Thursday, September 12, 2013

Christian Widows in India Beaten for Refusing to ‘Reconvert’ to Hinduism

NEW DELHI (Morning Star News) – When Laxmi Sovi, a Christian widow in India’s Chhattisgarh state, heard her door opening one morning last month, she could not have guessed that by the next day she would be hospitalized and her home demolished.

Three Hindu extremists identified only as Veeru, Chaytu and Mangru barged into Sovi’s house in Kakadi Beda village, Kondagoan, at 9:30 a.m. on Aug. 24 and demanded that she and her children convert back to Hinduism, she told Morning Star News. In spite of threats, she declined.

The three men left.

That night at about 11 p.m., the same Hindu nationalists forced their way into her house.

“They asked me why I converted to Christianity and left all the Hindu idols, and they also told me that I should reconvert to Hinduism or else be killed,” Sovi said.

Doddamma's daughter Laxmi was found semi-conscious after the beating. (Morning Star News)

Doddamma’s daughter Laxmi was found semi-conscious after the beating. (Morning Star News)

Sovi, who became a Christian four years ago, refused to renounce Christ. The Hindu extremists began beating her and her two children, threatening to rape her teenage daughter. The children managed to escape and hid in the surrounding jungle, but the men continued to slap, kick and punch Sovi as they insisted she leave Christ.

One of the men struck her on the neck with a club, and she collapsed in pain. Later she also took refuge in the jungle, where she hid for the rest of the night – with a fractured left hand, swelling on her neck and multiple contusions.

The next morning, Sovi returned home with area Christian leaders to find her house demolished. She received treatment at Rabindranath Tagore Hospital in Kondagoan.

“As her house was completely demolished, she is taking shelter at the house of another Christian in the area,” the Rev. A.K. Netam, an area pastor, told Morning Star News.

Mother, Daughter Dragged to Temple

A week before, in the southern state of Karnataka, Hindu extremists dragged another widow, along with her daughter, to a Hindu temple and beat her unconscious when she refused to convert back to Hinduism.

Led by Hindu extremist Chinna Bhovi, the assailants forced their way into the home of a widow who goes by the single name of Doddamma at 6:30 p.m. on Aug. 18 in the Government Ashraya housing area of Chickmagalur, pastor T.S. Surendara of the Rehebothe Prarthana Mandir Church told Morning Star News.

The Hindu nationalists asked them who gave them permission to convert to Christianity and talk about Christianity with their neighbors, Surendara said. They dragged Doddamma and her daughter, Laxmi, to a Hindu temple and tried to force them to convert back into Hinduism, but they refused to renounce Christ.

“The extremists beat, kicked and punched them with their hands for almost an hour and uttered foul abuse at them,” Surendara, their pastor, said.

Doddamma lost consciousness, and her daughter was semi-conscious when neighbors found them lying on a road, reported attorney Moses Muragavel of the Karnataka Legal Aid Cell.

Doddamma and Laxmi suffered multiple bruises and swelling; they were hospitalized for three days.

“The extremists also looted Doddamma’s house, stole their safe cupboard, clothes, ration card and all important documents, and further vandalized her house,” Surendara said.

Police have registered a First Information Report against seven suspects under various sections of the Indian Penal Code, but no arrests had been made at press time.

In another incident in Karnataka, Hindu extremists attacked house church pastor Parama Jyothi in Mobanahalli village, in Chitradurga District, on Aug. 11.

“At about 10 a.m., the extremists barged in while we were praying and started to beat me up,” Pastor Jyothi told Morning Star News.

The Hindu extremists dragged him along a road, tearing his clothes until he was half-naked. Pastor Jyothi’s body was covered in bruises, and three front teeth were broken, reported Muragavel of the Karnataka Legal Aid Cell.

Church members took their pastor to a hospital, where he was treated for about a week.

Pastor Jyothi submitted a letter to the Bejikere Police Station requesting protection, as the Hindu extemists had sternly warned him that he should vacate the house and leave the village within a week if he continued to follow Christ.

Credit: Morning Star News

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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Man arrested for 'attacking' churches in Bangalore, TN

Bangalore: A man having suspected links with a fundamentalist organisation has been arrested for his alleged role in vandalising and attacking churches in the city and Tamil Nadu between 2008 and 2009.
"A special investigating team on September 3 arrested 33-year-old Sajjan Kumar, a resident of Tamil Nadu, for his involvement in church attacks here," City Police Commissioner Raghavendra Auradkar told reporters here.
Police suspect Kumar owes allegiance to a fundamentalist organisation. "We are investigating it," he added.
Kumar is alleged to have attacked and damaged four churches situated at Yedavanahalli and Huskurgate in city limits, Auradkar said.
Tamil Nadu Police have also filed a case against Kumar for allegedly setting on fire a scooter parked near a hotel where a Christian prayer was held.

"A case was registered in Mathigiri police station limits in Tamil Nadu," he added.

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Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Fresh attacks against Christians in Karnataka

by Nirmala Carvalho

Three new attacks occurred in the Indian state of Karnataka in August alone, all by Hindu extremists.

The latest occurred on 18 August in Chikkamalaguru District when Hindu radicals stormed the home of Ms Doddamma, a member of the Rehebothe Prarthana Mandir Pentecostal Church.

The group of men asked her why she visited Hindu families and who gave her permission to preach Christianity.

Faced with her silence, the men dragged her and her daughter to a nearby Hindu temple, where they ordered some holy men to reconvert them to Hinduism. Faced with their refusal, the Hindus brutally beat the two women, as others destroyed their home.

On 11 August, in Chitadurga District, Rev Paramajyothi, the pastor at an independent Pentecostal Church, was attacked by Hindu ultra-nationalists. Dragged out of his church, he was stripped him and beaten mercilessly under the eyes of his congregation and family. The religious leader suffered several injuries, including three broken teeth.

Once discharged from the hospital, he turned to the police in Bejikere for protection since the fundamentalists had issued threats against him, ordering him to leave the village. Police instead filed a complaint against the attackers, as well as the clergyman.

On 3 August, 50 Hindu extremists violently attacked Somashekarwas, an Evangelical Christian in Bijapur District. Pulling his hair and ripping his clothes, they ordered him to reconvert to Hinduism. They also swore at his wife Kusumabhai and ordered the couple to leave the village if they were not willing to renounce Christianity. Because of their refusal, the attackers reported them to the police in Nedugundhi, accusing them of practicing forced conversions.

Adapted from

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Tuesday, September 03, 2013

North India church destroyed by 1,000-strong mob

Shouting religious slogans, a mob estimated at 1,000 people has destroyed a Christian church under construction in northern India, according to a report received from church leaders in the region. The attack occurred on Sunday, August 25.

An anti-Christian mob destroyed the local congregation's church building, which was in the final stages of construction

With the building demolished, the mob began to beat the pastor, his mother and church members, who were able to flee and went into hiding for the night. The extent of their injuries is not known. No deaths were reported.
"It is our desire that these who are persecuting will know the love of God for them," said KP Yohannan, Gospel for Asia (GFA) founder and president.

The Christian congregation had begun construction more than two years earlier, but quickly met resistance and had been forced to stop the work. After much prayer, the climate seemed to improve and construction resumed. Building had progressed uneventfully to the point that workers were ready to install the roof, when the attack came this week.

Earlier that afternoon, a small group from the community confronted the pastor and demanded that construction cease, saying the building was not wanted. Recognizing the growing tension, the pastor stopped the work.

Despite the pastor's decision, the group rallied the villagers to a meeting and incited them to attack.

The day after the attack, regional leaders first prayed and then met with local police, who declined to become involved. Despite continuing threats, the leaders returned to the site to survey the damage and take photos.

Church leaders have requested prayer from believers around the world that God will protect the pastor, his family and the congregation; heal the pastor's son, whose medicine cannot be obtained in the current uneasy climate; and open the eyes of the villagers so they might experience the love of Jesus in their lives.

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Monday, August 26, 2013

Five Years On From Kandhamal Violence, Victims Await Justice, Rehabilitation, And Peace

By Christian Solidarity Worldwide

25 August, 2013

The Christian community in Kandhamal district, Odisha state (formerly Orissa) is this weekend marking the fifth anniversary of a wave of violence in which an estimated 90 people were killed and at least 54,000 displaced. Much of the violence was brutal in nature, including sexual violence and burning or burying victims alive.

The long-term impact of the 2008 violence, which was the culmination of decades of anti-Christian hate speech and smaller-scale attacks in the area, continues to be felt. Against the backdrop of a rising number of acquittals of perpetrators of the 2008 violence, the Christian community still faces harassment and violence. Reportedly, 29 girls from their community were sexually assaulted in the last year alone.

Thousands of victim-survivors still fear returning to their villages owing to the threats they continue to receive. At least 5,000 have relocated to Salia Sahi, the largest slum in state capital Bhubaneswar. Some have migrated to other states, including Kerala. Many in these displaced communities have paid a significant economic penalty for their relocation.

Paul Pradhan, director of Pallishree Seva Sadan, a social welfare centre in Paburia which was destroyed in the violence and has not been rebuilt, said, “Our people have lost everything. They have lost their houses, their tools, everything. Many people have left and have still not come back to their villages. In most areas, peace has still not been restored. Until adequate compensation is given, the people will cannot recover. The government is not giving enough compensation. There should be a re-survey of damages. Even my own case is very miserable. I am not able to recuperate, while perpetrators are thriving. My own place is still destroyed. I am also not well, my health is not well”.

Many of the victims are still awaiting justice and adequate compensation for their losses. Although the conviction rate of around 30 percent is significantly higher than the national average, many of those convicted are now on bail, even for the most serious offences, and the majority of complaints were never subject to a police investigation. Many witnesses in the cases that have been investigated have been threatened against giving evidence in court, and without sufficient protection, a large number have lost faith in the justice system.

