We will not be able to put the COVID-19 pandemic behind us until the world’s population is mostly immune through vaccination or previous exposure to the disease.
A truly global vaccination campaign, however, would look very different from what we are seeing now. For example, as of January 20, many more people have been immunised in Israel (with a population less than 10 million) than in Africa and Latin America combined.
Notwithstanding recent questions about the effectiveness of the initial single dose of the vaccine, there is a clear disparity in vaccine rollouts internationally.
That is a problem. As long as there are still existing reservoirs of a propagating virus it will be able to spread again to populations that either cannot or would not vaccinate. It will also be able to mutate to variants that are either more transmissible or more deadly.
Counterintuitively, an increase in transmissibility, such as has been found with the new UK variant, is worse than the same percentage increase in mortality rate. This is because increased transmissibility increases the number of cases (and hence the number of deaths) exponentially, while an increase in mortality rates increases only deaths, and only linearly.
Evolutionary pressure on the virus will inevitably favour mutations that make the disease more transmissible, or the virus itself more vaccine-resistant. It is clear, therefore, that every nation’s interest is in universal vaccination. But this is not the trajectory we are on.
Fortunately, in the countries already vaccinating, the vaccine is (mostly) not allocated by wealth or power, but by prioritising those facing the highest risk. At a country level, however, national wealth is determining vaccine roll out.
Yet in the past we have managed to eradicate diseases worldwide, including small pox, a viral infection with much higher death rates than COVID-19.
There are two barriers that prevent us from rapidly pursuing a similar goal for the current pandemic:
big pharma is profit-driven and therefore keeps a tight lid on the intellectual property it is developing in the new vaccines
countries find it difficult to see beyond their national interest; not surprisingly, politicians are committed only to their own voters.
At this point, we don’t have a global system to confront either of these problems. Each vaccine’s patent is owned by its developer, and the World Health Organisation (WHO) is too weak to be the world’s Ministry of Health.
Should children get the COVID-19 vaccine?
Overcoming big pharma’s profit motive has been achieved before, however.
In 1955, Jonas Salk announced the development of a polio vaccine in the midst of a huge epidemic. The news initially met with scepticism. Even employees of his own laboratory resigned, protesting that he was moving too fast with clinical experimentation.
When a huge placebo–controlled clinical trial involving 1.6 million children proved him right, however, he declared that in order to maximise the global distribution of this lifesaving vaccine his lab would not patent it. Asked who owned the patent, he famously replied:
Well, the people I would say. There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?
In an echo of the current moment, Israel (then a new state) was also experiencing a rapidly spreading polio epidemic. Efforts to purchase vaccines from the US were unsuccessful, as not all American children were yet vaccinated. So a scientist named Natan Goldblum was sent to Salk’s laboratory to learn how to make the new vaccine.
No lawyers were involved and no contracts signed. The young Dr Goldblum spent 1956 setting up manufacturing facilities for Salk’s vaccine in Israel and by early 1957 mass vaccination was underway.
Israel, a small and relatively poor country in the 1950s, became the third country in the world (after the US and Denmark) to produce the vaccine locally and eventually eradicate polio. It took a handful of scientists, a modest budget and, most importantly, no patenting.
Like Salk, Goldblum was aware viruses have complete disregard for political borders. He was also involved in a very successful Palestinian polio vaccination campaign in Gaza.
More recently, a highly successful international campaign in the early 2000s saw AIDS treatments distributed in poorer countries. Pharmaceutical companies that owned the patented drugs were forced to supply them at cost or for free, not at market prices set in the rich countries. This was achieved through public pressure and the willingness of governments to support the required policies.
A temporary withdrawal of the patenting rights to the successful COVID-19 vaccines, with or without compensation for the developers, seems a small price to pay for an exit strategy from this global and incredibly costly crisis.
Overcoming national interest is perhaps more complicated. Clearly, countries have an interest in vaccinating their most vulnerable populations first. But at some point, well before everyone is vaccinated, it becomes more efficient for countries to start vaccinating their neighbours (the countries they are most exposed to through movements of people and trade).
Disappointingly, rich countries today behave as though they will reach 100% vaccination rates before they give away a single dose, with many having bought well in excess of what is needed for 100% coverage.
The COVAX plan to distribute vaccines in poorer countries has so far been an under-funded effort that has not yet delivered a single dose of vaccine. Even if COVAX were to be fully funded, it mostly aims to donate an insufficient number of vaccine doses to the poorest countries, rather than really bring about a universal vaccination programme.
Nevertheless, overcoming the profit-maximising interest of big pharma and the national focus of governments is not a pipe dream. The world has done it before.
Ilan Noy, Professor and Chair in the Economics of Disasters and Climate Change, Te Herenga Waka — Victoria University of Wellington and Ami Neuberger, Clinical Assistant Professor, Technion – Israel Institute of Technology
This year’s Australian Conference of Economists takes place in Melbourne on July 14-16.
During the conference The Conversation will publish a selection of pieces written by the authors of papers to be delivered at the conference.
Since the surprise re-election of the Coalition, there has been renewed debate about the role the “aspirational” Australian played in the final outcome. The debate is taking place against the backdrop where income inequality has been growing in most developed countries over the past half-, including in Australia.
Bureau of Statistics figures released on Friday show that the wealth of Australia’s wealthiest households has grown much faster than the wealth of the rest.
Household net worth by quintile (top fifth to bottom fifth)
Over the course of the 20th century, income equality has been U-shaped, a point noted by French economist Thomas Piketty and Australia’s Productivity Commission.
In Australia, the income share of the top 1 per cent peaked at 14% in 1950, then fell to a low of 5% in the early 1980s before climbing again to 9% by 2015.
Wealth inequality has also followed a long term U-pattern, and in many countries wealth is even more concentrated than income.
The Productivity Commission finds that in Australia, a person at in the top 10% of wealth distribution has 40 times as much wealth as a person in the bottom 10%. That person has four times as much income.
Income shares of the top 1%, by country
In a paper to be presented to the Australian Conference of Economists in Melbourne on Tuesday, my colleague Monica Jurin and I shed light on wealth inequality over the past three decades through the lens of Australia’s super rich – the richest 200 households and families.
Based on the Rich List, compiled by the Business Review Weekly since the 1980s, and now updated annually by the Australian Financial Review, we examine the importance of inherited wealth versus entrepreneurship among Australia’s super rich.
The Rich List confirms the rise in wealth inequality. In 2019, the richest 200 families accounted for 3.6% of the aggregate net worth of all Australian families, up significantly from 2.3% in 1989.
But the importance of inherited wealth appears to have diminished.
Those with inherited wealth and family businesses today make up one-third of the super rich, well below 43% in 1989, with a gradual decline over each of the past three decades. Inherited wealth by itself accounts for 37% of the Rich List’s net worth today, well below 55% in 1989.
The emergence of technology entrepreneurs such as Mike Cannon-Brookes and and Scott Farquar, founders of software company Atlassian, stand out.
Today, the technology sector accounts for almost 8% of the Rich List’s net worth, compared to almost none in 1989.
The results seem somewhat less egalitarian when we examine whether those on the list have appeared on it before.
For instance Frank Lowy, co-founder of Westfield, is considered to be self made. But once on the list, he remained on in each of the four decades we examined.
Whatever the sources of one’s entry to the Rich List, members like Mr Lowy provide evidence of persistence. Conditional on being on the list a decade earlier, members have a slightly higher probability of remaining on it than they did in 1999, controlling for death and other factors.
They find that inherited wealth has become less important and being college educated has become more important.
In Australia we find that a substantially higher share of the richest individuals are tertiary qualified today than they were in 1989, but we are reluctant to draw strong conclusions because the entire society has greater access to tertiary education than it did in 1989.
The super rich have occupied a unique place in modern Australian culture since the emergence of conspicuous entrepreneurs and the emergence of the Rich List in the 1980s.
They are changing, and probably in a good way, even as inequality is growing.
The latest data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics confirms household wealth has fallen, on the back of falling house prices, in the past year.
But it’s not all bad news. There are signs of hope in the portents for the next six months.
During the first quarter of this year, the net worth of all Australian households rose 0.2% to A$10.2 trillion. Total household net worth in March 2019 was 0.7% lower than in March 2018, largely because of steep falls over the final six months of 2018.
The per capita annual decline was larger, falling by about 2.4%, because of population growth. This means the average wealth of Australians dropped by about A$9,500, from A$414,400 to A$404,900.
This household “balance sheet event” – defined as an annual decline in household sector net wealth – is the third in the past 30 years. The other two were through the Global Financial Crisis of 2008 and immediately after.
Housing (land and dwellings) comprises 52% of household-sector assets. Superannuation comprises 24%. Property values fluctuate with real estate prices, while superannuation is highly exposed to volatility within the financial markets.
The next chart highlights the relationship between changes in household net worth and spending on discretionary items and durable goods.
But what is interesting is that consumer sentiment has not been significantly affected.
The following chart shows household net worth vs Westpac’s consumer sentiment data. This is the first major downturn in household net wealth in 30 years that has not coincided with weaker consumer sentiment.
It’s hard to know for certain why consumer confidence has remained relatively steady, but two things stand out.
First, the consumer financial adjustment has been orderly and deliberate as opposed to rapid and forced. It appears people have consciously adjusted spending and savings patterns to achieve long-term savings goals.
Second, there has been ongoing strength in the labour market. Despite falling wealth, people still have jobs and this reinforces confidence.
It is safe to say consumers will start spending more once they feel their asset position has stabilised.
