A reasonably strong earthquake (5.6) has just struck South Australia’s outback – basically in the desert. From what I understand there is a small town located 10 minutes from the suspected epicentre of the earthquake. There is potential for significant damage within that sort of radius of the earthquake, but thankfully it has struck a fairly remote region. It is of a similar magnitude to the earthquake that struck Newcastle in 1989.
Police threaten or detain some 200 house church members who planned to attend.
DUBLIN, October 15 (CDN) — As organizers prepared for the opening of the Third Lausanne International Congress on World Evangelization tomorrow in Cape Town, South Africa, Chinese police threatened or detained some 200 delegates who had hoped to attend.
After receiving an invitation to attend the event, house church groups in China formed a selection committee and raised significant funds to pay the expenses of their chosen delegates, a source told Compass. Many delegates, however, were “interviewed” by authorities after they applied to attend the Congress, the source said.
When house church member Abraham Liu Guan and four other delegates attempted to leave China via Beijing airport on Sunday (Oct. 10), authorities refused to allow them through customs, reported the Chinese-language Ming Pao News. Officials detained one delegate and confiscated the passports of the other four until Oct. 25, the closing date of the conference.
China’s State Administration for Religious Affairs and the Ministry of Public Security had notified border control staff that the participation of Chinese Christians in the conference threatened state security and ordered them not to allow delegates to leave, Liu told U.S.-based National Public Radio (NPR).
Officials also prevented two house church Christians from Baotou City, Inner Mongolia, from leaving the country, and on Oct. 9 placed one of them in a 15-day detention, the China Aid Association (CAA) reported.
When Fan Yafeng, leader of the Chinese Christian Legal Defense Association and winner of the 2009 John Leland Religious Liberty Award, discussed the harassment with NPR on Tuesday (Oct. 12), officials assigned some 20 police officers to keep him under house arrest.
On Wednesday (Oct. 13), approximately 1,000 police officers were stationed at Beijing International Airport to restrain an estimated 100 house church members who planned to leave for the Congress via Beijing, according to CAA.
CAA also said authorities over the past few months had contacted every delegate, from Han Christians in Beijing to Uyghur Christians in Xinjiang, for questioning, and threatened some family members.
Normal church operations were also affected. The Rev. Xing Jingfu from Changsha in Hunan province told NPR that authorities cited the Lausanne Congress when they recently ordered his church to close.
China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Ma Zhaoxu, in a statement issued to NPR, accused the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization of communicating secretively with members of illegal congregations and not issuing an official invitation to China’s state-controlled church.
According to the Ming Pao report, the Lausanne committee said members of the Three-Self Protestant Movement had asked if they could attend. Delegates, however, were required to sign a document expressing their commitment to evangelism, which members of official churches could not do due to regulations such as an upper limit on the number of people in each church, state certification for preachers, and the confinement of preaching to designated churches in designated areas. House church Christians faced no such limitations.
The first such conference was held in Lausanne, Switzerland in 1974, which produced the influential Lausanne Covenant. The second conference was held in 1989 in Manila. Some 4,000 delegates from 200 countries are expected to attend the third conference in Cape Town.
Progress or Repression?
China watchers said there has been a slight easing of restrictions in recent months, accompanied by a call on Sept. 28 from senior Chinese political advisor Du Qinglin for the government to allow the independent development of the official church. Du made the remarks at the 60th anniversary celebrations of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement, according to the government-allied Xinhua news agency.
The BBC in August produced a glowing series on the growth of Christianity in China after Chinese authorities gave it unprecedented access to state-sanctioned churches and religious institutions. Religious rights monitor Elizabeth Kendal, however, described this access as part of a propaganda campaign by the Chinese government to reduce criticism of religious freedom policies.
NPR also produced a five-part series on Chinese religions in July. The series attributed the growth of religious adherence to the “collapse of Communist ideology” and pointed out that growth continued despite the fact that evangelism was “still illegal in China today.”
The claims of progress were challenged by an open letter from Pastor Zhang Mingxuan, president of the Chinese Christian House Church Alliance, to Chinese President Hu Jintao on Oct. 1, China’s National Day.
