EGYPT: Disputed status of Beni Suef church sparks sectarian violence

By Hadeer El-Mahdawy

Translated by Habiba Effat

 

MadaMasr (18.04.2018) – https://bit.ly/2Hd5WEt – The homes of several Coptic Christians in the Beni Suef village of Beni Menin were set ablaze by Muslim villagers on Monday night in the latest incident of sectarian violence, according to a member of the village who spoke to Mada Masr.

 

Monday’s violence was preceded by attacks on a church building used for worship in the village, as well as homes and shops owned by Copts, which took place on April 14, the source added.

 

The Fashn Prosecution, which has jurisdiction over the region in which the village resides, issued four-day detention orders on Monday for 20 people and arrest warrants for 10 others in connection to the April 14 events, according to the privately owned Al-Shorouk newspaper. The 20 people that are currently in custody include nine Coptic Christians and 11 Muslims, who have been charged with illegal assembly and disrupting public peace, according to Ishaq Ibrahim, a researcher on religious freedoms at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR).

 

Security forces also arrested five Copts during the attacks that took place on Monday, according to a Coptic villager, who spoke to Mada Masr on condition of anonymity and fled Beni Menin upon hearing that a warrant had been issued for his arrest on charges of inciting violence against Muslims. All of the Coptic men from the village have taken refuge in neighboring villages, with only a number of women and children remaining in Beni Menin, the source added.

 

Another Coptic villager who spoke to Mada Masr on condition of anonymity stated that investigation authorities have accused the five Copts arrested on Monday with setting their own houses on fire. However, he told Mada Masr that the Coptic men had been arrested while attempting to extinguish the fires, which were set off when someone threw Molotov cocktails at their residences.

 

A Muslim villager denied stories of Monday’s attacks, stating that they had been fabricated.

 

The conflict began over the legal status of the church building, an issue that has often served as a tinderbox for sectarian strife. On April 11, the first Coptic source was summoned to the Fashn Police Station, where police officer Mohamed Rabea threatened to report him for conducting prayers in the church building “without a permit.” The source told Mada Masr that Copts in the village have used the building to pray for a decade.

 

“The officer asked Coptic villagers to coordinate with the National Security Agency and to stop holding prayers in the building,” the source said. On April 12, security forces arrested Magdy Roushdy Labib, the son of the previous owner of the church building, who sold it in 2010 to Bishop Stephanous of Biba and Fashn, the source added. “The sale was registered in court for the purpose of holding prayers in the building.”

 

According to the Coptic villager, a Fashn priest subsequently submitted documents to confirm the building’s status as a site of worship in 2017, as part of a survey of churches and church buildings in Fashn that was conducted after the issuance of the church building law on September 28, 2016.

 

Ibrahim attributes the frequent occurrence of these sectarian events to this very same law. Out of 3,500 applications submitted by churches to legalize their status, only 219 churches and affiliated buildings have been approved by the government committee responsible for reviewing these applications since the issuance of the new law in 2016. The committee, which stopped receiving new applications in September 2017, confirmed the status of 53 church buildings in March of this year, as well as an additional 166 on Monday.

 

“A police officer at the station asked the son of the previous owner to sign an eviction notice,” the Coptic villager stated. When he refused, because he did not legally have the right to do so, the police officer issued a cease and desist order on grounds of ‘inciting religious discontent.’ Last Friday [April 13], officials attended the inauguration of a mosque in the village. The officials informed Coptic residents that there was no problem holding prayers in the church. However, churchgoers were surprised when, on [April 14] during a church service, they received a phone call warning them of an attack on the church. They evacuated the building, but matters escalated, resulting in attacks on several Coptic-owned homes and shops.

 

The attacks were not limited to the church building and its immediate vicinity, the Coptic villager stated.

 

“Although I live a kilometer away from the church, they attacked my house with bricks and Molotov cocktails and broke the windows. My children and I were terrified, and my daughter was hit in the head by a brick. I couldn’t even leave the house to take her to the local hospital,” he said. “The police arrived three hours after the clashes and arrested a number of Muslims and Copts in the village.”

 

The source who had fled from the village said he had left with one of his brothers, while another had been arrested. He said, “I don’t know where we can go. Don’t we have the right to pray? Aren’t we Egyptians? Why should I be attacked and have to run away and leave my work and home just because I pray and say the name of the Lord?”

 

Mada Masr was unable to reach the Fashn archbishopric responsible for the church in question for official comment.

