Regional media get COVID lifeline but ABC, SBS remain in peril



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Alexandra Wake, RMIT University and Michael Ward, University of Sydney

After weeks of devastating reports of local newspaper closures and regional broadcast stations turning off local news services, media supporters and observers were united in joy as the Australian government announced a coronavirus relief package for local journalism.

The four-part initiative has been designed to assist local newspapers and commercial free-to-air radio and television and subscription television, following calls for a lifeline from the industry and the communities they serve.

Although coronavirus might have hastened their financial woes, it’s clear that many of these news outlets have been in trouble for a while, with falling advertising and subscription revenue reductions.

Last year was described as “the worst advertising market since the global financial crisis for the television industry”.

Australian metropolitan radio revenues fell by 6% in 2019.

Regional newspapers have been buoyed by local advertising, but even that has its limits.

Two components of the government’s COVID package, a $41m waiver on the tax imposed on radio and television services for spectrum use, and suspension of key parts of the commercial television Australian content rules, will save commercial broadcasters millions in 2020.

Both major industry organisations, Free TV and Commercial Radio Australia, cautiously welcomed the announcement, but sought more action from the government.

The third component, a $50 million Public Interest News Gathering program, will fund journalism for regional broadcasters and print services.

The most heartening line in the government’s press release was the acknowledgement by the minister that

the government recognises that public interest journalism is essential in informing and strengthening local communities.

ABC and SBS left out

In the absence of other government action, there remain two big losers from the COVID-19 announcement for journalism.

First, it excluded the trusted national public broadcasters, even though SBS must also be experiencing a reduction in advertising revenue.

Further, there was no indication the ABC would be given any reprieve from the combined budget cuts/freezes that will total almost $800 million by 2022.




Read more:
The ABC didn’t receive a reprieve in the budget. It’s still facing staggering cuts


In the midst of the COVID emergency, which has brought a record number of people to the broadcaster, the ABC is continuing to manage an annual budget reduction of over $100 million while delivering its range of services.

As has been widely acknowledged, it has also increased emergency broadcasting firstly for the devastating summer bushfires, and now for the coronavirus emergency, without any specific funds.

Local drama in jeopardy

Independent producers of Australian programs, including Australian drama, documentary and children’s drama, are also losers in the COVID announcement.

The decision to suspend commercial television Australian content rules for 2020 is couched in terms of production “disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic”.

However, there are long lead times for much drama and documentary production, and commercial free-to-air broadcasters are allowed to average drama content over three years.

This means a more nuanced and flexible approach to developing and commissioning projects could have helped broadcasters and kept the production sector alive.

In an already hard hit creative sector, TV producers look like losing at least a year of commercial commissions. That’s worth $250 million to the sector.

The government statement also implies the reduction in the Australian content rule may extend into 2021. If that happens, it’ll bring to an end Australian content policy settings that have been in place for almost 60 years.

Originally introduced by the Menzies government, the policy was put in place to ensure there was a strong Australian identity on local television.

Chilling notes in the details

Finally, the government has included as part of its announcement, a fast-tracked consultation process on “Harmonising Regulation to Support Australian Content”.

Media observers will be pleased the process has finally started, but all will be concerned about the timing.

It seems more than a little odd for some of the most significant reforms to the way Australian content is delivered via screens are included in an emergency funding announcement.




Read more:
Why the ABC, and the public that trusts it, must stand firm against threats to its editorial independence


Buried on page 41 of the document, for example, is an option which would require the ABC and SBS to spend their funding to make up for commercial shortcomings in children’s programming.

Or to put it another way, if that option were accepted, the ABC and SBS would be told by the government of the day to do what the government wants, without any extra funding. That’s completely opposite to the idea of an independent public broadcaster. Perhaps it’s a case for the Inbestigators.The Conversation

Alexandra Wake, Program Manager, Journalism, RMIT University and Michael Ward, PhD candidate, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Media receives some government relief after coronavirus hit


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The government has announced relief measures, including a $50 million program for regional journalism, to help media hit by the fallout from COVID-19 crisis.

Commercial television and radio broadcasters will be given a year’s waiver of spectrum tax, at a cost of $41 million.

There will also be an “emergency” suspension of content quotas in 2020, which could extend longer.

Announcing the measures, Communications Minister Paul Fletcher said the media were sharing the pain of the virus crisis and the government was responding with short term support.

The virus crisis has seen drastic cutbacks in regional media as advertising has collapsed.

This week Australian Community Media announced it would “temporarily cease some of our publications and temporarily close our printing sites in Canberra, Murray Bridge, Wodonga and Tamworth from April 20 until June 29.” The publications hit are non-dailies.

Last month, the Barrier Daily Truth, in Broken Hill, and the Sunraysia Daily, at Mildura, suspended printing. The ABC on Wednesday reported both “are inching towards resurrection, helped by enormous community support.”

Fletcher said the $50 million Public Interest News Gathering Program (PING) would support public interest journalism delivered by commercial TV, radio and newspaper businesses in the regions. It includes $13.4 million new money as well as repurposed funds from the government’s Regional and Small Publishers Jobs and Innovation Package.

Fletcher said the coronavirus had effectively halted production of Australian screen content, so free-to-air and subscription TV could not meet their Australian content requirements.

“As an emergency red tape reduction measure, I have suspended Australian drama, children’s and documentary content obligations on free-to-air and subscription television for 2020. A decision will be taken before the end of this year as to whether this suspension should continue in 2021,” he said.

“It remains critically important that we have Australian voices on Australian TV, so there will be no change to the requirement for broadcasters to meet an overall 55% Australian content obligation”.

Fletcher said the government meanwhile was speeding up work on the future extent of Australian content obligations on free-to-air television, and whether these should apply to streaming services.

“This work is critical to the future of the culturally and economically important Australian film and television production sector,” he said.

To guide discussions, Fletcher released an options paper from Screen Australia and the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA). Consultation with stakeholders, including ministerial roundtables, will take place over the coming two months.

“Regulated free-to-air broadcasters are competing with unregulated digital platforms and video streaming services. It has been evident for some time – and the COVID-19 crisis has made it even more obvious – that this is not sustainable,” Fletcher said.

“These arrangements threaten the sustainability of television broadcasters – and in turn the sustainability of the film and television content production sector.

“That is why I want to seek industry feedback on the options put forward by ACMA and Screen Australia, and work with industry on a plan for the future, including how to best secure the market opportunity created by the explosion of streaming services”, he said.

The Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance (MEAA) welcomed the government’s assistance for regional media and called on Australian Community Media to “press pause on plans to close publications”.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

For most universities, there’s little point to the government’s COVID-19 assistance package



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Andrew Norton, Australian National University

COVID-19 has hit the higher education sector hard – with an up to A$4.6 billion estimated loss of revenue from international students.

The government will not compensate universities for international student losses. But on Easter Sunday Education Minister Dan Tehan announced limited financial assistance for higher education, aimed primarily at domestic students.

Under the plan, the government will guarantee funding for universities at their current levels of enrolment for the rest of 2020 – meaning if enrolments drop, the funding won’t. It will also “slash” student fees for short, online courses in national priority areas such as nursing and IT.

Universities Australia says the package is a first step. This is true when it comes to the funding guarantee, but the premature policy on short courses is a wrong step.

Domestic student funding, in detail …

The university financial crisis was triggered by fewer-than-expected international students. But in some universities, weak domestic demand has exacerbated the problem.

The University of Sydney announced last week it had 5% fewer domestic students than it expected. Other universities, such as La Trobe in Victoria, have also revealed domestic student shortfalls.

Normally, universities lose money for enrolling fewer domestic students than they anticipated. Under the higher education funding legislation, total government payments for each year cannot exceed the number of students actually enrolled multiplied by the relevant discipline-based tuition subsidy. Usually, the fortnightly payments universities receive from the government are adjusted down if enrolments are lower than expected.

But under this plan, universities will receive their previously-expected 2020 funding amounts, probably based on levels announced in December 2019. This will require some legal changes the government will make during 2020.

Only a minority of universities are likely to be suffering from low domestic demand. But for these institutions this additional funding will be helpful.

HELP payments guaranteed, but have to be paid back

HELP student loan payments to universities on behalf of students – HECS-HELP for government-supported students, FEE-HELP for full-fee students – will also continue according to December 2019 forecasts, even if enrolments fall short of previous predictions.

If higher education providers – the private higher education sector as well as public universities using FEE-HELP – take advantage of this option, they will need to repay any excess HELP loans between 2022 and 2029.

As the funding legislation gives the government significant discretion in debt recovery this policy does not need any legal change.

Short courses with new certificates

The most newsworthy part of the Easter Sunday announcement was that the government would fund additional short courses at discount fees. These are aimed at people seeking new skills for the post-COVID-19 economy. Tehan said:

This plan will help Australians who have lost their job or are looking to retrain to use their time studying nursing, teaching, counselling, allied health or other areas considered national priorities.

These short courses will be up to four subjects already taught as part of an existing qualification. They can start from May 1, 2020 and must be finished by December 1, 2020.

The existing qualification could be anything from a higher education diploma to a masters degree by coursework, but it is likely universities would focus on graduate certificates and graduate diplomas, which usually take full-time students between six months and a year.

Students can continue on to the full course if it is longer than four subjects, but they will not get discount fees for subsequent subjects.




Read more:
What should we do with 1 billion hours of time? Australia’s COVID-19 opportunity


Students who finish six months of study will receive what the education department calls a “higher education certificate” and the minister has sometimes called a “diploma certificate”.

Student contributions will be $1,250 for six months study in nursing, teaching, psychology, English, maths, foreign languages or agriculture. They will be $2,500 in allied and other health, IT, architecture and building, science engineering, medical science and environmental studies. In most cases, this is about half what students would normally be charged.

The government says these courses must be online and are only available to new students. There is a strong implication these courses will be restricted to workers displaced by the COVID-19 crisis.

This has legal problems

This idea faces significant legal obstacles.

The government has no current legal power to fund a “higher education certificate” or a “diploma certificate”. So to facilitate funding, the government requires universities to enrol students in a course leading to an existing higher education qualification, even if the student has no plan to finish it.

Encouraging students to leave without a proper qualification goes against the legislation’s policy intent.

Higher education providers have another potential legal problem. The rules around admitting students require course applicants have no “known limitations” that would impede completion. A university marketing made-up certificates that encourage early departure from courses that would otherwise lead to legally-recognised qualifications strikes me as recruiting students with a potential “known limitation”.

Universities should check with the quality regulator before admitting students on this basis.




Read more:
Without international students, Australia’s universities will downsize – and some might collapse altogether


The government’s other legal problem is it has no power to cut student contributions. Under the funding legislation, universities set student contributions up to the statutory maximum. So for the cost of the short courses to be “slashed”, the government needs universities to charge less than usual.

Universities will receive the normal tuition subsidy for each student, so this may mean they can still make money from this program. Adding an additional student to an existing online course would usually cost them less than the total funding rate.

But agreeing to a lower student contribution sets a bad precedent, and undermines the program as a way of assisting financially-stricken universities.

Making matters worse, tuition subsidies for diploma certificate students would be offset against the 2020 funding guarantee amounts. Universities with fewer domestic students than expected in December 2019 should not participate in this program, and take the funding guarantee money instead.

There are existing short courses

The short course policy should be postponed. It isn’t going to make a big financial difference to universities. We should think more carefully about whether funding short courses is necessary or desirable, and we should not lightly sanction policies that go against the intent of existing law. If the scheme is worth pursuing, it can be properly legislated later in the year.

If people want to sit out the COVID-19 recession at their study desk they have many options. There are no limits on student numbers in FEE-HELP funded postgraduate courses. There is also already a large market for online short courses. Many of these have the added advantage of costing less than $1,250 or $2,500.The Conversation

Andrew Norton, Professor in the Practice of Higher Education Policy, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Australia to send naval and air assistance to protect Middle East sea lanes: Morrison


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Australia will commit a frigate, an aircraft and some headquarters staff to an American-led freedom of navigation operation in the Middle East.

Scott Morrison, announcing the long-expected commitment at a Canberra news conference on Wednesday, stressed this was an international mission, but so far the United Kingdom is the only other country to have signed up.

Under questioning, the Chief of the Australian Defence Force, General Angus Campbell, said the operation would be United States-led. But Campbell avoided spelling out in detail the rules of engagement in the event of being involved in an incident, other than referring to legal obligations.

Iran has seized ships in recent months, amid escalating tensions.

This week, an Iranian oil tanker was released after being detained by the British overseas territory of Gibraltar on suspicion of taking oil to Syria. The US tried unsuccessfully to have Gibraltar extend the vessel’s detention.

Morrison said Australia had made very clear both to the US and the UK “that we are here as part of a multinational effort”.

“This is a modest, meaningful and time-limited contribution …to this international effort to ensure we maintain free-flow of commerce and of navigation,” he said.

“Australia will defend our interests, wherever they may be under threat, we will always work closely with our international allies and partners.”




Read more:
Morrison looking at details for commitment to protect shipping


Morrison emphasised that the safety of shipping lanes was vital to Australia’s economic interests.

The government had been concerned over incidents in the Strait of Hormuz, he said. “30% of refined oil destined for Australia travels through the Strait. It is a threat to our economy.”

The Australian contribution will be

  • a P-8A Poseidon maritime surveillance aircraft for one month before the end of 2019;

  • an Australian frigate in January 2020 for six months; and

  • ADF personnel to the International Maritime Security Construct headquarters in Bahrain.

One complication for Australia in finalising the commitment was the fact there was no Australian frigate in the area, with the next deployment not due until January.

Australian ships participate in counter-piracy and counter-terrorism operations in the Middle East.

The Americans were very pressing in their request to Australia to join the force, including in public statements during the recent AUSMIN talks.

Morrison has emphasised Australia wants to see the de-escalation of tensions in the area and separates its commitment to the freedom of navigation operation from America’s other activities in relation to Iran.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Wikileaks Founder Julian Assange Seeks Asylum in Ecuador


  1. Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is seeking political asylum in Ecuador, claiming that the US is seeking to have him sent there for trial with the death penalty to be sought and that the Australian government has abandoned him. However, the Australian government has said that it has no evidence or information that the US is seeking to have him sent there and that assistance given to Assange has been on a comparative level with that given to others.

Plinky Prompt: What Non Profit Organizations Do You Support? Would You Ever Start Your Own?


cig-FRESP08_043

I don’t have any non profit organizations that I support on a regular basis. I do support various non profit organizations from time to time, but it tends to be a bit all over the shop.

I have supported such environmental organizations as Bush Heritage Australia and WWF, among others. I have also supported Compassion and other similar organizations from time to time, such as when the appeal went out for assistance during the tsunami crisis on Boxing Day a few years ago.

I do have an interest, should I have access to any money, to start a foundation-type organization for diabetes research and support. The reason for this interest is that a dear friend died a few years ago who suffered badly from diabetes.

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Christian Woman Freed from Muslim Kidnappers in Pakistan


Captors tried to force mother of seven to convert to Islam.

LAHORE, Pakistan, March 11 (CDN) — A Christian mother of seven here who last August was kidnapped, raped, sold into marriage and threatened with death if she did not convert to Islam was freed this week.

After she refused to convert and accept the marriage, human traffickers had threatened to kill Shaheen Bibi, 40, and throw her body into the Sindh River if her father, Manna Masih, did not pay a ransom of 100,000 rupees (US$1,170) by Saturday (March 5), the released woman told Compass.   

Drugged into unconsciousness, Shaheen Bibi said that when she awoke in Sadiqabad, her captors told her she had been sold and given in marriage.

“I asked them who they were,” she said. “They said that they were Muslims, to which I told them that I was a married Christian woman with seven children, so it was impossible for me to marry someone, especially a Muslim.”

Giving her a prayer rug (musalla), her captors – Ahmed Baksh, Muhammad Amin and Jaam Ijaz – tried to force her to convert to Islam and told her to recite a Muslim prayer, she said.

“I took the musalla but prayed to Jesus Christ for help,” she said. “They realized that I should be returned to my family.”

A member of St. Joseph Catholic Church in Lahore, Shaheen Bibi said she was kidnapped in August 2010 after she met a woman named Parveen on a bus on her way to work. She said Parveen learned where she worked and later showed up there in a car with two men identified as Muhammad Zulfiqar and Shah. They offered her a job at double her salary and took her to nearby Thokar Niaz Baig.

There she was given tea with some drug in it, and she began to fall unconscious as the two men raped her, she said. Shaheen Bibi was unconscious when they put her in a vehicle, and they gave her sedation injections whenever she regained her senses, she said.

When she awoke in Sadiqabad, Baksh, Amin and Ijaz informed her that she had been sold into marriage with Baksh. They showed her legal documents in which she was given a Muslim name, Sughran Bibi daughter of Siddiq Ali. After Baksh had twice raped her, she said, his mother interjected that she was a “persistent Christian” and that therefore he should stay away from her.

Shaheen Bibi, separated from an abusive husband who had left her for another woman, said that after Baksh’s mother intervened, her captors stopped hurting her but kept her in chains.

 

Release

Her father, Masih, asked police to take action, but they did nothing as her captors had taken her to a remote area between the cities of Rahim Yar Khan and Sadiqabad, considered a “no-go” area ruled by dangerous criminals.

Masih then sought legal assistance from the Community Development Initiative (CDI), a human rights affiliate of the European Center for Law & Justice. With the kidnappers giving Saturday (March 5) as a deadline for payment of the ransom, CDI attorneys brought the issue to the notice of high police officials in Lahore and on March 4 obtained urgent legal orders from Model Town Superintendent of Police Haidar Ashraf to recover Shaheen, according to a CDI source.

The order ultimately went to Assistant Sub-Inspector (ASI) Asghar Jutt of the Nashtar police station. Police accompanied by a CDI field officer raided the home of a contact person for the captors in Lahore, Naheed Bibi, the CDI source said, and officers arrested her in Awami Colony, Lahore.

With Naheed Bibi along, CDI Field Officer Haroon Tazeem and Masih accompanied five policemen, including ASI Jutt, on March 5 to Khan Baila, near Rahim Yar Khan – a journey of 370 miles, arriving that evening. Area police were not willing to cooperate and accompany them, telling them that Khan Baila was a “no-go area” they did not enter even during daytime, much less at night.

Jutt told area police that he had orders from high officials to recover Shaheen Bib, and that he and Tazeem would lead the raid, the CDI source said. With Nashtar police also daring them to help, five local policemen decided to go with them for the operation, he said.

At midnight on Sunday (March 6), after some encounters and raids in a jungle area where houses are miles apart, the rescue team managed to get hold of Shaheen Bibi, the CDI source said. The captors handed over Shaheen Bibi on the condition that they would not be the targets of further legal action, the CDI source said.

Sensing that their foray into the danger zone had gone on long enough, Tazeem and Jutt decided to leave but told them that those who had sold Shaheen Bib in Lahore would be brought to justice.

Fatigued and fragile when she arrived in Lahore on Monday (March 7), Shaheen Bibi told CDN through her attorneys that she would pursue legal action against those who sold her fraudulently into slavery and humiliation.

She said that she had been chained to a tree outside a house, where she prayed continually that God would help her out of the seemingly impossible situation. After the kidnappers gave her father the March 5 deadline last week, Shaheen Bibi said, at one point she lifted her eyes in prayer, saw a cross in the sky and was comforted that God’s mighty hand would release her even though her father had no money to pay ransom.

On four previous occasions, she said, her captors had decided to kill her and had changed their mind.

Shaheen Bibi said there were about 10 other women in captivity with her, some whose hands or legs were broken because they had refused to be forcibly given in marriage. Among the women was one from Bangladesh who had abandoned hope of ever returning home as she had reached her 60s in captivity.

Masih told CDN that he had prayed that God would send help, as he had no money to pay the ransom. The day before the deadline for paying the ransom, he said, he had 100 rupees (less than US$2) in his pocket.

Report from Compass Direct News

Indonesian Churches Wary of Islamist Offer of ‘Protection’


Following attacks, Islamic Defenders Front’s Christmas gesture rings hollow.

DUBLIN, December 21 (CDN) — In the wake of several attacks on worship services by Indonesia’s notorious Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), several Jakarta area church leaders rejected the FPI’s offer to help protect them over Christmas.

FPI leader Rizieq Shihab made the offer last week, saying he was working in cooperation with the Indonesian Communion of Churches and the Indonesian Bishops Conference. But several churches publicly rejected the offer, with online forums comparing FPI church protection to “foxes protecting a chicken coop.”

Jakarta’s police chief on Friday (Dec. 18) promised protection for every “registered” church in the area, The Jakarta Globe reported. Many Indonesian churches are unregistered, however, since they fail to meet the strict conditions of a Joint Ministerial Decree (SKB) governing places of worship.

The Indonesian public has harshly criticized FPI members for their role in multiple church attacks over the past year and faulted police and politicians for failing to intervene.

The most recent attack occurred last Sunday (Dec. 19), when more than 100 Islamists gathered outside the sealed home of the Rev. Badia Hutagalung of Huria Kristan Batak Protestan (HKBP) church in Rancaekek to disrupt worship services, sources said.

Another attack on Sept. 12 led to the arrest and detention of 13 FPI members, including Murhali Barda, leader of the FPI’s Bekasi branch. During the attack, assailants stabbed and critically wounded church elder Hasian Sihombing and beat the Rev. Luspida Simanjuntak over the head with a wooden beam. (See, “Indonesian Church Leaders Wounded in Attack,” Sept. 15.)

 

‘Christians Should Not Provoke Us’

After making the offer of FPI assistance at the Jakarta police headquarters on Dec. 14, Shihab told The Jakarta Post that “Islam is not allowed to disrupt other religions worship,” but he added the warning that “Christians should not provoke us.”

His offer came just two days after some 300 Islamists from FPI, the Indonesian Ulama Forum and the Islamic Reformist Movement, together with civil service police officers, raided and forcibly closed seven churches in Rancaekek. (See "Islamists Raid House Churches in West Java," Dec. 17.)

Sub-district head Meman Nurjaman on Nov. 16 had sent out a decree ordering 11 churches in Rancaekek to close, citing protests from the local community. Nurjaman later admitted that he had acted under pressure from Muslim hardliners living outside the housing estate, according to a Compass source, who added that Nurjaman had no legal authority to issue the decree.  

During the Dec. 12 raid, Islamists forcibly removed at least 100 worshipers from a residential building used by the HKBP Bethania church and several other churches, and they urged the local government to seal the building immediately because it was not a registered place of worship.

Hutagalung said the congregation only worshipped there because they could not meet the terms of the SKB, which requires proof of at least 90 church members, signatures of approval from at least 60 local residents, and approval from village officials and a local interfaith forum.

The mob also attacked six other house churches in Rancaekek on Dec. 12, forcing five of the seven to close.

A day after the raids, Adj. Sr. Comr. Hendro Pandowo, the Bandung police chief, said Christians in Bandung should refrain from putting themselves in harm’s way.

“If they pray in churches, I will protect them if anybody disturbs them,” he told the The Jakarta Globe. “If they pray in places they are not allowed to, they are breaking rules, so why would I protect them?”

Readers posting comments to the Globe article online said it was almost impossible for congregations to obtain a building permit under existing regulations, leaving them no option but to worship in private homes or empty building sites.

One reader, identified only by the log-in name of Aki-Amani, wrote, “Thank you Chief Hendro for your promise of protection – if we follow your dictates. However, don’t be surprised if we are found anywhere, everywhere … praying as we go about our daily activities at home and in the market place, whether you approve and will protect us or not.”

 

Christmas Security

Jakarta police on Friday (Dec. 18) met with leaders representing 1,600 churches in greater Jakarta to discuss security measures for the Christmas season.

Jakarta Police Chief Insp. Gen. Sutarman, identified only by a single name, said at least 9,000 security personnel would be deployed in and around churches in greater Jakarta as part of a total 87,000 security personnel stationed at houses of worship throughout Indonesia over the Christmas and New Year season, the Globe reported.

Police began providing Christmas security for churches after a series of 38 coordinated church bombings on Dec. 24, 2000, left at least 18 people dead and dozens injured across the nation. The bombings were organized by Jemaah Islamiyah, a local Islamic terrorist group.

“The Jakarta police guarantee that celebrations will be conducted peacefully across all churches registered with us in the city,” Sutarman reportedly said.

What that implies for unregistered churches remains to be seen.

Spokesmen from two unregistered churches told the Globe they would meet this Christmas despite explicit threats from the FPI to ransack “controversial” Christmas celebrations.

The congregation of HKBP Filadelfia in Bekasi will meet in a tent on the street next to their sealed church, despite the risk of further aggression or physical harm from the FPI, sources said.

Members of Gereja Kristen Indonesia Yasmin in Bogor, however, reportedly said they will break open the seals on their partially-constructed church, closed in September due to pressure from the FPI and other hard-line groups despite having a legal permit.

“We want to celebrate religious freedom in our church,” spokesman Bona Sigalingging told reporters, adding that police would not be asked to provide security.

Report from Compass Direct News

Christian Jailed in Ethiopia Accused of Desecrating Quran


Constitution flouted as he is jailed for two months in Muslim area without court appearance.

NAIROBI, Kenya, October 7 (CDN) — A Christian in Ethiopia’s southern town of Moyale has been languishing in jail for two months after his Muslim business partner accused him of writing “Jesus is Lord” in a copy of the Quran, local church leaders said.

Tamirat Woldegorgis, a member of the Full Gospel Church in his early 30s, was arrested in early August after the Muslim co-worker in the clothes-making business the two operated out of a rented home discovered Woldegorgis had inscribed “Jesus is Lord” on some cloth, area Christians said.

Woldegorgis returned from a break one morning to find that the inscribed words had been cut out of the piece of cloth, the sources said. He then had the words set in the machinery of their tailoring business for inscription on clothing material, only to find later that the inscribed plates were removed from the machinery as well, they said.

The Muslim associate, whose name has not been established, then went to a nearby mosque with the accusation that Woldegorgis had written “Jesus is Lord” in the Quran itself, sources said. Angry sheikhs at the mosque subsequently had Woldegorgis arrested for desecrating the book sacred to Islam, they said.

Other sources said, however, that Muslims accused Woldegorgis of writing “Jesus is Lord” on a piece of wood, on a minibus and then on the wall of a house. As he has not been brought to court, the exact charges against him are not yet known. Woldegorgis denies all accusations, and area Christians insisted he is innocent.

A church leader who requested anonymity told Compass that Christians in Moyale are concerned that Woldegorgis, a married father of two from Hagarmariam village, has not been granted a trial after two months in jail. He said that two days after Woldegorgis was arrested, two friends inquired about him at the Moyale police station; authorities responded by jailing them for two weeks.

“The Ethiopian constitution allows for religious tolerance,” said the church leader, “but to date Woldegorgis has not been taken to court. He is still in a police cell, which is quite unusual for an Ethiopian national, and given constitutional provisions.”

Jijiga, capital of Ethiopia’s Somali Region, has the largest court in eastern Ethiopia, and Christians fear that Islamic principles govern it. In Ethiopia’s federal state system, each state is autonomous in its administration, and most of those holding government positions in Somali Region Zone Five are Muslims.

“We fear that our brother might be taken to Islamic court in Jijiga for trial, which will further threaten his life,” the church leader said. “Where is justice for our brother being in prison without been tried?”

Sources also said that authorities are offering to release Woldegorgis if he will convert to Islam. Woldegorgis is physically weak but strong in his faith, the church leader said, adding that he needs food and other material assistance, as well as an attorney.

Sources said Woldegorgis has been jailed in Zone Five of Ethiopia’s Somali Region, a predominantly Somali area. Moyale, located on Ethiopia’s border with Kenya, is divided between the predominantly Muslim Zone Five and Zone Four, which is populated mainly by ethnic Oromo, with each zone having distinct administrative and judiciary systems. Preaching non-Muslim faiths is not allowed in Zone Five, in spite of provisions for religious freedom in Ethiopia’s constitution.

Hostility toward those spreading faiths different from Islam is a common occurrence in predominantly Muslim areas of Ethiopia and neighboring countries, they said. Christians are often subject to harassment and intimidation.

Ethiopia’s constitution, laws and policies promote freedom of religion, but occasionally local authorities infringe on this right, according to the U.S. Department of State’s 2009 International Religious Freedom Report. According to the 2007 census, 44 percent of Ethiopia’s population affiliate with the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, 19 percent are evangelical and Pentecostal and 34 percent are Sunni Muslim.

Report from Compass Direct News