Thursday, December 16, 2004

North Korea's balancing act.

Date: Thursday 16 December 2004
Subj: North Korea's balancing act.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal.

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NORTH KOREA'S BALANCING ACT
- plus two articles on two kidnapped South Korean pastors.
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NK AMENDS CRIMINAL CODE TO ASSIST MARKETS AND CRUSH DISSENT

Park Song-wu reports for the Korea Times, "North Korea has strengthened legal measures to protect private property in a recent revision of its criminal law, while stiffening penalties for anti-state crimes, according to a copy obtained by a local broadcaster.

"North Korea experts in Seoul said the revision, the fifth since 1950, can be understood as Pyongyang’s efforts to achieve two goals at the same time – safeguarding its communist regime and boosting its impoverished economy." (Link 1)

While prison sentences for theft, counterfeiting, evading tax and infringing copyright have been increased, so too have sentences for "anti-state crimes". Instead of facing a prison sentence of 5-10 years, those participating in armed riots will now receive "more than 5 years" – the ceiling has been abolished. Instigators of armed riots will face life imprisonment or the death penalty. Likewise, defectors who flee North Korea in an act of betrayal will also face "more than 5 years", instead of 5-10 years. Those who have defected, but are willing to declare loyalty to the regime and confess to being "economic migrants" will be pardoned upon their return. In future, those who flee for "non-political reasons" will receive two years in prison instead of three.

One new subject for punishment under the revised criminal law is keeping or distributing "anti-state broadcast materials". A person found guilty will receive a 2-5 year prison sentence. According to the Korea Times, "Experts believe the clause was created to prohibit North Koreans from listening to U.S.-funded radio broadcasts that will be bolstered next year with the endorsement of the North Korean Human Rights Bill in October."

Another new subject for punishment is the distribution of culturally "obscene" materials such as CDs, videotapes and music.

The Korea Times reports that Professor Ryoo Kihl-jae of the Graduate School of North Korean Studies at Kyungnam University questions Pyongyang’s intentions for the revisions of the criminal law. He believes that criminal law is not important in North Korea and the authorities will punish whoever they want using other means. Professor Ryoo believes the purpose of the revision is purely to make the world aware of North Korea's criminal law and of the penalties law-breakers will suffer. It is designed to give confidence to investors, and deter reformist agitators and "anti-state" agents.

MARKET REFORMS PRODUCE OPENINGS

The Kim jong-Il regime introduced market reforms in July 2002. The reforms, however, sent inflation soaring and drastically widened the income gap. Paik Hak-soon, director of North Korean Studies at the Sejong Institute, told the Korea Times that, "Kim Jong-il is now trying to prevent social problems from drastically undermining his regime."

The free-market reforms have also brought many North Korean traders into contact with the outside world. As noted in a recent Washington Post (WP) article entitled, "For North Korea, Openness Proves a Two-Way Street" (13 Dec 2004), "...diplomats, analysts, intelligence sources and recent defectors say that the once airtight lid on information in what is known as the Hermit Kingdom is gradually loosening."

The WP article states, "Asian intelligence sources estimate that as many as 20,000 North Koreans -- particularly those trading in the newly thriving border area with China -- now have access to Chinese cellular phones, from which they can make undetected international calls in large areas of northern North Korea." Also, at the new Kaesong Industrial Park near the border with South Korea, and the tourist resort at Mount Kumgang, South Korean firms are directly employing and paying North Korean workers for the first time.

The WP quotes Sohn Kwang Joo, managing editor of the North Korea Daily (a Seoul-based website) as saying, "North Korean people and the elite bureaucrats all want more reform. But the faster the doors open, the more vulnerable becomes Kim Jong Il's tight grip of the nation. Kim Jong Il will therefore try to control and limit the opening. But as more people cross in and out of the border, there are more mobile phones, and more flows of information, the North Korean people will begin to realize the truth about Kim Jong Il."

David Wall, an associate fellow at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, recently traveled along the China-North Korean border and wrote a report that was published in the Japan Times. (Link 2)

He notes that Koreans have been crossing the frozen border rivers for generations and at least 2.3 million Koreans now live in China along the North Korean border. He says there have been between 200,000 to 300,000 recent illegal arrivals and, "The Korean communities are easy to identify by the many Christian churches, complete with spires and crosses on top." Wall believes that the immense vastness of the refugee/illegal immigrant situation makes it simply unmanageable for Chinese police who, he says, tend to leave the "migrants" alone unless they engage in criminal activity or publicly expose themselves in media stunts.

Wall says, "There is growing legal and even cross-border investment in which the Chinese Korean community is active. Every day hundreds, sometimes thousands, of traders and tourists cross the borders. They are not closed. It is easy for the migrants to move between the communities and send goods and money back."

MAINTAINING A TIGHT GRIP

North Korea is following China and Vietnam and gingerly opening up and reforming, to some degree, under a dictator who will not permit his rule to be threatened and who will, in any way, be propped up and supported by China in the event of any threat. The reforms are threatening the regime, so to ensure that situation does not get out of control, the regime (especially when it feels threatened) slows the process down and tightens its oppressive grip in a perpetual give and take balancing act.

Hamish McDonald reported to the Melbourne AGE (Australia) on 29 November that Pyongyang has asked the United Nations aid agencies to cut their foreign staff in the country by half. The regime has also said that it wants all international non-government organisations to quit once current programs are ended. There are five UN agencies, with about 64 foreign staff, operating inside North Korea. McDonald writes, "A narrowing of the world's main window into North Korea - through international aid organisations - could fit with the scenario of a hardliners' backlash, some UN officials speculate."

North Korea specialists in South Korea and China are positive that Kim's grip on power is rock solid, and that there is no imminent threat of regime collapse. However, Cho Min of the Korea Institute for National Unification told Reuters recently (26 Nov 2004), "I think there will be a drastic change to the Kim Jong-il regime at a certain point in time. But the change to the power structure is not likely to come from below. The change is likely to come from a high level, and once it happens, it's going to move very quickly."

Cho Min seems to believe that "change" (and he uses that term quite ambiguously) is inevitable, given the momentum now for openness and reform.

Next year – 2005 – will be the fifth anniversary of the signing of the North-South Joint Declaration at the historic 15 June 2000 Reunification talks in Pyongyang (see link 3), and the 60th anniversary of Korean independence (15 August 1945 – liberation from Japanese colonial rule). And we continue to pray.

- Elizabeth Kendal

Links

1) NK Adopts Market-Friendly Criminal Law
Korea Times 8 Dec 2004
http://times.hankooki.com/lpage/200412/kt2004120816030010440.htm

2) No witch hunt for North Koreans in China
By DAVID WALL, Special to The Japan Times, 6 Dec 2004
http://www.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/geted.pl5?eo20041206a1.htm

3) North-South Joint Declaration
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/asia-pacific/791691.stm

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TWO ARTICLES ON TWO KIDNAPPED PASTORS
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South Korean pastor, the Reverend Ahn Seung-un (60), is believed to have been kidnapped from Yanji city while assisting refugees on the China/North Korea border in 1995. He has now emerged in North Korea, working for the official Korean Christian Federation and tightly controlled by North Korean guards.

Ex-South Korean Pastor Works for N. Korean Christian Federation
Korea Times, 7 Dec 2004
http://times.hankooki.com/lpage/nation/200412/kt2004120717520311990.htm

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South Korean pastor, the Reverend Kim Dong-shik (57) was kidnapped from Yanji in 2000. He remains missing. On Friday 10 December, a 35-year-old Korean national named Ryu was detained in South Korea and charged with pastor Kim's abduction. Ryu was trained in Pyongyang and worked with a team of 10 North Korean agents to abduct pastor Kim whose name was on a list of those targeted by Pyongyang for abduction.

Government Urged to Press for Release of Kidnapped Pastor
By Reuben Staines, Park Song-wu
Korea Times, 14 Dec 2004
http://times.hankooki.com/lpage/nation/200412/kt2004121416470311950.htm
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Wednesday, December 1, 2004

PAPUA: BLIND TO GENOCIDE?

Date: Wednesday 1 December 2004
Subj: Papua: Blind to Genocide?
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal.


December 1 is the day Papuans remember as their "Independence Day". Papua's Dutch colonial masters expressed their commitment to Papuan independence and recognised the Papuan anthem and Morning Star flag, which was then raised for the first time on 1 December 1961. Indonesia, which had ambitions to annex Papua, immediately fought an undeclared war with the Netherlands in Papua, over the issue of Papuan independence. The USA intervened and, with the assistance of the UN, Papua was placed under Indonesian control on 1 May 1963. The Australia government supported the move.

Then in 1969, under the farcical ‘Act of Free Choice’, Indonesia hand-picked 1,025 Papuans to vote unanimously against Papuan independence. This sham referendum, which the Papuans refer to as the "Act of No Choice", was then passed off as a legitimate, democratic act of self-determination. The UN accepted the result without debate.

It is widely accepted that at least 100,000 Papuans have died at the hands of Indonesian security forces since 1963, although Papuans say the real figure is probably much higher. According to Operation World, 90% of all indigenous Papuans are officially reckoned as Christian, predominantly Protestant.

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DESTROYING A PEOPLE

There are two ways to achieve genocide. One is to wage war, massacring a people in cold blood. The other way is to enact policies that are strategically designed to culminate in the eradication or decimation of a people: in the words of the Genocide Convention, "Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part."

With this second method, the genocidal policies need to be gradual to avoid arousing suspicion and able to be attributed to natural causes. (The Government of Sudan has on numerous occasions engineered famine for such a purpose.) In December 2003, Yale Law School's Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic released a report in which they argued that Indonesia is indeed enacting policies in Papua that will, if not checked, lead to the genocide of the indigenous Papuan people. (Link 1)

One insidious method of "deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part" is the Indonesian security forces' introduction of AIDS to Papua through the provision of Javanese AIDS-infected prostitutes to indigenous Papuans at sites where Indonesian authorities trade with Papuans. Add to this, trans-migration policies to change the demographic make up of Papua from predominantly protestant Christian Papuan, to a majority Javanese Muslim. Add to this, a continual stream of human rights abuses that leave the population weak and traumatised. Add to this, the theft of all Papua's resources. Add to this, the division of Papua into three provinces, two being majority Muslim, leaving the Papuans politically marginalised in their own land. Time and blindness is now all that is needed for the Papuans to become a decimated, subjugated Christian minority in a Muslim majority state.

This slow method of physically destroying a people does, however, require great patience. And when a slow genocide is under way there is always hope that voices for justice will wake up and intervene. Evidence suggests however that many in the Indonesian military (TNI) and the Indonesian elite security forces (Kopassus) are running out of patience and are looking for an opportunity to commence slaughtering the Papuans with the aid of the Islamic Laskar Jihad and the pro-Indonesian militias of Eurico Guterres.

If a war against the vulnerable Papuans erupts, it will be catastrophic. NOW is the time for the voices in support of rights and justice to speak out for the preservation of Papua and its indigenous people. One day soon it may be too late.

PROVOCATION AND EXTREME TENSION

All through 2004 Papua has been on a knife edge with the Indonesian military attempting to provoke conflict and the Papuan leaders, especially church leaders, trying to maintain calm. This tension cannot be maintained indefinitely. The Indonesian military wants to justify its claim that, due to the "separatist threat", Papua must not be granted autonomy and must remain under military control, because the military profits, through corruption, from the exploitation of Papua's resources.

One provocation the Indonesian military uses is sniper killings.

On 22 November, Nethy Dharma Somba reported from Jayapura (Papua) for The Jakarta Post, "Local non-governmental organizations, churches and student organizations urged the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) to set up a fact-finding team to investigate the recent series of shootings in the province.

"Eight people, including a church minister and a police officer, were killed in a series of attacks by unidentified gunmen between Aug. 17 and Nov. 12, 2004 in Puncak Jaya regency. Some 15 others, mostly children, died when more than 5,000 residents of 27 villages in the regency had to flee and take refuge in remote areas after they felt their lives were in danger due to the continued presence of the gunmen.

"The police and military are blaming the Free Papua Movement (OPM) separatist rebels for the incidents, while tribal leaders, religious leaders and human rights activists in the province are alleging that the Indonesian Military (TNI) is behind the shootings."

A more detailed account of the shooting of the church minister is available in the Radio Australia transcript of an interview with Pastor Socrates Sofyan Yoman, President of the Fellowship of Baptist Churches in Papua. (Link 2)

Pastor Socrates Sofyan Yoman says that Reverend Eleesa Tabuni was shot by members of Indonesia's Kopassus Special Forces in the the town of Mulia on 14 September. Pastor Yoman also reports that after the killing, troops arrived in a helicopter and shot at the villagers from the air as they were gathering food from their gardens. He says two were killed and multitudes fled into the jungle in fear of their lives.

It is estimated that some 5,000 villagers are now displaced in the jungle, without food as their crops have been destroyed. The Papuan human rights group Elsham reports that church members have been pressured to hand over a witness to the killing of Pastor Tabuni. The church members are refusing to comply, which is extremely courageous as Papuan have been executed and tortured to death by Indonesian troops. Pastor Yoman says that 22 churches in the central highlands district are now empty because the people have fled to the jungle. He fears they will starve there.

PRESERVING A PEOPLE

In early November, Papuan human rights activist John Rumbiak told Australian media that Papua is "a time bomb waiting to go off". According to Rumbiak, an extra 25,000 troops have entered mineral and timber-rich Papua since 2000, and more than a million migrants from Muslim Western Indonesia have moved into Papua, rapidly closing the gap on the 1.5 million indigenous Papuans.

Rumbiak, who is the international advocacy co-ordinator for the human rights group Elsham, called on the Australian government to "support and encourage" Mr Yudhoyono to establish the "necessary pre-conditions" for peaceful dialogue. He said those conditions should include a withdrawal of the massive troop presence in Papua, the dismantling of the militias and the dropping of the decree that has divided Papua into three new provinces.

If this does not happen soon, Papua will become fully Islamised and the vulnerable, predominantly Protestant Christian Papuans will be totally decimated and brutally subjugated.

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BLIND TO GENOCIDE?

The fact is, governments of influence are not blind to this genocide - only disinterested. It is inconsequential.

That gold, copper, timber, and relations with Indonesia should be worth more than the lives of precious human beings is morally repugnant.


- Elizabeth Kendal
rl-research@crossnet.org.au

Links

1) Yale Law School – Dec 2003
Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic
Indonesian Human Rights Abuses in West Papua: Application of the Law of Genocide to the History of Indonesian Control
http://www.law.yale.edu/outside/html/Public_Affairs/426/westpapuahrights.pdf

2)INDONESIA: Thousands displaced after Papua raids
Radio Australia. 8 November 2004
http://www.abc.net.au/ra/asiapac/programs/s1237348.htm

Friday, November 19, 2004

Interview with a North Korean Christian leader.

Date: Friday 19 November 2004
Subj: Interview with a North Korean Christian leader.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal.

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INTERVIEW WITH A NORTH KOREAN CHRISTIAN LEADER
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The following interview is with a Christian leader from North Korea, whom we will call "Pastor North" for security reasons. It needs to be said that it is impossible for anyone to evaluate fully the outlook in that nation. Pastor North however has excellent contacts and many personal channels of information.

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WHAT IS HAPPENING IN NORTH KOREA?

Global Voice (GV): How do you see the situation in North Korea today?

Pastor North (PN): It is becoming increasingly dangerous for several reasons. Our government considers the talk about "the axis of evil", the new US law on North Korea and the re-election of President Bush as real threats. 'We are on the same latitude as Iraq and the next country could be North Korea,' said one influential person. North Korea argues that they also must have "the right to strike first". So my understanding is that there is a real danger of war and that it would be a disaster for both North and South Korea. Demonstrations in the South against the changes to the National Security Law are also seen as a hostile activity.

GV: How then in your opinion should the West deal with North Korea?

PN: Our government has two faces. One is the face of a nation that does whatever we want without caring at all about international opinion. I understand this face has created a lot of negative reaction in the West. The other is the face of negotiating. This face is open for talks and suggestions but usually needs two or three months to give an answer. The difficulty is the two faces are on the same head and each affects the other.

GV: Do you see any positive changes in North Korea?

PN: Yes, I can see some changes. The government wants to open up just 'a little bit' for private enterprise. People can now for the first time sell their own produce. They cannot buy products to process and sell, but they can grow vegetables or fruit and sell them in the market place. This is a very small opening for private enterprise but we expect the door to open up more. There has also been a lot of cultural, economic and sporting exchange with South Korea in the last few years. Also, an industrial zone in the south of our country is being built in partnership with South Korea. That too will be an interesting project.

GV: What is the situation for the Christian Church?

PN: As you know, there are a few official churches and they have received a number of theological books in recent years. There are many people in these churches about whom we really know little, but there are also members who have been Christians for 40 or 50 years. Most Christians of course meet in their homes, but it is impossible to say more than there is a house-church movement in our country. Many Christians are in prison, but I also know many Christians who are not and I think the State knows they are Christians. The most common comment of course on this question and many others is "we do not know", as there is practically no communication.

GV: So, what can Christians in the West do?

PN: There are two important things. The first one is to pray for the Church in North Korea, and the other is to build bridges and help our country. It would be so important for our government to understand that Christians in the West want to be the friends of our people and not supporters of a hostile policy against us. So visits by church delegations bringing help would be a step in the right direction.

GV: Do you see any changes coming soon ?

PN: No, because there is no Opposition in this country and absolutely no network to co-ordinate any demand for changes. The strong feeling amongst people is that we are under threat of attack. That unites us, as well as the media giving just one version of both the national and the international situation. Radios are made so that we are able to listen only to North Korean radio stations.

GV: What if the leader should die?

PN: First of all we would not know about it for a long time. By then I am sure that the leading elite would have appointed a new leader. Our country is really based on a sort of caste system. The workers are the lowest caste and the highest castes are the generals and the political elite who have many advantages. They live a very good life with everything they need. They would not risk losing their position and in the common interest of that caste they would choose a new leader amongst themselves, to avoid any loss of privilege.

GV: What is your hope for the future?

PN: That has an easy answer - PEACE! Our country is very poor and people are suffering. Should war would break out, the terrible suffering that would bring to the Korean peninsula is inconceivable. And not only that - such a war could trigger an even wider conflict. What would China do in such a situation? [A South Korean military report presented to parliament on 5 October reported that China has said it would send 400,000 troops, 800 aircraft and 150 navy vessels to support its ally North Korea if war broke out on the Korean Peninsula. SCMP 6 Oct 2004 - EKendal] As followers of Jesus Christ we must all work for peace and for the well-being of the ordinary people God has created.

END

Reforming North Korea.

Date: Friday 19 November 2004
Subj: Reforming North Korea.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal.

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REFORMING NORTH KOREA
- Implementing the North Korea Human Rights Act

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On 18 October 2004, President G.W. Bush signed the North Korea Human Rights Act into law. The law, which will be effective from 2005 to 2008, grants $2 million a year to groups supporting human rights, democracy and a market economy in North Korea, and allocates $20 million a year to help settle North Korean refugees. The law also calls for doubling American radio broadcasting to North Korea to 12 hours a day and smuggling radios into North Korea. It will ensure that human rights are on the agenda when negotiating.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) welcomed the move. USCIRF Chair Preeta D. Bansal notes, "The human rights violations of the Kim Jong Il regime are among the most serious worldwide. The North Korea Human Rights Act makes improving human rights protections a priority in U.S. relations with North Korea. And, it gives U.S. policy-makers tools to act on that priority." (USCIRF, 19 Oct 2004)

However, not everyone has welcomed the North Korea Human Rights Act with enthusiasm. As was expected, the North Korean regime is unimpressed and has vowed not to take part in regional talks over its nuclear weapons program until the "hostile" law is repealed.

Tension over the Act is however, most acute in South Korea. Lee Bu-young, the Chairman of the ruling Uri Party, has expressed "grave" concerns, fearing that the Act is designed to hasten the collapse of North Korea and that could be catastrophic for the Korean Peninsula. After the Act was passed by the US Senate, Lee said, "I am looking at the issue with grave concern because it could negatively affect inter-Korean relations and the six-way talks. It's a foregone conclusion that the situation surrounding the Korean peninsula will be aggravated further." (Korean Times, 30 Sept 2004)

South Korea's main political opposition however, the Grand National Party (GNP), has embraced the ACT and harshly criticised Uri Party members for "placing inter-Korean ties ahead of human rights". The GNP has hailed the Act as a major step forward toward liberating oppressed and impoverished North Koreans.

The North Korean Human Rights Acts is wonderful in principle. However, the specific and unique realities of the tenuous "peace" on the Korean Peninsula and the unique nature of the North Korean regime – headed by a Communist dictator who came to power through dynastic succession, who is surrounded by an enormous military, and who might actually believe the myths and fantasies he spins and perpetuates – makes dealing with the regime an extremely difficult and delicate exercise.

The implementation of the Act will need to be as sensitive as the defusing of a bomb. North Korea cannot be treated the same as Belarus (for example), for with North Korea the risks are much greater and the stakes are much higher. It requires great urgency in prayer and great delicacy, patience, and intelligent, sensitive strategy on the ground.

SEARCHING FOR OPENINGS

After the horrific 23 April 2004 explosion in Ryongchon, a WEA RL Prayer bulletin was issued calling for prayer for the victims and for the tragedy to be a means by which the door into North Korea might be further opened. The final paragraph of that prayer bulletin states: "There is no civil society in North Korea, no political opposition, and after 50 years of anti-world propaganda the people are quite brainwashed. Most have known no other life and know NO truth. North Korean society no longer has any foundations, so that regime collapse could be disastrous. What the nation really needs is to open up and be transformed from within. God alone can work that miracle." (Link 1)

According to a 16 November Reuters report, Kathi Zellweger of the Catholic aid organisation Caritas believes North Korea is slowly changing and an entrepreneurial spirit developing but Pyongyang is presently in a "stop phase" while authorities assess how market reforms have affected the communist system so far. Zellweger says, "Regime change is what some groups of people hope for. But I believe what is happening is that very slowly the nature of the regime is changing, albeit at a very slow pace." Zellweger fears the North Korea Human Rights Acts will lead to a tightening of the government's control of the people and of NGOs. (Link 2)

Kaesong industrial park in North Korea is 10 km north of the de-militarised zone (DMZ) and 90 km by highway from South Korea's Incheon Airport. It is the invention of South Korean economic strategists who envisaged it as a means of pulling South Korea out of its economic doldrums. The South Korean government supports it because of its potential to increase cross-border ties, improve relations, and gradually lessen the economic disparity between the north and south, thus easing the way for reunification.

About 230 South Korean officials, businessmen, ruling and opposition lawmakers and journalists took part in the official opening of the Kaesong industrial park on 20 October 2004. Kaesong, which opened with 13 South Korean manufacturers, will be funded by the south but staffed by the north. As Straits Times Interactive notes, "North Koreans could be working in South Korean factories by the end of this year." Presently 130 Seoul companies are on a waiting list to open factories in Kaesong, which is expected to eventually draw billions of dollars in investments and employ 730,000 North Koreans and 100,000 South Koreans in more than 1,000 South Korean companies. (STI 21 Oct 2004)

The North Korean famine of the 1990s, which occurred as a result of poor governance, produced an immense amount of grief and suffering. An article by Andreas Lorenz entitled "Joyful Dancing", in the German publication Der Spiegel, reports that the people have grown tired of suffering and brutal oppression. Lorenz mentions a new, soon-to-be-published book about North Korea by Jasper Becker (48), a British author and journalist living in Beijing. According to Lorenz, Becker writes that factories, military units, and even entire towns have revolted against the leadership in Pyongyang during the years of famine and suffering. These rebellions have been brutally crushed and, according to Becker, "Resentment against Kim is deeply entrenched in the population," including amongst elements of the military. This is no doubt why 100,000 elite guards are required to guarantee Kim's survival. (Link 3)

Those things Kim jong-Il desires most of all, survival and prestige, appear to be on shaky ground according to even the most recent reports (see link 4). Maybe this is the biggest bargaining chip of all. To avoid catastrophe on the Korean Peninsula, would the US be willing to ensure Kim's survival and prestige in exchange for reforms for which Kim would of course take all credit? This would involve great humility on the part of the US. It would involve leaving justice, regarding Kim, in the the hands of God. It could only be done by looking past the man, Kim jong-Il, and keeping eyes firmly fixed on the goal: the liberation and reform of North Korea, for the sake of North Korea's suffering and oppressed millions.

- Elizabeth Kendal

Links

1) Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin - No. 271 - Wed 12 May 2004
NORTH KOREA: DESPERATELY NEEDS AN OPEN DOOR
http://worldevangelical.org/persec_northkorea_12may04.html

2) N.Korea is changing but in "stop phase" - aid worker
By Martin Nesirky in SEOUL. Reuters 16 Nov 2004.
http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/SEO337281.htm

3) Joyful Dancing, by Andeas Lorenz.
Der Spiegel. 30 Oct 2004
http://www.spiegel.de/spiegel/english/0,1518,325971,00.html

4) Mystery as Kim title, posters go. CNN 18 Nov 2004
http://edition.cnn.com/2004/WORLD/asiapcf/11/17/kim.cult.ap/index.html

SEE ALSO

North Korea background and prayer request
Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin - No. 236 - Wed 10 Sep 2003
http://worldevangelical.org/persec_korea_10sep03.html

SUMMARY OF H.R. 4011 - THE NORTH KOREA HUMAN RIGHTS ACT
http://www.nkfreedom.org/

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

IVORY COAST : CHRISTIANS ANXIOUS AS WAR THREATENS

WEA Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin - No. 298 - Wed 17 Nov 2004

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IVORY COAST : CHRISTIANS ANXIOUS AS WAR THREATENS
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By Elizabeth Kendal

When mostly Muslim rebels (backed with foreign funds and arms) seized control of northern Ivory Coast (IC) in 2002, Christians, southerners and government supporters fled south for their lives. As those fleeing included most of northern IC's doctors, nurses, professionals, administrators and school teachers, living conditions in the north have deteriorated markedly under rebel control. Of great concern are reports from MSF (Doctors without Borders) and the UN that AIDS has increased markedly in the north of IC as desperate girls prostitute themselves to survive. Having abandoned the government of national unity, the rebels declared in mid October their refusal to negotiate further or disarm.

On 4 November, President Laurent Gbagbo launched a surprise air raid on rebel strongholds in the north, attempting to defeat them militarily and re-unify the country. When nine French peacekeepers in rebel territory were killed in an IC air raid on 6 November, France immediately responded by destroying the two IC helicopter gunships used in the raid. France then struck pre-emptively to 'neutralise' IC air power, destroying all IC's air force planes and the airport tarmac. When French tanks then headed for the Presidential Palace, government supporters streamed into the streets and created a human shield around it. Some government supporters furiously attacked French interests. Whilst no non-African died in the protests, French soldiers killed up to 100 and wounded some 1,000 protesting government supporters.

Though France, the former colonial power in IC, is acting as peacekeeper and peace mediator, it is not neutral. Intelligence agencies have long believed that France would like to see or even engineer a coup in IC. President Gbagbo is opposed to the pro-France policies of IC, believing they are not in IC's best interests. Gbagbo's rival, A D Ouattara, the president of the RDR party to which the rebels are aligned, implemented many pro-France initiatives when he was IC Prime Minister. France would benefit economically if Ouattara were back in power. What we have today is a still uncertain future, with a three-way stand off between the IC, France and the rebels.

IC has a huge population of immigrants from Guinea, Mali and Burkina Faso, its poorer northern Islamic neighbours. The possibility of the rebels' aims succeeding causes IC's Christians great anxiety, as all these migrants would be naturalised, making IC instantly a Muslim majority nation. Then, by the strength of their votes, the constitution could be amended and A D Ouattara
elected president. (Presently he is barred from the presidency due to issues of nationality.) If that happens, IC will never be the same again, but will become a reflection of its northern Islamic neighbours. This scenario does not sit well with Ivorians – Muslim, Christian and traditional religionists – who regard their liberty as precious.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR:

* God to expose the plots and schemes of corrupt, self-serving
politicians who would destabilise a free and prosperous nation
in pure self-interest.

* great wisdom for all IC leaders, especially President Gbagbo
who is a Christian; may he draw close to God in this crisis, and
emerge more dependent on God than ever before. 'Some nations
boast of their armies and weapons, but we boast in the Lord our
God.' (Psalm 20:7 NLT) 'The horses are prepared for battle, but
the victory belongs to the Lord.' (Proverbs 21:31 NLT)

* Christians in Ivory Coast to be drawn to pray, and may they
receive wisdom, courage and radiant power from the Holy Spirit
for visible Christ-likeness in the midst of a society filled
with hostility, fear, anger and confusion. 'Godliness helps
people all through life, while the evil are destroyed by their
wickedness.' (Proverbs 13:6)

* God to be preparing the Church in Ivory Coast to be an
instrument of grace, reconciliation and healing.

* Almighty God to rescue Ivory Coast, and for justice and liberty
to prevail across the whole nation.

Friday, November 5, 2004

Liberia: Provocateurs threaten religious harmony.

Date: Friday 5 November 2004
Subj: Liberia: Provocateurs threaten religious harmony.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal.


On Thursday evening, 28 October 04, an incident in Paynesville, an eastern suburb of Monrovia, Liberia, triggered violence that escalated rapidly and spread to several Monrovia suburbs. Order was only restored through the "robust" peacekeeping efforts of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) and Liberian National Police, as well as a government-imposed 24-hour, indefinite curfew. Rioters were warned that anyone found with a weapon would be regarded as an extreme threat and dealt with accordingly. UN peacekeepers were given permission to use "maximum force" against anyone found attempting to disturb the peace. On Saturday the curfew was amended to 4pm-7am. By Monday 1 November relative calm had been restored.

While any threat to Liberian peace is tragic, the most serious aspect of this incident is the religious nature of the violence. It is critical to note however, that the religious violence appears not to have been instigated by people with religious zeal or purpose. Rather, it appears that those who profit from conflict, those who thrive on war, and those who would stop at nothing to disrupt the disarmament process (due for completion on Sunday 31 October), either took advantage of a relatively minor situation to whip up unrest, or strategically planned and then created that situation and orchestrated the unrest for their own purposes. It is emerging now that it is these criminals who set fire to both mosques and churches. Those seeking conflict clearly believe that the best way to return the country to war is to incite religious violence.

