London: (PCP) British Asian Christian Association believes a large number of persecuted Christians that we are supporting are suffering the ignominy of extended lengths of time between hearings and unfathomable postponements to their detriment.
Our belief is that the majority of these delays are a consequence of a fear of retribution from judgements that would go in the favour of Pak-Christians, discrimination by judges holding to a biased Islamic view of the laws and external political manoeuvres that should have no impact on an independent judiciary.
A further recent concern is hard evidence that legal practitioners believe that their fraternity is above the law, a diabolical stance that has manifested in Lawyers strikes that have disabled the judicial process in recent weeks and left the many Christians we are supporting with a raft of unnecessary court deferments. This element of the delays does affect all Pakistani citizens however and is not an example of discrimination but a woeful set of morals.
The lawyers strike began due to an argument between the lawyers fraternity and doctors fraternity in Punjab after one lawyer argued that members of the legal fraternity and their families deserved preferential treatment (read NYtimes article click here). This led to lawyers smashing and vandalising the The Institute of Cardiology in Lahore on 11th December 2019. After police made a number of arrests of solicitors the Punjab Bar Council declared a strike on 16th December 2019 for an indefinite period until the arrested lawyers are released without charge - despite three patients having died in the lawyer attacks. Only days later after Ex-strongman President Musharraf was given a death sentence in a Special Court for suspending the country's constitution in 2007, lawyers in Khyber Pakthunkwa also weighed in with a strike. Their angst stemmed from criticism of the decision by Pakistan's military (click here). Worse still a Christian Lawyer who disobeyed the Bar Associations decision to strike and represented Zafar Bhatti in court during the protest was threatened with disbarring by the presiding judge.
It should be noted that lawyer riots and strikes are not unusual and BACA reflects on the tragedy of Shazia Bashir a minor who was raped and murdered by a former Lahore Bar Association Chairman. Incensed by any accusation against a member of the legal fraternity 300 Lawyers stormed the courts and smashed it to bits in a disgusting act of vandalism (click here). They also smashed Police cars and threatened the family of Shazia Bashir who later had to accept a compensation arrangement after judges altered the facts of her case. In this case the rioting and strikes were directly affecting a Christian family's right for a fair trial for the rape and murder of their daughter.
Reasons for the high frequency of postponements include:
Indefinite holidays taken up by judges and no process for cases to be taken up by substitutes.
Opposition lawyers failing to be prepared for court cases and being given several opportunities to delay the court process without any solid reason.
One judge stating that to give a decision in favour of a Christian victim would be offensive to his Islamic principles.
In the case of Asia Bibi, Supreme Judge Iqbal Hameed ur Rehman refused to preside over her case because he had already presided over the murder case of Salmaan Taseer. Using this 'conflict of interest' as an excuse to extricate himself on a case he was to frightened to preside over resulting in widespread condemnation. Strangely he had known about the case for months yet said nothing earlier and resigned from his position two weeks after his decision.
BACA believe that often the delays are quite deliberate and provide an opportunity for the opposing parties being acquitted of murder and rape charges, by coercing the Pak-Christian victims into accepting a bribe as compensation. The constant failure to gain any progress in their pursuit of justice results in Christians often succumbing to the demands of aggressors, for fear of attacks on loved ones and that they will eventually lose a rock solid case through corruption.
BACA believe that often judges will be receiving bribes especially from wealthy and powerful families involved in the persecution of the undesirable Christian victims.
BACA is also concerned that Christians can wait up to twenty times longer than Muslims to attain justice or an acquittal from false allegations. When Veena Malik a Pakistani actress was given a 26 year blasphemy sentence and large fine she was able to get an appeal date in 2 weeks. However, after a strong legal team figured out the conviction in Gilgit would only be enacted there she was able to quit the province shared by India and Pakistan and relocate to another part of Pakistan with no consequence (click here). A Christian in Gilgit would no doubt have been imprisoned for years before any release on appeal.
It is clear to BACA that competing factions in the judiciary, army and political sphere have laid waste to any sense of justice and equality in a nation that is steeped in corruption and avarice. Sadly the biggest victims are the minorities of Pakistan of which Christians are a notable social underclass and too often victims of the legal process. For those Christians embroiled in any legal case in Pakistan justice is a rare commodity and BACA calls for immediate reforms of the laws and judiciary to alter a disturbing trajectory towards an exclusion of minority rights. Moreover, their must be an immediate termination of current protections of those with higher social status who are inevitably able to circumvent the law.
Below we list some of the persecuted Christians to whom we are providing legal support and/or financial support as they fight for justice in Pakistan:
Elisha (13 yrs) was kidnapped from the village of Pindorian, Islamabad in November 2017. After a few days a stranger brought papers to her father Iqbal Masih confirming that she has been married to a Muslim man named Qadeer Ismael and was now legally bound to him. However Iqbal Masih then took the papers to the local police station and demanded that his daughters rapist and kidnapper be arrested and Elisha returned to him. She was returned to her parents by Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui in 2018 under charges that she was 'abducted and forced into an Islamic marriage. Elisha is still fighting for her current freedom in a legal battle undertaken through the family court.
