Thursday, June 30, 2005

Australia: Victims of Victoria's Religious Tolerance Law.

Date: Thursday 30 June 2005
Subj: Australia: Victims of Victoria's Religious Tolerance Law.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal.

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AUSTRALIA: VICTIMS OF VICTORIA'S RELIGIOUS TOLERANCE LAW
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Victoria's Racial and Religious Tolerance (R&RT) Act has already produced many victims. The first victim has been the religious harmony that was pervasive throughout Victoria (a south eastern state of Australia) before the Act's implementation. The R&RT Act was not needed, and now that it has stirred tensions and produced a queue of litigants at the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT), the Victorian state Labor government believes the R&RT Act will fix the problems the Act created in the first place. (Link 1)

The R&RT Act has given rise to several complaints but the case that has caught the world's attention is that of The Islamic Council of Victoria (ICV) vs Catch the Fire Ministries and pastors Danny Nalliah and Daniel Scot. Using the Victorian R&RT Act, the ICV took Catch the Fire Ministries and pastors Nalliah and Scot to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) on charges of vilification of Muslims. After a lengthy and expensive court case, they were found guilty and convicted on 17 December 2004.

The charges arose when three Western Muslim "reverts" attended an "Insights into Islam" seminar run by Catch the Fire Ministries in March 2002, where Daniel Scot, an expert on Islam, was the speaker. As Mr Scot told TIME magazine (4 July issue), the aim of the seminar was to help Christians "understand Islamic beliefs and culture and, after the September 11 attacks, why some Muslims engage in terrorism".

The three "reverts" attended the seminar on the advice of May Helou, a member of the ICV who was at the time employed by Victoria's Equal Opportunity Commission to assist in education about the R&RT Act.

This case has set a precedent that vilification (saying or writing things that incite hatred, contempt or ridicule) of a religious belief or practice may be regarded as equivalent to vilification of the people who believe or follow that religion.

The case has also demonstrated just how fragile justice can be when religious disputes are decided in secular courts. Daniel Scot was deemed to be "not credible" simply because the judge did not believe (and in some cases, understand) his teaching. Amongst other issues, the judge deemed Scot "not credible" and guilty of vilification on the grounds that he was frequently referring to Wahhabi, literal interpretations of the Koran, which are not, in the judge's personal opinion, relevant to the 21st Century. As noted by one observer, "This development represents a dangerous limitation on freedom of speech and the capacity of Christians to take up the cause of the persecuted church."

UPDATE: REMEDY – PASTORS ORDERED TO APOLOGISE

On Wednesday 22 June 2005, Judge Higgins of the VCAT handed down his "remedies" (penalties) to Catch the Fire Ministries and pastors Nalliah and Scot.

The religion editor of The AGE (Melbourne), Barney Zwartz, reports, "Judge Michael Higgins, of the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, yesterday [22 June] ordered Christian group Catch the Fire Ministries, Mr Scot and Mr Nalliah to publish apologies for comments made at a Melbourne seminar in March 2002, and in a newsletter and website article.

"Judge Higgins said the pastors were otherwise of good character, but their passionate religious beliefs caused them to transgress the law. He ordered them to publish apologies on their website, in their newsletter and in four advertisements in Melbourne newspapers and to promise not to repeat the vilification anywhere in Australia. But this order could be defied as early as Monday [27 June], when Mr Scot begins a two-week seminar on Islam in Brisbane."

Daniel Scot points out that it was primarily his quotes from Koran that had been deemed to vilify Muslims, therefore it would very difficult to obey the judge's order not to repeat the vilification without a Koran that has been suitably edited. "I told the judge earlier," Scot informed The AGE, "you haven't provided me with a new Koran with the illegal verses removed, so I have to use the same Koran. He doesn't say which parts I quoted are illegal, he is asking a very vague thing."

Scot told TIME magazine's Elizabeth Keenan that he believes his real offence was "talking about the parts of the Koran that Muslims want to hide from people".

Nalliah and Scot have vowed to go to jail rather than publish newspaper apologies, the wording and size of which have been ordained by the tribunal and will cost AUD$68,690 (USD$52,740). Scot will not suspend his teaching seminars. "You don't compromise truth for fear of jail," Scot told The AGE. Likewise Nalliah told The AGE that he would not surrender "freedom of speech to a law which is sharia law by stealth".

The AGE reports, "The pastors' lawyers have already appealed against the verdict to the Supreme Court, claiming that the act is unconstitutional and that Judge Higgins made errors and showed 'irredeemable bias'. The case will be heard next month [July]."

