Egypt, May 14, 2013: A 24-year-old Christian teacher in Egypt detained over allegations that she defamed Islam during a school lesson has gone on hunger strike.
Demiana Ebeid Abdelnour, who teaches social science in Luxor, was arrested on 8 May after the parents of three children accused her of insulting Islam and Muhammad.
She was initially ordered to be held for four days, but this period was extended on Saturday (11 May) to a further 15 days. Demiana started a hunger strike on 10 May; she has not been allowed to be transferred from prison to hospital.
Amnesty International has called for the Christian’s immediate release and for the criminal case against her to be dropped. Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Deputy Middle East and North Africa Programme Director, said:
It is outrageous that a teacher finds herself behind bars for teaching a class. If she made some professional mistake, or deviated from the school curriculum, an internal review should have sufficed.
The accusations against Demiana, who taught at three different schools, were made following a lesson she gave at one school on 8 April about religious life at the time of the pharaohs. Two days later, she was told that she could no longer teach at this particular school because she had been accused of defaming Islam.
Demiana was questioned by three committees, to which she denied the allegations and was absolved. But the local education department nevertheless suspended her pending further investigation.
The teacher’s union has upheld her innocence and said that it has assembled a team of lawyers to defend her.
Since the Egyptian revolution, a number of Christians have been jailed for defaming Islam.
Makram Diab, a school secretary, was given double the maximum sentence for Defamation of Religion following a dispute with a Muslim colleague in February 2012.
Gamal Abdou Massoud (17) was jailed in April 2012 for three years for posting cartoons deemed insulting to Islam on his Facebook page. This followed a similar case in November 2011 involving 23-year-old Christian, Ayman Youssef Mansour, who was also sentenced to three years in prison for comments he wrote on his Facebook page that were considered derogatory to Islam.
Amnesty’s Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui said:
Any laws barring such speech violate freedom of expression, and are in breach of Egypt’s international obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
- barnabas team
Known by the initials KP, Selvarasa Kumaran Pathmanathen opens a hostel for children victims of the civil war. “Education,” he says, “is the only way to help them overcome their trauma.” Released from prison last October, he is still wanted by Interpol.
Sri Lanka, May 14, 2013: “Children have to study, not take up arms,” said Selvarasa Kumaran Pathmanathen. Known by the initials KP, the former head of the international section of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE or Tamil Tigers) was released in October 2012 for collaborating with the Government of Sri Lanka.
Although still on the Interpol’s wanted list, the former arms dealer opened a hostel for children civil war victims called the Senchcholai Children Care Home in Kilinochchi today (Northern Province), which is the home of 300 children, orphaned or disabled during the conflict.
For the former terrorist, “the only way to put such a trauma behind is to give them an education.”
“This is how I think today. The lack of a proper education fuelled the violence, and pushed us Tamil backward. This is a community that has lost all hope; restoring its sense of confidence is the biggest challenge of the moment.” For this reason, the hostel makes sure the children go to a nearby school.
Yet, KP is concerned about the military presence in the north of the country. “On the one hand,” he admits, “the presence of the military has increased the sense of security. On the other though, it is intimidating to people who still feel under [someone else's] control.”
A Christian prisoner in Iran who is in a critical condition suffering internal bleeding has been denied proper medical attention.
Iran, May 11, 2013: Vahid Hakkani, who has been detained in Shiraz since his arrest in February 2012, has been told by prison doctors that he urgently needs surgery, but officials have failed to arrange his transfer to a hospital.
Vahid is on a prison ward dedicated to prisoners of conscience, many of whom are suffering physical and mental health problems as a result of the poor conditions in which they are held.
He was arrested at a house church gathering along with a number of other Christians who were in attendance. They were accused of participating in house church services, evangelising and promoting Christianity, having contact with foreign Christian organisations, propagating against the regime and disturbing national security. They are yet to be convicted of any offence.
Meanwhile, an appeal court has upheld the one year prison sentence issued in October 2012 to Pastor Farhad Sabokrouh, his wife Shahnaz Jeizan, and two lay ministers, Naser Zamen Dezfuli and Davoud Alijani.
