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Concern after deadly bombing at Catholic mass in Philippines

A bomb attack at a Sunday Mass left four university students dead and several injured in the insurgency-plagued Mindanao Island in the Philippines

Published: December 08, 2023 11:07 AM GMT

Updated: December 08, 2023 11:08 AM GMT

Church leaders in the Philippines have called for security at Christian gatherings in the wake of a deadly bombing at a Mass in the Catholic-majority nation.

In a statement, Catholic charity Caritas Philippines said concerted efforts must be made to prevent the recurrence of such violent incidents and to safeguard the fundamental right to worship without fear.

The reaction came after four students were killed at a Mass at Mindanao State University in Marawi, the country's largest Muslim city in the restive southern Philippines, last Sunday. The attack prompted President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to issue a stern warning to the perpetrators.

Mindanao is the second largest island in the Philippines and home to many Islamist insurgent groups. The Philippine military retained Marawi after months of fighting Islamic State extremists who seized it in May 2017. The authorities suspect the bombing might have been a revenge attack following a military operation that killed 11 Islamist fighters.

Military personnel stand guard at the entrance of a gymnasium while police investigators look for evidence after a bomb attack

Military personnel stand guard at the entrance of a gymnasium while police investigators look for evidence after a bomb attack at Mindanao State University in Marawi, Lanao del sur province on December 3, 2023. (Photo: AFP)

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A report by global rights body, Civicus points monitor Civic rights including freedom of assembly, association and expression have shrunk further across the Asia-Pacific as many governments intensified crackdown on civil society, journalists and protesters.

The People Power Under Attack 2023 report assessed civic space conditions in 198 countries and territories.

Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) supporters rally in Dhaka on Oct. 28, 2023, demanding that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina step down to allow a free and fair election under a neutral government. (AFP)

Civic space was repressed in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, China, North Korea, Afghanistan, Vietnam, India, Cambodia, Indonesia, Thailand and the Maldives. Pakistan, Malaysia and Singapore saw an increase in censorship on media.

Timor-Leste has been hailed for improving its ranking thanks to the authorities’ respect for press freedoms and electoral rights. The report said almost one third of world’s population now lives in countries with the most restricted civic space, the highest since 2018. Only 2.1 percent of people live in "open" countries, where civic space is both free and protected.

India’s most populous Uttar Pradesh state has recorded the highest number of arrests of Christians in the past three years since passing a stringent anti-conversion law.

Nearly 400 Christians were arrested in 181 cases since. Among the 398 people arrested so far, a majority are Protestant pastors and followers of neo-Christian groups. Those jailed include 318 males, 80 females, and a Catholic priest.

Christians participate in a prayer meeting at Kanpur, a city in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. (Photo: Facebook)

Most of the arrested are out on bail but 50 including Father Babu Francis are still in jail. The priest was arrested in October after a hardline Hindu politician accused him and three other Catholics of attempting to convert villagers.

The state is ruled by the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Eleven states, mostly ruled by BJP, have passed anti-conversion laws. The constitutional validity of these laws is being challenged in the Supreme Court.

A report by Pakistani Catholic bishops’ National Commission for Justice and Peace has accused the government of whitewashing a mob attack on churches and Christian settlements in Jaranwala in August. The report said the state is giving an impression that Christians have created the incident.

The commission’s executive director, Naeem Yousaf Gill, however, said the report did not aim to “stand against the state” but to prevent “such incidents from happening” in the future.

Christians attend a Sunday service near Saint John Church in Jaranwala on the outskirts of Faisalabad on Aug. 20 after a mob attacked several churches over blasphemy allegations. (Photo: AFP)

About 80 Christian homes and 26 churches were vandalized in a riot in Jaranwala in Punjab province on Aug. 16, over allegations of Quran desecration. Hundreds of Christians were forced to flee from their homes.

The report said the state and the media in the Muslim-majority country followed the same pattern of shifting responsibility and diverting attention. A senior police officer in Punjab attributed the mob attack to intelligence agencies in neighboring India.

The West Rukum District Court in Nepal has handed down life sentences to 24 upper-caste Hindus for murdering six youths from the socially ostracized Dalit community. They were accused of murdering the six youths on May 23, 2020. Two others received two years in jail. All convicts were also ordered to pay a fine of 50,000 rupees or around 380 US Dollars each.

The sensational murder prompted the government to form a high-level parliamentary probe committee. The committee found the murders resulted from caste-based discrimination against downtrodden Dalits by upper-caste Hindus.

Nepalese woman Dana Sunar, a member of the Dalit caste, carries firewood in Simikot, the headquarters of Humla district, some 430km north-west of Kathmandu in this file image. A court has sentenced 24 upper-caste Hindus to life terms for murdering six Dalit youths in 2020. (AFP)

Local media reported in 2020 that the crime occurred when 21-year-old Nabaraj B K from Bheri municipality in Jajarkot district traveled to West Rukum to bring his 17-year-old “upper caste” girlfriend home.

