Scott Morrison set to slow the arrival home of Australians amid coronavirus fears


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Scott Morrison will take a proposal to Friday’s national cabinet to slow arrivals of Australians returning from overseas.

Morrison’s proposal followed this week’s request from Western Australian Premier Mark McGowan for a cap on international flights landing in Perth to relieve pressure on resources, and the earlier diversion of flights from landing in Melbourne because of the new outbreak.

There is already a cap applying to NSW, and the WA government has said the federal government has responded favourably to its representation. Queensland also wants limits.

The prime minister told a news conference his proposal would be to contain the flow rather than pause it. He said the numbers coming in were very low “but at this time, we don’t want to put any more pressure on the system than is absolutely necessary”.

New Zealand has moved to slow the flow of returnees.

Morrison also said the federal government would support state governments charging travellers returning from abroad for their quarantine.

It was up to the states but “if they wish to do that, then the Commonwealth would have no objection to that”.

“I think that would be a completely understandable proposition for people who have been away for some time.”

There had been “many opportunities for people to return. If they’re choosing to do so now, they have obviously delayed that decision for a period,” he told a news conference.

Queensland is already charging – $2,800 for one adult, $3,710 for two adults, and $4,620 for two adults and two children, with some provision for waivers. The Northern Territory also charges.

As Victoria announced 134 new cases, Morrison’s message to Melburnians facing the six-week lockdown was: “It’s tough. And it will test you and it will strain, but you have done it once before and you will be able to do it again because you have proven that”.

“We’re all Melburnians now when it comes to the challenges we face. We’re all Victorians now because we’re all Australians.”

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said the cost to the economy of the Victorian re-imposed lockdown would now be factored into the government’s July 23 economic statement. It would affect forecasts for growth and unemployment. “Victoria is a big part of the national economy” and “the cost to Victoria is up to a billion dollars a week and that will fall heavily on businesses”.

“This is a major challenge to the economic recovery. This is going to have an impact well beyond the Victorian border. It’s already starting to play out in consumer confidence numbers that have been down in the last two weeks, ” Frydenberg said.

“We have been there with JobKeeper and the cash flow boost, which together have provided more than $10 billion into the Victorian economy,” he said.

“We’re ready to do what is required to support Victoria, and Daniel Andrews himself has said whenever he’s asked the Prime Minister for support the answer has been an unequivocal yes.”

Frydenberg confirmed there will be another phase of income support for the period beyond September when JobKeeper is due to finish. The future support would be temporary and targeted, he said. The higher JobSeeker payment is also scheduled to snap back at the end of September, although it is not expected to return to the old rate.

Frydenberg also indicated the government was considering bringing forward the next round of the legislated tax cuts. “We are looking at that issue, and the timing of those tax cuts, because we do want to boost aggregate demand, boost consumption, put more money in people’s pockets, and that is one way to do it”.

NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian told people in communities along the NSW-Victorian border not to move outside their “bubble”; nor should people go into these areas. She warned “the probability of contagion in NSW given what’s happening in Victoria is extremely high”.

The ACT has three new cases, the first in more than a month. Two arrived from a Melbourne hot spot and the third is a household contact.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.

View from The Hill: Scott Morrison announces mandatory self-isolation for all overseas arrivals and gives up shaking hands


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy was still shaking hands on Sunday morning. But when that afternoon Scott Morrison announced the latest coronavirus measures, including compulsory self-isolation for overseas arrivals, the Prime Minister said he and other cabinet members wouldn’t be shaking hands anymore.

Only on Friday Morrison had been thrusting his hand at a notably wary Gladys Berejiklian.

Confusing signals.

On the other hand, this isn’t just a fast-moving situation, but one in which even experts have differing takes (the advice from the federal-state medical officers panel may be unanimous but it’s understood there are disputes in their deliberations), and politicians struggle with responses, even as they follow the medical recommendations. For example, the NSW government has appeared more forward-leaning than the feds.

While members of the public understandably seek certainty, on some fronts there will be no absolutes, just scales of assessment, probability, and risk.

That’s not to say the federal government should not have been clearer at times, and its mass media advertising campaign, which started at the weekend, was inexplicably slow to materialise.

The Australian tally of cases approached 300 and the death toll rose to five at the weekend. Only history will show definitely whether Murphy and the government are right in their claims Australia is keeping “ahead of the curve”, or the critics vindicated in arguing it is behind it.

Morrison in particular has wanted to put the most optimistic gloss on things, not least because he hoped to minimise economic disruption. Despite the constant flow of news conferences over recent weeks, the government avoided dwelling on how bad things could get.




