Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Friday, April 04, 2008

Film equating Islam with violence spurs anger in Iran

Iran’s Foreign Ministry summoned the Dutch ambassador to its offices in Tehran in protest at a “heinous and blasphemous” film produced by far-right Dutch politician Geert Wilders, Reuters reported on March 30.

The film intersperses images of 9/11, the London and Madrid bombings and other terrorist attacks with verses from the Quran. It concludes with the message “it’s up to the Muslims to cut the hate sowing parts out of the Quran. Stop Islam from penetrating. Defend our freedom.”

Outrage has been expressed in Muslim nations around the world. Indonesian representatives called the film an “insult to Islam, hidden under the cover of freedom of expression.” British-based website Liveleak.com removed the film after threats to its staff “of a very serious nature” but it can still be viewed on the video-sharing website YouTube.

Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende has said the government believed the film “serves no purpose other than to cause offence. But feeling offended should never be used as an excuse for aggression and threats.”

EU foreign ministers condemned the film in a statement released after a meeting in Slovenia. “The film equates Islam with violence and this view is sharply rejected,” they said, while maintaining that free speech principles mean the author had a right to make it.

For the full article, click here.

U.S. immigration lawyer advocates for displaced Iraqi Christians

Robert DeKelaita, a U.S. attorney who is also a Christian born in Iraq, has begun to help others gain asylum in the United States, The Los Angeles Times reported Friday.

DeKelaita, an immigration lawyer, claims that his clients will face persecution if sent back to Iraq, as Christianity is frowned upon in the predominantly Muslim country. The article reports that “Over the last decade, DeKelaita has obtained asylum for hundreds of Iraqi Christians threatened with deportation. He travels the U.S. to counsel distraught, uprooted men and women who have fled religious persecution in Iraq.”

Since the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the Christian population has been severely reduced as Muslim extremists have made adherents the target of violence. Christians now worship primarily in remote locations, especially since the recent kidnapping and death of Chaldean Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho.

“Anguished over mistreatment of Iraqi Christian family members and strangers, DeKelaita long ago decided to dedicate his law practice to defending them,” the article says. “He is among a handful of immigration lawyers nationwide who specialize in representing Iraqi Christians, though he represents other clients.”

As the article notes, “More than 235,000 Iraqi refugees, most in Syria and Jordan, are seeking resettlement.”

For the full article, click here.

Iraqi government grapples with honor killing reform

Islamic parties in Iraq have begun reassessing laws that give leniency to honor killings, the Institute for War & Peace Reporting reported on March 28.

According to the story, “Article 111 of the Iraqi penal code – passed in 1969 – allows a lesser punishment for the killing of women if the male defendants are found to have had “honorable motives.” Under the law, a man can receive a maximum of three years in prison if he immediately kills or disables his wife or girlfriend after witnessing her engaging in a sexual act with another man.”

Narmin Othman, the minister of state for women’s affairs, is spearheading a campaign to alter the law so that those charged with the crimes are tried as murderers. However, Othman has faced opposition, as some members of parliament believe that honor killings are legal under Sharia law. In defense, Othman has argued that recent killings have been for cultural, and not religious, purposes.

Currently, she has received support from 60 members of parliament.

For the full article, click here.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Coptic monastic artifacts to be destroyed in Egypt

The Coptic Assembly of America (CAA) has recently reported that unearthed artifacts in land surrounding an ancient Coptic monastery in Egypt are in danger of destruction due to illegal land development.

CAA indicates that the land seizure and impending development is illegal because several government offices and committees, including the government’s artifacts committee, had in the past deemed the land to be preserved. Now, however, the government is turning a blind eye towards the preservation claim, refusing to grant ownership to the monastery or protect the priceless artifacts surrounding it.

For the full article, click here.
To read CAA’s call to protect the artifacts, click here.

North Korea Freedom Week 2008: April 26 – May 3

Various events will take place in Washington, D.C. for North Korea Freedom Week 2008, scheduled for April 26 to May 3. The weeklong series of events is intended to support freedom, human rights, and dignity for the people of North Korea. Taking place before the Olympics, these events are crucial, as there has been an increase in China’s arrests and repatriations of North Korean refugees. Moreover, due to their improved access to information from the outside world, it is especially important that North Koreans know that they are being thought of and spoken for.

