Pakistan: Fears raised after court orders citizens to declare religion

A Pakistani court has ruled that all citizens must declare their religion when applying for identity documents. Anyone applying for government jobs must also declare their faith. Human rights advocates say the move is another blow for the country's persecuted religious minorities.

The order will pile further pressure on the Ahmadi community, who are not allowed to call themselves Muslim or use Islamic symbols in their religious practices, a crime punishable under Pakistan's blasphemy laws. The Islamabad High Court ruled that those who disguised their religious affiliation would be guilty of betraying the state.

The ruling was made as a result of a petition brought forward by Tehreek-e-Labaik in connection with a change in wording to an electoral law. The amendment sought to replace a religious oath with a simple declaration, which Tehreek-e-Labaik said was blasphemy. The change was blamed on a clerical error and swiftly restored to the original format.

Nasir Saeed director of the Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS-UK) has expressed his concern about the court order and said that in the present environment where hate and religious intolerance continues to grow every day against religious minorities, such a move will make them further vulnerable.

He said: "Religious minorities who are already under attack and suffering because of discriminatory laws and the government's discriminatory policies will come further under attack."

He said that instead of adopting such policies there is a need for the government to promote harmony and religious tolerance to establish peace in the country. Minorities who are living under fear and threat of their lives, and are already fleeing the country, need to be assured of security, protection and equality. There is also a need to promote the idea that all citizens are equal and religion is every citizen's personal matter, as was ensured by the Quaid e Azam the founder of Pakistan in his first presidential speech.

The Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS) is an interdenominational organisation working for Christians who are being persecuted because of their faith in Pakistan. CLAAS works for religious freedom, to stop persecution of Christians in Pakistan because of blasphemy and other discriminatory laws, raise awareness, disseminate information and highlight the plight of Christians on an international level. CLAAS provides free legal aid to victims of religious intolerance in Pakistan, as well as shelter and financial support for the victims and their families.

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Tags: Pakistan, CLAAS, Nasir Saeed, Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement

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