With One Nation on the march, a change to compulsory voting might backfire on Labor


Doug Hunt, James Cook University

The Queensland Labor government’s change back to compulsory preferential voting could increase informal voting and actually backfire, with a strong flow of Pauline Hanson’s One Nation preferences to the Liberal National Party.

What appeared to be a masterly, if cynical, move from Labor now looks far from smart. This is especially so as opinion polling shows a strong flow of One Nation preferences to the LNP, making it the beneficiary of full preferential voting.

Paradoxically, Labor preferences may assist the LNP in some rural seats where One Nation comes second to the LNP. One Nation, which looks set to win a few seats, will itself be helped by preferences from Katter’s Australian Party and also from the LNP.

The difference between optional and compulsory preferential voting

In April last year, Queensland parliament increased the number of electoral districts from 89 to 93. This move, initiated by the LNP with the support of crossbench members, was trumped by Labor, also with crossbench support. Labor amended the Bill to additionally re-introduce compulsory preferential voting.

The introduction by Labor of compulsory full preferential voting owed nothing to democratic electoral theory. Like all previous voting system changes, Labor expected to get some advantage.

Labor proposed two related reasons for the change: to reduce informal votes and achieve consistency between state and federal elections. However, optional preferential voting has meant that Queensland elections have the lowest rate of informality across all Australian parliaments. This is despite Queensland being having a high informal vote in federal elections.

The return to full preferential voting will actually increase the number of informal votes. An informal vote is a ballot paper where the voter has failed to put a number every box, or otherwise not complete it properly.

Compulsory, or full preferential, voting requires an elector to number every box beside each candidate on the ballot paper sequentially in order of the voter’s preference. If no candidate achieves a majority of “1” votes on the first count, the candidate with the lowest number of votes is eliminated from the ballot, and their votes allocated to the remaining candidates according to the eliminated candidate’s second preference.

This process continues until one candidate reaches a majority (50% plus one) of votes. The aim is to elect the most preferred candidate, rather than the simple plurality required under first-past-the-post voting.

FPV Formal Ballot Paper Example.
Electoral Commission of Queensland

This is the system used in federal elections and in all other states except New South Wales, which uses optional preferential voting. Queensland elections were conducted via full preferential voting from 1962 until 1992. Optional preferential voting was then introduced following a recommendation of the Electoral and Administrative Review Commission.

Under optional preferential voting, voters can choose how many, if any preferences they allocate to candidates. They can simply vote 1, or they can vote for some or all candidates in order of their preference. Counting proceeds as with full preferential voting.

This system maximises choice for voters, ensuring that they don’t have to indicate any preference for someone they don’t wish to elect. Optional preferential voting therefore seems like the most democratic form of voting.

On the other hand, full preferential voting arguably maximises the democratic principle of public participation, by ensuring that voters’ second (and so on) preferences pass on to other candidates. Their votes are therefore not wasted. So, elections more accurately reflect the will of the people, as the winner can claim the support of most voters.

Under optional preferential voting, if large numbers of electors limit their preferences to one candidate, someone without majority support may be elected.

What history tells us

The real reason for a return to full preferential voting was to assist Labor in garnering preferences from the Greens. These preferences typically flow heavily to Labor – as high as 80% in many cases.

However, optional preferential voting meant that Greens voters increasingly just voted 1 for their own candidate, robbing Labor of votes. ABC election analyst Antony Green calculated that had full preferential voting been in place in 2015, Labor would have won an additional eight seats and an absolute parliamentary majority.

Labor also hoped to pick up preferences from other candidates in order to stave off Greens challenges in inner-city districts.

The optional preferential voting experience in Queensland shows that over time, the proportion of the electorate not stating full preferences generally increases. Academic John Wanna warned of a defacto first-past-the post system, calling it a “denial of a true democratic outcome”.

In 2012, 70% of electors voted 1 only. This proportion fell to 55% in the 2015 election, apparently due to disaffection with the Newman LNP government, when many voters deliberately put the LNP last on the ballot paper.

In 2016, Labor appeared in a winning position with the change to compulsory preferential voting. 2017 is different.

The difficulty in predicting the outcome of Queensland’s state election is compounded not just by changes to the electoral system, but by volatile political factors.

Chief among these is the resurgence of support for One Nation. In the 2015 election, standing in only 11 electorates, the party garnered a statewide vote of less than 1% – though Hanson herself lost narrowly to the LNP in the seat of Lockyer.

Recent opinion polls suggest support for One Nation at around 18%, prompting commentators to assign it a “kingmaker” role in a likely hung parliament.

So it’s impossible to gauge the impact of a return to compulsory compared with optional preferential voting with certainty. In most seats, it won’t change the outcome.

