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Southeast Asian nations dismiss Myanmar junta’s ‘peace’ promise

The offer made by junta leader Min Aung Hlaing, which came after he announced a six-month extension to the current state of emergency and execution of four political prisoners, was too little too late, say rights groups.

Published: August 05, 2022 11:05 AM GMT

Updated: August 05, 2022 11:06 AM GMT

Rights groups and politicians from Southeast Asian nations have dismissed promises from Myanmar’s military junta to institute a five-point roadmap for peace in the conflict-ridden nation.

As leaders and diplomats from over 40 countries gathered in Cambodian capital Phnom Penh for the 55th ASEAN Regional Forum, rights groups called on the bloc not to waste time and to act against the military junta.

The junta leader Min Aung Hlaing made the offer for peace shortly after he announced a six-month extension to the state of emergency after the shocking and much-criticized execution of four political prisoners.

ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights has called for “strong and coordinated measures” against Myanmar’s military for ending violence and establishing peace. 

A group of activists shouts slogans demanding to free Japanese citizen Toru Kubota, who is detained in Myanmar, during a rally in front of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Tokyo on July 31

A group of activists shouts slogans demanding to free Japanese citizen Toru Kubota, who is detained in Myanmar, during a rally in front of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Tokyo on July 31. (Photo: Philip Fong/AFP)

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Church leaders and rights activists in India have expressed serious concerns over rising crimes against tribal people and Dalits or former untouchables in the country.

Data from state-run National Crime Records Bureau shows crimes against tribal people increased 26 percent between 2018 and 2020, while offenses against Dalit people increased by 17 percent.

Dalit leaders and activists in the national capital protest against the alleged rape and murder of a minor Dalit girl, in New Delhi on Aug. 3, 2021. (Photo supplied)

Ajay Kumar Mishra, federal junior minister of home, shared this data in parliament last week. The Indian Catholic Bishops’ Commission for Tribal Affairs termed the report “worrisome and alarming” and called for government and civil society interventions to curb discrimination and violence against the marginalized communities.

Activists say the historically disadvantaged communities continue to be victimized due to their poverty, ignorance of the law and the impunity enjoyed by those committing the crimes.

In the neighboring Pakistan, a politician is facing a backlash from rights activists for calling for expulsion of the minority Ahmadi Muslims from a district in the Punjab province.

Malik Ilyas Awan from the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid filed an application, on Tuesday, for the withdrawal of security provided to Ahmadis in Jauharabad town of Khushab district. The politician argued that Ahmadis cannot hold worship except at designated places and they should be expelled from the district as they do not accept Muhammad as the final prophet of Islam.

A Pakistani man looks at a poster displayed outside a shop "banning Ahmadi customers from entering" at a market in Lahore on Dec. 14, 2015. (Photo: AFP)

The National Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has condemned Awan’s demand and reminded that the state has a constitutional responsibility to protect the rights of the Ahmadi people to life, to live and to profess the faith.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide issued a statement to criticize the mistreatment of Ahmadis in Pakistan. Ahmadis have faced persecution by Islamic extremists for years.  In 1984, President General Zia ul-Haq introduced an ordinance to officially declare Ahmadis “no-Muslims” and terming their activities “anti-Islamic.”

Catholic Church in Singapore has called for safeguarding marriage and families as the government plans to repeal a law that criminalizes same-sex in the city-state.

The Communication Office of Singapore Archdiocese issued a statement, on Wednesday, to re-emphasize the Church’s stand and well-known position, that “marriage is between a man and a woman joined in an intimate community of life and love, where both partners complement each other.”

A family prays at the Buddha-tooth relic temple on the eve of the Lunar New Year of the Tiger in the Chinatown district in Singapore on Jan. 31. (Photo: AFP)

The statement also said that the Archdiocese and its adherents respect the dignity of LGBTQ persons and called on them to respect the Church’s right to maintain its position on marriage.

Section 377A in Singapore is a British colonial-era Penal Code that makes same-sex relationship a punishable offense, warranting up to two years in jail. Singapore government says it aims to repeal the section to legalize same-sex to make the society more inclusive but hinted that it is unlikely to allow same-sex marriage.

A Catholic women’s group in the Philippines has blamed the regime of former President Rodrigo Duterte for misgovernance and corruption that pushed millions of people into poverty.

The Santa Clara Catholic Women’s Group issued a statement on Wednesday regretting that 12.2 million Filipinos felt they had become poorer during the previous administration. The group further pointed out that the Commission on Audit recently flagged the mishandling of about 1.35 billion dollars of pandemic funds during the Duterte regime.

