Consumer watchdog calls for new measures to combat Facebook and Google’s digital dominance



Facebook and Google potentially face fresh curbs on their market power.
Shutterstock.com

Rob Nicholls, UNSW and Katharine Kemp, UNSW

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has called for “holistic, dynamic reforms” to address the online dominance of digital behemoths such as Google and Facebook.

A 600-page report, released today, makes 23 recommendations for regulating digital platforms – covering competition law, consumer protection, media regulation, and privacy.

Most of the suggested reforms are aimed squarely at countering the dominance of Facebook and Google, which the ACCC says has distorted a range of markets including advertising and media.




Read more:
ACCC wants to curb digital platform power – but enforcement is tricky


The ACCC recommends forming a new branch to deal specifically with Google and Facebook. But it doesn’t propose itself as the sole watchdog: the report also recommends a regulatory role for the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA).

Meanwhile, the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) is called upon to develop an enforceable code to regulate platforms’ use of data. And even the Australian Tax Office will potentially be involved, as part of a proposal to introduce measures to encourage philanthropic funding of public-interest journalism.

Digital platforms with more than a million active users in Australia will be required to provide ACMA with codes to address the imbalance in the bargaining relationship between these platforms and news media businesses. These codes are expected to recognise the need for value-sharing and monetisation of news content.

Under the recommendations, ACMA would also be expected to monitor digital platforms’ efforts to identify reliable and trustworthy news, and to manage a mandatory take-down code for content that breaches copyright.

Market muscle

The ACCC report highlights the “substantial market power” enjoyed by Google and Facebook in their respective domains of web searching and social media. While it is not unlawful for firms to have this degree of power, it does mean they are likely to be subject to the (as yet untested) misuse of market power law introduced in 2017.

The ACCC is concerned that current merger laws do not go far enough, given large platforms’ ability to remove future competitive threats by simply buying start-ups outright. Such acquisitions may also increase the platforms’ access to data. The ACCC considers that either or both of these could entrench a platform’s market power.

As a result, the report recommends changes to Australia’s merger laws to expressly require consideration of the effect of potential competition, and to recognise the importance of data. It also recommends that platforms should be obliged to notify the ACCC in advance of any proposed acquisition.

This is not a substantial change to the existing law, which already allows consideration of anti-competitiveness. But it is a signal that the ACCC will be focusing on this issue.

The ACCC also wants Google to allow Australian users of Android devices to choose their search engine and internet browser – a right already enjoyed by Android users in the European Union.

Empowering consumers

The ACCC recommends substantial changes to Australian Consumer Law, to address the huge inequalities in bargaining power between digital platforms and consumers when it comes to terms of use, and particularly privacy.

The report’s most significant proposal in this area is to outlaw “unfair practices”, in line with similar bans in the US, UK, Europe, Canada, and elsewhere. This would cover conduct that is not covered by existing laws governing the misuse of market power, misleading or deceptive conduct, or unconscionable conduct.

This could be relevant, for example, where a digital platform imposes particularly invasive privacy terms on its users, which far outweigh the benefits of the service provided. The ACCC also called for digital platforms to face significant fines for imposing unfair contract terms on users.

The report recommends a new mandatory standard to bolster digital platforms’ internal dispute resolution processes. This would be reinforced by the creation of a new ombudsman to assist with resolving disputes and complaints between consumers and digital platforms.

Protecting privacy

The ACCC found that digital platforms’ privacy policies are long, complex, vague, and hard to navigate, and that many platforms do not provide consumers with meaningful control over how their data is handled.

The report therefore calls for stronger legal privacy protections, as part of a broader reform of Australian privacy law. This includes agreeing with the Australian Law Reform Commission on the need for a statutory tort for serious invasions of privacy.

Legal action ahead?

The ACCC also highlighted several matters on which it is considering future actions. These include the question of whether Facebook breached consumer law by allowing users’ data to be shared with third parties (potentially raising similar issues to the investigation by the US Federal Trade Commission, which this week resulted in a US$5 billion fine against Facebook), and whether Google has collated users’ location data in an unlawful way.




Read more:
Digital platforms. Why the ACCC’s proposals for Google and Facebook matter big time


In a statement, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and federal communications minister Paul Fletcher accepted the ACCC’s overriding conclusion that there is a need for reform.