However, some seats will likely be decided differently under full preferential voting. In a close election, that can determine which party wins on 25 November.

The ConversationIronically, given the LNP’s vehement criticism of the change to full preferential voting last year – it was the ‘death of democracy’, according to one parliamentarian – they are likely to be the main beneficiary of the changed system.

Doug Hunt, Adjunct Associate Professor, College of Arts, Society and Education, James Cook University

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

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Making voting both simple and secure is a challenge for democracies



File 20171019 32358 1wb6z4y.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
The US compares relatively poorly with equivalent countries when it comes to voter registration.
Reuters/Bria Hall

Pippa Norris, Harvard University; Sarah Cameron, University of Sydney, and Thomas Wynter, University of Sydney

Recent elections around the world have raised concerns about the procedures used for voter registration and their potential consequences. The effects include disenfranchisement (voters being prevented from casting a ballot) and voter rights, fraud and security, and mismanagement and accuracy.

It’s critical to strike the right trade-off between making registration accessible and making it secure. But how many countries are affected by these sorts of issues? And which is more problematic – lack of security or lack of inclusion?

Our study

Our Perceptions of Electoral Integrity survey asked experts for their assessments of electoral integrity in 161 countries that held 260 national elections from January 1 to June 30, 2017.

The study used three criteria to monitor the quality of the voter registration process: inclusion, accuracy, and security.

These aspects can be considered equally important to ensure all and only eligible citizens are able to vote. The items can be analysed separately and also combined into an index.

As illustrated below, the results show the quality of the voter registration process in Northern Europe and Scandinavia performed well, as did several Latin American countries like Brazil.

At the same time, voter registration proved problematic in many countries in Africa and the Middle East, as well as in India and parts of Asia.

The US compared relatively poorly with equivalent liberal democracies on voter registration. This is in no small measure due to the partisan polarisation over the issue, and past reliance on self-registration. By contrast, governments in many other countries register voters on their behalf.

The quality of voter registration worldwide.
Authors

Inclusiveness versus security

The global comparison below shows mean ratings on the measure of inclusion on the vertical axis. The measure of security is shown on the horizontal.

Some countries performed well on both indicators – notably Sweden, Denmark and Finland, as well as Slovakia, Costa Rica and the Czech Republic.

By contrast, many other places (located in the bottom left quadrant) performed poorly on both measures, such as Syria (which failed to allow citizens to vote if they had fled to neighbouring states as refugees), Haiti (which lacked the capacity to administer elections), Bahrain (with internal conflict), and Afghanistan (with high levels of electoral corruption).

Finally, several countries scored worse on inclusiveness than on security. In these elections, experts thought the more serious problem was the exclusion of eligible citizens.

These problems can arise for many reasons – such as disputed citizenship rights, attempts at voter suppression, lack of capacity to include young people, women, linguistic or ethnic minorities and hard-to-reach rural populations, or failing to maintain up-to-date electoral rolls.

Monitoring inclusion and security worldwide. Scale ranges from strongly agree (1) to strongly disagree (5). Regimes classified according to Freedom House.
Authors

Responding to the challenges

So, the challenge is to strike the optimal balance between security and accessibility, to make ensure eligible citizens – and only eligible citizens – cast a ballot. Doing so strengthens public confidence in the electoral process and democracy.

Easier registration processes, such as the availability of online applications and same-day registration, usually strengthens voter turnout. But the introduction of more accessible registration without sufficient verification raises security risks of abuse and fraud.

In the US, parties are deeply polarised over whether the use of strict photo ID at polling places helps maintain accurate and reliable lists, or whether this suppresses voting rights for eligible citizens who lack such ID.

A 2012 report found many American states faced major challenges of accuracy, cost, and efficiency in their voter registration systems. Since then, they have made many efforts to upgrade electronic procedures by allowing citizens to register and check their records online.

An initiative sweeping the US – led by Oregon in 2015 – is states requiring citizens to opt-out rather than opt-in to being registered to vote.

But new risks have also became evident, not least Russian meddling and cyber-security threats to official voting records. To tackle this, the US Electoral Assistance Commission has recently issued new guidelines, working with the states and the Department of Homeland Security to implement them. Yet the overhaul of America’s ageing voting equipment will carry a hefty price tag.

Foreign attempts at interference in voting have been reported in other countries, including Germany and France.

Following the 2017 UK general election, the Electoral Commission expressed concern about the risks of double voting and duplicate registration applications.

In populous developing countries like Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, without reliable census information or identification documents, the challenges are even greater. Poor quality records can create opportunities for vote manipulation.

