UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea Releases 2nd Report

On June 8th, the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea released its second report discussing the human rights situation in Eritrea. The commissioners recommended in the report that the United Nations Security Council refer the situation in Eritrea to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court due to the fact that “Eritrea is not in a position to provide accountability for [its] crimes and violations.”

The 94-page report further details human rights atrocities also recorded in last year’s report, including arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances, torture, and religious persecution.

While from the outside it may appear that Eritreans have religious freedom, it is quite far from the truth. In an attempt to assume complete control of religious activities and teachings, the government only recognizes four religious denominations: Islam, Eritrean Orthodoxy, Catholicism, and Lutheranism. Church leaders are often selected by the government, while sermons and activities are regulated. Other faiths and denominations are forced to meet and worship in secret, and if discovered, face severe consequences amounting to persecution.

This year’s report included the testimony of an individual who faced persecution in Eritrea due to their faith:

“I left Eritrea on 20 January 2016 because I was not able to practice my religion freely and I was detained many times for being a member of [a non-recognised religion]. I was detained the last time on 9 March 2014. We were 58 people, including women and children, worshipping together when the military police stormed the premises and arrested us all. They took us to [the local] police prison. They beat us very badly and many of us sustained injuries. When we arrived at this prison we met 50 other Protestants from [a banned church] detained for practicing their faith […] On 29 March 2014, 11 of us refused to renounce our faith, so were transferred to an underground prison. On 27 April 2014, five persons agreed to renounce their faith and were released after signing documents saying that they were now members of the Eritrean Orthodox Church. On 5 May 2015, we were transferred to a military prison […] In all, we were 108 religious prisoners in this prison. I was beaten once there because I refused to renounce my religion. On 12 November 2015, while working in the garden, I managed to escape. Persecution on religious ground has not improved and people are still being arrested for worshipping. I know that many of those arrested have died in their respective prisons due to torture and pneumonia, for which some have been forbidden proper medical treatment. Protestants detained are only released after denouncing their faith and promising to worship in the Eritrean Orthodox Church.”

On Tuesday, June 21st, the Commission presented this year’s report to the United Nations Human Rights Council. Jubilee Campaign accredited a team of individual’s not only to attend the HRC session, but to host a side-event that discusses the human rights violations occurring in Eritrea through the stories of victims.

Obama Addresses Vietnam’s Lack of Religious Freedom

president-barack-obama in Hanoi

When there is freedom of religion, it not only allows people to fully express the love and compassion that are at the heart of all great religions, but it allows faith groups to serve their communities through schools and hospitals, and care for the poor and the vulnerable.

-President Obama, Hanoi, Vietnam, 5/24/16

In May, President Obama visited Vietnam in an effort to strengthen US-Vietnamese relations. However, he also used his time in the country to address some of its most lacking human rights, including religious freedom. Prior to the president’s trip, Jubilee Campaign and other human rights organizations heavily urged President Obama to make human rights a prioritized topic in Vietnam. During a public speech in Hanoi, he addressed the value human rights would have for the Vietnamese people.

“The United States does not seek to impose our form of government on Vietnam. The rights I speak of I believe are not American values; I think they’re universal values written into the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

…But as a friend of Vietnam, allow me to share my view — why I believe nations are more successful when universal rights are upheld.

…When there is freedom of religion, it not only allows people to fully express the love and compassion that are at the heart of all great religions, but it allows faith groups to serve their communities through schools and hospitals, and care for the poor and the vulnerable. And when there is freedom of assembly — when citizens are free to organize in civil society — then countries can better address challenges that government sometimes cannot solve by itself. So it is my view that upholding these rights is not a threat to stability, but actually reinforces stability and is the foundation of progress.”

Three days prior to President Obama’s arrival, Vietnamese authorities released Father Van Ly who was nearing the end of an 8 year sentence. Obama’s visit prompted his release to come earlier than planned. Ly has spent over 20 years in prison and 15 years of house arrest due to his activism. Over the years, Jubilee Campaign has taken part in continuously advocating for his release. In 2002, Jubilee Campaign organized a visit for Lord David Alton and Congressman Joseph Pitts to investigate the human rights situation of Vietnam. Lord Alton reported on the status of Fr. Ly at the time, “Father Van Ly is serving a fifteen-year prison sentence and during a visit to Hanoi with US Congressman, Joseph Pitts (Rep. Pennsylvania) on behalf of the Jubilee Campaign, I raised his case with Le Quang Vinh, head of the Vietnamese Government Committee on Religion.”

It has been a long road for Fr. Ly. We are thrilled for his release, but we know that this may not be the end of the hardships he faces from the Vietnamese government. The government still continues to discriminate against and detain religious members and activists.

Government officials within Vietnam continue to oppress religious minorities and persecute any expressions calling for more freedom of religion or of democratic values. Crackdowns preceded President Obama’s trip. The family of Vietnamese pastor, Nguyen Cong Chinh, were beaten and mistreated by authorities three times between May 11-13. Chinh’s 18-year-old son was arrested when he tried to protect his mother from the beatings. Tran Thi Hong, Chinh’s wife has described the treatment her family has received as “intolerable.” She too fights for human rights as a member of the Vietnamese Women for Human Rights. Her husband has been in jail since 2012 serving an 11-year sentence. His charge stated that he “falsely accuse[d] Vietnam of suppressing religious freedom” and that he participated in “anti-government activities.”

