LEBANON: Life at thirteen years old – a future stolen

SB OverSeas pic for Life at Thirteen

Painting by an SB OverSeas beneficiary in Lebanon


SB OverSeas (19.09.2018) – Amara was the girl in the front row of every class, hand always raised begging to answer the teacher’s question. She had little inside jokes with her teachers in both English and in Arabic. The head of the organization saw in her a chance to show to the world how hard they had been working to make a difference. Amara was the ‘difference’ – the change SB OverSeas sought to make in the community. At 13 years old, she was intelligent, respectful, and gaining the skills she needed to be independent. Then she stopped coming to school.


There was no warning, no explanation, no compromise. She had always been in class, and if not in class, just outside the entrance playing games and running free. She adored the school and the staff admired her; it was unfathomable to think that she would just not show up, but everyone falls ill now and then. Or maybe she had to take care of her younger sister. Or maybe her mother was ill. Or maybe she went to join a relative in Germany. Or was it England? Any one of the rumors that started to float around during the early days of her absence would’ve been easier to swallow then the truth: Amara was getting married.

Marriage in the shelter is always a party. It’s pure happiness, dancing, the best food. It’s the beautiful outfit, the laughter, feeling gorgeous. It’s a slight glimmer of pre-war normalcy, a return to a time many of the children will never know, a time the adults will never forget. Growing up in the shelter, Amara dreamed of her day, her moment, dancing and crying tears of joy at the sight of her Prince Charming. She wanted to be “like a princess from the movies”, but whenever someone asked which one, she’d shrug and say, “all of them!” She dreamed of her “pretty pink dress with all the sparkles” and her makeup rivaling that of a celebrity. On her wedding day she got everything she wanted. She was Jasmine, she was Cinderella, she was stuck.

Amara soon moved into her husband Ali’s family home kilometers away from the shelter she’d come to love. Ali was 6 years older than her and possessed no real education. With a full-time job in Saida, he lived with his parents and was more than ready to consummate the marriage. Within days, her 13 year old innocence was invaded and conquered and replaced by new life. In a community where the thought of contraception and family planning are more foreign than a foreign language, her first painful night with him led to pregnancy. Her mother never wanted her to get married. She saw such beauty in Amara’s mind that to her Amara was the future of Syria. Her father saw her marriage as a way out of a situation he still couldn’t wrap his head around. He saw it as one less child to provide for, one less mouth to feed, and maybe even a better future than what he could provide her on his meager wage.


Amara’s perception of the marriage at 13 didn’t extend much farther beyond the wedding day itself. She didn’t understand that she’d now be responsible for cooking and cleaning not only for her husband, but for both of his parents. She didn’t understand that she’d rarely get to see the people that made her laugh and smile, that she’d never get to make silly faces at her favorite teacher again. She didn’t understand that her immature body couldn’t physically handle the pregnancy.


As her stomach grew each day, she grew weaker. She wasn’t allowed out of the house much and was still expected to cook and clean like a maid. Her mother had never really taught her how to cook, or how to clean, and she had much difficulty figuring it out on her own. That’s where the beatings from her husband started, not gradually, but suddenly, receiving blows from the fists of a now 20 year old man at the slightest mishap in her spousal duties. His parents didn’t care. They never intervened, they encouraged and enabled. To them she deserved it. The girl that every volunteer used to see a light in, had that light extinguished by black and blue bruises and busted lips.


Less than a year before this, Amara used to sit outside with the girls playing with baby dolls, sometimes swinging them at the boys that would bother them, if necessary. She used to squeeze them and hug them close to her chest, wondering what it would be like to have one of her own. She wasn’t a stranger to babies at the shelter. When her younger sister was still a baby Amara would often carry her outside to meet her friends. She played with the babies in the school and knew every trick to make them stop crying. Now she was crying in the hospital after receiving the news that she wouldn’t be having a baby after all. Six months into her pregnancy, she suffered a miscarriage; a miscarriage at 14 years old.

This worried Ali’s family even more, as to them and to many in the community, a miscarriage meant something was wrong with her and that she’d never be able to bear children for them. She became ill afterwards and spent even more time in the house isolated. She stayed in bed for entire days, sick and barely able to stand on her own. The moment she gained some of her strength back, she was pregnant once more. During this pregnancy Ali decided that she wouldn’t be allowed out of the house at all, and she obeyed him. Her parents were allowed over sometimes, which gave her a few hours of happiness a few times a week. The months passed and she was back in the hospital. This time, she gave birth to a beautiful baby girl with light brown eyes – Amina.


