Monday, November 30, 2009

China House Church Leaders Sentenced

A court in northern China has sentenced five leaders of an unauthorized Protestant church to prison terms of up to seven years on charges including illegal assembly.

The sentences are among the harshest in recent years for members of so-called "house churches" - congregations that refuse to register and accept the authority of the government's Religious Affairs Bureau.
Arrests stemmed from a Sept. 13 raid by police and hired security guards on sunrise services held in a dormitory building by the 50,000-member Linfen Fushan Church in Linfen, northern Shanxi province, rights groups and the advocacy Web site reported.

Those sentenced late Wednesday, November 25th, by the Linfen Intermediate Court included the church's pastor Wang Xiaoguang and his wife Yang Rongli, who both received the maximum sentence. Yang was apparently targeted for her efforts to petition local authorities on Wang's behalf, Boxun said. Others were given sentences of between three and four-and-a-half-years, it said.

The trial was called at the last minute and the court permitted only one family member of each defendant to attend, the reports said. Local authorities had previously refused to allow lawyers to meet with the accused.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Extremists Execute Young Convert in Somalia

Islamic extremists controlling part of the Somali capital of Mogadishu this month executed a young Christian they accused of trying to convert a 15-year-old Muslim to Christianity.

Members of the Islamic extremist group al Shabaab had taken 23-year-old Mumin Abdikarim Yusuf into custody on Oct. 28 after the 15-year-old boy reported him to the militants, an area source told Compass. Yusuf’s body was found on Nov. 14 on an empty residential street in Mogadishu, with sources saying the convert from Islam was shot to death, probably some hours before dawn.

“Our brother Yusuf has been murdered,” the source told Compass. “His body was dumped in Yaqshid district of Mogadishu, and his body is said to be on an empty residential street.”
Al Shabaab, said to have links with al Qaeda terrorists, controls parts of Mogadishu and much of southern parts of Somalia, as well as other areas of the nation.

Their accusations against Yusuf had led the extremist group to raid Yusuf’s home in Holwadag district, Mogadishu, sources said. After searching his home, militia didn’t find anything relating to Christianity but still took him into custody.

Before Yusuf was executed by two shots to the head, reports filtered in to the Compass source that he had been badly beaten and his fingers broken as the Islamists tried to extract incriminating evidence against him and information about other Christians. The source later learned that Yusuf’s body showed signs of torture; all of his front teeth were gone, and some of his fingers were broken, he said.

“We don’t know the time he was murdered, but his freshly killed body was dumped in Yaqshid district at around 4:30 in the morning of Nov. 14, and due to the will of the family we have buried the body at around 3 p.m. on Nov. 14,” the source said.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Egyptian Convert Sends Plea to Obama

15-year-old Egyptian girl Dina el-Gowhary, who converted from Islam to Christianity, has sent a plea to President Obama, complaining of mistreatment by the Egyptian Government and asking for his mediation. "Mr President Obama," she writes, "we are a minority in Egypt. We are treated very badly. You said that the Muslim minority in America are treated very well, so why are we not treated here likewise? We are imprisoned in our own home because Muslim clerics called for the murder of my father, and now the Government has set for us a new prison, we are imprisoned in our own country."

The handwritten Arabic letter, posted on Coptic websites, also says "I am 15 years old but I still have hope that my message will reach President Obama."

The el-Gowhary family was barred from leaving Egypt on September 17, 2009 without any legal reason. They were told, however, that the order came from a higher authority (AINA 9-26-200).

Dina, is the daughter of 57-year-old Maher el-Gowhary, also known by his Christian name Peter Athanasius, who embraced Christianity secretly 35 years ago. In August, 2008 he filed the second ever lawsuit of a Muslim-born Egyptian against the Egyptian Government to officially alter his identification documents to reflect his new Christian identity. He lost the case in June 2009. According to the Court ruling, the religious conversion of a Muslim is against Islamic Sharia law and poses a threat to the "Public Order" in Egypt.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Christ Science lobbies for prayer in health-care

Leaders of the Church of Christ, Scientist, are pushing a proposal that would help patients pay its spiritual practitioners for prayer by having insurers reimburse the $20 to $40 cost. The provision was stripped from the bill the House passed this month, and church leaders are trying to get it inserted into the Senate version.

And the church has powerful allies there, including Sens. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), who represents the state where the church is based, and Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), who said the provision would "ensure that health-care reform law does not discriminate against any religion."

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Opposition to U.N. 'Defamation of Religions' Grows

More than 100 organizations, including Muslim and secularist ones, have signed a petition against the proposed U.N. resolutions on the "defamation of religions," which they contend will do more harm than good for religious freedom.

