Friday, September 26, 2008

GOVT BELLIGERENCE ESCALATES AGAINST HANOI CATHOLICS

Date: Friday 26 September 2008
Subj: Vietnam: Govt belligerence escalates against Hanoi Catholics.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal


Twelve months ago the world's media was transfixed by the sight of thousands of courageous, marching, anti-junta Buddhist monks in Rangoon, Burma. It has been both astounding therefore and sad that the largest public demonstrations to occur in Vietnam since the Communists took power have attracted only the most minimal attention. But the Hanoi demonstrations, which are taking the form of mass prayer vigils attended by candle, cross and flower-holding, singing, praying Catholics, are immensely significant. So WEA RLC will be following the situation, which is escalating week by week.

This posting updates the posting of 16 September 2008 entitled –
"Vietnam: Prayer vigils push government to breaking point."

As previously reported: "The prayer vigils are pushing the government to breaking point. But will they result in a breakthrough in Church-State relations, or an escalation in violent repression?

"The situation is not looking good. The government appears to be closing the door on dialogue, police are being deployed and the State-run media are describing the main prayer vigil in Thai Ha as an 'organisational crime' plotted by 'hostile forces' against the communist government."

--------------------------------------------
UPDATE: GOVERNMENT BELLIGERENCE ESCALATES
--------------------------------------------

GOVT ORDERS DEMOLITION OF FORMER VATICAN EMBASSY IN HANOI

VietCatholic News Agency reports: "Eight months after promising to restore Church ownership of a building that once housed the office of the apostolic nuncio in Hanoi, Vietnamese authorities have suddenly begun demolishing the building, provoking the outrage of Catholic protesters and drawing a heated protest from the city's archbishop.

"Very early [4 am] on Friday morning, 19 September, hundreds of police assembled in front of the archbishop's residence in Hanoi, blocking access to the residence, the cathedral, and all roads leading to the nearby nunciature. Dozens of bulldozers moved into the area and began digging out the lawn of the nunciature. At 6 am, after police and demolition workers were in place, state-controlled television and radio broadcasts announced that the government had decided to demolish the building, to convert the land into a public playground." (Full report: link 1)

The betrayal and the demolition carry an implied threat: "This is what happens when you push us too far!"

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN HANOI'S CATHOLICS ARE PUSHED TOO FAR?
10,000 TURN OUT TO PRAY

-- largest public demonstrations since Communists came to power.

VietCatholic News Agency reports (with great photos): "The Sunday [21 Sep] morning protest of Catholics on the streets of Hanoi was probably the largest so far after the Communist takeover in 1954. A bishop and hundreds of priests led more than ten thousand of protesters praying at the nunciature before an open altar set up at the middle of the street." (Link 2)

While police turned back many busloads of worshippers, an estimated 10,000 managed to make it to the site where they braved the rain, heavy police presence, attack dogs and barbed wire to pray for justice and worship the Lord as the bells of St Joseph's Cathedral next door chimed intermittently.

Some 5,000 candle-bearing Catholics also turned out at the former nunciature on the Saturday night. "A student from Hanoi university said: 'I was here last night with at least 5,000 people. I prayed with them until very late. I had just gone home to take a sleep then return here with people. We were very upset with the way this government handle the issue.'

"'My hope [for the return of the nunciature] is gone, but my belief in God is unshaken,' said Phuong Nguyen, another girl at early twenties. 'Last February, we halted the protests out of the trust in them. However, they managed to delay returning the property through various bureaucratic manoeuvres. Then, all in a sudden, they announced to demolish for a playground and immediately carried out their plan with the support of their armed forces. How can we still trust them?' she asked." (Link 2)

MEDIA UNDER FIRE

Associated Press journalist Ben Stocking was covering the story at the former nunciature on Friday morning 19 September when he was violently assaulted by police and temporarily detained. "He [Stocking] reported that he had been choked, punched and bashed with his own camera -- the last assault opening a cut in his scalp that bled profusely. After his 2 1/2 hours in detention, he immediately had to seek treatment at a private clinic for the head injury." (Link 3)

The Vietnamese authorities however deny that Stocking was beaten and maintain that he was arrested for breaking the law. Eye witnesses (including an unknown person who filmed Stocking's removal and posted it on YouTube) maintain that Stocking was openly standing beside police and taking photos without any problems. He offered no resistance when asked to move away, but was later put into a chokehold and beaten. On Monday 22 September Stocking was summoned to the foreign ministry where he was issued a warning. Vietnamese media reported that the ministry was contemplating further action, particularly against Stocking's "slander" that security forces had beaten him. (Link 4)

ARCHBISHOP AND FOUR PRIESTS UNDER FIRE

On Tuesday 23 September Ben Stocking reported from Hanoi: "Communist authorities in Hanoi have threatened to take legal action against the city's archbishop unless he immediately disbands illegal prayer vigils to demand the return of former church lands, state media reported Monday.

"The government campaign against Archbishop Ngo Quang Kiet escalated over the weekend, with state television calling into question his patriotism in an apparent attempt to turn public opinion against him." (Link 5)

According to State-run media: "The Hanoi People's Committee's communique accuses Kiet of directly inciting and encouraging violations of land-related laws." Furthermore, the authorities claim Hanoians will support the disciplining of the Archbishop. (Link 6)

However, as Stocking reports, the threats extend beyond the Archbishop. Four priests involved in the prayer vigils at the Thai Ha site also received official warnings. The BBC reports: "The archbishop and priests are accused of 'stirring the population' and encouraging illegal religious activity." (Link 7)

According to State-run media, the priests have "organised illegal religious activities on the occupied land, disturbing security, and social order in the area. For those acts, the Hanoi Mayor issues a warning against Vu Khoi Phung, the priest in charge of the Thai Ha parish and three priests, including Nguyen Van Khai, Nguyen Van That and Nguyen Ngoc Nam Phong and demands them immediately stop those law violations, otherwise, they will be treated in line with the law." (Link 8)

The priests have been ordered to remove religious symbols from the site and stop disseminating false information and holding illegal gatherings. The authorities have ordered the crowds to "refrain from extremist actions".

CHURCH UNDER FIRE


In the past week the two main prayer vigil sites -- the Thai Ha Redemptorist monastery and the former nunciature -- have both been attacked by large gangs of pro-government vigilantes. The gangs dress in the blue shirts of the Youth Communist League.

On Friday 19 September at around 1 am a pro-government gang attacked the Thai Ha chapel, ransacking the altar and vandalising church property. Then at around 11.20 pm on Sunday 21 September a 200-strong gang surrounded the monastery and attempted to gain access, smashing everything in their way. "In what one priest called a 'sort of terrorism' against the Catholic faithful, the gang ransacked the building, destroying statues and books while shouting threats against the lives of clergy and religious, Catholic faithful, and the Archbishop of Hanoi." (Link 9)

In each case, the police did not intervene.

Then at 4 pm on Thursday 25 September a gang attacked the former nunciature. "Hundreds of Catholic protesters seeking the return of a former papal nunciature confiscated by the communist government were attacked on Thursday afternoon in a confrontation with youths, military veterans, and members of other communist associations.

"The pro-government gang chased protesters from the area and then gathered at the gate of the Archbishop of Hanoi's office, yelling communist slogans and calling for the head of the archbishop, whom they accused of treason." (Link 10)

According to VietCatholic News Agency the militants, who far outnumbered the Catholic protesters, were delivered to the site by State-owned buses. While the priests took cover in the church offices, the police watched as the mob destroyed the cross that worshippers had erected at the site in January. According to reports, some police even joined in the anti-Catholic rampage. (Link 11)

CHILDREN UNDER FIRE

It has also been reported that the People's Committee of Thanh Oai district has ordered school teachers to monitor their students to see who is attending the prayer vigils at the Thai Ha site. VietCatholic News Agency reports that teachers "can be seen in Thai Ha everyday looking for their students, forcing them to go home, and threatening them with severe punishments including expulsion from the school.

