Less than a kilometre from Iqbal’s maternal uncle’s house, there is a place called Chapa Khana Mill, a piece of land without a hedge or a shrub, the name of which is Chak 46.
At present a stone marked with white paint can be seen; this stone marks the place where Iqbal, the child slave, collapsed agonizing. There was a crime that Pakistani police claimed to be caused by a regrettable and incredible accident.
THE MYSTERIES OF FIR
What happened at about eight in the evening on the sandy path that crosses Chapa Khana Mill? The first version, retold by his cousins, was written down by the deputy inspector Ghulam Bari at Ferozwala Police Station three hours after Iqbal’s death.
This document written in Ourdou tells us that Iqbal, Faryad and Lyakat, left the field riding only one bicycle; a usual scene in many villages of Punjab. According to Iqbal’s cousins’ statement Iqbal went ahead, Lyakat in the middle and Faryad behind. Then, in the field of Chapa Khana Mill, at 100 metres from where they were, they could make out the shadow of a person having fun with a donkey tied to a cart. In the darkness of this full mooned night they could recognise a poor farmer called Ashraf, nicknamed ‘Hero’. The view of the man having sex with a donkey made them laugh, and they stopped to shout and insult ‘Hero’. So, he took his gun and fired, unloading his 12 calibre hunting rifle, whose bullets reached the right side of Iqbal’s back.
A PERFECT CULPRIT
What happened during those three hours is not actually known. There is even a possibility that both cousins might be manipulated as accomplices, or that ‘Hero’ and his cousins were victims of fear or blackmail; or simply hired by the carpet mafia.
The scene of a man doing obscene acts with a donkey may seem strange and absurd, but still probable. It is also likely the man could be carrying a rifle. The culprit admitted all this but the coercive methods used to take statements in many countries lacking freedom are publicly known.
The weapon belonged to the murderer’s boss and was duly recorded. Even more, Ashraf’s boss confessed that he sometimes used his rifle. What follows is, therefore, that the theory of the accident is credible? Not necessarily. The tragic development of the circumstances detailed in the federal research report is not inconceivable. However, is there a possibility everything could have been a good sting operation?
HOW NOT TO HESITATE?
There are many doubts, though. First of all, Ashraf: had a reputation of being a heroin addict (hence his nickname Hero) This suspect, whose mother was blind, was employed by some farmers, who had large debts. How could they pay Ashraf? They did it by lodging him in a kind of stable and giving him drugs and some rupees. Would he refuse to do some dirty work especially under certain circumstances?
Lyakat, Faryad and Ashraf, were not prepared for the assault of questions and pressure exerted by the Pakistani police. To what extent could they endure that pressure? Would they dare to accuse the powerful businessmen who could put an end to their families’ and their own lives? Would they be willing to unveil their lies?
Finally, inspector Ghulam did not show too much interest in accelerating the process or conducting further investigation.
A CRIME WITHOUT A MOTIVE OR A CRIME TO BE CAMOUFLAGED?
Iqbal was dead. Four hours after the child had decided to follow his cousins, there were four policemen from Ferozwala Police Station together with their chief inspector Ghulam Bari next to Iqbal’s corpse. The policemen who carried his corpse to Ferozwala Police Station, 10 kilometres away from there, showed little compassion or professionalism. They took no pictures of the place. What did they do with the kids’ bike? The trace left by its wheels would have revealed the direction of the shot and the reasons why Iqbal was the only one to receive the mortal full impact of the bullets. It is clear there was a deliberate sabotage of the investigation and of the search of the truth. In Pakistan, research of this kind in the middle of the night is not careful, and police officers are more willing to receive money from the rich than to try to clarify crimes. Did they have to do away with evidence?
Iqbal’s body was lying at the entrance of Ferozwala Police Station when it was discovered by his mother at two in the morning. Awakened in the middle of the night, Inayat, went past her family’s farm on the way to the police station with the hope of reaching the tractor and the trailer carrying the victim. When she arrived at the police station, the corpse of her son was there bathed in blood covered with a kind of cloth sheet. No policeman interrogated her. Hopefully, the case would be filed away in a few hours.
IQBAL MASIH’S CASE
Ehsan did not hang up the phone. From the window of the building where he was, near Islamabad bus station, the President of the BLLF was looking at the mountains of Murre. Munnawar, the lawyer who had collaborated in the liberation of Iqbal was, at the time of the tragedy, in the Pakistani capital, where he had gone to accompany Ehsan to talk about BLLF actions in favour of slave workers of large farms in the province of Sindh.
