UNITED KINGDOM: Ashers ‘gay cake’ row: Bakers win Supreme Court appeal

The Christian owners of a Northern Ireland bakery have won their appeal in the so-called “gay cake” discrimination case.
 

BBC (10.10.2018) – https://bbc.in/2pXYimf – The UK’s highest court ruled that Ashers bakery’s refusal to make a cake with a slogan supporting same-sex marriage was not discriminatory.

 

The five justices on the Supreme Court were unanimous in their judgement.

 

The high-profile dispute began in 2014 when the bakery refused to make a cake with the slogan “Support Gay Marriage”.

 

The customer, gay rights activist Gareth Lee, sued the company for discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and political beliefs.

 

But the bakery has always insisted its objection was to the message on the cake, not the customer.

 

Ashers lost the case and the subsequent appeal, but on Wednesday the firm won its appeal at the Supreme Court.

 

The legal battle – which has lasted four-and-a-half years and has cost nearly £500,000 so far – has raised questions over equality and freedom of conscience.

 

Ashers bakery’s general manager Daniel McArthur said he was delighted and relieved by the ruling.

 

“I know a lot of people will be glad to hear this ruling today, because this ruling protects freedom of speech and freedom of conscience for everyone,” Mr McArthur said outside the court.

 

Mr Lee said the case had made him feel like a second-class citizen and that he was now concerned about “the implications for all of the gay community”.

 

“To me, this was never about conscience or a statement. All I wanted to do was to order a cake in a shop,” he said.

 

Northern Ireland’s Attorney General John Larkin welcomed the decision.

 

The Equality Commission for Northern Ireland, which has supported Gareth Lee’s action against Ashers, said it would study the implications of the judgement carefully.

 

“There is a concern that this judgement may raise uncertainty about the application of equality law in the commercial sphere, both about what businesses can do and what customers may expect,” said Dr Michael Wardlow, the organisation’s chief commissioner.

 

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UNITED KINGDOM: ‘Gay cakes’: UK Supreme Court finds in favour of Ashers Baking

By Frank Cranmer

Law & Religion UK (11.10.2018) – https://bit.ly/2QVCT8A – Yesterday, the Supreme Court handed down judgment in Lee v Ashers Baking Company Ltd & Ors (Northern Ireland) [2018] UKSC 49.


The background

 

As every regular reader will know, Gareth Lee is a gay man associated with QueerSpace, an organisation for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered community in Northern Ireland. To mark the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, in May 2014 he ordered a cake from Ashers Baking bearing the slogan “Support Gay Marriage” and a picture of the Sesame Street puppets Bert and Ernie. He had previously bought things at the same branch of Ashers and had become aware, from a leaflet, that he could have a cake iced with a graphic of his own design. Ashers initially accepted his order but Mrs Karen McArthur subsequently telephoned him to say that his order could not be fulfilled because Ashers was “a Christian business and, in hindsight, she should not have taken the order”: she apologised and refunded his money.

 

In Lee v Ashers Baking Co Ltd & Anor [2015] NICty 2, Mr Lee claimed before Belfast County Court that he had been discriminated against, contrary to the provisions of the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2006 and/or the Fair Employment and Treatment (Northern Ireland) Order 1998. District Judge Brownlie held the company liable for unlawful discrimination contrary to the provisions of the 2006 Regulations and the 1998 Order and ruled that it could not rely on the protection afforded by Article 9 ECHR. That judgment was subsequently upheld on appeal; in Lee v McArthur & Ors [2016] NICA 29 the Court [Morgan LCJ, Weatherup and Weir LJJ] held that Ashers had discriminated directly against Mr Lee on grounds of sexual orientation by refusing to make the cake and, further, that the Regulations and Order were not incompatible with Articles 9, 10 or 14 ECHR.

 

Ashers Baking and the McArthurs appealed; their appeal was heard together with two associated references by the Attorney General for Northern Ireland on devolution issues.

 

The judgment

 

The Supreme Court’s judgment, though unanimous, was in two parts: Lady Hale PSC gave judgment on the discrimination issue, while the judgment on the procedural issue as to whether or not an appeal lay against the decision of the Northern Ireland Court of Appeal was given by Lord Mance. What follows concentrates on the discrimination issue.

