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Hong Kongers escape China’s persecution

Communist China’s repressive policies and actions are gradually expanding beyond its borders and mainland China, triggering fear and an exodus of Hong Kong citizens. In other parts of Asia, pro-democracy campaigners, rights activists and minorities continue uphill battles for freedom and rights.

Published: May 14, 2021 11:52 AM GMT

Updated: May 15, 2021 04:36 AM GMT

Communist China’s repressive policies and actions are gradually expanding beyond its borders and mainland China, triggering fear and an exodus of Hong Kong citizens.

Global Christian forum International Christian Concern has expressed concerns that about 10,000 Hong Kong residents have fled to Taiwan to escape persecution under the draconian National Security Law imposed by Communist China. The asylum seekers include members and leaders of churches who have been accused of subversion and sedition under the law. 

International Christian Concern condemned the recent arrest, jailing and bail denial of Edward Wan, a popular radio host who launched a crowdfunding project last year to support Hong Kong protesters to study in Taiwan in collaboration with the Presbyterian Church. Hong Kong police also blocked access to the church’s website for breaching the national security law.

A report by US-based Freedom House ranks China as one of the worst offenders against religious freedom in the world.

Hong Kongers escape China’s persecution

A Presbyterian church in Taipei, Taiwan. (Photo: Wikipedia)

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In South Korea, pro-life groups including the Catholic Church have opposed a government plan that allegedly seeks to offer legal recognition to cohabitation without marriage. 

The Ministry of Gender Equality and Family’s fourth Basic Plan for Healthy Families aims to provide institutional support for all families, including out-of-wedlock unions and children. It also seeks to end social ostracism and discrimination against increasing numbers of single and double-person households.

More young South Koreans are turning their back on marriage. (Photo supplied)

Catholic officials hailed the ending of discrimination toward out-of-wedlock families and children but expressed concerns over legally recognizing such unions. The Church fears legal recognition of cohabitation without marriage will dismantle the traditional family and weaken inherent family values.

The government plan resonates with the sentiments of many young South Koreans. A government survey this year found six out of 10 young people think it unnecessary to get married and have children.

Malaysia’s High Court has dismissed a case against Abdul Hadi Awang, the president of the right-wing Malaysian Islamic Party, who was accused of making seditious statements against Christians.

In December last year, two Christians from Sabah state filed a case against Hadi for defaming Christians in an article published in a newspaper in 2016. In the article, Hadi accused Christian missionaries of preying on poor and uneducated people in impoverished communities in states like Sabah by paying them off to convert to Christianity.

Malaysian Islamic Party president Abdul Hadi Awang accused Christian missionaries of preying on poor and uneducated people in impoverished communities. (Photo: YouTube)

The court termed the case ‘frivolous’ and ordered the plaintiffs to each pay 50,000 ringgit or about 12,000 US dollars to cover Hadi’s legal costs. They are planning to appeal.

Malaysia has experienced rising Islamic fundamentalism, and Christians, the country’s third largest religious minority, have been targets of hate campaigns by radicals as well as Islamic politicians. 

In Indonesia, terrorists killed four Christian farmers including a Catholic in Poso district in central Sulawesi province. Armed members of extremist group East Indonesia Mujahideen killed the farmers when they were working in a coffee plantation in Kalimago village on Tuesday. 

Police spokesman Didik Supranoto said another farmer escaped the attack by five sword-wielding men and reported the incident to the village head and police informing them that two victims had wounds to their necks. Unconfirmed reports said one had been beheaded.

Relatives inspect the coffins of four Christians who were killed by the East Indonesia Mujahideen in Poso, Central Sulawesi, on May 11. (Photo supplied)

East Indonesia Mujahideen is among banned extremist outfits in the world’s most populous Muslim country. The group is affiliated with both the Islamic State and Abu Sayyaf, a terrorist group based in the southern Philippines.

Established in 2012, the group is accused of killing four Christians and burning a church in Sigi district in the province last November.

In Thailand, land rights activists are increasingly vulnerable to abuses and deaths. At least four activists and farmers have been killed and dozens threatened and jailed in southern Thailand in recent years.

In the latest case, Somsak Onchuenjit, a 54-year-old farmer and vocal land rights advocate, was shot dead by unknown assailants in early May, prompting Human Rights Watch to investigate the murder. Before his death Somsak told relatives he had received death threats and was being followed for his activism. 

Community leaders in Thailand say they live in constant fear of being harmed over land disputes. (Photo: SPFT)

Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, urged the Thai government to ensure a proper probe and justice for the killing. He criticized authorities for failing to ensure the land rights of communities.

