Nepal, July 23, 2014: The Catholic Church and Catholic organisations are the safest and most respectable groups in Nepal in the field of human rights, this according to activists and representatives of various religions who spoke to AsiaNews, responding to accusations – in other parts of the world – of abuse by some priests.
“In our country there are many cases of human rights violations, but none involves Catholics or their institutions,” activist and National Human Rights Commission member Subodh Pyakurel told AsiaNews. “Indeed, according to our data they are the most reliable for children and women.”
“We cannot speak for priests in other countries,” said Biswanath Upadhya, former chairman of the National Human Rights Commission and former president of the Supreme Court, “but those who work with us are a model for Nepali society.”
“We believe in the good seeds planted by Christians,” said Nazrul Hussein, Muslim representative on the Interreligious Council of Nepal. “As minorities we work together and Catholics are the best in promoting the human rights of children and women.”
Iraq, July 18, 2014: At the end of June I was asked to speak in Washington, DC at a Coptic Solidarity conference. I receive similar invitations quite often these days, because while I am a dreadfully inadequate spokesman for their cause, I do speak of the suffering of Arab Christians whenever I can. Islam’s war on Christianity, in fact, is the subject of my forthcoming book. It’s a complex issue, but in brief we can say that the core of the problem is that numerous Koranic verses call for Christians to be treated as, at best, second-class citizens, and sometimes to be treated as direct enemies and threats to Islam. As such, the more authentically Muslim the state, the worse it is for Christians.
Which brings us to what has happened in Iraq, which will be seen by future historians as one of the great tragedies of ethnic cleansing, and should be of lasting importance to the rest of us who follow Christ. The point about Saddam Hussein and his government was that it wasn’t especially religious, it was Arab nationalist and secular, and it saw Islamic fundamentalism as its greatest enemy.
Saddam himself was a monstrous figure and his government was oppressive and offensive, but Iraq was the most literate, stable, and—if you like—civilized country in the Arab world. Saddam could and should have been removed relatively easily, but instead the Americans and their friends devastated the entire country, eliminated the governing class, caused chaos, and opened the door to the very Islamic fundamentalists that Saddam had kept down and who detest Christ, Christians, and Christianity.
Like it or not, the venomous persecution and subsequent hemorrhage of Christians from Iraq is a direct consequence of American and western foreign policy, initiated by the first President Bush and completed by his son. Iraq’s instability and chaos led directly to the Syrian uprising, which, while in its inchoate stages, was genuinely democratic but soon fell under the leadership and dominance of Islamists who want a Syria, and an entire Middle East, free of Christians.
President Obama is no better than his Republican predecessors, of course, and he has flirted and is still flirting with the idea of actually supporting the Muslim fanatics who would slaughter any Christians they encounter. Bush tried to be a friend to Christians but failed miserably, Obama has no interest at all in being friendly to Christians in the first place.
The result of all this is that around 80 percent of the Christians of Iraq and Syria have been forced to flee their homeland, and the numbers are likely to increase. Some have gone to Jordan, but there is no guarantee that the Hashemite royal family will remain in power. Others flee to North America and Europe. Some of them even ran away to Iran—a repugnant regime that persecutes Christians but is still not as dangerous as modern Iraq. The result is that the towns, cities, and villages where the founders of Christendom lived and prayed are or will be entirely Muslim. Forgive me if this sounds harsh, but that’s quite a battle honor for the US military.
It makes me genuinely angry that so many conservative Evangelicals and right-wing Catholics in the United States and even in my homeland of Canada were so eager to fight a war in Iraq. Their naive bellicosity caused so much irreparable harm and has led to so much pain for Christians who have held on to their faith through more than a thousand years of struggle and persecution. I am genuinely ashamed when I meet with my Christian brothers from the region, and it humbles me that they are so forgiving of us in the west.
I don’t know why the war in Iraq was fought, but I’m sure I will be inundated with theories and conspiracies about oil, Israel, freemasons, and the like. I don’t really care about that, but I do care that the grace-filled stream of continuity from the early Christians is now coming to a halt, now drying up in the sand and dust of Iraq and Syria.
