HUMAN RIGHTS WITHOUT FRONTIERS URGES THE AUTHORITIES OF THE EU MEMBER STATES TO GRANT POLITICAL ASYLUM TO CHINESE RELIGIOUS REFUGEES

Human Rights Without Frontiers (Brussels) is urging the authorities of France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Switzerland and other European countries to urgently grant political asylum to Chinese citizens who have been persecuted because of their religious beliefs in China.

Hundreds of members of the Church of Almighty God (CAG), a new religious movement founded in China in 1991, have left their country in search of a safe haven in Europe. They have been denied political asylum and are under threat of being sent back to China where they will be arrested and sent to prison for years.

From the early 1990s to 2017, more than 300,000 of their members have been incarcerated. Many have been tortured and at least 30 have died in custody in suspicious circumstances.

While they are victims of state violence in China, Beijing’s propaganda is demonizing their movement. The Center for Studies on New Religions in Italy (CESNUR) has published a research work of Dr Massimo Introvigne refuting Beijing’s fake news and fake accusations against the Church of Almighty God (See http://cesnur.net/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/tjoc_1_1_6_introvigne_ter.pdf).

In 2004, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees published guidelines on religion-based refugee claims. These guidelines clarify that new and non-traditional religions are entitled to the same protection as mainline religions; that individuals should not prove that they have been individually persecuted and a general pattern of persecution against their religious group is enough; and that “persecution” should be broadly interpreted, including prohibition to freely practice and propagate one’s religion.

The Church of the Almighty God fulfills these conditions.

Human Rights Without Frontiers (Brussels) calls upon the EU member states to grant political asylum to their members.




FRANCE: Vandalism in a church: suspended two-year prison term

HRWF (01.12.2017) – On 24 November, a court in Carcassonne announced that it had sentenced a Muslim woman, only known by her first name “Kenza”, for vandalizing and desecrating the altar of the Ste Marie Madeleine Church in Rennes-le-Château. She was sentenced to a suspended two-year prison term and fined an amount of 17,718 EUR to repair the damaged statue. Additionally, she was prohibited from appearing in Rennes-le-Château in the future.

The facts

At 9:00am on 23 April 2017, a young woman wearing a black coat went to the tourism office of Rennes-le-Château to ask when the church would be open. Two hours later, she was seen near the church wearing a white cape, a veil on her head and a Venetian mask on her face. She first went to the so-called ‘Virgin’s cave’ nearby. She then proceeded to go into the church with an axe and started hitting the stoup, she then decapitated the famous red devil of the Bible Asmodea attached to it, cut off his arm, put a Kur’an on it and lacerated the bas-relief of the altar. She also damaged the statue of Maria Magdalena. Tourists immediately called the mayor and the gendarmerie arrested her.

When asked why she had committed such a misdeed, she answered calmly: “Today is election day here but in Syria the West is bombing and killing children. You are all kafirs! My husband is over there.” (*)

Judicial proceedings

After her arrest, Kenza was placed in police custody and then referred to the Office of the Public Prosecutor in Carcassonne.

On 13 May, she was declared accountable for her acts after being examined by psychiatrists. Her trial was fixed on 8 September. In the meantime she was put under court supervision and was not allowed to go to the town in which she committed her misdeed.

Her trial was postponed several times until 27 October. Kenza, 37, who was working in a law firm, recused her lawyer and defended herself. She admitted that her act had been premeditated and was meant to have a symbolic effect. “Today,” she said, “I officially want to reject my French citizenship and to opt for the Palestinian citizenship”. Concerning the damage caused in the church, she said : “ I will not even pay a symbolic EUR for that statue”. The prosecutor demanded a six-month suspended sentence.

(*) The French word is « mécréant ». Kafir is a derogatory term used for “unbeliever”.

Source: La Dépêche, 25 November 2017, http://bit.ly/2j7rBQ7

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FRANCE: No crosses in a public place: 97,000 people sign a petition against the removal of the cross overhanging a statue of John-Paul II

HRWF (01.12.2017) – http://bit.ly/2ytNaUX – As of 1st December 2017, more than 97,000 people have signed an online petition protesting against the ruling of the Council of State to remove a cross overhanging a statue of the late Polish-born Pope John Paul II in Ploërmel, (Brittany, Western France).

The petition “opposes the removal of the cross from a public space and emphasises the Christian roots of Europe”. It is addressed to the European Parliament, the centre-right European People’s Party and the European Court of Human Rights.

