The government goes into the resumption of parliament this week
trailing Labor 47-53% on the two-party vote in Newspoll, unchanged
from a fortnight ago.
The poll comes as Labor’s stand on the legislation to facilitate
medical evacuations hangs in the balance, with Bill Shorten having
indicated he would like to find a compromise and speculation about a Labor retreat from its earlier support.
Shorten receives a briefing on the implications of the bill from the secretary of the Home Affairs Department, Mike Pezzullo on Monday. Shadow cabinet and caucus will discuss Labor’s position.
The opposition has been under concerted attack from the government
over its backing for the legislation, which passed the Senate last
year with ALP support.
Shorten is worried about Labor being wedged, because border protection is always a politically vulnerable area for the ALP.
Scott Morrison says the government will not shift from outright
opposition to the bill, which is based on a proposal originally coming from independent Kerryn Phelps but subsequently refined.
Newspoll, published in The Australian, has Labor’s primary vote up a point to 39%; the Coalition’s vote remains on 37%. The Greens are on 9%; One Nation is polling 5%, down a point.
Morrison has increased his lead over Shorten as better prime minister by 2 points to 44-35%.
Morrison’s satisfaction rating is up 3 points to 43%; his
dissatisfaction rating has fallen 2 points to 45%. Shorten has a net approval rating of minus 15, a worsening by 2 points.
The tactical battle over the medical transfer amendments will dominate the run up to Tuesday’s first day of the sitting. On another front, the opposition is trying to muster the numbers for extra sitting days to consider measures from the banking royal commission.
In comments on the medical transfer bill Opposition spokesman Shayne Neumann said on Sunday: “Labor has always had two clear objectives – making sure sick people can get medical care, and making sure the minister has final discretion over medical transfers.”
The bill provides that where there a dispute between the two doctors recommending a transfer and the minister, the final say on medical grounds would be in the hands of a medical panel.
The minister could override medical decisions only on security grounds (“security” is as defined in the ASIO act).
Passage of the legislation, which would require support from Labor and all but one of the crossbench, would be a big rebuff for the
But the government has managed to turn the heat onto Labor, claiming the legislation would undermine Australia’s border protection.
The briefing Shorten will receive will put more pressure on the
opposition, because Home Affairs will presumably reinforce the
argument it advanced in advice to the government.
The government has now declassified this advice – which last week it provided more informally to The Australian.
The advice, which has some sections blacked out, says: “The
effect of the Bill will undermine the Australian Government’s regional processing arrangements.
“Conduct which would come within the security exception to transfer
based on the minister’s reasonable belief that the transfer would be prejudicial to security, does not include all criminal conduct”.
“Ultimately, the amendments provide that the approximate 1000
transferees currently located in Papua New Guinea (PNG) and Nauru
could have access to a transfer to Australia within weeks of any Royal Assent,” the advice says.
“It is not expected that the Minister’s ability to refuse transfer on security grounds will significantly reduce the number of potential transfers”.
Neumann said on Sunday: “Labor has great respect for our national
security agencies and we’ve always worked cooperatively with them.”
As the battle escalates ahead of next week’s vote on legislation to
facilitate medical transfers from Manus and Nauru, Scott Morrison is playing up the dangers if the bill passes while downplaying the
Morrison declares the amendments, based on a proposal from independent Kerryn Phelps, would leave the government powerless to stop the entry of a paedophile, rapist or murderer.
“It doesn’t provide for the usual arrangements which would enable us to reject someone coming to Australia because they have a criminal history.
“They may be a paedophile, they may be a rapist, they may be a
murderer and this bill would mean that we would just have to take
them,” he said on Wednesday while campaigning in Melbourne.
Morrison raised the spectre of “hundreds upon hundreds upon hundreds of single males being transferred … at the directive of doctors, not the government.
“This will mean we will have to reopen detention centres that we
closed, like Christmas Island.”
But the Prime Minister has been anxious over the last two days to hose down talk that a government defeat on the bill could lead to an election.
“If we lose that vote next week, so be it. We won’t be going off to
the polls. The election is in May. I will simply ignore it and we’ll get on with business,” he told Sky on Tuesday.
Asked on Wednesday whether a loss would be a trigger for an election Morrison said: “Of course not. Why would it be?”
The government is firmly locked into the May election timetable and
its April 2 budget that it will use to frame the poll. Passage of the medical evacuation measure would not amount to a vote of no
Meanwhile Labor on Wednesday released its legal advice, from barrister Matthew Albert, arguing that the legislation would add to, rather than detract from, present security protections.
“The minister’s power to exclude a person from transfer to Australia is expanded beyond the security protections of the existing law,” the December advice says.
“The expansion empowers the minister to have regard to questions of
both public safety ‘and border integrity’ before a person is
The measure, passed by the Senate last year, would allow the transfer on the advice of two doctors but the minister could intervene on security grounds.
At central issue is the adequacy of the definition of “security” – the bill draws this from the ASIO act.
The government maintains this definition, with its focus on national security, is too narrow, while the ALP’s advice argues it is broad.
Under the ASIO act, “security” means:
“(a) the protection of, and of the people of, the Commonwealth and the several States and
(iii) politically motivated violence;
(iv) promotion of communal violence;
(v) attacks on Australia’s defence system; or
(vi) acts of foreign interference;
whether directed from, or committed within, Australia or not; and
(aa) the protection of Australia’s territorial and border integrity
from serious threats; and
(b) the carrying out of Australia’s responsibilities to any foreign
country in relation to a matter mentioned in any of the subparagraphs of paragraph (a) or the matter mentioned in paragraph (aa).”
As in present arrangements, under the bill transferees would be
immediately detained and only released from detention if the minister determined this was in the “public interest”.
“This is a broad test which allows the minister to have regard to any issues of security or character relating to that person,” the advice says.
On the last sitting day of 2018 the legislation potentially had the
required crossbench support to be carried in the House but a
government filibuster prevented it reaching there for a vote.
The government is lobbying crossbenchers intensively, while keeping the public heat on Labor. It has also undertaken to set up a medical panel to review transfers from Manus and Nauru.
In his Tuesday Sky interview Morrison played down the significance of this gesture.
