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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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Nigerian pastor freed by Boko Haram hours before execution: ‘I thank God’

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Boko Haram terrorists in Nigeria freed a Christian pastor on Wednesday evening who had been held captive since Christmas Eve, just hours before the ransom deadline expired and he was to be executed.

Security sources told the Nigerian online newspaper Premium Times that Pastor Bulus Yikura, who was abducted during an attack in the Chibok local government area of the Borno state on Dec. 24, has been released. A Premium Times reporter claimed to have seen the pastor being transported to a state security office around 6:15 p.m. local time.

Boko Haram, one of the world’s deadliest extremist groups, released a video on Feb. 24 where Yikura pleaded with the Nigerian government and the Christian Association of Nigeria to rescue him before he was killed.

“If you want me alive, I beg you in your capacity as president, the governor and our local government chairman to save me from this suffering,” the pastor said in the Hausa language, according to HumAngle.

“Today is the last day I will have the opportunity to call on you in your capacity as my parents and relatives in the country,” Yikura said. “Anyone who has the intention should help and save me. Please release me from this pain.”

In one of the videos obtained by HumAngle, the pastor knelt as a knife-wielding man in a mask stood behind him. Yikrua, affiliated with the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria, had appeared in three videos throughout his detainment. One was released in December, days after his abduction, and the others were released in January and February.

Security forces told Premium Times that Yikura’s family and the EYN church had been negotiating his release since last week.

When asked to speak about his release, the pastor was quoted as saying, “I thank God, I thank God.”

Dede Laugesen, executive director of the United States-based advocacy group Save the Persecuted Christians, believes EYN church might have paid his ransom.

“We celebrate his release and also the children from Zamfara being released, but the plague of kidnapping for ransom that has been rampant in Nigeria since 2019 has been unaddressed and we are now very concerned that we have seen the increase in the kidnapping of schoolchildren,” Laugesen told the Christian Post in an interview Thursday.

Kidnapping for ransom has become a lucrative industry to fund Nigerian extremists and criminals. The West African country has experienced a wave of mass abductions in the past months.

Nearly 300 Nigerian schoolgirls were kidnapped in a raid last week by armed militants in northwest Nigeria and were safely released on Tuesday.

“It’s an unfortunate reality that is becoming more and more ingrained in Nigeria and a problem that is very difficult to resolve, especially when the government is likely also involved,” Laugesen said.

Not long after the girls were freed on Wednesday, extremists reportedly burned much of a Zamfara state village in northwest Nigeria and abducted about 60 people, according to HumAngle. Many residents have fled to nearby areas for safety.

In January 2020, the Rev. Lawan Adnimi was beheaded in the Sambisa forest by Boko Haram militants because he refused to renounce his faith and money was not raised for his ransom.

Similar to Yikura, Boko Haram had previously released videos of Adnimi, who said, “By the grace of God, I will be together with my wife and my children and all my colleagues. If the opportunity has not been granted, maybe it is the will of God.”

Laugesen said the federal government’s lack of accountability in the prevalence of persecution must be called out before it escalates further.

“It’s a very complex situation with lots of factors involved, but thus far, the international community has failed to address this growing calamity in Nigeria,” Laugesen said. “We are all very concerned that you will see the eruption of violence on the scale of what we saw in Rwanda should the international community not be able to bring the Nigerian federal government to account.”

Laugesen told CP that some Christians are concerned the government enables militant organizations in order to receive funding for the military complex to fight terrorism.

“Nigeria is essentially the new headquarters for the Islamic jihad seeking to establish a caliphate …,” Laugesen said. “The Christians in Nigeria and others are very concerned that the government continues to give impunity to Islamic extremists in Nigeria. … So there’s no real accountability coming from the Nigerian government.”

The Global Terrorism Index ranks Nigeria as the third country most affected by terrorism in the world. From 2001 to 2019, it says there were over 22,000 terror-related deaths. Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, also leads the world in the number of Christians killed, according to Open Doors USA.

“Christians in Nigeria are really without representation or a voice,” Laugesen said. “Many believe that Nigeria is headed toward a complete unraveling, which would be a disaster on par with what happened in the Middle East with ISIS. Our organization, along with others, believes that an act of genocide of Christians is happening in Nigeria, that it is supported top-down, bottom-up from the government, and from the extremist groups.”

