Europe brought to notice human rights violations in Belarus


On November 19-20 in Tallin (Estonia) and Helsinki (Finland) a Belarussian human rights advocate, expert of the Humanitarian Technologies Agency (Minsk), Denis Hil made a speech. The subject of the meeting was a presentation of the report about problem of faith right violations in Belarus, reports center "The Other Europe".

Representatives of Finish and Baltic public organizations took part in the meetings and learned that the recent statements of Lukashenko about a possible liberalization and a European course of Belarussian inner policy is not more, than a political game. Its aim is to mislead public opinion of the EU.

Denis noted, that today there is a danger, that the EU can ignore the human rights violations in Belarus for economical benefits. "Unfortunately, we have to state the fact that the Lukashenko statements do not correspond to reality. Recently, situation with liberty of faith don’t become better. On the contrary, new obstacles have appeared in activity of even registered churches and church unions", said Denis Hil in Tallin.

In Helsinki took place a similar meeting with representatives of public organizations and journalists in office of IRR-TV. Denis Hil took part in a program for Finish 7th channel, several radio stations and print medias.

Today the situation with human rights in Belarus fills with misgivings. According to law of liberty of conscience for 2002 year, any religious activity without state registration is prohibited. An artificial legal paradox was created. The matter is that to get a registration, a religious organization should have at least 20 followers. But it is prohibited to lead any activity to get these followers.

Thereby, legally registrate its parish can just traditional churches: Orthodox, Catholic, in some cases Lutherans. Other Protestant churches are significantly dead in rights to spread their beliefs.

Such laws create prerequisites for restraint on activity of registrated religious organization. According to the 25th article of law of liberty of concscience, religious organizations cant arrange religious meetings (worships) in rented (not church) buildings without permission of public authorities.

Religious congregations don`t have a right to establish their own mass medias and educational institutions, to train priests, invite foreign religious workers etc. Such rights have just registered religious organizations.

According to the news law, a religious organization can be created if it has no less than ten congregations, one of which worked in Belarus not less, than 20 years. Many of recently appeared religious organizations wont be able to create a union in the nearest future. It puts obstacles in the way of confessing one`s faith.

Members of religious organizations can`t spread their religious views, preach, give spiritual literature, worship etc, out of the place, where the congregation was registered. According to the new law, activity of a religious organization can be realized just on the territory, where act registered congregations, ingressed into the union. That is why, any missionary activity becomes illegal and spreading of religious views is restricted.

State authorities recently without any reason refuse religious organizations permission to get places for building churches.

State mass media of Belarus often spread insulting inadequate information about activity of religious organizations. Many organizations are called "sects" and "contrasting with Orthodox confession, which is traditional for Belarussian people". First of all, such information is spread by state mass media.

The Belorussian expert underlined the necessity of common actions of public and religious organizations in protecting the basic human rights, one of which is liberty of faith.

During the discussion in Tallin, a representative of a center "The Other Europe" (Latvia) Pavel Levushkan said, that people in Baltic countries understand problems in Belarus very well, because several years ago religious confessions in our countries were experiensing persecutions in Soviet times. He also said that "The Other Europe" realizes constant monitoring of the situation. "Just real actions, not declarations, should be taken into account by EU authorities", added the Latvian guest.

An expert of portal Liberty of Faith Dmitry Sargin has drawn attention of the present on the fact, that Lukashenko didn`t explain yet what happened with the missing opposition representatives. "What is the role of Belarussian president and secret services in the disappearing of people? What were the results of the investigation? We don`t have answers yet. What dialogue is possible with the country, where disappeare people, having opposite views from the official? If Belarus wants to dialogue with the EU, its authorities should take norms of civilized politician discussian".

Report from the Christian Telegraph 

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IRAQ: FLEEING CHRISTIANS FACE NEW HARDSHIPS IN TURKEY


As renewed violence in Mosul halts return, refugees wait in Turkish legal limbo.

ISTANBUL, November 14 (Compass Direct News) – In this Turkish city’s working-class neighborhood of Kurtulus, Arabic can be heard on the streets, signs are printed in the Arabic alphabet and Iraqis congregate in tea shops.

In 99-percent Muslim Turkey, most of these Iraqis are not Muslims. And they are not in Turkey by choice. They are Christian refugees who fled their homeland to escape the murderous violence that increasingly has been directed at them.

It is hard to tell how many of Mosul’s refugees from the recent wave of attacks have made their way to Istanbul, but finding these residents here is not hard. A middle-aged Iraqi refugee who fled Mosul five months ago now attends a Syrian Orthodox Church in the poverty-stricken neighborhood of Tarlabasi, where gypsies, transvestites, and immigrants from Turkey’s east live in hopes of a better life in Istanbul.

Declining to give his name, the refugee said there is no future for Christians in Iraq and that nearly everyone he knew there wanted to leave the country. He said the only hope for Iraqi Christians is for Western countries to open their doors to Christian Iraqi refugees.

“We don’t have hope,” he said. “If these doors aren’t opened, we will be killed.”

Since October, violence in Mosul has pushed more than 12,000 Christians from their homes and left more than two dozen dead, according to U.N. and Christian organizations. In the face of Mosul violence, Iraqi Christians flee to Turkey before settling permanently in another country, usually in a place where their family has gone out before them.

 

Christian Sisters Killed

Weeks after the mass exodus of Mosul Christians to surrounding villages, Turkey and other nations, around one-third of families reportedly have returned due to the presence of 35,000 army and police and the Iraqi government offering cash grants of up to $800.

But those returning Christians were shaken again on Wednesday (Nov. 12), when Islamic militants stormed into the house of two Syrian Catholic sisters, Lamia’a Sabih and Wala’a Saloha, killing them and severely injuring their mother. They then bombed their house and detonated a second explosive when the police arrived, which killed three more.

The Christian family had recently returned after having fled Mosul. Many believe this attack will deter other Christians from returning to Mosul, and there are reports of Christians again leaving the area.

There has been a steady exodus of Christians from Iraq since the first Gulf War in 1991. The church in Iraq dates from the beginning of Christianity, but the population has plummeted by 50 percent in the last 20 years. The outflow of Iraqi Christians spiked in 2003 following the U.S.-led invasion.

Although Iraq as a whole has seen a dramatic decrease in violence due to last year’s surge in U.S. troops, the flight of Christians to Turkey has grown. One-third of the 18,000 refugees who registered in Turkey last year are from Iraq. In Syria, an estimated 40 percent of the 1.2 million Iraqis who have fled Iraq are Christians, though they make up only about 3 percent of Iraq’s population.

Monsignor Francois Yakan, the 50-year-old leader of the Chaldean Church in Turkey, said all Iraqi refugees are undergoing hardships regardless of religion, but that the situation is especially difficult for Christians since there is less support for them in Turkey.

“Muslims have the same difficulty as Christians, but there are more foundations to assist them,” he said. “The government notices Muslim immigrants, but nobody pays attention to us.”

Yakan travels to other countries to raise awareness of the plight of Iraqi Christians, trying to marshal the support of government and church leaders – last week he traveled to France, Romania and Germany. If Western governments don’t wake up to this crisis, he said, the results could be catastrophic.

“People don’t know the plight of Iraqi Christians. They have no government, no soldiers, and no power,” he said. “Christianity in Iraq is ending. Why aren’t they noticing this?”

 

Strangers in Strange Land

The unnamed Iraqi refugee in Tarlabasi said not even pleas from Iraqi priests can make them stay.

“The church in Iraq can’t stop the people from leaving because they can’t guarantee their security,” he said.

He came to Istanbul with his family but still has an adult son and daughter in the city. He hopes to join his brother in the United States soon.

A group of Iraqi refugees at a tea shop in the Kurtulus area of Istanbul interrupted their card game to talk to Compass of their troubled lives.

“We can’t find any work,” said Baghdad-born Iraqi Jalal Toma, who acted as the translator for the group. He pointed to a young man at the table and said, “He works moving boxes and carrying things, and they pay him half as much as a Turk for a day’s work.”

All of the men are Chaldean Christians, a Catholic Eastern-rite church whose historical homeland is in northern Iraq, and came from Mosul in recent months. They are chronically under-employed and rely on financial help from family members abroad to make ends meet.

They had to flee their homes at a moment’s notice, taking along their families but leaving behind their cars, houses and most of their possessions. The men hope to join family members who live in foreign countries, but they harbor few hopes that they can ever return to Iraq again.

 

Offering Relief

Work is scarce for refugees and hard to come by legally in Turkey. To survive, most Iraqi Christians rely on money from families abroad or the handful of local church charities that struggle to keep up with the overwhelming volume of refugees, such as the Istanbul Interparish Migrant Program, an ecumenical umbrella group that unites the city’s parishes to assist migrants and asylum seekers.

