Saudi prince releases 2,100 Pakistani prisoners

Catholic rights worker welcomes move but calls for action over imprisoned minorities in Pakistan
Saudi prince releases 2,100 Pakistani prisoners

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (left) with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan in Islamabad on Feb. 17. (Photo courtesy of Press Information Department, Government of Pakistan) reporter, Islamabad
February 19, 2019
Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has ordered the release of more than 2,100 Pakistanis being held in the kingdom.  

Prince Salman, the de facto Saudi leader, was in Islamabad on a two-day official trip when he made the announcement on Feb. 18.

The prince was given a red carpet welcome in Islamabad. He was received by Prime Minister Imran Khan who himself drove the prince to the PM's House, where the two leaders oversaw the signing of trade deals worth US$20 billion.

At a reception later, Khan made an impassioned appeal to the prince to look into the hardships of Pakistani laborers working in the kingdom.

"There are some 3,000 Pakistani prisoners there and we just would like you to bear in mind that they are poor people who have left their families behind," Khan told him in a televised ceremony held to welcome the prince.

In reply, Prince Salman said he should be considered as Pakistan's ambassador in Saudi Arabia. "We cannot say no to Pakistan. Whatever we can do, we will deliver that."

Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry later announced that the prince had ordered the immediate release of 2,107 Pakistani prisoners.

Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi thanked the Saudi prince for the move.

“Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has graciously agreed to free 2,107 Pakistani prisoners in Saudi Arabia with immediate effect. Cases of the remaining will be reviewed,” Qureshi said.

Nasir William, the Catholic adviser to the Pakistan Minorities' Unity Council, welcomed the move but drew the government’s attention toward minority prisoners being held in Pakistan’s own jails.

“The present government should also play a positive role for the freedom of 39 Christian prisoners held over the Youhanabad lynching case. Many of them have become seriously ill,” he said.

Around 40 Christians were arrested in 2015 after a mob burned alive two Muslims suspected of having links to church bombings in Lahore's Youhanabad area, which is home to more than 100,000 Christians. Fifteen Christians were killed and 85 others were injured in the twin blasts.

Two Christians have died in prison while trials have proceeded.

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