TURKEY: Turkey seizes 50 Assyrian churches and monasteries, declares them state property

By Patrick Poole

AINA (29.06.2017) – http://bit.ly/2s8DyHY – The Turkish Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet) has seized control of at least 50 Syriac churches, monasteries, and cemeteries in Mardin province, report media sources from Turkey.


The Turkish-Armenian daily Agos reports:

After Mardin became a Metropolitan Municipality, its villages were officially turned into neighbourhoods as per the law and attached to the provincial administration. Following the legislative amendment introduced in late 2012, the Governorate of Mardin established a liquidation committee. The Liquidation Committee started to redistribute in the city, the property of institutions whose legal entity had expired. The transfer and liquidation procedures are still ongoing.

In 2016, the Transfer, Liquidation and Redistribution Committee of Mardin Governorate transferred to primarily the Treasury as well as other relevant public institutions numerous churches, monasteries, cemeteries and other assets of the Syriac community in the districts of Mardin.

The Mor Gabriel Monastery Foundation appealed to the decision yet the liquidation committee rejected their appeal last May. The churches, monasteries and cemeteries whose ownerships were given to the Treasury were then transferred to the Diyanet.

Inquiries of the Mor Gabriel Monastery Foundation revealed that dozens of churches and monasteries had been transferred to the Treasury first and then allocated to the Diyanet. And the cemeteries have been transferred to the Metropolitan Municipality of Mardin. The maintenance of some of the churches and monasteries are currently being provided by the Mor Gabriel Monastery Foundation and they are opened to worship on certain days. Similarly, the cemeteries are still actively used by the Syriac community who visits them and performs burial procedures. The Syriacs have appealed to the Court for the cancellation of the decision.

“We started to file lawsuits and in the meantime our enquiries continued” said Kuryakos Ergün, the Chairman of Mor Gabriel Monastery Foundation. Ergün said they would appeal to the court for the cancellation of nearly 30 title deed registries

Included in the seizure is the 1600-year-old Mor Gabriel Monastery:

Foundation of Mor Gabriel Monastery, filed a court case at the Civil Court of First Instance in Mardin against the registration of title deed records in the name of Treasury.

In the petition filed to the court it has been noted that the properties subject to the court case had been, since ancient times, under the possession and ownership of the Foundation and the significance of Mor Gabriel Monastery has been underlined; “Its history dates back to the 4th century AD. The Monastery is one of the oldest monasteries in the world which is still active and is one of the most ancient religious centers of Syriacs and the entire world with its history of more than 1600 years.

Midyat Syriac Deyrulumur Mor Gabriel Monastery Foundation had been established on the basis of the imperial order of Sultan Abdülmecid Han during the Ottoman Empire in “1267 Islamic calendar (1851/1852 Gregorian calendar) and its status was redefined, became a legal entity, on the basis of the Foundations Law of 13.06.1935 with no 2762.

The Foundation had been recognised as “a religious community foundation” on the basis of a Regulation issued in 2002 by the Directorate General of Foundation and was included in the List of Religious Community Foundations drafted same year. Foundations that I’m not included in this list are in not recognised as religious community foundations.”


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ALGERIA: Ahmaddis sentenced to prison terms

HRWF (30.06.2017) – On 28 June, six Ahmaddis were sentenced by the court of appeals of Batna (430 km from Alger) for “unauthorized fundraising, activity in an unauthorized association and distribution of documents against national interests” . Five of them were sentenced to one year in prison while the sixth one got a suspended sentence of six months. This is the heaviest sentences imposed on Ahmaddis in Algeria. In the first instance, they had been sentenced to 2-4 years in prison and a fine of 300 000 Algerian dinars (2 400 euros).

Waves of arrests and prosecutions of Ahmaddis

Amnesty International (19.07.2017) – http://bit.ly/2stbQFe – Algeria must halt its clampdown against members of the minority Ahmadiyya religious movement, said Amnesty International today, ahead of the appeal hearing on 21 June of six Ahmadis sentenced to up to four years in prison for charges relating to the exercise of their religion.

At least 280 Ahmadi men and women have faced investigation or prosecution over the past year, since a wave of arrests began after failed attempts to register an Ahmadi association and inaugurate a new mosque in 2016.

“The clampdown against Ahmadis over the past year is alarming. This wave of arrests and prosecutions of Ahmadis is a clear indication that the authorities are stepping up restrictions on religious freedom in the country,” said Heba Morayef, North Africa Research Director for Amnesty International.

