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Islamic extremist Boko Haram sect attacks churches in Borno, Plateau states.
LAGOS, Nigeria, December 28 (CDN) — Tensions continued to mount in the Christian community in Maiduguri, capital of Borno state in northern Nigeria, following the killing of a Baptist pastor and five other Christians on Christmas Eve.
The Rev. Bulus Marwa and the other Christians were killed in the Dec. 24 attacks on Victory Baptist Church in Alemderi and a Church of Christ in Nigeria (COCIN) congregation in Sinimari by the outlawed Islamic Boko Haram sect opposed to Western education.
Those killed at the Baptist church, which was set ablaze, included choir members Philip Luka, 22, and Paul Mathew, 21, as well as 50-year-old Christopher Balami and Yohana Adamu. Philip Sopso, a 60-year-old a security guard, was killed at the COCIN church while 25 other persons were said to have been injured during the serial attacks by the Islamic group.
“It is sad that when Christians were supposed to be celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, some people, out of wickedness, would come to perpetrate such evil,” said Borno State Chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria the Rev. Yuguda Ndirmva.
The Boko Haram members reportedly first stormed the COCIN church in two vehicles and detonated bombs that shattered the gate of the worship center and killed the security guard.
Many Christians have taken refuge to avoid further attacks as soldiers and police keep watch at churches and other strategic locations in the state.
Danjuma Akawu, who survived the attack on the Baptist church, said “they hacked the two choir members using knives and petrol bomb before heading to the pastor’s residence, where he was killed.”
Borno Gov. Ali Modu Sheriff said he had alerted police to the possibility of an attack on churches during Christmas.
“It is very unfortunate and sad for the Christian community to be attacked and people killed without any genuine cause,” Sheriff said.
Speaking during a visit to the Baptist church on Saturday (Dec. 25), the governor noted that the attack on the Christian community was an attempt by Boko Haram to create conflict between Christians and Muslims in the state. Several Boko Haram bomb blasts in Christian areas of Jos on Dec. 24 that killed scores of people were said to be an attempt to create the same inter-religious conflict.
Borno state, in northeastern Nigeria, is largely populated by Muslims who have disowned some activities of Boko Haram as contrary to Islam.
Police Commissioner Mohammed Abubakar admitted a security lapse on the part of his divisional police officers, whom he said had been told to watch out for Boko Haram members.
The activities of the Islamic extremist Boko Haram, whose names means “Western education is sin,” were crushed by police in 2009 with the arrest of many of its members and the killing of its leader.
In retaliation, the group had killed policemen and was recently responsible for a prison break to set free its members in the Borno state capital.
Worried about the safety of Christians in Borno state, the president of the Christian Association of Nigeria, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, asked the federal government to curb the growing trend of terrorism in parts of the country.
“We can no longer allow this group of disgruntled elements to get away with these acts of terrorism in Nigeria,” he said.
The general superintendent of Deeper Life Bible Church, Pastor William Kumuyi, demanded the arrest and prosecution of the Boko Haram members and others to serve as a deterrent.
“A situation in which feuds easily lead to the burning of churches and the endless killings of church ministers and innocent citizens is an abhorrent trend which must not be allowed to continue,” Pastor Kumuyi said. “The initiative rests on the doorsteps of the security agencies to bring this unfortunate trend to an end.”
Report from Compass Direct News
Messianic Jews hope for punishment from courts, mercy from God, for confessed killer.
ISTANBUL, November 13 (CDN) — One morning during the week of March 10, 2008 in Ariel, Israel, David Ortiz opened his Bible randomly, read the words on the pages that opened before him and was filled with dread.
“I opened the book to Jeremiah, and a verse jumped out, “Ortiz said, referring to Jeremiah 9:21: “Death has climbed in through our windows and has entered our fortresses; it has cut off the children from the streets and the young men from the public squares.”
“I was afraid,” he said. “It was given to me like a promise, but of a different kind.”
For weeks, Ortiz had felt a premonition that something horrible was going to happen to him or his family. Six months prior, while in Norway, Ortiz watched a violent storm rip over the countryside. The wind tore out trees and threw them across a field. But still, through it all, some trees survived. Ortiz felt God was using the storm to speak to him.
