01/23/2006, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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Muslim cleric arrested for the murder of a young Catholic

by Qaiser Felix

The cleric teaches at a madrassah where two years ago Javed Anjum was tortured to death in order to convert him to Islam. Both the victim's father and the family's lawyers are in danger. Muslim extremists pack the court room during the trial.

Lahore (AsiaNews) – Almost two years after the murder of a young Catholic man, Javed Anjum, police arrested Umar Hayat, a madrassah teacher and one of his torturers. AsiaNews spoke to Khalil Tahir Sindhu, the lawyer representing the family of the 19-year-old murder victim. He relates the dangerous legal battle that he has had to pursue in an atmosphere marked by Islamic extremism, and launches an appeal for prayers on behalf of all the victims of the country's discriminatory laws.

Umar Hayat, a Muslim cleric, was arrested in mid-January for torturing Javed Anjum together with two other teachers, Mohammed Tayyab and Ghulam Rasool, from the Jamia Hassan Bin Murtaza madrassah in Toba Tek Singh, Punjab province.

The three men are accused of trying to forcibly convert the Christian man to Islam over a five-day period in April 2004. After torturing him they handed Javed over to the police on false charges, but his wounds were too extensive and despite medical treatment he died in Faisalabad's state hospital.

On his death bed, Javed named one of his persecutors, Ghulam Rasool, who was immediately arrested. During his interrogation Ghulam revealed that Mohammed Tayyab and Umar Hayat were his accomplices.

Tayyab later confessed his part in the crime and testified against Rasool and Hayat, said Sindhu.

"For our case," the lawyer said, "it is a really good thing that the religious teacher who was free for 22 months is finally now behind bars. But we are not yet satisfied with what we think is a flawed investigation."

For Sindhu, the police moved Hayat to a district prison in Jhangh without a proper inquiry and without recovering the instruments of torture.

And last January 15, Javed's father, Pervez Masih, decided to appeal to the High Court in Lahore against the district judge's refusal to admit his son's videotaped deathbed testimony as part of the official evidence. "It is our right," the lawyer explains, "under Pakistani law."

The presence of many armed Islamic extremists at the trial—some inside, others outside the court room—is making matters worse according to Mr Sindhu. "They want to intimidate us, bring us to the point of withdrawing our charges and dropping the case altogether," he lamented.

Mr Sindhu asked for and obtained a police escort for himself and Javed's father Pervez, but in his petition to the district judge, the lawyer complained that the clerics and madrassah students present at the trial are not searched for weapons when they enter the court room.

Mr Sindhu ended his interview making an appeal: "Pray for me and for the lawyers who are involved in similar cases and for all the victims of discriminatory laws in Pakistan".

Hayat and Rasool remain in prison in Jhang Sudr, near Toba Tek Singh. Tayyab was released on bail in December 2004.

Anonymous sources in Punjab have suggested that the Jamia Hassan Bin Murtaza madrassah has informal links with the fundamentalist group Sipah-e-Sahaba, which the government outlawed in 2002. 

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