1. Tibet: Elderly Monks Die in Suspicious Circumstances (Jan. 17)
Two Tibetan monks, both expected to help pick the next Dalai Lama, were found hanged last fall at the Tashilhunpo monastery, the official seat of the Panchen Lama, Tibetan Buddhism’s second most important religious figure, Asia News reports. Officially ruled suicide, Gyaltsen Tsepa and Yangpa Locho, both 71, died between September and November 2007, though the deaths did not come to light until recently. Both had a history of clashes with the Chinese government.
Khyber Agency, Pakistan
The Indian Express reports that Tanzim Bilmaroof, a radical Islamic group in Khyber Agency, the western area of Pakistan which shares a border with Afghanistan, has banned men in the region from shaving their beards, threatening to impose a fine of 5,000 rupees for those who do. The head of the group, Haji Namdar, announced the ban in a radio broadcast, saying that as “shaving the beard is forbidden in Islam”, he felt it was his duty to “make every Muslim of my tribe sport a beard”. Tanzim Bilmaroof has set fines for other acts it deemed un-Islamic in the past, including a fine of 500 rupees for failing to pray five times a day or owning audio cassettes, and a fine of 50,000 rupees for owning a satellite dish.
4. Kazakhstan: Nazarbayev Moves to Curtail Missionary Activities (Jan. 17)
5. Belarus: Editor Gets Jail for Reprinting Mohammed Cartoon (Jan. 18)
6. Egypt: Government Allows Religious Bodies to Weigh in on Legal Matters (Jan. 20)
Egypt’s Deputy Chairman of the State Council has sought advice on re-conversions from Islam to Christianity from Al-Azhar, the country’s foremost authority on Islamic theology, Al-Arabiya reports. The State Council oversees lawsuits brought by those converting from one religion to another, including lawsuits from Coptic Christians who convert back to Christianity from Islam. The fatwa from Al-Azhar states that potential converts should be given a chance to repent, but if they insist on leaving Islam they should be penalized. Re-conversion, according to the fatwa, is “a grave crime that cannot be met with leniency.”
7. Malaysia: Authorities Confiscate Christian Children’s Books (Jan. 22)
- IBN Live reports that Orissa State’s National Minority Committee has deemed the December attacks on Christians “pre-planned” and said that the government failed to act to protect its citizens.
- French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s references to God is being criticized by those who accuse him of violating France’s separation of church and state, Reuters reports.
- A Malaysian man who fought with the country’s Muslim authorities over his wife’s religious identity has won the right to bury his deceased wife according to Christian rites, Reuters reports.
- The Jakarta Post reports that the government of Indonesia told the Indonesian Ulemas Council that it cannot dictate state policy towards religious groups, after the Council demanded that the country’s Ahmadi community renounce a major tenet of their faith.
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International Religious Freedom Archive from the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty