NEWS - Archive December 2008

Headlines 26 December, 2008

VOICE RECORDERS FITTED IN WREXHAM TAKEAWAYS TO STOP RACISM(uk)

26/12/2008- Takeaways in Wrexham now have voice recording technology to catch drunken customers who racially abuse staff members. Wrexham town centre inspector Chris Beasley revealed the equipment had been fitted at different eateries as police continue to clamp down on anti-social behaviour. His comments came at the launch of the Calling Time on Violent Crime scheme, which will see officers tackle problems in the town over the festive season using numerous different tactics. Speaking about the voice recording equipment he said: "A lot of racist comments turn out to be stupid racist remarks made by people in takeaways who would then refute what they had said. "But the voice recording will match with the CCTV and bear out, in a court of law, what the prosecution is saying. As a result we have seen a huge reduction in the level of abuse." Fikret Deniz, of Pizza Palace, on Town Hill, said he had been using the technology for some time with success. He said: "We use it all the time - it is switched on always and sits opposite the counter. "Whenever people talk it records. When people walk in and see it with the camera they think about what they are saying and it is helpful." As part of a condition of their licence all landlords in the town have to sign up to Nightsafe standard, a list of rules for premises to follow to ensure customers are kept as safe as possible. With the launch of Calling Time on Violent Crime, Insp Beasley and other officers have visited pubs and clubs in the past week to ensure the rules are being obeyed. They include providing customers with free and unrestricted access to drinking water and ensuring a member of staff with first aid training is always present. Insp Beasley said: "What we want is people saying we are going to Wrexham on the Friday before Christmas because there is a lot going on and it is a safe environment. "We want to dispel the myths that have surrounded the town for many years."
The Evening Leader

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AHMADINEJAD SHOW 'CAUSES OFFENCE'(uk)

25/12/2008- Allowing Iran's president to deliver Channel 4's Alternative Christmas Message will cause "international offence", the UK government has said. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was shown telling viewers of the British TV channel "the general will of nations" was for a return to "human values". The decision angered some MPs, who branded him a "dangerous fanatic" with anti-Semitic and anti-gay views. Channel 4 said it had offered viewers an "alternative world view". The speech, in Farsi with English subtitles, was the channel's 16th alternative message and was shown after a brief introduction to Mr Ahmadinejad contextualising his views. In it, Mr Ahmadinejad congratulated the people of Britain on the anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ. He said that problems in society were rooted in the rejection of the message of the prophets of God, including Jesus. And he criticised the "indifference of some governments and powers" towards the teachings of "the divine prophets". However, a Foreign and Commonwealth Office spokeswoman said: "President Ahmadinejad has during his time in office made a series of appalling anti-Semitic statements. "The British media are rightly free to make their own editorial choices, but this invitation will cause offence and bemusement not just at home but amongst friendly countries abroad."

Labour MP Louise Ellman, chairwoman of the Labour Jewish Movement, said: "I condemn Channel 4's decision to give an unchallenged platform to a dangerous fanatic who denies the Holocaust, while preparing for another, and claims homosexuality does not exist while his regime hangs gay young men from cranes in the street. "Who will deliver next year's alternative Christmas message? Will it be David Irving or Robert Mugabe?" Conservative MP Mark Pritchard, a member of the Commons all-party media group, said: "Channel 4 has given a platform to a man who wants to annihilate Israel and continues to persecute Christians at Christmas time. "This raises serious questions about whether Channel 4 should receive an increased public subsidy for their programmes." Israeli Ambassador Ron Prosor said: "In Iran, converts to Christianity face the death penalty. "It is perverse that this despot is allowed to speculate on the views of Jesus, while his government leads Christ's followers to the gallows." He said Channel 4's decision to broadcast the message was a "scandal and a national embarrassment" and in "its search for ratings and shock factor, Channel 4 had lost its ethical way". Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell joined the attack, calling the president a "criminal despot, who ranks with Robert Mugabe, Omar al-Bashir of Sudan and the Burmese military junta as one of the world's most bloody tyrants".

