ALGERIA: Muslims reopen a Tizi-Ouzou church, closed by the authorities

For the first time in contemporary Algerian history, Muslims support Christians. The popular movement remains united against the regime’s deceptions. Since January 2018, the authorities have put seals on 15 Christian places of worship.

 

By Kamel Abderrahmani

 

AsiaNews (21.10.2019) – https://bit.ly/2JanuzK – Last Thursday morning, Algerian authorities put seals on the largest Protestant church in Algeria. The decision was made by the head of the Tizi-Ouzou (Tizi Wezzu) wilaya (prefecture) who in the recent past also attacked Ibadite Muslims in Ghardaïa (Taɣerdayt) in southern Algeria.

 

Since churches opened, they have never been a problem, especially in this region known for its tolerance towards all beliefs. So, right after the start of the crackdown, Christians organised a sit-in in Tizi Ouzou to protest against the church closing. The sit-in was met with more repression, including the arrest of at least seventeen Christians.

 

Arbitrary closures and arrests have real political aims. Under Algeria’s regime, nothing is done randomly! Given the events in Algeria since 22 February of this year and the determination of the Algerian people to get rid of the hybrid dictatorship that has ruled the country since independence, nothing could be clearer! What does this regime seek by focusing on religious issues and freedom of conscience amid a popular revolution? This is the question sparked by church closures in Tizi Ouzou and the arbitrary repression the Christian community is subjected to.

 

Algeria’s political regime, faced with a grassroot movement for nine months, has tried, is trying and will try diversionary strategies to split the strong popular protest movement. Playing with cultural, religious and identity sensitivities is its favourite sport. After the ban on the Berber cultural emblem and the vain attempt to use religious speech in mosques, today it attacks the Christian community! In other words, this regime is maliciously exploiting everything it can to remain in power. Divide and rule is the only motto recognised by Algeria’s military regime!

 

However, “the wind is turning,” and Algerian society, like other societies in the world, is changing. It changes, realises, integrates new ideas and gets rid of those that are no longer valid. For the first time in the contemporary history of Algeria, Muslim citizens have reacted and supported Christian citizens. From early morning, lawyers have become involved, and their trips to police stations have borne fruit. All Christian detainees were released. In the afternoon, Muslims, in a a sign of solidarity and awareness, reopened the closed church.

 

Indeed, ordinary citizens understand the regime’s Machiavellian manoeuvres. “We will not forget the main demands of the People’s Revolution; we will not accept to deviate and focus on other business. At the same time, we have no right to be fooled by the actions of those in power who deprive our fellow Christian citizens of their right to individual freedom and worship,” political activists announced on their Facebook page.

 

This view is revealing and such ideas should be adopted by all Algerians because we must create a State where all citizens are equal, regardless of their religious beliefs. This State must ensure and guarantee individual freedoms. That is why Algerians are still taking to the streets with the aim of establishing the rule of law.  And today (18 October) was the 35th Friday of the popular uprising against those who ruined the country, fuelled fundamentalism and sowed division among the children of the same people.




Algiers closes another two churches: the reasons are still unknown

The two buildings are in the same province and are the Church of the Gospel of Tizi Ouzou and the Church of Makouda. Religious leaders: “We remain confident, the Lord is faithful!” Since January 2018, the authorities have sealed 15 Christian places of worship. “Muslim fellow citizens alongside the Christians”.

 

By Kamel Abderrahmani

 

AsiaNews (17.10.2019) – https://bit.ly/2W2lvmt – Since February 22nd, Algerians have been on the streets protesting against the dictatorial regime. The latter has shown no qualms in toying with identity sensitivity to divide and fragment the popular movement that led to Bouteflika’s resignation and continues to destabilize his Machiavellian plans.

The regime has already tried to exploit the imams, to convince people that the demonstrations are illicit from a religious point of view – but this has failed; it has imprisoned several activists for the display of the Berber flag and the Amazigh emblem [a term with which the native population defines itself ed], represented as a danger to national unity.

