Over 400 Pakistani Christian Refugees Arrested in Thailand
Pakistan continues to be among the most hostile nations in the world towards Christians, despite the fact that there are nearly two million Christians living in Pakistan today. Many Christians faced with intense persecution flee Pakistan in search of safer countries to practice their faith freely. Thailand has been a popular destination for Christians fleeing persecution, but a recent crackdown by the Thai government is making life for these religious refugees more and more difficult. Recently, Thai authorities arrested over 400 Pakistani Christian refugees.
3/12/2015 Pakistan (CBN) - Police in Thailand have arrested more than 400 Pakistani Christian immigrants, including children.
Several pastors in Bangkok told CBN News many of the Christians fled Pakistan because they were either accused of blasphemy or threatened by radical Muslims.
They have sought work and refugee status, and many reportedly have interview appointments scheduled with the United Nations.
Some of the Pakistani Christians are converts from Islam. Since arriving in Thailand, they've depended on churches and others for food and housing.
The Thai government says they are illegal immigrants and should be deported.
PAKISTAN: VOLUNTEERS DIED TO SAVE OTHERS
19 March 2015
Several Christians sacrificed themselves to save others during the bombings of two churches in Lahore on Sunday, World Watch Monitor reports.
At Christ Church, 32-year-old Obaid Sardar Khokhar, a volunteer security guard, overpowered the suicide bomber who was approaching the church and dragged him away from the entrance. The bomber blew himself up, killing Obaid and his pregnant wife Ambreen. They leave behind a three-year-old daughter, Angelina.
At St. John's Catholic Church, 16-year-old Akash Bashir was able to prevent a suicide bomber from entering the church. Akash's father, Bashir Emmanuel, says, "One man approached the church from one side while firing, while the other one - in a suicide jacket - attempted to scale the church boundary wall.
"Akash rushed to grab him by his leg. The suicide bomber warned him to get away, as he had a suicide jacket. But Akash pulled him down and left the bomber with no choice but to blow himself up, instantly killing Akash and several others."
Emmanuel told World Watch Monitor that Akash's family often tried to stop him from joining church security volunteers, but that he wanted to offer his life for the security of his community.
At least 17 people are now believed to have been killed and 80 injured by the bombings; these numbers could have been much greater had the suicide bombers been able to enter the church buildings, where around 2,000 worshippers were present in the two services.
CYCLE OF VIOLENCE
However, the attacks have led to a cycle of violence in the region. Christians began rioting in the streets following the bombings, blocking the main road to the nearby border with India and pelting cars with stones. They did not allow the police to enter Yahounabad, the Christian neighbourhood of Lahore where the two churches were attacked, for about three hours.
Two Muslims were killed by the angry mob, who believed they were involved in the bombings. However, the family members of the two Muslims say they had no involvement in the attacks.
The following day, about 50 miles from Lahore in Kasur, a group of angry Muslims battered Riaz Masih, a Christian, with the butt of a gun. Minority-rights activist Napoleon Qayyum told World Watch Monitor: "Riaz took part in a rally to condemn the Yahounabad attacks, but a number of Muslims gathered there took offence and critically beat Riaz, who was later hospitalised."
A Catholic nun, identified as Sister Arsene, tried to explain the subsequent anger to the BBC: "We're treated as second class citizens," she said. "We'd like the government to give Christians our due place and due right. That's why the angry youths reacted."
'WE MUST REMAIN PEACEFUL'
The Catholic Herald reports that church leaders in Pakistan have led a day of fasting and prayer for the victims of the bombings. They also urged Pakistanis to stop violent reprisals in response to the bombings.
"Today, we kneel before the Almighty in fasting and prayer for peace, forgiveness, mercy, grace, patience and tolerance," Mgr Rufin Anthony, the Catholic Bishop of Islamabad and Rawalpindi, told AsiaNews on Tuesday 17 March.
Fr John Nisar, from the Diocese of Lahore, added: "We are in Lent, a time for practising forgiveness and sacrifice. We strongly condemn the Sunday attacks, we stand alongside the suffering families and also condemn the destruction of public property. We must remain peaceful and witness Christ with our own lives."
Source: World Watch Monitor; Catholic Herald; AsiaNews
NORTH KOREA: ILLEGAL BIBLE LED KIM SANG-HWA TO JESUS
04 March 2015
Kim Sang-Hwa* is the daughter of a North Korean church leader. She now lives in South Korea; the most fortified border in the world separates her from her parents and her North Korean brothers and sisters in Christ. This is her story.
I come from a Christian family, although for a long time I wasn't even aware my parents were believers. Like so many Christian families, our family was banished in the 1950s to a remote village. However, my father was very good with his hands. I cannot share what his job was, because I don't want to endanger him now. But he was able to make good money. And my mother had relatives in China.
My parents continued to hide their faith from the outside world, but I remember waking up one night when I was six. Our house was very small, so we all slept in the same room. When I opened my eyes, I saw my father and mother under the blanket and I could hear the soft noise of the radio. Later I learned they were listening to a broadcast from a Christian radio station.
'I WAS AFRAID TO TOUCH THE BIBLE'
In our house was a hidden closet. When I was 12, I accidentally found it. I don't know why, but I started to feel inside the cabinet with my hand and I felt a book. I pulled it out, opened the book and began to read:
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light...
I began to shiver and dropped the book. I was so scared. My discovery could cost me my life. I was afraid to touch the Bible, but I couldn't just leave it there. I closed my eyes, picked up the book and put it back.
I weighed up my options. Should I tell my teacher? Should I visit the local security official? For fifteen days I couldn't think about anything else. I knew it was my duty to report this illegal book. But it was my family which was involved. And I also had all these questions: Who is this God? Or 'what'?
Finally, I had the courage to ask my father. He was very surprised and sat next to me. "Do you see those old trees?" he asked me. "Who made those?" I said I didn't know.
My father explained the story of creation to me, including how God had made Adam and Eve. Then he turned to me and asked me another question. "What is the most dangerous animal?" I did not know why, but I answered: "The snake." He told me how sin came into the world.
It was the first of many conversations we had about the Bible, about God, Jesus and the Gospel. He explained many Bible stories to me. I was not a real believer yet, but they did make a lot of sense to me. I felt sorry for all those people who didn't know the truth. Even my older siblings were unaware.
My mother taught me to memorise Bible verses and the Apostolic Creed and also explained the gospel to me. My grandfather showed me how to pray. "It is just talking to God. Nothing more, nothing less." He spoke a lot about Jesus' Second Coming. He really longed for that.
To me all those stories and ideas were so interesting. I also read the Bible for myself. But I realized it was dangerous. My father always emphasised not to share anything with anyone else. Then he would start to pray in whispers, almost inaudible. "Father, help the North Korean people to seek your Kingdom first."
Sometimes my father met people in a secret location. Many children of believers came to that location too and learned the Bible. We prayed together. Among the people visiting the secret meetings were some non-believers too, even spies.
When one of those visitors was dying, my father went to see him on his death bed. He confessed: "I know everything about you, your family and your faith. I was a spy and ordered to watch you."
"And?" my father asked.
"You are a good man. I never told anyone you were a Christian. Tell me how I can become a Christian too."
In the final moments of his life, this man repented and entered the Kingdom of God. My father was able to lead him there.
God protected us time and time again. Once there was a random house check and it seemed this man also knew we were Christians. But this official was a really great guy and really nice. He never gave us away. All this strengthened my father's faith in God. He always experienced so much peace. I really think most believers in North Korea experience more peace and trust God more than believers in free countries.
'SEEK THE KINGDOM FIRST'
Kim eventually had to leave North Korea when she and her husband discovered they were going to be banished. They made the dangerous escape into China, and travelled on through Myanmar and Thailand, dodging soldiers and facing many challenges, before eventually coming to South Korea several years later. Kim says:
My dreams and hopes haven't changed much since I left North Korea. There is much more freedom here in the South, but our belief is the same. I wish I could go back to North Korea and share the Gospel with the people there and have fellowship with the local believers. I love their faith. I'd be ready to die for the Gospel. I think that if I didn't have a family here in South Korea, I would have returned already to help the people in need.
How would my father want us to pray for North Korea? He always told me to seek the Kingdom first. That will always be his prayer for his country and all believers. This is also what I pray. But sometimes I'm discouraged. It seems like nothing is changing in North Korea. When I pray, I often ask God: 'What's the point? Why do you want me to keep on praying for North Korea?' But then God reminds me: 'You know North Korea better than anyone else. You know the people and their suffering. If you won't pray, who will? Rely on Me. Believe in Me.'
*name changed for security reasons
SAY YES TO YOUR PERSECUTED CHURCH FAMILY IN NORTH KOREA
Kim's story shows how important it is for believers in North Korea to have access to the Bible. Thanks to your support, Open Doors has been working to strengthen the church in North Korea for many years, supplying literature to help believers grow in their faith, as well as food, medicines and clothes to help them survive. We also fund safe houses in China for those who escape.
If you would like to commit to regularly pray, give and speak out for your persecuted church family, take the Step of Yes today.
Source: Open Doors
SYRIA: CONFIRMED - HUNDREDS OF CHRISTIANS ABDUCTED BY IS
25 February 2015
At least 72 Assyrian Christian families - thought to be around 200 people - have been captured from three villages by the self-proclaimed Islamic State. Sources from Syria's embattled Hassaka province report that families from the Tel Gouran, Tel Jazira and Tel Hormizd villages have been taken to the Arab Sunni village of Um Al-Masamier. The exact number of Christian hostages remains unknown.
An additional 50 or more families are still under siege in Tel Shamiram village, surrounded by IS fighters. Although Kurdish fighters are leading a fightback, the military struggle for Tel Shamiram is continuing.
Now, according to Archbishop Mar Aprem Nathniel, who serves in Hassaka City, only 200 Christian families remain in the Khabour region. He estimates that 1,000 families have fled from Khabour to the cities of Hassaka to the south and Qamishli close to the Turkish border.
CLEAR ANTI-CHRISTIAN AGENDA
Calls from abroad to the mobile phones of some Assyrian villagers on February 23 were answered by IS members, according to a posting on the Facebook page of A Demand for Action, an advocacy group for religious minorities in the Middle East. "They told us that we should not call any longer since we cannot do anything about their situation," said George Kasten, a Swedish caller trying to reach his relatives.
"IS members have been very clear with their demands," he said. "They want the Syrian Kurdish militias to release the IS hostages they are currently holding. IS members say that if they do not release the hostages, all men from the village will die."
IS has struck apparent exchange swaps in Iraq in the past year to release Turkish diplomats and truck drivers, after holding them hostage for months. But the gruesome propaganda video released from Libya earlier this month, showing the beheading of 21 Egyptian Christians, has underlined once again the jihadist group's clear anti-Christian agenda. On Monday, during the attack, a regional Kurdish news agency Rudaw reported that intercepted radio signals by IS referred to the capture of '56 crusaders'.
'REMOVE THE CROSSES'
There were unconfirmed reports that churches in Tel Hormizd and Tel Shamiram have been set on fire. At the beginning of February, IS jihadists had ordered Christians in the Hassaka region to remove the crosses from their churches and be prepared to pay a special tax, known as jizya.
Hassaka City is just 55 kilometers from the province's eastern border with Iraq. The province is particularly strategic for the coalition fighting IS, as it is situated between Turkey and the Iraqi regions under the jihadists' control. Assyrian Christians arrived in the region after 1933, fleeing the Kingdom of Iraq's Simele massacre, which targeted ethnic Assyrians. They settled in villages along the Khabour river. Before the war began four years ago, there were about 400,000 Assyrian Christians in the region, some 5 percent of the national population.
Source: World Watch Monitor
CAMBODIA - VIETNAM
Montagnard Christians continue to flee to Cambodia, but are running out of food and supplies
Eight more people, seven men and a woman aged 20 to 40 have been hiding in the forest for the past five days. The nearby border village is facing shortages. "We don't have enough food," a local said. Meanwhile, Cambodian authorities continue to repatriate refugees in violation of international treaties.
Phnom Penh (AsiaNews) - Scores of Montagnard Christians are fleeing Vietnam for neighbouring Cambodia, to escape persecution by Communist authorities and seek a better life.
In recent weeks, several families and individuals haveleft their country of origin. The latest eight crossed the border a few days ago and took refuge in a forest in the north-eastern Cambodian province of Ratanakiri.
Activists and local sources quoted by Radio Free Asia (RFA) said that seven men and one woman, between the ages of 20 and 40, have been hiding in the forest for at least five days.
The continuing exodus of Montagnard refugees from Vietnam is raising concerns among Cambodian villagers on the border.
In recent weeks, with the continued flow, locals who provide them food and shelter are now facing food shortages themselves.
"We have helped them, but we don't have enough food and safe refuge," said one villager, who declined to be named.
The influx of more Montagnard refugees into Cambodia comes a few days after local authorities deported four of them back to Vietnam after they were arrested a day earlier.
Earlier this month, authorities had deported a family of five Montagnards to Vietnam after they were discovered hiding in Ratanakiri.
Human rights organisations and activists have criticised Cambodia's policy of repatriation, which is a violation of the refugee conventions that Cambodia signed;
Under such treaties, the Montagnards are entitled to asylum because they are victims of persecution in their homeland.
However, for Cambodian authorities, they are illegal immigrants, farmers and ranchers who cross the border in search of work.
In 2001 and 2004, at least 2,000 Montagnards from the highlands of central Vietnam moved to Cambodia to escape the violence of Vietnamese authorities.
The Communist regime persecutes them because of their Christian faith and for the support they gave US troops during the Vietnam War. It is especially interested in seizing their land.
Most of them obtained political asylum, especially in the United States.
In last few years, the exodus started again as more and more families try to cross the border, seeking shelter in neighbouring Cambodia.
With the help of the United Nations, some have applied for political asylum, although many are reluctant to contact Cambodian authorities for fear of being deported.
In the latest cases, more than 50 Montagnards (including several children) have sought shelter in the forests of Cambodia, where they are faced with malaria and food shortages.
UZBEKISTAN: CHRISTIANS ARRESTED, HOUSES SEARCHED
23 February 2015
A pastor and a member of his congregation have been arrested in Uzbekistan.
Pastor Boris* was on his way to visit believers in a sister church in another city when he was stopped at a police checkpoint. Officers searched his vehicle and belongings; on his smartphone they found Christian material as well as the contact numbers of many believers in country. Pastor Boris was then charged under article 184 of the Criminal Code of Uzbekistan, "Keeping religious materials for further distribution". Open Doors experts believe he will be tried and then sentenced to pay a fine.
The next day secret police raided the house of Alfia*, one of the members of Boris's underground church; they had discovered her name among the contacts on Boris's phone. In Alfia's house they discovered many Christian books and Christian video and audio materials, including movies, music and sermons on DVD.
CHURCH REGISTRATION, PHONE TAPPING AND POLICE RAIDS
The church in the 'stans', as the Central Asian republics are known, face some very difficult circumstances. Uzbekistanand Turkmenistan are both in the top 20 in the World Watch List, while Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Azerbaijan are all in the top 50.
In Uzbekistan, the government restricts faith groups and no religious activity is allowed, outside of state-run and controlled institutions. Churches require registration, but no permits have been issued since 1999. Christian homes are bugged, phones tapped and groups infiltrated to monitor unregistered house churches, who are in constant danger of being raided.
A service at an evangelical church in Kazakhstan was recently stopped by representatives of the local government who demanded that all attendees show their ID cards. When the pastor and members of the church opposed this, the government officials said that the church was unregistered, which was untrue. All of them were told to report to the Office of Religion and write an explanation regarding their participation in the non-registered religious organisation. The church leadership have sought legal advice, but, understandably, the event has left the congregation scared and anxious.
* names changed for security reasons
Source: Open Doors
NIGERIA: BOKO HARAM LAUNCH ATTACKS, THREATEN ELECTIONS
16 February 2015
Heavily armed Boko Haram militants launched a fierce attack on Gombe, northeastern Nigeria, on 14 February.
Witnesses reported that the attackers overwhelmed a checkpoint before storming the town and burning down the police station. The government later reported that it repelled the attack with air support and were pursuing them into Borno State. All roads in and out of Gombe had been blocked and a 24-hour curfew had been imposed.
Before they left, the militants scattered leaflets urging people not to vote in the elections.
"The letter is warning people to desist from casting their votes as they planned to bomb polling stations during the elections," said a local worker. "It is also calling on Muslims to be part of their jihad to implement sharia in Nigeria."
It is not clear how many people have been killed or injured in the attack. The group has attacked Gombe before with suicide bombers, but has never tried to take it over. "Gombe has a very good number of Christians," reported Open Doors field staff who are still trying to find out what the impact on the Body of Christ had been.
ATTACKS ON CHAD, SUICIDE BOMBER IN BIU
Boko Haram has intensified its assault in the past few days. On Friday 13 February, Boko Haram militants attacked territory in Chad, killing up to ten people and torching almost the entire village of Ngouboua, which hosts a military camp and around 7,000 Nigerian refugees. The attackers reportedly crossed Lake Chad by boat from the Nigerian shore.
On Thursday 12 February, a female suicide bomber attacked a market in the Christian dominated southern Borno State town of Biu in northeast Nigeria.
Some sources said a hijab-wearing female entered the market and blew herself up; others say that there was more than one female suicide bomber who rammed their car into a wall at the market before detonating the explosives.
Whatever the case, some 15 people are reported to be killed in the attack, and more than 20 people were injured. A local contact who visited the injured in hospital told Open Doors that so far three Christians were among the dead and five among the injured.
This was not the first attempted Boko Haram attack on Biu, but up until now local security forces have managed to keep the insurgents out. The town has provided a haven for Christians fleeing Boko Haram persecution in Borno State: Biu is the only town in southern Borno State still regarded as relatively safe. Christians believe the attack was directly targeting them and local staff asked for prayer for the thousands of Christians of Biu who are now living in fear of another attack.
Source: Open Doors
LIBYA: 'WE ARE PROUD OF THEM' - BROTHER OF EGYPTIAN MARTYR
17 February 2015
The brother of one of the Egyptian Christians who were martyred in Libya has said: "We are proud of them." On Sunday 15 February a group linked to the self-proclaimed Islamic State issued a horrific video showing the beheading of the 21 Christians.
"We had a hope that they would be released," the brother said on Monday, a day after the news was released. "But the will of God was [for them] to be martyrs of Christ, and that is better than life. They were martyred in the name of Jesus Christ. They kept the faith until the last moment. They didn't deny the name of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. We are proud of them."
Egyptian Christians gathered in churches to pray for the families of the victims. In Minya in Upper Egypt, the area where the murdered Christians came from, a memorial service was held.
Pope Francis has said: "The blood of our Christian brothers and sisters is a testimony which cries out to be heard... It makes no difference whether they be Catholics, Orthodox, Copts or Protestants. They are Christians! Their blood is one and the same. Their blood confesses Christ."
American Aid Worker Kayla Mueller Killed at Hands of ISIS 'Surrendered to God' During Captivity, Drew Comfort From 'Deep Christian Faith'
BY STOYAN ZAIMOV , CHRISTIAN POST REPORTER
February 11, 2015|8:00 am
The United States confirmed on Tuesday that 26-year-old American aid worker Kayla Mueller has been killed at the hands of terror group ISIS. President Barack Obama said that Mueller represented what is "best about America," while her family revealed that she drew comfort from her "deep Christian faith" while in captivity.
"Our hearts are breaking for our only daughter, but we will continue on in peace, dignity, and love for her," Mueller's parents, Carl and Marsha Mueller, and her brother, Eric, said in a statement.
The aid worker had been held hostage by ISIS since August 2013, The Guardian noted. Supporters of ISIS said last week that Mueller had been killed during a Jordanian air strike, and though the U.S. confirmed the news, it could not determine the cause of her death.
Mueller was reportedly taken by militants in Syria while working at a hospital run by humanitarian group Médecins Sans Frontières. In a letter to her family written sometime in the spring of 2014, she asked them not to worry and claimed that she was being treated with respect and was unharmed.
She said that her deep Christian faith gave her comfort during her captivity:
"I remember mom always telling me that all in all in the end the only one you really have is God. I have come to a place in experience where, in every sense of the word, I have surrendered myself to our creator b/c literally there was no else ... + by God + by your prayers I have felt tenderly cradled in freefall."
The aid worker had travelled to Syria to help provide aid to refugees and those suffering in the ongoing civil war. Before that she also worked for humanitarian initiatives in India, Israel and the Palestinian territories.
Mueller said in a 2013 interview with the Prescott Daily Courier, a newspaper from her hometown of Prescott, Arizona: "I find God in the suffering eyes reflected in mine, if this is how you are revealed to me, this is how I will forever seek you."
Fox News revealed further details about Mueller's capture in a report on Wednesday, and noted that she had spent several months being transferring between holding cells — and was held both at a children's hospital in Aleppo, and the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa.
Obama revealed that the U.S. had made an attempt to rescue Mueller, but the operation was unsuccessful.
"I deployed an entire operation — at significant risk — to rescue not only her, but the other individuals who had been held, and probably missed them by a day or two," Obama told Buzzfeed in an interview.
Fox News' Catherine Herridge reported Tuesday that the Obama administration knew the location where Mueller and the other Western hostages were being held, but waited seven weeks before attempting a rescue.
Mueller became the fourth U.S. citizen to die at the hands of ISIS, following fellow aid worker Peter Kassig and journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff in 2014. The president said, however, that no matter the cost, paying ransom to the jihadists is not an option.
"It's as tough as anything that I do — having conversations with parents who understandably want, by any means necessary, for their children to be safe," Obama said. "We will do everything we can short of providing an incentive for future Americans to be caught."
Obama vowed to bring those responsible for Mueller's death to justice.
"Kayla represents what is best about America, and expressed her deep pride in the freedoms that we Americans enjoy, and that so many others strive for around the world," he added in a White House statement. "In how she lived her life, she epitomized all that is good in our world."
Mueller's family said that they are proud of her work, and noted that she lived with a purpose.
The family added: "We remain heartbroken, also, for the families of the other captives who did not make it home safely and who remain in our thoughts and prayers. We pray for a peaceful resolution of the conflict in Syria."
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Dramatic Increase in Attacks on Christian Women and Girls in Pakistan
Rights activists have claimed that there has been a dramatic increase in the number of attack on Christian women and girls in Pakistan. Many cases of assaults, rapes, kidnappings, forced marriages, and forced conversions have been reported over the past months. Christian women in Pakistan often face a type of "double persecution" because they follow the wrong faith and are the wrong gender. In many cases, police refuse to assist these Christian women after they are victimized. Please pray against this in Pakistan.
1/26/2015 Pakistan (BosNewsLife) - Rights activists say there has been "a dramatic increase" in the number of Christian girls and women facing "brutal assaults" in Pakistan, with local police often refusing to intervene.
In one of the latest incidents on November 28, two Christian sisters, aged 14 and 16, were attacked in a village located within Jaranwala district after going into a field to use the washroom.
The girls' family said three males "assaulted" the sisters repeatedly overnight. They have since been threatened by the perpetrators of the apparent sexual abuse with warnings not to press charges, Christians said.
Family members also claim that police have obstructed attempts to gather medical evidence.
Aid and advocacy group Voice of the Martyrs Canada (VOMC) told BosNewsLife that its sister group in Britain "are ensuring the girls receive the medical care and legal assistance they need."
Elsewhere in Punjab, a 14-year-old girl was reportedly abducted on November 26 in the Thatha Gondal area.
Christians said it is believed that she has been forcibly converted to Islam and married to her kidnapper. Local Christians and Muslims have been involved in negotiations to return the girl to her family, BosNewsLife learned.
Elsewhere a pregnant mother of four from Rana Town was reportedly attacked after resisting what Christians described as "a ruthless woman's attempts" to make her convert to Islam.
The Christian mother was allegedly "brutally attacked" by the instigator's brothers.
"After stripping the pregnant mother of her clothing and disgracefully parading her in public, the men robbed and finally beat the victimized believer to the point of unconsciousness," VOMC said.
Local police "initially refused to register a case" but relented after pressure from rights activists, the group explained, adding that it had asked for prayers for the Christians.
Pakistan, a heavily Islamic state, has seen an increase in attacks against devoted Christians. Several of them remain detained on controversial charges of blasphemy against Islam, which potentially carry the death penalty.
Nigerian Pastor 'Butchered' to Death by Muslim Herdsmen; Remembered as Dedicated Servant to the Poor Who Educated Over 400 Kids for Free
BY SAMUEL SMITH , CP REPORTER
January 30, 2015|4:49 pm
Pastor Joshua Adah was murdered by Muslim Fulani extremists in the Taraba state of Nigeria on January 23, 2015.
A popular Nigerian pastor, who is touted as a dedicated servant to the poor, was "butchered" to death last week on his way back from pastoral duties by Muslim Fulani herdsmen, whom some say could be linked to the terrorist group Boko Haram.
As Morning Star News reports, pastor Joshua Adah, who founded and operated a school that provides over 400 kids with free education in the village of Bantaje, fell victim to the wrath of Muslim extremists belonging to the Fulani ethnolinguistic group, the same herdsmen that also reportedly attacked Nigerian Christian communities last week.
According to unnamed supporters of Adah's ministry, Adah was on his way back to his mission station last Friday after attending an "evangelistic outreach" event when his car broke down and he had to pull over on the side of the road.
After pulling over, Adah then called his mechanic who came to the scene to see if he could fix the car. When it was determined that the mechanic could not fix the car, the mechanic then left the scene to call a tow truck. After calling for assistance and returning to the scene, the mechanic could not find Adah. After conducting a long search, the mechanic was able to find Adah's slain body.
"A few kilometer from Jalingo, he had car issues along the Wukari-Jalingo road," the ministry supporter said. "He was mercilessly hacked to death by Fulani herdsmen and Boko Haram."
A local police spokesman, Joseph Kwaji, confirmed that Adah was killed by Fulani herdsmen.
"The pastor's car broke down at Chediya on his return from Koji. He then phoned his mechanic at Jalingo to help him fix the car. When the mechanic arrived, the two men agreed to hire a vehicle nearby Dan Anacha, which would tow the car to Jalingo," The police spokesman said. "The mechanic upon returning to scene could not find the pastor. … After a thorough search, his body was found in the area."
Although the police spokesman didn't provide details about the exact manner in which the herdsmen murdered Adah, his wife told Morning Star News that he was indeed "butchered."
One ministry supporter recounted Adah's sacrifices and his commitment to providing for the poor after being born again in 2000.
"Not too long after he got born again, he left the comfort and 'luxury' of city life for a remote village on a hill without light nor potable drinking water, not even a well in sight," the supporter explained. "He was there with his humble wife and kids to answer the call of God at this time when larger cities meant greener pastures, fatter offerings and sizeable tithes to others doing ministry. He continued to preach the Gospel and hold campaigns, not in the urban areas but mostly in rural areas.
"I don't know why God allowed Boko Haram to cut his life short. Even when it became dangerous, he refused to get out but kept preaching Christ in villages where many will not go," she added .
Adah became well known in the Taraba state as he was dedicated to providing food, shelter, money and medicine to the less fortunate villagers in the province.
"He shared his meager resources with the poor. He clothed them. He showed love to them. His home was theirs. I can't keep the tears away," the supporter said. "I'm still hoping to wake up and realize it has all been a bad dream. If only I can see and speak to my friend, my big brother just one more time. [He was] a rare gem. I remember all the times he prayed with me and encouraged me. I feel so shattered. I am crushed."
Although there's no clear evidence that Boko Haram was involved in Adah's murder, it was reported in 2014 that many Fulani herdsman have confessed membership to the Boko Haram.
In October, Muslim extremists stormed two Taraba churches, interrupting worship services, and killed 31 people.
Last March, Fulani herdsman in the Nigerian state of Kaduna burned down three Christian villages and hacked and burned to death over 100 people.
West Bengal, two radical Hindu leaders reported over "reconversion" of Christians and Muslims
Calcutta (AsiaNews / Agencies) - Police in West Bengal are investigating Praveen Togadia, national president of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP, Hindu radical group), for "inciting hatred". The police have accepted a second complaint against Jugal Kishore, general secretary of the VHP, accused of "inciting hatred and use of force on tribal people". The investigations started yesterday on the orders of Mamata Banerjee, chief minister of the state, after yet another case of "coming home" ghar wapsi (reconversion to Hinduism).
The "homecoming" ceremony as the Hindu radicals call it, took place on January 28 in the tribal village of Rampurhat (Birbhum district). About 17 Christian and two Muslim families have been "reconverted" to Hinduism, through shuddhi havan(purification) and other rituals. Togadia and other VHP leaders attended the event. However, two young tribal present in the program have decided to press charges.
After the news spread, other cases of ghar wapsi conducted in recent weeks emerged, along the border between West Bengal and Jharkhand.
They include a new complaint filed by the missionaries of the Society Don Bosco operating at Baropahari (Jharkhand). According to Fr. Agapit Minj, at least 15 Christian families have been "reconverted" by the VHP.
The Church of Don Bosco Baropahari is the only Catholic church to work among the tribal population of the area, scattered in 73 villages. According to the church, at least 164 families have converted to Christianity in the last two years. "We do not baptize people like they do - explains Fr. Minj to Indian Express - we invite them to start coming to church, and to send their children to school and hostels. If people are spiritually and mentally convinced to embrace Christianity, then we baptize them".
Report Records at least 7,000 Christian Victims of Persecution in India in 2014
1/21/2015 India (UCA News) - At least five Christians, including an 11-year-old child, were killed and around 7,000 people experienced persecution during 2014, according to a new report that tracks persecution against Christians in India.
The Christian Persecution Report, released this week by the Mumbai-based Catholic Secular Forum (CSF), states that about 300 clergymen and Christian leaders were targeted in incidents of violence around the country last year.
The report's authors are critical of what they see as a swing toward conservatism and fundamentalism in India, a Hindu-majority country that is nevertheless wildly diverse.
"Some right-wing forces have become active since the pro-Hindu Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) took over the reins of the country," Joseph Dias, CSF's general secretary, told ucanews.com.
The report claims that roughly 273,000 minorities had been re-converted to Hinduism in one part of northern India's massive Uttar Pradesh state.
In October, Hindu fundamentalists attacked twelve Christian villagers in central India's Chhattisgarh state. Earlier in the year, 50 villages in the same district passed resolutions outlawing non-Hindu religious ceremonies.
These alarming problems have led the report's authors to label Chhattisgarh as India's worst place to live as a Christian.
"Such incidents prove that the right-wing forces in the country want to make India a Hindutva hub, and there is a hate campaign going on against the minorities in the country," CSF chairman Michael Saldanha told ucanews.com.
Saldanha said the government must ensure that Christians in India are safe from attacks and persecution. Instead, the report says, persecution often goes unrecorded because victims are too afraid to complain.
Samuel Jaykumar of the National Council of Churches in India said the government's lethargy in investigating persecution claims will see the problem persist.
"Incidents of persecution coming to light every now and then from across the country are very disturbing but we have to face the reality that this trend is going to continue due to the government's inaction against the attackers," he told ucanews.com.
"Christians in the country have a sense of fear since the BJP government took over. We are not panicked but worried."
The CSF report appealed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to take strong action against fundamentalism and to stop acts of persecution against the Christian community.
However, Modi is seen by many religious minorities as a Hindu nationalist who has stayed silent on the issue since coming to office last year.
For example, church leaders have pointed a finger at Hindu fundamentalists for a string of recent attacks on churches in Delhi, including last month's torching of Saint Sebastian's Church, which caused significant damage.
But Modi has not spoken out about the issue, despite appeals from Christian groups.
Muslims Outraged by French Publication Ravage Christian Communities Across Africa
Violent Muslim Mobs Burn Churches and Christian homes and Businesses, Leaving 20 Dead in Niger
NIGERIA - ISLAM
Archbishop of Jos calls on world not to forget those who suffer, urges action to stop Boko Haram
Jos (AsiaNews) - "Do not forget that we are here, that we are suffering, that many people have been killed, that many have become displaced, that they do not have a place to live. We need help and practical support to put an end to attacks," said Mgr Ignatius Kaigama, archbishop of Jos, Nigeria, who spoke to AsiaNews about the violence perpetrated by the Islamist group Boko Haram in the Central African nation.
The prelate said the world has to show more determination to halt the group's advance in Nigeria. For him, the international community has to show the same spirit and resolve it showed after the attacks in France.
His warning comes after three young female suicide bombers, one reportedly aged 10, killed 20 more people in Maiduguri and Potiskum.
The Nigerian army too has called for the intervention of the international community against Boko Haram, to avert further bloodshed like the incident on 3 January in the city of Baqa, in the northeast of the country.
When the Islamists raided the town, which is in Borno State, they killed hundreds and forced tens of thousands to flee. So far there is no final count, but more than 2,000 people have been already killed.
According to a Nigerian military, concerted action is needed to eliminate the evil of boko Haram. Similarly, UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon said he was appalled by reports of the killings in Baga and condemned what he called "the depraved acts of Boko Haram terrorists".
For the prelate, Boko Haram is growing. "They captured local governors. They are hitting their targets. They have increasingly sophisticated weapons. They have adopted different strategies to attack ordinary people" and use even girls and boys.
"Muslims in Nigeria do not support and do not encourage this type of violence," Mgr Kaigama noted. Many imams have spoken out on several occasions to condemn the attacks. They are "speaking in an increasingly loud and clear voice against Boko Haram, but we need greater determination to halt terrorism."
"The problem is not a clash between Christians and Muslims," the prelate explained. We have "an Islamist terrorist group that attacks anyone who stands in its way or does not work with them wholeheartedly."
In October, Nigerian authorities announced a possible cease-fire with Boko Haram terrorists, in connection with the possible release of more than 200 schoolgirls abducted in Chibok, in Borno, last April. The truce would have allowed the country to hold presidential and legislative elections in February.
However, the self-styled leader of the Islamist movement, Abubakar Shekau denied that any deal was in the works, and violence continues unabated.
Founded in 2002, the extremist group fought first against Western education. Loosely translated, in Hausa Boko Haram means "Western education is forbidden".
Since 2009, it has launched attacks and carried out military actions with the aim of creating an Islamic state.
Its operations have claimed thousands of lives, particularly in north-eastern Nigeria, targeting police and security forces. It has even attacked UN offices in the capital Abuja.
So far, at least three million people have been affected in various ways by Islamist violence. (DS)
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As the World Celebrated, Thirteen Christians in India Spent their Christmas in Jail
By ICC's India Correspondent,
1/8/2015 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) - While the rest of the world was celebrating Christmas by exchanging gifts and good wishes, several Christians in central India were forced to spend their Christmas in jail. Thirteen Christians, including three children and an eight-month-old infant, were falsely accused by Hindu radicals of blasphemy and were sent to jail in the Khandwa district of Madhya Pradesh on December 26th.
Rev. J. Divine of the Methodist Church in Khandwa, Madhya Pradesh told ICC, "The situation is very serious and the Christians of this region are frightened, as the authorities do not act on the cries of the minorities."
Thirteen Christians Spend Christmas in Jail
Mr. Shamlal, a Christian in Sukta Dam, hosted a Christmas celebration in his house in the Khandwa district of Madhya Pradesh where Geetanjali, Geetanjali's family, and ten other Christians were invited for the celebration. During a time of worship, three unknown men came and stood at a distance trying to take pictures and video footage of the Christmas celebration.
Sensing the trouble, the Christians went and inquired as to why the men were taking pictures and videos of their program without informing the host of this activity. Soon, more people joined the three strangers and started to threaten the Christians, accusing them of converting innocent tribal and poor people.
Shamlal, sensing the situation was out of control, asked all of the Christians who came to leave and return home. As the Christians were preparing to leave, they were chased by the mob of Hindus. The Christians immediately went into a house and locked themselves inside for protection. "Lord help us and protect us," was the prayer offered to God by Geetanjali, a young mother, as mob of now 400 Hindus surrounded the mud house where the Christians were hiding.
The growing mob threatened the Christians who were inside the house, demanding that they come out. Geetanjali told ICC that she heard the voices of the Hindu radicals shouting, "Come out of the house in five minutes; otherwise we will kill you. We will not spare you."
After fifteen minutes, police arrived and asked the Christians to open the door, saying that they would protect them from the mob. When they opened the door, the officers escorted them to the police station. To the shock of the Christians, a case had already been booked against them under Section 295 of India's Penal Code, popularly known as India's blasphemy law. The police refused to record the complaints from the Christians refused to hear what the Christians had to say regarding the incident. The police said, "What you want to say, say it in the court." The Christians stayed in the police station through the night as well as the next day. All thirteen, including an eight-month-old infant named Abhilasha, were sent to jail.
In total, the Christians spent five days in the jail, before they were able to post bail and were released on December 31st.
False Accusations Cancel Christmas
In a similar situation, Christians in Balisurah village, located in the Sundergarh district of Odisha, also spent their Christmas under awful pressure, as false cases were also booked against several pastors and Christians in the region. Pastor Joshua Das, a Christian leader from Raurkela told ICC, "We had to cancel 3 days of Christmas celebrations, as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) filed a case against seven people who were part of the organizing the Christmas celebrations."
"Beginning on the 25th, almost every day we had to go to police station," Pastor Das continued. "We have had to halt our normal worship service now. We do not know how long this will continue."
Mr. Yuvraj Vardhan, the Regional Secretary of FMPB (Friends Missionary Prayer Band), also told ICC that, "The Christians of this region are being targeted and threatened more frequently than normal by the Hindu radical groups." Mr. Vardhan went on to urge Christians to pray for the protection of Christian workers and the Christian community. He also expressed hope that both the police and media will take neutral positions.
The Time for Action is Now
Ever since Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came into power in May last year, Hindu radical groups have been emboldened and are carrying out outrageous acts of violence and persecution against Christians who are already a minority in India. The Sangh Parivar and its affiliate groups continue to threaten to hold large scale conversion ceremonies that forcefully convert Christians to the Hindu faith.
Despite India's laws officially protecting the freedom of religion, there have reportedly been thirty-one incidents of Christian persecution just in the month of December, 2014. Unfortunately, many more incidents go unreported for various reasons.
In December, ICC launched a petition calling on India's government to stop the attacks on India's Christian community, and they have already collected over 5,000 signature. Please consider adding your name to this petition and taking a stand for India's persecuted Christian community. To sign this petition, please click on this link: http://info.persecution.org/IndiaPetition.
As the Christian community in India continues to face this new wave of persecution, Christians worldwide must take action to call for the protection of their brothers and sisters in India.
Egyptian Christians Kidnapped in Libya Amid Escalating Violence
01/04/2015 Libya (Bloomberg) Masked gunmen in Libya kidnapped 13 Coptic Christian workers from Egypt, in the latest incident of religiously-motivated violence in the war-ravaged North African country.
The workers were taken from a residential compound in the coastal city of Sirte yesterday, Egypt's state-run Ahram Gate reported. The incident brings the number of abducted Egyptian Copts to at least 21 since last week. A Coptic couple was also found dead in the same city on Dec. 23.
Sirte is under the control of Islamist militants who oppose the internationally-recognized government of Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni, whose supporters include Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. Al-Thinni's government sought refuge in the country's eastern region after militias took over the capital Tripoli last year. Omar al-Hassi set up a rival government in the capital with the backing of the militants.
"It's definitely religiously-motivated," Mina Thabet, researcher at the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms, said by phone from Cairo. "Egyptian Christians are caught up in the middle of sectarian violence and chaos in Libya."
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Persecuted Christians: Their Struggle Is Also Ours
As Advent winds to a close, Christians around the world prepare to celebrate the birth of God. Every human heart should be gladdened by the tidings of comfort and joy that were revealed to poor shepherds two millennia ago. But some are particularly in need of hope and cheer. For persecuted Christians around the world, 2014 has been a trial by fire. This is by no means a new problem. Christ's followers have been persecuted since the time of the Apostles, but here in the West, we are sometimes inclined to forget that Christian martyrdom is not only (or even primarily) a historical phenomenon. Christians are being tortured and killed for their faith right now, on a daily basis. This happens across the Islamic world, from African countries likeSomalia, Eritrea and and Sudan, to the Maldives, a chain of Pacific Islands in which Christian worship (including weddings and funerals) is forbidden, and Christians are afraid to discuss their faith even with their own spouses and children. Secular dictatorships can also be brutally repressive, as in North Korea, where tens of thousands of Christians are held in labor camps for such "crimes" as owning Bibles and going to church. Survivors report that prisoners are frequently tortured or killed, and fed so little that nearly half die of malnutrition.
Most horrifying of all has been the treatment of Iraqi Christians. Hundreds of thousands of Christians fled in terror in front of ISIS militants with definite intentions to "cleanse" Iraq of Christianity. In a matter of weeks, the millennia-old Christian population of Iraq was decimated, and their prospects of return are bleak. Many centuries-old churches and places of pilgrimage have also been destroyed by ISIS. Many children are included among the Christians martyred by ISIS.
Reading these stories gives us a crippling sense of powerlessness. Persecuted Christians are spread all across the planet, and their social and political circumstances are widely diverse. How much can we really do? "Raising awareness" seems wildly inadequate to these dire circumstances, but there is no easy fix for the political circumstances that make life so unbearable (and violent death such a perpetual threat) for many of the world's Christians.
There are, perhaps, a few things we can do. There are organizationsthat make efforts to help persecuted Christians. In some cases, applying political pressure may also do some good. North Korea may not take calls from the US State Department, but India does.Staying informed really can help, insofar as it enables us to understand when Western pressure might make a difference.
Realistically though, we are frequently powerless to help those who suffer the most. Especially at Christmas, when we recall how God brought light and hope to those who dwelt in the darkness, we should embrace that helplessness in the face of evil by showing solidarity with Christians around the world. Don't stop reading just because the news is grim. Persecuted and murdered Christians should be remembered with honor, especially when they willingly give their lives as a witness to Christ. We should feel humbled to have such courageous co-religionists, and it should be our privilege to pray for these Christian communities in the midst of their intense trials.
This is especially important because, in a very real sense, their struggle is also ours. It's easy to feel removed from the problem of religious persecution abroad, given that the most egregious instances are far away and politically complicated. We shouldn't oversimplify, but we also should not allow specious secular reasoning
to obscure the real spiritual and religious dimension of this conflict. Christians aren't the only ones who are persecuted; Jews, for example, have long faced intense persecution abroad. But it isn't random happenstance that puts Christianity in the sights of tyrants and oppressors. Christians are hated for reasons that are central to the faith itself: their eagerness to evangelize, their refusal to deny Christ even in the face of extreme pressure, and their insistence on the intrinsic dignity of even the meanest human life. Militant Islamists don't appreciate that kind of resistance. Neither do secular despots.
That's all the more reason why we should. As we here in the West struggle to keep the faith in a hostile secular culture, Christians abroad are making much greater sacrifices. These souls truly understand what it means to "lift high the cross" in the face of brutal and often violent opposition. When circumstances prevent us from offering temporal relief, we can still acknowledge and broadcast the true spiritual dimensions of their struggle, which we also in our own way share. We know from firsthand experience how closed our world is to the angel's message of peace and love. Especially at Christmas, we should remember those who give up their livelihoods, their homes and even their lives out of fidelity to the truth.
Adama Christmas: The Baby Who Gained Christians Their Freedom in a Muslim Village
Father Alexis Ouedraogo is not just any priest. He lives in the diocese of Kaya, in Burkina Faso, and is responsible for a Catholic media and social communications apostolate. He also serves as director of the diocesan radio station, "Notre Dame Radio." Father Alexis, with his smile and desire never to give up in the face of difficulty, told Aleteia how he and his people are experiencing the approach of Christmas, and he recounted a curious event that occured last year on Christmas Day.
Father, what do you look forward to as Christmas approaches?
Our country, Burkina Faso, which means "the land of upright men", has gone through an important socio-political period. I am referring especially to the popular uprising that toppled the regime of President Blaise Compaore, freeing the population from terror, fear, and corruption, and from the silent dictatorship of a wolf dressed in sheep's clothing. Peace was seriously threatened during this revolution. Consequently, the gift that I look forward to at Christmas is peace, reconciliation, trust between families on the one hand, and on the other, between the citizens and the new leaders of the transitional government. I desire the peace contained in the words of the song of the angels: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men of good will."
Christmas is the mystery of God becoming one of us. What helps you to remember the meaning of this feast?
Christmas is the feast of the birth of a Child as a bridge between heaven and earth, as a bond between God and man, as a concrete sign of solidarity of God who hastens to rescue man. In short, it is the feast of God who comes to man to share most intimately in his condition and brings him his love. And so he invites us to do the same for one other. This sharing is what we try to live out in our own way, and according to our own circumstances on Christmas Day: food is prepared and shared between families, neighbors, friends and especially with the poor, the sick, the elderly, etc. It's nice to see the dishes run between the houses, carried by the children. I think this gesture gives us the best glimpse into the meaning of Christmas, as a feast of sharing and solidarity without limits and without borders. It enables us to see the presence of God who, without looking at the misery of Man, visits him in his insecurity and uncertainty.
What do you ask for in prayer?
First of all, I pray for peace in our country and in the world, because we are not an isolated island. Being closed only creates stagnant water gone rotten. I pray for the improvement of the living situation of thousands and thousands of children who leave school, their families, their parents and who daily risk their lives in the mines. Many of the children die there, in the workplace. Jesus was born at Christmas to draw us out of every form of poverty. It is not acceptable that the future of thousands upon thousands of children vanish in thin air because of poverty. But we can still do much to prevent this from happening. Therefore, I pray that the coming of the Child Jesus will give birth to a feeling of solidarity with these children in the hearts of all, because the Incarnation is a form of God's solidarity with a humanity, wounded by the poverty of sin.
Isn't there a story, an interesting event in your village linked to Christmas?
It's the story of little Adama Christmas, a Muslim child whose birth on Christmas Day last year allowed his village to encounter the Gospel. His father, who is a Muslim, is the village chief and is respected by all. He took a fourth wife about ten years ago, but they were unable to have children. A Christian woman, a friend of his wife, invited her to join her at the midnight Christmas vigil in the neighboring village. Secretly, the young Muslim woman decided to participate and asked Mary, the Mother of God, for the grace to have a child. And the following Christmas she gave birth to the little Adama Christmas! It should be highlighted that the village in which they live has a Muslim majority and, until last year, there was no possibility for Christians to buy land to build a church. They were forced to pray in secret.
Curiously or miraculously, her husband, when he became aware of what had happened, told everyone the story. But more importantly, he donated a piece of land in his village to the Christians. Soon afterward he met the bishop and told him that he was willing to allow the Gospel to enter their village for those who wanted to receive and live it. And so this year, for the first time in the history of the village, Christmas will be celebrated in a church. Jesus is the bridge between God and man. So, too, little Adama Christmas was a bridge between Muslims and Christians in his village.
Night of Christmas Caroling Turned to Terror by Hindu Radicals in India
NORTH KOREA: GETTING 'THE ATTENTION ITS PEOPLE SO DESPERATELY NEED'
11 December 2014
The UN Commission of Inquiry also labelled North Korea's treatment of Christians a crime against humanity, recommending that North Korea be referred to the International Criminal Court. The first step of this process was implemented on 18 November, when 111 nations voted at the UN General Assembly for its referral.
EXECUTED FOR DISTRIBUTING BIBLES
Those who practice a religion in North Korea do so knowing full well that they could be sent to prison for saying grace at meals and executed for possessing a Bible.
In 2009, two women, Seo Keum Ok and Ryi Hyuk, were executed for distributing Bibles. They were accused of having connections with the US and South Korea and were charged with spying and being Catholic. Three generations of the women's families were also arrested and sent to prison camps, highlighting North Korea's three-generation guilt policy.
If a married person is accused of practicing religion his or her spouse will often seek divorce in a bid to save the wider family from punishment.
Religious groups were also targeted for particularly harsh treatment in prison camps. The APPG heard how Christians were 'forced to stick out their tongue and iron was pushed into it'. Another woman, arrested for her faith, was 'assigned to pull the cart used to remove excrement from the prison latrines. Several times the guards made her lick off excrement that had spilled over in order to humiliate and discipline her'.
Far from being a secret, religious persecution in the North Korea is widely known. According to a study by the the Database Centre for North Korean Human Rights, 99.7% of refugees interviewed said there is no religious freedom. Of those who had experienced, witnessed or perpetrated religious persecution, 45.5% were Protestant, 0.2% Catholic, 1.3% Buddhist, 1.7% no religion, 1.1% 'others' and the beliefs of 50.3% were unknown.
'WE KEPT OUR FAITH'
Despite incredible persecution, thousands of North Korean believers continue to follow Jesus. Chin-Hwa* says: "My parents were secret Christians and when we were discovered we were forcibly moved. We had to live long years and suffer from the hardest labours. However, we kept our faith even under this hellish persecution. It was only possible because we had the word of God's promise warmly penetrating within our spirits."
Open Doors has been working in North Korea for many years. We help Christians survive by supplying them with food, medicines, clothes and other essentials. Without our support many Christians will simply starve to death. We also support believers by distributing Christian materials and giving Biblical training to North Korean Christians living temporarily in China.
*name changed for security reasons
Source: World Watch Monitor; Database Centre for North Korean Human Rights
Boko Haram Expands Islamic Caliphate at Cost of Christian Lives
Boko Haram, a radical Islamic insurgency bent on establishing a separate Islamic state in northern Nigeria, declared an Islamic caliphate in August over the corpses of dozens of Christians slaughtered for their faith. One of the deadliest organizations in the world, Boko Haram is responsible for the deaths of more than 13,000 Nigerians, including more than 1,700 Christians this year alone. Considering supporting ICC's efforts to restore Nigeria's broken Christian communities by donating to our Hand of Hope Africa Fund.
12/08/2014 Nigeria (Morning Star News) - Islamic extremists from Boko Haram killed 11 people and kidnapped 20 women as they attacked predominantly Christian Lassa in northeastern Nigeria state last week, the third town a three weeks that the terrorist group claims as part of its caliphate.
The Boko Haram insurgents, who seek to impose sharia (Islamic law) throughout Nigeria, invaded Lassa in southern Borno state on Wednesday (Dec. 3), sources said. Survivors who escaped the carnage and arrived at Jos told Morning Star News that the Boko Haram gunmen initially stormed the town on Nov. 29 but were repelled, then returned on Wednesday, destroying church buildings and homes.
"As it is now, Boko Haram is fully in charge in Lassa town and has declared the town a caliphate," one of the escapees from Lassa told Morning Star News. He declined to give his name, saying, "It is no longer safe for us to tell you our names, as doing so may pose a serious threat not only to us but also our relations who are still being held captive by Boko Haram members."
Church buildings destroyed in Lassa, in the Askira-Uba Local Government Area, include that of the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria (EYN), the largest denomination in Borno state.
In Shani, also in Borno state, Boko Haram militants began an attack on Nov. 29 after taking control of Chibok on Nov. 14, forcing hundreds of thousands of people to flee the predominantly Christian towns. The Nigerian military announced that it had retaken Chibok with the help of vigilantes on Nov. 16, but residents insist that Boko Haram gunmen are still in control of the town.
Boko Haram has declared all three towns part of an Islamic caliphate, with captured Christians either killed or forced to embrace Islam, survivors told Morning Star News.
