By BosNewsLife Asia Service reporting from Pakistan
RAWALPINDI, PAKISTAN (BosNewsLife)– Hundreds of people attended the funeral Wednesday, March 24, of a young Christian man who was allegedly burned by Muslim extremists and police officers for refusing to convert of Islam.
Arshed Masih, 38, was burned Friday, March 19, in front of a police station in Rawalpindi, Police Superintendent Moin Shah told BosNewsLife. His wife Martha Masih, 33, was raped by possibly three police officers in the police station, where the couple had been held for questioning, he added.
Their children, ranging in ages from 7 to 12, were allegedly forced to watch the attacks.
Shah said the police officers were suspended Tuesday, pending an investigation into their involvement in the burning and rape incidents.
Local Christians and human rights investigators have said the attacks were instigated by the couple’s employer, Muslim businessman Sheikh Mohammad Sultan, who lives in Rawalpindi.
Since 2005, Arshed Masih had been working as a driver and his wife as a maid for the businessman.
However Sultan was upset that the couple refused to convert to Islam and threatened them with “dire consequences” earlier this year, explained Martha Masih’s brother, Moosa Masih.
Last week Sultan filed a case of theft of 500,000 Rupees (about $6,000) against Arshed and Martha Masih, according to a ‘First Information Report’ issued by local police, seen by BosNewsLife.
The businessman offered the couple to drop the case if they convert to Islam saying
that otherwise they would “never see their children again,” Moosa Masih said.
Sultan has denied any wrongdoing, saying he was “unaware” of the attacks and that he never forced them to convert to Islam.
He was expected to meet police and non-governmental organizations Thursday to discuss possible compensation for the family, Christian advocacy groups said.
However Martha Masih has said she want the suspects to be detained.
Masih, who has been treated for injuries following the rape, appeared in shock during Wednesday’s funeral for her late husband.
Grieving family members and Christian activists attended the ceremony at the Shamsabad Catholic Church in Rawalpindi. He was later buried at the Christian Graveyard, Pirwadahi.
On Wednesday, March 23, Martha Masih and her children were still homeless after they were expelled from the servant quarters of Sultan’s estate, the family said.
They have been sleeping at the Rawalpindi Holy Family Hospital where Christian activists have brought them meals.
Arshed Masih has come to symbolize a growing number of reports of persecution of Pakistan’s Christian minority, including cases of forced conversions, said advocacy group Life for All. Christians are among those targeted by Muslim militants, some of whom have links to al-Qaida and Taliban groups, Christian rights activists say.
Life for All said it has urged Christians in Pakistan and around the world to participate in its efforts to support the Masih family. The group can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org or phone number +92 300 4017141.
Christians comprise less than five percent of Pakistan’s roughly 175 million people.