MALDIVES: Maldives Ruling Party Should Repudiate Attacks on UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) strongly condemns the verbal and online attacks against UN Special Rapporteur Ahmed Shaheed. The statements by the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) and the online postings of at least one religious scholar include harsh criticism and accusations that Shaheed is an apostate from his Muslim faith. The denunciations of this advocate for religious freedom have even resulted in calls online for his beheading.
According to reports, statements from the PPM, the party of current President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom, accuse Dr. Shaheed of spreading “evil deeds” among Maldivians. “As if this were not enough,” said USCIRF Vice Chair Kristina Arriaga, who recently met with him in Oxford to discuss religious freedom, “the party also called on the public to speak out against Shaheed’s ‘irreligious’ activities, which resulted in online postings accusing him of apostasy and calling for his beheading. Coming from the ruling party, this is nothing less than government-sanctioned incitement to violence. That is unacceptable in the Maldives or any other country.”
Shaheed is currently the United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief. In this key position, he is mandated to “identify existing and emerging obstacles to the enjoyment of the right to freedom of religion or belief and present recommendations on ways and means to overcome such obstacles.” Freedom of religion or belief is intimately linked to freedom of expression. Dr. Shaheed is being attacked by political and religious figures in his home country for exercising his freedom of expression on a variety of issues spanning several countries.
One reported Facebook posting by an alleged religious scholar called for Muslims who have expressed views such as Shaheed’s to “repent,” and if they do not, “Their heads will have to be removed [from their bodies] as a non-believer. [This has to be] implemented by the ruler.” Postings and statements such as this and those by the PPM have resulted in numerous explicit, violent threats against Dr. Shaheed as well as his family.
USCIRF Chairman Daniel Mark added, “The PPM should retract its statements threatening Dr. Shaheed and condemn in the strongest possible terms any calls for action against him. Rather than inciting violence against a fellow citizen, the PPM should protect Dr. Shaheed and indeed any other Maldivian citizen who exercises his or her right to freedom of expression. A government is responsible for protecting its citizens, not being complicit in threats to their lives.”
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom is an independent, bipartisan U.S. federal government commission, the first of its kind in the world. USCIRF reviews the facts and circumstances of religious freedom violations abroad and makes policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State, and Congress. USCIRF Commissioners are appointed by the President and the Congressional leadership of both political parties.
(World Watch Monitor) Yemen is the country where the risk of genocide, or mass killing, rose most last year, says Minority Rights Group International (MRG) in its 2017 Peoples Under Threat index, which also includes a large number of countries in which it is most difficult to live as a Christian.
Nine of the Index’s top 12 are also in the top 12 of Open Doors’ 2017 World Watch List– namely Somalia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya and Nigeria.
MRG calculates its annual index based on a number of indicators directly linked to the level of freedom of religion and expression, including democracy and governance, conflict data, and displacement.
Yemen, for instance, ranks 8th on the MRG Index and 9th on the WWL. The civil war that erupted there in 2014 has caused chaos and lawlessness, creating a climate where oppression can flourish.
Radical Islamist groups such as Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and the Islamic State have exploited the power vacuum in Yemen to gain significant influence. Christians have been killed and abducted, including 16 people killed in an attack on a Christian care home for the elderly in March 2016.
According to MRG’s index, which lists the top 70 countries most at risk of genocide, mass killing or systematic violent repression, two-thirds of the countries where this risk has risen are in Africa.
Also, an increasing number of people are living at “deadly risk” in a growing number of “no-go zones” around the world. MRG says its reports shows “how a lack of access from the outside world allows killing to be perpetrated unchecked in disputed territories, militarized enclaves, and in some cases, whole countries… International isolation is a known risk factor for genocide or mass killing”.
Syria, for example, leads the list for the third consecutive year and, according to the report, UN human rights officials have been “granted no access to Syria since the crisis began in 2011”.
Meanwhile the civil war in Yemen has so far killed more than 8,000 people and injured over 45,000 civilians. The fighting between Iran-backed Houthi rebels in the north and the Saudi-backed government in the south has furthermore displaced more than 3 million people – over 10 per cent of Yemen’s population – reports the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
OCHA says these figures are most likely lower than the reality because of the lack of reporting capacity and people not having access to health centres.
