LAHORE, Pakistan (Compass Direct News) – Two Christians in Gojra, Pakistan who allegedly fired warning shots as an Islamist mob approached that burned seven Christians to death on Aug. 1 told Compass they were tortured after police arrested them.
Only one of hundreds of Muslim assailants in the fire assault on Gojra’s Christian Town is in jail, but sources said Islamists have provided police a pretense for arresting the two Christian brothers who gave shelter to 300 people. Naveed Masih, 32, alias Fauji (“the Soldier”) and his 25-year-old brother Nauman Masih were arrested on Sept. 2 and Sept. 7 respectively for “rioting with deadly weapons and spreading terror with firing.”
Naveed Masih is said to have fired warning shots from a rooftop into the air and at the feet of the mob of approaching Muslim assailants to try to disperse them, but both brothers deny using any weapons.
From his jail cell, Naveed Masih told Compass that he and his brother were taken to the Police Training Centre in Choong, where they were kept in illegal detention for 18 days and were tortured “in so many ways ruthlessly and in inhumane ways.”
“Sometimes we were not given anything to eat or drink except one time, and sometimes we were hung in a dark well while our faces were covered with a cloth,” Naveed Masih said. “They beat me with cane sticks on the back of my hands and sometimes hung me upside down and then brutally beat me.”
Police kept them hungry for days, he said; when they asked for food, officers told them to confess that they had fired, he added. Naveed Masih said police tortured them to try to force them to say they had links with terrorist organizations that provided arms and ammunition to them.
Naveed Maish said they were forbidden to sleep; they were awoken whenever they dozed off. Throughout the 18 days of torture, he said, the two brothers were kept separate but saw each other when they were taken to court.
“We hugged each other and wept, seeing each other’s wounds,” he said.
Naveed Masih said police tortured them because they had given shelter to more than 300 women, children and elderly people on the day of attack, in which the assailants – acting on an unsubstantiated rumor of “blasphemy” of the Quran and whipped into a frenzy by local imams and banned terrorist groups – also looted more than 100 houses and set fire to 50 of them. At least 19 people were injured in the melee.
In spite of the targeting of the Christian area in Gojra by hundreds of Islamic extremists, police have registered complaints filed by the Muslim assailants against 129 Christians; sources said these various charges were filed only to pressure the Christian community. Thus far police have arrested only Naveed Masih and Nauman Masih – whose cases were submitted in an Anti-Terrorism Court to make it difficult for them to obtain bail, according to their lawyer – but the Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement was able to obtain release on bail for Nauman Masih.
Nauman Masih told Compass that of the 17 Muslims named in the First Information Report on the Aug. 1 attack, only one, Abdul Khalid Kashmiri, was in jail. Kashmiri has offered 1 million rupees (US$12,500) if the Christian complainants would withdraw the case, Nauman Masih added.
The rest of the Muslim assailants are still at large, and sources said police have no intention of arresting them. In addition, three checks of 100,000 rupees (US$1,200) each issued by Punjab Provincial Law Minister Rana Sanaullah for compensation to victims have been cancelled, Nauman Masih said, probably because the recipients are among the 129 Christians implicated in the false charges.
Nauman Masih said that when his mother arrived at the Christian Town Police Station the night his brother was arrested, officials told her that she could see him the next morning. But when she and other women arrived the next morning, he said, police told them that they had not arrested him.
The Community Development Initiative (CDI), an advocacy group working with the help of American Center for Law and Justice, has taken up the case of both brothers. CDI lawyer Haroon Suleman Khokhar said that they have been falsely implicated in a serious crime for protecting themselves and many other innocent Christians.
He said that police had no justification for submitting the cases of the two brothers in the Anti-Terrorism Court of Faisalabad. Khokhar said Naveed Masih was a key eyewitness in the report filed with police on the Aug. 1 attack, and that the two brothers were implicated in the cases only to try coercing Naveed Masih to withdraw from testifying against the Muslim attackers.
To protest police registration of the complaints against the 129 Christians, which include Bishop of Gojra John Samuel, Naveed Masih and Nauman Masih, on Oct. 5 the Christians of Gojra rejected goods sent by the U.S. Embassy to Pakistan in Islamabad. Demanding justice rather than aid, the Christians threw away the boxes of aid.