Over 700 health experts are calling for urgent action to expand global production of COVID vaccines


Anupam Nath/AP

Deborah Gleeson, La Trobe University and Michael Toole, Burnet InstituteToday, we are joining over 700 health professionals and academics in sending an open letter to Prime Minister Scott Morrison urging him to take a leadership role in expanding the global production of COVID-19 vaccines and other medical tools to fight the pandemic.

The letter, signed by 207 doctors, 177 academics and 111 public health professionals, asks the government to help remove legal and technical barriers to increasing the production of COVID-19 vaccines, diagnostic tests, treatments and other equipment.

We argue there is more Australia — and other wealthy nations — can and should be doing to end the pandemic.

The need to act urgently

The COVID-19 pandemic is escalating sharply in the developing world. In addition to India’s spiralling infections, cases are surging across the globe in countries like Argentina, Uruguay, Sweden, France, Turkey, Mongolia, and Costa Rica.

The roll-out of vaccines must rapidly accelerate. Uncontained transmission will inevitably lead to the emergence of new variants that may be more infectious and resistant to vaccines.




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As of today, more than 1.06 billion vaccine doses have been administered worldwide. However, 37% of these doses have been given in the world’s 27 wealthiest countries. Those countries represent just 10.5% of the global population.

Meanwhile, countries making up the least wealthy 11% have received just 1.6% of the vaccine doses so far. At this pace, most of the world’s population will remain unprotected at least until 2023.

Vaccine shortage in India.
Vaccine shortages have been a frequent occurrence in India in recent weeks.
Rafiq Maqbool/AP

Monopolisation of vaccines

Two of the chief obstacles to vaccinating the world are the monopolisation of vaccines and the means of producing them. The world is relying on the pharmaceutical industry and market forces to solve the problems of inadequate supply and inequitable distribution — and this won’t work.

Rich countries have monopolised the world’s supply of vaccines by pre-purchasing doses in bulk. By November 2020, 7.5 billion doses had been reserved, half of these by rich countries making up only 14% of the global population.

Canada has more vaccines than it needs on order.
Countries like Canada have far more vaccines than they need on order.
Paul Chiasson/AP

Rich countries have also under-invested in COVAX, the global program for equitably distributing vaccines. COVAX needs an additional US$3.2 billion just to meet its target of vaccinating 20% of populations of participating countries.

Added to this, countries faced with large outbreaks have erected export restrictions to bolster their own supply of vaccines, excluding others.

This includes the European Union’s refusal to release 3.1 million doses to Australia this year. India has also restricted vaccine exports, resulting in delays in delivering 90 million doses to low-income countries.

The US, too, has been stockpiling its supplies, though the Biden administration announced this week it will now allow the export of raw materials needed to manufacture vaccines in India.

Monopolies on the means of producing vaccines

While the hoarding of vaccines is a concern, the monopolies on the rights to produce them is an even bigger problem.

The exclusive rights to manufacture COVID-19 vaccines are currently held by a small number of companies. These intellectual property rights are enshrined in the World Trade Organization Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, otherwise known as TRIPS.

Under TRIPS, WTO members must allow patents of at least 20 years for new pharmaceutical products, along with other types of intellectual property protection.




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Whoever invents a coronavirus vaccine will control the patent – and, importantly, who gets to use it


TRIPS allows nations to invoke compulsory licensing of pharmaceutical products, which enables patented inventions to be produced without the consent of the patent owner in an emergency.

But compulsory licensing can only be applied on a product-by-product basis, and it only applies to patents, not the other types of knowledge and data needed to manufacture vaccines.

Countries also tend to face diplomatic and trade pressure not to enact such licenses. To our knowledge, no country has yet issued a compulsory licence for a COVID-19 vaccine.

Reliance on the pharmaceutical industry and market forces

So far, the world has placed its trust in the pharmaceutical industry and market forces to solve the problem, hoping vaccine makers would voluntarily enter into licensing arrangements with other manufacturers to increase supply.

But voluntary licensing has been little used to date. When it has been used, it has been done in an ad hoc and opaque way, with restrictive conditions.

AstraZeneca, Gamaleya/Sputnik V and Sinopharm are so far the only companies to implement voluntary licensing for COVID-19 vaccines. AstraZeneca, for instance, has licensed SK Bio in South Korea, the Serum Institute of India and CSL in Australia to manufacture the vaccine.




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Other companies’ reluctance to enter into these arrangements means available manufacturing capacity in Asia, Africa, and Latin America is not being used.

The pharmaceutical industry is heavily invested in the status quo. Pfizer and Moderna expect to generate US$15 billion and US$18.4 billion in revenue respectively in 2021, just based on existing supply agreements.

The People’s Vaccine Alliance estimates Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca have distributed US$26 billion to their shareholders in the form of dividends and stock buybacks in the past 12 months – enough to cover the cost of vaccinating 1.3 billion people.

A BioNTech production site in Germany
Pfizer/BioNTech’s goal is to produce 2.5 billion doses globally by the end of the year.
Michael Probst/AP

What Australia has done to help so far

Australia has been generous to date, providing AU$80 million to COVAX (specifically for low-income countries).

It has also pledged $523 million to the Regional Vaccine Access and Health Security Initiative, which provides health system support for vaccinations and $100 million to the Quad initiative by India, Japan, Australia and the US, which aims to distribute 1 billion doses in the Indo-Pacific region by 2022.

Australia has also provided 8,840 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine to PNG for frontline health workers and negotiated with the EU to free up 1 million of its own doses on order for PNG. Canberra has also pledged doses to Timor-Leste, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.

These contributions are important stop-gaps to help address immediate needs. But they won’t go far enough on their own.

Further steps Australia needs to take

Increasing the global supply of vaccines will require governments to remove legal and technical barriers to their production.

To help remove legal barriers, the Australian government should support a proposal by India and South Africa in October 2020 to waive certain intellectual property rights for COVID-19 medical products.

This proposal, known as the “TRIPS Waiver”, is now supported by more than 100 of the WTO’s 164 member states. However, it has been blocked or stalled by the US, EU, Japan, Canada, and Australia.

Australia will have another chance to support it when it’s discussed at a TRIPS council meeting later this week.

To remove technical barriers, Australia must use its leverage to persuade pharmaceutical companies to share their knowledge and transfer technology to low and middle-income countries.

Australia should also endorse the COVID-19 Technology Access Pool (C-TAP), which was established last May by the World Health Organization but has so far been unused.

C-TAP relies on voluntary commitments by pharmaceutical companies. For it to work, governments need to provide incentives or require pharmaceutical companies to share their IP, data and know-how as a condition of public funding for research and development.

Over 700 health professionals and academics see the government’s leadership in these areas as a critical part of our pandemic response.

It’s time for Australia to act, and to encourage regional allies such as New Zealand, Japan, South Korea, and Singapore to do the same.The Conversation

Deborah Gleeson, Associate Professor in Public Health, La Trobe University and Michael Toole, Professor of International Health, Burnet Institute

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

A catastrophe looms with PNG’s COVID crisis. Australia needs to respond urgently



from www.shutterstock.com

Brendan Crabb, Burnet Institute and Leanne Robinson, Burnet Institute

The COVID epidemic in Papua New Guinea has significantly accelerated, judging by the available reports of case numbers.

Since its first case was diagnosed 12 months ago, PNG has avoided a large number of reported cases and corresponding deaths. That situation has changed dramatically over the past fortnight. A crisis is now unfolding with alarming speed and the response must quickly match it.

Australia can be proud of its preparations to support PNG and the region in responding to COVID-19, especially its preparations to support vaccination in the region. These include contributing A$80m to COVAX, $523m to the Regional Vaccine Access and Health Security Initiative, and $100m towards a new one billion dose COVID-19 vaccine initiative together with the United States, India and Japan (the “Quad” group of nations).

As good as they are, these plans are unlikely to be fast enough to stop this current surge before enormous damage is done. There’s simply no time to waste in responding.

Why the urgency?