“All that I have done is made sure that the Australian people have got an assurance about how well that [present] process works. They can’t change the decisions, they can’t reverse the decisions, the decisions all remain with the Department of Home Affairs”.
But Bill Shorten said he thought the government was “starting to do a backflip”.
“They may be doing it because they don’t want to lose a vote in
Parliament, but I’m not going to be a purist, if they get to an
acceptable outcome I’m not going to judge their motivation.”
Labor would have a look at the government’s position “but this stage we’re still supporting the Phelps amendments,” Shorten said.
Replying to Morrison, Phelps said:“The large majority of people on Manus Island and Nauru have been assessed as genuine refugees. Under the Refugee Convention, they cannot be granted that status if they have committed a serious crime, a hate crime or a war crime in their country of origin.”
The government faces pressure of another front next week, as Labor
tries to muster the numbers for its call for parliament to have extra sitting days to consider recommendations from the banking royal commission. It would need the support of all the crossbenchers to pass its motion but the stand of Bob Katter is not clear.
In response to the public outcry against the potential for My Health Record data to be shared with police and other government agencies, Health Minister Greg Hunt recently announced moves to change the legislation.
The laws underpinning the My Health Record as well as records kept by GPs and private hospitals currently allow those records to be shared with the police, Centrelink, the Tax Office and other government departments if it’s “reasonably necessary” for a criminal investigation or to protect tax revenue.
If passed, the policy of the Digital Health Agency (which runs the My Health Record) not to release information without a court order will become law. This would mean the My Health Record has greater privacy protections in this respect than other medical records, which doesn’t make much sense.
Under the proposed new bill, state and federal government departments and agencies would have to apply for a court order to obtain information stored in the My Health Record.
The court would need to be satisfied that sharing the information is “reasonably necessary”, and that there is no other effective way for the person requesting it to access the information. The court would also need to weigh up whether the disclosure would “unreasonably interfere” with the person’s privacy.
If granted, a court order to release the information would require the Digital Health Agency to provide information from a person’s My Health Record without the person’s consent, and even if they objected.
If a warrant is issued for a person’s health records, the police can sift through them as they look for relevant information. They could uncover personally sensitive material that is not relevant to the current proceedings. Since the My Health Record allows the collection of information across health providers, there could be an increased risk of non-relevant information being disclosed.
Although we share all sorts of personal information online, we like to think of our medical records as sacrosanct. But the law underpinning My Health Record came from the wording of the Commonwealth Privacy Act 1988, which applies to all medical records held by GPs, specialists and private hospitals.
Under the Act, doctors don’t need to see a warrant before they’re allowed to share health information with enforcement agencies. The Privacy Act principles mean doctors only need a “reasonable belief” that sharing the information is “reasonably necessary” for the enforcement activity.
Although public hospital records do not fall under the Privacy Act, they are covered by state laws that have similar provisions. In Victoria, for instance, the Health Records Act 2001 permits disclosure if the record holder “reasonably believes” that the disclosure is “reasonably necessary” for a law enforcement function and it would not be a breach of confidence.
In practice, health care providers are trained on the utmost importance of protecting the patient’s privacy. Their systems of registration and accreditation mean they must follow a professional code of ethical conduct that includes observing confidentiality and privacy.
Although the law doesn’t require it, it is considered good practice for health professionals to insist on seeing a warrant before disclosing a patient’s health records.
In a 2014 case, the federal court considered whether a psychiatrist had breached the privacy of his patient. The psychiatrist had given some of his patient’s records to Queensland police in response to a warrant. The court said the existence of a warrant was evidence the doctor had acted appropriately.
In a 2015 case, it was decided a doctor had interfered with a patient’s privacy when disclosing the patient’s health information to police. In this case, there no was warrant and no formal criminal investigation.
Unfortunately, there are recent examples of medical records being shared with government departments in worrying ways. In Australia, it has been alleged the immigration department tried, for political reasons, to obtain access to the medical records of people held in immigration detention.
We can’t change the fact different laws at state and federal level apply to our paper and electronic medical records stored in different locations. But we can try to change these laws to be consistent in protecting our privacy.
If it’s so important to change the My Health Records Act to ensure our records can only be “unlocked” by a court order, the same should apply to the Privacy Act as well as state-based laws. Doing so might help to address public concerns about privacy and the My Health Record, and further inform decisions about opting out or staying in the system.
The winners of this year’s health budget are aged care, rural health and medical research.
The government has announced A$1.6 billion over four years to allow 14,000 more older Australians to remain in their home for longer through more high-level home care places. For those in aged care, an additional A$82.5 million will be directed to improve mental health services in the facilities.
The budget includes A$83.3 million over five years for a rural health strategy, which aims to place more doctors and nurses in the bush and train 100 additional GPs.
There’s A$1.3 billion over ten years for a National Health and Medical Industry Growth Plan, which includes A$500 million for new research in the field of genomics.
Other key announcements include:
– A$1.4 billion for new and amended listings on PBS – A$302.6 million in savings over forward estimates by encouraging greater use of generic and bio similar medicines – A$253.8 million for a new Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission.
Helen Dickinson, Associate Professor, Public Service Research Group at UNSW
It was well foreshadowed that this budget would bring with it significant provisions for aged care. It has been widely reported that reforms to pension and superannuation tax have resulted in disaffection in the Coalition within older age groups.
Making older Australians the cornerstone of budget measures is a calculated political tactic in a budget that in the short term makes only limited tax cuts for low- and middle-income earners.
The A$1.6 billion for 14,000 new places for home-care recipients will be welcome, but are a drop in the ocean, given there are currently more than 100,000 people on the national priority list for support.
Additional commitments around trials for physical activities for older people, initiatives to improve connections to communities and protections for older people against abuse will bolster those remaining in homes and communities.
Commitments made for specific initiatives for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and aged care facilities in rural and remote Australia will be welcomed, although their size and scope will likely result in little to address older age groups with complex needs.
While investment in aged care services will be welcome, it remains to be seen whether this multi-million-dollar commitment will succeed in clawing back support from older voters.
