Friday, March 31, 2006

ALGERIA: TEXT OF PRESIDENTIAL ORDER CONCERNING RELIGION

Date: Friday 31 March 2006
Subj: Algeria: Text of Presidential Order concerning religion
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal.


The following is an unofficial translation of President Bouteflika's Presidential Order concerning the 'conditions and rules for the exercise of religious worship other than Muslim'.

The Presidential Order was published in the Official Journal of the Algerian Republic (Journal Officiel de la Republique Algerienne) Number 12, 1 March 2006. The Presidential Order (in French) concerning religion is on pages 23 & 24.

Elizabeth Kendal

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OFFICIAL JOURNAL OF THE ALGERIAN REPUBLIC NUMBER 12
Aouel Safar 1427
1 March 2006


Ruling number 06-03 of 29 Moharram 1427, Corresponding to 28 February 2006
fixing the conditions and rules for the exercise of religious worship other
than Muslim.
----
The President of the Republic,

In view of the Constitution, notably its articles 2, 29, 36, 43, 122 and 124;

In view of the international pact relative to civil and political rights,to which Algeria has subscribed by the presidential decree number 89-67 of 16 May 1989;

In view of the ruling number 66-154 of 8 June 1966, modified and supplemented, containing code of civil procedure;

In view of ruling number 66-155 of 8 June 1966, modified and supplemented, containing code of criminal procedure;

In view of ruling number 66-156 of 8 June 1966, modified and supplemented, containing penal code;

In view of ruling number 77-03 of 19 February 1977 relative the collection of money in a public place.

In view of law number 89-28 of 31 December 1989, modified and supplemented, relative to meetings and public demonstrations;

In view of law number 90-08 of 7 April 1990, supplemented, relative to towns and cities;

In view of law number 90-09 of 7 April 1990, supplemented, relative to administrative districts;

In view of law number 90-31 of 4 December 1990 relative to associations;

The Council of competent ministers, made known the ruling of which the contents follow:

CHAPTER I

GENERAL DISPOSITIONS

Article 1. — The present ruling has as its objective to fix the conditions and rules of exercise of religious worship other than Muslim.

Art. 2. — The Algerian state, of which the religion is Islam, guarantees the free exercise of religious worship in the framework of respect of the dispositions of the Constitution, of the present ruling, of the laws and regulations in force, of the public order, of good moral standards and of the fundamental rights and liberties of third parties.

The State equally guarantees the toleration and respect of different religions.

Art. 3. — Associations of religious practice other than Muslim enjoy the protection de the State.

Art. 4. — It is forbidden to use religious affiliation as the basis for discrimination towards any person or group of persons.

CHAPTER II

CONDITIONS FOR THE EXERCISE OF RELIGIOUS WORSHIP

Art. 5. — Modification of a structure for the exercise of religious worship is subject to the prior approval of the national commission of the exercise of religious worship provided under article 9 of the present ruling.

Any activity is forbidden in premises intended for the exercise of religious worship, which would be contrary to the nature and objectives for which (the premises) are intended.

Structures intended for the exercise of religious worship are subject to being registered by the State, who assures their protection.

Art. 6. — Collective exercise of religious worship is organized by associations of a religious character of which the creation, approval and the functioning is subject to the dispositions of the present ruling and of the legislation in force.

Art. 7. — Collective exercise of religious worship takes place exclusively in structures intended for this purpose, open to the public and identifiable from the exterior.

Art. 8. — Religious gatherings take place in structures; they are public and subject to prior declaration.

The conditions and terms of the application of the present article are set by statutory means.

Art. 9. — A national commission of religious worship is created by the minister charged with religious affairs and of wakfs. The commission is charged in particular with:
— watching over the respect of the free exercise of religious worship;
— taking in charge the affairs and concerns related to the exercise of religious worship;
— giving prior approval for the formation of associations of a religious character.
The composition of this commission and the terms of its functioning are set by statutory means.

CHAPTER III


CRIMINAL PROVISIONS

Art. 10. — The punishment is one (1) year to three (3) years of imprisonment and a fine from 250.000 DA 500.000 DA for anyone who by verbal or written or distributed discourse in structures where religious worship takes place or who utilizes any other audiovisual means, containing a provocation to resist the fulfillment of the laws or the decision of the public authority, or tending to incite a part of the citizens to rebellion, without prejudice of more serious
penalties, if the provocation is followed by effects. The penalty is imprisonment from three (3) years to five (5) years and the fine is from 500.000 DA to 1.000.000 DA if the guilty person is as leader of religious worship.

Art. 11. — Without prejudice of more serious penalties, the punishment is imprisonment from two (2) years to five (5) years and a fine from 500.000 DA to 1.000.000 DA for whomever:
1 – incites, constrains or utilizes means of seduction tending to convert a Muslim to another religion, or by using to this end establishments for teaching, for education, for health, of a social or cultural nature, or training institutions, or any other establishment, or any financial means,
2 – makes, stores, or distributes printed documents or audiovisual productions or by any other aid or means, which has as its goal to shake the faith of a Muslim.

Art. 12. — The punishment is imprisonment from one (1) year to three (3) years and a penalty of from 100.000 DA to 300.000 DA, for anyone who has recourse to money collected from the public or who accepts gifts, without authorization by legally approved authorities.

Art. 13. — The punishment is imprisonment from one (1) year to three (3) years and a fine from 100.000 DA to 300.000 DA, for anyone who:
1 – conducts a religious worship service contrary to the dispositions under articles 5 and 7 of the present ruling,
2 – organizes a religious gathering contrary to the dispositions of article 8 of the present ruling,
3 – preaches in structures intended for the exercise of religious worship, without being designated, approved, or authorized by the religious governing body of his faith, competent, duly authorized on national territory and by the competent Algerian authorities.

Art. 14. — The competent authorities may forbid residency on the national territory to a foreigner convicted following the commission of one of the infractions provided for by the present ruling, definitively or for a period, which cannot be less than ten (10) years.

The residency ban of and expulsion from the national territory of the convicted person begins with full effect after carrying out the penalty of imprisonment.

