Australia has been elected to a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council. It will serve on the council from 2018 to 2020.
The announcement overnight formalised an assumed result: Australia and Spain were the only two countries seeking election to the two available seats for the Western Europe and Others group. Most of the other newly- elected council members similarly ran uncontested.
However, all campaigning countries required the support of a majority of voting countries to ensure their election. Australia received 176 votes and Spain 180 – both survived grilling by an expert committee.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop led Australia’s campaign, which had a particular focus on freedoms, free speech, and equality. The “five pillars” of Australia’s bid were:
freedom of expression
the rights of Indigenous peoples
strong national human rights institutions and capacity building.
Australia presented itself as a “pragmatic and principled” candidate for the council position. Bishop cited Australia’s “strong track record for human rights” as well as its active and practical involvement in international affairs.
Such active and practical involvement can be seen in Australia’s advocacy for the abolition of the death penalty, as in the case of Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan. Furthering global advocacy for death penalty abolition is one of Australia’s primary pledges as a new council member.
Australia’s involvement in multiple UN treaties and its anticipated adoption of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture were also cited as evidence of its worthiness for election.
However, Australia’s campaign opened it to further scrutiny of its human rights record. Human rights organisations in Australia and overseas have been lobbying to ensure that Australia’s practices are well publicised and subject to oversight and critique.
Yet the campaign’s pledges failed to acknowledge Australia’s human rights abuses. As such, Australia remains open to accusations of hypocrisy on human rights.
Bishop frequently praised Australia for its success in building a multicultural society and valuing the diverse background of migrant settlers. Yet asylum seekers arriving by boat continue to be dehumanised.
Another key area of human rights controversy is the current postal plebiscite to survey public opinion on marriage equality. Australia’s council bid promised the protection of LGBTQI rights. But as was forewarned, the plebiscite campaign has exposed LGBTQI people to harmful fear campaigning and social exclusion.
It is incongruous for a claimed champion of human rights to put the rights of a minority group to a popular vote, potentially in an effort to prevent that group from gaining marriage equality.
Australia strikes a similarly dissonant note in relation to its treatment of Indigenous people. A key pledge of the council bid was the recognition of Indigenous Australians in the Constitution. However, a constitutional convention rejected the form of “recognition” the government-sponsored Recognise campaign had promoted.
The Recognise campaign has since been abandoned, and the future of the proposed referendum is unclear. The Australian government is yet to embrace the Referendum Council’s proposals for treaty, truth-telling and a First Nations Voice.
Given Australia’s record, France’s withdrawal as a third candidate for the two available seats was unfortunate. The lack of competition reduced pressure on Australia to extend its human rights commitments.
The weight of international disapproval of Australia’s practice in relation to refugees, in particular, could well have weakened the bid had France stayed in the race.
No doubt this was also true for Spain. The recent Catalan independence referendum exposed Spain’s problematic record in relation to self-determination and political rights for minority groups.
The UN’s orientation is to promote inclusion rather than marginalisation of member countries on international bodies. The UN is committed to universal values and obligations, and seeks to enforce these through universal involvement in its processes.
It is undoubtedly difficult to countenance egregious human rights violators participating in human rights processes. But it is at least arguable that their involvement promotes the progressive realisation of human rights more effectively than their marginalisation would.
However, in some cases, it may be that a country’s membership should be postponed until it can show improvement in a deplorable record. Leading up to the election, Human Rights Watch campaigned against promoting the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the council due to its grave human rights violations.
Meanwhile, the US warned it may withdraw if the council continued to elect countries responsible for gross abuses.
Australia is not in this category. It aspires to be an exemplary member of the council. And its election should act as impetus for progressive gains in its human rights performance.
Human rights advocates will take the opportunity to draw attention to any gaps between Australia’s international legal obligations and its domestic practices.
Bishop was right to highlight the value of Australia becoming the first Pacific country to join the council. Strong diplomatic and trade relationships will hopefully enable Australia to influence human rights development in its region. It is the only place without a regional human rights treaty or institution.
An important focus in this context will be Australia’s advocacy for the abolition of capital punishment. Allied to that concern for the right to life, perhaps Australia might also consider lobbying other countries – notably the US – for gun laws that prioritise human life and wellbeing.
