Catching Our Eye

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  • Maldives removes church image from school textbook

    Published: Jan. 20, 2017

    The Maldives government has recalled a school textbook that contained illustrations of two churches, after protests from parents.

    The social studies textbook was for children in Grades 1-4 at the Gateway International School. The new management at the school has been accused by a local news website, Miadhu, of using the school as “a gateway to turning Maldivians [in]to Christians”.

    When a state-owned building had earlier been handed over to the school’s management company to launch the school in November, there had been allegations of corruption, but the Anti-Corruption Commission had found no fault.   

    This latest development, on top of the appointment of a radical cleric to the highest Islamic council in the country, has led to fears of an increase in Islamic conservatism.

    Thomas Muller, analyst at the World Watch Research unit of Open Doors, which works with Christians under pressure worldwide, said: “That the mere picture of a church is seen as promoting Christianity and potential proselytism shows how deeply ingrained the fear of the Muslim majority is. The appointment of a radical cleric to the highest Islamic council also fits this pattern and will lead expatriate Christians to exercise even more caution and indigenous Christians to take the utmost care in remaining undiscovered.”

    The Maldives is 13th on Open Doors’ 2017 World Watch List of the 50 countries in which it is most difficult to live as a Christian.

    Source: Maldives Independent

  • Vietnam Religion Law causes concerns

    Published: Jan. 20, 2017

    Vietnam’s new Law on Belief and Religion is causing concern among Christians, particularly in rural areas, reports The Diplomat.

    The legislation, passed in November last year, has been widely criticised by rights groups, who say the government is trying to exert greater control over religious practice in the country.

    Human Rights Watch said that by ordering religious groups not to spoil “the national great unity” and “social morale”, the government had introduced vague terms that could be used against dissenting voices.

    David Saperstein, the US ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, said: “If people go to the seminary, it requires government approval. If they’re going to be ordained, it requires government approval. If they’re going to be hired at a house of worship — a monk in a pagoda, a priest in a church or an imam at the mosque — it requires government approval.”

    Meanwhile, last month Cambodia sent back 13 more Montagnard Christians to Vietnam, saying they did not qualify for refugee status.

    Thomas Muller, persecution analyst at Open Doors’ World Watch Research unit, said it was another example of the tribal group’s vulnerability.

    “These 13 Montagnards were part of over 200 who have fled Vietnam and crossed into Cambodia over the last months,” he said. “Knowing that all guarantees of fair treatment by the Vietnamese authorities on their return are questionable and that access to their home provinces in the Central Highlands is very restricted, it is likely that the Montagnards will find themselves in very difficult circumstances. The authorities will not only monitor them closely, but are likely to harass them and impose further restrictions.”

  • Is Sudan really ready for sanctions to be lifted?

    Published: Jan. 19, 2017

    One of Barack Obama’s last acts in office was to scale back a 20-year-old trade embargo on Sudan. The move has been criticised by human rights groups, which have called it “premature” and “despicable”, but has the country and its President, wanted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court, done enough to merit a more relaxed approach?

    This is the question debated in a televised discussion on Al Jazeera between a Sudanese scholar and human rights activist, and a Belgian academic.

    Professor Hassan Makki and activist Hafiz Mohammad agree that removing the sanctions is “good news” for the people of Sudan, whom academic Harry Verhoeven agrees have been most “harmed” by the sanctions – rather than the government they targeted.

    “Sudan is not a poor country,” says Verhoeven, “but it has lots of poor people” – a problem he puts down to “mismanagement”. He says lifting the sanctions is “necessary but insufficient” and that serious “reform” is needed in the government to effect real change.

    The move follows the six-year anniversary of South Sudan’s independence, as the residents of the disputed, oil-rich region of Abyei (which straddles the border) still await a promised referendum, with the vast majority thought to favour joining South Sudan.

    Sudan’s government has been accused of serious human rights abuses. Since South Sudan’s independence, President Omar al-Bashir has reasserted Sudan as an Islamic state governed by Sharia.

    Sudan is no. 5 on the Open Doors 2017 World Watch List of the 50 countries in which it is most difficult to be a Christian.

    Several Christian pastors have faced trial for alleged actions against the state, including espionage and attempting to defame the government. One is currently on trial, alongside a Czech aid worker and Darfuri graduate, awaiting the verdict of their Khartoum trial, expected on 23 January.

  • Two missing pastors; Myanmar army link suspected

    Published: Jan. 19, 2017

    Calls from international human rights organisations have been made for two pastors missing since 24 December in Myanmar.

    Ethnic Kachin live in Shan as well as Kachin State, and the two Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC) men had taken reporters to a Catholic church damaged by airstrikes in clashes between the government army and ethnic militias, reports RFA.

    Armed conflicts in both states intensified late last year when the Northern Alliance of four ethnic militias launched coordinated attacks on government and military targets in northern Shan. In Kachin, Christians account for at least 34% of the population.

    Relationships between the Kachin and the military are also strained by the slow progress in identifying and prosecuting perpetrators of the many documented cases of sexual abuse by Myanmar troops in the region. (Two KBC women teachers were raped and murdered two years ago.)

    "The apparent enforced disappearance of these two [latest] Christian leaders has created a climate of fear and terror in northern Shan State," said Matthew Smith, chief executive of Fortify Rights, which, with Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, has appealed for information on the two men.

    Myanmar is 28th on Open Doors' 2017 World Watch List of countries where Christians are most under pressure for their faith. Latest government figures show that half of Myanmar’s three million Christians live in the states of Shan, Kachin and Chin.

  • Chinese lawyer in state of ‘terror and confusion’

    Published: Jan. 19, 2017

    A Chinese Christian human rights lawyer has been returned home in a shocking state of mental disturbance after 18 months in custody.

    Li Chunfu was one of more than 300 lawyers rounded up by the Chinese government in July 2015.

    When he was returned home to his wife on 12 Jan., the man who confronted her was unrecognisable.

    “Li’s body was emaciated, his complexion wan, his eyes lifeless — like he’d just aged to a 60-year-old-man,” reports

    But even more alarmingly, the website describes how he would not even enter his home.

    “When [his wife] tried to pull him in by the hand, he was terrified and pulled away,” it reports. “Relatives who lived nearby heard that he’d been dropped off and rushed over, but rather than greet them Li became agitated and upset, jumping up and pushing them away, yelling, ‘Get out of here! Danger!’ Friends and family could do nothing but back away and sit at a distance from him.”

    He is reportedly still in a state of “terror and confusion”. Once, when he saw his wife making a phone call, he grabbed her round the neck and shouted: “Who are you calling? You want to harm me!”

    Human Rights Watch says the Chinese government “owes” Li and his family answers: “why Li was detained, what happened to him in custody, and who was responsible for his mistreatment.

    “More than that, it has a legal obligation to pay for his medical care and rehabilitation and prosecute those responsible. Beijing will have zero credibility on the rule of law both at home and abroad so long as individuals are tortured with impunity. Li will likely never be the same after this horrific experience – and neither should Beijing.”

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