Art. 15. — A legal entity that commits one of the infractions provided for by the present ruling is punished by:
1 – a fine, which cannot be inferior to four (4) times the maximum of the fine provided for by the present ruling for a person who has committed the same infraction.
2 – one or several of the following penalties:
— the confiscation of the means and the materials utilized in the commission of the infraction,
— the ban from observing, in the place concerned, a religious worship service or any religious activity,
— the dissolution of the legal entity.

CHAPTER IV

TEMPORARY AND FINAL DISPOSITIONS

Art. 16. — Persons exercising a religious worship service other than Muslim, in a collective setting, are required to conform to the dispositions of the present ruling, within six (6) months, starting with its publication in the Official Journal.

Art. 17. — The present ruling will be published in the Official Journal of the Democratic and Popular Republic of Algeria.

Done in Algiers, on 29 Moharram 1427, corresponding to 28 February 2006.

Abdelaziz BOUTEFLIKA.

Friday, March 24, 2006

ALGERIA: SEVERE NEW PENALTIES FOR 'PROSELYTISING'

Date: Friday 24 March 2006
Subj: Algeria: severe new penalties for 'proselytising'
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal.


A presidential order that establishes new conditions for the exercise of non-Muslim religious practice was passed in the Algerian Ummah council (Senate) on Monday 13 March, and in the Algerian National Assembly (Parliament) on 15 March. As a presidential order, the text would not have even been open to debate.

An article entitled "New sanctions concerning the illegal exercise of religious worship – Evangelicals under high surveillance", was published on 14 March in the French language Algerian newspaper 'Actualite'. (Link 1)

In this article, writer Hamid Saidani laments, "The form chosen for the promulgation of this law closes the door to any debate on this subject which is extremely sensitive because it touches on a principle established by the fundamental law of the land, which is the freedom of worship and of conscience. The content of this legislative framework would certainly have been greatly benefited if the discussion had been allowed."

Saidani reports that the order, classified as No 06-03 and dated 28 February 2006, puts forward a number of arguments which call for the strengthening of the law regarding religious activities that could be considered as "missions of proselytising". According to Saidani the penal aspects of the text are, between a 2 and 5 year prison term and a fine of 50 to 100 million centimes (this amounts to approx. US$7,000 to US$14,000 (1 Algerian dinar = 100 centimes)) for anyone who "incites, constrains or uses seductive means seeking to convert a Muslim to another religion (...), or who produces, stores or distributes printed documents or audio-visual formats or any other format or means which seeks to shake the faith of a Muslim."

Saidani concludes: "It is certain that this legislation seeks to block proselytizing missions and missionaries led notably by American evangelical churches in certain regions of the country, however it remains vital that the texts be clear and explicit, and this so that the way will not be opened for the violation of individual and collective liberties established by the laws of the Republic which would be swallowed up by a revival of the demons of inquisition."

Arabic News reports that the new law "is an attempt to withstand the Christianizing campaign which had witnessed a notable activity recently especially in al-Qabayel area east of the country."(Link 2)

Arabic News also adds, "The law also bans practicing any religion 'except Islam' 'outside buildings allocated for that, and links specialized buildings aimed at practice of religion by a prior licensing.'

"One official at the ministry of religious affairs said that the aim of the law is basically to 'ban religious activity, and secret religious campaigns.'

"The Christian community constitutes the largest religious minority in the country. This community accounts for the time being to less than 11,000 after it was hundreds of thousands before Algeria's independence in 1962 including 110 priests and 170 monks distributed all over Algerian lands."

President Bouteflika's aggressive move against "missions of proselytising" is very surprising considering that as recently as December 2005 Algeria's Minister of Religious Affairs, Bouabdellah Ghamallah, told Al-Khabar newspaper that reports of increasing proselytisation of Algeria's Muslims were groundless. (Link 3)

AMNESTY COMES INTO EFFECT: ISLAMISTS RELEASED


In September 2005 Algerians voted overwhelmingly, through a referendum, to grant amnesty to Islamist fighters imprisoned during Algeria's civil conflict, in exchange for peace. The amnesty, part of President Bouteflika's Charter for Peace and National Reconciliation, was approved by the government in February 2006, and the first wave of the 2,629 prisoners began to be released on 4 March. According to Cherif Quazani, some 10,000 condemned Islamists will eventually be released. Quazani writes (12 March) that it is inevitable that such a release of 10,000 prisoners who are "Islamists by nature" is cause for some apprehension. Quazani comments that no one can be sure that any of these Islamists have repented. He believes they view their release as a victory, adding that they left prison shouting "Allahou Akbar". (Link 4)

Critics fear that President Bouteflika's Charter for Peace and National Reconciliation seeks to whitewash years of suffering and that releasing Islamic extremists and allowing them home from exile could plant the seeds for future violence. As noted in a WEA RL Prayer bulletin of Sept 2005, genuine long-lasting peace will require a comprehensive restorative justice program as distinct from punitive or retributive justice. This would require the government follow up the amnesty with a truth commission that involves jihadists and security forces, and a comprehensive national reconciliation program. Without these any peace will only be temporary as the sores will simply fester.

But of course the issue is even bigger even than this. In December 1991 Algeria's Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) surged towards power heading for an absolute majority through democratic elections only to be stopped in its tracks by the military. The second round of voting was canceled and when the FIS was declared illegal January 1992 its partisans fled en masse to the mountains. The most radical element then began its activities as the GIA (Groupes armes islamiques, Armed Islamic Groups) and the more moderate element acted under the name MAI (Mouvement arme islamique, Armed Islamic Movement). What followed was a decade of civil conflict and horrific Islamic terrorism costing more than 150,000 lives.

However, Algeria's imprisoned Islamists would no doubt have been watching democracy in action in Iraq, Iran, Egypt, Lebanon and the Palestinian Territories and feeling quite encouraged. Regional politics has changed a lot since 1991.

It is one thing to surrender weapons and renounce violence, but quite another to surrender aims and renounce ideology. With democracy proving so effective at empowering and legitimising Islamists, even militant Islamists, maybe renouncing violence is not such a compromise. It may after all only prove to be a change of strategy, not a change of direction – Islamists simply need ride a different vehicle to power.

GRASSROOTS: ISLAMISTS MOVING TO CONTROL MOSQUES

Hassan Moali wrote an article (20 February) entitled, "Islamist parties want to take hold of the mosques – The aggressions against Imams multiply", in which he alleges that Islamists are intimidating the imams not associated with their cause, infiltrating the religious associations of the mosques, and issuing threats by anonymous letters and even physical aggressions. (Link 5)

Hassan Moali claims that 20 percent of Algeria's 15,000 mosques are subject to threats and aggression from what he calls "the apostles of 'la religion partisane'". According to Moali, Islamists murdered at least ten imams in 2005, and that some were killed in their mosques in front of their congregations. Moali also asserts that courageous imams who refuse to preach the Islamist message are made the objects of devastating smear campaigns.

Moali notes that on average fourteen million Algerians would attend Friday prayer. And knowing the important role of the imam, it is easy to imagine what an appetite Islamist parties would have to control such a powerful reserve of political militant potential.

Hassan Moali names The Movement of Society for Peace (MSP: formerly Hamas) as being in the forefront of this conspiracy, adding that MSP president Bouguerra Soltani recently affirmed that his party aims to seize power in 2012.

"POLITICAL REHABILITATION"


President Bouteflika's Charter for Peace and National Reconciliation provides for the "banning of all exercise of political activity, whatever form it may take, by those responsible for the exploitation of our religion." This provision basically bans political activity by those who have committed terrorist acts. (Link 6)

Regardless of this, some very senior militant Islamists are seeking "political rehabilitation". Ali Benhadj, deputy leader of the FIS is one (Link 7), and Abdelhak Layada, one of the founding leaders of Algeria's Islamic Armed Group (GIA), is another. (Link 8)

The GIA has sought not only to create an Islamist state but to rid Algeria of Jews and Christians. According to the Terrorism Knowledge Database http://www.tkb.org/ ten percent of all GIA attacks have been directed at religious targets. On 23 October 1994 GIA shot dead two Spanish nuns leaving a chapel in Algiers. In December 1994 GIA militants killed four Catholic priests of the Order of White Fathers, in a machine-gun attack at their mission in Tizi-Ouzou. GIA then faxed news organisations claiming that the killings were part of their campaign of "annihilation and physical liquidation of Christian crusaders".

On 3 September 1995 GIA killed two more nuns in Algiers. Then on 10 November 1995 GIA shot two French nuns (one fatally) of the Little Sisters Sacred Heart as they left their home in the Kouba district of Algiers. In May 1996 GIA claimed responsibility for the kidnap, murder and beheading of seven French Trappist monks from a monastery in Medea. On 1 August 1996 a GIA bomb exploded in the home of the French bishop in Oran, killing him and his driver. The Bishop had just returned from a ceremony commemorating the deaths of the seven monks a year earlier.

Abdelhak Layada was released from his prison cell on Monday 13 March. He commented on President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's Charter to Asharq Alawsat newspaper saying, "It is a significant positive step towards achieving peace but it is incomplete because it closes the door of political participation in front of us." Layada indicated he would consider returning to politics in the future. He expressed his belief that the GIA and the FIS are the key to resolving Algeria's conflict.

In the meantime, Layada has said he will co-operate with the government to achieve peace. He is offering to mediate between the government and the militants still at large. A questions opens up before us though, particularly in the light of the government's about face concerning "missions of proselytism", and the new measures against them. To what extent has the amnesty been a quid pro quo deal – is the government going to have to co-operate with Islamist? Or maybe there has not been any quid pro quo deal – perhaps President Bouteflika knowing the nature of the Islamists he is releasing is just removing a 'provocation'. Whatever the reason for these new measures, the Church in Algeria is about to face a whole new level of persecution.

Elizabeth Kendal
rl-research@crossnet.org.au

Links

1) Les nouvelles sanctions concernant l'exercice illegal du culte: Les evangelistes sous haute surveillance. By Hamid Saidani, Liberte 14 March 2006
The text is no longer available at: http://www.liberte-algerie.com/
but it can be found at:
http://www.africatime.com/algerie/nouvelle.asp?no_nouvelle=244719&no_categorie=2
for a very rough English translation just put the article title, "Les evangelistes sous haute surveillance" into a Google search. (Kabyle.com has the best translation) Do likewise with other French articles amongst these links.

2) Algeria bans Muslims from learning about Christianity
Algeria, Politics, 3/21/2006
http://www.arabicnews.com/ansub/Daily/Day/060321/2006032108.html

3) Algeria Downplays Proselytization Reports
CAIRO, December 25, 2005 (IslamOnline.net)
http://www.islamonline.org/English/News/2005-12/25/article06.shtml

4) Qui a peur des amnisties ? ALGÉRIE
12 mars 2006 - par CHERIF OUAZANI
http://www.jeuneafrique.com/jeune_afrique/article_jeune_afrique.asp?art_cle=LIN12036quiapsitsin0

5) Algerie: les partis islamistes veulent s'emparer des mosquees
Les agressions contre les Imams se multiplient
lundi 20 fevrier 2006
http://www.afrik.com/article9488.html

6) Bouteflika unveils new reconciliation plan. 15 August 2005
http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/algeria/?id=14284

7) Algerie: les islamistes liberes vont-ils etre politiquement rehabilites?
Ali Benhadj, ex numero deux du Fis, le voudrait bien
jeudi 16 mars 2006, par notre partenaire El Watan
http://www.afrik.com/article9608.html

8) Former Algerian militant leader will cooperate with government to achieve peace. By Boulame Ghamrassha 16 March 2006
http://aawsat.com/english/news.asp?section=1&id=4156

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Afghanistan: update -- Kabul apostasy trial

Date: Thursday 23 March 2006
Subj: Afghanistan: Kabul apostasy trial update
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal.

----------------------------------------
AFHGANISTAN: KABUL APOSTASY TRIAL UPDATE
----------------------------------------

I am forwarding the following Compass Direct News Flash in full as it has fresh and more extensive details than my posting of last Monday, including the news that two more Afghan Christians have been charged, one other young believer has been beaten, and several other Christians have been harassed by the police.

Due to the international outcry, in particular from President Karzai's Western allies fighting to restore security in Afhganistan, President Karzai is looking for way out of this trial. It is quite possible they will pronounce Abdul Rahman mentally ill and pardon him on the grounds of insanity. This however, will not solve any religious liberty issues. If religious liberty is not promoted, protected and practised as a fundamental human right, then Afghanistan will simply return to enforcing sharia vigilante-style.

A significant issue in this case is the inherently contradictory nature of Afghanistan's Constitution. (Link 1) The US Commission on International Religious Freedom has written an open letter to U.S. President George W Bush calling on him to recognise that Afghanistan, like Iraq, presents "a special responsibility to US foreign policy because the United States has been directly involved in nation-building and political reconstruction. The arrest of Mr. Rahman indicates that religious extremists still have significant influence in Kabul, threatening not just the religious freedom of this one man, but the fundamental rights of each and every Afghan citizen." (Link 2)

Elizabeth Kendal

Links

1) Apostasy Case Reveals Constitutional Contradictions
http://www.rferl.org/featuresarticle/2006/03/ad051c73-2777-4497-9f13-1293c2293380.html

2) USCIRF Letter to President Bush on Apostasy Trial
http://www.uscirf.gov/mediaroom/press/2006/march/03222006_AfghanHR.html

----------------------------------------------------------
FLASH NEWS from COMPASS DIRECT
Global News from the Frontlines

Summary:

ISTANBUL, March 22, 06 (Compass) – An avalanche of media coverage of an Afghan man facing the death penalty for converting to Christianity has apparently sparked the arrest and deepening harassment of other Afghan Christians in the ultra-conservative Muslim country. Authorities arrested Abdul Rahman, 41, last month for the "crime" of leaving Islam for Christianity. Compass has confirmed the arrest of two other Afghan Christians. Another Afghan convert to Christianity was beaten severely outside his home by a group of six men, who finally knocked him unconscious with a hard blow to his temple. He woke up in the hospital two hours later. "Our brother remains steadfast, despite the ostracism and beatings," one of his friends said.

More Christians Arrested in Wake of Afghan 'Apostasy' Case

Two other converts from Islam in custody; another hospitalized after beating.

by Barbara G. Baker

ISTANBUL, March 22 (Compass) – An avalanche of media coverage of an Afghan man facing the death penalty for converting to Christianity has apparently sparked the arrest and deepening harassment of other Afghan Christians in the ultra-conservative Muslim country.

Authorities arrested Abdul Rahman, 41, last month for apostasy, a capital offense under strict Islamic laws still in place in Afghanistan , which four years ago was wrested from the Taliban regime’s hard-line Islamist control.

During the past few days, Compass has confirmed the arrest of two other Afghan Christians elsewhere in the country. Because of the sensitive situation, local sources requested that the location of the jailed converts be withheld.

This past weekend, one young Afghan convert to Christianity was beaten severely outside his home by a group of six men, who finally knocked him unconscious with a hard blow to his temple. He woke up in the hospital two hours later but was discharged before morning.

"Our brother remains steadfast, despite the ostracism and beatings," one of his friends said.

Several other Afghan Christians have been subjected to police raids on their homes and places of work in the past month, as well as to telephone threats.

First Known Apostasy Case

Rahman was put on trial in Kabul last week for the "crime" of converting from Islam to Christianity and faces the death penalty for refusing to return to the Muslim faith.

But news of his case did not break until March 16, when Ariana TV announced it. According to the TV newscaster, Rahman was asked in court, "Do you confess that you have apostacized from Islam?" The defendant answered, "No, I am not an apostate. I believe in God."

He was then questioned, "Do you believe in the Quran?" Rahman responded, "I believe in the New Testament, and I love Jesus Christ."

Although Islamist militants have captured and murdered at least five Afghan Christians in the past two years for abandoning Islam, Rahman's case is the local judiciary's first known prosecution case for apostasy in recent decades.

During Rahman's initial hearing before the head judge of Kabul's Primary Court, he testified that he had become a Christian 16 years ago, while working with a Christian relief organization in the Pakistani city of Peshawar, near the Afghan border.

But after his conversion, Rahman's wife divorced him, so their two infant daughters were taken back to Afghanistan, where they have been raised by their paternal grandparents.

Soon afterwards Rahman left Pakistan, and over the next few years he managed to enter several European countries. Although he attempted to apply for asylum, he was never able to obtain legal immigration status. After nine years, many of them in European detention centers because he had no valid papers, he was finally deported back to Afghanistan in 2002.

Back in Kabul, Rahman eventually contacted his family. In recent months, he tried repeatedly to regain custody of his daughters, now 13 and 14 years of age.

"The father finally went to the police in order to stop Abdul from contacting him, by telling them that Abdul converted to Christianity," a Kabul source said. He was promptly taken into custody, interrogated and sent to jail to await trial.

Although Rahman is allowed to have a defense lawyer, he has declined, insisting he can defend himself. But according to Christian sources in Kabul, the convert suffers from recurring mental instability, which could alter the Islamic court's handling of his case.

Rahman is reportedly incarcerated with 50 other prisoners in a cell designed for 15 in Kabul's Central Prison, where members of the press have been denied access to him. Since he is estranged from his family, and prisoners are traditionally dependent upon food rations supplied by their families, it is unclear whether he is being fed regularly.

Labeled a 'Cancer'

If Rahman is found guilty of apostasy and given the death penalty, as demanded by prosecutor Abdul Wasi, Afghan law permits him two final appeals – first to the provincial court, and then the Supreme Court.

Calling Rahman a "traitor to Islam," Wasi told the court he was "like a cancer inside Afghanistan."

Wasi told the Associated Press (AP) that when he offered to drop all the charges against Rahman if he returned to Islam, the defendant refused. "He said he was a Christian and would always remain one," Wasi said.

"We are Muslims, and becoming a Christian is against our laws," the prosecutor concluded. "He must get the death penalty."

Rahman is being tried by Judge Ansarullah Mawlavizada, who has said he would issue a verdict on the case within two months.

"We are not against any particular religion in the world," the judge told the AP on March 19. "But in Afghanistan , this sort of thing is against the law. It is an attack on Islam."

On March 20, however, Judge Mawlavizada told the British Broadcasting Corporation that Rahman’s mental state would be considered first, "before he was dealt with under sharia [Islamic] law."

President Hamid Karzai's office has said the president will not intervene in the case. But today a religious adviser to Karzai announced that Rahman would be given psychological tests.

