LAHORE, Pakistan (Morning Star News) – A young Christian man in Pakistan is in critical condition after jumping from a fourth-floor window when interrogators tried to force him to sodomize his cousin, a suspect in a blasphemy case, sources said.
Sajid Masih, 24, was summoned for questioning in Lahore on Friday (Feb. 23) by the Federal Investigation Agency’s (FIA) cybercrime division in connection with blasphemy charges against his 18-year-old cousin, Patras Masih. The incident involving Sajid Masih and the now unknown whereabouts of Patras Masih raise concerns about whether the latter is being further mistreated.
In a video statement recorded by his attorney from the hospital bed, Sajid Masih said that FIA Sub-Inspector Khalid Saeed had summoned him to the FIA’s Punjab Headquarters in Lahore for forensic examination of his cell phone after Patras Masih told them he was among those with whom he had shared an image deemed blasphemous.
“The FIA officials sent my phone to their laboratory for examination, but even though they did not find any objectionable item in my phone, they started beating me,” Sajid Masih said in the video. “They then took me and Patras to a room on the fourth floor of the building and started beating us. I asked them why they were treating me like this when I was not even guilty of the crime, to which they said that my crime was that I was a cousin of Patras.”
Interrogators then asked the two young men to call themselves “Laanti,” meaning, “accursed,” and Patras Masih complied, he said.
“Then they asked me to pull down Patras’s trouser and sodomize him,” he said in the video. “I refused to do any such thing, pleading that Patras was like my younger brother, and I could not even think of doing any such act. One of the officers forcibly took off Patras’s coat and shouted that I will have to perform sex with him. I could not think of anything else, so I jumped out of the window.”
It was about 6 p.m., nearly six hours after Sajid Masih had first arrived at the FIA headquarters.
He fell onto the roof of the second floor of the building, some 30 feet below the fourth floor, suffering multiple fractures on his left leg and neck, and serious injuries on other parts of his body, including his head.
FIA personnel rushed him to Ganga Ram Hospital, where he received initial treatment for three hours, but then doctors referred him to Lahore General Hospital as he was bleeding from the eyes, nose and mouth, raising fears that he had suffered brain hemorrhage.
Thorough scans at General Hospital revealed that Masih, a sweeper at a private school in Shahdara, had not suffered major brain injury. He was transferred to Mayo Hospital on Saturday morning (Feb. 24), where he gained consciousness and was able to record the statement to attorney Aneeqa Maria, who is the defense counsel for Patras Masih.
Police arrested Patras Masih on Feb. 19 after Muslim protestors threatened to kill him and burn down hundreds of Christians’ homes in Lahore if he were not taken into custody. The complainant, Hafiz Muhammad Awais, alleged that Patras Masih posted a photo defaming Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, on Jan. 16 on a Facebook group page.
A First Information Report (FIR) was registered against Patras Masih with the Shahdara Town Police Station under Section 295-C of the blasphemy law for derogatory remarks against Muhammad, punishable by death.
Before reaching the hospital on Friday (Feb. 23), a Morning Star News reporter phoned the investigating officer, Saeed, and asked about Sajid Masih being injured after going out a fourth-floor window. Saeed said nothing of the sort had happened and disconnected.
At the hospital, at least 10 FIA officials, including Additional Director Imran Ahmar, were present outside the operating theater. They told Morning Star News that none of them were from the cybercrime unit and were there only on the orders of the FIA director to look after the treatment of the young man.
Denying that they were privy to the investigation by the cybercrime wing, the officials avoided discussing the incident, even pressuring the reporter to conceal the news because “it could stoke religious tensions since the issue involved blasphemy.”
At the hospital, attorney Maria told Morning Star News that 10-15 members of the Islamic extremist Tehreek-e-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLYR) party had attacked Patras Masih earlier in the day on Friday (Feb. 23) when police had taken him to the court of Magistrate Imtiaz Bajwa.
“We had then pleaded for the police to ensure security for Patras and his family, however our appeals fell on deaf ears,” Maria said. “After the court appearance, the police handed him into FIA cybercrime unit’s custody for interrogation.”
TLYR members reached the FIA headquarters on instructions of FIA investigator Saeed, she said.
“I repeatedly requested the officer to be mindful of the security of the accused and his family members, but he said it was not his responsibility,” she said. “Hardly a few minutes after we left the FIA building, we were informed that Sajid had ‘fallen off’ the fourth floor.”
