02/13/2014, 00.00

Islamabad: an innocent 24-year-old Christian man tortured to death by police

Jibran Khan
According to the police, the victim hanged himself. Autopsy results indicate however that he died from "serious internal injuries" sustained during interrogation. Arrested on charges of theft, the young man was subjected to brutal treatment to extract a confession. The incident occurred at a police station considered as a "model" facility.

Islamabad (AsiaNews) - For police, Sabir Masih committed suicide by hanging himself.  Medical reports show instead that he died from "severe internal injuries" caused by "torture and abuse."

The 24-year old Pakistani Christian man died from the brutal treatment he received under police interrogation after he was arrested on unfounded charges of theft.

In order to extract a confession, the agents did not hesitate from using force, causing injuries that proved fatal.

The Catholic Church and members of civil society want justice, exemplary punishment for the perpetrators and an end to the violent deaths of ordinary citizens, innocent victims of so-called law enforcement officials.

A father of two, Sabir Masih was arrested on Tuesday on charges of theft. Police brought him to the Kohsar Police Station in Islamabad, considered a "model" facility after undergoing a major retrofit to improve its efficiency and humane treatment of prisoners.

Held overnight, the young man was interrogated at length. As soon as they found out that Sabir had been arrested, his family rushed to the police station to say that he was not involved in the theft since he had been at work for the whole day and had returned home after that.

"He did not commit any crime," they shouted in a loud voice, in vain.

In order to get a confession, police used force - a common practice in Pakistan. This in turn caused severe internal injuries that led to Sabir's death overnight between Tuesday and Wednesday.

After his death, officers tried to explain the signs of violence by claiming that the young man had committed suicide by hanging himself in cell.

In an attempt to cover up the matter, top police officials also ordered the family to bury him today. The latter however refused, demanding instead an autopsy.

Preliminary results confirm in fact that Sabir Masih died from internal injuries caused by abuse. Nothing indicates that he hanged himself.

An investigation has been launched into the case, but no action has yet been taken against those responsible.

Yesterday, the Catholic Church of Pakistan and civil society groups staged a protest in front of the Press Club of Islamabad, vociferously slamming police brutality.

For protesters, the incident clearly shows that reforms to make the police more democratic and law-abiding have failed.

The Church did not get involved because "Sabir Masih is a Christian," Catholic sources in the capital said, but because anyone, "Muslim or any other religion," could have been in his place. At the heart of the matter is police brutality, which should be stopped regardless of religion.

However, if a Christian is detained, he "usually is treated worse by police or when he is in prison," a Catholic said.

With a population of more than 180 million people (97 per cent Muslim), Pakistan is the sixth most populous country in the world, the second largest Muslim nation after Indonesia.

About 80 per cent of Muslims are Sunni, whilst Shias are 20 per cent. Hindus are 1.85 per cent, followed by Christians (1.6 per cent) and Sikhs (0.04 per cent).

Violence against ethnic and religious minorities is commonplace across the country, with Shia Muslims and Christians as the main target, with things getting worse.

Scores of violent incidents have occurred in recent years, against both individuals - like Asia Bibi, Eimsha Masih or Robert Fanish Masih, a young man who died in prison - or entire communities, like in Gojra in 2009 or Joseph Colony in Lahore in March 2013, often perpetrated under the pretext of the country's blasphemy laws.

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