Strong equity markets have played a big role in shoring up household wealth since the start of this year. As the next chart demonstrates, they could continue to do so over the period ahead.
But the big swing factor is house prices – specifically land values. The Reserve Bank’s interest rate cuts should help stabilise house prices over the second half of 2019.
Our last chart suggests this appears to have started, with auction clearance rates improving in recent months.
This all suggests household wealth could start growing again in the second half of the year. That should go a long way to stabilising the economy.
Recent commentary on levels of inequality exposes the myth that Australia is an egalitarian society in which the privileges of birth have little currency.
Focusing on inequality in the distribution of incomes ignores an equally important dimension of inequality: wealth. Wealth is much more unequally distributed than income. Therefore, ignoring wealth inequality skews perceptions of social inequality.
Perceptions of the levels of income and wealth inequality are derived from our day-to-day experiences. This means that not mixing with people from the other end of the wealth distribution can colour our perceptions of inequality.
The lack of official data on the wealth holdings of Australians hampers research into trends in wealth inequality. Between 1915 and 2003-04, there is almost no official wealth data to examine.
In 2003-04, the wealthiest 20% of Australian households held 58.6% of total household wealth, and the poorest 20% of households held just 1.4% of total household wealth. In 2013-14, the wealthiest 20% of households held 61% of total household wealth, and the poorest 20% of households held just 1% of total household wealth.
These figures indicate that wealth inequality increased over the decade to 2013-14.
The table below details trends over time in various measures of wealth inequality. The P90 to P10 ratio compares the wealth of households at the 90th percentile with that of households at the tenth percentile. A larger ratio indicates greater levels of inequality.
In 2003-04, households at the 90th percentile held 45 times as much wealth as households at the tenth percentile. In 2013-14, households at the 90th percentile of the distribution held 52 times as much wealth as households at the tenth percentile. This indicates that wealth inequality increased in that decade.
Using the mean and median household wealth figures, it is possible to calculate the ratio of median to mean wealth.
The closer this ratio is to one, the lower the level of inequality. In 2003-04, the ratio was 0.63. In 2013-14, it was 0.57. This also indicates that wealth inequality increased.
The distribution of household wealth also varies between Australia’s state and territories, and by location within states and territories.
Households in the ACT recorded the highest mean household wealth (A$890,100). Households in Tasmania recorded the lowest mean household wealth ($595,600).
When these figures are disaggregated by location into capital city households and households located in the rest of the state, the largest wealth gap occurs in New South Wales. The mean wealth of households in Sydney was $971,700, whereas the mean wealth of households in the rest of NSW was $534,700.
The median-to-mean-wealth ratios show wealth was most unequally distributed in Brisbane and Perth.
Given a relatively large proportion of household wealth is held in the form of property assets, the recently released Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia Survey report identifies property as the key driver of increasing wealth inequality.
The percentage of 18-to-39-year-olds with property declined by 10.5 percentage points between 2002 and 2014. And the level of debt of those with a mortgage doubled in real terms.
So, fewer young adults have mortgages now compared to a decade ago, and those who do have mortgages have higher levels of debt.
Two other sources of publicly available data on wealth are the lists of the super-wealthy published annually by the Business Review Weekly in Australia and Forbes in the US.
Figures published in the Business Review Weekly show that, after adjusting for inflation, in 1984 the wealthiest 20 Australians held $8.25 billion in assets. In 2017, the wealthiest 20 Australians held $104 billion.
Forbes’ lists of billionaires (in $US) show that the number of billionaires living in Australia increased from two to 26 between 1987 and 2014.
Having an increasing number of billionaires would not be an issue if all Australians’ wealth was increasing at a similar rate. However, if the gap between the wealth of the billionaires and that of the average residents increases dramatically, there is likely to be discontent.
Further reading: Don’t listen to the rich: inequality is bad for everyone
Drawing on figures published in the Credit Suisse Wealth Report, it is possible to compare the wealth of the billionaires with that of average Australians.
In 2014, the wealth of the 26 Australian billionaires was equivalent to 214,914 adults with average wealth.
Recent turmoil in the UK and the US may be an indicator that the “peasants are revolting” and are not willing to return to the 19th century, when the very rich lorded over the masses.
Australia has yet to experience mass demonstrations and voter backlashes. But events overseas should be ringing alarm bells among our politicians in Canberra.
Taliban takes responsibility, but medical organization unsure of killers’ identity.
ISTANBUL, August 12 (CDN) — The killing of a team of eye medics, including eight Christian aid workers, in a remote area of Afghanistan last week was likely the work of opportunistic gunmen whose motives are not yet clear, the head of the medical organization said today.
On Friday (Aug. 6), 10 medical workers were found shot dead next to their bullet-ridden Land Rovers. The team of two Afghan helpers and eight Christian foreigners worked for the International Assistance Mission (IAM). They were on their way back to Kabul after having provided medical care to Afghans in one of the country’s remotest areas.
