Category Archives: Asia

Myanmar: Wives of Reuters journalists devastated by verdict

reuters photoPan Ei Mon (L) and Chit Su Win wives of jailed Reuters reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo after their appeal was rejected [Ann Wang/Reuters]

by Joshua Carroll

Yangon, Myanmar – The families of two Reuters journalists jailed in Myanmar after uncovering a massacre in Rakhine state were once again left devastated on Friday when a court rejected the pair’s appeal to overturn their seven-year prison sentences.

After the judge rattled through his ruling in a crowded courtroom in downtown Yangon, the wives of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo wept as senior foreign diplomats offered their commiserations.

While little has gone in the reporters’ favour since their arrests in December 2017, Kyaw Soe Oo’s wife, Chit Su Win, was still clinging to hope before today’s decision.

“We were even hoping to go to the jail to welcome them if they were released today, but it’s not happening,” she told a scrum of reporters outside the gates of Yangon’s regional High Court.

Neither of the men attended Friday’s ruling. They have both been unable to see their children for the past month. Wa Lone’s detention forced him to miss the birth of his baby daughter in August last year, while Kyaw Soe Oo has only been able to see his three-year-old daughter at court hearings and prison visits.

A message to journalists

The two journalists were sentenced in September under the country’s Official Secrets Act after being accused of holding classified documents.

Their nine-month trial was roundly condemned as a sham aimed at stifling independent reporting on the military’s large-scale killings of Rohingya.

“Journalists have got the message that they should avoid these kinds of issues,” Myint Kyaw, secretary of the Myanmar Journalists Network, told Al Jazeera.

The military is adamant its actions in late 2017 were legitimate counterinsurgency operations, but the UN has called for senior officials to be prosecuted for genocide.

Defence lawyer Than Zaw Aung said he would talk to the reporters about whether or not to take an appeal to Myanmar’s Supreme Court. “We are very disappointed about today’s judgement,” he said.

In their September appeal, the defence pointed to testimony by a police captain who said his colleagues entrapped the reporters in a sting by handing them documents and then promptly arresting them.

But Judge Aung Naing hewed closely to the original ruling today before observers in a high-ceilinged courtroom dotted with cobwebs, and described the pair’s prison terms as a “suitable punishment”.

Besides a Supreme Court ruling, the reporter’s best hope of being released soon is a pardon from President Win Myint, who would take orders from the country’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Based on previous cases of journalists being jailed in the country, said Myint Kyaw, there is a chance the pair will receive a pardon, “but it will take time”.

‘A day in prison is an injustice’

Maja Kocijancic, the EU’s spokesperson for foreign affairs, said: “We are confident that the President of Myanmar will promptly address this injustice and ensure, together with the government, that the press can fulfil its function as an essential pillar of democracy.”

Many are losing hope that former icon of democracy Aung San Suu Kyi will intervene on the pair’s behalf.

Bill Richardson, a senior US diplomat and former confidante of Aung San Suu Kyi, alleged last year that she referred to the two journalists as “traitors” during a heated exchange.

Richardson resigned from his position on an international advisory body on Rakhine soon after the confrontation.

Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo’s reporting from Rakhine’s Inn Din village last year revealed how soldiers and villagers hacked and shot 10 Rohingya men and boys to death before burying them in a mass grave.

They were among almost 7,000 Rohingya who died within the first month of the military’s crackdown, which began in late August 2017, according to estimates from Doctors Without Borders.

The reporters were held incommunicado for two weeks following their arrests. Wa Lone later testified that he was hooded and deprived of sleep during days of interrogation.

“One day in prison was already an injustice,” said Tirana Hassan, Amnesty International’s Director of Crisis Response. “This appalling farce must end now.”

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/01/myanmar-wives-reuters-journalists-voice-despair-verdict-190111102521706.html

Freed from jail, Cambodian surrogate mothers raise Chinese children

Surrogate photoSophea and her husband participate in a ceremony to rid her and her family of bad karma, in Oudong, Cambodia. December 7, 2018. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Matt Blomberg

by Matt Blomberg and and Yon Sineat | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Campaigners say Cambodia’s surrogacy crackdown is unlikely to end the trade as many women will continue to risk arrest for the chance to earn life-changing sums of money
OUDONG, Cambodia, Sophea was eight months pregnant when Cambodian police told her she would have to keep the baby that was never meant to be hers – and forfeit the $10,000 she was promised for acting as a surrogate for a Chinese couple.

Cambodia banned commercial surrogacy in 2016, and police in June raided two apartments where Sophea and 31 other surrogate mothers were being cared for in Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh.

They were charged the following month with violating human trafficking laws, but authorities released them on bail last week, under the condition they raise the children themselves.

Campaigners say Cambodia’s surrogacy crackdown is unlikely to end the trade as poverty means many women will continue to risk arrest for the chance to earn life-changing sums of money.

For some of the newly-freed women, keeping their baby is a burden as they struggle to get by. For others, it is a relief.

Despite the financial loss, 24-year-old Sophea told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that she was happy the authorities intervened, and that her family had welcomed her baby boy.

“If not for the crackdown and my arrest, I would have been left in deep regret,” said Sophea, who did not give her real name for fear of backlash from the authorities and members of her community.

“I would have given away my baby,” she said just two days after being released from police custody, settling back into village life at the end of a sandy track that winds through rice fields in Oudong, a 90 minute drive north of Phnom Penh.

Members of the other families said the babies are a mixed blessing. Instead of receiving $10,000, the women went home with another mouth to feed, in a country where the average annual income is $1,490, according to the International Monetary Fund.

“It is a very difficult situation. I worry that my income will not support the whole family,” said Pich, a motorcycle-taxi driver whose wife is carrying what will be their third child.

The 40-year-old, who also requested that his real name not be used, said he never supported his wife’s decision to be a surrogate and that he was ashamed she had gone through with it.

Another surrogate, a 24-year-old woman, went behind her husband’s back to take part in the scheme.

The $10,000 would have allowed the couple and their two children to move out of the shack they share with 12 members of their extended family, said the woman on condition of anonymity.

“I agreed to give birth at the provincial hospital and look after the baby, but I don’t know how we will get the money to support and raise another child,” she said.

Ros Sopheap, director of the charity Gender and Development for Cambodia, said poverty will likely drive more women to engage in surrogacy – and that few know the practice is illegal.

“Very few people are aware of what’s right, what’s wrong, what’s against the law,” she said.

“The reality is that these women do this because they are living in poverty. So as long as there is a demand for surrogate mothers, they will continue.”

Southeast Asia has long been a top destination for couples seeking surrogate mothers. Thailand banned the practice in 2015 after several high-profile cases, followed by Cambodia in 2016.

In 2017, an Australian nurse and two Cambodians were jailed for 18 months for operating an illegal surrogacy clinic.

In the country’s most recent surrogacy raid – just last month – 11 pregnant women and four facilitators were arrested.

Chou Bun Eng, a secretary of state at the Interior Ministry, said the 32 women were released on humanitarian grounds last week, but that the fate of the latest 11 surrogates is unclear.

Each case will be judged independently and “law enforcement will become stricter” in the future, according to the official.

It would be difficult, she added, for authorities to track down those who organised surrogacy rings, or the Chinese couples who paid for Cambodian women to bear their children.

“Even surrogate mothers did not know nor (have) contact with the one who wanted the babies,” said Chou Bun Eng.

Sophea said she preferred not to know who the biological parents were.

“I will not tell my son what happened in the past,” she said. “I won’t tell him about his actual Chinese parents.”

She said her priority upon returning home was to invite a Buddhist monk to conduct a cleansing ceremony – in order to rid the family of any bad karma incurred during the ordeal.

Her four-year-old daughter and extended family have also welcomed the baby, she said after the ceremony, which was attended by a dozen relatives and several village elders.

“The whole family loves him,” Sophea said. “My husband (a construction worker) told me: ‘Your son is my son’.”
http://news.trust.org/item/20181210101810-y6rbm/

Researchers find ‘evidence of genocide’ against Rohingya

Genocide photoCardinal Tagle, president of Caritas International, visits Kutupalong refugee camp in Bangladesh, Dec. 3, 2018. Credit:Caritas Bangladesh

By Courtney Grogan

Chittagong, Bangladesh, (CNA/EWTN News).- As new evidence emerges of atrocities committed in Burma’s Rakhine state, the president of Caritas International visited Monday a Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh.