While the authorities have been firm and effective in dealing with the crisis, the incident has doubtless raised religious tensions and in particular, Islamic zeal. (Muslims are a minority in Liberia.) Evangelical elements in the Liberian Church and the interim government of Gyude Bryant will need our prayers and support, that the nation's journey towards disarmament, reconciliation and peace may not be hijacked.

----------------------------------------------
HOW THE VIOLENCE UNFOLDED

The trigger for the unrest was a land dispute in Monrovia's eastern suburb of Paynesville at around 5p.m. on Thursday evening 28 October. The Inter Regional Information Network (IRIN) (from the UN's office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs) reports: "Residents in Paynesville said the trouble began when a group of former fighters of the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) rebel group beat up a man who objected to them building a house on his land. These men were from the Mandingo ethnic group. The injured man's family and neighbours subsequently set up a manhunt for all Mandingos in the area that led to the burning of the mosque." (Link 1)

The former LURD fighters who provoked this incident are Mandingos – the main ethnic group associated with LURD. There is deep resentment and mistrust of Mandingos in Liberia due to the appalling atrocities committed in recent years by LURD. The Mandingo are historically and predominantly Muslim. The victim was not Mandingo and was not Muslim. While his family and neighbours sought revenge by attacking local Mandingos, it is not to be assumed that these particular rioters are responsible for the burning of the local mosque.

According to IRIN, "Muslim crowds subsequently burned down three churches and on Friday morning, Christian youths armed with sticks, knives and broken bottles burned down the Muslim Congress High School in central Monrovia, the only Islamic high school in the city. They also tried unsuccessfully [due to the intervention of Nigerian peacekeepers – EK] to burn down the two main mosques in central Monrovia."

Religious violence also erupted in Kakata, a town 50 km northeast of Monrovia, in Liberia's second city Buchanan, 120 km southeast of Liberia, and Ganta, on the northern frontier with Guinea. According to Reuters, some of the Muslim youths were armed with AK-47 rifles.

Reporters from the Monrovian newspaper, The Analyst, attempted to drive into Paynesvilles late on Thursday night (28 Oct) in order to find the cause of the violence. They describe the Paynesville region as "a no go zone with the northern entry route to the city cut off effectively by marauding bands of angry youths brandishing sticks and other crude weapons and vowing to kill anyone believed to be supporting their enemies". At one point, the Nigerian peacekeepers ahead of them are surrounded by "a large group of the thugs, believed to be Muslim youths chanting, 'Allah Akbar' meaning God is Great. They chanted the same slogans at UNMIL, saying 'Y'all think we are stupid? We will die tonight. Eh, they burnt our mosque? We will burn all the churches too'." (Link 2)

The youths then attacked the vehicle belonging to The Analyst reporters, smashing its windows. Eventually the reporters fled for their lives, noting that many building were in flames.

The National Muslim Council of Liberia condemned the violence as "barbaric and unacceptable". The Council also noted however, "An attack on the Mandingos would be inimical to peace in the country because such attack could be interpreted as an attack on all Muslims in the country, adding that Mandingos in Liberia are not just 'co-terminal to Muslims, but also inseparable, particularly as Mandingos are one of the founding fathers of the Islamic Community of Liberia'." (Link 3)

According to The News, Monrovia, at least two people were reportedly hacked to death on Sunday (31 Oct) while en route for church services in the Jacob Town, Paynesville and Doe community areas where much of the rioting occurred.

CASUALTIES AND ARRESTS

The casualty figure stands at 16 people dead and 208 injured, of whom 47 are critical (UNMIL 1 Nov). UNMIL also reports that some 250 males have been arrested. Interestingly, around 200 of these are reported to be "non English-speaking foreigners".

Witnesses told IRIN that UN peacekeepers arrested some 80 people from the home of Philip Kamara, a former senior commander within LURD, and confiscated rifles and petrol bombs.

UNMIL spokesman James Boynton comments: "There are factions of LURD that, we believe, don't want to see an end to DDRR." (DDRR - Demobilization, Disarmament Rehabilitation and Reintegration.)

Liberia's Head of State, Interim Chairman Gyude Bryant, believes the violence was planned and orchestrated. Several individuals, arrested in connection to the riots, have already been charged with orchestrating "Terroristic Threats".

PROVOCATEURS THREATEN RELIGIOUS HARMONY

The editorial in The Analyst on 1 November comments, "Those involved in the plot against the Liberian people seemed determined to project themselves as the patriarchs and heralds of religious renaissance in Liberia when the fact, and their true intention, is that they want to protect their shady deeds and ill-gotten wealth. 'What we're seeing is the death throes of the [old] regime,' UN envoy Jacques Klein told the BBC. 'In the old days they used tribal differences which don't seem to be working now so now they've hit on religious differences'." (Link 4)

- Elizabeth Kendal

Links

1) LIBERIA: Religious riots erupt in Monrovia, curfew imposed
MONROVIA, 29 Oct 2004 (IRIN)
http://www.irinnews.org/report.asp?ReportID=43935

2) Churches, Mosques in Flames!
The Analyst (Monrovia), 1 November 2004
http://allafrica.com/stories/200411010963.html

3) Muslim Council Condemns Violence
The Analyst (Monrovia), 1 November 2004
By Bill K. Jarkloh
http://allafrica.com/stories/200411010962.html

4) An Unmistakable Telltale Sign
The Analyst (Monrovia)
EDITORIAL, 1 November 2004
http://allafrica.com/stories/200411010960.html

Friday, October 29, 2004

China: Debating religious liberty.

Date: Friday 29 October 2004
Subj: China: Debating religious liberty.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal.


----------------------------------
CHINA: DEBATING RELIGIOUS LIBERTY

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

China's repressive religion policy is simply not working. Not only is China's repressive control of religion ineffective, it is difficult and expensive to administer and becoming internationally embarrassing due to its human rights abuses.

But a debate on religious liberty is stirring in China. At a recent two-day conference on the topic of religion and law held in Beijing, a senior Religious Affairs Bureau official told the conference that Beijing was in the process of revamping its religion policy and that a "comprehensive law on religion" was being considered that would result in religous groups having more autonomy. His speech was followed by another senior Religious Affairs Bureau official who indicated that officials are divided over the issue and social cohesion needed to be consided above religious rights. The debate coming out of Beijing will be very interesting to follow.

-----------------------------------------
INCREASING CHURCH AUTONOMY AND LIMITING STATE AUTHORITY

Recent reports in the Hong Kong based South China Morning Post (SCMP) indicate that Chinese authorities are reassessing the way they handle religion. In an article entitled 'Religious Groups Get More Room To Move', by Nailene Chou Wiest in Beijing (SCMP 20 October), Zhang Xunmou, the director of the Religious Affairs Bureau's policy and legal department, told the recent Beijing conference on religion and law that China is in the process of revamping its religious policy. He said the aim is to move from control by diktat to the rule of law in order to curb arbitrary interference by the state and give religious groups more autonomy. Officials would have limits on their power and would be obliged to follow set rules when dealing with religious groups. Officials abusing their power would face legal action.

Mr Zhang described this as "a paradigm shift", noting that limiting state authority over religion was a revolutionary concept in Chinese history, as China has long had secular institutions for regulating religious affairs and conferring legitimacy on religious groups. Interestingly, Zhang also commented that Beijing is working on reducing administrative costs and drafting rules on taxing religious groups.

Mr Zhang claimed that the government does not have a problem with religion per se, but only with foreign interference. The SCMP explains, "In the 19th century, Christian churches were seen as collaborating with Western powers to challenge the Chinese state and Mr Zhang said historical grievances still coloured policies on religion, as expressed in the 'Three Self' principles – self-administration, self-support and self-propagation. However, he said these principles were a reaction to the power of the foreign churches in China and were not directed against religion itself."

It must be noted that those churches most faithful in observing the Three Self principles are in reality the house churches, which are, generally speaking, truly indigenous, self-administrating, self-supporting and self-propagating Chinese churches. These house churches are however, illegal by virtue of their being outside the Three Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM), which is (ironically) financially assisted, administered and controlled by the Communist authorities, and generally reflect Western traditions.

AsiaNews sources in Hong Kong comment: "A comprehensive law on religions is something positive but only if the government recognizes religious freedom as an innate human right, not – as is the case now – as something conceded by the state. To safeguard this right, the government should do away with the Patriotic Associations which are a political element in the body of religions. Alternatively, they should put the Patriotic Associations under the authority of bishops and other religious leaders, not – as is currently the case – over them." (Link 1)

In a subsequent report entitled, "'Stability the Key' to new rules on religion" (SCMP 23 October), Nailene Chou Wiest reports that Ji Wenyuan , vice-director of the Religious Affairs Bureau in Beijing, also spoke at the Beijing conference on religion and law. Ji Wenyuan lowered expectations with his warning that China's "special circumstances" must be taken into account. Mr Ji said that when considering China's religion policy, priority must be given to social stability. "A religion must be accepted not only by its own congregation, which follows its teachings, but also by non-believers who can live with it," he said. Mr Ji expressed his belief that Western-style religion laws would prove unworkable in China because China's circumstances were different.

AsiaNews comments: "Given the growing social unrest in Chinese society, the government is concerned that religious communities might become rallying points for opposition forces. This fear explains the growing crackdown and arrest of underground religious leaders and the tightening control over official religious groups." (Link 2) Maybe this social unrest and fear of opposition is what Ji Wenyuan was refering to when he appealed for consideration to be given to China's "special circumstances".

Ji Wenyuan's words indicate that there is division in the Religious Affairs Bureau on the issue of granting religious groups greater autonomy. For Zhang Xunmou, granting religious groups more autonomy would solve many problems and possibly even open some opportunitues. For Ji Wenyuan, the compromise may prove to be something along the lines of Vietnam's new religion law which grants full religious freedom to everyone but makes it a criminal offense to undermine social harmony or unity – putting the church at the mercy of the local community, dependent on local tolerance. China and Vietnam are alike in that they have both basically rejected Communist ideology and passionately embraced market capitalism whilst retaining a totalitarian dictatorial one party rule state in the midst of a people crying for increased freedoms and government accountability.

HUMAN RIGHTS DIALOGUE

On 26 October, the German Evangelical News Agency "idea" published an interview with Bishop Wolfgang Huber of Berlin, whom "idea" describes as one of Germany's most significant Protestant leaders and Church representatives. Bishop Huber has called for an intensified human rights dialogue with China, saying talks should not only focus on economic liberties but should include fundamental rights of the individual such as religious liberty.