Some human rights activists report facing harassment not only from Hindu extremist groups but also occasionally from the police, who accuse them of being Maoist supporters.

Fr Ajay Singh, a prominent Odisha-based human rights activist, faced renewed threats after being awarded the Minority Rights Award by the National Commission for Minorities in July this year. He said, “Insecurity and fear still prevail among the Christian community here due to the rise in the number of acquittals of criminals. Justice delivery systems have failed and are costly. The people cannot afford it. The Church and the civil society groups are not able to make the government accountable to the people. Neither do the duty-bearers feel obliged to the community. Besides the insecurity and fear, frustration is also rampant. 90% of victims are struggling for their own livelihood. This is a multi pronged problem. The challenge before us is to make the duty bearers accountable. How do we make the criminal justice system function? Who will do it? There is no other way but to make people aware. The right holders should be encouraged to stand up for their rights. The history of the Kandhamal situation shows us that every time we spoke about peace without fighting for justice, violence continued to take place”.

David Griffiths, South Asia Team Leader at Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), said, “CSW remains deeply concerned by the poor delivery of justice, inadequate rehabilitation for victims, and the lack of genuine peace in the area. We are also concerned by reports of continuing incidents of violence, and by allegations of harassment by human rights defenders working on behalf of victims. Much more needs to be done locally before it can be said this violence has been resolved. Communal violence of this nature has a long genesis and a long-term impact, and often follows a predictable pattern. In recognition of this significant anniversary, we again urge the Government of India to introduce the Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence Bill, which will provide a much more effective framework for dealing with violence of this sort in future.”

Kandhamal, Five Years Later: Why The Silence?

By K.P. Sasi

25 August, 2013

What is it that makes human beings express more violence than animals? This is certainly a significant question we may ask in our journey called life. While the animals express violence for food, protection of territory and out of fear, which the human species also do on a much larger scale, the most brutal expressions of violence by the human beings can shame and shock the brutes themselves. This is the only species which can kill hundreds, thousands or millions on the basis of their ideologies, world view, belief systems, political power, economic power, power of social and cultural identities and the need to control nature. In that sense, unfortunately, we belong to the most insecure and violent species on this planet and it is because of this insecurity that we took extreme pride of being part of an identity called `human beings’. On this day of August 25, 2013, which rightfully should have been observed as a Khandamal Day nationally and internationally and unfortunately being ignored by this largest democratic, secular and sovereign State called India, it may be more appropriate to begin with our own limitations – our own silence which became the cause and effect of any large scale violence expressed in history.

It is five years since the major violence took place in Khandamal on August 25, 2008. It was the biggest anti-Christian violence in Indian history and the biggest communal violence in Orissa. The organized violence started in 2007. More than 600 villages in Khandamal district alone were attacked and 5600 houses were looted and burnt. Around 54,000 people became homelss and thousands fled the region out of fear. Over 100 people were killed, including women, children, disabled and the old. Women were raped and subjected to sexual assault. 295 churches were destroyed. 13 schools colleges, and offices of non-profit organizations were destroyed. Dalit Christians and Adivasi Christians were forcefully converted to Hinduism, though there is no tradition to convert from other religions to Hinduism, since the caste identity in Hinduism comes from birth only. All those who were converted into Hinduism at the axe-point are back into their own faith in Christianity today. Education of more than 10,000 children were disrupted and many of them still live with mental trauma. There were no proper systems of counseling.

After five years, when you look back, you will find that the rehabilitation process and compensation to the victims are not properly or adequately carried out. Most of those who are responsible for this gruesome communal crime are still to be punished. People are still waiting for justice. Thus Kandhamal remains as a blot on India’s secular image.

The question why Kandhamal happened is not much different from why the communal fascist genocide happened in Gujarat. The process of years of preparations for violence in both Gujarat and Kandhamal was similar. Teesta Setelvaad had warned years before both Gujarat communal violence and the Kandhamal communal violence that the preparations for violence is going on in both these places, in her famous magazine called Communalism Combat. These warnings were not sufficiently heard by the activists. The disaster of communal violence in Gujarat and Kandhamal could have been reduced to a certain extent if such warnings were discussed right from the initial stage of preparations for violence.

However, there is a difference between the situations of Kandhamal and Gujarat. There was still a small crowd who tried to speak out and act against the violence in Gujarat. There were feminists, trade unions, various shades of left and secular forces, civil liberties organizations, NGOs, Christian organizations with people like Fr. Cedric Prakash, secular Muslim figures like Prof. Bandookwalah, a small section of film/media internet activists to respond right from the initial stages. The social context in Kandhamal did not have this luxury. There was a weak or non-existence of various shades of left and secular forces, like minded trade unions, Muslims or other religions other than Christians and Hindus, lack of civil liberties organizations and an obvious lack of urban middle class activists who could respond and sustain the campaign effectively. Hence, whatever national campaign that has sustained the campaign for the human rights and justice for the people of Kandhamal was to a great extent due to the efforts few people like Fr. Ajay Singh who was based in Kandhamal, human rights activists like Dhirendra Panda who was based in Bhubaneswar and many other individuals and groups based on the sustained energies of such people. But the obvious lack of a diversity of potential individuals, groups and political forces in Kandhamal during the time of communal attack, could have been one of the main limitations, to explain why the Kandhamal Day is still not being observed widely at a national level.

No matter the limitations of social contexts, even with the existing forces which care for justice for the victims of Kandhamal ought to receive further support and strength. Perhaps one factor which is still blocking a proper national action on Kandhamal is the fact that all the churches that have been attacked belonged to Dalit and Adivasi Christians. I have always wondered, if the mainstream Christians and other potential voices in this country would have reacted differently, if the destruction of Churches, worship places, houses and properties along with the gruesome violence on men, women and children had happened to the upper caste Christians. This question came to my mind when I happened to see the photograph of the news of a public meeting in Malayalam mainstream papers showing the Bishops along with L.K. Advani, soon after Kandhamal communal violence. If I as an atheist was insulted and humilitated by such an act, one can imagine what could be feelings of the the Dalit Christians and Adivasi Christians on such a behaviour. It is a well accepted understanding among the activists who work on Kandhamal today that the memories of Kandhamal still do not hold the consciousness of the mainstream India, since the immediate victims were Dalits and Adivasis.

While the notion of secularism as defined so far is being debated in India and while I agree with many of the criticisms on the limitations of its present defined meanings, I would still use it due to the following reasons: 1. It provides at least a minimum protective space for the victims of communal violence through the Indian Constitution, and 2. There is still a lack of a proper alternative category to execute the political functions of a word called secularism. Therefore, in the absence of a politically accepted category, it may be wiser for activists to appropriate it and redefine the word secularism in such a way that all spiritualities, belief systems and religions are treated with equal respect and harmony irrespective of the number of followers. When I say belief systems, I would include atheism also. However, I am a bit critical of the way secularism is promoted so far as an excluded community of those outside religions. In the case of Kandhamal, I have met many people within different faiths, to be rightfully called secular Hindus or secular Christians. Take the cases of Hindu houses who provided shelter to many Christians in spite of knowing that their lives would be in danger if the blood spitting fundamentalists had found out about it, at a time when Kandhamal was burning. How did ordinary Hindu women express such courage? During the partition time, ordinary Muslim families in Pakistan have expressed courage to provide protection to the Hindus against the fanatics. In Gujarat, there were Hindus and Christians who expressed such courage. If this is not secularism, what else do we call such behaviour? To my mind, the only wide-spread secularism that exists today is within different faiths more than outside. The community of people like me still belong to the smallest minority in the country. And I hope that people like us can also apply for the minority status and protection of minority rights for the atheist community, if we are slightly organized in future! But unfortunately, it may not happen, since the heads of each atheist is turned in different directions from the other!

Perhaps what distinguishes the human species from the rest of the species is the expression of compassion undertaken by different individuals from different faiths, risking their own lives due to the firm conviction that lives of others from other religions, other communities and all those whose freedom is denied, are also as important as theirs. If the word called humanity has any meaning, it is this expression of compassion coupled with fearlessness. We must always remember that the fruits of our freedom that we enjoy so far are only due to such fearless compassion expressed by many individuals, groups and movements, articulated and expressed throughout the segments of history. And the only hope for the survival of the human species and the rest of the species is this fearless compassion expressed by a section of the society, in spite of being part of a human race. This is the best lesson we can learn from those fearless people of Kandhamal, so that their concerns can be taken forward on the forthcoming Kandhamal Days, to remember the gravity of the problems as well as hopes for the future!

K.P Sasi is an award winning film director and a political activist. He is also an Associate Editor of He can be reached at

Saturday, August 24, 2013

No action taken by NHRC on Kandhamal anti-Christian violence: Justice Shah

New Delhi/Odisha: Former Delhi High Court Chief Justice AP Shah on Friday accused the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) of not taking any inaction on Kandhamal communal riots.
Shah headed the National People's Tribunal on Kandhamal riots.

"We submitted our report to the NHRC in 2010, however, no action was taken on the report. There is an international acceptance for NHRC and it is considered to be the guardian of human rights. It is surprising that NHRC has taken cognisance of various cases across the country but not in the case of Kandhamal communal riots," he said.

Shah was speaking at the launch of the book 'Kandhamal craves for justice', authored by journalist Anto Akkara.
He said the riots had affected many in Kandhamal and stressed on the need to strengthen commissions like NHRC.

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Sunday, July 14, 2013

Dr. Jaishankar found dead near Jeypore, Orissa

Dr. Jaishankar from Blessing Youth Mission who went missing last Thursday i.e. 11th July was found dead in a river near Jeypore, Orissa today. He went missing nearly 40 - 50 kilometers from Jeypore while he was on his way to Lamtaput. His motorcycle was found earlier and a search operation was launched and today the worst fears were confirmed. 

Dr. Jaishankar, who lived in Bhopal, was visiting Orissa in connection with social service work which he does with Blessing Youth Mission. In his mid forties, he is survived by his wife and two young children. 

Please join us in praying for them and the mission. 

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Missionary missing in Orissa since Thursday

Mr Jai Shankar, a missionary with Blessing Youth Mission Bhopal, is missing since 11th July 2013 from Jeypore district in Orissa.

He had gone to Orissa for a special meeting at Jeypore. According to reports his bike has been recovered from a place called Lamta which is about 40 kilometres from Jeypore city. The bike was found near a river.

Kindly pray for his safety and also that the Lord may bring him back safely.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Congress and BJP: United in Targeting the Church

BJP and Congress governments play politics with conversion bogey

By John Dayal

India’s microscopic Christian community and its clergy may become “collateral damage” of an unspoken but very palpable competitive wooing of the majority Hindu community, specially in central India, in the run up to the General Elections in 2014, and elections to State legislative assemblies even earlier.

Three significant recent developments show the political trend. The State of Madhya Pradesh, which was among the first [with Orissa and Arunachal Pradesh] to seek a curb on conversions to Christianity through its ironically named Freedom of Religion Act in 1968, is now adding some more draconian provisions to the notorious law. Neighbouring Maharashtra is understood to be planning a similar law to criminalize conversions. And up in the Himalayan north, the Himachal Pradesh government is planning to seek the Supreme court’s help to reverse a High court judgment which had struck down some of the more vicious components of the state’s anti conversion law, including one which required government’s permission before change of faith.

Madhya Pradesh is ruled by the Bharatiya Janata party, now gone entirely overboard with the Hindutva agenda of its ideological parent, the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh whose chosen Prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi has made it clear where his priorities lie. His lieutenants have called for a building of a Temple to Lord Rama on the ruins of the Babri mosque the RSS groups demolished in 1992. Modi himself has lost no opportunity to stress his support to the Hindu heartland.

But it is the Congress that governs Himachal Pradesh. The current chief minister had enacted this law, and he now wants all its “teeth” restored by the Supreme Court. Maharashtra is also ruled by the Congress in a coalition with the Nationalist Congress Party of Union Agriculture minister Mr. Sharad Pawar, who too professes a vey “secular” ideology to woo the large Muslim population of his home State.

The mainstay of the Congress political platform has been its traditional non-partisan ideology – and its affirmative action for the poor, the marginalised, the religious minorities, Tribals and Dalits. But it has been an open secret from the days of Mahatma Gandhi and the illustrious leadership of the Freedom Struggle, that Congress also harbours majoritarian elements who surface every time the party has to seek votes in the face of a direct challenges by the BJP and other Hindutva groups such as the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra.

The Maharashtra government has been secretive on its reason for contemplating a law to curb conversions. It has no data to show the number of conversions done through fraud or coercion – the two reasons given as grounds for vitiating a change of faith by a citizen even in the states of Arunachal, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat and Himachal which do have these laws on the statute books.

What complicates the politics of such moves against conversions -- and the phrase is generally understood to mean conversion to Christianity, and not to Islam, Buddhism, Sikhism and Hinduism -- is the focus on Christian preachers and evangelists. Islam has since Independence not really been involved in proselytizing with its numbers growing only through birth. There have been many instances of Hindus converting to Sikhism, a practice that was common before the Army assault on the Golden Temple in Amritsar in 1984 at the height of the separatist Khalistani militancy, but still takes place in the Punjab and New Delhi. Conversions to Buddhism take place on a mass scale from the ranks of the Dalits, who are then called Ambedkarites or Neo-Buddhists. Five hundred thousand of them were converted to Buddhism in Nagpur by the late Dr. B R Ambedkar, the chair of the committee that wrote India’s Constitution. A recent celebrated mass conversion took place in recent years in Mumbai where 50,000 Dalits changed faith at a popular public grounds in the heart of the city under police protection.

The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Council of Hindus) and the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram (Jungle Dwellers Welfare Association), frontal organisations of the RSS working in the tribal areas, routinely convert animistic and Christian tribals to Hinduism under what they call a Ghar Wapsi programme, “home-coming” to their faith. There has been no legal action ever against the VHP, or the RSS.

So far the Himachal law was the most draconian as it forced citizens and their pastors to give a month’s notice to the state authorities and then await their decision before they could formally profess the faith. The Evangelical Fellowship of Indian, and a secular NGO, ANHAD led by celebrated civil rights activist Shabnam Hashmi, moved the high court which struck down these obnoxious clauses.

It is these very sections that Madhya Pradesh now wants to incorporate into its old law. It in fact goes a step further and wants the police to launch mandatory enquires into why the person wants to change his faith – in effect why he wants to leave Hindu fold. Pastors can be jailed for four years and fined a hundred thousand rupees if they break the law.

In states where the police force and the subordinate bureaucracy is known to be bigoted sand partisan, such laws can become extremely punitive. Human Rights activists have often pointed out that such laws also encourage the persecution and victimization of the Christian community, especially of the clergy.

The Church does not seem to have anticipated this. It also has no thesis for a united pre-emptive challenge to such laws. Individual groups go to court, but it is not an easy process. Some sections of the church, in fact, are quick to blame Pentecostal groups as inviting such laws by their provocative evangelisation. Others seem ready to sue for peace, and are already making overtures to the BJP as was seen in the YMCA feting Mr. Narendra Modi at a function in Ahmedabad last month.

The last time the Church voiced its anger was when the then Prime Minister, Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee, called for a “national debate on conversions”, and the Catholic Bishops Conference president, Archbishop Alan de Lastic, challenged him, pointing out that such talk encouraged violence against hapless Christians in the country. It remains to be seen how the church will respond now.

Madhya Pradesh anti-conversion amendment passed.

Congress MLAs staged a walkout during a discussion on the MP religious freedom (amendment) bill after speaker Ishwar Das Rohani announced an extension in the time of the House beyond 5pm to complete the legislative work listed for Wednesday.

Congress MLAs staged the walkout protesting that they did not get a chance to speak on the bills as they were expecting the legislative work to be postponed to Thursday as it was 5pm -- the time when proceedings normally end.

The MP religious freedom (amendment) bill, 2013, was the only legislation that was passed after a brief discussion participated in by Congress MLAs.

Eleven other amendments to existing acts were passed in a span of 20 minutes without any discussion.

Speculation was rife that the assembly may be adjourned sine die on Thursday as the government’s essential legislative work of passing the supplementary

demands and the amendment bill had been passed.

Home minister Uma Shankar Gupta introduced the MP religious freedom (amendment) bill in the House. Ramniwas Rawat of the Congress while speaking on the discussion questioned the need for the amendment.

He said there was no need for an amendment since there was no issue arising out of religious conversions in Madhya Pradesh.

He questioned the home minister on the need to increase the punishment in forcible conversions.

Rawat said a provision for one-year rigorous imprisonment and Rs. 5,000 fine existed in the act and there was no need for amendment.

He also said it seems that the amendment was being brought in to harass those who run schools and colleges.

Yadvendra Singh of the Congress said the constitution allows people to choose their faith and the amendment was against this freedom.

MLA Arif Aqueel while participating in the discussion said that he was opposed to the amendment and demanded strict action against Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) workers who carry out path sanchalan.

At this, the entire House protested with minister Kailash Vijayvargiya saying path sanchalan by RSS was not relevant to the discussion.

Aqueel said if the constitution provides for everyone to be equal the government should also act against the path sanchalan which is done bearing arms.

Gupta then said the state government had no role in the amendment and added that he was only doing what was proposed by the Union government.

Just then it was 5pm and the speaker announced an extension in time at which Congress MLAs protested and staged a walkout.

The amendment was passed by voice vote. After this, the speaker asked the ministers concerned to table bills and had them passed with only treasury benches eyeing the motions.

The bills that were passed are the MP essential services maintenance and prevention of disruption (amendment) bill, 2013, MP water regulation bill, 2013, MP private professional educational institutes (regulation of admission and fee control) amendment bill, 2013, MP panchayat raj and gram swaraj (second amendment) bill, 2013, MP municipal bodies law (amendment) bill, 2013, MP criminal procedure code (MP amendment) bill, 2013, MP land revenue code (amendment) bill, 2013, MP government employee (superannuation age) amendment bill, 2013, MP public places (religious structures and regulation of activities) amendment bill, 2013, MP private universities (establishment and working) second amendment bill, 2013 and MP entertainment cess legalisation bill, 2013.

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Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Protests over 'tribal' Virgin Mary and baby Jesus in Jharkhand

From BBC News. See below for link.

A new statue which shows Virgin Mary and baby Jesus as tribals has been installed in a church in the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand, sparking off protests from non-Christian tribal groups.

Wearing a red-bordered white sari, red blouse, necklace and bangles and holding baby Jesus in a cloth sling, the statue has invited both anger and astonishment.

Unveiled by Cardinal Telesphor P Toppo on 26 May, the statue stands tall in the local church in Singhpur village, 15km (nine miles) from the state capital, Ranchi.

But ever since its installation, the statue has attracted the ire of some non-Christian tribal groups who are demanding its immediate removal.

Some of them even took out a protest march on 17 June in Ranchi in support of their demand.

"It is for the first time in the state that Mother Mary and baby Jesus have been portrayed as tribals. What was the need for it?" asks Bandhan Tigga, head priest of Sarna Society, which represents non-Christian tribal population of the state.

