Lahore: Masked gunmen fire on police at catholic church

March 26, 2015 by admin  
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Masked gunmen fire on police at catholic churchLahore, March 25, 2015: Unidentified gunmen on Tuesday opened fire on policemen guarding a Catholic Church in the southern Pakistani city of Lahore, police officials said.

Asif Khan, a local township police officer, confirmed the attack, which took place outside St Peter’s Catholic Church and High School day.

“Two masked men riding a motorbike fired on policemen, who were deployed outside the church,” Khan told ucanews.com. “Police retaliated, after which the assailants sped away.”

Two passersby were injured in the crossfire but no other injuries were reported, Asif said, adding that police had obtained CCTV footage from the Church and have launched an investigation.

According to local media reports, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has directed police to submit a report of the incident.

Fr Emmanuel Yousaf Mani, director of the National Commission for Justice and Peace at the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Pakistan, said he was aware of the incident and that no Church or school staff were injured in the attack.

Sardar Mushtaq Gill, a Christian rights activist and lawyer, condemned the attack.

“It is unbelievable how militants fired at the church guards and managed to flee,” said Gill. “We urge the government to beef up security at churches.”

He added that twin suicide bombings by the Pakistani Taliban’s Jamaat-ul-Ahrar faction in the Youhanabad neighborhood of Lahore earlier this month had created a sense of fear and insecurity among the Christian minority community.

The bombings, which left 14 dead and more than 70 others inured, also sparked riots in which two men thought to be associated with the bombers were beaten to death — a rare example of violence on the part of Christians in Pakistan.

- ucan

Pope: Church in Korea, Church of martyrs and lay people, a “promise for all of Asia”

March 20, 2015 by admin  
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korean christian prayVatican City, March 13, 2015: For Pope Francis, the Church of Korea, carried forward for two centuries by lay people, “drenched” in the blood of the martyrs, is a “promise for all of Asia”. Currently, it must be on guard against “religious affluence,” which can turn Christians into wishy-washy softies, since the “devil is clever” and seeks to weaken the faith.

The Holy Father spoke yesterday afternoon, greeting Rome’s Korean community, led by the members of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Korea who are in the Eternal City for their quinquennial ‘ad limina’ visit.

In remembering his “beautiful, very beautiful visit” to Korea in August, the pope highlighted two traits of the Korean Church. “First, the laity. Your Church was carried forward for two centuries only by lay people. Help the laity be aware of this responsibility. They have inherited this glorious history. First, the laity: let them be brave like the first ones! Second, the martyrs. Your Church was ‘drenched’ in the blood of the martyrs, and this created life. Please, do not give in. Be on guard against ‘religious affluence’. Be careful, because the devil is clever.

“Let me tell you an anecdote: during the period of religious persecution, the Japanese tortured Christians – a lot of torture in your country too – and then took them back to prison. However, a month before their sentence, when they had to abjure, they took them to a beautiful house, gave them good food, in a nice environment. Why did they take them there a month before? To soften their faith, so that they would feel good, and then they proposed them to abjure their religion when they were at their weakest. Cardinal Filoni gave me a very good book on the history of the Japanese persecution. Some people gave in and fell by the wayside, whilst others fought on, until the end, and died.

“I am no prophet, but this can happen to you. If you do not go forward with the strength of faith, with zeal, with the love of Jesus Christ, if you go soft – [adhering to a] weak, wishy-washy Christianity – your faith will fail. As I said, the devil is clever and he will propose this to you, this religious affluence – ‘Let us be good Catholics, but only up to a point . . .’ – and will take away your strength. Please do not forget, you are children of martyrs, and apostolic zeal cannot be negotiated.

