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Jakarta’s Christian Governor Ahok Imprisoned for Blaspheming Quran is Freed

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Nearly two years after he was imprisoned for blaspheming Islam, former Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama – better known as “Ahok – walked free.

In May 2017, Ahok was jailed after a Jakarta court found him guilty of blasphemy against Islam. He was sentenced to two years’ jail but was released early after remission, totaling 3½ months, for good behavior. He walked free from the high-security Mako Brimob detention facility in Depok, West Java, early Thursday morning.

“Basuki Tjahaja Purnama got out of the around 7.30am,” his secretary Ima Mahdiah said in a message to journalists. She added that he was picked up by his son Nicholas Sean and representatives of the “BTP team” – a group of close supporters who manage his social media accounts, among others.

Shortly after his father’s release, Nicholas Sean posted on Instagram a photo of them together, saying: “He’s back. My dad’s a free man! Thank you everyone for the support.”

Ahok, who in a recent letter from prison asked his supporters to refer to him by his initials “BTP” rather than his Chinese nickname – was Jakarta’s first Christian and ethnic Chinese governor since the 1960s.

Ahok was charged with blasphemy in September 2016 after accusing his political opponents of using Qur’anic verses to stop Muslims from voting for him in his bid for re-election as Jakarta’s governor. Muslim hardliners incited the people against him, mostly through social media, leading to a series of massive protests that called for his arrest.

One day after Ahok lost the election to Anies Baswedan in what local media referred to as the “the dirtiest, most polarizing and most divisive” election in Indonesia, prosecutors downgraded the blasphemy charges against him to a one-year suspended jail sentence, but on 9 May the court ruled against this and sent him to prison for two years.

The jailing of the former governor was widely condemned by rights groups, with the United Nations calling on the Indonesian government to repeal the country’s blasphemy laws which they said undermined religious freedom in the Muslim-majority nation.

“We urge the government to overturn Mr Purnama’s sentence on appeal or to extend to him whatever form of clemency may be available under Indonesian law so that he may be released from prison immediately”.

Still, in a recent letter posted on his official Instagram account, Ahok said he would serve his time all over again.

“If we could go back in time and someone asked which would you choose I would say I choose to be imprisoned at Mako to study for two years, so that I could maintain self-discipline for the rest of my life,” he wrote, “If I were re-elected, I would have become more arrogant, rough, and I would have hurt people.”

Following his release, reports speculate Ahok plans to become a consultant to local governments, helping them to navigate the country’s electronic budgeting system, and wed his girlfriend, a 21-year-old policewoman named Puput Nastiti Devi.

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Irish Bishop Against Practicing Yoga in Christian Schools

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An Irish bishop has written to Catholic schools urging them to ban yoga as it is ‘not of Christian origin’ and the children should spend their time ‘in adoration of Jesus’ instead.

Bishop Alphonsus Cullinan, wrote to principals, teachers and school staff members in Waterford City and County, Ireland, on October 10.

In his letter, he said: ‘Yoga is not of Christian origin and is not suitable for our parish school setting and especially not during religious education time.

‘I have been asked by several people to say a word on yoga and mindfulness. My question is, ‘Will they bring us closer to God or replace him?’

The bishop claimed that Christian Mindfulness is ‘meditation on Christ’ which empties the mind of ‘everything unnecessary’ in order to become ‘aware of the presence and love of Christ’.

While he also quoted Pope Francis that practices like yoga are ‘not capable of opening our hearts up to God’.

The bishop added how people can ‘take a million courses in spirituality’ but this activity ‘will never be able to give you freedom’, echoing Pope Francis’s speech in 2015.

He said Pope Francis’s philosophy was in keeping with Ireland’s Grow In Love programme. This touches on Christian doctrine, Scripture, morality and prayer.

Teacher’s were reminded that October is the ‘month of the Rosary’ and they should each pray in a bid to get closer to Jesus, in the letter.

But the primary school curriculum allows a degree of flexibility about how its implemented, according to the Irish National Teachers Organisation, who hit-back at his view.

John Stokes, a yoga instructor in Waterford, said the practice of yoga, meditation and mindfulness should be ’embraced’ in ‘an age where children are really suffering from anxiety and stress’.

‘There is no dogma taught in our classes and Yoga in it’s truest sense is a movement and breath awareness practice for health and wellbeing.

They said ‘here’s to tolerance, love and unity’ and invited him to a one-to-one yoga session or class of his choice’ at their Wellness Centre in Youghal, Ireland.

The Irish National Teachers Organisation said the primary school curriculum allows schools a certain amount of flexibility and autonomy with regard to its implementation.

They said the schools ‘are best placed’ to make the decisions about how the subjects are taught, taking into consideration the ‘school culture, ethos and needs of the pupils’.

This is not the first time Bishop Cullinan has received backlash for his views as he said he was to establish a ‘delivery ministry’ group to rid people of the devil through exorcism, last year.

He also claimed the cervical cancer vaccine could lead to promiscuity in 2017.

The bishop said the vaccine ‘lulls girls into false sense of security’ and encourages sexual activity, adding: ‘Prevention, the number one and most effective protection, is abstinence. A good old traditional value.’

He later apologised and admitted he was not fully informed about the vaccination programme. Cullinan’s ‘intention was solely motivated to protect people from HPV’.

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China Demolishes 3,000-Seat Megachurch during Worship Service

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The People’s Republic of China destroyed a church that reportedly could seat 3,000 people and detained its pastors, according to a human rights organization.

An international nonprofit Christian human rights group based in Texas, reported the incident in a statement released Saturday. According to the group, Chinese authorities provided no legal papers to justify the demolition.

The church was located in Funan, Anhui province. Its pastors, Geng Yimin and Sun Yongyao, were detained under suspicion of “gathering a crowd to disturb social order.”

China Aid President Bob Fu said in a statement that the incident was “yet another clear example showing the escalation of religious persecution today by the Chinese Communist regime.”

“The total disregard of religious freedom’s protection as enshrined in the Communist Party’s own Constitution tells the whole world President Xi is determined to continue his war against the peaceful Christian faithful. This campaign will surely fail in the end.”

While China’s persecution of religious groups has existed for many years, recently under President Xi Jinping a wave of crackdowns on religious practices in China has taken place.

The Communist government has destroyed or damaged several churches, reflecting concerns about the increasing Christian population of the country.

In the summer, True Jesus Church in Henan province was razed to the ground, according to persecution watchdog Bitter Winter. Police officers reportedly dragged out all believers from the church before they demolished the property.

Bitter Winter also reported last month that the Ten Commandments have been removed from nearly every Three-Self church and meeting venue in a county of Luoyang city and replaced with the President Xi Jinping’s quotes as part of the Chinese Communist Party’s efforts to “sinicize” Christianity.

In addition to cracking down on its Christian minority, China has engaged in violent persecution of its Uighur Muslim and Falun Gong communities.

The China Tribunal, a human rights group, told the United Nations Human Rights Council last month that the Chinese government is harvesting organs from religious minorities, with possibly hundreds of thousands of victims.

“Forced organ harvesting from prisoners of conscience, including the religious minorities of Falun Gong and Uighurs, has been committed for years throughout China on a significant scale, and that it continues today. This involves hundreds of thousands of victims.”

“Victim for victim and death for death, cutting out the hearts and other organs from living, blameless, harmless, peaceable people constitutes one of the worst mass atrocities of this century.”

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