Monday, 16 December 2013

COUNTRY OF THE WEEK

The CSW-Nigeria team,(staff, volunteers, coordinators , partners and friends) would be praying for the Central African Republic. please be faithful and don't hesitate to drop a comment where ever the need arises.  
Central African Republic (CAR): ( capital – Bangui )

Population :  4.525 million


Official Language :  French and Sango Language
Religion : About 51% of the population are Protestant, 29% are Roman Catholic , and Islam is practised primarily in the north with about 10% of the country’s population. Traditional indigenous beliefs are practised by about 10% of the population as a primary or exclusive belief system.
Location : is a landlocked country in central Africa . It borders  Chad in the north, Sudan in the northeast, South Sudan in the east, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Republic of the Congo in the south and  Cameroon in the west.

PRAYER REQUEST
·         I wish to invite each of you to lift up the nation of Central African Republic to the Lord in prayer. The peace situation has suddenly deteriorated . The security forces of former president named ‘Anti-Balakas’ have attacked Bangui [the capital city] from the northern and south-eastern parts, and have occupied a military camp. They plan to take over power before the UN can pass a resolution authorising the French military intervention in Central African Republic. Everyone is currently indoors as nobody can anticipate what is going to happen.
·         let’s pray for the protection of the central African people who have already been under significant trauma for the past 24 months and as Islamists go door to door slaughtering Christians , many have sought refuge and protection  with the French contingent guarding the international airport in the CAR capitol, Bengui more than 450,00 Christians have been driven from their homes by the marauding muslim insurgency. .
·         Many citizens have been displaced by the fighting and churches have been badly damaged or destroyed although church leaders have also called for negotiations between Islamist rebels and government forces, denouncing the violence against civilians. as rebels continue to challenge the CAR president's leadership. The rebels now control "over 75% of the nation."


SYRIA: Conflicting Reports About Missing Nuns


Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) is concerned for the welfare of twelve nuns and three young women who were taken away from their convent in a village 60 kilometres north of the Syrian capital Damascus by Islamist rebels on 2 December. 

There are conflicting accounts on the current plight of the nuns and their three associates. Pope Francis has called for prayer for “the nuns of the Greek Orthodox convent of St. Takla of Maaloula in Syria who were forcibly taken away by armed men some days ago,” However, their mother superior, Pelagia Sayyaf, said  the women were “comfortably installed in a house in Yabrud and no one was bothering them,” 


Thousands of Christians and many Muslims fled Maaloula when it was invaded on 5 September by Free Syrian Army (FSA) and Islamist militia, including the al-Qaeda-affiliated Jabat al-Nusra. Christian families who escaped were accommodated by churches in the Damascus area, which provided food and medical supplies. However, 40 nuns remained in Maaloula to look after dozens of orphaned children. 

Maaloula is a UNESCO world heritage site and one of the few places in the world where the locals still speak Aramaic.  According to Syrian news agency SANA, the rebels "committed acts of vandalism in the town's neighborhoods and around the convent, attacking locals and targeting them with sniper fire."

CSW remains concerned by the disappearance of Archbishop Boulos (Paul) Yazigi of the Greek Orthodox Church and Archbishop Yohanna Ibrahim of the Syriac Orthodox Church, who were abducted by gunmen in April 2013 as they returned from a humanitarian mission near the Syria/Turkey border. Their whereabouts still remain unknown. 

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights the Syrian civil war has so far claimed at least 125,835 lives, with five million people internally displaced, and two million Syrians fleeing to other countries. The seven million affected represent a third of Syria’s population.

CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said, “Our thoughts and prayers are very much with the nuns and the three young women in their entourage, particularly in light of conflicting reports regarding whether they were forcibly abducted or evacuated to safety. These are worrying times for the Christian community in Syria, given the earlier abductions of two Archbishops and the documented and deliberate targeting of clergy and laity by Islamist militia. CSW urges every party to the conflict to adhere to humanitarian standards with regard to the treatment of civilians, religious leaders and religious establishments, regardless of creed or ethnicity.  We also request the speedy release of these nuns and their associates into the hands of church authorities.”
 
For further information or to arrange interviews please contact Kiri Kankhwende, Press Officer at Christian Solidarity Worldwide on +44 (0)20 8329 0045 / +44 (0) 78 2332 9663, email kiri@csw.org.uk or visit www.csw.org.uk.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) is a Christian organisation working for religious freedom through advocacy and human rights, in the pursuit of justice.
 

Central African Republic: Estimated 1,000 Killed After Fighting Breaks Out In Bangui

 The Central African Republic is a majority Christian country with a 15% indigenous Muslim population. Since independence in 1960 the country has been plagued with instability and has endured a series of rebellions and five coups, including the Seleka coup. The recent Seleka coup was the first in the nation’s history to  divide the country on sectarian lines.

