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Egypt’s Christians flee Sinai amid Islamic State killing spree

Christian families and students fled Egypt’s North Sinai province in droves on Friday after Islamic State killed the seventh member of their community in just three weeks.

Sectarian attacks occur often in Egypt but are usually confined to home burning, crop razing, attacks on churches, and forced displacement.

Arish residents said militants circulated death lists online and on the streets, warning Christians to leave or die.

Islamic State released a video on Sunday threatening Egypt’s Christians and vowing to escalate a campaign against them after it bombed a chapel adjoining Cairo’s St Mark’s Cathedral, the seat of the Coptic papacy, in December, killing 28 people.

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi told military and police chiefs “to completely eradicate terrorism in northern Sinai and defeat any attempts to target civilians or to undermine the unity of the national fabric”, in reference to the killings, his office said on Thursday.

Egypt is battling an insurgency that gained pace in 2013 after its military, led by Sisi, overthrew President Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood. Hundreds of soldiers and police have been killed.

Read the full article from Reuters.

Sri Lanka: Article 16(1) – Muslim Women and Girls As Unequal Citizens

By Hyshyama Hamin and Hasanah Cegu Isadeen –

In November, we completed ‘Unequal Citizens: Muslim women’s struggle for justice and equality in Sri Lanka’ – a one-year study that sought answers as to why the reforms to the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act (MMDA) was many decades overdue.

In light of the constitutional reforms process, the study also led to the inquiry about whether or not as a result of our religious affiliation and gender – we and our sisters in faith were equal before the law, as others. The answer, as we found out is a resounding ‘no’, and the reasons are many.

Not only are Sri Lankan Muslim women subject to personal laws that deny us equality in an integral aspect of our lives – marriage and family, but there are also no constitutional guarantees and safeguards of our fundamental rights of equality and non-discrimination in these very aspects.

The events and widespread discussions of the past few months around the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act (MMDA) of 1951, has made it clear that the status quo with respect to MMDA is untenable. There are serious shortcomings in provisions of the law, procedures and implementation. There are also serious consequences of these shortcomings in creating a culture of discrimination that has adversely impacted on the rights and wellbeing of women and girls within the Muslim community. The struggle of Muslim women for reform of the MMDA against heavy odds has been led by few committed activists, admirable and long suffering but also riven with limitations.

But the legal discriminations do not end there. Since 1978, Article 16(1) of our Constitution has prevented those affected by the MMDA – women and men – from being able to seek redress against discriminatory aspects of the law and has rendered Muslims less than equal as citizens. In other words, if our rights were in any way violated by said personal laws to which we are compelled to abide by should we choose to marry another Muslim, there is no constitutional redress or remedy.

We are in essence denied protection of our individual rights as citizens, simply because we belong to a certain faith group.

So how can this be resolved? What was clear from the study were certain aspects of politics, law making and societal understanding the needs to come together in ensuring that the struggle for equality and justice for Muslims in Sri Lanka is not in vain.

Sri Lankan government has the right and the primary responsibility to address and intervene on MMDA related issues

For everyone who argues that the MMDA is only up to the Muslim community to decide and debate upon – let us not forget that the Quazi court system was established, administered and is funded by the State and tax-payers money of citizens, Muslim and otherwise. Therefore the Sri Lankan government has the primary duty to address issues and inequalities faced by Muslims under the MMDA. It has the foremost responsibility to ensure that State laws protect the rights of citizens and is not in turn causing discrimination and injustice on the basis of gender and religion.

Abd Allāh Ahmad Naʻīm the author of ‘Islamic Family Law in A Changing World’, which studied the implementation of Islamic family law in 38 countries, wrote that transformation of Islamic family law has been happening to different extents. In the vast majority of countries in which it applies – “The law is enacted in statutory form by the State, rather than being derived from traditional sources of Sharia… Moreover, whether a judgment is based on statute or a selection by a judge, it is legally binding and enforceable only by the authority of the State”.

Ahmad Naʻīm also argues that, “…it is better to recognize openly that this field (Islamic law) like all other law, derives its authority from the political will of the State”. Thus implying that the realm of personal laws if and when mandated by the State becomes the responsibility of the same to address the consequences of the law and to reform, amend or rescind where necessary.
Reforms to the MMDA are critical and long overdue. However as our study shows, it is highly unlikely that 1) consensus will be reached any time soon on all aspects of the MMDA, procedures and Quazi court system 2) the reforms recommended to the MMDA will actually address all the grievances experienced by Muslim women and girls, and 3) that MMDA reforms will be harmonized to ensure that the Act does not infringe fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution.