Now that she’d have the responsibility of cooking, cleaning, and taking care of Amina, Ali made the decision to have her spend more time at home learning how to be a housewife from her mother. Walking back into the shelter was hard for her. She felt alien in a place that was once her home. People stared, the new volunteers didn’t even look twice at her as they never got the chance to know what an amazing girl she was. She was happy to be home though. She was delighted to hear how well her little sister was doing in school, and enjoyed being able to confide in her sister how much she regretted her marriage, but she always had to go home to Ali.


Her father was proud, and her mother wasn’t as angry about it as she used to be. Amara herself was starting to get used to it, but she still wasn’t happy with him. The time she got to spend at her family home became the world to her once more. She sat in the kitchen eating fruits, learning her mother’s recipes, and even listening to the songs she liked to dance to but soon enough, her parents started to argue often. Although the arguing seemed to appear out of nowhere, it didn’t take long for her to overhear: her father was making plans for her little sister to get married.


SB OverSeas is working to end child marriage. Read more about our advocacy here. The artwork used for this post are created in our centres as part of our empowerment programs.


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BURUNDI: School ban on expectant teens ‘skewed’ against girls’ education

By Nita Bhalla


Thomson Reuters Foundation (04.07.2018) – https://tmsnrt.rs/2KMTnjT– Burundi’s ban on pregnant girls and expectant teen fathers attending school is not only a violation against children’s right to education, but also unfairly discriminates against girls, campaigners said on Wednesday.


The ministry of education in Burundi last week issued a directive to provincial authorities saying pregnant teens and young mums, as well as the boys who made them pregnant, no longer had the right to be part of the formal education system.


In a letter dated June 26 to the country’s provincial education directors, Minister of Education Janvière Ndirahisha said that these students would however be allowed to attend vocational or professional training courses.


But rights groups said preventing children from attending school would have a devastating impact on their education in a country where 11 percent of girls aged 15-19 years are sexually active, according to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).


The east African nation’s ban is geared towards curtailing the rights of girls more than boys, said campaigners, adding that it would be easy to notice pregnant girls, but more difficult to identify the boys involved.


“This ban disproportionately affects girls and it is skewed towards an abuse of the girls’ rights to education,” said Naitore Nyamu-Mathenge, a lawyer from the campaign group Equality Now.


“How does the government intend on proving that Boy A impregnated Girl B? How about cases where the perpetrators are teachers, adults in the community, will the government go after them too?”


A government official confirmed the ban, but told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on the condition of anonymity that it was unlikely to be enforced.


“I think this decision will not be implemented since it contradicts other programs which promote education for all and are endorsed by the government and its partners,” said an education ministry official.


According to the UNFPA, 40 percent of victims of physical or sexual violence are teenage girls in Burundi. Around 7 percent of girls aged 15-19 years have had at least one child, and one in five women are married below the age of 18 years old.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) says tens of thousands of girls in Africa are ostracised or shamed for becoming pregnant every year, despite most having no sex education, and in many cases have not given consent and are raped.


Yet some countries such as Tanzania, Sierra Leone and Equatorial Guinea, they have been expelled from school in a bid to discourage adolescents from being sexually active.

Other countries such as Morocco and Sudan, for example, apply morality laws that allow them to criminally charge adolescent girls with adultery, indecency, or extra-marital sex, it added.


“Every year, thousands of girls become pregnant at the time when they should be learning history, algebra, and life skills,” said a report by HRW last month.


“All girls have a right to education regardless of their pregnancy, marital or motherhood status.”


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Ukraine: 1030th anniversary of the Kievan Rus Christianization on a background of high tensions

Christianization will take place this 27-28 July in a context of high tension. On the one hand, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church/ Kyiv Patriarchate wants to secede from the Russian Orthodox Church and hopes the spiritual head of Eastern Orthodoxy, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople (Istanbul) will recognize its autocephaly. On the other hand, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church / Moscow Patriarchate has announced a procession in Kyiv on Friday in which 100,000 people would participate while the Kyiv Patriarchate has announced a similar religious procession with 100,000 participants on Saturday.

The police is on full alert.