“Algerian authorities should ensure that the cases against Ahmadis which are solely related to the peaceful practice of their religion are dropped, and immediately release those detained.”

There are an estimated 2,000 Ahmadis in Algeria. Ahmadis consider themselves to be Muslim, however, Algerian officials have made public statements calling them heretics and a threat to Algeria.

In March 2016, Algerian authorities refused an attempt by Ahmadis to register as an association under Algerian law. On 2 June 2016 the police raided a newly-built Ahmadi mosque in Larbaa, in the province of Blida, on the morning of its planned inauguration, and shut it down.

Since then, Amnesty International has learned from local sources that Algerian authorities have initiated judicial proceedings against more than 280 Ahmadis. The charges they face include membership in an unauthorized association, collecting donations without a licence, practising worship in unauthorized places, disseminating foreign propaganda harmful to national interest and “denigrating” the “dogma” and precepts of Islam.

According to members of the Ahmadi community and three lawyers interviewed by Amnesty International, as well as legal documents reviewed by the organization, over a third of those facing criminal proceedings have already been convicted and sentenced to prison terms of up to four years or fines of up to 300,000 Algerian dinars (about 2,750 US dollars). Most are at liberty pending the outcome of their proceedings, and four are currently imprisoned.

On 21 June, six Ahmadis will appear before the Court of Appeals in Batna. They were convicted in first instance of administrating an unregistered association, collecting donations without a licence, and distributing foreign literature threatening national interest. They were sentenced to prison terms of between two and four years and fines of 300,000 Algerian dinars (about 2,750 US dollars) on 27 March. These have been the harshest sentences so far handed to Ahmadis for the peaceful exercise of their religion.

In May, the president of the Ahmadiyya community in Algeria was released after three months in pre-trial detention. He had been convicted on similar charges and received a one-year suspended prison sentence and a fine. Ten other defendants in the same case also received suspended prison terms ranging from three to six months in prison, and fines.

Over the past year Algerian public officials and press have made hateful or discriminatory comments about Ahmadis. In June 2016, The Minister of Religious Affairs and Endowments, Mohamed Aissa, described Ahmadi presence in Algeria as part of a “prepared sectarian invasion”. In February 2017, he stated that Ahmadis are “not Muslim.” In April 2017, Ahmed Ouyahia, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s chief of cabinet called on Algerians to “preserve the country from the Shia and Ahmadiyya sects”.

In a statement on 25 April the Minister of Religious Affairs and Endowments appeared to shift his tone emphasizing that the state “does not intend to combat members of the Ahmadiya sect” and is only enforcing laws on associations and the collection of donations.

However, Algeria has an obligation under Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to ensure the right to freedom of religion. Under international human rights law and standards, this includes the right to manifest that belief in collective worship, to build places of worship, and to collect voluntary financial contributions. 

Algeria’s constitution does not fully guarantee freedom of religion, leaving the regulation of practice and places of worship to restrictive national legislation. National law has specific rules of worship for those considered to be non-Muslims, and collective religious worship outside the scope of what is regulated by the state is a criminal offence. Breaches such regulations, including provisions imposing the use of government-approved public places of worship, and advance notification for religious ceremonies, are punished with one to three years’ imprisonment, and fines between 100,000 and 300,000 Algerian dinars (about 900 and 2,700 US dollars).

“The right to worship collectively is a fundamental aspect of freedom of religion, it is as important as individual freedom of conscience. As long as every religious group, every place of worship is required to get an official seal of approval, there won’t be freedom of religion in Algeria,” Heba Morayef said.

Additional Reading

The Ahmadis of Algeria: the government’s most convenient security threat?


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ISRAEL: Israel’s controversial conversion bill, explained

Israeli politicians and Jewish leaders are fighting again over an age-old question: Who counts as a Jew? And who gets to decide?


By Ben Sales


World-Wide Religious News (29.06.2017) – http://bit.ly/2sYbGsW – This week, Israel’s government inflamed simmering tensions over Jewish conversion when a Cabinet committee advanced a bill that would further empower the country’s ultra-Orthodox Chief Rabbinate. The measure declares that the rabbinate is the only body authorized by the government to perform conversions in Israel.

Defenders of the bill say it consolidates the conversion system in Israel and safeguards its integrity. But the bill has enraged non-Orthodox Israelis and American Jews who see it as a betrayal of Jewish pluralism.