- catholic world report
“The attack was massive and lasted about an hour and a half. The attackers brutally beat the nuns … the convent was seriously devastated,” Bishop Sebastian Tudu of Dinajpur told the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, of the attack which took place at the Boldi Pukur mission in the early hours of July 7.
“Only when the police arrived did the attackers leave the mission,” he reported.
The Boldi Pukur mission is located nearly 50 miles east of Dinajpur; its rectory, convent, and hospital were all objects of the attack carried out by between 50 and 60 men.
While Christians have before been attacked in the Muslim-majority nation, this is the first time that nuns have been targeted in particular.
“It’s unprecedented because nuns are highly respected in Bangladesh,” Bishop Tudu said.
The nuns are now in Dhaka, the Bangladeshi capital, for medical treatment, the bishop said. He added that the rectory’s door was broken down, and the mission’s pastor was robbed and threatened.
“The attack is obviously a targeted and planned attempt at intimidation. Nuns and priests are being attacked because they stand up for the disadvantaged and minorities,” stated Bishop Tudu.
Dhaka, July 13, 2014: Christians and rights groups in Bangladesh have demanded strict action against those who attacked a convent and tried to rape nuns, the first such incident in the Muslim majority South Asian nation.
“We want exemplary punishment of those involved in the case,” said Nirmol Rozario, general secretary of the Bangladesh Christian Association.
According to Aid to the Church, a Church agency, armed men attacked the convent of PIME (Pontifical Institute of Foreign Missions) nuns in Boldipuku, a village mission in Dinajpur diocese in northern Bangladesh and tried to loot and rape nuns.
The July 6 attack, by some 60 men, was the first such instance of violence against a Catholic institution in Bangladesh.
Authorities have arrested 12 Muslims in connection with the incident.
“It’s unprecedented because nuns are highly respected in Bangladesh,” Bishop Sebastian Tudu of Dinajpur said. The 47-year-old Santal prelate said the nuns were beaten and molested. The violence only ended when police arrived.
The attackers had come to loot the mission, the bishop said.
Asianews reported that during the assault, three PIME nuns suffered attempted rape and they were sent to their provincial house in Dhaka, the national capital where they are trying to overcome the shock and mental suffering.
“It’s very sad that the sisters cannot continue to work for the people, but our sisters are no longer safe,” lamented Rosaline Costa, a Catholic human rights activist.
“I have lodged strong complaints over the attack on these religious sisters,” she told Asianews. “If the Church is not safe nobody will go to the seminary or formation house to become priest or nun. It is a challenge for Church,” she added and called for stringent punishment to the attackers.
Local Christians live in fear since the attack. The attackers, all Muslims, were looking for land deeds and valuables. It is not the first time they have tried to steal them the land documents, local people said.
The attack began at 2 am on July 6. The attackers first tied the hands and legs of the mission’s two night watchmen and gagged them. They then broke down the door of the room where the assistant pastor Father Anselmo Marandy was sleeping. They raided the convent located in the mission campus.
The PIME nuns manage a primary school in Boldipukur. The attackers wanted to know where the land documents deeds were and even beat up the nuns.
The parishioners are mostly poor and illiterate tribal people and often Muslims try to take over their land. The Diocesan Commission for Justice and Peace is working on this problem, but with poor results.
They may also have been looking for land-ownership deeds, which were believed to be left by poor and illiterate members of the community for safekeeping at the mission.
Christians form only 0.8 percent of Dinajpur district’s 3 million people. Muslims account for nearly 77 percent followed by Hindus 21 percent.
The district was once part of the ancient state of Pundravardhana that came under the British in 1786. At the time of Partition of Bengal in 1947, part of greater Dinajpur district was included in West Bengal as West Dinajpur district.
Catholicism entered the area in the 17th century with the arrival of Spanish Carmelite missioners. Until mid-19th century, the area was part of the Krishnagar Mission, now Krishnagar diocese in West Bengal. PIME missionaries, who first came to work in the area in 1855, continue to work there.
In 1952, five years after the partition of the subcontinent, the territory comprising the current Indian dioceses of Dumka, Raiganj and part of Jalpaiguri was detached from the Diocese of Dinajpur. In January 1976, Pabna district along with St. Rita’s Parish in Mathurapur was transferred from Dhaka archdiocese to Dinajpur diocese so that it covered the whole of Rajshahi Division, across Jamuna and Ganges rivers.
In 1990, the southern areas were detached to form the Rajshahi diocese.
Iraq, July 09, 2014: “Today I made a long visit to the diocese, especially in the east, in a parish outside Mosul. It is indeed a source of great sorrow to see how residents and internally displaced people are living. Water and power are in short supply and the situation is tragic,” Mgr Shimoun Emil Nona, Chaldean archbishop of Mosul, told AsiaNews.
About 500,000 people, Christians and Muslims, fled the northern Iraqi city last month, causing a humanitarian, economic and political crisis.
Now “The Church is building wells to draw water from underground,” the prelate said. So far, ”at least eight” have been dug “but they are not enough” to meet everyone’s needs, even if “it is better than nothing.”
Power supplies comes “two to four hours a day,” he explained. For the rest of the day, people make the best with generators.
The prelate, active from the first day in providing support to internally displaced people (IDPs), made it clear that the water wells dug by the local community “are used by everyone, Muslims and Christians, without distinction of any kind”.
The work of the Church, he added, “is not just for Christians, but for all the inhabitants, Muslims and members of other ethnic groups.”
Mgr Nona renewed his call to pray for the entire Iraqi people, as well as for the nuns and the children kidnapped by Islamist militias.
“There are no substantial news about the abduction,” the prelate said, who has called for extreme caution and care with regards to the affair in order to preserve the lives of the hostages.
Meanwhile, the Patriarch of the Chaldean Church Mar Louis Sako Raphael I, who recently launched an appeal for the release of the nuns and orphans in ISIS’s hands, left Baghdad for Brussels, after he accepted an invitation from Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).
His Beatitude has scheduled official meetings with the Council of European Bishops and with the European Parliament, to discuss the situation in his country and possible interventions to cope with the emergency, particularly in relation to refugees and displaced persons.
Mar Sako was accompanied by Mgr Boutrous Moshe, Syro-Catholic bishop of Mosul, and Mgr Yousif Toma S.J, Chaldean bishop of Kirkuk.
For its part, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), a Sunni jihadist group linked to al-Qaeda, has seized control of an old chemical weapons factory at Muthanna, north-west of Baghdad. The complex housed part of Saddam Hussein’s arsenal (which the US tried to find but never discovered).
After seizing major oil facilities, like the Baiji refinery, north of the capital, and the Haditha dam, which is crucial for the country, Islamist militia now appear poised to seize more government weapons and materiel.
In a letter to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Iraq’s UN Ambassador Mohamed Ali Alhakim said the rebels took over the complex on 11 June, after disarming soldiers who guarded the site. His government was thus unable to keep its obligations to destroy its chemical weapons.
The document stated that Muthanna’s surveillance system showed that there was “looting of some equipment and appliances” at the factory.
It also noted that the government would resume its commitments “as soon as the security situation has improved and control of the facility has been regained”.
According to the United States and the United Nations, the material is degraded and Islamists would not be able to use it or obtain chemical warheads.
However, it is believed that some 2,500 rockets filled with nerve agents – including sarin and mustard gas – were stored at Muthanna.
The UN said at least 2,417 Iraqis, including 1,531 civilians, were killed in “acts of violence and terrorism” in June.
More than a million people have fled their homes because of fighting between the army and Islamist militias. (DS)
Islamabad,July 10, 2014: After a year of continued delays and postponements, the Pakistani government and opposition parties have agreed to set up a formal body to protect minorities and promote inter-faith harmony.
The new entity will be the National Commission for Minorities and should include ten members from different religious backgrounds: four Muslims, two Christians, two Hindus, a Parsi and a Sikh.
On 7 June, the Supreme Court of Pakistan issued a ruling, requiring the government and the main state institutions to take concrete measures to ensure minority rights.
“Mere textual pledges in the constitution, though important, are not enough to ensure that those rights would be honoured in practice,” read the 32-page judgment authored by Chief Justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani.
As a Christian delegation met with a group of lawmakers in Islamabad this morning, they welcomed the decision to set up the new commission.
Christian leader Rizwan Paul, who attended the meeting, is pleased with the government’s decision to “be serious” about the difficult issue of protecting minorities.
