The family of a Christian boy who was killed while in police custody has been compensated for more than the standard amount paid out in similar cases. A lawyer working for the family called the outcome a “rare victory”.
Arsalan Masih, a 16-year-old student from Sheikhupura in the north-eastern Punjab province, died after a brutal assault by policemen on 9 October last year.
His six alleged assailants – Muhammad Imtiaz, Muhammad Rashid, Muhammad Arshad, Muhammad Tanveer, Robin Masih and Muhammad Iqbal – offered the family three million rupees (US $26,000) under the Islamic concept of diyat (blood money), as restitution in exchange for court pardons; they had each spent more than four months in prison.
Section 319 of Pakistan’s Penal Code says: “Whoever commits qatl-i-khata [homicide by mistake] shall be liable to diyat.”
Khurram Shahzad Maan, Executive Director of the Organisation for Legal Aid, an affiliate of the European Centre for Law and Justice, told World Watch Monitor that the government of Pakistan revises the amount fixed for diyat every year. “This year it is fixed at 1,935,594 rupees (c.US $17,000), while the family was offered three million Pakistani rupees, which they have accepted,” he said.
On 14 March the Sessions Court Judge, Aarif Mahmood Khan, accepted this exchange as legal under Pakistani law and acquitted all six men of the homicide charge.
Shaheryar Gill, a lawyer at the American Center for Law and Justice who helped with the case, told World Watch Monitor that, according to his knowledge: “There is no case where police brutality led to a Christian’s death and the [perpetrators] were then punished. Even further, there have been many instances of brutality by the police against Christians but each time they got away with the crime with impunity. However, this has come as a rare victory for our lawyers, who ensured that justice would be provided to the family.”
Arsalan’s father, Mushtaq Masih, told World Watch Monitor that the family had had no hope for justice as they were poor and illiterate and had no idea how to proceed with the case. He said the family was satisfied with the outcome.
How events unfolded
On 9 October last year Arsalan Masih was in class at his school, the Ideal Science Academy, when six men entered the room at about 5pm. The men took him outside and started kicking and punching him, and beating him with their pistol butts. They bundled him in a police van and drove away. A large number of people witnessed the incident.
“Arsalan died in the van, but officers at the local police station refused to let us lodge a case against his attackers,” his father told World Watch Monitor. “Then about 300 Christians blocked a road and lodged a protest, after which the police registered the case.
“Arsalan had had a fight with a few classmates who were related to [one of the accused police officers] Muhammad Rashid, and that is how the conflict ultimately took Arsalan’s life.”
According to Khurram Shahzad Maan, the six men were not responding to an official complaint against Arsalan when they chose to go to the school. He said there is no police record of a complaint and so they clearly violated their official powers.
Sheikhupura’s District Police Officer told World Watch Monitor that as soon as the policemen had been accused of killing Arsalan, a criminal case was lodged against them and a police inquiry opened. “We ensured that their connection with the police department would not stand in the way of the dispensation of justice,” he said.