By BosNewsLife Correspondents Jawad Mazhar and Xavier P. William
LAHORE, PAKISTAN (BosNewsLife)– Christians protested Monday, February 22, in Pakistan’s Punjab province against the release on bail of the alleged murderer of a 12-year-old Christian domestic servant, whose casehas come to symbolize mounting tensions between Muslims and Christians here.
Demonstrators gathered in Youhanabad, a poor Christian settlement on the fringes of the provincialcapital Lahore, demanding justice for the family of Shazia Masih, who died last month.
The girl was allegedly mentally and physically abused in the home of Muslim lawyer Chaudhry Mohammad Naeem,in Lahore, where she had worked for the last eight months to support her poor parents.
She was taken to hospital for treatment “but did not recover and passed away on January 22,” said theCentre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS), which represents Masih’s family in court.
Naeem was briefly detained for his alleged involvement in Masih’s death, but released on bail after her family’slawyer failed to show up in time following apparent death threats, demonstrators said.
The Lahore High Court Bar Association has reportedly threatened that any lawyer who will appearagainst Mohammad Naeem will have to “face dire consequences,” Christians familiar with the case said.
There was no immediate comment from the Association.
Monday’s protest also came amid concerns over other violence, including the destruction of a Christianfamily house in Punjab’s Sadhokey village.
The home of Walayat Masih and his wife and four sons was allegedly burned down January 26, by three Muslimbrothers.
Masih told BosNewsLife that the attack came one-and-a-half year after his eldest son “was crushed” bythe tractor trolley of the same men attacking his house.He said his family is now living in hiding, amid more death threats.
Local police have refused to file charges against the three brothers and do not want to investigate the case,said Xavier William, the Joint Secretary of the Pakistan Christian Congress (PCC), a major Christian umbrellagroup.
However the regional Rawalpindi High Court has ordered police officials to register a case against the threeMuslims, BosNewsLife learned.
The ruling came after Samuel Saroya, a Christian rights activist, pleaded to the Court to seek justice for Walayat Masih and his family.
Christian rights groups say the cases are no isolated incidents. Last year was the worst period of persecution against Christians in Pakistan in the last decade, with attacks, arrests and detentions that reportedly killed some 130 Christians across the Islamic country, CLAAS told BosNewsLife.