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Movement for Solidarity and Peace in Pakistan

Media Release
For Immediate Release
Monday, April 7, 2014

Movement for Solidarity and Peace in Pakistan Issues Global Appeal to End Forced Marriages & Conversions of Christian Girls and Women in Pakistan

International Release of Investigative Report, Forced Marriages & Forced Conversions In the Christian Community of Pakistan, with Recommendations for Action

Contact: MSP media office info@msp-pk.org

(Washington, DC) – Movement for Solidarity and Peace in Pakistan (MSP) is issuing an appeal for action by releasing an investigative report detailing forced marriages and conversions of Christian girls and women in Pakistan. [The Christian community in Pakistan is over 2 million in size, accounts for 42 percent of Pakistan’s minority population, and is mostly resident in the Punjab.]

The prevalence of forced conversion and marriage are difficult to accurately estimate due to reporting deficiencies and the complex nature of the crime. Estimates therefore range from 100 to 700 victim Christian girls every year (conservative estimates for Hindu girls are on the order of 300 per year).

MSP’s investigations find that cases of forced marriages/conversions follow a distinctive pattern: Christian girls — usually between the ages of 12 and 25 — are abducted, converted to Islam, and married to the abductor or third party. The victim’s family usually files a First Information Report (FIR) for abduction or rape with the local police station. The abductor, on behalf of the victim girl, files a counter FIR, accusing the Christian family of harassing the willfully converted and married girl, and for conspiring to convert the girl back to Christianity. Upon production in the courts or before the magistrate, the victim girl is asked to testify whether she converted and married of her own free will or if she was abducted. (In most cases, the girl remains in custody of the abductor while judicial proceedings are carried out). Upon the girl’s pronouncement that she willfully converted and consented to the marriage, the case is settled without relief for the family. Once in the custody of the abductor, the victim girl may be subjected to sexual violence, rape, forced prostitution, human trafficking and sale, or other domestic abuse.

These patterns of violence and miscarriages of justice are explored in the report through an examination of 10 illustrative cases.

The report also describes the historical and social context of the problem, and the particular grievances of Pakistan’s Christian community in relation to the existing legal, political, and procedural guarantees for the protection of human rights of Pakistan’s religious minorities. The report also highlights the patterns of violence through which the law and social attitudes become complicit in providing immunity for perpetrators, and the complex nature of associated crimes that make it difficult to categorize this crime as specific to religious identity. The report concludes with detailed recommendations at various levels— national, provincial, and local — for key stakeholders.

MSP is mobilizing an inclusive coalition to raise awareness on this issue. MSP will host outreach events in the coming weeks in Pakistan (in collaboration with the National Commission of Justice and Peace in Pakistan) and around the world.

The current investigative effort by MSP follows its 2012 release of “Shia Hazara of Pakistan: A Community Under Siege", an in-depth report revealing abuse of religious minorities in Pakistan’s eastern province of Balochistan.

Concerned individuals can view and download the report and take action at www.msp-pk.org, Movement for Peace and Solidarity in Pakistan’s website.

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Movement for Solidarity and Peace (MSP) in Pakistan is a non-partisan organization devoted to building advocacy, education and respect for human rights in Pakistan. Its mission is to ensure that all citizens in Pakistan can avail their rights to equality, security and freedom of religion under the Constitution of Pakistan and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

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Genocide of Hazara Shias Continues Unabated

On Thursday January 10th two bombs were exploded in a crowded area on Alamdar Road, Quetta, an area where most of Hazara and other Shias reside, killing 92 Hazara Shias and injuring more than 200. Earlier in the day, bomb blast occurred in Meezan Choke close to security check point manned by Frontier Corp (FC) personnel. Twelve people were killed in this blast including bystanders.

Although the first blast was claimed to have been carried out by Baloch rebels, it appears that it was a strategy to engage and divert attention of FC and other security personnel and carry out the other two well planned blasts in Hazara area with devastating effects.

