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08/04/2022 Pakistan (International Christian Concern) – Recently, the government of Pakistan’s most populous province, Punjab, announced that it would allow Christian and Hindu prisoners to reduce their sentences by memorizing the Bible or Gita, respectively. Pakistani authorities already provided this opportunity for education remission to Muslim prisoners, who could achieve reductions to their sentences in return for memorization of the Quran. While Pakistani authorities have not similarly presented this opportunity to minority prisoners, with none of the 1,188 minority prisoners in the province being given education remissions in their sentences, the Punjab government’s recent announcement potentially heralds a positive change in this area. The Catholic Church in Pakistan reportedly welcomed the Punjab government’s announcement regarding Christian and Hindu inmates as progress toward greater equality between prisoners of all faiths.

Unfortunately, the recent announcement falls far short of the equity and justice to which minority prisoners are entitled. The government indicated that, through scripture memorization, Christian and Hindu inmates could reduce their sentences by between three and six months. Muslims who similarly memorize the Quran can reduce their sentences by between six months and two years, according to the official website of Punjab’s prison service. This stark difference between the allowances given to Muslim prisoners versus Christian and other minority prisoners demonstrates persistent discrimination against minority inmates in the country.

This discrimination against inmates of minority religions extends far beyond sentence remissions. Father John Joseph, an official in a prison ministry in Pakistan, told UCA News, “Minority prisoners deserve the same constitutional rights. To make matters worse, they have limited prison visits by Church ministries citing security concerns. Presently we are only allowed visits on Christian feasts.” Also, while some churches and prayer rooms have been built on prison grounds, many Christian prisoners are less able to practice their religions than Muslim prisoners. We thank God for the advancements in minority prisoner rights that have been made thus far, but we also pray that this progress will grow and accelerate into the future.

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