Christian Massacre Survivor Set Free in Karachi

Tuesday, August 6, 2002

by Barbara G. Baker

ISTANBUL, October 24 (Compass) — Forty-eight hours after Karachi police abducted Robin Peranditta from the grounds of the Sindh High Court, the traumatized survivor of last month’s deadly Christian massacre is now confirmed to be released from police custody.

Robin Peranditta, 27, met this afternoon in an undisclosed location with two individuals who finally secured his release after four weeks in unlawful police custody.

“We just met with Robin,” his lawyer Noor Naz Agha told Compass by telephone from Karachi, “and he hugged us saying, ‘You saved my life!’” The private meeting was arranged by Joseph Francis, coordinator of the Lahore-based Center for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS), and a joint petitioner with Elizabeth Peranditta for her husband’s release.

Although the Sindh High Court ruled two days ago that Peranditta’s detention had been illegal and ordered his immediate release, a contingent of police from the Criminal Investigation Agency (CIA) surrounded him after the Tuesday hearing and forcibly re-arrested him on the stairs of the court building. In the process, the “Daily Times” reported the next morning, “The police beat up and abused his lawyers when they tried to prevent their client being taken away.”

The detainee’s lawyers immediately filed a legal protest, accusing the police of contempt of court for defying the release order. When the state counsel tried to oppose the petition, “Dawn” newspaper reported, Justice Sabihuddin Ahmed declared, “Senior lawyers have come to our chambers with torn shirts after the incident. What are you trying to defend?”

According to court findings made public at Tuesday’s hearing, the Christian detainee had suffered “severe physical and mental torture” during his four weeks at the CIA’s Saddar center in Karachi.

Peranditta was working as a watchman and errand boy for the Institute of Peace and Justice (IPJ) when its downtown Karachi offices were attacked by unidentified terrorists on September 25. Seven of his Christian co-workers were shot and killed in the raid, with an eighth still recovering from critical head injuries. Although reportedly beaten by the attackers, Peranditta was not shot, a factor police investigators said cast suspicion on his innocence.

Shortly after re-arresting Peranditta, police officers told the press that he had been arrested on charges of complicity in the case. “We have formally arrested him as a suspect in the murder of seven Christians,” police investigator Manzoor Mughal told the Agence France Press.

His arrest was confirmed publicly by CIA chief Fayaz Leghari, who then declared a few hours later that Peranditta had been released after “documentary proceedings.” “We did not have enough evidence to keep him in custody,” Leghari admitted. The official said he had been “dropped at his residence” late Tuesday night.

But Peranditta’s whereabouts remained uncertain all day Wednesday when his wife and family declared they had not seen him at all, causing them to fear for his life.

This morning the lawyers’ contempt of court petition was accepted by the court, which ordered that the charges against Deputy Superintendent of Police Qasim Ghori and Inspector Tasarrud Mehmood of the CIA Center in Saddar be heard before the Chief Justice of the Sindh High Court. The hearing is expected to be held within the next week, Agha said.

Married with four children, Peranditta has still not been reunited with his wife, Elizabeth, who for security reasons is staying in a separate safe house.

According to Agha, Peranditta’s wife and extended family have been threatened during the past few days by police officials, demanding that the petition for the detained Christian’s release be withdrawn. “How can she withdraw her petition?” demanded Agha. “The case has been decided now. This is contempt for what the court has decided!”

“The entire episode reeks of police high-handedness,” commented “Dawn” newspaper in a sharp editorial today. “There can be no excuse for holding Mr. Ditta . . . in detention without any lawful authority and subjecting him to third-degree methods.”

Today’s “Daily Times” reported that police have recorded the initial statement of a second survivor, Robin Shareef, who has now regained consciousness after brain surgery at Karachi’s Agha Khan Hospital. However, police officials admitted that Shareef, who is the only other eyewitness of the September 25 attack, “cannot sustain the pressure of detailed interrogation yet.”

According to an IPJ source, police “resisted” plans for Shareef to be transferred out of the hospital today to a secure, undisclosed location where private guards have been arranged for him. Although Shareef was declared medically fit for discharge several days ago, only today could a place be found willing to shelter him while he recuperates. Other locations refused reluctantly, citing fears of an attack by the terrorists who killed his colleagues, as well as the shadow of ongoing “police involvement” in his case.

Karachi investigators have so far failed to identify the perpetrators of the September 25 massacre. It was the fifth anti-Christian assault in Pakistan since last October, when radical Islamists began targeting Christians in retaliation for President Pervaiz Musharraf’s support for the U.S. war on terrorism. A total of 39 people have been killed and 75 injured in the attacks on Christian churches and institutions.