A U.K.-based charity has called on British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to grant asylum to a 14-year-old Christian girl who was abducted at gunpoint during the COVID-19 lockdown and forcibly married and converted to Islam by a Muslim married man.
The Catholic charity Aid to Church in Need, which supports persecuted Christians around the world, is urging concerned Christians to add their names to an online petition that will be sent to the prime minister on behalf of Catholic teenager Maira Shahbaz in Pakistan, who was abducted in April.
In August, Maira fled the home of her alleged husband, Mohamad Nakash, weeks after the Lahore High Court ordered her to return to her abductor and ruled that she was legally married to the Muslim man.
“Regardless of what the court eventually decides, Maira’s life will forever be in danger,” the charity said. “There is the threat of honour killing. Extremists in Pakistan consider her an apostate and will kill her at the first chance. Her lawyer said men have been looking for her, knocking on doors and asking for her whereabouts.”
The charity’s spokesman, John Pontifex, said the “shocking case is a chance for Britain to show its commitment to Christian welfare who so often feel abandoned by the West,” according to The Telegraph.
Maira was abducted by Nakash and two accomplices while she was walking home in the Madina Town area in Punjab Province’s Faisalabad District. According to witnesses, the abductors forced the girl into a car and fired gunshots into the air as they fled the scene.
Maria said she was taken to a basement where she was drugged and gang-raped.
“When I came to my senses I started shouting and requested them to release me and let me go to my home,” her statement to the police read, according to the British newspaper. “During that period, Naqash’s mother entered the basement and told me ‘you cannot go anywhere from here, and you have to do what we will order you.'”
The Lahore high court had ordered Maira to return to her abductor although Nakash was accused of presenting a false marriage certificate to the lower court that said Maira was 19 years old and they had wed in October 2019. The document not only failed to provide proof of consent from Nakash’s first wife, with whom he has two children, but the Muslim cleric whose name is listed on the certificate had denied involvement in the sham marriage.
A family friend and advocate, Lala Robin Daniel, earlier said that had Maira stayed in Nakash’s home, she would have been forced to become a sex worker.
Maira had initially supported Naqash’s account in the court, but after escaping, she told police that she had been blackmailed. “They threatened me to tell the court according to their order, otherwise they would download my naked video and picture on the internet,” her police statement says. “They also threatened to murder my whole family.”
“This case has highlighted the wicked tactics used to force victims to make statements in favor of their abductors before the courts in Pakistan,” Suneel Malik, a human rights defender in Pakistan, told the U.S.-based persecution watchdog International Christian Concern. “Victims are threatened with dire consequences if they speak the truth in court.”
A 2014 study by The Movement for Solidarity and Peace Pakistan estimated that about 1,000 women and girls from Pakistan’s Hindu and Christian community were abducted, forcibly married to their captor, and forcibly converted to Islam every year.
The issue of religion is also often injected into cases of sexual assault to place religious minority victims at a disadvantage, ICC said. Playing upon religious biases, perpetrators know they can cover up and justify their crimes by introducing an element of religion.
The U.S. State Department has designated Pakistan as a “country of particular concern” for engaging in or tolerating egregious and systemic abuses of religious freedom. Pakistan has also been ranked as the fifth worst country in the world when it comes to Christian persecution on Open Doors USA’s 2020 World Watch List.