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Christians under attack across Asia

Minorities and vulnerable communities are facing threats and rights abuses from repressive regimes and extremist forces, while economic hardships from Covid-19 are increasing the woes of millions.

Published: September 10, 2021 11:16 AM GMT

Updated: September 10, 2021 11:35 AM GMT

Minority Christians face multiple dangers in Afghanistan following the Taliban takeover. US-based Christian rights group Open Doors said that prior to Taliban rule Christians had a very difficult time living out their faith and their vulnerability has increased tenfold.

Many Christians had to keep their faith secret from families for fear of persecution. Afghan Christians are mostly converts from Islam and are estimated to number ten to twelve thousand. Religious extremists and conservative Afghan society consider denouncing Islam a disgrace and converts can face dire consequences and even death.

Earlier, a Christian leader called on the Christian community to keep a low profile and stay home to avoid being targeted by Taliban fighters, adding that known Christians were receiving threatening calls. Media reports say the Taliban have been searching door to door for Christians and checking their phones.

Local church leaders received letters from the Taliban warning that their locations and activities were being closely monitored. 

Christians under attack across Asia

Taliban fighters near Zanbaq Square in Kabul on Aug. 16 after a stunningly swift takeover of Afghanistan's capital. (Photo: AFP)

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Catholics in China have welcomed a new bishop under the Sino-Vatican agreement. Franciscan Father Francis Cui Qingqi was ordained bishop of Wuhan Diocese in central China’s Hubei province on Wednesday.

He is the sixth Chinese bishop ordained with the approval of both the communist state and the Church since deal was signed in 2018 and renewed for another two years in 2020. 57 year old Father Cui has been the administrator of Wuhan Diocese and parish priest of St. Joseph Cathedral since 2012 and deputy secretary of the state-sanctioned bishops' conference since 2016.

Father Francis Cui Qingqi, 57, was ordained as the bishop of Wuhan in central China on Sept. 8 under a deal the Vatican and China signed on bishops’ appointments in 2018 and renewed in 2020. (Photo: chinacatholic.cn)

Wuhan Diocese had been without a bishop since Bishop Bernardine Dong Guangqing died in May 2007. The Vatican says the agreement on bishop appointments seeks to ease tension and unify the state-approved and underground churches.

Critics claim Chinese authorities are exploiting the deal to silence the Vatican on serious human rights violations and the persecution of minorities including Christians.

A Christian lawmaker, Jamshed Thomas and New Hope Church of Pakistan have distributed ration packs to help around hundred families, mostly day laborers, affected by a mob attack on a Hindu temple in Pakistan’s Punjab province.

A Muslim mob attacked the Siddhi Vinayak temple in August, burned down parts of it and damaged idols after a court granted bail to a Hindu boy in a blasphemy case. The government has restored the temple and constructed a boundary wall with barbed wire and security cameras for protection.

A Christian lawmaker and a local church distribute ration packs to families affected by a mob attack on a Hindu temple at Bhong city in Pakistan. (Photo supplied)

Christian generosity comes against the backdrop of a mob attack on a church in Punjab. On August 29, laborers demolished the cross from the Church of the Nazarene in Tibba Sultanpur town following objection from angry Muslims.

The church has 80 members and is the only place of worship for Christians in the area. 

Hindu extremists have attacked a Christian pastor in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh. Pastor Harish Sahu and his companions were called to the police station after radicals lodged a complaint over alleged religious conversion.

They were abused and manhandled inside the station. Police arrested several attackers after one of the victims filed a case. The violence came a week after another Pastor Kawalsingh Prasate was beaten by a Hindu mob of over 100 people in his house in Kabirdham district. He was also accused of religious conversions.

Christian leaders submit a memorandum to Chhattisgarh’s district collector and chief minister on Sept. 2 informing them about Christian persecution in the state. (Photo supplied)

Accusations and violence against pastors and Christians over religious conversion are common in Hindu-majority India. Such attacks have significantly increased since the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party came to power in 2014.

Several BJP-ruled states have enacted stringent and discriminatory anti-conversion laws.  

A deadly fire engulfed an overcrowded prison near Indonesian capital Jakarta on Wednesday, leaving at least 41 inmates dead and over 70 injured.

The blaze ravaged a small prison block containing at least 122 inmates, mostly drug, terrorism and murder convicts. Among the victims were a Portuguese and a South African national, and most of them were found locked in their cells. Set up in 1972, the prison housed about 2,100 inmates, almost four times its capacity.