"Doctors must examine him," Moayuddin Baluch told the AP. "If he is mentally unfit, definitely Islam has no claim to punish him. He must be forgiven. The case must be dropped."

Although the Afghan government is clearly anxious to resolve Rahman's case in order to satisfy international criticisms, the state-sponsored Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission has reportedly called for Rahman to be punished, insisting that he had "clearly violated Islamic law."

Rahman's plight dramatizes the judicial paradox within Afghanistan's new constitution, ratified in January 2004. Although it guarantees freedom of religion to non-Muslims, it also prohibits laws that are "contrary to the beliefs and provisions of the sacred religion of Islam."

At the same time, the constitution obliges the state to abide by the treaties and conventions it has signed, which include the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In outlining freedoms of thought, conscience and religion, Article 18 of this convention explicitly guarantees "freedom to change [one's] religion or belief."

Less than 1 percent of the Afghan population is non-Muslim, mostly Hindus and Sikhs. Among the millions of Afghans living abroad during recent decades of conflict in their homeland, some have openly declared themselves Christians. But no churches exist inside Afghanistan, and local converts to Christianity fear retribution if they declare their faith.

SIDEBAR

Arrest of Convert Christian Ignites International Outcry

Before he was dropped from the Afghan government's cabinet today, reporters grilled Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah yesterday (March 21) about his country’s controversial "apostasy" case during a Washington, D.C. press conference focusing on this week's U.S.-Afghan strategic partnership talks in Washington.

Acknowledging that the Afghan Embassy in Washington had received hundreds of messages since the trial of Afghan Christian Abdul Rahman was made public last week, Abdullah insisted that his government had nothing to do with the case.

Rahman, who is charged with abandoning Islam 16 years ago, is liable for execution under Afghanistan's Islamic law statutes.

"I know that it is a very sensitive issue and we know the concerns of the American people," Abdullah said. "But I hope that through our constitutional process, there will be a satisfactory result."

Speaking at Abdullah's side, Nicholas Burns, U.S. undersecretary of state of political affairs, sidestepped direct U.S. interference in Afghan sovereignty while admitting, "… from an American point of view, people should be free to choose their own religion."

Two days ago, the U.S. State Department had confirmed that the United States was "following closely" the trial proceedings, emphasizing that there were "differing interpretations" of the current Afghan constitution within the country. The Afghan authorities were being urged to "conduct this trial … in as transparent a manner as possible," the spokesman said.

Meanwhile, Western allies in the international coalition of troops deployed in Afghanistan have expressed outrage and point-blank condemnation of the trial over the past three days.

Lawmakers and leaders in Italy and Germany declared pointedly that it was "intolerable" that soldiers of all faiths should die to protect a country threatening to kill its own citizens for converting to Christianity. Canada confirmed that it was also "closely watching" the case, while the German Foreign Minister said he viewed it with "great concern."

"If Afghanistan does not quickly modernize its legal system," German opposition politician Rainer Bruderle told the daily Bild today, "Germany must rethink its help for Afghanistan ."

After the Italian government summoned the Afghan ambassador to Rome yesterday to discuss Rahman's case, a Foreign Ministry statement pledged that Italy would "move at the highest level … to prevent something which is incompatible with the defense of human rights and fundamental freedoms."

From the British Parliament, Nick Harvey of the Liberal Democrats remarked, "To prosecute or even kill someone for having a different faith is unacceptable." Labour Member of Parliament Alan Simpson agreed, declaring in a statement to The Times in London , "This absurdity must stop."

A strong protest was also lodged before the European Parliament by Dr. Charles Tannock, who questioned the European Union's generous funding of a country "which appears to ignore its international legal obligations, and apparently is still ruled by a fundamentalist version of Islamic sharia law." The parliamentarian called for a plea of clemency to be issued by the EU, requesting Afghanistan to exile Rahman to another country where his religious freedom would be guaranteed.

But one Afghan cabinet official has reacted sharply to the German government's blunt criticism of the trial, telling the Neue Osnabrueceker Zeitung newspaper that "the heated and emotional reaction of German politicians is exaggerated and has caused annoyance among Afghans."

Afghan Economy Minister Amin Farhang claimed that although "fanatics demand the death penalty in such cases," such a sentence was unlikely against Rahman.

END

**********
Copyright 2006 Compass Direct

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Monday, March 20, 2006

Afghanistan: Kabul apostasy trial

Date: Monday 20 March 2006
Subj: Afghanistan: Kabul apostasy trial
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal.

----------------------------------
AFGHANISTAN: KABUL APOSTASY TRIAL
----------------------------------

On Monday 26 January 2004 Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai signed the new Afghanistan Constitution into law. While many rejoiced and hailed the document as a great leap forward, most religious liberty monitors and advocates despaired.

Article Two
Ch. 1, Art. 2
The religion of the state of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan is the sacred religion of Islam.
Followers of other religions are free to exercise their faith and perform their religious rites within the limits of the provisions of law.

Article Three
Ch. 1, Art. 3
In Afghanistan, no law can be contrary to the beliefs and provisions of the sacred religion of Islam."

(http://www.afghan-web.com/politics/current_constitution.html OR
http://www.af/constitution/ (English translations vary slightly.))

In effect, the requirement of Article Three abrogates any perceived suggestion of religious liberty in Article Two.

A groundbreaking case is about to test Afghanistan's Constitution and the constitution of Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai. An Afghan Christian is presently on trial in Kabul charged with rejecting Islam. He faces the death penalty if he refuses to renounce his Christian faith and return to Islam.

There have been vigilante executions of apostates in Afghanistan in recent years. Between June and September 2004 five Afghan believers, including martyr Mullah Assad Ullah, were stabbed or beaten to death in summary executions by Taliban adherents who accused them of abandoning Islam and then "spreading Christianity" in their communities (Compass Direct 10 Sept 2004). Taliban spokesman Abdul Latif Hakimi told newsgroup Reuters, "A group of Taliban dragged out Mullah Assad Ullah and slit his throat with a knife because he was propagating Christianity."

