After the Farah Shaheen case, NGOs call for Human Rights Day to become “Black Day” for 2020.
by Rosita Šorytė
Last week, Pakistani police appeared at the District Court of Allahabad with a 12-year old girl whose whereabouts the Court had ordered to ascertain. The girl had deep signs on her ankles, indicating she had been attached to a rope or perhaps a metal chain for several days or weeks. Her name is Farah Shaheen, and she was too shocked to be able to tell her story. But her father did.
Farah is the second among six siblings of a Christian family in Gulistan Colony, Faisalabad. Her mother died five years ago, and Farah spent most of her time at home, taking care of her younger brothers and sisters. On June 25, 2020, the owner of a tent service business, Muhammad Zahid, and his friend Khizar Ahmad Ali came to Farah’s home (according to some accounts, with a third man), seized her, and put her in a van. Farah’s brother Afzaal Masih and her uncle Kashif heard the girl screaming and crying, and rushed to the scene, but the van was already leaving.
Farah’s father, Asif Masih, rushed to the police, but found the agents singularly uncooperative. Three days after the kidnapping, Asif learned that his daughter had “converted” to Islam and “married” one of her captors, 45-year-old Khizar Ahmad Ali. He kept visiting the police station, where, as he later reported, he was told that her daughter had freely converted to Islam and married Khizar; raising doubts about Farah’s conversion might be regarded as blasphemy, and expose him to the severe penalties of the anti-blasphemy law.
Asif then went to the Central Police Office in Faisalabad, but was not taken seriously there either. It took him four months to find a lawyer and file a case with the District Court of Allahabad.
Farah’s case is not unique. While it would be unfair to blame the whole Islamic community of Pakistan for these incidents, there are radicals who believe that kidnapping non-Muslim girls and “convert” them “back to” Islam is both acceptable and virtuous. To his credit, Prime Minister Imran Khan ordered last month an investigation on forced conversions of minor girls from the Christian and Hindu communities, believed to be around 1,000 per year in Pakistan.
This climate led the District Court to act, and reluctant police caused Farah to “reappear.” The police, however, told the Court that this was the result of a “negotiation” with her so-called husband. Farah’s father and Christian NGOs are skeptical about the possibility that the kidnappers may really be punished.
Many Christians in Pakistan believe that, notwithstanding the promises of the government, kidnapping young girls will continue, as a significant number of law enforcement officers sympathize with the perpetrators rather than the victims. Some NGOs have proposed to “celebrate” a “Black Day” on December 10, Human Rights Day, to call the attention of the international human rights community on the plague of kidnappings and forced conversions in Pakistan.