Pakistani Christians imprisoned on terrorism charges for the lynching of two men after the 2015 church bombings in Lahore were allegedly told that if they renounced their faith and embraced Islam, their acquittal would be guaranteed.
According to Pakistan's Express Tribune , a prosecutor reportedly told 42 Christians who were arrested after two suspected terrorists were lynched following the bombing of two churches in the Youhanabad neighborhood of Lahore that if they convert to Islam, he "can guarantee their acquittal."
"Taking advantage of their presence at ATC-1 Lahore, Deputy District Public Prosecutor Syed Anees Shah gathers the accused outside the courtroom and asks them to embrace Islam," Joseph Franci, a rights activist helping to provide legal aid to the jailed Christians, told the Express. "He asks them if they embrace Islam, he can guarantee them their acquittal in this case."
Franci added that one of the imprisoned men, Ifran Masih, responded by saying that he would rather be hanged than embrace Islam.
One of the defense attorneys, Naseeb Anjum, told the Express that a similar offer was given to the jailed Christians about six months ago. However, the offer went ignored.
"The government should get rid of such elements that bring bad name to the state by such acts," Anjum said.
The prosecutor, Syed Anees Shah, initially told the Express that he did not ask the prisoners to embrace Islam but later conceded that he did give the prisoners a choice to convert after he was told that there was video recording of what he said.
The express reported that Shah hung up the phone during the interview to avoid discussing the issue.
Wilson Chowdhry, head of a London-based charity dedicated to aiding persecuted Pakistani Christians, said in a statement shared with The Christian Post that the report is evidence that "extremists" may have "infiltrated" the nation's legal system.
"The fact that Christian men could be spared a death penalty by simply renouncing their Christian faith and accepting Islam is a clear indication that either extremists have infiltrated the Justice system of Pakistan, or that the nation is full of zealots that will stop at nothing to convert [infidels]," Chowdhry, president of the British Pakistani Christian Association, said.
"For a major Pakistani newspaper to cover this story, there must be some truth in this revelation," he continued. "The Express Tribune even went as far as interviewing the prosecutor, Mr. Syed Anees Shah, who admitted offering the choice, before terminating the call abruptly."
According to Open Doors USA's 2017 World Watch List, Pakistan ranks as the fourth worst country in the world when it comes to the persecution of Christians.
The U.S.-based Christian persecution watchdog International Christian Concern said on its website that the situation with the imprisoned Christians in Lahore "represents the discrimination and injustice Christians face because of their faith" in Pakistan.
"Rather than following the rule of law, the government is trying to use this situation for religious gain," the ICC statement reads.