Hindu group declares country a Hindu state; upper castes seek halt to conversions.
KATHMANDU, Nepal, April 19 (CDN) — With the government refusing to listen to their three-year plea for an official cemetery and ignoring a protracted hunger strike, Nepal’s Christians are now seeking redress from the Supreme Court.
“Every day there are two to three deaths in the community, and with each death we face a hard time with the burial,” said Chari Bahadur Gahatraj, a pastor who filed a petition in the high court on March 13 asking it to intervene as authorities of Nepal’s oldest Hindu temple had begun demolishing the graves of Christians there.
Gahatraj and Man Bahadur Khatri are both members of the newly formed Christian Burial Ground Prayer and National Struggle Committee that since last month began leading a relay hunger strike in a public area of the capital, asking for a graveyard. They said they were forced to go to court after the Pashupati Area Development Trust (PADT), which runs Nepal’s oldest Hindu shrine, the Pashupatinath temple, said it would no longer allow non-Hindus to use the temple’s forested land.
“We don’t want to hurt the sentiments of any community,” Gahatraj told Compass. “Nor are we trying to grab the land owned by a temple. We are ready to accept any plot given to us. All we are asking for is that the burials be allowed till we get an alternate site.”
Judge Awadhesh Kumar Yadav has since ordered the government and PADT not to prevent Christians from using the forest for burials until the dispute is resolved. The legal battle, however, now involves a counter-suit. Hindu activist Bharat Jangam filed a second writ on March 20, saying that since the forest was the property of a Hindu temple, non-Hindus should not be allowed to bury their dead there just as churches do not allow Hindu burials.
Subsequently, the court decided to hear the two petitions together, and yesterday (April 18), the hearings began. While two lawyers argued on behalf of Gahatraj and Khatri, a cohort of 15 lawyers spoke against their petition. The next hearing is scheduled for May 3.
Along with the legal battle, Christians have kept up their relay hunger strike. To step up pressure on the government, the protestors also announced they would lead a funeral march to the offices of the prime minister and the culture minister and hand over coffins to them as a symbolic protest. If that too failed, they warned they would have no option but to go on hunger strike in front of the prime minister’s office and parliament, this time carrying dead bodies with them.
Alarmed at the rate the issue was snowballing, the government finally responded. Yesterday Culture Minister Gangalal Tuladhar opened talks with the protestors, agreeing to continue the negotiations after three days. The government also formed a four-member committee to look into the demand. Currently, Christians are asking for cemetery land in all 75 districts of Nepal.
Protestors were wary of the government’s intent in the overture.
“This could be a ploy to buy time and bury the issue,” said a member of the Christian committee formed to advise parliament on drafting the new constitution, who requested anonymity.
Though the committee formed to look into the Christians’ demand for burial land has been asked to present a report within two weeks, Christians suspect the panel is dragging its feet.
“The new constitution has to be promulgated by May 28, but it does not seem likely that the main political parties will be able to accomplish the task,” the Christian committee member said. “And if the constitution doesn’t materialize in time, there will be a crisis and our problem will be shelved.”
Adding to their unease, Christians are now facing a redoubled campaign by Hindu groups for the restoration of Hinduism as the state religion, five years after parliament declared Nepal, the world’s only Hindu kingdom, secular.
If the new constitution had been promulgated last year, it would have consolidated secularism in Nepal. But with the country missing the deadline due to protracted power-sharing rows among the major political parties, Christians still feel under threat.
On Thursday (April 14), when the country celebrated the start of the indigenous new year 2068 with a public holiday, the Rastriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal, which seeks the reinstatement of Hinduism as the state religion, kicked off a campaign at the Bhadrakali temple in Kathmandu. As curious onlookers and soldiers patrolling the nearby army headquarters looked on, party members fervently blew into conch shells and rang bells to draw people’s attention to their demand.
The party, which is also seeking the restoration of monarchy, took some oblique shots at the Christian community as well.
“There is a deliberate and systematic attempt by organizations to convert Hindus,” said Kamal Thapa, party chief and a former minister. “These organizations are guided by foreign powers and foreign funds. If the widespread conversion of Hindus is not stopped immediately, we will have to take stern measures.”