 

The Muslim villager presents a different account of the events, however. Security sources informed Muslim villagers on April 12 of the existence of a church that had previously been unknown and was not licensed, the source told Mada Masr.

 

Village elders intervened to prevent the situation from escalating, the Muslim village said, adding that, on April 13, Copts and Muslims in the village participated in the inauguration of a local mosque. On April 14, a group of children began fighting in front of Coptic homes, the source stated.

 

“They were messing around and we sprayed water on them. They left,” he said, adding that a Coptic villager fired shots into the air from a rooftop, which provoked neighboring residents and gave rise to fighting.

 

The Muslim source said that he intervened to protect the homes of his Coptic neighbors during the attacks out of a sense of duty. He feels the situation was blown out of proportion, however, since Copts and Muslim in the village have always lived in peace and harmony.

 

An estimated 200 to 250 Coptic Christians live in Beni Menin, according to Ibrahim, which he put as a relatively low figure. Although this was the first attack of its kind in the village, there have been similar incidents, with the most recent occurring earlier in April, in a village in the governorate of Qena.

 

The houses attacked also included one owned by a Muslim villager, according to the second Coptic source, who added that the Muslim man was forced to sign a police report at the station accusing Copts of arson.

 

While the causes of sectarian violence in Upper Egypt are complex, Ibrahim asserted that the legislation that regulates church legalization plays an important part. He described the law as “discriminatory,” saying it increases sectarian tension by implying that the construction of churches is a problem, especially in villages where Copts are a minority, as they are in Beni Menin.

 

The researcher added that the state wished to continue controlling churches and violating the rights of individuals to worship freely and did not take necessary measures to stem violent and discriminatory discourse or address those found to be inciting sectarian violence.

 

According to a report in November 2017, from the time the new church building law was issued until October 2017, EIPR recorded 20 incidents of attacks or sectarian tension linked to the practice of religious rites, with the governorate of Minya witnessing nine incidences, followed by Beni Suef with five incidences, and Sohag with three, Cairo with two and Alexandria with one.

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ROMANIA: Kovesi Stays, so what next from #Romania’s tainted corruption fight?

President Iohannis’ decision to retain Laura Kovesi as head of Romania’s DNA overlooks the myriad of abuses her department is accused of.

 

By Willy Fautre

EU Reporter (18.04.2018) – https://bit.ly/2qKHBe2 – This week, Romania’s President Iohannis announced his decision to retain the powerful Laura Kovesi as Chief Prosecutor at the National Anti-Corruption Directorate (DNA). This follows months of political wrangling, debate and scrutiny of the current state of the country’s fight against corruption. Earlier this year, it seemed that Romania’s controversial, and at times disturbing, anti-corruption effort was finally going to be brought back under control. However, it is now clear that President Iohannis had other ideas.

A myriad of accusations has been levelled against Kovesi and the DNA. These include, but are not limited to, evidence tampering, witness coercion and falsifying statements. In February this year, tapes were published in which two DNA prosecutors are recorded conspiring to falsify charges and fake evidence. They were caught red-handed. It seemed that the poisonous activities of such an organisation had finally been laid bare and that reform was forthcoming. Sadly, this hasn’t proved to be the case.

Last month my organisation, Human Rights Without Frontiers, published a report cataloguing the string of human rights abuses and rule of law violations committed under the guise of Romania’s anti-corruption fight. We found that of the 47-member nations of the Council of Europe, Romania was the 3rd worst offender with regards to human rights abuses. On top of this, the 69 cases brought against it to the European Court of Human Rights is the highest number of any EU member state.

The report reflects mounting concern that Romanian politicians, businessmen and civilians are victims of unfair trails, unwarranted detention periods and spurious convictions. Reports that defendants are being denied the right to submit evidence and enlist witnesses should trouble all of us who believe in the rule of law and the primary importance of a legitimate criminal justice system. Even more sinister and alarming is the alleged level of deep involvement of the security services, echoing a darker chapter from Romania’s past.

The Romanian Intelligence Service (SRI) is the successor to the much-feared, communist-era Securitate. Sadly, their well-documented involvement in anti-corruption cases bears all the hallmarks of their omnipotent predecessors. Our report highlighted how 1,000 of Romania’s nearly 7,000 judges were ‘trained’ by the SRI in a programme using European funds. This reflects SRI General Dumitru Dumbrava’s own characterisation of the judicial system as a ‘tactical field’, heavily suggesting direct interference with judges, prosecutors and the entire process of criminal justice.

