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Christians under attack across Asia

Extremism remains a threat to minorities in Asian nations as vulnerable communities reel from natural and man-made calamities.

Published: October 01, 2021 11:13 AM GMT

Updated: October 01, 2021 04:44 PM GMT

Christian families from the marginalized Dalit community are fearing for their lives following attacks from Hindu extremists in the eastern Indian state of Odisha.

The Hindu radicals chased the five families out of a village in Kandhamal district after they refused to renounce their faith. Christians say they were manhandled and abused before fleeing, while the house of one family was burned to the ground.

Christian families are living in a makeshift shelter near a forest about 12 kilometers away. A church official alleged that district police officials twice refused to accept complaints from Christians over radical threats. Anti-Christian violence from radical Hindus is not new in Odisha and other parts of India.

In August 2008, this very place, Kandhamal, saw the worst anti-Christian violence that left 100 people killed, about 56,000 rendered homeless and 6,000 houses and 300 churches destroyed. 

Christians under attack across Asia

A Dalit Christian family’s house was burned down by Hindu activists in Lodamila village of Odisha’s Kandhamal district on Sept. 22. (Photo supplied)

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A Sri Lankan Buddhist monk, Gnanasara Thero of the hardline Bodu Bala Sena or Buddhist Power Force has been accused of spreading hatred against minority Muslims. He recently said that the mastermind of the Easter Sunday attacks in 2019 was Allah and warned of a similar terrorist attack in the future.

He also described Muslims as “walking bombs”. Opposition lawmaker Mujibur Rahman said a complaint was filed with the Criminal Investigations Department after the monk made controversial remarks during television and social media programs. Earlier, church officials demanded an inquiry following the sensational claim by the monk.

Sri Lankan Buddhist monk Ven. Gnanasara Thero at a magistrates' court following an arrest warrant for his alleged hate crime against Muslims in Colombo, Sri Lanka, in June 2017. (Photo: AFP)

For years, Gnanasara Thero has been accused of hate crimes and triggering anti-Muslim violence as the leader of an extremist group. He was sentenced to six months in prison for criminally intimidating a person inside a court in 2016 and was granted a presidential pardon.

Sri Lanka has seen a series of anti-Muslim violence targeting Muslim houses, businesses and worship places since 2009. 

Christians and rights activists in Pakistan have criticized a controversial court judgment on child conversion cases.

Last week Justice Tariq Nadeem of Lahore High Court rejected a petition from Gulzar Masih, a Catholic rickshaw driver from Faisalabad, who sought to get back his 14-year-old daughter Chashman, who was allegedly abducted and forcibly converted by a Muslim man, Muhammad Usman, in July. The judge said Islam does not set an age limit for conversion and noted Prophet Ali converted to Islam when he was only 10.

The Centre for Social Justice holds a Sept. 28 press conference urging the Religious Affairs Ministry to reconsider its stance on the anti-forced conversion bill. (Photo supplied)

Christians slammed the ruling and despised “the sickening stone age society” where the weak are crushed in the name of religion. The Center for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement in the UK said separation of underage girls in the name of Islam is totally unacceptable.

It noted that abduction, forced conversion, rape and forced marriage are imminent threats to minority Christian and Hindu women and girls in Pakistan, and these are open violations of the human rights treaties ratified by Pakistan.

A Catholic archbishop in Indonesia’s Christian-majority East Nussa Tenggara province dismissed news reports accusing him of backing a controversial dam project. Last Saturday Archbishop Vincentius Sensi Potokota of Ende said that he takes a neutral position to avoid controversy and expressed hope for compromise over the dam project.

The Indonesian government intends to construct a dam costing 100 million US dollars in Negekeo district by 2024, stating that it aims to irrigate 6,000 hectares of rice fields.

Archbishop Vincentius Sensi Potokoa of Ende (left) holds a machete during a gathering of indigenous Catholics in East Nusa Tenggara province. (Photo: UCA News)

However, local communities, mostly Catholics, have protested against the dam as they say it runs over the land of their ancestral burial grounds. The dam project is the second controversial project that has raised eyebrows in East Nussa Tenggara province in recent times.

The government came under fire after it announced in July the construction of a tourism project on Indonesia’s “Jurassic Park” on Rinca Island, which is one of the last remaining habitats of the endangered Komodo dragons.

Catholic groups in the Philippines have formed a coalition to fight for clean and national elections next year. Halalang Marangal 2022 translated into Honorable Elections 2022, aims to stop election fraud, vote buying and manipulation of public opinion through fake news.

Coalition members include the Christian Businessmen and Professionals, De La Salle Brothers Philippines, Network for Justice and Compassion and the Philippine Misereor Partnership. The group aims to counter fake news on social media which can manipulate voters and pose serious threats to the polls.

