Tuesday, December 16, 2008


Date: Tuesday 16 December 2008
Subj: Indonesia: Islamisation and Polarisation
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal

-- religious freedom-related violence increasing
-- President enacts anti-pornography bill


The Jakarta Post reports: "Religious violence is on the rise in the world's largest Muslim country according to a report by the Wahid Institute http://www.wahidinstitute.org/ , which places the blame on the government for its failing to crack down on radical groups.

"The institute, a moderate Islamic think tank founded by former president Abdurrahman 'Gus Dur' Wahid to promote pluralism in Indonesia, reported that religious freedom-related violence had increased throughout the country, with 232 cases reported this year compared to 197 last year.

"Many of the incidences of violence were perpetrated by state authorities, according to the annual report released on Human Rights Day, Wednesday [10 Dec].

"'The acts of violence against religious freedom were 60 percent carried out by civilian groups and 33 percent by the state,' the report said.

"It said the state perpetrators included local administrations, police, legislators, courts and the Religious Affairs Ministry.

"Civilian perpetrators were identified as members of the Islam Defenders Front (FPI), the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) and the Communications Forum for Religious Harmony.

"The frequency and severity of the violence increased from last year, the report said. It noted that the government had been weak in administering punishment, which it said set a worrisome trend for the future.

"The institute said violations against religious freedom had come in the form of physical attacks, raids, destruction of houses of worship and accusations of apostasy and heresy . . . " (Link 1)


On 26 November 2008, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) enacted a controversial anti-pornography law. Yudhoyono's special staff for legal affairs Denny Indrayana told The Jakarta Post: "It becomes Law No. 44/2008 on anti-pornography. The President signed it because it was already a national consensus." (Link 2)

Indrayana's statement is misleading on two counts: the law is not about pornography as much as it about Islamisation; and there is no national consensus.

The anti-pornography law was pushed through parliament in October by conservative Muslim parties including the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) and the Crescent Star Party (or PBB). It passed in the legislature on 30 October to cries of "Allahu Akbar" (God is great). (Link 3)

Many analysts believe that SBY's enactment of the law is pure electioneering aimed at of securing the support of the Islamic parties ahead of the 2009 presidential elections. However, by this action he is also polarising the electorate and feeding regional instability.

The anti-pornography law is both staggeringly broad and hopelessly vague. Furthermore, as the law encourages citizens to report offences to police, there are concerns that Islamic vigilantes will seek to enforce its standards.

Indonesia's legislative elections are slated for April 2009, with the presidential election to be held three months later in July. Once again we are observing that oft-forgotten factor in multi-party politics: no party is as powerful as the one holding the balance of power, especially if that party also has the power to destabilise the State and bring down an elected government through the mobilisation of demonstrations, riots, crippling strikes and even sectarian conflict.


The journal "Inside Indonesia" has published an excellent analysis of the anti-pornography law entitled "A law on pornography still divides the community", by Helen Pausacker, a PhD candidate at the University of Melbourne's Law School. (Link 4)

Pausacker tracks the progress of the law from when it first emerged in the 1990s as the Anti-Pornography and Porno-Action Bill only to lie dormant until 2005-06 when it was revived and hotly debated before the strength of outcry against it led to it being withdrawn.

Pausacker writes: "The bill that was proposed in 2005-06 would not just have criminalised hard pornography. It would also have made illegal many kinds of theatre and dance performances, art, forms of dress (such as baring the shoulders and legs) and behaviour of individuals (such as kissing on the lips in public), displaying 'sensual parts' of the body or 'erotic dancing'. 'Sensual parts' of the body were specifically defined in Article 4 of the Elucidation of the 2005-06 version of the bill as 'the genitals, thighs, hips, buttocks, navel and female breasts, whether in whole or in part'."

Clearly such a bill would trigger chaos in a state as diverse as Indonesia, where mature tribal Javanese and Melanesian women still go around bare breasted; Balinese women dance -- some may say erotically -- with navels showing; many Papuan men wear only penis-gourds; and many progressive Indonesians as well as tourists from all over the world enjoy wearing shorts, singlet-tops and even bikinis on the beaches. Furthermore, the proposed penalties were to be harsh, with hefty fines and lengthy prison terms.

Pausacker continues: "Two years later, in September 2008, legislators introduced a revised version of the bill to the legislature (DPR), with some of them hoping that it would be passed quickly. The outcry was again great -- five thousand people demonstrated in Bali and there were demonstrations in Yogyakarta. . . . However, despite the strong views expressed both in favour of and against the bill, it was eventually passed on 30 October 2008.

"When it became clear that there were sufficient numbers in the legislature to pass the bill, two parties -- Megawati Soekarnoputri's Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDIP) and the nationalist, Christian party, the Prosperous Peace Party (PDS) -- walked out of the debate in protest. Regional loyalty was also so strong that two Balinese legislators from Golkar, Lisnawati Karna and Gede Sumarjaya Linggih, walked out when Golkar stated its approval of the bill. . . . The 30 October version of the bill was ratified by the president on 26 November as Law No. 44 of 2008 on Pornography, with no substantial changes."

Pausacker's article describes the revisions made to the 2005-06 bill which subsequently passed in October 2008. She notes that while the bill has been substantially shortened it has not been watered down -- rather it has been made less specific leaving the interpretation open to the courts.

"The definition of 'pornography' in the 30 October 2008 version passed by the DPR and the final law is vague enough to include some 'pornographic actions'. It states: 'pornography is pictures, sketches, illustrations, photos, writing, voice, sound, moving pictures, animation, cartoons, conversations, movements of the body, or other forms through a variety of communication media and/or performances in public which contain obscenity or sexual exploitation which violates the moral norms in society' (Article 1)."

Pausacker also explains that the penultimate (September 2008) version of the bill protected cultural expression by making it clear that exceptions would be made for regional interests so that their local customs would not be interpreted as pornographic.

However, Pausacker continues, "This article is missing from the final law. Instead, the law includes the following statement at the beginning: 'This Law aims to: […] respect, protect and preserve the artistic and cultural values, [regional] cultural practices and religious rituals of the pluralistic Indonesian society' (Article 3b). There is no clear statement of exceptions, except for the vague phrase in Article 13(1) of the Elucidation that the definition of what is pornography also depends on the context, stating that in specific contexts, a photo of a model wearing a bikini, bathers or beachwear would not be seen as pornographic.

"The emphasis of the earlier versions and the final version were quite different. The earlier versions suggested that exceptions would be made for particular regions and customs when judging an accusation of pornography. The final law suggests that regional views have already been taken into account in the drafting of the law, where in fact the contrary is the case: the final version provides the least clear protection of regional interests."

