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Haiti gang demands $17 million ransom for kidnapped missionaries

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Haitian gang that kidnapped a group of American and Canadian missionaries is asking for $17 million – or $1 million each – to release them, according to a top Haitian official.

Justice Minister Liszt Quitel told Reuters that talks were under way with kidnappers to seek the release of the missionaries abducted over the weekend outside the capital, Port-au-Prince, by a gang called 400 Mawozo.

The minister confirmed the ransom fee, telling Reuters: “They asked for $1 million per person.” The fee was first reported by the Wall Street Journal earlier in the day.

Tuesday the kidnappers first called Christian Aid Ministries – the group to which the victims belonged – on Saturday and immediately conveyed the price tag for the missionaries’ release. The FBI and Haitian police were advising the group in negotiations, the minister said.

Several calls between the kidnappers and the missionary group have taken place since their disappearance, the minister told.

The Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries called for prayers for the “Haitian and American civil authorities who are working to resolve this situation.”

Among the 16 Americans and one Canadian are five children, including an 8-month-old baby, the missionary organization said. They were abducted in an area called Croix-des-Bouquets, about 8 miles (13 km) outside the capital, which is dominated by the 400 Mawozo gang.

The U.S. government is “relentlessly focused” on the kidnapping and in constant communication with Haitian police and the missionaries’ church, Secretary of State Antony Blinken told journalists in Quito, where he met with that country’s president and foreign minister.

“Unfortunately, this is also indicative of a much larger problem and that is a security situation that is quite simply unsustainable,” Blinken said, referring to gangs that he said control parts of Port-au-Prince.

The FBI said on Monday it is part of a U.S. government effort to get the Americans involved to safety.

GROWING CRISIS
Five priests and two nuns, including two French citizens, were abducted in April in Croix-des-Bouquets and were released later that month.

Quitel told the Wall Street Journal that a ransom was paid for the release of two of those priests.

Kidnappings have become more brazen and commonplace in Haiti amid a growing political and economic crisis, with at least 628 incidents in the first nine months of 2021 alone, according to a report by the Haitian nonprofit Center for Analysis and Research in Human Rights, or CARDH.

Haitians mounted a nationwide strike on Monday to protest gang crime and kidnappings, which have been on the rise for years and have worsened since the July assassination of President Jovenel Moise.

Shops reopened on Tuesday in Port-au-Prince and public transportation started circulating again. Transport-sector leaders had pushed for the strike, in part because transit workers are frequent targets of gang kidnappings.

Kidnappings in Haiti have rarely involved foreigners.

The victims are usually middle-class Haitians who cannot afford bodyguards but can put together a ransom by borrowing money from family or selling property.

The growing crisis in Haiti has also become a major issue for the United States. Thousands of Haitian migrants arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border last month, but many were deported to their home country shortly afterward.
Sources:indiatoday

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A Pentecostal Church in Chin State Burned Down by the Burmese Army

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Myanmar – A Pentecostal church in Myanmar’s Christian-majority state was torched by the Burmese Army (Tatmadaw). Its clergy quarter was also set on fire.

According to Chin Human Rights Organization, the town of Thantlang once again came under an arson attack by the Tatmadaw on December 4, where 19 structures were burned down by the junta soldiers. Along with neighboring houses, United Pentecostal Church and its clergy quarter near the center of the town were set on fire.

Salai Isaac Khin, a former regional minister, shared on his Facebook that ousted Vice President Henry Van Thio and his wife, Dr. Sui Hluan used to attend the church.

Since Sep. 9, more than 450 houses, including five church buildings were burned down in the now desolated Thantlang. Over 10,000 residents have fled to neighboring states or India to avoid the ongoing fighting between local resistance forces and the Tatmadaw.

Chin activists believe that the continuous attack shows the junta’s intention of clearing more structures near the brigade’s camp. However, the targeted destruction of churches also points to the Tatmadaw’s hostilities toward Christianity.
Sources:persecution

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Two Christian Sanitation Workers Killed in Pakistan

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Pakistan – According to The Alabama Baptist, two Christian sanitation workers in Pakistan died in early October as they saved another Christian overcome by toxic fumes in a sewer.

On October 3, Faisal Masih and Nadeem Masih were ordered into a sewer to rescue Michael Masih by their Muslim supervisor Muhammad Farooq in Sargodha, Pakistan. The pair were given no personal protective equipment according to a report by Barnabas Fund.