"Most teachers feel reluctant to become persecutors against their students. But, some seem to see it a perfect chance to carry out their anti-Catholicism ideology. Two year 7 Catholic students from Thach Bich, known as Huong and Quynh, told their parents they were forced by their teachers to stand in front of their classmates to be mocked. The 'humiliation session' had dragged for hours until the two 11-year-old children promised not to go to the church again.

"Teachers in Bich Hoa high school, out of the fear of losing their promotion and pay rise, asked all Catholic students to pledge in writing not to follow their parents to Thai Ha. In addition, non-Catholic students were ordered to report the presence of their Catholic classmates at the site.

"Catholic students from Hanoi universities face even more threats. 'We have been repeatedly warned not to go to Thai Ha. We face expulsion and arrest for joining protesters,' said an architect student, who has requested anonymity for his own safety. 'We just come here to pray. We do nothing wrong. We have no weapons and no political ambition. Why they fear us?' he asked." (Link 12)

By Elizabeth Kendal

Links

1) Tensions boil over in Hanoi as government betrays promise, destroys nunciature.
19 Sep 2008 http://www.vietcatholic.net/News/Html/58740.htm .
Hanoi Archbishop protests government's expropriation and destruction of former nunciature. 19Sept2008 http://www.vietcatholic.net/News/Html/58779.htm
ALSO
BBC. Bulldozers stoke Hanoi land clash
By Nga Pham, 19 Sep 2008
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/7625393.stm

2) Huge protest on Sunday morning at the nunciature. 21 Sept2008
http://www.vietcatholic.net/News/Html/58880.htm

3) Vietnam alleges beaten AP photographer broke law. 19 Sep 2008
http://ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5gFaTmVF3wvSPYOpCO8AJauwPyMiwD93AP9K00
ALSO http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VTnukD8uYW4

4) Vietnam summons US journalist over protest coverage. 23 Sep 2008 http://afp.google.com/article/ALeqM5ism9NiNQ2MjlI8eQykV7svM8hzog

5) Hanoi: Church must end vigils or face legal action
Ben Stocking in Hanoi, 23 Sep 2008
http://ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5jQVjwqiv1eWVsGsnLajOkLkZNAGAD93BSLJ80

6) Hanoi archbishop told to desist from further law violations
http://www.thanhniennews.com/politics/?catid=1&newsid=42245
Hanoi City has issued a written warning to Archbishop Ngo Quang Kiet of the Hanoi Archdiocese asking him to refrain from disseminating false information and inciting priests and people to take part in illegal activities.
ALSO
Hanoians in support of disciplining Archbishop. 24 Sep 2008
http://english.vietnamnet.vn/social/2008/09/805253/
Voters have agreed with a decision made by the Hanoi People's Committee to discipline municipal Church Archbishop Ngo Quang Kiet and several other priests in line with national law.

7) Vietnam warns priests over land
By Nga Pham, BBC News, 23 Sep 2008
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/7632095.stm

8) Hanoi warns Thai Ha priests for law breaches. 23 Sep 2008
http://english.vietnamnet.vn/politics/2008/09/805063/

9) Vietnamese gang ransacks Catholic chapel as police stand by. 22 Sep 2008
http://catholicnewsagency.com/new.php?n=13865

10) Pro-government mob attacks Catholic demonstrators in Hanoi. 25 Sep 2008
http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/new.php?n=13899

11) Communist gang attack Hanoi archbishop's office. 25 Sep 2008
http://www.vietcatholic.net/News/Html/59162.htm

12) Vietnam: Catholic students mocked at school. 18 Sep 2008
http://www.vietcatholic.net/News/Html/58665.htm

Monday, September 22, 2008

Iran: parliament passes apostasy death bill -- UNHCR take note!

Date: Monday 22 September 2008
Subj: Iran: parliament passes apostasy death bill -- UNHCR take note!
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal


That apostasy (leaving Islam) is an enormously risky even deadly business in any Muslim country is not news to any apostate or to any serious religious liberty observer. That the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) does not always share this view however is news to many.

ISLAM RETURNS

Traditional Sharia Law mandates death for apostates based on the Hadith (saying of Muhammad) "Whoever changes his Islamic religion, kill him." (Sahih Al-Bukhari Vol. 9:57).

The decline of Islamic political power, particularly after World Wars 1 and 2, the subsequent rise of secular Arab nationalism, and leverage afforded to the USA due to its economic power led to this practice being largely abandoned at the state level. Whilst apostates were frequently murdered either out of religious hatred or for the sake of "honour", they were not executed by states that were under Western mandates, pursuing secularism and dependent on Western aid and trade.

But times have changed. An international revival of Sunni Wahhabism has been riding on the back of Saudi Arabian oil profits since the late 1970s. Furthermore, decades of brutal, repressive, corrupt dictatorships and declining living standards primed the Muslim masses for the "democracy" coming their way. Now, as soon as the opportunity presents, it appears that Muslims are ready to test the Muslim Brotherhood's assertion that "Islam is the solution".

Meanwhile, the Shi'ite revolutionaries of 1979, after being exhausted by the Iran-Iraq war and then constrained by a western bulwark (Saddam Hussein's Iraq), are now liberated, empowered, bursting with apocalyptic zeal and driven by the scent of Islamic leadership and ascendancy.

After centuries of decline and decades in the cupboard, Islam has returned!

Now Iran is in the process of legislating to make apostasy and promoting apostasy (including through the Internet) mandatory capital offences in the name of protecting the State's "mental security". This shows the degree to which the balance of power has shifted. Clearly the clerics in charge of the Iranian police state do not feel threatened by, nor do they care about, Western displeasure. In fact making the death sentence mandatory for apostasy and promoting apostasy is a very powerful way for ascendant Iran to make an offensive gesture to the USA, the rival power it is gradually replacing as hegemon in Iraq and the wider Middle East. It is a sign of supreme self-confidence.

Further to this, it is also a reactionary response to the reality that Iranian Muslims, fed up with and distressed by seemingly endless poverty and repression, are leaving Islam in increasing numbers. A recent sermon by an Iranian Shia Imam reveals how concerned the authorities are about the apostasy phenomenon and how determined they are to crush it. A Youtube clip shows a portion of a television broadcast of a sermon by an Iranian Shia mullah who is instructing the faithful not to worry about recruiting Sunnis, Christians and Zoroastrians into Shi'ism. For, he warns, he has travelled the country and the greatest danger is that of apostasy, especially young Iranian Shi'a youths converting to Zoroastrianism, the ancient religion of pre-Islamic Persia. "Don't let our Shi'a youth leave our faith", he thunders. (Link 1)

IRAN, APOSTASY AND THE UNHCR

Yet over recent years several Western countries have been returning Iranian Christian asylum seekers, including apostates, to Iran on the basis that the UNHCR claims they will not be persecuted.

UNHCR TAKE NOTE: As Christian Solidarity Worldwide reports, "The Iranian Parliament voted on Tuesday [9 Sep] in favour of a bill stipulating the death penalty for apostasy. The bill was approved by 196 votes for, seven against, and two abstentions.

"The progress of this bill through the Iranian Parliament is a cause of grave concern for increasing numbers of Iranians who have left Islam for another religion, and a significant backwards step for human rights in Iran. The draft bill will add a number of crimes to the list of those resulting in execution, among them; 'establishing weblogs and sites promoting corruption, prostitution and apostasy'." (Link 2)

The Khaleej Times (Dubai) in July reported the bill states that those convicted of these crimes "should be punished as 'mohareb' (enemy of God) and 'corrupt on the earth'". The bill also stipulates that the punishment handed out in these cases "cannot be commuted, suspended or changed". (Link 3)

As the Khaleek Times notes: "Internet is widely used in Iran despite restrictions on access and the blocking of thousands of websites with a sexual content or deemed as insulting religious sanctities and promoting political dissent. Blogging is also very popular among cyber-savvy young Iranians, some openly discussing their private lives or criticising the system."

The Defenders of Human Rights Centre, which is run by Iranian Nobel peace laureate Shirin Ebadi, warned in July: "If this bill is adopted, there will be further infringement of the freedom of expression, citizens' judicial security will be jeopardised and executions will increase." (Link 4)

IMMEDIATE IMPLICATIONS

. . INSIDE IRAN


On 10 September Compass Direct (CD) reported that two Iranian Christians have now officially been charged with "apostasy".