“I remember what the Letter to the Hebrews says, ‘Remember the early days, when you fought and suffered for the faith. Do not go back now (cf. Heb, 10:32-36). In another passage, towards the end, it says, ‘Remember your fathers in faith, your teachers, and follow their example’ (cf. Heb, 12:1). You are the Church of martyrs, and this is a promise for all of Asia. Go ahead. Do not give up. No spiritual worldliness, nothing. No easy Catholicism, without zeal. No religious affluence. Love for Jesus Christ, love for the cross of Jesus Christ and love for your history.”

- asianews

Indonesian women, children held in Turkey ‘heading to join IS’

March 18, 2015 by admin  
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Indonesians arrestedJakarta, March 13, 2015: Sixteen Indonesians, mostly women and children, have been arrested in Turkey attempting to cross into Syria to join the Islamic State (IS) group, a minister said, the latest case of Indonesians heading to battlegrounds in the Middle East.

The 11 children, four women and one man from the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country were detained in the Turkish border town of Gaziantep. Officials did not say when they were arrested.

“We are still investigating… but it is clear that they wanted to join [IS] to have a better life in accordance with Islamic sharia laws,” Security Minister Tedjo Edhy Purdijatno told reporters late Thursday.

Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said that a team was being dispatched to Turkey to work with authorities after the arrests.

Officials had previously revealed that a different group of 16 Indonesians went missing last month after joining a tour group to Turkey, and were also believed to be attempting to reach Syria.

Foreign nationals from around the world have been flocking to join the IS jihadists, who control vast swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria, sparking alarm about the potential for radical fighters to return and launch attacks in their homelands.

The case of three British teenage girls crossing into Syria to join IS has caused consternation in Britain, while in Australia foreign minister Julie Bishop has warned young girls looking to become “jihadi brides” that Islamic State is no “romantic adventure”.

Fears are also growing in Indonesia — which has long struggled with Islamic militancy — with the country’s counter-terror chief saying that more than 500 Indonesians are believed to have gone to fight with Islamic State.

Jakarta has already banned support for IS jihadists, although experts have called on authorities to take further steps to stop the flow of fighters.

Indonesia has waged a crackdown on terror groups over the past decade following attacks on Western targets, including the 2002 Bali bombings, that killed 202 people — a campaign that has been credited with weakening key networks.

- afp/ucan

Lahore: 20 year old Christian tortured and killed by police

March 14, 2015 by admin  
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Ayesha BibiLahore, March 12, 2015: Pakistani police tortured a young Christian to death after his mother had been previously accused of stealing gold from her employer, a Muslim.

According to investigators the woman was charged with having stolen gold items from the house of Abdul Jabar, where she worked as a maid for less than $ 20 a month.

The 20 year old Zubair Masih was taken away by a group of agents who were investigating the theft report against his mother, Ayesha Bibi. However, the young man, unlike other relatives, was detained and died in the hours following his arrest while still in the custody of law enforcement officers.

The incident occurred in Lahore, Punjab, and according to preliminary reports provided by CLAAS (Center for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement), the young man was “violently tortured throughout the night” by the police. The next morning his lifeless body, was “dumped in front of his parents’ house”.

The charge of theft lodged against Ayesha (pictured) by Jabbar, has been strongly denied by the woman. One evening the Muslim employer together with a retinue of policemen raided her home, accusing her of stealing gold worth just over $ 350.

The police beat and detained the woman, then dragged her to her brother Arshad Masih, with whom her two sons lived.  According to the Muslim employer, Ayesha handed them over the stolen goods, while she continued to proclaim her innocence.

Jabbar began to beat Ayesha, under the indifferent eyes of the police; then the agents took the whole family, to the nearby police station to continue their interrogation. During the long hours of questioning the agents repeatedly used violence and torture against the Christian family, fracturing the woman’s arm. Later the police released all the family, except Zubair.

The family feared for the fate of the young man, because often the police use violence during interrogations, especially against Christians. And the fears proved well founded when, on the morning of March 6, they found the body of 20 year old in front of their door. Doctors confirmed that the death occurred as a result of torture.

