Image: A BACA officer comforts grieving mother of slain Christian farmers.
A Muslim family murdered two Christian brothers over a dispute over irrigation water, used between their neighbouring farms.
The attack which occurred on 8th October 2021 in Betlham Chak 2 Renala District Okara also left a further 3 Christians brothers injured.
Mukhtar Masih (70 yrs) and his sons leased six acres of land belonging to a Christian family now living abroad from March 2021. The Christian family had a desire to work together to earn a decent living through farming. Unbeknown to them the land had previously been leased to Muhammad Qadir who was angry not over the loss of the lease but that he now had to farm alongside ritually impure Christians.
Mukhtar Masih’s sons; Shamoon Masih(40 yrs), Haroon Masih (36 yrs), Yaqoob Masih(28 yrs), Indriyas Masih(26 yrs) and Hanook Masih(23 yrs) toiled in their fields with ardour and efficiency and transformed the bitter ground resulting in an extremely good harvest of vegetables. The poor farmers used canal water to irrigate their lands in Pakistan a common practice and they were within their legal rights to do so.
The same irrigation channel is used by other local farms including the farm of Muhammad Qadir.
Local Farmers share the water facility and have a set pattern of use. However on 20th September when it was the turn of the sons of Mukhtar Masih to irrigate their farm Muhammad Qadir was offended. He felt he still needed more time and became extremely difficult with the family arguing with them and hurling insults including calling them ‘Choora’ (a derogatory term for Christians used by many Muslims) while they diverted the course of the water to their field as per the local agreement.
The Christian family applied fertilizers and other chemicals that induce more plentiful harvests and opened the water channel to irrigate their farms. But when they opened the water channel they realised no water was flowing. On inspection that family discovered that Muhammad Qadir and his cohorts had rediverted the water channel without warning and was irrigating his own farm. His actions were causing massive financial loss to the Christian family who had prepared the field for irrigation.
Mukhtar Masih visited Muhammad Qadir and asked him to wait for his turn and to permit the Christian family to water the fields as it was rightfully their turn. Muhammad Qadir got furious and refused saying:
“I will not let you have this water you Choora.
“The water is on my field and you have no right to it and cannot come on to my land.
“If you come near me or my land I will shoot you all your Christians make me sick.
“Your people are haram (evil) and should all be killed.”
Shocked at the level of hatred being shown them as well as the breaking of a local law regarding shared irrigation water, Haroon Masih reported the matter to local police at Choochak Police Station.
The family were in a difficult position with 20,000 Pak-rupees (£85) of fertilizer and chemical going to waste. They were unable to redivert the field as Mr Qadir had moved the channel for irrigation to a location more central to his property which they could not access legally. His attitude had left them with concerns for their safety and future farming, he had previously delayed and prevented the water but was becoming more aggressive each time their turn came around.
The next day police officers visited Mr Qadir and he became incensed. He travelled to the home of Mukhtar Masih and abused him verbally and threatened him and his family of dire consequences, if the application with local police was not withdrawn. he again refused the water explaining his belief that Choora due not deserve clean water and should be working for Muslims and toiling over their own land.
Mr Qadir’s refusal to return the flow of water coupled with the waste of their farming products, meant Haroon Masih had no other option but to report the received threats to the police.
Shamoon Masih, spoke with British Asian Christian Association, he said;
“Muhammad Qadir had already laid waste to our crops previously on frequent occasions.
“He had run tractors through our cultivated fields ignoring our protestations.
“His family had previously prevented the water flow to our fields and had stolen our vegetables.
“We just got tired of ignoring it and that’s why we called the police.
“We had invested all our savings for this lease we wanted our own farm so we could build a new future for ourselves.
“We are Christians not animals but he [Mr Qadir] could not see beyond his prejudice.”
“We had never mean to pursue a criminal case against Muhammad Qadir.
“The application to police was filed just to change his behaviour which was ruining our crops and causing us so much loss”
Assistant Sub Inspector (ASI) Muhammad Qasim was appointed investigating officer from Choochak Police Station but did not contact the family for 15 days, despite several calls to the police station by the family.
On 8th October ASI Qasim called Haroon Masih and asked him to attend the police station with Mr Qadir so that the police could mediate over the neighbourhood dispute.