 

In the opinion of Lady Hale, the substantive question before the Court was

 

“whether it is unlawful discrimination, either on grounds of sexual orientation, or on grounds of religious belief or political opinion, for a bakery to refuse to supply a cake iced with the message ‘support gay marriage’ because of the sincere religious belief of its owners that gay marriage is inconsistent with Biblical teaching and therefore unacceptable to God. If the prima facie answer to either question is ‘yes’, then questions arise as to the rights of the bakery and its owners to freedom of religion and freedom of expression, under articles 9 and 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, and what difference, if any, those rights might make to that prima facie answer.” [1].

 

In the County Court, DJ Brownlie had concluded that support for same sex marriage was “indissociable” from homosexual orientation. Lady Hale rejected that conclusion as a misunderstanding of

 

“… the role that ‘indissociability’ plays in direct discrimination. It comes into play when the express or overt criterion used as the reason for less favourable treatment is not the protected characteristic itself but some proxy for it” [25].

 

She went on to point out that people of all sexual orientations supported gay marriage and that it was not a proxy for any particular sexual orientation [25]. Nor did she agree with the Court of Appeal that the message on the cake could only benefit gay or bisexual people:

 

“It could also accrue to the benefit of the children, the parents, the families and friends of gay people who wished to show their commitment to one another in marriage, as well as to the wider community who recognise the social benefits which such commitment can bring” [33].

 

Further, there had been no associative discrimination because “In a nutshell, the objection was to the message and not to any particular person or persons” [34]. Moreover, under the provisions of the Fair Employment and Treatment (Northern Ireland) Order 1998, “the less favourable treatment prohibited by FETO must be on the grounds of religious belief or political opinion of someone other than the person meting out that treatment” [45: emphasis added]. The objection had not been to Mr Lee because he, or anyone with whom he associated, held a political opinion supporting gay marriage: the McArthurs had objected to being required to promote the message on the cake: “The less favourable treatment was afforded to the message, not to the man” and Ashers had been quite prepared to serve him in other ways [47].

 

As to the issue of Convention rights, she noted that rights under Articles 9 and 10 might be limited or restricted in accordance with the law where the limitation was necessary in a democratic society and pursued a legitimate aim:

 

“It is, of course, the case that businesses offering services to the public are not entitled to discriminate on certain grounds. The bakery could not refuse to provide a cake – or any other of their products – to Mr Lee because he was a gay man or because he supported gay marriage. But that important fact does not amount to a justification for something completely different – obliging them to supply a cake iced with a message with which they profoundly disagreed. In my view, they would be entitled to refuse to do that whatever the message conveyed by the icing on the cake – support for living in sin, support for a particular political party, support for a particular religious denomination. The fact that this particular message had to do with sexual orientation is irrelevant to the FETO claim” [55: emphasis added].

Nor did she believe that the Fair Employment and Treatment (Northern Ireland) Order had to be read or given effect “in such a way as to compel providers of goods, facilities and services to express a message with which they disagree, unless justification is shown for doing so” [56]. Furthermore:

 

“As the courts below reached a different conclusion on this issue, they did not have to consider the position of the company separately from that of Mr and Mrs McArthur. It is the case that in X v Switzerland… and in Kustannus Oy Vapaa Ajattelija Ab v Finland… the European Commission of Human Rights held that limited companies could not rely upon article 9(1) to resist paying church taxes. In this case, however, to hold the company liable when the McArthurs are not would effectively negate their convention rights. In holding that the company is not liable, this court is not holding that the company has rights under article 9; rather, it is upholding the rights of the McArthurs under that article” [57: emphasis added]

 

Appeal allowed.

 

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FRANCE: Is the ban on hijab, niqab, burqa… Islamophobia?

By Willy Fautré, Human Rights Without Frontiers

HRWF (18.10.2018) – In September, the French police arrested Raïf Redouane, a dangerous criminal who had escaped from prison in early July and had been on the run for two months. The investigation revealed that he had been able to move unnoticed from one place to another in France. His secret: wearing a full veil… This incident reactivated the debates about the ban on Islamic full-body attire in the country.

In 2010, France, which has the largest population of Muslim culture (about 5 million) in Europe introduced a ban on full-face niqab and burqa veils in public but the law remains widely unimplemented.

Debates in Western Europe, in particular in France, about the ban on various sorts of clothing that do not allow to identify a person, often veer into accusations of alleged islamophobia while lawmakers insist that it is a matter of security, integration and social cohesion. Society in general is also opposed to the wearing of hijab, niqab and burqa in the public space and by staff in public institutions. ‘Historical’ Muslims in Western Europe also perceive this religious attire negatively.

