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Indian govt is targeting, silencing critics, says global rights group

As Indians brace for national elections, the ruling Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party is accused of using draconian laws to curtail civic freedoms

Published: April 19, 2024 11:31 AM GMT

Updated: April 19, 2024 11:32 AM GMT

Rights group Civicus Monitor has strongly criticized the Indian government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi for undermining democracy and curtailing civic spaces.

In a report released Wednesday, the group said the ruling Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janta Party or BJP has been cracking down on free speech and dissent through restrictive laws ahead of the national election that began on Friday. Modi and BJP are seeking a third consecutive term in the election to be held in phases until June 1.

The rights group says under the Modi government India has become more intolerant and increased the use of restrictive laws to crack down on civil society, human rights defenders, and independent media.

Rights activists have slammed Modi's regime for the use of controversial laws including the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act, and the Citizenship Amendment Act as tools for judicial harassment of thousands of individuals and organizations. 

A policeman stands in front of protesters during a nationwide strike called by farmers in Mumbai, India, on Dec. 8, 2020.

A policeman stands in front of protesters during a nationwide strike called by farmers in Mumbai, India, on Dec. 8, 2020. (Photo: Indranil Mukherjee/AFP)

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Sri Lankans, cutting across faiths and ethnicities, paid tributes to A.T. Ariyaratne, the award-winning founder of the nation’s largest non-government organization.

Ariyaratne who founded the Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement, a humanitarian organization based on Buddhist teachings passed away at the age of 93 at a private hospital in the capital Colombo on Tuesday.

A.T. Ariyaratne set up Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement, the nation’s largest non-governmental organization. (Photo: Supplied)

In the past decades, the organization he founded has built 5,000 preschools, health centers, libraries, industrial units, and solar projects among other things. As part of the movement, Buddhists, Christians, Muslims, and Hindus collaborate in 15,000 villages to enhance social life and development.

For his remarkable contributions, Ariyaratne received the Ramon Magsaysay Award in 1969, the King Baudouin Award for International Development in 1982, the Niwano Peace Prize in 1992, and the Mahatma Gandhi Peace Prize in 1996.

Two Christian groups in Nepal have strongly criticized a government order that allegedly seeks to curb religious activities aimed at the promotion of religions and religious conversions.

In a joint statement last Friday, the Nepal Christian Society and National Churches Fellowship of Nepal blasted the government saying a recent circular targeted the Christian community and infringed on its constitutional right to freedom of religion. The groups regretted that despite being a secular state, religious minorities, particularly Christians, are targeted for discrimination, violence, and persecution.

A devotee performs a prayer ritual in front of the sculpture of a Hindu god that was reinstalled in Patan on the outskirts of Kathmandu in this file image. (Photo: Prakash Mathema/AFP)

The reaction came after the Federal Ministry of Home Affairs issued the circular to all 77 district offices, warning them about various individuals including foreigners and organizations holding religious conferences, gatherings, and orientation programs in some districts and to take immediate action.

The ministry did not specify any religion or religious groups in the order. However, Christians alleged it is related to recent incidents involving Hindu hardliners who accuse Christians of illegal religious conversion. 

A more than a century-old Catholic church in Indonesia made headlines last week after it offered space to Muslims to conduct Eid prayers. The move was hailed for boosting interfaith harmony and brotherhood in the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation.

Hundreds of Muslims prayed in the courtyard of Kayutangan Sacred Heart parish church in Malang, East Java province, on Eid-ul-Fitr festival last Wednesday. The Church authorities lent a helping hand as the nearby Grand Jami Mosque could not accommodate the festival prayer gathering.

Muslims conduct prayers on the premises of Kayutangan Sacred Heart church in Malang on the occasion of Eid on April 10. (Photo: facebook)

Catholic nuns, seminarians, and lay people helped Muslims organize the prayer program and greeted them later.

The Kayutangan church was founded in 1905 by Jesuit priest Father G.D.A. Jonckbloet during the Dutch colonial rule. It is among Malang's 32 cultural heritage buildings and popular tourist destinations.

The Philippine government has been negotiating with the Iranian authorities to ensure the safe return of four Filipino seafarers captured with 21 other nationalities on board the Portuguese-flagged MCS Aries ship captured by Iranian forces.

The ship, allegedly owned by a company linked to Israeli businessman Eyal Ofer, was captured in the Strait of Hormuz by the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps Special Naval Force last Saturday. The Department of Migrant Workers said it has been working to ensure the safety and well-being as well as work on the release of the seafarers.

Personnel of the Philippines' Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) visited and assured of the government's support to the families of the four Filipino seafarers who were on board a ship that was captured by the Iranians on April 13. (Photo from OWWA)

A new threat of war between Iran and Israel emerged following an escalation in the confrontations between the two countries in recent weeks.

Iran has fired hundreds of rockets and missiles in retaliation for Israel’s recent killing of top Iranian military commanders in Syria. 

The Vatican’s secretary for relations with states Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher has said Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin will visit Vietnam soon. Richard Gallagher made the remarks as he completed his six-day visit to the communist nation last Sunday.

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The relationship between the Vatican and Vietnam has made remarkable progress in recent years. Gallagher also reiterated that Pope Francis is eager to visit Vietnam and particularly local Catholics.

Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher greets local Catholics after a Mass at Notre Dame Cathedral in Vietnam on April 13. (Photo: UCA News)

During his stay in the Southeast Asian nation, Gallagher met with Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh and other officials and presided over Masses in Hanoi, Hue, and Ho Chi Minh City.

Gallagher said the government is impressed with the enormous contribution of the Church to the well-being of local people, especially during the pandemic.

Dr. Hkalam Samson, a former head of the Kachin Baptist Convention, was among 3,303 prisoners released on Wednesday in a general amnesty by the junta in conflict-torn Myanmar. Samson was released from prison in the Kachin state capital Myitkyina after spending 16 months behind bars.

The 65-year-old ethnic Kachin leader is a well-known humanitarian activist and advocate for religious freedom. He was secretary and president of the KBC for 12 years and is still associated with it as an adviser.

Family members greet prominent ethnic Kachin Baptist leader Dr. Hkalam Samson after he was released from a prison in the Kachin state capital Myitkyina in northern Myanmar on April 17. (Photo: KBC Kachin Facebook page)

He was sentenced to six years in prison in April last year on unlawful association, defaming the state, and terrorism charges. The junta-controlled media said the prisoners were freed in a Burmese New Year amnesty.

Watchdog groups said a few of those freed, about 3 percent, were political prisoners. The junta also released 9,652 prisoners on Jan. 4, for Burmese Independence Day, but few political prisoners were among them.

The Catholic Church in Singapore has cautioned people against individuals and groups posing as agents connected to the ticketing process for the upcoming visit of Pope Francis to the city-state in September.

In a public advisory released on Monday, the Archdiocese of Singapore urged the public to “trust only official websites for information on the papal visit and Mass.”

People gather for a photograph next to the Merlion statue at Marina Bay waterfront in Singapore on March 18, 2024. (Photo: AFP)

The archdiocese said it has received reports of individuals or groups attempting to acquire personal information by misrepresenting themselves as being associated with the ticketing process for the Papal Mass.

Pope Francis’ visit to Singapore from Sept. 11-13 will be the last leg of his Asia tour this year. He will be in Indonesia from Sept. 3 to 6, Papua New Guinea from Sept. 6 to 9, and Timor-Leste from Sept. 9 to 11.

Cambodia has deported the first batch of 700 suspected Chinese cyber scammers arrested in the southern port city of Sihanoukville after two joint operations in March by local and Beijing-backed law enforcement agencies.

Some 130 people were quietly deported through Phnom Penh Airport last Saturday. Public security authorities are expected to extradite more Chinese suspects in batches.

This photo taken on Sept. 25, 2022, shows pedestrians walking past a casino building previously shut down by the police, in Sihanoukville in Preah Sihanouk province. Dozens of casinos sprang up in Sihanoukville following Chinese investment, making the city a hub for gamblers and drawing in international crime. (Photo: AFP) 

The 700 were arrested at the Thmor Yeak Beach Resort and Chan Krasnaa Resort and followed a similar crackdown on Chinese nationals, at the behest of Beijing, in Laos and Myanmar.

The crackdown came after Cambodia faced strong criticism for being too soft on organized crime like human trafficking. The United Nations reported that about 100,000 people have been forced to carry out billion-dollar online scams from Cambodia. 

Catholic bishops in South Korea have urged the government to make the lives and safety of its citizens “its top priority,” to prevent tragedies like the Sewol Ferry disaster that claimed 306 lives.

The call was made as the Catholic Church marked the 10th anniversary of the ferry disaster with a Holy Mass at the Sanjeong-dong Cathedral in Gwangju Archdiocese on Monday.

Korean bishops and priests celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Sewol ferry disaster at the Sanjeong-dong Cathedral in Mokpo, Gwangju Archdiocese on April 15. (Photo: news.cpbc.co.kr)

Mass was held a day before the anniversary. The ferry capsized during its voyage from Incheon to Jeju Island on April 14, 2014, killing 306 of its 476 passengers and crew, making global headlines for an apparent lack of maritime safety in the country.

Some 250 victims were high school students. In a statement, Korean bishops emphasized that the government “take steps to prevent such a tragedy from happening again.”

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