But the trial of Abdul Rahman is the first trial of its kind since the fall of the Taliban, and will be a test case for Afghanistan and for President Karzai. Fear and Islamic zeal are running high in Afghanistan in the wake of resurgent Taliban terror, the Guantanamo Bay Qur'an desecration controversy (or myth) of May 2005, and the recent Cartoon Intifada violence of February 2006. President Karzai will be under immense internal pressure to prove his Islamic credentials and uphold "the beliefs and provisions of the sacred religion of Islam", while he should also be under immense external pressure from his donors and allies to defend Abdul Rahman's fundamental human right to religious freedom.

KABUL APOSTASY TRIAL

Daniel Cooney, writing for the Associated Press (AP), explains that the defendant, "41-year-old Abdul Rahman, was arrested last month after his family accused him of becoming a Christian". (Link 1)

The trigger for the case appears to be a custody dispute.

Judge Ansarullah Mawlavazada told AP that during a one-day hearing last Thursday 16 March, Abdul Rahman confessed to converting from Islam to Christianity some 16 years ago while he was working as a medical Aid worker for an international Christian group helping Afghan refugees in Peshawar, Pakistan.

Associated Press reports that after four years in Pakistan, Rahman moved to Germany, where he lived for nine years. Rahman's father told AP that Rahman returned to Afghanistan in 2002 and tried to gain custody of his two daughters, now aged 13 and 14, who had been living with their grandparents their whole lives. AP reports, "A custody battle ensued and the matter was taken to the police. During questioning, it emerged that Rahman was a Christian and was carrying a Bible. He was immediately arrested and charged."

Judge Mawlavazada says Abdul Rahman could face the death penalty if he refuses to revert to Islam as Sharia law proposes capital punishment for any Muslim who converts to another religion. As Afghanistan's constitution states: "No law can be contrary to the sacred religion of Islam." (Link 2: this Middle East Times article contains a Reuters photograph of Judge Ansarullah Mawlavazada holding up Abdul Rahman's Bible as evidence.)

Daily Times of Pakistan reports (Monday 20 March), "Afghan police have detained a man for converting from Islam to Christianity, a judge said on Sunday, adding the man could face the death penalty if he refused to become a Muslim again.

"Islamic Sharia law proposes the death sentence for Muslims who abandon the religion. Afghanistan's new constitution says 'no law can be contrary to the sacred religion of Islam'.

"Supreme Court judge Ansarullah Mawlavizada said the suspect, Abdur Rahman, was arrested after members of his family informed police of his conversion.

"He would be charged in coming days with abandoning Islam, Mawlavizada said. 'The prosecutor says he should be executed on the basis of the constitution,' Mawlavizada said, who added that Rahman could come back to Islam. 'If he does not ... he will be punished,' he said." (Link 3)

Associated Press spoke to Ahmad Fahim Hakim, deputy chairman of the state-sponsored Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission who also notes that Afghanistan's constitution is based on Sharia law which is interpreted by many Muslims as mandating death for apostates. (Link 1)

Judge Mawlavizada told AP he would rule on the case within two months. AP reports that all attempts to interview Abdul Rahman in detention were barred.

AP reports, "The prosecutor, Abdul Wasi, said he had offered to drop the charges if Rahman converted back to Islam, but he refused. 'He would have been forgiven if he changed back. But he said he was a Christian and would always remain one,' Wasi told AP. 'We are Muslims and becoming a Christian is against our laws. He must get the death penalty.'" (Link 1)

KARZAI'S CHOICE

Benjamin Sand reports for Voice of America, "The court has ordered a delay in the proceedings to give Rahman time to hire an attorney. Under Afghan law, once a verdict is given, the case can be appealed twice to higher courts.

"This is the first case in which the defendant has admitted to converting and is refusing to back down, even while facing the death penalty.

"If convicted, the case could ultimately force President Hamid Karzai's direct intervention.

"The president would have to sign the papers authorizing Rahman's execution, a move that could jeopardize Mr. Karzai's standing with human rights groups and Western governments.

"So far, President Karzai has not commented on the case.

"But political analysts here in Kabul say he will be under significant pressure from the country's hard-line religious groups to make an example of Rahman." (Link 4)

Elizabeth Kendal

Links

1) Afghan Christian Could Get Death Sentence
Daniel Cooney. KABUL, Afghanistan, 19 March 2006 (AP)
http://www.guardian.co.uk/worldlatest/story/0,,-5697060,00.html

2) Christian convert faces execution in Afghanistan
Reuters 19 March 2006
http://www.metimes.com/articles/normal.php?StoryID=20060319-072838-8361r

3)Afghans detain man suspected of abandoning Islam.
Daily Times. 20 March 2006
http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=2006%5C03%5C20%5Cstory_20-3-2006_pg4_17

4) Afghan Man Faces Execution After Converting to Christianity
By Benjamin Sand. Kabul.18 March 2006
http://www.voanews.com/english/2006-03-18-voa7.cfm

Friday, March 3, 2006

India:Hindutva advances while Communal Violence Bill flounders

Date: Friday 3 March 2006
Subj: India:Hindutva advances while Communal Violence Bill flounders
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal.


The Shabri Kumbh Mela, held 11-13 February in Dangs, Gujarat, was established specifically to "consolidate Hindus", usher tribals into the "Hindu mainstream", and deal a "death blow" to Christian missions in Dangs. The Kumbh was the climax of a massive Hinduisation campaign that combined the Hinduisation of animism, the Hinduisation of tribal culture, with an intense anti-Christian propaganda campaign that included incitement to kill Christians. (see previous WEA RLC India posting and prayer bulletin, plus article: link 1)

That the Kumbh ended peacefully, without any bloodshed, is a testament to the power and mercy of God who intervened for his people in answer to the prayers of many.

Shabri Kumbh Mela 2006 may be over, but the Sangh Parivar's (body of Hindu nationalist organisations) re-energised Hindutva campaign is only beginning. While protesting the negative press which forced Gujarat's State government to provide armed police protection to Dangi Christians, the Sangh is boasting "great gains" in Dangs. And the "success" of the Dangs experiment is motivating the Sangh to replay this strategy in other tribal dominated districts across the nation.