Muslim majority countries, such as secular post-Soviet states, impose similar bans and are of course never accused of islamophobia. They view it as an attempt by ‘alien’ forms of Islam to change their secular way of life as well as their peaceful practice of their religion, and to radicalize their youth. Hence the inappropriate use of the accusation of “islamophobia” in historically Christian majority countries.

In the last resort, the rule of law in France and in Europe is determined by the European Court of Human Rights.

The judgements of the European Court have been very consistent, supporting

  • the prohibition for a teacher in an elementary school from wearing a headscarf in her class (Dahlab v. Switzerland, 2001)
  • restrictions from wearing the veil for university students (Sahin v. Turkey, 2005)
  • a ban on the face veil in all public spaces (SAS v. France, 2014)
  • the barring of civil servants from donning the headscarf (Ebrahimian v. France, 2015)
  • the right of three Belgian municipalities to adopt a by-law banning the wearing in public places of clothing that conceals the face (Dakir v. Belgium, 2017).

 


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EUROPEAN UNION: Most Western Europeans favor at least some restrictions on Muslim women’s religious clothing

By Ariana Monique Salazar and Scott Gardner

Pew Research Center (17.09.2018) – https://pewrsr.ch/2Ep3IRc – A Danish law that took effect in August makes it illegal for Muslim women to wear face-covering veils – such as burqas or niqabs – in public. Austria, Belgium and France, as well as parts of Italy and Spain, have enacted similar laws in recent years, contributing to government restrictions on religion in the region.

 

These laws are largely in line with Western European attitudes on the issue. Most non-Muslim adults in Western Europe favor at least some restrictions on the religious clothing of Muslim women who live in their country, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey of 15 countries in the region.

 

The prevailing view (a regional median of 50%) is that Muslim women should be allowed to wear religious clothing as long as it does not cover their face. Fewer (regional median of 23%) say Muslim women should not be allowed to wear any religious clothing. And a regional median of 25% take the more permissive view that Muslim women should be allowed to wear any religious clothing they choose.

 

In the United Kingdom, for example, 53% of non-Muslim adults say Muslim women in the UK should be allowed to wear religious clothing as long as it does not cover their face, while 19% favor restricting all religious clothing. Roughly a quarter (27%) support allowing Muslim women to wear the religious clothing of their choosing.

 

The recently enacted laws in European countries do not explicitly target Muslim women’s dress.  In the case of Denmark, for instance, the statute prohibits face coverings except for “recognizable purposes,” such as cold weather.

 

Proponents of the recent laws point to public safety and other reasons for the measures. Opponents say the laws are unfairly directed at Muslims and that people should have the freedom to wear what they want.

 

Overall, most people in Western Europe say they accept religious minorities – Muslims included. For example, a median of 66% of non-Muslim adults in the region say they would accept a Muslim as a member of their family, according to a separate question in the recent survey.

 

Yet even among non-Muslims with positive feelings about Muslims, large shares in most countries still favor banning face coverings. Among those who say they would be willing to accept a Muslim in their family, a median of 55% support banning facial coverings, and this includes majorities in Germany, the United Kingdom, Austria, Switzerland and the Netherlands. This is not the case in every country, however. For example, about six-in-ten Portuguese adults with these positive feelings about Muslims favor no restrictions on religious clothing.

 

Among Western Europeans who say they would be unwilling to accept a Muslim in their family, there is relatively significant support for banning all religious clothing.  For example, in France, 43% of those who would not want Muslims as relatives support a total ban, compared with only 16% among those who are willing to accept Muslims in their families.

 

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CHINA: Twenty banned religious groups

FOREF (15.10.2018) – https://bit.ly/2pVeaFS – On September 18, 2017, the revamped China Anti-Cult (xie jiao) website reiterated the list of banned groups which had been listed publicly in 2014. Of the total 20 groups, eleven were listed as being “dangerous”:

 

  1. Falun Gong (法轮功)
  2. The Church of Almighty God (全能神)
  3. The Shouters (呼喊派)
  4. The Disciples Society (⻔门徒会)
  5. Unification Church (统⼀一教)
  6. Guanyin Method (观⾳音法⻔门)
  7. Bloody Holy Spirit (⾎血⽔水圣灵)
  8. Full Scope Church (全范围教会)
  9. Three Grades of Servants (三班仆⼈人派)
  10. True Buddha School (灵仙真佛宗)
  11. Mainland China Administrative Deacon Station (中华⼤大陆⾏行行政执事站)


See the full article (25 pages) as published by CESNUR earlier this year: The Black-Lists: The Evolution of China’s List of “Illegal and Evil Cults” by Edward A. Irons

Abstract

In China, departments under the central government have published lists of banned and illegal religious groups since 1995. This practice can be seen as an extension of traditional ways of categorizing heterodox associations dating back to imperial times. Groups on the current list are often identified as xie jiao—normally translated as “evil cults.” The list is thus directly connected to questions of the categorization of religion in China. The study of the lists provides insight into the government’s evolving policy on religion, as well as the legal environment for religious activity.