Australia could substantially increase the legitimacy of such efforts, though, by working to build adequate domestic human rights architecture. Without federal human rights legislation, Australia cannot demonstrate the social and legal value of building human rights protections into law.
Australia’s election also calls for a renewal of political commitment to the value of international human rights review processes. Recent years have seen expressions of frustration, dismissal and poor faith that undermine Australia’s strong record of commitment to international human rights treaties.
Such mixed messages sit poorly with Australia’s continued efforts to review the practices of other countries – particularly now that it has an official role on the Human Rights Council.
Australia has claimed leadership in the areas of gender equality, good governance, freedom of expression, the rights of Indigenous people, and strong national human rights institutions.
Imperfect performance in these areas indicates key targets for immediate focus – for example through human-rights-informed approaches to gendered violence, and concern for limitations on the freedom to express views about politically sensitive matters.
Considerable progress will be required on the rights of Indigenous people for Australia to claim success on that key pillar of its council campaign. The federal government could look to progress on a treaty in Victoria as evidence that such a conversation can be inclusive and productive.
Importantly, Australia must also be held accountable in the key area its bid sought to avoid: the treatment of asylum seekers and refugees. Its election provides an ideal opportunity for Australia to show leadership and commitment to durable regional and global responses to refugee flows.
The Australian Defence Force (ADF) is to be given a bigger role and greater powers in combating terrorism, under changes announced by the government on Monday.
The measures – including specialised training by special forces for law enforcement teams – will provide more Commonwealth support to state police forces, which are still acknowledged as the appropriate “first responders”.
The changes are designed to assist in preparing for incidents, enabling a more comprehensive ADF response if needed, and improving the flow of information between the ADF and police during an incident.
In their announcement, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Defence Minister Marise Payne said state and territory police forces remained the best first response immediately after an attack commenced. “But Defence can offer more support to states and territories to enhance their capabilities and increase their understanding of Defence’s unique capabilities to ensure a comprehensive response to potential terrorist attacks.”
Defence will offer to place officers within state law enforcement agencies to help with liaison and engagement. This will assist with “pre-positioning” defence personnel in response to a possible incident.
The Defence Act will be strengthened to remove some constraints governing the “call-out” of the ADF in terrorist situations. This includes removing the current limit on states and territories asking for defence force support and specialist military skills until their capability or capacity has been exceeded.
The government will also strengthen the act to make it easier for Defence personnel to support the police response, such as clarifying their power to “stop and seize” suspects to prevent them leaving the scene of an incident.
“These measures will improve the nation’s ability to respond to terrorism as well as improve the effectiveness of Defence’s contribution to domestic counter-terrorism arrangements,” Turnbull and Payne said. The changes would be made in partnership with state and territory governments, they said.
The government initiated the review of Defence’s support to the national counter-terrorism effort last year in response to the changing nature of the terrorist threat, as shown by attacks overseas. It is the first time the ADF’s domestic contribution has been reviewed since 2005.
The package addresses some of the coroner’s recommendations in the report on the 2014 Lindt cafe siege, in which two victims and the attacker, Man Haron Monis, died. That incident produced calls for a bigger role for the military.
Turnbull and Payne stressed that responses to the terrorism threat must be constantly updated.
The government is currently considering whether there should be a consolidation of the security agencies under a home-office-type ministry that would be headed by Immigration Minister Peter Dutton. There are sharply divided views within government about going down such a route.
Later this week, a version of the review of the Australian intelligence community done by former officials Michael L’Estrange and Stephen Merchant will be released.
Christians displaced by Kandhamal violence in 2008 sold for coerced labor or sex.
NEW DELHI, August 25 (CDN) — Nearly two years after large-scale anti-Christian violence broke out in India’s Kandhamal district, Orissa state, a team working against human trafficking on Aug. 9 rescued a 16-year-old Christian girl – one of at least 60 people sold into slavery after being displaced by the 2008 attacks.
The recovery in Delhi of the girl represented the cracking of a network that has trafficked Christian girls and women from Orissa to the national capital, sources said.
“Human trafficking agents operating in the tribal belt of Orissa have targeted the Christian girls who are displaced by the Kandhamal communal violence – we have been receiving complaints of missing girls from Kandhamal after the violence broke out in 2008,” said attorney Lansinglu Rongmei, one of the rescue team members. “Roughly 60 girls are estimated missing and have been trafficked to different states.”
