Islamic laws tighten in Pakistan

There have been two recent developments in Pakistani law that further threaten the freedom of religious minorities in the country. On Wednesday, the Senate Standing Committee on Religious Affairs passed the Ehtram-e-Ramazan (Amendment) Bill, 2017, which governs behavior during Ramazan. The punishment for hotels that violate the law rose from Rs 500 to Rs 25,000 (about $5 to $238.) People who smoke or eat openly during the Islamic holy month of fasting can now face a fine of Rs 500 and 3 months in jail. These developments affect non-Muslim Pakistanis who do not follow the Islamic traditions of Ramazan.

A further threat concerning religious minority members came in the form of a text message to millions of Pakistanis. Acting on a court order, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority sent a text to cell phone users stating that the “uploading & sharing of blasphemous content on Internet is a punishable offense under the law” and encouraging people to report such material to the government. Blasphemy laws have long been used as a trap against Christians and other religious minorities. With the government’s rally to catch anyone who speaks out against Islam, many fear that more religious minority members may be targeted. As a college student was lynched by peers just last month for his opposing views to Islam, people fear deadly attacks such as this could increase.

Jubilee Campaign condemns these recent developments in Pakistan that seek to constrict the liberties of religious minorities.

Many Pakistani Christians are forced to flee Pakistan due to social and legal persecution against them. Our organization has committed to financially support these refugees. Without outside assistance, they often cannot afford food for their families or education for their children. If you would like to support a refugee family in need, please donate here.

USCIRF releases annual report on religious freedom

Last week, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) released its 2017 Annual Report. Every year, USCIRF releases this report to recommend countries to be designated as Countries of Particular Concern (CPC) by the U.S. Department of State. A CPC is a country designated by the Secretary of State as a country that is guilty of “systematic, ongoing and egregious” abuses to religious freedom, as mandated by the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA).

This year, USCIRF has recommended the following countries to be designated as CPCs:

Burma
Central African Republic
China
Eritrea
Iran
Nigeria
North Korea
Pakistan
Russia
Saudi Arabia
Sudan
Syria
Tajikistan
Turkmenistan
Uzbekistan
Vietnam

USCIRF also lists Tier 2 Countries, which are defined as “nations in which violations engaged in or tolerated by the government are serious and characterized by at least one of the elements of the ‘systematic, ongoing and egregious’ CPC standard.” USCIRF lists the following countries as Tier 2:

Afghanistan
Azerbaijan
Bahrain
Cuba
Egypt
India
Indonesia
Iraq
Kazakhstan
Laos
Malaysia
Turkey

USCIRF also highlights the following countries to be under continued monitoring:

Bangladesh
Belarus
Ethiopia
Kenya
Kyrgyzstan
Mexico
Nepal
Somalia

Jubilee Campaign commends USCIRF on their excellent report, in particular, the continued reporting on India’s persecution of religious minorities by Hindu extremists. The report includes a section on Christian persecution in India with shocking statistics:

“In early 2017, the NGO, Open Doors, estimated that a church was burned down or a cleric beaten 10 times a week on average in India between January and October 2016 – triple the number of incidents the group reported in 2015.”

A recent article by Christian Post wrote that an anti-Christian attacks happen approximately every 40 hours in India. The continued deterioration of Christian activity in India led to the child sponsorship organization, Compassion International, to be revoked of its permission to operate in the country. Last month, members of the U.S. Congress wrote a letter to India’s Minister of the Interior requesting that Compassion International be able to continue its work.

We are pleased that the U.S. government recognizes the deterioration of religious freedom in India, and continues to monitor the country closely. Please continue to pray for the Christians of India.

RELEASED: Sudanese pastor & activist get presidential pardon

On May 11, 2017, Abdumonem Abdumawla and Reverend Hassan Abdelrahim Tawor of Sudan received a presidential pardon and were released from prison. We praise God for their release, and we thank you for your faithful prayers in this process.

