Pakistan: Jail Officials Beat Christian, Halt Bible Classes

Monday, August 6, 2007

Prison superintendent denies banning pastor from visiting jail.

ISTANBUL, August 3 (Compass Direct News) -- Pakistani officials have halted all Bible classes for Christian prisoners in a Punjab jail, isolating the inmate who taught the classes and barring a local pastor from his weekly visits, a non-governmental organization (NGO) working in prisons reported.

Protestant pastor Munir Phool has been refused entry to Kasur city’s district jail for his weekly Sunday visits since June 25, when Catholic prisoner Dil Awaiz was put in a high-security cell and tortured, according to Sharing Life Ministries Pakistan (SLMP).

A police official denied that Phool was still banned from visiting the jail on Sundays and claimed not to remember the exact details of the incident that had ended the Bible classes.

Phool, who managed to speak with Awaiz during regular visiting hours yesterday, said that the prisoner and former Bible teacher had been targeted by a former jail deputy superintendent who abused Christian prisoners.

Awaiz, 33, told Phool that Muslim inmates became angry on June 25 when a Christian prisoner drank from one of their water glasses. Many lower-income Muslims in Pakistan consider Christians unclean and refuse to share eating utensils and other physical objects with them.

Awaiz said that Deputy Superintendent Sheikh Akram responded by forcing the Christian man to drink out of a glass used for cleaning toilets. Later that day, when Akram heard Awaiz teaching the Christian inmates that, as Christians, they should expect persecution, he challenged Awaiz for implying that jail staff members were harassing the minority inmates, Phool said.

The deputy superintendent had Awaiz beaten and thrown in a high-security cell, deprived of contact with other Christian prisoners. The remaining Christian inmates, 55 out of approximately 2,000 prisoners in the jail, were forced to discontinue their Bible classes since none of them could read or write.

Jail staff members placed Christian prisoner Munir Rehmat, 39, into a high-security cell several days later after he inquired about resuming Bible classes, Phool said.

The pastor said that both Awaiz and Rehmat remain in high-security detention but are well physically.

Kasur District Jail Superintendent Mohsin Rafeeq told Compass today that he could not remember the exact details of the incident.

“There was an exchange of hot words between a Christian teacher, I don’t recall the name of that teacher, and the Muslim fellows who were living in the same barracks,” Rafeeq said.

Speaking by telephone from Lahore, Rafeeq said he had stopped the Christian teacher from holding Bible classes and the problem had been solved. When Compass inquired whether Awaiz had been beaten or placed into a high-security cell, the prison superintendent claimed he could not remember.

Phool, who has been visiting the jail weekly since he first began pastoring in Kasur at the end of 2003, said that yesterday prison officials told him that he could not visit the prison until he obtained permission from the Inspector General of Punjab Prisons.

“No, no, no,” Rafeeq objected to this claim. Rafeeq said that it was due to the supposed “rift” between Christian and Muslim prisoners that he had requested that Phool temporarily discontinue his Sunday visits.

Rafeeq denied that Phool was still banned from holding his meetings.

Unjustly Jailed

Hailing from the Christian village of Clarkabad, Awaiz has been jailed since June 2005 on charges of assisting his brother in a 2002 murder.

Borstal Prison

“He is absolutely innocent in this case, because he was not in the village when the murder took placed,” SLMP worker Shahzad Kamran told Compass, confirming that Awaiz’ brother was guilty.

Kamran, whose NGO works to provide religious education and support for Christian prisoners throughout the Punjab province, said that Bible classes had been a daily occurrence in the Kasur jail.

“They used to hold the classes outside and sometimes on the hospital verandah,” Kamran commented, explaining that there was no church or specific room designated for Christian worship.

In a separate report last week, the SLMP stated that Mian Faheem, a new jail superintendent at Faisalabad’s Borstal Institute and Juvenile Prison, was singling out 13 juvenile Christian prisoners to clean the prison toilets.

“Mian Faheem is always trying to appoint them to clean the washrooms, uses very filthy language with them, abuses them and threatens them,” Kamran said.

Copyright © 2007 Compass Direct