'Enormously influential'
But Channel 4 defended its decision to broadcast the message. Head of news and current affairs Dorothy Byrne said: "As the leader of one of the most powerful states in the Middle East, President Ahmadinejad's views are enormously influential. "As we approach a critical time in international relations, we are offering our viewers an insight into an alternative world view." A spokesman added: "Channel 4's role is to allow viewers to hear directly from people of world importance with sufficient context to enable them to make up their own minds." He said the channel had not asked for increased public funding, rather an indirect subsidy to overcome a funding shortfall caused by the digital switchover. Channel 4's first alternative message was delivered by gay icon Quentin Crisp in 1993. Others to have given the broadcast include French actress Brigitte Bardot, former X Factor judge Sharon Osbourne and TV chef Jamie Oliver. Last year's message was given by Sergeant Major Andrew Stockton, a British soldier who lost an arm fighting in Afghanistan. Unlike previous years, the president's message was broadcast at night and not at the same time as the Queen's speech.
BBC News

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UGLY SIDE OF RACISM IN OUR SCHOOLS(Cyprus, editorial)

No one blamed for beating of African student

24/12/2008- The ugly side of racism has resurfaced in a place where state officials and public leaders had hoped it would be swept under the carpet – in our schools. One would have expected the current administration to learn from the fiasco that saw a killer escape from hospital and (only) the Minister of Justice taking the blame. That said, the Minister of Education should have demanded the heads of the irresponsible teachers and headmaster who remained helpless when an African-born schoolgirl was beaten by her schoolmates. Is it not about time someone was punished for this abhorrent act against a defenseless child, with many others like her often targeted by youngsters who know nothing about tolerance and inter-cultural dialogue, something that the future of this island is supposed to be based upon. The easiest target to take the blame would be the police. But you cannot have boys in blue patrolling every school playground during break. Nor could they arrest a bunch of hooligans that everyone knows will be released because of family ties to high-ranking people in political parties or in the government.

The next best target would have to be the Minister of Education himself, but just as with the police, he cannot be expected to be at every one of the 2,000 public schools at the same time. We can even blame the parents for abandoning family values and the proper upbringing of their children at home. But then again, we cannot have mommies and daddies mulling around school grounds to make sure that their loved one is not beaten black and blue by a bunch of rowdy racists. So, that leaves us with the great number of public servants entrusted with the education of our children – the teachers. That is what they are paid to do: educate our children, especially the ones whose parents may not have any knowledge about other races, nations or religions. But that also implies that the teachers themselves ought to know a think or two about why some students look or sound different than the others. University of Cyprus Rector Stavros Zenios put it very well at a recent lecture: “Cyprus society is becoming multi-cultural and diversity is good for our economy that is already suffering from low growth in the workforce due to an ageing population and low birth rate.” So, let’s live with the fact that ‘foreigners’ are an integral part of society and a necessity for our economy. Those who don’t like the idea, like the teachers in the school where the beating took place, don’t deserve to be teachers.
Perhaps they should become missionaries… to Africa!
The Financial Mirror

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UKRAINIAN JEWS CHALLENGE BILL THAT REDEFINES ANTI-SEMITISM

24/12/2008- The Ukrainian Jewish Committee is challenging the non-traditional interpretation of the term anti-Semitism in a new government bill. The National Commission is attempting to modify the traditional interpretation used in the bill on the protection of public morals. The Ukrainian Expert Commission on the Public Morals Protection, the authors of the bill, favor the term be defined as an intolerance that is expressed in the “hostile attitude toward Semites,” including Arabs, Jews and Ethiopians, instead of the traditional meaning as an intolerance or hatred toward Jews. The Ukrainian Jewish Committee has called on the expert commission's chairman to use the term in its traditional sense, according to a statement. “We strongly object to such interpretation of the term because it doesn’t correspond to the traditional meaning and reality, but looks like an interpretation or quote from political dictionaries or anti-Semitic publications,” Eduard Dolinsky, a director general of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee, told JTA. “Anti-Semitism is and should be interpreted only as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed toward Jewish individuals and their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”
JTA News

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DANISH COURT APPROVES EXTRADITION OF NEO-NAZI MUSIC PRODUCERS

A Danish appellate court wants two right-wing extremists extradited to Germany. The men were arrested four months ago in an international police sting targeting the illegal music scene.

23/12/2008- Two men accused of being neo-Nazis lost a court battle to stay in Denmark. A Danish appellate court has ruled that the two men -- a 34-year-old German and a 33-year-old Dane -- must be extradited to Germany, DPA news agency reported. Both men deny the charges and have indicated they will appeal to Denmark's highest court in an attempt to stop their extradition. In Germany, the men face charges relating to belonging to a criminal organization and incitement of racism. The men, identified only as Flemming C. and Stephan G., were arrested in August north of Copenhagen in an international police effort to crack down on the far-right extremist music scene.

Police crack down on extremist music
The men, allegedly operators of the rightist music distributor Celtic Moon, reportedly produced as many as 100,000 illegal copies of music. German investigators say the two men are key figures in the far-right music scene and have links to leaders of the far-right National Democratic Party (NPD). The men were allegedly involved in financing, commissioning and distributing music deemed illegal because of its extremist content. German investigators say the pair has a partner in Australia, who allegedly copied the CDs and sent them to Denmark for distribution in Europe.
The Deutsche Welle

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SPLINTERS FROM GERMAN FAR RIGHT RAISE NEW FEARS

26/12/2008- Alois Mannichl's attacker confronted him on his doorstep. "Greetings from the national resistance," the man, described as a tall skinhead, reportedly told the police chief when he answered a knock at the door. "You leftist pig cop, you won't trample on the graves of our comrades any more." He then plunged a 12-centimetre knife into Mr Mannichl's chest, narrowly missing his heart and leaving him seriously injured. Mr Mannichl, the police chief in the southern German town of Passau, is known for being tough on extremists. In July, he ordered that the grave of a revered neo-Nazi be opened and an illegal swastika removed from the coffin. The brazen stabbing less than a fortnight ago has shocked Germany and sparked calls for the National Democratic Party, the backbone of the far right, to be banned. At the same time, experts warn the attack presages a new phase of violence as stable, relatively disciplined alliances among neo-Nazis collapse, leaving dangerous splinter groups. "I've had a feeling for about the last half a year that they were getting more aggressive," said Matthias Adrian, a former skinhead who now helps neo-Nazis quit the movement. "There's a part of the right-wing extremist scene that's had one foot on the gas and the other on the brake and now they think it's time to lose the brake."

Serious right-wing crimes in Passau have more than doubled from 40 last year to 83 in 2008, according to the Bavarian Interior Ministry. Nationally, right-wing crimes have risen 9 per cent this year, police figures show. With Germany headed for its worst recession since the war, people are pondering how to tackle the ideology that haunts their nation. As a legitimate party with seats in state parliaments and federal funding, the NPD gives the far right much of its clout and even a veneer of respectability. Horst Seehofer, the conservative Premier of Bavaria, said in recent days he was working on a plan to bring Germany's 16 states together and ban the party. Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier expressed his support, saying the Passau attack provided "new reasons for a ban". Even the cautious Chancellor Angela Merkel said the Government was considering ways to ban the party, but warned the legal grounds must be watertight. When her predecessor, Gerhard Schroeder, tried to ban the NPD in 2003, the case collapsed amid farce when the country's highest court discovered that some NPD members testifying against the party may have been spies for the intelligence services. NPD leader Udo Voigt hit back this week, saying the major parties were scared they would lose support to the far right in next year's elections.