In Jharkhand, 27% of the population or 8.6 million people are tribals and only 3% of the tribal population is Christian.

"Showing Mother Mary as a tribal is a part of the larger design to make the tribal population believe that she was from their community and confuse them," says Mr Tigga.

"A 100 years from now, people here would start believing that Mother Mary was actually our tribal goddess. It's an attempt to convert Sarna tribals to Christianity."

'Nothing wrong'

Mr Tigga and his society leaders have asked the local Archbishop's House to remove the statue.

"If they do not remove it, a nationwide protest will be organised," he warns.

The Christian tribals, however, see nothing wrong with the statue - as residents of Jharkhand, they says they have "equal rights" over the red-bordered white sari and other tribal outfits.

"What's wrong in this? It's just like the Chinese, Japanese, Irish, German or even the African version of Mother Mary and baby Jesus," says Father Augustine Kerketta at the Archbishop House in Ranchi.

Some tribal groups have protested demanding the removal of the statue

"It happens everywhere as part of enculturation of the local tradition."

Cardinal Telesphor P Toppo is away in Rome and in his absence, Father Augustine has been nominated to negotiate with the non-Christian tribals over the controversial statue.

Father Augustine downplays the protests saying only a section of the non-Christian tribal population took part in them.

He says the charges levelled by the Sarna Society are "without any substance" and accuses some politicians of being behind the protests.

"General elections are due early next year and some people may wish to divide the Christian and non-Christian tribal populations for political gains," he says.

Nevertheless, he hopes to resolve the issue at their next meeting scheduled for 14 July.

But leaders of the Sarna Society say they do not expect much to come out of the meeting unless the statue is removed.

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Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Concern over amendments in Madhya Pradesh anti conversion law

Christians in Madhya Pradesh have expressed fear over a proposed amendment to the anti-conversion law, making a priest party to a conversion.
The pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP- Indian people’s party) has proposed the amendment to section 5 of the Madhya Pradesh Religious Freedom Act of 1968 that seeks to include priests, increasing fears among Christians that the move will open the door to false accusations of conversion by Hindu extremists.
It also makes prior permission a must. Permissions must be obtained at least a month in advance from the district magistrate. Persons who desire to convert as well as the priest who is preside over the religious ceremony will have to apply for this permission. There is also a provision for a police inquiry on the request.
The priest has to fill in an application form giving details of not just the venue and date of the ceremony, but also add a list of names and addresses of those seeking conversion. This application has to be submitted at the district magistrate's office a month before conversion.
The cabinet has approved this amendment and will introduce it in the monsoon session starting Monday. Once the bill is passed in the assembly it will become a law immediately as it does not now require the approval of the President.
The hurried decision is a part of the grand plan prior to 2014 general elections to create a climate of suspicion and hatred towards Christian community, the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) said in a statement, demanding that the amendment be rejected.
India's Freedom of Religion Acts, referred to as anti-conversion laws, now have been implemented in six of India's 28 states and seven union territories. The laws appear to seek to curb religious conversions made by "force," "fraud" or "allurement."
“The laws obstruct conversion generally as Hindu nationalists invoke them to harass Christian workers with spurious arrests and incarcerations,” said Sajan K George, GCIC national president in the statement.
In the original Madhya Pradesh Religious Freedom Act of 1968, the priest is not a party to such a conversion. The law required the person who wanted to switch religion to inform the district magistrate of the decision.
Anti-conversion laws exist in Orissa and Chhattisgarh, where people can be punished for not informing the state about their plans to convert.

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Response to amendments in Madhya Pradesh anti-conversion act by concerned citizens

Response to proposed amendments

9 July 2013

Press release

National civil society and the Christian community have condemned proposals to amend the already draconian Freedom of Religion Act by giving extraordinary powers to the administration to decide on religious choices of the citizens. The amendments will also make religious minorities even more vulnerable to attack from extremist fundamentalist forces such as members of the Hindutva Sangh Parivar.

The amendments have not been introduced in the state assembly, which has begun its new session. But available information says the amendments include punishments of 4 years imprisonment and one lakh, prior permission from the District Magistrate for even voluntary conversion, and police inquires before granting the permission.

Community leaders said they will protest peacefully across the state if the black law is made more vicious. They will also take legal recourse to challenge the law as unconstitutional.

The Himachal Pradesh High court recently similar struck down provisions in the state law for prior intimation or permission from authorities. These regulations anyway violate national and international guarantees of freedom of faith of citizens. It is tantamount to government interference in the constitutional guarantee on freedom of religion.

Christian community is particularly incensed and concerned at the unbridled power the amendments will give to district officials and police. We have often seen the bigotry of officials in the district administration and police in rural areas and small towns who often connive with the local Hindutva elements for attacks on home churches and harassment of pastors. As it is, the existing laws encourage Hindutva elements to carry on hate campaigns against the Christian community, its pastors, religious workers and common people. The state every year records many cases of violence against Christians. Similar is the experience of the community in every other state where such black laws exist.

The Christian religion is against forcible or fraudulent religion and has reportedly said that such “conversions” are against the basic teachings of Christ. No pastor can forcibly or fraudulently convert any person.

There is therefore absolutely no reason for the state government to enact such amendments. The state government has also not been able to give any convincing reasons why suddenly it sees the necessity of such a law.

प्रस्तावित संशोधनों के जवाब

9 जुलाई 2013

प्रेस विज्ञप्ति

पहले से ही कठोर धार्मिक स्वतंत्रता अधिनियम में संशोधन करने के प्रस्ताव की राष्ट्रीय नागरिक समाज और ईसाई समुदाय के नागरिकों ने निंदा की है.

यह संशोधन प्रशासन को असाधारण शक्तियां देकर नागरिकों के धार्मिक विकल्प पर फैसला करने के बुनियादी अधिकार में हस्तक्षेप करता है. यह संशोधन उग्रवादी कट्टरपंथी ताकतों जैसे की हिंदुत्व संघ परिवार के सदस्यों को धार्मिक अल्पसंख्यकों को और भी सताने के लिए और उन पर हमला करने के लिए बढ़ावा देगा.

हालांकि संशोधन राज्य विधानसभा के इस नए सत्र में अभी पेश नहीं किया गया है, लेकिन उपलब्ध जानकारी के अनुसार संशोधन में प्रावधान है की स्वैच्छिक मतान्तरण के लिए भी जिला मजिस्ट्रेट से पूर्व अनुमति, और पुलिस पूछताछ आवश्यक है नहीं तो 4 साल की कारावास की सजा और एक लाख रुपया जुर्माना भी देना होगा.

समुदाय के नेताओं कहा है की अगर इस काले कानून को और अधिक शातिर किया जाता है तो वे राज्य भर में शांतिपूर्ण ढंग से विरोध प्रदर्शन करेंगे. उन्होंने यह भी कहा है की इस कानून को चुनौती देने के लिए और इसे असंवैधानिक करार देने के लिए कानूनी सहारा लिया जाएगा.

हाल ही में हिमाचल प्रदेश उच्च न्यायालय ने इसी तरह पूर्व सूचना या अधिकारियों से अनुमति के प्रावधानों को राज्य के कानून में से ख़ारिज किया था. वैसे भी इन नियमों से नागरिकों के विश्वास की स्वतंत्रता की राष्ट्रीय और अंतरराष्ट्रीय गारंटी का उल्लंघन होता है. यह धर्म की स्वतंत्रता की संवैधानिक गारंटी पर सरकार के हस्तक्षेप करने के लिए बराबर है.

यह संशोधन जिस तरह जिला अधिकारियों और पुलिस को निरंकुश सत्ता प्रदान करेगा उससे ईसाई समुदाय विशेष रूप से नाराज और चिंतित है. हमने अक्सर ग्रामीण क्षेत्रों और छोटे कस्बों में गृह कलीसियाओं, चर्चों और पादरियों के उत्पीड़न पर हमलों के मामलों में जिला प्रशासन और पुलिस के अधिकारियों के पक्षपात और कट्टरता को देखा है और ये पाया है की वे अक्सर स्थानीय हिंदुत्ववादी तत्वों के साथ गुप्त रूप से सहयोग करते हैं या उनको अनदेखा कर देते हैं. वैसे भी, मौजूदा कानून हिंदुत्व तत्वों को प्रोत्साहित करते हैं की वे ईसाई समुदाय, उनके पादरियों, धार्मिक कार्यकर्ताओं और आम लोगों के खिलाफ नफरत का अभियान जारी रखें. राज्य में हर साल ईसाइयों के खिलाफ हिंसा के कई मामलों का रिकॉर्ड है. इसी प्रकार का अनुभव हर उस राज्य में है जहाँ इस तरह के काले कानूनों का अस्तित्व है.

ईसाई धर्म जबरन या धोखाधड़ी द्वारा धर्म परिवर्तन के खिलाफ है और हमेशा ये कहा भी है कि इस तरह के "मतान्तरण" मसीह की बुनियादी शिक्षाओं के खिलाफ हैं. कोई पादरी जबरन या धोखे से किसी भी व्यक्ति का धर्मं नहीं बदल सकता है.

इसलिए इस तरह के संशोधन को अधिनियमित करने के लिए राज्य सरकार के पास कोई कारण नहीं है. राज्य सरकार भी कोई ठोस कारण नहीं दे पाई है की अचानक एक ऐसे कानून की जरूरत उसे क्यों दिखाई पड़ती है.

Monday, July 08, 2013

BJP to seek amendment in anti-conversion law in Madhya Pradesh

The BJP government in Madhya Pradesh is preparing to introduce amendments to the 1968 Dharma Swatantrata Adhiniyam (Anti-Conversion law)

According to reports in Danik Bhaskar on July 5, 2013, the new amendment presses for four years imprisonment and one lakh fine for those involved in conversion.

