Calls for Britain to give asylum to Pakistani Christian girl forced to marry Muslim man who abducted and gang-raped her

Colin Freeman
·5 min read
The daughters of Pakistani Christian woman Asia Bibi pose with an image of their mother while standing outside their residence in Sheikhupura located in Pakistan's Punjab Province - REUTERS
The daughters of Pakistani Christian woman Asia Bibi pose with an image of their mother while standing outside their residence in Sheikhupura located in Pakistan's Punjab Province - REUTERS

Boris Johnson has been urged to grant asylum to a Pakistani Christian girl who was forced to marry a Muslim man accused of abducting and raping her at gunpoint.

The family of the 14-year-old girl claims that she was kidnapped by Mohamad Nakash last year, who used blackmail and threats of violence to make her sign false papers consenting to marriage.

In August, a judge's order that she be taken to a women's refuge was overturned by a higher court, which ruled the marriage was legal and returned her to Mr Nakash’s home.

The girl then escaped and is now in hiding. But her lawyer claims that associates of Mr Nakash, who turned up en masse at the court hearings, have been trying to hunt her down.

The British charity Aid to Church in Need, which campaigns on behalf of persecuted Christians worldwide, has now launched a petition asking the government to grant the girl asylum.

“This shocking case is a chance for Britain to show its commitment to Christian welfare who so often feel abandoned by the West, ” said spokesman John Pontifex.

The case has echoes of that of Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman who spent ten years on death row in Pakistan on trumped-up blasphemy charges.

Protests saw many Pakistanis demand Asia Bibi be hanged  - AFP
Protests saw many Pakistanis demand Asia Bibi be hanged - AFP

She was granted asylum in Canada last year, amid claims that Britain had avoided offering her refuge because of fears of a backlash by Islamic hardliners. Mr Johnson had spoken out in favour of her coming to Britain, saying: "We cannot allow the threat of violence to deter us from doing the right thing.”

Human rights groups say the most recent case shows how Pakistan's courts offer poor protection to religious minorities, especially women and girls. They claim that hundreds of Christian and Hindu teenage girls are abducted every year in Pakistan and forced into marriage and Islamic conversion. Judges are often reluctant to issue rulings against their kidnappers, either because of bias or fear of intimidation.

According to a statement she made to police, the 14-year-old was abducted in April as she walked near home in the Punjab city of Faisalabad. Mr Naqash, who lived in the area, is said to have bundled her into a car with the help of two accomplices, who fired weapons into the air to scare off bystanders. There is speculation that they may be linked to a prostitution gang that operates locally.

The girl says she was taken to a basement where she was fed a drugged drink and gang-raped by her captors, who also filmed her naked.

“When I came to my senses I started shouting and requested them to release me and let me go to my home,” her statement read. “During that period, Naqash’s mother entered the basement and told me ‘you cannot go anywhere from here, and you have to do what we will order you’.”

Meanwhile, witnesses to the abduction had contacted her widower mother, who alerted the police. But at a subsequent court hearing, her abductor told officials that the girl - whom he claimed was 19 - had willingly married him and converted to Islam. The girl initially gave statements supporting Mr Naqash's account, but when she later escaped, she told police that she had been blackmailed into doing so.

"They threatened me to tell the court according to their order, otherwise they would download my naked video and picture on the internet," her police statement says. "They also threatened to murder my whole family."

The girl and her mother are currently under police protection, and a court hearing is underway to get the marriage nullified. Her supporters, though, point out her police protection will not last indefinitely.

Mr Naqash, meanwhile, has filed a kidnapping case against her mother and other relatives alleging that they had taken his “lawfully wedded wife” from his home.

The request to dissolve the girl’s marriage has also led to her being accused of apostasy by Mr Naqash's associates, who have allegedly sent her death threats.

“Her life is in constant danger because she is condemned as an apostate by her abductor and his supporters," said her lawyer, Sumera Shafique. “Unless she and her family can leave Pakistan, they will always be at risk of being killed.”

Aid to the Church in Need plans to highlight her case at its #RedWednesday event in London this week, designed to draw attention to cases of Christians persecuted worldwide. Its online petition is already close to the 10,000 signatures required for a formal government response.

Co-chairing the event will be Muslim Tory MP Rehman Chishti, who until September was the United Kingdom's Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief. Mr Chishti led the campaign for Asia Bibi to be given asylum in the UK.  

Huge crowds thronged the streets of Lahore on Saturday as tens of thousands gathered for the funeral of a hardline religious leader who had campaigned against reform of the country's harsh blasphemy laws.

Khadim Hussain Rizvi rose to prominence demanding no mercy for Asia Bibi, as well as denouncing instances of blasphemy across the world. The 54-year-old died days after paralysing parts of Islamabad with a rally demanding the expulsion of the French ambassador in the Prophet Mohammad cartoons row.