Advocates of a ban say the extremists would be crippled without the NPD's money and national reach. Not everyone agrees. Opponents say the changing nature of the far right would make a ban useless. For the past decade, the NPD has kept close relationships with neo-Nazi groups known as "die Kameradschaften" or "brotherhoods", who make up most of the estimated 31,000 active neo-Nazis in Germany and are often little more than skinhead gangs. With help from the brotherhoods' grassroots muscle, the NPD has made electoral gains. But lately many brotherhoods have abandoned the NPD as too moderate, preferring to take their fight to the streets. Alexander Haeusler, who studies the far right at Dusseldorf Technical College, said this was a "ticking time bomb" for the NPD, which no longer had control of the footsoldiers it helped create. Although German intelligence deems the NPD to be "racist, revisionist and anti-Semitic", it did appear to have curbed some of the brotherhoods' violent impulses, said Stephen Kramer, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, which watches the far right closely. "The NPD tried to keep the violence down because nobody wants to see blood," he said. "It turns voters away. They were more or less successful at this. Since the (brotherhoods) split, they have become more violent and we're seeing this in things like this stabbing." Banning the NPD would do little to quell the kind of restive gang whom authorities believe was responsible for Mr Mannichl's stabbing, he said. Worse, a ban ignored the root causes of neo-Nazism and risked letting politicians off the hook for their neglect of the struggling towns and cities — particularly in the former East Germany — where neo-Nazism was thriving, Mr Kramer said. A ban, he added, should be a last resort. "Germany's attitude to democracy tends to be, 'If there's something wrong, let's change the law.' "What they should be doing is getting out there every day, arguing with the far right and unmasking them."
The Age

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NEO-NAZI IDEOLOGY SPREADS IN BERLIN(Germany)

In an eastern Berlin district, right-wing extremists want to open a neo-Nazi youth centre. In this poor area, the kids are extremely susceptible to populist Nazi ideology.

22/12/2008- In the east Berlin district of Hohenschönhausen, right-wing extremists are staging a demonstration. Their aim: the right to open a neo-Nazi youth centre. A building in the nearby district of Köpenick may look innocuous. But it is actually from here, the German headquarters of the right-wing extremist NPD party, that such demonstrations are organised. But local residents are refusing to give in.
Every small step counts: from removing xenophobic stickers from lampposts to recording racist, anti-Semitic or homophobic offences committed by neo-Nazis. Kati Becker has registered 80 such incidents in the last six months.Becker, Villa Offensiv Advice Centre Köpenick: “If we do nothing against these offences, by saying they are wrong and that they hurt other people, then we are endangering society. By excluding others, we are simply damaging ourselves. There are regions in Germany where people don't speak out.” The four Berlin districts particularly affected by right-wing extremism have been taking part in the project. The aim - to increase public awareness - is by no means an easy task, and has to start young. After all, it's often impressionable adolescents who are the focus of neo-Nazi propaganda.
France 24

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GERMAN DEBATE OVER GUANTANAMO PRISONERS: 'THEY NEED OUR UNDISCRIMINATING HELP'

Should Germany take prisoners from Guantanamo? Bernhard Docke, who is the attorney for former prisoner Murat Kurnaz, argues the country has a responsibility to do so. He also warns against villifying the victims of the terror prison.

24/12/2008- In Europe, serious discussions have begun at the highest government levels about accepting prisoners from Guantanamo if, after his inauguration, United States President-elect Barack Obama closes the highly controversial prison camp for suspected terrorists, as he is expected to. Officials in Portugal and Germany are openly discussing options for taking on prisoners who have been deemed innocent but cannot returned to their home countries because they face persecution, torture or death. According to a report in the Washington Post, officials from six European states have contacted Obama's transition team to discuss the issue. The paper also quoted unnamed American and European officials saying the incoming administration did not want to hold any talks on Guantanamo until after Obama's Jan. 20 inauguration. Many European countries, including Germany, were highly critical of torture and violations of international law that took place at Guantanamo. But there has also been domestic criticism in Europe of the indirect role European countries played in the detainment and incarceration of suspected terrorists. German airports, for example, were used in extraordinary renditions operations run by the CIA that involved the secret transportation of suspected terrorists to Guantanamo, to secret US-run prisons or to third countries that permit torture. As critics have noted, governments either supported the operations or at the very least tolerated them.

