Pakistani Christians have strongly protested the release on bail of a Muslim lawyer accused of raping, torturing and killing last month Shazia Bashir, a 12-year-old Catholic girl, employed in his household as domestic worker.
They have appealed to the Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, a symbol of judicial independence in Pakistan, to take immediate action against the court’s decision.
The girl’s parents led the protest as demonstrators shouted slogans and carried banners, proclaiming “Innocent Shazia’s blood calls for punishment of a ruthless murderer and corrupt doctors” and “The bail of murderer raises questions for rulers.”
Last Saturday, Judge Shafiq-ur-Rehman of the Lahore Court released Muhammad Naeem, his wife and son on bail.
The accused’s lawyer said the girl’s autopsy report did not prove she was murdered, but indicated instead that she had died from an infection caused by old injuries.
In his opinion, the case was not about murder, especially since 14 days of police investigation did not yield any evidence that would suggest that Muhammad Naeem or any member of his family was involved in the girl’s death.
The Christian community has rejected the lawyer’s claims as well as the results of the autopsy, pointing out that Shazia’s body showed signs of torture and sexual abuse.
They claim that the powerful former head of the Lahore Bar Association locked the girl in his house against her will and killed her when she refused to work for him.
In protest, a group of Christians blocked the road outside the Lahore Press Club, and burnt the picture of a Jinnah Hospital official, whom they accuse of falsifying the girl’s death certificate.
In two weeks of hearings, Christian lawyers and anyone trying to represent the victim’s family have received threats and experiencedacts of intimidation.
Activists have also alleged that defence lawyers, police, judges and government authorities have worked together, coming close to colluding, in order to bury the case.
The Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS) and the Human Liberation Commission of Pakistan (HLCP) have organised the Christian protest. Their leaders have complained that in Shazia’s case, justice was assassinated by the powerful machinery of the state, which seeks to save the skin of the murderer, Muhammad Naeem.
They also blame doctors for playing a shameful role in doctoring the medical report, and police for manipulating the investigation.
Not only has the appeal against bail reached Supreme Court Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, but it has also seized public opinion, finding its way on online discussion forums and the social network Facebook. For many in cyberspace, the silence by the chief justice and the minister of minorities is deafening.
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