LAHORE, Pakistan (Morning Star News) – A Muslim landlord outside Faisalabad, Pakistan tortured a worker to death for daring, as a “lowly Christian,” to work for another employer, relatives said.
Javed Masih, a Catholic in Nulka Kohala village, a suburb of Faisalabad in Punjab Province, on May 10 had sought a 10,000-rupee loan (US$66) from his employer, Chaudhry Abbas Jutt, for medical treatment for his physically handicapped, 6-year-old son, Masih’s wife said.
“The landlord not only refused to give Javed the money, he also admonished him for not paying back 5,000 rupees [US$33] that he owed him,” Ghazala Javed, 25, told Morning Star News.
When Jutt refused, her husband approached another landlord in the village, Chaudhry Muhammad Tariq Jutt, and obtained a 25,000-rupee loan (US$166) for working his land. In Pakistan, workers obtain loans at excessive interest while working at artificially low wages, ensuring a cycle of debt and dependence.
On the morning of May 16, Abbas Jutt summoned Masih to his house for “settling his account,” Ghazala Javed said.
“My husband went to Jutt’s house along with his nephew Saleem Masih, telling us that they would return in an hour after paying back the debt,” she said. “However, Saleem returned home after half an hour. He said that Jutt had sent him back, saying that he needed to discuss some issues with Javed, and that his uncle would follow him home soon.”
When Javed Masih did not return after several hours, Ghazala Javed became worried and informed his brothers, who also work as laborers in the same village, and they began to search for him, she said.
“When we reached Jutt’s house and asked him about Javed, he at first denied that my husband had come to meet him and later started threatening us, saying how dare we ‘lowly’ Christians could even think of leaving his employment, and that we would suffer the consequences,” she told Morning Star News.
Fraught with fear, the family then approached Nishatabad police to register a First Information Report (FIR No. 395/19).
“The police reluctantly registered the FIR, but instead of raiding Jutt’s house and questioning him, someone tipped him off and he went into hiding along with his family to escape arrest,” Ghazala Javed said.
Police recovered Javed Masih’s body from a drain near the village three days later. He was 31.
At a hospital mortuary, Ghazala Javed fainted when she saw his body.
“I fell unconscious as soon as I saw my husband’s maimed body,” she told Morning Star News, visibly distraught. “His eyes had been gouged out, his rib cage had been broken and his legs fractured. The sight was unbearable.”
About 200 Christian families reside in Nulka Kohala village, most of them working as farmhands on lands owned by Muslims. Though Christians in the village have faced prejudice and discrimination from Muslim employers, Ghazala and a relative unidentified for security reasons said that this was the first time an area employer had murdered a Christian laborer.
The relative told Morning Star News that the accused employer’s family and others were threatening them with “consequences” if they pursued a case against him.
“Members of the Jutt clan and other influential landlords are pressuring us to not pursue the case,” the relative said. “They say it won’t be of any use, rather it will put the lives of all of us at risk. The police are also not helping … they do not seem to realize that Jutt has killed the sole breadwinner of the family and deprived a handicapped child of his father’s shelter.”
Muslim employers believe their Christian employees are too poor to seek justice and cannot risk losing the work necessary to provide for their families, the relative said.
“They know we are weak and cannot fight them, therefore even the police are seemingly unbothered by our plight,” the relative said. ‘We have no hope for justice.”
It has been over a week since Masih’s body was recovered, and police have yet to make any progress in the case, relatives said.
Sub-Inspector Zafar Kathia, who is overseeing the investigation, said officers were making efforts to arrest the suspect, Abbas Jutt.
“The family’s claim that we are not doing anything is not true,” Kathia told Morning Star News. “We are making raids to arrest the accused, but so far we haven’t been able to locate his exact whereabouts.”
He could not explain, however, the delay in registration of the FIR and why police did not conduct an immediate raid on Jutt’s house when informed about Masih’s illegal detention.
“When we went to the Jutts’ house, it was locked from outside,” Kathia said. “The entire family has gone into hiding, and even their cattle have been moved to some other location. Nevertheless, I assure [the Masih family] that we are trying to do our best.”
He added that the Masih family has not “formally” approached police regarding threats from the suspect’s family and others.
Ghazala Javed said Punjab Minister for Minorities Ijaz Augustine, a Christian, has visited the family.
“He promised us that he would personally monitor the progress in the case,” she said. ‘However, there has been no movement so far, and we haven’t heard from the minister after that.”
Augustine, affiliated with the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), was unavailable for comment despite repeated attempts.
Pakistan ranked fifth on Christian support organization Open Doors 2019 World Watch list of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian, and on Nov. 28, 2018, the United States added Pakistan to its blacklist of countries that violate religious freedom.