‘Give them freedom’ – PNG bishops denounce six-year refugee detention

freedom photoPapua New Guinea flag flies ahead of the Nov. 17-18 APEC
summit. Credit: James D. Morgan / Getty Images News.

Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, (CNA/EWTN News).- The bishops
of Papua New Guinea have issued a renewed plea on behalf of
the nearly 500 refugees and asylum seekers being held in
indefinite detention in deteriorating conditions.

“These people have been away from their families for the sixth
Christmas… it was just another night of detention on Manus
Island,” said Fr. Ambrose Pereira, communication secretary for
the Catholic Bishops Conference of Papua New Guinea and the
Solomon Islands.

Facing conditions of trauma, overcrowding, and lack of food,
he said, “most of them survive thanks to medicines, mostly
anti-depressants, anti-anxiety, antipsychotics,” and many face
serious side effects from taking the medications long-term
without a prescription.

In a statement to Fides News Agency on Thursday, Pereira
called the refugees’ situation “abuse and neglect,” and said
it causes the Papua New Guinea bishops “great suffering.”

“This is not the way to treat human beings,” he said.

Australia has had a system of “third country processing” since
2012 for asylum seekers who come to Australia by boat without
a valid visa. The system transfers the asylum seekers to other
countries, where they are processed based on that country’s
laws.

Many of those seeking asylum in Australia come from
Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Iraq, and Iran, traveling by boat from
Indonesia. They are typically intercepted by the Australian
navy before reaching land, and are then sent to detention
camps in Papua New Guinea and Nauru, a small Micronesian
nation.

The government of Australia made an agreement with the
government of Papua New Guinea in 2013, providing that
migrants sent to Papua New Guinea from Australia would be
settled there if they are found to be refugees. Otherwise they
would be sent back to their country of origin or another
country where they have legal residence.

Ahead of the Nov. 17-18 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation
summit in Port Moresby, the Papua New Guinea government sent
dozens of men who had been receiving specialized medical
attention back to Manus Island, citing security needs. These
men joined hundreds of other refugees and asylum seekers being
held on the island.

In November, a report from Amnesty International and the
Refugee Council of Australia documented serious declines in
mental and physical health among the refugees in detention on
Manus Island.

Three men had committed suicide, and many others had attempted
suicide, the report said.

It decried the “brutal and illegal policy of offshore
detention.” It pointed to a decrease in mental health
resources and professionals available to the refugees and
asylum seekers, as well as incidents of assault and robbery
against them.

“The obvious answer to almost all health problems is to give
them freedom and to reduce the damage caused by stress,
trauma, overcrowding and malnutrition during their detention,
as highlighted by numerous reports,” said Fr. Pereira in his
statement.

“Refugees are waiting for the day they are released, and we
hope that 2019 will bring good news for them.”

 

https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/give-them-freedom—
png-bishops-denounce-six-year-refugee-detention-30434

Congo’s bishops call for release of election results

election congo photoKinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo. Credit: StreetVJ / Shutterstock

Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo, (CNA).- The bishops of the Democratic Republic of Congo have called for the release of the result of the country’s presidential election. The Church sent thousands of election monitors to assist at polling stations across the central African country during the vote, which was the subject of numerous delays, with many reporting irregularities.

The vote to determine a successor for President Joseph Kabila was rescheduled for December 30 after numerous delays. The election was originally slated for November 2016. The result is expected to produce the first peaceful transition of power in the DRC since independence in 1960.

The results are expected to be released on Sunday, but Corneille Nangaa, head of the country’s national electoral commission, has said the final announcement could be delayed. Nangaa said that officials were still waiting for final vote counts from 80% of local polling stations.

Some communities in the North Kivu and Mai-Ndombe regions will not be able to vote until March, after the vote there was delayed over security concerns and Ebola outbreaks.

Nevertheless, while calling for the winner to be announced, the Congolese bishops said that the winner was clear according to results seen by them. The bishops’ conference did not say who they believed had won the election.

The DRC bishops’ conference was among several organizations to send election observers to polling stations across the country, commissioning more than 40,000 observers to report on the election process.

