10/29/2020, 14.27
PAKISTAN
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Justice for Arzoo campaign spreads across Pakistan

by Shafique Khokhar

Demonstrations and protests over the  kidnapping of a thirteen-year-old Christian girl by a 44-year-old Muslim who forced her to convert and marry him. The authorities must respect the laws that protect minorities.

Karachi (AsiaNews) -On October 28, called by Cardinal Joseph Coutts, archbishop of Karachi, Christians, Hindu Sikhs, civil society representatives and others, more than 500 people, gathered in the St. Patrick's Cathedral in Karachi for a peaceful demonstration against the publication of caricatures (cartoons, etc.) of the prophet Mohammed in France and against the kidnapping of Arzoo Raja, a 13-year-old Christian girl from Karachi.

Cardinal Joseph Coutts and Father Saleh Diego director of the National Commission for Justice and Peace and Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Karachi in a joint statement condemned the French authorities and said they felt sad about the caricatures in a magazine based in Paris. This, they argue, is against freedom of expression, it has hurt the feelings not only of Muslims but also of the faithful of other religions.

Archbishop Joseph Coutts and Fr. Saleh Diego also raised their voices against the kidnapping of an innocent 13-year-old girl, Arzoo. Both demanded justice and due process from the Sindh government authorities, police and judiciary.

Arzoo is from a Christian family from the parish of St. Anthony of Karachi. The child was kidnapped by a Muslim while playing outside her home. Arzoo is the youngest of 2 sisters and a brother who live at Cant Station Railway Karachi. The kidnapper, Ali Azhar, 44, a Muslim neighbour, forcibly married 13-year-old Arzoo after foring her to convert to Islam. Protests are taking place across the country to seek justice for Arzoo and er family.

Rita Masih, Arzoo's mother during the protest, said she and her husband went to work at 7:30 am on October 13, 2020 and their relative Jameel, a neighbor, called them saying that Arzoo had disappeared from their home and that the sisters and brother cry and look for her in the area. After searching and asking about their daughter, they went to the Frere police station and informed them about the incident and presented the first intelligence report (# 302 A / 2020) against unknown people for kidnapping Arzoo for unknown reasons at 4 o'clock in the afternoon of the same day, but have been waiting for justice ever since.

Protests took place on the same day in Quetta, Lahore, Hyderabad and throughout Pakistan. The Lahore protest was led by a well-known philanthropist who in his speech had asked that Arzoo, who is not of age, be returned to her family. He also said that her case should not be based on religion, because religion has nothing to do with this case, it is a social issue and the court must follow the case according to state law.

A peaceful demonstration was held in the city of Hyderabad with the participation of the Society for Human Awareness, Development and Empowerment (SHADE) with the National Minority Rights Network (NMRN), the National Commission for Justice and Peace, others civil society groups, political activists and religious leaders.

Hyderabad lawyer Sooba Bhatti appealed and demanded justice from the president of the Supreme Court of Pakistan and said he must take action on his own initiative on the Arzoo issue. It's incomprehensible how a 13-year-old girl can make life-changing decisions like converting to a different religion and wanting to marry a 43-year-old man.

In THE SINDH CHILD MARRIAGES RESTRAINT ACT, 2013 SINDH ACT NO.XV OF 2014 it is clearly stated that

1. Whoever, being a male above eighteen years of age, contracts a child marriage shall be punished with rigorous imprisonment which may extend to three years but shall not be less than two years and shall be liable to fine. Punishment for male contracting party.

2. Whoever performs, conducts, directs, brings about or in any way facilitates any child marriage shall be punished with rigorous imprisonment which may extend to three years but shall not be less than two years and shall also be liable to fine, unless he proves that he had reason to believe that the marriage was not a child marriage. Punishment for solemnizing a child marriage.

We remind the Government of Sindh and Pakistani Government about its obligations under its constitution and human rights laws to protect its minorities. Our sympathies lie with Arzoo Raja and her parents. We will raise this issue internationally, Adv. Sooba added.

Fr Saleh Diego NCJP director in his speech at St. Patrick's Cathedral also recalled the lawyer Nadeem Sheikh, Mr. Pervaiz Gill met with Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG) Arif Hanif of the Anti-Violent Crime Cell (AVCC) who, informed of the huge problem of the role of the police, immediately suspended the Station house officer (SHO) and changed the investigating officer.

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