The ConversationStrict registration processes, such as those relying on biometric technologies for ID, may remove ineligible applicants but simultaneously throw out legitimate voters and make the list less accurate, not more. And biometric voter registration, which many African countries have adopted, presents challenges for the protection of personal information.

Pippa Norris, ARC Laureate Fellow, Professor of Government and International Relations at the University of Sydney and McGuire Lecturer in Comparative Politics, Harvard University; Sarah Cameron, Electoral Integrity Project Manager and Postdoctoral Research Fellow, University of Sydney, and Thomas Wynter, Research Associate, University of Sydney

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

Tony Abbott says government’s challenge is ‘to be worth voting for’


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Tony Abbott has laid out his policy alternatives to make the next election “winnable” for the Coalition, in a provocative speech that again highlights his differences with Malcolm Turnbull. The Conversation

The former prime minister said the government should say to the people of Australia that it would cut the renewable energy target, reduce immigration, scrap the Human Rights Commission, stop all new spending, and reform the Senate via a referendum held with the next election.

Launching Making Australia Right, a book of essays by conservatives edited by James Allan, Abbott brought together several proposals he has previously argued for.

He took aim at the government’s current signals about the future direction of its energy policy, and attacked its preservation of the 23% Renewable Energy Target (RET), which was negotiated in his time as prime minister.

“The government is now talking about using the Clean Energy Finance Corporation to subsidise a new coal-fired power station – creating, if you like, a base-load target to supplement the renewable target,” he said.

“We subsidise wind to make coal uneconomic so now we are proposing to subsidise coal to keep the lights on. Go figure.”

“Wouldn’t it be better to abolish subsidies for new renewable generation and let ordinary market forces do the rest?”

“Of course that would trigger the mother of all brawls in the Senate, but what better way to let voters know that the Coalition wants your power bill down, while Labor wants it up?”

Abbott said the government’s challenge was “to be worth voting for” and to “win back the people who are giving up on us”.

“In or out of government, political parties need a purpose. Our politics can’t be just a contest of toxic egos or someone’s vanity project.”

The next election was “winnable”, he said, outlining the pitches he saw as needed to secure that win.

“If we stop pandering to climate change theology and freeze the RET, we can take the pressure off power prices.”

“If we end the ‘big is best’ thinking of the federal Treasury, and scaled
back immigration – at least until housing starts and infrastructure have caught up – we can take the pressure off home prices.”

“If we can take our own rhetoric about budget repair seriously and avoid all new spending and cut out all frivolous spending, we will start to get the deficit down.”

“If we refuse to be the ATM for the states, there might finally be some microeconomic reform of our public education and public health systems.”

“If we stopped funding the Human Rights Commission and leave protecting our liberties to the parliament, the courts and a free press where they belong, we might start to look like the defenders of western civilisation that we aspire to be.”

Speaking on Sky, Abbott said that “plainly there are lots of people concerned about our direction” and warned “the risk is we will drift to defeat if we don’t lift our game”.

He also criticised Turnbull’s decision to stay in his own home in Sydney.

“I think it would be a better look if the prime minister did live in Kirribilli House,” he said. He understood Turnbull not wanting to be a burden on the taxpayer but “by trying to avoid being a burden to the taxpayer, in the end, you end up costing the taxpayer more”.

When he was prime minister Abbott was reluctant to move from his own home to Kirribilli but was persuaded to do so.

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/j795u-67fef0?from=yiiadmin

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Burmese Officials Order Closure of Chin Church


Government punishes pastor for refusing to wear campaign T-shirt, amid other election abuses.

DUBLIN, November 18 (CDN) — Officials in Mergui Region, Burma, ordered a Baptist church to cease holding worship services after the pastor refused to wear an election campaign T-shirt supporting the military government’s Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP).

The election commission summoned 47-year-old Pastor Mang Tling of Dawdin village, Gangaw township, Mergui Region on Nov. 9, two days after the election and ordered him to stop holding services and discontinue the church nursery program, the Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO) reported yesterday.

The CHRO works against human rights abuses, including religious discrimination, for the Chin people, a minority group in Burma’s northwest estimated to be 90 percent Christian.

Village headman U Than Chaung had given the pastor a campaign T-shirt to wear in support of the USDP, and when he refused to wear it, the headman filed a report with local authorities accusing him of persuading Christian voters to vote in favor of an opposing party.

Under Burmese law, religious leaders can be penalized for “engaging in politics,” giving the pastor a solid legal reason to decline the T-shirt. The law also bans leaders of religious groups from voting in national elections, according to the CHRO, although lay members of those groups are able to vote.

“The election law is quite vague,” a CHRO spokesman told Compass today. “One of the things we were watching out for during the election was to see if church elders or council members might be excluded from voting. But these people were able to vote. The law seems to apply only to pastors, monks and imams.”

Officials interrogated Mang Tling in Gangaw until Sunday (Nov. 14), when he was allowed to return home.

Meantime, the USDP won the election amid widespread evidence of “advance” voting and other forms of voter manipulation throughout Burma.

Previously known as the Union Solidarity and Development Association, and before that the State Peace and Development Council, the USDP was formed by a ruling junta composed largely of army generals. The junta has ruled Burma without a constitution or parliament since 1998, although in 2008 they pushed through support for a new constitution that will take effect following this month’s elections, according to the 2010 International Religious Freedom report released yesterday by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor.

The new constitution forbids “abuse of religion for political purposes,” the report stated. Election laws published in March also banned members of religious orders from voting for or joining political parties and reserved 25 percent of seats in the new parliament for members of the military.

The 2008 constitution “technically guarantees a degree of religious freedom. But then, it’s Burma,” a CHRO spokesman told Compass.

 

Voter Intimidation

The Chin National Party defeated the USDP in three electorates in Chin state despite reports of widespread voting anomalies, some of which were outlined in a CHRO press release on Nov. 7.

In Tedim township northern Chin state, for example, USDP agent Go Lun Mang went to the home of a local resident at 5 p.m. the day before the election and told the family that he had already voted on their behalf in favor of the USDP. He added that soldiers in a nearby camp were ready to arrest them if they complained.

On Nov. 5, the local government had already ordered village officials to instruct residents to vote for the USDP. On Nov. 7, the day of the election, USDP agents in campaign uniforms stood at the gate of the polling station in Tedim and asked voters if they intended to vote for the USDP. Those who said yes were allowed into the station, while those who said no were refused entrance.

USDP agents also warned Chin voters in Thantlang town that they should vote for the USDP “while the door was open” or they would regret it, Burma News International reported on Nov. 5.

David Mathieson, a senior researcher for Human Rights Watch (HRW), said the intimidation indicated that the junta and the USDP knew how unpopular they were.

Reports by the CHRO show a long history of discrimination against the majority Christian Chin, including the destruction of crosses and other Christian monuments, state-sponsored efforts to expand Buddhism, forced contributions of finance and labor to Buddhist construction projects, arrest and detention, torture and particularly harsh treatment of pastors. In addition, officials have refused construction for all new church building projects since 2003.

A report issued by HRW in January confirmed serious and ongoing abuses against Chin Christians.

One Chin pastor interviewed by HRW described how soldiers held him at gunpoint, forced him to pray in a Buddhist pagoda and told him that Burma was a Buddhist country where Christianity should not be practiced. (See “Report Documents Abuse of Chin Christians,” Feb. 20.)

 

SIDEBAR

Suu Kyi’s Release Stirs Guarded Hope among Burma’s Christians

NEW DELHI, November 18 (Compass Direct News) – The release of democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest in Burma on Saturday (Nov. 13) has sparked cautious optimism about human rights among Christians and the country’s ethnic minorities even as the junta does battle with armed resistance groups.

Freeing her six days after elections, the military regime of Burma (also known as Myanmar) kept 1991 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Suu Kyi from running in the country’s first election in 20 years, but ethnic minorities are still “very happy” and “enthused with hope and anticipation,” said Plato Van Rung Mang, who heads the India chapter of Chin Human Rights Organization.

Suu Kyi is the only leader from the majority Burmese community – predominantly Buddhist – who is trusted by the ethnic minorities, said Mang, an India-based Christian originally from Burma’s Chin state, which borders India.

“We have faith in Suu Kyi’s honesty and leadership, and she has been our hope,” he added.

The ethnic Chin, Kachin, Karen and Karenni people – many of whom are Christian – as well as mostly Buddhist ethnic Shan, Mon and Arakanese (some of them Muslim) people have been fighting for self-determination in their respective states and opposing the military junta’s policy of centralized control and Burmese dominion.

“We trust that Suu Kyi can fulfill her father’s ideal and political principles which have been subverted by the Burmese military junta’s Burmanization policy,” said Mang. Suu Kyi’s father, Aung San, was the nation’s leader at the time of independence and favored autonomy for ethnic minorities.

“Just as her father was trusted and held in high esteem by the ethnic people, Aung San Suu Kyi also has the ability to work together with the minorities to build a better, peaceful Burma where the human rights of all citizens are respected and protected,” said Garrett Kostin, a U.S. citizen who runs the Best Friend Library, built by a Buddhist monk in support of Suu Kyi, in Chiang Mai in northern Thailand.