Romania’s troubles extend further than this however. Prison conditions have been a growing source of concern both within and outside the country for many years. We discovered allegations of physical abuse, torture and appalling overcrowding. These are the conditions facing those with potentially unsafe convictions. Often, those accused spend months in such conditions before seeing the inside of a courtroom, tantamount to being guilty until proven innocent. This directly contravenes the UN Convention Against Torture, to which Romania is a signatory. It could prove grounds for invoking Article 7 of the Treaty on the European Union, which allows for the suspending of certain member state rights if they are found in violation.

In nations with more established systems of criminal justice, even one of the above allegations would usually be enough to bring down those culpable. Not Romania it seems. Anti-corruption fights should be – to use a common phrase – ‘whiter than white’, but theirs lurks deep in the shadows. The goal should be simple, to uncover corruption and punish it. The goal in Romania’s case however appears to be to ‘inflate the numbers whatever the cost’. With a scarcely believable 50% increase in indictments over the past 5 years, it seems to be an exercise in finding people guilty, rather than finding guilty people.

Despite all this well-documented evidence, Laura Kovesi remains in power, with her position secured by Presidential Decree. A timely opportunity to face up to the disturbing allegations surrounding Romania’s anti-corruption fight has been missed. The question is: what happens next? Will we ever see the reforms required for a truly just anti-corruption fight – free from allegations of evidence tampering and witness coercion? One can only hope so, but this week’s event has once again pushed that possibility further away.

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LEBANON: A better tomorrow, ‘Bukhra Ahla’

Part of the child marriage story series.


Painting by an SB OverSeas beneficiary in Lebanon

 

Written by Jade-Leigh Tenwick, Communications and Development Officer at SB OverSeas

SB OverSeas (18.04.2018) – Lamis is a seventeen year old girl. A seventeen year old girl who is called ‘the divorced woman’. Yet she is barely a woman. Born a year post millennium, she enjoyed her childhood in Syria which was spent going to school and playing with her friends. This all changed in 2012 when the Syrian war broke out. Her family, along with many other Syrian’ families fled their country as the conflict intensified and she found herself at eleven years old seeking refuge in Lebanon,  a country where 1 in 4 people is a refugee.

 

Due to the harsh residency policy in Lebanon,[1] Lamis and her family were often moving from place to place and this constant upheaval prevented her from attending school. With over three-quarters of Syrians in Lebanon living below the poverty line,[2]  there has been an increase in the rate of child marriage as it is viewed as the only viable way to provide protection for girls.

 

Lamis’ family were no exception. Struggling to provide security and food for the family, they viewed marriage as a way to secure Lamis’ future. Therefore, when a 22 year old boy from the neighborhood asked for permission from her family for Lamis to be his wife, they accepted, telling her it would be like a fairytale. Not having any experience of marriage or what would be expected of her, she went along with this agreement.

 

Shortly after the wedding, cracks began to appear. Her husband had different preconceptions as to what it meant to be married. These preconceptions were not ones that she could live up to. He and his family, started to punish her for this by beating her, sometimes until she bled. She could not understand what she had done wrong and experienced this abuse for six months before securing a divorce and escaping to her family.

 

However, her problems did not end here. Divorce in her community, like most communities, carries along with it a stigma. People on the street called her the ‘divorced woman’ and refused to acknowledge her by her name. She became an outcast and her family began to fear for her safety warning her not to be on the streets along.

 

We know of this story as Lamis is one of students at our SB OverSeas school. Despite the difficulties in coming to our school due to street harassment, she attends our classes as she wants to have a better future. She talks openly with others at the school of her experience and encourages them to make their own decision telling them that she wishes she was not married so young as she feels chained by the stigma. She hopes that her message will empower other girls to make their own decision and chose education instead of marriage as a means of security. For herself, she hopes that education will be the key to unlocking a better future and having, like the name of our centre, a better tomorrow: ‘Bukhra Ahla’.

 

Lamis is just one of the many girls at our schools who have been affected by child marriage. SB OverSeas works to prevent the practice of child marriage by providing access to education for 1,400 refugee children in Lebanon and by economically empowering women and girls through our vocational courses, as well as our self-development courses.