Filipinos queue for free packed meals distributed by Catholic religious order Society of the Divine Word (SVD) in Manila on June 24. (Photo: AFP)

Duterte had stopped an investigation against the misappropriation claiming it was “confusing” the people. The Santa Clara Group reacted after a private agency released a survey that said there was 1.3 percent rise in poverty in the last quarter of 2021.

Official data shows poverty rose from 21.1 percent in 2018 to 23.7 percent in 2021. Some 26.4 million Filipinos were living below the poverty line last year.

Amid renewed restrictions on religious activities including publications in China, a Catholic religious order has expressed concern over a looming shortage of Chinese-language Bibles.

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SBF or the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum of Hong Kong, run by the Franciscans, said the society is running out of its stock of Chinese Bibles due to the unwillingness shown by publishing houses in mainland China. Nanjing Amity Printing has been printing Catholic Chinese Bibles since 1997.

A Christian man holding a Bible. (Photo: AFP)

The press has reportedly said it is unable to print Bibles for “low profit” and to avoid “troubles” from the government. Franciscan Friar Raymond Mary Yeung, a member of the SBF, said that it is hard to find another press as printing Bibles requires certain level of technical skills not easily available.

In 2018, the Chinese Communist Party adopted new regulations on religious affairs that saw a rise in crackdown on religious activities. Religious apps including a Bible app was shut down and Christians have been arrested and jailed for selling religious books such as Bibles.

Tourism operators in Indonesia’s Catholic-majority province of East Nusa Tenggara have started a one-month strike to protest against an entry fee hike at the famed Komodo National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The shutdown started on Monday, two days after 24 tourism operators and associations signed an agreement. The operators termed the government ticket policy “authoritarian” and warned that any operator who violates the pact would face dire consequences.

Rafael Todowela (center), a tourism operator in Labuan Bajo, a tourist town in Indonesia's East Nusa Tenggara province, was among three arrested on Aug. 1 for protesting against a government decision to raise Komodo Park ticket prices. (Photo: YouTube screengrab) 

Tourism operators say high price of tickets would discourage tourists and cause heavy economic loss for local communities. The protests have erupted since the government decided to raise entry ticket prices for the park from 10 US dollars per person to 250 US dollars, citing conservation concerns.

The entry tickets are available only through an online application controlled by a provincial state company. 

Catholic priests and religious in Sri Lanka called on the new government of President Ranil Wickremesinghe to stop ongoing repression of prominent anti-government protesters.

More than 1,600 Catholic priests, nuns and brothers from 23 congregations have signed a statement last Sunday urging the president to listen to the grievances of people in the crisis-hit nation. They also lend their support to ongoing protests and promised to protect those involved.

Sri Lankans shout slogans during a protest in front of the Fort Railway Station in Colombo on July 27 amid worries over the growing repression of public dissent across the nation. (Photo: AFP)

Media reports suggest police have arrested several prominent activists and allegedly obstructed lawyers from meeting them. Police also raided a church allegedly to arrest activist priest Father Amila Jeevantha, a key figure in anti-government protests.

Veranga Pushpika, a journalist and activist, was abducted from a bus in broad daylight by plainclothes men. Police later acknowledged his arrest. 

Catholics in the southern Mekong delta in Vietnam paid tributes to two 19th century Catholics who became martyrs for the faith. Hundreds of pilgrims joined a special Mass to mark the 163 death anniversary of martyrs – Emmanuel Le Van Phung and Peter Doan Cong Quy – at Chau Doc Church in An Giang province, on Sunday.

On the previous day, pilgrims rushed to the church where relics of the two saints are kept.

People in traditional costumes carry relics of martyrs Phung and Quy into Chau Doc Church in Vietnam's southern Mekong delta on July 31. (Photo supplied)

Father Quy, a priest from Bung Parish and Phung, a lay leader, joined together to serve local and foreign Catholics during a period of persecution against Christians. Phung used his home to hide foreign missionaries and native priests and to hold services for Catholics.

Both were arrested on January 7, 1859, imprisoned in the same prison, and killed in Chau Doc on July 31, 1859. Pope Pius X beatified them in 1909 and Pope John Paul II canonized them in 1988.

President Jose Ramos-Horta of Catholic-majority Timor-Leste has urged the citizens to respect and not to discriminate against the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community commonly called LGBT.

In a statement on Wednesday, President Ramos-Horta said the nation must show a model through respect and tolerance to the LGBT community. His statement comes days after the president joined the Pride Parade organized by the LGBT community in the capital Dili.

Timor-Leste’s LGBT community organized a Pride Parade in Dili on July 29. (Photo: Timor-Leste Pride)

Timor-Leste is lauded for its efforts in human rights including LGBT rights, though it has yet to enact any law to protect such vulnerable groups.

Recent surveys found that discrimination and violence by family members and the broader society continue to affect LGBT people. 

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