A Letter from Jubilee Campaign USA/Netherlands

This letter was written in response to the following articles:
http://www.aina.org/news/20160114194252.htm
http://www.aina.org/news/20160112034707.htm

 

To whom this may concern,

Our organisations have been defending Christians across the globe wherever they suffered under persecution. It is an incredibly sad development that so many Syriac-Assyrian and other Christians suffered and continue to suffer in the Middle East, especially in Syria and Iraq. We have been on the forefront in drawing attention to that reality and raising awareness and support for these beleaguered communities. We have always taken the representatives of these communities with utmost seriousness and respect.

We share the grief over every Christian that dies due to the conflict in Syria.

We are however aware that this is not only a religious conflict but also a political one.

In that regard we regret that we need to note that some Assyrian interest organisations have framed a political clash as a religious one. By doing so they apply the religious dimension in such a manner that it contributes to conflict rather than solving it.

It is sad that on January 12th one Syriac Christian lost his life as a member of the Sootoro militia, also known as the Gozarto Protection Force (GPF), in a clash with the Asayish police forces (linked to the predominantly Kurdish YPG). This happened in the city of Qamishli in North-East Syria.

Various Assyrian interest organisations released a statement in which they frame this situation as a clash between Kurds and Syriac Christians. Furthermore they raise the suspicion (without presenting evidence) that the Kurdish YPG was behind the attacks at Christian restaurants in Qamishli on December 30th. Finally they imply that the Kurdish YPG is an Islamic organisation.

This position is misleading and inaccurate.  This statement fails to mention that the Sootoro are part of the Assad regime forces and that they protect regime interests and territory within Qamishli. In that city the Assad regime still controls some quarters, and there have been regularly skirmishes between regime forces and the YPG.

It is critical not to disparage the Kurdish YPG forces, who have served in a peacekeeping role with the support of many Christians in this region.  The YPG protects the areas of the Democratic Self-Administration (DSA) which now stretches across a large part of Northern Syria. To everyone’s benefit and often at great cost of their own lives, the YPG have defeated ISIS forces, who had been spread all along this area. Since 2013 the YPG co-operates with the Christian Syriac Military Council and its policing wing, the Sutoro (which should  not be confused with the Sootoro).  In other words, the YPG and the Sutoro are not in conflict with one another concerning the policing and protection of this region from ISIS.  Furthermore, they co-operate with Arab forces as well in the war against ISIS. The DSA tolerates that the Assad regime maintains some areas within DSA territorry.

These facts alone show that this situation on January 12th cannot be framed as an ethno-religious clash between Kurds and Syriac Christians. These facts make it clear that this was a clash between two different political sides with a sad result. We understand that the Sootoro blocked a road that was needed for and used by both parties. This road is essential for commerce, and its loss would create an unworkable travel routing for access for general purposes.  For this reason, the YPG opposed the blockage, which resulted in the clash.  It is our hope that such differences in opinions in the future would be resolved without escalation, and we call upon all parties to more effectively communicate.

We need to inform the public that many western media who investigated the situation there confirm that the DSA is a secular, multi-ethnic and multi-religious political entity that explicitely rejects ‘Islamism’ and fully implements freedom of religion and human rights. The YPG has been largely cooperative with the DSA, and it is our understanding that in no way is the YPG pursuing an imposition of Islam to the region.  Any implication by the statement that the YPG is seeking an Islamic rule is utterly unfounded.

By purposefully ignoring the context of all of these fundamental facts this political clash is framed as a religious one. We have noted that similar statements have been spread before by these Assyrian interest and allied organisations. We are concerned that the religious dimension here is used as a political instrument under the pretention of persecution of Christians.  Our Assyrian partners disagree with this narrative.

Using the serious persecution of Middle Eastern Christians and the global concern over this issue as a political instrument is a very worrying development. We are worried that through such incorrect and politicised statements the cause of persecuted Christians in the Middle East and elsewhere is seriously harmed.

