Tuesday, November 3, 2020

RLPB 574. Pakistan: A Cry For Justice

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 574 | Wed 4 Nov 2020
RLPB is published weekly to facilitate strategic intercessory prayer.

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PAKISTAN: A CRY FOR JUSTICE
plus further updates below
By Elizabeth Kendal

Once again a Pakistani High Court has validated the 'marriage' of an abducted Christian minor girl to her Muslim abductor, despite child marriage being illegal in Pakistan. The High Court has rejected proof-of-age documents submitted by the victim's Christian parents (birth certificates, baptismal records, school records etc.) in favour of fraudulent documents submitted by the Muslim captor. Once again a High Court has accepted a certificate of religious conversion to Islam - something easily obtained through any fundamentalist mosque - without question and accepted the testimony of a captive given in the presence of her captors, without concern as to whether this testimony was made under duress. This time, however, it seems Pakistanis of conscience have had enough. Recognising the shame and disgrace this injustice brings to their nation, liberal Pakistanis are raising their voice.

On 13 October Arzoo Raja (a Christian aged 13) was abducted from her home in Karachi, Sindh Province, forcibly converted to Islam and married to her abductor, a Muslim neighbour named Ali Azhar (44) [RLPB 573 (28 Oct)]. On 28 October, when the case came before the Sindh High Court, Arzoo's captors prevented her from accessing her parents who were not even permitted to enter the court. At the end of the hearing, Sindh High Court Justice K K Agha ruled the 'marriage' valid and instructed police not to 'harass the newlywed couple'. In February the same court validated the 'marriage' of Huma Younus (a Christian, then 14) - who had been abducted and forcibly converted to Islam - to her Muslim abductor, Abdul Jabbar of Punjab Province [RLPB 538 (26 Feb)]. Now pregnant, Huma is reportedly being kept as a captive, confined to one room of the house. Courageous Christian lawyer, Ms Tabassum Yousaf has represented both girls before the Sindh High Court.

Lawyer Ms Tabassum Yousaf (first on left)
at a rally for Huma Younus, Dec 2019.

As Pakistani commentator Hammad Saleem observes (31 October), 'The trend of forced marriages has increased with high speed in Pakistan.' This trend - which is driven by impunity - is not limited to Sindh Province. On 4 August Lahore's High Court validated the 'marriage' of Maira Shahbaz (a Christian,13) - who had been abducted and forcibly converted to Islam - to her Muslim abductor, the already-married and reputedly wealthy Mr Mohamad Nakash [RLPB 564 (26 Aug)]. Maira has since escaped and is currently in hiding with her mother and siblings [RLPB 573 (28 Oct)]. Human rights groups in Pakistan estimate that up to 1000 religious-minority girls are victims of forced conversion and marriage every year; up to 300 Hindus and up to 700 Christians. Not all are minors and not all are abducted. Some girls and parents are groomed, until they reluctantly become convinced it is the only way to escape poverty and persecution. By this means Christian and Hindu girls are either lured or trafficked from their own community into the Muslim community where they are exploited, abused and forced to produce Muslim babies.

Rehana Raisat with a photo of her daughter, Shizam (15, a Christian) at a madrassa in Gujranwala, Punjab. On 11 Feb 2019, Shizam was abducted, forcibly converted and married to a Muslim. Riasat Masih, Shizam's father, comments on the photo saying his daughter (left, in white) looks 'almost unconscious'. Source: UCAnews 20 May 2019   












Various Pakistani politicians have attempted to introduce legislation banning forced conversions and child marriages. However, their efforts are denounced by Islamic organisations - including the Council of Islamic Ideology (a constitutional body that advises the legislature) - and doomed by radical Islamist outfits that threaten to mobilise their members and paralyse whole cities in defence of Islam.

