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Catholic priests, nuns lend support to women's empowerment in India

Indian nuns and priests join women activists to demand end of crimes against women and ensure their rights and empowerment ahead of the national election in May

Published: March 08, 2024 11:37 AM GMT

Updated: March 08, 2024 11:38 AM GMT

Catholic nuns and priests joined over 2,000 women in a northern Indian city of Varanasi last Sunday and released a “women’s manifesto” demanding the protection and rights of women ahead of the national election in May.

The manifesto was unveiled at the same parliamentary constituency in Uttar Pradesh state where Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to contest as his pro-Hindu Bhartiya Janta Party seeks re-election. Women activists have urged all political parties to take steps to curb gender-related violence including female foeticide in the country.

The latest data from state-run National Crime Records Bureau revealed that in 2022 crimes against women increased by 4 percent including assaults, rapes, and abductions. In many cases, the perpetrators were husbands and relatives.

The manifesto demands a 50 percent representation for women in all legislative bodies including the national parliament, state assemblies, and local bodies, and free education for girls up to graduation.

Women take part in the function to release the 'Women’s Manifesto 2024' in Varanasi on March 3

Women take part in the function to release the 'Women’s Manifesto 2024' in Varanasi on March 3. (Photo: Supplied)

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Cambodia’ respected newspaper, Phnom Penh Post, announced closure by the end of March due to financial setbacks. Founded in 1992, the outlet earned a reputation for fierce independence. In a statement last Friday, the management said the newspaper was struggling financially since the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent economic downturn, prompting the closure.

The Phnom Penh Post covered the last six years of Cambodia’s civil war, the final collapse of the Khmer Rouge, and the country’s post-war reconstruction. Its journalism has been critical of the government, and the ruling elites connected to the Cambodian People’s Party and Hun Sen who served as prime minister for 38 years.

A Cambodian vendor reads the Phnom Penh Post newspaper at her newsstand in Phnom Penh on May 7, 2018. The newspaper hailed as Cambodia's last independent English daily will close by the end of March due to the company’s falling revenues after the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent economic downturn. (Photo: AFP)

Cambodia’s media landscape became gloomy due to a government crackdown against political opposition and dissent.

In 2016, The Cambodia Daily was forced to close after being hit with an exorbitant tax bill of $6.3 million. The Phnom Penh Post was also reportedly handed a tax bill close to $3.9 million.

Church leaders in the central Philippines have called for justice for the merciless killings of nine people last year and a halt to violence and power-grabbing by political dynasties. Bishop Gerardo Alminaza of San Carlos City in Negros Oriental said the Church’s dream of peace still “remains elusive” and the call for an end to violence has “fallen on deaf ears.”

Alminaza made the remarks on Wednesday as people in Negros Oriental marked the first anniversary of the killing of Governor Roel Demago and nine others in a brazen attack on March 4, 2023.

Janice Degamo, wife of slain governor Roel Degamo, cries during his funeral in Negros Oriental on March 16, 2023. (Photo: AFP)

The killings were allegedly masterminded by expelled Negros Oriental congressman Arnolfo Teves Jr. The government has launched a manhunt to trace nine suspects behind the massacre. The Interpol issued a Red Notice against Teves Jr. who is reported to be living in Laos.

Bishop Julito Cortes of Dumaguete in Negros Oriental also issued a statement to end violence and establish peace in the province and across the country.

Indonesian police arrested a Catholic major seminarian who has been evading police following allegations of sexually abusing a minor seminarian.

Police in Catholic-majority Flores Island have placed 27-year-old seminarian Engelbertus Lowa Sada under a 20-day probe. He was transferred to Ngada regency in the predominantly Christian East Nusa Tenggara province on Monday, following his arrest in North Sumatra province on Feb. 27.

Engelbertus Lowa Soda (center), is seen with police before departing from North Sumatra to Flores Island of Indonesia on March 2 following his arrest. (Photo supplied)

Sada has been evading arrest since last November, months after the parents of the victim filed a criminal case accusing him of sexually abusing their 13-year-old son twice in 2022. Sada is accused of abusing the victim and other students at St. Yohanes Berchmans Mataloko Minor Seminary where he was doing a one-year pastoral orientation program.

He was a member of the Capuchin religious order, but it expelled him soon after police began the investigation. Sada is the third Indonesian Catholic within the Church’s ranks accused of sexual abuse since 2021.

Global rights group Civicus Monitor rated civic space in Pakistan as "repressed" due to ongoing crackdowns on the political opposition, rights defenders and press.

In a statement on Tuesday, Civicus said the country has continued systematic assaults on civic spaces including regression of the political opposition, intimidation and criminalization of rights activists and journalists while failing to hold the perpetrators to account.

Supporters of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party protest outside a temporary election commission office in Peshawar on Feb. 10, 2024, amid claims an election result delay was allowing authorities to rig vote-counting. (Photo: AFP)

Pakistan is also accused of harassing ethnic activists from Baloch and Pashtun communities where perpetrators of enforced disappearances enjoy impunity. Pakistan has been in political turmoil since the Feb. 8 general elections marked by internet and mobile shutdowns and suppression of protests.

