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Compass (01/18/06) – Nearly 21 months after the murder of a Christian student in Pakistan ’s Punjab region, police have arrested a Muslim cleric suspected of torturing the young man so that he would convert to Islam.

Umar Hayat was arrested last week under charges that he and two other Islamic seminary members in the town of Toba Tek Singh had tortured Javed Anjum for five days until the Christian “converted” to Islam. Another suspect, Maulvi Ghulam Rasool, was re-arrested in November after Pakistan ’s Supreme Court revoked his bail.

Police officer Rana Habib ur-Rehman confirmed Hayat’s capture but refused to provide details of the arrest. According to one source in Toba Tek Singh speaking on condition of anonymity, Muslim clerics have been campaigning for Hayat’s release over the past week, visiting the police station and pressuring officers in charge of the case.

Judge Javed Iqbal Warraich ordered police protection for Anjum’s father, Pervez Masih, and his lawyer, after Masih filed a formal complaint that armed members of Rasool and Hayat’s madrassa (Islamic school) were harassing him at court hearings.

“The main object of these clerics is to harass the complainant [Masih] and me and thereby to force [us] to withdraw the case,” Masih’s lawyer, Khalil Tahir Sindhu, wrote in the January 7 petition for police security. Sindhu complained that the clerics had never been checked for weapons when entering the courtroom and that he felt “genuine apprehension” for his life “at the hands of these clerics.”

According to Sindhu, two constables have been assigned to accompany Masih and himself to and from court. Speaking from Toba Tek Singh after yesterday’s trial hearing, the lawyer confirmed that approximately 40 Muslim clerics and students from Rasool’s seminary had gathered once again outside the courthouse.

Though the madrassa members no longer physically or verbally threaten Masih and Sindhu, the prosecution continues to arrange for local Christian religious and political leaders to accompany them to the trial.

“I usually go with Mr. Khalil Tahir because there is always a danger,” Father James Paul, a Catholic priest from Faisalabad , told Compass as he returned with Sindhu from yesterday’s hearing. Ejaz Jacob Gill of the District Assembly, who accompanied Sindhu to a hearing on Saturday (January 14), agreed that Sindhu and Masih may still face problems from the Muslim clerics.

On Sunday (January 15) Masih appealed a court decision to reject his son’s deathbed testimony as part of the official evidence. A date for the appeal hearing before the provincial High Court in Lahore has yet to be set.

In the April 2004 statement made to police from his hospital bed, Anjum named Rasool as one of the men from the Jamia Hassan Bin Murtaza Madrassa who grabbed him when he stopped to get a drink from the school’s water tap.

The videotaped testimony tells how the school members beat Anjum, 19, and applied electric shocks to his body in an attempt to convert him to Islam. Following five days of torture, Anjum said the Islamic creed in the presence of his captors. Repetition of the creed in the presence of two Muslim witnesses is a valid form of conversion according to Islamic law, though Anjum later told relatives he had not renounced his Christian faith.

Madrassa students immediately turned Anjum over to police, claiming they had caught the young man trying to steal the school’s water pump. Suffering from 26 wounds, including a broken arm and fingers, fingernails ripped off, skin burns and serious injuries to his bladder and kidneys, Anjum was immediately committed to a local hospital.

The third-year commerce student died of his wounds in Faisalabad ’s Allied Hospital on May 2, 2004. Hours later police arrested Rasool. After nine days of police interrogation, the madrassa guard and prayer leader named Mohammed Tayyab and Hayat as his accomplices.

Authorities are holding both Hayat and Rasool in Jhang Sudr jail, 22 miles from Toba Tek Singh. Tayyab, a madrassa teacher, has been free on bail since December 2004.

Rasool’s madrassa has informal ties to the outlawed Islamic fundamentalist group Sipah-e-Sahaba, according to local sources in Toba Tek Singh who requested anonymity. The organization was one of five extremist groups banned by President Pervez Musharraf in January 2002 but has reportedly continued to function under other names.

After it was discovered that one of the July 7 London bombers had spent time studying at a Pakistani madrassa, President Musharraf promised to deport the approximately 1,400 foreign students studying in Islamic seminaries across the country. He also demanded that all 13,000 of Pakistan ’s madrassas register by the end of the 2005.

But in recent weeks the government has backed down from its ultimatum, allowing foreign students to renew their visas and extending the deadline for madrassa registration. The government compromise came after many seminaries refused to remove foreigners.

Attempts to expel foreign students forcibly “could enrage the rest of our students, which would make it difficult to for us to control them effectively,” a leader of Pakistan ’s madrassa coalition, the Ittehad Tanzimat Madaris Deeniya, was quoted as saying on January 4 by the Daily Times.