Reported COVID-19 testing rates remain critically low, with just 55,000 taken from an estimated population of nine million people. This means we don’t yet have a precise picture of the scale of the epidemic.

The reported numbers are highly concerning. In the first week of March, 17% of all people who were tested throughout the country were positive to COVID-19, with over 350 newly confirmed cases. This is the highest number of cases in a single week in PNG since the start of the pandemic. Over half of PNG’s 22 provinces reported new COVID-19 cases in that week.




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There are other indicators of a potential large scale outbreak, such as reports of increased cases among health-care workers. What’s more, the total number of documented COVID-19 deaths in PNG has nearly doubled in the past fortnight alone.

Low testing rates, combined with reports of high daily case numbers, means there are likely many thousands of current cases in Port Moresby and widespread seeding and spreading of infections throughout the country.

PNG’s hospitals and front-line health-care workers remain particularly vulnerable. With limited public health controls in place and an effective vaccination program yet to be initiated, and with last week’s huge commemoration ceremonies for Grand Chief and former Prime Minister Michael Somare, there’s every chance the current outbreak will continue to grow exponentially for some time yet.

COVID-19 posters in PNG
These posters in PNG’s East New Britain Province help spread COVID-19 public health advice.
Parrotfish Journey / Shutterstock.com

The people of PNG now face dual health emergencies: death and disease from COVID-19 itself, and a likely increase in existing major diseases barely held in check by the nation’s already stretched health system. These indirect effects, such as potential rises in malaria, tuberculosis, HIV, cervical cancer, vaccine-preventable diseases and poor maternal and newborn health, are likely to be even worse than the direct impact of COVID-19.

Australia and PNG’s vital partnership

This health crisis should be reason enough for Australia to respond urgently in support of PNG. But there’s another reason too. High levels of circulating SARS-CoV-2 in the Asia-Pacific region are a recipe for generating mutant coronavirus variants that might spread more readily, evade immunity more easily, and/or cause more serious disease. A regionally coordinated effort to combat COVID-19 will help ensure protection for everyone, including going a long way to help preserve Australia’s own vaccine program.

PNG already has a coordinated national and provincial COVID-19 response and a vaccine technical working group that has begun planning for deployment of the first allocation of vaccines to front-line health-care workers.

Meanwhile, Australia is also playing a crucial role in supporting this effort, contributing generously to the COVAX vaccine access facility and to a A$500 million fund to support COVID vaccination in PNG and the wider Pacific.

However, these plans were developed on the basis there was substantially more time for planning, deployment and phased rollout than the current case numbers would suggest.

What action is needed?

Two considerations are now paramount. First, the response needs to be requested by — and, more importantly, led by — PNG itself. Second, the response needs to reflect the urgency and scale of the unfolding emergency.

This “emergency package” could conceivably involve:

  1. immediate provision of masks in the community, appropriate PPE for health-care workers and increased support for widespread testing

  2. a campaign to counter COVID-19 misinformation, which is rampant, and

  3. a significant ramp-up of vaccination across PNG, with an ambitious target — perhaps a million doses before the end of the year, aimed at the most at-risk groups.

Arguably the most important element of this would be immediate vaccination for health-care workers in the most heavily impacted areas of the country. Ideally, all of PNG’s crucial health-sector workforce should be vaccinated within the next fortnight. Australia could provide around 20,000 vaccine doses for health-care workers without putting a significant dent in its own vaccine supplies, potentially making a profoundly important intervention in the course of the epidemic in PNG.




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This is the moment for dialogue to occur between the two nations, so PNG can ensure Australia’s help with such an immediate and ambitious response.

PNG is Australia’s closest geographical neighbour, and our countries have a deep shared history of mutual support. An out-of-control COVID-19 epidemic in PNG would be a humanitarian and economic disaster for the nation itself, and a grave threat to the health of the region, particularly with shared borders to Solomon Islands in the east and Indonesia to the west.

Given this pandemic expands at an exponential rate, and with new variants of concern arising regularly in regions of high transmission, it’s the speed of a strong response that matters the most. A rapid public health intervention, to be supported and facilitated at the highest levels of government, would go a long way to mitigating what may well become a public health catastrophe.