In the predominantly Christian town of Shani, Boko Haram killed scores of people as thousands of others fled, survivors from the area said.
Protests Against Attacks on Christians Breakout in India's Capital
Following several criminal acts of violence against the Christian community of New Delhi, India's capital, Christians from all denominations have joined together in a protest for justice. The string of violence began with the burning of St. Sebastian's Church on December 1. Although the burning is still under investigation, many believe the fire was caused by arson. After the burning of St. Sebastian's, a covenant was broken into by unknown persons. That break-in was followed by stones being thrown through the windows of another church during a worship service. Many feel that these incidents are connected and targeted against New Delhi's Christian community.
12/10/2014 India (Morning Star News) - Christians in New Delhi, unaccustomed to religious hostilities more common in remote areas, erupted in protest as violence hit the capital last week.
Church leaders wrote to national officials as the Advent season brought three disturbing incidents, including an apparent arson attempt. The interior of one of the larger church buildings in the Archdiocese of Delhi, St. Sebastian's Church in the Dilshad Garden area of New Delhi, was found charred on the morning of Dec. 1.
"The church was discovered burnt in the early hours of Monday morning," said Dr. John Dayal, secretary general of the All India Christian Council. "The congregation of the church worshipped in the building the previous Sunday, welcoming the season of Advent."
The entire interior of the church building, including the altar, a Bible and a cross, were reduced to ashes.
"Normally, in churches, there is a distance of about 20 feet between the altar and the pews, but the entire area was burnt," said the Rev. Vijayesh Lal, national director of the Religious Liberty Commission of the Evangelical Fellowship of India. "The burning is so thorough that nothing remains except the outer structure. This could not have been done except by design. Plus there was reportedly the stench of kerosene sensed all over the church. Foul play cannot be ruled out."
Christian leaders said police response was lax. Attorney Jenis Francis, president of the Federation of Catholic Associations of Delhi, told media that the Station House Officer (SHO) of Dilshad Garden police station was dismissive.
"The SHO didn't record any statements of the people present, and before we could press for more details, he went away," Francis said. "The ACP [Assistant Commissioner of Police] later declared that it was not a short circuit, but indeed, clearly a case of mischief."
A makeshift protest immediately materialized near the building, with more than 3,000 people in attendance by evening; they stayed late into the night in a candlelight vigil.
Archbishop of Delhi Anil Couto sent a memorandum to Prime Minister Narendra Modi as well as to Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, calling on them to urgently order a judicial enquiry.
"The arson in St. Sebastian's church was condemnable not just because it was an act of sacrilege and hate against the community and its faith, but that it could happen in the national capital which is just recovering from a series of communal incidents," Cuoto wrote.
Christians from various denominations and others took to the streets on Dec. 2 to protest the burning. More than 5,000 people surrounded police headquarters near ITO Square, blocking traffic during peak hours, as a sign of protest and anguish. The protestors sang hymns and chanted, "We want Justice" as a delegation of Christian leaders met the commissioner of Delhi.
Later a delegation of Christian leaders also met the Lt. Governor of Delhi, Najeeb Jung, who assured the delegation of "zero tolerance against targeted and communal violence in the national capital."
The Delhi Catholic Archdiocese later that day issued a statement: "The burning of the church has created a sense of insecurity, and the government has to show by its action that it is concerned and will ensure security of all minorities in their motherland, especially the small Christian community which has been living peacefully for 2,000 years."
The Delhi government constituted a Special Investigation Team (SIT) under Joint Commissioner of Police Ravindra Yadav. Home Minister Singh told the Lower House of Parliament that the SIT will release its report within two months.
As protesters surrounded police headquarters on Dec. 2, a Roman Catholic convent in the Rohini area of New Delhi reported a break-in. Closed Circuit TV camera's captured four men breaking into the convent around midnight on Dec. 2, according to the report.
No damage was reported, but the convent staff alerted police.
On Saturday (Dec. 6) in the Jasola area of New Delhi, unidentified people pelted Our Lady of Fatema Church with stones during mass at about 6 p.m., damaging windows and causing the Syro-Malabar Catholic congregation to rush out in alarm.
A member told media that after the Dilshad Garden church fire the congregation felt especially threatened, and Archbishop Kuriakose Bharanikulangara of the Faridabad-Delhi Syro-Malabar Catholic Diocese reportedly said that although no one was injured, parishioners were "anxious."
Police registered a First Information Report against unknown persons.
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Christian Family Lured to Public Beating in India
12/1/2014 India (Morning Star News) - Hindu extremists in Odisha state on Oct. 25 summoned a Christian family to a public meeting for a "compromise" on religious conflict but instead beat them nearly unconscious, sources said.
Irma Markami and four members of his family received hospital treatment for eight days after the attack, which came 10 days after nearly all the villagers from Gumkaguda, Malkangiri beat them for refusing to renounce Christ.
The Hindu extremists who summoned the Christian family to the "compromise" meeting told them they were "not to talk and to promise to do whatever they were asked to do." Soon after the meeting started at noon, with Christian leaders and village officials present, the Hindu extremists attacked Markami, his wife and three sons, said area pastor Vijay Purusu, who attended the meeting.
"In front of our eyes, they mercilessly beat up the Christians – kicking them, they pushed them down to the ground, stomped on them and beat them up with clubs and their hands," Purusu told Morning Star News.
As they assaulted the family, which belongs to the Calvary Gospel Mission Moment Church, the Hindu villagers shouted that there was no place for Christians in the village and that they were going to wipe them out.
"The attack lasted for about one and a half hours, and by the time they were rushed to the hospital, the Christians were barely conscious," another area church leader, Narendra Gachha, told Morning Star News.
About 10 area Christian leaders at the meeting managed to escape and ran to the Potteru police station. Officers arrived at the site followed by two ambulances. The five severely injured Christians were rushed to the district hospital.
They sustained injuries on their heads, faces and hands and abrasions and bruises all over their bodies, church leaders said.
The meeting in which the ambush took place had been called after a previous attack drove the Christian family and other relatives out of the village in Odisha, formerly called Orissa state. At about midnight on Oct. 15, a large mob of Hindu extremists beat Markami and his family, told them to renounce Christ and later burned their house when the Christian refused to deny Christ, Gachha said.
"Almost all the villagers, including women, turned up, verbally abused them for their faith in Christ, pushed, kicked, beat them with their hands and clubs, and hurled stones at them and then burned up their house" he said.
That night, Markami, his wife, three sons, their wives and six grandchildren fled the area and took shelter with relatives in another village. Their house, along with household goods, were destroyed, Gaccha said.
Markami and his family began following Christ in 2004. Since then, the extremists have socially boycotted them, threatened to harm them if they do not renounce Christ and beat them occasionally, reported the Evangelical Fellowship of India.
Police registered a First Information Report against the attackers, but at press time no arrests had been made.
Somalia's al-Shabab kills 28 non-Muslims in Kenya
11/22/2014 Kenya (Washington Post)-Somalia's Islamist extremist rebels, al-Shabab, attacked a bus in northern Kenya at dawn Saturday, singling out and killing 28 passengers who could not recite an Islamic creed and were assumed to be non-Muslims, Kenyan authorities said.
Nineteen men and nine women were killed in the bus attack, said Kenyan police chief David Kimaiyo. Al-Shabab claimed responsibility for the killings through its radio station in Somalia, saying it was in retaliation for raids by Kenyan security forces carried out last week on four mosques on the Kenyan coast.
Kenya's military said it responded to the killings with airstrikes later Saturday that destroyed the attackers' camp in Somalia and killed 45 rebels.
The bus traveling to the capital Nairobi with 60 passengers was hijacked about 30 miles from the town of Mandera, near Kenya's border with Somalia, said two police officers who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were ordered not to talk to reporters.
The attackers first tried to wave the bus down, but it didn't stop. The gunmen then sprayed it with bullets, police said. When that didn't work, they shot a rocket-propelled grenade at it, the officers said.
The gunmen took control of the vehicle and forced it off the road, where they ordered all the passengers out of the vehicle and separated those who appeared to be non-Muslims — mostly non-Somalis — from the rest.
Douglas Ochwodho, one of the passengers, told the Associated Press that the non-Somali passengers were then asked to recite the Shahada, an Islamic creed declaring oneness with God. Those who couldn't recite the creed were ordered to lie down and were shot.
The plight of Christians in Turkey, ahead of Pope Francis' visit
Since the beginning of the Iraq war in 2003, and especially since the eruption of the Syrian civil war in 2011, Turkey has become the destination—or passage way—for hundreds of thousands of refugees.
Many of these are Christians from Iraq and Syria, and many are young, single people, prepared to take great risks. In early November, a boat carrying illegal migrants from Turkey to Bulgaria capsized just after coming through the Straits of the Bosporus, on their way to Bulgaria.
The bulk of refugees end up in Istanbul, the vast metropolis capable of absorbing so many peoples. "It is difficult to know exactly how many Christians there are, since neither the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) or the Churches themselves keep any sort of head count according to religious affiliation. We welcome all those who are in need and come to us," Bishop François Yakan, the patriarchal vicar for the Chaldeans of Turkey, told international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need
Most of the refugees are dreaming of a new start in Europe or the US. But that can take a very long time. Meanwhile, in Turkey refugees have no official right to work. "Sometimes they have to wait for years, and it is terrible for families who have been scattered and dispersed to the four corners of the earth. I cannot resolve all the situations," said the bishop, who works closely with the UN, the Turkish government and both domestic and international humanitarian associations.
The main countries offering visas are the United States, Canada and Australia. Europe has closed its doors, except in very exceptional circumstances, as happened this summer (2014) when France and Germany opened their doors to Christians and Yazidis forced out ISIS from Mosul and other cities on the Nineveh Plane.
Amer Bahnan has come here from Mosul with his family. They arrived 18 months ago. "Life had become impossible for my family in Iraq. I went to Syria first of all, then to Lebanon and finally came to Turkey." Amer has had four heart operations. "We have been living on the road since 2008… We no longer know where to go now. In Iraq everything was taken from us, stolen; we no longer have a house; no money, no dignity, nothing."
Most of the refugees live in the suburbs, outside the city center, crowded into rented apartment blocks, in units shared by many families—often in unhygienic conditions. A woman tells her story: "I am a widow, with my five children. We left Duhok 16 months ago. My application has just been rejected by the American Embassy." She now wants to try to go to Canada, where her brothers are already living. None of the family is left in Iraq.
Resident Christians do not fare much better.
There are believed to be only 100,000 Christians permanently living in Turkey, a very small fraction of the country's total majority Sunni Muslim population of 75 million. The Christian share of the population was once much larger, but their numbers were cut down during the Armenian genocide and the mass killings of Syriac Orthodox Christians between 1895 and 1915, when several million faithful perished. Today, there are still thousands of churches and monasteries scattered across the countryside—many of them ruined and abandoned.
Christians in Turkey today are regarded as ‘foreigners' in their own country, although there is freedom of worship. In recent years several Catholic and Protestant clergy have been murdered and in 2007 Hrant Dink, a Turkish journalist of Armenian background, was assassinated. An advocate for the country's acknowledgement of the genocide of the Armenians, he was an activist on behalf of minority rights in Turkey. A significant portion of the Turkish public still suspects Christians of wanting to destabilize the nation.
This article, written by Sébastien de Courtois, was reprinted courtesy ofAid to the Church in Need.
KENYA: PASTOR KILLED IN RIOTS
20 November 2014
At least three men, including a local pastor, have been killed by Muslim youths in riots in Mombasa. The attacks took place on 17 November, and appear to have been in revenge for police raids on two mosques earlier that day.
Ten young men armed with machetes and other crude weapons attacked people who were waiting at bus stops in the Kisauni slums, which are known for being a hotspot for radical Muslim activities. Pastor Joshua Muteti was killed by a blow to the back of the head in front of his wife and three other women; the women were unharmed.
Witnesses told the local newspaper, the Daily Nation, that the youths ordered their victims to recite the Muslim profession of faith during the attack. "They were chanting Islamic songs and carrying the black 'Al Shabaab' flag... they asked for people's names before attacking those deemed non-Muslim."
Fanuel Mogesani, who was injured, said, "I was surrounded by a group of men. They told me to say their prayer, but since I am a Christian, I could not. That is when I felt something like metal hit my head."
One of the mosques raided by the police is barely 200m away from the Majengo Salvation Army Church that has suffered two arson attacks following the killings of prominent Muslim clerics. Open Doors spoke to church leader Major Robert Nzioka to find out if they have been affected by the recent events.
"Thank you very much for your concern. Things are tense here but we are fine," Robert said. "There are many police officers guarding our premises. Please pray with us that we do not suffer any retaliatory attack."
Source: BBC; Open Doors; Daily Nation
Christian Community in India Attacked by Mob of Over 100 Hindu Radicals
11/19/2014 India (Asia News) - A crowd of more than 100 Hindu extremists have attacked and beaten a Pentecostal Christian community in Udumalpet, the southern state of Tamil Nadu. The attack took place on November 16 and was confirmed to Asia News, by the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC).
The Rev. K. A. Sathis, pastor of Konkal Marthoma Church, and four faithful are hospitalized in serious condition. Some attackers even followed the victims to the hospital, threatening them and attacking them a second time.
Before breaking into the church, where the community was holding a prayer service, the radical group destroyed more than 20 vehicles parked in Church yard. Once inside, the militants attacked those present, desecrated the altar, burned the Bibles and broke musical instruments.
Sajan K. George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) has already asked for protection for the Christian community of the state from the National Commission for Human Rights, the chief minister of Tamil Nadu and the Minister of Interior of the Central Government of India.
Twenty Five People Evicted from Village in Laos After Refusing to Deny Christ
11/16/2014 Laos (Asia News)-Six Hmong Christian families have been forced to leave their village in central Laos after refusing to renounce their faith, this according to family friends and other members of their ethnic group.
The six families, consisting of 25 people, were driven out of their homes in Ko Hai village, in Khamkeut district, Borikhamxay province, because they would not revert to their ancestral faith. Most residents in the village and neighbouring towns practice traditional religion.
Local sources state that local authorities never accepted the decision of the six families to embrace Christianity and sought every way to have "them revert back to animism".
Witnesses report that village leaders had two men from Hmong families arrested in July and held for at least a month, because they refused to renounce their Christian faith.
Between late August and mid-September, local authorities evicted the Christians and seized their homes; however, the story only emerged recently as a result of anonymous complaints by locals.
The six families in question were moved to the village of Hoi Keo, also in Khamkeut District, near the town of Lak Sao.
The situation was made that much worse by the death of one of the elders, the 62-year-old patriarch of one of the families, shortly after he was forced out of his ancestral home and village.
Because of forced relocation, the Christians lost their old homes, land and the few assets at their disposal.
Mob Burning of christian couple prompt criticizm of Pakistan blasphemy law
In the wake of gruesome news that a young Pakistani couple were burned alive by an angry crowd for allegedly desecrating the Islamic holy book, there are stronger calls for international pressure on Pakistan to get rid of its "blasphemy law."
According to reports, Shahzad Masih, 26, and Shama Masih, 24, who was four months pregnant, were kidnapped and held hostage by a Muslim mob near Lahore in Punjab province. Shama allegedly burned pages from the Quran. On Tuesday morning, they were pushed into a brick kiln, where they perished in the fire. The couple's lawyer, Sardar Mushtaq Gill, a human rights defender, told Fides, the news agency of the Pontifical Mission Societies, that local Christians called the police, who intervened and arrested 35 people. But they could not save the couple.
It is the second high-profile case in less than a month in which the 30-year-old blasphemy laws were invoked. On Oct. 16, the Lahore High Court upheld a death sentence for Asia Bibi, a Christian mother of five, who was accused of insulting the Prophet Muhammad. She is the first woman condemned to death for blasphemy in Pakistan.
"The sad truth is that blasphemy laws have been the cause of too much violence," said Chris Smith, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee's subcommittee on human rights. "I welcome Prime Minister Sharif's statement that the burning alive of a Christian couple this week was ‘an unacceptable crime' and the recent arrest of 50 people in this case. The Prime Minister has pledged that Pakistan will ‘act proactively to protect its minorities from violence and injustice,' so we look forward to concrete action by his government, including the full repeal of Pakistan's blasphemy law and justice for those who have suffered because of this law. Three years after the assassination Shahbaz Bhatti, the Christian Minister for Minority Affairs, those responsible have still not been brought to justice, and Asia Bibi remains in prison, sentenced to death, after she was accused of blasphemy in a local dispute over property damage and water use."
"International pressure to reform and eventually eliminate Pakistan's dangerous blasphemy law — which inflames feelings of religious offense and legitimizes death and harsh punishment for those accused of blasphemy — is needed," said Nina Shea, a leading American religious freedom expert. "Since the 2011 assassinations of Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti and Punjab Governor Salman Taseer for criticizing the blasphemy law, no political figure in Pakistan dare raise his voice. The blasphemy law has become a license to kill."
Shama Masih was cleaning the house of her recently-deceased father in law, burning some personal items, including sheets of paper she considered useless. A Muslim man witnessed the action and claimed that pages of the Quran were among the papers burned. He spread the word in the surrounding villages, and a crowd of over 100 people took the two young people hostage.
"It is a tragedy, a barbaric and inhumane act," Gill told Fides. "The whole world must strongly condemn this incident, which shows how insecurity in Pakistan has increased among Christians. An accusation is enough to be victims of extrajudicial executions. We will see if anyone will be punished for this murder."
Dominican Father James Channan, director of the "Peace Center" in Lahore, a research center engaged in interreligious dialogue, pointed out that Shama Masih was "totally illiterate," and thus might not have known if she was burning pages from the Quran or some other text.
"No witness has come that she burnt the pages from the Holy Quran and there is no proof of any pages burnt," Father Channan said in an email exchange with Aleteia. "It was a self-made religious drama directed by the owner of the brick kiln. Now the realities are coming to the surface in our newspaper and other social media that the accusations were all false. What a tragedy."
Which raises another point: the abuse of the laws "That is a big concern and issue since almost all the times these laws are misused by the fanatic Muslims to settle personal scores and animosity," Father Channan said. "People take these laws as a shortcut to kill the other and or make him/her leave his business and run for safety."
NIGERIA: CHRISTIANS TORTURED AND KILLED IN MUBI
06 November 2014
Boko Haram have raised their flag over Mubi, Adamawa State's second largest town and commercial hub, after seizing it on Wednesday 29 October. They have renamed the town 'Madinatul Islam', which means 'City of Islam'. "The situation for believers trapped in Mubi is too terrible for ears to hear," writes Open Doors researcher Isaac.
Some who managed to escape Mubi told Isaac that Boko Haram are burning churches and forcing trapped Christians to convert to Islam. Many who refused to convert are being tortured in an effort to make them renounce their faith in Jesus, and a number of them have been stoned to death.
Those fleeing Mubi face difficult conditions on the road. Gift Ugo told Vanguard, a local newspaper, that she ran into the bush during the attack where she spent four days without food. She survived by drinking water from streams.
Another, Rebecca Teri, told Vanguard, "We started running and in the process, I lost contact with my husband and seven year old daughter." She has still not found them.
Many of the refugees have headed to Yola, but the mood there is sombre. Boko Haram have threatened to capture the town, which is causing great fear. Others are trying to escape to Cameroon.
COURAGE AND STRENGTH
Open Doors workers were recently able to visit the Minawao refugee camp in Cameroon, where 16,000 Nigerian refugees are housed. There are 3,000 Christians in the camp who meet together for worship in makeshift shelters.
We were able to encourage believers there, and they said it gave them courage and strength to know that people would travel long distances to comfort them. We will be supporting them with emergency relief and trauma counselling.
Source: Open Doors; Vanguard; IRIN; BBC
A Pakistani Christian Couple Burned Alive for Alleged Desecration of Quran
Shahzad Masih, 28, and Shama Bibi, 25 and pregnant, were killed in Kasur, Pakistan
11/04/2014 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) - A Christian husband and wife were beaten and then burned to death by a mob of angry Muslims at a brick kiln in Kasur, Pakistan. Incited by Islamic clerics who claimed the couple had committed blasphemy against Islam by burning pages of the Quran, the couple was taken hostage for three days before being violently killed early on Tuesday, November 4.
Mr. Shahzad Masih, 28 and Mrs. Shama Bibi, 25, used to work under the supervision of Mr. Muhammad Yousaf Gujjar, the owner of the factory, according to the facts collected by an ICC representative who visited Kot Radha Kishan in the Kasur district on Tuesday.
"On November 1st, the couple was locked up at the owner's office. They were tortured for three days and then accused of desecrating the Quran," Haneef Masih, 25, a local Christian, told ICC. "The clerics made announcements though the mosque's amplifiers and instigated the Muslims to kill the blasphemers," he continued.
The mob of more than 100 people, according to the BBC, came and violently took the couple from the room where they had been held. The mob stoned the Christian couple, tied them to a vehicle and dragged them to the brick kiln where they were burned alive, according to a local source.
While police did not take action to prevent the killings, they have reportedly detained 35 people for questioning regarding the incident, according to Breitbart. Mr. Shahbaz Sharif, Chief Minister of Punjab province has constituted a three-member committee to investigate the killings of the Christian couple.
Pastor Sardar Masih Gill confirmed that the couple had four children and that Shama was a few months pregnant with a fifth child. There were approximately 10 - 12 other Christian families working in the factory who have since left the area for security.
International Christian Concern
More violence in Chhattisgarh: 40 Hindu radicals attack a Christian community
by Nirmala Carvalho
Mumbai (AsiaNews) - "We demand the immediate arrest of the Hindu radicals responsible for the brutal and unprovoked attack against 12 innocent Christians", made on October 25 in Chhattisgarh. This is Sajan George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christians(GCIC) demand of State Authorities, following yet another assault dictated by false accusations of forced conversions.
The attack took place in the village Madota in the district of Bastar, where in recent months there have been numerous incidents of anti-Christian persecution. On the 26th a small group of believers had scheduled a meeting with officials of the local administration. Together they were to discuss a High Court appeal by Christian groups in the area of Bilaspur against the ban on Christian missionaries issued in some villages of the district.
The district officials and the superintendent of police did not show up. Instead, about 40 activists of the Bajrang Dal (youth wing of the radical Hindu movement of the Sangh Parivar) appeared. They attacked the Christians present with sticks and knives, accusing them of practicing forced conversions.
Nowhere to Lay Their Heads: Christians in Iraq Face Uncertain Future
Tens of thousands of refugees in northern Iraq are facing a winter living in tents or unfinished concrete buildings.
Humanitarian aid organizations, local governments and NGOs are doing what they can to keep internally displaced persons warm, healthy and well-fed, but the task is huge, and some people on the ground say a humanitarian crisis looms.
"It's very dire. It's not going to improve very soon. Conditions are deteriorating. People are in desperate need for help, and the government of Iraq has not helped in any way," said Joseph T. Kassab, founder and president of the US-based Iraqi Christians Advocacy and Empowerment Institute. "Winter is really fierce in Iraq. Lot of people living in shelters or in the open."
Kassab, whose brother is Bishop Jibrael Kassab of the Chaldean Church in Australia and New Zealand, was himself a refugee from Iraq in 1980.
It is estimated that there are 120,000 Christian refugees in the Iraqi Kurdish capital of Erbil, living in schools, churches, monasteries and parks after they were forced from their homes in Mosul and other cities of the Nineveh Plain over the summer by forces of the Islamic State group.
Natalia Prokopchuk, spokeswoman in Iraq for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, described several projects the UNHCR is working on to help internally displaced persons get through the winter, including the distribution of blankets and kerosene stoves. "We are also working to winterize tents where people are living, providing insulation to protect them from rain and snow and put insulation on the floors," she said.
But limited resources permit the agency to help only half of the IDPs. Also assisting, whether by building shelters or providing medical care or funding are several Catholic agencies: Aid to the Church in Need, Caritas, Catholic Near East Welfare Association, the Knights of Columbus, and Malteser International—as well as Iraqi-American organizations such as the Iraqi Christian Relief Council. Juliana Taimoorazy, the Relief Council's founder and president, said her organization is appealing to American companies to donate much needed pharmaceuticals and hygiene products for IDPs.
Because of a shortage of medicines, some people are dying of heart disease and diabetes, said Taimoorazy, an Assyrian Christian who found asylum in the West in the 1980s.
However the IDPs survive the winter, though, a question still remains in the minds of many refugees and those assisting them: "Do Christians have a future in Iraq?"
"They are really traumatized. I never experienced a people so depressed," said Father Andrzej Halemba, head of the Asia-Africa Department for Aid to the Church in Need, who visited Erbil recently. "They say, ‘There's no future for Christians here. This is the end. We are not going to survive.'"
Aid to the Church in Need is building a village for some 4,000 refugees to shelter for the winter and supporting the construction of eight schools in Erbil and Dohuk.
Father Halemba reports that 10 or so Christian families are emigrating from Iraq daily—a small number, perhaps, but not so small when seen in the light of a drastic reduction from some 1.5 million Christians in Iraq in 2003 to about 400,000 today.
Asia Bibi's sentence is heart breaking, may the world pray for her, says Islamabad bishop
by Jibran Khan
Lahore (AsiaNews) - After a hearing that lasted several hours, the Lahore High Court today upheld the death penalty sentence passed by a lower court against Asia Bibi, following her conviction in 2010 on blasphemy charges in 2010. Since then she has been on death row.
In Pakistan, many civil society groups have expressed solidarity towards the Christian mother of five, as well as strong concern about the court's decision, which came after five postponements.
Her lawyers vowed to appeal to the Supreme Court, the third and final stage in legal proceedings, hoping that the conviction will be overturned. In 2011, Punjab governor Salman Taseer, a Muslim, and Minority Affairs Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, a Catholic, were both murdered for coming to her defence.
For Mgr Rufin Anthony, bishop of Islamabad/Rawalpindi, the court's decision is "heart breaking".
In view of the situation, he calls on Christians around the world to "join us for a day of prayer for Asia Bibi and others accused of blasphemy."
Scores of violent incidents have occurred in recent years, against entire communities (Gojra in 2009, and Joseph Colony, Lahore, in March 2013), places of worship (Peshawar, September last year) and individuals ( Sawan Masih, Asia Bibi, Rimsha Masih and Robert Fanish Masih, who died in prison), often perpetrated under the pretext of the country's blasphemy laws.
Chinese Pastor Arrested During Government Crackdown 'Grateful to God' for Jail Opportunity
BY STOYAN ZAIMOV , CHRISTIAN POST REPORTER
October 13, 2014|12:50 pm
A Chinese pastor, one of several in recent months to be arrested in a massive government crackdown on Christians, said that he is "grateful" to God for giving him the opportunity to go to jail. Forty-year-old Huang Yizi is facing up to seven years in prison for speaking out against the government's demolitions of churches.
Huang was placed under arrest in August, The Telegraph reported on Monday, and was taken from his home in front of his wife and two children. He was charged with "gathering crowds to disturb social order."
A similar charge has been used to arrest other pastors, including Zhang Shaojie, in the wake of Chinese government officials ordering the demolition of a number of churches.
"He seems well. He is grateful that God has given him the chance to serve time in the detention centre," Beijing-based rights lawyer Zhang Kai said about Huang. The pastor is currently awaiting trial in the city of Wenzhou.
Zhang said that he believes his client is innocent of the wrongdoings he is accused of by the Chinese government.
"As a defense lawyer and judging from the evidence so far I don't think Huang's actions constituted any crime. Personally, I believe Huang's arrest is directly related to the general crackdown on churches in Zhejiang."
Huang had made a number of pointed remarks against the state, and had accused police forces of violently beating up members of a Wenzhou congregation that had been trying to protect a church's cross from demolition.
In one major crackdown in September, over 100 Christians, including children, were arrested in Foshan city in China's Guangdong Province. Close to 200 police officers were said to have stormed in during a service conducted in a house church, with worshipers calling it an effort to stop people from gathering and worshiping.
Members of the congregation revealed that the raid came without any warning, and that the police only left behind a notice explaining that people were arrested for an "illegal gathering."
"It is unbelievable that local authorities arrested over 100 church members, including children, in Foshan city. Even though most people have been released, the experience has been traumatizing," said ICC Regional Manager for Southeast Asia Sooyoung Kim at the time.
"ICC urges local authorities in Guangdong Province to respect its citizens' rights to religious freedom, that the government of China says are upheld, and free these innocent Christians as soon as possible."
Chinese human rights activist Chen Guangcheng suggested last week that the Chinese Communist Party is even more dangerous than terror group ISIS.
"I believe that we have underestimated the threat from the Communist regime like China. They are many, many times more dangerous than the terrorist groups out there. I believe the people will realize later this is true," Chen said, evoking other issues, such as the government's one-child policy that activists have said leads to forced abortions and other human rights abuses.
Coptic Families Forced to Pay "Taxes" to Muslim Clan in Egypt
Assiut (Agenzia Fides) — In the Egyptian village of al-Qusiya, 50 kilometers from Assiut, members of the Coptic families Fahmy and Azmy were forced to barricade themselves in their homes after a gang of extortionists attacked them for not paying "taxes" imposed on them by the Muslim clan of Ahmed Kamel Zaawila.
This week's episode represents the last serious development in a long line of intimidations suffered by the Copts in Qussiya by the Zaawila clan. At least twenty complaints lodged to the local police after the perpetration of similar cases — reports the Coptic Watani network — have fallen on deaf ears.
In this circumstance, the members of the Fahmy family have complained directly to the Minister of the Interior pro tempore, Muhammad Ibrahim. The concern among the Copts of the village increased after the clan leader Ahmed Zaawila phoned one of them, directly from prison, and ordered them not to lodge any other complaints, asserting that attempts to appeal to the local police would be useless.
The scourge of "taxes" imposed on Copts by Muslim extortionists is becoming alarming in Assiut, in the Upper Nile. "The victims of such harassment," explained Anba Kyrillos William, Coptic Catholic Bishop of Assiut, "are mostly wealthy Coptic families, whose members have earned a lot working in Kuwait or in other foreign countries. The criminals have no scruples because they find pseudo-religious justifications for their behavior, being convinced that it is permissible for a Muslim to steal the goods of Christians. Christians instead in some cases are uncertain whether to denounce the payment of taxes or to shut up and pay. The effect is that this type of crime increases. At the same time, in some cases it has been proved that the extortionists have paid bribes to some police officers in order to secure impunity."
Persecution continues in Laos as Christians are detained for meeting to pray
Vientiane (AsiaNews) - The head of Boukham village in Atsaphangthong district, Savannakhet province, together with top security and police officials, arrested Rev Sompong Supatto and six members of his congregations because they were exercising their right to religious freedom by praying at the clergyman's home.
As Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom (HRWLRF) reports, the incident occurred last Sunday morning in the same province where, in May, three Christian schoolgirls were not allowed to take exams at the end of the school year because of their faith. A few weeks later, in late June, a local village chief prevented the funeral and burial of a newly converted Christian woman.
According to local witnesses, the authorities raided the home as the pastor and six members of his congregations were having lunch, following Sunday morning service.
Detainees are in custody at a government building in the village of Boukham. Rev Sompong is handcuffed and shackled; the other six are not.
Since the Communists came to power in 1975, and the resulting expulsion of foreign missionaries, the Christian minority in Laos has been under strict controls, its right to worship limited.
In a country of six million people, most people (67 per cent) are Buddhist. Christians make up about 2 per cent of the total, 0.7 per cent Catholic.
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WHY SHOULD I CARE ABOUT NIGERIA?
24 September 2014
In the five years since the conflict began, an estimated 3 million people have been affected by Boko Haram attacks, which have included bombings, abductions and killings. In May last year a state of emergency was declared in three of the northern states, Yobe, Borno, and Adamawa, and this has been extended three times since then. Human Rights Watch says more than 2,000 civilians have been killed by Boko Haram this year alone.
Christians are in the minority in northern Nigeria and have regularly been targeted by the militants. "Dozens of our churches have already been completely razed down and many pastors killed while others have fled along with their members," Rev. Samuel Dali, President of the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria, has said.
CHANGE OF TACTICS
While Boko Haram used to operate a hit-and-run system of attack, in recent months they have begun to take and hold territory, declaring Gwoza the capital of their 'caliphate' (Islamic state). 178 churches around Gwoza have been destroyed. Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau, said at the end of August: "Allah commands us to rule Gwoza by Islamic law. In fact, he commands us to rule the rest of the world, not only Nigeria, and now we have started."
The Catholic Bishop of Maiduguri has said that Boko Haram now has control of 25 towns in the north-east of Nigeria. "As a nation we are almost losing this battle because it is spinning out of control," he said.
LIGHT IN THE DARKNESS
But in the midst of this great darkness, there is still a light that shines - the light of the gospel, shining through the church. While thousands have fled the states where the conflict is most fierce, many pastors have chosen to stay and serve these broken communities. Peter Wakawa, a pastor in Yobe state, is one of them. He told us, "We are living for the gospel and we have to hold on to Him. The lamp in our hands should never be extinguished."
As well as offering spiritual support, in many cases the church is also providing practical help for those affected by the ongoing violence; in Gulak, just 14 Christian families are caring for 300 children who have been orphaned or separated from their parents. One pastor in Maiduguri had 56 people turn to him for help after their village was attacked; he fed them for three days until he had nothing left to feed his own family.
Source: Open Doors; the Economist; BBC; the Times (South Africa)
PAKISTAN: WOMEN ROUTINELY ABDUCTED AND FORCED TO CONVERT
17 September 2014
Between 100 and 700 Christian women 'are abducted, converted to Islam, and married to the abductor or third party' every year in Pakistan, according to the Muslim NGO Movement for Solidarity and Peace (MSP).
In its investigative report 'Forced Marriages & Forced Conversions in the Christian Community of Pakistan', MSP explains that there is a pattern to many of these cases: the parents of a Christian victim file a police report, but the abductor's relatives or friends then file another police report on behalf of the abducted Christian woman, claiming that she wilfully married and converted to Islam, and that her parents are now 'harassing' her unlawfully.
WOMEN AFRAID TO TESTIFY AGAINST CAPTORS
When produced before the court and asked to testify, these women will often give a statement in favour of their captors because they fear for their lives, or those of their family. "In most cases, the girl remains in custody of the abductor while judicial proceedings are carried out," the report states.
The case of Nadia is given as an example of this. She was just 15 when she was abducted. "The safety of my parents was my main concern," she said. "I recorded that I wanted to live with my husband, and that I no longer had connection with my Christian parents. It was very painful to say this in court while my parents were present. But their safety was in my hands and I didn't know how to handle the matter."
After abduction, Christian women are subjected to 'sexual violence, rape, forced prostitution, human trafficking and sale, or other domestic abuse'. Nadia received death threats and was denied access to her family after her abduction. She was also subjected to physical violence and verbal and sexual abuse. She was confined for ten years and gave birth to five children before she was finally able to escape.
Christians make up just 2 per cent of the population of Pakistan, and are a struggling and marginalised group - about 80 per cent live in abject poverty, according to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom 2014 report. The BBC describes how being poor, female and Christian puts these women in 'triple jeopardy'. The small number and poor status of Christians makes the exploitation of Christian women relatively easy and crimes against them often go unpunished with impunity.
Albert David, the chairman of the Pakistan United Christian Movement, stressed that the government should take measures to stop forced conversion when he spoke to World Watch Monitor in June. He also appealed to the chief justice of Pakistan to take action if the government fails to introduce special measures.
Mosul, the Islamic State "bans Christians from school"
Ankawa (AsiaNews) - For the first time in history, Iraqi Christians who always had a "high standard of education" in the region, are being deprived of the right to study and cannot attend schools. This represents a further threat to the survival of the minority, not only in Iraq but throughout the Middle East, because there is not the risk that an entire generation "will not be educated", which is a "very bad sign". The warning comes from Msgr. Shimoun Emil Nona, Chaldean Archbishop of Mosul, in the north, the second most important city in the country and first city to fall into the hands of the militia of the Islamic State.
Interviewed by AsiaNews, the prelate confirms that "currently children from many of the refugee families" as well as "children who live in Christian areas" cannot start the school year. "There are about 700 schools scattered between Erbil, Ankawa and Zakkho - he explains - but they are hosting displaced people and are full. In other non-Christian areas the lessons have begun, but not here". Moreover in the areas occupied by the Islamic Caliphate the curriculum has been changed to promote Islam and the Koran.
Under the instruction of their leader the curriculum has changed to ban history, geography and literature; students must study Arabic and the Muslim religion and are forbidden to speak of the Republic of Iraq or Syria, only of the Caliphate.
An Mosul elementary school teacher of mathematics and Arabic states that "we are in 2014, but it seems have regressed 14 centuries." 95% of the 2,450 schools in the area - Mosul and Nineveh Plain - are in the hands of the Islamists, who have forbidden mixed classes and have closed the Faculty of Law, because "conventional law is no longer in force." Rigid rules, imposed by force, are increasingly arousing the impatience of the local population. If at first people saw them as liberators from a central government (under former Shiite Prime Minister al-Maliki) regarded as the oppressor, today 98% of the people - as reported by an academic in Mosul - "would like to see them gone as soon as possible" .
The archbishop of Mosul, who is also a refugee Ankawa, in Iraqi Kurdistan, cannot confirm this radical change of attitude towards the Islamic state and the distortion of the curriculum at the hands of the militia.
In the history of community, education has always been an "important anchor for us," says the Archbishop of Mosul, and as a Church "we are trying to rent as many homes as possible" to free schools and allow the resumption of classes . However, the operation is "very slow, because it is not always possible to find homes or housing is unavailable." Concluding, the prelate says however that there are some small signs of hope, "we rented a building with 56 apartments - he says - that can accommodate all the families who, at this time, are housed in a school in Ankawa" . Only one out of 11, he adds, while the goal is "free up at least two or three more." (DS)
Christians in Peshawar Remain Insecure One Year after the Bombing of All Saints Church
9/21/2014 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) - International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that the Christian community of Peshawar, Pakistan continues to feel insecure and under threat one year after All Saints Church was attacked by suicide bombers. This feeling of insecurity remains despite the Pakistani government's promises to provide security for the places of worship belonging to the country's persecuted religious minorities.
On September 22, 2013 at 11:45 a.m., two suicide bombers connected to the Pakistani Taliban detonated themselves outside the gates of All Saints Church. The church had just concluded its Sunday service and over 600 members were exiting the church when the bombs exploded. The resulting scene was that of mass carnage with shrapnel, body parts and blood littering the church compound.
"For the entire world, a year has passed, but for me it feels like it just happened," Ms. Fahmeda, a widow of a Christian killed in the bombing, told ICC. "I still remember and will never forget the smoke, the cries, the blood and the loss of my husband and hundreds of other Christians." When the dust settled, over one hundred Christians were killed in the attack and hundreds of others were severely wounded and required immediate medical attention.
The Jundallah group, an affiliate of the Pakistani Taliban, claimed responsibility for the deadly attack, labeling the wanton murder of Christians a "protest" to the U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan. The group's leader, Ahmad Marwat, promised attacks would continue until the U.S. drone strikes were halted.
In response to what has been termed the worst single attack on Pakistan's Christian community, Pakistan's Supreme Court pass a judgment suo motu that the government had to take more steps to protect religious minorities. As part of the 32-page judgment, Chief Justice of Pakistan Tassaduq Hassain Jillani said, "A Special Police Force [must] be established with professional training to protect the places of worship of minorities."
Since that judgment was passed down in June 2014, the Pakistani government has done little to secure the Christian minority or their places of worship. Father John William, a Catholic priest in Peshawar told ICC that his church has been unsatisfied with the security arrangements provided by the government for his church. "The Christian youth, therefore, performs as security guards voluntarily without proper equipment during the Sunday services," Father William told ICC.
"The government is not in the least bothered about religious minorities," Gulshan Bhatti, a member of the Awami National Party, told ICC. "Christians are still living under fear and feel threatened. Children do not like going to church or any other gatherings due to fear. The Christians of Peshawar were even too afraid to celebrate Christmas and Easter this past year."
China's Anhui Provincial Government Shuts Down Church-Run School
09/16/2014 China (ChinaAid)- Authorities in China's coastal Anhui shut down and demolished a private, church-run school in early September, claiming that certain equipment did not meet safety standards. The school later appealed in an open letter to Chinese president Xi Jinping.
Officials at Shunchang School, a private school in Fuyang, Anhui, founded by the Yingshang Church, received a notice from the Fuyang Department of Education on Aug. 28 stating that the school had until Aug. 31, the day before classes started, to shut down due to fire extinguishers and other equipments allegedly not meeting safety standards, or else they would face demolition.
In addition, authorities notified parents that the school was going to be shut down, according to Fang Han, the school's principal. However, on Sept. 1, students and teachers arrived at the school and proceeded to begin the school year as scheduled.
"The government officials have held a meeting and want to abolish our school," Fang said. "The first step they took is notifying the parents… that the school has been shut down… They told the parents not to send their children here. However, the parents still believe in the school and send their children here. Now, nearly 800 students have come to the school."
"They have all the licenses and meet the requirements of the state," a pastor familiar with the circumstances told China Aid on Sept. 1. "They also meet the requirements for fire protection. From sixth grade to middle school, high school, and the school for the associate degrees, they all use the government's system. They all use the government's textbooks."
The pastor also said that while the school is run by a church and most of the staff and students are Christians, the school doesn't turn away non-believers.
ICC, China Aid
Four Coptic Christians Taken Captive by Islamic Militants in Sirte, Libya Are Still Missing
09/13/2014 Cairo, Egypt (International Christian Concern) - Life in Libya has become extremely dangerous since the revolution that ousted Muammar Gaddafi. There is chaos in the Libyan streets and lives of Egyptian Christian workers are endangered every day.
Four Egyptians who were trying to return back to Egypt "were taken because of their religious identification; they were targeted because they are Christians," their family told International Christian Concern (ICC).
Islamic militant groups like Ansar al-Sharia (Partisans of Islamic Law) control Libya and threaten the lives of Egyptian Christians who often go to Libya in search of work. Seven Copts were executed earlier this year by militant members of Ansar al-Sharia.
No Path of Escape
On Monday, August 25, at 10:30 p.m. three Egyptian Christian brothers Gamal Matta Hakim, Raafat Matta Hakim, Romany Matta Hakim, and their cousin, Adel Sedky Hakim were abducted by masked gunmen as they attempted to return to Egypt.
Wagih Matta Hakim, the brother of three of those abducted, told ICC
They and three Egyptian Muslim workers found a Libyan driver to drive them to the Egyptian border. On their way to Egypt, as they passed Sirte City, a group of armed, bearded men wearing Libyan military clothes stopped the microbus. The militants asked the seven passengers to show them their passports, Wagih relayed to ICC. When they found out that there were four Christians among the seven passengers, they ordered the four Christians to get out of the microbus and told the Libyan driver and the three other Egyptians to leave.
When the driver asked the gunmen about the reason for taking the four Christians and what they were going to do with them, the gunmen did not answer him, but again told him to leave, threatening to kill him if he didn't leave.
The driver took the three Egyptian Muslims and fled, leaving the four Christians with the gunmen. The driver did not complete the trip to Egypt, but returned to Tripoli to try to help, Wagish said.
"One of the other Egyptians in the car was able to contact one of my cousins in Egypt and told us about what happened," Wagih told ICC.
"After we heard the news, my cousin called his brother who is still in Libya to check on the details," Wagih continued. "I have tried to call my brothers more times but their mobiles are shut off always and there is not any news about them."
INDIA: 600 ATTACKS ON MINORITIES IN 100 DAYS
10 September 2014
There have been 600 attacks on minority Muslims and Christians during the first 100 days of the new Indian government.
That's the claim of social activist Shabnam Hashmi. "Where is the freedom of religion guaranteed under the constitution?" she asks. "It is time for all to join hands and protest."
Shabnam is one of over 50 Christian leaders, lawyers and social activists who are seeking to draw attention to what they call a 'conspiracy' behind the violence. At a meeting in New Delhi, they announced plans to bring out a report detailing atrocities during the first 100 days of the new Hindu nationalist government. There will also be a a convention on minority rights on 2 October - the national holiday marking the birth of Mahatma Gandhi - and a public protest two days later in New Delhi.
On 30 August, a dozen pastors were illegally detained by the police on false charges of 'converting Hindus to Christians' at Surajpur village near Noida, on the border of New Delhi.
"With a crowd of protesters making a spectacle, police took into custody pastors from the regular prayer meeting," said Pramod Singh, a senior Christian lawyer who rushed to the spot. "When seven others reached the police station, they were also detained. The police even beat some of the pastors to please the mob."
"The police chief of the area even told us that 'this is a Hindu nation'. The police have changed colours with the change of government," said Singh.
Ten pastors were released late at night; the remaining two were held until the next day, despite Christian lawyers and leaders arguing with the police about the illegal detention. The police eventually conceded that the allegations were 'baseless' and that the people praying with the pastors were there entirely of their own volition.
Egyptian kidnappings of Christians continues
By: Todd Daniels, with ICC's Egypt Representative
09/08/14 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) - With the recent trend of increased kidnappings throughout Egypt, Talaat Sharobim received the one phone call every parent dreads receiving: on the other line his daughter, Christine, cries to him that she has been kidnapped and begs for him to save her. Before she could tell him who took her, the phone was permanently disconnected.
Taken Without Warning
Christine Talaat Sharobim, a young college graduate, lived with her family in Khaga City, located in the New Valley Governorate of Egypt. Recently graduating with her Bachelor's degree in Pharmaceuticals, Christine was planning on returning to school at the College of Pharmacy in Cairo. On Monday, July 14th, she submitted her paperwork for Graduate Studies and stopped by a small store to purchase a bottle of mineral water.
After her father received the call, he reported her abduction to the local police station near the university in Omrania. No investigation has been formally launched. There has been no contact between the kidnappers and the family. Gamil Samuel, Christine's relative, told ICC that as of August 21st she still had not been heard from.
A Trend in the Making?
This past year, Egypt has seen a rapid increase of kidnappings of Christians from their homes and communities. Christians throughout the Governorates in Egypt fear that these kidnappings are becoming a new and regular form of persecution the church must now face. Most frequently held for ransom, Christians are generally abducted in plain view, forced into cars by armed gunmen, and taken to a location until the ransom is paid. In some cases, the kidnappers are afraid of being caught, and release their victims. In other cases, even after the ransom is received, the victims are murdered.
Young girls such as Amira Hafez Wahib, who was taken right outside of her church, are usually kidnapped with the goal of receiving money from the family or forcing the girls to marry and convert.
As these kidnappings continue, the police force continues to show little efforts to help. A report from the Association of Victims of Abduction and Forced Disappearance estimates that more than 550 Coptic schoolgirls have been kidnapped since the Arab Spring revolutions in 2011. Most of these kidnappings, when targeted at young women, are often met with violence. Forced conversion and erasure of the Coptic minority tattoos on their wrists with acid are just two examples of the persecution these girls face.
These kidnappings don't just target young Christian girls, though. Other common victims of kidnapping are local Christian store owners in and throughout Cairo and other Egyptian governorates. Even men are taken from their stores, on the roads, or at church and held at gunpoint. They are beaten and threatened while their kidnappers demand ransom for their safe return. Their stories are becoming a familiar tale throughout Egypt, and the lack of response from the government is a striking reminder that the government has not protected them from the persecution they face.
ICC has documented nearly 70 such cases from 2014 alone, and the vast majority of them have seen very little response from authorities.
9/4/2014 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) - International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that 29 Christian and 2 Muslim men were accused of blasphemy in Chak (village) # 206, Tehsil Samandri, in district Faisalabad on Tuesday, September 2. Local police have registered First Information Report (FIR) # 316/14 against the 31 individuals at Mureedwala police station claiming the individuals violated 295-C, 506-B, 447, 148 and 149 of Pakistan's Penal Code.
According to reports gathered by ICC sources, the Christians of the area requested that a local politician grant them a piece of land to use as a cemetery. In response, to this request Mr. Ch. Muhammad Iqbal, a Muslim who is also accused in the FIR, allowed the Christians to make use of a specific piece of land for the cemetery.
Dr. Shamaun Bhatti, a local human rights activist, told ICC, "On September 2, 2014, when Christians were busy in manual work and leveling the ground for graves, Mr. Ashiq Hussain Qaiser, a Muslim and the complainant in the FIR, provoked the Muslims clerics to call the "faithful" against [the] Christians for insulting Islam." Dr. Bhatti went on to explain how Pakistan's often abused blasphemy laws were then used to level a false charge against the local Christians. "Several announcements were made using amplifiers at the mosques and provoked Muslims against the Christians [claiming they] bulldozed Muslims' graves which carried Islamic verses and religious symbols," Dr. Bhatti explained. "Soon the incident turned into a blasphemy allegation (295 - C, PPC) against Christians."
"For years and years, I have not seen any funeral taking place at this location [or] any grave or a single sign of a graveyard in that particular piece of land," Mr. Mubarik Masih, age 55 and a resident of the village, told ICC. "The accusing party just took advantage of this law to settle a personal score."
According to Muhammad Iqbal, the Superintendent of Police has made the amendment in the FIR. The police official has replaced the 295-C (blasphemy law) charge with charges under Section 297 of Pakistan's Penal Code, which is "trespassing on burial places." There are over 250 Christian families living in the village and many of them have abandoned their houses due to security concerns. Dozens of policemen have been placed in the village to keep control if situation turns into violence. Twenty of the twenty nine Christians accused in the FIR remain under arrest and others are in hiding for safety reasons, according to the local sources.
09/02/2014 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) - International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that Salem Matty Georgis, a 43-year-old Christian from Bartella [also Bartalah], Iraq was beaten to death for refusing to convert to Islam.
Georgis remained in the Syriac Christian town of Bartella after it fell under the control of ISIS on August 7. He "was suffering from heart disease and couldn't leave Bartalah with his family when the town [was] occupied by the terrorist Islamic State because of his illness," a relative told the Anakawa news site.
Georgis had remained in hiding in his home for three weeks, surviving only on what was left in his house. When everything was depleted he left his home in search of food, his relative continued. Apparently, he was confronted by an ISIS patrol in front of the Church of the Virgin Mary. "The patrol arrests him and tried to force him to convert to Islam, but he completely refused. Thus, the militants beat him and tortured him until he died in their hands," Ankawa reported.
"The massacres and abductions being carried out by the Islamic State provide harrowing new evidence that a wave of ethnic cleansing against minorities is sweeping across northern Iraq," said Donatella Rovera, Amnesty International's Senior Crisis Response Adviser in release of a report documenting the ethnic cleansing of and systematic targeting of Iraq's religious minorities.
More than 1.2 million people are believed to have been displaced since mid-June as a result of the advances of ISIS in west and central Iraq.
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ISLAM - THE WEST
The West should come back to Christ if it wants to defeat the terror of the Caliphate
by Piero Gheddo
Milan (AsiaNews) - The atrocities of the "Islamic Caliphate" in Iraq and Syria have shaken the West, which in its political-economic-religious-moral crisis is becoming more and more indifferent to what is happening in countries close to us and to the thousands of desperate refugees (about 100,000 since the beginning of the year) who found refuge in Italy.
Since ISIS (Islamic Caliphate of the Levant and West) was born, it has carved out for itself a large territory in Syria and Iraq through demonic and horrific violence against those who do not convert to Sunni Islam, forcing the United States and some European countries to intervene.
