INTERNATIONAL DIGEST: Beijing police evict Christian activist as US congressmen visit

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--As two U.S. congressmen wrapped up a human rights fact-finding visit to China during the run-up to the Olympic Games, officers of Beijing's Public Security Bureau broke down the door of a Christian activist's apartment, beat his family and forcibly evicted them.

Chris Smith, R.-N.J., and Frank Wolf, R.-Va., handed Chinese officials a list of 734 political prisoners jailed for promoting democracy, religious freedom or human rights. On July 1, Smith released a statement that said: "Tragically, the Olympics has triggered a massive crackdown designed to silence and put beyond reach all those whose views differ from the official 'harmonious' government line.... Brave and noble Chinese men and women are today suffering jail and torture simply because they sought to exercise their fundamental freedoms guaranteed not only by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but by the Chinese constitution itself."

On July 2, PSB officials broke down the door of Hua Huiqi's apartment and forced the family, including Hua's 90–year-old father, onto the street with their furniture at 11:10 p.m., according to the human rights organization China Aid Association (www.chinaaid.org). Hua's brother was beaten by police officers and suffered severe eye damage. Hua and his family took refuge with a Christian family in Beijing.

"The Chinese government has expressed its intentions to either detain Hua until Sept. 20, a date well after the Olympic Games, or to remove Hua and his family completely out of Beijing during the Games," a CAA statement said. "The CPC has branded Hua and other human rights and religious activists as 'troublemakers' and is adamant about keeping such people from attending the Games in August."

Three human rights lawyers scheduled to meet with Smith and Wolf on Sunday night were threatened and prevented by police from attending the meeting, Smith said. After the congressmen met with house church pastor Zhang Mingxuan, he was placed under house arrest.

"With just weeks to go to the Olympics, we join our voice to those of millions of Chinese and appeal to the Chinese Government to free its prisoners of conscience, stop the harassment and arrests of dissidents and respect fundamental human rights," Smith said.

TALIBAN APOLOGIZES FOR KIDNAPPING CHRISTIANS -- Two days after 16 Pakkistani Christians living at a former Islamic seminary and their Muslim landlord were kidnapped by elements of the Taliban, the local director of the extremist group publicly apologized for it.

Mangal Bagh, director of Lashkar-e-Islam in Bara, Pakistan, said through a spokesman June 23 that the kidnapping was the result of a misunderstanding. He insisted that his group provides full protection for religious minorities living in the area and that the abduction was conducted without approval.

Jeremy Sewall, a policy analyst for the human rights group International Christian Concern (www.persecution.org), rejected the explanation: "While the Taliban's effort to apologize is admirable, it rings incredibly hollow. The Muslim landlord who rented his buildings to the Christians is still in their custody. Arguably, under Islamic law, he is the one who is the most guilty since he 'betrayed' his religion by allowing non-Muslims to 'desecrate' a former Islamic Seminary. If the Taliban takes out their wrath on him, their apology is meaningless and these Christians will be defenseless. They would likely be turned out of their homes by whoever takes possession of his property."

BELARUS BAPTIST HANDED UNPRECEDENTED FINE -- The leader of a Baptist street ministry team evangelizing in a public market in Belarus has been fined the equivalent of two months' wages.

Vladimir Burshtyn and a choir were singing, preaching and talking to passersby June 5 in Ushachi, Belarus, when a plainclothes policeman told them to stop, the religious freedom organization Forum 18 (forum18.org) reported. Burshtyn protested that they were not disturbing public order and cited religious freedom guarantees in Belarus' constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. A court nonetheless fined Burshtyn 700,000 Belarusian rubles -– more than two months' average wages -– for failure to obtain a permit for the gathering.

The fine imposed on Burshtyn, whose team was from another region of the country, is the highest yet received by a member of the Baptist Council of Churches in Belarus, which broke away from the government-recognized Baptist Union in 1961 to protest regulations preventing missionary activity and religious instruction of children, Forum 18 said. Because they refuse to register with authorities, council congregations regularly face prosecution.

Olga Karchevskaya, a vice-chair of the Ushachi District Executive Committee, told Forum 18 she had nothing against preaching the Bible. "We're all believers nowadays," she said. The group of approximately 20 adults and children had violated Belarus' 2002 Religion Law by travelling 400 miles from Brest and neglecting to obtain prior permission from the committee.

A statement from Forum 18 noted in February 2008 that "in defiance of international human rights standards, Belarus is the only country in Europe to ban unregistered religious activity." The organization noted that a national government official, Leonid Gulyako, had announced that in 2008 "measures will be activated to prevent the spread of neo-cults and pseudo-religions." Increased pressure on members of the Baptist Council of Churches began shortly thereafter.

PASTOR FINED FOR CRITICIZING HOMOSEXUALITY -- A youth pastor in Alberta, Canada, has been ordered to pay damages equivalent to $7,000 and publicly apologize for a letter to the editor he wrote about homosexuality and sin.

Stephen Boissoin wrote a letter to the local newspaper of Red Deer, Alberta, in June 2002 that included a statement that "children as young as 5 and 6 years of age are being subjected to psychologically and physiologically damaging pro-homosexual literature and guidance in the public school system, all under the fraudulent guise of equal rights."

A professor at the University of Calgary complained about the letter and the Alberta Human Rights Commission ruled that Boissoin and the Concerned Christian Coalition violated Alberta's human rights law by publishing a letter in a local newspaper that was "likely to expose homosexuals to hatred or contempt because of their sexual preference." The ruling also ordered Boissoin and the citizens' group to make no further "disparaging remarks" about homosexuals in newspapers, e-mail, radio broadcasts, public speeches or Internet publications.

The ruling "threatens our very ability to express moral opposition according to our Christian beliefs," Adele Konyndyk of Voice of the Martyrs Canada (www.persecution.net) told Mission Network News. "He has a right to have these beliefs and to express them. So when this kind of a case comes where it's saying he can't have a moral opposition, based on biblical beliefs, then the question is raised, 'Where does the censorship stop?'"

Boissoin has publicly stated he "will never offer an apology" and plans to appeal the ruling, Konyndyk said. A Canadian homosexual rights group, Equality for Gays and Lesbians Everywhere, sided with Boissoin's right to free expression, although it disagreed with his beliefs.

JORDAN CHARGES DUTCH POLITICIAN WITH BLASPHEMY -- A prosecutor in Jordan has charged Dutch politician with blasphemy and contempt of Muslims for making an anti-Koran film. Although Geert Wilders was ordered to stand trial, prosecutors in the Netherlands have said he is protected by the right to free speech and no action would be taken against him.

The Organization of the Islamic Conference, a league of 56 Muslim nations, said it was "deeply annoyed" by the Dutch prosecutors' decision, the Reuters news organization reported.

Charges against Wilders were filed after a coalition of Jordanian activists and community leaders complained about Wilders' film entitled "Fitna," a term from the Koran that can be translated "strife." The film connected passages in the Muslim holy book with acts of violence against non-Muslims. The film's release was followed by Muslim protests in several countries. If tried and convicted, Wilders could face a maximum sentence of three years in prison.

Wilders, who leads the anti-immigration Freedom Party in the Netherlands, said he had been careful to limit his criticism to the religion of Islam and not Muslims, Reuters reported. Dutch prosecutors said he was not inciting hatred of Muslims because he did not call for acts of violence against them.


Mark Kelly is an assistant editor with Baptist Press.

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