The girl, whose name is withheld, is a tribal Christian who was sold into slavery along with her 19-year-old sister and two other girls, all victims of the 2008 violence; they were trafficked from the Daringbadi block of Kandhamal district to the capital in December 2009, according to the Human Rights Law Network (HRLN). Her sister and the other two girls remain missing.
The mother of the girl accompanied the rescue team the evening of Aug. 9 in the Rohini area of Delhi, said a source from the HRLN Anti-Human Trafficking department on condition of anonymity.
“It was only the joint efforts of the All India Christian Council [AICC], HRLN Anti-Human Trafficking and the area police that made this rescue possible,” the source said.
The rescue team took action after the minor’s mother approached the HRLN of Kandhamal for help, which in turn called the Delhi office. Team members said they were disappointed by the reaction of police, who were initially cooperative but later “just unwilling to help,” in the words of one member.
The girl was used only for labor, although she was sexually harassed, sources said.
Rongmei told Compass that police refused to file a First Information Report, telling rescue team members, “No rape of the victim took place as per the medical examination, and there was no need for a case registration against anyone.”
The rescue team was not given a copy of the report of a medical examination at Bhagwan Mahavir Hospital, Pitampura, in Delhi, but they were told it indicated no sign of rape.
“It is confirmed that she was not raped,” said Madhu Chandra, spokesperson of the AICC and part of the rescue team. “She was physically abused, with teeth bite marks and bruises on her body – her neck, leg and right hand.”
The girl stated that a well-known woman from their village in Kandhamal district gave her and her sister a false promise of safe and secure work in Delhi as gardeners.
Instead, operatives brought the sisters and the two other girls to a placement agency in Ratala village in Delhi, Sakhi Maid Bureau, which was run by a man identified only as Montu.
The HRLN source told Compass that the girl was with the placement agency for six days as the owner, Montu, attempted to rape her on several occasions. She was threatened, beaten, drugged with alcohol and sexually molested, the source said.
The girl said her sister and the other two girls were treated the same way.
She was placed in a home in Rohini, Sector 11, as domestic help beginning in January. Until July, she said, she was treated relatively well there, except for a few instances of being slapped by the lady of the house. Then the family’s 10-year-old son began to hit her and their 14-year-old son tried to assault her sexually, and she tried to flee earlier this month.
The girl told the rescue team that she informed the lady of the house about the elder son’s misbehavior, but that the woman stated that she could do nothing about it.
“She bears marks from being beaten on her right hand by the younger boy,” said Chandra.
He told Compass that the owner of the placement agency collected the girl’s wages from the family who employed her, promising to send the money to her mother in Kandhamal district, but that he failed to do so.
Compass was unable to meet with the girl as she was still traumatized and undergoing counseling sessions. The girl’s mother sobbed for her other daughter, grieved that no one knew what condition she was in.
Montu, the placement agency operator, has absconded, according to police.
Prasant Vihar Police Station House Officer Sudhir Kumar confirmed the rescue team’s accusation that he refused to register a complaint in the girl’s case.
“The victim is from Kandhamal, let her go back to Kandhamal and register her complaint there,” Kumar told Compass. “No rape of the victim took place as per the medical examination, and thus there is no need for registering a case against anyone.”
Assistant Commissioner of Police Sukhvir Singh told Compass he had no explanation why the girl’s complaint was not registered, but he insisted on having her and the rescue team return.
“We will file their complaint if they come back to us now,” he said.
Karuna Dayal, coordinator of Anti-Human Trafficking Initiatives at HRLN, led the rescue team, which also included AICC Legal Secretary Advocate Rongmei, Chandra and Ashis Kumar Subodh of the AICC, and three others from the HRLN – Afsar Ahmed, attorney Diviya Jyoti Jaipuria and one identified only as Sangram.
Dr. John Dayal, secretary general of the AICC, said large-scale human trafficking in Christian tribal and Dalit women of Kandhamal district is one of the worst problems in the aftermath of the Kandhamal violence.