While sections of the ethnic communities have been involved in armed resistance against the junta’s rule, many local residents in the region remain unarmed but are also at risk of being killed in the post-election conflict.

In the wake of the Nov. 7 election, as expected (See “Burma’s Ethnic Christians Fear Bleak Future after Election, Oct. 22), clashes between armed ethnic groups and the Burmese army erupted in three of the seven ethnic states – Karen, Shan and Mon – mainly along Thailand and China border, reported Thailand-based Burma News International. The violence has resulted in an influx of over 20,000 people into Thailand – the largest flow in the last five years.

According to US-based Refugees International, the Thai government forced many of the asylum seekers back.

There are also tensions in Kachin and Karenni states, which could erupt at any time, between the Burmese army and the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army, the Karen National Union, the Kachin Independence Army, the Shan State Army-North, and the Karenni National Progressive Party.

Rights advocates, however, were still heartened by Suu Kyi’s release.

It’s “a wonderful opportunity for the ethnic minorities of Burma to unify in support of each other’s rights and desires,” said Kostin.

In September 2007, many Buddhist monks joined democracy activists in street protests against the military regime’s decision to cut fuel subsidies, leading to a sharp rise in gas and diesel prices. Known as the Saffron Revolution, the protests resulted in hundreds of deaths as government security personnel resisted it militarily.

In numerous clashes between the repressive military regime and political opponents and ethnic minorities, over 3.5 million Burmese have been displaced and thousands killed over the years.

Suu Kyi will continue to enjoy the trust of ethnic minorities because “she has been working so hard since the beginning [of her political career] to speak out about the plight of ethnic people with an honest and sincere commitment,” said Bangkok-based Soe Aung, deputy secretary for Foreign Affairs of the Forum for Democracy in Burma.

Chiang Mai-based Christian relief group Free Burma Rangers (FBR) recalled that Suu Kyi, the general secretary of the National League for Democracy, along with allies won more than 80 percent of the seats in parliament “in Burma’s only truly democratic election” in 1990. “The military regime, however, did not recognize the results and continued to hold power,” it said in a statement.

Last week’s election was “neither free nor fair,” FBR said, adding that “thousands of political prisoners [estimated at 2,200] are still in jail, ethnic minorities are attacked [on a regular basis], and the people of Burma remain under oppression.

“Still, we are grateful for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi as she is a leader who gives real hope to the people of Burma.”

An FBR team leader who spoke on condition of anonymity recalled Suu Kyi requesting his prayers when he met with her during a brief period when she was not under house arrest in 1996.

“The Global Day of Prayer for Burma and the ethnic unity efforts we are involved in are a direct result of that meeting,” the leader said. “As she told me then, one of her favorite quotes is, ‘You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’”

Some Christians, however, remained cautious.

“Although San Suu Kyi wants Burma to be a true federal country, there is no certainty in the hearts of the Karen people because they have suffered for very long, and the so-called Burmese have turned their backs on them several times,” said a Karen Christian from Chiang Mai who identified himself only as Pastor Joseph.

La Rip, a Burmese activist in China, also said that while Suu Kyi deserved to enjoy freedom, she and her party “do not seem to have a clear idea on how to solve the long-standing issues” related to ethnic minorities.

For her part, Suu Kyi spelled out a plan to hold a nationwide, multi-ethnic conference soon after she was freed. Her father held a similar meeting, known as the Panglong Conference, in 1947. Aung San, then representing the Burmese government, reached an agreement with leaders from the Shan, Kachin and Chin states to accept full autonomy in internal administration for the ethnic controlled frontier areas after independence from Britain.

Suu Kyi’s planned conference is seen as the second Panglong Conference, but it remains uncertain if the new Burmese regime, which is likely to be as opposed to ethnic minorities as the junta, will allow her plan to succeed.

In the awaited election results, the junta’s proxy party, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), is likely to have majority in parliament to form the next government. Suu Kyi’s party had been disbanded by the military regime, and only a small splinter group ran in the election.

It is also feared that Suu Kyi, who was under house arrest for nearly 15 years since 1990 until her release last weekend, could face assassination attempts or fresh charges followed by another term under arrest.

Burma has a population of around 50 million, out of which around 2.1 million are estimated to be Christian.

Report from Compass Direct News

New threat develops after UN vote on religious defamation


The U.N. General Assembly has passed the non-binding Defamation of Religion Resolution for the fifth year in a row, reports MNN.

However, support is eroding, says Open Doors Advocacy Director Lindsay Vessey. The Islamic-sponsored non-binding resolution passed with 80 votes in favor, 61 against and 42 abstentions. That compared with 86 votes to 53, with 42 abstentions for a similar text last year, and figures of 108-51-25 in 2007, the last time the measure commanded an absolute majority of U.N. members.