The "idea" release of 26 October explains, "In Huber's view it is unrealistic to assume that economic liberalization in China will automatically be followed by an improvement in the human rights situation. 'Unfortunately I can well imagine that a very capitalist economy and an authoritarian state socialism will continue to coexist for rather a long time,' said Huber." (This is exactly the point made by the Reverend Nguyen Hong Quang of Vietnam in his article "How is it possible?" which can be found on the WEA RLC website.)

On Monday 25 October, Colin Powell received an agreement from Beijing that they would resume a human rights dialogue with Washington.


Links

1) Beijing promises more freedom for religions
AsiaNews 20 Oct 2004
http://www.asianews.it/view.php?l=en&art=1730

2) For China’s government stability comes before religious freedom
AsiaNews 25 Oct 2004
http://www.asianews.it/view.php?l=en&art=1756

Thursday, August 5, 2004

Cameroon: Foreign Islamists infiltrate to incite hate.

Date: Thursday 5 August 2004
Subj: Cameroon: Foreign Islamists infiltrate to incite hate.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal.



Foreign Islamists have infiltrated the northern provinces of Cameroon and are attempting to incite the local Muslims against the local Christians.

The great African ethnic/religious fault line that runs from the Sierra Leone/Liberia border in the West through to Asmara, Eritrea in the East, through central Cote d'Ivoire, central Nigeria and central Sudan, also runs through northern Cameroon. Cameroon shares its porous western border with Nigeria which has experienced a dramatic rise in religious violence over recent years, since the northern states adopted Sharia (Islamic) Law. Garoua, the capital of North Province, Cameroon, is only some 500 kilometers due east of Jos, Plateau State, Nigeria which suffered serious religious violence in September 2001 and again in 2004 and is now under emergency rule.

On 3 August 2004, Inter Press Service (IPS) (Johannesburg) ran an article entitled "Cameroon: Religious Tensions On the Rise in the North", written by By Sylvestre Tetchiada, reporting from the capital, Yaounde. (Link 1)

Garga Aoudou, a community activist with a Dutch development organisation told IPS that Garoua has been "literally inundated with fliers inciting Muslims towards a hatred of Christians". Aoudou continues, "Religious fanatics exhort Muslims to increase the number of marriages between young Muslim men and Christian girls in order to convert them to Islam, to refuse to rent houses or sell land to Christians - or to get them to move by raising the rent."

This is confirmed by Yves Steven, the Bishop of Maroua (capital of the Extreme North province)and of the town of Makolo. Bishop Steven told IPS, "Several Christian families have come to me to complain. They were subjected to physical violence. Some of them were forcibly evicted from their homes with bats and at knifepoint before they could collect their property."

Lele Lafrique, the Chief of Police in the North province is quoted as saying, "Now more than ever, an extremist current threatens the national unity for which we paid so dearly." Lafrique fears the situation may yet get worse. "We're calling upon...all Cameroonians not to fall prey to those seeking to create the chaos we've so often witnessed in neighboring countries".

According to the IPS report, local Muslim leaders who are keen to preserve the peaceful co-existence are equally concerned about "outside agitators" inciting violence against Christians. IPS reports: "In response to these developments, government has created a special joint task force to conduct raids against those suspected of encouraging religious extremism. Provincial governors also met towards the end of last month to discuss the situation."

Mbonji Edjenguele, an anthropologist at the University of Yaounde, told IPS, "We're on our guard because of what's happening right now in the north. We're not immune to the sociopolitical events currently taking place beyond our borders, which continue to be porous."

Edjenguele says that due to lack of education and high rates of illiteracy in the north, "prophets of doom from neighboring countries or elsewhere are able recruit followers to spread their disastrous ideas".

- Elizabeth Kendal


Link
1) Culture-Cameroon: Religious Tensions On the Rise in the North
By Sylvestre Tetchiada in Yaounde, 3 Aug 2004
Inter Press Service (Johannesburg)

Thursday, July 29, 2004

MALAYSIA: The great apostasy debate.

Date: Thursday 29 July 2004
Subj: Malaysia: The great apostasy debate.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal.


A fascinating debate is raging in Malaysia regarding Islamic teaching on religious freedom, and the contradiction between Malaysia's constitutionally guaranteed freedoms and the total lack of religious freedom for Muslims under the Syariah Law. While the debate might be fascinating for those who enjoy reading combative letters and editorial columns, it is tragic for the four courageous apostates who are presently losing their battle to have their constitutional right to religious freedom acknowledged and respected in the Malaysian courts.

Mr Daud Mamat (62), Ms Kamariah Ali (51), her late husband Mohamad Ya and Mr Mad Yacob Ismail (62) are Malays from Kelantan who have renounced Islam. They are discovering that they do not have the right to exercise their constitutional right to religious freedom because they were born Muslim and therefore must come under the jurisdiction of the Syariah Courts in all religious matters, beginning with their desire to renounce Islam. This is regardless of the fact that Syariah dictates death for apostates.

The four apostates were arrested in 1992 and charged in the Kelantan Syariah Court for teaching "deviant practices inconsistent with Islamic teachings". They each received a sentence of 20 months imprisonment.

In August 1998 the four attempted to officially cut all ties with Islam and therefore with the Syariah Court by formally renouncing Islam before a commissioner of oaths. However, in 2000 the four were again charged by the Kelantan Syariah Court. They were charged with contempt of the Syariah Court for refusing to attend repentance classes which were part of their earlier sentence. They were each sentenced to three years of rehabilitation at an Islamic Rehabilitation Camp.

The apostates appealed to the Kelantan High Court, claiming that as they were no longer Muslims the Syaraih Court had no jurisdiction over them. The High Court however dismissed their appeal, claiming that matters pertaining to Islam were not within its jurisdiction, but rather they were issues for the Syariah Court. The four apostates each served two years of their three-year sentence and were released in November 2002. Mr. Mohamad Ya died in October 2003.

In November 2003, the three surviving apostates took their case again to Malaysia's Federal Court. They wanted to clarify whether the constitutional right to freedom of belief includes the right for a Muslim to renounce Islam. They wanted official recognition that they had renounced Islam and are therefore, as non-Muslims, immune from Syariah laws.

On 21 July 2004, after nine months of court deliberation, the court deemed the issue of apostasy irrelevant saying that the four had committed the offences before they had officially renounced Islam. The appeal failed. The apostates are considering filing for a review of the court decision. As the National Evangelical Christian Fellowship (NECF) Malaysia notes, "Basically the court has declined to answer a landmark issue", that of whether a Muslim over the age of 18 years has the right to renounce Islam, and are laws that restrict a person's right to renounce Islam inconsistent with Article 11(1) of the Constitution and therefore void.

The apostates have been supported by the Malaysian Human Rights group Suaram. According to Andrew Ong, who reports for Malaysia Kini, Suaram's 2003 Human Rights Report noted that "Madyaacob Ismail, Daud Mamat, Kamariah Ali and Mohamed Ya filed a motion in November 2003 at the Federal Court seeking judicial acknowledgment of their renouncement. Their lawyers cited that Malaysia is a signatory of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Bangkok Declaration and the Vienna Declaration, all which includes a freedom of religion clause, and argued that domestic laws must conform to international norms. 'As long as Malaysia presents to the international community that its citizens enjoy freedom of religion, the government must not act and interpret domestic laws in a way that inhibits meaningful exercise of that freedom', added Suaram."

According to Andrew Ong's report, lawyers for the apostates also argued that Article 11(1) of Malaysia's constitution gives every individual the right to profess, practise and propagate any religion. Suaram claims that included in that right is the right to renounce, or not to profess, any religion.

Ong reports: "The authorities acknowledge this fact. However, they had said that the group could only renounce their religion through the Syariah court, in which they would be exposed to possible imprisonment and death penalty for apostasy. Given the situation, Suaram said that the possible judicial ramifications would form a restriction on fundamental human rights to freedom of religion. 'Such restrictions on apostasy, because they are imposed only on Malays, and converts to Islam, are also in contravention of Article 8(1) and 8(2) of the constitution, which guarantee equal protection under the law...,' said the report." (Link 2)

The National Evangelical Christian Fellowship (NECF) Malaysia reports that Attorney-General Tan Sri Abdul Gani Patail said in the hearing that the Kelantanese are still Muslims: "until they are certified by the Syariah Court to have renounced the religion, they are, by virtue of the law, still Muslims". He pointed out that Article 11(3) of the constitution conferred to every religious group the right to manage its own religious affairs, including the right to rehabilitate those who attempted to leave the religion. Chambers' head of civil division Datuk Azahar Mohamad Azahar added, "A Muslim is bound by the syariah laws on apostasy which falls within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Syariah courts."

The implications are clear. Malaysian Muslim who wish to renounce Islam must do so through the Syariah Courts which will not permit them that right, regardless of the constitution. On matters pertaining to Islam, Malaysian Muslim are under the repressive Syariah Courts, not the liberating Malaysian Constitution.

A DEBATE THAT MUST BE HAD


This has generated some heated debate in the Malaysian media. Some letter and editorial writers express deep sorrow for the apostates, and shock at the fact that they are not free to practise their constitutionally guaranteed religious freedom. The attitude is summed up well in an article by AB Sulaiman entitled, "Does Islam allow apostasy?" (21 July 2004, Malaysiakini).

Sulaiman writes, "I had made the observation that (Malay) Muslim apostates lived in a state of suspended animation, with Islam saying on one hand they are free to change their religion on their own volition [Qur'an, Surah 2.256], but on the other, the Syariah law stating they may lose their lives should they do so.

"The operating principle seems to be - 'Islam stands for the freedom of religion but if its own adherents choose to leave it, they will be punished, or even be put to death.'

"I sense an inherent contradiction here." (Link 3)

On the other side are the writers who oppose religious freedom and support the Syariah Court's punishments for apostates as a means of preserving Islam and protecting the integrity and security of Islamic nations. One writer, Arbibi Ashoy, wrote a piece published in Malaysiakini on 29 June amazingly entitled "Chaos if Muslims allowed religious freedom".