“Police have made arrests in the nearby Andhra Pradesh and other states,” he said. “Because of the displacement due to the violence, they lost their future, and it is very easy for strangers to come and lure them. Community and family life has been disrupted; the children do not have the normal security that growing children must have. Trauma, unemployment and desperate measures have resulted in the loss of childhood, forcing many to grow up before their age.”
The AICC is calling on the National Commission for Women, the National Commission for Scheduled Castes and the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes to investigate, he added.
Report from Compass Direct News
Death threats, ultimatum from powerful Muslims compel father of 12-year-old to move.
GUJRANWALA, Pakistan, May 25 (CDN) — A Christian who accused a Muslim of raping his 12-year-old daughter has fled his town in Punjab Province with his family following death threats and police pressure to drop the case.
Citing “continuous threats” to take his life, Zafar Masih left Gujranwala’s predominantly Muslim town of Nai Abadi Tatlay Aali within 10 days of accusing Ali Ahmed, a 28-year-old businessman, of beating and raping his daughter on May 12.
His daughter, whose name was withheld, told Compass that her employer, Ahmed, beat and raped her when she went to his home, where she worked as a house servant. When she arrived she was surprised to find him at home in his room, she said.
“He grabbed my hair and asked me to sleep with him,” she said, amid tears. “I refused to let him have sexual relations with me, which enraged him.”
Her body marred with bruises, she said he tore her clothes and she screamed, but no one else was in the home to hear her.
“Ali Ahmed overpowered me, and all my efforts were futile even though I strained with all my energy to stop him,” she said. “After getting stigmatized, I was threatened with dire consequences and the slaying of my whole family if I told about the rape.”
The oldest of four children, she fled the house and immediately sent her younger brother to call her father, who was working in a nearby field, she said.
Masih, her father, said he immediately went to Tatlay Aali police station and submitted an application to file a First Information Report against Ahmed. Station House Officer Inspector Iqbal Ojjhra refused, he said, and began to pressure him to withdraw the application.
A powerful local politician along with the area’s largest land owner, Imtiyaz Kharral, have since threatened to maim or kill him, Masih said.
“I declined to withdraw my application, though I was being immensely pressured by both the leading Muslim men,” Masih said. “And Inspector Ojjhra had a new alibi every day for not registering the case.”
Inspector Ojjhra denied all allegations against him. He told Compass that he declined to register a rape case because he did not want to harm the Christian girl’s dignity, so instead he had recommended trying to resolve the conflict in a public gathering or “punchayat.”
Arif Masih, a Nai Abadi Tatlay Aali representative for local Christians, told Compass that the next evening, May 13, Kharral called a meeting at his farmhouse with Inspector Ojjhra, local Muslims and a contingent of police officers. Also summoned were Zafar Masih and his children, Arif Masih and the other Christian families of the town.
“At Imtiyaz Kharral’s farmhouse gathering, none of the Christians were allowed to speak or express their opinion,” said Arif Masih, who said the wealthy land owner considered himself the head of the town. “Even I being representative of the Christians was not allowed to speak for [Zafar Masih’s daughter] or put forward the demands of the Christians.”
Only Kharral spoke, saying that there were only two options – Zafar Masih could withdraw his rape charge, or he and the other Christian families in Nai Abadi Tatlay Aali could relocate elsewhere.
“He ignored the fact that the girl would have to live her whole life with this irrecoverable loss and stigma,” Arif Masih said. “I was totally helpless in this showdown, because Imtiyaz Kharral and Ali Ahmed have the favor of the local police head, Iqbal Ojjhra.”
Khalid Gill, chairman of the Christian Lawyers Foundation (CLF), condemned the dismissive police attitude toward marginalized Christians. He suggested that the chief justice of the Lahore High Court take suo moto action against the suspect, his associates and police officers as responsible for mental anguish of the area Christians.
Tahir Naveed Chaudhary, a Christian member of Punjab’s legislative assembly, also denounced the alleged rape and pledged to extend legal and financial support to the family of Zafar Masih.
Most of the area Christians are construction laborers, sanitation workers and domestic servants working for daily wages. Zafar Masih said he could not afford to educate his children because he was living close to poverty level.
“My eldest daughter worked as a maidservant for a monthly salary of 500 rupees [less than US$6] to lend a hand,” he said. “We Christians in Pakistan have no life even dogs live better life than us.”
