Forty-two Christian prisoners in Pakistan were offered a pardon if they embraced Islam. The news first appeared in the media on March 30 when The Express Tribune, a Pakistani newspaper published this controversial story pushing governmental authorities to perplexity.
According to the news report, Deputy District Public Prosecutor Syed Anees Shah offered acquittal to all 42, who were accused of lynching two men they suspected of being involved in two church bombings in Youhannabad, the largest Christian slum in Pakistan.
On March 15, 2015, after both the Anglican and Catholic Churches were blown up in suicide operation killing 14 and injuring at least 70, an angry and violent Christian mob lynched two strangers they suspected of facilitating the bombers. Several hundred Christians were initially arrested.
In the end, 42 men and boys were charged with the lynching.
The “solution” of embracing Islam in exchange for freedom offered by the public prosecutor was met by outrage by Irfan Masih, one of the accused, who stated he would rather be hanged than convert to Islam.
When confronted by the media, the prosecutor admitted he had made the offer.
Malik Muhammad Ahmed Khan, spokesperson for the Punjab government, subsequently told the media that the prosecutor has been transferred from his position since he violated the Pakistani legal system and, through his actions, put the entire judicial system under question.
Christians in the country – who already feel that their political, religious, social, moral and economic rights have been marred by the ever growing extremism, tolerance, hatred and forced conversions – were outraged by the actions of prosecutor as well as the silence of the government.
Because of vibrant social media activity in Pakistan, the ever-growing persecution of ethnic minorities has shattered the shallow narrative of the Pakistani government that, in accordance with the constitution of Pakistan, minorities have equal rights in the country.
In addition to Pakistan’s oppressive blasphemy law, instances like these – where Christians have been offered the “option” to convert to Islam for their benefit is a growing trend.
For example, when Darren Sammy, a West Indian cricketer, visited Pakistan in February as a part of a franchised cricket team, he became the target of a campaign to convert to Islam. The Pakistani press and electronic media picked up on the campaign, inviting the nation to pray for the “cause.”
Sammy, understanding the seriousness of the issue, tweeted declaring his strong faith in Christianity.
Several years ago, another Christian cricketer Yousaf Youhanna (now Muhammad Yousaf) was pressurized by fellow Muslim cricketers to embrace Islam to save his career. Although he converted, his career ended along with the end of his Christian faith.
This latest open invitation by the public prosecutor to vulnerable Christian prisoners shows how the systematic persecution of minorities really is in Pakistan, country that leaves no or very little space for non-Muslims in its supposedly egalitarian country.
Kaleem Dean is human rights activist and journalist from Pakistan. He currently lives in the UK. He was the publisher of Christian Monitor in Pakistan, a leading Christian newspaper which covers minority issues. He presently writes for various Pakistani papers. Write to him at [email protected]