Mgr Gervas Rozario, bishop of the Diocese of Rajshahi, told AsiaNews that “the killing of innocent civilians is intolerable” and that “people want peace.” For this reason, he has called on the government and the opposition to find ways to communicate. Since January this year, 347 people have died in political unrest.
Bangladesh, December 12, 2013: “We cannot tolerate the killing of innocent people. People want peace. Politicians must be patriotic, responsible, and sit down to talk,” said Mgr Gervas Rozario, bishop of the Diocese of Rajshahi. Speaking to AsiaNews, he addressed Bangladesh’s political leaders in order to ask them to solve the country’s crisis and stop the violence that has raged for months.
In the past few weeks, 40 people have died in unrest triggered by general strikes (hartal). So far this year, 347 people have been killed, 95 per cent of whom civilians not directly involved in politics.
Led by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), the opposition is set on demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, head of the secular and socialist Awami League, and her government to allow the creation of a non-partisan caretaker government that would organise the general elections for 5 January 2014.
The prime minister has rejected that option, and in response, the BNP has called on its supporters and allies to take to the streets and continue the protests.
According to Mgr Rozario, the deadlock must end as soon as possible. “The people are not involved in the power struggle between the government and the opposition. They want peace at all costs, and the dialogue between the parties is the best way to achieve it.”
Indonesia, December 02, 2013: A group of FPI members stopped the Sunday services of the Hkbp in Binjai . Fundamentalists threaten Christians, who are forced to leave under police escort. Attack sparked by false accusations of promoting religious activities in a building without permission. A case pending for more than five years.
A group of extremists belonging to the Islamic Defenders Front attacked and disrupted the Sunday services of the Tandemn Huria Kristen Batak Protestant ( Hkbp ) community in the city of Binjai , the Indonesian province of North Sumatra. Hundreds of faithful of the local Christian community had to abandon their church – official and recognized – and close traditional weekend services early because of the threats made by the fundamentalists. The faithful returned to their homes, escorted by police in riot gear.
Eyewitnesses reported that the assault yesterday morning against the Protestant Christian community was led by hundreds of FPI members, supported by some local Islamist groups . The assailants shouted loudly that the “church” is not legal , the authorities in the area, according to the extremists , have not take any decision on the legitimacy of any ” activities of worship ” in the building .
The Islamists attack comes in conjunction with the decision by local authorities, who must determine whether the place of Christian worship is or is not valid. The case is still pending and the surprise extremist attack could be aimed at putting pressure on judge.
Nasir Ahmad , FPI coordinator, said that the interruption of the Hkbp function had the “support ” of the political authorities, as previously insured during a special meeting on 27 November 2013. During the meeting they discussed the issue with the leaders of Binjai . The Islamists claim that the “church” is not legal , because the case ” is still pending in court ” and has not received the approval of the local population . Zainnudin Purba, an MP for Binjai , points the finger at the local administration which has been unable to make a decision on the matter for more than five years.
Indonesia is the most populous Muslim nation in the world (86 % profess Islam) and, while maintaining the constitutional principle of basic personal freedoms (including religious) , it is increasingly becoming a theater of violence and abuse against minorities . Christians make up 5.7% of the population; Catholics just over 3 %, 1.8 % are Hindu and 3.4% of other religions. The province of Aceh applies Islamic law and many other areas are becoming more radical and extreme the application of the Muslim religion in the lives of citizens.
In this context, the FPI has played a leading role in a broad campaign of ‘Islamisation’. In a number of places, its members have used violence to impose Sharia-inspired rules and regulations, such as a ban on alcoholic beverages and the prohibition of certain sexual mores. The group, which is opposed by most Indonesians, has also been accused of blocking church construction, using violence to achieve this goal. Since 2000, it has also been blamed in connection with a series of terror attacks that targeted the US Embassy as well as bars, nightclubs, and private clubs, especially during Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting and prayer.
Beirut, November 29, 2013: Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabism and Salafism are a “ticking bomb” and “a volcano.” It is important to promote a form of Islam that is more open to dialogue with contemporary cultures. Steps for peace in Syria and Iran give hope to Christians.
At a time when Eastern Christians wonder about their future, a virtuous cycle has started to emerge in the Middle East.