The country’s powerful and influential military establishment backed the Pakistan Muslim League–Nawaz party ahead of the election, but politicians allied with jailed former prime minister Imran Khan’s PTI party won the most seats, and no party achieved a simple majority. The international community called for investigations into alleged election irregularities.

New York-based Human Rights Watch has criticized the UN rights body chief for “shameful silence” and “weaker performance” in calling out China’s gross rights violation in Tibet, Xinjiang, and other parts of the country.

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In a statement on Monday, Sophie Richardson, the group’s former China director, slammed UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk for failing to raise strong voice against China’s crimes against humanity.

Head of the Chinese Mission to the UN in Geneva Chen Xu (right) gestures prior to the review of China's rights record by the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, on Jan. 23.(Photo: AFP)

Richardson said that Türk’s address to the Human Rights Council in Geneva was “completely unmotivated by the agony and the pressure and the abuses that people across China are enduring.”

Earlier on the same day, Türk had urged China to implement the recommendations made by his office and other human rights bodies concerning laws, policies, and practices that violate fundamental rights, including in the Xinjiang and Tibet regions. Rights activists say Türk’s call was not enough to hold China accountable for its atrocities.

South Korea's Methodist Church has excommunicated a pastor for advocating gay rights. More than 25 percent of South Korea’s estimated 51 million people are Christians who hold significant political sway.

Many evangelical Christians staunchly oppose gay rights. Gay marriage is banned in South Korea and social pressures force many to keep their sexual identity secret. Vicious Christian-led opposition to annual Pride celebration in Seoul is common.

This picture taken on March 4 shows South Korean pastor Lee Dong-hwan (center) speaking during a rally against the ruling of the Korean Methodist Church to excommunicate him for having engaged in activities in support of gay rights, in front of the church in Seoul. (Photo: AFP)

More than a dozen attempts to pass broad anti-discrimination laws have failed over the past 16 years in the face of strong opposition from conservative churches and civic groups. Critics say the law will pave the way for legalization of gay marriage.

Globally, many religious groups have taken steps to embrace LGBTQI rights, with the Vatican recently approving pastoral blessings for same-sex couples. However, Korea's Methodist Church upheld a lower church ruling to excommunicate pastor Lee Dong-hwan for having engaged in activities in support of gay rights.

Angry Muslims in Malaysia have demanded the resignation of the country’s tourism minister after a traditional herbal pork rib soup was listed among national heritage food items.

Tourism minister Tiong King Sing, an ethnic Chinese, faced criticism in the parliament last Thursday, a week after the listing was announced. The objection to the traditional Chinese recipe, known as Bak kut teh, stems from the concern that it is based on pork, which is forbidden for Muslims.

Malaysia's Tourism, Arts and Culture Minister Tiong King Sing. His political opponents are calling for his resignation after the listing of Bak kut teh, a traditional Chinese pork rib soup boiled with herbs and spices, as one of Malaysia’s heritage foods has angered the country’s Muslims. (Photo: Twitter)

Rosol Wahid, a parliamentarian from the Malaysian Islamic Party said considering the pork soup as a national heritage touches on “religious sensitivities.” Others called on Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim to fire the minister. About 60 percent of Malaysians identify as Muslims.

In recent years, the country has seen an upsurge of Islamic groups and Islamic political parties who want Malaysia to assert a strict Islamic identity. 

A top Vietnamese government official said Vietnam-Vatican relations will develop further in the coming days and there is a plan for a papal visit to the Southeast Asian nation.

Deputy Minister of Home Affairs Vu Chien Thang made the remarks in a report published in a newspaper run by the Communist Party of Vietnam on Wednesday. Vatican and Vietnam have recently signed a landmark agreement to allow a resident papal envoy in the country.

Archbishop Marek Zalewski, first resident papal representative to Vietnam, blesses children at a function in the country on Feb. 16. (Photo: giaophanhunghoa.org)

The diplomatic ties were cut off following the communist takeover of Vietnam in 1975.

Vietnam is the only communist country where the Holy See has a resident pontifical representative. Other communist countries – China, Laos and North Korea have no papal envoys. Catholic Church in Vietnam has about seven million members.

Japan’s employment uncertainty created by Covid-19 is being blamed for growing disinterest in marriage among youth, which experts say exacerbated the record decline in marriage in 2023.

The number of marriages in Japan has fallen below the 500,000 mark for the first time since the end of World War II. Only 489,281 registrations were recorded in 2023.

A father holds up his baby under carp streamers fluttering in a riverside park in Sagamihara, suburban Tokyo, on April 29, 2016, ahead of May 5 Children's Day in Japan. (Photo: Toru Yamanaka/AFP/Getty Images)

The dwindling numbers trigger more concerns for Japan as it is struggling to tackle a demographic crisis fueled by low birth rate.

The number of newborn babies in the country was at 758,631 in 2023 compared to 799,728 in 2022, down by 5.4 percent.

The figure has remained below the 800,000 mark since 2022.

The number of births has been on a downward trend after hitting a peak in 1973 at around 2.09 million babies.

It fell below one million in 2016. The rapid decline in the number of newborns has been attributed to late marriages and people staying single.

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