CHINA: USCIRF “adopts” 35 Chinese prisoners—25 are members of The Church of Almighty God

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom delivers a powerful blow to China. This proves just how useful USCIRF is, despite criticism by some US lawmakers.

 

By Massimo Introvigne

Former USCIRF Commissioner and Vice-Chairperson Kristina Arriaga with Bitter Winter’s editor-in-chief Massimo Introvigne. Arriaga holds in her hands a collection of documents denouncing CCP atrocities against The Church of Almighty God.
The booklet held by Kristina Arriaga “NGOs Unite Against Religious Freedom Oppression in China” is a publication of Human Rights Without Frontiers. It can be consulted online at https://hrwf.eu/forb/our-reports/ as well as “Tortured to Death.”

 

Bitter Winter (29.11.2019) – https://bit.ly/2YzfuyK – Ms. Du Xiaoqin was born on August 28, 1972, in Xialou Town, Lingbi County, Anhui Province, China. She joined The Church of Almighty God (CAG) in 1998. According to a judgment published in the very official data base China Judgments Online, and reported by pro-government Chinese media, on July 16, 2018, twenty-four CAG members were sentenced to jail terms of 3 to 5.5 years by the Yuhui District People’s Court of Bengbu City, Anhui Province.

 

The police had arrested altogether 36 CAG members, including Du Xiaoqin, while they were gathering in Bengbu and shooting CAG gospel videos. After 45 days of secret surveillance, the police had discovered their six gathering places. On August 29, 2016, the Bengbu police conducted a unified arrest of 36 CAG members and confiscated their video-shooting equipment.

 

Twenty-four of the CAG members arrested, including Du Xiaoqin, were indicted by the Yuhui District People’s Procuratorate of Bengbu City on suspicion of organizing and using a xie jiao, i.e. a religious group prohibited under Chinese law. Information on the remaining 12 arrested CAG members is unavailable. On July 26, 2018, Du was sentenced to 3 years and 6 months and fined 8,000 RMB (about 1,200 USD) by the Yuhui District People’s Court in Bengbu under Art. 300 of the Chinese law, the provision against the xie jiao. Du and 17 other CAG members still remain in prison.

 

The CCP obviously believed that Du and the others would simply be forgotten, subject to the harsh life of a remote Chinese jail where mistreatment and torture are common. The CCP, however, was wrong. Not only scholars have studied these cases of application of Art. 300 as gross violations of religious liberty, and evidence that indeed Chinese law punishes the most elementary forms of religious activity by the groups labeled as xie jiao. Now, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Liberty (USCIRF) has published a list of 35 prisoners of conscience in China, including Falun Gong practitioners and others. 25 out of 35 are members of the CAG, confirming that the CAG is currently the most persecuted religious movement in China.

 

What is USCIRF? It is an independent and bipartisan commission of the U.S. Federal Government, created in 1998 to monitor the situation of religious liberty outside of the United States. Its yearly international report is regarded as one of the most authoritative assessments of the status of religious freedom internationally. Part of its mandate is to “adopt” selected prisoners of conscience, whose cases it has investigated. Some of those selected by USCIRF are then personally “adopted” by members of the US Senate and House, who start personally advocating for their cases.

 

Human rights activists and scholars throughout the world have learned to highly respect USCIRF and its documents. It is an official commission of the U.S. Government, yet it is politically independent. Unfortunately, not everybody likes this independence. USCIRF advocates for religious freedom irrespective whether the perpetrators of human rights violations are good economic partners of the U.S. or otherwise. The CCP and other enemies of religious liberty hate USCIRF with a vengeance. And USCIRF bases its work on the idea that religion is a force for good in the world and should not be persecuted.

 

Interests hostile to religious liberty have now came together in the US, and certain MPs have proposed a law that would dramatically change the scope of USCIRF, submitting the independent Commissioners to government bureaucrats, introducing a political control of their documents, and extending its mandate to crimes allegedly committed not “against” but “by” religions, in discriminating against others (including atheist, women, and homosexuals). Obviously, these problems also exist, but there are plenty of federal agencies in the US dealing with them. The aim of the law is simply to de-potentiate USCIRF, whose good work has disturbed both countries that are important business partners of the U.S. and American companies that work with them. Naming names would be pleonastic. Our readers easily understand which kind of countries do not like USCIRF.

 

In protest against the new draft law, Ms. Kristina Arriaga de Bucholz, who has been for years a leading and brilliant Commissioner (and Vice-Chairperson) there, has resigned from USCIRF and explained why in a Wall Street Journal article. Followed widespread protest, the controversial draft bill “reforming” USCIRF was withdrawn. But maneuvers against the USCIRF are not over. The precious work USCIRF does about Chinese prisoners of conscience just proves once again that the independence and the role of the Commission should be maintained and preserved—in the interest not of the U.S. only but of all friends of religious liberty and human rights.

HRWF Comment

 

As of mid-November, HRWF’s Database of FORB Prisoners in China (https://hrwf.eu/hrwf-prisoners-database-china/) contained:

 

– More than 2800 documented cases of members of the Church of Almighty God

– More than 2000 documented of Falun Gong practitioners

– Documented cases of Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, Buddhists




INDIA: ‘Anti-Muslim’ citizenship bill

The ruling Hindu nationalist government pushes for bill, which opposition says violates India’s secular constitution.

 

By Bilal Kuchay

 

Al Jazeera (09.12.2019) – https://bit.ly/2LV5afJ – India’s lower House of Parliament (Lok Sabha) has passed the controversial Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB), which will grant citizenship to religious minorities from neighbouring countries, with legal experts saying it violates the country’s secular constitution.

 

The bill, which seeks to amend the 1955 citizenship law, aims to give citizenship to “persecuted” minorities – Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians – from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan, but excludes Muslims.

 

After being approved 311-80 by the lower chamber on Monday, the bill will now go to the upper House, where the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) lacks a majority.

 

Opposition parties say the bill is discriminatory as it singles out Muslims in an officially secular nation of 1.3 billion people. Muslims form nearly 15 percent of the population.

 

Critics point out that the move is part of a Hindu supremacist agenda pushed by the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi since it came to power nearly six years ago.

 

‘Strategy to polarise India’

 

Sanjay Jha, spokesperson of the main opposition Congress party, told Al Jazeera that the CAB is “part of a deeper divisive BJP’s political strategy to polarise India”.

 

“Hence the exclusionary element of religion in CAB,” he said. “The political business model of the BJP is to keep India on a permanent boil, raising the communal temperatures high during elections.”

 

Last month, Minister of Home Affairs Amit Shah, a close confidant of Modi, announced that the country will begin the exercise of counting all its citizens to weed out undocumented immigrants from neighbouring countries.

 

A similar exercise called the National Register of Citizens (NRC) was carried out in the northeast state of Assam where nearly two million people were left off the citizens’ list in August.

 

Shah has in the past called Bangladeshi immigrants as “termites” and “infiltrators” and a threat to national security.

 

His party has vehemently opposed the arrival of Rohingya refugees and threatened to deport them to Myanmar despite the Muslim minority facing ethnic cleansing back home.

 

The draft law also excludes Sri Lanka, where Tamil minorities have faced atrocities.

 

What is the Citizenship Amendment Bill?

 

The CAB, first introduced in Parliament in July 2016, seeks to amend the Citizenship Act 1955 by making religion a basis for citizenship. The previous law did not make religion an eligibility criterion to become a citizen.

 

The bill was passed in the Lok Sabha in January this year, but could not be taken up in the Upper House, following protests in the northeastern states and resistance from the opposition.

 

The new bill cleared by the Cabinet last week, made some exemptions for the northeastern states, which have protested against the move, saying it will encourage tens of thousands of Hindus from Bangladesh to migrate to India.

 

As per the new draft law, the undocumented immigrants must have resided in India in the last one year and for at least six years in total to qualify for citizenship while the 1955 law prescribes 12 years’ residency as a qualification.

 

‘Discriminatory bill’

 

The major criticism of the bill has been that it prevents Muslims from seeking citizenship, something similar to US President Donald Trump’s Muslim ban under which Muslims from few countries were banned from seeking asylum.

 

Legal experts argue that it violates Article 14 of the constitution, which guarantees the right to equality.

 

Faizan Mustafa, an expert on constitutional law, termed the bill “very regressive” and a violation of the constitution.

 

“We don’t have our citizenship based on religion,” said Mustafa, the vice chancellor of NALSAR University of Law in Hyderabad.

 

“Our constitution prohibits any discrimination based on religion. By distinguishing illegal immigrants based on religion, the proposed law violates the basic structure of the Indian constitution,” he told Al Jazeera.

 

“If Indian government, through this bill, wants to give citizenship to persecuted minorities in the neighbouring countries, how can it exclude the Rohingya of Myanmar who are far more persecuted than any other group in the neighbourhood,” he said.

 

“Similarly, how can we exclude Ahmediyas and Shia from Pakistan and Bangladesh and Hazaras from Afghanistan.”

