Urgent help needed for flood victims in Bosnia & Herzegovina, Croatia and Serbia

23 05 2014



Red Cross Assists with Relief Efforts in the Balkans

Although the water has receded in some areas, the worst floods in more than a century continue to create havoc in large parts of both Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

While thousands are still waiting to be rescued from their homes, tens of thousands have been evacuated and are staying with families or in shelter. In Serbia an estimated 300,000 are without safe water or electricity. In Bosnia and Herzegovina the figure is 50,000. Many are living in unsafe and insanitary conditions created by the floods.

Almost one third of Bosnia is affected by floods with houses, roads and railway lines being submerged in the north eastern part of the country. A vast number of landslides have worsened the situation and relief efforts, and there are reports that landmines buried during the conflict have shifted with the landslides, making the situation more dangerous for residents and rescuers.

In Serbia, the worst affected area is around the town of Obrenovac, south west of Belgrade, where around 10,000 people are still stranded. While water levels in some rivers are receding, the river Sava and two other rivers are still rising, forecast to reach their peak during Sunday night or later, so the danger is far from over.

The Red Cross societies of both countries have been actively engaged in rescue and relief activities, helping set up centers for those evacuated.

The Red Cross of Serbia has specially trained teams – as well as thousands of staff and volunteers – assisting with continued evacuations and providing relief items.

The Red Cross Society of Bosnia and Herzegovina have mobilized teams in the affected areas, who are assisting authorities with evacuations as well as providing blankets, mattresses, drinking water, food and hygiene kits, rubber boots and water purifiers to more than 10,000 people. These figures are expected to rise.

In Brcko, one of the worst affected areas, Red Cross volunteers are helping to move sandbags along the River Sava to prevent it from flooding dozens of villages which are still in danger. Many volunteers and their families in both countries are themselves affected by the floods.

We ask our international partners, colleagues, and friends to support the people in the Balkans with a donation of any size.

  • There is a great shortage of food, drinking water, clothes, hygienic products, and medicine for everyone, but the most immediate concern is for babies and their exhausted mothers.
  • There is danger of infection in the coming days as water supplies have been contaminated.
  • Support will be needed even more in the months ahead, since hospitals, schools, houses, and roads all need to be rebuilt.


How to help in Croatia

  • Donate to Red Cross 
  • Donate to Croatian Caritas 


How to help in Bosnia and Herzegovina

  • Donate to Red Cross of Republika Srpska 
  • Donate Red Cross of the Federation of B&H 


How to help in Serbia

  • Donate to the state institution solely for this purpose

SUDAN: Pregnant woman accused of ‘apostasy’, sentenced to death

15 05 2014
Great Mosque, Khartoum, Sudan. Photo by Danita Delimont via Getty Images

Great Mosque, Khartoum, Sudan. Photo by Danita Delimont via Getty Images

By  Mohammed Saeed / Associated Press

KHARTOUM, Sudan (AP) — A Muslim-by-birth Sudanese woman who married a Christian man was sentenced to death Thursday after she refused to recant her Christian faith, judicial officials and an Amnesty International researcher said.

Meriam Ibrahim, whose father was Muslim but her mother Christian, was convicted of “apostasy” on Sunday and given four days to repent and escape death, officials said. The 26 year old was sentenced after that grace period expired, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

As in many Muslim nations, Muslim women in Sudan are prohibited from marrying non-Muslims, though Muslim men can marry outside their faith. By law, children must follow their father’s religion.

The court in the capital, Khartoum, also ordered that Ibrahim be given 100 lashes for committing “zena” — an Arabic word for illegitimate sex — for having sexual relations with her husband, a Christian from southern Sudan.

Ibrahim’s case first came to the attention of authorities in August last year, when members of her family complained that she was born a Muslim but married a Christian man. Authorities charged her with “zena” and she was put on trial. She was first detained in a Khartoum jail in February and charged with apostasy after she declared in court that she was raised as a Christian by her mother, said Manar Idriss, Amnesty International’s Sudan researcher.

Ibrahim is eight months pregnant and has with her in jail her 18-month-old son, Idriss said.

There have been a number of cases over the years of Sudanese convicted of apostasy, but they all escaped the gallows by recanting their faith. Ibrahim is the first to be sentenced to death for apostasy, Idriss said. Ibrahim’s lawyers plan to appeal the sentence.

Thursday’s sentencing drew condemnation from Western embassies in Khartoum and international rights groups, including the London-based Amnesty International.

“The fact that a woman has been sentenced to death for her religious choice, and to flogging for being married to a man of an allegedly different religion, is appalling and abhorrent,” Amnesty said in a statement. “Adultery and apostasy are acts which should not be considered crimes at all.”

The group also called for Ibrahim’s immediate and unconditional release.

Sudan introduced Islamic Shariah laws in the early 1980s, a move that contributed to the resumption of an insurgency in the mostly animist and Christian south of Sudan. An earlier round of civil war lasted 17 years and ended in 1972. The south seceded in 2011 to become the world’s newest nation, South Sudan.


FECRIS vice-president, Alexander Dvorkin, persona non grata in Ukraine

12 05 2014


By Willy Fautré / Human Rights Without Frontiers  

HRWF (12.05.2014) – Alexander Dvorkin, vice-president of FECRIS (*) and chairman of the Russian Association of Centres for the Study of Religions and Sects, has been complaining in numerous Russian media in the last few weeks that he was denied entry in Ukraine because of the international “sectarian lobby” behind the Maidan movement in Kyiv.

Dvorkin had been invited by the Archbishop of Lugansk and Alchevsk Mitrofan (Ukrainian Orthodox Church/ Moscow Patriarchate) to give some lectures about sects on 9-10 April in Lugansk (Eastern Ukraine). He was denied entry in Ukraine at the airport of Donetsk and sent back to Russia.

The official reason justifying his deportation was that he had been seen with the wife of Gubarev, the self-proclaimed governor of Donetsk.

During a broadcast of the Russian radio station “Komsomolskaia Pravda”, Dvorkin denied any link with Gubarev and accused the international “sectarian lobby” of standing behind “the coup of Kyiv” as well as his deportation.

Like other pro-Russian and Russian Orthodox extremists, Dvorkin discredited the Maidan movement, saying that the Acting President, Alexander Tourtchynov was a Baptist – which is true -, his Prime Minister Arseni Yatseniuk is a Scientologist his sister chairs a major scientologist organization in the USA – both accusations spread by Interfax-Religion, a Russian press agency, and checked as false by Human Rights Without Frontiers (**).

With such allegations, pro-Russian extremists in Ukraine want to show that the Maidan movement is an American plot supported by non-Orthodox/ anti-Orthodox new religious movements and that “foreign sects” are now in power in Kyiv with some extreme-right elements.

(*) European Federation of Centres of Research and Information on Cults and Sects
(**) See http://www.interfax-religion.com/?act=news&div=11127 (5 March 2014)

Sanjiang Church demolition highlights fears of China’s minority Christian community

4 05 2014



By  Bill Savadove / Agence France Presse

The destruction of a towering church by Chinese authorities has sown fear in a thriving Christian community and highlighted tensions between a rapidly growing number of worshippers and the Communist state.

Sanjiang Church before demolition

Sanjiang Church before demolition

Massive slabs of concrete on a hillside were all that remained Wednesday of the Sanjiang Church after an army of excavators smashed into the building this week, following government claims it was an illegal structure.

The church stood above the village of Pudong, part of the city of Wenzhou.

The metropolis has a reputation for greater leniency towards religion and is known as China’s Jerusalem with more than a million Christians, as well as being a freewheeling centre of capitalism.

In Pudong, Christian households are openly marked out by posters with a red cross and a Bible verse from John: “In him was life and that was the light of men.”

The church was built in part with donations from the hundreds-strong congregation.

“We are crying inside, there is nothing more to say,” a middle-aged man who had been a member told AFP.

asd5“It’s gone now,” added his wife. They declined to give their names for fear of reprisals by authorities.

The couple said some Christians living in the area have fled while others have been visited since the demolition by government “work teams” criticising them for their religious beliefs.

China’s ruling Communist Party keeps a tight grip on religion for fear it could challenge its grip on power, requiring followers to worship in places approved by the state and under government supervision.

But the Sanjiang church was registered with the authorities, unlike “underground” or “house” churches which seek to exist outside government control.

Activists believe the demolition was part of a wider crackdown on Protestant Christians, cloaked in a campaign against structures violating building codes in Zhejiang province.

The government has ordered at least five churches in Zhejiang — four of them in Wenzhou — to be demolished or to remove prominent crosses from their rooftops, state media has reported.

“I suspect it is a well-orchestrated campaign in order to contain the rapid growth of Christianity,” said Bob Fu, president of the China Aid Association, a US-based religious rights group.

“The deliberate wounds will take years to heal and the remaining little trust between the Chinese government and Chinese religious communities is gone,” he said.

– ‘What can we do?’ –

Despite the constraints, the number of Christians has grown. The state-linked China Christian Council estimates the country has around 20 million Christians — not including Catholics — 70 percent of them living in rural areas.

But the true number of worshippers could be higher, at least 40 million to 60 million, according to some estimates.

Academics said authorities had tightened control over religion since Xi Jinping took power in late 2012.

“There has been a noticeable tightening in the religious atmosphere,” said Carsten Vala, an assistant professor at Loyola University Maryland and a specialist on Christianity in China.

At the same time a younger generation of church leaders has sought to push the boundaries, he added. “The registered churches are becoming more active and evangelical — that kind of exuberance.”

Sanjiang-Christian-Church-demolitionThere have been previous cases of churches in China going under the wrecking ball, but largely in the 1980s and 1990s, Vala said.

These typically involved property disputes, in which religious buildings occupied prime sites reclaimed by local governments, he said.

The local government which administers the Sanjiang Church has remained silent on the issue, but has tried to counter the images of the church being destroyed with a dedicated microblog account.

“If the illegal structure was not demolished, the government’s credibility would decline and social justice would not be fulfilled,” a typical post said.

A report in state-run media after the demolition said the complex was approved on an area of 1,881 square metres (20,240 square feet) but its actual size was more than 11,000 square metres, including the main building, annexes and a car park.

But its destruction may push Christians underground.

Around 300 metres down the hill from the ruins of the church, a middle-aged woman — converted to Christianity by her 73-year-old mother who embraced religion after illness — said they would now seek other places to pray.

“We are sad but what can we do?” she said. “We can pray at home.”


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