100,000 people to participate in religious processions associated with Kievan Rus Christianization anniversary

Yevstratіy Zorya/Facebook – 5,000 police officers and 5, 000 officers of the National Guard will provide the security

112 International (24.07.2018) – https://bit.ly/2JZkGDd – About 100,000 people, parishioners of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of both Kyiv and Moscow Patriarchates, will participate in the sacred procession that will take place on July 27 and July 28 due to the Kievan Rus Christianization. The security measures will be the same as the previous year. Andry Kryshchenko, the Head of the Kyiv National Police claimed this as Interfax-Ukraine reported.

“The participation of up to 100, 000 people is indicated in the application. The application of the Moscow Patriarchate for the participation of up to 100,000 people in the sacred procession on Friday and the application of the Kyiv Patriarchate for the participation of up to 100,000 people in the sacred procession on Saturday,” he said.

About 5,000 law enforcers will provide the order at the streets.

Moreover, Deputy Interior Minister Serhy Yarove claimed that 5,000 officers of the National Guard will be attracted to the support of the Kyiv police these days.

As it was reported earlier, sacred processions and solemn prayers will be held in the capital dedicated to the celebration of 1030 th anniversary of Kievan Rus Christianization. This is why the traffic will be restricted in downtown.

Last year’s religious procession started in Ternopil and Donetsk regions, brought the two groups of believers to enter Kyiv on July 26, meet on July 27 in Kiev at St. Vladimir’s Hill, and together with the Orthodox Kyiv citizens and pilgrims proceed to Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra. The expected number was 30 000 participants, however, there were more than 4,500 pilgrims at Volodymyrska Hirka a year ago and around 6 000 people took part in celebration of Baptism of Rus last year. Law enforcers expected a high number of provocations by pro-Russian activists or Kremlin-backed militants, tightening preventive measures, however, there were no serious violations reported.

OSCE is informed how Ukrainian authorities impede to the procession with cross organized by the UOC

Interfax (25.07.2018) – http://www.interfax-religion.com/?act=news&div=14385 – The OSCE officials registered all the facts of impeding the Ukrainian Orthodox Church believers in participating in the procession with cross on the Day of the 1030th Anniversary of Russia’s Baptism, the UOC Information and Education Department reported on Wednesday.

Archbishop Kliment of Nezhin and Priluki reported the facts of violating believers’ rights at his meeting with officials of a special OSCE monitoring commission in Kiev.

The archbishop told the officials about problems experienced by the believers who wanted to come to Kiev for participating in the procession with cross on July 27.

Earlier the UOC representatives reported that Ukrainian officials block the participation of believers in the procession with cross organized by the canonical Church. In various regions of Ukraine they prevent the UOC believers from going to the procession with crossing and put carriers under pressure.

Pro-Russian clerics fomenting tensions ahead of Kievan Rus Baptism anniversary

UNIAN (26.07.2018) – https://bit.ly/2NMMjBL – In general, a new Russian narrative is being pushed into Ukraine’s agenda – “religious war and the genocide of Orthodox believers.”

Following the fake news on Ukraine allegedly trying to “bribe Patriarch Bartholomew,” spun by Russian propaganda and its collaborators in Ukraine, certain representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine decided to add fuel to the fire with yet another fake report.

On Wednesday, representative of the Moscow Patriarchate, Protopriest Nikolai Danylevych, said that Kyiv allegedly intended “to create during celebrations of the Baptism of Kievan Rus a picture of mass support” for the idea of autocephaly.

According to Danylevych, “free shuttle buses are being provided, whole railway cars are being booked, and many people are coming [to Kyiv] who have no relation to the Church,” according to Information Resistance, a Ukraine-based OSINT NGO.

Developing his manipulative idea, Danylevich asserts that these attempts “will not help” Kyiv to influence the position of Patriarch Bartholomew, which is strange because they shouldn’t – the Constantinople has been positively consistent on the Ukraine issue, thus apparently irritating Moscow.

In general, a new Russian narrative is being pushed into Ukraine’s agenda – “religious war and the genocide of Orthodox believers.”

Experts note that this is reminiscent of the events of 2014, when the slogan was “to protect Russian-speakers in Ukraine”, and today it sounds like “protecting the Orthodox believers in Ukraine.”

In this regard, a reasonable question arises: are the Russians launching the initiative only within a new round of information war or, as it was 2014, preparing public opinion for larger-scale provocations and more aggression against Ukraine under the guise of “saviors from the DPP-LPR”?”