Therefore it is imperative that in addition to pushing for progressive reforms to the MMDA, it is equally, if not more important to ensure that the new Constitution protects rights of all citizens, regardless of when or whether or not reforms takes place.

Ensuring equality in the Constitution and allowing for judicial review

The ongoing constitutional reforms process has opened many doors of discussion about individual and collective rights. This is particularly poignant with regard to debate about fundamental rights, personal laws and Article 16(1). While there are many myths regarding Article 16(1) that is prompting few individuals to question whether it should be repealed or retained, what is fundamentally clear is that Article 16(1) is not a positively articulated clause that protects 600+ laws including personal laws. Rather it is a negatively articulated clause that protects discriminatory provisions in these over 600 laws, including the MMDA, granting impunity if provisions in these laws violate fundamental rights.

Therefore in principle for anyone and everyone who believes in equality and non-discrimination for ALL citizens of Sri Lanka – Article 16(1) has to be repealed.

There have been extensive calls for repeal of Article 16(1) tracking back to district level consultations organized by the Public Representations Committee (PRC) since early 2016. Both men and women activists, advocates and affected persons particularly in the North and East have testified and given statements before the commissioners calling for a review of the MMDA. Calls have also included the option to marry under the General Marriage Registration Ordinance (GMRO) – which also discriminates against Muslims by exempting Muslim couples from marrying under the ordinance should they choose to do so.

Consequently, it is imperative that the Constitution grants full equality and protection of fundamental rights to all its citizens, regardless of ethnicity, gender, religion or sect, in order to ensure a standard set of basic rights for all.

What use will a new Constitution and Bill of Rights be if a segment of the population are denied unconditional protection of their fundamental rights?

Repeal of Article 16(1) is particularly imperative for the Muslim community, which has been the target of hate speech and violent rhetoric in the recent past. Muslim citizens understand intimately the struggle to be treated as equal citizens as all others and the importance of having our rights protected in this regard. Therefore repealing Article 16(1) and demanding full protection of our fundamental rights should be an essential demand to this struggle for non-discrimination. To ask the State for our right to be free from discrimination, while being complacent and even soliciting the denial of protection of fundamental rights by continuation of Article 16(1) – is hypocrisy of the highest order.

The new Constitution must address discriminations, heal the crevices that have formed amidst citizens and propel Sri Lanka forward. It cannot leave anyone behind, especially not the most marginalized. To do so, is to render the entire process meaningless and futile. To do so is to knowingly perpetrate injustice for decades to come.

Access full study of Unequal Citizens 

Read more about Muslim Personal Law Reforms in Sri Lanka here: www.mplreforms.com

Article originally published by the Colombo Telegraph:  Article 16 (1) – Repeal it or continue to render Muslim women and girls as unequal citizens 

India: extremists leave no room for beef eaters

A series of murders in India, linked to the slaughter of cattle and consumption of beef, is raising questions about whether the Hindu-dominated country is becoming less tolerant of minority religious groups.

Dawn has broken and Manjesh Prasad is preparing for his daily puja. He’s dressed in an orange dhoti, a length of cloth wrapped around his legs and waist and knotted under his bulging belly, ready to perform the ancient Hindu ritual.

Mr Prasad disappears into a small shrine on his uncle’s 15-acre farm to make his spiritual connection with the divine. He returns a quarter of an hour later, changed into a collared shirt and pants and ready for his day job. More holy work, as he sees it, managing a “gaoshala”, or cow shelter in the southern Indian state of Karnataka.

“We have protected 650 cows with the help of the public,” says Mr Prasad.

Gaoshalas are common in India, run by Hindus like Mr Prasad in an attempt to protect cows from being slaughtered for meat.  “The cows are like a God to us,” he explains.

Mr Prasad walks among the cattle – patting one here, another there.  But his gentle disposition dissolves when asked about people who slaughter cattle.

“We should kill them,” he says.  “We should kill them because there is no other way.”

And what about Christians and Muslims who eat beef?

“Killed,” he says firmly.

Read the full article at SBS.com.au. 

OURs - News piece

Liberal Bangladeshi blogger killed by machete-wielding attackers

Attackers in Bangladesh wielding machetes killed a liberal blogger, police said on Thursday, the latest in series of murders of secular activists by suspected Islamist militants.