Those who have not been killed or injured in the fighting might still lose their lives in the largest ever recorded cholera outbreak in a single country in a single year, aid agencies warn. With a crumbling health system, with less than half the country’s hospitals operational and a lack of available medication, nearly 2,000 people have died of cholera so far, with an estimated 5,000 Yemenis becoming ill every day. More than 600,000 Yemenis could have cholera before the end of the year, the International Committee of the Red Cross has warned.
Detroit (Agenzia Fides) – A judge Mark Goldsmith in Detroit has temporarily halted the deportations of Chaldean Christians and other Iraqi immigrants ordered last June by virtue of the new immigration rules implemented by the Trump Administration. The measure had already been temporarily blocked by the same judge for shorter periods, and all the suspensions ended yesterday, Monday 24 July. Yesterday’s new ruling by Judge Goldsmith also took note of Iraqi citizens who referred of the risk of being subjected to violence and persecution once back in the country of origin. Goldsmith also pointed out that the criminal and judicial cases weighing on many of the Iraqis threatened with deportation were actually “dormant” cases. The judge declared that the constitutional rights of Iraqi immigrants, many of whom have long been resident in the United States, have been violated, and that guarantees for the protection of fundamental freedoms can be suspended only in rare cas es of foreign invasion or internal insurgence.
The Iraqis already arrested on June 12 at the disposition of the Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE, US Federal Agency responsible for border control and immigration) were 114, but potential expulsion measures threatened about 1,400 immigrants from Iraq. Most of the Iraqis already arrested (see Fides 11/7/2017) lived in the area of Detroit and belonged to Chaldean Christian families. The operation was implemented after the agreement between the United States and Iraq with which the government of Baghdad had agreed to host a number of Iraqi citizens subjected to the expulsion order, while being removed from the black list of affected nations from the so-called “Muslim ban”, wanted by President Donald Trump to prevent access to the United States for citizens from six Muslim majority countries considered as potential “exporters” of terrorists. Even some of the arrested Christians had in the past had problems with justice.
Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako also intervened on the case: in a letter to Chaldean Bishop Frank Kalabat, at the head of the Eparchy of St Thomas the Apostle in Detroit, the Primate of the Chaldean Church expressed solidarity and closeness to Iraqi families affected by the provisions of expulsion, and hoped for an adequate solution to the humanitarian emergency caused by the expulsion measures, also directed against family men with small children.
Now Iraqi immigrants, at risk of deportation, have three months to arrange their legal strategy with their lawyers to render ineffective the expulsion orders issued by the ICE. (GV) (Agenzia Fides, 25/7/2017)
In June, protesters against federal agents’ rounding up more than 100 Iraqi-American immigrants told local media that those who were detained had no prior warning that Immigration and Customs Enforcement would be arresting them.
The report shared that U.S. Democratic Reps. Sander Levin and Brenda Lawrence of Michigan joined members of the Chaldean Christian community gathered in front of the Patrick V. McNamara Federal Building. They held up signs, crosses and American flags, venting their frustration against federal authorities who detained their father, brothers and uncles, many of whom have been in the community for decades.
Late June 20, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington released a letter that conference officials sent to Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, urging him from a moral perspective to defer deportation of the individuals apprehended by ICE, particularly Christians and Chaldean Catholics, “who pose no threat to U.S. public safety” and would be sent back to a region where the persecution of religious minorities continues.
VOP note: Please speak out and pray for our Iraqi brothers and sisters to remain safe in our country.
(World Watch Monitor) The Church in India, especially in the southern state of Kerala, is breathing a sign of relief after Yemen confirmed to India’s foreign minister that Catholic missionary Father Tom Uzhunnalil, kidnapped in Yemen in March 2016, is “alive”.
“We are thrilled to hear that good news,” Cardinal George Alencherry, Major Archbishop of the autonomous Syro-Malabar Church, to which the kidnapped priest belongs, told World Watch Monitor.
