Pakistan’s Shia minority under attack

The Pakistani government is systematically failing to protect the country’s Shia population, says Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. Balochistan’s largely Shia Hazara community has borne the brunt of the Sunni militant violence, which is thought to have killed over 800 in the region since 2008.

The author claims “The Pakistani government’s response to this violence suggests incompetence, indifference, or possible complicity by security forces and other state personnel with the extremists.” Shia constitute about 20 per cent of Pakistan’s population.

On 9 June a group of around 300 Shia Hazara pilgrims who had been visiting religious shrines in neighbouring Iran arrived at the Pakistani border town of Taftan. They were attacked by heavily armed gunmen from the Sunni Islamist militant group Jaish–ul-Islam: at least 30 died, including at least nine women and a child. After a prolonged firefight, Pakistani security forces killed the attackers. More


China: Zhejiang province ‘anti-church’ campaign

Authorities in China are continuing their campaign of church demolition. The Guardian reports that Christians in Wenzhou – a city known as ‘China’s Jerusalem’ due to its 1,500 churches – say that they have not seen such sustained persecution since the Cultural Revolution.

Between 3 and 6 am on 17 June the cross that topped Guantou church in Wenzhou was removed. Officials were reported to have threatened to tear down the entire church if members tried to prevent this action: in April a mega-church in nearby Sanjiang was indeed completely demolished.

The Telegraph reports that statistics compiled by Christian activists show cross removals and church demolitions have continued apace in recent weeks. At least 15 churches have received notices from authorities in the last week informing them that if they do not “voluntarily” remove their crosses by the end of this month they will face demolition. Christian advocacy group China Aid says that around 360 church buildings and crosses have been demolished already this year.

When Chinese Premier Li Keqiang was questioned about China’s human rights record on his visit to London this week, he replied that his country was protecting and advancing human rights in line with its constitutional obligations while “choosing our own path in accordance with our own national conditions”.

Malaysia upholds ban on Christians using word ‘Allah’

The Federal Court of Malaysia in June refused the country’s Roman Catholic Church leave to appeal against the ban of the use of the word “Allah” in their weekly newspaper, The Herald. Christians argue they have used the word, which entered Malay from Arabic, to refer to their God for centuries and that the ruling violates their rights. Malaysian authorities say its use by Christians could confuse Muslims and lead some to convert to Christianity.

According to reports, 4 of the 7-member bench dismissed the church’s application for appeal, stating that the Court of Appeal was right in its decision to ban the word.

In a media release, the Christian Federation of Malaysia expressed their disappointment at the verdict, stating that such decisions could result in serious negative repercussions for the freedom of religion in the country.

On 14 October 2013, the Court of Appeal in Malaysia ruled that non-Muslims could not use the word “Allah” to refer to God. In the verdict, the Court of Appeal expressed the opinion that all religions should be practised in peace and harmony with Islam as it was the official religion of the Federation. Malaysia is a member of the Commonwealth.


The Malaysian Chronicle reports that UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion and Belief, Heiner Bielefeldt, has said many Muslims believe the court ruling undermines the credibility of Islam. Muslim scholars and clerics, both locally and worldwide, have criticised the ban, pointing out that the word predates Islam and means “God” in Arabic.

Atheist taken to psychiatric hospital

A Nigerian man sent to a mental institute in Kano state after he declared that he did not believe in God, is now in hiding and says he has been receiving death threats. Mubarak Bala says he wants to leave northern Nigeria but first is trying to reconcile with his family, especially the father, two uncles and older brother who assaulted him, drugged him and committed him to the psychiatric ward of Kano city’s Aminu Kano teaching hospital.

The BBC originally reported that when Mr Bala told relatives he did not believe in God, they asked doctors if he was mentally ill. One declared that his atheism was a side-effect of suffering a personality change, and Mr Bala was forcibly committed to a psychiatric ward.The hospital said it was treating Mr Bala, 29, for a ‘challenging psychological condition’, and would not keep him longer than necessary.

Kano is a mainly Muslim state and adopted Islamic law in 2000.


Laos: funeral disrupted, education denied

On 24 June, a village chief forced a Christian family into a Buddhist funeral and five church leaders were arrested. They are currently being held handcuffed and with their feet in wooden stocks.

Mrs Chan died last Saturday morning. Her family immediately obtained permission from the village chief to bury their mother on their own personal property since Christians were denied burial rights in the village cemetery. On Sunday evening the village chief, along with the village’s Communist party secretary, reversed the decision and banned the mourning gathering as well as the burial ceremony until all of her sons and daughters sign an affidavit to recant their Christian faith. They refused.

The funeral service was then suspended, while a church leader appealed to the district chief. Yesterday, with Mrs Chan’s body beginning to decompose, the village police and the village military force went to her house and arrested the church leaders present.

Thirty minutes later, the village chief led the Buddhist monks and relatives of Mrs. Chan into the deceased person’s house and conducted a Buddhist ceremony and then took the body of Mrs. Chan to the village cemetery.

In May 2014 the same village chief declared that, by becoming Christian, three female teenagers had forfeited their right to an education. Noi (15), Net (15) and Nut (14) were told that they would not be permitted to sit their examinations.


Muslims denounce Iran’s persecution of Bahá’ís

Prominent Muslims have recently spoken out against the persecution of the Bahá’ís in Iran. Led by Iranian Ayatollah Abdol-Hamid Masoumi-Tehrani, a number of senior Muslim figures from Iraq, South Africa and France have spoken out in favour of peaceful co-existence with members of the Bahá’ís religious movement.

