The decision to pursue further court action in Pakistan's Punjab province, seeking custody of 13-year-old Saba Masih, came after her younger sister, Aneela, testified they were subjected to rapes and forced conversion to Islam, Christians and right watchers said.
Since her recent release Aneela Masih has told her uncle, Khalid Raheel, previously unknown details of the sisters’ capture, according to the Centre for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS).
Aneela Masih allegedly told Raheel that while at a fruit stand she and her sister were taken away in June by taxi and raped. After being tied up and locked in a room, the two were forced to make professions of Islamic faith, CLAAS said.
She reportedly described how "the pistol-toting captors" threatened the girls with death and told them their parents would also be killed if the sisters did not do everything asked of them. "These poor little kids, they threatened them," said Akbar Durrani, a lawyer from CLAAS who fought in court on the sisters’ behalf, in a published statement. "She said they were terrified."
The Lahore High Court’s Multan Bench reportedly awarded custody of Saba Masih to her alleged kidnapper, last month, and ordered him to pay a 100,000 Rupees ($1,309) as a "guarantee" and "surety bond" for her.
CLAAS said the case is the latest in a series of incidents. "In 2005, Rina, Oosha and Reema were granted one hour to meet their parents but in the end the abductors allowed only 15 minutes and after that, the parents never heard any news of their daughters," the group said.
Earlier, "in 1998, three minor Christian girls, Nadia, 15, Naima, 13, and Nabila, 11, of Rawalpindi near Islamabad, were kidnapped and forcibly converted to Islam. The court sided with the Muslim abductors and ruled that “since the girls have become Muslim therefore their Christian parents cannot have their custody," CAA said in a statement seen by BosNewsLife. "They were then sent to a house for destitute women where they were later married to Muslim men."
CLAAS suggested there have been similar cases across the country. "Forced conversion is a threat to Christian women and girls working especially in Muslim households or small factories, where some have reportedly been abducted, raped, forced to convert to Islam and then forced to marry to Muslims," the group said.
"Victims are not allowed to convert back to their original religion. Nor are they allowed to maintain contact with their non-Muslim relatives, not even their parents. They are instead kept under strict custody," CLAAS added.
The group said it would increase efforts to pressure authorities to guarantee more rights for religious minorities. "The state and law enforcement agencies, particularly the police, have failed to ensure the protection of women members of minority religions," CLAAS said. "Whist the [recently elected] Pakistani government denies the victimisation of non-Muslim women, CLAAS continues to receive regular reports of humiliation, harassment, sexual abuse, forced marriage and forced conversion to Islam."
CLAAS said that forced conversion of non-Muslim women to Islam occurs at the hands of various Islamic groups. "In the last few years, the numbers of Christian and Hindu women being forced to convert to Islam suggests they are the main target of these groups. Although all religious minorities in Pakistan face the threat of forced conversion, human rights groups have witnessed a rise in the number of reports of non-Muslim women in particular being forced to convert to Islam."
It said that non-Muslim women are often "regarded as infidels and their conversion to Islam is considered a noble deed among more hard-line Islamic groups." (With reporting by BosNewsLife's Stefan J. Bos).