Lahore: March 10, 2018. (PCP) When a 12-year-old Christian girl named Elisha in Pakistan went missing after leaving her home to go shopping 27th November 2017, her elder sister Rimsha (16 yrs) informed her parents Rubina (35 yrs) and Iqbal Masih (40 yrs) who immediately excused themselves from their work as domestic servants to search for her.
That same afternoon after a frantic search of their whole colony they discovered through a neighbour that their daughter had been abducted by a Muslim man over twice her age named Sagheer Ismael (25 yrs). Alarmed by this news a hysterical Iqbal Masih headed straight for the home of Mohammed Ismael the father of Sagheer, who lived in the same colony, to demand the return of his daughter.
Iqbal met with Mohammed Ismael and explained that witnesses had seen Sagheer abduct his daughter forcibly and that he would inform local police unless she was returned immediately.
Mohammed Ismael however after initial shock at the actions of his son turned defensive. He warned Iqbal Masih that he would do nothing to resolve the matter, stating that his son was a 'good Muslim' and anything he done would be right before Allah.
Mohammed Ismael told Iqbal that if he turned up at his door again that he would lay blasphemy charges against his whole family and forced him out of his home.
That evening, Iqbal went to the Khanna police station, Islamabad with the elders of his family including his cousins Sarwar Sultan, and Munawar Sultan and tried to report the abduction of his daughter.
In usual fashion the local police refused to register any FIR against Mohammad Ismael and Sagheer and instead asked them to return to the station the next morning, stating they would make some inquiries. Iqbal Masih could not rest till his daughter was returned to him, he described to BPCA how he tossed and turned all night, slipping in and out of fits of panic, and weeping in gut-wrenching despair.
The next morning (28th November 2017) a police officer arrived at their home along with Nikkah Namah (marriage certificate) and told Iqbal Masih that there was no need to register an FIR for kidnapping as your daughter has embraced Islam and is married to Muhammad Sagheer now. "She has even accepted a new Muslim name and is now called Maryam", said the confident police officer.
After a long moment of despairing silence an enraged Iqbal Masih challenged the veracity of the conversion explaining his daughter was a committed Christian and could never adopt Islam by choice. The police officer however looked at Iqbal Masih as if he was a fool and said 'Islam is the most glorious of religions how dare you insult our faith. Next time I will arrest you for such insolence'. He then walked out of Iqbal Masih's home.
Despite his fear Iqbal Masih continued to appeal for an investigation into the abduction of his daughter but for 12 days, the police supported the opponent party and failed to register an FIR. It is not known if the apathy towards Iqbal Masih was due to religious intolerance or because of payment of a bribe, however the police were very dismissive.
Iqbal Masih, said: "I was becoming very despondent, my daughter would never willingly take up Islam, moreover it is against law for a minor under 14 years to be legally married. Despite obvious flaws in the culprits’ alibi, evidence pointed to an illegal abduction, but the police ignored us and threatened to arrest me several times.
"We even presented the birth certificate of Elisha which clearly illustrated that she is just 12. Every time we did so the police laughed at us telling us that as poor Christians we should be grateful to Mohammad Ismael - your daughter is now part of a very respected Muslim family".
Rubina and Iqbal told how the two of them cried together often and set about praying to God for his mercy and protection and help in extricating their vulnerable daughter from the hands of wicked evil men, who they knew would be dishonouring and torturing Elisha.
Iqbal and Rubina could not sleep or work until their daughter was set free. But no avenue was opening up for them until Sarwar Sultan Iqbal's cousin told him how he could obtain a loan to pay for a solicitor to challenge for his daughters freedom. Sarwar Sultan is a bonded (indentured) Labourer who had sold his freedom for a loan many years ago so he could pay for emergency treatment for his wife. For all intents and purposes he is a modern day slave working 12 hours a day six or seven days a week for a pittance, but he was happy because he had been able to cure his wife the mother of his children.
The Muslim landowners who 'own' Sarwar Sultan agreed to help. They have a particular affection for Sarwar Sultan who is one of their best workers and who has been placed in a management position over other workers due to his intelligence and good work ethic, without complaint. They used their clout and contacts to pressurize police into registering an FIR
under Pakistan Penal Code section 34 and 365B against Sagheer and his father Muhammed Ishmael.
Acts done by several persons In furtherance of common intention.
When a criminal act is done by several persons, in furtherance of the common intention of all, each such person is liable for that act in the same manner as if it were done by him alone.