They were summoned to court in Ahwaz on 1 May, where they were arrested on the spot and transferred to prison. Their charges were announced as “converting to Christianity and propagating against the Islamic regime through evangelism”.
They had been arrested, along with the rest of the congregation of the Assemblies of God church in Ahwaz, during a service on 23 December 2011.
After being temporarily released on bail two months later, Pastor Farhad was banned from holding church services and meeting with other Christians. He was also ordered to leave Ahwaz, so he had to move to Tehran.
- barnabas team
The statement by a scholar of Islamic faith in a Qatari magazine lifts the lid on the issue in the Muslim world.
Doha , May 10, 2013: In an interview with the Qatari newspaper Al-Dana, the cleric Shaikh Isam Talimah stated that “Sharia law does not provide for the stoning to death for the crime of adultery.” According to the scholar of Islamic scripture, the Koranic verse which addresses the issue of zina, or extra-marital relationships, in fact provides for a punishment of one hundred lashes to be imposed on both men and women. “Stoning – Talimah explained – was a custom of the Jewish tradition, Muslims took it up only at a later stage.” He added: “The resort by some people to stoning was to reinforce the punishment, especially when there are high immoral risks, such as the proliferation of the cases of rape, pedophile or incest”.
The practice of stoning is widespread in most countries of the Islamic world. History shows stoning was also common in Greek and Jewish culture, linked to the crime of adultery or prostitution. In Muslim countries, the ‘sinner’ is tied up, wrapped in a white shroud and partly buried. According to tradition, if the victim is able to escape and flee they should be granted a pardon. While only the legs of men are immobilized, women are buried up to shoulder height.
The Koran does not explicitly addresses the issue of stoning, but some spheres of the Islamic world find traces referring to it among the sayings of the prophet. The issue is a matter of debate and disagreement. Mohammad Bin Abdullah, editor of the Al-Dana, aware of the wave of reactions that the statement would have produced, invited readers to post comments in response promising to publish them.
Intolerance has been on the rise for the past five years under Pakistan’s democratically elected government because of the growing violence of Islamic radicals, who are then courted by political parties, say many in the country’s communities of Shiite Muslims, Christians, Hindus and other minorities.
On Saturday, the country will elect a new parliament, marking the first time one elected government is replaced by another in the history of Pakistan, which over its 66-year existence has repeatedly seen military rule. But minorities are not celebrating. Some of the fiercest Islamic extremists are candidates in the vote, and minorities say even the mainstream political parties pander to radicals to get votes, often campaigning side-by-side with well-known militants.
More than a dozen representatives of Pakistan’s minorities interviewed by The Associated Press expressed fears the vote will only hand more influence to extremists. Since the 2008 elections, under the outgoing government led by the left-leaning Pakistan People’s Party, sectarian attacks have been relentless and minorities have found themselves increasingly targeted by radical Islamic militants. Minorities have little faith the new election will change that.
“We are always opposed to martial law (but) during all the military regimes, the law and order was better and there was good security for minorities,” said Amar Lal, a lawyer and human rights activist for Pakistan’s Hindu community.
About 96 percent of Pakistan’s population of 180 million is Muslim. Most are Sunni, but according to the CIA Factbook about 10 to 15 percent are members of the Shiite sect. The remaining 4 percent are adherents to other religions such as Christians, Hindus and Ahmedis — a sect reviled by mainstream Muslims as heretics because they believe a prophet came after Muhammad, defying a basic tenet of Islam that Muhammad was the last prophet. Sunni radicals view Shiite Muslims as apostates.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom in a report last month berated the Pakistani government for its poor record of protecting both its minorities and its majority Sunni Muslims and recommended that Pakistan be put on a list of worst offenders, which could jeopardize billions of dollars in U.S. assistance.
“The government of Pakistan continues to engage in and tolerate systematic, ongoing and egregious violations of freedom of religion or belief,” the report said. “Sectarian and religiously motivated violence is chronic, especially against Shiite Muslims, and the government has failed to protect members of religious minority communities, as well as the majority faith.”