Haroon Masih along with his brothers Shamoon Masih and Yaqoob Masih attended the meeting and shared images of crop damage caused by Mr Qadir’s actions and receipts for wasted products.
Surprisingly ASI Qasim backed the Christian family over their concerns and found the Muslim landowner guilty of damaging the crops of Mukhtar Masih and his sons. The officer reprimanded Mr Qadir for illegally stopping the flow of water and advised him to not repeat his actions which he recognised was damaging the Christian families crops. At the meeting Mr Qadir agreed to stop his illegal practice and to work with the Christian family for the mutual benefit for all. Things seemed to be improving for the family.
Shamoon Masih, described how the family felt, he said:
“We got home around 2pm that afternoon and rejoiced and thank God as we ate our lunch with great hope for our future.
“That same evening at around 5pm my brothers Haroon Masih and Yaqoob Masih went to the farm to begin some irrigation but found Mr Qadir was already there only with 15 to 20 armed men.
“The men started abusing my brothers with some disgusting and vile words, I could hear them in the background as he called my brothers and I to call the police and help.
“I rushed to their aid and I called my two younger brothers Indriyas Masih and Hanook Masih to reach there”
In a matter of only hours Mr Qadir had changed from his apologetic recognition of his unreasonable behaviour to becoming a violent megalomaniac.
During a call to 15 (emergency services) Shamoon and his brothers were told police would be at the scene in a matter of minutes. The three brothers decided to travel to the location and mediate with the armed men until the police arrived.
While the three brothers were rushing to the aid of Haroon and Yaqoob: Muhammad Abbass, Muhammad Qadir, Muhammad Babar, Mustafa, Muhammad Shafqat, Gulzar, Nasar Ullah, Noor, Maqbool, Muhammad Azhar and Muhammad Hassan armed with guns surrounded the two brothers and started egging each other on. Chanting Islamic chants.
Mr Qadir was shouting orders, he yelled:
“Show these chooras the consequences of arguing with us -they have dared to mess with Muslims and the penalty is death”
The three brothers arrived and clearly had no weapons and began to remonstrate with the gunmen explaining they did not want any violence. The armed culprits however opened a rain of fire on the defenceless brothers.
Indriyas Masih, explained what happened next:
“We rushed to the land where my brothers were surrounded by the armed group, we were non threatening and hand our hands up.
“We asked them not to shoot, we begged for the lives of our brothers and our own.
“The men were not willing to listen they just opened fire with their guns.
“I felt bullets hit my hands, my face, my neck I felt pain then I blacked out.”
Witnesses described what happened and we have been able to piece together an account of the attack.
Anti-Christian slogans were being shouted by the gunmen as Muhammad Abbas opened fire and shot Haroon Masih to the left side of his neck with a 12 caliber gun – he collapsed and was unconscious.
Muhammad Babar fired a 12 caliber gun and injured Yaqoob Masih hitting the left side of abdomen destroying vital organs and causing his immediate death.
Muhammad Mustafa opened a fire and injured Haroon Masih striking his left arm. Other gunmen also shot him
Muhammad Shafqat began shooting and struck Hanook Masih on his head.
Muhammad Gulzar shot at Yaqoob Masih hitting his right arm and shoulders which threw him to the ground
Shamoon Masih was hit by 3 bullets in the area of his abdomen.
The injured were taken to Civil Hospital Okara where Haroon Masih succumbed to death by the fatal injuries caused by bullet wounds. Shamoon Masih was in a critical situation and doctors referred him to MEO Hospital, Lahore for immediate surgery.
Indriyas Masih explained further:
“When the gunmen saw my brothers and I reeling or unconscious on the ground they fled the scene, firing in the air and hurling abuse at us for being Christians while the screamed out Allah Hu Akhbar. They seemed to be treating the whole incident as a chance to cleanse the area of Christians.
“Other Christians only came to help us once all the gunmen had left, naturally they were frightened.
“We were transported to hospital for treatment in a local rickshaw.”
