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INTERNATIONAL DIGEST: Soldiers patrol Rio slums after gang crackdown; …

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva approved a seven-month peacekeeping mission requested by Rio Governor Sergio Cabral in the slum districts of Alemao and Penha, the AFP news service reported Dec. 4. Police and soldiers battled heavily armed criminals in the narrow, twisting alleyways of the slum areas. The violence killed 37 people and led to 118 arrests and 518 weapons seizures.

The military presence is intended to prevent the gangs from regaining control in the slums as the city moves to clean up its image before hosting the 2014 Soccer World Cup and the 2016 Olympics. Rio has one of the world’s highest murder rates.

NICARAGUA LAND GRAB DIVERTS ATTENTION — Nicaragua’s government is using a land dispute with neighboring Costa Rica to distract attention from abuses of authority and boost its popularity in the run-up to elections, a former Costa Rica ambassador to the United States said Nov. 18.

“With the world distracted by currency fights, European debt problems, and other economic challenges, Nicaragua has quietly invaded and occupied the sovereign territory of Costa Rica,” Jaime Daremblum wrote in an op-ed piece published in The Weekly Standard. “It is an act of naked aggression that deserves to be condemned and resisted by governments everywhere, yet most Americans have probably read little or nothing about it.”

Nicaraguan military troops entered and occupied a large island in the San Juan River, which forms a section of their southern border with Costa Rica, and raised a Nicaraguan flag, Daremblum wrote. Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega is insisting the island belongs to Nicaragua. A Nov. 13 vote by the Organization of American States Permanent Council garnered 22 votes condemning the action. Only Nicaragua and Venezuela opposed the resolution.

“Why would Ortega deliberately trigger such a conflict?” Daremblum asked. “Simple: to increase his domestic support ahead of next year’s presidential election, and to advance his radical project of turning Nicaragua into a mini-Venezuela.

“Ramping up tensions with their southern neighbor is an easy way for Nicaraguan leaders to inflame nationalist sentiment and rally public support for the incumbent administration,” Daremblum added. “Ortega has angered and frightened many Nicaraguans with his efforts to rig municipal elections and erode constitutional checks and balances.”

Though Ortega “won election fairly as the Sandinista candidate in 2006, he’s still the same corrupt, authoritarian thug who ruled Nicaragua with an iron fist during the 1980s, a time when he was receiving significant aid from the Soviet Union,” Daremblum said. “Back then, Ortega looked to Moscow for both economic assistance and ideological guidance. Today, he looks to Caracas. Indeed, with each passing month, Nicaragua becomes more and more like Venezuela.”

COURT PREVENTS PASTOR’S APPEAL OF VERDICT — A court in Turkmenistan has deliberately withheld a written verdict in the trial of a Protestant pastor accused of swindling and drug addiction to prevent him from lodging his appeal against his four-year prison term within the 10 days allowed.

Maya Nurlieva, wife of Ilmurad Nurliev, told the Forum 18 news service that the court also ordered her to pay “compensation” immediately or be evicted from her home.

The verdict also ordered “forcible medical treatment to wean [Nurliev] off his narcotic dependency” — even though there is no independent medical evidence of Nurliev, a diabetic, having an addiction, Forum 18 reported. Nurliev may be sent to a labor camp where there are indications that prisoners were tortured with mind-altering drugs.

The verdict contains demonstrably false allegations, and there is strong evidence that prosecution “witnesses” have been coerced into making statements, Turkmen human rights defender Natalya Shabunts told Forum 18.

“One thing shines through from this sordid tale: no church member betrayed their pastor and almost all came to the court,” Shabunts said. “In a country where fundamental human rights are violated on a daily basis and an atmosphere of fear prevails before the unpunished actions of the ‘law-enforcement agencies,’ this is a very bold move.”

A 45-year-old grandfather of two, Nurliev leads the Light to the World Pentecostal Church in Mary, which has been repeatedly denied registration since 2007, the same year that Nurliev was placed on the country’s exit blacklist without officials explaining why. Nurliev was arrested Aug. 27 and held for two months before the trial. His wife was denied access to him, and officials refused to accept medication he needs as a diabetic.

Two of the four people who accused Nurliev of swindling did not attend the court hearing. Another witness was in prison on the date she claimed to have given Nurliev money, Forum 18 reported. The fourth witness came to the church only once — on May 23, 2010, but told the court Nurliev had forced her to pay 10 percent of her income since Jan. 1, 2010.

IRAQI CHRISTIANS TERRIFIED BY SWEDISH DEPORTATIONS — While Christians in Iraq have been attacked frequently in recent weeks — including a Halloween massacre in Baghdad that killed 52 — Iraqi Christians also are living in terror in an unlikely place: Stockholm, Sweden, Time magazine reported Nov. 15.

About 6,000 of the estimated 80,000 Iraqi refugees in Sweden are Christian, according to estimates by the Syriac Orthodox Church in Stockholm. Swedish guidelines, however, are being interpreted to mean that being an Iraqi Christian does not automatically imply a risk of persecution, Time reported. That interpretation has caused widespread panic among refugees.

“There are hundreds of Iraqis here who are not legal who have simply disappeared,” said an Iraqi Catholic whose family fled Iraq in 2004 after Muslim extremists ordered them to leave or be killed. “The refugees are hiding in churches or basements, working illegal jobs, trying to survive, transferring from place to place,” he told Time.

Swedish officials insist the country considers each Iraqi’s case individually. “An applicant may put forward any information that he or she considers relevant to the case,” spokesperson Charlotte Hellner said. “The final assessment … will always be based on individual circumstances in each single case,” Time reported.

Sweden requires proof a family faces real risks if sent back to Iraq before permanent residency is granted. Proving that, however, is difficult since many fled without documents. Once deported to Iraq, many flee the country again.

“Most of the Christians who are deported are fleeing again to neighboring countries like Syria and Jordan after they land in Baghdad,” journalist Nuri Kinotold Time. “We have gone through hundreds of asylum rejections with lawyers, and we have seen fatal mistakes being made.”

PETITION CALLS FOR CHRISTIAN’S RELEASE — A human rights organization is circulating a petition calling for Bhutan to release a Christian sentenced to three years in prison for showing a film about Jesus Christ.

Prem Singh Gurung was arrested on May 21 after showing the film in two villages, according to International Christian Concern. He was sentenced to three years in prison Oct. 6.

The petition reads, in part: “Your government accused Mr. Gurung of promoting civil unrest and violating Sections 105(1) and 110 of the Bhutan Information, Communication and Media Act. As a member of the international community, Bhutan is bound by the human rights standards enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 19 of the Declaration stipulates, ‘Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media….’ We call upon your government to rectify this injustice and free Gurung immediately, demonstrating to the world that the Kingdom of Bhutan is protecting religious freedom consistent with its international standards.”

Copies of the petition may be downloaded and circulated for signature at http://www.persecution.org/pdf/2010-11BhutanPetition.pdf. Signed petitions must be returned to ICC by Dec. 24.
Compiled by Baptist Press assistant editor Mark Kelly.

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