On Tuesday, the Lahore High Court overseeing the Punjab province in Pakistan ruled Maira Shahbaz willingly converted to Islam and married Mohamad Nakash.
However, Shahbaz and her family claim she was kidnapped and forced to marry in April by Nakash along with two accomplices nearby her home in the city of Faisalabad – the 3rd most populous city in the country.
Nakash, who is already married, tried to defend himself by saying Shahbaz is 19 years old but was easily disproven when the girl and her family produced a birth certificate and school records proving she is actually 14 years old.
After providing said evidence to the local Faisalabad District and Sessions court, they ruled she be removed from Nakash’s home and placed in a women’s shelter pending further investigation.
On Tuesday however, Judge Raja Muhammad Shahid Abbasi at the Lahore High Court sparked outrage by overturning the local courts’ ruling, saying she had embraced Islam.
After the ruling, Maira and her mother Nighat were seen by witnesses to be visibly distraught and in tears, declining to make any comments to Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), the Catholic charity covering the case.
Pakistani Christian advocate and friend of the family Lala Robin Daniel said “with this ruling, no Christian girl in Pakistan is safe.”
Shahbaz’ lawyer, Khalil Tahir Sandhu, claimed 150 of Nakash’s ‘associates’ came to court on the day of ruling.
“It is unbelievable. What we have seen today is an Islamic judgement. The arguments we put forwards were very strong and coherent.”
In court, Sandhu says he had 11 points proving Maira’s case, the cornerstone of which is a birth certificate proving she was only 13 last October – the date of the alleged ‘marriage.’ He also argued the ‘marriage certificate’ was faked, giving evidence that denounced the credibility of the Muslim ‘cleric’ who signed it. Furthermore, he cited Pakistani law which says Maira cannot convert to Islam without her mother’s permission.
Sandhu added that “I became so upset as the proceedings went on, I feared I might be asked to leave the court room.” He said would appeal the decision, first at the Lahore High Court and if that fails at the Supreme Court of Pakistan.
If the appeal fails, Maira would be forced to remain ‘married’ to Nakash and given back to her abductor.