Christian Refugee Dies Inside Thailand Detention Center After Being Denied Hospitalization

Asylum seeker Ijaz Paras Masih sits in a hospital bed in Thailand in this undated photo.
Asylum seeker Ijaz Paras Masih sits in a hospital bed in Thailand in this undated photo. | (Photo: British Pakistani Christian Association)

A 36-year-old Pakistani Christian father of three who fled to Thailand in search of asylum after family members were accused of blasphemy died inside of a detention center after authorities neglected to provide him with treatment to a curable health condition, human rights activists are saying.

The British Pakistani Christian Association, a London-based charity that works to protect and advocate on behalf of persecuted Pakistani Christians, is reporting that Ijaz Paras Masih passed away inside the "brutal" Immigration Detention Centre (IDC) in Bangkok, where he was detained since June 2016.

Considering that Thailand doesn't officially recognize assylum seekers or refugees, Masih was arrested on June 6, 2016, when authorities raided his condominium.

Masih is just one of many other persecuted Pakistani Christians who have been arrested during a Thai government's crackdown on asylum seekers overstaying their visas.

Masih and many of his family members fled from Pakistan after their family was placed in danger and threatened in 2015 because of online blasphemy accusations directed at two family members. Such accusations in Pakistan can lead to Muslim mob violence against the accused and their families.

Much of Masih's family fled to either Thailand or Malaysia.

According to the BPCA, Masih began showing signs of "poor health" while he was incarcerated at IDC even though he was "perfectly healthy" before his June 2016 detention. As Masih's time in the detention center continued, he grew regularly fatigued and suffered from high blood pressure.

Then on Oct. 22, 2016, Masih had to be sent to the hospital after he fell to the floor and suffered from stroke-like symptoms. He was diagnosed with having a severe stroke, which caused the left side of his body to become paralyzed.

According to BPCA, Thai authorities and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees declined to pay for Masih's treatment, which would have required at least 22 days of inpatient care. The treatment was eventually covered by a generous pastor.

"The failure by the Thai Authorities and UNHCR to cover ongoing medical treatment meant that a potentially controllable health condition was left to fester," a BPCA report on Masih's situation states. "Mr. Masih complained about his health condition daily. To no avail, his requests for treatment were constantly ignored by both the Thai authorities and UNHCR, reducing Mr. Maish's quality of life during his last few months."

According to the charity, Masih's situation was "exacerbated" on May 27 when guards at the detention center forced inmates to take part in a rigorous cardiovascular exercise. Although Masih complained about the pain, the guards reportedly thought Masih was pretending and put him in solitary confinement as punishment.

"[I]t exacerbated the condition Mr. Masih was in, which is now believed to be the early period of a heart attack," the report states. "Mr. Masih had been groaning with the pain he felt and asked for help, but was allegedly completely ignored. Other detainees heard him begging for the IDC staff to save his life."

The BPCA report states that he suffered from uncontrollable urination while he was in solitary confinement and had to sit in urine soaked clothes. After hours in isolation, Masih was taken to the prison showers to clean himself off. While in the shower, Masih collapsed to the floor and never awoke.

IDC staff are accused of dragging Masih to a communal area and letting his body lie for at least two hours before finally calling an ambulance. An autopsy later confirmed that Masih died of a heart attack.

One person who was detained at IDC when the incident occurred recalled the incident in an interview with BPCA Chairman Wilson Chowdhry.

"We could hear Mr. Masih demanding that he be taken to hospital. IDC officer told him to stop pretending and despite his pain and the ignorance of the guards Mr. Masih stayed noble and dignified," the witness said. "Mr. Masih simply asked that he be given a check-up so that he could receive the necessary treatment he required to stay alive. They refused to help for no other reason than the family's inability to pay for treatment."

"This whole situation has shocked us all to our core many of us have cried for our lost brother," the witness said. "He suffered so much just so one day he could be free of the daily threat to his life in Pakistan. Now his death has been most undignified he has been treated worse than an animal."

Masih leaves behind his wife, Shahida, and his three children. The BPCA is now accepting online donations that will go toward helping Masih's family and other Pakistani Christians facing persecution. Shahida now has to raise her three kids — aged 11, 8 and 18 months — by herself in a patriarchal society.

"This story is one of great tragedy on a number of fronts. The failure by Thai authorities to protect the life of Mr. Masih despite clear evidence of a health concern, exhibits a callous low value placed on the life of asylum seekers," Chowdhry, who gave the family about $200 to help pay for basic necessities, said in a statement.

"Secondly, the fact that asylum seekers escaping persecution in Pakistan have to fear re-persecution in an alleged peaceful nation such as Thailand is utterly deplorable — especially considering both nations have signed UN Conventions for Human rights and protecting against torture," he continued.

"Thirdly, UNHCR's failure to protect a man fleeing the draconian blasphemy law of Pakistan, caused his imprisonment (potentially for life) and led to this death of an innocent, extremely frightened and beleaguered young father as well as the dishevelment of countless others."

The BPCA has launched a petition calling for the Thai government to "stop persecuting asylum seekers." The petitioners ask for imprisoned asylum seekers to have access to open air spaces, family members, lawyers and health care.

Follow Samuel Smith on Twitter: @IamSamSmith Follow Samuel Smith on Facebook: SamuelSmithCP

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