By BosNewsLife Asia Service
LAHORE, PAKISTAN (BosNewsLife)-- As Pakistan's former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif returned to power Wednesday, June 5, dozens of suspected Muslim militants were to learn whether their release on bail would be overturned, a Christian lawyer involved in the cases told BosNewsLife.
Attorney Sardar Mushtaq Gill said he had petitioned the Lahore High Court to cancel the bail of 36 Muslims who were allegedly involved in anti-Christian violence in the provincial capital Lahore, amid wider concerns about rising Islamic extremism in the country.
Gill's Legal Evangelical Association Development (LEAD) earlier asked for five key suspects to be detained again, after local Christians complained they were threatened by these and other men.
Gulshad Khan, Khursheed Khan, Aitbar Gul, Jaffar Khan and Muhammad Shabir were among 83 Muslims granted bail on May 14, despite evidence they were involved in torching some 180 Christian-owned homes, shops and two churches in Lahore's Joseph Colony, a Christian neighborhood, Gill said last week.
The March 8-9 riots were sparked by Christian Savan Masih's alleged offensive remarks about Islam's Prophet Muhammad. Masih, who was soon detained by police under controversial blasphemy legislation, has denied wrongdoing.
"He has threatened to commit suicide by hitting his head to the prison wall," added his sister Bushra Bibi in comments obtained by BosNewsLife.
Gill said "it was a good question as to why the court had granted bail" to the suspected Muslim militants, "while the 26-year-old Christian Masih remains in jail."
News about the legal challenge came while Christian leaders were watching Wednesday, June 5, whether Prime Minister Sharif would tackle attacks against Christians and other religious minorities in the heavily Islamic nation. There is also pressure on Sharif to overturn controversial blasphemy legislation under which Masih and other Christians have been jailed.
Over a dozen people, including Christians, are known to be on death row over blasphemy allegations and more than 50 people have been killed while awaiting trial on similar charges, according to rights activists.
"We are deeply concerned about the safety of [for instance] Asia Bibi, a mother of five on death row over blasphemy," explained Sheraz Khan, chief executive of rights group Global Minorities Alliance (GMA), in a statement to BosNewsLife.
Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party, or PMLN, received 124 of the 272 directly national assembly seats.
Though Pakistani Christians have supported more liberal parties, Christian observers said there was evidence that Christians were among those backing the PMLN during the recent elections.
Shahbaz Sharif, younger brother of Nawaz and chief minister of Punjab, apparently received most votes from a predominately Christian neighborhood in Lahore.
However a Christian lawyer and member of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Nadeem Anthony, expressed doubts that religious freedom would improve soon.
"The majority of Christians are not optimistic about Sharif’s forthcoming government because of their religious approach and close linkages with fundamentalist groups,” he said in published remarks.
(BosNewsLife, the first truly independent news agency covering persecuted Christians, is 'Breaking the News for Compassionate Professionals' since 2004).
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