On 24 October Christians, Hindus and Muslims raised awareness of Arzoo's case when they rallied together outside the Karachi Press Club. Subsequently, the 28 October ruling sent social media buzzing. Protests proliferated as high-profile activists and celebrities took up the cause of Justice for Arzoo Raja (and on twitter #justiceforarzoo). On Monday 2 November the Sindh High Court ordered that police recover Arzoo and move her to a shelter where she will undergo medical testing to determine her age before returning to court on Thursday 5 November. Police from the Anti-Violent Crime Cell then rescued Arzoo and arrested her abductor, Ali Azhar. The court had been shamed into action. 

Arzoo Raja (13) flanked by police in Karachi, with Ali Azhar (44) on far right.
See: MSN (3 Nov)

It is imperative that we pray that this indignation not fade (as indignation is wont to do) and that change be achieved, for the sake of Pakistan's vulnerable, long-persecuted religious minorities and their precious daughters.


MAY OUR SOVEREIGN GOD INTERVENE IN PAKISTAN

* to protect and deliver Huma Younus and every Christian (and Hindu) girl who has been groomed or trafficked into the Muslim community through forced conversion and marriage; may the Lord roar from Zion (Amos 1:2a) and may 'justice roll down like waters' (Amos 5:24a ESV).

* to protect Arzoo Raja, Maira Shahbaz and their families, along with all Christians who are at risk of Islamist retribution for having challenged their subjugation (Psalm 57).

* to protect, embolden and amplify the voice of every courageous lawyer, activist, journalist and politician prepared to risk Islamist retribution by challenging the Islamists, insisting on justice, and demanding an end to shameful persecution.

* to stir up indignation among Pakistanis of conscience; may Pakistan's moral crisis be redeemed for the awakening of many!


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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A CRY FOR JUSTICE IN PAKISTAN

The case of Azroo Raja, a 13-year-old Christian girl who was abducted, forcibly converted and then married to her Muslim abductor, is attracting considerable attention in Pakistan. After the Sindh High Court validated the 'marriage' on 28 October, social media lit up and protests erupted as Pakistanis of conscience demanded #justiceforArzoo. By 2 November the Court had relented. Police have rescued Arzoo and arrested her abductor, Ali Azhar (44). The case will return to the court and hopefully start a process that will end impunity for Muslim groomers and traffickers and set in motion steps to improve religious freedom and security for Pakistan's exceedingly vulnerable, long-persecuted religious minorities. Please pray for God to redeem this situation, to achieve more than we could ever ask or think (Ephesians 3:20).

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UPDATES to last week's RLPB 573 (28 Oct).

ARTSAKH: Artsakh's Armenian defenders have so far prevented Azerbaijan, Turkey and their jihadists proxies from capturing the Lachin Corridor (a strategic mountain pass through which runs the sole highway linking Armenia to Artsakh). [See Turkish media.] That said, a fierce battle is under way and the death toll is soaring. Some 5000 lives have been lost since fighting erupted on 27 September. Please pray for peace in the South Caucasus. 

ETHIOPIA: Sudan, Egypt and Ethiopia have resumed talks on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). Please pray, for it is imperative that Ethiopia not be destabilised. The destabilisation of Ethiopia would be catastrophic for Ethiopia's Christians (many of whom who would face massacre), for Ethiopia (which is at risk of dismemberment), and for regional security (including Egypt!). The only beneficiary would be militant Islam. Please pray for a breakthrough!

IVORY COAST: Incumbent president Alassane Ouattara has been comfortably re-elected amid an opposition boycott. Everything is in dispute. The opposition is demanding a transitional government be established to oversee transparent elections according to the constitution. Across the south, thousands are fleeing into Liberia, Ghana and Togo. Security forces have surrounded the homes of opposition leaders and are using tear gas against opposition supporters. Tensions are soaring. Once again, Ivory Coast is teetering on the brink of major political violence playing out along ethic-religious lines. Please pray for a peaceful resolution.

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Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF) and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).

See www.ElizabethKendal.com