Monday, December 15, 2003

Canada: Applying Shariah through Islamic arbitration.

Date: Monday 15 December 2003
Subj: Canada: Applying Shariah through Islamic arbitration.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal


At a conference in Etobicoke, Ontario, Canada, in October 2003, Muslim delegates elected a 30-member council to establish the Islamic Institute of Civil Justice. The institute is classified in Islamic law as a Darul-Qada, or judicial tribunal. Its bylaws are scheduled to be drafted and approved by 31 December.

In an article by Judy Van Rhijn for the Vancouver Independent Media Center, Muslim barrister Syed Mumtaz Ali explains that in the past Canadian Muslims have been excused from applying Shariah in their legal disputes because it was impractical as there was no way to enforce decisions. However, amendments to the Arbitration Act have made it possible for Muslim committees to enforce settlements. "Now, once an arbitrator decides cases, it is final and binding," says Syed. "The parties can go to the local secular Canadian court asking that it be enforced. The court has no discretion in the matter. So, the concession given by Shariah is no longer available to us because the impracticality has been removed. In settling civil disputes, there is no choice indeed but to have an arbitration board." (Link 1)

This has raised many concerns for the religious freedom of Canada's Muslims and in particular, the rights of Canadian Muslim women.

Dr. Janet Epp Buckingham (B.A., LL.B., LL.D) is the Director, Law and Public Policy, and General Legal Counsel for the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC) Centre for Faith and Public Life. I asked her for a comment.
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ANALYSIS OF SHARIAH LAW IN CANADA
Dr. Janet Epp Buckingham (EFC link 5)
10 December 2003


The Law Times newspaper announced on 25 November 2003 that several Islamic groups were in the process of forming an arbitration council in Ontario that would allow Muslims to have their disputes decided in accordance with Shariah law. Under the Arbitration Act, 1991 in Ontario, the decision of an arbitrator may be enforced by the courts. This development has raised questions and concerns.

Under the Arbitration Act, 1991, people may make an agreement to have any disputes adjudicated by binding arbitration. They can set out the qualifications of the arbitrators and even indicate a particular arbitration group to which they agree. Arbitrators are given broad powers to decide their own jurisdiction and process. They may make any remedy available to a court. Under the Act, an arbitrator's award is enforceable through the courts as though it was a court order. In general, the court will not review or overturn an arbitration decision unless there is an error of law. Considering that the purpose of the Islamic arbitration board is to apply Shariah law, rather than the law of Canada, it is an open question at this point if the courts will overturn decisions that are not in accordance with Canadian law.

The most important pre-condition of the use of the Islamic Arbitration Board is that it is voluntary. It will only have jurisdiction if the parties agree to its use. It is quite possible that if an arbitration decision is not in accordance with Canadian law and one party appeals the decision, the courts would overturn the decision. This arbitration board is being set up under the current Arbitration Act; it is not new legislation that imports Shariah law into Canadian law for any purpose. It appears, therefore, that it will only be effective if the parties agree to it.

The Law Times article itself makes reference to a previous Islamic dispute resolution board that failed because Muslim women refused to make use of it. It therefore appears that Muslim women are aware of the impact of Shariah law on them. If they refuse to agree to this arbitration board, there is no way that they can be forced to be subject to it.

Some specific questions have been posed to me:
----
1. Will these lead to stoning of women for adultery?

The short answer is no. Any two "persons" (which includes corporations) may have their dispute decided by arbitration. Criminal law is not enforced through arbitration.

An arbitrator or board of arbitration may give any remedy that may be given by a court. This does not include remedies such as stoning or any other kind of physical remedy such as incarceration or physical punishment. In addition, the court can substitute a different remedy for that awarded by the arbitrator.
----
2. Does Canada have any law that would prevent a woman from being stoned under a ruling of a Muslim arbitrator?

The short answer is yes. An arbitrator does not have jurisdiction to give this kind of remedy. If it did, it could (and would) be overturned by a court. If someone tried to stone a woman subject to an arbitration decision, that person would be subject to the criminal laws of Canada that prohibit assault and battery.
----
3. Will Muslim women who convert to Christianity lose their children under this arbitration?

This poses the greatest concern. If a woman agrees to arbitration under an Islamic arbitrator either as part of a pre-nuptial agreement, or any other agreement, this can only be changed under the ordinary laws of contract. This means that this agreement will likely be binding (as it is very hard to change this kind of agreement).

On the positive side, the court does have jurisdiction to overturn an arbitration decision if it is "unfair" in law to one party. The courts in Canada are very sensitive to women's rights and it seems unlikely that courts would enforce arbitration awards that give women no rights (custody or access) with respect to their children.

----------------------------------------

RIGHTS SAFEGUARDED?

On 11 December, Workopolis, a Canadian Internet job site, ran an article entitled, "Islamic law in civil disputes raises questions." This article confirms that, "Under Ontario law, the courts must uphold the agreements as long as they are voluntary and negotiated through an arbitrator. The courts will not uphold the agreements if they violate Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms."

"Under Ontario's Arbitration Act, people enter into arbitration voluntarily, noted Brendan Crawley, a spokesman for the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General. 'People can use any arbitrator they want and can use a religious framework if it is mutually acceptable,' he said. 'The Charter of Rights is the supreme law of Canada and the Arbitration Act is subject to it. If the award is not compatible with Canadian law, then the court will not enforce it. You can't agree to violate Canadian law.'" (Link 2)

Yet, as Dr. Janet Epp Buckingham's notes, "Considering that the purpose of the Islamic arbitration board is to apply Shariah law, rather than the law of Canada, it is an open question at this point if the courts will overturn decisions that are not in accordance with Canadian law."

Muslim lawyer Syed Mumtaz Ali says that Canadian Muslims are obliged to follow Sharia and the laws of Canada. "We have a double obligation," he says. "You don't have to be the wisest man to see there will be conflicts." (Link 3)

This is exactly the point. Canada will now have two potentially conflicting systems of law in operation. Now that Shariah has been given this legitimacy, will a Muslim (who is supposed to accept Shariah as the eternal law of Allah) dare contest the decision of a Shariah arbitrator through a secular court? Will the courts dare overturn a decision? If both Muslim parties voluntarily agree (or are "persuaded" to "voluntarily" agree) to abide by the dictates of the Shariah arbitrator and not contest the decision, do the courts have the right to intervene to preserve Canadian rights and values? The questions are endless.

MUSLIM WOMEN ANXIOUS

The Toronto Star ran an article on 12 December that noted the concern of Canada's Muslim women. "Alia Hogben, president of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women, expressed reservations about the arbitration committees. 'Who will represent the rights of women?' she asked from Kingston. 'We are gravely concerned because there are lots questions and we don't understand from the Canadian Muslim women's point why another system is being applied.' Since most Muslim women in Canada are religious, many may be persuaded to go to arbitration as part of their Islamic faith and identity, she said." (Link 4)

This concern (that Muslim women will be "persuaded" into Islamic Arbitration) is probably the most serious issue at present. This persuasion may come in the form of intense family or social pressure, or via prenuptial agreements.

In the Workopolis article (link 3) Muslim lawyer Syed Mumtaz Ali says that "Islamic family law would definitely not apply in child-custody cases," and that women may even use the tribunal to negotiate prenuptial agreements that allow them to initiate divorce proceedings without the permission of their husbands.

However, this is highly unlikely - it is difficult to imagine that the Shariah arbitrators will rule contrary to Shariah principles.

A DOOR TO SOCIAL DIVISION

This move can only open the door to social division and conflict. It will polarise Muslim and non-Muslim communities, and it will polarise the Muslim community (as Shariah does). Muslims who choose not to use the Shariah tribunals will doubtless be rejected and persecuted as rebellious or apostate. Muslims in Canada (especially Muslim women and Westernised Muslims) may find that they will lose - or be "persuaded" to abandon - their precious Canadian rights and freedoms.


- Elizabeth Kendal

Links

1) First steps taken for Islamic arbitration board
Vancouver Independent Media Center
By Judy Van Rhijn
http://vancouver.indymedia.org/news/2003/11/87502.php

2) Islamic law in civil disputes raises questions
Judicial tribunal based on sharia to decide disagreements among
Ontario Muslims. By Marina Jimenez, 11 December 2003
http://www.workopolis.com/servlet/Content/qprinter/20031211/SHARIA11

3) Canadian Muslims Press For Setting Up Shari'a Court
OTTAWA, Canada, 29 November 2003
http://www.islam-online.net/English/News/2003-11/29/article03.shtmlv

4) The Toronto Star, 12 Dec. 2003
New Islamic Institute set up for civil cases
System would reduce court time. Move worries Muslim women.
By Leslie Scrivener, Faith and Ethics Reporter
Go to the Toronto Star front page http://www.thestar.com and type
"Islamic institute" into the 14-day search.

5) Evangelical Fellowship of Canada
Centre for Faith and Public Life
websites: http://www.evangelicalfellowship.ca
http://www.religiousfreedom.ca
http://www.christianity.ca

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Turkmenistan: religious minorities effectively banned.

Date: Tuesday 18 November 2003
Subj: Turkmenistan: religious minorities effectively banned.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal

---------------------------------------------------------
RELIGIOUS MINORITIES EFFECTIVELY BANNED
---------------------------------------------------------

It was back in 1999 that the Turkmenistan government declared its intention to "strangle" minority faiths. All foreign Christians were expelled and the persecution of national believers, especially ethnic Turkmen, intensified intolerably.

While unregistered minority religious groups were not illegal, members of unregistered groups were scorned, harassed and persecuted, particularly by the National Security Committee (security police - KNB, formerly KGB). Christians have been beaten, tortured, had their homes confiscated and been driven into exile. For all its boasting of freedom of belief, Turkmenistan severely abuses religious liberty.

Turkmenistan has now replaced its highly repressive 1991 religion law with an even more repressive version. The new religion law, signed by President Niyazov on 21 October, came into effect on 10 November 2003. Unregistered religious activity is now officially banned as illegal. Members of minority faiths (Baptists, Pentecostals, Jews, Adventists etc), who have long been subject to administrative punishments, are now vulnerable to criminal charges.