In an earlier statement on Dec. 31, the conference highlighted concerns about voters being turned away from the polls and monitors being removed by police from voting stations in different parts of the country.

While not officially backing any one candidate in the election, the bishops were vocal in their opposition to Kabila’s remaining in power past his constitutionally imposed term limit.

Kabila was set to leave office in December 2016, following the election of his successor, but the vote was successively postponed by government authorities, resulting in widespread civil unrest.

Since that time, Kabila has remained in office.

The bishops of the country played a key role in mediating an agreement between the Congo’s ruling political coalition and opposition leaders, culminating in a Dec. 31, 2016, agreement that allowed Kabila to remain in office beyond his mandate but said he must step down after an election in 2018.

Nearly two dozen candidates entered the race to replace Kabila, who has been in power for 17 years. He acceded to the presidency at the age of 29, following the assassination of the previous president, his father, Laurent-Désiré Kabila. He was reelected in 2006 and 2011.

The front runners in the election have been former interior minister Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, Martin Fayulu, a former oil executive, and Felix Tshisekedi, son of a prominent opposition party leader.

Shadary, a self-described “fervent Christian” and practicing Catholic, previously stated that he had “placed his campaign in God’s hands.” Shadary is also the preferred candidate and would-be successor of President Kabila.

President Kabila’s administration has come under sustained criticism both before and during the election campaign. Last year, 15 people were killed while attending peaceful, Church-organized rallies against the government.
https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/congos-bishops-call-for-release-of-election-results-23987

Two Indian women enter Sabarimala temple in Kerala amid protests

India photo
The temple was briefly shut down for a ‘purification ritual’  following the announcement of the women entering [File: Sivaram V/Reuters]

by Zeenat Saberin

New Delhi, India – Two women in India’s southern Kerala state
have breached a centuries-old ban on entering an ancient Hindu
temple, despite strong protests by right-wing conservative
groups.

Bindu and Kanakadurga, who were in their forties, walked into
the Sabarimala Temple at 3:45am on Wednesday, according to the
ANI news agency.

The temple had been closed off to women of menstruating age
until India’s Supreme Court overturned the ban in September.
However, opponents of the ruling continued to block women
between the ages of 10 and 50 from entering the shrine.

“Today, two women entered Sabarimala Temple. We had issued
standing orders to police to provide all possible protection
to any woman who wants to enter the temple,” Chief Minister
Pinarayi Vijayan told reporters in Kerala’s capital city,
Trivandrum.

A video posted online by ANI showed the two women, clothed in
black, hurriedly walking into the temple. They offered prayers
there, ANI said.

The temple was briefly shut down following the move for a
“purification ritual” by priests.

According to the Sabarimala temple’s website, women of
menstruating age were not allowed to enter the shrine because
its deity, Lord Ayyappa, was celibate.

Since the top court’s verdict, Hindu hardliners, opposed to
the decision, have attacked female pilgrims, threatened
journalists and pelted police with stones.

On Tuesday, tens of thousands of women in Kerala formed a 620
-km human chain “in support of gender equality” from Kasargod
in the north to the capital, Trivandrum.

Manithi Selvi, who attempted to enter Sabarimala last month
but had to back down after being hounded by violent
protesters, hailed the two women’s entry to Sabarimala as a
“brave feat”.

“This is a massive victory for the women of India. These two
women have protected India’s constitutional rights and smashed
the walls of patriarchy. But this is only the first step, we
need to guard our rights in the family, in the home, in the
workplace,” Selvi told Al Jazeera.

“Those who have tried to purify the temple today after the
women entered are standing against the constitution of this
country. We have to reject these ideas,” she added.

Bindu, one of the women who entered the temple on Wednesday,
was threatened by right-wing protesters earlier and her house
was vandalised, according to Selvi.

Conservative Hindu groups said they will continue to oppose
women entering the temple.

