Religious Liberty Partnership Releases Statement on Pakistan

CHRISTIAN LEADERS CALL UPON UNITED NATIONS TO ASSIGN REFUGEE STATUS TO PAKISTAN’S ENDANGERED CHRISTIAN MINORITY

(HERNDON, Virginia, April 2011)

The Religious Liberty Partnership (RLP), a coalition religious freedom organizations have joined together to call upon the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to recognize the plight of the endangered Christian population and assign them refugee status. In addition the RLP have also called upon the government of Pakistan to renew its commitment to reforming the country’s notorious blasphemy laws and work towards their abolition.

In a statement issued following the death of Pakistani Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, “The Virginia Statement on the Islamic Republic of Pakistan,” also called upon Pakistan’s government, ‘to establish a judicial inquiry and public report into the murders of Shahbaz Bhatti and Salman Taseer.’ Further recommendations include the implementation of international standards of non-discrimination based on race, religion and gender as outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the opportunity for all non-Muslim students to study a faith of their own choice rather than the imposition of Islamic education.

Despite the murders of Shahbaz Bhatti and Salman Taseer the RLP recognizes the Pakistani coalition government’s courageous statements in condemning these acts of senseless violence and the courageous stance of President Asif Ali Zardari in declaring that, “We will not be intimidated nor will we retreat”.

“These recent high profile assassinations underscore an intense upswing of new and false charges of blasphemy against minorities, as well as violence targeting Christian villages and churches” said Ann Buwalda, Executive Director of Jubilee Campaign USA. “We must work cooperatively with Muslim leaders and Christian leaders in Pakistan to oppose extremism and encourage the rebuilding of a tolerant and hospitable society where citizens of all religions have an equal participation.”

In the Virginia Statement, the RLP applauds the work of the church around the world, including the several Dioceses of the Church of Pakistan, which has generously given humanitarian relief, disaster aid, assistance to displaced people, and practical assistance to victims of recent natural catastrophes in various parts of Pakistan. And recently after more than a decade of leading efforts by the Organization of Islamic Conference to pass “Defamation of Religions” resolutions at United Nations, Pakistan took the lead in proposing a new resolution which more closely reflects international law on freedom of religion and freedom of expression.

Ronald Boyd-MacMillan, of Open Doors International said that “Pakistan’s beleaguered Christians have rarely felt so demoralized in the wake of Shahbaz Bhatti’s murder. May this statement galvanise the world wide Church to pray and act in greater solidarity with these precious Christians, and be such an unforgettable encouragement to them that they will never feel alone in their suffering again.”

NOTES TO EDITORS

The Religious Liberty Partnership (RLP) is a collaborative effort of Christian organizations around the world focused on religious liberty. The RLP seeks to more intentionally work together in addressing advocacy and in raising the awareness of religious liberty issues globally.

The RLP Leadership Team includes:

  • Ron Boyd-MacMillan, Open Doors International, The Netherlands;
  • Anne Brandner of Global Peace Initiative, Canada;
  • Andy Dipper of Release International, UK;
  • Daniel Hoffman, Middle East Concern Linus Pfister, HMK Switzerland;
  • Chairman, Mervyn Thomas, Christian Solidarity Worldwide, UK;
  • Godfrey Yogarajah, Religious Liberty Commission, Sri Lanka.

For more information, contact:

Brian O’Connell, RLP Facilitator

+1 425 217 4718

Brian@REACTServices.com 

www.RLPartnership.org

Persecuted During the Holidays

Greetings!

Friends, for most of us this holiday season has been a time of refreshment and renewal. We were able to spend the time with friends and family or at least enjoy a brief rest from our daily responsibilities. Praise God that we were able to celebrate the birth of Christ freely and in peace. During these holiday weeks many Christians around the world experienced intensified persecution. Muslim extremists violently attacked otherwise peaceful Christmas Eve and New Year’s celebrations.

At Christmas time several nations saw the horror of terrorist bombings. In Nigeria a Christmas Eve bomb killed at least 32 Christians, and left another 70+ wounded. Local Muslims also attacked three other churches, burning one to the ground and leaving six Christians dead. The current death toll has risen to at least 86 in and around Jos, Nigeria. Another bomb set by Muslim separatists in a southern province of the Philippines was less deadly, wounding 11 and killing no one. But Pakistan saw its first female suicide bomber kill 47 refugees and leave another 100 people in the hospital. Christmas was a dangerous day to be a Christian.

The violence continued throughout the Christmas Week. In Iraq attacks specifically targeted at Christians destroyed ten homes, leaving at least a dozen injured and two Christians dead. Another blast in Nigeria took eight more souls. The Muslim government of Iran arrested at least 25 Christian men and women for ‘apostasy,’ and the Taliban in Afghanistan mounted fierce attacks throughout the holidays.

Finally on New Year’s Eve just past midnight, a bomb attack in Egypt killed 21 Christians  and injured approximately 100 more as they left the Church of Two Saints in Alexandria. The Coptic Christians celebrate Christmas on the 7th of January and they are still threatened as they go forward in their worship.