For two days the family protested outside the police station. Later under pressure from activists and civil society, on March 8, investigators opened an investigation against an officer and three agents. Despite promises of justice, most likely the story will end with a paltry monetary compensation to the family while the policemen will remain unpunished.

With a population of more than 180 million people (97 per cent Muslim), Pakistan is the sixth most populous country in the world, the second largest Muslim nation after Indonesia.

About 80 per cent of Muslims are Sunni, whilst Shias are 20 per cent. Hindus are 1.85 per cent, followed by Christians (1.6 per cent) and Sikhs (0.04 per cent).

Scores of violent incidents have occurred in recent years, against entire communities (Gojra in 2009, and Joseph Colony, Lahore, in March 2013), places of worship (Peshawar, September last year) and individuals ( Sawan Masih, Asia Bibi, Rimsha Masih and Robert Fanish Masih, who died in prison), often perpetrated under the pretext of the country’s blasphemy laws.

- asianews

Members of congress send message to Saudi King: Improve religious freedom

March 11, 2015 by admin  
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religious freedomWashington, D.C., Febuary 22, 2015: In a new letter endorsed by International Christian Concern and Amnesty International, 67 Members of Congress today called upon King Salman of Saudi Arabia to make significant reforms in the area of human rights and religious freedom. The letter, led by Congressmen Jim McGovern (D-MA) and Peter Roskam (R-IL), is the first of its kind sent to the newly installed monarch and sends a strong message to a nation widely considered one of the most restrictive on earth.

The letter, after expressing condolences at the death of the King’s brother, includes a list of recommendations for human rights improvements. “In this moment of transition…you have an historic opportunity…to strengthen education and initiate judicial reform, by ending the ban on women driving…lifting restrictions on public gatherings and social media; reforming “anti-terror” laws that have criminalized some who peacefully express criticism; ensuring due process in criminal proceedings and ending the use of torture; and allowing religious minorities to exercise their faiths…” the letter reads.

In addition to Members of Congress, the letter was also endorsed by a broad coalition of 15 non-governmental organizations (NGO’s), including International Christian Concern, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Equality Now. The unusually broad coalition of NGO’s, and the bi-partisan make-up of the letter, is indicative of the widespread concern for human rights abuses taking place in Saudi Arabia.

On September 5th, 28 Christians were arrested by Saudi authorities after Saudi “religious police” raided a suspected underground church. While the Christians were released the next day, raids on illegal places of worship remain common, and Christians and other religious minorities in the past have been held for extensive periods of time or been deported from the country. In January of 2014, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life ranked Saudi Arabia as the 4th most restrictive nation worldwide in terms of government regulation on religion. In the first line of its most recent report on the issue, the State Department’s International Religious Freedom Office noted “Freedom of religion [in Saudi Arabia] is neither recognized nor protected under the law and the government severely restricted it in practice.”

ICC’s Advocacy Director, Isaac Six, said, “There are few nations on earth more emphatically determined to suppress religious freedom than the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, yet few people around the world understand just how repressive the regime actually is. This letter is significant for two reasons. First, it sends a clear message to the Saudi leadership that they must very carefully consider their policies on religious freedom and human rights in the calculus of the U.S.-Saudi bilateral relationship. This in and of itself could alleviate some of the suffering of religious and other minorities in the country. Secondly, it reminds the world that these restrictions are not a joke, that they deeply impact the lives of millions of men, women, and children who deserve to be treated with the same respect that many of us enjoy on a daily basis, and that a significant number of our elected representatives have and will continue to make removing these restrictions a high priority of our nation’s foreign policy.

ICC is honored to have been a contributor to this initiative, and we must express our sincere gratitude to our other NGO partners as well as Members of Congress who took the time to endorse this important letter.”

