03/22/2010, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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Pakistani Christian couple refuses to convert: husband is burnt alive, wife raped by police

by Fareed Khan
Both husband and wife worked for a wealthy Muslim businessman in Rawalpindi. Their three children, ranging from 7 and 12, were forced to watch their parents brutalised. The man has suffered 80 per cent burns, and hospital doctors do not think he will survive. Christian organisations stage protests.
Islamabad (AsiaNews) – Arshed Masih, 38, is still fighting for his life in Holy Family Hospital in Rawalpindi, a city not far from Pakistan’s capital. With the help of police, Muslim extremists last Friday set him on fire for refusing to convert to Islam and raped his wife, local sources told AsiaNews. The incident occurred in front of a local police station.

In 2005, Masih and his wife began working for a wealthy Muslim businessman, he as driver and she as his wife’s maid. Recently, the two fell out of favour with their employer and his family because they insisted on remaining Christian.

During the incident, Masih’s wife, Martha, “was raped by police agents,” local sources said. The couple’s three children, ranging in age from 7 and 12, were forced to watch their parents being brutalised.

“Masih and his wife are currently being treated in hospital,” Holy Family Hospital officials said. “He was listed in serious condition with about 80 per cent of his body burned,” the BosNewsLife agency reported. With that kind of burns, hospital officials said the 38-year-old victim (pictured) is not likely to survive.

On Sunday, the Government of Punjab government announced an investigation into what happened. “The matter will be investigated and the culprits will be arrested,” Punjab’s Minister of Law Rana Sanaullah said.

The Christian couple lived with their children in the servant quarters of Sheikh Mohammad Sultan’s estate in Rawalpindi. In January, religious leaders and Sultan reportedly told Arshed to convert to Islam with his whole family. After he refused, they threatened him with "dire consequences".

Arshed offered to quit his job, but the businessman allegedly said he would "kill" him if he were to leave.

Last week, tensions rose after Sultan reported the theft of 500,000 Pakistani rupees (almost US$ 6,000), and an official complaint (First Information Report) was filed with police.

Although the Christian couple was not named as suspect, the businessman offered them to drop the case if they converted to Islam or "else that both would not see their children again."

The rest is known. Arshed Masih chose to remain loyal to his Christian faith, and last Friday he was set on fire and his wife raped by police.

Federal Minority Minister Shahbaz Batti, a Catholic, has so far refused to make any comment because he was “busy”. He did say however, that he would issue a statement in the next few days.

Christian organisations in Rawalpindi and Lahore planned protests for today.

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