Pakistani Christians fear passport identification - news from ekklesia

By staff writers
April 14, 2005

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Pakistani Christians fear passport identification

-14/04/05

Christians in Pakistan have expressed deep concern about a recent government decision to restore data about the religious identity of citizens in passports, according to Ecumenical News International in Geneva.

The Pakistani government's move comes less than a year after the controversial practice was halted, following concerns expressed by human rights groups.

"This is a retrograde step. We have always opposed it," said Victor Azariah, general secretary of National Council of Churches of Pakistan (NCCP), which groups four major Protestant denominations in the country. Speaking to Ecumenical News International from Lahore, Azariah declared that the government was acting under pressure from hardliners.

The Roman Catholic Justice and Peace Commission of Pakistan is also protesting agianst the passport issue.

In October 2004 the Pakistan government issued new, machine readable passports without a column for the holder's religion, but the decision drew strong protests from some Muslims who asserted that it was a threat to Pakistan's identity as an Islamic state. About 97 per cent of the country's 160 million people are Muslims.

When the Pakistan cabinet on 24 March 2005 ordered that religious data be placed again in passports, the chairperson of the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission, Archbishop Lawrence Saldanha, sent a letter of protest to Pakistan president General Musharraf. He noted that Christians were "shocked and saddened by this decision."

The move, the Catholic Church says, "has disappointed all the moderate and enlightened masses of Pakistan, particularly the religious minorities who already suffer social discrimination and religious intolerance".

"No to religion in passports" posters are being distributed nationwide in churches and Christian institutions and by secular non-governmental organizations (NGOs), reports ENI.

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