Philippine bishops call end to killings in rally against drug war

Civil society groups during a rally led by the Roman Catholic church to call the attention of the government for the thousands of deaths in the so-called war on drugs by President Rodrigo Dutert Sunday in suburban Quezon city northeast of Manila. (AP)
Updated 05 November 2017

Philippine bishops call end to killings in rally against drug war

MANILA: Catholic bishops on Sunday led thousands of Philippine worshippers in calling for an end to killings in President Rodrigo Duterte’s drug war as they urged police and troops to stop the violence.
The killing of three teenagers in August triggered rare public protests against Duterte’s anti-drugs campaign, with rights groups accusing him of committing crimes against humanity in a crackdown that has claimed thousands of lives.
The Catholic Church, which counts 80 percent of Filipinos as followers, has been one of the leading critics of the war on drugs and has launched campaigns to stop the killings, including one starting on Sunday dubbed “Heal Our Land.”
The church organized a mass and procession along a historic Manila highway called EDSA, where a bloodless popular revolt ended the iron rule of dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986.
About 3,000 people — including opposition lawmakers, students and church groups — joined the event, according to police. They carried candles and placards reading, “Stop the Killings. Start the Healing.”
“Peace to you in the armed forces and the police. Stop the violence and uphold the law,” Archbishop Socrates Villegas, the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, said at the mass.
“If we do not stop the killings, there will be a punishment for a nation that kills its own people.”
Duterte, 72, won elections last year after campaigning on a law-and-order platform and since then police have reported killing more than 3,900 “drug personalities.”
Duterte’s spokesman on Sunday said he did not condone extrajudicial killings, adding the government was investigating another 2,243 deaths in unsolved “drug-related” cases.
“The president himself made a clear stance that any violation committed by the police during operations would be dealt with accordingly,” Harry Roque said.
Villegas said the killings tested the nation and cited the case of 17-year-old student Kian Delos Santos, who died in a police anti-drug raid in August.
“Please stop. I still have a test tomorrow,” Villegas quoted Delos Santos as saying following witness accounts that he had begged for his life.

‘We don’t want to leave’: Sikhs consider future in Afghanistan

Updated 28 February 2020

‘We don’t want to leave’: Sikhs consider future in Afghanistan

  • Decades of violence has seen them flee to India, Canada and Germany

KABUL: When Sikh community leader Hakam Cha Cha Singh leaves his Kabul home for work each day, he says goodbye to his family as if it is for the last time, unsure he will make it back home safely in a country where embattled minorities face daily prejudice, harassment and violence from militant groups.

“We used to travel in the middle of the night from one province to another,” a white-bearded Singh told Arab News. “Now when I leave home, I say goodbye to my family, telling them there is a chance I might not return home because of insecurity.”

Then he paused and added: “But still we love Afghanistan.”

Singh is part of a fast-shrinking minority in Afghanistan, thousands of members of which have fled conflict and moved to countries like India, their spiritual homeland, or Canada and Germany over the last four decades.

Although almost an entirely Muslim country, Afghanistan was home to as many as 250,000 Sikhs and Hindus before a devastating civil war in the 1990s. For centuries, Hindu and Sikh communities played a prominent role in merchant trade and moneylending in Afghanistan, although today they mostly run medicinal herb shops.

Once spread across the country, the Sikh community is now concentrated in the eastern provinces of Nangarhar, Ghazni and the capital Kabul.


Afghanistan was home to 250,000 Sikhs and Hindus before 1990s civil war.

Afghan Sikhs boast no more than 300 families. It has only two gurdwaras, or places of worship, one each in Jalalabad and Kabul.

In 2018, an explosion in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad killed at least 20 people, including several members of the small Sikh minority, pushing hundreds to flee the country. Among those killed was Avtar Singh Khalsa, the only Sikh candidate running in Afghanistan’s then-upcoming parliamentary election.

Many Sikhs say local Muslim hard-liners have stirred up hostility against them, and the community now requires police protection for their funeral rituals.

But while most of the Sikhs who remain in Afghanistan are wary of religious discrimination and the absence of economic opportunities, some Sikhs, especially those with land or businesses and no ties to India, say they do not plan to leave and Afghanistan remains their “motherland.”

“We have suffered a lot. Our honor, property and life have been in danger, but still, we call Afghanistan our mother, our home,” said 31 year-old Gajandar Singh Bashardost at his traditional medicinal herb shop in the once-bustling Sikh neighborhood of Karte Parwan.

“It is bad for us Sikhs, Afghanistan ... if we leave and seek asylum in India or any other place,” Bashardost said. “I do not want to give my country a bad name.”

Earlier this month, Afghanistan’s Ministry of Finance allocated $650,000 to renovate Hindu and Sikh temples communities across the country.

“Hindus and Sikhs love their country and despite the prejudice and discrimination do not want to leave,” said Anar Kali Honaryar, the only Sikh member of the Afghan Senate.

Zabihullah Farhang, a spokesman for Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission, said the level of discrimination and prejudice shown towards the Hindus and Sikhs compared to the past has come down.

However, he added that the government needs to do more to “protect their rights, help them with building schools, providing them health facilities, finding job opportunities and giving them opportunities in the government.”