Report from Compass Direct News
Derogatory remarks, beatings, pressure to convert to Islam drive two girls to drop out.
SARGODHA, Pakistan, May 19 (CDN) — Muslim teachers at a girls school here have derided Christian students for their faith, beat them, pressured them to convert to Islam and forced them to clean school bathrooms and classrooms after class hours, according to area Christians.
Muslim teachers at Government Higher Secondary School in village No. 79-NB (Northern Branch), Sargodha, in Punjab Province, have so abused Christian students that two of the dozens of Christian girls at the school have dropped out, said a 16-year-old student identified only as Sana.
“Christian students are teased and mocked by radical Muslim, female teachers from the start of the school day to the end,” she said. “Due to the contemptuous behavior on religious grounds by the fanatical Muslim principal and staff, Christian students feel dejected, depressed and frustrated. I am totally broken-hearted because of the intolerance and discrimination.”
Rebecca Bhatti, a 16-year-old grade 10 student, told Compass she left the government school because her main teacher, along with an Islamic Education & Arabic Language teacher identified only as Sumaira, a math teacher identified only as Gullnaz, other Muslim teachers and Ferhat Naz, the principal, would call Christian girls in to the staff room at recess and demand that they polish their shoes or wash their undergarments and other clothes.
“If any girl turned down the orders of any of the Muslim teachers, they were punished,” Bhatti said as she spilled tears. “The Muslim school teachers ordered us to wash lavatories daily and clean the school compound and classrooms, even though there is staff to keep the school clean.”
She said that the school also denied Christian students certificates of completion when they had finished their studies.
“This was to bar Christian students from gaining admission to other educational institutions or continue their education,” she said.
The principal of Christian Primary School in the village, Zareena Emmanuel, said that Naz and Sumaira subjected Christian students to beatings. Emmanuel also said that Muslim teachers at the secondary school derided Christian students for their faith.
“I regret that it is the only government school of higher education for girls at the village and adjoining areas,” Emmanuel said, “and therefore Christian girls have to experience such apathy, religious discrimination and bitterness each day of their schooling, which is supposed to be a time of learning and imagination.”
Christian residents of the village said they have been longing to bring abuse at the school to light. The Rev. Zaheer Khan of Maghoo Memorial United Presbyterian Church and Emmanuel of the primary school have asked education department officials of Sargodha Region to investigate, he said.
Khan also said that Naz and Muslim teachers including Gullnaz, Sumaira and Muzammil Bibi have treated Christian students contemptuously and have frequently asked them to convert to Islam.
“The attitude of the Arabic & Islamic Education teacher, Sumaira, toward the Christian students is beyond belief,” he said, “as she has forced the Christian girls to wash toilets, classrooms and clean the school ground, saying they must not be hesitant to do sanitation work because it’s the work of their parents and forefathers handed down to them.”
Questioned about the abuses, Naz told Compass that she would immediately take note of such incidents if they had occurred.
“Any of the teachers held responsible of forcing Christian students convert to Islam will be punished according to the departmental rules and regulations,” Naz said. “A few Christian girls have abandoned their education because of their domestic problems, but even then I’ll carry out a departmental inquiry against the accused teachers, and no one will be spared if found guilty.”
Naz said the inquiry would focus especially on the accusations against Sumaira, Muzammil and Gullnaz.
Protesting residents gathered outside Naz’s office last week said she had no real intention of investigating the alleged abuses; some said she was making weak excuses to defend her staff members. They urged an independent investigation of Sumaira, Gullnaz, Muzammil and Naz.
“This cannot be tolerated, as it’s a matter of their girls’ careers and education,” said one protestor.
Noureen Austin, a 19-year-old Christian student in grade 12, described the school environment as discriminatory, depressed, gloomy and agitated.”
“No Christian student can get a quality education there,” she said. “Most of the school faculty are fanatical female Muslims who would not waste any chance to target Christian girls because of their belief in Christ.”
Report from Compass Direct News
Authorities allegedly kill young man in custody on contrived charge of desecrating Quran.
LAHORE, Pakistan, September 17 (CDN) — At a funeral for a Christian man allegedly tortured to death while in custody on a spurious charge of blaspheming the Quran, police in Sialkot, Pakistan yesterday fired on mourners trying to move the coffin to another site.