Ashoy runs the line that conversion/apostasy is a tool of Western imperialists and colonialist who seek to "divide and rule". "Thus the desire not to allow Muslims to divide in Malaysia is to prevent foreign interference in the country. Also, if Muslims in Malaysia were allowed freedom to renounce Islam as they please, the Syariah Court would lose its jurisdiction over all matters including inheritance laws and matters pertaining to child custody. If Syariah law is favourable to them, people will convert to Islam. If, on the other hand, Syariah law is unfavourable to them, then they will renounce Islam. Can you imagine the chaos and confusion this will lead to, besides making a mockery of the religion? " (Link 4)

HINDU MOTHER RETAINS CUSTODY AFTER HUSBAND'S CONVERSION TO ISLAM, BUT CHILDREN ARE DEEMED MUSLIM


This issue of Syariah laws pertaining to child custody is already being challenged. Earlier this week the Federal Court granted a Hindu woman, Shamala Sathyaseelan (32), custody of her two boys aged 4 and 5 years, overturning an April ruling by the Syariah Court which had awarded custody to the father who converted to Islam in 2002. The Federal Court decision is a landmark ruling that goes against Syariah law and practice.

Her sons however, have been officially deemed Muslim by the Syariah Court in line with Syariah law which states that all children are considered automatically converted to Islam if one of the parents becomes a Muslim. The Federal Court has ordered their mother not to interfere with her sons' Muslim religion and warned her that if she does, she will lose custody. (Link 3) The Federal Court said it could not overturn the boys' automatic/forced conversions because, as Muslims, their cases were a matter for the Syariah Court, not the Federal Court.

- Elizabeth Kendal
rl-research@crossnet.org.au

Links

1) Four who renounced Islam lose appeal in top court
Straits Times Interactive, 22 July 2004
http://straitstimes.asia1.com.sg/asia/story/0,4386,262701,00.html

2) Suaram: Four Muslims who renounced Islam in limbo
Andrew Ong, 19 June 2004
http://www.malaysiakini.com/news/20355

3) Does Islam allow apostasy?
AB Sulaiman, 21 July 2004
http://www.malaysiakini.com/letters/28575

4) Chaos if Muslims allowed religious freedom
Arbibi Ashoy, 29 June 2004
http://www.malaysiakini.com/letters/28097

Friday, July 9, 2004

Hong Kong: Government steals Church influence.

Date: Friday 9 July 2004
Subj: Hong Kong: Government steals Church influence.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal.

----------------------------------------------
HONG KONG: GOVERNMENT STEALS CHURCH INFLUENCE
----------------------------------------------

On Tuesday 6 July, the South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported that Christian educators in Hong Kong were praying for a miracle. The Education (Amendment) Bill 2002 was due to come before Parliament on 7 July. The SCMP reports, "If it is passed, this Bill will effectively give the Beijing-backed government increased control of Hong Kong's multitudes of Church-owned and run schools. 'We know that the bill will pass with so many pro-government legislators sitting on Legco [Legislative Council],' Bishop Zen said. [Bishop Zen Ze-kiun, Catholic Bishop of Hong Kong.] 'What we are praying for is a miracle. We appeal to the Liberal Party to vote according to their conscience, like they did last time to vote down Article 23'."

On the evening of 6 July, the Catholic Church held a candlelight vigil outside the Legislative Council to pray for that miracle. One Christian leader in Hong Kong explains, "Out of a population of 7 million only 10 percent are members of the Church. But at the same time 50 percent of all schools and 50 percent of all social service programs are run by the Church so there is a great influence especially as the church schools are of very high standard and have
the best reputation. The government wants to change the school system so the government can have more influence."

AsiaNews confirms this, "The Hong Kong [Catholic] diocese runs about 300 elementary schools, high schools and colleges throughout the territory. Diocesan schools are considered to be the top-rated on the island. Hong Kong’s most well known cultural, political and financial leaders have all been educated at these Catholic schools. Hence some experts have said the government move is aimed at halting the Catholic Church’s influence over Hong Kong." (Link 1)

EDUCATION AMENDMENT BILL 2002

The Education Amendment Bill 2002 went before parliament on 8 July. After thirteen hours of "heated debate", the highly controversial bill was passed, 29 votes in favour, 21 votes against. (Link 2)

The Education Amendment Bill 2002 requires schools to set up Incorporated Management Committees (IMCs), separate legal entities that must include elected teacher and parent representatives, by 2012. Presently, most school management committees are formed by members directly appointed by the School Sponsoring Bodies (SSB). The Bill will reduce the central control and decision making power of the School Sponsoring Bodies. The IMCs will be responsible for evaluating teachers and teaching methods as well as the overall quality and structure of schools themselves. Most seriously, the IMCs will not be obliged to respect the philosophy and mission of the sponsoring bodies.

AsiaNews reports, "According to Bishop Zen and various other education leaders in Hong Kong, the government measure aims to remove SSB authority and strike down its educational proposals and programs. At the same time, they say, the new legislation strengthens government control over schools. In Zen's letter to Legco, the bishop states that government authority will be increased "through decentralizing the School Sponsoring Bodies and radically altering an effective educational system that has gained international admiration". (Link 1)

According to a 9 July SCMP report, "Under the bill, the Education and Manpower Bureau also has the right to appoint members to the committee if it finds problems with the management of a school."

Bishop Zen comments, "Once the bill is passed, there are only two options - to set up an Incorporated Management Committee, or to give over our schools to the government. ... the reason for the government to pass the bill is control [over schools]." (SCMP 6 July)

CHURCHES CONSIDER LEGAL ACTION

AsiaNews reported on 6 July that Bishop Zen was threatening to file a lawsuit against the government for breaching the Basic Law if the Bill were passed. "The Church is set to sue the government because according to Basic Law article 141, religious organisations may continue to run schools according to their previous practices. We must sue the government over this blatant violation." (Link 3)

According to the SCMP 9 July report, "The Anglican church's sponsoring board, the Sheng Kung Hui, said it would not adopt the bill and might take legal action." Timothy Ha Wing-ho, education secretary of the body, is quoted as commenting, "We have established a successful partnership between schools and parents for 150 years."

Education authorities are unmoved by the Church's threat to sue. Department of Justice deputy law draftsman Gilbert Mo Sik-keung responded by pointing out that article 136 of the Basic Law also stipulated that the SAR [Special Administrative Region, i.e. Hong Kong] government "shall, on its own, formulate policies on the development and improvement of education, including policies regarding the educational system and its administration, the language of instruction, the allocation of funds, the examination system, the system of academic awards and the recognition of educational qualifications". Mo said the intention of the Basic Law's article 141 does not necessarily mean any change or reform in the education system must be prohibited. (Link 4)

AsiaNews reports (9 July), "Many School Sponsoring Bodies, particularly Christian SSBs (Catholic, Anglican, and Methodist), have repeatedly said that existing legal practices and school policies offer sufficient guarantee for transparency and participation in school management. Many Catholic educators along with Bishop Zen believe that the purpose of the Bill is to reduce the autonomy of the SBs thus threatening Catholic education itself." (Link 5)

- Elizabeth Kendal

Links

1) 22 May 2004 HONG KONG – CHINA
Government tries to push Church out of schools
Bishop Joseph Zen writes a letter to Hong Kong’s Parliament
http://www.asianews.it/view.php?l=en&art=838

2) School reform bill passed after heated debate
Eddie Luk. 9 July 2004
http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/english/doc/2004-07/09/content_346863.htm

3) 6 July 2004 HONG KONG – CHINA
Catholic Church set to sue the government over education
The Education Bill breaches the Basic Law and Church freedom
http://www.asianews.it/view.php?l=en&art=1099

4) Legal threat of church dismissed
Eddie Luk. 7 July 2004
http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/english/doc/2004-07/07/content_346123.htm

5) 8 July, 2004 HONG KONG – CHINA
New Education Bill Adopted
http://www.asianews.it/view.php?l=en&art=1115

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Kyrgyzstan: Authorities consider countering Christian mission.

Date: Wednesday 30 June 2004
Subj: Kyrgyzstan: Authorities consider countering Christian mission.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal.


In January 2004 Forum 18 (F18), which monitors religious freedom in Communist and former Soviet states, published the results of its survey on religious freedom in Kyrgyzstan. F18 reported, "Both registered and unregistered religious communities appear to function freely, despite a 1996 presidential decree requiring religious communities to register. ...However, due to Muslim anger at conversions from Islam to Christianity, Forum 18 has been told by some that an official campaign against Christian proselytism may soon be launched." One diplomat confided to F18 that authorities might soon launch a campaign against "proselytism" out of fear that the conversion of Muslims to Christianity may lead to social tensions and even conflict. (Link 1)

An article that appeared on IslamOnline (IOL) on 26 June 2004 entitled "Proselytization Eats Away at Muslim Majority in Kyrgyzstan" indicates that this threat may soon become a reality. (Link 2)

IOL correspondent Damir Ahmad reports that according to Russian media, "Five percent of the majority Muslim population in Kyrgyzstan have converted to Christianity due to the spreading missionary work in the former Soviet republic."

According to Omurzak Mamayusupov, the director of Kyrgyzstan’s religious affairs committee, "The percentage of Muslims declined from 84 percent of the total population in 2001 to 79.3 percent in 2004. In terms of figures, he added, some 100,000 Muslims, of the country’s five million population, have converted to Christianity."

Mamayusupov complains about the "full swing" missionary activity that includes the distribution of literature, books and videos, the building of churches, the establishment of Christian mission organizations, and the way missionaries "entice Muslim people away from their religion".

IOL reports, "Mamayusupov warned that such organizations endanger the national security and run the risk of triggering an ethnic conflict. 'We must nip this phenomenon in the bud to head off an ethnic conflict in Kyrgyzstan,' he said."

Mamayusupov claims that while Russian Orthodox and Muslims have lived peacefully for many years, the Catholic and Protestant missions "might ignite a religious war".

According to IOL, Mamayusupov said that the Kyrgyzstan government is therefore considering the option of establishing a religious police department to counter Christian missionary work.

Mamayusupov’s language is alarmist and offensive. He appears content to take the easy road and blame social tensions on the peaceful victims of persecution rather than on the perpetrators who would unjustly deny them their basic and constitutional right to freedom of religion.