In the letter, published by CAA on Oct. 5, Zhang claimed that Chinese house church Christians respected the law and were “model citizens,” and yet they had become “the target of a group of government bandits … [who] often arrest and beat innocent Christians and wronged citizens.” Further, he added, “House church Christians have been ill-treated simply because they are petitioners to crimes of the government.”
Zhang then listed several recent incidents in which Christians were arrested and sent to labor camps, detained and fined without cause, beaten, interrogated and otherwise abused. He also described the closure or demolition of house churches and the confiscation of personal and church property.
He closed with a mention of Uyghur Christian Alimjan Yimit, “who was sentenced to 15 years in prison because he evangelized among Uyghurs – his very own people.”
Report from Compass Direct News
Throngs fear site would be used as Christian school or church.
JAKARTA, Indonesia, May 4 (CDN) — Hundreds of people calling themselves the Muslim Community of the Puncak Route last week burned buildings under construction belonging to a Christian organization in West Java Province.
Believing that a church or school building was being built, the mob set fire to the Penabur Christian Education Foundation’s unfinished guest house buildings in Cibeureum village of Cisarua sub-district, Bogor Regency, on April 27. They also burned a watchman’s hut and at least two cars belonging to foundation directors.
A leader of the mob who identified himself only as Tabroni told Compass that local residents did not want a Christian worship center or Christian school in the predominantly Muslim area of Cibeureum known as Kongsi.
“We found that there is an effort to Christianize through the construction of a school and a Christian place of worship,” Tabroni said. He claimed that the foundation had broken a promise to build only a guest house, not a school and a place of worship.
A foundation spokesperson identified only as Mulyono denied that it was building a school or a place of worship. Mulyono added that the guest house, a term synonymous with “conference center” in Indonesia, will be used for education and training.
“It is not true that we were building a school or a place of worship,” Mulyono told Compass.
The spokesperson said the foundation had received building permits in June of 2009. An official identified only as Nuryadi of the Bogor Regency office confirmed that all of permits for a guest house and use of the land had been granted in June 2009.
The mob destroyed buildings being constructed on 2.5 hectares (6.18 acres) of land.
A consultant said the Penabur foundation has been building Icharius Guest House since February and had expected to see it completed in August.
Suspicions that a Christian school and a place of worship were being built started almost immediately, as a worship service accompanied the laying of the cornerstone.
Cisarua District Officer Bambang Usada said this led to misunderstanding.
“We had agreed that a guest house was to be built,” he said. “Maybe they though it was going to be a church.”
Bogor Police Chief Tomex Kurniawan agreed, saying local residents were never satisfied with explanations of the buildings’ purposes. Penabur officials had explained that there would be no house of worship and that a guest house was being constructed with permission of the Bogor government.
“We had mediation meetings, but the people were never satisfied,” Kurniawan said. “We are now digging for more information for our investigation. There have been property losses, and someone is responsible.”
Dissatisfaction and the attendant religious intolerance among local residents were evident. The local block captain, who identified himself only as Rahmat, said he never accepted that district and regency officials had granted permission for the building.
“They were not building a guest house, but a place of worship,” Rahmat told Compass.
At press time police had no suspects for the attack. They have gathered information from 14 people, including construction workers, and they are guarding the building site against further incidents.
Construction has been suspended, also as a precautionary measure.
“We are waiting for a more conducive atmosphere,” Mulyono said.
The Penabur Foundation was founded in 1952 under the name the West Java Chinese Kie Tok Kauw Hwee Education Foundation. On March 21, 1989, the name was changed to the Penabur Christian Education Foundation. It runs approximately 60 schools across Indonesia.
Report from Compass Direct News
Assemblies of God obtains ‘operating license,’ but quest for recognition continues.
HO CHI MINH CITY, October 23 (CDN) — The Assemblies of God (AoG) in Vietnam on Monday (Oct. 19) received an “operating license,” which the government described as “the first step . . . before becoming officially legal.”