“The ones that are rooted are the ones that remain,” he said.
On March 20, 2008, Ortiz’s fears came to pass. When his 15-year-old son lifted the lid of a Purim basket, left anonymously as a gift at their Ariel apartment, a bomb inside the basket exploded.
The bomb was devastating. It damaged the Ortiz family apartment and destroyed much of what they owned. When young Ami Ortiz was taken to the hospital, he was blind, covered with blood and burns and full of needles and screws contained in the bomb. The doctors told his mother, Leah Ortiz, that Ami was “Anush.”
“Literally, in Hebrew it means the spirit is leaving the body,” she said.
Now, 20 months later, Ami is 16, back in school and playing basketball. And yesterday the man that police say committed the crime was indicted for attempted murder.
Other than what has been released in court proceedings, little is known about Jack Teitel, the man accused of bombing the Ortiz family. One thing is certain – he believes he was acting in accordance with the will of God. Walking into court, the 37-year-old, U.S.-born West Bank settler shouted that God was proud of him.
“It was a pleasure and honor to serve my God,” Teitel reportedly said. “God is proud of what I have done. I have no regrets.”
Police said that Teitel is an ultra-Orthodox Jewish nationalist who picked out his targets based on his nationalist philosophy. Along with the Ortiz case, police said Teitel is responsible for the June 1997 shooting death of Samir Bablisi, a Palestinian taxi driver who was found in his cab with a single bullet wound to his head. Two months later, police said, Teitel shot Isa Jabarin, a Palestinian shepherd who was giving Teitel driving directions to Jerusalem.
Police also said that Teitel attempted to burn down a monastery and unsuccessfully planted several bombs. He is also accused of the September 2008 bombing of Zeev Sternhell of Hebrew University in Jerusalem. The bombing left the emeritus history professor slightly wounded.
Teitel has told police he was trying to kill David Ortiz, pastor of a church of Messianic Jews called Congregation of Ariel, not injure his son.
In all, Teitel has been indicted for two cases of pre-meditated murder, three cases of attempted murder, carrying a weapon, manufacturing a weapon, possession of illegal weapons and incitement to commit violence.
Adi Keidar, Teitel’s attorney, reportedly said his client is “mentally unstable.” He cited Teitel’s alleged confession to acts he did not commit. After a psychiatric evaluation by the state, Teitel was deemed fit to stand trial. Keidar is representing Teitel or behalf of the Honenu organization, a nationalistic law firm endorsed by Mordechai Eliyahu, a rabbi known for his far-right Orthodox views.
Honenu is known for defending, among others, Ami Popper. Popper was convicted in 1990 for shooting seven Palestinian workers who were waiting for a ride at a day labor pick-up site. Popper’s attack, like all others cited in Honenu’s website, was said to come “in response” to Palestinian aggression. Despite numerous attempts to contact Keidar, he could not be reached for comment.
David Ortiz said he is not surprised by Teitel’s claim that God is proud of him. Ortiz cited biblical verses where the early Christians were warned that one day people would kill them and think that they were doing the will of God. Teitel, Ortiz said, saw him as an enemy of the nation of Israel.
“He saw me and the professor as false prophets,” Ortiz said.
Police have brought no evidence linking Teitel to any other co-conspirator. But Leah Ortiz said she thinks Teitel worked with others. Teitel’s neighbor, Yosef Espinoza, was brought in for questioning and later released. Teitel does not speak Hebrew, but when he was arrested he was distributing handouts written in Hebrew criticizing homosexuals in Israel.
When his apartment was raided, police found a cache of illegal weapons he has been indicted for owning. Ortiz also said that a recording tape from a closed-circuit television camera taken on the day of the bombing shows Teitel was driven to the Ortiz apartment by another person.
Regardless, Leah Ortiz scoffs at the claim that Teitel was politically motivated. Instead, she said, he used politics and religion as a foil to justify murder.
“He is a serial killer,” she said.
In spite of all the pain that the Ortiz family has gone through, Leah Ortiz said she has seen much good come from the tragedy, including miraculous healings. She said that the bombing has helped soften the opinion of people in Israel toward Jews who believe that Jesus is the Messiah promised by the Jewish prophets.
