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Human rights: The heavy price of conversion and elopement

By: Rana Tanveer

LAHORE: A couple from a village in Sargodha has been forced into hiding here because of threats from the girl’s Muslim family after she converted from Islam in order to marry her Christian neighbour.

While the couple faces death threats and is trying to eke out a new life in Lahore, the boy’s family has also been forced to flee the village and have had their properties taken over.

Shazia Bibi*, 25, told The Express Tribune that she had eloped with Jansher Masih* in September 2012. “I converted to Christianity and married him by my own free will,” she said, carrying a 25-day-old baby boy in her lap.

“We have a son now and I have no intention of giving up my husband or Christianity. It is hard to live under cover, but I will do it for my husband and son,” she says.

Shazia’s father died when she was 19. Her only sibling, a sister, was already married. “Before we eloped,” she says, “none of my relatives was interested in getting me married off. But now they suddenly see it as a matter of their honour.”

Samiullah, her sister’s husband, was incensed by her conversion and marriage.

As the couple fled to Lahore, they were chased by some men from the village. “They were planning to kill us, but we called 15 (Police Rescue) and were saved,” she said. Samiullah later sent them a message, she said, stating that she would be killed for apostasy if she returned to the village.

Jansher said that Samiullah whipped up the villagers into a righteous frenzy and his father Nazeer and uncle Rehmat were forced to flee with their families, leaving most of their belongings in their houses. He lodged an FIR with the police accusing Jansher and his brothers of kidnapping Shazia. He also claimed she had already been married. The Lahore High Court ordered the FIR to be cancelled after Shazia testified against the charges in court.

Shazia says her father had owned a few kanals of agricultural land and a 5-marla house, where Samiullah was staying. In her absence, the inheritance would go entirely to her sister. He has a clear financial interest in her not returning to the village.

The windfall for Samiullah doesn’t end there. After Nazeer and Rehmat fled the village, Samiullah and some of his relatives stormed into their properties and stole their belongings, according to a complaint filed by Nazeer at Kirana police station in Sargodha.

They had illegally occupied the property, he said. But the police refused to register an FIR because, Nazeer said, Samiullah and his family were influential.

Nazeer and Rehmat were then invited to a panchayat and offered the possibility of being able to return and at least take away their things and sell off their properties. Samiullah had one condition: that they bring stamp paper, blank except for their signatures. The ostensible purpose of the stamp paper was for the two sides to reach a deal: Shazia returns to her family in the village, and the Masihs get their houses back.

Nazeer said that he and Rehmat sent the stamp paper to the panchayat with some relatives who were still in the village. He said that Samiullah took the stamp paper, but was actually not interested in a deal. He said that Samiullah insulted and assaulted his relatives. He then used the signed stamp paper to draw up a property transfer agreement, Nazeer said.

Talking to The Express Tribune, Samiullah said that he had paid Rs1.5 million for the two properties and they now rightly belonged to him. He said he was in possession of a written agreement to this effect. He said that Shazia could be killed for apostasy, but did not wish to discuss the matter.

He also complained about the police handling of the kidnapping FIR against Jansher, saying it had been cancelled even though he had paid the investigation officer Rs100,000.

Inspector Muhammad Ameer, the SHO at Kirana police station, said that he had seen the application submitted by Nazeer Masih about the occupation of his property four months ago, after which he summoned both parties to the police station. He claimed that the Masihs had told him that they had signed an agreement to return the girl in exchange for the return of the houses. He said that Samiullah had moved a civil court for the transfer of the property, so the matter was now one for the court to deal with, not the police.

Rana Javed, a local who sat on the panchayat and is related to Samiullah, backed up Nazeer’s story. He said that after Nazeer’s representative handed over the blank stamp paper at the panchayat, Samiullah began shouting aggressively and refused to participate in the sitting any longer. He also refused to return the blank stamp paper, Javed said.

*Names changed to protect identity

The Express Tribune

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