Australia doesn’t have a constitutional right protecting freedom of the person – it needs one



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Migration legislation does not require judicial authorisation for a person to be deprived of their freedom.
AAP/Dean Lewins

Bede Harris, Charles Sturt University

The recent wrongful detention of two Australian citizens by immigration authorities highlights that our Constitution offers inadequate protection for freedom of the person.

This is not the first time Australian citizens have been unlawfully detained. In 2001, Vivian Solon, who had suffered a head injury, was deported even though she told immigration officials she was an Australian citizen. In 2004, Cornelia Rau, also an Australian citizen, was held in immigration detention after she was unable to identify herself because of mental illness.

The government could do this because migration legislation does not require judicial authorisation for a person to be deprived of their freedom. The Solon and Rau cases were found to be only two of more than 247 instances of unlawful detention that had occurred over the previous 14 years.
The extent of the government’s power was revealed in 2015, when the Department of Immigration announced Operation Fortitude. This would have involved stopping people randomly on Melbourne’s streets to check their migration status. The operation was cancelled only after mass public protest.

So, anyone who is walking in the Melbourne CBD and speaks with a strange accent, or has suffered a brain injury, or is experiencing mental illness and cannot demonstrate a right to be in Australia, is liable to detention at best – and deportation at worst – without recourse to the courts.

Where the Constitution lacks

The reason the government has this power is because Australia’s Constitution does not adequately protect individual liberty.

In 1992, the High Court held that separation of powers means that only courts can declare people guilty of crimes and imprison them. It therefore held that parliament cannot enact laws authorising the government to do that.

However, the court said that parliament can authorise the government to order so-called “non-punitive” detention – for example, detention for immigration purposes or in cases of communicable diseases.

Section 75(v) of the Constitution allows someone to challenge government decisions on administrative grounds. However, the High Court has held that this section does not allow the courts to decide whether the exercise of power is reasonable. On this basis, it found it would be lawful to detain someone under the Migration Act forever.

The court has also held that there may be many other – undefined – circumstances in which people can be detained without court approval.

The concept of “non-punitive” detention is vague. It is also oxymoronic: all detention is surely punitive to the person who experiences it. It leads to the bizarre situation that the law provides you more protection if you have committed a crime than if you have not.

It is fundamental in a free society that the law should not allow the state to deprive a person of liberty other than through due judicial process.

What a protection could look like

The Liberal Party proclaims its belief in “the inalienable rights and freedoms of all peoples” and a “just and humane society”. Yet it marked the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta – the founding document protecting rights in western democracies – by drafting legislation authorising deprivation of citizenship without the need to go to court.

Labor has been no less resistant to the idea of constitutional rights. The Rudd government’s terms of reference to its inquiry into human rights specifically excluded consideration of putting new rights into the Constitution.

Opposition by politicians to constitutional rights is obviously self-serving, and it is often absurd as well. Former NSW premier Bob Carr objected to a Bill of Rights on the ground that it would create a “lawyer’s picnic”.

In a free society, it ought never to be lawful for a government to detain people by executive order alone.

The only effective way to protect liberty of the person is to deny the government the power to detain, unless it can demonstrate to a court that there are reasonable grounds for deprivation of liberty. And the only effective way to prevent the government from enacting legislation to give itself that power is to create a constitutional right protecting freedom of the person.

This right could be phrased as:

Everyone has the right to due process of law and not to be unreasonably deprived of personal liberty.

In a system where the burden appears to lie on the individual to prove they are lawfully in Australia rather than on the state to prove they are not, we are all vulnerable to deprivation of liberty.

The right to individual liberty is also a basic requirement of human dignity. That a person has been deprived of a right by a democratically elected parliament does not diminish the assault on their dignity.

The concept of a free society inescapably requires that limits be imposed on the will of the majority. That is why the power of parliaments has to be restrained.

The ConversationThis is what opponents of rights who trot out the objection to “unelected judges” overturning parliament’s will fail to grasp. It is precisely because judges are independent of the will of political majorities that ultimately only the courts can effectively protect individual freedom.