NEW RELIGION LAW

Article 8 of the new religion law states, as previously, that registration with the Justice Ministry requires 500 adult citizens living inside the country. This requirement is so restrictive that only the Sunni Muslims and Russian Orthodox will be able to achieve registration. Evangelicals that minister to ethnic Turkmen find it doubly difficult to find the 500 members necessary for registration. To protect ethnic Turkmen believers from persecution, and to protect congregations that minister to ethnic Turkmen from harassment, evangelical churches will often not list the names of ethnic Turkmen on their rolls.

Article 11 states, "The activity of unregistered religious organizations is banned. An individual carrying out activity in the name of an unregistered religious organization bears responsibility in accordance with the laws of Turkmenistan."

Article 14 gives the Justice Ministry the right to cancel a group's registration on a wide range of bases, from "interference in family relations leading to the breakdown of the family", to "violation of social security and social order".

Article 15 requires all registered religious organizations receiving money or other support from foreign donors to notify the Justice Ministry.

Article 20 requires all religious literature imported by registered religious organizations to be approved by the Gengeshi (Council) for Religious Affairs.

Article 6 states, "The teaching of spiritual beliefs on a private basis is banned and bears responsibility in the manner established by the law of Turkmenistan."

CRIMINAL CODE AMENDED

The criminal code has been amended to provide punishments for those breaking the law by engaging in unregistered religious activity. According to Forum 18, "The new article 223 part 2 of the Criminal Code, also signed by President Niyazov on 21 October, punishes 'violation of the law on religious organisations'. Those breaking the law who have already been punished within the space of a year under the Code of Administrative Offences 'are to be punished by a fine of between ten and thirty average monthly wages, or corrective labour for a term of up to one year, or deprivation of freedom for a term of up to six months, with confiscation of illegally received means.' Such criminal punishments could be imposed on those who lead unregistered religious communities or those who teach religion in such communities." (Link 1)

PRISON IN TURKMENISTAN


It is important to note here that Turkmenistan's prisons are absolutely appalling. Turkmenistan is thought to have one of the highest per-capita prison population rates in the world. Most prisons are situated in the desert where the temperature can climb to 55 degrees Celsius, and they usually house up to ten times the number of inmates they were built to house. What's more, provisions are supplied for only the number of inmates the prison was built to hold.

Gulgeldy Annaniyazov, a former political prisoner (now living in Europe), reported to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty last year (21 Nov 2002) that where he was imprisoned near Turkmenbashi City for three and a half years, there were 8,000 inmates but only one water faucet. "We had really no food to speak of in our prison. They gave us food but first you had to clean the cockroaches and worms out of it, then you could eat." Since Turkmenistan became independent in 1991 no monitoring group has been permitted to monitor prison conditions.

We must never underestimate what prison means for a Turkmenistan believer.

FREEDOM OF BELIEF?

Forum 18 quotes Murad Karryev, deputy head of the Gengeshi (Council) for Religious Affairs, as saying during a half-hour television programme on the new law on 7 November that there is "complete freedom of belief for all sects and confessions" as long as they are registered officially. "We do not intervene in the affairs of religious sects and confessions if they are legally registered at the Ministry of Justice."

While this statement is no doubt true, the repressive restrictions make a mockery of religious freedom.

Joseph K. Grieboski, the President of the Institute on Religion and Public Policy condemned the new religion law saying, "The passage of this law uses quasi-democratic means to eliminate basic rights ideally guaranteed by the state. The Government of Turkmenistan has ignored its commitments to international agreements, flown in the face of international norms, and ignored the basic rights due the citizens of Turkmenistan." (Link 2)

SOCIETY UNDER PRESIDENTIAL SCRUTINY

Forum 18 reports, "Speaking on television on 22 October, Justice Minister Taganmyrat Gochyev said tighter control of religious groups and public organisations was needed to address security concerns."

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty adds, "Erika Dailey, director of the Open Society Institute's Turkmenistan Project based in Budapest, points out that 'the new religion law and criminal code amendment are consistent with a larger government effort to bring Turkmen society even further under its control.

"'It's worth noting,' Dailey told RFE/RL, 'that this new revised law on religion and religious organizations in Turkmenistan was signed into law at exactly the same time that a parallel law on NGOs, on nongovernmental organizations, was also signed into law. And the spirit of both new laws is very similar. It is to provide administrative oversight headed by the president himself of nongovernmental activities, whether they be religious or civic in nature.'

"Dailey adds that it is likely not a coincidence that the laws came into force in the days preceding the first anniversary of the 25 November alleged assassination attempt against Niyazov." (Link 3)

- Elizabeth Kendal


Links

1) New religion law defies international human rights agreements
By Felix Corley, Forum 18 News Service11 Nov 2003
http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=180

2) Institute Condemns New Turkmenistan Religion Law
Washington, DC, November 11, 2003
http://www.religionandpolicy.org/show.php?p=1.1.885

3) Ashgabat Takes Further Steps To Suppress Religious Faiths
By Antoine Blua, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty 14 Nov 2003
http://www.rferl.org/nca/features/2003/11/14112003152539.asp

Friday, November 14, 2003

Egypt: Christians imprisoned - Islamists released.

Date: Friday 14 November 2003
Subj: Egypt: Christians imprisoned - Islamists released.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal


The Egyptian government recently released around 1,000 members of the Islamist fundamentalist group Gammaa el-Islamiya, and then moved to detain and torture Christians (apostates; i.e. former Muslims) for changing their Muslim names to Christian names.

A 26 September 2003 Stratfor Global Intelligence Report entitled, "Egypt: Internal Focus and Political Stability", provides a basis for analysis. Stratfor says, "Egypt's ruling party is touting economic and political reform, signalling Cairo's renewed focus on domestic issues.

"Egypt plays a pivotal role in the region. The country has seen slow but steady economic growth in the past decade, with purchasing power parity rising steadily from 1992 to 2002. This has eased internal pressures on the government, despite widespread anti-American and anti-Israeli sentiment and opposition to Cairo's relationship with Washington. Instability in Egypt would resonate throughout an already troubled region, encouraging instability in states such as Lebanon, Jordan and Syria. In a bid to prevent such instability, Cairo is focusing almost all of its attention inward."

According to this Stratfor report, the government's main problems at present are "anti-American and anti-Israeli sentiment and opposition to Cairo's relationship with Washington". This might go some way to explaining the recent prisoner movements in Egypt.

PRISONERS IN -
CRACKDOWN ON APOSTATES


On 20 October, Egyptian police commenced a crackdown on apostates. According to the U.S. Copts Association (26 Oct), "The assault started with the arrest of a husband and wife who secretly converted from Islam to Christianity. Yousef Samuel Makari Suliman, whose former Muslim name was Muhammad Ahmad Imam al-Kurdi and his wife Mariam Girgis Makar formerly Saher El-Sayid Abd al-Kani and their two daughters, Sarah and Marina (formerly Sarah and Shaymaa), had all secretly converted to Christianity and had been living as Christians in hiding."

Compass Direct reports that Yousef and Mariam told the prosecutor "that they did not know it was illegal for them to change their religious identity. Since it was commonly known that Christians in Egypt could convert to Islam and change their identity papers, they assumed that Muslims had the same rights." (Link 1 - has picture.)

The U.S. Copts report (26 Oct) continues, "Following the arrest of Yousef and Mariam, the police arrested individuals who helped them secure new ID cards with new Christian names. Under severe torture; the police were able to extract the names of some 100 other converts who secured new ID cards with Christian names. Immediately, thereafter, 20 more converts were arrested in Alexandria alone.

"Officially the 22 arrested converts are being charged 'with falsifying ID papers,' because they obtained new ID cards with their Christian names."

The most recent report from the Barnabas Fund (12 Nov) states that 17 of those arrested have been released on bail, whilst five (including Mariam) remain in prison. The Barnabas Fund report on the torture inflicted upon the prisoners is harrowing reading. Torture is said to have contributed to the death in custody of one of the Muslims arrested for allegedly 'falsifying' the Christian's ID cards. Mariam is reportedly being held in the same quarters as prostitutes and being told that while they will be released, she, as an apostate, will never be released. She is under great pressure to return to Islam (Link 2).

According to Barnabas Fund the detention of the five remaining in prison comes up for review on 20 November.

The Institute on Religion and Public Policy has expressed outrage that the Egyptian government could abuse religious liberty after signing the "Declaration of the Interparliamentary Conference on Human Rights and Religious Freedom" in Brussels in September. The Declaration has a very strong statement concerning religious freedom.

Only days later, representatives from Cairo participated in the Congress of World and Traditional Religions in Astana, Kazakhstan and signed a concluding declaration which affirmed, among other things, "the right of each human person to freely be convinced, choose, express, and practice his/her religion."

Institute President Joseph K. Grieboski declared, "These actions of the Egyptian government have demonstrated that they have little interest in adhering to documents or principles to which they have signed, in essence making liars of their own people." (Link 3)

PRISONERS OUT -
AMNESTY FOR GAMMAA EL-ISLAMIYA MILITANTS


On 6 October 2003, Egyptian president Husni Mubarak released nearly 3,000 prisoners under an amnesty to mark the anniversary of the 1973 Yom Kippur war with Israel.

About 1,000 of those set free were members of the Islamist fundamentalist group Gammaa el-Islamiya. Three of the group's leaders, Karam Zohdi, Fou'ad El-Dawalibi and Assem Abdel-Maged, convicted for their involvement in the 6 October 1981 assassination of former President Anwar Sadat, were among those released. Anwar Sadat was assassinated for signing a peace treaty with Israel in 1979. Thus the timing is very significant. These men were amnestied on the anniversary of the assassination for which they were imprisoned - an assassination committed in protest of a peace treaty with Israel.

Gammaa el-Islamiya is known for the terror campaign it has waged against the Egyptian government. Gammaa el-Islamiya's aim had been to establish a fundamentalist Islamic state. They were infamous for killing of tourists (i.e. the Luxor massacre), but they also killed and terrorised Christians, whose very existence conflicted with their ideals of an Islamic state. The Gammaa el-Islamiya militants have allegedly been released because their leaders have declared that they have renounced violence.

However, as Michael Meunier, the Executive Director of the Center for Freedom in the Middle East in Washington, D.C., points out, the leaders of the Gammaa el-Islamiya may have issued statements of repentance, but they have not shown any remorse concerning the killings and terror inflicted upon Copts (Egypt's Christians), Jews, and Westerners during their campaign of violence.

Meunier says, "The discriminatory Islamist ideology that propelled the group's members to violence against the Copts appears to remain ingrained within its new, revised philosophy. We hear no remorse for the brutality demonstrated against the infidels (Christians and Jews) - they are once again sidelined as acceptable victims of violence." (Link 4)

An article in the Cairo weekly Al-Ahram reports that the Gammaa el-Islamiya leaders explain their change of heart as the result of "ijtihad", or independently reasoned interpretation of the Holy Qur'an and Sunna (teachings of Prophet Mohamed)". They are saying that interpretation must be "suited to exigencies, and changing realities".

Al-Ahram reports, "In their books Al-Gama'a's leaders stressed the inevitability of 'sincere Muslims', including Al-Gama'a, reviewing their stance on resistance due to the situation in Iraq, external pressures on Arab governments and the global order of power, all of which threaten 'national autonomy itself'."

Al-Ahram notes that some commentators have suggested that Gammaa el-Islamiya's call for an end to Islamist violence is purely tactical, and some expatriate Al-Gama'a members have suggested that the incarcerated leaders were enticed by a government offer for early release.

In response to such accusations Karam Zohdi says, "While an agreement with Jews can be temporary, until war against them is resumed, in a peace agreement between Muslims there can be no exit." (Link 5)

We can take this to mean that Gammaa el-Islamiya will honour its agreement with the Egyptian government, but an agreement regarding non-violence against Jews or Christians need not be honoured if war is declared against them.

That statement by Gammaa el-Islamiya puts weight behind this statement by Michael Meunier: "The release of more than 1,000 members of the Gamma el-Islamiya and al-Jihad organization, including several top leaders may very well serve the surge of international terrorism. In this context, therefore, it should serve as no surprise that Egypt has granted the Gamma el-Islamiya a new lifeline."

The security situation for Christians and Jews in (and possibly beyond) Egypt looks set to deteriorate.

- Elizabeth Kendal

Links

1) EGYPT: Egypt cracks down against converts to Christianity.
http://www.compassdirect.org/en/breaking.php?idelement=119

2) Barnabas Fund NEWS
http://www.barnabasfund.org/news.htm

3) Institute Outraged by Egyptian Crackdown on Converts
Washington, DC, 30 October 2003
http://www.religionandpolicy.org/show.php?p=1.1.875

4) Egypt's Dangerous Game. By Michael Meunier
FrontPageMagazine.com, 11 November 2003
http://www.frontpagemagazine.com/Articles/ReadArticle.asp?ID=10737

5) A New Page?
By Jailan Halawi, for Al-Ahram
http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2003/659/eg5.htm

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

India: Togadi says Christianity is a virus.

Date: Tuesday 11 November 2003
Subj: India: Togadi says Christianity is a virus.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal


Australia's SBS channel recently ran a 'Dateline' program on the issues of conversions and anti-conversion laws in India. Dr. Previn Togadi, the head of the VHP and author of the new anti-conversion laws, was interviewed, and his comments reveal the true intention of the VHP. He describes Christian witness as "religious terrorism", Christianity as "a virus" and conversion as "cultural AIDS".

Here are a few excerpts. The reporter is Edwina Throsby reporting from Gujarat.

Throsby reports: "Gomet (a new Christian) is one of a growing number of Dalits who are choosing to abandon Hinduism, the religion of their ancestors, in favour of something new. By escaping Hinduism, converts hope to escape oppression. So many thousands of Dalits are changing their religion that it's being described as a 'conversion movement'.

"But in a country - and a global climate - where religion and politics are increasingly hard to separate, the act of conversion has become politically charged. The state of Gujarat is ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, a fundamentalist Hindu party that is violently opposed to missionary activity. Dr Previn Togadia is the international general secretary of the BJP's culture arm, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, or VHP."

DR. PREVIN TOGADIA, HEAD OF VHP: "We are dead against conversion of any type. If I change my religion, that is a different thing. But if you target me, they (Christians) are targeting! They are harassing! They are planning and preparing! It is nothing but religious terrorism.

"They enhance monoculture by destroying our belief system. They did it in Europe, in the first millennium, second millennium they destroyed the belief system of Africa. Third millennium, the Pope himself came and declared that I will convert Asia and India. It means they want to destroy pluralistic belief system of India."

Throsby continues, "The VHP has devised the boldest strike so far in the battle for the souls of the Dalits. It's behind a bill that attempts to stamp out religious conversion. Passed in March this year, the paradoxically named Religious Freedom Act restricts the activities of missionaries and requires would-be converts to obtain permission from a magistrate.

"A challenge from a Christian group has delayed the bill's enactment, but it's expected to become law within months. Similar bills are in various stages of passage in four other states. The VHP claims the Act will protect the free will of the under-classes, arguing that their ignorance and poverty are exploited by missionaries. Dr Togadia is the principal author of the controversial act."

REPORTER: "Isn't the act of conversion an exercise of free will?"

DR. PREVIN TOGADI: "No, if you are targeting me, where is there free will? Why aren't they converting Dr Togadia, medical surgeon? Why are they converting poor, downtrodden, illiterate? The bill is targeted against individual organisations who want to convert by force, fraud, or allurement, who don't believe in the validity of all religion, who want to destroy pluralistic tradition, and want to impose monoculture with force, fraud and allurement."

When it is pointed out to Dr. Togadi that only 0.5% the population of Gujarat is Christians, hardly a political or social threat, Togadi responds:

DR. PREVIN TOGADI: "It's not a question of the number of Christians. It's the concept. It is not a number it is a virus. A single AIDS virus is sufficient to kill a human being. So conversion is cultural AIDS, which will destroy pluralism."

This language is the same as that of Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, who recently said, "Ideology for a state is what the immune system is for a living organism. If the immune system grows weaker, any infection, even the slightest one, turns deadly."

Once again, Christianity is being described with toxic and paranoid language as a deadly disease that must not be allowed to spread and sicken or destroy the nation. This interview reveals that the goal of the VHP is indeed to prevent every single conversion. This is a serious assault upon religious freedom. (Full transcript - Link 1)

- Elizabeth Kendal

Link

1) Gujarat - A Question of Faith
DATELINE SBS, 5 November 2003

Wednesday, November 5, 2003

Cote d'Ivoire: facing the prospect of a whole new era.

Date: Wednesday 5 November 2003
Subj: Cote d'Ivoire: facing the prospect of a whole new era.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal.


The situation in Cote d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast) has taken a profound turn. In the face of rebel threats to return to war, the government of Cote d'Ivoire has acquiesced to rebel demands. While this means that "peace" reigns for now, it has serious implications for the future of Cote d'Ivoire and West Africa, particularly Ghana, Togo, Benin and Nigeria - West African religious-fault line nations with similar demographics.

WHAT ARE THE REBELS' DEMANDS?

Cote d'Ivoire's problems stem from unmanaged immigration. While economic recession has led to tensions, the immigrants are not the cause of the present troubles. Neither is it the fact that the immigrants are predominantly Muslims. But for one political figure, status, ethnicity and religion could prove to be the answer to all his political problems.

This political figure, Dr. Alassane Ouattara, did not qualify to stand in presidential elections in 2000. This was not because he is Muslim - the Vice President is Muslim, the Prime minister is a northern Muslim, and there are many Muslim MPs. Dr. Ouattara's problems were related his nationality. Among the many issues was the fact that Dr. Ouattara's involvement in the International Monetary Fund and the Central Bank of West Africa were as a citizen of Burkina Faso - formerly Upper Volta. This did not rule him out of Cote d'Ivoire politics, but according to the Cote d'Ivoire constitution it disqualified him from the presidency.

Dr. Ouattara, however, knows how to play politics 21st Century style. An estimated 50% of the population of Cote d'Ivoire are immigrants from the neighbouring Islamic countries of Burkina Faso, Mali, Guinea, Niger and Mauritania. They share not only the same religion as the Muslims of Cote d'Ivoire, but also the same cultural and historical ties. By playing race and religion cards for personal political gain, Dr. Ouattara has managed to unite them behind him. Now all that is needed are the relevant constitutional and law changes that will enable Dr. Ouattara to stand as a presidential candidate, and allow the new citizens (nationalised immigrants) to vote him into power. These have been the demands of the rebels ever since their coup failed on 19 September 2002.

FAULTY FOUNDATIONS

Foundations for peace were supposedly laid at the Marcoussis talks outside Paris in late January. However these foundations were faulty from the beginning. (See WEA RLC posting "Peace accord 'opens Pandora's box'".)

CRACKS APPEAR

UN IRIN (Integrated Regional Information Networks) reported on 23 September 2003, "The rebels, who are now officially known as 'The New Forces,' were due to have begun a process of demobilisation and disarmament on 1 August. This would have allowed the government to restore its administration to the entire country and reopen closed schools, hospitals and banks.

"However, the start of disarmament was held up pending the passage of an amnesty law and the appointment of ministers to the vacant portfolios of defence and internal security."

"And on 13 September [President] Gbagbo finally appointed Martin Bleou, a law professor and human rights activist, as minister of internal security, and Rene Amani, a former head of the government's cocoa board as defence minister. The president chose these two men from list of four candidates proposed by the prime minister.

"That should have cleared the way for disarmament to begin. However, the rebels objected loudly to what they called the 'arbitrary' way in which Gbagbo had imposed the new ministers without seeking a broad consensus." (Full IRIN report see link 2)

STRUCTURES CRUMBLE

On Tuesday 23 September 2003, rebel leaders used their objections to President Gbagbo's appointments as their excuse to withdraw from the government of national unity, delay disarmament, and resume their threats of war. Some observers suggest that the rebels were looking for a way to avoid disarmament. As the UN IRIN report noted, the rebels have long been sharply divided over the issue.

However, not all the nine rebel representatives in the government agreed with the withdrawal. On Friday 26 September the rebels disowned one of their leaders, Roger Banchi, stripping him of his ministerial functions for defying the order to withdraw. He is the second rebel representative to defy the rebel leaders.

Banchi said he thought the rebels were "behaving like little children". He added, "Is it really worth spilling blood and igniting fires over issues such as the appointment of departmental directors and office coordinators? We [Banchi and another rebel representative, Gueu] stayed because we are serious. The politics of leaving an empty chair never pays."

UN IRIN quoted Banchi as saying, "I don't think my friends [rebel leaders] have taken the decision which the people were expecting of us. The cry of the people is so strong. Why doesn't Secretary General Guillaume Soro listen to them?" (Link 3)

This rebel action of withdrawing from the government and refusing to disarm, has put Cote d'Ivoire right back where it was - split along ethnic and religious lines, with a rebel force threatening war.

PLOT TO ASSASSINATE CHRISTIAN LEADERS

On Friday 31 October, Security Minister Martin Bleou announced that a plot had been uncovered that aimed to bring down the government by showing it as ineffectual and unable to provide security, even in the main city Abidjan. The plot involved the assassination of several significant religious and political figures. There have been no reports of arrests, and the government has appealed to the plotters to abandon the project.

One of those on the rebel hit-list was Cardinal Bernard Agre, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church in Ivory Coast. Armed police have now surrounded St. Paul's Cathedral in Abidjan, where Cardinal Agre lives and works. (Link 4)

According to the BBC report (1 Nov 2003), Cardinal Agre has held his post at St. Paul's Cathedral in Abidjan since February 2001, and has spoken out strongly against violence and ethnic and religious discord.

Reports of rebel threats to target Christian leaders have been circulating for some time. In February it was reported to the WEA RLC that the rebels were blaming their lack of military success (to capture all of Cote d'Ivoire) on the prayers of Christians and were therefore determined to target the church and eliminate Christian leaders.

THE GOVERNMENT ACQUIESCES

To prevent war and bring the rebels back into the government of national unity, the government has acquiesced to rebel demands. The report from UN IRIN states:

"The government of Cote d'Ivoire has agreed to fast track the legislation of three key measures demanded by rebels occupying the north of the country as a conciliation for resuming their participation in the peace process."

According to UN IRIN (31 Oct), the three reforms are:

  • The amendment of a section of the constitution which bans citizens with a foreign parent or citizens who have spent long periods living abroad (even if they have benefited from a foreign citizenship) from becoming president.

  • A new nationality law to give full rights of citizenship to immigrants from other West African countries and their offspring, who account for 30 percent of Cote d'Ivoire's 16 million population. [The real figure is closer to 50% - EK]

  • A new property law to give full land ownership rights to immigrants who have occupied and cultivated land with the consent of local communities.
Drafts of three new laws will be discussed by parliament during the cabinet meeting in the second week of November. (Link 5)

FUTURE IN THE BALANCE

Presently, Cote d'Ivoire is estimated to be 39% Muslim, 32% Christian (the number of evangelical believers doubled during the 1990s) and 29% traditional (Operation World 21st Century Edition). There is complete religious freedom. (Abidjan on the south coast, the commercial capital, is not only home to Cathedrals, but to the nation's largest mosques.)

If the new nationality law is passed, Cote d'Ivoire will become majority Muslim overnight, and the Church in Cote d'Ivoire will enter a whole new era.


ADDENDUM

The current BBC Country profile on Ivory Coast says that Laurent Gbagbo pronounced himself president in 2000. That is incorrect. However, the BBC Timeline for Ivory Coast is accurate and very good. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/country_profiles/1043106.stm


Links

1) COTE D'IVOIRE: peace accord "opens Pandora's box".
WEA RLC Friday 31 January 2003

2) Rebel Ministers Withdraw From Government
UN Integrated Regional Information Networks
NEWS 23 September 2003 Abidjan.
http://www.irinnews.org/print.asp?ReportID=36760

3) Second Rebel Minister May Break Ranks And Stay in Cabinet
UN Integrated Regional Information Networks
NEWS 26 September 2003, Abidjan
http://www.irinnews.org/print.asp?ReportID=36853

4) Ivory Coast Uncovers Assassins' Plot
By Baudelaire Mieux,
31 October 2003, Associated Press
http://www.guardian.co.uk/worldlatest/story/0,1280,-3333509,00.html
BBC http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/low/africa/3232691.stm

5) Government Fast Tracks New Laws Demanded By Rebels
UN Integrated Regional Information Networks
NEWS 31 October 2003, Abidjan
http://www.irinnews.org/print.asp?ReportID=37584

Monday, October 6, 2003

Laos: Eliminating Christianity.

Date: Tuesday 6 October 2003
Subj: Laos: Eliminating Christianity.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal.


Communist Laos in South East Asia is one of the world's most severe religious liberty abusers, being one of the few nations in the world where the government has expressly declared its intent to eliminate Christianity. Reports indicate that government abuses go well beyond systematic intimidation, deprivation, harassment and persecution of Christians. The Lao government is also engaged in the systematic killing of Hmong civilians, militarily, by means of chemical weapons and forced starvation.

RELIGIOUS PERSECUTION

Of all the people groups in Laos, the Hmong have been the most responsive to the gospel. There have been great turnings to Christ amongst the Hmong and the Khmu, sometimes with whole villages coming to Christ. Gospel radio has been a significant instrument, and now indigenous evangelists are spreading the Good News at great personal risk and in the midst of great persecution.

Through the 1960s the Hmong fought with the Americans against the Communists in the Indochina war. The Hmong continue to call for democracy and religious freedom and have been waging a low-level guerrilla insurgency against the Communist government for many years. Hence the Hmong are considered enemies of the government, and a channel for Western influence.

The Laotian government considers Christianity to be a violation of Lao custom and an 'imperialist foreign religion' backed by political interests in the West, particularly the United States. Christians are therefore regarded as subversive and enemies of the state.

Persecution has escalated continuously since the Communists took over in 1975. Since the late 1990s, Lao believers have been beaten, imprisoned, tortured and forced off their lands and into severe hardship for refusing to sign the government's "Voluntary resignation from a foreign religion" document. (For some good background on Laos see link 1.)

-------------------------------------------------------
A letter to Far East Broadcasting Company (FEBC) from a Hmong believer in Laos
- June 2003. (Link 2)

"This is the first letter that I have written to you. I want to let you know that I am already a believer, however during these times the government has refused Christians any sanction to worship and therefore have closed all public churches in our part of the country. The government wants us to go back and worship evil spirits, which breaks my heart.

"Not only that, but if the government sees us praying, they will persecute us and will jail us. At this time, the non-Christians in our village have reported the Christians they know. They claimed that we practiced our religions without evidence, so some have been persecuted. Other claims include espionage for the country of America, which carries stiff fines.

"Despite our problems, I want to know if you can send me a tape that teaches us how to keep our faith in the Lord, and away from false prophets. Pray for us so that we can pay whatever fines have been imposed on us. Any Bibles or scripture teaching tapes would be beneficial to us.

Thank you so much!"

-------------------------------------------------------
EXPOSING THE 'SECRET JUNGLE WAR'.

CHEMICAL WEAPONS


In early September 2003, the WEA RLC interviewed a Laos observer who reported that many Hmong groups isolated in the jungle are under constant military attack which includes the use of chemical weapons. For security reasons this observer's identity must remain secret.

"There are at least 5,000 such people in several groups. But my reports say that only about 20% are men and the rest are women and children. The reason that there are so few men is that so many men have been killed defending themselves as they fight against the government troops. The Hmong are asking for democracy and freedom, and are therefore under constant attack from government troops.

"What's more, the Laos government is doing everything in its power to ensure that the world does not know anything about this 'secret jungle war' against the Hmong. It is practically impossible for foreigners to get to meet these people, as you have to walk for many days in the jungle.

"The army is attacking in three ways: with ground troops (soldiers), bombs from aircrafts and chemical weapons. The Government uses helicopters and they spray out something that looks like 'yellow rain'. It creates headache, diarrhoea, blindness, and the teeth fall out of the mouth. Within three weeks people die. As these people only eat leaves and roots they also often eat leaves that are affected by the 'yellow rain'. When they do that they usually die within three days. These attacks are directly against people (including women and children), water and trees.

"It is impossible to say exactly how many have died. One Hmong group consisted of 8,000 four years ago and today there are only 750 left. My estimation is that many hundreds have died from chemical attacks. Many others have died from starvation and sickness, as they do not have any medication. Many have also surrendered and subsequently been killed.

"There are videos of these attacks, and hundreds of photos. These have been presented both to the International Red Cross and the UN but nobody in the West seems interested to help."

STARVATION AS A WEAPON

Amnesty International released a Public Statement on 2 October 2003 entitled, "Laos: Use of starvation as a weapon of war against civilians". It reads, "Amnesty International is gravely concerned by the sharply deteriorating situation of thousands of family members of ethnic minority groups, predominantly Hmong, involved in an armed conflict with the Lao military in jungle areas of the country.

"Reports have reached the organization of scores of civilian deaths, predominantly among children, from starvation and injuries sustained during the conflict. It is known that several of approximately 20 rebel groups with their families are surrounded by Lao military and prevented from foraging for food that they traditionally rely on to survive." (Link 3)

- Elizabeth Kendal

Links

1) OMF Laos, Background.
http://www.us.omf.org/content.asp?id=23596&cachefixer=

2) Far East Broadcasting Company
http://www.febc.org/hmong_letters.html

3) Amnesty International, 2 October 2003
Laos: Use of starvation as a weapon of war against civilians.
http://web.amnesty.org/library/Index/ENGASA260132003

Monday, September 22, 2003

Eritrea: Religious Persecution Exposed.

