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Free-will couple claims NGOs abandoned them

KARACHI: Saira Jatoi and Ismail Soomro’s free-will marriage made headlines four years ago. They are still in hiding as they fear for their lives.

“NGOs took our photographs and promised to provide us asylum in Switzerland. But they abandoned us and brought us to a house in Islamabad where we were kept as servants,” said the couple, who hail from Sukkur.

“I am suffering from hepatitis B and we are staying at the house of my husband’s friend in Karachi. We fear being put to death by our tribes following a jirga,” said Saira.

Saira, 27, had a court marriage with Ismail Soomro, who makes videos of weddings as a profession, without the consent of their respective parents.

They decided to get married in 2007 despite opposition from Ismail’s family.

“Initially, we kept our marriage a secret for about two months, but when my parents forced me to marry to my cousin, we both decided to leave for Karachi,” he said.

As soon as the couple left Sukkur, members of the Jatoi tribe stormed the house of Ismail’s relatives and kidnapped his uncle and aunt as part of their “blackmail”. “After they kidnapped them, they said they will only release them if Saira returns to her house,” said Ismail.

He said that after the incident, Soomro tribe chief Junaid Ahmed Soomro approached them and suggested that the matter be resolved by holding a jirga.

After false promises by both the families and declaring the couple karo-kari, the couple was sent to Karachi in police custody. They were followed again by the Jatoi tribe.

“We went to the Sindh High Court for protection and the court ordered the police to provide security to us. Later, we were sent to Garden police headquarters and the hearing of our case continued for about 14 months,” Ismail informed The Express Tribune.

During their stay there, many ministers including Nadia Gabol, Tauqeer Fatima Bhutto and Shazia Marri and other human and women’s rights organisations visited and assured them of their support.

The court issued notices to Aurat Foundation to help them, Ismail said. After a few hearings, Aurat Foundation lawyer Shaiq Usmani asked Sindh High Court Chief Justice Sarmad Jalal Osmany that the NGO had pleaded for asylum in Switzerland. Therefore, the couple was to go to Islamabad and appear before the Swiss Embassy.

After their arrival in Islamabad, they were kept in a doctor’s house for eight months, where they were “treated as servants”. “Neither were we presented before the embassy nor was our case given a satisfactory response from the representatives of the organisation,” said Ismail. “We came back to Karachi after three months.”

However, Anees Haroon, former resident director of the Aurat Foundation who is now working as chairperson of the National Commission on the Status of Women told The Express Tribune that the couple was not willing to work anywhere. “We helped them from day one, but when they reached Islamabad asking to go abroad. You can imagine that in the present situation, it is not easy to get visas,” she clarified.

She further said that Justice (retired) Majida Rizvi and other organisation members helped them financially and hired an advocate for their case, but they had only dreamt of going aboard.

According to Rizvi, the Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Organisation had approached an organisation in Switzerland, which had sent a sponsor letter, but later the organisation did not respond. “I personally tried to provide them a job in Islamabad, but they were not interested,” she said.

In their defence, the couple claimed they were willing to work anywhere in the country.

Source: The Express Tribune