OKARA, Pakistan: In a heart-wrenching case that exemplifies the dire plight faced by religious minorities in Pakistan, Masheel Rasheed, a 16-year-old Christian girl, was abducted, subjected to sexual assault, forcibly converted to Islam, and married to Abdul Sattar, her abductor.
Masheel Rasheed is the youngest daughter of Rasheed Masih, the sole Christian family residing in Village 24/4 L, Okara. The village, home to approximately 10,000 residents, has recently become a hostile environment for the Masih family. They have endured persistent harassment and discrimination from a group of local of Muslims.
The Masih family’s ordeal began when their house was vandalized, and their belongings stolen in October 2021. An FIR (First Information Report) was filed, leading to the conviction of the accused by the Okara Session Court. However, the accused retaliated by filing a false FIR against Rasheed Masih and his family, who were later declared innocent following a police investigation.
Tragically, the situation escalated when, on October 25, 2022, Masheel was kidnapped from her home. She was preparing for school when assailants broke into her house, beating her father to unconsciousness, and taking her against her will. Despite contacting the police, Masheel remained in captivity for six months.
During her captivity, Masheel endured unimaginable horrors. She was subjected to physical abuse, sexual assault, and she was drugged by her captors. She has been repeatedly tortured leaving lasting marks on her body. Masheel was forcibly married to Abdul Sattar and coerced into testifying falsely in court in favor of her captors. Her kidnappers threatened to kill her family if she would not cooperate in the court proceedings.
After a daring escape, she was recaptured, and her suffering continued. Only after the death of Abdul Sattar’s brother did she manage to escape and return to her family in Okara.
Rasheed Masih, the distraught father, reported that he had tirelessly sought justice for his family but faced a wall of indifference and collusion, particularly within the police force. Since his daughter returned, he has been on the run with his family, fearing for their lives.
Joseph Jansen, Chairman of Voice for Justice, has decried this heinous act of violence against a Christian girl who was abducted, sexually abused, forced into Islam, and married off with her abductor facilitated by state and non-state actors, including courts, police, and Islamic clerics.
He states that Mashaal was only 15 years old when her marriage was deemed valid by a judge in the Okara district, even though the legal age of marriage is 18 years old. Joseph calls upon the Pakistani government to provide justice and protection to Rasheed Masih and his daughter, who remain in grave danger. Jansen emphasized that Pakistan is bound to uphold the rights and security of its religious minority communities. He urged authorities to take strict legal action against those responsible while engaging a top lead lawyer to represent them at the High Court in Lahore and coordinating with senior police officials to ensure the implementation of court orders.
Masheel is traumatized. They cannot return to their home since Masheel’s abductors continue to claim the marriage is legal and Masheel should return to her ‘huband’. The abductors are influential in the area and the police offers no assistance.
Shamaun Alfred, a human rights activist, stressed that the birth certificates, church registration documents, and school certifications are indisputable records providing accurate information regarding an individual’s age. However, in cases of child and forced marriages, these crucial documents are often disregarded by the judges and police due to discrimination, corruption, and biasness. Official actors often favor Muslims, seeing it as an honor to facilitate the conversion of a Christian to Islam and obtain favor of the Islamic community. There is a widespread believe among Muslims that someone will go directly to Paradise if they convert someone to Islam. In addition, according to Islamic teachings, marriages as early as 10 years old are allowed and certain groups of Muslims view it as restrictive and Western to set the marital age to 18 years old.
Rachel Mary, a women’s rights activist stressed that the police consistently favors Islamic groups and treat minority communities as inferior. Muslim extremists willingly provide refuge to these wrongdoers, justifying their actions under the guise of converting others to Islam to advance their sacred goal of increasing the Muslim population and spreading their Islamic faith, exacerbating the situation.
The Masih family’s ordeal highlights the urgent need for reform and the protection of religious minorities in Pakistan, where such atrocities continue to plague the lives of innocent citizens. The international community is called upon to stand in solidarity and demand justice for Masheel Rasheed and her family.