Canada had lost sight of religious freedom as human right, Baird says *Bangladesh blocks website of Christian dissident

June 1, 2012 by  
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Canada, May 24, 2012: Foreign Minister John Baird told a U.S. audience that Canada went soft on defending fundamental rights like religious freedom some time after the Second World War, but he argued the Harper government is showing a stiffer spine now.

In a speech promoting Ottawa’s plans to open an Office of Religious Freedom in the Foreign Affairs department, Mr. Baird spoke of the “moral call” that people like his grandfather answered in fighting the Second World War.

“And yet, after the war, some decision makers lost sight of our proud tradition to do what is right and what is just,” he said in a draft of the speech. “Some decided it would be better to paint Canada as an honest broker. I call it being afraid to take a clear position, even when that’s what’s needed.”

Mr. Baird was speaking to the Religious Liberty Dinner, an annual fixture on Washington’s busy political dinner schedule organized by religious-liberty associations and the Seventh Day Adventist Church – and for the first time ever, hosted at Canada’s Embassy.

Mr. Baird was invited, according to government officials, as a nod from organizers to Canada’s plans to open a $5 million-a-year Religious Freedom Office, inside Foreign Affairs, some time this year.

The plans for the office, with a projected budget half as big as its U.S. counterpart, has been criticized by some as an attempt to appeal to religious conservatives in Canada.

Mr. Baird said the office will “help our diplomats around the world support religious freedom.”

His speech argued that defending religious freedoms cannot be separated from defending other basic human rights.

Mr. Baird’s speech mentioned the persecution of religious groups including Buddhists and Muslims in Myanmar, Ahmadiyya Muslims, and Baha’i. But it dealt most extensively with the targeting of Jews and Christians.

He spoke of the pogroms against Jews in the Spanish Inquisition, said 6 million died in the 1930s and ’40s because of their religious identity, and said the world cannot risk appeasing “Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran” now “in the same way the world appeased the Nazis.”

He said that Canada now will “stand with the Jewish state.”

Christians now “face particular persecution in countries around the world,” he said, citing persecution in Iran, attacks on Coptic Christians in Egypt, among other examples. He pointed to a program to resettle Christian and other minority refugees from Iraq as an example of Canadian action.

– the globe & mail

Bangladesh blocks website of Christian dissident

 

Dhaka / Hong Kong, May 27, 2012: Bangladesh has reportedly blocked the website of leading  Christian rights activist, author and journalist William Nicholas Gomes, who now lives in exile amid fears of repercussions.

Speaking from his hiding place in Hong Kong, he told BosNewsLife Sunday, May 27, that the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina became upset about his writings, including a critical poem on injustices in the impoverished Asian nation.  

In his poem ‘Anti state’ he wrote among other words “I am against the state, which runs on the bases of injustices, I am against the state which comes out of killings.”

Soon after, authorities allegedly shut down the influential site. “My website has been blocked in Bangladesh – people can not see my site,” he explained.

The activist said he is moving his williamgomes.org website to another “save location” within the next few weeks to reach Bangladesh again and that it therefore can’t currently be seen elsewhere in the world.    
 
Censorship Threat

Gomes, 28, stressed that authorities also plan to file “sedition” charges against him. There was no immediate response from officials.

“I believe that censorship is a possible way for the powerful to terminate individualism and promotes governmental coercion and totalitarianism,” Gomes complained.

He acknowledged that “some people urge that restrictions are valid only if they are for the sake of a greater good, a greater liberty.” However, “I believe that Censorship is a restriction that is not for greater liberty, but for the deprivation of liberty.”
 
The activist asked the prime minister “to remove the block and publicly apologize for this heinous act.”

Gomes lives in Hong Kong since last year when he reportedly fled his native Bangladesh after being detained and tortured by members of Bangladesh’s government-backed Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), a police elite force.

More Killings

He was eventually freed, but rights group Amnesty International said at least 200 others were killed by the RAB since 2009, when Prime Minister Hasina took office.

Gomes believes he was targeted by officials in Bangladesh because he traveled throughout the country to investigate racial discrimination and other human rights violations in villages on behalf of the independent Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), a group of jurists and activists.

He also covered religious rights issues as a reporter for Catholic news agency AsiaNews.

While traveling, the former Muslim, made it a point to pray and speak with people about his new-found faith in Christ. “While walking over often muddy roads, I prayed that each home would become part of the Body of Christ, His Church,” he told BosNewsLife in an earlier interview.

But as 90 percent of Bangladesh’s 142 million people are Muslims, preaching or tackling religious rights issues can lead to difficulties for minority Christians because of strict Islamic authorities, he and other activists suggested.

Asian Christians

Though the website remains closed, Gomes said he was thankful to other Asian Christians for helping him, including “the Pakistan Christian community”, who have also complained about persecution under blasphemy laws.

“I condemn persecution of religious communities in Bangladesh,” Nazir Bhatti, who heads Christian party Pakistan Christian Congress, a major political force in Pakistan.

“[I] urge Prime Minister Hassina…to make Bangladesh a truly Peoples Republic that equality may be observed among Muslims and Christians and other minorities” he added in a statement seen by BosNewsLife.

Gomes is staying in Hong Kong without his young wife Annie Jhumur Halder and two small sons, Felix Eugene and Lalon Mark, who he said have been prevented from joining him.

Despite the difficulties, he pledged not to back-down in his fight for true democracy and human rights and would continue to spread his Christian faith. “I am only bowing for God.”

International Concerns

The reported difficulties faced by Gomes comes amid international concerns about the rights situation in Bangladesh.

Earlier this month, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters in Dhaka that Washington is “betting on Bangladesh.”

“That’s why it’s very important to us to continue to urge the hard decisions that are necessary for the rule of law, for transparency,” Clinton said following the disappearance of an opposition leader.

“We don’t want to see any faltering or flagging. We want to see democracy flourish in Bangladesh,” she said ahead of talks with Prime Minister Hasina and her opposition rival, Begum Khaleda Zia.

Gomes said he has received messages from support from the United States and other countries and that several activists and writers help him to continue publishing in several websites and other media.

– bosnewslife.com

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