[ACNS, by Rachel Farmer] A battle over control of an Anglican college in Pakistan is continuing this month, after new legal moves by the Pakistan government to implement its nationalisation of schools and colleges. The Primate of the united Church of Pakistan and Bishop of Peshawar, Humphrey Peters, said recent court action by the Governor of Peshawar over Edwardes College last month had set aside previous rulings maintaining its independence and diocesan control.
The Bishop said: “our Provincial Government going into the court against the High Court’s order of 2016 is a clear indication that it does not want to see the Church control over the college. The government’s initiation of going into the Court against the decision in favour of the Pakistani Church is also a violation of Pakistan’s Constitution.”
Bishop Humphrey has spoken out against the new court ruling last month, which found in favour of the provincial government and college teachers, stating the college was a nationalised educational institution. It rejected the bishop’s petition to declare the college a private institution, in the light of a court judgment delivered in 2016, to stop the government from interfering in its affairs.
Speaking at a press conference last week the bishop asked the government to hand back control of the college to Christians before Christmas. He said if this failed to happen they would launch a national and international protest campaign.
“If the college is not handed over to Christians,” he said, “they will start an anti-government movement by setting up protests and hunger camps across the country and will not hesitate to march on Islamabad.”
He said Pakistan’s constitution granted protection to the Christian community in the country, so the government should ensure it is implemented.
“All the time we have been fighting to secure the Anglican identity of the College,” he said. “We are trying to retain and maintain the identity of the Church in Pakistan in these difficult situations.”
Edwardes College is one of the oldest Christian institutions in the province and was established in 1900 by the Church Missionary Society (CMS), when it was known as Edwardes Church Mission College. It is a private college, owned and sponsored by the Diocese of Peshawar, part of the Church of Pakistan and is one of the only remaining Anglican institution in Pakistan.
The College had not been taken over by the government during a wave of nationalisation in the 1970s. However, it has been under threat from a take-over for many years.
Bishop Humphrey also claimed the college principal had been made a scapegoat, through a false campaign, which had forced him and his family to leave the country. The bishop is also in dispute over the governance of the college after the provincial governor headed up a newly constituted Board of Governors with control over the budget.
He is calling on other parts of the Anglican Communion to support their stand for independence and autonomy of the college, and said, “I hope the global Church will support the marginalised weaker part of the Body of Christ’s struggle for its identity and existence in Pakistan.”