In fact, no one wants to save those “Russian-speakers” anymore, most of whom Moscow left to the mercy of fate in Donbas. At the same time, voicing a new call, this time “To our God, our Orthodox faith and our Tsar” Moscow once again expects to recruit new ‘useful idiots’,” IR wrote.

As Donbas blogger Aleksandr Chernov recently reported, in the occupied part of Donetsk region, self-styled Russian-controlled “authorities” are actively collecting groups of locals to be sent to Kyiv to “support” opponents of Ukrainian Orthodox Church independence from Moscow. These people will participate in “events” organized by the so-called “UOC-MP” on the day of the Baptism of Kievan Rus.

According to information available, it is about deploying a nearly 200-strong group of men.

At the same time, participation is funded, at RUB 20,000 per person. It is noteworthy that the funds are taken from local business.

As UNIAN reported earlier, Ukrainian MP Vadym Novinksy, an ardent supporter of the Moscow Patriarchate from the entourage of disgraced ex-president Viktor Yanukovych, is also contributing to artificially raising the temperature of public tensions ahead of the Baptism celebrations.

In a recent interview with LB.ua he claimed he would personally defend the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra against supporters of Ukrainian church’s independence, hinting at possible violence that the Russian propaganda claims will ensue if the Constantinople grants autocephaly to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

Mass baptism of 500 Protestants in the Dnipro river

Ukrainian Evangelical Protestants take part in a mass baptism in the Dnipro River in Kyiv on July 22.
Ukrainian Evangelical Protestant churches held a large-scale baptism in the Dniper river waters of about 500 people to mark the 1030th anniversary of the Christianization of the Kyivan Rus (https://bit.ly/2LE1fF6)

ROMANIA: A window of opportunity for corrupt justice system in #Romania?

By Lea Perekrests, HRWF

EU Reporter (12.06.2018) – https://bit.ly/2t53bLAAt the end of May, the Constitutional Court of Romania ruled that President Iohannis must dismiss the country’s chief anti-corruption prosecutor, Laura Kovesi, after allegations of her involvement in multiple violations of the rule of law. As the Constitutional Court’s rulings are binding, a glimmer of hope has emerged, offering a golden opportunity to improve Romania’s currently abysmal corruption record, writes  Lea Perekrests of Human Rights Without Frontiers.


The call for Kovesi’s dismissal reached a crescendo in February 2018, when the Justice Minister presented a 36-page report detailing illegal activities for which Kovesi is responsible. Justice Minister, Tudorel Toader concluded his presentation by summarizing that Kovesi is guilty of “excess of authority, discretionary behavior, defying the Parliament, challenging the Constitutional Court’s decisions and authority…[which are] acts and facts that are intolerable in a rule of law”.


Laura Kovesi: Unjust tactics for unworthy praise

Laura Kovesi, chief anti-corruption prosecutor (photo credit: EU Reporter)


Since Laura Kovesi’s appointment as chief anti-corruption prosecutor, the National Anti-corruption Directorate (DNA) has been able to flaunt impressive statistics to the European Commission; it has achieved a conviction rate of over 90%, and more asset freezes, arrests, and convictions than any other counterpart agency in the EU. While the European Commission has praised these numbers at their face value, they have failed to look deeper and recognize the numerous unlawful activities that prop these numbers up.

In order to achieve ‘praiseworthy’ success rates the DNA has abused institutional structures and employed questionable tactics, which have ultimately robbed Romanian citizens of their right to a fair trial.


Institutional links between the DNA, Romanian Intelligence Service (SRI), judicial branches, and judges themselves, have all been revealed over the past few years, bringing serious concern to the organization of institutional structures and their ability to provide fair trials.


For example, in 2015, an SRI leader had publically stated that the SRI remains involved in judicial proceedings until the final resolution of each case and stated that magistrates across the country need to be monitored. In the same year, the SRI was also involved in training over 1,000 judges across the country.


Foreign judges’ organisations, including the Paris-based Magistrates Association MEDEL (Magistrats europeens pour la Democratie et les Libertes) have reacted to these statements with great concern for the apparent lack of respect for basic human rights.


Worryingly, it has also been reported that the DNA and SRI have used questionable tactics, including unconstitutional phone tapping, the intimidation of judges, falsifying evidence, targeting suspects’ family members, and producing propaganda against suspects.