 

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VIETNAM: Leader of banned Vietnam Buddhist sect expelled from Thanh Minh Zen monastery

Radio Free Asia (08.10.2018) – https://bit.ly/2ElvSNa – A high-profile human rights activist and supreme patriarch of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) has been expelled from the Thanh Minh Zen monastery in Ho Chi Minh City, where he had been under house arrest since 2003, supporters said.

 

Thich Quang Do had been under extreme state surveillance while interned at the monastery for practicing his religion and being an advocate of religious freedom and democracy.

 

In a statement, the International Buddhist Information Bureau (IBIB) said that the 91-year-old patriarch had been asked on Sept. 15 to leave the monastery by its superior monk Thích Thanh Minh as his presence had become a distraction to the daily operations of the monastery.

 

The Vietnamese government, which does not recognize the church, had been trying to move Thich Quang Do out of the monastery for the past two years, and he vowed to stay unless asked to leave by the superior monk himself.

 

Once the monk made the request, the patriarch left immediately, moving from one pagoda to another within the city with no long term living arrangements. He then boarded a train for his native Thai Binh province in the north.

 

Speaking to RFA’s Vietnamese service, IBIB director Vo Van Ai explained the various difficulties that the intrusive police presence caused the monastery during the patriarch’s house arrest.

 

“People don’t want to visit the monastery because they are afraid of being monitored by the police. They even took pictures of everyone visiting the monastery,” he said.

 

Vo said that life inside the monastery had been “just like a prison” for the elderly patriarch.

 

“There is a police checkpoint right at the front of the monastery so they can watch him closely. Even when they let him out to visit the hospital, police would follow him,” Vo said.

 

The IBIB is concerned that in the remote northern province, Thich Quang Do will have limited access to communications, health care and visits from UBCV followers.

 

Vo quoted Thich Quang Do as saying he intended to carry on with his religious practice in his hometown.

 

“The church is still the same. It is only when I die that I can’t work for the church. I can’t leave the church,” Vo quoted the patriarch as saying in an Oct. 5 telephone call.

 

Reported and translated by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Written in English by Eugene Whong.

 

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IRAQ: USAID and Knights of Columbus in agreement to help Mid East Christians

Catholic News Agency (12.10.2018) – https://bit.ly/2CKvHZU – The Knights of Columbus have signed an agreement with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to cooperate in assisting religious minorities in the Middle East rebuild their communities following the persecution and genocide of the Islamic State.

 

The joint effort was agreed in a memorandum of understanding announced Oct. 12 and will begin in Iraq, before being rolled out throughout the region.

 

Andrew Walther, Vice President for Strategic Communications for the Knights of Columbus, said that the agreement was an important advance in helping the Christian communities who had suffered under IS.

 

“This memorandum is important in itself,” he told CNA. “But it is also illustrative of a wider engagement with, commitment to, and prioritization of persecuted communities in the region by USAID – not only Christians but Yazidis, Shi’a Muslims and others.”

 

Carl Anderson, the Supreme Knight and head of the Catholic fraternal order, released a statement Friday welcoming the news.

 

“The Knights of Columbus is pleased to work together with USAID in the important work being done to stabilize these communities and hope that our joint and combined efforts will bring hope and concrete improvement to the situation confronting minority communities targeted by ISIS,” Anderson said.

 

“Vice President Mike Pence and [USAID] Administrator Mark Green are to be commended for working to ensure that these communities are not overlooked by American government assistance.”

 

USAID plans to work closely with the Knights, and local faith and community leaders, to deliver aid rapidly to persecuted communities, according the memorandum signed Friday.

 

“Crucially,” the document states, “the support will flow directly to individuals and households most in need of help.”

 

In the agreement, USAID recognized “the unique expertise and relationships of trust that organizations like Knights of Columbus has forged with local and faith-based organizations in the region.”

 

According to the memorandum, partnerships with the Knights and similar organizations will form a crucial part of delivering the Genocide Recovery and Persecution Response Program in the Middle East announced last year by Vice President Mike Pence.

