Lahore, November 23, 2014: Condemnations by Pakistan’s top clerics and Islamist parties against the misuse of blasphemy laws could help reverse a rising tide of mob killings, according to one of the country’s leading rights activists.
A Christian couple accused of desecrating a Qur’an were beaten to death by a mob of 1,500 and their bodies thrown in a furnace this month in the latest in a spate of lynchings in conservative Pakistan.
A day later, a policeman hacked a man who had been accused of blasphemy to death with an axe while he was in custody.
Pakistan’s tough blasphemy laws can include the death penalty for insulting the prophet Mohammed, but critics say they are often used to settle personal disputes.
While there have been no civilian executions for any crime since 2008, anyone convicted, or even accused, of insulting Islam risks a bloody death at the hands of vigilantes.
Such incidents have been met with general condemnation in the past, but little action has been taken against either the perpetrators or instigators — a factor, say activists, driving a rise in such crimes.
But for lawyer Asma Jahangir, recently given France’s highest civilian award and Sweden’s alternative to the Nobel prize for her decades of rights work, the response to the Christian couple’s killing offers hope for change.
“There is a positive development, that religious scholars and parties including Jamaat-e-Islami went there and came forward against the incident, which is a good omen,” she said at her offices in the eastern city of Lahore.
“I think it is a very big change and we should appreciate and welcome it.”
Pakistan’s religious right has for decades used supposed threats to Islam to stoke up support in a country where 97 percent of the population are Muslims.
But Jahangir said the mounting number of gruesome vigilante cases was now forcing even those who had traditionally been the law’s most vocal supporters to pause.
The All Pakistan Ulema Council, a leading clerical body, has chastised the government for failing to act and pledged that in the case of the Christian couple, justice for the victims must be served.
It may sound like wishful thinking, but few Pakistani rights activists have achieved the credibility of Jahangir, a lawyer and daughter of a left-wing politician.
The former UN special rapporteur on religion has braved death threats, beatings and prison time to win landmark human rights cases and stand up to dictatorship.
Pakistan still suffers terrible violence against women, discrimination against minorities and near-slavery for bonded laborers, but Jahangir insists human rights causes have made greater strides than it may appear.
“There was a time that human rights was not even an issue in this country. Then prisoners’ rights became an issue,” she said.
“Women’s rights was thought of as a Western concept. Now people do talk about women’s rights — political parties talk about it, even religious parties talk about it.”
Military undermining democracy?
Jahangir can count a number of victories, from winning freedom for bonded laborers from their “owners” through pioneering litigation to a landmark court case that allowed women to marry of their own volition.
She has also been an outspoken critic of the country’s powerful military establishment, including during her stint as the first ever female leader of Pakistan’s bar association.
The 62-year-old was arrested in 2007 by the government of then military ruler Pervez Musharraf, and two years ago claimed her life was in danger from the country’s feared ISI spy agency.
She recently engaged in a war of words with cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, whose anti-government protest movement she says is backed by the military — a claim his party has denied.
Khan’s push to unseat Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has lost momentum since peaking in late August, but he plans a mass rally in Islamabad on November 30.
Jahangir said it was clear that Khan and populist cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri, who led a parallel protest, were being aided by the military.
“I have lived in politics, I was born in a political house, it runs in my blood — so I know when certain faces are coming out, where they are coming from,” she said.
Sri Lanka, November 23, 2014: When Father Benjamin Henry Miller left the US as a Jesuit student priest bound for Sri Lanka in 1948, he could have not predicted the changes he would see over the next 66 years.
To those who know him today, Fr Miller is an exemplar human rights defender. But the 89-year-old remains discomfited by such accolades, declining interview requests and telling a reporter recently that he had no desire to discuss his accomplishments.
“I don’t want publicity,” he explained apologetically, after welcoming the visitor into his sparse room located inside an attic in St Michael’s College in Batticaloa.
These days, the beatific American priest moves slowly, shuffling on crutches as he gets up to answer an endless string of phone calls and descending from the attic only with the aid of a friend. But when he arrived in the eastern Sri Lankan city, just months after the country’s independence, he was agile and driven from the start.
Almost immediately, Father Miller took on a role far beyond that of a parish priest helping to build bridges between communities as educator, priest, protector and witness.