Bede Harris, Senior Lecturer in Law, Charles Sturt University

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

Pyne’s self-indulgence damages Turnbull because it reinforces what Liberal right-wing malcontents believe



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A leaked recording of Christopher Pyne boasting of the success of the Liberal moderates threatens to further divide the party.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Sometimes it’s hard to believe Christopher Pyne is actually a politician, let alone a cabinet minister. Often he seems a Peter Pan figure who treats federal politics like it was a university campus.

To anybody who knows him, it’s unsurprising that at the moderates’ “Black Hand” knees-up during the Liberal party federal council he boasted that the faction was “in the winner’s circle”.

“Two years ago … Malcolm Turnbull was the communications minister and now he’s the prime minister,” he said. “Our fortunes are pretty good at the moment”, with moderates holding very senior ministerial positions in a Turnbull government.

“Now there was a time when people said it wouldn’t happen, but George [Brandis] and I kept the faith. We voted for Malcolm Turnbull in every ballot he’s ever been in.”

There was more. “We have to deliver a couple of things and one of those we’ve got to deliver before too long is marriage equality … we’re going to get it. I think it might even be sooner than everyone thinks. And your friends in Canberra are working on that outcome.”

Pyne, among factional mates and buoyant, forgot the basic lesson of contemporary politics: assume everything will get out. Especially if you say it to hundreds of people late at night in a bar.

Particularly unfortunate for Pyne, his comments not only leaked, but in the form of a tape, not conducive to even implausible deniability.

Pyne’s hubris has created trouble for Malcolm Turnbull at two levels. First there is the same-sex marriage issue itself, which is highly emotive within the Liberal Party. Turnbull immediately declared “our policy [for a plebiscite] is clear, we have no plans to change it full stop”; Pyne tweeted likewise. The conservatives won’t believe them.

Recently there were suggestions that Liberals wanting a parliamentary vote this term would likely raise the matter in the spring session, although there have been fears about the political implications. Talk about a postal vote, which would be absurd, floats around. Many in the party worry about what policy can be taken to the election, believing it can’t be just another plebiscite promise.

Any move to switch policy on this issue has the capacity to blow up Turnbull’s leadership.

More broadly, Pyne’s self-indulgence is damaging to Turnbull because it reinforces everything the party’s malcontents on the right believe.

The right sees Turnbull taking not merely centrist, but leftist, positions on a range of issues. The most recent is schools funding; now he is considering what the right strongly opposes – a clean energy target. And here’s Pyne fuelling its arguments by celebrating the power of moderate members of cabinet.

All of this is somewhat ironic. A little while ago, the prevailing criticism of Turnbull was that he’d capitulated to the conservatives.

The fact is that Turnbull tacked toward the right to get the party leadership – and to consolidate it, now he’s tacking in the other direction to try to revive his diminished electoral fortunes.

Predictably, the Pyne action produced a reaction from Tony Abbott, who (conveniently) had his spot on 2GB with Ray Hadley on Monday. Abbott warned against dumping the plebiscite policy, and took from Pyne’s comments that he had been disloyal while he was a member of Abbott’s cabinet.

When Hadley accused Pyne of failing to have the courage, after the leak, to come out and say he believed there should be a parliamentary vote on same-sex marriage, Abbott put the boot in: “This is one of the reasons why the public turn off politicians – because we don’t tell them what we think. And it looks like one of our number has been caught out. You’ve got to be fair dinkum with the Australian people and it looks like that’s not been true of Christopher.”

Once again, the Liberal divisions are on display and amplified.

The danger for Turnbull is that every discontent bleeds into the right’s wider criticism of him.

Take the Catholic backlash against the just-passed schools package. This might be manageable if it was just a lobby – albeit a very powerful one – outside parliament. But the Catholics’ complaints are being taken up by conservative Liberals and columnists, adding to other gripes against Turnbull.

What Turnbull has done on schools is seen by them as further evidence that he is betraying the party’s principles – that he’s not a true Liberal.

The dots of the various grievances against Turnbull become joined, and that increases the difficulty he will have in landing future policy.

Dissatisfaction with his schools policy and now suspicion that he or his allies might try to pull a swifty on same-sex marriage will make the right even harder to handle on energy policy, which is the next big challenge the government faces. The Finkel report’s clean energy target faced an uphill battle in the partyroom from the start; the forces aligned against it are getting stronger.