Many farmers and activists in southern Thailand face harassment, physical intimidation and a barrage of lawsuits filed by palm oil companies and government agencies that want to profit from the redevelopment of farmland.

In strife-torn Myanmar, churches and monasteries have become shelters for thousands of refugees displaced by fighting between the military and ethnic rebels. In Christian-majority Kachin state, at least 5,000 people have been forced to flee their homes.

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They have been sheltering in churches and monasteries where Caritas Myanmar has continued to provide them with humanitarian aid.

A nighttime protest marks 100 days since the Feb. 1 coup in Hpakant township in Myanmar's Kachin state on May 11. (Photo: Kachin Waves/AFP)

Deadly armed conflicts have intensified in ethnic states including Kachin in recent weeks as the military has increased its offensive by deploying fighter jets and heavy artillery, displacing thousands of villagers, many of whom crossed the border into Thailand for safety.

Myanmar’s long-running civil conflicts have worsened since the military coup of February 1. At least 782 anti-coup protesters have been killed in crackdowns on the nationwide pro-democracy movement by the military so far. 

Christian leaders and activists in Pakistan have expressed profound dismay that it is almost impossible to seek abolition of the country’s draconian blasphemy law. During a recent debate, Catholic priests and nuns urged Christians to avoid discussing religion to escape possible threats, attacks and even death at the hands of religious extremists.

These concerns were expressed during a program last week to mark the 23rd death anniversary of Bishop John Joseph of Faisalabad, who killed himself in 1998 in front of a courthouse in Sahiwal after a Christian, Ayub Masih, was sentenced to death for blasphemy. His suicide was seen as a symbolic protest against the abuse of the blasphemy law in Pakistan.

Supporters of religious group Aalmi Majlis Tahaffuz Khatm-e-Nubuwwat march during a rally in Peshawar in July 2020 in support of Khalid Khan, who shot dead a man accused of blasphemy in a courtroom. (Photo: AFP)

Dozens of religious minorities as well as Shia and Ahmadi Muslims have been accused, harassed and jailed over fabricated charges of blasphemy.

Church leaders and human rights groups say blasphemy allegations have often been used to intimidate religious minorities and settle personal scores.

Defying a nationwide lockdown in Bangladesh, millions of people headed home to rural areas from cities to celebrate the Eid-ul-Fitr festival in packed ferries and boats, sparking fears of a deadly upsurge in Covid-19 cases.

The Muslim-majority nation celebrated one of Islam’s holiest festivals on Friday, marking the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. It is customary for people to head to their home villages to celebrate the feast with family and relatives. 

An extremely overcrowded ferry at Shimulia in Munshiganj district of Bangladesh on May 12 as millions in the Muslim-majority country head home to celebrate Eid-ul-Fitr. (Photo: Piyas Biwas)

The rush reached its peak on Wednesday and five people died in a stampede on an extremely overcrowded ferry at Shimulia jetty in Munshiganj district.  Bangladesh has been in lockdown since April 5 to curb rising cases and deaths from the second wave of the pandemic.

The country of more than 160 million has registered 770,000 cases and over 12,000 cases so far.

In India, the Covid surge continues to haunt the conscience of the nation as shortage of hospital beds, lack of oxygen and crematorium space is now compounded by hundreds of corpses abandoned and found floating in Hindu holy river of Ganges. The nation of more than 1.3 billion has registered 23.7 million cases and about 258,000 deaths. 

As more than 300,000 people have been getting infected and thousand dying daily across India for almost a month, medical facilities are overwhelmed with a shortage of staff, oxygen and medicines. Policy analysts cite lack of planning and an early declaration of victory over the pandemic as the main reason for the condition.

Relatives mourn as they arrive for the cremation of their loved one who died due to Covid-19 at a crematorium in New Delhi on May 11. (Photo: AFP)

However, this has not deterred the Church groups in India from continuing their life-saving efforts. 

Raipur Archdiocese in the capital of Chhattisgarh state is reaching out to as many people as possible through neighborhood networks to provide food and medical help, including arranging hospitals and getting patients admitted. Rajkot Diocese in Gujarat, one of the worst-hit states, has been equipping village clinics with facilities and medicine to attend to Covid patients. Critical patients are referred to nearby government-designated hospitals.

Delhi Archdiocese, also badly hit by the pandemic, has been supporting families who lost members and distributing raw food to poor families through parishes to ensure they do not suffer because of job losses.

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