Gifted to Ploërmel by the Georgian-born Russian artist Zourab Tseretel, the statue which features a cross on the arch framing it, was installed in a public square in October 2006.

A local citizens group then launched a legal drive to remove the cross citing a century-old French law on the separation of church and state, but the town’s mayor refused.

Controversy erupted when in late October France’s top administrative court ruled that the cross must go in line with the 1905 law forbidding “raising or affixing any religious sign or emblem” in a “public place”. The court gave the town of Ploërmel six months to remove the cross above the papal statue.

According to the 1905 Law on the separation of state and religion, no religious symbol can be displayed in the public space. However, those pre-existing the law can remain in place in the public space, can be repaired or can be totally replaced.

On 26 November, 350-400 people organized a demonstration near the statue to express their opposition to the removal of the cross.

Although the statue of the late pontiff itself is not in question, the court’s move drew ire in heavily Roman Catholic Poland where the Polish-born saint is widely revered and religious symbols are not restricted by law.

Recommended reading (in French) about the Ploërmel case:

L’affaire est loin d’être close, selon un magistrat : http://bit.ly/2zfUJf9

Ploërmel : Paul Anselin conteste les allégations du Conseil d’État : http://bit.ly/2zFvGRL

Ploërmel: Manifestation pour le maintien de la croix : http://bit.ly/2iyGEoT

Ploërmel: Un déluge de tweets christianophobes

http://bit.ly/2nmhP10

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Also:

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List of hundreds of documented cases of believers of various faiths in 20 countries: http://hrwf.eu/forb/forb-and-blasphemy-prisoners-list/  




EGYPT: 21 churches receive long-delayed government approval to build

World Watch Monitor (29.11.2017) – http://bit.ly/2zGzAtZ – Twenty-one churches in Egypt’s southern rural Minya governorate can restore, expand and rebuild their churches after receiving approval from the Minya Governor.

Governor Essam al-Bedeiwi approved the 21 applications over the last six months. Some of the churches had been waiting for more than 20 years for a permit to come through.

On 17 November an evangelical church in Tama, Sohag governorate, also received permission to renovate its building.

Some analysts note that the approvals have preceded several visits by international evangelical delegations to Cairo.

Last week, leaders from evangelical churches around the world met Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in Cairo, as part of the celebrations marking 500 years since the Reformation. This followed a visit in early November by a delegation of Christian evangelicals from the US to meet evangelical leaders in Egypt.

US Vice President Mike Pence is also scheduled to go to Cairo in late December.

A local source told World Watch Monitor that Egypt’s President is keen to “show the US that Egypt is standing with the Christians and that there is no persecution in Minya governorate”.

Meanwhile the Coptic community in Minya has seen many of its churches forcibly closed or set on fire. Some of them have been reopened but others are still waiting for a permit.

Last month, in one weekend alone, four Coptic churches were closed by local authorities in Upper Egypt seeking to ease tensions between Muslim and Christian villagers. In response, the Bishop of Minya, Anba Macarius, said: “It is as though worship is a crime that Copts have to be penalised for.”

As World Watch Monitor reported last year, it is almost impossible for Christians to obtain a license to build a church in Egypt. But last year, Egypt’s parliament approved a law relating to the building and renovating of churches, and in October a cabinet committee met to start work on the legalisation of unlicensed churches.

Copts grieve with mosque victims

Meanwhile Coptic churches around the country rang their bells at noon on Saturday (25 November) in solidarity with the victims of Friday’s attack on the al-Rawda Mosque in North Sinai. The attack killed at least 309 people and injured 128.

In a statement, the Church “offered its sincere condolences” to the bereaved families, adding that its members were “praying for a speedy recovery of the wounded”, the Egypt Independent reported.

A local IS affiliate known as Sinai Province has attempted to impose its hardline interpretation of Islam on Egypt’s North Sinai population around El-Arish, Sinai’s largest city and approximately 80km east of Bir al-Abed, where the attack took place.

Hundreds of Christians fled the area and re-located to Port Said in late February and March, after Islamists posted videos and leaflets telling Copts to leave the area or be killed.

In October, an attack on a Coptic Church in El-Arish was repelled by state security forces stationed outside the building.

World Watch Monitor has reported how IS is also trying to establish a foothold in Upper Egypt, an area “marginalised” by politicians, lacking in security and in which many people are poor and uneducated.

On Ascension Day (26 May) a bus attack killed 29 Copts travelling to a monastery in Minya.