It might seem an extremely long bow to see any connection between issues as diverse as same-sex marriage, Gonski, and Finkel. But if a significant section of a party lacks goodwill toward the leader, and has little respect for his authority, and its views are amplified by strong voices in the commentariat, normal political hurdles can become near insurmountable.

The ConversationYet if in a few months he was forced to capitulate in the battle to get a credible energy policy, that would be a disaster for Turnbull and his government.

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/kmkbw-6c3c94?from=site&skin=1&share=1&fonts=Helvetica&auto=0&download=0

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Mixed media: how Australia’s newspapers became locked in a war of left versus right



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The Australian media’s lack of diversity puts significant strain on our democracy.
http://www.allworldnewspapers.com

Denis Muller, University of Melbourne

We are living through a period of fragmentation and polarisation in public discourse on a scale mankind has not before experienced. By far the greatest fragmenting and polarising force is social media.

An increasing proportion of the population, especially those under 40, get their news from social media, overwhelmingly from Facebook. The algorithms that tailor what Facebook prioritises for each individual allow users to choose only those topics or opinions that they want to hear. This has led to the formation of echo chambers or information cocoons.

So we have the paradox of the internet: the technology that provides a global village square also provides the means by which people in the square can block their ears and shut their eyes to things they don’t want to hear or see.

This places great strain on democracy. In the words of William Butler Yeats, things fall apart, the centre cannot hold.

In Australia, the effects of this phenomenon are made worse by the increased polarisation of the country’s two main newspaper companies, News Corporation and Fairfax Media.

Australia has very little diversity in its traditional media sector, especially its newspapers. News Corp controls roughly 70% of daily circulation and Fairfax roughly 20%. And for all their cutbacks in journalistic capacity, it is still the newspapers that inject the most new material into the 24/7 news cycle.

So when these two companies become polarised to the extent they have, there is a void at the centre. Notably, this is where The Guardian Australia has positioned itself (in reporting, at least – its opinions still lean to the left).

Sharp differences in political outlook among newspapers are nothing new, of course.

In Melbourne, The Argus was conservative, the paper of the squattocracy and the merchant class. It opposed land reform and favoured free trade, while The Age was progressive, supportive of the miners at Eureka, in favour of land reform and a crusader for protectionist trade policy.

In Sydney, The Sydney Morning Herald was profoundly conservative. The paper was opposed to democracy (which it called mobocracy) and supportive of a property franchise for the New South Wales Parliament. By contrast, The Empire, founded and edited by Henry Parkes, was guided by the principle that, in a colonial society, the working classes were the nucleus and makers of a democratic nation.

So there has never been a golden age when newspapers were heroically detached from interests and ideologies.

However, in the post-war period, the ideal of impartiality in news coverage gained a strong hold on the journalistic mind. American newspapers were the exemplars of this ideal. They were heavily influenced by the 1947 report of the US Commission on the Freedom of the Press, which had been set up to try to rebuild public confidence in the media after a period of corrosive sensationalism and propagandising in the early 20th century.

Appointed and paid for by the media itself, the commission consisted of intelligent and high-minded people from the media, government and academia. Its intellectual leader was a Harvard philosopher, William Ernest Hocking.

The commission’s report laid a solemn duty on the media to render a reliable account of the events of the day: factual, impartial and accurate. Comment was to play no part in news reporting, and was to be confined to pages set aside for it.

Generations of journalists in Western democracies – including me – were trained in this ideal.

Over time, however, it reduced news stories to a desiccated collection of unexplained facts, devoid of context and analysis. And anyway, the idea of a completely impartial and detached reporter came to be seen as fanciful, not to say fraudulent.

Gradually, news stories became more analytical, which introduced an overt element of subjectivity. Comment began to infiltrate news pages, so that now we have reached a point where news reportage, analysis and comment are commonly woven together.

Alongside these developments, ideological fissures were opening up in Australian society. The period of post-war social unity around a white Australia, opposition to communism, and other components of the Australian Settlement, such as wage arbitration and industry protection, began to crack.

Newspaper ownership also became more concentrated. In 1983, the Syme family sold The Age to Fairfax. In 1987, changes to media ownership laws introduced by Paul Keating enabled Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp to swallow up the huge but ailing Herald and Weekly Times.

