Police in Muslim-majority nation suspected of corruption.
ISTANBUL, April 10 (Compass Direct News) – Police have declared three Pakistani men innocent of raping a 13-year-old Christian girl despite eye witness accounts and medical evidence indicating their guilt.
At a hearing in Nankana Sahib district court on April 3, police from the Pakistani town of Sangla Hill, 64 miles from Lahore, cleared 40-year-old Mohammed Shahbaz, 30-year-old Waqas Sadiq and 25-year-old Yousaf Sadiq of accusations of raping and threatening Ambreen Masih.
Shahbaz was the only suspect to attend the hearing, which was initially called to discuss terms of his pre-arrest bail. But Judge Ijaz Hussan Awan said he couldn’t set terms for bail if police didn’t want to arrest or detain him.
“In Pakistan it has always been like this – the wealthy person can approach the police and change the course of an investigation,” said prosecuting attorney Akbar Durrani. “Regarding Christians, they cannot put any pressure on the police for a fair investigation.”
Ambreen and her family accuse Waqas Sadiq and Yousaf Sadiq of kidnapping her and taking her to their family residence. The Masihs accuse the two men and Shahbaz of repeatedly raping her, releasing her after two hours and threatening to kill her if she informed authorities.
The three men, along with a relative, 25-year-old Zahid Riyasat, allegedly kidnapped her a second time on Feb. 5. When her parents started to worry about her absence, her father, Munir Masih, organized a search party with other local Christians. They found the three suspects at the house of the Sadiqs’ father, raping her at gunpoint, according to a First Instance Report (FIR).
As the search party approached the four suspects, the accused fired warning shots into the air and then ran away, Munir Masih said in the report.
Ambreen then returned home with her family. She said that when the captors originally abducted her, they said, “We will kill your parents if you tell them this.”
On Feb. 6 Masih obtained permission from the judicial magistrate of Sangla Hill for an official medical examination of Ambreen, which established that she had been raped. Her parents sought police to file charges against the three men, but officers responded only after CLAAS prompted them to open a case.
After police declared the three men innocent following their investigation, lawyers representing Masih accused family members of the suspects of bribing police.
“In that village, Christians are nothing for the Muslims, they make them work for them and sometimes make them work without paying them,” said CLAAS field worker Katherine Sapna.
The three accused men are part of a wealthy family of land owners in Sangla Hill. Ambreen comes from a poor background and has seven siblings. Her father works as a day laborer, and Ambreen and two of her sisters work as domestic servants.
Attorney Durrani has appealed to the Lahore High Court to put different police officers on the investigation. Although local police declared the three suspects innocent at the April 3 hearing, they did not deny that Ambreen had been raped. But the police did not suggest any other suspects, Durrani told Compass.
Around 60 Christian families live in Sangla Hill, located near the industrial city of Sheikupura, northwest of Lahore.
Police reluctance to prosecute crimes against Christians in Pakistan also has hampered Samson Joseph, attorney for the family of Adeel Masih, a 19-year-old Pakistani Christian believed to be the victim of an “honor killing” by two Muslims.
On April 1 the Sessions Court in Gujranwala held a hearing in which police declared the suspects innocent.
Masih was found dead in May 2008 in Hafizabad. Police originally declared his death a suicide, but his family and human rights lawyers believe relatives of a 19-year-old Muslim woman, Kiran Irfan, with whom Masih had a one-year relationship, tortured and killed him.
District police arrested her father, Mohammed Irfan, and her uncle, Muhammad Riasat, in July 2008 – two months after Masih’s family went to Gujranwala police, who initially declined to charge Irfan’s family with any crimes and effectively declared them innocent. A high inspector has reopened the case and taken the two suspects into custody.
Sapna of CLAAS said the case has taken its toll on the family of Adeel Masih, whose father is suffering psychological problems from the apparent murder.
Marriage between Christian men and Muslim women is forbidden according to a strict interpretation of sharia (Islamic law), and even social contacts such as these can incite violent reactions in Pakistan, a majority-Muslim nation of 170 million.
Report from Compass Direct News