EDITOR’S NOTE: BP Ledger carries items for reader information each Monday from various Southern Baptist-related entities, and news releases of interest from other sources. The items are published as received.
Today’s BP Ledger includes items from:
U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom
Compass Direct News Service
World News Service
American Center for Law and Justice
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
Israel Ministry of Tourism
RELIGIOUS FREEDOM PRISONERS IN CHINA (SELECTED)
WASHINGTON (U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom)–In an Aug. 15 letter to Vice President Joe Biden, the chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom asked Biden “to be a strong voice for those imprisoned for peaceful advocacy of universal freedoms” during his five-day trip to China, which ends Aug. 22.
Much of the news coverage about Biden’s trip, however, has centered on the economic woes of the U.S. and China as America’s largest foreign creditor.
USCIRF chair Leo wrote, in part: “How the Chinese government deals with growing religious activity, ethnic unrest, and vocal human rights advocates will affect issues of domestic stability and economic development, as well as the transition of China to a rule of law system and the growing demands of millions of Chinese for greater freedoms, social welfare, and government accountability — all critical concerns for China itself and a growing U.S.-China relationship.”
Leo asked Biden to be a “voice for the voiceless” in China, by raising various cases of “Buddhists, Protestants, Catholics, Muslims, Falun Gong adherents, and human rights lawyers who remain in Chinese prisons or in other forms of detention. We have enclosed, for your reference, selected cases from our 2011 Annual Report.”
That list follows:
SHI ENHAO: Is reportedly serving a two year sentence in reeducation through labor for “using superstition to undermine the implementation of the law” (Art. 300 in the Criminal Law). Pastor Shi is deputy chairman of the Chinese House Church Alliance and leads an unofficial Protestant church with a membership in the thousands. In early June, 2011 he was detained for 15 days in Suqian city, Jiangsu province. According Radio Free Asia, on June 21, 2011 Pastor Shi was given a notice by Suqian Municipal Public Security Bureau (PSB) that he was to serve a two years administrative sentence. No further information regarding Shi’s current whereabouts is available.
GUO FEIXONG: Since Dec. 13, 2007, Guo (also known as Yang Maodong) has been serving a five-year sentence in Meizhou Prison, Guangdong Province for “illegal operation of a business.” He was reportedly arrested for a 2001 publication on official corruption that was printed without the proper licenses. Guo was active in rights defense, including on behalf of Christians and Falun Gong practitioners, and was detained for several months in 2005 after he advised villagers in Taishi village (Guangdong Province) on the recall campaign of an allegedly corrupt official. His lawyers report that he was tortured in an attempt to coerce a confession. In November 2009, the United States granted asylum to Guo’s wife and children. He has stated that he would like to be re-united with his family once released.
THABKHE GYATSO: Since May 21, 2009, Tibetan Buddhist monk Thabkhe Gyatso has been serving a fifteen-year sentence in a prison in Lanzhou, Gansu Province for “endangering state security.” He was arrested for organizing a peaceful protest at Labrang Monastery in the presence of international media, opposing religious freedom restrictions. According to Radio Free Asia, before and during his trial, he was denied access to legal representation, his family was denied visitation rights, and finally, his family was not informed of his trial. While in detention Thabkhe has reportedly endured severe beatings that may have seriously affected his mental health.
MERDAN SEYITAKHUN: This Uyhgur Muslim leader was sentenced to life imprisonment for “splitting the state” under article 103 of the Criminal Law. He was arrested with ten others for teaching religion to children in an underground religious academy. According to Radio Free Asia, authorities in Xinjiang detained 12 Uyghur men between March-June, 2008. The others arrested were Ahmetjan Emet (15 years), Seydehmet Awut (10 years), Erkin Emet (10 years), Abdujilil Abdughupur (6 years), Abdulitip Ablimit (6 years) (all last known to be held at the Ghulja PBS detention center), Mewlanjan Ahmet (10 years), Kurbanjan Semet (10 years), Dolkun Erkin (10 years), Omerjan Memet (10 years), Mutelip Rozi (6 years), and Ubulkasim (3 years).