This is anti-Christian hatred but also hatred against the West and our way of life, which they see as a mortal enemy for Islam because it destroys the foundations of the Islamic religion: liberal economic development and welfare, democracy, human and women's rights, science and technology, universal literacy, freedom of the press and costumes, etc.
Islamic civilisation is founded on obedience to God (of course, the God of Islam), whilst Western civilisation is based on man who builds the future through his reason, his freedom, his rights. Our civilisation, which has deep Christian roots, believes it can do without God. Islam means dependence on God, while the West means (to those peoples) human development without God, secularism, practical atheism, "secular morality" (that is, "do-it-yourself" morality, the absolute primacy of individual conscience that ignores God and Jesus Christ, etc.).
If this brief analysis is correct, or at least plausible, it should also indicates how to deal with radical Islam's threat to the West and be brotherly towards Islamic peoples, most of whom are opposed to the violence of the Caliphate, which is spreading not only in the Middle East, but also in Nigeria, the Central African Republic, Mali, Libya, Sudan, Mauritania, and threatens the governments of Egypt and Algeria.
Recent history has shown us a few things:
1) War does not solve anything. In fact, it worsens the situation (see the two wars in Iraq). Anyone who hopes for a new crusade and a new Lepanto does not take into account 1.3 billion Muslims who will unify against the West if attacked.
2) The reform of Islam will come from the education of Islamic peoples through school and the freedom of historical-critical research into Islamic sources, to contextualise the Qur'an and Muhammad in the modern world, as was done in the Church through the Councils and the succession of 265 popes that the led it;
3) The West can help this maturing process by helping refugees and the persecuted, dialogue with "moderate" Muslims and Muslims in the West, respect for the truth in describing the atrocities of the guerrillas and Islamic terrorists, denouncing the Qur'anic and historical roots of Islam, as the extermination of the Jews is attributed to the racist ideology of the Nazis. Dialogue without respect for the historical truth becomes a hypocritical fiction that does not serve nor convince anyone.
4) Most importantly, if the West wants to talk to and meet the challenge of Islam, it must return to Christ. The civilisation that we Christians founded satisfies no one today, not even our people who started it. It is a civilisation without a soul, without hope, without children and without joy, which are a sign of too many failures in a society without God.
If the West does not recover its "Christian roots" and does not place them at the foundation of its life and culture, only war and self-destruction of our peoples remain.
Boko Haram Leader Declares Islamic Caliphate from Ransacked Christian Town in Nigeria
08/24/2014 Nigeria (International Christian Concern) — International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that Abubakar Shekau, leader of the radical Islamic insurgency, Boko Haram, has declared an Islamic caliphate in Nigeria's northeastern Borno State. A video released Sunday captured Shekau reading from a script, "Thanks be to Allah who gave victory to our brethren in Gwoza and made it part of the Islamic caliphate," as Boko Haram militants executed dozens of civilians lying face-down in a ditch.
Gwoza, a once-predominantly Christian town situated near Nigeria's border with Cameroon in Borno State, was seized by Boko Haram on August 5, prompting the massacre of more than 100 civilians, many of whom have been identified as Christians, in the early hours of August 6. Directives by Nigerian military leadership to retake Gwoza have been rejected by troops refusing to engage Boko Haram without having first received arms and equipment upgrades.
Boko Haram, a radical Islamic insurgency spawned by the late Mohammed Yusuf, a radicalized cleric formerly headquartered in Maiduguri, fell under the leadership of Abubakar Shekau in 2009. Since, Boko Haram has targeted Christians, moderate Muslims, educators and students, and military and law enforcement personnel in its multi-year terror campaign to establish a separate Islamic state to be ruled by Sharia law.
NIGERIA: UPDATE - 87 MEN AND WOMEN RESCUED FROM BOKO HARAM
18 August 2014
Most of those abducted by suspected Boko Haram members on 10 August have been rescued by Chadian troops, a Nigerian security official has told AFP.
The official, who remains anonymous as he is not authorised to speak to the media, said that 65 men and 22 women were rescued, but 30 people are still being held captive by militants. This is contrary to previous reports that only men had been abducted.
"The convoy being led by six Boko Haram gunmen was stopped on the Chadian part of the border along Lake Chad for routine checks and the huge number of people in the convoy raised suspicion," the unnamed official said. Another official said that some militants had escaped on speedboats when they saw the convoy being stopped, the BBC reports.
Source: BBC, Open Doors
CHIBOK GIRLS STILL MISSING
It has been 123 days since the abduction of more than 200 girls from a secondary school in Chibok, and there is no indication that they will be liberated soon. The international effort to find the girls has waned: the US military is now carrying out just one surveillance flight a day, as drones have been shifted back towards other operations.
At the Africa Summit in the US last week, President Goodluck Jonathan said that the federal government had information on the location of the girls, but was being careful to avoid repeating an episode in February 2013 in which an offshoot of Boko Haram killed seven foreign hostages before authorities could rescue them.
Source: Open Doors; Bloomberg; the Guardian
Suspected Al-Shabaab militants behead Kenyan driver
Publish Date: Aug 24, 2014
The militants kidnapped the traders and took them to the dense Boni forest area in Lamu County.
A group of suspected Shebab Islamist militants have beheaded a Kenyan driver after kidnapping a group of traders on Kenyan soil near the resort island of Lamu, police said Saturday.
The militants kidnapped the traders on Wednesday and took them to the dense Boni forest area in Lamu county. The militants released three of them who were Muslims and beheaded a Christian.
Local police said the body of the victim was found in the forest on Friday. According to police, the survivors said the attackers were well armed and had identified themselves as Shebab members on a mission to fight security forces inside Kenya.
Somalia's Shebab rebels have vowed to step up attacks on Kenyan soil in retaliation for Kenya's military presence in Somalia as part of the African Union force supporting the country's fragile government.
"Adopt a Christian from Mosul," the thanks of the Patriarch Louis Sako; the concerns of the Bishop of Kurdistan
by Bernardo Cervellera
"It is truly worthwhile to adopt a Christian persecuted and driven out of his home because of Christ", says the Chaldean Patriarch of Baghdad, Louis Sako in a message to AsiaNews "I am very grateful and deeply moved - writes the Patriarch - I thank you all for this initiative along with AsiaNews, for the help and solidarity you are showing to the Christians of Iraq in their dramatic situation".
He adds: "I hope that this chain of solidarity will spread far and wide. They [the Christians] need everything. There are many children, sick and old. The Lord Jesus bless you and fill you with His graces."
Msgr. Rabban Al-Qas, bishop of Amadiyah, in Kurdistan, which together with other diocese is accepting tens of thousands of fugitives from Mosul, Qaraqosh and Ankawa, thanks "those who think of us and are looking for ways to help". "The AsiaNews campaign - he continues - is a positive step, because it wants to help Christians on the groound and not force them to flee elsewhere. Unfortunately many see escape as their only solution, the apply for the documents and leave. Yesterday 150 people left for Turkey, aboard three buses. What is our destiny and what does the future holds for us? The Nineveh plain is empty and there are no more Christians".
"The people - says Msgr. Rabban - leave out of fear, the strength of the terrorists is so great, and they are afraid, especially for women and girls, given the rumors circulating about the violence of the Islamists. The diocese has organized with the priests and religious providing the empty houses to accommodate the displaced families. But there are hundreds of thousands of refugees and the diocese of Amadiyah cannot contain them. Now other reception points are being set up in Iraqi Kurdistan.
"We are not afraid - continues the bishop - and we try to do our best to give comfort not only to Christians but also to Arabs fleeing from Tikrit, and Yazidis, without religious distinction. I also told my priests to look beyond confessional differences and never ask for anything in return for their efforts. It must be a freely given help, according to the teachings of the Gospel".
"The situation - he adds- is very delicate, even if great efforts are being made and the Church is playing a huge part. The Chaldean Church is alive, active, and we witness our presence with love. Kurds also bring aid to all without differentiating; local religious leaders are promoting tolerance and love, and are ready to help".
"The majority of Christians - confesses Msgr. Rabban - want to get their documents and leave, go away, because they are afraid. Thousand of Christians want to escape. And the future of the Nineveh plain will be a black future, it will no longer be safe , it will be uninhabitable. The real problem is the lack of government from Baghdad, the security crisis. Added to this is the fanaticism of Saudi Arabia and Qatar, who are at the origin of this situation: what we see now is the result of their maneuvers, first in Syria and now here in Iraq. They do not believe in tolerance".
Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) - As feared by many religious minorities in India, intimidations and attacks from the Sangh Parivar (Hindu nationalist movement) have escalated under the Bharathiya Janatha Party's (BJP) rule. Hindu radicals are now outright targeting Christians all across the country as a direct consequence of the BJP led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) assuming power.
Included in this wave of religious violence, a church in Uttar Pradesh (UP) was rampaged when a mob of Hindu radicals belonging to the Bajrangdal, a Hindu nationalist group, spitefully attacked the Christians. The attack took place while the Christians were having the Bible study on July 16 at around 2:30 p.m. in Sahakarinagar village in UP. A group of 25 Hindu radicals led by Hemanth Singh stormed into the church and beat Rev. R. C. Paul and other Christians gathered for the Bible study. The radicals gave no reason for their assault on the Christians during the attack.
The assailants used wooden lathies (clubs) and fists to beat the Christians, causing internal injuries. After attacking the Christians gathered at the church, they went up to the church's roof and desecrated the cross. After desecrating the cross, the group installed a saffron flag in place of cross. They also destroyed the church's musical instruments and pulpit as well as tearing apart Bibles and other Christian literature they found in the church.
Rev. Dinesh Sohil, another pastor who came to the aid of attacked Christians, was badly beaten and was taken to a local hospital for immediate treatment.
Later, when Rev. R. C. Paul filed a complaint at the police station, the police arrested 12 suspected members of the group who attacked the church. Later, two more Bajrangdal leaders were arrested and were sent to jail for their involvement in the attack. Following the arrests, Bajrangdal activists staged a protest demanding the release of the people who led the attack on Christians.
In another incident in UP, the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI) reported that on July 7 a church in a village called Saraiya was also attacked by members of Shiv Sena, another Hindu nationalist group, and BJP. The local BJP leader, Harendra Pratap Singh, and the leader of the local Shiv Sena, Acche Lal Tiwari, were spotted leading this attack. When the local Christians of Saraiya attempted to report the incident to the police, the police took the pastor and 11 other Christians into custody.
Chhattisgarh, one of India's eastern states, has also recently seen cases of violations of Christians' right to religious freedom. An aggressive campaign led by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), yet another Hindu nationalist group, has led to a ban on the entry of and propagation of any non-Hindu religion by non-Hindu missionaries, especially Christians, in more than 50 villages of Chhattisgarh's Bastar region in the last six months.
International Christian Concern
Revival in Iran: 'I Want to Be a Christian'
CENTRAL TURKEY -- When we think of Iran, scenes of mobs shouting "death to America," blindfolded hostages, and radical leaders demanding nuclear technology come to mind.
But there's another side of the country: Iranians who love America, Israel, and Jesus Christ.
CBN News Middle East Bureau Chief Chris Mitchell met and talked with some of these Iranian believers outside of their country in central Turkey.
When someone gets baptized in this house church, people clap and cheer like fans at a World Cup match. While they've suffered persecution and often fled for their lies, they still possess an infectious and joyous faith like Iranian believer Raizal.
"Growing up I wanted to say I grew up [with] Jesus Christ," Raizal told CBN News. "Every time, His name was in my mind. And the next moment I started liking Christianity."
"It was really sweet to me, the feelings, the stories, everything. So by the time I was 15, I believed in Him and I said I want to be a Christian," he said.
Many Iranian refugees have fled Iran and come here to Turkey where they can seek refugee status with the United Nations. Some say it's just like coming out of the darkness.
"[It's] totally different from Iran," Iranian Christian Afshin told CBN News. "I can privilege [speak about] God's Word to other guys. I can freely praise the Lord. I can easily go to church. It's completely different."
Afshin attended the church led by American Pastor Saeed Abedini, who is still languishing in an Iranian prison after nearly than two years.
Following his arrest in the summer of 2012, the church disbanded.
"I had to change our home because I was sure that one day they would realize my home as an underground house church," he continued. "They would recognize it; the intelligence services would recognize it."
Others, like Raizal and Reza, her brother, fled for their lives.
"It was really a bad situation there," Raizal recalled. "I couldn't pray [to] God with all my heart because all trouble was there. Even if I say 'Jesus Christ,' they may kill me."
"It become [sic] [a] problem for my job and my health," Reza said. "They tried to kill me [and] then I start to run away."
Despite the constant threat, danger, and risk, these believers keep the faith. Now they've found a church home and family. Their pastor leads house churches in Iran, as well as the United States, Canada, Germany, and Malaysia, all via Skype."The main church is my house, and through the Internet I connect to everybody," Reza said. "That's why it's become like an Internet church."
He says a great revival is underway within the Islamic Republic of Iran.
"Right now you can see the results of the Holy Spirit," he said. "From 1994, there were about 100,000 believers. Right now, there are 3 million. You can see what the Holy Spirit is doing with the people."
Many came to faith through a dream or a vision.
"I had a dream. I had a dream long time back and every time that Jesus was with me," he continued. "And in all of my life, He was helping me and I didn't know who was this Person. Suddenly Jesus Christ was over there and He said, 'Come to Me.' And I came to that side and He accepted me."
Despite all the hardship and being forced from their homeland, these believers exude joy. Many hope to achieve refugee status one day and immigrate to other countries.
In the meantime, they want believers in the West to pray for the Church in Iran.
"And I'm just begging, really, from the other believers, from other sisters and brothers from all over the world, to pray for Iran and to all the people of Iran to find new God and be familiar with God, with Jesus Christ," he said
Source: Intenational Christian Concern
IRAQ: WHAT FUTURE FOR REFUGEES?
28 July 2014
Faiez* is still angry and traumatised. He can't believe that they really lost everything. He, his wife Hawwa and their four young children fled Mosul after the Islamic State (ISIS) threatened to kill every Christian that wouldn't convert to Islam or pay a high tax. At the checkpoint the Islamic State took everything from them but their clothes. They even took their 9-year-old son's 10p pocket money.
Hawwa was searched by another woman. "The only thing I could see were her eyes," she says. "She treated me badly, checked all the places I could have hidden something of value." The couple had some other relatives with them. One of Hawwa's teenage relatives had her skirt torn off because it was deemed too tight. "They ripped it off her body, in front of all the women. She hasn't stopped crying since."
Another relative was forced to give up her wedding ring. "The veiled lady asked for a metal cutter," Hawwa recalls. "Fortunately she got it off herself before the cutter arrived, otherwise she wouldn't only have lost her ring, but also her finger."
Having been robbed of all their possessions, they were forced to walk out of the Mosul area. A taxi brought them to the next village, where the villagers paid for the ride and kindly helped them.
For a few days now Faiez and his family have been living in a house that is owned by the village church. They are thankful that the village and the church are taking such good care of them. Working with local partners Open Doors is supporting the church to help this family and 3000 other families with essential items such as food, water, medicine and blankets. "Through the church you helped us with mattresses and food baskets," says Faiez. "I am thankful, but still, today I got this food basket. Probably I will receive another one in some time, but what's my future? What is the future of my children?"
Source: BBC; Open Doors
Prominent Chinese Pastor Sentenced to 12 Years in Prison; Lawyer Claims Accusation Set-Up By Gov't
By Stoyan Zaimov , Christian Post Reporter
July 5, 2014|9:39 am
Zhang Shaojie, a prominent church leader from central China, has been sentenced to 12 years in prison for gathering crowds to "disturb public order."
"This case shows the Chinese government continues to cover up religious persecution with fabricated criminal charges against an innocent church leader," said Bob Fu, the head of China Aid, according to The Telegraph.
Liu Weiguo, a rights lawyer who has worked with the pastor in the past, said that he was shocked at the severity of the sentence.
"I strongly believe Zhang Shaojie is innocent. This is a total set-up by the local government," the lawyer said.
The Associated Press noted that Zhang, who led the Nanle County Christian Church in Henan province, was convicted of fraud and of gathering crowds to disturb public order.
The church leader was first detained in November along with 23 other church members
"Today we received clear evidence that local and provincial authorities in Zhejiang Province continue to wage an all-out war against Christians and Christian places of worship. More than 100 churches have been demolished or targeted in the past two months," ICC Regional Manager for Southeast Asia Sooyoung Kim said at the time. "We call on President Xi Jinping directly to step in and put an immediate end to what is a clear violation of China's constitutional commitment to religious freedom."
Liu added that economic issues are also involved in these incidents, and said regarding pastor Zhang's case that authorities were determined to take control of the land belonging the church.
NIGERIA: MORE SUNDAY ATTACKS
30 June 2014
Four churches were torched and worshippers killed during Sunday services when suspected Boko Haram insurgents attacked Kwada village close to Chibok in Borno State on 29 June. Three other villages were also attacked; the bodies of at least 40 civilians and six militants have been recovered from the region so far.
Levels of violence against Christians in 2013 remained extremely high, with hundreds of cases of physical aggression, the destruction of nearly 300 churches and the death of 612 Nigerian Christians. However, violence from this Islamic terrorist group is not the only form of persecution. Local government and social groups leave hardly any space for Christians to live their own lives; many Christian villages are denied basic facilities such as wells and schools.
- For God's Spirit to be at work, comforting families who have suffered trauma or bereavement
- That Christians will resist the temptation to respond to attacks against them with violence
- For the protection of workers taking Bibles, relief and training to believers in need.
- Source: Open Doors; BBC; UN OCHA
IRAQ: CHRISTIANS ASSAULTED FOR FAILING TO PAY ISLAMIC TAX
30 June 2014
When an Assyrian Christian family was unable to pay a poll tax to the militant Islamic group ISIS, three of the militants raped the mother and daughter in front of the husband. The husband was so traumatised that he later committed suicide.
ISIS began to demand the jizya tax from the Christian minority in Mosul on 21 June
According to the Chaldean Archbishop, Bashar Warda of Erbil, for the first time in 1600 years there was no Mass said in Mosul on Sunday 15 June.
In the face of such brutality, up to half a million people, including 3,000 Christian families, have now fled Mosul for the relative safety of northern Iraqi cities like Erbil. The fortunate few stay with relatives; others try to shelter in schools, unfinished building constructions and tent camps.
Open Doors has been on the ground supporting displaced Iraqi Christians for years. So within days of this latest crisis, our fieldworkers had begun providing the newly arrived refugees with humanitarian aid through local churches and partner organisations.
"When you hear that people are arriving without any food or water, on foot, having walked for half a day or longer, with only a plastic bag containing their belongings, you just want to provide help. What else can you do?" he added. "People can live a day without water, but in this heat, of course, it was imperative that we should act immediately."
Source: World Watch Monitor, Open Doros
- For protection for Christians who still remain in Mosul and other areas occupied by ISIS
- For Open Doors workers supporting refugees with emergency relief and trauma counselling
- For an end to all bloodshed and instability in Iraq and the wider region.
Yogyakarta, to cries of "Allah is great" unknown assailants attack Sacred Heart parish
by Mathias Hariyadi
Jakarta (AsiaNews) - Another Catholic community is now under attack in Indonesia in a climate of increasing cases of violence and abuse against religious minorities.
The Parish of the Sacred Heart in Pugeran, in the South of Yogyakarta was targeted early yesterday morning by three different groups of unknown assailants on motorcycles. The attack took place during the first morning Mass: the authors, dressed in black with their faces covered by masks, broke through the parish gates shouting "Allah is great".
Last month in Yogyakarta, Islamic extremists attacked a group of Catholics gathered in prayer, beating up the community leader; a week later, Pastor Niko, leader of the Protestant Christian community, was targeted by extremists "accused" of having set up an "illegal" house of prayer without permission.
Yoguakarta, in central Java, has always been considered the most "pluralistic" center in the country, with dozens of universities and thousands of students from across the province. However, after decades of peaceful coexistence, episodes of sectarian violence have recently emerged, despite appeals for calm and peaceful coexistence from the Sultan (and governor) Hamengku Buwono X, a prominent figure in interreligious dialogue
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Police clash with 200 Christians in Wenzhou as they defend their churches' cross
The faithful formed a human chain to defend their church and cut off the electricity to stop the police using their tools. Some of the faithful were brutally beaten. The church was built in 2006 and has all of the required permits from the authorities. The Party is terrified by the rapid spread of Christianity.
Wenzhou (AsiaNews) - Hundreds of Christians in a village near Wenzhou battles police for hours to prevent them tearing down the cross from the roof of their church. Some members were beaten with fists, feet and batons, but in the end the police have given up.
For about a month now, the Communist Party of Zhejiang has been implementing the "Three revisions and a demolition" campaign. They claim that the initiative aims to correct irregular buildings. In reality the campaign is being applied largely to destroy Christian churches, which are rapidly spreading across the province. AsiaNews has already published a list and photos of 64 churches destroyed and crosses that have been torn downbecause of the campaign which is now spreading to other provinces of China.
On June 11, 200 Christians defended their Church and its cross located in the village of Guangtou (Beibaixiang, Yueqing, Wenzhou). Days before, the local community received notice that the cross would be removed by the authorities. Since then, the Christians kept watch day and night over the building in shifts, to stop the destruction of the cross. Early in the morning at 5 am, a group of at least 100 people, including riot police, arrived at the church to remove the cross. The Christians called for help from faithful to guard their church and in a short time at least 200 Christian villagers arrived at the square in front of the church. Some of them were able to cut off the electricity, making it impossible for the police to use electric saws. The faithful also tried to remove troops from the church by placing themselves between the police and the church, for which they were beaten, punched and kicked. Some of the villagers were left injured and bleeding on the ground.
However, the resistance of Christians was so strong that the police left without succeeding in destroying the cross, at least for now..
KENYA: OPEN DOORS VISITS MPEKETONI VICTIMS
18 June 2014
Open Doors has visited victims of Sunday's attack on the Kenyan coastal town of Mpeketoni. As soon as the attack commenced, local pastors called Open Doors. Throughout the attack we remained in contact, literally watching and praying with them.
The death toll has now reached 49 and many people are still missing. A Dutch aid worker, Wim van den Burg, told Dutch media he counted more than 100 bodies.
According to witnesses, the attackers reached the town around 8pm. First they went to the police station, where they overwhelmed police officers, disabling their communications and taking their guns. Then they moved into the town and started massacring Christians.
The attackers asked the locals if they were Muslims or Christians. If they were Christians they were shot dead. They broke into houses, dragged the men into the streets and executed them.
Women and children were released, but houses and cars were set on fire.
They flew the al-Shabaab flag and lined up dead bodies in the streets and kept shouting 'Allahu Akubar' ['Allah is greater'].
IRAQ: CHRISTIANS FLEE MOSUL AS ISLAMIC EXTREMISTS TAKE OVER CITY
11 June 2014
Up to a thousand Christian families have been fleeing Iraq's second largest city of Mosul after it was taken over by militant jihadists. Taking only what they can carry, Christians have fled to the relatively safe 'Kurdish' region or to the Christian Nineveh district in the countryside.
The militant army, called the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), took control of Mosul early in the morning of 10 June, prompting a mass exodus of thousands of citizens. Latest reports from the BBC indicate that up to 500,000 people have now fled the city.
Open Doors sources report that some 200 Christian families are sheltering in the monastery of Mar Mattai some 12 miles from Mosul. A further 50 families are sheltering in a monastery in Alqosh. Several schools in mainly Christian villages have also opened their doors for displaced Christian families.
"Mosul soon will be emptied of Christians," said a spokesman. "This could be the last migration of Christians from Mosul." Until yesterday an estimated 1,000 Christian families still lived in the city.
ISIS now controls wide areas of the Nineveh province as well as parts of Mosul on both sides of the Tigris river. Gunmen are also said to be nearing the borders of the Kurdish region in Iraq where, during the last few years, many Christians have taken refuge.
Source: Open Doors;
BHUTAN: PASTORS AWAIT VERDICT
09 June 2014
Thank you for praying for two Bhutanese pastors, Tandin and Thapa, who were arrested in March. After giving their defence on 22 May, the pastors and their families are waiting to hear the judge's verdict and praying for a favourable outcome.
Tandin Wangyal and Mon Thapa (also known as David Lobzang) were arrested in March, after a complaint that they did not have a permit to hold a Christian seminar.
The pastors were detained for 49 days without formal charges before being released on bail on 22 April. They were charged with conducting a gathering for religious purposes without prior approval, showing a film without certificate of approval from the concerned media authorities, collecting 'illegal funds' and 'soliciting funds from the public for personal gain'.
At an 'evidence hearing' on 22 May, the court summoned three witnesses to testify to what they heard and saw in the seminar. Witnesses were consistent in the statements they had given to police: that Tandin and Pastor David neither converted nor solicited money from them.
GIVING IS GOOD
In his defence, Tandin maintained that the expenses came from his personal income as a travel agent. He said that the gifts he received were a gesture of goodwill, similar to the Buddhist virtue of Bodhisattva, the act of giving for a good cause.
"Giving is a command from the Holy Bible," Tandin told the Dorokha court.
Christians can pray and worship privately in their homes, but they face difficulties in gathering as congregations, and have to obtain official permission to do so. They face intense pressure from village heads and clerics to return to Buddhism.
Source: Open Doors
NIGERIA: OVER 200 KILLED IN CHRISTIAN VILLAGES
06 June 2014
It is feared that Boko Haram militants have killed at least 200 more people in a wave of attacks launched across Borno state in Northern Nigeria this week.
