By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN (BosNewsLife)– A Muslim leader has ordered Christian families to burn their homes and leave a village in Pakistan’s Punjab province after a villager freed his abducted underage daughter who was “raped and forced to convert to Islam”, negotiators told BosNewsLife Friday, November 30.
“Today [our representatives] are holding a meeting with Muslim clerics in Chack No- 198/EB of Vehari District to help the eight Christian families and [the rescued Christian girl] Aisya Masih,” said Farrukh H. Saif, the executive director of Pakistan-based advocacy group World Vision In Progress (WVIP).
The talks began after the ‘Paish Imam’ of the local mosque warned announced that Aisya Masih “cannot live as a Christian” because she “was converted to Islam.”
He allegedly threatened Aisya and her family that they will face unspecified “consequences” if the girl doesn’t follow the religious traditions of Islam.
The imam “also announced that all eight Christian families of the village should be banished and their houses should be burnt,” said Saif.
The tensions began November 11 when Aisya was kidnapped while helping her impoverished parents with the harvest of cut flowers from the area’s fields, according to local Christians with close knowledge about the case.
Two suspects, unidentified publicly as influential Muslims Mohammad Javed and Mohammad Mumtaz, allegedly brought the girl to a nearby location where they raped and tortured her for 11 days.
They forced Aisya to become a Muslim by putting her thumb prints on different documents to prove she had been converted to Islam, according to WVIP investigators.
Her father Francis Masih asked local police to intervene, but they refused to rescue the girl, Saif told BosNewsLife.
The kidnappers later told her father that “they would kill Aisya Masih if he would contact the police,” Saif added.
She was eventually freed November 22 with support from WVIP and an influential Christian businessman, he said.
There was no immediate known comment from local police and it remained unclear Friday, November 30, when and if the Christians, including Aisya and her family, would be expelled.
This isn’t an isolated incident. Christian girls and women have been kidnapped, raped and forced to convert to Islam in several parts of Pakistan, rights investigators claim.
There has been international pressure on Pakistan’s government to improve the plight of Christians in the country, where several believers are also held behind bars on what their supporters call “trumped-up” charges of blasphemy against Islam.