A Pakistani court has sentenced a young man who raped a seven year old Christian girl on Easter Day four years ago, to 14 years in prison and a fine of 200,000 Pakistani rupees (c.US $2,000).
The verdict has been greeted by activists, as one of the few examples where prosecutions on behalf of Christians are finally seen through to a conclusion in court.
Judge Chaudhry Zulfiqar Ali announced the verdict on May 2 in the presence of the man, Fakhr-e-Alam, alias Phool, who was immediately sent to Sialkot District Jail.
Alam was around 17 years old at the time of the crime. The court awarded punishment after the police investigation report and the medical examination corroborated evidence produced by the prosecution.
Maximum punishment for rape in Pakistani law is 25 years’ imprisonment. The court, however, considered that Alam was a juvenile and had committed no other crime before.
The incident took place on April 20, 2014 when Saira Bibi, living in a village of Sialkot’s Daska town, went out at around 12pm to a nearby shop.
Saira, during the trial, boldly submitted that she was going to the shop when “accused Fakhr-i-Alam met her. He lifted her and took her” to a nearby compound, owned by Akhtar Ali Nagra, a local landlord, where he raped her until her two brothers Shahbaz and Emmanuel Masih arrived to rescue her, “whereupon the accused Fakhr-i-Alam fled away.”
Right after the incident, two local landlords, Ahmad Yar Nagra and Zulifqar Nagra, pressurized Saira’s family not to go to the police. This became possible only after the news was picked up by local TV and newspapers. The victim was still mentally and physically traumatized when she was taken to the hospital two days later.
Due to media coverage, the Supreme Court of Pakistan took notice of the incident and ordered the provincial head of the police to submit the police investigation report. The Chief Minister of the Punjab, Mian Shahbaz Sharif, also took notice, and said he would ensure that he’d bring the culprit to justice.
However, the victim’s family faced – and continue to face – many challenges, including threats, social stigma, and loss of livelihood and household. Because of threats, the family had to leave the village right after the incident and came to the city area of Sialkot where they now have to live on the roadside.
“Our heavenly father is with us and we are not afraid of anything,” Saira’s mother Shaguftah Bibi told World Watch Monitor. “Only days before the court decision came, my husband was working with a landlord nearby who removed him from service because we had refused to withdraw our case.
“Few days ago, two men stopped my son Shahbaz, who brought the case, to tell him that all four sons would now suffer consequences. I told him if anyone says this to him next time, he must tell them to do whatever they want, but only dare to come in the daylight, so others can see what is being done to us.”
‘Stay firm for justice’
Lawyer Riaz Anjum, who represented the victim, told World Watch Monitor that the suspect had no case, so the defence strategy “kept lingering on by not presenting evidence in court, to demoralize the [victim’s] family.”
Alam’s counsel pleaded that Saira was raped by a man who was his namesake Phool, so the police had mistaken his identity. He pleaded that, because of huge pressure on police from the Chief Minister, they had implicated Alam to satisfy high officials that they had arrested a suspect.
The court, however, held that “Nothing tangible was brought to discredit the [prosecution] testimony … the victim named Fakhr-i-Alam in her statement… Accused has failed to point out any malafide or ill-will on the part of prosecution witnesses to falsely depose against him.” The court also observed that two brothers and their mother would not collude to bring shame on Saira:
“[So] it is not expected from such close kith and kin that they would spare the actual culprit to go scot-free, by falsely involving the accused in this case. Substitution is a rare phenomenon. No one would like to bring stigma on the chastity of his sister/daughter, with a view to implicate someone, and to put at stake the honour of their sister/daughter. It cannot also be believed that the victim would put her [future] career, personal respect and family honour at stake by fabricating a fake story…in absence of any motive … the ocular account is supported by medical evidence”.
Lawyer Anjum said that problems for the family hadn’t ended yet as Alam has challenged the court decision. Saira’s mother says “We will stay firm for justice by His Grace.”
Christians account about 1.5 percent, roughly 3 to 5 million, of the total population and they are the poorest minority in the overwhelming Muslim-majority country. Pakistan is 5th on the 2018 Open Doors World Watch List of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to live as a Christian.
Because Christians in Pakistan are a tiny minority and are extremely poor, and the country has poor rule of law, crimes against Christians with impunity are commonplace.