Karachi court grants pre-arrest bail to cleric accused of solemnising marriage of underage girl Arzoo – Pakistan

A cleric, who is nominated in a case pertaining to the alleged abduction, forced conversion and marriage of underage girl Arzoo Raja, was granted pre-arrest bail on Thursday by a local court in Karachi against a surety of Rs50,000.

Qazi Abdul Rasool received interim bail until November 16 after he approached the court earlier today. He is accused of officiating the marriage of Arzoo Raja, a teenaged Christian girl who was allegedly abducted before being forcefully converted and married to a Muslim man. The case is currently being heard by a local court, while another case for Arzoo’s custody is underway in the Sindh High Court (SHC).

In his bail application, Rasool said that the allegations levelled against him by Arzoo’s father were based on “mala fide intentions with ulterior motives”. He denied being involved in any illegal actions or committing any offence.

Rasool told the court that Arzoo and Ali Azhar — who she had been married to — came to him on October 13 with their lawyers to contract a marriage. The cleric said that Arzoo had also produced an affidavit — which was attested by a Justice of Peace — saying that the teenager was entering the marriage of her own free will. She also had a certificate of embracing Islam which had been issued by a Mufti.

He said that he had solemnised the marriage after going through the documents presented by the parties. Rasool also said that he had been told that Arzoo was 18 years of age when she left her parents’ house. Earlier this week, a medical board constituted by the SHC had found that the victim was 14 years old.

The cleric said that there were chances of his “illegal arrest” by the police and urged the court to grant him bail. Earlier, police had told the court that Rasool, along with two others, was on the run.

Rasool said that the sections invoked in the first information report did not apply to him as he had solemnised the marriage “as per the Shariah law” and alleged that the police were trying to arrest him in the false case in collusion with the complainant by raiding his house and office continuously.

Key accused sent on judicial remand

Meanwhile, another local court sent Azhar, Arzoo’s purported husband, to jail on judicial remand after the investigating officer (IO) said that the suspect’s physical remand was no longer required. Azhar was produced before Judicial Magistrate (South) Muhammad Ali Dall after his physical remand had expired.

During the hearing, Azhar’s counsel Advocate Muhammad Nizar Tanoli argued that the entire proceedings of the matter were against the fundamental principles of Islam, as Arzoo herself had stated before the SHC that she had not been abducted.

Advocate Muhammad Riaz Abbasi and Luke Victor, who appeared on behalf of the petitioner — Arzoo’s father — as well as the state prosecutor Abdul Rehman Thaheem supported the submissions of the investigating officer and requested for passing the appropriate order.

After hearing arguments from the counsel of both parties and pursuing the case record, the judge remanded Azhar to judicial custody with the direction to produce him before the court on November 16. The IO was told to file an investigation report on the next date.

Case details

In the FIR of the case registered on the complaint of Arzoo’s father, Raja, he claims that on October 13, he and his wife went to work while their son Shahbaz had gone to school.

Raja said his three daughters, including Arzoo, were present at their home in Karachi’s Railway Colony when he received a call from a relative, who told him that Arzoo was missing.

Raja said he reached home and contacted his neighbours, but could not trace his daughter. He subsequently lodged a case regarding the abduction of his daughter against unknown persons at the Frere Police Station.

Arzoo’s family members earlier this month told Dawn that her purported husband Azhar lived in a house opposite theirs along with his family and he was at least 45-years-old.

“The rascal who abducted her has prepared fake papers to show that she is 18-years-old,” her mother said.

Police had booked Azhar and arrested his brothers, Syed Shariq Ali, Syed Mohsin Ali, and a friend, Danish, for allegedly abducting the underage girl, purportedly forcibly converting her and marrying her to a Muslim man.

However, Arzoo had sought a court injunction against the registration of an FIR against her spouse and in-laws by her family at the Frere Police Station by filing a constitutional petition in the SHC.

She submitted in the petition that she converted to Islam of her free will and also asked her family members to embrace Islam but they refused.

On November 2, an SHC bench had taken up a petition filed by the girl’s father and had directed the police to recover her and shift her to a shelter home. Police subsequently recovered the girl on the same day and shifted her to a shelter home.

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