Read more:
Morrison’s coronavirus package is a good start, but he’ll probably have to spend more


By Sunday Morrison’s tone had changed. He had a graph to illustrate the need to flatten the curve of infection to enable the health system (notably the intensive care facilities) to cope. “Slowing the spread, you free up the beds,” he said.


Federal Department of Health

Stark and unfolding realities were starting to prevail – though not entirely – over the prime ministerial desire to keep the lines upbeat.

And compulsion and the law were replacing choice and advice, in the measures Morrison outlined following Sunday’s meetings of cabinet’s national security committee and the new “national cabinet” of federal and state leaders (and after Morrison spoke at the weekend with Britain’s Boris Johnson and New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern).

Like New Zealand, Australia will now insist all arrivals self-isolate for a fortnight. The only exceptions will be Pacific Islanders who are transiting to their home countries. Morrison said this measure would be effective in “flattening the curve”.

As foreign travellers dry up, most incoming traffic will be Australians returning home.

Foreign cruise ships are to be stopped from arriving for 30 days in what will be a rolling ban.

The cessation of non-essential gatherings of 500 or more has moved from advice on Friday to a formal prohibition, which will be backed by state law. Morrison flagged the threshold could soon be lowered.

On the enforcement side he said: “the states and territories wisely are not going to create event police or social distancing police … But the legislation impact would mean that if a person did fail to observe the 14 day self-isolation or if an event was organised, that would be contrary, once those provisions are put in place, to state law”.

Berejiklian was quick to say NSW already had the powers to enforce self-isolation, emphasising what was involved “is a matter of life and death”. This recalled her strong language of a few days ago when she said the situation was “not business as usual”.

Work is underway on restrictions on visits to nursing homes and arrangements for indigenous communities as well as further restrictions on enclosed gatherings, which is likely to cut the 500 number. The “national cabinet” will review the position on Tuesday night.




Read more:
VIDEO: your coronavirus and COVID-19 questions answered by experts


As for federal cabinet, it will be “social distancing” with “no more handshakes”, more meetings by video conferences, and less travelling. Morrison has already cancelled some engagements.

So far schools generally are not being closed (though some individual schools are shutting down). It’s said closing schools could promote community transmission, with children out and about. Many would be left with grandparents who would be in the most vulnerable age group. Also, if parents had to stay at home to care for their kids, this could deplete the health work force.

But the question of schools remains in the frame.

Arrangements for next week’s parliament are still being worked on, and the presiding officers have had talks with Murphy. The sitting is likely to be kept as short as needed to get through the legislation necessary for last week’s $17.6 billion stimulus package.

Opposition leader Anthony Albanese in his Sunday night national address promised “a spirit of bipartisanship. We will be constructive. We will support the government to protect the health of Australians, but also to protect their jobs and our economy.”

The package was all about trying to head off a recession by keeping growth positive in the June quarter. As things are going, that looks like it could require a miracle as well as the package. Many small businesses will collapse, despite the help the government is offering.

Almost certainly, a lot more stimulus will be needed, with the question only the amount.

But a measure of how deep the crisis is becoming is that at the moment, the national conversation is mostly about health, not economics.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.

Travelling overseas? What to do if a border agent demands access to your digital device



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New laws enacted in New Zealand give customs agents the right to search your phone.
Shutterstock

Katina Michael, Arizona State University

New laws enacted in New Zealand this month give border agents the right to demand travellers entering the country hand over passwords for their digital devices. We outline what you should do if it happens to you, in the first part of a series exploring how technology is changing tourism.


Imagine returning home to Australia or New Zealand after a long-haul flight, exhausted and red-eyed. You’ve just reclaimed your baggage after getting through immigration when you’re stopped by a customs officer who demands you hand over your smartphone and the password. Do you know your rights?

Both Australian and New Zealand customs officers are legally allowed to search not only your personal baggage, but also the contents of your smartphone, tablet or laptop. It doesn’t matter whether you are a citizen or visitor, or whether you’re crossing a border by air, land or sea.




Read more:
How to protect your private data when you travel to the United States


New laws that came into effect in New Zealand on October 1 give border agents:

…the power to make a full search of a stored value instrument (including power to require a user of the instrument to provide access information and other information or assistance that is reasonable and necessary to allow a person to access the instrument).

Those who don’t comply could face prosecution and NZ$5,000 in fines. Border agents have similar powers in Australia and elsewhere. In Canada, for example, hindering or obstructing a border guard could cost you up to C$50,000 or five years in prison.

A growing trend

Australia and New Zealand don’t currently publish data on these kinds of searches, but there is a growing trend of device search and seizure at US borders. There was a more than fivefold increase in the number of electronic device inspections between 2015 and 2016 – bringing the total number to 23,000 per year. In the first six months of 2017, the number of searches was already almost 15,000.