- icc

Christian presence in Middle East threated with extinction

March 10, 2015 by admin  
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mid-east-persecutionMiddle East, March 6, 2015: “We are no longer welcome in our own home,” says one Iraqi Christian in a report presented in Brussels on 27 February which records the systematic killing of Christian and other religious minority groups in Iraq by Islamic State (IS) militants. The document highlights the threat under which religious minorities in the Middle East continue to live, as well as the so far unmet humanitarian needs of the tens of thousands of displaced Christians, Kaka’i, Shabak, Turkmen and Yazidis.

With the savage beheadings of 21 Egyptian Christians in Libya, depicted in a video released on 15 February, and the abduction of almost 300 Syrian Christians on 23 February, the fate of Christians in the Middle East has once again reached mainstream media channels.

Hundreds of thousands of Christians across Iraq and Syria have fled their homes as IS advances across the Middle East. Up to 200,000 Iraqi Christians are taking refuge in makeshift homes in Iraqi Kurdistan and in Syria, an estimated 500,000 Christians have fled to neighbouring countries, a figure that represents almost a quarter of the total Christian population before the conflict broke out in 2011. Hundreds of thousands of other Syrian Christians are internally displaced within Syria.

A few manage to emigrate to safety in the West, but church leaders across the region lament the rapidly diminishing light of Christian presence.

The report was produced by the Institute of International Law and Human Rights (IILHR), Minority Rights Group International (MRGI), No Peace Without Justice (NPWJ), and the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization UNPO). It focuses on IS crimes against religious minorities in Iraq since the fall of Mosul in June 2014.

These religious and ethnic minorities include Christians, Kaka‘i (an ancient religion of the Kurdish people – also known as Yarsan), Shabak (an ethnic and cultural group who live in Iraq’s Nineveh plains and are mainly Muslims), Turkmen (an ethnic group, mainly Muslim, who originate from Turkmenistan), and Yazidis (an ancient and secretive religious minority of northern Iraq).

Speaking from NPWJ, Alison Smith said that the report “shows very clearly that ISIS has committed war crimes, crimes against humanity and possibly even genocide against religious and ethnic minorities in northern Iraq”.

The warning of a potential genocide of Christians and other minorities in the Middle East comes just at the centenary of a largely forgotten genocide in which up to 3.75 million Christians (Armenians, Assyrians, and Ottoman Greeks) died in a period that stretched over just 30 years and which peaked in 1915.

- barnabas team

Malaysia: Ethical questions arise on schoolgirl conversion

March 9, 2015 by admin  
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Conversion of schoolgirlMalaysia, March 2, 2015: Only 11 kilometers separated rubber tapper Jilius Yapoo from his daughter at her boarding school in Kinarut, Sabah, but it was a long way on rough roads which made the journey difficult, so he entrusted the school with her safety and well-being.

He never expected that four years later, he would see the 16-year-old wearing a tudung (Muslim head scarf) and hear her say she had converted from Christianity to Islam.

Penampang MP Darell Leiking, speaking on behalf of the father of eight, said that Yapoo, 46, was not against his children leaving the family’s religion, but only after they turned 18 and when he was certain that they could decide for themselves without undue influence.

Leiking, who is acting as the family’s counsel, said Yapoo was “shocked beyond words” to find out about his daughter’s conversion and that it had been hidden from him.

Equally frustrating was the fact that the school and his home in Kampung Kaiduan were not that far apart, but the poor infrastructure in Sabah’s interior villages had widened the distance and made him feel out of touch with his daughter.

“Imagine, it’s just 11 kilometers but he cannot afford the daily commute to school. Any other parent staying in Petaling Jaya (Selangor), for example, would be able to send their children to school and back in comfort despite that distance.”

“But for this rubber tapper, there is no proper road to his home, 11 kilometers is a long way, so he entrusted his daughter to the school and look what has happened,” said Leiking.

Leiking said Yapoo has made it clear that when his daughter turns 18, he would leave it to her to decide which faith she wants to follow, but not until then and while she is under the care of her Christian parents.

