Pakistani Police 'Stumped' on Christian Murders

Friday, September 24, 2004

Survivors of Karachi massacre remain under threat.

by Barbara G. Baker

KARACHI, September 24 (Compass) -- Two years after seven Christians were gunned down at the Karachi headquarters of one of Pakistan’s established Christian welfare agencies, local police investigators have failed to identify a single suspect.

Tomorrow marks the second anniversary of the execution-style massacre of seven staff members shot to death on September 25, 2002, in their downtown Karachi offices of the Institute of Peace and Justice (IPJ). The attack effectively shut down the IPJ ministry, with their offices still sealed by police order.

Of the two Christians who survived the attack, 26-year-old Robin Sharif remains partially paralyzed and unable to work due to a gunshot wound to the head.

The other, Robin Piranditta, has been in strict hiding separated from his wife and four children since last year, while Christian advocacy groups continue a frustrating search for a country that will grant him asylum.

According to the Crisis Management Committee formed by the Catholic and Protestant bishops of Karachi immediately after the incident, both of the survivors were handled incorrectly by the police investigators.

In a report issued this past July, the committee declared that Robin Piranditta was “made a scapegoat,” while Robin Sharif’s statements to the police “were not taken seriously enough.”

Sharif was sidelined initially while lying in critical condition in a hospital for seven weeks. But Piranditta was arrested at the scene by police investigators, who refused to either charge or release him for four weeks.

For 27 days, the IPJ’s long-time watchman and errand man was subjected to severe torture under police detention. He was beaten repeatedly day and night, given electric shocks and hung upside down until he fainted. The mistreatment included forcing hot pepper into his anus, injecting him with drugs and making him lie naked on blocks of ice. One officer even broke his ankle while kicking him with a heavy boot.

“One time they brought ropes and hung me upside down from the ceiling,” Piranditta told Compass earlier this month.

“If you believe in Jesus Christ, then ask him to save you,” they taunted. Piranditta said that before he passed out, he cried aloud, “Jesus, you died on the cross for me. Save me!”

Eventually a lawyer, a human rights advocate and Piranditta’s wife demanded permission to meet with him. Later a court official was sent to check Piranditta’s condition under detention. But police monitored all his conversations, resulting in even worse torture after his visitors left. Officers told him that if his wife persisted in going to court to obtain his release, they would kill her and their children.

When Piranditta was finally produced before a court a month later, the court declared he had suffered “severe physical and mental torture” under illegal police custody and ordered him released.

But defying the release order, police abducted him minutes later from the grounds of the Sindh High Court, a highhanded operation witnessed and filmed by dozens of local reporters. Despite Piranditta’s fears that he would be killed that night, the police were eventually forced to set him free overnight near his home.

For nearly a year afterwards, Piranditta remained under literal house arrest. The around-the-clock surveillance was described by local authorities as “police protection” for himself and his family.

Both Piranditta and Sharif told Compass that they would recognize the faces of the attackers, at least one of whom had visited the office before. But police investigators have withheld public release of the face sketches drawn from the two eyewitnesses’ descriptions. Normally such sketches are released immediately through the local media, to help nab the culprits.

Three separate sources who have carefully explored the facts of the case told Compass that “mounting evidence” indicated that members of Pakistan’s secret police were directly involved in the murderous attack.

“But no one can do anything,” one commented, since the police investigation has stalled and no suspects have been named. Even families of the seven victims report they are being followed, harassed and threatened as they are pressured to drop their demands for justice to be done in the case.

Meanwhile, Piranditta’s wife is reduced to working as a live-in cook, with their children scattered in church boarding schools. It remains unsafe for him to telephone them, let alone try to meet them somewhere secretly.

“I have no hope unless I can get out of this country,” Piranditta told Compass. Living in fear of his life was “like being half dead, half alive,” he said. “Really, I am fed up with this life. I am still being tortured, every day.”

Christians constitute between two and three percent of Pakistan’s 150 million people, 96 percent of whom are Muslim.

According to the report released last week by the U.S. State Department on religious freedom in Pakistan, “The lack of adequate government response contributes to an atmosphere of impunity for acts of violence and intimidation against religious minorities.”

In a speech before the General Assembly of the United Nations this week, President Pervez Musharraf declared he is trying to move Pakistan away from a “culture” of extremism.