One Hindutva mouthpiece, Organiser, boasts: "Let all the secular Taliban and left creepers wail and beat their chests but the ongoing march of the Vanvasi rights and assertion of their cultural identity shall not be stopped." (Link 2) A translation of the double-speak in this sentence could read like this: All those who support secular politics, real religious liberty, environmentalism, and the rights of India's indigenous peoples can complain and protest all they like, but the Sangh Parivar's Hindutva campaign to convince the Adivasis that they are Vanvasi Hindus whose security and identity is threatened only by Christians shall not be stopped.

As the Sangh's Hindutva forces advance through the tribal districts persecution of Christians is increasing in both frequency and intensity. According to the Sangh, hundreds of tribal Christians are (with the help of RSS paramilitary forces) seeing the error of their ways, realising they have been deceived and exploited by the Christians, and are now "returning home" to Hinduism. Violence against individual believers, pastors and evangelists, whole churches, and church and mission property is being reported constantly, especially in tribal dominated districts and especially in BJP-ruled states such as Gujarat, Rajasthan, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Chhatisigarh and Jharkhand.

The central government is working to address the issue of communal conflict. However, the draft Communal Violence (Prevention, Control and Rehabilitation of Victims) Bill, 2005, is terribly, dangerously flawed. The Bill increases the power of state governments, but a Bill that increases the power of governments cannot protect minorities from government-sponsored terrorism.

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SHABRI KUMBH ONLY THE BEGINING

The Sangh Parivar is not out to save souls. Its goals are purely political, rooted in power lust. The primary goal of the Sangh Parivar is simply to consolidate the Adivasis (indigenous peoples, called Vanvasi, forest peoples, by the Sangh) as part of the Hindutva fold before the 2009 federal elections. Religion is simply a tool with which to achieve social engineering for political gain.

The Sangh wants the BJP returned to power in the centre in 2009, with a majority so that it can rule outright, without being compromised by coalition partners. Even if Christians pray for God to protect every Christian in India from Hindutva violence, the Sangh can still achieve its political goal if it converts enough tribals to Hinduism to ensure BJP majority rule from 2009. If that happens, it could safely be predicted that India's secular constitution will be changed, national anti-conversion laws enacted, and a Hindutva dictatorship established.

SEEKING FOUR MORE "SOCIAL" KUMBHS

Abhishek Kapoor reports for Ahmedabad Newsline: "End of the three-day Shabari Kumbh here marked the beginning of a new experiment on mobilising Hindu forces. Led by the RSS, organisations have planned to use this new tool — more such kumbhs across the country in a semi-religious setting — to gather Hindus to counter Christian missionaries and conversions.

"According to plans, these congregations would be different from the regular Kumbh Melas held at Prayag, Hardwar, Ujjain and Nashik and focus on reform and social engineering within Hinduism to consolidate its followers as a single block. The concluding public meeting, led by Shankaracharya Saraswati of Joshimath, announced that all tribals including Nagas, Mizos, Santhals, Orans, Bodos, Mundas and Gonds, belong to Hindu fold.

"The Shankaracharya mooted the idea of more social kumbhs that would bring Hindus together on one platform. He suggested four new kumbhs sites in tribal dominated states of Chattisgarh, Jharkhand, Uttaranchal and the North-East." (Link 3)

Abhishek Kapoor notes that the aims of the Shabri Kumbh are first and foremost political: "The religious significance of kumbh could be termed low as many of the visitors were cadres mobilised by saffron organisations during the past three months.

"Interestingly, Dangs, like all tribal areas in the State, has been a traditional Congress bastion with a difference that it stayed with the party even after the 2002 violence handed all assembly seats to the BJP.

"However, the BJP remains optimistic about the kumbh's returns. Talking to Newsline, a minister in the Modi government said the party would reap dividends out of the kumbh for next 10 years without much hard work. 'Our margins in the Assembly seats of Ahwa Dangs were as low as 50 and seven votes. With the kind of mobilisation that has taken place, we do not see much difficulty. If the kumbh gets institutionalised, it would be an added advantage,' he said." (Link 3)

GOING HOME

According to the most recent edition of the Organiser, Christians are "returning" to Hinduism by the hundreds. This is of course, pure propaganda, presenting the "homecoming" as an act of awakening when in reality it is a forced conversion made under duress. One cannot underestimate the confusion, fear and intimidation felt by tribal Christians when pressured by Hindutva forces to convert or suffer. The fact is, these believers suffer no matter what they do. If they are born again believers, their fearful acquiescence will break their hearts (as Peter's did: Luke 22:62) and they will need to rediscover their Lord's merciful forgiveness and loving acceptance. If they stand firm, they will be persecuted and their loved ones and children will suffer with them.

The Organiser reports, "About 335 Christians belonging to 55 families returned to their original roots at a function held at Soharpat village of Gumla district in Bihar." The speaker at the conversion ceremony, Shri Sudarshan Bhagat demanded (ironically) that the state government put a complete ban on conversion. According to the Organiser: "He said the Christian missionaries had been trapping local gullible Vanvasis and converting them to Christianity... He appealed to all people of the community who have somehow adopted Christianity to come back to their original roots, [that is, not animism, but Hinduism]."

The Organiser also reports, "In another function held at Bhojpur village of Etah district in Uttar Pradesh, over 300 Christians returned to Hindu fold. They also converted the local church into a temple. The father of the church himself installed the pictures of goddess Durga, Vaishno Devi and Hanuman in the new temple. After returning to Hindu fold, he also said the missionaries took unfair advantage of his poverty and used him for conversion in the area." (Link 4)

Speaking at the Shabri Kumbh Mela on 11 February, Hindu teacher Morari Bapu railed against conversions (to Christianity), and made a special public appeal to Christian missionaries to follow Christ and obey the Bible by not converting people to Christianity!

