A suspect in a blasphemy case in Lahore, Pakistan, claims he was tortured by police and jumped from a fourth floor window to avoid being forced by officers to perform oral sex on his cousin, who is also under investigation.
Sajid Masih, 24, suffered multiple fractures after jumping on Friday, 23 February, from the building where he was being investigated. He claims he had been beaten, kicked and hit with an electrical cable, then was forced to remove his cousin’s trousers and ordered to perform a sex act on his cousin, 20-year-old Patras Masih.
However local police and the Pakistani cybercrime investigation agency both offered different explanations for his action and injuries. Small protests were organised by civil society organisations today (26 February) to condemn his alleged mistreatment. Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal has ordered an official inquiry.
Last week World Watch Monitor reported that 800 families were on the run after Patras Masih was accused of using his phone to post a blasphemous picture in a Facebook group. He surrendered to the police on 19 February in his Christian neighbourhood in a northern suburb of Lahore, and was handed by the court to the cybercrime wing of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA).
Four days later, on 23 February, his cousin Sajid, a janitor in a local college in Lahore, was summoned by the FIA office in Lahore. “They had called me to come and get [Patras’] cell phone checked. I went myself to the office where Patras was also present,” Sajid told World Watch Monitor after regaining consciousness the next day, Saturday 24 February. He was interviewed on video in the presence of two local church leaders, Emmanuel Khokhar and Niamat Bhatti.
“They beat me with fists and kicks and then with a computer electrical cable,” Sajid continued. “I asked them why they were beating me. They said my fault was that I was Patras’ cousin. Then they told me to call myself and Patras ‘accursed’, which I did. Then they ordered me to take Patras’ [trousers] off and [perform oral sex on] him, but I refused, saying that he was my [cousin] and I couldn’t. Then they started yelling at him, at which I ran to the window.
“Finding no other way, I jumped from the window – and then did not know anything,” he added.
Sajid was placed on a stretcher and taken to hospital, but was moved to another hospital later that evening. The FIA Inspector investigating the case, Khalid Saeed, lodged a criminal case against Sajid the following day for attempting to commit suicide, a crime punishable with one year’s imprisonment and a fine.
According to the criminal report lodged against him in the Civil Lines Police Station, “During the investigation, Sajid was questioned in the presence of Patras Masih regarding the blasphemous pictures of Prophet Muhammad’s (Peace Be Upon Him) grave. The forensic expert took his cell phone and asked for Facebook ID and its password. On this, Sajid became terrified and apologised, saying he had deleted the controversial page and the blasphemous pictures. Fearful of recovery of the pictures, Sajid jumped off the window and fell on a car [bonnet].”
“We are outraged, shocked and horrified by the alleged behaviour of the FIA Cybercrime Wing officials. We demand that this incident be investigated at the earliest, and firm action be taken against the officials involved.”
The FIA Deputy Director Khawaja Hamad told BBC Urdu that Patras Masih was beaten up on the court premises by complainants when he was presented there on 23 February. He told the BBC that a request had been sent to Facebook to provide information about the group in which the blasphemous picture was posted.
“During [the] investigation, Patras mentioned about Sajid, after which he was asked to join [the] investigation. Patras was being interrogated; he first threw his cell phone from the window and then hung outside the window to threaten us. Then his hand slipped and he fell,” Hamad said.
Human rights lawyer Asad Jamal told World Watch Monitor that the information recorded in the criminal report and the statement by FIA Deputy Director did not corroborate. “It would remain difficult for the agency to explain there was no torture involved in this instance,” Jamal said.
Such treatment is clearly in violation of the United Nations’ Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, he added.
“He is seriously injured and the manner in which he has sustained injuries could have led to his immediate death; further, if his physical condition doesn’t improve for some reason he may still be at the risk of losing life,” he said.
Michelle Chaudhry, president of the Cecil & Iris Chaudhry Foundation, which advocates for Pakistani minorities, said in a statement: “We are outraged, shocked and horrified by the alleged behaviour of the FIA Cybercrime Wing officials. We demand that this incident be investigated at the earliest, and firm action be taken against the officials involved.”
She continued: “A fair trial is every citizen’s right regardless of faith, caste or gender … We demand that the Government look into this on priority and fulfil its responsibility to protect the life and dignity of every single Pakistani.”
Human rights activist Khalid Shahzad, who lives in the same area as Sajid, the Dhair neighbourhood in Shahdara, told World Watch Monitor that such investigating agencies sometimes used harsh techniques to blackmail suspects regardless of their religion.
Shahzad added that the social-media group to which Patras and Sajid belonged “had 16 members but only Christians of the group are being interrogated”.
The situation in Dhair remains tense, although most of the 800 families who fled last week for fear of violence have returned. Safaniya Masih, who runs the nearby Brethren’s Church, told World Watch Monitor that their two congregations were able to meet yesterday [Sunday] for services.
Irfan Mufti, Deputy Director of a civil society movement named South Asia Partnership, told World Watch Monitor: “It is very important that the government intervene and ensure the safety and security of Sajid, because most of the time we are unaware how the investigation is being done with suspects in such sensitive cases. Sajid’s case can prove helpful in improving our legal and justice system.”
FiAs investigation in patras and sajjid’s case is disgusting. Threat and torture forced sajjid to jump over fourth floor of FIA building. We demand that JIT be formed to investigate the issue and security be provided to patras and sajid and their families
— Shunila Ruth (@shunilaruth) February 26, 2018
Some say the underlying reason for this entire communal strife might be land, as has been the case elsewhere. In Lahore’s Joseph Colony, where more than 100 houses were burned in March 2013, Pakistan’s Supreme Court noted that the land on which the colony was set up could be the prime reason it was targeted. The land belonged to the government and is surrounded by huge factory complexes.
Safaniya Masih said the areas of the Dhair neighbourhood where trouble persists are those where Christians have not transferred the land into their names. Initially the landlord told them to build houses and pay the land price in instalments, he said, adding: “When they had done this, they refused to legally transfer the land and several houses have filed legal cases in this regard.”
His brother, Bishop Emmanuel Masih, had erected a cross in the neighbourhood, about five feet tall. When most Christians had fled, some of the local Muslims wanted to break the cross down.
“We were not here but those who were left resisted and did not allow it to be brought down,” Safaniya Masih said. “A few girls were coming back when some boys shouted that sooner or later the houses of Christians would be set on fire. But we are hopeful that God will be with us and keep us safe in this troubled time.”
*The name ‘Masih’, which derives from ‘Messiah’, has been used for whole Christian communities for many years in Pakistan. Bibi, meanwhile, is a respectful term for a married or older woman in Pakistan and other parts of South Asia – the most famous Christian example being Asia Bibi, who has been on death row for blasphemy since 2010.
UPDATE (27 February): This morning Punjab parliamentarian Shunila Ruth raised the question of the security of Pakistani Christians in the Punjab Assembly. She said that Christians would stand for justice and if anyone violated the law then he or she should be brought to justice. Talking to World Watch Monitor, Ruth said that she had demanded an independent inquiry. “It shouldn’t be that FIA investigate their personnel who tortured and used these inhumane investigation techniques,” she said. She also raised an objection that despite the passing of four days, Sajid’s multiple injuries hadn’t been treated with an operation.