Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Open Doors: Egypt, Vietnam, Iraq (Direct Post)

Christians Arrested, Shops Looted in Egyptian Village
Authorities in an Egyptian village arrested 50 Christians, whose shops were then looted to pacify Muslims following violence that erupted on Nov 4. Muslim villagers attacked the homes and shops of the Christians after 14-year-old believer Mina William failed to dismount his donkey as a funeral procession passed. Members of the procession reportedly beat William before completing the procession. According to Compass Direct News, the processional members later attacked homes and shops of local Christians before police broke up the crowd with tear gas. Police in the village have since harassed Christians through intimidation, “fines” and racketeering, taking an estimated $50,000 from village Christians, sources said. Read more on these attacks on Christians in India.

Vietnamese Authorities Pressure New Christians to Recant
According to church leaders in Lao Cai province, authorities in Vietnam’s far north are pressuring new Christians among the Hmong minority to recant their faith and to re-establish ancestral altars, which is in violation of Vietnam’s new religion policy. According to Compass Direct News, when the authorities in the Bac Ha district discovered that villagers had converted to Christianity and discarded their altars, they sent “work teams” to the area to apply pressure. Earlier this month, several high officials were sent to try to convince the converts that the government considered becoming a Christian a very serious offense. Christian leaders in the area told Compass Direct News that there were threats of being cut off from any government services. They also said that when this failed to deter the new Christians, the officials threatened to drive the Christians from their homes and fields, harm them physically and put them in prison. Read more about the government supported persecution in Vietnam.

Special Prayer Request from Maria’s Father, Abdurahman*
Last week Compass Direct News reported that Maria, an Iraqi Christian girl, was released from prison for defending herself and her family from her uncle’s attack. Her uncle had cut her mother with a knife and was fiercely beating them for converting to Christianity and for “shaming” the family.
As we thank the Lord for her early release, we want to also pray for her father, Abdurahman, as he looks for a job or a way to get out of Iraq. Abduraham converted to Christianity in 1998 and has suffered opposition from his Muslim family ever since. Read more about Maria’s release from prison and the obstacles that her family continues to face.

Prayer Points:
  • Please pray that the attacks in Egypt will cease and that this violence-prone area will become a place of peace and unity.
  • Pray for Mina William, the Egyptian Christian boy who suffered the severe beating from Muslim attackers.
  • Pray for a reversal of the new religion policy in Vietnam.
  • Pray for the believers in the Bac Ha to stand strong in the face of persecution.
  • Pray that Maria’s father, Abdurahman, will find a job and be able to provide for his family.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Barnabus Fund - Palestinian Muslim speaks out for Persecuted Christians (Direct Post)

Palestinian Muslim columnist speaks up for persecuted Christian minority in the Middle East

Christians in the Middle East have been facing much discrimination, harassment and persecution in recent years, and very often the perpetrators are members of the Muslim majority. The number of Christians in the Middle East has been declining continually over past decades, and there is fear that in some countries, such as Iraq, there is a real push to drive out the whole Christian community.

On October 25th the Palestinian columnist, `Abd Al-Nasser Al-Najjar, wrote a column for the Palestinian daily Al-Ayyam, focusing on this persecution of Christians in Arab countries. `Abd Al-Nasser Al-Najjar, himself a Muslim, warned that the expulsion of Christians and the attempt to denounce them as “infidels” was causing great damage to the Arab culture, of which Christians are an essential and original part. In his article he criticized the fact that no one dared to come to the help of persecuted Christian minorities in the Middle East and he condemned the unwillingness of Arab intellectuals, the elite, non-government organizations and leaders of the private sector to act on behalf of Christians. The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), a non-profit organization that translates and analyzes the media of the Middle East, translated the article into English and published the following excerpts on its website.

"In Iraq, a crime is currently being committed – another in a series of
iniquities brought by the winds of change that came in the wake of the [U.S.]
occupation, which sought to impregnate Iraq with the seed of democracy. [But]
the [resulting] fetus emerged deformed and weird. The worst outcome of this
situation is, possibly, the carnage against ethnic communities and minorities
that has swept through Iraq. Neither Sunnis, nor Shi`ites, nor Christians, nor
Kurds, nor Turkmen, nor [members of] other [groups] have managed to escape it.

