The message to everyone during the coronavirus pandemic is to stay at home and only leave if you really need to for, say, food, health care or exercise.
Police now have powers to issue on-the-spot fines to people for breaches of public health orders as part of the coronavirus restrictions.
Hundreds of fines have already been issued in many states, for example:
Victoria: police fined three friends who did not live together for playing video games in the same lounge room
Queensland: police fined five young people having a party in a hotel room
New South Wales: police fined a man eating a kebab on a bench.
Victorian police also pulled over and fined a 17-year-old learner driver for “non-essential travel”, but later withdrew the fine.
This last case shows penalty notices can be overturned. So, what should you do if you have been issued with a notice by police, especially if you think you have been unfairly fined?
Penalty notice schemes allow police to swiftly impose a fixed fine and avoid prosecuting the matter in court. Police and politicians tend to describe their benefit as reducing red tape and cutting costs.
But many Australians are unaware of their rights and options if they receive a penalty notice.
The following information is not intended to replace independent legal advice. You should also check your state or territory’s rules and procedures.
Check the notice for the payment due date. If you are experiencing financial hardship and cannot pay the fine, contact the fines administration agency to see if you can request an extension or ask to pay by instalments.
The directions of some COVID-19 orders are vague and have been hastily drafted. Many Australians are struggling to keep up with what’s allowed and what isn’t.
Police have also had insufficient time and training to understand the orders, including what constitutes a reasonable excuse. This can give rise to arbitrary – and perhaps incorrect – interpretations of the provisions.
You can request an independent review of the police officer’s decision to issue a penalty notice. The request should be directed to the relevant fines administration agency before the penalty due date.
If successful, your penalty notice may be withdrawn or you could receive a caution in place of the fine.
Grounds for a review may include:
an error was made in the decision to issue the penalty notice (for example, you had a reasonable excuse for leaving your residence, even if your excuse was not one specified in the order)
extenuating circumstances contributed to the alleged offence (such as homelessness, a mental illness, a cognitive impairment or a disability).
Review processes often allow you to provide copies of evidence to support your claim, such as photos and documents.
If you disagree with the findings of the independent reviewer you can elect to go to court.
A court may find you guilty or not guilty.
If convicted of the offence, you may be liable for a larger fine and imprisonment for up to six months. You should seek legal advice if you intend to go to court.
The right to seek an independent review or go to court is rarely exercised. As the NSW Law Reform Commission observed in 2012:
The penalty notice system does not have the transparency normally associated with justice systems in democratic societies … Most people simply pay the penalty. Only 1% elect to go to court, so that the guilt or innocence of the recipient is rarely scrutinised.
If you don’t pay the fine by the due date, you will usually be given a reminder notice and may incur additional financial penalties.
If you still do not pay the fine by the extended due date, you may receive fines enforcement sanctions, including driver licence or vehicle registration suspension or cancellation, or property seizure.
In the rush to quickly enforce social distancing and social isolation rules, the flaws of on-the-spot fines regimes have received little attention.
They do not punish everyone equally. A wealthy person is much less likely to feel the weight of a $1,000 fine – and suffer the consequences of fines enforcement sanctions – than someone who is unemployed or has had their income drastically reduced.
There is also insufficient evidence of the deterrent effect of penalty notices, particularly on those who do not understand the law or what they did wrong, those who are too poor to pay the fine or, alternatively, those who are so wealthy that the fine has a negligible impact.
An important aspect of the rule of law is that citizens are made aware of the law so they can moderate their behaviour to comply with it.
The speed at which the COVID-19 orders have been introduced, their breadth and their arbitrary interpretation by individual police officers can result in people unwittingly breaching the law and being unfairly punished.
For further information, contact your state or territory fines administration agency:
Australian Capital Territory: Police are not yet issuing COVID-19 infringement notices as they are prioritising public education over coercive sanctions.
New South Wales: Revenue NSW
Northern Territory: Fines Recovery Unit
Queensland: Infringement Notices
South Australia: SA Police Expiations
Tasmania: Monetary Penalties Enforcement Service
Victoria: Fines Victoria
Western Australia: Fines Enforcement Registry
The link below is to an article that takes a look at what it calls ‘the most interesting new taxes across the USA.’ There are some… interesting… ones among them, but perhaps bizarre may have been a better word.
