A Pakistani prosecutor is facing an accusation of blackmail after he reportedly made an offer to 42 Christians, facing charges of lynching two men, that he could guarantee their acquittal if they converted to Islam.
Joseph Francis, a rights activist providing legal aid to the accused, alleged that the men were approached with the offer by deputy district public prosecutor Syed Anees Shah.
“He told them that if they would embrace Islam, he can guarantee their acquittal in this case,” Francis told the media.
Naseeb Anjum, counsel for some of the accused, told the media that the public prosecutor’s offer was not new. He said Shah had made the same offer to some of the accused about six months ago but they had simply ignored it.
“(Lawyers) believe in the independence of the court but why is the (prosecutor) blackmailing them?” he said.
A total of 42 Christians were charged with lynching two men after two suicide bombings targeted Sunday Mass in two churches in the Christian neighbourhood of Youhanabad in Lahore on March 15, 2015.
Violent protests erupted after the attack, with a mob lynching two men who were suspected of involvement in the blasts.
Francis said the prosecutor had gathered the accused outside the courtroom in Lahore and “advised them to embrace Islam”. The accused remained silent and were dumbfounded and one of them, Irfan Masih, had spoken out and said he was ready to be hanged, he added.
When the media contacted Shah, he denied making the offer at first. When he was told there was a recording of his comments, Shah conceded he had offered the accused a choice but did not give details.
Earlier this year, all the Muslims accused of destroying property during riots at Youhanabad were acquitted by a Lahore court for want of evidence.
Rights groups have documented several instances of members of Pakistan’s Christian minority being forcibly converted to Islam in recent years. Activists have also said the draconian blasphemy law is often used to persecute Christians.