A judicial magistrate on Wednesday invoked offence of rape against the main suspect in a case pertaining to the alleged underage marriage of Arzoo — a teenage Christian girl who was allegedly abducted before being forcefully converted and married to a Muslim man.
The judge also ordered the registration of a case against Syed Ali Azhar, who is the girl's purported husband, as well as against cleric Qazi Abdul Rasool Naqshbandi, the justice of peace and facilitators and witnesses under Section 3 of the Sindh Child Marriages Restraint Act, 2013.
The magistrate also issued non-bailable arrest warrants for the absconding suspects. The judge sent the matter to the district and sessions’ judge (South) for initiating a trial.
During the hearing, the judge ruled that the investigation officer in the case was at liberty to determine the question of the issuance of sanad (certificate of conversion of religion) in accordance with the Supreme Court’s judgment (SCMR-474 of 2014), which was raised by the complainant’s counsel during the course of the arguments.
Police had booked Azhar, his brothers Syed Mohsin Ali and Syed Shariq Ali and their friend Danish for allegedly kidnapping the teenage girl, forcibly converting her and marrying her to a Muslim man.
Officials had also booked cleric Qazi Abdul Rasool, Junaid Ali Siddiqui and Mehmood Hassan for facilitating and solemnising the underage marriage of Arzoo Raja with Azhar. They are all currently on interim pre-arrest bail while Azhar is in police custody.
On Wednesday, judicial magistrate (South) Muhammad Ali Dall pronounced his verdict on the charge-sheet filed by the investigating officer after hearing arguments from the state prosecutor, defence counsel Muhammad Nizar Tanoli and the counsels for the complainant, Jibran Nasir and Asghar Narejo.
In his 20-page order, the judge noted that from perusal of the material available on record, it appeared that the "ingredients" of Section 376 (punishment for rape) of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) and Section 3 of the Sindh Child Marriages Restraint Act, 2013 were "attracting" against the suspect Syed Ali Azhar.
Section 3 states: “Whoever, being a male above eighteen years of age, contracts a child marriage shall be punished with rigorous imprisonment, which may extend to two years or with fine, which may extend to one hundred thousand rupees or with both.”
Similarly, the judge said that "ingredients" of Section 201 (causing disappearance of evidence of offence, or giving false information to screen offender) of the PPC also "attracted" against Azhar.
He further wrote that in view of the facts, it appeared that "ingredients" of Section 4 (punishment for solemnising a child marriage) of the Child Marriage Act was "attracting" against Qazi Abdul Rasool Naqshbandi, who solemnised the couple’s marriage, Justice of Peace Muhammad Azharuddin, witnesses Muhammad Danish, Habib, Mahmood Hassan and Junaid Ali Siddiqui.
The magistrate accepted the charge-sheet filed by the investigation officer and took cognisance under Section 376 of the PPC and Section 3 of the SCMRA, 2013 against Azhar.
The magistrate also took cognisance under the Section 4 of the SCMRA, 2013 against the cleric Qazi Abdul Rasool Naqshbandi, Justice of Peace Muhammad Azharuddin, Muhammad Danish, Habib, Mahmood Hassan and Junaid Ali Siddiqui.
The judge further took cognisance under Section 201 of the PPC against Azhar.
However, the judge noted that since no evidence for initiating trial is available against the suspects Syed Shariq Ali and Danish, both were discharged from the case accordingly for the time being.
“Let the case be registered against Syed Ali Azhar, Qazi Abdul Rasool Naqshbandi, Justice of Peace Muhammad Azharuddin, Mahmood Hassan and Junaid Ali Siddiqui.” The magistrate sent the record of proceedings of the case to the District and Sessions’ Judge (South) for initiating trial.
Meanwhile, the court issued non-bailable warrants for the arrest of the absconding suspects, the Justice of Peace Muhammad Azharuddin and witnesses of the marriage ceremony, Danish and Habib.