The two blasts in Hazara area took place within 10 minutes of each other: the first one was carried out by a suicide bomber who exploded himself in the basement of a crowded sports club on Alamdar Road. About 4 people were killed in that blast and same number injured. With the sound of the first blast, large number of people rushed to the scene including police officers and medics to provide assistance to people trapped in the basement of the sports club. As the crowed got larger, the second blast occurred from a small minivan parked next to the club. This was a very powerful blast and caused large number of fatalities. Based on reports, about 120 people were killed and more than 200 injured. The majority (about 92) of the deceased belonged to Hazara Shia community. This was the biggest one day loss of so many innocent lives with most aged between 15 and 30 years old. Same day, Sunni extremist group, Lashkar-e-Jhangavi (LeJ) claimed responsibility for the blasts and promised more attacks and extermination of Hazara Shias in Quetta in 2013. This is the same group that has been openly professing and committing violence against Hazara Shias in Quetta and other Shias across Pakistan for the last 12 years. The most disturbing aspect of all of this is that the provincial government has not been able to bring an end to this genocidal act. Credible sources have over and again indicated that these extremist groups have support and patronage from elements in the government and military establishment.

The grief from such large scale killing of innocent people was so overwhelming that the whole Hazara Shia community decided to not bury the dead bodies this time and announced three days of mourning and sit ins along with dead bodies shrouded and lying on Alamdar Road. The community has been under siege for the last few years and members of the community are being killed on a daily basis by the same Sunni extremist groups, Lashkar-e-Jhangavi (LeJ) and Sippah-e-Sahaba.

On day one of the sit ins there was hardly any national media coverage but the Hazara people braved the sub-freezing temperatures and continued with their peaceful protest of sit ins and promising not to bury the dead until the government meet their demands for providing protection for the community. Two key demands made by the community leaders from Hazara Yakjehti Council (Hazara United Council) were the removal of the provincial government and military taking over the charge of providing security for the population. The reason behind the demand for the removal of the provincial government was that for the last four and half years, provincial government headed by Chief Minister Aslam Raisani has been a complete failure with regards to providing security for the Hazara Shia against targeted killing and ethnic cleansing of this minority population. With more than 1200 Hazaras killed during last few years, not a single culprit has been brought to justice. With this lack of interest and apathy towards plight of Hazara people, the community had no choice this time but to carry out sit in protests under extremely cold conditions. The whole community joined the protest including women and children. On day two, media started to provide coverage when they started to see the hapless conditions of the bereaved family members sitting next to the dead body of their loved ones.

Shias from other parts of Pakistan started to hold sit in protests and within hours there were tens of thousands of both Shia and Sunnis started to join the protests in Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad, Multan, Hyderabad and other cities across Pakistan.

During this time of mourning and protest, not a single provincial minister cared to visit the grieving Hazaras, and Chief Minister was en route to Dubai. Not a single word of condemnation offered by leaders of major political parties. However, as the protest got larger and Hazaras continued to sit outside on Alamdar road with their dead, a few political leaders started to come to Quetta for condolence and share the grief of the Hazaras. Imran Khan, chief of Pakistan Tehreek Insaf (PTI) was the first one to visit followed by MQM delegation and Governor of Balochistan.

For three days the Hazaras including women and children sat on Alamdar Road under freezing cold conditions and rain while prime minster, Raja Pervaiz Ashraf and President Zardari were sitting in their mansions contemplating how to tackle the issue. Finally, when they saw the strength of the Shia as well as other Pakistanis across Pakistan, they decided to sack the provincial government and put in place governor rule for 2 months.

Prime minister along with the Governor of Balochistan, Zulfiqar Magasi, visited the Hazara community and met with the leaders. After listening to the demands of the community leaders, the prime minister made the announcement of dissolution of provincial government and imposition of Governor rule. On the demand for military takeover of the city, they indicated that constitution doesn’t allow that, but the army and other paramilitary forces will be ready to assist Governor whenever he wants to conduct targeted operation against the Sunni extremists groups.

Following the formal declaration of the provincial government dissolution and imposition of governor rule, the Hazara community leaders on Monday stopped the protest and on the same day started to bury the dead.

Hazara shias are going through very difficult times and they’re hopeful that with the new setup they may get a reprieve from this continuous violence perpetrated against them for the last 12 years.

 

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