IHC orders custody for Ghotki girls

Orders to ensure their protections; notes girls could not be send to Sindh till a decision

Our Correspondent March 26, 2019
Islamabad High Court. PHOTO: IHC WEBSITE

ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Tuesday gave the two sisters, who were allegedly abducted and forcefully converted from Hinduism to Islam, in official custody until submission of report, as it ordered authorities to ensure their safety.

The two girls, Reena and Raveena, had approached the IHC along with their alleged spouses – Safdar Ali and Barkat Ali – to seek protection. In their plea, the girls had said they belong to a Hindu family of Ghotki, Sindh but converted willfully as they were impressed by Islamic teaching.

The girls, whose Muslim names are Nadia and Asia, said they had deliberately avoided informing their family members about their inclination towards Islam due to threats to their lives. They said they left their home on March 20, and sought legal help after announcing to accept Islam on March 22.

They claimed that MNA Ramesh Kumar Vankwani and Hari Lal had told a fabricated story about their forceful conversion. First they traveled to Khanpur in Punjab and later left for Islamabad due to fear of action by Sindh and Punjab police.

They said the media was also spreading false propaganda against their willful conversion to Islam. During hearing, the IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah asked about the age of the two girls. The petitioners' counsel told the bench that one of the girls was 20-year-old while the other was 18.

Justice Minallah remarked that it was a very sensitive issue and ensuring the rights of minorities is also the government's responsibility. The bench observed that that the Holy Prophet (PBUH) had also preached about the rights of minorities on several occasions.

A representative of federal government also informed the court that the prime minister had ordered an inquiry into the matter that would complete within a week.

The bench later handed over the girls in custody of the Islamabad High Court (ICT) administration till submission of the report to the court. It ordered to appoint a female SP rank police officer for girls' security even if they were sent to a shelter home and also named a sessions judge as guardian.

The court observed that the two sisters could not be shifted to Sindh province till the decision in the case and adjourned hearing till April 2.

In their petition, the girls had nominated Ministry of Interior, Sindh chief minister, inspectors general of Sindh, Punjab and Islamabad police, MNAs Ramesh Kumar, Hari Lal and the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) as respondents. Islamabad deputy commissioner, Human Rights director general and representatives of Sindh police also appeared before the court.

The alleged spouses of the girls, Barkat and Shafqat, had also submitted to the court a request for protective bail through their lawyer Umair Baloch. The plea said they had been named in an FIR and their arrests should be stopped.

Police have detained ten people in the case over the alleged forced marriages and registered a formal case of kidnapping and robbery on complaints of the girls’ parents.

The case came to limelight after a video of the girls’ father went viral on social media. Later, Indian External Affair Minister Sushma Swaraj also took to Twitter to express concern over the alleged abduction and said she had asked Indian ambassador to Pakistan for a report on the news.

Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry was quick to respond to Swaraj that Pakistan was "totally behind the girls". He had also asked India to look after its own minority Muslims.

At a news conference on Sunday, he referred to religious riots in Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's home state of Gujarat in 2002 that killed more than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims.