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Murdered Pakistani Christian woman's family hails convict's life term

Sonia Allah Rakha, 24, died after being shot by a Muslim man for refusing to marry him due to religious differences in 2020
A young Pakistani girl who escaped a forced marriage plays a local game in the Madyan valley of Swat, in the country's northwest in this file image. A court has sentenced a Muslim to life imprisonment for murdering a young Christian woman for refusing to marry him in 2020

A young Pakistani girl who escaped a forced marriage plays a local game in the Madyan valley of Swat, in the country's northwest in this file image. A court has sentenced a Muslim to life imprisonment for murdering a young Christian woman for refusing to marry him in 2020. (Photo: AFP)

Published: October 11, 2023 11:31 AM GMT
Updated: October 12, 2023 03:55 AM GMT

Family members of a murdered Pakistani Christian woman have welcomed a court handing down life in jail for a Muslim man, who shot her dead for refusing to renounce her faith and marry him.

Allah Rakha, father of the victim Sonia Allah Rakha, said the verdict has brought relief for the tragic killing of his 24-year-old daughter.

“She had been killed not for any wrongdoing but simply for refusing to marry a Muslim man,” said Rakha, Pak Christian News (PCN) reported on Oct. 10.

The murder took a huge “emotional toll” on the family along with the added financial loss as she was “a pillar of support for the family,” he said.

The reaction came after Islamabad Sessions Court Judge Azam Khan sentenced the main accused Muhammad Shahzad to 25 years imprisonment on Sept. 30.

Pakistan Penal Code prescribes a maximum of 25 years as imprisonment for life. The judge acquitted three others accused in the case.

Sonia Allah Rakha, 24, died on Nov. 30, 2020, after being shot by Shahzad on the Islamabad highway while she was on her way to work.

Before the murder, Sonia had informed her parents of Shahzad’s marriage proposal, which she had declined citing the religious disparity between them.

To coax her into agreeing, Shahzad sent his mother to Sonia’s house to meet her parents with a formal proposal which was again respectfully declined, the family said.

Sonia’s mother said that they declined the proposal citing “their differing religious backgrounds” which “would not be acceptable to their relatives and the community,” PCN reported.

The rejection had angered Shahzad who constantly threatened Sonia before she was shot.

The court heard 14 witnesses and examined the prosecution's evidence before convicting Shehzad.

During the verdict, Khan commended “the thorough police investigation that left no room for doubt regarding the case's clarity,” PCN reported.

Despite the verdict, Rakha pointed out that his family was facing multiple hardships and appealed for financial support from the community.

His wife Teresa was recently injured after suffering an accidental electrical shock. A domestic maid, Teresa remains bedridden now.

Rakha said he is also suffering from health issues and found it increasingly difficult to earn a living and support his four daughters and son. Two of the daughters and the son are still school students.

Rights groups have documented several forms of violence against Christians in Muslim-majority Pakistan, where Christians make up about 1.6 percent of some 231 million people.

Forced conversion and marriage of Christian and Hindu girls by Muslims are common, rights groups allege.

Annually at least some 1,000 women from Hindu and Christian communities are abducted and forcibly converted and married to Muslim abductors or rapists, published records show.

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