Postgraduate law student Nazimuddin Samad, 28, was attacked as he was returning from a class at his university in the capital, Dhaka, late on Wednesday, police said.

Last year, suspected militants killed five secular writers and a publisher, including a Bangladeshi-American activist. A banned Islamist militant group, Ansarullah Bangla Team, claimed responsibility for some of the attacks.

Police officer Tapan Chandra Shaha said three or four men attacked Samad with machetes and then shot him after he fell to the ground.

People heard the attackers shouting “Allahu akbar” (God is Greatest) as they fled, he said.

Imran H. Sarker, convener of the BOAN online activist group, said Samad was an outspoken critic of injustice and militancy.

“We found him always a loud voice against all injustice and also a great supporter of secularism,” Sarker told Reuters.

Bangladesh has seen a wave of militant violence over the past year or so, including a series of bomb attacks on mosques and Hindu temples.

Read the full article on Reuters now.

Words of Burma’s Religious Affairs Minister Too Serious to Ignore

A public official giving an interview in which he calls members of an entire religion less than citizens of his country. And a celebrated and overwhelmingly elected champion of the people remains silent as many of those people are persecuted. The circumstances sound like Nazi Germany but they describe today’s Burma.

Newly appointed Minister of Religious Affairs, a former military general, Aung Ko, told Voice of America that while Buddhists are “full citizens” of Burma, Muslims and other minorities count only as “associate citizens”. This statement implies that Muslims are foreigners who do not deserve the full rights accorded citizens of Burma, or even that they are sub-human.

The Minister of Religious Affairs then followed up with a visit to U Wirathu, the firebrand extremist leader of Ma Ba Tha, the leading extremist group that isblacklisted in a 2015 US budget bill. The minister offered the extremist monk acash donation while bowing to him. The newly elected government will be better off asking this minister of “religion” to resign.

Sadly, the new minister is following the old “solution“ as offered by the former President of Burma who officially asked the United Nations to resettle all Rohingya Muslims in a third country. Rohingya are indigenous people living in their ancestral land who have always been citizens, and have always voted and elected their representatives in Burma until the racist and Islamophobic policies of the military regime took away their citizenship.

Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have fled to neighboring countries after their homes were burned down and thousands of them were killed. Almost 125,000 are living in what the New York Times describes as the 21st-Century Concentration Camps.

Read the full article at the Huffington Post.

Faith-based persecution on the rise in Asia-Pacific

Persecution due to people’s faith has increased over recent years in the Asia-Pacific region, said speakers addressing the first Asia-Pacific Religious Freedom Forum, held from February 18-21 in Taiwan.

The conference, hosted by former Vice-President of Taiwan Annette Lu, was timed during Chinese New Year celebrations and right after the general elections in Taiwan.

A declaration, presented by the President of US-based Freedom House, Mark P. Lagon, affirmed a “commitment to establish and reinforce networks of advocates dedicated to promoting freedom of religion or belief in their respective countries and in the Asia-Pacific region, including the creation of both governmental and non-governmental mechanisms to promote freedom of religion.”

ChinaAid President Bob Fu, a former Chinese dissident himself, said the declaration was a roadmap “for those who wish for a free world”.

Participants came from 26 countries – including Pakistan, China, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Myanmar – to be part of the forum. They included representatives from charities and international NGOs which focus on freedom of religion, such as Open Doors International, which works with minority Christians worldwide.

Read the full article at WorldWatch Monitor.

Blasphemy cases rise in Egypt and Christians bear the brunt

In the video, the Egyptian Christian teens laugh playfully as a couple of them kneel down, imitating Muslim prayers, then another slides his hand under one boy’s neck, imitating the trademark beheadings of the Islamic State group.

The boys were playing around, satirizing the extremist group, and their school supervisor just happened to be videoing them, their defenders say. The result has been catastrophic: they were sentenced to prison under Egypt’s blasphemy laws — they were mocking Muslim prayers, prosecutors said — and have fled into hiding, leaving behind shattered families.

“My son was sentenced to five years for a laugh,” Iman Aziz, weeping, said in the teens’ home village of Nassariya in southern Egypt. Her son, Muller Atef, was seen in the 32-second video laughing but not joining in the “prayers.”

The verdict last month points to an irony in Egypt. Two years ago, the military ousted the Muslim Brotherhood from power, and since then the government has been waging a harsh crackdown on Islamists.