Afghan authorities have not been conclusive about who is responsible for the deaths nor the motivation behind the killings. In initial statements last week the commissioner of Badakhshan, where the killings took place, said it was an act of robbers. In the following days, the Taliban took responsibility for the deaths.
The Associated Press reported that a Taliban spokesman said they had killed them because they were spies and “preaching Christianity.” Another Taliban statement claimed that they were carrying Dari-language Bibles, according to the news agency. Initially the attack was reported as a robbery, which IAM Executive Director Dirk Frans said was not true.
“There are all these conflicting reports, and basically our conclusion is that none of them are true,” Frans told Compass. “This was an opportunistic attack where fighters had been displaced from a neighboring district, and they just happened to know about the team. I think this was an opportunistic chance for them to get some attention.”
A new wave of tribal insurgents seeking territory, mineral wealth and smuggling routes has arisen that, taken together, far outnumber Taliban rebels, according to recent U.S. intelligence reports.
Frans added that he is expecting more clarity as authorities continue their investigations.
He has denied the allegation that the members of their medical team were proselytizing.
“IAM is a Christian organization – we have never hidden this,” Frans told journalists in Kabul on Monday (Aug. 9). “Indeed, we are registered as such with the Afghan government. Our faith motivates and inspires us – but we do not proselytize. We abide by the laws of Afghanistan.”
IAM has been registered as a non-profit Christian organization in Afghanistan since 1966.
Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, a former political candidate, dismissed the Taliban’s claims that team members were proselytizing or spying, according to the BBC.
“These were dedicated people,” Abdullah said according to the BBC report. “Tom Little used to work in Afghanistan with his heart – he dedicated half of his life to service the people of Afghanistan.”
Abdullah had trained as an eye surgeon under Tom Little, 62, an optometrist who led the team that was killed last week. Little and his family had lived in Afghanistan for more than 30 years with IAM providing eye care.
IAM has provided eye care and medical help in Afghanistan since 1966. In the last 44 years, Frans estimates they have provided eye care to more than 5 million Afghans.
Frans said he doesn’t think that Christian aid workers are particularly targeted, since every day there are many Afghan casualties, and the insurgents themselves realize they need the relief efforts.
“We feel that large parts of the population are very much in favor of what we do,” he said. “The people I met were shocked [by the murders]; they knew the members of the eye care team, and they were shocked that selfless individuals who are going out of their way to actually help the Afghan people … they are devastated.”
The team had set up a temporary medical and eye-treatment camp in the area of Nuristan for two and a half weeks, despite heavy rains and flooding affecting the area that borders with Pakistan.
Nuristan communities had invited the IAM medical team. Afghans of the area travelled from the surrounding areas to receive treatment in the pouring rain, said Little’s wife in a CNN interview earlier this week, as she recalled a conversation with her husband days before he was shot.
Little called his wife twice a day and told her that even though it was pouring “sheets of rain,” hundreds of drenched people were gathering from the surrounding areas desperate to get medical treatment.
The Long Path Home
The team left Nuristan following a difficult path north into Badakhshan that was considered safer than others for reaching Kabul. Frans said the trek took two days in harsh weather, and the team had to cross a mountain range that was 5,000 meters high.
“South of Nuristan there is a road that leads into the valley where we had been asked to come and treat the eye patients, and a very easy route would have been through the city of Jalalabad and then up north to Parun, where we had planned the eye camp,” Frans told Compass. “However, that area of Nuristan is very unsafe.”
When the team ended their trek and boarded their vehicles, the armed group attacked them and killed all but one Afghan member of the team. Authorities and IAM believe the team members were killed between Aug. 4 and 5. Frans said he last spoke with Little on Aug. 4.
IAM plans eye camps in remote areas every two years due to the difficulty of preparing for the work and putting a team together that is qualified and can endure the harsh travel conditions, he said.
“We have actually lost our capacity to do camps like this in remote areas because we lost two of our veteran people as well as others we were training to take over these kinds of trips,” Frans said.
The team of experts who lost their lives was composed of two Afghan Muslims, Mahram Ali and another identified only as Jawed; British citizen Karen Woo, German Daniela Beyer, and U.S. citizens Little, Cheryl Beckett, Brian Carderelli, Tom Grams, Glenn Lapp and Dan Terry.
“I know that the foreign workers of IAM were all committed Christians, and they felt this was the place where they needed to live out their life in practice by working with and for people who have very little access to anything we would call normal facilities,” said Frans. “The others were motivated by humanitarian motives. All of them in fact were one way or another committed to the Afghan people.”
The two Afghans were buried earlier this week. Little and Terry, who both had lived in the war-torn country for decades, will be buried in Afghanistan.
Despite the brutal murders, Frans said that as long as the Afghans and their government continue to welcome them, IAM will stay.
