03/01/2011, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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A 25-yr-old Christian woman dies of natural causes, doctors say, but body shows signs of violence

by Jibran Khan
Sadaat Masih was a nurse at a private hospital in the capital. Her body was found in the student hostel where she lived. Hospital administrators try to sweep the affair under the rug. Police refuses to open an investigation. Her family complains of an atmosphere of forced silence. A source in the medical facility points to the ambiguous role played by a Muslim male nurse.

Islamabad (AsiaNews) – Mystery and silence surround the death of Sadaat Masih, a 25-year-old nurse who died last Friday in a student hostel in Islamabad. Officials at the Shifa International Hospital, a private health care facility, said she died of natural causes. Despite a complaint filed by her relatives, police said they would not investigate the case. The young woman’s family noted that her body showed unusual wounds that suggest a violent death. A colleague told AsiaNews on condition of anonymity that a Muslim male nurse played a key role in the affair. In fact, the deceased endured sexual harassment on the part of Muslim colleagues and doctors.

Originally from Dhoke Ratta, a neighbourhood in Rawalpindi, Sadaat Masih came to Shifa International in 2008 as a student. In June 2010, the hospital gave her a room at the nursing student hostel, where she was found dead in the afternoon of 25 February. The young woman, who was Christian, was buried two days later in a Rawalpindi cemetery, but the details of her death still have to be elucidated.

Fr Joseph Fazal spoke to AsiaNews about the “sad event”. In his view, “Sadaat could not have died of natural causes” because the body had a wound to the head and marks on her neck.

Speaking about Christian female nurses, he said it was “sad to know that they are targeted in different ways rather than rewarded and respected.” At least, “we will make sure that her case does not end up like that of Magdalene, a Christian nurse from Karachi who was raped by a medical officer.”

After 10 August 2010, when Sadaat became engaged to Riaz Masih, male nurses and doctors started harassing her. One doctor told her that because she was Christian she could “not expect promotions or career advancement”, Riaz said, “unless she pleased him by coming to his room”.

Last Friday afternoon, the hospital contacted the young woman’s family, saying that she had been in an accident. However, hospital officials prevented her family from seeing her on various pretexts.

“I was told by the hospital administration that my daughter had an accident,” Sadaat’s father Javed Masih said. “Another one said that she was undergoing an appendix operation. After a while they told us that my daughter was dead.”

“The next day they handed us the body,” he added. “They told us that she died of natural causes. When we got the body there was a wound to the back of her head, and another mark on her neck.”

Despite the many unanswered questions and a formal complaint filed by the family of the deceased, police refused to open an investigation against hospital officials.

However, a nurse did speak to AsiaNews on condition of anonymity. “After her shift Friday afternoon, Sadaat went to her room. Her fellow female nurse had just left for her shift. After a while a Muslim male nurse sent a text message saying that Sadaat was in her room, unconscious.”

Staff rushed to the room and removed the young woman to the emergency ward where the doctor on duty pronounced her dead.

“The male nurse who sent the text message was never interrogated to find out how he knew that she was unconscious since the door to her room was locked,” the source said.

Sadaat’s fiancé Riaz went further, complaining about a wall of silence around the whole thing. “The hospital administration is not cooperating,” he said. In fact, “they do not want to give us the name of the Muslim male nurse.”

Suleman Javed, Sadaat`s brother, said his family does not want money. “We want justice. We want to know exactly what happened last Friday, and who is responsible.”

His cry of pain is felt by Mgr Rufin Anthony, bishop of Islamabad-Rawalpindi. “Anti-Christian violence continues, especially in Punjab,” he explained. Yet, “When the law is enforced, violence stops,” he noted. For this reason, the government ought to take notice of injustice. In any event, “the Catholic Church will continue to stand by persecuted minorities and raise its voice on behalf of victims.”

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