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INTERNATIONAL DIGEST: Methodist groups target Israel; pressure on China urged

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Several groups within the United Methodist Church have responded to Israel’s clampdown on the Gaza Strip by urging divestment in companies that do business with Israel and publishing media critical of the Jewish state.

The United Methodist Board of Church and Society, the denomination’s lobbying arm, will bring a resolution to the United Methodist General Conference in April urging church members and denominational agencies to divest from Caterpillar Inc., a manufacturer of heavy equipment that Israel uses to raze Palestinian properties it believes are connected to terrorist activities, according to Mark Tooley of The Institute on Religion and Democracy.

The United Methodist Women’s Division, meanwhile, has published a children’s book and a missions study that portray Israel as an oppressor of Palestinians and aggressor in Middle East turmoil, while barely mentioning the problem of terrorism Israel faces, Tooley said in a press statement.

“Church agencies should strive towards fairness and factuality,” Tooley said. “Targeting Israel as the Middle East’s unique villain, while virtually ignoring terrorism and radical Islam, is a gross disservice to members of The United Methodist Church and to the wider public.”

RIGHTS ACTIVISTS URGE PRESSURE ON CHINA — A group of 26 prominent human rights activists have signed an open letter urging the international community to exert pressure on the People’s Republic of China to improve its human rights practices before the Summer Olympics open in Beijing.

Among the signatories was Teng “Tony” Biao, a human rights lawyer who was taken into custody March 6 and interrogated by authorities with a bag over his head for 41 hours, according to Bob Fu of the China Aid Association. He was released two days later with a stern warning to not talk about civil rights.

“The letter calls on world leaders, friends of human rights, scholars, athletes, and all members of the entertainment and business communities, to follow the brave lead of movie director Steven Spielberg to urge China to improve its record on human rights,” Fu said in a press statement.

The letter said, in part: “We, the undersigned, call on the international community to express its outrage at the Chinese government’s continued and flagrant disregard for human rights. Its most recent actions reveal a rogue state that blatantly challenges the resolve of free nations everywhere.

“The Chinese government must hear that it cannot benefit from Olympic Gold and, at the same time, deny its citizens the benefits of human rights. If we do not make this stand now, our silence will send a loud message to Beijing, a message that will return to haunt us.

“In the words of the beloved Martin Luther King Jr., ‘In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.'”

KIDNAPPED CHRISTIANS FORCED TO ‘RECONVERT’ — Hindu extremists in northern India’s Himachal Pradesh state kidnapped at least 60 Christian families in late February and pressured them to “reconvert” to Hinduism, despite a new law that prevents forced conversions.

Lawmakers in Himachal Pradesh passed a law banning conversion by the use of “force, inducement or fraudulent means” in 2007, and the law explicitly states that conversions accomplished by unfair means will not be recognized as valid.

An activist who monitors the persecution of Christians in India wonders why a law that bans forced conversion doesn’t prohibit forced reconversion.

“Complaints are filed only against Christian preachers, and that without evidence of conversion by unfair means,” said Tehmina Arora, general secretary of the Christian Legal Association. “But no action is taken against the Hindu extremists who openly force Christians to convert. What would you call it, if not hypocrisy?”

Extremist groups like the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and Vishwa Hindu Parishad, which are linked to the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, insist that Christian organizations win converts by offering financial benefits.

One pastor whose family was kidnapped told the CLA that the extremists offered him the equivalent of $400 a year if he would preach Hinduism instead of Christianity. When he refused, they threatened to kill him or file a complaint against him that would send him to jail. The pastor finally gave in and a ritual was conducted to reconvert him to Hinduism.

Although there are other laws that could be applied to forced reconversions, police are reluctant to file charges against extremists linked to the ruling party, Arora said.

LUXEMBOURG LEGALIZING EUTHANASIA — Lawmakers in Luxembourg voted Feb. 19 to legalize euthanasia for terminally ill patients and people with “grave and incurable” conditions. The country joins the Netherlands and Belgium as the third European country to legalize euthanasia.

Luxembourg’s prime minister, Jean-Claude Juncker, met with Pope Benedict March 7 to discuss the law, which must pass a second reading before becoming law, which is expected to happen in late spring, according to the Zenit news agency. Juncker’s Christian Social Party tried unsuccessfully to block the legislation, which narrowly passed on a 30-26 vote.

The new law allows euthanasia only when a patient asks repeatedly to die and requires the consent of two doctors and a panel of experts, but critics warn those decisions often are made by others.

“Euthanasia proponents always assure us that the act will be voluntary,” said Larry Jacobs of the World Congress of Families, an international network of pro-family organizations from more than 60 countries. “But the devil is in the details. Frequently, if a patient is unable to indicate consent, this life-or-death decision is made for them by a relative or a physician.”

Jacobs pointed to a 2005 government report from the Netherlands that said 550 people in that country who were comatose or otherwise unresponsive were put to death in 2004.

“Europe is quickly slipping into a new Dark Age, in the words of Winston Churchill, ‘made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science,'” Jacobs said. “We hope parliamentarians will have second thoughts about unleashing this lethal measure on the people they serve.”

SEIZED LAPTOP REVEALS CHAVEZ/REBEL TIES — A laptop computer seized by commandos in a raid on a Colombian rebel hideout contained correspondence revealing that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has supported those rebels for more than a decade.

The documents, which Venezuela’s government dismisses as fabrications, provide “an unprecedented glimpse” into the lives of key leaders in the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the Associated Press reported. The FARC is a 40-year-old Marxist rebel organization dedicated to undermining the government of Colombia, a key ally of the United States in that region.

The laptop was seized in a March 1 raid on the camp of the FARC foreign minister, Raúl Reyes, who was killed along with 23 other rebels. Colombia’s national police chief, Gen. Oscar Naranjo, released copies of the documents to the media to counter criticism of the raid, which crossed Colombia’s border with Ecuador, AP reported.

Naranjo said the correspondence proves Chavez has worked to improve FARC’s stature and discredit Colombia’s president, Alvaro Uribe, AP reported. Naranjo asserted that one message implies Chavez gave $300 million to the rebel group.

In another message, Reyes claims American contacts “say the new president of their country will be [Barack] Obama” and explains that Obama opposes the United States’ free trade agreement with Colombia and the $600-million military aid package the U.S. currently provides Colombia’s government, the AP story said.
Mark Kelly is an assistant editor of Baptist Press.

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