 

Opposition in the Northeast

 

A large section of people and organisations in the northeast have opposed the bill, saying it will nullify the provisions of the Assam Accord of 1985, which fixed March 24, 1971, as the cut-off date for deportation of all undocumented immigrants irrespective of religion.

 

The current bill has set a cut-off of date of December 31, 2014.

 

Home minister Shah has assured that people in the northeast, home to a large number of tribal population – will be exempted from purview of the bill, but that has failed to assuage their fears.

 

“People in the northeast are concerned about the bill because they feel it will change the demographic composition of their states,” Sanjoy Hazarika, director of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, told Al Jazeera.

 

NRC

 

On August 31, the final list of NRC – a Supreme Court-monitored bureaucratic citizenship exercise – excluded nearly two million people from its final citizenship list in Assam.

 

The exercise, meant to exclude Bangladeshi undocumented immigrants, saw many genuine Indian citizens also left out.

 

BJP rejected the outcome of the process in Assam as a sizable section of those left out were apparently Hindus. No official figures are out yet.

 

“The motive behind CAB is to actually legitimise the citizenship of all those non-Muslims who may be declared as illegal immigrants as per the NRC,” claims Mustafa.

 

The government, however, maintains that the bill aims to grant citizenship to minorities who have faced religious persecution in the neighbouring Muslim-majority countries.

 

“The argument that this bill is discriminatory cannot apply as the issue is not about the Indian citizens,” BJP spokesperson Nalin Kohli told Al Jazeera. “The Bill is for Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian minority communities who because of partition could not come to India and suffered persecution in their own countries.”

 

“Regarding Muslims, there are countries that were formed exclusively for them,” he said.

 

When asked about other persecuted Ahmediyas and Rohingya, Nalin Kohli said: “India is not looking to be inundated by those who are already citizens of the neighbouring countries.”




ECHR / AZERBAIJAN: Freedom of expression in a religious context

Conviction of author and editor for article’s remarks on Islam was excessive, breached their freedom of expression

 

Registrar of the European Court (05.12.2019) – www.echr.coe.int – In today’s Chamber judgment in the case of Tagiyev and Huseynov v. Azerbaijan (application no. 13274/08) the European Court of Human Rights held, unanimously, that there had been a violation of Article 10 (freedom of expression) of the European Convention on Human Rights.

 

The case concerned the applicants’ conviction for inciting religious hatred and hostility with their remarks on Islam in an article they had published in 2006.

 

The Court found in particular that the national courts had not justified why the applicants’ conviction had been necessary when the article had clearly only been comparing Western and Eastern values, and had contributed to a debate on a matter of public interest, namely the role of religion in society.

 

Indeed, the courts had simply endorsed a report finding that certain remarks had amounted to incitement to religious hatred and hostility, without putting them in context or even trying to balance the applicants’ right to impart to the public their views on religion against the right of religious people to respect for their beliefs.

 

Principal facts

 

The applicants, Rafig Nazir oglu Tagiyev and Samir Sadagat oglu Huseynov, are Azerbaijani nationals who were born in 1950 and 1975 respectively. Mr Tagiyev, now deceased, lived in Baku and was a well-known writer and columnist. Mr Huseynov lives in Lankaran (Azerbaijan) and used to work as editor-in-chief of Sanat Gazeti (Art Newspaper).

 

The case concerns the applicants’ conviction for the publication of an article in November 2006 in Sanat Gazeti as part of a series written by Mr Tagiyev comparing Western and Eastern values. The article, entitled “Europe and us”, led to criticism by various Azerbaijani and Iranian religious figures and groups and to a religious fatwa calling for the applicants’ death.

 

Shortly after publication of the article, the applicants were prosecuted for inciting religious hatred and hostility. A district court ordered the applicants’ detention pending trial.

 

The investigator in charge of the case ordered a forensic linguistic and Islamic assessment of the article. The resulting report characterised certain remarks, in particular those concerning morality in Islam, the Prophet Muhammad, Muslims living in Europe and Eastern philosophers, as incitement to religious hatred and hostility.

 

Endorsing the conclusions of that report, the domestic courts found the applicants guilty as charged in May 2007 and sentenced them to three and four years’ imprisonment respectively. All their subsequent appeals were unsuccessful.

 

The applicants were released in December 2007 following a presidential pardon, having spent more than one year in detention.

 

Complaints, procedure and composition of the Court

 

Relying in particular on Article 10 (freedom of expression), the applicants alleged that their criminal conviction had been unjustified and excessive.

 

The application was lodged with the European Court of Human Rights on 7 March 2008.