In some of these instances, people have been threatened with arrest if they didn’t hand over passwords. Others have been charged. In cases where they did comply, people have lost sight of their device for a short period, or devices were confiscated and returned days or weeks later.




Read more:
Encrypted smartphones secure your identity, not just your data


On top of device searches, there is also canvassing of social media accounts. In 2016, the United States introduced an additional question on online visa application forms, asking people to divulge social media usernames. As this form is usually filled out after the flights have been booked, travellers might feel they have no choice but to part with this information rather than risk being denied a visa, despite the question being optional.

There is little oversight

Border agents may have a legitimate reason to search an incoming passenger – for instance, if a passenger is suspected of carrying illicit goods, banned items, or agricultural products from abroad.

But searching a smartphone is different from searching luggage. Our smartphones carry our innermost thoughts, intimate pictures, sensitive workplace documents, and private messages.

The practice of searching electronic devices at borders could be compared to police having the right to intercept private communications. But in such cases in Australia, police require a warrant to conduct the intercept. That means there is oversight, and a mechanism in place to guard against abuse. And the suspected crime must be proportionate to the action taken by law enforcement.

What to do if it happens to you

If you’re stopped at a border and asked to hand over your devices and passwords, make sure you have educated yourself in advance about your rights in the country you’re entering.

Find out whether what you are being asked is optional or not. Just because someone in a uniform asks you to do something, it does not necessarily mean you have to comply. If you’re not sure about your rights, ask to speak to a lawyer and don’t say anything that might incriminate you. Keep your cool and don’t argue with the customs officer.




Read more:
How secure is your data when it’s stored in the cloud?


You should also be smart about how you manage your data generally. You may wish to switch on two-factor authentication, which requires a password on top of your passcode. And store sensitive information in the cloud on a secure European server while you are travelling, accessing it only on a needs basis. Data protection is taken more seriously in the European Union as a result of the recently enacted General Data Protection Regulation.

Microsoft, Apple and Google all indicate that handing over a password to one of their apps or devices is in breach of their services agreement, privacy management, and safety practices. That doesn’t mean it’s wise to refuse to comply with border force officials, but it does raise questions about the position governments are putting travellers in when they ask for this kind of information.The Conversation

Katina Michael, Professor, School for the Future of Innovation in Society & School of Computing, Informatics and Decision Systems Engineering, Arizona State University

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

What’s driving Chinese infrastructure investment overseas and how can we make the most of it?


Shahar Hameiri, The University of Queensland

Chinese infrastructure investment in Australia has rarely left the headlines lately. It’s reported that telecommunications giant Huawei will likely be banned from building Australia’s 5G network on national security grounds. Hong Kong-based company CK Infrastructure’s bid to buy APA Group’s gas pipeline network is also proving controversial.

Scrutiny of the national security implications of infrastructure has been upgraded. The new Critical Infrastructure Centre is assisting the Foreign Investment Review Board in this. Though not made explicit, the main focus is China.




Read more:
Explainer: why Chinese telecoms participating in Australia’s 5G network could be a problem


Greater scrutiny of investment projects is welcome, especially if community and environmental concerns are also considered. However, Australia could benefit from the availability of Chinese infrastructure financing.

Australia’s north has significant infrastructure needs. And in the major Australian cities, public transport systems are inadequate, leading to ever-longer commuting times. China also possesses world-class expertise in high-speed rail, which could be harnessed to better connect cities on the eastern seaboard.

Given the state of relations with China and Australia’s pressing infrastructure needs, the Australian government must develop a clear strategy for Chinese infrastructure investment. Instead of passively scrutinising bids, the government should proactively identify worthwhile projects and engage Chinese counterparts to finance and implement them.




Read more:
Australia risks missing out on China’s One Belt One Road


Belt and Road isn’t just a political ploy

A proactive approach could benefit Australia because Chinese infrastructure investment is not as strategically directed as many assume. This is clear if we examine the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) – the centrepiece of China’s global infrastructure financing spree.

The Australian government, on security officials’ advice, has not joined the BRI. However, Belt and Road is not a carefully planned “grand strategy”. It is largely driven by the diverse activities of state-owned enterprises competing for projects and financing.

President Xi Jinping has undoubtedly used the BRI to signal China’s rise to “great power” status. But its main drivers are domestic and commercial. At its core, the BRI is an effort to alleviate China’s industrial overcapacity problem in key sectors, such as steel, glass, cement and aluminium.

Overcapacity has worsened since the global financial crisis, as Beijing sought to maintain growth by encouraging an infrastructure construction boom. State-owned enterprises (SOEs) spearheaded this. After profitable domestic opportunities had dried up, international expansion became attractive, to keep SOEs working and to find more productive outlets for China’s huge foreign currency reserves.




Read more:
As its economy changes, China is starting to export its real estate ideas too


The BRI’s implementation has reflected competition, lobbying and compromises among ministries, provinces and SOEs. Its masterplan document – “Vision and Actions on Jointly Building Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st Century Maritime Silk Road” – is a case in point. It contains 50 “priority areas”. These cover virtually every governmental and non-governmental activity, showing little actual prioritisation.

Early statements suggested a BRI focus on Central and Southeast Asia. But since 2015 the initiative has been formally opened to all countries. This was again due to intense lobbying from provinces, SOEs and some foreign governments. All are keen to get some of the action, suggesting little strategic direction.

The vague and loose Belt and Road plan has enabled considerable scope for interests within the Chinese party-state to use it for their own, economically motivated, agendas, with little consideration for Beijing’s wider diplomatic objectives. This has generated a rather chaotic, “bottom-up” process for selecting and funding projects.

Belt and Road project ideas usually emerge from state-owned enterprises’ in-country subsidiaries. After spotting an opportunity, they try to build support in the recipient government. Occasionally, this includes bribing officials. They also often seek to obtain the local Chinese embassy’s support to improve lobbying back home.

Once agreement with the recipient government is reached, the SOE or the recipient government applies for financing from China’s policy or commercial banks. The banks determine whether to extend credit after assessing repayment capacity. The central government’s involvement is typically limited to the National Development and Reform Commission’s formal approval.




Read more:
The Belt and Road Initiative: China’s vision for globalisation, Beijing-style


Australia still needs to manage the risks

Chinese infrastructure projects are not risk-free. The potential for misuse of key infrastructure to serve Chinese strategic agendas is clearly the Australian government’s foremost concern. But there are more immediate issues too.

Chinese banks’ lending standards are well below world “best practice”. They give limited consideration to social, environmental and labour protections when awarding financing to projects.




Read more:
China’s green planning for the world starts with infrastructure


Tough competition between Chinese companies means they have strong incentives to cut corners and promote projects that recipients do not need. The latter can be saddled with unnecessary infrastructure and potentially unsustainable debt. Furthermore, Chinese central agencies’ capacity to regulate SOEs’ offshore activities is weak, so they cannot be relied upon to manage these problems.

Closer scrutiny of investment proposals is, therefore, clearly necessary. So, too, is tight regulation of project implementation. Australian regulators should also ensure Chinese projects adequately resolve social, environmental and labour concerns.

The fragmented nature of Chinese investments provides opportunities, however, for selective engagement that could serve the wider public interest. This should form part of a clear Australian strategy towards China based on a nuanced analysis of both the threats and opportunities of this multifaceted relationship.


The Conversation


Read more:
Canada’s disturbing lack of vision on dealing with a rising China


Shahar Hameiri, Associate Professor of International Politics, The University of Queensland

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

What Australia can learn from overseas about the future of rental housing



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Over the past year, there has been a surge of enthusiasm in Australia for developing a sector of large-scale institutional landlords.
AAP/David Crosling

Chris Martin, UNSW

When we talk about rental housing in Australia, we often make comparisons with renting overseas. Faced with insecure tenancies and unaffordable home ownership, we sometimes try to envisage European-style tenancies being imported here.

And, over the past year, there has been a surge of enthusiasm for developing a sector of large-scale institutional landlords, modelled on the UK’s build-to-rent sector or “multi-family” housing in the US.

Our review of the private rental sectors of ten countries in Australasia, Europe and North America identified innovations in rental housing policies and markets Australia might try to emulate – and avoid. International comparisons also give a different perspective on aspects of Australia’s own rental housing institutions that might otherwise be taken for granted.


Further reading: ‘Build to rent’ could be the missing piece of the affordable housing puzzle


Not everyone in Europe rents

In nine of the ten countries we reviewed, private rental is the second-largest tenure after owner-occupation. Only in Germany do more households rent privately than own their housing. Most of the European countries we reviewed have higher rates of home ownership than Australia.

In most of the European and North American countries in our study, single people and lower-income households and apartments are heavily represented in the private rental sector. Higher-income households, families with kids, and detached houses are represented much more in owner-occupation. It’s less uneven in Australia: more houses, kids and higher-income households are in private rental.

Two key potential implications follow from this.

First, it suggests a high degree of integration between the Australian private rental and owner-occupier sectors, and that policy settings and market conditions applying to one will be transmitted readily to the other.

So, policies that give preferential treatment to owner-occupied housing will also induce purchase of housing for rental, and rental housing investor activity will directly affect prices and accessibility in the owner-occupied sector.

It also heightens the prospect of investment in both sectors falling simultaneously, with little established institutional capacity for countercyclical investment that makes necessary increases in ongoing supply.

A second implication relates to equality. Australian households of similar composition and similar incomes differ in their housing tenure – and, considering the traditional value placed on owner-occupation, this may not be by choice.

This suggests housing tenure may figure strongly in the subjective experience of inequality. It raises the question of whether housing is a primary driver of inequality, and not the outcome of difference or inequality in other aspects of life.

The rise of large corporate landlords

In almost all of the countries we reviewed, the ownership of private rental housing is dominated by individuals with relatively small holdings. Only in Sweden are housing companies the dominant type of landlord.

However, most countries also have a sector of large corporate landlords. In some countries, these landlords are very large. For example, America’s five largest corporate landlords own about 420,000 properties in total. Germany’s largest landlord, Vonovia, has more than 330,000 properties alone.

These landlords’ origins vary. Germany’s arose from massive sell-offs of municipal housing and industry-related housing in the early 2000s.

In the US, multi-family (apartment) landlords have been around for decades. And in the aftermath of the global financial crisis, they have been joined by a new sector of single-family (detached house) landlords that have rapidly acquired large portfolios from bulk purchases of foreclosed, formerly owner-occupied homes.

In these countries and elsewhere, the rise of largest corporate landlords has been controversial. Germany’s have a poor record of relations with tenants – to the extent of being the subject of popular protests in the 2000s – and their practice of characterising repairs as improvements to justify rent increases.

American housing advocates have voiced concern about “the rise of the corporate landlord” – especially in the single-family sector, where there’s some evidence that they more readily terminate tenancies.

These landlords also don’t build much housing. They are most active in renovating (for higher rents), merging with one another, and – especially in the US – developing innovative financial instruments such as “rental-backed securities”.

“Institutional landlords” are now a standing item on the Australian housing policy agenda. Considering the activities of large corporate landlords internationally, we should get specific about the sort of institutional landlords we really want, how we will get them, and how we will ensure they deliver desired housing outcomes.

Policymakers and housing advocates have, for years, looked to the community housing sector as the prime candidate for this role. They envisage its transformation into an affordable housing industry that works across the sector toward a wide range of policy outcomes in housing supply, affordability, security, social housing renewal and community development.

With interest in the prospect of build-to-rent and multifamily housing rising in the property development and finance sectors, there is a risk that affordable housing policy may be colonised by for-profit interests.

The development of a for-profit large corporate landlord sector may be desirable for greater professionalisation and efficiencies in the management of tenancies and properties. However, this should not come at the expense of a mission-oriented affordable housing industry that makes a distinctive contribution to housing outcomes.

Bringing it home

Looking at the policy settings in the ten countries, we found some surprising results and strange bedfellows.

For example, Germany – which has had a remarkably long period of stable house prices – has negative gearing provisions and tax exemptions for capital gains, much like Australia. But, in Australia, these policies are blamed for driving speculation and booming prices.


Further reading: Three myths on negative gearing the housing industry wants you to believe


And while the UK taxes landlords more heavily than most other countries, it has the fastest-growing private rental sector of the countries we reviewed.

However, these challenging findings should not be taken to diminish the explanatory power or effectiveness of these settings in each country’s housing policy. Rather, they show the necessity of considering taxation and other policy settings in interaction with each other and in wider systemic contexts.

So, for example, Germany’s conservative housing finance practices, and regulation of rents, may mean the speculative potential of negative gearing and tax-free capital gains isn’t activated there.

The ConversationStrategy in Australia for its private rental sector should join consideration of finance, taxation, supply and demand-side subsidies and regulation with the objective of making private rental housing outcomes competitive with other sectors.

Chris Martin, Research Fellow, City Housing, UNSW

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

China Moves Uyghur Christian Prisoner, Allows Family Visit


Court rejects appeal of 15-year sentence for Alimjan Yimit.

DUBLIN, April 29 (CDN) — Authorities in Xinjiang Province recently moved Uyghur Christian Alimjan Yimit from a prison in Kashgar to a prison in the provincial capital Urumqi and allowed the first visit from family members since his arrest in January 2008, sources told Compass.

Alimjan (Alimujiang Yimiti in Chinese) was noticeably thinner but in good spirits, the family told friends after their brief visit to him in Xinjiang No. 3 prison on April 20, one source told Compass. They were allowed only 15 minutes to speak with Alimjan via telephone through a glass barrier, the source said.

But Alimjan’s lawyers, Li Baiguang and Liu Peifu, were prohibited from meeting with him, despite gaining permission from the Xinjiang Bureau of Prison Management, the China Aid Association (CAA) reported on Saturday (April 24).

Officials have now granted Alimjan’s wife Gulnur (Chinese spelling Gulinuer) and other close family members permission to visit him once a month.

Alimjan and Gulnur pastored a Uyghur ethnic house church in Xinjiang prior to his arrest in January 2008.