Its first symptom was the decision of the United States and France to abandon “punitive strikes” against Syria, which might have triggered a regional, and who knows, perhaps a world conflict so that, for a few days, the world was on the brink.
This was followed by the decision to eliminate Syria’s chemical stockpile under international supervision. Monday’s agreement on the Iranian nuclear programme is part of this trend.
Something new is happening and, for some, it cannot be dissociated from the day of prayer and fasting on 7 September and the Pope’s call for peace in Syria and the Middle East.
If we consider that a date for the second Geneva peace Conference on Syria has been picked and that the US Secretary of State has been hard at finding a solution to the long-standing Israeli-Palestinian dispute, we can only hope these early blossoms may, in turn, herald a new spring.
For a Lebanese political scientist, who asked for his name to be withheld, these developments are not only political, but come with a cultural shift that ought to lead to Islam’s renewal. In his view, this partly explains President Obama’s “unexpected and surprising” opening to Iran.
“Whether we like it or not, Sunnis, who represent some 75 per cent of the world’s Muslims, must engage in self-renewal, the expert said. This is a must, an absolute urgency, in light of the vastness of the Muslim world with its growing importance, not only in Asia and Africa but even in Europe, as well as of the development of globalisation, which is forcing cultures, societies and economies to meet in what is becoming day by day a “global village”.
President Barack Obama, the political scientist added, has come to realise that one of the essential conditions for Islam to renew itself is that it should not be attacked frontally and massively, from and by the “outside” world.
Hence, Bush-style “crusades” are unnecessary and harmful, not only for the future of America, but also for that of the world, which depends in part on the peaceful and harmonious interaction between Muslims and others.
What Obama and others are beginning to understand, he explained, is that Wahhabism, and Salafism, are the most rigid currents Islam has ever known. Yet, because of Saudi Arabia, which control Islam’s Holy Sites and a huge financial windfall, Wahhabism has gone from being the worldview of a sect of a handful of tribes settled in Nejd from the late 18th century to the early 20th century to one that is now shared by tens of millions of people.
Admittedly, not all of them are taking up arms, but many of them are ‘jihadisable’ if certain conditions are met, like a fatwa by an influential alim (Islamic religious scholar), and the availability of weapons, materiel and financial resources, etc. Potentially, Salafism has become a ticking bomb, or a volcano that could erupt at any time in the face of the world.
So, if the US and other Western political leaders are really interested in humanity’s progress and future and want to see the blossoming of an “enlightened Islam”, they should urgently start encouraging other forms of Islam.
This is what they are now doing with Iran, the centre of Shia Islam. However, they know that it is even more important to encourage currents, even in Sunni Islam, that interpret the sacred Islamic texts in ways that are consistent with the harmonious meeting of cultures.
Overall, recent political developments in the region may be the harbinger of a geopolitical and cultural mutation as evinced by the virtuous cycle whose effects we have recently seen.
If we follow this reasoning, these developments should make us cautiously optimistic about the future of the region and reassure Christian communities, despite atrocities committed everywhere, particularly in countries such as Syria, Egypt and Iraq.
At the same time, the various Eastern Churches should take a cue from Pope Francis, who has ‘ humbly ‘ called on Muslim countries to respect the religious freedom of Christians (see Evangelii gaudium, n . 253) and give Christianity the right to exist within their borders, as some are already doing.
Vietnam, November 27, 2013: Worship is “a right, not a favour,” priests say in a statement issued in response to a proposed provincial law imposing new constraints and obstacles on religious life. The new rules are “useless nonsense, requiring religions to seek permits and authorisations”. Religious freedom is an essential condition for “harmonious development”.
Religious freedom, which is guaranteed by the constitution and existing regulations, “is a right and not a favour”. The draft law not only has “too many unnecessary details” but creates “many obstacles and limitations,” said a group of priests from the Diocese of Bac Ninh in a statement criticising the proposed new rules. The diocese is located in northern Vietnam, and borders the capital.
Called ‘Provisions relating to a number of specific points on the management of religious activities in the territory of Bac Ninh,’ the new rules de facto limit the religious rights of the clergy and the community of the faithful.
The Diocese of Bac Ninh includes five northern provinces plus parts of other provinces. It is home to 120,000 Catholics who represent 1.54 per cent of the population. The bishop is Mgr Cosma Hoang Van Dat, who is also general secretary of the Bishops’ Conference of Vietnam.