“It has made them face the facts of how they see Jesus,” she said.
Howard Bass, a leader of a Messianic congregation in Beer Sheva, Israel, said he isn’t so sure.
“It’s not that simple,” he said, adding that such attacks may help tolerant people to eschew violence, but that others will actually be encouraged by the bombings. “It makes people aware of how far they [people set against the Messianic Jews] will be willing to go and abhor them. It’s bringing things to light and forcing people to make a decision: What is good and what is evil?”
Bass himself was a victim of at least one attack by anti-missionary, Orthodox extremists. On Dec. 24, 2005, several hundred Orthodox Jews mobbed an outdoor service held by Bass. The mob destroyed church equipment, terrorized congregants and threw Bass into a baptismal pool.
Bass has since sued Yad L’Achim, an Orthodox, anti-missionary organization he said is responsible for inciting the attack. A court decision in the case is due later this month.
On its website, Yad L’Achim asserts that missionaries are “devious” and are trying to “destroy the Jewish people.” The organization makes no distinction in its website between missionaries and Messianic Jews. The site also goes as far as to accuse Messianic Jews of “playing the victim to the hilt” in reference to the Ortiz bombing.
Despite numerous attempts to reach members of Yad L’Achim, no one was made available for comment.
According to the International Religious Freedom Report 2009 issued by the U.S. Department of State, there are 10,000 Messianic Jews in Israel. The report documents several cases of violence against Messianic Jews, including one case on May 15 in which “Ultra-Orthodox residents of the Tel Aviv suburb of Rehovot attacked and beat a group of Messianic Jews who were handing out New Testament pamphlets on the street.”
Additionally, Bass cites a book published this week in Israel entitled, “The King’s Torah.” Bass said the book encourages the killing of gentiles and anyone else deemed to be a threat to Israel.
“We’re seeing a spirit rising,” Bass said, “where they feel they have a legitimate right to kill anyone who threatens the Jewish state.”
Mentioning the book, David Ortiz agreed with Bass, calling the bombing and recent anti-Christian aggression “a shadow of things to come.”
As for what the Ortiz family wishes for Teitel, Leah Ortiz said she hopes he will receive a sentence that is “equal to his crime.” Because Israel has no death penalty, this very likely would mean life in prison.
Regardless of what happens in court, members of the Ortiz family say they have forgiven Teitel. David Ortiz hopes one day to sit down face-to-face with Teitel and talk. He said he hopes Teitel will become another Apostle Paul.
“There is something inside him that makes him want to kill people. If God has had mercy on me, maybe he’ll have mercy on others,” Ortiz said. “The Lord forgave David and many people in the Bible – my goal and my prayer for him is that he will repent and be saved.”
Report from Compass Direct News
Recent Incidents of Persecution
Karnataka, May 19 (Compass Direct News) – Police on May 12 arrested Christians in Chennarayapatna, Hassan district on trumped-up charges of fraudulent conversions after a group of Hindu extremists attacked them. The Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) reported that at 3 p.m. nearly 25 assailants led by a Hindu extremist identified only as Lokesh barged into Sidda Vinayaka School, where members of Every Home Crusade ministry were holding a prayer meeting. The attackers beat pastors K.K. Ramesh and P.S. Anjaneya and falsely accused them of fraudulent conversion; the intolerant Hindus also snatched Bibles and hymnals, piled them up and burned them. A GCIC regional coordinator told Compass that three Christians identified only as 25-year-old Sangarasimha, 35-year-old Calton and Manjunath were beaten as they tried to protect women present. Manjunath was bleeding from his ear and from cuts on his face. Officers from the Chennarayapatna police station arrived at around 4 p.m. and, as is customary in India, arrested the victims of the attack. Along with Sangarasimha, Calton and Manjunath, officers took K.K. Ramesh and P.S. Anjaneya to a police station, and only with GCIC intervention were they released without charges that night at 10:45 p.m.
Orissa – Hindu extremists attacked Christians in Mondakai relief camp on May 11 in Kandhamal. The Global Council of Indian Christians reported that, under cover of darkness, extremists beating drums and chanting Hindu devotionals tried to enter the camp where about 1,500 Christian refugees have stayed since last August’s anti-Christian violence. The Hindu hardliners attacked Swasti Nayak, a Christian who was standing near the camp’s main gate, leaving him with minor injuries. Police patrolling the camp intervened soon after, keeping the crowd of attackers at bay. Christian leaders met with state authorities to demand additional police protection. At press time, no additional forces were deployed.
