KARACHI: A judicial magistrate has re-issued warrants for the arrest of a cleric and four others in a case pertaining to the marriage of an underage Christian girl, who was allegedly abducted and raped after being forcibly converted to Islam.

Qazi Mufti Ahmed Jaan Raheemi, a local cleric (who had allegedly solemnised the nikah of the then 13-year-old girl), her husband Muhammad Imran, and his relatives Muhammad Rehan Baloch, Sundus and Azra, have been booked under Sections 3 (punishment for male contracting party), Section 4 (punishment for solemnising a child marriage) and Section 5 (punishment for parent or guardian concerned in a child marriage) of the Sindh Child Marriages Restraint Act, 2013.

Last week, the court had issued bailable warrants for the arrest of the five suspects after taking cognizance of the girl’s underage marriage.

When the matter came up before Judicial Magistrate (West) Wajid Ali Channa, the investigating officer of the case filed a report on behalf of the Ittehad Town SHO stating that the arrest warrants could not be executed and requested more time to execute them after arresting and producing suspects in court.

Allowing the request, the judge repeated the bailable warrants against the five nominated suspects in a sum of Rs10,000 each. The judge also granted time to the SHO till Nov 9 to ensure arrest of the suspects and produce them in court on the next date.

Earlier, the magistrate had taken cognizance of the underage marriage of the girl, who had lodged a direct complaint with the court nominating the five suspects.

The judge had observed that the victim had recorded her statement under Section 200 of the criminal procedure code (CrPC) while the statements of the witnesses had also been recorded.

The court had noted that the statements of the witnesses duly supported the complainant’s statement. “On careful examination of the statements recorded during preliminary inquiry, it appears that the complainant in her statement stated that she is less than 13 years [old] and she was not willing in the nikah with the accused Muhammad Imran,” the magistrate said.

He had further noted that the “nikah was solemnised without her consent under pressure, coercion and influence. Hence [...] the offence under Sections 3, 4 and 5 of the Sindh Child Marriages Restraint Act, 2013, read with Section 200 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1898, is prima facie made out against the accused persons namely Muhammad Imran, Muhammad Rehan, Mst Sundus, Mst Azra and Qazi Mufti Ahmed Jaan Raheemi.”

The judge observed that under the Sindh Child Marriages Restraint Act, 2013, the marriage of either party who is younger than 18 years is prohibited. “In the circumstances, cognizance of the offence under Sections 3, 4 and 5 of the Sindh Child Marriages Restraint Act, 2013, is hereby taken. Let the private complaint be admitted and brought on regular file and registered,” he had ordered.

The court office was directed to issue bailable warrants for the arrest of the suspects.

In May 2019, three of the five suspects had easily escaped from the court after an additional district and sessions judge recalled the pre-arrest bail granted to them against a surety of Rs30,000 each. The judge had noted at the time that according to the case record, the complainant was a minor. Recording her statement before the judicial magistrate, the victim had denied having embraced Islam.

The judge further stated that “she deposed that they (suspects) forcibly obtained her signatures on plain papers and the co-accused committed zina with her.”

Initially, a case was registered under Sections 365-B (kidnapping, abducting or inducing woman to compel for marriage etc), 376 (punishment for rape), 342 (punishment for wrongful confinement), 506 (punishment for criminal intimidation) and 34 (common intention) of the Pakistan Penal Code at the Ittehad Town police station on the complaint of the victim.

Published in Dawn, October 28th, 2020