Jailed Pakistani Christians are asked to convert to Islam in exchange for their release
01 Apr 2017
London: April 1, 2017. (PCP) Pakistani Deputy District prosecutor Syed Anees Shah has been accused of blackmailing dozens of Christians, telling them that if they embrace Islam, he can guarantee their acquittal in the case of the lynching of two Muslims in mass violence two years ago in Youhanabad, Lahore.
Violence erupted in Youhanabad on March 15, 2015 after a suicide attack on Sunday mass in two churches. CLAAS has been involved in this case from the start by providing fee legal aid to victims.
At least three different FIRs were registered against Christians and several dozens were arrested. But because of CLAAS’ struggle, dozens of Christians were released on bail. But there are still at least 42 Christians in prison and CLAAS is working for their release.
Director CLAAS- PK Joseph Francis, who is involved in the legal proceedings, told the media that all the accused remained silent following the offer by Mr Shah, except one who appeared to say he would rather be hanged than embrace Islam.
Though Mr Shah had initially denied that he had made this offer, he later conceded that he offered them a choice when he was told that the accused have a video recording of what he said.
Nasir Saeed Director CLAAS-UK said that this is not something new but according to some reports some of the accused were given the same offer about six months ago, but they rejected it.
He added: "They said they believe in the independence of the judiciary and since they haven’t committed any crime they will get justice."
Mr Saeed said it is becoming a common practice in Pakistan.
He explained: "I remember the case of Rubina Bibi who was charged and imprisoned under blasphemy charges and who was also told that if she converts to Islam, blasphemy charges against her will be dropped and she will be released.
"But she refused and because of CLAAS's struggle she was proven innocent and released within a year."
Mr Saeed said since it is established that such disgraceful acts are happening on a daily basis, the government should take stringent action against such elements and must bring legislation to criminalise such acts as it is government’s duty to protect and promote religious freedom in the country.
Minorities in Pakistan have been demanding a ban the forced conversion for years. Recently the Sindh Government had passed a bill in this regards but because of protests and objection from religious groups, the Governor of Sindh refused to sign this bill.
The Pakistani government is aware of the issue of forced conversion and therefore it is important and the responsibility of the government to stop such menace, pass legislation on the national level and implement it at the same time in all provinces.