Since March, there has been a growing humanitarian crisis, and widespread violation of human rights. International observers and CSW sources have noted a weakening of state institutions, widespread insecurity, arbitrary detentions, summary executions and no access for humanitarian assistance. According to current estimates, approximately 10% of the population has been internally displaced and living in dire conditions.Local sources are reporting that almost 1,000 people have been killed in the last week after fighting broke out between the Seleka rebel coalition and anti-Balaka groups in Bangui, capital of the Central African Republic (CAR).
 On 9 December the Red Cross had confirmed 400 deaths in Bangui. However, local eyewitnesses report a number of unburied or uncollected bodies in many parts of the city. 

Seleka, a predominantly Muslim rebel coalition, took power in a coup in March 2013, suspending the constitution, dissolving the government and National Assembly, and eventually installing one of its leaders, Michael Djotodia, as president. In September, Djotodia officially disbanded Seleka; however many rebels refused to disarm and began sectarian killings, looting and burning villages, with worrying reports in November of an influx of extremists from other countries. The sustained and severe human rights violations eventually  resulted in retributive violence following the emergence of anti-Seleka groups commonly referred to as ‘anti–Balaka’ (anti-machete), and largely composed of ex-Seleka members, vigilante villagers and former members of the  national army.

The latest fighting intensified after daybreak on 5 December, when armed anti-Balaka groups declared an invasion of Bangui. Local sources reported the sound of heavy artillery in the Gobongo, Boy Rabe, Kassai and Boieng districts before the anti–Balaka forces retreated to the hills and forests surrounding Bangui. Muslims in the Km5 district were reported to have subsequently taken to the streets destroying property belonging to non-Muslims. Unconfirmed reports also state that members of the Seleka militia went from door to door searching for men, destroying property, and killing civilians. Victims included a pastor of the Elim church in the PK12 district and his grandchildren. According to local reports, Seleka members also abducted his four children. Similar atrocities are being reported from the interior of the country.

Over the weekend reprisal attacks on Christians continued in which families with young men were reportedly targeted. In districts across the capital, civilians are currently seeking refuge in church buildings, while others are hiding in the bush or at Bangui airport.

While the anti-Balaka groups have been generally described as Christian militia, their actions have been condemned by the Church in CAR, which is calling for peace, the disarming of all armed groups and national reconciliation. Church leaders have also been working with imams in the tense months following the coup to bring reconciliation, and calling for a return to peaceful coexistence between the two religious communities.

On 5 December the UN Security Council approved a proposal to increase the numbers of French and African Union troops in the country with a mandate to disarm militias. On Monday 9 December two French paratroopers were killed in Bangui in a clash with unidentified men.
Also on 9 December, and following comments by President Hollande questioning the effectiveness of his leadership, Djotodia is alleged to have implied on radio that there would be fighting between French troops and Seleka, and that the country would be divided along sectarian lines if he is removed from power. According to unconfirmed reports these remarks were also being broadcast in mosques, and could stoke sectarian tensions even further.

CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said, “CSW condemns the killings of civilians and the widespread violations of human rights, including of freedom of religion or belief. We echo the call of the Church in the Central African Republic for peace, and urge both sides of the conflict to embrace reconciliation and co-existence.   The restoration of security is paramount, as is the need to combat impunity. We therefore welcome the Security Council's decision to increase troop numbers in the CAR, and call for investigations to identify those suspected of involvement in gross human rights violations with a view to bringing them to justice. We also urge UN member states to ensure that the international forces are sufficiently resourced and to respond swiftly to the worsening humanitarian crisis in the country.”

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) is a Christian organisation working for religious freedom through advocacy and human rights, in the pursuit of justice.


CSW Nigeria: CHINA : Lawyers Stage Hunger Strike To Demand Meet...

CSW Nigeria: CHINA : Lawyers Stage Hunger Strike To Demand Meet...:   Fifteen lawyers representing detained Protestant Pastor Zhang Shaojie and members of his church in Nanle County, Henan Province are st...

CHINA : Lawyers Stage Hunger Strike To Demand Meeting With Detained Pastor.


 
Fifteen lawyers representing detained Protestant Pastor Zhang Shaojie and members of his church in Nanle County, Henan Province are staging a hunger strike to demand access to their clients. 
 
According to reports from China Aid, AP and activists on social media, the lawyers began the strike on 12 December after having been frequently prevented from meeting with Pastor Zhang and other church members detained without formal documentation on 16 November. Earlier the same day, after the lawyers had tried once more to meet with Pastor Zhang, a large gang of unidentified persons surrounded the lawyers, harassed and insulted them, and stole several mobile phones. 
 
This is the latest in a series of incidents which have hindered the lawyers’ attempts to work on the case. In November, Christian Solidarity Worldwide reported the detention of Zhang, 48, who is pastor of the Nanle County Christian Church under the state-sanctioned Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM). A number of church members who gathered in front of the police station after his detention were subsequently beaten. Then on 18 November, over one hundred church members and other supporters gathered in front of the city hall to demand Pastor Zhang’s unconditional release. 
 
Lawyers representing the detained church members have constantly been denied access to their clients. On 22 November, lawyer Xia Jun, who was hired by the church, was finally informed that he would be allowed to meet with his client after he confronted the Nanle County Public Security Bureau director and secretary with the “mishandling” of the case. However, when Xia and another lawyer attempted to meet with their client again on 25 November, the officer on duty would not allow them to enter, claiming that there had been a “power outage”.
 
Previously, Xia Jun had attempted to contact the director of the Nanle County Public Security Bureau and Domestic Security Protection Squad chief, who were either too busy to talk to them, or else denied responsibility for the case.
 
CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said, “We are deeply concerned that lawyers representing Pastor Zhang and the other church members have repeatedly been denied access to their clients, and have even been harassed by unknown “thugs”. We urge Nanle County officials to allow the lawyers representing Pastor Zhang and the other church members to meet with their clients in accordance with the law.”
 
For further information or to arrange interviews please contact Matthew Jones, Public Affairs Team Leader at Christian Solidarity Worldwide on +44 20 8329 0063, email matthewjones@csw.org.uk or visit www.csw.org.uk.
 
Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) is a Christian organisation working for religious freedom through advocacy and human rights, in the pursuit of justice.

INDIA: Csw Deplores Crackdown On Peaceful Protest For Dalit Christians And Muslims, Urges Government To Address Their Demands.

CSW deplores the heavy-handed manner in which police broke up a peaceful demonstration by thousands of people in New Delhi who were calling for an end to the statutory discrimination against Dalit Christians and Muslims on the basis of religion.  Police used lathis (canes) and water cannon to break up the march towards Parliament, and arrested the leaders.  Several people, including nuns and priests, were injured.

The march began at Jantar Mantar and headed towards Sansad Bhavan (Parliament House), in defiance of a ban on protests along Sansad Marg (Parliament Street).  Protesters in Delhi often court arrest by approaching the restricted area, but the police response this time was uncommonly heavy-handed.

Catholic Archbishop Anil Couto of Delhi was among those arrested and taken to a police station, before being released without charge.  He said in a statement, “Government after government have been turning a deaf ear to the demand of Christians.  Now they are going to the extent of brutally beating up our priests and nuns and now arresting us too”.  Protest leaders have filed a case against police for their manhandling of women protesters.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh apologised in person to some of the protest leaders for the heavy-handed police response, and promised that their demands would be discussed at the next Cabinet meeting.

The march was held to call for a change to the law excluding Dalit Christians and Muslims from a range of special measures granted to Dalits of Hindu, Buddhist or Sikh background, who are classified as Scheduled Castes.  These measures include “reservations”, a quota system applicable in public sector education and employment, and legislation dealing with caste-based crimes against Dalits.  This issue is being challenged in a Supreme Court case, which has been delayed since 2005 by the failure of the government to state its position.  Several government commissions, as well as UN human rights mechanisms, have issued clear recommendations that the discriminatory legislation must be changed.

Dr John Dayal, a senior civil rights activist and member of the government’s National Integration Council, was among those arrested briefly.  He said, “We are outraged at the police violence against peaceful Christians agitating for the restoration of their constitutional rights.  This strengthens our resolve to continue the struggle”.

Fr Ajay Singh, a Catholic priest and human rights activist from Orissa who was also present, said, “The Prime Minister’s apology must be followed by action to end more than 60 years of injustice done to Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims, which is totally against the spirit of equality and secularism.  He should not play politics with the millions of Indians deprived of their human rights.  The police response to the protest shows how the state ignores the multiple layers of discrimination against the most vulnerable and marginalised minority communities”.

Mervyn Thomas, CSW’s Chief Executive, said, “It is deplorable that in India, a peaceful protest on such an important issue is treated in this way.  India is increasingly at risk of gaining an unseemly reputation for its restriction and mistreatment of human rights defenders, which is profoundly inconsistent with its proud democratic tradition.  We urge the Indian government to rise above this, and allow civil society to flourish.  As for the subject of the protest, the mandate to address this historic discrimination is very clear, and the government should take action as soon as possible.”

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) is a Christian organisation working for religious freedom through advocacy and human rights, in the pursuit of justice.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

CUBA: PASTOR BARRED FROM LEAVING THE COUNTRY

A Cuban pastor was barred by government officials from leaving the country last month despite having a valid passport and visa. Reverend Bernardo de Quesada Salomón attempted to travel on 27 November to attend a religious conference in the Dominican Republic when he was informed by Cuban immigration officials at Havana airport that he had been categorised as “Limited” and would not be permitted to board the plane. 


