Category Archives: Pakistan

Catholic girl in Pakistan in protective custody after abduction, forced marriage

Azoo Raja. Credit: Aid to the Church in Need UK.
Azoo Raja. Credit: Aid to the Church in Need UK.

CNA Staff,- Arzoo Raja, a 13-year-old Catholic girl in Pakistan whom a 44-year-old man allegedly kidnapped, forced to convert to Islam, and married, has been recovered and is in protective custody.

Raja, who is from Karachi, was kidnapped in broad daylight Oct. 13 by Ali Azhar, 44. Raja’s parents were informed days later by the police that their daughter had converted to Islam and had married Azhar, allegedly of her own free will.

Her parents filed a police report, and Jibran Nasir, the family’s lawyer, said the girl’s parents had filed a harassment petition on her behalf in late October.

Two weeks after her abduction, on Oct. 27, the Sindh High Court, based on statements the girl gave saying she was 18, ruled the marriage was valid and that Azhar would not be arrested.

The High Court reversed itself and ordered police to find the teenager Nov. 2, the BBC reported. She was recovered later that day and will remain in protective custody until a court hearing Nov. 5. Azhar was arrested the same day and was expected to appear in court Nov. 3.

Documentation has proven that Raja was born in 2007 and is 13 years old.

Child marriage is technically illegal in Pakistan, but courts typically do not enforce these laws. Sharia, which is used in some judicial decisions in Pakistan, permits a child to be married after her first menstrual period.

Approximately 400 people protested the decision at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Karachi, and Christians in other parts of the country protested as well. Aid to the Church in Need, which supports persecuted Christians, has provided legal and paralegal aid in the case.

Fr. Saleh Diego, vicar general of the Archdiocese of Karachi, condemned the court for ruling without properly investigating the circumstances.

“Whatever happened in the court was shameful and deplorable. It was all lies that the girl was being sent to a shelter home,” Diego said.

“The court, without checking or determining Arzoo’s age, ruled in favor of the abductors.”

The vicar general said there was a “disturbing trend” in Pakistan of Catholic girls being forcibly converted to Islam.

“Religious minorities living in Pakistan are concerned about the future of their daughters who are being converted to Islam,” he said. “But why only girls? Are our boys not good enough for religious conversion? Why are they not so easily converted?” he asked.

In February, the Sindh High Court ruled that a marriage between a 14-year-old girl who was kidnapped, forced to marry her abductor, and convert to Islam was not a violation of the Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act.

The court found that as the girl had experienced her first menstrual period, the marriage was legal.

Pakistan’s state religion is Islam, and around 97 percent of the population is Muslim.

The country was designated, for the first time, a “Country of Particular Concern” in December 2018 for its religious freedom record by the US Department of State.

Catholic and other religious leaders signed a joint resolution in August 2019 encouraging the Pakistani government to adopt policies to protect religious minorities. It included 10 recommendations meant to safeguard the rights of minorities and women, and its signers included representatives of the country’s Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, and Baha’i communities.

The first point adopted in the joint resolution urges that the minimum age for marriage be made 18 years; the current marriage age for women is now 16.

The religious leaders also noted that “there is no forced conversion according to the Holy Quran.” On that basis, they urged legislation against abduction, sexual violence, and subsequent forced conversion to Islam, which acts they said do not propagate “the true spirit of Islam.”

https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/catholic-girl-in-pakistan-in-protective-custody-after-abduction-forced-marriage-85528

Pakistani taxi drivers give free rides to Spanish health workers

Divers
Like all drivers, Sheraz Syed wears a masks and gloves, and uses hand sanitiser regularly while at work [Sheraz Syed/Al Jazeera]

Barcelona, Spain – When Sheraz Syed returns home from his working day, he cannot hug his three children or his wife, because of the coronavirus.

Being a taxi driver these days is a high-risk job. But on top of his regular work, along with 195 Pakistanis in Barcelona, he provides free rides to healthcare staff in the city.

The initiative started at the beginning of Spain’s lockdown, in mid-March, as six Pakistani taxi drivers led by Shahbaz Ahmed discussed how medical workers would be able to return at night to their homes.

Since then, their effort has expanded to about 200 volunteers, including some drivers from other nationalities.

They started by sharing their contact details with hospitals and organised their schedules to cover the city centre and more remote facilities, such as the Can Ruti Hospital.

“Medical staff work too many hours and we saw that they were going to their jobs using public transport,” said Asim Gondal, a driver volunteering his services.

“For this reason, as they are working on the frontline for humanity, we began this service also to save them more time and, in this way, they don’t spend it on public transport.”

Gondal and his family have lived in Barcelona for about 20 years and Spain, he said, a country he now considers home.

“This is a difficult time for Spain,” he said.

About 43,000 Pakistanis live in Barcelona, and almost 89,000 in Spain overall, according to the Spanish Statistical Office.

The drivers follow preventive measures: they wear masks, gloves and have disinfectant gel in their cars.

None of the people in the group have the virus, but there have been previous cases of Pakistani taxi drivers with COVID-19.

Five are reported to be recovering in hospital.

“It’s frightening when your workmate is at the hospital. Some are my friends and they have eaten in my house,” said Syed. “There is always a risk.”

In an effort to limit the spread of the coronavirus, the Metropolitan Area of Barcelona (AMB) has limited taxi traffic to 20 percent each day and each driver is allowed to work once a week.

“We will provide this service until we can,” said Gondal.

Like many in Spain, which is facing a severe economic downturn as thousands have been laid off, the coronavirus outbreak has impacted the drivers’ personal finances.

“We don’t have any economic help from the government and only self-employed workers are able to work, the rest have been fired,” claimed Syed.

This has impacted their personal protection; not all taxi drivers can afford a screen to separate them from their passengers.

In addition to the taxi drivers’ inititative, over the past two weeks, the local Pakistani community has stepped in to help.

Grocery store owners have converted industrial warehouses into spaces taxi drivers can use to organise food parcel distribution to the homeless and families in need.

Hundreds of masks and robes for medical workers are being sewn together at pace at the the Catalan Islamic Cultural Centre.

More than 15,000 people have died from the coronavirus in Spain since the start of the epidemic, and there have been more than 152,000 cases overall.

 

 

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/04/pakistani-taxi-drivers-give-free-rides-spanish-health-workers-200408120354440.html

Amid extreme flooding in Pakistan, Catholic volunteers step up

CaritasResidents wade through flood waters in Karachi, Pakistan July 31, 2019. Credit: Asis Hassan / AFP / Getty Images.

.- A 52-year-old Caritas volunteer helped rescue more than two dozen families from a recent flood in Karachi, Pakistan.

Francis Javed, a father of six who works as a cobbler, told ucanews.com that he received a phone call from Caritas Pakistan Karachi at 11 a.m. on July 30. They warned him about an overflowing dam not far away.

“I shifted my family to a relative’s house, alerted the community members and made announcements in the local mosque requesting people to evacuate or climb on to their rooftops,” he said.

Javed’s announcement helped people prepare for the flood waters, which reached his district about three hours later. When the army arrived, Javed helped them rescue people trapped in their homes over the next five hours.

“We had four boats, but each could only transport up to 12 people. The strong water currents made it difficult to evacuate them,” he told ucanews.com. “We used bamboo sticks for support and scanned the surroundings for obstacles in the flooded areas.”

Javed has volunteered with Caritas Pakistan for more than a decade, when he received aid from the church after his home was destroyed in a 2008 flood. He heads a local Disaster Management Committee to prepare for potential disasters. The group prepares foods, secures documents, and discusses escape routes.

Caritas trains volunteers to assess and respond to flood threats, as well as other natural disasters.

Much of Pakistan has been affected by recent flooding, caused by heavy rainfalls in recent weeks. Government officials have confirmed 83 people dead from flooding in the last month, as well as more than 70 people injured and over 200 houses damaged, ucanews.com reported.

In other Pakistani dioceses, Caritas has helped distribute food aid, medical kits, and other emergency supplies to those affected by flooding.

Amjad Gulzar, executive director of Caritas Pakistan, voiced gratitude for the work of volunteers, while warning that the danger has not yet passed.

“The situation is getting worse — more rain is predicted for the coming weeks,” Gulzar said, according to ucanews.com. We are planning a quick response.”

 

 

 

https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/amid-extreme-flooding-in-pakistan-catholic-volunteers-step-up-66310

Aasia Bibi: Christian acquitted of blasphemy leaves Pakistan

Aasi
Bibi was convicted and sentenced to death for blasphemy by a trial court in November 2010 [File: AP]
by Asad Hashim

Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman acquitted of blasphemy by Pakistan’s Supreme Court last year in a case that has become emblematic of fair trial concerns in such cases, has been granted asylum in Canada, her lawyer says.

Bibi, 53, flew out of Pakistan after being held for months in protective custody by Pakistani authorities following her acquittal, Saif-ul-Malook told Al Jazeera by telephone on Wednesday.

She joins her husband and two daughters, Malook said. “She has gone to Canada, she will live there now as she has been granted asylum by them,” he said.

Canadian authorities did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the case.

Bibi spent eight years on death row after her arrest in the central village of Ithan Wali after an argument with two Muslim women who refused to drink water from the same vessel as her, due to her religion.

The women and a local cleric accused Bibi of having insulted Islam’s Prophet Muhammad during the altercation, a charge that she has consistently denied.

Blasphemy is a sensitive subject in Pakistan, where the country’s strict laws prescribe a mandatory death penalty for some forms of the crime.