Haroon Masih was married some 15 years ago and has left his wife, one son and two daughters behind. Enya Haroon is 12 years old and is a sixth grade student, Hurab Haroon is 7 years old and Nathan Haroon is 3 years old. The family have asked for some financial support as they come to terms with the loss of a main breadwinner and we would like to provide support of £100 for at least the next sixth months. If you feel moved to donate towards this cost please click (here).
British Asian Christian Association’s team visited the injured brothers at Civil Hospital and prayed with them. The BACA team also visited the Choochak Police Station and talked to the Station House Officer (SHO) responsible for the murder case. FIR No. 363/21 has been registered against the culprits under sections 302, 324, 148, 149, 302 and 324,of the Pakistan Penal Code.
|148.||Rioting, armed with deadly weapon:
Whoever is guilty of rioting, being armed with a deadly weapon or with anything which, used as a weapon of offence, is likely to cause death, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both.
|149.||Every member of unlawful assembly guilty of offence committed in prosecution of common object:
If an offence is committed by any member of an unlawful assembly in prosecution of the common object of that assembly, or such as the members of that assembly knew to be likely to be committed in prosecution of that object, every person who, at the time of the committing of that offence, is a member of the same assembly, is guilty of that offence.
|302.||Punishment of qatl-i-amd:
Whoever commits qatl-e-amd shall, subject to the provisions of this Chapter be:
|24.||Attempt to commit qatl-i-amd:
Whoever does any act with such intention or knowledge, and under such circumstances, that, if he by that act caused qatl, he would be guilty of qatl-i-amd, shall be punished with imprisonment for either description for a term which may extend to ten years 129[but shall not be less than five years if the offence has been committed in the name or on the pretext of honour] 129, and shall also be liable to fine, and, if hurt is caused to any person by such act, the offender shall, in addition to the imprisonment and fine as aforesaid, be liable to the punishment provided for the hurt caused:
Qatl-i-amd = Murder with intent.
All the culprits are also being investigated under Section 7 of Pakistan’s Anti-Terrorism Act (click here).
Initially police were only able to arrest Muhammad Shafqat and a nationwide search for the other culprits who have all fled from the village got underway. However, BACA have taken on representation for the families and are directly liaising with the SHO of Choochak Police Station, who after assuring us that they were doing all they could to arrest all the nominated culprits have now taken them all into custody.
BACA team also visited the family home and have prayed with and consoled Mukhtar Masih and his wife Parveen Bibi (65 yrs). The two parents are in utter grief for the loss of two of their sons to such a cruel cold blooded murder. The family are simply reeling after such a vicious and debilitating attack.
On 10th October, the last rites of both the brothers were carried out for Haroon and Yaqoob Masih. Both their corpses were buried in a nearby Christian graveyard.
Local police have succeeded in arresting all the culprits nominated in FIR and an additional 6 that we helped Shamoon Masih add under a subsequent statement.
All the culprits have now been detained under judicial remand and every one of them has applied for post arrest bails. The next date for a hearing is fixed for 16th of November and we would like to appoint a solicitor for this family to ensure that they are able to get some justice and protect themselves and other Christians from further attack.
Juliet Chowdhry, Trustee for British Asian Christian Association, said:
“Words cannot express the pain I feel for this family.
“It is the worst feeling for parents to experience the death of their child, but two in such brutal fashion is simply appalling.
“Police have been quite helpful at this station and seem to be free of prejudice and bias, but the court process is still corrupt and this family will need our support to get justice.
“It’s hard to define this crime, clearly a neighbourhood dispute became violent.
“But the gunmen’s involvement seems to stem from a fundamental zeal that is toxic and prevalent in Pakistan.
“I know of no Christians that feel entirely safe Pakistan – 0% is an alarming figure for a country that has signed several UN Conventions regarding human rights.
“The UN and foreign aid sponsors in the west continue to fund a nation where intolerance grows.
“I question their logic as this taxpayer money is meant to provide socio-economic development to needy countries.
“Yet all we see is more death.”
British Asian Christian Association, have helped Mukhtar and his family deal with the Police which has resulted in very early arrests for all the culprits of this heinous crime. Now to obtain justice we need your help to fund a solicitor to represent the family and win this case. If you have been moved by this account and would like to help Mukhtar and his family or the many other Christians who suffer persecution in Pakistan, then please (click here)