Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Despite the State Department -- or perhaps because of it -- Congress is finally getting involved

A bill has been introduced in Congress regarding Human Rights and Religious Freedom issues in Central Asia (the "'stans"). You can read the bill here (Adobe Acrobat Reader required).

This is of interest because the State Department released their annual Religious Persecution report and this area barely rated a mention, despite the abuses that these countries perpetrate. For more on this, you might find the following commentary (published in the Christian Science Monitor on November 22, 2005) from Lawrence Uzzell of the IRFW:

Worldwide religious freedom still distant

By Lawrence A. Uzzell

FISHERVILLE, VA. - Though the power of the United States government to export freedom is limited - as we are learning in Iraq - Washington retains enormous influence as a watchdog and truthteller. The State Department's annual reports on topics such as religious persecution, with their country-by-country surveys, get far more attention from the alleged persecutors and their victims than from Americans.

Unfortunately the department's latest report, released this month, tends to confirm the view that Washington is reluctant to tell the truth about its own allies - or even countries with which it would like to be allies. Unlike last year, when the State Department belatedly added Saudi Arabia to its formal list of "countries of particular concern," this year it added not one new country. Nearly unanimous appeals by independent human rights experts, and even by its own advisory commission, to label Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan accurately as two of the world's grossest violators of religious freedom were rejected.

These two Central Asian states are in some ways more tyrannical today than they were 15 years ago as parts of the dying Soviet Union. Uzbekistan has launched a new wave of persecution since its brutal suppression in May of an uprising in the eastern city of Andijon, including police raids on its Protestant minority which had no connection with the Andijon events. In practice it denies state registration to new religious congregations other than those of Jews or of state-controlled Muslim clergy, while treating unregistered religious activity as a criminal offense. It indiscriminately arrests young men whose sole offense is belonging to any independent Muslim group, and tortures them to confess that they are terrorists.

A year ago it was obvious why the US government was treating Uzbekistan's dictator Islam Karimov with kid gloves: The Pentagon wanted to continue using an air base near Afghanistan. But it turned out that Mr. Karimov valued the alliance less than President Bush did. After Washington called for an independent investigation into the Andijon massacre, Karimov expelled the US Air Force. Bush now has the worst of both worlds: He has lost both the military alliance and the chance to use that alliance to pressure Karimov for reforms.

The department's treatment of Turkmenistan is even more egregious. Its report states that Turkmenistan's government "continues to monitor all forms of religious _expression" - "restrict" or "control" would have been a much more accurate description. The report goes so far as to claim, falsely, that Turkmenistan has no religious prisoners.

Turkmenistan's dictator Saparmurat Niyazov enforces a personality cult that amounts to a pseudoreligion. His officials systematically force citizens to revere the Rukhnama, two volumes of "spiritual thoughts" written by Mr. Niyazov himself, on a par with the Bible and the Koran. Both Muslim and Christian clergy have been ordered to display it in their places of worship and to quote from it in their sermons. This banal narcissistic work even occupies a growing place in school and university curricula - at the expense of subjects such as science and literature.

Last year Niyazov adopted some legal changes that have turned out to be almost meaningless in practice. For example, he finally agreed to register some congregations of Turkmenistan's tiny Baptist minority - but his secret police still mount raids even on registered congregations.

As noted by the advisory US Commission on International Religious Freedom, "religious groups continue to require permission from the state before holding worship services of any kind, making it unclear what - if any - practical benefits registration actually provides." Sadly, the State Department report encourages the illusion that cosmetic changes amount to genuine reform.

The State Department pays too little attention to some of Turkmenistan's deeply rooted, indigenous minority faiths such as the Shiite Muslims and the Armenian Apostolic Church. It similarly slights historic Russian minorities, such as Orthodox Christians who have split from the dominant Moscow Patriarchate and the unregistered initsiativniki Baptists who have little contact with US denominations. The report thus plays into the hands of Russian ultranationalists who claim that America's interest in religious freedom is merely a cloak for imperialism, for helping only religions newly introduced by Western missionaries.

As a tool for prodding the consciences of authoritarian rulers, the US report on religious persecution should be continuing to improve as its writers gain more sophistication in understanding the changing dynamics of repression. Instead, it is often coasting, often repeating the same language from one year to the next. The State Department needs to raise its sights.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

And you thought the Russian bear (Dan 7:5) was dead ...

(Credit: World Evangelical Alliance - Religious Liberty News & Analysis")

Russia is launching new restrictive measures to bring civil society under tighter government supervision and control. A controversial draft law aimed at tightening state control over NGOs (non-governmental organisations) passed its first reading at the State Duma on Wednesday 23 November. Also the Russian language magazine "Vedomosti" published an article on 14 November based on a document from the Ministry of Justice that recommends radical measures for intensifying control of religious groups.

The measures are doubtless a response to some major Kremlin fears: the prospect of a Western-sponsored "velvet revolution"; the threat of Russian Orthodox displeasure at, and loss of influence due to, the growth of "totalitarian sects" (non-Orthodox groups – includes Protestants/evangelicals); and the threat of destablising, government-undermining Islamic terrorism (Wahhabi) and revolution (Hizb ut-Tahrir). (Notice: all the "non-traditional" problematic elements are in the brackets!)

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THE NGO BILL
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On Wednesday 23 November, a new Bill that would place non-governmental organizations (NGOs) under strict state control, passed its first reading in the Russian State Duma, by 370 votes to 18. The draft bill is expected to pass its second and third readings by the end of this year. The Bill would then need to be approved by the Federation Council before President Putin could sign it into law.

According to The Moscow Times, Independent Duma deputy Vladimir Ryzhko protested in the debate before the vote, "This bill will put an end to civil society in Russia. The Duma has neither the moral nor the constitutional right to vote in favor of it." (Link 1)

But as The Moscow Times reports, Andrei Makarov, the Deputy of the pro-Kremlin United Russia majority party, defended the legislation. He claimed it was a means to fight extremism and money laundering, and denied that it sought to clamp down on NGOs. Also, "Alexei Ostrovsky, a member of the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party and a co-author of the bill, heaped scorn on NGOs and accused the CIA, the U.S. intelligence agency, of fomenting uprisings. 'We remember how those human rights organizations defended human rights in Yugoslavia, Ukraine and Georgia under the cover of the CIA, and we know how it ended,' he said."

Ostrovsky's words echo those of Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) chief, Nikolai Patrushev, who, in the Russian State Duma on 12 May this year, accused American, British and other foreign humanitarian and educational NGOs of providing cover for professional spies. Patrushev accused Western organisations of bankrolling peaceful revolutions in former Soviet republics, and claimed that Western intelligence services use information gathered by NGOs to bring about political upheaval. (Link 2)

The Moscow Times reports: "If the current bill is passed into law, the country's 450,000 NGOs will be forced to re-register with the Justice Ministry's Federal Registration Service under tighter rules next year. The agency would also have to check that NGOs did not use foreign grants to finance political activities.

"The bill would also bar foreign NGOs from having representative offices or branches in Russia and restrict Russian NGOs' ability to accept foreign cash or employ non-Russian workers."

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reports, "According to the Center for Development of Democracy and Human Rights, Russia has over 400,000 active NGOs, 2,000 of which are exclusively devoted to human rights advocacy and 15,000 of which deal with human rights among other issues." (Link 3)

One thing the NGOs fear is abuse of power, and that any number of excuses will be found to deny registration to, shut down or expel NGOs that irritate the government.

Holly Cartner, Human Rights Watch's regional director told the Moscow Times that she believed the legislation would "eviscerate" civil society in Russia. "The express purpose of this law is to emasculate the NGO community," she said.

As noted by a Moscow Times editorial, "These measures, which would allow the authorities to keep tabs on every little group, presumably warm the hearts of all those former KGB agents now running the country." (Link 4)

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RESTRICTIONS ON RELIGION
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On 14 November, the Russian language magazine "Vedomosti" published an article entitled "Spiritual Centralism; Government Prepares Religious Reform", by Anastasiia Kornia, Nedezhda Ivanitskaia". Stetson University's "Russia Religion News", which monitors news media reports about religion in Russia and other countries of CIS, has published a translation under the heading, "Department of Justice contemplates restrictions on religion". (Link 5)

The article commences: "'Vedomosti' has obtained a report by the Ministry of Justice that contains radical measures for intensifying control over religious organizations. In particular, it is proposed to stiffen the procedures for issuing entry visas for missionaries and to simplify the procedures for liquidating religious centers."

The Ministry of Justice's report recommends that the basis for liquidation of a religious centre could be two verdicts of a court regarding "crimes of an extremist nature" issued with regard to two of its members in the course of one year. It is also proposed to establish administrative and criminal liability for illegal missionary activity.

Vedomosti reports, "The [Justice] ministry's report was prepared for the October enlarged session of the Security Council. The document's authors consider that Russia has been subjected to 'foreign religious expansion.' In the past ten years the number of religious movements in the country has grown from 20 to 69. To counter this expansion it is proposed to limit the flow into Russia of foreign missionaries and to regulate the registration of religious associations."

Paul Globe, writing for Window on Eurasia, notes that Russia views the multiplication of religious movements as a threat to the social and religious fabric of the nation, rather than simply a reflection of Russia's new-found commitment to religious freedom. (Link 5)

Vedomosti also reports, "According to a source in the government, after simplifying liquidation, the Ministry of Justice would want at the same time to make registration of a religious organization more complicated."

According to Vedomosti, the Ministry of Justice is also proposing to introduce a requirement that all members of one religion be subordinate to "a single central organization of one confessional identity on a given territory in the capacity of legal entity."

It is this third proposal that has created the most controversy. Muslims believe this proposal is specifically targeted against them. Vedomosti quotes Geidar Djemal, the chairman of the Islamic committee as saying, "In the first place this pertains to Islam. This is connected with the campaign to discover the forces that are destabilizing the regime." But the same concerns, about the difficulties of uniting all confessions and traditions under one central authority, are being voiced by Jews and, doubtless, Protestants.

The limiting and regulating of issuances of entry visas for foreign religious figures is an administrative procedure that would be easily implemented. This will devastate Russia's many young Protestant Theological Colleges and ministries (including NGOs) that are presently reliant on foreign professors and workers.

The other two proposed measures would require new laws and none have yet been drafted. Some analysts wonder if the Justice Ministry's proposals were leaked in order to test the waters, to probe public opinion.

