By BosNewsLife Asia Service with reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos
ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN (BosNewsLife)– A Christian man accused of involvement in the lynching of two Muslims after church bombings has died in a Pakistani prison under suspicious circumstances; an advocacy official told BosNewsLife.
“An autopsy report states that 29-year-old Usman Masih died in the Kot Lakhput Jail on December 9 from a heart attack. But in a similar fashion to previous Christian deaths under police captivity [his] body was littered with bruises and welts,” said Wilson Chowdhry, chairman of the British Pakistani Christian Association (BPCA). “Negligence and violence led to the death of a man believed to be innocent by the Christian community. The lesions on the victim’s corpse suggest foul play and a brutal ending,” he told BosNewsLife.
He said BPCA initiated “a loving appeal for the wife and children of Usman to help them as they come to terms with this loss” and added that “whatever is raised will be given to the family directly.”
Pakistani officials did not comment more on the case. Usman Masih, a married father of two children, is the six Christian known to have died behind bars since 2009, according to BPCA figures. He was detained for allegedly participating in the lynching of two Muslim men who were suspects in bomb attacks that rocked two churches in the city of Lahore on March 15, 2015, killing at least 15 people.
Masih was among 500 men initially detained after the murders prompting “nationwide hatred” towards the Christian community, Chowdhry said. “The lynching of two Muslim men, which cannot be condoned, was a hysterical reaction by a group of around 20 Christian men, who had just seen 15 killed and 80 injured in the targeted bomb attacks on two churches before.”
However, he BPCA leader questioned Masih’s involvement in the lynching as he and “all the arrested men” were “tortured” for instance “with a long wooden truncheon, while hanging upside down.” Chowdhry also claimed that “nails were being forcibly removed” and there were reports of “punching, kicking, spitting.”
Additionally, the accused were urinated on as part of “violent measure employed by the police,” Chowdhry explained. The advocacy official said all suspects were detained “for over a year and six months” before most of them were released.
He stressed that BPCA, which supports “persecuted Christians”, is “surprised” at the number of men being convicted for the lynching of the Muslims “despite mitigating circumstances such as a heightened frenzy.”
Eventually, 83 men were charged with half of them later convicted and sentenced to death, Chowdhry said. “Despite a large number of arrests made on men from Yohanabad and the eventual 42 convictions, surprisingly no arrests and convictions were made for those involved in the twin church bomb attack,” he recalled.
“The 15 Christians killed and 80 Injured in the twin church attack became of no consequence.”
Legal teams appealing the death sentences reportedly claim more than 30 of those found guilty were innocent because there was no evidence of wrongdoing. Adding to their suspicion were reports that Deputy District Public Prosecutor Syed Anees Shah offered all 42 convicted men “complete exoneration” if they accepted Islam. “However Mr. Masih and all the other brave convicted Christians refused the offer point blank, despite knowing they would all be sentenced to death by hanging,” Chowdhry said.
Masih’s death came after 38-year-old Indaryas Ghulam, a married Christian father with children, died in prison from tuberculosis after he was denied medical treatment, his family reportedly said. “Ghulam’s body was also covered in lesion from what his family describes as ‘obvious evidence of torture’,” BPCA recalled.
Several other Christians died including Robert Danish who was killed in prison September 15, 2009, BPCA said. The group also mentioned the alleged killing behind bars of Qamar David on March 15, 2011, the alleged murder in prison of Mand Zubair Rashid on March 11, 2015, and the killing of Liaquat Masih who died on January 15, 2016.
Their deaths came amid “serious questions” about access to “medical care for inmates and regarding their treatment by brutal police officers and prison wardens,” Chowdhry, explained. “Little or nothing has changed despite the demonstrations by families and NGO’s. Christian lives are clearly of no value in a nation that sees them as a pariah community.”
Activists have urged Pakistan, an Islamic nation, to improve the treatment of Christian inmates and others as it ratified the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.