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Indian Jesuit remains in jail, despite call for release from Asian bishops and international groups

October 26, 2020 CNA Daily News 0

CNA Staff, Oct 26, 2020 / 10:30 am (CNA).-  

A Jesuit priest arrested in India on charges of sedition will remain in jail for at least another two weeks, after the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences has called for his release, along with other international organizations. 

Fr. Stan Swamy, S.J., was arrested Oct. 8 by the National Investigation Agency (NIA), India’s counter-terrorism task force. The 83-year-old priest is accused of being involved with a Maoist group, and inciting violence in the town of Bhima-Koregaon on January 1, 2018. One person was killed and others injured during mob violence that day.

Swamy denies all charges and says that he has never even been to Bhima-Koregaon. The priest is the co-founder of the Persecuted Prisoners Solidarity Committee, an organization that assists those who are being held in prison but have not been yet been convicted of a crime, and are still undergoing a trial. It is estimated that 70% of India’s prison population is in this category. 

On Oct. 26, the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC) issued a statement in support of Swany, and calling for his release. 

“It is with great shock and agony the FABC heard of the arrest of the 84-year-old Father Swamy and his incarceration and we are surprised at the charges brought against him,” Cardinal Charles Maung Bo of Yangon, Burma, the president of the FABC, said in a statement on October 26. 

“The arrest and cold-hearted incarceration of Father Swamy reminds us of the treatment meted out to Mahatma Gandhi when he stood up for the rights of the Indian people,” said Bo.

In a video posted to social media prior to his arrest, Swamy described being interrogated for 15 hours by the NIA. He said that because of his history of activism, the state “wanted to put me out of the way, and one easy way [to do that] was to implicate me in some serious cases.” 

Swamy said he was “raided twice” by authorities who “put before me certain extracts, supposedly taken from my computer, extracts which showed Maoists were communicating with each other, and in some extracts even my name was mentioned,” he said. Swamy said that authorities were unable to tell him who sent the emails, who received the emails, on which date the emails were sent, and if there was any sort of signature on the emails. 

“So I just denied and disowned every single extract that was put before me, except one,” which he said was a message from him and the co-founder of the Persecuted Prisoners Solidarity Committee to other human rights organizations in India. That letter explained the purpose of their organization and requested that other groups join them in their efforts. 

“What is happening to me is not something unique happening to me alone,” he said. “It is part of a broader process that is taking place all over the country.” 

Swany said it is common knowledge that figures from all walks of life–from lawyers to student leaders–are jailed for expressing dissent or questioning “the ruling powers of India.” The priest said he was “ready to pay the price, whatever be it.” 

Following his arrest on Oct. 8, Swany was flown from his home in the city of Ranchi, located in the eastern state of Jharkhand, to Mumbai, for additional questioning. In the video posted prior to his arrest, Swany said that he was apprehensive about going to Mumbai as he is elderly and infirm, and did not want to be exposed to the coronavirus. Swany has Parkinson’s Disease and is hard of hearing.

Swany has been jailed in Mumbai ever since, and was denied bail on October 23. He has since reportedly been transferred to a prison hospital. 

Both religious and secular organizations have called for Swany’s release from jail. 

Jesuit provincials and leaders from across the world have issued statements requesting that the Indian government release Swany. 

“We ask that the United States strongly condemn the incarceration of Fr Stan Swamy, ask the Indian Government to ensure his immediate release, and ask it to refrain from arbitrary arrests of innocent citizens,” said Fr. Timothy P. Kesicki, S.J. in an October 20 letter addressed to Sec. of State Mike Pompeo on behalf of Jesuits from the United States. 

Throughout India, thousands have gathered to peacefully protest for Swany’s release. Vatican News reported that on October 16, over 1,000 people, including priests, nuns, an archbishop, and an auxiliary bishop, formed a 3.2 mile human chain in Ranchi as a protest. 

On October 20, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet issued a statement to the Indian government condemning the “vaguely defined laws” that are “increasingly being used to stifle” those who speak up against injustices. 

The press release issued by the Office of the High Commissioner mentioned Swany by name. 