ALIMJAN YIMIT: Since his conviction on Oct. 7, 2009, Yimit has been serving a 15-year sentence in Xinjiang No. 3 Prison in Urumqi, XUAR. Authorities in Xinjiang detained Uyghur Protestant „house church? leader Alimjan Yimit (also spelled Alimjan Himit, Alimujiang Yimiti) on January 12, 2008. While initially charged with “endangering national security” during his first trial in May 27, 2008, that charge was dropped due to lack of sufficient evidence. On Oct. 7, 2009, he was finally convicted of “instigating separatism” and “providing state secrets to foreign organizations” and sentenced to 15 years in prison, allegedly for his activities proselytizing among ethnic Uyghurs and for sending a transcript of his initial police interview to foreign news services.
ZHANG LI & ZHANG JIANLIN: These two Catholic priests were arrested by authorities on or around May 24, 2008. They were detained for seeking to travel to the Sheshan shrine in Shanghai municipality, an annual pilgrimage undertaken by thousands of Catholic Chinese. However, government authorities have reportedly tried to curtail the pilgrimage this year. According to New York Times, Reuters, and the Cardinal Kung Foundation public security officers detained the two priests, who are members of an unregistered church, in Xuanhua district, Zhangjiakou city, Hebei province. No additional information about the two priests’ place of detention or charges against them, if any, is available.
ADIL QARIM: Imam Adil Qarim was arrested during a “security sweep” in Kucha county, Aqsu district, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in the aftermath of a reported series of bomb attacks in the county on August 10, 2008. According to the Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP), authorities detained Imam Qarim reportedly because an individual accused of being involved in the August 10 incident attended his mosque. Adil Qarim denied having any links to the attack. His whereabouts are not known.
CHEN ZHENGPING: Was tried and sentenced to eight years in prison for “using a cult to undermine implementation of the law” (Article 300 of the Criminal Law) in October 2008. According to Amnesty International, authorities detained Falun Gong practitioner Chen at her home in Zhengzhou city, Henan province. Authorities did not allow Chen to have legal representation throughout her case. She is currently serving her sentence at Henan Women’s prison (also known as Women’s No. 5 Prison) where she is reportedly beaten and medicated against her will.
WANG YONGHANG: Is serving a seven year sentence for “using a cult to undermine implementation of the law” (Article 300 of the Criminal Law) for providing defense counsel for several Falun Gong adherents. According to Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD), domestic security protection officers in Dalian city, Liaoning province, abducted and beat Wang Yonghang on July 4, 2009, causing fractures in his right ankle. In May 2008, authorities refused to renew his lawyers’ license. On October 16, 2009, the Dalian Shahekou District People’s Court tried Wang in secret. Neither his defense lawyer, nor his family, was informed of the trial. Wang is currently being held in the Dalian Detention Center, and his appeal is pending in the Dalian Intermediate People?s Court.
SU ZHIMIN: Bishop James Su Zhimin was arrested in March 1996 while he led a procession of Catholics to a Marian shrine near the village of Donglu in Hebei province. The (unregistered) bishop of Baoding, Su escaped the following month, went into hiding, and wrote an open protest letter to the National People?s Congress. He was captured again on October 8, 1997. Though Su has been the object of frequent American and international inquiry, the Chinese government has provided no information about him, and indeed claims that it has not taken any “coercive measures” against him. On November 15, 2003, the then 71-year-old Su was sighted at a hospital in Baoding, where, under heavy guard, he was undergoing an eye operation and treatment for a heart ailment. Since then he has disappeared again.
GEDUN CHOEKYI NYIMA: On May 14, 1995, the Dalai Lama announced from Dharamsala that he had recognized the boy as the 11th reincarnation of the Panchen Lama, the second most prominent lama of the Gelug sect. Chinese officials denounced the announcement as “illegal and invalid” and took Gedun Choekyi Nyima, then age six, and his parents into custody on May 17, 1995. They have been held incommunicado in an unknown location since then. Several months later Chinese authorities installed another boy, Gyalsten Norbu, and demanded that Tibetan Buddhist secular and monastic communities accept his legitimacy. The move continues to stir widespread resentment. The U.S. and other governments have repeatedly urged China to end restrictions on Gedun Choekyi Nyima and his family and to allow international representatives to visit them.
