Court requires all Pakistani citizens to declare religion when applying for ID

(Reuters/Caren Firouz)Members of the Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan far right Islamist political party shout slogans during a sit-in in Rawalpindi, Pakistan November 10, 2017.

Human rights advocates in Pakistan are expressing concern about the plight of the country's persecuted minority communities after a court ruled on Friday that all citizens must declare their religion when applying for identity documents.

The Islamabad High Court has ruled that anyone applying for government jobs should declare their religion and that those who disguise their religious affiliation were guilty of betraying the state.

"The Government of Pakistan shall take special measure ensuring availability of correct particulars of all the citizens," Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui said in the judgment, as reported by Reuters. "It should not be possible for any citizen to hide his/her real identity and recognition," the judge added.

The ruling is expected to increase pressure on the Ahmadi community, who are not allowed to refer to themselves as Muslims or use Islamic symbols in their religious practices.

The Ahmadis have been targeted with violence and attacks since the sect has been categorized as non-Muslims through a legislation in 1974.

Reuters reported that the order was issued as a result of a petition by the new ultra-religious political party Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan in connection with an amendment to an electoral law.

The amendment sought to replace a religious oath with a simple declaration, which has been deemed blasphemous by members of Tehreek-e-Labaik. The government attributed the change to a clerical error and later restored the original format.

Human Rights Watch representative Saroop Ijaz asserted that the judge "is not only attacking everybody's religious freedom in Pakistan but he is also focusing on one particular sect, which is the Ahmadis," adding, "[a] judgment like this would enable and incite violence."

On Sunday, the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony maintained that the requirement for citizens to declare their faith was only meant for official work and would not harm religious minorities.

"The declaration of religion by all citizens is not for public consumption, but only for official work to facilitate the religious minorities in education, employment and all other sectors," said ministry spokesperson Sajjad Qamar.

He said that there is "zero chance" of religious persecution of minorities in light of the High Court decision and stressed that the government is committed to ensuring the safety of all citizens, regardless of religion, caste or creed.

He further claimed that the declaration of religion on official documents would actually help religious minorities "secure their five percent quota in all government jobs."

Anjum Paul, a Christian social activist and professor at a public university, expressed concern about the new requirement, saying it may create complexities for the minorities.

He pointed out that no other country in the world requires citizens to declare their religion in official documents and insisted that it was the duty of the government to file a review petition against the verdict in the Supreme Court.

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