Area Christians suspect police killed 22-year-old Robert Danish, nicknamed “Fanish” or “Falish” by friends, by torturing him to death on Tuesday (Sept. 15) after the mother of his Muslim girlfriend contrived a charge against him of desecrating Islam’s scripture. The allegation led to calls from mosque loudspeakers to punish Christians, prompting an Islamic mob to attack a church building in Jathikai village on Friday (Sept. 11) and beat several of the 30 families forced to flee their homes.
Jathikai was Danish’s native village, and some family members and other Christians wished to transfer his coffin to his hometown. Eyewitnesses at the funeral in Christian Town, Sialkot, said police fired shots directly at the Christians, injuring three, when mourners began to move the coffin toward nearby Jathikai. Mourners fled.
Sialkot is 125 kilometers (78 miles) northwest of Lahore in Punjab Province.
Controversy swirled around the cause of Danish’s death, with Christians refusing to accept police claims that he committed suicide. Results of forensic tests are expected within a week.
The dark moment for Danish’s family grew gloomier yesterday when police seemed to be seeking the first excuse for heavy-handed tactics at the funeral attended by hundreds of people, Christian sources said. When the family and other Christians tried to take the coffin to his hometown of Jathikai, police fired on them, charged them with batons and snatched the body from them, Christian sources said.
Eyewitness Sajawal Masih told Compass that as soon as mourners lifted the coffin, police began firing tear gas.
“We were running when police opened fire and one bullet went through my foot, and two others also were injured,” he said.
There were reports of Christian youths pelting officers with stones, and police reportedly said that they needed to rush the crowd and make arrests to prevent “further disturbances.”
On Tuesday night (Sept. 15), Danish’s survivors and other Christians had decided that the body would be buried in Christian Town because of the dangers of potential attack in Jathikai, according to Christian Town Councilor Tanveer Saqib. Saqib said that the funeral was to be held at 10 a.m. on Wednesday (Sept. 16) at the Christian Technical Institute (CTI) Ground in Christian Town, Sialkot city.
Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) Member of National Assembly (MNA) Akram Gill said that when he and several youths took the body from the CTI Ground and began heading toward Jathikai village, police began firing. Gill told Compass that police opened fire on them as well as the crowd, injuring three Christians.
Gill, a Christian, added that police also shot tear gas, and that officers arrested about 100 Christians. The national assembly member said police arrested him and took Danish’s body to the Christian Town Graveyard in Sialkot. In spite of the tear gas, Gill said, he and others went to the graveyard but encountered armed police who also fired tear gas, turning them back.
For three hours, Gill said, Criminal Investigation Department police detained him, and although he was released, police arrested PML-Q Member of Provincial Assembly (MPA) Shehzad Elahi and his whereabouts were still unknown. He said that whenever Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) members come into power in the province, problems for Christians multiply.
Cause of Death
How Danish died remained unclear. Allama Iqbal Hospital Deputy Medical Superintendent Sajid Hussein told Compass that on Danish’s body there was a large welt on the back of the neck and “marks on the legs and back.” He said it was too soon to determine cause of death but that police had pronounced it a suicide.
Tissues taken from the body have been sent to Lahore for chemical and histopathology tests. He said these tests would indicate how the wounds were made, including whether they were inflicted after death.
“The report of these tests would come within a week, and I would inform the media of its findings,” he said. “I cannot comment on whether he committed suicide or not, as the matter is before the court.”
There were unconfirmed reports that state officials were pressuring doctors at Allama Iqbal Hospital to declare Danish’s death a suicide; Hussein denied these statements, telling Compass that they were “mere rumors.”
Hussein said that two Christian doctors, one from Bethania Hospital and the medical superintendent of Jalalpur Jattan Mission Hospital, were allowed to observe the autopsy. Christian Town Councilor Tanveer Saqib said that after the autopsy, the two Christian doctors came out and told media in front of thousands of Christians that Danish had been tortured to death.
Saqib said Danish’s father received the body and, accompanied by thousands of Christians, took it to Baithania Mission Hospital. The procession was so big that it took nearly four hours, though the route was not far.
