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Religious Liberty in Asia (3)

Report Published by Aid to the Church in Need

ROME, AUGUST 10, 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 third installment dealing with Asia.
Part 1 as published by Catholic Online.
Part 2 as published by Catholic Online.

* * *


At the end of 2005 the Statistics Department in Israel published updated data on the number of Christians living in the country. Including Jerusalem, but not the occupied Palestinian territories, there appear to be 146,000, of whom 119,000 belong to the national Arab minority. Some 27,000 are not Arabs, but rather citizens who have mainly emigrated from the former Soviet Union.

On Nov. 17, receiving a visit from President Moshe Katzav, Benedict XVI said that the Holy See is "in favor of the existence and of cooperation between the two states, Israel and Palestine," also requesting respect of the agreements establishing the acknowledgment of the Catholic Church in Israel as a juridical body.

The Vatican's statement bears witness to the fact that relations between the Holy See and Israel are returning to acceptable levels after the controversy raised by Israel in 2004 when the country accused Benedict XVI of not including Israel among the victims of terrorism.

Palestinian National Authority

In the territories controlled by the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), Christians experience a far more serious situation.

On Dec. 8, Bethlehem's Catholic mayor, Victor Batarseh, accused both the PNA of not having provided the city with necessary funds for preparing Christmas celebrations, and Israel of being responsible for the "heavy" atmosphere caused by the establishment of new Israeli checkpoints around the city.


Many political and economic factors ensure that in Kazakhstan there is an atmosphere of freedom of worship.

About one-third of the population is Orthodox; Kazak mystical Islam is not extremist; quality of life is better than in neighboring countries as it benefits from more foreign capital and investments.

Two religious festivities have been allowed: Christmas, according to the Orthodox calendar, and Kurbanaid, the Muslim festivity of sacrifice (Eid).

In the name of the state's totally secular status, Kazakhstan had never accepted the celebration of religious festivities, but only "political" dates such as victory in World War II and May 1, following the Soviet mentality.

In 2005, legislation became harsher with regards to national security issues, with consequences for religious legislation that until 2004 had been very tolerant.

Islamic and Orthodox representatives did not seem concerned about the introduction of these new laws; on the contrary they emphasized the positive aspects.


Usama Mansur al-Sayegh was appointed the director of Shiite religious property (awqaf) for the General Secretariat of the Awqaf in Kuwait in January. This appointment -- as reported by the daily newspaper al-Ray al-Aaam -- is part of the Shiite community's organization, although the new director stated that 85% of this public institute's projects concern both Sunnis and Shiites.

The authorities, as reported by a Shiite Web site, arrested a terrorist planning attacks against Shiite mosques. Led by two Kuwaitis, this terrorist was said to be linked to al-Qaida.

An international conference entitled "The Middle Way, a Lifestyle," held in Kuwait City on May 25, 2005, emphasized the importance of spreading moderate Islam.

The conference was inaugurated by the minister for religious heritage and Islamic affairs, who stated that the concept of freedom of worship is stated in the Koran and that God has given human beings the faculty to believe or not believe.

To confront the spreading of extremism, added the minister, one must encourage a culture of tolerance and the respect of cultural and religious pluralism through a reform of the school curriculum and establishing new rules for the issuing of juridical opinions (fatwas).


Although the constitution guarantees freedom of worship, the socialist regime in Laos imposes many restrictions, such as a law that forbids all activities that might lead to divisions between citizens.

The situation is very serious for the Hmong ethic group as the government that does not even acknowledge their status as citizens. Monsignor Tito Bachong Thopahong, responsible for the Apostolic Vicariate of Luang Prabang and pastor among the Hmongs, has often been arrested by the regime.

In April the ...

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