“We are here for the people, and as long as they want us to be here and the government in power gives us the opportunity to work here, we are their guests and we’ll stay, God willing,” he said.
On Sunday (Aug. 8), at his home church in Loudonville, New York, Dr. Tom Hale, a medical relief worker himself, praised the courage and sacrifice of the eight Christians who dedicated their lives to helping Afghans.
“Though this loss has been enormous, I want to state my conviction that this loss is not senseless; it is not a waste,” said Hale. “Remember this: those eight martyrs in Afghanistan did not lose their lives, they gave up their lives.”
Days before the team was found dead, Little’s wife wrote about their family’s motivation to stay in Afghanistan through “miserable” times. Libby Little described how in the 1970s during a citizens’ uprising they chose not to take shelter with other foreigners but to remain in their neighborhood.
“As the fighting worsened and streets were abandoned, our neighbors fed us fresh bread and sweet milk,” she wrote. “Some took turns guarding our gate, motioning angry mobs to ‘pass by’ our home. When the fighting ended, they referred to us as ‘the people who stayed.’
“May the fruitful door of opportunity to embrace suffering in service, or at least embrace those who are suffering, remain open for the sake of God’s kingdom,” she concluded.
Concern for Afghan Christians
Afghanistan’s population is estimated at 28 million. Among them are very few Christians. Afghan converts are not accepted by the predominantly Muslim society. In recent months experts have expressed concern over political threats against local Christians.
At the end of May, private Afghan TV station Noorin showed images of Afghan Christians being baptized and praying. Within days the subject of Afghans leaving Islam for Christianity became national news and ignited a heated debate in the Parliament and Senate. The government conducted formal investigations into activities of Christian aid agencies. In June IAM successfully passed an inspection by the Afghan Ministry of Economy.
In early June the deputy secretary of the Afghan Parliament, Abdul Sattar Khawasi, called for the execution of converts, according to Agence France-Presse (AFP).
“Those Afghans that appeared on this video film should be executed in public,” he said, according to the AFP. “The house should order the attorney general and the NDS (intelligence agency) to arrest these Afghans and execute them.”
Small protests against Christians ensued in Kabul and other towns, and two foreign aid groups were accused of proselytizing and their activities were suspended, news sources reported.
A source working with the Afghan church who requested anonymity said she was concerned that the murders of IAM workers last week might negatively affect Afghan Christians and Christian aid workers.
“The deaths have the potential to shake the local and foreign Christians and deeply intimidate them even further,” said the source. “Let’s pray that it will be an impact that strengthens the church there but that might take awhile.”
Report from Compass Direct News
One community in Punjab Province faces threat from grenade, another from bulldozer.
SARGODHA, Pakistan, July 13 (CDN) — Christian communities in two areas came under attack in Punjab Province earlier this month.
In Sargodha, an unidentified motorcyclist on July 1 tossed a grenade in front of the gates of St. Filian’s Church of Pakistan, next to a small Christian-owned amusement park where children were playing, Christian sources said.
One of the owners of the playground, Shehzad Masih, said the hand-made grenade was thrown just before 9 p.m., when hot summer weather had cooled and the park was crammed with parents and their children. It did not explode.
Masih said children told him that after throwing the grenade, the motorcyclist sped away, disappearing into the traffic of University Road in Sargodha, a major street where government offices are located. Masih said police confirmed that it was an explosive device that did not go off.
The Rev. Pervez Iqbal of St. Filian’s said the Bomb Disposal Squad and New Satellite Town police took the grenade away. High-ranking police officials cordoned off the area, declaring a “High Red Alert” in Sargodha, he added. He and Masih said the whole area was evacuated.
“By the grace of God, that hand grenade did not go off, and there was no loss of life or property despite the fact that the alleged militant made his best efforts to throw it close to the entrance of the church, possibly inside the church,” Iqbal said.
A retired member of the army who now serves as a clergyman told Compass that a standard hand grenade normally has eight ounces of explosive material capable of killing within 30 to 50 yards.
“Nowadays Muslim militants are able to make their own hand-made grenades,” he said on condition of anonymity, adding that the explosive content in the undetonated grenade has not been revealed.
Area Christians said the attempted attack comes after many Christian clergymen and heads of Christian organizations received threatening letters from Islamic militants.
In spite of the incident, the following Sunday service took place at its usual time.
Iqbal told Compass that police have taken no special measures to protect the church building since the attempted attack, though a police patrol vehicle is stationed outside the church gate.
“This is the only measure taken by the police to beef up security at the church,” he said.
At a small village near Sheikhupura, Punjab Province, a church building and Christian homes came under threat of demolition on July 5. Islamic extremists issued threats as, accompanied by local police, they intended to demolish the Apostolic Church Pakistan structure in Lahorianwali, Narang Mandi, with a bulldozer, area Christians said.
Assistant Sub-Inspector Rana Rauf led Narang Mandi police and the extremists in an attempted demolition that was averted with the intervention of Christian leaders who called in district police.