Talk show host dismissed

A TV talk-show host was temporarily dismissed after she questioned why Muslims were the target of Friday’s attack, saying: “We have heard about … attacks against Copts and their churches, and we considered it directed at non-Muslims, the followers of another religion and seen as their [IS affiliate] enemies. But [now they attack] Muslims! How could they?!”

The owner and head of the Sada al-Balad channel, Abdul-Enein, said the matter was under investigation and that the host had been sent on leave. In a statement, he added: “In Egypt, we all are one people – no difference between Muslims and Christians. We are all equal and live together in peace. Terrorism or aggression against peaceful individuals is a criminal action not only in Egypt but in the whole world.”

This isn’t the first time controversy has been sown by the comments of a talk-show host. In June, the powerful Islamic cleric Sheikh Salem Abdul Jalil appeared in court on charges of making anti-Christian comments on his TV show, causing the TV channel to end its contract with him and send an apology to all “Christian brothers”.

It came at the same time as the submission of a bill to the Egyptian government scholars at Cairo’s Al-Azhar University, the pre-eminent seat of Sunni Islamic learning, which “aims to reaffirm the total incompatibility between the violence justified by religious arguments and Islamic law”.

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Also:

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Belgian court decision blocking deportation of Brussels Grand Mosque imam appealed to the Council of State

HRWF (30.11.2017) – On 28 November, a Belgian court announced that it had struck down an effort to deport an imam at Belgium’s oldest mosque, saying that Belgian immigration authorities had not provided sufficient evidence to prove that the cleric posed a serious threat to society. On the next day, the Belgian state secretary for asylum and migration, Theo Francken, announced that he would appeal to the Council of State against this ruling.

The Egyptian imam in question, Abdelhadi Sewif, has worked at the Grand Mosque of Brussels for 13 years, where 850 students attend religious and Arabic-language classes.  When Sewif attempted to renew his residence permit, his application was rejected due to Theo Francken’s accusations that he threatens Belgium’s national security. Sewif has denied the accusations and has said that he was never able to review the evidence against him, because it was classified intelligence material.

The Grand Mosque of Brussels and community center, Belgium’s biggest and oldest site of Muslim worship, is run by the controversial World Muslim League which has its seat in Mecca (Saudi Arabia) and whose Secretary General is the former Minister of Justice of Saudi Arabia…

A Belgian parliamentary inquiry commission, established after the double terrorist attack in Brussels in 2016, included in the recommendations of its October report (*), among other things, that the government should break the Saudi government’s 99-year rent-free lease on the mosque.

The lease was handed to Saudi King Faisal in 1969 as a goodwill gesture by Belgian King Baudouin.

Officials in Belgium now say that the mosque is a hotbed for Saudi-backed Islamist extremism. Servais Verherstraeten, one of the leaders of the parliamentary commission, said that the mosque’s leaders “are trying to live in their splendid isolation with a radical point of view, and their aim is not to integrate into our society. And that is a big problem.”

Belgian lawmakers and counterterrorism officials have raised concerns about the unusual arrangement of foreign control of the mosque, which they say makes it less accountable to national authority. The Grand Mosque has indeed never asked to be officially recognized by the Belgian State, which would entail transparency and control of the authorities.

“We want in Belgium an Islam practiced by people who respect our constitution, who want to integrate into our country,” Verherstraeten said. “There is the perception that there is something to hide in the most important mosque in the country.”

During the hearings of the parliamentary commission, there was a consensus among the experts to say that the Islam promoted by the Grand Mosque is from the Salafist-Wahhabi current with a strong influence of the worldview of the Muslim Brotherhood. This conception of Islam, they said, rejects “the others” who do not share their teachings and leads to individual and collective self-isolation, marginalization and ghettoization. In Belgium, Salafist-Wahhabism aims to unify the various Sunni communities around their interpretation of Islam. (**)

As Prime News International explains:

“The sudden move against the Grand Mosque underscores the challenge for Western European leaders seeking to [create] what they call a home-grown “European Islam” that endorses pluralistic values. For too long, many officials say, they have stood by as imams preaching the ultraconservative interpretation of Islam favored by clerics in Saudi Arabia and Qatar have worked among their populations, encouraging the frustrated descendants of North African immigrants to isolate themselves from society.”

(*) Report of the Belgian Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry (French/ Dutch): http://www.dekamer.be/FLWB/PDF/54/1752/54K1752009.pdf

(**) See HRWF paper “Belgian Parliamentary Report on Radical Islam and Islamic Radicalism” presented at the “Drivers and Catalysts of Radicalisation” briefing held at the European Parliament on 28 November: http://hrwf.eu/forb/our-advocacy-papers/

Media coverage of briefing: https://brussels-express.eu/radicalisation-in-europe/

https://www.eureporter.co/frontpage/2017/11/30/extremists-accused-of-hijacking-identify-of-muslims-in-western-balkans/

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Pope Francis in Myanmar: To say or not to say ‘Rohingya’

HRWF (30.11.2017) – Pope Francis received a special plea this month in the Vatican from Cardinal Charles Maung Bo of Myanmar, the overwhelmingly Buddhist nation where the pope has just made a politically very perilous visit: Don’t say “Rohingya.”

The international media has diversely covered his silence.

Pope Francis meets Suu Kyi in Myanmar, avoids mention of Rohingya

By Claudio Lavanga and Alastair Jamieson

NAYPYITAW, Myanmar (28.11.2017) — http://nbcnews.to/2jw0vlo  — Pope Francis met with Myanmar leader and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi Tuesday, but avoided any public mention of the country’s Muslim Rohingya minority who the U.S. says are being subjected to “ethnic cleansing.”

Francis spent his first full day in the Buddhist-majority country meeting its civilian leader, a day after hosting the military general in charge of the mission to drive Rohingya from the northern Rakhine state.

In a speech, he said Myanmar’s future depended on respecting the rights of all ethnic groups — a veiled reference to the crackdown that has sent more than 620,000 Rohingya into neighboring Bangladesh from where they have reported entire villages were burned and looted, and women and girls were raped.

He previously has prayed for “our Rohingya brothers and sisters,” lamented their suffering and called for them to enjoy full rights, but the term “Rohingya” is avoided inside Myanmar because the ethnic group is not a recognized minority.

Several high-profile figures, including former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and Myanmar Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, urged Francis not to utter the term, fearing a potential blow against Myanmar’s tiny Catholic community.

The pope said Maynmar’s future “must be peace, a peace based on respect for the dignity and rights of each member of society, respect for each ethnic group and its identity.”

He also called for a “democratic order that enables each individual and every group — none excluded — to offer its legitimate contribution to the common good.”

Human Rights Watch expressed dismay after the speech, saying the treatment of Rohingya was part of a pattern of “shameless religious discrimination against minority religions like Christianity and Islam” in the country.

“The pope missed an important opportunity to tell Myanmar that every group has the right to self-identify, and to publicly refute the unconscionable pressure by Aung San Suu Kyi and the Myanmar military to deny the Rohingya their identity,” said Phil Robertson, the group’s Deputy Director, Asia Division.

Earlier, the pope met the commander responsible for the crackdown, Gen. Min Aung Hlaing.

The Vatican didn’t provide details of the contents of the 15-minute “courtesy visit,” except to say that “they spoke of the great responsibility of the authorities of the country in this moment of transition” and that the pair exchanged gifts.

Rohingya Muslims have long faced state-supported discrimination in Myanmar, and were stripped of citizenship in 1982, denying them almost all rights and rendering them stateless. They cannot travel freely, practice their religion, or work as teachers or doctors, and they have little access to medical care, food or education.

Myanmar’s army denies accusations of rape, torture, murder and forced displacement.

The latest violence erupted in August, when Myanmar security forces responded to militant attacks with a scorched-earth campaign that has sent many Rohingya fleeing to Bangladesh, where the pope will also visit on his trip.

In 2015, Pope Francis angered Turkey when he used the word “genocide” to describe the World War I mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks. The Turkish government, which denies that the deaths constituted a genocide, recalled its ambassador to the Vatican in protest.

HRWF Footnote

Coverage of the Pope’s visit in Myanmar and the Rohingya issue:

Pope Francis’ Dilemma in Myanmar: Whether to Say ‘Rohingya’

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/26/world/asia/pope-francis-myanmar-rohingya.html

Pope’s Myanmar speech to avoid reference to Rohingya

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-42152146

Pope fails to mention Rohingya in Myanmar speech

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/nov/28/pope-francis-to-meet-aung-san-suu-kyi-on-first-full-day-in-myanmar

Pope Francis avoids mention of Rohingya in Myanmar speech

http://edition.cnn.com/2017/11/28/asia/pope-speech-rohingya-myanmar/index.html

 

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Also:

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List of hundreds of documented cases of believers of various faiths in 20 countries: http://hrwf.eu/forb/forb-and-blasphemy-prisoners-list/