“I urge the Government to ensure that no one else is detained for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly – and to do its utmost, in law and policy, to protect India’s robust civil society,” said Bachelet. 


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Two minors killed during fighting between Burmese military, Arakan Army

October 17, 2020 CNA Daily News 0

CNA Staff, Oct 17, 2020 / 06:01 am (CNA).- United Nations officials in Burma said Wednesday that earlier this month, two boys were killed amid crossfire between the Tatmadaw, the country’s military, and the Arakan Army, an ethnic Buddhist separatist group.

The UN Country Taskforce on Monitoring and Reporting on Grave Violations against Children in Myanmar said Oct. 14 that on Oct. 5 “two boys were killed in Buthidaung Township, Rakhine State, in crossfire between the Tatmadaw and the Arakan Army. This occurred after the children, as part of a group of 15 local farmers, were alleged to all have been forced to walk in front of a Tatmadaw unit to ensure the path towards a military camp was clear of landmines and to protect the soldiers from potential enemy fire.”

“On the way, fighting broke out between the Tatmadaw and the Arakan Army, after which the two boys were found dead with gunshot wounds.”

The Tatmadaw had been censured internationaly the for the recruitment of minors, but had been delisted within the last year.

“We call for a full, transparent, and expedited  investigation of the incident and for anyone responsible for the use and for the killing of the children to be held accountable,” the CTFMR stated.

The taskforce added, “We are also deeply concerned about the alarming increase of reports of killings and injuries of children in Myanmar. More than 100 children were killed or maimed in conflict during the first three months of 2020, amounting to more than half of the total number in 2019, and significantly surpassing the total number of child casualties in 2018.”

The Tatmadaw have been fighting the Arakan Army since at least 2018.

The Arakan Army wants self-determination for the Rakhine people, a Buddhist ethnic group who live largely in Rakhine state and who constitute as much as 6 percent of Burma’s population.

In April Pyae Sone Win Maung was killed while driving a UN vehicle in Rakhine state. He was collecting Covid-19 samples for the World Health Organization. Both the Tatmadaw and the Arakan Army denied involvement.

In October 2019, Cardinal Charles Maung Bo of Yangon lamented that “not a single day passes without the heart wrenching news of innocent civilians being displaced or killed or maimed by the ongoing conflict in Lashio, other Northern regions and Rakhine State.”

Beginning in late 2016 the Rohingya, a Muslim minority group who have mostly occupied Rakhine state, faced a sharp increase in state-sponsored violence in their homeland. Tens of thousands of people have been displaced, and the military has been accused of conducting numerous human violations such as rape and murder.

Despite widespread use of the word Rohingya in the international community, the term is controversial within Burma. The Burmese government refuses to use the term, and considers them illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. They have been denied citizenship and numerous other rights since a controversial law was enacted in 1982.


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Sri Lankan bishops oppose amendment that would strengthen presidency

October 15, 2020 CNA Daily News 1

CNA Staff, Oct 15, 2020 / 04:47 pm (CNA).- Sri Lanka’s bishops said Tuesday that the country’s democracy would decay if parliament passes a constitutional amendment that would strengthen the president’s power.

The bishops said the Twentieth Amendment, which would allow President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to take control of parliament, would be dangerous for the country. They instead encouraged government officials to focus on drafting a new constitution that safeguards democracy, law, and equality.

“We need to emphasize that concentration of power in an individual without checks and balances does not augur well for a Democratic, Socialist Republic,” they said in an Oct. 13 letter.

The letter was signed by the president and the secretary general of the Sri Lankan bishops’ conference, Bishop Winston Fernando of Badulla and Auxiliary Bishop Anthony Jayakody of Colombo.

Under the current constitution, adopted in 1978, presidential decisions are reviewed in court and the prime minister has the power to assign cabinet ministers who form central government. It also permits an independent commission to select officials to public institutions like the police force or the human rights commission.

If the amendment passes, the Associated Press reported, Rajapaksa would have the power to appoint judges, dissolve laws, and install or remove government ministers. The president would also be able to oversee any number of ministries giving him the power to appoint officials to public institutions.