This is why regions such as Hindu-populated Bali, as well as Papua and other Christian-populated regions such as North Sulawesi have protested so strongly.

Hostility, tensions and conflict are likely to escalate not only from regions, but within them. Pausacker notes that in Bali, the Governor and former police general, Made Mangku Pastika and speaker of the Balinese Regional Peoples Representative Council (DPRD), Ida Bagus Putu Wesnawa, have voiced their opposition to the bill and stated their intention to not implement it. Meanwhile, Bali's Chief Inspector of Police, General Teuku Ashikin Husein (who, Pausacker notes, is not Balinese, and has previously worked in Aceh and Southeast Sulawesi) has issued a public statement that the law was 'positive' and that his office would be enforcing it. (See also link 5.)

This scenario also opens the door for extortion and police corruption.

In Muslim-majority areas there is a particular danger of talibanisation and Islamic vigilantism. This danger is fuelled not only by the zeal generated by the legitimisation of Islamic demands, but from the law itself which states, in Article 21(1), that members of the community have the right to report infringements.

Pausacker notes: "The Elucidation to Article 21(1) specifically states 'that the community is not to perform acts which take the law into their own hands, acts of violence, raids (sweeping), or other acts which are against the law'. Despite this Elucidation (which both members of the general public and vigilante groups will often not read) some critics have expressed concern that vigilante groups will try to enforce the law themselves. [. . .] Critics of the law are right to feel concerned because for years violent raids by vigilante groups on bars or brothels in the fasting month have gone unchecked by police."

Ifdal Kassim, chairman of the National Commission for Human Rights (Komnas HAM), said the law, which would invade people's privacy, could trigger human rights violations and will create disharmony among the people. (Link 6)

Surpiyadi Widodo Eddyono, the legal services coordinator for the Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy (Elsam) also raised concerns. "Some articles are not for the protection of human rights. There are loopholes that could be misinterpreted."
According to The Jakarta Post, he is encouraging activists to petition the Constitutional Court for a judicial review of the law. (Link 6)

Sidney Jones, head of the South-east Asia section of the Brussels-based International Crisis Group comments: "The bill goes deep into the Muslim mainstream. There is an increasing push from some Muslim groups and some Muslim parties to give the state a greater role in legislating morality."

According to Jones, this trend is even taking root in the country's large secular parties like Golkar, which threw its weight behind the anti-pornography bill. "'There has been a kind of Islamisation of Golkar,' Jones revealed. 'The political parties are under pressure from an active civil society movement on the Muslim right.'" (Link 7)

According to opposition lawmaker Eva Sundari, who voted against the law in parliament, "The goal of this law is to become a legal umbrella for groups pushing for Sharia [Islamic law]." (Link 8)

So now as we head towards the 2009 elections, not only have pro-Sharia Islamic fundamentalists been further empowered and emboldened, but a situation has been created where any racist or Islamic fundamentalist police officer or vigilante-Islamic-morals-enforcer in (for example) Melanesian-Christian Papua will be able to exploit the anti-pornography law in order to persecute and/or extort any member of the local community who does not submit to the Islamised standard.

Such violent and repressive Islamic cultural imperialism should have no place in a diverse, pluralist, progressive, secular state.

By Elizabeth Kendal


1) Cases of religious violence up: Report
Adianto P. Simamora, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta, 11 Dec 2008

2) SBY signs porn law, protesters despair
By Abdul Khalik, Jakarta, 9 Dec 2008

3) Indonesian parliament passes anti-porn bill. 30 Oct 2008

A law on pornography still divides the community.
By Helen Pausacker, 15 Dec 2008

5) Bali police will enforce pornography law: Chief
The Jakarta Post, Jakarta, 10 Nov 2008

6) Porn law casts a shadow over human rights
Indah Setiawati and Ni Komang Erviani, Jakarta, Denpasar, 10 Dec 2008

7) Culture-Indonesia: Anti-Porn Law Reveals Growing Islamist Power
By Marwaan Macan-Markar. Inter Press Service.

8) Indonesian anti-porn law cramps Papuans' style
By Aubrey Belford, AFP, Kurulu, Indonesia, 10 Dec 2008

Friday, December 12, 2008

Maluku, Eastern Indonesia: "blasphemy" triggers pogrom

Date: Friday 12 December 2008
Subj: Maluku, Eastern Indonesia: "blasphemy" triggers pogrom
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal

On Tuesday 9 December, Muslims rioted in response to rumours that Welhelmina Holle, a Christian teacher at SD Masohi elementary school, had insulted Islam in a comment he made while tutoring a sixth grade student. Masohi is about 120km east of Ambon on Seram island in the eastern Indonesia province of Central Maluku.

According to the Jakarta Post, the student reported the offence to his parents and news of the alleged blasphemy spread through the Muslim community. The local chapter of the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) lodged a complaint with the police and by 8:30am some 500 Muslims were demonstrating outside the Central Maluku Education Agency in Masohi. After an hour there, they moved on to the Central Maluku Police headquarters some 500m away, where they sought to meet with Police Chief Adj. Sr. Comr. Eko Widodo to demand that the teacher be dismissed and made to face the law. After learning that Police Chief Eko Widodo was away in Ambon, the protesters dispersed. However after one group clashed with police, other Muslims started throwing rocks and rioting quickly spread.

Two churches, a health clinic and some 67 homes were torched. Four public transport vehicles and a motorcycle inside a bus terminal were also burnt. At least six people sustained injuries requiring hospitalisation and two of these are in a serious condition.

Eventually some 400 extra riot police and soldiers were brought in and peace was restored. Maluku Provincial Police spokesman Adj. Sr. Comr. J. Huwae told the Jakarta Post that "a large part of the community sought refuge at the barracks of the 731st Kabaressy infantry battalion". (Link 1)

Antara News reports that police are seeking witnesses who can testify concerning the incident. The accused teacher is in police custody and, according to Central Maluku Regional Secretary N Sukur, if he is found guilty he will be given an administrative sanction. (Link 2)


Maluku, which was wracked with sectarian violence and Islamic jihad from 1999 to 2001, has been relatively peaceful since the "Moluccas Agreement of Malino" peace deal was signed in February 2002.

The worst violence in Maluku was perpetrated by outsiders, such as the Java-based Laskar Jihad and other jihadists -- many of them foreigners -- who travelled to Maluku to "defend" Islam. With the expulsion of militants, local Muslims and Christians have been able to reconcile and rebuild their communities, many which are still mixed.

