Thursday, August 20, 2020

Forced Marriages/Conversions of Christian Girls as Court returns 14-year-old Catholic girl to Muslim Kidnapper

Verdict in Pakistan Portends More Forced Marriages/Conversions of Christian Girls
Court returns 14-year-old Catholic girl to Muslim who allegedly abducted her.
August 14, 2020 By Our Pakistan Correspondent -
LAHORE, Pakistan (Morning Star News) – A court decision in Pakistan to return custody of a 14-year-old Christian girl to the Muslim who allegedly kidnapped her and forced her to convert to Islam and marry him will make more Christian girls vulnerable to such trauma, sources said.

Lala Robin Daniel, a rights activist based in Faisalabad assisting the family of Maira Shahbaz, said the Lahore High Court’s refusal to take into account the documented age of the girl and the falsification of documents, including a fake marriage certificate, was unprecedented and would lead to more such cases.

“If the courts of this country start validating underage marriages of girls belonging to the minority communities, it will encourage people from the majority faith to target them with even more impunity,” he said. “A minor child can easily be influenced or coerced into renouncing their faith and marrying someone. This practice needs to be stopped.”

Daniel and the family’s attorney correctly refer to the girl as Maira in court documents, but the court mistakenly called her Maria in its verdict. A Catholic from Medina Town, Faisalabad, Maira contracted false marriage with the already married Muslim, Nakash Tariq, on Oct. 25, 2019 – six months before he allegedly abducted her on April 28, according to her mother, Nighat Shahbaz, a single parent and domestic worker.

According to court documents, Nighat Shahbaz said she and her family were unaware of the fake marriage until after Maira was allegedly kidnapped and appeared in Faisalabad Sessions Court on July 23. At that hearing, Maira told Judge Rana Masood Akhtar that she was over 18 years old, had converted to Islam of her free will and wanted to live with her Muslim husband.

Since the family had challenged the underage marriage, the judge sent Maira to a women’s shelter on July 28 until her age could be determined, as the 2019 Child Marriage Restraint (Amendment) Act bars marriage of a child under the age of 18.

Khalil Tahir Sindhu, lawyer for Nighat Shahbaz and a member of the Punjab Assembly, told Morning Star News that the Lahore High Court (LHC) presided by Justice Shahid Mahmood Abbasi allowed Maira to go with Tariq without considering evidence that the girl was underage and that the marriage certificate was fake.

The cleric whose name is listed on the marriage certificate denied involvement in the sham marriage, and the document failed to show proof of consent from Tariq’s first wife, with whom he has two children, Sindhu added.

“In my arguments before the learned high court, I submitted evidence that according to NADRA [National Database and Registration Authority], Maira’s date of birth is Oct. 30, 2005, and the same is recorded in her school leaving certificate,” the attorney said.

He also argued that the investigating officer of the case, Assistant Sub-Inspector Shahid Wahla, had made no effort to verify the documentary evidence under Section 8 of the Juvenile Justice System Act 2008, which requires determination of age based on birth certificate, educational certificates, and in absence of any such documents, a physical examination by a doctor, Sindhu said.

“When we objected to the inefficient and shoddy investigation by ASI Wahla, the probe was entrusted to Deputy Superintendent of Police Rana Ataur Rehman by the Faisalabad District Standing Board, which oversees complaints against the police,” the lawyer said.

Sindhu added that cleric Muhammad Abu Bakar, under whose name and seal the fake Nikah Nama (Islamic marriage certificate) had been produced in court, had also filed a case against Tariq for presenting a fictitious document.

“It is appalling that the honorable judge ignored these key facts while writing the verdict, even though presenting fake documents in court is a criminal offense and punishable under the law,” Sindhu said, adding that his team will file an intra-court appeal against the single bench’s order and also approach the Supreme Court if it is not accepted.

Sindhu said it was likely that Maira stated she married and converted of her own will due to fear or coercion, as her family has had no contact with her since she was allegedly kidnapped.

“It’s not very difficult to threaten a minor to say what you want them to say,” he said.