Police and hospital officials store the body bags of victims at a morgue in a general hospital in Tangerang on Sept. 8 after a prison fire broke out and killed 41 inmates. (Photo: AFP)

Meanwhile, Indonesian police have arrested 10 people suspected of attacking a mosque of Ahmadi Muslims in West Kalimantan province on September 3. At least 200 local Muslims attacked the mosque after Friday prayers, forcing police and soldiers to evacuate 72 Ahmadi followers.

Hardline Sunni Muslims often attack Ahmadis, terming them blasphemers because they don’t accept Muhammad as the last prophet.

Myanmar’s military junta released ultranationalist, anti-Muslim Buddhist monk Ashin Wirathu on Monday after all charges against him were dropped without any reason.

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Wirathu is receiving treatment at a military hospital and had earlier complained about ill-treatment. Wirathu was charged under the sedition law in 2019 for making speeches criticizing Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy government. He went into hiding to avoid arrest for 18 months before surrendering to police in Yangon in November 2020.

Buddhist monk Ashin Wirathu is said to have close links to the junta. (Photo: AFP)

Wirathu is a leader of now-defunct extremist Buddhist group Ma Ba Tha that had spread hate against religious minorities, especially Muslims including ethnic Rohingya. He was accused of inciting nationwide riots in 2013 and 2014 through his hate speeches.

He was barred from giving sermons for one year in March 2017 and banned from Facebook in January 2018 because of inflammatory posts. Since 2018, he has adopted a pro-military stance, targeting Suu Kyi and her civilian government.

In Thailand, extreme poverty and hardship due to the Covid-19 pandemic have triggered a rise in suicides in communities who relied on tourism for a living. The pandemic has infected 1.3 million and killed over 13,000 in Thailand since March last year. Thailand’s tourism-based economy has suffered badly due to a drastic drop in tourists.

Last year about 800,000 Thais, many of whom worked in the tourism sector, lost their jobs. One of the worst-hit groups are tourist guides who fell on extremely hard times. 

A Thai woman receives a shot of the Pfizer vaccine at MCC Hall in The Mall Ngamwongwan, one of several non-hospital vaccination points in Nonthaburi province, on Aug. 29. (Photo: AFP)

In the southern city of Hat Yai, on the border with Malaysia, nine registered tour guides have committed suicide and all of about 600 local guides have been out of a job since early last year. Most unemployed guides depend on handouts of food and other necessities as they have had no income for 18 months.

Out of desperation, several unemployed guides have resorted to stealing to support themselves and their families.

Filipino politicians have come under fire from a senior Catholic priest and a political observer for starting their campaign for next year’s election while people are suffering badly from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Dominican priest Father De la Rosa, president of the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas in Rome, criticized politicians for taking advantage of their wealth to secure votes through paid advertisements that helped sell their image like commodities for public consumption. The priest urged people not to believe in surveys that condition the electorate to vote for candidates who are predicted as winnable even if they are crooks, thieves and suspected criminals.

Filipinos line up to receive government cash aid during enhanced community quarantine at a basketball court in Manila on Aug. 11. (Photo: AFP)

John Apil, a professor of politics, noted that the Philippines’ political system often allows candidates with more money to be elected, not those with good track records. He said a politician running for senator is required to spend about 6 million US dollars.

The Philippines will hold a presidential election in May next year when a tight battle is expected between the ruling PDP-Laban party of President Rodrigo Duterte and the opposition bloc.

Cambodian rapper Kea Sokun, whose lyrics and songs critical of the government has landed him behind bars. He has been released from prison after spending almost a year.

The 23-year-old was sentenced to an 18-month jail term on incitement charges. Following his release, Sokun said he was not sorry for what he did and dismissed the charges against him. One of his offending songs has garnered 4.2 million views on YouTube.

Rapper Kea Sokun says he was not guilty of incitement. (Photo: YouTube)

Under the increasing authoritarian rule of Prime Minister Hun Sen, more than 150 people have been charged with incitement over the past year. The government has been cracking down on dissent, arresting opposition politicians, artists, activists and netizens for incitement, spreading “fake news” and attempting to topple the regime.

Among those arrested is a 16-year-old autistic boy, Kak Sovann Chhay, the son of two opposition figures from the dissolved Cambodian National Rescue Party. UN experts urged authorities to release the boy, who faces up to two years in jail if convicted. 

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