Sidney Jones of the International Crisis Group believes that as long as Java-based Islamic militants stay out of the Maluku region, it is likely the area will stay peaceful. "'If it stays local, we're probably okay,' Jones said. 'And, one of the interesting things is that a lot of the people there specifically referred to the earlier conflict and not wanting to see it get out of hand. It's a case of whether or not some of these guys in Java take it as a green light to come in and scope things out. I think it'll probably be okay.'" (Link 3)

But this rioting is very concerning. Is violent, anti-Christian, Islamic intolerance that close to the surface? Has Islamic radicalisation reached a critical tipping point? Is the peace only a facade subject to hair-trigger fragility?


Article 156 (a) of the Indonesian Criminal Code establishes a minimum sentence of five years in prison for anyone found guilty of "expressing feelings of hostility, hatred or contempt against ethnic groups or religions".

According to Mohamad Mova Al 'Afghani, founder of the Centre for Law Information, this article was taken from Presidential Decree No. 1/PNPS/1965 on the Prevention of Blasphemy and Abuse of Religions. "The decree provides the State with a power to judge whether a certain belief is heretic or blasphemous and to imprison those convicted of the charges -- about the same authority awarded to the Inquisition which has been abolished by the Roman Catholic Church.

"The decree, enacted by Sukarno and formalised into law by Soeharto, is as a tool of power management. Politicians during those times felt the need to control religious leaders and subordinate them within their power structure." According to Mohamad Mova Al 'Afghani reasoning, the law violates the Indonesian constitution. (Link 4)

On Thursday 12 December, The Jakarta Post reported: "The Central Maluku Police have named two people, Welhemina Holle and Asmara Wasahua, as suspects for sparking the riot.

"Welhemina is being charged under Article 156 of the Criminal Code on blasphemy, which carries a maximum of 15 years' imprisonment.

"Asmara, who led a rally Tuesday that turned into a riot, is being charged under Articles 160 and 161 of the same law on encouraging criminal behaviour.

"Asmara, chairman of the Central Maluku Muslims Communication Forum, was caught on film allegedly provoking ralliers." (Link 5)

So Christian elementary school teacher Welhelmina Holle will be charged with blasphemy, and if Indonesia's Islamic fundamentalists have their way, he will be convicted and given far more than an "administrative sanction". And this would set a frightening precedent.

This is most certainly a case to watch.

By Elizabeth Kendal


1) Church, homes burned in Masohi blasphemy riot
M. Azis Tunny, The Jakarta Post, Ambon, 10 Dec 2008

2) Masohi tense, two injured. 9 Dec 2008

3) Indonesia Sends Troops to Quell Sectarian Violence in Maluku Islands
By Nancy-Amelia Collins, Jakarta, 10 December 2008

4) Ruling against blasphemy
Opinion and Editorial -- 3 Dec 2007
Mohamad Mova Al 'Afghani, Jakarta

5) Masohi in recovery, two named suspects
M. Azis Tunny, The Jakarta Post, Masohi, 11 Dec 2008

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Maldives: reform in politics but not in religious liberty

Date: Tuesday 9 December 2008
Subj: Maldives: reform in politics but not in religious liberty
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal

On Saturday 29 November 08, Maldives' Ministry of Islamic Affairs announced that it would block a Dhivehi and English language website which it claimed was promoting Christianity amongst Maldivians.

When Minivan News, an independent news source in Maldives, sought to question Islamic Affairs Minister Dr Abdul Majeed Abdul Bari over the censorship and the contents of the website, he refused to be drawn. So Minivan News did its own investigations. "On Tuesday, as Minivan News searched for the site, it came across one (www.sidahitun.com) which contained material about Jesus Christ and Christian songs published in Dhivehi. The following morning, access to the site was denied."

Minivan reports: "Sheikh Ibrahim Fareed Ahmed, known for his inflammatory sermons, agreed that all anti-Islamic websites should be banned. 'Although this is an Islamic society, some Maldivians' faith in Islam is not very strong,' he said. 'If they have access to these websites, because their belief in Islam is weak, there might be a negative impact.' . . .

"A similar view was upheld by scholar Sheikh Usman Abdullah who said that as the Maldives is recognised as a wholly Muslim society, all anti-Islamic activities, including websites promoting Christianity, should be banned. . . .

"Human rights undergraduate Hamza Latheef, 23, said while the ministry has not officially acknowledged the existence of non-Muslim communities in the Maldives, the fact they wanted to block websites with Christian evangelical content may indicate the reality of the situation. . . .

"The constitution of the Maldives states that everyone has the right to freedom of thought and the freedom to communicate opinions and expression as long as it is not in a manner contrary to any tenet of Islam.

"The Protection of Religious Unity Act (Law No. 6/94) guards against all anti-Islamic activities in the Maldives." (Link 1)


On 29 October 08 history was made in Islamic Maldives when a peaceful transition of power was achieved through free and fair democratic elections. Maumoon Abdul Gayoom -- an Islamic scholar who had ruled Maldives as a dictator for some 30 years -- was defeated in a presidential run-off by former political prisoner, torture victim and long-time reform-advocate Mohammad Nasheed (popularly known as "Anni") of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).

On 3 September 08, Maldives' six presidential candidates appeared on a panel to answer questions on their political aspirations. Nasheed told state television that if he were elected president he would run a compassionate government committed to reducing the cost of living, improving housing, improving inter-island trade and transport, improving healthcare, eliminating monopolies and corruption in fish markets, and developing more equity in service provision across island communities. Concerning human rights he said: "It is very important for the citizens' human rights to be protected."

"Our country is moving towards a change," he said. "No one should doubt this. We are escaping from censorship of freedom of expression, and from barriers to human rights today. We are going to another Maldives, to Aneh Dhivehi Raajje [other Maldives]." (Link 2)

However, as Minivan writer Ibrahim Mohamed noted on 3 December, "There may have been a change in government, but so far, this has not extended into the sphere of religion." (Link 3)


- there is none more powerful than he who holds the balance of power!

The Maldivian Democratic Party is a broad party whose members have dissented from Gayoom's dictatorship for a variety of reasons. While all MDP members were moving away from Gayoom's dictatorship in pursuit of liberty and rights, some were moving towards the West while others were moving towards an even more intolerant fundamentalist Islam.

The party's religious fundamentalist right-wing faction wields considerable power. When they railed against Nasheed's nomination of Dr. Aminath Jameel as his running mate -- deeming it un-Islamic on the grounds that she was a woman -- the gender-equity-advocate Nasheed withdrew his nomination.

Further to this, in order to win the presidential election, Nasheed formed a coalition which included the very small, hard-line, right-wing, Islamic fundamentalist Adaalath (or Adhaalath) Party.

