THE girls leave Islamabad High Court after attending the hearing.—Tanveer Shahzad / White Star
THE girls leave Islamabad High Court after attending the hearing.—Tanveer Shahzad / White Star

ISLAMABAD: Islamabad High Court (IHC) Chief Justice Athar Minallah on Tuesday ordered shifting of two sisters belonging to a Hindu family of Ghotki to the Shaheed Benazir Bhutto Women Crisis Centre.

The two underage girls, Asia aka Ravina and Nadia aka Reena, had allegedly been forced to convert to Islam and married to two Muslim men after their alleged abduction from Ghotki to Rahim Yar Khan.

Taking up a petition filed by the two sisters in which they sought protection, CJ Minallah appointed some legal human rights activists as amici curiae (friends of court) to assist the court in the case.

Court puts restriction on meetings with two girls

He observed that the matter was of public importance in the context of the enforcement of fundamental rights of minorities in the country. The case had also caused a controversy regarding alleged forced conversions in the country, particularly in Sindh, he added.

CJ Minallah quoted a historic speech by Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah at the inaugural session of the first Constituent Assembly on Aug 11, 1947 that had explicitly declared that adequate provisions would be made for minorities so that they could freely profess and practise their religions and develop their cultures.

Regarding the case of two sisters, the court observed that the alleged forced conversion should be investigated by both the federal and Sindh governments in a fair and transparent manner.

“It is the duty of the state and its functionaries to protect fundamental rights of minorities,” the court order read.

The court ordered that both sisters be shifted to the Shaheed Benazir Bhutto Women Crisis Centre, a shelter home in Islamabad, where they would stay till the next date of hearing on April 2. Hassan Mangi, director general in the Ministry of Human Rights, and Superintendent of Police Sumera Azam have been directed to ensure proper care and security of the two girls.

The court put a restriction on meetings with the two girls. CJ Minallah directed Islamabad Deputy Commissioner Hamza Shafqat to “nominate a senior officer, preferably a lady magistrate vested with magisterial powers, to regulate matters during the stay of the petitioners at the Shaheed Benazir Bhutto Women Crisis Centre. No person will be allowed to meet the petitioners except with the written permission from the nominated magistrate.”

Amici curiae

The chief justice appointed Minister for Human Rights Dr Shireen Mazari, National Commission on the Status of Women chairperson Khawar Mumtaz, Dr Mehdi Hassan and I. A. Rehman of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan as amici curiae to assist the court in the case.

The court was informed that the prime minister had already ordered an inquiry into the matter as well as the Sindh government was also taking measures to resolve the issue. The court issued directives for timely completion of the inquiry ordered by the prime minister and sought a report by April 2.

The chief secretary of Sindh has also been directed “to submit a report before the next date of hearing and to nominate an officer to assist the court”, the order said.

The Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences’ executive director has been directed to nominate a woman doctor to examine the two girls.

The government took notice of the controversy on Saturday after two videos were uploaded on social media networks in which the father and a brother of the girls claimed that the girls had been abducted and forcefully converted to Islam.

Shortly another video appeared on social media networks in which the girls in question claimed that they had converted to Islam of their free will.

Police have detained seven people, including the marriage officiator (nikah khwan), suspected of involvement in the abduction, forced conversion and underage marriage of the two sisters.

The petition has been filed by the two girls and their alleged spouses, Safdar Ali and Barkat Ali. It cites the state minister for interior, Sindh chief minister, inspectors general of Sindh, Punjab and Islamabad police, MNA Ramesh Vankwani and the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) as respondents.

The petitioners have asked the court to restrain the respondent authorities from “harassing” and “threatening” them, as well as requesting that Pemra be asked to refrain from “promoting propaganda” against the petitioners.

According to the petition, the two girls were born in a Hindu family and converted to Islam because they were impressed by Islamic teachings. It claims they did not inform their family because of consequential threats to their lives.

The alleged husbands of the girls have also filed separate petitions in the IHC, seeking protective bail. They have expressed apprehensions that the police may arrest them on the basis of an FIR registered against them.

Published in Dawn, March 27th, 2019

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