PAKISTAN: Six year old Christian girl shot dead after father failed to pay interest on a loan

A Statement from British Pakistani Christian Association forwarded by the Asian Human Rights Commission

Some 8 months ago, a Christian father named Waris Masih (36 yrs.), who resides in the city of Faisalabad, borrowed 40,000 rupees from a Muslim money lender named, Ajmal alias Mithu Cheema. Mr. Masih needed the loan to pay for repairs to his home and the costs associated with the birth of their latest child, Naira (9 months).

Mr. Masih signed the loan agreement, requiring him to pay 8,000 rupees per month (£56), until he satisfied the loan. The regular payments would not affect the original loan. He would have to pay extra above the 8,000 rupees per month to reduce the loan. This exorbitant contract was beyond his means. He is employed as an embroidery machine operator in a textiles factory. Monthly he earns about 15,000 rupees (£173). This makes it extremely difficult for him to afford daily living expenses. This meant that he could not produce the required November monthly interest payment. Mr Cheema collected the money due every 20th day of the month. The missed payment was only the first time that Mr Masih had missed a payment. It was late due to costs associated with Christmas celebrations. Mr Masih knew things would be even more difficult with Christmas just around the corner.

During two telephone calls, on the 25 and 26th of November, Mr. Masih made the following request. He asked Mr. Cheema to give him until after Christmas to raise the additional funds to pay for November and December in one payment. However this only resulted in a heated, abusive exchange and threats of violence. Mr. Masih had explained that in January he would be able to pay Rupees 70,000. At this time, he will receive an amount of money through a ‘Committee.’ It is a village savings and loan scheme. Members pay a regular amount into a central pot and take turns in receiving a loan. Needless to say, Mr Cheema did not want to wait until January for his payments.

Mr. Cheema kept insisting that Mr. Masih come forward with the outstanding payment. With this in mind, Cheema arrived at Masih’s home at 11:45pm on Monday November 27, 2017, with a gun in his possession. He demanded full payment on the outstanding loan owed to him. Mr Masih requested more time while he tried to borrow money from family and friends. However, the offered arrangement was not acceptable to Cheema. He started abusing Masih in front of his wife and children. Cheema then pulled out a pistol and started to fire at Mr Masih’s who ran into his house to escape. As Mr Masih fled, the shots fired at him struck his daughter Myra (6 yrs) who was in the veranda area. She was shot twice, once in the head and once in the left shin before falling to the floor unconscious. Realising he had shot the child, Mr Cheema fled the scene of the crime.

Shocked and stunned, Mr Masih picked up his daughter and ran to his motorcycle. A neighbour grabbed his daughter from him and held her as the two of them travelled by motorcycle to Civil Hospital. Doctors there not only refused to treat the child but did not even provide an ambulance to transfer to another facility. The father left Civil Hospital at 12:30 a.m. and drove to Allied hospital. The Doctors there tried to save her life but to no avail. Myra succumbed to the serious, bullet wound injuries she had sustained during the shooting. She was pronounced dead at 4:30a.m., 28th November 2017. Doctors said the bullet lodged in Myra’s head made it impossible to operate safely. She died during surgery to remove the bullet stuck in her brain.

Local Police immediately ordered a post-mortem on Myra’s corpse and it confirmed that she died from a bullet wound to the head. After completing the post-mortem, the body was returned to the family to allow them to grieve and mourn the loss of their young child.

Under the direction of Saddar Police Station House Officer (SHO), Ghulam Farid, a criminal case was immediately filed against Mr Cheema. It started a nationwide search for the culprit. Two of his brothers were arrested and questioned. Finally, on the 2nd of December the fugitive was captured and is now in prison.

The officer met with the family and have gifted them the cost of the funeral for their daughter. We are also intending to pay for a Solicitor to issue a challenge for justice for the family. They have been devastated by the death of their daughter at such a young age. If you would like to donate towards our appeal for the family please (click here). We need to raise £1,200 for a Lawyer and a further £173 per month for 6 months. This is to sustain Mr Masih and his family as they come to terms with the trauma of losing a child. Mr. Masih has not been able to work as he has become deeply disturbed and depressed by the murder of his daughter. To add insult to injury, the family has received some threats from associates of Mr Cheema. Their demands are: drop all charges and accept a payment for the loss of their child, which under Islamic Sharia law can be used to settle crimes of murder. Pakistan has adopted Qisas and Diyat Laws which often permits murderers to escape justice by paying such bribes.

Myra’s mother, Reena Masih (26 yrs), exhibiting signs of extreme trauma, said: “I wish I had died not my daughter. I was with Myra who asked me to take her to the toilet when the shooting suddenly began. The bullets missed me by inches and hit her in front of me. She held my hand as she fell to the floor. I believe I just screamed again and again. I could not believe what was happening.

“My lovely, bright, intelligent daughter was taken away from me by a cruel, brutal man. She was the eldest sibling of my younger children and such a good example to them. She was so excited by the birth of Naira, my youngest daughter, and loved to dress her up. She said Naira was her living doll but now she will not see her sister grow up.

“Her sister Saira (3 yrs) keeps asking me where Myra is. I have told her that Myra is playing with the angels in heaven – this gave her some solace. She has been severely traumatised by the murder of her sister.

“I cannot express the pain I feel. I feel deeply depressed and find it hard to carry on. I feel as if I have failed my daughter. But, I still have a responsibility to my remaining children and my husband. It keeps me going, together with the knowledge that God is now caring for my daughter in heaven. One day I will see her again and ask her to forgive me.

“I will cry and mourn my daughter every day until the day I am reunited with her- she will never be forgotten.”

Waris Masih, said: “I would never have reneged on my debt; I just needed time to clear it. I am still in shock at this death – there was no need for violence; I was going to pay off my debt in full in January.

“I blame myself for this death. If I had just waited until January for the committee and had not taken the loan, my daughter would be with me. I just wanted to get our house in good repair and buy the things necessary for Naira, our latest daughter.

“I have cried and beat myself up over this death but still feel the pain. I just want Myra back. But I know it will be a long time before we can be reunited. The pain of her death is like a bullet in my own heart. It would have been better for my family if [Mr Cheema] had killed me.”

Wilson Chowdhry, Chairman of the British Pakistani Christian Association, said: “Living in Pakistan as a Christian is in most cases a gruesome ordeal. You live life on the margins, are severely discriminated against and persecution is just around the corner.

“Incidents like this gory tale of a young child being killed to compensate for a missed payment on a loan shark agreement, are sadly common-place. Worse still, such crimes rarely result in prosecution. Perpetrators, without any compunction, are able to buy themselves out of justice, using the Qisas and Diyat Laws to avert proper punishment.

“Being able to use threats or a bribe to escape incarceration has created criminal impunity. It has exacerbated the situation and caused the proliferation of powerful crime syndicates. For all intents and purposes it has meant many crime lords are above the law.

“Statutory Authorities have little appetite for justice and voraciously accept and consume the hefty bribes that come their way. Families, often frightened of being targeted by the crime lords, accept the Qisas and Diyat bribes themselves. They hope to survive a potential onslaught which inevitably will be ignored by the Police.

“By providing a safe house and a Prosecutor for such victims, we hope to slowly change the current judicial malaise that has made the lives of Christians in Pakistan a living hell, by ensuring proper justice takes place.”

The views shared in this statement do not necessarily reflect that of the AHRC.