Religion has become a powerful tool in Maldivian politics and it featured highly throughout the presidential campaign. President Gayoom accused the opposition of being "Christian" (an offensive name for those deemed to be not sufficiently Islamic), while Adaalath challenged President Gayoom's re-election bid in the Supreme Court claiming that he was "without doubt an infidel" on the grounds that he opposed things such as Sharia-mandated amputations and mandatory veiling, and had publicly declared music to be "halal" (permissible) (see Link 4).

Meanwhile, in June 2008, President Gayoom's Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs, under pressure from the Islamic Democratic Party (IDP) and the Adaalath Party, banned the book "Freedom of Religion, Apostasy in Islam" -- co-authored by former Attorney-General and presidential candidate Dr Hassan Saeed -- on the grounds that it "violates Islamic principles". (Link 5)

The book was published in 2004 and is not available for sale in Maldives. Yet, after four years without controversy, Maldivian Islamic forces decided the presidential campaign was a perfect time to deal with the blasphemies and heresies of their competitor. (This might explain Dr Saeed's change of tone in August 2008 when he supported the Islamic nature of the new Constitution on the grounds that "we do not have a non-Muslim population". His presidential canditure had just suffered a major blow.)

It all makes one wonder -- what sort of deals has the reformist Nasheed brokered to bring Adaalath on side?


When Nasheed announced his cabinet in early November, Adaalath Scholar's council president, Dr Abdul Majeed Abdul Bari -- who believes music is "haram" (forbidden: see link 6) and apostates should be executed (see link 7) -- was named Minister of Islamic Affairs. Further to this, the new Ministry of Islamic Affairs (which has replaced Gayoom's Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs) is dominated by Adaalath Party members.

Ibrahim Mohamed reports: "Every single Friday prayer, since the inauguration of the new government, has been led by a religious figure from Adaalath. Only scholars associated with the Adaalath party are allowed to give previously unseen sermons; all other Imams are asked to read sermons pre-approved by the Ministry of Islamic Affairs." (Link 3)

This has the appearance of a Saudi-style deal, where Islamic hardliners are given full control over religion in exchange for "peace", political security, and the Islamic legitimisation of the ruling party. This is pragmatism at its worst, for such an arrangement guarantees Islamic fundamentalism a free ride.


On 24 November, Minivan News Briefs reported that a Maldivian man is being investigated for importing an English language Bible into the country. According to the Maldives Customs Service, the item is illegal and the police are now investigating the matter. (Link 8)

As reported, on 29 November the Adaalath Party-dominated Ministry for Islamic Affairs closed down a website that gave Maldivians access to Christian information and resources in their own language.

So whatever happened to reform and human rights, and to "escaping from censorship of freedom of expression"? Reform has come to Maldives -- but only to politics, not to religious liberty.

By Elizabeth Kendal


1) Ministry To Block Access To Christian Website
By Ibrahim Mohamed, for Minivan News, 4 Dec 2008

2) Presidential Q&A: What The Candidates Said (complete transcript)
By Zaheena Rasheed and Shauna Aminath in Male, 7 Sept 2008

3) The Islamic Challenge: Religion And Politics
By Ibrahim Mohamed, for Minivan News, 3 Dec 2008

4) Dark side of Maldives' new democracy
Praveen Swami for The Hindu, 15 Oct 2008

5) Supreme Council Bans Hassan Saeed's Book
By Judith Evans in Male, 18 Jun 2008

6) Maldivian Artists and the Ministry of Islamic Affairs. 13 Nov 2008

7) Apostasy Punishable By Death: Top Adhaalath Scholar
By Judith Evans in Male, 13 May 2008
The Adhaalath stake. 23 Oct 2008

8) Man Investigated For Bible Import.
Minivan News Brief, 24 Nov 2008

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

North Korea returns to isolation

Date: Tuesday 2 December 2008
Subj: North Korea returns to isolation
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal

In August 2007 WEA RLC News & Analysis released a posting: "North Korea: ' . . . though your footsteps were not seen' "(LINK 1), which detailed several steps being taken on the path of north-south reconciliation towards re-unification. The purpose of that posting was to bring some positive thinking into a debate often characterised by provocative and belligerent rhetoric.

WEA RLC has long maintained that an all-round positive outcome for North Korea (reform without bloodshed) can only be achieved through gradual openness alongside a strategy for maintaining stability. The State is highly militarised and its civilian population, particularly outside Pyongyang, is terribly weak due to starvation, isolation, brainwashing and repressive State-terror, making it highly unlikely that a "people's revolution" would ever be attempted, or if it were, could ever be successful. WEA RLC therefore viewed every step that increased openness, equity and engagement with the outside world as a positive step towards building a foundation upon which a brighter future could be built.

These positive steps -- such as: proliferation of public markets and cross-border trade; Korean unity under the unification flag at the Olympic Games; the May 2007 opening of the north-south cross-border rail link; and the benefits (both economic and relational) of the Kaesong Industrial Park -- were presented as "'handles' to take hold of in prayer for North Korea".

Sadly, virtually all the positive steps listed in that posting have now been reversed.

In its efforts to regain total control over people's lives (particularly their minds), the regime has been increasingly cracking down on public markets and is attempting to re-Stalinise the state. In August 2008 escalating north-south tensions led to the two Koreas competing in the Beijing Olympics under separate flags. On Monday 1 December 2008, the regime closed the north-south rail link, put an end to South Korean tours to the Mount Kumgang tourist resort, and sent about half the South Korean staff of the Kaesong Industrial Park home to South Korea.

North Korea has returned to isolation.


North Korea expert Andrei Lankov explains that North Korea's Stalinist system collapsed during the early 1990s after the fall of Communism in Europe and the break up of the USSR. Not long after North Korea lost its Soviet patron, the state lost its leader when Kim Il-sung died in 1994. The result was "unprecedented social disruption and economic disaster culminating in the Great Famine of 1996-99, with its 1 million dead". (Link 2)

According to Lankov, it was during this time that "all economic activity moved to the booming private markets. . . . The Stalinist system imploded and a new grassroots capitalism took over." The regime, says Lankov, did not approve, but could not control it, especially as high level corruption flourished.

Lankov sees the 2002 policy shift on decriminalising markets, not as a "reform" but as a simple belated tacit approval of something the government could not eradicate. But, he says, by 2004 the regime was beginning to crack down, looking for ways to turn the clock back.

Lankov concludes: "It seems that North Korean leaders believe that their system cannot survive major liberalisation. They might be correct in the pessimism. Their country faces a choice that is unknown to China and Vietnam. . . . It is the existence of South Korea . . . a rich and free country that speaks the same language and shares the same culture" (i.e. it cannot be discounted as "foreign").

