The depth of persecution our brothers and sisters endure is often difficult to read about–and difficult for us to share. Some accounts, like the one below, are extremely dark. We share this important story to help all of us understand that the darkness is real and that, as the Apostle Paul writes, “we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but “against the universal lords of this darkness” (Ephesians 6:12).
The choice was horrific for Sajid Masih, a young Pakistani Christian man in his 20s. It would be a choice that would forever change his life.
Sajid arrived at the local police station. Four days earlier, his younger cousin, Patras, had been arrested for allegedly posting a “blasphemous” photo in a private Facebook group on his cellphone–violating Pakistan’s infamous blasphemy laws. Police had ordered Sajid to their office for questions, saying they needed to check his cellphone, as well.
But the investigation (with Patras present) soon became violent when officials began beating Sajid followed by what an Open Doors representative calls a “frighteningly turn of persecution strategy” when police ordered the young man to sodomize his 18-year-old cousin.
Seeing no other escape route, Sajid flung himself four stories from a window in the interrogation room, crashing onto the hood of a car below.
The brutal persecution incident has drawn widespread attention and protests with supporters of Pakistani civil society groups taking to the streets in cities such as Karachis, protesting in support of Christians and the plight of Sajid and Patras.
An Almost Fatal Facebook Post
Sajid and Patras are members of the Christian minority living in Shahdara, a northern suburb of Lahore, Pakistan’s second-largest city near the border of India. Here, acts of persecution are known to be on the rise. This year, Pakistan is #5 on the World Watch List, making it the fifth most dangerous country for Christians.
Patras belongs to a Facebook group and is accused of posting a picture of the grave of the Muslim prophet Muhammad, an act considered blasphemy by the Muslim majority. Following the advice of Christian counsel, Patras surrendered to police and was turned over to the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) cybercrime unit, followed by Sajid’s brutal interrogation.
“They beat me with fists and kicks and then with a computer electrical cable,” Sajid said in an interview with World Watch Monitor the day after the beating. “I asked them why they were beating me. They said my fault was that I was Patras’s cousin. Then they told me to call myself and Patras ‘accursed,’ which I did. Then they ordered me to take Patras’ [trousers] off and [perform oral sex on] him, but I refused, saying that he was my [cousin] and I couldn’t. Then they started yelling at him.
“Finding no other way, I jumped from the window—and then did not know anything,” he said.
Sajid was taken to a nearby hospital where he underwent surgery on both fractured legs. On February 25–three days before the surgery–an FIA official reported he was recovering in stable condition and denied that Sajid was ever tortured.
On February 28, the day of the surgery, human rights lawyer Asad Jamal shared a different perspective–telling World Watch Monitor that Sajid “is seriously injured and the manner in which he has sustained injuries could have led to his immediate death; further, if his physical condition doesn’t improve for some reason he may still be at the risk of losing life.”
He also said the information recorded in the criminal report and the FIA did not corroborate. “It would remain difficult for the agency to explain there was no torture involved in this instance,” Jamal said, adding that such treatment is clearly in violation of the United Nations’ Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
The FIA is now charging Sajid with attempted suicide, a crime that could send him to prison for a year and cost the young janitor a fine.
Pakistan’s Catholic and Protestant leaders are demanding the Supreme Court drop the attempted suicide charges and investigate the abuse and torture, according to AsiaNews.it.
Islamic Extremists Call for Death–700 Christian Families Forced From Their Homes
The cousins’ story has far-reaching impact even before Patras’ arrest in this country where Christian persecution is driven by radical Islamic groups that flourish and expand under the favor of political parties, the army and the government.
When the Facebook post came to light, Muslim protestors led by Muslim extremist group Tehreek Labbaik Ya Rasool and other Islamic radicals staged a 12-hour protest calling for the arrest and death of the young man—and forcing hundreds of area Christians to flee their homes.
The protestors reportedly threatened to burn down the homes of at least 700 poor Christian families, residents said. Several hundred protesters blocked a main highway, burned tires and chanted slogans calling for the death of Patras Masih, telling police they would burn down Christians’ homes if Masih were not arrested.
Protestors dispersed only after the local police chief assured them that Patras had been arrested and charged with blasphemy.
The father of Patras, Indreyas Masih, reportedly said that his son had told him a friend had posted a sacrilegious photograph on a Facebook group from his ID a month ago, and that he had no intention of hurting religious sentiments.
“My son is illiterate and works as sweeper at a private bank,” Indreyas said. “He has never been involved in any religious dispute with any Muslim in the village. I’m unable to understand why he has been trapped in this case.”
Human rights activist Khalid Shahzad lives in the same Dhair neighborhood in Shahdara as Sajid. Shahzad told World Watch Monitor that the social media group Sajid and Patras joined had 16 members, but that only the Christians in the group were being called in for questioning. Shahzad says it’s known that investigators use harsh tactics.
Call for Investigation
Human rights groups continue to condemn the torture, prompting Pakistan’s Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal to order an internal investigation.
Michelle Chaudry, president of the Cecil & Iris Chaudhry Foundation, which advocates for Pakistani minorities, said in a statement: “We are outraged, shocked and horrified by the alleged behavior of the FIA Cybercrime Wing officials. We demand that this incident be investigated at the earliest, and firm action be taken against the officials involved.”
Additionally, the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) of the Pakistani Episcopal Conference said in a statement: “The state must conduct an independent investigation, ensuring a fair trial and access to justice for the accused.”
In a show of support for Christians, Punjab parliamentarian Shunila Ruth said Christians would take a stand for justice and violators of the law should be bright to justice. She also told World Watch Monitor that she had demanded an independent inquiry.
“It shouldn’t be that FIA investigates their personnel who tortured and used these inhumane investigation techniques,” Ruth said.
Activists have also demanded authorities take immediate steps for safety and protection of Masih and his relatives. Mere allegations of blasphemy have provoked mob lynchings of suspects or their targeted killings in Pakistan.
Last year,23-year-old university student Mashal Khan, a Christian, was beaten to death by fellow students and others at the campus, accusing him of sharing blasphemous content on social media, charges investigations later determined were false. The incident happened in the northwestern city of Mardan, provoking a nationwide outcry against Khan’s brutal killing.
Throughout the world, Christians are forced to make hard choices to protect their families and save their lives. The specific road ahead for Sajid and Patras Masih, and all Pakistani Christians, will no doubt be a difficult one–in the country where Christians are considered the “untouchable caste” by the Muslim majority. We invite you to stand with your brothers and sisters in Pakistan where, even in the midst of persecution, God is still moving through the presence of His people.
Praying with Pakistani believers
- Pray with Sajid, that his injuries will heal and that he will not be prosecuted for attempted suicide or further persecuted by investigators.
- Pray with Patras, that his alleged “crime” of blasphemy will be dismissed and he will not be imprisoned.
- Pray with Christians in the Dhair neighborhood, who increasingly face fear and physical violence from local radical Muslims.
- Pray with Pakistani converts from Muslim backgrounds who suffer the brunt of the persecution in Pakistan. Radical Islamist groups see them as apostates, and their family, friends and neighbors see their conversion as shameful to the community.
- Pray for safety and protection for Christian women and girls in Pakistan who must live under the threat of abduction, rape and forced marriage.
*The name ‘Masih,’ which derives from “Messiah,” has been used as a last name by Christian communities for many years in Pakistan.