Recent years have seen around A$2 billion of cuts made to the sector through adjustments to the residential care funding formula. The current financial commitments go some way to restoring spending, but do not significantly advance spending beyond previous levels in an area of the population we know is expanding substantially in volume and level of need and expectation.
A number of new budget commitments have been announced in relation to mental health services for older people in residential aged care facilities, for a national mental health commission, and for Lifeline Australia.
However, given the current turbulence in mental health services, it’s unclear whether these will impact on the types of issues that are being felt currently or whether this will further disaggregate an already complex and often unconnected system.
Equity, prevention and Indigenous health
Lesley Russell, Adjunct Associate Professor, Menzies Centre for Health Policy at the University of Sydney
The government states its desire for a stronger economy and to limit economic imposts on future generations, but this budget highlights a continued failure to invest in the areas that will deliver more sustainable health care spending, reduce health disparities, and improve health outcomes and productivity for all Australians.
There is nothing new to address the harms caused by excessive alcohol use or opioid abuse.
The crackdown on illegal tobacco is about lost taxes rather than smoking prevention.
There is A$20.9 million over five years to improve the health of women and children – an assorted collection of small programs which could conceivably be claimed as preventive health.
There is nothing in this budget to address growing out-of-pocket costs that limit the ability of many to access needed care.
Additional funding (given in budget papers as A$83.3 million over five years but more accurately described as A$122.4 million over 2018-19 and 2019-20, with savings of A$55.6 million taken in 2020-21 and 2021-22) is provided for rural health that should help improve health equity for country Australians.
Continued funding is provided for the Indigenous Australians’ Health Program (A$3.9 billion over four years); there is new money for ear, eye and scabies programs and also for a new Medicare item for remote dialysis services.
There are promises for a new funding model for primary care provided through Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services (but no details) and better access for Indigenous people to aged care.
The renewal of the Remote Indigenous Housing Agreement with the Northern Territory will assist with improved health outcomes for those communities.
PBS, medicines and research
Rosalie Viney, Professor of Health Economics at the University of Technology Sydney
The budget includes a notable increase in net expenditure on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) of A$1.4 billion for new and amended listings of drugs, although most of these have already been anticipated by positive recommendations by the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee (PBAC).
Access to a number of new medicines has been announced. The new and amended medicine listings are clearly funded through savings in PBS expenditure from greater use of generic and bio-similar medicines, given the net increase in expenditure over the five year outlook is around A$0.7 billion.
In terms of medical research, there is an encouraging announcement of significant further investments through the Medical Research Futures Fund. This will be welcomed by health and medical researchers across Australia.
What is notable is the focus on the capacity of health and medical research to generate new jobs through new technology. While this is certainly important, it is as much about boosting the local medical technology and innovation industry than on improving health system performance. And the announcements in the budget are as much about the potential job growth from medical innovation as on providing more or improved health services.
There is new funding for medical research, development of diagnostic tools and medical technologies, and clinical trials of new drugs. The focus on a 21st century medical industry plan recognises that health is big business as well as being important for all Australians.
All of this is welcome, but it will be absolutely critical that there are rigorous processes for evaluating this research and ensuring the funding is allocated based on scientific merit. This can represent a major challenge when industry development objectives are given similar standing in determining priorities as health outcomes and scientific quality.
Andrew Wilson, Co-Director, Menzies Centre for Health Policy at the University of Sydney
Rural Australians experience a range of health disadvantages including higher rates of smoking and obesity, poorer survival rates from cancer and lower life expectancy, and this is not solely due to the poor health of the Aboriginal community.
The government has committed to improving rural health services through the Stronger Rural Health Strategy and the budget has some funding to underpin this.
The pressure to fund another medical school in rural NSW and Victoria has been sensibly addressed by enhancing and networking existing rural clinical schools through the Murray Darling Medical Schools network. This will provide more opportunities for all medical students to spend a large proportion of their studentship in a rural setting while not increasing the number of Commonwealth supported places.
There is a major need to match this increased student capacity with a greater investment in specialist training positions in regional hospitals to ensure the retention of that workforce in country areas. Hopefully the new workforce incentive program will start to address this.
Hospitals and private health insurance
Peter Sivey, Associate Professor, School of Economics, Finance and Marketing, RMIT University
Maher El-Gohary and daughter apply for asylum in France.
ISTANBUL, April 21 (CDN) — A father and daughter who fled Egypt to Syria after spending two and a half years in hiding for becoming Christians have arrived in France and yesterday applied for asylum there, human rights advocates said.
Maher Ahmad El-Mo’otahssem Bellah El-Gohary, 58, had become the target of Islamic ill will in Egypt after he tried to change the religious affiliation on his national identification card from Muslim to Christian. He and his daughter, 17-year-old Dina Mo’otahssem, arrived in Paris from Syria on March 30 after having fled to Damascus on Feb. 22 in the wake of the revolution in Egypt that deposed then-President Hosni Mubarak.
The Jan. 25-Feb. 11 protests in Egypt also weakened the Ministry of the Interior, an agency that had harassed El-Gohary and prevented him from leaving the country.
El-Gohary had fled to Syria because it was both the fastest and the easiest way to get out of Egypt, but he said he also feared Islamic opposition to converts in Syria and growing political unrest in Damascus.
“When we got to the French embassy in Syria, we were so scared because of what was happening in Syria at the time,” he said.
It took him more than a month to secure a visa to leave Syria. Previously in Egypt, he had been able to leave because he had received a court decision ordering the Ministry of the Interior to allow him to leave the country; taking advantage of the confusion gripping Egyptian government agencies in the wake of the anti-Mubarak protests, he left with his daughter.
Eventually El-Gohary and his daughter hope to gain a visa to the United States and then immigrate.
Despite their newfound safety, El-Gohary and Dina are still shaken by their ordeal. They said they are afraid that a Muslim extremist in France could seek them out and attack them. They also have unresolved medical issues from the physical stress of two years of hiding and from not being able to receive proper medical care during that time.
On Monday (April 18), El-Gohary went to the Embassy of the United States in Paris to apply for U.S. asylum as well. According to a Coptic activist who requested anonymity, the embassy advised El-Gohary that his best option was for his wife, who lives in the United States, to apply for a visa to allow him to enter the country. El-Gohary is also applying for a tourist visa to the United States. Human rights activists have advised El-Gohary to stay in France while he applies for asylum rather than go to the United States on a tourist visa, which may leave him financially exposed and hinder his immigration efforts.