Lankov writes: "Were North Korea to reform, the disparities with South Korea would become only starker to its population. This might produce a grave political crisis, so the North Korean government seemingly believes that in order to stay in control it should avoid tampering with the system. Maintaining the information blockade is of special importance, since access to the overseas information might easily show the North Koreans both the backwardness of their country and the ineptitude of their government." As Lankov notes, aid has been used to bolster internal security by feeding the "politically valuable parts of the population -- such as the military or the police".

Lankov regards the real "backward movement" as starting around October 2005 when the regime re-introduced the Public Distribution System and outlawed the sale of grain in the markets. Since December 2007 only women over the age of 50 have been permitted to trade in markets. The men and younger women are being pushed back to the factories -- most of which are unprofitable or dead -- primarily, Lankov says, for the purpose of surveillance, indoctrination and control.

Border security has been stepped up. Venues where information could be exchanged are being raided and closed. There has been a crackdown on mobile phones (Link 3). In September 2007 Daily North Korea reported that a crackdown had been launched to halt the spread of religion amongst North Korean soldiers. (Link 4 - must read!)

The crackdown against the Kaesong Industrial Park is tragic. Kaesong Industrial Park -- which opened in Kaesong, North Korea, in December 2004 -- housed 88 South Korean firms and provided jobs for some 35,000 North Koreans.

Tensions escalated in mid-October around a month after rumours started to circulate about Kim Jong-Il's health (i.e., that he has suffered a stroke: Link 5). The regime in the north complained to the government in the south about South Korean NGOs sending leaflet-laden balloons across the border. The regime in the north made it clear that if the government in the south did not stop the NGOs then the North would retaliate by closing down the Kaesong Industrial Park.

Lankov believes the northern regime is using its supposed indignation over the South Korean NGO balloon-transported leaflets as a mere pretext to crack down on Kaesong after having determined that the considerable economic benefits that Kaesong provides to North Korea are not worth the risk that Kaesong presents to regime survival.

Lankov regards Kaesong as something of an anachronism: a survivor of the days of unprecedented relaxation between 2002 and 2004. "Now it seems this anachronism is not going to last, it has become too dangerous; the era of openness is well and truly over. The measure is likely to prolong the agony of North Korea . . ." (Link 6)

Lankov laments: "Hawks in Washington might hope that the decision will deprive the North Korean regime of revenue, thus bringing its end closer. But they are wrong. The regime can survive in isolation -- actually, it can survive only in isolation. Starving people do not rebel; they just die, especially when they have no idea that a different way of life is possible.

"Kaesong offered a glimmer of light, but now this is being snuffed out, to the peril of the long-suffering people of North Korea."

According to Daily North Korea (DNK), from January 2009 North Korea's markets will only open once every ten days. Sources told DNK they expect "resistance of North Korean citizens will be strong" and "the possibility of actual policy implementation is deemed low" primarily due to high-level corruption. (Link 7)

It remains to be seen if Kim Jong-Il and/or the military regime around him can successfully drag North Korea back a decade. Not everyone will submit. Will there be revolt? Will there be conflict? There will certainly be a massive increase in violent repression and death. Religious liberty is not coming to North Korea any time soon.

By Elizabeth Kendal


1) North Korea: ". . .though your footsteps were not seen".
WEA RLC News & Analysis, 24 Aug 2007
By: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal

2) North Korea dragged back to the past
By Andrei Lankov, 24 Jan 2008

3) North Korea's Regulation of Mobile Phones Led by National Security Agency
By Choi Choel Hee, 22 Feb 2008

4) Committee for Democratization of North Korea Launches an Indoctrination Document within the Army
By Kim Yong Hun, 10 Sept 2007

5) N Korean leader suffered stroke: Seoul intelligence
SEOUL (AFP), 9 Sept 2008

6) Pyongyang puts politics above dollars
Andrei Lankov, 25 Nov 2008

7) North Korean Authorities Order Markets to Open Every 10 days, from 2009
By Jeong Jae Sung, 21 Nov 2008

Friday, November 21, 2008

The OIC & the UN: defamation of religions as incitement

Date: Friday 21 November 2008
Subj: The OIC & the UN: defamation of religions as incitement
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal

This posting follows on from last week's posting entitled:
"The OIC & the UN: Islamophobia and 'defamation of religion'" (15 Nov 2008).

The 15 November posting centred around the "Draft Outcome Document for the Durban Review Conference 2009" which had just been penned at the Second Preparatory Session held in Geneva 6-17 October. The Durban Review Conference (also known as Durban II) is due to be held in Geneva in April 2009. It is clear from the draft outcome document that a major focus of Durban II will be a "new form of racism" -- Islamophobia -- which is allegedly incited through "defamation of religion". At Durban II it will be proposed that covenants be amended and legal instruments created to ban defamation of Islam (i.e. incitement to Islamophobia) in order to preserve peace and prevent a Muslim "holocaust".



In June 2008, at the invitation of the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR), the European Centre for Law and Justice (ECLJ) submitted an analysis of the concept of "Defamation of Religions" as it is being introduced by the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) to the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) and General Assembly.

The paper is available on-line and is essential reading for anyone seeking a clearer understanding of the implications of the resolution "Combating Defamation of Religions".
"Combating Defamation of Religions"
Submission to the UN Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights.
European Centre for Law and Justice (ECLJ). 2 June 2008

Another excellent analysis comes from the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. They have issued an "Issues Brief" on "Defamation of Religions", the updated 27 May 2008

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty regards the defamation of religions concept as "fundamentally inconsistent with the principles outlined in the United Nation's founding and legal documents" as "it violates the very foundations of the human rights tradition by protecting ideas rather than the individuals who hold ideas".

The Becket Fund notes that anti-defamation measures would "force the state to determine which religious viewpoints may be expressed".

"'Defamation of religions' measures . . . are used to protect a set of beliefs, ideas, and philosophies. Yet religions make conflicting truth claims and indeed the diversity of truth claims is exactly what religious freedom as a concept is designed to protect." It adds: "There is no basis in international or regulatory law for the concept of protection of religious ideas."

The ECLJ position is clear from its opening paragraphs: "The position of the ECLJ in regards to the issue of 'defamation of religion' resolutions, as they have been introduced at the UN Human Rights Council and General Assembly, is that they are in direct violation of international law concerning the rights to freedom of religion and expression. The 'defamation of religion' resolutions establish as the primary focus and concern the protection of ideas and religions generally, rather than protecting the rights of individuals to practise their religion, which is the chief purpose of international religious freedom law . . ."


