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INDONESIA: Christian family killed and beheaded

The victims are a couple, their daughter and her husband, all members of the Salvation Army. Sulawesi police inspector general denies church burning. Relations between Christian groups and Muslim extremists are tense. In 2005, three Christian teenagers were beheaded. In 2006, three Catholics were sentenced to death.

By Mathias Hariyadi


AsiaNews.it (28.11.2020) – https://bit.ly/3fSbClo – Four members of the same Christian family have been found murdered, some of them beheaded. All four belonged to the Protestant Church of Salvation (Salvation Army). Their dismembered bodies were found yesterday, Central Sulawesi police reported today.


The murder took place in the village of Lenowu, Lemban Tongoa district, Sigi. For now, the identity of the killers remains unknown.


The president of the Protestant Christian Synod (PGI), Rev Gumar Gultom, condemned the killings and demanded that the government send a team of experts to open an investigation.


He also denounced some acts of intolerance that took place in the same area some time before the assassinations, namely the burning of six chapels used by the Salvation Army.


His statements contradict Rakhman Baso, inspector general of the Sulawesi police, who said that “no churches were burnt”.


The murder victims are a couple, their daughter and her husband. Their bodies were found around 10 am yesterday.


In an official statement, Rev Gultom offers prayers and condolences to the Salvation Army and notes that “this fresh violence reminds us of the sporadic violence of the past that took place in the same area of Sulawesi.”


On 29 October 2005, three Christian girls, high school students, were beheaded by Muslim extremists in Poso. The victims were: Theresia Morake (15), Alite Poliwo (17), and Yarni Sambue (17).


According to several observers, these killings were a consequence of sectarian clashes between extremist Protestant Christians and Islamic radicals.


Later, three local Catholics – Fabianus Tibo, Dominggus da Silva, and Marinus Riwu – were sentenced to death for sheltering some Catholics who had fled clashes in Poso.


The latter were eventually arrested in 2000, tried and sentenced to death in connection with the deaths of hundreds of Muslims during local interreligious violence between 1998 and 2001.


No Muslim was ever tried for taking part in those clashes, which also caused deaths among Christians as well.


The three Catholics were executed in September 2006. Then Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono refused a request for a pardon, supported by many leading figures, including the Pope.


“In the face of fresh violence,” said Rev Gultom, “I urge Indonesian security forces to eliminate the remaining terrorist fighters, who are still wanted in Sigi and Poso. The presence of the security forces is urgently needed to reassure locals and the country.”


Many people who witnessed the murders fled into the forest to hide. Meanwhile, the investigation into the incident has started. Didik, a spokesman for Sulawesi police, said that for now “the perpetrators of this violence remain unknown”.

Photo: AsiaNews.it.

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RUSSIA: Falun Gong banned for ‘religious extremism’

Human Rights Without Frontiers considers the ban a grave violation of religious freedom

HRWF (13.11.2020) – On 10 November, Interfax-Religion, the press agency of the Russian Orthodox Church,announced in a press release:

“A court in the Russian city of Novosibirsk has designated the regional branch of the Chinese sect Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, as an extremist organization in Russia.

The Khakassia regional organization for spiritual and physical self-improvement in accordance with the Great Law Falun Falun Dafa has been designated as an extremist organization and its activities in the territory of the Russian Federation have been banned, Novosibirsk’s Fifth General Court of Appeal said in a ruling handed down at its session on Tuesday.

In July, the Supreme Court of Russia’s internal republic of Khakassia refused to recognize Falun Gong as an extremist organization. A deputy prosecutor general of Khakassia appealed the decision, and it was later repealed.”

And Interfax enumerated a number of problems faced by followers of Falun in recent years in their activities throughout Russia:

” In December 2010, a Falun Gong exhibition was banned in Elista. In June 2015, officers of law enforcement thwarted the activity of the leader of the sect’s cell in Izhevsk. In July 2020, six U.S. and one British non-governmental organization related to Falun Gong were recognized as unwelcome in Russia.”

Between 2014 and 2019, one of the movement’s members was fined and another one was jailed for three days for distributing a book containing the movement’s teachings. The two cases were used by prosecutors to file a request to classify the group as extremist.

The movement considers the ban is a fabricated case and will appeal the ruling.

Anti-cult propaganda

In its press release, Interfax quoted a controversial professor in religious studies, Roman Silantyev, who is a staff member of the Moscow Patriarchate Department for External Church Relations and professor at the University of Moscow :


“Prof. Silantyev called the decision to ban Falun Gong an important milestone in combating extremism. ‘Currently, this is the world’s largest sect. It has been active in Russia as well, and not only in Khakassia. I hope that starting from this moment, it will be possible to ban it throughout the territory of our country, as happened with the Jehovah’s Witnesses. This is an occult totalitarian sect based on an interest in qigong. Its founder was able to turn a rather mild practice into rituals dangerous to both the sect’s members and the people around them,” Silantyev told Interfax.

In 2005 Silantyev was relieved from his IIRC (Interreligious Council of Russia) posts after the controversial reception of his book A Modern History of the Islamic Community in Russia, criticized both from the Muslim and Orthodox sides.

Along with the notorious anti-cultist activist, Alexander Dvorkin, Prof. Silantyev is known to fuel hate speech against non-Orthodox religious movements.
Human Rights Without Frontiers considers his comments as such and the ban on Falun Gong a violation of religious freedom.

Seven foreign pro-Falun Gong movements declared undesirable in Russia

In July 2020, seven foreign organizations supporting the followers of Chinese religious doctrine Falun Gong or Falun Dafa have been declared undesirable in the Russian Federation, the press service of the Prosecutor General’s Office reports.

The organizations added to the so-called undesirable list are America’s Global Organization for Falun Gong Prosecution Investigations, Coalition on the Investigation into Prosecution of Falun Gong in China, the World Council for Protection of Prosecuted Falun Gong adepts, Friends of Falun Gong, British Falun Dafa and others, the statement reads.

Activities of these organizations create a hazard to the safety of the Russian Federation, the Prosecutor General’s Office stated.

Information on the decision has been forwarded to the Justice Ministry to add it to the list of international NGOs declared undesirable in Russia, according to prosecutors.

Falun Gong or Falun Dafa is a religious movement founded by its leader Li Hongzhi in China in the early 1990s. After the movement had been banned several its leaders received long prison terms for organizing illegal mass events, infliction of harm to life and health of the doctrine’s followers and espionage. Certain Falun Dafa information materials have been declared extremist in Russia.


What is Falung Gong?


In its report “In Prison For Their Faith 2020” recently published, Human Rights Without Frontiers wrote about Falun Gong:


“The Falun Gong movement (or Falun Dafa) began in 1992 in northeast China where Master Li Hongzhi taught about the healing and health benefits of the ancient Chinese practice of Qigong.[1] When he first developed the practice of Falun Gong, he was a government-registered teacher of Qigong. Li drew from the teachings of classical religious traditions –Taoism and Buddhism in particular – to construct a system of beliefs and practices that focus on the cultivation of compassion and virtue in pursuit of human wholeness. He incorporated much of that teaching in his own work and emphasised moral values and the development of character. He focused on three tenets: truthfulness, compassion and forbearance.


In the 1990s, Li travelled across China, giving classes in Falun Gong to audiences ranging from a few hundred to several thousand. Li’s first book appeared in 1993 and his first teaching video was released in 1994. His reputation spread with astonishing speed. By 1999, the government estimated the number of Falun Gong practitioners at 70 million.


At that time, Falun Gong was not politically controversial. However, China, as a totalitarian state, considers any unofficial and unauthorised organisation to be a threat to the one-party state. With Falun Gong’s commitment to truthfulness, perhaps it would begin denouncing the rampant corruption across the country. Such thoughts triggered Beijing to start a propaganda campaign against Falun Gong in 1999. It shut off Internet access for websites that mentioned Falun Gong and denounced Falun Gong as a ‘heretical organisation’ and a menace to social stability.


When those initial measures failed to stunt the movement, the government imprisoned hundreds of thousands of practitioners, subjecting them to forced labour and sometimes torture.


By the late 1990s, Li’s movement had spread to most Chinese cities and overseas to centres in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, and the United States (US). Li Hongzhi left China in 1995 to give lectures to large crowds in several major cities around the world. In 1996, he settled in the US where the Falun Gong movement has established a global media presence from New York City through its newspaper, website Epoch Times, and television station New Tang Dynasty.


As there are no formalised membership records maintained by Falun Gong, only rough estimates are available for the numbers of practitioners worldwide. At the peak of its popularity in China, there were an estimated 70 million adherents.  Today, some sources estimate that tens of millions continue to practice Falun Gong in China despite experiencing harsh persecution.