After rescuing Michael Masih from the sewer, Faisal Maish and Nadeem Masih were swept away by a strong current. An emergency team was called to rescue the Christians, but this assistance was refused because the emergency team believed touching a Christian would make them ritually unclean.

Later, a fourth Christian was sent into sewer to recover the bodies.

Michael Masih was taken to the hospital where he likely faces long-term health problems due to his exposure to the toxic fumes. Sargodha Metropolitan Corp, the company that oversees sanitation work, claims all precautionary measures were followed.

In Pakistan, Christians make up between 80% to 90% of the sanitation workforce, including the country’s street sweepers, janitors, and sewer workers. This percentage is an extreme overrepresentation as Pakistani Christians represent less than 2% of the country’s overall population.

As has been documented by International Christian Concern (ICC), this overrepresentation is due to discriminatory hiring practices. In many cases, job advertisements for sanitation positions, considered the lowest and filthiest, are reserved for non-Muslim applicants only.

Discrimination against Christian sanitation workers is widespread in Pakistan. They are often forced to work in dangerous conditions with little to no safety equipment provide by the companies overseeing their labor.
Sources:persecution

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Taliban release decree saying women must consent to marriage

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The Taliban has issued a decree barring forced marriage in Afghanistan, saying women should not be considered “property” and must consent to marriage, but questions remain about whether the group that returned to power in mid-August would extend women’s rights around work and education.

The decree was announced on Friday by the reclusive Taliban chief, Hibatullah Akhunzada – who is believed to be in the southern city of Kandahar. “Both (women and men) should be equal,” said the decree, adding that “no one can force women to marry by coercion or pressure”.

The decree did not mention a minimum age for marriage, which previously was set at 16 years old.

The group also said a widow will now be allowed to re-marry 17 weeks after her husband’s death, choosing her new husband freely.

Widows
Longstanding tribal traditions have held it customary for a widow to marry one of her husband’s brothers or relatives in the event of his death.

The Taliban leadership says it has ordered Afghan courts to treat women fairly, especially widows seeking inheritance as next of kin. The group, which came to power in August, also said it had asked government ministers to spread awareness about women’s rights across the population.

The development was hailed as a significant step forward by two leading Afghan women, but questions remained about whether the group would extend women’s rights around work and education.

“This is big, this is huge … if it is done as it is supposed to be, this is the first time they have come up with a decree like this,” said Mahbouba Seraj, executive director of the Afghan Women’s Skills Development Center speaking from Kabul on a Reuters Next conference panel on Friday.

The international community, which has frozen billions of dollars in funds for Afghanistan, has made women’s and human rights a key element of any future engagement with Afghanistan.

Seraj said that even before the Taliban took over the country on August 15, Afghan politicians had struggled to form such a clear policy on women’s rights around marriage.

“Now what we have to do as the women of this country is we should make sure this actually takes place and gets implemented,” said Seraj.

Roya Rahmani, the former ambassador for Afghanistan to the United States, echoed her optimism and added that it was likely partly an attempt to smooth over international fears regarding the group’s track record on women’s rights as the Taliban administration seeks to get funding released.

“An amazing thing if it does get implemented,” Rahmani told the Reuters Next panel, adding details such as who would ensure that girls’ consent was not coerced by family members would be key.

“It’s a very smart move on the part of Taliban at this point because one of the (pieces of) news that is attracting the West’s attention is the fact little girls are being sold as property to others in order to feed the rest of the family,” she said.

During its previous rule from 1996 to 2001, the Taliban banned women from leaving the house without a male relative and full face and head covering and girls from receiving education, coerced men to grow beards and barred the playing of music.

The Taliban says they have changed but many women, advocates and officials remain sceptical.

The group promised freedom of expression, women’s rights and amnesty to officials who worked under the previous government of President Ashraf Ghani. But journalists have faced restrictions and reports have emerged of Taliban fighters involved in revenge killings of former officials. A large number of secondary schools for girls are still not operational, though Taliban has said it is working to open them.

The US has frozen nearly $10bn in Afghan central bank reserves and international financial institutions have suspended development funding for the country, plunging the heavily aid-dependent economy into crisis and leaving economists and aid groups warning of a humanitarian catastrophe.

Seraj said the Taliban now needed to go further, calling for the group to release more rules to clarify women’s rights to access public spaces.

“What I am really waiting to hear next from the same group, from the same person is for him to send the decree regarding the education and right of work for the women of Afghanistan, that would be absolutely phenomenal,” she said.
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