Court Admits Dismissing Evidence

The high court’s verdict states that Maira’s family was denied custody because “she stated that she’s 18 years old, recited the Kalma Tayyaba to prove she had embraced Islam without any duress, and married Nakash Tariq by choice.”

“The statement of Maria [sic] Shahbaz as well as her general appearance unambiguously show that she is a grown-up young lady who seems to have attained the age of puberty and who acknowledges Nakash Tariq as her lawfully wedded husband,” the verdict states.

The verdict acknowledges that the judge dismissed evidence her family’s attorney provided that the minor could not have contracted marriage without the consent of her guardian and that the marriage certificate was fake.

“As far as proof of marriage is concerned, the other formalities can be ignored and simple acknowledgement of husband and wife regarding their Nikah [marriage] is sufficient to prove the same,” the verdict states. “In such circumstances, the mandatory requirement of presence of two witnesses can be ignored.”

Regarding authenticity of the marriage certificate, the verdict states, “Only the family court would be in a better position to resolve the controversy between the parties regarding genuineness or otherwise of ‘Nikah Nama.’”

In February the forced conversion to Islam and marriage of another 14-year-old Christian girl was validated in a court ruling in Pakistan. The High Court in Sindh Province on Feb. 3 dismissed a petition to have the marriage and forced conversion of Huma Younus overturned, ruling that both were valid since a girl under sharia (Islamic law) can marry after her first menstrual cycle.

The Catholic girl was taken from her home in Karachi’s Zia Colony on Oct. 10, 2019 while her parents were away and was forced to marry the man who abducted her.

Supreme Court Advocate Saiful Malook told Morning Star News that sharia (Islamic law) allows girls who have reached puberty to marry, and that previous court judgments have endorsed this interpretation.

“Islamic law says that if a girl has attained puberty she shall be treated as a major, and a full bench of the LHC has already declared that a major Muslim girl needs no consent of the Wali or guardian for a valid marriage,” Malook said. “This judgment of the LHC was endorsed by the Supreme Court in a case reported in 2004.”

Malook said that the verdict in Maira’s case follows precedents established by the LHC and Supreme Court, particularly when a girl has repeatedly told courts that she is the legally wedded wife of the accused and desires to lives with her husband.

Malook, a Muslim who represented Aasiya Noreen (better known as Asia Bibi), in Pakistan’s most high-profile blasphemy case and won her freedom, said that forced conversion contradicts the Koran.

“It is clearly stated in the Koran that no person can be forced to renounce their faith and embrace Islam,” he said. “In Maira’s case, the girl has repeatedly proclaimed that she has converted to Islam without duress, hence prima facie it cannot be said that it is a case of forced conversion unless the girl retracts her statements given in court.”

Pakistan ranked fifth on Christian support organization Open Doors 2020 World Watch list of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian, and on Nov. 28, 2018, the United States added Pakistan to its blacklist of countries that violate religious freedom.

People Rally behind Bishops' Letter to Government in Zimbabwe as Government attacks Church

ALL AFRICA?New Zimbabwe: By Anna Chibamu

Politicians, civic and workers groups Sunday rallied behind the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops Conference (ZCBC) which came under attack from President Emmerson Mnangagwa's government for authoring a damning condemnation of the Zanu PF led administration's excesses, corruption and economic mess.

In a pastoral letter last Friday, the bishops called for an urgent solution to Zimbabwe's mounting political and economic crises.

"The struggle in Zimbabwe has resulted in a multi-layered crisis of convergence of economic collapse, deepening poverty, food insecurity and human rights abuses," the clergymen said.

They were being led by ZCBC president, Robert Ndlovu.

Zimbabweans have been protesting against government corruption and a deepening economic crisis with inflation hovering above 800%.

The demonstrations have been foiled by state security.

However, in response to the pastoral letter, Information Minister Monica Mutsvangwa issued a chilling warning against the men of the cloth describing them as "genocidal and evil-minded misled flock of misled narrow-minded bishops".

