An evangelist is still recovering from burns after six young Muslim men beat him with clubs and belts and set him on fire last month in a village near this Punjab Province city, the Christian told Compass.
Area Christians said they found the Rev. Wilson Augustine, 26, of Village No. 44-SB, unconscious with burns on his head, hand and arm on Nov. 22 near the bus stop of Village No. 101-NB on the outskirts of Sargodha.
Christian elders Austin Masih and Nadeem Samuel of nearby villages said that Augustine, who was ordained in a small Presbyterian church in Village No. 44-SB, was distributing pamphlets and proclaiming Christ door-to-door the previous day among Christian families of villages Nos. 79-NB, 98-NB, 99-NB, 96-NB and 101-NB some 25 kilometers (15 miles) southeast of Sargodha.
Rustam Masih, a Christian from Village No. 99-NB, told Compass that Augustine was going door-to-door in Village 96-NB when the sons of a powerful local land owner saw one of the pamphlets. Augustine later identified the six as Muhammad Usman Ghani, Muhammad Taha Khan, Talha Mehmood, Nisar Warriach, Zareen Cheema and Jamshaid Ali Ansari.
Aamir Masih, a Christian elder of the same village, said that the young Muslim men mistakenly regarded verses in the pamphlet describing the resurrection of Jesus as derogatory to Muhammad, the prophet of Islam.
“This angered the Muslim men, and they ordered Augustine to leave the village at once and stop preaching the gospel in Village 96-NB immediately or face the consequences,” Masih said.
Augustine told Compass that he then left the village.
“I went to other villages to preach the gospel, but those Muslim men kept pursuing me everywhere I went, as they harbored a grudge against me for imparting the good news of the Holy Bible,” he said.
Augustine said that the last stop of his evangelistic work was Village No. 101-NB, where he preached in a small, packed-mud church building that villagers said belonged to the United Protestant Church.
His father, Augustine Azhar, and mother, Musarat Bibi, said that when he finished his evangelistic work at about 10 p.m. he left for home on foot carrying a bag containing donations to him of 467 rupees (US$5.50). He had to walk about 1. 5 kilometers to reach the main bus stop at the highway to catch a bus for Sargodha.
He left village 101-NB singing hymns and reciting Psalms in the cold night air, but as he reached the bus stop riders on three motorcycles began to flash their headlight beams into his eyes and rev their engines, Augustine told Compass from his bed at home, where he was still recovering.
Though blinded by the headlights, Augustine recognized their voices as they hurled obscenities at him, he said. They cut their engines, and he was able to catch a glimpse of them before they started to beat him with clubs and belts, he said. They threw a cold liquid on him, he said, and lit a match box, setting him ablaze.
“After setting me on fire, they started thrashing me again,” he said. “Because they were beating me with clubs the fire was extinguished, and they dragged me to some nearby shrubs. As they were dragging me I blanked out, and when I reopened my eyes, I was in the DHQ [District Headquarters Hospital] in Sargodha.”
Christian laborers on their way to work the next morning said they found a pack of dogs wandering near the shrubs of the Village No. 101-NB bus stop, and as they followed them they found a hymnal, a Bible and the scattered, blood-stained pamphlets and bag that Augustine had carried while visiting their homes. Two of the Christians, Binyamin Masih of Village No. 101-NB and Nadeem Samuel of Village 79-NB, continued searching with dread that they would find Augustine, they said.
Samuel said that as he went deeper into the shrubbery he found Augustine lying with torn clothes in dried blood. They rushed him to the hospital and informed his family.
At DHQ Hospital Sargodha, Dr. Sikander Hayat Warriach said that the Christian was brought to the burn unit in critical condition, but that after four days of treatment he was discharged on Nov. 26.
Augustine’s father told Compass that he reported the assault to the local police station, but the registrar was reluctant to file a case against the sons of the wealthy, powerful land owner. Azhar added that only after pressure from local Christian clergymen and politician Farrukh Tanvir Chaudhary of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance did Sub-Inspector Allah Ditta register a First Information Report (FIR No. 1135/10) for gang attack (sections 448/449) and attempted murder (337-H2) of Pakistan Penal Code.
Police still refused to name the suspects the victim identified, filing the FIR only against “six unidentified culprits,” Augustine and his father Azhar said. A police representative told Compass that officers declined to register the case against the named men because it was dark and the Christian could be mistaken.
Azhar said, however, that police declined to name the suspects because they were bribed.
Christian elder Austin Masih said that Augustine preached fearlessly in the streets as well as at churches and Christian homes in area villages.