Because the resolutions on combating defamation of religions are sponsored by the OIC, the ECLJ examines freedom of religion and freedom of expression in OIC states to properly understand the OIC's philosophy regarding this concept they are advancing. The ECLJ concludes: "The clever thrust of the OIC position uses the concepts of 'defamation of religion' and blasphemy as both sword and shield." In the West it is used as a sword against the media, academics and all critics of Islam, while in Muslim countries "blasphemy laws are used as a shield to protect the dominant religion (Islam) . . . silence minority religious believers and prevent Muslims from converting to other faiths, which is still a capital crime in many Muslim countries".

The ECLJ recommended that the OHCHR and the UN uphold Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Link 1) and Articles 19 and 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Link 2). (Those articles are copied at the end of this posting for your convenience).


Concerning the right to freedom of expression -- which is outlined in ICCPR Article 19 -- ICCPR Article 20 part 2 makes the following provision: "Any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law."

The ECLJ notes that Article 20 of ICCPR is "at the heart of the debate involving the legal justification of the 'defamation of religions' resolutions". The ECLJ quotes UN Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Religion or Belief, Asma Jahangir: "The threshold of the acts that are referred to in article 20 is relatively high because they have to constitute advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred. Accordingly, the Special Rapporteur is of the opinion that expressions should only be prohibited under article 20 if they constitute incitement to imminent acts of violence or discrimination against a specific individual or group."

This is exactly what the OIC is addressing as it seeks now to shift the focus from "defamation of religions" to "incitement" of dangerous Islamophobia.

Consider these words from Mr Githu Muigai's first address to the UN General Assembly as Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance (3 November 2008, Geneva):

"In the ninth session of the Human Rights Council, I presented my predecessor's [Mr Doudou Diene's] report on 'Combating Defamation of Religion'. The report highlights key issues, including reflecting the state of some forms of religious discrimination including Islamophobia, Anti-Semitism and Christianophobia. The report also makes a central recommendation to Member States, particularly in the context of the Durban Review Process: to move from the concept of 'defamation of religions' to the notion of 'incitement to racial and religious hatred'. In this regard, I was glad to be informed that there seems to be an emerging trend among most Member States in agreeing to this idea, which would help ground the debate on concrete human rights principles and norms." (Link 3)

If the OIC can re-shape the "defamation of religions" issue into one of "incitement" and "public order" -- don't forget, they have already succeeded in making it a human rights issue by re-moulding it as an issue of racism -- then those who seek provisions to protect freedom of expression through Articles 19 and 20 of the ICCPR will find that they no longer have a case. In fact, if "defamation of religions" is made an issue of incitement to religious hatred, violence or "holocaust", then according to Article of ICCPR that incitement/defamation should be prohibited by law.


Meanwhile, yet another interfaith or inter-cultural initiative has come and gone. The Saudi-sponsored, UN-run "Culture of Peace" conference -- a follow-up from the Saudi-sponsored Madrid conference -- was held in the UN Headquarters in New York 12-13 November.

The President of the UN General Assembly, Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann (a Nicaraguan Catholic priest and ex-Sandinista advisor to and foreign minister under Daniel Ortega) opened the peace conference with these provocative words: "Our world is experiencing an extremely difficult period, the worst since the founding of the United Nations. It is a time of numerous bankruptcies, but the worst is the moral bankruptcy of humankind's self-proclaimed 'more advanced societies', which has spread throughout the world." (Link 4)

Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah lamented that throughout history conflicts have resulted from mankind's pre-occupation with differences. While King Abdullah's analysis of history is debatable his implication is clear: if we want to live in peace we should refrain from being pre-occupied with our differences. (Links 4 and 5)

Felice Gaer, chairwoman of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom commented that she'd have liked to see the conference held in Saudi Arabia. "The fact that it isn't speaks volumes," she said adding that Saudi Arabia's entrenched and systematic religious discrimination would make the conditions of entrance into the country intolerable for non-Muslim religious leaders.

Reporting on the Saudi-sponsored "Culture of Peace" conference for FOX News, Jennifer Lawinski writes: "Commission chairwoman Gaer thinks it's more than a public relations move for the Saudi government, it's a cooperative effort between Muslim nations to reinforce the defamation of religion resolution they're sponsoring before the General Assembly this fall.

"The resolution, introduced by Pakistan to the UN Human Rights Council in 1999 has been taken up by the General Assembly and passed every year since 2005.

"The non-binding Resolution 62/145 adopted in 2007 says it 'notes with deep concern the intensification of the campaign of defamation of religions and the ethnic and religious profiling of Muslim minorities in the aftermath of 11 September 2001.'

"It 'stresses the need to effectively combat defamation of all religions and incitement to religious hatred, against Islam and Muslims in particular.'

"Gaer said the Saudi-sponsored inter-faith meeting in Madrid, like the UN resolution, was part of an attempt to legitimise sharia law by making attendees sign a declaration that said the participants would encourage 'respecting heavenly religions, preserving their high status, condemning any insult to their symbols'.

"'This was a Madrid declaration calling for or affirming the idea of the global blasphemy law in slightly moderated language,' she said. 'This would give them the freedom to declare anything from cartoons to incitement to a whole range of things to be defamation.'

"Twenty-two members of the Council of the League of Arab States adopted the declaration and asked the UN and UNESCO to do so as well.

"The defamation of religions resolution has been criticised for acting as a shield for countries that persecute any insult to Islam and intimidate Western nations that may attempt to criticise them.

"'The problem is that this particular conference will legitimise the Saudis as somehow the leaders [of the anti-religious defamation movement] when they are the promoters of a particularly intolerant form of their own religions practice,' Gaer said. 'It will promote this idea of defamation which puts severe restrictions on freedom of expression and turns the whole concept of human rights on its head.'" (Link 6)


The Culture of Peace conference's unanimously approved resolution "Recognises the commitment of all religions to peace" (Link 7). The problems caused by some believing that "peace" is achieve through the elimination of dissent and difference, or through enforced submission, conformity or bland uniformity was not addressed. Rather, leaders were repeatedly encouraged to accept the myth that while creeds may vary considerably, faith leads us to common (presumably noble) values.

The reality is however, that our diverse creeds and faiths give rise to diverse, sometimes conflicting values. The question remains: what should be protected -- state-proscribed creeds or the fundamental rights of human beings?

The OIC will seek to legitimise the defamation of religions issue by re-casting it (using the language of the ICCPR) as an issue of incitement to religious discrimination, hatred and violence, which poses a serious threat to public order, national security and human rights.