 

Andrew Walther explained that these partnerships had historical roots.

 

“Almost exactly 100 years ago there was a real public-private partnership in the United States to help ensure the survival of Christian communities being persecuted throughout the Ottoman Empire,” he said.

 

“Under the Wilson administration, several organizations including, in a modest way, the Knights partnered with the government to deliver aid to these communities under threat. Reviving this historical cooperation will make our combined efforts that much more effective for the benefit of those Christians struggling to survive in their own land.”

 

USAID is responsible for delivering the program and currently has more than $195 million in planned and active efforts to support rebuilding in northern Iraq.

 

In addition to advocacy work on behalf of persecuted minorities, the Knights of Columbus Charities has committed more than $20 million in aid to the region since 2014. An additional $5 million is expected to be committed over the next six months.

 

Two years ago, the Knights produced a report detailing IS atrocities in the region. That report was instrumental in successive U.S. secretaries of state designating the treatment of religious minorities in the region by Islamic State as genocide.

 

The memorandum also committed both organizations to “enhance our collective response to vulnerable populations to help preserve and promote pluralism in the Middle East” through assistance to a number of communities hit hard by IS, including Yazidis, Christians, Shi’a Muslims, and other ethnic and religious communities.

 

“Our work with USAID is intended to help these populations survive and prosper in lands they have called home for centuries, and even millennia. We cannot allow ISIS to succeed in driving them out,” Anderson said.

 

USAID has partnered with religious communities and organizations in carrying out its work since its establishment in the 1960s.

 

Aid to the persecuted Christian communities in Iraq was one of the central focuses of the the Knight of Columbus’ annual convention held in August.

 

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EGYPT: Military court sentences 17 people to death for the attack on Coptic churches

Sentenced another 19 defendants to life imprisonment or several years in prison. For the judges they are guilty of membership of the Islamic State. Activists and NGOs against the trial in a military court. “Horrible” attacks, but an “unjust” proceeding do not guarantee justice.


AsiaNews (12.10.2018) – https://bit.ly/2CIRgdl – Cairo – A military court in Egypt has sentenced to death 17 people, held responsible for a series of attacks against some Coptic Christian churches in the country, which caused dozens of victims and wounded between 2016 and 2017 to the Cairo, Alexandria and Tanta.

 

According to Mena State Agency, in the context of criminal proceedings another 19 defendants were sentenced to life imprisonment or sentences between 10 and 15 years in prison.

 

The Islamic State (IS, ex Isis) had claimed responsibility for the attacks, pointing out that the suicide bombers and assailants who blew themselves up inside the churches were militants or affiliated to the jihadist group.

 

The cases that were the object of the trial concerned in particular the attacks against three Christian places of worship: the Coptic Orthodox church of Saint Peter’s in the Abaseya district in Cairo, which caused 29 victims; the bombings of April 2017 at Coptic churches in Tanta and Alessandria, where 45 people died.

 

Anonymous sources of the Egyptian magistracy report that the condemned were also found guilty of membership of the Islamic State; some of them also for an attack launched on January 16 last year against a police checkpoint in Naqab, a desert area in the south-west of Egypt.

 

During the initial stages of the trial, the Minister of Justice Nabil Sadeq had requested the referral of the 48 defendants to the military court, on charges of having created terrorist cells in the governorates of Cairo and Mena. A choice criticized by some activists and NGOs, who judge the whole process “unjust”.

 

There is no doubt that the defendants have committed “horrible crimes,” Amnesty International says in a statement, but the death sentence at the conclusion of an “unjust military trial” does not do justice. They deserved a “civil proceeding”.

 

In a nation of almost 95 million people with a large Muslim majority, Coptic Christians are a substantial minority of around 10% of the total population. Between 2016 and 2017 the Land of the Pharaohs recorded a series of bloody attacks, which involved the Christian community itself.

 

The escalation of violence led to fears of the cancellation of Pope Francis’ Apostolic journey to Egypt, April last year. However, the pontiff respected the program by meeting the president of the Republic, the great imam of al-Azhar and celebrating mass in front of tens of thousands of faithful.

 

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CHINA: The Church of Almighty God: Over 25 years of persecution

 – Religious refugees from China should not be sent back to their country where they would be at risk of being arrested and tortured, sometimes to death. They should be granted political asylum – 

HRWF (15.10.2018) – On March 27, 1991, Chen Jun and 13 other Christians from Henan Province went to the city of Harbin in Heilongjiang Province for a religious gathering. They were arrested on their way back and were held in the Henan Labor Camp for two years. Chen Jun was brutally tortured by the police in the labor camp resulting in serious health problems but was denied access to medical care. After his release, he was arrested twice more, and his health condition grew worse and worse. In September 1996, he was brutalized to death by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). He was then only 46 years old.

