Pakistani Teen
Still in Legal Trouble
Girl Still Faces Charges
for Conversion of Friend
 
28 March 1999 (Newsroom)--A Pakistani teenager arrested for 
helping to convert her Muslim friend to Christianity remains in 
legal jeopardy but is not dead or about to be executed, as some 
reports spread via the Internet assert. She and her pastor both were 
tortured while in police custody, however, Pakistani human rights 
groups claim, and her friend is dead.

Saleema (likely a pseudonym to protect her security) is accused of 
the crime of "converting a Muslim." According to International 
Christian Concern (ICC), a Washington, D.C.-based rights group, 
Saleema has not appeared at several scheduled court hearings. ICC 
President Steven Snyder believes that is either out of concern for 
her safety or because her advocates want to draw more attention to 
the case.

"We feel her case could be resolved," Snyder says. "Our concern is 
that there may be some Christians manipulating Saleema to 
maintain this as a high profile case in order to keep attention on 
the persecution of Christians in Pakistan."

The events leading to Saleema's arrest began in 1997 in the city of 
Sheikhupura in Punjab province when the then-17-year-old gave 
her friend, Raheela Khanam, a Bible. Saleema apparently had a 
part in the 18-year-old Muslim girl's conversion to Christianity. 
Under Islamic law, or Shari'a, converting from Islam to another 
faith--called apostasy--is punishable by death. Though the 
Pakistani civil code does not apply the death penalty to apostasy, 
Shari'a is often enforced by private citizens, who consider it their 
duty as a Muslim. On July 8, 1997, the local newspaper reported 
that Raheela was shot to death by her brother Altaf Khanam, who 
then turned himself in to police.

Sources in Pakistan connected to Advocates International, a 
Virginia-based Christian legal agency, say that shortly before her 
death Raheela had sought refuge at the home of her pastor, Arthur 
Salim, but was turned away. The pastor, according to ICC, is from 
Wandalla Junction, a community in the Shadara section of Lahore. 
ICC sources say that Altaf Khanam illegally detained Salim for 
two days, accusing him and his son Robin of kidnapping Raheela. 
On June 23, 1997, Khanam turned over the pastor to police. A day 
later, police jailed Robin as well.

Salim reportedly made a written compromise with the Khanam 
family that allowed him to be released with his son on July 4, 
1997. While in custody, Salim told members of two Lahore-based 
human rights groups that he had been tortured by police. In 
response, the Center for Legal Aid, Assistance, and Settlement 
(CLAAS) filed a petition in Lahore High Court on June 17, 1999. 
CLAAS and the group Human Rights Commission of Pakistan 
(HRCP) reported that when they visited Salim in jail he could not 
stand up due to the severity of the torture. But the pastor denied the 
charge when called before the court on June 30, 1997 and the case 
was dismissed. A few days after Salim's release, Raheela was 
murdered.

According to some accounts, the Khanam family pressed murder 
charges against Saleema because of her role in the conversion. 
ICC's Snyder questions that. "We have not seen any evidence that 
there was a murder charge brought by the family," he says.

Nevertheless, authorities took Saleema into custody at 
Sheikhupura jail shortly after Raheela's murder. On July 14, 1997, 
members of CLAAS visited Saleema at the jail. She told the rights 
group that police severely beat her with her clothes off, using a 
leather belt and hose pipes. She accused police of raping her and 
burning sensitive parts of her body with a hot iron rod and 
cigarette butts.

In its 1997 report on human rights in Pakistan, the U.S. State 
Department reported similar cases. A study of Lahore newspapers 
from January to July 1997 by the Commission of Inquiry for 
Women found 52 cases of violence or torture of women while in 
police custody, the State Department said.

Saleema was released on bail Aug. 7, 1997, facing the charge of 
converting a Muslim. According to Snyder, a guilty verdict would 
be punishable by no more than two years in prison.

Though Saleema did not make a required February 15 court 
appearance, sources say that negotiations are under way to drop 
charges against her. Legally, her prospects are good, according to a 
spokesman for an agency involved in the case that requests 
anonymity due its sensitive nature. "The way the case is going it 
doesn't look like the court will convict her," the spokesman said. 
"We are encouraging people not to call Pakistani authorities (on 
Saleema's behalf). There have been literally thousands of calls to 
Pakistani embassies, which has created bumps in the road."

Advocates International confirmed in a statement that Saleema so 
far has not been convicted of any crime and therefore is not in 
imminent danger of execution. The agency says it got involved 
because of queries from a number of Christians who had heard 
various versions of the story through the Internet. "We went to our 
own sources in Pakistan," says Wallace Cheney, Advocates 
director of international programs. "Our biggest concern is that if 
somebody is about to be executed we want to know and help, but 
we also are concerned about people embellishing a story."

Several sources point out, however, that in Pakistan people who 
have been acquitted of religion-related crimes have been killed by 
private citizens after leaving the court.

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