“Her father has been very consistent from day one. When she turns 18, she can choose what faith she wants to follow.”

“This is not about him being against Islam, but about the rights of parents over their child,” Leiking added.

According to Leiking, the girl told her parents she was now a Muslim and that she had recited the syahadah, which is the profession of faith in Islam.

“So we take her word for it, but we still need to hear officially from the school. They are duty-bound to reply unless they have been advised not to,” he said.

The lawyer wrote to the school on Wednesday, asking for an explanation of what transpired that resulted in the minor being converted, and gave them seven days to reply.

He also asked the school to identify the person or persons involved in her conversion.

Leiking said Yapoo planned to seek a court declaration that the 16-year old is not a Muslim, after the school furnishes the facts of what had really transpired.

The lawyer said it was believed that more such conversions were taking place covertly among students without their parents’ knowledge, and also among adults in interior parts of the state.

“The government needs to step in and stop overzealous people from converting minors,” Leiking said.

“And if they are adults, they must be made fully aware of the facts when asked to convert,” he said, adding that there have been cases of mass conversions taking place in the interior of Sabah.

Double standard

Leiking also brought up the anti-Christian seminar held at Universiti Teknologi MARA in May of last year, saying he had raised the issue in parliament, and was given a reply that the seminar was purely for academic purposes.

“But my question is, what if Bumiputera Christians held a seminar on Christianity and said it was for academic purposes, would it be accepted?”

“We know we cannot propagate other faiths to Muslims, but there can’t be two sets of rules on this for students if the reasoning is that the anti-Christian seminar was purely academic,” he said.

Kaiduan Village development and security committee chairman Michael Frederick, who visited Yapoo on Saturday, said that they had a new problem to deal with after the 16-year-old teenager went on a camping trip with her school a few days ago.

This occurred after the minor returned to stay at home following her conversion, and agreed to her father’s suggestion that she transfer to another school.

She was then asked to go on a camping trip by the school, which did not seek her parents’ permission.

Yapoo did not want to deny his daughter the camping trip, so he allowed her to go, on condition that she came straight home from the camp.

But according to Frederick, after the camping trip, not only did the girl not return straight home as promised, she called from the hostel to tell her father that she did not want to move to a new school.

“When her father asked why, she said because it was a Christian school, so we do not know what happened at the camp because earlier, she agreed to go to a new school,” said Frederick, adding that the girl eventually returned to her parents’ home on Saturday evening.

“For now we will wait for an official response from the school on the incident and take it from there,” added Frederick.

Legal debate

Constitutional lawyer Kula Segaran said the 16-year-old girl’s conversion to Islam is not valid under the law, as the religion of a minor can only be changed with both parents’ consent.

The law on this matter has been decided in the civil courts, he said, based on the Ipoh High Court ruling in the case of kindergarten teacher Indira Gandhi, where the court held that the unilateral conversion of her three children, aged between six and 17, by her Muslim-convert husband Riduan Abdullah was unconstitutional.

Kula Segaran said the parents of the student in Kinarut, Papar, should be able to seek recourse in the civil court to impugn their daughter’s conversion certificate, if one has been issued.

The teacher allegedly responsible for the conversion has been transferred to another school in Sabah and was not faulted for any wrongdoing after claiming that the student had wanted to embrace Islam voluntarily.

Kula Segaran said the consent of both parents to the changing of a minor’s religion was stated in the Federal Constitution, which although read “parent”, should be taken to mean the plural and not the singular under the constitution’s rules of interpretation. The case of Indira Gandhi and her ex-husband is now pending at the Court of Appeal.

Kula Segaran, who is also the Ipoh Barat MP, said that in the case involving the Sabah schoolgirl, by nature of the fact that she was a non-Muslim and a minor before the alleged conversion took place, the sharia court had no jurisdiction over her.