The federal government will now begin a 12-week public consultation process, and said it expects to release its formal response to the report by the end of the year.The Conversation

Rob Nicholls, Senior lecturer in Business Law, UNSW and Katharine Kemp, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Law, UNSW, and Co-Leader, ‘Data as a Source of Market Power’ Research Stream of The Allens Hub for Technology, Law and Innovation, UNSW

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

Morrison to unveil broad suite of measures to boost Australia’s influence in the Pacific


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Scott Morrison on Thursday will announce an extensive suite of military, diplomatic, financial and people-to-people initiatives in a major boost to Australia’s role in the Pacific.

They include setting up a $2 billion infrastructure financing facility to promote development in the region.

The facility – coming hard on the heels of Labor proposing a government-backed infrastructure investment bank to assist the Pacific – would provide grant and loan financing for telecommunications, transport, energy, water and similar projects.




Read more:
Shorten proposes investment bank to help Pacific nations’ development


The military initiatives include an Australian Defence Force Pacific
Mobile Training Team and more naval deployments, while diplomatic
missions will be opened in Palau, the Marshall Islands, French Polynesia, Niue and the Cook Islands.

APEC focuses minds on Papua New Guinea

The Pacific push is against the background of China’s growing involvement in the area. But the government also points to issues of
potential instability in some countries, and the Islamic State terrorism threat in the broader Indo-Asia Pacific region.

The announcement comes ahead of the APEC meeting in Port Moresby on
November 17-18, and it follows Australia and Papua New Guinea agreeing
on a joint redevelopment of the naval base on Manus Island.

In Thursday’s speech at Lavarack base at Townsville, released ahead of
delivery, Morrison says: “My government is returning the Pacific to
where it should be – front and centre of Australia’s strategic outlook, foreign policy and personal connections, including at the highest levels of government”.

Morrison says it is time to “open a new chapter in relations with our
Pacific family”.

“Australia has an abiding interest in a Southwest Pacific that is secure strategically, stable economically and sovereign politically”.

The region is “where Australia can make the biggest difference in world affairs” – but too often had taken its influence for granted.

Defence to tie Australia to the Pacific

Morrison says that in future the Australian Defence Force, which already has a pivotal role, will play an even greater one with partner countries in training, capacity building, exercises and on “building interoperability to respond together to the security challenges we face”.

The proposed rotational ADF Pacific Mobile Training Team will be based in Australia, travelling to places in the Pacific, when invited, to undertake training and engagement with other forces.

Work with regional partners would be in areas such as disaster response, peacekeeping, infantry skills, engineering and logistics.

Morrison says the Navy will be deployed more to the Pacific to conduct
training and exercises with other countries. “This will enable them to
take advantage of the new Guardian Class Patrol Boats we are gifting
to them, to support regional security”.

Ties with Pacific police forces are to be strengthened, with a new Pacific faculty at the Australian Institute of Police Management that will help train future police leaders.

More regular in-person contact

To deepen people-to-people links with Pacific security forces, there
will be annual meetings of defence and police and border security
chiefs.

A security alumni network will be set up to maintain connections with
those who have taken part in the Defence Cooperation Program over
decades.

Military sporting engagements will be expanded, as will general
sporting links with a new sports program.

Announcing the new diplomatic posts, Morrison says “this will mean
Australia is represented in every member country of the Pacific Islands Forum”. He stresses also that the government wants “our best and brightest, young and experienced diplomats alike, working on the Pacific”.

As well as the infrastructure financing facility, Morrison is announcing that the government will seek parliamentary approval for Australia’s export financing agency, Efic, to have an extra $1 billion in callable capital and more flexibility to support investments in the region that benefit Australia’s national interest.

More investment in the Pacific

This would “enhance Efic’s ability to support Australian SMEs to be
active in the region. Private capital, entrepreneurialism and open
markets are crucial to our mutual prosperity,” Morrison says.

He says it is estimated the Pacific region will need US$3.1 billion
annually in investment to 2030.

Morrison says the government will work with Australia’s commercial media operators to enable people in Pacific countries to have “access to more quality Australian content on TV and other platforms.

“This will include lifestyle programs, news, current affairs, children’s content, drama and potentially sports. This is an initial step towards providing more Australian content that is highly valued by the Pacific community,” he says.

On 2GB Morrison on Wednesday had to defend Pacific countries from broadcaster Alan Jones’ attack on them as “rent seekers”.

Not rent-seekers after all

Jones lashed out after Morrison gave the importance of the Paris climate agreement to these countries as one reason for Australia not leaving the agreement.

“Do you think all these rent-seekers in the Pacific should get money that you’ve said you’re not going to contribute to Paris. … They’re
rent-seekers, they just want money,” Jones said.

Morrison replied: “I don’t think that’s very respectful to the Pacific
Islands, Alan, I really don’t, and I don’t share that view. They’re
part of the world in which we live here and we’ve always been doing
the right thing by them and we think back to Papua New Guinea, they
did the right thing by us when it came to our Diggers.

“So we have a very special relationship with the Pacific and we need to, for our own interest as well as that it’s part of the community and family of nations we live in in this part of the world. We do the right thing by them, they’ll do the right thing by us.”

Postscript: bid for gas piplines blocked

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has effectively blocked a $13 billion bid by the Hong
Kong-based CK Group for the Australian gas pipeline company APA.

The decision complicates the current visit to China by Foreign
Minister Marise Payne.

Chinese approval for the Payne trip has been hailed as an important
sign of the improving relationship between the two countries after a
period of frostiness, which included tension over the federal
government’s legislation against foreign interference and the ongoing dispute over China’s build up in the South China Sea.

Foreign investment decisions rest with the treasurer, who takes advice
from the Foreign Investment Review Board. Frydenberg said he had
decided the proposed acquisition would be “contrary to the national
interest”

“It would result in an undue concentration of foreign ownership by a
single company group in our most significant gas transmission
business.”

Frydenberg said the board had been “unable to reach a unanimous
recommendation, expressing its concerns about aggregation and the
national interest implications of such a dominant foreign player in
the gas and electricity sectors over the longer term.”

His “preliminary decision” – which under the usual process will be
finalised a fortnight – reflected the size and significance of APA
Group. It was not a reflection on the CK Group, he said.

“The APA Group is a unique company, widely held amongst investors with
significant Australian ownership and management,” Frydenberg said.

“It is by far the largest gas transmission system owner in Australia,
owning 15,000 km of pipelines representing 56 per cent of Australia’s
gas pipeline transmission system, including 74 per cent of New South
Wales and Victorian pipelines and 64 per cent in the Northern
Territory.

“It also supplies gas for part of all mainland capital
cities’ consumption, gas-fired electricity generation assets and
liquefied natural gas exports.”The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Turnbull proposes tougher security measures


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Malcolm Turnbull this week is pushing for a further toughening of national security laws, including to allow police to hold suspects for longer without charges.

Turnbull and state and territory leaders on Thursday will hold a special Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting on measures to counter terrorism.

The Commonwealth is proposing action on three fronts: ensuring nationally consistent pre-charge detention laws; new Commonwealth offences for people who possess “instructional” terrorist material; and strengthening laws against terrorism hoaxes.

On pre-charge detention, in New South Wales people can be held for 14 days but other states have a maximum of seven days or less.

South Australia only allows eight hours without charge. Western Australia allows six hours, before extensions of eight hours can be sought from a magistrate. Queensland allows eight hours and then magistrate approval for every eight hours after that.

The Australian Federal Police and state counterparts want longer questioning and detention time between a person being arrested and either charged or released.

The federal government is proposing to develop Commonwealth laws that can apply nationwide.

Previously, legal and constitutional issues have been a problem but the federal government believes legal concerns can be overcome, with additional safeguards.

The proposal would:

  • increase the initial investigation period from four to eight hours before a person had to be released or an extension of the detention period sought;

  • increase the maximum investigative detention time for Commonwealth terrorism offences to 14 days; and

  • remove some legal complexities, making the law less onerous for police as well as clearer.

The Commonwealth uses the example of the recent plot to blow up a plane in Sydney to show why pre-charge detention laws need to be consistent. Under NSW law, suspects could have been held for up to 14 days but elsewhere the maximum would have been seven.

The proposed new federal offence to criminalise the possession of instructional material of practical use for a terrorist act is designed to enable authorities to intervene “at the lower end of the risk spectrum”.

The government argues this would be a strong deterrent – and uses the comparison of the possession of child pornography, an offence even if a possessor doesn’t intend themselves to abuse a child.

Law enforcement agencies are concerned at the amount of extremist material available online which doesn’t just radicalise people but sometimes gives specific instructions about how to commit a terrorist act.

The government also wants a nationally consistent regime against hoaxes, replacing the present various state and territory offences. It says a new federal offence would keep pace with the “evolving methodology of terrorists”, including false claims about knife and vehicle attacks, as well as traditional hoaxes about explosives and the like.

It would also make for consistent jail terms across the country.

Turnbull said Thursday’s COAG meeting was about staying ahead of the terrorist threat.

The Coalition government has enacted nine tranches of national security legislation; 74 people have been charged as a result of 31 counter-terrorism operations in the last three years.

Since the threat level was raised in September 2014, there have been five attacks and 13 major counter-terrorism disruption operations.

About 110 Australians are presently fighting or engaged with terrorist groups in Syria and Iraq.

Since 2012, about 220 Australians have travelled to Syria or Iraq to fight or support the fighting. At least 65 Australians, and possibly up to 83, have been killed. More than 30 people have come back to Australia after travelling to Syria/Iraq – most before the caliphate was declared.

About 220 people in Australia are being investigated for providing support to the Syrian/Iraq conflict, including through money and other help, or are wanting to travel.

The ConversationSome 220 passports have been cancelled or refused in relation to the conflict.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Counter-terrorism measures permanently reduce international trade: new study


Chris Doucouliagos, Deakin University and Cong S. Pham, Deakin University

Enhanced counter-terrorism measures help to protect lives, but unfortunately also reduce trade, our study shows. The costs of increased security measures are also not shared equally. While some costs are passed onto consumers, exporters and importers often bear the higher costs.

Since 2000, there have been more than 72,000 terrorist acts causing nearly 170,000 deaths. In our study we analysed the impact of terrorism on trade in over 160 countries from 1976 to 2014.

The effects of terrorism in one country spill over across national borders to reduce the trade of other nations. On average, each terrorist incident reduces trade by about US$6.4 million for each trading partner. The effect is also long lived; a terrorist attack can reduce trade over the next five years.

https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/wbkCp/3/

How security measures change trade

One way counter-terrorism reduces trade is through time delays. Some security and counter-terrorism measures cause longer delays at airports, ports and borders and thereby increase the time it takes to trade.

Food products are particularly vulnerable to shipping delays and the disruption of supply chains that arise from tighter border controls. Trading delays can be very costly. One study shows trade is reduced by more than 1% for each additional day it’s delayed.

Counter-terrorism measures also increase charges and transport costs. Transport costs in particular are critical for trade.

Terrorism has led to higher security surcharges at ports and airports and higher insurance premiums. Requirements for businesses to report suspicious transactions cause delays, also increasing trading costs.

After the September 11 attacks in the US, many nations applied stricter counter-terrorism measures to combat money laundering and the financing of terrorism. These measures add to the cost of importing and exporting.

Some of the individual cost components may be relatively small. For example, anti-money-laundering compliance costs in Australia are pretty insignificant. Nonetheless, all these delays and charges add up.

As the OECD points out, doing nothing about terrorism is not an option. Preventive security measures are indispensable to secure trade, infrastructure and lives.

However, some counter-terrorism measures are effectively non-tariff barriers that do more to protect specific industries than to protect people. That is, some security measures have a similar effect to tariffs, in that they divert trade from lower cost overseas producers, to higher cost domestic producers.

And some measures are ineffective. For example, a key objective of counter-terrorism policies to control money-laundering is to choke off external funding for terrorists. However, some terrorist groups, most notably insurgents in Iraq and ISIS, are largely self-financed.

Our results also show that terrorism has a greater adverse effect on trade in sub-Saharan Africa in particular. This region is particularly vulnerable to terrorism due to governance problems such as corruption. Ironically, this region is especially in need of the benefits of trade to improve governance and institutions.

Our study also shows terrorism reduces trade by diverting government attention from trade liberalisation and reform. Promoting trade is an even more difficult task in an era of accelerated terrorism.

Trade itself can help counter terrorism

Trade spillover effects created by terrorism highlight the importance of co-ordinating counter-terrorism measures between countries. However, this also requires greater co-ordination between policies.

Trade can play an important role in curtailing terrorism by bringing nations closer and fuelling economic prosperity and development. Combined with other economic policies and strategies, greater co-ordination between security and trade policies can increase safeguards while lowering trade barriers. It can also offset the higher trade costs that result from extra security measures.

The ConversationBy reducing trade, counter-terrorism policies inadvertently drive a wedge between nations and make nations poorer. Making countries poorer in turn makes it harder to combat terrorism.

Chris Doucouliagos, Professor of Economics, Department of Economics, Deakin Business School and Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation, Deakin University and Cong S. Pham, Senior Lecturer in Economics, Deakin University

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

Australian Politics: 16 July 2013


Today in Australian politics there was a stoush over butlers and pillows between the Queensland Premier Campbell Newman and Kevin Rudd. It all seems a bit too much Campbell (he started it), trying to deflect attention from his own pay rise issues I’d suggest.

