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Indian Christians charged with kidnapping, forced conversion

Persecution | Advocates say persecution of religious minorities is rising in India
by Julia A. Seymour
Posted 8/01/17, 12:31 pm

As persecution intensifies in India, government officials in the state of Madhya Pradesh have charged six Christians, including some pastors, with kidnapping and forced conversion for chaperoning children on the way to church camp.

Local police arrested the group in May along with more than 70 children en route to a summer Bible camp, according to International Christian Concern (ICC).

Local Hindu radicals told railway police the party of Christians was trafficking children for forced conversion, a crime in that state. Police intervened, detaining everyone at a train station.

Authorities released most of the children after three days. All the parents confirmed in front of a local court they had willingly sent their children to the camp.

One child, 15-year-old Akash Gundia, was in juvenile detention until June 20 because police would not release him to his father, according to Morning Star News.

“I told the police I am a Christian by birth, and we are going to attend the VBS, but they did not listen to me and took us to the police station,” Akash said after his release.

Although false accusations are common, ICC’s William Stark said the “forced conversion” charges surprised him. “It is somewhat atypical for them to be formally charged under the law,” Stark said, noting charges are usually reduced.

One parent, Nana Singh, said his family has been Christian for five years. He told ICC the charges are meant “to pressure Christians and intimidate them to go back to the Hindu religion.”

“Authorities have decided to ignore that fact [they are Christians],” Stark said. The government argues that since the parents’ national IDs label them Hindu, the children are Hindu, not Christian.

Stark said many low-caste Indians (Dalits) who convert to Christianity or Islam don’t go through the government process to change their religion on their identification because they would lose government benefits for caste discrimination. India’s government gives “scheduled caste” benefits to Hindu, Buddhist, and Sikh Dalits but denies them to Christians and Muslims even though discrimination does not end with a change of religion.

Family members of the detained Christians told ICC the prisoners are subject to police beatings, insufficient food, and harassment by fellow prisoners.

ADF International decried the persecution as part of India’s “increasingly hostile climate towards religious minorities.”

Associated Press/Photo by Sima Diab Associated Press/Photo by Sima Diab A migrant is greeted by workers from Doctors Without Borders

Aid groups refuse to sign new migrant rescue code

Several rescue groups working in the Mediterranean Sea refused on Monday to sign a new code of conduct seeking to regulate the persistent flow of migrants into Europe.

The Italian Interior Ministry drafted the code following accusations that nonprofits were colluding with migrant traffickers, a claim the groups denied. The 11-point code requires rescue groups to allow armed police onboard. It also prevents them from firing flares, which could update traffickers of their location. Rescue groups picked up one-third of migrants brought ashore this year, many of them along the route from Libya to Italy. Nearly 95,000 migrants and refugees have reached Italian shores this year, according to the Italian Interior Ministry.

Save the Children, Malta-based Migrant Offshore Aid Station, and Spanish Proactiva Open Arms agreed to the conditions.

But other groups resisted. German-based rescue groups Jugend Rettet and Sea Watch called for clarity and argued the regulations negate their principles of neutrality.  Doctors Without Borders, in a statement released Monday, said it would not sign the code as it included several commitments that could decrease the efficiency of its operations with “dire humanitarian consequences.”

Authorities said any group that fails to sign the code could be denied access to Italian ports. —Onize Ohikere

Associated Press/Photo by Ben Curtis Associated Press/Photo by Ben Curtis Protesters in Nairobi, Kenya

All eyes on upcoming elections in Kenya

Kenyans head to the polls on Aug. 8 to vote for a new president. But days before the election, the process is already marred by scandals. On Monday, officials confirmed the murder of Christopher Msando, head of information technology at the electoral commission. Police said they found his tortured body on the outskirts of the Kenyan capital, Nairobi. Msando, who went missing last Friday, had worked with other employees at the commission to develop a new electronic ballot and voter registration system. Current President Uhuru Kenyatta, who has been in office since 2013, is locked in a tight race with repeated challenger Ralia Odinga. Both candidates have accused each other of attempting to influence the elections. More than 1,000 people were killed in protests following the 2007 Kenyan presidential election after the tallying was disrupted and a winner announced. O.O.

Nigerian recognized by UN for helping Boko Haram victims

A Nigerian aid worker last week won the 2017 United Nations Sergio Viera de Mello award for her efforts to reintegrate Boko Haram victims in northeastern Nigeria.  Rebecca Dali in 2009 opened the Center for Caring, Empowerment, and Peace Initiatives (CCEPI) in Borno state. The center cares for Boko Haram rape victims and their children. “As the communities resisted their reintegration, your negotiation skills and reconciliation efforts played an important role in their successful reintegration,” the award letter said. Rebecca’s husband, the Rev. Samuel Dali, formerly served as pastor of the Church of the Brethren, where many of the kidnapped Chibok girls attended. O.O.

Former Congo militia leader surrenders

The founder and leader of a Congolese rebel group accused of crimes against humanity surrendered last week to the United Nations mission in Congo. Ntabo Ntaberi Sheka founded the Nduma Defense of Congo, which has faced accusations of hundreds of mass rapes and murders. Congolese authorities in 2011 issued a warrant for Sheka’s arrest. It is still unclear what triggered his surrender. The rebel group continues with its assaults despite Sheka’s surrender. The UN mission said it will support judicial authorities to ensure Sheka is prosecuted according to the rule of law. O.O.

Philippines president threatens to bomb schools

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte last week threatened to bomb tribal schools in the country’s southern region for allegedly teaching “subversive ideas,” UCA News reported. A Catholic rural missionary group built some of the schools. Outraged human rights groups denounced his remarks and noted that bombing schools is a war crime. Duterte, who has been criticized by Human Rights Watch for “unleashing a human rights calamity,” later said he would only destroy the schools while they are empty, Press TV reported. J.S.

Julia A. Seymour

Julia worked in communications in the Washington, D.C., area from 2005 to 2019 and was a fall 2012 participant in the WORLD Journalism Institute mid-career class. She relocated to Denver in 2019. Follow Julia on Twitter @SteakandaBible.

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  • Laura W
    Posted: Thu, 08/03/2017 12:33 pm

    So Duterte backs down from his comment saying he would bomb schools by clarifying that he would only bomb empty schools. Almost makes me feel lucky we didn't get him for our president...