These events should cause us great concern, and make us realize the perilous times that we live in. Aid to the Church in Need, a Catholic-based organization on religious freedom estimates that “somewhere between 75 percent and 85 percent of all acts of religious persecution are directed against Christians.”

Much of this persecution comes from Muslim extremists, especially in the Middle East and Africa. Our friend, Member of the British House of Lords David Alton, has written an article on how radical Muslims appear to be shifting gears. Rather than merely inspiring terror they are moving to a strategy of outright genocide toward Christian communities who have lived in these nations since the Apostolic Era.

Unfortunately, as Lord Alton points out, the international community is refusing to acknowledge it. Even a press statement from the White House portrays both Christians and Muslims as victims of the attack. However, the Obama Administration does at least acknowledge that it was Christians who were being targeted. We need to pray for our brothers and sisters around the world, and bring attention to this violent strategy.

In response to these brutal attacks, Italy has proposed cutting off any EU aid to countries which fail to protect their Christians minorities. The United States should use our economic weight to encourage these nations to apprehend and punish the perpetrators of this violence. We at Jubilee Campaign are doing our part to fight this strategy of death, and we hope you will stand with us throughout the coming year.

in HIS grace,

Ann Buwalda
Executive Director

North Korea Report By David Alton

Greetings!

As many of you know, Lord David Alton, a member of the British Parliament, is a long-time advocate of international human rights and has worked closely with Jubilee Campaign for many years. He recently returned from this third trip to North Korea, accompanied by Baroness Caroline Cox, and they published a report on their findings.
The horrendous human rights violations in North Korea are a source of serious concern for us and for many in the international community. Unfortunately the cause of much of the suffering in North Korea are the harsh, atheistic, and authoritarian practices of the North Korean government led by the Kim family.
Some have theorized that if North Korea is ignored, the untenable policies of the government would cause a collapse bringing down the current regime. But the cost in human suffering would be unthinkably high.  A successor regime would very likely be worse.
Instead Lord Alton recommends that we open up the lines of dialogue with North Korea, like we did with Russia and China. This engagement known as the Helsinki accords was a demonstrated success in the past. We should begin to discuss with North Korea how it would be in their best interest to open up their country to foreign aid and foreign money.
During their trip to the DPRK and following meetings with high level North Korean officials, Lord Alton and Baroness Cox found indications that North Korea is looking for a new way forward.  This is especially true as they contemplate the transfer of power to Kim Jong-un. This is an unprecedented opportunity to advance peace in the region and in North Korea itself, and we should certainly take advantage of it.
You can find a copy of Lord Alton and Baroness Cox’s full report here
David Alton’s article in New York Times is here

in HIS grace, 

Ann Buwalda
Executive Director
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All Party Parliamentary Group for North Korea – House of Lords, London SW1A OPW

TWO BRITISH PARLIAMENTARIANS CALL FOR PEACE TALKS AFTER VISIT TO NORTH KOREA

Friday, 29 October, 2010                                                                      For Immediate Release

Lord Alton of Liverpool and Baroness Cox of Queensbury returned yesterday from their third visit to North Korea, and called on the international community to facilitate a peace conference to turn the Korean armistice into a permanent peace agreement. They are also advocating engagement with North Korea to address human rights, in a process similar to the Helsinki Process initiated by Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan with the Soviet Union.

In their report, Building Bridges, Not Walls: The Case for Constructive, Critical Engagement with North Korea, released today, the two Parliamentarians argue that “the current armistice on the Korean peninsula, sixty years after the outbreak of hostilities, is a completely unsatisfactory and destabilising situation”. They call on a neutral country, such as Switzerland or Sweden, and a former combatant country, such as the United Kingdom, to work with China to facilitate a peace conference in Beijing to negotiate a peace treaty.

During their visit Lord Alton, Chairman of the UK’s All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for North Korea, and Baroness Cox, the APPG’s Vice-Chairman, met senior North Korean officials including the Speaker of the Supreme People’s Assembly, Choe Tae Bok, the Vice Foreign-Minister, Kung Sok Ung, and the Chairman of the DPRK-EU Friendly Parliamentary Group of the Supreme People’s Assembly, Ri Jong Hyok. They also visited the Supreme Court. Their visit coincided with the tenth anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between North Korea and the UK, and followed their previous visits in 2003 and 2009.

In all their meetings, Lord Alton and Baroness Cox raised concerns over North Korea’s human rights record, including public executions, torture, violations of religious freedom, women’s and child rights and the country’s notorious prison camps. They delivered copies of reports from the former UN Special Rapporteur for North Korea, Vitit Muntarbhorn, the UN’s Universal Periodic Review of North Korea’s human rights record, Human Rights Watch as well as their own summary of concerns and recommendations.