When one of Lahore BLLF militants met him in Islamabad, he had to tell him the terrible news twice: Iqbal was no longer in this world. The news was broken by phone at the BLLF office in the middle of the night. The conversation with a Masih family’s member had not lasted more than five minutes, enough time to summarise the facts, write down the name of the place, and explain the path to take in order to send a team to the scene of the crime as soon as possible. Giving the news to Ehsan, who was in Islamabad, was difficult.
After hanging up the phone, the President of the BLLF had only one intention: to act quickly. He caught the first available bus to Lahore. Then, he went up to Rakhbauli village to see what had happened with his own eyes. Never before had it seemed to take so long to cover the one hundred and fifty kilometres separating the federal capital of the Punjab province.
MILITANTS AGAINST POLICE OFFICERS
In Muridke, in a kind of large parking, the BLLF car pulled over sharply. Would they have to first go to Khana Mill, to that desolate land where Iqbal had died twelve hours before, or to the police station where the child’s body rested?
Ferozwala station looked like other stations in the world. In front of the building there were four black vehicles with grilled doors and windows. When they arrived, the BLLF members looked at Iqbal’s maternal uncle’s tractor and tows parked right in front of the building. It was quarter past six, on Monday 17 April, 1995, and the corpse was still lying there, without a civil employee or any other people paying attention to him.
Iqbal’s mother was the only one who had contact with the BLLF because every month she received 500 rupees from them to compensate for the wage that Iqbal could not earn for the family since he had stopped working at the carpet factory.
Those Christian farmers were used to silently enduring the injustices committed against them by the Muslim majority. They felt ill at ease there. Everyone knew that in case of a dispute with the police, they would be the first ones to suffer their threats.
The militants, however, were not impressed by inspector Ghulam Bari’s team. They found something suspicious in the eyes of these zealous servants of powerful and rich businessmen. Ehsan’s partners demanded that Iqbal’s death should not be considered a closed case. Although Ehsan was not there, they knew perfectly well what to do. Neither fear nor pain would paralyse them.
A CONTROVERSIAL AUTOPSY
Two policemen transported Iqbal’s body covered in blood to the hospital of Sheikhupura district. They arrived there at 10 in the morning; their car was followed by the BLLF car. The autopsy was conducted by a doctor on duty, Muhammad Aslam, and its results and comments appeared in No. 84/95 autopsy report; the copies of which, although some of them incomplete, circulated right away.
The Pakistani doctor spent two hours examining the body of the child. He wrote five pages in English, as it is usually done with documents intended to be presented to Court. Five pages detailing the nature of the fatal injuries suffered by Iqbal. According to the doctor, the corpse belonged to a kid of about 13 or 14 years old, dressed in a white salwar kamiz stained with blood coming from wounds caused by more than 120 leads that had pierced his back; the right side of his body, from his shoulder blade to his lower thigh, the upper part of his arm and his elbow were riddled with bullets.
The autopsy report raised some doubts. How could the child be seriously wounded in the back if the killer was opposite the children at the time of the shot, as Faryad, the key witness, had declared in his statement? And, how could it be explained that only Iqbal had received the shot if he was, according to his cousin, in front of the bicycle, and therefore protected by his two cousins? The initial version was, 12 hours after the crime, distorted by the outcome of the autopsy. Why had Faryad, the key witness, received a bullet in the left hand, when his cousin’s fatal wounds were in the right side? Could it be that the shots that caused his death were fired when he was fleeing?
HE WAS KILLED!
In her house in Haddoquey, Inayat Bibi had the modest furniture of the room removed to receive the corpse of her son brought from hospital after the post-mortem by BLLF militants. She had already informed all the members of the family about her son’s tragic decease. Then, she went to the church personally to see Pervaiz Sadiq Bhati, who Catholic people of the village considered their priest. She had been told the child had to be buried as soon as possible.
Pervaiz explained that he could not deliver mass but that he could preside over the courtship in the afternoon and pray during the burial of the child. The procession would be at four o’clock in the afternoon. Pervaiz had not arrived at the place yet when Ehsan got there. He could not conceal his pain. The man remained silent and repeated “He was killed” over and over again. Although he did not know the police report, the old militant doubted the official version that Iqbal’s death was not premeditated. It may well have been a political murder committed by the “mafia of the carpet” to make Iqbal pay for his various accusations and statements and to give a warning to those who began to follow similar paths.
THE PROOF OF THE FACTS
On Tuesday April 18, on the pages of the morning paper “The Dawn” of Karachi appeared the title: “a militant child killed,” signed by a correspondent.