Mahmood Matin Azad (52) and Arash Basirat (44) have been in prison since their arrest in Shiraz on 15 May "on suspicion of apostasy". The two men were later charged with "Propaganda Against the Islamic Republic of Iran".

CD reports: "When their lawyer went to authorities to inquire about the case in early August, he was informed that the two men had been formally charged with apostasy.

"Sources who spoke to the two Christians' defence lawyer explained that a written order of the formal charge of apostasy was unusual and an indication of the severity and complexity of the case.

"With the apostasy bill debated in Parliament, some Iranian Christians fear that authorities are seeking to make an example of the two prisoners or give the prospective law a 'test run'." (Link 5)

. . AND OUTSIDE IRAN

The UNHCR and all Western governments must observe that this bill mandating death for apostasy and promoting apostasy passed easily through the Iranian parliament. The vote clearly proves that Iranian authorities overwhelmingly believe that apostates and those who promote apostasy should die. Even if the Guardian Council does not pass the bill into law (for whatever reason) it may be assumed that those who take the implementation of Sharia law into their own hands will not be prosecuted by this regime. Apostates who have left Islam will have no security. This fact must be allowed to impact refugee claims.

Two cases presently before the courts in New Zealand perfectly demonstrate the problem faced by numerous Iranian Christian asylum seekers.

Thomas Yadegary is an Iranian convert to Christianity. He arrived in New Zealand in 1993 and had been working for years as a chef when in November 2004, after his final appeal for refugee status was declined, Yadegary was issued with a deportation order. Yadegary was then arrested after he refused to sign an application for an Iranian passport. In early April 2007, after 29 months behind bars, Yadegary was released on bail after a court hearing, the details of which were suppressed pending a government appeal. (Link 6)

Miss Bahareh Moradi, another Iranian convert to Christianity, is also fighting deportation. Her pastor, Rev. Rinny Westra of St Aidan's Presbyterian Church, says he has seen Immigration New Zealand targeting Iranian converts for harsh treatment.

Scoop Independent news reports: "Mr Westra says Miss Moradi's case is one of a series where Iranian Christians have been unreasonably rejected by Immigration.

"He points to Christian convert Ali Pannah, who went on a hunger strike in prison to avoid deportation, and Majid Mohebbi, who he says was whipped after being deported.

"'In mid-April an Iranian man who claims to be a Christian was deported after visiting Miss Moradi's brother Hamid,' says Mr Westra. "In all their cases their pastors vouched for the truth of their conversions." (Link 7)

UNHCR

According to the article "Pastor speaks against immigration 'persecution'" (at link 6), the Labour Department, which oversees Immigration NZ, rejects the claims that Iranian Muslims who convert to Christianity face persecution in Iran. In its statement the Labour Department asserts: "Neither the United Nations High Commission for Refugees nor the government's own sources support the contention that all Christians face danger, on the basis of religion, if they are returned to Iran."

When the New Zealand Parliament sat in April, the Minister for Immigration, the Hon. Clayton Cosgrove, was asked to comment on the government's recent decision to order the deportation of Miss Bahareh Moradi.

Now the Refugee Status Appeals Authority had expressed doubts about the genuineness of various conversions despite detailed evidence to the contrary from clergy and pastoral workers from the Catholic, Anglican, Presbyterian and Pentecostal Churches. However Mr Cosgrove said the genuineness of a conversion was irrelevant, because the issue is whether the fear of persecution is well founded and, he reports, according to the UNHCR it is not.

"We are reliant on the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees for advice," said Cosgrove. "We are reliant on the members of the Refugee Status Appeals Authority as independent individuals to make those judgments. They assess all the facts. They receive representations from qualified and unqualified stakeholders, and they make decisions in an independent way.

"We are governed by the advice of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, not vested interest groups, and not representations from others, though they are taken into account. To date, despite what the member says, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees does not support the contention that Christians face these dangers if returned to Iran. However, if it was to be the case that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees changed its view . . . then of course New Zealand, being governed by its international obligations, would indeed consider that change. I note, though, that the UK, Germany, the Netherlands, Australia, and other countries have faced similar issues of repatriating Iranians who have hindered their departure. These countries have found that Iranians who are returned to Iran are unlikely, despite their alleged conversion to Christianity, or other claims, to be subjected to persecution." (Link 8, Hansard; for the full transcript of the debate in the NZ parliament: "Refugee Status Appeals Authority—Conversion to Christianity".) The New Zealand parliament next sits on Tuesday 23 September 2008.

-----

The opinion of the UNHCR carries considerable weight in Refugee Review Tribunals. Therefore the UNHCR should cast off all political correctness and instead catch up with and embrace the challenge of reality: that due to the violent, repressive, rights-abusing nature of Sharia Law, non-Muslims -- in particularly apostates, who are in effect "religious-dissidents" -- seeking refugee status on religious grounds should never be forced to return to Islamic states. Their fear of persecution is very well founded indeed.


Links

1) Iranians are renouncing Islam: Mullah gets Paranoid! Sep 2008
http://www.iranian360.com/story.php?title=iranians-are-renouncing-islam-mullah-gets-paranoid-1

2) Iran -- Parliament votes in favour of punishing apostasy with death
Christian Solidarity Worldwide, 11 Sep 2008
http://dynamic.csw.org.uk/article.asp?t=press&id=773

3) Iran mulls death penalty for Internet crimes.
Khaleej Times (Dubai) (AFP) 2 July 2008
http://www.khaleejtimes.com/darticlen.asp?xfile=data/middleeast/2008/July/middleeast_July44.xml&section=middleeast&col

4) Ebadi rights group warns Iran on Internet crime bill. 20 July 2008
http://news.theage.com.au/technology/ebadi-rights-group-warns-iran-on-internet-crime-bill-20080720-3hzs.html

5) Compass Direct News
http://www.compassdirect.org/content/index.php?id=25 (search Iran)

6) Iranian refugee freed after two years [29 months] in New Zealand jail
Asia-Pacific News 5 April 2007
http://www.monstersandcritics.com/news/asiapacific/news/article_1287465.php/Iranian_refugee_freed_after_two_years_in_New_Zealand_jail
Upset as gay Iranian wins asylum but Catholic fails. 6 Feb 2007
http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10422597
Yadegary decision shows need for Bill change. 14 August 2008.
http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/PA0808/S00233.htm

7) Deportation could spell death
By HAYDEN DONNELL - North Shore Times | Friday, 07 March 2008
http://www.stuff.co.nz/4429773a11.html
Pastor stands by fugitive Iranian
By HAYDEN DONNELL - North Shore Times | Thursday, 10 April 2008
http://www.stuff.co.nz/auckland/4472327a22400.html
Pastor speaks against immigration 'persecution'
By HAYDEN DONNELL - North Shore Times | Tuesday, 06 May 2008
http://www.snl.co.nz/4511319a6016.html

8) "Refugee Status Appeals Authority -- Conversion to Christianity"
http://www.parliament.nz/en-NZ/PB/Debates/QOA/b/0/1/48HansQ_20080417_00000537-8-Refugee-Status-Appeals-Authority-Conversion.htm

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

PRAYER VIGILS PUSH GOVERNMENT TO BREAKING POINT

Date: Tuesday 16 September 2008
Subj: Vietnam: Prayer vigils push government to breaking point.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal


Vietnam's Protestant and Catholic churches have long sought the return of properties seized by the Communist authorities since they came to power. In the north the confiscations date back to the 1950's, while in the south they date back to 1975.

For years the church's petitions have been rejected and ignored. Occasionally however the government will offer minimalist appeasement in the hope of silencing Christian leaders and satisfying international observers. However, these "gifts" are then followed by more property confiscations and demolitions, leaving the church feeling frustrated and discouraged.

But things have changed and a new wind is blowing. Many Vietnamese are seeing something they have never seen before. In late December 2007, thousands of Catholics in Hanoi rallied publicly -- armed with flowers, crosses and candles -- to pray for the return of church land and property.

