A 22-year-old Christian man was beaten to death in Pakistan’s Punjab province by men who accused him of “contaminating” water in a well owned by a Muslim farmer.
Sources have told human rights organizations that Christian laborer Saleem Masih from the Kasur district of Punjab was chained, dragged, and beaten with rods by a landowner and four other men around Feb. 25.
Masih died from his injuries on Feb. 28 at Lahore General Hospital, according to the U.K.-based Centre for Legal Aid, Assitance and Settlement.
Masih’s older brother told the Union of Catholic Asia News that Masih was tortured for two hours for washing himself off in a tube well owned by a Muslim landowner who has been identified as Sher Doga.
“We have to take a bath after unloading husk from a trolley. Even the cold weather doesn’t matter. The itching from chaff, stuck in our clothes, disturbs our sleep,” Nadeem Masih was quoted as saying.
“They threatened him with dire consequences when he cleaned himself after unloading a vehicle last week. They accused him of desecrating their water. He was already being warned about making TikTok videos in farms belonging to Muslim landlords.”
Masih was discovered lying in Doga’s cattle farm with serious injuries on Feb. 25 in Bhagiana village, where many Christians work as farm laborers.
Nadeem Masih said local women informed him that they heard Masih moaning in pain around 7 a.m.
“He told the police about being chained, beaten and electrocuted by four men,” Nadeem Masih said. “They rolled a thick iron rod over his entire body. He was like a crushed sugar cane from a juice machine.”
Although Masih was taken to a hospital for surgery, he died from organ failure.
According to UCANews, Doga was arrested but later released. The high court in Lahore accepted a bail petition from the suspects who accused the Masih of stealing.
CLAAS Director Nasir Sayeed said in a press release that Doga summoned the police himself. Sayeed accused Doga of bribing police since police pressed Masih’s family to settle the matter.
According to Sayeed, Doga justified the crime by saying that Masih "committed a crime by dirtying" the well water.
“The Masih family had to plead with the landowner to free Saleem Masih so they could take him to a hospital for medical treatment,” Sayeed reported.
Ghafoor Masih told CLAAS that he wants justice for his son.
“Those who have killed my son must be punished for taking the law into their own hands and killing him for nothing but for being Christian,” Ghafoor Masih was quoted as saying.
According to Sayeed, it will not be easy to get justice for Masih because the “perpetrators are so influential.”
“The Pakistani police is often biased when it comes to the matter Muslims and non-Muslims,” Sayeed said.
Michelle Chaudhry, president of the Cecil and Iris Chaudhry Foundation, said in a statement that the “horrific act of violence is once again a grim reminder that intolerance in the name of religion in Pakistan has escalated beyond the rule of law.”
“Unfortunately, in Pakistan, when it comes to the religious minorities anyone is free to act as a prosecutor, judge and executor,” Chaudhry explained. “We cannot allow this to go on; impunity around violence against religious minorities in Pakistan has to end.”
Pakistan is ranked as the fifth-worst country in the world when it comes to Christian persecution, according to Open Doors USA’s 2020 World Watch List. Christians have often been victimized by societal persecution in the predominantly Muslim country.
In 2014, two Christians from Kasur were burned alive in a brick kiln by a Muslim mob after they were accused of desecrating a copy of the Quran.
“It is unacceptable that Christians in Pakistan still face discrimination and hatred on account of their religious identity,” CSW Executive Mervyn Thomas said in a statement.
“The government of Pakistan must take decisive action against the perpetrators of hate and those who carry out such crimes. We also urge the authorities to fully commit to the long-term work of overcoming the prejudiced mindset toward religious minorities in society.”
In a Feb. 26 tweet, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan warned that " anyone in Pakistan targeting our non-Muslim citizens or their places of worship will be dealt with strictly."
"Our minorities are equal citizens of this country," Khan wrote.
According to UCA News, over 1,000 Christians attended Saleem Masih’s funeral held at an evangelical church in front of his home. Reportedly among those in attendance was Ejaz Alam, Punjab’s minister on human rights and minority affairs.
Masih's killing has inspired the social media hashtag #JusticeForSaleemMasih.