It also makes prior permission a must. Permissions must be obtained at least a month in advance from the district magistrate. Persons who desire to convert as well as the priest who is preside over the religious ceremony will have to apply for this permission. There is also a provision for a police inquiry on the request.

The cabinet has approved this amendment and will introduce it in the monsoon session starting Monday. Once the bill is passed in the assembly it will become a law immediately as it does not now require the approval of the President.

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Minority panel defends award to Fr. Ajay Singh

A Catholic priest, who bore the brunt of the 2008 anti-Christian violence in Odisha’s Kandhamal, has been awarded the Minority Rights Day Award by national minorities commission.

Rightwing Hindu organisations in Odisha had protested the decision, alleging that Father Ajay Singh had criminal cases pending against him, which turned out to be propaganda.  The minority commission defended its decision to award Singh after the Odisha government informed it that there was no case against Singh. “He was given the award for his contribution towards upholding minority rights,” NCM chief Wajahat Habibullah said.

In December 2007 and August 2008, following the killing of Swami Lakshmananda Saraswati by Maoists, the Christian community in Kandhamal and elsewhere were targeted. Over 100 people were killed and nearly 170 Christian institutions were completely or partially destroyed.

The violence was unleashed by the Sangh Parivar after they accused the missionaries of killing  the Swami.

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Minorities commission to award Kandhamal priest, Orissa govt warns of 'adverse impact'

In a controversial move, the National Commission for Minorities (NCM) has decided to confer the Minority Rights Day Award on Father Ajay Kumar Singh, a Catholic priest based in Kandhamal, on July 5, despite the Orissa government's warning that the move may have an "adverse impact" on the "communal harmony" in the district.

Following the NCM's request for a background check on Singh, Kandhamal District Collector B S Poonia, in a report sent last month, said: "A confidential inquiry was conducted by the DSP, DIB, Kandhamal, and forwarded by SP, Kandhamal. The report indicates that it is not advisable to consider the case of Ajay Kumar Singh...for the Minority Rights Day Award as it may have an adverse impact on the peace and communal harmony in the ethno-communal hyper-sensitive district of Kandhamal."

He added that during the 2008 Kandhamal riots, Jan Vikas, the organisation with which Singh was associated, was the only NGO that was targeted by tribals.

The DIB deputy superintendent's report said, "There is a strong perception in a section of society, including the tribals, that this organisation is promoting conversion indirectly by giving benefits either to the Christian community or people vulnerable to conversion."

Singh is no longer associated with Jan Vikas.

The Kandhamal SP, in his report, reiterated that "recommendation of Ajay Kumar Singh for Minority Rights Day Award is not advisable, particularly in this ethno-communal hyper-sensitive district".

When contacted, Poonia said: "The locals have an unfavourable perception about him. We forwarded our report and it is for them to act on it."

NCM chairperson Wajahat Habibullah said: "We sought a report from the district administration, but they have not identified any wrong action committed by Singh. They have mentioned the opinion of the people. The facts were placed before the award selection committee and we decided to go ahead with his name."

The other contender for the award was Gujarat-based activist Teesta Setalvad. At least two members who were part of the selection committee said there was general consensus on Singh's name.

"It has been confirmed that there is no criminal case pending against Singh. Anyone working for tribals is bound to be critical with regard to the government. The Orissa government became over-sensitive to his criticism. Even if there was a case pending against him, there is a presumption of innocence. He is working for the advancement of the tribals, it's not a disqualification in a democracy," said senior lawyer K T S Tulsi, who was part of the selection committee.

"The committee talked to the District Collector and found there was no case against Singh. The chairman decided to go ahead with the award. There was general consensus on his name and the decision was taken collectively," said eminent sociologist Prof Ashish Nandy, also part of the panel.

Singh's name was proposed by a member of the selection committee — John Dayal. "People in the selection committee can also recommend names, there is no conflict of interest. It doesn't disqualify the candidate," said Habibullah.

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Christians attacked in Karnataka

Church Burned, Christians attacked in Karnataka
On 26 June, Hindu extremists burned up a church, beat up a pastor and five church members in Narasipura, Hassan District.
According to our correspondent Advocate Moses Muragavel, the extremists burned down Zion church at about 10 p.m after they repeatedly threatened to harm the Christians if they continued to conduct worship meetings in the area.
Speaking to EFI News, Pastor Annaiah said, "The extremists want to wipe us out from the village and told us that there is no other religion than Hinduism for us".
Again on 29 June, the extremists massed up to burn the temporary shed the Christians built for conducting prayer meetings and beat up Pastor Annaiah and the church members as they tried to stop the extremists.
The Christians ran to the police station. However, the police refused to file a case against the attackers and summoned the two parties for a compromise.
The police told the extremists not to disturb the Christians in future and the Christians were told to pray quietly in their respective homes and not to gather for a prayer meeting.
On 3 June, about 1000 Hindu people shouting anti-Christian slogans staged a protest rally against Pastor Annaiah and his ministry and demanded the eradication of Christianity in the area.
The extremists continued to harass the Christians at press time. Area Christian leaders are meeting the higher officials to bring calm to the situation.
Christians account for about 4 percent of Karnataka’s population of 61.1 million people, according to Operation World, though officially the government puts the Christian population at 1.9 percent; Hindus make up 83.9 percent of the state’s population, and Muslims 12.2 percent.

Christians Arrested in Hunsur in Karnataka

In a similar incident in Hunsur, Mysore, Police arrested 12 Christians after the Hindu extremists staged a protest rally against alleged forceful conversion and demanded the arrest of Pastor Steven Suresh and 11 other believers .
According to our correspondent, Pastor Shibu Isaac, the extremists filed a police complaint against the Christians of forceful conversion, of desecrating the photographs of Hindu gods and of using derogatory and highly insulting remarks against the Hindu gods on 15 May.
Subsequently, Pastor Steven Suresh and 11 Christians from the Hikki Pikki adivasi were arrested under Section 295 of the Indian Penal Code.
Speaking to EFI News, area Christian leader C.V Chacko said, "After accepting Christ, the Hikki Pikki Adivasi Christians underwent positive transformation in every spheres of their lives and the extremist could not tolerate the change".
Hikki Pikki adivasi Christians in Pakshirajapura are socially boycotted and their Anganawadi School has been converted into a temple. They are not allowed to draw water from the common wells. Government facilities for which all the STs, whether Hindus or Christians, are entitled to, are not made available to them since they have converted to Christianity.
On 6 June, the same group of anti-Christian people massed up and staged a protest against the Christian activities in the area.

Source – EFI News

Saturday, July 06, 2013

Anti Conversion bill proposed in Maharashtra

Around 50 Catholic organisations from across Mumbai have written to Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan asking him to withdraw an anti-conversion bill, which they say will be introduced in the monsoon session of the Assembly. The letter reads, "It has been brought to our attention through reliable sources that there is move to introduce an Anti-Conversion Bill by your government. First it was a total disbelief and then a shocking surprise if this is true, that a secular government in the state of Maharashtra would ever think of introducing such a Bill which is anti-minority and against the constitutional rights of a minority. This Anti-Conversion Bill should be confined to the dustbin of history."

"The Home Department has already prepared the bill. But introducing such legislation will not only be an anti-minority act but will increase the persecution of the minorities," said Dolphy Dsouza, former vice-president of the All India Catholic Union and president of the Bombay Catholic Sabha. He said that Catholics would protest in a big way if the Bill is tabled.

This is the fourth attempt to table the controversial bill in the Assembly. In 1996, BJP MLA from Mumbai, Mangal Prabhat Lodha had introduced it as a private member's bill under the name of Maharashtra Dharma Swantantrya Adhiniyam (Maharashtra Freedom of Religion Act), but it failed to gain any support. In April 2005, an anti-conversion bill was proposed by the then Home Minister Siddharam Mhetre of the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party combine, but the proposal was struck down by the then Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh. The late CM reasoned that there was no need for an anti-conversion legislation as existing laws had enough provisions to tackle the "problem".

In 2012, BJP MLA Sudhir Mungantiwar voiced the need to introduce such a bill, but in the long run the bill did not materialise. According to Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) MLA Nawab Malik, he was the only MLA to protest against Mungantiwar. Incidentally the NCP handles the Home Department portfolio.

Malik who is also the spokesperson of NCP, told this newspaper that if the bill is introduced by their ally the Congress, they will oppose it. "The RSS agenda will not be tolerated. Every person has a right to choose one's own religion. It is a fundamental right. We will put a stop to the bill in case this happens," he said.

When contacted, Congress leader and MLC Sanjay Dutt said that there was no cause for concern as the bill would be debated in the Assembly and only then passed. "Every draft of legislation introduced in the Assembly becomes the property of the House and it is debated and discussed upon in great detail. The government will take a stand only after appropriate discussion on the bill," he said, adding that this is not an ordinance that it should require such immediate concern.

Click Here for source.

Maharashtra home department proposes anti-conversion law.

After several failed attempts, including the one in 1996 when a proposal was put forth by BJP legislator Mangal Prabhat Lodha, the state is contemplating an anti-conversion bill yet again.

A senior state government official said that the bill was proposed by the home department a few months ago and was being examined by the departments concerned.

“It started as a private member bill, but was proposed by the home department about five months ago. We are currently examining it,” said a senior official from the minorities development department, on condition of anonymity.

“In a recent meeting, the Christian groups were against the bill,” the official added.

Dolphy D’souza, a Catholic activist and former vice-president of the All India Catholic Union, on Thursday, sent a letter to the chief minister, urging him to ensure the bill does not get passed.