But court heavily fines them for dubious conviction of collecting personal data.
ISTANBUL, October 19 (CDN) — After four years of legal battle in a Turkish court, a judge acquitted two Christians of insulting Turkey and its people by spreading Christianity, but not without slapping them with a hefty fine for a spurious charge.
Four years ago this month, Turan Topal, 50, and Hakan Tastan, 41, started a legal battle after gendarmerie officers produced false witnesses to accuse them of spreading their faith and allegedly “insulting Turkishness, the military and Islam.”
At the Silivri court an hour west of Istanbul, Judge Hayrettin Sevim on Thursday (Oct. 14) acquitted the defendants of two charges that they had insulted the Turkish state (Article 301) and that they had insulted its people (Article 216) by spreading Christianity. Sevim cited lack of evidence.
He found them guilty, however, of collecting information on citizens without permission (Article 135) and sentenced them to seven months of imprisonment each. The court ruled that the two men could each pay a 4,500 lira (US$3,170) fine instead of serving time, said their lawyer Haydar Polat.
Tastan expressed mixed feelings about the verdicts.
“For both Turan and I, being found innocent from the accusation that we insulted the Turkish people was the most important thing for us, because we’ve always said we’re proud to be Turks,” Tastan said by telephone. “But it is unjust that they are sentencing us for collecting people’s information.”
At the time of their arrests, Topal and Tastan were volunteers with The Bible Research Center, which has since acquired official association status and is now called The Association for Propagating Knowledge of the Bible. The two men had used contact information that individuals interested in Christianity had volunteered to provide on the association’s website.
Administrators of the association stated openly to local authorities that their goal was to disseminate information about Christianity.
The two men and their lawyer said they will be ready to appeal the unjust decision of the court when they have seen the official statement, which the court should issue within a month. Polat said the appeal process will take over a year.
“Why should we have to continue the legal battle and appeal this?” asked Tastan. “We are not responsible for the information that was collected. So why are they fining us for this? So, we continue our legal adventure.”
Still, he expressed qualified happiness.
“We are free from the charges that we have insulted the Turkish state and the people of Turkey and we’re glad for that, but we are sorry about the court’s sentence,” Tastan said. “We’re happy on one hand, and sorry on the other.”
The court hearing lasted just a few minutes, said Polat.
“The judges came to the court hearing ready with their decision,” Polat said. “Their file was complete, and there was neither other evidence nor witnesses.”
Polat was hesitant to comment on whether the decision to convict the men of collecting private data without permission was because they are Christians. He did underline, however, that the court’s decision to fine the men was unjust, and that they plan to appeal it after the court issues an official written verdict.
“This was the court’s decision,” said Polat, “but we believe this is not fair. This decision is inconsistent with the law.”
Christianity on Trial
The initial charges in 2006 against Tastan and Topal were based on “a warning telephone call to the gendarme” claiming that some Christian missionaries were trying to form illegal groups in local schools and making insults against Turkishness, the military and Islam.
In March 2009 the Turkish Ministry of Justice issued a statement claiming that approval to try the two men’s case under the controversial Article 301came in response to the “original” statement by three young men that Topal and Tastan were conducting missionary activities in an effort to show that Islam was a primitive and fictitious religion that results in terrorism, and to portray Turks as a “cursed people.”
Two of the three witnesses, however, stated in court that they didn’t even know Topal and Tastan. The third witness never appeared in court. Prosecutors were unable to produce any evidence indicating the defendants described Islam in these terms. At the same time, they questioned their right to speak openly about Christianity with others.
Polat and his legal partners had based their defense on the premise that Turkey’s constitution grants all citizens freedom to choose, be educated in and communicate their religion, making missionary activities legal.
“This is the point that really needs to be understood,” Polat told Compass last year. “In Turkey, constitutionally speaking, it is not a crime to be a Christian or to disseminate the Christian faith. However, in reality there have been problems.”
