Vatican-connected Aid to Church in Need collected 12,000 signatures to support the refugee.
by PierLuigi Zoccatelli
More than 1,000 Christian and Hindu girls, many of them under age, complain every year that they have been kidnapped, forced to marry their captors, and compelled to sign statements that they have converted to Islam.
To his credit, Prime Minister Imran Khan ordered in December 2000 an investigation into this disturbing phenomenon. However, incidents continue to happen, and local courts often side with the kidnappers, based on the formalistic argument that, once it happened, a conversion to Islam cannot be renounced, without committing the capital crime of apostasy.
One of the victims, 14-year-old Maira Shahbaz, is now seeking asylum in the United Kingdom. Maira, a Roman Catholic, is supported by the Vatican-connected charity Aid to Church in Need, which has collected 12,000 signatures in support of the asylum application. On February 4, the petition was delivered to Fiona Bruce, the UK Prime Minister’s Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief.
Maira’s story is sad and moving, but unfortunately not unique. She reported that she was kidnapped by three men on April 28, 2020, in Medina, a residential neighbor of Faisalabad. She was then raped, and the rape was videotaped. With the threat that the video will be made public, she was forced to marry one of the rapists, one Mohamad Nakash Tariq, and to sign a statement that she had converted to Islam.
Later, she was able to escape Nakash’s home and seek the help of the authorities, who placed her in a women’s shelter. Her case went to the Lahore High Court, which ruled that she should be returned to her husband, as both the marriage and the conversion to Islam were valid.
After a few months, she managed to escape again, with the help of her Catholic relatives. The “husband,” Nakash, denounced Maira for apostasy, a crime that can lead to the death penalty in Pakistan, and her relatives for kidnapping. Maira’s family counter-sued Nakash for rape of a minor, but claimed that the girl was receiving constant death threats. While the Court of Rawalpindi is considering the matter, Maira remains in hiding under police surveillance. Her lawyer believes she is at serious risk of being murdered in Pakistan, and should be allowed to receive asylum in the UK. Her relatives are also at risk.
Aid to Church in need hopes that Prime Minister Boris Johnson may now intervene and offer to Maira and to her family the asylum they deserve in Britain.