.
Report from Compass Direct News
Couple goes into hiding as police place Islamic law over Egyptian penal code.
ISTANBUL, April 23 (Compass Direct News) – Christian convert Raheal Henen Mussa and her Coptic husband are hiding from police and her Muslim family for violating an article of Islamic law (sharia) that doesn’t exist in the Egyptian penal code.
Police arrested Mussa, 22, on April 13 for marrying Sarwat George Ryiad in a customary marriage (zawag al ‘urfi), an unregistered form of matrimony in Egypt made without witnesses. It has gained popularity among Egyptian youth but is not sanctioned by most Islamic scholars.
The two signed a marriage contract between themselves. Only Ryiad and their attorney have a copy. Police have not obtained a copy of the contract, but they used its existence as a pretext for arresting Mussa.
According to a strict interpretation of sharia, Muslim women are not permitted to marry non-Muslim men, although the opposite is allowed, and Article 2 of the Egyptian Constitution stipulates that sharia is the basis for legislation.
The two have not committed a crime according to Egyptian law since they didn’t seek official marriage status, but police and Mussa’s family are pursuing them because they violated Islamic law, advocacy groups say.
“They have not violated the law, but the family and the police are applying their own unwritten law,” said Helmy Guirguis, president of the U.K. Coptic Association. “Islamic law interprets that if a Muslim girl marries a non-Muslim man, even on paper, they are breaking the law of God, not the law of man.”
The two could not get married in an official ceremony since Mussa is considered a Muslim by birth, and changing one’s religious status away from Islam is impossible in Egypt. A lawsuit is pending, however, for a Muslim-born man to change his status on his identity card.
Formerly known as Samr Mohamed Hansen, Mussa converted to Christianity three years ago, before marrying Ryiad. Police arrested her as she came home from her workplace at a Cairo salon. They identified her by the Coptic cross tattoo on her right arm – a common mark among Copts.
She was transferred to a station operated by the secret police, where she stayed until Sunday (April 19), when her family took her. While in their custody, her family completely burned off her cross tattoo, according to the U.K. Coptic Association.
Mussa escaped from them on Tuesday (April 21). She and her husband fled Cairo and are in hiding. If the two are caught, advocates fear, they could be forcibly separated, arrested and beaten, with Mussa being returned to her family.
Sharia influence in Egyptian law also means that Muslims have the right (hisbah) to file a lawsuit against someone who has violated the “rights of God.” This provision, advocates fear, means Mussa and Ryiad’s unsanctioned marriage could make them targets of Muslim extremists wishing to apply the full extent of this law.
The most famous example of hisbah’s application came in 1995, when Cairo University professor Nasr Abuh Zayd was declared an “infidel” and forcibly divorced from his wife for criticizing orthodox views of the Quran.
Ryiad and Mussa were not married in a Coptic ceremony, as many churches avoid marrying registered Muslims to non-Muslims for fear of being targeted by authorities and Islamic extremists.
“Nobody [in Egypt] can declare the marriage of a Coptic man to a Muslim girl,” attorney Naguib Gabriel told Compass. “It would be very dangerous to the life of a priest.”
Mussa and Ryiad’s case is the latest in a spurt of recent arrests and lawsuits against those who don’t adhere to the Islamic-influenced dictum that Muslim women may not marry non-Muslim men.
In October 2008, a Cairo court handed Father Metaos Wahba a five-year prison sentence for issuing a marriage certificate to a Christian man and a Muslim convert to Christianity. He stated that he did not know the woman’s papers stating her religion as “Christian” were a forgery.
Human rights groups have called on Egyptian President Hosny Mubarak to release Fr. Wahba, as Egypt is a signatory to the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which allows full religious freedom, including conversion.
Mussa’s jailing mirrored that of Christian convert Martha Samuel Makkar, 24, detained last December at a Cairo airport for attempting to flee the country with her husband. She was charged with carrying forged documents that listed her religion as Christian and incarcerated for a month.
