Venezuela: “If we, as Christians who yearn to live in justice, look at the reality of our nation, we cannot remain silent.”

A young church leader is unwittingly caught up in a security dragnet, arrested, falsely accused and imprisoned. Another church youth leader is shot and killed when security forces open fire on peaceful protestors. In the same country, the military surrounds a cathedral where over a thousand peaceful protestors have sought refuge after fleeing tear gas and violence at the hands of security forces.

What is happening in Venezuela today shows how religious groups can become caught up in larger political movements, sometimes despite their best efforts to remain neutral and disengaged from politics.

Once religious groups find themselves in situations like these they can be forced out of their neutrality, putting them in opposition to powerful forces; this in turn can lead to violations of freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) as the authorities crack down on what they perceive to be rebellious religious groups.

Continue reading “Venezuela: “If we, as Christians who yearn to live in justice, look at the reality of our nation, we cannot remain silent.””

‘Faithful disobedience’ in the face of a relentless crackdown: one year since China’s Revised Regulations on Religious Affairs.

Over the past year, the Chinese government has intensified its crackdown on Christians and other religious groups across China.

The mass incarceration of over one million predominantly Muslim Uyghurs, Kazakhs and members of other ethnic groups in ‘re-education camps’ in Xinjiang since 2017 has alarmed the international community, with the detentions receiving UN condemnation. At the same time, Christians across China are also being relentlessly targeted by the Chinese state apparatus, with countless violations ranging from the arrest and torture of religious practitioners to the forced closure of places of worship remaining a daily reality for those peacefully exercising their universal right to freedom of religion or belief (FoRB).

Since the revised regulations on religious affairs came into effect on 1 February 2018, reports have emerged of the removal of over 7,000 crosses in Henan province alone. Christians in Henan have also reported that unregistered churches across the province have been forcibly shuttered by authorities. Outside of Henan, in the wake of the revised regulations authorities across China continue to harass worshippers and restrict religious observance at state-approved churches by removing religious symbols from buildings, banning under-18s from religious activities, and forcing churches to install cameras and sing pro-Communist songs.

Continue reading “‘Faithful disobedience’ in the face of a relentless crackdown: one year since China’s Revised Regulations on Religious Affairs.”

Attacks on places of worship: Armed groups raise the stakes in the Central African Republic

Attacks on places of worship in the Central African Republic (CAR) are not a new phenomenon.

In March 2013, the predominantly Muslim rebel alliance, Seleka, seized power, and in the crisis that followed, there were reports of looting and attacks on worshipers in churches initially, spreading to mosques and other places of worship as the conflict assumed an increasingly religious dimension.

Even after the election of President Faustin-Archange Touadéra three years later, attacks on places of worship continue at a disturbing rate.

In the capital city Bangui, tensions flare periodically near the KM5 district. In May 2018, at least 15 people, including a clergyman, were killed and 100 injured in an attack on the Our Lady Fatima Catholic Church. On 7 February 2017, three churches were burned and a pastor killed in the same district.

Attacks such as these have taken a new and alarming turn since November 2018.

Continue reading “Attacks on places of worship: Armed groups raise the stakes in the Central African Republic”

FoRB on the Frontlines: Fighting for freedom as long as it’s necessary

The Ladies in White are a Cuban peaceful protest movement comprising the wives and other female relatives of jailed dissidents. Last year CSW interviewed their leader, Berta Soler, about her experiences, and the challenges facing Cuba:

“My activism really got started in 2003 when the government took [imprisoned] 75 men and one woman just because they defended the Declaration of Human Rights.

I and the other Ladies in White are women who are prepared, very well prepared, and aware that we are in a struggle for the freedom of political prisoners and for respect for human rights in my country. And we, the Ladies in White and I, are very conscious that in my country we need freedom and rights, especially for the men and women who are in prison just for demanding this and promoting and defending the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Continue reading “FoRB on the Frontlines: Fighting for freedom as long as it’s necessary”

Will the Surabaya church bombings serve as a wake-up call for Indonesia ahead of next year’s presidential elections?

Father Aloysius Widyawan opened the door of an upstairs room in the Santa Maria Tak Bercela Catholic Church. “Three months ago, this room was completely filled with blood, body parts, teeth, even the faces of the bombers, strewn by the force of the blast,” he told me.

He pointed out windows that had been blown out, and the icons of St Luke and St John, damaged but not destroyed. He told me about the two young Catholic boys, Evan and Nathan, aged 12 and eight, who died as a result of their injuries. They had been baptized only two years before and had just received their first Communion. He described the Muslim security guard who lost both eyes and legs in the explosion, and later told the priest: “Please forgive me because I was not able to protect the church and the people, and am unable to work again.” Six people were killed and more than 30 injured in that one church alone.

Continue reading “Will the Surabaya church bombings serve as a wake-up call for Indonesia ahead of next year’s presidential elections?”