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Philippine Church, rights group raise alarm on civilians killings

Killing of civilians by communist insurgents and rights abuses during anti-insurgency operations in the Negros island have triggered concerns

Published: May 17, 2024 11:11 AM GMT

Updated: May 17, 2024 11:12 AM GMT

The killing of eight civilians by communist insurgents and rights abuses against civilians during anti-insurgency operations in the central Philippines sparked uproar from the Catholic Church and rights groups.

The New People’s Army, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, has reportedly admitted killing of the civilians amid fighting with security forces in Nergos Island. The civilians were accused of being government spies.

Meanwhile, the military has been accused of violating the human rights of residents and suspected rebels during the operations. The Communists have waged Maoist-inspired guerrilla war since the late 1960s, the longest-running insurgency in the world.

Bishop Gerardo Alminaza of San Carlos issued a pastoral letter calling for tolling of church bells across the island “as a prayer for the end of violence.” The communist insurgency has reportedly claimed at least 40,000 lives over five decades.

This photo taken on July 30, 2017 shows guerrillas of the New People's Army (NPA) in formation in the Sierra Madre mountain range, located east of Manila.

This photo taken on July 30, 2017 shows guerrillas of the New People's Army (NPA) in formation in the Sierra Madre mountain range, located east of Manila. (Photo: AFP)

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An acute shortage of water due to prolonged drought, record hot weather and water-borne diseases left at least 83 people dead and scores ill in about 50 villages of western Myanmar.

People in villages across Rakhine state have made desperate appeals for help as water sources, including ponds and canals, have dried up due to extremely hot weather.

People in Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine state in western Myanmar, queue for water and rice on May 17, 2023, in the aftermath of Cyclone Mocha's landfall. (Photo: AFP)

Many of the deaths were reported in camps for internally displaced people uprooted by ongoing conflict between the military and rebels. Most of the camp residents are ethnic Rohingya Muslims. They have been mainly displaced in Rakhine due to fighting between junta forces and rebels from the Arakan Army.

Most camps do not have primary healthcare, including doctors and sanitation facilities. Rohingya are viewed as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and denied citizenship and fundamental rights in Myanmar, where they have faced persecution at the hands of the military and Rakhine Buddhists for generations.

At least 41 people were killed and 17 were missing following flash floods and cold lava flow from a volcano in western Indonesia. Heavy rain caused large volcanic rocks to roll down one of Indonesia's most active volcanos into two districts on Sumatra Island earlier this week while flooding inundated roads, homes, and mosques.

Rescuers were searching for 17 still missing, three in Agam district and 14 in Tanah Datar, both worst flood-hit areas and home to hundreds of thousands of people.

A damaged area is seen after flash floods and cold lava flow from a volcano in Tanah Datar, West Sumatra, on May 12. (Photo: AFP)

Roads in the districts were turned into rivers, with mosques and houses damaged. Heavy rains inundated neighborhoods with muddy flood waters and swept vehicles into a nearby river, while volcanic ash and large rocks rumbled down Mount Marapi.

Indonesia is prone to landslides and floods during the rainy season, blamed on deforestation caused by logging.

India’s rights group United Christian Forum has called on government officials in northeastern Assam state to stop a police survey of churches, saying it has caused panic among community members.

In a memorandum on Tuesday, the group said it objects to the “unprecedented random collection of data of churches and their adherents” by police over the past week in Karbi Anglong district in Assam.

Indian Catholics pray at the Christ the King festival procession in New Delhi on Nov. 20, 2022. (Photo supplied)

The forum cited that in December 2022 a similar clandestine survey was undertaken by police to gather details of Christians, their churches, institutions, and alleged religious conversions. Hardliners accuse Christians of religious conversion, which Church leaders have dismissed outright as a false propaganda.

In February this year, a radical Hindu group demanded that all Christian symbols from missionary schools should be removed and Catholic priest and religious must wear traditional Indian attires instead of religious habits.

Deadly protests over rising living costs in Pakistan-administered Kashmir were called off after the organizers accepted a government offer of financial aid on Tuesday.

Four people including one policeman were killed and more than 100 people were wounded in violence as protesters clashed with police and paramilitary troops known as Rangers for four days. More than 10,000 people turned out on the streets to demand reduction of flour and electricity prices.

Awami Action Committee's Kashmiris carry the coffins of slain protestors during the funeral in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) on May 14. (Photo: AFP)

The government has reportedly agreed to slash the prices and provide 86 million US Dollar equivalent financial aid package. Protest organizers said this was a victory for people as their demands were met.

Kashmir is a Himalayan region divided between India and Pakistan, which both claim in full. Both nations have fought two wars over the territory, split by a de facto border known as the Line of Control.

A Bangladeshi court handed down five years jail to a Tithi Sarkar, Hindu activist who was accused of defaming Islam through a post on Facebook. She was sentenced by Dhaka Cyber Crime Tribunal on Monday for hurting religious sentiments of Muslims and violating the country’s Cyber Security Act in 2020.