 

Yesterday the government, which has no legitimacy in the eyes of the Algerians, has decided to close the largest Protestant religious building in Algeria – the Church of the Gospel of Tizi Ouzou (capital of the northern province of the same name).

 

This community has existed for 23 years and has 1,200 faithful. According to representatives, yesterday, “the security services informed the leaders of the Church of Tizi Ouzou that they will proceed to close the place of worship. We remain confident, the Lord is faithful! “.

 

It should be noted that the same fate occurred in the Church of Makouda, located in the same province: the faithful received the closing order by Tuesday 15 October. On the same day, the national guard sealed the structure.

 

The Ministry of the Interior gave no reasons for this arbitrary decision. In fact, it is not the first time that the political system attacks churches, accuses them of “planning a new strategy to implement hostile plans, with the support of foreign actors” and taking advantage of the political situation in the country.

From January 2018, 15 churches have been shut down for unknown reasons. In reality, such closures are nothing but an attempt to push people to violence, since the pacifism of demonstrations unnerves this regime. In other words, the soldiers – who hold real power in Algeria – wanted to create a context of violence that would justify a state of emergency. This means prohibiting demonstrations.

 

In Bejaia, a town near Tizi Ouzou, the church’s religious leaders gathered with posters that mention the name and where their community is located. With banners and songs, they wish to appeal to public opinion: some places of worship remain closed by the authorities. They simply call for the reopening of their churches, as required by the Algerian Constitution.

 

The Christians of Algeria live in difficult times; we Muslim fellow citizens must remain at their side, support them and show that they are our brothers and Algerians in their own right. Together, we must resist those who want to divide us to govern more easily.




SOUTH KOREA: Case of So-yeon JUNG: An attempted forcible change of religion by a Presbyterian anti-cult association resulted in divorce

HRWF (16.10.2019) – So-yeong Jung disclosed to Human Rights Without Frontiers her experience of domestic violence, kidnapping and confinement in an attempt to change her religious affiliation.

Soyeon Jung

I am a 40-year old woman. My husband was working as an engineer before our marriage was destroyed by a few Presbyterian pastors. In August 2018, he found out that I was attending Shincheonji Church. In an effort to be transparent about my change of religious affiliation, I took him to a religious service. He did not say anything negative about it. However, in November, I saw my husband’s social media account by chance on the computer. His sister and his brother had sent him groundless slander about Shincheonji that they had found on the internet. My husband came into contact with an anti-cult ‘counseling’ association linked to the Presbyterian Church. They recommended that he abduct me and they shared their expertise about how to confine me safely. They also said that they would not intervene with a de-conversion program until I had signed an agreement asking for their ‘counseling’. I found out later that my husband gave them 500 dollars (500,000 Korean Won) as a donation for their assistance, but I suspect that he also paid other fees. In early November, he decided that for various reasons we should move to Uijeongbu city.

 

Friday 23 Feb 2018

The kidnapping

After moving to Uijeongbu, my husband organized a housewarming party at a restaurant with his family without my knowledge. When we were almost done with dinner, his older sister Lee Sun-nae told my daughter Su-min that she had bought a nice toy for her and took Su-min to her car. I rode in a car with the rest of the family, separated from my daughter and nephews.

As soon as my husband sat next to me, he took my cell phone and turned it off. He also took my purse. I was so scared and shocked that I cried and struggled. When I said, “why are you doing this to me?” they replied, “we have no choice but to do this.” Then, they closed the curtains and ignored me. After driving for about an hour, we arrived at an apartment in Ansan that they had prepared in advance.

The confinement

The front door to this apartment had five different locks! Various kinds of locks had also been placed on the kitchen windows and the doors of each room. The bathroom doorknob was missing and the bathroom window was closed with twelve nails.

A sensor was attached to the right wall next to the front door so that a bell rang when I was close to it. I wasn’t allowed to do anything and each of my movements was watched. Even when I was using the restroom, I had to leave the door open. My husband searched my body again, checking if I was hiding extra money, and even asked my mother-in-law to check my underwear. It was very humiliating. These frustrating circumstances continued.

Signing an agreement under force for ‘counseling’ assistance

I tried to reason with them, but they did not respond. I asked them to call the pastor who was supposed to conduct the coercive de-conversion, which was the reason for holding me in the apartment. My husband replied that his job was to bring me here and then he had to wait for a call to proceed further. After a long scuffle, he handed me a coercive conversion program agreement titled: “Religious Consultation Guide”. When I refused to sign it, they said that I will never leave that apartment. Due to their threats, I was forced to sign it.

 

Saturday-Sunday, 24-25 Feb 2018: Attempting contacts with the ‘counselors’

My husband decided to contact the de-conversion pastor by sms and told me to wait. I was so angry that I yelled and tried to leave. My husband then grabbed both of my legs and dragged me into a room where the TV was on at a loud volume. He then taped my mouth shut as a second measure to prevent anyone from hearing my calls for help.

I couldn’t eat or drink anything. I cried out that they bring in the coercive de-conversion pastor. I tried screaming and persuading my husband, but nothing worked. Then, after texting someone, he abruptly said that we were moving somewhere else where we might have to stay longer. Nothing happened until midnight when, after texting again, he said that he decided we should not go.

I protested again, but every time he would cover my mouth and raise the TV volume to drown out my voice.

 

Monday 26 Feb 2018: ‘De-conversion program’ starts

Around 10 am, a woman came in with two heavy bags in her hands. She presented herself as a counselor. I protested about my kidnapping and confinement, but she interrupted and told me to talk about it with my husband instead. The coercive de-conversion program finally started.

She browbeat me with various slanderous materials and books about Shincheonji, forcing me to acknowledge them no matter what. It was frustrating because she was not listening to me and she could not answer my questions. It was clearly a forceful indoctrination. After she left, I lost all of my energy and fell unconscious.

 

Tuesday ~ Wednesday, 27-28 Feb 2018: Visit from the ‘counselor’ 

When I woke up, it was dawn. I spent hours crying. In the afternoon, the same ‘counselor’ came back. I was lying down because I was completely exhausted, and so she just prayed for me and left. I was scared because I did not know how much longer I would spend in captivity.

I ate some rice to give myself energy but soon after I got stomach cramps. I then became so sick that I couldn’t breathe. I screamed and asked to be taken to the hospital, but instead they brought me a handful of painkillers and forced them into my mouth. I had to spend the night alone and in pain. I thought I might die.

 

Thursday, 1-5 March 2018: Domestic violence and calls for help

Another day passed. It was the 7th day of my captivity. They allowed me to sit in front of the main door because I couldn’t breathe well and felt pressure in my chest. Suddenly, I heard someone outside and I yelled “please help!”. My husband grabbed my feet and dragged me into the other room. He then got on top of me, tied me up, and pressed down on my mouth and nose. I resisted fiercely, and so he poured water on my face and stuffed several wet tissues into my mouth. It was truly mortifying and I fell unconscious again.

Over the next few days, I continued crying for help. A couple of times my husband became violent with me again to silence me.

I thought that I would never be free again and that I would die in that apartment. When I struggled, my mother-in-law would grab my legs to stop me from moving and my husband would shout that I would leave there in a coffin if I did not change my mind. The entire time, my husband was insulting and threatening me. He was so volatile that he even hit his own head against the bathroom wall and started bleeding.

 

Tuesday, 6 Mar 2018: Rescue by the police

My husband was preparing breakfast when the police showed up. I begged them repeatedly to save my life. They filmed everything that was in the house. An ambulance arrived and I was moved to the Danwon hospital.

That is how my 12-day imprisonment ended. My husband and my mother-in-law were placed under arrest but were indicted without detention since they’re first-time offenders.

After my checkup at the hospital, my parents and I were escorted by the police to the station to make a statement. I told the police about the events of the kidnapping and how I had been assaulted. I also explained that a pastor had orchestrated the whole operation behind the scenes. The police said that they were aware of who and how many people were behind this incident. Since then, I have never been contacted by nor met with the police again. I am not aware of any further investigation or prosecution.

My husband has been charged with kidnapping and assault. We also filed for divorce and are in the midst of reaching an agreement.

My husband is currently living in the studio apartment in Ansan city where I was held and I live in Uijeongbu city. My mother is staying with me temporarily to help me stabilize myself mentally and financially.




ODIHR provides new guidance on FORB and security

OSCE/ ODIHR (19.09.2019) – https://www.osce.org/odihr/430463 – Amidst increasing security-driven restrictions on the right to freedom of religion or belief in the OSCE region, the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) published Freedom of Religion or Belief and Security: Policy Guidance on 19 September 2019.  This new publication, launched at a side event of the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting 2019 in Warsaw, provides guiding principles, practical guidance and recommendations to ensure a human rights-based, gender-sensitive approach to freedom of religion or belief and security for policymakers and security practitioners, civil society organizations, religious or belief communities, and the media.

“This policy guidance seeks to contribute to the much-needed reframing of the discourse on freedom of religion or belief and security in the OSCE region and to inform practice in this area,” said Kishan Manocha, ODIHR Senior Adviser on Freedom of Religion or Belief.  “It offers practical guidance to help OSCE participating States ensure their security measures are in line with their international obligations and commitments in this area.”

Some 50 participants drawn from state authorities, civil society organizations, religious or belief communities, academic institutions, and the media attended the launch event.  ODIHR will present the recommendations contained in the policy guidance at a number of roundtable discussions and other meetings to be convened across the OSCE region in the coming months.

Contacts
OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights
Public Affairs Unit
Office: +48 22 520 06 00
Fax: +48 22 520 06 05
PublicAffairs@odihr.pl




LATVIA: A NGO denounces the interference of the Parliament in the choice of the Orthodox Church leadership

By Willy Fautré, director of Human Rights Without Frontiers

HRWF (21.10.2019) – At the OSCE/ODIHR Human Dimension Implementation Meeting held in September 2019 in Warsaw, the Latvian Human Rights Committee criticized the law adopted in June 2019 by the Latvian Parliament (Seima) requiring Orthodox hierarchs to be Latvian citizens. Additionally, it requires them to have lived in the country for at least ten years. The law will apply to heads of the church, metropolitans, bishops and candidates for these positions.

Two readings were held, with 79 deputies in favor and none against. This new law will have a significant impact for this church since many of its followers (mostly ethnic Russians, Ukrainians, Belarusians) are stateless, and some are foreign citizens. The Latvian Orthodox Church is, under canonical law, an autonomous part of the Russian Orthodox Church. The current primate, Metropolitan Alexander of Riga, was born in Latvia and holds Latvian citizenship.

The law states that the citizenship and permanent residence criteria would apply to officials of religious organizations whose leadership is located outside of Latvia.

Alleged security issues were behind the initiative of the lawmakers who state that the aim is to avoid potential influence from abroad.

At the same OSCE/ODIHR conference in Warsaw, their Senior Adviser on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Kishan Manocha, announced the publication of a 71-page document titled “Freedom of Religion or Belief and Security, Policy Guidance”.

In 2002, an analogous provision was inserted in the Agreement between the Republic of Latvia and the Holy See, requiring Roman Catholic bishops to be Latvian citizens.

According to the latest sociological survey carried out by SKDS research center, Orthodoxy is the largest religion in Latvia, with 26% of the population identifying as an Orthodox Christian. The second largest religion is Catholicism at 20% and the third is Lutheranism at 17%. Another 14% believe in God but do not identify with any particular religion or Church, and 15% of Latvians identify as atheists.




UK: Defiant head vows to keep unregistered school open

The head teacher of an unregistered Islamic school, prosecuted for operating illegally, has said it has a “unique” approach and will remain open.

 By Zoe Conway

Ms Ali does not usually wear a niqab but said she wanted to keep a low profile for her interview.

BBC News (17.10.2019) – https://bbc.in/33IJsld – Nadia Ali, of Ambassadors High, in Streatham – which an inspection found “wilfully neglected” safeguarding – was given community service last month.

 

She called the pupils “happy learners” and denied it was breaking the law, as it was now open 18 hours a week only.

 

Ofsted has urged improved legislation to deal with unregistered schools.

 

By law, any institution with more than five full-time pupils has to be officially registered and inspected. Government guidance defines full-time education as more than 18 hours a week.

 

The south London school, which describes itself as having an Islamic ethos, says it charges £2,500 a year per pupil and had 45 children on the roll at the time of its last inspection. But it has not yet met standards required to register.

 

Ms Ali told the BBC’s Today and Victoria Derbyshire programmes the school had remained open as its work with the children was “quite unique”.

 

“I’ve been teaching for 15 years and I’ve seen how children need a different approach and that what we’re trying to do at Ambassadors,” she said.

 

“This is why I believe in what we’re trying to do because we’ve seen a lot of results within our children. They’re happy learners.”

Inspection failings

Inspectors twice issued warnings they believed the school was operating illegally, after it first applied to register in 2016.

 

And it failed its pre-registration inspection, in February 2019, with inspectors judging it would not meet the Independent School Standards.

 

However, the school remained open – leading to Ms Ali’s prosecution.

 

The inspection found she had, “wilfully neglected to meet some basic, crucial, safeguarding responsibilities”.

Inspectors found six out of 11 teachers had not had Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) or criminal-record checks.

But Ms Ali said all staff working at the time of the inspection had been thoroughly checked.

“At that time, we only had four members of staff at that school,” she said.

 

“So, the staff who had left were still on the central record… we did try to explain it to the inspector.”

 

Inspectors also said ”teachers do not have the skills” to help pupils progress and concluded there was ”no capacity for improvement” at the school.

 

And they found there was ”no plan in place to actively promote fundamental British values”.

 

In 2018, inspectors found texts in the staffroom that:

  • encouraged parents to hit their children if they did not pray
  • said a wife had no right to deny her husband

But they found no evidence children had access to these books.

 

Ms Ali said the books had been donated by a mosque and had been kept locked in the office. Accepting they were unsuitable, she denied they contributed to a perception she did not want the school to be part of modern British society.

 

She said: “I don’t believe that just by finding some books or a paragraph from a book like that makes us go against the fundamental British values… because our children and us, we’ve grown in British society.”

 

Koran lessons

It is unclear how many hours the school currently operates, although Ms Ali insisted it was not longer than 18 hours. But we saw a timetable for pupils aged 11-14 that added up to 21 hours per week. Ms Ali denied it was accurate.

 

The pupils used to be taught the Koran in school – but this now happens at a nearby mosque. Ms Ali said the Koran lessons were run by parents – but the school website, no longer online, asked parents to pay £80 a month for the lessons.

 

Parents also say they run a home-tuition club in a separate setting close to the school.

 

Ms Ali said she was getting her paperwork in order to apply again to register the school in a few weeks’ time.

 

Despite Ofsted inspecting almost 260 suspected unregistered schools since January 2016, and issuing warning notices to 71 settings, this was only the second time a case was brought for prosecution.

 

An Ofsted spokeswoman said there needed to be a proper legal definition of “schools” and “full-time”, as the current legislation was too vague.

 

“If it’s providing all, or substantially all, of a child’s education, then it’s a school and it should be registered, so we can make sure children are safe and getting a good education,” she said.

 

“The law didn’t expect unregistered schools to exist – it wasn’t designed to prevent these places from happening.”

 

Education Minister Lord Agnew said unregistered schools were “illegal, unsafe and anyone found to be running one will be prosecuted”.

 

“Where settings are only operating part-time, there are a range of legal powers in place to make sure children are safe in their care

 

“And in the vast majority of cases those settings are doing an excellent job in enriching young peoples’ lives.”

“We have provided funding to a number of councils to boost their capacity to take action on settings causing concern.”