Meantime, El-Gohary’s application for asylum in France qualifies him for an automatic three-month extension on his visa to France, which was set to expire at the end of the month. The extension can be renewed as long as his case is unresolved. It also qualifies him for certain government benefits.
‘Miracle from God’
El-Gohary and his daughter were forced into hiding in August 2008 immediately after he filed his lawsuit to change his ID card’s religious designation. The suit caused uproar in a country where, according to a recent Pew Research Center poll, 84 percent of Muslims in Egypt believe those who leave Islam should be executed.
El-Gohary filed the suit, he said, because he wanted to spare his daughter the persecution he suffered when he became a Christian in his 20s. In theory, the religion listed on his ID card would be used to determine the religion listed on Dina’s.
In Egypt, it is illegal for adults not to have a national ID card, and it is nearly impossible to survive without one. It is necessary for opening a bank account, renting an apartment and obtaining medical care. Also, being identified as a Muslim in Egypt makes one subject to Islamic civil law, which would have prevented Dina from marrying someone identified as a Christian.
Freedom of religion, including the right to change one’s religion, is guaranteed in Egypt by law. But in practice, while it is easy for Christian converts to Islam to change the religion listed on their ID cards, it is impossible for a Muslim convert to Christianity to do the same.
For the time that El-Gohary and his daughter were on the run, they lived a marginal existence, moving from one safe house to another about once every month. On different occasions, he and Dina were attacked. On one occasion, El-Gohary said, Dina had acid thrown on her. On another, he said someone came at him with a knife.
El-Gohary called his escape from Egypt a “miracle from God,” but when he arrived in Syria he was quickly faced with the reality that he was alone in a country in which he had no support network and felt almost as unsafe as he did in Egypt. Also, his expectation that he would be able to quickly obtain a visa to the United States proved false. Frustrated by what he described as a cold reception at the U.S. Embassy in Damascus, he began to look for any country in Europe that would give him an
On advice of the Vatican Embassy in Syria, El-Gohary went to the French Embassy in Damascus, which issued a short-term visa the same day.
“I really appreciate what the French ambassador did for us,” El-Gohary said. “The French saved us.”
El-Gohary was able to get to France with the support of Egyptian Christians and advocacy groups, most notably the United Copts of Great Britain. Dr. Ibrahim Habib, a Copt and the chairman of the group, said his organization arranged accommodation for El-Gohary and Dina with an Egyptian Christian in France. Habib said El-Gohary, motivated by fear, left for France unprepared.
“He was going to France without knowing anybody at all,” Habib said. “He was just going to land in the airport and start thinking, ‘What are we going to do?’”
After painful effort to change ID card, Christians flee – to similar fate.
CAIRO, Egypt, March 21 (CDN) — When the plane carrying Maher El-Gohary and his daughter, Dina Mo’otahssem, took off from Cairo International Airport last month, they both wept with joy. After spending two-and-a-half years in hiding for leaving Islam to become Christians, they were elated by their newfound freedom.
They also felt secure that once they arrived in Syria, they would quickly obtain visas to the United States and start a new life. That hope soon proved unfounded.
After spending more than a week and a half unable to obtain a visa to the United States or to any country in Europe, they realized they may have traded in the reality of being prisoners in their own country for being refugees in another. And as El-Gohary watches the weeks pass and his resources dwindle, he said the stress is almost unbearable.
“I feel like we’ve stepped out of a prison cell and into a fire,” he said. “We are in very, very bad conditions … My daughter and I divide the bottles of water to live, because there is no income.”
Maher Ahmad El-Mo’otahssem Bellah El-Gohary, 58, gained notoriety in Egypt after he sued the government in August 2008 to gain the right to change the religion listed on his state-issued ID card from Islam to Christianity. In Egypt, ID cards play a critical role in a person’s life, being used for everything from opening a bank account and renting an apartment to receiving medical care.
The listed religious affiliation, whether a card-holder subscribes to it or not, also determines whether the person is subject to Islamic civil law. The listed religious designation determines what state-mandated religion classes minors are required to take in school. El-Gohary said he filed the suit so his daughter, then 15, could opt out of the religious classes and would not be subject to the persecution he suffered when he became a Christian in his 20s.
It is a crime punishable by imprisonment to have no ID card in Egypt.
The suit sparked outrage throughout Egypt. Both El-Gohary and his daughter were publicly branded apostates in a country where 84 percent of Muslims think those who leave Islam should be executed, according to a study released by the Pew Research Center in December. The same month the suit was filed in 2008, El-Gohary and his daughter were forced into hiding.
For two-and-a-half years, El-Gohary shifted back and forth among several apartments in Cairo and Alexandria, usually once every month. Even in hiding, the two were harassed regularly by Egypt’s dreaded State Security Intelligence service (SSI) and assaulted repeatedly by others, including someone pouring acid on Dina, El-Gohary said.
While in hiding, El-Gohary tried repeatedly to leave Egypt, but officials at the Ministry of the Interior blocked him at every attempt. On at least one occasion, they seized his passport. In December 2010, after a long legal battle, El-Gohary got a court decision ordering the Ministry of the Interior to allow him to travel, but he said it still took several weeks for the government to comply with the order; the Jan. 25-Feb. 11 revolution didn’t hurt, El-Gohary said.
Out of Egypt
After the national demonstrations that led to the removal of both President Hosni Mubarak and Minister of Interior Habib Al-Adly, El-Gohary and his daughter went to Cairo International Airport on Feb. 22 to leave the county. They came prepared with their newly issued passports, the court order and myriad documents to prove they had the right to leave the country. Even so, authorities took the two aside for interrogation at the airport.
“My daughter and I went to the counter of the airport to the manager, then they took us to the SSI,” El-Gohary said. “We spent an hour talking to an officer trying to tell him, ‘We spent ages during Habib Al-Adly’s time, and even now after the revolution, we don’t have the right to leave?’”
According to El-Gohary, the guard asked him if he really wanted to leave the country.