While the bill does not apply to conversions performed outside of Israel, Jewish leaders fear it will impugn the validity of Reform and Conservative Judaism worldwide.

Here’s what you need to know about the controversial legislation.

The bill gives the Chief Rabbinate authority over all official conversions in Israel.

The aim of the bill is to “establish that conversion performed in Israel will be recognized by law only if it is done through the state conversion system,” which is run by the Chief Rabbinate.

In other words, for those who convert to Judaism in Israel, the state will recognize them as Jewish only if they convert through the rabbinate. Any other Jewish conversion performed within Israel, even under private Orthodox auspices, would not be valid in the eyes of the state. But the bill clarifies that private conversions of any denomination would not be outlawed — just unrecognized.

The rabbinate already determines who is Jewish for the purposes of marriage and divorce within Israel. Under the bill, if a non-Jewish resident of Israel wanted to convert to Judaism and gain citizenship under the Law of Return, the rabbinate would also control that process.

The goal is to consolidate Israel’s conversion system under an authority that everyone considers valid.

“Conversion in Israel will be a state-run, uniform conversion, according to Torah law, that will be recognized by all of the Jewish people,” the bill states.

The bill would prevent Israel from recognizing non-Orthodox conversions.

Until last year, the rabbinate controlled all official conversion in Israel. But in March 2016, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that the state must recognize conversions performed by private Orthodox courts outside the rabbinate’s purview.

Religious pluralism advocates celebrated the ruling as a victory because it broke the monopoly of the Chief Rabbinate. Liberal Jewish leaders argued that the next step would be for the court to force recognition of private non-Orthodox conversions in Israel, and a petition before the court asks it to do just that.

The proposed legislation would turn back the clock 15 months, taking away recognition from the private Orthodox courts, and also block any possibility of the state recognizing non-Orthodox conversions performed within Israel.

“They understand that the Supreme Court will grant us what we justly deserve,” said Yizhar Hess, CEO of the Israeli Conservative movement. “This law aims to block the Supreme Court. This strengthens the haredi Chief Rabbinate and will anchor it in a way it isn’t anchored today.”

Some government officials have said the bill would prevent African asylum seekers in Israel from getting a Reform conversion and subsequently obtaining citizenship. But there is no discernible movement among asylum seekers to pursue Jewish conversion.

The bill would not affect conversions performed outside of Israel …

Backers of the bill appear to understand that they cannot risk invalidating Reform and Conservative conversions performed abroad. The measure stresses multiple times that it only applies to conversions performed in Israel, not to any performed outside its borders.

So even if the bill passes, Diaspora Jews who converted through the Reform and Conservative movements can still gain automatic Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return.

“American Reform and Conservative Jews, including Reform and Conservative converts, are considered Jews under the Law of Return,” a senior Israeli official told JTA on Monday. “The proposed conversion law will not change that in any way.”

… but Jewish leaders are still raising hell over it.

If American Jewish leaders are angry about the crisis over the Western Wall, they are apoplectic about this bill. They acknowledge that it does not affect Diaspora conversions. But Jerry Silverman, CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America, warned of a domino effect that could lead the rabbinate one day to extend its reach across the ocean.

“The biggest challenge for the North American Jewish community is codifying the rabbinate as the sole owners of conversion in Israel,” Silverman told JTA on Wednesday. “We think that it will be a domino effect, and it opens the door to give them more decision capability well beyond Israel.”

Silverman has spent the past few days lobbying Knesset members against the bill, and some local American Jewish leaders have made threats in the wake of Sunday’s committee vote. Steven Nasatir, president of Chicago’s federation, told The Times of Israel that any lawmaker who votes for the bill “will not be welcome in our community.”

“This would set back the current reality and make all matters of conversion subject to the furthest right of the ultra-Orthodox world,” Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, told JTA. “It would begin the slow erosion of the Law of Return and affect the validity of conversion throughout the Jewish world.”

This is the latest battle in a decades-long war.

American Jews and haredi Orthodox Israeli politicians have been fighting over this issue for at least three decades; this is just the latest round.

In 1987, a Reform Jewish convert sought citizenship under the Law of Return, and the Israeli Supreme Court allowed it despite haredi protest. Ten years later, a government commission was appointed to come up with a solution to the conversion debate, which had been exacerbated by the mass arrival of Soviet immigrants who had Jewish ancestry but were not necessarily Jewish. The commission recommended a pluralist conversion school that would lead to an actual conversion ceremony performed by the rabbinate.

