Mystery surrounds burning of Christian boy

As investigation continues, witnesses, lawyers and police tell different stories

Mystery surrounds burning of Christian boy
A 14-year-old Christian boy, who was reported to have been doused with petrol and set on fire because of his faith, died on Tuesday (14 April) in Lahore. The incident has taken place at a time when the Christian community fears a backlash after lynching and burning of two men following terrorist attacks on two churches in Lahore’s Youhanabad neighborhood.

At around 1pm on April 10, Nauman Masih was brought to Mayo Hospital with more than 40 percent burns. “The chief minister took note of the incident and the first information report was lodged according to the statement given by Nauman,” Christian parliamentarian Shahzad Munchi said.

Nauman was said to have given a statement, in the presence of Christian political and religious leaders, family and Superintendent of Police Iqbal Khan, which was incorporated in the FIR [No 308/15], lodged by his paternal uncle Nadeem Masih in the Gulshan-e-Ravi Police Station.

“As stated by my nephew, today, when he was returning to the shop (where he worked) at about 12:30pm, two unidentified men came on a motorbike. They stopped my nephew and inquired about his faith, at which he told them that he was Christian. Then the two men doused him with petrol and set him on fire,” said the report.

The investigation officer told reporters that Nauman’s maternal grandfather had accused Nadeem and his wife “for ordering the attack.” The police officer reportedly said, “The couple wants to kill Nauman to get his three-marla (90 square-yards) house.”

Aneeqa Maria, attorney in this case, said Superintendent of Police Iqbal Khan ordered his subordinates to include Nauman’s statement verbatim in the FIR. “The SP told me that Nauman has given a statement in front of us and the FIR will be registered based on this statement.”
"Two men doused him with petrol and set him on fire"

Police officers, however, later denied recording any such statement. “No dying declaration or statement was recorded by police due to the life-threatening condition of the boy,” Acting Deputy Inspector General (DIG) Rana Ayaz Saleem, head of the investigations wing, told the daily Dawn.

Nauman’s sister Saba Nadeem and grandmother Bano Bibi say they had no enmity with anyone.

The story is complicated by the claim that Nauman had prior knowledge that he would be set on fire. He was being trained by Munir Masih as a tailor. “A few days before the incident, Nauman told me that he feared he would be burned,” Munir said. “After telling Munir, Nauman also told me about his fear,” said Nadeem Masih.

The road on which Nauman was attacked is usually empty.

That day, Munir had asked Nauman to get some clothes overlocked by another shop. Nauman was returning after getting the job done when he said the two masked men set him on fire.

“Nauman usually goes to another shop for getting clothes overlocked, but that day he came to mine,” said Zahid Hassan. “The police interrogated my 15-year-old son Mansab Hassan and me for about three days and then released us after finding out we were not involved.”

Another shopkeeper, who asked not to be named, said Nauman was very talkative and that would sometimes upset people. “But he was decent, and never discussed religion, so it is unlikely that his killing was religiously motivated,” he said. “Days prior to the incident, he came to my shop and said that he had had an argument with his cousins and that he would complain to the church committee.”

“The CIA (Crime Investigation Agency) investigated two of Nauman’s cousins – Nawaz Masih and Asif Masih – and then released them,” said Nadeem, stressing that there was no family issue behind Nauman’s burning. “Even the house that some people think could be the root cause of his burning had been equally nominated to Nauman and his 21-year-old sister Saba.”

“The boy was mentally unstable,” said Gulshan-e-Ravi Police Station House Officer Hussain Farooq. “He might have set himself on fire to obtain asylum abroad while the family property is another issue.”

“It is not clear if Muslims set Nauman on fire, but those who put out the fire were all Muslim,” said Altaf Hussain, who runs a general store in the area and was among the people who threw sand from a nearby pile on Nauman. “Nauman was burning and fell down near the shop after which many people rushed to help him. We then called Rescue 1122 and their ambulance came after about 12 minutes.”