Bail Granted to Suspects in Killing of Christian in Pakistan

Police deliberately obtain statements from false witnesses, attorney says.

Faisal Mosque in Islamabad, Pakistan. (Alimrankdev, Creative Commons)

Faisal Mosque in Islamabad, Pakistan. (Alimrankdev, Creative Commons)

LAHORE, Pakistan (Christian Daily InternationalMorning Star News) – Due to sloppy police investigation and pressure from an Islamist extremist party, a judge last week granted bail to at least 52 Muslims accused of killing a Christian man over a false blasphemy accusation, sources said.

Special Judge Anti-Terrorism Court Sargodha Muhammad Abbas on Thursday (June 13), granted bail to the suspects, including three persons named in the First Information Report (FIR), in the lynching of 74-year-old Nazeer Masih Gill in the Mujahid Colony area of Sargodha, Punjab Province, on May 25. Gill succumbed to his injuries at a military hospital in Rawalpindi on June 3.

Attorney Asad Jamal said he regretted the release of the suspects but was anticipating it because of the police’s “intentional” poor investigation.

“The police’s conduct was suspicious from the onset,” Jamal told Christian Daily International-Morning Star News. “The investigators neither preserved the crime scene nor made any attempt to interrogate the detained suspects. The suspects were arrested and sent to jail on the same day, whereas the police should have sought their physical remand for interrogation to record their ‘first version’ statements to link their involvement in the incident.”

The Muslim lawyer, who has represented several people falsely accused of blasphemy including Christians, was part of a fact-finding mission of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) that termed Gill’s lynching a “calculated assault, manipulated through religious fervor to gain maximum leverage.”

Jamal said that it was clear that police had deliberately recorded statements of false witnesses to damage the case.

“They should have identified neighbors who witnessed the entire incident and recorded their statements, but it was not done,” he said. “Moreover, the police have not recorded the statements of Gill’s family to date.”

Jamal said police were not sharing any information with Gill’s family, though they are a natural party to the case.

“Bails are not granted without notice,” Jamal said. “Why didn’t the judge summon the affected family? Why didn’t the police inform them about the bail hearing and bring them to court to present their point of view?”

There is no indication that the government has any intention of gathering evidence and prosecuting the suspects, he said. According to criminal procedure, though the family can make a representation in the case, the responsibility of prosecution is on the government, and it has to take a lead in it, he added.

Jamal said the family could proceed with a private complaint, but he asked how would they come up with evidence.

“Will the police share their evidence with the family?” he said. “It is not easy to pursue a private complaint in court, particularly in cases where a mob is involved. This particular case is very complicated – both politically and legally – and there’s very little hope for justice for the victim.”

The lawyer also criticized the government’s inaction against the hardline Islamist party Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), which staged a massive protest against police in Sargodha against the arrest of their members involved in Gill’s lynching.

“TLP leaders publicly threatened police and Christians and proudly endorsed Gill’s killing, yet no action has been taken against them,” Jamal said. “It was also a clear attempt to pressure the court. Expecting Pakistani judges to hear and decide sensitive cases without the support and protection of the government is tantamount to giving them a death sentence.”

The Urban Area Police Station had registered an FIR on behalf of the state against 44 named and 300 to 400 unidentified suspects. The case was registered under several sections of the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) 1997 and Pakistan Penal Code (PPC), including murder, attempt to murder, obstructing public officials in discharging their duty, assaulting a public official and mischief by fire or explosive material with intent to destroy a house or cause death or hurt.

Judge Abbas admitted the suspects’ pleas, in which they claimed that police had implicated them in the case only on the basis of suspicion. They stated that police had failed to attribute their specific roles in the incident, and none of the 18 witnesses had identified them.

“Moreover, nothing has been recovered from their possession,” they added.

Accepting the petitions, the judge ordered the suspects’ release on bail against surety bonds of 100,000 rupees (US$360) each.

The release of the suspects shocked and disappointed Christians and rights advocates.

They believe that outcome of Gill’s case will be similar to the Jaranwala cases of Aug. 16, in which all detained suspects have been freed on bail, and the court has halted proceedings due to defective police investigation and weak prosecution.

The victim’s son, Sultan Gill, confirmed to Christian Daily International-Morning Star News that police had neither recorded their statements nor informed them about the bail applications.

“The news of the bails came as a surprise to us,” Sultan Gill said. “We only came to know about this when the police suddenly increased deployment in our area, as most of the men freed on bail are from our neighborhood.”

He said that police were forcing them to stay indoors, making them prisoners in their own house.

“We are clueless and don’t know where this case is heading. I don’t think we have any other option but to relocate from this city,” he said.

Though church leaders and Christian socio-political activists have spoken out against the increasing violent persecution of their community, the government’s silence and inaction have led many to believe that the community has been left at the mercy of Islamist extremists.

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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