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New Iranian President a Threat to both Human Rights and US-Iran Relations

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Iran – Former Iranian Judiciary Chief Ebrahim Raisi has emerged victorious in Iran’s 2021 presidential elections, which were marked with rampant corruption and historically low voter turnout. Raisi, a hardline conservative, dominated his lone moderate opposition thanks to severe election manipulation by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini. In the months leading up to election day, a panel of officials under the Supreme leader’s jurisdiction disqualified every candidate with the potential of competing with Raisi, eliminating all barriers on his road to eventual victory.

Beyond the implications of Raisi’s election on democracy in Iran, or lack thereof, his administration poses a significant threat to human rights in the country and Iran’s relationship with the United States. In his first few days as president, Raisi has only solidified concerns of his uncooperative, potentially dangerous tendencies. While demanding that the United States lift economic sanctions imposed by former President Trump and reinstate the controversial Iranian nuclear deal, Raisi said that even if he were granted the opportunity to meet with President Biden, he would refuse.

Raisi is the first-ever Iranian president to be elected while under sanctions by the United States, which were imposed in response to his horrific human rights record. In 1988, as part of a judicial death commission, Raisi helped sentence over 30,000 Iranians to death for political subversion in trials that lasted mere minutes. As Judiciary Chief, Raisi expanded his notoriety as one of the world’s most active executioners, overseeing death sentences for over 620 Iranians, most of whom were dissidents or members of minority groups. Raisi has also leaned heavily on torture and lashings as a method of combating subversion, especially against converts to Christianity. Sadly, Raisi’s human rights violations reflect the widespread persecution and suppression that Iranians suffer at the hands of their government. In 2021, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) recommended that Iran be designated as a Country of Particular Concern for its persecution of minority religious groups within its borders.

Raisi’s refusal to negotiate with the United States comes as a critical time for US-Iran relations. The Biden administration is seriously considering rejoining the Iranian Nuclear Deal and lifting the economic sanctions placed on Iran by the Trump administration. President Biden hopes that rewarding Iran for good behavior will discourage the Iranian government from developing nuclear weapons, which would have extremely grave implications on the stability and safety of the entire Middle East. However, many human rights experts are concerned that an incentive-based foreign policy towards Iran will prevent the United States from addressing the severe persecution being propagated by the Iranian government. Raisi’s election only amplifies these fears.
Sources:persecution

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Myanmar: Catholic priest, catechist abducted by armed group

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An armed resistance group opposed to Myanmar’s military junta in the western state of Chin has seized a Catholic priest and a catechist travelling with him.

Members of the Chinland Defence Force (CDF) seized Father Noel Hrang Tin Thang along with a catechist while they were travelling from Surkhua town to Chin state capital, Hakha on July 26, UCA News reported. Both belong to Our Lady of the Rosary Parish in Surkhua in Hakha Diocese.

Bishop’s appeal
Local Bishop Lucius Hre Kung of Hakha has called for their release, expressing concern for their safety and well-being nearly a week after their abduction.

“I call on the concerned leaders of the CDF to immediately release the pair,” Bishop Hre Kung said in a letter released on August 1. Local Catholics have also expressed concern and said prayers for the immediate release of the cleric and the catechist.

Father Tin Thang has been helping numerous of displaced people including the elderly, women and children who took refuge in the parish following clashes in early June, according to sources.

Allegations
Following the letter of Bishop Hre Kung, the CDF said the priest and catechist were in good health.

The group accused the priest of giving information to the military junta, getting medical support from the junta and urging locals to receive the junta’s support. The group said it had warned the clergy not to contact the military’s security force, and they had to arrest Father Tin Thang as he failed to comply. “We will release them only after our demands of transferring the priest from Surkhua to Hakha and signing letters of recommendation from two church leaders are fulfilled,” the group said.

However, according to the Italian news agency, AGI, the priest and the catechist were arrested in Hakha while buying medicines for the people of Surkhua. The local community denies Father Tin Thang had any involvement with the security force.

Father Paul Thla Kio, a priest of Hakha Diocese told the Vatican’s Fides news agency that the CDF has seen Father Tin Thang having contacts with a general of the army. Father Thla Kio explained that the general, who is a Catholic and attends Masses, often went to the priests’ residence. In fact, Father Tin Thang asked the general to avoid violence.

