A Christian boy was reportedly beaten to death by police in Pakistan on Monday in an apparent revenge attack after the boy was in a fight with a Muslim classmate who tried to bully him into renouncing Christianity and was related to one of the officers.
According to Morning Star News, Mushtaq Masih, the father of the 14-year-old boy, Arsalan Masih, said that his son was targeted by seven police officers who 'stormed' a tuition classes at the Ideal Science Academy in Jhabran Mandi village, Sheikhupura district in Punjab province where Arsalan was at around 5pm.
'[They] all started beating Arsalan with fists, kicks and rifle butts,' said Masih.
He added that the class's teacher, Farhan Ali, tried to stop the assault, but the officers shoved and slapped him and continued beating the boy.
Arsalan's head was reportedly struck with a pistol, and he started bleeding, according to Masih, who said: 'When they bundled him into the police van, Arsalan collapsed and died. Later the police team threw Arsalan's body on the roadside and fled.'
He added that a number of bystanders witnessed the assault, but the policemen threatened them if they intervened.
According to Masih, who is a member of the Presbyterian Church in Pakistan, Arsalan had fought with a Muslim boy after the classmate tried to bully him into renouncing his Christian faith some four months ago.
'I did not know about the fight until recently,' he said. 'Arsalan had reportedly beaten up a boy whose uncle...is a constable in the Sheikhupura District police. [The constable] nurtured a grudge against Arsalan, and that's why he brought his police friends with him to teach the poor boy a lesson.'
Sheikhupura police superintendent Sarfraz Virk told Morning Star News that he had ordered the registration of a case against the accused policemen and also suspended the in-charge officer of the Bahu police for negligence in official duties.
'We are trying our best to arrest the nominated accused, who have fled the area since the day of the incident,' he said. 'The boy was not wanted in any case, and it's quite clear that the policemen had gone there on their own and misused their official authority.'
A source told Morning Star News that there were 300 to 400 Christian families in the Jhabran Mandi area.
The case has been taken up by the Pakistan Center for Law and Justice (PCLJ). Attorney Kashif Naimat of the PCLJ told Morning Star News that police were initially reluctant to register a report against their colleagues.
'However, the police were forced to register the [report] after Arsalan's family and other Christians blocked the main highway for several hours on Monday night in protest,' he said. 'PCLJ has taken up the case voluntarily, and we will do our best to bring perpetrators of this heinous crime to justice regardless of their influence.'
The case follows the killing of another Christian student in August, when Sharoon Masih was beaten to death by at least one Muslim classmate during school hours in Punjab's Vehari district.
Rufus Solomon, a leading local Christian rights advocate, said it was tragic that another Christian boy had fallen victim to 'extremist Islam'. He told Morning Star News: 'The situation won't improve for Pakistani Christians until the government repeals the blasphemy laws. These laws promote extremism and encourage Muslims to force their views on members of the minority communities, particularly Christians. No government in Pakistan has the spine to take on religious extremism therefore our people will continue to suffer losses, both human and material.
'Arresting the accused is one thing, taking the matter to its logical end is another.'
Pakistan was ranked fourth on Open Doors' 2017 World Watch List of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.