Attorney Li told Radio Free Asia earlier this month that while the initial charges against Alimjan were both “instigating separatism” and “leaking state secrets” to foreign organizations, his actual offense was talking to visiting Christians from the United States.

The Kashgar Intermediate Court found Alimjan guilty of “leaking state secrets” on Oct. 27, 2009 and gave him a 15-year sentence. His lawyers appealed the sentence, but the People’s High Court of Xinjiang upheld the original verdict on March 16.

“This decision is illegal and void because it never succeeded in showing how Alimjan supplied state secrets to people overseas,” Li said, according to Radio Free Asia.

“Religion lies at the heart of this case,” fellow legal advocate Li Dunyong, who was effectively disbarred at the end of May 2008 when Chinese authorities turned down an annual application to renew his law license, told Radio Free Asia.

Zhang Kai, another Beijing lawyer who had defended Alimjan, suffered the same fate. (See “China Refuses to Renew Licenses for Human Rights Lawyers,” June 11, 2009.)

Alimjan’s legal team now plans to appeal to the Beijing Supreme Court, according to CAA.

Court Irregularities

Officials initially interrogated Alimjan during his employment by two foreign-owned companies and forbade him to discuss the questioning with anyone. In September 2007 they closed the business he then worked for and accused him of using it as a cover for “preaching Christianity” among the Uyghurs.

Kashgar police then detained Alimjan on Jan. 11, 2008 on charges of endangering state security before formally re-arresting him on Feb. 20, 2008 for allegedly “inciting secession” and “leaking state secrets.”

He was then held for more than a year at the Kashgar Municipal Detention Center without facing trial.

After an initial closed hearing in the Kashgar Intermediate Court on May 27, 2008, court officials returned Alimjan’s case to state prosecutors citing lack of evidence. During a second secret hearing in July 2008 the charge of “inciting secession” was dropped. After further investigation the case was returned to court officials for consideration in mid-October 2008.

On Mar. 30, 2009, just one week after a rare prison visit from his lawyer, prison officials transferred Alimjan to a hospital in Kashgar. Alimjan called out to onlookers, “I’m sick. Tell my lawyer to come quickly to see me,” according to a CAA report. Compass sources confirmed that Alimjan had been beaten in prison. (See “Detained Uyghur Christian Taken to Hospital,” April 16, 2009.)

Last October, authorities finally sentenced Alimjan to 15 years in prison for “leaking state secrets” to foreign organizations.

“It is the maximum penalty for this charge … which requires Alimjan’s actions to be defined as having caused irreparable, grave national damage,” Li Dunyong said in a CAA press statement announcing the verdict.

The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has ruled the arrest and detention of Alimjan to be arbitrary and in violation of international law, according to CAA.

Report from Compass Direct News 

Pro-Democracy Advocate Released from Prison


Her new Christian faith deepens; authorities allow evangelist Luis Palau to address pastors.

HO CHI MINH CITY, March 30 (CDN) — A Protestant prisoner of conscience who had called for democratic freedoms in Vietnam was released earlier this month after serving a three-year sentence for “propagandizing to destroy the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.”

Attorney Le Thi Cong Nhan’s sentence had been reduced by one year after an international outcry over her sentencing. She was released on March 6. Remaining in prison for another year is her colleague, Christian lawyer Nguyen Van Dai.

The 31-year-old Cong Nhan had also supported a labor union that sought to be independent. Now serving an additional three-year house arrest sentence, Cong Nhan said in a surprisingly frank interview with Voice of America’s Vietnamese language broadcast on March 9 that she has no intention of giving up her struggle for a just and free Vietnam and accepts that there may be a further price to pay.

Cong Nhan, arrested in March 2007, received a Vietnamese Bible from a visiting delegation of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom – with official permission from Vietnam’s minister of Public Security – early in her incarceration, but she had to struggle constantly to retain it. Twice she went on a hunger strike when authorities took the Bible away from her.

She had become a Christian shortly before her arrest, and she told Voice of America that while in prison she was able to read the entire Bible.

“In prison the Lord became my closest friend, my teacher, and the one who carried my burdens with me,” she said. “When I was released from prison, I received many words of praise and of love and respect – I became a bit worried about this, as I do not consider myself worthy of such. I believe I must live an even better and more worthy life.”

Her prison experience has confirmed her calling and faith, she said.

“As a direct result of my prison experience, I am more convinced than ever that the path that I have chosen is the right one,” Cong Nhan said. “Before prison I was just like a thin arrow, but now I have become a strong fort.”

Luis Palau Allowed to Speak

While Christians in several parts of Vietnam are still subject to abuse from local officials, the country’s national authorities have continued to allow high-profile Christian events. On March 17, renowned U.S. evangelist Luis Palau was allowed to address more than 400 pastors in a day-long event at the New World Hotel in Ho Chi Minh City.

