02/05/2008, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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Places of worship for non-Muslims in Pakistani prisons

by Qaiser Felix
Human rights minister ends a tour of the country’s prisons. He plans to reform the correctional service and include places of worship for non-Muslims. Human rights activists praise the initiative but want a judicial review of all cases involving people detained on the basis of discriminatory laws.

Islamabad (AsiaNews) – Pakistan’s caretaker government has approved plans to include building places of worship for non Muslims inside the country’s correctional facilities as part of its overall reform of the country’s prison system. Human Rights Minister Ansar Burney made the announcement after he toured several detention centres. For the minister all that is needed now is for the finance minister to give the green light for the process to start.

Burney said he was struck by the situation of prisoners, insisting that every citizen had the inalienable right to fully exercise freedom of religion whether he or she was in jail or not, including inmates from minority communities.

“This is good news,” said Shahbaz Bhatti, chairman of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance. “It would be great if it is actually implemented. On other occasions, the government made similar promises but never put them in practice.”

For Bhatti, Islamabad might even go a step further, and allow religious education behind bars.

“Non-Muslims,” he told AsiaNews, “should be allowed their own religious education as is the case for Muslims” and the “Human Rights Ministry should survey how many people are in jail as a result of discriminatory laws, like the infamous anti-blasphemy law, and do all it can to get them out as soon as possible.”

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