Open Doors USA helped to lead the advocacy effort at the United Nations to prevent this resolution from passing. Open Doors lobbied key voting countries, organized a petition drive for Open Doors USA supporters to campaign against the resolution and spoke on this issue to the media. The Open Doors advocacy campaign is called "Free to Believe."

Oppenents say it threatens freedom of speech, especially for minority Christians in Muslim-dominated nations. "Essentially the resolution tried to criminalize words or actions that are deemed to be against a particular religion, namely, Islam."

Vessey warns that the Organization of Islamic Conference is organizing a sneak attack in March. "Instead of being a non-binding resolution, they’re actually trying to pass it through a separate committee that would make it more of a binding resolution–it would make it an optional protocol."

The UN Ad Hoc Committee on the Elaboration of Complementary Standards is expected to meet again in the spring to discuss adding the resolution to the International Covenant on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination.

Open Doors is readying an advocacy response to the threat. It’s one short step, but Vessey says under it, "People aren‘t free to preach the Gospel–people aren’t free to say what they believe even if they’re not trying to evangelize. But it’s also going to impact missionaries and foreign workers who go into these countries to evangelize."

Report from the Christian Telegraph 

Christians Accused of Desecrating Quran Freed in Pakistan


Country’s notorious ‘blasphemy’ law used against innocent father, daughter.

LAHORE, Pakistan, December 16 (CDN) — A Christian in Faisalabad district and his 20-year-old daughter were released on Monday (Dec. 14) after 14 grueling months in jail on false charges of blaspheming the Quran.

Khalil Tahir, attorney for Gulsher Masih and his daughter Ashyana Gulsher (known as Sandal), said the case was typical of the way Pakistan’s blasphemy laws can be used to harass innocent Christians.

“Christians are the soft targets, and most of the people implicated in these inhumane laws are Christians,” Tahir said. “We Christians are fighting for the same, noble goal – to provide justice to the victims of blasphemy laws.”

Masih said that inmates beat him at least five times since he was arrested on Oct. 23, 2008. His daughter was arrested two weeks earlier, on Oct. 10.

“These long 14 months seemed like ages,” Masih told Compass. “There was one inmate, Ghulam Fareed, a rich man, who always harassed me, trying to coerce me to convert to Islam by saying he would make me rich and would send me abroad.”

Fareed, who also promised high quality education for Masih’s children, joined with Islamic extremists jailed for terrorist acts to beat him in an effort to force him to “come into the fold of Islam,” Masih said. While in jail, he said, his wife told him that their daughter had been beaten several times by the superintendent of police.

Masih and his daughter were charged under Section 295-B of the Pakistan Penal Code for blaspheming the Quran. Before charges were filed in October 2008, Masih said an initial incident occurred on Aug. 25, when Ashyana Gulsher found some burned pages of the Quran in a garbage dump outside their community of Chak No. 57, Chak Jhumra in the district of Faisalabad.

Masih said she handed the charred pages to a woman, Lubana Taj, saying, “These are the holy page of your Quran and I found them in the garbage, so you take it.”

There were still some pages left, which she gave to their neighbor, Khalida Rafiq, who burned them, he said.

“She had borrowed wheat from us a few weeks ago, and when my wife demanded it back, Khalida Rafiq said that we had burned pages of the Quran and was now accusing us of taking wheat,” Masih said. “Some other women of the village also accused my children of making paper airplanes of the pages of the Quran.”

The escalating conflict was defused with the help of other neighbors who knew the truth, he said, and local Muslim cleric Amam Hafiz Muhammad Ali also intervened, saying Masih’s daughter had done a good deed and questioning why the neighbor women were repaying her with evil.

“We thought that the matter was buried, but it arose again on Oct. 7, 2008,” Masih said. On that day 20-year-old Muhammad Qasim went throughout the village on bicycle exclaiming that Christians had burned the Quran, Masih said. Upon hearing this, village landlord Rana Sarwar called Masih and told him that his children had burned the Quran and had used pages to make paper airplanes.

“I told them that I was working in Asghar Christian Colony and never knew about the incident, and the son who had been accused of blasphemy had gone to school,” Masih said.

His accusers were unmoved, he said.

“In the evening when I was returning home, I heard announcements from several mosques that Christians had burned the Quran,” he said. “After hearing the announcement, people began pouring in. These announcements were made by Tariq son of Hafeez, Maqbool son of Hafeez and Maulana Tawaseel Bajwa.”

When Masih called emergency police, they arrested him and sent him to the Jhumra police station, Faisalabad.