Date: Monday 22 September 2003
Subj: Eritrea: Religious Persecution Exposed.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal.


Religious persecution continues unabated in Eritrea. The Christian media organisation Compass Direct reports that on 7 September, 12 evangelical Christians (described as young people) were arrested as they met in a private house for worship. The police chief in Asmara's Police Station No. 5 has ordered that their food rations be withheld until they sign papers denying their faith. The full Compass Direct release follows at the end of this posting.

Compass Direct estimates that there are at least 230 evangelical Christians currently jailed in Eritrea on account of their faith.

-----------------------------------------------------------------
ERITREA: RELIGIOUS PERSECUTION EXPOSED
- and human rights organisations take up the cause.

-----------------------------------------------------------------

On 17 September 2003, Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a document entitled, "Eritrea: Release Political Prisoners". While it focuses primarily on political prisoners, including Eritrea's detained journalists, it also raises the issue of religious prisoners. "Religious minorities are also subject to persecution. Members of Pentecostal Christian churches and Jehovah's Witnesses are
frequently arrested for practicing their faiths. There have been so many arrests that some prisoners are being incarcerated in empty cargo containers. International human rights organizations and the International Committee for the Red Cross have been denied access to prisons." (Link 1)

Amnesty International (AI) is also demanding the release of Eritrea's prisoners of conscience, releasing a report on 18 September 2003 entitled "Eritrea: Continued detention of prisoners of conscience and new arrests of members of religious groups". (Link 2)

The Guardian newspaper (UK) followed this up with an article entitled "Eritrean children locked up for having Bibles, says Amnesty". (Link 3)

On 3 September the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN) released the news that "The European Commission (EC) is to provide financial assistance to Eritrea under an initiative to back democracy and human rights. The funding will be released under the European Initiative for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR)."

Further excerpts of the IRIN release read, "An EC official told IRIN a mission would determine how the money would be allocated, and the project was still in the planning stages."

"But, the EC pointed out, the assistance depends on Eritrea's stated commitment to begin a political dialogue aimed at addressing issues such as political prisoners, press freedom and the holding of elections."

"Under article 96 of the Contonou agreement (which governs accords between the EU and African, Pacific and Caribbean [ACP] countries) aid can be withheld if any EU member state feels the recipient country has 'failed to fulfil its obligations stemming from respect for human rights, democratic principles and the rule of law'." (Link 4)

It is to be hoped that the EU funding will be an effective instrument of leverage to induce change in Eritrea. We should expect/demand that it should. No organisation can claim ignorance of Eritrea's religious persecution now - the persecution has been well and truly exposed.

- Elizabeth Kendal

Links

1) Human Rights Watch, 17 September 2003
"Eritrea: Release Political Prisoners"
http://www.hrw.org/press/2003/09/eritrea091703.htm.

2) Amnesty International, 18 September 2003
"Eritrea: Continued detention of prisoners of conscience and new
arrests of members of religious groups".
http://web.amnesty.org/library/Index/ENGAFR640042003

3) The Guardian, 20 September 2003
"Eritrean children locked up for having Bibles, says Amnesty".
By Africa correspondent Rory Carroll.
http://www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,3604,1045872,00.html

4) IRIN, 3 September 2003
"ERITREA: EC to support democracy, human rights project"
http://www.irinnews.org/report.asp?ReportID=36358 )

-----------------------------------------------------------------
COMPASS DIRECT NEWS RELEASE FOLLOWS
-----------------------------------------------------------------

MORE EVANGELICALS ARRESTED IN ERITREA
No Word on Fate of 57 Teenagers Jailed at Sawa
Special to Compass Direct


LOS ANGELES, September 17 (Compass) -- Police in the Eritrean
capital of Asmara continued the country-wide crackdown against
independent Protestant congregations this month, arresting another
12 evangelicals on September 7 while they were meeting in a private
house for prayer and worship.

With the exception of an older man hosting the prayer meeting in his
home, the arrested Christians were described as young people, all
members of the Dubre Bethel Church in Asmara.

Yesterday, after nine days in custody at Asmara's Police Station No.
5, the 12 prisoners were given an ultimatum by the police chief. He
demanded that each one sign a commitment to deny his or her faith in
order to be released.

When the six women and six men refused, the police chief last night
ordered that all their food rations be withheld until they signed
the agreement.

"Up to now, no one among them has been willing to sign the paper," a
local source confirmed today.

Parents of the young people who have visited the police station have
been told they can only see their children if they agreed to try to
convince them to sign the denial paper. Several parents agreed to
the conditions and were reportedly promised they could see their
children today. Other parents refused, declaring that their children
were over 18 and qualified to make their own decisions.

Meanwhile, local evangelical church leaders have not been able to
learn anything further regarding the fate of 57 young people
arrested and locked into metal containers since August 19 and 20 as
punishment for having Bibles with them during their summer military
camp at Sawa.

Although the majority were 11th grade students, some have been
confirmed to be older conscripts in their 20s who were already in
training at Sawa. An additional five of their number who signed
pledges to renounce their evangelical faith were released a week
later.

Military commanders confiscated a total of 315 Bibles in the
Tigrinya language from the military camp barracks at the time of the
youths' arrest. Translated several centuries ago, the Tigrinya
version of the Bible is printed and distributed legally by the
Eritrean Bible Society to all churches in the country, including the
Eritrean Orthodox Church.

Local authorities have also refused to give any information about
the status and whereabouts of 10 evangelicals arrested in Massawa on
August 24. However, it was confirmed four days after the arrest that
the 10 Protestants had been transferred to a very remote area, down
the Red Sea coast toward Assab.

"This is a military area, where disobedient soldiers are sent to be
punished," one source explained, "so we have not been able to find
out anything more about them."

At least 230 evangelical Christians are currently jailed for their
faith in Eritrea, where the government refuses to give recognition
to any faiths except the four "official" religions: Orthodox
Christian, Muslim, Catholic and Evangelical Lutheran.

Some 12 independent Pentecostal and charismatic denominations which
represent 20,000 adherents have been targeted since May 2002, when
they were ordered to close their church buildings and stop all
meetings for worship, even in private homes.

Copyright 2003 Compass Direct

For subscription information, contact:
Compass DirectP.O. Box 27250
Santa Ana CA 92799-7250
USA
TEL: 949-862-0314
FAX: 949-752-6536
E-mail: info@compassdirect.org
www.compassdirect.org

Thursday, September 11, 2003

China: Public security - tight control with positive image.

Date: Thursday 11 September 2003
Subj: China: Public security - tight control with positive image.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal.

-------------------------------------------------------------------
PUBLIC SECURITY - TIGHT CONTROL WITH POSITIVE IMAGE
-------------------------------------------------------------------

Once again we are faced with a Chinese paradox - take with one hand, give with the other. The issue is that of maintaining tight control while presenting a positive image. This News & Analysis report looks at the role of the Chinese Minister for Public Security, Zhou Yongkang, in both the crackdown on subversion and cults, and the move to eradicate brutality and corruption from the police force.

TAKE WITH ONE HAND...

On 10 December 2002, CNN reported, "Beijing has for the first time in a quarter century named a Politburo member to head the Ministry of Public Security. Former party boss of Sichuan Province Zhou Yongkang last weekend took charge of China's 1.6 million-strong police forces.

"The unusual appointment has underscored the central leadership's commitment to fighting crime and related problems including subversion and cult-related activities." (Link 1)

The new Minister for Public Security, Zhou Yongkang, has been quoted in the official People's Public Security Paper as saying that the authorities would crack down hard on efforts by "enemy forces within and outside China" to infiltrate, subvert and sabotage public order.

According to CNN, "Zhou, 60, also indicated the police would target the Falungong spiritual movement as well as illegal activities by terrorist and separatist groups."

AFP reported on 8 September that a fresh crackdown on Falungong has begun. According to AFP the Chinese government says the crackdown on Falungong is a matter of national security. The government promises to be vigilant because "'Any tolerance toward the cult will lead to extreme harm to the general public,' it said, stressing that 'to eradicate the Falungong cult will help create a harmonious and stable environment for the country's socialist construction and benefit both the country and the people'." (Link 2)

The significance of this is that evangelical house church Christians are generally seen in the same light - as subversive, as cults, "in collusion with Western anti-China forces" (link 2), as problematic. This all points towards an intensification of oppression.

...GIVE WITH THE OTHER

Minister for Public Security Zhou Yongkang has signed and introduced a new regulation that will take effect as of 1 January 2004. The new regulation lays down the procedures to be followed by police investigating "administrative cases". (Most house church Christians who are detained are held on "administrative sentences", i.e. sentences without formal criminal charges and without trial, for matters of public order or other non-violent activities.)

As the South China Morning Post (SCMP) pointed out in an article entitled, "Torture confessions barred by new rule" (10 September 2003), the present situation is that "Police have extensive powers to carry out their duties, which has led to widespread corruption, police brutality and violation of suspects' freedoms and rights.

"The problem was highlighted in March when Wuhan graphic designer Sun Zhigang was beaten to death in police custody in Guangzhou. The authorities sacked the officers responsible and sentenced Sun's murderers to death." (This case caused China international embarrassment.)

Zhou Yongkang has subsequently put prevention of police brutality and a clean-up of the force's image high on his personal agenda. On 31 July he admonished police officers nationwide, demanding they "resolutely stop malignant violations that offend the heavens and reason, and stir up public indignation". (Link 3)

The new rules are designed to regulate the law-enforcement activities of the local police and to stop the illegal practice of torture. Evidence extracted under torture will no longer be admissible in court.

The dignity of suspects is to be respected and no property is to be confiscated for more than 15 days. People will have the right to refuse to pay fines if police refuse to provide a receipt that must be printed and issued by financial departments at the provincial level or above.

Interrogations are to be done by two police officers of the same sex as the suspect and translation services must be provided for those who require it. It will not be permissible to detain children under the age of 16, adults who are over 70, or women who are pregnant or breast-feeding a baby under one year of age. (Link 4)

HOPE...HOWEVER

There is hope that these regulations will improve the conditions for Christians being detained on administrative sentences. Note though, it will not end oppression, but it may lighten the load.

