By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN (BosNewsLife)-- New details have emerged about a murdered Christian teenager in Pakistan with investigators saying he was killed this month for "wasting horse food" and then hung from the rafters of a barn where he was employed, to create the impression of a suicide.
Suleman Hadayat Masih, 14, was the latest Christian child known to have been killed by Muslims in Pakistan. The attacks have been linked by activists and family members to their expression of faith in Jesus Christ. Last year, another Pakistani Christian boy, 13-year-old Nauman Masih, was set on fire by young Muslims after he professed his faith in Christ and died of his injuries, BosNewsLife reported at the time, citing several sources.
This month's murder of Suleman has underscored wider concerns among activists about attacks against devoted Christians in heavily Islamic Pakistan. Suleman, who "was murdered on May 8, 2016" was "a resident of Chehl Kalan village in Gujaranwala" in Punjab province and "a bright, hardworking but illiterate youth, with a talent for horses," explained the British Pakistani Christian Association (BPCA), which is supporting the family.
"His ability to tame and tend for horses was recognized early and he was put to work at a local stables, owned by Muslim brothers, Aurangzaib Bashir, Humayun Bashir and Jahangir Bashir." The three were later publicly identified as suspects in the murder. "The three Bashir brothers were arrested along with another Muslim man Khurram Baigh who was also accused of being complicit in the crime," BPCA said. BosNewsLife usually identifies suspects only if they have already been publicly identified.
"To date Aurangzaib and Khurram remain in police custody, whilst brothers Humayun and Jahanghir have been released on bail," BCPA explained in a statement to BosNewsLife. Police reportedly took the body of Suleman away for a post mortem examination, including investigations into alleged sodomy.
A week before the murder, the boy had disappeared because of abuse, said his father Hadayat Masih. The father worked as a sweeper for the Pakistani army, but poor health apparently ended his employment and the family was too poor to pay for their children's education. Son Suleman became the main breadwinner and was taken into the care of the Muslim brothers where he resided within the stables in a makeshift lodging, BosNewsLife learned.
After hearing about the disappearance, Masih eventually travelled with Aurangzaib to the town of Alam Chowk where they found the teenager. Aurangzaib allegedly apologized for alleged wrongdoing and Suleman returned to work May 7.
Yet Masih had his doubts saying Suleman seemed fragile and withdrawn about the brutality he was being subjected too. When the father visited the stables where Suleman usually worked on that fateful day, he reportedly heard loud screaming and saw the three Bashir brothers fleeing the scene. As he arrived at the stables he saw his young son hanging from a rope in a position that he could never have put himself in, according to rights investigators.
He called police who launched an investigation. "I am heartbroken, our poverty meant that we had to place our son under the auspices of these cruel brothers who have taken his life away for just a few bits of hay?," the father was quoted as saying in a statement.
"This cruel treatment of my son must be punished. He was a good hardworking boy who only sought to help us out of our financial dilemma." The father said the family had "received several threats from the landlords asking us to drop the charges." They also offered the family "a large compensatory offer" he said.
However, "I am determined to seek justice for my boy. He deserves at least this from me, I would give my life to have home back," Masih added.
Wilson Chowdhry, chairman of BPCA said the "tragic death of a young teenager" is "a deeply saddening account made more harrowing by the attempts to hide the murder by faking a suicide."
However he said he fears that the "creaking legal system of Pakistan that is geared to undermine minorities will inevitably allow the perpetrators of this gruesome crime to escape justice - a practise of impunity that has only served to increase attacks on Christians."
He added that the "fact that two men involved in the disguising of this murder as a suicide have been freed on bail shows how the legal system of Pakistan is simply not fit for purpose." Chowdhry said he fears that "the family of Suleman who in seeking justice are becoming targets for persecution and attempts will be made to thwart justice in this way. Pakistan's police force have a proven penchant for failure, cover-ups and are known
to despise Christians, hopes for justice are extremely bleak."
BPCS said it had paid for the funeral and would monitor the safety of the family, including providing "a rescue home away from any violence if necessary. "
Other Christians have also been targeted in recent weeks in Pakistan. "The wife of a slain Catholic man Nazir Masih, along with her son Iqbal Masih have filed a complaint at police because of the murder case," said Sardar Mushtaq Gill, a prominent Christian rights lawyer whose advocacy group is supporting the family in court.
"Nazir Masih was attacked with a chopping knife on April 5, leaving him injured with a cut throat and mouth and killed at the spot. Nazir, a Catholic, was with a Muslim friend Nawaz, at the time of attack who was left seriously injured by the attack."
He said the dead body had been taken through the streets in protest at "the police's reluctance" to detain the alleged killers. The suspects were identified as two Muslims brothers Naazar Ali and Haider Ali. "They attacked them with a knife on a trivial dispute over a plot of land," Gill told BosNewsLife.
Pakistan's government has come under mounting international pressure to improve the plight of Christians and other minorities.
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