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Religious Liberty in Asia (1)

7/28/2006 - 6:10 AM PST

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Report Published by Aid to the Church in Need

ROME, JULY 28, 2006 (Zenit) - Here is an adapted excerpt from a report by the charity Aid to the Church in Need on religious freedom.

This is the first installment that deals with Asia. Subsequent excerpts will appear in the coming days.

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Afghanistan

After decades of military occupation and civil war, Afghanistan in 2005 swore in its first legally elected parliament since 1969. There do not appear to be any reports of real violations of freedom of worship. But a number of local and international analysts denounce problems as far as establishing a real democracy is concerned, if the country continues to use the Shariah as its juridical basis, a system that has the death sentence for those abandoning Islam.

On Oct. 18 the Afghans voted for the Wolesi Jirga (Parliament's lower house) and for the 34 Provincial Councils. The elections, with a turnout of 53% of voters, were the end of the process started in 2001 with the Bonn Agreement that brought Hamid Karzai to assume to role of president of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and, in 2004, the promulgation of the new constitution.

Parliament was sworn in Dec. 19 and has 351 members, including 68 women.

In a country that is almost totally Muslim, proselytism by other religions is considered to be against Islam, which the constitution defines as being the state religion. It states that "believers from other religions are free to profess and practice their faith within the limits established by the law."

The fact that the constitution also establishes that the Shariah is the source of legislation, clashes with the country's commitment to respect basic human rights. The Catholic chapel inside the Italian Embassy in Kabul is still the only non-Islamic place of worship officially recognized in the whole country.

Positive signals were seen in the course of the year allowing one to hope in the opening of a "public" church and of the establishing of diplomatic relations between Afghanistan and the Holy See which are currently nonexistent.

Azerbaijan

According to some religious leaders and activists for the defense of human rights, in the course of 2005 the situation experienced by minority religious groups has improved in Azerbaijan, with less pressure on them from state authorities.

No problems have been reported as far as the Catholic Church is concerned. On Sept. 12 -- as reported by the APCom press agency on that same day -- the first stone was laid for the building of what is to be the first Catholic Church in Azerbaijan after the fall of the communist regime.

In spite of the generally calm situation as far as freedom of worship is concerned, there have been intimidating episodes -- with at times real incursions by the police forces -- aimed at minority religious groups, especially with regards to activities outside places of worship.

Bahrain

On Feb. 19 the Ashura festivity was celebrated without any problems by the country's Shiite community. The police patrolled the streets in the capital Manama to guarantee peaceful conditions for the processions.

On the night of Dec. 25, the authorities at Manama airport arrested for a few hours the ayatollah Mohammad al-Sanad who was returning from the holy city of Qom, where he teaches.

Bangladesh

In 2005 there was a significant increase in Islamic extremism in Bangladesh, denounced by a human rights group and by the international media. Freedom of worship is experiencing a difficult period because the government gives in to pressure coming from Islamic extremist groups and is an accomplice in the discrimination and violence addressed at minorities.

The terrorist attacks of July 7, 2005, in London and later attacks on mosques that took place in Great Britain caused the police in Dacca to discuss serious security measures with the representatives of the Christian communities, to protect religious buildings from any eventual reprisals. The threat posed by Islamic militants obliged them to cancel midnight Mass -- brought forward to the evening of Dec. 24 -- and also New Year celebrations in the Parish of Santo Rosario, the largest in the Archdiocese of Dacca.

A positive event was reported on April 6, 2005, on the occasion of the death of Pope John Paul II, when national mourning was announced and for the first time in this country all flags were flown at half-mast for a Christian religious leader.

In 2005 a number of Christians paid the price of their faith with their lives. As reported by the Compass Direct new agency, on July 27, 2005, two Protestants working for an international nongovernmental organization were assassinated. Tapan Kumar Roy, 27, and Liplal Mardi, 21, were evangelists working for Christian Life Bangladesh in ...

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