Eurasia Review reports that in Baghdad, in an extended interview published online on 14 May 2014, Ayatollah al-Faqih Seyyed Hussein Ismail al-Sadr, founder of the Humanitarian Dialogue Foundation, said “God Almighty has ordered us to deal with all our brothers and sisters from other religions and faith with kindness, based in justice, mercy and love,” he said. “Therefore, there is no objection to interacting and associating within the general human fundamentals between Muslims and their brothers from other religions and beliefs.”


Concern about UN Human Rights Council

Two senior staff of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) have expressed concern that in the Geneva meeting of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) that began on 10 June and runs through until 27 June are a number of member states that continue to perpetrate or tolerate serious violations of human rights, including religious freedom.

Katrina Lantos Swett and Mary Ann Glendon state that five of its 13 new states this year — China, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, Cuba, and Russia — have been cited by USCIRF for failing to respect or protect this liberty. They argue that “Their behaviour contradicts the Council’s mission of promoting and protecting fundamental rights, including religious freedom. The world community should spotlight this incongruity and support accountability and change.”

The article concludes “Until these nations show signs of genuine progress on human rights, including religious freedom, their UNHRC presence sends an unfortunate message to both friends and foes of freedom. It makes the role of the United States and other supporters of human rights and religious freedom all the more pivotal, not only to address these violations but to stand as witness to them, providing strength and hope to the oppressed.”

Read the whole article

Muslims killed in sectarian clashes in Sri Lanka

On 16 June at least three Muslims were killed and around 80 seriously injured in clashes following a rally by the BBS, the Buddhist Brigade, in Aluthgama on Sunday. Supporters of the BBS were reported to have marched into Muslim areas chanting anti-Muslim slogans. Witnesses say Muslim homes and a mosque were stoned.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa has announced an investigation into what has been described as Sri Lanka’s worst outbreak of sectarian violence in years. In recent months, Sinhalese Buddhist revivalist groups have been staging demonstrations, often led by monks, full of anti-Muslim rhetoric. BBC correspondents say tension has recently been high between the two sides, with Muslims calling on the government to protect them from hate attacks by Buddhists, and Buddhists accusing minorities of enjoying too much influence.

19 June update

A Buddhist Monk who has been a vocal critic of the Buddhist Brigade was found beaten and unconscious near Colombo. Wataraka Vijitha Thero has made statements supportive of Muslims and he has also complained to the police that he has received death threats.

The BBC reports that while there has been a lot of discussion of the violence on Sri Lankan social media, most mainstream media outlets on the island – with a few exceptions – have given little coverage and not sent journalists to report on the events. According to media reports, the BBS has denied being behind the assault on the monk.



Egypt’s new constitution under scrutiny

Blasphemy charges brought against Kerolos Shouky Attallah, 29, for ‘liking’ a Facebook page has prompted human rights activists to question the government’s commitment to a new constitution guaranteeing freedom of belief and thought.

The Facebook page is in Arabic, run by anonymous converts from Islam. Faced with threats, Attallah ‘unliked’ the page, but the next day villagers attacked his house. Police arrived: they arrested Attallah and charged him under Egypt’s version of a blasphemy law – showing ‘disdain’ for a heavenly religion. All those who attacked Attallah’s house were released without charge.

“According to the constitution, Kerolos should not be in jail, because it allows freedom of speech and expression, but the judges are not using the new constitution and are still working with the old law,” a human rights activist said. “They are basically ignoring the new constitution.”

Under the Egyptian penal code, violation of Article 98F is punishable by “detention for a period of not less than six months and not exceeding five years, or paying a fine of not less than 500 pounds and not exceeding 1,000 pounds.” (1,000 Egyptian pounds equals about £85.)

A violation of the article is described as an act that advocates or spreads “extremist thoughts with the aim of instigating sedition and division,” or an act that shows disdain or contempt for “any of the heavenly religions or the sects belonging thereto.” Using religion in a way that harms “national unity or social peace” is also a violation.


On 24 June he was sentenced to six years in prison.


Last June, Demyana Abd Al-Nour, an elementary school teacher from Sheikh Sultan Primary School in the village of Al-Edisat, was fined approximately £8,500 after being accused of committing blasphemy. Her appeal was heard on 15 June, when to the dismay of her family and the bafflement of human rights activists, she was sentenced to six month imprisonment. She is now likely to seek asylum in France, and her family fear they may never see her again.


On 17 June Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what representations he has made to the new Egyptian President about freedom of religion. William Hague replied “The Government has been clear throughout recent events in Egypt, that the freedom of religious belief needs to be protected and that the ability to worship in peace is a vital component of a democratic society. I have not yet met President el-Sisi, but will look to work with him and the Egyptian Government to implement the rights contained in Egypt’s constitution, which includes protections for freedom of religious belief.”


North Korea must end persecution

Amnesty international has urged North Korea to release all those detained solely for their religious beliefs. An American tourist was arrested after he left a Bible at a hotel. The state news agency KCNA said the man had entered North Korea on 29 April and was detained when he tried to leave the country.

This comes days after KCNA reported that South Korean missionary Kim Jong-uk had been sentenced to hard labour for life for spying and setting up an underground church. “Kim Jong-uk is likely to be sent to one of North Korea’s gruesome prison camps, where torture, forced labour, and denial of food as punishment are common,” said an Amnesty spokesperson.

According to the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea, countless numbers of nationals and foreigners have been severely punished as a result of their attempt to practice their religious beliefs.