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GERMANY: Circumcision ruling condemned by Germany’s Muslim and Jewish leaders

30 06 2012

German court rules that procedure is bodily harm and contravenes right to choose religion in later life

Circumcision of Christ by Albrecht Dürer

Guardian (27.06.2012) – Jewish and Muslim leaders were united on Wednesday in their condemnation of a German court’s decision to in effect outlaw the circumcision of boys after a judge deemed that the religious practice amounted to bodily harm.

Representatives of the two religious communities called the ruling insensitive and discriminatory, saying it was an attack on centuries of religious tradition.

A judge at a Cologne court said that the circumcision of minors went against a child’s interests because it led to a physical alteration of the body, and because people other than the child were determining its religious affiliation.

Religious leaders said the court had stepped into a minefield with its decision, which undermined their religious authority and contravened Germany’s constitution.

Ali Demir, chairman of the Religious Community of Islam in Germany, said: “I find the ruling adversarial to the cause of integration and discriminatory against all the parties concerned.”

Dieter Graumann, president of Germany’s Central Council of Jews, called it “an egregious and insensitive measure” which amounted to “an unprecedented and dramatic intervention in religious communities’ right of determination”.

The ruling followed a lengthy legal battle, sparked when a Muslim couple decided to have their son circumcised, specifically for religious reasons, by a Muslim doctor in Cologne. The doctor, identified only as Dr K, carried out the circumcision on the four-year old boy in November 2010, before giving the wound four stitches. The same evening, he visited the family at home to check up on the boy. When the boy began bleeding again two days later, his parents took him to the casualty department of Cologne’s University hospital. The hospital contacted the police, who then launched an investigation. The doctor was charged with bodily harm, and the case was taken to court.

While the court acquitted Dr. K. on the grounds that he had not broken any law, it concluded that circumcision of minors for religious reasons should be outlawed, and that neither parental consent nor religious freedom justified the procedure. It ruled that in future doctors who carried out circumcisions should be punished.

The court weighed up three articles from the basic law: the rights of parents, the freedom of religious practice and the right of the child to physical integrity, before coming to the conclusion that the procedure was not in the interests of the child.

It rejected the defence that circumcision is considered hygienic in many cultures, one of the main reasons it is carried out in the US, Britain and in Germany.

After much deliberation, it concluded that a circumcision, “even when done properly by a doctor with the permission of the parents, should be considered as bodily harm if it is carried out on a boy unable to give his own consent”.

It ruled the child’s body would be “permanently and irreparably changed”, and that this alteration went “against the interests of a child to decide for himself later on to what religion he wishes to belong”.

The doctor was acquitted, the court said, because he had acted “subjectively and with a clear conscience” and because carrying out the procedure had not been punishable at the time.

Holm Putzke, a professor of penology – the study of the punishment of crime – from the University of Passau, told the German news agency DPA that the ruling would set a legal precedent and would act as a warning. “The ruling is not binding for other courts, but it will have the effect of a warning signal.” He added while Dr. K. had been let off, from now on no doctor would be able to claim that he or she did not know it was forbidden.

He said unlike politicians who have long faced pressure to deal with the issue, “the court did not allow itself to be scared off by charges of antisemitism or religious intolerance”.

Demir predicted a ban in Germany would lead to a rise in “circumcision tourism in neighbouring countries in Europe”.

Condemnation also came from elsewhere in Europe, with Rabbi Aryeh Goldberg of the Brussels-based Rabbinical Centre of Europe calling the ruling “fatal to freedom of religion”. He told the Jerusalem daily Haaretz that it “contravened the EU’s convention on human rights, to which Germany is subservient and harms the basic freedom of religion enshrined in the German constitution”.

Women’s rights groups and social policy makers also condemned the decision, but for the reason that it would have the effect of putting male and female circumcision on the same footing, when they were “in no way comparable”, said Katrin Altpeter, social minister in the state of Baden-Württemberg. Female circumcision she said, was a far more drastic act. It is already outlawed in Germany.

In Austria, the lay initiative Religion is a Private Matter, welcomed the Cologne decision, calling it “an important and long overdue change of direction”. Its chairman, Heinz Oberhummer, said: “Bodily harm is bodily harm and children cannot be excluded from benefitting from basic rights, and certainly not for religious reasons,” he said.

The World Health Organisation estimates that every third man is circumcised. Around 70% of them are Muslims, around 1% Jews.

From Twitter and Facebook to the online discussion forums of German newspapers, the decision was being hotly debated on Wednesday. An online survey of the readers of the leftwing Berlin daily Taz found two-thirds of respondents in favour of the decision.

One respondent wrote: “The issue is quite clear: the religious freedom of the parents ends precisely there where the physical harm of others begins, regardless of whether it’s that of your own child or that of an unknown heathen”.

But another wrote: “As a circumcised Jew, I can only add the following: did the state prosecutors in Cologne … have nothing better to do than … interfere in our thousands of years of Jewish religious law? No way, and that’s why we need to act decisively against this horrendous decision by the Cologne regional court.”

Putzke, who is a leading voice in the discussion about circumcision and the law, welcomed the decision: “After the knee-jerk indignation has subsided, hopefully a discussion will kick off about how much religiously motivated violence against children a society is ready to tolerate”.

Circumcision in ancient Egypt

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President of French anti-religious organization MIVILUDES convicted by Criminal Court of Paris

28 06 2012

Paris Criminal Court , photo by JOEL SAGET/AFP


Georges Fenech, the president of French anti-religious organization MIVILUDES (an acronym for Mission interministérielle de vigilance et de lutte contre les dérives sectaires – Interministerial Mission for Monitoring and Combatting Cultic Deviances), was convicted for public defamation by the Paris criminal court on June 1, 2012 .
The defamation case started because of a defamatory accusations against lay Catholics association called French Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property (TFP) whiuch were published in the 2009 annual report of MIVILUDES. The 17th Chamber of the Criminal Court of Paris, specializing in cases concerning the press, stressed the lack of accuracy in the report as well as the lack of restraint in its expressions. The court also emphasized that a state agency such as MIVILUDES should not use vague approximations in its work.

Both George Fenech and MIVILUDES have earned an international reputation for repressing religious minorities and violating the European Convention on Human Rights. By being convicted of public defamation, George Fenech has tarnished his name – and the reputation of MIVILUDES.

Central-European Religious Freedom Institute congratulates the Paris Criminal Court for convicting Fenech – and in so doing, taking a step forward in advancing the rights of religious minorities in France.





German court outlaws religious circumcision

27 06 2012

Members of the high priesthood place their hands to bless a baby
after a Rabbi performed a ceremonial circumcision (AFP/File, David Furst)

BERLIN — Circumcising young boys on religious grounds amounts to grievous bodily harm, a German court ruled Tuesday in a landmark decision that the Jewish community said trampled on parents’ religious rights.

The regional court in Cologne, western Germany, ruled that the “fundamental right of the child to bodily integrity outweighed the fundamental rights of the parents”, a judgement that is expected to set a legal precedent.

“The religious freedom of the parents and their right to educate their child would not be unacceptably compromised, if they were obliged to wait until the child could himself decide to be circumcised,” the court added.

The case was brought against a doctor in Cologne who had circumcised a four-year-old Muslim boy on his parents’ wishes.

A few days after the operation, his parents took him to hospital as he was bleeding heavily. Prosecutors then charged the doctor with grievous bodily harm.

The doctor was acquitted by a lower court that judged he had acted within the law as the parents had given their consent.

On appeal, the regional court also acquitted the doctor but for different reasons.

The regional court upheld the original charge of grievous bodily harm but also ruled that the doctor was innocent as there was too much confusion on the legal situation around circumcision.

The court came down firmly against parents’ right to have the ritual performed on young children.

“The body of the child is irreparably and permanently changed by a circumcision,” the court said. “This change contravenes the interests of the child to decide later on his religious beliefs.”

The decision caused outrage in Germany’s Jewish community.

The head of the Central Committee of Jews, Dieter Graumann, said the ruling was “an unprecedented and dramatic intervention in the right of religious communities to self-determination.”

The judgement was an “outrageous and insensitive act. Circumcision of newborn boys is a fixed part of the Jewish religion and has been practiced worldwide for centuries,” added Graumann.

“This religious right is respected in every country in the world.”

Holm Putzke, a criminal law expert at the University of Passau, told the Financial Times Deutschland that the ruling was “enormously important for doctors because for the first time they have legal certainty.”

“Unlike many politicians, the court has not allowed itself to be scared off by charges of anti-Semitism or religious intolerance,” added Putzke.

The World Health Organisation has estimated that nearly one in three males under 15 is circumcised. In the United States, the operation is often performed for hygiene reasons on infants.

Thousands of young boys are circumcised every year in Germany, especially in the country’s large Jewish and Muslim communities.

The court specified that circumcision was not illegal if carried out for medical reasons.

© 2012 AFP




ARCHBISHOP DESMOND TUTU: God Is Not A Christian

24 06 2012

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, 1984 Nobel Peace Prize winner

The following is excerpted from the Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s new book, ‘God Is Not A Christian: And Other Provocations.’ This talk also comes from a forum in Britain, where Tutu addressed leaders of different faiths during a mission to the city of Birmingham in 1989.

They tell the story of a drunk who crossed the street and accosted a pedestrian, asking him, “I shay, which ish the other shide of the shtreet?” The pedestrian, somewhat nonplussed, replied, “That side, of course!” The drunk said, “Shtrange. When I wash on that shide, they shaid it wash thish shide.” Where the other side of the street is depends on where we are. Our perspective differs with our context, the things that have helped to form us; and religion is one of the most potent of these formative influences, helping to determine how and what we apprehend of reality and how we operate in our own specific context.

My first point seems overwhelmingly simple: that the accidents of birth and geography determine to a very large extent to what faith we belong. The chances are very great that if you were born in Pakistan you are a Muslim, or a Hindu if you happened to be born in India, or a Shintoist if it is Japan, and a Christian if you were born in Italy. I don’t know what significant fact can be drawn from this — perhaps that we should not succumb too easily to the temptation to exclusiveness and dogmatic claims to a monopoly of the truth of our particular faith. You could so easily have been an adherent of the faith that you are now denigrating, but for the fact that you were born here rather than there.

My second point is this: not to insult the adherents of other faiths by suggesting, as sometimes has happened, that for instance when you are a Christian the adherents of other faiths are really Christians without knowing it. We must acknowledge them for who they are in all their integrity, with their conscientiously held beliefs; we must welcome them and respect them as who they are and walk reverently on what is their holy ground, taking off our shoes, metaphorically and literally. We must hold to our particular and peculiar beliefs tenaciously, not pretending that all religions are the same, for they are patently not the same. We must be ready to learn from one another, not claiming that we alone possess all truth and that somehow we have a corner on God.

We should in humility and joyfulness acknowledge that the supernatural and divine reality we all worship in some form or other transcends all our particular categories of thought and imagining, and that because the divine — however named, however apprehended or conceived — is infinite and we are forever finite, we shall never comprehend the divine completely. So we should seek to share all insights we can and be ready to learn, for instance, from the techniques of the spiritual life that are available in religions other than our own. It is interesting that most religions have a transcendent reference point, a mysterium tremendum, that comes to be known by deigning to reveal itself, himself, herself, to humanity; that the transcendent reality is compassionate and concerned; that human beings are creatures of this supreme, supra mundane reality in some way, with a high destiny that hopes for an everlasting life lived in close association with the divine, either as absorbed without distinction between creature and creator, between the divine and human, or in a wonderful intimacy which still retains the distinctions between these two orders of reality.

When we read the classics of the various religions in matters of prayer, meditation, and mysticism, we find substantial convergence, and that is something to rejoice at. We have enough that conspires to separate us; let us celebrate that which unites us, that which we share in common.

Surely it is good to know that God (in the Christian tradition) created us all (not just Christians) in his image, thus investing us all with infinite worth, and that it was with all humankind that God entered into a covenant relationship, depicted in the covenant with Noah when God promised he would not destroy his creation again with water. Surely we can rejoice that the eternal word, the Logos of God, enlightens everyone — not just Christians, but everyone who comes into the world; that what we call the Spirit of God is not a Christian preserve, for the Spirit of God existed long before there were Christians, inspiring and nurturing women and men in the ways of holiness, bringing them to fruition, bringing to fruition what was best in all. We do scant justice and honor to our God if we want, for instance, to deny that Mahatma Gandhi was a truly great soul, a holy man who walked closely with God. Our God would be too small if he was not also the God of Gandhi: if God is one, as we believe, then he is the only God of all his people, whether they acknowledge him as such or not. God does not need us to protect him. Many of us perhaps need to have our notion of God deepened and expanded. It is often said, half in jest, that God created man in his own image and man has returned the compliment, saddling God with his own narrow prejudices and exclusivity, foibles and temperamental quirks. God remains God, whether God has worshippers or not.

This mission in Birmingham to which I have been invited is a Christian celebration, and we will make our claims for Christ as unique and as the Savior of the world, hoping that we will live out our beliefs in such a way that they help to commend our faith effectively. Our conduct far too often contradicts our profession, however. We are supposed to proclaim the God of love, but we have been guilty as Christians of sowing hatred and suspicion; we commend the one whom we call the Prince of Peace, and yet as Christians we have fought more wars than we care to remember. We have claimed to be a fellowship of compassion and caring and sharing, but as Christians we often sanctify sociopolitical systems that belie this, where the rich grow ever richer and the poor grow ever poorer, where we seem to sanctify a furious competitiveness, ruthless as can only be appropriate to the jungle.





PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT: How to protect your religious community from illegal investment scam

20 06 2012

AFFINITY FRAUD: How To Avoid Investment Scams That Target Groups

What is an Affinity Fraud?

Affinity fraud refers to investment scams that prey upon members of identifiable groups, such as religious or ethnic communities, the elderly, or professional groups. The fraudsters who promote affinity scams frequently are – or pretend to be – members of the group. They often enlist respected community or religious leaders from within the group to spread the word about the scheme, by convincing those people that a fraudulent investment is legitimate and worthwhile. Many times, those leaders become unwitting victims of the fraudster’s ruse.

These scams exploit the trust and friendship that exist in groups of people who have something in common. Because of the tight-knit structure of many groups, it can be difficult for regulators or law enforcement officials to detect an affinity scam. Victims often fail to notify authorities or pursue their legal remedies, and instead try to work things out within the group. This is particularly true where the fraudsters have used respected community or religious leaders to convince others to join the investment.

Many affinity scams involve “Ponzi” or pyramid schemes, where new investor money is used to make payments to earlier investors to give the false illusion that the investment is successful. This ploy is used to trick new investors to invest in the scheme and to lull existing investors into believing their investments are safe and secure. In reality, the fraudster almost always steals investor money for personal use. Both types of schemes depend on an unending supply of new investors – when the inevitable occurs, and the supply of investors dries up, the whole scheme collapses and investors discover that most or all of their money is gone.

How To Avoid Affinity Fraud

Investing always involves some degree of risk. You can minimize your risk of investing unwisely by asking questions and getting the facts about any investment before you buy. To avoid affinity fraud and other investment scams, you should:

Do your homework

Check out everything – no matter how trustworthy the person seems who brings the investment opportunity to your attention. Never make an investment based solely on the recommendation of a member of an organization or religious or ethnic group to which you belong. Investigate the investment thoroughly and check the truth of every statement you are told about the investment. Be aware that the person telling you about the investment may have been fooled into believing that the investment is legitimate when it is not.

Avoid high-return “risk free” investments

If an investment seems too good to be true, then it probably is. Be extremely leery of any investment that is said to have no risks; very few investments are risk-free. The greater the potential return from an investment, the greater your risk of losing money. Promises of fast and high profits, with little or no risk, are classic warning signs of fraud.

Get it in writing

Be skeptical of any investment opportunity that is not in writing. Fraudsters often avoid putting things in writing, but legitimate investments are usually in writing. Avoid an investment if you are told they do “not have the time to reduce to writing” the particulars about the investment. You should also be suspicious if you are told to keep the investment opportunity confidential.

Take your time

Don’t be pressured or rushed into buying an investment before you have a chance to think about – or investigate – the “opportunity.” Just because someone you know made money, or claims to have made money, doesn’t mean you will too. Be especially skeptical of investments that are pitched as “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunities, particularly when the promoter bases the recommendation on “inside” or confidential information.

Be careful online

Fraudsters are increasingly using the Internet to target particular groups through e-mail spams. If you receive an unsolicited e-mail from someone you don’t know, containing a “can’t miss” investment, your best move is to pass up the “opportunity” and forward the spam to SEC – U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission at enforcement@sec.gov [NOTE: or to the financial authority of your country].

Examples of Affinity Fraud Schemes

Affinity frauds can target any group of people who take pride in their shared characteristics, whether they are religious, ethnic, or professional. Senior citizens also are not immune from such schemes. The SEC has investigated and taken quick action against affinity frauds targeting a wide spectrum of groups. Some of our cases include the following:

Ponzi scheme targeted African-Americans and Christians

Defendants perpetrated an affinity fraud, raising at least $16.5 million from mostly African-Americans and Christians by falsely representing they would receive returns through investments in, among other things, real estate, small businesses, and “markets of the world.”

California Investment Adviser bilked Korean Investors

Investment adviser raised more than $36 million by inducing members of the Korean-American community to invest funds with promises of large returns. Investors funds were not invested in accounts of a New York brokerage firm as represented; rather defendants put funds in bank accounts and fabricated monthly account statements. The adviser has pleaded guilty to related criminal charges.

Armenian-American community loses more than $19 Million

This affinity fraud targeted Armenian-Americans with little investment experience, for some of whom English was a second language. The architect of this fraud was later indicted.

Ponzi scheme solicited elderly members of Jehovah’s Witnesses congregations

The SEC complaint alleges that the defendants operated a Ponzi scheme and used investor funds to pay lavish personal expenses. The defendants raised over $16 million from more than 190 investors nationwide. Many of the victims were elderly members of Jehovah’s Witnesses congregations and were promised returns of up to 75 percent.

“Church Funding Project” costs faithful investors over $3 Million

This nationwide scheme primarily targeted African-American churches and raised at least $3 million from over 1000 investing churches located throughout the United States. Believing they would receive large sums of money from the investments, many of the church victims committed to building projects, acquired new debt, spent building funds, and contracted with builders.

Baptist investors lose over $3.5 Million

The victims of this fraud were mainly African-American Baptists, many of whom were elderly and disabled, as well as a number of Baptist churches and religious organizations located in a number of states. The promoter (Randolph, who was a minister himself and who is currently in jail) promised returns ranging between 7 and 30%, but in reality was operating a Ponzi scheme. In addition to a jail sentence, Randolph was ordered to pay $1 million in the SEC’s civil action.

More than 1,000 Latin-American investors lose over $400 Million

The victims sought low risk investments. Instead, the two promoters (who received prison terms of seven and 12 years respectively) misappropriated their funds and lied about how much money was in their accounts.

5125 members of various Christian churches lose $7.4 million

The fraudsters allegedly sold members non-existent “prime bank” trading programs by using a sales pitch heavily laden with Biblical references and by enlisting members of the church communities to unwittingly spread the word about the bogus investment.

Source: U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission 





INDONESIA: Facebook atheist jailed

19 06 2012

By Kate Lamb   

VOICE OF AMERICA (15.06.2012) – An Indonesian man extolling the virtues of atheism and posting controversial cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad online has been jailed for two-and-a-half years. It is a verdict human rights activists say is a step backward for the majority Muslim nation they say is known for religious tolerance.

It was posting the words “God does not exist” on his Facebook page that first caused trouble for 30-year-old Alexander Aan.

The civil servant from Sumatra was beaten by an angry mob and later arrested, but it was not only for his admission of atheism.

Aan had also posted several explicit cartoons of the prophet Muhammad online, one depicting the prophet having sex with his servant, another that showed him finding his daughter-in-law sexually alluring.

Facing charges of blasphemy, inciting hatred and encouraging atheism, a Sumatra court ruled Thursday that Aan will spend the next two-and-a-half years in prison and pay a $10,000 fine.

His lawyer Deddi Alparesi said the decision is unjust. The judges did not consider the facts, Aparesi said, as Alexander never intended to spread religious hatred.

The lawyer also pointed out that an Islamic professor even took to the stand to verify that Aan is “theologically anxious” and does not have anyone with whom he can discuss his thoughts on atheism.

While the charges of blasphemy and promoting atheism were dismissed, Aan was found guilty of spreading religious hatred under the controversial 2008 electronic transactions law.