Over the weekend Danish’s father had been unduly arrested, and upon his release a station house officer told Danish’s uncle, Saleem Masih, that even though Danish’s father was being released, Danish never would be. Saleem Masih told Compass that Danish’s father went back to his jailed son and told him, “My son, we have been trying our best to save you, but it doesn’t seem we will succeed. I think it is the last time I’m seeing you, so I commit you in the Lord’s hands.”
Councilor Saqib said that a Christian constable posted at the Sialkot District Jail told him that he saw Danish in the jail at around 7 a.m. and that he appeared unharmed. At about 10 a.m., however, jail administrators called important figures in the Christian community and told them that Danish had committed suicide, Saqib said.
Danish’s body was taken to a trauma center for a CT scan, he said, then to Riffat Idrees Hospital for an MRI.
“Along with the body were two Christian doctors – Dr. Tariq Malik and Dr. Qammar Sohail – and we were confident that they would tell the facts,” he said, adding that Malik had all medical reports of these tests.
The Punjab provincial government has ordered an investigation into the death, and three prison officials have reportedly been suspended.
A paternal cousin of Danish identified only as Parveen confirmed reports that the conflict grew out of a romantic relationship between Danish and Hina Asghar, a young Muslim woman. She said Danish and Asghar were neighbors and had been seeing each other for three or four years.
On the night of Sept. 10, Parveen told Compass, Danish and Asghar met on the roof, angering the young Muslim’s mother. Early the next morning, Asghar’s mother spoke of the affair with the wife of local Muslim cleric identified only as Amanullah; the cleric’s wife in turn warned Asghar that both she and Danish could lose their lives if the relationship continued, Parveen said.
When Danish met Asghar on the road the next morning, Parveen said, the young Muslim woman refused to talk to him but tried to hand him a letter explaining the warning she had received. Upset, Danish batted her hand away as she was trying to give him the letter.
“Because he pushed her hand with a jerk, supara 21 [a section of the Quran larger than a sura, or chapter] fell from her hand and dropped onto a nearby sewage stream and got smeared with garbage,” Parveen said.
Saleem Masih, Danish’s uncle, questions that what fell from Asghar’s hand was a part of the Quran. He told Compass that Asghar was trying to give Danish a green-colored diary that only looked like the similarly green-covered section of the Quran. After the rumor began circulating that Danish had blasphemed the Quran, Saleem Masih said, Danish told his mother that it was not the Quran but a green diary that Asghar was trying to give him which fell.
According to Parveen, Asghar returned home and began cleaning the recovered scripture part, and her mother asked how it became sullied, Parveen said. Asghar’s mother subsequently rushed to cleric Amanullah’s wife, who then told her husband about the incident.
Saleem Masih told Compass that he and his wife, along with Danish’s parents, went to Hina Asghar’s father, Asghar Ali, bowed before him and pleaded for him to stop the false rumors of desecration of the Quran. He responded that Muslim cleric Amanullah would decide on it after the Friday prayers, and that the matter was not in their hands anymore.
On that day, Sept. 11, at about 11 a.m., the Muslim cleric announced during the Friday prayer that a Christian had blasphemed by desecrating the Quran, Parveen said.
Islamic mobs brandishing sticks were already arriving in the village, shouting against Danish and demanding that he be hung to death. They also occupied a house that he owned. Surrounding families fled their homes, leaving domestic animals without food and water.
Nadeem Masih, a paternal cousin of Danish, said that when he arrived at the village by motorbike that day, a large number of emotionally charged Muslims were setting Calvary Church on fire.
He said several Muslims had surrounded Danish’s father, Riasat Masih, and that he managed to get his uncle onto his motorbike to try to escape. They sped through several mob attempts to stop them and were eventually pursued by two Muslims on motorcycles. As Nadeem and Riasat Masih entered the main road, their motorbike slid and fell as they barely avoided an approaching truck. Nadeem Masih escaped but his uncle, Danish’s father, was captured.
Saleem Masih said that the Muslim mob took hold of Danish’s father, tied him up and were about to set him on fire when elderly men intervened, saying punishment for that crime would be too great, and suggested they instead only beat him. After beating Danish’s father, the Muslim mob untied him and took him into the church, where they burned Bibles, hymn books and other items and continued beating him.
Christian sources said police arrived and arrested Riasat Masih – not his attackers – and took him to the police station. Riasat Masih filed a crime report against the jailor and police officials at the Civil Lines Police Station, according to Christian Town Councilor Saqib.
