Newspoll 53-47 to Labor, but Turnbull’s better PM lead blows out


Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

This week’s Newspoll, conducted 31 August to 3 September from a sample of 1610, gave Labor a 53-47 lead, a one point gain for the Coalition since last fortnight. Primary votes were 38% Labor (steady), 37% Coalition (up 2), 9% Greens (steady) and 8% One Nation (down 1). This is the Coalition’s 19th successive Newspoll loss under Turnbull.

There was little change in the leaders’ ratings. 34% approved of Turnbull’s performance (down 1) and 54% disapproved (down 1), for a net approval of -20. Shorten’s net approval was also steady at -20.

On the better PM measure, there was a solid shift in Turnbull’s favour, from a 43-33 lead last fortnight to 46-29 this week. While the Coalition has trailed consistently on voting intentions in Newspoll, Turnbull has led Shorten comfortably as better PM in all these polls.

The better PM measure virtually always skews towards incumbents relative to voting intentions, but Turnbull’s leads have been stronger than expected given voting intentions, and indicate that the public prefer Turnbull to run the country, even as voting intentions favour Labor. An argument can be made that Shorten is holding back Labor, but also that the Coalition is a drag on Turnbull.

According to Kevin Bonham, there have been seven previous cases of a greater better PM lead for the incumbent when the government was behind 53-47 or worse; all occurred with John Howard as PM and Kim Beazley as Opposition Leader from 2005-06.

In the last fortnight, there has been much debate about cultural issues, such as changing the date of Australia Day and amending statues from our colonial past. Turnbull has argued against such changes, and this appears to have boosted his better PM rating.

In this week’s Essential, voters opposed changing Australia Day by 54-26. In Newspoll, voters opposed making changes to the statues by a 58-32 margin, though in Essential opposition was milder at 42-29, perhaps because voters were asked about changing “inscriptions” on public statues, not the statues themselves.

In Newspoll, 45% thought Labor’s 50% renewable energy target would increase electricity prices, 22% decrease and 24% thought there would be no effect, so this is 46-45 for no effect or a decrease. 49% are not willing to pay anything for renewable energy (up 4 since February), 25% will pay $100 a year (down 1) and 13% $300 or more (down 4).

Essential 53-47 to Labor

This week’s Essential, conducted over the last two weeks from a sample of 1780, gave Labor an unchanged 53-47 lead. Primary votes were 37% Labor, 36% Coalition, 10% Greens, 8% One Nation and 2% Nick Xenophon Team. Last week, the Coalition was ahead 37-36 on primary votes, so rounding explains the lack of a headline move to Labor. Additional questions are based on one week’s sample.

Among those who say they will definitely vote in the same sex marriage plebiscite (62% of the sample), 69% will vote Yes and 28% will vote No (67-30 last fortnight). The overall sample supported Yes 59-31 (57-32 last fortnight).

49% blamed private power companies most for rising energy prices, 22% blamed the Turnbull government, 9% environmentalists and 5% renewable energy companies.

In last week’s Essential, voters were asked to rank the last four governments – the Rudd and Gillard Labor governments, and the Abbott and Turnbull Coalition governments. On first preferences, Rudd had 32%, Turnbull 26%, Gillard 22% and Abbott 20%. Labor and Greens voters preferred Rudd to Gillard, while Coalition voters preferred Turnbull to Abbott. Other voters, which included many One Nation supporters, had Abbott at 34% and Rudd at 30%. The Abbott government was the most disliked, with 37% ranking it last.

By 51-40, voters thought the tax system was not fair (55-36 in April 2016). Majorities were bothered a lot by some corporations and wealthy people not paying their fair share of tax.

By 41-40, voters thought dual citizens should be allowed to be MPs. By 41-40, they thought ministers who may hold dual citizenship should stand down while their cases are being decided by the High Court. By 59-25, voters supported a review into all MPs to ascertain who may be a dual citizen. In an additional Newspoll question last fortnight, voters thought politicians entitled to a dual citizenship should be disqualified by 44-43.

By 39-38, voters approved of Pauline Hanson’s burka stunt in Parliament. Kevin Bonham has said that Essential’s online panel appears to have attitudes that are closer to One Nation than a truly representative sample would produce. In effect, Essential may be biased towards non-politically correct responses. This bias may also apply to YouGov.

YouGov 50-50

This week’s Australian YouGov poll, conducted 31 August to 4 September from a sample of 1030, had a 50-50 tie, a one point gain for Labor since last fortnight. Primary votes were 34% Coalition (steady), 32% Labor (down 1), 12% Greens (up 2) 9% One Nation (down 1), 4% Nick Xenophon Team (down 1) and 3% Christian parties (down 1).

The major party primary votes are much lower than in other polls. Votes for Christian parties would probably be Coalition votes in other polls, and this explains why YouGov is skewed towards the Coalition.

Pauline Hanson had a 50-42 unfavourable rating (52-39 in late July). Nick Xenophon had a 52-28 favourable rating (50-25 in July). 66% were worried about North Korea, and views were split 43-43 on military action. Voters would oppose a ban on the hijab 61-29, but support a burka ban 67-24 and niqab ban 64-26.

By 62-24, voters thought Tony Abbott should be reprimanded after he admitted he had missed a vote in 2009 when he got drunk the night before.

State representation changes in the lower house

The ConversationI wrote on 30 June, following the release of 2016 Census data, that Victoria and the ACT will each gain a House seat, while SA will lose a seat, so there will be one additional House seat after the next election. On 31 August, the Electoral Commission confirmed this outcome, and will begin redistributions in the affected states. Labor will benefit from the new ACT seat.

Adrian Beaumont, Honorary Associate, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Melbourne

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

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Queensland Galaxy: 52-48 to Labor as One Nation slumps


Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

A Queensland Galaxy poll has Labor leading by 52-48, a one point gain for Labor since early February. Primary votes are 36% for Labor (up 5), 34% for the Liberal Nationals (up 1), 17% for One Nation (down 6) and 7% for the Greens (down 1). The Conversation

Given the large increase in Labor’s primary vote, the one point gain after preferences is low, probably due to rounding. This poll was conducted Wednesday and Thursday from a sample of 850. The next Queensland election is due by early next year.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk’s ratings are 47% approve (up 6) and 35% disapprove (down 2), for a net approval of +12, up eight points. Opposition leader Tim Nicholls has a net rating of -18, down six points. Palaszczuk’s performance during Cyclone Debbie and associated floods was rated good or very good by 76%, and poor by just 16%.

Polling and election results from Australia and Europe indicate that support for far right parties has fallen since Donald Trump became US President. One Nation, Geert Wilders’ Party of Freedom and Marine Le Pen all underperformed polls taken a month before the election at the WA election, Dutch election and French election first round respectively. French polling has Macron thumping Le Pen in the runoff, and UK polling has the UK Independence Party (UKIP) slumping into single figures.

It is likely that the far right’s performance is related to Trump, who is very unpopular in the rest of the world. Globally, far right parties are closely associated with Trump, but some far right supporters dislike him, and these are deserting.

Update Monday morning: The Federal component of this Galaxy poll has been released. There is a 50-50 tie in Queensland, a one point gain for Federal Labor since February, and a four point gain since the 2016 election. Federal Queensland primary votes are 35% Coalition (steady since February), 33% Labor (up 4), 15% One Nation (down 3) and 7% Greens (down 1).

Essential at 53-47 to Labor, and more Newspoll questions

In last week’s Essential, Labor led by 53-47. Primary votes were 37% Coalition, 36% Labor, 10% Greens, 8% One Nation and 3% Nick Xenophon Team. Voting intentions are based on two weeks’ fieldwork with a sample of 1810, while other questions are based on one week’s sample.

39% thought the changes to 457 visas are about right, 28% thought they do not go far enough in regulating foreign workers, and 16% thought they go too far. 59% approved of allowing workers on visas to apply for permanent residency, and 23% disapproved. 78% agreed that people applying for permanent residency should be put on a probationary visa before being granted citizenship, and just 10% disagreed.

40% (up 3 since August 2016) thought Tony Abbott should resign from Parliament, 17% (down 8) thought he should be given a ministry, and 17% (down 4) thought he should remain a backbencher.

48% said they had voted for the Coalition parties in at least one Federal or State election in the last decade, 47% had voted Labor, 18% for the Greens, 8% for One Nation, 5% for the Nick Xenophon Team and 11% for an Independent.

The 8% for One Nation is clearly too high, as the party barely existed before last year’s Federal election, winning 4.3% in the Senate – this is an example of false recall. In contrast, only 1% recalled voting for Palmer United Party, which won more votes in 2013 than One Nation did in 2016.

Additional questions from last week’s Newspoll have been released. 70% supported spending cuts to balance the budget, with just 20% for increased taxation. However, when asked about welfare cuts, 61% were opposed and just 30% in favour. While spending cuts in the abstract are far more popular than increased taxation, specific cuts can become very unpopular.

By 49-42, voters were opposed to allowing young people to access their superannuation to buy their first home. By 54-28, voters favoured reducing tax breaks for investors.

Last week, Family First merged with the Australian Conservatives (Cory Bernardi’s party). This will have no impact on the Senate balance of power, as Family First’s new Senator, Lucy Gichuhi, is not part of the merger, and will sit as an Independent. Two Family First members of the SA upper house will become Australian Conservatives.

French Presidential runoff: 7 May

In the first round of the French Presidential election held on 23 April, centrist Emmanuel Macron won 24.0% of the vote, followed by the far right Marine Le Pen on 21.3%, conservative Francois Fillon on 20.0% and the hard left Jean-Luc Mélenchon on 19.6%. The top two vote winners, Macron and Le Pen, qualified for the runoff next Sunday 7 May. Polls close at 4am Monday 8 May Melbourne time.

Since the first round, there has been a small movement to Le Pen in runoff polling, but Macron still leads by about 60-40. Fillon and Socialist candidate Benoit Hamon, who won 6.4%, have both endorsed Macron, but Mélenchon has not endorsed yet.

A key reason for Le Pen’s gains is that the abstention rate among Mélenchon’s supporters has risen from 30% at the start of the runoff campaign to 40% now. As with the US Presidential election, some on the hard left consider an established centrist candidate (Macron or Clinton) to be as bad as the far right Le Pen or Trump. However, Macron is far enough ahead that abstention from the hard left is very unlikely to cost him the election.

I will be doing an article on the runoff for the University of Melbourne’s Election Watch late next week.

UK general election: 8 June

In polls taken in the days following UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s announcement of the election, the Conservatives surged at the expense of UKIP. The Wikipedia poll graph has the Conservatives on 47%, Labour on 26%, the Liberal Democrats on 10% and UKIP dropping to 7%.

Recent polls have been better for Labour. A YouGov poll published today has the Conservative lead at 13 points, down from 23 points last Sunday. Another poll published today has the lead at 11 points. Both these polls have Labour at 31%, which would be unchanged on the 2015 result.

If the Conservatives fail to win a thumping majority, May’s authority is likely to be dented, in much the same way as Turnbull’s authority has been dented by the Coalition’s unexpected narrow win in 2016.

Jeremy Corbyn may ironically have Donald Trump to thank for Labour’s gains. A late March poll gave Trump an 18% approve, 60% disapprove rating with the UK public. Being perceived as an anti-Trump may work for Corbyn.

UK local government elections will be held on Thursday, with most results in by Saturday Melbourne time. Governments do much worse at local elections than at general elections, so any overall Conservative national popular vote projected win would imply that the Conservatives are headed for a large general election victory.

As UK polls have not had a good record, these local elections, which tally real votes, will be seen as an alternative guide to the general election.

Adrian Beaumont, Honorary Associate, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Melbourne

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

Coalition rebounds in Newspoll following Snowy announcement, but Essential moves to Labor


Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

This week’s Newspoll, conducted 16-19 March from a sample of 1820, has Labor leading 52-48, but this is a 3 point gain for the Coalition since the previous Newspoll, three weeks ago. Primary votes are 37% for the Coalition (up 3), 35% for Labor (down 2), 10% for One Nation (steady) and 9% for the Greens (down 1). The Conversation

Despite the relatively strong result for the Coalition, Turnbull’s ratings only improved slightly: 30% (up 1) were satisfied, and 57% (down 2) were dissatisfied, for a net approval of -27. Shorten’s net approval was -28, down two points.

On Thursday, the first day of Newspoll’s fieldwork, Turnbull announced an extension of the Snowy River hydro-electric plan, and it appears that this announcement has given the Coalition at least a temporary boost. The public likes infrastructure policies that appear to offer solutions to Australia’s energy crisis.

Labor may also have been damaged by the furore over new ACTU secretary Sally McManus’ comments that workers could break “unjust” laws.

An additional Newspoll question found 47% in favour of a proposed change to Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, while 39% were opposed. Kevin Bonham thinks the long preamble to this question is skewed towards supporting the proposed change.

Essential at 55-45 to Labor

This week’s Essential, conducted over the last two weeks from a sample of 1800, had Labor gaining two points to lead 55-45. Primary votes were Labor 37%, Coalition 34%, One Nation 10%, Greens 9% and Nick Xenophon Team 3%.

Newspoll and Essential disagree markedly this week, but Newspoll has performed well when measured against election results, so I trust it more than Essential.

Additional Essential questions are based on one week’s sample. On attributes of the political parties, Labor was up since June 2016 on positive attributes and down on negative ones, with the exception of being too close to the big corporate and financial interests (up 5). For the Liberals, the perception that they are divided was up 16 points, and “has a good team of leaders” down 9 points. Labor led on all positive attributes and trailed on all negative ones, with some differences of well over 10 points.

77% thought their gas and electricity costs had increased over the last few years, with only 2% thinking prices had decreased. 75% would approve of a reservation policy where a percentage of gas is reserved for domestic use, and only 6% would disapprove. 68% approved of the SA government’s energy plan, and only 11% disapproved. 31% thought coal seam gas mining on farming land should be restricted, 25% thought it should be banned altogether, and only 14% thought there was already sufficient regulation of coal seam gas mining.

In last week’s Essential, Turnbull’s net approval was -17, down two points since February. Shorten’s net approval was -19, also down two points.

Proposed tax increases that were aimed at the wealthy and multinational corporations polled strongly, but removing GST exemptions or increasing the GST rate did not have much support. 46% disapproved of the $50 billion in tax cuts for medium and large businesses, while 24% approved. 43% thought the company tax cuts would deliver business bigger profits, and that this money should be used for schools, hospitals, etc. 25% thought the company tax cuts would bring our tax into line with other countries, and deliver more jobs through greater business investment.

Trust in various media has taken an across the board hit since February 2016, but the ABC and SBS are the most trusted media.

Essential’s polling on penalty rates from two weeks ago found 56% disapproving of the Fair Work Commission’s decision to reduce Sunday penalty rates, with 32% approving. 34% strongly disapproved with just 9% strongly approving. 57% thought the penalty rate reduction would result in business making bigger profits, while 24% thought business would employ more workers. 51% thought the government should legislate to protect penalty rates, while 31% thought the government should accept the decision.

WA election late counting: Labor wins 41 of 59 lower house seats

At the WA election held 11 March, Labor won a massive landslide in the lower house, winning 41 of the 59 seats (up 20 since the 2013 election), to 13 for the Liberals (down 18) and 5 for the Nationals (down 2). According to Antony Green, Labor’s percentage of lower house seats (69.5%) is the highest it has ever won at WA lower house elections.

In the upper house, Labor and the Greens are likely to win a combined 18 of the 36 seats. Below the line votes have not yet been added to the count. The Greens and micro parties tend to perform well on below the line votes at the expense of the major parties. The Greens will be hoping that a below the line surge allows them to defeat the Liberals for the final seat in South Metro region. Below the line votes in that region may also give the Daylight Saving party a seat at the expense of the Liberal Democrats.

If Labor and the Greens combined win 18 of the 36 upper house seats, Labor could attempt to persuade a non-Labor/Greens member to be the upper house President. The President of the WA upper house can only vote when the votes are tied, so such a manoeuvre would give Labor and the Greens 18 of the 35 floor votes.

Dutch election: far right flops again

The Dutch election was held last Wednesday. The 150 members of the Dutch Parliament are elected by proportional representation. Geert Wilders’ far right Party of Freedom had a large lead in the polls in December, but that lead fell as the election approached, and they ended the campaign predicted to win a few seats less than the conservative/liberal VVD.

In the event, the VVD won 33 seats, to 20 for the Party of Freedom. It is likely that the VVD will head the new Dutch government, after negotiations with other parties are completed.

The WA and Dutch elections have both featured far right parties slumping as election day approached. Many supporters of such parties are against established parties, but not in favour of the far right’s policies. As these policies receive more exposure closer to the election, these supporters can desert.

The main reason Donald Trump won the US Presidency is that he won the Republican party’s nomination. Had Trump run a third party campaign, he would not have come close to winning. The US Republican party is already very right wing, and most Republicans utterly detest the Democrats and Hillary Clinton. Many Republicans probably had reservations about voting for Trump, but hated the alternative more.

French Presidential election: 23 April and 7 May

The French Presidential election will be held in two rounds, with the top two vote winners from the first round on 23 April proceeding to a runoff on 7 May, barring a very unlikely majority vote victory for one candidate in the first round.

Current polls have the far right Marine Le Pen leading the first round with 26%, followed by centrist Emmanuel Macron on 25%, conservative Francois Fillon on 18%, Socialist Benoit Hamon on 13% and the hard left Jean-Luc Melenchon on 12%. Other candidates have negligible vote shares.

While Le Pen is narrowly ahead in the first round, second round polling has Macron trouncing her by over 60-40, while Fillon defeats Le Pen by about 56-44.

With the Socialists discredited by Francois Hollande’s ineffectual Presidency (he did not run for re-election), a conservative was the clear favourite to win this election. However, Fillon has been dogged by allegations that he paid his wife and children government money for fake jobs, causing his poll ratings to slide. Last Tuesday, Fillon was placed under formal investigation over these allegations, the closest French equivalent to being charged.

Despite the allegations, Fillon has refused to quit. He won his party’s US style primary in November 2016, and his party has had no legal means to replace him. Nominations closed on Friday, so it is now too late to replace a candidate.

Adrian Beaumont, Honorary Associate, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Melbourne

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

Lao Officials to Expel More Christian Families from Village


Katin chief says previously expelled Christians will be shot if they return.

DUBLIN, November 9 (CDN) — Officials in Katin village, southern Laos have ordered six more Christian families to renounce their faith or face expulsion in early January, advocacy group Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom (HRWLRF) reported today (Nov. 9).

The Katin chief and the village religious affairs officer, along with local security forces, recently approached the six families with the threat after having expelled 11 Christian families, totaling 48 people, at gunpoint last January. The six families now under threat had become Christians since the January expulsion.

The eviction last January followed months of threats and harassment, including the confiscation of livestock and other property, the detention of 80 men, women and children in a school compound and the death by asphyxiation of a Christian villager. (See http://www.compassdirect.org, “Lao officials Force Christians from Worship at Gunpoint,” Feb. 8.)

Immediately after the expulsion, two more families in Katin village became Christians despite the obvious risk to their personal safety, according to HRWLRF. The village chief allowed them to remain in Katin but warned all villagers that their own homes would be “torn down” if they made contact with the expelled Christians.

In the following months, the expelled villagers suffered from a lack of adequate shelter, food and water, leading to eye and skin infections, diarrhea, dehydration and even the death of one villager. Katin authorities also denied Christian children access to the village school. (See http://www.compassdirect.org, “Christians Expelled from Village Suffer Critical Illnesses,” May 14.)

District officials in early May gave the Christians permission to return to Katin and take rice from their family barns to prevent starvation, said another source on condition of anonymity. Some families then tried to cultivate their rice fields to avoid losing them completely, but the work was extremely difficult as authorities had confiscated their buffaloes, essential to agriculture in Laos.

 

Threat to Shoot

In July, officials from the Saravan provincial headquarters and the Ta-oyl district religious affairs office met with the evicted families in their shelters at the edge of the jungle and encouraged them to return to Katin, HRWLRF said.

The Christians agreed to return under five conditions: that authorities designate a Christian “zone” within Katin to avoid conflict with non-believers; that all forms of persecution end; that their children return to school; that Christians must be granted the right of burial in the village cemetery; and that the village award compensation for six homes destroyed in the January eviction.

When higher-level officials approached Katin leaders with these terms, village officials and local residents rejected them, insisting that they would only allow the Christians to return if they gave up their faith. The higher officials invoked Decree 92, a law guaranteeing the rights of religious minorities, but village heads said they would shoot every Christian who returned to Katin.

Shortly after this discussion took place, a further four families in Katin became Christians, according to HRWLRF.

A communist country, Laos is 1.5 percent Christian and 67 percent Buddhist, with the remainder unspecified. Article 6 and Article 30 of the Lao Constitution guarantee the right of Christians and other religious minorities to practice the religion of their choice without discrimination or penalty.

Report from Compass Direct News

Lao Christians Expelled from Village Suffer Critical Illnesses


One dead, two hospitalized; village chief threatens other residents.

DUBLIN, May 14 (CDN) — In spite of assurances of religious rights by officials in March, Lao Christians expelled from a village in Saravan Province in January are suffering from a prolonged lack of adequate food and clean water.

The lack of basic resources has led to diarrhea, dehydration, eye and skin infections, fainting and general weakness for the Christians expelled from Katin village, and one person has died, Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom (HRWLRF) reported.

A Christian who went by the single name of Ampheng died suddenly in April while praying for one of two other Christians who were hospitalized with illnesses caused by their living conditions, an HRWLRF spokesman told Compass. The exact cause and date of Ampheng’s death were not immediately known.

Expelled from their village at gunpoint on Jan. 18 for failing to renounce their faith, the 48 Christians were forced to build temporary shelters at the edge of the jungle, about six kilometers (nearly four miles) away from the village.

They have since survived on food found in the jungle and water from a hand-dug well that is unfit for cooking or drinking, sources told HRWLRF.

District officials in early May gave the Christians permission to return to Katin village and take rice from their family rice barns to prevent starvation, said another source on condition of anonymity.

In addition, some of the Christians have returned to tend their family rice fields, fearing that if the fields are completely abandoned they may lose the right to cultivate them next year. Water buffaloes essential for farm work, however, were confiscated in January along with the Christians’ homes and registration papers, according to HRWLRF.

When the Christians interred Ampheng at the local burial ground, district officials fined them for failing to produce the required proof of house registration, according to HRWLRF.

Katin’s village chief recently warned other residents that their personal possessions would be confiscated if they had any contact with the expelled Christians. If any family continued to maintain contact despite repeated warnings, their own homes would be torn down, the chief reportedly said.

Official reactions to the plight of the Christians have been mixed. In March, a delegation of provincial and district officials led by Gov. Khamboon Duangpanya visited the Christians at their jungle site and assured them of their legal right to embrace the faith of their choice and to live anywhere in the district.

Just days earlier, however, the district head, identified only as Bounma, summoned seven of the Christians to his office and said that he would not tolerate the existence of Christianity in areas under his control. (See “Lao Officials Visit Expelled Christians, Give Assurances,” March 19.)

High level officials failed to intervene last July when villagers seized a Christian identified only as Pew and poured rice wine down his throat, killing him by asphyxiation. Village officials later fined Pew’s family for erecting a cross on his grave, and then detained 80 Christians in a school compound, denying them food and pressuring them to renounce their faith.

The heads of 13 families then signed documents renouncing Christianity in order to protect their children, but most resumed attendance at worship meetings within a few months.

Provincial officials did call a meeting in September 2008 asking Katin authorities to respect Lao religious laws and allow the Christians freedom to worship, but their request was ignored.

A communist country, Laos is 1.5 percent Christian and 67 percent Buddhist, with the remainder unspecified. Article 6 and Article 30 of the Lao Constitution guarantees the right of Christians and other religious minorities to practice the religion of their choice without discrimination or penalty.

Report from Compass Direct News 

Haiti: Earthquake Tragedy


The terrible tragedy in Haiti continues to dominate world news, with fears that the death toll from the earthquake will top 200 000 deaths. 250 000 people were also injured in the earthquake and there is now a major effort to provide essential aid including food and medical provisions for the suffering Haitian population. This is a major tragedy and the world needs to respond to it – thankfully, this is happening.

The crisis will continue long after the headlines have ended, with some 2 million people having been rendered homeless as a consequence of the disaster. Millions of Haitians are at risk of illness and death as a consequence of the quake, with sanitary conditions, lack of drinking water, limited shelter, etc. These are just some of the problems that will continue to plague the poverty-stricken people of Haiti. The rebuilding process will be enormous and well out of reach of Haiti. The nation of Haiti will continue to need the assistance of the world for many years to come.

Organisations like World Vision, the Red Cross and many others, will need the continued support of governments and individuals around the world in order to continue to support and assist the victims of this earthquake. Please continue to assist by sending donations to the various aid organisations that are assisting in the work in Haiti. Over the coming days and weeks, ‘Random Thoughts’ will pass on information as to how people can continue to assist the Haitian people.

Christians Concerned over Acquittals in Orissa, India Violence


Lax investigation, prosecution, lack of witness protection cited as reasons for injustice.

NEW DELHI, September 30 (CDN) — Only 24 people have been convicted a year after anti-Christian mayhem took place in India’s Orissa state, while the number of acquittals has risen to 95, compounding the sense of helplessness and frustration among surviving Christians.

Dr. John Dayal, secretary general of the All India Christian Council, called the trials “a travesty of justice.”

Last month a non-profit group, the Peoples Initiative for Justice and Peace (PIJP), reportedly found that as many as 2,500 complaints were filed with police following the violence in August-September 2008 in the eastern state’s Kandhamal district. The violence killed at least 100 people and burned more than 4,500 houses and over 250 churches and 13 educational institutions. It also rendered 50,000 people, mostly Christian, homeless.

Police, however, registered only 827 complaints and arrested fewer than 700 people, even though 11,000 people were named as attackers in those complaints, according to a PIJP survey.

“The manner of the judicial processes in the Kandhamal fast-track courts is tragic where all too many people have managed to escape conviction for crimes as serious as conspiracy for brutal, premeditated murder and deliberate arson,” Dayal told Compass.

Among those acquitted was Manoj Pradhan, who allegedly led mobs that killed Christians and burned their houses a few months before he became a state legislator from the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Facing charges in five cases of murder and six of arson, Pradhan has been acquitted in three cases.

On Thursday (Sept. 24), the judge of Fast Track Court-II, C.R. Das, acquitted Pradhan and another suspect, Mantu Nayak, on charges of killing Khageswar Digal for refusing to “reconvert” to Hinduism, according to the Press Trust of India (PTI). Digal was a 60-year-old Catholic and resident of Shankarakhol area in Chakapada Block in Kandhamal.

“The court acquitted the BJP MLA [Member of Legislative Assembly] and Nayak due to lack of proper evidence against them,” Special Public Prosecutor Pratap Patra told PTI.

The Rev. Ajay Singh, an activist from the Catholic Archdiocese of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar, said Digal’s son testified in court that he was witness to the killing of his father and knew the killers, and yet the accused were acquitted.

“It was a brutal murder, possibly a case of human sacrifice,” Singh said.

Digal was dragged from a vehicle before being killed on Sept. 24 last year – one month after the assassination of Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council or VHP) leader Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati by Maoists (extreme Marxists), which triggered the violence as Hindu extremists wrongly blamed Christians.

Singh spoke to the son of the deceased Digal, Rajendra Digal, who said his parents left their village after the violence and took shelter in the state capital, Bhubaneswar.

The elder Digal, who owned a grocery shop and 35 goats, returned to his village to see his house and livestock. After selling some of the goats, he boarded a public bus to Phulbani, Kandhamal district headquarters, to start his journey back to Bhubaneswar around noon on Sept. 24. As the bus started, however, some assailants allegedly led by Pradhan stopped the bus and dragged Digal out. They also broke his leg.

The attackers were said to have taken Digal to his village, where they looted his shop. Then they allegedly took him and eight of his goats to a nearby forest, where they feasted on the goat meat throughout the night.

When Rajendra Digal heard about it, he informed police, who allegedly took no interest in the complaint. Twelve days later, his father’s body, naked and burned with acid, was found 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the village. His genitals had also been chopped off.

Rajendra Digal said he believes his father may have been the victim of human sacrifice involving ritual feasting and torture.

Shoddy Probe, Lack of Evidence

A representative of the Christian Legal Association (CLA) said the police had been conducting investigations improperly.

The CLA source pointed out that in another Fast-Track Court-I case in which Pradhan was one of the accused, police had wrongly recorded the age of the informant, Bhutia Digal.

“The court observed that if the police could not cite the age of the informant correctly, how could they have investigated the case properly?” said the source, adding that such discrepancies were found in far too many cases.

During the violence in August-September 2008, the BJP was part of the ruling coalition with a local party, the Biju Janata Dal (BJD). The latter recently broke ties with the Hindu nationalist BJP, blaming it for violence in March, a month before the state assembly election.

The BJP lost the April-May election, and the BJD emerged as the stand-alone ruling party. It is believed that the state administration began taking action against the assailants only after the coalition split in March – six months too late, which possibly provided enough time for suspects to remove evidence and threaten witnesses.

Witnesses are still being threatened or bribed, according to rights groups.

On Thursday (Sept. 24), the day the BJP legislator was acquitted, the fast-track court also released five others accused of arson in the Tikabali area of Kandhamal in a separate case, reported the PTI.

Singh said the witnesses were either intimidated or bribed and therefore turned hostile to prosecutors in court. Friends of the accused took the witnesses to the court in their vehicle, he pointed out.

Dayal said the Orissa High Court should have taken notice of the increasing number of acquittals.

“A man now an MLA seems to be beyond the law,” he said. “I would demand a high-powered judicial review by the High Court of Orissa itself, or failing that, by civil society, which should set up an independent commission of retired judges and senior lawyers.”

Singh said police investigations and prosecutions were a “sham.” There is also “a pressing need for witness protection,” he said.

He added that there were reports of witnesses being intimidated and threatened in various villages, such as Dodingia, K. Nuagam, Phiringia and Solesoru. “Police are not entertaining complaints of the threat to the witnesses,” Singh said.

Dayal highlighted three essential problems: The quality of the charge-sheets prepared by police; the role of the public prosecutor in pressing the charges as prepared by police; and the circumstances under which eyewitnesses, “often sons and daughters of those killed, cannot attest to the truth or are forced into silence,” he said.

“India does not have a witness-protection program, and surely Kandhamal has none at all,” Dayal said. “Witnesses have to pass through an aggressive environment which affectively silences them. They are human beings and fear future violence, having seen brutal violence in the past.”

Singh and Dayal demanded that the cases be heard outside Kandhamal, preferably outside Orissa state.

SIDEBAR

First Life Sentences Handed Down for Orissa, India Killing

NEW DELHI, September 30 (Compass Direct News) – A fast-track court in Orissa state on Sept. 23 delivered its first life sentences for those convicted of murder in 2008 violence in Kandhamal district, sentencing five people to life imprisonment for their involvement in the killing of Pastor Akbar Digal.

Digal, 40, pastor of a Baptist church in Tatamaha village under Raikia police jurisdiction in Kandhamal district, was killed on Aug. 26, 2008 after refusing the slayers’ demand that he forsake Christianity and convert to Hinduism. His body was reportedly cut to pieces and then burned.

He is survived by his wife, Ludhia Digal, and five children.

Additional Sessions Judge Sobhan Kumar Das of Fast Track Court-I at Phulbani district headquarters sentenced Sabita Pradhan, 30; Papu Pradhan, 30; Abinash Pradhan, 29; Dharmaraj Pradhan, 32; and Mania Pradhan, 28, to life in prison and a fine of 5,000 rupees (US$104). The five were arrested after Pastor Digal’s wife filed a First Information Report on Aug. 29, 2008.

Previous to these sentences, two fast-track courts had sentenced 12 people to prison for terms ranging only from four to six years. The government set up the two fast-track courts to try nearly 900 cases related to anti-Christian violence that erupted in August 2008. The first conviction was determined on June 30.

The special Phulbani court also sentenced six others to three years’ rigorous imprisonment on Sept. 22 for an arson attack on a journalist’s house in Kandhamal’s Phiringia village on Dec. 12, 2007.

Police had arrested 11 people in this case, but the court acquitted five for “lack of evidence.” Convicted were Ganpati Kanhar, Rabindra Kanhar, Parmeshwar Kanhar, Daleswar Kanhar, Tuba Kanhar and Vijay Kanhar, whose ages range from 25 to 40 years. They were also fined 4,000 rupees (US$83) each.

Report from Compass Direct News 

EGYPT: POLICE COLLUSION SUSPECTED IN ATTACK ON CHURCH IN MINYA


Strangely, officers arrest Copts; roof collapses after Muslim suspects set fire to church building.

ISTANBUL, July 17 (Compass Direct News) – Villagers in Ezbet Basillious, Minya suspect local police in Egypt of corruption and collusion after two Copts were arrested for an arson attack on their own house church on Saturday (July 11).

Egyptian State Security Investigations (SSI) officers later arrested three Muslim suspects in accordance with eyewitness testimony that local police had ignored. The suspects were seen entering the Church of St. Abaskharion Kellini with cans of kerosene and leaving it shortly after, shouting “Allahu Akbar [God is great].”

The two Copts who were arrested, 35-year-old Reda Gamal and Fulla Assad, 30, are still in custody.

Suspicions of police collusion come not only from the inexplicable arrests of the Copts but also from the lack of police presence while the church was burning. Guards who were stationed outside the property had left their posts, and according to some reports they had moved to a nearby café and were drinking tea while the property burned.

“It sounds like a pre-arranged situation, that they [the arsonists] knew this was the agreed time, [when] the guards were away,” a source told Compass. “Mahmoud Muhammad Hussein, the head guard, and Mustafa Moussa, one of the village guards, were heard telling people, ‘Say Reda set fire to the church.’ So the local police were involved.”

The attack in Ezbet Basillious, 90 kilometers south of Cairo, took place shortly before noon. The perpetrators entered the building where the church met using a connecting door from an adjoining residence. The fire cracked walls and caused the roof to cave in.

It took police two hours to arrive at the scene, according to Suleiman Faiz, a local schoolteacher.

Three Copts were taken to the police station, initially only for questioning – Gamal, Assad and Assad’s 75-year-old mother-in-law. Assad and her mother-in-law live in a home next to the house used by the church, and it was through their connecting door that the attackers entered the locked building.

The two women were present in the house at the time and witnessed three men carrying cans of kerosene. Mary Abdelmassih, a reporter for the Assyrian International News Agency, said the arsonists threatened them at knife-point to remain quiet and not call for help.

After questioning, Assad and her mother-in-law returned home. The following day Assad was arrested, and at press time she and Gamal were still being held.

“This Copt, Gamal, they took him as a pawn in order that later they could twist the church’s arm to give up its rights,” Abdelmassih said. “This happens every time, there is no change in the scenario at all.”

Buildings in Egypt require government permission to be used for religious gatherings, and typically churches find it very difficult to obtain.

Officials promised the Abaskharion Kellini house church a prayer license on July 3 that would enable the building in which it meets to be used as a place of prayer; the congregation has struggled in vain for 30 years to construct another church building for worship. Having received verbal assurance that a prayer license would be granted for the building in which it met, the diocese’s bishop held a consecration service there, and SSI officials then closed the house church and placed it under guard pending formal permission.

The attack marked the third recent incident of violence against the Coptic community in Minya, with new church premises being the precipitating factor in each case. Muslim mobs on June 6 attacked a building in Ezbet Boushra-East on suspicion that it would be converted into a worship place, and the same thing happened on July 3 at a building in Ezbet Guirgis Bey.

“People are really fed up, and if they lose patience there will be fighting in the streets,” a source who requested anonymity told Compass. “A lot of young people are getting so exhausted from this persecution that they might do anything; they’ve had enough.”

Schoolteacher Faiz, 34, told Compass that initially the attack on the Abaskharion Kellini house church made him and others angry.

“You can imagine the amount of anger one would have to a very unfair situation like this,” he said. “Equality and justice for everybody is essential. We love Egypt and would like it to take its place among the respectable nations on earth.”

Faiz said he hopes some day Egypt becomes free of corrupt police in order to have full freedom of religion.

“We trust that these little actions and these little conspiracies from low-ranking police forces, and those who have infiltrated police with radical ideas, which are against the country’s interest, are found out and corrected,” he said. “Because we still trust the higher ranking people in leadership.”

Report from Compass Direct News

Iran violence increasing, Christians are concerned


Riot police attacked hundreds of demonstrators with tear gas and fired live bullets in the air to disperse a rally in central Tehran Monday, reports MNN. Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard issued a warning to demonstrators that they would face a “revolutionary confrontation” if they continued to protest results of the June 12 presidential vote. It’s unclear how many people have died or have been injured in the unrest.

Despite the violence SAT-7 PARS — Christian Persian satellite television — continues to beam programming into Iran, says SAT-7’s David Harder. Harder says SAT-7 isn’t taking sides politically, but they are concerned. “We are concerned about the innocent being injured. We have many youth who watch SAT-7 PARS, and we are concerned that they may have gotten caught up in these different clashes where, tragically, people are being killed.”

Harder isn’t surprised by the violence. “It reflects the desire that many people have–especially young people–in that country for some greater freedoms, and often that’s leading people to seek spiritual answers,” he says.

Satellite television is still illegal in Iran, but SAT-7 PARS continues broadcasting even though some channels have been blocked. Harder says, “Those who may be disenchanted with the political situation, whatever it is, can still seek and find answers and find the truth in the Lord Jesus by watching SAT-7 PARS.”

While their programming continues, Harder says he’s still concerned for Christians living there. “Often when there is anti-western sentiment, Christians are the scapegoats. Local Christians are blamed. So, we do have concern for the Christians and the churches in Iran, and we’re praying they’re not blamed for being political agitators.”

SAT-7 believes about 1-million people watch SAT-7 PARS, but Harder believes that’s a low estimate. He says the number of Christians in Iran is growing, and they need help. “There is reported to be a great movement of house churches within Iran. And so we want to provide training for house church leaders. Often the people who are leading these house churches have only been followers of Jesus for a short period of time.”

That’s why they’ve started a broadcast called SOTA, which stands for Seminary of the Air. Harder says, “They are Iranian professors, and they can help answer questions that really reflect life in Iran and help these churches grow. We want to see them become self-sustaining with leaders who are being equipped and then can be successful in leading those churches.”

SAT-7 PARS, says Harder, is also broadcasting programming for youth. “75-percent of Iranians are under age 30. So we’re trying to meet the needs of the youth who are watching, as well.”

Christian satellite radio and television programming is essential for spiritual growth for Christians in Iran. “There simply aren’t many resources for Iranian Christians. For many of them, television and radio are just about the only way they can get resources. For some people, they can’t get a Bible. They write down verses as they see them on the screen.”

Report from the Christian Telegraph

RUSSIAN CHURCH WARNS EUROPEANS OF EFFECTS OF CHRISTIAN PHOBIA


The Russian Orthodox Church believes that the European community should take urgent measures to combat Christian phobia in today’s Europe, reports Interfax-Religion.

“We should become aware that Christian phobia was generated by Christian civilization, or whatever we call European civilization now. Christian phobia is nothing else but malignant cancer which threatens European civilization with fatal effects,” Russian Church representative at the European Council Hegumen Filaret (Bulekov) said at the Dialogue of Civilizations World Public Forum in Prague.

He urged “not only Christians, but also all bearers of traditional European culture formed by Christianity to consider carefully their cultural survival in today’s globalizing world and ask themselves why so many of them feel no concern about the present and the future of their culture and their religious traditions.”

“We need to acknowledge that it is impossible to put the blame for Christian phobia displays on Muslims, immigrants or the so-called “Civilization Clash”. It is the essential and primary fault of successors to European Christian culture, that is, our fault,” Fr. Filaret said.

Report from the Christian Telegraph