Sri Lanka: One year on from the 2019 Easter Sunday Bombings

On Easter Sunday 2019 a small relatively unknown Sri Lankan Islamist group, National Thowheed Jamath, conducted a series of bombings targeting churches and hotels across Sri Lanka and killing more than 250 people, predominantly Christians. The BBC reports that on 21 April, the anniversary of the attacks was marked by the ringing of church bells but no public events, the result of a government curfew imposed to address the spread of COVID-19, which has claimed seven lives on the island.

Amid a nationwide two-minute silence in honour of the dead and wounded, the Archbishop of Colombo, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, said in his anniversary message that while the church had “spiritually forgiven” its attackers, it continued to call for justice.

Justice remains elusive, with investigations ongoing in a country in which the need to confront past crimes and pursue forgiveness, healing and national reconciliation is more complex as a result of the legacy of a 30-year civil war characterised by serious internal political strife.

There is also the challenge of populist leaders seeking to mobilise religion for their own ends, nurturing an exclusive vision of Sri Lanka as a homogenous Buddhist state.

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“No one is immune from the roundups”: Life for Uyghurs in China’s Xinjiang region

China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region is currently witnessing an unprecedented human rights crisis in which between one and three million predominantly Muslim Uyghurs, Kazakhs and members of other ethnic minorities have been detained without charge or trial in so-called ‘re-education camps.’ The following blog post is written by an expert on Uyghur culture and sheds light on what life is like for those inside the region.

“Imagine a world where your every movement is watched. Where who you meet, who you visit, and even what you talk about is monitored. Where you can be hauled off a bus mid-journey or dragged out of your car at a checkpoint, where your belongings, your identity, your face, your fingerprints and your irises are scanned several times a day, and where the contents of your phone could send you to prison for the rest of your life.

This is the new reality for more than 10 million Uyghurs (pronounced Weega) in China’s north-west Xinjiang province, since the former governor of Tibet, Chen Quanguo was summoned to take over the helm of, in the eyes of Xi Jinping and the Chinese Communist Party, China’s second most problematic province in 2017.

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Abandoning human rights for identity politics in Sri Lanka

During an address to senior Buddhists leaders at the Vibhajjavadi Dhamma Symposium and Maha Tripitaka Pooja on 4 January, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa stated that the defence of the Buddhist order is central to ensuring unity and the protection of religious freedom of Sri Lankans who profess other faiths. Just one day prior, his brother, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa pledged his commitment before parliament to protect and nurture the Buddha Sasana as part of his government’s policy. In the Sri Lankan context this is often understood as the ‘physical bounds of the land consecrated by the Buddha.’ 

Buddhism is enshrined in the Constitution of Sri Lanka. Article 9 states: “The Republic of Sri Lanka shall give to Buddhism the foremost place and accordingly it shall be the duty of the State to protect and foster the Buddha Sasana,” while assuring the freedom of thought, conscience and religion to everyone. Furthermore, with a 2003 Supreme Court ruling which affirms that only Buddhism should be protected by the state, Sri Lanka established in law that there is no constitutional guarantee that other religions will receive similar protection.

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Hong Kong Protests 2: An interview with a Chinese human rights advocate

Since June 2019, Hong Kong has seen unprecedented protests in which millions of citizens have taken to the streets calling for democracy and respect for human rights. Despite a repressive and violent government response, demonstrations remain ongoing seven months later.

CSW recently spoke to a Chinese human rights advocate, who shared his views on the current situation and what may lie ahead for Hong Kong.

The protests began in response to a proposed extradition bill. Now that the bill has been officially withdrawn, why are people still protesting?

The withdrawal of the extradition bill is just one of the Hong Kong protesters’ five demands, so the protests continue. They also want to be able to vote for their own leader, and for there to be an independent investigation committee to look into violations by the police. These things are also very important to the protesters, so just withdrawing the law couldn’t satisfy the public.

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VIDEO: FoRB on the Frontlines in Vietnam, an interview with Nguyen Van Dai

Nguyen Van Dai is a Vietnamese human rights lawyer who has provided legal advice and representation to victims of human rights abuses, including victims of violations of freedom of religion or belief (FoRB), across Vietnam. His work has led to him being repeatedly harassed and attacked by individuals working for the authorities.

Dai spent four years in prison from May 2007 to March 2011, followed by a further four years under house arrest. In December 2015, just months after Dai had completed his house arrest sentence, he and his colleague were taken into police custody once again as he was preparing to meet European Union representatives who were in Hanoi for the annual EU-Vietnam human rights dialogue.

Dai subsequently spent a further two and a half years in prison before being released to exile Germany in June 2018. Last year he visited the UK and told CSW his story in his own words. Watch the video below:

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