Aysha Bibi at the funeral for her son, Zubair Masih, on March 9.
Aysha Bibi at the funeral for her son, Zubair Masih, on March 9.

Asif Aqeel / World Watch Monitor

A Pakistan mother claims Pakistan police tortured her son to death to extract from her a confession to a theft she says she did not commit.

Zubair Masih was buried March 9 in a Christian graveyard in Lahore, under a heavy police presence. He was 20.

His brutalized body was found on the evening of March 7, outside his house in the Shamsabad sector of Lahore.

Masih’s mother, Aysha Bibi, told World Watch Monitor she had worked until Feb. 20 as a domestic in the Harbanspura-district home of Abdul Jabbar. She said her wages had been paid in full when she left Jabbar’s employment.

On March 4, Bibi said, she received a phone call from Jabbar’s wife, asking her to return for some work.

“When I went there, Jabbar took me to the Harbanspura Police Station, where I was told that I had stolen things from Jabbar’s house,” Bibi said.

“Jabbar beat me in the police station while other policemen called me names and forced me to confess that I had stolen 35,000 rupees (about US $350) and gold ornaments weighing up to 100 grams.”

On March 6, she said, “the police detained my son Zubair and tortured him in front of me. When Zubair cried with pain, they told him that he would be released only if I confess the theft.”

“I repeatedly told the police that I had no connection with the said theft, and then they threw me out of the police station while they still detained Zubair there. The next day we found Zubair’s dead body outside our house,” she said.

According to Jabbar’s police complaint, called a first information report, filed March 3, the theft took place Feb. 24:

“I went away with my family to attend a wedding and left my servant, Aysha Bibi, at our house. When I returned she was not there and at searching the house we came to know that roughly 35,000 rupees and gold ornaments weighting 100 grams were missing.”

Human Rights activist Khalid Shahzad, who has taken up Bibi’s case, told World Watch Monitor that Jabbar’s theft allegation is suspect because he waited a week to register his complaint with police.

Shahzad and Christian residents of the Shamsabad area staged a protest March 8 that blocked the Bund Road, a main artery that leads to the highway. They demanded that police take up a complaint against Jabbar and the Harbanspura Police sub-inspector, Muhammad Siraj.

“The police were reluctant to lodge a complaint against their fellow policeman,” Shahzad said, “but when we protested and blocked a main road, the Deputy Inspector General (Operations) Dr. Haider Ashraf, Iqbal Town Superintendent of Police (Investigation) Ejaz Doggar and Superintendent of Police (City) Iqbal Khan reached there for negotiations.”

The complaints against Jabbar and Siraj, accusing them of the murder of Zubair Masih, have been filed, but “no arrest has been made yet,” Shahzad said. “Rather, the police forced Zubair’s relatives to bury the body as soon as possible.”

Pakistan ratified Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in 2010, but to date no penalties have been passed into law.

Waqqas Mir, a constitutional lawyer based in Lahore, told World Watch Monitor that custodial violence as means of investigation is a culturally accepted practice in Pakistan, institutionalized in all law enforcement agencies. “There are no legal consequences attached to using torture, as there is no legal body to check the practice,” he said.

Asad Jamal, a Lahore-based lawyer who has written on legal issues in Pakistan’s English-language media, told World Watch Monitor that so far, Pakistan has not enacted any legislation to bring the country’s law into compliance with the anti-torture convention.

“A draft law in this regard has been approved by Senate and it would now be presented before the National Assembly for enactment,” Jamal said. “However, even this bill has several serious legal loopholes and we do not see end to torture anytime soon from state investigating agencies.”

Religious minorities account for about 4 per cent of the total population. Christians are about 1.59 per cent of the total population, the bulk of them employed in menial jobs because most are poor, unskilled and illiterate. According to the Annual Statistical Bulletin of Federal Government Employees 2010-11, out of 449,964 federal jobs, only 11,521 are held by non-Muslims. Most of those 11,521 jobs are held by Christians, almost all of them in jobs such as sewage cleaners, helpers, and labourers.