Vedomosti reports that Evgeny Sidorenko, the director of the Department of Constitutional Legislation and Security Legislation of the Ministry of Justice, said that the fate of such legislation could be determined in the course of work on a law for combating terrorism. Such work, he said, has been going on in the State Duma since last year.

According to Vedomosti, the Orthodox Church is not concerned by the prospect of more restrictive legislation. "'It is hard to comment on suggestions that are not finalized,' says the vice-chairman of the Department of External Church Relations of the Moscow patriarchate, Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin. 'But so far as I know, nobody is preparing any revolutions. We are talking about improving the law within the framework of already existing concepts. This will permit society, to a great extent, to control what happens within the religious sphere.'"

PERSECUTION WILL BE BUILT ON A FOUNDATION OF DISINFORMATION

The government and the Orthodox Church are laying a foundation of disinformation upon which they will marginalise and persecute the non-traditional, "totalitarian sects" (includes Protestants/evangelicals). Here is one example of how this is done.

The Russian Federation Federal Service of Drugs Control has spoken out strongly against the practice of "totalitarian sects" operating drug rehabilitation ministries. "We express serious concern in connection with the activity of totalitarian sects in the field of drug rehabilitation", the head of the department, General Alexander Mihajlov, told Interfax on Friday 25 November. (Link 6)

Mihajlov warned that non-tradition or totalitarian sects providing drug rehabilitation services are, in the process, creating people who are psychologically dependent. He believes that the psychological dependence that people develop towards the "sects" is just as dangerous and damaging to their health as any dependence upon narcotics. He believes the government and traditional church must work together to prevent Russian citizens coming in contact with "sects".

Mihajlov's words echo a May 2005 report delivered by the Dean of Saint Alexander Nevskii Cathedral, archpriest Alexander Novopashin, to an international workshop entitled "Neo-pentecostal sects in Russia: threat of religious extremism".

In that report Novopashin claims that "only 3%-5% of drug addicts can achieve a steady remission", and that "pseudoreligious totalitarian sects of destructive nature" take advantage of this situation. He says the sects claim to be benevolent when really they are predatory, and only seeking recruits. Novopashin claims the sects recruit by reprogramming a narcotic dependence into a psychological dependence – an addiction to the sect and its leaders. He claims, "Psychiatrists have already borrowed from sectology a new term – sect addiction." He then illustrates the religious practice of the sects using extreme examples, such as the "Toronto Blessing", before finishing with a story of a young girl who has a wonderful testimony of apparent conversion and rehabilitation through an evangelical ministry. She then denounces her "sect-dependence", returns to drugs and to the Mother Orthodox Church. (Link 7)

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INDISCRIMINATE CLEANSING

So this is the situation faced by the Russian government: traditional Muslims are calling for the government to prosecute Wahhabis along with Hizb ut-Tahrir, so as to prevent unrest, bloodshed and terrorism in the Muslim provinces and in Moscow. (Link 8) The government knows this is necessary for national security.

At the same time, the highly influential traditional Russian Orthodox Church is calling for the government to deal with the non-traditional/foreign/"totalitarian sects" (including Protestants/evangelicals) so as to prevent "psychological addiction" and social breakdown. The government knows this is necessary for political security.

President Putin is doubtless aiming to cleanse Russia and bolster both national and political security by sweeping out all problematic non-traditional religion in the easiest way possibly: indiscriminately, and for maximum political advantage.

Elizabeth Kendal
rl-research@crossnet.org.au

Links:

1) Duma Gives Nod to Tough NGO Bill (subscription) By Francesca Mereu. 24 Nov 2005
http://www.themoscowtimes.com/stories/2005/11/24/001.html -- ALTERNATIVELY

Putin crackdown to limit the power of foreign-funded NGOs From Jeremy Page and Julian Evans in Moscow. 24 Nov 2005
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,13509-1887789,00.html

Russian Parliament Gives 1st Approval to Tightening Control Over NGOs. http://www.mosnews.com/news/2005/11/23/registration.shtml

2) FSB Chief: NGOs a Cover for Spying By Simon Saradzhyan and Carl Schreck. 13 May 2005
http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=viewArticle&code=20050513&articleId=139

3) Russia: NGOs Say New Bill Threatens Civil Freedom
http://www.rferl.org/featuresarticle/2005/11/45a60888-5deb-4700-80cb-e4dc3f68f277.html

4) Civil Society Should Not Be Smothered (subscription)Editorial. 24 Nov 2005
http://www.moscowtimes.ru/stories/2005/11/24/005.html

5) Vedomosti: "Spiritiual Centralism; Government Prepares Religious Reform", by Anastasiia Kornia, Nedezhda Ivanitskaia".Under the title: Department of Justice contemplates restrictions on religion
AND
Kremlin seeks tighter controls over religion.by Paul Goble
http://www.stetson.edu/~psteeves/relnews/0511a.html#03

6) regarding the "totalitarian sects" and drug rehabilitation
http://www.interfax-religion.ru/?act=news&div=7762 (Russian)

7) SECTS AND DRUG ADDICTS
report of Dean of Saint Alexander Nevskii Cathedral, archpriest Alexander Novopashin, on international workshop "Neo-pentecostal sects in Russia: threat of religious extremism"
http://www.lermanet.com/cisar/russia/2005_05_26.htm

8) Mufti Salman: The developments in France will seem 'childish pranks' in comparison with what can happen in Russia.Moscow, 17 Nov 2005
http://www.interfax-religion.com/?act=news&div=582http://www.interfax-religion.com/?act=interview&div=12

============================================
**WEA Religious Liberty News & Analysis**
<Religious-Liberty@xc.org>
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Sunday, November 27, 2005

More on the situation in Central Sulawesi, Indonesia

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CENTRAL SULAWESI (Eastern Indonesia):
MURDER AND PROVOCATION
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The Christian community in Central Sulawesi (eastern Indonesia) has recently suffered a string of barbaric, murderous attacks. The Indonesian government has suggested that criminal gangs are trying to provoke a conflict from which they could profit. But most political analysts believe Islamic extremists linked to regional terror networks are behind the killings. Groups like Jemaah Islamiya, Darul Islam, Kompak and Laskar Jihad strongly desire making Poso, the regional capital, an Islamic stronghold enforcing Islamic laws and customs. They want Poso as a secure base from where they could strive to create an Islamic State in Central Sulawesi. These Islamic militants are believed to be trying to provoke religious conflict so they can openly rally mujahideen (Islamic holy warriors/jihadis) to a 'legitimate' jihad 'in defence of Islam'. Poso is awash with weapons, explosives and bored Islamic mujahideen left over from the 2001 Central Sulawesi jihad.

On 29 October at 6.30am, four cousins from the tightly-knit Christian community, Theresia Morangke (15), Alfita Poliwo (17), Yusriani Sambuwe (17), and Noviana Malewa (15), were attacked as they walked through cocoa fields to the Central Sulawesi Christian Church High School in Poso. Their six machete-wielding attackers wore black ski masks and were on motorbikes. Theresia, Alfita and Yusriani were killed and beheaded. Their heads were put in plastic bags with notes stating 'another 100 Christian teenagers would be killed'. Two heads were left near police stations whilst the third was left outside a recently built church. Noviana escaped and is in hospital with horrific machete wounds and trauma. On Tuesday evening 8 November, on the outskirts of Poso, masked men attacked two more girls, Ivon Maganti and Siti Nuraini, both 17 (one Christian, one Muslim). They were shot in the face and neck from point-blank range and are in hospital in a critical condition. On Friday 18 November three Christian girls, Yanti, Evi and Anca, were travelling on a motorbike in nearby Palu when they were shot at and attacked by black-masked machete-wielding militants also on motorbikes. Yanti (20) bled to death from the machete wound to her neck. Evi is in hospital with machete wounds to her arm. On Saturday 19 November, Pudji Laksono (45) and his wife Novlin Pallinggi (37) attended church in Palu. Returning home on their motorbike after the service, they were followed by hooded militants on a motorbike and shot at close range. Pudji, a University lecturer, is stable in hospital after having a bullet removed from his chest. However his wife, Novlin, is critical as the doctors were unable to remove the two bullets lodged in her chest.

Pastor Mastin, Poso, told Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN), 'Because of the three girls who were martyred [on 29 October], we are challenged, and our faith is put to a test like gold. But we become strong because of their example.' Markus Sambuwe, the father of Yusriani, one of those beheaded, told CBN, 'I am really angry, but the Holy Spirit touched my heart and changed me. I forgive [the attackers] just as Jesus has forgiven my sins.'

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR -

* those in hospital with bullet and machete wounds: Noviana, Ivon, Siti, Evi, Pudji and Novlin; may God heal their bodies, comfort their hearts and preserve their faith.

* the whole Christian community in Central Sulawesi, especially the families and friends of the dead and injured; may God give them comfort, courage, grace and peace, and draw them nearer to him and each other.

* Christian leaders in Central Sulawesi, particularly in Palu and Poso; may God grant them divine wisdom and strength as they shepherd the Lord's people through these dark days, so that their churches will be shining lights of hope, truth, grace and peace.

* God to bring justice and security to Eastern Indonesia, frustrating the ways of the wicked (Psalm 146:9) by exposing Islamic terror cells, mujahideen training camps, arms and explosives caches, and all evil plots against his Church.'The Lord looked and was displeased that there was no justice. He saw that there was no one, he was appalled that there was no one tointervene; so his own arm worked salvation for him and his own righteousness sustained him.' (Excerpts from Isaiah 59:15b-19)

* God to give President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono wisdom, strength, and a deep heart conviction regarding his God-given responsibility to provide justice and security for Indonesia's Christian minority. (Proverbs 21:1, 1 Timothy 2:1-4)

Credit:
World Evangelical Alliance: Religious Liberty Prayer List

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Praise Him! Himachal Pradesh Church Threat Defused

November 21 (Compass) – Members of the Believers’ Church in India (BCI) in the north Indian state of Himachal Pradesh met peacefully Sunday, despite death and arson threats issued by Hindu extremists.

“About 20 people came for the service. This was lower than usual as some villagers were facing opposition, but at least we were able to meet without incident,” Ramesh Masih, the son of Pastor Feroz Masih, told Compass. The church meets in Masih’s house in the town of Baijnath.


On November 4, extremists from the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP or World Hindu Council) and its youth wing, Bajrang Dal, assaulted the elder Masih. After beating him, they told Masih that if he and his 60 church members failed to take part in a “reconversion” ceremony on November 20, they would burn them to death.

The planned reconversion ceremony was apparently dropped due to police intervention.

In the November 16 edition of a national Hindi daily, Amar Ujala, a senior VHP member, Baldev Sood, said the VHP would not “reconvert” the BCI Christians against their will.

Police had warned VHP members that they would be held responsible for any harm done to Masih or his church members, senior police official Ravinder Singh Jamwal told Compass.

Jamwal also said all citizens had a constitutional right to practice and preach their respective religions, and Masih had the right to preach and distribute Christian tracts.

Police Inspector Sureshta Thakur of the Baijnath police station said she had warned the VHP and its supporters against taking the law into their own hands.

“There are many illiterate people in Baijnath who can easily be misled to believe that Christians are forcibly converting Hindus,” she said. “These misconceptions are the root of the problem.”

When the church asked Thakur for police protection for the worship service on November 20, however, she refused, saying, “Only the district collector has the authority to sanction police protection.”

Thakur sent two police constables to visit Masih’s house on November 19. She also tried to arrange a meeting between Masih and the six attackers named in his police complaint. All six of the attackers, however, had gone into hiding and could not be contacted.

Masih’s son said he did not want the attackers punished, but that he hoped local officials would protect the Christian minority.

He also rejected the claims of “forced” or “fraudulent” conversion made against his father, saying such false accusations are a mere pretext for attacking and harassing Christians.

“Recently, I arranged a press conference in which many of our church members said they had accepted Christianity out of their own free will, because they had been healed of their diseases,” he added.

A recent police inquiry found that Masih had not converted anyone by force or by fraudulent means.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Christian Churches, Homes, Burnt by Muslim Mob in Pakistan

CHURCHES AND CHRISTIAN HOMES TORCHED BY MOB IN PAKISTAN

The Christian community in Sangla Hill village in the province of Punjab, Pakistan, came under attack from a crowd of angry Muslim extremists on 12th November, following a false allegation of desecrating a Qur’an.

At least three churches were set on fire as well as several Christian homes, a Christian girls’ school, hostel and other Christian premises. It appears that on November 11th Yousaf Masih, a Christian, spent anevening playing cards with some Muslim friends. Not long after Yousaf left, a fire broke out in an adjoining building, and a copy of the Qur’an was burnt. Yousaf’s friends, angry that he had won their game, accused him ofburning the Qur’an.

The story that a Christian had burnt a Qur’an spreadquickly. A case was registered with the Sangla Hill police, accusing Yousaf under Pakistan’s notorious “blasphemy law” of desecrating the Qur’an(Section 295B of the Pakistan Penal Code). Reports indicate that within hours of the allegation, the Muslim youth were being urged by the mosques to attack Christian property. Fearful of the violence which so often follows blasphemy accusations in Pakistan, the Christian community requested protection; however it appears no action was taken by the police.

The main attack came the following morning, 12th November. Eye-witnesses report that between 2,000 to 5,000 angry Muslims, armed with sticks, rods, axes and kerosene or other inflammable agents, marched on Sangla Hill, chanting slogans and burning Christian property. Many of the Christians fled for their lives. According to one church leader, at least some of the rioters were brought in on buses. The attack lasted two to three hours, during which time there was no police intervention to stop the violence.

Dr. Patrick Sookhdeo, international director of Barnabas Fund comments: “This appalling violence is yet another example of the misuse of Section295 of the Pakistan Penal Code, which has so often been exploited by Muslims with a personal grudge against Christians. As has happened many times before, the whole Christian community came under attack and suffered violence as a result of an unproved allegation against an individual. What is particularly alarming are the indications that this attack was well-planned and not spontaneous.”

PRAYER ITEMS


* Please pray for Yousaf Masih, who is at present in hiding. Pray that he will be able to re-establish his life. Pray that his innocence will be proven. According to press reports in Pakistan, his brother Salim was taken into custody.

* Pray for the Christian community at Sangla Hill village as they begin to rebuild their homes and society. Pray that they will be protected from further violence. Pray that those who have lost homes or possessions will find comfort in the One who supplies all our needs. (Matt 6 v 25-34)

* Thank the Lord for the Hindu, Sikh and Muslim leaders who have joined with Christian leaders to condemn this violence. Pray that the Pakistani Government will respond by seeking true justice for Christians, and will take action to amend or repeal the “blasphemy law” to stop other innocent individuals being persecuted under it.

(Source: Barnabas Fund)

Back in the 'stans ...

(With thanks to Forum 18 - Keep up the good work, guys)

16 November 2005
AZERBAIJAN: DISTURBING NUMBERS OF POLICE RAIDS ON RELIGIOUS COMMUNITIES
http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=689

Police raids on religious communities have continued to take place at a disturbing rate, Forum 18 News Service has found, especially on summer camps and open air preaching outside the confines of state-registered religious buildings. Baptists [...] are amongst those who have been attacked by the authorities. Nakhichevan, an exclave wedged between Turkey, Armenia and Iran, is the "worst region in the country" for religious freedom, a Hare Krishna devotee told Forum 18. This is an observation that people of several faiths have frequently made to Forum 18. One of the most serious attacks was a raid on a Baptist children's summer camp, in which ordinary police and NSM secret police officers arrived "in many cars, shouting and swearing, even at the women," a church member who was handcuffed and beaten up in front of children told Forum 18.