USCIRF is an independent, bipartisan U.S. federal government commission. USCIRF Commissioners are appointed by the President and the leadership of both political parties in the Senate and the House of Representatives. USCIRF’s principal responsibilities are to review the facts and circumstances of violations of religious freedom internationally and to make policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State and Congress.
Union volunteers aid tornado-stricken Tuscaloosa in rebuilding effort
JACKSON, Tenn.–Knee-high grass surrounds an empty playground at Holt Elementary School outside Tuscaloosa, Ala. Though the beginning of the school year was only a few days away, the deserted school showed no indications of pending activity.
But across town, in Northport, Ala., Lloyd Wood Middle School was a different story. Custodians were busy cleaning. Teachers were busy working on their classrooms. And a team of students, faculty and staff from Union University was there to help them.
The team of 10 traveled to Tuscaloosa Aug. 3-5 to help the city in its recovery efforts from an April 27 tornado that caused massive damage, destroying more than 5,000 buildings and killing more than 40 people.
“Union has a heart for people who have been through disasters,” said Hunter Baker, associate professor of political science, who was part of the Union group.
Baker and the rest of the team were assigned by the Tuscaloosa Area Volunteer Reception Center to work at Lloyd Wood Middle School. The school building had been closed for a year and was scheduled for demolition.
But the school came to life again in April, when the tornado caused significant damage to Holt Elementary School, forcing its relocation. Holt finished out the year at Lloyd Wood and was preparing for another school year in the same location.
Debbie Crawford, the principal at Holt Elementary School, said that more than 500 people showed up on the Saturday after the tornado to help the school move, completing the entire task in six hours.
But even with that amount of help from the community, much work remained at Lloyd Wood. The Union team stripped layers of wax from the cafeteria floor, assembled tables and bookcases, delivered and connected computers and worked with teachers in getting their rooms prepared.
“I could not have made it without them,” Crawford said of the Union volunteers. “They came in at a time when we were in dire need of help.”
Crawford said the head custodian and been out on sick leave, and the school was struggling to get ready for the new academic year.
“They were just a shining star for us,” Crawford said. “That helped us to get our building ready for teachers to come in on Friday and students to come in this week.”
Elissa Weber, a Union senior, said the trip made her want to return to Tuscaloosa in the future to help even more.
“Since I’m going to be a teacher, it’s really inspiring to see the community and the church come around them and to help without getting anything in return,” Weber said. “I admire that a lot in people, and to be a part of that is incredible.”
Northport Baptist Church in Northport, Ala., provided lodging for the Union volunteers. Johnny Nixon, the church’s senior pastor, said the tornado affected about 15 percent of Tuscaloosa and opened up a door for the church to minister and share the gospel.
He said the willingness of volunteers, like those from Union, to come and help the city in its rebuilding effort was a tremendous encouragement to the local residents.
“To know that you’re not alone, know that there are folks out there that still care, who express that, and will come and do real dirty and hard work — and sometimes dangerous work — just to help others, has been remarkable,” Nixon said.
Girl in Uganda Loses Use of Legs after Leaving Islam for Christ
Muslim father locked 14-year-old in room with almost no food or water for months.
By Simba Tian
NAIROBI, Kenya, August 11 (Compass Direct News)–A 14-year-old girl in western Uganda is still unable to walk 10 months after her father tortured her for leaving Islam and putting her faith in Christ, according to area Christians.
Susan Ithungu of Isango village, Kasese district, has been hospitalized at Kagando Hospital since October 2010 after neighbors with police help rescued her from her father, Beya Baluku. He was arrested shortly afterward but quickly released, sources said.
Susan and her younger brother, Mbusa Baluku, lived alone with their father after he divorced their mother. In March 2010 an evangelist from Bwera Full Gospel Church spoke at Susan’s school, and she decided to trust Christ for her salvation.
“I heard the message of Christ’s great love of him dying for us to get everlasting peace, and there and then I decided to believe in Christ,” she said from her hospital bed. “After a month, news reached my father that I had converted to Christianity, and that was the beginning of my troubles with him. Our father warned us not to attend church or listen to the gospel message. He even threatened us with a sharp knife that he was ready to kill us in broad daylight in case we converted to Christianity.”
Pastor Joseph Baluku of Bwera Full Gospel Church in Kasese said neighbors took her to the government hospital about 45 kilometers (28 miles) from Kasese town after she was freed.
“He locked her up in a room of the semi-permanent house for six months without seeing sunlight,” the pastor said. “The younger brother was warned not to tell anyone that Susan was locked up in a room and was not given any food.”
Young Mbusa said that when their father was away, he roasted bananas for his sister.
“I also dug a hole under the door, where I could pour water through,” he said. “My sister could drink the water using her tongue. But most days she could only feed on mud.”
A nearby resident who requested anonymity said neighbors became concerned after not seeing her for several months.
“Her brother then disclosed to us that Susan was locked up in one of the rooms in the house,” the area resident said. “We then reported the case to the Harukunggu local council and then to the Bwera police station. The police went to the house and broke the door.”
Susan was immediately taken to the provincial government hospital about 17 kilometers (11 miles) away near Bwera town, where Pastor Baluku visited her.
“The miserable young Susan was bony, very weak, and not able to talk or walk,” said the pastor. “Her hair had turned yellow, she had long fingernails and sunken eyes, and she looked very slim, less than 20 kilograms [44 pounds].”
Members of the Full Gospel Church in Bwera prayed for her and visited her in the hospital, which like many government-subsidized hospitals in the region does not customarily bill until the patient is discharged, and at rates well below those of private hospitals. It is unknown when Susan will be released, but Pastor Baluku said area residents and church members will try to gather funds for medical costs incurred.
The pastor said billing from such government hospitals can often be deferred until enough money is raised.
“It could be a challenge, but we will try to do our best,” he said.
“By God’s grace Susan is still alive,” he said after a visit last week. “Though she can’t walk, she can now talk. She is still feeding on soft foods. The great news is that Susan is still strong in the Lord Jesus Christ. She needs prayers and support, so that she can resume her education soon.”
Louisiana governor fighting to keep predators off social networking sites
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (World News Service)–The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is seeking to block a Louisiana law banning convicted sex offenders from using social networking sites, such as Facebook and MySpace.
The law — signed by Gov. Bobby Jindal in June — took effect Aug. 15. The ACLU contends it is “vague” and “overly broad.” The group represents a man who served four years in prison on child pornography charges who now does computer repair; the ACLU says the law means he could lose his job, which requires him to use the Internet.
Earlier this year, federal officials busted the world’s largest international child porn ring; prosecutions will take place in Louisiana.
Meanwhile, Jindal minced no words in declaring his intent to fight the challenge.
“This lawsuit is a disturbing break from reality, even for the ACLU,” he said. “It is frankly insulting for the ACLU to claim it is a convicted sex offender’s ‘First Amendment right’ to use Facebook, MySpace and Craigslist.
“I will fight this with everything I have. If these people want to search the Internet for new victims, they can do it somewhere else.”
ACLJ clears way for 9-11 documentary to be shown in New York City parks
NEW YORK, New York (American Center for Law and Justice)–The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), focusing on constitutional law, said today it is pleased that New York City’s Department of Parks and Recreation has agreed to grant a request from the Christian Action Network (CAN) to permit the showing of a film made about 9-11 survivors in a number of City parks leading up to the 10th anniversary of the tragic attacks of 9-11. The City agreed to permit the showing of the documentary just two weeks after the ACLJ sent a demand letter urging City officials to permit the film to be shown or face a possible lawsuit.
“This is an important victory for our clients and for the First Amendment,” said Brett Joshpe, ACLJ Counsel. “The City’s decision to permit this important documentary to be shown in a number of City parks protects the constitutional rights of our clients. We’re pleased that the corrective action was taken in a timely manner so that our clients can show this film in the days leading up to the anniversary commemorating the tragic events of 9-11, as they had planned.”
The ACLJ sent New York City a demand letter July 28th after CAN officials contend that they were denied permission to utilize a number of City parks, which are available and routinely used by other organizations, to show a documentary entitled: “Sacrificed Survivors: The Untold Story of the Ground Zero Mega-Mosque,” which addresses the controversy surrounding the mosque at Ground Zero from the perspective of individuals who lost loved ones in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Communications between the Parks Department and CAN’s representatives revealed that the Department’s concern over the documentary’s content and viewpoint was the issue.