More than 20 years later, Ms Zhang Xiaoyue, who was born in 1964 and lived in Sankou (Anhui Province), started believing in the message of Jesus Christ in 1996 and joined The Church of Almighty God (CAG) one year later. On September 2, 2014, Zhang Xiaoyue was arrested by the police of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) because she was practising her faith in The Church of Almighty God. She was sentenced to three years in prison. The prison guards deprived her of sleep, food and drinks, and had her tortured by her inmates because she refused to recant her faith. She died from their treatment. She was then 50.

During that period and afterwards, hundreds of Christians belonging to The Church of Almighty God were tortured to death. See our report “Tortured to Death” at http://hrwf.eu/forb/our-reports/

CHEN JUN, A CHRISTIAN, DIED FROM THE CCP’s RE-EDUCATION THROUGH FORCED LABOR 

Condemned as a counterrevolutionary for believing in God—Arrested, tortured, and paraded through the streets
On March 27, 1991, Chen Jun and 13 other Christians went to Yongyuan Town in Harbin, Heilongjiang Province to attend a one-week religious gathering. On his way back, Chen Jun was carrying about 200 copies of spiritual books when he was arrested by the police at the train station and sent to a local detention center.
At that time it was only 4 or 5 degrees Celsius (about 40 degrees Fahrenheit) in Heilongjiang. The police handcuffed his arms behind his back on a concrete column and continually poured cold water over his head, his body, and into his boots. They forced him to sit cross-legged on a cold woodden floor for 33 days in a row and did not allow him to move. When he did, even a little bit, they would punch and kick him, leaving the skin of his ankles peeling off, and even instructed other prisoners to beat him.
On April 8, 1991, the government of Yongyuan Town in Harbin City, Heilongjiang Province hung signs on Chen Jun and the other thirteen Christians and paraded them through the streets for the crimes of “being anti-Party, counterrevolutionary, anti-humanity, anti-government, and attempting to overthrow the regime.” Thirty-three days later, Chen Jun was transferred to the Yongcheng City Public Security Bureau in Henan Province and the other 13 were sent to a local facility for detention.
In late June 1991, Public Security Bureau staff tried to blackmail Chen Jun’s family for 7,000 RMB, but they barely had enough to make ends meet and could not come up with the money.
On July 6, 1991, two officers of the Yongcheng National Security Brigade took Chen Jun back home. His wife saw her husband’s face was pale and gaunt, and he even lacked the strength to walk. The officers exploited that opportunity to extort 350 RMB from her and told her: “If you continue to believe in God, your children will suffer. They won’t be able to join the military or get into college in future.” She had no choice but to give the two children’s tuition and all of their living expenses to the police (she was not given a receipt). But after taking the money, they took Chen Jun back to the Yongcheng Public Security Bureau.

Incredible torture over two years of forced labor

On July 7, 1991, the Yongcheng Public Security Bureau sentenced Chen Jun to two years of hard labor for “disrupting social order, being counterrevolutionary, anti-Party, anti-government, and subverting state power.” They used a coal truck to secretly take him to the labor re-education camp in Henan Province’s Shangqiu City without telling anything to his family. His wife did not find out until late August.
The guards in the labor camp frequently told the other prisoners to punch and kick Chen Jun and snatch his food. He became unbearably hungry. He had to salvage others’ leftover steamed buns from trash cans to take the edge off his hunger. On top of that, he was forced to do very hard labor such as carrying cement. Over time, carrying such heavy loads caused him to become extremely weak.
One day, in August 1992, Chen Jun’s wife visited him and saw that his face and body were swollen. He told her that he could no longer carry cement because he had gotten enteritis and the police forced him to peel garlic every day. If he did not complete a certain amount per day, he was not allowed to eat or sleep. Layers of skin came off his fingers, but he had no other choice than to tolerate the pain and to continue working….
In late August 1993, Chen Jun was released at the end of his prison term. A medical exam showed that he had gotten hepatitis with jaundice. Because he had not received timely treatment in prison, there was serious swelling in his entire body. He was lacking strength, and had completely lost the ability to do any labor. However, the police still required him to report to the Mangshan Town government once a month and he was also forced to undergo re-education. His condition grew much more serious during that time. His family sold all of their valuable possessions to pay for his treatment and borrowed over 8,000 RMB from others. They were in dire straits.