Three days later, an umbrella of Hindu groups – the Rastriya Dharma Jagaran Mahasabha (the National Religion Resurrection Conference) held a massive gathering in the capital, declaring Nepal a “Hindu state” and meeting with no official objection. The proclamation came as the climax to a three-day public program calling for the restoration of “the traditional Hindu state.” Several Hindu preachers and scholars from neighboring India attended the program, held on the grounds of the Pashupatinath temple, which is also a UNESCO-declared World Heritage Site.
The “Hindu state” proclamation was the brainchild of Shankar Prasad Pandey, a former member of parliament from Nepali Congress, the second largest party in Nepal, now in opposition. Though Pandey was a sitting Member of Parliament in 2006, when the body unanimously declared Nepal secular, he began opposing the move soon afterwards, leading four campaigns against it nationwide.
“I consider the nation and the Hindu religion to be more important than the party,” said Pandey, known as the MP who began to go barefoot 32 years ago to show solidarity with Nepalese, who are among the poorest in the world. “Over 90 percent of the Nepalese want Nepal to be a Hindu state. However, the government is led by people whose only concern is power and money.”
Pandey’s campaign is supported by Hindu groups from India and the West: Narendranath Saraswati, who is the Shankaracharya or religious head of a prominent Hindu shrine in India’s Varanasi city; Dr. Tilak Chaitanya, chief of a group in the United Kingdom that propagates the Gita, the holy book of the Hindus; and Tahal Kishore, head of a Hindu organization, Radha Krishna Sevashram, in the United States.
Two weeks before the May 28 deadline for the new constitution, Pandey and his followers plan to step up the campaign for a “Hindu state” in the capital. Though Pandey denies it could stir up animosity between the majority-Hindus and Christians – whose minority population is said to have crossed 2 million but is actually only 850,801, according to Operation World – there are fears of religious tension if not outright violence.
The Hindu rallies continue to grow as a pressure tactic. Yesterday (April 18), members of Nepal Brahman Samaj, an organization of “upper castes” from whose echelons temple priests are appointed, fought with security forces in front of parliament house, demanding their rights be respected and an end to conversions.
More Hindutva (Hindu nationalist) campaigning is scheduled on April 29, when the Rastriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal’s Thapa has called for a mass gathering in the capital.
Report from Compass Direct News
Christian human rights advocate Gao Zhisheng reveals further abuse.
DUBLIN, January 19 (CDN) — Geng He, wife of missing Christian lawyer Gao Zhisheng, is demanding answers from the Chinese government following new revelations of torture of her husband.
“This is the first time that I heard about the details,” Geng, now living in the United States, told Radio Free Asia last week. “My husband did not tell me – would not tell me – how he was tortured.”
After consulting with Geng, The Associated Press (AP) on Jan. 10 published an interview with Gao, an outspoken human rights campaigner, during his brief release from captivity last April, in which he revealed details of the torture he had suffered during the previous 14 months.
Speaking with the AP in a Beijing teahouse on April 7, closely watched by police, Gao described many forms of torture, including a period of 48 hours when he was stripped bare, beaten continually with handguns and subjected to other excruciating abuse.
The AP released the interview in advance of an official visit this week (Jan. 18-21) by Chinese President Hu Jintao to the United States, stating its hope that “publicizing his account will place renewed pressure on the government to disclose Gao’s whereabouts.”
Geng planned to travel to Washington this week to further highlight her husband’s case. At a U.S. State Department dinner at the White House tonight for Hu, she planned to wait outside to draw attention to Gao’s disappearance.
Gao had asked that his account not be made public unless he disappeared again or “made it to someplace safe like the U.S. or Europe,” according to the AP.
Initially seized by public security officials on Feb. 4, 2009, shortly after his wife and two children fled China to seek asylum in the United States, Gao was held virtually incommunicado for more than a year before police staged his brief reappearance in Beijing last April 6. (See http://www.compassdirect.org, “Christian Rights Activist Gao Zhisheng Released,” April 9, 2010.)
