Inmates in Pakistan’s Punjab province can shorten their jail time by taking classes while they’re behind bars.

But there’s a catch: Only Muslim inmates are given the opportunity, advocates for the country’s religious minorities claim.

A petition submitted March 7 to the Lahore High Court asks that the administrators of the provincial jail system ensure that the policy applies to all inmates, including Christians and other religious minorities.

The petitioner, Kashif Masih, a Christian activist, says the policy, as written, makes no distinction between Muslims and non-Muslims.

In practice, however, only Muslim inmates wind up having their sentences reduced this way, he claims.

Masih’s petition maintains that the practice violates Pakistani laws, including Article 25 of the country's constitution, which states, “All citizens are equal before the law and are entitled to equal protection of the law.”

What’s more, he says, Muslim inmates can earn educational credits for studying the Quran and other Islamic religious texts, but jail administrators don’t allow minorities to shorten their jail time by studying their own religions. The policy also grants credits for earning secular degrees and studying foreign languages.

Akmal Bhatti, a Catholic lawyer and minority rights advocate from Faisalabad, Pakistan. Courtesy of Akmal Bhatti
Akmal Bhatti, a Catholic lawyer and minority rights advocate from Faisalabad, Pakistan. Courtesy of Akmal Bhatti

Akmal Bhatti, a Catholic lawyer from Faisalabad, said the petition highlights a “glaring” inequity in the jail system’s implementation of the education policy.

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“Muslim prisoners (are) always granted remission on passing some kind of religious exams and learning the Holy Quran,” said Bhatti, chairman of Minorities Alliance Pakistan (MAP.) “Prisoners belonging to the religious minorities were deprived from this concession.”

The petition only addresses the jail system in Punjab, where the large majority of Pakistan’s Christians live. There are 1,188 Christian, Hindu, and Sikh inmates in the province’s jails, the petition states, citing data from the Prisoners Department of Punjab.

After accepting the petition, Justice Rasaal Hasan Syed of the Lahore High Court ordered the inspector general in charge of Punjab’s jails,  Inspector General Mirza Shahid Saleem Baig, to respond to the petition by March 21.

No response had been submitted as of publication time.