 

Judgment was given by a Chamber of seven judges, composed as follows:

 

Angelika Nußberger (Germany), President, Gabriele Kucsko-Stadlmayer (Austria), Ganna Yudkivska (Ukraine), Síofra O’Leary (Ireland), Mārtiņš Mits (Latvia), Lәtif Hüseynov (Azerbaijan), Lado Chanturia (Georgia),

 

and also Claudia Westerdiek, Section Registrar.

 

Decision of the Court

 

First, the Court noted that there was no dispute that the applicants’ criminal conviction had amounted to an interference with their right to freedom of expression. That interference had had a basis in national law, Article 283 of the Criminal Code, and had aimed at protecting the rights of others and preventing disorder.

 

The Government had argued that the applicants’ conviction had also met a pressing social need as their article had been an abusive attack on Islam and had offended and insulted religious feelings.

 

The Court, on the other hand, found that it was clear from reading the whole text of the article that it had mainly been a comparison of Western and European values and should therefore be examined not only in the context of religious beliefs, but also in that of a debate on a matter of public interest, namely the role of religion in society.

 

Furthermore, it found that the national courts had failed to justify the applicants’ conviction with “relevant and sufficient” reasons. The courts had merely endorsed the forensic report, without giving any explanation as to why certain remarks in the article had been singled out as constituting incitement to religious hatred and hostility. The report had essentially provided a legal characterisation of those remarks, thus going far beyond resolving language and religious issues. Such a situation was unacceptable for the Court, which stressed that all legal matters should be resolved exclusively by the courts.

 

Moreover, the courts had not assessed the remarks in context. They had neither considered the public interest nor the author’s intention, and in particular whether the use of provocation or exaggeration had been justified.

 

Indeed, in their decisions convicting the applicants, the courts had not even tried to balance the applicants’ right to impart to the public their views on religion against the right of religious people to respect for their beliefs.

 

Lastly, the Court found that there had been no justification for the imposition of imprisonment on the applicants. Such a severe sanction could dissuade the press from openly discussing religion and its role in society, and generally have a chilling effect on freedom of expression in Azerbaijan.

 

The Court concluded that the applicants’ conviction had been disproportionate and had therefore not been “necessary in a democratic society”, in violation of Article 10.

 

Just satisfaction (Article 41)

 

The Court held that Azerbaijan was to pay Mr Tagiyev’s wife and Mr Huseynov 12,000 euros (EUR) each in respect of non-pecuniary damage and EUR 850 in respect of costs and expenses.




Six Muslim men jailed for missing Friday prayers in Malaysia

UCA News reporter (05.12.2019) – http://bit.ly/2Rn3KxK – Six Muslim men in Malaysia’s conservative northeastern state of Terengganu have been handed one-month jail terms for missing Friday prayers, according to a news report.

 

The punishment has prompted fresh concern about a rise in Islamic conservatism in the multi-ethnic country.

 

Attending Friday prayers is obligatory for Muslim men in Malaysia, but it is unusual for such punishment to be handed down for not doing so.

 

According to the Harian Metro newspaper the men aged from 17 to 35 were caught having a picnic by a waterfall instead of observing Islam’s holiest day of the week.

 

The sharia court they were dragged before on Dec. 1 also fined each of them between 2,400 and 2,500 ringgit (US$575-$600).

 

They are free on bail while they appeal the sentences, but could have faced two years behind bars.

 

“Their alleged failure to attend Friday prayers is a personal matter,” Zaid Malek, from rights group Lawyers for Liberty, said, reported AFP.

 

“While such acts may be considered improper by some in Muslim society, criminal punishment is excessive and not the way to address them.”

 

Critics said the case demonstrated that Malaysia’s tolerant interpretation of Islam was being eaten away, and came a few weeks after four Muslim men were caned for having gay sex.

 

Sharia courts handle certain cases for Muslim citizens.Some 60 percent of Malaysia’s 32 million people are ethnic Malay Muslims while the rest are mostly ethnic Indian and Chinese, who usually do not adhere to Islam.




INDIA: Cabinet sends religion-based citizenship bill to parliament

By Devjyot Ghoshal and Zarir Hussain

Reuters (04.12.2019) – https://reut.rs/2Ynkkzk – India’s cabinet approved a bill on Wednesday to give citizenship to religious minorities persecuted in neighboring Muslim countries, the first time that the country is seeking to grant nationality on the basis of religion.

 

Last month, Amit Shah, India’s federal home (interior) minister, told parliament that non-Muslim minorities – Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, Christians, Sikhs and Parsis – who fled from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan would be given Indian citizenship under the proposed law.

