Christians across Pakistan are rejoicing after a court yesterday (Wednesday, 29th January) acquitted 40 men jailed for alleged involvement in the lynching of two people in a district outside Lahore.
The 40 individuals, almost all of them Christians, shouted “Alleluia, Praise God” as the anti-terrorism court in Lahore ordered their release after nearly five years in custody.
More than 40 others, on bail after being accused of lesser offences that took place at about the same time in Youhanabad district, were also acquitted.
They had all been arrested as police responded to riots in Youhanabad sparked by suicide bomb attacks on two churches one Sunday morning in March 2015, in which at least 15 people were killed and more than 70 were injured.
Speaking to Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) just hours after the acquittal verdict, Father Emmanuel ‘Mani’ Yousaf described how emotion swept through the court as the accused began to absorb the court’s decision, citing insufficient evidence to prove the men’s guilt.
Reporting that the accused were now back home with their families, Father Yousaf said: “What we have seen today is wonderful news for Pakistan.
“Throughout Pakistan, people had been praying, every day praying that the court would rule in their favour. It is a big day for us all.
“The accused have been through a big, big trauma and now, thank God, come out the other side.”
Father Yousaf, National Director of the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP), went on to thank ACN for providing legal and paralegal aid, which, he said, had been crucial to the successful outcome of the case.
As well as funding legal fees, the charity sponsored schooling for the families of the accused and gifts at Easter and Christmas.
He said: “First of all, we are very grateful to ACN. With the charity’s support and prayers, all the accused are now free. Thanks to ACN, they are now able to restart their lives.”
Father Yousaf said that two of the accused had died in jail amid reports of physical maltreatment and pressure to convert to Islam.
ACN has pledged to continue helping the families of the accused, especially over the coming year.
Father Yousaf explained how the families of the accused had struggled to cover basic costs as the men behind bars had been “the major bread winners”.
He said that starting again back home would be difficult for a number of the men who had suffered multiple bereavements of close family members during their incarceration.