Karachi, Pakistan (Anawim
Today)- Monday, October 26, will go down in Pakistan’s judicial history as a
black day, when a High Court judge in the southern port city of
Karachi gave custody of Arzoo Raja, a 13-year-old Pakistani Christian
girl, to Ali Azhar, a 44-year- old Muslim man,
who had allegedly abducted Arzoo on October 13 and subsequently
allegedly raped, converted and married her.
Two days after her disappearance the accused presented himself in a local police station. The police then summoned Raja and Rita, Arzoo’s parents to ‘disclose’ to them that Arzoo had converted to Islam and had married Azhar of her own free will.
Earlier that same day, a lower court judge heard arguments from the two sides when the case was brought to his court for adjudication.
In a hearing on Saturday October 24, in the same court, neither the accused himself appeared in the court nor did he produce Arzoo.
Leading Christian human rights activists including Pastor Ghazala Shafique and Christian member provincial assembly Sindh, Naveed Anthony, from the Pakistan People’s Party waited outside the lower court all day in the hope that the judge would make it binding on the accused to produce Arzoo in his court on Monday, October 26. It did not happen.
Monday brought more bad news for Arzoo, her family, and for the Christian community across Pakistan and the Pakistani Christian diaspora around the world after the High Court judge accepted the “evidence” led in his court on behalf of the accused. The documentary evidence that was relied on by the accused in the court consisted of documents showing Arzoo to be 18 years old.
In an open-and-shut case like Arzoo’s all facts point to a blatant forgery and a lustfulness of the 44-year-old man, who preyed upon a helpless Christian girl because he felt he could get away with his alleged criminality.
He most probably was emboldened by the “victory” of a man in a similar case in October 2019 where the accused got away with the abduction, rape and forced marriage of a Christian minor Huma Younas or from the stories of scores of other Christian and Hindu teens, who met the same benighted fate as Huma.
There is little or no hope for justice for these lesser-Pakistani Christian, Hindu and other minority girls in a Pakistan where unscrupulous elements have over decades peddled anti-minority sentiment with impunity, where the abuse of the country’s notorious blasphemy laws has become the norm; where Christians and other minorities are increasingly seen as powerless, helpless and worthless humans and hence can be made the subject of verbal, physical and psychological abuse by people who wield more power and resources- material and human.
How could the High Court judge not determine that Arzoo was not 18 years old when there was an irrefutable evidence in the shape of a birth certificate from Arzoo’s church and a document from the government’s National Database and Registration Authority showing Arzoo to be 13 years old.
It defies reason that the judge would fail to consider probably the most authentic and original documentary evidence instead of giving the custody of Arzoo to an immoral man on the strength of a few forged and fraudulent documents.
Leaving the issue of the two sets of documents aside, in terms of a degree of difficulty they may have presented to the judge in ascertaining which one of the two was genuine, it begs the question why did the judge not put to good use other resources at his command?
A mere glance at Arzoo, one would have imagined, should have raised reasonable suspicion in his mind as to her age? - that she is not 18 years old as claimed by the accused.
Did it not occur to him that it would be unfair on Arzoo if he did not hear her parents and their lawyers before he gave a verdict handing the custody of their child to Azhar?
What judicial test did the judge apply before arriving at the judgement he did? Had he applied a simple test of reasonableness or of a reasonable man it would have guided him to decide differently than he did.
The judge had the option of ordering a medico-legal and/or an ossification test, the latter would have determined the girl’s age without an iota of doubt. Why was this not all done? Simply, because the girl at the receiving end of this abuse is a Christian?
Pastor Ghazala and other Christian and minority rights activists have highlighted the one-sidedness of the police which manifested in many ways. They failed to arrest the accused allegedly allowing this morally degenerative man to forge documents with a view to satisfy his lust.
The police did not let Rita, Arzoo’s mother, to meet Arzoo on the premises of the Karachi High Court nor did they allow her entry to the court room on October 26.
A police officer allegedly made a video after the High Court judge’s verdict, taking the view that Arzoo converted to Islam of her own free will.
The Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act 2013 stipulates that any party to marriage must be at least 18 years of age.
What can be more grotesque and morally debased than the fact that millions of devout Pakistani Muslims in Prime Minister Imran Khan’s ‘State of Madina’ saw this tragedy unfold in silence apart from a smattering of human rights activists who sided with Pastor Ghazala and the beleaguered Christian community of Pakistan.
Pakistan’s top court should take a suo motu action and set aside this deeply controversial and unfair decision. The events of the past few weeks have already done unimaginable damage to Arzoo physically and psychologically. It will probably take years for those scars to heal even if she is allowed home. Let us hope that sanity prevails amongst the Supreme Court judges and they let Arzoo go to where she belongs: her loving parents and her family.
About the writer:
Sheraz Khan is the founder and director of Anawim Today. Sheraz has been a journalist for nearly 20 years. He has written extensively on Christian persecution. He founded Anawim Today to highlight stories of persecution from around the world. If you would like to join Anawim Today as its correspondent Sheraz would love to hear from you. Sheraz can be contacted by e-mail: email@example.com