Recently, Bac Ninh provincial authorities drafted rules to enforce a state law on religion. After looking at, the priests reacted with disappointment because they contain “useless nonsense, requiring religions to seek permits and authorisations for every circumstance.”
In their statement, the priests note that detailed and precise rules governing religious activity already exist at the national level.
These recently introduced rules were met with a negative reaction from theleaders of the country’s main religions because they include heavy constraints and limitations on the right to worship.
“Instead of exercising legitimate rights, religious organisations and their representatives are forced to ask for them whenever they organise religious services, train clergy, ordain priests and build (or repair) religious buildings,” the statement said.
Hence, whilst Vietnamese society is pushing for greater democracy and freedoms, the draft proposal represents a “step backward,” the Bac Ninh priests said, for it gives the authorities the right to sanction any initiative in matters of faith and religion.
“Such a regime turns citizens’ right to freedom into a power entrusted into the hands of the State,” they explain. The latter should instead protect “the rights of religious organisations.”
“We want the project to be a piece of legislation that leads to real progress that really contributes to the welfare of the population” the priests said. “Isn’t the right to practice one’s religion freely and lead your own spiritual life, the greater good? Only when this happens will society achieve a safe and harmonious development.”
Saudi Arabia, November 27, 2013: Fears of political rabble rousing lead to sackings and suspensions.
Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have been quietly reining in their clerics on concerns that preachers could use their influence to stir up trouble and inflame sectarian divisions at a time of high tension over the crises in Syria and Egypt.
Authorities in Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam and home to a powerful conservative clergy, have declined to respond to local media reports in recent months which said nearly 20 clerics had been sacked or suspended.
In Kuwait, which has a relatively open political system compared to other Gulf Arab states, the authorities have resumed the monitoring of sermons, pulled a television preacher off the air and deported a foreign imam.
The developments in the two monarchies follow the dramatic rise and fall in Egypt of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, which offers a populist religious alternative to dynastic rule and has supporters in the Gulf.
The Egyptian army angered some influential clerics and ordinary citizens in the region in July and August when it overthrew the then president, Mohammad Mursi, a Brotherhood member who remains in prison, and clamped down on his supporters, killing hundreds of people. Both Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have pledged to support the new Egyptian government.
“There is a more heightened sensitivity to the activities of the Muslim Brotherhood and of political activity in general,” said Salman Shaikh, director of the Brookings Doha Center, a Middle East research group.
Kuwait and Saudi Arabia will continue to be “fairly uncompromising of perceived Muslim Brotherhood activities and anyone perceived to be supporting them”.
- reuters faith world
NORTH KOREA: PEOPLE CAUGHT WITH BIBLES AMONG 80 KILLED IN PUBLIC EXECUTIONS
Witnesses of one of the executions, in Wonsan, said that eight people were tied to stakes at a local stadium, had their heads covered with sacks and were then killed by machine-gun fire. Around 10,000 people, including children, were forced to watch.
Those executed were mostly accused of minor “offences” such as watching or illegally trafficking South Korean films. “Accomplices” or relatives who were implicated in the “crimes” were sent to prison camps.
SOMALIA: CHRISTIAN FATHER OF FIVE SHOT DEAD BY SUSPECTED AL-SHABAAB MILITANTS
Abdikhani Hassan was killed by two gunmen on 20 October after closing his pharmacy in the Dharkenley district of the capital, Mogadishu.
Before the shooting, one of the attackers told Abdikhani’s Muslim neighbour, “We have information that Hassan is spreading wrong religion to our people, and we are looking for him.”
Al-Shabaab, which has vowed to rid Somalia of Christianity, is believed to be behind the murders of numerous converts from Islam in the country.
IRAN: CHRISTIAN PRISONER IN CRITICAL CONDITION TOLD TO MAKE UP TIME SPENT IN HOSPITAL
Vahid Hakkani, whose sentence of three years and eight months was upheld by an appeal court last month, was suffering internal bleeding that had progressively deteriorated during his time in detention. At times he was losing 300cc of blood in a single day.
