Three days after police in Pakistan refused to comply with a court order to arrest Muslims who abducted, raped and tried to convert and marry a young Christian woman, one of the kidnappers shot her father, sources said.
Ghulam Hussain and three other Muslims kidnapped 27-year-old Asma Gulzar at gunpoint four months ago and repeatedly raped and tortured her, the woman informed her family after fleeing her captors last month when they forgot to lock the door of their hideout, the family attorney said. She had gone missing from her paternal aunt's home in Sialkot's Hajipur area in Punjab Province.
Her father, Gulzar Masih, took the assailants to court over their claim that Asma Gulzar had voluntarily converted from Catholicism to Islam and married Hussain. After hearing the woman's testimony of abduction and rape, a judge on Aug. 24 ordered police to immediately arrest the accused, an attorney said.
On Aug. 27, Hussain and one of his accomplices, identified only as Akram alias Billa, attacked Masih near a deserted plot, Masih told Morning Star News at his home, where he was recuperating.
"I was immersed in thoughts regarding the case when I saw Ghulam Hussain and Akram running towards me, hurling threats and abuses," he said. "As soon as they came near me, Hussain whipped out a pistol and fired a shot aimed at my chest. He then fired two more bullets at my legs, after which I fell down on the road. He then asked Akram to break my skull with a metal object that he was carrying. I was hit in the head, after which I lost consciousness."
Masih said his family had received warnings to withdraw their complaints against Hussain, but that he was determined to get justice for his daughter "at all costs."
"They may try again to kill me, but I will not stop from knocking on the doors of justice to avenge my daughter's dishonor," he said. "Hussain and his friends are also threatening my three sons with dire consequences, but we have resolved not to sit quiet and let them get away with such a heinous crime."
Gulzar initially thought his daughter, who has a speech and hearing impairment, had left home of her own free will when she disappeared, and so he did not file a missing persons report, said his attorney, Hafiz Atiqur Rehman Salim.
"However, in August, the girl unexpectedly returned home and informed them that she had been forcibly taken by Ghulam Hussain and three other men at gunpoint and was kept hostage at an unknown location where the accused had repeatedly raped her," Salim said. "She told her family that she had fled from captivity when Hussain forgot to lock the door of the hideout."
Masih immediately contacted police and requested registration of an abduction and rape case, but instead Sub-Inspector Zafar Iqbal of the Rangpura Police tipped off the accused, Salim said, and Hussain subsequently filed an application demanding custody of his "wife." Hussain claimed that Asma Gulzar had been his wife for three years and had married him after converting to Islam. He produced a marriage certificate and a religious conversion certificate issued by a local Islamist cleric who recorded her name as Ayesha, allegedly her Muslim name, Salim said.
He added that Hussain, accompanied by 20 to 25 Islamist clerics, started pressuring police to hand Asma Gulzar to them, claiming she was a Muslim and should be given back to her Muslim husband.
"Asma denied all claims relating to her marriage with Hussain and the alleged conversion to Islam in a written statement to the police," Salim said. "However, the police's connivance with the accused became clear when Sub-Inspector Iqbal started forcing Masih and his daughter to 'settle the matter amicably' with Hussain and go with him, as she was his 'lawfully wedded wife.'"
When she refused to go with Hussain, the police official sent her to a women's shelter, saying that she would have to stay there until a court decided her legal status, the attorney said. He and the family believe the documents Hussain provided were falsified because, among other things, they identified her father as "Yousaf Bhatti."
"Asma's father is Gulzar Masih, and this information is registered in all official documents, including her National Identity Card," Salim said. "Even if someone changes their religion, how is it possible to change the father's name?"
The counsel said that after the police's refusal to register a First Information Report (FIR) against Hussain, the victim's family filed a motion with the court seeking return of Asma Gulzar from the shelter. Judge Qamar Abbas admitted the family's petition and ruled that she should return home. The judge also directed police to register an FIR against the accused and investigate the case on merit, Salim said.
The court's order fell on deaf ears, however, and police refused to move against Hussain, he said. The attorney then filed an application in the court of Additional Session Judge Syed Nasir Bukhari, who ordered Iqbal to appear in court on Aug. 24. Bukhari also ordered that Asma Gulzar appear in court and sought assistance from the head of a local government institution for the impaired to interpret her statement.
"On the day of the hearing, Asma narrated her entire ordeal to the court," Salim said. "She outright denied ever having renounced her Christian faith or marrying Hussain. She told the court that she had been whisked away by Hussain and his masked accomplices from near her paternal aunt's home, and they had kept her in illegal captivity since then, during which she was subjected to torture and rape. After hearing the victim's statement, the judge ordered Sub-Inspector Iqbal to immediately register an FIR against Hussain and arrest all those involved in the case."
In the subsequent attack on Gulzar Masih, he suffered a severe head wound from Akram's blunt instrument, a flesh wound from the bullet aimed at his chest, and broken bones from bullets fired at his legs, Salim said.
Ten 10 days since the attack on Masih, Iqbal was still dragging his feet in registering an FIR and arresting the accused on charges of attempted murder, he said.
"The main accused, Hussain, is roaming around freely, while his accomplice, Akram, has been taken into custody on the basis of the complaint we moved for registration of the FIR," he said. "The brazen attack on Masih could have been prevented if the police had acted swiftly on the court's order and arrested the accused."
The lawyer said he had filed a contempt petition against Iqbal with Bukhari's court for not implementing the directive to register an FIR and arrest the accused, while an application has been filed in another court seeking registration of an FIR related to attempted murder of Masih.
A hearing on both the cases has been set for Thursday (Sept. 8). Salim said the prosecution was prepared to challenge the marriage and religion conversion certificates.
"We will try our best to see that none of the accused escapes the law, no matter how influential they may be," he said.
Morning Star News made repeated attempts to contact Iqbal for comment, but the police official declined, saying "the matter is in court."
A senior lawyer told Morning Star News that the rape allegation might not hold in court, "as much time has lapsed since the occurrence of the incident, and no medical examination of the victim was undertaken by the police."
"The prosecution should focus its case on the charge of abduction and illegal captivity," said Chaudhry Shoaib Salim, a Lahore High Court attorney. "They should also challenge the authenticity of marriage and religion conversion documents in court, besides filing applications with senior police officials and the court against the partiality shown by the police official responsible for arresting the accused persons and ensuring justice to the victim."
Masih, who stitches soccer balls at sporting goods factory, said he will not submit to threats to withdraw the case.
"Ghulam Hussain and his friends abducted my daughter at gunpoint and took her to an unknown place," he said. "They tortured and raped her for months, and her escape from their captivity is nothing less than a miracle for us. My daughter Asma has studied until Grade 10 and is literate enough to reveal what she was made to suffer during her months in captivity."
Nasir Saeed, director of the Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance & Settlement-U.K., said in a press statement that an alarming rise in forced conversion and abduction of Christian girls in Pakistan is due to authorities' inaction.
"Since the government has failed to investigate Muslim clerics who are suspected of being involved in forced conversions and issuing of false certificates of conversion and marriages, such crimes will continue happening, and I see no end to the miseries of girls belonging to the Christian and other minority faiths," he said. "Instead, I fear that it will worsen."