But it was when civil war broke out in 1983, that his efforts reached their nadir. As rights abuses mounted, he demonstrated against the government, security forces and several militant groups including the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
He also took to his motorcycle, traveling the nation in increasingly dangerous conditions to collect reports of disappearances, torture and killings that he passed on to local and international actors.
The same year, he founded the Batticaloa Peace Committee (BPC), providing a safe space for relatives of those attacked.
At the BPC, Father Miller helped thousands of families file police complaints and search for information on their relatives. Many were not even aware of the location of the prisons.
“Father Miller recorded all complaints from aggrieved people on violations of human rights, totaling around 8,000 cases that were forwarded to international human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, and diplomats,” said Dr T Jayasingam, professor of Eastern University.
“The priest commits himself never to leave the people in their time of need,” he said.
Father Miller’s outspoken criticisms of human rights abuses were a rare beacon of truth at a time of a vast cover up.
“His work became a voice for the voiceless and the poverty-stricken whose fathers, sons and brothers had been abducted or killed, and who had been too frightened to report their suffering to the authorities but ran to the priest who accepted them,” he said.
At the BPC, Father Miller provided advice on legal procedures surrounding detention and how to locate those being held.
“It was a great relief for the people who were looked upon by the forces as suspected terrorists,” said Bishop Joseph Kingsley Swampillai, Bishop of Trincomalee diocese.
Amara Hapuarachchi, who works closely with Father Miller, said the priest enjoyed a rare “healthy respect” from security forces, which allowed him to succeed where few did.
“There was no proof of arrests therefore the priest forced the military to give a receipt to the family of victims when they arrested them and it helped to prevent them disappearing,” she said. “That is the only assurance a wife had that her husband did not disappear.”
In addition to the BPC, Father Miller formed the Council of Religions to help seek a peaceful solution to the ethnic conflict.
The integral role of Father Miller’s work has been evident time and again. When the Sri Lankan government pushed to end the war after more than 25 years, they turned to the priest as a ceasefire monitor.
Earlier this month, Father Miller was awarded the National Peace Council’s (NPC’s) Citizens Peace Award. The award, granted only to Sri Lankan residents, is given in recognition of those who “have stood up for the protection of and enforcement of human rights and fundamental rights when such rights are under threat and such action requires unusual courage and self sacrifice to do so”.
“Father Miller became instrumental in setting up forums for community leaders and religious figures to engage in dialogue with one another,” said Joe William, Chairman of NPC.
“As the conflict and its effect on the people of Eastern Province worsened, he became a repository for thousands of human rights abuses and disappearances that took place,” he said.
Though time has slowed him, Father Miller shows little intention of stopping his work. In 2009, he returned to his native New Orleans, only to quickly turn around and go back.
When he stood up to receive his award, the priest explained that he had long come to see Sri Lanka as home.
“I will never stay in the US, now this is my home town.”
Lahore, November 19, 2014: Relatives of a Christian couple that were lynched to death over allegations of blasphemy in Pakistan’s Punjab province earlier this month have called for government protection, saying they are being pressured to drop their case against the alleged killers.
Shehzad Masih and his pregnant wife Shama Bibi, bonded laborers, were attacked by a mob of 1,500 villagers and then thrown into a lit kiln after announcements were made over a mosque loudspeaker saying the couple had committed blasphemy by burning and throwing out pages of the Qur’an.
Police rounded up 43 suspects after the November 4 attack in Kasur district, including the brick kiln owner and mosque prayer leader. Four suspects were remanded in police custody, which is set to run out today.
“We are receiving threats on phone to take back our case,” Shahbaz Masih, the brother of Shehzad Masih, told a press conference in Islamabad on Monday. “We have been offered money and land as compensation in return for withdrawal of the case against the accused,” he said.
“We have informed the district police officer of Kasur about the threats,” he said.
Masih appealed to the Supreme Court to take up the case independently and order an impartial inquiry.
“We only want justice through fair investigations,” he said, adding that a judicial commission and joint investigation team should be formed to carry out the probe.
Shahbaz and his wife Parveen Bibi said that members of religious minorities should be included in the commission.