“I learned from a highlevel source in the bureaucracy about two weeks ago that the bill was being looked at again. So, I sent a letter to the chief minister and the additional chief secretary of the minorities development department, asking them to ensure that the bill is discarded. Minorities such as Christians are already being harassed by authorities on false accusations of forceful conversions. This will become another tool for harassment,” he said, adding that he would ask other groups to start a campaign against the bill soon

Munaf Hakim, chairman of the state minorities commission, said that he was not in favour of the bill.

“After reading the bill, it is clear that it could be a source of harassment. The minorities commission will never support it,” said Hakim.

The bill would make official permission from district level authorities necessary for religious conversion.

Activists said it could be used to harass religious groups through false allegations.

The additional chief secretary of the state home department was unavailable for comment.

Click HERE for source

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Anto Akkara wins international award for human rights in journalism

Anto Akkara, who has been working with CWN for over a decade as a correspondent in India, has been awarded the Titus Brandsma award for journalism by the International Christian Organization of the Media (ICOM).

The Titus Brandsma award recognizes a journalist who has made a major contribution to the struggle for human rights. Akkara has exposed the brutal persecution of Christians in India’s Kandhamal region, particularly in his books, Shining Faith in Kandhamal and Early Christians of the 21st Century. In its award citation, ICOM praised Akkara for “the stellar role you have played in highlighting the gross denial of fundamental rights and freedom of religion in the Kandhamal jungles of Orissa.”

The annual award from ICOM, which will be formally conferred on Akkara in October at a conference in Panama City, is named for Blessed Titus Brandsma, a Dutch journalist and Carmelite priest who courageously resisted Nazi ideology and died at Dachau in 1942.

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Hindu Extremists Refuse to Let Christians Buy and Sell in India

Three months of intimidation and assaults in two villages in eastern India has left four Christians hospitalised and others injured, two houses damaged, and the entire Christian community unable to do business or draw water from the town well, church leaders say.

The boycott of the Christians of Dangarguda village, led by some Hindu nationalist residents, began in April, said Rev. K. Raju of the Malkangiri Life Development Society.

“The Christians were prohibited from buying and selling and from fetching drinking water from the public well because of their faith in Christ,” Raju told World Watch Monitor.

Christians in the village started drinking from the river, according to the Evangelical Fellowship of India. Heavy rains, however, muddied the river, making it unfit to drink.

In many parts of huge and diverse India, Christians and Hindus live together peacefully. In some regions, however, nationalist Hindus enjoy popular and bureaucratic support in their campaign to make India a purely Hindu society.

In Odisha state, where the village of Dangarguda is located, India’s foremost nationalist political party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, shares power with the more secular Biju Janata Dal party.

Antagonism in the village boiled over into violence on June 8 when a woman, Mongli Madhi, was attacked as she tried to fetch drinking water from the public well.

‘The extremists did not allow Mongli to take water from the public well, beat her up and broke her water buckets and pots,” Raju said.

They returned the following day, going to Mongli’s house and beating and even biting her, said Bethel Church Rev. Bijay Purusu. He said she sustained injuries on her back, right hand and neck.

Bethel Church Pastor Rev. Bijay Purusu, standing, and Mudha Madhi, in the Malkangiri District Headquarters Hospital.Bethel Church Pastor Rev. Bijay Purusu, standing, and Mudha Madhi, in the Malkangiri District Headquarters Hospital.

The next day, June 10, area Christian leaders reported the matter to the village head, who took no action. Later the same day, a group shouting anti-Christian slogans attacked village Christians with swords, axes, chains and other weapons.

The victims were beaten nearly unconscious, and the attackers poured water on them to revive them when they were about to pass out. One victim, Mudha Madhi, was unconscious for about three hours.

The mob damaged two houses belonging to Christian families.

Four Christians—Irma Madhi, Mangli Madhi, Mudha Madhi and Sambru Khurami—suffered cuts and bruises and were bleeding profusely when they were rushed to the hospital. Three of the victims have been released, but Irma Madhi remains hospitalised.

The remaining Christians fled the village, taking shelter in Christian homes in a neighbouring village.

“This is the month of an agricultural time and we do not know how long they can stay in the homes of other people as they are all struggling for their livelihood,” Purusu said. Most have since returned to their own homes.

The latest assault came on June 22 in nearby Goudaguda village, when a group beat up a Christian couple, Bina Madhi and his wife, Ermi Madhi, and church member Jagarnath Maekani as they unsuccessfully tried to drive the Christians off their farmland.

“The extremists, led by Laxmi Markani, swelled up and told the Christians to leave the village, claiming that there is no place for them and there is no need for Christians to have cultivation land,” Purusu said.

The attackers used bamboo sticks, but the victims were not seriously hurt. They filed a complaint at Malkangiri Police Station. No arrests have yet been reported.

Police have registered a First Information Report against the attackers

Click here for source

Friday, June 28, 2013

Assault on pastors' meeting in India shows depth of extremist hostility

Even in a state with no “anti-conversion” law, Hindu extremists in Andhra Pradesh this month levelled the accusation of forceful conversion at pastors as they belted the Christian leaders with iron bars.
At their monthly prayer gathering in Thukkugudu, Hyderabad, on June 4 about 20 pastors from various denominations were stunned when a mob of Hindu extremists approached with clubs and iron rods and accused the ethnic Telegu clergy of forceful conversion. Vaguely worded laws in other states banning forceful, fraudulent or coercive conversions provide a ready pretence for false accusations against Christians helping to provide for the needs of the poor, leading to numerous false arrests.
Lack of such a law in Andhra Pradesh, on India’s south-eastern coast, did not stop Hindu nationalists from shouting the accusation as they attacked. The assault was notable for its scope and intensity. Members of the Hindu extremist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh struck with fury, uttering obscenities as they denigrated the pastors’ faith and low-caste status. Hindu nationalists assert that people in India are Hindu by birth, and that conversion to another faith amounts to national betrayal.
“They suddenly intruded into the meeting at about 1 p.m. while we were having our lunch and started to beat up pastors who were standing outside the room,” said the Rev. B. Robert of the Bethel Saron Assembly of God Church.
Seven Christians received hospital treatment, including a 73-year-old pastor who goes by the single name of Krupiah.
“Pastor Krupiah was bleeding profusely when they took him to the hospital,” Robert told Morning Star News. “There was blood everywhere, as many pastors were beaten on the head.”
The pastor required five stitches on his left eyebrow. Four of seven pastors receiving hospital care were admitted for treatment of serious injuries, Robert said.
The assailants, led by Venkat Reddy, shouted anti-Christian slogans, over-turned chairs and tables, and seized and destroyed some pastors’ cell phones and cameras, he added.
“Some pastors even wore their [motorcycle] helmets in order to protect their heads,” Robert said. “However, the angry extremists beat them with iron rods and broke their helmets.”
The mob prevented the pastors from escaping the assault.
“The attackers pulled me and my friend Pastor Bhagati Timothy back inside the room,” Robert said. “I somehow managed to escape without major injury. However, Pastor Timothy was severely beaten on the head. Timothy sustained a deep cut on his head, and he started to bleed profusely.”
Robert was able to get to his motorbike and took Timothy to the hospital.
The All India Christian Council representative in Hyderabad, Moses Vattipalli, told Morning Star News that accusations that the pastors were forcing people to convert to Christianity were baseless.
“There was no case of forceful conversion – the pastors were having their monthly prayer meeting as usual,” Vattipalli said.
Also injured was Ganugapati Kumar, with broken bones in both hands, and V. Timothy, who hurt his leg.
Police at the Pahadi Sheerif police station registered a First Information Report against the attackers, but no arrests had been made at press time.
Local Christians planned a protest against the assault but postponed it on counsel of police.
Christian leaders have submitted a memorandum to the Mandal Revenue Officer, who has promised to take action.
In Gutta Begumpet, Rangareddy District, also in Andhra Pradesh state, Hindu extremists along with a government official from the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) on June 10 demolished the church building of Kresthu Mandiram (Christ Church), Vatipalli said.
The extremists had threatened pastor Paul Viswas, telling him to stop leading worship meetings in the area or face violence.
The AICC reported that the official from the GHMC, Dhanjiv Reddy, planned the destruction with the local Hindu extremists. They had been threatening Viswas for a year.
Andhra Pradesh has the fourth-highest rate of attacks against Christians, according to the 2012 Yearly Report of the Evangelical Fellowship of India. It is one of the more populated states in India, with a population of about 90 million people, of which about 2.3 percent are Christians, according to the 2011 census.
Five states – Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Chhattisgarh and Himachal Pradesh – have passed “anti-conversion” laws, resulting in widespread harassment of Christians. Arunachal Pradesh has not fully promulgated similar legislation, and the Rajasthan chief minister has yet to sign into law an anti-conversion law passed by the state assembly.

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Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Vandalism at church complex in Manipur

IMPHAL: Residents of the Kongpal area in Imphal East on Monday damaged some articles, furniture and makeshift tents in a newly built complex of the Victory Church of India (VCI) as they considered it an insult that the complex has come up adjacent to a historical site. The actual church is yet to be constructed in the complex.

Various clubs and Meira Paibis (women's vigil groups) of Kongpal who have formed a self-explanatory body - Coordinating Committee against the Construction and Establishment of the VCI Complex at Kongpal Nandeibam Leikai - staged a demonstration on Monday. They then went on to vandalize the items and structures in church complex, sources said.

The committee said the setting up of the church complex adjacent to the historical site, where rituals are performed annually, and which is under the Manipur Historical Monument Act, is an insult to the people of the state.

