Asia Bibi, a mother of five, has been on death row since November 2010 after she was found guilty of making derogatory remarks about the Prophet Mohammed during an argument with a Muslim woman.
“A two-judge bench of the Lahore High Court dismissed the appeal of Asia Bibi but we will file an appeal in the Supreme Court of Pakistan,” said her lawyer Shakir Chaudhry.
Amnesty International described the decision as a “grave injustice”, and called for her immediate release.
“Asia Bibi should never have been convicted in the first place—still less sentenced to death—and the fact that she could pay with her life for an argument is sickening,” said David Griffiths, Amnesty International’s Deputy Asia-Pacific Director, in a statement sent to AFP.
“There were serious concerns about the fairness of Asia Bibi’s trial, and her mental and physical health has reportedly deteriorated badly during the years she has spent in almost total isolation on death row”.
Blasphemy is an extremely sensitive issue in Pakistan where 97 percent of the population is Muslim and unproven claims regularly lead to mob violence.
Two high-profile politicians — then Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer and minorities minister Shahbaz Bhatti — were murdered in 2011 after calling for reforms to the blasphemy law and describing Bibi’s trial as flawed.
The blasphemy allegations against Bibi date back to June 2009.
She was working in a field when she was asked to fetch water. Muslim women laborers objected, saying that as a non-Muslim she was unfit to touch the water bowl.
A few days later the women went to a local cleric and put forward the blasphemy allegations.
Over a dozen religious clerics — including Qari Saleem who brought forward the initial complaint against Bibi — were present at the court Thursday.
“We will soon distribute sweets among our Muslim brothers for today’s verdict, it’s a victory of Islam,” Saleem told AFP outside the courtroom as the clerics congratulated each other and chanted religious slogans.
Pakistan’s tough blasphemy laws have attracted criticism from rights groups, who say they are frequently misused to settle personal scores.
Lawyers who defend people accused of blasphemy—and judges seen as lenient—also risk being accused of the crime themselves and regularly face intimidation.
Last month a prison guard at the notorious Adiala jail in Rawalpindi shot and wounded a 70-year-old Scottish man with a history of mental illness who is on death row for blasphemy.
The jail also houses Mumtaz Qadri, the former bodyguard of governor Taseer who gunned him down in an Islamabad market place. He was given a death sentence but heralded by some as a hero for killing Taseer.
Blasphemy carries the death penalty, though Pakistan has had a de facto moratorium on civilian hangings since 2008. Only one person has been executed since then, a soldier convicted by a court martial and hanged in November 2012.
Pakistan, October 13, 2014: Charges against 55 Pakistani Christians who were falsely accused of blasphemy have been dropped after a written compromise was agreed between the Muslim accuser and the believers involved.
The accusation of blasphemy was made against a group of Christians in a small village in Tehsil Samandri district, Faisalabad, on 3 September following a dispute with a gang of Muslims over the use of land for a graveyard. Thirteen Christians, including a twelve-year old boy, were arrested; they have now been released.
The Christians were originally charged under section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code, which refers to defiling the name of Muhammad and carries the death penalty. Remarkably, following the intervention of Barnabas-funded Christian lawyers, this charge was later overturned in a rare move by police.
The accused Christians were instead charged with violating a place of worship or cemetery (section 297 of the Pakistan Penal Code), which does not carry the death penalty. On 30 September, Barnabas Fund received confirmation that this charge has now also been dropped after a written compromise was reached between Muhammad Iqbal, who made the accusation, and the Christians.
The dispute took place after the Christians had acquired verbal permission from a sympathetic Muslim landowner to convert a disused Muslim graveyard into a Christian cemetery. On 3 September, Christians began preparing the land for burying their own dead. This upset local Muslims, who attacked the Christians.
Although the Christians apologised and said that they would not use the land, the blasphemy case was then registered against them. When the thirteen Christians were subsequently arrested, police raided their homes, breaking down the gates and even threatening the believers with death. Many of the remaining Christian families fled their homes after Muslims threatened to set fire to their houses.
The Christians needed to acquire Muslim-owned land to bury their dead because there is a shortage of Christian burial land in the village. The area is home to more than 350 Christian families whereas Muslim families number over 1,000, are generally richer and own more land.
Pakistan’s “blasphemy laws” are frequently misused to settle personal scores. Christians and other religious minorities are particularly vulnerable to these accusations; a Christian’s testimony in court is worth only half that of a Muslim. Those accused of blasphemy are extremely vulnerable to being attacked.
- barnabas team
Sri Lanka, October 09, 2014: A church service in Sri Lanka was disrupted by a mob on 7 September, one week after a brutal attack on the church’s pastor and his family left several people injured. Meanwhile, two other churches in the country are facing harassment by the local authorities.
A Barnabas partner reports that a group of around 80 people, led by a Buddhist monk, surrounded the church in Batticaloa District during a Sunday worship service. The assailants threatened the pastor with violence if the church did not cease its activities.
The intimidation followed a vicious attack on the pastor and his family on 31 August. The family were walking home, with another church member, after visiting a fellow Christian when eight masked men assaulted them with iron bars, cricket stumps and wooden poles studded with nails.
The pastor received a blow to his hip while his wife, the couple’s twelve-year-old daughter and 15-year-old son, and the other believer were all brutally beaten by the group and later hospitalised.
During the attack, the pastor’s son managed to escape and contact the police. Only one of the assailants was arrested at the scene. This attacker was released only a day later, by order of a magistrate, on the grounds that he had to take a university exam.
Hours before the attack, 15 villagers had gone to the pastor’s home and shouted threats, falsely accusing him of making complaints about them to the police.
The pastor has also been harassed by a village leader, who prior to these incidents repeatedly contacted him about the church’s legal status. The official said that he had received an anonymous letter complaining about worship activities organised by the pastor and threatened that there would be consequences if the church remained unregistered.
CHURCHES FACE CLOSURE
Elsewhere in Sri Lanka, local authorities in Matale Ddistrict have threatened to demolish a temporary shelter being used by a church for worship services. During a meeting on 16 September, the chairman of the provincial council lashed out at the pastor and said that he would ensure that the shelter was demolished and that the church’s plan for a permanent building plan would never be approved.
The pastor had previously been questioned by the police, and on 24 August, a 30-strong group of opponents, including Buddhist monks and the chairman of the provincial council, protested outside a worship meeting at the shelter.
Police have also told the pastor of a church in Jaffna district that he must either gain official approval for the church or close it down. The church in question was established 17 years ago, and according to Sri Lankan law, there is no legal requirement for places of worship to obtain registration. However, an order was issued by the Ministry of Buddha Sasana and Religious Affairs in 2008 that requires only “new constructions” of religious places of worship to register with the ministry.
- barnabas team
Malaysia, October 9, 2014: Malaysia’s main Christian group expressed outrage on Thursday over government inaction to prosecute Islamist Ibrahim Ali for his threat to burn Bibles, saying it gave carte blanche to extremists to threaten Christianity and other religions.
“The Christian Federation of Malaysia on behalf of Christians in Malaysia is outraged at the fact that threats to burn our Holy Bible are considered an act in defence of Islam,” the CFM said in a statement Thursday. “The CFM feels strongly that this position is irresponsible as it gives carte blanche or free rein to other extremists to do likewise, not just to Christians but to any other religious community that is not Muslim.”
CFM said that by “no logic or rationalisation and under no circumstances whatsoever can a threat or call to violent action, desecration of another Malaysian citizen’s sacred text be considered defensive”.
The Christian body was responding to the Malaysian government’s excuse in not prosecuting Ibrahim over his call last year to burn copies of the Bible containing the word “Allah”, saying that Ibrahim, president of the Muslim rights group Perkasa, was merely defending Islam.
Nancy Shukri, minister in the Prime Minister’s Department in charge of law, said in a parliamentary written reply Wednesday that the police concluded that Ibrahim’s words were only directed at specific individuals, and not a threat to larger society.
“The statement he made was not intended to cause religious chaos but only to defend the sanctity of Islam,” she replied to a question by Bagan MP, Lim Guan Eng, on why Ibrahim had not been charged with sedition.
In response to this justification, Land Development Minister Tan Sri Dr James Masing said “So now it is acceptable to burn the Bibles, insult believers of other faiths and do disrespectful acts in defence of the sanctity of Islam.”
“How did Malaysia arrive at this socio-religious situation?” Masing said, adding that the country’s “founding fathers would turn in their graves if they found out what is happening to Malaysia today”.
Ibrahim’s call in January last year prompted outrage from politicians and Christian groups, with critics accusing the government of double-standards in using the Sedition Act against only those who criticized the government while sparing Ibrahim over his remarks.
- the malaysian insider
HK Card Zen stands with Hong Kong students, united for democracy, “until we are either dispersed or arrested”
Hong Kong, October 07, 2014: Card Joseph Zen will spend the night tonight in Admiralty with students who have been demonstrating for democracy and have occupied for the past ten days some of the city’s more central streets.
“I am with them, in the streets with them,” the prelate told AsiaNews. “I have already spent two or three nights sleeping with them. starting tonight I shall be here every night until we are either dispersed or arrested.”
The peaceful sit-in could still end in violence. In recent days, police have attacked students with tear gas, pepper spray, batons, and hired triad thugs who have injured scores of protesters.
Right now, “the great danger” is for “things to drag on” with the government promising talks to no end, trying to divide students from the Occupy Central movement.
To stop the sit-in in Admiralty, the government has promised to talk. Card Zen does not mince words, “I do not believe it. The government is playing games. On the one hand, it agrees to talks; on the other hand, it says we cannot overturn Beijing’s decisions. This means that the outcome to the talks has already been decided.”
“We say that they misinformed Beijing. The government made a mistake and manipulated the first consultation on the desire for democracy among the people of Hong Kong. Now they want to carry out a second consultation. We say instead that we have to go back to the first one, which was all wrong.”
“In their report on democracy in Hong Kong, presented to Beijing, they did not mention the great referendum, nor the big marches in the territory. They downplayed them.”
Looming over the whole thing is the danger of division. The government says it wants to negotiate with the Federation of Students, forgetting that another student group, Scholarism, and Occupy Central, headed by law professor Benny Tai, Pastor Chu Yiu ming, and sociology professor Chan Kin-man, played a crucial role.
The government’s “call for talks was addressed to only one of two student organisations that demonstrated,” Hong Kong’s bishop emeritus said. “In fact, three organisations were involved in the demonstration.”
“Why were the three Occupy leaders not invited? After all, they did all the planning, mobilising people for weeks. It is clear that the government is trying to divide us. Unfortunately, young people are falling into the trap of thinking that they are the leaders of everything. They are not listening,” he said.
For the cardinal and Occupy Central, it is better to pull back after ten days of sit-in and plan for future battles. However, the students claim the right to continue the strike and this could prove counterproductive.
“Unfortunately, these young people want to take the lead and do not listen to others. And this is also unfair because the success belongs to all the people, not just the students.”
“Certainly, they did smart things. They were very decisive. But all the people participated. Students are forgetting that they were backed by the people who took to the streets. And now they want to run the show.”
“So far, I have tried to reason with them, without success,” Card Zen went on to say. “At present, a coalition of all pro-democracy movements might come into being. However, if that does not work, I am going to speak against the students. For now, I am with them, in the square with them.”
Card Zen wants students to pull back from the sit-in because the latter might generate more violence against them. “As time goes by,” he said, “gangs of thugs are more likely to attack us again. People are also tired and children have to go back to school.”
“We are pulling back,” he said, “but this is not a defeat. In fact, it is a victory. What victory? A double victory because we obtained the support of the people and forced Beijing to show its true face.”
Bao Tong, a former adviser to Zhao Ziyang, who opposed the Tiananmen Square crackdown, is still under house arrest, yet he spoke out. “You won in the first place because you allowed people to express itself on democracy,” he said. “You won because you forced Beijing to show its true face. Now it is better to pull back, rest for a while and prepare for a new battle.”
Unfortunately, falling into the government’s trap, now “everyone seems to want to do their own thing.”
“The great merit of Catholics is that of helping everyone to be united. With the referendum, we made proposals that brought together different positions. Even now, I am pushing to create a democratic coalition, so that we are not weak vis-à-vis the government.”
“Someone said: Let young people lead us. This is unfair because Occupy Central has already worked for years for democracy. Anyway, I think it is slowly emerging that we need to remain united.”
Iraq, September 20, 2014: The leaders of Iraq’s Christians have called on the United Nations to urgently address the growing refugee crisis before a freezing winter forces displaced Christians to leave the country.
“We Christians in Iraq have a future if the international community gives us immediate assistance. Don’t forget us,” Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael I Sako told a conference at the UN in Geneva. The patriarch told the delegates that “People are disappointed how little help has been received to date.”
He was addressing a conference entitled: ‘Christians in the Middle East: Citizenship, Human Rights and their Future’, supported by Aid to the Church in Need. Stressing the immediate challenge, Patriarch Sako said: “At present about 120,000 Christians are living in Iraq as refugees. “They need everything because the ISIS terrorists have taken all they had. The greatest challenge at the present time is the provision of living accommodation.”
The leader of the Chaldean Christians explained that with temperatures set to plunge in the coming months the crisis was going to get worse. Patriarch Sako said: “The winter, which can be very cold in Iraqi Kurdistan, is coming and the people can’t possibly stay in tents. We rely heavily on support here.”
Calling for a protection zone for Christians to be set up in northern Iraq under a UN mandate, he also asked the UN to intervene to enable those who had been displaced by the advance of the Islamic State (formerly ISIS) to go back home.
He said: “We need a resolution of the United Nations which will enable us to return,” warning that if the Iraqi Christians are not able to return to their homes in the Nineveh Plains, they will become exiles living outside their homeland.
Speaking before the meeting, Mosul’s Syriac Orthodox Archbishop Nicodemus Daoud Sharaf backed the patriarch’s call for action, saying the United Nations must recognise and condemn the expulsion of the Christians in Iraq as “genocide against Christians”.
Archbishop Sharaf said: “The United Nations are quick to condemn anti-Semitism. We want to see the same when Christians are persecuted.” He added: “We need genuine humanitarian aid. Time is a major factor for us. More and more people are leaving the country.”
Also speaking at the conference, Syriac Catholic Patriarch Ignace III Yousif Yunan called for greater commitment from the international community. He said “With the capture by ISIS of Syriac Catholic towns such as Qaraqosh, tens of thousands of my faithful are fleeing. Aid from the international community would not only help them materially, but also show them that they are not alone and not forgotten.”
According to the Syriac Catholic Patriarch the industrialised nations had not been interested in the plight of the Christians of the Middle East as they were too few and too poor.
Patriarch Yunan, who is based in Lebanon. also stressed that in the long term the Christian presence in Iraq could only be guaranteed by separating state and religion, saying: “As an international family we must work towards the separation of state and religion.”
The Syriac-Catholic Patriarch called on Muslims to reinterpret their scriptures to move this process forwards. He said: “In the twenty-first century one cannot make an exegesis as though one were in the seventh century.”
The conference “Christians in the Middle East: Citizenship, Human Rights and their Future”, organised by Vatican representation at the UN, was a fringe meeting at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. The meeting on Tuesday (16 September) was attended by delegates from the United States, Great Britain, Poland and Austria.
Following the conference US Ambassador Keith Harper met with a delegation of Iraqi Church representatives for further discussions.
Hong Kong, September 29, 2014: The government of Hong Kong must ” put the personal safety of fellow citizens as her prime concern,” limiting the use of force and try to listen to the young people. This is the “urgent appeal” expressed by the bishop of the Territory, Card. John Tong Hon, published this morning after violent clashes in recent days and yesterday in the city center.
Although always having called for calm and dialogue, the Catholic Church in Hong Kong is united in its support of the people’s demands for democracy. In July of 2013, the diocese has published a lengthy document in which it seeks universal suffrage for the election of the chief executive planned for 2017. If this is not granted by Beijing then “civil disobedience is justified”.
One of the most committed public figures to support the demands of the Occupy Central democratic movement is the Bishop Emeritus Card. Joseph Zen Ze-kiun. After marching to invite people to participate in the referendum on democracy and having delivered several public speeches in favor of “one man, one vote,” the prelate is now right in the heart of the financial district of Hong Kong along with the protesters. Here, along with a group of Catholics, he held a moment of prayer (see photo). Below is the full text of Card. Tong’s appeal.
With reference to the regrettable events at Central, Admiralty and Wanchai over the past few days, may I sincerely call upon the Hong Kong SAR Government to put the personal safety of fellow citizens as her prime concern, exercising restraint in deployment of force with a view to listening to the voice of the younger generation and of citizens from all walks of life.
It is also my sincere wish that all those who are trying to voice out their grievances will be persistent in keeping calm. Where there is a will, there is a way.
As Christians, we believe that with God as its Creator, our world can always offer us hope. Accordingly, I would like to ask all Christians to continue praying for the reconciliation of the conflicting parties in Hong Kong, and for the peace and wellbeing of our Community.
Vietnam, September 29, 2014: In a church compound in the bustling heart of Ho Chi Minh City, journalists and editors upload the latest online edition of Redemptorist News in a secret backroom bureau. First established in 1935, the Catholic newspaper was shut down by the ruling Communist Party in 1975 after consolidating its control over the country’s once divided northern and southern regions.
Redemptorist News was resurrected and re-launched as an online multi-media platform in 2009 by a group of Catholic priests and activists. Their editorial inspiration: to provide news about the church’s activities and social issues, with a special emphasis on the plight of the country’s persecuted Catholic minority, which receives scant, if any, coverage in the state-dominated mainstream media.
Redemptorist News is the only local news organization that operates outside of the Communist Party’s strict media controls and editorial diktats. With a staff of six editors and 15 reporters, the small-scale news group uploads a local and English language news site, online radio broadcasts, and a 15-minute daily TV program on YouTube.
English language reporting on the site frequently spotlights human rights issues that would be banned in Vietnam’s state-controlled media. In June, Redemptorist News ran a profile story of a Vietnamese Catholic priest who is trying to advance religious freedoms through the use of technology, including evangelism apps for smart phones and tablets. A harder-hitting piece in August reported on the outcry among civil society organizations over the trial of three pro-democracy activists facing alleged charges of anti-state crimes.
“We are the voice of the persecuted and poor who have no voice,” said Ly Ngoc Thanh, a Catholic priest and editor-in-chief of Redemptorist News. “That’s the reason we’re in conflict with the government…We want a better country where human rights are accepted.”
Many of his news group’s reporters and bloggers have become martyrs for that editorial cause. On January 9, 2013, five bloggers who contributed regularly to Redemptorist News were given prison sentences ranging from three to 13 years on charges of subversion, including penalties outlined in the penal code’s Article 79 for “activities aimed at toppling the government,” and for “undermining national unity.”
The group included prominent Redemptorist News blogger Paulus Le Van Son, who was also arrested and detained in August 2011 after trying to cover the appeal trial of a well-known human rights lawyer convicted of anti-state crimes. Ho Duc Hoa, Dang Xuan Dieu, Nong Hung Anh, and Nguyen Van Duyet were the other Redemptorist News contributors or bloggers sentenced that day.
“They have tried to use the law to upset our news,” said Thanh. “We report that the laws violate human rights and are not for the people, but the Party.”
Thanh said he was detained by police before the trial to prevent him from attending the reading of the verdict. He said he has been detained and interrogated on three separate occasions, with police authorities ordering him each time to stop reporting on the plight of imprisoned bloggers, their aggrieved and persecuted family members, and other jailed Catholic social activists. The government did not respond to a CPJ request for comment about Thanh’s alleged treatment.
Despite the threats and harsh sentences, the media group’s reporters and editors continue to defy those censorship orders. In May, for example, Redemptorist News ran a story quoting the wife of one jailed blogger saying that she would rather be arrested and imprisoned than continue to live apart from her husband. “[Authorities] let us know they didn’t like that one,” Thanh said, recalling the phone call he received after the story’s publication.
Official threats often translate into harassment in the field for the group’s reporters. Thanh said that Redemptorist News reporters are often blocked by authorities from entering areas where villagers are locked in land disputes with government agencies. Several of his reporters have had their passports revoked to prevent them from traveling abroad, he added.
“When we are working, there are so many difficulties for us,” said Thanh, noting that a group of Redemptorist News reporters were recently barred by authorities from reporting from the site of anti-China protests in Ho Chi Minh City in May. “We can’t operate in open areas.”
The Redemptorist News website, www.chuacuuthe.com, has also been targeted by frequent distributed denial of service (DDOS) attacks, an online assault where multiple compromised systems are simultaneously used to access a single computer system, causing it to overload and crash. Thanh said his news site has been bombarded by DDOS attacks as large as one million hits per second, with the anonymous attacks originating from China, Europe, and Vietnam.
Thanh believes his hidden news bureau has not yet been raided and shuttered by authorities because they fear the power in numbers of his church’s congregation. “They come around looking but we think they don’t get us because they are afraid of the laypeople in our congregation,” said Thanh, while churchgoers sang early evening hymns nearby. “They are afraid we will take pictures and publish their repression…We are very secure inside here; outside we have no security.”
Nepal, September 25, 2014: The celebration of the great Hindu festival of Dashain is becoming controversial in Nepal as Buddhist leaders and environmentalists urge the majority to stop slaughtering animals for ritualistic blood sacrifices “that no longer make sense”. Whilst most Hindus defend the traditions, some agree that change might come but it will be “gradual”.
Dashain is Nepal’s longest and most important festival. Even Nepalis leaving abroad try to get home to join their family for the 15-days celebration. Government offices, many businesses, schools and universities are closed for this period.
The festival celebrates the victory of good over evil and the birth of the goddess Durga, created to fight the demon Mahishasura and stop his reign of terror in the world of god and man.
The first nine days of Dashain symbolise the struggle between the two. According to tradition, on the eighth and ninth day the fresh blood of animals is sacrificed, a gift to appease the goddess engaged in the final stages of her battle.
However, animal rights activists this is an inhumane practice. “Killing an animal to eat its flesh is something understandable, even if we are against it. However, such a waste is beyond the pale.”
Although there are no official statistics on the number of animals killed during the festival, several industry experts say that hundreds of thousands of buffaloes, goats, pigeons and ducks are slaughtered each year.
“We have been struggling for some time against the death of the animals,” said Ananda, a monk who heads a local Buddhist community. “We can say with satisfaction that thanks to our awareness campaign, the number of animal sacrifices has dropped.”
“We have no problem with the festival itself,” he explained, “but we would like to see alternatives such as floral or fruit offerings.” What is more, “Such killings influence young children”.
“No religion demands violence,” said Govinda Tondon, a Hindu expert and leader. “Peace and mercy have to be at the heart of the faith.” However, “In Hinduism, some very old traditional practices rest on the belief that the goddess Durga needs a supply of fresh blood. Certainly, we can begin to rethink this tradition, but it will take time, and will mostly be a gradual change.”
Saudi Arabia: Dozens of Christians ‘including women and children’ are arrested-Islamist police force
Saudi Arabia, September 15, 2014: Islamist police in Saudi Arabia have stormed a Christian prayer meeting and arrested its entire congregation, including women and children, and confiscated their bibles, it has been reported.
The raid was the latest incident of a swingeing crackdown on religious minorities in Saudi Arabia by the country’s hard-line Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice.
The 28 Christians were said to be worshipping at the home of an Indian national in the eastern city of Khafji, when the police entered the building and took them into custody. They have not been seen or heard from since, raising concerns among human rights groups as to their whereabouts.
Nina Shea, director of the Washington-based Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom, told FoxNews.com: ‘Saudi Arabia is continuing the religious cleansing that has always been its official policy.
‘It is the only nation state in the world with the official policy of banning all churches.
‘This is enforced even though there are over two million Christian foreign workers in that country. Those victimized are typically poor, from Asian and African countries with weak governments.’
Activists are now calling on the U.S. to use its considerable influence in the region to help secure the release of the incarcerated Christians.
A spokesperson for the Saudi government claimed to have no knowledge of the arrests, according to Fox News.
But the English-language newspaper, The Saudi Gazette, as well as several Saudi Arabic-language news outlets, have reported on the arrests.
Arabic-language news channel, Akhbar 24, said the arrests came after the Kingdom’s religious police got a tip about a home-based church.
The report also reported that ‘distorted writings of the Bible were found and musical instruments, noting their referral to the jurisdictional institutions.’
At least 3.5 million Christians live in the Gulf Arab region, mostly Catholic workers from India and the Philippines.
In Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, it is against the law for Muslims to abandon their faith, a practice known as apostasy. Proselytising for other religions or practising them openly is also illegal.
Judges have considerable leeway in how to interpret the kingdom’s Sharia code of Islamic law and are not bound by sentencing guidelines or a system of precedent. Both capital and corporal punishment are legal.
Last year King Abdullah, who has promoted limited reforms since coming to the throne in 2005, opened a centre for religious dialogue in Vienna that drew criticism because of Saudi Arabia’s own lack of religious freedom. In 2008 he sponsored an inter-faith conference in Spain.