Vietnam, February 13, 2013: Christian leaders in Vietnam have warned that new rules on religion that came into force at the start of the year threaten the future of the country’s house church movement.
Decree 92, which replaces Decree 22 of 2005 as the guideline governing religious practice inVietnam, increases restrictions and makes it almost impossible for unregistered groups to obtain legal status.
Nguyen Van Dai, a Protestant lawyer who has served jail time for his human rights activism inVietnam, said:
The decree is intended to provide the tools to end the house-church movement entirely.
The Vietnam Evangelical Fellowship, an association of around 30 unregistered house church organisations, has raised similar concerns, saying that Decree 92 makes house churches illegal. The “underground” Christian gatherings have not been recognised by the government since 1975.
Under the new criteria for registration, a church must have a legal place of worship. House churches, which by definition do not have an official building, clearly do not fulfil this criterion. And as unregistered groups, they would not be able to obtain such premises before gaining legal status, and would thus find themselves in a vicious cycle of illegality.
Another extremely difficult criterion for a church to fulfil is that it must be free of both civil and criminal violations for 20 years before it may be considered eligible for registration. But the fact that it is unregistered makes it highly vulnerable to arbitrary charges, such as “infringing national security”, which the Vietnamese authorities often apply to any activity they want to suppress.
Decree 92 introduces a new distinction between “religious meetings” and “religious activities”, both of which must be registered before an organisation can be considered for full legal recognition. “Religious meetings” refers to communal worship and prayer, while “religious activities” covers broader matters including the preaching and practice of a religion’s tenets, principles and rites, and organisational management.
Leaders of religious meetings must, according to the new rules, have “a spirit of national unity and reconciliation”, while religious activities and ceremonies must not “contradict fine national traditions and customs”. This may require churches to perform actions that are incompatible with Christian faith, such as worshipping national heroes and ancestors.
If a church does somehow manage to fulfil all of the complex criteria, the application process takes three years, making a minimum of 23 years that a church has to wait for legal recognition.
It would then have to comply with extremely strict controls. A full annual plan must be submitted to the authorities every October; no changes are allowed without a complicated appeals process.
- morning star news
Syria, November 15, 2011: Christian leaders in Syria and neighbouring countries have expressed growing concern about the deteriorating situation in Syria, and in particular what it means for the vulnerable Christian minority.
The Arab League on Saturday suspended Syria over its crackdown on protestors in a move that highlights how far conditions in the country have worsened since anti-government demonstrations broke out in March. The UN says that at least 3,500 people have been killed.
The EU is also increasingly concerned about the unrest in Syria. European foreign ministers have agreed a preliminary deal on tightening sanctions against the country, and French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said it was time to look at increased protection for Syria’s civilians.
As the Assad regime comes under mounting international pressure, Christians, who comprise around ten per cent of the population, are particularly concerned about what the future holds for them and Iraqi Christian refugees living in the country.
Should Assad fall, it is feared that Syria could go the way of Iraq post-Saddam Hussein. Saddam, like Assad, restrained the influence of militant Islamists, but after his fall they were free to wreak havoc on the Christian community; hundreds of thousands of Christians were consequently forced to flee the violence. Many of them went to Syria.
A Syrian church leader, who coordinates food programmes for Iraqi Christian refugees in Syria, said:
Most of the Iraqi Christians living in Syria are worried because they do not want to see Syrian Christians passing through the same path as happened with them in Iraq. They are lifting their prayers for a safe and secure Syria and for it [to] continue to be a safe haven.
Christians have mostly stayed away from the protests in Syria, having been well treated and afforded a considerable amount of religious freedom under President Assad’s regime. In September, an influential sheik issued an implicit threat to the country’s Christians, saying that all those who oppose the revolution will be “torn apart, chopped up and fed to the dogs”.
Dr Patrick Sookhdeo, International Director of Barnabas Fund, said:
Syria has been very much a safe haven for Christians in the Middle East, one of the few Arab countries where they were treated with respect and had equality with the Muslim majority. Syria also has a history of welcoming in persecuted Christians from other countries. But I greatly fear that within the near future we will see a new Iraq developing in Syria. Barnabas Fund is standing with our brothers and sisters during this tumultuous time.
* That the actions of the international community will help to restore peace and stability for all Syrian citizens.
* For Christians in Syria, especially those who are concerned about their future in the country. Pray that the Lord will keep them safe, grant them His peace and reassure them of His sovereignty amid this turmoil.
- barnabas team
Notre Dame College, St. Joseph Higher Secondary School, Holy Cross College, and Holy Cross Girls’ High School ranked 5th, 6th, 8th and 13th respectively in this year’s Top 20 Educational Institutes Awards given out by the Secondary and Higher Secondary Education Board.
All four Church institutions are run by Holy Cross Congregation.
Education minister Nurul Islam Nahid handed out the prizes to the winning institutions’ headmasters and senior representatives at the board’s office in Dhaka.
He said teachers are playing a great role in implementing the government’s Vision 2021: Digital Bangladesh campaign and called on them to offer encouragement to other schools to improve their achievements.
He added that the nation can’t move forward if only a few institutions are doing well.
Vision 2021 is an ambitious campaign by the government to make Bangladesh fully digitized by 2021.
Board chairman professor Fahima Khatun said all the institutions met the necessary criteria needed to be eligible for the award which included: “study environment, academic performance, attendance and discipline.”
The Church school heads said the award will inspire everyone at their institutions and also is a wake-up call to move forward.
“It will encourage us to work better. I believe those places that are not doing well will follow our example and eventually the standard of education in the country will go up,” said Notre Dame College principal Father Benjamin Costa after receiving the award.