In recent months BPCA has been alarmed by failures by the Pak-Government to resolve gravely highlighted apostasy practice that is causing hurt, financial loss and flaunts the vaunted international freedoms of Article 18 of the UN Human Rights Convention for which Pakistan is a signatory.
Evidence of this bias has emerged through the innocuous process of applying for a passport and ‘National Identity Card for Overseas Pakistanis’ (NICOP) card by Nissar Hussain and his family ,who have bravely openly declared adherence to the Christian faith despite the threat of death and persecution
that such actions inherently illicit.
Nissar Hussain, a convert from Islam to Christianity, who has suffered the most severe persecution of any apostate within Britain believes his application is rejected because of the existing Islamic detestation of apostates, a hatred so deep-rooted amongst Muslims most apostates fail to openly declare their conversion.
Nissar and his family applied for a renewal of their NICOP cards last year after a relative of Nissar’s wife Kubra became ill. After a long period of delay British Pakistani Christian Association were asked to intervene on their behalf and were asked to contact the Pakistan High Commission
An officer at the High Commission assured BPCA that the matter was being investigated. However a month later no solution was being offered. After a meeting at the High Commission the officer confirmed that confusion lay over a grey area within existing protocols that did not stipulate how a change of faith should be administered. It was posited that inherent bias was being applied by chief officers but the High Commission agreed to seek reform through appropriate diplomatic channels and stated that they would send a high level request calling for a review of existing practice. The Embassy officer asked BPCA to inform Mr Hussain that they were doing all that was within their means to resolve his issue and sought some time for the bureaucratic process to come to fruition. BPCA were also informed that Mr Hussain could apply for a tourist visa for 3 months that would enable members of his family to visit Pakistan as that would not require any faith labelling.
Loathe to pay further fees to the Pakistan Embassy after having paid ‘fairly exorbitant fees already’, Mr Hussain asked BPCA to seek a waiver for the cost of the visa fees in lieu of his family’s pending NICOP applications. After several attempts to gain sympathy for their position especially considering Mr Hussain’s inability to work due to post-traumatic stress, the High Commission agreed a free travel visa for Nissar’s wife and after further wrangling one for his daughter, However BPCA were categorically informed that Nissar was not permitted to enter Pakistan. No reason was given for the refusal for Nissar to go to Pakistan but BPCA believe this was because he was the first to convert to Christianity.
Nissar’s wife and daughter visited Pakistan and safely returned back in July, however during the period of them being away the High Commission terminated all communication with the BPCA. Nissar has been forced to seek help directly via the High Commission. However to date no progress has been made via the High Commission. Many calls have been ignored and when answered either the appropriate person is not available or a promised call back is not received.
One year after his original application he is still awaiting his NICOP card something which was never delayed whilst he was a Muslim and that other Pakistani Christians receive without problems. Being a convert however has created a pariah status unacceptable within the current NICOP application process.
Hatred for quitting Islam is not new to Nissar in fact he has suffered 17 years of persecution. Not only has an attempted arson tried to rid Nissar and his family of their lives but he was also beaten so badly by two men with pick-axe handles in November 2015, that he spent 14 days in hospital.
In November 2016 Nissar was forced to leave his Bradford home with his family after the threat on his life meant that the authorities could no longer protect him. When collecting a few boxes while moving home he had to be escorted by armed police in several vehicles an event that was caught by ITV
news (click here).
In another example, Fischel Benkald as he now names himself, a man who was born of a Jewish mother and Muslim father. Fischel (chosen Yiddish name) was born Faisal Benkald in Karachi in 1987 and is the fourth of five children. He campaigned for his name to be altered on the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) and asked for them to change his official religious status from Muslim to Jew. After several negotiations with the BPCA the High Commission put in a high level inquiry and the NADRA team agreed to allow Fischel the change making him the first Jewish Pakistani passport-holder in decades (click here). However, this was on a technicality due to the fact that they accepted that Fischel never accepted Islam so he was officially not a convert. Nissar unfortunately does not have this escape clause.
Cases such as these are not rare or new. A previous high profile case involved a Christian MP in Pakistan’s Punjab province.
Political opponents of Rana Asif Mahmood, a Christian, sought his disqualification from the Punjab Provincial Assembly seat reserved for minorities, on grounds that the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) identified him as a Muslim.
Though Mr Mahmood contested that he had been mistaken as a Muslim because of his Islamic sounding name and had always been Christian, NADRA refused to correct the error. The clerical error cost Mr Mahmood his cabinet seat and prevented him proposing the 2012-2013 budget.
The law establishing NADRA prohibits Muslims from changing the religion column on their Computerized National Identity Card (CNIC), though non-Muslims can easily obtain such changes – especially if they are converting to Islam.
“The situation was revealed to me when my son applied for a CNIC a few months ago,” Mahmood said. “He was told that he could not put down Christianity as his religion because the records showed his father to be a Muslim.”
When he approached NADRA officials for corrections, Mahmood said, they told him that there was no provision for changing the religion entry. He said that his passport identified him as a Christian, and that twice he had his religion section corrected on his passport because of the NADRA error of listing him as a Muslim.
Mahmood’s political opponents filed a petition seeking his removal from one of the seats reserved for minorities based on the error. Opposition parties accepted Mahmood’s clarification only after he vehemently stated on the floor of the Punjab Assembly that he was born a Christian and appealed to them and the media not to indulge in propaganda against him that could incite Muslim extremists to kill him.
In Pakistan’s Express Tribune A NADRA official who requested anonymity said that while a person could get their religion changed in ID records from a religion other than Islam to another, the same could not be done if the person wanted to change their religion away from Islam. You can read the article (click here).
“My understanding of the matter is that if stated by the person himself that he/she is a Muslim, the religion cannot be changed,” he said.
At the same time, he added that if the CNIC recipient provided evidence of religion and established that there had been a clerical error, the request would be entertained.
Wilson Chowdhry, Chairman of the BPCA, said:
“It raises my ire that despite every effort to resolve this issue amicably, Nissar and I have for the last few months been ignored by the Pakistani Embassy, who felt silence was a solution.
“The diplomatic incompetence displayed by this action illustrates the unprofessional nature of the Pakistani High Commission in London, and also proves the disgraceful contempt that senior political figures and bodies in Pakistan have for those who quit Islam.
“Nissar Hussain and his family members have always been proud of their Pakistani heritage. However, this latest debacle has made them question any former allegiance they had.
“Preventing them the ability to obtain ID Documents from the country of their origins for which they, for all intents and purposes, are entitled to having held dual nationality prior to their application is a naive and clearly discriminatory practice.
“Failure to correct this shambolic human rights violation will serve only to tarnish further an already poor reputation. I hope and pray Pakistani authorities see semse and correct this diplomatic malaise.”
BPCA is calling for people of good conscience to sign our petition calling for reform please click (here)