Pakistan’s Christians face a “particularly perilous” situation in prisons and suffer severe discrimination, a local Catholic lawyer says.
Moazzam Aslam Bhatti, who works in Faisalabad, said that Christian prisoners are disadvantaged in the distribution of food, clothing and medicine as well as in their ability to practice their religion.
“This situation must change,” he told Aid to the Church in Need.
Most Christians who face charges cannot secure lawyers because of their poverty and low social position. Increased legal need is necessary to improve the situation.
“It is alarming to note that many people jailed for minor offenses could have been released if they had been able to pay the fines imposed on them,” he added. “Those affected also include children who are compelled to stay in prison together with their mothers.”
Bhatti regularly visits Christian prisoners in Faisalabad along with the Dominican Fathers. He also provides legal aid.
Dominican Father Iftikhar Moon, who heads pastoral care for prisoners in the Diocese of Faisalabad, said that there are about 5,000 prisoners in the city. About 85 to 100 of them are Christians.
The prisoners include shopkeeper Imran Masih, who was sentenced to life imprisonment in January 2010 under the country’s blasphemy laws for allegedly burning pages of the Quran. He denies the charges.
Bhatti studied in England before returning to Pakistan to work with the disadvantaged.
“Despite receiving good job offers abroad, I returned to Pakistan in order to do whatever is in my power to help the people,” he said. “I am proud to be able to do something for the people in this part of the world where Christians are oppressed and pushed to the margins.”