The attack by government has brought massive support for the Catholic bishops with the opposition MDC Alliance calling the comments "incendiary hate speech" and "unacceptable".

"The singling out of a Ndebele archbishop (Robert Ndlovu) is discrimination on tribal grounds," tweeted MDC Alliance spokesperson Fadzayi Mahere, warning against reviving of Zimbabwe's "history of genocide".

In the early 1980s, thousands of civilians - mainly ethnic Ndebeles - were killed in Matabeleland and Midlands provinces when the late former president Robert Mugabe's military butchered civilians while accusing them of harbouring armed army deserters during a period commonly known as Gukurahundi.

Mugabe targeted the Ndebeles then as he perceived them to be backing the opposition.

Many Zimbabweans have since blasted Minister Mutsvangwa for "dangerous hate speech".

In a statement Sunday, the Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights) said the group welcomed the pastoral letter and called on the government to "retract the hate-filled" statement.

"We are, however, appalled that such a message of peace, solidarity with the poor and a call for opponents to dialogue has been met with hate and venom from the government. The government chose to attack the bishops calling them 'evil' and 'genocidal'. The response did not address any of the issues raised by the bishops.

"We are concerned at the use of hate speech against the bishops, especially the ethnic attack on the person, identify and dignity of the Archbishop of Harare Robert Ndlovu.

"We condemn this attack. It is unwarranted and unjustifiable. We call upon the government to retract the hate-filled statement and urgently heed the call by the bishops for urgent dialogue before it is too late," said ZimRights.

The Platform for Concerned Citizens (PCC) also condemned government for hate speech.

"This is a scurrilous attack on the Catholic Church, one of the strongest domestic supporters of the people of Zimbabwe, which has maintained this support for decades, both before and after Independence.

"The ZCBC's commitment to the people of Zimbabwe cannot be doubted or challenged by anyone, except self-serving hypocrites.

"Thus, we call on all churches, national and regional, to express their support for the ZCBC, to express their distaste of the intolerance shown by Zanu PF and the government of Zimbabwe, to citizens exercising their constitutional rights."

The Catholic Professionals Network of Zimbabwe (CPNZ) said the bishops were their shepherds and are duty-bound to warn those in authority in times of strife.

"The bishops as our shepherds are duty-bound to call out those in authority in situations of widespread poverty, endemic corruption, human rights violations, poor health delivery especially in times of a huge pandemic, political instability, and uncertainty.

"We note with dismay the statement by Minister Mutsvangwa as it appeared to be an angry and rushed response to the temperate and clear call to government made via the pastoral letter. We condemn the very misplaced unwarranted attack on Archbishop Robert Ndlovu whose ethnicity is needlessly brought to the fore and singled out for a venomous attack as if the letter was his own initiative," stated the CPNZ.

The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) said there was no justification for the vilification of the clergymen and the anti-Catholic scorn saying the bishops were speaking out against transgressions and it is their moral obligation.

"As ZLHR, we are greatly concerned that the intolerance of President Emmerson Mnangagwa's government on dissent and criticism is becoming more despicable every passing day and we should realise that it is the manifestation the President and his followers' fear on the people's legitimate dissatisfaction from a leader who claimed and promised to be a 'listening' President which is equally growing," said the lawyers group.

The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) described government's utterances as "pathetic and unwarranted".

"The evil attack by government of Zimbabwe is pathetic and unwarranted. The Bishops expressed what citizens of Zimbabwe feel and shooting the messenger using tribal hate speech exposes the failure of the state," it said.

MDC Alliance co-vice president Welshman Ncube said; "I have read and re-read the government of Zimbabwe's response to the Catholic bishop's pastoral letter and remain beyond shock that there is a government on earth in the 21st Century that can release this kind of hurtful drivel as an official government statement. God Help us!"

An anonymous member of the Catholic Church criticised Mutsvangwa for "attacking our bishops, you have attacked us all, The Catholic church has got millions of Zimbabweans who subscribe to it including Zanu PF members, Vice President Guvheya (Constantino) Chiwenga is a Catholic, many government officials are Catholics. The Catholic Church is not a political party but it is a Church of Christ".