SPIEGEL ONLINE spoke to Bernhard Docke, the attorney who represents former Guantanamo prisoner Murat Kurnaz -- a Turkish citizen born and raised in Germany who spent four-and-a-half years at the notorious prison camp and was released in 2006. Despite the fact that there was significant evidence to suggest his innocence, top-ranking German politicians -- including current Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who was chief of staff to then-Chancellor Gerhard Schröder at the time -- fought against his release and return to Germany.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: The German government has signalled it is prepared to take prisoners from the US prison camp Guantanamo. What is your response to this step?
Docke: I welcome it, it's overdue. During the release of Murat Kurnaz the US had tried in vain to get rid of several of the prisoners stranded in Guantanamo. For some in the German government, even Mr. Kurnaz was too much. The prisoners being talked about now have been regarded as innocent even by the US for a long time. They spent years in a system of torture that deprived them of their rights, under illegal conditions. Their path out of Guantanamo must be eased.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: The initiative in Germany is coming from Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, whom you accused of having done too little to get your client Murat Kurnaz back to Germany. Do you believe Steinmeier is being motivated by humanitarian considerations? Docke: I don't know what motivates him. Of course it's intriguing to a certain extent that he of all people has come up with the proposal. But heaven rejoices more for one repentant sinner than for 99 righteous people.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Not everyone backs the government's statement. The interior minister of the city-state of Berlin, Eberhard Körting, said he didn't want to help because the ideology of the Guantanamo inmates was "abhorrent."
Docke: It's simply preposterous to sit here in one's comfortable chair and presume to judge individual people who have been detained illegally for seven years under inhuman conditions. A large number of the prisoners weren't arrested by the US military or in combat actions but were passed on to the Americans by bounty hunters. The Americans weren't able to check who was being simply foisted on them and who actually had done something wrong. Many ended up in Guantanamo without any concrete suspicions against them, which is why only few of them were prosecuted. The Americans wanted to show the population that there were being successful in the war on terror. But that was a distorted picture and we shouldn't import it.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: After seven years in Guantanamo, is it possible that someone who was considered innocent in 2002 could by now have become dangerous?
Docke: That kind of misgiving has a sense of meanness to it -- if you have treated innocent people like animals, then you shouldn't set them free. What would your alternative be? A country that observes the rule of law has no other alternative. The people whose release we are now dealing with have been incarcerated for seven years because either their country of origin is refusing to take them or they are threatened with torture or death there. How people deal with Guantanamo, the harm being done there and what is destroying them, can only be answered on an individual basis. One must address these problems, but they cannot be allowed to hinder the releases.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: What was your experience with Murat Kurnaz?
Docke: Distorted images of him were also circulated. Of course he bears a grudge against the Bush administration and those in Germany who failed him. But it's a civilized grudge, a justifiable one. It's a grudge that has nothing to do with violence. Despite his experiences, Mr. Kurnaz has a very differentiated view of the United States. He knows, for example, that American human rights organizations helped to secure his release. He has since reintegrated into Germany and is establishing new roots despite his bad experiences.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Germans are currently debating which groups of former inmates one would most like to bring to Germany. There's been much talk of the Uighurs, Muslims from China's Xinjang province. Stateless inmates have also been named. Does it make sense to draw distinctions between the groups?
Docke: We should be careful not to start a bureaucratic feud. Regardless who they are, they need our help without discrimination. They require treatment by doctors, psychologists and carers so that they can successfully overcome the shock of a new living situation. Mr. Kurnaz himself suffered from real socio-cultural jetlag when he returned. It was hard enough for him to understand that his freedom wasn't just a daydream. It is a humanitarian imperative to help these people. Didn't we just celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights?
The Spiegel

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GOVERNMENT ATTACKS HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS FOR CRITICISING DRAFT LAW (Kazakhstan)