15 November 2005

BELARUS: "RELIGIOUS EVENTS SHOULD BE IN A HOUSE OF WORSHIP, NOT ON THE STREET"
http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=688

State authorities have insisted to Forum 18 News Service that religious literature was lawfully confiscated from a street library in eastern Belarus. Bobruisk City Executive Committee vice-chairman Mikhail Kovalevich told Forum 18 that the Baptists had both "ignored" and "violated" the legal procedure for holding religious events by acting without state approval. "Religious events should be in a house of worship, not on the street," he stated about the street evangelism. The Baptists have been told by the head of the local state Ideology Department that the confiscated literature - including copies of the New Testament - would be sent for expert analysis and might not be returned at all, and that a court will soon resolve the issue. In another recent case, a Baptist in Brest has been fined for leading an unregistered religious organisation.

Local Baptists have protested against this, pointing out that, under Article 18 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights,"everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religionĂ‚…everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association."

18 November 2005
BELARUS: STATE LOSING ITS BATTLE WITH RELIGIOUS BELIEVERS?http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=691

A state report seen by Forum 18 News Service gives a rare insight into state attempts to contain religious activity, and official gloom at the state's failure. Vasili Marchenko, top religious affairs official in Brest region, is very upset that officials are not active enough in breaking up worshipp services and harassing, fining and controlling religious activity, writing of "an even more depressing situation." The report aims at "repairing defects" in controlling religious activity by 1 December 2005.

Marchenko gloomily writes of the state's failure to return an alternative Orthodox community to the Moscow Patriarchate, failure to stop Baptists conducting two or three services a week, "freely and systematically distributing Ă‚… religious literature," and conducting "an illegal water baptism" lasting over four hours with over 300 participants. Local authorities are also castigated by Marchenko for failing to stop Eastern-rite Catholic, Jehovah's Witness, Adventist and Pentecostal activity. Forum 18 has found an apparent link between Marchenko's report and subsequent increased action against religious communities.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Vietnam, Niger State/Nigeria, Indonesia

Christians in Vietnam, which has been one of the worst countries when it comes to generalized and openly state-baced persecution, have grown in boldness when it comes to pleading for the Hmong to U.S. and European Union officials, and to the media worldwide. (Link)

Christians in Niger State, Nigeria, were told that when sharia (Islamic law) was imposed there, it wouldn't impact them. This has turned out to be a lie. (Link)

In Indonesia, Islamic extremists were caught with 800 pounds of explosives and 900 detonators in Poso, where the young Christian women were beheaded and two other students were shot. Also, the heads of the young women were discovered wrapped in plastic, with a note saying: "We will murder 100 more Christian teenagers and present you their heads as presents." (Link)

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Pastor Beaten, Church Attacked by Hindus in Himachal Pradesh, India

Indian pastor Feroz Masih was beaten and his congregation threatened on November 4. He was on his way to comfort a member of his congregation in a nearby town when Hindu extremists beat him severely and forced him to sign a paper stating he was converting Hindus to Christianity "forcibly" and that he and his congregation would "reconvert" to Hinduism. If they did not, they were threatened with being burned to death and/or having their houses or the church burned to the ground.

Masih and his son Ramesh wrote a letter to the police, and said they would hold the police responsible if anyone was hurt or killed because of the actions of the extremists. “We will not allow the VHP to hold a reconversion meeting or any religious function in our house,” Masih wrote.

The Masihs denied reports from various sources that they have forcibly converted anyone.
“We simply preach the message of peace and joy as given in the Bible. All the believers who attend the worship ... have embraced Christianity out of their own will,” he said.


Interestingly, the Himachal Pradesh police have a website. There is a link to send e-mail and you may wish to avail yourself of it to express your concern about the Masihs and their congregation. As always, if you write to the police or to any other official, be courteous, express your belief that they are willing to listen and are reasonable people, explain that Christianity is not a threat to their authority and thank them for their time. Tell them they will be in your prayers -- we are called to bless those who persecute us, remember? (Matthew 5:44; Romans 12:14)

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Indonesia, Eritrea, China

Once again in Indonesia, Christian youths have been the target of violence. Two senior high school students were shot and were admitted into the hospital in serious condition. Read here.

So much for religious freedom in China. A pastor distributing Bibles freely to his congregation was arrested and is on trial, along with family members. Read more here.

In Eritrea, an ailing pastor was released from prison. As a condition of his release, he had to sign a paper agreeing to not attend any further non-registered Christian activities. The only churches able to meet openly in Eritrea are Catholics, one group of Lutherans and the Orthodox Church. What would you do? Read more here.

Monday, November 14, 2005

"Man, you preach too hard!"

How do you think you would respond to being arrested for your faith?

When a group of about 50 house church pastors were arrested while meeting about how to meet the needs of those around them, many saw it as an opportunity to witness their faith to their guards and interrogators. Pastor Zhang Mingxuan, reported as one of the first Chinese to have a business card printed calling himself "evangelist", preached without ceasing, causing his interrogators to say at the end of the session "Man, you preach too hard!".

After more than 25 hours of house arrest, the pastors were released. Their harassers left, followed by songs of praise and worship to the Lord.

President Bush will be in China by this coming Saturday (November 19). While these leaders are free, many are not. Family members of Paster Gong Shangliang (head of the South China Church) are believed to have been in attendance at this retreat. Paster Gong has been imprisoned in May 2001, and at least once has been beaten so badly it was feared he would die.

Please consider writing to the Chinese officials and to President Bush and other leaders, asking for the release of these brothers and sisters who are suffering for their faith -- and of course, please pray for them.

Ambassador Zhou Wenzhong
Embassy of the People’s Republic of China
2300 Connecticut Ave. NW
Washington, D.C. 20008
Tel: (202) 328-2500
Fax: (202) 588-0032
Director of Religious Affairs: (202) 328-2512

(Story: Voice of the Martyrs)

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Action Item - North Korea

When Christians are arrested for their faith, only occasionally is that the charge. Often, treason or sedition charges are filed, as in the case of Indonesian pastor Rinaldy Damanik, later released. Such is the case with the situation below. Please ask for postcards from Jubilee and send them when you get them, or, if Jubilee is not providing postcards for your country, ask for details and make your own.

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NORTH KOREAN CHURCH LEADER FACES DEATH PENALTY

By Jeremy Reynalds
Special Correspondent for ASSIST News Service

GUILDFORD, UNITED KINGDOM (ANS) -- A North Korean church leader is facing the death penalty after being arrested on charges of plotting to overthrow the government.

According to Jubilee Campaign, a British human rights organization, Seong Jeun Moon, 64, was taken into custody by North Korean State Security Agency officers in Peeyeong Gun, in the Pyongan Province of North Korea.

Moon, leader of an underground church in North Korea, and a number of his brothers and sisters, have also been arrested and questioned.

Jubilee Campaign, a British human rights organization, has launched a postcard campaign to draw attention to his plight. The charge of treason carries the death penalty, Jubilee Campaign reported. The organization’s appeal for clemency towards Moon and his family urges the North Korean Government to free him and to permit freedom of religion in North Korea.

[The] interrogation of Moon was nearly completed as of early Sept., Jubilee Campaign reported, and has gone on in secret. Past cases of a similar nature have led Jubilee Campaign to believe that Moon and many others could quite possibly be executed.

The Jubilee Campaign postcards have been addressed to Ambassadors at the United Nations as well as Britain and also directly to North Korean President Kim Jung Il.

To receive postcards, please contact Jubilee Campaign by e-mail at james@jubileecampaign.co.uk

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Got it easy, don't you?

Post-election last night, I was thinking about how much Western Christians (and Americans in particular) take for granted their ability to organize, whether politically or corporately for worship or service.

We form PACs of various kinds, open new churches, new missions, launch service ministries, and except for occasionally butting heads over zoning issues and the odd complaining neighbor, there really aren't any significant barriers in our way. Not that that couldn't change, but for now, we are generally free to do these things without the threat of harassment or arrest.

Now imagine living in North Korea. Or certain provinces of China. Or Pakistan. Or Eritrea. The list could go on and on. In these countries, just believing can be enough to condemn you to imprisonment or death. It could mean you can't hold a job, or keep custody of your kids. Organizing a ministry or a new church (at least openly) is out of the question.

As the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church (November 13, 2005) approaches, take time to remember your brothers and sisters in Christ who take their lives in their hands every time they share their faith. And it would be a good thing if you remembered to pray for them other days, too.

Prayer Item for today - North Korea (Open Doors)

Child Beggars: There is so much poverty in North Korea, and children, in particular, suffer the most. These children who have no parents and no home try to grab every grain of rice on the ground at the local markets, but they are often driven away without having had anything to eat. Pray for these child beggars on the streets. These children have no one to care for them. Pray for good supervision of these children and that they may one day hear the Gospel.

Guards/Prisoners: There are various prison camps in North Korea; their conditions are appalling. Christians are imprisoned if it becomes known that they love the Lord Jesus. Please pray that these Christians will be able to show something of the Light of Christ to their fellow prisoners and to the guards. An ex-prisoner from one of these terrible prison camps, Soon Ok Lee, said that the Christians she met in the camps never denied God and continued to be a living testimony to their faith.

Underground Christians: In North Korea any expression of faith in Christ is punished and they are in great danger of being sent to a prison camp. Pray for the Christians who continue underground, despite the difficult circumstances and pray for safe and encouraging meetings. Please join Open Doors’ North Korea prayer campaign. The goal is to have at least 1,008 people pray for ten minutes a week to make a powerful impact on this oppressive situation on behalf of our persecuted brothers and sisters.

Dear Heavenly Father,

We want to know You more and hear Your voice more clearly so that we too can partner with You in meeting human needs through the wonderful ministry of praying for others. We thank You because You have given us this desire. You will fulfill our requests as we walk in obedience to Your truth. We anticipate a new dimension of revelation by the Holy Spirit in our praying for others.

Amen

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Here's a chance to help - Eritrea

From Open Doors:

"I'm writing to ask for your help in speaking out for persecuted Christians.

Open Doors has started an E-Petition for Eritrea to gather signatures protesting the terrible religious persecution in the East African nation of Eritrea.

