Wednesday, September 28, 2005
By BosNewsLife News Center
ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN (BosNewsLife)-- A Pakistani woman has charged three men with raping her earlier this month and threatening to kill her if she did not convert from Christianity to Islam, a Christian news agency reported Tuesday, September 27.
Compass Direct said 22-year old Ribqa Masih, testified at last Thursday’s court hearing that Ghulam Abbas and Mohammad Kashif drugged and kidnapped her on September 2.
Masih's ordeal reportedly began after she traveled from her home town Chak with a Muslim friend to the city of Faisal Abad, where she apparently wanted help to enter a Dominican boarding house.
Without the woman's knowledge, the Muslim friend, Humaira Hussain, allegedly arranged to meet Abbas and Kashif at a bus stop in Faisal Abad, where the two men gave her "a drink of water" that made her lose consciousness.
RAPED IN HOUSE
She was quoted as telling the court that Abbas and Kashif took her to a house in the city of Lahore, about 100 kilometers (62 miles) further, where they raped her repeatedly throughout the night.
They apparently threatened to shoot her and to kill the rest of her family if she did not repeat the Islamic creed, an act if done in the presence of two Muslims is considered a valid form of conversion to Islam.
Masih refused to convert, saying that she "would rather die" than change her religion, Compass Direct reported. The next morning her kidnappers transferred her to another Muslim man, whom they said would return her home.
The Catholic woman’s new captor, however, repeatedly raped her as well over the next three days and threatened to kill her if she told anyone, Masih reportedly testified.
UNABLE TO WALK
On September 6, the man finally returned Masih to Faisal Abad and left her at a public bus stop. Unable to walk due to vaginal injury, Masih hired a rickshaw to take her to her uncle’s house, where she telephoned her parents, Compass Direct reported citing sources in the region.
Police have so far detained one of Masih’s alleged attackers, Abbas, who denied accusations of rape at Thursday’s hearing. He called the charges “election enmity,” claiming that the case was politically motivated.
"In the last election, he and the Masih family voted for the same candidate," Masih’s lawyer, Khalil Tahir, was quoted as saying. "Neither family has anything to do with politics," Thahir added.
Masih told Judge Adeela Altaf however that “no woman would put her honor at stake for an election,” the news agency said. Analysts say that in a country where honor is a matter of life and death, Masih’s words highlighted the gravity of her situation.
Masih’s parish priest, Father Paschal Paulus, reportedly said that when he first saw her after the alleged kidnapping, “she was sitting, and I asked her to get up, but she was just crying, and her father told me that she still had difficulty walking."
He said "this girl used to always sing and do the readings at daily mass. But the whole time I was there, she was just in fear, tears were coming from her eyes and she was very upset. She still has difficulty walking."
Lawyer Tahir, who is also representing Sonia Naz against members of the Pakistani police in a rape case that has received national media attention, reportedly said that three or four instances of women being raped appear in local newspapers every day.
"Many girls never report [rape] to the police because they feel they will not get justice," Compass Direct quoted Tahir as saying. "On the other hand, this is a matter of prestige and family honor in Pakistan. Nobody wants to marry these girls, even though they are innocent."
The consequences of rape are often even more serious than social stigmatization, Pakistan media reported. During the first four months of this year, 57 women were reported killed on the pretext of "honor" in Pakistan, said Society for Human Rights and Prisoners Aid (SHARP) in a May article in Lahore’s Daily Times, Compass Direct reported..
"There are many times where people are raped but they don’t raise their voice," Fr. Paulus told Compass Direct from the Waris Pura Catholic Church in Faisal Abad. "Money can buy the justice. So if you are poor, you know that anything possible can be done to you. People will just use you. Where there is no justice, people are scared of raising their voices."
The priest said that the Masih family was unusual in their willingness to take a stand on their daughter’s rape. Despite his vulnerability as a poor Christian living in a Muslim village, Ribqa’s father, Rafique Masih, sought out Fr. Paulus and asked for his help in taking legal action, Compass Direct reported.
"This is a very courageous family," the priest said. "But in this case, if you are really becoming courageous, then you really have to carry your cross." That cross has allegedly come in the form of threats from Muslim neighbors.
The Masih family has been told that if they do not retract the court case, they will have one opened against them, Compass Direct said. Ribqa Masih’s six younger siblings have reportedly all withdrawn from school, where they allegedly faced constant taunting from classmates who called them "prostitutes."
The Masih family also received threatening phone calls from two of the alleged kidnappers, who remain at large, Compass Direct claimed. Fr. Paulus and the family say the police’s failure to arrest these men signifies a deliberate attempt to protect them.
Tahir, who agreed to represent Masih pro bono, has appealed for the proceedings to be moved to an Anti-terrorism Act court on the basis that the “incident has created a sense of fear and insecurity in the minds” of the family. The lawyer has taken statements from several of Masih’s neighbors, who witnessed to the fact that the family is living under immense pressure, Compass Direct said
The reported kidnapping and rape of the young woman, comes amid reports of wide spread violence against Christians in Pakistan. (With reports from Pakistan).
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