For more visit:
http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/breaking-news/rudd-has-a-cushion-carrier-qld-premier/story-fni0xqi3-1226680183388

Kevin Rudd also announced the end of the carbon tax and a move towards an emissions trading scheme from July 1, 2014. Measures to cover the lost revenue were also announced.


USA: Preparing for War with North Korea?


The link below is to an article that reports on new defensive measures being adopted by the USA in response to the aggressive rhetoric of North Korea.

For more visit:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/mar/15/us-strengthen-missile-defence-north-korea

Blast Kills 21 outside Church in Alexandria, Egypt


Bomb explodes as Christians leave New Year’s Eve Mass.

LOS ANGELES, January 3 (CDN) — At least 21 people were killed and scores were wounded on Saturday (Jan. 1) when a bomb outside a church in Alexandria, Egypt exploded as congregants were leaving a New Year’s Eve Mass celebration.

The explosion ripped through the crowd shortly after midnight, killing instantly most of those who died, and leaving the entrance-way to the Church of the Two Saints, a Coptic Orthodox congregation, covered with blood and severed body parts.

The blast overturned at least one car, set several others on fire and shattered windows throughout the block on which the church is located.

Egyptian authorities reportedly said 20 of the victims have been identified. At least 90 other people were injured in the blast, 10 seriously. Among the injured were eight Muslims. Many of the injured received treatment at St. Mark’s Hospital.

Burial services for some of the victims started Sunday (Jan. 2) in Alexandria, located in northern Egypt on the Mediterranean Sea.

Witnesses reportedly said a driver parked a car at the entrance of the church and then ran away seconds before it exploded. Government officials have claimed they found remnants of the bomb, filled with nails and other make-shift shrapnel, at the site; they suspect an unidentified suicide bomber, rather than a car bombing.

No one has claimed responsibility for the bombing, but the attack comes two months after an Islamic group known as the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) issued a threat stating that, “All Christian centers, organizations and institutions, leaders and followers are legitimate targets for the muhajedeen [Muslim fighters] wherever they can reach them.”

Claiming they would open “rivers of blood” upon Christians, the group specifically threatened Egyptian Christians based an unsubstantiated rumor that two Coptic women, both wives of Orthodox clergy, were being held against their will after converting to Islam. The statement came after ISI claimed responsibility for an attack on a Baghdad church during mass in which 58 people were killed.

The Egyptian government continues to suspect foreign elements mounted the Alexandria attack, but an unconfirmed report by The Associated Press, citing anonymous government sources, said an Egyptian Islamic group is being investigated.

Bishop Mouneer Anis, head of the Episcopal Diocese of Egypt, said in a written statement that he thinks the attack was linked to the Iraqi threats. He added that his church has taken greater security measures at its downtown Cairo location.

“We pray with all the people of Egypt, Christians and Muslims, [that they] would unite against this new wave of religious fanaticism and terrorism,” he said.

For weeks before the ISI issued its threat, Alexandria was the site of massive protests against the Orthodox Church and its spiritual leader, Pope Shenouda III. Immediately after Friday prayers, Muslims would stream out into the streets surrounding mosques, chant slogans against the church and demand the “return” of the two women. Before that, as early as June, clerics from at least one central Alexandria mosque could be heard broadcasting anti-Christian vitriol from minaret loudspeakers during prayers, instructing Muslims to separate themselves entirely from their Christian countrymen.

The Alexandria bombing comes almost a year after a shooting in Nag Hammadi, Egypt left six Christians and one Muslim security guard dead. In the Jan. 6, 2010 attack, a group of men drove by St. John’s Church, 455 kilometers (282 miles) south of Cairo, and sprayed with gunfire a crowd leaving a Coptic Christmas Eve service.

Three men were eventually charged with the shootings, but the case has yet to be resolved.

Egypt wasn’t the only place in the Middle East plagued with anti-Christian violence over the holiday season.

The day before bombers struck the Alexandria church, an elderly Christian couple in Baghdad was killed when terrorists placed a bomb outside of their home, rang the doorbell and walked away, according to media and human rights reports. The bombing happened at the same time other Christian-owned homes and neighborhoods throughout Baghdad were being attacked.

Estimates of the number of people wounded in the attacks in Iraq range from nine to more than 13.

Report from Compass Direct News

Algerian Christians to Appeal Conviction for Worshipping


Church leaders fear verdict could mean the end of the country’s Protestant churches.

ISTANBUL, December 15 (CDN) — Four Christian men in Algeria will appeal a court decision to hand them suspended prison sentences for worshiping without a permit, saying the verdict could have repercussions for all the country’s churches.

The correctional court of Larbaa Nath Irathen, about 27 kilometers (17 miles) from the capital of Tizi Ouzou Province, gave two-month suspended prison sentences to four Christian leaders of a small Protestant church on Sunday (Dec. 12).

The pastor of the church, Mahmoud Yahou, was also charged with hosting a foreigner without official permission. The court gave him a three-month suspended sentence and a fine of 10,000 Algerian dinars (US$130), reported French TV station France 24 on its Web site. The prosecutor had asked for one-year prison sentences for each defendant.

Although the suspended sentences mean the four Christians will not serve prison time, Yahou told Compass that he and the three other men plan to appeal the verdict because the outcome of their case could affect all Protestant churches of the country, none of which have official permission to operate.

“If they close us, they can close all the gatherings and churches that exist in Algeria,” Yahou said. “They could all be closed.”

In February 2008 the government applied measures to better control non-Muslim groups through Ordinance 06-03, which was established in 2006. Authorities ordered the closure of 26 churches in the Kabylie region, both buildings and house churches, maintaining that they were not registered under the ordinance. No churches have been closed down since then.

Despite efforts to comply with the ordinance, no churches or Christian groups have received governmental approval to operate, and the government has not established administrative means to implement the ordinance, according to the U.S. Department of State’s 2010 Report on International Religious Freedom.

Though none of the churches have closed since 2008, their status continues to remain questionable and only valid through registration with the Protestant Church of Algeria (EPA). The EPA, however, is also trying to gain official recognition.  

“Actually, this law of 2006 has come to light: people are condemned as criminals for the simple act of thinking and believing different,” the president of the EPA, Mustapha Krim, told Compass. “If we accept this [verdict], it means we are condemned to close our churches one after the other.”

Krim confirmed that based on Ordinance 06-03, none of the churches have actual authorization to operate, nor can Christians speak about their faith to other Algerians.

“If they condemn our four brothers, they need to condemn the others,” he said.

In a sign of solidarity towards the men and to demand the abolition of Ordinance 06-03, dozens of demonstrators gathered outside the courthouse on the first hearing of the case on Sept. 26. Demonstrators carried banners that read: “Places of worship for everyone,” “Freedom of religion = freedom of conscience,” and “Abolition of the Law of 06-03-2006.”

Attending the re-opening of a Catholic church in Algeria’s capital on Monday (Dec. 13), Religious Affairs Minister Bouabdellah Ghlamallah told reporters, “Religious freedom in Algeria is a reality,” reported Reuters.

The Algerian Constitution gives the right to all citizens to practice their faith, although it declares Islam the state religion and prohibits institutions from behavior incompatible with Islamic morality.

Yahou said the judge did not pass a rightful judgment and thus had no real sense of justice.

“I think he has no conscience,” Yahou said. “We can’t be persecuted for nothing. He didn’t judge on the law and constitution, he judged on Islam. If he had read what is in the constitution, he wouldn’t have made this decision.”

The small church of Larbaa Nath Irathen, consisting only of a few families, had problems as early as 2008, when a group of Islamic radicals launched a petition against the church without success.  

Yahou told Compass that he knew very well the people in the village who brought charges against them, saying that they have tried to intimidate the church for the past few months in an effort to close it down.

“These are Islamists, and I know them in this village,” Yahou said.

Tizi Ouzou is part of Kabylie region, an area of Algeria where the country’s Protestant church has grown with relative freedom in recent years.

There are around 64 Protestant churches in the Kabylie region, where most Algerian Christians live, as well as numerous house groups, according to church leaders. The Kabylie region is populated by Berbers, an indigenous people of North Africa.

In October a court in the region acquitted two Christian men of eating during Ramadan in spite of a prosecutor’s demand that they be punished for “insulting Islam.”

In January Muslim neighbors ransacked and set on fire a church in Tizi Ouzou. In September a court in Tizi Ouzou ordered a local church to stop construction on an extension to its building and to tear it down.

Unofficial estimates of the number of Christian and Jewish citizens vary between 12,000 and 50,000, according to the state department’s report.

Report from Compass Direct News

Iraqis Mourn Victims of Massive Attack on Church


Islamic extremist assault, security force operation leave at least 58 dead.

ISTANBUL, November 2 (CDN) — Amid questions about lax security, mourners gathered in Iraq today to bury the victims of Sunday’s (Oct. 31) Islamic extremist assault on a Syrian Catholic Church in Baghdad, one of the bloodiest attacks on the country’s dwindling Christian community.

Seven or eight Islamic militants stormed into Our Lady of Salvation church during evening mass after detonating bombs in the neighborhood, gunning down two policemen at the stock exchange across the street, and blowing up their own car, according to The Associated Press (AP). More than 100 people were reportedly attending mass.

A militant organization called the Islamic State of Iraq, which has links to al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, claimed responsibility for the attack. The militants sprayed the sanctuary with bullets and ordered a priest to call the Vatican to demand the release of Muslim women whom they claimed were held hostage by the Coptic Church in Egypt, according to the AP. The militants also reportedly demanded the release of al Qaeda prisoners.

“It appears to be a well-planned and strategic attack aiming at the church,” said a local source for ministry organization Open Doors.

About four hours after the siege, Iraqi security forces launched an assault on the church building, and the Islamic assailants blew themselves up. It was unclear how many of the 58 people dead had been killed by Iraqi security personnel, but the militants reportedly began killing hostages when the security force assault began. All who did not die from gunshots and blasts were wounded.

The dead included 12 policemen, three priests and five bystanders from the car bombing and other blasts outside the church. The Open Doors source reported that the priests killed were the Rev. Saad Abdal Tha’ir, the Rev. Waseem Tabeeh and the Rev. Raphael Qatin, with the latter not succumbing until he had been taken to a hospital.

Bishop Georges Casmoussa told Compass that today Iraqi Christians not only mourned lost brothers and sisters but were tempted to lose hope.

“It’s a personal loss and a Christian loss,” said Casmoussa. “It’s not just people they kill. They also kill hope. We want to look at the future. They want to kill the Christian presence here, where we have so much history.”

Casmoussa, who knew the priests who died, said that this attack will surely drive more Christians away from the country or to Kurdish administrated northern Iraq.

“Those who are wounded know that it is by the grace of God they are alive, but some of them don’t know exactly what happened,” said Casmoussa. “There is one hurt man who doesn’t know if his son is still alive. This is the drama. There are families that lost two and three members. Do I have the right to tell them to not leave?”

The attack was the deadliest one against the country’s Christians since Islamic extremists began targeting them in 2003.

“It was the hardest hit against the Christians in Iraq,” said Casmoussa, noting that no single act of violence had led to more casualties among Christians. “We never had such an attack against a church or Christian community.”

Memorials were held today in Baghdad, Mosul and surrounding towns, said Casmoussa, who attended the funeral of 13 deceased Christians including the dead priests.

“At the funeral there was the Shiite leader, the official spokesperson of the government ministers,” Casmoussa said. “All the discussion was flippant – ‘We are with you, we are all suffering,’ etcetera, but we have demanded a serious investigation. We can’t count on good words anymore. It’s all air. We’ve heard enough.”

The Rev. Emanuel Youkhana of the Church of the East told Compass that Iraqi Christians have been systematically driven out over the last five years. He said this attack came as no surprise to him.

“I’m not surprised, in that this is not the first time,” said Youkhana. “In the last five years, there has been a systematic terrorist campaign to kick out the Christians from the country. [They are saying] you are not accepted in this country. Christians should leave this country.”

Youkhana said that in the same way that the Jewish community has disappeared from Iraq, the Iraqi Christians, or Medians as they are called, “are in their last stage of existence” in Iraq.

The Iraqi government is to blame due to its lax security measures, Youkhana said.

“I’m ashamed of the minister of defense, who came on TV and said it was a successful and professional operation – 50 percent of the [congregation] was massacred,” said Youkhana of the assault on the Islamic terrorists by Iraqi security forces.

He said that in order for Christians to have any hope of staying in Iraq, the government must come up with a political solution and set up an independent administrative area, like that of the Kurdish administration in northern Iraq.

“Just now I was watching on TV the coverage of the funeral,” Youkhana said. “All the politicians are there to condemn the act. So what? Is the condemnation enough to give confidence to the people? No!”

It is estimated that more than 50 percent of Iraq’s Christian community has fled the country since 2003. There are nearly 600,000 Christians left in Iraq.

“More people will leave, and this is the intention of the terrorists: to claim Iraq as a pure Islamic state,” said Youkhana. “Our people are so peaceful and weak; they cannot confront the terrorists. So they are fleeing out of the country and to the north. This is why we say there should be political recognition.”

Five suspects were arrested in connection with the attack – some of them were not Iraqi, and today an Iraqi police commander was detained for questioning in connection to the attack, according to the AP.

“We can’t make political demands,” said Casmoussa. “We are making a civic and humanitarian demand: That we can live in peace.”

Following the funerals today, a series of at least 13 bombings and mortar strikes in predominantly Shiite neighborhoods of Baghdad reportedly killed 76 people and wounded nearly 200.

Report from Compass Direct News

Police in Sudan Aid Muslim’s Effort to Take Over Church Plot


With possibility of secession by Southern Sudan, church leaders in north fear more land grabs.

NAIROBI, Kenya, October 25 (CDN) — Police in Sudan evicted the staff of a Presbyterian church from its events and office site in Khartoum earlier this month, aiding a Muslim businessman’s effort to seize the property.

Christians in Sudan’s capital city told Compass that police entered the compound of the Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church (SPEC) on Oct. 4 at around 2 p.m. and ordered workers to leave, claiming that the land belonged to Muslim businessman Osman al Tayeb. When asked to show evidence of Al Tayeb’s ownership, however, officers failed to produce any documentation, the sources said.

The church had signed a contract with al Tayeb stipulating the terms under which he could attain the property – including providing legal documents such as a construction permit and then obtaining final approval from SPEC – but those terms remained unmet, church officials said.

Church leader Deng Bol said that under terms of the unfulfilled contract, the SPEC would turn the property over to al Tayeb to construct a business center on the site, with the denomination to receive a share of the returns from the commercial enterprise and regain ownership of the plot after 80 years.

“But the investor failed to produce a single document from the concerned authorities” and therefore resorted to police action to secure the property, Bol said.

SPEC leaders had yet to approve the project because of the high risk of permanently losing the property, he said.

“The SPEC feared that they were going to lose the property after 80 years if they accepted the proposed contract,” Bol said.

SPEC leaders have undertaken legal action to recover the property, he said. The disputed plot of 2,232 square meters is located in a busy part of the heart of Khartoum, where it has been used for Christian rallies and related activities.

“The plot is registered in the name of the church and should not be sold or transfered for any other activities, only for church-related programs,” a church elder who requested anonymity said.

The Rev. Philip Akway, general secretary of the SPEC, told Compass that the government might be annoyed that Christian activities have taken place there for many decades.

“Muslim groups are not happy with the church in north Sudan, therefore they try to cause tension in the church,” Akway told Compass.

The policeman leading the officers in the eviction on Oct. 4 verbally threatened to shoot anyone who interfered, Christian sources said.

“We have orders from higher authorities,” the policeman shouted at the growing throng of irate Christians.

A Christian association called Living Water had planned an exhibit at the SPEC compound on Oct. 6, but an organization leader arrived to find the place fenced off and deserted except for four policemen at the gate, sources said.

SPEC leaders said Muslims have taken over many other Christian properties through similar ploys.

“We see this as a direct plot against their churches’ estates in Sudan,” Akway said.

The Rev. John Tau, vice-moderator for SPEC, said the site where Al Tayeb plans to erect three towers was not targeted accidentally.

“The Muslim businessman seems to be targeting strategic places of the church in order to stop the church from reaching Muslims in the North Sudan,” Tau said.

The unnamed elder said church leaders believe the property grab came in anticipation of the proposed north-south division of Sudan. With less than three months until a Jan. 9 referendum on splitting the country according to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2005, SPEC leaders have taken a number of measures to guard against what it sees as government interference in church affairs.

Many southern Sudanese Christians fear losing citizenship if south Sudan votes for secession in the forthcoming referendum.

A top Sudanese official has said people in south Sudan will no longer be citizens of the north if their region votes for independence. Information Minister Kamal Obeid told state media last month that south Sudanese will be considered citizens of another state if they choose independence, which led many northern-based southern Sudanese to begin packing.

At the same time, President Omar al-Bashir promised full protection for southern Sudanese and their properties in a recent address. His speech was reinforced by Vice President Ali Osman Taha’s address during a political conference in Juba regarding the signing of a security agreement with First Vice President Salva Kiir Mayardit (also president of the semi-autonomous Government of Southern Sudan), but Obeid’s words have not been forgotten.

Akway of SPEC said it is difficult to know what will become of the property.

“Police continue to guard the compound, and nobody knows for sure what the coming days will bring,” Akway said. “With just less than three months left for the South to decide its fate, we are forced to see this move as a serious development against the church in Sudan.”

Report from Compass Direct News