03/02/2017, 17.16
PAKISTAN
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Christian father and daughter arrested on false charges of theft in Faisalabad

by Shafique Khokhar

The two are accused of theft and robbery by the girl’s employers, a Muslim family that employed her as a maid. She earned US$ 40 a month for 18 hours of work a day. For Shahid Anwar, diocesan coordinator for Justice and Peace, false charges are levelled at minority people who stand up to slavery.

Faisalabad (AsiaNews) - Mehwish Masih, a 15-year-old Christian girl, and her 48-year-old father, Babar Masih, were indicted on false charges and are currently involved in a nightmarish legal battle to prove their innocence.

The Muslim family that employed Mehwish for months as a maid accused the two of theft and robbery. Father and daughter were arrested on 8 December 2017 and released on bail in the first week of February 2017.

The Masih are very poor Christian family living in Kamalpur (Faisalabad). Babar and his wife Ruqiya Bibi have four children, three girls and a boy. Their home is a very humble flat near the kiln where both parents work.

In October 2015, the family was contacted by Kiran Bibi, wife of Mian Mohammad Tariq, a Muslim entrepreneur. She asked that the couple's 15-year-old daughter work for her as a maid. Finding themselves in difficult economic conditions, Babar and Ruqiya accepted.

Mehwish worked 16 months for the Muslim family, 18 hours a day for 5,000 rupees a month (US$ 50), living in her employers’ house. She was allowed to visit home once a month.

In September 2016, Mehwish felt pain to abdomen, and her parents brought her home, where she was diagnosed with severe appendicitis. They decided to keep her at home until she got better.

Kiran Bibi reacted angrily to this, telling the couple to send their daughter back to work. In the face of repeated refusals, she responded with verbal violence and threats.

During the last week of November, Kiran Bibi visited the family accompanied by police officers. She accused Mehwish and her father of stealing jewels worth 16 million Pakistani rupees (US$ 15,000) during her nephew’s wedding ceremony in January 2016.

Based on these allegations, father and daughter were summoned to the Kamalpur police station for questioning. They were released the next day.

On 8 December 2016, lured by the promise of settling the dispute, Babar and Mehwish went to the Tariq house where, called by the accusers, police were waiting to arrest the two Christians.

The father was held at the local police station, whilst the girl was placed under house arrest at the home of her employer and accuser.

The Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) took to heart the situation of the two accused and in early February posted bail.

The two returned home, are now waiting for the next court hearing, scheduled for next Monday (6 March). Meanwhile, the High Court in Lahore has not yet ruled on a request for permanent bail.

Speaking to AsiaNews, Shahid Anwar, diocesan coordinator for Justice and Peace in Faisalabad, said that "Very often this kind of allegations is levelled against Christian domestic workers by rich home owners because they belong to minorities and marginalised groups.”

“Most of the time, the charges are unfounded. Employers do not want their employees to free themselves from their bondage. The daughter was held at the Tariq home and her father was kept behind bars for many days without due process.”

“This family is innocent and very poor,” Shahid noted. “We are providing them with legal aid, and managed to get interim bail at the High Court in Lahore, but we hope that on 6 March the bail will be confirmed. We stand by these poor victims and shall fight until justice is done."

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