09/17/2009, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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Collusion between police and extremists cause of deaths in judicial custody, Pakistani NGO says

by Fareed Khan
A human rights group expresses concern over “increasing incidents of violence” against religious minorities. Fanatics enjoy impunity thanks to complicitous prison guards. The government is blamed for not prosecuting people responsible for such crimes. Police has not yet registered a first information report on the murder of a 20-year-old Christian man in Sialkot prison.
Lahore (AsiaNews) – The Joint Action Committee for People’s Rights (JAC), a group of Pakistan-based non-governmental organisations operating in the human rights field, has expressed concern over “increasing incidents of violence” that have taken in recent months against religious minorities, especially Christians. Their concern also includes the apparent “collusion” of some officials in the police and the prison system with “fanatics and extremists” in perpetrating crimes against members of religious minorities.

According to JAC activists, anti-Christian violence in Gojra in early August and the murder of a young Christian man in prison in Sialkot show that the “government's record of protecting religious minorities [. . .] is disappointing to say the least.”

The death in the Sialkot District Jail of Robert Fanish Masih has raised strong suspicions that jail officials were involved in the crime.

Witnesses say they saw torture marks on the body of the 20-year-old man, something that if proven true would contradict jail officials’ claim that he committed suicide.

In the meantime, Fanish’s father (funerals pictured) filed a first information report against prison management, but police has yet to register it.

In any event, the killing of Fanish Masih in Sialkot Jail was not an isolated incident. Similar episodes have been recorded in the recent past. Other defendants facing blasphemy charges have allegedly committed suicide whilst in judicial custody even when circumstantial evidence suggested they were murdered by fanatics in collusion with jail officials

For JAC the government is to blame for failing to carry out “fair, transparent and thorough investigations into earlier cases of deaths in judicial custody.” Had it done so “it would have worked as a deterrent for the future.”

The human rights group insists that the government hold a transparent inquiry into Robert Fanish Masih’s alleged suicide in Sialkot Jail.

It also wants the government to repeal all blasphemy laws immediately because they have been used and abused too often by Islamic fundamentalists to attack religious minorities.

Equally, the group calls on the authorities to deal firmly with banned organisations in accordance with the law.

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