In 2017 the Rohingya, a Muslim minority group, faced a sharp increase in state-sponsored violence in Burma, also known as Myanmar. The violence reached levels that led the United Nations to declare the crisis “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”

More than 700,000 Rohingya have fled across the border to Bangladesh, and are living in refugee camps, many of which are located in a swampy sort of “buffer zone” along the border between the two countries.

Researchers with the Public International Law and Policy Group, contracted by the U.S. State Department to investigate Burma’s treatment of the Rohingya, found “reasonable grounds to believe that genocide was committed against the Rohingya,” in a report published Dec. 3.

The researchers interviewed more than 1,000 refugees, who shared their experiences of “mass shootings, aerial bombardments, gang rapes and severe beatings, torture and burning” by Burma’s armed forces.

Seventy percent of the Rohingya interviewed had witnessed their homes or villages being destroyed and 80 percent witnessed the killing of a family member, friend, or personal acquaintance.

Cardinal Luis Tagle of Manila visited Kutupalong refugee camp, more than 100 miles south of Chittagong, Dec. 3, describing it as “a cry to the whole world for a better politics based on compassion and solidarity.”

“When will we learn our lessons and be able to stop a crisis of this magnitude happening again? How as an international community and a human family can we get back to the basics of dignity, care and compassion?” continued Tagle.

The Filipino cardinal is the president of Caritas International, a group that has served the Rohingya refugee population since the crisis began. Caritas has helped nearly 500,000 refugees by providing shelter, water, sanitation, hygiene, and living supplies.

“The situation of refugees from Myanmar was heartbreaking for me when I came first, but I’m seeing things improve,” Tagle said. “We wish for a permanent solution for these people who are stateless and helpless. It is our responsibility to be with them. We want them to have a happy life.”

Tagle found particular hope in seeing the efforts of the Caritas Bangladesh volunteers and staff to help the refugees during the Advent season.

“Here I am this first week of Advent with a people waiting for a future,” Tagle said. “For us Advent is waiting not for something but for someone. Jesus, who was born poor, who became a refugee but who never stops loving. I hope this message coming from this camp will encourage all of us never to get tired of loving.”

Bangladesh and Burma have agreed to a repatriation program which began last month, but few if any Rohingya have chosen to return to their homeland.

The Burmese government refused to use the term Rohingya, and considers them illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. They have been denied citizenship and numerous other rights since a controversial law was enacted in 1982.

https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/researchers-find-evidence-of-genocide-against-rohingya-30581

Priest and key witness in nun rape case found dead

Franco_Mulakkal_CNABishop Franco Mulakkal. CNA file photo.

Kochi, India, Oct 23, 2018 / 12:00 am (CNA). – A priest who had been a key witness in the charge of rape against Bishop Franco Mulakkal of Jullundur died Monday, prompting a police investigation into his death.

Father Kuriakose Kattuthara, 62, was found unconscious in his room on Oct. 22 at St Mary’s Church in Dasuya in Punjab, India. He had no visible signs of injury.
He was declared dead after being transported to a local hospital.

Kattuthara’s brother, Jose Kurian, expressed doubt about police reports that the priest might have succumbed to cardiac arrest.

“My brother had talked to me a week before the death. He had expressed fear that something may happen to him. We can’t believe the Punjab Police version that my brother had died due to cardiac arrest. He had no history of heart ailments,” Kurian told Firstpost.

The priest’s family petitioned for an autopsy and investigation. It was filed with the Alappuzha district superintendent of police, who forwarded it to Pinarayi Vijayan, Chief Minister.

The priest had testified against Bishop Mulakkal, who was been arrested on Sept. 21 for allegedly raping a nun for over a course of two years. The nun, who is a member of the Missionaries of Jesus, brought the accusation forward in June.

The priest provided testimony to police about the case several weeks ago. Local Catholics say that others who have testified against the bishop have faced threats of retaliation.
The nun said the abuse began in 2014 at her convent in Kuravilangad. The bishop has denied all accusations and was released on bail on October 15. He is awaiting trial.
Bishop Mulakkal told UCA News that the allegations were a retaliation against him because he acted against the nun’s sexual misconduct. He said she was having an affair with her cousin’s husband.