1) UDHR http://www.unhchr.ch/udhr/lang/eng.htm

2) ICCPR http://www.unhchr.ch/html/menu3/b/a_ccpr.htm

3) Statement by Githu Muigai
Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance
63 rd session of the General Assembly, Third Committee, Item 62(a)
3 Nov 2008, New York

4) UN conference on culture of peace kicks off
Xinhua, 13 Nov 2008

5) King Abdullah address at the UN Peace through Dialogue meeting
Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz address to the High Level Meeting of the United Nations General Assembly on Peace Through Dialogue, New York, November 12, 2008

6) Critics Say U.N. 'Culture of Peace' Meeting Hides Culture of Oppression
By Jennifer Lawinski for FOX News, 6 November 2008

7) Culture of Peace Resolution.
United Nations General Assembly A/63/L.24/Rev.1 11 November 2008 Culture of Peace. 14 Nov 2008

UDHR Article 18:
Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

ICCPR Article 19:
1. Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference.
2. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.
3. The exercise of the rights provided for in paragraph 2 of this article carries with it special duties and responsibilities. It may therefore be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary:
(a) For respect of the rights or reputations of others;
(b) For the protection of national security or of public order (ordre public), or of public health or morals.

ICCPR Article 20:
1. Any propaganda for war shall be prohibited by law.
2. Any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The OIC & the UN: Islamophobia and "defamation of religion".

Date: Friday 14 November 2008
Subj: The OIC & the UN: Islamophobia and "defamation of religion".
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal


(OIC: Organisation of Islamic Conference)

Durban I -- the UN's first World Conference on Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance -- which was held in Durban, South Africa, in early September 2001 ended with a walkout over its virulent anti-Semitism. Yet sadly it now seems clear that the Durban Review Conference (or Durban II), which will be held in Geneva in April 2009, is shaping up to be even worse.

As a prelude to Durban II, a Second Preparatory Session of the 20-state Preparatory Committee -- of which Libya has been elected chair with Cuba, Pakistan and Iran as vice-chairs -- was held in Geneva from 6 to 17 October 2008. The resulting "Draft Outcome Document for the Durban Review Conference 2009" is now available on the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) website at LINK 1.

It is clear from the draft document, as well as from reports emanating from the subsequent 63rd UN General Assembly meeting held in Geneva during the first week of November, that a central focus of Durban II will be "Islamophobia", which is being presented as "a new form of racism".

Muslims, the draft declaration asserts, are at dire risk of a racial "holocaust" due to "a new form of racism" -- "Islamophobia" -- which is incited through "defamation of Islam".

The draft declaration recommends that local, national and international laws and human rights covenants be reviewed and amended as necessary so that "defamation of Islam" is made a criminal offence, losing the protection it has long enjoyed under the "pretext" of "freedom of expression, counter terrorism or national security". It recommends that legal instruments be established to punish offenders -- that is, those who "defame" Islam by associating it with violence, human rights abuses or terrorism.

Anne Bayefsky, a York University professor and human rights lawyer who attended the Second Preparatory Session in Geneva, warns: "This is the new dimension of Durban 2, which in many ways makes it a greater threat than Durban 1. It's really setting up a war of ideas, that has rough implications, between Islamic states and everybody else. . . . Durban 1 was called an assault on Israel; a demonisation of Israel as racist and analogous to Apartheid South Africa. But in addition, Durban 2 is an assault on freedom of expression and other essential democratic rights and freedoms." (Link 2)


The draft declaration has built on the 17 August 2007 report by Mr Doudou Diene, the then UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, and the OIC's Observatory of Islamophobia.

For background see:
UN Human Rights Council: Watershed days. 18 Sept 2007
WEA RLC News & Analysis by Elizabeth Kendal
(This posting gives a thorough critique of Doudou Diene's August 2007 report and considers its implications in terms of the Islamisation of international human rights.)
OIC: Eliminating "defamation" of Islam. 25 March 2008
WEA RLC News & Analysis by Elizabeth Kendal
(This posting analyses the OIC's Observatory of Islamophobia which was launched at the OIC Dakar Summit in March 2008. The Observatory of Islamophobia, which is built on Doudou Diene's August 2007 report to the UNHRC, must be seen in the context of the OIC's "Ten Year Program of Action" through which it aims to address the most "prominent challenges facing the Muslim world today". This posting also presents scenarios and means through which the OIC might fulfill its goal of establishing international instruments to punish -- under the pretext of peace and human rights -- those whom they charge with inciting Islamophobia through "defamation" of Islam.)


Canada and Israel have already pulled out of Durban II while several other Western states have threatened to boycott -- most notably Denmark. As reported by Jette Elbaek Maressa in Jyllands-Posten (28 Oct 2008), Danish foreign minister Per Stig Moller told his Arab partners during a round trip to the Middle East that if the Organisation of Islamic Conference did not withdraw its proposal to make criticism of religion equivalent to racism, then Western countries will stay away from Durban II. "If the OIC pushes through this draft resolution, they shall not expect European or Western countries to be present at the table," he said. (Link 3)

The Non-Government Organisation "UN Watch" has released a paper on the Durban II Draft Declaration. Entitled "Shattering the Red Lines: The Durban II Draft Declaration", it examines a "small selection of the 646 provisions of the Durban II draft declaration, highlighting several that breach the EU's red lines" (i.e. the lines the EU determined should not be crossed).

In its opening summary, UN Watch charges that the draft declaration seeks "to distort human rights laws for the purposes of Islamic censorship" by "inserting a prohibition against 'defamation of religion' designed to restrict free speech and impose the censorship of Islamic anti-blasphemy laws".

UN Watch's paper provides a clear, thorough and yet concise overview and analysis of the most contentious elements of the Durban II draft declaration. It is recommended reading. (Link 4)


Reliefweb has published a report on the 63rd General Assembly that was held in Geneva subsequent to the Durban Review Conference Second Preparatory Session. LINK 5

The report describes representatives from Egypt, Sudan, Libya and Pakistan all expressing great concern over the threat posed by this "new form of racism" -- Islamophobia -- which is incited by "defamation of religion". According to the Libyan representative, freedom of speech is not the issue -- at issue is the "misuse" of that right.

The representative from Iran told the assembly that modern-day racism is no longer based on supposed inequality between races, but is based on culture, nationality or religion. He claimed that xenophobic acts against migrants, refugees and asylum seekers; defamation of religions; religious intolerance and racial profiling are all expressions of this new form of racism which seeks legitimacy and protection under various pretexts such as combating terrorism.

According to the representative from Saudi Arabia, Islam rejects all forms of discrimination and so in Saudi Arabia there are legal provisions to protect all the rights of all persons regardless of race, religion, status or gender.