The release of these two men finishes out a long standing case involving four Christians who were arrested and given charges pertaining to threatening the state of Sudan. The other two men, Rev. Kuwa Shamal Abazmam Kurri and Mr. Petr Jasek (from the Czech Republic, Voice of the Martyrs) were previously released.

Ali Omer, a student from Darfur and convert from Islam, was injured in a student demonstration in 2013. The four men were involved in assisting Omer in his recovery leading to their arrests. Arrests were made in December 2015.

Rev. Shamal was released on January 2, 2017 due to lack of evidence against him, but the judge decided to continue the trial for the three others. On January 29th, Mr. Jasek was sentenced to over 20 years in prison for espionage, among other smaller charges. Rev. Taour and Mr. Abdumawla were both given over ten years for assisting espionage.

In February, the Czech Minister of Foreign Affairs visited Sudan and Mr. Jasek received a presidential pardon on February 26, and returned to the Czech Republic. International advocacy continued for Mr. Abdumawla and Rev. Taour, and today we have received news of their release.

Again, thank you for your prayers and continued support of our advocacy efforts. Please continue to pray for these men, and other Christians living in Sudan.

Letter: Accountability on US funds to Nigeria

In this joint letter, Jubilee Campaign called for accountability for the Nigerian government. The United States reveres Nigeria as one of its greatest African partners. The US government must ensure that the funds it provides to the Nigerian government are in no way used to harm the people.

Joint NGO letter on sale of Super Tucano aircraft to Nigeria

Chairman Bob Corker
Senate Foreign Relations Committee

Ranking Member Ben Cardin
Senate Foreign Relations Committee

Chairman Ed Royce
House Foreign Affairs Committee

Ranking Member Elliot Engle
House Foreign Affairs Committee

May 10, 2017

Dear Chairman Corker, Senator Cardin, Chairman Royce and Representative Engle,

We the undersigned organizations are writing to convey our concerns regarding reports that the Trump administration is moving forward with plans to sell A-29 Super Tucano light attack aircraft, with mounted machine guns and related parts and logistical support to the government of Nigeria. We believe that given the Nigerian government has not taken adequate action to protect human rights and enforce accountability in the military, this transfer runs a substantial risk of resulting in serious human rights violations.

In June of 2016 many of us expressed concerns over the same proposed sale to President Obama, citing the lack of adequate safeguards and accountability mechanisms to ensure that the Tucano aircraft would be used consistently with international human rights and humanitarian law by the Nigerian military. Those concerns took on a tragic reality with the Nigerian government’s bombing of an Internally Displaced Person’s camp in early 2017 – that bombing effectively scuttled plans to move forward with the sale under the Obama administration. We reiterate those concerns now and ask that you take steps to limit the risks that equipment supplied by the US will be used to commit or facilitate serious violations of human rights and humanitarian law. The Nigerian government must first agree to implement a comprehensive plan to protect human rights and enforce accountability

Our message to the Obama administration was that the US should insist on securing robust, binding end use/r guarantees, post-delivery monitoring to verify all recipients
are operating consistently with full respect for international human rights and humanitarian law, and end user certificate restrictions are being honored, safeguards against further serious human rights violations, and other credible and measurable progress on accountability within the Nigerian security forces. These recommendations were offered with the aim of ensuring that the United States did not inadvertently facilitate the commission of human rights violations in Nigeria and to ensure that the US is doing everything it can to end the culture of impunity within the Nigerian military with respect to human rights.

In our earlier letter, we listed several incidents of serious human rights violations that indicated a systemic failure to respect human rights and enforce accountability within the Nigerian security forces (see attached). Unfortunately, to date there has been no progress towards investigating any of those past incidents or bringing persons responsible for those violations to justice. Indeed, the Nigerian Air Force bombing of a remote displaced persons camp in Rann in January 2017 demonstrates the urgency of implementing safeguards and monitoring with respect to human rights. The bombing of that camp, close to the Cameroon border, killed at least 126 people (and possibly as many as 200).