The week’s events will begin on April 26 at noon with an international protest against China’s violent repatriation of refugees from North Korea. Another notable event will take place on April 29: an 11 a.m. concert by the Pyongyang Musical Mission Troupe and the Seoul Presbyterian Church Praise Band, followed by a noontime Capital Hill rally featuring Members of Congress, NGO leaders, and North Korean defectors.

For more information about North Korea Freedom Week 2008 and the North Korea Freedom Coalition, click here.

Congressional Caucus on Tibet formed

On Tuesday, the Tibetan Caucus was formed by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-C.A.) and Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-H.I.) in order to gain Congressional support for the Dalai Lama, and to raise awareness of the Chinese government’s human rights violations towards the people of Tibet.

Last August, Rohrabacher introduced H. Res 610, which calls for a boycott of the Beijing Olympics unless China ends human rights violations against its own people and the people of Tibet, Burma, North Korea, East Turkestan, and Sudan.

Rohrabacher and Abercrombie will be co-chairs of the Tibetan Caucus.

The recent crackdown on Tibetan protestors has prompted Rohrabacher to contact House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-C.A.), urging her to consider a boycott of the Olympics.

“The United States cannot continue to hide behind the spirit of the Olympics as an excuse to turn a blind eye to the Chinese regime’s horrifying human rights record,” said Rohrabacher.

To read H. Res 610, click here.

Number of child workers growing as food prices rise in Egypt

As the price of basic food staples in Egypt continues to soar, more and more children are leaving school to work in order to support their families, The Associated Press reported Thursday.

In a country where over 20 percent of the population already lives below the poverty line, inflation and rising world food prices have put severe strain on families’ ability to afford even the most basic of foods and supplies.

14-year-old Ali Abdel-Nasser has worked at a brick factory outside Cairo almost every day for the past four years. Ali, who loads a donkey cart with bricks at the factory, would like to take a break, but his family simply cannot afford it.

“The owners of the factory give the animals two days off,” Ali said. “But I cannot afford to rest. If I did, nobody is going to bring bread for my family.”

The Egyptian government has no data on how many children work at factories or other jobs, but there are believed to be 1.5 million street children between the ages of 6 and 17 in the country.

For the full article, click here.

Muslim Brotherhood stages protests across Egypt

Thousands of Muslim Brotherhood members staged protests across several cities in northern Egypt, accusing the government of blocking their participation in upcoming local elections, Al Jazeera reported Wednesday.

Following another spate of Brotherhood arrests, over 7,000 members of the banned organization took to the streets in the cities of Zagazig, Damanhur, Tanta, and Alexandria. Ten activists were injured in confrontations with police, and the Brotherhood says that over 100 members were arrested.

Since registration began on March 4, thousands of members have been prevented from registering as candidates, and hundreds of these aspirants have been detained. The Brotherhood has won several lawsuits reversing the obstructions, but the government has refused to implement the verdicts.

The local elections hold such importance in Egypt because the government postponed them in 2006 following an unexpectedly strong showing by the Brotherhood the previous year.

For the full article, click here.

Egypt confiscates German magazine for insulting Islam

Egyptian officials ordered the confiscation of a special edition of the German magazine Der Spiegel for its supposedly insulting portrayal of Islam and the Prophet Mohammad, Reuters reported Tuesday, citing Egypt’s state news agency MENA.

Information Minister Anas el-Feki said the decision “comes in the context of defending Islamic values,” adding, “We are for freedom of the press, but we cannot permit religions to be insulted.”

For the full article, click here.

US, UK encouraging Afghan tribes to provide own security

Afghan, U.S., and British officials have unveiled a new security initiative that seeks to give Afghans the power to guard their own communities against insurgents, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported Tuesday, citing The Washington Post.

According to the article, the multimillion-dollar Afghan Social Outreach Program would give village and tribal leaders “radios, phones, cash in exchange for their cooperation with government forces and commitment to deny refuge to militants.” The initiative would also promote reconciliation efforts and seek to integrate former Taliban fighters into civilian life.

For the full article, click here.

10,000 Afghan refugees return from Pakistan

Roughly 10,000 Afghan refugees have returned home over the past month with the aid of the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported Tuesday.

The assisted voluntary repatriation of Afghan refugees will continue until the harsher winter months begin. More than 3.5 million have returned to Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban, but some 4 million others still live as refugees in neighboring Pakistan and Iran.

For the full article, click here.

Olympic corporate sponsors reject calls to press China on human rights

Tibetan organizations are putting pressure on corporations that are sponsoring the upcoming Beijing Olympics, with a special focus on Coca-Cola, BusinessWeek reported on March 27.

Coke, Lenovo (a Chinese computer company), and Samsung (a South Korean electronics company), have all spent millions of dollars to sponsor the Olympic torch relay, which goes through 21 countries.

Human Rights Watch released a statement on March 25 urging these three companies to pressure Beijing to reopen Tibet and to send the torch there only if the Chinese government allows the recent unrest to be independently investigated.

Activists are focusing on Coke because of its huge influence. “You cannot, as a responsible American company, leave American values at the border in exchange for access to a lucrative market,” said Jacob Colker, campaign manager for International Campaign for Tibet.

In response to this and other statements, Coke has maintained that the issue in Tibet should be handled by the Chinese government and not corporate sponsors. Samsung and Lenovo have also said that they, as corporate sponsors, are not in positions to influence politics.

For the full article, click here.

Cambodian photojournalist, genocide survivor, dies at 65

Dith Pran, a photojournalist for The New York Times, died at age 65 in New Jersey on Sunday due to pancreatic cancer, The New York Times reported Monday. Pran, born and raised in Cambodia, was present in 1975 to witness the fall of Phnom Penh as the Cambodian Communists, the Khmer Rouge, took power.

Pran was Sydney H. Schanberg’s journalistic partner. Schanberg was a correspondent for the Times, and met Pran during his assignment in Southeast Asia. In 1975, however, Schanberg was forced to leave Cambodia while Pran became a prisoner of the Khmer Rouge. He became a slave in Cambodia’s countryside among countless others who were also part of Cambodia’s social experiment to establish itself as an agricultural nation. Hundreds of thousands of urban residents were expelled from their homes as part of the campaign.

Earlier on, Pran always insisted on staying with Schanberg in Cambodia to continue the news reports because he believed that a reaction and help from other countries would occur if they saw the tragedy in Cambodia. Schanberg said of his work with Pran, “His mission with me in Cambodia was to tell the world what suffering his people were going through in a war that was never necessary. It became my mission too. My reporting could not have been done without him.”

For the full article, click here.

Popular Afghan TV channel attacked by Afghan officials

Tolo Television, popular for its Indian soap operas and “Pop Idol”-style talent shows, has been “strongly condemned” by the Afghan Information and Culture Ministry for showing a scene of Afghan men and women dancing together, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported Monday.

The ministry said that the program was “against the beliefs and traditions of the Islamic society of Afghnistan.”

Culture Minister Abdulkarim Khorram was quoted as saying, “Not only do we denounce this show, we will also try to find ways to prevent these issues from happening again.” Khorram has referred the matter to a state media-monitoring committee to determine if any laws have been broken.

However, other parliamentarians and journalists have stood up for the station, and label the attack as one against all free speech.

Rahimulla Smandar, the president of the Independent Afghan Journalist Association, insisted that the efforts to curb such broadcasts were not supported by the majority of Afghans, saying, “Afghans are tired of decades of war and restrictions, and now they want light and entertaining TV programs…Apart from a group of hard-liners and those who belong to jihadi or religious groups, the rest of society is in favor of such television shows.”

For the full article, click here.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Hundreds gather to protest Chinese crackdown in Tibet

Hundreds of people gathered outside the White House on Monday to protest China’s recent crackdown on dissent in Tibet and to demand that President Bush boycott the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics, The Washington Post reported.

Speaking at the event, Kathryn Cameron Porter, President of the Leadership Council for Human Rights, said “it is not just the Tibetan people who are at risk. If China can do this to the Tibetan people then people who are evil can do this to everyone.”

Other speakers included Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio); T. Kumar of Amnesty International; Namkha Tenzin, President of the Capital Area Tibetan Association; and John Ackerly, President of the International Campaign for Tibet.

The rally was followed by a march to the Chinese Embassy.

In a letter to President Bush the Leadership Council for Human Rights, joined by dozens of other human rights organizations and advocates, called for him to boycott the opening ceremonies of the games.

For the full article, click here.

Journalist jailed in Viet Nam

A freelance journalist has been given a five-year prison sentence for “taking advantage of democratic rights to act against the state’s interests” and “receiving money from abroad to support complaints against the state,” Reporters Without Borders (RSF) reported on March 29.

Truong Minh Duc, who is a member of the banned Bloc 8406 pro-democracy movement, has used various pseudonyms to regularly criticize the government for corruption and abuse of authority. He contributes both to newspapers within Viet Nam and websites based abroad.