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The Conversation


Brendan Crabb, Director and CEO, Burnet Institute and Leanne Robinson, Professor, Program Director of Health Security and Head of Vector-borne Diseases & Tropical Public Health, Burnet Institute; Laboratory Head, Walter & Eliza Hall Institute; Adjunct Principal Research Fellow, PNG Institute of Medical Research, Burnet Institute

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

Muslim Mob Targets Christian, Family in Murder Case


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

Muslim Youths in Nigeria Destroy Church Buildings, Pastor’s Home


Attacks in Kano state said to stem from hostility by converts to Islam, land dispute.

LAGOS, Nigeria, May 21 (CDN) — Scores of Muslim youths on Wednesday (May 19) besieged church property in Kano state in northern Nigeria, destroying two church buildings and a pastor’s residence. 

One of the buildings and the pastor’s house were set ablaze on the premises of the Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA) at Kwasam, in the Kiru Local Government Area, while another building under construction was demolished. Youths reportedly numbering more than 100 in the predominantly Muslim area stormed the church grounds.

“The problem started when some Christian youths of ECWA church were converted to Islam,” the Rev. Lado Abdul, chairman of ECWA district in Kano, told Compass. “They swore that the ECWA church would not remain in the area, as they would do everything possible to chase Christians out from Kiru.”

The ECWA pastor whose house was demolished, Gambo Mato, has found shelter in another Christian’s home.

No life was lost during or after the incident as police and State Security Service officers intervened, and traditional rulers, religious leaders and government officials held an urgent meeting to quell potential skirmishes and establish security.

Abdul, however, lamented the denial of rights to Christians in Kano by area Muslims.

“Here in Kano, nobody gives you land to build a church,” he said. “The old churches built before now are being demolished for reasons no one can easily grasp. We have taken our complaint to Sarki Kano [traditional emir of Kano] Alhaji Ado Bayero, and he assured us that something would be done about it. We are looking to the state government to come to our rescue.”

Kano State Police Commissioner Mohammed Gana said that the attack on the church buildings grew out of a land dispute.

“The old church was a mud house, and the ECWA people wanted to rebuild it with blocks,” Gana said. “In the process, there was a disagreement, but we moved in to ensure peace and order.”

Four suspects have been arrested, and an investigation continues, the police chief said.

Elsewhere in Kano state, in Banaka of the Takai Local Government Area, a Baptist church was reportedly demolished on Saturday (May 15).

Kano state, one of 12 states in Nigeria where sharia (Islamic law) is in effect, has been the site of periodic Islamic aggression against the minority Christian community. Last year, when an Islamic extremist sect known as Boko Haram instigated rioting in Bauchi state that killed at least 12 Christians, the firestorm of violence spread to Kano state as well as Borno and Yobe states.

In 2008, hundreds of Muslims took to the streets of Kano city on April 20, attacking Christians and their shops and setting vehicles on fire based on claims that a Christian had blasphemed Muhammad, the prophet of Islam. Thousands of Christians were trapped in church buildings until police could disperse the assailants.

An unidentified Christian was said to have written an inscription on a shop wall that disparaged the prophet of Islam. Muslims at a market in the Sabon Garia area of the city reportedly attacked the Christian, whom police rescued and took to the area police station.

Muslims in large numbers soon trooped to the police station, threatening to set it ablaze unless officers released the Christian to be stoned to death in accordance with sharia, sources said.

Report from Compass Direct News 

Christians in Nigeria Decry Police Inaction in Church Burnings


Zamfara state assailants emboldened by lack of prosecution in Jos mayhem, CAN leader says.

LAGOS, Nigeria, February 26 (CDN) — The head of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) in Zamfara state told Compass that he was disappointed in the lack of response by state police to recent church burnings by Muslim youths.

“It is unfortunate that there has been no response from the police, and even the state governor has refused to meet with us,” said the acting state chairman of CAN, the Rev. Edwin Okpara.

