Displaying items by tag: Asia
Sri Lanka’s constitution affords Buddhism, which is practised by 70% of the population, ‘the foremost place’. This elevated status is exploited by a powerful ethnic Sinhalese and Buddhist nationalist lobby, which demands rights and privileges for itself at the expense of other religions. The lobby, which is particularly opposed to Christianity, campaigns for the introduction of anti-conversion legislation that would hinder Christian activities. Christians face difficulties in building churches and might be ordered to stop activities; they experience discrimination in education, and many live in desperate poverty. The government plans to introduce legislation prohibiting ‘cults’; this could threaten evangelical churches, which are not recognised by the state. Christianity has a long history on the island, pre-dating the arrival of Westerners by many centuries. Tradition claims that Sri Lanka was first evangelised by the apostle Thomas.
The Japanese are considered the largest unreached people group in the world, with over 120 million still waiting to hear the Gospel. Enormous hurdles stand in the way of the Japanese putting their faith in Jesus. Five of these hurdles are: - spiritual forces of evil, idolatry, and ancestor worship - the Bible and Christianity are viewed as Western and anti-Japanese - busy-ness and materialism - hopelessness, with more than 30,000 suicides per year - the Church's low influence in society. However, a low birthrate, an ageing society, natural disasters, economic decline and feelings of social isolation have provoked a recent resurgence in spiritual searching. The Japanese are now increasingly open to the Gospel, and many believe Japan is ready for an unprecedented awakening to the Good News of Jesus. Only a move of God will bring the freedom, joy, peace and hope that the Japanese desperately crave.
Cybersex trafficking is a new and devastating form of slavery. It is a rapidly growing problem as internet access increases everywhere. Now, paedophiles worldwide can direct the live sexual abuse of boys and girls, many under ten years old. For a crime, it’s low risk, easy to do, with high potential reward. 54% of victims rescued in International Justice Mission (IJM) cases are between one and twelve years old. Victims can be exploited in any location with a computer and the internet, or just a mobile phone. Philippine authorities are already receiving thousands of referrals a month, like Cassie, who was tricked to move to Manila when she was twelve. She had big dreams, but what she found was a nightmare - being forced to perform sex acts in front of a camera.
Christians in a predominantly Muslim region of Central Asia risk almost daily harassment for sharing the Gospel. In Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, the growth of Islamic extremism helped make 2016 the worst year ever for Christian persecution. Artur (not his real name) said, ‘If you are a Christian living in any of the five former Soviet Republics of Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan or Turkmenistan, you are intimidated, harassed, or - worse - jail time, for telling others about their faith. When the authorities discover someone has converted to Christianity, they will gather relatives, friends and family of the accused and bring him or her before an Islamic council of elders. The convert then stands before the group and has to decide between faith or family.’ Twenty-five years after the Soviet Union disappeared and these republics gained their independence, the five 'Stan States' have become repressive and hostile towards people of faith.
Even though the incumbent governor of Jakarta, ‘Ahok’ Tjahaja Purnama, a Christian, is awaiting trial for blasphemy, he is still in the running in the current elections for his post. In the first poll, on Wednesday, he was ahead, but did not have enough of a lead to take immediate victory. More than a thousand supporters flocked to the campaign headquarters of Ahok and Djarot (his running mate) to welcome the two candidates and watch the most recent quick count results. ‘We wanted to secure a one-round victory. But still, we should thank God for this result’, Ahok added. Anies Baswedan and Sandiaga Uno, their opponents, are close behind, while the third contestant has conceded defeat. This means that there will be a second round between the two remaining pairs of candidates - scheduled for 19 April.
Pakistan’s religious affairs minister has announced that there will be no change to the country’s ‘blasphemy’ laws. Previous attempts to amend the harsh legislation have been blocked, and those proposing changes have faced threats and intimidation. Although the majority charged under the laws are Muslims, Christians and other minorities are disproportionately targeted, and blasphemy accusations are often made to settle personal grudges. Those convicted can face the death penalty for 'defiling the name' of Muhammad: however, to date no one has been executed, although several Christians are among those on death row. On 1 February Adnan Prince, a Christian from Lahore, was granted bail after three years behind bars; despite several charges being dropped, he remains accused of insulting Muhammad.
Last week, after more than three years in jail, a Christian facing the death penalty on charges of blasphemy was granted bail by the Supreme Court in Lahore. Adnan Prince had been imprisoned in Lahore’s district jail since November 2013 after he was accused by a work colleague of insulting Islam, the Qur’an and Islam’s prophet. The three-man bench ordered the release of Prince, with bail set at Rs 300,000 (around £2,300). According to Mr Prince’s lead counsel, the case against her client should have been decided within two years. This did not take place due to lawyers’ strikes and delaying tactics by the prosecution, she said. She also explained that legal formalities were not fulfilled; guidelines passed by the Supreme Court say that a police officer of at least the rank of superintendent should have conducted the investigation. She added that there were no direct eyewitnesses and that all forensic evidence failed to link the accused. Although earlier bail applications had been dismissed by both a district judge and the Lahore High Court, the Supreme Court granted Prince bail and ordered his release. Similar cases have been known to take as long as seven years to reach trial.
On 5 January a church in Karuwalagaswewa was attacked and burned by a mob. Threats had previously been made to the church’s pastor, who informed the police. When the police inspector met with the pastor and a local Buddhist monk, he promised to maintain law and order. However, that very night the church was destroyed by a Buddhist mob of over 200. Sri Lanka’s constitution declares that Buddhism, the religion of the island’s ethnic Sinhalese majority, shall have ‘the foremost place’. Christians, who comprise 8% of the population, are commonly harassed and have been victims of violence, with Buddhists claiming that churches need to be registered, even though it is not actually a legal requirement. The church’s congregation have continued to meet, in the open air, despite further threats.
Officials say that six Afghan Red Cross workers have been killed by suspected IS group gunmen in the province of Jowzjan. Two others are unaccounted for, feared abducted by the gunmen. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) confirmed the deaths, but said it did not know who was to blame. The ICRC said it is putting its work in Afghanistan on temporary hold. ‘We need to understand more clearly what happened; this is one of the most critical humanitarian contexts, and we will definitely do everything to continue our operations there,’ said ICRC director of operations Dominik Stillhart. IS has been operating in Afghanistan since 2015, claiming responsibility for attacks in Kabul and the east. But there has been no immediate claim for the attack in Jowzjan.
Trafficked from Bangladesh and sold into a brothel in Mumbai, Babli started learning Hindi last year at the shelter where she was put up after being rescued. She can now read, write and speak the language fluently, thanks to Hindi classes that help girls identify their trafficking routes and record more accurate testimony. ‘I was brought to Kolkata from Bangladesh, but I couldn't read the names of train stations that I crossed on my way to Mumbai’, Babli said. Two northern Hindi-speaking towns of Varanasi and Gorakhpur have been identified as hubs in the trafficking routes towards the major cities. Activists say that identifying routes is important - not only to step up police vigilance in these areas, but also to protect the girls who go back home after a court case and are once again exposed to trafficking risks. An inadvertent outcome of these lessons at the shelter is that some of the girls have obtained places in regular schools this year.