Kyrgyzstan has some 3,000 mosques, 2,000 of which have been built since the year 2000. Some 40 percent of Kyrgyzstan’s Muslims are Wahhabi. According to the US State Department Report on International Religious Freedom 2003, there are some 1,000 missionaries in Kyrgyzstan. Around 800 of them are Christians, primarily from Sth Korea, Germany and USA, while the others are Muslims from Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Pakistan. (Link 3)

HOSTILITY

One of the most extreme cases of grassroots persecution against converts occurred in the village of Kurkol in Djalalabad Oblast in January 2001. The local Muslim Religious Board complained that some 130 Muslims had recently converted to Christianity. More than one thousand locals convened a meeting and demanded that four ethnic Uzbeks, all recent converts to Christianity, leave the village.

That incident was pre-war on terror. If Islamic anti-Western, anti-Christian sentiment, solidarity and identification are rising in Kyrgyzstan as much as they are rising everywhere else across the Muslim world, then we can expect social tensions to be increasing and the government to come under increasing pressure to counter Christianity.

It is to be hoped that the secular and reform-minded government of President Askar Akayev will reject attempts to curtail Kyrgyzstan’s religious liberty.

- Elizabeth Kendal

Links

1) F18News 7 January 2004
KYRGYZSTAN: Religious freedom survey, January 2004
By Igor Rotar, Central Asia Correspondent, Forum 18 News Service
http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=222

2) Proselytization Eats Away At Muslim Majority In Kyrgyzstan
By Damir Ahmad, IOL Correspondent
http://islamonline.net/English/News/2004-06/26/article04.shtml

3) US Department of State IRF report 2003: Kyrgyzstan.
http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2003/27209.htm

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Kenya: Watching Mungiki

Date: Thursday 24 June 2004
Subj: Kenya: Watching Mungiki
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal.


THE VIOLENCE OF MUNGIKI

On Tuesday 8 June, the head of Simon Ndabi Kamore was found wrapped in green plastic on the pavement near the bus stop "where he had been preaching his new found religion three days ago on Sunday". His body has not yet been found. (Numerous grisly rumours abound as to what has happened to his torso.)

Simon Ndabi Kamore, a former member of the outlawed Mungiki sect, had denounced the sect after converting to Christianity and paid the ultimate price.

The East African Standard reports, "The murder comes in the wake of a recent revelation that fanatical Mungiki adherents have in the recent past been attacking and killing any sect member who dares to reconvert to another religion or disassociates himself with the outlawed outfit." (Link 1)

Earlier this year police placed Mungiki defectors on a 24-hour guard following the brutal murder of three members and the kidnapping of several who had openly denounced the sect. The killings have included those of Pastor James Irungu Njenga and his wife Florence, who were shot dead in March 2004 at their home in the Kiamaiko slum in Nairobi, in front of their children.

Most Mungiki members have a Christian background. Multitudes have been recruited from amongst young, nominal, disillusioned or dissatisfied church members. Some Mungiki members recently have left the sect and recommitted their lives to Jesus Christ. Last year Mungiki leaders gave defectors an ultimatum: return to the sect by January 2004 or be killed. At least 18 people have been murdered since the deadline expired, allegedly by a highly skilled Mungiki hit squad.

Since its rise in the late 1990s the Mungiki sect has left a trail of arson, murder, forced oathing, forced circumcision, extortion and terror in its wake. Most recently, on Monday evening 14 June, Mungiki sect members rampaged through Mlango Kubwa, Pangani, slashing people with machetes, allegedly in retribution against residents who had complained to the police that Mungiki sect members were extorting "protection money" by force. Mungiki sect members dragged 13-year-old Evelyn Mumbua from her home while her mother was at church. They took her into the street, slit her throat and threatened to kill anyone who attempted to assist her. Evelyn Mumbua bled to death. (Link 2)

THE APPEAL OF MUNGIKI

The Mungiki sect has some 2 million members. It is able to attract such numbers because it appeals to tribalism, is anti-West, and calls people back to traditional African tribal religions at a time when these things are all very popular. These elements attract especially those who are poor and feeling frustrated and hopeless due to their socio-economic situation, or confused by social change.

The Kikuyu is the largest tribe in Kenya, numbering around 6.8 million. Mungiki is a Kikuyu sect whose most fundamental aim is to unite the Kikuyu, revive the spirit of the Mau Mau independence fighters who fought the British in the 1950s, and liberate Kenyans from all Western influence and oppression. Because the ultimate aim is to have the Kikuyu dominating Kenya's politics and economy, there are Kikuyu politicians, civil servants and police who secretly support the sect.

While it is essentially political, Mungiki poses as a traditional religious group. The sect members take oaths, perform strange and secret rituals, pray facing Mt Kenya (which is, they believe, the home of their god Ngai), and take snuff during their worship ritual as their form of "holy communion".

The Mungiki maintain that their god has called them to liberate people oppressed by Western ideologies. The main war fronts for the Mungiki on their road to liberation are Western culture and Christianity. They promote the traditional Kikuyu way of life and take a hardline stand against all Western ideologies and culture. They assault women they claim are dressed inappropriately, stripping them naked in public, and they violently promote female genital mutilation. They aggressively reject Christianity as a cultural manifestation of Western civilisation that has perpetuated neo-colonialism, i.e. indirect domination of the developing world by the First World through economic imperialism.

Their strident anti-West, anti-Christian stance has enabled a loose Mungiki Muslim alliance. In September 2000 thirteen leaders of the sect converted to Islam without denouncing any of their own Mungiki beliefs. This was doubtless a strategy of the Mungiki leaders to harness the support of Kenya's Muslims in their fight against Christianity and Western influence, and to make any attack on Mungiki an attack on Islam. During the September 2000 initiation of the 13 converting Mungiki leaders, Sheikh Shee, Chairman of Kenya's Council of Imams, in his sermon at the Sakina mosque in Mombasa called upon the government to stop harassing Mungiki followers. The Council of Imams said that Mungiki had become part and parcel of the Muslim community. However, other Muslim leaders have subsequently denounced the Mungiki on account of their criminality.

TAKING MUNGIKI SERIOUSLY - WHERE TO GO?

While the Mungiki sect is both political and religious, it recruits primarily amongst unemployed, bored, poor, disaffected youths. These disillusioned, frustrated youths delight in criminality and regard Christianity with contempt. They are frustrated by and angry about their poverty and hopelessness. They believe, or at least hope, that salvation from their plight is possible through emulating their Mau Mau liberator heroes, casting off the last vestiges of Western imperialism for complete liberation and empowerment.

It is for these very reasons that Mungiki must be taken seriously. The issues of unemployment, poverty, hopelessness and lack of identity - issues at the root of Mungiki rebellion, issues aiding recruitment - must be taken seriously. The issue of unscrupulous politicians using depressed, disillusioned, disaffected and desperate youths for political advantage also must be taken seriously. With 2 million members, supporters in high places, and big promises of solidarity, liberation and empowerment, Mungiki must be regarded as a serious threat.

Mungiki has all the ingredients needed to create an enduring and expanding problem. It is a politico-religious sect created for the purpose of solidarity and empowerment at the expense of others. Similar movements in the history of world religion have proved extremely successful and very threatening.

The Church in Kenya needs our prayers that it may be part of the solution, or it may just find itself facing a growing and increasingly hostile and militant enemy.

Elizabeth Kendal

Links

1) Mungiki defector beheaded
Standard Correspondent. 9 June 2004
http://www.eastandard.net/headlines/news09060409.htm

2) Mungiki kill girl in attack
By Evelyn Kwamboka and Noel Wandera. 16 June 2004
http://www.eastandard.net/headlines/news16060402.htm

Friday, June 11, 2004

Cote d'Ivoire: "We want all of Ivory Coast" (rebels)

Date: Friday 11 June 2004
Subj: Cote d'Ivoire: "We want all of Ivory Coast" (rebels).
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal.


This posting covers three issues:
  1. the targeted stabbing murder of a priest in the rebel attack on Gohitafla at 4am on 7 June 2004,

  2. the decline in living standards in northern Cote d'Ivoire under rebel control,

  3. the address by Imam El Hadj Harrissou Fofana, one of Cote d'Ivoire's most prominent Muslim leaders, before a gathering in Abidjan on 29 May 2004.

In his address, Imam Fofana alleges that foreign Islamists have infiltrated and profoundly influence Cote d'Ivoire. He also alleges that an Islamic political party offered to pay the National Council of Imams and Muezzins of Cote d'Ivoire a large sum of money to launch a disinformation campaign from their mosques, denigrating the nation and all non-Muslims, presumably with the intention of preparing the ground for religious conflict.

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

PRIEST STABBED TO DEATH IN GOHITAFLA

At around 4am on Monday 7 June, unidentified gunmen entered the town of Gohitafla, a frontline town in divided Cote d'Ivoire (CI) that lies on the south end of the demilitarized "zone of confidence" policed by French peacekeepers.

The group of around 30 gunmen entered the farming village of Gohitafla from the rebel-held north only hours after President Gbagbo had flown out of CI for a 9-day visit to the USA. Suspicion abounds that the rebel forces had attempted to re-ignite hostilities in President Gbagbo's absence, and in his native region.

Djedje Augustin, reporting for http://www.ivoirealites.net , writes that the gunmen were members of Guillaume Soro's rebel forces, although the rebels deny that they were responsible for the attack. Reuters reports that seven were killed and 14 wounded in battles between the rebels, the National Armed Forces of Cote d'Ivoire (FANCI) and the French peacekeepers, and two civilians were stabbed to death.

Augustin spoke to sources on the scene who believed that the toll was probably much higher. They believe 11 civilians were murdered and report that there was considerable property damage as well. Augustin's on-site sources also revealed that the Catholic Church in Gohitafla was targeted and the priest stabbed to death.

DETERIORATION OF THE NORTH

The situation in the north has deteriorated drastically since the 19 September 2002 coup that plunged the nation into civil conflict and left the north in the hands of the Muslim rebels.

The BBC reports, "Bouake is everything one might expect of a rebel stronghold. Men with Kalashnikovs are everywhere, strolling through the market or showily flexing their muscles from the outboard of a passing jeep. Few have complete uniforms. Many have replaced missing boots with hi-tech trainers; whatever else, the rebels seem to be winning the fashion war.

