INTERNATIONAL DIGEST: Apostasy bill would require death for leaving Islam; ...

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--A new draft bill before a committee of Pakistan's National Assembly would require men who leave Islam to be put to death. Women convicted of "apostasy" would be sentenced to life in prison.

Under the Apostasy Act 2006, the testimony of two adults that another person has left the Muslim religion –- or a confession by the accused -– is all that would be needed for conviction if the bill is adopted into law. The accused would be given up to 30 days to renounce the decision and return to Islam, yet even then still could be punished by up to two years in prison. All property belonging to an offender would be forfeited to Muslim relatives as well as custody of their children.

The legislation was adopted in its first reading before the parliament but tabled by the six-party Islamic alliance, the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal, according to Joseph K. Grieboski, president of the Institute on Religion and Public Policy.

"This legislation is a clear demonstration that fundamental freedoms are of no importance to the National Assembly of Pakistan," Grieboski said. "Passage of this bill would usher in a new age of religious bigotry in a country that prides itself on being a strong and committed ally in combating global terrorism. Laws such as this would only serve to engender further extremist behavior."

RADIO OUTREACH FOCUSES ON AMAZON NOMADS -- An isolated, nomadic people living along the Amazon River in Brazil, Colombia and Peru are now the focus of an intensified Gospel radio outreach.

Christian programming in the language of the Ticuna people group went on the air a year ago, according to Jim Munger of Trans World Radio, but access to radios was limited in their remote villages. Christian radio stations in the United States set out to raise money to purchase fixed-tuned, solar-powered radios developed at the global technologies center of HCJB World Radio.

The new radio units were waiting to be released from customs so they could be transported to the Ticuna villages, Munger told Mission Network News. Once that is done, the Ticuna people will have much better access to the Gospel message.

"There are churches among the Ticuna people, but because it's a nomadic group, in the jungle, there are a lot of isolated communities," Munger said. "Radio is an ideal medium for reaching these people with the Gospel."

CHRISTIANS ASK INDIA'S GOVERNMENT FOR PROTECTION -- Daily violence against Christians in 10 states of India has prompted Christian leaders in that country to publicly appeal to the central government for protection under Indian law. The All India Christian Council has written a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, asking him to intervene on behalf of Christian members of the "backward castes."

Pastors are being beaten by mobs and women are being raped, AICC President Joseph D'souza said. "'Hindutva' extremists are running a series of planned attacks against the Christian community for over a year now," he told Mission Network News. Extremist Hindu leaders had encouraged the violence, but government officials had not responded, "much less to caution them of punishment under the law of the land," he said.

Sexual violence against Christian women is especially bad in Orissa and Madhya Pradesh states, D'souza said. Despite the attacks, the Christian community has never retaliated or taken recourse to any form of violence, he said.

Discrimination against people in castes formerly known as "untouchables" is banned, but prejudice and abuse continues. The majority of Christians in north India are members of backward castes, so their oppression is multiplied because of religious hatreds.

U.S., EU DIPLOMATS BOYCOTT 'JERUSALEM DAY' -- Diplomats from the United States and the European Union did not attend the 40th anniversary celebration of Jerusalem's unification during the 1967 "Six Day War."

The European Union announced May 13 that its representatives would not attend a ceremony held the next day at the Israeli parliament building. A spokesman said EU countries believe Jerusalem "should serve as a capital for two states." The United States said it had "a long-standing policy" of not participating in the annual celebrations, according to the Associated Press.

Israeli troops captured Jerusalem's "Old City" in June 1967, unifying a city that had been partially under Jordan's control for 19 years. Arab governments have never recognized Israeli sovereignty, and foreign governments refuse to maintain embassies in the city because of the dispute.

VIETNAM CONVICTS HUMAN RIGHTS LAWYER -- A court in Vietnam has sentenced Christian religious liberty advocate Nguyen Van Dai and his colleague, Le Thi Cong Nhan, to prison terms for "conducting propaganda activities to harm the security of state."

Dai is one of only a few human rights lawyers practicing in Vietnam and has been the primary legal defender for the country's Protestant churches. He and his partner had trained Vietnamese students to protect human rights.

On May 11, Dai, 38, was sentenced to five years imprisonment, followed by four years of house arrest and Nhan, 28, was sentenced to four years in prison and three years of house arrest, according to Elizabeth Kendal of the Religious Liberty Commission of the World Evangelical Alliance.

Dai denied he had broken any laws, according to an Associated Press report. Vietnam's constitution says: "The citizen shall enjoy freedom of opinion and speech, freedom of the press, the right to be informed, and the right to assemble, form associations and hold demonstrations in accordance with the provisions of the law."

The government publicly accused Dai and Nhan of "conspiring with criminals and even terrorist organizations responsible for kidnappings, bombings and assassinations" and abusing "the right to freedom of speech by posting information on the Internet and giving interviews to overseas Vietnamese-owned radio stations where he painted a biased and distorted picture of the country and its internal affairs," according to Kendal.

The pair had given evidence that the Vietnamese government is persecuting Christians to diplomats and religious freedom organizations in the United States, the government said.

N. KOREA ALLOWS CROSS-BORDER SCIENCE MEETING -- For the first time in more than 60 years, scientists from North Korea and South Korea have met together for a four-day seminar promoting scientific development and academic cooperation between the two countries. The gathering marked the first time scientists from both Koreas have met in one of their own countries.

More than 100 scientists gathered in Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea, to exchange views on four different areas of chemistry, including nano- and high-molecular chemistry, according to Asia News. The Korean Federation of Science and Technology Societies, based in Seoul, organized the event in cooperation with its counterpart in North Korea.

"Scientists from the two sides were able to conclude a purely academic meeting, which will serve as a cornerstone in future cross-border science talks," federation chairman Chae Young-bok said. Scientists from both Koreas previously have met at conferences in China and other countries.

BRAZIL MAN CONVICTED OF KILLING OF U.S. NUN -- A rancher in Brazil's "Wild West" Amazon region was convicted May 15 of the 2005 murder of an American nun who obstructed his efforts to harvest timber from the country's endangered rain forests.

Vitalmiro Bastos de Moura was sentenced to the maximum possible prison term, 30 years, for ordering the murder of 73-year-old Dorothy Stang, a native of Dayton, Ohio, who helped build schools and defended the rights of poor farmers in the Amazon region, according to the Associated Press.

Human rights organizations saw the trial as a hopeful sign that more powerful land developers will be brought to justice for such crimes. In the past 30 years, nearly 800 similar murders have occurred in Brazil's Para state, according to the AP. Only four of the powerful men behind such killings have been convicted -– and none of them actually went to prison.

After Stang was murdered, Brazil's president suspended logging permits, made large sections of rain forest off-limits to developers and ordered the army into the region to preserve order.


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