Nine nurses from Karachi’s Civil Hospital who were found unconscious at a hostel late last month are being threatened, says Father Abid Habib, a local peace activist.
The women were victims of a suspected poisoning on July 29. A police investigation is ongoing, but no suspects have been identified.
“We are still convinced that they were victims of religious intolerance,” Habib said in a recent Facebook post. “They were warned that giving out information could result in hospital authorities slapping a court case on them, accusing them of taking drugs before drinking the tea.”
He added that the hospital was under pressure by authorities to cover up the case.
Civil Hospital administrators are refuting media reports that the women were poisoned with mercury.
“Both tea and blood samples as well as stomach contents are still at our chemical laboratory. Tests are being conducted on them and reports are expected next week. Inauthentic media rumors are causing more confusion,” said Nasreem Gill, the hospital’s chief nursing superintendent.
Urine samples came back negative but are inconclusive since they were collected more than a day after the women fell ill, Gill said.
The nurses are currently on leave.
“It was very difficult to reply to the queries of the inquiry officers. A few questions were really vulgar,” one of the nurses said on condition of anonymity. “Cell phone messages circulating the news of our death have further depressed us.”
Rumors circulating after news of the alleged poisoning initially broke suggested that the nurses were being punished for drinking tea while their Muslim colleagues were fasting during Ramadan.
Pakistan’s Ehtram-e-Ramzan (respecting Ramadan) law bans eating, drinking or smoking in public places during the fasting hours. The punishment can be three months in prison, a fine up to 500 rupees (US$5.32) or both. Some Christians say the law is used against religious minorities.