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TURKEY: Turkey’s Christians face increasingly dangerous persecution



Newsweek (13.04.2021) – https://bit.ly/2Q7kFq2 – Once upon a time, tourists in Turkey eagerly made their way to Hagia Sophia—a historic architectural marvel shimmering with the golden light of ancient mosaics. Although marred by many centuries, images of Jesus, Mary and John the Baptist reflect the spirit of a fledgling Christian world. In fact, Turkey’s earliest churches are recalled in the New Testament itself—in Antioch, where St. Paul began his missionary journeys, and in the Seven Churches portrayed by St. John in his Book of Revelation.

Christianity once flourished in Turkey, until the Ottoman Empire’s 1915 genocide of Armenians, Assyrians, Greeks and other Christians. Now the Islamist regime of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his neo-Ottoman agenda has magnified Turkey’s anti-Christian hostility. Since a failed coup attempt in 2016, the regime intensified its scapegoating of Christians, while occasionally making deceptively amiable gestures toward them.

In July 2020, Erdogan officially declared that Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia—beautiful mosaics and all—would once again become a mosque. Erdogan announced that this would gratify “the spirit of conquest” of Mehmet II, the Ottoman sultan who captured Constantinople from the Christian Byzantines in 1453, and turned the church of Hagia Sophia into a mosque.

That, and the transformation of Istanbul’s beautiful Chora Church of the Holy Saviour, merged into a swelling stream of Turkish Christian churches being confiscated, shuttered, torn down, or converted into mosques.


Troubles within the Greek Orthodox patriarchate and a disputed election of the Armenian Orthodox patriarch have also sounded international alarms. But even more troubling are the enmity and abuse displayed by the regime toward Christians themselves, both as faith groups and individuals.

During the genocidal ISIS invasion of Syria and Iraq, floods of refugees poured into Turkey. Most were Muslim, but a considerable number of them were Christians representing venerable Middle Eastern churches. As a bloc, the refugees were useful to Erdogan who, if his political demands weren’t met, periodically threatened to release millions of them into Europe.


Meanwhile, according to numerous sources, Christian refugees in Turkey have been treated with contempt, consigned to remote locations, far removed from existing churches or co-religionists. Neither Turkish speakers nor Muslims, the Christian men could not legally find employment, while language and religious issues sidelined women and children struggling to work or attend school.

Unwarranted confrontations with authorities have become commonplace.


My friend Charmaine Hedding is founder of Shai Fund, a Christian charity. After the ISIS invasion in Iraq, she visited Turkish refugee centers across the country several times in order to provide food vouchers for destitute Christian families. On one visit, quite unexpectedly, she and two colleagues were roughly taken aside by a local government official. He ordered them into a room, locked the door and then angrily slammed a Koran onto the table in front of them. He pointed a finger at each of them, demanding that they convert to Islam. This angry radical lectured them for several hours before their release. They were terrified.

One beloved Christian, who selflessly assists refugees who fled ISIS, is a Chaldean Catholic priest named Father Remzi Diril, who visits and comforts Christian families, providing religious services, sacraments, infant baptisms and charitable assistance. He “logs thousands of miles tending his flock, the community of Iraqi Christian refugees in Turkey. Their exact number is unknown, but it is estimated to be 40,000.” Unsurprisingly, Father Diril has also faced harassment.

Ominously, Father Diril’s elderly parents—71- and 65-year-old residents of a tiny Christian community—were kidnapped from their home in 2020.

AsiaNews reported in March 2021, “Turkey’s human rights agency has rejected the request by Fr. Remzi Diril for an investigation. Nothing is known about his father who went missing over a year ago while his mother’s body was found naked, with signs of torture.” This horrific crime remains unresolved.

As Father Diril prays and waits, we’re reminded of the arrest and imprisonment of American Pastor Andrew Brunson. After serving as a Christian clergyman in Turkey for 23 years, he was suddenly locked up in solitary confinement in October 2016 under ridiculously false charges. Brunson’s case became a top news story in the U.S. while former President Donald Trump repeatedly demanded his release. Brunson, who struggled with intense anxiety and depression during his imprisonment, finally walked free in July 2018.

In the meantime, friends inside Turkey report, since 2019, some 73 foreign Christians have been expelled from the country, including spouses of Turkish pastors, thus tearing innocent families apart. Some of these workers are denied re-entry at passport control upon arrival. Others receive N82 visa stamps on their travel documents, falsely labeling them as a threat to public health, safety and/or order and making their return to Turkey impossible.

Recently, Morning Star News reported, “A German pastor fighting expulsion from Turkey is hopeful that he may be the exception to a wave of foreign Christian leaders expelled from the country as ‘threats to national security.'” And a Syriac Orthodox monk was accused of terrorism, tried and sentenced to more than two years in prison for providing bread and water to hungry monastery visitors.