Abdulmalik Abduljalil Al-Mekhlafi, Deputy Prime Minister of Yemen, broke the news to Sushma Swaraj, Indian External Affairs (foreign) Minister on 12 July when they met for bilateral talks in the Indian capital.
“We are very hopeful now. The news brings great joy to us,” V A Thomas, first cousin of the kidnapped priest, told World Watch Monitor from their home in Ramapuram, near Palai, in the Christian heartland of Kerala.
“We are very happy with the developments and hope he will be released soon.” -V A Thomas
Father Uzhunnalil, 58, was kidnapped on 4 March in Aden in Yemen, from the Missionaries of Charity home for the elderly. Four nuns were murdered, along with 12 others, during the attack by unidentified gunmen.
While a first false rumour was of the crucifixion of the kidnapped priest on Good Friday 2016, a video of him in captivity surfaced around Christmas 2016, with the visibly unkempt and ailing priest urging the government of India and the Church to ensure his release from captivity.
That led to a series of assurances from the government of India, while the Catholic Church organised several demonstrations, including a day of prayer and candlelit vigils, urging the government to ensure the kidnapped priest’s safe release.
A second video appeal by the priest surfaced on the Internet in May, with the priest stating that serious efforts have not been made by the Church or the government to ensure his release. “They are treating me well to the extent they are able,” Fr Uzhunnalil said slowly in English. “My health condition is deteriorating quickly and I require hospitalization as early as possible.”
“In that video appeal, Father Tom had even requested us [his family] to put pressure [on the government] to ensure his release,” said his cousin, V A Thomas, who was also headmaster to Father Uzhunnalil when he was a student at the local Catholic school in the 1970s.
The extended Uzhunnalil family clan, Thomas pointed out, had been “consistently pleading with everyone to ensure Fr Tom’s release” and have called on several top government leaders.
After the second video emerged, Thomas said that he led a four-member Uzhunnalil delegation to meet P Sathasivam, the Kerala Governor, along with Oommen Chandy, former chief minister of Kerala, on 31 May.
Three days earlier, the federal government had dispatched Richard Hay, a Christian Member of the Indian Parliament (who’d been nominated by the ruling BJP government), to the family in Palai, to assure them that the government was making serious efforts “to bring the back the priest home safely”.
“We are very happy with the developments and hope he will be released soon,” Thomas said.
However, he added that “due to the big public interest in the safety of Fr Tom, there are reports that the demands of the kidnappers have gone up”.
The External Affairs Ministry in its press statement said that the foreign minister has “stressed the government’s concern for the safety and well-being of Father Tom Uzhunnalil … and reiterated the request for continued assistance from the Yemeni authorities in securing his safe and early release”.
According to reports, terror groups such as Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State are said to have bases in parts of Yemen, resulting in instability in the country.
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(Morning Star News) – Islamabad’s claim that “violations” of business visas contributed to the murder of two Chinese evangelists last month served key government purposes.
Lee Zing Yang (Li Xinheng is said to be the more accurate rendering), 24, and Meng Li Si (Meng Lisi), 26, were teaching Chinese to people in Pakistan, and, like any Christian, they also intended to share the gospel with people they met. Pakistani media dutifully broadcast the Interior Ministry spin on their apparent deaths, which accused the couple of “preaching” – suggesting that it violated terms of their business visas (it was not clear how), and wrongly implying that they were exhorting crowds of people to believe in Christ.
Reports state that Lee and Meng were paid 30,000 rupees (US$280) per month to teach Chinese to people in Pakistan at a language institute run by a South Korean, Juan Won Seo. The interior ministry released a statement asserting that security officials told Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan in a June 12 meeting that, “Instead of engaging in any business activity, they went to Quetta and under the garb of learning [the] Urdu language from a Korean national …were actually engaged in preaching.”
The apparent error that they were there to learn Urdu aside, Khan’s announcement, which included a call to tighten processes for issuing business visas, sent the message that the pair’s kidnapping and apparent murder resulted from allegedly violating terms of their visas.