"However, the string of murders and expulsions of Christians, which has
been going on for several months, is by far the most grievous – [and] it [must
be taken as] a warning that hostility and crimes against minorities may spread
to the neighboring countries [as well].

"Christians are being persecuted not only in Iraq, but in most Arab
countries, regardless of their numbers there. They are subjected to every
possible kind of discrimination, as well as expulsion. The problem is that it is
not only Arab officials who are remaining silent [in the face of these crimes] –
[they do so] because their primitive mentality is centered on the cult of the
ruler – but, alarmingly, so are Arab intellectuals, the elites, non-government
organizations, and leaders of the private sector. All these groups look on at
these unprecedented [acts of] folly without apprehending the danger with which
these crimes are fraught.

"Statistics show that in 2005 the number of Christians in Iraq was as high
as 800,000. By early 2008, it had dropped by half, [indicating] that 50 percent
of Iraqi Christians had been expelled from their homes and lands.

"Today, this problem is also rampant in Egypt, Lebanon, Algeria, and
Palestine – and while the situation may be slightly different in Palestine, the
trend is the same.

"Let us be honest with ourselves and courageously say out loud that
Palestinian Christians are taking many severe blows, yet are suffering in
silence so as not to attract attention. I do not refer here to the suffering
caused by the occupation... but to actions of the past 20 years at least – that
is, since the beginning of the occupation in 1967 – involving the confiscation
of Christian property, especially in Bethlehem, Ramallah, and Al-Birah.

"What makes things worse is that those who are plundering [the Christians`]
property are either powerful [in their own right] or are backed by various
elements, among them high-ranking military officials or influential members of
large clans.

"Attempts by the political leadership to partially rectify this situation
have failed. Nor has the judiciary system been able to [resolve] many of the
problems, which we still face today. Over the past few years, several of my
Christian friends have told me of the harm they have suffered, including various
threats, even death threats, for trying to gain access to their lands after they
were taken over by influential Bethlehem residents.

"Furthermore, there has been an attempt to marginalize Christian culture in
Palestine, even though it is rich and deeply rooted [there]. This began with
[accusations] of unbelief [against Christians] – a move that ultimately harmed
Palestinian society as a whole...

"Despite all the injustices [against the Christians], no one has seen or
heard of any constructive action to curb it and to [defend] the Christians`
rights – whether by the elites, by any of the three branches (executive,
legislative, and judiciary), by non-government organizations, or even by the
political factions themselves. [Such action should have been forthcoming] not
out of kindness and compassion, but [due to] regarding Palestinian Christians as
indigenous to this land, and [therefore] no different from us, with the same
rights and obligations [as Muslims].

"But the most fundamental problem here may be related to culture. We
continue to instill a horrific culture in our children, one that sees Christians
as infidels... and as `the other.` We need an injection of humanistic and
national awakening; we must raise an outcry and stand up to restore the
Christians` rights, of which they have been deprived – [and we must do this] in
order to preserve the demographic balance, which will safeguard the unity of our
homeland and the justness the Palestinian cause.

"[Let us] remember that the tribes of Arabia were Christian. The best
writers and poets were Christian, as were [many] warriors and philosophers... It
is they who bore the banner of pan-Arabism. The first Palestinian university was
established by Christians.

"Enough [examples]! It is not words that we need, but progressive
attitudes, and the truth, so that it can be presented to tyrannical rulers, and
so that clerics and old men will not be the only Christians left in the Holy
Land and in the city of [Jesus`] birth."

It is very encouraging to read words like these and to know that Muslims are speaking up on behalf of Christians who are persecuted and discriminated against in Muslim-majority contexts. It gives hope that the peaceful co-existence of Christians and Muslims is possible and that mutual respect is a key element to preserving a culture to which both Muslims and Christians have contributed over centuries.

Please Pray

Praise God for Muslims like ‘Abd Al-Nasser Al-Najjar, who dare to challenge the current anti-Christian developments in the Islamic world. Pray that many more will join him and others in promoting respect and equality between Christians and Muslims and demanding an end to discrimination, harassment and violence against Christians in Muslim countries.

