Pakistan: for kidnapped Catholic girl, calamity in the courtroom

THE CAMPAIGN TO FREE a 14-year-old Catholic girl from the clutches of a man who abducted her and held her hostage in his home in Pakistan lies in tatters after the Lahore High Court unexpectedly decided in the abductor’s favor.

Judge Raja Muhammad Shahid Abbasi on Aug. 4, 2020 overturned last week’s ruling of the Faisalabad District and Sessions Court which ordered that Maira Shahbaz be removed from Mohamad Nakash’s house and placed in a women and girls’ refuge, pending further investigations.

Miara Shahbaz
Maira Shahbaz

Nakash claimed he had married Maira but, in spite of evidence invalidating the marriage certificate and showing that she is underage—and therefore legally not allowed to marry—the Lahore High Court ruled in the man’s favor, stating that the teenager has embraced Islam.

Witnesses said Maira was in tears in the court and afterwards her clearly distressed mother, Nighat, declined to speak to Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), which has helped provide legal aid for her daughter.

Family friend and lawyer 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 is an Islamic judgment. The arguments we put forward were very strong and cogent.”

In the courtroom, 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 Nakash. The lawyer 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.

Tahir Sadhu said: “I became so upset as the proceedings went on, I feared I might be asked to leave the court room.” The lawyer said he would appeal the decision, first before the Lahore High Court and, if this fails, before the Supreme Court of Pakistan.

—John Pontifex