Police in Pakistan beat a 14-year-old Christian boy to death on Monday (Oct. 9) because he had gotten into a fight with a Muslim classmate who tried to bully him into renouncing his faith, sources said.
Mushtaq Masih, father of Arsalan Masih, said that his son was a student at a private center in Jhabran Mandi village, Sheikhupura District in Punjab Province. Arsalan was at the center when seven policemen from the Bahu Chowk Police Post arrived at about 5 p.m. in their official vehicle and stormed the premises, Masih told Morning Star News.
"Arsalan was attending his tuition classes at the Ideal Science Academy when Head Constable Imtiaz, Driver Rashid, Constable Arshad and some 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," he 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."
Numerous bystanders witnessed the assault, but the policemen threatened them if they intervened, he added.
Four months ago Arsalan had fought with a Muslim boy after the classmate tried to bully him into renouncing his Christian faith, said Masih, a member of the Presbyterian Church in Pakistan.
"I did not know about the fight until recently," he said. "Arsalan had reportedly beaten up a boy whose uncle, Sardar alias Billu, is a constable in the Sheikhupura District police. 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 had registered a case (No. 653/17) with the Sheikhupura Saddar Police Station against seven officers, but that police had so far been unable to arrest them.
Accused Police Flee
Sheikhupura Superintendent of Police Sarfraz Virk told Morning Star News that he had ordered the registration of a case against the accused policemen and also suspended the in-charge of the Bahu 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," he 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 Police Post told Morning Star News that he had just taken charge and was investigating the case.
"So far, no accused has been arrested," he 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."
He said investigators were taking into consideration the family's claim that the killing was religiously motivated.
The maternal grandfather of the Arsalan, identified only as Pastor Shafqat, said that there were 300 to 400 Christian families in the Jhabran Mandi area.
"Fights do take place among boys from both communities over petty issues, but this is the first time a boy has lost his life," he said. "The murderers didn't even [have 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 a First Information Report (FIR) against their colleagues.
"However, the police were forced to register the FIR after Arsalan's family and other Christians blocked the main highway for several hours on Monday night in protest," he 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."
In August, another Christian student was killed. On Aug. 27, 17-year-old Sharoon Masih was killed by a Muslim classmate during school hours in Punjab's Vehari District because he had drunk water from a glass used by all students - an act many Muslims hold in disdain as they regard Christians as "unclean."
Christian rights activists said the killing showed that religious intolerance was seeping into all sections of society, including government departments. Rufus Solomon, a leading Christian rights advocate, said it was 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," he 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, he said.
"Arresting the accused is one thing, taking the matter to its logical end is another," he said, adding that like other departments, the Pakistani police too had double standards when it came 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!" he 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.