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Ex-priest aims to lead Timor-Leste

Election fever is heating up in Timor-Leste as a former Catholic priest stands for president. Justice and human rights remain major concerns for Christians and other vulnerable groups in Asia.

Published: January 21, 2022 11:08 AM GMT

Updated: January 21, 2022 11:09 AM GMT

The upcoming presidential election in Timor-Leste is heating up with heavyweight candidates aiming to become head of state in the tiny Catholic-majority nation.

Current President Francisco Guterres has declared his bid to retain power at the elections due on March 19. Guterres, chairman of the Fretilin party, announced his candidacy, on Sunday. Among the prominent figures who expressed their intent to run for the president include former Catholic priest Martinho Gusmao, who says he wants to transform the country.

Lere Anan Timur, the commander of the Timor-Leste Defense Forces, Berta dos Santos, the current deputy prime minister, Milena Pires, a former ambassador, and Virgílio Guterres, current president of the Press Council.

Former president and Nobel Peace Prize winner José Ramos-Horta is also rumored to be running for president with the reported support of former president and prime minister Xanana Gusmão and his CNRT party.

Ex-priest aims to lead Timor-Leste

Former priest Martinho Germano da Silva Gusmao says he wants to transform Timor-Leste. (Photo: Gusmao's Facebook)

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A 5.3-magnitude earthquake rocked Afghanistan on Tuesday left at least 27 people dead and hundreds of houses damaged in the western province of Badghis. Among the most affected areas was Qadis district — a remote, rural area.

Officials said up to 1,000 houses were damaged and feared the death toll might rise as rescuers search for survivors. Afghanistan has been facing a humanitarian crisis since the Taliban takeover in August and consequent freezing of international aid and foreign assets by Western countries. A severe food crisis compounded by extreme drought has left hundreds of Afghans starving.

A map shows the epicenter of a 5.3-magnitude earthquake in Afghanistan on Jan. 17. (Photo: AFP)

The United Nations is seeking 5 billion US dollars in 2022 to avert a humanitarian catastrophe in Afghanistan and to offer the ravaged nation a future after 40 years of suffering. Christians are a miniscule minority in Afghanistan who maintain a low profile to evade the ire of extremist groups.

US-based Open Doors ranked Afghanistan as the most dangerous country for Christians in the latest World Watch List.

A Catholic women’s group in India expressed concerns over the safety of a nun, her companions and witnesses after a court acquitted a bishop of rape and other charges.

Sisters in Solidarity said it was deeply shocked and disappointed after the court in Kerala state found Bishop Franco Mulakkal not guilty on January 14. The judge said the prosecution could not prove the allegations against the bishop.

Indian nuns and their supporters at a protest in Kochi, Kerala, on Sept. 11, 2018, demanding action against Bishop Franco Mulakkal after he was accused of sexually abusing a nun. (Photo: UCA News/IANS)

The nun, a member of the Missionaries of Jesus congregation, accused Bishop Mulakkal of Jalandhar Diocese in Punjab state of raping her 13 times between 2014 and 2016 inside a convent.

The group said that the nun and her companions had experienced harassment and hostility from supporters of the bishop, adding that they are in danger of further victimization after the verdict. The controversial case divided the Catholic community, with supporters of the complainant and the accused blaming each other of self-serving falsehoods and propaganda.

Christians joined human rights groups in Pakistan to protest and express serious concerns over the abduction of teenage girls.

On Monday, a protest rally was held in front of the Press Club in Karachi, the country’s financial hub and largest city, following the abduction of four Christian teenage girls in various cities in the first two weeks of the year.

Members of human rights groups in Pakistan protest against the rising incidents of abduction of teenage Christian girls at Karachi Press Club on Jan. 17. (Photo supplied)

The girls were reportedly abducted by Muslim men with alleged motives of marrying them forcibly and converting them to Islam, a common phenomenon in the Islamic country.

Rights activists say a lack of convictions against kidnappers and rapists has contributed to a rise in gender-based violence and child abuse in the country, with girls from minority communities being prime targets. They say about 1,000 Hindu and Christian girls are abducted, forcibly married and converted to Islam in Pakistan every year. 

Catholic leaders in Sri Lanka have cast doubt over a police probe following the discovery of live hand grenade in a church last week. The grenade was found at All Saints’ Church in Borella on January 11, three days before Catholics participated in a commemoration program to mark the 1,000th day since the Easter Sunday bombings of 2019.