We ask therefore that these Assyrian interest organisations end their use of the issue of persecution of Christians in this politicised way. It is their freedom to have a different political view than the DSA but this political conflict should not be framed in religious terms. We also encourage them to consider the future of the Syriac people in that region who can only have a future in coexistence with their neighbours.

We encourage both Kurds and Syriac Christians to continue their current co-operation, and we urge Sootoro and YPG to find peaceful solutions for their differences.

Sincerely,

Jubilee Campaign USA

Jubilee Campaign Netherlands

House votes in favor of North Korea Sanctions; letter sent to Senate calling on similar actions

We are excited to announce that yesterday, January 12th, the United States House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed the North Korea Sanctions Enforcement Act (H.R. 757) with a 418 – 2 vote. The press releases below were issued from Congressman Ed Royce’s office and include the Congressman’s floor statement.

Press Release
For Immediate Release
January 11, 2016

Chairman Royce Speaks in Support of North Korea Sanctions

Washington, D.C. – House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) spoke today on the House floor in support of his bipartisan legislation, H.R. 757 the North Korea Sanctions Enforcement Act, to strengthen sanctions against North Korea following its latest reported nuclear test. In his opening remarks, Chairman Royce made clear that North Korea’s nuclear arsenal presents a direct threat to the U.S., and cannot be tolerated.

Below is the text of Chairman Royce’s remarks (as prepared for delivery):

I appreciate Leader McCarthy working with myself and Ranking Member Engel to schedule this legislation for floor consideration.

Last week, North Korea conducted its fourth known nuclear test. The Kim regime has developed increasingly destructive weapons: miniaturized nuclear warheads that fit onto its most reliable missiles, and submarines capable of launching those devices. We cannot stand by and allow North Korea to continue to build an arsenal capable of striking the U.S.

The legislation we consider today, HR 757, is the most comprehensive North Korea sanctions legislation to come before this body. Importantly, HR 757 uses targeted financial and economic pressure to isolate Kim Jong Un and his top officials from the assets they maintain in foreign banks, and from the hard currency that sustains their rule.

These assets are derived in part from illicit activities – like counterfeiting U.S. currency – and selling weapons around the world, and are used to advance Pyongyang’s nuclear program. They also pay for the luxurious lifestyle of the ruling elites, and the continued repression of the North Korean people.

A decade ago, we used financial pressure to target Macao-based Banco Delta Asia for its role in laundering money for North Korea. We cut it off from the U.S. financial system. This led other banks in the region to shun North Korean business, financially isolating the regime. At that time, according to one former top U.S. official, “every conversation [with the North Koreans] began and ended with the same question: ‘When do we get our money back?'”

But this pressure was lifted, prematurely, after Kim Jong il offered to make concessions on its nuclear program – concessions that, ultimately, he never followed through with. What a mistake.

Today, the Obama Administration’s policy of “strategic patience” has failed. A year ago, it promised a “proportional response” to the massive cyberterrorist attack against the United States. But to date, the Administration’s response has been dangerously weak. A mere 18 low-level arms dealers have been sanctioned. Failing to respond to North Korea’s belligerence only emboldens the Kim regime.

Disrupting North Korea’s illicit activities will place tremendous strain on that country’s ruling elite who have so brutalized the people of North Korea. We must go after Kim Jong Un’s illicit activities like we went after organized crime in the United States: identify the network, interdict shipments, and disrupt the flow of money. North Korea, after all, has been called a “Gangster Regime.” Well, this regime is a critical threat to our national security. Under this bill’s framework, anyone laundering money, counterfeiting goods, smuggling, or trafficking narcotics will be subject to significant sanctions.

It is also important to remember the deplorable state of human rights in North Korea. Two years ago, a U.N. “Commission of Inquiry” released the most comprehensive report on North Korea to date, finding that the Kim regime “has for decades pursued policies involving crimes that shock the conscience of humanity.” This bill requires the State Department to use this report’s findings to identify the individuals responsible for these abuses and to press for more ways in which to get information into North Korea.

Mr. Speaker, a return to the strategy of effective financial pressure on North Korea is our best bet to end North Korea’s threat to our South Korean allies, and ultimately, to the American people.