However, the rules will not apply to criminal cases (such as Pastor Gong Shengliang's) and there is no system in place to ensure that the police comply with the new regulations.

The government will need to develop a system whereby the police are supervised and held accountable, and strengthen the role of courts to enforce compliance. As Professor Zhu Guobin, a mainland criminal law scholar at City University in Hong Kong, said, "Local police will detest these rules." (SCMP 10 Sept)


Links

1) Beijing tightens grip on law and order
By Willy Wo-Lap Lam CNN Senior China Analyst
Tuesday, 10 December 2002
http://edition.cnn.com/2002/WORLD/asiapcf/east/12/10/china.police/

2) China vows to intensify crackdown on Falungong
Monday September 8, 13:14 PM
http://sg.news.yahoo.com/030908/1/3e061.html
ALSO
Xinhua Commentary calls for long-term fight against Falun Gong cult
Xinhuanet, 7 September 2003, Beijing
http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2003-09/07/content_1067641.htm

3) Public security no excuse for police excesses
China Daily, 13 August 2003
http://www1.chinadaily.com.cn/en/doc/2003-08/13/content_254344.htm

4) China reins in brutal police tactics
10 September 2003, Beijing
http://english.peopledaily.com.cn/200309/10/eng20030910_124057.shtml

Wednesday, September 10, 2003

Nigeria: Kano under Shakarau.

Date: Wednesday 10 September 2003
Subj: Nigeria: Kano under Shakarau - all schoolgirls to wear hijab.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal.


KANO UNDER SHEKARAU


Sharia law was officially launched in the northern state of Kano on 21 June 2000. However, the then governor, Dr. Rabiu Kwankwaso, was reluctant to enforce sharia in such a cosmopolitan city as Kano city. His primary interest as governor was rural development and he was constantly accused by pro-sharia groups of dragging his feet on the issue of implementation of sharia.

The 19 April 2003 governorship elections resulted in a change of governor in Kano. Dr. Kwankwaso, who was aligned with Obasanjo's PDP, was defeated by Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau, who was aligned to Muhammadu Buhari's pro-sharia, Islamist ANPP. Shekarau campaigned on a platform of rigorous sharia enforcement.

Daily Trust of Abuja reported on 20 June that the Kano State House of Assembly had vowed to "rectify all policies that contradict Islamic and Hausa cultures, inherited from the former administration. The House also resolved that only policies which goes in line with principles of Islam would be promulgated."

ALL GIRLS IN STATE PUBLIC SCHOOLS TO WEAR HIJAB

The United Nations Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN) reported on 1 September 2003, "Kano state government in northern Nigeria has made it compulsory for all girls attending schools run by the state government to wear the hijab Islamic headscarf, whether or not they are Muslim." (Link 1)

The directive does not apply to private schools or schools run by the Nigerian Federal Government, but it does apply to all girls of all religions who attend schools run by the state government. Considering that the Kano state government has closed virtually all Kano's Christian schools, Christian families are not going to have much choice.

(Christian schools are closed in Kano on the grounds that they do not meet state mandated standards. The education standards however, include the mandate that all schools (Christian schools included) must employ Islamic clerics to indoctrinate the children in Islam. Those schools that refuse are closed.)

According to the IRIN report, "Kano state commissioner for education, Ishaq Mahmoud Umar, said the order for schoolgirls to wear the hijab formed part of the state government's efforts to uphold public morals and ensure 'the teachings of Islam are applied in each and every aspect of governance'."

The Vanguard of Lagos reported "Northern states chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) has frowned at attempts by some of the states to force Christian students to wear the Hijab." (Link 2)

A CAN communiqué urged governments of northern states to "respect Christian culture in the interest of peace and harmony". CAN also expressed disappointment over what it termed "large-scale discrimination against Northern Christian students in admission policies of some institutions of higher learning in certain courses such as medicine and law."

Al-Jazeera added that not only will all girls in public state schools wear hijab, but all public schools will now have imams to lead prayers. (al-Jazeera, 30 Aug, Abuja)

- Elizabeth Kendal

Links

1) Kano State Directs All School Girls to Wear Muslim Scarf
UN Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN) 1 September 2003
http://allafrica.com/stories/200309020503.html

CAN Flays Imposition of Hijjab On Christian Students in Northern
States. By Umar Yusuf. Vanguard (Lagos) 5 September 2003
http://allafrica.com/stories/200309050798.html

Thursday, September 4, 2003

Belarus: Resuscitating the Soviet Machine.

Date: Thursday 4 September 2003
Subj: Belarus: Resuscitating the Soviet Machine.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal.



BELARUS: RESUSCITATING THE SOVIET MACHINE.
-----------------------------------------------------------------

OFFICIAL IDEOLOGY WILL PROVIDE IMMUNITY FROM "INFECTION"
- President Alyaksandr Lukashenka.

In a 27 March 2003 speech, Lukashenka said, "Ideology for a state is what the immune system is for a living organism. If the immune system grows weaker, any infection, even the slightest one, turns deadly." He added that the inculcation of an official state-controlled ideology into the country's citizens was essential to protect Belarus from any possible "infection".

RESUSCITATING THE SOVIET MACHINE

President Lukashenka has determined that he will impose his "official Belarusian ideology" on the people of Belarus. The official ideology is to be taught in schools, universities and workplaces; through the media and the Orthodox Church. (President Lukashenka describes himself as an "Orthodox atheist".)

According to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), "Lukashenka said the Belarusian state ideology should incorporate the 'basis' of the Soviet-era ideology." (RFE/RL Newsline14 Aug 2003) He has also described the Soviet system as good and something that should not have been abandoned. (Link 1)

On 13 August 2003 Lukashenka convened a conference to discuss a draft presidential decree "On the system of state governing bodies and other organizations carrying out ideological work in the Republic of Belarus". The Belarusian Review reports, "On the practical side, Lukashenka said he has already made the necessary appointments to put the entire ideological machinery into operation. Lukashena advised rectors of both state-run and private universities to get rid of professors and lecturers who oppose government policies or are 'wavering' in their opinions regarding the government's course. 'If you do not accept the ideas declared by the government and the president, do not apply to a state university for a job,' Lukashenka said explicitly." (Link 1)

On 1 September 2003, the new mandatory subject - The Basis of Belarusian Ideology - was introduced to all Belarusian state-run and private Universities.

Belarus' new official ideology will also be taught in the workplace. "Reaching man's soul and mind is a great art and a hard work," said Lukashenka, stressing that no unit of the society can do without a deputy director for political instruction. Lukashenka plans to employ several thousand ideological instructors to work on staff in all enterprises and organizations with more than 300 employees, and every state-run farm with more than 150 farmers. He says that in some cases, directors will combine the jobs of an ideologist and a leader.

SYMBIOTIC CHURCH STATE RELATIONSHIP

Taras Kuzio has written an article for the Foreign Policy Association entitled "Belarus: Consolidated Authority" (Link 2). In it, Kuzio comments on the symbiotic relationship between the Orthodox Church and the State.

Kuzio writes, "Along with the very evident attachment to the Soviet and Belarusian Soviet past and attitudes, is Lukashenka's eastern Slavic ideology. In this ideology, religion and language are critical--and both lead to Russia. As in Russia, the state church in Belarus is the Belarusian (i.e. Russian) Orthodox Church. Its Metropolitan, who answers to the patriarch in Moscow, regularly praises Lukashenka for his Russophile and pan-eastern Slavic ideology. And indeed, in January, Lukashenka described his state ideology not as Communist, but as 'Orthodox Christian'. He praised the Belarusian Orthodox Church for opposing 'destructive forces', cooperating with the authorities, and contributing to stability.

"'Numerous benefits' have been conferred on the church, and the state in return enjoys its cooperation. As Prime Minister Gennady Novitsky said after a new agreement with the church was signed on 15 June [12 June - EK], 'cooperation between the state and the Orthodox Church' has now been placed 'on a systematic level'."

Forum 18 has reported on this Church/State agreement. "An 'Agreement on Co-operation between the Republic of Belarus and the Belarusian Orthodox Church' was signed on 12 June by Prime Minister Gennadi Novitsky and Metropolitan Filaret (Vakhromeyev) of Minsk and Slutsk, who reportedly hailed it as 'a blank cheque to develop co-operation programmes with all branches of power'."

According to Forum 18, "the agreement endorses collaboration between the Orthodox Church and the Ministries of Education, Culture, Health, Labour, Information, Internal Affairs, Defence, Natural Resources, and the Ministry for Emergencies. The most significant (concept) is in Article 1, in which the state guarantees the Orthodox Church 'right of ecclesiastical jurisdiction on its canonical territory'." (This means that the Orthodox Church will have rights over all things religious in all of Belarus.) Church and state bodies will now work together in their common fight against "neo-cultic doctrines" and "pseudo-religious structures". (Link 3)

ANTI-SEMITISM

Kuzio also comments on the effect Lukashenka's pro-Soviet ideology has on Belarus' Jewish community. "The Soviet authorities in Soviet Belarus were particularly noted for their 'anti-Zionist' propaganda crusades, which were little more than thinly veiled anti-Semitism. Lukashenka's support for Arab rogue states is an outgrowth of his anti-Israeli ideology. Belarusian newspapers and publishers have also achieved a reputation for publishing anti-Semitic literature, including the notorious tsarist forgery, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Russian fascist parties, such as Russian National Unity, have been allowed to operate openly in Belarus and have been involved in violence against the opposition. The effect at street level is that the worst desecration of Jewish cemeteries and synagogues and expressions of race hate in the Commonwealth of Independent States have been in Belarus."

MEDIA

At his August ideology conference, Lukashenka emphasized the significant role of radio and television in this "struggle of ideologies". (Link 1)

On 2 September, RFE/RL reported that a media crackdown was underway in Belarus. "Zhanna Litvina, head of the Belarusian Union of Journalists, told RFE/RL she sometimes feels as if she is living in a time warp. Over the past two years, half of the country's independent media outlets have been shut down. Even Russian television and radio broadcasts, heavily watched due to their more balanced news coverage and better entertainment features, are having their local air time cut.

