Police in a village in Pakistan have denied knowledge of the existence of a post-mortem which shows that a 14-year-old Christian boy was raped, then strangled. Instead, they say he died of “natural causes” by drinking a sugary drink after eating fruit.
Zeeshan Masih, a resident of Ghos Nagar, Chak 224 RB, on the outskirts of Faisalabad, was found dead on 23 August. His body was hanging from a tree.
Masih was illiterate and helped his father on a farm, taking care of cattle belonging to another man.
“We are poor and Christian, so that is why the police are brazenly denying facts – and to save the culprits,” his father, Sarfaraz, 45, told World Watch Monitor.
Sarfaraz Masih said the death of his son had caused “unbearable pain” for the family, and that it was frustrating that the police were not helping them. The legal documents prepared by the police describe Zeeshan as 16, but his family insists he was only 14.
The police are one of the most widely feared, complained against, and least trusted government institutions in Pakistan, lacking a clear system of accountability and plagued by corruption at the highest levels.
–Human Rights Watch
“I was only few yards away from the place of occurrence, but I was informed more than two hours later,” said Sarfaraz. Masih. “Also, rather than informing the police, those who witnessed the hanging unhooked the corpse and took it to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead, while the police later told me that Zeeshan died due to eating guava.”
According to eyewitnesses, Zeeshan’s feet were touching the ground, his body almost kneeling, so he could not have been strangled. However, the autopsy by the Punjab Medical College in Faisalabad defined the cause of death as “strangulation”, noting blue marks on the boy’s neck and wounds on his heels – indicative of struggling while being hanged. The report added that there was evidence he had been raped.
Police inspector Farooq Ahmed told World Watch Monitor he “didn’t know of any autopsy report saying the boy was strangled”. He said there had been no indications of suicide or murder and that it appeared to have been a “natural death”.
“We are waiting for the chemical report and, if proven that a crime was committed, then the First Information Report of the crime will definitely be registered,” he added.
Shahid Masih Paul, chairman of Christ Assemblies International, a Pentecostal group, told World Watch Monitor the police were trying to cover up the crime because of the prominence of the people being implicated.
Paul said that only few days before the incident, a fight broke out between Sarfaraz Masih and his brother-in-law, Ghulam Mustafa, a recent convert to Islam.
“Sarfaraz Masih doesn’t regularly work, so about one month ago there was an argument between Sarfaraz Masih and Mustafa that ended in a physical fight,” said Paul. “Sarfaraz Masih told him that he could not force him [to do anything], as he was not dependent on him for his living, and Sarfaraz Masih also expressed anger over Mustafa’s conversion [to Islam].
“A local [feudal landowner], Muhammad Faheem, arrived while they were fighting and Mustafa complained to him that Sarfaraz Masih had expressed displeasure over his conversion to Islam, at which [Faheem] took out a sickle and placed it on Sarfaraz Masih’s neck and told him that someone needed to do something with this ‘chuhra‘ [a term of abuse commonly and exclusively used against Christians in Pakistan].”
District-level police are often under the control of powerful politicians, wealthy landowners, and other influential members of society. There are numerous reported cases of police extrajudicial killings of criminal suspects, torture of detainees to obtain confessions, and harassment and extortion of individuals who seek to file criminal cases.
–Human Rights Watch
Paul added that a week before he was killed, Zeeshan Masih had also accidentally hit Faheem with his shoe, which he had thrown at his brother.
“I don’t think we are in the position to say who actually committed the crime, but we know that the boy was murdered by strangulation and that the police are not helping the family,” said Paul. “The government should push the local police to stand for justice.”
Many Christians in Pakistan are poor, uneducated and illiterate, and have menial jobs (e.g. as cleaners or street sweepers) in rural settings. This can make it easier for crimes to be committed against them with impunity – particularly where there is corruption or religious discrimination amongst law enforcers, as perpetrators know the victims will not be able to afford recourse to law, and justice.
A report published by Human Rights Watch on 25 Sep. stated: “Public surveys and reports of government accountability and redress institutions show that the police are one of the most widely feared, complained against, and least trusted government institutions in Pakistan, lacking a clear system of accountability and plagued by corruption at the highest levels.
“District-level police are often under the control of powerful politicians, wealthy landowners, and other influential members of society. There are numerous reported cases of police extrajudicial killings of criminal suspects, torture of detainees to obtain confessions, and harassment and extortion of individuals who seek to file criminal cases.”