It also imposed a "public curfew" at the spot even as police launched a sharp vigil to thwart unwanted eventualities. There is no report of any arrests yet.

Following the incident, the All Manipur Christian Organization (Amco) urged the government to protect the sanctity of the place of worship.

"We take serious note of the incident at the VCI church complex. The land on which the complex stands has been bought by the functionaries concerned. They have full rights to set up the place of worship," said Amco president Rev Prim Vaiphei. He urged the government to do the needful to protect the victimized church and the complex.

The matter was brought to the notice of the Manipur assembly on Tuesday as legislator Paonam Brojen demanded that the home department look into the matter during zero hour. A Meitei Christian convert, Brojen, representing the Wangjing Tentha constituency in the valley of Thoubal district, said setting up of a church in the valley area would enhance moral education and love between people of the hills and the plains.

Monday's incident came barely 20 days after the state government evicted 26 families and three churches at a small locality in Kabo Leikai in the heart of Imphal to set up a five-star hotel despite a court's ruling maintaining status quo in the area.

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Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Orissa: after the pogroms, Christians get a fraction of the damages


Bhubaneshwar - "In the Kandhamal context, the central and state governments have failed to discharge their constitutional mandate to protect the fundamental rights of citizens," said Mgr Raphael Cheenath, archbishop emeritus of Cuttack-Bhubaneshwar, as he presented AsiaNews with a report whose findings show the gross inadequacy of state and national compensation offered to the victims of the violent incidents of 2008.

Released last Friday, the study, titled Unjust Compensation: Assessment of Damage and Loss of Private Property during the Anti-Christian Violence in Kandhamal, India, was authored by the Centre for the Sustainable Use of Natural Resources (CSNR, in Bhubaneshwar) and the Network for the Right to Housing and Land (HLRN, in New Delhi). The two NGOs presented their work in cooperation with the Church and the Red Cross.

According to the study, the Orissa government paid out money only in the case of deaths and damaged or destroyed houses. All other type of property-land, personal valuables and furniture, documents, farm equipment, tools, and food reserves-were excluded from the compensation package. This, the prelate said, "has seriously damaged people who suffered almost total ruin."

As the study indicates, the problem is that there are no policies in the country, at the state or national levels, to settle such losses.

The issue of compensation also goes for destroyed or damaged places of worship. "The government," Mgr Cheenath noted, "says it cannot fund the rebuilding of damaged churches and religious facilities because India is a secular country."

In the past, the bishop had presented a petition to the Supreme Court, asking for 30 million rupees (about US$ 500,000) to repair damaged Church buildings.

Even though, the court ruled in favour of compensation, the government has only devoted a fraction of the funds originally requested.

Friday, June 07, 2013

Twenty Pastors attacked in Andhra Pradesh

Twenty Baptist pastors were attacked allegedly by Hindu extremists in Andhra Pradesh Wednesday.
About 50 fundamentalists raided a prayer meeting at a church in Maheshwaram Mandal in Hyderabad.
They attacked the pastors with sticks and rods and verbally abused them.
The mob also accused the church leaders of forcing people to convert to Christianity.
Seven of the pastors were rushed to hospital as they had sustained injuries.
A case has been registered with the police in this regard.
All India Christian Council (AICC) said that the victims were all from Telugu Baptist Church and had gathered for a regular monthly prayer meeting.
“We are deeply concerned that anti-Christian attacks are taking place in the state. After Karnataka, such violence against Christians has started in Andhra Pradesh,” said John Dayal, AICC secretary general.
The AICC said that up to 1,000 local Christians are planning a peaceful rally to protest against the attack.

Twenty Christian pastors were beaten by suspected Hindu radicals in India's southeastern state of Andhra Pradesh on Wednesday after radicals accused the pastors of forcefully converting Hindus to Christianity.

As a result of the attack, seven of the 20 pastors required hospitalization because of the severity of the injuries they sustained. Christians have staged peaceful protests to encourage local authorities to bring the perpetrators to justice.

Twenty pastors from Telugu Baptist Church gathered at a church in Hyderabad, a major city located in Andhra Pradesh, for their monthly prayer meeting on Wednesday. According to witnesses, about 50 Hindu radicals broke into the church building and began "brutally attacking" the pastors with sticks and metal rods, causing severe injuries. Six of the pastors were dragged into the streets by the enraged mob, where they were beaten unconscious and verbally abused by their attackers. Seven of the pastors, identified by BosNewsLife as Thimothy, Kumar, Krupaiah, Roberts, Rosaiah, Lazarus and Thinothy, were rushed to the hospital for serious injuries.

The mob of Hindu radicals is suspected to be connected with the Hindu nationalist group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). RSS had no immediate comment regarding the attack when the right-wing group was contacted by media sources.

This vicious attack comes weeks after another Hindu nationalist group, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), lost control of the government of Andhra Pradesh's neighboring state, Karnataka. Under BJP's rule, an atmosphere of impunity for Christian persecutors allowed Karnataka to become one of the most dangerous places for Christians to live in India. Christians in Andhra Pradesh are concerned that the persecutors in Karnataka are now moving into their state.

"We are deeply concerned that anti-Christian attacks are taking place in [Andhra Pradesh]. After Karnataka, such violence against Christians has started in Andhra Pradesh," John Dayal, secretary general of the All India Christian Counsel (AICC), told media sources after the attack.  

Fearing the creation of an atmosphere of impunity similar to the one that exists in Karnataka, Christians in Andhra Pradesh are staging peaceful protests, demanding the government to take swift action to bring the perpetrators to justice. While condemning the attack itself, the AICC has called on the local government to take "stern action" against the culprits.

"Attacks on Christians in southern India, especially those on Christian leaders, have unfortunately been increasing over the past year," says William Stark, International Christian Concern's regional manager for Africa. "Members of Hindu nationalist groups like RSS and BJP use India's anti-forced conversion laws as a pretext to curb the spread of Christianity by intimidating Christian leaders and terrorizing new converts.

"In areas where these groups hold power in the local government, Christians are allowed to be attacked with impunity. For years, local authorities acquiesced and sometimes actively encouraged this sort of behavior. Decisive action must be taken. Such heinous acts must not be allowed to spread to new areas in India."

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Tripura: Christian man beheaded for not converting to Hinduism

A 35-year-old Christian man was beheaded for refusing to convert to Hinduism. Indian media that covered the affair revealed that the man, Tapas Bin, was killed by his own father-in-law in the village of Teliamura (West Tripura District), in the north-eastern part of the country, where the victim's body was found a few days ago in a stream.

According to police, three years ago Bin married Jentuly, the daughter of 55-year-old Gobinda Jamatiya, the member of a local tribal religion. The Christian man had been a private tutor of Gobinda's daughter, and the couple had a one-year-old son.

Since the marriage, Gobinda had been pressuring Bin to abandon Christianity and join his tribal religion. When Bin persistently refused, Gobinda decided to kill his son-in-law with the help of an ojha (shaman), Krishnapada Jamatiya (no relation), and dispose of the body.

Police arrested the 42-year-old shaman but were unable to find Gobinda, who works at the West Tripura Science and Technology Department, and is thought to be on the run.

Khrishnapada confessed to the crime, providing detailed information about the killing. For example, he said that before the assassination, Gobinda and he had performed a puja, a ritual prayer.

Bin's wife Jentuly told police that her father did not recognise their marriage and had pressured Bin to convert. What is more, "My father might kill me and my son too," she said.

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Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Manipur Christian body slams eviction

IMPHAL: The All Manipur Christian Organization (Amco), while empathizing with the victims of the alleged forced eviction of 26 families and three churches from a locality here, has called upon the OkramIbobi Singh government to come up with a solution for the affected people. Amco is the umbrella body of various church organizations of the state.

The state government, with the purpose of setting up a five-star hotel, demolished the houses and the churches of Kabo Leikai a few days ago. Also known as the Naga river lane, Kabo Leikai is located adjacent to the state-run Hotel Imphal.

A joint action committee (JAC) set up against the eviction has decided not to accept any compensation from the government and instead demanded immediate reconstruction of the destroyed houses. The pressure group appealed to civil bodies, philanthropic organizations, human rights activists and well wishers to reach out to the victims.

It is learnt that the victims have already moved the court to restore their homesteads at Kabo Leikai. Some of the affected families are putting up at hotels, others at makeshift camps at the spot, while the remaining are taking shelter at their relatives and friends' houses, Amco informed.

"The government's move of evicting the people from Kabo Leikai reflects its insensitivity, if not of arrogance," Amco said in a statement, adding, "Enough time should've been given by the government to the victims to ensure they get compensation or relocation assistance even if the eviction was inevitable."

Amco said the government served a notice on May 18 and asked the people to shift out the following day, which was a Sunday. The eviction drive was on May 20. This reflects the government's unsympathetic attitude and religious intolerance, Amco said. "The eviction drive was carried out despite fervent pleas by the victims to give them a few more days," the statement added.

Amco alleged that the state government demolished three churches but left the shrine of another religion in the same area untouched. "It is unbecoming of the government to show such open discrimination against a religious group when we live in secular country," the statement said.

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Saturday, May 18, 2013

Two more held in Staines case

The CBI on Friday arrested two more persons in the case of the killing of Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two minor sons in Odisha’s Keonjhar district in January 1999.

Ghanshyam Mahanta and Ranjan Mahanta were arrested from their village in Keonjhar by CBI sleuths and brought to Bhubaneswar, where they were produced before a designated CBI court, which remanded them in CBI custody for three days.

Staines and his two sons, Philip and Timothy, were burnt alive on the night of January 22, 1999 by a mob while they were asleep in their station wagon at Manoharpur village.