Protesters in Manila shout slogans accusing the government of rigging mid-term elections in this May 17, 2019 photo. A new coalition of faith-based and other Catholic organizations aims to promote clean and honest elections in next year’s presidential polls. (Photo: AFP)

The presidential election is poised to become a fierce battle between the ruling PDP-Laban party of President Rodrigo Duterte and the opposition. Duterte’s tenure as president since 2016 has been marred by controversies and human rights violations including a deadly anti-drug war, failing economy and degrading tirades against individuals and organizations.

Duterte will run for vice president while promoting his daughter for president. He is accused of using social media trolls to spread fake news to malign his opponents. 

Authorities in Cambodia have limited the celebration of the annual Pchum Ben festival amid a spike in Covid-19 cases.

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The decision to put curbs on the 15-day Festival of the Dead comes as infections have been detected in more than half of the pagodas in capital Phnom Penh despite a rapid rollout of vaccines. During the popular festival Cambodian families gather in home villages and pagodas to commemorate and honor their ancestors.

People offer food and alms to a Buddhist monk as they pray during the Pchum Ben festival outside a pagoda in Phnom Penh on Sept. 24 as authorities halted celebrations of the festival after a Covid-19 outbreak among monks. (Photo: AFP)

Prime Minister Hun Sen said it was more important to save lives than celebrate the festival. The government has also ordered a ban on liquor sales in the capital and Siem Reap, the home of the fabled Angkor temples, and declared its seven communes as “red zones.”

Cambodia has recorded about 112,000 cases and 2,302 deaths from the pandemic. The government has reportedly vaccinated 10.9 million citizens or about 66.4 percent of the total population.

The director of an upcoming Chinese film has dropped the word “Moses” from its original title, sparking concerns about the communist government’s overt influence to eliminate Christian vocabulary from the social and public domain.

The film Moses on the Plain is directed by Zhang Ji and is scheduled for release in December. It has been adapted from the novel of the same title by writer Shuang Xuetao. However, just ahead of the Beijing Film Festival on September 21-29, the director announced the renaming of the movie as Fire on the Plain.

A screenshot of the teaser of Chinese film 'Moses on the Plain' which has been renamed as 'Fire on the Plain.' (Photo: YouTube)

Critics including Christian leaders say the move shows the Chinese authorities are adamant about removing Christian words from the public sphere, which means China is inching toward an extreme form of communism like North Korea.

Netizens commented that the name change was enforced as Moses is considered a foreign god who influenced public opinion. 

In Malaysia, a Catholic parish and church groups have been rushing aid to villagers affected by disastrous flooding and a mudslide in Sabah state. Heavy monsoon rain triggered an overflow of the Sugud River that caused flooding and a mudslide in the low-lying Kampung Sugud area in mid-September.

The disaster affected about 3,000 people in villages, leaving hundreds of houses destroyed while water supply and electricity were disrupted. Sabah state chief minister Hajiji Noor visited the affected areas and promised to help victims with cash and rebuilding houses. However, many victims have been living in desperation without aid as roads remain mostly cut off.

A villager in Sugud sits in front her house devastated by recent flooding and a mudslide. (Photo: Catholic Sabah)

Volunteers from the Assumption of Our Lady Sugud Church have delivered relief materials including rice bags, mineral water, food baskets, cleaning tools, wheelbarrows, basic kitchen utensils, mattresses and pillows to hundreds of villagers with support from local and international groups.

Experts say that such an unnatural and unprecedented disaster in Sugud can be blamed on indiscriminate destruction of the natural environment and the clearing of forests for industrial purposes.

About 1,000 people in predominantly Christian Chin state of Myanmar have fled their homes and taken refuge in churches as fighting between the military and resistance groups escalates in the region.

Media reports says many houses, a clergy residence, convent and boarding school came under indiscriminate military attacks in Mindat township. Around 150 elderly, women and children, mostly Christians, have taken refuge in a Catholic church's compound, while around 100 are in a Buddhist monastery in Kyaukthuh township.

People attend the funeral on May 20 of Lian Muan Sang, an 11-year-old boy who was killed after handling an explosive device beside a road in Tedim township, Chin state, amid attacks by the military following clashes with ethnic rebels. (Photo: AFP/Tedim Post)

A Catholic parish has provided food and shelter to displaced people, while Caritas Myanmar has provided another shelter, food and non-food items. About 10,000 people from Mindat have taken refuge in churches, makeshift camps and relatives’ homes since May.

More than 206,000 people have been displaced in Christian strongholds such as Chin, Kayah, Kachin and Karen states due to the escalation of the conflict since the military coup in February. The latest UN report says more than 3 million people are in dire need of aid.

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