Yet in the past three years, prosecutions on charges of insulting Islam have risen dramatically. From three such cases in 2011, there were 21 cases in the courts in 2015, around half targeting Christians, according to Ishaq Ibrahim, a researcher with the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights.

Read the full article from the Associated Press. 

OURs - News piece

Conservative Muslim lawyers’ group behind spike in Pakistani blasphemy cases

A little-known alliance of hundreds of lawyers in Pakistan is behind the rise in prosecutions for blasphemy, a crime punishable by death that goes to the heart of an ideological clash between reformers and religious conservatives.

The group, whose name translates as The Movement for the Finality of the Prophethood, offers free legal advice to complainants and has packed courtrooms with representatives, a tactic critics say is designed to help it gain convictions.

The stated mission of the Khatm-e-Nubuwwat Lawyers’ Forum and its leader Ghulam Mustafa Chaudhry is uncompromising: to use its expertise and influence to ensure that anyone insulting Islam or the Prophet Mohammad is charged, tried and executed.

“Whoever does this (blasphemy), the punishment is only death. There is no alternative,” Chaudhry told supporters crammed into his small office behind the towering red-brick High Court building in the eastern city of Lahore.

The campaign could complicate the government’s tentative efforts to reform blasphemy legislation, a tough task in a country where support for the law is widespread.

Read the full article on Reuters.

Egypt: five-year prison sentence for children on blasphemy charges

The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights condemns the convictions and sentences recently handed down in cases involving the so called “defamation and insult” of Islam.

In the most recent case (no. 350/2015), the Beni Mazar Juvenile Misdemeanor Court sentenced three Coptic students—Muler Atef Daoud, Albert Ashraf, and Bassem Amgad—to five years in prison. A fourth defendant, Clinton Magdi, was placed in a juvenile penal institution when the case was referred to trial. The students had created a video mocking certain practices of the Islamic State (ISIS or Daesh). In another case, the Edku Misdemeanor Court on February 23 upheld a three-year sentence issued in absentia against Mustafa Abd al-Nabi after he published some religious opinions on his personal Facebook page. The EIPR notes that these sentences are part of a vicious assault on civil liberties and violate citizens’ constitutional rights, most importantly, freedom of religion, opinion, and expression.

The EIPR has documented nine cases since the beginning of 2015 in which 12 defendants, including Copts and Muslims, both Shia and Sunni, as well as atheists, were convicted. More than 11 cases are still pending before the Public Prosecution. Some 14 defendants are charged in these cases under Articles 98(f), 160, and 161 of the Penal Code, which criminalize contempt of religion. Several of the defendants have been detained pending investigation for periods exceeding the legal limit, while others were released on bail. Still other cases are pending that involve administrative sanctions, such as work suspension and docking of wages.

Read the full article from EIPR now. 

Protections for the Rights of Religious Minorities in Muslim Lands: The Marrakesh Declaration

At the invitation of His Majesty King Mohammed VI, 250 of the world’s eminent Islamic leaders convened to discuss the rights of religious minorities and the obligation to protect them in Muslim majority states.

This position has historic roots dating to the time of Prophet Mohammed and the Medina Charter. Today’s Declaration was issued at a time of heightened social hostility fueled by violent extremism, widespread Islamophobia and the denial of rights, sometimes justified by misrepresentations of Islamic teachings.

The conference was organized by the Moroccan Ministry of Religious Endowments and Islamic Affairs and the Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies based in Abu Dhabi. His Eminence Shaykh Abdullah bin Bayyah, the President of the Forum for Promoting Peace and Co-Moderator of Religions for Peace (RfP), offered the keynote address that set the framework for deliberation among the Islamic leaders. Fifty senior leaders from the world’s diverse religious traditions other than Islam were invited as observers of the Islamic deliberations.

A summary of the Marrakesh Declaration includes:

— “The objectives of the Charter of Medina provide a suitable framework for national constitutions in countries with Muslim majorities, and are in harmony with the United Nations Charter and related documents, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”

— “Affirm[s] that it is impermissible to employ religion for the purpose of detracting from the rights of religious minorities in Muslim countries.”

— “Call[s] upon representatives of the various religions, sects and denominations to confront all forms of religious bigotry, vilification and denigration of what people hold sacred, as well as all words that promote hatred and racism.”

Read the full article on the RFBF website