'Keep my birthplace out of passport'

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 13 April, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 13 April, 2008, 12:00am

Court fight over law on travel document

A naturalised Chinese citizen is mounting a legal challenge against a law that requires passport holders to give their place of birth on the travel document.

Richard Aziz Butt, who became a Chinese citizen in January last year, claims he has been subjected to discrimination from foreign border control officials because his passport shows his place of birth as Pakistan.

Mr Butt had asked the director of immigration to allow him to either leave the place of birth section blank or use 'Karachi' rather than 'Pakistan' on his Hong Kong SAR passport to avoid problems he has faced in Thailand, Taiwan and elsewhere.

But the director refused the request, saying in a letter on February 3 last year that the format of the passport needed to conform to specifications of the International Civil Aviation Organisation, which require 'that when a passport is issued to a person whose place of birth was outside the state issuing the document, the country of birth should be shown'.

In his appeal for a judicial review of the law in the Court of Appeal in August - after his earlier attempt was rejected in the Court of First Instance - Mr Butt supplied evidence that some nations, including Britain and Canada, allow citizens to leave the space blank. A letter given to the court from the passport section of the Canadian consulate said that while the place of birth was a feature to assist in identifying the bearer, the information only needed to be supplied on the application form, and did not have to be printed on the actual document.

Mrs Justice Doreen Le Pichon and Mr Justice Robert Tang Ching granted Mr Butt the right to appeal against the legislation. Mr Butt said yesterday he had decided to appeal against the law not just for himself but for the Pakistani community in Hong Kong.

'If I stay 'Karachi' or 'Sind', which is the province in Pakistan where I was born, no one really knows where these places are,' he said.

'Now, when the world is looking at Pakistan, they are seeing the Taleban, they are seeing the bomb blasts - the situation just gets worse and worse - so there is suspicion.'

Having Pakistan named as his country of birth caused Mr Butt problems when he applied for a visa to enter Taiwan. 'They charged me HK$122 for a Taiwanese visa and I had to wait three weeks for the visa,' he said. 'But if my place of birth on my passport says Hong Kong, I can just buy a ticket and fly there and get a visa on arrival just by paying HK$52.'

The judicial review will be heard in the Court of First Instance on Wednesday.