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Mother, 2 children reported as missing found dead in car in Dallas area

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A missing Forney woman and her two young daughters were found dead Thursday in an SUV in Farmers Branch.

Police said the Kaufman County Sheriff’s Office contacted them just after 10 a.m. for assistance in a missing-persons case, asking if officers could look for a blue 2008 Ford Escape in the 13300 block of Midway Road.

A cellphone tower ping led authorities to that location, KXAS-TV reported.

Farmers Branch police soon found the vehicle in a nearby parking lot in the 4300 block of LBJ Freeway. Natalie Chambers, 30, and her daughters, 4-year-old Izabel and 2-year-old Elise, were dead inside.

Police declined to say whether there were obvious signs of foul play, citing the ongoing investigation. The Dallas County medical examiner will determine the causes of death for Chambers and her children.

Chambers’ sister, Jessica Purcell, had posted on Facebook that the three left home about 8 a.m. Wednesday for a playdate in Grapevine but never arrived.

Purcell called her sister “hilarious and charismatic” and an “inspirational mother.” Izabel inherited her mother’s sassiness, she said, and Elise got her sense of humor.

“They were beautiful and perfect,” Purcell said. “Our hearts are completely shattered.”

Officer Steven Rutherford, a Farmers Branch police spokesman, said there was no information that authorities were seeking a suspect.

Rutherford called the case “very tragic” and said it was a difficult situation for the officers who made the discovery.

“That’s something tough for officers to deal with,” he said.

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Covid-19 New Zealand: masks are not mandatory

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Face masks are no longer mandatory on public transport in most of New Zealand as Covid-19 cases continue to drop.

From midnight on Wednesday, they are required only in Auckland, the heart of a recent outbreak, and on planes.

The rest of New Zealand lifted all pandemic restrictions on Monday.

New Zealand was widely praised for its swift response to Covid-19 and everyday life largely went back to normal in June, but the virus reappeared in Auckland in August.

The country’s biggest city went back into lockdown, temporarily, as other curbs were re-imposed elsewhere.

New Zealand has now recorded 1,468 confirmed Covid-19 cases and 25 deaths.

Everywhere except Auckland returned to level one – the lowest of a four-tier alert system – on Monday after seven days of no Covid-19 community cases.

This means life almost as normal – no more social distancing or caps on gatherings such as weddings or sporting events. Everyone can return to work without restriction and wearing a mask is no longer compulsory on public transport.

The government says face coverings aren’t necessary for the general public when there is no evidence of community transmission.

But it is still encouraging people to wear masks on public transport. In Auckland, now at level two, they are still compulsory.

Also, passengers on planes flying to, from and via Auckland – as well as on all Air New Zealand flights – are still required to wear masks.

On Wednesday, authorities reported three new community cases that are not linked to the Auckland cluster. They are connected to a recent chartered flight from Christchurch to Auckland.

Face masks have become one of the big dividers of the pandemic.

Long embraced in many Asian countries, they’ve been resisted by some citizens in the US, Europe and at times New Zealand too.

It only became mandatory four weeks ago to wear facial coverings on public transport at alert level two and above.

Now as most people return to the old normal, top epidemiologists have raised concerns about the dropping of masks.

We’ve argued to “retain mask use in specific situations like public transport and residential care facilities” until there is no community transmission for around four weeks and it’s clear the virus has been eradicated again, said Michael Baker, professor of public health at the University of Otago.

But the epidemiologist, who advises the government on its Covid-19 response, acknowledges the challenge masks pose.

“It gets harder to sustain interest in mask use when people think there’s no virus any more. We don’t have masks ingrained in our culture. And I think people have not got used to them at any point,” he told the BBC.

On Monday New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who has championed social distancing and masks, apologised over a maskless selfie with supporters last week, admitting she made a mistake.

 

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Vietnamese pastor released after 4 years imprisonment over religious freedom advocacy

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A Vietnamese pastor imprisoned for advocating for religious freedom has finally been released after spending over four years in prison, drawing praise from the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom.

On Sept. 18, USCIRF announced that A Dao, a pastor of the Montagnard Evangelical Church of Christ, had been released from prison. Dao was arrested in 2016 while on his way to visit some members of his church after attending a conference on religious freedom in East Timor.

In April 2017, a Vietnamese court tried and sentenced the pastor to five years imprisonment for allegedly “helping individuals to escape abroad illegally” under Article 275 of the country’s Penal Code. Dao was not expected to be released until Aug. 18, 2021.

USCIRF Commissioner James W. Carr, who advocated for Dao’s release through USCIRF’s Religious Prisoners of Conscience Project, said he hopes the release is a “sign that the Vietnamese government is serious about improving religious freedom conditions and will release other individuals detained for their religious freedom advocacy.”

He also called on Vietnam’s government to “take steps to ensure that local authorities respect A Dao’s freedom and safety should he choose to return to his home village.”

Dao had for years advocated for his fellow church members to enjoy religious freedom in Vietnam’s Central Highlands. While in prison, the pastor was beaten and abused by prison guards, while his church experienced ongoing harassment from the authorities.

Representative Glenn Grothman, who adopted Dao through the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission’s Defending Freedoms Project, said the pastor’s release marked a “hallmark day for both Pastor A Dao and Vietnam.”

“I hope that his release is a sign of Vietnam transitioning from an anti-God totalitarian state to a country in which religion in general and Christianity in particular can be openly practiced,” he said, adding that the release “shows the importance of American elected officials speaking out against oppression and promoting the importance of religious freedom throughout the world.”

“Religion should not be a tool to oppress any person nor a stain on their character,” he said. “I hope other American Congressmen familiarize themselves with the oppression that religious minorities, which in many parts of the world are Christians, have to deal with on a daily basis.”

Under Vietnam’s constitution, citizens are allowed to “follow any religion or follow none” and the government is required to respect and protect freedom of religion. According to estimates, the majority of Vietnam’s more than 94 million people practice Buddhism. More than 6 million Vietnamese are Catholic, more than 1 million practice the Cao Dai or Hoa Hao faiths, and approximately 1 to 2 million are Protestant.

However, the constitution permits authorities to override human rights, including religious freedom, for reasons of “national security, social order and security, social morality, and community well-being.”

Vietnam’s Communist government is particularly suspicious of Christianity, which it associates with former invaders, France and the U.S.

In its 2020 Annual Report, USCIRF noted that Hmong and Montagnard Christians in Vietnam’s Northern and Central Highlands are regularly harassed, detained, or even banished because of their religious affiliation. Because of this, USCIRF has recommended that Vietnam be designated as a Country of Particular Concern every year since 2002.

Vietnam ranks as the 21st worst country in the world when it comes to Christian persecution, according to Open Doors USA’s 2020 World Watch List. According to the persecution watchdog, Christians in Vietnam are targeted by both government and tribal leaders.

In 2018, Vietnam sentenced and jailed a number of Catholic activists, bloggers and Protestant pastors. In August, a pastor, Le Dinh Luong, was sentenced to 20 years for an alleged attempt to “overthrow the government.”
Sources: Christian Post

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