As a law severely restricting freedom of religion and belief awaits Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev's signature, Justice Ministry officials attacked local human rights groups for criticising the Law, accusing them of "openly lying." Denying that the Law will impose restrictions, Ministry officials claimed that "benevolent conditions" have been created for religious communities. The Law has been condemned by many religious leaders, such as Protestant leaders and Murat Telibekov of the Union of Muslims. Fr Vsevolod Chaplin of the Moscow Patriarchate pointed out to Forum 18 News Service that, under the proposed Law, "if a young person is walking past and goes into a mosque during prayers, the imam could be arrested." Fr Chaplin pointed out that he was himself a believer at the age of 13, against the wishes of his parents, which would be forbidden by the Law. Pope Benedict XVI has made an apparent oblique criticism of Kazakh policy. In a personal letter, he wrote to the Kazakh Ambassador to the Holy See that "it is incumbent upon the State to guarantee full religious freedom, but it also has the duty of learning to respect what is religious, avoiding interference in matters of faith and the conscience of the citizen."

22/12/2008- As Kazakhstan's restrictive "Law on Amendments and Additions to Several Legislative Acts on Questions of Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations" awaits President Nursultan Nazarbaev's signature, human rights defenders and religious communities have made last-ditch appeals for him to reject the Law. One human rights defender, Yevgeny Zhovtis, says the senior political leadership is divided over the new amendments. "Officials are nervous over the new Law, but very angry and aggressive when people complain about it," he told Forum 18 News Service. President Nazarbaev is formally due to sign or reject the amendments by around 2 January 2009. Zhovtis also told Forum 18 that his human rights group, the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law, is facing the threat of being closed down as a result of a tax inspectorate investigation which began early in 2008. "Our problems don't appear to be directly related to our work opposing the new Law, but represent pressure over all our activity, including on this Law." He believes the decision to crack down on his group "comes from the top", but says it is unclear how far the authorities will go. Forum 18 is also aware of other Kazakh human rights defenders who have faced similar hostility from the authorities. Justice Ministry representatives, speaking on Kazakhstan's Channel 31 television station on 11 December, attacked unnamed local human rights groups for criticising the new Law, accusing them of "openly lying". Denying that the Law will impose restrictions, Ministry officials claimed that "benevolent conditions" have been created in the country for religious communities. Official attempts have repeatedly been made to encourage support for the draft Law are being made through the mass media, which is being used to encourage intolerance of religious communities (see F18News 30 April 2008).

Amanbek Mukhashev, deputy head of the Justice Ministry's Religious Affairs Committee, told Forum 18 on 22 December that he has "no idea" if the President will sign the controversial Law. "How do I know?" He also declined to comment on the criticism by his colleagues of campaigning by human rights groups over the new Law. The "Law on Amendments and Additions to Several Legislative Acts on Questions of Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations" seriously restricts freedom of religion and belief in Kazakhstan, and breaks the country's international human rights commitments. Among the new restrictions on human rights, it would for the first time explicitly ban unregistered religious activity (see F18News 14 October 2008). The Law amends numerous articles of the current Religion Law, the Code of Administrative Offences and several other laws, and was finally approved by the lower house of parliament on 26 November (see F18News 26 November 2008). It is being considered by President Nazarbaev as state officials continue to take actions against religious communities' right to freedom of thought, conscience and belief (see F18News 19 December 2008). The Kazakh authorities have repeatedly refused to allow the publication of a legal review of the draft conducted by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), claiming – falsely – that this refusal is due to the OSCE (see F18News 18 November 2008). Ambassador Janez Lenarcic, Director of the ODIHR, has expressed disappointment at the "hasty" passage of the Law, and has called for it to be changed to make it "fully reflecting OSCE commitments and other international standards" (see F18News 26 November 2008). The Permanent Mission of Kazakhstan to the OSCE insisted to Forum 18 on 22 December that the review related to an earlier draft of the Law and was therefore "outdated". It insists that a new OSCE review is still being prepared – even at this late stage – and "will be published".