Press Release
For Immediate Release
January 12, 2016

House Votes to Toughen North Korea Sanctions
Washington, D.C. – Hours before President Obama’s last State of the Union address, the House overwhelmingly passed Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce’s (R-CA) North Korea Sanctions Enforcement Act (H.R. 757). The bipartisan bill toughens sanctions against North Korea following its latest reported nuclear test.

On passage of his North Korea sanctions legislation, Chairman Royce said: “The Kim regime’s continued efforts to develop a nuclear arsenal is a direct threat to the United States. Now is not the time for more of the administration’s ‘strategic patience.’ It’s time for action. This bill will help cut off Kim Jong Un’s access to the cash he needs to fund his army, his weapons, and the continued repression of the North Korean people.”

NOTE: A section-by-section summary of the “North Korea Sanctions Enforcement Act” is available HERE.

 

A letter has also been composed calling on the Senate to take similar action. The letter was sent to Senators Corker and Cardin and was signed by many NGO’s and individuals. Thank you to the Jubilee subscribers that signed this letter!

January 14, 2016

The Honorable Robert Corker, Chairman
The Honorable Benjamin Cardin, Ranking Member
Senate Foreign Relations Committee
Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510

Dear Senators Corker and Cardin:

We are writing to urge you to find a prompt bipartisan consensus to pass tough and effective legislation to freeze the assets of Kim Jong-un’s regime, similar to H.R. 757, the North Korea Sanctions Enforcement Act of 2016.
Nearly two years ago, a U.N. Commission of Inquiry reported that ongoing crimes against humanity in North Korea have no “parallel in the contemporary world.” These crimes include “extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence, persecution on political, religious, racial and gender grounds, the forcible transfer of populations, the enforced disappearance of persons and the inhumane act of knowingly causing prolonged starvation.” If Kim Jong-un acts with such disregard for the lives of his own people, we cannot expect him to show any greater regard for ours. Indeed, one year ago, North Korea’s terrorist threats against American moviegoers extended the long arm of its repression to our own towns and communities.

The U.N. Commission recommended that the United Nations impose targeted sanctions on the North Korean leaders responsible for these crimes. Unfortunately, China has blocked U.N. action. This obliges the United States, as a world leader and the steward of the world’s financial system, to act. In October, a U.N. Special Rapporteur “welcome[d] the steps that some Member States have begun to take on a bilateral basis” to impose targeted sanctions against those most responsible for crimes against humanity.

We understand your desire to give the President flexibility in the conduct of international relations, but Congress has an important leadership role in North Korea policy. Sanctions legislation can give the President new tools to bring positive change to the Korean peninsula, just as they were effective in forcing Kim Jong-il back to the bargaining table in 2005. To be effective, however, such legislation must impose mandatory sanctions on the perpetrators of the worst conduct – North Korea’s human rights abuses, censorship, arms and human trafficking, money laundering, and proliferation. To avoid increasing the suffering of the North Korean people, H.R. 757 carefully exempts food and medicine imports from the sanctions, and provides for humanitarian and national interest waivers.

The Senate has yet to act on similar legislation. Over 1,000 constituents representing every state, including Tennessee and Maryland, have signed in support of companion legislation to H.R. 757. In an election year, when members will soon disperse, this may be our last opportunity to act in this Congress. We urge you to meet this historic challenge.
Sincerely,

US- BASED NGO SIGNATORIES

 

Two more pastors arrested in Sudan

Earlier this month we had sent you an update about conditions in Sudan for Christians. Unfortunately, events have happened since. On December 18th, Sudanese security officials arrested two Sudanese pastors in the Khartoum area.

Both pastors, who belong to the Sudan Church of Christ, were arrested from their homes. Reverend Kowa Shamaal and Reverend Hassan Abdelrahim have previously objected the destruction of worship buildings belonging to Sudan Church of Christ, however the reason for their arrest is not officially known. Families of the two pastors have not received information on their whereabouts. 4289b1a2-f266-494e-be26-1445fd26eac0

Christians in Sudan are also asking prayer as Pastor Hafez of Bahri Evangelical Church and Mohaned Mustafa, the church’s lawyer, have been in court this week for their trial. Both men were arrested and briefly detained in July after they protested the government’s unauthorized decision to destroy church property and were charged with “obstructing a public servant in the performance of his duties.”

