KARACHI, Pakistan -- Impoverished families who sent their children to a madrasah in northern Karachi thought they were paying for drug-rehabilitation treatment and Islamic education.
But children as young as 7 who lived through the ordeal say the school was a center of torture where they spent more time shackled and being beaten than receiving religious instruction.
Harron, a 12-year-old boy from Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, tells RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal that the muftis at the Zakariya madrasah "brought locks and chains and put them on my legs. Only once a week would they let us out of this prison, but only for a few minutes. And that was also in order to take a shower."
Harron adds that the children were beaten, "and if we cried they would beat us more. One person used to hold down our arms, another would hold down our legs while another would flog us. They also would pour cold water on us and they would use a metal rod from a gas pipe to beat us. We used to call out, 'please, Sir Mufti, forgive us.' But he would just beat us more and more."
Zainullah, a 22-year-old student from Quetta, says the basement was a dungeon-like maze of rooms with shackles and hooks mounted on the walls, and that students were kept there.
"There were four people working there. Whenever our parents would come to meet us, we would come out," he adds. "But we would not tell them that they were beating us because [we were afraid that] if we would tell our parents they were beating us, they would beat us more. On the day I arrived at this madrasah, they put the chains on my legs and I remained in those chains from then on."
Chained And Beaten
It was complaints by children as young as 7 to their mothers that resulted in a raid by Karachi police on December 12.
Police station chief Ehsanullah Marwat says his officers were shocked when they encountered the stench from the basement and found children being treated like animals.
"There were 54 students in chains and 14 without chains. We arrested one mullah and four others ran away" during the raid, he says.
Sher Ali is a young boy from Afghanistan who was sent by his family to the madrasah for religious instruction. The fact that his mother's brother is the owner of the madrasah did not prevent the muftis from pouring oil and water on his skin so that the beatings would hurt more.
"First they were tying us down with chains and then they would put a mixture of oil and water on us. Then they would beat us," he says. "I have been here for three months and they were beating me more often than they were teaching me lessons [from the Koran]."
Some Parents Condoned Beating
Parents made an initial payment of about $150 to register their children, as well as a monthly payment of 6,000 Pakistani rupees (about $70).
Some of the students' parents were aware of the brutal treatment and even condoned it. Niaz Muhammad, father of madrasah student Said Mohammad from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, says he hoped the mullahs at the madrasah would help wean his disobedient son off cigarettes and chewing tobacco.
"My son was routinely disappearing from our home for six months at a time. I would have to send someone out to find him and bring him home," Muhammad says. "He would stay in the house for a few days, but then he would go out again and disappear."
WATCH: Students describe the treatment they endured at the madrasah:
Other parents say they were aware of the way teenagers were being treated, and that they condoned it.
"We brought them to the madrasah because they were not following the right path. They were not accepting God nor the Prophet [Muhammad]," says Mir Talam from Waziristan, who brought several of his boys there.
"So, finally, we admitted them here and we were paying 5,000 rupees [per month] to the madrasah administrator. We gave them the chains ourselves to tie them down and to put them on the right path."
Mufti Dawood Sought
Qari Usman, the one teacher detained so far by police, says a teacher named Mufti Dawood was responsible for the beatings. "You have seen that they were tied in chains by Mufti Dawood. These boys were using hashish and drinking alcohol," he says.
He says the pupils were given a religious education, including Janaza funeral prayers, the Hadith collection of the sayings of the Prophet, and Fazaile Aamal, a preacher's book that teaches religious behavior. But Mufti Dawood Sahib ordered them to be chained up "because he thought that if they were not chained, they would be fighting among themselves. "
Qari Usman says there were six other adult instructors at the madrasah and all who were there during the raid fled, leaving him alone to face the authorities.
Zainullah says he and others who were shackled in the basement want Mufti Dawood to be hanged for subjecting them to such cruelty.
Police say they do not think there is any connection between the Karachi madrasah and any Islamic militant group. They say children from the madrasah are in custody but will be released to any parents who want to take them back.