The attempted assault followed the arrest on July 1 of local influential Muslim Muhammad Zulfiqar, who had forcibly stopped renovation of a church wall on that day; he was released the same day.
“Rana Rauf disdainfully used derogatory remarks against Christians, calling them ‘Gadha [donkey],’ and said they go astray unless a whip is used to beat them and show them the straight path,” said Yousaf Masih, a Christian who also had been arrested and released on July 1, when Rauf, Zulfiqar and the extremists stopped the renovation work.
Another area Christian, Zulfiqar Gill, told Compass that the Islamic extremists threatened the Christians in the July 5 incident.
“They said that if we ever tried to rebuild the walls or renovate the frail Apostolic Church building, they would create a scene here like Gojra,” said Gill. On Aug. 1, 2009, Islamic assailants acting on a false rumor of blaspheming the Quran and whipped into frenzy by local imams attacked a Christian colony in Gojra, burning at least seven Christians to death, injuring 19 others, looting more than 100 houses and setting fire to 50 of them. The dead included women and children.
Khalid Gill of the Christian Lawyers’ Foundation said Zulfiqar has tried to illegally obtain the church property and attacked the structure twice previously in the past two years. Younas Masih said Zulfiqar demolished one of the church walls on Oct. 8, 2008, and local Christian Akber Masih said Zulfiqar set aflame the tents and decorations of a Christmas Service at the Apostolic Church Pakistan in 2009.
In each case, Christians filed charges against Zulfiqar, but because of his wealth and influence he was never arrested, area Christians said.
A Deputy District Officer Revenue report states that Zulfiqar has illegally occupied land and wishes to seize the church property and the house of an assistant pastor. Zulfiqar has already demolished the house of the assistant pastor, Waris Masih, according to the report.
Lahorianwali is a predominantly Islamic village of more than 350 Muslim families and only 36 Christian families, sources said.
Report from Compass Direct News
Rival merchants threatened to kill potato seller if refused to convert to Islam.
MIAN CHANNU, Pakistan, March 22 (CDN) — Six Muslims in Khanewal district, southern Punjab Province, killed a Christian with multiple axe blows for refusing to convert to Islam this month, according to family and police sources.
The six men had threatened to kill 36-year-old Rasheed Masih unless he converted to Islam when they grew resentful of his potato business succeeding beyond their own, according to Masih’s younger brother Munir Asi and a local clergyman. The rival merchants allegedly killed him after luring him to their farmhouse on March 9, leaving him on a roadside near Kothi Nand Singh village in the wee hours of the next day.
The Rev. Iqbal Masih of the Mian Channu Parish of the Church of Pakistan said Rasheed Masih was a devoted Christian, and that both he and his brother Asi had refused the Muslims’ pressure to convert to Islam.
“As the Christian family strengthened in business and earned more, the Muslim men began to harbor business resentment, as Muslims are not used to seeing Christians more respected and richer than them,” the pastor said. “That business rivalry gradually changed into a faith rivalry.”
Mian Channu police have registered a case against the six men and an investigation is underway, but the suspects are still at large, police officers told Compass. Police said the suspects were Ghulam Rasool, Muhammad Asif, Muhammad Amjad, one identified only as Kashif and two other unidentified Muslims; they were charged with torture and murder.
Masih’s family lives in Babo John Colony, Mian Channu of Khanewal district. Masih’s brother Asi is a representative of the Council of Mian Channu.
“Our continuous denial to recant our faith and convert gradually turned into enmity,” Asi told Compass. The FIR further states, “Both the Muslim men [Rasool and Asif] were not only inviting them to Islam but hurling threats of dire consequences and death on them for the last six months in case they refused to convert.”
Police said Rasool – a radical Muslim who along with Asif had threatened to kill the brothers if they did not convert, according to Asi – called Rasheed Masih to his farmhouse ostensibly to purchase potatoes on March 9, and that Rasheed went to it by motorbike at about 5:30 p.m. Waiting for Masih there, police said, were Rasool and Asif with an axe, Amjad and Kashif with iron rods and the two unknown Muslims with clubs.
They began striking him as soon as he arrived, police said.
An autopsy under the supervision of Dr. Muhammad Khalid of Tehsil Headquarters Hospital Mian Channu revealed 24 wounds all over the body of Masih, according to a copy of the report obtained by Compass.
“In my opinion, cause of death in this case is due to the shock caused by all the above-mentioned injuries collectively and torture,” Khalid states in the report. “All the injuries are ante-mortem and sufficient to cause death in an ordinary course of nature.”
According to the FIR, when Asi and two Christian friends went to the farmhouse when Masih failed to return after a few hours, they were stunned to hear Masih shrieking as they witnessed him being beaten and struck with an axe.