Various free, multi-racial Western democracies (a minority in the UN) denounced racism while making strong and clear defences of human rights including religious liberty and freedom of expression.

The representative from France (speaking on behalf of the European Union [EU]) reminded the assembly that the EU had supported the organisation of a Review Conference as long as certain conditions were met and certain lines not crossed. He said that the primary goal should be the full implementation of existing normative framework and that new norms should only be drawn up if they were deemed necessary, were subject to a broad consensus and did not go back on universal achievements by restricting the current scope of human rights.

He expressed the European Union's concern that the "thought process" on the possible creation of complementary norms was moving in a direction that could reduce the level of human rights promotion and protection. According to Reliefweb, the representative from France said the EU would "not allow the United Nations principles to be undermined" and would work in accordance with the principles that had been set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. He said the Review Conference should concentrate on the implementation of the existing framework without restricting any human rights, establishing any hierarchy among victims, or excluding any one group. As well, the review conference should show how promoting human rights, especially the freedom of speech, could play an important role in fighting racism.

The representative from the USA expressed concern at the trend of conflating issues of racism and religion which he said were two distinct issues. He likewise asserted that the cure for intolerance is more dialogue, not less.

The representative from Israel regretted that alliances had trumped ideals and warned that nations with a genuine desire to promote peace should guard against the co-opting of legitimate language and ideas by racist demagogues. He expressed concern that Durban II risked becoming itself a platform of racial incitement, and he feared that words might quickly turn to actions.


The OIC formulated its Ten Year Program of Action (TYPOA) in Makkah in December 2005. Item VI on the TYPOA is "Combating Islamophobia". The OIC determined to do this by means of: 1) establishing an Observatory on Islamophobia tasked with monitoring Islamophobia and "defamation" of Islam and issuing annual reports; 2) getting the UN to adopt an international resolution on Islamophobia, and call on all States to enact laws to counter it; and 3) establishing international legal instruments to enforce anti-defamation laws and deliver deterrent punishments to those charged with inciting Islamophobia through defamation of Islam.

The Observatory of Islamophobia was launched in Dakar in March 2008 and the UN has been passing resolutions against Islamophobia and "defamation" of religion ever since the OIC and Arab League-incited Cartoon Intifada of February 2006. All that is left on the OIC's agenda for combating Islamophobia is the legitimisation and implementation of national and international laws and legal instruments to punish offenders. It looks like Durban II might be a step in this direction.


1) Draft Outcome Document for the Durban Review Conference 2009

2) Durban 2: New site, same debacle.
Kevin Libin, National Post (Canada) 25 October 2008

3) Danish foreign minister threatens Western boycott of Durban II
Jyllands-Posten 28 Oct 2008
By Jette Elbaek Maressa

4) Shattering the Red Lines: The Durban II Draft Declaration
Selected provisions of United Nations draft published at Second Preparatory Session
By UN WATCH www.unwatch.org (Oct. 2008).

5) Strengthening respect for human rights key for preventing conflict, stabilizing post-conflict situations, Third Committee told.
Sixty-third General Assembly
Third Committee
33rd & 34th Meeting (AM & PM)
Hears from Special Rapporteur on Racism, Chair of Mercenaries Working Group; Religious Defamation, Progress towards Durban Review Conference among Issues

Friday, September 26, 2008


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."



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!"


-- 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)


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)


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".


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)


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


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
BBC. Bulldozers stoke Hanoi land clash
By Nga Pham, 19 Sep 2008

2) Huge protest on Sunday morning at the nunciature. 21 Sept2008

3) Vietnam alleges beaten AP photographer broke law. 19 Sep 2008
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

6) Hanoi archbishop told to desist from further law violations
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.
Hanoians in support of disciplining Archbishop. 24 Sep 2008
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

8) Hanoi warns Thai Ha priests for law breaches. 23 Sep 2008

9) Vietnamese gang ransacks Catholic chapel as police stand by. 22 Sep 2008

10) Pro-government mob attacks Catholic demonstrators in Hanoi. 25 Sep 2008

11) Communist gang attack Hanoi archbishop's office. 25 Sep 2008

12) Vietnam: Catholic students mocked at school. 18 Sep 2008

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.


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)


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)



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)


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)


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.


1) Iranians are renouncing Islam: Mullah gets Paranoid! Sep 2008

2) Iran -- Parliament votes in favour of punishing apostasy with death
Christian Solidarity Worldwide, 11 Sep 2008

3) Iran mulls death penalty for Internet crimes.
Khaleej Times (Dubai) (AFP) 2 July 2008

4) Ebadi rights group warns Iran on Internet crime bill. 20 July 2008

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
Upset as gay Iranian wins asylum but Catholic fails. 6 Feb 2007
Yadegary decision shows need for Bill change. 14 August 2008.

7) Deportation could spell death
By HAYDEN DONNELL - North Shore Times | Friday, 07 March 2008
Pastor stands by fugitive Iranian
By HAYDEN DONNELL - North Shore Times | Thursday, 10 April 2008
Pastor speaks against immigration 'persecution'
By HAYDEN DONNELL - North Shore Times | Tuesday, 06 May 2008

8) "Refugee Status Appeals Authority -- Conversion to Christianity"

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


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)



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."


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)


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)


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


1) "A Call to Prayer -- To the Church of God Everywhere"
Evangelical Church of Vietnam (South) (ECV(S)) 28 March 2008

2) Bishop of Thai Binh: Bye-bye my dear people, I will go to the jail.
11 Sept 2008 (great pictures)

3) The Peaceful Revolution of Vietnam's Catholics.
By Sandro Magister 28 May 2008
Holy row over land in Vietnam. By Nga Pham. 26 Feb 2007
AND http://vigiaohoiconggiaovn.spaces.live.com/blog/cns!47BCEBC38CCBF581!763.entry

4) Government sheds light on Thai Ha criminal behaviour. 30 Aug 2008
Hanoi Archbishop accused of inciting protests. 9 Sept 2008

5) "Communism: The End Justifies the Means."
By Father Stephen Chan Tin (8 August 2008)

6) Vietnam arrests four in Catholic land dispute, say protesters. 28 Aug 2008
Catholics rally at Vietnam police station, three detained. 29 Aug 2008
SEE ALSO: Prayers and protests in Vietnam
By Nga Pham. BBC News, Hanoi, 2 Sep 2008

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

10) Vietnamese warned not to read ICN
By JB An Dang, 12 Sep 2008

11) Hanoi Archdiocese to observe day of prayer for state media personnel
(Great pictures) 12 Sep 2008