His legal team intends to appeal the ruling, but analysts say it is another setback for religious freedom in Indonesia.

Like the uproar in many Muslim-majority countries following the 2005 publication of cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad in a Danish newspaper, the case has raised debate over the distinction between freedom of expression and inciting religious hatred.

Andreas Harsono from Human Rights Watch compared Aan’s sentence with the few months Islamic hardliners were given for beating three individuals to death last year in Jakarta. He says the ruling is symbolic of deepening religious intolerance.

“It says a lot about the relative impunity of people that commit violence in the name of religion, meanwhile while those people who politely using no violence, no matter how controversial it is, is now being punished to 30 months in prison,” Harsono said.

In other acts of religious intolerance across the country this week, a national book publisher was pressured into burning hundreds of copies of a book that allegedly defames the prophet.

In Aceh, religious conservatives demanded the closure of 20 churches and, last week, there was a move to ban the sale of tight clothing in the sharia ruled province.

Earlier this month, flamboyant U.S. pop star Lady Gaga canceled the Jakarta leg of her Asian tour after Islamic hardliners threatened to block the concert.

Freedom of religion is technically guaranteed in the world’s most-populous Muslim nation, but Indonesians must adhere to one of the six official religions. Atheism is not a sanctioned option.





The Dalai Lama speaks to over 10,000 in Vienna: Tibet needs your help now

18 06 2012

Tibetan spiritual leader His Holiness the Dalai Lama addressed a rally of over 10,000 people in Vienna Saturday afternoon. He was joined on the stage at Vienna’s historic Heldenplatz (Heroe’s Square) by Tibet’s elected leader, Kalon Tripa Dr Lobsang Sangay.

Speaking from a stand emblazoned with the words “Tibet needs you now”, the Dalai Lama began by speaking in Tibetan to underscore the “threat” to Tibetan culture in Tibet.

“Our culture is under threat of destruction, therefore I want to take this opportunity to speak my own language,” the 76-year old Tibetan leader said. “Archaeological findings indicate that Tibetan history dates back 3-4000 years. We Tibetans must not forget our identity, for our blood, flesh and bones come from Tibet.”

The Dalai Lama, who is on an 11-day visit to Austria and met Chancellor Werner Faymann, stressed on the need to preserve Tibetan language as it carries the “most complete and thorough” translations of Buddhist knowledge.

“This (Tibetan written language) is a treasure for the world, not only for Tibetans,” His Holiness said. “And when we talk about preserving Tibetan Buddhist culture, I don’t mean just paying respects before a Buddhist image, but putting the teachings into practice and trying to live as good human beings.”

The exiled Tibetan leader also spoke on the importance of protecting Tibet’s environment and expressed his gratitude for the mass turn out at the rally, calling it “extremely valuable.”

“Because of our Buddhist culture, we are committed to the principle of non-violence. We are an example of a small community who have remained dedicated to pursuing our struggle through non-violent means, which is why your support is so extremely valuable and I want to tell you how much I appreciate it.”

Speaking after the Dalai Lama, Kalon Tripa Dr Lobsang Sangay sent out a message of hope that Tibet’s time will come soon.

“Our time will come, it is close. Democracy is universal,” said Dr Sangay, who had flown in to address the rally.

He referred to the Arab Spring uprisings that toppled veteran dictators in Libya, Egypt and Tunisia as well as Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi who was released from seven straight years of house arrest in November 2010 and has now been issued with a passport, enabling her to travel abroad for the first time in 24 years.

Jointly organised by a group of Tibetan communities, the European Solidarity Rally for Tibet, was aimed at highlighting the worsening human rights situation inside Tibet.

Organisers said that the solidarity rally will urge Governments of the Member States of the European Union to jointly express “strong concern” to the Chinese government at their “highest political levels,” to increase pressure on China to agree to a “high level EU delegation visit” to Tibetan areas, and to appoint a EU Special Coordinator for Tibetan issues.

The fiery wave of self-immolation protests in Tibet has witnessed 35 Tibetans torch their bodies demanding freedom in Tibet and the return of Tibetan spiritual leader His Holiness the Dalai Lama from exile. Mass protests in recent months have been violently suppressed following a call for “war” on peaceful protests by senior Chinese leaders.

Source: Phayul.com








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