School Credits for Pakistan Inmates Should Apply to Non-Muslims, Too, Petition States

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

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

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.

“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.

Catholics attend Mass at Sacred Heart Cathedral, the seat of the Archdiocese of Lahore, on Aug. 20, 2023, four days after a mob attacked several Pakistani churches over blasphemy allegations. More than 80 Christian homes and 19 churches were vandalized when hundreds rampaged through a Christian neighborhood in Jaranwala in Punjab province last Aug. 16.

Church Responds to Mob Attack on Christians in Pakistan

The mob destroyed electric meters and outdoor air conditioning units, and set the Christians' homes and shop ablaze. Eventually, they brought them out, hurled stones at them, and beat them with sticks. They tried to lynch Masih, who was seriously injured.

Several mobs attacked Christian communities and set fire to several churches Aug. 16, in the town of Jaranwala, in Pakistan’s Faisalabad district, after two Christians were accused of defiling the Quran.

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The Maui fire devastation and a spared Catholic Church, a court ruling reinstating limits on abortion pills, Ohio pro-lifers gearing for an aggressive abortion ballot measure in November, and churches destroyed by a mob in Pakistan — these are some of the news stories that Matthew Bunson and Jeanette De Melo discuss this week in an Editors’ Corner. Then, EWTN News legal analyst Andrea Picciotti-Bayer gives an update on several religious liberty cases making their way through state courts.