Pakistani Christians Released on Bail Defense Demands New Inquiry into Priest's Murder by Barbara G. Baker ISTANBUL, October 10 (Compass) - Four Christians accused of killing a Roman Catholic priest were ordered released on bail by a Pakistani lower court in late September, 11 weeks after they were arrested by local police. In a September 24 hearing, the Okara Additional Sessions Court accepted a bail petition to release Christians Sharif Masih, Naimat Masih, Aslam Masih and Parveez Masih, along with Muslim suspect Mohammed Afzel, from judicial lock-up in Okara. Although all five were set free the following day, they still face charges of attempted armed robbery and the murder of Fr. George Ibrahim in Renala Khurd, a village near Okara 180 miles south of Islamabad. No date has been set for their trial hearings to begin. Attorneys representing the four Christians have appealed to the courts for a new inquiry to be conducted into the priest's unsolved murder. "We are trying for this, and asking the government to go after the real culprits," a church source stated. "They must drop the case against these men, because they are all innocent." Arrested during the week after Fr. Ibraham's murder, the Christian suspects all denied any involvement in his death. Fr. Ibrahim, 38, was shot to death on July 5 by six gunmen who forced their way into his home in the middle of the night. There was no evidence of any attempted theft during the attack. Fr. Ibrahim had received death threats over the past year from Shahzina Sadique, the former Muslim headmistress of a local Catholic girls' school denationalized last fall and returned to church control under Fr. Ibrahim. Together with local education officials and activists of the banned Anjum Sipah-e-Sahaba terrorist group, Sadique had fought the government decision, denouncing Fr. Ibrahim before a local court as an "enemy of Islam" who should be killed. The accused Christians told the court that although they had nothing to do with Fr. Ibrahim's murder, they finally "confessed" to the crime while under torture and heavy beatings by officials at the local police station. "They were beating them from morning to night," a church source told Compass. "Finally we forced the authorities to give them a medical exam, but they were tortured in such a way that by that time no evidence was left on their bodies. They used electrical shocks and thrashed them badly. One of them still cannot walk properly." Local police have reportedly tried to frame Sharif Masih as the main culprit. Formerly a watchman for the church, Sharif Masih had worked for Fr. Ibrahim for two years before taking employment nearby as a school watchman. He often returned to visit the priest in Renala Khurd. "The police are trying to say that Sharif and these other men came for the purpose of robbery, and when the Father resisted, then they killed him. But that's not true," a church source said. Rather, the local Christian community insists, Fr. Ibrahim was a deliberate "target" of terrorism. "The priest's cook, Pervez Pyara, is also very scared, because he is the only eyewitness of the murder," noted a Catholic cleric who met with him. The killers had threatened to kill Pyara if he resisted or sounded an alarm while they shot the priest and then made their escape. According to a Christian activist following the murder inquiry, a sixth suspect has been arrested within the past two weeks as a possible accomplice in the murder. Identified as Kali Angraz, an elderly man apprehended in previous theft cases, the suspect was said to be a Christian who had converted to Islam about five years ago. "This fellow is still under detention," the source said. "But we are not too sure what the charges are against him. We only came to know after the others were released on bail that they have caught this suspect also."
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