Repeated arrests and persecuted to death

One day in March 1994, at past 12 a.m., three officers from the Mangshan Police Station suddenly came to Chen Jun’s home and without showing any paperwork wantonly searched the house. They came up empty-handed, but arrested Chen Jun again on the alleged ground that someone had reported he had been spreading the gospel. They detained him in a local detention facility. While he was locked up, the police extorted over 100 RMB from his family. After 17 days they saw that his condition had become very serious and feared being held responsible. They then released him to avoid any trouble.
One day in March 1995, during the night, two officers from the Mangshan Police Station jumped over a wall to enter the courtyard of Chen’s home and forcibly took him to the station although he was seriously weak. The next morning, they saw that he was incurably ill and he could die at any moment. Only then they agreed to send him home, warning him not to practice his faith any longer.
In late 1995, Chen Jun became bedridden as a consequence of the Chinese Communist Party’s unrelenting persecution. He passed away on September 19, 1996 at the age of 46.

CHRISTIAN ZHANG XIAOYUE DIED FROM FOOD DEPRIVATION AND BEATINGS FOR KEEPING HER FAITH 

Ms Zhang Xiaoyue, who was born in 1964 and lived in Sankou (Huangshan City, Huangshan District, Anhui Province), started believing in the message of Jesus Christ in 1996 and joined The Church of Almighty God (CAG) one year later.

On September 2, 2014, Zhang Xiaoyue was arrested by the police of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) because she was practising her faith in The Church of Almighty God. She was sentenced to three years in prison and was killed while serving her sentence. She was then 50. Below is Zhang’s story of her persecution to death.

Around 5 a.m. on September 2, 2014, the police from Huangshan District, Huangshan City (Anhui Province) carried out a concerted operation resulting in the arrest of five local Christians from The Church of Almighty God. Zhang Xiaoyue was one of them.

At about 8 a.m. that morning, Zhang Xiaoyue’s mother went to her home but saw no sign of her. Later on, she received a phone call informing her that Ms Li Ru (alias), a Christian from the same Church, had been arrested because of her beliefs in the teachings of The Church of Almighty God and the police had confiscated a lot of spiritual books found in her house. After this call, she rushed to her daughter’s house to look for her again and discovered that all her spiritual books had disppeared. She figured out that her daughter had also been arrested by the police.

Three or four days later, Yu Zhe, a village cadre, went with two police officers to Zhang Xiaoyue’s mother’s home and said to her, “Your daughter has been arrested and is being held in a detention center because of her beliefs in The Church of Almighty God. Take some clothing for her.”

Zhang Xiaoyue’s mother became extremely anxious and angrily asked them, “My daughter’s faith does not break any law. Why did you arrest her? She has cerebral atrophy. By arresting her, aren’t you putting her on a path to death?” But the police had no compassion for her and yelled at her, “Your daughter believes in Almighty God, and this is forbidden in China. Her faith is against the law, and she‘s even preaching the gospel all over the place. We don’t care whether she has any kind of disease or not. Everyone who believes in Almighty God must be arrested!” Her mother then collected some clothing to bring to her but she was not allowed to see her.

A month later, Yu Zhe, the village cadre, once again asked Zhang Xiaoyue’s mother to bring her some winter clothing. She took some warm clothes and went to the Huangshan District Public Security Bureau. The police told her that Zhang Xiaoyue had been given a 3-year sentence for “using a xie jiao organization to undermine the enforcement of the law.” However, they only gave her the arrest notice, not the verdict. Zhang Xiaoyue was later transferred to the Changfeng County Women’s Prison, Anhui Province to serve her sentence.

One day in December of 2015, at 3 a.m. Zhang Xiaoyue’s elder brother received a phone call from the prison saying that she had a serious, life-threatening illness and asking him to take her back home. Zhang’s brother and husband rushed to the prison but when they arrived, the staff told them that Zhang Xiaoyue had already died. Zhang’s family made a request to see her corpse. After her family had identified her remains, the prison guards immediately removed her body for cremation. Her family later took her ashes to their hometown for burial.

According to another Christian who was in prison with Zhang Xiaoyue, the guards pressed her to give up her faith and sign three statements (a guarantee, a statement of severing ties with the Church, and a statement of remorse), but she staunchly refused.

