(ADDS PROTESTS FROM CHRISTIAN GROUPS, COMMENTS)
By BosNewsLife Asia Service reporting from Pakistan
RAWALPINDI, PAKISTAN (BosNewsLife)– Arshed Masih, a Pakistani Christian who was burned by Muslim hardliners for refusing to convert to Islam, died early Tuesday, March 23, at the age of 38, his family told BosNewsLife. He had become a symbol of Christians facing persecution in Pakistan, suggested Life for All, a Pakistani advocacy group closely following the case.
Grieving relatives gathered at Rawalpindi Holy Family Hospital where Masih had been treated since Friday, March 19, when he was reportedly burned by at least a handful of Muslim religious leaders backed by police.
Masih was attacked in front of a police station in Rawalpindi, near Pakistan’s capital Islamabad, after he refused to convert to Islam, law enforcement and medical sources confirmed to BosNewsLife.
His Christian wife Martha Masih, 33, was believed to have been raped by possibly three police officers in the police station where the couple was held Friday, March 19, for questioning.
Their small children, ranging in age from 7 to 12, were allegedly forced to watch Friday’s attacks against their parents.
Police Superintendent Moin Shah told BosNewsLife that an investigation into the violence was ongoing. In a statement to BosNewsLife, the government of Punjab province where the attack took place, and the local police leadership, also said they were “condoling the grieving family”.
Masih’s family told BosNewsLife they are demanding a post-mortem examination before Masih’s funeral, which was to be held early Wednesday, March 24 at 10 am local time.
Rawalpindi Holy Family Hospital did not immediately want to comment on the family’s request. Doctors earlier said they were not able to save Arshed Masih’s life, with over 80 percent of his body burned.
The family said they may postpone the funeral if no suspects are detained and no case is filed by law enforcement officials against police officers allegedly involved in the rape and burning cases– a process known as a ‘First Information Report’.
As news of his death emerged protests broke out. Several Christian advocacy groups, including Life for All, Pakistan Christian Congress, the Christian Progressive Movement and Protect Foundation Pakistan demonstrated Tuesday, March 23, in Rawalpindi against the Punjab police.
It came a day after authorities asked Christian activists to cancel demonstrations, citing “terrorism threats.”
The advocacy groups expressed concerns about the future of widow Martha Masih and her three children and demanded “the arrest of the suspects and compensation” for the family.
The family was apparently expelled from the servant headquarters of their employer, influential businessman Sheikh Mohammad Sultan, who allegedly instigated the attacks.
Sultan got upset because Arshed Masih told him that he and his wife wanted to remain Christians, despite pressure from their employer and local religious leaders, Christians said. Since 2005, he reportedly worked as driver and his wife as a domestic servant for Sultan.
Last week tensions increased after Sultan reported a theft of 500,000 Pakistani Rupees (almost 6,000$), 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.
Sultan offered the couple to drop the case if they convert to Islam or “else that both would not see their children again,” according to sources familiar with the situation.
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 anonymity because of security fears.
The businessman has not yet commented on the case. Witnesses said they had seen the business man near Friday’s burning incident, but it remained unclear whether he directly participated in the attack.
A BosNewsLife reporter saw the children sleeping in the hospital, saying they are homeless. Their mother appeared in shock and was not able to speak with reporters Tuesday, March 23.
The latest incident of anti-Christian violence follow several reports of attacks against minority Christians by Islamic militants, including by fighters linked to the Al-Qaida and Taliban groups.
Christians comprise less than five percent of the country’s mainly Muslim population of 175 million people, according to estimates by the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). 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).
Missguided are these religious militant leaders of society. They are acting according to their social, political practice not according to the teachings of any great religion. I condemn them.
Praying for his wife and children, praying for the Christians in Pakistan.
WHAT WILL HAPPEN NEXT BEFORE THE AUTHORITIES DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT!!
Yasin; B.S. You damn well know better than that Islam is Not so much a Religion as it is an ideology as well as a Political and legal System. Islam is Not Only an Intolerant, Totalitarian,Supremacist Ideology that Justifies and Sanctifies Hatred, Violence and Murder, it is in fact, a Violent Expansionist Religion that Seeks the Destruction or Subjugation of All OtherFaiths, Cultures and Systems of Government. Violence is and Always Has Been an Integral Aspect of Islam. The Qur’an teaches that by Refusing to Convert to Islam, the Infidel has made Mischief and Corruption in the land and thus is seen to have Declared War on Allah. They are thus seen as a danger to Islam and the Muslims must respond to defend Allah and his “True Religion” – That is: Make War Upon Them. To subjugate and Kill for the Sake of Allah is a Duty of Jihad. The Qur’an Gives the Muslim the Manifest Destiny of World Domination. Yes most Muslims are peaceful but the ideology of Islam IS NOT. As is explained above, No Non Muslim can be considered innocent. When they tell you killing of innocents is against Islam, UNDERSTAND THAT.
GOD, not allah, bless Pakistan Christians! Happy Easter!