NEWS BRIEFS

Tej Francis

WASHINGTON DC

RELIGIOUS FREEDOM EFFORTS IN THE SPOTLIGHT AS NORTH KOREAN PRISONERS FREED

(CNA/EWTN News) The release of three American prisoners from North Korea was hailed as an important first step in addressing abuses within the nation, as U.S. leaders call for a continued expansion of religious freedom initiatives in U.S. foreign policy. The freed prisoners are expected to arrive in the U.S. early Thursday morning. They are accompanied by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who had traveled to Pyongyang to finalized negotiations surrounding their release. 

David Curry, president and CEO of Open Doors USA, an advocacy group for persecuted Christians, called news of the prisoner release “a great victory for these families and one critical step toward restoring diplomatic relations with North Korea.” However, he cautioned, “To keep progressing, this first gesture of goodwill must now be followed by further actions to address the long-running, systematic human rights abuses that still plague the people of North Korea.”

The May 9 release of Tony Kim, Kim Hak-song, and Kim Dong-chul from North Korea comes as the U.S. government is looking to expand its promotion of religious freedom abroad through both economic development and security partnerships. President Trump sees the release of the three American detainees as “a positive gesture of goodwill” leading up to his upcoming meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, according to a statement released by the White House on May 9.

The high profile prisoner release may be a sign that human rights will not be neglected in the continued security and peace-building efforts with North Korea, a question that had previously been a point of contention. “The three Americans appear to be in good condition and were all able to walk on the plane without assistance,” continued the White House statement.

NEPAL

CATHOLIC CHURCH SET ON FIRE

(CSW) St Joseph’s Catholic Church in Kohalpur, Banke District in Nepal was set on fire at around 1 am on 5 May by unidentified arsonists. Local sources have informed Christian Solidarity Worldwide that people living in the vicinity of the church were told by the perpetrators to go into their homes and not to come out. Witnesses said that between eight and ten unidentified men then broke into the church, splashed petrol around it and set the church ablaze. St Joseph’s church is a new parish with an estimated 20 parishioners. No one was injured in the arson attack, but the interior of the church has been entirely destroyed; only the outer structure remains standing.

The Federation of National Christians in Nepal (FNCN) issued a press statement demanding a response from the government of Nepal and a prompt investigation to bring the perpetrators to justice. The FNCN condemned the ‘inhuman act’ as a direct assault on religious minorities in Nepal, and one that would ‘disturb mutual harmony’. The statement also pointed out that the government must champion the basic fundamental freedoms enshrined in the constitution and guarantee that all human rights are protected. The FNCN also called on the government to protect the interests of Christians so that they may feel safe to practice their religion.

Prakash Kadhka, a human rights defender in Kathmandu, said: “The heinous act of desecrating a holy place is a direct attack on the Catholic Church. The sanctuary, altar and the Eucharist are central to our worship. This hateful act is cowardly and sends out an uneasy message that Christianity is not welcomed in this place. We are keen to build peace and work towards justice. Acts that provoke a culture of hate and fear will not bring about lasting peace and durable solutions.”

HANOI, VIETNAM

VIETNAMESE NUNS ATTACKED PROTESTING CONSTRUCTION ON DISPUTED LAND

(Crux) St. Paul de Chartres sisters in Vietnam were attacked by construction site guards while they were protesting the building of a house on their former land. One nun was beaten to unconsciousness, reported ucanews.com. Witnesses said many police were present May 8 but did nothing to stop the attack on about a dozen nuns. The guards “insulted and attacked the nuns with batons,” reported ucanews.com. The previous night, workers had taken trucks and tools to the site, which is next to the nuns’ current convent.

The nuns said their congregation had taken legal ownership of the 2,152-square-foot plot of land in 1949, but the communist government took it over in the 1950s. Authorities later divided the site and sold it to other people. Ucanews.com reported the nuns have asked the government to return the land many times over the years. In 2016, Hanoi resident Tran Huong Ly hired workers to build a house on the land after telling nuns that local authorities had granted her a building permit and a certificate to use the land.

The government ordered Ly to stop building after the nuns petitioned government authorities to deal with the case. After being attacked May 8, Sister Cecilia and other nuns marched to the headquarters of the People’s Committee of Hoan Kiem district to petition the district to stop the construction. They raised banners reading “Stop construction on the land of St. Paul Sisters.”

Quynh said officials refused to make any decision on the nuns’ demand. She said they would continue marching to government bodies to ask them to deal with the illegal construction. The Vietnam-based Association to Protect Religious Freedom said it “strongly condemns violent actions against the nuns and calls on authorities to probe the attack.”

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