Tuesday, October 28, 2008
The attacks taking place in Orissa are making the news, yet so much of the ongoing persecution throughout India goes largely unnoticed by the outside world.
Every day, Gospel for Asia missionaries and Bible college students make a calculated choice to serve Jesus, knowing that they could be beaten or even face martyrdom for their Christian faith.
Raju in Uttar Pradesh is one of them. So are Vikram in Delhi and several Bible college students in Maharashtra.
Anti-Christian extremists do not like the fact that Raju's church in Uttar Pradesh has grown to more than 150 believers. And two weeks ago, they found a way to let him know it.
Around 7 p.m., returning home from visiting new believers, Raju was attacked from behind by an extremist mob of 10 people piled on three motorbikes. The radicals pushed him down and kicked him repeatedly in the face.
Raju's own motorbike fell on him, fracturing his hand. He was also left with injuries on his face from the kicks. He was unconscious for about five hours and unable to speak for a while after being admitted to a hospital. He was released several days later and is doing much better, but doctors have advised him to rest for a few more days because of internal injuries.
UZBEKISTAN: SEVEN PROTESTANTS IN SELF-FINANCED DETENTION
Seven members of a Tashkent-based Pentecostal church are due to complete 15-day prison sentences on 25 October, imposed to punish them for attending a prayer gathering in a private home, Protestants told Forum 18 News Service. The seven have to pay for their own detention.
Five other church members were fined. The judge refused to tell Forum 18 why the twelve had been punished for peaceful religious activity and why she had ordered Bibles and other Christian literature confiscated from them to be destroyed.
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
A paramilitary soldier assigned to protect Christians from Hindu violence in Orissa was mutilated and killed by a mob on Oct. 13. The body of the soldier was recovered from a nearby forest. According to Compass Direct News, the death marks the first time that central security personnel have been targeted in Orissa of the riots powered by Hindu extremist fervor. The violence stems from a Hindu extremist group that insists on blaming Christians for the Aug. 23 murder of Hindu leader Laxmanananda Saraswati, even though Maoists admitted killing him and four associates.
Read more about this horrific attack and the continual violence in Orissa state.
Around noon on October 16, Zhang Jian received an urgent phone call from his mother. Plainclothes Public Security Bureau (PSB) officers had broken into her upstairs apartment and were throwing all the family's belongings out into the street:
"When I got there, I saw my mom lying on the ground being knocked down by these thugs ... I tried to use my body to protect my mom from being hurt by them. Then this group of 15 officers immediately surrounded me and started beating my head and body with iron bars and said, 'We need to teach you a lesson as a troublemaker.'"
The violent attack lasted 25 minutes.
Authorities persecute this family simply because they are Christians. Their ministry to orphans and house churches - ordinary Christian activities - are considered crimes in China. Zhang Jian was severely injured in the attack and needs immediate surgery. His family is now in hiding with nowhere to live. His father is missing, believed to be kidnapped by authorities.
» Learn more about Zhang Jian and his family and how you can send emergency help.
MALAYSIA A court in Malaysia has denied a woman’s appeal to renounce Islam and convert to Christianity. Thirty-five-year-old Lim Yoke Khoon is expected to appeal to Malaysia's top civil court.
NIGERIA Blaming the death of their leader on Christian prayers, an Islamist group in the Kwara state capital has launched a new wave of violence against believers. Since June, at least three Christians have died and several others have been injured.
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
Kazakhstan's controversial amendments to various laws affecting religion or belief reached the Senate on 29 September after being approved by parliament's lower house and are now with the Senate's Committee for Social and Cultural Development. Committee chairman Akhan Bizhanov three timesrefused to tell Forum 18 News Service whether the new Law aims to increase state controls on the activity of religious communities and individuals. The text of the Law as approved by the lower house - and seen by Forum 18 -would for the first time explicitly ban unregistered religious activity, ban sharing beliefs by individuals not named by registered religious organisations and without personal registration as missionaries, require all registration applications to be approved centrally after a "religious expert assessment" of each community's doctrines and history, and impose a wider range of fines on individuals and communities and bans on religious communities who, for example, conduct activity not specifically mentioned in their charter. Groups without full registration would not be able to maintain publicly-accessible places of worship.
16 October 2008
KYRGYZSTAN: SECRECY SURROUNDS RELIGION LAW BEFORE FINAL PARLIAMENTARY READING
Kyrgyzstan's Parliament has passed without discussion the first reading of a restrictive draft Religion Law, which may, according to some, pass its final reading on 21 October. However, others have told Forum 18 News Service that the second and final reading will be later. It is unclear what is in the current text, as officials refuse to release the latest version. Deputy Zainidin Kurmanov told Forum 18 that the latest text is on the parliamentary website, but other deputies state that they do not know what is in the draft Law. Kurmanov revealed that the draft Law includes: a ban on unregistered religious activity; a threshold of 200 adult citizens to gain state registration; a ban on "proselytism"; a definition of a "sect"; and a ban on the free distribution of literature.
Kurmanov claimed he didnot understand objections as "only criminals should be afraid of law and order." Protestant, Jehovah's Witness and Baha'i religious minorities have all expressed concern at the secrecy surrounding the Law, the lack of public consultation, and the restrictions thought to be in the first reading text. A joint Venice Commission / OSCE legal review of a July text of the Law is also highly critical of it. Officials claim to be organising a roundtable, but religious communities say they have not been invited to it.
Thursday, October 16, 2008
Militant Islamists in the southern Philippine island of Mindanao have stepped up their attacks on majority-Christian villages following the failure of a peace agreement that would have enlarged an existing Muslim autonomous region there.
“The problem is that many people living in these areas don’t want to be part of a Muslim autonomous region,” a source in Mindanao who preferred to remain anonymous told Compass Direct News. “The closer you get to these zones, the more nervous people are,” he said. “The town of Kolambugan, where most of the fighting took place in mid-August, became a virtual ghost town for a while. It had a population of 25,000. But people are slowly returning to their homes.”
A Christian family from the area said many people were afraid to sleep at night because they kept hearing reports that they would be attacked at midnight.
Read more about the ongoing violence in Mindanao.
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
Iraqi Christians flee Mosul as Islamic extremists launch campaign against them:
"We left everything behind us. We took only our souls."
Thousands of Iraqi Christians have fled the city of Mosul in northern Iraq over the past week after Sunni Muslim extremists launched a deadly campaign to remove the Christian community from the city. “We left everything behind us. We took only our souls,” said Ni’ma Noail (50), a civil servant who had to abandon his home in Mosul and is now living in a church. At least seven Christians were murdered between 4 and 8 October, killed execution-style by gunmen. Other estimates suggest the number of Christians killed is as high as 25 or even 40. Christian houses have been blown up, and at least 744 Christian families (approximately 3,750 people) have left their homes to find refuge with relatives or in churches and Christian centres in seven towns and villages to the north and east of Mosul. Some are sleeping in their cars. They are in desperate need of food, clothes, bedding, items for personal hygiene and other basic necessities. (13th October 2008)
Sunday, October 12, 2008
KAZAKHSTAN: MONTHS IN PRISON FOR LEADING UNREGISTERED WORSHIP?
If convicted at his trial due on 9 October in the northern town of Esile, Baptist pastor Andrei Blok could face up to four months' imprisonment. He is being tried for refusing to pay an earlier fine for leading his unregistered church, part of what local Council of Churches Baptists describe as the authorities' "economic war" against them. Local Baptists told Forum 18 News Service Blok considered the fine "unfounded and illegal". The town police chief admitted to Forum 18 Blok is being prosecuted because of his unregistered religious activity. In mid-September, another Baptist pastor, Aleksandr Kerker, was given his second massive fine for leading unregistered worship, amid moves to seize his land and two cows for failure to pay his first fine. "The Baptists still go on holding their meetings - no one is really pressuring them," the judge who rejected Kerker's appeal told Forum 18. In the southern city of Shymkent, officials raided the Protestant New Life church's Sunday morning worship service.Like other religious leaders, the pastor was forced to fill out an intrusive questionnaire asking about the ethnic composition of his community. One official accused the pastor of "corrupting Kazakh nationals to change their religion".
Wednesday, October 08, 2008
At least two killed today, another succumbed to axe injuries Wednesday; 400 houses burned.
NEW DELHI, October 3 (Compass Direct News) – At least two more Christians were killed today in Orissa state’s Kandhamal district after Hindu extremists this week set fire to nearly 400 homes there and in Boudh district. A third man succumbed to axe injuries on Wednesday (Oct. 1).
Weeks after Hindu extremist violence erupted against Christians, this morning tribal peoples in Sindhipankha village killed Dushashan Majhi, a local influential Christian, first shooting him and them cutting him to pieces. Local Christian leaders reported that Majhi was a government servant working in the treasury.
The mob then turned on Sanyasi Majhi, also said to be Christian, who was with Dushashan Majhi. There were unconfirmed reports that a third victim was killed along with the other two.
A local Christian who wished to remain unnamed told Compass that after killing the two men, the assailants massacred cattle belonging to village Christians and burned Christian-owned houses. Sindhipankha is about seven kilometers (four miles) from Tumudiband.
Local news reporter Lalit Jena told Compass from Kandhamal that the attacks – which have continued unabated since Hindu extremists blamed Christians for the death of Hindu leader Laxmanananda Saraswati on Aug. 23 even though Maoist militants admitted murdering him – involve women first ransacking the Christian homes.
“The modus operandi of the tribal mob is such that women go first and attack the Christian houses,” he said. “They ransack and rob the household’s gold and other jewelry, TVs and all that is precious. The men then follow and burn the houses. Lately it has been reported that now they are fighting among themselves for the booty.”
Jena added that tribal peoples who lived in poverty before the violence now have obtained many heads of cattle, including goats and cows, within a short span, as well as household goods.
“They may have no electricity in their villages, but one can see lots of television sets, nearly all of it looted from the Christians,” he said.
Read more here ...
Residents reject letter of permission from Religious Affairs department.
JAKARTA, September 25 (Compass Direct News) – Residents in North Jakarta have ordered the pastor of a small congregation to cease holding services in his home, despite a letter of permission issued by the Religious Affairs department. On Sept. 12 village officials in South Rawa Badak, Koja district called a meeting with pastor Syaiful Hamzah and his wife Tiolida Sihotang, police officers, and representatives from the village mosque. At the meeting, officials urged Hamzah and his wife to sign a document agreeing to cease all worship services in their home, effectively rejecting permission granted by Religious Affairs officials. A sympathetic Muslim cleric, Wasi Sholeh, informed Hamzah that “certain people” had made violent threats against him, and that he could not guarantee Hamzah’s safety if he refused to sign the agreement. The couple eventually signed the document under duress.
Tuesday, October 07, 2008
Effort to replace building with mosque injures 10 Christians, ruins structure.
GARISSA, Kenya, September 29 (Compass Direct News) – A longstanding effort to replace a church with a mosque in Kenya’s northern town of Garissa culminated in an attack by 50 Muslim youths this month that left the worship building in ruins.
The gang stormed the building of Redeemed Gospel Church on Sept. 14 and pelted the congregation with stones, sending many Christians fleeing while others became embroiled in fistfights. Ten Christians received hospital treatment for minor injuries and were released.
Church leaders said the Muslim mob also destroyed pews, damaged the church building’s walls of corrugated iron, smashed the glass-mounted pulpit and burned the church banner with its stand.
“We had just started the Sunday service when, without warning, a rowdy group of about 50 Muslim youths invaded the church, pelting stones at us and destroying our structures,” said the church youth chairman, identified only as Suma.
Local media reported that the 10 church members were hospitalized, but a district nurse at the hospital told Compass that no one was admitted due to the violence. A church elder at East Africa Pentecostal Church in Garissa, about 400 kilometers (249 miles) from Nairobi, confirmed that the church members were treated at the hospital and allowed to go home.
Tensions between Christians and the Muslim-majority population in the semi-desert town of 20,000 people began simmering after Muslims built a mosque next to the church plot at No. 21 Windsor in June 2007. Purchasing its land on Nov. 1, 1999, the church had begun worshipping there by early 2001, eventually growing to 400 members.
Church leaders complained to the district commissioner in June 2007 that the new mosque was built too close to the church – only three meters separate the two structures – and that it was blocking the church entryway.
“Prior to that, the owner of that land had promised to use half of it and sell the other half to the church,” the church leaders reported to the district commissioner in June 2007. “But in 2007, she changed her mind and gave it to the sheikhs to build the mosque. We reported the matter to the DC’s office that it would not go well with the church.”
Officials had ruled that no further permanent structures were to be set up on the land by either party until a later date to be determined by the district commissioner.
“The church faithfully obeyed, but the Muslims defied the orders and began immediately to put up a permanent structure,” according to the letter church leaders wrote to the district commissioner. The building of the mosque was allegedly sponsored by M.K. Roble, a wealthy Muslim in Garissa, according to the letter.
“The problems between the church and the Muslims began and have escalated since then,” it states.
Government security intelligence had reported that Muslims planned to destroy the church if it continued to operate within the residential area, District Commissioner (DC) Alois Okango told Compass. The administration had proposed a new site for the church to worship, Jamhuri Club, but two days before the attack church leaders wrote two letters to Okango saying they would remain worshipping in their building.
“We would like to notify you that our church members have decided to have our Sunday service at our usual place on September 14 and not at the new site of Jamhuri Club,” they wrote in one of the letters, “because we have come to realize that the new site is only temporary, and we will only move out of our premise if we are guaranteed a permanent place of worship.”
Okango told Compass that to avert a crisis, the administration has decided that the church should relocate temporarily to a site near an agricultural showground. The government also advised the church to sell its property near the mosque and buy another piece of land, preferably outside Garissa town center.
This suggestion, Okango told Compass, did not augur well with church members, who felt they had already established the church at the site and that it was the mosque that should be moving.
“The Christians threatened to go and worship in the ruined premises if no action was taken,” Okango said. “They said they were ready to die for the sake of their faith.”
The government is striving to avert further incidents by preventing the Christians from returning to the ruined structure, according to a Provincial Police official identified only as Chelimo. With tensions expected to rise during the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, he said police were taking precautionary measures to ensure that the congregation never returned to their property.
“To allow this would be suicidal,” Chelimo told Compass. “We have deployed five security guards every day to make sure that the members of the church will not enter its structure.”
Wondering why those who attacked the church had not been arrested and charged in court, Redeemed Gospel Church pastor David Matolo said the government should punish the assailants.
“The church has the right to be protected by the government – allowing the minority Christians to suffer is quite wrong,” Pastor Matolo told Compass. “Why should the Muslims interfere with the church’s worship? I as their pastor cannot shy away when my members are ill-treated. We are ready to pay the price, but we want justice to be done.”
He said church leaders had agreed on an alternative site only to have the district commissioner suddenly revoke it.
“The DC had promised to locate us to the provincial residential area, and we had cleared the said site, only to be stopped without prior notice,” Pastor Matolo said. “Now we have no place to worship.”
A missionary from Tanzania who works in the area informed Compass that Muslims have distributed leaflets threatening to destroy all churches in Garissa. They have also threatened to burn Garissa’s open-air market operated by Christians from “down Kenya,” that is, non-Muslims, he said.
The missionary said the safety of the more than 2,000 Christians in Garissa is in jeopardy, and he appealed to the government to protect the right of worship of all people.
“It is quite unfair that the Redeemed Gospel Church has been displaced and is now praying under a tree in an open space with no amenities,” he said.
District Commissioner Okango said that the administration must protect Muslims from the noise of worship emanating from church at night that has disturbed residents, as well as prevent clashes. In both the mosque and church, loud speakers had been set up facing each other with confrontational messages blaring from each.
“The government is sensitive to the feelings of the people,” Okango said. “We cannot allow disorder to reign in North Eastern Province in the name of religious patriotism.”
Land issues alone have not been responsible for tensions in the area. The Rev. Ibrahim Kamwaro, chairman of the Pastors’ Fellowship in Garissa, said Pastor Matolo had offended Muslims when he preached to a lame Muslim man.
Muslims were said to be upset that the pastor persuaded the disabled man to stop going to the mosque and instead join his church. Pastor Matolo’s alleged promise to the disabled man of a better life offended area Muslims, Rev. Kamwaro said.
Muslims restrict churches in Garissa in various ways: Christians are not allowed conduct prayers, sing or use musical instruments in rented homes owned by Muslims. No teaching of Christian Religious Education in schools is allowed; only Islamic Religious Knowledge is taught.
Garissa has more than 15 Christian denominations, the main ones being the East Africa Pentecostal Church, the Redeemed Gospel Church, the Anglican Church, Deliverance Church, the Full Gospel Churches of Kenya, the Africa Inland Church and African Christian Churches and schools.
Friday, October 03, 2008
KYRGYZSTAN: RESTRICTIVE PROPOSED NEW RELIGION LAW TO PARLIAMENT THIS MONTH
Kyrgyzstan's proposed new Religion Law - which ruling party deputies say will make it more difficult for religious communities to gain legal status and for people to share their faith - is set to reach the full Parliament in the second half of October, Kanybek Osmanaliev, Chair of the State Agency for Religious Affairs, told Forum 18 News Service. "There are many inadequacies in the current law," a parliamentary press officer told Forum 18. "Religious organisations function freely without any control. This law will bring control." Osmanaliev has expressed concern over the"abnormality" of a rising number of people changing faith, especially young ethnic Kyrgyz joining Christian churches. He complained of "illegal" activity by "various destructive, totalitarian groups and reactionary sects", among whom he included the Hare Krishna and Mormon communities. FrIgor Dronov of the Russian Orthodox Church told Forum 18 of his support for the proposed new Law. "The earlier Law was too liberal and led to the spiritual destruction of the country. Thank God the state is starting to act."
29 September 2008
KAZAKHSTAN: WHAT RESTRICTIVE LEGAL CHANGES WILL PASS SENATE "WITHIN DAYS"?
Kazakhstan's controversial new restrictions on freedom of thought,conscience and belief have passed the lower house of parliament, the Majilis, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. "The Senate will consider the Law within days, then it will go to the President," Kayrat Tulesov, Deputy Head of the state Religious Affairs Committee told Forum 18. "We're trying to have this law adopted in its current form." He brushed aside the many strong criticisms from human rights defenders and religious organisations of the draft Law, which amends the Religion Law, the Administrative Code, and other laws. Kamal Burkhanov, who leads the Majilis Working Group preparing the text of the Law, is finalising the text. He refused to make it public, telling Forum 18: "We cannot provide you with a copy of the text - it is our law after all, and it should be none of your concern."
Kazakh human rights defenders, such as Ninel Fokina, head of the Almaty Helsinki Committee, strongly criticise the lack of openness and delay in releasing the text. She pointed out to Forum 18 that "clarifications" can still be introduced into the draft before it is sent to the Senate. A senior official has allegedly suggested that the authorities plan to "very delicately, very exactly, in a very coordinated way and without noise" close some religious organisations.
Wednesday, October 01, 2008
An evangelist imprisoned since 2006 for his Christian activities is receiving especially harsh treatment because of his ministry to fellow inmates. Teame Weldegebriel’s family is worried about his health after trying repeatedly, without success, to get permission to visit him. “Please tell the brethren to continue praying for me. I am not sure I will see them again,” Weldegebriel said. According to Compass Direct News, there are more than 2,000 Christians in Eritrea who are imprisoned for their faith.
In mid-July, a Christian woman and her children were rounded up from a prayer meeting and placed in a metal shipping container until their release last month. “I remember the horrible ordeal I went through with the children. After three weeks I was released with my two children, while the other Christian soldiers remained locked in the prison cells,” said the woman, who requested anonymity for security reasons. Her husband had been previously arrested but the family has not been able to make contact with him since June 2007. Read more about the ongoing persecution in Eritrea.
Without international pressure, there is little to stop the Iranian government from ratifying a bill that will make apostasy (leaving Islam) a capital crime, warns human rights groups and experts. On Sept. 9, the Iranian parliament approved a new penal code by a vote of 196-7 calling for a mandatory death sentence for apostates, or those who leave Islam. The Christian and Baha’i communities of Iran are most likely to be affected by this decision. “Unless there is a coordinated and very strong effort from the international community to place pressure on Iran for this, I don’t think there will be anything stopping the Iranian government from passing this legislation,” Joseph Grieboski, founder of the Institute on Religion and Public Policy, told Compass Direct News. Read more about the apostasy bill and its effects in Iran.