Pakistan police rescue students
Karachi - Police in the Pakistani city of Karachi have rescued 54 students from the basement of an Islamic seminary, or madrassa, where they said they were kept in chains by clerics, beaten and barely fed.
Police raided the Zakariya madrassa late on Monday on the outskirts of Karachi, Pakistan's commercial hub. They were now investigating whether it had any links to violent militant groups, which often recruit from hard-line religious schools.
Most victims had signs of severe torture, and had developed wounds from the chains, police said. The main cleric of the madrassa escaped during the raid.
Many of the students - who varied in age from 15 to 45 and were kept 30 to a room - were still in chains while shown on television.
"I was kept in the basement for the past month and was kept in chains. They also tortured me severely during this period. I was beaten with sticks," said student Mohi-ud-Din.
Another student who appeared on television from a police station said: "I have been here for 20 days. They hardly fed me anything and would beat me up if I did not learn my lessons properly."
Senior police official Rao Anwar said many of those rescued were drug addicts brought to the seminary for treatment.
"These people were not taken to the madrassa forcefully. In fact, the parents of many of them had themselves got their children admitted there," he said.
"Some of them are drug addicts, and others involved in other crimes, and they were tortured and kept in chains so that they did not run away."
A man who identified himself as Abdullah told local television that he had brought his 35-year-old drug addict brother to the madrassa for rehabilitation.
"The chains are not a problem. They are needed because without them heroin addicts run away," he said.
Thousands of madrassas are spread across Pakistan, which is fighting an insurgency by al-Qaeda-linked Taliban militants.
Many people are too poor to afford non-religious schools or feel state institutions are inadequate so they send their children to madrassas, where they memorise the Qu'ran, learn Arabic and study the traditions of Islam.
Many madrassas offer free boarding and lodging. Some of the more extreme schools churn out fighters and suicide bombers for militant groups like the Taliban or al-Qaeda.
Student Fayyaz Azeem said there were no visits by Taliban militants.
"They kept us in chains and used to beat us every day with sticks and belts," he said.