The Redeemed Christian Church of God building in Tudun Wada was partly burnt on Jan. 25, and Christian Faith Bible church and the Living Faith Foundation Chapel, both in Gusau, were partly burnt in attacks on Jan. 20 and 24 respectively. Zamfara state, one of the predominantly Muslim states in northern Nigeria, was the first in the country to implement Islamic law (sharia).

In the petition dated Jan. 26, CAN stated that the church burnings came in the aftermath of “a grand plot to unleash mayhem on churches and Christians in the state due to the religious clash in Jos, Plateau state.”

The association alleged that those who attacked the Zamfara churches were emboldened because officials made no serious move to arrest those who carried out the Jos attacks. Two pastors and 46 other Christians were killed in the outbreak of violence in Jos on Jan. 17, triggered when Muslim youths attacked a Catholic church; 10 church buildings were burned, and police estimated more than 300 lives were lost in the clash.

“We are seriously disturbed by the restlessness and panic these attacks have created among the Christian community and ask that every necessary and urgent step be taken by your command to secure the lives of both Christians and Muslims in the state as citizens of Nigeria,” the CAN petition states. “Despite these attacks and provocation, the church and Christians as peaceful people have remained calm and have no plans to retaliate, but [we are] appealing to you to act and protect our interest.”

The State Police Command was not available for comment on the CAN request.

Okpara lamented that Christians in the state have been suffering in silence with little means of drawing attention to their plight.

“The level of persecution in Zamfara is alarming, more than in any other state in the country,” Okpara said. “Not even in Sokoto or Kano are Christians subjected to the kind of discrimination we are subjected to.”

He said it was impossible to get land to build churches in Zamfara state; Christians are forced to sign an understanding binding them to refrain from using land in the state for church buildings.

“We are more or less operating underground churches in the state,” he said. “The present state government has turned out to be more anti-Christian than the former government in the state, which introduced the sharia law.”

Leaders of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN) on Tuesday (Feb. 23) decried cases of persecution and discrimination against Christians and called on the federal government to put an end to it. Virtually all churches in predominantly Muslim northern Nigeria have been refused certificates of occupancy for their buildings, they said.

“There seems to be an unwritten law that churches are not welcomed in the northern part of the country,” the PFN leaders noted in a statement.

Report from Compass Direct News 

Karen Christians pressed between Thailand and Myanmar


The Thai government and local military leaders want to force Karen Christians back into Myanmar, and they’re willing to use military force to clear refugee camps within the next two weeks, reports MNN.

The camps are full because the Burmese army is wiping out the Karen. Wes Flint with Vision Beyond Borders says, "I’m shocked that the free world is just allowing this to continue."

The ruling junta has been battling Christian-majority Karen rebels for decades. Similar army crackdowns forced thousands of villagers to flee their homes, and they found their way across the border to Thailand’s refugee camps.

Many of the more-recently displaced were forced to hide in the Burma jungle.

Human rights groups protested the Thai plan to repatriate the refugees in Burma over concern that once back in Myanmar, the refugees will be subject to "severe human rights violations, including forced labour and rape by soldiers of the Burma Army," according to a leader at Christian Solidarity Worldwide.

No one expects the situation to improve, but VBB teams are trying to intervene. "We try to create a safe environment for them, to bring them in, to provide food for them, and medical care."

VBB’s Patrick Klein wrote this from Myanmar: "Due to rice fields and crops being destroyed and attacks on villagers by the Burmese army, we have a group of 100 children who are in urgent need of food. They are on the brink of starvation. Currently they are in hiding with their parents inside Burma. Our caretaker in our Shekinah children’s home in one of the official refugee camps asked if we can help those children with food and get them out of Burma."

It’s dangerous work, but there are friends of the ministry who are trying to get those 100 children to the VBB camp in the mountains.

Klein says, "If we are able to get them out, we will build housing for them. The parents are ready to die and give whatever food they find to their children for now. Please pray with us that God will make a way for these children and help our attempts to get them safely into one of the camps where we have a Children’s Home."

The VBB team delivered 45 bags of rice and medicines to partners who will take all the supplies to the Internally Displaced People inside Burma–those hiding from the Burmese Army.