“Furthermore, no right-thinking Malaysian would buy the story that the girl went to school and converted willingly.”

“The state education department should stop pretending as though this is not an issue, they should haul up and discipline the person who converted her,” he said.

He also expressed concern that this case was the tip of the iceberg, whereby they could be many more students being converted, but which were not highlighted because the parents were too poor and did not have the means to bring the cases out into the open or to take legal action.

“Its totally fine if the parents consent to their minor children being converted to Islam, but if they are unaware of the conversion taking place, then, that is a problem,” he said.

“The parents in rural areas have no choice but to allow their children to stay in school hostels.”

“They send their kids to school to get an education, not to get converted,” he added.

Giving a different view was lawyer Nizam Bashir, who practices in both the sharia and civil courts.

Bashir pointed out that Article 11 of the Federal Constitution provides that every person has the right to profess and practice his own religion.

“As such, keeping in mind that the girl is not an infant, in the sense that she is not a child between 4 and 8, the pre-requisite of consent constitutes an unreasonable restriction and infringes her right under Article 11 of the Federal Constitution,” Bashir added.

He also said that what constitutes the age of a minor is seen differently from a civil perspective and Islamic law.

A 16-year-old might be considered a minor from a civil perspective but from an Islamic law perspective, the girl may have “come of age” or reached puberty, as Islam doesn’t just look at age but also considers other biological factors to determine age of responsibility, he said.

In such instances, the child should be interviewed by the appropriate authorities to determine if she has come of age and also whether she has converted willingly, he said.

Bashir said this would also be consistent with Article 14 of the Convention of the Rights of Child, that a State shall respect a child’s right to freedom of conscience and religion.

He said similar sentiments are expressed in Article 10 of the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam, that conversions through compulsion are prohibited in Islam.

“So, as Malaysia is a signatory to both documents, I think Malaysia’s stand on this issue, whether as expressed by the Federal government or by a state government, should be identical irrespective of whether it is being expressed on an international front or the domestic front,” Bashir said.

But he added that whether someone is a Muslim or not, should rightly be determined by the sharia court, adding that civil courts cannot enter into “religious thickets” to determine this question.

- ucanews

Bethlehem, Israeli extremists torch and profane mosque

March 6, 2015 by admin  
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blasphemous graffiti scrawled on the walls of the buildingJerusalem, February 28, 2015: A group of Israeli extremists set fire to a mosque in the Palestinian village of Jab’awas, near Bethlehem, West Bank, overnight even leaving insulting and blasphemous graffiti scrawled on the walls of the building (pictured).

Israeli settlers are suspected of being behind the attack, the latest to target a Muslim place of worship – Christian churches and cemeteries have also been vandalized in the past – according to the logic of the “price tag”.

The “price to pay” is a motto used by Israeli extremists, who threaten Christians and Muslims for having “taken away their land.” Once the phenomenon was concentrated only in areas on the border with the West Bank and Jerusalem, but now has spread to most of the territory.

Jibreen al-Bakri, governor of the Bethlehem region, says the mosque in the village of Jabaa near Bethlehem was set alight at dawn Wednesday, damaging the mosque’s walls and carpeted floor. Israeli TV showed footage of Hebrew graffiti on the walls that read “we want the redemption of Zion” and “revenge” alongside a Jewish Star of David.

Israeli police have opened an investigation but, as has happened several times in the past in cases of attacks on Christian places of worship, it seems unlikely that those responsible will be brought to justice. The unknown assailants also damaged some cars parked near the mosque.

Micky Rosenfeld, Israeli police spokesman, said that “the crimes committed on grounds of nationalism are particularly serious” and are of great concern among the authorities.

The young extremists commit these attacks to protest against the actions of the Israeli government, which they want to “contain the activity of the settlers” and the expansion of settlements in the occupied territories.

Meanwhile, new details have emerged regarding clashes between the Israeli military and refugees in the  Dheisheh refugee camp during the night of  February 23 and 24 to, not far from Bethlehem, during which a young Palestinian was killed.