Civil resistance groups
The ousting of Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her elected government by the military on February 1, has thrown the nation into chaos with nationwide protests, strikes and a civil disobedience movement, demanding the restoration of the government and the release of their leader. There have been no signs of a letup in the bloody crackdown by Myanmar’s military on its opponents in a bid to consolidate its hold on power. The offensive has re-ignited the military’s old conflicts with some of the armed ethnic organizations as well as numerous independent civil resistance groups.

The CDF is one of these civil resistance groups fighting the military. Using homemade weapons, the CDF has inflicted heavy casualties among junta forces in a conflict that erupted in Chin state in May. Clashes are still raging and more than 18,000 people have been displaced in Chin state and neighboring Magway and Sagaing divisions, according to a United Nations report on July 30. During the conflict, priests have been targeted, with the military arresting eight priests from Chin and Kachin states and Mandalay division in May and June.

Ethnic Christians
Christians are a minority in the predominantly Buddhist country, accounting for 6.2 percent of its 54 million population. Myanmar Catholics represent about 1.5 percent of the population.

Areas occupied by the Kachin, Chin, Karen and Kayah ethnic groups, who have been facing oppression and persecution at the hands of the military for decades, are largely Christian.

Thousands of innocent civilians in have been displaced by the conflict. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Myanmar, over 220,000 people have been displaced by conflicts and insecurity since the coup.

Myanmar’s complex crises
The serious political, socio-economic, human rights and humanitarian crises generated by the coup, have been exacerbated by a raging third wave of Covid-19 infections, with an acute shortage of oxygen and near absence of the most basic healthcare.

Myanmar’s military ruler Min Aung Hlaing marked 6 months since the coup on Sunday by taking on a new title as prime minister of a newly formed caretaker government. The military-backed State Administration Council (SAC) that was formed after the Feb. 1 coup, has now been reformed as a caretaker government. The junta leader promised fresh multi-party elections in 2 years, saying he will cooperate with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on finding a political solution to the country.

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Israeli Archaeologists Find 3,100-Year-Old Alphabetic Inscription

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The ancient inscription was found inside a storage pit at Khirbat er-Ra‘I, an archaeological site some 3 km northwest of Tel Lachish in Israel.

It was written in ink on a jug, a small personal pottery vessel that holds approximately one liter, and may well have contained oil, perfume, or medicine.

It contains the letters yod (broken at the top), resh, bet, ayin, and lamed, and remnants of other letters.

“The name ‘Jerubbaal’ is familiar from Biblical tradition in the Book of Judges as an alternative name for the judge Gideon ben Yoash,” said Professor Yossef Garfinkel from the Institute of Archaeology at the Hebrew University and Dr. Saar Ganor from the Israel Antiquities Authority.

“In Biblical tradition, he is then remembered as triumphing over the Midianites, who used to cross over the Jordan to plunder agricultural crops.”

“According to the Bible, Gideon organized a small army of 300 soldiers and attacked the Midianites by night near Ma‘ayan Harod.”

“In view of the geographical distance between the Shephelah and the Jezreel Valley, this inscription may refer to another Jerubbaal and not the Gideon of Biblical tradition, although the possibility cannot be ruled out that the jug belonged to the judge Gideon.”

“In any case, the name Jerubbaal was evidently in common usage at the time of the Biblical Judges.”

Inscriptions from the period of the Judges are extremely rare and almost unparalleled in Israeli archaeology.

“As we know, there is considerable debate as to whether Biblical tradition reflects reality and whether it is faithful to historical memories from the days of the Judges and the days of David,” the archaeologists said.

“The name ‘Jerubbaal’ only appears in the Bible in the period of the Judges, yet now it was also discovered in an archaeological context, in a stratum dating from this period.”

“In a similar manner, the name ‘Ishbaal,’ which is only mentioned in the Bible during the monarchy of King David, was found in strata dated to that period at the site of Khirbat Qeiyafa.”

“The fact that identical names are mentioned in the Bible and also found in inscriptions recovered from archaeological excavations shows that memories were preserved and passed down through the generations.”

 

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