For Muslim human rights activist Aqeel Syed Mehdi, this is an “encouraging sign” for minorities, who now enjoy in all respects the “right to representation.”
Fr Arif George, from the Archdiocese of Lahore, agrees. “This is a step forward in terms of security,” he said.
“I hope and pray,” he added, that the commission will be “able to work in an effective way” so that the country will be “as its founder Ali Jinnah imagined it” in his famous speech to Parliament of 1947, namely a land of pluralism and religious freedom as well as a secular state with equal rights for Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Hindus, etc.
With a population of more than 180 million people (97 per cent Muslim), Pakistan is the sixth most populous country in the world, the second largest Muslim nation after Indonesia.
Almost 80 per cent of Muslims are Sunni, whilst Shias are 20 per cent. Hindus are 1.85 per cent, followed by Christians (1.6 per cent) and Sikhs (0.04 per cent).
Violence against ethnic and religious minorities is commonplace across the country, with Shia Muslims and Christians as the main target, with things getting worse.
Sri Lanka’s own history of Sinhala-Muslim riots of 1915 and the Sinhala-Tamil riots of 1957 and 1983, and international experience, shows that inter-community relations are fragile.
The violence in Aluthgama followed a sustained hate campaign against the Muslim community in the area and elsewhere in the country, which has yet to be countered by either legal or political means.
In February this year, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navanethem Pillay, was provided with an update of “Muslims’ Concerns” presented by the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in a report titled Religious Violence in Sri Lanka, January 2013 – December 2013.
According to the report, over the 12 month period between January and December 2013 there were at least 241 anti-Muslim incidents. Of those incidents 51 were violent, involving either physical violence against individuals or destruction of property.
The attack on Muslim-owned shops and houses in Aluthgama last month was by people who came from outside for the most part. This alone shows that it was an organized effort, which resulted in the deaths of at least four people, 80 people injured and numerous shops and houses damaged or destroyed. The actual casualty figures may be more.
Police have questioned the leaders of the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS), a Buddhist extremist organization, over speeches made before the riots. They have also taken 117 people into custody, with 85 of them being produced before courts and 25 released on bail.
But these steps are unlikely to reassure Muslims and other potential targets, so long as extremist groups are given a free hand to mobilize their members for action, at the time and place they choose.
The government appears to have woken up to the gravity of the problem posed by repeated attacks on the Muslim community.
The police have announced that they will not permit meetings that cause ethnic or religious hatred to be generated. This new policy is to be welcomed as long as it is implemented in fact, and not simply restricted to rhetoric.
The police have become a scapegoat for permitting the BBS to hold the public rally that ended up in anti-Muslim violence in Aluthgama. However, there is still no sign that the government will empower police to arrest and prosecute those who instigated it.
The upsurge of anti-Muslim sentiment, and its open manifestation among sections of the ethnic majority population, has come as a shock to all Muslims. They felt that their support for the government during the war, and their opposition to the division of the country, should have won the support and gratitude of the nation. Now they have learned that they are vulnerable to attack by mobs that act with impunity while the police stand passively by.
There have been instances where the identities of the perpetrators have been noted, but not one has been arrested.
In one instance a Muslim government minister, Rishard Bathiudeen, himself gave the information personally to the police, but no action was taken. In the aftermath of the Aluthgama violence there are four commitments that the government needs to provide, if it is to restore their confidence.
The first is to affirm the pluralistic and multi-religious nature of the Sri Lankan polity. Since the end of the war the government has been propagating a contrary message of nationalism, in which the position of the ethnic majority has taken pride of place. While this may possess a certain political logic, it is detrimental to national unity.
Second, the government needs to compensate all who lost their homes and businesses due to the violence. This is incumbent on the government, as it contributed to it through its negligence.
Although the government has sanctioned a sum of Rs 200 million (US$1.5 million) for reconstruction and deployed the army for the purpose, this has not been satisfactory either in terms of the financial outlay or in the appropriateness of getting the army to do the job.
The reconstruction of houses and shops should have been done after consultation with the affected community, and not imposed upon them. A fearful community that feels that the state’s security apparatus has not protected them is unlikely to view soldiers entering their homes with equanimity.
