Religious intolerance in Pakistan claims another victim

BHAGIANA (UCAN): Saleem Masih, a Christian farm worker, died on February 28 after he was tortured for two hours for washing himself in a tube well owned by a Muslim farmer in the village of Bhagiana, southwest of Lahore, in Punjab province. Pakistan.

“They threatened him with dire consequences when he cleaned himself after unloading a vehicle last week. They accused him of desecrating their water. He was already being warned about making TikTok videos in farms belonging to Muslim landlords, ” Nadeem, his older brother, recounted.

Masih, who was 22-years-old, was found lying in a cattle farm suffering from serious bodily injuries on February 25 

“It was 7.00am. Local women reported that my brother was moaning in pain. He told the police about being chained, beaten and electrocuted by four men. They rolled a thick iron rod over his entire body. He was like a crushed sugar cane from a juice machine,” Nadeem, said.

“The police returned him home after first aid and recording statements. He then spent two nights in a wheelchair at a hospital due to a bed shortage. Nobody listened to us. My elderly mother wants justice. She wants them executed the way they killed her son,” Nadeem said.

Masih, was finally taken to hospital and underwent surgery. According to a medical report, he died from total organ failure. 

Police arrested Sher Dogar, a Muslim landlord, and his partner, but released them a few hours later. The Lahore High Court has already accepted a pre-arrest bail petition from the alleged murderers, who accused Masih of stealing potatoes and turmeric.  

The 200 Christians living in Bhagiana mostly work as labourers and farmers.  

More than 1,000 Christians attended Masih’s funeral at a Christian evangelical church located in front of his mud house. Punjab’s minister for Human Rights, Minorities Affairs and Interfaith Harmony ,Ejaz Alam Augustine was also in attendance.

Saleem Massey, the pastor, condemned fanatical landlords. “This is tyranny by powerful rascals. The minority community continue to suffer; they are considered the scum of the earth. The victim’s family and witnesses are being threatened,” he said.

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“Our patience gives us hope. The minister assured us of help and urgent action. Regular community meetings are being arranged in the church as we await the government response and discuss a plan of action,” he said. 

“This is not an isolated case. Such cases happen every day throughout Pakistan and are not reported in the media. The government has not taken any steps to stop torture and discriminatory treatment based on religion. Pakistani Muslim society has become more intolerant than ever and living as a Christian is becoming harder than ever. Christians are living under fear of their lives and see no future in Pakistan,” he said.

Khalid Shehzad, a Catholic human rights advocate, who headed a fact-finding mission to Bhagiana village, led a protest by pastors at the Lahore Press Club on March 1 against anti-Muslim violence in Delhi.

“Hopefully the rally against violence in India will open the eyes of authorities against anti-Christian violence in Pakistan. We condemn atrocities in our neighbouring country, but who will provide protection for our community?” he asked.

The Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS), an interdenominational organisation working for persecuted Christians, suggested police were bribed over Masih’s murder.

“They pressured the family to settle the matter. The case won’t be easy because the Pakistani police are often biased when it comes to matters between Muslims and non-Muslims. It is very unfortunate that even in the 21st century we have to see such incidents happening in Pakistan,” said Nasir Saeed, CLAAS-UK director.

“This is not an isolated case. Such cases happen every day throughout Pakistan and are not reported in the media. The government has not taken any steps to stop torture and discriminatory treatment based on religion. Pakistani Muslim society has become more intolerant than ever and living as a Christian is becoming harder than ever. Christians are living under fear of their lives and see no future in Pakistan,” he said.

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Church leaders have repeatedly complained of the lack of seriousness of successive governments in dealing with targeted attacks and systemic discrimination faced by religious minorities. Masih died two days after prime minister, Imran Khan, expressed solidarity with minorities in Pakistan in a tweet.

“I want to warn our people that anyone in Pakistan targeting our non-Muslim citizens or their places of worship will be dealt with strictly. Our minorities are equal citizens of this country,” he went on to state.

The annual report of the National Commission for Justice and Peace, the Catholic Church’s human rights body in Pakistan, claims eight Christians were killed in 2018. These cases included terror attacks, rivalry with Muslims, police brutality and an acid attack.

The Ahmadi community claims 268 Ahmadis have been killed while 391 have been assaulted for their faith between 1984 and 12 December 2019.

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