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NEW CASES
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THE INCARSERATED CHILD-ABUSING WITCH
vs

THE SALVATION ARMY, CORRECTIONS VICTORIA, AND ALPHA COURSE


Robin Fletcher, a professed and practising witch who is serving a 10-year prison sentence for the sexual abuse of two under-age girls in 1998, voluntarily attended an ALPHA course in Ararat prison. The course was run by a Salvation Army chaplain. Fletcher lodged complaints against the Salvation Army, Corrections Victoria (prison managers), and CMC Australasia Pty Ltd (the distributors of the ALPHA course in Victoria) on the grounds that the course vilifies witches, Wiccans and pagans. (Link 2)

THE OCCULT ORDER
vs
THE CHILD RIGHTS CAMPAIGNER


The occult group Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO) has made a complaint against psychologist Dr Reina Michaelson (1997 Young Australian of the Year) and her organisation, Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Program (CSAPP), for vilification of members of OTO.

OTO national officer David Bottrill and member Brent Gray claim Dr Michaelson has vilified and misrepresented OTO through an Internet article linking the society to paedophilia, satanic rituals, and animal and child sacrifices, all of which are promoted in the OTO text "The Book of the Law".

The complainants testify, "What is contained on the website could incite hatred and lead to violence against members of the OTO." Dr Michaelson meanwhile contends that OTO's text, The Book of the Law, contains "talk of blood rituals using children, eating flesh, the sacrifice of a child, the killing and torture of others and uninhibited 'love' without restraint", and as such, promotes illegal activity and violence against children.

The Herald Sun (Melbourne) reports that Ordo Templi Orientis was founded in Germany in 1902. Members follow the religion of Thelema, as taught by occultist and mystic Aleister Crowley.

Dr Reina Michaelson is presently in the Maldives working with child victims of the Tsunami. She will face the VCAT upon her return. (Link 3)

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VICTIMS
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Amir Butler, the head of the Australian Muslim Public Affairs Committee, says that there are Muslims who welcome debate, and he does not want to see the R&RT Act used to prevent it. Amir Butler, told TIME magazine, "If Muslims rush to the courts, some people will get the impression we can't respond to the arguments and think there must be some truth in them. The only way to fight offensive ideas is to confront them intellectually. Legislation cannot make bad ideas disappear."

Social religious harmony, two Christian pastors (who have been continuously misquoted and vilified in the media), The Salvation Army, Corrections Victoria, ALPHA, and a child rights advocate, and those who desire open debate are all victims of this "religious tolerance" law. But the greatest tragedy in this drama is that Victorians stand to lose their openness, their religious openness, and with it, their religious liberty to stand up as Christian apologists and evangelists, confronting evil and error, and engaging with the lost on matters of life and death.

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The most comprehensive, regularly updated coverage of these cases can be found at the Saltshakers website. This includes a highly recommended, detailed paper entitled "Religious Vilification laws in Victoria - Background to the law and cases ", prepared by Saltshakers' Research Director Mrs Jenny Stokes in June 2005 as a background paper for a Christian Legal Society seminar.

- Elizabeth Kendal
rl-research@crossnet.org.au

Links

1) Free speech farce
Andrew Bolt (Associate Editor - Herald Sun). 24 June 2005
http://www.heraldsun.news.com.au/printpage/0,5481,15708881,00.html

2) Dump this law now
Andrew Bolt (Associate Editor - Herald Sun). 27 April 2005
http://heraldsun.news.com.au/printpage/0,5481,15095082,00.html

3) Child rights crusader faces lawsuit
Kate Uebergang, tribunal reporter. 31 May 2005
http://www.heraldsun.news.com.au/printpage/0,5481,15461960,00.html

Friday, June 24, 2005

LAOGAI: China's Bamboo Curtain

Date: Friday 24 June 2005
Subj: China's Bamboo Curtain
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal.

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CHINA'S BAMBOO CURTAIN
-----------------------

On 26 May, Chinese Diplomat Mr Chen Yonglin (37) abandoned his post at the Chinese Consulate in Sydney, Australia, and requested political asylum from the Australian government. On 4 June, at a rally in Sydney commemorating the 16th anniversary of the "1989 Tiananmen Democratic Movement", he unexpectedly, announced publicly his resignation from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

Mr Chen, who claims that one of his jobs was to monitor Falun Gong in Australia, accuses the Chinese government of political and religious repression and persecution, and says that his conscience will not permit him to serve the CCP any longer. Along with his wife and young daughter, Chen is seeking asylum in Australia on the grounds that his liberty and even his life are now at risk because of the way the CCP punishes dissenters. (Link 1)