Ahmedabad Newsline reports: "Quoting from a chapter on Luke in the Bible, Bapu said even Christ's word forbade conversions... 'When the Bible says do not convert, please don't. It is great that you are good medicos, and have the money to help poor and ailing. But once they have been healed, let them go back home (their parent religion) as good doctors do. Ghar jana koi gunah nahin hai,' he said, quoting from a Gujarat Sahitya Prakashan translation of the book." (Link 5)

Morari Bapu also invited Dangi Christians to convert, or "return" to Hinduism, saying, "Anybody can make a comeback to his home. Just have a dip in the holy Pampa Sarovar and worship Shabari Mata, you will be back home." (Link 6)

Bapu deliberately manipulates the term "home", deceitfully interpreting it as "former religion" rather than home where you live. According to Bapu's interpretation, when Jesus healed the paralysed man and then said, "...take your mat and go home" (Luke 5:24); or when Jesus told the healed demoniac to "Return home..." (Luke 8:39); he was really telling them to return to their former religion. Bapu did not address all the other healings where people were not exhorted to "return home"; he did not address "follow me". What he did do though, was sow seeds of doubt, confusion and anger in the hearts and minds of many down-trodden, illiterate tribals (including Christians), who may now be tempted to see Christians as essentially hypocritical and unfaithful to their own religion.

------------------------------------------------------------------
DRAFT COMMUNAL VIOLENCE BILL FLAWED
------------------------------------------------------------------

Due to the Sangh's mobilisation of Hindutva forces and programs, violence against Christians, particularly in tribal dominated areas, is escalating in both frequency and intensity. While the Indian government is making an effort to address this issue, the draft Communal Violence (Prevention, Control and Rehabilitation of Victims) Bill, 2005, is terribly flawed. The Bill is presently making its way through public discussion and parliamentary debate.

The fundamental flaw in the bill is that it actually increases the powers of state governments. Clearly this is totally useless when sectarian state governments are in collusion with sectarian, communal organistations. In Gujarat, both the massacre of Muslims in 2002, and the Shabri Kumbh Mela of February 2006, were actively supported by Gujarat's BJP state government.

Two critiques of this Bill can be found at Link 7.

They include "A People's Critique" of the Bill, by ANHAD (Act Now For Harmony and Democracy), HRLN (Human Rights Law Network) and Jan Vikas, and published in the Milli Gazette; as well as a report written by the Executive Director of the Human Rights Law Network and published in Tehelka.

According to these critiques the core sections of the Bill from Chapter II to Chapter VI, relating to the prevention of communal violence, the investigation of communal crimes and the establishment of special courts will only come into effect if the state government issues a notification. What's more, it is not mandatory that the state government act at all, even if notified by the central government. Meanwhile, civil society remains powerless to initiate or control prosecutions when communal crimes occur.

The Bill contains a clause for punishment of public officials who fail to perform their duties. Yet even here there is both a failing and a loophole. The Bill fails to hold accountable those in positions of command and authority such as the Chief Minister. What's worse, police who fail to perform their duties, being either passive or partisan in the face of communal violence, cannot be charged with an offence unless the state government sanctions the proceedings. As "A People's Critique" notes, "In the context of state governments with communally driven malafide intent, the chances of even police officials being punished under this clause are very remote."

Another flaw in the Bill is the definition of "communal violence", which is limited to a list of already criminalised offences, and does not cover many communal crimes such as mobilisation with incitement through hate speech, literature, media and teaching. The Bill also has a very narrow definition of sexual violence which fails to address issues beyond rape, such as stripping, sexual slavery and other forms of sexual violence.

As the critics of the Bill note, what is needed is a law which makes it mandatory for the government to act in clearly codified ways before, during and after communal violence. And the law needs also to remove impunity, so that state governments, authority figures, and police that fail to act to prevent violence may be charged, tried and punished.

Regarding the power of the central government to intervene (which obviously is only beneficial if the central government is non-sectarian), "A People's Critique" comments: "Section 55 requires the Central Government, in cases where it is of the opinion that 'there is an imminent threat to the secular fabric, unity, integrity or internal security of India which requires that immediate steps' to 'draw the attention of the State Government to the prevailing situation'; and to direct it 'to take all immediate measures to suppress' the violence. If the state government fails to act, the Bill provides first for the central government to declare any area within a State as 'communally disturbed area' under this Bill; but this is not significant because, as we observed, such declaration does not require mandatory actions by the state government to control the violence. The Bill also provides for central 'deployment of armed forces, to prevent and control communal violence', which would have been very significant, but the provision is neutralised by the requirement that this central deployment is legally permissible only in the event of 'a request having been received from the State Government to do so'. In other words, only the state government still retains the power to decide about the deployment of armed forces to control communal violence."

As noted in the report in Tehelka, this proviso, that the central government must wait for a request from the state government before it can intervene is "a ridiculously retrogressive provision given the fact that even today the Centre is under no obligation to wait for consent when the situation goes out of control".

Elizabeth Kendal

Links

1) India: The dictators of Hindutva aim for 'death blow' in Dangs
WEA RLC News & Analysis. by Elizabeth Kendal, 26 Jan 2006

India: Shabri Kumbh Mela Threatens 8000 Christians in Dangs
WEA Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin - No. 364 - Wed 08 Feb 2006
Eliazabeth Kendal

Apex court acts on anti-Christian video
3 February 2006
http://www.newkerala.com/news2.php?action=fullnews&id=1835

2) The grand mingling in the Shabri Kumbh
By Tarun Vijay 26 February 2006
http://www.organiser.org/dynamic/modules.php?name=Content&pa=showpage&pid=119&page=14

3) RSS wants more such kumbhs
Abhishek Kapoor. 13 February 2006
http://cities.expressindia.com/fullstory.php?newsid=169683

4) 600 Christians return to Hindu fold
http://www.organiser.org/dynamic/modules.php?name=Content&pa=showpage&pid=120&page=30#2

5) From kumbh, Modi sends out a warning to missionaries
Abhishek Kapoor, Sunday , February 12, 2006
http://cities.expressindia.com/fullstory.php?newsid=169474

6) At RSS meet, Modi, saints oppose Christian missionaries
Ahwa (Gujarat) | February 12, 2006
http://news.webindia123.com/news/showdetails.asp?id=247133&cat=India

7) Betrayals and Missed Opportunities: The Communal Violence Bill, 2005. A People's Critique of the Communal Violence (Prevention, Control and Rehabilitation of Victims) Bill, 2005. By ANHAD, HRLN & Jan Vikas The Milli Gazette Online. 8 February 2006
http://www.milligazette.com/dailyupdate/2006/20060208-communal-bill.htm

All that hot air
http://www.tehelka.com/story_main16.asp?filename=Cr021806all_that.asp