The Cuban government eliminated the need for Cubans to obtain an exit visa in order to travel abroad at the beginning of 2013, but for reasons of national security reserved the right to prevent some Cubans from travelling. 
Reverend de Quesada Salomón, who travelled to the United States and to Brazil to attend religious events earlier this year, was not given any explanation for the change in his status and was told to contact the National Office for Attention to the Population (NOAP) for more details.   When he did so, the NOAP suggested that he submit a written request for information to the National Director for Immigration.  He has not received a response yet.

Reverend de Quesada Salomón is a national leader of the Apostolic Movement, a large but unregistered network of protestant churches in Cuba. Despite repeated attempts to register the group, the government has refused to allow them to do so and has aggressively targeted churches associated with the network with fines and threats of confiscation of property. Another Apostolic Movement leader, Reverend Mario ‘Mayím’ Travieso Medina, was also denied the right to travel in January of this year. As in the case of Reverend de Quesada Salomón, Reverend Travieso was told that he was in the “Limited” category and was given no other explanation. 
CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said, “We were disappointed to learn of the Cuban government’s return to limiting its citizens’ right to travel. Reverend de Quesada Salomón’s participation in a Christian conference in the Dominican Republican cannot seriously be considered a threat to national security and CSW is concerned that this may open the door to the Cuban government arbitrarily banning other religious leaders from travelling out of the country. We urge the Cuban government to restore Reverend de Quesada Salomón’s ability to travel and to fully implement this reform by allowing its citizens to travel without hindrance.”
  
Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) is a Christian organisation working for religious freedom through advocacy and human rights, in the pursuit of justice.

MEXICO: CSW REPORT FINDS “SIGNIFICANT” INCREASE IN RELIGIOUS FREEDOM VIOLATIONS


 
Christian Solidarity Worldwide is marks Human Rights Day on 10 December with the release of its latest report on freedom of religion or belief in Mexico, which finds a “significant” increase in religious freedom violations in the country in recent years.


The report launch scheduled to take place in Mexico , co-ordinated by CSW’s partner organisation, Impulso18. The report, which will be presented to federal and state government officials by Impulso18, highlights government inaction as a factor exacerbating the pervasive religious discrimination across the country: “Although root causes vary, many violations occur with impunity because of reluctance on the part of the state to involve itself in ‘religious affairs’ or to prosecute those responsible for criminal acts linked to religious freedom violations.”

VIETNAM: REVISED CONSTITUTION FAILS TO ANSWER CALLS FOR REFORM


 
A revised constitution for Vietnam, which was passed by a vote of almost 98% on 28 November, has disappointed religious leaders, intellectuals, activists and former officials hoping for political reform by preserving the dominance of the Communist Party.


The amended constitution will come into effect on 1 January 2014. Both the 1992 constitution and the revised version contain clauses protecting the right to follow or not follow a religion, but also include caveats prohibiting the misuse of religions or beliefs to violate the law, which officials opposed to the growth of religion can use to repress religious leaders and groups.

In early 2013, the Vietnamese government invited the public to comment on the country’s constitution and possible reforms. In response, a group of 72 prominent intellectuals and former government officials issued an alternative proposed constitution online, calling for democratic elections, freedom of the press, and private landownership. In March, Vietnamese Catholic bishops offered their own observations and propositions on the draft amendment promulgated by the government. These propositions included constitutional guarantees on human rights, including freedom of religion or belief and freedom of expression, respect for the right to participate in the governmental system at all levels, greater emphasis on the role of the National Assembly, and the independence of the legislative, executive and judicial authorities.

However, on 28 November, the National Assembly adopted an amended constitution which retained the dominance of the Communist Party in both the political and economical spheres. According to state media, National Assembly Chairman Nguyen Sinh Hung has heralded the passing of the new constitution a “historic moment.” The article states that the new constitution “clearly and fully reflects the democratic and progressive nature of the Vietnamese State in the transitional period”. In contrast, Catholic media have described the result as “frustrating”.

CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said, “We share the frustration and disappointment expressed by religious leaders and others calling for greater freedoms in Vietnam. As Vietnam takes up a new position on the UN Human Rights Council, the government must ensure its laws and constitutional provisions are in line with international human rights standards, including standards on freedom of religion or belief. We also urge the authorities to take every opportunity to take on board the views and demands of civil society, including religious leaders, intellectuals, political commentators and legal experts.”
 
For further information or to arrange interviews please contact Kiri Kankhwende, Press Officer at Christian Solidarity Worldwide on +44 (0)20 8329 0045 / +44 (0) 78 2332 9663, email kiri@csw.org.uk or visit www.csw.org.uk.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) is a Christian organisation working for religious freedom through advocacy and human rights, in the pursuit of justice.