Mr Chen's defection sent seismic shock-waves through Australia's political, Chinese, and human rights advocacy communities. China's ambassador to Australia, Madame Fu Ying publicly denied Chen's remarks saying, 'China has moved on a long way from what it was like in the 1970s. China is not a country behind the bamboo curtain any more.' (Link 2)

Madame Fu's statement deserves scrutiny. While China has moved a long way from what it was like it the 1970s, it has only done so with one foot – the economic foot. China's city skylines are striped with skyscrapers and industrial cranes. China's sparkling, modern shopping arcades, bastions of the new Chinese materialism and capitalism, are are bustling with consumers, many of them foreign workers. CCP leaders now shake hands and seek photo opportunities and trade deals with Western leaders. In this regard, yes, China has moved a long way from what it was like in the 1970s.

However, the other foot – the human rights foot – remains firmly planted in the Mao era. Today the very same instruments of repression that Mao himself established and used from the early 1950s, are still being employed by the ruling CCP to crush dissent. As long as this is the case, China cannot boast that the bamboo curtain has come down.

There is however, an element of truth in Madame Fu's remark that "China is not a country behind the bamboo curtain any more". Through the 1950s, 60s and 70s the CCP firmly believed the threat to its power lay in external forces, so, with foreigners expelled, it erected a "bamboo curtain" around the nation for protection. Then, through the 1980s, the CCP watched internal forces bring down Communism in Poland. On 4 June 1989, the CCP resorted to violence to crush destabilising internal forces gathered in Tienanmen Square.

Today the CCP knows that China's economic growth and power enable it to deflect external pressures. The CCP also now knows that the main threat to its totalitarian rule is internal. So, as a self-preservation measure, the CCP wraps its bamboo curtain around its internal social problems and uncontrollable elements; i.e. prostitutes, drug addicts, and "counter-revolutionaries" such as political and religious dissidents. So while China might not be "behind" the bamboo curtain any more, the bamboo curtain has not come down, it has simply been brought inside.

LAO-GAI

China's bamboo curtain is integral to, indeed inseparable from, the Mao-instituted lao-gai – a vast network of concentration camps and slave labour prisons that has functioned for some 50 years as a tool of CCP repression.

Chairman Mao established the lao-gai in the early 1950s, primarily as a source of slave labour. He was executing "counter-revolutionaries" but quickly came to the conclusion that he was wasting a precious resource. He decided it would be more beneficial to incarcerate a percentage of these "counter-revolutionaries" for the purpose of exploitation. So he employed Soviet advisors and established the lao-gai following the model of the Soviet Gulag. In their new book "Mao – the unknown story", Jung Chang and Jon Halliday estimate that some 27 million Chinese died in labour camps during Mao's rule.

The lao-gai are completely separate from China's official justice system, and as such, operate totally outside the law. Those incarcerated are done so without criminal charge or trial. The lao-gai enable the CCP, through its various instruments (such as the Religious Affairs Department or the Public Security Bureau) to quickly and quietly lock away, behind the bamboo curtain, any internal force that threatens the unity of the masses or the totalitarian power, image or propaganda of the CCP. (Link 3)

The fact that the Chinese economy is, to a large extent, dependent upon this system of forced slave labour introduces a whole new ethical dilemma to the "Made in China" label.

Harry Wu, executive director of the Laogai Research Foundation, wrote in a 1999 essay published by CNN, "The Laogai is not simply a prison system; it is a political tool for maintaining the Communist Party's totalitarian rule. A fundamental policy of the Laogai states that 'forced labor is a means toward the goal of thought reform'."

Wu, who says the CCP runs at least 1,100 prison labour camps, says that in the lao-gai physical submission is achieved through violence, but "psychological and spiritual submissiveness, known as 'thought reform', is considered the optimal goal." He says, "We cannot condemn the evil actions of the Nazi concentration camps and the Soviet Gulag while we ignore the continuing brutality of the Laogai." (Link 4)

RHETORIC VS REALITY

While Chinese authorities are vociferously defending China's human rights in the wake of Chen's defection and allegations, Chinese police on the mainland are violently cracking down on house-church Christians, who refuse to submit to CCP control.