Lal said that in the past three years, 11,000 Hindus living in Pakistan’s southwestern Baluchistan province have migrated to India because they were worried about security and frustrated by kidnappings and forced conversions of young Hindu girls to Islam. Pakistan’s Hindu minority complains that scores of Hindu girls have been kidnapped, forced to marry their abductor and convert to Islam.
- ap / washington post
Hyderabad, May 09, 2013: In election 2013 of Pakistan, religious minorities are not allowed to elect their representatives in National assembly of Pakistan or Provincial Assemblies with their votes nor will Muslim women who are 51% of population of Pakistan elect their representatives with their votes.The Pakistan Christian Congress PCC Central Executive Council in a meeting issued a press note condemning these unconstitutional and undemocratic elections in which 51% of Pakistani women and 18% of Pakistani population of religious minorities will not exercise their vote on May 11, 2013, national general elections to elect their representatives but will only vote for Muslim men on 272 seats who will nominate or select 60 women and 10 minorities reserved seats in National assembly of Pakistan.
Dr. Nazir S Bhatti, President of Pakistan Christian Congress PCC said that election 2013 are unconstitutional as being held denying Article 226 of constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan which directs every seat in parliament to be filled with secret ballot not with any nomination.
“Pakistani Christian’s decision to boycott elections 2013 is just because not government of Pakistan, not Election Commission of Pakistan and not Supreme Court of Pakistan paid due attention on frequent petitions and memorandums of Pakistan Christian Congress PCC to relevant authorities to review Article 226 of constitution before announcing date of elections” said Nazir Bhatti.
Nazir Bhatti clarified that election 2013 are not elections for 20 million Pakistani Christians but elections of Muslim feudal lords, business tycoons and Islamists who term enjoying votes of Christians, Hindus and Ahmadiyyia communities as Islamic and constitutional but to vote for them as unconstitutional that’s why PPP, PML (N), PML (Q), PTI, MQM, JI, JUI and ANP have not awarded any ticket to any Christian, Hindu, Ahmadiyyia and Sikh on any seat of NA or PA on general seats.
“The religious minorities are pushed out of mainstream politics through these Nomination and Selection on 10 reserved seats instead of Elections” added Nazir Bhatti
PCC Chief demanded elections on reserved seats for minorities and women to make these elections constitutional and democratic.
- bureau report
USA, May 01, 2013: The Chinese regime continues to severely violate the freedom of thought, conscience and belief. That was the assessment in the 2013 report by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, released on April 30.
For the 13th year in a row, China has been named as a “Country of Particular Concern”. And the conditions for religions in China have, quote, “deteriorated significantly.”
The report identifies four groups of people who are suppressed by the Chinese regime: Tibetan Buddhists, underground Protestants and Catholics, Muslims and Falun Gong practitioners.
Speaking over skype, Christian rights activist Bob Fu says that the persecution of Christians and Catholics who refuse to worship in state-sanctioned churches has not diminished over the past year.
[Bob Fu, Founder, China Aid]:“As to the situation in the underground Catholic church, it’s also being targeted by the Chinese government and especially to those bishops and clergymen and also members of those non, so called “non-patriotic churches” which means they are faithful to the bible and accept the leadership of the Pope.”
The US report highlights the persecution of the Falun Gong spiritual practice as “some of the most intense and violent.” Many practitioners are imprisoned, tortured and killed in forced labor camps. But the situation, at least among Chinese citizens, may be changing.
[Erping Zhang, Spokesperson, Falun Dafa Info Center]:“More and more people learn about the facts and the truth of the persecution and what Falun Gong is all about and so in China we have seen a lot of citizens making public appeals for Falun Gong practitioners.”
The report documents more than 106 Tibetans who have taken their lives since 2011 to protest the Chinese regime’s policies towards Tibet. 52 of the victims were Buddhist monks and nuns calling for the return of the Dalai Lama, the 11th Panchen Lama and freedom of religious expression for Tibetans.
[Alistair Currie, Spokesperson, Free Tibet]:“China needs to realize that Buddhism is central to Tibetan culture and any attempts to repress it are going to fail and are simply going to generate more protest and more resistance.”