“Yes,” El-Gohary replied. “I have a court order against Al-Adly, and I have the right to leave and the freedom to travel outside the country.” As if to add insult to more than two years of injury, the SSI officers told El-Gohary that Egypt was “their country” and to “come back anytime you want to.”
El-Gohary credits the revolution as the reason he was allowed to leave Egypt, saying it was a miracle “from God.”
They chose to go to Syria because Egyptian citizens are not required to have visas to visit there. After contact with a U.S. organization that concentrates on religious freedom, El-Gohary expected it would be easy to get a visa to the United States, where his wife lives. But he said he has been unable to obtain an entry visa there or to any country where he will feel safe. He went to a U.N. office in Syria seeking assistance; he was given an appointment to come back on April 20.
“I wasn’t expecting, after all this suffering and all these years, that…” El-Gohary said, cutting himself off. “The series of persecution is not finished.”
Although they don’t live under the same type of threats as they did in Egypt, El-Gohary and Dina now live in an apartment where they still watch everything they say and everyone with whom they talk. They still spend much of their time trapped between the four walls of their apartment because Syria, El-Gohary said, is a country where converts to Christianity from Islam are persecuted.
“The danger is still there,” El-Gohary said. “We don’t get out of the house. We don’t meet people. We don’t tell people what we are doing or talk to them about our situation. Because we don’t want someone to say, ‘Why are you applying to the U.N.?’ There are still a lot of enemies.”
Dina, now 17, said that although leaving Egypt was “like a miracle,” she is devastated by the prospect of having to spend more time with her life on hold. She said she is just as scared in Syria as she was in Egypt.
“We’re really, really tired of all this suffering,” she said. “I’ve lost two years of my life. I want to finish school.”
Muslim converts to Christianity in Syria were sometimes forced to leave their place of residence due to societal pressure last year, according to the U.S. Department of State’s 2010 International Religious Freedom Report. While there is no official state religion in Syria, the constitution requires that the president be Muslim and stipulates that Islamic law is a principal source of legislation.
With strict monitoring and curtailing of militant Islam, the government in Syria has long been considered a moderate regime. The government’s fear of violent responses by Islamic extremists to increasing conversions to Christianity, however, was at least partially responsible for the closing of six buildings where Christians were meeting last year, according to Christian support organization Open Doors. Noting that several Christians were arrested and interrogated in 2010, the organization’s World Watch List bumped Syria’s ranking up to 38th place among nations in which persecution of Christians takes place, from position 41 the previous year.
Syria is 90 percent Muslim, and 6.34 percent of its 22.5 million population is Christian, according to Operation World.
Though El-Gohary and his daughter have a dark outlook on their current situation, they are still grateful.
“Without God’s love, we would have been dead by now,” El-Gohary said. “Getting out of Egypt itself was a victory from God.”
Dina said she also is thankful, but that as she gets older she is becoming increasingly preoccupied by one wish.
“I want to get out so I can finish my studies,” she said. “I want to go into a church and out of a church without being scared of being killed.”
Madhya Pradesh, India, December 31 (CDN) — Hindu nationalists on Dec. 26 beat a Christian distributing gospel tracts in Damoh Naka at Jabalpur. The Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) reported that at about 3 p.m. Devanand Dandale was distributing literature when Hindu extremists from the Bajrang Dal and Dharam Sena grabbed him, seized his mobile phone and money and phoned other extremists to come. A GCIC coordinator told Compass that for nearly two hours the extremists repeatedly slapped and kicked Dandale, pulled his hair and mocked him, finally forcing him to the Kotwali police station. En route, they falsely told news reporters that Dandale was a convert who was forcing others to convert. On advice of police, Dandale filed a complaint against Amit Tiwari, Sunil Sonkar, Ambasingh Thakur, Surendra Jain and Babu Tiwari, after which he was sent home at 9 p.m. At press time Dandale was receiving medical treatment for swollen legs and severe pain.
Andhra Pradesh – On Dec. 20 in Hi- City, Hyderabad, about 100 Hindu extremists attacked Pastor T.R. Raju, warning him to vacate the area. The previous day Pastor Raju had led a Christmas celebration with a convert from Hinduism, an actor identified only as Surya, as a quest speaker, reported the All India Christian Council (AICC). Surya had mentioned the blessing of having Christ as God and did not criticize other faiths, according to the AICC. Afterward, however, four people came and argued with the pastor and verbally abused him. The next day, about 100 Hindu hardliners gathered at the pastor’s house, verbally abused him and beat him, according to the AICC. Surya also showed up and pleaded with the furious mob to stop, and police arrived as the attackers scattered. The extremists continued to threaten the pastor to leave the area or face harm. They also threatened the pastor’s landlord, who subsequently gave notice to the pastor to vacate the house in 10 days.
Maharashtra – Carol singers on Dec. 18 were beaten at 10:15 p.m. in Worli Koliwada, Mumbai, reported national daily the Times of India (TOI). Joseph Dias of the Catholic Secular Forum reportedly said 25 members of the New Life Church youth group were singing carols when Dhananjay Desai of the Hindu extremist Hindu Rashtra Sena began mocking them, saying they were paid to sing. Desai then phoned other Hindu extremists, who rushed to the spot in three cars and charged into the youth group, beating two of them, Ganesh Gadam and Joel Metrin. The TOI reported that the extremists forced the victims into their cars and took them to a police station. Dias told Compass that police issued a warning to the assailants, who threatened the Christians with harm if they persisted in holding public Christian activities.
Karnataka – Hindu extremists from the Rashtriya Sawaymsevak Sangh on Dec. 17 attacked a Christian and accused him of “large-scale conversion” in Shimoga. The All India Christian Council (AICC) reported that about 15 Hindu extremists gathered at the house of S. Prakash, manager of the Dalit Education Centre, and accused him of using the school as a cover for the alleged conversions. The extremists beat Prakash, leaving him with several internal injuries, and threatened further harm if he did not close down the school. They also cut down trees at the school and destroyed its signboard. Prakash filed a complaint with local police. Village officials are supportive of the work by the school, reported the AICC. A police investigation was ongoing at press time.
