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Pakistani Christians protest nationalization of college

Christians say taking over the college was a hate crime the government committed against their community

Kamran Chaudhry, Lahore

Kamran Chaudhry, Lahore

Published: June 14, 2021 06:08 AM GMT

Updated: June 14, 2021 06:19 AM GMT

Pakistani Christians protest nationalization of college

Church of Pakistan Bishop Humphrey Peters of Peshawar (sitting center) addresses the media at a press conference at Peshawar Press Club on June 11. (Photo supplied)

Bishops, pastors and activists of the Protestant Church of Pakistan marched down a sun-soaked highway in northern Peshawar city on June 11 opposing the government taking over a college the church managed for over 160 years.

The Christians were protesting the June 3 verdict of the Islamic nation’s Supreme Court, which asked the church to hand over the management of Edwardes College Peshawar, the oldest missionary education institution in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, to the local government.

“The ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party has committed a hate crime against the church,” Church of Pakistan Bishop Humphrey Peters of Peshawar told a press conference on June 11.

The nationalization of the college is “an injustice to Pakistani Christians and a violation of the constitutional rights of the weak religious minorities,” the bishop said. “The college should be returned to its real owners.”

He urged the Christian community to organize press conferences in all major cities to press for the demand. “Our struggle will continue in Pakistan and abroad,” he said.

Some politicians also supported the bishop.

Parallel protests in Europe against the Indian occupation of Kashmir as well as Pakistan illegally occupying a Christian college would be inappropriate

“It is against Islamic teachings to occupy the college from the community. We demand the army chief to intervene. Nationalization only ruins institutions,” Allama Krarwi, leader of a religio-political party called Tehreek Tahafuz Haqooq Jafaria, told the media.

“Parallel protests in Europe against the Indian occupation of Kashmir as well as Pakistan illegally occupying a Christian college would be inappropriate. It would negate our claims of being an Islamic state.” 

The Church Missionary Society founded Edwardes College in 1853, but it plunged into controversy after American missionaries left in 2014 and a retired Christian brigadier was appointed its first Pakistani principal.

The appointment of the new principal was challenged in Peshawar High Court in 2016. The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government took over the college in 2019 through an administrative action validated by the provincial High Court.

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The then prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1972 nationalized education in Pakistan by taking over all educational institutions.

However, in 2004 the then president Pervez Musharraf ordered the conditional privatization of minority educational institutions. But at least half of the nationalized missionary schools have not been returned to Christians, according to a report of the Lahore-based Center for Social Justice (CSJ), an advocacy group for minorities.

Some churches lack the capacity to revive the schools, said the CSJ report.

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