"You have declared war on the church and it is very unacceptable. Zanu PF is not a demi-god, allow constructive criticism and the country will move forward. As Catholics, we don't take orders from you Mrs Mutsvangwa but we take orders from our bishops who lead us to Christ," he said.

Lawyer and human rights defender Brian Kagoro said; "#AfricanLivesMatter. Any leadership that feels so powerful that it can insult all citizens, insult churches, insult neighbours, insult foreigners, and insult its own members is either All-Mighty (in a divine sense) or downright stupid. You need friends."

Meanwhile, responding to the attacks by government, the Catholic Lawyers Guild said they were shocked by the government's blatant denials that the country was in a deep crisis.

"We as the Catholic Lawyers Guild are deeply concerned by the government of Zimbabwe's unwarranted vitriolic attack on the pastoral letter issued by the ZCBC," the Catholic lawyers said at a press conference in Harare Sunday.

According to the lawyers, the pastoral letter simply, "denounced the current human rights situation in the country".

The lawyers have since demanded an apology and retraction from the government and demanded assurance that no harm will befall the bishops.

FULL TEXT Source: All African - New Zimbabwe.

United in Prayer for Belarus - Catholic and Orthodox Leaders Urge Government to End Crackdown and Call for Prayer

Vatican News release: Church leaders unite in prayer for Belarus as protests grow
Catholic and Orthodox Church leaders call for prayers for the people of Belarus, and urge the government to end a crackdown on opposition supporters.
By Stefan J. Bos

Justice and Peace Europe, a key alliance promoting justice, peace, and respect for human dignity, has expressed concern about reports of mistreatment of opposition supporters in Belarus.

The Executive Committee of the Catholic organization, which also wants to raise awareness about the Catholic social doctrine, says it denounces "any form of violence and strongly condemns the use of torture by Belarusian authorities against protestors."

Its letter comes amid reports that some 7,000 people have been detained since a fresh wave of protests erupted following the disputed August 9 presidential poll.

Officials claim long-time President Alexander Lukashenko won the ballot with 80 percent of the vote. But demonstrators have their doubts.

In the letter, Justice and Peace Europe also calls for the immediate release of all who "have been arrested without any justification."

Human rights
It urges the Belarusian authorities to "fully respect human rights, including the right to life, the prohibition of torture, the freedom of assembly, media and expression, and to adhere to democratic principles."

The organization joins the European Union in showing solidarity, and writes that it expresses support for EU efforts to take sanctions against individuals responsible for what it calls "grave human rights abuses."

It also supports the Catholic Bishops of Belarus in their appeal for seeking the truth based on a peaceful and inclusive dialogue between Belarusian political leadership and broader society to avoid further violence.

That dialogue could include Belarusian opposition leader and former presidential candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who is currently in exile in Lithuania.

She said in a video message that she was preparing to be interim president. "I'm ready to take responsibility and act as a national leader during this period. So that the country can calm down and begin a normal rhythm, and we will be able to release all political prisoners and prepare the legislative framework and necessary conditions to organize new presidential elections," Tikhanovskaya stressed.

"Criminal orders"
She also urged law enforcement agencies "not to execute criminal orders any longer" and said that if they "come over to the side of the people," they will be "forgiven and supported" by Belarusian people."

Amid the turmoil, Justice and Peace Europe has invited all Christians to unite in saying the Lord's Prayer for the Belarusian people on Tuesday, August 18, 2020, at 18:00 Central European Summer Time so that "truth, justice and peace may prevail."

Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill has also prayed for peace in the troubled nation. And his Church has demanded an end to the ongoing clashes.

Despite the crackdown, massive protests and strikes against the president and for prisoners' release have continued.

On Monday, Lukashenko was challenged by workers in a tractor factory.

He later suggested he was prepared to hold new elections after a constitutional referendum. Europe's security organization OECD has proposed mediation and EU foreign ministers were due to discuss the mounting tensions in Belarus on Wednesday.