All citizens must declare religion, rules Pakistani court

By Prarthana Mitra

The Islamabad High Court on Friday ruled that it is compulsory for all citizens to declare their religion while applying for documents of identification. The move, rights activists say, is a major setback for Pakistan’s minority communities.

To declare or to blaspheme

According to the rule, anyone seeking employment or applying for a job must also declare their faith. The failure to reveal or any attempt to disguise one’s religious affiliation would amount to a betrayal of the state, or worse, result in blasphemy, accusations of which have in the past incited furious mob violence.

In his verdict, Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui defended the need for such a rule, saying it was needed to ensure that the state has the correct information for all citizens. “It should not be possible for any citizen to hide his/her real identity and recognition,” he said. In the absence of a counter appeal, this directive will soon be passed as law at the central level.

A bigoted order

Human rights advocates and sociologists were quick to denounce the ruling, saying it engender a fresh onslaught on Pakistan’s already persecuted minority communities, which constitute 3% of the total population.

Human rights lawyer Jibran Nasir called it a “bigoted order” and told Reuters that it would serve as an institutional reminder about their minority status, besides providing the Centre with specific lists about members of minority groups. The Wire notes Human Rights Watch representative Saroop Ijaz’s opinion that the rule not only attacks religious freedom of all Pakistani citizens but “also focuses on one particular sect, which is the Ahmadis”.

The case for the Ahmadis

The ruling will put further strain on the Ahmadi community, which has been relentlessly vilified for decades. Since 1974, the Ahmadis are not only prohibited from calling themselves Muslims, but their religious customs and choices have been under major scrutiny by the State’s blasphemy laws.

Yesterday’s ruling comes as a result of a petition launched by the Tehreek-e-Laibaik last year, the initial denial of which had resulted in three weeks of a national strike and high casualty count.

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