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INDIA: Madhya Pradesh also passes new anti-conversion law

By Nirmala Carvalho

 

Hindu nationalists in the state legislature voted the bill on 8 March as a gift to women. For the president of the Global Council of Indian Christians, the law “promotes hatred, divisions and tensions between different communities”, and endangers vulnerable minority Christians.

 

AsiaNews (09.03.2021) – https://bit.ly/3taFS0d – Another Indian state has passed an anti-conversion law. After Uttar Pradesh  and Uttarakhand, both ruled by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Madhya Pradesh yesterday became the third Indian state to pass such legislation.

 

This is causing great concern among Christians; the new law “promotes hatred, divisions and tensions between different communities within society,” said Sajan K. George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC), speaking to AsiaNews.

 

The state’s Home Affairs Minister Narottam Mishra officially introduced the Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Bill 2021 on 1 March to replace an ordinance in force since 9 January. The bill was voted yesterday. BJP state legislators called it a gift for women on their day.

 

“Under the new bill, forcing religious conversion on someone will attract one to five years of imprisonment and a minimum Rs 25,000 fine (US$ 350),” said Narottam Mishra. “Forced conversion of a minor, a woman or a person from a Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe would draw a minimum jail term of two to10 years with a minimum penalty of Rs 50,000 (US$ 700).”

 

“In secular India, it is absolutely inconsistent for a state to indicate which religion a person can follow or who they can marry,” said George.

 

“The Indian constitution is secular. There is no state religion and this law is a flagrant violation of personal freedoms,” he added.

 

“The right to freedom of religion in Article 25 to practise, profess and propagate a religion is part of the guarantees enshrined in the constitution.”

 

Anti-conversion laws, ironically called ‘Freedom of Religion’ laws, have existed in Indian states for a long time, the first one in Odisha (formerly Orissa).

 

According to data collected by the police in Madhya Pradesh, since the Ordinance came into effect on 9 January, “of the 23 cases, at least half of them concern Christians,” George explained. “All of them are fabricated cases of conversion. Vigilante groups attack, intimidate, even disrupt family gatherings under the guise of conversion activities.”

 

For George, nationalist right-wing groups enjoy tacit state approval. “They endanger lives among vulnerable minority Christians with violence.”

 

“The theory of conversions is widespread in the country even though the majority group still represents  80 per cent of society”.

 

Photo : AsiaNews





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BANGLADESH: Two Protestant churches attacked and ransacked

Forest Department officials tore down a Seventh-day Adventist church in Bandarban district for lack of construction permit. Extremists attacked another Protestant church in northern Bangladesh because of the presence of new Christians. For the Bangladesh Christian Association, everyone should be guaranteed the right to practise their own religion and justice should be done.

by Sumon Corraya

Asia News (04.03.2021) – https://bit.ly/2PtCAq9 –  Bandarban – A recent attack against two churches, one of which was demolished, is causing concern among Bangladeshi Christians.

On 25 February, 10 Forest Department employees tore down the Sathirampara Seventh-day Adventist church in Ali Kadam, Bandarban district. The building was under construction. The congregation was replacing the old bamboo hut used as a church with a brick building.

The Forest Department said that the community was not authorised to build on land under its jurisdiction. Yet, the area already has four mosques, three Buddhist temples, four large markets as well as public and private schools. No problems were reported in connection with any of these structures.

Sathiram Tripura, one of the leaders of Sathirampara Church, told AsiaNews that people from two villages in the hills have been coming to his makeshift house of prayer for many years.

“Members of the community set aside the money for 15 years to build the brick church,” he explained. “Not being able to finish the construction is very sad.”

The demolition took place while the men of the community were working in the forest. The community includes more than a hundred people who now find themselves praying in the open air, Tripura noted.

Without a church the situation will become very difficult when the rainy season begins. However, for Forest Department official S M Kawsar, his agency did not destroy any church, it simply  cleared government land.

“Construction takes a permit and Christians did not have it,” he explained. “In this village, there are only three or four Christian families. There is no need for a church.”