Monday, 2 December 2013

COUNTRY OF THE WEEK

The CSW Nigeria Team, family , friends and partners would be praying for Mexico .Please  dont forget to make out time and join us. God bless you




MEXICO: (capital: Mexico city)
POPULATION :120.8 million
Official Language: Spanish
Religion : Christian 95.03%, Non – religion 3.60%, ethno-religionist 1.20%,

PRAYER REQUEST
1.      persecution of evangelical occur in certain parts of Mexico, Believers face prejudice, harassments, eviction in church and property damage. This occurs due to believers’ refusal to participate in community religious events that involve traditional Christo-pagan practices.
2.       Pray that the believers may demonstrate the meekness and love of Christ when maltreated
3.     Pray for full implementation of religious freedom.


CHINA: Lawyers Prevented From Meeting ZHANG SHAOJIE And Other Detainees .


chinaaLawyers representing Protestant Pastor Zhang Shaojie and members of his church have encountered various obstacles that have prevented them from meeting with their clients, who were detained by police on 16 November without any formal documentation.According to reports from China Aid and comments posted by activists on social media, lawyers who have tried to meet with Pastor Zhang and the other detainees have been faced with bureaucratic obstacles, hostile officials, and ill-timed “power outages”.Pastor Zhang, 48, belongs to the Nanle County Christian Church under the state-sanctioned Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM). On 16 November, police forcibly detained Pastor Zhang without any formal documentation, possibly in response to his work defending the vulnerable social groups. Zhang’s sisters and other church members were also detained, and several others were summoned to government offices. Then on 18 November, over a hundred church members and other supporters gathered in front of the city hall to demand Pastor Zhang’s unconditional release.
On 22 November, Lawyer Xia Jun, who has been hired by the church, was told he would be allowed to meet with his client the following week; this assurance was only given after he confronted the Nanle County Public Security Bureau director and secretary with the “mishandling” of the case. However, when Xia and another lawyer attempted to meet with their client again on 25 November, the officer on duty wouldn’t allow them to enter, for the reason that there had been a “power outage”.
Previously, Lawyer Xia had attempted to contact the director of the Nanle County Public Security Bureau and Domestic Security Protection Squad chief, who were either too busy to talk to them, or else denied responsibility for the case.
In addition to these problems, the lawyers were also prevented from teaching other church members about their rights under the law. The officials who blocked the lawyers’ entry to the church, where the lecture was to take place, provided no explanation for their actions. Some sources claim physical altercations between security officers and the lawyers and church members also occurred at the scene.
CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said, “We urge the local officials in Nanle County to allow the lawyers representing Pastor Zhang and the other church members to meet with their clients in accordance with the law. We call on all the authorities involved to make clear any charges brought against the detainees, and to ensure that they have access to legal representation and meetings with their family members.”

For further information or to arrange interviews please contact Kiri Kankhwende, Press Officer at Christian Solidarity Worldwide on +44 (0)20 8329 0045 / +44 (0) 78 2332 9663, email kiri@csw.org.uk or visit www.csw.org.uk.Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) is a Christian organisation working for religious freedom through advocacy and human rights, in the pursuit of justice.

CSW Nigeria: SUDAN: Concerns Over Religious Freedom Grows As La...

CSW Nigeria: SUDAN: Concerns Over Religious Freedom Grows As La...:   Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) is concerned at the continuing deterioration in freedom of religion and belief in Sud...

SUDAN: Concerns Over Religious Freedom Grows As Lawyer Flees.



Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) is concerned at the continuing deterioration in freedom of religion and belief in Sudan, following reports that a Sudanese lawyer and religious freedom advocate has fled the country after enduring months of pressure and harassment from the authorities

Morning Star news reports that Nahmia Ibrahim Omer Shaloka, a Christian Lawyer who promoted religious freedom in Sudan, fled the country after receiving threats to his life from National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) operatives, who required him to report to their offices daily. He was initially arrested on 27 May at his home in Khartoum by the NISS and interrogated for eight hours, particularly about conducting workshops on religious freedom and reconciliation in Sudan. His personal documentation, computer modem and laptop were also confiscated.  


News of Mr Shaloka’s flight comes at a time when Sudan’s Christians are experiencing continuing repression. Since December 2012 there has been an increase in surveillance, harassment and detentions of local Christians, and the deportations of many foreigners linked to Christian institutions, including several Sudanese Christians who were deported to South Sudan.  The authorities have also destroyed church buildings in the Khartoum area, raided religious institutions and closed down several church-affiliated institutions.

