Documentary Explores Child Evangelists

Meet Kendall Boutwell, of Brookhaven Charity Baptist Church, Mississippi:

You look at the whole Bible, Genesis to Revelation, God has used children. God’s used animals, I mean, he used a donkey, a donkey spoke and saved a man’s life.

It’s been an interesting week for religion documentaries on British TV – as well as the programme I blogged yesterday, there was also a fascinating show on Channel 4 on the subject of child evangelists. This was Baby Bible Bashers, part of the Cutting Edge strand and made by BAFTA-winner Amelia Hann. The documentary explores the lives of three children raised to be preachers from the crib.

First we meet seven-year-old Samuel Boutwell in Brookhaven; from his church’s website, it seems that the young evangelist came to the notice of the American media a few months ago. The crew follows Samuel and his parents Kendall and Vicki as they picket an abortion clinic and go on tour towards New York, dispensing sermons and Jack Chick tracts as they go. Young Boutwell has been in fear of hell since he first disobeyed his mother as a toddler, and he is keen to save as many souls as possible:

If you don’t repent you’re all going to hell. Like I said, worms’ll be eating, worms’ll be down there. Theys going be long worms.

The Boutwell family and their support team take in a Philadelphia casino and Washington DC before finally arriving in New York, where Samuel is at first perplexed by the mockers and scoffers unworried by damnation and bewildered by a Hare Krishna procession and rival preachers, but his cute factor wins him a polite hearing from curious onlookers as he delivers an anti-evolution speech while perched on a wall. Alas, his father’s sandwich board condemning homosexuals to hell goes down rather less well, and the child is reduced to tears and calling for his mother as his father is harangued by an angry hippy.

Secondly there’s nine-year-old “Little Man of God” Terry Durham of Fort Lauderdale, who has his own website here. Durham was ordained as a minister by his stern grandmother Sharon Monroe at the age of six, and under her instruction he visits African-American neo-Pentecostal churches to preach, heal the sick (apparently, he can cure any ailment), and sign autographs. Monroe keeps a tight reign on her grandson, taking him to task when she thinks his performances could have been better. He probably needs a firm hand; as he explains to the film crew

The reason why I know that God’s speaking to me [is] that I can hear his voice. Sometimes he sounds like me, but I say “no”, it’s God.

Terry’s manager is his father Todd Durham, who has good line in T-Shirts and DVDs promoting the prodigy. Todd Durham is frank about his rather worldly ambitions for his son – as well as a church of 30,000, he expects that

…within the next three years this empire [will be] internationally recognised and renowned.

The programme describes Terry – who wears clerical robes – as “the world’s youngest minister”. That may be so, but it doesn’t match the achievement of soul legend Solomon Burke, who was a bishop from the day he was born.

The third example is Ana Carolina Dias (official website here), a twelve-year-old Brazilian who has been preaching since the age of three. Dias is a celebrity in Brazil, and she goes preaching with her father in the most notorious prison in Rio de Janeiro. She also has visions and engages in spiritual warfare, and is particularly close to her father Ezequiel, who was a wife-beating drunk and prison inmate himself before God intervened. Now he says that he’s the happiest father in the world; Ana responds that she has “a father in heaven and my father on earth”.

This isn’t the first British documentary on the subject; back in 1995 Christopher Morris made a study for the BBC of a travelling child evangelist named Shaun Walters. Five years later he followed this up with The Halleujah Kids, to see how Walters had matured. He found a young man who was mentally troubled, painfully withdrawn and paranoid but still hoping one day to pastor a mega-church. One wonders what a “ten years later” sequel to Baby Bible Bashers would look like.

BBC Follows Christian Zionist Coach Tour

Meet Claude, from South Carolina:

I really like Star Trek, and they have phasers in Star Trek, OK? So I sort of imagine, you know, [Jesus] speaking…and you see like lightening flashes or bolts coming out of his mouth and when he speaks to them, and everybody blows up and the blood is just flying all over the place. Now whether that’s right of wrong, I don’t know, but that’s what I picture [laughs].

Claude was speaking to film-maker David Clews in The End of the World Bus Tour, a documentary which aired on BBC 2 a couple of nights ago as part of the Wonderland strand, and which can be seen here for the next few days. Clews tagged along with a Christian Zionist tour group from the USA and UK as it traveled around Israel; Claude’s vision of the Last Battle was inspired by a visit to the Valley of Armageddon. Other stops included an Israeli army base near the Syrian border, where the party donned military fatigues and spent time shifting bags of rubbish in a show of solidarity; according to one volunteer, “They have the finest army in the world…because they have the finest God.”

Clews took a human interest approach to the subject, focusing on why some of the group members had chosen to embrace apocalyptic beliefs – Claude (who is congenial) had suffered the death of a daughter, while another pilgrim, Barbara, had endured parental abuse and gone through six failed marries to older men. Based on this rather small sample, Clews concluded that the faith is about “consolation”, although he also chatted with a bright British teenager named Hannah, who appeared confident and well-grounded. One interesting feature of the tour was the chance to be baptised in the Sea of Galilee, near the group’s luxury hotel – tour leader Sharon Stolebarger explains that since the Galilee feeds the Jordan River, this was as good as a Jordan baptism. But surely the Christians on the tour were baptised already? Stolebarger told Clews that for most, the baptisms would be a “re-dedication” or “a commemorative thing”.

The documentary took a darker turn when the group reached Jerusalem, and found itself in the distasteful position of having to rub up against Arabs in the Palestinian part of the Old City. One pilgrim, asked if she would visit the shops or speak to any Muslims, was clearly a bit embarrassed by the question:

No, not really. I want to wait and spend my money over there in that Jewish quarter, and maybe the hotel or something. I’d rather spend my money there…I just like the quality of things better.

This, it appears, is the polite way to boyoctt Palestinian businesses. One British member was more openly hostile to the presence of Palestinians in land belonging to Jews and Christian tourists:

They’ve got Mecca…they weren’t prescribed to come here, you know. If they need another mosque, there’s the biggest mosque in the world, we Brits are building that for them in London.

While conceding that not everything in Islam is evil, Stolebarger explained that because “their purpose is to destroy Israel”, to her Islam “represents evil”. Barbara, meanwhile, felt the need (prompted by God) to take Clews and his crew to a razor-wire fence overlooking the West Bank. Gesturing at the plain beyond, she told them that

I guess you also need to take a look at God’s enemies, don’t you…the Palestinians.

Clews asked her if things were really that straightforward:

Sure, why not? Why does everything have to be so complicated? I’m also very tired of hearing people say, [exaggerated sneering voice] “Oh, the poor Palestinians…why, the Israelis are killing them…”

Asked if she would say that to a Palestinian family who had lost a child, she responded by asking if he would say such a thing to an Israeli family who “had been bombed first”.

…I am on God’s side…All they have to do is believe, just believe…

The programme’s angle meant that we didn’t get much religious context or information about the organisers – indeed, the words “Christian Zionist” didn’t appear once. In fact, the tour was organized by Koinonia House, which is the Idaho base of Chuck Missler, the Biblical apologist who was recently the butt of much hilarity over his claim that a jar of peanut butter amounts to evidence against evolution. Anyone wanting to go on this year’s tour can register here.

One incidental detail that caught my eye: the scene in the Palestinian part of Jerusalem’s Old City includes a Palestinian teenager hawking tallits, the Jewish prayer-shawls. A bargain at $20.00…

Haaretz Accuses “Righteous Gentile” Polish Bishop of Participating in Anti-Jewish Church Service

An unpleasant scene in Krakow; from Haaretz:

Sunday’s incident in Krakow at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus was rife with overtones of hatred. “The Jews are attacking us! We need to defend ourselves,” shouted Prof. Bogoslav Wolniewicz, to stormy applause.

About 1,000 people gathered for special services Sunday at the church, organized by the Committee Against Defamation of the Church and For Polishness, along with the anti-Semitic Radio Maryja. Local residents were informed of the service by posters that proclaimed: “The kikes will not continue to spit on us.”

The elderly auxiliary Bishop of Krakow, Albin Malysiak, was said to have been present and to have delivered a sermon:

“A man who does not love his homeland, but some sort of international entity, apparently also does not love his nearest and dearest,” he said.

The paper claims that

The speakers directed their anger at [author Jan] Gross, at Jews in general, at Jews from Brooklyn in particular, at Poles who are willing to sell them anything for money, at Righteous Among the Nations Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, at a minister in the Prime Minister’s Office responsible for Jewish-Polish affairs; and at the newspaper that, in their eyes, represents the Polish left, Gazeta Wyborcza, and its editor, Adam Michnik.

Gross is the author of a book on anti-Semitism in post-war Poland (entitled Fear) which has sparked considerable controversy, and which may result in the author being prosecuted criminal slander (which apparently carries a jail sentence). This Spiegel article has further details.

However, Malysiak’s involvement in this event is rather unexpected, as he has been honoured as a “Polish righteous”:

Sister Bronislawa Wilemski was recognized as “Righteous” together with bishop Albin Malysiak (q.v.) and honored with him on Sept. 13, 1994. They are credited with saving five (5) Jews. Maria Rolicka, one of the persons saved, was in attendance. They procured them false documents and placed them in Helclow House for invalid people in Cracow.

One person (in the comments section at Harry’s Place) has suggested that, as Malysiak is retired and now has only an “emeritus” position, the journalist has confused him with Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz. Dziwisz has been a vocal critic of the Gross book, which he claims has “awakened the demon” of anti-Semitism.

Bogoslav Wolniewicz, meanwhile, is better-known as “Boguslaw Wolniewicz”, an author of dense Wittgensteinian philosophical treatises. This is not his first public defence of Radio Maryja; Warsaw Voice noted in 2006:

Radio Maryja also reported that a group of individuals supporting the station had founded a Public Team for Media Ethics. “It has arisen from the need for strength, from the fact that an intention exists to muzzle the freedom of public discussion, in other words to introduce indirect censorship,” said retired Prof. Boguslaw Wolniewicz, who heads the group.

In 2007, Radio Maryja published a “statement” from Wolniewicz in English, in which he explains why, although an atheist, he supports the station:

I do not believe in God and I have always stated that openly but this special gathering organized by Radio Maryja is taking me by my heart (and yet I am an unbeliever) but those Catholic elite is not taken by heart or moved by it. Moreover, they are not only not moved by it but they want to destroy this. Immediately after the meeting they insulted one of the organizers of that meeting. I can see that this is a kind of wild hostility towards Radio Maryja which I can not understand. I am not surprised that this kind of hostility comes from Mr. Aleksander Smolar who is one of the chief officers of the “Batory Fundation” which serves Mr. George Soros and his unclear intentions regarding Poland…Mr. President! There are in our country and outside certain powers that, at any cost, want to destroy Radio Maryja.

Wolniewicz, and Radio Maryja, insist that accusations of anti-Semitism are slander. The charm offensive, though, doesn’t appear to have worked…

I last looked at anti-Semitism in Poland here and here.

United Jewish Communities Repudiates Brigitte Gabriel

From the JTA:

The United Jewish Communities condemned a speaker who told a Florida Jewish federation that U.S. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) is an anti-Semite.

…”Barack Obama is an anti-Semite,” said [Brigitte] Gabriel, who founded the nonprofit organization American Congress for Truth following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. “No Jews should support him. Jews should vote for Hillary Clinton.”

…The local federation disassociated itself from Gabriel’s comments. The UJC, the national arm of the federations, went further.

UJC President Howard Rieger told JTA that his organization “condemned such expressions in the strongest possible manner.”

Gabriel, a US-Lebanese, has made a career out of absurdly inflammatory and hate-mongering rhetoric, which she serves up for eager readers of websites like Frontpage. Here’s her most famous rumination, delivered at the 2007 CUFI (Christians United for Israel) conference, hosted by “New World Order” conspiracy-theorist Pastor John Hagee:

The difference, my friends, between Israel and the Arab world is the difference between civilization and barbarism. It’s the difference between good and evil [applause] …this is what we’re witnessing in the Arabic world, They have no SOUL !, they are dead set on killing and destruction. And in the name of something they call “Allah” which is very different from the God we believe [applause] …because our God is the God of love.

(Gabriel has also been credited by some sites with originating the content of the notorious “Can a good Muslim be a good American?” email chain message, although I haven’t been able to track down an authoritative source.)

Back in October Gabriel was in London, where she attended a charity reception hosted by Lady Jakobovits. Jakobovits, the elderly widow of a former UK Chief Rabbi, appeared with her in a photograph which was published in the Jewish Chronicle. Doubtless Gabriel gained credibility from the association, but it must surely be to the detriment of the person shown standing next to her. However, it seems that at least one Jewish group has now wised up to what she stands for, and has made an appropriate response.

Irene Lancaster: Williams Speech “Like a Hitler Rally”

More than enough has already been written about the Archbishop of Canterbury’s ruminations on shariah and the problem of conscience in conflict with the state, so I’ll keep things brief. I haven’t waded through all the commentary systematically, but my views are close to those of Justin McKeating at Chicken Yoghurt and Tom at Blairwatch, who radically actually read Williams’ speech and noted its theoretical underpinnings in the work of Ayelet Shachar. Williams’ suggestions are arguable, but the level of debate has been an embarrassment.

The most discreditable commentary I’ve seen inevitably comes from the absurd Irene Lancaster:

Of course I’ve read the original speech, plus the amended material…I don’t care how erudite, numerous or conciliatory the audience was. To me it sounds like a Hitler rally, in which Hitler also received standing ovations from the learned academics, lawyers and clerics of the day…

Lancaster goes on to list her academic credentials as evidence as to why this assessment is true. Lancaster was responding to an email from Lambeth Palace – hopefully it will now finally dawn on the PR people there that this is not a person to be taken seriously, nor is it someone who can be dealt with in a rational manner.

I’ve blogged Lancaster a couple of times in the past (here and here), and it is only reluctantly that I return to the subject now. Lancaster is a fairly average UK academic now living in Israel; she emerged as a pundit on Jewish affairs a couple of years ago and became the inter-faith advisor for the organisation now known the Anglican Friends of Israel (run by individuals connected with the Libertarian Alliance and the 1980s “libertarian” Tory right). Lancaster used her new-found fame to denounce critics of Israel as anti-Semites and to demand that a pro-Palestinian public speech be banned, but as her rhetoric has become increasingly unhinged it seems that most journalists (Ruth Gledhill remains a true believer) have decided increasingly to give her a wide berth; just recently she was complaining that the BBC Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen had found an excuse not to meet her. In a typically self-regarding email – which she posted online and then removed – she berates Bowen thus:

…as I recall you told me when you would be in Israel and asked me to contact you then. When I did, various excuses were given not to meet, including the faintly ridiculous one that you wouldn’t be coming to Haifa…I have managed to travel down to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv to meet other members of the British media, and have always found such meetings mutually beneficial. Some of them even bought me lunch (and kosher at that!!)…You are regarded by the BBC as playing an objective role in getting the facts of the situation here across to the license payer. However, you are the only journalist from any organisation who has refused to meet me when asked even though, in the first instance it was you who suggested that I get in touch on a specific date…

Bowen had written to Lancaster, enigmatically, that

[you said] I had agreed to meet you in Israel but cancelled using a fatuous excuse. I think both you and I know that is not strictly accurate.

Given that Lancaster has lived in Israel for less than two years and is an expert in medieval Jewish manuscripts from Spain, one wonders why any journalist would feel the need to consult her on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And given her tendency to make weird insinuations against some journalists she has met (the case of Giles Fraser comes to mind) or seen (the head of BBC Radio religious broadcasting), there are good reasons to avoid her.

(Incidentally, Israel has shariah courts…)

Rwandan who Protected Tutsis Refused Baptism from Hutu Pastor

An interesting report from Rwanda suggests that tribalism among Christian leaders is far from being a thing of the past:

Augustine Kamegeri, a popular resident in Bwerankori cell, Nyamasheke sector in Karongi district alleges to have baptised himself.

The 84 year old man was conceived that he would baptize himself since he had been disappointed by a Hutu pastor. The man of God reportedly refused to lay hands on Kamegeri because of his role he played in the 1994 Genocide of protecting Tutsis from angry Hutus.

“I pleaded with the pastor but he refused saying that I had betrayed my own tribe,” Kamegeri says…

As well as boding ill for the future of Rwanda, this follows claims that tribalism among pastors and ministers played a role in the recent violence in Kenya.

Moon’s World Peace Summit 2008 Underway in South Korea

A website from Azerbaijan reports on an upcoming peace summit, at which representatives of 190 countries will be present:

The Azerbaijani Ombudswoman Elmira Suleymanova intends to call on the international organizations to concentrate their efforts on settling of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. She will make the call at the World Peace Summit to take place in Seoul from 9 to 13 February, the Ombudswoman’s administration reported on 2 February.

Suleymanova will inform the participants of the summit of the Armenian aggression, as a result of which over 20% of the Azerbaijani territory was occupied and over a million of Azerbaijanis became refugees and internally displaced persons.

Details about the summit are curiously scarce, and to find out about the organisers we have to turn to the only other report about the event currently on-line, which comes from Sierra Leone:

Sierra Leone’s foremost International Elder Statesman, Alhaji Dr. Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, the former President has informed this medium that he will tonight Thursday February 7th 2008, leave Freetown on a whirlwind international trip that is scheduled to take him to a few places around the globe in the month of February.

…Following the overnight hosting of Kabbah by the Moroccan King in Morocco, the next day, President Kabbah will head to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates in transit to Seoul, South Korea where he is a Special Invited Guest at the World Peace Summit 2008 hosted by the Universal Peace Federation (UPF) from 9th to 13th February 2008. The UPF’s Interreligious & International Federation for World Peace, is an NGO in Special Consultative Status with the United Nations’ Economic and Social Council. The theme of the Summit is “Toward a New Paradigm of Leadership and Good Governance for Peace in the 21st Century” and the former President is expected to deliver a paper to the Summit.

In fact, the UPF is the new name of the IIFWP; the founder, of course, is Rev Sun Myung Moon. For some reason, there isn’t currently anything about the summit on the UPF website.

This is just the kind of thing I’m now logging on my Ambassadors for Moon blog.

Presbyterian Minister Elicits Witch Confessions in Cameroon

Why did a Boeing bound for Kenya crash in Cameroon in May 2007, killing more than a hundred people? A report in the Buea Post has a remarkable explanation:

“A combination of the Kingdom of Destruction in Limbe, the Kingdom of Peace in Lake Barombi, Kumba, the Kingdom of Beauty and the Kingdom of Milk and Honey in Douala caused 114 people to die in the Mbanga Pongo plane crash on May 4, 2007.”

This was the testimony of a 17-year-old girl whom we call Marceline (not real name) at the Presbyterian Church, Kumba Mbeng, on January 31…She said several mermaid spirits live around the Douala International Airport and the Mbanga Pongo area.

Marceline confessed to being the spiritual daughter of “Queen Geraldine of the Kingdom of Destruction”, who initiated her at the age of eight months, and that the blood from the crash provided the means for a celebration in the kingdom. Marceline also passed exams with the help of human sacrifice, and

..She said the queen caused her to continuously vomit rings on particular spots in Kumba. According to her, they would manipulate pregnant women to urinate on those spots and thereafter conceive and bear initiated children from the marine world.

A second teenager, “Christy”,

…confessed that she entered a woman’s womb when she was 52 years old in the demonic world.

So why would the girls confess to such things?

…Marceline said after her mother and some churches tried to pray for her unsuccessfully, they decided to take her to Rev. Emmanuel Massock of PC Kumba Mbeng.

“PC” is the Presbyterian Church, and Rev. Massock appears to have a good line in getting young women to confess to things. Here’s a report from September:

A second year student of the University of Buea, UB, has claimed responsibility for the gruesome deaths of at least, two Professors of the institution and many other people.  She also claims to have initiated some 150 students of UB into the spirit world, through the use of the internet. The 21 year-old lady, who spoke exclusively to The Post shortly after she was exorcised by a Pastor of the Presbyterian Church, Kumba Mbeng, said she, herself, got into the “marine World” in error.

Interview begins:

…It all happened one night when there was a blackout and I went to fetch water out of the fence, behind the school campus. On my way, the student called me and offered me a gold wristwatch. She asked me to sit on a tomb nearby and asked me to make some incantations, which I did ignorantly. From there, I went to the dormitory and dreamt that I was in a meeting in water, dancing and eating a certain food that was human flesh, and the wine, human blood.

…Thursday, August 30, 2007 was the fateful day when I came to attend the usual Thursday prayers and Bible study, organised by Rev. Masok. When the service started, one of the intercessors was informed about my presence in the church… Rev Masok and his intercessors prayed for me, anointed me and shaved my hair. Many trips were made to my home to collect the articles of the kingdom in my keeping, including a dress with the effigy of the Princess and a particular ring having the Princess’ image.

Rev Masok himself is profiled here:

Masok boasts of 250 deliverances from the demonic world in a year, most of whom are girls and a few boys who are ‘slaves in the marine world.’He said there is an increase in the level of awareness, hunger and thirst for righteousness because of their Bible studies.However, Masok lamented that the changes in the church have attracted both positive and negative criticisms.

He said some Christians have jilted him for what they call ‘tampering with the doctrine of the church,’ whereas the Presbyterian Church is not against revival but divisive tendencies.

Masok’s particular obsession with the “marine world” as a demonic realm is probably a rejection of indigenous West African “Mami Wata” beliefs, and fits with other African “deliverance” narratives. However, while some will doubtless snigger at what appear to be simply bizarre African beliefs, it should be noted that while witchcraft accusations are indigenous, the claims that Masok is promoting are also variations on Western “Satanic panic” and neo-Pentecostal “spiritual warfare” ideas, among others; the profile of Masok includes a link to a now-removed video clip of David Icke.

Another Libel Tourist in the UK

The latest Private Eye (1203 p. 5) notes the latest example of “libel tourism” to come to London:

Schillings [for it is they] partner Simon Smith has issued a statement boasting of his victory on behalf of the tycoon and politician Rinat Akhmetov, the richest man in the Ukraine, in his action against two editors and a journalist working for the Ukrainian online newspaper, Obozrevatel.

The paper does not have an English-language version, and the case was won by default as the defendants declined to cooperate. The Eye quotes a Ukraine blog (Foreign Notes, although it does not give the name) as observing that:

A compensation hearing is to take place later this year to determine the appropriate award of damages. The total number of regular readers of ‘Oboz’ in Great Britain would probably fill at least all the front row seats on the upper deck of a London bus. I hope the learned judges bear this in mind.

It’s particularly depressing to read about this, as a 2005 case had ended with a much-heralded ruling that there had to be “substantial” publication in England (sic – Scotland is different) for a case to be heard in London. The Guardian reported at the time:

Judges at the appeal court in London yesterday threw out a libel action against the Wall Street Journal’s online publication because only five people in England had read the allegedly defamatory item.

In a ground-breaking judgment, the court, headed by Lord Phillips, master of the rolls, ruled that internet publishers could not be sued in the English courts unless there has been a “substantial” publication in England.

Their ruling leaves Yousef Jameel, the wealthy Saudi Arabian who tried to sue the Wall Street Journal’s publisher – United States-based Dow Jones – in London, facing a bill of £150,000 for the online publication’s costs.

But what counts as “substantial”? Not long after, the courts decided that the purchase of 23 copies of Rachel Ehrenfeld’s Funding Evil via Amazon was sufficient to allow the Saudi billionaire Khalid Bin Mahfouz to sue the author in London. However, such is the monomania of the American right that this became a preposterous story of Muslims and “sharia” corrupting the British legal system rather than being just the latest manifestation of excessive libel laws that have favoured the wealthy and chilled free investigation for decades. The actual issues around libel tourism have been highlighted recently on Kristine Lowe’s media blog in relation to the Danish tabloid Ekstra Bladet, which is being sued by an Icelandic bank:

Earlier in the day, I’d had a chat with Bent Falbert, the editor-in-chief of Danish tabloid Ekstra Bladet, who was growing ever more pessimistic about his attempts to reach an out-of-court settlement with Kaupthing.

Not that Falbert didn’t think the paper had a good case, but the costs of fighting a libel case in Britain is staggering. Falbert estimated it would cost four to five times as much as in Denmark. His paper stands accused of libelling Kaupthing in England when they translated several articles about the Icelandic economy to English and published them online.

So what was the Akhmetov case all about? A 2007 report from the Kyiv Post has some details:

…Obozrevatel’s chief editor [Oleh] Medvedev held a press conference in Kyiv on April 2 to deny any wrongdoing.

“Besides some negative moments, there were a lot of good things said about Akhmetov that were included in the articles,” he told the Post the same day.

Medvedev said all the material published consists of a collection of taped interviews with people who knew the Ukrainian billionaire in his youth.

“I think that for Ukraine, it was very important information,” he said.

…According to Mary Mycio, director of the IREX U-Media legal program, which has consulted Ukrainian journalists and paid legal fees for them in certain cases, “plaintiffs who are public officials and public figures are more likely to win a lawsuit against the media [in the UK] than in the United States and, probably, Ukraine.

…As for the claimant, “Akhmetov doesn’t have to win for there to be a chilling effect on Ukrainian media, who may be much more careful about what they write for fear of being hauled into a foreign courtroom.  That is not necessarily a bad thing, given the poor quality of most Ukrainian journalism.  But it will be bad if it means that media don’t publish even the things they can prove for fear of being sued.”

Medvedev is apparently a supporter of Yulia Tymoshenko, while Akhmetov is close to rival Viktor Yanukovych. A short profile of Akhmetov appeared in Forbes in 2005:

A practicing Muslim, Ukraine’s richest man comes from humble origins (his father and brother were coal miners). But he had powerful patrons–Victor Yanukovych, regional governor and later failed presidential candidate, and strongman Akhat Bragin (a.k.a. Alek the Greek), whose assets went to Akhmetov after he was murdered. Today Akhmetov’s company owns Ukraine’s third-largest steel producer, Azovstal, has coal interests worth $400 million and holds shares in a brewery, a newspaper and a mobile phone company…

The Financial Times noted in December that

[An] analyst, Andriy Yermolaev, sees a divide between pro-Yanukovich businessmen, led by Mr Akhmetov, whose companies are based in east Ukrainian heavy industry, and those oligarchs supporting the president and Ms Tymoshenko, who tend to have more diversified financial and trading interests, such as Igor Kolomoisky, head of the Privat banking-based group. “The rivalry between these two groups is quite damaging and ruthless,” says Mr Yermolaev.

Mr Yushchenko is particularly worried about Mr Akhmetov, who stands out among oligarchs as the richest and most overt in his political involvement. An MP for the Regions party, the largest in parliament, he has long backed Mr Yanukovich and worked with him in managing rich, Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine…

Ms Tymoshenko claims Mr Akhmetov profits from his loyalty to Mr Yanukovich, citing his recent acquisition of a stake in a big statecontrolled power generator, Dniproenergo. Mr Akhmetov has denied that he benefited from preferential treatment.

Akhmetov has also recently founded The Foundation for Effective Governance, which has as its board members “former U.S. Senator Lincoln Chafee, former Canadian Prime Minister, Kim Campbell and former president of the National Bank of Hungary, Gyorgy Suranyi”; the Foundation’s launch included a satellite link-up with Shimon Peres. His other interests include the Shakhter Donetsk football club, of which he is president and he has in the past supported the Ukrainian Party of Muslims. Despite his faith, he also owns a brewery.

Pakistan Government Has “Failed to Overcome” Anti-Polio Vaccine Propaganda

Almost a year after the murder of Pakistani health official Abdul Ghani Khan at the hands of Islamists opposed to polio vaccination, things still look bleak in parts of the country; the Daily Times reports on the situation in Swat and Waziristan:

Flanked by the officials of the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) and the Expanded Programme of Immunisation (EPI), the NWFP [North West Frontier Province] health minister said the government was facing a challenge in fighting propaganda clerics were spreading against the campaign through their illegal FM radio stations.

The minister said the government had failed to overcome the propaganda that the polio vaccine weakens the reproductive system of males and expedites the maturity process of females.

“Last year, polio cases across NWFP increased because of people’s refusal to polio vaccine,” he said, adding that the government was now getting help from religious scholars by getting fatwas (decrees) issued in the favour of polio vaccine.

…He said that in Pakistan and Nigeria, clerics were misinforming people about the polio vaccine. He cited it as the reason for the continued polio presence in these countries.

The polio drive in the region has now been suspended due to the military situation.

The FM radio campaign against the vaccine is led by Maulana Fazlullah, whom I blogged last year. A recent article by Shaheen Buneri at Media Line provides further details in a profile of the pro-Taliban movement in the area.

Islamist opposition to polio vaccination was one of the first subjects I dealt with on this blog, and I noted how the hysteria originated with Governor Shekarau of Kano in Nigeria and an Islamist academic named Hussain Abdulkareem. Here are the entries:

Shekarau Snubs Vaccine Advice (Governor of Kano rejects scientific findings)

Vaccine Madness: AIDS! Infertility! Cancer! Paralysis! (Hussain Abdulkareem)

Shekarau’s Legacy (Spread of polio from Nigeria to sixteen countries)

Nigerian Islamists Responsible for Hundreds of Polio Cases (The toll by Jan 2006)

Muslim Doctors Battle New Attacks on Polio Vaccine (Infertility rumour in India)

Pakistan Health Official Murdered: Anti-Polio Vaccine Islamists to Blame? (Anti-vaccine hysteria in Pakistan)

Religious Leaders Support Polio Vaccine in Yemen (contrast with Nigeria and Pakistan)