By BosNewsLife Special Correspondent Xavier P. William reporting from Pakistan
ABBOTTABAD, PAKISTAN (BosNewsLife)– A pregnant Christian housemaid is in critical condition following alleged torture by Pakistani police, an incident that rights activists say underscores widespread violence against Christian domestic workers in this heavily Islamic Asian nation.
Salma Emmanuel, 30, told reporters that the mistreatment occurred Sunday, November 6, after she was falsely accused of a robbery at the house of her employer in the Kunj Jadeed Mohalla area of Abbottabad city, some 56 kilometers (35 miles) north of the capital Islamabad.
Doctors at Benazir Bhutto Hospital Abbottabad confirmed signs of mistreatment saying her fetus was “in danger due to the precarious condition” of the woman. Police denied however that Emmanuel had been tortured at a local police station in Abbottabad city, a military area where U.S. forces killed al-Qaida terror network chief Osama bin Laden in May.
Speaking from hospital, a sobbing Emmanuel said the troubles began after she bought gold ornaments of about 100 grams for her brother’s wedding in the nearby town of Rawalpindi. “On Saturday around 1am [local time my employer] Ghazal Riaz called and said that there has been a robbery. The robbers took around 900,000 Rupees ($10,645) and approx 300 grams gold ornaments.”
She said that when she and her husband arrived at the home, “police was already there with the sniffer dogs.”
Initially her husband, Emmanuel Masih, was allegedly threatened by police dogs and taken to the police station. On Sunday, November 7, police allegedly also detained Salma Emmanuel. She said an inspector and two female “subordinates…severely tortured” her “continuously for three hours” in an apparent effort to force her to confess to her involvement in the robbery.
“I was in severe pain, I kept saying that I and my husband are innocent, but they kept kicking me,” she explained. “They threatened me that they would kill me and my child if I would not confess.”
The female officers allegedly said that that Riaz and her brother “are very influential” and that they would kill her and “and nobody will even come to know about it.” Riaz could not be reached to discuss the allegations.
Emmanuel said police “severely tortured me…When I was almost unconscious they called a male officer and sent me home.” As her situation worsened, her family rushed her to hospital, she said.
Although police have denied the allegations, rights activists say this is no isolated incident. “This is not a first incident where a [Christian] maid has been illegally detained and tortured,”said rights group Masihi Foundation and Christian humanitarian organization Life for All.
“On January 23, 2010, an innocent 12-year old child Shazia was reported to have been tortured to death. She had been employed as a maid in Advocate Naeem’s house in Lahore,” the groups said in a statement to BosNewsLife.
Later on April 15 that year, Sumera Pervaiz, 14, was “illegally detained and tortured” while working at the house of “Commander Faheem Cheema” of the Pakistan Air Force in Islamabad, the rights activists added.
“Unfortunately the authorities didn’t take any action because the people involved were influential and were able to pressurize the legal system. These people have made the society hostage and feel that they can do anything they want. ”
The groups said that the latest case is “a sad incident as the wife is in the hospital in a critical condition and the husband is at an undisclosed location.”
Once again “the influential [people] in society have used their influence against the weak and [overturned] the law. The concerned authorities have put a deaf ear to it and are the silent observers of the massive abuse of human rights,” they stressed.
Referring to Emmanuel’s pregnancy, they rights groups said Pakistani officials “have nearly taken an innocent life which was yet to come to the world.”
They said the case underscores concerns that Christian domestic workers are often “raped, kidnapped, tortured and killed” in Pakistan. “Yet the authorities claim that the minorities are given equal rights.”
Reports of workers mistreatment comes at a time when Pakistan has come under international pressure to improve the rights of its Christian minority.
In a wider context, members of Pakistan’s Christian community have said their situation has become worse, in part because of growing frustration among Muslims over U.S. drone attacks on Islamic militants hiding on the border with Afghanistan.
Representatives of the minority, which accounts for an estimated one percent of the country’s 170 million population, say because they are singled out as the Christian faith is often strongly associated with America and the West. (With editing and reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos)