The campaign to free a 14-year-old Christian girl in Pakistan from the clutches of a man who abducted, held the young girl hostage in his home and forced her into marriage, lies in tatters after Lahore High Court unexpectedly decided in his favour.
On Tuesday August 4, Judge Raja Muhammad Shahid Abbasi overturned an earlier ruling given at the Faisalabad District and Sessions Court which ordered that Maira Shahbaz be removed from Mohamad Nakash’s house and placed in a women and girl’s refuge, pending further investigations.
Mr. Nakash, the accused, put forth a claim that he married Maira. But, in spite of evidence invalidating the marriage certificate and showing that she is and was underage (14 years at the time), Lahore High Court ruled in his favour, and even stating that the teenager has embraced Islam.
Witnesses said Maira was in tears in the court following the ruling. Her visibly distressed mother, Nighat, declined to speak to Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), the Catholic charity which has been closely following the case.
“No Christian girl in Pakistan is safe.”
Family friend and advocate Lala Robin Daniel said: “With this ruling, no Christian girl in Pakistan is safe.” Lawyer Khalil Tahir Sandhu, who represented Maira in court, told ACN: “It is unbelievable. What we have seen yesterday (August 4) is an Islamic judgement. “The arguments we put forward were very strong and cogent.”
In the courtroom, Mr. Tahir Sandhu detailed 11 arguments in support of his client, chief of which involves an official birth certificate showing Maira was only 13 last October, the month of her alleged marriage to Mr. Nakash. Mr. Tahir Sandhu also argued that the marriage certificate was faked, citing evidence denouncing the document given by the Muslim cleric whose name appears on the document.
The lawyer also quoted from state law in Pakistan to show that, as Maira is underage, she can only change her religion with her mother’s permission. “I became so upset as the proceedings went on, I feared I might be asked to leave the court room.,” said Sadhu. The lawyer said he would appeal the decision, first at Lahore High Court and, if this fails, in the Supreme Court of Pakistan.