The US report calls for international pressure at all levels of government and a commitment to put religious freedom as a pillar of the US-China relationship.
Washington D.C., May 05, 2013: Even as Sri Lanka is engaged in a difficult process of post-civil-war reconciliation, disturbing reports are emerging of Christians being targeted for persecution by Buddhist fundamentalists.
On March 18, a large mob attacked a pastor’s home while the family was away and began damaging the property, demanding an end to the church services in the home. When his wife Aruna and their two children returned, they called the police. While four officers arrived, they were unable to control the mob, which refused to leave until Aruna promised an end to the worship meetings at their home. It wasn’t the first time they were attacked. Over the course of four years, the family was forced to move six times and one of their homes was fire-bombed, according to Release International.
Pastor Pradeep Kumara was away in Colombo, appearing in court for a case he filed over an attack against his church in late 2012, which may have fueled the fresh attack.
In the previous incident, a group of Buddhists accosted and threatened him, and told him to close down the church. The next morning, they returned and attacked the building during a worship service. They damaged equipment, furniture and vehicles, and warned Pastor Kumara, who was injured during the attack, saying: “Leave this place or be killed,” according to Barnabas Aid.
Rise in Persecution
In March 2013, more than 10 churches faced persecution in the form of threats, disturbances, harassment or attacks, mostly from Buddhist monks but sometimes even with the assistance or support of the police or a mob. The sudden spike in incidents of persecution against churches in such a short period of time signals the possibility of an organized campaign against Christians that is being carried out by Buddhist fundamentalists.
Christian persecution by Buddhist monks is not uncommon, as evidenced by the severe attack on a senior pastor and his wife by a mob of 40 men, accompanied by five Buddhist monks and a local government official. The pastor was beaten and threatened with death if he did not stop spreading Christianity.
In June 2012, 14-year-old Amila Tharanga Thilakaratne, the only Christian schoolboy in his class, was severely beaten by a Buddhist monk who left him bleeding from the ear when he professed his faith in the classroom, according to Barnabas Aid.
But such incidents, though severe, were sporadic in Sri Lanka. What is troubling today is the increase in the severity and frequency of the attacks, raising concerns over the motivations behind them and the safety of Christians.
Although, Buddhism is the national religion, the government has expressed its desire to provide religious freedom to all. This is a claim that is severely undermined by the apathy of the police, the courts and the judicial system when it comes to cases filed by Christians against their persecutors.
Fundamentalism or Politics?
Buddhist fundamentalism is a bit of an oxymoron because a genuine Buddhist will be hard-pressed to seek endorsement of violence from the Buddha, the essence of whose teaching is said to be compassion. Therefore, the only real motivation for the use of violence by Sri Lankan Buddhists is rooted in politics and ethnic identity.
Buddhist fundamentalists have a strong conviction that Sri Lanka is the historic Buddhist land that should not be shared with anyone else. They want Sri Lanka to be the land of the majority Sinhala ethnic group, with Buddhism as the supreme religion and Sinhala as the official language. As far as they are concerned, Sinhala and Buddhism are inseparable. Christianity is viewed as a product of Western colonialism that threatens their identity, and the practice of Christian evangelism is seen as a threat to their Sinhalese vision for the nation.
On March 24, 2013, Galaboda Aththe Gnanasarathera, of the hardline Buddhist group Bodu Bala Sena, said that the country should be ready to rally against what he described as Christian and Muslim extremist groups operating in the country. These comments were related to an announcement made by the Religious Affairs Ministry in Sri Lanka, which intends to introduce legislation enabling the authorities to take action against religious groups that are deemed cults.
The legislation is particularly troubling to evangelical churches, which are not recognized by the Religious Affairs Ministry, making them vulnerable to abuses of the legislation by Buddhists with extreme nationalist agendas.