“As Ghulam Rasool and his accomplices saw me at the farmhouse,” Asi told police, according to the FIR, “the Muslim men put my fatally injured brother on a motorcycle and then threw him off the road near village Kothi Nand Singh.”
Asi and his Christian friends found Masih by the roadside after he had succumbed to his injuries. The Muslims had absconded with Masih’s motorcycle and 350,000 rupees (US$4,088), as well as his cell phone, according to the FIR.
As Asi and his Christian friends were on their way to the hospital with the body of Masih, a city police station patrol met them and transferred the body to the Tehsil Headquarters Hospital Mian Channu.
At press time the Muslim suspects were at large even though police have filed a case strong enough to apprehend and prosecute them, Asi said. He appealed for assistance from Christian rights groups and politicians, as his family is still receiving death threats in a bid to intimidate them into withdrawing the case, he said, and they feel powerless in comparison with the influence and wealth of the Muslim suspects.
Report from Compass Direct News
Clergy believe attacks were religiously motivated.
ISTANBUL, April 28 (Compass Direct News) – Gunmen in Iraq shot five Chaldean Catholic Christians in their Kirkuk homes on Sunday (April 26) in two separate attacks, killing three and injuring two.
Cousins Suzan Latif David and Muna Banna David were killed at 10 p.m. in a suburb of the northern Iraqi city. Within a few minutes, Yousif Shaba and his sons Thamir and Basil were also shot in the same area, leaving the 17-year-old Basil dead. Yousif Shaba and Thamir were in critical condition.
Police have not stated if the two attacks were related, but they confirmed the arrest of nine men linked with the assault, a source told Compass. One of them is from the former insurgent stronghold of Ramadi and has suspected links to Al Qaeda.
Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Kirkuk Louis Sako said the attacks aimed to split the community. Yesterday he presided over the murder victims’ funeral, which the city police chief and provincial governor also attended.
“The main object of these crimes is to create chaos and promote strife and division among the people of Kirkuk,” Sako said, according to Reuters. “I call on Christians not to be jarred by these crimes and stay in Kirkuk. We are sons of this city.”
Kirkuk Province Gov. Abdul Rahman Mustafa echoed the archbishop’s comments, calling on Kirkuk’s citizens to stand united against the terrorists.
Violence has struck the nation’s Christian community particularly hard since the Iraq war began in 2003. Left mostly defenseless in sectarian violence, Christians have been targeted for kidnapping under the assumption that they can garner a large ransom.
Chaldean Christians have been hardest hit in the northern city of Mosul, where thousands of families have fled since an uptick in violence started last October. Some locals believe Kurdish groups are trying to intimidate them into leaving so they can incorporate the city into the semi-autonomous Kurdish region.
But Kirkuk has largely avoided the sectarian bloodshed of the region. For this reason clergy believe the five Christians were targeted purely for their religion.
“They were peaceful Christian families, not involved in any political affiliation or such activities,” said Father Emanuel Youkhana of Christian Aid Program Nohadra Iraq, a local humanitarian organization. “What were they involved in that they be targeted in such a brutal way?
He added that most locals believe the two attacks were coordinated in order to terrorize Christians, as they occurred only a few minutes apart from each other.
“It was not just an accident that the two attacks happened in the same city on the same day at the same time,” he said.
The oil-rich city of Kirkuk has been caught in a tug-of-war between its Arab and Kurdish residents. Arabs were resettled there during Saddam Hussein’s regime, and Kurds have been moving back to reclaim the homes from which they were forcibly expelled.
But other groups have criticized Kurds for their massive immigration, charging that it is a means to annex the city – and its oil wealth – into the Kurdish region. Kirkuk has a small population of native Christians, with many moving here in recent decades to work in the oil industry. The Christian population is approximately 7,000.
Local police and officials have blamed Al Qaeda for the murders. Fr. Youkhana said there has been no evidence of Al Qaeda involvement, but that “for sure” it was a fundamentalist Islamic terrorist attack. He said security forces are often quick to blame foreign-based Al Qaeda rather than call attention to a violent, homegrown organization.
An Eastern rite denomination in communion with Rome, the Chaldean Catholic Church is Iraq’s largest Christian community.
Report from Compass Direct News
In same district, Muslim land-grabbers murder defender of tribal villagers.
DHAKA, Bangladesh, December 26 (Compass Direct News) – Buddhist villagers in southeastern Bangladesh’s Rangamati district last week beat a young father and drove him from his house for converting to Christianity.
The Buddhists in Asambosti, in the Tabalchari area some 300 kilometers (186 miles) southeast of Dhaka, warned Sujan Chakma, 27, not to return to his home after beating him on Dec. 18. Chakma, who converted to Christianity about four months ago, has come back to his home but some nights the likelihood of attacks forces him to remain outside.
He is often unable to provide for his 26-year-old wife, Shefali Chakma, and their 6-year-old son, as area residents opposed to his faith refuse to give him work as a day laborer. Chakma, his wife and son do not eat on days he does not work, he said.