He was told months ago by prison doctors that he urgently needed surgery, but officials refused to arrange a transfer to hospital. A two-month leave permit was eventually granted by a judge on the condition that Vahid post bail of around US$70,000 and make up the time he spends in hospital.
- morning star news / barnabas team
Pakistan, November 21, 2013: The kidnapper, a Muslim of 32 , acted out of revenge against her mother. There has been no trace if the child, Saba Waris, since June. A court has issued an arrest warrant against the torturer , who has disappeared.
For more than five months there has been no news of Saba Waris , a 13 year old Christian girl from Jameelabad . The little girl was abducted, forcibly converted to Islam and forced to marry Syed Munawar Hussain, a Muslim of 32 years . Naseem Bibi, the child’s mother asks AsiaNews for “any help possible. I want my daughter back and I want justice.” So far, the woman has gone to the police, but without success.
It all started on 20 June. Saba ‘s family is poor and had to remove her from school because of economic difficulties. Usually she would accompany her mother to work, but that day she was not well and preferred to stay at home. In the few hours in which she was alone, Hussain broke into the house and abducted her. Naseem Bibi returned home in the afternoon and not being able to find her daughter was on her way to report her missing, when the Muslim kidnapper’s a mother, sister and a brother showed up and told her that Munawar Hussain had taken Saba .
Naseem wanted to go to the police, but the others asked her to wait four days, during which they would try to find a way to bring back her daughter. A couple of days later , she received a phone call from Saba, who said: ” Munawar Hussain has kidnapped me and tried to force me convert to Islam”. Soon after, the call was cut off.
Once the four days were up, the man’s mother and sister returned to Naseem Bibi and said that Saba was married to Munawar and that she had converted to Islam. “Do not go to the police or court – they threatened her - or you will be responsible for serious consequences. She is a Muslim now: stop thinking about her, forget her”. As proof, the Christian woman received a marriage certificate, also signed by her daughter .
On June 28, Naseem went to the police to register an FIR (First Information Report) against Syed Munawar Hussain , under Article 365B (kidnapping a woman for forced marriage ) of the Criminal Code . To assist in her legal battle she turned for help to Human Rights Focus Pakistan ( Hrfp ), which provided proof of the kidnapping and forced conversion of the littkke girl to the court of Sargodha . On October 17 , the court issued an arrest warrant for Syed Munawar Hussain Since then, officials have not been able to track down the man.
According to Naseem Bibi , the Muslim kidnapped her daughter for revenge : ” My son Moon Waris worked with him, but was not paid . I told him not to work with Hussain, and they took my child.”
“Forced conversions to Islam – Christian activist Shazia George tells AsiaNews – have become a common practice in Pakistan. The main reason for this increase is the presence of a legal and judicial system that does not provide support for minorities”.
Egypt, November 02, 2013: Islamists tear down banners and spray insults against the patriarch, Copts and the Armed on its walls. An attempt to storm the building is stopped. The church is a place of pilgrimage for Christians and Muslims because of an apparition of the Virgin Mary
Egypt’s churches came under attack once again yesterday when a procession of students linked to the Muslim Brotherhood attacked the church of the Virgin Mary in Zaytoun , in the eastern part of Cairo, which marks the site of a famous apparition of Our Lady . The group – which came directly from Friday prayers in the mosque next door – clashed with some young Christians, who prevented the Islamists from storming the building. Thanks to the intervention of some passers-by, who calmed the brawl, a more serious incident of violence was avoided, but the situation remains tense. On 20 October last 5 people were killed in an attack on the Church of the Virgin Mary in Al- Warraq .
The Zaytoun attack was filmed and posted online. The video shows the Islamists marching on the place of worship, shouting slogans against the Coptic Orthodox Patriarch Tawadros . On arriving in the square in front of the Church they are seen tearing down a banner from the front of the church and covering the façade with graffiti insulting the patriarch, the Copts and the Armed Forces .
Local sources said that every Friday after the midday prayer, the Islamists always pass in front of the church hurling insults and anti-Christian slogans . To avoid problems Christians bar the doors of the building. Near the church there is the el- Aziz Bellah mosque, whose faithful militate in the ranks of the Muslim Brotherhood. Yesterday, Zaytoun district police arrested a man who had over well 108 thousand posters insulting Christians and the army hidden in his home.