The lawyer and the defendants said that prosecuting lawyers gave political dimensions to the case by rendering baseless accusations in a nationalistic light, claiming that missionary activities were carried out by imperialistic countries intending to harm Turkey.
Tastan and Topal became Christians more than 15 years ago and changed their religious identity from Muslim to Christian on their official ID cards.
Initially accompanied by heavy media hype, the case had been led by ultranationalist attorney Kemal Kerincsiz and a team of six other lawyers. Kerincsiz had filed or inspired dozens of Article 301 court cases against writers and intellectuals he accused of insulting the Turkish nation and Islam.
Because of Kerincsiz’s high-level national profile, the first few hearings drew several hundred young nationalist protestors surrounding the Silivri courthouse, under the eye of dozens of armed police. But the case has attracted almost no press attention since Kerincsiz was jailed in January 2008 as a suspect in the overarching conspiracy trials over Ergenekon, a “deep state” operation to destabilize the government led by a cabal of retired generals, politicians and other key figures. The lawyer is accused of an active role in the alleged Ergenekon plot to discredit and overthrow Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party government.
Ergenekon has been implicated in the cases of murdered priest Andreas Santoro, Armenian editor Hrant Dink, and the three Christians in Malatya: Necati Aydin, Ugur Yuksel and Tilmann Geske.
In a separate case, in March of 2009 Tastan and Topal were charged with “illegal collection of funds.” Each paid a fine of 600 Turkish lira (US$360) to a civil court in Istanbul. The verdict could not be appealed in the Turkish legal courts. This ruling referred to the men receiving church offerings without official permission from local authorities.
Report from Compass Direct News
New wave of deportations raises concerns for foreigners married to Moroccans.
ISTANBUL, July 1 (CDN) — Moroccan authorities expelled eight more foreign Christians from the country last weekend, bringing the total of deported Christians since March to 128.
Two foreign women married to Moroccan Christians were included in this third wave of deportations since March, raising concerns that local authorities intend to harass the country’s small but growing Protestant community.
“They are all in fear,” a source told Compass, “because this happened to people who are married.”
One of the women, a Lebanese national married to a Moroccan, was diagnosed with cancer last month and is the mother of a 6-year old girl whom she was forced to leave behind.
A Spanish national, Sara Domene, 31, was also deported on Monday (June 28), according to news sources. Domene was working as a language teacher in the Western Sahara, a territory under Moroccan sovereignty.
Authorities called the foreigners to police stations across Morocco on Friday (June 25) and told them they had 48 hours to leave the country on grounds of “threatening public order.”
Other nationals who were forced to leave the country over the weekend came from France, Egypt, Lebanon, Switzerland, Nigeria and Spain.
A source explained that Moroccan authorities are essentially deporting Christians for “proselytism,” which is illegal in Morocco, but in order to justify the deportations they have claimed that the foreigners pose a threat to the state.
In April nearly 7,000 Muslim religious leaders backed the deportations by signing a document describing the work of Christians within Morocco as “moral rape” and “religious terrorism.” The statement from the religious leaders came amid a nationwide mudslinging campaign geared to vilify Christians in Morocco for “proselytism” – widely perceived as bribing people to change their faith.
There are an estimated 1,000 Moroccan Christian converts in the country. They are not recognized by the government. About 99 percent of Morocco’s population of more than 33 million is Muslim.
On June 17, the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission held a U.S. congressional hearing on the ongoing deportations of U.S. citizens and other foreigners from Morocco.
Morocco has expelled about 58 U.S. citizens in the last four months. On Thursday (June 24) authorities informed about 10 U.S. citizens that they had 48 hours to leave the country, but within 24 hours the deportation orders were rescinded.
In a statement after the June 17 hearing, Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), who co-chairs the Lantos commission, said he would lobby for the U.S. government to withhold funds it has pledged to Morocco if he did not see improvements in the treatment of Christians there.
“I will continue to stay with this issue until a resolution has been reached,” he said. “Should this matter remain unresolved, it is possible that I may offer amendments in the Appropriations committee and on the House floor to restrict U.S. foreign aid from going to Morocco.”
In a letter addressed to the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission on June 17, Ambassador of Morocco to the United States Aziz Mekouar claimed that the deportations “solely and exclusively targeted proselytism activities, which are clearly and categorically forbidden by the laws of Morocco and the precepts of Islam.”
The ambassador said the Moroccan Penal Code imposes fines and prison sentences for those who “use means of seduction in the aim of undermining a Muslim’s faith or of converting him/her to another religion, either by exploiting his weaknesses or needs, or through the use, to this end, of health or educational establishments, as well as shelters or orphanages.”
Moroccan authorities have failed to provide foreign Christians whom they expelled with documented proof or official charges of their alleged proselytism activities. In his letter, the ambassador said the deportations were preferable to the “difficult ordeal” of incarceration and a trial as part of a criminal procedure against the Christians.
Wolf noted that that among those who were deported or denied reentry were businessmen, educators and humanitarian and social workers, “many of whom had resided in Morocco for over a decade in full compliance with the law. Additionally, those deported were forced to leave the country within two hours of being questioned by authorities, leaving everything behind.”
Christian foreigners who were able to obtain official deportation documents have appealed their cases in the Moroccan courts. The hearings for those cases started in May and are continuing.
Report from Compass Direct News
Uzbekistan has continued short-term jailings of religious minorities, with three Protestant Christians from a registered church being given 15 day jail terms,Forum 18 News Service has learnt.
Three other Protestants – arrested after a raid on the Tashkent church – were each fined 80 times the minimum monthly wage, and two other Protestants were fined five times the minimum monthly wage.
Six computers seized during the raid were ordered to be given to the state, and seized Christian literature ordered destroyed.
"Everyone was shocked at the verdict because the defendants proved in court that they were innocent and there were so many violations of legal procedure," one Protestant told Forum 18.
Unusually the court sat into the evening and the sentences were given at about 10.30 pm local time. Among other recent punishments for "illegal" religious literature, one Baptist has been fined 20 times the monthly minimum wage and his religious literature – including the New Testament – was ordered to be destroyed.
The trial followed a massive 16 May raid on the centrally-located Tashkent church. The court ordered that Christian books confiscated during the raid be destroyed. The church building is sealed.
Report from the Christian Telegraph
Church likely to face another harsh year, report says.
DUBLIN, April 9 (CDN) — Christian human rights activist Gao Zhisheng, kidnapped by state security agents on Feb. 4, 2009, has been released, though he appears unable to move or speak freely.
On Tuesday (April 6) Gao told Bob Fu, president of the U.S.-based China Aid Association (CAA), by telephone that he had just returned to his Beijing apartment from his guarded location in Shanxi Province.
“Gao Zhisheng and his family have suffered deeply from the long separation,” Fu stated on CAA’s website. “Despite the persecution, he continues to trust the Lord.”
On Jan. 9, 2009, less than a month before Gao was abducted in his home village in Shaanxi Province, his family members began their escape from China. His wife, Geng He, along with then 16-year-old daughter Geng Ge and then 5-year-old son Gao Tianyu, arrived on foot to Thailand and eventually reached New York City on March 14, 2009.
With Fu and with reporters from The Associated Press (AP) this week, Gao declined to discuss his physical condition or how he was treated during his captivity. He told the AP that by leaving his role as a critic of human rights violations in China, he hopes to be re-united with his family.
“Gao is still not able to speak or move freely,” Fu said on the CAA website. “We urge the Chinese government now to allow Gao Zhisheng to be reunited with his family. It is his right, according the Chinese law, to be able to see them, since he has broken no laws during his time of probation.”
Gao’s disappearance had drawn protests from international human rights groups, U.S. and British officials and the United Nations. He had defended house church Christians and coal miners as well as members of the banned Falun Gong, which fuses Buddhist-inspired teachings with forms of meditation. In 1999 Beijing banned it as an “evil cult.”
Early in 2009, Gao authorized CAA to release his account of 50 days of torture by state-sponsored thugs in September and October of 2007. Gao had written the account in November 2007 while under house arrest in Beijing after prolonged beatings and electric shocks on his mouth and genitals.