Although a panel appointed by the Nigerian Air Force to investigate the tragedy presented its report to the Chief of Air Force in April, the report is yet to be made public and speculations about the bombing are rife. The Chief of Air Force has stated that the bombing was a human error. However, witnesses claim that the fighter jet circled the camp at least twice before it bombed the camp.

In view of the continuing patterns of abuse and potential for misuse of US-supplied equipment, the U.S. Congress should insist that the Nigerian government undertake independent investigation into all allegations of human rights violations by the military. Any such reports on human rights violations by the military in northeast Nigeria should be made public, including on the Rann bombing. Further, all victims should receive full reparation, including financial compensation.

Before approving the intended transfer of the Tucano aircraft, Congress should ensure that Nigerian military personnel involved in its operation and command will be rigorously vetted in order to screen out those responsible for past human rights violations and violations of international humanitarian law. Moreover, steps should be taken to ensure that personnel operating the equipment are adequately trained to comply with international human rights and humanitarian law and standards.

Furthermore, we ask you as Congressional leaders to insist on binding guarantees from the Nigerian government that the equipment will be used in conformity with US and international law. Likewise, Congress should seek guarantees from the Trump Administration that the Department of Defense will effectively monitor the use of these aircraft for compliance with international human rights and humanitarian law.

Just a few weeks ago, Ambassador Nikki Haley made well-publicized comments drawing attention to the connection between widespread human rights violations and the breakdown of peace and security. Without strong human rights structures in place, the transfer of the Tucano attack aircraft armed with heavy machine guns could exacerbate the conflict, or fuel new ones.

This is already an established pattern in Nigeria and demonstrates that the hoped for outcome based on the sale may not be achieved. The US must take seriously its responsibility to ensure that the transfer of these arms and equipment does not result in a further deterioration in the respect for human rights in Nigeria. From your position of leadership in the US Congress, we urge you to convey these concerns to the Administration and seek guarantees that all precautions will be taken.

Sincerely,

Amnesty International USA
Peace Action
Peace Direct
Friends Committee on National Legislation.
21st Century Wilberforce Initiative
Jubilee Campaign USA

Pastor Abducted in Malaysia

Jubilee Campaign covers a wide range of countries and human rights issues, and I’d like to inform you of a new project that we are undertaking in Malaysia. Malaysian religious minorities, including Christians, Hindus, and Buddhists have experienced increased persecution in recent years. Malaysia has been known for being a fairly moderate Muslim-majority country and one that people often point to as a model for other Muslim-dominated countries. However, developments on the ground are troubling and reveal a less than moderate environment for religious minorities.

One disturbing development is the rise in abductions of religious leaders and social activists. One of the first in a series of abductions was the kidnapping of Pastor Raymond Koh right outside of the capital, Kuala Lumpur on February 13. He was stopped on the road while driving, swarmed by a convoy of SUVs, and forcibly driven away. Mr. Koh had previously been accused of trying to convert Muslims to Christianity, and he faced significant online criticism due to these rumors. There is suspicion that this is linked to his abduction. Often in abduction situations, the family of the abductee will be contacted soon after for ransom. However, Mr. Koh’s family has heard nothing about him since his kidnapping. Other mysterious kidnappings have also taken place since his disappearance.

In addition to abductions of religious leaders, non-Muslims have been faced with heightened efforts by Islamic groups and leaders to increase the jurisdiction of Islamic law. Already in Malaysia, many states have adopted apostasy laws that prohibit or limit people’s ability to convert away from Islam.

With intolerance and persecution rising in Malaysia, Jubilee Campaign has joined with other religious liberty organizations as well as Malaysian activists to raise these issues before the Malaysian government and the international community. We ask for your prayers as we begin this advocacy work that we may be guided by the Lord to work for His glory and the good of the Malaysian people.