Nabaraj was accompanied by 17 friends who were attacked by the locals with homemade weapons and stones. Nabaraj and five others were killed while the others were injured. The police said the killings were premeditated and organized by the girl’s family.

Sri Lankan Buddhist monks have criticized the nation’s top Catholic leader for opposing the appointment of a controversial police officer to the post of Inspector General of Police.

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During a press conference last Thursday, the monks denounced the criticism of Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith of Colombo. Ranjith had reacted sharply to the appointment of Deshabandu Tennekoon, saying it was a crime.

Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith speaks during a press conference in Colombo on Sept 6. (Photo: AFP)

The Presidential Commission of Inquiry into the 2019 Easter Sunday bombings had blamed Tennekoon, who was deputy inspector general of police, for failing to prevent the attack and recommended disciplinary action against him.

Religious leaders and rights activists raised concerns that the rift over appointment of the IGP could sour ties between the country's Buddhist majority and Christians who make up only 6.1 percent of the population.

A South Korean children’s charity has launched a month-long exhibition-cum-sale of spiritual articles to raise funds to support education and other needs of poor children in Mongolia and Laos.

The fundraiser event titled “Every Child is a Flower” held in the capital Seoul runs from Dec. 1 to Jan. 7 next year. The charity, Blooming Kids, is hosting the program that features the works of nine Korean artists and sculptors.

A Laotian schoolgirl wiping her face as tiredness starts to show as she watches a parade on National Day in the capital, Vientiane in this file photo. (AFP)

All proceeds from the event would go to aid the poor children in Laos and Mongolia. The exhibition artwork includes bells, crucifixes, wooden rosaries, photographs, and other items that visitors could see and purchase.

The charity started in 2015 as an arts-sharing activity. Since 2022, the organization has focused on improving the educational environment for ethnic minority children in Laos by remodeling schools in remote villages. It also runs projects serving the psychological and emotional needs of children.

Thai government has come under strong criticism for forcible repatriation of thousands of Myanmar refugees to their conflict-stricken country where they face risks of violence and death.

New York-based rights group, Human Rights Watch, said the Thai authorities have denied protection to the refugees and pushed them back into a life-threatening environment. Beginning in October, the Thai military started forcible repatriation of refugees sheltering in border areas adjoining Myanmar’s Karenni or Kayah state.

Myanmar refugees return to Thailand after Myanmar military airstrikes in Karenni State, Nov. 16.  (Photo Courtesy: Human Rights Watch)

About 45 percent of the state’s estimated 350,000 people are Christians including 90,000 Catholics. The mass pushbacks, coerced or otherwise, may amount to a breach of Thailand’s obligations as a party to the UN Convention Against Torture, the rights group said.

Thailand has sheltered about 90,000 refugees from Myanmar across nine refugee camps since the mid-1980s. About 45,000 additional refugees fled to Thailand from Myanmar after the February 2021 coup.

A court in military-ruled Myanmar has rejected another appeal by a prominent ethnic Kachin pastor as world leaders and rights groups called for his immediate release.

A state court in Kachin State’s capital Myitkyina dismissed the appeal by Reverend Hkalam Samson on Tuesday. His lawyer reportedly said they will appeal to a higher court after rejections of appeals by district and state-level courts.

Reverend Dr. Hkalam Samson (center) of the Kachin Baptist Convention leaves Myitkyina Township Court in Myitkyina, capital of northern Myanmar's Kachin state, Sept. 9, 2019. (Photo: Radio Free Asia)

Sixty five-year-old Samson, a former leader of the Kachin Baptist Convention was sentenced to six years in prison for unlawful association, defaming the state and terrorism by the Myitkyina Prison Court, in April.

He has been behind bars for a year after being arrested at the Mandalay International Airport last December while on his way to Thailand for a medical check-up. At least 4,200 civilians have been killed, thousands injured and over two million people displaced in Myanmar since the military coup.

The Hong Kong Journalists' Association, the city’s largest journalist union, has expressed concerns over the disappearance of a senior journalist from the city while covering an event in China more than a month ago.

The South China Morning Post reporter Minnie Chan went missing since her trip to Beijing from Hong Kong to the Xiangshan Forum on Oct. 30-31.

South China Morning Post reporter Minnie Chan from Hong Kong has disappeared since her trip to Beijing to cover a security and defense program about a month ago. (Photo: Minnie Chan Facebook profile via RFA)

The forum is an international dialogue platform on security and defense issues in Asia.

Minnie Chan is the first Hong Kong journalist to go missing in China since former Straits Times reporter Ching Cheong was handed a five-year jail term for "espionage" in 2005 after gathering material on late ousted Chinese Premier Zhao Ziyang.

China was ranked 177th among 188 nations in the 2022 global press freedom index by Reporters Without Borders.

Allegedly, more than 100 journalists are currently behind bars in China.

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