Gao’s suffering in the fall of 2007 followed an open letter he wrote to the U.S. Congress describing China’s torture of Falun Gong members and other human rights abuses.
Another Harsh Year Expected
Chinese Christians can expect more attacks on large urban churches, more harsh punishments for house church leaders and tighter control of registered churches this year, according to CAA.
In a report summarizing persecution it monitored in 2009, CAA identified five key trends in China’s management of Protestant Christianity.
Authorities last year specifically targeted house church leaders, sometimes handing out harsh sentences and fines; carried out violent raids on large urban churches; attempted to disrupt regular worship meetings and tightened control of churches registered with the government-approved Three-Self Protestant Movement (TSPM).
In response, some urban churches engaged in a “power encounter” with local governments, refusing to quietly allow officials to close or destroy their meeting places, CAA noted. For example, almost 1,000 members of Beijing Shouwang church on Nov. 1 worshiped in Haidian Park during a snowstorm after officials pressured Huajie Plaza managers not to renew the church rental contract.
These trends were confirmed by a Chinese House Church Alliance (CHCA) report, released in December, which described harassment and arrest of church leaders, violent raids on house churches and the oppression of TSPM churches.
While CAA reported only 77 incidents in 2009, these occurred throughout China, giving a broad indication of the status of Protestant Christians, particularly those in unregistered churches. A total of 2,935 people were affected in these incidents, a 44.8 percent increase from 2008. Of these, 389 were arrested, a decrease in arrests of 49 percent; and 23 were sentenced to prison, a decline of 34 percent.
Of the 389 people arrested, 211 were church leaders. Several received harsh prison sentences and fines, including Beijing bookstore owner and church leader Shi Weihan, who on June 12 was sentenced to three years in prison and fined 150,000 RMB (US$21,945). Xinjiang officials on Aug. 6 sentenced Uyghur church leader Alimjan Yimit (Alimujiang Yimiti in Chinese) to 15 years in prison, while a day later, officials in Inner Mongolia sentenced church leaders Li Ming-shun and Zhang Yong-hu to 10 and seven years respectively, with fines of 30,000 (US$4,390) and 20,000 (US$2,925) RMB.
A court in Shanxi Province in November awarded five Linfen church pastors sentences ranging from three to seven years, with fines ranging from 10,000 to 50,000 RMB (US$1,462 to US$7,315). A further five pastors were sentenced to two years in labor camp.
At least 400 paramilitary police violently raided the Fushan county branch of Linfen church on Sept. 13, injuring a few dozen church members, confiscating Bibles and money and damaging church property. A similar raid was carried out on another large church in Shanxi Province in November.
Authorities also sealed or destroyed both house church and TSPM church buildings. In one prominent case last June, officials in Chengdu city, Sichuan Province declared Quiyu church to be an illegal organization, forcing the church to close and confiscating church property.
Officials in Rizhao city, Shandong province, raided a training event at a TSPM church and de-registered two church meeting places, CAA reported, while CHCA reported that officials tore down the meeting place of Changchun church in Ninan city, Shandong Province, giving only token compensation.
Churches in ‘Grey’ Zone
Chinese scholar and former policy writer Liu Peng believes the government is attempting to remove the “grey” zone in Protestant Christianity, where some churches operate openly without legal status.
China now permits churches to bypass joining the TSPM when registering, but many house church groups reject this solution. Leaders would prefer churches to be in one camp or the other, Liu said in a December interview with the China Daily.
In predicting harsher treatment this year, CAA quoted Wang Zuoan, head of the State Administration for Religious Affairs, who in January told Oriental Outlook that the “reluctance, intimidation and inability” of local governments to deal with religious issues must be addressed.
If these words represent China’s religious policy direction in 2010, churches are likely to be targets of greater persecution, CAA concluded.
Report from Compass Direct News
Open practice of faith could lead to more persecution, they fear.
THIMPHU, Bhutan, January 25 (CDN) — In this distant and isolated nation in the eastern Himalayas, known as the “Land of the Thunder Dragon,” almost everything looks uniformly Buddhist.
Most men and women in the landlocked country between India and China wear their national dress, and all the buildings – with their sloping walls, trefoil-shaped windows and pitched roofs – look alike, as if they were Buddhist monasteries.
There are no visible signs of Christians’ tiny presence, but they do exist. Christians, whose only official identity falls in the “others” category in the census, are estimated to range in number between 3,000 and 6,000. And they live out their Christian lives underground – no church buildings, Christian cemeteries or Christian bookstores are yet allowed.
Of Bhutan’s more than 670,000 people, 75 percent of them practice Buddhism, according to the 2005 census. Around 22 percent are Hindu, mostly of Nepali origin.
An absolute monarchy for over 100 years, Bhutan became a democratic, constitutional monarchy in March 2008, as per the wish of the former King of Bhutan, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, who served from 1972 to 2006. It has been nearly two years since democracy arrived in Druk Yul, as the country is known in its national language, Dzongkha. But little has changed for Christians.
If there is anything open about Christianity, it is the acknowledgement of Christians’ presence in the national press, which was born after the advent of democracy.
“A journalist telephoned and asked me if I was converting local people,” said a middle-aged pastor clad in Gho, the men’s national uniform, a knee-length gown woven with colorful wool. “I wondered how she got my phone number. Maybe a Christian friend of mine passed it on.”
The pastor requested anonymity – the same request that high government officials made, no matter how trivial the matters they divulged.
The pastor said he told the journalist he did not pay people to convert. “People choose to become Christians out of their own free will,” he said. “I am working within the constitution of the country.”
Still a Monarchy
Asked why the church remained underground in spite of a provision for religious freedom in the new constitution, the pastor replied, “Virtually, Bhutan is still a monarchy. The time is yet to come when we have the assurance of protection.”
His wife, wearing the ankle-length woollen skirt or Kira that is the national dress for women, smiled at what was perhaps a naïve question – the power of the monarchy is beyond question. By law all Bhutanese citizens wear the national dress in schools and certain public, government and religious places. Non-compliance can result in fines or imprisonment.
Asked what would happen if authorities found out about their underground church, the pastor said that before 2008 they would have been arrested because Christianity was banned.
“Even now, there will be serious repercussions,” he said. “What exactly will happen, I do not know. But no Christian worker will take the risk to find it out the hard way.”
To construct any building, Bhutanese citizens require a licence from the government.
“As far as the governance is concerned, the Royal Government of Bhutan is very caring,” he said. “We get free education and free medicine and hospitalization, and there is a sense of security because the crime rate is very low. But asking for a licence for a church is beyond our imagination as of now.”
The present king, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck (selected in 2006 but not crowned until 2008) rules absolutely, said local Buddhists, though not with any regret.
“It’s democracy, but still not a democracy,” said a civil government employee requesting anonymity. “It’s the king who makes all important decisions.”
Asked about the Christian presence, he said Christianity grew even at a time when it was banned. “There are many secret Christians. They meet in secret locations for prayer.”
The clean-shaven, medium-built 31-year-old king, an avid soccer fan who studied at Phillips Academy and Wheaton College in Massachusetts in the United States and the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom, is seen as a progressive person but conservative in matters of religion and culture.
According to the new constitution, the king is the head of state, though the parliament has the power to impeach him by a two-thirds majority vote – a provision not likely to be used anytime in the future, according to popular sentiment.
Suggesting that Christian fears are warranted, a pastor from Pheuntsholing town near the India border explained that memories of a period of severe crackdown on underground churches were still fresh in the minds of local Christians.
“I was picked up from a house where I was conducting Sunday worship in Tsirang district in September 1995 and put in a prison,” said the pastor. “I was asked to leave the district with immediate effect, and I had to move to another location.”
His voice trembling as he spoke by telephone, he said, “Once the government discovers that you are a Christian, nothing will be free for you.”
The pastor said that although there are no violent attacks on Christians, they do face discrimination by the government and society.
According to the government-run weekly Kuensel of Nov. 4, 1992, the National Assembly banned Christianity in 1969 and in 1979. The edicts against Christians were said to have passed due to reports of conversions to Christianity in south Bhutan, inhabited mostly by people of Nepali origin.
In the early 1990s the government of Bhutan began a massive crackdown on Christians, mainly in southern parts, and intensified it towards the end of the decade.
The authorities identified Christians in government or business and took their signatures on a form pledging compliance with rules and regulations governing practice of religion. There were several reports, though unconfirmed, of violence against Christians by police and village heads during the period.
In April 2001, international media reported on persecution of Christians in Bhutan when police stormed churches on Palm Sunday to register Christians, many of who were detained and threatened.
Almost a decade later, the legal standing of the Christian minority under the new constitution remains unclear.
In May 2009, the national daily Bhutan Times quoted Interior Minister Lyonpo Minjur Dorji as saying, “It was absolutely okay if people were born Christian … The constitution supports them. But it is unlawful to convert. If we get proof of proselytization in the country, we shall definitely take action.”
The newspaper noted that there are no official churches in Bhutan. “And most of the Sunday masses and gatherings are held in the homes of pastors and converts,” noted the daily, which occasionally criticizes government policies, though mildly and without taking aim at any particular official.
The new Constitution of the Kingdom of Bhutan, drafted in 2005 and officially adopted in 2008, gives religious freedom to all the citizens of the country but also contains a virtual “anti-conversion law” as found in neighboring India.
The exotic, official website of the constitution – which displays the national emblem of two dragons and a lotus surmounted by a jewel symbolizing harmony between secular and religious powers and sovereignty of the nation – states that all Bhutanese citizens “shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion” in Article 7.
But Article 7 adds: “No person shall be compelled to belong to another faith by means of coercion or inducement.”
What the terms “coercion” and “inducement” mean is not clear. Whether “proselytization,” which the home minister recently suggested was illegal, means propagation of Christianity or conversion by “coercion or inducement,” is also left unclear.
The Supreme Court of Bhutan, whose judge appointments have yet to be completed and are not yet functional, is likely to have the prerogative to interpret the constitution.
What is unambiguous, however, is that the government of Bhutan will continue to preserve the uniform culture of the country, which, it maintains, is based on Buddhist values. Article 3 of the constitution says that “Buddhism is the spiritual heritage of Bhutan, which promotes among others the principles and values of peace, non-violence, compassion and tolerance,” and “it is the responsibility of religious institutions and personalities to promote the spiritual heritage of the country while also ensuring that religion remains separate from politics in Bhutan.”
Article 4 mandates the government to “endeavour to preserve, protect and promote the cultural heritage of the country,” adding that “parliament may enact such legislation as may be necessary to advance the cause of the cultural enrichment of Bhutanese society.”
According to Article 8, it is a fundamental duty of all citizens to “preserve, protect and respect the culture and heritage of the nation.”
“Apart from religious restrictions, we are happy to be in Bhutan,” said a pastor from Thimphu. “Look at the unrest India, China and Nepal have from time to time. We are happy and thankful to God for this nation.”
Report from Compass Direct News
Belarusian officials continue to harass New Life Full Gospel Church, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. On 4 January the church received a summons from the Minsk City Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Committee, claiming that the church had polluted the ground around its building with oil, causing large amounts of damage.
Church members reject the allegation, Sergei Lukanin noting that "for some reason they only took samples from the road which comes into the car park. Of course they’re going to find traces of oil there."
Belarus also continues to persecute people for the "offence" of unregistered religious activity. Challenged about two heavy fines of a pensioner for this "offence", Lyudmila Paprakova of Grodno Ideology Department told Forum 18 that "we don’t have such persecution here. We’re absolutely democratic." After a woman was fined for allowing her home to be used for unregistered worship, Alla Starikevich of Brest City Ideology Department described the role of officials who started the case as "to maintain mutual relations with religious communities."
Report from the Christian Telegraph
New Christians in northwest violently compelled to return to ancestor worship.
HANOI, Vietnam, January 18 (CDN) — A Vietnamese man violently forced to recant his fledgling Christian faith faces pressure from authorities and clansmen to prove his return to traditional Hmong belief by sacrificing to ancestors next month.
Sung Cua Po, who embraced Christianity in November, received some 70 blows to his head and back after local officials in northwest Vietnam’s Dien Bien Province arrested him on Dec. 1, 2009, according to documents obtained by Compass. His wife, Hang thi Va, was also beaten. They live in Ho Co village.
Dien Bien Dong District and Na Son Commune police and soldiers led by policeman Hang A Senh took the Christian couple to the Na Son Commune People’s Committee office after police earlier incited local residents to abuse and stone them and other Christian families. After Po and his wife were beaten at 1 a.m. that night, he was fined 8 million dong (US$430) and a pig of at least 16 kilos. His cell phone and motorbike were confiscated, according to the documents.
Christians Sung A Sinh and Hang A Xa of Trung Phu village were also beaten about the head and back and fined a pig of 16 kilos each so that local authorities could eat, according to the reports. The documents stated that the reason for the mistreatment of the Christians was that they abandoned “the good and beautiful” traditional Hmong beliefs and practices to follow Protestant Christianity.
Christian sources reported that on Dec. 15 police took Po and his wife to members of their extended family, who applied severe clan pressure on him to deny their faith. When police added their own threats, Po finally signed recantation documents.
“I folded – I signed when police threatened to beat me to death if I didn’t recant,” he said. “Then they would seize my property, leaving my wife a widow, and my children fatherless – without a home.”
Following Po’s written recantation, authorities subjected him to further family and clan pressure and “fines,” as well as rites to satisfy traditional Hmong spirits said to have become upset when he offended them by becoming a Christian.
Po faces the ultimate test to prove his recantation is sincere on Feb. 13, Lunar New Year’s Eve. He remains under severe threat, the documents report, unless he voluntarily offers sacrifices to his ancestors at that time.
The documentation of the forced recantations in northwest Vietnam indicates authorities are contravening Vietnam’s 2004/2005 public religion policy.
All three men had received a summons dated Dec. 11, 2009 to appear at the Na Son Commune Peoples’ Committee office at 7:30 a.m. on Dec. 15 “to take care of business relating to following the Vang Chu religion.”
The officials’ use of the Vang Chu religion in these documents was said to be significant. Vang Chu is a mythological Hmong savior who, it is believed, will unite and deliver the Hmong. For some time Vietnamese authorities have deliberately misnamed Protestantism as Vang Chu in order to give Christianity a threatening political character. Any real or imagined political opposition provides Vietnamese communists with a carte blanche excuse to apply repressive measures, Christian sources said.
One of the other Christians arrested, Xa, has received another summons handwritten by the chief of Trung Phu village, Hang A Po, “to solve the issue of the Vang Chu religion.” The summons ordered Xa to appear without fail at the home of village chief Po in mid-December and to bring sufficient food, including a 15-to-20 kilo pig, to feed everyone.
“Here is Vietnamese jungle justice on full display – show up at the home of an official to be tormented and bring plenty of food and liquor for your tormentors,” observed one source.
The summons purports to represent district and commune police who will be present, as well as the village chief.
“It is clear that in spite of public national policies outlawing forced recantation, to the contrary, Dien Bien government policy to force new Christian believers to recant is being vigorously implemented,” said one source.
This conclusion is consistent with other findings. In November 2009 religious liberty advocates acquired a Vietnamese language booklet entitled “Some Documents Concerning Religious Belief and Religion.” The 104-page document “For Internal Circulation” was published in November 2007 by the Dien Bien Province Department of Ethnic Minorities.
The collection of documents, including some marked “Secret,” clearly shows Dien Bien religion policies and directives relative to Protestants are different than the “new religion legislation” of 2004/2005. The Dien Bien documents reveal a secret “Guidance Committee 160” is overseeing repressive policies initiated before the new religion legislation of 2004/2005 that continue to guide officials.
“These events and findings in Dien Bien clearly show that the excuse given by our government that such events are isolated exceptions perpetrated by a few bad officials is not believable,” said one church leader.
Report from Compass Direct News