On 28 March 2008 the Evangelical Church of Vietnam (South) (ECV(S)) issued a petition not this time to the government, but to the global body of Christ seeking prayer support in their struggle with the Communist authorities over property, interference and discrimination. That petition: "A Call to Prayer -- To the Church of God Everywhere", can be found at Link 1.

A Spirit of prayer seems to have descended upon the Vietnamese Church giving the believers courage, drive and a determination never before seen -- and the government is clearly rattled.

As the Catholic prayer vigils grow and spread, Vietnam's Communist government is working overtime to discredit the churches and their leaders and justify its own intransigence and hostility through disinformation and slander disseminated through the State-run media.

But despite the slander, police violence, threats of arrest, "extreme actions" and an imminent crackdown, the protests continue day and night in all weather and with growing numbers.

The prayer vigils are pushing the government to breaking point. But will they result in a breakthrough in Church-State relations, or an escalation in violent repression?

The situation is not looking good. The government appears to be closing the door on dialogue, police are being deployed and the State-run media are describing the main prayer vigil in Thai Ha as an "organisational crime" plotted by "hostile forces" against the communist government. (Link 2)

---------------------------------------------------------------------------

SEEKING THE RETURN OF CONFISCATED PROPERTIES

The Evangelical Church of Vietnam (South) (ECV(S)) petitioned the government three times during 2007 concerning discrimination, government interference in church affairs, and the status of the 265 ECV(S) properties the Communist authorities have seized since 1975 -- but to no avail. The government did actually return a few small properties for appeasement sake but then in November and December of 2007 demolished two more ECV(S) properties.

On 15 December 2007 the Catholic Archbishop of Hanoi, Joseph Ngo Quan Kiet, requested the government restore to the church the building that served as the Vatican ambassador's residence in Hanoi during the 1950s. The Communist authorities requisitioned the building in 1959, and it subsequently came to be used as a restaurant.

Sandro Magister describes what happened next: "Last December 15, the archbishop of Hanoi, Joseph Ngo Quan Kiet, asked for the building to be given back, and called upon the faithful to pray that justice be done.

"The faithful took him at his word. Since December 18, every evening, they have gathered in front of the fence outside the former nunciature, praying and carrying flowers and candles. On Christmas Eve, there were 5,000 of them.

"On December 30, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung came among them. Pushing through the crowd, he entered the archbishop's residence, where he spent fifteen minutes meeting with Archbishop Ngo Quan Kiet. As he left, he was applauded.

"But the protest did not die out. On the contrary, it expanded to other areas of the city.

"On January 6, the Christian feast of the Epiphany, the faithful of the parish of Thai Ha, in Hanoi, began to demonstrate to ask for the restitution of land and buildings confiscated by the regime [from the Redemptorist Order], and now occupied by various government offices and a factory . . .

"On January 12, in Ho Chi Minh City, thousands of faithful took to the streets for a vigil of solidarity with the faithful of Hanoi. The superior of the Redemptorists, Fr Joseph Cao Dinh Tri, appealed in a message to the ruling 379/TTG, which requires the authorities to give back to their owners the goods and lands confiscated over time, if these are no longer necessary to the government for critical purposes. He also recalled the ordinance PL-UBTVQH11 of 2004, which states: 'The legal ownership of sites of religious interest is protected by the law: any violation is prohibited.'

"During those same days, the faithful of the city of Ha Dong, about 25 miles south of Hanoi, also begin demonstrating peacefully for the restitution of a building confiscated from a parish.

"On January 24, a government delegation returned to meet the archbishop of Hanoi. During those same hours, groups of faithful broke through into the garden of the former nunciature, planting a cross there before they were removed by the police . . ." (Link 3)

Sandro Magister goes on to list subsequent meetings between Catholic leaders and government officials that eventually culminated in the 27 February statement by the Patriot Front Official for Religious Affairs who declared that the government can no longer ignore the legitimate request for the former nunciature to be restored to the church.

The Catholics, however, were not appeased and the prayer vigils have continued and spread. As Magister reports (May 2008): "Since March 17, in Ho Chi Minh City, hundreds of sisters and faithful have met every day to pray in front of a building taken away from the sisters of the charitable order 'Vinh Son', in the past turned into a bordello and now about to be demolished to make room for a hotel.

"On May 20, the protest extended to another city, Vinh Long, in the south of the country. A four-star hotel is supposed to be built in a former orphanage belonging to the sisters of St Paul de Chartres. The orphanage was requisitioned in 1977, and now the bishop, the sisters, and the faithful of the city are demanding to have it back."

Magister reports that on 15 April, the government announcement the restitution of another Catholic property "around the basilica of Le Vang, the main Marian Shrine in Vietnam".

However, as Magister also reported in May 2008, "These announcements have not been followed by actions." Thus the Catholic experience mirrors that of the ECV(S).

Meanwhile, it was on 28 March 2008 that the Evangelical Church of Vietnam (South) (ECV(S)) issued: "A Call to Prayer -- To the Church of God Everywhere" concerning (amongst other things) the status of its 265 confiscated properties. (Link 1)

But the prayer vigil by Thai Ha Redemptionist parishioners in Hanoi's Dong Da district has recently escalated. Since mid-August, the numbers keeping vigil at the Thai Ha Redemptorist property has escalated dramatically as Catholics from across the country, including numerous bishops, have travelled to Hanoi to participate in the prayer vigil in a show of solidarity, transforming the Thai Ha vigil into something far more intensive and pivotal. The Thai Ha property has come to be symbolic of all contentious Church-State land issues.

The government continues to respond to the prayer vigil/protests by slandering the Catholics in the State-run media, accusing them of "criminal behaviour" including vandalism, asserting that the Catholic Church had once signed the property over to the State and even accusing Hanoi's Archbishop Joseph Ngo Quang Kiet of inciting protests. (Link 4)

Father Stephen Chan Tin, who has participated in the prayer vigils, testifies as an eye witness that they have not involved riotous or criminal behaviour. He reports that the praise and prayer services he attended at the Thai Ha site were "organized in a very reverent and careful manner". He laments the blatant slander issued against the church and has issued an appeal for truth. His paper also examines the Communist ideology that motivates such abuse of and disrespect for humanity and private property. (Link 5)

On Thursday 28 August several Catholics were wounded as riot police attacked the pray-ers/protesters with electric batons. Four Catholics were arrested. Father Nguyen Van Peter Khai told AFP that police had attacked the Catholics as they sat on the street for a peaceful vigil. "'We were in the street on Thai Ha street and the police repressed the Christians using electric shocks,' said Khai. 'A lot of people were beaten by police, they were beaten very hard.' He showed AFP digital photographs showing two women bleeding from head wounds who he said were victims of the police baton-charge."

That evening around 100 Catholics protested outside the headquarters of Dong Da district police, calling for the release of those detained. Three more Catholics were then arrested. (Link 6)

On Sunday 31 August a canister of tear gas was thrown in amongst some 3,000 gathered for worship at the Thai Ha site. Police were present in large numbers, armed with cameras, taking photos of the worshippers/protesters.

On Monday 8 September, the New Hanoi and the People's Police papers published ominous words issued by Lt-General Nguyen Van Huong, Vice-Minister of Public Security and Major-General Nguyen Duc Nhanh, the Director of the Hanoi Police Agency, whereby they warned Archbishop Ngo Quang Kiet of Hanoi, along with his priests and faithful, that a crackdown was imminent.

Bishop Francis Nguyen Van Sang of Thai Binh diocese subsequently warned the communist government "not to use the sword". "Using the sword against innocent civilians is shameful, and will be condemned by international public opinion." (Link 7)

VietCatholic News Agency (VNA) reports that after the Saturday 13 September mass at St Joseph Cathedral in Hanoi, thousands of worshippers proceeded to the former nunciature where vigils had been held through January. Police reinforcements were sent to prevent more Catholics from joining the worshippers who "virtually converted the street in front of the building into an open church for hours". (Link 8)

VNA continues: "Trembled by sudden developments at Hanoi nunciature and the influx into the capital of ten thousands of Catholics from northern provinces, hundreds of anti-riot police raided Cua Bac parish at 6 pm local time. A police intelligence unit had reported a protest in the said parish. However, it was not a protest at all. Thousands of faithful gathered at the church to celebrate Mid-Autumn festival for children."