On Saturday (Feb. 24), Saeed rejected the charge against him by Sajid Masih, telling Morning Star News “the suspect was lying.” He claimed the young man jumped out of the window to avoid him checking his phone.
“Yes I had summoned Sajid for questioning, and he arrived at the office at 11:30 a.m. in the morning along with his parents,” Saeed said. “I did not touch him even once, but he was very frightened when I asked him to unlock his phone for forensic examination.”
Asked how it was possible that the young man had managed to resist FIA officers’ demand to unlock his phone for almost six hours, however, Saeed had no answer.
Denying that FIA personnel had tortured the two cousins or made the outrageous demand, he said there were at least five people in the room when Sajid Maish jumped out the window, including his cousin.
“Around 6 p.m., I was preparing to perform namaz [Islamic prayer] when suddenly Sajid leaped out of the window,” he said.
Asked why he had declined to acknowledge the incident on Friday, he replied, “I was advised to refrain from giving any comments to the media by my senior officer, Khawaja Hamaad.”
Federal Minister for Interior Ahsan Iqbal took notice of the incident after the news report and video statement of Sajid Masih went viral on social media on Saturday (Feb. 24). Iqbal directed FIA Director General Bashir Memon to form a three-member committee to investigate.
Concerns Over Christians’ Safety
Patras Masih’s lawyer and other rights activists, however, expressed doubts about the credibility of the probe into FIA action and raised concerns about security for the young blasphemy suspect.
“We are very concerned about Patras’s safety,” attorney Maria said. “I have not been able to meet him since Friday, as Khalid Saeed has asked the guards deployed at the HQs gate not to let us in. We don’t know where Patras is currently being held.”
She said it was quite possible that FIA officials could pressure Patras Masih into giving a statement against Sajid Masih to neutralize his allegation against the investigators.
“That’s the only way they can come out of this situation,” she said. “I am very concerned about Patras and Sajid’s safety.”
She added that Saeed had also registered a case against Sajid Masih on Friday night for attempting suicide, and that that also may be used as a bargaining chip to win a favorable statement.
Maria has filed a writ petition in the Lahore High Court against the alleged torture and mistreatment of the two young men during FIA interrogation. She has made the FIA Punjab director and Saeed respondents in that petition.
Shunila Ruth, a Christian lawmaker in Punjab Assembly, said that she would raise the issue during the assembly’s session on Monday (Feb. 26).
“The entire Christian community should come out in support of Sajid Masih,” she said. “We are not objecting to investigations, but is this how they extract confessions or frame complicity in a crime? It’s quite clear that the FIA is trying to cover up the issue.”
Rights activist Napolean Qayyum also voiced concern.
“Patras’s brother-in-law, Irfan, told us that the complainant, Awais, and others had threatened the family with serious consequences,” Qayyum said.
“We conveyed their concern to IO Saeed, but he said it wasn’t his concern.”
Saeed has been acting “quite odd” since Qayyum and his team arrived at the FIA office, he said.
“Now that Sajid Masih has made such damning revelations about the investigators, I strongly urge the government to form a Joint Investigation Team comprising representatives from other government agencies to ensure a transparent probe into the incident,” he said, adding that FIA officials were unlikely to bring their own colleagues to book.
Rights activist Jibran Nasir, in a video statement, also called for a unified stance against the FIA’s alleged mistreatment of the two Christian cousins.
“It’s high time we Muslims take the lead and protest against this atrocity on our Christian brethren,” Nasir said. “Sajid’s video statement clearly shows how law enforcement agencies deal with the poor and helpless, especially those who are accused of blasphemy.”
Rights activist Rufus Solomon said he was shocked by the revelations made in Sajid’s video statement.
“I cannot even imagine for a second what the two went through when the elder brother was coerced to have sex with his own flesh and blood. Just imagine how helpless, weak and vulnerable Sajid Masih felt when he looked into Patras’s eyes … perhaps that moment ended his life, and he jumped.”
Solomon also called for the formation of a Joint Investigation Team, saying, “we all know what happens with inquiries and commissions formed after such incidents.”
“This matter should be supervised by a high-level officer not affiliated with the FIA, and those responsible for this extreme inhumane treatment of the two youths should be put behind the bars for life,” he said.
Pakistan ranked fifth on Christian support group Open Doors’ 2018 World Watch List of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.