Displaying items by tag: Asia
A fire at a Christian wedding celebration in Iraq's Nineveh province, near \Mosul, has resulted in over 100 deaths and at least 150 injuries. The blaze reportedly started after fireworks were lit during the celebration. Witnesses reported that the bride and groom survived, contrary to initial reports. The fire broke out in a large events hall, with up to 900 people in attendance. The building, made of highly flammable construction materials, quickly collapsed. Preliminary findings suggest that the hall's exterior was decorated with illegal, highly flammable cladding. Ambulances and medical crews were dispatched to the site, and efforts are being made to provide relief to those affected. The number of Christians in Iraq has significantly decreased in recent years, with the current estimate at 150,000 compared to 1.5 million in 2003.
Azerbaijan has arrested former Nagorno-Karabakh leader Ruben Vardanyan as he attempted to flee into Armenia amidst a mass exodus of ethnic Armenians. Azerbaijan recently regained control of Karabakh in a rapid offensive, causing widespread displacement and a humanitarian crisis. The region, internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan, has a predominantly ethnic Armenian population. Azerbaijan claims it wants peaceful reintegration and guarantees of civic rights, but faces accusations of ethnic cleansing as thousands of Armenians have fled in fear. The EU and Germany have expressed concern and called for international observers, and the UN has called for an investigation into alleged violations of the right to life. Vardanyan's arrest comes as Azerbaijan seeks to prosecute separatist leaders. The situation highlights Russia's diminished role as a security guarantor in the Caucasus region, with competing influences from Turkey, Iran, and the United States. As a result of the crisis, the current leader has said that the enclave will officially cease to exist with effect from 1 January 2024: see
After twelve days of closure, the border crossing from the Gaza Strip into Israel was reopened at dawn on 28 September, causing thousands of Gazans to sleep overnight as they awaited the chance to resume the work for which they are authorised. It was the news which Amjad Hassan, a builder who is the sole breadwinner for 13 relatives had been praying for. ‘We work on a daily wage; if we don't work, we don't feed our families’, he explained. The border closure followed renewed demonstrations as young Palestinians have confronted Israeli soldiers, with the approval or even encouragement of Hamas, which controls the enclave. Protesters have burnt tyres, thrown stones and explosive devices, and released incendiary balloons and kites into southern Israel, There is a perception that Hamas is trying to distract attention from its own economic woes and also to gain leverage in indirect talks with Israel, being led by Egypt, Qatar, and the UN.
In an effort to protect survivors of bonded labour from further exploitation, the government in Tamil Nadu, India, has established an herb garden for families of the Irula tribal community. The garden provides ten survivor families and thirty other families with the opportunity to cultivate and sell a diverse range of herbs, medicinal plants and fruit-bearing trees. Having secure job opportunities will prevent them from obtaining loans from unscrupulous lenders who prey on their vulnerability. The herb garden is the result of a proposal which the Released Bonded Labourers Association (RBLA) had submitted with the help of IJM. It is part of many others that the government has been regularly creating, from helping survivors and other vulnerable families earn a stable income to establishing a first-of-its-kind, holistic community for survivors. The herb garden is significant as it preserves the knowledge of traditional medicinal herbs. Following the launch, an RBLA leader gave a tour of the herb garden and said, ‘I hope this will inspire other survivors to come forward and access government welfare measures’.
Canada's high commission in India has said that it has decided to ‘adjust’ staff presence in the country temporarily after some diplomats received threats on social media platforms, adding to spiralling tensions between the two countries. The statement from the high commission came soon after an Indian company published a notice that it was suspending visa services for Canadian citizens. Tensions between the two countries escalated earlier this week when Canada said that it was ‘actively pursuing credible allegations’ linking Indian government agents to the murder of a Sikh separatist leader in British Columbia in June. Prime minister Narendra Modi's government has categorically rejected the claims. With both nations expelling a diplomat each, and India urging its nationals in Canada to ‘exercise caution’, relations between the two countries have touched the lowest point.
From business and strategic perspectives, Joe Biden's recent visits to Vietnam and India will likely be seen as bolstering ties with countries that can help Washington to counter China’s growing might. But for rights advocates, Biden's travels are a huge disappointment, given his administration's vow to prioritise human rights when taking office in 2021. Human Rights Watch (HRW) says the government's Hindu majoritarian ideology is reflected in bias in the justice system, and authorities have intensified efforts to silence activists and journalists through politically motivated charges. Meanwhile, Vietnam is holding at least 159 political prisoners - people imprisoned for peacefully exercising basic civil and political rights - and at least 22 others were in detention pending eventual trial before a court controlled by the ruling Communist Party. In the first eight months of 2023 alone, HRW said, courts have sentenced at least fifteen people to long prison terms in violation of their rights to a fair trial. Reporters asked Biden in Vietnam if he was putting US strategic interests above rights and replied: ‘I’ve raised it (human rights) with every person I met with’.
But HRW said talking in private was not enough.
As thousands of protesters around the world took to the streets in a show of solidarity, a year after the killing of hijab protester Mahsa Zhina Amini, there are reports that Christians are coming under pressure from the authorities to boycott the protests. Those who participate have been arrested and face sexual assault in prison, according to a new report from the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). Since the freedom protests began in Iran, the country has detained some 20,000 protesters and killed at least 530, by conservative estimates. It is claimed that seven protesters have been executed after ‘sham trials’ and dozens more have been sentenced to death. The women’s rights protests in Iran have turned into a movement pressing for greater freedom of religion or belief. For more information about the pressure on Christians in Iran, including many being jailed for their involvement with house churches, see 'More'.
Human rights defender Nguyen Bac Truyen and his wife Bui Kim Phuong arrived in Germany on the evening of 8 September after he was released from Gia Trung prison in Vietnam. Truyen, a Hoa Hao Buddhist and legal expert who provided pro bono legal assistance to families of political prisoners, victims of land grabs, and persecuted religious communities, was abducted by Vietnamese police in Ho Chi Minh City in July 2017. He was held in incommunicado arbitrary detention for nine months, and in April 2018 he was sentenced to eleven years in prison on charges of ‘carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the government’. Serious concerns were raised for his safety and wellbeing on many occasions during his imprisonment, including in May 2019 when he went on hunger strike along with three other prisoners of conscience in protest of the grievous ill-treatment of a fellow prisoner. Five other activists were sentenced at the same time as Truyen: two of them were released into exile in June 2018, but the other three are still in prison.
The Taliban exists in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but the two forces are not compatible. Recent clashes between them caused the closure of a significant connecting thoroughfare between the two countries. Trucks carrying fruits, vegetables, and other commodities were stranded at the Michni checkpoint border crossing. The two groups were firing at one another, and authorities from both governments are trying to determine the cause and how to de-escalate the conflict. The border between the two countries is 1,675 miles long, and for decades it has seen many conflicts between the security forces. Pray for the negotiating parties of both countries to reach an agreement about this critical border crossing that will keep the border open and flowing for aid supplies (1 Corinthians 1:10).
On 1 September, new rules came into force to limit all religious activities to official venues only and forbid displaying any religious symbols outdoors. All religious activity must be supervised by the state so that places of worship support the leadership of China’s Communist Party. Release International’s Paul Robinson says the new rules are tantamount to a complete ban on Christianity, but in fact Christianity in China is growing. The number of Christians in China has long surpassed the membership of the Communist Party. ChinaAid said they have not seen the Communist Party as bold as they have been this summer in playing God and twisting how the Gospel is taught. The only correct perspective in the eyes of the Communist government is worship of the state and placing faith in Xi Jinping.