A judge granted her bail but not before threatening to kill her for leaving Islam (see “Judge Tells of Desire to Kill Christian,” Jan. 27).
Nadia Tawfiq, the lawyer in charge of Makkar’s chase, said many arrests and trials in Egypt result from laws that assign people social status according to the religion on their identity cards.
She said the best hope for change is a May 2 court hearing of Maher El-Gohary, a Muslim-born man who is fighting to have his Christian religion recognized on his official documents. If he succeeds, he would be the first person in the country to be granted that right.
Report from Compass Direct News
The Anglican minister who undertook to perform a much publicized “marriage” ceremony for two of his fellow clergy in a Church of England parish last May has expressed regret for his actions, which were in direct defiance of Church of England rules, and is being let off with a slap on the wrist, reports Thaddeus M. Baklinski, LifeSiteNews.com.
Rev. Dr. Martin Dudley officiated at the homosexual “wedding” of two homosexual clergy at St. Bartholomew the Great church in London, using a slightly modified version of the Church of England’s marriage ceremony. The modified form began, “Dearly beloved, we are gathered together here in the sight of God to join these men in a holy covenant of love and fidelity.”
The ceremony occurred at a particularly sensitive time for the Church of England – in the immediate and heated leadup to the decennial Lambeth Conference, an event that numerous traditional Anglican priests and bishops ultimately boycotted due to the Anglican Church’s increasingly brazen rejection of Christian sexual ethics. Rev. Dudley’s actions were immediately condemned by bishops in the traditional Global South.
The Most Rev. Henry Orombi, the Archbishop of Uganda, called the ceremony “blasphemous” and called on Rowan Williams to take decisive action, warning that the Anglican Church could “disintegrate.” Archbishop Orombi added, “What really shocks me is that this is happening in the Church of England that first brought the Gospel to us.”
The Bishop of London, the Right Rev. Richard Chartres, ordered an investigation into the proceedings, which involved “a series of frank discussions with the Rector,” a diocesan statement issued yesterday said.
In his letter to Dudley, dated 18 Jun 2008, Bishop Chartres said, “You have sought to justify your actions to the BBC and in various newspapers but have failed more than two weeks after the service to communicate with me.”
“The point at issue,” continued the bishop, “is not Civil Partnerships themselves or the relation of biblical teaching to homosexual practice. The real issue is whether you wilfully defied the discipline of the Church and broke your oath of canonical obedience to your Bishop.”
Bishop Chartres concluded by warning Dudley, “St Bartholomew’s is not a personal fiefdom. You serve there as an ordained minister of the Church of England, under the authority of the Canons and as someone who enjoys my licence. I have already asked the Archdeacon of London to commence the investigation and I shall be referring the matter to the Chancellor of the Diocese. Before I do this, I am giving you an opportunity to make representations to me direct.”
In a letter to the bishop dated July 21 but not released publicly until posted on the London diocese web site today, Rev. Dudley promised that he wouldn’t do it again unless church policy changes.
In it Rev. Dudley said: “I regret the embarrassment caused to you by this event and by its subsequent portrayal in the media. I now recognise that I should not have responded positively to the request for this service.”
“I can now appreciate that the service held at St Bartholomew the Great on 31 May 2008 was inconsistent with the terms of the Pastoral Statement from the House of Bishops issued in 2005,” he said.
“Nonetheless, I am willing to abide by its content in the future, until such time as it is rescinded or amended, and I undertake not to provide any form of blessing for same sex couples registering civil partnerships.”
The diocesan statement then concluded that both sides had agreed to put the incident behind them: “As a consequence, the Rector has made expressly clear his regret over what happened at St Bartholomew the Great and accepted the service should not have taken place.
“Bishop Richard considered the matter and has decided to accept the Rector’s apology in full. The matter is therefore now closed.”
Report from the Christian Telegraph
10-year-old says Muslim captors abused her and sister, forced them to convert to Islam.