Third, the government must improve on its performance in terms of the rule of law. Since the end of the war, Sri Lanka has witnessed a gradual decline in it and an increase in levels of impunity often reportedly due to political patronage at national, provincial and local levels. This trend needs to be arrested immediately and the guilty not shielded from facing due legal processes.
Finally, an independent inquiry is required to determine what transpired in Aluthgama. Such an inquiry panel may be selected with the participation of the Minister of Justice who is himself a Muslim and who has complained of misrepresentation of the causes of death of some of the victims of the riots.
The judicial medical officer who submitted the postmortem report on one of the victims killed during the Aluthgama violence has been summoned to court after his report was disputed. In these circumstances only a credible fact-finding body will be able to dispel the doubts as to what really happened at Aluthgama and who was ultimately responsible.
Thus far the Muslims have chosen the path of engagement as their way of conflict resolution. They have stayed within the framework of overall government policy even while asserting their rights. This is because the Muslims have decided that they are going to live side by side with the other communities in Sri Lanka and there is no desire for separation on their part.
Although the Sri Lanka Muslim Council presented a document to the UN Human Rights Commissioner giving details of incidents of harassment of Muslims, it continues to remain a partner of the government. However, if pushed too hard and for too long, there is a possibility of radicalization and internationalization of the conflict that will pose even greater difficulties.
* Jehan Perera is a Doctor of Law from Harvard University and serves as executive director of the National Peace Council of Sri Lanka.
Indonesia, July 07, 2014: Indonesia is at a historic crossroads: the result of the presidential elections on 9 July – coupled with May’s parliamentary elections – could strengthen the country’s young democracy, marking its full maturity. This also applies to the government’s relationship with religious minorities such as Christians.
The country has a young history of democracy. Less than twenty years ago, Indonesia was under Suharto’s dictatorship and the word “democracy” was still a remote concept. In 1998, a popular sub-movement overthrew the tyrant and free elections were held, an event of historical importance.
Now, 187 million voters will be choosing the fourth president in Indonesia’s history. And the person they choose in this country with the largest Muslim population in the world, could really bring “Pancasila” (the five principles upon which the Indonesian Constitution is based) to life, embodying the principles of pluralism, tolerance and “unity in diversity” which make the Islamic country a cradle of intercultural and interreligious harmony.
The favourite so far, is the charismatic 50-year-old candidate, Joko Widodo, Jakarta’s former governor. He is also known as “Jokowi”, which reflects change in comparison to the past: he is part of that generation which launched a mass protest against Suharto. Jokowi has presented himself to the electorate as a ferryman who aims to steer the country out of the shallows of corruption, of the established circles of economic and military power that have dominated for decades. He has presented himself as the antithesis of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, the outgoing president who was given the thumbs down by voters for three main reasons: the failed economic revival; his involvement in the scandals and financial misconduct and his failure in stopping the growing religious intolerance that independent institutes and civil society have criticized and documented.
Widodo is the young people and religious minorities’ favourite (the influence of the young in Indonesian society is increasing). Religious minorities, including Christians make up 10% of the country’s population. Indeed, items in the leader’s political agenda include human rights, freedoms, minority rights and the fight against religious intolerance. During the election campaign, he used key words such as peace, harmony, justice and common good. Even as leader of the lay and nationalist Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), he gained the support of Islamic parties like the National Awakening Party (PKB), not to mention the recent unofficial endorsement of the popular Muslim movement “Muhammadiyah” which is widespread din Indonesia. This factor could prove decisive.
Former army general Prabowo Subianto represents the old military class which is still influential. He embodies old politics and a system that does not want to give up power. He still enjoys widespread support (so he could still win the elections): public opinion sees him as a solid and bold figure. His economic program which proposes massive funding for the development of Indonesian villages has been warmly welcomed by Indonesians. Subianto enjoys the open support of radical Islamic groups like the Islamic Defenders Front which spreads hatred and violence in Indonesian society.
The scenario seems clear: Jokowi’s victory could give a final shove to a system, which has never fully stopped controlling the State, even from behind the front line and the start of a renewal process within the leading classes. It would also fuel hopes for a reinforced rule of law, an end to abuse of power and to impunity for radical Islamic groups.
- vatican insider
Laos, June 29, 2014: Authorities in southern Laos have detained four church leaders and another believer for organizing a Christian funeral service as part of a crackdown on Christianity in the area, rights activists told BosNewsLife Tuesday, June 24.
Church leaders Kaithong, Puphet, Muk, Hasadee and fellow Christian Tiang were arrested Tuesday, June 24, in Saisomboon village where they mourned the passing of a Christian woman, said Sirikoon Prasertsee, director of watchdog ‘Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom’ (HRWLRF).
“They are being detained with their hands in handcuffs and feet in wooden stocks,” he complained, referring to reports of police abuse.
Troubles began late Saturday, June 21, when “Mrs Chan passed away in Saisomboon village” in Atsaphangthong district, where her family wanted to organize a Christian funeral service and burry her.
“Mrs. Chan and all her eight sons and daughters began embracing the Christian faith in April, four of whom are married,” HRWLRF said in a statement.
Chan’s family became the fifth family in Saisomboon village to “embrace the Christian faith”, despite opposition by local authorities, Christians added.
As part of an effort to halt the spread of Christianity, local authorities reportedly banned Christian funeral services.
After being denied “burial rights” her children tried to bury their mother on their own land. But “when the time came to gather for mourning on Sunday evening, the village chief and local Communist party secretary banned the ceremony until all sons and daughters would sign an affidavit to recant of their Christian faith,” HRWLRF said.
They refused and the “body of the deceased began to rot”, activists explained. On Tuesday, June 24, security forces raided the gathering, detaining several church leaders and a Christian. Buddhist monks eventually conducted the ceremony and led the body of Chan to the village cemetery, Christians said.
The controversy was the latest in a series of reported anti-Christian incidents. Last month, three girls were told they would not be allowed to end their studies after they became Christians. Church leader Kaithong, who was detained Tuesday, June, 24, appealed a decision by the Atsaphangthong district education chief not to allow the students Noi, 15, Net, 15, and Nut, 14, to have their examination at the regional Liansai School, Christians said.
“The HRWLRF said it had urged the Lao government to help release the detained Christians and allow the students to end their studies. Laos, it said, should “respect the right of the Lao people to religious freedom and the accompanying rights as guaranteed in the Lao constitution and the U.N. International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ratified by Laos in 2009.”
Authorities in Laos could not be reached for immediate comment. However the Communist-run nation has been known for a crackdown on Christians in especially rural regions where local traditions and religions play a keyrole.
- bosnews life
Kenya, June 18, 2014: Around 50 people were killed in an al-Shabaab attack on a mainly Christian town in Kenya; the gunmen went door to door questioning occupants about their faith and shooting non-Muslim men.
The militants descended on Mpeketoni, a coastal town in Lamu district near the border with Somalia, on Sunday evening (15 June). They threw explosives into the local police station before looting its armoury and going on a shooting spree throughout the town, shouting “Allahu Akhbar” (“Allah is great”).
Resident Ali Lalo Uweso said:
The attackers entered house to house shooting the men. We were locked up in our houses for close to eight hours in fear as gunshots and explosions were heard outside.
The militants asked if the men were Muslim and if they spoke Somali, singling out those who responded in the negative.
A pastor told Morning Star News:
The attackers entered my house, took my boy out of the house, then killed him by shooting him, leaving my wife and daughters inside.
Six children of pastors were said to be among the dead.
The gunmen also targeted people who were watching a World Cup football match at bars and hotels. Women were ordered to watch as their men were killed.
Several buildings, including hotels, restaurants, banks and government offices, were torched. The violence continued with raids on villages around Mpeketoni on Monday night in which at least 15 people were killed.
Somali-based Islamists al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for the attacks, saying their “operations in Kenya will continue”. They have carried out numerous attacks on Kenyan soil since the country sent troops into Somalia in 2011 to fight the militants.
The attack on Mpeketoni had echoes of the militants’ siege on Westgate shopping centre in September 2013, in which around 70 people were killed; al-Shabaab targeted non-Muslims, sparing those who could demonstrate some evidence of Islamic faith, such quoting verses from the Quran or reciting the Islamic creed.
The group has also been behind a number of church attacks in Kenya.
- barnabas team