The Pakistan Interfaith League (PIL), a group of clerics and rights activists promoting religious co-existence, urged harsh punishments for those involved to dissuade others from misusing religion as an excuse to settle personal feuds in the future.
“Had the perpetrators of Gojra and Joseph Colony riots case been punished, no one would have dared to burn the Christian couple now,” said PIL chairman Sajid Ishaq, referring to riots against Christians in 2009 and 2013 that saw more than a dozen killed in mob attacks.
“PIL urges the government to ensure the security of this terrified family and shift them to a safer place,” he added.
In a separate case, police said Tuesday they had arrested a Christian man in Lahore last week over blasphemy allegations.
Thirty-eight year old Qaiser Ayub, a computer science teacher, was sent to jail by court order on Monday in Talagang in Chakwal district, where he was declared an absconder in a case dating back to 2011.
“Ayub has been charged with uploading sacrilegious posts on his Facebook page against the Prophet Muhammad,” a police officer at Talagang Police Station told ucanews.com.
The charge carries either the death sentence or life imprisonment.
Sardar Mushtaq Gill, Director of Christian advocacy group Legal Evangelical Association Development, said that Ayub had been on the run for three and a half years.
Blasphemy is an extremely sensitive subject in Muslim-majority Pakistan, and even unproven allegations often trigger mob violence.
Lahore, November 17, 2014: The Christian Qaiser Ayub, 40, was arrested for an alleged case of blasphemy by the police in Lahore. The complaint was registered pursuant to art 295-C of the Penal Code (insulting the Prophet), the same for which Asia Bibi was sentenced. Ayub is a professor of computer science and has taught in several schools in Lahore. As reported to Agenzia Fides by lawyer Sardar Mushtaq Gill, according to the police Ayub had been a fugitive for about 3 years, since the alleged blasphemy dates back to 2011. The charge against him is that of having written blasphemous comments on his blog.
Meanwhile, the police announced that two brothers, Imran and Irfan, Muslims, among the most wanted for the lynching of Shaazad Masih and Shama Bibi, which occurred in Kasur, were arrested in Pirmahal, Punjab. 50 suspects still remain in custody.
Meanwhile in Faisalabad human rights defenders, Muslims and Christians in a meeting urged the government of Pakistan to take a clear position on the misuse of the blasphemy laws. “The government must announce and clearly demonstrate its position to prevent extrajudicial killings and attacks against minorities, justified from the misuse of the blasphemy laws” they remarked during the meeting, organized by associations like “Awam” (Association of Women for Awareness and Motivation) and “Reat” (Rights of expression, assembly, association and thought).
- agenzia fides
Jakarta, November 18, 2014: Rights groups slammed the Indonesian government on Monday, saying its failure to address discriminative aspects of the blasphemy law has left large portions of the population open to abuse.
The 1965 blasphemy law recognizes only six religions — Buddhism, Catholicism, Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam and Protestantism. Others are banned, and the law also prohibits alternative interpretations of recognized religions, including Islam.
“The existence of the regulations is obviously against human rights because the state sets a limit on citizens in terms of adhering to religions and practicing them,” said Jayadi Damanik, coordinator of Freedom of Religion and Belief Desk at the National Commission on Human Rights, speaking on the first day of a two-day regional religious rights conference.
The problem is compounded by unequal law enforcement, said Damanik.
“For example, the police — in many cases like rallies — tend just to relocate victims instead of taking strict action against intolerant groups delivering hate speeches. Also, the legal system comes down hard on minorities, not groups committing violent acts.”
Even when the law does rule in favor of a non-recognized group, local authorities can simply ignore the court.
In 2010, the congregation of GKI Taman Yasmin in Bogor, West Java was banned from using their church, and the local government revoked their building permit. Though the Supreme Court later ruled that the congregation could reopen, the mayor has ignored the ruling. Since 2012, the congregation has held Sunday services on the street in front of the Presidential Palace in Jakarta to agitate the the reopening of their church.
Febi Yonesta, director of the Jakarta Legal Aid Institute, said that such discriminative regulations led to frequent persecution and intimidation.
“Our findings often reveal that the issue lies in intolerant groups as well as leaders taking benefits from the issue for the sake of their own political interest,” she said.
National Police spokesman Inspector-General Ronny F Sompie acknowledged that the police often faced difficulties in dealing with hate speeches delivered by intolerant groups.
“It is often said that it is freedom of speech. The human rights perspective highly upholds freedom of speech indeed as it is the main foundation of a democratic society. However, it cannot be justified if it is used to create violence,” he said.
But he also insisted the police were more ready than ever to work with NGOs and civil society to promote better rights protection.
“The National Police, in this case, is truly ready to build a network with all parties so as to maintain security and social order and to protect freedom of religion and belief,” he added.
In his opening speech, Muhammad Machasin from the Religious Affairs Ministry’s Directorate of Islamic Guidance admitted that the Indonesian government has to do more to protect freedom of religion and belief.
“We are walking to the bright side. However, religious-based issues have still to be addressed. There are a lot of things to be done together. The Religious Affairs Ministry cannot do it alone,” he said.
Washington, D.C, November 14, 2014: Two Christian converts from Islam-Obsa Ogeto, 32, and Soka Araro, 31-appeared in the Oromiya Region Federal Court of Ethiopia on charges of growing and distributing illegal substances, punishable by up to seven years imprisonment. The two were arrested by Shashemene police in August, following their public conversion to Christianity. One of the two accused was able to meet bail, while the other has served three months in detention while awaiting trial.
Immediately following their arrest, ICC contacted Peter (name changed upon request), a relative of one of the two accused converts, to inquire about the charges. According to this relative, and other members of the West Arsi Christian community, the arrests were made on evidence planted by local Muslims led by members of the families of the accused. According to the lawyer ICC has supplied for the two converts’ defense (name withheld for security concerns), both men were falsely accused by communities and corrupt local officials as punishment for leaving Islam-the dominant religion in West Arsi.
According to an eyewitness, local Muslims threatened to frame Peter, Obsa and Soka as criminals should they refuse to return to Islam. Shortly after the three converts refused to leave their newfound faith, local Muslims attempted to spear Peter before planting evidence of the production and distribution of illegal substances in the converts’ shared compound. When notified by those same Muslims, police then stormed that compound to discover the planted evidence before arresting Peter, Obsa and Soka.
Dehydrated and suffering from hemorrhoids as a result of the poor food quality and unsanitary conditions of his cell, Obsa was repeatedly denied access to medical attention by local police. Eventually, ICC was able to have a doctor visit and treat Obsa in his cell.
Following last week’s hearing, the converts’ legal defense will collect and submit its counter evidence at a later court date.
The wrongful imprisonment of Christians in Muslim-majority areas across Ethiopia is becoming an increasingly prominent issue. Over the course of the past month, four Christian elders, involved in an outstanding legal battle over ownership rights to the land on which their church is built, were arrested and detained for three days in Dalocha without charge. A Christian evangelist in Shashemene was arrested while preaching publicly and detained for 30 hours without charge.
ICC’s Regional Manager for Africa, Cameron Thomas, said “The abuse of legal institutions by local, increasingly radical Muslim majorities across Ethiopia is an infringement on the rights of Ethiopia’s Christians to worship freely, and it must come to an end. In just the past three months, ICC has documented the wrongful arrest and detention of eight innocent Christians, all of whom have been targeted by corrupt local officials for their Christian faith. When freedom of religion is violated by those tasked with upholding laws that guarantee right of conscience, the international community must speak out in support of those on the ground fighting for the restoration of justice and the ousting of corruption.”
Laos, November 14, 2014: Six Hmong Christian families have been forced to leave their village in central Laos after refusing to renounce their faith, according to a fellow member of their ethnic group and friend to the families.
The six families, consisting of 25 people, were made to leave their homes in Borikhamxay province’s Khamkeut district because they would not revert to animism as practiced by the majority of residents in their Ko Hai village, the source told RFA’s Lao Service.
“After they converted to Christianity, the local authorities became unhappy and ordered them to revert back to animism, but they refused,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
According to the source, authorities detained two men from among the families in July and held them for nearly a month after they refused to renounce Christianity.
“Once they were released the authorities again tried to force them to believe in animism, but they still refused, so they were forced to leave their homes,” he said.
