Peter Dutton’s decisions on the au pairs are legal – but there are other considerations



File 20180831 195298 ut5dev.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
During his time as Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, Peter Dutton granted tourist visas to four foreign au pairs who were denied entry at the Australian border and detained, awaiting deportation.
AAP/Lukas Coch

Sangeetha Pillai, UNSW

Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton has come under scrutiny for exercising his personal powers during his time as Minister for Immigration and Border Protection to grant tourist visas to four foreign au pairs who were denied entry at the Australian border and detained, awaiting deportation.

Dutton made the decision to grant these visas at short notice and, in at least some cases, contrary to the advice of senior Border Force officials. Here I explain the scope of the minister’s legal power to grant visas in such instances, and the issues at play.




Read more:
Leaks target Peter Dutton over decisions on au pairs


Did Dutton have legal power to grant the visas?

In a nutshell, yes. Under section 195A of the Migration Act, the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection has the power to grant a visa to a person in detention if “the minister thinks that it is in the public interest to do so”. The minister has no obligation to grant a visa in this manner, but may do so at his or her discretion. A decision to intervene may only be made by the minister personally. This means the minister cannot delegate the power under section 195A to other Border Force personnel, although Border Force officials may provide advice and briefing information.

The minister’s power under section 195A is extremely broad. While the requirement that the power must be exercised in the “public interest” appears to impose some constraint on the minister, this is largely illusory. Courts have said that in migration matters, “public interest” is largely a matter of ministerial discretion. Section 195A drives this home by making it clear that it is up to the minister to decide whether granting a visa would be in the public interest.

Whenever the minister exercises the power under section 195, he or she must supply each House of Parliament with a statement that sets out the reasons for granting the visa. This includes the reasons for thinking that the grant is in the public interest.

The purpose of this is for transparency only: parliament has no power to overturn the minister’s decision. The transparency that can be achieved in this manner is limited by the fact that, to secure the privacy of individuals who are granted visas, identifying information must be excluded when a statement is laid before parliament. Visa decisions, including decisions under section 195A, are also excluded from administrative review.

Documents obtained via Freedom of Information request reveal that Dutton’s stated reasons for thinking that one of the visa grants was in the public interest were:

In the circumstances, I have decided that as a discretionary and humanitarian act to an individual with ongoing needs, it is in the interests of Australia as a humane and generous society to grant this person a Tourist visa.

If Dutton acted within the law, what’s the controversy?

There are two broad reasons why Dutton’s decisions to grant the au pair visas are controversial, despite falling within the scope of his ministerial power.

The first is that the breadth of ministerial discretion granted to the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection under the Migration Act is itself a subject of controversy. A 2017 Liberty Victoria report reveals that the minister for immigration has 47 personal national or public interest powers – many more than any other minister. Many of these powers – including the power in section 195A – are “non-delegable, non-compellable and non-reviewable”.

In 2008, the then immigration minister Chris Evans expressed discomfort with the scope of his own power:

In a general sense I have formed the view that I have too much power. The [Migration Act] is unlike any Act I have seen in terms of the power given to the Minister to make decisions about individual cases. I am uncomfortable with that not just because of a concern about playing God but also because of the lack of transparency and accountability for those ministerial decisions, the lack in some cases of any appeal rights against those decisions and the fact that what I thought was to be a power that was to be used in rare cases has become very much the norm.




Read more:
How the hard right terminated Turnbull, only to see Scott Morrison become PM


The second reason is that Dutton’s decision to intervene swiftly to grant visas to the au pairs on public interest grounds contrasts with the manner in which other migration-related decisions have been made. For example, the department has denied medical transfers to Australia to numerous asylum seekers detained offshore, including children at risk of death.

Recent reports state that an Afghan interpreter who claims his life is in danger after helping Australian troops has been denied a protection visa, and requests to meet with Dutton have gone unanswered. Departmental statistics indicate that, historically speaking, ministerial intervention to grant a tourist visa has been very rare.

Ultimately, the legal framework provided by the Migration Act allows for these variances. However Dutton, like all Ministers, is accountable to the parliament under the principle of responsible government. The Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs is currently holding an inquiry into the appropriateness of Dutton’s decision to grant visas to two of the au pairs. It is due to report by September 11.The Conversation

Sangeetha Pillai, Senior Research Associate, Andrew & Renata Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law, UNSW Law School, UNSW

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

Advertisements

Leaks target Peter Dutton over decisions on au pairs



File 20180830 195313 xdnw06.jpeg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Dutton told 2GB on Thursday he had made a judgement based on the case’s merit, not his knowledge of the person who had referred it.

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

A week after his humiliating defeat in his bid for the prime ministership, Peter Dutton is facing an ever-widening row over his use of his ministerial discretion in granting visas to au pairs.

The Senate has already set up an inquiry into his decisions. Now more detailed information is emerging.

A whistleblower has leaked to Labor an email trail of correspondence showing how Dutton rejected advice from Australian Border Force, granting a visa in 2015 to French au pair Alexandra Deuwel.

Deuwel had admitted to Border Force that she planned to work on a voluntary basis, minding children and cooking, for South Australian pastoralists Callum and Skye MacLachlan. In return she would get free accommodation.

Callum MacLachlan – whose father Hugh has been a big donor to the Liberals – is related to AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan (although their named are spelled differently).

Gillon McLachlan made representations to Dutton’s chief of staff.

An email from Callum and Skye MacLachlan said there had been a “misunderstanding” that the woman planned to work for them. “She is here to spend time with our family, as we consider her to be family.”

Deuwel had in previous years worked as an au pair for the family. Border Force told Dutton that earlier in 2015 she had been warned about breaching her visa conditions.

But Dutton granted the visa, which carried the proviso she could not do in-kind work.

Dutton told 2GB on Thursday he had made a judgement based on the case’s merit, not his knowledge of the person who had referred it. He had thought the intention to deport her was “a bit rough, there’s no criminal history, she’s agreed that she wouldn’t work while she was here.”

“I am a person of integrity. I have never been compromised. I never will. People can say lots of things about me, but they won’t say that I act inappropriately. I make decisions on the merits of these cases. That’s exactly what I’ve done and I stand by the decision,” Dutton said.

On Thursday further information emerged about one of the two au pair cases earlier referred to the Senate inquiry.

Fairfax Media reported that in this case, also in 2015, a request for Dutton to override a Border Force decision had come from a one-time Queensland police service colleague of Dutton’s. Dutton granted the woman a visa.

The Guardian reported that the Italian au pair had come to work for the family.

Opposition leader Bill Shorten said Prime Minister Scott Morrison needed to explain his view on Dutton’s actions.

“I think there are a lot of Australians who might have had someone who they wanted to stay slightly longer on a visa, but they obviously don’t have the sort of access to Mr Dutton that some people have, ” Shorten said.

Former immigration department officer Sandi Logan‏ said on Twitter:

“Tweeted a few days ago there was some “stuff” coming down the pipe. Trust me: there’s more! Niagara Falls gonna look like a trickle by the time this has run its course.“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.

Four MPs resign as citizenship crisis causes more havoc


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Update

Voters in four states will face byelections after three Labor MPs and a crossbencher announced they were resigning from parliament in the wake of a landmark High Court decision disqualifying ACT Labor senator Katy Gallagher on the grounds that she was a dual British citizen when she nominated for the 2016 election.

Labor’s Josh Wilson (WA), Justine Keay (TAS), and Susan Lamb (QLD) and the Centre Alliance’s Rebekha Sharkie (SA) quit within hours of the judgement.

Another byelection will also come from the proposed resignation of the ALP’s Tim Hammond (WA) who is stepping down for family reasons.

Lamb, who holds the highly marginal Queensland seat of Longman will have to renounce her British citizenship before she can recontest her seat. Bill Shorten said he was confident she could do so in time for a byelection.

Earlier story

The High Court has disqualified ACT Labor senator Katy Gallagher from sitting in parliament, in a decision opening the way for four byelections, three of them in Labor seats.

The decision, reigniting the citizenship crisis, has transformed the immediate political landscape, overshadowing Tuesday’s budget and putting immense pressure on Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, who delivers his budget reply on Thursday, to have three ALP MPs immediately quit.

Gallagher was ineligible to sit because she had not completed the renunciation of her dual British citizenship when she nominated for the 2016 election.

The four MPs in the firing line are Susan Lamb in the Queensland seat of Longman (0.8% margin), Justine Keay from Braddon in Tasmania (2.2%), Josh Wilson who holds Fremantle in Western Australia (7.5%) and crossbencher Rebekha Sharkie from the South Australian seat of Mayo (5.4%).

Labor already faces a byelection for the seat of Perth, with Tim Hammond announcing last week he would resign for family reasons.

Attorney-General Christian Porter declared the court had provided a “crisp and crystal-clear clarification” of the law. He called for the resignations of the Labor MPs by the end of the day.

Porter flatly rejected Shorten’s earlier statement that the court had set a new precedent. Shorten said Labor would now consider the implications of the decision.

Porter said for Shorten to claim it was a reinterpretation was “talking absolute rubbish”.

“We all knew what the circumstance was last October”, when the court ruled on the case of the Nationals’ Matt Canavan, Porter said.

“Bill Shorten must require the resignation of those three Labor members today, and that must occur before close of business today,” he said.

Neither side looks forward to a plethora of byelections, which are expensive and with unpredictable fallout, so close to a general election.

The contest in Longman would be testing for Labor. The Liberals would have a prospect of picking up Mayo. Sharkie is from the Centre Alliance, formerly the Nick Xenophon Team, the fortunes of which have collapsed.

University of Sydney constitutional expert Anne Twomey said the crux of the court’s decision was that the test of someone having taken reasonable steps to renounce their foreign citizenship – the argument on which Gallagher relied – applied only when the country actually or effectively would not let the person renounce. This did not apply with UK citizenship.

Twomey said the four MPs in question, who were all British citizens when they nominated, were in similar circumstances to Gallagher’s.

She added that “the real problem will be for those people from countries where it is difficult to renounce or it takes a very long time.

“Parties will have to complete pre-selection at least a year before an election to allow sufficient time for renunciation, and even this might not be enough for people from some countries.

“It will also narrow the field for filling casual vacancies to those who have no foreign citizenship, so that renunciation problems can be avoided. The big message here for anyone who might want to be a member of parliament in the future is to renounce now.”

George Williams, from the University of New South Wales, said there could be more MPs caught by the decision.

As a senator, Gallagher’s disqualification does not trigger a byelection – she is set to be replaced on a recount by the next person on the ALP ticket, David Smith.

Sharkie said she would now take urgent legal advice.

“It is my belief that the particulars of my circumstances are materially different to Senator Gallagher’s case. My paperwork was lodged and received by the UK Home Office before the election was called. My paperwork was returned before the election was held.”

Porter rejected her argument that her circumstances were different.

Gallagher said she had always acted on legal advice which indicated she satisfied the eligibility requirements. But she respected court’s decision.

“I believe that I have more to contribute to public life and I will take the time to talk with Labor Party members on how I can do this over the months ahead,” she said.

The citizenship crisis has claimed nine federal parliamentarians since the election. Another two, Barnaby Joyce and John Alexander, were either ruled ineligible or resigned but are still in parliament after being returned at byelections.

The ConversationIn the earlier stages of the citizenship crisis Shorten had been adamant that all Labor MPs had fulfilled the constitutional requirement on citizenship.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Explainer: what the High Court decision on Katy Gallagher is about and why it matters



File 20180508 46359 4wmp1x.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Senator Katy Gallagher knew she was a British citizen at the last election, but maintains she took “all reasonable steps” to renounce it.
AAP/Lukas Coch

Lorraine Finlay, Murdoch University

Over the past two months, things have been uncharacteristically quiet on the dual citizenship front. That is all about to change when the High Court (sitting as the Court of Disputed Returns) hands down its long-awaited decision on the eligibility of Senator Katy Gallagher. Whatever the result, this decision has implications beyond the immediate fate of the Labor senator.

What is the case about?

After ten months of controversy and numerous parliamentary disqualifications, resignations and byelections, every Australian knows that section 44 of the Australian Constitution disqualifies dual citizens from sitting in the Australian parliament. Gallagher was referred to the High Court after the Parliamentary Citizenship Register revealed she was a dual British citizen when she nominated for the 2016 federal election She had gained citizenship by descent through her British-born father.




Read more:
If High Court decides against ministers with dual citizenship, could their decisions in office be challenged?


Unlike the previous cases, Gallagher admits she knew of her dual citizenship, but maintains she was still eligible because she had taken “all necessary steps” to renounce it.

Before nominating, Gallagher had submitted the prescribed renunciation form and the renunciation fee had been debited from her credit card. However, the UK Home Office subsequently requested further documents and did not formally register her renunciation until after the 2016 federal election.

What will the court decide?

The question before the High Court is whether somebody who has begun the renunciation process but is technically still a dual citizen at the time of nomination is eligible to be elected to parliament.

In one of the earliest cases considering dual citizenship in 1992, the High Court raised the possibility of an “all reasonable steps” exception to the dual citizenship disqualification. In the recent “Citizenship Seven” case the court confirmed there were limits to section 44. It found that if a foreign law made it impossible (or not reasonably possible) for a person to renounce their foreign citizenship, they would not be disqualified provided they had taken “all reasonable steps” within their power to renounce.

The present case turns on just how wide the “all reasonable steps” exception is held to be. Does section 44 just require a person to take all reasonable steps within their power to renounce, regardless of whether that renunciation is actually effective? Or is the exception limited only to circumstances where a foreign law makes renunciation practically impossible?

As the prime minister has learnt, it is never easy to predict with any certainty what the High Court will decide. If Senator Gallagher is to remain in parliament, she needs the court to take an expansive approach to the section 44 exception.

However, in both the Citizenship Seven and Hollie Hughes cases, the High Court has adopted a stricter interpretation of section 44, which would likely lead to disqualification if it approaches this case in the same way.

What happens next?

Obviously the High Court decision will have an immediate impact on Gallagher. If she is found to be ineligible, then a recount will likely mean that her replacement in the Senate is David Smith. He was the second ALP Senate candidate for the ACT at the 2016 election.




Read more:
Grattan on Friday: Voters just want citizenship crisis fixed – but it isn’t that easy


Importantly, this is a decision that has potential impacts on at least four other parliamentarians. The citizenship declarations of Susan Lamb, Justine Keay and Josh Wilson from the ALP, and Rebekah Sharkie from the Centre Alliance, all show they were technically British dual citizens at the time of nominating for the last federal election.

All four have made similar claims to Gallagher in terms of having taken “all reasonable steps” to renounce their dual citizenship. If Gallagher is held to be ineligible, the status of these members will undoubtedly also be in question.

Importantly, there are factual differences between all of these cases. This means much will turn on the precise reasoning contained within the High Court decision on Gallagher. If the court adopts the same strict approach as in recent section 44 cases, there would be a strong case for arguing that these other four parliamentarians should resign immediately.

Conversely, if the court finds Gallagher is eligible, much of the heat will be taken out of the dual citizenship controversy. It may even mean that we have seen the last of the dual citizenship referrals.

Parliamentary committee report

In all the speculation about the pending High Court decision, it should not be forgotten that the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters is expected soon to hand down its final report following its inquiry into section 44.

The committee is widely expected to recommend that certain aspects of section 44 be removed through a constitutional referendum. Any such referendum could be held at the same time as the next federal election, although the prime minister has previously ruled this option out.

The ConversationWhile today’s High Court decision will have an immediate impact on the composition of the current parliament, the committee report is perhaps even more significant in terms of its potential effect on the broader conversation about section 44 and constitutional reform.

Lorraine Finlay, Lecturer in Law, Murdoch University

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

Australian Politics: 22 July 2013


The ALP has backed Kevin Rudd’s proposals for reform of the party. The link below is to an article reporting on the ALP’s decision to reform the party.

For more visit:
http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/labor-caucus-backs-rudds-party-rule-changes/story-fn59niix-1226683134791




Cricket: ODI Disgrace


Australia played Sri Lanka in a One Day International yesterday, however the game was abandoned after the first innings and a small number of overs in the Sri Lankan innings. The game became something of a farce for a number of reasons, including the dismissal of two Australian batsmen for LBW after they had clearly hit the ball into their legs.

One of the batsmen, David Warner, was visibly furious with the decision, yet walked off following the umpire’s decision. The link below is to an article reporting on his official reprimand for dissent, which frankly I find disgraceful. Surely if an umpire makes a terrible decision you must expect some show of disappointment with the decision from the batsman being given out. This is truly a pathetic outcome for an umpire’s mistake – the batsmen is further punished.

For more visit:
http://www.espncricinfo.com/australia-v-sri-lanka-2012/content/story/601605.html

Plinky Prompt: Name One of the Best Decisions You’ve Ever Made


resignation

One of the best decisions I have made, if not the best, was to resign from my job after 20 years of work there. I moved on and now work in a lesser paid job – however, my health has improved across the board as a result and I am far happier now than I was back then. I no longer work the excessive hours and have more time to do my own thing. What’s not to like.

Powered by Plinky

Religious Conversion Worst Form of ‘Intolerance,’ Bhutan PM Says


Propagation of religion is allowable – but not seeking conversions, top politician says.

THIMPHU, Bhutan, April 13 (CDN) — In the Kingdom of Bhutan, where Christianity is still awaiting legal recognition, Christians have the right to proclaim their faith but must not use coercion or claim religious superiority to seek conversions, the country’s prime minister told Compass in an exclusive interview.

“I view conversions very negatively, because conversion is the worst form of intolerance,” Jigmi Yoser Thinley said in his office in the capital of the predominantly Buddhist nation.

Christian leaders in Bhutan have told Compass that they enjoy certain freedoms to practice their faith in private homes, but, because of a prohibition against church buildings and other restrictions, they were not sure if proclamation of their faith – included in international human rights codes – was allowed in Bhutan.

Prime Minister Thinley, who as head of the ruling party is the most influential political chief in the country, said propagation of one’s faith is allowed, but he made it clear that he views attempts to convert others with extreme suspicion.

“The first premise [of seeking conversion] is that you believe that your religion is the right religion, and the religion of the convertee is wrong – what he believes in is wrong, what he practices is wrong, that your religion is superior and that you have this responsibility to promote your way of life, your way of thinking, your way of worship,” Thinley said. “It’s the worst form of intolerance. And it divides families and societies.”

Bhutan’s constitution does not restrict the right to convert or proselytize, but some Non-Governmental Organizations have said the government effectively limits this right by restricting construction of non-Buddhist worship buildings and celebration of some non-Buddhist festivals, according to the U.S. Department of State’s 2010 International Religious Freedom Report.

It adds that Bhutan’s National Security Act (NSA) further limits proclamation of one’s faith by prohibiting “words either spoken or written, or by other means whatsoever, that promote or attempt to promote, on grounds of religion, race, language, caste, or community, or on any other ground whatsoever, feelings of enmity or hatred between different religious, racial, or language groups or castes and communities.” Violation of the NSA is punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment, though whether
any cases have been prosecuted is unknown, according to the State Department report.

Bhutan’s first democratic prime minister after about a century of absolute monarchy, Thinley completed three years in office last Thursday (April 7). While he affirmed that it is allowable for Christians to proclaim their faith – a practice commanded by Christ, with followers agreeing that it is the Holy Spirit, not man, that “converts” people – Thinley made his suspicions about Christians’ motives manifest.

“Any kind of proselytization that involves economic and material incentives [is wrong],” he said. “Many people are being converted on hospital beds in their weakest and most vulnerable moments. And these people are whispering in their ears that ‘there is no hope for you. The only way that you can survive is if you accept this particular religion.’ That is wrong.”

Thinley’s suspicions include the belief that Christians offer material incentives to convert.

“Going to the poor and saying, ‘Look, your religion doesn’t provide for this life, our religion provides for this life as well as the future,’ is wrong. And that is the basis for proselytization.”

Christian pastors in Thimphu told Compass that the perception that Bhutan’s Christians use money to convert the poor was flawed.

The pastors, requesting anonymity, said they prayed for healing of the sick because they felt they were not allowed to preach tenets of Christianity directly. Many of those who experience healing – almost all who are prayed for, they claimed – do read the Bible and then believe in Jesus’ teachings.

Asked if a person can convert if she or he believed in Christianity, the prime minister replied, “[There is] freedom of choice, yes.”

In his interview with Compass, Thinley felt compelled to defend Buddhism against assertions that citizens worship idols.

“To say that, ‘Your religion is wrong, worshiping idols is wrong,’ who worships idols?” he said. “We don’t worship idols. Those are just representations and manifestations that help you to focus.”

Leader of the royalist Druk Phuensum Tshogpa party, Thinley is regarded as a sincere politician who is trusted by Bhutan’s small Christian minority. He became the prime minister in April 2008 following the first democratic election after Bhutan’s fourth king, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, abdicated power in 2006 to pave the way toward democracy.

Until Bhutan became a constitutional monarchy in 2008, the practice of Christianity was believed to be banned in the country. The constitution now grants the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion to all citizens. It also states that the king is the protector of all religions.

Thus far, the Religious Organisations Act of 2007 has recognized only Buddhist and Hindu organizations. As a result, no church building or Christian bookstore has been allowed in the country, nor can Christians engage in social work. Christianity in Bhutan remains confined to the homes of local believers, where they meet for collective worship on Sundays.

Asked if a Christian federation should be registered by the government to allow Christians to function with legal recognition, Thinley said, “Yes, definitely.”

The country’s agency regulating religious organizations under the 2007 act, locally known as the Chhoedey Lhentshog, is expected to make a decision on whether it could register a Christian federation representing all Christians. The authority is looking into provisions in the law to see if there is a scope for a non-Buddhist and non-Hindu organization to be registered. (See http://www.compassdirect.com, “Official Recognition Eludes Christian Groups in Bhutan,” Feb. 1.)

On whether the Religious Organisations Act could be amended if it is determined that it does not allow legal recognition of a Christian federation, the prime minister said, “If the majority view and support prevails in the country, the law will change.”

Thinley added that he was partially raised as a Christian.

“I am part Christian, too,” he said. “I read the Bible, occasionally of course. I come from a traditional [Christian] school and attended church every day except for Saturdays for nine years.”

A tiny nation in the Himalayas between India and China, Bhutan has a population of 708,484 people, of which roughly 75 percent are Buddhist, according to Operation World. Christians are estimated to be between 6,000 to nearly 15,000 (the latter figure would put Christians at more than 2 percent of the population), mostly from the south. Hindus, mainly ethnic Nepalese, constitute around 22 percent of the population and have a majority in the south.

 

Religious ‘Competition’

Bhutan’s opposition leader, Lyonpo Tshering Togbay, was equally disapproving of religious conversion.

“I am for propagation of spiritual values or anything that allows people to be good human beings,” he told Compass. “[But] we cannot have competition among religions in Bhutan.”

He said, however, that Christians must be given rights equal to those of Hindus and Buddhists.

“Our constitution guarantees the right to freedom of practice – full stop, no conditions,” he said. “But now, as a small nation state, there are some realities. Christianity is a lot more evangelistic than Hinduism or Buddhism.”

Togbay said there are Christians who are tolerant and compassionate of other peoples, cultures and religions, but “there are Christians also who go through life on war footing to save every soul. That’s their calling, and it’s good for them, except that in Bhutan we do not have the numbers to accommodate such zeal.”

Being a small nation between India and China, Bhutan’s perceived geopolitical vulnerability leads authorities to seek to pre-empt any religious, social or political unrest. With no economic or military might, Bhutan seeks to assert and celebrate its sovereignty through its distinctive culture, which is based on Buddhism, authorities say.

Togbay voiced his concern on perceived threats to Bhutan’s Buddhist culture.

“I studied in a Christian school, and I have lived in the West, and I have been approached by the Jehovah’s Witness – in a subway, in an elevator, in a restaurant in the U.S. and Switzerland. I am not saying they are bad. But I would be a fool if I was not concerned about that in Bhutan,” he said. “There are other things I am personally concerned about. Religions in Bhutan must live in harmony. Too often I have come across people who seek a convert, pointing to statues of our deities and saying
that idol worship is evil worship. That is not good for the security of our country, the harmony of our country and the pursuit of happiness.”

The premise of the Chhoedey Lhentshog, the agency regulating religious organizations, he said, “is that all the different schools of Buddhism and all the different religions see eye to eye with mutual respect and mutual understanding. If that objective is not met, it does not make sense to be part of that.”

It remains unclear what the legal rights of Christians are, as there is no interaction between the Christians and the government. Christian sources in Bhutan said they were open to dialogue with the government in order to remove “misunderstandings” and “distrust.”

“Thankfully, our political leadership is sincere and trustworthy,” said one Christian leader.

Asserting that Christians enjoy the right to worship in Bhutan, Prime Minister Thinley said authorities have not interfered with any worship services.

“There are more Christian activities taking place on a daily basis than Hindu and Buddhist activities,” he added.

Report from Compass Direct News
http://www.compassdirect.org

China Keeps Church Leaders from Public Worship Attempt


Police put pastors under house arrest over weekend, before detaining at least 160 on Sunday.

DUBLIN, April 11 (CDN) — Police in China held “about two dozen” pastors and elders of Beijing’s Shouwang Church under house arrest or at police stations over the weekend to keep them from attending a Sunday worship service in a public location, according to Bob Fu of the China Aid Association.

Three top leaders of the church remain in jail and several others are under strict surveillance after  hundreds of Chinese police yesterday cordoned off the walkway to a third-floor outdoor meeting area adjacent to a property purchased by the church in Haidian district, Beijing, and arrested at least 160 members of the 1,000-strong church as they tried to assemble.

The church members were bundled into waiting vans and buses to prevent them from meeting as planned in the public space, Reuters and The Associated Press (AP) reported, and most had been released by today.

Church leaders claimed officials had pressured their landlords, forcing them out of both rented and purchased locations and leaving them no choice but to worship in the open.

“The government cornered them into making this decision,” Fu said, adding that the church had initially tried to register with the government. “They waited for two years, and when the government still denied them registration, they tried to keep a low profile before finally deciding to buy the Daheng New Epoch Technology building.”

Shouwang is a very unique church, he said.

“Most members are well-educated, and they include China’s top religious scholars and even former government officials, which may be a factor in the government’s response to them,” he said.

As one of the largest house churches in Beijing, Shouwang is unique in insisting on meeting together rather than splitting the congregation into smaller groups meeting in several locations, Fu said. Zion church, for example, may have more members than Shouwang, but members meet in smaller groups across the city.

“This is based on the founding fathers’ vision for Shouwang Church to be a ‘city on a hill,’” as stated in the Bible in Matthew chapter five, Fu explained. “So they’ve made a conscious decision not to go back to the small-group model. Either the government gives them the keys to their building or gives them written permission to worship in another location, or they will continue meeting in the open.”

Police arrested anyone who showed up to take part in the service, AP reported.

 

‘Most Basic Necessity’

Church leaders last week issued a statement to the congregation explaining their decision to meet outdoors.

“It may not be the best decision, but at this time it is an inevitable one,” the statement said, before reminding church members that the landlord of their premises at the time, the Old Story Club restaurant, had come under government pressure and repeatedly asked them to leave, while the previous owners of the Daheng New Epoch Technology building, purchased a year ago by the church for 27.5 million RMB (US$4.2 million), had refused to hand over the keys. (See, “Church in China to Risk Worshipping in Park,” April 7.)

The church had already met outdoors twice in November 2009 before officials gave tacit consent to move to the Old Story Club restaurant. Officials, however, again prevented Shouwang Church from meeting in May and August of last year.

Fu said it was common for government officials across China to pressure landlords into revoking leases for house church groups.

“For example, right now I know of at least two churches that were made ‘homeless’ in Guangzhou this week, including one church with at least 200 members,” he said.

Shouwang’s statement pointed to Article 36 of China’s Constitution, which grants every citizen freedom to worship, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, ratified by China, which states that every citizen has the right to observe his religion or belief “either alone or in community with others and in public or private.”

For this reason the church planned to meet outdoors until officials granted legal, written permission to worship in an approved location – preferably at the building purchased by the church.

The document also advised church members not to resist if they were held under house arrest or arrested at the Sunday venue.

“Objectively speaking, our outdoor worship must deliver this message to the various departments of our government: attending Sunday worship is the most basic necessity for Christians in their life of faith,” the statement concluded.

The number of Protestant house church Christians in China is estimated at between 45 and 60 million, according to Yu Jianrong, a professor at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences Rural Development Institute, with a further 18 to 30 million people attending government-approved churches.

Report from Compass Direct News
http://www.compassdirect.org

Malaysian Christians Seek to End Restrictions on Malay Bibles


Federation calls for removal of ‘every impediment’ to importing and printing Scripture.

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, April 6 (CDN) — Christian importers of Bibles that Malaysian officials detained are balking at conditions the government has imposed for their release, such as defacement of the sacred books with official stamps.

The Home Ministry stamped the words, “This Good News [Malay] Bible is for use by Christians only” on 5,100 Bibles without consulting the importer, the Bible Society of Malaysia (BSM), which initially refused to collect them as it had neither accepted nor agreed to the conditions. The Home Ministry applied the stamp a day after the government on March 15 issued a release order for the Bibles, which had been detained in Port Klang, 38 kilometers (24 miles) southwest of Kuala Lumpur, since March 20, 2009.

Another 30,000 Bibles detained since Jan. 12 on the island of Borneo remain in port after the Sarawak state Home Ministry told the local chapter of Gideons International that it could collect them if the organization would put the stamp on them. Gideons has thus far declined to do so, and a spokesman said yesterday (April 5) that officials had already defaced the books with the stamp.

The government issued letters of release to both organizations on March 15 under the condition that the books bear the stamp, “Reminder: This Good News [Malay] Bible is for use by Christians only. By order of the Home Minister,” and that the covers must carry a serial number, the official seal of the department and a date.

The Home Ministry’s stamping of the BSM Bibles without the organization’s permission came under fire from the Christian community. In a statement issued on March 17, Bishop Ng Moon Hing, chairman of the Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM), described the Home Ministry’s action as desecration.

“[The] new conditions imposed on the release of the impounded Bibles … is wholly unacceptable to us,” he added.

Ng described the conditions imposed by the Home Ministry as tantamount to treating the Malay Bible as a “restricted item” and subjecting the word of God to the control of man. In response, Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein has said the act of stamping and serialization was standard protocol.

 

Government Overtures

In the weeks following the March 15 release order, the government made several attempts to try to appease the Christian community through Idris Jala, a Christian from Sarawak state and a minister in the Prime Minister’s Department.

Idris issued the government’s first statement on March 22, explaining that officials had reduced earlier conditions imposed by the Home Ministry to require only the words, “For Christianity” to be stamped on the covers of the Bible in font type Arial, size 16, in bold.

Idris informed BSM that the Bibles could be collected in their present state or arrangements could be made to have stickers with the words “For Christianity” pasted over the imprint of the stamps made by the Home Ministry officials. In the event that this was not acceptable, the minister pointed out that BSM had the option of having the whole consignment replaced, since the government had received an offer from Christian donors who were prepared to bear the full cost of purchasing new Bibles.

In response, the CFM issued a statement on March 30 saying, “The offer made does address the substantive issues,” and called on the government “to remove every impediment, whether legal or administrative, to the importation, publication, distribution and use of the [Malay Bible] and indeed to protect and defend our right to use the [Malay Bible].”

Bishop Ng, however, left it to the two importers to decide whether to collect the Bibles based on their specific circumstances.

On March 31, BSM collected the mishandled Bibles “to prevent the possibility of further acts of desecration or disrespect.” In a press statement, BSM officials explained that the copies cannot be sold but “will be respectfully preserved as museum pieces and as a heritage for the Christian Church in Malaysia.” The organization also made it clear that it will only accept compensation from the Home Ministry and not from “Christian donors,” a term it viewed suspiciously.

On Saturday (April 2), Idris issued a 10-point statement to try to resolve the impasse. Significantly, this latest overture by the government included the lifting of present restrictions to allow for the local printing and importation of Malay and other indigenous-language Bibles into the country.

In Sarawak and Sabah, there would be no conditions attached to Bibles printed locally or imported. There also would be no prohibitions and restrictions on residents of these two states carrying such Bibles to other states. A significant 64 percent of Malaysian Christians are indigenous people from Sabah and Sarawak states who use the Malay language in their daily life, and having the Bible in the Malay language is considered critical to the practice of their Christian faith.

In the case of West Malaysia, however, in view of its larger Muslim population, the government imposed the condition that the Bibles must have the words “Christian publication” and the sign of the cross printed on the front covers.

 

Christian Response

Most Christians responded to this latest overture with caution. Many remained skeptical, seeing it as a politically motivated move in view of Sarawak state elections on April 16. Nearly half of Sarawak’s population is Christian.

Bolly Lapok, an Anglican priest, told the online news agency Malaysian Insider, “It’s an assurance, but we have been given such assurances before.” BSM General-Secretary the Rev. Simon Wong reportedly expressed the same sentiments, saying the Home Ministry already has a record of breaking its word.

The Rev. Thomas Phillips of the Mar Thoma Church, who is also president of the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism, questioned the timing of the proposal: “Why, after all these years?”

The youth wing of the Council of Churches rejected the proposal outright, expressing fears that the government was trying to “buy them over” for the Sarawak election, and that it would go back on its word after that.

Bishop Paul Tan, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Malaysia, called the proposal an “insidious tactic of ‘divide and rule,’” referring to its different requirements imposed on Malaysians separated by the South China Sea. Dr. Ng Kam Weng, research director at Kairos Research Centre, stressed that the proposal “does not address the root problem of the present crisis, i.e. the Allah issue.”

 

Muslim Reactions

The 10-point proposal has also drawn the ire of Muslim groups, who view it as the government caving in to Christian pressure.

Perak Mufti Harussani Zakaria expressed his disappointment, reportedly saying, “If the government does this, just cancel the law,” in reference to various state Islamic enactments that prohibit the use of the word “Allah” and other so-called Islamic terms that led to the banning of the Malay Bible. Malay Bibles have not been allowed to be printed locally for fear that they will utilize “prohibited” words.

The Muslim Organizations in Defense of Islam (Pembela) threatened to challenge the 10-point proposal in court if it was not reviewed in consultation with Muslim representatives.

On the same day Pembela issued its statement, the government seemed to have retracted its earlier commitment. The Home Minister reportedly said talks on the Malay Bibles were still ongoing despite Idris’ 10-point proposal, which purportedly represents the Cabinet’s decision.

As a result, James Redas Noel of the Gideons said yesterday (April 5) that he was confused by the mixed messages coming from the government and will not make a decision on whether to collect the Bibles until he had consulted church leaders on the matter, according to the Malaysian Insider.

The issue with the Malay Bibles is closely tied to the dispute over use of the word “Allah” by non-Muslims.

In a controversial court ruling on Dec. 31, 2009, judge Lau Bee Lan had allowed The Herald, a Catholic newspaper, to use “Allah” for God in the Malay section of its multilingual newspaper.

The Home Ministry filed an appeal against this decision on Jan. 4, 2010. To date, there is no indication as to when the case will be heard.

Christians make up more than 9 percent of Malaysia’s nearly 28 million people, according to Operation World.

Report from Compass Direct News
http://www.compassdirect.org