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.

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

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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 )

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COMPASS DIRECT NEWS RELEASE FOLLOWS
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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.

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PUBLIC SECURITY - TIGHT CONTROL WITH POSITIVE IMAGE
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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.
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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