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The law is criticized for being repressive and seen as a tool to muzzle dissent. Sarkar was arrested in October 2020 and spent 22 months in jail before securing bail. She was suspended from state-run Jagannath University in the capital Dhaka, and her membership with various organizations was revoked.

Hindus gather to offer prayers during the Durga Puja festival at a temple in Dhaka, on Oct. 3, 2022. Activists say conservative Muslims have targeted Hindus with a series of religious defamation cases in the past few years. (Photo: Munir-uz-Zaman/AFP)

Currently, eight cases of religious defamation are pending in the cyber tribunal and since it was set up not a single case was filed for defaming faiths other than Islam.

At least 40 cases of hurting religious sentiments of Muslims were filed mostly against Hindu people from 2017 to 2021.

Thousands of villagers in central China have resorted to mass street protests including the blockade of a national highway demanding repeal of recent reforms in traditional funeral practices.

The protests have rocked Suizhou city in Hubei province since the first week of May as rural villagers vented their anger against new funeral and cemetery rules. The Communist authorities in several parts of China have recently introduced a mandatory cremation policy, in most cases with little or no respect for ancestral traditions.

A Chinese woman burns incense to pay respect to her ancestors ahead of the tomb sweeping festival in this undated image. (Photo: AFP)

The new regulations require all residents to bury their dead relatives in the newly constructed public cemeteries for a fee. The regulations also apply to rural and mountainous areas where the dead are traditionally buried in village cemeteries and families practice ancestor worship.

Villagers in Suizhou said they see the new policy as an attack on traditional funeral practices that the government considers superstition and an unnecessary economic burden on the community still recovering from the impacts of COVID-19 pandemic. 

New York-based rights watchdog Human Rights Watch has criticized Thai government for failing to end harassment, surveillance and physical violence of activists and dissidents seeking refuge in the country.

In a new report released on Thursday, the group said there had been a surge in repression directed at foreign nationals in Thailand in the past decade, with authorities trading foreign dissidents for exiled critics of the Thai government.

This handout photo from the Royal Thai Government taken and released on May 15 shows Thailand's Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin (right) walking with President of FIFA Gianni Infantino at a gala dinner ahead of the FIFA Congress in Bangkok. (Photo: AFP)

It said the governments responsible for the surge in repression include China, Bahrain and member countries of the ASEAN regional bloc. In a number of cases, Thai officials arrested asylum seekers and refugees and deported them to their home countries without due process.

The report analyzed 25 cases that took place in Thailand between 2014 and 2023 and urged Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin to immediately order a full and transparent investigation into the issue.

A latest report by the USIP or United States Institute for Peace named Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos as the epicenter of human trafficking and organized crime in Asia.

Released on Monday, the report was scathing of all three countries which are synonymous with human trafficking, slave labor, scam compounds and illegal gambling as Southeast Asian countries stole almost 64 billion US Dollars a year from around the world.

One of a group of six Malaysian men (right) rescued from a human trafficking syndicate in Myanmar is given a hug upon arrival at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang in this December 21, 2022 photo. The men said they were duped by the syndicate to work in Myanmar with promises of high salaries through job advertisements on social media. (Photo: AFP)

It said ample evidence suggested that protection of the scamming industry is now of strategic interest “to the ruling elites in Myanmar, Cambodia, and other countries” in the region due to the industry’s profitability and the nature of state involvement.

The report stated that the funds stolen by these criminal syndicates based in Mekong countries likely exceeds 43.8 US Dollars billion a year — nearly 40 percent of the combined formal GDP of Laos, Cambodia, and Myanmar. 

A group of Catholic nuns in Macau has started distributing two specially designed travel stamps to tourists flocking to the former Portuguese colony.

The Daughters of St. Paul nuns introduced the stamps recently to cater to increasing tourist interest in collecting them.

Two Daughters of St. Paul nuns pose for a photo with two newly designed travel stamps in their bookstore in Macau. (Photo: Jornal O-Clarim)

The nuns say these exquisite stamps not only serve as souvenirs but also act as a means of evangelization, allowing the sisters to engage in conversations with visitors and share God’s love.

An increasing number of Chinese visitors have been coming to their bookstore asking for such stamps.

According to the Macau government's Statistics and Census Service, as of December 2023, Macau recorded more than 2.9 million visitor arrivals.

About 67 percent were from mainland China, 23 percent from Hong Kong, and 10 percent from other parts of the world.

The stamps designed by the nuns feature the iconic Ruins of St. Paul’s, Macau’s well-known historic landmark and Macau's cathedral. 

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Trafficking is one of the largest criminal industries in the world, only outdone by drugs and arms trafficking, and is the fastest-growing crime today.
Victims come from every continent and are trafficked within and to every continent. Asia is notorious as a hotbed of trafficking.
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