The harassment of Mr Shaloka may herald further restrictions on freedom of religion or belief for followers of minority faiths. The interim constitution recognises Sudan's multi-ethnic and multi-religious character, with Shari’a law as a source of law.  However, in 2011, President Omar al Bashir announced that following the secession of South Sudan, a new constitution would be drafted based on Shari'a law alone not considering the fact that  International law allows States to limit some rights in exceptional circumstances, which are outlined in Article 4 of the ICCPR and explored in some detail in the Human Rights Committee’s  General Comment NO. 29, specifically at paragraph 7. However, certain rights cannot be limited even in the event of an emergency. Article 18 of the ICCPR, the right to freedom of religion or belief, is one of the rights designated as non-derogable.


The drafting of the new constitution has remained a relatively closed process primarily involving the ruling National Congress Party (NCP). In April the government invited members of the main opposition party; the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), to join the constitutional drafting committee following calls from the opposition for an opening up of the process. But in October, DUP leader Mohamed Osman al-Mirghani announced that the joint committee established to discuss the drafting of the new constitution had been suspended, and called for all opposition parties and armed groups to be included in the process. Other key constituencies, such as civil society groups, are yet to be included, raising concerns as to whether the final draft will reflect Sudan’s religious, ethnic, social and political diversity.

In October, during a consultative coordination meeting with the Islamic Council of South Sudan in Khartoum, state minister at the Ministry of Guidance and Endowments Mohamed Mustafa al-Yakooti described South Sudan’s secular system as “positive”, commending the fact that Muslims faced no coercion to adopt a particular ideology and were free to proselytise. However, he stopped short of advocating a similar approach towards religious minorities in Sudan.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas says "A constitution based on Shari’a Law should be implemented only after a genuine popular consultation and consensus, and exemptions should always be made for those of other faiths. Freedom of religion or belief is a non-derogable right and the Sudanese Government must uphold it both in practice and in the new constitution. CSW urges the international community to continually hold Sudan to its commitments under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), particularly articles 18, 19, 21 and 22, which guarantee freedom of religion or belief, freedom of association, press freedom and freedom of expression for all of Sudan's citizens."




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Wednesday, 27 November 2013

COLOMBIA: FARC DOCUMENT SHOWS EXTENT OF RELIGIOUS FREEDOM RESTRICTIONS.



A document published by the 32nd Front of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – Army of the People (FARC-EP) in July this year illustrates the degree of repression the guerrilla group exercises over populations under its control, including strict restrictions on religious freedom. 

The ‘manual for coexistence’, published by Colombian newspaper El Colombiano, includes strict restrictions on religious freedom in the region of Putumayo, where the 32nd Front maintains control.


It states that ‘Evangelical chapels may only be built in municipal capitals,’ and ‘Pastors and priests will only hold their masses in the churches in the municipal capitals.’ According to El Colombiano, priests and pastors in the heavily rural Putumayo region who have attempted to conduct ministry outside of the municipal capitals have come under threat or been forced to flee.

The manual’s restrictions on religious practice are in line with other reports received by Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW). The FARC-EP, a left wing guerrilla group which took up arms in the 1960s and is currently in the midst of an ongoing peace dialogue with the government, has targeted religious groups and leaders since its inception and is believed to be responsible for the targeted assassinations of hundreds of church leaders over the past fifty years. These include the murders of Reverend Manuel Camacho in the Guaviare region in 2009 and Pastors Humberto Mendez and Joel Cruz Garciain Huila in 2007; all three pastors reportedly defied FARC-EP restrictions on preaching and evangelism. Around 150 churches are believed to be shut down and religious activity forbidden in south-eastern Colombia in zones under FARC-EP control.

recent report published by CSW’s partners, the Colombian Council of Evangelical Churches Commission for Restoration, Life and Peace, compiled and analysed ten years of work documenting human rights violations committed against Protestant Christians. The report found that over the past decade, the FARC-EP was responsible for 184 documented cases of religious intolerance. 

CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said, “CSW is not surprised at the content of this manual as it is very much in line with what Colombians living in FARC-EP-controlled zones have been telling us for more than a decade. We continue to be concerned that the FARC-EP actively restricts the fundamental rights, including religious freedom, of the very people it claims to defend. The fact that this document was published and circulated only three months ago, but almost a year after the Colombian government and the FARC-EP entered into a formal peace dialogue raises questions once again about how any peace agreement will affect the civilian population. Respect for the fundamental human rights, including freedom of religion and conscience, enshrined in Colombia’s constitution and international covenants, alongside justice for victims, must be the foundation of any peace agreement. We call on the FARC-EP to eliminate all restrictions on freedom of religion or belief in areas under its influence with immediate effect.”
 

Monday, 25 November 2013

VIETNAM: CATHOLICS SENTENCED DESPITE COMMUNITY PROTESTS



Two Vietnamese Catholics, whose arrest sparked mass protests in My Yen parish, Nghe An Province last month, were sentenced to six and seven months’ imprisonment respectively on 23 October.
Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) has been informed that their families were not allowed to attend the closed-door trial, which lasted around three hours.



