Pakistani Christians Outraged at Release of Suspects in Girl's Death

Christians in Pakistan are outraged that the powerful Muslim lawyer accused of the torture, rape and murder of a 12-year-old Catholic girl was released on bail.

Muhammad Naeem, former president of the Lahore High Court Bar Association, his wife and son were released Saturday. Judge Shafiq-ur-Rehman of the Lahore Court allowed the suspects facing charges of murder to post bond.

In response, the girl's parents have appealed the judge's decision to the Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry. They also led a protest Sunday against the decision to release the rich and powerful lawyer charged with abusing their daughter, who served as a maid in his house.

Demonstrators on Sunday carried banners and shouted "Innocent Shazia's blood calls for punishment of a ruthless murderer and corrupt doctors" and "The bail of murderer raises questions for rulers." Protesters blocked the road outside of the Lahore Press Club and burned the picture of a hospital official, whom they accused of changing the girl's death certificate.

A preliminary medical report of Shazia Bashir listed 17 injuries, including bruised swellings on her face and head from blunt instruments, but the final autopsy report said she died from "infection caused by previous injuries." Likewise, police investigation produced no evidence that the girl was murdered by her masters. But Christians say the facts were skewed through a conspiracy involving the doctors, police and judge.

On Jan. 21, her family brought Shazia to Jinnah Hospital in critical condition and she died the following day. Naeem says the girl fell down the stairs and died of complications from a skin disease. But the girl's family says she was tortured and raped. Shazia died eight months after working in Naeem's house.

Shazia's case has attracted international media attention because of the victim's young age and the vivid reminder of the unfair social and justice system in Pakistan that works against the poor.

Shazia, who was 12, received $8 a month to wash Naeem's floors, cars, and bathrooms, the girl's mother Nasreen Bibi told The New York Times. The money the girl earned was used to pay off the family's debt.

Bibi is a widow who remarried with a 70-year-old blind man. She said poverty forced her to send her daughter to Naeem's house. Bibi has two older daughters who are married and a 10-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son who still live with her.

The day Shazia died, Naeem came to Bibi's house and offered to pay her 30,000 rupees ($350) to keep the girl's death a secret and to pay for the burial, she told Compass Direct News.

"I refused to accept their offer, and they went away hurling death threats," she said.

Shazia's uncle, Rafiq Masih, said Naeem prevented the girl's family from seeing her, but three months ago allowed them to visit her for five minutes. Shazia told her mother that Naeem and his son were raping her, Masih told Compass. Also, the girl said Naeem, his wife and sister-in-law were beating her and they threatened to hurt her if she tried to escape.

After hearing the abuse Shazia endured, her family went to a police station to try to get Naeem to release the young maid but the officers were uncooperative.

Naeem is not only rich but also reportedly well connected to politicians and judges.

In the end, Shazia succumbed to her injuries and critically malnourished condition, her mother said.

Since the case began two weeks ago, the Christian lawyers who represent the victim's family have reportedly received violent threats to intimidate them to drop the case.

Pakistan's population is about 95 percent Muslim and Christians make up less than five percent.