Lord Alton said: “Our visit came at a historic time, following the recent changes in the North Korean leadership and coinciding with both the tenth anniversary of diplomatic relations between our two countries and the sixtieth anniversary of the start of the Korean War. We believe it is vital to engage with the North Koreans, and to make it a priority to seek a permanent solution to the instability on the Korean Peninsula. The current situation, which is neither war nor peace, cannot be allowed to continue. We also believe it is time to engage robustly on human rights, in what we call ‘Helsinki with a Korean face’. We urge the North Koreans to invite the new Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in North Korea, Marzuki Darusman, to visit the country, and open its prison camps to access for international monitors, including the International Committee of the Red Cross. We also urge the United States to seize the opportunity and engage in meaningful dialogue with North Korea on a range of issues, including peace, security and human rights. It is time develop a new approach in the search for peace on the Korean peninsula.”

Baroness Cox said: “During our visit, we raised important concerns, and we also saw some small, incremental signs of change in North Korea. We believe these changes, particularly in education, health care and the economy, should be encouraged by increased cultural and educational exchanges, and greater access to the country for international humanitarian organisations. We visited the three official churches in Pyongyang, the Russian Orthodox, the Catholic church and the Protestant church, and while we recognise that these are not representative of the situation for Christians in the rest of the country, we welcome some developments, including the establishment of a Protestant seminary which we visited. We urged the North Korean authorities to improve religious freedom for all North Koreans, and to allow the Catholic Church to have a priest. We also raised recent reports of the arrest of 20 Christians and the execution of three. It is essential that we engage in constructive, critical dialogue with North Korea, so that we have an opportunity to raise these important issues with the authorities there and encourage an opening up. The North Korean people do not deserve isolation. We urge the international community to build bridges to the people of North Korea.”

Liu Xiaobo: Chinese Prisoner of Conscience is awarded the NOBEL PEACE PRIZE

Today we want to highlight another individual who needs our attention and prayers. Liu Xiaobo is a longtime Chinese human rights advocate and democracy activist. During the late 80s when the Tiananmen Square protests cost China so many young lives, Liu Xiaobo negotiated a peaceful withdrawal of many of the students. This man’s efforts for reform culminated in the writing of ‘Charter 08′ a document calling for democracy and basic human rights in China. Because of his pivotal role in writing the document, the authoritarian government of China gave Liu Xiaobo an 11-year prison sentence.

This was par for the course in Communist China, and no one outside the human rights community paid much attention. But then the Nobel Peace Prize Committee announced that it had selected Liu Xiaobo as the 2010 winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. All eyes turned to China and the world remembered that in practice Chinese citizens have no human rights.

Despite a government ban on the news, many throughout China are celebrating. Unfortunately this has spawned a new wave of arrests as the Chinese government tries to stamp out what it sees as insurrection. China Aid reports that several leaders have been detained and dozens of others have been interrogated or put under surveillance.

This brings home a sobering point. The totalitarian government of China is still in power. They are still oppressing people. Liu Xiaobo is still in prison and may not even know that he has won the Nobel Peace Prize. But now more than ever the people of China need our prayers. We need to pray that someday China will be a place where the gospel is freely preached and our brothers and sisters in Christ can live in peace. If such a day occurs it will come because of the efforts of Liu Xiaobo and others like him.

Free Gao Zisheng: Human Rights Advocate is briefly released by the Chinese government and then ‘disappeared’ a second time.

Greetings,

Some of you may remember our last post on Gao Zhisheng back in February. This Chinese lawyer made a career defending those oppressed by China’s atheistic government. From members of the underground Christian Church to Falun Gong adherents, Gao Zhisheng was a defender of the persecuted and was persecuted as well. But after two stays in prison failed to daunt this courageous activist, the Chinese government disappeared him in early 2009. At that time we had no way of knowing if this valiant advocate for human rights was alive or dead. Instead of arresting him on trumped up–but public–charges the Chinese government simply held him incommunicado for over a year.

Then he was released on April 6 and allowed two weeks of meager freedom before being ‘disappeared’ once again by Chinese security forces. This man was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. He won the 2010 Lawyer of the Year Award conferred by the American Bar Association. The Award had to be accepted by Grace Geng, Gao Zhisheng’s 17-year old daughter, because her father was being held incommunicado and without cause. For the Chinese government to flaunt the victim of their imprisonment and torture before the world stage and then again violate his rights is an act of overwhelming arrogance.

This outrageous violation of international and even Chinese domestic law is drawing a response from governments, human rights organization, and media outlets all over the world. Our own Congress sent a letter protesting these human rights abuses and asking President Obama to call China to account for their actions. The agonizing human drama has also drawn high level media attention. The Wall Street Journal ran an editorial written by Grace Geng which contained this quote:

“If the Chinese government has murdered my father, I beg President Obama to ask President Hu to let us bury him. I am 17 now. I’m old enough to understand that it might be better for my father to be dead than for him to undergo more unspeakable torture. But for my brother, Peter, who is only seven, not knowing whether our father is alive or dead is an unfathomable cruelty. I can hardly stand to hope that Peter and I will see our father again.”

The courage of those words does further credit to this young lady’s father, but it is heartbreaking to hear such words from a 17-year old girl. We must pray for this family and for this man who is guilty of nothing but the inability to see injustice and do nothing. And perhaps by God’s grace we will be able to see this family receive back their father.