LAHORE, Pakistan (Morning Star News) – The family of a 24-year-old Christian who died yesterday accuses a bank security guard of shooting the young man dead after the guard threatened him for refusing to convert to Islam.
Sunny Masih, a father of two, was working as a cleaner at a branch of Bank Islami under construction on Nisbat Road in Lahore. On Wednesday morning (April 16), the bank security guard informed police that Masih had shot himself in the forehead with a pump-action shotgun that the guard had left unattended before going to the washroom.
The guard, Omar Farooq, of Khushab District in central Punjab Province, told police that Masih “looked depressed” when he arrived at the bank at 8 a.m. Sub-Inspector Muhammad Iqbal of the Nolakha Police told Morning Star News that Farooq told officers Masih was in the lobby of the bank when Farooq went to the washroom, leaving his weapon unattended.
“Farooq says that he came out after hearing a gunshot and found Masih’s body on a sofa, and the weapon lying near it,” Iqbal said. “He says that Masih ‘looked depressed’ when he reported for duty that morning.”
Haider Masih, father of the deceased, told Morning Star News that his son was a lively young man and had shown no signs of depression. He said his son got a job at the bank a few days ago.
“Farooq was also deployed at the bank around the same time as my son,” he said. “There is no other staff in the bank, because the branch is being renovated. On April 15, my son told me that Farooq had mocked his Christian faith and had asked him to ‘embrace’ Islam. He told my son, ‘You are a good-looking boy, and I don’t like to see you sweeping floors and cleaning the washrooms. If you embrace Islam, I’ll connect you with people who will take good care of you, provide you with a decent job and even get you married into a wealthy Muslim family.’”
Masih said his son told Farooq that he was satisfied with his Christian faith, and that he should stop nagging him.
“My son told me that when he snubbed Farooq, the guard had threatened him that he would have to face the consequences for refusing the Dawaat [an invitation to accept Islam],” the grieving told Morning Star News at the Mayo Hospital mortuary. “I took the matter lightly and told my son not to worry, as being Christians we have to face such people every second day. I told Sunny to avoid discussing religion with Farooq even if he brought up the matter and keep distance from him, and everything would be alright. Little did I know that my son would end up in a mortuary a day later.”
Masih said he had already lost his first son.
“Masih’s elder brother passed away some years ago, and he [Sunny] was our only son besides three daughters,” he said. “We married him three years ago, and he has a daughter and a son, ages 2-and-a-half and 10 months, respectively.”
Sub-Inspector Iqbal maintained that “circumstantial evidence” suggested Masih had committed suicide, but that police have registered a First Information Report (FIR No. 255/14) and included Farooq’s name as a suspect on the family’s insistence.
“It looks like a case of suicide, but we are interrogating the security guard until we reach a conclusion,” he said. “The guard and the cleaner had been deployed at the bank almost at the same time, and so far no one has informed us about any altercation between the two that might have led to this incident.”
But Khalid Shahzad, a Christian rights activist, said Masih’s father has told police about Farooq’s threat to his son. Shahzad said police are trying to brush the matter under the rug by declaring Masih’s death a suicide. Police registered an FIR of suspected murder only after the family and local Christians staged a sit-in outside the police station, he said.
“The entire locality is shocked by the young man’s death,” Shahzad said. “Even Masih’s wife says that he was perfectly fine when he left for the bank that day. She says that he had neither shared nor she had felt any such thing that showed that her husband was disturbed or depressed. So why is the police bent upon tagging the murder as a suicide case?”
The activist said that the doctor who carried out Masih’s post-mortem had also disputed the police claim that Masih had committed suicide.
“Masih was hit on the forehead just above his eyes, and his skull and brain were completely blown away by the impact at point blank range,” Shahzad said. “The doctor said he found it hard to believe that Masih could have shot himself in the head with a big weapon such as a shotgun. This is what we want the police to find out, but instead they are trying to cover up the matter. We believe the police are showing bias in its probe because it involves a ‘righteous Muslim’ who was trying to convert a Christian.”
Neither the young man nor his family has any financial problems, Shahzad added.
“Masih had no reason to commit suicide,” he said. “He didn’t even know how to load or fire a weapon, so how come he just went to the bank and pulled the trigger to end his life? Moreover, why had the guard kept the gun charged when there’s nothing valuable in the under-construction bank except a few pieces of furniture? Masih’s father has told police about Farooq’s threat to his son, but they are still trying to pin the blame on the deceased.”
Shahzad said those who knew Sunny Masih doubt the suicide claim.
“We asked about the boy in his Shafiqabad neighborhood, and everyone praised Masih for his good nature and honesty,” he said.
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