Increasingly, blasphemy allegations have led to murders and mob lynchings, with at least 74 people killed in such violence since 1990, according to an Al Jazeera tally.

Among those killed were Salman Taseer, then a provincial governor, and Shahbaz Bhatti, then a federal minister, in 2010. Both officials had stood up for Bibi when she was first accused of blasphemy.

Incendiary issue

In a landmark judgment acquitting Bibi, the Supreme Court noted in October that there were “glaring and stark” contradictions in the prosecution’s case against Bibi.

“[There is] the irresistible and unfortunate impression that all those concerned in the case with providing evidence and conducting investigation had taken upon themselves not to speak the truth of at least not to divulge the whole truth,” wrote Justice Asif Khosa, now Pakistan’s Supreme Court Chief Justice, in the verdict.

Bibi had been convicted and sentenced to death by a trial court in November 2010, with the Lahore High Court upholding her conviction on appeal four years later. Rights groups had long insisted there were numerous fair trial concerns in her case, as well as in blasphemy prosecutions generally.

The Supreme Court verdict prompted days of violent protests by the far-right Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), a hardline religious group with widespread support that has long pushed for those accused of blasphemy to be executed or murdered extrajudicially.

Led by firebrand cleric Khadim Hussain Rizvi, the TLP blocked roads and major intersections across the country following Bibi’s acquittal in October.

Rizvi was arrested in November and charged with treason for leading the protests. Afzal Qadri, the cofounder of the TLP, released a statement last week apologising for the protests and promising not to engage in further political activity.

Rizvi, and scores of other TLP activists, remain in police custody, charged with hate speech and inciting violence.

Days after the verdict was announced, Bibi’s lawyer Malook sought refuge in the Netherlands, citing threats to his life for having represented her.

In February, Bibi told the Associated Press news agency through an intermediary that she was being held by Pakistani authorities in indefinite protective custody and that they would not let her leave the country.

On Tuesday, “the long running issue” of her departure from the country was resolved, her lawyer says, and Bibi is now safely in Canada and reunited with her family.

 

 

 

 

 

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/05/aasia-bibi-christian-acquitted-blasphemy-leaves-pakistan-190508072729494.html

Pakistan Asma Aziz: Wife who had ‘head shaved for refusing to dance’

Violence photoAsma Aziz appealed for public help in a video posted online

A Pakistani woman has publicly accused her husband of beating her and shaving her head for refusing to dance for him and his friends, in a case that has raised new concerns about women’s safety in the country.

Asma Aziz, from Lahore, made headlines when she published a shocking video on social media showing her shaven head and bruised face.

Her husband, Mian Faisal, and a servant are both in police custody. Mr Faisal has denied torture.

However, the case has prompted calls for more to be done to protect women from domestic violence.

In a tweet, Amnesty International said “systemic change” was necessary.

In her video posted on 26 March, an emotional Ms Aziz alleged that two days earlier she was tortured after refusing to dance in front of her husband’s friends who were at their house in Lahore’s upmarket Defence Housing Authority (DHA) district.

“He took my clothes off in front of his servants. The servants held me as he shaved my hair off and burned it. My clothes were bloody. I was bound by a pipe and hung from the fan. He threatened to hang me naked,” she said.

She said she went to the police to file a complaint but they procrastinated – the police deny the allegation, saying that immediately after Ms Aziz’s visit to the police station a team was dispatched to her residence but it was found locked and the DHA management prevented them from entering the premises.

Police acted only after the video came to the notice of Deputy Minister for Interior, Sheheryar Afridi, who ordered officers to register a complaint.

Mr Faisal and the servant, Rashid Ali, were arrested the following day. A preliminary medical report found multiple bruises, swelling and redness on Ms Aziz’s arms, cheeks and around her left eye.

Ms Aziz’s lawyers later pleaded that the case be tried under the stricter anti-terrorism law instead of the usual criminal procedure.

In papers filed to the Lahore police on Wednesday, the lawyers argued that the case had caused “wider restlessness and anxiety in society”.

Mr Faisal told the police last week that his wife had started cutting her hair under the influence of drugs, and that he, having also taken drugs, only helped her finish the job.

The case caused a furore on social media, with many voicing their anger at domestic violence in Pakistan.

Pakistani actress and singer Sanam Saeed was among those who spoke out in defence of Ms Aziz.

Women’s rights in socially conservative Pakistan has been a contentious topic of debate for years.

The UN’s Gender Inequality Index in 2016 puts Pakistan 147th in a list of 188 countries based on its poor record on women’s health, education, political empowerment and economic status.

Violence against women and girls remains a serious issue. Activists say official statistics do not reveal the extent of the problem – many cases go unreported.

Women’s Day marches last month brought complaints from some conservative groups. Some of the protest organisers said they received death and rape threats on social media.

Reporting by BBC Urdu’s Shahzad Malik in Lahore

 

 

 

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-47805840