INTERFERENCE AND PLANTED BOGUS PRIESTS

One of the complaints of the ECV(S) mentioned in the Call to Prayer is that of government interference in church affairs causing division and turmoil. Catholics have likewise reported seriously destructive and unwelcome state interference.

Further to this, AsiaNews reported on 9 September: "Some priests have appeared on Vietnamese state TV and have been interviewed by government newspapers speaking out against Thai Ha parishioners who want the restitution of parish property, except that these men of the cloth are neither priests nor Catholic. At least one of them has in fact been identified as a Communist party official. 'They were "ordained" by the government,' was the scathing comment from the diocese of Hanoi." (Link 9)

CRACKDOWN ON THOSE WHO TALK TO OR READ CHRISTIAN MEDIA

Frustrated by its inability to control all media, the government is now threatening action against anyone who talks to or reads Catholic media. JB An Dang reports for Independent Catholic News: "Police in Vietnam have begun inspecting the computers of Catholics who have taken part in the ongoing prayer vigils over confiscated church properties.

"A source in Hanoi said the authorities are closely monitoring overseas reports on the protests. 'You are in serious trouble should your browsing history include Asia-News, Catholic News Agency, Catholic World News, Independent Catholic News, VietCatholic News, Zenit and others,' he warned.

"Plain clothed police are reported to be hunting for Catholic reporters who are keeping the outside world, and those in Vietnam who access to the Internet, informed about the protest.

"One journalist said: 'I was about to send an email when police swamped in. The person next to me had his browsing history inspected. He even was forced to log into his Gmail account for a 'security inspection'." (Link 10)

PERSECUTION, ANGER AND SLANDER MEET PERSEVERANCE, JOY AND GRACE


VietCatholic News reports: "Archbishop Joseph Ngo Quang Kiet of Hanoi and Bishop Peter Nguyen Van De of Bui Chu joined more than two thousands of protesters on Friday afternoon [12 September] when the superior of Thai Ha monastery and some other priests were being 'summoned' by police. 'I know at this time all your priests are summoned, no one stay at home. So I am here to help them doing church keeping,' Archbishop Joseph Ngo joked with protesters.

"Bishop Peter Nguyen, who travelled more than 200 km to join with protesters, also joked with them that state television had repeatedly warned to imprison anyone who dared to be here to pray, especially priests. So he wanted to be here 'out of the fear to be alone outside when all priests are jailed.'" His joke was intensely welcomed by protesters." (Link 11)

On Sunday 14 September, the Catholics of Hanoi followed instructions issued by the Archdioceses on Friday and prayed for God to forgive all those associated with the State media disinformation and slander campaign, as well as those who have issued threats against the church. (Link 11)

By Elizabeth Kendal

Links

1) "A Call to Prayer -- To the Church of God Everywhere"
Evangelical Church of Vietnam (South) (ECV(S)) 28 March 2008
http://www.worldevangelicals.org/news/view.htm?id=2068

2) Bishop of Thai Binh: Bye-bye my dear people, I will go to the jail.
11 Sept 2008 (great pictures)
http://www.vietcatholic.net/News/Html/58371.htm

3) The Peaceful Revolution of Vietnam's Catholics.
By Sandro Magister 28 May 2008
http://chiesa.espresso.repubblica.it/articolo/203701?eng=y
SEE ALSO
Holy row over land in Vietnam. By Nga Pham. 26 Feb 2007
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/7262411.stm
AND http://vigiaohoiconggiaovn.spaces.live.com/blog/cns!47BCEBC38CCBF581!763.entry

4) Government sheds light on Thai Ha criminal behaviour. 30 Aug 2008
http://vietnamnews.vnagency.com.vn/showarticle.php?num=03CAS300808
Hanoi Archbishop accused of inciting protests. 9 Sept 2008
http://www.vietcatholic.net/News/Html/58264.htm

5) "Communism: The End Justifies the Means."
By Father Stephen Chan Tin (8 August 2008)
http://www.worldevangelicals.org/news/view.htm?id=2065

6) Vietnam arrests four in Catholic land dispute, say protesters. 28 Aug 2008
http://afp.google.com/article/ALeqM5hLVcCIxncCRfGBs5hAUwDl2QyTVQ
Catholics rally at Vietnam police station, three detained. 29 Aug 2008
http://afp.google.com/article/ALeqM5gkF12kTbAUNUQw7IqqgurLIKYS3Q
SEE ALSO: Prayers and protests in Vietnam
By Nga Pham. BBC News, Hanoi, 2 Sep 2008
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/7593251.stm

7) Vietnam: Bishop warns the government "not to use the sword" (great pictures) http://www.vietcatholic.net/News/Html/58313.htm 10 Sep 2008

8) Thousand of Catholics protest at Hanoi former nunciature, police raid a Hanoi parish. 13 Sept 2008 http://www.vietcatholic.net/News/Html/58478.htm

9) False priests appear on Hanoi media to discredit Catholics
By JB An Dang, AsiaNews, 9 Sep 2008
http://www.asianews.it/index.php?l=en&art=13170&size=A

10) Vietnamese warned not to read ICN
By JB An Dang, 12 Sep 2008
http://www.indcatholicnews.com/latdang376.html

11) Hanoi Archdiocese to observe day of prayer for state media personnel
(Great pictures) 12 Sep 2008
http://www.vietcatholic.net/News/Html/58431.htm

Saturday, September 6, 2008

THE BATTLE FOR INDONESIA

Date: Saturday 6 September 2008
Subj: Indonesia: The Battle for Indonesia
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal


While the president is empowering and appeasing Islamists for personal political gain, the new Chief Justice of the Constitutional Court is courageously striking out against unconstitutional Sharia bylaws. The battle for Indonesia is heating up and the 2009 elections could prove decisive.

THE PRESIDENT

To win, exercise and maintain power, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is dependent on Islamic parties with whom he has entered into alliances and/or made quid pro quo deals. Consequentially, Islamisation and polarisation are advancing in Indonesia and religious liberty is suffering. The situation is similar to what occurred in Pakistan under Musharraf. However in Pakistan Musharraf made the MMA (a coalition of six Islamist parties) powerful through gerrymandering and poll rigging whilst in Indonesia the Prosperous Justice Party (Partai Keadilan Sejahtera (PKS) an Islamist party) has become powerful and influential through its genuine grassroots popularity, achieved by strategy and sheer hard work. The result is the same though: the president is dependent on Islamist support, a situation pragmatic Islamists are only too willing to exploit. Indeed, the more the president needs the Islamists, the more they can demand of him. They have already forced the banning of Ahmadiyya teachings and the closure of numerous Christian churches and institutions, including the 1,400-student Arastamar Evangelical School of Theology in East Jakarta. (Link 1)

THE CHIEF JUSTICE

Meanwhile, on Friday 22 August Indonesia's newly elected Chief Justice of the Constitutional Court, Mohammad Mahfud MD, called for the scrapping of Sharia-based bylaws because they discriminate against minority groups and thus run counter to the constitution and state ideology of Pancasila, which among other things promotes secularism and equity. Mahfud told a gathering of top military officers, "Sharia bylaws are not constitutionally or legally correct because, territorially and ideologically, they threaten our national integrity." A new body will be created to review all regional bylaws, with the recommendation that those deemed unconstitutional be revoked. (Link 2)

----------------------------------------------------
THE BATTLE FOR INDONESIA
----------------------------------------------------

In September 2004 Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) became Indonesia's first directly elected president when he won the presidential election in a second round run-off against Megawati Sukarnoputri of the Indonesian Democratic Party – Struggle (PDI-P). He managed to win even though his party, the Democratic Party, is very small. (The Democratic Party was created in September 2001 with the sole purpose of nominating SBY for the presidency.)

