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Inquiry into Death of Pakistani Christian in Custody Faces a World of Obstacles

Political, religious and societal dynamics favor the murderers of 65-year-old tortured to death.

By Asif Aqeel

LAHORE, Pakistan, February 26, 2013 (Morning Star News)

The murderers of a 65-year-old Christian in Pakistan are not likely to face justice in this world.

A miasma of political and religious dynamics makes it unlikely. A Pakistani court has ordered a judicial inquiry into the death Niyamat Masih, who died in police custody from torture. Officers tortured him to extract information about whereabouts of a Muslim woman who had eloped with his son.

The physical examination done only a day before Masih’s death, and an autopsy report, show possible connivance between police and the medical authorities that issued these reports. Both reports fail to mention marks of violence, though photos taken after Masih’s death clearly show signs of torture.

Since the court order for an inquiry, police have stopped Masih’s family from pursuing it because it clearly implicates officers in the murder. Toward this end, the Saddar Arifwala Police Station, which is responsible for Masih’s murder, has re-opened a case against Masih’s family of abduction of the Muslim woman to pressure them to drop the judicial inquiry – the same abduction accusation that resulted in Masih being arrested and tortured to death.

Because Masih’s two daughters were also named in the kidnapping case, Arifwala police are threatening to arrest them and mistreat them as well.

The Sessions Judge of Pakpattan on Jan. 7 ordered the magistrate of Arifwala to investigate Masih’s death. Since then, political forces in the area are also watching this case as general elections loom in Pakistan. Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s candidate for the provincial assembly, Naeem Ibrahim, is trying to push the family to not pursue the judicial inquiry in exchange for the police withdrawing the abduction case against them. Arifwala police in turn would favor Ibrahim in several ways in the upcoming elections.

Masih died on Oct. 13, 2012 after Arifwala police hung him upside down during his remand for investigation. Police had arrested him on Oct. 3 in case No. 509/12, filed by Muhammad Ashraf, after the latter’s divorced daughter eloped with Masih’s son, Asif alias Jogi. Marriage between a Muslim man and a Christian woman in Pakistan receives praise by the Muslim majority, but a marriage between a Muslim woman and a Christian man is both socially and religiously unacceptable. Hence the religious sentiments of Muslim policemen were sufficiently incited to drive them to any extreme to bring back Shazia Bibi, despite the fact that she had willfully eloped with Asif.

At least four meetings of area Muslims and Christians were held before the complainant filed a criminal case against Masih and his family. Masih had disinherited Asif about a year ago through an announcement in a local daily newspaper, and his son was not living with the family before eloping with Shazia. Even so, Masih gave assurances that he would make every effort to find Asif’s whereabouts and inform Shazia’s family.

Masih gave every assurance that he and his family were unaware of Asif’s act, but police arrested him anyhow. They further threatened to arrest Masih’s two daughters and humiliate them if Shazia was not handed to her father.

Assistant Sub-Inspector Abdul Waheed, the investigating officer in the case, on Oct. 4 brought Masih before the judicial magistrate, who remanded him to police custody for four days for investigation. The investigation officer again presented Masih in court on Oct. 8 and further obtained physical remand for three days. On Oct. 11 Masih again appeared before the magistrate and was remanded to police for two more days. During this period, Masih was hung with the ceiling upside down and beaten with a slipper-shaped piece of leather tied with a metal rod.

As Masih’s remand in police custody was expiring on Oct. 13, his physical condition was deteriorating. The judge granted Masih’s request to be medically examined, but Tehsil Headquarters Arifwala Hospital prepared a medico-legal certificate saying he was in good health. The examining doctor referred Masih to District Headquarters Sahiwal Hospital for further examination, however, and the Center for Law and Justice (CLJ), an affiliate of the European Center for Law and Justice, which is providing legal assistance in this case, argues that if Masih were in perfect health, then there was no reason for transferring him to a better-equipped hospital.

This suspicion gains further strength with Masih’s death the next day (Oct. 14). The doctors in the Sahiwal hospital declared the cause of his death to be cardiovascular pulmonary and cerebral vascular accident. It does not state why such accidents occurred. The International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT), in its 2007 report entitled “Medical Physical Examination of Alleged Torture Victims,” notes: “Acute cerebral vascular accidents have occurred in upside down hangings in Kenya.”

Article 156(d) of Police Order 2002 prohibits torture by the police in any case. Pakistan ratified the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in 2010. But torture is very much common method of interrogation, and the poorest are more vulnerable to this inhumane practice. As the Pakistani Christians are the poorest section of society and lack political connections, their vulnerability is quite high compared with the Muslim majority. In Masih’s case, the societal aspect of the supposedly sullied “honor” of the Muslim family played a further role.

There is little expectation of justice in this case, as Masih’s impoverished family will likely be unable to stand up to the political pressure and police scare tactics.

Asif Aqeel is the director of the Center for Law and Justice in Lahore, Pakistan.

Photo: Body of Niyamat Masih. (Pakistan Christian Post photo)

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