Lee and Meng were kidnapped off the streets of Quetta, capital of northwestern Pakistan’s Balochistan Province, on May 24. The Islamic State-affiliated news agency Amaq reported on June 8 that IS fighters had killed two Chinese teachers being held in Mastung, Balochistan, and IS released a video showing what are believed to be their bodies shot and bleeding.
Pakistan reportedly confirmed that the Chinese teachers had been killed, though it was unclear if officials had recovered their bodies.
The interior minister’s emphasis on the need to shore up the visa process, rather than improving security against Islamic extremists, served the government’s purpose of deflecting blame. It also sent a chilling message to foreign Christian evangelists. Previously the government had leaked news that two Korean Christians, 27-year-old Kown Ki Ye and 23-year-old Lee Ha Gyeong, had been expelled from a private hostel in Quetta after they were discovered “preaching Christianity” to students at Sardur Bahadur Khan Women’s University in Quetta.
“The government has deliberately leaked this information to create panic in the foreign missionary circles,” a source told Morning Star News.
The interior ministry’s spin on the murder of the Chinese pair also served its purpose in relations with China, which has pledged to invest $57 billion in infrastructure in Pakistan designed to link China with the Middle East and Europe. The capital for the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPC) has put China in position to make demands of Pakistan that have raised criticism within Pakistan.
Besides helping to preserve the enormous CPC investment, the government’s statements on the killing of Lee and Meng were done deliberately to check China’s position in bilateral relations, a Foreign Affairs ministry contact told Morning Star News. Pakistan has since bolstered its position vis-a-visa China by boosting security for Chinese nationals.
Pakistan has also deported Juan Won Seo, accusing him of setting up a phony business as a cover for a church and “preaching activities.” A South Korean official has denied this claim. True or not, whether Seo broke any laws by telling others about Christ while operating a language institute in Pakistan remains unclear.
While Islam is the state religion of Pakistan, its constitution states that all citizens have the right to profess, practice, and propagate their religion, as well as the right to freedom of speech subject to “reasonable restrictions in the interest of the glory of Islam.”
What does seem certain is that Pakistani officials have violated international standards of religious freedom and free speech by deporting foreign evangelists and suggesting that those who exercise their faith are responsible for violence done to them.
Kenya (Morning Star News) – Al Shabaab militia over the weekend killed 13 non-Muslims, mostly Christians, in coastal Kenya, sources said.
Village Muslims in the Pandanguo settlement of Lamu County helped Islamic extremists from the Somalia-based Al Shabaab identify locations where the Christians resided, a survivor of the attack told Morning Star News from a hospital in Mpeketoni. Several of the victims were beheaded.
The assailants killed four non-Muslims in Kipini (sometimes called Kadundu) on Sunday (July 9), not far from the Boni forest, a reputed hiding place of Al Shabaab rebels battling the government in Somalia. Early Saturday morning in Jima they killed nine non-Muslims in attacks that began at around 11 p.m. the previous night, shooting some and hacking others to death with machetes, including beheadings, area sources said.
“The Christians were asked to recite the Islamic dogmas, which they could not, hence they were killed,” a source said. “We urged the government to investigate and bring to book these local Muslims who are harboring these Al Shabaab terrorists, because the Christians who were decapitated were farmers.”
Those who managed to flee and survived have had their crops damaged by wild animals and are still in great shock, the source added.
“The government has now beefed up security in the area, and we hope the victims who fled will soon return back, but they need some trauma counseling first,” he said.
Area Christians have now left their villages.
“We are now residing at the police station in Hindi for fear of possible attacked,” one area resident told Morning Star News.
Many area people are still missing or unaccounted for, and there are fears the casualty toll may increase.
Two other sources in Lamu County said Christians in the coastal region of Kenya are in serious crisis as they face food shortages after fleeing their farms.
Acting Interior Secretary Fred Matiang’i has imposed a three-month curfew in Lamu, Tana River, and Garissa counties in an effort to counter Al Shabaab’s attacks. The curfew began on Sunday (July 9) and is in effect until Oct. 9.