Two of the Christian families were evicted from Ko Hai on August 27, while the other four were sent away on September 18, he said.
All six families resettled in Khamkeut’s Hoi Keo village, located near the town of Lak Sao, the source said.
He said that the 62-year-old patriarch of one of the families died shortly after arriving in Hoi Keo, suggesting that the stress of being forced from his ancestral home was responsible for his death.
“[The Christian families] want to return to their homes because they are poor and don’t have enough money to resettle in the new location,” the source said. “They already had a home, land and a farm in their old village.”
The governor of Khamkeut district claimed to have no knowledge of the forced eviction, but vowed to investigate.
“We have not received any reports about this, but we will look into it and ask the local authorities,” the governor, who gave his name as Thongsam, told RFA.
Arrests in Luang Namtha
According to the friend of the evicted families, seven other ethnic Hmong — including a 14-year-old boy — were arrested in northwestern Laos’ Luang Namtha province on November 2 after they converted from animism to Christianity.
He said five of the Christians were released after signing a pledge to renounce their faith, but that two others had refused and were to be transferred to the provincial prison.
A security officer from Luang Namtha’s Long district, which administers Kang Daeng village where the seven Hmong live, denied that authorities had arrested the Christians.
But he told RFA that the seven had been taken in for questioning and a “consultation” on their behavior, which he said included fighting with other village residents.
“[They] have disturbed the social peace, argued, and gone on rampages, so we brought them in for a consultation — we didn’t arrest them.
The Lao constitution provides for freedom of religion but stipulates that the state should play an active role in managing the country’s religious affairs.
Christians are a small minority in the Buddhist-majority country, where Roman Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, Bahai’s, and followers of Confucianism constitute less than three percent of the population, according to the US State Department’s annual report on global religious freedom.
In some provinces in Laos, local authorities are suspicious of non-Buddhist religious groups, and sometimes minority groups’ refusal to participate in Buddhist or animist religious ceremonies produces tension in local communities, according to the report.
In March, six Christian families left their Buddhist-majority village in Savannakhet province following what rights groups said were threats of eviction if they did not renounce their faith, though local authorities said the families had left of their own accord to avoid conflict with other residents.
Lao authorities have also long been wary of opposition among the Hmong, many of whom say they face persecution from the government because of their Vietnam War-era ties with the US.
Thousands of Hmong fought under CIA advisers during a so-called “secret war” against communists in Laos.
- radio free asia
He threatened divorce. Both started shouting. Neighbors came looking. Suddenly, he snatched their 11-month-old daughter from the arms of an older child, tucked her under one arm and sped off on his motorbike.
That was more than five years ago. Gandhi hasn’t seen her child since, even though a Malaysian civil court awarded her custody.
Her husband — who converted to Islam shortly before taking his daughter away — won custody in an Islamic court. Because Gandhi is not a Muslim, she was not even called to appear. Police have been unwilling to enforce the civil court’s decision.
“I am pining to see my daughter. No mother should ever have to endure this pain,” said Gandhi, a kindergarten teacher, in her small rented home in Ipoh city in Perak state, about 200 kilometers (124 miles) north of Kuala Lumpur, the capital. “Give us a chance. We are all Malaysians. We should have equal rights.”
Gandhi’s case and others highlight perils of Malaysia’s divided legal system, where majority Muslims use Shariah courts for religious and family issues such as conversion, divorce and death. The other 40 percent of the country — mainly Christians, Buddhists and Hindus — use a secular legal system inherited from the Southeast Asian country’s British colonial rulers.
Critics accuse the ethnic Malay Muslim-dominated government of doing too little to resolve problems when those legal systems collide. The government has become increasingly reliant on support from Islamist and right-wing pressure groups as other constituencies flock to the opposition.
M. Kulasegaran, an opposition lawmaker who is also Gandhi’s lawyer, said there are many similar cases, including several he plans to file once Gandhi’s case is resolved. Some earlier cases have turned out even worse for non-Muslims than Gandhi’s case has so far: In 2007, the top civil court ruled that a Muslim spouse had the right to convert his children without the mother’s consent.
Some lawyers and legal experts say spouses in especially bitter custody battles sometimes convert to Islam to gain an upper hand. A Muslim with a non-Muslim spouse who seeks custody from the Shariah court is almost certain to win because the spouse has no standing.