Bringing to light the severity and depth of these tactics, it was revealed in February 2018 that two top DNA prosecutors had been recorded faking evidence, planting evidence in people’s homes and cars, changing witness declarations, faking official documents, and blackmailing witnesses, all under the instruction of Laura Kovesi.


Currently, the SRI Secretary-General, Dumitru Dumbrava, is also facing calls to resign after media reports revealed that he was contacting and influencing judicial officials presiding over DNA cases via Facebook.


Impacts for Romania: A window of opportunity?


 The cases brought forth by the DNA under Laura Kovesi have shown a pattern of unlawful activity, including: failing to assume innocence, unfair judicial processes, forced confessions, threat of indictments, and extended pre-trial detention periods.


The lengthy pre-trial detention periods are also of high concern given the deteriorating prison conditions and high rates of torture cases being presented to the ECtHR.


In 2017, Romania had the highest number of cases brought before the ECtHR than any other country in the EU. Twenty of the 69 cases involved the prohibition of torture or inhumane treatment, and twenty-six involved either a lack of effective investigation, the right to a fair trial, or the length of proceedings.


An overall deeply disturbing, neo-Ceausescu picture emerges when looking further behind the DNA’s success rates. At a moment when Romania is seeking to further integrate into the European Union, the necessity to investigate and reform is paramount. It would be negligent of the European Commission to turn a blind eye to the disturbing nature of Romania’s anti-corruption fight as it seeks to join the Euro and Schengen.


The Constitutional Court of Romania’s recent decision to require Kovesi’s removal opens a window of opportunity for the country to reform the corrupt institutions that are meant to safeguard the rights of Romanian citizens. It can allow the country to hit the reset button and enable a truly effective system for tackling corruption.


It is now in the hands of the Romanian government to reverse its current Kovesi-era path of unfair trials and unsafe convictions and to build institutions and leaders that can both guarantee Romanian’s their human rights and ensure corruption is tackled firmly but fairly.


[1] https://www.romania-insider.com/romanias-justice-minister-presents-report-anticorruption-department/

[2] https://www.neweurope.eu/article/corruption-romanias-anti-corruption-fight/

[3] https://www.eureporter.co/frontpage/2018/03/26/praise-for-romanian-crackdown-on-corruption-groundless/

[4] http://hrwf.eu/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/21_03_Human-Rights-in-Romania_Systematic-violations-and-the-anti-corruption-efforts.pdf

[5] https://eutoday.net/news/politics/2017/romanias-secret-services-under-parliamentary-scrutiny

[6] http://bit.ly/2nkZ0dX

[7] https://www.neweurope.eu/article/corruption-romanias-anti-corruption-fight-laid-bare-world-see/ ; http://henryjacksonsociety.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/Romania-paper.pdf

[8] https://www.neweurope.eu/article/corruption-romanias-anti-corruption-fight-laid-bare-world-see/

[9] http://henryjacksonsociety.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/Romania-paper.pdf

[10] https://www.echr.coe.int/Documents/Stats_violation_2017_ENG.pdf


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Netherlands: Anti-Semitic vandalism in Holland rises 40% to highest level since 2007

JTA (10.03.2018) — http://bit.ly/2tFggyJ — The number of incidents involving anti-Semitic vandalism recorded in the Netherlands last year increased by 40 percent, to a 10-year high of 28 cases.

The increase in vandalism was part of a small overall rise in anti-Semitic incidents in 2017 over 2016, the Center for Information and Documentation on Israel, or CIDI, wrote in its annual incidents report, which the group published on 10 March (http://bit.ly/2FISLtl). CIDI recorded 113 incidents in 2017 compared to 109 in 2016.

The data was published amid unprecedented developments in public debate on anti-Semitism in the Netherlands. This month, almost all of the political parties contending in the municipal elections in Amsterdam signed a document vowing tougher action against anti-Semitism.

The move followed a Palestinian man’s smashing of windows in December of a kosher restaurant in Amsterdam. Holding a Palestinian flag, he then broke in and stole an Israeli one before being arrested.

Last week, the rightist leader of the Party for Freedom, Geert Wilders, visited the restaurant. The Forum for Democracy party produced for the first time in the history of Dutch politics an ad campaign focused exclusively on anti-Semitism ahead of the March 21 municipal elections.