After the first round of voting in July 2004, Megawati, whose secular PDI-P was the second largest party in the legislature, built a coalition that included Golkar (the largest party) as well as several other significant parties. Even though SBY had secured Golkar's Jusuf Kalla (a Muslim nationalist more than a secular nationalist) as his running mate, SBY still required the support of every Islamic party he could find if he were win the presidency. SBY went into the run-off backed by a coalition that included the three largest Islamic parties: the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU)-sponsored National Awakening Party (PKB), the radical Islamist (of Muslim Brotherhood origins) Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), and the Muhammadiyah-founded National Mandate Party (PAN). No doubt SBY also benefited from the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) June 2004 fatwa that declared it haram (forbidden by Islam) to elect a woman as president.

SBY may have been the president, but inside the legislature he struggled to get his policies passed against PDI-P and Golkar opposition, that is until VP Jusuf Kalla was made chairman of Golkar and the Saudi-educated Islamist Nur Wahid, the founder and then chairman of the PKS, was made the Speaker of the People's Consultative Assembly.

Democracy came to Indonesia in 1998, at the height of the global Islamic revival. Now a decade later, while pro-jihadist, terror-perpetrating Islamic groups have been largely subdued, political Islam has been thriving. Many in the West regard this not as a challenge to but as a victory for Indonesian democracy. But this is because they fail to see that groups like the jihadist Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) and the political PKS differ only in methods, not in goals. The threat posed by political Islam is profound. As Sadanand Dhume notes, while JI believes in bombs and is revolutionary, PKS believes in protests and polls and is evolutionary, yet both groups have the creation of an Islamic Caliphate as their ultimate goal. JI might get all the headlines but the PKS has positioned itself in parliament and quietly matastasised.

(For a comprehensive analysis of the rise of political Islam in Indonesia, in particular the phenomenal rise of the PKS, SBY's indispensable ally, see:
"Radicals March on Indonesia's Future" By Sadanand Dhume
Far Eastern Economic Review, 15 May 2005
(Sadanand Dhume's site contains numerous insightful articles on Indonesia.)
A shortened version of this article can be found at YaleGlobal:
"Radical Islamic party threatens Indonesia with ballots more than bullets"
Link
Sadanand Dhume is a Washington-based journalist. He served as India bureau chief and an Indonesia correspondent of the Far Eastern Economic Review and The Wall Street Journal Asia. He is an Associate Fellow of the Asia Society, a non-partisan, non-profit educational institution that strives at "preparing Asians and Americans for a shared future". "My Friend the Fanatic: Travels with an Indonesian Islamist", his book which charts the rise of radical Islam in Indonesia, was recently published by Text Publishing in Australia.)

Dhume writes (2005): "Less than a decade ago, Indonesia appeared likely to evolve as a Muslim version of Thailand -- culturally self-confident, economically dynamic, comfortable with both an ancient past and a modern future. Today the odds favour an Indonesia that looks more like a South-east Asian Pakistan -- culturally confused, economically stagnant, caught between a modern elite and medieval clerics, a recipient of foreign aid rather than foreign investment.

"Needless to say, the Justice Party is not the only hard-line Islamist group in Indonesia. But because it's easily the most powerful, its success or failure will be the most reliable bellwether of Islamic extremism in the country."

As Dhume notes, the PKS has little chance of gaining a majority before 2014. But the PKS does not need a majority to get hold of the reins. They only need to pragmatically position themselves so that those in power are dependent on them.

Dhume's 2005 article concludes: "The party [PKS] faces an internal challenge. It needs to reach out to new supporters while maintaining both discipline and ideological coherence. This means devising ways to satisfy cadres without alienating less committed voters. Expect more anti-Israel demonstrations in front of the US Embassy."

However Israel does not appear to be the PKS's chosen subject around which to rally support and garner recruits. It appears the Islamists have chosen a subject much more tangible and closer to home: the "threat" to Islam caused by the growth of Christianity and the "offence" to Islam caused by those deemed heterodox, such as Ahmadiyya, and unIslamic, such as everything progressive, Western and secular.

As Indonesia heads towards the 2009 presidential elections, SBY is even more dependent on the Islamic parties than ever as VP Jusuf Kalla has become extremely powerful in his own right. Furthermore, Golkar and PDI-P are considering forming a strategic alliance to contest the 2009 polls. (Link 3)

If a Golkar - PDI-P alliance eventuates, SBY to stay in power will be left with little option but to use the increasingly visible, vocal, popular and influential PKS as his powerbase. It is important to note that while Golkar and PDI-P are clearly the largest parties in the legislature their combined weight only just matches that of the combined weight of the numerous smaller parties in the Islamic bloc.

Should Golkar and PDI-P form an alliance and win the presidential elections, then, if there is enough courage and conviction, the Islamists can be reined in and marginalised. However if a Golkar - PDI-P alliance loses to the Islamic bloc, or if Golkar and PDI-P go their separate ways each seeking the support of Islamic parties, then the Islamists will be ascendant. The 2009 polls are thus hugely significant in the battle for Indonesia.

Elizabeth Kendal

Links

1) Indonesia: Religious Liberty, Polarisation and Danger
WEA RLC News & Analysis, 20 June 2008
By WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal
http://www.worldevangelicals.org/news/view.htm?id=1894

Indonesian Christian campus attack
http://straitstimes.asia1.com.sg/Breaking%2BNews/SE%2BAsia/Story/STIStory_270763.html
The Arastamar Evangelical School of Theology has reluctantly agreed to shut its 20-year-old campus in east Jakarta after a violent Islamic pogrom in July, launched from a nearby mosque to cries of "Allah Akbar" (God is great) with the stated aim of forcing the school's closure, left 1,400-students displaced and 18 wounded.
"The government of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, which relies on the support of Islamic parties in Parliament, is struggling to balance deep Islamic traditions and a secular constitution. With elections coming next April, the government seems unwilling to defend religious minorities, lest it be portrayed as anti-Islamic in what is the world's most populous Muslim-majority country."

2) New court head slams sharia bylaws
Abdul Khalik, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta, 23 August 2008
http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2008/08/23/new-court-head-slams-sharia-bylaws.html
"Less than 24 hours after being sworn in as the new head of the Constitutional Court, Moh. Mahfud MD on Friday slammed regional administrations for enacting sharia-inspired bylaws. . ."

Sharia bylaws illogical, unnecessary: Experts
Abdul Khalik, The Jakarta Post , Jakarta | Mon, 08/25/2008 11:14 AM | Headlines
http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2008/08/25/sharia-bylaws-illogical-unnecessary-experts.html
"The enforcement of many sharia-based ordinances in the country has been denounced by several legal experts as a violation of basic human rights. . ."

Letters to the editor on Mafud's anti-sharia stamement
http://old.thejakartapost.com/yesterdaydetail.asp?fileid=20080901.F06

3) Top Golkar, PDIP figures raise possibility of coalition. 25 August 2008
http://www.antara.co.id/en/arc/2008/8/25/top-golkar-pdip-figures-raise-possibility-of-coalition/
Golkar to Team Up With Megawati, 26 August 2008
http://www.tempointeractive.com/hg/nasional/2008/08/26/brk,20080826-132416,uk.html

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

India: Gujarat and Orissa prefigure Indian crisis.

Date: Tuesday 2 September 2008
Subj: India: Gujarat and Orissa prefigure Indian crisis.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal


A violent anti-Christian Hindu pogrom erupted in Orissa (northeast India) on 23 August 08 that has claimed dozens of lives, including that of a 20-year-old nun burned to death in an orphanage. Numerous others have been injured, many seriously, including another young nun who was pack raped. Casualties are mounting daily in the wake of ethnic-religious cleansing.

