Young Catholic In Critical Condition After Attack

Lahore, Pakistan - A young Catholic who was attacked and reportedly left for dead is in critical condition in a hospital in northeastern Pakistan.

According to reports Shahbaz Masih, 24, was attacked April 23. His assailants, allegedly by young Muslim men from his village, left him in a field, thinking he was dead. Both his legs were broken, but he survived and was taken to the public hospital in Mandi Bahaud Din. Shahbaz lives in Mandi Bahaud Din district, 175 kilometers south of Islamabad.

Father Rehmat Hakim, the local parish priest, said that 20-25 Christian families live in the predominantly Muslim village. They own houses but do not have land for cultivation, so they earn their living mainly as agricultural workers for Muslim landlords.

Shahbaz drove a tractor for a Muslim landlord who was very kind to the young man, which Father Hakim said did not go well with some Muslims who want Christians to remain subservient and dependent.

This same group, he continued, is unhappy that Christians attend school and do well in their studies. "Last year one boy got a mark of 70 percent in the matriculation examination, while another was first in computer science at the local university," he noted.

According to local Christians, some months ago the local Muslim religious leader announced through the mosque loudspeaker that if Christian boys get educated, there will be no workers left to till the land.

Local sources said that seven or eight young men seized Shahbaz on April 23 night, took him to a field and beat him, leaving him for dead. They then telephoned Shahbaz's parents and told them their son was dead. The parents found Shahbaz in the field and took him to the hospital.

Christians in the village are fearful of another attack, as three other cases of Muslims allegedly attacking Christians have been reported in Lahore and Islamabad during the last two months

The Minority Rights Commission of Pakistan, a private organization, has condemned the attack on Shahbaz and demanded that the government immediately arrest the culprits. The group, in its press release issued in Lahore, noted that such attacks make Christians insecure and create friction between Muslim and Christian citizens. Hence the government should look into this seriously, it said.