“The temple has now been closed for cleaning ritual following
this incident where the women forcefully entered the temple.
We will definitely go back to the top court to fight this
battle out. It’s not over yet and we will win,” Rahul Easwar,
president of the Ayyappa Dharma Sena (Ayyappa Religious Army),
that claims to protect the interests of the Lord Ayyappa told
Al Jazeera.

KK Shailaja, minister for social justice in Kerala, said her
government stands for “gender equality”. She had also
participated in the “women’s human wall” on Tuesday.

“We are upholding the top court orders and our government here
will continue to strongly back all women. We stand for gender
equality. Those saying that women are impure should be ashamed
of themselves. How can they say women are impure in front of
God?” Shailaja said.

“There is no logical reason to stop women from entering any
temple,” she said.

The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has backed
the anti-women protesters despite the court order, in what
critics say is a move to fan Hindu religious sentiment to make
inroads into the region.

Menstruation is rarely discussed openly in India and menstrual
blood is considered impure by many communities.

Across cities and towns, menstruating girls and women are not
allowed to prepare food, enter a temple or touch an idol.

An estimated one million Hindu pilgrims travel to the
Sabarimala temple in the southern state of Kerala annually.

SOURCE: AL JAZEERA NEWS

 

LPD Officer Sarah Williams Encourages Action, Empathy To Prevent Human Trafficking

Trafficking photo

Sarah Williams said she was shocked when she learned from author and journalist Benjamin Skinner that slavery is a modern day occurence. Inspired, Williams dug deeper into the subject to see how she could make a difference.

It was after further research that she learned that human trafficking is an epidemic she can prevent. Both realizations began Williams’ career in preventing human trafficking.

Williams works as a patrol officer on the Lincoln Police Department’s southwest team, and focuses on prostitution and human trafficking. She shared her police experiences preventing human trafficking at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Andersen Hall on Nov. 20 in an event hosted by the Nebraska University Students Against Modern Slavery.

She discussed factors that contribute to human trafficking, like family dysfunction and mental illness. She also shared stories of human trafficking that ranged from children forced into human trafficking to an attorney accused of soliciting prostitutes.

Williams said those factors and stories fit into a larger picture of human trafficking in Nebraska.According to the Omaha Women’s Fund, 900 people are sold in Nebraska each month — 200 of which are from Lincoln.

Williams discussed human trafficking victims’ reluctance to speak with the police, especially when the victims are not from the United States. She said their unwillingness presents a significant hurdle against prevention.

https://www.sistersagainsttrafficking.org/in-the-news/

Sudan detains nine opposition leaders ahead of planned protest

Sudan photoSudan has been rocked by more than a week of protests sparked by rise in bread prices [File: Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah/Reuters]

Arrests came after a coalition of opposition groups called for more protests after weekly noon prayers on Friday.

Authorities in Sudan have arrested at least nine opposition leaders and activists, according to a civil society group, in the face of fresh anti-government protests expected after the weekly Muslim prayers on Friday.

The head of the media office at the National Intelligence and Security Service denied any knowledge of the arrests.

Sudan has been rocked by more than a week of anti-government protests sparked by rising prices, shortages of basic commodities and a cash crisis.

At least 19 people have died during the protests, including two military personnel, according to official figures. However, rights group Amnesty International put the death toll at 37.

The arrests of opposition leaders occurred late on Thursday after security forces raided their meeting in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, according to a statement by a committee of professional organisations involved in the protests.

The nine arrested included Siddiq Youssef, a senior leader of Sudan’s Communist Party, as well as leaders from the pan-Arab Ba’ath and Nasserist parties, the statement said.

The raid came after opposition groups called for more protests after the weekly noon prayers on Friday.

Fourteen leaders of one of Sudan’s two main opposition groupings were briefly held last Saturday.

Al Jazeera’s Hiba Morgan, reporting from Khartoum, said the protests were getting increased backing from political and civil society groups.

“It is not clear if the government would allow the protests to go, we have seen on Tuesday how they responded with tear gas and live ammunition,” she said, adding: “And this is basically what might be happening today again that more live ammunition and tear gas will be used and that the death toll will rise.”