Meanwhile, in Britain, Murdoch was getting a taste of what it was like to wield power over governments. Margaret Thatcher in particular was in thrall to him, as scholars such as David McKnight and Rod Tiffen have shown in their biographies of Murdoch.

His stable of newspapers in Britain included populist tabloids appealing to conservative blue-collar voters and influential broadsheets such as The Times and Sunday Times. These became increasingly conservative under his control, as the distinguished editor of those papers, Harold Evans, pointed out in his memoirs.

It seems Murdoch wanted to replicate this model in Australia. He had already started out with populist tabloids, yet his national broadsheet, The Australian, had begun life in 1964 as a vibrant small-l liberal newspaper.

However, as Murdoch’s vehicle for exerting influence on policymakers, it became increasingly conservative. By 1975 it had become so biased to the right in its political coverage that its own journalists went on strike in protest.

Murdoch makes no bones about his right to control what goes in his papers, and his editorial staff have to accommodate themselves to this – or exercise the privilege of resignation.

At Fairfax, the internal culture has been entirely different. In 1988, journalists at The Age persuaded Fairfax management to sign a charter of editorial independence guaranteeing no improper interference in editorial decision-making. Over the following three or four years, the company’s other titles adopted this charter.

These contrasting cultures are reflected in the editorial values of the companies’ newspapers. As the News Corp papers have become more stridently conservative, the Fairfax journalists seem to have taken it on themselves to provide at least some ideological counterweight.

It can be seen any day in the choice of stories given prominence and in the contrasting angles taken on political stories.

A good example was the treatment given to the controversy last year and early this year over the Australian Human Rights Commission. The Australian was campaigning vigorously to have the commission president, Professor Gillian Triggs, removed. The Fairfax newspapers focused on sustaining her position, particularly in respect of refugees and asylum seekers.

Similarly, with climate change, deniers get a prominence in News Corp papers that they never get in Fairfax.

This polarisation also reflects the deep divisions in the composition of the federal parliament, which in turn reflect deep divisions in the community over issues such as climate change and asylum seekers.

The fragmentation of political discourse brought about by social media only serves to heighten these divisions.

The ConversationIn these circumstances, the body politic would benefit from a renewed commitment by journalists to the qualities that underpinned the ideal of impartiality: accuracy, fairness, open-mindedness and above all balance, which follows the weight of evidence, not the bias of ideology.

Denis Muller, Senior Research Fellow in the Centre for Advancing Journalism, University of Melbourne

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

Australian Politics: 21 July 2013


The new hardline regime concerning asylum seekers has been implemented with the first boat arriving since the announcement of the changes by Kevin Rudd and Labor. The Coalition is supporting some of the changes, which for Labor should be an alarm bell, meaning it has gone too far to the right.

For more visit:
http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/first-asylum-boat-arrives-under-rudds-hardline-png-solution/story-fn59niix-1226682406568



The link below is to an article that looks at some of the divergent interest parties contesting this year’s federal election.

For more visit:
http://www.easternriverinachronicle.com.au/story/1650949/something-for-everyone-how-niche-parties-are-taking-over-australias-political-landscape/

Guns in Church: Gun Situation in USA is Getting More Than Ridiculous


The link below is to an article concerning a pastor in Georgia, USA, who sought the right to bear arms in church. Not sure what he was hoping to achieve my taking guns to church other than it being just a stunt. He claims it would be for protection – must be very vigorous debates over membership issues there. Crazy!

For more visit:
http://global.christianpost.com/news/ga-pastor-loses-fight-to-carry-guns-at-church-78845/

Article: Pastor Guilty of Child Abuse Crimes


The following article reports on a pastor found guilty of child abuse crimes – what do you think? Was he right or was he wrong? Is he indeed guilty of a crime?

http://host.madison.com/wsj/news/local/crime_and_courts/black-earth-pastor-found-guilty-in-child-abuse-case/article_6ce4663e-7395-11e1-8bf4-001871e3ce6c.html

Interfaith Sharing: A Disturbing Practice


The article below concerns the sharing of pulpits between Muslims, Jews and Christians in a display of religious freedom. This is a disturbing practice that should not be followed by evangelical and reformed churches. The pulpit is a place for the proclaimation of the truth and is not to be polluted by every wind of doctrine. A more thorough treatment of this issue is certainly warranted but will not be given here at this time.

