ISTANBUL, Turkey, October 24 (Compass Direct News) — Lawyers for two underage Christian sisters who were kidnapped plan to renew a custody fight for the older girl, a 13-year-old allegedly coerced into marrying her captor, based on new statements from her 10-year-old sister that they were raped and forced to convert to Islam.
The plans come after the court last month allowed 13-year-old Saba Masih to decide whether to return to her parents or remain with her husband; apparently still terrified from death threats, she chose to remain with her captor. Amjad Ali married Saba Masih shortly after the girls were kidnapped on June 26.
In the Sept. 9 ruling the court ordered the return of her 10-year-old sister, Aneela Masih, to her parents, a move lawyers hail as a rare and significant victory for human rights in Pakistan.
Since her release Aneela Masih has told her uncle, Khalid Raheel, previously unknown details of the sisters” capture, including rape and forced conversion to Islam, according to the Centre for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS).
Aneela Masih told Raheel that she and her sister were kidnapped when they stopped to buy fruit en route to their uncle’s home. The sisters were taken away by taxi and then raped, she said. After being tied up and locked in a room, she told him, the two were forced to make professions of Islamic faith.
She described how the pistol-toting captors threatened the girls with death. The kidnappers told the girls that their parents would also be killed, she said, if the sisters did not do everything asked of them.
“These poor little kids, they threatened them,” said Akbar Durrani, a lawyer from CLAAS who fought in court on the sisters” behalf. “They were terrified. She said they were terrified.”
In light of these revelations, Durrani said he plans to file a new custody case for Saba Masih based on their abduction. This move, however, could jeopardize progress gained in the legal quest to free the sisters from their captors.
“The court statement never mentioned kidnapping,” Durrani said. “We are still working on it, because the Supreme Court may say to us, “˜We will reverse the position, get both the girls back and hear the case afresh.–
Avoiding this scenario while convincing the court to allow further proceedings is the challenge Durrani now faces.
Saba Masih’s insistence that her age is 17 and that her conversion to Islam was real will also make regaining custody of her extremely difficult, according to lawyer Rashid Rehman of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. Rehman also represented the girls” family in the case.
Saba Masih’s husband, Ali, had obtained the backing of a medical committee possibly under pressure from Islamic groups in his claim that she was 17 and thus of legal age. He also claimed that her conversion removed her from the jurisdiction of her father.
It was a branch of the Lahore High Court in Multan that ruled on Sept. 9 that Aneela Masih should be handed back to her parents. When Saba Masih, whose birth certificate indicates that she is 13 but who testified that she was 17, said she did not want to return to her parents, she also tried to keep her younger sister from returning to them. Attorneys said the Muslim kidnappers had repeatedly threatened the girls that their parents would harm them if they returned.
Throughout the case the girls” uncle, Raheel, who has spearheaded the campaign to free the girls, has received death threats from supporters of Ali, he told Compass by telephone this week. With a tired voice, he said that he remains determined to explore every avenue to return Saba Masih to her parents.
“They are threatening me also, because I was proving the case,” he said. “They tell me also that if I keep on doing like this one day they will shoot me. I said, “˜Okay, no problem, you shoot me, but up to now I am alive. I will look after Saba. I will find her someday.–
Various options remain open to CLAAS. The group’s lawyers are seeking advice from three local deputy inspector generals about how they should proceed.
“[We] can file a private complaint in the court of magistrate if a FIR [First Information Report] about kidnapping is not registered,” Durrani said. “If we are not getting any relief from this side, we will go to the Supreme Court.”
Lawyers told Compass that the court ruling for the return of the younger sister to her Christian parents, despite questions over her conversion to Islam, was an unusual decision and a significant victory for human rights in Pakistan.
“We have two or three cases in Islamabad [where] the judges did not allow minor girls to be given back to their parents,” Durrani said. “So in this context it was very important to at least get Aneela back.”