The Organization for Legal Aid (OLA), ECLJ’s affiliate in Pakistan, successfully petitioned to have Mumtaz Masih recovered from unlawful detention by his Muslim employer, who had forced him in to bonded labor. The OLA filed a habeas corpus petition (the legal method for seeking release of an individual who is unlawfully detained) in a Pakistani court on behalf of his wife Alishba Bibi, resulting in his freedom.
Originally, Masih borrowed 200,000 Pakistani rupees (roughly $2,000) from a local Muslim in July 2013. In exchange, the employer asked Masih to take care of his farms and animals for 7500 Pakistani rupees (roughly $75) a month. As part of the agreement, Masih was required to remain on his employer’s property at all times except once a month when he would receive payment and could go home to visit his family. Every month Masih was paid 2000 Pakistani rupees (roughly $20) while 5500 Pakistani rupees (roughly $55) were deducted from his loan. In July 2014, Masih’s employer refused to pay him for his work and would not let him return to his family. Without freedom and without pay, Masih had become a bonded laborer.
Although, at the first glance, it may not appear as a religious persecution issue, but in the Pakistani context, religion and/or race are still “indirect” aspects in such cases. For instance, most Christians are poor and uneducated and they are exploited by rich and influential Muslims. Moreover, such abuse is not limited to Christians only. Many poor Muslims also suffer similar abuse by fellow Muslims.
The practice of bonded labor is common in many parts of Pakistan. The system starts with a poor, uneducated individual (or family) taking a loan from his employer. In return, the individual is employed by the person who gives him the loan so he can begin to work toward repaying his debt. Sadly, because many of these employees are uneducated, they are not aware of when they have worked enough to repay their debt and the employer than forces the employee to work toward paying off debts for years. Although bonded labor is prohibited under Pakistani law, sadly this system entraps many individuals and families and, because of their inferior status in Pakistani society, most of the time there is no way for them to escape.
After months of not seeing her husband, Alishba Bibi came to the OLA office and requested legal assistance. On May 28, 2015, the OLA filed a habeas corpus petition for the recovery of Masih from his illegal detention. The following day, the court deputed a court official, Muhammad Irshad, and directed him to recover Masih and present him before the court. During a daring raid, Masih was found in a locked room where he had been held for the last three days.
After the rescue, Masih and his family appeared in court and were released together. Alishba and her family expressed extreme gratitude to the OLA, but afraid of the employers influence, have not requested further assistance at this time.
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