Manipur – Alleged Hindu nationalists burned two church buildings in Phumlou and Phayeng on May 10 and another in Taolong on May 11. The Evangelical Fellowship of India reported that at about 10:40 p.m. on May 10, a newly organized group attacked the Baptist and Catholic churches in Phumlou and Phayeng and the next day attacked the Evangelical Churches Association building in Taolong. Gutted in the fire were parts of the buildings and furniture, pulpits, curtains, mats, microphones and sound system speakers. Madhu Chandra, general secretary of the All India Christian Council, told Compass, “A Hindutva-like communal force is suspected to be behind the serial attacks on churches targeting the Meitei Christians. We have submitted a memorandum to the state’s chief minister expressing our concern and to take appropriate action.” Police registered a First Information Report but no arrests had been made at press time.
Jammu and Kashmir – Police in Plaura on May 10 stopped Sunday worship and arrested pastor Virender Joseph and a church member identified only as Eddie, booking them for “suspicious persons roaming around” under section 109 of the Police Act. A Compass contact said officers took the two Christians to the police station and baselessly accused them of harassing people and creating problems in society because of their faith. The Christians were released on bail the next day. Waris Gill, president of the Jammu chapter of the Christian Legal Association, told Compass that the two Christians will appear in court on June 2. “Arresting the two innocent Christians on baseless grounds,” he added, “is simply an abuse of power by the state police.”
Tamil Nadu – On May 8 members of the Hindu extremist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh interrupted a Good Shepherd Community Church screening of the “Jesus Film” and accused pastor Kandha Swamy of forceful conversion in Erode district. The All Indian Christian Council (AICC) reported that the attackers, led by an extremist identified only as Murgesab, barged into the house of the pastor, verbally abused him and warned him to vacate his house. Police arrived during the middle of the film and took all equipment, including a ministry team vehicle, to the police station. Moses Vatipalli of the AICC told Compass that due to the police pressure, the assailants and the victims reached an agreement whereby the Christians stated in writing that they must obtain permission from police prior to any Christian activities in the area.
Madhya Pradesh – Police arrested five Christian workers on charges of forceful conversion on May 7 in Narshinghpur. The Evangelical Fellowship of India reported that five Christian guests from Jeevan Lal Church and Campus Crusade for Christ were invited to a home for Bible study when Hindu extremists shouting Hindu devotional slogans stormed in. The assailants beat the visitors, including Melar Selwan, who sustained a broken arm. Police arrived and, as is customary in India, took the five victims to Amgaon police station. Both parties filed police complaints, but the Christians were arrested under Section 295(A) of the Indian Penal Code for “malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings or any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs.” The Christians were released on bail the next day.
Maharashtra – About 30 Hindu hardliners who are followers of Swami Narendra Maharaj on May 5 attacked a revival meeting, injuring 10 Christians, including a 5-year-old girl at Damodar Hall, Nalasopara (east), Mumbai. The Hindustan Times reported that at 1 p.m. the extremists broke into a meeting organized by the Vasai Taluka Christian Pastors Association, locked the doors and windows of the hall and forced the Christians to chant “Jai Shri Ram (Praise Lord Ram).” Those who refused were beaten. Pastor James Samuel received hospital treatment for head wounds, while 10 others including the young girl were left with bruises. Police have arrested Sanjay Keer, his wife Sushma, Deepak Vairagade, Pramod Viraskar and Rajesh Kanade, all followers of Narendra Maharaj. The extremists were arrested and charged with rioting, unlawful assembly and voluntarily causing grievous hurt. Dr. Abraham Mathai, vice chairman of the state minorities commission, told Compass that a plainclothes constable from the Nalasopara police station “led the mob attack on a Christian prayer meeting, and this reflects poorly on the secular principles of our police force.”