The “Common Statement from Civil Society on the Concept of the ‘Defamation of Religions,'” signed by organizations in over 20 countries, opposes the Organization of the Islamic Conference’s (OIC) proposal for the United Nations to adopt a binding treaty that would protect religions from defamation. The groups pointed out that a similar resolution adopted earlier this year only cites Islam as the religion that should be protected.

Moreover, human rights groups say the resolutions will give credit to anti-blasphemy laws in countries such as Pakistan and Sudan.

Reports indicate that blasphemy laws have been widely abused to justify violence and abuse against religious minorities in predominantly Muslim countries. Blasphemy laws can also be used to silence critics of a religion and restrict freedom of speech.

“In seeking to protect ‘religion’ from defamation it is clear that existing international human rights protections will be undermined, specifically freedom of religion and belief and freedom of expression,” said Tina Lambert, Christian Solidarity Worldwide’s advocacy director.

“For the sake of those who already suffer unjustly under such legislation (blasphemy laws) and for the protection of our existing international human rights framework, it is vital that member states act to prevent such a treaty or optional protocol being established,” she said.

Since 1999, when the “defamation of religions” resolution was first proposed, this is the first time that sponsors have asked for it to become a binding treaty.
Angela C. Wu, international law director of the Becket Fund, one of the groups that signed the petition, argued, “Human rights are meant to protect the individuals, not ideas or governments. Yet the concept of ‘defamation of religions’ further empowers governments to choose which peacefully expressed ideas are permissible and which are not.

"It is pivotal for human rights defenders around the globe to unite against this flawed concept before it becomes binding law."

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Uproar Over EU Ruling on Crucifixes in Spain

Spanish bishops have come out in protest against the recent ruling made by the European court for human rights which was against the presence of a crucifix in classrooms saying that it was against the parents’ rights to make their children learn according to their own convictions and acted against the religious freedom of the students.

Juan Antonio Martínez Camino, the spokesman for the bishops said that the crucifix stood for freedom and the court’s ruling was unjust and sad. He also added that the crucifix symbolized respect for a person’s dignity from his birth to death. He questioned that what would replace the crucifix in classrooms.

Meanwhile, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said that Italy would not remove the crucifix from classrooms and that there was no chance that they would be forced into getting rid of them.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Chinese Lawyers Face Govt. Oppression

Religious freedom activists in China are not the only ones needing a lawyer; their lawyers also are being attacked by the government.

"They are the defenders for the defenseless and a voice to the voiceless, and basically, for doing that, they themselves have been facing danger. The defenders themselves need defense, ironically," said Bob Fu, president of China Aid.

At a news conference in Washington, six Chinese legal rights professionals recounted their treatment by the Chinese government.

One of the attorneys, Cao Zhi, founder and editor-in-chief of the Citizen Republic magazine in China, noted that a 2005 law enacted in China stipulates that if the government does not grant permission for a religious activity, it is considered illegal.

Dai Jinbo, a legal counsel for Chinese house churches, described a recent case that involved a church that was attacked at 3 a.m. on Sept. 13 in northeastern China's Shanxi province. At least 300 police raided the Linfen House Church, physically beat a number of believers and destroyed much of the church's property.

Zhang Kai, a defense attorney whose law license was revoked in May, cited some reasons Chinese officials persecute church members through beatings, imprisonments or insults:

-- If the church is not registered through the government.

-- If the church does not ask permission to have religious activities.

-- If the church evangelizes in other Chinese regions without government permission.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Scientology Convicted of Fraud in France

A Paris court has convicted the Church of Scientology of fraud and fined it more than euro600,000 ($900,000), but stopped short of banning the group's activities.
The group's French branch said it would appeal the verdict.
The court convicted the Church of Scientology's French office, its library and six of its leaders of organized fraud. Investigators said the group pressured members into paying large sums of money for questionable financial gain and used "commercial harassment" against recruits.
The group was fined euro400,000 ($600,000) and the library euro200,000. Four of the leaders were given suspended sentences of between 10 months and two years. The other two were given fines of euro1,000 and euro2,000.
Prosecutors had urged that the group be disbanded in France and fined euro2 million. A law that was briefly on the books this year prevented the court from going so far as to disband the French branch of Scientology in the October 27th verdict — though it could have taken the lesser step of shutting down its operations.
However, the court did not do so, ruling that French Scientologists would have continued their activities anyway "outside any legal framework."
A spokeswoman for the French branch of Scientology, Agnes Bron, said the verdict was "an Inquisition of modern times," a reference to efforts to rout out heretics of the Roman Catholic Church in centuries past.