Philippine bishops appeal for end to attacks on captive priest

October 19, 2017 by admin  
Filed under Asia, newsletter-asia

Manila, October 17, 2017: Catholic bishops in the Philippines appealed for an end to “unfounded attacks” against a priest who was freed last month from the hands of terrorist gunmen who occupied the southern city of Marawi.

Bishop Edwin dela Pena of Marawi, said captive Father Teresito Soganub has been through difficult times and unfounded accusations against him are not helping his recovery.

“I appeal to all of you, please stop attacking him. Your allegations are baseless and he is hurt by what you have been saying,” said the prelate in an interview.

Father Soganub has been the target of attacks on social media after rumors circulated that he converted to Islam while he was in the hands of the Islamic State-inspired Maute Group gunmen, the leaders of which have just been reportedly killed.

The priest denied the allegations and was even seen celebrating Mass on Sept. 24, after 115 days in captivity. He escaped from his captors amid heavy fighting on Sept. 17 and was later rescued by government forces.

Bishop Dela Pena said he met with the priest at a military headquarters in Manila, but refused to provide details of the meeting, which he described as “very heartbreaking.”

Father Soganub remains in the hands of the military as he continues to undergo psycho-social examination and “custodial debriefing” to determine his state of health.

Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of Kalookan also defended the priest following a meeting on Oct. 13.

“Being a friend of Muslims doesn’t make one a Muslim. Being caring, not just to fellow Christians but to non-Christians as well, is a truly Christian thing to do,” said Bishop David.

End to Marawi conflict nears

Bishop Dela Pena, meanwhile, said the reported death of leaders of the Maute Group signals the “beginning of the end” of the shooting war that brought havoc to Marawi for almost five months.

The Marawi prelate said the end to the conflict is in sight following the news of the “crumbling leadership” of the terrorist group.

“I’m beginning to feel relieved,” said Bishop Dela Pena.

On Oct. 16, Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana announced that the top leaders the Maute Group were killed in clashes with government troops past midnight.

Abu Sayyaf sub-leader Isnilon Hapilon, supposedly the emir of the so-called Islamic State in Southeast Asia, and Maute Group leader Omar Maute were reportedly killed as troops assaulted enemy position to rescue hostages.

Military operations will, however, continue despite the death of the terrorist leaders to flush out remaining fighters. Martial law, which was declared on May 23, will continue to be in place across the southern Philippines region of Mindanao.

President Rodrigo Duterte declared martial across the region following the attack on Marawi that resulted in the displacement of close to 400,000 people.

Last month, Bishop Dela Pena appealed to the president to allow some of the displaced families to return home, particularly those living in secured, government-controlled areas away from the main battle ground.

- ucan

In New Hampshire, Indonesian Christians caught in Trump immigration crackdown

October 17, 2017 by admin  
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Indonesia, October 17, 2017: Since fleeing deadly violence in Indonesia two decades ago, Meldy and Eva Lumangkun built a life in suburban New Hampshire and raised four children, their illegal status long tolerated by US immigration authorities.

But when they showed up at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in Manchester in August for their regular check-in, they were told to buy one-way tickets back to Indonesia and get out of the US in two months.

“We are afraid to go home. We fear for the safety of our children,” Meldy Lumangkun said after an October meeting with ICE officials in Manchester. “Here our children can live safely.”

The Lumangkuns are among about 2,000 ethnic Chinese Indonesian Christians who fled to New Hampshire to escape rioting in Southeast Asia’s biggest economy that killed about 1,000 people in 1998 at the height of Asia’s financial crisis.

They are also among tens of thousands of illegal immigrants in the US now facing possible deportation after the Trump administration moved to reopen cases of people who, like the Lumangkuns, had been given a reprieve under past administrations.

During his presidential campaign, Donald Trump said he would purge the country of millions of illegal immigrants. Since he moved into the White House in January, immigration arrests have tripled since the start of the year to an average of 142 people a day, though actual deportations are down from the rate under Trump’s Democratic predecessor, Barack Obama.

The Lumangkuns and other Indonesian Christians in New Hampshire say they fear religious discrimination or violence if they return to Indonesia.

Resented for their wide control over trade and business, and suspected of loyalty to China, Indonesian-Chinese have often been the target of racial discrimination in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country.

In 1998, rampaging mobs targeted Chinese-owned businesses and in some cases killed and raped Chinese-Indonesians, forcing hundreds to flee the country.

Most of the Indonesians now facing deportation entered the US legally, often on tourist visas, but overstayed them. They then failed to apply for asylum within a year of entering the country, a deadline many were unaware of, according to immigrants, as well as advocates and attorneys.

They only later tried to seek legal status, and the ones now facing deportation failed.

Under the terms of a deal negotiated with ICE in 2012 with the help of U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen, the group was allowed to remain in the country if they surrendered their passports and appeared for regular check-ins set on varying schedules by ICE.

Beginning in August, members of the group including the Lumangkuns, were told to prepare to return home, a tougher line that ICE officials said was aligned with an executive order signed by Trump on Jan 25 overturning many Obama-era immigration policies. Under the new guidelines, while criminals remain the highest priority for deportation, almost anyone in the country illegally is a potential target.

“The executive order that President Trump signed in January changed everything,” said ICE spokesman Shawn Neudauer.

‘IT’S VERY STRESSFUL’

Many of the couples facing deportation have children, said Sandra Pontoh, pastor of the Madbury Maranatha Indonesian Fellowship in Madbury, New Hampshire.

“It’s very stressful,” said Jacklyn Lele, 37, who said she fled to the US in 2006 after her brother was killed in the 1998 violence.

“My son does not really want to go over there, he keeps saying ‘I’m American,’” Lele said as the seven-year-old boy restlessly played with a mobile phone.

The group is clustered in New Hampshire’s seacoast region, where they have found work in small factories and raised families, enjoying life in the quiet, bucolic state. Some serve as church pastors.

“They are filling jobs that are important,” Shaheen, a Democrat who has served in the Senate since 2009, said in a phone interview. “Replacing them is not easy.”

The local Foster’s Daily Democrat newspaper condemned the move to deport the New Hampshire group in an August editorial.

“Neighbors who have worked hard and followed the rules shouldn’t be kicked out of the country,” wrote the newspaper’s editorial board, which despite the 144-year-old paper’s name rarely leans liberal. “Neighbours who have committed no crime should not suddenly ‘disappear’ into ICE detention.”

The ethnic Chinese community accounts for less than 5 per cent of Indonesia’s population, but has raised its profile in recent years and owns many of the country’s biggest conglomerates.

The governor of Jakarta, a member of the same Chinese-Christian minority in the New Hampshire cases, was jailed for two years in May after being found guilty of blasphemy against Islam. His trial followed mass Islamist-led rallies and sent shockwaves through the secular state whose constitution protects religious freedom and diversity, though 85 per cent of its people are Muslim.

Indonesia has not seen a repeat of violence on the scale of the 1998 rioting, though there have been some forced church closures and isolated attacks on places of worship.

TWO GROUPS

Under the 2012 deal with US immigration authorities, some 69 Indonesians living in New Hampshire were allowed to stay. A similar cluster of 45 Indonesian Christians now live in New Jersey under terms of a similar deal independently negotiated and are also facing deportation.

ICE officials said they had no estimate of how many people could be affected, but 41,854 people nationwide without criminal histories are covered by so-called orders of supervision that require illegal immigrants to check-in regularly with authorities as a condition for staying in the country.

The New Hampshire removals have been temporarily halted by a US magistrate judge in Boston, after a lawsuit filed late last month on behalf of 47 of the Indonesian immigrants.

The New Hampshire cases have drawn the support of other Democratic elected leaders, including US Senator Maggie Hassan and Representative Carol Shea-Porter.

Shaheen says she believes the group’s regular check-ins made them easy to target.

“It’s totally inconsistent with American values,” said Shaheen. “This is a country that was born of people that were fleeing religious persecution.”

- channel news asia

Dhaka, Catholics prepare to welcome the pope ‘nourishing the spirit’

October 15, 2017 by admin  
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Bangladesh, October 14, 2017: Bangladesh Catholics are preparing to welcome Pope Francis, who will travel to Dhaka from November 30 to December 2, nourishing the spirit with prayer. Some faithful tell AsiaNews that in addition to daily invocations, they are preparing their the spirit with the prayer approved by the liturgical committee and distributed among the parishes precisely for this great moment (in the picture).

Sumi Gomes, a housewife from Dhaka and member of the Catholic Church of Tejgaon, says: ” Every day I do extra one Lord’s prayer, hail Mary and glory be prayer along my daily prayer. By the prayer card we pray to increase harmony and peace in Bangladesh. We pray for all people of Bangladesh to protect and overcome from all kind of natural and manmade disaster.  We also pray for Pope Francis so that he can properly lead Christians and all nations as proponent of harmony, humanity and ambassador of peace.”

For Khokon Vincent Corraya, a Catholic writer, “the pope’s visit to Bangladesh is a great opportunity.” “Thanks to him – he says – the Catholic faith will be even stronger” in a country where over 90% of the population (out of a total of more than 160 million people) professes Islam while Catholics are about 380,000 0.2% of the population.

According to Dipok Sangma, a Catholic of tribal ethnicity, “just the news that the Pope will come here has already produced positive changes.” Fr. Eugene Anjus Csc, secretary for the liturgy, reports: “We distributed the prayer cards throughout the country. We will soon publish the mass and the liturgy of the hours. ” The priest tells that more than 300 people are practising the songs of the Mass. The local Church has ordered about 150,000 consecrated hosts for the Eucharistic celebration that Francis will preside at in Suhrawardy Udyan Park on December 1st (for the full program of apostolic journey click here).

On October 21, in all the churches of Bangladesh, the rosary will be recited. In the following days, other liturgical gatherings will take place. To help the Church in organizing the event, Catholics are also giving what they can. One faithful (who wants to remain anonymous) has offered 5,000 taka (52 euros) and says, “It is our responsibility to contribute to the Church’s program.”

- asia news

8 Pastors arrested since Pakistani city banned worship in house churches

October 12, 2017 by admin  
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Pakistan, October 11, 2017: Over eight church leaders have been arrested since city authorities in a town in the Punjab province of Pakistan passed regulation banning Sunday worship in house churches, a humanitarian aid organization reported.

According to the London-based charity British Pakistani Christian Association, at least eight pastors have been arrested in the last year since the administrators in the city of Bahawalpur ordered that Christians can only hold their Sunday prayers in church buildings and laid out strict guidelines.

The rules were created after local Muslims complained about being disturbed by house church prayers. It is believed that about 1,000 Christian families live in the city.

The new rules cracking down on house church prayer, which were first reported last October, also prevent churches from being established 200 meters from any mosque and 100 meters away from a Muslim residential area. Additionally, churches are not allowed to use a loudspeaker during their Sunday services.

Since the rule has been enacted, the church leaders that have been detained and released on bail are Rev. Arslan-ul-Haq, Rev. Munir Masih (Gospel of Salvation), Rev. Arshd Baghicha (Kings Jesus Pentecostal Church), Rev. Javad Veru (Pentecostal church), Rev. Mubashir Maqsood (United Presbysterian Church Pakistan), Rev. Patress Nawab Gill, Rev. Shoukat Masih and Rev. Arshad Rehmat (Gospel of Salvation).

The church leaders launched a petition last Sunday, calling on Pakistan Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Punjab Chief Minister Mian Shahbaz Sharif and Interior Minister of Pakistan Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan to take immediate action to protect their religious right to worship, saying that the city’s rules are contradictory to the “guarantees provided to religious minorities in constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan.”

“Draconian measures such as these are not new,” BPCA Chairman Wilson Chowdhry explained in a statement. “Churches in Karachi and Badhami Bagh in Pakistan have both previously had to sign contracts, declaring they will not hold services at times that are offensive to Muslims, that they will divide seating for women and men and will not speak the name of Christ in the streets or allow music to permeate the environment and negatively impact on the sensitivities of Muslims.”

Chowdhry said that the ordinance passed in Bahawalpur “goes further than these previous coerced local contracts.”

“In fact, this authoritative control by Islamic extremists within a district authority illustrates a significant regression in policy within a government structure,” Chowdhry stated. “The ordinance breaches Article 18 of the Human Rights Convention, which Pakistan has ratified, and existing equality and freedom of faith provisions within the constitution of Pakistan.”

“World leaders should be taking note of this decision and act to prevent a further decline in the quality of life for Christians in Pakistan, which has reached its nadir.”

A source told The Pakistan Christian Post that Bahawalpur’s rule against house churches was enacted after the local government was pressured by a banned extremist group that has a heavy presence in the city.

Pakistan ranks as the fourth worst nation in the world when it comes to the persecution of Christians, according to Open Doors USA’s 2017 World Watch List.

- christian post

Christian boy tortured to death by Punjab police

October 11, 2017 by admin  
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Pakistan, October 11, 2017: A young Christian student was tortured to death by Punjab police in the village of Jabhran, near the city of Sheikhupura. Arslan Masih, 15, was killed in front of his 9th grade classmates on October 9 during the lessons.

According to the statement of Arslan’s mother, the young student was being pressurized by his Muslim class fellows to convert to Islam. He refused saying he would remain Christian always. Talking to some local media his mother stated that the continuous proposals for conversion from his class fellows lead to quarrel between them, and then the students conspired with the police who eventually took the life of her beloved son. After the brutal torture the police took Arslan to a nearby clinic where the doctor pronounced him dead. Police threw his body in front of academy and fled away, some locals took his body to his house. Now, Arslan’s family along with Christian community is holding protests and demanding justice.

Talking to Asia News, Samson Salamat, Chairman of Rwadari Tehreek said, “This is not first extra-judicial murder by the Punjab Police as there are several incidents every year but the only thing which can help such incidents in future would be that the responsible are being punished according to the law. Justice is not possible in such brutal incidents if the community will not stop the policy of accepting compensation from government rather than demanding justice.”

Mechelle Chaudhry, president at Cecil & Iris Chaudhry Foundation says “When those who are responsible to protect the lives of citizens, begin to turn against them then where does one go for protection. We condemn this incident in the strongest possible manner and demand that justice be done. Unfortunately when it comes to religious minorities anyone is free to act as a prosecutor, judge and executor; we cannot allow this to go on; impunity around violence against religious minorities in Pakistan has to end. We call upon the Chief Minister Punjab to order an impartial inquiry; the perpetrators must be brought to Justice”.

Ata-ur-Rehman Saman Coordinator at NCJP, condemned the act and stated, “Christian students are facing a hostile situation in their educational institutions particularly in Punjab. In rural areas Christian students are not allowed to drink water from the same vessel used by Muslim students. Forcing Christian students to embrace Islam is not a new trend in Punjab”. Saman describes the plight of a 9th class student in Khanewal (South Punjab) who was thrown on the ground by classmates who threatened to strangle him unless he recite the Kalma) (one becomes a Muslim after reciting the Kalima). Later the family moved to Lahore.

“This growing trend is fatefully is going unchecked and continuing with impunity. Denial and cover-up policy have deteriorated the situation” he concludes. “If the National Action Plan had been implemented with its true spirit, things could be different.”

- asia news

Qualified priests, parishes top priorities for Lahore Archbishop

October 9, 2017 by admin  
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Lahore, October 9, 2017: Lahore Archdiocese made history on Sept. 7 with the ordination of seven deacons. That’s the largest number of ordinations at a single Mass in the oldest diocese in Pakistan.

But Archbishop Sebastian Shaw of Lahore has bigger plans.

“As the number of vocations increase every year in the minor seminary, we are looking beyond our diocese and trying to produce priests for national needs. Students have been recently sent to Rome to study philosophy, scripture, theology and canon law,” he told ucanews.