Police arrested the caretaker of the church along with a man suspected of planting the grenade. Following an investigation by intelligence officials, police said the main suspect was paid 50,000 rupees or about 250 US dollars to plant the grenade in the church.

A man prays at a service to mark 30 months since the coordinated 2019 Easter Sunday bombing at St. Anthony’s Church in Colombo on Oct. 21, 2021. (Photo: AFP)

Church officials including Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith expressed doubt over the integrity of the police probe as the arrests were made without viewing the full CCTV footage provided by church authorities.

The incident came as the Sri Lankan Church continued to demand justice for victims of the deadly Easter bombings and the truth behind the masterminds of the atrocity. 

Indonesia’s National Human Rights Commission has blasted security forces for widespread violence against civilians in Christian-majority Papua province last year. It also called on the government to hold security forces accountable for violence against civilians.

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The commission recorded 1,182 violent incidents in the restive region last year and 480 were committed by security forces. The violent acts involved shooting and torturing of civilians as well as the burning and destruction of schools and homes.

Mohammad Choirul Anam, commissioner and spokesman of Indonesia's National Commission on Human Rights. (Photo: National Commission on Human Rights)

Amid an escalation in violence between security forces and armed separatist groups, at least 24 civilians have been killed. The easternmost province is mineral-rich but remains one of the country’s poorest areas in terms of human development.

Since the region’s controversial handover to Indonesia after the end of Dutch colonial in 1960s, Papua has experienced an armed insurgency seeking independence from Indonesian rule. The violence has left thousands of people dead and tens of thousands displaced.

Authorities in Vietnam have started to impose harsh restrictions to contain the coronavirus as domestic workers return home for the traditional Tet or Lunar New festival.

At least 13 provinces as well as Hai Phong City in the northeastern coastal area have reportedly introduced strict measures including compulsory medical tests and quarantine up to 14 days ahead of the Tet festival to be celebrated from January 31 to February 4.

People wait their turn to get a Covid-19 booster dose in Nha Trang in Khanh Hoa province of Vietnam on Jan. 16. (Photo: UCA News)

Vietnam continues to reel from the pandemic. On Tuesday, it recorded 16,868 new cases and 184 deaths. The capital Hanoi became the new epicenter with 2,935 cases.

The Southeast Asian nation has recorded more than 2.08 million infections and 36,114 deaths so far. About 80 percent of its estimated 96 million people have received at least one dose of a vaccine.

Catholic bishops in Myanmar have appealed to the international community for humanitarian assistance to support thousands of people displaced by fighting in the conflict-ridden Southeast Asian country.

The appeal was made in a joint letter signed by Cardinal Charles Bo and 17 bishops of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Myanmar. It came as fighting between the military and ethnic armed groups intensified in recent weeks and escalated with the emergence of people’s defense forces.

Myanmar refugees, who fled a surge in violence as the military cracks down on rebel groups, rest after crossing a river on the border in Thailand's Mae Sot district, on Jan. 15. (Photo: AFP)

The military junta has unleashed a reign of terror with airstrikes and heavy artillery shelling, forcing thousands of women, children, elderly and infirm to flee their homes. Hundreds have taken refuge in nearby forests and churches in neighboring villages and towns.

The military has been targeting churches and Christian institutes in Christian stronghold states such as Kayah, Chin and Karen. About 350,000 people including Christians have been displaced in Myanmar since the military takeover in February last year.

Police in Thailand have arrested a Thai national almost seven years after he fled to Malaysia to evade arrest for trafficking Rohingya refugees. Chamsudin Tordin, 38, had worked in Malaysia as a member of a fishing crew. He was arrested from a southern province after he re-entered Thailand last weekend.

The arrest of Chamsudin is a rare success story for law enforcers following the 2014 anti-trafficking crackdown in Thailand and Malaysia that triggered the Asian boatpeople crisis. Chamsudin is a member of a regional trafficking syndicate and stands accused of smuggling Rohingya migrants from Myanmar to Malaysia via Thailand.

Rohingya refugees in a boat in Chakmarkul, Bangladesh, on Aug. 26, 2020. Myanmar smugglers are seen mercilessly beating refugees in a graphic video obtained by AFP that shows rarely seen images from the front lines of human trafficking. (Photo: AFP/Handout)

Charges against him include trafficking minors under 15, detaining people against their will and colluding with abductors to demand ransom from victims.

Thai authorities are desperately seeking to improve the country’s image that remains tainted after the US Department of State named it as a major transit hub for people smugglers and human traffickers.

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