Early access to super doesn’t justify higher compulsory contributions


Brendan Coates, Grattan Institute and Jonathan Nolan, Grattan Institute

A big part of the Morrison government’s response to COVID-19 has been allowing people early access to their superannuation.

Australians who have claimed hardship have applied for A$30.7 billion to date.

This has been happening in an environment in which compulsory super contributions are set to climb from 9.5% of wages to 12% over the next five years starting in July next year.

Many in the super industry and former prime minister Paul Keating argue that these scheduled increases have to go ahead in order to repair the damage done to the super balances of Australians who withdrew super.

However, new Grattan Institute modelling shows most Australians will have a comfortable retirement even if they have spent some of their super early.

Withdrawals cost less than you might think

Under the government’s scheme, people who have lost their job or had their hours cut or trading income cut by 20% or more were allowed to withdraw up to $10,000 from their super between April and June, and up to another $10,000 between July and December.

More than 500,000 have cleared out their super accounts entirely. Treasury expects total withdrawals to reach $42 billion.

Retirement incomes will fall for workers who withdraw their super, but not by as much as might be thought.

The pension means test means that the government, via higher pension payments, makes up much of what’s lost.




Read more:
Why we should worry less about retirement – and leave super at 9.5%


The result is that a typical (median income) 35 year old who takes the full $20,000 would see their retirement balance fall by around $58,000 but would see their actual income over retirement would fall by only $24,000.

Put another way, in retirement that worker would earn 88% of their pre-retirement income instead of 89%.


Retirees need less to live on than while working.

Both are well above the 70% post-tax replacement benchmark used by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development and the Mercer Global Pension Index to determine how much is needed in retirement.

Workers on median incomes who withdraw the full $20,000 will remain well above that benchmark, even with compulsory super contributions staying where they are, at 9.5% of salary.

The very highest and very lowest income earners will receive less extra pension to compensate, and will have less of a cushion.

For most, 9.5% will remain enough

Defaults such as compulsory contributions have to be set so they work for most of the population.

While around one in five Australians have accessed their super early, four in five have not. Policy makers can only justify forcibly lowering someone’s living standards during their working life – by lifting compulsory super – if they are protecting that person from an even worse outcome in retirement.

Our modelling shows workers on all but the highest incomes will retire on incomes at least 70% of their pre-retirement post-tax earnings, the so-called replacement standard.

The graph shows that many low-income workers will receive a pay rise when they retire, even if they withdraw the full $20,000 from super.

Of course, some low-income Australians remain at risk of poverty in retirement – especially those who rent. They struggle even more before they retire.

Boosting rent assistance would do far more to help them than would higher compulsory super contributions, and would do less to make them poor while working.

COVID is another reason to keep super where it is

Before COVID-19, there were good reasons to abandon the planned increases in compulsory super; among them that it would do little to boost the retirement incomes of many Australians, that it would drain government tax revenues and widen the gender gap in retirement incomes.

COVID provides another reason. Previous Grattan work has shown that higher super comes at the expense of future wage increases. It’s a conclusion the Reserve Bank has also reached.




Read more:
Think superannuation comes from employers’ pockets? It comes from yours


The retirement income review at present with the government is likely to come to the same conclusion.

Increasing compulsory super contributions in the midst of a deep recession would slow the pace of recovery. And that would be bad news for all Australians, regardless of how much we end up with in super.The Conversation

Brendan Coates, Program Director, Household Finances, Grattan Institute and Jonathan Nolan, Associate, Grattan Institute

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

Should a COVID-19 vaccine be compulsory — and what would this mean for anti-vaxxers?



http://www.shutterstock.com

Claire Breen, University of Waikato

With COVID-19 vaccine developers reporting promising results, it is probable we will one day face a major public health question: can the government compel New Zealanders to be vaccinated?

Just as inevitably, some people will refuse a vaccine. As we have seen overseas with debates over the wearing of masks, and more generally with anti-vaccination activists everywhere, compulsion is not a simple matter.

There are competing rights and duties on both sides. Forcing an individual to be vaccinated is a violation of their fundamental right to personal autonomy, which informs the more specific right to bodily integrity.

Basically, those rights mean every person can make decisions for themselves and what can and cannot be done to their bodies.

The state’s duty to protect

While international human rights treaties support this, they do not specifically talk about the right to refuse medical treatment. Rather, they state that everyone has the right not to be subjected to medical experimentation without free consent.

And here we see how quickly the stakes are raised. These rights are part of the broader right to be free from torture, cruel and inhuman degrading treatment or punishment. The specific reference to medical experimentation is a response to what happened under the Nazi regime during the second world war.




Read more:
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But it’s the fundamental right to life that throws the COVID-19 vaccine issue into stark relief, because it also means governments must make some effort to safeguard citzens’ lives by protecting them from life-threatening diseases.

Although everyone has the right to the highest attainable standard of health, this includes the right to be free from non-consensual medical treatment. But this in turn may be subject to the state’s obligation to prevent and control disease.

The right to be free from non-consensual treatment can only be restricted under specific conditions that respect best practice and international standards.

The introduction of mass immunisation programs therefore requires quite a balancing act.

In New Zealand, the courts and their English predecessors have long recognised and protected the right to bodily integrity. The New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 also clearly states that everyone has the right to refuse medical treatment.




Read more:
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Public health can trump individual rights

Any restriction of that right, any intrusion into the individual’s bodily integrity, would require explicit statutory authorisation. Such legislation would have to be interpreted very strictly and, wherever possible, consistently with the Bill of Rights Act.

There are examples of how this would work in practice. A recent decision from the Supreme Court of New Zealand addressed whether the fluoridation of water as a public health measure was a violation of the right to refuse medical treatment.

The court found it was. But – and it’s an important but – the court decided some public health measures could override the right to refuse medical treatment where these measures are clearly justified.

Clear justification would mean there must be a reasonable objective to compulsory vaccination that justifies the limits placed on the right to refuse medical treatment.

Such limits must be no more than are reasonably necessary to achieve the desired public health outcome, and they must be proportionate to the importance of mandatory vaccination.

Scientist in white coat in laboratory
A researcher at the Oxford Vaccine Group which is working on an experimental vaccine that has shown promise in early trials.
GettyImages

Consequences for refusing vaccination?

In the end, should a COVID-19 vaccine become available, New Zealanders would have the right (but not the absolute right) under international and domestic law to refuse to be vaccinated. And the government could – and might even be obliged to – override that right.

So, no definitive answer. Furthermore, just because the government could make vaccination compulsory doesn’t mean it should.

It might not even have to. A person could still exercise their right to refuse vaccination but the government could then impose limits on other rights and freedoms.




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In practical terms, this could mean no travel or access to school or the workplace if it placed the health and lives of others at risk. Similarly, a refusal to be vaccinated could limit jobs or social welfare benefits that depend on work availability.

But, again, the government would have to present clear justifications for any such restrictions.

Public consent is vital

Without a doubt, this would be highly controversial and the government would need to engage in another balancing act.

But a purely voluntary approach can have mixed results, too, as the 2019 measles outbreak showed. The main problem appears to have been a poorly designed immunisation program that missed various ethnic, socioeconomic and regional targets.

The success of a voluntary approach will be dependent on a highly performing vaccination program that is accessible to all New Zealanders and backed up by a strong public education campaign.

Ultimately, as the collective effort of the “team of 5 million” has already shown, the effectiveness of any law really depends on each one of us and the decisions we make.The Conversation

Claire Breen, Professor of Law, University of Waikato

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

Super shock: more compulsory super would make Middle Australia poorer, not richer



Open and shut. Most Australians would be worse off over their lifetimes if compulsory super contributions were lifted.
Shutterstock

Brendan Coates, Grattan Institute and Owain Emslie, Grattan Institute

Compulsory superannuation was sold to Australians on the basis that it would make us better off.

But as the government prepares for an independent inquiry into retirement incomes, new Grattan Institute research finds that increasing compulsory contributions from 9.5% of wages to 12%, as has been legislated, would leave many Australian workers poorer over their entire lifetimes.

They would sacrifice a significantly increased share of their lifetime wage in exchange for little or no increase in their retirement income.

The typical worker would lose about A$30,000 over her or his lifetime.

More compulsory super means lower wages

Superannuation delivers higher incomes in retirement at the expense of lower incomes while working.

Yet the superannuation lobby usually presents only one side of the pact, urging an increase in compulsory super to get the higher retirement incomes while ignoring the income that workers have to forgo to get them.

Compulsory super contributions are paid by employers. But they appear to come out of funds the employers would otherwise have spent on wages.

This means increases in compulsory super come at the expense of wage increases – something that was acknowledged when compulsory super was set up (indeed, it was part of the reason it was set up) and has been acknowledged by advocates of higher contributions, including the former opposition leader Bill Shorten).




Read more:
Productivity Commission finds super a bad deal. And yes, it comes out of wages


Grattan Institute calculations suggest that lifting compulsory super to 12% by 2025 will take up to A$20 billion a year from workers’ pockets. For most, the trade-off isn’t worth it.

The reality is that most Australians can already look forward to a better living standard in retirement than they had while working – even if they interrupt their careers to care for children. Workers with interrupted employment histories lose super in retirement, but get larger part-pensions.

The poorest Australians get a clear pay rise when they retire: the age pension is worth more than their after-tax income while working.

Other Grattan Institute research finds retirees are more comfortable financially than any other group of Australians and are much less likely to suffer financial stress than working-age Australians.

It needn’t lead to better retirement

So what about Middle Australia?

Despite the “magic” of compound returns, just about all of the extra income from a higher super balance at retirement would be offset by lower pension payments, due to the pension assets test.

It is always possible the pension rules will change, but it isn’t usually regarded as wise to assess proposals on the basis of changes that haven’t happened and aren’t being suggested.

Pension payments themselves would also be lower under a 12% superannuation regime. They are benchmarked to wages, which would be lower if employers have to put more into super.

The graph below shows that the big winners from higher compulsory super would be the wealthiest 20% of Australian earners, who would benefit from extra super tax breaks and would be unlikely to receive the age pension anyway.

Higher compulsory super redistributes income from the middle to the top. Middle earners would be no better off.



Over a lifetime, it could be a net loss

As higher compulsory super would leave Middle Australians no better off in retirement, but poorer while working, it follows that it would make them poorer over their entire lives.

How much poorer? We calculate that, after adjusting for inflation, the typical (median) 30-year-old Australian worker earning A$58,000 today would lose about 2.5% of wages each year and get less than a 1% boost to retirement income.

As a result, that person’s lifetime income would be almost 1% lower – about A$30,000 lower.

A post published on the Grattan Blog today gives more detail on the method we used to calculate the impact of higher compulsory super on lifetime incomes.



And it would cost the budget

Higher compulsory super might be justified if it saved the budget money on the pension – because those savings could be used to compensate middle-income earners via lower taxes or more services.

But in fact, higher super would cost the budget.

Our modelling shows that lifting compulsory super to 12% of wages would cost taxpayers an extra A$2 billion to A$2.5 billion per year in super tax breaks, overwhelmingly directed at high-income earners.




Read more:
Myth busted. Boosting super would cost the budget more than it saved on age pensions


Those extra super tax breaks would dwarf any budget savings on the age pension until about 2060 – by which time there would be 80 years of budget costs from compulsory super to pay back before the whole exercise saved the government money.

Here’s the bottom line, worth keeping in mind in the lead-up to the independent inquiry: it’s hard to think of a policy less in the interests of working Australians than more compulsory super.The Conversation

Brendan Coates, Program Director, Household Finances, Grattan Institute and Owain Emslie, Associate, Grattan Institute

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

With One Nation on the march, a change to compulsory voting might backfire on Labor


Doug Hunt, James Cook University

The Queensland Labor government’s change back to compulsory preferential voting could increase informal voting and actually backfire, with a strong flow of Pauline Hanson’s One Nation preferences to the Liberal National Party.

What appeared to be a masterly, if cynical, move from Labor now looks far from smart. This is especially so as opinion polling shows a strong flow of One Nation preferences to the LNP, making it the beneficiary of full preferential voting.

Paradoxically, Labor preferences may assist the LNP in some rural seats where One Nation comes second to the LNP. One Nation, which looks set to win a few seats, will itself be helped by preferences from Katter’s Australian Party and also from the LNP.

The difference between optional and compulsory preferential voting

In April last year, Queensland parliament increased the number of electoral districts from 89 to 93. This move, initiated by the LNP with the support of crossbench members, was trumped by Labor, also with crossbench support. Labor amended the Bill to additionally re-introduce compulsory preferential voting.

The introduction by Labor of compulsory full preferential voting owed nothing to democratic electoral theory. Like all previous voting system changes, Labor expected to get some advantage.

Labor proposed two related reasons for the change: to reduce informal votes and achieve consistency between state and federal elections. However, optional preferential voting has meant that Queensland elections have the lowest rate of informality across all Australian parliaments. This is despite Queensland being having a high informal vote in federal elections.

The return to full preferential voting will actually increase the number of informal votes. An informal vote is a ballot paper where the voter has failed to put a number every box, or otherwise not complete it properly.

Compulsory, or full preferential, voting requires an elector to number every box beside each candidate on the ballot paper sequentially in order of the voter’s preference. If no candidate achieves a majority of “1” votes on the first count, the candidate with the lowest number of votes is eliminated from the ballot, and their votes allocated to the remaining candidates according to the eliminated candidate’s second preference.

This process continues until one candidate reaches a majority (50% plus one) of votes. The aim is to elect the most preferred candidate, rather than the simple plurality required under first-past-the-post voting.

FPV Formal Ballot Paper Example.
Electoral Commission of Queensland

This is the system used in federal elections and in all other states except New South Wales, which uses optional preferential voting. Queensland elections were conducted via full preferential voting from 1962 until 1992. Optional preferential voting was then introduced following a recommendation of the Electoral and Administrative Review Commission.

Under optional preferential voting, voters can choose how many, if any preferences they allocate to candidates. They can simply vote 1, or they can vote for some or all candidates in order of their preference. Counting proceeds as with full preferential voting.

This system maximises choice for voters, ensuring that they don’t have to indicate any preference for someone they don’t wish to elect. Optional preferential voting therefore seems like the most democratic form of voting.

On the other hand, full preferential voting arguably maximises the democratic principle of public participation, by ensuring that voters’ second (and so on) preferences pass on to other candidates. Their votes are therefore not wasted. So, elections more accurately reflect the will of the people, as the winner can claim the support of most voters.

Under optional preferential voting, if large numbers of electors limit their preferences to one candidate, someone without majority support may be elected.

What history tells us

The real reason for a return to full preferential voting was to assist Labor in garnering preferences from the Greens. These preferences typically flow heavily to Labor – as high as 80% in many cases.

However, optional preferential voting meant that Greens voters increasingly just voted 1 for their own candidate, robbing Labor of votes. ABC election analyst Antony Green calculated that had full preferential voting been in place in 2015, Labor would have won an additional eight seats and an absolute parliamentary majority.

Labor also hoped to pick up preferences from other candidates in order to stave off Greens challenges in inner-city districts.

The optional preferential voting experience in Queensland shows that over time, the proportion of the electorate not stating full preferences generally increases. Academic John Wanna warned of a defacto first-past-the post system, calling it a “denial of a true democratic outcome”.

In 2012, 70% of electors voted 1 only. This proportion fell to 55% in the 2015 election, apparently due to disaffection with the Newman LNP government, when many voters deliberately put the LNP last on the ballot paper.

In 2016, Labor appeared in a winning position with the change to compulsory preferential voting. 2017 is different.

The difficulty in predicting the outcome of Queensland’s state election is compounded not just by changes to the electoral system, but by volatile political factors.

Chief among these is the resurgence of support for One Nation. In the 2015 election, standing in only 11 electorates, the party garnered a statewide vote of less than 1% – though Hanson herself lost narrowly to the LNP in the seat of Lockyer.

Recent opinion polls suggest support for One Nation at around 18%, prompting commentators to assign it a “kingmaker” role in a likely hung parliament.

So it’s impossible to gauge the impact of a return to compulsory compared with optional preferential voting with certainty. In most seats, it won’t change the outcome.

However, some seats will likely be decided differently under full preferential voting. In a close election, that can determine which party wins on 25 November.

The ConversationIronically, given the LNP’s vehement criticism of the change to full preferential voting last year – it was the ‘death of democracy’, according to one parliamentarian – they are likely to be the main beneficiary of the changed system.

Doug Hunt, Adjunct Associate Professor, College of Arts, Society and Education, James Cook University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Sterilize the unfit says British professor David Marsland


The mentally and morally “unfit” should be sterilized, Professor David Marsland, a sociologist and health expert, said this weekend. The professor made the remarks on the BBC radio program Iconoclasts, which advertises itself as the place to “think the unthinkable,” reports Hilary White, LifeSiteNews.com.

Pro-life advocates and disability rights campaigners have responded by saying that Marsland’s proposed system is a straightforward throwback to the coercive eugenics practices of the past.

Marsland, Emeritus Scholar of Sociology and Health Sciences at Brunel University, London and Professorial Research Fellow in Sociology at the University of Buckingham, told the BBC that “permanent sterilization” is the solution to child neglect and abuse.

“Children are abused or grossly neglected by a very small minority of inadequate parents.” Such parents, he said, are not distinguished by “disadvantage, poverty or exploitation,” he said, but by “a number or moral and mental inadequacies” caused by “serious mental defect,” “chronic mental illness” and drug addiction and alcoholism.

“Short of lifetime incarceration,” he said, the solution is “permanent sterilization.”

The debate, chaired by the BBC’s Edward Stourton, was held in response to a request by a local council in the West Midlands that wanted to force contraception on a 29-year-old woman who members of the council judged was mentally incapable of making decisions about childrearing. The judge in the case refused to permit it, saying such a decision would “raise profound questions about state intervention in private and family life.”

Children whose parents are alcoholics or drug addicts can be rescued from abusive situations, but, Marlsand said, “Why should we allow further predictable victims to be harmed by the same perpetrators? Here too, sterilization provides a dependable answer.”

He dismissed possible objections based on human rights, saying that “Rights is a grossly overused and fundamentally incoherent concept … Neither philosophers nor political activists can agree on the nature of human rights or on their extent.”

Complaints that court-ordered sterilization could be abused “should be ignored,” he added. “This argument would inhibit any and every action of social defense.”

Brian Clowes, director of research for Human Life International (HLI), told LifeSiteNews (LSN) that in his view Professor Marsland is just one more in a long line of eugenicists who want to solve human problems by erasing the humans who have them. Clowes compared Marsland to Lothrop Stoddard and Margaret Sanger, prominent early 20th century eugenicists who promoted contraception and sterilization for blacks, Catholics, the poor and the mentally ill and disabled whom they classified as “human weeds.”

He told LSN, “It does not seem to occur to Marsland that most severe child abuse is committed by people he might consider ‘perfectly normal,’ people like his elitist friends and neighbors.”

“Most frightening of all,” he said, “is Marsland’s dismissal of human rights. In essence, he is saying people have no rights whatsoever, because there is no universal agreement on what those rights actually are.”

The program, which aired on Saturday, August 28, also featured a professor of ethics and philosophy at Oxford, who expressed concern about Marland’s proposal, saying, “There are serious problems about who makes the decisions, and abuses.” Janet Radcliffe Richards, a Professor of Practical Philosophy at Oxford, continued, “I would dispute the argument that this is for the sake of the children.

“It’s curious case that if the child doesn’t exist, it can’t be harmed. And to say that it would be better for the child not to exist, you need to be able to say that its life is worse than nothing. Now I think that’s a difficult thing to do because most people are glad they exist.”

But Radcliffe Richards refused to reject categorically the notion of forced sterilization as a solution to social problems. She said there “is a really serious argument” about the “cost to the rest of society of allowing people to have children when you can pretty strongly predict that those children are going to be a nuisance.”

Marsland’s remarks also drew a response from Alison Davis, head of the campaign group No Less Human, who rejected his entire argument, saying that compulsory sterilization would itself be “an abuse of some of the most vulnerable people in society.”

Marsland’s closing comments, Davis said, were indicative of his anti-human perspective. In those remarks he said that nothing in the discussion had changed his mind, and that the reduction of births would be desirable since “there are too many people anyway.”

Davis commented, “As a disabled person myself I find his comments offensive, degrading and eugenic in content.

“The BBC is supposed to stand against prejudicial comments against any minority group. As such it is against it’s own code of conduct, as well as a breach of basic human decency, to broadcast such inflammatory and ableist views.”

Report from the Christian Telegraph

17 more Christian men thrown into prison in Eritrea


Military officials on Saturday, March 27, 2010, arrested 17 young men gathered for prayer in a town called Segenaite in southern Eritrea, Africa. The men are apparently Christian soldiers doing their compulsory national military service. They belong to various churches, reports Open Doors USA.

The men are being held in a Segenaite Police Station prison cell. It is not clear whether they will be moved to another of Eritrea’s detention centers.

These arrests bring to 28 the reported number of Christians arrested since the beginning of March for their refusal to stop worshiping outside of the government sanctioned Eritrean Orthodox, Catholic and Evangelical Lutheran churches.

Sources announced in February that approximately 2,200 Christians remain in prison for their refusal to stop practicing their faith outside of the government sanctioned religious groups. The figure is significantly lower than the figure released at the beginning of 2009. Sources explained to Open Doors that many of those released were let go because of poor health. Most were also released on very strict bail conditions. Additionally, many other Christians have been released only to be sent back to the military in anticipation of a renewed war with neighboring Ethiopia. At least 12 Christians have died while being incarcerated in Eritrean prison camps.

Eritrea is ranked No. 11 on this year’s Open Doors World Watch List of 50 countries which are the worst persecutors of Christians.

Open Doors recently received the translation of a letter from a pastor of an Eritrean church written to his wife from prison.

My dearest wife;

God, by His holy will, has prolonged my prison sentence to five years and four month. I very much long for the day that I will be reunited with you my dear wife, our children and God’s people in the church.

My dear, listen to me; not only as a wife, but also as a Christian woman who has come to understand who God is and how deep and mysterious His ways are. Yes! I love you, I love the children and I would love to be free in order to serve God. But, in here, God has made me not only a sufferer for His Name’s sake in a prison of this world over which Christ has won victory, but also a prisoner of His indescribable love and grace.

I am testing and experiencing the love and care of our Lord every day. When they first brought me to this prison, I had thoughts which were contrary to what the Bible says. I thought the devil had prevailed over the church and over me. I thought the work of the gospel in Eritrea was over. But it did not take one day for the Lord to show me that He is a sovereign God and that He is in control of all things – even here in prison.

The moment I entered my cell, one of the prisoners called me and said, ‘Pastor, come over here. Everyone in this cell is unsaved. You are very much needed here.’ So, on the same day I was put in prison, I carried on my spiritual work.

My dear, the longer I stay in here, the more I love my Savior and tell the people here about His goodness. His grace is enabling me to overcome the coldness and the longing that I feel for you and for our children. Sometimes I ask myself, ‘Am I out of my mind? Am I a fool?’ Well, isn’t that what the apostle had said, ‘Whether I am of sound mind or out of my mind, it is for the sake of Christ.’ (2 Cor. 5:13)

My most respected wife, I love you more than I can say. Please help the children understand that I am here as a prisoner of Christ for the greater cause of the gospel.

— From a pastor in bonds in Eritrea

An estimated 100 million Christians worldwide suffer interrogation, arrest and even death for their faith in Christ, with millions more facing discrimination and alienation. Open Doors supports and strengthens believers in the world’s most difficult areas through Bible and Christian literature distribution, leadership training and assistance, Christian community development, prayer and presence ministry and advocacy on behalf of suffering believers.

Report from the Christian Telegraph 

TURKEY: CHRISTIAN HELD HOSTAGE AT KNIFE POINT IN ISTANBUL


Young Muslim threatens to slit throat of convert; police arrest him after short standoff.

ISTANBUL, August 6 (Compass Direct News) – In a bizarre show of Turkish nationalism, a young Muslim here took a Christian Turk at knife point, draped his head with the national flag and threatened to slit the throat of the “missionary dog” in broad daylight earlier this week.

Yasin Karasu, 24, held Ýsmail Aydýn, 35, hostage for less than half an hour on Monday (Aug. 3) in a busy district on the Asian side of Istanbul in front of passersby and police who promptly came to the scene.

“This is Turkey, and you can’t hand out gospels,” he yelled, according to the daily newspaper Haberturk. “These godless ones without the true book are doing missionary work.”

About 99 percent of Turkey’s population is at least nominally Muslim, and in the popular mindset the religion is strongly connected with being Turkish.

Karasu threatened to slit Aydin’s throat if anyone came near him and commanded those watching to give him a Turkish flag. Within minutes, Aydin told Compass, bystanders produced two flags. Karasu, who has known Aydin for a year, wrapped the larger of the two flags around Aydin’s head, making it difficult for him to breathe in heat that reached the low 30s Celsius (90s F) this week.

“Do you see this missionary dog?” he yelled at the crowd. “He is handing out gospels and he is breaking up the country!”

Karasu placed the smaller flag in Aydin’s hand and commanded him to wave it.

“Both flags came at the same time,” Aydin told Compass. “The big one he put very tightly over my head, and in the heat I couldn’t breathe.”

The whole time Karasu held a large knife to Aydin’s throat.

“You missionary dogs, do you see this flag?” he said, commanding Aydin to wave the flag. “This is a holy flag washed in the blood of our fathers.”

Aydin said he told Karasu, “Yasin, in any case this flag is mine as well! I’m a Turk too, but I’m a Christian.”

Karasu insisted that Aydin was not a Turk because he had betrayed the Turkish flag and country by his evangelism, according to Aydin.

Aydin said he told Karasu, “No, Yasin, I’m a Turk and I’m waving this flag with love. This is my flag. I’m a Turk.” He said Karasu replied, “No, you can’t be – you are breaking up the country, and I won’t allow it.”

Police managed to convince Karasu to put down the knife and release Aydin, telling him that if he killed the convert Turkey would be ridiculed around the world, and that as a last resort they were authorized to shoot to kill him.

“If you love this country, leave the man,” they told him.

A member of the Turkish Protestant Alliance’s legal team said Karasu was evidently trying to get attention.

“He was the type of person who would commit a crime,” said Umut Sahin. “He had just gotten out of the army, he probably didn’t have a job … Anyway he achieved his goal of putting on a show.”

Sahin added that Karasu had previously gotten into trouble for selling pirated CDs.

Religious Conversations

Aydin, who escaped with a slight cut on his throat, said that he never would have believed that Karasu would do such a thing.

The two men have known each other for about a year. While in the army, Karasu showed interest in learning more about Christianity and would call Aydin, a convert from Islam, to ask questions and talk, saying he was interested in other religions.

“He would call me often, because while in the army he was really depressed and he would often call me to tell me,” said Aydin. “He wanted relief and to talk to someone, but at the same time he was researching about religions.”

After his release from compulsory army duty, Karasu called Aydin and the two planned to meet at a Protestant church in the district of Kadikoy. Karasu came with a friend identified as Baris, who preferred to stay outside while the two of them had tea alone in the church basement.

Aydin said they spoke for nearly 20 minutes about Karasu’s life in his hometown of Erzurum and his financial and family difficulties, as well as some spiritual matters, but since his friend was outside they made it short. Karasu was smiling, in good spirits and not at all the way Aydin remembered him from their meeting nearly a year earlier when he was depressed, he said.

“He looked so healthy, and he was smiling, he was dressed well, he was talking comfortably, he looked so cheerful,” recalled Aydin with disbelief. “He was not at all depressed! I was so surprised!”

Karasu thanked Aydin for the conversation, and the two got up from the table to go up the stairs. Aydin led the way, walking ahead of Karasu about a meter. Just as Aydin reached the stairway, he felt an arm grab him around the neck.

“At the first step he violently grabbed me, putting his arm around my neck, and gripped me tightly,” recalled Aydin. “I was surprised and thought someone had come up from behind me to tease me, but then I remembered it was just the two of us downstairs. ‘Yasin,’ I said, ‘Is that you? Are you playing a joke on me?’”

“What joke!” he said, pulling out a knife, according to Aydin. “You’re a missionary dog, and I’ve come to cut your throat.”

Karasu told Aydin that he planned to make an example of him in the eyes of the nation by killing him in public. Two members of the church tried and failed to stop Karasu. The two church members and Karasu’s friend followed them to a busy street down the road.

“He took me down to the busy street by the sea, threatening to kill me,” Aydin said. “The funny thing about it is that I had the impression that we were playing a part in a film. Not a single person on the way down tried to stop him or told him to stop. They just all looked on with consternation.”

Within one or two minutes, he said, police and a television crew arrived.

“Within a minute, both police and cameras showed up – how quick was that?” he said. “I was surprised.”

Suspicion of ‘Terrorism’

Although Aydin said he believes the act was an isolated incident, other Christian Turks as well as police suspect it may have been an act of propaganda to frighten Turkey’s small Protestant community, most of whom are converts from Islam.

“I don’t think it was planned,” said Aydin, “but it is possible that it was.”

The police section on terrorism combat is researching the possibility that the attack was planned by a wider group. Aydin has decided not to press charges, telling Turkish media that he forgave Karasu.

“I think it was an isolated case, but I have to see the police report,” said Sahin of the Turkish Protestant Alliance. “If this was a provocation he would have killed him. He just wanted to show off … with the Turkish flag.” He added with a chuckle, “As if we don’t like waving it.”

According to Article 24 of the Turkish Constitution, people of all faiths have the right to spread information about their faith.

Aydin, who was convinced he was going to lose his life, said he feels the experience instilled new life into him.

“On Aug. 3 I died and was reborn,” said Aydin. “That was my date of death and birth. I was sure I was going to die. It’s like a new opportunity, a new life. I really think the Lord gave me a second chance, because if you think of it, after other events, like Hrant Dink or the Malatya killings, those brothers weren’t so fortunate, right?”

Police found two knives on Karasu’s person, along with two cell phones and the two flags he got from his audience. He is still in police custody with his friend.

In February 2006 an Italian Catholic priest was killed in the Black Sea coastal town of Trabzon, and Armenian Christian editor Hrant Dink was shot in front of the weekly Agos three months before three Christians – two Turks and a German – were killed in Malatya in April 2007.

Last month a German businessman was also murdered for being a Christian on a busy Istanbul street (see  “Christian Murdered on Busy Street in Istanbul,” July 28).

All murders were committed by Turkish men in their 20s.

Report from Compass Direct News 

AZERBAIJAN: WILL REVISED RELIGION LAW BAN UNREGISTERED WORSHIP?


Azerbaijan is apparently rushing restrictive amendments to its Religion Law through parliament, Forum 18 News Service has learnt.

“Only the parliamentary deputies have the text, and it will only be published after its adoption,” a parliamentary aide told Forum 18. The amendments – which reportedly include a ban on unregistered religious activity – have not been made public, and the full parliament is due to begin consideration of them on Friday 8 May.

The refusal to make the text public denies the opportunity for public discussion of the proposals, complains Eldar Zeynalov of the Human Rights Centre of Azerbaijan. “Everything prepared in top secrecy is bad for human rights,” he told Forum 18.

Parliamentary Deputy Rabiyyat Aslanova, who chairs one of two committees which prepared the draft, told Forum 18 that state registration will be compulsory, but claimed that: “No one will be punished for practicing without registration, as long as they don’t preach against the national interest or denigrate the dignity of others.” She declined to discuss what this means, and confirmed that religious communities will have to re-register. Religious communities – especially of minority faiths – have struggled to re-register after previous changes.

Report from the Christian Telegraph

LAOS: POLICE DESTROY CHURCH BUILDING IN VILLAGE


Destruction carried out while Christians attend compulsory village meeting.

WELLINGTON, New Zealand, March 30 (Compass Direct News) – Police in Borikhamxay province, Laos, on March 19 destroyed a church building in Nonsomboon village while Christian residents attended a meeting called by district officials.

A member of the provincial religious affairs department, identified only as Bounlerm, has since claimed that police destroyed the worship facility because it was built without official approval.

Tension between the Christians and local authorities escalated last year when officials ordered at least 40 Christian families living in Ban Mai village to relocate some 20 kilometers (12 miles) to Nonsomboon for “administrative reasons,” according to advocacy group Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom (HRWLRF). Local sources said the forced relocation to Nonsomboon village was an effort to control the activities of Christians in Ban Mai who were sharing their faith with other people in the district.

Previously authorities had evicted Christians from several other villages in the district and relocated them to Ban Mai village, HRWLRF reported. Families were expected to cover their own relocation expenses, including the cost of rebuilding their homes and re-establishing their livelihoods.

Initially residents refused to relocate a second time, largely because officials would not grant permission to move their existing church building or to erect a new structure in Nonsomboon. Eventually they were forced to move to Nonsomboon under duress.

Lacking worship facilities, the villagers on Dec. 10, 2008 erected a simple church building. On Dec. 26, village police removed the cross from the building, summoned four key church leaders to a meeting at the Burikan district office and subsequently detained them for building a church without government approval.

HRWLRF identified the four only as pastor Bounlard, assistant pastor Khampeuy, church elder Khampon and men’s ministry leader Jer. When the wives of the four men brought food to them during their detention, officials refused to allow them to see their husbands.

In a meeting on Dec. 27 between provincial religious affairs officials and church leaders, officials said police had arrested the Christians because they refused to tear down the church building. A senior religious affairs official identified only as Booppa, however, agreed to release the Christians on Dec. 29.

The Christians of Nonsomboon then applied for permission to hold a Christmas service in their church facility on Jan. 7 and invited religious affairs official Bounlerm to attend. When permission failed to arrive in time, they conducted the service regardless, with Bounlerm and other district officials attending as honorary guests.

During the service, district and village level police officers charged into the building and ordered church members to cease worshiping. Bounlerm encouraged the congregation to follow orders from the local officials.

Police officers then drafted a document ordering church members to abandon the Christmas celebration and demanded that the congregation sign it. When they refused, the police insisted that they disband the meeting immediately. After leaving the building, the congregation traveled to nearby Burikan town and set up a tent in an open field next to a government office in order to complete the Christmas service, as there were no church facilities in Burikan.

A campaign of intimidation followed, according to HRWLRF, culminating in the destruction of the church building by village police on March 19. At press time, no information was available on the content of the meeting called by district officials on that day.

Report from Compass Direct News

EGYPT: LAW GRANTING TWINS TO MUSLIM TO BE REVIEWED


Christian mother wins right to high court appeal regarding ruling that favored Muslim father.

ISTANBUL, February 20 (Compass Direct News) – Prosecutor General Abdel Meguid Mahmoud last week granted the mother of 14-year-old twins Andrew and Mario Medhat Ramses the right to appeal a custody decision awarding her sons to their Muslim father.

Muslim convert Medhat Ramses Labib gained custody of the boys last September, contrary to Article 20 of Egypt’s Personal Status Law, which states children should remain with their mother until age 15. The boys’ mother, Kamilia Lotfy Gaballah, won the right to appeal on Feb. 11.

“We all have a little bit of hope, new hope,” said George Ramses, the twins’ older brother. “Of course, they are a little afraid about everything, but generally they are excited.”

With support from the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), Gaballah will appeal the Family Court’s decision awarding custody to the father before the Court of Cassation. Family Court decisions are not usually given recourse to the Court of Cassation, one of Egypt’s highest courts, and require special referral from a public prosecutor.

EIPR Director Hossam Bahgat stressed that the Court of Cassation will be examining the law on which the decision was based, not the decision itself.

“The Court of Cassation will pronounce a decision on the legal rule that Christian children, when one of their parents converts to Islam, should be automatically moved to the Muslim parent’s custody,” he said. “So it is very important in terms of changing the legal rule, but according to the law it will not have a direct impact on Andrew and Mario themselves.”

Preliminary hearings are scheduled to begin on March 2.

The twins will celebrate their 15th birthday in June of this year. At 15, Egyptian children of divorcees have the legal right to choose which parent they want to live with. Ramses told Compass that he is skeptical about whether his brothers will be given this right.

“The whole law is that kids should spend the first 15 years with their mum, and then they get to choose who they want to live with,” Ramses said. “[Choosing] is the second part of the rule that was not applied to us, so we don’t know actually what will be the case.”

The boys’ father, Labib, converted to Islam in 1999 after divorcing Gaballah to marry another woman. In 2006 Labib altered the official religious status of the boys and later applied for custody.

 

Covenant Breaches

The boys are now at the center of two separate disputes, both of which have roots in the complex interaction between Islamic and secular law in Egypt: whether children should be automatically awarded to the Muslim parent, and whether they therefore should automatically convert to Islam.

Custody battles between Muslim fathers and Christian mothers have typically been instances where Islamic law has predominated over secular legislation. Sharia (Islamic law), which the Egyptian constitution declares as being the source of law, states that a non-Muslim should not have authority over a Muslim.

In the case of Andrew and Mario, this sharia provision meant that they should not be left under the jurisdiction of their non-Muslim mother. The automatic and compulsory conversion of the twins, following their father’s decision to become Muslim, is the second area of contention EIPR is working on behalf of Gaballah to resolve.

The issue once again shows the contradictory stances of Egyptian civil law, which reflects both freedom of religion and Islamic thought. A fatwa (religious edict) issued by Egypt’s Grand Mufti, Ali Gomaa, regarding the case of Andrew and Mario states, “The religion of the two children should follow their Muslim father’s, unless they change their religion with full will after puberty.”

Although this statement allows Andrew and Mario the right to choose their religion “after puberty,” conversion from Islam is not only extremely difficult in Egypt but also dangerous.

Egypt has ratified a number of human rights treaties allowing advocacy groups like EIPR recourse to international watchdogs and advisory bodies. One of these, the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights (ACHPR), has agreed to examine the case. The commission has asked both parties to submit written statements by March in preparation for an initial hearing in May.

The European Union of Coptic Organisations for Human Rights (EUCOHR) has also weighed in, petitioning the European Parliament for help.

“We have gone to the European Parliament with a legal document detailing about 30 to 40 breaches of international covenants like the International Declaration of Human Rights,” said Ibrahim Habib, vice-chairman of EUCOHR.

Habib said he hopes involving international bodies such as these will raise the profile of the case and put pressure on the Egyptian judiciary to rule impartially. Such attention could also have positive implications for the much harassed Coptic community at large.

The report filed by EUCOHR and the U. S. Coptic Foundation for Legal Assistance, which explores violations of such pacts as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ends with this statement:

“This is a call for justice and to save the two children from the coercion, persecution and injustice with which they are overburdened and, it is respectfully requested that a prompt action be taken to save those children and their future. Also, the annulment of the judgements against the two children is promptly requested.”  

Report from Compass Direct News