Four incidents recorded by CIDI in 2017 involved physical violence against people.

In one case, two Israelis were stabbed in an elevator on July 18 in a suburb of Amsterdam. A witness later testified that the assault was anti-Semitic. Two 18-year-old men were sentenced to prison for the assault. The victims were not in the Netherlands during the trial and therefore the witness’ testimony was not substantiated.

Another incident, dated 26 June, involved a Jew of Syrian descent who was assaulted on Amsterdam’s Dam Square for wearing a Star of David pendant. He had been assaulted earlier this year at a fast-food eatery, where several men broke his arm, he said.

In its recommendations, CIDI urged the judiciary to impose heavier sentences on offenders to increase deterrence. It also recommended the Dutch government and judiciary adopt the European Parliament’s definition of anti-Semitism. It features examples of demonization of Israel. In recent years, it was adopted by the United Kingdom and Romania, among other countries.
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Malaysian Federal Court refuses four people their right to affirm Christian identity

By Matt K. George


World Watch Monitor (27.02.2018) – http://bit.ly/2FKuX61 – Malaysia’s highest court dismissed an appeal today (27 February) against four appellants who wanted to be formally recognised as Christians.


The five judges of the Malaysian Federal Court ruled that in matters of conversion away from Islam, it was necessary for them to consult the Islamic Sharia courts.


The president of the court, Tan Sri Zulkefli Ahmad Makinudin, said the decision was unanimous.


He added that even though there are no specific provisions in the Sharia ordinance over conversions out of Islam, the religious court still has legal authority on what he termed “apostasy”.


Raucous, unruly scenes and shouts of “Allahu akbar” (“Allah is the greatest”) greeted the decision as a mob surrounded the Catholic Archbishop of Kuching, Simon Peter Poh, outside the court complex. He was jostled while being escorted to his car amid fears that he might be assaulted.


Three of the appellants had previously converted from Christianity to Islam when they married Malay-Muslim spouses, but now want to affirm their Christian identity again. The fourth is a Malay-Muslim who embraced the Christian faith and was baptised in 2009.


The Federal Court, sitting in Kuching, the capital of Sarawak state, yesterday (26 February) heard the joint appeal of the four appellants who want their conversions legally recognised. The judges then adjourned their decision to today.


The lawyer for the appellants, Baru Bian, an opposition politician and a campaigner for the customary rights of indigenous Malaysians, many of whom are Christian, had been optimistic that the judges would base their decision on the substance of the country’s civil law.


He said the argument of the state was that Sarawak Shariah Court Ordinance 2001 “has provisions on conversion into Islam”. Since there is no provision for those who want to leave the faith, he argued that the civil court should have jurisdiction.


Three of the appellants – Mohamed Syafiq Abdullah, who has taken the name Tiong Choo Ting; Jenny Peter, who was formerly Nur Muzdhalifah Abdullah; and Salina Jau Abdullah – converted to Islam in order to marry Muslims. All four were asking the Federal Court to have their names and their faith changed on their national identity cards.


In 2006 Jenny Peter divorced her Muslim husband and re-embraced Christianity. The Muslim husband of Salina Jau divorced her in 1992, and she too returned to Christianity. In the case of Tiong Choo Ting, he began to practise Christianity after his Muslim wife died in 2007.


The fourth appellant, Syarifah Nooraffyza Wan Hosen, is ethnic Malay and was raised as a Muslim. In her declaration she said she no longer practises Islam and was baptised in 2009. She wants her identity card to record her new faith and a new name, Vanessa Elizabeth.


According to local media, all four were required to undergo counselling for renouncing the Muslim faith. But they have remained adamant they want to renounce Islam, and have signed statutory declarations expressing this desire.


All four remain Muslims as far as official documentation is concerned.


Critics accused the court of failing to understand its powers to rule on an individual’s choice of religion. “It means that freedom of religion, which is a constitutional right and a matter for the civil court, is subservient to Islamic laws,” one Christian human-rights campaigner said.


Some social-media users said they felt disappointed by the Federal Court’s decision. Some even nicknamed the case the Sharia Court’s “Hotel California” clause, recalling the 1970s song by The Eagles about a hotel you could check into but never leave.


Islam is considered intrinsic to the identity of Malaysia’s majority Malay people, and under Sharia (Islamic law), renouncing Islam is viewed as apostasy, a crime, although liberal Muslim theologians argue that conversion is a matter for the individual. Many of the country’s sizeable Buddhist, Christian and Hindu populations are of non-Malay heritage.


