Friday, August 1, 2008

Judge sends kidnapped sisters to shelter:Banned from seeing parents or Muslim 'caretakers' until further hearing

A Pakistani court has ordered two young girls whose parents reported them kidnapped into a shelter, forbidding them from seeing either their parents or the Muslims who were accused of kidnapping them, until a hearing next week.The case hinges on the girls' disputed conversion from Christianity to Islam. At a hearing in Multan, Judge Saghir Ahmed ordered Aneela and Saba Masih, 10 and 13 respectively, to be placed temporarily in a government-run women's shelter, according to a report from Compass Direct.A provincial high court judge said he did not believe the children had been free from external pressure when testifying they had converted to Islam. According to a lawyer representing the Christian parents, the court's emphasis on the genuineness of the children’s conversion is irrelevant."It is not a matter embracing Islam – the parents have a right to their children under the law," said advocate Rashid Rehman of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.But according to Rehman, the judge may have acted under pressure from fanatical Muslim clerics."Muslim clerics have threatened the judge that if he allows the girls to go with the Christians, they will kill him," said Khalid Raheel, the girls' uncle.Aneela and Saba attended the recent hearing in the company of Amjad Ali, a Muslim who "married" the elder sister on June 27, the day after they disappeared. The girls' father has accused Ali and his relatives of kidnapping the girls. Their father only discovered his daughters' location when he found Ali and another local had filed a case against him for custody of his children. Their claim was based on Aneela and Saba's alleged conversion to Islam. Under one interpretation of Islamic law, a non-Muslim may not have custody of a Muslim.In a July 12 ruling, Judge Main Naeem Sardar upheld the Islamic law rationale, awarding the alleged kidnappers custody of the girls based on their conversion to Islam. He refused to accept the children's birth certificates as proof of their age, relying solely on 13-year-old Saba's testimony that she was 17 and had converted and married of her own volition.Their father appealed the decision with the help of lawyer Rehman.During the hearing, Ali and nine relatives remained around the children in the courtroom, issuing them instructions. They surrounded them even when the court allowed the girls to approach their parents. According to Rehman, the 13-year-old angrily shoved her mother away and shouted, “I do not want to talk with you. I don't want to go with you. I don't recognize you. I am a Muslim and you are a Christian."Aneela, the 10-year-old, was unable to respond to questions from the judge and appeared to be in a daze. Her uncle, who attended the hearing, said that she had been especially close to her father.After the hearing, their father told Compass Direct he and his wife had begun fasting and praying for their daughters' safe return.Last week, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif called on police to take measures against an increase in incidents of kidnapping for ransom.Earlier, Compass Direct reported police initially refused even to file the kidnapping case sought by the father, Younis Masih.The two children, the youngest of eight children in the family, were abducted while en route to visit their uncle, reports said.
As in the days of Noah...

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