Catholics in Hebei Province, surrounding Beijing, are crying out that a campaign of violence has been unleashed upon them by the country's Religious Affairs Department which, they say, has declared an all-out war against the Church. Eight of Hebei's Catholic bishops and 13 of Hebei's Catholic priests are either imprisoned or "disappeared", behind the "bamboo curtain". (Link 5)

On Sunday 22 May, police and Public Security Bureau officers raided 60 house-churches simultaneously in Changchun, the capital city of Jilin province (north-eastern China, bordering North Korea). Another 40 churches in the area were raided over the following days. More than 600 house-church Christians were taken into custody. Whilst most of those arrested were released after 24 to 48 hours' interrogation, some 100 influential Christians – house church leaders, university students and professors, academics – remain in various detention centres, behind the "bamboo curtain". (Link 6)


Links

1) Chinese spies asking for asylum spark a crisis in Peking-Canberra relations. 20 June, 2005 CHINA – AUSTRALIA
http://asianews.it/view.php?l=en&art=3546
ALSO
Chinese defector breaks down, fears return to China
22 June 2005
http://www.reuters.com/newsArticle.jhtml?type=worldNews&storyID=8859974

2) Diplomat 'has nothing to fear': China
PM - Monday, 6 June 2005
Reporter: Alexandra Kirk
http://www.abc.net.au/pm/content/2005/s1385831.htm

3) Issue in China: Labor Camps That Operate outside the Courts
By Jim Yardley, The New York Times, 9 May 2005
http://www.truthout.org/issues_05/050905LA.shtml

4) Labor camps reinforce China's totalitarian rule
CNN Special. By Harry Wu. 1999
http://www.cnn.com/SPECIALS/1999/china.50/red.giant/prisons/wu.essay/

5) Persecution in Hebei, a liability for Hu Jintao’s plans
by Wang Hui, 8 June 2005, CHINA – VATICAN http://www.asianews.it/view.php?l=en&art=3464

6) Massive, coordinated crackdown on Chinese Christians
9 June 2005, The Voice of the Martyrs
http://www.persecution.com/news/index.cfm?action=fullstory&newsID=327
ALSO: China Aid Association http://www.chinaaid.org/

Thursday, June 2, 2005

Canada: Quebec rejects Sharia to preserve equality and rights.

Date: Thursday 2 June 2005
Subj: Canada: Quebec rejects Sharia to preserve equality and rights.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal.


On 26 May Quebec's legislative assembly unanimously rejected the use of Sharia tribunals. Quebec is the first Canadian province to explicitly ban the use of Sharia Law (Islamic Law), and they are doing so to preserve equality, rights and liberty for all irrespective of race or religion.

The Canadian Council of Muslim Women has cheered the decision and hailed it as courageous.

Meanwhile, the president of the Muslim Council of Montreal likened the decision to Hitler's treatment of the Jews, and hinted that it might consider filing a complaint to the United Nations. Of course this would be quite a legitimate course of action now that the UNCHR has agreed to monitor "defamation" of Islam by "extremists" who "wrongly" associate Islam with human right violations. http://ap.ohchr.org/documents/E/CHR/resolutions/E-CN_4-RES-2005-3.doc

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October 2003 ONTARIO
-------------------------------
At a conference in Etobicoke, Ontario, Canada, in October 2003, Muslim delegates elect a 30-member council to establish the Islamic Institute of Civil Justice. Muslims move to establish Sharia Arbitration Courts whose rulings will be enforced by Canada's secular courts. For background see: Canada: Applying Shariah through Islamic arbitration. 15 Dec 03

--------------------------------
December 2004 ONTARIO
--------------------------------
Ontario attorney general Marion Boyd issues a report recommending that Muslims in Canada should have the right to seek arbitration based on their religious laws.

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26 May 2005: QUEBEC REJECTS SHARIA TO PRESERVE EQUALITY AND RIGHTS
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On 26 May, Liberal backbencher Fatima Houda-Pepin, who was born a Muslim in Morocco, put forward a motion in the Quebec Assembly to reject Sharia tribunals in Quebec. Ms Houda-Pepin told members of the Assembly that Sharia Law discriminates against women. She
alleged that Muslim women in Canada want to integrate and the drive to introduce Sharia Law in Canada "is part of a strategy to isolate the Muslim community, so it will submit to an archaic vision of Islam. These demands," she continues, "are being pushed by groups in the minority that are using the Charter of Rights to attack the foundation of our democratic institutions. It's a political agenda in the name of Islam." (Link 1)

She also cautioned that any move to allow Islamic family law would lead to similar demands in criminal and civil legal areas.

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RESPONSE from the Canadian Council of Muslim Women (CCMW)
-------------------------------------------------------------

CCMW press release (excerpts): "The Canadian Council of Muslim Women has welcomed the Quebec National Assembly’s unanimous adoption of a motion declaring that no Muslim tribunals for family matters will be allowed in the province, and that the laws of Quebec will apply to all its residents, regardless of religion, ethnicity or culture.

