By Jawad Mazhar, Worthy News Special Correspondent reporting from Pakistan
SARGODHA, PAKISTAN (Worthy News) -- A Pakistani widow wanted to know Monday, April 6, why authorities allegedly let her imprisoned Christian husband die of asthma in Pakistan's Punjab province, while a father there complained that his Christian son was detained on "false" charges.
The widow, who only identified herself as Elizabeth apparently for fear of repercussions, told Worthy News and its partner news agency BosNewsLife that her husband died March 20 in the District Jail of the city of Sargodha where, she said, he was held on trumped up charges of drugs dealing.
"Police did not discover any drugs," during a recent raid on their home, Elizabeth added. Yet, the Factory Area Police of Sargodha allegedly "implicated" her spouse in a drugs dealing case and detained him on March 12.
"During the Police raid, I pleaded to police to let my husband go because he was a chronic asthmatic patient," she said. "However police sent him to jail where he died of asthma due to the negligence of the jail's medical staff, on March 20."
Elizabeth said she has registered "a murder case against the prison's superintendent and its doctor," adding that after her husband’s death she is "in an appalling condition". Officials had no comment, pending the outcome of the criminal investigation.
Factory Area has been the scene of several police attacks against impoverished Christians, many of whom live in difficult conditions amid rising Muslim extremism in Pakistan, local Christians said.
Ashiq Masih said his young Christian son, Ashir Masih, was also detained on "false charges of bootlegging" on March 30 by Sargodha's Factory Area Police. "My son is innocent, but police have implicated him into this case, perhaps thinking that an impoverished Christian would not be able to defend himself in a court of law."
He alleged that police only "registered a fake case" against his son "merely to meet their target of registering a maximum number of cases," for promotion or bonus purposes. Police strongly denied the charges, saying they raided and arrested Ashir Masih on a tip-off. Police said the suspect was "illegally selling liquor" and that they recovered two bottles of one liter each. They could not produce the bottles in front of Worthy News.
Christian rights groups have urged police in Pakistan's volatile Punjab province to protect the Christian minority, amid reports that churches have also been attacked by angry Muslim mobs.
Advocacy group International Christian Concern (ICC) told BosNewsLife that it learned last week that a man led a mob of neighbors and friends in an attack on a village's only church after discovering that his daughter befriended a Christian man. The incident occurred in Kot Lakha Singh village in Narrowal district of Punjab province, ICC said.
"After desecrating the church, the men forced their way into Christian homes, dragged out the women, and paraded them forcefully on the streets. The assault, which occurred several months ago, so terrified the Christian community that 21 families fled, leaving only four Christian families who are still in the village," ICC added.
"Christians locked their homes and fled to their relatives, living in other villages and cities, to save their lives," said Ashraf Masih, a Christian resident who remained in the village, in a statement distributed by ICC.
Several Christians were injured, including two women whose teeth were broken, ICC said. Local politicians reportedly attempted to set up a "Peace Committee" to reconcile the two groups. After that effort apparently failed, the Christians "finally approached the police with a formal complaint," but ICC said, "police had not taken any action to prosecute" those responsible for the assault.
Pakistan's Christians comprise less than 5 percent of Pakistan's mainly Muslim population of over 176 million people according to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). (With reporting by Worthy News' Stefan J. Bos).