Human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai is still in prison despite continued pressure put on the Vietnamese government for his release. A Christian who was originally arrested in part for defending persecuted pastors, he was seriously beaten and physically abused during his re-arrest on December 16, 2015. His wife, Vu Minh Khanh, bravely shared her and her husband’s compelling testimony during a US Congressional hearing on May 10. She described the harsh treatment that her husband has received in prison and the denial she’s received from authorities to visit him.

During times like these, it’s important for the body of Christ to encourage one another and stay united in the Lord. If you would like to send Mrs. Khanh a postcard letting her know that you are praying for her and her husband, please email jubilee@jubileecampaign.org and provide us with your name and mailing address. We will then send you a postcard with an encouraging message to sign and send to Mrs. Khanh.

IDP Camps Nigeria 2016

Jubilee Campaign Netherlands traveled to Nigeria and interviewed people staying in IDP (internally displaced persons) camps. They have been displaced from their homes due to violence from Boko Haram, the deadliest terrorist group in the world. Another militant group that has become quite active in Nigeria is the Fulani militants. This group also violently attacks villagers and drives them out of their homes, contributing to the large-scale IDP problem in Nigeria.

Modi Visited DC & Jubilee Campaign Called Out Against India’s Human Rights Abuses

Leading up to and during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Washington DC in June, Jubilee Campaign helped bring attention to the India’s widespread religious freedom violations. Our staff volunteered alongside the Federation of Indian American Christian Organizations (FIACONA) to provide an information booth on the continuous persecution that Christians face in India. This booth informed the general public and staffers in Washington of the abuse that is occurring under Modi’s rule.

Eighty percent of India’s population is Hindu, but it also has a large Muslim minority and smaller minorities of Christians and Sikhs. Modi is the head of  Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is a right-wing political party known for promoting the ideology of “Hinduness.” An environment of intolerance for religious minorities has recently risen under the rule of Modi. There has been a growing number of attacks on Christians from Hindu extremist groups and widespread discrimination from the authorities of local governments.

Protests erupted marking Modi’s 100th and 300th day in office, in which protesters brought attention to the alarming treatment minorities have faced during Modi’s rule. During the protest marking 300 days, which was called “300 DAYS – Documenting Hate and Communal Violence under the Modi Regime,” Christian activists presented a list of 168 incidents of violence and harassment that had occurred against Christians in the past 300 days. They estimated that the list provided only about a tenth of the incidents that had actually occurred. They also shared a large amount of incidents that had victimized Muslims.

Now over a year after the protest of 300 days, the conditions in India have not improved. Jubilee Campaign receives reports on almost a weekly basis of horrendous attacks against Christians. Last week, Hindu extremists attacked an entire Christian village burning the residents’ homes and severely beating them as they ran the Christians out of town.They did this because they felt their gods were mad at them for having Christian neighbors.

There have also been campaigns lead by BJP members of ghar wapsi (“homecoming”), which is an effort to re-convert minority members back to Hinduism. Victims face threats and violence if they resist the forced conversion.

Ironically, Modi has allowed for many states in India to pass laws protecting against forced conversions. The issue with these laws is that they have not been used to stop people from being forced back to Hinduism, such as occurs in the ghar wapsi, but instead have many times been used as a mechanism to target the activities of Christians. There have been various reports of Christians who are arrested for sharing their faith, even though they are not forcing anyone to accept it.

It is clear that Modi’s rule needs major reform. If the intolerant atmosphere against minorities continues, there will be devastating effects on the Christian population and others who do not adhere to the Hindu majority. So far, Modi has been a threat to the large diverse democracy that India is supposed to represent, and Indian Christians and organizations around the world are crying out for Modi to put a stop to the persecution against minorities.

One Sudanese Pastor Released; One Arrested, Two Others Still Detained

Jubilee Campaign rejoices in the release of Pastor Telahoon Nogosi Kassa Rata, a Sudanese pastor who was arrested on December 13, 2015 by the Sudanese Intelligence and Security Service (NISS). With many people praying for him, he was released by authorities on May 10 after 5 months of detainment.
We ask for your continued prayers for two other Sudanese pastors, and another Christian, who all remain in detention. Pastor Kuwa Shamal and Pastor Hassan Abduraheem Kodi Taour were both arrested on December 18, 2015. Pastor Shamal was released on December 21, but expected to report to the NISS office at 8:00AM daily, where he was then retained until midnight. Shamal was discharged from this requirement on January 16. However, he was just recently arrested again by the NISS on May 24.
After his arrest in December, Pastor Taour had been held by the NISS in a high security prison.  Until May he had no access to his family or to a lawyer.
Abdulmonem Abdumawla Issa is a Christian who converted from Islam and is also being held by the NISS. There are concerns that Taour and Issa may be tried for serious crimes including espionage. A trial date has still not been set, but it has been reported that they have been pressured to testify against each other.
We ask that you join Jubilee Campaign in praising the Lord for the release of Pastor Rata and praying for the release of Pastors Shamal and Taour.
We also encourage you to take action on their behalf and write to the Sudanese embassy urging officials to release these men. Your voice can make a difference. Please take a moment to write a letter to the address below showing your support for their release and the protection of their rights.
H.E. Maowia Osman Khalid
Embassy of the Republic of Sudan
2210 Massachusetts Ave.
Washington, D.C. 20008