The trial began on December 14th and on December 22nd the court dismissed the case of Mohaned Mustafa. The court accepted the defense team’s argument that “prosecutors had failed to comply with the legal requirement to obtain Bar Association approval for the filing of a criminal case against a lawyer.”

The trial will continue for Pastor Hafez. He last appeared before the court on December 23rd, however we are waiting for an update on the trial.

Please join Jubilee Campaign in praying for the release and safety of Reverend Shamaal and Reverend Abdelrahim. Please also pray for the court to drop the charges against Pastor Hafez, and for the Christians in Sudan to be protected.

To read more on the story, visit:

http://us6.campaign-archive1.com/?u=7ec6d7eb2533a90581f839110&id=bbc0221ac6&e=c95cc2072f

http://meconcern.org/index.php/en/prayer-requests/992-sudan-pastor-and-lawye

BREAKING NEWS: Farshid Fathi has been released from prison in Iran

Farshid1

With much joy we announce that Iranian pastor, Farshid Fathi, was released on December 21st after spending five years in prison.

Farshid was arrested the day after Christmas in 2010 in a surge of arrests. He was charged with “acting against national security through membership of a Christian organization, collection of funds, and propaganda against the Islamic Regime by helping spread Christianity in the country.” His release came early, as his original release date was December 2017.

Please pray for Farshid and his family as he adjusts to life outside of prison. We pray for protection of Christians in Iran, as Christians often face threat by the government. Approximately 100 Christians remain in prison in Iran.

We are so thankful to the Lord for his protection over Farshid while in prison. It is our hope that the Gospel will continue to spread throughout Iran.

To read more on the story, visit:

https://www.elam.com/article/farshid-released

http://meconcern.org/index.php/en/prayer-requests/991-iran-christian-prisone

https://www.worldwatchmonitor.org/2015/12/4170617/?utm_source=Newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_content=Iranian+pastor+released+after+5+years+in+jail&utm_campaign=Iranian+pastor+released+after+5+years+in+jail

Press Release From HRNK: AllSource Report on North Korea’s Camp 16

 

PRESS RELEASE

 

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

 

The Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK) and AllSource Analysis (AllSource) Launch Report Based on Satellite Imagery of North Korea’s Political Prison Camp No. 16

Report Identifies Likely Increase in Prisoner Population. Have Preparations Been Made for Intense, Prolonged Use of Deadly Force against Prisoners?

 

The Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK), a non-governmental organization based in Washington, D.C. and AllSource Analysis (AllSource), a leading global provider of high-resolution earth imagery solutions, have launched a report entitled North Korea Imagery Analysis of Camp 16.  Political Prison Camp No. 16 (Kwan-li-so No. 16) is located in Hwasong-gun in North Korea’s North Hamgyong Province, approximately 70 km (43.5 mi) southwest of Chongjin City. The camp is the largest of North Korea’s such unlawful detention facilities. Camp 16 occupies an irregularly shaped area measuring approximately 30 km by 35 km (18.4 mi by 21.7 mi). The 119 km camp perimeter encompasses 53 named “villages” and numerous unnamed “villages” across an area of 53,900 hectares (539 sq. km). Of North Korea’s four currently operational political prison camps, Camp 16 is the only one with no known witnesses or escapees.

 

The report can be downloaded from HRNK’s website (HRNK.ORG), together with other HRNK publications. For this report, AllSource used pan-sharpened satellite imagery collected by DigitalGlobe and Airbus Defense and Space from April 2013 to January 2015. The report also used a declassified KH-9 satellite image taken in October 1983.