Another incident occurred a few days earlier in Aditmari, Lalmonirhat district (northern Bangladesh). A group of local Muslims attacked Emmanuel Church on 10 February, which is located in a predominantly Muslim village. The Protestant house of prayer has existed since 2003.

Local pastor Rev Lovlu S. Levy said that four people destroyed the church sign, cut trees, forced the entrance, and stole 30 chairs and two carpets worth 14,000 taka (US$ 165).

“Residents in this area are fundamentalists,” he explained. “When I first went to the police they did not want to file the report of what happened; they also told me not to inform journalists of the attack.”

Violence against the church appears to be the result of anti-Christian propaganda at a local Islamic meeting place (waz mahfil) where Muslim religious leaders engage in hate speech.

Rev Lovlu S. Levy also reports that anger against Christians is linked to the fact that new members have joined the community.

“Muslims are angry because we have received Christ, which is why they attack us. Now we live in fear, ten new believers have fled the village for their safety.”

Bangladesh Christian Association President Nirmol Rozario condemned these two episodes of violence.

With respect to the Sathirampara Church in Bandarban district he noted that everyone has the right to practise their religion. “I call on the local authorities to ensure that Christians can soon build their own church.”

As for the attack in Aditmari, “radical Muslims tried to frighten Christians. We condemn the attack and demand justice.”

Photo: AsiaNews.it





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Sikhs in Afghanistan a neglected, vanishing minority

The most recent attack has been linked to ISIS extremists, but mainstream persecution is the norm

 

By Sunil Kukreja

 

Asia Times (01.04.2020) – https://bit.ly/2XiVfa4 – The terrorist attack that killed 27 Sikhs in a centuries-old gurdwara (Sikh temple) last week highlighted yet again the continued and systematic decimation of Sikhs and other religious minorities in Afghanistan.

 

This most recent attack, for which Islamic State (ISIS) has claimed responsibility, represents yet another poignant chapter in a larger narrative of the persistent persecution of Sikhs in Afghanistan. Then the bomb attack on the mourners of those killed in the Sikh temple that followed was but another painful postscript to the brutal reality of the devastation that has been inflicted on Sikhs in that country.

 

Once a thriving religious minority, the Sikh population in Afghanistan has over the last couple of decades declined significantly, with current estimates putting the number remaining at between 3,000 and 8,000. Indeed, so desperate has the situation become that there is little doubt that Afghan Sikhs will become little more than another historical footnote to the international community – one that has been conveniently and persistently ignored by governments and international organizations that purport to champion the cause of religious freedom and minority rights.

 

While some international news outlets did report last week’s attacks, it’s quite telling that even with the understandable attention of the international community on the Covid-19 pandemic, the persistent persecution of Sikhs in countries like Afghanistan (and in neighboring Pakistan) in essence continues to be ignored by entities such as the United Nations.

 

To be sure, decades of war and devastation have taken a toll on the persistence of minorities such as Sikhs and Hindus in Afghanistan, but there is no question that systematic targeting, harassment, intimidation, and violence perpetrated against these minorities has been routinely tolerated, reflecting how a discernible set of practices have been tacitly or otherwise ignored over an extended period in many parts of the country.

 

While extreme violence of the kind undertaken by ISIS jihadists provides fodder for the narrative that it’s extremists who are the source of this persecution of minorities, it also conveniently enables this mainstream misinterpretation to persist unchallenged and unexamined.

 

Of course, there is the school of thought that the violent attacks by extremists on Sikhs (and Hindus) are a way to exert pressure indirectly on any Indian government entanglement in Afghanistan as well as retaliate against the mistreatment of Muslims in Kashmir or elsewhere in India. But this convenient interpretation doesn’t adequately and meaningfully account for the society-wide practices of discrimination, intimidation, mistreatment, and targeting of Sikhs that persists as an embedded aspect of daily life in Afghanistan.

 

According to one US government report, for example, “only a few places of worship remained open for Sikhs and Hindus, who said they continued to emigrate because of discrimination and the lack of employment opportunities. Hindu and Sikh groups also reported interference in their efforts to cremate the remains of their dead in accordance with their customs from individuals who lived near cremation sites.” Other forms of systematic and even state-sanctioned discrimination include the illegal appropriation of property owned by Sikhs.

 

Frankly, it appears that the relative lack of international attention to situations like the systematic targeting of Sikhs and other religious minorities in Afghanistan and Pakistan reflects an apparent political indifference of the establishment international community. Despite repeated reports of attacks and systematic targeting of Sikhs, the UN, for example, continues to show – despite its predictable condemnation – what can only be described as a puzzling disregard for their plight.

 

On cue, the UN Secretary General’s Office issued the following statement on the recent attack in Kabul:

 

“The Secretary General condemns the attack today in Kabul on a Sikh-Hindu temple in which dozens of civilians were killed and injured. He expresses his deepest sympathies to the families of the victims and wishes a speedy recovery to those injured.

 

“The Secretary General reiterates that attacks against civilians are unacceptable and those who carry out such crimes must be held accountable.

 

“The United Nations stands in solidarity with the people and the government of Afghanistan and will continue supporting efforts to bring peace to their country.”

 

The office of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief within the UN Human Rights Council, for example, is apparently charged with promoting, among other things, “the adoption of measures at the national, regional and international levels to ensure the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of religion or belief.” However, any close scrutiny of its efforts in this regard reveal a shocking neglect particularly with respect to the plight of Sikhs in Afghanistan or Pakistan.

 

Indeed, the unambiguous, vivid, and steady stream of independent media and other reports of the destruction of gurdwaras, or attacks on Sikhs in Afghanistan and Pakistan seem to disappear – curiously and, arguably, conveniently – into the proverbial pile of insignificance.

 

It seems reasonable to pose the rather obvious question: Under what circumstances exactly might the United Nations, for instance, find it suitable to make its presence and influence felt in such matters, if not in a devastating and oppressive scenario marked by persistent and unyielding persecution of Sikhs in Afghanistan or Pakistan?

 

Amid the years of indifference to the plight of the Sikhs in Afghanistan, it now is increasingly evident, if it wasn’t already before the latest attack, that to continue living in the country is no longer tenable. This latest attack on Afghan Sikhs has underscored their systematic displacement through a wider, long-standing institutional and societal context marked by hostility toward them.

 

When it comes to tackling the mistreatment of Sikhs in Afghanistan, it is clear the UN and the wider international community have failed spectacularly.





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North Korean dissident Thae Yong-ho running for seat in South Korean parliament

Asia News (11.02.2020) – http://bit.ly/2Hh6arE – The former high-ranking diplomat, who will run for a conservative party in a Seoul constituency, is critical of the Moon Jae-in administration. If elected he will work for Korean unification. Over the past two decades, 33,000 North Koreans have sought asylum in South Korea, but few are prominent members of the North Korean regime.

 

Thae Yong-ho, a high-profile North Korean dissident, is running in South Korea’s parliamentary election on 15 April.

 

The conservative Liberty Korea Party (LKP), the main opposition to President Moon Jae-in and his centrist Democratic Party, made the announcement today Thae is expected to run in Gangnam, a wealthy constituency in Seoul where conservatives have been traditionally strong.

 

If elected, he will become the second defector from North Korea to win a parliamentary seat in South Korea – the first was Cho Myung-chul who was elected in 2012 with the LKP.

 

The North Korean defector said he wants to work for the unification of the two Koreas, which have been divided along the 38th parallel since the end of the Second World War.

He explained that he decided to run after the South Korean government deported two North Koreans back to the communist north. The two fishermen are accused of killing 16 fellow crew members on their fishing boat and then fleeing to the South.

 

Thae, a former deputy ambassador to the United Kingdom, is convinced that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un will never give up his nuclear arsenal.

 

He joined the LKP because in his view Moon’s policy of overture towards Pyongyang is unrealistic.

 

The South Korean president has tried to mediate between the United States and North Korea, partly following the Sunshine Policy of his liberal predecessors.

 

Thae escaped to South Korea with his family in 2016; back in North Korea, the communist regime has accused him of stealing public funds.

 

According to the South Korean Ministry of Unification, more than 33,000 North Koreans have fled to South Korea in the past 20 years.

 

Most (24,000) are women who fled rural areas to escape poverty. A few North Korean government officials and members of the armed forces have requested political asylum in the South.

 

The highest ranking official to do so was Hwang Jang-yop, a senior member of the ruling Workers’ Party. He was very close to Kim Jong-il, the father of North Korea’s current strong man. He passed away in 2010.





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BANGLADESH: Rohingya Christian family kidnapped, minor converted

Asia News (04.02.2020) – http://bit.ly/2v4XIZF -About 400 Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army militants destroyed the church and 25 Christian homes. Harassed women and girls; elders beaten. “We are Christians from birth. We ask to be recognized as such “. Pope Francis in Bangladesh met the refugees, “but we were not  invited”.

 

A Christian family was kidnapped in the Kutupalong refugee camp in the Cox’s Bazar district, and an underage daughter was forced to marry and convert to Islam. Savel Islam Peter, one of the Rohingya Christian refugees attacked last week by Arsa militants (Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army) in the refugee camp, reveals this in an exclusive interview with AsiaNews. The kidnapping, he says, occurred the day after the attack on the camp on January 27th. The family, Saiful says, “was kidnapped for the faith. We are persecuted because we are Christians ”.

 

Saiful is a Protestant member of the Bethel Church Rohingya Christian Fellowship. He reports that the people kidnapped are: Taher, 55, his wife Kurshida, 32, and his daughters Mizan, 14, and Mariam, 8. Two days ago, he adds, “a Muslim neighbor told us that Mizan was forced to marry an Islamic extremist who lives near Nowkar camp, while there is no news of the rest of the family “.

 

He is hospitalized in a district mission hospital because of the injuries sustained during the attack. He was attacked because he filmed the homes of burning Christians on video. The police indicted him for filming the demolished houses. He said that “about 200 people from Arsa came to visit us carrying guns, knives, swords and iron bars”.

 

At the moment, the families have been transferred to a UN camp. To those who question the presence of ARSA militants in the refugee camp, Saiful replies: “They really exist. We have encountered several in both the 2E and 2W camps. We have photos showing militant leaders carrying guns and knives. Many Rohingya Muslims detest them and I am sure they would be ready to testify that the members of ARSA are there.”

 

The Rohingya are an ethnic minority, mostly Islamic, who have lived in Myanmar for decades. At the outbreak of the violence in August 2017 between army soldiers and the Arsa armed group, at least 740 thousand people fled Burmese territory and camped in Bangladesh. Saiful highlights: “There is a hate speech that surrounds us, according to which for the Rohingya there is no other religion than the Islamic one. In reality, the Rohingyas were Hindus for a long time.”

 

On the attack on Christian families, the man says: “The Rohingya Christian women and children were beaten terribly. Many young girls were sexually harassed in the nights. During attack, attackers touch private part of women. Their married gold and earrings have snatched away, so many women got permanent damage in the ear of fingers. My elderly people and man have cut with swords on the shoulders, backs or in the arms ” “We have videos that demonstrate everything – he continues – at least 400 people attacked us. They stole all our belongings from homes, destroyed the church, took computers, projectors and other material for a value of 200 thousand taka [2,130 euros, ed.]”.

 

At least 1,500 Rohingya Christians live in Bangladesh, who have arrived in various migratory waves since 1991. The only church for them is located in Camp 2, block 1, of Kutupalong. All “are Christians from birth, and not converted to Christianity after arriving in Bangladesh, as one would like to believe”. Saiful denounces that “as early as last May, between 10 and 13, the criminals had destroyed the church. They returned between January 25 and 27 and demolished the church and 25 houses again.”

 

“For years – Saiful notes – we have been asking to be recognized as Christians by the Muslim majority Rohingya. We hope that card. Patrick D’Rozario, head of the country’s Catholic bishops, help us get the kidnapped back. In 2017, we learned that Pope Francis came to Bangladesh and met Rohingya refugees. However, no one invited us to that meeting.”


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