Hundreds of thousands are estimated to practice Falun Gong outside of China in over 70 countries worldwide. Li often lectures at conferences of Falun Gong Experience Sharing. In May 2017, he led a conference in Brooklyn, New York, US that was attended by 10,000 practitioners from 58 countries.”


Further reading


Bitter Winter: Falun Gong banned in Khakassia, “Liquidation” threatened in the whole of Russia https://bitterwinter.org/falun-gong-banned-in-khakassia/


Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty: A Siberian court orders Falun Gong movement banned https://bit.ly/2UkrQd5

[1] “Falun Gong,” World Religious Spirituality, accessed June 2020.


Photo: AsiaNews.it.

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ARMENIA-AZERBAIJIAN: Erdogan’s victory in Nagorno-Karabakh

The Yerevan parliament stormed and violence outside the home of Prime Minister Pašinyan. Baku celebrates with victory parades. Turkey and Russia are moving towards the “Syrian model” of joint territorial control. 10 Iljušin-76 aircraft are ready to carry the troops of the “peacemakers”. In all, about 2000 soldiers will be deployed.


By Vladimir Rozanskij


AsiaNews.it (11.11.2020) – https://bit.ly/32zeBcS – The peace agreement reached yesterday between Armenia and Azerbaijian, with Russian mediation, is being seen as a surrender by the Armenians, and a strategic victory for Turkey, which has obtained its goal: Access to the the South Caucasus as a protagonist. Victory parades took place in the streets of Baku, while the Armenians stormed their parliament and government buildings in Yerevan.


10 Iljušin-76 aircraft have already landed in Russia to transport the “peacemaker” troops. In all, about 2000 soldiers, 80 armoured vehicles and 380 means of transport with specialized technologies for territorial control will be deployed.


Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliev also stated that the peace mission in Nagorno Karabakh will be composed of mixed forces, Russian and Turkish. Turkey had engaged several foreign mercenaries in the conflict, ISIS fighters in Syria, who are likely to remain on the territory. Although Turkey did not take part directly in the negotiations, Ankara has appropriated victory. Turkish foreign minister Mevljut Chavushoglu has declared “Azerbaijan has achieved great success on the battlefield and at the negotiations table of the, and I wholeheartedly congratulate you on this success”.


The Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pašinyan said he accepted the agreement “with great suffering”, even if in fact the Armenians still achieved a significant result, retaining a crucial part of the Armenian-majority territory recaptured already 20 years ago and declared “the Nagorno Karabakh Republic”, with the exclusion of the city of Shusha.


Pašinyan’s major efforts are aimed at persuading his compatriots that “this is not a defeat”, because the pacts signed were the only way to keep control over the city of Stepanakert and the Lachinsk corridor. “I kneel before our dead, and I bow to all our soldiers … with their sacrifice they have saved the Armenians of Artsakh,” the premier wrote on Facebook, using the Armenian name of Karabakh.


The status quo achieved is not the one indicated for some time in the OECD’s “Minsk agreements”, under the supervision of Russia, France and the United States, but the one established by Russia, which has taken all responsibility for the agreement upon itself, and which assigns a much larger territory to Azerbaijan than that of the Minsk text. The city of Shusha and its surroundings, moreover, had already been lost by the Armenians since November 5: this was revealed by the president of the Armenian republic of Nagorno Karabakh (Artsakh), Araik Arutjunyan, and on November 7 the Armenian forces had totally abandoned the city.


Armenians angry at the agreement attacked the president of parliament, Ararat Mirzoyan, who was beaten by demonstrators after pulling him out of the car he was trying to flee in. The residence of Prime Minister Pašinyan was also attacked and sacked; the prime minister of last year’s “flower revolution” is today overwhelmed by criticism from all political and social formations in the country, including the Apostolic Church of katholikos Karekin II. Pašinyan defended himself by claiming that he had to rush to the negotiating table, after “those who want my resignation had withdrawn from Shusha the previous days”.


However, the peace agreements appear rather fragile; Azerbaijani President Aliev has repeatedly stated that he wants to take back all of Nagorno Karabakh, and in all likelihood he will wait for the right moment to resume the conflict, as the signed pact lacks a long-term perspective. A new political crisis is also expected in Armenia, with the attempt to influence or replace Pašinyan. Turkey and Russia seem to concur on applying the “Syrian model” of joint control of the territory, where rather than peacekeeping forces, real armies will rule.

Photo: AsiaNews.it.

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IRAN: Tehran frees 157 prisoners convicted of security offenses

Those released include Nasrin Sotoudeh, who tested positive for the coronavirus. The amnesty provision, granted by Khamenei for the anniversary of Muhammad’s birth, relates to 3,780 prisoners. This is the most important mass release of citizens indicted for conspiracy offenses.


AsiaNews.it (11.11.2020) – https://bit.ly/32vAE48 – The Iranian judiciary yesterday afternoon announced the pardon of 157 prisoners accused of “security” offenses, in the context of a broader amnesty provision granted by the supreme leader, the great ayatollah Ali Khamenei.


The decision dates back to last week, coinciding with the anniversary of the birth of the Prophet Muhammad. According to the spokesman for the judges Gholamhossein Esmaili, on the occasion the authorities cancelled or reduced the terms of the sentence of 3,780 detainees.


Among those who benefited from pardon, Esmaili continues, there are ” 157 convicted of propaganda against the state, illegal gathering, collusion against national security, or participation in the riots”. Analysts and experts point out that it is the most important mass release of prisoners charged with crimes of opinion, linked to protests or demonstrations of dissent.


In announcing the measure, the spokesman for the judiciary has repeatedly referred to people detained for participating in the 2017 and 2019 protests against a devastating economic crisis, exacerbated by the sanctions imposed by the outgoing US President Donald Trump. In particular, the demonstrations in November last year, triggered by extortionate fuel costs, resulted in the deaths of at least 304 Iranians, most of whom were shot to death by the security forces.


In recent weeks, Tehran has released thousands of prisoners in the context of measures taken to contain the spread of the new coronavirus, which in the Islamic Republic has recorded the highest number of victims and infections among the nations of the Middle East. In the past, prisoners for conspiracy offenses or related to street protests were largely excluded from the measures in spite of appeals launched by the UN and human rights NGOs.


Over the past 18 months, says Esmaili, “Iran has forgiven or anticipated the terms of release for 20,000 prisoners”. Among those who have been released in recent days is the activist Nasrin Sotoudeh, for weeks on a hunger strike to raise awareness of the risks for detainees in times of pandemic. According to the latest information, the activist would test positive for the molecular swab confirming the massive circulation of the virus in prisons.

Photo: AsiaNews.it.

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CHINA: Hunan, Protestant pastor on trial for ‘subversion against the state’

The Rev. Zhao Huaiguo is accused of using the internet, bypassing censors and posting news about the Covid-19 epidemic in China. Since 2007, the authorities have been demanding that his domestic Church join the Three-Self Movement, but he has always refused.


AsiaNews.it (09.11.2020) – https://bit.ly/32tZkdo – The trial against Protestant pastor Zhao Huaiguo, founder of the Bethel House Church, in Cili County (Hunan), has begun on charges of “inciting subversion against the state”. The first session of the trial took place last October 13, but the news has only emerged in recent days.


The pastor was arrested on April 2, but was taken by police since March 15. According to the prosecutor, the accused used software to bypass national internet censors; he recommended the software to his followers; he disseminated information on the Covid-19 epidemic in China and abroad. For the Communist Party of China, these actions seriously endanger national security.


As is now the practice in many trials in China, the authorities refused the choice of legal representation to Zhao and his family, forcing the accused to seek defense from an official lawyer. The latter, at the first session, admitted the accusation, instead of rejecting it, trying to obtain a more lenient sentence.


The trial was attended by Zhao’s wife, his son and three members of his community.


Pastor Zhao founded his Bethel Church in 2007 in Cili near the city of Zhangjiajie (Hunan). The authorities have often asked him to join the Three Self Movement, the official body that brings together all Protestant denominations, but Zhao has always refused.


In March 2019, the public security forces, together with members of the Religious Affairs Office, carried out raids, destroying and seizing church property (liturgical instruments, religious symbols, bibles, songbooks, gospels, piano, …). They declared community gatherings illegal and arrested the pastor.


According to some estimates, there are about 80-100 million Protestants in China. Of these, only 23 million adhere to the Three Self Movement, considered by the others as an easy tool in the hands of the atheist government.

Photo credit: AsiaNews.it.

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