Suspects Unprosecuted in Death by Torture of Christian in Pakistan

Police decline to arrest accused Muslims who pressured relatives.

Shahid Masih, assaulted in May 2024 in Sheikhupura District, Pakistan, before his burial. (Christian Daily International-Morning Star News)

Shahid Masih, assaulted in May 2024 in Sheikhupura District, Pakistan, before his burial. (Christian Daily International-Morning Star News)

LAHORE, Pakistan (Christian Daily InternationalMorning Star News) – With suspects in a homicide case pressuring the victim’s relatives to make false statements, police in Pakistan are declining to arrest them in the case of a Catholic tortured to death by his Muslim employers, sources said.

Sonia Shahid, widow of 35-year-old Shahid Masih and mother to their six children, said her husband’s employers tortured him on May 8, resulting in his death 10 days later, because they wrongly suspected he had stolen goats from their farm in the Bhikkhi area of Sheikhupura District, Punjab Province.

After 12 goats were stolen on April 7-8 and police were unable to find the thieves, the farm owners began to accuse Shahid Masish and another Christian worker, Faryad Masih, of the theft, and on May 8 asked police to take Faryad Masih into custody, Sonia Shahid said.

On that day she was working inside her servants’ quarters on the farm of Rana Nazar and his brothers when she heard the screams and cries of her husband, she said.

“When I came to my quarter to check, I was horrified to see at least seven men armed with weapons, including Rana Nazar, Rana Ejaz, Rana Ramzan, Rana Aftab and three others beating Masih with batons,” Sonia Shahid told Christian Daily International-Morning Star News. “My husband kept pleading his innocence, but they dragged him to their outhouse where they tied him up and continued to torture him. They broke his teeth and fingers and then poured a bottle of acid into his mouth. When I tried to stop them, they beat me as well as our children who had followed me there.”

The assailants stopped torturing Shahid when they saw his condition deteriorating, she said.

“I begged them to take him to the hospital, but they refused and left him there,” she said.

She and other family members managed to take him to a local government trauma center, but doctors there advised them to take him to Lahore due to his critical condition. With no ambulance available, they took him in a taxi to the Mayo Hospital in Lahore.

“When the doctors there examined Masih, they told us that the acid had caused massive damage to his internal organs, and the nature of his injuries was also very serious,” Sonia Shahid said. “We could only plead with them to do their best and save his life, but Masih couldn’t survive and died after 10 days, on May 18.”

Their attorney, Kashif Naimat, said the suspects have evaded arrest by taking captive, threatening and pressuring Sonia Shahid’s relatives.

“The accused detained Sonia’s father, Munir Masih, another brother, Saqib, and nephew Shahzad in their custody and pressured them to tell police that they [the Muslim employers] had not murdered Masih,” Naimat told Christian Daily International-Morning Star News. “The latter three were in the fields when the incident happened, but they succumbed to the threats and pressure when the accused offered to waive off their loans and also gave them other monetary incentives.”

He added that the suspects have also used Sonia Shahid’s father to offer money to her to withdraw the case.

“Sonia’s father told her that the Rana brothers were ready to give 3.5 million Pakistani rupees [US$12,526] to the family as compensation if she withdraws the case against them,” Naimat said. “However, Sonia and her husband’s family have rejected the offer.”

He said that Sonia Shahid had stated in a First Information Report registered on May 19 that the suspects were holding her family members hostage at that time in an attempt to prevent her from registering a murder case against them.

Sonia Shahid, her brother Naveed Masih, and her sister’s husband Farrukh Naeem are three eyewitnesses of the assault, and they are standing by their testimonies, he said.

“We have held several meetings with senior police officials and urged them to arrest the accused and interrogate them in light of the statements recorded by the eyewitnesses,” Naimat said. “However, the false testimonies recorded by Sonia’s three relatives have given the local police an opportunity to protect the accused landlords.”

The attorney said it would be a grave miscarriage of justice if the influential suspects were allowed to get away with the murder of a poor Christian laborer.

“It’s not uncommon for powerful people to use their money and influence to protect themselves from prosecution, neither it is uncommon for the weak to surrender to pressure and threats,” he said. “It is the police’s duty to ensure that the weak are not manipulated by the powerful accused, especially when they belong to vulnerable communities, and that justice is served on merit.”

The grieving widow said her husband was the sole breadwinner for the family, and that they were now dependent on her elderly father-in-law, Rafaqat Masih, who earns 400-500 rupees (less than US$2) per day working as a daily wage laborer.

“I appeal to the government and senior police officials to give us justice,” she said. “None of the accused have been arrested so far despite the registration of a case. They are offering us financial compensation, but we want justice only.”

Her husband was an honest man, and the family does not want his tragic death to go in vain, she said.

“I also appeal to my Christian brothers and sisters to help us as we have no financial resources and are facing a huge challenge in meeting both ends,” she said.

Pakistan ranked seventh on Open Doors’ 2024 World Watch List of the most difficult places to be a Christian, as it was the previous year.

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