Violations of religious freedom against Turkey’s Christians are increasingly rampant. I asked former Turkish parliamentarian and Foundation for Defense of Democracies scholar Aykan Erdemir to explain.

“The Erdogan government’s glorification of the Ottoman ‘spirit of conquest’, and references to the ‘right of the sword‘ in converting Hagia Sophia and other churches, have relegated Turkey’s Christian citizens to an inferior rank of conquered minorities,” Erdemir said. “Such supremacist policy and rhetoric will exacerbate precarious conditions for Christians. They will be at the mercy of a repressive government that swings back and forth between outbreaks of persecution and spectacles of tolerance.”

Lela Gilbert is senior fellow for religious freedom at Family Research Council and a fellow at Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom.



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SWEDEN is about to deport activist to China—Torture and prison be damned

By Judith Bergman & Aaron Rhodes


Newsweek (05.01.2021) – https://bit.ly/3okefjj – As China continues what Human Rights Watch has called “the worst human rights crackdown in the post-Tiananmen period,” Sweden is about to deport a human rights activist, Baolige Wurina, back to the country. If this happens, he is almost certain to face incarceration and torture, and Sweden will have violated the European Convention on Human Rights.


Baolige fled to Sweden ten years ago from the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region of China (IMAR), after facing persecution from Chinese authorities for his rights activism. Since arriving in Sweden, Swedish authorities have refused to grant him asylum and ordered his deportation. Baolige and his wife, together with their two children, are waiting now for the Migration Court of Appeal—the last instance to decide on asylum cases in Sweden—to decide whether he will be granted Swedish protection. If the court decides on deportation, the family will be split apart. While Baolige will be sent to China, his wife, who is Mongolian, will be sent to Mongolia with their children.


Swedish authorities claim that Baolige is unable to prove that Chinese authorities constitute a threat towards him personally, even though Baolige has continued his rights activism in Sweden. He has participated in protests against China in front of the Chinese embassy, where he says embassy staff photographed the protesters. Swedish authorities have rejected the claim as “speculation,” even though China is known for its surveillance and targeting of citizens who have fled the country.


The case law of the European Court of Human Rights requires the Swedish court to examine the consequences of sending Baolige back to China, bearing in mind not only his personal circumstances, which certainly seem to warrant Swedish protection, but also the general situation in China.


The decision to deport Baolige seems based on a misreading of the general situation in Inner Mongolia—perhaps because China’s human rights abuses there are less known than those committed in Tibet and Xinjiang—but the situation is very grave and Sweden’s embassy in China appears fully aware of that. On December 10, the embassy published a statement by the EU delegation in China:


“The EU… continues to be gravely concerned about the serious deterioration of the human rights situation in Xinjiang, Tibet and Inner Mongolia [our emphasis]. In addition to reports on continued large-scale extra-judicial detentions, severe and systemic restrictions on freedom of expression and association, and on freedom of religion or belief, there are growing concerns about the alleged use of forced labour, forced family separations and forced sterilization”.


This fall China initiated a “dual language” policy in IMAR, similar to measures previously taken in Tibet and Xinjiang, according to which Chinese is now the language of instruction in primary and secondary school for numerous subjects previously taught in Mongolian. The policy caused widespread protests in IMAR and a subsequent crackdown by Chinese authorities. The Southern Mongolian Human Rights Centre (SMHRIC) estimates that 8,000-10,000 ethnic Mongolians have been placed under some form of police custody in IMAR since late August.


“The punitive measures…” wrote the SMHRIC, “include mass arrest, arbitrary detention, forced disappearance…house arrest…termination of employment, removal from official positions… and denial of access to financial resources…”.


“Methods of coerced assimilation via police-state tactics, which have been used extensively in Xinjiang and Tibet, are now also being enforced in Inner Mongolia,” wrote Dr. Willy Wo-Lap Lam, an Adjunct Professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, in a report for the Jamestown Foundation in September. “…Other harsh measures already used include: the imprisonment of political dissidents; closure of anti-Beijing social media chat rooms; and even the collection of DNA from ethnic minority residents”.


Swedish Minister of Justice and Migration, Morgan Johansson, was recently asked whether the Swedish government would cease deportations to Inner Mongolia. “I note,” responded Johansson, “that the system we have for asylum review in Sweden contains effective guarantees to ensure a legally secure process.”