“I am ostracized by my neighbors since I became Christian,” Chakma said. “They put pressure on me to give up my faith, saying otherwise I cannot live in this society. Nothing daunted me, I held firm to my faith in Jesus. On Dec. 18, four of my neighbors came to my home and beat me. They slapped and punched on me. Later they forced me to leave my house. They threatened me that if I come back to my home, I will be in great trouble.”
Neighbors have threatened to beat him again and to send him to jail, he said, and they have pressured him to divorce to his wife.
“At first she did not like my conversion, but she liked my change after accepting Jesus,” he said. “My wife told openly to those neighbors, ‘My husband is a Christian, so I will be a Christian along with my son.’”
A spokesman for Chakma’s church, Parbatta Adivasi Christian Church, said church leaders met with some of the new convert’s neighbors and urged them to accept him.
“We told them that our constitution supports that anyone can accept any religion,” the church spokesman said. “Hindering their practice is unlawful.”
Church leaders said they fear that taking the case to local officials and police would only further anger local Buddhists and harm evangelical activities.
“We do not want to enrage anyone over this incident,” said the spokesman. “But Chakma does not feel secure to stay here. He does not spend the night in his house for security reasons.”
Rights Advocate Murdered
Earlier this year in Rangamati district, Bengali Muslim settlers killed a tribal Christian for defending indigenous peoples from illegal land-grabs.
On Aug. 19 Ladu Moni Chakma, 55, was stabbed repeatedly and his throat was cut at Sajek in Baghaichuri sub-district in Rangamati district after he reported to the Chittagong Hill Tracts Commission how a military commander helped settle Bengali Muslims on area lands.
A pastor of the Bangladesh Baptist Church in the district told Compass that Chakma was killed because he was a Christian who was an outspoken defender of minorities in the area.
“They do not want any Christian to live here,” the pastor said. “They hate Christians more than any other minority religions – it is one of the main reasons to evict and kill Ladu Moni. If people become Christian, many NGOs [Non-Governmental Organizations] will be set up here, and various local and international missionaries will look after them, so that Bengali settlers cannot grab lands illegally.”
Chakma often interceded with the Chittagong Hill Tract Commission on behalf of the indigenous people about their rights and the cruel manner in which Bengali settlers illegally took lands from indigenous people, the pastor added.
Chakma’s widow, Cikonpudi Chakma, also known as Minti Chakma, told reporters in Dhaka on Aug. 28 how the Bengali settlers attacked her family around 10:30 p.m. in Aug. 19.
“Some people were shouting, ‘Open the door! Open the door!’” she said. “Without realizing anything what was going on, three Bengali people broke in our shanty hut.”
She saw knives in their hand and recognized a local man named Mohammed Ali, who earlier in the year had helped settlers seize lands from villagers.
The attackers blindfolded her and dragged her husband out of their home into the rain. They also tried to take her 13-year old daughter, Minu, she said.
“I resisted them taking out my daughter, and I was injured during the tussle with them,” she said. “They hit my forehead with a knife.”
She and her children fled through a backdoor and escaped certain rape and death by jumping down a ravine and rolling to the bottom. Drenched, they took shelter at a nearby home.
“I could not contact my husband that night,” she said. “The next morning, we were returning [to] our home. On the way near Baghaihat, we saw a blood-stained, stock-still body. It was my husband. His body was mutilated and stabbed with sharp knife and machete.”
Police sub-inspector Azizur Rahman Aziz of Baghaichari police station told Compass that his department had arrested three persons in connection with the killing of Chakma.
“We are investigating the case, and after the national election [to be] held on Jan. 29, we will submit the charge sheet,” he said.
Chakma’s widow urged the army-backed interim caretaker government to withdraw settlers from Sajek in Baghaichari and punish the murderers of her husband.
In April, mainly Muslim Bengali settlers aided by the army and a local businessman burned 77 homes in four villages of the tribal people in Sajek, Cikonpudi Chakma told reporters in August.
“In that arson attack, all of our wealth and assets were destroyed,” she said. “Just a week after, we again built a new house. At that time, Mohammad Ali tried to stop us making a new house and demanded that our land was his. The problem started when the Baghaihat zone army commander brought settlers from different areas and took initiative to settle them on our lands.”
Survival International director Stephen Corry said in a statement that the attacks were a “criminal human rights violation.” According to the Survival International, abuses have escalated since the army-backed emergency government came to power in January 2007.
In the Baghaichari area, at least 13 Christian families lived among 77 tribal Buddhist families until the Christians’ homes were burned down in April.
The Chittagong Hill Tracts region comprises three districts: Bandarban, Khagrachuri and Rangamati. The region is surrounded by the Indian states of Tripura on the north and Mizoram on the east, Myanmar on the south and east.
Report from Compass Direct News