"'It would have been hard for me to imagine, say eight years ago, that this propaganda machine could be resuscitated to such a degree and that the methods used in communist times could be so easily taken up again. Belarus is an example of how easily this can be done, and it is dangerous,' Litvina said." (Link 4)

In an attempt to draw attention to their plight, Belarus's remaining independent journalists will stage a walkout on 19 September 2003 - the International Day of Solidarity With Journalists.

Not all those in Belarusian media are upset. Some agree with Lukashenka that the state alone should determine a citizen's ideology. Kuzio reports, "Ryhor Kisel, the head of State Channel 2 (and former head of State Channel 1), reportedly explained: 'We cannot allow the privatization of ideology, or subjects and objects of ideology. This should remain under the state's influence'." (Link 2)

CREATING AN OBEDIENT PEOPLE

RFE/RL reports, "Zhanna Litvina (head of the Belarusian Union of Journalists) believes that Lukashenka, now midway through his second term, is laying the groundwork for eliminating a constitutional ban on seeking a third mandate. 'It means that the president is very keen on controlling public opinion, to control the consciousness of the 10 million citizens of this country,' she said. 'There must be no dissent because at some key upcoming point, perhaps a referendum or a new presidential campaign, citizens will have to be obedient. And a person cannot make an informed choice when he or she is deprived of information.'" (Link 4)

According to RFE/RL, Tatsiana Protska, at the Belarusian Helsinki Committee, also believes the motivation is political. Opposition deputy Valery Frolov told Belarus Today, "Lukashenko is trying to subordinate the country so there will be no different opinions." (Link 5)

TOXIC LANGUAGE

The language of this campaign is toxic and ominous. Ideologies not in line with Lukashenko's will surely be deemed "infections", anti-state and dangerous. There will be campaigns against "privatisation of ideology" and friends of "liberal terrorists". ("liberal terror" - see link 1).

That this Soviet machine, which was once considered dead and buried, could be resuscitated so quickly is truly frightening and exceedingly dangerous nationally, regionally and possibly globally. Perestroika (openness) and the fall of Communism in Europe saw the subsequent embrace of freedom and growth of the evangelical Church. This resuscitation, which really amounts to national degeneration, is a world-class tragedy.

Elizabeth Kendal

Links

1) Returning to Good Old Ideology
By Jan Maksymiuk. Belarusian Review. 2 September 2003
archived in RFE/RL (April 2003, Volume  5, Number  12 - second article)

2) Belarus: Consolidated Authority
Foreign Policy Association 20 June 2003
http://www.fpa.org/newsletter_info2497/newsletter_info_sub_list.htm?section=Belarus

3) BELARUS: New concordat gives Orthodox enhanced status
Forum 18 News Service. 24 June 2003
By Geraldine Fagan, Moscow Correspondent
http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=89
SEE ALSO
Belarus, Orthodox Church sign deal boosting Church's standing
MINSK June 13, 2003 (AP)
http://www.orthodoxnews.netfirms.com/22/Belarus,%20Orthodox%20Church.htm

4) Belarus: Authorities Launch Further Crackdown On Independent
Media, NGOs
By Jeremy Bransten. Prague, 2 September 2003 (RFE/RL)
http://www.rferl.org/nca/features/2003/09/02092003171152.asp

5) Lukashenko Orders Belarus Workers to Ideology Class
Belarus Today. 19 Aug 2003
http://www.belarustoday.info/news/news.php?id=17665&lang=eng

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

Haiti: Boukman, Aristide, Voodoo and the Church.

Date: Tuesday 26 August 2003
Subj: Haiti: Boukman, Aristide, Voodoo and the Church.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty E-mail Conference
From: Elizabeth Kendal, Conference Moderator


Over the past decade there has been a marked rise in the use of religious nationalism as a political tool. Religious nationalism embodies a rejection of colonialism and the present trend towards the globalisation of culture (global Westernisation). So it is not uncommon these days for a political party or individual aiming to take power or struggling to hold on to power, to use to religious nationalism to gain popular support and dragnet the vote of the majority religion.

This has been the case with Hindu nationalism in India and Buddhist nationalism in Sri Lanka. It was inevitable that eventually African Traditional Religions such as voodoo would be promoted politically in the same way. In this regard, Haiti (in the Caribbean) is most certainly the nation to watch.

BOUKMAN AND OTHER RELEVANT HISTORY

As with all nationalism, some knowledge of history is crucial for understanding the present situation. "Hayti" (or mountainous land, as it was known by the original inhabitants, the Arawak Indians), was discovered by Christopher Columbus and named "Hispaniola"(Little Spain) in 1492. The Spanish colonised the island and under their rule the Arawak Indians were virtually annihilated. In 1697 the western portion of the island was ceded to France and named Haiti. (The eastern portion under Spanish rule became Saint-Domingue, now Dominican Republic.)

Haiti flourished under French rule and became invaluable as a resource for cocoa, cotton, sugar cane and coffee. By 1780, Haiti was one of the wealthiest regions in the world. The plantation system was however built upon the backs of vast numbers of slaves imported from West Africa.

Several consequences of this era provide the foundations for the present situation.
  • Firstly - the West African slaves brought with them the religious practices of voodoo.
  • Secondly - the French colonial masters treated the slaves with such undue harshness they created hatred amid an already resentful environment.
  • Thirdly - a class of "mulattos" (light skinned, sophisticated, Catholic, French-speaking Haitians) arose from the relations of the slave owners and the slaves. They were at odds with the dark-skinned, voodoo practising, Creole-speaking masses.
On 14 August 1791, a black slave and witch doctor named Boukman led the slaves in a voodoo ritual. They sacrificed a pig and drank its blood to form a pact with the devil, whereby they agreed to serve the spirits of the island for 200 years in exchange for freedom from the French. This became known as the "Boukman Contract". The slave rebellion commenced on 22 August 1791, and after 13 years of conflict, the slaves won their independence. On 1 January 1804 they declared Haiti the world's first independent black republic. (Link 1)

Since independence, Haiti has been in a continual state of political struggle and wracked with poverty.

PRESIDENT ARISTIDE, VOODOO & THE CHURCH

Haiti's current president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, is a former Catholic priest who gained notoriety with the Catholic Church and popularity in Haiti in the late 1980s on account of his liberation theology.

Aristide was elected president in 1990, ousted in a coup in 1991, and re-elected as president in Nov 2000 (results disputed). He survived coup attempts in July and December 2001. November 2002 was marked by unrest and anti-government protests. The next elections are scheduled for later this year.

In light of the historic and political facts it is therefore very interesting that in April 2003, President Aristide made voodoo an official religion in Haiti (link 2) declaring, "voodoo is an essential part of national identity." (Link 3)

Haiti is reckoned as being 95% Christian (predominantly Catholic), but according to Catholic missionary John Hoet, Haitians "are 100% voodoo". (Link 4)

It is primarily the growing evangelical Christian Church in Haiti that is opposed to voodoo, actively working to bring people out of it and to help them find reconciliation with God and peace and strength through the Holy Spirit. (Link 5)

Christian Aid's 'Mission Insider' reported on 14 August 2003, "While some witch doctors want to renew the 200-year commitment to Voodoo, Christians are spear-heading a year-long prayer movement to 'take Haiti back from Satan', according to the HAVIDEC website. HAVIDEC (from the Creole for Haiti Vision for the Third Century) is 'a concerted effort of all the major churches, denominations, and Protestant organizations in Haiti to bring about a spiritual deliverance for Haiti on the occasion of the celebration of our country's 200 years of independence (1 January 2004)'."

ALARM BELLS

Several analysts have already surmised that Aristide's official recognition of voodoo is a political move to shore up popular support before the elections.

Los Angeles Times reporter Carol J. Williams found evidence to support that theory when she interviewed people in Haiti recently. (Link 3)

"Aristide is the only president in our history who has done something for us," said one voodoo practitioner. "We will stay with him forever and perform every ceremony necessary to keep him in power. We will not negotiate with any country on this, no matter how much pressure they put on us. We will eat rocks if we have to, as long as we can keep him in power."

Williams says, "Legitimising voodoo has strengthened Aristide's image as a man of the people and probably has enhanced popular support for the rumoured bid by the former Roman Catholic priest to amend the constitution so he can seek a now-prohibited third term as president.

"By bestowing legitimacy on the African-origin religion, Aristide, the beleaguered president of this poorest of Western countries, has signalled to his people that they should be proud of their African heritage, not forced to subvert it under the religious practices of the European Christians who once repressed them."

There is concern that the promotion of voodoo as "an essential part of national identity", could signal danger for evangelical Christians. Williams quotes one Haitian as saying, "Voodoo has done everything for Haiti. It gave us our independence, while the imported religions held us by the throat."

Christian Aid reported recently (14 August), "One ministry spokesman in northern Haiti said five of its pastors had been murdered recently. He blamed it on the strong influence of Voodoo in the area. No other details were available." This report, from a highly trusted and reliable source, is being further investigated.

- Elizabeth Kendal

Links

1) New Beginnings 2004. Youth With A Mission
http://www.ywam-haiti.org/features/2004.asp

2) "Haiti makes voodoo official" BBC 30 April 2003
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/2985627.stm

3) "Official recognition of voodoo in Haiti stirs enthusiasm,
concern." By Carol J. Williams, Los Angeles Times, 6 Aug 2003
http://www.boston.com/dailyglobe2/218/nation/Official_recognition_of
_voodoo_in_Haiti_stirs_enthusiasm_concern+.shtml

4) "Voodoo's spell over Haiti" By Nick Caistor
In Port-au-Prince, Haiti 4 Aug 2003
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/3122303.stm

5) "Voodoo pilgrimages draw thousands" 26 July 2003
By Michael Norton, from Plaine du Nord, Haiti (AP)
http://www.centredaily.com/mld/centredaily/news/6392819.htm

Friday, August 15, 2003

Sri Lanka: no right to 'propagate religion'

Date: Friday 15 August 2003
Subj: Sri Lanka: The Church's Darkest Hour
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty E-mail Conference
From: Elizabeth Kendal, Conference Moderator


The situation for Christians in Sri Lanka is deteriorating rapidly. Only around one percent of Sri Lankans are evangelical Protestant Christian. The evangelical Church has grown in the past two decades. This is virtually exclusively due to the tireless ministry of indigenous Sri Lankan church planters and local personal witness.