BPCA is paying for two cases, one is against the abductor for kidnapping, raping and forcing Elisha into a Muslim marriage. This case is running in the family court of Honourable Judge Rifat Mehmood in Islamabad. The other case is for the cancellation of her nikah (marriage) which was done forcefully. This case is running in the court of Honourable Judge Tahir Rabbani at the session court Islamabad. 4 postponements have occurred as the opponents have not appeared in court to record their opening testimonies. It beggars belief that the judge in this case has not set a strict deadline for the testimony recording as the continued absence of the accused only serves to subvert the law.
All the accused men in this case has been set free on bail which is very dangerous for the family. The opponent party has not appeared in the court for the recording of statements for 4 consecutive hearing dates in the abduction/rape case. The nikah case is already complete however the final verdict from the Judge for the annulment of her nikah has been postponed three times. This is due to an initial deferment as judge on holiday, then two postponements by opposing solicitor who wanted to submit further evidence before the verdict but has been unable to meet two deadlines. A date for a court hearing was due on the 3rd January but had to be postponed due to a solicitors strike that began on 16th December 2019. These unnecessary delays place Elisha and her family under severe stress and anxiety and prevent justice.
The next hearing for the rape/abduction case is on the 16th January 2020
The next hearing for the Nikah case is on 16th January 2020.
A 2nd year chemical engineering student and resident of KDA 2, Mehmoodabad, Karachi, was beaten so badly by a mob of young Muslim men accompanied by an Islamic cleric, that he lost his sight in both eyes, though later vision returned in one eye though significantly impaired. The mob using rods and sticks to beat the young man then stoned him outside his home.
The court trial started in 2019 for both cases in the Honourable court of Rajesh Chandar at session court Karachi. The main case they are fighting is against the culprits for harming Vikram resulting in the loss of one eye. This case has made no progress since the beginning of trial.
They are getting date after date due to the judge on holidays in the session court of Rajesh Chandar for both of their cases in Karachi. One case is against the opponent party they have registered for all the loss to Vikram and his family and the other case they are fighting in defence against the false accusations from the opponent party.
All the accused have been released on bail. They have been offering bribes and issuing threats in an attempt to bring and end to the legal
case against them. Vikram and his family are also fighting in defence of allegations made that they were the violent party, the family are out on bail to this extent. BACA has covered all the legal costs for fighting the case and for the bail fines required to release them from prison.
As both the cases are in the same court and under the same Judge the family have had to suffer the ignominy of no progress at all after the judge failed to appear for 6 hearings. The reason for each postponement has been stated as non-attendance of the judge who is on an indefinite leave of absence and is on holiday somewhere abroad.
The next hearing date is on 8th of January 2020 for both cases.
Nabeel Masih (Blasphemy Case)
16 year old Nabeel a resident of Kasur in Punjab Province was charged with a blasphemy after a 'First Incident Report' (FIR) was registered at Kasur Police station. The complainant Mr Akhtar Ali alleged that he had viewed a blasphemous post on Nabeel’s Masih’s Facebook timeline. He maintained that the picture had been posted in a “derogatory manner” which would hurt the religious sentiments of Muslims.
Without proper investigation as soon as the allegation was made on a pariah Christian, Pakistan's police force did their usual job of arrest without hesitation with text book precision - Nabeel was Christian after all. Their is a commonly held belief amongst Muslims of Pakistan that all Christians are criminals due to the caricaturing and demonising of all minorities in the national curriculum textbooks of Pakistan.
A magistrate at Kasur Magistrates court rejected Nabeel's innocence plea on 7th February 2017.
Since then due to non stable legal support his bail application was never submitted. Now thanks to BACA's solicitor Mr. Naseeb Masih we have submitted an appeal in the Lahore High Court. Our appeal registered on 28th November 2019 has called for the expeditious disposal of FIR 487/16 V/S 295/295A of the Pakistan Penal Code. Civil Judge Mr Tariq Bashir
The hearing of the blasphemy appeal was postponed from the 4th January 2020 after the lawyers strike began in Pakistan on 16th December 2019. A date for the next hearing has been fixed for 14th January 2019. Our appeal is based on the fact that someone sent Nabeel an offensive image to Facebook and that he did not generate it. He was the unwitting victim of someone else's folly.
Maria Jalal (Rape Case)
Maria Jalal was only 15 years old when she was continually and brutally raped over a 24-hour period in June 2019. The despicable attack occurred after she opened the door to a debt collector having been instructed by her mother to pay the regular instalment. Maria has now been moved to safety, courtesy of British Asian Christian Association after a series of threats and attempts to coerce the family into dropping her much publicized rape case.