ISTANBUL, Turkey, October 24 (Compass Direct News) – Lawyers for two underage Christian sisters who were kidnapped plan to renew a custody fight for the older girl, a 13-year-old allegedly coerced into marrying her captor, based on new statements from her 10-year-old sister that they were raped and forced to convert to Islam.
The plans come after the court last month allowed 13-year-old Saba Masih to decide whether to return to her parents or remain with her husband; apparently still terrified from death threats, she chose to remain with her captor. Amjad Ali married Saba Masih shortly after the girls were kidnapped on June 26.
In the Sept. 9 ruling the court ordered the return of her 10-year-old sister, Aneela Masih, to her parents, a move lawyers hail as a rare and significant victory for human rights in Pakistan.
Since her release Aneela Masih has told her uncle, Khalid Raheel, previously unknown details of the sisters’ capture, including rape and forced conversion to Islam, according to the Centre for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS).
Aneela Masih told Raheel that she and her sister were kidnapped when they stopped to buy fruit en route to their uncle’s home. The sisters were taken away by taxi and then raped, she said. After being tied up and locked in a room, she told him, the two were forced to make professions of Islamic faith.
She described how the pistol-toting captors threatened the girls with death. The kidnappers told the girls that their parents would also be killed, she said, if the sisters did not do everything asked of them.
“These poor little kids, they threatened them,” said Akbar Durrani, a lawyer from CLAAS who fought in court on the sisters’ behalf. “They were terrified. She said they were terrified.”
In light of these revelations, Durrani said he plans to file a new custody case for Saba Masih based on their abduction. This move, however, could jeopardize progress gained in the legal quest to free the sisters from their captors.
“The court statement never mentioned kidnapping,” Durrani said. “We are still working on it, because the Supreme Court may say to us, ‘We will reverse the position, get both the girls back and hear the case afresh.’”
Avoiding this scenario while convincing the court to allow further proceedings is the challenge Durrani now faces.
Saba Masih’s insistence that her age is 17 and that her conversion to Islam was real will also make regaining custody of her extremely difficult, according to lawyer Rashid Rehman of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. Rehman also represented the girls’ family in the case.
Saba Masih’s husband, Ali, had obtained the backing of a medical committee possibly under pressure from Islamic groups in his claim that she was 17 and thus of legal age. He also claimed that her conversion removed her from the jurisdiction of her father.
It was a branch of the Lahore High Court in Multan that ruled on Sept. 9 that Aneela Masih should be handed back to her parents. When Saba Masih, whose birth certificate indicates that she is 13 but who testified that she was 17, said she did not want to return to her parents, she also tried to keep her younger sister from returning to them. Attorneys said the Muslim kidnappers had repeatedly threatened the girls that their parents would harm them if they returned.
Throughout the case the girls’ uncle, Raheel, who has spearheaded the campaign to free the girls, has received death threats from supporters of Ali, he told Compass by telephone this week. With a tired voice, he said that he remains determined to explore every avenue to return Saba Masih to her parents.
“They are threatening me also, because I was proving the case,” he said. “They tell me also that if I keep on doing like this one day they will shoot me. I said, ‘Okay, no problem, you shoot me, but up to now I am alive. I will look after Saba. I will find her someday.’”
Various options remain open to CLAAS. The group’s lawyers are seeking advice from three local deputy inspector generals about how they should proceed.
“[We] can file a private complaint in the court of magistrate if a FIR [First Information Report] about kidnapping is not registered,” Durrani said. “If we are not getting any relief from this side, we will go to the Supreme Court.”
Lawyers told Compass that the court ruling for the return of the younger sister to her Christian parents, despite questions over her conversion to Islam, was an unusual decision and a significant victory for human rights in Pakistan.
“We have two or three cases in Islamabad [where] the judges did not allow minor girls to be given back to their parents,” Durrani said. “So in this context it was very important to at least get Aneela back.”
Report from Compass Direct News