Religious freedom in the world, May 26, 2021

Religious freedom in the world, May 26, 2021

Mjanma – four people killed in an attack on the Catholic church

May 24, 2021, on the Monday after Pentecost, the Church of Sacred Heart of Jesus in Kayanthayar near Lwaingkaw, the capital of the state of Kaja, was shot at with artillery projectils. Four people died and the temple building was badly damaged.

China – the arrest of eight Catholic clergymen in Xingxiang

On May 20, 2021 in Xinxiang Prefecture, seven priests and ten seminarians were arrested as a result of a police action, and a day later a bishop, 63-year-old Joseph Zhang Weizhu. The priests and seminarians were detained on the premises of a small factory, lent to Catholics by its owner for lack of any other place to conduct lectures.

The factory director was arrested. A police raid is underway to find the remaining seminars. During it, local houses are searched, the residents of which - if police find Catholic symbols in them - are punished with fine. The Prefecture is not recognized by the government, therefore any activity of Catholics in this area is considered a crime.

Argentina - New COVID-19 restrictions make it almost impossible to attend Masses

On Thursday, May 18, 2021 Catholic Lawyers Corporation of Argentina filed a writ of amparo arguing that the current health regulations related to fighting COVID-19 „flagrantly violate” freedom of worship or religion. The regulation was issued due to the sharp increase in the disease, especially in Buenos Aires, which is inhabited by 40% of the country’s population. In its letter, the Corporation states that the regulation „flagrantly violates the freedom of worship and religious freedom guaranteed in the National Constitution and in human rights treaties”; also says that the regulation „causes greater harm than what is sought to be avoided because it exposes the faithful to inclement weather, thus risking their health” – according to the decree, although it is winter, Masses may only be held outside, with no more than ten believers.

Bishop Alberto German Bochatey, Auxiliary Bishop of La Plata, head of the Argentine bishops’ healthcare ministry committee, made it clear that measures to prevent the spread of the virus are very important, but noted also, that „a primal human right to live our religiosity, our piety, our worship that the government of the day cannot grant or take away”. The bishop maintains that the previous regulation, according to which in churches one-third of the seats could be occupied by belivers, should be restored.

Iran - persecution of Christian converts

On May 13, International Christian Concern reported three more cases of persecution of Christians in Iran. Reza Zaeemi of Karaj is currently waiting for a prison sentence of nine (originally: eighteen) months to begin. The charge against him was „propaganda against the Islamic Republic by promoting evangelical Christianity”.

Bijan Haghighi is currently in a camp in Turkey, awaiting the final verdict of his appeal - two sentences have already been issued against him. In the event of deportation to Iran, Bijan is likely to be imprisoned as he was sentenced before he left Iran in 2018. „We have no problem with those who inherit religion from their parents being in our country. But not those who leave Islam and join other religions. We have a problem with these people, and we must help them and guide them and prevent them from deviating in this way! They are being misled and they are misleading others!” announced the judge who sentenced Bijan to prison. If Haghighi is deported, he will be part with his wife and their paraplegic son.

Bita Rezaee's conflict with Iranian law began in 2015, when she was imprisoned after a search in her home. The reason was supposed to be „aim of leading the girls away from Islam” – Bita took in 12 girls, then aged 6-9 years. After an eye injury she suffered during an interrogation, she escaped from Iran at the instigation of her father. She and her son are currently seeking asylum in Germany.

Mississippi, USA - a ban on the construction of a mosque in Horn Lake violate religious freedom

On May 12, Tom Farr, president of the Institute of Religious Freedom, wrote a letter to Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves. The letter is a reaction to the decision of the city council on April 20, voted 5 to 1, not to build a mosque on the site, contrary to the efforts of the local Muslim community.

„I’ve been a resident of DeSoto County for over 20 years. I raised all my six children in DeSoto County, they all go to school there and they have a right to go to their mosque and pray and practice their faith like every Christian” – with these words the applicant, Ray Elk, responded to the refusal to build the first mosque in the region. The councilors who voted to refuse to build the mosque justified it with the fire risk and fear of disturbances in road traffic as well as noise, despite the applicant's assurances about the planned lack of external sound system. There are 15 Muslim families in the county who are currently unable to attend the mosque.

China - Hundreds of Muslim priests arrested in Xinjiang region

According to research by the Uyghur Human Rights Project at least 630 imams and other Muslim religious authorities have been imprisoned or arrested in the Xinjiang region since 2014. Eighteen of them died during or shortly after their arrest. The most common accusations are „propagating extremism”, „gathering a crowd to disturb social order” and „inciting separatism”. On the other hand, over a million believers from this region ended up in „re-education camps”, where torture, forced labor and political indoctrination are comon.

On May 11, Uyghur journalist Gulchehra Hoja, took part in a virtual event organized by the US Embassy in the Vatican, entitled „Human Rights in China: Uyghurs and Religious Minorities”. Hoja provided a list of „offenses” that could lead to a re-education camp. More than 20 relatives of the journalist, including her mother, father and brother, have already gone there. One of the relatives died in the camp, but the body was not released to the family. „The Chinese government has established a list of criteria by which the authorities would deem someone as extremist, just to name a few: growing a beard, wearing a headscarf or long dress, keeping religious books at home, naming your child with Islamic name, as Mohamed” – said Hoja.

Pope Francis also described the situation of the Uyghurs as persecuted in a book published last year; this was met with a protest by the Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Indiana, USA – the supreme court dismissed the lawsuit against the archdiocese of Indianapolis

On Friday, May 7, the Indiana High Court dismissed the lawsuit against  the archidiocese of Indianapolis. The lawsuit was filed by former Catholic school teacher Joshua Payne-Elliott, who was dismissed from his job due to a civil marriage with a person of the same sex.

Luke Goodrich, VP in the Becket Institute representing the archdiocese, stated that „If the First Amendment means anything, it means the government can’t punish the Catholic Church for asking Catholic educators to support Catholic teaching”. The dismissed teacher filed an appeal on May 20. The date of the hearing has not yet been set.

Autor: Mateusz Ruta
Date: 26 May 2021
Financed from the Justice Fund, which is administered by the Minister of Justice
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