An autopsy performed on the body of Jihad al-Jafari, a supporter of the Fatah movement, linked to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, shows that he was killed by a gunshot delivered at close impact.

Sabri al-Aloul, forensic expert, says that “it was a kind of execution.” A reconstruction that belies the version provided by the Israeli army, according to which the soldiers under attack opened fire at a distance and the young man – who was on the roof of his house – was struck by a bullet.

- asianews

Bangladesh: Atheist US blogger hacked to death

March 4, 2015 by admin  
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Avijit Roy’s wife Rafida Ahmed BannaDhaka, March 1, 2015: A prominent American blogger of Bangladeshi origin was hacked to death with machetes by unidentified assailants in Dhaka on Thursday, police said, with the atheist writer’s family claiming he had received numerous threats from Islamists.

The body of Avijit Roy, founder of the Mukto-Mona (Free-mind) blog site which champions liberal secular writing in the Muslim-majority nation, was found covered in blood after the attack which also left his wife critically wounded.

“He died as he was brought to the hospital. His wife was also seriously wounded. She has lost a finger,” local police chief Sirajul Islam said.

The couple were on a bicycle rickshaw, returning from a book fair, when two assailants stopped and dragged them onto a sidewalk before striking them with machetes, local media reported citing witnesses.

Roy, said to be around 40, is the second Bangladeshi blogger to have been murdered in two years and the fourth writer attacked since 2004.

Hardline Islamist groups have long demanded the public execution of atheist bloggers and sought new laws to combat writing that is critical of Islam.

“Roy suffered fatal wounds in the head and died from bleeding… after being brought to the hospital,” doctor Sohel Ahmed told reporters.

Police have launched a probe and recovered the machetes used in the attack but could not confirm whether Islamists were behind the incident.

But Roy’s father said the writer, a US citizen, had received a number of “threatening” emails and messages on social media from hardliners unhappy with his writing.

“He was a secular humanist and has written about ten books” including his most famous “Biswasher Virus” (Virus of Faith), said his father Ajoy Roy.

The Center for Inquiry, a US-based charity promoting free thought, said it was “shocked and heartbroken” by the brutal murder of Roy.

“Dr. Roy was a true ally, a courageous and eloquent defender of reason, science, and free expression, in a country where those values have been under heavy attack,” it said in a statement.

Roy’s killing also triggered strong condemnation from his fellow writers and publishers, who lamented the growing religious conservatism and intolerance in Bangladesh.

“The attack on Roy and his wife Rafida Ahmed is outrageous. We strongly protest this attack and are deeply concerned about the safety of writers,” said Imran H Sarker, head of an association for bloggers in Bangladesh.

Pinaki Bhattacharya, a fellow blogger and friend of Roy, claimed one of the country’s largest online book retailers was being openly threatened for selling Roy’s books.

“In Bangladesh the easiest target is an atheist. An atheist can be attacked and murdered,” he wrote on Facebook.

Atheist blogger Ahmed Rajib Haider was hacked to death in 2013 by members of a little known Islamist militant group, triggering nationwide protests by tens of thousands of secular activists.

After Haider’s death, Bangladesh’s hardline Islamist groups started to protest against other campaigning bloggers, calling a series of nationwide strikes to demand their execution, accusing them of blasphemy.

The secular government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina reacted by arresting some atheist bloggers.

The government also blocked about a dozen websites and blogs to stem the furor over blasphemy, as well as stepping up security for the bloggers.

Bangladesh is the world’s fourth-largest Muslim majority nation with Muslims making up some 90 percent of the country’s 160 million people.

A tribunal has recently handed down a series of verdicts against leading Islamists and others for crimes committed during the war of independence from Pakistan in 1971.