Madhya Pradesh – On Dec. 9 in Satna, police arrested Pastor V.A. Anthony and booked him under the state anti-conversion act. The arrests was made in connection with an incident that took place earlier this year when the pastor conducted a Christian funeral at the request of the parents of the diseased, reported the All India Christian Council (AICC). An activist with the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, Lakshimi Yadav, learned of the funeral and filed a case against Antony. Police investigated the case but found no wrongdoing by the pastor. In early September, Hindu extremists from the Sangh Parivar forced local newspapers to publish biased reports about the funeral and complained to the inspector general of police that the pastor had forcibly converted the parents of the deceased, identified only as Rajesh. The Hindu extremists threatened the pastor on Sept. 12.
Karnataka – Hindu nationalists from the Bajrang Dal on Dec. 8 disrupted a prayer meeting, falsely accused Christians of forcible conversion and seriously injured two of them in Gonilkoppa. The Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) reported that at about 8 p.m. the Shakina Full Gospel Church was worshiping when 10 extremists led by Hindus identified only as Manu, Devaraj and Manju stormed in. A GCIC coordinator told Compass that Christians identified only as Raju, Kaliamma, Rajukamma, Belli, Lovaliamma and Viji were verbally abused and dragged to the Gonilkoppa police station, where the extremists pressured police to arrest them. The Evangelical Fellowship of India reported that officers released the Christians without charges but strictly warned them, for security purposes, not to conduct future worship meetings at their homes. Belli and Viji, who bled profusely from the attack, received medical treatment at the Gonilkoppa Government Hospital. “Police, however, did not take action against the extremists for attacking the Christians,” a GCIC coordinator noted.
Madhya Pradesh – Armed men on Dec. 6 attacked the Rev. Thomas Chirattavalli in Satna. The suspected Hindu extremists hit the priest’s head when he opened the door of the parish house, then they chased and beat him. The parish driver, cook and another staff member heard the disturbance and tried to come out, but the assailants had locked the doors from outside. The priest sustained two deep wounds on the head, as well as injuries on other parts of his body. He filed a First Information Report at Burgama in Singrauli district.
Karnataka – Shimoga police on Dec. 5 forced the closure of a house church at Rippon Pete, Shimoga district. The Global Council of Indian Christians reported that on Dec. 3 Pastor Sebastian Babu was falsely accused of forced conversion by area Hindu extremists who threatened to harm him if he continued church services. On Dec. 5, as Sunday worship was going on in Rippon Pete, police arrived after the extremists complained of “conversion activities.” Officers took Pastor Babu into custody and warned him against conducting worship, adding that he had to report to the police station the next day with the landlord of this rented house. A GCIC coordinator told Compass that Pastor Babu and his landlord went to the police station on Dec. 6, where officers learned that the landlord had no objection to the house church. Nevertheless, they advised him against conducting Christian worship “as a security measure.”
Karnataka – Hindu extremists on Dec. 5 pressured the Slum Board administrative committee in Kengeri, Bangalore to demolish the Gypsy Prayer Church building. The Global Council of Indian Christians reported that the extremists barged into the prayer hall and disrupted a service led by a pastor identified only as Rajesh. They filed a complaint with the Slum Board committee against the Christians and persuaded it to order that the church building be demolished.
Karnataka – Police on Dec. 2 arrested a pastor on charges of attempted forcible conversion in Udayanagar, near Mahadevapura. The Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) reported that a pastor identified only as Johnson and a senior church member identified only as George were invited for a prayer service at the home of a Christian. Johnson, 26, of Kerala, was staying at the Evergreen School at Udayanagar near Mahadevapura. While they were praying at about 11 a.m., nearly 25 Hindu nationalists from the Bajrang Dal stormed the house, dragged Johnson outside and continued hitting and kicking him while falsely accusing him of forced conversion. A GCIC coordinator told Compass that the extremists forcibly took them to the Mahadevapura police station, where officers filed charges. At press time, the pastor was still in jail.
Kerala – Hindu extremists on Dec. 2 attacked a nun who is a college student in Ernakulam. The All India Christian Council reported that Sister Ann Matthews was attacked by a group of men inside Ernakulam South Railway Station and had to be treated for her injuries at Medical Trust Hospital. Matthews said she was targeted because she was a nun. Police have registered a complaint, but no arrests had been made at press time.
Karnataka – Police arrested a pastor on Dec. 2 after Hindu extremists beat him and accused him of forceful conversion in Udayanagar, near Bangalore. The Global Council of Indian Christians reported that Hindu extremists stopped the pastor, identified only as Johnson, as he was returning home after a prayer meeting. They accused him of forcefully converting Hindus to Christianity, beat him and dragged him to Mahadevapura police. The assault continued in front of police. Later Pastor Johnson was arrested under Section 295 of the Indian Penal Code for damaging a place of worship with intent to insult the religion of any class. A judge sent the pastor to Bangalore Central Jail, but he was released on bail the next day.
West Bengal – Radical Muslims in Natungram, Murshidabad have forbidden a woman who converted to Christianity from Islam to buy or sell if continues in her new faith, a source told Compass. The past few months the Muslims had ordered Chanda Babi and her family, who became Christians in February, not to attend church services and told them not associate with any neighbors. As Babi and her family continued to follow Christ, the Muslim radicals on Nov. 28 ordered villagers not to buy from her family’s milk business, and they ordered shopkeepers not to sell to her, the source said. They further warned that they would impose a large fine if her family continues to believe in Christ.
Uttarakhand – Police on Nov. 9 detained three Christians from the Indian Pentecostal Assemblies on false charges of forceful conversion in Ravli Mehdud, Haridwar. The Evangelical Fellowship of India reported that police officers stormed into the prayer meeting and took Pastor Manoj Kumar and two church members into custody. Officers verbally abused the Christians, uttered derogatory remarks against Jesus Christ and the Christian community and threatened to harm Pastor Kumar. The Christians were released without charges after the intervention of area Christian leaders.
Muslims protest West Java congregation as it worships.
JAKARTA, Indonesia, November 19 (CDN) — More than 50 people from Islamic groups demonstrated against a church in West Java on Nov. 7, chanting for it to stop worshipping during its Sunday service, according to Muslim online news site Arrahmah.com.
The King of Glory church of the Christian Congregation of Indonesia denomination (Jemat Kristen Indonesia or JKI) was worshipping in the Graha Mulia (Planet of Glory) Multi-purpose Building in Karasak village, Astanaanyar district of Bandung City, when the protestors gathered. Chanting “Allahu akbar [God is greater],” the crowd claimed the building was not approved for worship purposes, according to another Islamic Web site, Hidayatullah.com.
Protesting members of the Karasak Muslim Citizens Communication Forum, the Islamic Congregation Front and West Java Islamic Reformation Movement (GARIS) said the church did not have permission from area residents, although church leaders said an area official had given permission since 2005.
With 100 police officers on hand to maintain order, the poster-waving crowed chanted for an hour before slowly dispersing. During the protest, Muslim Citizens Communication Forum leader Fikri Saeful said, “The citizens reject church activities in this area because there is no permission from local citizens,” according Hidayatullah.com.
Fikri added that the church had reached out to area residents with free medical clinics and distribution of basic food items.
Agus Nugroho, a leader of the JKI church and an administrator of the Graha Mulia building, told Compass that the church had permission from the local area official known as a ward captain. The church submitted an application for a permit at a higher governmental level in 2005, he said. Church permit applications are often stalled in Indonesian government offices, opening the way for Muslim groups to accuse them of worshipping without official permission.
“We have been worshipping here since 2005 because we had trouble finding a place to worship,” Agus said. “We do have permission from the local government for worship.”
According to Agus, that permission did not have an expiration date. Moreover, he said, neither the building managers nor the church leaders have ever received a written complaint about the worship services.
“There have never been any problems between the citizens and the building managers or with the church,” Agus said.
He said that there was no regulation against using a multi-purpose building for worship services.
“We managers have no objections,” he added.
Anyone with objections to the use of a multi-purpose building by a church should pursue legal remedies, he said. The Graha Mulia building is also the location for the JKI Raja Kemuliaan Church.
GARIS leader Surayana Nurfatwa, however, told Compass the church his organization had received complaints from area residents, and that the church had no official permission for worship from them.
“We have received many reports from citizens who objected to these worship services,” Nurfatwa said, adding that the church’s continued worship would disrupt “religious harmony” and could result in conflict with the Muslim majority.
Convert, a former fighter in Afghanistan, had protested Islamic attack.
SARGODHA, Pakistan, November 5 (CDN) — Muslim extremists in Islamabad on Monday (Nov. 1) beat with bricks and hockey sticks a Christian clergyman who is the subject of a fatwa demanding his death.
The Rev. Dr. Suleman Nasri Khan, a former fighter in Afghanistan before his conversion to Christianity in 2000, suffered a serious head injury, a hairline fracture in his arm and a broken bone in his left ankle in the assault by 10 Muslim extremists; he was able to identify two of them as Allama Atta-Ullah Attari and Allama Masaud Hussain.
The attack in Chashma, near Iqbal Town in Islamabad, followed Islamic scholar Allama Nawazish Ali’s Oct. 25th fatwa (religious ruling) to kill Khan, pastor of Power of the Healing God’s Church in the Kalupura area of Gujrat city. A mufti (Islamic scholar) and member of Dawat-e-Islami, which organizes studies of the Quran and Sunnah (sayings and deeds of Muhammad), Ali is authorized to issue fatwas.
Khan, 34, had relocated to a rented apartment in Islamabad after fleeing his home in Gujrat because of death threats against him and his family, he said. The fatwa, a religious order to be obeyed by all Muslims, was issued after Khan protested anti-Christian violence in Kalupura last month.
Muslim extremists who learned of his conversion had first attacked Khan in 2008 – killing his first child, 3-month old Sana Nasri Khan. He and wife Aster Nasri Khan escaped.
“During the Kalupura Christian colony attacks, once again it came into the attention of Muslim men that I was a converted Christian who had recanted Islam, deemed as humiliation of Islam by them,” Khan said.
In this week’s attack, Khan also sustained minor rib injuries and several minor cuts and bruises. He said the Muslim radicals pelted him with stones and bricks while others kicked him in the chest and stomach. They also tried to force him to recite Islam’s creed for conversion; he refused.
On Monday night (Nov. 1) Khan had gone out to buy milk for a daughter born on July 19 – named after the daughter who was killed in 2008, Sana Nasri Khan – when during the wee hours of the night five unidentified Muslim extremists began kicking and pounding on the door.
“When my wife asked who they were, they replied, ‘We have learned that you have disgraced Islam by recanting, therefore we will set your house on fire,” Khan told Compass. “When my wife told them that I was not at home, they left a letter threatening to torch the house and kill my whole family and ordered me to recant Christianity and embrace Islam.”
Khan had sold some of his clothes at a pawnshop in order to buy milk for the baby, as he has been financially supporting six Christian families from his congregation who are on a Muslim extremist hit list. Islamic militants have cordoned off parts of Kalupura, patrolling the area to find and kill the families of Allah Rakha Masih, Boota Masih, Khalid Rehmat, Murad Masih Gill, Tariq Murad Gill and Rashid Masih.
Often feeding her 5-month-old daughter water mixed with salt and sugar instead of milk or other supplements, Aster Nasri Khan said she was ready to die of starvation for the sake of Jesus and His church. Before her beaten husband was found, she said she had heard from neighbors that some Muslim men had left him unconscious on a roadside, thinking he was dead.
The Rev. Arif Masih of Power of the Healing God’s Church in Islamabad told Compass that he was stunned to find Khan unconscious in a pool of blood on the roadside. Saying he couldn’t go to police or a hospital out of fear that Muslims would level apostasy charges against Khan, Masih said he took him to the nearby private clinic of Dr. Naeem Iqbal Masih. Khan received medical treatment there while remaining unconscious for almost four hours, Masih said.
Born into a Muslim family, Khan had joined the now-defunct Islamic militant group Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, which later emerged as Jaish-e-Muhammad, fighting with them for eight and half years in Kashmir and Afghanistan.
While fighting in Afghanistan’s civil war in 2000, he said, he found a New Testament lying on the battlefield. He immediately threw it away, but a divine voice seemed to be extending an invitation to him, he said. When he later embraced Christ, he began preaching and studying – ending up with a doctorate in biblical theology from Punjab Theological Seminary in Kasur in 2005.
Upon learning of the Oct. 25 fatwa against him, Khan immediately left Gujrat for Islamabad, he said. He was living in hiding in Chashma near Iqbal Town when Muslims paid his landlord, Munir Masih, to reveal to them that Khan was living at his house as a tenant, he said. A young Christian whose name is withheld for security reasons informed Khan of the danger on Oct. 29, he said.
The young Christian told him that Munir Masih revealed his whereabouts to Allama Atta-Ullah Attari, a member of Dawat-e-Islami.
Khan said he confided to Christian friends about the dangers before him, and they devised a plan to hide his family in Bara Koh, a small town near Islamabad.
“But as I had sold and spent everything to help out Kalupura Christians,” he said, “I was penniless and therefore failed to move on and rent a house there.”
Land owner falsely charges young man with illicit sex, calls villagers to beat, burn him.
SARGODHA, Pakistan, October 29 (CDN) — A Muslim land owner in Pakistan this month subjected a 25-year-old Christian to burns and a series of humiliations, including falsely charging him with having sex with his own niece, because the Christian refused to work for him without pay.
Fayaz Masih is in jail with burns on his body after No. 115 Chitraan Wala village head Zafar Iqbal Ghuman and other villagers punished Masih for refusing to work as a slave in his fields, said the Rev. Yaqub Masih, a Pentecostal evangelist. The village is located in Nankana Sahib district, Punjab Province.
Sources said neither Fayaz Masih nor his family had taken any loans from Ghuman, and that they had no obligations to work off any debt for Ghuman as bonded laborers.
Yaqub Masih said the young man’s refusal to work in Ghuman’s fields infuriated the Muslim, who was accustomed to forcing Christians into slavery. He said Ghuman considered Masih’s refusal an act of disobedience by a “choohra,” the pejorative word for Christians in Pakistan.
On Oct. 3 Ghuman and 11 of his men abducted Masih from his home at gun-point and brought him to Ghuman’s farmhouse, according to Yaqub Masih and Yousaf Gill, both of nearby village No. 118 Chour Muslim. Gill is a former councilor of Union Council No. 30, and Yaqub Masih is an ordained pastor waiting for his denomination to assign him a church.
Fayaz Masih’s family members told Yaqub Masih that Ghuman was carrying a pistol, and that the 11 other men were brandishing rifles or carrying clubs, axes and bamboo sticks. They began beating Masih as they carried him away, calling him a choohra, Yaqub Masih said.
Gill said that Ghuman’s farmhands tied Fayaz Masih’s hands and legs and asked him once more if he would work in Ghuman’s fields. When he again refused, Gill said, Ghuman summoned four barbers; three ran away, but he forced one, Muhammad Pervaiz, to shave Masih’s head, eyebrows, half of his mustache and half of his beard.
After they had rubbed charcoal on Masih’s face, Ghuman then announced that Masih had had relations with Masih’s 18-year-old niece, Sumeera, and called for everyone in the village to punish him. He and his men placed Masih on a frail, one-eyed donkey, Yaqub Masih and Gill said, and a mob of Muslim men and children surrounded him – beating tins, dancing and singing door-to-door while shouting anti-Christian slogans, yelling obscenities at him and other Christians, and encouraging villagers to beat him with their shoes and fill his mouth with human waste, Yaqub Masih said.
Some threw kerosene on Masih and alternately set him on fire and extinguished the flames, Gill said. He added that Muslims made a garland of old shoes from a pile of garbage and put it around Masih’s neck.
Yaqub Masih said the abuse became unbearable for the young man, and he collapsed and fell off the donkey.
Police Ignore Court
Masih’s sister, Seema Bibi, told Compass that the accusation that Masih had had sex with her daughter Sumeera was utterly false. She said Ghuman made the allegation only to vent his fury at Masih for refusing to work for him.
Seema Bibi said that Ghuman told her daughter at gun-point to testify against Masih in court on Oct. 4. Sumeera surprised the Muslim land owner, however, saying under oath that Masih was innocent and that Ghuman had tried to force her to testify against her uncle. A judge ruled that Sumeera had not had illicit relations with Masih, and that therefore she was free to go home.
Her mother told Compass, however, that since then Ghuman has been issuing daily death threats to her family.
After Masih collapsed from the abuse, Yaqub Masih and Gill called local police. Police did not arrive until three hours later, at 3:30 p.m., they said, led by Deputy Superintendent of Police Shoiab Ahmed Kamboh and Inspector Muhammad Yaqub.
“They rebuked the Muslim villagers that they could have killed this Christian youth, and they told them to give him a bath at once and change his clothes, in order to reduce the evidence against them,” Gill said.
Family members of Masih said Kamboh and Inspector Yaqub arrested some of the leading figures within the mob, but soon thereafter they received a call to release every Muslim.
“Instead of taking the Muslim men into custody, they detained my brother, and he was taken to the police station,” Seema Bibi said.
On Oct. 4 police sent Masih to District Headquarters Hospital Nankana Sahib for examination, where Dr. Naseer Ahmed directed Dr. Muhammad Shakeel to mention in the medical report how severely Ghuman and his farmhands had beaten him, Gill said. He said the medical report also stated that Masih had sustained burns and that his head, mustache, eyebrows and beard were shaved.
In spite of the court ruling that Masih had not had sex with his niece, police were coerced into registering a false charge of adultery under Article 376 of the Islamic statutes of the Pakistan Penal Code, First Information Report No. 361/10, at the Sangla Hill police station.
At press time Masih remained in Shiekhupura District Jail, said Gill. Gill also has received death threats from Ghuman, he said.
The 11 men who along with Ghuman abducted Masih and brought him to Ghuman’s farmhouse, according to Masih’s family, were Mehdi Hussain Shah and Maqsood Shah, armed with rifles; Muhammad Amin, Rana Saeed, Muhammad Osama and four others unidentified, all of them brandishing clubs; Muhammad Waqas, with an axe; and Ali Raza, bearing a bamboo stick and a club.