Economic crisis

Protests initially started in towns and villages more than a week ago and later spread to Khartoum, as people rallied against the government tripling the price of a loaf of bread from one Sudanese pound to three ($0.02 to $0.06).

Demonstrators have also been marching against Sudan’s dire economic situation and some have called for President Omar al-Bashir’s resignation.

Doctors and journalists have launched a strike in support of the protests.

Sudan has been gripped by a deep financial crisis since 2011 when the southern half of the country voted to secede, taking with it three-quarters of the country’s oil output.

The crisis was further aggravated by years of overspending and mismanagement.

Opposition groups blame Bashir, who has been in power since a 1989 coup, for the mismanagement.

A series of economic measures, including a sharp devaluation of the Sudanese pound in October, have failed to shore up the economy.

In January 2018, Sudan was shaken by rare nationwide protests triggered by high bread prices.

But the recent protests that began on December 19 appear to be more serious.

Since the demonstrations began, police have used tear gas and sometimes live ammunition against demonstrators, according to residents.

The authorities have shuttered schools and declared curfews and a state of emergency in several regions.

Journalists at the daily Al-Sudani said one of their colleagues was beaten by security forces after protesters passed next to the independent newspaper’s offices.
https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/12/sudan-detains-opposition-leaders-planned-protest-181228102006637.html

UAE activist Mansoor loses final appeal against 10-year sentence

UAE photoAhmed Mansoor was arrested in March 2017 and sentenced in May by Abu Dhabi’s Federal Appeals Court for ‘defaming the UAE through social media channels’ [File: Nikhil Monteiro/Reuters]

A United Arab Emirates (UAE) appeals court has upheld a 10-year prison sentence against prominent pro-democracy activist Ahmed Mansoor for criticising the government on social media, Amnesty International reported.

Mansoor, an electrical engineer and poet, was arrested in March 2017 and sentenced in May by Abu Dhabi’s Federal Appeals Court for “defaming the UAE through social media channels”.

Mansoor was among five activists convicted and later pardoned for insulting the UAE’s rulers in 2011.

He was arrested again in March 2017 at his home in Ajman on charges of publishing false information and rumours, and of promoting a sectarian and hate-incited agenda.

Mansoor was also charged with using social media to “harm national unity and social harmony and damage the country’s reputation”.

Local media reported that the father of four, Mansoor, was handed a fine of one million dirhams ($270,000) for insulting the status and prestige of the UAE and its symbols, including its leader.

Several international rights groups, including the United Nations human rights bodies, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the European Union Parliament Subcommittee on Human Rights have condemned the sentencing of Mansoor earlier this year.

‘No space for freedom’

Responding to Monday’s decision by the court to uphold Mansoor’s sentence, Amnesty’s Middle East Research director, Lynn Maalouf said that the decision proves “there is no space for freedom [of] expression in the United Arab Emirates”.

His only ‘crime’ was “to express his peaceful opinion on social media, and it is outrageous that he is being punished with such [a] heavy prison sentence” she said in a statement.

“The authorities must ensure his conviction and sentence are quashed and release him immediately and unconditionally,” the statement read.

Speaking to Al Jazeera in October, Joe Odell, the campaigns manager for the International Campaign for Freedom in the UAE (ICFUAE) said that since the cybercrime law in 2012 came into force, there has yet to be a precedent where a rights activity has successfully appealed their sentence.

“It is unlikely that the process will be a fair and independent one,” he said.

“His continued detention is in clear breach of Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees the right to freedom of opinion and expression, to which the UAE is a signatory,” Odell added.

In 2015, Mansoor won the Martin Ennals award for human rights defenders for his work in the UAE.

He’s been described by the awarding body as “one of the few voices within the UAE who provide a credible independent assessment of human rights developments in the country.”

An expert told the UN Human rights commision last year that Mansoor’s arrest and detention is a “direct attack on the legitimate work of human rights defenders in the UAE.”

Human Rights Watch in March 2018 said Mansoor is believed to have been held in solitary confinement.

SOURCE: AL JAZEERA AND NEWS AGENCIES