The article suggested that the reasons for Iqbal’s death had not been clarified. Months before, the editor of the Times Magazine had sent press clippings of the ceremony of Reebok awards to his correspondent Jeniffer Griffin; this resident in Islamabad and contributor to the Anglo-Saxon Time Magazine and The Observer newspapers must have been one of the first foreign journalists.
WHO TO BELIEVE IN?
On 19 April in the late morning, Jeniffer Griffin contacted BLLF office in Lahore and asked Ehsan to meet him in the place where the crime had taken place. They could not meet for more than ten minutes that day but he suggested she could come back on the following Thursday.
The testimonies given by the Masih family that evening corroborated the incredible story of the peasant and the donkey. What surprised her, however, was that all of them retold the story in a similar way.
Faryad and Lyakat had been taken to Lahore the day after Iqbal’s funeral by Ehsan and other members of BLLF. It was necessary to protect witnesses; but this was also a way of exerting pressure on their enemies.
FINDING THE REAL CULPRITS
The Muslim lawyer Mehboob Ahmed Khan and the Christian activist Joseph Francis Muhammad were appointed by the Pakistan Commission on Human Rights to investigate the case. The lawyer Asma Jahangir, who the BLLF had collaborated with in the past, was in charge of this commission.
Between 1986 and 1990, the Asma-Ehsan team had obtained countless results, marked by their victory in the Supreme Court of the Country’s trial on September 18, 1988. Later, however, the relationship between these two advocates of human rights became progressively strained; they reproached each other for their methods and style. Ehsan was in favour of a confrontation strategy fuelled by international press campaigns, and Asam embodied lukewarmness; commitment, on the one hand, and concert with the power, on the other.
These two envoys of the Pakistan Commission on Human Rights did not find anyone who backed up the argument of a plot promoted by “the mafia of carpets”. The two envoys knew very well what the owners of carpet or brick factories were capable of in order to silence bold militants but could not find any evidence. The first conclusions of the Pakistani Commission’s report were published on 2 May and concluded that Iqbal’s death had been an accident. Reporters also released another report about Iqbal’s age, where they said he was between seventeen and nineteen years old.
Mentioning the issue of Iqbal’s age in order to bring discredit upon Ehsan leads us to believe that the members of this association were not objective; they were accusing the BLLF of being revolutionary while they had become collaborators of the regime.
The question of the age shows the cruelty of an economic system that ages children prematurely; and the insensitivity of the western collective retina. Would Iqbal have caused the same effect if the world had known he was not a child?
The problem is not whether the impoverished used a lie for achieving a goal but that the enriched have a strong dose of cynicism; we crush the poor and then we claim they are not honest. The BLLF may have debatable tactical methods, but it is true they seek to face up to a growing structural violence.
A QUESTIONABLE CASE
Another clue should be taken into account: that of the settling of scores; Iqbal’s death could be an initiative of small powerful local people, envious of a Christian child who was getting an education, expensive medical treatments and travels abroad. The child’s father, Saif, had a rather ambiguous attitude in the weeks following the funeral.
The president of BLLF went to the airport accompanied by the journalist Zafaryab. He knew that his allegations were credible but lacked conclusive evidence. Ehsan was leaving for Europe and was conscious of the risks of claiming that Iqbal’s murder had been a plot. The Pakistani press did not support him and the police were capable of anything. From April 17, the Pakistani activist broke into a war, putting his own life in danger.
IN THE NAME OF IQBAL
Written by the office in Islamabad, reread and corrected by the regional office in New Delhi, and sent to Washington, the news about Iqbal Masih’s death was announced worldwide by the Associated Press (AP) agency. This forty-line and three-hundred-word piece of news had been transmitted by the AP computers on Tuesday 18 April; half a page of information with a photo of Iqbal’s taken in Lahore and a map of Pakistan. It contained 2 columns; one speaking about Iqbal’s life, the other about child slaves In Pakistan.
On 19 April, most USA newspapers published the news.
Iqbal’s legend was under way. After a few days, the Associated Press, the Agence France Presse and Reuter had spread the news around the world. Hundreds of articles were published in the USA. The front page headline of the newspaper “Le Monde” published on 19 April said: “Martyr in Defence of Children”. The campaign started by Lahore BLFF militants provoked a strong international reaction.
The day after Iqbal’s burial, a demonstration took place in Nueva Delhi. More than three hundred Indian BLLF militants and the regional Coalition against Work in Servitude under the direction of Kailash Satyarthi, an old partner of Ehsan against injustice, protested in front of the embassy of Pakistan.