The government has long pledged to tackle legal ambiguities related to religious conversions. But a Cabinet decision in 2009 to allow minors to be converted only with both parents’ consent has yet to be made legally binding.
In southern Negeri Sembilan state, Deepa Subramaniam’s Hindu husband quietly embraced Islam in 2012 and formally converted both their children without her consent. He was then granted custody of the children by a Shariah court. Deepa turned to the civil court, which annulled her marriage on grounds of domestic violence and granted her custody of the children. Two days later, her ex-husband abducted their 5-year-old son.
National police chief Khalid Abu Bakar has refused to act on court orders to return either Deepa’s son or Gandhi’s daughter to their mothers. He has been cited for contempt but is waiting for a higher civil court to weigh in.
He was quoted as saying by local media that police were “sandwiched” between legal systems and proposed that children caught in custody tussles be placed in welfare homes. Khalid did not return text messages from The Associated Press seeking comment.
The abduction of Gandhi’s daughter, Prasana Diksa, came days before her first birthday. Her mother had bought her a Minnie Mouse blouse and jeans, and had planned to take her to the temple for ear piercing, a traditional Hindu practice when a child turns 1.
Gandhi repeatedly called her husband and begged him to return Diksa, who was still on breast milk, in the hours and days after she was taken. Her husband, an odd-job worker now called Muhammad Riduan Abdullah, initially told her again to convert to Islam, then stopped replying to any of her requests.
Gandhi found out that he had officially converted to Islam when she went to a police station to report the abduction. There she learned that he had also changed the birth certificates of the couples’ other two children to state they were Muslims. Fearing that Islamic authorities may seize them as well, Gandhi went into hiding.
The Shariah court granted Riduan temporary custody of all three children days after he abducted Diksa, and granted him permanent custody a few months later. No grounds were given by the Islamic court. In Perak and some other states, Shariah allows one parent to convert children to Islam without the consent of the other.
Gandhi turned to the civil court, which in 2010 awarded her custody of all three children and ruled that the Shariah court had exceeded its jurisdiction.
Last year, a civil court quashed the children’s conversion to Islam in a landmark ruling. Civil courts had in the past said they had no jurisdiction in such cases.
Riduan appealed the civil court’s custody decision but lost. His appeal of the ruling on his children’s conversions has yet to be heard.
In May this year, the court ordered police to arrest Riduan for contempt of court and return Diksa, now 6, to her mother. Yet with police refusing to act, she is no closer to her daughter. The case continues to go through the civil court system, where it may take years to resolve.
Riduan declined to speak to a reporter. His lawyer, Anas Fauzi, said in an email that Riduan refused to comply with the civil court ruling because he was bound by the Shariah order.
Prime Minister Najib Razak has urged parents to resolve their disputes in the Federal Court, the nation’s highest civil court, but has not condemned the abductions. An aide to Najib declined to comment further on the cases.
Many Islamic clerics view the prospect of a Muslim child being brought up in a non-Muslim household as unacceptable.
Abdullah Zaik Abdul Rahman, who heads the Islamic right-wing group Isma, defended the Shariah courts’ actions, saying the Muslim fathers are in a better position to raise the children as Muslims. He said the law should be changed to allow Shariah courts to hear petitions from non-Muslims, and added that “its decision must be final.”
But Muhammad Asri Zainal Abidin, an Islamic scholar and a former state mufti, said children caught in such custody battles should be able to live with non-Muslim mothers as long as they care for them well.
“There is no compulsion in Islam. Nobody can force others to embrace a religion, not even their parents. Leave the matter to the children to decide when they are old enough,” he said.
Diksa, now called Ummu Habibah Muhammad Riduan, lives with her father in a Muslim community in northeastern Kelantan state. His lawyer, Anas, said she has adjusted well and that “both the father and the daughter receive moral and physical support from the local society.”
Riduan does not provide financial support for his other two children, now 16 and 17, who have remained with Gandhi throughout the dispute. Anas said that since his client converted, “the conditions and the circumstances do not even allow both disputed parties to have any relationship.”