Rebels from Al Shabaab, which is allied with Al Qaeda, have launched several attacks in northeast Kenya since Kenyan forces led an African coalition into Somalia against the rebels in October 2011 in response to terrorist attacks on tourists and others on Kenya’s coast. Attacks on non-Muslims on Kenya’s coast have also continued.
Kenya ranked 18th on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2017 World Watch List of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.
India (Morning Star News) – Villagers in Uttar Pradesh state, India beat Christians, forced them to participate in Hindu rituals and have refused to provide them water, sources said.
Four families who were attacked in Jalalabad village, Ghazipur District rely on the water to irrigate their fields, they said.
“How will we survive if we don’t grow our crops?” Sasikala Kumari asked Morning Star News, noting that the village head and police have allowed the Hindus to cut off the Christians water supply. “They have all joined together and are conspiring against us.”
Hindu villagers on April 25 beat with sticks Manoj Kumar, his wife Pushpa Kumari and three other Christian couples, including Sasikala Kumari and her husband Ramkreet Ram – and accused them of forcibly converting Hindus to Christianity.
“The mob supported by the village president forced us to drink gangajal [water from the Ganges River, considered holy), eat tulsi [basil considered holy] leaves and declare that we deny Christ,” Pushpa Kumari told Morning Star News. “When we resisted, the men and women of the village beat us even more severely.”
The four couples along with four other Christians refused to participate in the ritual or deny Christ. A total of 13 other younger Christians felt compelled to participate in the Hindu ritual and deny Christ, they said.
“The youths were forced by the extremists to consume gangajal and tulsi leaves and deny Christ,” Pushpa Kumari told Morning Star News. “The village president instigates the mob to attack whoever converts to Christianity.”
When the Christians went to the Dullapur police station to file a complaint against the assailants, village President Santosh Kumar Gupta arrived also and accused them of forcible conversion.
Gupta denied that he and the other Hindus pressured the Christians to deny Christ and participate in the Hindu ritual, telling Morning Star News that the incident was a mere quibble between the two groups.
The matter went before police, he said.
Manoj Kumar, who leads prayers in his house on Sundays since the families do not have the means to travel into town for worship, said police listened to both sides.
“The villagers were against us, they made false allegations that we are forcibly converting the people,” Manoj Kumar said. “The police asked the villagers to let anyone follow their own Dharma [religious teaching] peacefully, and that nobody shall disturb the prayer services in the village’s house church.”
In the presence of the village head, the Hindu villagers said they would abide by the police request, and neither side filed a formal complaint. The agreement, however, made no mention of water service, and the villagers have refused to sell it to the Christians.
“As a result, we aren’t allowed our share of supply of water in the fields,” Manoj Kumar told Morning Star News. “We are ready to pay the hourly price, but the president and villagers have decided to not let us irrigate. Our field is going dry; it’s burned dead.”
Village President Gupta told Morning Star News he cannot prevent the Hindus from cutting off the Christians’ water.
“As far as the problem about the supply of water, it’s personal,” he said. “If nobody in the village wants to sell them water from the bore wells, it’s their personal choice.”
Asked if a basic commodity like water can be denied to a people on religious grounds in a secular country like India, Gupta said the families have not complained to him about it. Had they come, he said, he would have resolved it.
The families said the village president’s statement was untrue.
“We went to him twice now,” Pushpa Kumari said. “Gupta’s wife told us to bring the attackers to their house, and she will solve our problem. Why would the attackers come?”
The Christians approached the village head a third time on Wednesday (June 14), but they said he only told them, “You must get down from your high horse. Stop the worship services in the village. Stop following Christ, only then water will be supplied to your fields.”
Some of the attackers, identified only as Vijay, Hari, Rajender, Mukh Lal and Sonu, are part of a village committee that aids of the village president, Manoj Kumar said.
The sub-inspector of police of Dullapur in whose presence the matter was settled in the first week of May declined to comment, saying he had been transferred to another post.
Since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took power in May 2014, the hostile tone of his National Democratic Alliance government, led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), against non-Hindus has emboldened Hindu extremists in several parts of the country to attack Christians, religious rights advocates say.