Any attack of this nature is horrifying but the fact that Maria Jalal was kidnapped after having first paid the regular loan repayment on behalf of her parents is a sickening new twist. Previous cases have generally involved the unjustifiable rape of Christian women when a payment has not been made.
Maria is facing major delays for recording her Qanoone-Shihadat (opening statement) statement in front of Additional Session Judge Mohammad Saeed at Shahdra Session Court.
There have been 6 postponements of this case. The first date on 3rd December 2019 was deferred after the opponent party lawyer didn’t show up, resulting in delay of the first recordings of an opening statement. At the next hearing on the 8th December the Judge cancelled the hearing after both lawyers were embroiled in the strike, so a further date of 14th December was given. Since then a further three postponements have occurred due to the strikes.
No date has been given for the next hearing and we ask supporters to pray for an end to the lawyers strike and for justice for Maria. BACA is paying for the entirety of the legal costs for the family and costs of travelling to court.
Laiba (Abduction and forced Marriage case)
A Christian girl from Sargodha was abducted and forced converted to Islam to marry by a Muslim man. Laiba Shahzad was taken by Imran Haider (24 yrs) to an unknown location after being dropped off to school by her rickshaw driver.
In a statement the rickshaw driver said that early on Tuesday 16th July 2019 he left the 9th grade Grammar school student as usual on the street corner near her Mission Grammar Private School. Laiba however failed to return home later that day. A few days later Laiba called from a mystery number and said that she had eloped and was now married to a Muslim man. The family never believed Laiba as she wept profusely whilst describing her marriage. Police identified the owner of the phone as Mr Haider who appeared in court with a weeping Laiba who confirmed she was willingly married. It was obvious to the courts that she had been coerced and that she was a minor for whom it was illegal to be married.
Sargodha session Court has issued arrest warrants against the abductor of Laiba , Mr Imran Haider who has been missing since the court orders and for all intents and purposes is absconding from the police.
The next hearing will be scheduled according to his arrest. Laiba is also missing and a nationwide manhunt is in process. BACA continue to pay for legal costs and travel expenses for the family to get to court hearings.
BACA lawyers were successful in obtaining an annulment for the wedding and are praying for the swift return of Laiba and imprisonment of Haider for the abduction and false marriage. Please pray for the discovery of Laiba and Haider's whereabouts so full justice is obtained with this case.
Zafar Bhatti (Blasphemy victim)
Zafar Bhatti was accused of Blasphemy on 11th of July 2012 for alleged blasphemous texts despite a phone that was submitted as evidence, being registered to the national identity card of a completely different person. Ghazala Khan to whom the phone belonged was granted bail due to her poor health and vulnerability as a woman and died later in 2013. Sadly for Zafar was never released despite an obvious lack of evidence of him committing nay crime.
We are providing Zafar and her wife full financial support which includes their home rent, bills, Grocery medical and other expenses related to Zafar in Jail as well.
Zafar's final verdict for his appeal has been delayed in the last 7 hearings due to a judges holiday for the first three hearings. In the 4th hearing Judge Raja Mehmood Abbasi decided that 'my religious conscience does not permit me to arrive at a verdict for this case'. Suggesting that his Islamic beliefs meant that he could not free Zafar despite no evidence of a crime. Such discrimination is woefully short of what is expected of a Judge bit may also be a symptom of abject fear of reprisal should he free Zafar. The case has been passed on to Magistrate Tariq Abbas who has postponed twice due to the lawyers strike.
The next proposed hearing for this appeal case will be on the 21st January 2020, and is based on the offensive text being on another persons phone and the fact that Zafar is illiterate and could not have written the alleged English text.
Badil Masih (murder case)
A 10 year old Christian child who chose to work in a dangerous scrap factory so he could support his mother who had to fend for a family of two boys and a drug-addict husband, was raped and tortured before being killed by his Muslim employers.
Mohammad Akram and Irfan (aka Kaloo) were both arrested in Sarghoda on 14th July 2019, for the murder of Badil Shahzad, from the village of Rasheedabad in Essa Nagri, Faisalabad.
BACA has been providing full legal support via Advocate Zubair Janjua, monthly financial support for the mother so she can sustain her family while the court process is ongoing and costs for travel to the court. The family are awaiting a court date to provide an opening statement at Faisalabad District Court. In the meanwhile the same delays have meant the murderers have not been able to secure bail.
The opposing parties friends and family are threatening Badil Masih's family in an attempt to withdraw the case and are offering a piece of land in return. The family is under a lot of pressure as both the accused have applied for bail for which a verdict is pending. The mother of Badil, Shareefa Bibi fear the release of the accused as he can harm the family of Badil as he is powerful and wealthy.
The next date is not yet scheduled because of the lawyer strike.