Saleem Masih told Compass that he also was beaten. He said he was with Calvary Church Senior Pastor Dilshad Masih when they arrived in the village to find the mob setting church articles on fire and striking it with whatever they could find on hand. Realizing he could do nothing, Saleem Masih said he ran to his farmhouse, also owned by a Muslim named Bao Munir.
Munir took hold of him, he said.
“He brought out my cot and other belongings and set them on fire, and then he also tried to burn me in this fire,” Saleem Masih said.
Munir told him he could either be burned or go with him back to the village, and he forced all of the Christian’s clothes off of him except a cloth covering his loins and burned them, Saleem Masih said. After some struggle, he said, he managed to escape.
Danish, meantime, was hiding in a house in Jathikai village but was arrested the next morning (Sept. 12) when he went out for drinking water.
Tensions escalated, a source told Compass, when cleric Sabir Ali announced from his mosque in nearby Bhopalwala village that a Christian boy had blasphemed Islam by throwing the Quran in a drain.
After Calvary Church was set on fire, about 30 nearby families fled from the brutal beatings. Eyewitnesses told Compass that the assailants first went to Danish’s house. Not finding anyone there, they attacked the locked church which was only three houses from his.
The eyewitnesses, who were still in hiding and fearing further attacks, said that the assailants burned Bibles and hymnbooks. The assailants brought the church cross out, they said, and beat it with their shoes. The sources said the attackers were mainly from Shabab-e-Milli, a wing of the Muslim extremist Jamaat-e-Islami.
Christian Town Councilor Saqib said that the mob got hold of Calvary Church Senior Pastor Masih and severely beat him while police stood by. Police kept Saqib and his team from going to the blazing Calvary Church building, signaling them from afar not to come near, he said. He added that they had to turn back as the rampaging Muslims turned on them to attack, which police made no effort to stop.
Pastor Masih told Compass that when he and Saleem Masih arrived at the church building, Muslims shouted at them, “Catch these Christians!” He remained standing as others fled, he said, and the mob beat him and took his mobile phone.
“They wanted to kill me, but miraculously I managed to run from there,” he said.
Saqib said MPA Kamran Michael of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PLM-N), the ruling party in Punjab province, reached the village on Friday, but police did not allow him to go to the burning church, citing security threats. About 500 Christians later gathered in Sialkot to protest the church fire, with Michael addressing the crowd.
Michael said that one of the protestors reminded him that after Islamic mobs burned homes in Gojra last month, he had vowed to resign if further attacks took place. The crowd then began demanding that he resign, and police opened fire and charged the crowd with batons. He added that throughout the incident there were several media vans, but none of the major television stations covered the protest.
Several Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and Christian media also faced difficulties in getting in the village, though in all previous incidents media and NGOs were allowed access. In this case, however, police told them that they were not allowed due to security reasons. Also unable to gain access to Jathikai was Pakistan People’s Party provincial Assembly Member Amna Buttar and minority rights groups.
George and Butta Masih, along with four family members, were in Jathikai tending to their five cows on Sunday (Sept. 13). George Masih told a Compass reporter who had somehow got into the village that they stayed home all day and went out only at night to bring some fodder for the animals. They said that Muslims would beat any Christians seen during the day.
On Sunday about 500 to 700 Muslim women staged a protest in Sialkot to refute the notion that a Muslim woman could fall in love with a Christian man.
Several Christian and secular organizations in Lahore have scheduled a candle-light vigil today (Sept. 17) as a memorial for Danish and other members of Pakistan’s minority communities who have been killed or attacked in Islamist attacks.
A field officer for advocacy group Community Development Initiative, Napoleon Qayyum, said such attacks were weakening the Christian community.
“After the Gojra incident, several Christians said that their Muslim employers had told them not to come to work anymore,” Qayyum said. “This economic dependence further plays part in seeking justice.”
He added that in the June 30 Islamist attack on Bahmaniwala, in Kasur district, Christians did not want to pursue justice as they worked on Muslims’ land and could not afford confrontation.
“Their fear is that they would be left without jobs,” he said. “Due to economic dependence and poor status, Christians neither pursue their cases, nor do they defend themselves in such instances.”
Report from Compass Direct News