Islamabad (AsiaNews) – Arshed Masih died last night in hospital from the serious injuries – burns covering 80% of his body – which the 38 year old Pakistani Christian suffered when he was set on fire because he refused to convert to Islam. The funeral of man, who died after three days of agony, should take place in the late afternoon, but the family has asked that “before an autopsy is performed.” The Christian community of Pakistan condemns “with firmness” the latest episode of violence and denounces the “slowness” of the federal and provincial government to punish those responsible.
On March 19 a group of Islamic extremists burned alive Arshed Masih, a driver employed by a wealthy Muslim businessman in Rawalpindi. His wife worked as a maid in the same estate, situated in front of a police station. Recently disagreements had arisen between the employer, Sheikh Mohammad Sultan, and the couple because of their Christian faith. The couple had suffered threats and intimidation to force them to convert to Islam.
Arshed Masih died last night at 7.45 local time after three days of agony and suffering at the Holy Family Hospital in Rawalpindi, Punjab province. His wife Martha Arshed was raped by police en she sought to denounce the violence inflicted on her husband. The couple’s three children – ages 7 to 12 years – were forced “to witness the torture inflicted on their parents.
Since 2005 Arshed Masih and his wife had worked and lived on the estate of the late Sheikh Mohammad Sultan. The pressure on them to renounce Christianity had lately become incessant. The owner had come so far as to threaten “dire consequences”, to persuade them to embrace Islam. The couple were also accused of a recent theft by the owner who has promised to drop the complaint for their conversion.
Arshed Masih’s funeral should be held in the late afternoon, although tension remains high in the area. Local witnesses tell AsiaNews that “the whole family is in shock and I s demanding an autopsy is carried out before burial.” Several Christian associations and human rights activists – including Life for All, Christian Progressive Movement, Pakistan Christian Congress and Protect Foundation Pakistan – “protests are being stepped up outside the hospital.”
Peter Jacob, executive secretary of the Justice and Peace Commission of the Catholic Church of Pakistan (NCJP), expresses to AsiaNews his “strongest condemnation” for the crime against the man and the rape of women perpetrated by police who should protect law and order . The Catholic organization has been active to ensure protection to the woman and children, of whom there are no immediate reports.
The Catholic activist notes with regret the silence of the Federal Minister for Minorities, the Catholic Shahbaz Bhatti, and denounces “the slow pace and the inaction of the federal and provincial government. “The executive – said Peter Jacob – has not yet taken concrete steps to prevent violence and abuse on minorities and punish the guilty.”
The site BosNewsLife.com adds that yesterday the provincial government of Punjab blocked a protest march of Christians, under the pretext of “terrorist threat”. The local community wanted to demonstrate against the “refusal” of the police to arrest the perpetrators of the crime.