In recent decades Islamists have become increasingly vocal in their demands that Malaysia be governed as a Muslim state, and analysts say the spread of a more conservative interpretation of Islam lies behind the rise in attacks on churches and church leaders.


At the same time, civil courts have handed jurisdiction over Islamic religious matters to the Sharia court system and at times taken a policy of non-interference between the two courts. This has left people wishing to leave Islam in legal limbo.


According to Malaysia’s constitution, the country is a secular state with Islam as its main religion. However, Islamists refute this, saying that the colonial-era charter of rights is no longer valid, and they demand the precedence of religious law.



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France: Muslim leader urges Macron not to meddle too much in French Islam

By Julie Carriat

Reuters (14.02.2018) – http://reut.rs/2EI6vnu – A leading representative of French Muslims urged Emmanuel Macron not to meddle in the organization of France’s second-largest religion, days after the president said he would try to redefine relations between Islam and the state.

The rebuke came from the leader of an organization set up 15 years ago in a bid to defuse concern about radical preachers and foster a more homegrown form of Islam that would fit better with France’s traditional separation of church and state affairs.

“Everyone must stick to their role,” Ahmet Ogras, president of the French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM), told Reuters in an interview.

“The Muslim faith is a religion and, as such, takes care of its own household affairs. The last thing you want is the state to act as guardian,” said Ogras, a Frenchman of Turkish descent who has led the CFCM since mid-2017.

Macron, elected last May after a runoff victory over far-right leader Marine Le Pen, said in a Feb. 11 newspaper interview he planned to revisit the way Islam was overseen.

“What I’d like to get done in the first half of 2018 is set down markers on the entire way in which Islam is organized in France,” he told the Journal du Dimanche. The priority would be to “bring back what secularism is all about”.

Traditionally Catholic France is home to the largest Jewish and Muslim communities in Europe, with the latter estimated at five million out of a population of 67 million.

The official rule is strict separation between religion and state, with the former considered a strictly private matter. The rule that has been used to justify bans on the wearing of Muslim veils by public service employees as well as any wearing of fully concealing head-to-toe veils in public places.

Macron has been under pressure to deal firmly with radical preachers and mosques since a wave of attacks in which Islamist militants killed more than 230 people in France since 2015.

Emergency search-and-arrest powers introduced in the wake of the November 2015 attacks that killed 130 people in Paris have since been made permanent under tougher security legislation. Several mosques have been shut and imams expelled.

Macron’s declarations in the Feb. 11 newspaper interview suggest he is considering a profound reorganization of the way in which the Islam faith is funded and its preachers schooled.

Back in 2003, Nicolas Sarkozy, interior minister at the time and president from 2007 to 2012, engineered an agreement among the country’s main Islamic groups to create the CFCM.

The idea was to have a council to speak for Muslims similar to the way the French Bishops’ Conference speaks for Catholics or the Consistory speaks for Jews.

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CHINA: Priest goes missing in Zhejiang province

UCANews (10.01.2018) – http://bit.ly/2mCP4uc – Father Lu Danhua of Lishui Diocese of China’s eastern Zhejiang province has been missing since government officials suddenly took him away just after Christmas.

He is the only priest of Lishui Diocese and his predecessor was Kenneth Roderick Turner of Scarboro Foreign Mission Society from 1948 to 1983. Wenzhou Diocese subsequently administered Lishui Diocese.

Father Lu was ordained by underground church Bishop Peter Shao Zhumin of Wenzhou on Dec. 14, 2016, and has served Lishui Diocese up to now.

Bishop Shao was released by authorities Jan. 3 after being detained since May 2017. A source who did not want to be named told ucanews.com that the reason for taking Father Lu away was not related to Bishop Shao.

But he said authorities had stated that Father Lu needed to go to Wenzhou for “re-educating” on new religious regulations coming into effect Feb. 1 and that he would return after obtaining a permit to be a priest.

At noon on Dec. 29, officials of the State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA) took Father Lu away from a priests’ dormitory.

A Catholic who witnessed the incident told ucanews.com that the officials claimed Father Lu was only going for a brief chat.

The next day, the Catholic went to SARA’s office where officials claimed Father Lu had already been released. But he remains missing and calls to his mobile phone have not been answered.

