Lahore (AsiaNews) – Police used tear gas and charged mourners who had gathered for the funeral of Fanish Masih, the 20-year-old Christian man who was killed in prison during the night of 14 and 15 September. Police justified their action by saying that they wanted to prevent further disturbances during the burial of the young man who died in jail from injuries caused by his jailers.
Nadeem Anthony, a member of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), told AsiaNews that Fanish was buried today in a Catholic cemetery in Sialkot. Hundreds of mourners took part in the ceremony.
Using tear gas, police attacked people present and arrested a number of Christians, the activist said. Many were injured and that the situation went from bad to worse. After news channels began reporting what was happening, several civil society groups staged protests in Lahore.
Tensions remained high throughout yesterday. The young man’s family protested; they placed his body in a central street of the town, and demanded that the police officers responsible for his death be arrested.
Local sources report that 13 stores and a number of cars were damaged during the protest, which ended only when senior police officers assured the demonstrators that justice would be done.
The National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) of the Catholic Church of Pakistan has firmly condemned the “killing of Fanish in custody.”
In a tough statement, Mgr Lawrence John Saldanha and Peter Jacob, respectively chairman and executive secretary of the NCJP, said they “refuse to accept the version of local authorities that he committed suicide spontaneously after he was shifted to jail from police lock up.”
Sialkot’s District Police Officer Waqar Ahmad Chohan had earlier stated that the deceased, who had been accused of insulting the Qur‘an, had committed suicide in jail.
In reality, local Muslims did not like the idea that the young man could have a relationship with Hina Asghar, a young Muslim woman, whose mother is said to have witnessed the act of blasphemy.
Catholic leaders have called for “a credible investigation” into what they consider a, evident case of “murder”. Those “responsible for the death of [an] innocent youth, directly or indirectly, should be brought to justice”, Mgrs Saldanha and Jacob said.
Yesterday, the Punjab Minority Affairs Minister Kamran Michael said that the police did not handle the case properly. “I have seen the body and there were torture marks on it,” he said.
A number of people have publicly slammed the brutal murder of the young Christian man, who is the latest victim of religious persecution under the banner of the blasphemy law.
“This is death in custody and the police authorities are responsible,” said HRCP Chairwoman Asma Jahangir.
In their statement, Catholic leaders have called on all sections of Pakistani society to realise how dangerous the blasphemy laws are. “For religious minorities these laws have proven to be a catastrophe which can surface anytime, anywhere,” Mgr Saldanha and Peter Jacob noted.
“We consider this a failure on the part of the provincial government of Punjab and the federal government,” they said. Instead of focusing on “prevention”, the two levels of government opted for an “administration and rehabilitation approach” to the problem.
For the NCJP, the government should simply repeal the blasphemy sections in the Pakistan Penal Code.
The Catholic community is holding two days of mourning for the young man killed in prison.