–Saleem Masih, 22, was bathing in a tube-well when he was allegedly tortured by local landowners in Chunian village on Feb 25
–Family claims local police officials ‘acted as spectators’ as they pleaded assailants to let them take Saleem to hospital
LAHORE: A Christian labourer, who was brutally tortured by local landowners in Kasur three days ago on accusations that he had ‘polluted’ their tube-well water by bathing in it, succumbed to his injuries on Friday, Pakistan Today has learnt.
Saleem Masih, 22, was brought to the General Hospital in a critical condition on Thursday from Chunian tehsil, his family said.
“On Feb 25, Saleem had finished unloading chaff in fields in Baguyana village and was rinsing himself off in the tube-well when a group of men, including Sher Dogar, Iqbal, Altaf, Jabbar and Haji Muhammad rushed over, yanked him out of the water and began beating him,” Saleem’s father Ghafoor Masih said.
“They cursed and abused Saleem for ‘polluting’ the water, calling him a ‘filthy Christian,’” Masih claimed, adding that the assailants then dragged the youth to their cattle farm, where they chained his hands and feet and continued to torture him with sticks and rods. “They also rolled a thick iron rod over Saleem’s entire body, causing multiple fractures and internal injuries.”
Ghafoor said that the family was informed about the incident by police officials four hours after his son was taken hostage and tortured.
“When we reached the cattle farm, we found Saleem lying unconscious on the ground, his face and body bloodied,” he said. He alleged that according to Dogar and the other men, Saleem had “committed a crime by dirtying” their well water and that his punishment was “justified”.
Masih said that after much pleading, the family was allowed to take Saleem to the hospital while the police acted like spectators.
Accusing the Ila Abad Police of favouring the accused, Pakistan Center for Law and Justice (PCLJ) Executive Director Napolean Qayyum said that police had helped the five men obtain bail after briefly holding them in custody.
He said successive governments have failed to reform a deeply corrupt police system that often shows religious prejudice toward minority and marginalized communities.
“The police’s attitude is often biased when they deal with matters relating to blasphemy, forced conversions and marriages of girls belonging to minority faiths, and even in minor disputes,” Qayyum said. “In this instance, for example, the police favored the accused and helped them in getting bail even though a young man’s life was at serious risk.”
‘MINDSET RESPONSIBLE FOR FAITH-BASED CRIMES’:
Commenting on the incident, Punjab Minister for Human Rights and Minorities Affairs Ejaz Alam Augustine said that the incident was in his knowledge and stern action would be taken against the perpetrators and the police officials concerned.
“Our first priority was to save the young man’s life and I had directed the hospital authorities to ensure best medical treatment to him. Now the nature of the case has changed and murder charge will be added to the FIR,” he said.
Regarding the family’s claim that their son’s killing was religiously motivated, Augustine said the incident was a result of the mindset that prevails in society.
“No law can change such a mindset. The government is trying to promote tolerance for the other faiths but it is an uphill task that cannot be achieved overnight.”
Kasur is the same district where an illiterate young Christian couple was beaten and burned to death by a frenzied mob in 2014 over false allegations of blasphemy. Shahzad and Shama Masih, 26 and 24 respectively, had been accused of desecrating pages of the Holy Quran along with other household waste.
The mob beat the two with sticks and stones before burning them in a brick kiln in front of police officials who stood watching. Post-mortem reports revealed that the two were alive when they were thrown into the kiln.
After the attack, it emerged that the couple had been falsely accused. The pages that the family burned were their personal documents.