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A tide of intolerance and violence sweeps Asia

Christians across Asia face a rising tide of intolerance and violence. Calls for justice are intensifying against abuses and persecution under oppressive regimes.

Published: July 16, 2021 11:21 AM GMT

Updated: July 17, 2021 07:31 AM GMT

Persecution of Christians, ethnic and religious minorities in Buddhist Myanmar, worsened since the military grabbed power by ousting an elected government in a coup in February.

This was highlighted in a recent report by US-based International Christian Concern which reveals that Christian-majority and ethnic-minority areas such as Kachin, Kayah, Shan and Chin states have seen intensified violence, leaving dozens dead and more than 230,000 displaced.

Many Christians have been killed or injured amid fighting between the military and ethnic rebel groups and anti-coup resistance forces. Churches have also been badly damaged while sheltering thousands fleeing the deadly violence.

In its 2021 report, US-based group Open Doors ranked Myanmar 18th in a list of countries where Christians face the most severe persecution.

A tide of intolerance and violence sweeps Asia

Members of the Karenni People's Defense Force take part in military training at their camp near Demoso in Myanmar's Kayah state on July 6. (Photo: AFP)

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Not far behind is India where Christians have faced 154 incidents of violence in 17 states in the first half of this year, reports United Christian Forum, a rights group based in capital New Delhi.

The group recorded 1,137 calls for help from affected Christians through its helpline. Many followed mob attacks seeking to disrupt prayer or church services, including violence against women, children and pastors.

Catholics pray during the annual rally on Palm Sunday in Delhi Archdiocese on April 9, 2017. (Photo: Bijay Kumar Minj/UCA News)

More than 600 women and over 200 tribal people and Dalits were injured in the attacks, while places of worship and churches sustained damage.

Christians account for only 2.3 percent of 1.38 billion people in India and they have experienced a rising bout of violence from radical Hindu groups since the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party of Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power in 2014. 

Officials in Pakistan are facing criticism for glorifying the Taliban as it advances to reclaim vast territories in neighboring Afghanistan.

Federal Minister for the Interior Sheikh Rashid Ahmed stated that his government would accept any government in Afghanistan that has the backing of the Afghan people. He said the new Afghan Taliban is more civilized and would prefer talks to guns.

An anti-Taliban rally by Rawadari Tehreek in Lahore, Pakistan. (Photo courtesy of Samson Salamat)

The response came as the Taliban claimed it now controls 85 percent of Afghanistan’s territory as American and allied troops complete their withdrawal from the war-torn country. Samson Salamat, chairman of Rawadari Tehreek or Movement for Tolerance, criticized Ahmed’s praise for the Taliban, which has always targeted progressive people and caused the bloodshed of many Afghans.

Father Emmanuel Yousaf Mani, national director of the Catholic bishops' National Commission for Justice and Peace, supported peaceful engagement with Afghanistan and insisted that the US should leave the country after ensuring political settlements.

Catholics in Sri Lanka have demonstrated on the streets to oppose a power plant project in the Muthurajawela wetlands, an ecologically critical area famous for its outstanding natural beauty. Priests and nuns joined laypeople in Catholic parishes last Sunday to demand the government back off from constructing a liquefied natural gas plant on the wetlands.

The Sri Lankan government aims to supply electricity from the plant to the Colombo Port City, Multipurpose Transport Center and Maritime City Project, among others. A caravan carrying a statue of Jesus traveled through villages as people protested peacefully with placards during the demonstration.

Catholic parishes including priests and nuns attend a protest on July 11 against the construction of a power plant on the Muthurajawela wetlands. (Photo: Facebook page of St. Nicholas Church, Bopitiya)

Activists warned the plant will be built after filling in some 100 acres with sea sand. They claim that will not only destroy the wetlands but also make the area more vulnerable to flooding. The wetlands are a natural sanctuary for 102 species of birds.

Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith of Colombo also urged the government to halt the project and sent a letter to the Central Environment Authority asking it to refrain from granting approval. 

In Japan, the Archdiocese of Tokyo has urged athletes and other visitors to refrain from visiting churches during the upcoming Olympics and Paralympics as part of restrictions to curb the spread of Covid-19.

Archbishop Tarcisio Isao Kikuchi declared new prohibitory measures on Monday as Japanese authorities declared a fourth state of emergency in Tokyo. The Olympic Games begin on July 23 and the Paralympics on August 24. The events were postponed last year due to the pandemic.

An aerial photo shows the Olympic village for athletes in Chuo Ward, Tokyo, on July 13. (Photo: AFP)

However, for the first time, spectators have also been banned from Olympic events and urged to watch on TV. Japan has registered about 828,000 Covid-19 cases and 15,000 deaths.

About 28 percent of Japan’s 36 million people have been vaccinated, while vaccination has been made mandatory for all athletes and other visitors who enter the country for the Olympics.

A defrocked American priest in Timor-Leste on trial for sexual abuse of children has been accused of threatening to kill the lawyer of his alleged victims.

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Juridico Social Consultoria, the legal advocacy group representing 17 alleged victims, said Richard Daschbach made the threat to one of its partners, Barbara Oliveira, at the Oecusse district court on Tuesday. A source confirmed that the incident was the latest in a series of threats targeting the lawyer. Most threats were made online.

Richard Daschbach speaks to a policeman at the Oecusse district court on Feb. 22. The defrocked priest has been accused of threatening to kill the lawyer of alleged sexual abuse victims. (Photo: YouTube)

However, Daschbach’s lawyer Miguel Faria said he was not aware of such a threat from his client. The 84-year-old former Divine Word priest is accused of sexually abusing young girls at the Topu Honis shelter in Oecusse, which he founded in 1993. He also faces charges of child pornography and domestic violence and faces up to 20 years in prison.

The Vatican dismissed him from the priesthood after an investigation found credible evidence of child abuse. He is the first clergy in the Catholic-majority nation to face a trial for child abuse.

At least 23 church and rights groups in restive Papua province of Indonesia have accused police of arresting and brutally assaulting 23 students participating in a peaceful protest.

The students protested in provincial capital Jayapura on Wednesday to denounce the government’s controversial decision to extend special autonomy status for the province. The status, first implemented in 2001, guaranteed Papuans the right to manage their own region politically, economically and culturally, but it was due to expire this year.

Papuan students are seen here prior to their arrest during a protest in Jayapura on July 14. (Photo supplied)

However, the move to extend it has met with opposition from Papuans who would prefer a referendum on independence from Indonesian rule. Church and rights groups accused police of a violation of rights and demanded punishment for those responsible for assaults.

Christian-majority Papua has experienced a bloody insurgency for independence for decades, leading to displacement and the deaths of thousands of soldiers, separatists and civilians. The violence has intensified recently as the Indonesian government branded pro-independence separatists as terrorists and launched a crackdown. 

Prominent Catholics including a senior priest in the Philippines have strongly criticized a government minister for providing false information to defend President Rodrigo Duterte over dubious use of state funds during the pandemic.

Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez said the government should be lauded for “fiscal prudence” in debt management and handling government funds in its fight with the pandemic. His statement came after the country’s debt hit an all-time high of 10.99 trillion pesos – around 219 billion US dollars - in April. Former audit commissioner Heidi Mendoza and Society of Divine Word Father Flavie Villanueva brushed off the finance secretary’s statement.

Philippine Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez (center) has come under fire for defending government spending during the Covid-19 pandemic. (Photo: AFP)

They alleged that state funds have been misused and redirected to allies of Duterte. Mendoza also claimed that state funds were paid to troll farms run by Duterte’s allies to promote the president and discredit his critics on social media through spreading fake news or direct insults.

Duterte has faced strong criticism for failing to revive an ailing economy, worsening poverty, thousands of extrajudicial killings, verbal attacks on opponents and the Church, and a poor response to the pandemic.

Cambodia’s government of Prime Minister Hun Hen has ruled out an independent inquiry with foreign observers into the killing of Kem Ley, an activist and radio commentator who was shot dead more than five years ago. Chin Malin, secretary of state at the Ministry of Justice and vice-president of the Cambodian Human Rights Committee, said the state had an obligation to investigate and seek legal justice.

But he dismissed any form of legal redress on political and emotional grounds by politically motivated groups that seek to accuse, criticize, demean and doubt the authorities. He responded to a statement by 45 non-governmental organizations, including the International Commission of Jurists and Amnesty International, for an impartial and independent inquiry into the murder. 

Bou Rachna, widow of slain Cambodian analyst Kem Ley, at Wat Buddharangsi Buddhist temple in Melbourne, Australia, on July 9. (Photo: AFP)

Kem Ley was shot in broad daylight at a coffee shop after calling for an independent inquiry into the family wealth of Hun Sen following a report out of London claiming the clan was worth hundreds of millions of dollars. The Cambodian government has strenuously denied any involvement in his death.

Kem Ley was the most prominent Cambodian government critic to be killed since 2004 when trade union leader Chea Vichea was shot dead. 

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