Pakistan’s Supreme Court Refuses To Order Police To Find Missing Christian Girl
The story of Mehak James is a parent’s worst nightmare. Mehak is a young Pakistani Christian girl and daughter of a poor, uneducated Christian laborer. She has been missing for a year and a half, and the Pakistani police refuse to do anything to find her. Not only that, every effort of her parents to compel the police to do their job has been frustrated by the court system.
We’ve informed you before about this case, and how young Christian and Hindu Pakistani girls are forced to convert to Islam and marry Muslim men.
According to U.S. data, young Christian girls in Pakistan – especially those from “impoverished Christian communities” are also targeted by human traffickers and sent “to China for arranged marriages.” Based on the facts of Mehak’s disappearance, and events that have taken place since then, it appears that Mehak is another innocent victim – and her family is desperate to find her.
Mehak was fourteen years old when she disappeared on September 18, 2020. That morning, she left her home to buy snacks from a nearby store, but did not return. Eventually, her younger brother called her parents – who were at work – and informed them that Mehak had not returned. Mehak’s parents, James Masih and his wife, rushed home and began searching for their daughter. Two vendors from nearby shops informed James that they saw two boys and an unknown person walking with Mehak.
The next day, James informed the police about Mehak’s disappearance, and the police picked up Zain and Farooq, the two boys last seen with Mehak. Two days later, James obtained Mehak’s phone record and found out that his next door neighbor, Muhammad Adnan, a 45-year-old Muslim man (married and with children), had been in contact with Mehak. In fact, Adnan had placed over 40 phone calls – in addition to several text messages – to Mehak over the course of the three days leading up to Mehak’s disappearance.
The phone record further showed eleven more calls from a woman named Sidra Naseem minutes before Mehak’s phone was switched off on the day of her disappearance. Interestingly, one of Adnan’s coworkers in his catering business, a young man named Walayat, is also from the same town as Sidra. None of this appears to be a coincidence.
James took the phone records to the police and the police arrested Adnan. A few days later, however, the investigating officer coerced James into signing an affidavit exonerating Adnan. At first, James refused, but the officer threatened to completely close the case and to stop searching for Mehak. The officer promised that if James provided the affidavit, the police would find his daughter. James, who is uneducated and poor, agreed to sign the affidavit without counsel present, because he believed that it was the only way the police would help him get his daughter back. As a result, Adnan was granted bail. And the police officer – despite his promise – then refused to do anything more to find Mehak.
James visited the police station several more times, pleading with the investigating officer to find his young daughter. But when the police continued to refuse, James filed a petition in the Lahore High Court, seeking an order to the police to find Mehak. Unfortunately, the police used James’ affidavit and the High Court denied the petition.
James then contacted our affiliate office on the ground in Pakistan and our team filed an application to revoke Adnan’s bail because the affidavit was obtained under duress and false promises by the police. The court dismissed that application as well.
Our affiliate then filed an application with the Inspector General of Punjab (IG), who directed the lower officials to appoint a new investigating officer. The newly appointed investigating officer also refused to investigate Adnan, saying that the Court granted him bail, so Adnan could not be further investigated.
Having no other avenue left, our affiliate filed an appeal with the Supreme Court of Pakistan. The Supreme Court heard the argument four months later. But, again based on the affidavit James had provided in Adnan’s favor, the Supreme Court dismissed the petition, disregarding clear statutes and case law that rendered the affidavit inadmissible.
Pakistani law allows “compromise agreements” (similar to out-of-court settlements) between the parties in many criminal matters. We discovered that kidnapping cases, however, are not subject to such agreements and the lower courts should not have given the affidavit any weight. Pakistan’s Criminal Procedure Code provides that a kidnapping charge is non-compoundable (i.e., a compromise agreement is not allowed).
Case law also exists holding that compromise agreements in such offenses are not admissible. Our team provided all of this information in its written brief filed with the Supreme Court.
The Court’s decision is especially concerning because many in Pakistan see the Supreme Court as a reasonable Court that usually sets things right, especially in cases of human rights violations and in cases where lower courts pass erroneous convictions due to societal pressure (such as in blasphemy cases). The Court even takes up cases suo moto (on its own motion) when the Court believes that the government is not taking measures to provide justice. The famous case of Asia Bibi (whom the ACLJ advocated for internationally) is a prime example in which the lower courts convicted a Christian woman over a false allegation of blasphemy, but the Supreme Court overturned her conviction. In Mehak’s case, however, there is no explanation as to why the Court disregarded the clear law.
While the Supreme Court’s decision is concerning, especially in light of laws supporting James’ position, what is most infuriating is that the police have simply refused to do their job. What is not entirely clear is why the police refuse to do their job. However, it is not uncommon in Pakistan for police to receive bribes or to be aware of human trafficking rings and the people who operate them and do nothing. It has become apparent that something more than laziness is a factor in the police’s failure to search for Mehak.
Meanwhile, Mehak’s parents are still looking for their young daughter, praying for her life and her safe return. They can now only plead with the Government of Pakistan to find their daughter. So far, no one is listening to them, which is why we also need to speak out on their behalf.
Through our international affiliate, the European Centre for Law and Justice (ECLJ), we have filed a report with the U.N. Human Rights Council highlighting this case and will be presenting an oral statement as well. Our Pakistani affiliate is preparing a letter to send to the Governor of Punjab, requesting his intervention.