Twenty thousand kilometres away, in his office at Reebok in Stoughton, in the state of Massachusetts, Douglas Cahn, had learnt about Iqbal’s murder on 17 April because Ehsan himself had called him to break the news to him and to other supporters, such as Brittmarie Klang, a Swedish old BLLF volunteer, and Magnus Bermar, the producer of the film “The Carpet.” The Swedish sent a fax to all the media that had spread the film “The Carpet” denouncing the possibility that Hero and even the Pakistani police could have been manipulated.
In the case of the Americans, their rage was similar. Douglas Cahn himself confirmed that, according to some interviews, Iqbal had been murdered. He added that the multinational company meant to work together with Amnesty International to ask the Pakistani government for authorisation to start an independent investigation about Iqbal’s death.
COMMUNIQUÉS AND REQUESTS
On 18 April, Douglas and his team wrote a five-paragraph communiqué sent to all the contacts of the company around the world, and signed by five people: Sharon Cohen (vice-president); Paula Van, Gelder, Jennifer Margulis and Douglas Cahn. This communiqué had a twofold purpose: to pay tribute to Iqbal and to exert pressure so that his death did not go unpunished. Requests were also sent to the Pakistani Minister of Justice Sayed Hussain Shah asking for a fair investigation and the eradication of forced labour.
From 20 April, the American branch of Amnesty, under the initiative of Roger Rathma, decided to take part in this fight. Under the title “Pakistan: an impartial investigation is necessary to explain the death of a young activist,” an official communiqué of an average page was sent to all mass media by Amnesty International.
The American office of Amnesty also sent a message to the Pakistani ambassador declaring that Iqbal’s death seemed to be caused by a collision between rich classes, political groups and the local police authorities.
However, something was missing so that this tragedy could become a state matter and created a political tremor In Pakistan. Therefore, Ehsan provoked it when he testified about contemporary forms of slavery before the UN in Geneva on Friday 21st April.
A PYROMANIAC CALLED EHSAN
In the solemn and little old premises of the UN palace in Geneva, the five permanent members of the work team on contemporary forms of slavery were ready to ask all the people who wanted to testify before them on the different forms of abuses, servitude and exploitation taking place in their respective countries.
Ehsan had been invited annually since many years before through the British organisation Anti-slavery International, privileged associate member of the UN. Eshan expected to take advantage of this opportunity to clarify Iqbal’s death. His speech, uttered in Geneva on 24 April, was titled; “The voice of Iqbal will always be heard.”
THE WEIGHT OF WORDS
“This year, the most appraised part of my body, my heart and my soul, has sunk because the voice of millions of gagged children has been silenced”. As usual, the old fighter had appeared in the palace of the United Nations in his white salwar kamiz and a navy blue vest. During fifteen minutes, the words struck strongly.
“No culprit has been arrested. Still worse, the police have been shamefully manipulated when writing a statement which is inconsistent with Iqbal’s autopsy. Is this a state matter? Yes, definitely, it is.” Each of his accusations was bullets shot in the battlefield.
The diplomatic representative of Pakistan decided to intervene and talk about the official version of Iqbal’s death and explained that the government was putting their efforts in the eradication of children’s forced labour.
The reply of the president of the BLLF was precise and implacable: “I request the Commission on Human Rights of the UN to take all possible measures with the purpose of prohibiting the import and the sale of products made by children, especially carpets. And, I’d like to urge buyers of carpets to say: ‘no’ to carpets made by children ….. Buying products made by children of any part of the world is staining Iqbal’s blood.”
WHAT TO DO?
After Ehsan’s participation in Geneva and the pressure exerted on Pakistani authorities by different international organizations, Iqbal’s issue became a threatening subject for the government of Islamabad.
The story of this brave young Christian, young militant against slavery, who dreamed of being a lawyer to defend the cause of the poorest, revealed the feudal practices still in force in the “country of the pure ones”. An enormous stone stained with blood placed in the garden of Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, educated in Great Britain and who was simultaneously a symbol of modernisation and an archetype of those feudal tenants who maintained injustices in Pakistan.
Weeks before, the BLLF had accused the Bhutto dynasty of employing slave children in their own house and different properties. This government was taking slow steps to pass laws, get to agreements with the ILO and ratify new international conventions. The feudal social climate was a hindrance for the government to work in this field.
FEAR OF POSSIBLE UNREST
The Pakistani government was also afraid of public order unrest. In 1994, in Karachi, a big city in the south, the police had problems to control people of some neighbourhoods. The economic situation there was appalling; and repression seemed an easier solution than justice.
The government and their leaders were afraid that the demonstrations organised by the BLLF could make problems worse and could affect their privileges.
In the BLLF, there were mainly three problems to address: What to do with both witnesses, Faryad and Lyatkat? What to tell foreign and Pakistani journalists who continually visited them? How to back the version Ehsan had spread abroad?