By BosNewsLife Asia Service reporting from Pakistan
RAWALPINDI, PAKISTAN (BosNewsLife)– A Christian man was fighting for his life in Pakistan’s Punjab province Saturday, March 20, after Muslim leaders backed by police burned him alive for refusing to convert to Islam, while his wife was raped by police officers, Christian and hospital sources familiar with the case told BosNewsLife.
Arshed Masih was burned Friday, March 19, in front of a police station in the city of Rawalpindi near Pakistan’s capital Islamabad, following apparent death threats from his Muslim employer Sheikh Mohammad Sultan, an influential businessman, and religious leaders, said the Rawalpindi Holy Family Hospital.
His wife, Martha Arshed, was allegedly raped by police officers. Their three children — ranging in age from 7 to 12– were reportedly forced to witness the attacks against their parents.
“Both [Masih] and wife were rushed to the Holy Family Hospital and are under treatment,” the hospital said.
He was listed in serious condition with about 80 percent of his body burned.
Local police officials said they were “aware” of the attacks carried out by Muslim leaders and apparently at least some officers and added that an investigation was underway. No arrests were reported yet late Saturday, March 19.
Sheikh Mohammad Sultan could not immediately be reached for comment and it was not clear whether he had been in contact with police Saturday, March 20.
Before tensions emerged about their Christian faith, Masih worked as a driver and his wife as a maid for the Muslim businessman since 2005, Christians said.
The couple apparently lived with their children in the servant quarters of Sultan’s estate in Rawalpindi, a key trade and tourist destination. In January, religious leaders and Sultan allegedly asked Arshed to convert to Islam with his whole family. After he refused, the group reportedly threatened him with “dire consequences”.
Arshed offered to quit his job, but the businessman allegedly said he would “kill” him if he were to leave.
He apparently also told Christian mediators that he would never allow the Christian family to live somewhere else.
This week tensions rose after Sultan reported a theft of 500,000 Pakistani Rupees (5,952$), according to a document seen by BosNewsLife.
The Christian family members were not named as suspects in the so-called ‘First Information Report’ from police.
Sources familiar with the situation, who asked not to be identified for security reasons, told BosNewsLife that the businessman had offered the couple to drop the case if they convert to Islam or “else that both would not see their children again.”
However, “Arshed refused to convert and stood firm in his faith. Arshed`s wife was raped by the police and he was burned alive,” Friday, March 19, local Christians said, speaking on condition of anonimity.
The case comes at a time when church groups have complained about growing attacks against minority Christians by Muslim militants, often with the alleged support by local law enforcement officials and other authorities. (BosNewsLife Asia Service includes BosNewsLife correspondents often working in difficult circumstances. In some cases, including this report, their names are not mentioned due to security concerns. With editing by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos).