What did the High Court decide in the Pell case? And what happens now?


Ben Mathews, Queensland University of Technology

Two judges in the High Court of Australia this morning referred Cardinal George Pell’s application for special leave to appeal his convictions to a full bench of the High Court.

While not a full grant of special leave, this is favourable to Pell, as dismissing the application would have finalised the case and his convictions.

When the High Court hears the case in coming months, it can reject or grant the special leave application. If granted, it can then allow or dismiss the appeal.

The case is exceptionally complex and the final outcome is difficult to predict. Allowing leave to appeal does not guarantee the appeal will succeed. Here is what might happen next.

What happened with the convictions?

In December 2018, a jury unanimously found Pell guilty of five sexual offences against two 13-year-old choirboys, committed when he was Archbishop of Melbourne from 1996-97. The offences were one count of sexual penetration of a child aged under 16 through forced oral sex, and four counts of an indecent act with or in the presence of a child aged under 16. He was sentenced to six years’ prison with a non-parole period of three years and eight months.

What happened with the failed appeal?

In August 2019, Victoria’s Court of Appeal dismissed Pell’s appeal against these convictions by a 2:1 majority decision. The background is summarised elsewhere. The key issue was whether the verdicts were “unreasonable” or could not be supported on the evidence. The question was whether, given the evidence, it was “open to the jury” to be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt the accused was guilty.

It is not enough to overturn a guilty verdict if the court merely finds a jury “might have” had a reasonable doubt. Rather, the court must find that, on its assessment of the evidence, it was not open to the jury to have been satisfied of guilt beyond reasonable doubt. So the evidence must have “obliged” the jury to reach a not guilty verdict. Because of the jury’s role as tribunal of fact, setting aside a guilty verdict is “a serious step” (see the case M v R).

The majority judges, Chief Justice Anne Ferguson and Justice Chris Maxwell, concluded the guilty verdicts were open to the jury. They did not have a doubt about the complainant’s truthfulness or the cardinal’s guilt. They made crucial findings after careful and cogent reasoning, considering each aspect of the defence case.




Read more:
George Pell has lost his appeal. What did the court decide and what happens now?


First, the complainant was credible and reliable. His account was consistent and detailed. His recalled detail of the sacristy layout enhanced his credibility and independently confirmed his account, as it was not normally used by the archbishop.

Second, the majority judges evaluated each defence claim individually and collectively. They rejected the claim that the “opportunity” testimony (defence witnesses’ statements about where they, Pell and the choirboys would likely have been at relevant times) made the guilty verdicts unreasonable. Essentially, this testimony was not deemed sufficiently strong to make the verdict unreasonable or “not open”. Its effect was “of uncertainty and imprecision”. There was evidence showing “a realistic opportunity” for the offending.

The dissenting judge, Justice Mark Weinberg, gave extensive reasons. On his interpretation of the “opportunity” testimony – including statements by two witnesses about customarily being with Pell at relevant times – there was a “reasonable possibility” of an effective alibi for the first four offences. Weinberg himself had “a genuine doubt” about Pell’s guilt, thought there was a “significant possibility” the offences had not been committed, and inferred the jury ought to have had this doubt.

The application for special leave to appeal to the High Court

The High Court does not lightly give leave to appeal. It can only grant leave if:

  • the proceedings involve a question of legal principle; or

  • the interests of the administration of justice (generally, or here) require consideration of the earlier judgment.

Pell’s team made two arguments, relying on the dissenting judgment. First, they argued the majority’s approach to the “open to the jury” test was wrong, effectively requiring the applicant to exclude any possibility of the offending to have occurred, which reversed the onus and standard of proof. They also argued the majority’s belief in the complainant was not enough to overcome doubts raised by the opportunity testimony, and the alibi evidence had not been eliminated.

Second, they argued there was sufficient doubt about whether the offending was possible. This, they said, made the verdicts unreasonable, given the complainant’s account required them to be alone in the sacristy for five to six minutes. They argued that after mass and five to six minutes of “private prayer time” there was a “hive of activity” near the sacristy, and the majority incorrectly found it was reasonably open to the jury to find the offending happened during this period.

The director of public prosecutions argued there simply was no such error by the majority in applying the test, and the verdicts were not unreasonable.

In large part, the special leave application turned on the different approaches to whether the “opportunity evidence” was sufficiently strong to create enough doubt that it was “not open to the jury” to find Pell guilty beyond reasonable doubt.




Read more:
Victims of child sex abuse still face significant legal barriers suing churches – here’s why


What did the High Court say?

The transcript had not been released at the time of writing, but the two judges referred the application for special leave to hearing by a full bench (five or seven members) for argument as on an appeal. There, the full High Court can reject or grant the special leave application.

On one view, this is surprising. Applications arguing an unreasonable verdict in child sexual offence cases are typically dismissed (for example, O’Brien; in contrast GAX).

The High Court generally does not grant leave simply due to an alternative interpretation of the facts. The majority judgment in the appeal accurately stated the test. It applied the test by carefully analysing all the arguments and testimony individually and collectively, applying cogent reasoning in independently assessing the sufficiency and quality of the evidence. It weighed the evidence and expressed an independent conclusion about whether on all the evidence it was open to the jury to be satisfied of guilt beyond reasonable doubt.

On the other hand, the two High Court judges may reasonably feel there are important issues of legal principle and justice to consider, and that such a significant case warrants full consideration at all levels by the entire court.

What happens now?

The full hearing of the special leave application will occur in 2020. If leave is then granted, the appeal will proceed. If the appeal succeeds, the court can grant a new trial, or reverse or modify the prior judgment.

However, if special leave is refused at the full hearing, or granted but the appeal fails, the convictions stand and no further appeal is possible.




Read more:
Triggering past trauma: how to take care of yourself if you’re affected by the Pell news


For the complainant and many survivors, especially of clergy abuse, this decision will be confronting. They will hopefully be able to draw on reserves of resilience, hope, and any support services if necessary, while awaiting the High Court’s final decision.The Conversation

Ben Mathews, Professor, School of Law, Queensland University of Technology

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

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



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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.




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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.

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



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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.




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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