Alleged Rapists Christian Girl Declared Innocent; Baby Girl Transferred To Muslim Mother

Saturday, April 11, 2009

By Worthy News Special Correspondent Jawad Mazhar reporting from Pakistan and Worthy News' Stefan J. Bos

LAHORE, PAKISTAN (Worthy News) -- Christian families in Pakistan's Punjab province were seeking justice Saturday, April 11, after men suspected of raping a Christian girl were acquitted and a baby girl was taken away from her Christian father, allegedly for religious reasons.

Police reportedly declared three Pakistani men "innocent" of raping a 13-year-old Christian girl, Ambreen Masih, in January, despite apparent eye witness accounts and medical evidence indicating their guilt.

At a court hearing in Nankana Sahib district court last week, police from the Pakistani town of Sangla Hill, 64 miles (102 kilometers) from Lahore, cleared 40-year-old Mohammed Shahbaz, 30-year-old Waqas Sadiq and 25-year-old Yousaf Sadiq of the rape charges, reported Christian news agency Compass Direct News.

Shahbaz was the only suspect to attend the hearing, which was initially called to discuss terms of his pre-arrest bail, trial observers said. Judge Ijaz Hussan Awan reportedly 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,” prosecutor Akbar Durrani said in published remarks. “Regarding Christians, they cannot put any pressure on the police for a fair investigation."


Another Christian family also suffered a legal setback as a District and Sessions Court of the Punjab town of Sargodha ordered to hand over a 7-months-old girl to her Muslim mother, "entirely on religious grounds" her father said. Imran Masih, the Christian father of minor girl Muskaan, said his wife divorced him after he decided to baptize her and raise her as a Christian girl. Police took away the girl and her mother is now allowed to raise her daughter as a Muslim.

"If I would have been a Muslim and my wife a Christian, the court would have ruled differently," Masih told Worthy News and its partner news agency BosNewsLife in Noori Gate Christian Colony of Sargodha city.

Christians in Punjab have linked the April court rulings to growing influence of Muslim militants in the area.

It also has become more difficult for impoverished Christians to make a living amid discrimination, and children have been forced to help their to survive. In one of the latest cases a 12-year-old baby sitter was accussed of stealing jewelry from her Muslim mistress on the outskirts of Sargodha, in a case that has further increased tensions between Muslims and Christians in the area, her father said.


Ashraf Masih, an inpoverished worker, said his daughter Mehvish Ashraf, 12, used to work at the house of a local Muslim school teacher and is now being forced to work for free to "compensate" for the alleged robbery.

They, "are targeting our little daughter thinking that this little girl and her impoverished Christian family is not able to stand against them and thus compelling the little girl to work for them free of cost." He said his family has strongly denied any involvement in stealing the jewelry.

Several rights groups have said that Christians are increasingly being targeted by Muslim militants and authorities cooperating with them. They have expressed concerns that Christians are often not able to defend themselves in court.

There is also concern over controversial blasphemy laws which they claim have been misused by Muslim extremists and authorities to target Christians. The Pakistani government has been under pressure to improve the situation of minorities, including Christians, in the predominantly Muslim nation.