Protestant Pastor Assassinated in Pakistan

Thursday, January 8, 2004

Police suspect ‘grudge motive’ for murder.
by Barbara G. Baker

ISTANBUL, January 8 (Compass) -- A Protestant pastor in Pakistan’s Punjab province was murdered in the early hours of January 5, just minutes after he left his home to catch a train to Lahore.

Pastor Mukhtar Masih, 50, was shot once in the chest at close range with a 32 caliber pistol sometime after 3 a.m. in Khanewal, 180 miles southwest of Lahore.

Just 45 minutes after Masih left his home, two policemen arrived at the door to inform his family that the pastor’s body had been found on the road about 100 yards from the train station. Officials said his body was lying face down, his hat just a few feet away, and there were no signs of a struggle.

Because of dirt and grass stains found on the back of the pastor’s suit jacket, it appeared that his body had been dragged some distance from the actual murder site. The odd angle of the bullet wound also indicated that Masih, who was a tall man, could have been either kneeling or sitting when he was shot.

Local police authorities in Khanewal announced that three police committees had been formed to investigate the murder and apprehend the unknown killer(s).

According to a Daily Times newspaper report on January 6, local police superintendent Jamil Ahmed discounted robbery as a likely murder motive. “It was not a case of robbery, because cash and necessary documents were found untouched in his pockets,” Ahmed said. Some 3,500 rupees ($58) were recovered from the slain pastor’s body.

Police officials indicated yesterday that they suspected it was a grudge killing. “It is so cold in Pakistan in January at 3 a.m. that no sane person would be out unless they had a clear purpose, as did Pastor Mukhtar,” one source who had spoken with the police told Compass today from Lahore. “So (the police) speculate that someone must have learned his intention to catch the train and laid in wait for him.”

For the past 14 years, Masih had pastored in Khan Pur, a district within the city of Khanewal. At least half the population of the colony, consisting of some 2,000 homes, are Christian.

As pastor of the local Church of God, Masih had regularly conducted 10 minutes of prayer and Bible reading over the church loudspeaker at 6 a.m. each morning. Such a practice is common across Pakistan in areas with large Christian populations, just as mosque loudspeakers are used to call Muslim communities to pray.

According to the findings of an investigative team from the Lahore-based Center for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS), some local Muslims in Khan Pur had launched an ongoing dispute with Masih over his use of the loudspeaker during the past few years.

Parishioners from Masih’s congregation of 50-100 members confirmed that Muslims had threatened their pastor “on many occasions,” and several times the speakers were torn down. On at least one occasion, police took away the church loudspeaker and arrested Masih, finally releasing him unharmed after he had spent four days in jail.

Nonetheless, local Christians could not identify any recent provocation that might have sparked Monday’s murder of the pastor.

“It appears that someone knew his schedule and was waiting for him,” the CLAAS fact-finding team observed after their visit to Khanewal yesterday. “After examining all of the facts, we assume that this is a case of terrorism,” they concluded.

Following an autopsy, funeral and burial services for the slain pastor were conducted on the afternoon of January 6 in Khanewal.

The late pastor is survived by his wife Parveen and seven children, including two married daughters.

In a similar homicide six months ago, a Roman Catholic priest was murdered in his home near Okara. The accused Muslim perpetrators have yet to be apprehended, although police have filed formal charges against four Christian men, claiming they killed the priest during an attempted armed robbery with two Muslim accomplices.