According to RSF, there are currently eight other journalists and cyber-dissidents in prison in Viet Nam.

For the full article, click here.

Saudi Arabia’s king proposes interfaith dialogue

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has proposed an interfaith dialogue between Muslim, Jewish, and Christian leaders, reports The Associated Press Wednesday March 26th . His proposal took place at a crucial time when tensions and anger within the Middle East are high.

It is significant that King Abdullah has proposed this dialogue because Saudi Arabia is a strict Islamic country, which only allows Muslim religious services. It is also home to both Mecca and Medina, the two holiest shrines in Islam.

King Abdullah, considered a reformer in his country, is the first Arab leader to propose an interfaith dialogue. He wishes to include the three monotheistic religions in order to “agree on something that guarantees the preservation of humanity against those who tamper with ethics, family systems and honesty.”

An anonymous Saudi official was quoted as saying “the initiative is not aimed at the Middle East but at the whole world.”

Not only does the ban on freedom of religion in Saudi Arabia affect non-Muslims, it also affects some Muslim sects, such as Sufis and Shiites. It will become clear after the dialogue has taken place whether or not the ban on non-Muslim worship services will be lifted.

For the full article, click here.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Imprisoned Afghan journalist moved to Kabul for blasphemy appeal

Sayed Perwiz Kambakhsh, the 23-year-old Afghan journalist sentenced to death for blasphemy and crimes against Islam, has been moved to Kabul for his appeal against the verdict, the Reuters blog Faith World reported Monday, citing Reporters without Borders (RsF).

Perwiz was moved on March 27. The news was welcomed by his supporters. “His transfer to Kabul has given rise to hopes that his appeal will not be influenced by religious fundamentalists, as was the case when he was sentenced to death for “blasphemy” by the court in Mazar-i-Sharif, on 22 January 2008,” RsF said in a statement.

For the full article, click here.

Afghan ‘opium brides’ bear the burden for poppy eradication

As Afghanistan’s government expands its poppy eradication efforts, the daughters of ruined poppy farmers are increasingly sold to pay off debts to drug traffickers, Yahoo News reported Monday, citing an article in Newsweek’s upcoming issue.

Termed as “opium brides,” or “loan brides,” the daughters of poppy farmers are often given to drug traffickers if their fathers are unable to pay loans taken for growing their crops. With Kabul stepping up its eradication efforts, more and more farmers are defaulting on their loans, and thus more farmers are being forced to give their daughters, some as young as ten, to the drug traffickers.

While law enforcers predict another record opium harvest worth billions of dollars, most of the 500,000 Afghan poppy farmers are struggling to survive.

For the full article, click here.

Battle over female circumcision and child marriages consumes Egypt

Proposed legislation in the Egyptian parliament that would reinforce the illegality of female circumcision with serious prison sentences, and raise the minimum age of when a girl can marry has sparked outrage from Islamists and conservative clerics, the Los Angeles Times reported Sunday on its blog, Babylon & Beyond.

Drafted by the government-sponsored National Council for Motherhood and Childhood, the legislation seeks to solidify the criminal nature of female circumcision, imposing two year prison sentences and fines of 5,000 Egyptian pounds for those who carry out the controversial operation. The proposal would also raise the minimum age of marriage from 16 to 18. According to the article, the changes have spurred critics to deem the bill an affront to Sharia law and as “an attempt by the government to impose a Western agenda on an Islamic society.”

Still, the debate is not strictly divided down religious versus secular lines. Islamic scholars have been divided over the religious legitimacy of female circumcision since the practice was technically outlawed several years ago. The bill’s architects believe they have a national consensus behind them, including some clerics.

“Nobody can deny that the Egyptian society resents the negative health effects caused by [female] circumcision,” said Moushira Khattab, secretary-general of the National Council for Motherhood and Childhood. “Thus the punishment of those who conduct the practice is a must.”

For the full article, click here.

Turkish campaign against PKK continues

Turkish forces continue to attack Iraqi Kurdistan in hopes of eliminating PKK rebels, BBC News reported on Saturday.

Air strikes initiated by the Turkish military began on March 28, and were aimed at PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) bases in northern Iraq.
Iraqi authorities, as well as U.S. forces have urged the Turkish military to end the attacks for fear that Iraqi Kurds will be pulled into the fighting.

The article adds, “The PKK, which wants autonomy for Kurds in south-eastern Turkey, is branded a terrorist organization by Turkey, the US and EU.”

For the full article, click here.