After speaking with the AP and other journalists, Gao made a supervised visit to his in-laws in northwestern Xinjiang Province. During that visit, he again vanished on April 20 while in the company of Chinese police, according to a report by The New York Times on April 30, 2009. He has not been seen or heard from since, but China watchers such as Bob Fu of the China Aid Association (CAA) believe he is “definitely in the hands of Chinese security forces.” (See http://www.compassdirect.org, “Human Rights
Lawyer Gao Zhisheng Missing Again,” May 7, 2010.)
In his interview with the AP, Gao explained that police had moved him from his birthplace of Yulin to Beijing, then back to Yulin, and from there to Urumqi, where the most excruciating moments of torture occurred.
Allowed out on an evening walk on Sept. 25, Gao was approached by several Uyghur men, members of a minority ethnic group who claimed to be part of a counterterrorism unit. They punched him in the stomach, handcuffed him and took him to the upstairs room of a building. There they tortured him for a full week, culminating in a period of 48 hours when they stripped him bare and “took turns beating him [with pistols] and did things he refused to describe,” the AP reported.
Gao said this was the darkest point in the 14 months since authorities had seized him in February 2009, and far worse than the torture during a previous disappearance in 2007. At that time, he said in a previous report, security officials gave electric shocks to his genitals and held burning cigarettes close to his eyes to cause temporary blindness.
When Gao in 2007 asked Beijing police why they didn’t put him in prison, they replied, “You’re not good enough for that. Whenever we want you to disappear, you’ll disappear,” according to the AP.
‘Words from the Heart’
Fu of CAA on Friday (Jan. 14) also called on the Chinese government to give an account of Gao’s whereabouts, besides imploring President Obama to address the fate of Gao and other prominent Chinese rights defenders during his meetings with Hu.
Fu also released a previously unpublished statement written by Gao on Jan. 1, 2009, shortly before his family’s escape from China, entitled “Words from the Heart.”
Carried out of China by Gao’s wife, the document claimed that authorities had invested a huge amount of manpower, physical resources and funds to silence him.
“Not only is it now extremely difficult for me to make my voice heard, but it is also extremely dangerous,” Gao wrote.
His faith, however, had enabled him to endure under pressure, he stated.
“I am optimistic by nature, and I am a Christian,” he wrote. “Even when I was tortured to near death, the pain was only in the physical body. A heart that is filled with God has no room to entertain pain and suffering.
Gao expressed concern for his wife and children, who had suffered greatly from police harassment. He said authorities even banned his daughter from attending school, another factor prompting the family’s flight to the United States.
Gao urged friends both inside and outside China to defend other human rights advocates imprisoned or harassed by the government, adding that “Heroes like Guo Feixiong … who sacrifice and risk their lives to defend religious freedom, are the true hope of China.”
He also urged that a network be established within China to report on “countless” abuses of human rights.
“The publication of this article will cause me to be kidnapped again,” Gao concluded. “Kidnappings are a normal part of my life now. If it comes again, then let it come!”
A Brief Biography of Gao Zhisheng
Gao was born in a hillside cave in Yulin, northern China, according to a brief biography written by David Kilgour of Media With Conscience (MWC). Since his parents were too poor to send him to school, he gained a basic education by listening outside the windows of the village classroom.
He then worked briefly as a coal miner before joining the People’s Liberation Army, where he met his future wife, Geng He, obtained a secondary education and became a member of the Communist Party.
Following his discharge from the army, Gao became a street vendor and self-studied to become a lawyer, passing the bar exam in 1994. China’s Ministry of Justice in 2001 named him one of the country’s 10 most remarkable lawyers, according to the MWC biography.
But as Gao began to represent farmers in land compensation cases, practitioners of the banned Falun Gong group and house church members, he quickly lost favor with authorities.
In 2005, after Gao wrote open letters to President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao calling for an end to the torture and execution of Falun Gong members, authorities closed down Gao’s law firm, revoked his license to practice law, and placed Gao, his wife and two children under 24-hour police surveillance, according to reports by the China Aid Association (CAA). Police even beat his then 13-year-old daughter, according to the CAA.
In response, Gao in December 2005 publicly resigned from the Communist Party and later declared that he was a Christian.