[My note: And in the end, let us pray for their salvation.]

Friday, November 21, 2008

Forum 18: Kazakhstan (Direct Post)


Kazakhstan's Senate has significantly harshened the draft Law amending several laws on religion, before returning it to the Majilis, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Officials are still refusing to make the draft text public, but Forum 18 has seen the latest changes. Among the increased restrictions on freedom of thought, conscience or belief, the Senate changed the draft text to require permission from both parents for children to attend any religious event, and removed judges' discretion over the level of fines imposed for violating the Religion Law. The draft Law already contains many restrictions, including only allowing religious literature distribution in permanent buildings designated by the state, and possibly endangering religious-based charitable activities. Kazakhstan has also not agreed to publication of an OSCE review of an earlier text of the Law, although the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights told Forum 18 that it "has recommended to the Kazakh authorities that the legal review be made public, as is normal practice." Kazakh officials have refused to say when the Majilis will discuss the Senate changes, but Forum 18 has learned that this will be on 24 November - the same day a roundtable with OSCE experts is scheduled [to] begin.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Open Doors: Kenya (Direct Post)

Nuns Abducted in Kenya near Somali Border
Negotiations continue for the release of two nuns abducted by insurgent Somali militia at midnight on Nov. 9 from Kenya’s northern Mandera district near the Somali border. Pastor Alois Maina of Community Church in Mandera told Compass Direct News that the two nuns were being held in El-Haddah, Somalia, about 19 miles from the border. A pastor in Mandera who requested anonymity told Compass Direct News that Christian leaders were collaborating with village elders in both Kenya and Somalia to negotiate with the militia for the nuns’ release. “What we need at the moment is prayer,” said the pastor.
View the full story on our website.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Compass Direct: Update on Laos (Direct Post)

Lao officials have released three prisoners from Boukham village, Savannakhet province, after several weeks of detention, but restrictions on Christian worship in the village are still in force.

Pastor Sompong Supatto, 32, and two other believers, Boot Chanthaleuxay, 18, and Khamvan Chanthaleuxay, also 18, were released on Oct. 16 against the wishes of the village chief, who had threatened to hand Supatto a life sentence at a maximum-security prison. Village officials remain hostile to the presence of Christians, according to Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom (HRWLRF).

Authorities initially arrested Supatto and four other believers on July 20, storming their house church and ordering the 63 Christians present to cease worshiping or face arrest and imprisonment for “believing and worshiping God.” The five were briefly detained after the raid and released on condition that they would cease holding worship meetings.

Police targeted the believers because their church was not officially registered. Because such registration comes with strict limitations on church activities, many Christians prefer not to register.

When they continued to gather for worship, police arrested Supatto and two members of the Chanthaleuxay family on Aug. 3, detaining them in handcuffs and wooden foot-stocks in the nearby Ad-Sapangthong district police detention cell. Police initially said they would not release the men until they renounced their faith, HRWLRF reported.

On Aug. 25, the village chief encouraged family members to apply for bail for the two teenagers but said Supatto did not qualify for bail, as his punishment for leading the Boukham church would be “life in prison.” Days later, the chief again pressured family members to sign documents renouncing their faith to secure the teenagers’ release, but they refused.

In September, the chief of Boukham village called a special community meeting to resolve the “problem” of eight resident Christian families who refused to give up their faith. Normally all adults would attend these meetings but on this occasion Christians were excluded.
The meeting ended with plans to expel all 55 Christians from the village; at press time, however, no expulsion had taken place, according to Compass sources.

Following the prisoners’ release, credited to international advocacy efforts, Boukham Christians began traveling to other house churches in the district for worship, but they hoped to resume services in their own community if restrictions were lifted.

Still Worshiping in Another Village, Despite Threats

Christians from Katin village, Saravan province, have continued to meet together despite threats from local authorities.

Officials on July 21 detained 80 Christians in the village after residents seized one believer, identified only as Pew, and poured rice wine down his throat, killing him by asphyxiation. When family members buried him and placed a wooden cross on the grave, officials accused them of “practicing the rituals of the enemy of the state” and seized a buffalo and pig from them as a fine.

They also threatened other Christians with confiscation of livestock if they did not give up their faith, a significant threat as farm animals are essential to the agrarian lifestyle of the villagers and are expensive to replace.

On July 25, officials rounded up 17 of the 20 Christian families in the village – a total of 80 men, women and children – and detained them in a school compound, denying them food in an effort to force the adults to sign documents renouncing their faith. The remaining three families had already signed the documents under duress.

As their children grew weaker, 10 families signed the documents and were permitted to return home. The remaining seven families were evicted from the village and settled in an open field nearby, surviving on food found in the nearby jungle.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Open Doors: Columbia (Direct Post)

Church Leaders under Fire in Colombia

Christians in Colombia are anxious to learn the fate of Pastor William Reyes, missing since Sept. 25. Reyes left a meeting in Valledupar, Cesar, at 10 a.m. that morning heading home to Maicao, La Guajira. He never arrived. According to Compass Direct News, family members and fellow ministers fear that Reyes may have been murdered by illegal armed groups operating in northern Colombia. The pastor’s association had been receiving repeated threats from both the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and right-wing paramilitary units since March. Read the full report about the missing pastors in Columbia on our website.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Forum 18: Azerbaijan (Direct Post)

6 November 2008

Baptist pastor Hamid Shabanov - on trial since July for allegedly possessing an illegal gun - was transferred from prison to house arrest at a hearing in Zakatala on 5 November, church members told Forum 18 News Service. He had been detained for twenty weeks. His next hearing is due on 17 November. He insisted that the accusation against him is fabricated. "The police came into my house back in June and placed the pistol there," he told Forum 18. "The first time I saw it was when they claim to have found it." He believes he will eventually be cleared. "The Word of God is stronger than a pistol." Shabanov's church has been denied legal status since the 1990s, one of three Baptist congregations whose applications have failed. Also denied registration is an Assemblies of God congregation in Baku, whose pastor insisted to Forum 18 that the authorities simply do not want to register any more Christian churches. The State Committee for Work with Religious Organisations refused to discuss registration denials with Forum 18, but its head Hidayat Orujev told the local media on 5 November: "Not one religious organisation applying recently for registration was denied it."

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Open Doors: Eritrea (Direct Post)

Eritrean Christian Dies in Military Prison

Open Doors has received word of another evangelical Christian who has died while in military confinement. Teklesenbet, a member of the Full Gospel Church, was arrested during a prayer meeting in Assab about a year ago. According to sources, he suffered very harsh military punishment during his incarceration. He allegedly died after the commanders refused to give him medical attention for his critical case of malaria. In 2002 all independent Protestant churches were outlawed in Eritrea. Only Islam and the Eritrean Orthodox, Catholic and Lutheran Christian denominations were given official recognition. Buildings of all other churches were closed and private gatherings in homes were banned. Worshippers caught disobeying these restrictions have faced arrest and torture in prison camps that are notorious for their horrific conditions.

Compass Direct News estimates that more than 2,000 Christians, including pastors and priests from both Protestant and Orthodox churches, are now under arrest in police stations, military camps and jails all across Eritrea because of their religious beliefs. Although many have been incarcerated for months or even years, none have been charged officially or given access to judicial due process. Read more about persecution in Eritrea on our website.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Compass Direct: Laos (Direct Post)

Officials crack down in three provinces; some believers held in wooden stocks.

Authorities in Laos have detained or arrested at least 90 Christians in three provinces, including the arrest of a pastor and two other believers from a house church in Boukham village, Savannakhet province.

Arrests were reported in the southern provinces of Saravan and Savannakhet and in Luang Prabang province in the north.

In one incident, Compass sources said officials detained 80 Christians in Katin village, in the Tah Oih district of Saravan province, after residents seized a Christian neighbor identified only as Pew and poured rice wine down his throat. The wine flooded his lungs and killed him, according to the sources who spoke on condition of anonymity.

When mourning family members buried him – an immediate necessity because of the warm climate – and put a wooden cross on the grave, village officials accused them of “practicing the rituals of the enemy of the state” and seized a buffalo and pig from the family as a fine.
A few days later, officials rounded up 17 of the 20 Christian families in the village – a total of 80 men, women and children – and detained them in a local school compound, denying them food for three days in an attempt to force the adults to sign documents renouncing their faith.

Three other Christian families in the village had already renounced their faith under increasing pressure from authorities, according to a report from Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom (HRWLRF).

As their children grew weaker, 10 families signed the documents and on July 30 were allowed to return home. The remaining seven families, however, were evicted from the village and have since settled in an open field outside the village, building small shelters and surviving on food found in the nearby jungle.

Compass Direct: Somalia - Christian Beheaded for Converting from Islam (Direct Post)

Anti-Christian violence spills into Kenya as Somali Muslims attack in Nairobi.

NAIROBI, Kenya, October 27 (Compass Direct News) – Among at least 24 aid workers killed in Somalia this year was one who was beheaded last month specifically for converting from Islam to Christianity, among other charges, according to an eyewitness.

Muslim extremists from the al Shabab group fighting the transitional government on Sept. 23 sliced the head off of Mansuur Mohammed, 25, a humanitarian aid worker, before horrified onlookers of Manyafulka village, 10 kilometers (six miles) from Baidoa.

The militants had intercepted Mohammed and a driver, who managed to escape, earlier in the morning. Sources close to Mohammed’s family said he converted from Islam to Christianity in 2005.

The eyewitness, who requested anonymity for security reasons, said the militants that afternoon gathered the villagers of Manyafulka, telling them that they would prepare a feast for them. The people gathered anticipating the slaughter of a sheep, goat or camel according to local custom.

Five masked men emerged carrying guns, wielding Somali swords and dragging the handcuffed Mohammed. One pulled back Mohammed’s head, exposing his face as he scraped his sword against his short hair as if to sharpen it. Another recited the Quran as he proclaimed that Mohammed was a “murtid,” an Arabic term for one who converts from Islam to Christianity.
The Muslim militant announced that Mohammed was an infidel and a spy for occupying Ethiopian soldiers.

Mohammed remained calm with an expressionless face, never uttering a word, said the eyewitness. As the chanting of “Allah Akubar [God is greater]” rose to a crescendo, one of the militiamen twisted his head, allowing the other to slit his neck. When the head was finally severed from the torso, the killers cheered as they displayed it to the petrified crowd.
The militants allowed one of their accomplices to take a video of the slaughter using a mobile phone. The video was later circulated secretly and sold in Somalia and in neighboring countries in what many see as a strategy to instill fear among those contemplating conversion from Islam to Christianity.

Unconfirmed reports indicated that a similar incident took place in Lower Juba province of Somalia in July, when Christians found with Bibles were publicly executed. Their families fled to Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya, and such killings are forcing other Christians to flee to neighboring Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti.

Compass Direct: India - Orissa (Direct Post)

Hindu extremists beat Fr. Bernard Digal unconscious, leaving him bleeding in forest.

NEW DELHI, October 31 (Compass Direct News) – More than 3,000 people today attended the funeral in Bhubaneswar, Orissa of a Catholic priest who died on Tuesday (Oct. 28) from injuries sustained in anti-Christian violence that began in August. Father Bernard Digal died in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, after an operation to remove a blood clot that developed in his brain due to a head injury from Hindu extremists attacking him on Aug. 25-26 in Kandhamal district, Orissa state. He was 46.

“He was smashed like a pulp,” Raphael Cheenath, archbishop of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar, told Compass. “Because of the hate campaign of the [Hindu extremist] Sangh Parivar, the attackers lost their humanity and they became devils. Human beings can’t do what they have done.”

Fr. Digal was visiting Sankarakhole parish when violence flared after Maoists killed Hindu leader Laxmanananda Saraswati and his disciples on Aug. 23. Though police suspected Maoists from the start and the outlawed Marxists had claimed responsibility for the murders by Sept. 1, Hindu extremists bent on stoking anti-Christian flames continued to publicize that Christians had committed the crime – and have not stopped doing so.