Gandhi did, however, finally receive recent pictures of her youngest child this year. In one, a smiling Diksa is clad in a black Islamic headscarf, posing with her father.
Every day, at an altar in her home, Gandhi lights a candle for Diksa and prays that she comes home.
“Whether she is a Muslim or not, it doesn’t matter,” she said. “She is still my daughter. All I want is to hold and embrace her. I have missed many precious moments with her. I will fight until I get my child back.”
- big story
Rome, October 14, 2014: Thanks to the generosity of many readers and friends of AsiaNews, the campaign “Adopt a Christian from Mosul” has raised nearly 700,000 euros (almost US$ 900,000) to fund the basic needs of Christian and Yazidi refugees in Kurdistan, who fled the violence and cruelty of the Islamic caliphate.
On 10 October, we sent the bishops – who like their faithful are also refugees – a second instalment of 393,297.76 euros raised in September. With 279,219.96 euros raised in August, the total amount sent comes to 672,517.72 euros.
This is surprising given the modest size of our agency, but it is a sign of active compassion towards the Iraqi people on the part of tens of thousands of people who understand that the fate of East-West relations is being played out in the Middle East.
Pope Francis has never failed to appeal to the world’s sense of charity for the persecuted Christians in the Middle East.
The Synod, which is currently meeting in the Vatican, called on “people of good will to continue to provide the necessary assistance and help to the innocent victims of this barbarism that is taking place, and at the same time, we ask the international community to take action to re-establish peaceful coexistence in Iraq”.
Sadly, the governments of the international community seem to have placed refugees and their return home at the bottom of their list of priorities, preferring a policy of “containment” of the Islamic Army, instead of trying to liberate Mosul.
“It is clear that the Islamic state is stronger than coalition airstrikes,” said Chaldean archbishop Mgr Amel Nona, who also fled after unsuccessfully trying to communicate with the caliphate militias.
Thus, it is that more urgent to send tokens of consolation and assistance to the refugees, who are still prostrated from living “in tents, schools, classrooms and churches.”
As winter approaches with the possibility of snow, the emergency is likely to get worse with great need for food, warm clothes, and shelter.
“We are looking to rent houses,” Mgr Nona said, “but it is impossible to find accommodation for everyone. Finding housing is not easy, so we look for other solutions.”
In addition to serious economic difficulties, children are unable to go to school. Priests, the bishop said, “are promoting activities for children and young people, making them play to forget, even for a few moments, the tragedy of war.”
If the governments of the international community remain lukewarm, this is not the case for those who are participating in the campaign.
Together, they constitute almost a “new” international community, committed to wiping out the “globalisation of indifference,” with gifts come from China, Taiwan, Switzerland (in particular the Diocese of Lugano), the Czech Republic, Poland, France, Brazil, etc.
Some friends have asked us if the “adoption” will become permanent. Some people have in fact made a second and a third monthly donation.
It is our belief that the campaign should last as long as the emergency lasts. Consequently, we ask you to be generous, but “without sadness or compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor, 9:7).
Vietnam, November 6, 2014: On 23 October believers in Vietnam’s capital, Hanoi, held a protest outside an official building demanding that local authorities stop construction work on land that legally belongs to a church.
Church members said that the authorities’ move to fill in an 18,200 square metre lake on church land is in violation of the law; they believe that this action was taken in order to reduce the influence of the church in the region.
The protestors were not met by any officials, but security officers forced them to abandon the protest after tearing their banners.
Despite filing a complaint on 16 October asking the government to cease filling in Ba Giang Lake, the church has not received an official response, and members have not had any reply from local offices that they have contacted.
The church in question has been growing in size, and its leader told Radio Free Asia that its Sunday service is currently attended by around 15,000 people. However, the premises are not big enough to meet the increasing demand – hence the need for the government to return the entirety of the land owned by the church.
The church has owned the 15-acre plot of land in Dong Da district since 1928, as confirmed by government documents. District officials claim that the land was handed over to the government in 1961, but have been unable to provide evidence of this despite repeated requests. The church has objected to the government’s “illegal construction” on its land since 1996.
In Communist Vietnam, religious activity is tightly controlled by the state through force and administrative means. Churches are required to register with authorities in order to meet legally.
- barnabas team