London: After a Pakistani Christian girl of only 13 was allegedly kidnapped and forced into an Islamic marriage with a 44-year-old Muslim, Christians across Pakistan erupted into protests across the country and in many other nations across the globe. Initially police refused to take action but eventually began an investigation when evidence was submitted that the girl was only 13 years-of-age which was in contradiction to false papers submitted by Paedophile Ali Azhar. You can read our initial article (here)
7th October 2020: A stamp paper at the cost of Rs.50 was issued in the name of Ali Azhar which was used to write/record the free will of Arzoo Raja. Generally stamp papers are issued on the ID card number of the person who writes the deed but in Arzoo's case, Ali Azhar issued it to through his name.
13th October: Arzoo Raja was abducted and her marriage with 44 years old Azhar was constituted by Molana Qazi Mufti Ahmad Jaan of Madarasa Jammiya Islamia Karachi. This is also the date of her alleged conversion to Islam. One the same day FIR NO. 302/2020 under section 364-A PPC was lodged in the Frere Police Station Karach by the parents of Arzoo.
15th October: Police called the parents of Arzoo to Frere Police Station and showed them Arzoo’s Marriage and Conversion Certificate.
27th October: High Court Sindh Karachi ordered the Station House Officer (SHO) of Frere Police Station to not make any arrest in respect of the FIR 302/2020. The SHO was directed to provide protection instead. Petitioner in this application was Arzoo despite the fact that she doesn’t have an ID card number. The family of Arzoo were not permitted entry into the courtroom and Father Raja almost committed suicide from despair.
28th October: Lord Alton of Liverpool raised several questions in the UK House of Lords and wrote to the UK's Special Envoy for International Religious Freedom, Lord Ahmad, calling for Justice for Arzoo. Read more (here). That same day In the aftermath of the video of the distressed mother we contacted Advocate Sumaira Hussain who has been working with us on a number of similar kidnap and rape cases, including the case of Komal a deaf mute child of 17 years (click here) and Tabitha who was six years of age when she was abducted (click here). Sumaira was very clear on the need to arrest and convict Ali Azhar for being involved in an underage marriage, for lying to the court and for falsifying evidence about the age of Arzoo. Sumaira explained that attempts to prevent forced or underage faith-conversions passed through parliament but were not passed. Please watch Sumaira's video in the embed below:
2nd November: Honorable Judge of High Court Sindh Karachi, Amjad Ali Sahito, directed Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) (AVCC, Asadullah to locate Arzoo Fatima and place her in Panna Shelter Home (women's shelter) for her safekeeping. During the court session, Arzoo stated she was 18 years old, had embraced Islam willingly and married Ali Azhar of her own free will.
5th November: High Court Sindh ordered the medical Board to determine the age of Arzoo via bone analysis.
9th November: The medical board lead by Dr. Amjad Siraj Memon presented its report before Honorable Justice K.K Agha of High Court Sindh Karachi. The medical report verified the age of Arzoo to be between 14-15 which proved the authenticity of NADRA and School documents concerning the age of Arzoo. Honorable Court ordered to move Arzoo from Pana Shelter Home to Dar-ul-Aman.
On production of evidence in the form of Government identity documents proving that young Arzoo was only 13, Ali Azher was arrested. However, Judge Amjad Ali Sahito of Karachi High Court did not return Arzoo to her parents but sent her instead to a state-sponsored women's refuge centre. During further court hearings it was accepted that Arzoo was 14 years of age, despite her being born in the middle months of 2017 on all her ID documents (a young 13 years). Either their maths was wrong or court officials were trying to placate Muslims by claiming Arzoo was at the national age of consent of only a few years ago. Even then they are forced to prosecute under both the provincial and national marriage restraint laws, as 14 years does not meet either criteria. Never has there been more obvious time wasting by a judiciary in the history of international law. The need of forensic bone analysis to determine the age of Arzoo seems extremely excessive, especially when you consider that her submitted ID documents were not judged to be false.
Jibran Nasir, the advocate who is working pro bono for the family of Arzoo, said:
"Arzoo gave a statement that she had embraced Islam willingly in the court.