Open Doors 2021 World Watch List ranks Nigeria as the ninth-worst country for Christian persecution. The organization also reports an “extreme” level of Islamic oppression toward believers in Nigeria. Just under 50% of the country is Christian. According to Open Doors, there are over 95 million Christians in the country.

Nigeria was the first democratic nation to be added to the U.S. State Department’s list of countries of particular concern for engaging in or tolerating “systematic, ongoing and egregious violations of religious freedom.”
Sources:Christian Post

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കൊറോണ വൈറസ് റിലീഫ് ബില്ല് ചര്‍ച്ച ചെയ്യുന്നതിന് സെനറ്റിന്റെ അനുമതി

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വാഷിംഗ്ടൺ ഡിസി: വലിയ വിവാദങ്ങൾക്കും നീണ്ട കാത്തിരിപ്പിനും ശേഷം പ്രസിഡന്‍റ് ബൈഡൻ കൊണ്ടുവന്ന 1.9 ട്രില്യൻ ഡോളറിന്‍റെ കൊറോണ വൈറസ് റിലീഫ് ബില്ല് സെനറ്റിൽ ചർച്ച തുടരുന്നതിന് അനുമതി ലഭിച്ചു.

ബിൽ ചർച്ചയ്ക്കെടുക്കണമോ എന്ന വിഷയത്തിൽ വോട്ടെടുപ്പു നടന്നപ്പോൾ ഇരുപാർട്ടികളിലേയും അംഗങ്ങളുടെ എണ്ണം 50-50 എന്ന നിലയിലായിരുന്നു. ഇതിനെ തുടർന്നു വൈസ് പ്രസിഡന്‍റ് കമലാ ഹാരിസിന്‍റെ കാസ്റ്റിംഗ് വോട്ടാണ് ബില്ലിന് രക്ഷയായത്. ബില്ലിന്‍റെ വിശദചർച്ചകൾ ഇനി സെനറ്റിൽ നടക്കും. ബജറ്റ് റിക്കൺസിലിയേഷൻ നടപടി പൂർത്തിയായതിനാൽ കേവല ഭൂരിപക്ഷം മാത്രം മതിയായിരുന്നു ബില്ല് ചർച്ചയ്ക്കെടുക്കുന്നതിന്.‍

വിസ്കോൺസണിൽ നിന്നുള്ള റിപ്പബ്ലിക്കൻ സെനറ്റർ റോൺ ജോൺസൻ 628 പേജ് വരുന്ന ബില്ല് മുഴുവനായും സെനറ്റ് ക്ലാർക്ക് വായിക്കണമെന്ന് നിർബന്ധിച്ചു. ഇതോടെ ചർച്ചക്കനുവദിച്ച 20 മണിക്കൂറിനോടൊപ്പം 10 മണിക്കൂർ കൂടി അനുവദിച്ചു. സെനറ്റ് മെജോറട്ടി ലീഡർ ചക്ക് ഷുമ്മറുടെ ഉറച്ച നിലപാടാണ് ഇന്നു തന്നെ ബില്ല് ചർച്ചയ്ക്കെടുക്കുന്ന കാര്യത്തിൽ തീരുമാനം ഉണ്ടാകുന്നതിനു വഴി തെളിയിച്ചത്.

ബിൽ ചർച്ചയ്ക്കെടുക്കുന്നത് പരമാവധി താമസിപ്പിക്കുക എന്ന റിപ്പബ്ലിക്കൻ പാർട്ടിയുടെ അജണ്ടയാണ് കമല ഹാരിസിന്‍റെ വോട്ടോടെ പരാജയപ്പെട്ടത്. വരും ദിവസങ്ങളിൽ 1.9 ട്രില്യൻ ഡോളറിന്‍റെ പാക്കേജ് പൂർണമായി സെനറ്റ് അംഗീകരിക്കുമോ എന്നു കാത്തിരുന്നു കാണേണ്ടി വരും.
കടപ്പാട് :കേരളാ ന്യൂസ്

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