The Law also contradicts the recent OSCE Ministerial Declaration on the Occasion of the 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This states, amongst other reaffirmations of existing commitments, that: "We reiterate that everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief; freedom of opinion and expression, freedom of peaceful assembly and association. The exercise of these rights may be subject to only such limitations as are provided by law and consistent with our obligations under international law and with our international commitments" (see the OSCE). Among the latest religious figures to speak up against the proposed new Law is Murat Telibekov, who leads the Union of Muslims of Kazakhstan, which represents some groups outside the state-backed Muftiate. "This is a repressive, reactionary Law far from democratic principles," he told Forum 18 from Almaty on 22 December. He believes that if signed by the president, the new Law would restrict religious organisations' activity, prevent many from gaining state registration and drive them underground. A group of Protestant leaders from Almaty wrote to President Nazarbaev on 5 December urging him to veto the Law. The letter, which Forum 18 has seen, criticises in particular the harsh new registration criteria, the difficulties that existing religious communities will face in re-registering, new restrictions on religious activity and harsh punishments for peaceful religious activity. The Protestant leaders also complain of provisions "with a wide range of interpretations, which could be used to justify repressive measures against various religious groups". Protestant leaders in the capital Astana wrote a similar appeal to the president on 9 December.

Fr Vsevolod Chaplin of the Department of External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate also expressed concern at the Law. Stressing that he was speaking in a personal capacity, he was worried about "serious punishments" imposed by the Law on religious leaders, if any of those present at worship are minors who do not have the permission of both parents to be present. "If a young person is walking past and goes into a mosque during prayers," he told Forum 18 from Moscow on 22 December, "this means the imam could be arrested." Fr Chaplin points out that he himself was a believer when he was 13 years old against the wishes of his parents. The ban on distributing religious literature in hospitals and educational establishments also worried Fr Chaplin. "It's not clear what this means," he told Forum 18. "If a person is in hospital often he or she wants – indeed needs religious books. In my view it wouldn't be bad to allow them the possibility to buy such books." Fr Chaplin also pointed out that the requirement in the Law that a founders' meeting be held to establish a centralised religious organisation creates problems. "In some religious traditions creating such organisations – like dioceses – takes place in another way." However, Fr Chaplin said he understands the motives for adopting the Law, which he identified as "concern among the people and government over foreign religious influence, especially from extremists, which puts the security of the state under threat". Pope Benedict XVI made an apparent criticism of Kazakh policy when he accepted the credentials of Amanzhol Zhankuliyev, the new Kazakh ambassador to the Holy See, along with other ambassadors on 18 December. The official Vatican Information Service that day highlighted one comment by Pope Benedict in a written personal message to Ambassador Zhankuliyev. Writing of the positive role that religions can play in society, the Pope noted that "it is incumbent upon the State to guarantee full religious freedom, but it also has the duty of learning to respect what is religious, avoiding interference in matters of faith and the conscience of the citizen."

Links
For a personal commentary on how attacking religious freedom damages national security in Kazakhstan, see F18News.
For more background, see Forum 18's Kazakhstan religious freedom survey.
More reports on freedom of thought, conscience and belief in Kazakhstan.
A survey of the religious freedom decline in the eastern part of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) area is and a survey of religious intolerance in Central Asia.
F18 News

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CHIRAC'S DAUGHTER SLAMS FRENCH RACISM

24/12/2008- Former French president Jacques Chirac's Vietnamese adopted daughter hit out on Wednesday at violence against France's Asian community, after two of her countrywomen were stabbed to death in Paris. Anh Dao Traxel, who was taken in by Jacques and Bernadette Chirac when she arrived in France amid the exodus of Vietnamese "boat people" in 1979, demanded a thorough inquiry into what she dubbed "a horrible and barbaric" crime. "I am very shocked," she said. "These young women were killed like dogs." The victims, two women of Asian appearance aged between 20 and 30, were found dead on Tuesday in central Paris' 11th district, in an area with a large immigrant community also known for its fashionable bars and nightclubs. Traxel raised the possibility that the crime may have had a racist motive and said that if this was the case her father's successor President Nicolas Sarkozy ought to condemn it as he would an attack on any other minority group. "The French political class and the media should not be silent. They should react with the same energy as when the victims are Jewish, North African Arabs or Africans," the 51-year-old civil servant said. French police and prosecutors have opened an inquiry.
AFP

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