A chapel for Christian inmates has opened at Landhi Prison in southern Pakistan.
Christian social activists and prison authorities jointly inaugurated the chapel on 5 August. It was built with the help of a charity called Angel Patient Care Services.
About 100 of the 4,500 inmates in the prison are Christians, according to Asian Catholic news service UCA News. Those incarcerated are awaiting trial or serving sentences for various crimes.
The chapel was built near the prison mosque. Muhammad Hassan, a senior prison official, said all inmates are free to practice their faith. "There is no bar whatsoever on non-Muslim inmates worshipping," he said.
Ishtiaq Awan, police assistant superintendent, said Christian inmates normally are kept together with Muslims for most of the year, but on special occasions, such as Christmas, Easter and Eid, they are given separate barracks to celebrate their festivals.
Naqash Yousuf, 26, a Catholic, who is awaiting trial in a murder case, was thrilled to have a place to worship.
"Some 40 to 50 Christian prisoners now visit the chapel and attend Sunday prayers,'" he said, adding that the pastor, who is one of the inmates, leads the service.
"It was our longstanding wish to have a separate place of worship and thankfully the authorities have fulfilled it," he said.
Samina Nawab, from Angel Patient Care Services, praised a local official for recognising the needs of inmates and said: "Our teams frequently visit jails and provide health care services to inmates irrespective of their faith," she said. "I visited Landhi Jail and met some Christian inmates, who requested our help in the construction of the chapel.
"My family members and pastors made generous contributions to make it possible. Last week, we set up a medical camp at Hyderabad Prison and found out some inmates needed immediate surgery," she said, adding that her charity was working to raise funds to meet the medical needs.
Islam is the official religion in Pakistan. Citizens are allowed to worship freely; however, prayer halls, churches, chapels and community centres for people of other religious traditions are not normally allowed on government property.
Photo: Angel Patient Care Services