Kidnapping, abducting or inducing woman to compel for marriage etc.-
Whoever kidnaps or abducts any woman with intent that she may be compelled, or knowing it to be likely that she will be compelled, to marry any person against her will, or in order that she may be forced, or seduced to illicit intercourse, or knowing it to be likely that she will be forced or seduced to illicit intercourse, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, and shall also he liable to fine; and whoever by means of criminal intimidation as defined in this Code, or of abuse of authority or any other method of compulsion, induces any woman to go from any place with intent that she may be, or knowing that it is likely that she will be, forced or seduced to illicit intercourse with another person shall also be punishable as aforesaid.
Iqbal Masih and Rubina did not care that the initial loan of £1000 that they had borrowed mean that their family would be living a life of slavery for the rest of their lives, for them emancipating Elisha was their primary goal. With the help of their potential new masters they were making some headway in freeing Elisha but more hurdles were to come...
On 12th December 2017, Iqbal and Rubina received devestating news despite their every effort Magistrate Zeba Chaudhry gave orders in favour of their opponents after they registered a counter claim inferring that Elisha was 16 years of age and embraced Islam and her marriage wilfully. The highly paid and significantly qualified judge did not even seek to ascertain the truth via the birth certificate and simply accepted the sham Islamic marriage papers produced by Sagheer without question. Papers which identified Sagher as a 20 year old despite him been 25 years of age.
Distraught and dejected Iqbal and Rubina had to suffer a long and painful month of December as the courts were closed. Christmas normally the most joyous time of year for Christians was tough for the parents, who made every effort to ensure their other children would not worried about their sister enjoyed the local festivities with other believers.
It was trust in God and fervent prayers that encouraged this family who entered Islamabad High Court on 3rd January 2018 buoyed by a prophecy that they would win the case. These two strong believers, went into the trial full of confidence equipped with only the birth certificate of their daughter and praying incessantly. Their hopes were shattered when the high court referred the case back to the session court again under the unfavorable auspices of Magistrate Zeba Chaudhry.
On the 6th January the family took another hit in their heart when the wonderful Zeba Chaudhry ordered that Elisha be sent to dar-ul-Aman (women’s refuge with notorious reputation) while the case is still ongoing.
Most Christian families would not have any option but to quit at this point as they would not be able to continue paying for a solicitor, but this family continued to pay by extending their loan that would see them all face years of toil for a pittance, 'It would be worth every drop of sweat I made to see my daughter again and to save her from her tormentors', said Iqbal Masih.
In the meanwhile, Mohammad Ismail used the corrupt bribery system in Pakistan to wrench Elisha back under his control from Dar-ul-Aman despite the court decision. He they threatened to kill their Elisha and her family if Iqbal Masih continued with the court action. But like David who fought Goliath Iqbal Masih put his trust in God and asked Mohammed Iqbal to do his worst.
Iqbal and Rubina were becoming somewhat despondent as they were forced to keep increasing their loan from the brick kiln landlord, to fight the case The loan had now reached £2666 and it was impossible to hazard a guess on what the final sum would be, or oif they would ever obtain enough to succed with their challenge for justice for Elisha.
Still trusting God to answer their prayers and knowing they would need a miracle they applied for an appeal to the Islamabad High Court once more. Their friends and church were asked to pray for them and many came to the court to support the beleauguered family. Then a miracle happened, the first of many, at the initial hearing 12 December 2018 High Court Judge Shaukat Aziz Siddiqqui demanded a medical examination of Elisha to verify her age.
The medical assessment of Elisha was undertaken at PIMS Hospital, Islamabad, and doctors reported that she was under 14 years of age. Moreover, evidence was retrieved from National Database & Registration Authority (NADRA) that confirmed that the date on her birth certificate and National Identity Card was correct. These pieces of evidence proved without doubt that Elisha was born on 15th December 2005 ,so she was below 13 years of age. Justic e Siddiqqui then stipulated that as the child was under 14 years of age, she was below the legal consent for a marriage and on 8th January 2018 he ordered that Elisha should be returned to her parents. Elisha finally returned home.