Ever since his appointment as the archbishop of Lahore in 2013, the 59-year-old Franciscan has been focusing on increasing the number of parishes and reaching out to Catholics who number 377,000 in this eastern Pakistani archdiocese.

Two new parishes were added during five-year diocesan plan of 2011-2016. A third is to be started soon.

Established as the Vicariate Apostolic of Punjab in 1880, Lahore Archdiocese now has 29 parishes, more than 200 chapels and churches, and nearly 300 catechists. It also houses 31 houses of formation — the largest number in the country.

“The seed of faith kept growing and Lahore Archdiocese gave birth to the Islamabad-Rawalpindi Diocese and Multan Diocese,” said the archbishop who led a trip of 15 priests to India last year to observe 130 years since Lahore first became a diocese.

Often called the “grandmother diocese” for the entire Punjab province, its boundaries underwent several changes, losing territory to dioceses that are now in India.

Archbishop is also due to address a meeting on ecumenical and interreligious dialogue organized by the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conference to be held in Bangkok from Oct. 16-10.

As a member of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue he will speak on a program where students from 10 Catholic schools and an Islamic madrassa were brought together for talks. The gathering was to mark International Peace Day on Sept. 21 and was organized by the National Commission for Inter-religious Dialogue and Ecumenism.

“That’s the first time we reached out to a madrassa,” the archbishop said. “The church commission is usually afraid to collaborate with them. Caritas Pakistan’s peace program is limited to missionary schools,” he said.

Archbishop Shaw was born in 1957 and ordained a priest for the Order of Frias Minor at the age of 34. In 2009 he was made auxiliary bishop of Lahore and headed the archdiocese in 2013.

- ucan

Rights group accuses Myanmar army of village massacre

October 8, 2017 by admin  
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Rakhine, October 6, 2017: Myanmar’s military has summarily executed several dozen Rohingya Muslims in a village in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, a human rights group says.

Soldier’s beat, sexually assaulted, stabbed, and shot villagers who had gathered for safety in a residential compound in the village of Maung Nu on Aug. 27, two days after Rohingya militants attacked a local security outpost and military base, Human Rights Watch said on Oct. 4.

It could not verify the number of villagers allegedly killed, saying accounts of the massacre came from survivors who managed to flee to Bangladesh.

Satellite photos showed the village had almost been totally destroyed by fire, the rights group said.

“All the horrors of the Burmese army’s crimes against humanity against the Rohingya are evident in the mass killings in Maung Nu village,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

“These atrocities demand more than words from concerned governments; they need concrete responses with consequences.”

Human Rights Watch said it had spoken to 14 survivors and witnesses from Maung Nu and nearby villages in the Chin Tha Mar village tract of Buthidaung Township.

The witnesses, who fled to Bangladesh, said that after the militant attacks they feared the military would retaliate. Several hundred people gathered in a large residential compound in Maung Nu after which several Myanmar soldiers entered while others surrounded it.

They allegedly took several dozen Rohingya men and boys into the courtyard and then shot or stabbed them to death. Others were killed as they tried to flee.

The soldiers then loaded the bodies — one hundred or more, according to some witnesses — into military trucks and took them away.

- ucan

N. Korean defector describes life as a christian under Kim regime: We met in a hole to worship

October 6, 2017 by admin  
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North Korea, October 6, 2017: A North Korean defector opened up about the underground church he led and the secretive life he and other Christians had there. He also revealed that despite being offered freedom for renouncing their religion, believers in the notorious prison camps refuse to do so.

Choi Kwanghyuk, who now lives in L.A., told The Christian Post in an email interview through the help of a translator with International Christian Concern on Thursday that he first learned about Christianity when he went to China to search for food.

There, he was connected with a Christian missionary and began studying the Bible. Eventually, he started sharing the Gospel with nine of his friends, and continued making trips back and forth to China with the aid of the missionary.

Despite the severe oppression of religious belief in North Korea — Open Doors USA ranks the regime as the worst persecutor of Christians in the world — Choi started operating an underground church there.

“We started with the book of Matthew,” Choi said about some of the first Bible meetings.

“Our meeting spot was literally underground. In North Korea, we dig holes on the ground to store Kimchee and potatoes over the winter. It’s very cold in North Korea and if we don’t bury it underground, then it will freeze up. We don’t have heating system in North Korea,” he explained.

“We meet in this rectangular hole and use [a] lantern to study the Bible. Since we cannot sing out loud, we praise by humming the hymn.”

Choi pointed out that because of the strict control of information in North Korea, many of the people there do not even know that religion exists.

“I would say one out of one hundred people might know about God. In this case, it is because their great grandparents were Christians during early 1900s. If you get caught associating with religion, then DPRK government will send them to political camp or prison,” he said, using the country’s official name.

The defector noted that some people are allowed to travel outside of the country, but when they return, they are not allowed to reveal that they have embraced a religion.

There have been various rumors and reports from other defectors, including one last month that claimed Kim Jong Un kept teenage sex slaves, enjoyed a luxury lifestyle while his people starved, and forced children to watch public executions.

Choi revealed that it’s possible such stories are true.

“When I was in North Korea, and this was before Kim Jong Un became the leader, Kim Jong Un initiated monetary revolution. Kim Jong Un introduced [a] new currency system and stated that the new currency will be so valuable. If you have 500 North Korean currency, then you will be able to buy unlimited food and clothes,” he added.

“People believed Kim Jong Un, but the value of North Korean currency actually went down after the introduction of new currency. Many people committed suicide because of this revolution.”

As for the prison camps, where the regime sends political prisoners and Christians, Choi shared that he had connections with soldiers and guards who worked there.

He revealed what the guards told him about some of the Christians at those camps:

“They often talked about how stubborn Christians are. Even though they are offered release by signing a contract renouncing their religion, they do not accept this offer. Some of them feel that living inside the political camp is better than going outside because they foresee that it will be difficult for them to adapt to the outside society.”

ICC, which reports on the persecution of Christians around the world, partnered with Saddleback Church back in June to produce “The Bridge” conference, where major challenges facing the people of North Korea were discussed.

Gina Goh, ICC’s regional manager for Southeast Asia, told CP that the persecution watchdog works with different partners in neighboring countries to serve North Koreans in need.

Goh explained that ICC helps send rice through floating bottles to North Koreans, sponsors a Christian radio program, supports young defectors, and flies Gospel leaflets through balloons.

“We want to provide not only humanitarian aid that addresses their basic needs, but also the Gospel that they don’t get to hear in their country. We invite Christians to remember and pray for North Korea and its 25 million oppressed souls,” she said, also urging support for ministries.

Commenting on the high tension between Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump, with the North Korean regime threatening to aim missiles at U.S. territories, Goh said it is easy to forget that there are millions of ordinary people “living under the tyranny of Kim.”

“They are deprived of their rights to know the truth about their leadership and the outside world. People are malnourished both physically and spiritually,” she said.

She doesn’t believe the current tension is necessarily placing Christians in North Korea under more suspicion. However, the three Korean-American Christians still being held there — Kim Dong Chul, Kim Sang-duk, and Kim Hak Song — might not receive their freedom any time soon due to deteriorated relations.

- christian post

Rohingya not only group persecuted in Myanmar, Christian minorities are as well

October 5, 2017 by admin  
Filed under Asia, newsletter-asia

Myanmar, October 3, 2017: The humanitarian crisis that touches Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine State is not the only of its kind in Myanmar. Religious freedom and human rights violations by the military, Buddhist nationalist movements and ethnic Burmese affect also other ethnic minorities in other parts of the country.

All these groups share the same suffering, but have not received the same media coverage or attention by the international community as the Rohingya struggling along the Myanmar-Bangladesh border.

This is the case of the Kachin (north), Chin (west) and Naga (north-west), ethnic groups with large Christian communities that have been persecuted for decades.

By exploiting the Buddhist roots of the country’s culture, Myanmar’s military regime has for years discriminated against Christians, seen as the expression of a foreign religion contrary to its “one nation, one race, and one religion” policy.

Many of these measures are still in force and anti-Church bias is strong even though the latter has been present in the country for more than 500 years.

In Myanmar all Christian communities are subject to restrictions on land acquisition for religious purposes. Military bureaucratic procedures prevent the release of permits to communities. Just to have a place to worship, some Christians are forced to use private properties or homes.

In predominantly Buddhist areas, especially in the strongholds of Ma Ba Tha’s ultra-nationalist monks, it is almost impossible for Christians to gather together. At the same time, the government spends public money to build pagodas and monasteries, part of its policy of promoting and spreading Buddhism.

In December 2016, a report by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom of the (USCIRF) highlighted some of the worst episodes of intimidation and violence against Christians in the Asian country.

These violations include forced transfers, destruction of cemeteries, attacks on places of worship, and the ongoing campaign of forced conversions and brainwashing, which takes place in schools funded by the government in border regions, particularly in areas inhabited by ethnic Chin and Naga. Another common practice is the unjustified grab by local authorities of resource-rich land.

In Kachin areas, violations of religious freedom are intertwined with the ongoing conflict between armed groups and government forces. The military routinely occupies churches and summons entire congregations for mass interrogations and indiscriminate arrests. Very often the faithful and clergymen are considered allies of the rebels and therefore punished.

Myanmar’s powerful Armed Forces (Tatmadaw) have devastated, damaged, and destroyed many places of worship. With almost total impunity, the former continue to commit serious human rights abuses such as sexual violence inside church compounds and the torture of clergymen, believers and ordinary citizens.

In Kachin, after more than five years of conflict, more than 120,000 people have been forced to flee and live in desperate conditions, waiting to return. As long as the conflict endures, there is no real prospect for internally displaced Kachin to return to a situation of security and dignity.

Religious discrimination is in some cases institutionalised. Kachin, Naga, and Chin Christian public servants and others employed by the government are usually overlooked for promotion in favour of Buddhists.

When Christians hold government positions, they face sanctions if they do not support Buddhist initiatives. In some cases, the authorities take contributions from Christian civil servants’ salaries for Buddhist activities. In the Chin State, government employees are also forced to work on Sundays, without compensation.

Buddhism, though not officially, is considered Myanmar’s state religion. The military, whose power is not subject to the control of civil authority, has stressed the religion’s “special position” and stands as the defender of Burmese culture and tradition.

Over the years, this has led to deep rifts between the country’s various ethno-religious groups. This, in turn, has allowed the Armed Forces to reiterate their power.

With her victory in the November 2015 elections, Myanmar’s Democratic leader Aung San Suu Kyi began a difficult process of pacification and national reconciliation.

- asia news

Muar launderette adopts Muslims-only policy

October 4, 2017 by admin  
Filed under Asia, newsletter-asia

Malaysia, September 24, 2017: A self-service launderette in Muar, Johor is limiting its clientele to Muslim customers only.

The matter first came to light when a photo, believed to have been taken at the launderette, showing an ‘Only For Muslims’ sign went viral on social media.

The sign also asked customers to remove their shoes before entering the premises.

The 40-year-old operator, who was interviewed by a Chinese daily on Saturday, said he was just carrying out his duty as a Muslim.

He said he welcomed Chinese and Indian Muslims to his launderette and that non-Muslims could visit other nearby launderettes.

He, however, declined to comment on whether he had imposed the rules as he worried that there might be “unclean” elements such as dog fur on the clothes non-Muslims brought to his launderette.

The operator also did not allow the Chinese daily reporter to take his photo.

Meanwhile, a Malay daily reported Johor mufti Datuk Mohd Tahrir Samsudin as saying that the launderette’s move was commendable as cleanliness is a priority for Muslims.

“This should not be turned into an issue as it only encourages negative perception from non-Muslims towards Muslims.

“I think it is a good move as Muslims will no longer be doubtful when using the self-service launderette,” the daily quoted him as saying.

The launderette’s move has received mixed reactions from netizens, with some praising the move and others questioning the motive for segregating customers based on their religious backgrounds.

- the star

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