Pakistan activists say court ruling threatens minorities

FILE - In this Oct. 11, 2011, file photo, supporters of Pakistani religious groups gather outside the Islamabad High Court in Islamabad, Pakistan. Rights activists in Pakistan expressed concern on Sunday, March 11, 2018 over a Islamabad High Court ruling that would require people to declare their religion on all official documents, saying it could lead to the persecution of minorities, particularly adherents of the Ahmadi faith. (AP Photo/Anjum Naveed, File)

ISLAMABAD — Rights activists in Pakistan expressed concern Sunday over a court ruling that would require people to declare their religion on all official documents, saying it could lead to the persecution of minorities, particularly adherents of the Ahmadi faith.

The Islamabad High Court ruling on Friday also requires that citizens take a religious oath upon joining the civil service, armed forces or judiciary.

Zohra Yusuf, a board member at the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, called the ruling "very dangerous." She said her group would issue a statement in the coming days.

"Religion is someone's personal affair, not a matter of public display," she said. "The oath thing is nothing but discrimination, and would show the government has no belief that minorities too are patriotic."

The ruling appeared to be aimed at Ahmadis, who revere the 19th century founder of their faith as a prophet. Pakistan declared Ahmadis non-Muslims in 1974. They already face widespread discrimination and are often targeted by extremists.

The oath would require people to testify that the Prophet Muhammad was the last messenger sent by God, the repudiation of a core Ahmadi belief.

"The court should have given us a chance to present our point of view before the verdict, which has increased our vulnerability as a community," said Saleem Uddin, a spokesman for Pakistan's Ahmadi community.

He noted that several Ahmadis have been killed by religious extremists in recent years, and that their property and places of worship have been attacked. He said the community is consulting legal experts and may challenge the ruling.

Zia Awan, another rights activist, said the court ruling would encourage extremists.

"I am afraid this will further endanger minorities and increase discrimination," he said.

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