The evidence against the rapist Sagheer became overwhelming when a terrified Elisha was brought to a witness stand during which she could be seen visibly weeping while she said that she had embraced Islam for the purposes of marriage and claimed an Islamic name as her new name. However, during a cross examination the girl could not name any prophet but Isa (Islamic name for Jesus) and confirmed that she was illiterate. Her lack of knowledge of the Islamic faith and failure to name even one Islamic prophet barring Jesus who she said was her prophet failed to convince the court that she was a true convert
Under such compelling evidence Justice Siddiqui ordered police to investigate with great rigour the allegations made by Iqbal Masih. He wrote in his court order, "I am not convinced that the girl embraced Islam of her free will and in a secure environment; rather it appears to be the result of inducement and compulsion".
"I am constrained to observe that this sort of act of abduction under the guise of Islam is totally uncalled for and unacceptable,"the judge wrote, adding that Muslims, Christians and all other citizens are equal when it comes to constitutional guarantees."
Elisha's Family are now receiving severe death threats from Mohammed Ismael and his cohorts and have been taken into hiding by the BPCA after we finally made contact with them. We have also negotiated terms with the Muslim Landowner who allowed us to pay off their debt of £2699 without any interest, as repayment was received within an agreed 3 month window.
British Pakistani Christian Association will offer any help we can to bring about a conviction against the rapist and his father who enacted their debauchery on this innocent child. We will keep you posted. We have began an appeal for them to help with legal fees and any other support they need. If you would like to contribute.
Mehwish Bhatti our lead officer stays in touch with the family and provides prayer and counselling and we have agreed to pay any future legal costs for the family.
Elisha is suffering great trauma and has described the brutal rape she has suffered enacted by Sagheer. He would spit at her, beat her and slap her forcing to perform numerous sex acts at his will and command despite her detestation to his touch. She said:
"During the court cases he would beat me harder than usual telling me that he would kill all my family. I was told to say I fell in love with him and married him by choice - the words made me feel sick and depressed but I had no choice. I had to say I was a Muslim but the very thought of that brutal faith fills me with terror.
"I hated being in court and hurting my family with those words but I could not bear to see them killed for me. I prayed to God for freedom and He gave it to me. I am overjoyed my heart is overflowing I want to cry but it is tears of joy.
"I do not want to remember the brutal treatment of Sagheer, I just want to move on with my life with God with me and we will see what happens. I want to fight for justice so that Sagheer does not hurt other innocent young girls, I also want to protect other girls from the lecherous hands of other Muslim men who rape other sisters.
"Maybe I can change the way the courts view these crimes, I hope so because my memory of the attack is painful and no-one should have to endure such cruelty."
Iqbal Masih, said: "God has come to our rescue and brought Leesha back to the safety of her family. He has removed my debt a burden that would have condemned my wife and I and our children to a life of slavery. God is great and worthy of our praise!"
Wilson Chowdhry, Chairman of the British Pakistani Christian Association, said: "This surprising precedent set in Lahore High Court could be a watershed moment for Pakistan, a people who have been tormented in recent weeks by revelations of the extent of child abduction and rapes across their nation.
"Since 2014 it has been estimated that 700 Christian girls are kidnapped, raped and forced into Islamic Marriage every year after a report was published by Muslim NGO 'Movement of Solidarity and Peace' (MSP).
"Even then little has been done to resolve this social malaise that most Christian NGO's believe is on a much larger scale than the meagre assessment by MSP.
"In almost every other case Christian girls have been forced to stay with their Muslim rapists due to the higher value of a Muslim husband's authority compared with the authority of Christian parents over the life of the child in Pakistan. Moreover, the minimum age of 14 for marital consent has up till now been summarily ignored.
"This amazing result must have been triggered by the deep soul searching triggered by the kidnap, abduction, rape and murder of young Zainab Ansari (RIP) (click here). Video footage of her abduction and images of her body dumped on a rubbish pile still haunts the nation.
"This poor child has been traumatised and will need serious counselling she must receive professional help so that she is strong enough to testify against her abductors - justice must be served.
"The bravery of her parents has brought her to a place of safety and I am sure they are willing to take on whatever comes their way in order to make their daughter safe. Now they also have the BPCA supporting them and we will do all we can to ensure a prosecution of Elisha's rapists and torturers.
"For now the family will have a short reprieve and will soon have to be back in court to fight this case. Sadly in Pakistan justice is often a pipe-dream and even now the culprits are plotting their escape and will use threats, bribes and every corruption they can find to falsely exonerate themselves. They will also have many Muslim supporters who believe the rape and conversion of a Christian child in this manner is warranted in Islam.
"For now let us all pray for justice."