I am totally for religious freedom and believe that Muslims and Jews, as well as those of other faiths, have a right to worship according to their conscience. This does not mean that I believe their faiths to be right or acceptable before God, only that they must stand or fall before God and not I. However, as Christians we are obligated to remain steadfast in the truth and to not open any avenue in our churches for that which is not the truth.

For more see:
http://www.christianpost.com/news/christians-jews-and-muslims-to-share-pulpits-50752/

 

Religious Conversion Worst Form of ‘Intolerance,’ Bhutan PM Says


Propagation of religion is allowable – but not seeking conversions, top politician says.

THIMPHU, Bhutan, April 13 (CDN) — In the Kingdom of Bhutan, where Christianity is still awaiting legal recognition, Christians have the right to proclaim their faith but must not use coercion or claim religious superiority to seek conversions, the country’s prime minister told Compass in an exclusive interview.

“I view conversions very negatively, because conversion is the worst form of intolerance,” Jigmi Yoser Thinley said in his office in the capital of the predominantly Buddhist nation.

Christian leaders in Bhutan have told Compass that they enjoy certain freedoms to practice their faith in private homes, but, because of a prohibition against church buildings and other restrictions, they were not sure if proclamation of their faith – included in international human rights codes – was allowed in Bhutan.

Prime Minister Thinley, who as head of the ruling party is the most influential political chief in the country, said propagation of one’s faith is allowed, but he made it clear that he views attempts to convert others with extreme suspicion.

“The first premise [of seeking conversion] is that you believe that your religion is the right religion, and the religion of the convertee is wrong – what he believes in is wrong, what he practices is wrong, that your religion is superior and that you have this responsibility to promote your way of life, your way of thinking, your way of worship,” Thinley said. “It’s the worst form of intolerance. And it divides families and societies.”

Bhutan’s constitution does not restrict the right to convert or proselytize, but some Non-Governmental Organizations have said the government effectively limits this right by restricting construction of non-Buddhist worship buildings and celebration of some non-Buddhist festivals, according to the U.S. Department of State’s 2010 International Religious Freedom Report.

It adds that Bhutan’s National Security Act (NSA) further limits proclamation of one’s faith by prohibiting “words either spoken or written, or by other means whatsoever, that promote or attempt to promote, on grounds of religion, race, language, caste, or community, or on any other ground whatsoever, feelings of enmity or hatred between different religious, racial, or language groups or castes and communities.” Violation of the NSA is punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment, though whether
any cases have been prosecuted is unknown, according to the State Department report.

Bhutan’s first democratic prime minister after about a century of absolute monarchy, Thinley completed three years in office last Thursday (April 7). While he affirmed that it is allowable for Christians to proclaim their faith – a practice commanded by Christ, with followers agreeing that it is the Holy Spirit, not man, that “converts” people – Thinley made his suspicions about Christians’ motives manifest.

“Any kind of proselytization that involves economic and material incentives [is wrong],” he said. “Many people are being converted on hospital beds in their weakest and most vulnerable moments. And these people are whispering in their ears that ‘there is no hope for you. The only way that you can survive is if you accept this particular religion.’ That is wrong.”

Thinley’s suspicions include the belief that Christians offer material incentives to convert.

“Going to the poor and saying, ‘Look, your religion doesn’t provide for this life, our religion provides for this life as well as the future,’ is wrong. And that is the basis for proselytization.”

Christian pastors in Thimphu told Compass that the perception that Bhutan’s Christians use money to convert the poor was flawed.

The pastors, requesting anonymity, said they prayed for healing of the sick because they felt they were not allowed to preach tenets of Christianity directly. Many of those who experience healing – almost all who are prayed for, they claimed – do read the Bible and then believe in Jesus’ teachings.

Asked if a person can convert if she or he believed in Christianity, the prime minister replied, “[There is] freedom of choice, yes.”

In his interview with Compass, Thinley felt compelled to defend Buddhism against assertions that citizens worship idols.

