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INTERNATIONAL DIGEST: Convictions overturned for jailed Mexican Christians

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–At least 20 men in Mexico, most of them evangelical Christians, who had been falsely accused of participating in a December 1997 massacre were released in mid-August following a Supreme Court ruling that their convictions violated fundamental norms of justice.

Part of the court ruling said prosecutors in the case fabricated testimony against the men, who have been serving 25- or 36-year sentences related to the Dec. 22, 1997, killing of 45 civilians in Acteal village in Chiapas state. The Compass Direct news service reported that area evangelicals viewed the imprisoned Christians as caught between survivors of the massacre clamoring for convictions and government police and military forces eager to shift blame away from paramilitaries fighting rebels of the Zapatista National Liberation Army. More than 50 people were imprisoned on charges related to the incident.

“Acteal is a double tragedy,” attorney Javier Cruz Angulo said after the ruling, according to Compass. “On the one hand, you have an abominable massacre, and on the other, more than 50 human beings imprisoned without proof.” The court will review the cases of another 31 men convicted in connection with the killing, and six more will be given new trials, according to news reports.

Some of imprisoned Christians say they were arrested because they were falsely accused by rebel sympathizers with whom they had been embroiled in land disputes. Others said they were simply nearby when authorities made random round-ups.

HELPING REFUGEES RESULTS IN PRISON TERMS — Two Chinese Christians were sentenced Aug. 30 to prison terms for helping North Korean refugees escape to South Korea through China.

Li Mingshun and Zhang Yonghu were indicted in July on charges of “human smuggling across the border,” according to the ChinaAid human rights group. Li and Zhang were among several Christians helping provide food, shelter and transportation for 61 refugees crossing Chinese provinces into Mongolia, where state laws permit residents to seek asylum in South Korea. Li was sentenced to 10 years in prison, while Zhang received a seven-year term. Lawyers defending Li and Zhang hope their case will raise awareness about the Chinese government’s treatment of North Korean refugees and those who help them. Family members say they intend to file appeals of the convictions.

“The verdict underscores years of continued persecution for North Koreans in China, who have been denied refugee status by the Chinese government and repatriated in violation of the UNHCR Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, which China signed in 1982,” a statement released by ChinaAid said. “The costs of repatriation are dire. Refugees face charges of treason upon their return to the home country, punishable by death, detention and/or lifelong imprisonment in labor camps. Detained Korean women and children in China are frequently sold into the sex-slave trade, disappearing from the formal record into the human trafficking void. Many Chinese and Korean Christians, like Li and Zhang, work with underground networks to aid these refugees as they seek freedom from persecution, only to be arrested and charged as criminals.”

ChinaAid President Xiqiu “Bob” Fu said groups and individuals concerned about the case can contact the Beijing office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees by e-mailing [email protected] to ask the U.N. to work for the release of Li and Zhang and to pressure the Chinese government to respect and uphold human rights for North Korean refugees.

‘DYING’ PATIENTS KILLED PREMATURELY, EXPERTS WARN — Terminally-ill patients in England are being made to die prematurely because doctors are wrongly judging them as close to death, six medical experts have claimed in a letter to London’s Daily Telegraph newspaper.

New guidelines introduced by England’s National Health Service allow doctors and medical staff to withdraw food, fluid and drugs from dying patients and sedate them until they die. Sedation, however, can mask signs that a patient in fact is not dying and, in effect, result in the person being put to death by following the guidelines, which are called “the Liverpool Care Pathway.”

The guidelines were designed to reduce a patient’s suffering in his final hours and have been adopted by more than 300 hospitals, 130 hospices and 560 care homes in England since 2004, the Telegraph reported. However, symptoms that might lead a medical team to conclude a patient is dying can be caused by other medical problems, the experts said.

“Forecasting death is an inexact science” and patients can be misdiagnosed as close to death, the letter noted. Withdrawing food, fluids and medicine after an incorrect diagnosis that a patient is close to death results in a “self-fulfilling prophecy” of his death, it said. The experts’ warning came on the heels of a report estimating up to 1 million patients had received poor or cruel care in country’s national health system.
Compiled by Baptist Press assistant editor Mark Kelly.

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