As many as 18 persons, including the main accused Dara Singh, were arrested while three were still absconding. With the arrest of the two on Friday, one more person is still at large.

A Bhubaneswar court awarded the death sentence to Dara Singh and life imprisonment to 12 others in 2003.

The Orissa High Court subsequently commuted Dara Singh’s death sentence to life imprisonment in 2005. It retained life imprisonment for Mahendra Hembram and acquitted 11 others.

The Supreme Court upheld the Orissa High Court order in 2011.

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Monday, May 13, 2013

Orissa: 5 years after anti-Christian pogrom, little justice for victims

Five years after an anti-Christian pogrom in the eastern Indian state of Orissa left 100 dead and over 50,000 homeless, justice has been denied to victims because of police inaction and the intimidation of witnesses, according to John Dayal, the lay Catholic journalist who serves as secretary-general of the All India Christian Council.

According to Dayal, Christians in Orissa have filed 3,232 criminal complaints, of which only 1,541 were accepted by police and only 828 resulted in a police “first information report.” Trials followed in 327 cases, which resulted in 169 judicial acquittals affecting 1,597 defendants. In another 86 trials, defendants were convicted of minor offenses.

Acquittals “often occur because the key witnesses are threatened, intimidated, or afraid,” the Fides news agency reported.

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Friday, May 10, 2013

Hindu extremists attack Bible College in Kerala

New Hope Bible College, Palunda, was organising their annual Bible convention on 11th April 2013. While the meeting was on, a group of about 150 persons belonging to Hindu Aikyavedi, a Hindu fundamentalist organisation barged into the meeting venue and started attacking the believers and organisers.

They were accusing the organisers of forcefully converting backward community people to Christianity and instructed the organisers to send back the believers belonging to the backward community. The police team from Nilambur lead by Circle Inspector Mr. P Chandran reached the place and had discussions with the attackers and the organisers. After discussion, the organisers agreed to send back the people as demanded by the radical Hindus.

After reaching the agreement with the organisers, the Hindu radicals started attacking the press photographer Mr Rajesh of local channel “Swantham”. The police intervened and rescued Mr Rajesh. He was then taken to a private hospital in Chungathara and was later shifted to another private hospital in Nilambur.

After sending Mr Rajesh to the hospital, the police then started to send the believers to wayanad, the Hindu radicals started stoning the bus and damaged the glasses. The police had to resort to a mild lathi charge to control the situation.

Source : GCIC

Islamist group tells Christian missionaries: leave Kashmir or ‘suffer the consequences’

A spokesman for the United Jihad Council, a militant Islamist organization, said that Christian missionaries must leave the northern Indian region of Kashmir or “suffer the consequences.”

97% of Kashmir’s population is Muslim.

“Christian missionaries are exploiting poor and needy people by offering them financial packages for changing their religion,” charged Syed Sadaqat Hussain.

“Islam is the religion of peace and harmony that provides complete protection to minorities,” he added. “However, [the] anti-Islam activities of a few people cannot be tolerated.”

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Thursday, May 09, 2013

Priest attacked and beaten in Pune

Father Wilson Patole seeks police protection to avoid future attacks.

Priest Pune

A priest and several people gathered for prayers were beaten up by a mob of 20-25 people on the premises of a church in Pimprigaon on Sunday. Protesting against the church that has recently come up in the area, the mob allegedly asked the priest to close down the place and move elsewhere with immediate effect. The priest has demanded police security to counter any future attack.

The incident occurred around 6 pm on Sunday and a complaint was lodged by the priest late in the evening with Pimpri police chowky.

Father Wilson Patole, 48, was left with a swollen eye after a man punched him on the face "several times". He also suffered bruises on his shoulders. After targeting Patole, the mob attacked the rest of the around 40-50 people who had gathered at the church for evening prayers. The mob reportedly left after the priest called up the police, who arrived 15 minutes later.

"Around 6 pm, the mob barged into the church premises and smashed the banners put up inside. At that time, prayers were going on. The mob then stood outside the church premises," said Father Patole, adding: "They called us at the gate of the church for discussion. As soon as we reached there, they started beating us up. They were not carrying sticks or arms."

Father Patole said the mob was demanding that the prayer be stopped and the church closed down. "They did not give us any notice. If they do not want us here, they should have told us. We would have moved out," he said.

Father Patole alleged that though there were 20-25 people who attacked them, the Pimpri police lodged complaint against only two. "First they refused to lodge a complaint. Then they lodged a complaint against only two persons," he said.

Father Patole said: "We are seeking action in the matter so that such attacks do not occur in future. We do not want revenge. We are peace-loving people. The police should not arrest the persons involved, but only take deterrent action."

When contacted, DCP Shahaji Umap said: "A non-cognisable offence against two persons has been registered with the Pimpri police. We have not arrested them, but have taken preventive action."

As for providing security, Umap said: "If the priest approaches us, we will take appropriate step in the matter. There is nothing political in this...the local people were objecting to the church coming up in their area."

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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Press Release: USCIRF’s 2013 Annual Report on the State of International Religious Freedom Identifies World’s Worst Violators. India placed on Tier 2 list.


April 30, 2013| By USCIRF

Washington, D.C. -- The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), an independent federal advisory body created by the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) to monitor religious freedom abuses abroad, today released its 2013 Annual Report.  The Report highlights the status of religious freedom globally and identifies those governments that are the most egregious violators. 

“The state of international religious freedom is increasingly dire due to the presence of forces that fuel instability.  These forces include the rise of violent religious extremism coupled with the actions and inactions of governments.   Extremists target religious minorities and dissenters from majority religious communities for violence, including physical assaults and even murder.  Authoritarian governments also repress religious freedom through intricate webs of discriminatory rules, arbitrary requirements and draconian edicts,” said Dr. Katrina Lantos Swett, USCIRF’s Chair.

The 2013 Annual Report recommends that the Secretary of State re-designate the following eight nations as “countries of particular concern” or CPCs: Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Uzbekistan.  USCIRF finds that seven other countries meet the CPC threshold and should be so designated:  Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Vietnam.

“The Annual Report ultimately is about people and how their governments treat them. Violations affect members of diverse religious communities around the world, be they Rohinghya Muslims in Burma, Coptic Christians in Egypt, Buddhists, Uighur Muslims and Falun Gong in China, Baha’is in Iran, Ahmadis and Christians in Pakistan, or Muslims in Islamic countries such as Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan and in non-Muslim nations like Russia.  We recommend that the White House adopt a whole-of-government strategy to guide U.S. religious freedom promotion and that Secretary of State Kerry promptly designate CPCs, before currently designated actions expire later this year,” said Lantos Swett.

In Burma, ongoing political reforms have yet to significantly improve the situation for freedom of religion and belief.  Sectarian violence and severe abuses of religious freedom and human dignity targeting ethnic minority Christians and Muslims continue to occur with impunity.

In Egypt, despite some progress during a turbulent political transition, the government has failed or been slow to protect from violence religious minorities, particularly Coptic Christians. The government continues to prosecute, convict, and imprison individuals for “contempt” or “defamation” of religion, and the new constitution includes several problematic provisions relevant to religious freedom. 

In both Pakistan and Nigeria, religious extremism and impunity have factored into unprecedented levels of violence that threaten the long-term viability of both nations.  Targeted violence against Shi’i Muslims in Pakistan is pervasive, while repeated Boko Haram attacks in Nigeria exacerbate sectarian tensions.

“Many of these countries top the U.S. foreign policy agenda, and religion is a core component in their makeup.  Successful U.S. foreign policy recognizes the critical role religious freedom plays in each of these nations and prioritizes accordingly. Religious freedom is both a pivotal human right under international law and a key factor that helps determine whether a nation experiences stability or chaos,” said Lantos Swett. 

USCIRF also announced the placement of eight nations on its Tier 2 List for 2013.  The Tier 2 category replaces the Watch List designation USCIRF previously used.  These nations are: Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Cuba, India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Laos and Russia. USCIRF found the violations these governments engage in or tolerate are particularly severe, and meet at least one criterion, but not all, of IRFA’s three-fold “systematic, ongoing, egregious” CPC standard. 

In Russia, religious freedom conditions suffered major setbacks in the context of growing human rights abuses. In Indonesia, the country’s rich tradition of religious tolerance and pluralism is seriously threatened by arrests of individuals the government considers religiously deviant and violence perpetrated by extremist groups. Federal and provincial officials, police, courts, and religious leaders often tolerate and abet the conduct of religious freedom abusers.

The USCIRF report also highlights the status of religious freedom in countries/regions that do not meet the Tier 1 (CPC) or Tier 2 threshold. These include: Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belarus, Ethiopia, Turkey, Venezuela and Western Europe. The Annual Report also addresses in-depth thematic issues:  Constitutional Changes; Severe Religious Freedom Violations by Non-State Actors; Laws against Blasphemy and Defamation of Religions; Imprisonment of Conscientious Objectors; Legal Retreat from Religious Freedom in Post-Communist Countries; Kidnapping and Forced Religious De-Conversion in Japan; and Religious Freedom Issues in International Organizations.


USCIRF is an independent, bipartisan U.S. federal government advisory body with its commissioners appointed by the President and the leadership of both political parties in Congress.  The 1998 International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) requires that the United States annually designate as CPCs countries whose governments have engaged in or tolerated systematic, ongoing and egregious violations of the universal right to freedom of religion or belief.  IRFA also tasks USCIRF with assessing conditions in these and other countries and making recommendations to the President, Secretary of State, and Congress.

In accordance with IRFA, USCIRF uses international standards, as found in UN conventions and declarations, for assessing religious freedom conditions.

To interview a USCIRF Commissioner please contact Samantha Schnitzer at (202) 786-0613 or


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