Andhra Pradesh – Hindu extremists on May 4 set ablaze Holy Spirit Church in Warrangal, resulting in property damages of 100,000 rupees (US$2,061). The All Indian Christian Council reported that at around 2 a.m. the attackers broke down the door and burned the church building from the inside, destroying it and furniture, Bibles, gospel literature, the sound system and carpets. Area church leaders filed a police complaint. Pastor Emaddi Clinton told Compass that the church was completely burned down. At press time a police investigation was underway.
Chhattisgarh – Members of the Hindu extremist Bajrang Dal, youth wing of the World Hindu Council, on May 3 attacked a youth prayer meeting led by a Christian woman, Neeshi Nath, in Bilaspur, a source told Compass. At the evening meeting, the intolerant Hindus burned Bibles and gospel tracts, broke household goods and threatened further harm if those present continued Christian activities. The Christians filed a police complaint, and officers registered a First Information Report at Koni police station. No arrests had been made at press time.
Himachal Pradesh – In Salon, Hindu hardliners on May 1 attacked and threatened pastor Suresh Masih Bhatti of the Believers’ Church as he was working in the Subhathu area. A church representative told Compass that about six extremists led by Sunil Sheena stopped the pastor after he had visited church members’ homes. The intolerant Hindus accused the pastor of forceful conversion, beat him and threatened further harm if he conducted future Christian meetings. The pastor filed a police complaint, and officers registered a First Information Report against the attackers. The Rev. Biju Solomon of Believers’ Church in Salon told Compass that there was no attempted forcible conversion. “Hindu extremist Sunil Sheena made a public apology to the pastor and gave in writing that he would not repeat such things in future,” he added.
Chhattisgarh – Members of the Chhattisgarh Sikh Youth Association on April 30 beat Jaspal Singh Saluja in Shyamnagar for converting to Christianity, according to a Compass contact. The extremists barged into Saluja’s house at about 10 p.m. and assaulted him, also damaging furniture and household goods. The Christian received minor injuries. Saying he forgave the Hindu extremists, Saluja opted not to file charges against them.
Jammu and Kashmir – A 70-year-old pastor in Bashi Nagar village who was arrested on April 8 after a flurry of false accusations, from kidnapping to fraudulent conversion, was reportedly tortured while in custody. By the time radical Hindus had persuaded police to arrest A.K. Captain Samuel, officers were claiming the pastor of a 350-member church was a terrorist. Eventually police charged him under Section 153(A) of the Ranbir Penal Code for “promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion and doing acts prejudiced to maintenance of harmony.” Marcus Gill, president of the Jammu and Kashmir Christian Forum, told media that there was no case for fraudulent conversion, adding, “We condemn the arrest of the pastor, who is innocent . . . He was falsely accused and arrested without any proof.” Christians in Jammu said the incident was part of a larger targeting of the Christian community. With police ordering him to halt his evangelistic efforts, Samuel was released on bail on May 14 on the condition that he leave Jammu. At press time, he had relocated to the state of Punjab but was expected to appear in court again on May 25.
Report from Compass Direct News
Assailant influenced by TV series defaming Christian missionaries.
ISTANBUL, January 12 (Compass Direct News) – A judge in Turkey sentenced a 19-year-old Muslim to four-and-a-half years in prison on Jan. 5 for stabbing a Catholic priest in the coastal city of Izmir in December 2007.
Ramazan Bay, then 17, had met with Father Adriano Franchini, a 65-year-old Italian and long-term resident of Turkey, after expressing an interest in Christianity following mass at St. Anthony church. During their conversation, Bay became irritated and pulled out a knife, stabbing the priest in the stomach.
Fr. Franchini was hospitalized but released the next day as his wounds were not critical.
Bay, originally from Balikesir 90 miles north of Izmir, reportedly said he was influenced by an episode of the TV serial drama “Kurtlar Vadisi” (“Valley of the Wolves”). The series caricatures Christian missionaries as political “infiltrators” who pay poor families to convert to Christianity.
“Valley of the Wolves” also played a role in a foiled attack on another Christian leader in December 2007. Murat Tabuk reportedly admitted under police interrogation that the popular ultra-nationalist show had inspired him to plan the murder of Antalya pastor Ramazan Arkan. The plan was thwarted, with the pastor receiving armed police protection and Antalya’s anti-terrorism police bureau ordering plainclothes guards to accompany him.
