On October 5 in southern Punjab Province, 25-year-old Sajid Bashir Masih, an unarmed Christian, was shot dead and 21 were injured, six of them critically, when 40 to 45 heavily armed Muslims forcibly entered the home of Adeel Kashif in an attempted illegal land grab.
The armed Muslims, led by men of the area’s powerful Jagrane family, tried to force the Christians out. “The attackers forced their way into Kashif’s house and started throwing the family’s belongings onto the street,” Wazir Masih, a Christian elder in the area, told Compass. “They also tore the clothes off Kashif’s three female family members – Violet, 40, Parveen, 35, and Esther, 17, and tortured the family.”
“Kashif’s neighbors and some other villagers came out of their homes on hearing the commotion,” Masih said. “The village comprises about 250 Christian families, and some 90 to 100 people gathered there and tried to persuade the Muslims not to dislodge the Christian carpenter illegally. None of the Christians present were carrying weapons as no one was expecting such a harsh action by the Muslims.”
Masih told Compass that the Muslims suddenly opened indiscriminate fire on the Christians, instantly killing 25-year-old Sajid Bashir Masih and seriously injuring 21 others, including women and children. He added that six of the injured were in critical condition. “The Christians had done nothing to provoke the Muslims into employing such brute force,” Wazir Masih said. “They just opened fire on the defenseless people with their automatic rifles and shotguns.”
Masih said that as soon as Sajid Bashir Masih succumbed to his injuries, some of the assailants fled the scene while others took refuge inside Kashif’s house and started shooting at the villagers. He said the villagers immediately informed police, who arrived soon from a nearby station. Police besieged the house and eventually managed to arrest 16 armed assailants, but the primary suspects remain free.
Masih said the assailants wanted to take illegal possession of the 18-marla piece of land (in Pakistan, one marla equals 30.25 square yards). “Since pre-partition days, a piece of government land is given to Kammis [laborers or craftsmen] for residence, and in return they help the villagers in whatever way they can,” Masih said. “This allotment is made with the complete consensus of the villagers.”
Before Kashif, a Muslim carpenter named Muhammad Iqbal was allowed to live on the property, Masih said. “Iqbal lived there for over 10 years and moved out about two months ago. However, before leaving he prepared fake papers of the land in connivance with the Patwari [local revenue officer] and a local Muslim group and ‘sold’ it to them for 130,000 rupees [US$1,480],” he said, adding that the entire process was fraudulent because no one can sell the government’s land in a personal capacity.
A.D. Sahil, a Christian schoolteacher of the area, told Compass that the Christians suspected police complicity in the incident. “The police station is just a couple of kilometers away, yet such a large group of heavily-armed Muslims managed to reach our village in broad daylight,” he said.
The village is near Shantinagar, a Christian village attacked by thousands of Islamist extremists on Feb. 6, 1997.The Muslims burned down 785 houses and four churches, and more than 2,500 Christians had to flee following allegations that a Christian villager had blasphemed against the Muslim prophet, Muhammad.
Christians make up only 2.45 percent of Pakistan’s population, which is more than 95 percent Muslim, according to Operation World. Pakistan is ranked No. 11 on the Open Doors 2011 World Watch List of the 50 worst persecutors of Christians.
Lord of heaven and earth, we petition You to bring about justice in Pakistan. Embrace these vulnerable ones in Your mighty arms of protection. Comfort those who mourn, grant courage to the Christians to remain faithful to Your name in the midst of this persecution. Soften the hearts of the legal authorities to end this violence. And let it be known that You are their God, a God of righteousness, truth and mercy. Amen