 

[1]Over 70% of Syrian refugees in Lebanon do not have legal residency: http://www.unhcr.org/news/briefing/2018/1/5a548d174/survey-finds-syrian-refugees-lebanon-poorer-vulnerable-2017.html

[2]http://www.unhcr.org/news/briefing/2018/1/5a548d174/survey-finds-syrian-refugees-lebanon-poorer-vulnerable-2017.html

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European Parliament committee urges end to child marriage

EU should act against the unlawful practice globally – and at home


HRW.org (16.04.2018) – https://bit.ly/2HovyNH – The European Union could do more to help end child marriage, and members of the European Parliament are working for it to do just that.

 

On Thursday, the parliament’s Women’s Rights and Gender Equality Committee adopted an opinion calling for the EU’s diplomatic arm to develop a clear strategy and dedicate funds to eradicating child and forced marriage by 2030.

 

This could not be more timely. Under the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, countries around the world pledged to end child marriage – any marriage in which one or both spouses are under age 18 – by 2030.

 

Achieving this will be difficult. Child marriage occurs in every region of the world, in staggering numbers. About 15 million girls under 18 marry each year – one every two seconds. Every seven seconds, a girl under 15 marries. Most girls marry men over age 18 – in some cases, much older.

 

Research shows that child marriage is severely harmful. Married children often drop out of school and are locked in poverty as a result. Married girls often quickly become pregnant, and early pregnancy involves serious health risks – including death – for girls and their babies. Girls who marry are at higher risk of domestic violence than women who marry as adults.

 

The EU has a key role to play. The EU and many of its member states contribute significant amounts of aid to countries with high rates of child marriage. Donors can provide critical assistance for legal and policy reform in these countries. They can also help provide the support – access to education, sexual and reproductive health information and services, economic security, and social empowerment – girls need to escape child marriage.

 

There is also work for the EU to do at home. A number of EU member states still permit child marriage. Several countries – the Netherlands, Germany, and Sweden – have banned child marriage (and non-EU Norway is considering doing so). But others – including Austria, Belgium, Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom, to name a few – have laws allowing children younger than 18 to marry under some circumstances.

 

The European Parliament’s committee is on the right path to push the EU on this issue. The Foreign Affairs committee and the full parliament should not only adopt this opinion, but ultimately deliver a resolution calling on EU member states to take concerted action. Girls’ lives depend on it.

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Portugal gender change law boosts transgender rights, protects infants

NewsMax (13.04.2018) – https://nws.mx/2JUlqe9 – Portugal, a new gender change law approved Friday means transgender people in the country will no longer need to be diagnosed as mentally ill to legally change their gender and unnessary surgery on intersex infants is banned.

 

Several European nations require transgender people to undergo medical procedures such as surgery and sterilization, be diagnosed with a mental disorder, and get divorced if married to have their desired gender legally recognized by government.

 

The law makes Portugal only the sixth European nation to allow a change of gender without medical or state intervention, according to ILGA-Europe, a network of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) groups.

 

It follows Malta, Norway, Denmark, Ireland and Belgium.

 

People who are transgender do not identify with the gender they were born as, while intersex people have ambiguous genitalia that are not considered typically male or female.

 

“When trans people are trusted to take decisions for themselves, it signals respect (and) procedures are simplified,” said Transgender Europe’s senior policy officer Richard Kohler.

 

“It enables anyone who needs legal gender recognition to quickly get through with this bureaucratic step and continue with their lives,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

 

The law also means Portugal will become only the second nation in the world, after Malta, to ban medically unnecessary surgery on the genitals of intersex infants, activists said.

 

About 1.7 percent of the world’s population, or 129 million people, is thought to be born intersex, the United Nations says.

 

Doctors often perform surgery to “masculinize” or “feminize” the genitalia of intersex babies aged 2 or under in the belief it will make their lives easier and to ease parental distress.

 

Yet it can cause life-long pain, sterilization, loss of sexual sensation and health complications, campaigners say.

 

Rights groups such as Organisation Intersex International (OII) and StopIGM.org said Portugal’s new law was insufficient.

 

Parents could circumvent the legislation and have surgeries performed on their children by claiming they were confident of their gender identity, said Kitty Anderson, co-chair of OII.

 

“The law . . . doesn’t explicitly prohibit intersex genital mutilation (IGM), nor criminalize or adequately sanction IGM, nor address obstacles to access to justice and redress for IGM survivors,” said Daniela Truffer, co-founder of StopIGM.org.

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