Three other women have accused the bishop of sexual misconduct. However, the Missionaries of Jesus’ superior general upholds the bishop’s innocence. The congregation is based in the Jullundur diocese, and Bishop Mulakkal is its patron.

http://www.catholicnewsagency.com

Jesus maps the path to peace, reconciliation, pope says

Jesus maps the path to peace, reconciliation, pope says
by Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service
November 28, 2017

PAPAL VISIT MYANMAR BANGLADESH
Pope Francis greets clergy before celebrating Mass at Kyaikkasan sports ground in Yangon, Myanmar, Nov. 29. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

YANGON, Myanmar (CNS) November 28, 2017 — Jesus’ love “is like a spiritual GPS” that guides people past the everyday obstacles of fear and pride and allows them to find their way to a relationship with God and with their neighbors, Pope Francis said.

Christ’s message of “forgiveness and mercy uses a logic that not all will want to understand, and which will encounter obstacles. Yet his love, revealed on the cross is ultimately unstoppable,” the pope said Nov. 29, celebrating his first public Mass in Myanmar.

According to the Vatican, 150,000 people attended the Mass at the Kyaikkasan sports ground. Thousands of them had traveled hundreds of miles to be at the Mass, and many of them camped out on the sports field the night before the liturgy.

Pope Francis acknowledged the sacrifices made by the people as well as the struggles Catholics face as a tiny minority in Myanmar and as citizens of a country struggling to leave violence behind and transition from military to democratic rule.

“I know that many in Myanmar bear the wounds of violence, wounds both visible and invisible,” the pope said in his homily. “The temptation is to respond to these injuries with a worldly wisdom” or to think that “healing can come from anger and revenge. Yet the way of revenge is not the way of Jesus.”

Pope Francis prayed that Catholics in Myanmar would “know the healing balm of the Father’s mercy and find the strength to bring it to others, to anoint every hurt and every painful memory. In this way, you will be faithful witnesses of the reconciliation and peace that God wants to reign in every human heart and in every community.”

Father Francis Saw from St. John Cantonment Church in Yangon said he had 400 guests at his parish. “Many people came from the hill towns. I welcomed them and fed them and then they came here at 10 p.m.” the night before the Mass.

“We are very happy and encouraged by the pope’s visit,” he said. “It is good for our country and for our church.”

Some people had reserved seats close to the altar. “Every parish got some VIP tickets for those who are very involved in the parish, very poor or sick,” said Noeli Anthony, a ticket-holder from the Myanmar Catholic community in Perth, Australia.

Salesian Father Albert “Sam” Saminedi, pastor of the Perth community, said the immigrants he ministers to “love their country” and “are very strong, very loud and full of faith.” More than 100 of them traveled home to be with the pope.

The “VVIP” section at the sports field was reserved for government officials, diplomats and representatives of other Christian communities and other religions.

The Rev. U Chit Toe Win, chair of the Myin Thar Baptist Church and deputy chairman of an interfaith dialogue group in Yangon, sat with the Anglican, Catholic, Hindu, Buddhist and Muslim members of his group in the very front row.

Like any Baptist minister, Toe Win said, “I believe in Jesus first,” but “these are my brothers. We are for unity.”

“Every Day Is a Nightmare”

By Naimul Haq
IPS News Agency

In this special series of reports, IPS journalists travel to the border region between Bangladesh and Myanmar to speak with Rohingya refugees, humanitarian workers and officials about the still-unfolding human rights and health crises facing this long-marginalized and persecuted community.
naimul-629x472 Cox's Bazar Naimul Haq-IPS
A Rohingya woman and child at Kutupalong camp, about 35 km from Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

COX’S BAZAR, Bangladesh, Nov 29 2017 (IPS) – Parul Akhtar,* a Rohingya woman in her mid-twenties, may never wish to remember the homeland she and her children left about three weeks ago.

Too scared to speak out, Parul, the mother of two young children, rests inside the makeshift tent she now calls her home in Kutupalong in southeastern Bangladesh, which is hosting thousands of Rohingya refugees fleeing persecution in neighbouring Myanmar.

