03/31/2017, 18.46
PAKISTAN
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Christian and Muslim activists want prosecutor disbarred for pressuring accused to convert to Islam

by Shafique Khokhar

Syed Anees Shah acknowledged that he promised freedom in exchange for conversion to 42 Christian prisoners jailed in 2015 after a Taliban attack on two churches. Government and courts should take action against such “abhorrent behaviour".

Lahore (AsiaNews) – Christian and Muslim activists are calling for Deputy District Public Prosecutor Syed Anees Shah to be disbarred after he acknowledged telling Christian prisoners that he could get them out of prison if they converted to Islam.

The case broke out yesterday when the Lahore magistrate admitted making that offer to 42 Christians from Youhanabad who are in prison charged with lynching two Muslim men shortly after a Taliban attack against two churches that left 19 people des and more than 70 injured.

Speaking to AsiaNews, the activists said that the government and the Supreme Court must take a tough stance against the magistrate for trying to "forcibly convert innocent Christians by means of blackmail."

Prof Anjum James Paul, president of the All Pakistan Minorities Teachers' Association, appealed to the head of the Lahore High Court to suspend Shah.

"He has openly violated Article 20 (a) of the Constitution of Pakistan which guarantees every citizen the right to profess, practice and propagate his religion," Paul said.

Among Christians "There is a lot of fear because they are vulnerable. In the past, they have been targeted for refusing to renounce Christianity,” he explained. “They also face many challenges in getting justice since the courts can come under mob pressure.”

Noting that “There are no other examples of people forced to convert to avoid a trial,” he went on to say that “This [case] shows how much influence the prosecutor had on the court." His behaviour sends a chilling message: "If a non-Muslim wants freedom and equality in Pakistan, he has to become a Muslim."

"What would happen if a Christian prosecutor had made the same offer to a Muslim?" asked provocatively Rojar Noor Alam, head of Programme-Caritas in Lahore.

More importantly, "The prosecutor’s blackmail raises serious doubts about the independence of the judiciary and the judicial system in Pakistan. We should all defend the independence of judges and the government should get rid of those elements who tarnish the name of the state with such acts."

For Naseem Kausar, a secular Muslim activist, teacher and writer, what happened is "one of the worst examples of nepotism. This is the domain in which we're raising our voice to have a secular constitution and laws in Pakistan.”

In her view, “The dominant interpretation of religious laws only promotes a specific class that favours a conservative mind-set. This increases injustice and barbarism." In fact, "This case is clear evidence that mixing Constitution and laws with religious ideas shelter the brutality of the cruel."

Kiran Simon, activist and lawyer, also condemns the attempt to convert Christians in Youhanabad. However, he notes that this "is not the first case. I remember a few cases of blasphemy where some [people] converted and others did not, suffering harsh consequences.”

“I think the government and law enforcing agencies should identify such people,” she added. “A legal professional, whether a defender or prosecutor, must act according to the law in a neutral way.”

Sadly, “In Pakistan, some prosecutors who show off their piety also engage in such abhorrent behaviour. They should be disbarred."

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