Palau, who had arrived in Hanoi with his entourage on March 13, had addressed nearly 200 Hanoi area pastors at an evening event at the Hanoi Hilton on March 14. The two events were streamed live on http://www.hoithanh.com, a popular website that reports on Protestant news in Vietnam. Hundreds of Vietnamese in Vietnam and abroad were estimated to have watched the presentations.

The events were deemed significant, if not historic, by Vietnam’s Christian leaders. Very rarely is a prominent foreign Protestant leader allowed to address Vietnamese leaders, especially one from the United States.

The events were significant also in that they brought together leaders from virtually all segments of Vietnam’s fractured and sometimes conflicted Protestant groups, Christian leaders said. The gatherings included leaders of open churches and house churches, registered and unregistered churches, and urban and even ethnic minority groups from Vietnam’s remote mountainous regions.

Two representatives of a Mennonite church headed by activist pastor Nguyen Hong Quang, however, were turned away by police. 

Palau and Mike McIntosh, pastor of San Diego mega-church Horizon Christian Fellowship, strongly challenged the Vietnamese church leaders to strive for unity. The assembled pastors were challenged to put aside past conflicts and suspicions for the sake of the Kingdom of God in Vietnam, with Palau saying that unity was a requirement for God’s blessing on their churches and nation.

Some Vietnamese leaders responded by expressing remorse for their divisions and committed to start working toward reconciliation.

Organizers and participants said they hope such short events will lead to larger gains. Though the Luis Palau Association had originally planned for a two-day event for 2,000 pastors, most agreed this was an unprecedented first step toward a bigger goal. With an invitation from all segments of the Protestant community in Vietnam in hand, the Luis Palau Association is prepared to help organize evangelistic festivals in Vietnam in 2011, the centenary of Protestantism in Vietnam.

“There is still a long way to go, but we are seeing miracles piling up,” said one senior Vietnamese leader. “It could happen!”

One prominent overseas Vietnamese leader wondered if Palau’s visit to Vietnam could be compared to Billy Graham’s visit to Moscow during the Soviet Communist era.

Also sharing testimonies during the March 17 event were Rick Colsen, a top Intel executive, and John Dalton, Secretary of the Navy under President Clinton.

Report from Compass Direct News 

Armenian Christian leader put to ‘Évin’ prison in Iran


Pastor Vahik Abrahamian, an Armenian Christian residing in Tehran, Iran, who was visiting a friend, upon his return to his home was arrested in Tehran by plainclothes security officers, reports FCNN. The manner in which he was arrested and the prolonged detention in Evin notorious prison, has created grave concern amongst the Iranian Christian community, particularly with family and friends.

"As per reports by FCNN correspondents and sources within the country, on Saturday 20th February 2010 (1 Esfand 1388) plainclothes security officers arrested 44 years old ‘Vahik Abrahamian’ , who is an Armenian Christian leader, as he was departing a friend’s house who was visiting Iran from Europe.

The manner in which Pastor Abrahamian was arrested is very unsettling and indeed ambiguous. As per received reports, 3 plainclothes security agents who were in a green Peugeot vehicle, swarmed upon Mr. & Mrs. Abrahamian as they were departing their friends house.

What is quite uncommon in any similar incident, one of the agents was filming the whole episode with a handheld camera. The agents showed an arrests warrant with permission to ‘shoot to kill’. After searching their vehicle and seizing all personal belongings, they set Mrs. Abarahmian free and took Pastor Vahik to Evin prison.

As per FCNN reports, wife and parents and extended family and friends of this Armenian Christian leader, are extremely concerned for the well being of the prisoner and are completely in state of shock. Mrs. Abrahamian has been unwilling or afraid to discuss the matter with anyone.

All Pastor Vahik’s family and friends vouch for his meek, humble and Godly character. All are unanimous that he was not only God fearing and law abiding citizen but was also very compassionate and sensitive particularly to the drug addicts and reached out to serve them. All are totally convinced that his character is beyond reproach and are hoping that this grave misunderstanding by the authorities will clear and he will be set free.

It’s noteworthy that Pastor Abrahamian had dual Dutch and Iranian citizenship, yet chose to live, work and serve in his native country Iran, staying close to aging mother and family.

As per obtained reports, there are many unanswered questions with regards to the circumstances leading to his arrest which is normally conducted in detaining known terrorists or political activists. The authorities have neither commented why this extraordinary measures were taken and nor why is he being held for such lengthy period. It’s also unclear who is holding this law abiding ordinary citizen and which authority has ordered his arrest! It seems that we have a long wait to hear from Islamic republic Juridical and legal authorities about reason of his arrest.

The received reports indicate that after elapse of over a month from his arrest, there is complete silence by Iranian Legal and juridical authorities and so far he has been denied appointment of a lawyer or visits by next of keen. Mother, Wife, brother and extended family are extremely concerned for his well being and are grief stricken with no clear and promising news.

At this time we would like to beseech all Christian community in Iran and overseas to fast and pray for his release and also pray for other Christians arrested in the last days and weeks in various cities in Iran. May God in His grace intervene in this situation and let’s hope that he will unite with his family bringing great joy and relief in the festive days of the Nowruz’ spring in Iran.

Report from the Christian Telegraph 

Chinese Pastor Sentenced to 15 Years in Prison


Harsh punishment for house church leader based on apparently far-fetched charge.

LOS ANGELES, December 8 (CDN) — Chinese authorities have quietly sentenced Uyghur Christian Alimjan Yimit (Alimujiang Yimiti in Chinese) to 15 years in prison on the apparently contrived charge of “providing state secrets to overseas organizations,” according to China Aid Association (CAA).

The charge against the 36-year-old house church leader, held for more than two years at Kashgar Detention Center in China’s troubled Xinjiang region, was apparently based on interviews he granted to media outside of China, according to his lawyer, Li Dunyong.

“The 15-year sentence is far more severe than I originally expected,” Li said in a CAA press statement released yesterday. “It is the maximum penalty for this charge of ‘divulging state secrets,’ which requires Alimujiang’s actions to be defined as having ‘caused irreparable national grave damage.’”

CAA President Bob Fu said Alimjan’s sentence was the most severe for a house church leader in nearly a decade.

“The whole world should be appalled at this injustice against innocent Christian leader Alimujiang,” Fu said in the CAA statement. “We call upon the U.N. and people of conscience throughout the world to strongly protest to the Chinese government for this severe case of religious persecution.”

CAA reported that officials had read the verdict to Alimjan while he was incarcerated on Oct. 27. Li confirmed to CAA that he had filed an appeal.

Initially the Bureau of State Security of Kashgar detained Alimjan on “suspicions of harming national security” on Jan. 11, 2008, according to CAA. As such charges are generally leveled against those considered to be an enemy of the state, Alimjan’s family feared he would be subjected to capital punishment. Local sources have said that Alimjan, a convert from Islam in an area teeming with separatist tensions, loves and supports the Chinese government.

“As a loyal Chinese citizen and business entrepreneur, Alimujiang has held to high standards, paying his taxes faithfully and avoiding a common local custom of paying bribes for business favors,” Fu said in a previous CAA statement. “He has also done his best to assimilate into Chinese culture, making the unusual decision to send his children to a Chinese language school in a predominantly Uyghur area.”

Friends of Alimjan have said he simply wanted the freedom to quietly express his faith, a right guaranteed to him in the Chinese constitution, according to CAA. Not only is it illegal for him to own a Uyghur Bible, according to the advocacy organization, but he is also prohibited from attending services at the government-controlled Three Self Church in the area because the Xinjiang constitution contradicts China’s constitution. He is also prohibited from praying with foreign Christians.

On Feb. 20, 2008 the initial charges against him were changed to “inciting secession” and leaking state secrets. Court officials returned Alimjan’s case to state prosecutors in May 2008, citing lack of evidence.

This year he was secretly tried again on July 28, only on the second charge. Previously, attorney Li had petitioned for and been granted permission to meet with his client on April 21. Witnesses had seen police and a prison doctor escorting Alimjan to hospital on March 30, and Compass sources said Alimjan had been beaten in prison, although it was not clear who beat him or why.

When Li questioned him, Alimjan indicated that he was not allowed to speak about his health.

The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention ruled his arrest and detention to be arbitrary and in violation of international law.

“The whole case is about religious faith issues, which are being used against Alimujiang for his conversion from Islam to Christianity by biased law enforcement agents, prosecutors and the court,” said attorney Li. “The key for this case was the flawed ‘Certificate for the Evidence.’ In both form and content, the certificate was questionable. It even had no signature by the verifier at the bureau, which violates Chinese law.”

Sources said there appears to be a concerted effort to shut down the leadership of the Uyghur church in a restive region where authorities fear anything they cannot control. The region of ethnic Uyghurs has come under a government crackdown the past two years as long-simmering tensions erupted.

Disputes over ownership of Xinjiang’s land and rich mineral resources have led to resentment between Uyghurs – native to Xinjiang – and Han Chinese. Religious differences are also an issue, with a vast majority of Uyghurs practicing Islam, while most Chinese are officially atheists or follow Buddhism or syncretistic folk religions. Only a handful of China’s estimated 10 million Uyghurs are known to be Christians.

Report from Compass Direct News