A Christian widow and mother of three was abducted, raped, murdered and her body doused with acid by four Muslim men after she reportedly refused to convert to Islam and marry one of the accused, her brother said.
“My sister Shazia Imran, 40, lived with her three children in a rented house in Lahore’s Mehar Town locality. The main accused, Mani Gujjar, is a notorious person in our area and he had been pressurising Shazia to change her faith along with her children and marry him.
“Shazia did not share this with us due to fears for our security but three days before her abduction on June 6, she told our sister-in-law that Gujjar had threatened to kill her if she did not surrender to his demand,” Zafar Masih said.
Masih alleged that Shazia’s husband Imran was murdered a year and a half ago by the same people, but the police turned that incident into a case of accident to protect the influential accused.
“Shazia started working as a nanny at the daycare center at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) after her husband’s death in order to earn a livelihood for her children.
“On the evening of June 6, Shazia left her home for work but did not return. We started searching for her but failed in our efforts. On June 7, we informed the police about her disappearance. Later in the day, we received a call from the Hyer police station that they have found a body from a plot that matched Shazia’s description. We went there and saw that it was indeed Shazia’s dead body.
“Her jugular vein had been slit with a sharp object and her body had been badly burnt by acid. The forensic examination also revealed that she had been raped before being killed,” said Masih.
Masih said that though the police had arrested the main accused, Mani Gujjar and he had also confessed to the murder, it seemed uninterested in arresting the other three accused, including Gujjar’s brother and two cousins.
“The accused are very influential and they are threatening us to reconcile and withdraw the case. We have been forced to go into hiding due to these threats and are not even free to pursue the case. Gujjar is still in police custody but we doubt that we’ll get justice for our sister as the police’s bias is evident by its inaction against the remaining accused,” he said.
Soon after a video appeal of the family went viral on social media drawing reaction from users across the board, the Punjab Police in a tweet from its official handle regretted that the murder was being “religious color”.
“The arrested accused in his confessional statement has said that the woman had developed relations with him after her husband’s death and had now started blackmailing him,” the tweet in Urdu stated.
The tweet was however conspicuously silent on why the remaining three accused had not yet been arrested; and what evidence the police had found that incriminated the deceased woman in the blackmailing charge leveled by the accused.
Kross Konnection made repeated attempts to question the police officials concerned but they remained inaccessible.
VULNERABILITY OF MINORITY WOMEN
Pakistan is facing global censure for its shaky commitments to safeguarding religious minorities, and the unwillingness of the Pakistani government to denounce extremism without equivocation.
Rawadari Tehreek’s Chairman Samson Salamat told Kross Konnection that the cold-blooded murder of Shazia Imran is another evidence of the vulnerability faced by Pakistani women in general and minority women in particular.
“This gory incident is also an example that with forced marriage, minority women have to go through the trauma of changing their faith and in case of refusal, the result is even worse,” Salamat said.
“Shazia’s case is crystal clear but the circumstances show that the police is siding with the influential perpetrators instead of administering justice to the victim’s family. The situation is critical as the family is fearful of even pursuing the case due to constant threat to their lives,” he added.
Church of Pakistan’s President Bishop Azad Marshall condemned the murder and police’s inaction against the perpetrators of the heinous crime.
“Our hearts go out to the children and other family members of our deceased sister. The manner in which the poor woman was raped and murdered and her body mutilated by acid shocked the entire Christian community.
“We are now hearing such cases of aggression and brutality against Christian women almost on a daily basis and we demand the government to take cognizance of such crimes and make examples of the perpetrators,” he said.
The senior church leader said they had taken notice of the family’s appeal for help and vowed to stand with them in their pursuit of justice.
“We are already fighting to save our young girls from the scourge of forced faith conversions but our married women are also increasingly being targeted to convert and marry Muslims. This is unacceptable!” he added.
Every year, dozens of girls – mostly teenagers – from the Hindu community mainly in the southern province of Sindh, and minority Christians in Punjab fall victim to forced faith conversions, facilitated by religious leaders and groups, according to activists.
A recent report by a Lahore-based advocacy group, Center for Social Justice, stated that at least 124 incidents of forced faith conversions were reported in 2022.
The victims of these conversions comprised 81 Hindus, 42 Christians, and one Sikh. Shockingly, 23 percent of girls were below 14 years of age, and 36 percent of them were between the age of 14 and 18 years. Only 12 percent of the victims were adults, while the age of 28 percent of the victims was not reported.
Sixty-five percent of these cases were reported in Sindh in 2022, followed by 33 percent in Punjab, and 0.8 percent each in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan.
Last year, the United States placed Pakistan on a list of “countries of particular concern” for religious freedom violations.