Another such charity is Kasdar, the Chaldean-Assyrian-Syriac Humanitarian, Social and Cultural Organization, run by Yakan, the Chaldean Church leader in Turkey.

He launched Kasdar two years ago to provide a safety net for Christian refugees who live in Turkey’s legal limbo. Kasdar assists all Christians regardless of denomination or faith tradition and has 16 volunteers from an equally diverse background.

Yakan sees thousands of refugees pass through Istanbul each year. Most of them are Chaldean, and he knows of 60-70 people who fled due to the recent October violence in Mosul. He travels constantly to visit Chaldean refugees scattered throughout the country.

When refugees first arrive in Turkey, they must register with the United Nations as asylum seekers. The Turkish police then assign them to one of 35 cities to live in as they wait to receive official refugee status. These Christians face the biggest hardships since they don’t have access to the same social resources as refugees in Istanbul, said Metin Corabatir, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees spokesman in Turkey.

“The Chaldean population faces problems in Turkey, especially due to the policy of resettling them to satellite cities,” said Corabatir. “The Chaldeans in Istanbul have NGOs [Non-Governmental Organizations] and churches to help them, but in satellite cities there is no church or community to help them.”

Most refugees send their children to school at a local center run by Caritas, a Catholic confederation of relief, development and social service organizations. Here, Iraq children receive education and lessons in basic vocational skills.

The wait for legal status can be as short as a few months or a couple of years. But complicated circumstances can push back the wait to five years, 10 years, or even 17 years – as it is now for a man who fled during the first Gulf War, Yakan of the Chaldean Church said.

Another church leader who has helped Christian refugees is 70-year-old Monsignor Yusuf Sag, vicar general of the Syrian Catholic Church in Turkey. His 350-person congregation assembles packets of clothes and food for the refugees.

Many who come to Sag also seek medical help. He has connections with doctors throughout the city, both Muslim and Christian, who offer basic treatment to refugees free of charge. Sag said he tries to help all who come to him, without asking them of their denomination or even their religion.

“Their situation is not a Christian problem, but a human problem,” he said.

Often Iraqi Christians work illegally, where they are vulnerable to extortion. Refugee workers in Istanbul said registered asylum seekers can work legally, but it is not uncommon for employers to garnish their wages or withhold them completely, with the foreigners getting little protection from police.

The Turkish government charges a refugee a residence tax of US$460 a year and will not allow them to leave the country until it is paid, making them remain in the country even longer. With all these hurdles to finding stable employment, many Iraqi refugees are never too far from homelessness.

“There was a family we found living on the streets – a husband, wife and two children,” Yakan said. “They have lived in Istanbul for six months and couldn’t even afford to pay rent.”

His foundation found the family an apartment and assisted them with rent, but they only have enough resources to help for two months.

Kasdar gave similar assistance to 54 families in October. But the organization can only help for a few months at a time and assist the most vulnerable refugees.

Report from Compass Direct News

BAPTIST PASTOR STILL MISSING AFTER TIJUANA KIDNAPPING


More than a week has passed since San Diego pastor Manuel Jesus Tec was kidnapped Oct. 21 in Tijuana, and his family still has not talked with or heard from him, reports Baptist Press.

Originally, the kidnappers demanded a $1-million ransom for Tec’s release, but in two calls Monday night, Oct. 27, the kidnappers lowered that figure to $500,000 and subsequently to $200,000.

“Last night, we also heard a recording of his voice saying he was OK, and he asked us to do all that the kidnappers told us to do because his life was at risk,” Tec’s 30-year-old son Johnny said Oct. 28.

“We are totally hopeful and faith-filled,” Johnny Tec said. “Mom is holding up pretty good. We’ve been having prayer meetings every night here at the house. We give credit to the prayers of so many people out there. We’re hearing from places all over the world where people are praying for us. I don’t know how they found out, but we’re hearing from people all over the U.S. and Mexico, from Japan, the Philippines and even Africa.

“Only God can give us joy in the middle of a storm like this,” Tec said. “But that’s what we’ve been experiencing — the comfort of God and the hope that He will bring our dad back soon.”

Pastor Manuel Tec, 59, was kidnapped after crossing the border from San Diego into Tijuana with wife Maria and his younger son Giovanni. Gunmen stopped the car around 5 a.m. and forcibly abducted Tec, but left his wife and son free and unhurt.

The kidnappers contacted the Tec family for the fourth time Sunday night, Oct. 26, “trying to be intimidating,” Johnny Tec said. He said the kidnappers have not allowed him or his mother to talk to Manuel since abducting him.