“The police asked me where my children were, and when I told them that the children were in the village, the police went back to arrest them,” he said. “Rana Sarwar, Wajid Khan and Rana Naeem Khan came into the police station and argued that my children had blasphemed, so why was I the one being beaten? I told Rana Sarwar in front of the police that if my children have done this, then I was ready to bear consequences.”

Police told them that the crowd outside wanted to hang him and that this was why they had arrested him. Masih said that the next day Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) Yousuf Zai came and asked him why he had committed blasphemy.

“Rana Sarwar then told the DSP that it was all a political ploy, and that I had been implicated in the case for voting for the opposition party,” he said. “If that day those Christian Members of Parliamentary Assembly had spoken up, then the police complaint wouldn’t have been registered against me.”

Masih added that the station house officer felt that he was innocent but had become legally entangled due to lack of support from the community. Masih said that the next day, Oct. 8, a few Muslims gave conflicting statements against him when charges were filed.

“One said he saw me burning the pages of the Quran at 10 a.m., the other said that he saw me burning the pages at 12 p.m. and still another said that he saw me burning the pages of the Quran at 2 p.m.,” he said. “When I was sent in jail, the investigation office swore that I was innocent.”

In a further contradiction, the complainants accused him of cutting up pages of the Quran and tossing them in the air, not burning them, Tahir said.

The complainant in the case was Mohammad Farooq Alam, and other prosecution witnesses named were Mohammad Maqbool Ahmad and Mohammad Akber, according to Tahir.

Masih said that initially he appeared before Judge Zulfikar Lon, but that whenever a judge asked for witnesses, he was transferred.

“In this manner eight months passed, and then Judge Raja Mohammad Ghazanfar came” and refused to be transferred, Masih said.

After Tahir’s cross-examination of witnesses, Ghazanfar dropped all charges and ordered their release.

“During cross examination, I proved that the whole case was concocted, frivolous, fake and that the charges against the accused Christian brother were unfounded,” Tahir said.

Tahir said that he had provided only legal assistance to the victims, with Johnson Michael, chairman of the Bishop John Joseph Shaheed Trust, providing paralegal assistance. An MPA in the Punjab Parliament, Tahir is the body’s secretary for Human Rights and Minority Affairs and also serves as executive director of advocacy group Action Against Discriminatory Laws Trust Pakistan.

Report from Compass Direct News 

Egyptian Christian women forced to marry, convert to Islam


Coptic Christian women in Egypt are being forced to marry and convert to Islam and that oppression is part of a larger pattern of persecution against Christians facilitated by the Egyptian government, according to two recent reports, writes Baptist Press.

"Cases of abduction, forced conversion and marriage are usually accompanied by acts of violence which include rape, beatings, deprivation of food and other forms of physical and mental abuse," said a new assessment by Christian Solidarity International and the Coptic Foundation for Human Rights.

At the same time, the 2009 U.S. State Department report on international religious freedom noted the Egyptian government fails to prosecute crimes against Copts and even has taken a hand in destroying church property and, in one case, a government official reportedly raped a woman who had converted from Islam to Christianity.

About 90 percent of the Egyptian population is Sunni Muslim, and the rest primarily identify themselves as Coptic Christians, according to the Human Rights Watch report "Prohibited Identities: State Interference with Religious Freedom." Copts typically are underprivileged and experience discrimination.

Egyptian sex traffickers entice Coptic Christian women from low-income families by promising an escape from poverty, then force the women into Muslim "marriages" or outright slavery, according to the CSI/CFHR report.

"Such abuse remains covered in a cloak of silence and tacit acceptance, even though it is against the constitutional affirmations of civil rights," the report said.

Once a Coptic girl is coerced into marriage and Islamic conversion, her family will not take her back, and if she leaves her "husband," she is considered a "disgrace" to her family, the report said. In addition, the Coptic Orthodox Church excommunicates female members who wed Muslim men, the State Department said.

Since Islam is the "religion of state" in Egypt, conversion to Islam is easy, while returning to Christianity is unacceptable, the HRW report said. The Civil Status Department, which issues national identity cards, sometimes refuses to give Coptic women a new card identifying her as Christian since it is considered apostasy for a Coptic woman to leave Islam, even to return to her religion of origin.

Egyptian law requires every citizen to have an identity card for purposes such as voting, employment and education.

Most of the cases of Coptic women being coerced into marriage are not reported and "observers, including human rights groups, find it extremely difficult to determine whether compulsion was used, as most cases involve a female Copt who converts to Islam when she marries a Muslim male," the State Department report said.