It’s hard to imagine what is going unnoticed in front of so many international eyes. Flint explains, "There’s what they would call an ‘ethnic cleansing’ going on, but it seems that most of their targets are Christians."

Does their identity as a Christian mark them as Karen–or possibly something more? Flint says, "This persecution has really refined them. They have been great ambassadors to reach out to the Buddhist community–even to those that are persecuting them."

Report from the Christian Telegraph 

Kyrgyzstan: Religious freedom survey, December 2009


In its survey analysis of freedom of religion or belief in Kyrgyzstan, Forum 18 News Service finds that the state continues to violate its commitments to implement freedom of religion or belief for all. Limitations on this fundamental freedom and other human rights have increased – in both law and practice – under President Kurmanbek Bakiev.

A harsh new Religion Law was adopted in 2009, despite international protests, and a similarly harsh new Law on Religious Education and Educational Institutions is being drafted. There are also plans for a new Law on Traditional Religions.

State actions, including banning unregistered religious activity and raids on meetings for worship, show little sign of either a willingness to implement human rights commitments, or an understanding that genuine security depends on genuine respect for human rights.

As a Baha’i put it to Forum 18: "Our country has so many urgent problems – poverty, the lack of medicine, AIDS, crime, corruption. Why don’t officials work on these instead of making life harder for religious believers?" Kyrgyzstan faces the UN Universal Periodic Review process in May 2010.

Report from the Christian Telegraph 

More Pakistanis flee new offensive against Taliban


About 40,000 more Pakistanis are leaving their homes in South Waziristan as Pakistan’s military prepares to launch a new offensive against the Taliban, Reuters reports. They join over 2 million other people who have fled the violence since May, reports MNN.

The Christian Reformed World Relief Committee is providing $500,000 of food aid for the refugees through the Canadian Foodgrains Bank. It will deliver 708 metric tons of lentils, oil, fortified wheat flour, sugar, iodized salt, and chili powder to internally displaced person (IDP) camps in the Swabi district of North West Frontier Province, Pakistan.

Two thousand families, or about 14,000 people, live in the camps. CRWRC will give first priority to widows with children and to families who have lost loved ones.

CRWRC received a testimonial from Muhammad Akber Khan.

“I am a senior citizen and the oldest person in my family,” he said. “The continuous shelling compelled us to leave our native town and home. We left everything back home as we were given only 20-25 minutes to leave the town. All that we could have carried were the clothes that we were wearing at the time of migration. We want to go back to our homes as soon as possible as our lifetime investment is there; moreover, we have to supervise our crops that were the only sources of our livelihood. I am grateful to the staff of I-LAP and CRWRC who shared their love and care through giving.”

CRWRC has already distributed mosquito nets, sleeping mats, and water containers in the camps. Its International Disaster Response team responds to natural and man-made disasters all over the world, bringing relief and aid to those who need it most. It works in cooperation with local and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in order to respond quickly and effectively to the urgent needs of a community.

Report from the Christian Telegraph

RUSSIAN CHURCH WARNS EUROPEANS OF EFFECTS OF CHRISTIAN PHOBIA


The Russian Orthodox Church believes that the European community should take urgent measures to combat Christian phobia in today’s Europe, reports Interfax-Religion.

“We should become aware that Christian phobia was generated by Christian civilization, or whatever we call European civilization now. Christian phobia is nothing else but malignant cancer which threatens European civilization with fatal effects,” Russian Church representative at the European Council Hegumen Filaret (Bulekov) said at the Dialogue of Civilizations World Public Forum in Prague.

He urged “not only Christians, but also all bearers of traditional European culture formed by Christianity to consider carefully their cultural survival in today’s globalizing world and ask themselves why so many of them feel no concern about the present and the future of their culture and their religious traditions.”

“We need to acknowledge that it is impossible to put the blame for Christian phobia displays on Muslims, immigrants or the so-called “Civilization Clash”. It is the essential and primary fault of successors to European Christian culture, that is, our fault,” Fr. Filaret said.

Report from the Christian Telegraph