The guards then refused to give her anything to eat or drink and ordered the four prisoners sharing her cell to impose their sanctions on her if they did not want to lose points on their behavior card (the attribution of points determines when a prisoner can be released). As they did not want to lose such precious points, the other detainees took turns watching over her day and night.

Because of previous maltreatments, Zhang Xiaoyue was not in good health and could not even walk. Every time she attended an indoctrination class several people had to carry her to the classroom. A prison guard also said that if Zhang Xiaoyue did not sign the three statements, everyone in the cell would lose points and would be hereby penalized. This fanned the flames of the other prisoners’ hatred towards her. They severely beat her, stuffed their shoes into her mouth, hit her in her chest with plastic stools, and forced long-handled shoe brushes into her vagina.

One night in December 2015, Zhang Xiaoyue suddenly started coughing up and defecating blood. The prison guards finally decided to send her to the prison hospital but in an early morning, she passed away in the prison. The guards later spread rumors slandering her, saying that because of her faith she had become possessed by the devil and had harmed herself to the point of death.




IRAN: Free 91 year old spiritual master & former human rights lawyer from house arrest

Watch the video here: https://bit.ly/2ye8kEd

International Organisation to Preserve Human Rights – The Iranian Regime is trying to eradicate Sufism in Iran, because it poses a threat to the Extremist interpretation of Islam they wish to spread throughout the world. If they succeed, we can expect an increase in the extremist interpretation of Islam throughout the west.

 

Dr Noor Ali Tabandeh is the spiritual leader of one of the largest Sufi orders in the world, the Gonabadi Sufis. Sufism is a spiritual path, dating back many centuries, which encompasses mystical teachings and spiritual practices with the aim of seeking one’s essence within oneself.

 

At 91 years of age, Dr Tabandeh just like Rumi is the embodiment of Sufi values. He has spent his life committed to benefiting humanity. During his many years as a Human Rights Lawyer he worked tirelessly to promote constitutional reform in Iran pushing for secular freedoms of expression, ideas and belief. As a result of this he spent 2 years in prison, 6 months of which was in solitary confinement.

 

Many parallels can be drawn between Dr Tabandeh and His Holiness the Dalai Lama. In the same way the Dalai Lama was forced to flee Tibet back in 1959, following the invasion of the newly formed communist Chinese Government, so now Dr Tabandeh, and his 8 million followers, are confronted by ongoing systematic oppression by the Islamic Regime in Iran.

 

Having been under House Arrest since 19th February this year, and at the age of 91, Dr Tabandeh is in a delicate and dangerous situation. Many have spoken out about the current plight of Sufi’s and Dr Tabandeh, particularly following the recent execution of an innocent Sufi by the name of Mohammad Salas, which caused International outcry.  Some important figures include Mike Pompeo, US Secretary of State, renowned Human Rights Lawyers such as Shirin Ebadi, Hollywood actress Nazanin Boniadi, and numerous MEP’s including Antonio Tajani, President of the European Parliament.

 

Yet Mr Tabandeh remains in house arrest and more than 400 Sufi’s are imprisoned without fair trial.

 

Matters are further complicated following the infiltration of the Gonabadi order by members of the Iranian government, intent on gaining control from within. Sufism is seen to pose a threat, as a result of the peaceful alternative it offers to an increasingly aggressive interpretation of Shia Islam, currently propagated by the regime.

 

Many experts have noted that Sufism offers the perfect antidote to Islamic Extremism, due to it being based upon tolerance and Human Rights. This was defined clearly by famous Sufi Master Sa’adi in his following poem, which is written at the entrance of the UN:

 

“Human beings are members of a whole,

 

In creation of one essence and soul.

 

If one member is afflicted with pain,

 

Other members uneasy will remain.

 

If you have no sympathy for human pain,

 

The name of human being you cannot retain.”

 

By supporting the Gonabadi Sufi’s in Iran, collectively we can help restore balance and stability within Iran, the region and consequently within the global society.

 

In order to achieve this, the International community and the responsible Political figures must demand the immediate release of Dr Tabandeh from House arrest, the release of all unjustly held Sufi prisoners and adherence to the International Charter of Human Rights by the Iranian Government.

 

Please sign now and help spread the word!

 

#FreeTabandeh    #FreeGonabadiSufis

 

The Persian video is available here: https://bit.ly/2C9wlit

 

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Also:

HRWF database of news and information on over 70 countries: http://hrwf.eu/newsletters/forb/ 
List of hundreds of documented cases of believers of various faiths in 20 countries: http://hrwf.eu/forb/forb-and-blasphemy-prisoners-list/