A Bible-based syllabus for Christian prisoners will soon be adopted by the 35 prisons of Pakistan's Punjab province, according to Human Rights and Minority Affairs Minister Ijaz Alam Augustine. “Catechism will be taught in the prisons and participating prisoners will get a special remission on their sentence,” Augustine said. “A syllabus approved by the provincial prison department in 1977 will be adopted,” he said. The minister blamed bureaucratic procedures for delaying the process. He added that once implemented, the program would clear the way for early Christmas prisoner releases. The scheme also involves the obtaining of academic and trade qualifications. The minister was speaking to ucanews.com on the sidelines of a March 9 symposium organised by the Centre for Social Justice and the People's Commission for Minorities' Rights (PCMR) in the cosmopolitan city of Lahore. Speakers called for the implementation of past court directives dealing with the protection of minorities. This included reforming various curricula to foster communal tolerance as well as the setting up of a 'Commission for Minorities' Rights
'. The prison program is part of an empowerment package announced in December involving job and education quotas for minorities along with the sentence remission system. According to the official website of Punjab's prison service in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, Muslim convicts who memorize the Holy Quran can gain sentence remissions of between six months and two years. However, there has not been a realistic equivalent for non-Muslim jail inmates. Prison authorities were demanding that Christian prisoners be able to memorize the Bible in order to have their sentences reduced. But churches in Pakistan do not have a tradition of memorizing scripture. According to Prison Fellowship International in Pakistan
, there are more than 3,000 Christian prisoners in Punjab. Peter Jacob, a Catholic who is the director of the Centre for Social Justice, warmly welcomed the new Punjabi syllabus for Christian prisoners that he helped develop.
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However, Arthur Wilson, a prison chaplain and Pakistan director of Prison Fellowship International, was less optimistic. He said despite past promises of reform, Christian prisoners continued to be discriminated against by Muslim prisoners and jail administrators. "Just like their life outside, the Christian prisoners live in ghettos," Wilson said. Many were called upon to change their faith and prisoners accused of blasphemy against Islam had to be held in isolation cells because of the risk of violent reprisals, he added. In 2017, a prosecutor was removed from involvement in a trial over a lynching case
after he confessed to pressuring Christians to convert to Islam in exchange for being acquitted.