Michael Clarke has been ruled out of the fourth test against India which starts today. Shane Watson will captain the team in what is likely to be another loss. The link below is to an article reporting on the elevation of Watson to captain.
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.
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
Somalia’s militant group al Shabaab is no longer confining its agenda to the country’s borders. They are now spreading into neighboring countries. There will not be a rescue coming from the Somali government, reports MNN.
Todd Nettleton with Voice of the Martyrs says the peacekeeping help that Somalia is getting is hampered by the internal anarchy. "How do you provide support to a country that is basically a failed state, where there is chaos on the ground? "
A "failed state" describes a country with a fractured social and political structure. Nettleton notes, "Really, there is no authority structure. There is no government body that really has power to enforce their will on the country." Sadly, Somalia has been leading the Failed States Index for three years’ running.
The conflict is now extending into Kenya. One reason might be al Shabaab’s intent to eradicate Christianity and create a Muslim state. Nettleton explains. "We heard a report that al Shabaab literally had a list of Christians that they were seeking."
Since al Shabaab is hunting believers, they are fleeing. "There are Christians who have had to leave Somalia who are in some of these refugee camps in surrounding nations. As the al Shabaab philosophy spreads into those camps, those Christians are put directly at risk." For example: Kenya.
Despite the oppression, Nettleton says the Gospel can’t be discounted. There is still a remnant church, albeit deep underground.
Voice of the Martyrs has found a way to let them know they’re not forgotten. "It’s a challenge to find Christians, it’s a challenge to support them. We have provided some help to the families of martyrs in Somalia."
While the situation seems hopeless, there is one avenue that surpasses the political venues. "The most significant thing that we can do is to pray for the country of Somalia, to pray especially for our Christian brothers and sisters there."
Somalia is ranked fourth on the Open Doors World Watch list of countries that are noted for their persecution of Christians.
Report from the Christian Telegraph
Justice Ministry receives international inquiry about progress of trial.
SILIVRI, Turkey, February 15 (CDN) — Barely five minutes into the latest hearing of a more than three-year-old case against two Christians accused of “insulting Turkishness and Islam,” the session was over.
The prosecution had failed to produce their three final witnesses to testify against Hakan Tastan and Turan Topal for alleged crimes committed under Article 301 of the Turkish penal code. The same three witnesses had failed to heed a previous court summons to testify at the last hearing, held on Oct. 15, 2009.
This time, at the Jan. 28 hearing, one witness employed in Istanbul’s security police headquarters sent word to inform the court that she was recovering from surgery and unable to attend. Of the other two witnesses, both identified as “armed forces” personnel, one was found to be registered at an address 675 miles away, in the city of Iskenderun, and the other’s whereabouts had not yet been confirmed.
So the court issued instructions for the female witness to be summoned a third time, to testify at the next hearing, set for May 25. The court ordered the witness in Iskenderun to submit his “eyewitness” testimony in writing to the Iskenderun criminal court, to be forwarded to the Silivri court. No further action was taken to summon the third witness.
Judge Hayrettin Sevim, who has presided over the last five hearings on the case, informed the plaintiff and defense lawyers that recently his court had been requested to supply the Justice Ministry with a copy of relevant documents and details from the case file.
An inquiry outside Turkey about the progress of the case, he said, prompted the request.
Seven different state prosecutors have been assigned to the case since Prosecutor Ahmet Demirhuyuk declared at the fourth hearing in July 2007 that “not a single concrete, credible piece of evidence” had been produced to support the accusations against the Protestant defendants. After Demihuyuk recommended that the charges be dropped and the two Christians acquitted, he was removed from the case.
Originally filed in October 2006, the controversial Article 301 case accused Tastan and Topal, both former Muslims who converted to Christianity, of slandering the Turkish nation and Muslim religion while involved in evangelistic activities in Silivri, an hour’s drive west of Istanbul in northwestern Turkey.
After Turkey enacted cosmetic changes in the wording of Article 301 in May 2008, all cases filed under this law require formal permission from the justice minister himself to go on to trial.
According to the Turkish Justice Ministry, only eight of more than 900 Article 301 cases sent for review since the law’s revision have been approved for prosecution. On Friday (Feb. 12) the Justice Ministry declined in writing a Compass request last month for a list of the eight cases in question.
Despite the lack of any legally credible evidence against Tastan and Topal, the Silivri case is one of those eight cases personally approved by the Justice Minister.
According to a CNNTURK report dated Dec. 8, 2009, U.S. President Barack Obama raised the Article 301 issue with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan during their last face-to-face meeting in Washington, D.C.
“I think those asking about this don’t know what Article 301 is,” Erdogan reportedly said. “Until now it has only happened to eight persons.”
This month the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe criticized Turkey’s revision of Article 301, declaring that the government should simply abolish the law.
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) in Strasbourg also warned earlier this month that Turkey is violating Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights to the extent that the European Court of Human Rights may impose sanctions on Turkey over Article 301.
Noting that the Assembly welcomed previous amendments to the law, the most recent PACE report declares it “deplores the fact that Turkey has not abolished Article 301.”
Report from Compass Direct News
Church meeting in tent has sought building permit for years.
JAKARTA, Indonesia, January 4 (CDN) — More than 1,000 people protested the Christmas Eve service of a church meeting in a makeshift facility in Bekasi, West Java.
Christians of the Filadelfia Huria Kristen Batak Protestan Church (HKBP) fearfully held their service, including the Lord’s Supper, in spite of the disturbance.
With the Dec. 24 service scheduled to start at 9 p.m., the mob had already gathered at 6 p.m., shouting demands that it not take place and that the church be disbanded because it did not have permits. The church erected a tent and a semi-permanent structure for the service.
The church does not yet have a permanent building, though the congregation has been trying to obtain permission for one for years, church leaders said. The protestors claimed that the Christmas service could not be held at the site because a church building permit had not been issued.
Hundreds of police and soldiers were on hand to guard the 200 worshippers against the protestors. The service continued until the end, with police accompanying worshippers as they left. Other police and soldiers guarded the property after the mob had dispersed.
The Rev. Palti Panjaitan said that the crowd blocked the street in front of the site in an area of up to 200 meters.
“They blocked vehicles and people trying to get to the church,” the pastor said. “However, after negotiations, our congregation was able to pass, and the service was held on time.”
Bekasi Police Chief Herri Wibowo said that the church had not obtained citizens’ approval or recommendations from either the local government or the Bekasi office of the Department of Religion.
“The mob in the street rejects the building of a church and holding of worship services because permits have not been granted,” Herri said.
The church lot is located in the Ninth ward of Jejalan village in Bekasi district. A captain of the Ninth ward who goes by the single name of Bongkon said that the church permit application has been in process for at least two years.
“Some of the citizens have signed the letter agreeing to the church, but some have not agreed,” said Bongkon. “The church claims that they have permission and will only use the place temporarily.”
Church elder Tigor Tampubolon said that the church purchased the land with the intention of constructing a worship building from the beginning. He said the seller of the land and the village leader agreed to construction of a church building, but that sub-district level officials have created delays.
Thus far Filadelfia HKBP Church has held services in the tent. Tampubolon said he hopes that local residents will not bother the congregation’s future worship.
“Every citizen has the right to worship in his own way,” he said. “There is no need to request permission from the block or ward captains, or from the government.”
Pastor Panjaitan said that the church has submitted all the necessary papers for a construction permit for a permanent building, but that formal permission has not yet been issued.
“The church building will go up as soon as the permit is issued,” he told Compass.
On Dec. 27 another demonstration took place during Sunday worship, with a mob gathering and demanding that services cease. This crowd, however, was not as big as the one that tried to stop the Christmas Eve service.
The Filadelfia congregation has been active since 2000, with services initially held in the pastor’s home. In 2006, a mob of 300 people swarmed the pastor’s home during a Sunday morning service. Claiming to be neighbors, they pressured the pastor to sign a document promising not to hold religious meetings at his home.
Since then, services have been held in the homes of various church members on a rotating basis.
In 2008 there was another threat to close the church. The captain from the Fourth block of the 10th ward sent the church a letter and personally visited the pastor with a community request to stop worship services.
Report from Compass Direct News
Police randomly arrest Copts as ploy to portray symmetry in ‘sectarian clash.’
ISTANBUL, June 16 (Compass Direct News) – Egyptian news sources report security forces have wrongly detained two Christians for nearly a month as part of a ruse to cast a Muslim attack on Copts as “sectarian violence.”
Violence broke out last month in the village of Toma, near El-Mahalla El-Kubra in the middle of the Nile Delta, when local Muslims attacked Copts who had rescued Nermeen Mitry, 16; Muslims had kidnapped the Coptic girl and tried to convert her to Islam, according to Assyrian International News Agency (AINA).