But it is still fresh in her mind as she recalls the violence she and her family endured day after day when truckloads of army soldiers, along with local Buddhist men, came to violate women, loot valuables and burn homes while picking up young men in her village in Rajarbil in Maungdaw district in Myanmar.

“My body shivers when I recall those days,” says Parul, visibly upset by the horrifying memories.

Standing in front of her tent in Modhuchhara camp in the vast and so far the biggest Rohingya refugee camp in Kutupalong, about 35 kilometers from the nearest city of Cox’s Bazar, Parul, narrates the ordeal of escaping the atrocities.

“It was a nightmare trying to escape and dodge the embedded informers, army and of course, police,” Parul says.

“When I came back to consciousness, I found my brothers and husband missing. My children were also not spared.” –Nasima Aktar

Continue reading “Every Day Is a Nightmare”

Myanmar, Bangladesh sign Rohingya return deal

Myanmar, Bangladesh sign Rohingya return deal
23 Nov 2017
SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies

a4cf200ee5e447cea8089c551999905a_18 AJ News
More than 620,000 people have poured into Bangladesh since August [Anadolu].
Bangladesh and Myanmar have signed a deal for the return of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees, who have taken shelter in the border town of Cox’s Bazar after a brutal crackdown by the military.

Myanmar’s foreign ministry confirmed the signing of the agreement on Thursday, without releasing further details.

“I didn’t find any clear statement how these refugees will be repatriated. I’m not sure whether they will be allowed to return to their original village,” Rohingya activist Nay San Lwin told Al Jazeera.

“It looks like they will be placed in the temporary camps, and later the refugees will be locked up in the camps for a long time like the Rohingya in Sittwe for more than five years now.

“Myanmar minister for resettlement and welfare said they will repatriate maximum 300 refugees a day. So it can take up to two decades to repatriate all those refugees.”

Al Jazeera’s Scott Heidler, reporting from Yangon, said the deal was the result of international pressure which has been mounting steadily on Myanmar.

‘Concentration camps’
“For Myanmar, it’s very important because it is showing some progress on this Rohingya crisis,” Heidler said.

San Lwin said refugees should not return if their citizenship and basic rights are not guaranteed.yanmar minister for resettlement and welfare said they will repatriate maximum 300 refugees a day. So it can take up to two decades to repatriate all those refugees. — Rohingya activist Nay San Lwin

“Bangladesh should not send back any Rohingya refugee to Myanmar unless citizenship and basic rights are guaranteed. The people who fled to Bangladesh lived in the open air prison for almost three decades, now it looks like they will be sent back to concentration camps.”

The agreement comes after Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi met Bangladesh’s foreign minister to resolve one of the biggest refugee crisis of modern times.

More than 620,000 people have poured into Bangladesh since August, running from a Myanmar military crackdown that the US said this week clearly constitutes “ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya”.

The talks between Aung San Suu Kyi and her Bangladeshi counterpart come in advance of a highly anticipated visit to both nations by Pope Francis, who has been outspoken about his sympathy for the plight of the Rohingya.

Buddhist-majority Myanmar, which denies committing atrocities against the Muslim minority, has agreed to work with Bangladesh to repatriate some of the Rohingya piling into desperately overstretched refugee camps.
‘Systematically oppressed’

But the neighbours have struggled to settle on the details, including how many Rohingya will be allowed back in violence-scorched Rakhine, where hundreds of villages have been burned.

Last week Myanmar’s military chief Min Aung Hlaing said it was “impossible to accept the number of persons proposed by Bangladesh”.

Rendered stateless, Rohingya have been the target of communal violence and vicious anti-Muslim sentiment for years.

They have also been systematically oppressed by the government, which stripped the minority of citizenship and severely restricts their movement, as well as their access to basic services.

The latest crisis erupted after Rohingya rebels attacked police posts on August 25.

The army backlash rained violence across northern Rakhine, with refugees recounting nightmarish scenes of soldiers and Buddhist mobs slaughtering villagers and burning down entire communities.

The military denies all allegations but has restricted access to the conflict zone.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s government has also vowed to deny visas to a UN-fact finding mission tasked with probing accusations of military abuse.

SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies