09/20/2004, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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Police brutality against Christians must be addressed at a political level

by Qaiser Felix

Another youth tortured to death. Demonstrators hurt.

Lahore (AsiaNews) –The rising number of deaths related to police brutality, especially among young Christians, must be addressed at a political level, Peter Jacob, Secretary of the Justice and Peace Commission, told AsiaNews. Speaking after the incidents that followed the death of Nasir Masih, a young Christian tortured to death, Jacob points the finger at the police and religious intolerance.

Nasir Masih, 21, son of Mukhtar Masih and resident in Sheikhupura (35 km from Lahore, Punjab province) is the second young Christian who died in police custody in Pakistan of torture-induced injuries. He is also the third young Christian killed since the beginning of the year. He was arrested on August 16, falsely accused of theft and died three days later. His body had wounds in 12 different places.

According to his father, Nasir had gone to see a friend around 5:30 pm. A few hours later, around 1 am at night, the police informed the family that he had been arrested, allegedly for theft. At that moment in time, he was at the DHQ hospital and could receive family visits.

"When we got to the hospital, my son was in really bad conditions because of the torture he was subjected to," Mukhtar said, "He told me that the police had brutally beaten him." After the medical examination he was taken back to the police station.

Two days later on August 19, Nasir's father went to the station with an attorney to ask for his son's release on bail. However, instead of taking the young man to court for a bail hearing the police took him to Sheikhupura Civic Hospital where he died of his injuries.

On August 20, Nasir's father made a formal complaint against the police accusing them of having tortured his son to death. Hundreds of local Christians, including women, took to the streets to protest the police's refusal to charge the officers accused of the murder. Protesters blocked the Siekhupura-Lahore road. The police tried to disperse the crowd by charging the demonstrators, using tear gas and firing warning shots in the air. Several people were injured. About 20 Christians were arrested and charged with various penal code violations, including violations of the country's anti-terrorism laws.

Ten people are accused with Nasir's torture and death. Among them six policemen under the command of district police officer Shahid Iqbal. No one has yet to be arrested for the crime. Instead, police warned local Christians, in particular Haroon Fateh Jang, the lawyer representing Nasir Masih's family, not to pursue the case against them. According to Peter Jacob the first step in the pursuit of justice is to have charges against the protesters dismissed.

Nasir's killing follows those in May of Samuel Masih and Javed Anjum. Samuel Masih, charged under Pakistan's blasphemy laws, was killed by a police constable whilst in a Lahore hospital for treatment against tuberculosis. Javed Anjum was instead tortured to death by Islamic extremists in the Jamia Hassan Bin Murtaza Islamic School (madrassah) in Punjab province.

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