WASHINGTON — As over 100 Pakistani Christians were arrested in mid-March following the lynching of two Muslim men wrongly thought to be involved in two earlier church bombings that killed 17, some 30 prisoners have been released and show clear signs of being abused and tortured by the police.
International Christian Concern, a leading Christian persecution watchdog and advocacy organization, announced at a Tuesday press conference held to discuss the rise of Christian persecution in Pakistan, that 30 of the 111 Christian men and boys detained by police in the Lahore suburb of Youhanabad following the lynching have been released from jail.
With their release, it has come to light that those imprisoned in connection to the lynchings were subject to torture and merciless beatings by police officers in an attempt to extract confessions out of them.
"They were telling us that they were beaten to a pulp," ICC President Jeff King told The Christian Post at Tuesday's press conference. "A lot of times, what they are saying is that they get beaten to a pulp and get left on their doorstep in a bloody mess, and the whole point was to extract confessions."
King added that many of the Christians who were detained by police are innocent and have nothing to do with the actual lynchings. King added that even though ICC condemns the lynching of the two Muslim men in retaliation for the Taliban's bombings of the two Christian churches, the broad sweep and detention of innocent Christians is uncalled for.
"We would seek for justice for those Muslim families but arbitrary arrests and detention are not the way to get justice," King asserted. "They only serve further flames of injustice and hatred. Frankly, it is a mark of a Banana republic and an incompetent police force."
"They are just fishing and seeing if they can beat confessions out of random people from the neighborhood," King added. "Foreign police forces know that this is actually terrible police work because people will falsely confess to end their beatings. But, you are not getting justice."
In early April, 16 Christians were officially indicted for the murder of the two Muslim men, while 12 others have been indicted for damage to state property.
The press conference also addressed the overall glaring trend of Christian and religious minority persecution in Pakistan.
King also mentioned a number of other headlines from the past couple years where Christians have been marginalized and victimised for their faith, including the 14-year-old Christian boy who was beaten and set on fire last weekend after answering truthfully when he was asked by Muslims men if he was a Christian.
"All these incidents are honestly just the tip of the iceberg of discrimination and persecution that religious minorities endure — from indentured servitude, forced conversions to kidnapping for ransom," King explained. "The list of grievances is endless and it is inflicted on Pakistan's religious minorities."
Other prominent human rights activists spoke at the event and decried the nation's corruptly applied blasphemy law, including the attorney for Asia Bibi, the Christian mother of five who was sentenced to death in 2010 after being accused of blasphemy.
Bibi's lawyer, Naeem Shakir, a Pakistani Supreme Court attorney, argued that the Pakistani government needs to reform its blasphemy law and stated that the law is often used by Muslims to settle grudges, steal land, and other personal purposes.
"I painfully observe that this law is abused for settling personal scores or land grabbing and for religious persecution," Shakir said. "Religious minorities are the most [targeted] and Christians and Shiites, but particularly Christians. Minorities are hardly above 4 percent [of the population] but the blasphemy cases against minorities, they are a little more than 50 percent."
Shakir added that the notion that has spread amongst the Pakistani public is that the blasphemy law is divinely inspired and based on Islamic law.
"The basic issue is that the clergy, even the politicians, they are preaching blasphemy law as a way to establish Islamic Shariah," Shakir explained.
"My request is that the government of Pakistan, the leadership, should impress upon to dispel a wrong impression amongst the general public … that the text of this law is something divine, that it is something that is a reproduction of the holy Quran. It is not. It was framed by earthly people," Shakir continued. "It's something which was not debated upon. The other sects of Islam were not consulted."
Shakir added that the notion should be discredited by the government using state-level media outlets.
"This impression should be dispelled at the state level through the state media so that some dialogue may proceed," Shakir asserted. "At the moment, anyone who just touches on the subject is vulnerable."
In 2011, Salmaan Tasseer, the governor of Pakistan's Punjab province, was killed by his own bodyguard because of his desire to reform the blasphemy law. Also in 2011, Shahbaz Bhatti, a member of Pakistan's National Assembly, was killed because he was an outspoken critic of the blasphemy law.