LAHORE, Pakistan (Morning Star News) – A Christian boy in Pakistan told police two Muslims set him on fire because of his faith before he died from his burns Wednesday (April 15), according to a human rights advocate, but police denied taking the statement.
Nauman Masih, 14, told police in Lahore that two masked men on a motorbike who had just left a mosque after Friday prayers engaged him in conversation on April 10. The boy said that when they found out that he was Christian, they assaulted him, doused him with kerosene and set him on fire.
Attorney Aneeqa Maria Akhtar of The Voice Society said she was present when Nauman told police two Muslims had set him on fire because he was a Christian. A pastor using his cell phone recorded Nauman giving the same details of the assault; the video recording, a copy of which Morning Star News has obtained, shows Nauman giving details that are substantially no different than the boy’s initial statement to police, Akhtar said.
Nauman said that after he was set on fire, he ran to a pile of sand and rolled in it. Bystanders poured more sand on him to help put out the flames, and he was rushed to Lahore’s Mayo Hospital. Doctors said he had burns over more than half of his body.
The boy said he did not know the assailants but would be able to identify them if he saw them again.
A senior police official denied police recorded the boy’s statement, however, and doubted religious motives for the assault – even as questions arose about the sudden and mysterious manner in which Nauman died. Acting Deputy Inspector General (DIG) Rana Ayaz Saleem, head of the Lahore Police Investigations Wing, told Dawn newspaper that repeated attempts by police to record Nauman’s statement were unsuccessful due to “the life-threatening condition of the boy,” but Akhtar said there was no indication that Nauman’s burns were life-threatening.
“On the day he got operated on, the doctors told us that Nauman had not suffered any serious internal injuries, and all his organs were working in order,” she said. “He had suffered superficial burn wounds on 55 per cent of his body, which the doctors said were treatable. Nauman was active, he conversed with everyone who visited him, and had also started taking his meals normally. Just when we had started hoping for his recovery, the news came that he had expired.”
Furthermore, Akhtar said, she was surprised that security personnel repeatedly barred her from asking Nauman certain questions.
“This is the first time I have seen secret agencies ‘guarding’ a burn victim,” she said. “They were keeping record of all people who were coming to visit the child. Whenever I tried approaching him, a person in civilian dress would stand next to the bed. They said they were just doing their job.”
The security agents did not allow her to ask him who set him on fire, she said.
Saleem, the acting deputy inspector general, reportedly said police had filed a First Information Report (FIR) on the complaint of Nauman’s uncle, Nadeem Masih, who along with his wife raised Nauman and his older sister. Nauman was 4 years old when his father died, and his mother, Shazia Bibi, renounced Christianity after marrying a Muslim.
Nadeem Masih, the boy’s paternal uncle, said in his complaint that two unidentified men had set Nauman on fire after pouring kerosene on him. The deputy inspector said Nauman’s uncle did not mention the assailants were Muslims.
Police were also hesitant to assign a religious motive to the murder after Nauman’s maternal grandfather, Heera Masih, accused Nadeeem Masih – the uncle who raised the two children – of setting the boy on fire. The maternal grandfather, along with the boy’s Muslim mother, have been vying for the rights to the pension and property of Nauman’s deceased father, Rafaqat Masih, which the boy’s uncle has said belonged to Nauman and his sister; the allegation that Nadeem Masih set his nephew on fire alleged the uncle sought to obtain rights to the pension and property.
Nauman’s sister, 22-year-old Saba Masih, said the allegations against her uncle were baseless.
“Uncle Nadeem and his wife raised us just like their own children,” she said. “It was only after this incident that most of our neighbors had come to know that they weren’t our real parents.”
Saba Masih said her mother and maternal grandfather were accusing Nadeem Masih of the assault as part of their attempt to seize the pension and property of her deceased father.
With officials denying Nauman’s statement and a conflicting murder accusation from relatives seeking to seize the children’s inheritance, police said they have not yet ascertained the motive of the assault. But police say neither Nadeem Masih’s statement nor that of his accuser indicates the boy was attacked for reasons of faith, and that investigators have found no witnesses to the assault.
Attorney Akhtar said she believed Nauman knew who his attackers were but feared identifying them; likewise, there is speculation that his uncle feared identifying the assailants as Muslims in his complaint out of fear of reprisals.
The boy’s video-recorded statement should be considered his dying declaration in any court proceedings, Akhtar said. A dying declaration in Pakistan is testimony that is normally barred as hearsay but may still be admitted as evidence in some cases.
The incident comes less than a month after Christians upset over Taliban suicide attacks on two churches in Lahore on March 15 took revenge by killing and burning two Muslims, and Akhtar said this incident had left Nauman frightened.
“Workers at the tailor shop where Nauman worked as an apprentice said that the boy had on more than one occasion expressed fears that he would be burned to death the same way two Muslim youths were lynched, and their bodies burned, by a charged Christian mob in Lahore’s Youhanabad Christian colony,” she said. “However, the boy did not share any details with them.”
A supervisor at the tailor shop where Nauman worked told police that three days before the attack, the boy said he had a feeling he might be set ablaze.
“When I asked him who would do that, he said it was just his sixth sense,” the supervisor told police, according to the deputy inspector general.