Currently 26 evangelical pastors and 1,778 Eritrean Christians remain jailed in military confinement camps, police stations and metal shipping containers for meeting secretly to pray and worship outside government-approved churches. Many have been subjected to repeated torture and mistreatment and kept in miserable conditions for months or even years in an effort to force them to recant their faith. Their whereabouts remain unknown in most cases, and their families are denied access to them.

Please join me in signing the E-Petition for Eritrea as we use or voices to support our persecuted brothers and sisters. To learn more about this situation, please visit our new Advocacy Alert section of the website."

Monday, November 07, 2005

From around the world ...

GUINEA

A baptismal service was violently disrupted by Muslims ... read more here.

NIGERIA

Christians in Kano, who live under shar'ia (Islamic Law) are afraid to send their children to school because they could be forced to convert to Islam, according to Compass Direct. In Niger State, a formerly-Muslim cattleman who came to Christ was arrested and beaten by police for his conversion (here).

INDIA

A revival in Rajasthan state in India was forced to end early when Hindu extremists attacked more than 50 Christians attending. An official of the group which organized the revival stated that members of the Hindu extremist group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) were stopping people heading in the direction of the meetings. If they found Bibles in luggage, the people carrying them were beaten and forced to return to their homes. Police were present but inactive. Read more here.

SUDAN

A Lutheran church was burned to the ground in Khartoum. Despite complaints from the leaders of the church to police, no investigation has occurred and the neighbors refuse to discuss the matter with any members of the church. Compass Direct has the story here.



Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Drop the chicken leg and step away from those believers, comrade

Church members were enjoying a quiet dinner together in the Uzbek town of Jizak in celebration of the Harvest Festival when their meal was disrupted by the ordinary police, the Secret Police and officials from the Public Prosecutor's office. These officials claimed that the meal was "religious activity" and since the group (Full Gospel Church) was not registered (of course, they aren't registering churches in Uzbekistan any more, but what's ignoring facts among friends, right?) they couldn't meet.

Iskander Najafov, the church's lawyer, told Forum 18. "It turns out that believers are not even allowed to visit each other." Najafov believes that an anti-Christian campaign is underway, with less violence than in the past but using other methods to pressure churches and individual believers. He said his Church has received reports from various parts of the country that the police are visiting church members' apartments and conducting "so-called preventative discussions in which they question people about their faith".

Recently, another group, the Subbotniki, Christians who retain some Jewish traditions and meet on Saturdays (not to be confused with Seventh Day Adventists) were denied the right to hold a rite for a deceased member.

Pray for these believers to stand strong despite the persecution.

Follow Up - Indonesian beheadings

On Saturday 29th October a group of Christian school-girls in Indonesia were attacked, apparently by Islamic militants. Three were beheaded and a fourth was severely wounded.
At 7.00 a.m. the girls were making their way to their Christian school through a cocoa plantation, a mile from the village of Sayo, near Poso city, Central Sulawesi. They were set upon by a group of men who attacked them with machetes. Half an hour later the three decapitated bodies were discovered. Later in the morning one head was found outside a church, eight miles from the scene of the attack (leading many to suspect a religious motive to the murders) and the other two heads were found near a police station five miles from Poso.
The murdered girls were Theresia Murangke (14), Ida Lambuaga (15) and Alfina Yarni Sambue (15). Another girl, Noviana Malewa (14) was able to escape the attack, though receiving severe machete wounds to her face. She is under guard in Poso General Hospital.

ANTI-CHRISTIAN VIOLENCE IN CENTRAL SULAWESI

Central Sulawesi, and in particular the Poso area, has been the scene of much anti-Christian violence since 1998 with Islamic militants coming to the region from all over Indonesia. Many Christian villages have been systematically burned. A government-brokered agreement in December 2001 eventually led to a decrease in violence, but it has never ceased. The highest loss of life in a single incident this year occurred when two bombs exploded in a market place in the mainly Christian town of Tentena, killing at least 20 people. Many individual murders of Christians have also occurred, especially those in leadership positions; for example, in July 2004 a pastor was shot dead while preaching in Palu.

CONDEMNED BY THE PRESIDENT

Indonesian President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, publicly condemned the attacks and called an immediate cabinet meeting, which resulted in two very senior individuals in the police and intelligence being dispatched to Poso. But some Indonesian Christians are doubtful about how much will be achieved, given the security forces’ record of reluctance to protect Christians or to bring their attackers to justice. Indonesian church leader Rinaldy Damanik was released from prison in November 2004 after serving nearly two years on a trumped up charge, simply for trying to publicise the anti-Christian violence in Central Sulawesi.

PRAYER ITEMS

* Pray for the devastated families and Christian community, who are coming to terms with the loss of these three girls. Pray for their heavenly Father to sustain them in their grief, and that the knowledge that Theresia, Ida and Alfina are now with Him will be a comfort and source of peace to them.

* Pray for Noviana as she recovers in hospital. Pray for healing for her physical wounds, and also for the psychological trauma of the attack and loss of her friends.

* Pray that the Indonesian government and security forces will follow through their verbal promises by actively pursuing the murderers andensuring real justice is served. Pray they will also act to protect Christians in Indonesia from further violence.