"This public motion is a courageous act and though it may be criticised by some, its message is strong that religious women will not be isolated and placed under any other form of law. Quebec has clearly understood that different laws for different citizens leads to discrimination and has nothing to do with multiculturalism or Quebec’s Charter of Rights and Freedom."

Regarding the present debate in Ontario over whether or not to introduce Sharia tribunals CCMW said, "Ontario should not discriminate against religious women nor isolate them because of their faith. The government should also not be persuaded that there is a conflict between religious freedom and women's equality rights, nor that pluralism should lead to segregation of citizens on the basis of religion, ethnicity or race. It is a fallacy which shows a lack of understanding and caring when the facile argument is made that the use of private legally binding arbitration is a matter of 'choice' or that it is 'voluntary'.

"We urge Premier McGuinty to demonstrate leadership so that Canada does not set a precedent which is of grave concern to the international community." (Link 2)

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RESPONSE from the Muslim Council of Montreal (Quebec)
-------------------------------------------------------------

The Daily Times (Pakistan) reported the outrage of Salam El Menyawi, president of the Muslim Council of Montreal, who fumed, "'Taking such action is tantamount to religious bigotry and discrimination against a religious minority. Muslims are being excluded from rights other religions have. And this exclusion is very dangerous because that is exactly what Hitler did to Jews.' He added, 'I have been inundated with calls and e-mails from the Muslim community asking that we should file a complaint with the United Nations.'" (Link 3)

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QUEBEC: EQUAL RIGHTS FOR ALL
-----------------------------

According to an article in Canada's National Post, Ms Houda-Pepin claimed that Islamic fundamentalists from the Muslim World League, based in Saudi Arabia, held a conference in Washington in 1991, where Canada, because of it's rights guarantees and official multiculturalism, was specifically targeted for the introduction of Sharia. (Link 4)

She claims the Islamist plan is to set Canada up as a precedent for all Muslims in the West, encouraging them to reject Western laws and push for Sharia where they are.

The National Post reported, "Ms. Houda-Pepin also wondered what form of sharia would be adopted in Canada, noting that it means different things in different countries.

"In Pakistan, a woman who is raped can be flogged unless she can produce four male witnesses to prove she was raped, she said, while in Nigeria a woman can be stoned to death for sexual relations outside marriage. Sharia in Iran allows men to have as many 'wives of pleasure' as they want, she noted. In Saudi Arabia, in the name of sharia, a woman cannot drive a car.

"The victims of sharia have a human face," she said. "They are Muslim women."

There is concern that if Sharia Arbitration tribunals exists then Muslim women might find themselves pressured to sign pre-nuptial agreements promising to use Sharia arbitration in the event of a dispute, thus depriving them of the rights available to non-Muslims.

It should also be noted that according to Sharia family law, Muslims who commit apostasy (leave Islam) are automatically divorced and lose custody of their children. According to Canada's rules of arbitration, Canada's secular courts are obliged to enforce the religious rulings.

The National Post quotes Marilou McPhedran, legal counsel to the Canadian Counsel of Muslim Women, as saying that there was "a well-intentioned naivete about this [Boyd] report. Why would we in Ontario privatize family law when we already have a public system of family law that is predicated on the constitutional values of equality in this country, in this province, that should be available to each and every woman living in Ontario," she said.

Canadian Press reports, "Premier Jean Charest's Liberals are putting pressure on the Ontario government, which is expected to make a decision [regarding Sharia law] before summer. Charest said he simply wants to send a clear message that all Quebecers are equal under the law. 'It's important to send a very clear message that there is one rule of law in Quebec,' Charest told reporters. 'We are a very inclusive society, but a society that will govern itself according to one set of rules'." (Link 1)

- Elizabeth Kendal

Links

1) Quebec rejects introduction of Sharia law into legal system in the province
LES PERREAUX, QUEBEC (CP), 26 May 2005
http://news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&u=/cpress/20050526/ca_pr_on_na/que_sharia_2

2) CCMW Welcomes Quebec motion on Sharia law. 27 May 2005
http://www.ccmw.com/ShariainCanada/CCMW%20news%20release_May%2027.pdf

3) Canadian Muslim women welcome rejection of sharia tribunals
By Khalid Hasan, 29 May 2005
http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=story_29-5-2005_pg7_49

4) National Post: Quebec bans sharia
Blow to proponents of using Islamic law in Canadian society
Kevin Dougherty, with files from Mike de Souza, Elizabeth Thompson
and Lee Greenberg
CanWest News Service, 27 May 2005
http://www.canada.com/news/national/story.html?id=7d268ffa-8cc2-4272adaa-1fb780adad29