02/02/2010, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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Activists warn, the murder of a 12-year-old Christian girl could go unpunished

by Fareed Khan
The murder of young domestic worker, raped and murdered by her employer, is marred by delays and red tape. The murderer, a rich lawyer from Lahore, is getting a VIP treatment from police. Catholics and members of human rights groups have come out in support of the family and are suing the culprit.
Islamabad (AsiaNews) – Catholic leaders and Pakistani human rights activists are alarmed that the rape and murder of a 12-year-old girl, Shazia Bashir, on 23 January might go unpunished. The main suspect is a rich and powerful Muslim lawyer from Lahore, Chaudhry Muhammad Naeem, who was employing the girl as a domestic. The city’s bar association has sided with the suspect, a former president of the association, who is being treated as a VIP whilst in custody. Prosecutors meanwhile have delayed filing charges.

Shazia’s family said they had no confidence in the committee set up by Punjab’s chief minister Shahbaz Sharif because of its delaying tactics. Some of her relatives and a number of human rights activists have staged a protest in front of the Lahore Press Club and have decided to sue.

Peter Jacob, executive secretary of the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) of the Catholic Church of Pakistan, told AsiaNews that the government is ill equipped when it comes to punishing the powerful and defending the rights of the poorest sections of society.

Along with members of human rights groups, the Catholic activist wants to continue the “struggle for justice” and have Shazia’s murderer pay for his crime.

On 29 January, a judge extended Chaudhry Muhammad Naeem’s remand in custody for another six days. Police has also deployed massive security around him. His lawyers also got a court order banning media from the courtroom. Outside the courthouse (pictured), Shazia’s family and supporters shouted protest slogans.

Meanwhile, two Christian organisations, the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA) and the Pakistan Masihi League (PML), have appealed to the chief justice of the Supreme Court to do something about the culprit.

PML President Salamat Akhtar said that the girl’s death certificate was tampered with. He has also accused the police of treating the suspect as a “guest of the state” with all sorts of special privileges.

He also said that, whilst Lahore Bar Association “may defend their friend in court”, they cannot make “unlawful and unethical threats against the girl’s family” without “damaging or destroying justice” itself.

In a statement jointly signed by NCJP President Mgr John Saldanha, and Peter Jacob, Shazia’s murder is described “as not an isolated incident” because domestic workers are often “the victims of violence and coercion by their employers.”

Because the federal and provincial governments are unable to “ensure justice,” the cabinet must ban child labour and “guarantee speedy trials”.

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