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Punished for not smoking in front of Muslims
BEIJING (AsiaNews): State media in China reported on April 15 that authorities in Xinjiang have involved themselves in a bit of smokescreen policing by punishing a local official for refusing to smoke in front of Muslim elders.
He was accused of lacking commitment to the region’s fight against religious extremism.
The report said that Jelil Matniyaz, the Communist Party head of a village in Hotan prefecture, was demoted for not daring to smoke in front of religious figures.
It slammed Matniyaz, who was identified as an indigenous Uyghur, for lacking a resolute political stance.
The state-run Global Times quoted other local officials on April 18 as saying that government leaders should push back against rather than comply with religious prohibitions against smoking, to demonstrate their commitment to secularisation.
The Hotan Daily reported that a total of 97 local officials were censured as part of a Communist Party investigation into the conduct of its own members.
The report indicates the inquiry was personally directed by Chen Quanguo, Xinjiang’s party leader and highest-ranking official, who has vowed to crack down on extremism.
Vatican commemorative stamps minted
VATICAN (SE): The Vatican issued stamps in May to commemorate the 90th birthday of Pope Benedict XVI and the 100th anniversary of the apparitions at Fatima.
The stamp honouring Pope Benedict shows him praying the rosary. It was described as an expression of affection for him and a gesture to wish him well on his April 16 birthday.
The Fatima stamp shows a representation of the Virgin Mary speaking to the three children. The first apparition took place on 13 May 1917.
There will also be a stamp to mark the 1,950th anniversary of the martyrdom of Ss. Peter and Paul.
Five Christians get prison stint
BEIJING (SE): A court in Xinjiang convicted five people on April 18 with “gathering a crowd to disrupt social order.” They were sentenced to from three to five years in prison, Chinese Human rights Defenders reported.
The ruling by the Chongji City People’s Court follows a trial on 27 October 2016. All five are ethnic Han Chinese and pleaded not guilty, saying they will appeal the verdict.
Ranging in age from 26 to 68, they among 40 Christians from Xinjiang and neighbouring provinces who gathered in Changji City on 5 March 2016 for a bible study group.
Five were formally arrested on 11 April 2016.
Pope and ambassador for trafficked people meet
VATICAN (SE): While in St. Peter’s Square for his May 3 general audience, Pope Francis had a brief chat with Nadia Murad, the first United Nations Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking.
Murad, a Yazidi woman from the area near Sinjar, Iraq, was abducted by the Islamic State in 2014 and endured unspeakable atrocities during her months in slavery before her escape. Vatican Radio reported that she sees herself as an ally of the pope in the struggle against human trafficking.
Morocco wants witness to Christian history
CASABLANCA (SE): Morocco is planning a major restoration project for the Sacred Heart Church in Casablanca, which is currently a museum.
It used to be the most prominent Catholic church in Casablanca, informally known as the cathedral. Deconsecrated in the 1970s, as most Christians left with the French government, it is in bad need of repair.
The government programme is aimed at making the former church a witness to the city’s Christian history. Christians are being asked for photographs, films, liturgical objects and personal testimonies. 
Christian exodus from Iraq
BAGHDAD (SE): A Christian member of the Iraqi parliament said that 1.5 million Christians have left Iraq since the United States of America invaded the nation in 2003.
The Turkey-based Andalou Agency, reported Josef Sleve as saying on May 4 that the pace of the exodus has increased since the Islamic State invaded the country in 2014.
South Sudan cathedral an escape from violence
JUBA (SE): An estimated 16,000 people have sought refuge in the cathedral compound of Wau, South Sudan, to escape the violence that is spreading through Africa’s youngest nation.
Although the cathedral cannot supply adequate food, lodging or sanitary facilities for the displaced families, thousands are flocking there after being driven from their homes. “It wasn’t safe anywhere,” Father Germano Bernardo reported.

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