Pakistani doctor left in limbo after rape ordeal

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The Pakistani doctor's life changed for ever eight months ago, when she was raped, blindfolded and bound with telephone wire, in her bed at a hospital residence in Baluchistan. The rape triggered a tribal revolt in the remote border region where it was seen as a breach of honour. The ensuing violence made headlines around the world and prompted the intervention of Pakistan's President, General Pervez Musharraf. Dr Khalid, 32, was forced to flee to London with her husband in fear of her life.

"We are scared here, because it was the choice of the government for us to leave," she says. "I was very happy in my country. This has ruined our future, I've lost my son who is still in Pakistan. I can't go back because the government of Pakistan did not protect us."

Dr Khalid sighs softly as she describes the events of that night last January with clinical precision. Now, she is an asylum-seeker. Then, she was a junior doctor, trained in Karachi, who had a promising career as a company doctor at the Sui gas plant, run by Pakistan Petroleum.

"It was very well paid," says Dr Khalid, who went to Sui in 2003. "The chief medical officer said, 'She'll be safe here'." Although hopes of her husband joining her failed to materialise, he found a job in the oil industry in Libya, and they managed to see each other regularly. On 2 January, she returned to her rooms at 8pm after her final round on the ward. She locked the door and went to bed after her evening prayers at 10. "Then I felt something pulling my hair. I thought it was a dream. Then I woke up and screamed."

He told her: "I come in the middle of the night, and I will go when the sun rises." She knew that he left at dawn after stealing money and jewellery because, through her blood-soaked blanket, she heard the call to prayer at 6am. Dr Khalid escaped to the rooms of a hospital sister, bleeding from the head, her neck bruised, and with her wrists swollen from the telephone wire used to bind her.

As news of the rape spread, and the suspicion that the rapist was a captain in the national army, Dr Khalid became a pawn in the struggle between the tribesmen in the restive region and the central government. The tribesmen attacked the gas field to avenge her honour, prompting military retaliation ordered by General Musharraf, the army chief. "I was very scared," she says. "So many innocent people were killed. It became an international issue."

In Sui, the hospital authorities' response was to cover up the incident. In Pakistan, rape is still a crime for which the woman can pay the price, with divorce or even death, for bringing shame on the family.

Dr Khalid was placed under sedation and taken to a psychiatric hospital in Karachi. But she refused to drop the case.

On 27 February, at an ID parade, an officer from military intelligence told her the culprit had been found. But, speaking with the authority of the Pakistani President, the officer said her life was in danger and she should leave the country as soon as possible.

It was clear to Dr Khalid and her husband that they had become an embarrassment. The terrified couple were put on a plane to Britain three weeks later, leaving their 18-year-old adopted son behind.

They still hope to be allowed to settle to Canada, where they have relatives, despite having had their application rejected in May, on the grounds that they were safe in Britain. Greg Scott, a spokesman for Canadian Citizenship and Immigration in Ottawa, would not discuss the Khalid case, but said people seeking refugee status were allowed to reapply. "We are determined to help people in genuine need of protection," he said.

Dr Khalid has decided to speak out to press for the repeal of controversial rape laws in Pakistan which are deterring women from reporting abuse. "This is not just about justice for myself but for all the women of Pakistan," she says. "In Pakistan, the law treats women like a cow."

Under the Hudood Ordinances, which in effect equate rape with adultery, rapes must be corroborated by at least four male witnesses. Dr Khalid says her own case has been closed by the Pakistani authorities.