Contrary to popular opinion, Camp 16 is not completely enclosed within a single fixed security fence or wall. Only the lower third of the camp has an actual fence. The remainder of the perimeter appears to be patrolled primarily by troops on foot, given the absence of vehicles along the perimeter. Although guard positions are not positioned to provide overlapping fields-of-view of the camp, they appear to be well maintained, and are located along the most obvious escape routes. Parts of the perimeter are supported by several double and triple-walled guard positions. The presence of these guard positions seems to confirm what North Korean escapees told The Korea Institute for National Unification (KINU), i.e. that Camp 16 guards had reportedly spoken of elevated guard posts equipped with machine guns, meant to “massacre prisoners in emergency situations.” The presence of what appears to be an armory secured by an earthen berm, interior wall, exterior fence, and a guard post, identified through the satellite imagery, may indicate that preparations have been made for intense, prolonged use of deadly force against camp prisoners.

 

Based on this recent satellite imagery analysis, Camp 16 continues to operate as North Korea’s largest political prison camp. The camp remains active, even in recent winter imagery, focusing primarily on logging, agricultural fields, orchards, livestock, a few fish farms, mining, light industry, and hydroelectric power generation. Satellite imagery analysis appears to confirm sustained, if not increased economic activity at the camp. Corroborated with previous HRNK/AllSource reports on Camps 14 and 25, the report on Camp 16 seems to confirm an evolving pattern of increased economic activity within North Korea’s political prison camps.

 

During the period under study, there has been an increase in the number of housing units and support buildings. HRNK Executive Director Greg Scarlatoiu said: “Although analytical caution is essential, especially in the absence of direct testimony from former Camp 16 prisoners or guards, the significant expansion of housing units seems to indicate that there has been an increase in the prisoner population. This increase may have been the result of prisoner transfer from facilities that have been closed, such as Camp 22 in Hoeryong near the border with China. The increase may also be the result of more people being imprisoned due to the ongoing crackdown on attempted defections and purging of senior officials.”

 

Joseph Bermudez, AllSource co-founder and chief analytics officer, said: “As reports continue to emerge on possible developments at North Korea’s P’unggye-ri nuclear test facility, it will also be important to keep a watchful eye on Camp 16 Hwasong, located only 2.5 kilometers to the east of P’unggye-ri, because of the possible nexus between prison labor at this very active political prison camp and North Korea’s nuclear tests.”

 

Bermudez, an internationally recognized analyst, award winning author, and lecturer on North Korean defense and intelligence affairs, previously testified before the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (UN COI) on North Korea’s increased focus on “the development of nuclear weapons and other ‘asymmetrical forces’ such as special operations forces, chemical and biological weapons, and mini-submarines” at a time when its overall “military capability has been steadily decreasing due to obsolescence of equipment, difficulty in training, and lowering of standards for soldiers following the overall decline in nutritional status of the population and its subsequent impact on the height of prospective recruits.”  Bermudez further noted, “Continued monitoring of Camp 16 will help identify whether prisoners have been or are currently being used to support the P’unggye-ri nuclear test site and determine the extent of human rights abuses at that camp.”

 

The report is the latest step in a collaborative effort by HRNK and AllSource to create a clear picture of the evolution and current state of North Korea’s political prison camps. HRNK is the NGO that put North Korea’s penal labor colonies on the map by publishing Hidden Gulag in 2003, Hidden Gulag Second Edition in 2012, North Korea’s Hidden Gulag: Interpreting Reports of Changes in the Prison Camps in 2013, and The Hidden Gulag IV: Gender Repression & Prisoner Disappearances in 2015, all authored by world-renowned investigator David Hawk. Together, the two organizations have been closely monitoring North Korea’s political prison camps so that any attempts to distort the harsh reality of the camps by destroying evidence will not go unnoticed. In a speech given before the 7,575th meeting of the UN Security Council on December 10, 2015, U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power quoted some of the findings of The Hidden Gulag IV.

 

 

The report North Korea Imagery Analysis of Camp No. 16 is available on HRNK’s website:

 

https://www.hrnk.org/uploads/pdfs/ASA_HRNK_Camp16_v8_fullres_FINAL_12_15_15.pdf

 

Contact:             Greg Scarlatoiu, executive director

executive.director@hrnk.org; 202-499-7973