SUISSE: Three-quarters of Swiss back a burka ban

Swissinfo (08.01.2017) – http://bit.ly/2Fyf7uz – A nationwide ban on face-coverings – a de facto burka ban – would currently get the thumbs-up from 76% of Swiss voters, according to a poll in the SonntagsZeitung and Le Matin Dimanche. Around half also support the idea of Islam becoming an official Swiss

Six out of ten respondents said they would definitely back the ban on face-coverings, put forward by the rightwing Swiss People’s Party. Some 16.5% said they were leaning towards a ban, 7% were leaning against it, 13% were definitely against it and 3% said they had yet to decide.

Almost 70% of respondents also wanted to see headscarves banned from schools.

But while the Swiss appear to be against burkas and niqabs, that is not the case for Islam as a religion: 48% backed official recognition of Islam as a state religion, like Christianity. This idea has been proposed by the leftwing Social Democratic Party, on condition that the Islamic communities adhere to a moderate form of Islam and organise themselves transparently.

The online surveyexternal link by market researchers Marketagent asked 1,264 Swiss aged 18-75 in German- and French-speaking Switzerland between December 7-18.

Ticino is the only canton so far to introduce a total face-covering ban in public places. St Gallen has a less restrictive form of ban, but voters have rejected the idea in Zurich, Solothurn, Schwyz, Basel City and Glarus. Valais lawmakers recently outlawed a cantonal vote on the wearing of headgear on the grounds that it would violate the constitution.

TAJIKISTAN: Another religious figure imprisoned for Salafism propaganda

Ferghana News Agency (20.11.2017) – http://bit.ly/2Bz9Wf1  – Ilhomiddin Abdulloev, the Imam Khatib (rector) of the mosque of the village of Churuk-Darron in Guliston (formerly Kairakkum), has been sentenced to five and a half years of imprisonment in Tajikistan, the Asia Plus news agency reported, with reference to the criminal court of Guliston.

The investigation found that Abdulloev received religious education in Kuwait during 1994 to 1998, where he joined the ranks of the Salafis. Serving in a mosque in the Choruk-Darron village, he urged worshippers to join this movement. In September 2017, he was detained by law enforcement officers. At the same time, the detention of four parishioners of the same mosque was reported. Their fate remains unknown.

The court found the 42-year-old imam guilty of creating an extremist organisation in accordance with Article 307 of the Criminal Code of Tajikistan.

Meanwhile, in early November, the Committee for Religious Affairs of Tajikistan ordered the removal of all imam khatibs, who received an education abroad, from their posts. This decision was motivated by the risk of extremist propaganda and the order must be executed within a fortnight.

The fight against foreign religious education has been conducted in Tajikistan before. In 2010, President Emomali Rahmon said many foreign Islamic educational centres have an extremist focus. After this, Tajik students, studying in such institutions, began to return to their homeland in great numbers.

And since 2015, imam khatibs, who have studied abroad, regularly become involved in criminal cases. In particular, in the summer of 2017, seven priests of Sogd mosques were convicted in the city of Bobojon, Gafurov district, and were found guilty of propagating the ideas of the banned “Muslim Brotherhood” organisation. In 2016, in the north of Tajikistan, a total of 20 imam khatibs were sentenced on similar charges.

In total, about 4,000 mosques are officially registered in Tajikistan, of which 370 are conciliar.

Viewpoint of Human Rights Without Frontiers International

The teachings of the Salafists are in egregious contention with Article 5 of the ICCPR which reads as follows:

Nothing in the present Covenant may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms recognized herein or at their limitation to a greater extent than is provided for in the present Covenant.

Salafists promote an “Untermensch” worldview in which Muslims are superior to and have more rights than non-Muslims, men are superior to and have more rights than women. They promote segregation between men and women. They promote physical judicial punishments which blatantly contradict Article 7 of the ICCPR: “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”

While such teachings and practices are unacceptable from a human rights point of view, sentencing ‘controversial’ imams and preachers to prison terms because they promote such an ideology is a violation of human rights. Imprisoning them is not a solution to the security issue that they may pose. Although it is the right of a state to protect its population against radicalization and nefarious foreign ideologies that promote degrading and inhumane treatments, its policies must remain in line with international human rights standards.


If you want to be regularly informed about different violations of human rights in the world, click here for a free subscription to our newsletters!


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/