Before parliament votes on the amendment, the Supreme Court must make a decision on whether specific aspects of the amendment will need a referendum to be approved. It is expected that members of parliament will approve the amendment, which needs a two-thirds majority to pass, the AP reported.

″A two-thirds majority of the members in the Parliament based on political parties does not necessarily manifest the true conscience of the people,” the bishops said.

“Therefore, let the entire membership of the parliament appoint an Independent Constitutional Council comprising a majority of men and women of proven integrity from the society who will take care of drafting a new constitution which ensures transparent democracy, the rule of law and the equality of all citizens.”

The Sri Lankan constitution established a unicameral parliament along with a powerful presidency. The Nineteenth Amendment, adopted in 2015, diluted the president’s powers; the proposed Twentieth Amendment would reverse the reforms of the Nineteenth.

“The Executive Presidency has been the bone of contention since it was created in 1978,” the Sri Lankan bishops reflected. “All elected presidents since 1994 vowed to abolish the Executive Presidency with powers vested in it by the 1978 Constitution and transfer power to the democratically elected Parliament, but none had the political will to do so for reasons not unknown to the people.”

The bishops said rules cannot be changed based on the inconsistencies and whims of individual political figures. They encouraged the installation of civilly responsible officials and challenged parliament to focus on rebuilding a constitution that protects and improves Sri Lanka.

“It is our view … to identify and elect or appoint suitable persons who will abide by the rules to safeguard true, justice, and the well-being of the country. It is the bounden-duty of the democratically elected Parliament to create wholesome governing structures capable of moving this country forward,” they said.

“Greater clarity is needed if the constitution is to serve the citizenry. Thus the 20th Amendment should not be proceeded with, in its entirety, and instead a new constitution needs to be the national priority at this moment.”


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Religion central to Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict

October 13, 2020 CNA Daily News 1

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Oct 13, 2020 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- Religion is a central factor in the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, Christian advocates explained in a briefing on the conflict on Friday.

A historic conflict between Armenia and… […]

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Zen challenges Parolin over China deal claims

October 7, 2020 CNA Daily News 2

CNA Staff, Oct 7, 2020 / 06:00 pm (CNA).- Cardinal Joseph Zen has rejected claims that the 2018 Vatican-China deal was approved in draft form by Pope Benedict XVI, and accused Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin of “manipulating” Pope Francis on the Church’s engagement with China.

In an essay published on his blog Oct. 7, Cardinal Zen, the emeritus Bishop of Hong Kong, offered an extended and personal critique of an Oct. 3 speech given by Parolin on the history and future of the Church’s missionary activity in China.

“I read the speech given by Cardinal Parolin,” Zen said. “It’s sickening!” 

“As [Parolin] is not stupid and ignorant,” Zen said he was left to conclude that Parolin “told a series of lies with eyes open.”

“The most repugnant thing is the insult to the venerable Benedict XVI by saying that he approved at the time the agreement signed by the Holy See two years ago, knowing that our sweetest, most gentle Benedict certainly will not come out to deny it,” Zen said. 

The Vatican-China agreement on the ordination of bishops, ratified in September 2018, is seen by the Vatican as an effort to help unify the underground Catholic Church in China–which has always remained in communion with Rome–with the state-sanctioned Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association. Following the agreement, seven illicitly ordained bishops of the CPCA were brought into full communion with Rome. 

Cardinal Parolin said in his Oct. 3 speech that the pastoral goal of the agreement was to free up local churches to “dedicate themselves to the mission of proclaiming the Gospel.”

During his speech on Oct. 3 in Milan, Cardinal Parolin reiterated the Vatican’s commitment to a provisional renewal of the agreement, which expires on Oct. 22. 

“For the dialogue to bear more consistent fruit it is necessary to continue it,” the Secretary of State said at an event marking the 150th anniversary of the presence of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME) in China.

In his Oct. 3 speech on the subject, Parolin cited Pope Benedict XVI in his discussion of the Church’s missionary efforts in China. Pope Benedict, who had quoted his own predecessor, St. John Paul II said in 2007: “It is no mystery to anyone that the Holy See, in the name of the entire Catholic Church and – I believe – for the benefit of all humanity, he hopes to open a space for dialogue with the authorities of the People’s Republic of China, in which, once past misunderstandings have been overcome, we can work together for the good of the Chinese people and for peace in the world.”

