LAHORE, Pakistan (ChurchMilitant.com) - A Pakistani prosecutor, who offered imprisoned Christians freedom if they converted to Islam, has been pulled from the case.
Aftab Gill, information secretary of the Christian, Masiha Millat Party, confirmed Tuesday that the Pujab officials in Lahore, Pakistan, have removed Deputy District Public Prosecutor Syed Anees Shah from his role in the lynching trial involving 42 Christians that dates back to 2015. "We welcome the Punjab government's decision to remove Shah after his controversial offer," Gill said. "We are planning to file a formal application for his dismissal from his job," he added.
The attorney representing the Christians, Joseph Francis, executive director of the Center for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS), confirmed that Shah did indeed offer the Christians an acquittal in exchange for their conversion to Islam. "He told them if they embrace Islam, he can guarantee them their acquittal in this case," said Francis.
The 42 Christians have been jailed since March of 2015, following the bombing of two Pakistani churches. The twin bombings killed 15 people and injured 70 others.
The bombing attacks ignited public outrage, resulting in the vigilante lynching of two suspected terrorists thought to be involved in the attacks. Subsequently, this group of 42 Christians alleged to be involved in the lynching, were rounded up and have been incarcerated since that time while awaiting trial.
Shah, who has been the public prosecutor in the lynching trial, at first denied that he made the offer of a not guilty verdict in exchange for the Christians conversion to Islam. After a video recording of the incident surfaced, however, Shah admitted to offering "them a choice."
The Christians were reportedly dumbfounded by the offer, relates Francis. He adds that one of the Christians said he was ready to hang rather than convert to Islam. Another said he would rather rot in jail than deny Christ.
Naseeb Anjum Advocate, an assistant attorney for the Christians commented, "The government should get rid of such elements that bring a bad name to the state by such acts."
The U.S. State Department says it's sending special adviser for religious minorities, Knox Thames, to Pakistan in order to "meet with government officials, civil society and members of religious communities to discuss issues facing religious minorities."
Christians make up less than two percent of the population in Pakistan. Reports of discrimination, forced conversions and violence are commonplace in this Muslim dominated society.It is reported that Shah made the same deal to the 42 Christians six months ago. It's further reported that a similar offer was made to Asia Bibi, the Pakistani Christian mother of five jailed after being found guilty of breaching Pakistan's strict blasphemy laws.