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A look at blasphemy laws around the world

November 14, 2018 CNA Daily News 0

Islamabad, Pakistan, Nov 14, 2018 / 03:05 am (CNA/EWTN News).- While the world awaits the fate of Asia Bibi, who remains in hiding in Pakistan following the acquittal of her death sentence for blasphemy, religious freedom advocates are calling for an end to blasphemy laws across the globe.

“Blasphemy laws are a way for governments to deny their citizens – and particularly those of minority religions – the basic human rights to freedom of religion or belief and freedom of expression,” Dr. Tenzin Dorjee, chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, said in the statement in October.

However, Dorjee’s statement was not directed at Pakistan — but Ireland.

Irish citizens voted to remove a provision criminalizing blasphemy from their Constitution on Oct. 26, although the law had not been enforced in recent years.

The Irish Bishops’ Conference said that the blasphemy reference, although “largely obsolete,” could raise concern because of how it could be used “to justify violence and oppression against minorities in other parts of the world.”

More than one-third of the world’s countries maintain laws that criminalize blasphemy — defined as “the act of insulting or showing contempt or lack of reverence for God.” Punishments for blasphemy across the 68 countries range widely from fines to imprisonment and death.

In Sudan and Saudi Arabia, corporal punishment, such as whipping, has been used in blasphemy cases. Recently, Saudi blogger Raif Badawi was sentenced to 1000 public lashes, given in installments of 50 lashes every week, in addition to 10 years in prison separated from his wife and children, and a 10-year travel ban after his prison sentence.

Compulsory and correctional labor are the prescribed punishments in the blasphemy laws in Russia and Kazakhstan.

Iran has the world’s most severe blasphemy laws, followed closely by Pakistan, according to the U.S. Commission of International Religious Freedom. Both countries’ laws enforce the death penalty for an insult to the prophet Muhammad. In 2015 alone, Iran executed 20 people for “enmity against God.”

In addition to Iran and Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Qatar, and Egypt have among the world’s worst blasphemy laws, the USCIRF study found in 2017.

Although many of the world’s blasphemy laws are enforced in largely Muslim countries, they exist in every region of the world.

Some Western nations, such as Malta and Denmark, have repealed their national blasphemy laws in recent years, while other countries still enforce them.

In Spain, an actor was prosecuted in September for explicit comments insulting God and the Virgin Mary in Facebook posts that supported the procession of a giant model of female genitalia through the streets of Seville, mocking the Catholic tradition.

Spain’s penal code requires monetary fines for “publicly disparaging dogmas, beliefs, rites or ceremonies” of a religion, and include similar penalties for those who publicly disparage people without a religious faith.

Greek law maintains that “anyone who publicly and maliciously and by any means blasphemes the Greek Orthodox Church or any religion tolerable in Greece shall be punished by imprisonment for not more than two years.”

The Italian criminal code also includes provisions for “insulting the state religion,” however the government does not generally enforce the law against blasphemy.

In Thailand, the constitution calls for the state to “implement measures to prevent any forms of harm or threat against Buddhism” with potential punishment from two to seven years imprisonment.

In Pakistan, Catholic mother-of-five Asia Bibi was recently acquitted after spending eight years on death row. However, her life is still in danger, as the ruling is under government review as part of a deal to appease groups that were leading riots in the streets. And the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan reports that at least 40 other people in Pakistan are either on death row or currently serving life sentences for blasphemy.

Nearly half of those facing the death penalty under Pakistan’s blasphemy law have been Christians in a country that is 97 percent Muslim.

“Bibi’s case illustrates how blasphemy laws are used to persecute the weakest of the weak among Pakistan’s religious minorities,” Religious Freedom Institute fellow Farahnaz Ispahani wrote earlier this year.

“As a poor Christian from a low caste, Bibi was among the most vulnerable and susceptible to discrimination. And the legal system — which, in theory, should be designed to protect the innocent — failed her in every way.”



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Four kidnapped priests in southern Nigeria have been released

November 12, 2018 CNA Daily News 0

Benin City, Nigeria, Nov 12, 2018 / 02:32 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Four priests who were abducted in Nigeria’s Edo state last week were released Friday night.

The priests were rescued by police operatives Nov. 9. According to The Punch, the captors fled as a rescue team of police from Edo and Delta states approached.

The Nov. 6 kidnapping was originally reported as occurring in neighboring Delta state, and only one of the victims was identified as a priest.

The priests who were taken hostage are Fr. Emmanuel Obadjere of the Diocese of Warri, Fr. Victor Adigboluja of the Diocese of Ijebu-Ode, Fr Anthony Otegbola of the Diocese of Abeokuta, and Fr. Joseph Ediae of the Archdiocese of Benin City.

Fr. Mike Oyanoafoh, chancellor of the Benin City archdiocese, said the priests had been taken to a hospital in Benin City for treatment.

They had been travelling from Orerokpe to Akahia, for an alumni reunion at All Saints major seminary. They were taken from their car somewhere between Abraka and Urhonigbe.

The Warri diocese said it was suspected that the gunmen who abucted the priests were Fulani herders.

It is unclear whether a ransom was paid for the priests’ release.

Violence against Christians has significantly increased in Nigeria in recent years, with the radical Islamist group Boko Haram threatening safety in the north, and smaller violent gangs threatening security in the south.

In recent months, several priests and religious have been kidnapped in southern Nigeria.

One priest was abducted in Edo in April, six women religious in January, and another priest in October 2017.


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Kidnapped students in Cameroon released

November 8, 2018 CNA Daily News 0

Bamenda, Cameroon, Nov 8, 2018 / 11:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Seventy-eight students and a driver kidnapped from a Christian school in Cameroon were released late Tuesday.

The students were recovered the evening of Nov. 6 at a building of the Presbyterian Church of Cameroon in Bafut, fewer than 15 miles north of Bamenda, whence they were taken.

The principal and a teacher of the Presbyterian Secondary School were also abducted Nov. 5, but were not released with the students and driver.

The Cameroonian government and Anglophone separats have accused each other of being behind the abduction; both have denied involvement.

Fonki Samuel, moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Cameroon, told BBC Focus on Africa that the students, aged 11-17, were “frightened and traumatised but in good shape.”

Samuel said the release “was done peacefully… by unidentified gunmen.”

It had earlier been reported that 79 students were taken, but Samuels said it was in fact 78.

The Nov. 5 kidnapping was the second such incident at Bamenda’s Presbyterian Secondary School in recent weeks. Another 11 students were abducted Oct. 31, and released for a $4,000 ransom.

Samuel suggested that “armed groups, gangsters and thieves” could be using the insecurity in Cameroon, blaming kidnappings on either the government or the separatists.

Separatists have set fire to more than 100 schools, taking them over as training grounds, the AP has reported. The groups protest the bias toward the French language over English in the educational system.

On. Oct 30, an American Baptist missionary was shot in the head amid the fighting in Bamenda.

“This tragedy occurred in the midst of the Anglophone crisis that affects the Northwest and Southwest Regions of Cameroon. Both the separatist fighters and government security forces have used violence against innocent civilians,” State Department Deputy Spokesman Robert Palladino said Oct. 31.

Earlier in October, a seminarian in Bamenda was shot by Cameroonian soldiers outside of a church following Mass.

Archbishop Cornelius Fontem Esua of Bamenda called the 19-year-old seminarian, Gerard Anjiangwe, a “martyr of the Anglophone crisis” in his funeral Mass Oct. 16. Anjiangwe died holding his rosary.

More than 160,000 people have been forced out of their homes by the conflict according to Caritas International.

The crisis in Cameroon is rooted in conflict between the English- and French-speaking areas of Cameroon.

The area was a German colony in the late 19th century, but the territory was divided into British and French mandates after the German Empire’s defeat in World War I. The mandates were united in an independent Cameroon in 1961.

There is now a separatist movement in the Southwest and Northwest Regions, which were formerly the British Southern Cameroons.

Unrest in Cameroon has been ongoing since 2016, when the country’s Anglophone community began protests to demand the return of federalism. These protests have gone so care as to call for secession from the current government, run by President Paul Biya.

Biya was sworn in to his seventh term Nov. 6. He has ruled Cameroon for 36 years. Archbishop Samuel Kleda of Douala has voiced concern that Biya’s election was marred by fraud.


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Four people, including priest, kidnapped in southern Nigeria

November 7, 2018 CNA Daily News 0

Warri, Nigeria, Nov 7, 2018 / 03:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A Catholic priest and three other persons were kidnapped in Nigeria’s Delta state Tuesday night, according to local media.

Fr. Emmanuel Obadjere and his companions were taken hostage by unknown gunmen Nov. 6 while on their way to Ekpoma, in neighboring Edo state, Pulse reports.

Fr. Obadjere is a priest of the Diocese of Warri, whose website says he was ordained June 26, 2008. According to Pulse, he is pastor of St. William’s parish in Orerokpe, about 10 miles northeast of Warri. It is at least 100 miles from Orerokpe to Epkoma.

Delta Commissioner of Police Muhammad Mustafa told Pulse Wednesday that a suspect has been arrested.

Last month, five nuns were abducted in Delta.

At least six priests have been kidnapped in the state this year.

Violence against Christians has significantly increased in Nigeria in recent years, with the radical Islamist group Boko Haram threatening safety in the north, and smaller violent gangs threatening security in the south.


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Seventy-nine students kidnapped in Cameroon

November 6, 2018 CNA Daily News 0

Bamenda, Cameroon, Nov 6, 2018 / 11:49 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Armed separatists kidnapped 79 students from a Christian boarding school in Cameroon Monday.

The principal, a teacher, and one other staff member were taken hostage Nov. 5 with the students a… […]

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Asia Bibi’s husband begs US to offer asylum

November 5, 2018 CNA Daily News 2

Islamabad, Pakistan, Nov 5, 2018 / 03:16 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The husband of the Pakistani Catholic woman who was recently acquitted of blasphemy charges is asking several Western nations to provide asylum for his family, whom he says is in danger of d… […]

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African fertility rates are falling – but not fast enough for some Western groups

November 3, 2018 CNA Daily News 1

Washington D.C., Nov 3, 2018 / 07:01 am (CNA).- Despite recent disparaging Western commentary on high African birth rates, fertility rates on the continent are normal when viewed in the context of development, new data analysis from the Institute for Family Studies shows.

The analysis comes weeks after French President Emmanuel Macron commented at a Gates Foundation event in New York that educated women do not choose to have large families. “I always say: ‘Present me the woman who decided, being perfectly educated, to have seven, eight or nine children,’” he said.

While Macron clarified that he was speaking about the lack of educational opportunities in African countries, his comments struck a nerve with women in the United States and throughout the world. One professor at Catholic University of America started the hashtag  #PostcardsforMacron on social media, with which educated women from different countries shared photos of their large families.

In a new analysis published this week, Lyman Stone, a research fellow at the Institute for Family Studies, said that the fertility rate of most African countries is normal when other factors such as levels of development and child mortality rates are considered.

“What’s really going on here is quite simple: United Nations demographers have repeatedly messed up their forecasts of African fertility in more-or-less the same direction, and, rather than give a good explanation about why that is, the development community is responding by faulting Africans for having kids,” Stone wrote.

Each time the U.N. has forecasted Africa’s population for 2050, the numbers of their prediction have increased, causing some demographers to publish papers “bemoaning Africa’s curiously slow ‘demographic transition’ to near-replacement fertility,” Stone said.

For example, in 2008, the U.N. predicted that by 2050, the fertility rate in Africa would fall to about 2.5 children per woman, close to near-replacement rates, which range from about 2.1 to 2.3 children per woman.

But in 2017, the U.N. predicted that instead, the fertility rate in Africa by 2050 would be about 3.25 children per woman.

“This upward trend in forecast population stems from the fact that U.N. demographers have repeatedly overestimated how quickly Africa’s fertility would decline.”

But that doesn’t mean that Africa’s fertility rates are not declining overall, Stone noted. “You might think, then, that Africa’s fertility is rising! But actually, it isn’t! African fertility is falling!” he wrote.

Between 1965 and 2015, the fertility rate in Sub-Saharan African countries fell from almost 7 children per woman to slightly less than 5 children per woman. The decline has been slight, and slow, but steady – just not as dramatic as some Western groups had hoped, Stone noted.

“The entire scary story about African fertility really boils down to fractional differences in the rate of future fertility decline. In other words, Macron’s comments about ‘6 or 7 or 8’ kids are totally irrelevant,” he wrote.

“Africa’s ‘problem,’ as far as U.N. demographers are concerned, isn’t women having seven kids today; it’s women having three kids, 40 years from now when they ‘should’ have had just two.”

The complaint that the African population and fertility rates are high is not new, Stone noted – “it’s part and parcel of old-school racist colonialism. Colonial regimes often tried various inhuman measures to reduce population growth. It’s no surprise the successors to colonial regimes, do-gooder ‘family planning’ NGOs, are pushing the same concerns.”

One factor being ignored in the “fear-mongering” of those who say African fertility rates are too high is child mortality rates, which are typically good predictors of fertility rates, Stone said.

Typically, the more developed a country, the lower the child mortality rates and fertility rates are, he said. This is because as countries develop and people live longer, healthier lives, parents can reasonably expect that their children will live well into adulthood, driving down the need for many children in hopes that some will live into adulthood.

Furthermore, as people become more educated, they learn to manage their own fertility better, and have jobs “where brains are often more useful than brawn,” reducing the economic need for having more children.

When rates of child mortality are considered, the fertility rates in most African countries are normal, Stone wrote.

“Adding in control variables for urbanization or dependence on agriculture or natural resources doesn’t change the story: African fertility looks fairly normal for its level of development,” he said, when compared with similar countries in Asia, which have slightly lower fertility rates, and countries in Latin America which have higher fertility rates.

Africa is also a large and varied continent, and fertility rates vary significantly between its countries, Stone noted.

Furthermore, comparing fertility rates among developing countries also must take into account what kinds of family planning policies are being implemented in those countries, Stone said.

While Western groups like the Gates Foundation say that they want family planning policies in African countries to respect women’s freedom, at the same time they want the fertility rates in Africa to decline as dramatically as in countries such as China or India, which have implemented inhumane practices such as the “One Child” policy or forced sterilizations.

“In other words, Western donors need to get their story straight: do they want Africa to experience East-Asian style fertility declines, or do they want African countries to pursue democratically-compatible, rights-respecting population policies? You can’t have it both ways,” Stone noted.

In fact, Stone added, it is unclear why Western groups think they should get a say in African fertility rates at all.

“Western countries should have learned their lesson: it’s time to stop acting like African policy can be made from London or Paris or Seattle. Truth be told, Western organizations have no right, and no moral credibility, to step in and tell African women what they should or shouldn’t do with their bodies. We would be much better off looking for ways to solve our own fertility problems.”