Together with 20 other Protestant church leaders, Arkan on Dec. 3, 2007 filed a formal complaint with the Istanbul State Prosecutor’s office protesting “Valley of the Wolves” for “presenting them as a terrorist group and broadcasting scenes making them an open target.”
The series has portrayed Christians as selling body parts, being involved in mafia activities and prostitution and working as enemies of society in order to spread the Christian faith.
“The result has been innumerable, direct threats, attacks against places of worship and eventually, the live slaughter of three innocent Christians in Malatya,” the complaint stated.
The Protestant leaders demanded that Show TV and the producers of “Valley of the Wolves” be prosecuted under sections 115, 214, 215, 216 and 288 of the Turkish penal code for spreading false information and inciting violence against Christians.
The past three years saw six separate attacks on priests working across the country, the most serious of which resulted in the death of Father Andreas Santoro in Trabzon. As with Fr. Franchini, many of the attacks were coupled with accusations of subversion and “proselytizing.”
Although a secular republic, Turkey has a strong nationalistic identity of which Islam is an integral part.
Television shows such as “Valley of the Wolves” may not be the norm, but the recent publication of a state high school textbook in which “missionary activity” is also characterized as destructive and dangerous has raised questions about Turkey’s commitment to addressing prejudice and discrimination.
“While there is a general attitude [of antipathy], I think that the state feeds into it and propagates it,” said a spokesperson for the Alliance of Protestant Churches of Turkey (TEK). “If the State took a more accepting and more tolerant attitude I think the general attitude would change too.”
At the end of 2007 TEK issued a summery of the human rights violations that their members had suffered that year. As part of a concluding appeal they urged the state to stop an “indoctrination campaign” aimed at vilifying the Christian community.
TEK will soon release its rights violations summery for 2008, and it is likely that a similar plea will be made.
“There is police protection, and they have caught some people,” the TEK spokesperson said. “There is an active part of the state trying to prevent things, but the way it is done very much depends on the situation and how at that moment the government is feeling as far as putting across a diplomatic and political statement. There is hypocrisy in it.”
A survey carried out in 2005 by the Pew Global Attitudes Project also suggested a distinctly negative attitude towards Christians among Turks, with 63 percent describing their view of Christians as “unfavorable,” the highest rate among countries surveyed.
Niyazi Oktem, professor of law at Bilgi University and president of a prominent inter-faith organization in Turkey called the Intercultural Dialogue Platform, said that while the government could do more to secure religious freedom, he would not characterize Turkish sentiment towards Christians as negative.
“I can say that general Turkish feeling towards the Christian religion is not hostile,” said Oktem. “There could be, of course, some exceptions, but this is also the case in Christian countries towards Islam.”
Report from Compass Direct News
Lawyers try to put financial pressure on husband to secure 13-year-old girl’s release.
ISTANBUL, December 16 (Compass Direct News) – After a judge yesterday placed new financial and social pressure on the captors of a Pakistani girl who was kidnapped and converted to Islam, attorneys have guarded optimism they can return her to custody of her Christian parents.
Judge Malik Saeed Ijaz ordered the girl’s husband, Amjad Ali, to pay a dowry of 100,000 rupees (US$1,275) and allow her parents visitation rights, two actions required by typical Pakistani marriage protocol. At press time he had done neither.
The judge gave Saba Masih, 13, the opportunity to talk with her family during yesterday’s hearing, but she remained mostly silent behind her veil, offering only blunt replies.
“I don’t want to see my parents. They are Christians and I am a Muslim,” she said, according to her parents’ attorney.
Her younger sister Aneela Masih, who was also kidnapped but returned to her family three months ago, pleaded with her older sister to return home. The 10-year-old told her that Christmas was coming and she didn’t want her sister to spend it with those “who are not our people.”
Saba Masih appeared at the Multan branch of Lahore’s High Court yesterday along with her Muslim husband and his family. Her parents filed a contempt petition last month against her captors for failing to follow Pakistani marriage protocol.
Islamic law (sharia), however, gives a wife the right to relinquish a dowry. Lawyers said they fear that the Muslim family will pressure Saba Masih to claim this right in order to offset growing financial pressure.
