- Sunni Arabs ‘helped drive out’ Mid-East Christians
Amid the push by Iraqi government forces to retake Mosul from Islamic State (IS), some former inhabitants of Christian villages in the Nineveh Plains and northern Syria are refusing to go back because they believe their former Sunni Muslim neighbours were complicit in driving them out, says Middle East analyst and former journalist, Patrick Cockburn, in News Deeply. Christians returning to Nineveh believe Sunni Arab villagers were complicit in “taking their houses, killing and raping people,” he says.Cockburn adds that, in Syrian towns occupied by IS, Christians believe their Sunni Arab neighbours were similarly cooperating with IS and that returning Christians might drive Sunnis out in turn. There’s a “real, very high level of friction and hostility on the ground, which I think is going to be extraordinarily difficult to reverse”, he says.“A longer-term and very dangerous shift in both Iraq and Syria is that communities in general can’t live together any longer.”In November Archimandrite Emanuel Youkhana, a priest in the Assyrian Church of the East and head of CAPNI (Christian Aid Program Northern Iraq), said that defeating IS won’t guarantee Christians’ return. “What are the guarantees that it will not happen again?” he asked, noting that Iraqi Christians had been targeted not only since IS’s sudden appearance in 2014 but since the US-led invasion in 2003, after which he said the fabric of Iraq “was broken”.In the decades before IS, more than a million Christians left Iraq, which had turned increasingly hostile towards them, the minority population felt.
- 13 Mar 17, 1:01pm -
- ‘Freedom of religion or belief must be protected’
Countries around the world are urged to act now to promote and protect the right to freedom of religion or belief by a UN expert.The Special Rapporteur, Ahmed Shaheed, made his appeal at the Human Rights Council in Geneva, as he set out his priorities for the mandate of freedom of religion or belief, which he took up last November.Mr. Shaheed expressed concern about a rise in the number of incidents of violence - for religiousreasons - by extremist groups, vigilante mobs and others.“State and non-State actors, alike, continue to impose restrictions, or limitations, and engage in targeted harassment, intimidation of, or discrimination against religious minorities, unrecognised religious communities and dissidents, who are often confronted with threats to their freedom, safety and security,” he said.“I am particularly alarmed by continuing reports of mass atrocities and violence that threaten the very existence of religious minority communities, including some groups that have existed for over two millennia.”Mr. Shaheed pointed to a number of mechanisms for the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of religion or belief that have already been developed, and for which consensus among states already exists. He said his agenda for the next three years would be focused on the implementation of these state obligations.The Special Rapporteur stressed that policies adopted to enhance the capacity of security forces to combat terrorism by limiting fundamental rights (such as freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly) often have dire consequences for the enjoyment of the right to freedom of religion or belief.He welcomed efforts to promote that right at national and international levels by governments, parliamentarians, national human rights institutions, human rights and faith-based organisations, and educational institutions.
- 10 Mar 17, 6:39pm -
- Iraq urged to allow UN investigation into genocide
International human rights lawyer Amal Clooney has called upon the Iraqi government to allow a UN investigation into the treatment of Yazidis by the so-called Islamic State (IS), reports Reuters.A year ago, the UK Parliament joined US Secretary of State John Kerry, the US House of Representatives, the EU Parliament and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in describing the actions of IS (or Da’esh) as genocide. In June last year, UN experts reported that IS militants seek to destroy the Yazidi group, whose beliefs combine elements of several ancient Middle Eastern religions, through murder, sexual slavery, gang rape, torture and humiliation that amounts to genocide.Some religious leaders and other sources, including Vienna-based legal counsel Ewelina Ochab, believe that the campaign of genocide also extends to Christians. Prior to the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, there were 1.4 million Christians in the country. Today there are thought to be fewer than 200,000. World Watch Monitor reported in May last year that Christianity “could disappear” from Iraq and Syria withinfive years, according to Catholic sources. Britain is drafting a UN Security Council resolution to establish an investigation, but Clooney said the Iraqi government needs to send a letter formally requesting the inquiry before the council can vote.Clooney, who represents Yazidi victims of IS, told reporters, “We do want to see an investigation take place with the cooperation of the Iraqi authorities, but ultimately if that support is not forthcoming in terms of real action, then the UN has to think of other ways in which to achieve accountability.”Since 2014, when IS took control of parts of Iraq, Yazidis and Christians have been under severe, and often violent, pressure with many Christians being given four options: to leave, convert to Islam, pay the jiyza (tax), or be killed. A report last October highlighted this accelerated targeting of “disproportionately suffering” Middle East Christians.
- 10 Mar 17, 1:08pm -
- Iranian mother and son Christian converts arrested
An Iranian mother and son who converted to Christianity have been arrested in the north-western province of West Azerbaijan. Anousheh Reza-Bakhsh (known as Veronika) and her son Soheil (known as Augustine) were arrested on 20 February at their home in Urmia, the provincial capital. Mohabat News reports that it is the first known arrest of Christians in the city since 2008. Urmia, with nearly 700,000 inhabitants, is famous for housing the Cathedral of St. Mary the Mother of God, whose origin dates back to the 16th Century. Middle East Concern (MEC) reports that the mother and son, who had become Catholics, were baptised in Istanbul in August last year, after which they returned home and “continued to read and learn about the Christian faith”. Christian material was reportedly found at their home, as Augustine, reported to be a psychology student, had been “a keen follower of online Christian theological training programmes and Christian satellite TV channels”, according to MEC. There has been no further update on their whereabouts or safety, though they are believed to have been taken to an intelligence office of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. They are both reported to have health issues. Iran, which is no. 8 on the 2017 Open Doors World Watch List of countries where it is most difficult to live as a Christian, continues to monitor and persecute Christians across the country. Often, detainees are subject to psychological and physical harm by the authorities. Iranian and European human rights and religious rights organisations have urged the international community to use new opportunities for trade with Iran since the nuclear agreement to hold the government there to account over its treatment of Christian converts.
- 9 Mar 17, 3:23pm -
- Pope: ‘Persecutors don’t care about denominations’
Pope Francis has urged all Christians to pray for fellow believers who are persecuted for their faith, saying that “those who persecute them make no distinction between the religious communities to which they belong”.“How many people are being persecuted because of their faith, forced to abandon their homes, their places of worship, their lands, their loved ones!” Francis says in the video that shows three representatives of different denominations: Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox – standing as if in a police line-up accused of a crime. “They are persecuted and killed because they are Christians,” the Pope continues, adding, “I ask you, how many of you pray for persecuted Christians?”The one-minute video, which also includes images of broken religious statues and a burnt-out church, is the latest to be produced by the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network and contains his prayer intention for March: the support of persecuted Christians through prayers and material aid from all the Churches.Francis has spoken frequently about an “ecumenism of the blood” to emphasise that persecution is affecting many parts of the Church and should be met with ecumenical solidarity.
- 8 Mar 17, 2:31pm -