Greek PM claims breakthrough in tangled church-state relations

Greece’s Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, left, and Church head Archbishop Hieronymos arrive for their meeting at Maximos Mansion in Athens. (AP Photo)
Updated 07 November 2018
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Greek PM claims breakthrough in tangled church-state relations

  • Alexis Tsipras: We stand on the verge of framework for a deal... resolving issues going back many decades
  • The agreement is to end the long-running designation of clerics as civil servants

ATHENS: Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has announced a tentative breakthrough in talks to soften ties between Greece and its powerful Orthodox Church, a decades-old debate affecting valuable church lands and clerical salaries.
“We stand on the verge of framework for a deal... resolving issues going back many decades,” Tsipras said late Tuesday after a meeting with Archbishop Ieronymos, head of the Orthodox Church of Greece.
The agreement is to end the long-running designation of clerics as civil servants, in theory freeing up some 10,000 jobs on the state payroll.
The state will continue to pay church salaries under a different account, but under the proposed deal it stands to acquire an equal share in valuable church lands whose ownership has been a matter of dispute since the 1950s.
A joint state-church fund will also be created to develop this property, whose full value is still being evaluated.
After the announcement drew criticism from some senior Greek clerics on Wednesday, Ieronymos said that the proposals would not be applied without the consent of the church hierarchy.
Tsipras’ political opponents have lambasted the suggestion that 10,000 state jobs will be freed up, at a time when his party is struggling in opinion polls a year before national elections.
The move also comes ahead of a Tsipras initiative to overhaul the Greek constitution.
Government plans to revise the constitution’s Article 3, which states that Orthodoxy is the country’s “dominant” religion — to the consternation of rights groups — have unnerved church circles.
A leftist and self-avowed atheist, Tsipras had announced his intention in 2016 to make the Greek state “religion-neutral.”
One of the most powerful institutions in the country with influence in politics and justice, the Orthodox Church lays claim to extensive holdings around the country, many of which cannot be developed owing to court disputes.
Church officials have consistently bemoaned the level of tax levied on clerical real estate, pointing to church donations in the 19th century for the creation of schools, public squares and other state infrastructure during the early history of the modern Greek state.
Earlier this week a Greek monastery lost a court case in which it argued that church property on lease should be exempted from land tax.


Shutdown and protests in Kashmir Valley after custodial death

Indian Kashmiri villagers shout anti-Indian slogans following the death of school teacher Rizwan Assad Pandith, in police custody in Awantipora of Pulwama district, south of Srinagar on March 19, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 13 min 59 sec ago
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Shutdown and protests in Kashmir Valley after custodial death

  • Rizwan was one of six siblings and was planning to do a doctorate
  • A police statement said Rizwan had died in police custody and that he had been taken in for a “terror case investigation”

NEW DELHI: There have been protests and a shutdown in Indian-administered Kashmir following a custodial death, as residents warned that local anger over police brutality cannot be contained.

Rizwan Asad Pandit, 29, was declared dead on Tuesday by police after he was picked up late on Sunday night from his home.

His brother, Mubashir, said Rizwan had been taken to an interrogation center known locally as Kashmir’s torture camp.

“Police should tell us what the charges against Rizwan are and why he was killed in this manner,” Mubashir told Arab News.

“I could not look at the body of my brother when I saw it for the first time after his death. There was a cut on his forehead, his thigh was cut open, his eyes have been gouged out, his vital organs were damaged, it was such a gory sight to see.

“These security forces don’t have any human values, human compassion. Who treats a normal human being like this? What crime has Rizwan committed? I want justice for my brother. The whole of Kashmir is shocked by this inhumanity.”

A police statement said Rizwan had died in police custody and that he had been taken in for a “terror case investigation.”

Arab News contacted the inspector general of Jammu and Kashmir, S. P. Pani, but he refused to take questions related to Rizwan’s death.

India and Pakistan have fought two wars over Kashmir, which they both claim in full but administer in part, and rebels have been fighting Indian rule for decades, demanding that Indian-controlled Kashmir be united either under Pakistani rule or established as an independent country.

According to a report from a rights group, the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, 2018 was the deadliest year of the past decade in the Kashmir Valley.

It said a total of 586 people were killed in 2018, of which 160 were civilians. The remaining numbers comprised 267 militants and 159 members of the Indian armed forces and Jammu and Kashmir police.

“In Kashmir, custodial killing has become normalized with overlapping tragedies,” Khurram Parvez, a Srinagar-based activist, told Arab News. “The incident has created anger. The issue is that when the prime minister of the country says that he has given free hand to the soldiers, this emboldens the soldier on the ground who feel that he is not accountable to anyone.”

Nobody was saying what the charges were against Rizwan, he added, or who arrested him. He asked what kind of investigation could be expected when basic information was not being provided. 

“The tragedy is that all these killings and human rights violations are escalating tensions among the people. I feel it will further increase the frustration of young people in the valley.”

The valley observed a complete shutdown in response to calls for a strike by the Joint Resistance Leadership (JRL), an alliance of separatist leaders from the area.

There have also been protests since news of the custodial death became public.

Mubashir said that late on Sunday police came to the house and locked family members in one room while separating Rizwan from them. “Then the security personnel seized all our laptops and mobiles and took away Rizwan without telling us what the charges against him were.

“We came to know about his death only through social media. Police didn’t have the courtesy to inform us.”

Rizwan was one of six siblings and was planning to do a doctorate. He was a principal at a local private college and nurtured ambitions to be a professor.

“When you push the Kashmiris to wall, they will also push you back and react. The anger such kind of brutalities create among Kashmiris cannot be easily contained,” Mubashir said.

Dawood Riyaz lost his sight in his left eye following a pellet attack in 2017. He accused the Indian government of being “hell-bent” on destroying the young generation of Kashmiris.

“We are also human. We have the right to dissent. You cannot crush dissent with this level of brutality. Youngsters are really feeling frustrated with the regime in Delhi and its insensitivity,” he told Arab News.

Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, a separatist leader and member of the JRL, said Rizwan’s death exposed the “helplessness, vulnerability, and insecurity” of Kashmiri lives even as the “impunity of authorities” kept rising.

Kashmir’s former chief minister, Omar Abdullah, tweeted: “I had hoped custodial deaths were a thing of our dark past. This is an unacceptable development and must be investigated in a transparent, time-bound manner. Exemplary punishment must be handed out to the killers of this young man.”