By BosNewsLife Asia Service reporting from Pakistan
ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN (BosNewsLife)– Citing “terrorism threats”, the government of Pakistan’s Punjab province banned protests Monday, March 22, against the “refusal” by police to detain those who burned a Christian man for not converting to Islam, while raping his wife.
“There is a possible threat of terrorism, so it is better to avoid any processions,” the government told Life for All, one of the Christian advocacy groups organizing the demonstrations.
It wasn’t clear who had made the threats. Officials of Pakistan’s Christian minority expressed concerns however about attacks by Islamic extremists, including fighters linked to al-Qaida and other militant groups.
Monday’s demonstrations were to be organized in the cities of Lahore and Rawilpindi, where police and religious leaders allegedly attacked the Christian couple Friday, March 19.
Christian rights groups said they have given “24 hours to the Punjab police to arrest the culprits” and “to compensate the three small children” who were apparently forced to watch the rape of their mother and the burning of their father.
Doctors at the Rawilpindi Holy Family Hospital have warned that 38-year-old Arshed Masih may not survive, with 80 percent of his body burned.
At least three police officers and five Muslim religious leaders participated in the burning incident in front of a Rawilpindi police station, Christians and law enforcement sources said.
The officers are also suspected of having raped his wife, 33-year-old Martha Masih, in the police station where the couple was initially held for questioning, said Police Superintendent Moin Shah.
“The victimized family will get justice,” he told BosNewsLife over the weekend. Martha Masih was also being treated for her injuries at the Holy Family Hospital, said Medical Officer Nasir Javed.
The Christians were reportedly attacked after their Muslim employer, identified as Sheikh Mohammad Sultan, allegedly got upset because they refused to convert to Islam. Arshed Masih worked as a driver and his wife as a maid for the influential businessman, Christians said.
Javed told BosNewsLife that an investigation into the incident is ongoing. It was unclear whether Sultan had been in contact with police. He could not be reached for comment.
The case has underscored concerns among rights groups about forceful conversions and other attacks against Christians across Pakistan, a predominantly Muslim nation.