Weeks later, on Feb. 4, 2006, Gao and several other high profile Chinese activists launched a “Relay Hunger Strike for Human Rights,” in which ordinary Chinese citizens fasted for 24 hours in rotation across 29 provinces in China. The hunger strikes led to a wave of arrests.
Authorities then seized Gao on Aug. 15, 2006, and on Dec. 22, 2006 they gave him a three-year suspended sentence for subversion. Officials then placed Gao on probation for five years and allowed him to remain at home under strict surveillance.
Authorities again seized Gao in September 2007 after he wrote to the U.S. Congress expressing concern about human rights violations prior to the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. On his release in November 2007 Gao issued a statement via the CAA claiming that his captors had tortured him by applying electric shocks to his genitals and holding burning cigarettes close to his eyes. He added that he’d been threatened with death if he spoke about the torture.
Gao was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007, 2008 and 2010 in recognition of his ongoing commitment to the advance of human rights in China, according to Kilgour’s report.
State agents abducted Gao on Feb. 4, 2009, shortly after his wife and children fled China to obtain asylum in the United States, and they held him virtually incommunicado for over a year. (See http://www.compassdirect.org, “Action Urged for Missing Rights Activist in China,” March 24, 2009.)
Perhaps as a response to international pressure, police staged a brief reappearance for Gao on April 6, 2010, CAA reported. But on April 20, during a closely-supervised visit to his in-laws in Urumqi, Xinjiang province, Gao again vanished and has not been seen or heard from since.
Chinese officials at every level have consistently denied knowledge of his current location.
Report from Compass Direct News
Villagers beat young man and his relatives, as well as burn their crops and press charges.
SHEIKHUPURA, Pakistan, October 11 (CDN) — A young Christian has been jailed for nearly eight months and his family was attacked after a Muslim friend framed him for murder, he said.
Yassir Masih, 18, has been locked up at Sheikhupura District Jail since his arrest in late February. In an interview at Narang Mandi police station at that time, Masih said that on Feb. 17 his Muslim friend Muhammad Mubashir came to his house late at night and asked him to accompany him on “an urgent piece of work.”
Residents of Pandori village in Sheikhupura district, Mubashir and Masih went to the home of Muhammad Imran, who was in love with the same girl as Mubashir; Masih said the two one-time friends often quarreled over her, with bitter enmity eventually developing between them.
“Being a friend, I went with him, reluctantly, and we soon arrived at the door of Muhammad Imran,” Masih said. “Muhammad Mubashir knocked on the door, and as soon as Muhammad Imran opened the door, Muhammad Mubashir opened fire with his pistol, killing Muhammad Imran on the spot.”
The gunfire awakened villagers, who gathered and began to search for the killer, Masih said. Frightened of the mob and not wanting to put his family in danger, Masih did not return home but fled with Mubashir. The two young men hid in a field of crops, where they decided to leave the village until passions cooled, he said. As Masih left the village, however, he was unaware that Mubashir had melted into the mob that was looking for the killer, he said.
“Later Muhammad Mubashir went to his house and slept in his warm bed that shivering cold winter night,” Masih said.
The next day villagers discovered Masih was missing and therefore accused him of killing Imran, he said.
They didn’t stop at that, said Khalid Gill, chief organizer for Punjab Province of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance. Gill said that in order to deprive the wealthy Christian family of their profitable strawberry, wheat, corn and other crops, Mubashir’s father, Muhammad Gulfam, filed murder, arms possession and terrorism charges not only against Masih but also against his 50-year-old father Abid Masih, as well as brothers Khalid Masih, 30; Asif Masih, 23; Ashir Masih, 15; Faisal Masih, 13; and two others unnamed.
“Most of the Muslims in the area harbored jealousy against the prosperous Christian family,” Gill pointed out, explaining why Gulfam also pressed charges against members of Yassir Masih’s family.
Additionally, the angry villagers on Feb. 18 overran the property of Masih’s grandfather, Rehmat Masih, where four of the late patriarch’s sons lived; the mob beat women and children with clubs and looted appliances, clothes and other household items, Gill said.
“Nothing was left of use for the Christian family,” Gill said.