This operating license gives permission for all of the congregations of the Vietnam AoG to “carry on religious activity” anywhere in the country for the next year. During this time the church body must prepare a doctrinal statement, a constitution and bylaws and a four-year working plan to be approved by the government before being allowed to hold an organizing assembly. These steps, AoG leaders hope, would lead to legal recognition.
The operating license is the first one granted since five were granted two years ago. The last of those five churches, the Christian Fellowship Church, was finally allowed to hold its organizing assembly in late September. According to an internal 2008 government Protestant Training Manual obtained by church leaders, this assembly was delayed because authorities observed large discrepancies between the number of followers the group claimed and the actual number, as well as other “instability.”
Vietnam News Service reported on Sept. 29 that the Christian Fellowship Church has “30,000 believers nationwide.”
Should the AoG achieve legal recognition, it would be the ninth among some 70 Protestant groups in Vietnam and the seventh since new religion legislation touted to expedite registration was introduced in 2004.
The AoG quest was typically long, and it is not yet over. Though started in the early 1970s before the communist era, the denomination was deemed dormant by authorities after the communist takeover and restarted in 1989. Strangely, the Vietnamese religion law requires a church organization to have 20 years of stable organization before it can even be considered for legal recognition.
Though the AoG had been trying for years to register, only this year did it fulfill the 20-year requirement in the eyes of the government. Sources said AoG’s resistance to strong pressure by the government to eliminate a middle or district level of administration may also have contributed to the delay.
Ironically, the official government news report credits the Vietnam AoG with 40,000 followers, while denominational General Superintendent Samuel Lam told Compass the number is 25,000. He also said he hoped the advantages of registration would outweigh the disadvantages.
With no more operating licenses being granted, the future of registration is in a kind of limbo. Sources said a lower level of registration in which local authorities are supposed to offer permission for local congregations to carry on religious activities while the more complicated higher levels are worked out has largely failed. Only about 10 percent of the many hundreds of applications have received a favorable reply, they said, leaving most house churches vulnerable to arbitrary harassment or worse.
Leaders of all Protestant groups say that they continue to experience government resistance, as well as social pressure, whenever they preach Christ in new areas. They added that evidence is strong that the government’s aim is to contain Protestant growth.
Hmong Christians who fled the Northwest Mountainous Region for the Central Highlands a decade ago, developing very poor land in places such as Dak Nong, reported to Compass that they were singled out for land confiscation just when their fields became productive. They said ethnic Vietnamese made these land grabs with the complicity of the authorities, sometimes multiple times.
At the same time, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported on Oct. 19 that Vietnam has experienced a “sharp backsliding on religious freedom.” Among other incidents, HRW cited the late September crackdown on followers of Buddhist peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh. Some 150 monks were forcibly evicted from his sect’s Bat Nha Monastery in Lam Dong province on Sept. 27, and 200 nuns fled in fear the next day. As in recent land disputes with Roman Catholics involving thousands of demonstrators, authorities hired local and imported thugs to do the deed to present the image that ordinary local people were upset with the religion.
After a visit to Vietnam in May, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) recommended that the United States reinstate Vietnam as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC), the blacklist of religious liberty offenders. Vietnam had been on the list from 2004 until 2006.
The USCIRF, which experienced less government cooperation that on some previous visits, observed that “Vietnam’s overall human rights record remains poor, and has deteriorated since Vietnam joined the World Trade Organization in January 2007.”
Some key Protestant leaders describe themselves as weary and frustrated at what they termed the government’s lack of sincerity, extreme tardiness and outright duplicity regarding religious freedom. They too said they believe that the lifting of Vietnam’s CPC status was premature and resulted in the loss of a major incentive for Vietnam to improve religious freedom.
Report from Compass Direct News
As law and order breaks down, Christians come under attack.
KATHMANDU, Nepal, July 30
(Compass Direct News) – Three years after a pro-democracy movement led to the proclamation of Nepal as a secular state, some Christians say they are in greater peril than ever.
They are now being targeted by militant Hindu organizations that blame the church for the abolition of Hinduism as the state religion and the end of monarchy. A little-known, shadowy organization that claimed to be building an army of suicide bombers has achieved notoriety with two brutal attacks on Catholics in two years.
Since May, when the Nepal Defense Army (NDA) – which claims to have links with militant Hindu organizations across the border in India – struck one of Kathmandu valley’s oldest and biggest churches, the group has threatened to drive all Christians from the country. And now a group claiming to be the parent organization of the NDA has warned that on Aug. 10 it will start a “Save the Hindu nation” movement.
Police say Ram Prasad Mainali, the elusive NDA chief, hired a local woman to plant a bomb at the Assumption Church on May 23 during mass. Two women and a schoolgirl were killed in the attack. The NDA also claimed responsibility for killing a Catholic priest, John Prakash Moyalan, in southern Nepal last year.
Though police have issued an alert for his arrest, Mainali continues to evade capture, and it is murmured that he has political connections. Undeterred by the hunt, he continues to threaten the Christian community.
Last month, the Rev. Pius Perumana, a senior Catholic priest, received a phone call.
“The caller said he was in charge of the NDA in Kathmandu valley,” said Perumana of Ishalaya Catholic Church, located in Godavari on the southern rim of the capital. “However, I recognized the voice. It was Ram Prasad Mainali himself.”
Godavari is an important Catholic hub that includes a Catholic pastoral center, a shelter for destitute, HIV-infected women and homeless children, a day care center and a small clinic.
Perumana said he has received at least five threatening calls from the Hindu supremist ordering him to close all Christian organizations and leave Nepal, he said. The NDA leader has also been calling Protestant pastors, demanding money. In districts outside Kathmandu, where security is weak, some pastors are said to have paid up out of fear.
Mainali’s success has spawned at least one copycat extortion attempt.
“At least one pastor in Kathmandu has received an extortion letter,” said Chirendra Satyal, spokesman of the Assumption Church. “The writer claimed to be the vice-president of a Hindu group, the National Defence Party (NDP), calling it the mother organization of which Mainali’s NDA was the military arm. The pastor was asked to pay 7.5 million Nepalese rupees [US$98,190].”
The letter warned that starting on Aug. 10, the underground organization will start a “Save the Hindu nation” movement.
No Christian Corpses
Until three years ago, Nepal used to be the only Hindu kingdom in the world where Christians faced discrimination by the state, ostracization by society and imprisonment if found guilty of preaching Christ.
Things officially changed in 2006 after a pro-democracy movement led to the ouster of the army-backed regime of Hindu King Gyanendra, and Parliament proclaimed the Himalayan kingdom a secular, federal state.
But three years later, nothing has changed in reality, said the Rev. Nayaran Sharma, bishop of the Protestant Believers’ Church.
“We bought a plot of land in a forest in Gorkha district in western Nepal so that we could have an official graveyard,” Sharma told Compass. “But when the locals heard of it, they made us return the land, saying they did not want corpses in their midst as they would attract evil.”
Even three years after Nepal became secular, Christians have to be buried clandestinely on private property with the danger of graves being dug up, he said.
“Churches have not yet been registered by the government, and so we don’t get state assistance like the Hindu temples and Muslim mosques do,” Sharma said. “Temples are provided free land, electricity and water; the madrassas – the Muslim schools – receive state funding, and the government subsidizes the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca.”
Christians make up about 2.5 percent of Nepal’s 25 million population. Nearly 75 percent of the population in Nepal is Hindu.
Christians are said to be both angered and disheartened by the new, 601-member constituent assembly mandated to draft a new constitution by May 2010.
“There’s not one Christian among the 601, though the government had the power to nominate members from unrepresented communities,” Sharma said. “Though Christianity has been in Nepal for almost 350 years, Christians are still like orphans. There is no one to speak for us, and we are discriminated against beyond imagination.”
Political instability and the subsequent lawlessness and impunity leave Christians vulnerable to violence, as Sanjay Ekka, a Catholic priest from India’s impoverished Jharkhand state, learned on Monday (July 27).
Ekka came to Nepal in 2000 to teach at St. Xavier’s School, a Jesuit-run school in eastern Jhapa district. Five years ago, he was brought to the capital city of Kathmandu to run the Loyola Students’ Home, a hostel for boys from the Tamang community of Nepal, who, like Ekka’s own tribe, the Oraons, are among the poorest, least educated and most oppressed groups in Nepal.
Despite the similarities of the two tribes, the 40-year-old Ekka was subjected to a savage attack on Monday (July 27) by an expelled student that left his left arm severely slashed and deep gashes on his hip.
“It’s another sign of the growing lawlessness in the country,” says the Rev. Lawrence Maniyar, former principal of St. Xavier’s School in Kathmandu valley, which was founded in 1951. “With crimes soaring, Christians are being targeted as they are seen as soft targets.”
Another factor endangering Christians in Nepal is the tension in the nascent republic’s relations with its southern neighbor and largest trading partner, India. As the smaller neighbour, Nepal has lived in fear of being annexed since 1975, when the kingdom of Sikkim decided to abrogate monarchy and become part of India after a controversial referendum.
Tensions worsened in 1989, when India imposed a virtual blockade of Nepal, hitting the fragile economy of the land-locked kingdom. A substantial number of Christian priests in Nepal are from India.
“The heads of three Catholic organizations have been asked to leave Nepal,” said Bishop Anthony Sharma. They are the Rev. Boniface Tigga, principal of St. Xavier’s School in Kathmandu valley, the principal of St. Mary’s Higher Secondary School, identified only as Sister Nancy, and Sister Teresa Mandassery, who heads the Navjyoti Day Care Center for the mentally challenged in Kathmandu. All three are from India.
“Now the animosity is out in the open,” said Maniyar of St Xavier’s in Kathmandu valley. “There has been growing union trouble in St. Xavier’s School. While we were holding talks with the union representatives, they told us to our face, ‘You priests from Kerala [in southern India] think you can run the school the way you want.”
Maniyar said it is useless trying to explain reality to such people.
“We are in Nepal not because we are Indians,” he says. “We are here because we are Jesuits. It is an international organization with an administrative structure of its own, and we have to follow our superiors and go where ever they want us to.”
Report from Compass Direct News
Key attorney for Uyghur Christian among those effectively disbarred.
DUBLIN, June 11 (Compass Direct News) – Li Dunyong, one of several lawyers involved in the defense of Uyghur house church Christian Alimjan Yimit (Alimujiang Yimiti in Chinese) was effectively disbarred at the end of May when Chinese authorities turned down an annual application to renew his law license.
Zhang Kai, another Beijing lawyer who had defended Alimjan, suffered the same fate.
Authorities failed to renew licenses for at least 15 other lawyers who had defended civil rights cases, religious and ethnic minorities and political dissidents, according to watch group Human Rights in China (HRIC).
During a process of “Annual Inspection and Registration” for all lawyers and law firms, with a closing date of May 31 for renewal applications, authorities also denied three law firms the necessary approval to practice. Officials harassed and physically abused several of the affected lawyers in the months prior to the loss of their licenses.
The lawyers can technically appeal this decision or re-apply at a later date, but most see this as a clear warning to avoid handling sensitive cases.
“The process of building a country ruled by law has suffered a serious setback,” HRIC claimed in a statement on June 4.
The rejection of applications followed the Feb. 4 disappearance of Gao Zhisheng, a high-profile Christian human rights activist who once said that every human rights lawyer would eventually become a human rights case. Gao’s whereabouts remained unknown at press time. (See “Action Urged for Missing Rights Activist,” March 25.)
Lawyer Li had planned to visit Alimjan in northwest China early this month, but recent events have forced the legal team to reconsider its defense strategy.
Alimjan, a member of the troubled Uyghur minority in Xinjiang province, remains in arbitrary detention awaiting trial, 16 months after his arrest. Officials initially closed the foreign-owned business Alimjan worked for in September 2007 and accused him of using it as a cover for “preaching Christianity.” He was then detained in January 2008 on charges of endangering state security and was formally arrested on Feb. 20, 2008 on charges of “inciting secession” and leaking state secrets.
Court officials returned Alimjan’s case to state prosecutors in May 2008, citing lack of evidence. Last May 21, government sources told Alimjan’s mother that the Public Security Bureau (PSB) in Kashgar planned to quietly sentence him to three years of re-education through labor, thereby circumventing the court system.
Under Chinese law the PSB, which originally filed the case against Alimjan, may authorize such sentences without approval from the court or other state agencies.
The case was returned to court for consideration last October, but at press time there was no indication of another date for a court hearing.
Li petitioned for and was granted permission for a rare meeting with his client on April 21 after witnesses saw police and a prison doctor escorting Alimjan to a hospital on March 30; Compass sources said Alimjan had been beaten in prison, although it was not clear who beat him or why. When Li questioned him, Alimjan indicated that he was not allowed to speak about his health.
The beating followed a previous meeting with his lawyer – only the second of such visits permitted during his detention – on March 24.
Human Rights Advocates Threatened
On April 13, China’s State Council released a new “National Human Rights Action Plan” that focused heavily on protecting the rights of prisoners and included a pledge to abolish torture and other forms of abuse within two years.
Issued at least partially in response to a United Nations review of China’s rights record in February, the plan also affirmed the right of prisoners to hire and meet with lawyers and to report abuses in writing to the appropriate authorities.
Contrary to such promises, however, the detention and physical abuse of lawyers has multiplied in recent months, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW). Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director for HRW, maintains that control over the yearly renewal of licenses remains one of the main obstacles to the independence of China’s legal profession.
Authorities placed several human rights lawyers under house arrest or heavy surveillance in the first week of June as China marked the 20th anniversary of the June 4, 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square. According to HRIC, policemen seized one of the 15 temporarily disbarred lawyers, Tang Jitian, from his home early on the morning of June 4; they had already detained him for 10 hours the previous day.
“This is a display of meticulously planned suppression of lawyers who enforce and uphold the law and are dedicated to public interests,” Tang told HRIC.
One lawyer, Jiang Tianyong, said officers barred him from leaving his home on June 3 and told him, “Think of your wife and child.” Jiang is among those whose licenses were not renewed.
In late May, HRW reported that Beijing authorities had pressured several legal firms not to endorse the renewal applications of members who had defended civil rights cases.
Report from Compass Direct News
Reclassifying buildings as places of worship nearly impossible.
ISTANBUL, December 15 (Compass Direct News) – In the city of Samsun on the north coast of Turkey, the beleaguered congregation of the Agape Church Association struggles against local Islamic hostility toward its presence.
In the last three years Agape church members have endured false allegations and verbal abuse from Muslim and nationalist locals. Their pastor has received death threats, and their building has been vandalized, all in an attempt to stop the 30 or so Christians from meeting.
Local authorities have also had their part in opposition to the church, threatening it with legal action based on spurious charges. Despite being an “association,” an official status that provides some legal protections and that the government encourages Christian congregations to obtain, the church was threatened with a lawsuit because members had hung verses of Scripture and a cross on the walls. The Provincial Directorate of Associations inspected the building and told them to remove the offending articles because their rented rooms looked too much like a church.
“We didn’t change the decorations, because having a cross or verses in a building is not a crime,” said Orhan Picaklar, pastor of the church. “If it were, then Muslim associations would have to take down their decorations: verses from the Quran, prayers of blessings and images of the Kaaba in Mecca. We didn’t change a thing.”
It was this sort of harassment that led the Alliance of Protestant Churches of Turkey (TEK) to write its latest report, published last month. TEK, established in 1989, represents 34 churches throughout Turkey and acts as a support and advocacy group.
The report focuses on the unfounded obstacles and challenges facing Christian congregations wishing to construct or reclassify church buildings. Authors of the report told Compass that congregations in principle should not have to meet under the pretext of an association, since the law in theory provides for the establishment of “places of worship.” They said the push on the side of authorities to form associations is in essence discriminatory.
“A place of worship for religious groups is crucially important; they need places of worship in order to survive and develop,” said a member of the TEK’s legal committee. “The process of becoming a place of worship, although legally possible, is in practice almost impossible. Because of that, we feel the need to put this issue on the agenda. We wanted to bring this issue to the attention of local and international bodies.”
In 2003 Public Works Statute 3194, which regulates the construction of religious buildings, was amended in response to pressure from the European Union. The revised regulation now uses the phrase “places of worship” rather than “mosques.” This has prompted Christians to apply for legal status changes for the “offices,” “residences” and “warehouses” in which they had been meeting.
This change in the law paved the way for Christian meeting places to be “rezoned” and legally registered as churches; applications for status change thus far, however, have been rejected by local municipalities on various grounds.
The Besiktas Protestant Church is awaiting a decision on its application to have its premises rezoned. No church has ever succeeded in such a quest.
“All the documents have been there for the last two years; it’s just been kept from coming,” said a member of the Besiktas church. “They don’t want to make a decision. That a group can take a non-church building and get it rezoned is not a precedent that they really want to see.”
Another step towards obtaining credence came from a change of law in 2005 that removed previous restrictions on forming associations. At least nine churches have submitted applications to their local authorities to register as such.
“The government is recommending that – they want churches to become associations,” said the Besiktas church member. “We may well do that.”
Although this is a major step forward in Turkish churches’ struggle to gain legitimacy, registering as associations has not always kept them from harassment and maltreatment.
“Being organized as an association does not rezone your building,” said the Besiktas church member. Only gaining legal status as a “place of worship” would make holding church services legal. “You’re holding church services in a place that’s set aside for that.”
Along with the Besiktas church, the TEK report cites the cases of four other congregations that are facing closure based on charges of violating zoning laws. It is this sort of harassment that congregations hope to prevent by changing the classification of their buildings.
Four further congregations have had requests to build “places of worship” rejected; in each case, authorities told them that no suitable location was available.
The report outlines three main problems facing congregations wishing to build their own premises.
The first is the size requirement for any new building site. The allocation criteria stipulate that a plot cannot be fewer than 2,500 square meters, an excessive and overly expensive amount of land for a congregation of 30-40, the average Turkish Protestant congregation.
The Samsun church is a case in point. It has met in rented apartments since its inception and been forced to move on numerous occasions.
“The place we use now is a rental, and if the owner wants to kick us out, we’ll be forced to change our church’s location,” said Picaklar. “They [authorities] stipulate that the land be 2,500 square meters. This is impossible for us, because to buy that big of a plot we would need 700,000 to 800,000 U.S. dollars.”
The second issue the report cites is the vagueness of the permission criteria by which civil administration is to award or reject applications. The report suggests that “there is much room for arbitrary discretionary decisions.”
Thirdly, the report berates the unfairness of application denials based on lack of resident Christian population in areas for proposed worship buildings.
The report points out that it is unlikely that the Turkish Protestant community, with a ratio of one member per 20,000 people, would ever have the requisite presence in a single locale to justify the construction of a church building.
The TEK report concludes with suggested solutions to the challenges that have dogged its member congregations. It first urges that the national government do a better job of educating and overseeing local authorities.
“The ministries of the Interior and of Justice should not only inform their local offices of the rights of non-Muslim groups but should also adequately train their civil servants and make every effort to prevent rights violations,” the report states.
The report also urges that regulations governing plot and building size be relaxed.
“Communities should be given the chance to buy and build places of worship according to their own needs and resources,” it states. “Christians should be allowed to have small places of worship just like the Muslim masjid [privately owned mosque].”
Report from Compass Direct News
I have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), or as I prefer to call it, Chronic Fatigue Immune Dysfunction Syndrome (CFIDS). It is an extremely misunderstood and debilitating illness. I have read that the average time for a person to be ill with CFS is 18 months. I have had it for 18 years more or less. It has cost me a lot to be suffering from this illness and it impacts on my life on a daily basis. Some days are not too bad, while others are extremely terrible.
My journey with CFS began in the aftermath of the Newcastle earthquake of the 28th December 1989. In early 1990, while working at Hawkins Masonic Village repairing roofs damaged by the earthquake (it was raining and many roofs were leaking), I began to feel persistently unwell. I decided to see my doctor who put it down as some sort of stomach bug, most likely Gastroenteritis. After two weeks of medication it was becoming clear that I did not have Gastroenteritis and something more sinister was the cause of my intensifying illness.
Within weeks I had begun to develop all of the debilitating symptoms of CFS and what was worse for me they were all intensifying their effects upon me. What was wrong with me was now something of a mystery, but it was clear I was very ill and getting worse.
When I was younger I had Hyperthyroidism and so the doctor assumed that this was what was wrong with me again, despite the fact that blood tests indicated I no longer had an issue with that disorder. I was placed on medication for Hyperthyroidism and monitored. The medication had no effect on my illness and my patience with ‘witch doctoring’ was running out. I pleaded with my doctor to send me to someone else – a specialist. But who would be useful to see?
A friend had recently been diagnosed with CFS by an Immunologist and eventually I prevailed with my doctor to send me to him. Eventually I was able to set up an appointment and so my time with Doctor Sutherland of the Royal Newcastle Hospital Immunology Department had begun.
By this time I was suffering a myriad array of symptoms, with varying degrees of intensity depending on what week I was asked. Among the most debilitating of these symptoms was a persistent headache that no amount of painkilling or other medication had any impact upon. The headache was like a migraine that wouldn’t go away. It would last for an 18 month stretch this first time, bringing with it an intolerance of bright light, noise, etc. These things caused me immense head pain.
I was also suffering numerous nose bleeds (which I often get when I am very ill), fevers and chills, brain fog (a situation where you seem to know what is going on yet you have an inability to act in a logical manner – some times the sense of knowing what is happening disappears altogether), painful eyes, chronic fatigue in the muscles and extreme soreness, tiredness to the point of sleeping at a drop of a hat (I was sleeping for over 18 hours a day with no relief to my tiredness, headaches, etc), loss of strength in my limbs, constant nausea, inability to think or concentrate, etc.
By this time I was already having time away from work, with being away for weeks at a time being the norm – thankfully they were quite understanding of the fact that I was very ill.
At my lowest point during these first two years I was reduced to being bed-ridden, using a cane for stability when walking and at times was unable to walk. I was sleeping above 18 hours a day with no benefit from it.
During this time of extreme illness I was subjected to innumerable blood tests and other tests, which all revealed little at all as to the cause of my illness. A process of careful elimination under the care of Dr. Sutherland brought the diagnosis of CFS, as well as a psychological evaluation.
There was no cure to be found, with the only helpful advice having come from Dr. Sutherland. He told me to try and rest, then to slowly build myself up again. Walk one block for a week, then two blocks the following week, etc. If I overdid it I would be back in a heap again in no time. I needed to be able to read my own situation to know when I should try to rebuild my life. This advice has helped me through the last 18 years.
I struggled with the illness for 18 months or so and I also struggled with the enigma associated with the illness. That I was sick was not believed by all and this has been a constant stereotype I have been confronted with throughout my illness. I often found myself questioning whether I was sick or whether it was some mental thing. It was a relief when a doctor finally gave me a name for the illness and confirmed I was indeed very ill.
There were times (as there has been since) when I thought that dying would be a better alternative than to be as sick as I was, with no life and the prospect of endless years of severe illness. Suicide was something that popped into my head from time to time, but thankfully it didn’t stay there for long.
At times I found myself not knowing what I was doing, where I had been, etc. At one point I waited behind a parked car, waiting for it to turn the corner only to realise ½ an hour or so later that the car was parked. I found myself having gone shopping with a load of groceries I didn’t need and never had used before. It was like having a form of early onset Dementia.
After about 18 months I began to get better – or so I thought. I was well enough to knock back participation in a trial medication experiment for CFS sufferers which would involve a lengthy stay in hospital and a 50% chance I would receive the placebo. I declined the invitation being concerned I would loose my job as a result of being in hospital for so long.
My health began to improve and I thought I was finally over the illness. During this time I lost contact with Dr. Sutherland who left the hospital because of a dispute with NSW health at the time. Many doctors left the public system at the time.
NEXT: The illness returns