42 Christians accused of murder were guaranteed their acquittal by a Lahore public prosecutor, if they renounce Christianity and convert to Islam, a local newspaper reported on Thursday.
The 42 people, belonging to Pakistan's minority Christian community, have been charged with lynching two men after March 2015's suicide blasts that targeted Sunday Mass in two churches in Youhanabad in Lahore. Many in Youhanabad's mostly Christian community believed the two men were involved in the planning of the bombings.
The trial is being conducted in an anti-terrorism court. Joseph Franci, a rights activist who's legally assisting the accused, said that Deputy District Public Prosecutor Syed Anees Shah was the one who made the accused the acquittal offer. "He asks them if they embrace Islam, he can guarantee them their acquittal in this case," Franci said.
Franci reportedly told the newspaper that the accused were dumbfounded. One of them even spoke out, saying he was ready to be hanged if he had to convert.
"The government should get rid of such elements that bring bad name to the state by such acts," said Naseeb Anjum Advocate, counsel for some of the accused, to The Express Tribune, about the Deputy District Public Prosecutor.
When the newspaper contacted the public prosecutor Shah, he first denied it, and when told he was on video offering the acquittal-for-conversion deal, acknowledged that he may have "offered them a choice."
The minorities in Pakistan in the past have been accusing Muslim clerics of forcibly converting them to Islam but it is for the first time that a state functionary used conversion as an incentive to dodge legal proceeding. ( Tribune, TOI)