“To say that, ‘Your religion is wrong, worshiping idols is wrong,’ who worships idols?” he said. “We don’t worship idols. Those are just representations and manifestations that help you to focus.”

Leader of the royalist Druk Phuensum Tshogpa party, Thinley is regarded as a sincere politician who is trusted by Bhutan’s small Christian minority. He became the prime minister in April 2008 following the first democratic election after Bhutan’s fourth king, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, abdicated power in 2006 to pave the way toward democracy.

Until Bhutan became a constitutional monarchy in 2008, the practice of Christianity was believed to be banned in the country. The constitution now grants the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion to all citizens. It also states that the king is the protector of all religions.

Thus far, the Religious Organisations Act of 2007 has recognized only Buddhist and Hindu organizations. As a result, no church building or Christian bookstore has been allowed in the country, nor can Christians engage in social work. Christianity in Bhutan remains confined to the homes of local believers, where they meet for collective worship on Sundays.

Asked if a Christian federation should be registered by the government to allow Christians to function with legal recognition, Thinley said, “Yes, definitely.”

The country’s agency regulating religious organizations under the 2007 act, locally known as the Chhoedey Lhentshog, is expected to make a decision on whether it could register a Christian federation representing all Christians. The authority is looking into provisions in the law to see if there is a scope for a non-Buddhist and non-Hindu organization to be registered. (See http://www.compassdirect.com, “Official Recognition Eludes Christian Groups in Bhutan,” Feb. 1.)

On whether the Religious Organisations Act could be amended if it is determined that it does not allow legal recognition of a Christian federation, the prime minister said, “If the majority view and support prevails in the country, the law will change.”

Thinley added that he was partially raised as a Christian.

“I am part Christian, too,” he said. “I read the Bible, occasionally of course. I come from a traditional [Christian] school and attended church every day except for Saturdays for nine years.”

A tiny nation in the Himalayas between India and China, Bhutan has a population of 708,484 people, of which roughly 75 percent are Buddhist, according to Operation World. Christians are estimated to be between 6,000 to nearly 15,000 (the latter figure would put Christians at more than 2 percent of the population), mostly from the south. Hindus, mainly ethnic Nepalese, constitute around 22 percent of the population and have a majority in the south.

 

Religious ‘Competition’

Bhutan’s opposition leader, Lyonpo Tshering Togbay, was equally disapproving of religious conversion.

“I am for propagation of spiritual values or anything that allows people to be good human beings,” he told Compass. “[But] we cannot have competition among religions in Bhutan.”

He said, however, that Christians must be given rights equal to those of Hindus and Buddhists.

“Our constitution guarantees the right to freedom of practice – full stop, no conditions,” he said. “But now, as a small nation state, there are some realities. Christianity is a lot more evangelistic than Hinduism or Buddhism.”

Togbay said there are Christians who are tolerant and compassionate of other peoples, cultures and religions, but “there are Christians also who go through life on war footing to save every soul. That’s their calling, and it’s good for them, except that in Bhutan we do not have the numbers to accommodate such zeal.”

Being a small nation between India and China, Bhutan’s perceived geopolitical vulnerability leads authorities to seek to pre-empt any religious, social or political unrest. With no economic or military might, Bhutan seeks to assert and celebrate its sovereignty through its distinctive culture, which is based on Buddhism, authorities say.

Togbay voiced his concern on perceived threats to Bhutan’s Buddhist culture.

“I studied in a Christian school, and I have lived in the West, and I have been approached by the Jehovah’s Witness – in a subway, in an elevator, in a restaurant in the U.S. and Switzerland. I am not saying they are bad. But I would be a fool if I was not concerned about that in Bhutan,” he said. “There are other things I am personally concerned about. Religions in Bhutan must live in harmony. Too often I have come across people who seek a convert, pointing to statues of our deities and saying
that idol worship is evil worship. That is not good for the security of our country, the harmony of our country and the pursuit of happiness.”

The premise of the Chhoedey Lhentshog, the agency regulating religious organizations, he said, “is that all the different schools of Buddhism and all the different religions see eye to eye with mutual respect and mutual understanding. If that objective is not met, it does not make sense to be part of that.”

It remains unclear what the legal rights of Christians are, as there is no interaction between the Christians and the government. Christian sources in Bhutan said they were open to dialogue with the government in order to remove “misunderstandings” and “distrust.”

“Thankfully, our political leadership is sincere and trustworthy,” said one Christian leader.

Asserting that Christians enjoy the right to worship in Bhutan, Prime Minister Thinley said authorities have not interfered with any worship services.

“There are more Christian activities taking place on a daily basis than Hindu and Buddhist activities,” he added.

Report from Compass Direct News
http://www.compassdirect.org

China Keeps Church Leaders from Public Worship Attempt


Police put pastors under house arrest over weekend, before detaining at least 160 on Sunday.

DUBLIN, April 11 (CDN) — Police in China held “about two dozen” pastors and elders of Beijing’s Shouwang Church under house arrest or at police stations over the weekend to keep them from attending a Sunday worship service in a public location, according to Bob Fu of the China Aid Association.

Three top leaders of the church remain in jail and several others are under strict surveillance after  hundreds of Chinese police yesterday cordoned off the walkway to a third-floor outdoor meeting area adjacent to a property purchased by the church in Haidian district, Beijing, and arrested at least 160 members of the 1,000-strong church as they tried to assemble.

The church members were bundled into waiting vans and buses to prevent them from meeting as planned in the public space, Reuters and The Associated Press (AP) reported, and most had been released by today.

Church leaders claimed officials had pressured their landlords, forcing them out of both rented and purchased locations and leaving them no choice but to worship in the open.

“The government cornered them into making this decision,” Fu said, adding that the church had initially tried to register with the government. “They waited for two years, and when the government still denied them registration, they tried to keep a low profile before finally deciding to buy the Daheng New Epoch Technology building.”

Shouwang is a very unique church, he said.

“Most members are well-educated, and they include China’s top religious scholars and even former government officials, which may be a factor in the government’s response to them,” he said.

As one of the largest house churches in Beijing, Shouwang is unique in insisting on meeting together rather than splitting the congregation into smaller groups meeting in several locations, Fu said. Zion church, for example, may have more members than Shouwang, but members meet in smaller groups across the city.

“This is based on the founding fathers’ vision for Shouwang Church to be a ‘city on a hill,’” as stated in the Bible in Matthew chapter five, Fu explained. “So they’ve made a conscious decision not to go back to the small-group model. Either the government gives them the keys to their building or gives them written permission to worship in another location, or they will continue meeting in the open.”

Police arrested anyone who showed up to take part in the service, AP reported.

 

‘Most Basic Necessity’

Church leaders last week issued a statement to the congregation explaining their decision to meet outdoors.

“It may not be the best decision, but at this time it is an inevitable one,” the statement said, before reminding church members that the landlord of their premises at the time, the Old Story Club restaurant, had come under government pressure and repeatedly asked them to leave, while the previous owners of the Daheng New Epoch Technology building, purchased a year ago by the church for 27.5 million RMB (US$4.2 million), had refused to hand over the keys. (See, “Church in China to Risk Worshipping in Park,” April 7.)

The church had already met outdoors twice in November 2009 before officials gave tacit consent to move to the Old Story Club restaurant. Officials, however, again prevented Shouwang Church from meeting in May and August of last year.

Fu said it was common for government officials across China to pressure landlords into revoking leases for house church groups.

“For example, right now I know of at least two churches that were made ‘homeless’ in Guangzhou this week, including one church with at least 200 members,” he said.

Shouwang’s statement pointed to Article 36 of China’s Constitution, which grants every citizen freedom to worship, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, ratified by China, which states that every citizen has the right to observe his religion or belief “either alone or in community with others and in public or private.”

For this reason the church planned to meet outdoors until officials granted legal, written permission to worship in an approved location – preferably at the building purchased by the church.

The document also advised church members not to resist if they were held under house arrest or arrested at the Sunday venue.

“Objectively speaking, our outdoor worship must deliver this message to the various departments of our government: attending Sunday worship is the most basic necessity for Christians in their life of faith,” the statement concluded.

The number of Protestant house church Christians in China is estimated at between 45 and 60 million, according to Yu Jianrong, a professor at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences Rural Development Institute, with a further 18 to 30 million people attending government-approved churches.

Report from Compass Direct News
http://www.compassdirect.org