Parolin also cited Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, the dean of the College of Cardinals and former prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, who said in March according to Parolin that “Pope Benedict XVI [approved] the draft agreement on the appointment of bishops in China, which it was only possible to sign in 2018.”

Cardinal Zen disputed Re’s alleged remarks, calling it “very ridiculous and humiliating” for Re “to be ‘used’ once again to support the falsehoods of the Most Eminent Secretary.”

He accused Cardinal Parolin of “lying” about Pope Benedict’s approval of a draft agreement with China, and of manipulating Pope Francis on the agreement.

“Parolin knows he is lying, he knows that I know he is a liar, he knows that I will tell everyone that he is a liar, so in addition to being cheeky, he is also bold,” Cardinal Zen said.

Christians in China have continued to be persecuted and harassed by authorities, Zen said, “despite the agreement.” 

Yet, “it seems that in order to save the agreement, the Holy See is closing both eyes on all the injustices that the Communist Party inflicts on the Chinese people,” he said. 

In his Oct. 3 speech, Parolin said he had seen signs that the agreement was helping unify underground Catholics with members of the CPCA, and would “definitely” help the Church avoid illicit consecrations of bishops in the future. 

There have been “misunderstandings” over the agreement, he said, acknowledging that while there are still “many other problems” that Catholics in China face, they cannot all be addressed at once. 

“[W]e know that the road to full normalization will still be a long one, as Benedict XVI predicted in 2007,” Parolin said.

However, Parolin emphasized that the agreement “concerns exclusively the appointment of bishops,” and the Vatican has noted that no further illicit consecrations have taken place since the deal was signed in 2018. 

Zen dismissed that as a worthwhile achievement.

“All legitimate bishops, but in a Church that is objectively schismatic, is that good? Is it progress? Is this the beginning of what kind of journey?”

The Vatican-China agreement gave CCP officials a say in the ordination of bishops, but also allowed for the enforcement of “Sinicization” in Church matters, Zen said. 

The policy of “sinicization”, announced by Chinese president Xi Jinping in 2015, aims to enforce Chinese and Communist identity on all religious practice in the country. It has included instructing churches to remove images of the Ten Commandments and replace them with sayings of Chairman Mao and Xi.

Parolin has previously said that “inculturation is an essential condition for a sound proclamation of the Gospel which, in order to bear fruit, requires, on the one hand, safeguarding its authentic purity and integrity and, on the other, presenting it according to the particular experience of each people and culture.”

“These two terms, ‘inculturation’ and ‘sinicization,’ refer to each other without confusion and without opposition,” Parolin said in 2019.

 One Chinese bishop, Bishop John Fang Xingyao of Linyi in the province of Shandong, said in November of 2019 that “[l]ove for the homeland must be greater than the love for the Church and the law of the country is above canon law.”

The Chinese Communist Party’s policy of “Sinicization” of religion “is not what we mean by inculturation, it is the religion of the Communist Party,” Zen wrote Tuesday, where “the first divinity is the country, the party, the party leader.”

“How can the Most Eminent say that all this has nothing to do with the agreement? Can life be cut into pieces?” Zen asked. 

The cardinal also accused Cardinal Parolin of manipulating Pope Francis on the agreement. 

“I will be asked: Do you say that Parolin manipulates the Holy Father? Yes, I don’t know why the Pope allows himself to be manipulated, but I have evidence to believe so and this makes it even less painful and repugnant to criticize the Holy See,” he said. 

Cardinal Zen told CNA last month that the Church’s silence on the mass detention and abuses of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang, supposedly as a result of negotiations to renew the 2018 agreement, “will damage the work of evangelization” there in the future. 

Pope Francis has remained silent on what some human rights groups have called “genocide” of Uyghurs in China’s northwest.

“The resounding silence will damage the work of evangelization,” Zen told CNA in an interview last month. 

“Tomorrow when people will gather to plan the new China, the Catholic Church may not be welcome.”