Nguyen Van Hai and Ngo Van Khoi were arrested on 27 June and later charged with “disturbing public order”, following an incident that occurred on 22 May, when men believed to be plainclothes police officers stopped and searched Catholics visiting a shrine and attending Mass at a church in Nghi Phuong Commune. As the police officers did not show any identification, there was confusion among the crowd as to their identity, and some people reportedly believed them to be robbers.

It is unclear exactly why Nguyen Van Hai and Ngo Van Khoi were arrested: some sources say they were arguing with the plainclothes officers; others say they were simply being used as scapegoats for the unrest. 
Members of the Catholic community and Bishop Paul Nguyen Thai Hop, the Bishop of Vinh, petitioned for their release. In response, the local district chief issued a paper promising that the two men would be released on 4 September. When this promise was not upheld, several hundred petitioners surrounded the District Office and the military arrived to dispel the crowd, armed with guns, batons, tear gas, and guard dogs. According to CSW’s sources inside the country, police and soldiers beat petitioners with electric batons smashed religious icons in the area. Between 21 and 40 people were injured. 
Following the attacks, Bishop Paul Nguyen Thai Hop appealed for “international support and solidarity”. 

CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said, “These sentences come as a huge disappointment to the Catholic community in Nghe, who have been petitioning for the release of Hai and Khoi for over four months. In the process, Vietnamese Catholics’ right to freedom of religion or belief has been severely restricted and the community has been subject to constant intimidation and harassment. The fact that the two men were tried in a closed-door trial is of particular concern. CSW calls on the Vietnamese government to release the two men, to halt all attacks on religious minorities in Vietnam and lift restrictions on their religious freedom.”

SUDAN: CSW CALLS FOR OFFICIAL ABYEI REFERENDUM


 
Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) is calling on the international community to facilitate and guarantee an official referendum on Abyei’s future after an unofficial plebiscite resulted in 99.9% of participants voting to join with South Sudan. 
 

On 31 October, 98% of registered Ngok Dinka voters participated in an unofficial vote, termed the “Peoples’ Referendum”, which was organised by the Ngok Dinka General Conference. In accordance with the stipulations of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended the Sudanese civil war and a subsequent ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA), voting was open to the nine Ngok Dinka Chiefdoms and all permanent residents of the Abyei Area. However, permanent residents from the Arab Misseriya tribe refused to participate in the referendum.

According to the CPA, the Abyei referendum should have occurred in tandem with South Sudan’s referendum on independence, which took place on 9 January 2011. However, it was postponed due to ongoing disagreements between Khartoum and South Sudan over voter eligibility. The nomadic Arab Misseriya tribe, which accesses certain pasture-lands in Abyei for part of each year, wish to be accorded full voting rights in the referendum. However, according to the CPA’s Abyei Protocol and the international legal ruling of the PCA, only the Ngok Dinka and permanent residents may vote.

Despite lacking official recognition, the plebiscite is a significant indication of the desire of the Ngok Dinka people to exercise self determination. In a statement issued on 1 November, the South Sudan Council of Churches (SSCC) announced its support for the referendum, calling on the African Union (AU), United Nations (UN) and the governments of Sudan and South Sudan to formally recognise its outcome.

A referendum was scheduled to take place last month in accordance with a 2012 Proposal by the AU’s Abyei mediator, Thabo Mbeki, with voting limited to the Ngok Dinka and permanent residents of Abyei. The Mbeki Proposal also contains provisions protecting the rights of others living in and migrating through Abyei. The African Union Peace and Security Council (AUPSC) is on record as stating that if the issue is still unresolved by early December, steps would be taken to endorse the Mbeki Proposal as final and binding.

CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said, “This truly is a significant moment for the Ngok Dinka Chiefdoms.  After decades of war and over two years of stalling they have finally had their say, and the resounding result cannot be disregarded. The international community in general, and the AU in particular, must either recognize the results of this referendum or facilitate an official one without delay, while proactively countering any attempts to disrupt it. Alternatively, if the December deadline also elapses, the AU, supported by the UN, must begin the process of endorsing the Mbeki Proposal as final and binding immediately and speedily. In addition, as many of Abyei’s residents who were displaced by fighting in the area are slowly returning, international humanitarian assistance must be increased as a matter of urgency.”

IRAN: Mostafa Bordbar released from prison and Pastor Saeed Abedini was moved to the notorious Rajal Shahr Prison in Karaj.





Iranian Christian Mostafa Bordbar was released from prison on 3 November, following a successful appeal against the 10 year prison sentence he received on 31 July 2013.


His release comes almost three months after he was imprisoned in Evin Prison on charges of being a member of an “anti-security organisation” and “gathering with intent to commit crimes against Iranian national security.” An appeal court cleared him of all of charges on 30 October.

