Tajikistan Converts 2,000 Mosques Into Public Facilities

Authorities are eager to streamline the practice of Islam and ensure greater control over religious life in the country.

 

EurasiaNet (5.02.2018) – http://bit.ly/2nHv7Tw – Tajikistan last year converted 2,000 mosques into facilities for general public use in its latest effort to streamline the practice of religion in the country and marginalize those not directly under government control.

 

The head of the Committee for Religious Affairs, Husein Shokirov, said in a news conference on February 5 that the unauthorized mosques have been repurposed into teahouses, hairdressers, cultural center, medical clinics and kindergartens, among other things.

 

“We gave the owners of the mosques time to file [registration] documents, but they didn’t do it, so the sites were either reclaimed by the government or repurposed into social facilities,” Shokirov said.

 

The committee says that there are 3,900 mosques operating with proper permits in Tajikistan.

 

Under Tajik law, while the responsibility of building mosques lies with the public, ultimate control over the premises and what happens inside them is assumed by the government. Imams are regularly required to renew paperwork so as to be able to execute their functions and sermons are written on their behalf by the authorities. Any clerics declining to cooperate with the government are invariably ousted.

 

Since 2014, imams have been receiving state salaries as if they were civil servants. And as of last month, laws have come into force requiring imams to declare all their sources of income. Most of their money typically comes from the offerings of congregants and payments for officiating special events.

 

Starting from 2010, the government began pursuing policies to restrict entire sections of the population from going to mosque. First women were forbidden and then it was the turn of young people under the age of 18.

 

The overall direction of travel is for greater state control over religion as a whole. The intent is to have single large mosques serve entire communities, so as to simplify the process of keeping tabs on the faithful.

 

But often, this centralizing trend complicates the exercise of attempting to observe religious obligations. Many believers hold to the view that prayers to the recently departed are meant to be said in the mosque. People in the regions, who have to cover distances of more than 50 kilometers to reach their closest place of prayer, are no longer in a position to fulfill that obligation in a convenient manner. The same difficulty obtains with attending Friday prayers.

 

While there may be quiet grumbling about such heavy-handed measures, there have been few shows of open discontent thus far. There have some embarrassing missteps along the way, however.

 

An amateur video surfaced online some months ago in which a Committee for Religious Affairs representative, Shokirjon Holdorov, could be seen on the grounds of a mosque in the Rudaki district, to the south of Dushanbe, demanding its closure. In the video, a man is heard accusing Holdorov of being drunk. This sparks a foul-mouthed tirade from Holdorov, who threatens grave consequences for the congregants and local cleric.

 

“It is six months that I have been warning you. If you don’t shut this down, I will label you all salafis and you will all go to jail,” Holdorov is heard to say.

 

The mosque was later closed. Holdorov was given a verbal warning for his behavior.




China’s religious clampdown sparks increasing concern

Catholics and academics warn that oppression started even before the announcement of new regulations

 

UCANews (26.01.2018) – http://bit.ly/2nMcY6A – Fears are growing among Christians that China’s amended Regulations for Religious Affairs will lead to increasing suppression.

 

Since Sept. 7, 2017, when Premier Li Keqiang announced the regulations would become effective from Feb. 1 this year, China’s religious measures have become more stringent.

 

Authorities organized seminars for religious people and government officials across the country to explain the new regulations and even implemented measures to suppress religions and religious practices.

 

At Christmas, local governments issued a circular to not allow students and party members to participate in religious festivals.

 

A Catholic source who wanted to be unnamed told ucanews.com that a shopping mall dismantled a decoration featuring Santa Claus.

 

“The mall is not a place of worship. Santa Claus is not exactly a religious icon, and the amended Regulations for Religious Affairs had not come into effect, but officials still went to request the mall to dismantle the decoration. I find it very strange,” he said.

 

He does not believe the Cultural Revolution will be repeated but expects religious measures to be tightened, extending the government’s control to all levels of society.

 

Another unnamed Catholic said that before announcing the regulations China’s government had already requested all priests, including those from the underground church, to register for a “clergyman certificate” so that the government could monitor them.

 

“But, after announcing the implementation of the regulations, the government has already put more pressure on underground priests to register. As for what happens after Feb. 1, we still do not know yet. But all local governments will certainly step up efforts to cater to the central government,” he said.

 

Ying Fuk-tsang, director of the divinity school at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, told ucanews.com that the government was always worrying about the beliefs of minors, undergraduates and party members.

 

It aimed to ban Sunday schools and summer camps for minors, he said, and might step up its interventions more in activities for adolescents and minors.

 

Ying said the recent ban on Christmas celebrations was the beginning of a policy directed against Christianity.

 

However, he believes authorities “will not go back to the Cultural Revolution and eliminate religions but will continue to step up their controls and grip the religion firmly under the order of Sinicization.”

 

Ying said authorities might allow certain local churches to develop smoothly and serve as role models in demonstrating that the government’s religious policies were feasible.

 

Authorities understood it was difficult to eradicate religions, so some measures were taken to differentiate them, he said.

 

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CHINA: Chinese bishop confirms Vatican sacked him in Beijing

Vatican also denies claims made by Hong Kong’s Joseph Zen that pope’s opinion on talks with Beijing differs to his diplomats

 

UCANews (1.02.2018) – http://bit.ly/2rYknF9 – Sacked Chinese Bishop Peter Zhuang Jianjian, who is at the center of the latest storm around the Holy See’s controversial talks with China’s communist government, has broken his silence on being called in to Beijing by Vatican diplomats.

 

The confirmation of the Vatican’s role in replacing two bishops originally appointed Rome, with two bishops who were appointed by the Communist Party controlled Catholic Patriotic Association — including one who has been excommunicated by Rome — has continued to rock China’s so-called underground Catholic Church.

 

“But these acts, in fact, are scarifying the underground community for the benefit of half the China Church, which is the open community, not the whole,” said a researcher who does not want to offend the Vatican.

 

In a phone call with ucanews.com, 88-year-old Bishop Zhuang of Shantou in Southern Guangdong province admitted that he went to Beijing “in December, where I met with four Vatican officials” but he was reticent to say much more. The Chinese government is well known for its monitoring of the communication devices of its critics or potential critics.

 

People close to the bishop, not known for his public display of emotions, said he was deeply and visibly upset by the ordeal.

 

The two-way talks between the Vatican and Beijing, that have now been underway for four years are aimed at ultimately establishing diplomatic relations but at present are solely at the first step focusing on the appointment of bishops in the China Church. The Holy See wants to gain approval of all bishop appointments, at present they are made by the Party and not all are agreed by Rome.

 

Bishops Zhuang’s comment came as the Vatican rebuked Hong Kong Cardinal Joseph Zen, who travelled to Rome to present Pope Francis with a letter from the sacked prelate and to voice his long held view that the Vatican is wasting its time trying to negotiate with Beijing, in the process upsetting about half its 12 million followers who worship in underground churches.

 

Cardinal Zen has claimed the Vatican was “selling out” millions of Catholics in China who did not worship at the Party controlled version of the church.

 

A strongly worded statement, issued by Vatican spokesman Greg Burke’s office, said some people in the church were “fostering confusion and controversy.”

 

The statement and a loquacious interview with the Vatican’s chief diplomat, Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin in La Stamp’s Vatican Insider appeared to dispute Cardinal Zen’s read out of a private meeting with Pope Francis over the issues.

 

The statement said that it was “surprising and regrettable” that some were promoting “a presumed difference of thought and action” between Pope Francis and his top aides over China strategy.

 

In his interview, Cardinal Parolin said: “The Holy Father personally follows current contacts with the authorities of the People’s Republic of China. All his collaborators act in concert with him. No one takes private initiatives. Frankly, any other kind of reasoning seems to me to be out of place.”

 

He added that the main purpose of the Holy See in the ongoing dialogue is safeguarding communion within the church, in the wake of genuine tradition and constant ecclesiastical discipline.

 

“You see, in China there are not two churches, but two communities of faithful called to follow a gradual path of reconciliation towards unity,” Cardinal Parolin said.

 

“It is not, therefore, a matter of maintaining a perennial conflict between opposing principles and structures, but of finding realistic pastoral solutions that allow Catholics to live their faith and to continue together the work of evangelization in the specific Chinese context.”

 

In return, Cardinal Zen disputed the No. 2 official, writing in a fresh blog post that the Vatican had shifted the focus on the issue of appointment of bishops to the relations between the pope and his diplomats.

 

“In fact, my blog never mentions that the pope does not know (what the Vatican diplomats are doing), but the pope really told (Archbishop) Savio Hon Tai-fai: ‘Why the group (Vatican diplomats) never discussed with me (about recent appointments)?’

 

“What the pope told me is true: That his opinions are different to theirs. Therefore, at the end of the ‘statement,’ they cannot doubt the pope telling a lie, and then assert that I tell a lie,” he wrote.

 

“I say in my blog that they are doing bad things (wrong things) but not say that they are lying, and now, readers are needed to judge either I or they tell a lie,” he wrote.

 

“Of course I know my [first] statement will cause controversy but not confusion. I hope the result of the controversy is that they admit what they are doing is bad (wrong) and should step back from the precipice.”

 

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FRANCE: Hate crime charges dropped in Paris trial of Muslim accused of killing Jewish neighbor

JTA.org (01.02.2018) – http://bit.ly/2E47Vte – A judge in Paris scrapped hate crime charges from the indictment of a murder suspect who confessed to killing his Jewish neighbor.

 

The move came amid a rise in reported violent anti-Semitic attacks in France.

 

The Paris Prosecutor’s office said it would appeal the dismissal Monday of the aggravated element of a hate crime in the trial of Kobili Traore, a 28-year-old Muslim man who on April 4 threw his neighbor, Sarah Halimi, to her death from the window of her third-story apartment.

 

The charge of murder aggravated by racial hatred was excluded from what is now the indictment against Traore by the examining magistrate — a function designed to oversee prosecutors and intercept flawed indictments before they form the basis of an active trial.

 

Francis Kalifat, president of the Jewish umbrella group CRIF, told Le Parisien daily that the examining magistrate’s move was “an insult” to Halimi’s memory.

 

Separately, the Interior Ministry of France on Wednesday reported a 7.2 percent decrease in 2017 in the number of anti-Semitic attacks in the country over 2016. The ministry recorded 311 cases. But of those, 97 were classified as violent assaults – a 25 percent increase over 2016, Le Figaro reported.

 

The SPCJ watchdog unit of French Jewry, which receives and collects reports independently to the Interior Ministry, has not yet published its report for 2017.

 

In the Halimi case, Traore was heard shouting about Allah and calling her “a devil” in Arabic. Halimi’s daughter said he had called the daughter a “dirty Jewess” in the building two years before the murder. But the examining magistrate in Traore’s trial, which opened this week, dismissed the aggravated hate crime charge before the trial actually began, Le Parisien reported Wednesday. Traore is pleading temporary insanity, though he has no history of mental illness.

 

For months after the slaying of the 66-year-old Jewish physician, leaders of French Jewry urged authorities to include the aggravated element of a hate crime in the draft indictment against Traore. They finally agreed in September.

 

The incident occurred months before France’s general election, in which the French political establishment was bracing for unprecedented gains for the far-right National Front party.

 

Marine Le Pen, the anti-immigration party’s leader, received a historic third of the vote in the final round of the presidential elections, which she lost to the centrist candidate, Emmanuel Macron.

 

Many French Jews believe authorities and the media covered up or ignored the alleged anti-Semitic elements connected to Halimi’s suspected murder to prevent it from becoming fodder for Le Pen’s divisive campaign.

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Iran must ensure rights of Christian minority and fair trial for the accused– UN experts

OHCHR (2.02.2018) – http://bit.ly/2E2djgj – UN human rights experts* have called on Iran to ensure a fair and transparent final hearing for three Iranian Christians who are due to appear before the Revolutionary Court in Tehran this weekend.

 

“We are deeply concerned by the long jail sentences imposed at a previous hearing on Pastor Victor Bet Tamraz, Amin Afshar Naderi and Hadi Asgari for allegedly ‘conducting evangelism’ and ‘illegal house church activities’, and similar charges that, according to the authorities, amount to acting against national security, completely contrary to Iran’s international obligations under the UDHR and the ICCPR” the four Special Rapporteurs said in a joint statement.

 

“We are additionally concerned about the lack of healthcare made available to them while in detention and, in particular, about the current health condition of Mr. Asgari who remains in prison,” they added.

 

“We strongly call on the Government to ensure that the final review hearing on Sunday is fair and transparent, in accordance with Iran’s obligations under international human rights law,” the experts said.

 

The Revolutionary Court judge has the power to end the case, confirm the sentences or refer the case to the Supreme Court, with the men either freed on bail or jailed in the meantime.

 

The three Christians were given provisional jail sentences of 10 years at a previous hearing in July. Mr. Naderi received an additional five years for blasphemy.

 

The experts say they are also concerned that the prosecution of the three Christians is not an isolated case.

 

“We are aware of several other reported cases in which members of the Christian minority have received heavy sentences after being charged with ‘threatening national security’, either for converting people or for attending house churches,” they said.

 

“This shows a disturbing pattern of individuals being targeted because of their religion or beliefs, in this case a religious minority in the country.

 

“Members of the Christian minority in Iran, particularly those who have converted to the faith, are facing severe discrimination and religious persecution.”

 

The UN experts stressed that it was “of paramount importance” for the Iranian Government to abide by its obligations under international human rights law.

 

“The authorities must ensure fair trials for all, including the religious minorities in the country,” they said.

 

“We also urge the Government to immediately and unconditionally release all those who have been arrested and detained for exercising their right to freedom of religion or belief.”

 

The UN experts notified the Government of Iran about their concerns.

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MALAYSIA: Church attacks highlight growth of Islamic extremism

World Watch Monitor (31.01.2018) – http://bit.ly/2FB9U4a – Located within easy reach of three active centres of Islamic extremism – Mindanao in the Philippines, Arakan in Myanmar and the southern provinces of Thailand – Malaysia has become a breeding ground for IS recruitment, weapon smuggling and communication, according to the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research.

 

In its latest report, the Singapore-based research centre says IS sympathisers number into the thousands in Malaysia and amount to a “virtual caliphate”, as reported by Free Malaysia Today.

 

But although they pose a real security threat, Malaysia’s Christians are generally unaware of the risk, a local source told World Watch Monitor.

 

“When we talked about IS in our [security] training, they do not show concern as they think it will not happen here,” the source said. “This could be due to lack of knowledge and exposure about the matter itself.”

 

Two attacks on churches were reported recently by The Council of Churches of Malaysia (CCM), the ecumenical body which includes the Province of South East Asia dioceses of Kuching, Sabah and West Malaysia.

 

In one of the incidents, shortly after the midnight service on 1 January, a “water bomb” made from modified fragments of fireworks exploded in front of the Luther Centre in Petaling Jaya, to the west of the capital Kuala Lumpur, injuring three Christians.

 

The general secretary of the CCM, Rev. Dr. Hermen Shastri, said “police believe the attack on the Luther Centre was carried out by a ‘Mat Rempit’ – a gang-style individual who carries out public disturbances”.

 

A week later, a Methodist Church was attacked with a petrol bomb in Kota Bharu, a conservative city on the north-east of Peninsular Malaysia. The attack is believed to have been “motivated by extremists who are out to stoke the flames of religious intolerance in the country”, according to Rev. Shastri. Four weeks earlier, some objects thrown at the church had smashed its windows, Malaysia’s Star newspaper reported.

 

“We call on the police to reinforce their efforts to act firmly against this growing trend, where there are people committed to disrupting inter-religious harmony by targeting religious buildings with flagrant acts of vandalism and arson,” Rev. Shastri said. “Such actions if left unchecked may embolden extremists and unscrupulous elements to engage in such actions in the run up to the coming national General Elections in 2018.”

 

Religious extremism in Malaysia takes different shapes. In September last year, two laundrettes erected signs saying they would serve “Muslim customers only”. Following a rebuke from a local Muslim leader, one of the laundrettes replaced its sign with one stating “Muslim friendly”. At the other, the owner agreed to serve customers of all faiths after a visit from both the local mufti and the state crown prince.

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