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Human rights issues dominate Asia

Religious and ethnic minorities continue to face discrimination and abuses across Asia, even as Catholics in Pakistan and Vietnam sought divine intercession from Mother Mary to overcome the Covid-19 pandemic.

Published: September 17, 2021 11:25 AM GMT

Updated: September 17, 2021 11:34 AM GMT

Another church has come under military attack in conflict-torn Myanmar. The Johnson Memorial Baptist Church in Chin state of western Myanmar was attacked with artillery shelling on Tuesday.

The windows and the roof of the church were damaged, but no casualty was reported. Earlier four churches have been attacked, leaving several Christians dead. The latest attack came after fighting between the military and local militia groups intensified in Chin state, forcing thousands to flee their homes.

The military carried out airstrikes and heavy shelling on Lungler village in Thantlang township and people fled to nearby villages to seek refuge. About 1,800 villagers have fled to neighboring Mizoram state in northeastern India.

An estimated 16,000 people from Myanmar have crossed into four Indian border states – Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh – since the February military coup. In Chin state, more than 16,700 people have been displaced amid fresh fighting since May.

Human rights issues dominate Asia

Members of British Myanmar community and their supporters demonstrate in Parliament Square against the military government in London on September 11, 2021. (Photo: Wiktor Szymanowicz / Anadolu Agency via AFP)

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A Catholic bishop sparked a controversy after he warned the faithful against “narcotic jihad” and “love jihad” in his diocese in southern Indian Kerala state.

During a recent homily, Bishop Joseph Kallarangattu of Pala Diocese said Muslims terrorists engage in so called “loved jihad,” in which they lure non-Muslim women into marriage and to terrorism. They also run drug rackets aiming to destroy non-Muslims, he said calling it narcotic jihad.

Bishop Joseph Kallarangattu of Pala giving his homily at the nativity celebration of Mother Mary on Sept. 8 in a church in Kerala's Palai diocese. (Photo: supplied)

The bishop’s homily went viral on social media, sparking an outcry from Muslims. About one thousand Muslim men marched on the streets in protests and attempted to storm the bishop’s house in Pala before police foiled their attempts.

Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan criticized the bishop saying “no religion promotes narcotics” and “people in responsible positions should not create a religious divide.”

Christians in Pakistan braved the corona virus and monsoon rains to attend a popular Catholic pilgrimage. The 72nd Catholic pilgrimage of “Mother Mary, Queen of Mercy” was held at St. Mary and St. Joseph's Church in Mariamabad, a village in Punjab province between September 10 and 12 last week.

The pilgrimage attracts more than 1.2 million people from all over Pakistan every year. The torrential rains, which brought flooding and mudslides, destroying many homes and killing at least 17 people, did have some impact on the turnout.

A bus leaving Youhanabad, Lahore for the 72nd pilgrimage to the National Marian Shrine in Mariamabad village, Punjab province on Sept. 12. (Photo: Kamran Chaudhry)

But many pilgrims who managed to make it, chanted “Praise Holy Mother Mary” as they joined the tableaus, healing prayers, sharing of testimonies, rosary recitations and supplications against religious persecution.

Mariamabad village is designated as the National Marian Shrine and attracts both Christians and Muslims. In 1882, Bishop Emmanuel Won Dan Bush and a priest bought 150 acres of land from the attorney-general of India to create the Catholic village.

An inter-faith group and an inter-church body in Malaysia have voiced alarm over a bill they say is against the interests of non-Muslims in the country.

Religious Affairs Minister YB Ustaz Ahmad Marzuk Shaary recently announced that the federal government was drafting four new sharia laws including the Control and Restriction on the Propagation of Non-Muslim Religions’ Bill. The Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism said the proposed minorities’ bill is against Malaysia’s constitution that does not allow for Theocratic Islamic State for Malaysia.

This handout photo from Malaysia's Department of Information taken and released on September 13, 2021 shows Malaysia's King Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah (R) receiving documents from Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob (C) during the opening ceremony of the 14th parliamentary sessions in Kuala Lumpur.

Association of Churches, an inter-church group based in Sarawak state, noted that any attempt to introduce sharia bills affecting non-Muslim religions directly contravenes the very spirit of the formation of Malaysia.

The bill was reportedly withheld in the face of opposition but the minister’s statement has not been withdrawn yet. Religious minorities such as Christians face increasing intolerance amid creeping radicalism within powerful segments of the Malay Muslim community that want Malaysia to be an Islamic state.

Philippines is facing strong condemnation for being the worst country in Asia where environmentalists are killed with impunity.

UK-based Global Witness group has released a report documenting violence against defenders of the environment across the world in 2020. The report says the highest attacks on environmental activists were recorded last year.

Campaigners from international rights watchdog Global Witness, along with indigenous peoples, campaigners and their supporters, holds up a newly released human rights report during a press conference in Manila in this file photo.(Photo: AFP)

Over half of the total attacks occurred in three countries – Colombia, Mexico and the Philippines. Colombia ranked first with 64 killings followed by 30 in Mexico and 29 in the Philippines. Global Witness said under President Rodrigo Duterte, the Philippines has seen a dramatic increase in rights violations as well as violence against environmental defenders.

Outspoken Filipino priest Father Flavie Villanueva said the group’s criticism and call for justice would fall on deaf ears as the government itself was responsible for the killings of environmental defenders. 

An Indonesian court has postponed the trial of a Catholic brother who faces charges of sexually abusing children.

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The trial of Lukas Lucky Ngalngola, also known as Brother Angelo, at the Depok District Court in West Java province was postponed on Wednesday after defense lawyers failed to show up. The judges deferred the trial to September 22.

A court in Indonesia has postponed the sex abuse trial of Lukas Lucky Ngalngola, also known as Brother Angelo, because his lawyer failed to show up. (Photo: Unsplash)

Brother Angelo claims he is a member of the Blessed Sacrament Missionaries of Charity, an obscure order based in the Philippines. He is accused of sexually abusing three boys at an orphanage he founded in the City of Depok.

The victims first reported the case to local police in September 2019. Brother Angelo was arrested but released three months later due to an incomplete probe report. He was rearrested this year.

Thailand’s authoritarian government has continued its crackdown on pro-democracy protesters including children triggering fears of child abuse.

On Monday, police arrested at least 12 people including a 12-year-old boy who attended a street protest in capital Bangkok. The boy was riding a bicycle to check on the protests when police detained him and charged him for violating a curfew aimed at curbing the coronavirus.

A protester launches a flaming projectile towards police during a demonstration calling for political reforms and the resignation of Thailand's Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha over the government's handling of the Covid-19 coronavirus crisis in Bangkok on Sept 12. (Photo: AFP)

The boy is the youngest to be arrested amid ongoing protests by school, college and university students demanding democracy and reform of the country’s monarchy. Scores of young Thais, including several minors, have been detained and charged with various crimes from sedition to royal defamation over the past year, sparking condemnation from rights groups including United Nations Human Rights Committee.

If convicted, they could face decades in prison for violation of Thailand’s repressive royal defamation law that carries a prison sentence of up to 15 years per count.

Church leaders in Vietnam have encouraged Catholics to seek divine intercession from Mother Mary to overcome the lethal outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Bishop Joseph Dang Duc Ngan celebrated a special Mass for Catholic families at the Sacred Heart Cathedral in Da Nang Diocese of central Vietnam on Saturday to mark the 136th anniversary of the apparition of Mary in Tra Kieu parish. About 2,300 Catholics attended the event online.

Catholics from Tra Kieu Parish take part in a ceremony to mark the 136th anniversary of a Marian apparition on Sept 11. (Photo: courtesy of trakieu.net)

It is believed Mary appeared to save persecuted Catholics in the late 19th century when countless Catholics were slaughtered. Vietnam has successfully battled earlier bouts of Covid-19.

However, the Delta variant of the virus has wreaked havoc in the country with more than 646,000 cases and over 16,000 deaths so far, forcing the government to impose strict restrictions in the worst-hit areas including Ho Chi Minh City.

Cambodian police have arrested 31 villagers amid ongoing protests over land disputes involving a 1.5 billion US dollars airport project.

The villagers, mostly farmers from Kampong Talong village in Kandal province, were arrested in a violent crackdown on Sunday. Police beat up and dispersed protesters during a demonstration. They have been accused of alleged violence against the authorities.

Police in Cambodia's Kandal province set up roadblocks to prevent villagers from accessing their land, Sept. 7, 2021 (Photo: RFA)

A private Cambodian firm, the Overseas Cambodia Investment Corporation acquired the land of the village three years ago, for the construction of a new airport. The company owner Neak Oknha Pung Khieu Se is a top business tycoon who has close ties to Cambodia’s long-running Prime Minister Hun Sen.

About 300 families of the village have protested against the airport plan after refusing an extremely low compensation package. Media reports say the authorities offered them 8 US dollars per square meter of land whereas the estimated market price is 70-80 US dollars. Recently, the authorities blocked farmers from accessing their rice fields, angering poor villagers.

Rights activists have hailed the London-based Uyghur Tribunal that concluded public hearings to determine whether China’s brutal persecution of Uyghur Muslims amounts to genocide.

The independent tribunal held hearings for eight days in June and September when it heard over 70 witnesses, over 30 researchers and reviewed hundreds of thousands of pages of documents. The tribunal is set to deliver its judgment on December 9 this year.

A group gathers to protest outside the Belgium parliament as MPs vote on a resolution to recognize China's policies towards Uyghurs as "genocide" on July 8, 2021, in Brussels, Belgium. (Photo: Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu Agency via AFP) 

Rights groups say up to one million Uyghurs and other Muslims are imprisoned in detention camps in Xinjiang of China without trial and face serious human rights violations. Amnesty International termed China’s repression of Uyghurs and other Muslims as “crimes against humanity” as they face systematic state-organized mass imprisonment, torture, persecution and deaths.

However, the International Criminal Court (ICC) has refused to prosecute China for crimes against humanity against Uyghurs as China is not a signatory and member of the ICC. 

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