"However, such a statement by an underage child is not admissible in court.
"Her conversion will be considered a forced Conversion."
During the court hearings young Arzoo spoke defiantly about how she had married willingly and had converted to Islam. The Parents have been very candid about this and explained that they used to have cordial relationship with Ali Azhar who is already married to another women. But became alarmed when they discovered that he had been inappropriately buying gifts for Arzoo and asking her not to inform her parents. We are not sure of the value of these gifts, but have been advised he offered her a life that was more financially more stable than that of her extremely impoverished parents and young Arzoo fell for his charms.
Pakistani Courts did not recognise the predatory nature of Ali Azhar and the use of a ploy that is similar to the grooming techniques used by Muslim gangs in Rotherham, Telford and Birmingham. Instead on hearing that a 13-year-old Christian girl had converted to Islam, Judge Sahito initially sanctioned the marriage and sought protection against harassment for the couple. This is despite Pakistan's 'Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929' which states that the minimum marriageable age in Pakistan is 16. Moreover, the Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act 2013 stipulates that any party to marriage must be at least 18 years of age in Sindh. Many judges in Pakistan however are consumed by religious zeal choosing Sharia Law over state law - often this adoption of ancient Islamic law is not contested. Sharia law states that a girl can be married as soon as she reaches puberty and though in the West this seems abhorrent, it is perfectly acceptable in many Islamic cultures, though as in Pakistan's case not by the state.
British Asian Christian Association has now also interviewed the family of Arzoo and is offering them a wide-range of support. The family have expressed great disappointment in the manner of their treatment by the Judiciary and the Police. They are however, expressing more confidence of late since the perpetrator was put into remand. Fear still exists, however, that the courts will allow Ali Azhar bail, despite having married to an underage child and proof he submitted falsified documents to justify his sham marriage.
In a court hearing today (9th November) at Karachi High Court, Arzoo reiterated her conversion to Islam and desire to be married to Ali Azhar. When asked if she wanted to return to her parents or be a resident of Panah Shelter Home, a women’s refuge centre, she said neither. The home is meant to prohibit any visitors from the family or from the culprit and his supporters. However, it has been known for staff to accept bribes and allow visits from wealthy Muslims.
The courts have also now sought for any others involved in the sham marriage to be brought forward for prosecution, so this would include witnesses to the marriage, forgers who helped with the documents and other involved parties. Named parties who may be prosecuted include the father of Ali Azhar who acted as a witness for the wedding, and the religious cleric Molana Qazi Mufti Ahmad Jaan of Madrasa Jammiya Islamia Karachi, both of whom were involved in the deceit.
Raja works as a rickshaw driver and Rita was a cleaner at a school before the court case. However, since the intensity of the court hearings they have lost their employment and have sought financial assistance from BACA. Our officer is organising some help.
Juliet Chowdhry, said:
"My heart aches for the parents of Arzoo who are suffering immensely during this legal debacle.
"Their young impressionable daughter has turned against them after years of secret grooming by a Muslim neighbour they once believed to be a friend.
"Arzoo will one day realise what has happened to her, but for now she is lost in the false hope that Ali has set in her consciousness.
"Nearly 30 years after Pakistan ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, They have still failed to establish any child protection case management and referral system, as aligned with international standards.
"Most Muslims in Pakistan see this incident as a justified marriage of love and not a predatory sexual exploitation by Ali Azhar.
"Changing that public mindset has to be a priority for the Pak-Government."
Updates added to story of 12th November:
November 10th: Arzoo’s parents met Arzoo for half an hour in Panah Shelter Home. Both parents and their child (Arzoo) had a good conversation with each other.
November 12th: They had another meeting with their daughter, today.
A Non-bailable arrest warrant has issued for the cleric Qazi Ahmed Jaan Raheemi, who solemnised the Nikkah (Islamic marriage).
Since October 16th he has been declared as an absconder by the court. He also allegedly solemnised the Nikkah of another Christian girl, Neha who was abducted, raped and forced into Islamic marriage last year.