Lawyers hope that if her mother can visit her, it will convince her to leave her husband and come home to the family; her family believes he has threatened her with violence if she attempts to rejoin them.
At Monday’s hearing, Saba Masih still appeared reluctant to return to her family. Relatives said they were praying that she would change her mind and that the captors would lose their influence over her.
“The main thing is Saba must be ready herself to come back,” said her uncle, Khalid Raheel, the family spokesman. “But she isn’t ready to come back yet, and I don’t know how they are convincing her.”
On Wednesday (Dec. 17) the judge is expected to adjourn the case and issue a deed requiring Ali to pay the dowry at the convenience of the Masih family. The judge yesterday threatened Ali with prison time if he failed to carry out this order.
Akbar Durrani, attorney for the Centre for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS), said the attorneys might try to use Aneela Masih’s testimony of kidnapping to take the case to the Supreme Court if other options fail.
The Christian family’s lawyer said the attempt to force Ali to pay a dowry was a tactic to mount financial pressure on Saba Masih’s husband and to convince her to return home. Her family and their lawyers believe she has stayed with her Muslim husband because he and his family have issued death threats.
The Christian family’s chances of winning run against the judicial status quo for Pakistani religious minorities, but the new push comes after a Sept. 9 ruling that returned Aneela Masih to her parents, a rare legal victory for non-Muslims.
“We filed this [contempt] petition so she would come into the court, see her family and hopefully change her statement,” said Durrani of CLAAS. “We also want to put pressure on the Muslim family members because they are afraid of litigation, since they have to pay all these legal expenses.”
Aneela and Saba Masih were kidnapped on June 26 while traveling to visit their uncle in Sarwar Shaheed, northwest of Multan. Their parents say local fruit vendor Muhammad Arif Bajwa and three others kidnapped them in Chawk Munda, a small town in south Punjab.
Saba Masih was married to Ali the next day. Bajwa and Ali registered a case with the police on June 28 for custody of the girls based on their alleged conversion to Islam.
Local residents regard the men as serial kidnappers with connections to a human trafficking ring. The girls’ first defense attorney believed they could have been raped and sold to a brothel.
Ironically, attorneys said, the kidnappers’ alleged desire to exploit Saba Masih may now be the best hope of her returning to her parents, as keeping her has become not lucrative but increasingly costly with court hearings continuing and legal fees multiplying.
“These [kidnappers] don’t have an emotional link to Saba,” Durrani told Compass by phone. “They are in the business of prostitution and only wanted to use these girls for their business.”
Prosecuting attorneys said they have a growing optimism that they can regain custody of Saba Masih, something they thought unlikely two months ago.
Long, Hard Battle
In previous hearings, a judge allowed Saba Masih to choose whether or not she would return to her family, even though Pakistan marriage law requires the approval of legal guardians at the age of 16.
The judge determined that her age was 17 based on her testimony and a report by a medical board pressured by Muslim groups to inflate her age. He did not accept as evidence her birth certificate and baptismal record that showed her age as 13.
Younis Masih and his wife first saw their daughters after their kidnapping at a July hearing. The girls were in the company of 16 Muslims and were said to be under pressure to claim they had converted to Islam.
After Aneela Masih returned to her family in September, she claimed that their captors threatened to kill them and their family if they did not do everything asked of them.
Previously it had been reported that she was raped while in captivity, but there was no medical evidence that she was sexually abused or manhandled, lawyers said.
Her sister appears to be suffering, Durrani said.
“The family has told us that Saba Masih is not in good condition – most of the time she cries and is not satisfied there,” Durrani said.
Kidnapping of Christians in the Muslim-majority nation of 170 million is not uncommon. Many captors believe they will not be convicted if caught due to the penal code’s influence by sharia, which grants non-Muslims second-class status in society.
Every year there are cases of Pakistani Christian children kidnapped, killed or exploited by those who believe their parents are powerless.
Last month a Muslim family in Nankan kidnapped the 7-year-old son of Pakistani Christian Binyamin Yusef, 30, over a land dispute. Two days later police found his son’s body, which showed signs of torture and rape.
Police did not register the case when Yusef initially approached them. CLAAS representatives hope to open court action against the alleged perpetrators.
Report from Compass Direct News