Pakistan refuses India's request to release Indian Sikhs jailed for alleged illegal entry

Pakistan on Thursday refused India's request to release a group of Indian Sikhs jailed for allegedly entering illegally from neighboring Iran, a foreign ministry official said.

"There are 20 or 22 Indian Sikhs who entered Pakistan without any papers and obviously they were apprehended by immigration authorities," said Jalil Abbas Jillani, who was Pakistan's deputy ambassador to India before being expelled in February. The two hostile neighbors routinely carry out tit-for-tat actions, including expulsions of diplomats.

Jillani said the Indian Sikhs will be investigated and could face trial. They have been given access to Indian consular officials, he said.

Jillani dismissed allegations from an Indian Sikh organization that the men were being pressured to convert to Islam.

"This is absolutely false that they are being forced to convert," Jillani said.

Accusations of forced conversion to Islam are rare in Pakistan, where conflicts are generally between rival Islamic sects. Minority religious groups have been discriminated against, but have not complained of being pressured to convert.

Sikhs annually make pilgrimages to their holy sites in Pakistan without trouble.