Compass Direct (CD) reports (1 Sept): "While many parts of Orissa remained under curfew today, over 13,000 people were reportedly living in relief centers set up by the state government in seven places in Kandhamal." Dr. Abraham Mathai, vice chairman of the Maharashtra State Minorities Commission told reporters, "More than 50,000 Christians are living as refugees following the violence in Orissa. All the political parties are sitting as mute spectators." In Kandhamal district alone, around 1,000 Christian houses, hundreds of churches and numerous Christian institutions and businesses have been demolished by rampaging Hindus. (Link 1)

While this anti-Christian violence is shocking, it is not surprising. Hindutva (Hindu nationalist) elements acting with legal impunity and state government support have for decades been stoking the flames of hatred, cultivating an incendiary environment in Orissa. Now Orissa, like Gujarat, is primed for genocide. And hot on the heels of Gujarat and Orissa are numerous other
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-ruled states.

It was a brilliant strategy of the Sangh Parivar -- a collection of Hindu nationalist organisations co-operating towards making India a Hindu State -- to weave religion and politics strategically together in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) enabling the Sangh to exploit religion for political gain. Indeed, the present persecution is not primarily about religion. India's Christians are pawns in a deadly struggle between modernity and the beneficiaries of traditional Hindu culture who are desperate to secure the political power that would guarantee their privileged status into the future by perpetuating the racist, fatalist, immoral Hindu caste system.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------
GUJARAT AND ORISSA PREFIGURE INDIAN CRISIS
-------------------------------------------------------------------------

The strategic brilliance and alarming effectiveness of the Sangh Parivar's campaign for a Hindu Rastra (Hindu State) has never been sufficiently appreciated.

Even after the 2002 anti-Muslim Hindu pogrom in Gujarat that left some 2000 Muslims dead, India and the world failed to fully appreciate what was happening. Then an anti-Christian Hindu pogrom in Orissa over Christmas 2007 left a swath of destruction and turned hundreds of thousands of Christian into traumatised IDPs (Internally Displaced Peoples). Yet again India and the world did not understand what was happening.

The ringleaders and inciters of the Gujarat 2002 and Orissa 2007 pogroms -- Narendra Modi and Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati respectively -- not only remained free, but were elevated and to many they became national heroes! In Gujarat, Narendra Modi was even rewarded by being re-elected as Chief Minister -- twice! The "kranti" (revolution) in Gujarat, through which the majority, caste-perpetuating Hindu community terrorised the minority Muslim community into submission, is now held up by Hindutva protagonists as the model.

In January 2006 it became clear that the Modi government was planning to set the Dangs (in Gujarat) alight with an anti-Christian pogrom following the Shabri Kumbh Mela that February. (See link 2).

However, alarm bells rang out, opposition mounted and the Church prayed (see link 3).

And God answered the prayers of many. While the Shabri Kumbh Mela may have effected mass religious-political conversions (converting tribal Congress-voting animists into BJP-voting Hindus), the Sangh's strategy to ignite another Hindu kranti -- this time a genocidal massacre of Christians -- failed.

The Christmas 2007 anti-Christian pogrom in Orissa however was not heralded. Hindutva forces kept secret their plans for a pogrom for Christmas Day 2007 under the guise of a bandh (strike) in protest of the Pana (Dalit/Scheduled Caste) Christians request for Schedule Tribe status -- something they need in order to benefit from affirmative action programs in a caste driven society that denies benefits to Dalits/Scheduled Castes that convert to Christianity. (Under the rules, Scheduled Tribes who convert to Christianity continue to enjoy reservations/affirmative action, but Dalits/Scheduled Castes who convert do not.)

While police were withdrawing from the districts to take up their positions at the Biju Janata Dal's (BJD) 10-year anniversary celebrations in the capital, Hindus were felling trees and blockading roads around Kandhamal district in preparation for the anti-Christian pogrom that Hindu communalists vowed would "teach them a lesson!". (Link 4)

Thousands of Hindus then rioted crying, "Stop Christianity. Kill Christians!" Across Kandhamal district alone, more than 700 Christian homes and around 100 churches and 95 Christian institutions were vandalised, looted, destroyed and torched. Leading the incitement was the state's principal Hindutva ideologue and proselytiser, Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati. After falsely claiming to have been wounded in a violent attack by a vicious Christian mob, he told his followers via a mobile phone message (in the presence of police and journalists) to burn Christian homes and churches and repeat the kranti (revolution) that brought "shanti" (peace) to Gujarat (i.e. the 2002 Hindu pogrom in which some 2000 Muslims were brutally massacred). (Links 4 and 5)

(For a comprehensive account of the Orissa Christmas 2007 anti-Christian Hindu pogrom, see:
Dr Angana Chatterji's sworn affidavit.
To The Commission of Inquiry of Honourable Justice Panigrahi
Re. Kandhamal, Orissa. Submitted 30 May 2008.

Dr Chatterji is an Indian citizen resident in the USA. She is Associate Professor of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the Californian Institute of Integral Studies. She has been conducting extensive research on the communalisation of Orissa since June 2002.)

ORISSA: A TINDERBOX

In 1960 the RSS launched Goraksha Andolan, a Hinduisation program focused initially on banning cow slaughter. In 1965 the Hindu paramilitary organisation Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS: National Volunteer Corps) deployed a Hindutva proselytiser named Lakan to oversee the implementation of the Prevention of Cow Slaughter Act in Orissa. Orissa subsequently passed a Freedom of Religion Act in 1967 which prohibited conversions to Christianity by force or fraudulent means. (This Act was subsequently strengthened in 1999.) In 1969 Lakan establish an Ashram (Hindu religious centre) in Kandhamal, changed his name to Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati, and committed himself to countering the work of Christian missionaries in Orissa.

While Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati never succeeded in stopping conversions to Christianity, he did succeed in creating a tinderbox, hot with Hindutva, anti-Christian hatred, majoritarianism and communalism. Appalling crimes have been perpetrated against Christians in Orissa, with numerous forced conversions into Hinduism, assaults and killings, including the martyrdom of Graham Staines, burned alive with his two young sons Phillip and Timothy in January 1999.

The advance of Hindutvaisation over recent years has given rise to some alarming developments. Today it is not just individual Christian evangelists at risk of assault and assassination, whole Christian communities are now at risk of genocide. No longer are the murderers "loose cannon" Hindus and militants from the Bajrang Dal (the Sangh's militant Hindutva youth militia), they are simply local Hindus raping, beating, looting and killing their
Christian neighbours with impunity. Reporting on the Christmas 2007 pogrom, Tehelka Magazine (an Indian magazine) noted in January 2008 that when a 1,000-strong mob of rampaging Hindus attacked Balliguda's Mt Carmel Convent, the Carmelite sisters were shocked that local Hindu beneficiaries of Mt Carmel's vocational courses were among the rioters. (Link 5)

According to Dr Chatterji, it is this violence with impunity along with a complete breakdown in trust that has led to the "ghettoisation" of the Christian community over recent years.

So at the behest of the Sangh Parivar and with the support and encouragement of the BJP-BJD Orissa state government, Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati turned Orissa into a tinderbox of communal tension, and on 24 December 2007 he lit the fuse in Kandhamal.

23 AUGUST 2008: ORISSA BURNS AGAIN

Unlike the anti-Christian Hindu pogrom of Christmas 2007, the anti-Christian violence that exploded in Kandhamal on 23 August 2008 was not premeditated. It was however incited by VHP (World Hindu Council) activists. Immediately after Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati (85) was ambushed and shot dead in a girls' orphanage in Kandhamal district, VHP leaders were publicly charging that the Christians were responsible. VHP state general secretary Gouri Prasad Rath demanded a high-level probe and ban on churches in Kandhamal, and told the media: "Christians have killed Swamiji. We will give a befitting reply." (Link 6)

This charge was levelled against the entire Christian community despite evidence that it was a targeted assassination carried out by a group of some 40 well-armed Naxalite/Maoist militiamen. (Egalitarian left-wing Naxalite/Maoists are natural enemies of caste-perpetuating right-wing Hindu nationalists.) Many analysts believe the Maoists are intervening to take sides in the communal tensions in Orissa in the hope of winning Christian support. (See link 7)

However the VHP subsequently claimed to have received a letter from the Maoists denying any involvement but offering that some wayward cadres may have been paid by "communal Christian miscreants" to murder of the VHP leader. The alleged letter stated that Swami Lakshmanananda Saraswati was murdered because of his opposition to religious conversion. (Link 8)

According to a CD report entitled, "Maoists in India Say They Killed Hindu Leader" (1 Sept): "The Central Committee of the Communist Party of India-Maoist, an extreme Marxist group banned by the Indian government, released a statement today saying that Sangh Parivar . . . have deliberately misled people about Saraswati's death.

