Pakistani police last week tortured a devout Catholic to death in Punjab Province after the victim's employer singled him out for a theft charge because of his faith, family members said.
Riasat Masih of Kalaskey village, Purana Kot in Gujranwala District, told Morning Star News that police killed his brother, 47-year-old Liaqat Masih, on Wednesday(Jan. 13) during interrogation in which he was hung upside down and beaten.
For more than a year Liaqat Masih had been employed as a driver for Raza Hameed, and several years previously for Hameed's father, influential Gujranwala politician S.A. Hameed. Both Raza Hameed and S.A. Hameed were present at the police jail during the torture of Liaqat Masih, his brother said, adding that none of the employer's Muslim employees were questioned about the theft last year of millions of rupees in cash and gold jewelry.
"Why was only my brother named and handed over to police custody, while the Muslim employees were not interrogated?" Riasat Masih said. "My brother had honestly served his employers for 15 years, but they did not even consider this fact before turning him in to police custody and asking them to torture him until he 'confessed' to the theft."
Gujranwala Cantt Police arrested Liaqat Masih in mid-November 2015 after Raza Hameed registered a case against him (First Information Report No. 570/15). Riasat Masih said police had failed to produce any evidence against him or extract a confession despite torturing him last week during interrogation.
Riasat Masih said that his brother, who is survived by four children ranging in age from 9 to 20, languished in jail until Jan. 10, when police came for him claiming they had fresh evidence they sought to question him about.
"The police had picked him up and moved him to a private torture cell, and we were unable to trace his location for nearly four days," he said. "Then someone told us that he had been moved to the Gujranwali Cantt police station, but that they would not show his formal arrest in official records until they had managed to extract a confession from him. We immediately hired a lawyer and filed a habeas corpus petition in court, which deputed a bailiff to raid the police station and produce Liaqat in court.
After the bailiff's raid and Liaqat Masih's subsequent appearance in court, police obtained a four-day physical custody of the accused. Police meantime also arrested his eldest son, Khurram Masih, who had been named as an accomplice in the theft case despite having almost no contact with his father at work, he said.
Attorneys had obtained interim bail for Khurram Masih to keep police from mistreating him as well, "but they still arrested him even though his protective bail was intact," Riasat Masih said.
"The police then tortured both father and son, beating them up mostly in front of each other," he said. "On the night of Jan. 13, Liaqat's frail body couldn't take any more beatings, and he succumbed to his internal injuries. Khurram, who was tortured so badly that he can barely stand now, has told us that the night his father died, the police had hung him [Liaqat Masih] upside down with a rope and beat him up indiscriminately."
Officers also denied water to Liaqat Masih, whose shoulder was dislocated, he said. The brutal violence last week was carried out on the orders of Raza Hameed and S.A. Hameed, a senior leader of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party in Gujranwala, who along with Raza Hameed and another son, Ahsan Hameed, came to the police station to get the two Christian men tortured in their presence, Riasat Masih said.
Raza Hameed, S.A. Hameed and local police officials could not be reached for comment.
Police handed over Liaqat Masih's body to the family early Thursday morning (Jan. 14) but refused to give them a copy of the autopsy that had been carried out without the family's knowledge, Riasat Masih said. Accompanied by a large number of village Christians, the family then went out to the main highway carrying the body in protest.
"We were demanding a fair probe into the killing and for registration of a murder case against those responsible for his death," Riasat Masih said. "Rather than listening to our grievance, the police attacked us with batons and sticks and threatened to arrest and torture Christian youths if we did not stop demanding registration of a case against the police officials. Several women were also injured in the police baton attack, so we retreated to our homes with Liaqat's body and have now decided that we won't bury him until a case is registered against Inspector Sajid Suhal, Investigation Officer Amin Butt and the sons of S.A. Hameed, Raza and Ahsan, on whose orders the police were acting."
Nazir S. Bhatti, president of the Pakistan Christian Congress political party, in a statement released over the weekend demanded Punjab Province Chief Minister Mian Shehbaz Sharif arrest S.A. Hameed and the chief and investigator of the Gujranwala Cantt police station for the torture and killing of Liaqat Masih.
Family members identified marks of torture on the body, which was still lying at the family's house in Kalaskey village as area police pressured relatives to bury him with assurances that the officers responsible for the killing would be arrested. Family members and other area sources said the accused police officers, however, were moving freely in the area, indicating authorities had no intention of arresting them.