 

The Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) was first introduced in 2016 by the Hindu nationalist government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi but was withdrawn after an alliance partner withdrew support and protests flared in India’s remote and ethnically diverse northeastern region.

 

Giving Indian citizenship to “Hindus, Jains, Buddhists and Sikhs escaping persecution” was part of the manifesto of Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ahead of a general election in May 2019 that the nationalist leader swept.

 

Critics have called the proposed law anti-Muslim, and some opposition parties have also pushed back, arguing citizenship cannot be granted on the basis of religion.

The passage of the bill, which could be introduced in parliament this week, will also be a test for the BJP, since it enjoys a majority in the lower house but is short of numbers in India’s upper house. Any bill needs to be ratified by both houses of India’s parliament to become law.

In Assam, a northeastern state that was the epicenter of protests, some students groups said they were still opposed to the law, fearing that tens of thousands of Hindu migrants from neighboring Bangladesh would gain citizenship.

 

“We do not support CAB and shall launch a vigorous mass agitation across Assam and the Northeast,” All Assam Students’ Union Advisor Samujjal Bhattacharya told Reuters.

 

Assam’s Finance Minister and senior BJP leader Himanta Biswa Sarma said that there would be amendments in the bill to help ease regional concerns. “But since CAB is for the whole of India, there cannot be a separate bill for the Northeast,” he said.

 

However he did not give details.




IRAN: News from Baha’is in jail in November

HRWF (30.11.2019) – Baha’is in Iran have continued to be arrested, sentenced to prison terms and sometimes released on bail after a period of pretrial detention without criminal charges being dropped. The official charges are usually: forming an illegal cult, membership in the deviant Baha’i sect, membership in an anti-Islamic group, participation in illegal assemblies, propaganda against the regime, posing a threat to the holy regime of the Islamic Republic by teaching Baha’i ideas, acting against national security, espionage, and so on.

 

Abbaas Taa’ef in pre-trial detention for 2 months

 

Sen’s Daily (26.11.2019) – https://bitly.com – Abbaas Taa’ef, a Baha’i from Tehran, was freed on bail from Evin Prison on 25 November. He was arrested by agents from the Ministry of Intelligence on 27 September. The agents searched his home and workplace and seized a laptop, mobile phone and some ID documents and some of his personal effects. His office, which is his workplace, has been sealed by the authorities. He suffers from heart disease, kidney disease, and diabetes.

 

Sentences confirmed for 7 Baha’is from Bushehr: 3 years

 

Sen’s Daily (22.11.2019) – https://bit.ly/2OeMWXW – The Review court has confirmed the three-year sentences of seven Bahais from Bushehr. They are Minou Reyaazati, Asadollah Jaaberi and his wife Ehteraam Shakhi, Leqa Faraamarzi, Emaad Jaaberi and Puneh Naashari. All seven were arrested in raids on Bahai homes in Bushehr on February 15, 2018. Their homes were thoroughly searched, and personal effects such as laptops, books, flash drives, external hard drives, and family photograph albums were seized. Emaad Jaaberi and Puneh Naashari (were released on bail on March 6 and the remaining five on March 13, 2018. Bail was set at 250 million tumans (53,000 EUR; $US 66,000).

 

Samin Maqsudi goes to jail for 5 years

Sen’s Daily (11.11.2019) – https://bit.ly/2OeNVaA – Samin Maqsudi, a Baha’i from Tehran, began her sentence in the women’s wing of Evin Prison on November 9. She was charged with participating in Baha’i activities. The charges relate to her commemoration, in her own home, of the bicentennial of the birth of Baha’u’llah, on October 21, 2017. She was initially sentenced on May 21, 2018, by Judge Moqiseh, a notorious abuser of human rights, and of judicial procedures, who was responsible for the imprisonment of the seven “Yaran.” The Review Court for Tehran Province, headed by Judge Zargar, confirmed the 5-year sentence in September this year.

 

Ghazaaleh Baaqeri-Taari, also from Tehran, was arrested on the same day and sentenced to five years in prison for celebrating the birth of Baha’u’llah.

 

Recommended reading

 

Increased persecution of Iran’s Baha’I community in 2019 (USCIRF): https://bit.ly/37t2jDT

 

The Baha’is of Iran, a persecuted community (Baha’I International Community): https://www.bic.org/sites/default/files/pdf/iran/overview_of_persecution-0119_2.pdf

 

Situation of Baha’is in Iran (Baha’I International Community): https://www.bic.org/focus-areas/situation-iranian-bahais/current-situation