08/19/2011, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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Punjab: Christian family held slave to a Muslim landowner for 30 years

by Jibran Khan
The father had signed a loan for his daughter's wedding. Interest rates of up to 500%, made it impossible to repay the money. So 26 people, including women and children, have lived like modern slaves in ten household of a Muslim. More cases of marriages and forced conversions of Christian girls.

Islamabad (AsiaNews) - A Christian family consisting of 26 persons, including women and children, lived in slavery for over 30 years. Forced to work on a farm belonging to a wealthy Muslim landowner Rahim Yar Khan, in a district of the province of Punjab, only recently managed to regain freedom. Reduced to servitude for three decades, the family members escaped their captor through the intervention of the leaders of the Catholic Diocese of Bahawalpur. Meanwhile the abduction of Christian girls, forced to marry Muslim men and forcibly converted to Islam, continue. The latest incident took place at Quetta: the young girl, after two years of prison, managed to escape and is now in an undisclosed location under threat of death.

About 30 years ago Zulfiquar Masih, a Christian from Rahim Yar Khan, signed a loan to raise enough money for his daughter’s marriage. The interest rate rocketed to touch 500% making it impossible to pay off the debt. For this the entire family was segregated by force in a private jail and forced to work for Basharat Ali Gulo, a Muslim farmer and company owner. Enslaved for three decades, the family managed to free itself through the intervention of the Catholic leaders of Bahawalpur. On behalf of the diocese Fr. Samuel Rafael,filed a complaint against Basharat Ali at the High Court. And the judges have ordered the release of the family, until then held in forced labor.

Speaking to AsiaNews Fr Rafael said that "thousands of workers are kept in conditions of slavery across Pakistan today." In Sindh province the Hindus are kept in slavery for generations by the feduals. We condemn such acts and will fight for the Christians in slavery. We have raised the matter to the concerned authorities. It is a clear violation of human rights."

Meanwhile, the 27 year old Catholic schoolgirl Arifa Alfred, segregated for two years by a Muslim, who abducted her with the help of two "friends" to marry her by force and convert her to Islam has managed to escape with her family, and is hiding in a secret location. Arifa, a college student, from Nawa Killi, Quetta, a city near the border with Afghanistan, has lived in conditions of slavery, locked in the house and deprived of freedom of movement and worship, despite having repeatedly reaffirmed her faith in Christ.

The girl was repeatedly beaten with violence, suffered physical and psychological torture. Only by a fortunate circumstance - Amjad, the alleged husband, did not locked the door – did she manage to escape, going first to the hospital to heal her wounds, then her brother. Despite the family complaint, the police was unwilling to intervene, on the contrary, the police inspector expressed his satisfaction with Arifa’s conversion to Islam and invited the girl to return to her kidnapper.
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