ACCEPT FORCEFUL CONVERSION AND MARRIAGE OR GET A BULLET IN YOUR HEAD
“My daughter could have saved her life if she had agreed to run away with the boy, change her religion and agreed to the forced marriage”, said Teresa the victim’s mother.
RAWALPINDI PAKISTAN: The religious minorities, especially Christians living in the rural areas of Pakistan, often move to Islamabad and Rawalpindi to escape severe discrimination and prejudice, and to get better work opportunities. Most of the Christians who move to these big cities settle in the slums. They are unable to afford the housing, as their menial jobs provide very little for sustenance.
The family of Allah Rakha moved from Faisalabad to Rawalpindi with dreams of a better tomorrow and settled in a rented house near Faizaia colony. Allah Rakha had 5 daughters and a son. He started working as a cleaner in a nearby small school. His wife Teresa worked as a housemaid to help feed their family. However, due to a problem in Teresa’s shoulder and arm, she was not able to continue her work. One livelihood was not enough to feed the family and pay for housing. Therefore, his eldest daughter Sonia and the younger Nazish also began working as domestic maids to help their father make ends meet. This is when two Muslim men Shahzad and Faizan, began following and trying to trap the 24-year-old Sonia.
While coming and going to work, Shahzad often blocked her way and teased her. He wanted her to convert and marry him, but Sonia refused. She and her family were active members of the local Pentecostal Church. He further called and threatened her church pastor to convince her and her family to accept the marriage proposal. The pastor refused. A few days later, Shahzad also sent a marriage proposal to Sonia’s parents, whom they turned down, saying that they were Christians and did not want to marry their daughter to a Muslim.
The next morning, on Nov. 30, when Sonia was on the way to work waiting for public transport, Shahzad shot her in the head at 9.36 am at the Fazaia stop of Rawalpindi in Punjab province. Sonia died on the way to the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences Hospital in Islamabad.
Sonia’s father Allah Rakha explained that Shahzad had been following his daughter for the past five months and that Faizan used to accompany him. Shahzad had also sent his mother to their house for a marriage proposal, but they refused. “We are Christians from generations, and Sonia was a true Christian and strong in her faith; she gave her life, but did not compromise on following her Christian faith.”
“Shahzad and Faizan have done a great injustice to us. The police are on the side of the culprits; Faizan is under custody but the murderer is still at large. However, I trust in God, He will do justice. Everyday Christian brothers and sisters pay solidarity visits; they post information on the Facebook denouncing the murder. The Police Station Officer (SHO) Malik Bashir does not like this. He has strictly told us not to talk or give information to the people visiting or media.”
Teresa, the victim’s mother also gave her statement, and added, “I am afraid for my other daughters. We cannot sleep at night. We feel frightened when there is a knock at the door at night. My son was very attached to his sister and cries for her; I am forced to keep him in the house.”
Pastor Farooq spoke highly of the family, especially Sonia, as having been a dedicated Christian and active member of his church as choir member and taking part in the church programs. He then showed clips on his mobile of Sonia’s performances in biblical dramas. The pastor said that he had also received a threatening phone call by Shahzad, to try to convince Sonia and her family to agree to the marriage and conversion. He stated, “I refused his proposal too, and informed the family about it. It is very unfortunate that such incidents are increasing day by day.”
Rubina Bhatti has visited Sonia’s family to extend financial support, to offer condolences, and to show solidarity in this tragedy. She was accompanied by Sonia’s pastor.
Recent Update on Court Case
The First Investigating Report was registered in the local police station. Faizan, Shahzad’s accomplice, was arrested the same day. Shahzad, the prime accused suspect, was arrested two weeks later. Both are now on judicial remand by the court.