"Most wear T-shirts in honour of their commander or company - thus a group wearing Cheetah tops can be followed by a procession of "Che Guevaras", and even a gaggle of "Osama Bin Ladens". One company seems to employ only bearded soldiers. All are heavily armed..." (Link 1)

According to the BBC, most civil servants, including teachers, fled south to Abidjan after the September 2002 coup. According to UNICEF, "80 percent of the doctors, nurses and midwives in northern Cote d'Ivoire have fled since the country plunged into civil war in September 2002. Drugs and equipment have been looted from hospitals and health centres and the system for monitoring the outbreak of epidemics has been paralysed." (Link 2)

The rebels remain committed to their original objective - the capture of all of Cote d'Ivoire. The BBC article notes, after one rebel commander recently spoke of secession, rebel leader Guillaume Soro responded by explaining that secession was not an option he was considering. "'Why should we content ourselves with Bouake?' he told an excited crowd in Bouake's football stadium. 'We want all of Ivory Coast!'" (Link 1)

---------------------------------------
A MUSLIM LEADER SPEAKS
---------------------------------------


El Hadj Harrissou Fofana is one of Cote d'Ivoire's most prominent Muslim leaders. He is the president of Al Coran and spokesman for the National Council of Imams and Muezzins of Cote d'Ivoire, comprising 15 Imams and 15 Muezzins. On 29 May, Imam Fofana addressed a huge youth gathering in Abidjan. (Link 3)

Imam Fofana expressed the concern that the nation's peace, historic tolerance, and religious freedom are being threatened by outside Islamist forces and corrupt politicians advancing their own personal political agendas.

Reporting on behalf of the National Council of Imams and Muezzins of Cote d'Ivoire, Imam Fofana said that, over the course of some time, foreign Muslims have come to occupy 85 percent of the senior positions in mosques as Imams and Muezzins, while Ivorian Muslims have been marginalised.

The problem with this, according to Imam Fofana, is that these Muslims have come to be leaders and teachers of Muslims in Cote d'Ivoire (CI), yet they do not understand CI history or culture, its republican institutions, its Constitution, or its electoral code. He also accuses the foreign Muslims of teaching a "blurred" Islam, and charges that politicians and the Islamic organisations in CI have been complicit in supporting the elevation of foreign Muslims into positions of leadership. He says that no one should be surprised therefore that Cote d'Ivoire has changed so much over the past decade.

Imam Fofana called for the preaching of foreign Imams to be monitored and for the rebels to be disarmed.

Imam Fofana also alleged that members of the Rally of the Republicans (RDR), Dr Ouattara's party, recently offered the National Council of Imams and Muezzins of Cote d'Ivoire 60 million FCFA (USD $110,323.00) to run a campaign of disinformation from their mosques, denigrating both the country and its non-Muslim population.

(Rally of Republicans spokesman Mr Cissé Ibrahim Bacongo, denounced the claims as lies and propaganda. Link 4)

According to Imam Fofana, the National Council of Imams and Muezzins of Cote d'Ivoire refused "the money of the corrupt politicians", saying that they would prefer freedom and independence in poverty, to opulence with slavery and destruction. He says the concern must be for peace, for love between Ivorians and foreigners, love between religious communities, and respect for each other and the beliefs of each community.

Imam Fofana appealed to the gathering not to give up, but rather resist the provocations of foreign Islamists and corrupt politicians, and help change the direction of the nation back to the
path of freedom, peace and prosperity.

These words confirm the analysis that at the core of the conflict in Cote d'Ivoire is a battle for the very soul of Cote d'Ivoire - a nation that has historically had a Muslim minority (roughly one third Muslim and one third Christian), secular government and complete religious freedom.

Links

1) Life on hold in rebel-held Bouake
By James Copnall. BBC, Bouake, Ivory Coast. 11 May 2004
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/3700889.stm

2) Cote D Ivoire: EU Re-Equips 25 Health Centres, Mainly in the
North. UN Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN)
Yamoussoukro, 4 June 2004.
http://allafrica.com/stories/200406040751.htmlv

3) Harrissou Fofana: "Il faut ivoiriser les fonctions d'imam et de
muezzin en Cote d'Ivoire."
Notre Voie. 3 June 2004
http://www.eburneanews.net/eb.asp?action=lire&id=8912

4) Accuses par Harrissou Fofanal le RDR et le CNI repondent a l'imam
imposteur. By Ferdinand Yao
Le Patriote (Abidjan) 2 Juin 2004
http://fr.allafrica.com/stories/200406020388.html

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Eritrea: the intolerable suffering of Eritrean evangelicals.

Date: Thursday 10 June 2004
Subj: Eritrea: the intolerable suffering of Eritrean evangelicals.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal.


In May 2002, the Eritrean government banned all but the Sunni Muslims, Eritrean Orthodox Church, Eritrean Catholic Church and Lutheran denominations. The Full Gospel Church (Pentecostal), Assemblies of God, Kale Heywet (SIM), and all other independent and evangelical churches are now banned. A government crackdown on evangelicals (which is tacitly sanctioned by the Orthodox Church) commenced in early 2003. The persecution has been severe and is escalating.

On 24 March 2004 Compass Direct reported, "President Afwerki warned in a public speech that some religious groups in Eritrea were being deluded by foreigners to 'distract from the unity of the Eritrean people and distort the true meaning of religion.' In his remarks, delivered on 5 March during the ceremonial installation of Abune Antonios, the new patriarch of the Eritrean Orthodox Church, Afwerki declared that such 'futile efforts' would not be tolerated by his government."

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

On 4 June 2004, Compass Direct News reported the arrest in Eritrea of three more significant Christian leaders and one prominent, popular Christian singer. Compass Direct names those arrested as:

* HAILE NAIZGI, chairman of the Full Gospel (Mullu Wongel) Church. He was arrested at his home in Asmara on Sunday 23 May and is being held in Asmara's 1st Police Station without access to visitors. Naizgi, married with four children, previously worked as an accountant for World Vision.

* DR KIFLE GEBREMESKEL, who earned his PhD in an American university and formerly worked as a mathematics professor at the University of Asmar. He was also arrested in his home in Asmara on 23 May and is being held in Asmara's 6th Police Station. Dr Gebremeskal is also a leader in the Full Gospel Church, as well as being the chairman of the Eritrean Evangelical Alliance.

* PASTOR TESFATSION HAGOS of the Rema Evangelical Church in Asmara. He was arrested on 27 May while visiting the port city of Massawa. Pastor Hagos is married with 3 children. His whereabouts is unknown.

* HELEN BERHANE, a popular Christian singer aged 29 years, has been incarcerated in a metal shipping container at the Mai Serwa military camp since 13 May. She is refusing to recant her faith or cease Christian activities. She is a member of the Rema Church and had recently released a music CD that was very popular. Her case is similar to that of another evangelical Christian singer, YONAS HAILE, who was arrested in March after releasing a Christian video. It is believed that he is incarcerated at the Sawa Military Center.

This brings the total number of Eritrean evangelicals incarcerated on account of their faith to over 400.

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL REPORT

On 19 May 2004, Amnesty International released a report on Eritrea entitled "'You have no right to ask' - Government resists scrutiny on human rights." (Link 1)

Section 3, entitled "Religious Persecution", is devoted to the issue of persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses and evangelical Protestant minorities. It is a good summary and worth reading.

PRISONS

Section 4 of the AI report is entitled "Torture and ill-treatment of prisoners". It reveals the truly horrific situation of these incarcerated Christians. AI writes that conditions of detention are extremely harsh and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has no access to any Eritrean prisoners or to the prisons.

Most Christian prisoners are held in metal shipping containers brought in from the ports to accommodate the overflow of prisoners. As AI reports, "In August 2003, 57 school students on a summer vacation work project at Sawa army base were imprisoned in containers for possessing bibles and belonging to minority churches."

Compass Direct has reported that whole families and even congregations have been detained in shipping containers. This includes young children and the elderly, purely on account of their faith and their refusal to recant.

AI reports, "Prisoners held in shipping containers are locked up for almost 24 hours a day. Children are held with adults. Containers, which contain no cell furniture, are overcrowded and become extremely hot and suffocating during the day and very cold at night, with little room to sleep or move. The conditions are unhygienic and infectious diseases spread rapidly, especially through absence of toilet facilities and the prevalence of diarrhoea among prisoners forced to use a bucket inside the container for a toilet. One former prisoner told of detainees being forced to lie in diarrhoea as a punishment."

TORTURE

Amnesty International notes, "Torture is systematically practiced within the army for interrogation and punishment, particularly of conscription evaders, deserters and soldiers accused of military offences, and members of minority churches."

One torture method listed by AI is called the "Jesus Christ": "The victim is stripped to the waist [. . .] standing on a block with hands tied to a tree branch; the block is removed, leaving the victim suspended with the feet just off the ground in a crucifix-like posture. Beatings are inflicted on the bare back. This is said to be an extremely severe torture, restricted to only 10-15 minutes to avoid serious lasting injury."

The most common form of torture is "The helicopter": "The victim is tied with a rope [with] hands and feet behind the back, lying on the ground face down, outside in the hot sun, rain or freezing cold nights, stripped of upper garments. This is a punishment allocated for a particular number of days, the maximum reported being 55 days in the Dahlak Kebir island prison, but it is more often one or two weeks. The prisoner is tied in this position 24 hours a day, except for two or three short breaks for meals and toilet functions."

Electric shocks and sexual torture are also used. Christian prisoners are tortured with the aim of forcing a renunciation of faith. Multitudes of evangelical believers of all ages are enduring great suffering, including torture, in preference to renouncing their faith in, and love for, their Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

ERITREAN DENIAL

In January this year, Eritrea objected to the US State Department's condemnation of Eritrea as an abuser of religious freedom. The Eritrean government defiantly declared, "Eritrea is a secular country with absolute freedom of belief." The government boasted of "peaceful coexistence and religious harmony", "freedom and rights of individuals to follow and practice their chosen religion", and that all citizens were fully legally protected from religious persecution and discrimination.

As mentioned in the most recent WEA RL Prayer bulletin, "The Eritrean government has warned leaders of the evangelical minority not to report on their suffering. Nevertheless, the churches release this information, knowing they will be harshly punished, yet hoping their brothers and sisters around the world will pray for them, and governments that believe in freedom and justice will support them."

- Elizabeth Kendal

Link

1) AI - ERITREA: "'You have no right to ask' - Government resists
scrutiny on human rights."
19 May 2004