A young Christian woman was shot dead in public after she rejected unwanted physical advances, a marriage proposal and invitation to convert to Islam by a Muslim man in Pakistan’s Punjab province.
The Muslim man, identified as Muhammad Shehzad, murdered the 24-year-old Christian woman, identified only as Sonia, a resident of Fazaia Colony in Rawalpindi area, on Nov. 11 but the incident was reported only on Sunday by Pakistan’s The Express Tribune newspaper. Sonia was killed in public while she was returning from work at a garment factory.
The victim’s family has said the accused had been harassing Sonia for the last six months and had tried to force a physical relationship with her. According to the U.S.-based persecution watchdog International Christian Concern, Sonia refused these advances due to the difference in faith backgrounds.
As a “solution,” Shehzad proposed that Sonia should marry him and convert to Islam. Shehzad’s mother also met with Sonia’s family to negotiate an arranged marriage. But the family also refused the marriage.
“A few days before the incident, Sonia was again harassed by Shehzad,” Allah Rakha, Sonia’s father, told ICC. “Since she was a committed Christian she did not betray Jesus and sacrificed her life for her faith. We are being harassed and pressurised to withdraw the case against culprits. However, I want culprits brought to justice.”
Police have said a preliminary investigation suggests that the killing was carried out due to personal resentment.
According to the Pakistani daily, another young Christian girl, Arzoo Raja, was reportedly abducted, forced to convert and marry a 44-year-old Muslim man in Karachi city in the province of Sindh.
A 2014 study by The Movement for Solidarity and Peace Pakistan estimated that about 1,000 women and girls from Pakistan’s Hindu and Christian community were abducted, forcibly married to their captor, and forcibly converted to Islam every year.
The issue of religion is also often injected into cases of sexual assault to place religious minority victims at a disadvantage, ICC said earlier. Playing upon religious biases, perpetrators know they can cover up and justify their crimes by introducing an element of religion.
Last month, U.K.-based Catholic charity Aid to Church in Need called on British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to grant asylum to a 14-year-old Christian girl, Maira Shahbaz, who was abducted at gunpoint during the COVID-19 lockdown and forcibly married and converted to Islam by a Muslim married man, Mohamad Nakash.
The Catholic teenager was abducted in April by Nakash and two accomplices while she was walking home in the Madina Town area in Punjab’s Faisalabad district. According to witnesses, the abductors forced the girl into a car and fired gunshots into the air as they fled the scene.
The Lahore high court had ordered Maira to return to her abductor although Nakash was accused of presenting a false marriage certificate to the lower court that said Maira was 19 years old and they had wed in October 2019. The document not only failed to provide proof of consent from Nakash’s first wife, with whom he has two children, but the Muslim cleric whose name is listed on the certificate had denied involvement in the sham marriage.
The U.S. State Department has designated Pakistan as a “country of particular concern” for engaging in or tolerating egregious and systemic abuses of religious freedom. Pakistan has also been ranked as the fifth worst country in the world when it comes to Christian persecution on Open Doors USA’s 2020 World Watch List.