Mar 25, 2011

A Killing in Pakistan

Qamar David’s death shrouded in mystery
By Ali K Chishti
The Friday Times, 3/25/2011
Lahore, PK

Qamar Davis a Pakistani Christian died in a Karachi jail under mysterious circumstances and no one wants to talk about him

While the “ghiarat brigade” and most mainstream news channels were busy blowing trumpets on a one-point agenda of hanging an American CIA staffer, the funeral of Qamar David (an unfortunate Pakistani Christian) was being held atSt. Joseph Catholic Church, Lahore. A sordid affair, which our proactive self-confessed righteous media completely ignored. Qamar David was accused of ‘blasphemy’ and was later found dead in mysterious circumstances at Karachi’s Central Jail whose spokesman insists that, “David died due to cardiac failure.”

David according to his family and friends did not die a natural death. In a gathering at Essa Nagri, a Christian dominated area in Karachi, his friends confirmed foul play from both jail authorities and police. David worked as a cosmetics’ salesman and was doing rather well. He was booked under the blasphemy law due to a forwarded message which everyone and anyone in Karachi was sending. His close friend Samuel Malik later told TFT that his framing happened “due to a business feud by his competitors that caused David his life.” During the trial, the “judge” earned himself a place in heaven by awarding David a life sentence and declaring him to be a “blasphemer” on the basis of content of a forwarded SMS. Those who attended the trial alleged that the judge even delivered a lecture to David and indirectly tried to influence the accused to convert. What happened next was predictable, as more contenders for a place in heaven emerged and David died in Central Jail, Karachi in mysterious circumstances.

This is nothing new in a country like Pakistan which came into being on the premise that Muslim minority deserved protection against Hindu majority while successive Pakistan oligarchies saw no need to recognize the importance of safeguards for Pakistani minorities. The controversial blasphemy laws were strengthened to target specific minorities contrary to traditional Islamic beliefs and laws.

In Pakistan, the blasphemy laws could be traced back to 1860 Indian Penal Code, which catered to the religious sensibilities of the inhabitants of the sub-continent. But then blasphemy was not an offense punishable with death. Take the example of Indonesia, the most populous Muslim country. Article 156 (a) of Indonesia’s Criminal Code forbids ‘anyone from deliberately, in public, expressing feelings of hostility, hatred or contempt against religions with the purpose of preventing others from adhering to any religion’ and forbids ‘anyone from disgracing a religion’. The maximum penalty for violating Article 156 (a) is five years’ imprisonment.

Since 1980s a total of 84 cases have been officially registered under blasphemy law and self-professed messiahs have assassinated 42 inmates. In 2010, two Christians - Rashid Emmanuel and Sajid Emmanuel - were shot dead in Faisalabad while 39 inmates who were alleged blasphemers have been murdered in courts, jails and in public by not just by vigilantes but by policemen who thought that killing blasphemers is an easy route to heaven including Governor Salman Taseer who was murdered by his own bodyguard Qadri.

Qamar David – the real story? Qamar David during his time in jail constantly complained of threats by other inmates and prison guards. According to one of the family members who refused to give his name, “David told us that the prison guards had been constantly harassing him and would often threaten him that he would be killed.” Later, the lawyer of Qamar David filed a miscellaneous application in the court praying for security measures of his client but no action was ordered on it - a fact that the central jail superintendent Imdad Ali refutes. Ali maintains, “there was no foul play nor was David ever threatened as we made sure, David was kept with people from his own community as a precautionary measure”. However, investigation reveal that, Qamar was reportedly tortured by a prison guard and a group of convicts which explains the twenty nine marks on David’s body that the Medico-Legal Officer initially confirmed but later back-tracked.

David’s family confirms the marks on his body too. The angle of David being poisoned by the ‘mulla group’ - an infamous extremist group serving death sentence in central jail and who celebrated the death of Shahbaz Bhatti and Salmaan Taseer – cannot not be ruled out. So did David die of violence or a heart attack? While David indeed was a victim of torture in jail, he was in reality the victim of a rotten ideology, which had taken lives of hundreds of innocents including high profile politicians.

Cover-up? David’s controversial post-mortem was carried out at the Civil Hospital by MLO Dr.Qarar Abbasi, Judicial Magistrate East Zakullah Abro, Superintendent of Police Mirza and David’s son Aqeel were present there. The whole affair was kept as a secret. There are reports that David’s son is being threatened to keep quiet. When contacted, the police surgeon refused to confirm the cause of death despite samples of David’s kidney, heart and other body samples being sent out for tests and refuted that David died of violence. The usual process of producing an autopsy report (in four days) has been deliberately delayed to cover-up facts and some claim is being altered to suit the police version of events. Nobody is willing to talk about it due to fear in the society post high-profile killings of Governor Taseer and Bhatti.

Within a few months, we will forget Qamar David like we have forgotten hundreds of other innocents men and women murdered in the name of ideology. What’s important now is to understand that blasphemy laws in Pakistan can easily be misused and the practical instances testify this horrible fact. In 1994, the then Chairman of Council of Islamic Ideology concluded, “The law (blasphemy) needs modification to ensure that it is not abused by unscrupulous elements for their selfish end. The procedure for police registration of a case, the judicial level at which it should be considered and the suitable criteria for admission of witnesses have all to be looked at thoroughly.” What needs to be ensured now is that David’s case should be made a test case by the government to end vigilante justice. Otherwise we should prepare ourselves with self-programmed killers like Qadri carrying our massacres in the name of religion.


No comments: