ASIA/PAKISTAN - Declaration of religious belief on official documents: a hard blow for religious minorities

Monday, 12 March 2018 religion   christianity   politics   civil society   religious minorities  


Islamabad (Agenzia Fides) – The High Court of Islamabad has sentenced that citizens must declare their religion before applying for jobs in the state administration, civil service, armed forces, or the judiciary. The Court also decided that the act of altering religious identity will be considered “betrayal of the state”.
For human rights activists this is a hard blow for the country’s religious minority groups. The requirement will “increase pressure on the Ahmadi, who are not allowed to call themselves Muslims or to use Islamic symbols in their religious practices, crimes punished with the blasphemy law in Pakistan”, Fides was told by the Christian NGO Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS).
The sentence came following a complaint presented by the Islamic group Tehreek-e-Labaik, regarding a possible change in the electoral law. An amendment proposed for the law in force to substitute the present Islamic religious oath, for every citizen accepting state employment with a simple solemn declaration. The proposal was abandoned but the complaint had another consequence regarding the declaration of religious belief when applying for any government post.
Nasir Saeed, a Christian and director of CLAAS, voices concern “In the present social context of growing hatred and religious intolerance, this new measure increases the vulnerability of religious minorities which already suffer from discriminating government laws and policies. Instead it is necessary for government to promote harmony and religious tolerance, safeguarding safety, protection and equality”.
A local Catholic Anjum James Paul, docent in political science at a state institute and president of Pakistan Teachers Minorities Association agrees, and tells Fides: “I cannot see any need to know the religious identity of a citizen working for a government institution when the state guarantees equal rights for all citizens regardless of religious beliefs”.
The minister for religious affairs affirmed that the required declaration of religious belief on official papers does not intend to harm religious minorities: "The declaration is not for public vision, but only for administration which intends only to facilitate access by religious minorities to education and jobs in state sectors in the logic of 5% of available posts”, said Sajjad Qamar, ministry spokesman "The government and all state institutions are committed to guaranteeing the security of all citizens, irrespective of religion, cast or creed", he affirmed. (PA) (Agenzia Fides 12/3/2018)