Some 150 Muslims attacked five of Mitry’s family members as they drove home to their village following her rescue after the May 21 kidnapping. Police arrested 14 Muslims and 11 Copts. In the course of the violence, a carton recycling warehouse owned by her father was burned down.
Most of the perpetrators have been released, Copts said, while two Muslims and two randomly selected Copts are still detained – a ruse to disguise the one-sided nature of the attack and to keep both sides from causing further disturbances. Hany Haziz, a local watchmaker who participated in reconciliation meetings, asserted that the Minister of Interior ordered the detentions for 45 days to create a false sense of symmetrical “community strife,” according to Coptic News Bulletin.
Coptic activists concurred that the state uses arrests of Copts when Muslims instigate sectarian violence to create a false sense of equivalence.
“This was a balance game; the security services play this every single instance,” said Helmy Guirguis, president of the U.K. Coptic Association. “They must take an equal number, and sometimes they snatch people on the street.”
International and Egyptian news agencies quoted state security forces saying that Mitry was engaged to local Muslim youth Hossam Hamouda, and that their relationship resulted in fierce clashes in the village of 2,000 people.
In addition, a report on Thursday (June 11) from the Egyptian Association for Democracy included quotes from local Muslims who repeated the statements of state security forces. But the authors of the report were not allowed to interview Mitry’s sister.
Some Copts, however, said that Muslim residents of Toma were angry that the kidnapping and attempted forcible conversion of Mitry had failed, as the perpetrators stood to earn money from Islamic groups that pay substantial sums for such conversions.
“The Muslims were angry that the girl escaped Islamization,” an Egyptian journalist told Compass. “There is a lot of money involved in Islamization of Coptic girls, as much as thousands of U.S. dollars, funded mainly by Saudi Arabia and Gulf states.”
Kidnap Victim’s Account
Mitry told the Free-Copts Organization that she was drugged by a Muslim friend and kidnapped, according to AINA.
When she awoke, she was in a house in Zagazig, a city in the eastern Nile Delta, and a bearded Muslim man was trying to convert her to Islam. He was later found to be Essam Abu Deiof Hamoud, a relative of the girl who allegedly drugged Mitry.
“The man was very confident and told me that I would be the fourth Coptic girl to ‘know the true Allah’ and convert to Islam through him,” Mitry told Free-Copts, according to AINA. “I told him, ‘I am engaged to be married when I come of age, and would never convert to Islam,’ as this would be a catastrophe for me. He did his best to make me change my mind.”
One of the abductor’s family members, who knew Mitry’s family, contacted them and told them her whereabouts. Her family came to rescue her from Hamoud.
Police told the family to bring her to the state security directorate, but because they distrusted government forces they instead brought her to the Coptic St. Demiana Convent northeast of Cairo. Egyptian authorities have been known to return Coptic girls to their Muslim kidnappers and summarily close cases.
At press time Mitry was still in the convent waiting until tensions diffuse in Toma. Some Christian advocates believe Copts will arrange a marriage for her before she returns to the village to make her less susceptible to a future kidnapping.
Until then, reconciliation meetings between Copts and Muslims continue under the auspices of the police. No Christian clergy are present.
Such meetings are somewhat customary in Egypt, in which different parties come together to settle legal matters out of court. They carry a social purpose of restoring faith and communal harmony in the face of sectarian tensions. But advocacy groups worry when meetings go beyond easing community tensions and act as a substitute for administrative justice and proper investigation.
Rights groups say that Mitry’s kidnapping is a small part of a larger campaign to rid Egypt of its Coptic element through pressuring conversions or otherwise erasing Christianity in the country.
That campaign includes a recent official decree by the Justice Ministry stating that Abu Hennes, one of Egypt’s few completely Coptic cities, would be renamed Wadi al-Neinaa (Mint Valley). The city’s Coptic legacy dates back to the fourth century, and the site is symbolically important as it is believed to have received Mary, Joseph, and Jesus after their flight from Israel.
On Thursday (June 11), thousands of Copts protested the attempted name change, according to Egyptian Christian weekly Watani. Similar demonstrations occurred in 1979 when former President Anwar Sadat also attempted a name change. In the face of protests, he ultimately backed down.
Report from Compass Direct News