- afp/ucan

Brazilian Catholic executed in Indonesia ‘denied last rites’

March 2, 2015 by admin  
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executed by firing squadJakarta, February 23, 2015: A 53-year-old Brazilian Catholic was denied last rites before he was executed by firing squad last month in Indonesia, according to an Oblate priest who provides religious counseling for death row inmates.

Father Charles Burrows of St Stephen Church in Cilacap district, Central Java, had counseled inmate Marco Archer Cardoso Moreira at Pasir Putih Penitentiary before he was transferred to an isolation cell in Besi Penitentiary ahead of his January 18 execution.

Moreira was sentenced to death in 2004 after attempting to smuggle 13.4 kilograms of cocaine into Indonesia.

The priest, popularly known as Father Carolus, said that after Moreira’s transfer he was asked by another Catholic priest offering counseling services in Besi Penitentiary to console Moreira prior to his execution.

Father Carolus says he then spoke with a prison official named Suwandi a day before the execution about administering last rites to Moreira.

“I maintained that a Catholic has the right to receive the Penance, Anointing of the Sick and Viaticum Sacraments before he is executed, and this is very important for a Catholic who will leave this world,” Father Carolus told ucanews.com on Monday.

A prison official offered an apology, saying it was the district court’s authority to provide such a religious counselor.

“He explained that there were already three religious counselors: Buddhist, Muslim and Protestant. But I told him that they couldn’t provide a Catholic with such rites,” the Irish-born priest said, adding that the Protestant offered Moreira counseling shortly before his execution.

Father Carolus said that he later heard from other prisoners that Moreira wept when he was taken from his cell for execution.

“Marco said, ‘Help me! Help me!’ He even defecated in his trousers because he was so scared,” the priest said. “It was only his aunt who came to accompany him. He was very upset.”

Father Carolus sent letters expressing his concerns over the matter to the Brazilian embassy in Jakarta, the district court, the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, Bishop Julianus Kemo Sunarko of Purwokerto, the Indonesian Bishops’ Conference and the Vatican.

Embassy officials met with Father Carolus following Moreira’s execution to inquire about the denial of last rites.

“They were very disappointed,” he said.

Father Paulus C Siswantoko, secretary of the Indonesian Bishops’ Conference’s Commission for Justice, Peace and Pastoral for Migrant-Itinerant People, heavily criticized the failure to provide Moreira the last rites.

“Every convict on death row has the right to receive counseling according to their own religion. In this case, Marco truly was subject to a human rights violation in the last minutes of his life. It’s very concerning that the state couldn’t provide [religious counseling],” he told ucanews.com.

Saying that the Catholic Church will always fight against the death penalty for anyone and for any reason, he said the state must also protect convicts on death row.

Asked about religious counseling for a convict on death row, a district court official told ucanews.com that it was under the authority of the Attorney-General’s Office (AGO).

The AGO could not be reached for comment.

Indonesia resumed executions in 2013, four years after introducing a moratorium on the death penalty, citing a need for harsher penalties, in particular to deter drug smugglers.

Following last month’s executions of Moreira and five other drug smugglers, Indonesia plans to execute eight more drug traffickers including another Brazilian, Rodrigo Gularte.

On Friday, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff refused to accept the credentials of the Indonesian ambassador to demonstrate her anger at Moreira ‘s execution.

“We think it is important that there is an evolution in the situation in order to clarify the state of Indonesia’s relations with Brazil,” Rousseff said as she received the credentials of ambassadors from five other countries.

Rousseff said clearance for Indonesia’s representative would be “held up a little” with Brasilia and Jakarta at loggerheads over the impending execution of 42-year-old Gularte, who has been on death row since 2004 for smuggling six kilos of cocaine into Indonesia in surf boards.

Gularte’s family have tried without success to obtain clemency for him, saying doctors have classed him as paranoid schizophrenic, which would normally see him transferred to a psychiatric facility. Jakarta has twice turned down appeals for clemency.

- ucanews

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