November 4, 2009
DHAKA, Bangladesh (CDN) — A bail order in Bangladesh has impeded police from rescuing a young Christian girl who was abducted and forced to convert to Islam and marry one of her kidnappers, according to police.
Four Muslim men abducted eighth-grade student Silvia Merry Sarker on July 30 as she made her way home from school in west Sujankathi village, under Agoiljhara police jurisdiction, in Barisal district in southern Bangladesh, according to her father, Julian Sarker.
Sarker filed a case under the Women and Children Repression Act against Al-Amin Faria, 24, Shamim Faria, 22, Sahadat Faria, 20, and Sattar Faria, 50.
"My daughter was abducted by Faria with the help of his cousins and other relatives," said Sarker.
Sarker filed a First Information Report (FIR) charging that the men abducted his daughter initially to "indulge Al-Amin Faria's evil desire." Later she was forced to convert to Islam and marry Al-Amin Faria, which Sarker said was part of an attempt to take over his land and property.
Local police inspector Ashok Kumar Nandi told Compass that police were continuing efforts to arrest the kidnappers but had yet to find them, as the unusually early bail order had blocked their efforts.
"There are four names as prime suspects in the case," Nandi said. "We arrested three of them, but the court released them on bail. If the court had given them to us on remand, we might have found the girl, or at least we would get much information to rescue the girl."
Generally suspects in cases under the Women and Children Repression Act are not granted bail so early for the sake of investigations, Nandi said.
"We do not know why they were released on bail," he said. "Those released persons are moving freely in the village. We cannot arrest them again without an order."
Attorney Rabindra Ghosh, president of Bangladesh Minority Watch and an activist for Dutch human rights organization Global Human Rights Defense, told Compass that the granting of bail to the suspects also poses threats to the victim's family.
"They are threatening the victim's family to withdraw the case," said Ghosh. "Release of the abductors on bail so early is a travesty - the abductors got impunity due to the early bail order. For the sake of the girl's rescue, the court could have sent the arrestees to police on remand to find more information about their hideout."
Gnosh concurred that an accused person under the Women and Children Repression Act case does not get bail so early without first getting necessary information from them.
A few days after the kidnapping, Sarker said, the abductors provided Nimchandra Bepari, a Hindu neighbor, an affidavit claiming that Sarker's daughter was 19 years old. Bepari gave the affidavit to the local police inspector. The kidnappers also contacted sub-district chairman Mortuza Khan.
"My daughter is 13 years old, but the abductors made an affidavit of her age showing 19 years old," Sarker said.
The headmaster of Agoiljhara Shrimoti Matrimangal Girls High School, where the girl is a student, issued a certificate denoting that Silvia Merry Sarker is even younger than 13 - born on Dec. 24, 1997, which would mean she is not yet 12 years old.
The fabricated affidavit provided by the kidnappers states that she accepted Islam and has married, said Sarker.
"I am shocked how a minor girl is shown as an adult in the affidavit," Ghosh said. "It is illegal, and there should be proper action against this kind of illegal activity."
Al-Amin Faria had tried to get the girl's two older sisters to marry him, but their early marriages saved them from falling prey to him, Sarker said.
"I married off my two elder daughters at an early age immediately after finishing their schooling," said Sarker.
Before they married, Sarker said he felt helpless to keep Faria and his family from accosting and harassing his other daughters.
"I could not take any legal action against them since we are the only Christian family here," he said. "I tolerated everything. I did not inform it to police or they would get infuriated."
When Faria "targeted" his second daughter for marriage, Sarker informed the headmaster of the school and its managing committee, and they warned the Muslim not to disturb the family, Sarker said. Nevertheless, he said, he felt he couldn't send his older daughters to school because he feared Faria would harm them.
"The relation of us with those Muslim neighbors is ‘predator-and-prey,'" he said. "I saved my other family members from his lechery, but I could not save my youngest daughter."
Sarker said he felt alone and helpless as a Christian minority but that he doesn't understand how the entire justice system also can be so helpless.
"Why and how can the court, law enforcement agencies, police, administration, society and the country be helpless against him? Why can't they rescue my daughter?" he said.
Dilip Gabriel Bepari, an activist for Bangladesh Minority Watch, told Compass that the group had informed national and international officials in seeking help to find the girl.
"We informed it to various ministers, political leaders and police high officials," Bepari said. "We also informed it to the Vatican ambassador in Bangladesh. Unfortunately, the girl is still missing."
Archbishop Paulinus Costa of Bangladesh said the Catholic Church's impassioned plea to the government is to rescue her as soon as possible and bring the kidnappers to justice.
"It is unfortunate that the girl is not rescued yet in three months," Costa said. "There must be negligence and indifference to the Christians from the government, otherwise the girl would be rescued."
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) this year removed Bangladesh from its "Watch List" of countries requiring close monitoring of religious freedom violations, but it urged the new Awami League administration to strengthen protections for all Bangladeshis.
USCIRF also indicates that it hopes the government of Bangladesh will investigate and prosecute perpetrators of violent acts against members of minority religious communities.
Copyright 2009 Compass Direct News. Used by permission. All rights reserved.