SIALKOT, PAKISTAN (BosNewsLife)– Three Christian workers were detained and “tortured” by police and dismissed from their jobs in Pakistan’s Punjab province for wearing a crucifix and church visits on Sundays, according to statements from the men, their priest and family members Wednesday, May 12. Local police said the Christians were taken into custody because of suspected “alcohol” related offenses.
Atif Masih, Kamran Masih and Naveed Gill, who worked at a local garments factory in the Paka Garah area of Sialkot city, were arrested May 4 on what they and relatives called “false” accusations of illegally selling alcoholic beverages. “We were arrested” by local police “and pressured to give a false statement that we sold alcohol,” the workers alleged.
They claimed the real reason for the three-day detention was their decision to each wear a crucifix — often used as a symbol of Christianity — and their church visits. “The factory owner said that nobody would be allowed to wear a cross and called all Christian workers to work on Sundays. He also threatened us with dire consequences after we asked for permission to visit church on Sunday,” added the workers, who joined the factory last year.
Factory owner Rana Ejaz said local police “advised” him to make the alcohol sale accusations “so that I can terminate” agreements with the Christians. Ejaz declined to answer if the Christian workers sold alcohol on his premises or whether he fired them because they were each wearing a cross.
A senior police official at the local Paka Garah Police Station, Zulfiqar Ali, told BosNewsLife that the men had “confessed” they sold alcoholic beverages. He refused to discuss Christian concerns that the confession was made under duress, including torture.
The workers’ local parish priest, Illyas Mall, family members and friends said the three men “never even touched alcohol” and that they were “illegally” detained by police. “Factory owner Rana Ejaz is a good friend of the police chief, so he illegally detained the three and tortured them,” Mall added.
He said the Christians were released after “three days of illegal detention” following protests from local human rights groups. Pakistani authorities and local police have come under increased international pressure to improve their treatment of minority Christians in the predominantly Islamic nation.