In 2010, a bill was introduced that would allow a range of local Orthodox rabbis in Israel to perform conversions, but would make the rabbinate the sole authority over all conversions performed in Israel. Amid a massive outcry from Diaspora Jewish leaders, the bill was shelved.

In 2014, the government voted in a Cabinet decision to let those local Orthodox rabbis perform state-recognized conversions — but not under the authority of the rabbinate. After joining the governing coalition the following year, haredi parties succeeded in getting the decision repealed.

Then, a year later, the Supreme Court issued its ruling on private Orthodox conversions. And here we are.



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CHINA: Holy See appeals for the release of Bishop Shao of Wenzhou

ZENIT (26.06.2017) – http://bit.ly/2tnNlhk – The Holy See expressed its “grave concern” after the disappearance of Msgr. Pierre Shao Zhumin, Bishop of Wenzhou, in the coastal province of Zhejiang (Continental China). A statement released by Director of the Holy See Press Office, Greg Burke, on June 26, 2017, pleads for his return, stressing the need to foster “ways of understanding.” The Chinese diocese has had no news regarding the Bishop since May 18.

“The Holy See is observing with grave concern the personal situation of Bishop Peter Shao Zhumin of Wenzhou, forcibly removed from his episcopal see some time ago,” reads the statement. At age 54, he has been bishop of his diocese since the death of his predecessor in September 2016.

“The diocesan Catholic community and his relatives have no news or reasons for his removal, nor do they know where he is being held,” specifies Burke. “In this respect, the Holy See, profoundly saddened for this and other similar episodes that unfortunately do not facilitate ways of understanding, expresses the hope that Bishop Peter Shao Zhumin may return as soon as possible to the diocese and that he can be assured the possibility of serenely exercising his episcopal ministry.”

“We are all invited to pray for Bishop Shao Zhumin and for the path of the Catholic Church in China,” concluded the message.

According to the Churches of Asia Agency (EDA) of the Foreign Missions of Paris, Bishop Wenzhou disappeared from circulation after having been “invited” last May 18 to an interview with functionaries of the local Office of Religious Affairs. Since then, the Bishop has not reappeared in public. On May 22, he made it know that he was in need of wine for Mass, but no one was able to contact him on his mobile phone. According to local sources, Monsignor Shao is in Wenzhou, retained in a police residence.

EDA offered an analysis of the situation, estimating that the diocese of Wenzhou “could be described as emblematic of the efforts the Holy See deploys to foster the unity of the ‘underground’ communities and the ‘official’ local Church.” Efforts, notes the agency, that evidently do not satisfy the Chinese authorities. “

In view of fostering the unity of the two communities, in 2007 Rome appointed Father Vincent Zhu Weifang, member of the “official” clergy, Bishop of Wenzhou, with Father Shao Zhumin, member of the “underground” clergy as Co-adjutor. However, after the death of Monsignor Zhu on September 7, 2016 his successor Monsignor Shao came up against “permanent manoeuvres of interference by the civil authorities in the life of the Church.” He never stopped “being subjected to the harassment of the authorities.”

“With this new ‘incommunicado’ episode that is prolonged, one could think that the young Bishop is facing renewed pressures by the authorities to lead him to come to terms with the religious policy of the government in place,” concludes EDA.



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TAJIKISTAN: Tajikistan bars citizens under 40 from performing hajj

RFE/RL (21.06.2017) – http://bit.ly/2rVnWXc – Authorities in Tajikistan have barred citizens under the age of 40 from performing this year’s annual hajj pilgrimage to Mecca.

Tajikistan’s Committee on Religious Affairs told RFE/RL on June 20 that the decision was made to give older Tajik Muslims more of a chance to undertake the pilgrimage, as Saudi authorities are putting in place stricter quotas.

But many in the Central Asian state believe the ban is an attempt to prevent instances of radicalization among younger generations.

In the past years, the Tajik government has routinely imposed age restrictions for devout Muslims to perform hajj. In 2015, the minimum age was 35.

President Emomali Rahmon’s government has repeatedly called for the strengthening of secular principles in the mostly Muslim country of 8.5 million.

Tajikistan has banned head scarves for schoolgirls, barred minors from mosques, and forced thousands of students to return home from Islamic schools abroad in recent years amid reports that many Tajiks have joined Islamic extremists in Iraq and Syria.



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