The Tecs first heard from the abductors on Oct. 21, the day of the kidnapping, when the kidnappers called the family three times — at 5:15 a.m., 11:45 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. to voice their demands.

“Every time they called, they got more aggressive and more graphic in their threats,” said Tec, adding that the family is in the dark as to why his father was targeted for kidnapping.

“He wasn’t famous so we don’t know why anyone would want to kidnap him. He was friendly, well-liked and popular with his church members and those who knew him. But we don’t know why someone would want to kidnap him for money, especially $1 million.”

Tec added that the kidnappers have instructed the family, “Keep cooperating with us and your dad will be OK.”

“They said to come up with the money -– that this wasn’t a game. They’ve also said they know all of the Tec brothers and sisters and would go after the entire family,” Johnny said.

Manuel and his wife have three sons and two daughters. Though he lives in Tijuana, the pastor travels regularly to his new church plant in San Diego, Iglesia Familiar y Vida. A graduate of the Dr. G.H. Lacy Baptist Seminary in Oaxaca, Mexico, Manuel has pastored numerous Baptist churches south of the border since 1981, his son Johnny said.

“We just say ‘gracias’ to Southern Baptists everywhere for praying during this crisis we’re going through,” Johnny Tec said. “Let Baptists know that their prayers are being heard. We can feel how God has strengthened us. We think God is setting the stage for one more of His miracles that will leave us all in awe. Something grand is going to come out of this to show the world the power of prayer and God.”

Tijuana increasingly has become known as a dangerous border town, with a growing number of kidnappings and murders — often with doctors and other white-collar professionals as targets. The escalating violence is blamed on gangs and drug traffickers. Authorities recently rounded up some of the kidnapping gangs.

“It’s getting worse,” Johnny Tec said. “A lot of people are fleeing the city because the violence has skyrocketed over the past five years. Tijuana’s an unsafe place to be, with a lot of evil on the streets. Ten people a day are showing up dead on the streets of Tijuana.”

Tec said demanding a $1 million — or even a $200,000 ransom — for a Baptist minister makes no sense.

“The first ransom proposals down here seem to always be for $1 million, no matter who they pick out,” said Tec, adding that the latest ransom demand of $200,000 is still “well out of our possibilities.”

Tec said his family has “come to the crossroads,” however, where it may have to begin bargaining with the kidnappers.

Report from the Christian Telegraph

IRAN: COURT FINDS WAY TO ACQUIT CHRISTIANS OF ‘APOSTASY’


Tribunal tries to save face by claiming pastors never converted from Islam.

LOS ANGELES, October 30 (Compass Direct News) – An Iranian judge has ordered the release of two pastors charged with “apostasy,” or leaving Islam, but the defendants said the ruling was based on the court’s false claim that they confessed to having never converted to Christianity.

Mahmoud Matin Azad, 52, said he and Arash Basirat, 44, never denied their Christian faith and believe the court statement resulted from the judge seeking a face-saving solution to avoid convicting them of apostasy, which soon could automatically carry the death penalty.

Azad and Basirat were arrested May 15 and acquitted on Sept. 25 by Branch 5 of the Fars Criminal Court in Shiraz, 600 kilometers (373 miles) south of Tehran.

A court document obtained by human rights organization Amnesty International stated, “Both had denied that they had converted to Christianity and said that they remain Muslim, and accordingly the court found no further evidence to the contrary.”

Azad vehemently denied the official court statement, saying the notion of him being a Muslim never even came up during the trial.

“The first question that they asked me was, ‘What are you doing?’ I said, ‘I am a pastor pastoring a house church in Iran,” he told Compass. “All my [court] papers are about Christianity – about my activity, about our church and everything.”

Members of Azad’s house church confirmed that the government’s court statement of his rejection of Christianity was false.

“His faith wasn’t a secret – he was a believer for a long, long time,” said a source who preferred to remain anonymous.

During one court hearing, Azad said, a prosecutor asked him, “Did you change your religion?” Azad responded, “I didn’t have religion for 43 years. Now I have religion, I have faith in God and I am following God.”

If the court misstated that the two men said they were Muslims, it likely came from political pressure from above, said Joseph Grieboski, founder of the Institute on Religion and Public Policy.

“If the court did in fact lie about what he said, I would think it’s part of the larger political game that [President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad and his factions are trying to play to garner political support for him,” Grieboski said.

Ahmadinejad, who is facing re-election, has approval ratings hovering above the single digits and has faced international criticism for the apostasy law.

“What he does not need is bad press and bad political positioning,” Grieboski said. “I would be shocked if [the acquittal] were not somehow involved in the presidential campaign.”

International condemnation of the law and of the proposed mandatory death penalty for those who leave Islam come as Iran faces new rounds of U.N. economic sanctions for uranium enrichment.

Upon his release, Azad said that no reason was given for the court freeing him and Basirat. Disputing the court’s allegation that they claimed to be Muslims, Azad said that he told his attorney, “Two things I will never say. First, I will not lie; second, I will not deny Jesus my Lord and my Savior.”

The two men are grateful for their release, he said, but they worry that their acquittal might merely be a tactic by the Iranian government to wait for them to re-engage in Christian activity and arrest them again. Their release could also put anyone with whom they associate in danger, Azad said.

There is another worry that the government could operate outside the law in order to punish them, as some believe has happened in the past. The last case of an apostasy conviction in Iran was that of Christian convert Mehdi Dibaj in 1994. Following his release, however, Dibaj and four other Protestant pastors, including converts and those working with converts, were brutally murdered.

A similar motivation could have prompted the judge to release the two pastors. Leaving their deaths up to outside forces would abrogate him from personally handing down the death penalty, Grieboski said.

“Even in Iran no judge wants to be the one to hand down the death penalty for apostasy,” he said. “The judge’s motivation [in this hearing] could have been for his own face-saving reasons, for the possibility of arresting more people, or even for the possibility that the two defendants will be executed using social means rather than government means. Any of these are perfectly legitimate possibilities when we start talking about the Iranian regime.”

The court case against Azad and Basirat came amid a difficult time for local non-Muslims as the Iranian government attempted to criminalize apostasy from Islam.

On Sept. 9 the Iranian parliament approved a new penal code by a vote of 196-7 calling for a mandatory death sentence for apostates, or those who leave Islam. The individual section of the penal code containing the apostasy bill must be passed for it to go into law.

As recently as late August, the court was reluctant to release the two men on bail. At one point Azad’s attorney anticipated the bail to be between $40,000 and $50,000, but the judge set the bail at $100,000.

The original charge against Azad and Basirat of “propaganda against the Islamic Republic of Iran” was dropped, but replaced with the more serious charge of apostasy.

Those close to the two pastors were relieved at the acquittal since they expected their detention to be lengthy.

“We had anticipated [Azad’s incarceration] would be a while, and then we got this notice that they were released,” said a family friend of Azad. “We were shocked by that.”

Azad described his four-month incarceration in positive terms. He said that while in prison he was treated with respect by the authorities because he explained that he was not interested in political matters and was a pastor.  

Report from Compass Direct News

MELBOURNE SURVIVE SOMEHOW: The Season’s Best team Marches On


After loosing to the New Zealand Warriors last week, the Melbourne Storm were facing elimination if they lost in tonight’s game against the Brisbane Broncos. The winner would be through to play the Cronulla Sharks next week in order to reach the Grand Final.

Last night saw the Warriors survive to fight another day and they will play the Manly Sea Eagles next week in order to reach the Grand Final.

Having trailed Brisbane all night, right through until the final seconds of the game, Melbourne managed to capitalise on a Brisbane mistake and score with only seconds to play. Melbourne had fought back from 12 – 0 down at half time to be trailing 14 – 12 with only seconds to play.

Somehow, having made it back deep into the Brisbane half, the Storm managed to score a try giving them an amazing 16 – 14 victory.

Earlier in the second half it appeared that Melbourne had scored a miracle try to hit the lead, only to have it disallowed and for Brisbane to be given a penalty instead. Replays suggested the ruling may have been correct, though the replays were in no way conclusive.

Brisbane were of course shattered by the late try, having already been convinced that they were about to win the game and progress to the next match. But it wasn’t to be and the season’s best team marches on and a possible defence of last year’s premiership title is still a possibility.

SCRABULOUS TO WORDSCRAPER


Facebook application Scrabulous has apparently been given a makeover in an attempt to head off a suit by Hasbro, who own the US rights to Scrabble. The new look game is now called Wordscraper and comes with a completely new look, including circular tiles and new rules.

The re-birthed game is already appearing on US and Canadian profiles, but is yet to appear on Australian profiles – at least I haven’t seen it yet.

Perhaps it will bring with it new fortunes in the games I play with a notorious ‘wordsmith’ from Wagga. I can but hope. J