Faisalabad: Persecuted Christian family in first hearing after six months of harassment
Rifat Rani had asked her neighbour for help because she could not make ends meet. The neighbour tried to take advantage of this by harassing the whole family to get more money. The first hearing was held in recent days thanks to the intervention of Human Rights Focus Pakistan.
Faisalabad (AsiaNews) - There is no end to the harassment and persecution of Christians in Pakistan: the widow Rifat Rani and her children have been persecuted by their Muslim neighbours for over six months and only managed to get a court hearing after turning to Human Rights Focus Pakistan.
Rifat Rani, 48, works as a caretaker at the Agricultural University of Faisalabad. Having six other dependents in her family, she could not make ends meet after the death of her husband, so she asked her neighbour Akbar Ali for help. Ali agreed to share the electricity with the widow, but when the first bill arrived on 25 August, he asked her to pay the full 14,000 rupees (about 75 euro).
Rifat refused, asking to pay what had been agreed, i.e. half. Wanting more money, Akbar Ali began to intimidate and harass her daughter Iram. When her brother, Haroon Masih, contacted the police, they arrested both Ali and Haroon, who was then detained for 10 days.
After their release from prison, the two managed to reach an initial agreement on the payment of the bill, but then the situation got worse. Throughout the autumn Akbar Ali and his supporters accused Rifat Rani's family of false crimes (his son and son-in-law were accused of raping Ali's daughter), kidnapped and tortured one of the family members and set fire to their house while they were inside.
It was at this point that the Christian widow decided to turn to Hrfp, after previous complaints to the police had been to no avail. On 28 December, one day after the fire at the Christian home, Hrfp finally managed to have the case registered with the police. The first hearing was held on 2 February, but was adjourned to 9 February because Akbar Ali was present without a lawyer.
Naveed Walter, president of the organisation that is providing legal assistance to the family condemned the case: "There is a tremendous need to change the current laws so that everyone can enjoy the same protection that should be based on equality of belief and religion," he told AsiaNews.
Rifat Rani's son, Haroon Masih, and his son-in-law, Arslan Masih, are facing trial because they are accused of raping Akbar Ali's daughter. At the moment they have been granted bail. The family claims that this is one of the false accusations made by their neighbour to take revenge on them.