President Zardari pardons 59 Christians in Pakistan

President pardons 59 Christians in Pakistan – By: George Masih

About 59 Christian prisoners in Pakistan received a new lease of life when President Asif Ali Zardari pardoned and freed them on Friday. Heeding to an appeal by ‘Life for All’, a Lahore-based Christian organization, the President released the prisoners who were falsely accused of minor crimes and languished in jails without obtaining legal aid due to financial constraints.

Rizwan Paul, chief of Life for All, had earlier petitioned to the President requesting the release of prisoners implicated on false charges.

It was following this petition that President Zardari approved the release of prisoners mostly held at jails in Rawalpindi, Lahore, Karachi, Sialkot and Peshawar.

Representatives from ‘Life for All’ were present at the respective jails when the prisoners were released. They took the record of the released and then handed them over to their families, according to Assist News Service.

Says Xavier Patras William, the acting CEO of ‘Life for All’, “Extremely emotional scenes were seen outside the jails when the prisoners were released.”

“Family members were present to greet their loved ones and they thanked ‘Life for All’ for their efforts,” he added.

According to William, there are still more than 2,500 Christians in jails all over Pakistan who cannot afford the legal assistance needed for their release.

He lamented that there are several Christian groups claiming to provide legal assistance by receiving vast foreign funding, but poor are still left with no legal aid and end up years in jail.

Mostly Christians are arrested or punished in Pakistan under the pretext of Blasphemy Law, which church groups say is patently misused to cause harassment of religious minorities.

According to a Catholic Church survey there, at least 50 Christians have been killed after being accused of blasphemy since 2001.

Between 1988 and 2005, Pakistani authorities charged 647 people with offences under the blasphemy laws. Fifty percent of the people charged were non-Muslim. Twenty of those charged were murdered soon after the charge was laid.

Christians have strongly clamored against the blasphemy law, and have handed over a petition to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay.

Courtesy: Christian Today, Monday, 16 November 2009

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