As is the case with the church of the Virgin Mary in al- Waaraq, the Zaytoun church is famous throughout Egypt for a miracle: on June 2, 1968 Our Lady appeared on the dome. From then on , the place became a pilgrimage site for Christians and Muslims.
Sri Lanka, November 19, 2013: During the meeting of the leaders of Commonwealth on 15-17 November, hundreds of Sri Lankans, from north to south, met foreign journalists to tell their tragic stories. During the conflict, husbands and sons were taken away in white vans never to be seen again. “The president knows the truth,” some say.
The police, the armed forces and the President of Sri Lanka “know very well what has happened to our relatives. For this reason, we ask the government to tell us where they are. We will not rest until we find out the truth,” said hundreds of people – mostly women – from northern and eastern Sri Lanka, who have had sons and husbands disappear during the country’s civil war.
Taking advantage of the recent Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting(CHOGM) in Colombo, families victimised by the conflict told their tragic stories to the many foreign journalists in the country for the summit.
All their stories follow the same script: husbands or sons are picked up by men in uniform or plainclothes, thrown into a white van, whether in the middle of the night or in broad daylight; ostensibly for a brief interrogation, but no one comes home. When families want to know what happened to them, government officials either ignored their appeals or lie about the fate of those who disappeared.
Kanagasingham Sivajini, 37, comes from Trincomalee (Eastern Province). She has not seen her husband for five years. “He disappeared on 17 June 2008,” she toldAsiaNews. “He was a friendly person, even towards soldiers.”
“That night, soldiers broke into our house, breaking a window. They dragged my husband away for 2 km. My two children and I went after them, but when they went into the jungle we stopped. We asked them to let him go, and the soldiers told us that he would be home the next morning. I have not seen him ever since.”
“My son was only 15 when he was taken away by the military. He had gone fishing with five of his friends,” said K. Palaninaadan, 65.
“Some elders of our village saw the kidnapping. They tried to stop the soldiers, but they threatened to kill them if they said anything to anyone about the incident.”
“We have one big question for the president,” he added. “Why is he silent and claiming that he does not know anything whilst we are aware of all these incidents? There are plenty of eye-witnesses to these ‘forced disappearances’.”
Egypt, November 18, 2013: The Christian community in Egypt has been beset by a sharp increase in kidnappings since the authorities cleared sit-in protests by supporters of ousted Islamist president Mohammad Morsi.
Hany Sedhom was seized in late September. He was dragged out of his car, hit on the head with a rifle butt and had his face slashed with a knife; he was blindfolded, had his hands tied, and was driven off into the desert. For 48 hours, Hany was given no food and only filthy water to drink. His captors beat him and threatened to kill him, at one point holding a gun to his head in a pit.
I never thought I could take one millionth of what I endured. But every step of the way, every moment of pain, I could feel God there with me, telling me, “I’m going to save you”.
He was released after his wife paid a ransom of 300,000 Egyptian pounds (£27,000; US$44,000).
Kidnapping has been a persistent problem for the Christian community since the “Arab Spring” of 2011. More than 100 Christians have been seized, most of them from Minya province, which has the highest percentage of Christians in the country and is also an Islamist heartland.
There has been a spike since 14 August, when the authorities broke up pro-Morsi demonstrations by members of the Muslim Brotherhood; 17 cases were recorded in Minya alone in August and September.
Christians are kidnapped for ransom and often subjected to abuse, threats and violence.
There has also been an increase in the disappearance of Christian girls, who are forcibly converted to Islam and married to Muslim men.
A Barnabas contact from Egypt told us that Christian children are afraid to play outside now because of the fear of being kidnapped, which keeps them like prisoners in their homes.
The Christian community says that the problem has been largely ignored by the police, which causes it to increase, as kidnappers feel that they can operate with impunity.
Egyptian Christians have suffered an increase in violent attacks since the Arab Spring. These ratcheted up following the election of Morsi in June 2012 as Egypt took on a more overtly Islamist character, and intensified further following his removal in July 2013 as the Muslim Brotherhood blamed Christians for the uprising that resulted in his fall.
Following the dispersal of their protests on 14 August, Islamists torched scores of churches, Christian institutions and schools as well as countless Christian homes and businesses in what has been described as the worst single day of violence against the Egyptian Church since the 14th century.
- barnabas team