Bishops and pastors were joined by activists for the Church of Pakistan in conducting a march through the northern city of Peshawar on 11 June to protest against the government taking over a college managed by the church for over 160 years.
Pakistan’s Supreme Court announced the verdict on 3 June that the church must hand over management of Edwardes College to the local government.
The Supreme Court upheld a ruling by Peshawar High Court in October 2019 which ordered the nationalisation of the college.
Edwardes College, founded by The Church Missionary Society in 1853, is the longest-standing missionary education institution in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province (formerly the North-West Frontier Province). The college has an excellent reputation for high educational standards.
When the Government of Pakistan decided to nationalise private educational institutions in 1972, the Church continued to run the college as the nationalisation policy was not extended to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Church of Pakistan Bishop of Peshawar Humphrey Sarfraz Peters accused the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party of committing “a hate crime against the church”. Calling for the college to be returned to the church, the bishop denounced the nationalisation as “a violation of the constitutional rights of the weak religious minorities”.
The bishop’s stance was supported by some Muslim politicians. Allama Krarwi, leader of religio-political party Tehreek Tahafuz Haqooq Jafaria, acknowledged that Pakistan could not justify protests against the Indian occupation of Kashmir while at the same time condoning the illegal occupation of a Christian college.
Bishop Humphrey maintained that since the Church has exclusive ownership of the college’s land and buildings, the college does not satisfy the criteria for nationalisation.
A recent investigation by NGO the Centre for Social Justice has reported a noticeable weakening in the quality of the education provided in formerly Christian schools after being nationalised.