He added that the villagers ransacked Yassir Masih’s home and burned 20 acres of his fields on Feb. 18. The village comprises about 2,000 Muslim families and only 15 Christian homes, he said.
Officers from Narang Mandi police station arrested Yassir Masih later than month. He and his family members told officers that Mubashir shot Imran, but police listened only to the lies of the plaintiff, Masih said.
On Feb. 19 Yassir Masih’s mother, Shamshad Bibi, went to the Narang Mandi police station to file a complaint against the Muslim villagers for attacking and looting their house and burning their crops, Gill said. Police filed a case against the attackers but so far no one has been arrested, and “all the Muslim leaders who instigated the Muslim mob to attack are still at large,” Gill said.
At the same time, Narang Mandi police have arrested not only Yassir Masih but his brothers Ashir Masih and Asif Masih, 15 and 23 years old respectively, Gill said. While Yassir Masih has been incarcerated at Sheikhupura District Jail, Ashir Masih and Asif Masih were interrogated by Criminal Investigation Agency officers and have been kept at an undisclosed location since Feb. 18.
The accused Christian’s father, Abid Masih, as well as Khalid Masih, were still in hiding at press time. Police exonerated young Faisal Masih of all charges on Sept.1. Gill said that the 13-year-old boy had moved to an undisclosed location.
Report from Compass Direct News
A Chinese human rights dissident and democracy advocate was awarded this year’s Nobel Peace Prize on Friday, reports Peter J. Smith, LifeSiteNews.com.
Liu Xiaobo is the architect of a pro-democracy and human rights manifesto called Charter 08, which called for basic freedoms such as freedom of religion, assembly, protection of private property, and the guarantee of rights outlined under the U.N.’s Declaration of Universal Human Rights.
Authorities arrested Liu two days before the Charter’s December 8, 2008 release and charged him with "inciting the subversion of state power." After declaring him guilty, a Chinese court sentenced Liu on Christmas Day 2009 to 11 years in prison.
The Nobel committee in particular cited Liu’s pacifism in challenging communist China’s human rights abuses and calling for democratic reforms.
Liu was nominated in part by eight U.S. lawmakers who praised his work and suffering for human rights in China.
On behalf of himself and seven other U.S. Congressman, Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) recommended that the Nobel Peace Prize Committee recognize not only Liu, but jointly award the prize to two other human rights activists, Chen Guangcheng and Gao Zhisheng, who have been persecuted specifically for fighting China’s brutal policy of forced abortion and sterilizations under the “one-child” policy.
Chen is a blind self-taught lawyer, who took the burden upon himself to defend local Chinese peasant women from forced sterilization and their children from forced abortion by local government authorities.
Gao, a Beijing attorney committed to defending human rights in China, was one of Chen’s lawyers. On February 4, 2009, Gao went missing under suspicious circumstances.
Geng He, Gao’s wife, told the Associated Press that she has not spoken to her husband since April and fears for his safety.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry has blasted the Nobel committee’s selection of Liu, calling the award a “blasphemy” and Liu a “criminal.”
"The Nobel Peace Prize is meant to award individuals who promote international harmony and friendship, peace and disarmament. Liu Xiaobo is a criminal who has been sentenced by Chinese judicial departments for violating Chinese law,” the ministry said on its website. “Awarding the peace to Liu runs completely counter to the principle of the award and is also a blasphemy to the Peace Prize."
The AP reports that news of Liu’s Nobel award has been blacked out in China. It added that Liu Xia, his wife, is guarded in her Beijing apartment by police, who have forbidden her from meeting with reporters.
Liu’s wife, who is able to communicate by telephone and electronic media, told CNN that she intends to visit him in prison soon to inform him of the prize, and encourage him. She hopes to be able to visit Norway to collect the award on his behalf.
Last year’s Nobel Peace Prize recipient was President Barack Obama, who was nominated shortly after his presidential inauguration. Obama praised Liu for his sacrifice in a statement and called upon Chinese authorities to release him from prison.
“By granting the prize to Mr. Liu, the Nobel Committee has chosen someone who has been an eloquent and courageous spokesman for the advance of universal values through peaceful and non-violent means, including his support for democracy, human rights, and the rule of law,” said Obama.
Report from the Christian Telegraph