Christian human rights activists ‘briefly detained, tortured’ by police in Faisalabad

Published September 23, 2023
This screengrab from a video shared by rights activist Jibran Nasir on X shows Pastor Ghazala Shafique and Luke Victor as they give a video statement. — Photo via Jibran Nasir’s X
This screengrab from a video shared by rights activist Jibran Nasir on X shows Pastor Ghazala Shafique and Luke Victor as they give a video statement. — Photo via Jibran Nasir’s X

Two human rights activists visiting Faisalabad from Karachi were allegedly briefly detained and tortured by police, it emerged on Saturday, following which police accused the duo of misbehaviour in its rebuttal.

The incident was raised by lawyer and rights activist Jibran Nasir on Friday in a series of posts on X, formerly Twitter.

In a post about what he dubbed “extremely alarming and condemnable action by Punjab police”, Nasir said two prominent human rights activists from Karachi, Pastor Ghazala Shafique and Luke Victor, were visiting Faisalabad to help Reverend Father Eleazar Sidhu.

Christian priest Sidhu was shot at and injured on September 3, according to the first information report (FIR) of the incident available with Dawn.com. The FIR stated that Sidhu — who served at Myong-Sang Naserth church in Jaranwala tehsil — was returning home from the church in the evening when an unidentified bearded man shot and injured him.

The FIR also mentioned that he was leading prayers in the church on August 28 when someone wrote objectionable religious slogans against him on the outer wall of the church, which were whitewashed by police on his complaint.

A few days prior to the alleged incident, when he went to drop his son off at school, a few bearded people threatened him, saying, “As our written slogans have been deleted from the wall of the church, soon you will also be deleted,” the FIR said.

According to Nasir’s posts on social media, Sidhu was arrested, “unlawfully kept captive by local police and subjected [to] torture, being forced to state that the deadly attack on him after the Jaranwala incident was self-inflicted”.

He alleged that Sidhu was forced into giving a statement that he “shot himself so real culprits could remain safe”.

In a subsequent post, he said Pastor Ghazala Shafique had been released but alleged that her phone was withheld by police.

“She contacted her family from someone else’s phone,” he said, adding: “She revealed that the police put a black cloth on Luke Victor’s face and took him and Pastor Vicky (Sidhu) away beating them both.”

In a third post, Nasir alleged that police personnel at Saddar police station in Faisalabad had “badly beaten up Luke Victor”.

Nasir went on to say: “The interim Punjab chief minister, the interim prime minister, and the incumbent chief justice of Pakistan all visited Jaranwala to help victims. Luke did the same, but he wasn’t powerful and influential so Punjab police got to torture him.

“Pastor Ghazala is afraid that if only Luke is allowed to leave then police might torture and harm Pastor Vicky further.”

The Jaranwala incident referenced here took place on August 16, during which a violent mob of hundreds ransacked and torched nearly two dozen churches and attacked the residences of members of the Christian community and the office of the local assistant commissioner in the area. As per police and local sources, the violence erupted after some locals alleged that several desecrated pages of the Holy Quran were found near a house at Cinema Chowk in Jaranwala, where two Christian brothers resided.

In yet another post, Nasir shared a video of Victor saying: “Video made of Luke Victor at Sadr Thana Faisalabad after his release. He had bruises all over his body. His crime is to help find the truth about Pastor Eliezer alias Vicky’s case who got shot a few days after the Jaranwala incident.”

Victor can be seen with welts on his neck and face.

Nasir urged interim Punjab CM Mohsin Naqvi to launch an inquiry into the matter.

“It only highlights how vulnerable the Christian community is and how they are completely at the mercy of the state authorities. While Luke and Pastor Ghazala have been released Pastor Vicky has been reportedly arrested by transposing him from complainant to accused in the very FIR Pastor Victor got registered against the attack on him,” he wrote on X.

In the early hours of Saturday (today), Nasir shared a video statement by Pastor Ghazala Shafique on X, wherein she said the clip was recorded in Saddar police station.

Shafique said Sidhu had been detained and that he and Victor were allegedly tortured by police. She further claimed that her and Victor’s phones, too, had been taken from them.

“Our only demand is that if there’s any case against him (Sidhu), tell us about it,” she said.

The timing of the video’s recording is not clear.

When Faisalabad City Police Officer Usman Akram Gondal was asked about Nasir’s allegations, he said: “It is absolutely wrong.”

The official claimed that Sidhu had shot himself during the September 3 incident, saying that an FIR had been filed against him. “He has submitted a confessional statement and is on remand,” CPO Gondal told Dawn.com.

As for Shafique and Victor, he said: “The two reached there and were trying to get him (Sidhu) out of there. They misbehaved with [police] and threatened the SHO (station house officer). The police had no choice but to stop them.”

The police’s claim was reiterated in Sidhu’s termination letter issued by the Presbyterian Church of Pakistan (PCP) on September 13.

“This letter is to inform that as of September 13, 2023, you, Mr Eleazar Sidhu s/o Bashir Masih Sidhu … are no longer employed by the Presbyterian Church of Pakistan [henceforth referred to as PCP]. This decision is because of the facts that came to light during your conversation with multiple colleagues, friends, and family members regarding the incident of alleged shooting on your right arm dated September 3, 2023, in which you voluntarily confessed that this was a self-inflicted injury and you admitted to planning this whole act without any fear, duress or pressure.

“While we are refraining from jumping to any conclusions since the matter is sub-judice, we reserve every right to sever your employment and to cut off any professional ties until the matter comes to its logical conclusion,” the letter, a copy of which is available with Dawn.com, read.

A press statement issued by the PCP on the same day, cited the findings of Sidhu’s first medical report and said: “It was revealed that the injury was likely self-inflicted based on the angle/trajectory of the bullet, bare minimum damage to skin, injury etc.”

The PCP also raised multiple questions regarding the September 3 incident based on Sidhu’s “contradictory statements”.

The PCP called on the “highest authorities”, including all the investigative agencies, to bring all the facts pertaining to the matter to light.

“Any person can lie or make up stories. However, facts and science do not lie. We demand that one black sheep should not spoil the reputation of the whole flock. Not every pastor or Christian desires to apply for asylum and leave his/her country. We demand that an open, fair and independent investigation be carried out and if Mr Sidhu, as per his initial confession, circumstantial evidence, witness corroboration, and contradictory statements regarding the whole incident is found guilty, he should be meted an exemplary punishment,” the PCP press statement said.

It further said the “organisation or the leadership cannot and must not be held responsible for any ‘lone wolf’ or rogue actions of an employee that were not within the scope of his employment nor in furtherance of his job description”.

Meanwhile, a video of Sidhu has surfaced, which according to details collected by Dawn.com, was recorded two days ago — after he was allegedly forced into giving his confessional statement.

In the video, a weeping Sidhu with a sling on his right arm, is seen claiming four of his associates, including a 15-year-old boy, had been detained by police and were being persuaded into giving statements that his injury was self-inflicted.

He denies shooting himself and writing objectionable religious slogans on the church’s wall. Sidhu further claims that he was tortured by police and three police personnel have been staying inside his house all day long.

Sidhu also alleged that he was not provided food and water in police custody.

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