The report below was prepared by the National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka. It is deeply disturbing. Sri Lanka's Supreme Court has ruled that although it is permissible under Article 10 and 14(1)e of the Constitution for a person to manifest, observe and practice one's religion, that does NOT guarantee a fundamental right to propagate religion.

The Supreme Court also ruled that as Buddhism is the State religion, it is unconstitutional for Christian organizations that propose to carry out proselytization of the Christian faith to be able to be incorporated under an Act of Parliament. The Court further concluded that clauses 3 (right to observe and practise a religion) and 5 (right to hold property) of Sri Lanka's Incorporation Bill are unconstitutional, because (it reasoned) if a Christian organisation owns property, that might induce others to convert, thus violating their freedom of religion.

On top of all this, the progression of Sri Lanka's Anti-Conversion Bill (modelled on the Anti-Conversion Ordinance of Tamil Nadu, India) appears to be gaining momentum.

- EK

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SRI LANKA'S CHURCH - THE DARKEST HOUR
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- from the National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka

Recent developments and trends affecting Religious Freedom:

1) Anti-Conversion Law - a new twist

The past two weeks have revealed a new development in the proposed Anti-Conversion Bill issue. Minister W.J.M. Lokubandara who is the Minister of Buddhism and Legal Reform has now taken up the cause and has formally announced on the electronic media that he will be presenting the anti-conversion Bill. As a senior Minister of the Cabinet and a stalwart of the governing party, Minister Lokubandara wields considerable power and influence.

Initially, it was Minister of Hindu Cultural Affairs Mr. Maheswaran, who championed the cause for an anti-conversion Bill, after his return from a visit to the Indian State of Tamil Nadu in November 2002. By July 2003, the draft legislation, modelled on the Tamil Nadu Bill was sent to the Attorney General's office (in keeping with procedure) prior to being presented in Parliament.

It is unclear whether Minister Lokubandara will be presenting Minister Maheswaran's draft or a different draft of the Bill.

2) Right of Incorporation and Constitutional Guarantees.

Within the past two years, three petitions have come up before the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka challenging the right of Christian ministries to be incorporated under an Act of Parliament. The third and latest judgment was delivered by the Supreme Court last week against the 'Provincial of the Teaching Sisters of the Holy Cross of the Third Order of St. Francis in Menzingen of Sri Lanka' - which is a Catholic Ministry.

(According to a news report in the Sunday Times newspaper on 10th August 2003) The Supreme Court, interpreting Article 10 and 14(1)e of the Constitution, ruled that although it was permissible under our Constitution for a person to manifest, observe and practice ones religion, it does not guarantee a fundamental right to propagate religion.

Article 9 of the Constitution guarantees Buddhism the foremost place and accordingly, casts a duty upon the State to protect and foster Buddhism. The Supreme Court held that the purpose of the ministry in question "the spread of knowledge of the Catholic religion and to impart religious, educational and vocational training to youth" (clause 3) is inconsistent with Article 9 of the Constitution; and therefore denied the right of incorporation. The object of clause 3 was seen as a threat to the very existence of Buddhism.

They further held that clause 3 and 5 in the incorporation Bill are unconstitutional. Clause 5 deals with the right of holding and receiving property both movable and immovable and or the power of disposing of such property. The court stated that this clause when combined with the objective of observance and practice of a religion or belief (clause 3), would necessarily result in imposing upon people who are defenceless, vulnerable or in need, improper pressure and inducement to adopt a religion or belief. This they stated, would violate Article 10 of the Constitution which guarantees the freedom of adopting a religion or belief.

The 3 judge bench consisted of Justice Shirani Bandaranayake, Justice H.S. Yapa and Justice Nihal Jayasinghe.

Minister Lokubandara, calling a press conference a day after the judgment was announced in Parliament, stated "this is a clear judgment. It will give us the legal backing to stop this kind of (*unethical conversion) activity carried out in the name of religion".

* The constant accusation levelled against the evangelical churches is 'unethical conversion'. So much so that the words 'unethical conversion' has become synonymous with 'conversion'. The accusation is that conversion is carried out by duping the poor to embrace a foreign religion by tempting them with material benefits and money.

The judgment and interpretation of Articles 9, 10 and 14 (1) (e) as applied by the learned justices in this case, form a dangerous precedent of law for all lower courts.

In the previous two judgments against 'Sahanaye Doratuwa' ministry in 2002 and 'New Harvest Wine Ministries' in January 2003, the Chief Justice ruled that incorporation of a Christian organization that proposes to carry out proselytization of the Christian faith is unconstitutional.

The collective effect of all the above developments predict a very dark time ahead for the Church in Sri Lanka. The Supreme Court decisions will definitely be a strong platform for launching the anti-conversion Bill.

Thursday, July 31, 2003

Bangladesh: Sytematic Persecution of Religious Minorities

Date: Thursday 31 July 2003
Subj: Bangladesh: Sytematic Persecution of Religious Minorities
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty E-mail Conference
From: Elizabeth Kendal, Conference Moderator


On 1 October 2001, as U.S. and coalition forces were assembling in Pakistan in preparation for the bombing campaign in Afghanistan, Bangladeshis were heading off to vote in their national elections.

A massive voter swing ousted the secular Awami League, which had, with the people's mandate, created the secular, democratic state of Bangladesh by securing independence from Pakistan in 1971. Riding to victory on an enormous wave of Islamic fervour was the pro-Pakistan, pro-Islam, Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). Support also rose dramatically for the pro-Shari'a, hardline Islamist Jama'at-e-Islami and Islami Oika Jote parties, which now rule in coalition with the BNP.

The election result was a massive protest vote against the forthcoming action of the coalition forces in what was being touted by Islamists as a "crusade against Islam". It was a vote for Muslim solidarity, and Bangladesh has not been the same since.

This posting details the serious situation for religious minorities in Bangladesh today. They are living in a state of terror amidst systematic, unrestrained persecution, as Islamists extort, rape, torture and kill with impunity.

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BANGLADESH: SYSTEMATIC PERSECUTION OF RELIGIOUS MINORITIES

The Guardian newspaper (UK) recently published an article on the persecution of religious minorities in Bangladesh entitled, "Rape and torture empties the villages" by John Vidal (21 July 2003).

Vidal reports, "Serious attacks on and persecution of religious minorities by Islamic fundamentalists are increasing." He continues, "Evidence is emerging that the oppression of minorities is becoming systematic."

Vidal quotes a leading Bangladesh lawyer as saying that the revival of fundamentalist Islam "is like a silent revolution. We are returning," he says, "to the dark ages. I think the backdrop is being created for the introduction of strict sharia laws. You see extremist rightwing fundamentalists infiltrating every professional area, in the appointment of the judiciary, the law, medicine and in education. They are capturing key positions in government, the universities and institutions."

According to Vidal, a serious incident took place in the village of Fhainjana. "A mob of 200 fundamentalists recently looted 10 Christian houses, allegedly assaulting many women and children. Christians were seriously beaten and others molested after refusing to give money to thugs in the village of Kamalapur, near Dhaka."

Vidal reports that many villages are said to be now empty of minorities. One man tells Vidal that all the Hindus have been driven out of his village of Sri Rumpur, near Khulna. "They have all been driven out by people threatening to torture them or demanding money," he says. "People who raise their voices are threatened. It's a kind of systematic ethnic cleansing."

The article also expresses the great concern of one leading Islamic scholar. "'What we are seeing is the Talibanisation of Bangladesh,' Maolama Abdul Awal, former director of the Bangladesh Islamic Foundation, said. 'If we allow them to continue ... [minorities] will be eliminated. Bangladesh will become a fascist country'."

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The World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) listed Bangladesh as a Country of Special Concern in its annual report to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (April 2003). The WEA UN Report details the same strategy of persecution - extortion, torture, rapes, and killings.

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EXCERPT FROM THE WEA UN REPORT (APRIL 2003)

Up to 50 Christian families in Chatiangacha village in the western district of Natore, have been targeted for extortion. Reports in the daily 'Janakantha' newspaper of Bangladesh suggest that Islamist fundamentalists are behind a series of incidents during which men arrive on motorbikes and call out the family name of their victims. The family is then usually given between a week and ten days to raise between £150 and £300 or the daughter is forced to sleep with the men. The residents of Chatiangacha have complained to Boraignam Jubodol, a right-wing Islamist group, but to no avail. Jimmy Koraiya, who lives in the village, has been visited by the men on motorbikes who have called for his high school-age daughter three times. "What kind of country is this?" he asks. "If I can't give money, I have to give them my daughter."

In Bonparha Market area, also in Natore district, religious minorities are forced to pay huge fines to be released from false charges. The local BNP has also reportedly built a torture chamber to make victims confess to false charges. Islamic fundamentalist groups have used false papers to drive thousands of Hindus and Christians off their land. In the south-eastern Chittagong division, 30 Hindu families have been evicted and one Hindu killed. In other districts, minorities are forced to convert to Islam at knifepoint. Dr. Deb Lal Dakua, a Hindu from Nazirpur in the southern Pirojpur district, was forcibly circumcised on November 11 by a group of extremists. He was also told to pay £730 (INR 50,000) within seven days or face death. Minorities are concerned by the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in Bangladesh. When the BNP was last in power, between 1991 and 1996, there was considerable violence against religious minorities. During that time, the Jama'at-e-Islami (JI) attempted to table a Blasphemy Bill, which was discriminatory against religious minorities.

--------------------------

- Elizabeth Kendal