- Lawyer rules out property dispute as cause of burning, questions circumstances surrounding boy’s death
A teenage Christian boy, who was set alight allegedly by two men on April 10 after reportedly identifying himself as a Christian, succumbed to his burn wounds at the city’s Mayo Hospital on Wednesday.
According to 14-year-old Nauman Masih’s initial statement to the police, the teenager was in a market in the city’s Gulshan Ravi area when he got into a conversation with two men on a motorbike who had just left a local mosque after offering Friday prayers. The boy had told police that the “masked men” assaulted him and then set him on fire after dousing him with kerosene when they found out that he was Christian.
Nauman had said he ran – still on fire – until he reached a mound of sand which he rolled around in. He said some locals helped him put out his burning clothes by pouring more sand on top of him. The boy was rushed to the Mayo Hospital by Rescue 1122 personnel, where doctors announced that he had suffered 55 per cent burn wounds.
The boy, who lived with his paternal uncle Nadeem, had said that he did not know who had attacked him but that he would be able to identify the assailants if he saw them again.
The teen’s burning raised fears in the local Christian community that the incident was retaliation motivated by a Christian attack on two Muslim youths following twin Taliban suicide attacks on two churches in Lahore’s Youhanabad Christian colony on March 15 in which over 23 people were killed and several dozens were wounded.
REVENGE ATTACK OR PROPERTY DISPUTE?
While Aneeqa Akhtar Advocate of The Voice Society believes that the boy was targeted because of his Christian faith, Nauman’s maternal grandfather Heera Masih alleged that the boy’s uncle Nadeem was behind the attack.
The teen’s father died when he was four and he and his older sister Saba had been living with Nadeem and his childless wife. Nauman’s mother Shazia Bibi had converted to Islam after marrying a Muslim and the two families were in dispute over the provident fund and a four-marla property left behind by Nauman’s dead father, Rafaqat Masih.
Talking to Pakistan Today, Aneeqa Maria said that Nauman had given the statement to the police in her presence.
“Heera Masih has been claiming before the media that the boy was burnt by Nadeem over a property dispute whereas in his statement to the police, Nauman had clearly stated that he was asked about his religion by the two assailants before they attacked him,” she said.
The lawyer claimed that just days before his burning, Nauman had been expressing fears that someone would kill him. “Workers at the tailor shop where Nauman worked as an apprentice told me that the boy had on more than one occasion expressed fears that he would be burnt to death the same way two Muslim youths were lynched and their bodies burnt by a charged Christian mob in Youhanabad. However, the boy did not share any details with them,” she said, adding that she believed that the boy knew who his attackers were but was scared of identifying them.
She said she repeatedly tried to talk to Nauman but could not because of the presence of “personnel in civvies”.
“This is the first time I have seen secret agencies ‘guarding’ a burn victim. They were keeping record of all people who were coming to visit the child. Whenever I used to approach him, a person in civvies would stand next to the bed. They said they were just doing their job.”
The lawyer and rights activist also raised doubts over the circumstances surrounding Nauman’s demise.
“On the day he got operated, the doctors told us that Nauman had not suffered any serious internal injuries and all his organs were working in order. He had suffered superficial burn wounds on 55 per cent of his body, which the doctors said were treatable. Nauman was active, he conversed with everyone who visited him, and had also started taking his meals normally. Just when we had started hoping for his recovery, the news came that he had expired,” she said.
Pakistan Today made repeated efforts to contact Heera Masih for his comments but he remained inaccessible.
Nauman’s 22-year-old sister Saba, however, told Pakistan Today that allegations against her uncle Nadeem were baseless.
“Uncle Nadeem and his wife raised us just like their own children. It was only after this incident that most of our neighbours had come to know that they weren’t our real parents,” Saba said, adding that her maternal grandfather Heera Masih and mother Shazia were entrapping Nadeem in a fake case to grab hold of the four-marla property of which the children were the rightful owners.
According to the police, the incident would now be treated as a murder case.
Aneeqa Maria, the lawyer, says the boy’s statement would be considered his dying declaration. In the law of evidence, the dying declaration is testimony that would normally be barred as hearsay but may nonetheless be admitted as evidence in certain kinds of cases because it constituted the last words of a dying person.
Commenting on the incident, minorities rights leader and central president of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Minorities Wing, Sajid Ishaq said that the Punjab government should immediately order a high-level probe into the case.
“The case should be investigated in light of the Christian boy’s statement to the police. We have been following the developments in the case closely and there seems to be more than what meets the eye…the case should not be brushed under the carpet by treating it as a blind murder,” he said.
Ishaq said that Christians across Punjab were anticipating revenge attacks after the Youhanabad lynching and burning incident and Nauman’s death could further raise their fears. “Therefore it is important that the government traces the teen’s killers to restore confidence in the minority community,” he said.