The UK’s Home Secretary told the House of Commons yesterday that she will meet a leading Conservative MP and representatives of a Catholic charity about an asylum bid for a Pakistani Christian girl at risk of death for apostasy.
During oral questions to the Home Secretary on Monday, Sir Edward Leigh, MP for Gainsborough, asked Priti Patel to meet him and a delegation from Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), to discuss the case of Maira Shahbaz.“My right honourable friend raises this incredibly important case,” Patel replied, “and in fact I have been working with colleagues in the House on this case for a considerable period of time.”
“I would be very happy to meet with him and others,” Patel said.
The details of the case are harrowing.
Kidnappers took Ms Shahbaz, a young Pakistani Christian girl, while she was walking about town. She was 13 years old. Her captors forced to renounce her Christianity and make a Muslim profession of faith, and then forced to marry her abductor, Mohamad Nakash, a middle-aged man with a wife and two children already.
Ms Shahbaz was walking near her home in Madina Town, Punjab province in April 2020. Her abductors bundled her into a car at gunpoint. forced her convert to Islam, and marry her abductor.
Ms Shahbaz alleges that Mr Nakash drugged her, forced her to abandon Christianity, raped her repeatedly, and recorded the sexual violence for purposes of blackmail. Ms Shahbaz escaped Mr Nakash’s home one night in August of last year, and went into hiding. Groups have reportedly gone door-to-door looking for her, as they consider her an apostate worthy of death.
Last February, the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief, Fiona Bruce MP,received a petition from ACN, which called on Boris Johnson to grant the girl asylum. The petition bore more than twelve thousand signatures.
When Mrs Bruce received the petition, she called Ms Shahbaz’s circumstances “tragic” and said she would be “immediately drawing it to the attention of the Home Secretary for her urgent consideration.”
Also in February, an open letter backing the asylum bid went to the Prime Minister with the support of more than 30 MPs, peers, bishops and leaders of charities and human rights organisations.
Noting that she is a young teenager who has experienced horrific trials and is now in hiding, Sir Edward said: “We need to help her.”
In a statement, ACN UK National Director Neville Kyrke-Smith stressed the need for swift action. “It is urgent that the Prime Minister acts to save the lives of Maira and her family,” he said. “They are in grave danger.”
“There have been some barriers in the past around this case,” the Home Secretary also said Monday, “but I do want to give assurance to my right honourable friend that we are proactively looking at all the help we can provide.”
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