By BosNewsLife Asia Service
LAHORE, PAKISTAN (BosNewsLife)-- Christians in Pakistan's Punjab province were still awaiting justice Tuesday, August 13, more than two weeks after a local Christian leader and landowner was shot and killed by at least one Islamic gunman in front of his young children, family members and activists said.
Ishaq Masih, a resident of an Okara district village near provincial capital Lahore, was reportedly shot dead July 27 while his two young sons were watching the bloodshed.
The main gunman was publicly identified as Muhammad Luqman, also known as Ranjha. He allegedly illegally occupied Masih's land, accompanied by at least seven others.
"They surrounded us and started beating my father," said the late Christian's 15-year-old son, Arshad Masih in published remarks seen by BosNewsLife. "I and my brother cried for help but nobody was there to help us. They were laughing and raising slogans that this bleady Christian has a lot of land," he recalled in a statement distributed by rights activists.
Local Christians linked the attack to Masih's activities who besides being an active landowner was also the village's Christian leader, supporting reportedly persecuted Christians in the area.
"They accused my father of "interfering" and said he was now in their hands," Arshad Masih recalled about that fateful day. The attackers said 'We will teach him how to keep enmity with the Muslims', Masih explained.
"Then they opened fire...and it struck the heart of my father. My father felt on the ground and started to shudder."
His 12-year-old brother Siama Masih said he had tried to give his wounded father some water. "But Ranjha took that from me and slapped me”, he added.
Siama said the attackers took his brother Arshad with them "to the shed of the cattle and started beating him."
The attackers allegedly insisted Arshad Masih would admit to having killed his own father. "But my brother did not say a word. He was scared and shocked. I ran to my mother and told her about the incident..."
He said his uncles and cousins "rushed towards" the land where they killed his father. "Later they called police who came really late. They refused to file a report (about the case)."
Soon after, hundreds of Pakistani Christians braved the summer heat for three days and two nights in agricultural fields to pressure police to properly investigate the alleged murder of the 45-year-old father of two, locals said.
The Christian demonstrators also refused to bury the body for three days, violating the Pakistani practice of burial the next day, till police agreed to register the case, detain two of the suspects and conduct an autopsy.
On July 29, police reportedly promised that they would "arrest all other suspects" including Ranjha, within a week, but only if the Christians would bury Masih, and then disperse peacefully.
The protesters agreed, and Catholic Priest James Bahadur buried Masih that night, Christians said.
However, now nearly three weeks later, Ranjha has not been detained while seven accomplishes were released on bail, according to local residents.
Police could not immediately be reached to explain the reasons behind the release of suspects in the case.
The incident has underscored wider concerns among activists over what they view as growing pressure on minority Christians in the predominantly Islamic nation.
In the Okara District village of Chak 8-4/L Christians are in mourning.
"He was very active in helping the Christians of the village and never cared about his family or protection," noted his niece Said Humaira, in comments published by the Voice rights group.
Local authorities have been blamed for not doing enough to investigate and halt reported attacks against minority Christians, who comprise some three percent of Pakistan's 193 million people. (With reporting by BosNewsLife's Stefan J. Bos)
(BosNewsLife, the first truly independent news agency covering persecuted Christians, is 'Breaking the News for Compassionate Professionals' since 2004).
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