Mr Bordbar was arrested on 27 December 2012, along with 50 other Christian converts who had gathered to celebrate Christmas in a house in northern Tehran. They were detained, interrogated for several hours and were forced to hand over personal details, including Facebook and e-mail addresses and passwords. Most of the group was released; however, Mr Bordbar and Vruir Avanessian, an Armenian-Christian Pastor, were arrested. Pastor Avanessian was “temporarily” released on 10 January after posting bail of $60,000. 

In other news, on 3 November, Pastor Saeed Abedini, the dual American/Iranian citizen and Christian convert imprisoned for eight years on political charges in January 2013, was moved to the notorious Rajal Shahr Prison in Karaj. The American Centre for Law and Justice (ACLJ) reports that Mr Abedini has been placed in Ward 3 of the prison, which is known to house some of the most violent prisoners in the country. 


Mr Abedini’s transfer comes after he was placed in solitary confinement in May for taking part in a peaceful protest with other prisoners against the mistreatment of inmates at Evin Prison. Mr Abedini has suffered health challenges following regular beatings whilst in prison, but has been denied adequate medical care. 

Finally, an Iranian opposition website has reported that Abdolfattah Soltani, the prominent Iranian human rights lawyer who started a hunger strike on 2 November, has been moved from Evin Prison, although the details of his whereabouts are unclear. Mr Soltani began the hunger strike on his 60th birthday to protest the lack of medical care given to fellow prisoners, despite suffering from serious digestive and stomach complications himself. 

Mr Soltani was arrested in September 2011 on charges of “being awarded the [2009] Nuremberg International Human Rights Award,” “interviewing with media about his clients’ cases,” and “co-founding the Defenders of Human Rights Center.” In January 2012, he was sentenced to 18 years in prison, exile and a 20-year ban on his legal practice. The sentence was later reduced to 13 years by an appeals court.

CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said, “CSW commends the Iranian judiciary for clearing Mr Bordbar of charges that essentially amounted to a restriction of his right to adopt a faith of his choosing, as guaranteed by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Iran is party. However, the constant mistreatment of Saeed Abedini is entirely unacceptable, amounting to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment under article 7 of the ICCPR.  As with many other Christians, Pastor Abedini was jailed on the basis of illegitimate political charges.  He should not be detained alongside violent prisoners and the Iranian regime will be held accountable for any deterioration in his physical well-being. Moreover, the habitual withholding of adequate medical attention from prisoners is in violation of article 10 of the ICCPR.  CSW urges Iran to review the sentences of all who have faced unjust political charges and to treat every prisoner with humanity and with respect for their inherent dignity, in accordance with its international obligations.”   
 

NIGERIA: US DESIGNATES BOKO HARAM AS TERRORIST ORGANISATION



Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) welcomes the decision by the US State Department to formally designate Nigerian Islamist group Boko Haram, and its off-shoot organisation Ansaru, as a “foreign terrorist organisation” (FTO).

The designation directs US law enforcement and regulatory agencies to block business and financial transactions with Boko Haram, and to investigate and prosecute suspects associated with the organisations.
 

A State Department statement said, “These designations are an important and appropriate step, but only one tool in what must be a comprehensive approach by the Nigerian government to counter these groups through a combination of law enforcement, political, and development efforts, as well as military engagement, to help root out violent extremism while also addressing the legitimate concerns of the people of northern Nigeria.”

Previously, the US government had designated three leaders of Boko Haram as terrorists, but had stopped short of designating the group as a terrorist organisation. Boko Haram is responsible for the deaths of thousands of Nigerians and has attacked military, federal, UN, Christian and Muslim targets as part of its armed insurgency to establish an Islamic state in the north of the country. During 2012, Boko Haram victims included the citizens of 15 nations. Earlier in 2013, Ansaru kidnapped and murdered seven international construction workers. CSW has campaigned for FTO designation as an important step towards disrupting the financial and strategic capabilities of the group, which has claimed links to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and to the Somali terrorist group al Shabaab.

Reverend Yunusa Nmadu, CEO of CSW Nigeria, said, “We welcome the long awaited designation of Boko Haram and its splinter group Ansaru as FTOs. We hope that this singular action will help to expose the individual and corporate sponsors of these terrorist groups, and assist in bringing about peace and safeguarding lives and properties.”

CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said, “We too welcome the decision to designate Boko Haram and Ansaru as terrorist organisations, for which we have long campaigned. Boko Haram and Ansaru not only represent a threat to Nigeria's national security and unity, but also through their links with AQIM and al Shabaab they have long constituted a threat to both regional and international peace and security. We are hoping that the designations will provide an important impetus to international support for the Nigerian government in its efforts to bring an end to this deadly insurgency."