“The law is clear: the City has violated the Christian Action Network’s rights under the First Amendment,” the demand letter stated. “The City’s refusal to approve CAN’s applications due to disagreement with the content and viewpoint of the documentary violates CAN’s First Amendment rights. The First Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits the government from ‘abridging the freedom of speech.'”
Led by Chief Counsel Jay Sekulow, the American Center for Law and Justice focuses on constitutional law and is based in Washington, D.C. The ACLJ is online at www.aclj.org.
Seminary hosts Fort Worth mayor’s key presentation
By Keith Collier
FORT WORTH, Texas (Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary)–Fort Worth mayor Betsy Price presented Gheorghe Carp, deputy mayor of Oradea, Romania, with a key to the city during a luncheon on the campus of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, July 27. Carp, who is also a physician, and others from Romania were in Fort Worth to meet with doctors and administrators at Cook Children’s Hospital as part of an ongoing partnership.
“Thank you so much for being here in Fort Worth,” Price said as she presented Carp with the key.
“We look forward to working with you and helping show you our city. We’re thrilled that you’re here to see Cook’s because it is a highlight for us and a wonderful hospital. We look forward to seeing the exchange of knowledge going forward.”
Carp expressed appreciation for the honor and wished Price “success and great achievement” during her term as mayor. He also gave Price a formal invitation to visit Oradea.
“You have a great and beautiful city,” Carp said. “I do believe something of the beauty of your city will be taken with us to Romania, and you will see it whenever you come.”
Officials are working to restructure the healthcare system in Oradea, including developing more administrative support to doctors and shifting healthcare oversight from a federal to a local government level. Carp started a pilot program in Oradea for this transition. Additionally, the Mayor of Oradea signed a contract this week to break ground on a new Cancer Care Center for adults and children.
The partnership between Oradea’s children’s hospital and Cook Children’s continues to flourish. Members from Cook’s Child Life program traveled to Romania in March 2010 to train medical students and hospital personnel as well as introduce Child Life to doctors and administrators.
Ilie Soritau, a professor at Emanuel University of Oradea, started the Oradea-Fort Worth connection. In 2005, Soritau’s daughter Tori was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a cancer that attacks the nervous system, and the family encountered difficulties finding treatment in Romania.
Dorothy Patterson, wife of Southwestern Seminary president Paige Patterson and a friend of the Soritaus, made arrangements and urged the family to come to Fort Worth. The seminary provided a furnished duplex apartment for the family while Tori spent an entire year receiving medical treatment at Cook Children’s Hospital. Soritau also taught atSouthwestern Seminary from 2006 to 2010.
Ilie’s wife Raelene wrote a children’s book based on their experience, titled “A Princess Story,” and dedicated it to Mrs. Patterson, including her as a main character. The book, illustrated by 30-year Disney animator Mark Henn, details the family’s difficult journey through treatment for Tori’s cancer, giving God the glory for carrying the family through it and for miraculously healing Tori. The story also features Dr. Meaghan Granger, a pediatric oncologist at Cook Children’s, as a character.
Israel government approves construction of new international airport near Eilat: Ramon International Airport
New Airport will Serve Southern Israel
NEW YORK, N.Y. (Israel Ministry of Tourism)–Israel has approved the construction of the Ramon International Airport in Timna Park, which is 11 miles north of Eilat. The construction of the new airport, which is expected to be completed in late 2014 and replace the airports in Eilat and Ovda, will encourage the growth of incoming international tourism traffic.
The total cost of the project is estimated at $422 million and passenger traffic is expected to be over 1.5 million people a year, from both international and domestic flights. The new airport is expected to bring in at least three times more traffic than the current airports in Eilat.
“We are excited about the construction of the Ramon International Airport being built near Eilat,” said Haim Gutin, Consul, Israel Tourism Commissioner, North and South America. “The new airport will make it easier for tourists to enter southern Israel and the beautiful resort town of Eilat.”
According to the Ministry of Transportation, the amount of passengers passing through Ben-Gurion International Airport increases between 3-5% annually. In 2010, 11,485,509 passengers flew internationally, in addition to 674,830 domestic travelers.
The Ramon International Airport is named after Ilan Ramon, Israel’s first astronaut, who was one of the seven crew members killed in the space shuttle Columbia’s accident in February of 2003, and his son Assaf, an Israeli fighter pilot killed during a training flight in September of 2009.