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Minorities an easy target in Asia

Religious and ethnic minorities are enduring abuses and discrimination in various Asian nations, while Catholics are on the front line of the battle against the raging Covid-19 pandemic.

Published: August 13, 2021 11:30 AM GMT

Updated: August 25, 2021 10:47 AM GMT

In southern part of Bangladesh, police have arrested 11 people over the vandalizing and looting of four Hindu temples and several Hindu shops. A Muslim mob armed with homemade weapons attacked the temples and shops in Shiali village in Khulna district last Saturday.

The attack came after an altercation over the singing of Hindu religious songs by women on the previous night on their way to a Hindu crematorium, which allegedly enraged a cleric of a local mosque. A local Hindu leader filed a case against 25 named and 150-200 unnamed persons accusing them of the attacks.

Rights activists, lawyers, university teachers, former judges and leaders of minority communities decried the violence as shameful and demanded exemplary punishment. There have been similar attacks on religious minorities in Muslim-majority Bangladesh.

In 2012, radical Muslims attacked and destroyed Buddhist temples and houses in Cox’s Bazar and Chittagong districts. In 2016 and 2021, Islamic hardliners attacked Hindu temples and houses in Brahmanbaria and Sunamganj districts. 

Minorities an easy target in Asia

Hindu devotees offer prayers in the Harichand Thakur temple in Orakandi, Bangladesh. Police are investigating attacks on Hindu temples and shops in Khulna district of Bangladesh. (Photo: AFP)

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Authorities in a northern Chinese province have arrested nine leaders and members of a prominent evangelical church that was destroyed with dynamite about three years ago. Police in Linfen in Shanxi province arrested the leaders and members of the Golden Lampstand Church in a public security operation last Saturday. 

Before it was demolished by local authorities in January 2018, the church was one of the largest in China. Its congregation was part of a network of 50,000 members and the church was constructed at an estimated cost of US$2.6 million.

This screengrab shows footage of the demolition of the Golden Lampstand Church in Linfen city in Shanxi province on Jan. 9, 2018. (Photo supplied)

The destruction of the church came less than a month after another Catholic church was demolished in the neighboring province of Shaanxi. The crackdown on churches and Christian groups has intensified since 2018 when the Chinses Communist Party adopted repressive new regulations on religious affairs.

Despite the destruction of their church in 2018, the members of the church network continued to gather and pray indoors and in public, triggering further crackdowns and arrests.

Rights activists have welcomed a decision by the Indonesian military to end the long-held discriminatory and degrading practice of “virginity tests” for female recruits.

Army chief General Andika Perkasas announced new procedures for the recruitment of male and female applicants including medical examinations on Tuesday.

Female recruits in the Indonesian armed forces and police have been subjected to so-called 'virginity tests' for years. (Photo: Ryan Dagur)

He also declared the end to vaginal and cervical examinations. Those declared not a virgin were rejected.

Rights activists have decried the practice that existed for more than five decades and strongly campaigned against it, terming it unscientific, degrading, abusive and traumatic. Some also equated the test as a form of injustice to women. 

Catholics in parishes in Vietnam are braving bad weather to harvest vegetables and roots in gardens and farms to deliver to other provinces during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Most of the 1,400 members of Thanh Mau Parish in the Central Highlands cultivate crops and vegetables for a living.

Farmers harvest vegetables in Da Lat to send to people in Covid-19 epicenters at Ho Chi Minh City and neighboring provinces in Vietnam. (Photo supplied)

They carry the produce in tractors and farm trucks on slippery narrow roads to Thanh Mau churchyard, where they clean and arrange them before transporting them at night to parishes in the Covid-19 epicenters of Ho Chi Minh City and its neighboring provinces of Dong Nai and Binh Duong. The parish sends four to seven tonnes of vegetables daily to various parishes.

Catholic charity Caritas in Da Lat Diocese has supplied some 200 tonnes of raw food to parishes, convents, orphanages and houses for workers in various provinces since July. 

Thousands of Rohingya Muslims who fled persecution in Myanmar and resettled in Malaysia continue to face discrimination and hostility. Rights activists revealed their plight during a recent workshop organized by the Catholic Action Network of Malaysia.

Activists said many Rohingya refugees had lost work and income and were suffering miserably. They also pointed out that most Rohingya in Malaysia lack proper documentation and end up being denied welfare services, livelihoods, education for children, health services and accommodation.

A Rohingya family eating their meal at their house in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. (Photo: AFP)

Rohingya refugees are often reluctant to go out to buy daily essentials and seek jobs, while Rohingya women face sexual harassment and body shaming. Even government officials, politicians and development groups are unwilling to work with the refugees. The refugees are also targeted with hostility, hate speech and fake news.

According to the UN Refugee Agency, Malaysia has almost 178,000 registered refugees and asylum seekers including nearly 103,000 Rohingya. 

Cambodia is poised to hold the last public hearing for the last surviving henchman of the Pol Pot regime responsible for the genocide of up to 2.3 million people between 1975 and 1979.

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The 90-year-old Khieu Samphan is expected to deliver his final defense in his appeal against convictions for genocide and crimes against humanity next week. A bench of Cambodian and international judges will then deliberate on his appeal at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia and then finalize its legal work which began more than 15 years ago.

Former Khmer Rouge head of state Khieu Samphan stands during his verdict in court at the ECCC in Phnom Penh on Nov. 16, 2018. (Photo: ECCC via AFP)

The court earlier convicted the former commandant of the S21 torture and extermination center, Kaing Guek Eav, commonly known as Duch, and former “brother number two” Nuon Chea. Both died in jail.

Other accused including Pol Pot’s former foreign minister Ieng Sary, his wife Ieng Thirith and former military chief Ta Mok also died behind bars before the verdicts were reached. Dictator Pol Pot died under house arrest in 1998 shortly after the tribunal was set up.

Thailand’s authoritarian regime of former army chief Prayut Chan-o-cha has emerged as one of the worst violators of free speech in cyberspace.

Comparitech ranked Thailand among countries where internet freedom is extremely restricted. The ranking shows the internet in Thailand is 73 percent restricted. The ranking is a disgraceful fall for a country once seen as relatively free in Southeast Asia. 

Thai commuters check their phones as they wait for an underground train in Bangkok. The internet is facing increasing censorship in the Southeast Asian nation. (Photo: AFP)

Thailand has faced strong criticism from rights groups and United Nations bodies for heavy crackdowns on political opposition and pro-democracy protesters. Dozens of politicians and pro-democracy activists have been charged under a repressive royal defamation law for calling for reform of the monarchy and political system and even for criticizing the regime’s disastrous response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

In the latest case, nine pro-democracy activists were arrested last Sunday for joining a protest demanding the release of 32 other activists.

The Catholic Church in Myanmar has stepped up efforts to assist the poor amid the Covid-19 pandemic as the nation reels from the fallout of political unrest, economic crisis and poverty.

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Myanmar has urged all 16 dioceses to open care centers, spread awareness about the pandemic and to reach out to needy people with food and other essential supplies. Churches across the country have already converted seminaries, parish halls, pastoral centers and boarding hostels into Covid care centers to accommodate people of all ethnicities and religions.

A woman and her daughter collect a pack of eggs in Yangon amid the Covid-19 crisis in Myanmar. (Photo: AFP)

Catholic bishops have also launched a two-week national prayer campaign, inviting people of all religions in Myanmar to pray together to overcome the pandemic. The military-ruled country has been struggling amid a deadly third wave in recent weeks.

Officially, it has recorded over 341,000 infections and more than 12,400 deaths. However, health experts believe the actual number of fatalities is much higher. 

As millions of tribal people in India marked the International Day for World’s Indigenous Peoples on Monday, tribal leaders and activists vowed to continue their fight for equal rights and dignity in society.

Activists recalled the great contributions of the late Jesuit priest Father Stan Swamy, who fought for the lawful rights of tribal people in eastern India for decades.

Tribal women perform a traditional dance during the celebration of the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples in Tripura on Aug. 9. (Photo supplied)

Tribal people constitute 8.6 percent of India’s 1.3 billion population and have sizable numbers in states like Jharkhand, Arunachal Pradesh, West Bengal, Sikkim, Meghalaya, Tripura, Madhya Pradesh, Manipur and Mizoram. India supported the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007 on condition that all Indians were considered indigenous. The move robbed tribal people of special status.

Despite special provisions for education and employment, most tribal people in India face marginalization, discrimination and exclusion. 

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UCA News Catholic Dioceses in Asia
UCA News Catholic Dioceses in Asia