In two examples of coerced conversion, CSI/CFHR reported Nov. 10:

— An Egyptian woman was raped and beaten since she would not have sex with the man she was forced to marry. The Coptic cross on her wrist was later removed with acid.

— Another woman was forced to marry a Muslim lawyer and work for him in "slave-like conditions" for five years.

John Eibner, CSI’s chief executive officer, urged President Obama in a letter to combat the trafficking of Christian women and girls in Egypt and to make sure the U.S. makes this issue a priority in its relations with Egypt.

"Trafficking of Christian women in Egypt is not a new phenomenon…. But this problem has now reached boiling point within Egypt’s Coptic community, which views it as symptomatic of a much broader pattern of religious persecution," Eibner said in his letter.

Report from the Christian Telegraph 

LEFT-LEANING EVANGELICALS MISLEADING YOUNG CHRISTIANS


Some prominent evangelicals who are backing the “hate crimes” bill awaiting a vote in the Senate are making a concerted effort to get evangelicals to abandon their traditionally conservative voting habits, report Jim Brown and Jody Brown, OneNewsNow.

The homosexual activist group Human Rights Campaign held a “Clergy Call” rally last week on Capitol Hill to urge passage of legislation that would add “gender identity” and “sexual orientation” to the list of protected categories under federal hate crimes law. HRC distributed statements from some influential evangelicals who support the bill, including Mercer University Christian ethicist David Gushee and Florida mega-church pastor Joel Hunter.

Pastor Hunter says he “strongly endorse[s]” S. 909* because it “protects both the rights of conservative religious people to voice passionately their interpretations of their scriptures and protects their fellow citizens from physical attack.”

Mark Tooley, president of the Washington-based Institute on Religion & Democracy (IRD), says such statements from figures like Hunter and Gushee are finding fertile ground — particularly among a new, younger generation of evangelicals.

“Clearly [these clergy] are a part of an evangelical left crowd who are strategically attempting to shift evangelicals away from conservative social issues to liberal economic and foreign policy [issues] — and in this case, in the case of hate crimes legislation, social issues as well,” he states.

In a statement released on Monday, Tooley argues that increasingly, the evangelical left is “indistinguishable from the secular left.”

“Christians of all traditions are called to transform the culture — not conform to it,” he says in reference to Romans 12:2. “But the evangelical left repeats arguments from The New York Times’ editorial page and seems to think such cultural conformity will win applause. History shows that accommodationist Christians are ultimately irrelevant Christians.”

The IRD president believes it is the responsibility of conservative evangelicals to reach out to young evangelicals who are identifying with the religious left, and point out to them that certain Christian traditions merit their support because they contain “intellectual and spiritual substance.”

Also participating in the HRC “Clergy Call” were liberal evangelist Tony Campolo and United Methodist trans-gendered pastor Drew Phoenix.

Report from the Christian Telegraph

PERSECUTED CHRISTIANS AMONG THE FIRST TO VOTE IN NATIONAL ELECTIONS


A breakthrough was made for believers in India this month when Christians were among the first to vote in India’s four-week national election, reports MNN.

In the fall of 2008, thousands of believers were forced from their homes, afraid for their lives, as persecution persisted in the form of extremist attacks.

Although the persecution has died down since then, hundreds of houses were burned and dozens of people were killed in the attacks, leaving many Christians to find refuge in government relief camps. Once attacks subsided, there was some fear that this persecuted minority may not be given the chance to vote.

It appears that believers have nothing to fear, however, as Orissa state (where persecution had been highest) was the kickoff spot for India’s national elections on April 16. According to a Gospel for Asia press release, government officials claimed the elections would start there so they could focus security in one area. Be this as it may, it’s nothing but good news for Christians.

Beginning the elections in a place that has been internationally noted for its violence toward Christians hopefully will allow believers to make quite an impact on the outcome of the election. So far, Christians have not been hindered from voting, and no direct violence has taken place.

“This is kind of a historic thing where in the past, things like this would bring fear and keep the Christians from voting,” says Danny Punnose of Gospel for Asia. “But this is going to bring a very loud statement to those in power that you cannot hurt minorities without repercussions taking place.”

The elections will not be over until May 16, when the results of the election for a new prime minister and 543 other new government representatives will be announced. Christians hope that their votes will help to establish a government who will not stand for the type of persecution that Christians have suffered in the past.

Pray that the elections will yield a government suitable to Christian concerns. In the meantime, continue to pray for the day-to-day trials that face Christ followers in India.

“Pray and ask the Lord that they would be able to stand strong no matter what comes their way, that their faith would be strong, and that they would be a witness to their neighbors. And that’s the greatest thing that they long for, that more people would come to know Jesus through their life.”

Report from the Christian Telegraph