The sudden increase in persecution only complicates the process of Sri Lanka’s slow recovery from a long and bitter civil war. In 1983, violence broke out between the Sinhalese majority and Tamil separatists, taking the lives of tens of thousands. After two decades of fighting, a ceasefire was formalized in February 2002. More violence erupted in 2006, and a military campaign defeated the remnants of Tamil separatists in 2009, which involved possible war crimes but ended the civil war and put the country on course for the long journey of reconciliation and recovery.
Even as the government navigates its way through a difficult healing process, it is tasked with the responsibility of protecting Christians from the increasing hostility of Buddhist fundamentalists. Without an urgent initiative to protect its religious minorities, Sri Lanka runs the risk of empowering an unhealthy nationalistic sentiment that will only subvert its earnest efforts to birth a better nation out of the ashes of war.
- international christian concern
Interfaith message timed for Vesakh festival, honoring life of Buddha.
Vatican City, May 03, 2013: The Vatican has urged Buddhists and Christians to work together, “on the basis of the genuine patrimony of our religious traditions, to create a climate of peace to love, defend and promote human life.”
In its first interfaith message since the election of Pope Francis, the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue stressed that the Argentine pontiff, “at the very beginning of his ministry, has reaffirmed the necessity of dialogue of friendship among followers of different religions.”
The message has been sent to Buddhist communities around Asia in advance of the festivity of Vesakh, which commemorates the main events of the Buddha’s life and is celebrated in different communities throughout May. An informal advance message was sent to Japan’s Buddhists, who celebrate Vesakh too.
The Vatican message notes that the cornerstone of Buddhist ethics, which calls for a loving kindness to all living beings and forbids killing, is deeply in tune with the Christian commandment “You shalt not kill.”
Yet, in today’s societies, “evil in different forms contributes to the dehumanization of the person by mitigating the sense of humanity in individuals and communities.”
For this reason, Buddhists and Christians are called to work together against this “tragic situation,” joining hands to “unmask the threats to human life and to awaken the ethical consciousness of our respective followers.”
The common aim of the two faiths should be the “spiritual and moral rebirth of individuals and societies in order to be true peacemakers who love, defend and promote human life in all its dimensions.”
Malaysia, May 02, 2013: Christian leaders on Wednesday condemned a billboard election campaign by the ruling party, Barisan Nasional, which they say depicts churches as usurping the authority and name of Allah, and which could be seen as a license for violence against them.
Reverend Eu Hong Seng, chairman of the Christian Federation of Malaysia, said the billboard campaign conveyed a “despicable and heinous” anti-Christian message that could threaten churches over their use of the term Allah for God.
He said the threat was a real one given recent church burnings and threats to burn copies of the Bahasa Malaysia language bible.
The billboard depicts two churches described as “Rumah Allah”, or house of Allah, and asks if voters want their children and grandchildren to pray in such houses.
A caption underneath the photos reads: “If we allow the Allah word used in churches, we sell our religion, race and nation….”
It adds: “Vote Barisan Nasional because they can protect your religion, race and nation.”
Malaysian voters will go to the polls for the 13th general election on Sunday, with the race essentially neck and neck between Barisan Nasional and the opposition coalition Pakatan Rakyat (PR).
Both sides are vying fiercely for the Muslim vote, with Muslim Malays constituting 60 percent of the population. An opposition victory would see the first non-Barisan Nasional administration since independence 56 years ago.
The ruling party lost its two-thirds majority in general elections in 2008, and since that time has maintained a stricter Islamic agenda to secure a greater portion of Muslim votes.
A rallying point has been the use of the world Allah, the Arabic word for God, in bibles published in the Bahasa Malaysia language.
It has struggled to ban the word’s use by Christians, even though Christians in what is now Malaysia have used the word since the first Al Kitab, the Malay language bible, was published more than 400 years ago.
Prime Minister Najib Razak recently defended the ban on the term Allah in an interview with Al Jazeera.
“The concept of Allah is different in the Muslim sense than in the Christian sense. We should not upset the Muslims and Muslims should not upset the Christians. We have lived in harmony for years and it should continue,” he said in the interview.
The opposition party has not taken a similarly hard line with Christians. De facto opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim has repeatedly assured Christians that they would be able to continue using the word Allah in their Malay language publications.