3rd Pakistani Christian teenager killed since August
Arasalan Masih is the third Christian teenager to be killed in Pakistan since August.
Mushtaq Masih told Morning Star News that his son, Arsalan Masih, was a student at a private center in the Punjab province village of Jhabran Mandi, located in the province's Sheikhupura district. Arsalan was at the center when seven policemen from the local Bahu Chowk police post arrived at about 5 p.m. in an official vehicle and stormed the premises, Masih said.
"Arsalan was attending his tuition classes at the Ideal Science Academy when head constable Imtiaz, driver Rashid, constable Arshad and other unidentified policemen kicked open the door and dragged him out of the classroom," Masih said. "Sardar, alias Billu, a police constable, helped them to identify the boy. With this, they all started beating Arsalan with fists, kicks and rifle butts."
Teacher Farhan Ali tried to stop the assault but the officers shoved and slapped him and continued beating the boy, Masih said.
"Rashid struck Arsalan's head with a pistol and he started bleeding," the father said. "When they bundled him into the police van, Arsalan collapsed and died. Later the police team threw Arsalan's body on the roadside and fled."
Masih said numerous bystanders witnessed the assault, but the policemen threatened them if they intervened.
Masih, a Presbyterian church member, said Arsalan had fought with a Muslim boy four months ago after the classmate tried to bully him into renouncing his Christian faith.
"I did not know about the fight until recently," Masih said. "Arsalan had reportedly beaten up a boy whose uncle, Sardar alias Billu, is a constable .... Billu nurtured a grudge against Arsalan, and that's why he brought his police friends with him to teach the poor boy a lesson."
Masih said that he registered a case (No. 653/17) with the district police station against the seven officers but they had not been arrested.
Sarfraz Virk, Sheikhupura superintendent of police, told Morning Star News he had ordered the registration of a case against the accused policemen and suspended the in-charge officer at the Bahu Chowk police post for negligence in official duties.
"We are trying our best to arrest the nominated accused, who have fled the area since the day of the incident," Virk said. "The boy was not wanted in any case, and it's quite clear that the policemen had gone there on their own and misused their official authority."
Sub-inspector Safdar Javed of the Bahu Chowk police post told Morning Star News he had just taken charge and was investigating the case.
"So far, no accused has been arrested," Javed said. "My investigation till now has revealed that no case or complaint was registered against Arsalan with the Bahu police. The policemen transgressed their authority and will be brought to justice at all costs."
Javed said investigators were taking into consideration the family's claim that the killing was religiously motivated.
In August, two Pakistani Christian teens were killed, according to Morning Star News reports: Asif Masih, 16, who was severely beaten by a mob after being accused of blasphemy another Christian student, and 17-year-old Sharoon Masih, who was killed by a Muslim classmate during school hours in Punjab's Vehari district because he had taken a drink of water from a glass used by all students -- an act many Muslims hold in disdain as they regard Christians as "unclean."
The maternal grandfather of Arsalan Masih, identified only as Pastor Shafqat, said 300 to 400 Christian families live in the Jhabran Mandi area where the teenager was killed on Oct. 9.
"Fights do take place among boys from both communities over petty issues but this is the first time a boy has lost his life," Shafgat said. "The murderers didn't even [have a pained conscience] for a second that they were ruthlessly beating a 14-year-old boy. What had he done to deserve such a brutal death?"
The case has been taken up by the Pakistan Center for Law and Justice (PCLJ). Attorney Kashif Naimat of the PCLJ told Morning Star News that police were initially reluctant to register an initial report against their colleagues.
"However, the police were forced to register the [report] after Arsalan's family and other Christians blocked the main highway for several hours on Monday night in protest," Naimat said. "PCLJ has taken up the case voluntarily and we will do our best to bring perpetrators of this heinous crime to justice regardless of their influence."
Christian rights activists said the killing showed that religious intolerance is seeping into all sections of society including government departments. Rufus Solomon, a leading Christian rights advocate, said it is tragic that another Christian boy had fallen victim to "extremist Islam."
"The situation won't improve for Pakistani Christians until the government repeals the blasphemy laws," Solomon said. "These laws promote extremism and encourage Muslims to force their views on members of the minority communities, particularly Christians. No government in Pakistan has the spine to take on religious extremism, therefore our people will continue to suffer losses, both human and material."
It is highly likely that police will favor their own colleagues even though the murder of the Christian boy took place in front of numerous witnesses, Solomon said.
"Arresting the accused is one thing, taking the matter to its logical end is another," Solomon said, adding that, like other government offices, Pakistani police have double standards when it comes to issues involving members of the minority communities.
Napolean Qayyum, another Christian rights activist, echoed Solomon's views, saying he saw little hope for justice for the family of the slain boy.
"How many people actually believe that the police will build a strong prosecution against their own fellows? Not many, I'm sure!" Qayyum said, adding that no Christian political leader had shown interest in assisting the family in the case.
Pakistan ranked fourth on Christian support group Open Doors' 2017 World Watch List of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.
According to the Open Doors 2017 report: "There are multiple groups of Christians experiencing persecution in Pakistan. Historical Christian communities exist openly, but have to put up with stringent rules and constant monitoring, while Christian converts from Islam suffer the brunt of persecution from both radical Islamic groups and families and neighbors. Protestant Christian communities are under close scrutiny and suffer frequent attacks, especially when they are active in outreach amongst Muslims. Violent persecution is common. Christians are targets for murder, bombings, abduction of women, rape, forced marriages and eviction from home and country. Unjust and arbitrary blasphemy laws are used to punish Christians and prevent evangelism."