That does not appear to be the case, however, when Swedish migration authorities clearly lack crucial information in their decision making process. Such lack of information has already had tragic consequences:


In 2012, Sweden deported two Uyghurs who had participated in demonstrations in Sweden in front of the Chinese embassy, just like Baolige. “I know that they had participated in demonstrations held by the Swedish Uyghur community in front of the Chinese embassy in Stockholm,” World Uyghur Congress spokesman Dilshat Raxit said at the time. “This is enough fodder for the Chinese authorities to punish them severely”. The two Uyghurs were never seen or heard from again. The tragedy forced Sweden to temporarily stop the deportations of Uyghurs to China.


Will Baolige have to pay with his life in order for Sweden to stop the deportations of ethnic Mongolians to China?

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On Taiwan, moral courage from the Czech Republic | Opinion

By Dr. Jianli Yang & Dr. Aaron Rhodes


Newsweek (16.09.2020) – https://bit.ly/2E9Jzzm – Individual acts of moral and civic courage, whether on the local or international level, are indispensable to the struggle against tyranny. Today, democratic Taiwan faces such a struggle, as mainland China threatens to subvert its freedom as it did in Hong Kong or even launch a military assault. Earlier this month, president of the Czech senate Milos Vystrcil stood up to the Chinese Communist Party’s threats by visiting Taiwan with a 90-member delegation. Voicing solidarity with the Taiwanese people, Vystrcil drew upon the tradition of moral dissent that inspired Charter 77, when Czech dissidents like Jan Patocka and Václav Havel initiated public acts of moral defiance in the face of communist oppression.


The Global Times, a Chinese nationalist tabloid, accused Vystrcil of being a “rule-breaker”—a label he should proudly embrace. China threatened economic revenge, canceling a 5 million Czech Crown (188,000 Euro) deal with piano manufacturer Petrof. Another Czech politician, European Parliament member Tomás Zdechovský, stepped up and arranged for the pianos to be purchased by a Czech billionaire and donated to public schools.


These actions ought to inspire a Western public grown cynical after decades of accomodationism. But thanks to today’s bureaucratized, collectivized international human rights politics, other European leaders have not followed Vystrcil’s lead. In the Czech Republic itself, Vystrcil’s visit was criticized by the parties comprising the parliamentary majority and by China-friendly president Milos Zeman.


The majority of EU responses to China’s egregious human rights atrocities and pandemic malfeasance have been soft—waffling between talk of “partnership” and “systematic” rivalry amid fears of losing business. European leaders hide behind the unpopularity of U.S. president Donald Trump to avoid adopting a morally coherent policy on China. They would rather risk having the Chinese Communist Party indirectly control their Huawei 5G networks than cooperate with the United States to prevent Chinese cyber-hegemony.


But human rights need not take a back seat to Europe’s economic interests. EU-wide, Chinese investment accounts for less than four percent of total foreign direct investment, trailing Hong Kong and Singapore. As a case in point, many Western observers thought Norway’s trade relations with China would suffer when dissident Liu Xiaobo was invited to receive the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo in December 2010. China complained loudly, refused to allow Liu to collect the prize, and threatened Norway with financial repercussions. Yet in the same month, one of China’s largest oil companies concluded a drilling contract with Norway’s Statoil. It was a clear signal that diplomatic tensions would not stop business.


European nations have also used international institutions to offer principled resistance to China’s totalitarianism in the past. In 1997, Denmark insisted on sponsoring a UN Human Rights Commission resolution condemning Chinese human rights abuses. France and other European states refused to back the measure, preferring “dialogue.” China threatened retaliation. But Denmark’s courage energized the human rights movement and brought honor to its citizens.


Today, leaders are less willing to risk dissonance within the EU. An alliance of democratic states should defend its members when they uphold the alliance’s principles; German foreign minister Heiko Maas, denouncing Beijing’s threats after Vystrcil’s visit, assured Czech leaders that “we as Europeans act in close cooperation.” But the irony is that Vystrcil’s initiative was independent of EU, and even Czech, policy. Multilateralism, designed to counter nationalism, can sometimes squelch moral action while advancing a national interest, like Germany’s auto market cloaked in “Europe.”


When states surrender their moral freedom in hope of consensus in international organizations, the cause of human rights is threatened. The EU must understand that standing up to Beijing is a matter of defending common Transatlantic principles and norms. The Chinese state, for its part, must understand that upholding these principles and norms, which are in the interests of people everywhere, is a condition for participation in our shared future.


China promotes multilateral organizations, knowing that without common adherence to human rights standards, they only breed moral hypocrisy and bureaucratic paralysis. Today, more often than not, they inhibit direct responses to foreign aggression and domestic oppression. The UN Human Rights Council, and the Universal Period Review Process have become showcases for China’s corrupt propaganda and deception.


What China can’t abide are brave leaders in democratic countries who understand and demonstrate that morality lies in the individual conscience and in universally valid principles, not in the state or in intergovernmental formations. Such leaders are the key to freedom in our common future.

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