"The Maoist statement warned the VHP of 'more such punishments if it continued violence against religious minorities in the country' and called for a ban on groups linked to the Sangh Parivar, such as the VHP, its youth wing Bajrang Dal, right-wing Hindu political party Shiv Sena and the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)." (Link 9)

STRATEGY OF SANGH PARAVAR

WEA RLC has stated numerous times over several years that the strategy of the Sangh Parivar is brilliantly strategic and hugely successful.

As noted in the WEA RLC News & Analysis annual Religious Liberty Trends posting of 2006-07 entitled Hindutva's Advance: "Because the Hindutva forces are active primarily in the religious sphere -- Hinduising the animist tribals and creating new exploitable Hindu mythology -- their activity is slipping under the radar of most political analysts. But while the Hindutva forces are
focusing on the religious sphere it is all for political gain. This strategy of effecting political conversion by means of religious conversion is hugely successful." (Link 10)

In her sworn affidavit, Dr Angana Chatterji comments likewise on the strategy and methodology of the Sangh Parivar, noting that instead of pursuing its earlier strategy of conversions by means of forced re-conversion ceremonies, "The Sangh Parivar has instead increased its emphasis on the Hinduisation of Adivasis [indigenous tribals, traditionally animists] by making them a part of Hindu rituals and ceremonies (as during the Sammelan), which, in effect, 'converts' Adivasis into Hinduism by assuming that they are Hindu. Such 'conversion' tactics are diffused and no longer have to negotiate certain legalities, which public and stated conversion ceremonies did. On converting/'reconverting' to Hinduism, Adivasis are expected to join Hindu caste society as Sudras, a 'higher' placement than Dalits in the caste hierarchy, Sangh activists say.

"Dalit Christians are doubly discriminated against, as Dalits and as Christians. Post-Hinduisation, Adivasis are being mobilised against Christian groups. Adivasis are incited into targeting Dalit Christians, both fomenting Adivasi-Dalit divides and vitiating the historical solidarities between them. This is crucial to Hinduisation. It also acts to warn non-Christian Dalits against conversion to Christianity.

"The Hindutvaisation of the Hindu community, and Hinduisation of the secular, allows the Sangh's escalation. This process unfolded in Brahmanigaon, for example, where the growth of the business community has supported the rise of the Sangh Parivar. Hindutva conversions served to terrorise the Adivasi and Dalit community, via which the Sangh Parivar achieves its preliminary expansionist goals. While ceremonial conversions continue sporadically, a more protracted and dispersed strategy of Hinduisation through incorporation and assimilation is aggressively pursued as effective methodology."

This Hinduisation by means of "incorporation and assimilation" was described in the WEA RLC News & Analysis posting of January 2006 (link 2): "One of the main strategies used by the Sangh Parivar to win the allegiance of the tribals is the campaign to convince them that they are actually Hindus who are just practising local and maybe corrupted expressions of mainstream Hindu traditions. Slowly the animist practices are redefined as Hindu, given Hindu names, and gently refined to suit Brahmin sensitivities.

"Part of this campaign is the renaming of the Adivasis (first inhabitants) as Vanvasis (forest dwellers). Upon this foundation the proponents of Hindutva then claim that the tribals and the Indo-Aryans are all one people (there is no indigenous population and no Indo-Aryan invasion) and the "Vanvasis" are really historically Hindu. They use this lie as a basis to 're-convert', absorb, communalise and exploit the Adivasis."

It must be noted that the BJP unexpectedly lost power in the May 2004 elections by only the slimmest of margins and on 22 July 2008 the Congress-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh only survived a confidence vote by the slimmest of margins, having lost the support of its left-wing allies. Meanwhile, the Sangh has been busy Hinduising the masses with a strategy so brilliant and so successful that it is quite likely that the 2009 federal elections could restore the BJP to power in the centre. And this at a time when increasing numbers of radicalised individuals -- indeed whole Hindutvaised communities -- are ready to kill, terrorise and ethnically-religiously cleanse Muslims and Christians on command, ostensibly in defence of the motherland.

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Has the future of India been prefigured in the Hindu pogroms in Gujarat and Orissa? Let India and the world be warned: if the violent, fascist Hindutva fire that the power- and privilege-hungry Sangh Parivar is presently spreading across the nation is not successfully challenged and countered soon, then a holocaust surely awaits.

By Elizabeth Kendal

Links

1) Orissa: Hindu extremists burn one nun alive, rape another
25 August 2008, by Nirmala Carvalho
http://www.asianews.it/index.php?l=en&art=13056&size=A
ALSO
Thousands homeless after Hindu-Christian violence in India
By Hari Kumar, 29 August 2008
http://www.iht.com/articles/2008/08/29/asia/29india.php
FOR UPDATES follow the news and Compass Direct http://www.compassdirect.org

2) India: The dictators of Hindutva aim for 'death blow' in Dangs
WEA RLC News & Analysis, 26 January 2006
By WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal.

3) India Shabri Kumbh Mela Threatens 8000 Christians in Dangs
WEA RL Prayer 364, 8 February 2006

4) Dr. Angana Chatterji's sworn affidavit
To The Commission of Inquiry of Honourable Justice Panigrahi
Re. Kandhamal, Orissa. Submitted 30 May 2008.
http://www.sacw.net/DC/CommunalismCollection/ArticlesArchive/angana_may2008.html

5) Next Stop Orissa
Tehlka Magazine. Vol 5, Issue 2, Dated 19 January 2008
http://www.tehelka.com/story_main37.asp?filename=Ne190108next_stop.asp#
NOTE: Tehelka is an independent Indian magazine committed to investigative
journalism. Whilst it can be commended for its investigations into high level
government corruption and destructive communalism, its hugely controversial
and provocative claims against the CIA, NGOs, missionaries and Christians in
its January 2004 feature entitled "Preparing the Harvest" reveal just how
widely the Sangh's anti-Christian conspiracies are accepted.
See "India: Liberty, persecution, and conspiracy theories."
WEA RLC News & Analysis 20 February 2004
By WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal
http://www.ea.org.au/default.aspx?id=bf0c29b8-1f75-4408-8e4b-c504f91a6221
This must be noted as the article linked to above -- Next Stop Orissa --
whilst detailing and condemning the Hindutva violence, also perpetuates the
conspiracy theory that Christian NGOs are actively supporting the Maoist
insurgency.

6) Leader's death: VHP calls for Orissa bandh
25 Aug 2008, By Sandeep Mishra, TNN
http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/India/VHP_calls_for_Orissa_bandh/articleshow/3400754.cms

7) Indian Maoists kill Hindus over Christian conversions
DAILY TIMES (Pakistan) 25 August 2008
http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=2008\08\25\story_25-8-2008_pg4_10

8) Maoists deny role in VHP leader's murder. 29 August 2008
http://www.thehindu.com/2008/08/29/stories/2008082952080300.htm

9) See Compass Direct News
ALSO
Orissa: Maoists warn of more attacks. 1 Sep 2008.
http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/India/Orissa_Maoists_warn_of_more_attacks_/rssarticleshow/3429413.cms

10) Religious Liberty Trend (2) - India: Hindutva's advance
WEA RLC News & Analysis, 5 February 2007
By WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal

ANOTHER REPORT ON THE DEC 2007 ORISSA POGROM
Continuing Orissa Riots: First Report By A Fact-Finding Team
BY Professor Prabhu Guptara. Published 14 January 2008
http://www.southasianconnection.com/blogs/561/Continuing-Orissa-Riots-First-Report-By-A-Fact-Finding-Team.html

Human Rights Watch report on the 2002 Gujarat pogrom.
"We Have No Orders To Save You"
State Participation and Complicity in Communal Violence in Gujarat
http://www.hrw.org/reports/2002/india/