Three Christian villages - Attagara, Agapalwa and Aganjara - have been reduced to ashes. Local media claimed that attackers killed, looted and stole cattle before burning homes and churches. The villages are located a few kilometres from the Cameroon border, near the Sambisa forest, which hides several militants' camps, and where some of the missing Chibok girls are believed to be.
On Wednesday 4 June, a group of about 45 people were killed after gathering together to listen to a sermon from militants who pretended to be preachers.
Meanwhile, the work of Boko Haram has been condemned by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation which claims to be 'the collective voice of the Muslim world'.
Source: World Watch Monitor
» 06/04/2014 09:36
AFGHANISTAN - INDIA
Indian Jesuit priest kidnapped in Afghanistan , "a life in service of marginalized"
by Nirmala Carvalho
Kabul ( AsiaNews) - "His entire life as a Jesuit was happily spent in the service of Jesus for the 'other' especially the disadvantaged and those deprived of human dignity". This is how Fr Victor Edwin SJ , a doctoral student of Christian Islam relations at the renowned Jamia Islamia University, New Delhi, describes Fr. Alexis Prem Kumar SJ, the priest kidnapped in in the province of Herat Afghanistan June 2, to AsiaNews. There is still no news about the kidnap, no-one has claimed responsibility and no ransom has been demanded so far.
The deputy police chief of Herat, Mohammad Nadir Fahimi, that "six gunmen" had abducted Prem kumar and may have taken him to Gulran district. He said authorities are working with "district elders" to try to mediate his release. "We are trying to get him to safety," Herat's Provincial Governor Fazelullah Wahidi was quoted as saying.
Fr. Alexis Prem Kumar is the director of the Afghan section of the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) , an international Catholic NGO run by the Society of Jesus, which has suspended its activities in Afghanistan.
Ordained to the priesthood in 2000, Fr. Alexis spent seven years with the JRS in Tamil Nadu, working among the Sri Lankan refugees in the state. Fr. Victor Edwin, also from Tamil Nadu, told AsiaNews : "Fr Alexis ran for six years, the People's Education and Action in Kodaikanal (Peak), a community center for the human rights of Paliyar refugee settlement".
Fr. Edwin also recalls that " in the village of Puthupur he led a campaign against the discrimination of dalits who were not allowed to fetch water from the village well.
Panel Looks at Christianity's Rapid Growth in China Despite Persecution
Read more at http://www.christianpost.com/news/panel-looks-at-christianitys-rapid-growth-in-china-despite-persecution-120850/#G2cLwyLj8UWSC2my.99
WASHINGTON – Even as the Communist Chinese government recently cracked down on Christian communities, Christianity continues to grow rapidly in the People's Republic.
This was the observation noted by a panel – titled "Christianity in China: A Force for Change?" –sponsored by the Brooking s Institution on Tuesday. Experts discussed the growth of Christianity, especially in the years since 1989, after the infamous crackdown on demonstrators at Tiananmen Square.
Carsten Vala, assistant professor at the Political Science Department of Loyola University Maryland and one of the panelists, told The Christian Post how many Chinese Christians view recent actions against them.
"Chinese Christian leaders look at this as a winnowing effect, so those who are not true Christians will leave the churches; the 'Sunday Christians,'" said Vala.
"The really committed, devout believers will be increasingly strengthened in their faith by this 'winds of persecution' and honestly the church buildings may be torn down, but that doesn't mean the congregations themselves have scattered."
Richard Bush, director and senior fellow at Brookings' Center for East Asian Policy Studies, who moderated the first panel told those gathered that he found it appropriate to link Christianity's growth in China and the Tiananmen Square protests "because both were a response to the political and moral vacuum in China in the post-Mao period."
Vala gave a presentation to those gathered in the auditorium about his research among Chinese Christian communities during the 2000s. Focusing mostly on Protestant Christianity, Vala noted that a large number of Chinese Christians are younger, well educated, and have only been believers for a relatively short amount of time.
Read more at http://www.christianpost.com/news/panel-looks-at-christianitys-rapid-growth-in-china-despite-persecution-120850/#G2cLwyLj8UWSC2my.99
Plight of Christians in the Middle East
A recently released infographic from The Huffington Post underscores how deadly the plight of Christians in the Middle East has become in the last decade.
The populations of Iraq, Egypt, and Syria suggest that their turmoil has had especially devastating effects on the Christian population. Syria, for instance, boasted a population of one million Christians in 2010. Today, only 550,000 remain - a drop of nearly 50 percent.
Prior to the U.S. 2013 invasion of Iraq, the country was home to 1.5 million Christians. Today, only about 500,000 remain, just a third of the previous Christian population.
In Egypt, a country whose Copt population has lived for hundreds of years in the region and has long made up 10 percent of the nation's population, 93,000 of the 4.1 million people have fled the country since 2011.
That the population of these Christians has so dwindled is not surprising given the extent to which they have been targeted by Islamists within their countries.
On Christmas Day in 2013, nearly 40 Iraqis were killed after two car bombs targeted a church and a marketplace.
In Egypt, following the deposal of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, many of the Copt's countrymen themselves wrecked dozens of churches and institutions in Minya, turning the Christian population into scapegoats for Morsi's removal from power. According to a Human Rights Watch report following last summer's violence, 37 churches had been either destroyed or badly damaged, and at least five others were attacked, in fighting that left four people dead.
In Syria, many Christians have been subject to kidnappings and invasions in their village from extremist rebel fighters who have picked on the ancient communities, in some cases for their support of the Bashar Al-Assad government.
Read more at http://www.christianpost.com/news/how-bad-of-a-nightmare-are-middle-east-christians-living-120442/#lr9uX5Tavp9tlKel.99
» 05/31/2014 11:24
Pyongyang, South Korean Baptist missionary sentenced to hard labor for life
by Joseph Yun Li-sun
The missionary Kim Jeong -wook had "confessed his crimes": espionage, underground religious activities. North Korea prohibits all worship except of the ruling dynasty.
In the North's capital, there are three churches - two Protestant and one Catholic - but they are believed to be a front for tourists and non-governmental organizations . No priests or religious are present.
In Pyongyang, another missionary, the U.S. citizen Kenneth Bae, is serving a sentence of 15 years hard labor for the same reasons.
A few months ago, another missionary, the Australian John Short, was expelled after a period in prison for distributing religious materials.
» 05/20/2014 15:38
Zhejiang: more crosses and churches demolished. Domestic and official Churches persecuted
by Bernardo Cervellera
Rome (AsiaNews) - A source for AsiaNews in China has sent us a new list of crosses and religious buildings that have been demolished in the region of Zhejiang. After the destruction of the church of Sanjiang in Wenzhou, the campaign against crosses and buildings deemed to be overly flashy is gaining ground and targeting Protestants and Catholics buildings, of official and underground churches.
Two days before the bulldozers tore down the imposing (Protestant) church of Sanjiang, it was the turn of the Catholic shrine of Longgang, where authorities destroyed many statues that were part of the Way of the Cross, forcing the faithful to transfer the larger statues to a warehouse. The central pavilion, occupied by statues of Christ , the Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph was walled to hide the religious symbols from view.
Since 2013 , when Zhejiang was slated to become a hub of economic development by 2020, a campaign has been enacted to "beautify " the region by removing the illegal structures . The campaign is called the "Rectify Three, Demolish One" campaign intended to halt violation of building regulations, a move to "make space for development. According to the provincial government these demolitions affect all communities and private dwellings without distinction . But it is a fact that the campaign is targeting mainly Christian sites . Crosses were torn down in Hangzhou, Yongjia county and in neighboring Anhui. The "advice" of the Party was not to position the crosses on the spire, rather at the foot of the building, on the walls, or even better, inside the church.
The government defends itself by saying that all those crosses and demolished buildings violated building codes and that, before their forced destruction, the communities were given time to rectify the error. But the faithful denounce that the notice was imposibly short : the church of Sanjiang , only had 4 days for "rectification", in short, to destroy over 500 "illegal" square meters.
The fact that the demolition of churches is part of a wider plan was clearly revealed by the Secretary Xia Baolong who, in an interview with Xinhua on the 17th of February, denounced thaat "hostile forces of the West"had infiltrated the Christian communities . And in July 2013 he warned the Party of Wenzhou against the influence of the underground community.
Almost as if to confirm these "concerns", on 6 May the University of International Relations and the Academy of Social Sciences published a "Blue Book". It states that all religions pose one of the biggest challenges to national security and that "hostile western forces are infiltrating the religions of China".
In one of the photos featured in the sequence linked to this article, there is a notice in which the authorities order the closure of an underground house church, which gathered in an apartment. The orders are as follows:
1) An immediate stop to all religious practices;
2 ) Removal of all religious objects from the building;
3 ) Dismissal of all participants in the services.
The same applies to several underground Catholic communities.
It seems that the Chinese government fear the prediction of some academics, that by 2025 China will be the country with the most Christians in the world, with about 165 million faithful. This "prophecy", based on socialogical projections was made by Yanggang Yang, a professor of sociology at Purdue University ( Indiana, USA).
The hostility toward Christians is not so much ideological, rooted as it were on the old Marxist schemes. It is fueled by economic reasons and lust for power: removing land and buildings from Christians to feed the hunger for space and building speculation; it reduces their visibility and unity and furthermore, avoids them becoming stakeholders in the play for power. Increasingly, in fact , Christians become human rights activists, engaged in civil society against corruption, oppression , violence , pollution, all the plagues that the Communist Party of China Xi Jinping said it would fight without having ever changed a thing, other than targeting political enemies.
It is worth noting that in 2003-2004 a campaign was launched in Zhejiang to demolish hundreds of churches . Since then, the community of Zhejiang and Wenzhou have grown even more and now the Christians are about 15% of the population of the city of 9 million inhabitants.
Their strength lies in faith and not in buildings. One of them, Pastor Yang, commenting on the destruction of the church of Sangjiang said: " When it comes to our faith, the word jiaohui (church, congregation, fellowship) is not the same as jiaotang (church building). It may be possible to deal violently with a jiaotang, but not with the jiaohui. Christians shouldn't be so sad. Maybe this is a good time to reflect and wonder if we have put too much focus on church buildings. With this jiaotang now destroyed, we should focus our efforts on building the jiaohui".
NIGERIA: DOZENS KILLED IN LATEST ATTACKS
21 May 2014
The Islamist group Boko Haram is being blamed for killing 17 people in Alagarno, in north-east Nigeria. The village is near Chibok, from where the schoolgirls were abducted last month. Boko Haram fighters reportedly spent hours killing and looting in the village.
This latest terror comes a day after some 118 people, mostly women, died in twin blasts in a predominantly Christian section of Jos, in Nigeria's heartland. The bombs - which went off about 30 minutes apart - were also blamed on Boko Haram. The first blast was a suicide bombing at a busy market and the second was outside a nearby hospital. It appears a third explosive device did not detonate. The death toll is continually rising as more bodies are discovered among the debris.
So far, Boko Haram has not accepted responsibility for the attacks.
BOMB ATTACK IN CHRISTIAN ENCLAVE
Two days earlier, on 18 May, at least five people were killed by a bomb blast in Sabon Gari, a Christian enclave in Kano, northern Nigeria. Government sources claim that three men, a 12-year-old girl and the bomber were killed by the blast. But this number is contested by local media, who reported between 10 and 25 killed in the attack.
Source: World Watch Monitor; BBC News
For comfort for God's children affected by these circumstances and that, amidst the danger, God would continue to build His church
SUDAN: PREGNANT MOTHER SENTENCED TO DEATH FOR 'APOSTASY'
15 May 2014
Western Embassies have expressed deep concern for a Sudanese woman who has been sentenced to death in Khartoum for 'apostasy' (converting to Christianity) as well as to 100 lashes for committing adultery.
Meriam Yahia Ibrahim, (27), who is 8 months pregnant with her second child, received the death sentence on 11 May Despite having been raised in the Christian faith by her mother, an Ethiopian Orthodox Christian, Sudanese authorities argue that she is a Muslim because her father was a Muslim.
Meriam was originally given until 15 May to renounce her Christian faith, or face the death sentence. According to reports, the judge told her: "We gave you three days to recant but you insist on not returning to Islam. I sentence you to be hanged to death." Meriam calmly replied, "I am a Christian and I never committed apostasy."
She was also convicted of adultery and sentenced to 100 lashes, because the judge ruled that her marriage to a Christian man was not valid under Islamic law.
It was later established that Meriam and her partner had married in a church in 2012, and that they even had a 20-month-old son together.
On 11 May the Criminal Court in Al-Haj Yousef convicted Ibrahim of adultery, after declaring her church marriage invalid on account of her Muslim faith and upbringing. The couple's first-born son, Martin, has been in prison with his mother since her arrest because the authorities regard him as a Muslim and so will not allow him to be raised by his father, who is a Christian. Meriam's unborn child is expected next month. If her death sentence is upheld custody of her children would be granted to the government, as the husband is not granted any rights over his children because he is a Christian.
Sudan is number 11 on the 2014 World Watch List, which ranks the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.
Source: World Watch Monitor
- Ask the Holy Spirit to comfort Meriam and strengthen her physically and spiritually
- For protection for her baby son, Martin, and her unborn child
For the lawyers appealing Meriam's case - pray that justice will be done and the sentence against her will be dropped.
That God would bring rest from the terrible violence in Nigeria
By Anugrah Kumar, Christian Post Contributor
May 17, 2014|9:22 am
A Christian mother in Sudan, who is pregnant with a second child and has been sentenced to 100 lashes and death on charges of apostasy and adultery, has a long legal battle ahead even as her wheelchair-bound husband says his hope lies only in his prayers to God.
Ibrahim's father was a Sudanese Muslim who left her when she was just 6 years old. She was raised by her mother, an Ethiopian Orthodox.
Embassies of the United States, Britain, Canada and the Netherlands have also denounced the sentencing, urging the Sudanese government to intervene. "We call upon the government of Sudan to respect the right to freedom of religion, including one's right to change one's faith or beliefs, a right which is enshrined in international human rights law as well as in Sudan's own 2005 Interim Constitution," they said in a statement.
Amnesty International said in a statement. "It is a flagrant breach of international human rights law."
Read more at http://www.christianpost.com/news/pregnant-christian-mother-sentenced-to-death-in-sudan-has-long-legal-battle-ahead-husband-praying-119918/#1UrAzbijzy8XzOtM.99
PAKISTAN: AUTOPSY RAISES QUESTIONS WHETHER CHRISTIAN'S DEATH WAS SUICIDE
06 May 2014
The autopsy report on a Pakistani Christian killed by gunshots raises questions whether the death was a suicide, as the owner of the weapon has claimed.
The Punjab state medical examiner's report on the April 16 death of Haroon Haidar potentially indicates he suffered two injuries to his skull, raising questions whether the 24-year-old married father of two could have killed himself. Surviving relatives have asked the examiner, Dr. Rizwan Naseer, to clarify whether the two injuries are the result of two separate gunshots, which would indicate someone else fired the first, and fatal, shot.
Haroon Haidar's father, Haidar Masih, said his son had been threatened a day earlier by a coworker angered by his son's refusal to convert to Islam.
Haroon worked as a sweeper. Haidar Masih said he learned from police that a security guard, Umar Farooq, the only person present with Masih in the building at the time of incident, had told police he had left his pump-action shotgun on the table and had gone upstairs to the washroom, where he heard the gunshot.
His widow, Hina Bibi, said her husband was a faithful man and they were leading a happy life.
"I cannot believe my husband can kill himself," she said. "We had plans for the children's better future, sending them to school for a respectable life in society."
In the police report, lodged in the Naulakha Police Station, Haidar Masih said his son told him the day before he died that he had been threatened at his workplace on account of his religious beliefs.
„Umar Farooq z Islami Bank ho nútil konvrtovalť na islam a kvôli odmietnutiu bol zabitý." Tak to uzavrel Haidar Masih.
"The security guard, Umar Farooq, at the Islami Bank has forced him to convert to Islam and in case of refusal he would kill him," Haidar Masih testified in the report.
Haroon Haidar's cousin, Parvaiz Babloo, who was on duty as a sweeper at the Mayo Hospital at King Edward Medical University when the body of his cousin was brought in, said police asked the authorities to declare the death a suicide.
"The duty doctor plainly refused and asked the police to first register a criminal case, then the autopsy could be conducted," Babloo told World Watch Monitor. He said the doctors were sure that it was not a suicide case and later they were being pressured by the police.
Source: World Watch Monitor
» 05/08/2014 13:44
Chinese authorities warn religious groups against converting children rescued from the streets
Beijing (AsiaNews) - China's central government has warned religious charities against "forcing" children in their orphanages to convert or adopt their religion.
In order to standardise performance, charities as of 30 April must partner with a local government above county level if they want to set up an orphanage.
Only those facilities that are government-approved, and adequately staffed and financed, would be allowed to take in orphans.
A national survey found that 870 orphanages are not government-run. Of these, 583 are managed by religious groups.
Government statistics for 2012 show that mainland China had 463 state-owned orphanages with about 95,000 children out of 570,000 orphans and abandoned children.
» 05/07/2014 13:34
NIGERIA - ISLAM
Boko Haram abducts eight more girls
Lagos (AsiaNews) - Gunmen from Boko Haram abducted eight girls from the village of Warabe. Like 223 other schoolgirls kidnapped on 14 April, this group of girls, aged 12 to 15, was taken away along with looted livestock and food, police reported.
Witnesses said that during the raid, the group opened fire and that their vehicles were painted in army colours.
Abubakar Shekau, the leader of the Islamist group that sees education as a Western sin, posted a video a few days ago saying that he would sell the girls as sex slaves or force them to marry "by Allah".
Cairo-based Al-Azhar University, the highest Sunni Muslim authority in the world, released a statement yesterday calling "for the immediate release" of the girls.
NIGERIA: BOKO HARAM VIDEO SHOWS CAPTIVE GIRLS 'CONVERTED' TO ISLAM
12 May 2014
Boko Haram has released a video claiming to show around 130 of the girls who were kidnapped in April.
The video shows them wearing the full-length hijab, reciting the first chapter of the Qur'an and holding their palms upwards in prayer.
According to the Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau, the girls had converted to Islam. He says: "These girls, these girls you occupy yourselves with... we have indeed liberated them. Do you know we have liberated them? These girls have become Muslims. They are Muslims."
In the video, three girls speak to the camera, two of whom say they were Christian and have converted to Islam. The other says she is Muslim. They say that the group have not been harmed.
In the full video, Abubakar Shekau appears to be offering to exchange the girls for Boko Haram prisoners kept by the Nigerian government. He says that "We will never release them [the girls] until after you release our brethren."
NIGERIA: CHRISTIANS CALL FOR PRAYER FOR THE RELEASE OF ABDUCTED GIRLS
28 April 2014
The Christian Association of Nigeria has asked Christians around the world to join them in prayer and fasting for the safe release of at least 180 girls who were abducted in April.
On Monday 14 April, at around 10 pm, suspected members of Boko Haram swooped into Chibok, northern Nigeria, in seven Toyota pick-ups. Some of the attackers set government and other buildings ablaze, but others went to the senior secondary school where they overpowered the security guards before herding around 230 of the female students - all between the ages of 16 and 20 - into trucks. They then drove the girls deep into the nearby Sambisa forest. Some 40 of the girls have escaped, but the remainder are still missing.
"Almost every house has a child in this school," said an Open Doors worker. "Cries of parents could be heard all over the town as they prayed for God's intervention.
"The abducted girls will probably be responsible for cooking and cleaning for the insurgents. But there is every possibility that these children would be forcefully converted to Islam and married off to members of the group or other Muslim men."
In the face of apparent lack of support from the military, some parents have even ventured into the Sambisa forest to look for the girls. But about 40 miles into the forest locals advised them not to proceed any further because it was too dangerous: the parents' sticks and machetes are no match for the sophisticated weapons of Boko Haram.
SEND A MESSAGE OF SUPPORT TO THE CHRISTIANS OF CHIBOK
You can send a message of support and encouragement to the shattered community of Chibok here. Open Doors will ensure that your messages are passed on to the traumatised families.
Source: Open Doors
CHINA: CHURCH STANDOFF A STUDY IN CHINA'S COMPLEXITY
25 April 2014
It had all the appearances of a brutal government crackdown tvrdý zákrok. Bulldozers were stationed at the perimeter of the Sanjiang Church in Wenzhou, China. Hundreds of church members formed a protective ring around their house of worship. The headlines were dramatic:
"Their Gov't Wants to Curb Spread of Christianity," The Blaze website blared. "Chinese Christians form human shield to save 4,000-seater church," The Catholic Tablet said. "Chinese Church Faces Forced Demolition," Christian News Network announced.
Upon closer examination, the reality may not be as black-and-white as the headlines.
"Nothing is this straightforward in China," said Brent Fulton, president of China Source, a Hong Kong-based nonprofit that collaborates with hundreds of China-oriented churches and organizations through conferences, publications and consulting.
Government authorities plainly were unhappy with the size of the church, but Fulton and others told World Watch Monitor it's also plain that the congregation erected a building far larger than they had permission to build. Last week, both sides appeared to have compromised, and saved face.
Last week, the two sides reached a deal: the church would remove two levels of a newly built, seven-storey annex. The main church building and its prominent cross would remain. As it turned out, the government removed four floors, not two, angering church members.
The coordinator said Sanjiang Church had overplayed its hand. Granted permission to build a worship space on 20,000 square feet - about half an acre - the congregation instead built a church and an annex on 100,000 square feet, or more than 2 acres.
The Open Doors China coordinator said China's Christians can even draw something positive from the episode, as tense as it otherwise may have appeared:
"What is very positive is that we can see how Chinese believers have advocated for themselves and negotiated successfully with the government."
Source: World Watch Monitor
CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC: TWO PRIESTS KILLED
24 April 2014
For many Christians in the Central African Republic, Easter was synonymous with tragedy. Two priests were killed, four others briefly detained and a number of villages were attacked by ex-Seleka fighters in recent days.
On Good Friday April 18, a Catholic priest was killed by armed men linked to ex-Seleka rebels, near Bossangoa in the north.
Father Christ Forman Wilibona, 37, was on his way back to his Saint Kisito Parish of Paoua, on his motorbike. He had earlier celebrated an Easter service at Ouham-Bac, near Bossangoa.
His killing is the first assassination of a Catholic priest since Seleka rebels were disbanded last year.
On Easter Saturday, April 19, another church leader was killed by anti-Balaka fighters. The circumstances of the killing of Rev Thoma Ndakouzou (42) of the Baptist Church in Mbata, the capital, are not yet established. The killing of Rev Ndakouzou is the latest of several Protestant church leaders assassinated since President Francois Bozize was overthrown by Seleka.
The first Easter murder took place two days after a brief abduction by ex-Seleka fighters of the Bishop of Bossangoa, Monsignor (Mgr) Nestor-Désiré Nongo Aziagbia, along with three other Catholic clerics.
Mgr Aziagbia, accompanied by Fr Clet Magloire Golo, was driving Fr Dieudonné Yanfeibona and Fr Denis Koyedama to their parish of Batangafo when they were arrested by ex-Seleka rebels at the entrance of the city. They were then taken to Kabo, near the Chad border, before being freed and later airlifted by a French army helicopter to Bossangoa.
In the absence of UN peacekeepers - due to be deployed only in September - rebels and militia are still active on all fronts in CAR.
According to local sources, the town of Paoua (near where Fr Wilibona died) was attacked by armed men from Chad last week. Thousands of homes were burned down and many families decimated.
On April 16 extremist Muslims from one district attacked the nearby Sarah neighbourhood, killing several people. Casimir Djeroma, along with his wife Pulcherie and daughter Patou died when they refused to answer knocking on their door in the middle of the night. The attackers apparently broke down the door and then shot dead the family. Pulcherie's body also bore machete wounds. The attack occurred the very night on which the family returned home from a refugee camp, where heavy rain had made living conditions unbearable.
Source: World Watch Monitor
Gov't Persecution of Christians in China Worsens Significantly
By Stoyan Zaimov, Christian Post Reporter
February 14, 2014|4:31 pm
China Aid Association revealed in its annual Persecution report that persecution of Christians in China continues to rise, with house and urban churches being some of the main targets.
According to the statistics, government persecution in the world's most populous country, where Christians make up only 3-4 percent, "worsened significantly" in 2013. Persecution rose by 38.82 percent since 2012.
"House churches in China had a difficult year in 2013, but we won't lose heart. Oppositely, only in such circumstances can churches be constantly purified, free of blemishes, mature and strong, and prepared for even greater mission," said Bob Fu, founder and president of China Aid.
"When political regimes and figures, one by one, sink into the long river of history, Jesus Christ's Church stands tall and firm, and like it was 2,000 years ago; even the power of Hell cannot triumph over it." In total, ChinaAid said that it documented 143 cases in 2013 where 7,424 people were persecuted.
Read more at http://global.christianpost.com/news/govt-persecution-of-christians-in-china-worsens-significantly-114630/#hVTacQQksZjpcfhm.99
71 Killed in Nigeria Bus Bombing; Catholic Priest Suspects Islamic Terrorists
(Photo: REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde)
Bomb experts search for evidences in front of buses at a bomb blast scene at Nyanyan in Abuja April 14, 2014.
By Stoyan Zaimov, Christian Post Reporter
April 14, 2014|12:14 pm
Seventy-one people were killed and 124 were injured in a bus bombing attack in Abuja, Nigeria, on Monday. A Roman Catholic priest stated that Islamic terrorist group Boko Haram is likely the culprit.
"The bus depot where the explosion took place is normally used by a large number of commuters to get to work in the center of the capital," he noted. "The victims are therefore normal people, who belong to the working class, who were on their way to work."
Police spokesman Frank Mba said that the attack at the bus station at Nigeria's capital destroyed 16 luxury coaches and 24 minibuses.
The Islamic terrorist group has been waging war on Christians and the Nigerian government, attempting to drive out believers and place the religiously-divided country under Islamic rule. It has killed thousands of people in the past few years in attacks on government buildings, schools and churches.
Reuters noted that this was the deadliest attack ever recorded on Abuja.
One survivor said that people were running around in panic following the blast.
Kole Shettima, director of the Abuja office of U.S. charitable institution, the MacArthur Foundation, said "The situation has been escalating,"
"They are still around and they can attack Abuja when they want, and instill fear," the director added, referring to Boko Haram.
Fr. Alumuku noted that on Sunday, Boko Haram killed another 60 people in several villages across north-east Nigeria.
"The situation is very difficult. The army is chasing the Boko Haram men but these in response commit reprisals against civilians," said Fr. Patrick .
In March, The Christian Association of Nigerian-Americans called on the government to do more to help the thousands of Nigerians fleeing the country due to Boko Haram's attacks. It also called on the government to provide better welfare packages for Nigerian soldiers who are said to be in low morale in the fight against the Islamic terrorists.
Read more at http://global.christianpost.com/news/71-killed-in-nigeria-bus-bombing-catholic-priest-suspects-islamic-terrorists-117887/#G2WuzCKY7CKYdWcz.99
Catholic Church Is 'Only Institution Still Functioning' in War-Torn Central African Republic, Archbishop Says
By Stoyan Zaimov, Christian Post Reporter
April 9, 2014|4:51 pm
The president of the Episcopal Conference of Cameroon said the Roman Catholic Church is the only institution that is still functioning in the war-torn Central African Republic, as he highlighted the violence that has cost thousands of lives.
"The State no longer exists. The only institution that is functioning is the Catholic Church. Actually, the displaced are living in Catholic parishes," said His Exc. Mgr. Samuel Kleda, who is also the archbishop of Douala, according to Fides News Agency on Tuesday.
The African country, where 25 percent of the population is said to be Roman Catholic and a majority is Christian, is reportedly still plunged in chaos due to fighting between Seleka rebels and anti-Balaka fighters. Violence has escalated since interim President Michel Djotodia resigned earlier this year.
The United Nations Security Council said that is authorizing a new peacekeeping force of 10,000 soldiers and 1,800 police to try and restore order and address the conflict that has caused thousands of deaths so far.
Mgr. Kleda, who was visiting Bangui, said that he wanted to "show our solidarity with our brotherly people of the Central African Republic, and to express our friendship and communion to them, and to let them know that we are praying for them so that they should not feel abandoned at this difficult moment."
The head of the National Association of Evangelicals, Leith Anderson, visited the Central African Republic this week. He, along with Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, American Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church, and Imam Mohamed Elsanousi, director of Community Outreach for the Islamic Society of North America, were part of the U.S. State Department's peacemaking trip.
"We met with religious and political leaders in a mosque, cathedral, the President's office and the U.S. ambassador's residence. Conversations were candid, direct and hopeful," Anderson said in a statement. "There is resolve to trust God and turn this tragedy for good."
Amnesty International noted on Wednesday that although civilians are being targeted along religious lines, these attacks are not specifically based on people's religious beliefs and practices.
"Not all Christians and Muslims have embraced sectarian hatred. Indeed, many Muslim civilians have been protected by their Christian neighbors, or have sought – and found – protection in churches and Catholic missions. In addition, some Christians, especially women who married Muslim men, have been threatened and harmed by the anti-balaka militia," the human rights group noted.
The manager said in his findings that the non-Muslim population has suffered greatly in the civil war, with Christians and pastors targeted because they have been seen as representing the greatest resistance to Seleka's efforts to conquer the country, subdue people and convert them to Islam.
Source: Christian Post
Illiterate Christian Couple Sentenced to Death for Blasphemous Text Messages in Pakistan
· By Stoyan Zaimov,
April 8, 2014|4:23 pm
A Christian couple was sentenced to death in Pakistan on Friday reportedly for committing "blasphemy" via text messages. Lawyers said they will appeal the ruling and fight for the man and woman who are said to be illiterate.
"We are seriously concerned. Cases like these are common and cause great suffering. We continue to pray, while the issue remains unresolved," Fr. Aloysius Roy, Superior of the Pakistani province of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, told Fides News Agency in a report on Monday.
The couple, Shafqat Emmanuel, who is disabled, and his wife, Shagufta Kausar, who works as a waitress, were arrested in Gojra in July 2013, and later sentenced to death by a court in Toba Tek Singh on Friday.
It was not revealed what the contents of the text messages were.
Fr. Roy stated, "From the government we expect respect for the law, the rule of law and freedom of worship provided for in the Constitution."
Lawyers who are appealing the ruling have said that the Sim card from where the messages were sent was not registered to the Christian couple's names, and have argued that since both are illiterate, they could not have sent the messages.
Humanitarian group World Vision in Progress, along with its international partners, has said that it will look after the couple's four minor children.
"If a bold step would not be taken from the Christian community soon then it would become impossible for them to live in Pakistan," the ground organization has warned.
William Stark, International Christian Concern's regional manager for South Asia: "Since the blasphemy laws were enacted in 1986, Christians and other religious minorities have been disproportionately accused and convicted of blasphemy. In 2013, 36 individuals were accused of blasphemy in Pakistan," he stated.
"Of that 36, 30 were religious minorities, 12 of which were Christians. Given that Christians only make up 2% of Pakistan's population, the fact that one third of blasphemy accusations made in 2013 were leveled against Christians is telling."
He added that false blasphemy accusations against Christians in Pakistan occur frequently and are often motivated by score settling, economic gain or religious intolerance. Women in the Christian community in the Islamic country are also targeted by abductions, rape and forced marriages.
"As Pakistan continues to become more and more religiously fundamental, the abuses visited upon the Christian community will likely only get worse," Stark added.
Read more at http://global.christianpost.com/news/illiterate-christian-couple-sentenced-to-death-for-blasphemous-text-messages-in-pakistan-117569/#gfXkiUop2Cm0jgXr.99
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SYRIA: CHRISTIAN SCHOOL BOMBED
23 April 2014
Recent weeks have seen a serious escalation of violence in Syria. Here, Hanna, a Christian living in Damascus, tells us about a day, shortly before Easter, when bombs rained down on a Christian school:
"I want to tell you about yesterday. Yesterday was a terrible day. We cried and prayed all day. Yesterday they were bombing Bab Toma, the old city of Damascus. A lot of Christians live there. There is also a Christian school, a private one. Yesterday, when those kids went to school, gathered at the square like they always do, a mortar fell in their midst. Some friends passed by the school and saw how parents and teachers were carrying their wounded children out of the school, dripping with blood. How they were running to the hospitals in panic. For me, as a mother and a teacher, I can hardly bear to imagine what these people must be going through right now. Twelve people lost their lives in that school yesterday, most of them children from the elementary school. Many more of them have lost arms and legs or have other injuries.
"In our school we gathered the children to pray for the victims. I told the children, 'No matter what bad things are happening around us, our God is still good; even if we're in danger of death; our God is still good and worthy of praise'. So we raised our hands and started worshipping God. The parents of one of our Muslim pupils were present while we did that and they were so impressed; they said, 'Our child is safe here, he is under the protection of God'.
"WE ARE GETTING TIRED"
"We are praying on the frontline, but we are getting tired. Tired of praying. Tired of crying. Sometimes it seems like there is no end to all this misery. I know God is in control, but sometimes I feel so hopeless. I regularly fall on my knees and cry out to Him about why all of this is happening. I praise God that He is protecting me and my family. Prayer gives me strength; it's a weapon in the spiritual battle that's going on here.
"Please, you have to continue praying for us when we are tired; you have to fight this spiritual battle with us. It's really encouraging for us to know that when we run out of words to pray, we know that you are praying with us. Please, please pray. "
Source: Open Doors
SYRIA: PRIEST SHOT DEAD IN HOMS
09 April 2014
Frans van der Lugt, a Jesuit priest who refused to leave the embattled city of Homs, was assassinated on Monday 7 April. Independent news accounts reported that van der Lugt was taken from his house into his garden, where he was shot through the head.
Known among the people as Abouna Francis - Father Francis - the 75-year-old Dutchman had worked in Syria for more than 40 years. He had refused to leave, in solidarity with the few Christians still living there.
Van der Lugt arrived in the Middle East in 1966, first living in Lebanon and moving to Homs in the early 1970s. He was a teacher, with an emphasis in working with special-needs students. As the Syrian civil war struck Homs, the priest was determined to stay with the dwindling Christian community that remained. Homs was once home to an estimated 60,000 Christians; the latest figures reported that fewer than 30 remained in the Old City sector.
And now that number is reduced by one more.
Even at his advanced age, van der Lugt got around the war-torn city on his bicycle, tending to the elderly and disabled and trying, like everyone else, to obtain enough food for the day. It was a constant struggle.
On 27 January, a short video was posted on You Tube in which Father Frans, sitting before a darkened altar, spoke about the desperate situation in Homs. "One of our biggest problems is hunger," he said. "There is nothing to eat."
Source: World Watch Monitor
3000 Syrian Christians flee Armenian village as Islamist rebels take control
Mar 27 2014
An Armenian* Syrian pastor, whose family is from Kessab, close to Syria's northern border with Turkey, has reported that they have fled the village after Syrian rebel jihadists took control of the area. The fighting in the predominantly Armenian Christian town started Friday March 21st. World
Watch Monitor has seen a letter in which he said fighters of the Al-Nusra front and ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Sham - greater Syria) entered North West Syria from Turkey and progressively took control over the town the same day.
Kessab is about 10Km from the Mediterranean, and the most northern Syrian town near the coast.
The Armenian pastor writes that the day after the Al Qaeda-linked fighters took control, most of the town's population (some 650 families, over 3000 individuals), fled into the hills or had taken refuge in the coastal city of Latakia, about 50km south of Kessab. Nothing has been heard since from those who remained to guard family properties.
Armenian media sources have claimed 80 Armenians were killed in the assault. The pastor wrote: "In taking over control, churches were desecrated, houses pillaged and government buildings destroyed."
Open Doors USA
Lebanese library torched after blasphemy accusation
Published: January 07, 2014
Priest and owner accused of publishing insults against Islam
A huge library of books collected by a 72-year-old Greek Orthodox priest, but used by the whole community, was torched in Lebanon on Friday (January 3) after he was accused of insulting Islam.
There have been different reports regarding the source of the accusations against Father Ibrahim Sarrouj, who has managed the Al-Saeh (Travellers' or Pilgrims') Library in Tripoli, near Lebanon's northern border with Syria, since 1972.
Lebanon's Daily Star reports that a fatwa was issued against Fr. Sarrouj because of an article allegedly published by the priest on a Danish website in 2010. However, AFP reports that a pamphlet was discovered inside one of the library's books, which was considered blasphemous. Other reports suggested the incident followed a dispute between Fr. Sarrouj and a businessman who wished to buy the property.
Before the fire, the priest had met with Islamic leaders in Tripoli in an attempt to clear his name and a demonstration that had been planned in protest over the allegations had been called off, reported AFP. However, on Thursday one of his employees, Bashir Hazzouri, was injured after being shot.
Following the burning of the library, a local official said Fr. Sarrouj had done nothing wrong.
"Father Sarrouj has nothing to do with the article," said local security chief Imad Ayyoubi at a press conference. "The website is from Denmark and [the article] was published on Jan. 7, 2010. Whoever seeks to incite strife in Tripoli is destined for imprisonment, [as are] those who carried out the attack."
Meanwhile a local Salafist Sheikh, Salem al-Rafei, said the person responsible for issuing a fatwa against Fr. Sarrouj should be punished, but not the perpetrators themselves.
"I call on [the police] to prosecute those who incited, ordered and issued a fatwa in favour of the attack rather than the fervent boys who carried out the attack," he said.
Dozens of locals joined in the clear-up at the library over the weekend, with local supporters launching a fund to rebuild the library "better than it was". Around two-thirds of the library's estimated 80,000 books are thought to have been damaged.
Fr. Sarrouj told the Daily Star that he forgave the perpetrators and that the "greatest victory" was the support he had received from Christians and Muslims alike. He also said he was not interested in pursuing the attackers. "That is for the security forces," he said. "The government brings them to justice, not me. I am only here to love them. I am here to carry them on my shoulders."
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CANADIAN NUN AND TWO PRIESTS ABDUCTED IN CAMEROON
10 April 2014
A Canadian nun and two Italian priests have been kidnapped by armed men in northern Cameroon, a region which serves as a base for Nigeria's radical Islamist group Boko Haram.
The Canadian nun, Gilberte Bussiere, 75, has been in Cameroon for nearly 40 years. The two priests were identified as Giampaolo Marta, 47, and Gianantonio Allegri, 57, from the diocese of Vicenza in the northeast of Italy. According to local sources, Father Marta has been in Cameroon for 10 years, while Allegri had returned to the country in September after working there in the 1990s. They've all been involved in social development, especially in education.
The three clerics were taken hostage on the night of 4 April after a group of armed men stormed their small parish in Tchéré, 18 km from the Diocese of Maroua - Mokolo, and ransacked church buildings before heading toward Mora, near the Nigeria border.
North Korea: 'We cannot go without your prayers'
27 March 2014
"When helping these people, we cannot go without your prayers," says Open Doors field worker Sun-Hi. "Recently, I met a certain North Korean refugee. He had lost his parents years ago and had to live on the streets. Later he married. A Christian contacted him and shared about Christianity. He came to China because he wanted to know more. He was very eager to learn and we studied the Bible from breakfast till ten in the evening."
Prayer for those who choose to return
Many North Korean Christians come to faith in China as refugees. Some go to live in South Korea, but the majority of North Korean Christians who are supported by Open Doors through safe houses in China, choose to return to their families in North Korea. One brother who has returned to North Korea, wrote the following prayer:
"Dear Heavenly Father,
Thank You, Father, for sending us brothers and sisters who help and support us and pray for us. I want to live only according to your will. Many brothers and sisters have traveled a long way to show us your love and grace.
Please provide me with your power and wisdom so that I can preach your love to the people in my country and help them to live according to your words. Please help us to accept your words and guide us to live without any fear or worries. I had some fear when I made my way to China. But all my fear disappeared when I engraved your words in my mind and came to know about God's love through brothers and sisters in China.
No wonder why my mind was somewhat relieved when I was coming to China. Other people will not understand why I feel light on my feet when in reality our life is still so difficult. I know why I can feel that way: because I have engraved your words in my mind and have become your child. I will return back to North Korea without any fear and worry. It is because God is with me.
God please guide each and every one of us to accept your words and engrave your words in our minds. I pray this in Jesus name. Amen."
Open Doors helps Christians survive by supplying them with food, medicines, clothes and other aid goods. Without our support many Christians will starve to death. We also support them with the distribution of Christian materials as well as training through radio broadcasting, training materials and give Biblical training to North Korean Christians living temporarily in China.
Source: Open Doors
Kenya: Six dead in church attack
24 March 2014
UPDATE: Satrine Osinya, the little boy with the bullet lodged in his brain, has been flown to Nairobi for emergency treatment. Please pray for his full recovery. BBC report here.
On Sunday March 23 a hooded gunman stormed into the morning worship service of the Joy in Jesus Church, Mombasa, and indiscriminately opened fired on the worshippers.
Two died on the spot, but since the attack the death toll has risen to six. Meanwhile a further 18 people, including 12 women and 4 children are receiving treatment in hospital.
During the attack, worshippers were ambushed as they attempted to flee by two other gunmen stationed outside the church.
"They forced their way through the rear door, shot the watchman. One attacker shouted 'Allah akbar!' and started shooting in every direction,"
The attackers then calmly walked away, disappearing into the surrounding slums. At the same time, two other attacks were attempted at nearby churches but were repulsed by armed police men who were on guard duty.
"We have been hearing the Muslim preachers promise over their loudspeakers that they will revenge the Masjid Musa incident where security agents stormed the Mosque and arrested over 200 people," reported an OD contact who remains anonymous for security reasons.
"We are resolute and will not be cowered. This is the message we are sending to those that are against the Gospel being preached in this area. We will not leave the area because we know that Satan only arises against the Church like this when it is making an impact. This is confirmation that we are doing something right for the Kingdom of Christ!
Source: Open Doors
» 03/18/2014 17:10
Slamming the arrest of a priest and an activist, Church calls for their immediate release
by Melani Manel Perera
Colombo (AsiaNews) - "We condemn this unlawful arrest. We call upon the government, which boasts about securing the rights of oppressed people, to release them immediately and show that the freedom it speaks about actually exists," said the Christian Solidarity Movement (CSM) in a statement released at a press conference held at the Centre for Society and Religion in Maradana.
In its communiqué, the CSM calls for the release of a Catholic priest and a human rights activist who were arrested two days ago on terrorism charges.
The Christian group was joined by the Catholic National Commission for Justice, Peace and Human Development, which, in a separate statement, called their arrest "inhuman and arbitrary."
Fr Praveen Maneshan, an Oblate of Mary Immaculate (OMI) who directs the Centre for Peace and Reconciliation (CPR) in Jaffna, and Mr Ruki Fernando, special adviser to INFORM, a Human Rights Documentation Centre based in Colombo, were arrested for terrorism after visiting a community in Kilinochchi.
Fr Praveen Maneshan and Ruki Fernando did not do anything illegal or criminal," the CSM said. "They only gave a voice to those who have none. Theirs is a humanitarian commitment. For many years, they have worked for the rights of the people, without distinction of race, creed or origin."
Nigeria: Nigeria attacks kill more than 150
17 March 2014
More than 150 people have been killed since Friday in central and northern Nigeria in separate attacks on villages populated by a concentration of Christians.
On Friday, March 14, gunmen raided three villages in Kaduna state in central Nigeria, killing at least 114 people. Daniel Anyip a local government official cited by Reuters said the attackers were from the Fulani, a West African ethnic group of herdsmen, largely Muslim, that has a history of land grievances with Nigeria's indigenous Christians and others.
Most of the victims in the three villages were burned beyond recognition, according to sources cited by the BBC. Nigeria's Channels Television reported that 114 of more than 150 victims have been buried in a mass grave.
Fulani also are suspected in attacks on several villages Sunday afternoon in Taraba state, southeast of Kaduna on Nigeria's eastern border. About 35 people were killed, and a Catholic Church was attacked, according to the Nigeria Daily Post. The Post cited a man who escaped the attacks as saying the raids were a Fulani response to tensions in next-door Benue state between the Fulani and the Tivs, a farming ethnic group, some of whom have adopted Christianity.
Also on Sunday, militants suspected to be part of Boko Haram killed two people in Pela Birni village in Borno state, in Nigeria's northeastern corner. Boko Haram is an armed insurgency that aims to set up Islamic law across Nigeria's north, and has been blamed for the deaths of thousands of Nigerians, Christian and Muslim, since 2009.
Pela Birni is populated by a concentration of Christians, reported Nigeria's Vanguard newspaper.
"The gunmen invaded our village at about 10 o'clock in the evening on Sunday, they started shouting 'God is Great,' " The Vanguard quoted a resident of the village as saying. "In some houses, they did not shoot at the residents but ordered them to vacate their houses and set them ablaze, saying 'We are here for God work.' "
Two churches and a number of houses were burned, according to news reports.
India: Trouble in the south
04 March 2014
Church leaders in India are alarmed over a dramatic increase in attacks on Christians in the state of Andhra Pradesh, where in recent weeks one pastor has been murdered, others beaten, and churches demolished.
The All India Christian Council documented 72 incidents of anti-Christian violence and hostility in Andhra Pradesh in 2013, nearly double the 39 recorded in 2012. Today the state, India's fifth-most populous, has the country's highest rate of anti-Christian incidents, according to the All India Christian Council
Ruling party in three of the five Indian states with laws that forbid forced religious conversions — laws that frequently are used to shut down churches or intimidate Christians who speak about their faith.
Meanwhile, pressure on Christians continues.
On Dec. 28 in the town of Narketpally in the Nalgonda district of Andhra Pradesh, Suverthamma Moses responded to a late-night knock at the door and was struck on the head with an iron bar, then stabbed. When her husband, Nama Moses, a Baptist pastor, rushed in, he was stabbed multiple times.
"The attack took less than 10 minutes while three extremists were standing outside the house. The neighbours later came to their rescue and rushed them to the Kameneni Hospital.
On Jan. 10 in Vakirabad town, armed Hindu Vanihi militants knocked at the door of Hebron Church pastor O. Sanjeevi's house, then hit his wife with an iron rod after she opened the door. The attackers stabbed Pastor Sanjeevi eight times. He died three days later, leaving behind his wife and four children.
"About 250 church members he looked after felt bewildered and deprived by the incident," an area church leader, Rev. Madhusudan Das, of the Evangelical Fellowship of India, told World Watch Monitor.
On New Year's Eve, extremists in the town of Rajamundry set fire to a worship centre operated by a church named Dr. John Wesley of Young Holy Team, after the church members had conducted a night service.
And the morning of Feb. 2, a Sunday, the Bethel Gospel church building in Hyderabad, a western district of Andhra Pradesh, was burned to ashes.
North Korea: MPs horrified
04 March 2014
A packed Parliamentary meeting on 4 March heard moving testimony about the plight of Christians in North Korea.
The meeting had been organised by Open Doors and featured powerful testimony from Hea Woo, a Christian survivor of a North Korean labour camp, and Jan Vermeer, a former journalist who has travelled to North Korea several times and is the author of books about the country.
"I'm stunned and horrified by what has been shared today," said one MP. "How can we do more to help?"
In her testimony to the meeting, Hea Woo gave a graphic and powerful account of her time inside a North Korean labour camp - where torture and beatings are routine, and where prisoners were so hungry they were reduced to eating rats, snakes, or even searching for grains in cow dung. In such places the dignity of human life counted for nothing.
"Sometimes we had soup with nothing in it, just full of dirt," said Hea Woo. "In some places whole families were put into camps. They separated the men from the women and even if they saw each other they couldn't talk to each other. The guards told us that we are not human beings, we are just prisoners, so we don't have any right to love. We were just animals. Even if people died there, they didn't let the family members outside know. "
Jan Vermeer painted a picture of a land where Christianity is being brutally suppressed.
"There are between 200,000 and 400,000 Christians in North Korea. Between 50,000 and 70,000 of them live and ultimately die in labour camps. In other words: one in four Christians may be in a prison camp," said Vermeer. "Nowhere in the world are so many Bibles hidden as in North Korea. Some have been buried in gardens or woods, because their owners have been arrested and were sent to labour camps."
He issued this challenge to the packed room: "I think we are part of their story and we have each been given one chapter in history to write. What will your chapter be?"
"We cannot stay silent," said Fiona Bruce, who co-chaired the meeting. "North Korea is in breach of every single declaration of the 1948 human rights bill." She reported an increasing interest among MPs, reflecting concern over what has been happening in North Korea for over 60 years.
"We can learn from Burma," said Lord Alton, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea. "There has been significant change. We need something parallel in North Korea to keep this issue on the agenda. We want to change hearts and minds inside North Korea. This will be achieved through the free flow of information. He ended the meeting with a challenge: "When small stones move, landslides happen."
- Praise God for the high number of MPs who attended the meeting. Ask God to move people to action as a result of what they have heard
- For Christians in North Korea who face severe persecution for following Jesus.
» 02/14/2014 14:09
Pakistani Taliban claim 500 women suicide bombers ready to kill ti impose Sharia on the country
by Jibran Khan
As a second round of talks between the TTP and the government gets underway today, the country continues to suffer from attacks and violence. Extremists are pushing for a progressively more "Islamised" state. Exasperated, more and more ordinary Pakistanis are favourable to a military operation.
Islamabad (AsiaNews) - The Pakistani Taliban can count on more than 500 women suicide bombers, and more than 1,300 young students from Qur'anic schools, who are ready to blow themselves up in order to achieve the fundamentalists' goal, namely the introduction of Sharia, or Islamic law, in the country.
In recent weeks, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has carried out a series of suicide attacks against sensitive targets, including members of the police and security forces, to avenge the death of comrades and people associated with the extremist movement. According to its latest statements, the violence will continue until their demands "are met".
The Taliban said that they would agree to a ceasefire if a certain number of non-negotiable preconditions were met, namely the introduction of Sharia law in the country; an Islamic educational system; the release of all terrorists and fighters, including the killers of Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti; the handover of all the tribal areas and the withdrawal of the army, the end of the interest-based banking system, the end to support for the US war on terror; and the replacement of the democratic model with an Islamic regime.
Extremists have also targeted a tribal community of a few thousand people living in the Kalash Valley. For centuries, its members have lived in this remote area of northwest Pakistan, on the border with Afghanistan. Of a peaceful nature, they are polytheist. And their leader strongly supports education in the region, peaceful coexistence and dialogue among residents. Yet, the Taliban warned them to "convert to Islam or be beheaded."
» 02/13/2014 14:06
Islamabad: an innocent 24-year-old Christian man tortured to death by police
by Jibran Khan
Islamabad (AsiaNews) - For police, Sabir Masih committed suicide by hanging himself. Medical reports show instead that he died from "severe internal injuries" caused by "torture and abuse."
The 24-year old Pakistani Christian man died from the brutal treatment he received under police interrogation after he was arrested on unfounded charges of theft.
In order to extract a confession, the agents did not hesitate from using force, causing injuries that proved fatal.
The Catholic Church and members of civil society want justice, exemplary punishment for the perpetrators and an end to the violent deaths of ordinary citizens, innocent victims.
In an attempt to cover up the matter, top police officials also ordered the family to bury him today. The latter however refused, demanding instead an autopsy.
Nothing indicates that he hanged himself.
With a population of more than 180 million people (97 per cent Muslim), Pakistan is the sixth most populous country in the world.
About 80 per cent of Muslims are Sunni, whilst Shias are 20 per cent. Hindus are 1.85 per cent, followed by Christians (1.6 per cent) and Sikhs (0.04 per cent).
» 02/18/2014 13:04
EGYPT - ISLAM
Cairo (AsiaNews ) - The jihadist group Ansar al- Beit Maqdess has claimed responsibility for the terrorist attack two days ago in the Sinai against a bus carrying s Koreans pilgrim that left four dead and 14 wounded. The Egyptian Catholic Church has sent a message of condolence for all those killed and expressing closeness to the injured.
In a statement published online, the group praises "one of the Beit al- Maqdess heroes" who carried out the attack. The group, based in the Sinai says it is linked to Al Qaeda and is at the forefront in major attacks against police and army in recent months, which have multiplied since the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi and the outlawing of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.
According to the group, the February 16 attack marked a new phase in the war against the new government, targeting "economic interests", tied to tourism.
It is the first time in 10 years that a group of tourists have been targeted in an attack in Egypt , although bombings and massacres have occurred under all the presidents and governments.
In this case, the bus that was hit was carrying a group of 31 Korean Christian pilgrims, all from Jincheon county, who were on a tour that included Turkey, Egypt and Israel. The police established that the terrorist - 21 years of age or more - got on the bus and detonated an explosive belt that must have weighed about 5-10 kg.
INDIA US Christian missionary arrested in India
Mumbai (AsiaNews) - An American Christian missionary, David Grant, was arrested in India on alleged visa "violations".
"This underscores the different treatment reserved to Christian missionaries in our country," Sajan George, President of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) told AsiaNews.
Police detained the religious leader and his wife Beth on their arrival at the airport in New Delhi.
Rev David Grant, a pastor with the Evangelical Assemblies of God World Missions, has been in India for 35 years. The complaint against him dates back to September 2013 after a visit he made in Kerala.
"In the West, it is common to see Hindu sadhus (holy men) freely proselytising," said Sajan George told AsiaNews.
"Moreover," he noted, "hundreds of foreign tourists visit our country and take part in religious services or hear public speeches by Hindu clerics without problems."
"Unfortunately, when Christian missionaries come to India, they are not accorded the same reciprocity and often end up facing threats, abuse and arrests."
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Christian-Muslim Clashes in Central African Republic Leave 75 Dead; Thousands Hiding in Churches Need Help
Bangui February 3, 2014.
By Stoyan Zaimov, Christian Post Reporter
February 4, 2014|5:07 pm
Pastors say that thousands of people hiding in churches are in desperate need of help.
Father Cassien Kamatari revealed that most of the dead in the town of Boda were Christians, though it is not known how many total Muslims were killed, as their bodies were buried quickly, BBC News reported.
CAR has been locked in sectarian battles ever since the resignation of interim President Michel Djotodia earlier this year. The transitional government had hopes of restoring peace and preparing for democratic elections, but those efforts were hampered due to fighting between Seleka rebels and anti-Balaka fighters.
Thousands of people fleeing the sectarian violence are hiding in churches and mosques.
"We would need the help of other organizations and an escort to visit those sites. First, we visited the displaced at two church compounds. As we entered the first camp, I was moved with compassion when I saw the difficult circumstances people are enduring," the Open Doors field director said.
He added that a pastor told him that close to 4,000 people have been packed inside his church, and that number is growing every day.
"Although the ex-rebels know their time is up, they still cause trouble in various places. New families keep arriving in the camps, indicating that security remains a problem in many areas in town. For camp staff, major challenges include the provision of water, sanitation and food. The UNHCR has provided some large shelters and the Red Cross has dug some pit latrines and set up improvised washing areas."
The field director stressed that disease is another worrying factor at the camps, and the problem must be addressed or things may get worse.
"Their biggest worry is the approaching rainy season when mosquitoes will abound and the whole compound will become a mud pool. Apart from the huge discomfort, this means an increased risk of malaria and waterborne disease," he pointed out.
BBC noted that France has over 1,600 soldiers in CAR who are working with another 4,000 troops in the region striving to end the deadly violence in the troubled country, where about a million people, or 20 percent of the entire population, have been forced to flee their homes.
Iran: 'Martyred' Iranian pastor remembered 20 years on
27 January 2014
Memorial services are being held in Tehran, London and California to mark the 20th anniversary of the death of Haik Hovsepian, an Iranian pastor hailed oslavovaný by many Christians as a martyr.
Hovsepian vanished on January 19, 1994, three days after his protests helped to secure the release of fellow Iranian pastor Mehdi Dibaj, who had been imprisoned for 10 years and sentenced to death for apostasy.
Hovsepian, 49, was found with multiple stab wounds to the chest and later buried in an Islamic cemetery after police claimed they had been unable to identify his body.
His family were eventually notified of his death on January 30 and arranged a Christian reburial.
His death hit global news headlines around the world due to his prominent role in Iran's Church.
The pastor had not only been outspoken in his defence for Dibaj, but also against a perceived lack of religious freedom in Iran in general.
In November 1992, he invited the UN's Human Rights Special Representative for Iran, Reynaldo Galindo Pohl, to mediate "true religious freedom" in Iran, based "not on ethnic or religious identity, but on personal conviction".
The pastor also refused to sign a document stating that Christians in Iran enjoyed full religious freedom.
Central African Republic: Bishops speak out
29 January 2014
Whilst tension remains high and deadly violence continues in CAR, three religious leaders, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Bangui Dieudonne Nzapalainga, I. Omar Kabine Layam, and Revd Nicolas Guerekoyame Gbangou, President of the Alliance of Evangelicals of CAR, have been touring their country to promote peace and tolerance.
At Lambeth Palace on 27 January, Archbishop Dieudonne told, "We must not only disarm weapons - we must disarm the spirit and the heart." The leaders, whose congregations together represent 95% of the total population in CAR, are modelling co-operation and reconciliation at a time when the conflict is escalating.
The religious element of the conflict is proving complex. According to Open Doors' sources, from December 2012, Seleka had a definite religious agenda, which was to conquer Bangui, set up an Islamic regime and apply Sharia (Islamic law). Evidence for this can be found in the letters of Seleka leader and temporary president, Michel Djotodia. For the next nine months, Seleka unleashed horrific violence against the local, predominantly Christian population.
Persecution of Christians
On Wednesday evening (29 January), members of the disbanded Seleka rebel group flung four grenades into the compound of the Elim-Mpoko Church led by prominent Pastor Nicolas Guerékoyamé-Gbangou, who recently visited the UK. The church is one of the 57 sites where displaced people have been hiding since the December escalation of violence in the capital. At the time of the attack it housed an estimated 1,500 refugees; several people were injured.
Last year, Pastor Servant Obona and his family were forced by threats from Seleka to flee their home and his work in Bangui. Servant does not doubt for a moment that the rebels targeted him because of his pastoral ministry. He says, "We have planted churches in Banqui and its surrounds. Around here everyone knows me. The rebels have been looking for me because I planted these churches, especially the one in their stronghold."
Last year, Pastor Servant Obona and his family were forced by threats from Seleka to flee their home and his work in Bangui. Servant does not doubt for a moment that the rebels targeted him because of his pastoral ministry. He says, "We have planted churches in Banqui and its surrounds. Around here everyone knows me. The rebels have been looking for me because I planted these churches.
Source: Open Doors; World Watch Monitor; www.archbishopofcanterbury.org
- For restraint and reconciliation between Muslims and Christians
- For international efforts to protect, support and liberate the people of CAR
- For believers who are traumatised, exhausted, discouraged.
Nigeria: Churchgoers 'slaughtered'
29 January 2014
At least 26 people died on Sunday when attackers stormed a Catholic Church in Adamawa State, northern Nigeria, during the Sunday worship service.
Stephen Dami Mamza, bishop of Yola, Nigeria, said parishioners from Waga Chakawa village described how the attackers, suspected to be Boko Haram militants, arrived in trucks near the end of mass. The intruders locked the church, fired guns at those trying to flee, and cut the throats of others, Bishop Mamza told the BBC. They set off bombs and for the next four hours, burned houses and took hostages.
"There is no protection," said Mamza. "We cannot predict where and when they are going to attack. People can't sleep with their eyes closed."
Later the same day, at least 52 people died when suspected Boko Haram insurgents set off several bombs at a busy market in Kuwari in Borno state. 300 homes were burnt down. On Monday two bombs left behind also went off, narrowly missing security personnel busy with clean-up operations.
Adamawa and Borno states are still under a state of emergency imposed by the government in May last year in an effort to root out Boko Haram.
Source: Open Doors, BBC
BBC: Nigerian bishop tells of church 'slaughter' in Adamawa
Protestant Churches to Hold 'Day of Prayer' for South Sudan, Ask for Peace and Justice in Violence-Ridden Nation
Internally displaced people are gathered in a Catholic church in Malakal, South Sudan, January 21, 2014.
By Michael Gryboski, Christian Post Reporter
February 5, 2014|12:19 pm
Protestant Churches in the United States and abroad have called for a "Day of Prayer for South Sudan" in response to the recent news of a ceasefire in the violence-ridden nascent nation.
Presbyterian Church (USA), The Episcopal Church, and the Reformed Church in America have issued calls to their members to pray for South Sudan on Sunday, February 16.
Gradye Parsons, Stated Clerk of the PC (USA) General Assembly, said in a recently released statement that the Republic of South Sudan needs their prayers and support during this time.
"The ceasefire that went into effect in South Sudan on January 23 provides a sign of hope," said Parsons. "Our brothers and sisters need our prayer and support as they seek to move into a future of justice and peace."
PC (USA) has also called on members to lobby in Washington for the cause and to donate to a disaster relief effort specifically set up for South Sudan.
"God of reconciliation, we ask you to send your Spirit of unity and peace to guide the people and the leaders of South Sudan from violence and into the paths of peace and justice," reads the text of suggested prayer for Feb. 16 in part. "Strengthen them with the power of your Holy Spirit as they witness to the strong love of Christ, advocating for peace and justice "
The Republic of South Sudan gained independence in July 2011 due to a referendum overwhelmingly approved by voters. South Sudan became immersed in a violent political conflict last December.
Having endured decades of civil war before independence, the recent wave of violence has led to an estimated 1,000 deaths and as many as 500,000 displaced.
Islamabad: as bishop calls for 'unity against violence," thousands of Christians march for peace
by Jibran Khan
A torchlight procession is held in the capital to remember the victims of violence and the work of a recently deceased priest who led a campaign for vaccination. As he commemorates the victims of bloody attacks against churches and schools, Bishop Rufin Anthony appeals to ordinary Pakistanis to stand with the government to "eradicate terrorism from the roots."
The latest Catholic initiative is a response to the escalating wave of terror that has fallen on the nation and left scores of people dead in the first weeks of 2014. In the capital, thousands of people joined the candlelight vigil for peace.
During the rally, the prelate spoke about Fr Anwar Patras, a Pakistani priest who died last week and was buried in Mianwali District. With a lifetime of service in the dioceses of Rawalpindi and Attock, he led in the fields of education and health, especially raising awareness in a campaign for polio vaccination.
Since the start of the year, Islamic extremists and Pakistani Taliban have carried out at least ten major attacks across the country. For most Pakistanis, the time is for quick action, including a decisive military campaign "to eradicate terrorism from the roots".
"People live in fear," said Fr John P Riaz, a priest from Rawalpindi. There is a lot of "uncertainty" about the future. People want only peace and security. "We pray for peace in the region because we want a future for the new generations," he added, "a future free from fear."
In fact, Christians are not allowed to build churches, and pastors and priests have to refrain from venturing into these areas because of the danger of abduction and murder. Just recently, a priest was kidnapped and released only after a large sum of money was paid.
"It is ironic that Christians are not recognised even in Tribal Areas despite their loyalty," said Fr James Ilyas, from the Diocese of Peshawar, where a Protestant church was attacked in September.
With a population of more than 180 million people (97 per cent Muslim), Pakistan is the sixth most populous country in the world, the second largest Muslim nation after Indonesia. Hindus are 1.85 per cent, followed by Christians (1.6 per cent) and Sikhs (0.04 per cent).
» 01/27/2014 11:11
MALAYSIA - ISLAM
Kuala Lumpur (AsiaNews) - Two men on a motorcycle threw two Molotov cocktails at the church of the Assumption in Penang last night, only one of which exploded without causing serious damage or injuries .
The attack is reminiscent of the wave of sectarian violence that hit the country in 2010, with dozens of churches and other places of worship (whether Christian or not) the target of terrorist attacks or acts of vandalism. The bomb attacks followed derogatory banners appearing outside three different churches in Penang with the inscription: "Allah is great, Jesus is the son of Allah." So far no one has claimed responsibility for the act, which has raised outrage among religious leaders in the area.
» 01/21/2014 13:56
SRI LANKA - PAKISTAN
Pakistani Christians ask for Church help to get political asylum in Sri Lanka
by Melani Manel Perera
At least 200 refugees, including more than 50 children, have been stranded in Negombo for nearly three years. UNHCR authorities have not yet recognised their rights as refugees. The inability to get an education and crime are their most serious problems. "In Pakistan, we are treated like enemies," some young people said, "but as Christians, there is no peace in our country."
"We did not want to leave Pakistan," some of them told AsiaNews, "but as Christians, there is no peace in our country."
This community of refugees has been supported by members of the Catholic clergy in Negombo, in particular by the Claretian Sisters and by Fr Terrance Bodiyabaduge, who is in charge of coordinating and distributing the aid provided by local parishioners.
"I know that the Sri Lankan government will not help these people," Fr Bodiyabaduge told AsiaNews. "Only the Catholic Church can do something for them."
Sharoon John, a young Pakistani Christian, told AsiaNews that in Pakistan, "We are treated as enemies. Wherever we go, we are not respected. For example, if I wanted to join the police force I would have to bribe some official despite my qualifications just because I am Christian. I can also think of the many threats that we receive if one of us wants to marry a Muslim man or woman."
One of the greatest threats to their lives are the so-called "blasphemy laws", whereby anyone who desecrates the Qur'an or insults Muhammad can be sentenced to death.
Mali: Bomb scare reignites Christian fear in northern Mali
16 January 2014
Christians in a city in northern Mali, already forced to hold services in a school classroom because their church was looted and not ready to host meetings, had a bomb scare on Sunday (Jan. 14).
Military personnel patrolling the area in Gao on Sunday morning discovered explosives near the school. French army personnel were able to safely defuse the devices and authorities are now investigating, but the incident left church members shocked.
The pastor of the church, whose identity is being withheld to protect his security, told World Watch Monitor there is "insecurity in all aspects of life" at the moment, but that his congregation was refusing to panic.
"I cannot say for sure that the bomb was intended to hurt us Christians," he said. "I only know that the location of the bomb was right next to our place of worship and also a route frequently used by the military."
It is just over a year now since French troops ousted the Tuareg-led Islamist group, which had taken over northern Mali and declared independence, aiming to impose Islamic law on cities such as Gao.
On January 11 last year, French troops moved to regain control of the region after the Islamist militants had attempted to progress further south.
For nearly a year, the armed Islamist groups had ruled the region, banning the practice of other religions and desecrating and looting churches and other places of worship.
Thousands, including many Christians, fled the occupation and found refuge in the south of the country or in neighbouring countries such as Niger and Burkina Faso.
After the French helped the Malian forces to regain control of the region, the re-establishment of security took time and necessitated mass reconstruction, as many displaced people returned home.
A number of public buildings were destroyed during the conflict, including schools, health clinics, ancient monuments, hotels and restaurants.
Mali fell from 7th to 33rd on the 2014 World Watch List, which ranks the 50 countries where practising Christianity is most fraught.
Failing States Lead to Increased Persecution of Christians
09 January 2014
Open Doors 2014 World Watch List shows militant Islamic pressure
Fragile or failed states where militant Islamic movements flourish are some of the hardest places for Christians to live, shows an annual report on Christian religious freedom.
Pressure on Christians intensified in a number of countries in 2013.
The situation deteriorated most rapidly across northern Africa, the Middle East and the Gulf, in countries where sectarian violence has advanced unchecked by impotent central governments.
Among the top ten on the list are six countries where the government has little or no control: Syria, Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen.
Syria is number three, up from number 11 a year ago. The continuing civil war has afflicted all segments of society, but Christians have paid an especially high price. At number eight, Pakistan has a huge number of extremists, because the national government does little to control local politicians who provide room for anti-Christian pressure to grow. In October two suicide bombers killed at least 89 Christians at a church in Peshawar, believed to be the worst single act of anti-Christian violence since Pakistan was created in 1947.
The Central African Republic joined the list for the first time at number 16, having spiralled into anarchy since the March overthrow of the government by an Islamist-dominated rebel coalition.
Continuing a 15-year trend, militant Islam is a growing source of pressure on Christians, and has become the primary driver of persecution in 36 of the 50 countries on the list.
The result is especially violent in sub-Saharan Africa. Four sub-Saharan countries rank among the ten most-violent countries for Christians in 2013: Central African Republic, Nigeria, Eritrea, and Sudan.
The Open Doors World Watch List is the only annual global survey of Christian religious freedom.
The methodology behind the list has been audited by the International Institute for Religious Freedom, a network of academics around the world that seeks 'reliable data on the violation of religious freedom worldwide'.
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As negotiations for the release of the Maaloula nuns continue, Homs bishop makes an appeal
As the nuns' fate remains unclear, the authorities and foreign diplomats continue working on their release, said Mgr Mario Zenari. Meanwhile, Boutros Selwanos Alnemeh, Syriac Orthodox archbishop of Homs, slams Islamists for their "crime", noting that "The abductors want to demonstrate that they show no mercy."
Homs (AsiaNews) - Negotiations for the release of 12 Greek Orthodox nuns and three other young women from Maaloula continue "Some contacts have been established with the kidnappers," Vatican nuncio to Damascus Archbishop Mario Zenari told AsiaNews, "but there are no reports at present about their possible release."
For the prelate, "this kidnapping is very different" from the abduction of Catholic and Orthodox Churchmen earlier this year. The sisters have had the opportunity to contact the outside world by phone..
By contrast, for months there has been silence over the fate of Mgr Yohanna Ibrahim of the Syrian Orthodox Church and Mgr Paul Yazigi, Metropolitan of the Greek Orthodox Church, who were abducted on 22 April, a fate shared by Fr Michel Kayyal, an Armenian Catholic priest, and Fr Maher Mahfouz, a Greek Orthodox, who were seized in February.
Despite a video message broadcast by al-Jazeera in which they offer reassurances, there are concerns about the nun's conditions and fate.
Sources, anonymous for security reasons, told AsiaNews that three Maaloula residents - the nun's driver and two young people - are also being held in Yabrud.
They were abducted during the siege of the Christian village and taken to the rebel-held city, which is under the control of Hamdi Abu Azzam al-Kuwait.
SYRIA – LEBANON
For Caritas Lebanon, "thousands of Syrian refugees could die from the cold and the snow"
The refugee situation in the Bekaa Valley (eastern Lebanon) is "terrible, said Mgr Simon Faddoul, president of Caritas Lebanon. In addition to cold and hunger, people could die from fires caused by makeshift stoves. Yesterday, a one-year-old child died in a fire in a refugee camp in southern Lebanon. Caritas calls on people to remember at Christmas Syria's more than 1.3 million war refugees.
Now, the more than 800,000 Syrian refugees stranded in camps on the border with Syria are having to cope with Alexa, an intense storm that has battered the Middle East with snow and rain, causing whiteout conditions and floods across the region.
"Together with other non-governmental organisations and the United Nations, Caritas has tried to help refugees," Mgr Faddoul said. "In recent weeks, we have handed out thousands of blankets, mattresses, kerosene heaters, winter clothing, plastic sheeting and fuel coupons in the hope of averting the worst, but our efforts are not enough. There is a daily exodus (from Syria) and the number of people who cross the border is now huge."
In view of the situation, the clergyman has urged Western countries and all Christians to send money and aid to the Syrian people.
In the Bekaa Valley alone, there are about 430 makeshift camps. Better off families have been able to build huts using wooden planks, jute bags and metal sheets, which have become a luxury item.
For many people, the only alternative is sleeping in tents made of plastic sheeting, cardboard, tires and other junk.
For Mgr Faddoul, winter this year has turned an already serious humanitarian situation into a catastrophe for the refugees.
"Mothers are trying to keep their children warm by building bonfires inside the huts. This is highly risky. Last night, in a camp in southern Lebanon, a small fire spread from one hut to the entire camp, killing a one-year-old baby, and injuring a number of people. Such accidents can happen any day."
Yet, in spite of the serious situation, many refugee families, Muslims and Christians, are preparing for Christmas.
Prince Charles criticises 'organised persecution' of Middle East Christians
18 December 2013
The Prince of Wales, heir to the British throne, has added his voice to those calling for an end to the persecution of Christians in the Middle East.
After a visit to the London cathedral of the Syriac Orthodox Church, Prince Charles said he was "deeply troubled" by the "growing difficulties" faced by Christians in the region.
"It seems to me that we cannot ignore the fact that Christians in the Middle East are, increasingly, being deliberately targeted by fundamentalist Islamist militants," he said.
Noting Christianity's roots in the region, the Prince observed that today the Middle East and North Africa have the lowest concentration of Christians in the world - just four per cent - and that this has "dropped dramatically over the last century and is falling still further".
He said that the effect of this was that "we all lose something immensely and irreplaceably precious when such a rich tradition dating back 2,000 years begins to disappear".
Echoing the recent words of Louis Raphael I Sako, the Archbishop of Baghdad, the Prince added that the decline of Christians in the region represents a "major blow to peace, as Christians are part of the fabric of society, often acting as bridge-builders between other communities".
"For 20 years, I have tried to build bridges between Islam and Christianity and to dispel ignorance and misunderstanding. The point though, surely, is that we have now reached a crisis where the bridges are rapidly being deliberately destroyed - and this is achieved through intimidation, false accusation and organised persecution.
Left to Right: Prince Charles, Abba Seraphim and Bishop Angaelos at the Coptic Orthodox Church Centre.
David Yakoub, from the beleaguered and once Christian-dominated Syrian town of Sadad, was reported to be close to tears as he pleaded with the Prince to "do something".
Earlier in the day at the UK Coptic Orthodox Church Centre, Prince Charles spoke to Huda Nassar, Middle East director for the Awareness Foundation.
"[Prince Charles] said it was heart-breaking what was going on in Syria, and that he's praying for peace," Huda told World Watch Monitor.
Last week Huda's brother, Nadim Nassar, the only Syrian Anglican priest, handed in to the UK Prime Minister a petition signed by over 300,000 people from 99 countries, on behalf of Syria's Christians.
Maaloula: Islamist rebels abduct 12 nuns from the St Thecla Orthodox monastery
The sisters were abducted this afternoon when a group of armed men stormed the monastery. The rebels have taken the nuns to Yabrud, a city 80 km from Damascus.
Islamist Rebels from the Free Syrian Army (FSA) had invaded the small town on 5 September after driving out regime troops with the support of al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Brigades. After taking control of the city, they went on a rampage against Christian buildings, killing three young Catholic men.
More than 3,000 people, the town's entire Christian population, fled their homes seeking refuge in Bab Touma, the Christian quarter of Damascus. Some found shelter with relatives in Lebanon or in local Greek-Catholic convents.
Only Muslims were left in town, plus 40 nuns at the St Thecla Monastery who stayed to help care for dozens of orphaned children.
As of yesterday, Maaloula became again the scene of heavy fighting between the army and Syrian rebels, including many members of the extremist Jabat-al-Nusra militia.
Syria: European Parliamentary resolution highlights plight of Christians in Syria.
23 October 2013
The European Parliament has adopted a resolution expressing concern over the current situation for Christians in Syria. This latest development comes only one week after Open Doors organised a public meeting in the European Parliament to highlight the plight of Syria's Christians. .
The Resolution was widely supported within the European Parliament and highlights the persecution of Christians not only in Syria, but also in Pakistan and Iran. Significantly, the European Parliament noted that Europe is "aware that Christian and other communities are being caught in the crossfire [in Syria] and that "government repression and social hostility against individuals and groups from various religious or belief backgrounds are on the increas".
A petition on behalf of Christians in Syria has already attracted over 200,000 signatures globally. Esther Kattenberg, Open Doors EU Advocacy Officer, said "We need to give Syria's Christians genuine hope so that they are able and willing to stay in their country. They need to know that they will not be faced by a Syria devoid of its integral Christian community, which is rooted in 2000 years of history".
Hundreds of thousandsof refugees fleeing the violence in Syria live in camps just inside Turkey. So the April 10 news item from Reuters, announcing the creation of two more camps in Turkish town of Midyat, just beyond Syria's northeastern border, didn't seem like much.
But something caught my eye: A camp specifically for Syrian Christians? This was new. Of all the Syrian refugees in Turkey, only a few hundred are Christian. Now they need a camp?
I'm calling clergy and others in Midyat. They can't agree about the number of refugees it is supposed to shelter. One is saying 10,000 Christians, another 1,000. Reuters says 2,500.
Why is Turkey creating a small city to handle a flood of Syrian Christians?
"If cities like Qamishly, Kbor l´bit and Derek, that used to be almost entirely Christian, are purged, we will be finished all over this part of the world."
--Metropolitan Samuel Aktas
"We'll be on the same plane, great!" A dentist, previously deeply involved in the Assyrian movement, interrupts me as I am taking notes. He is also on his way to Midyat. He is behind many of the new buildings in southeastern Turkey and has of course heard about the camp. "It was Syriac Orthodox leaders who requested the establishment of a camp; tourist season is about to start and they want to empty the monasteries of refugees. Otherwise, they may lose donations from visitors, from Sweden, for example." So, the dentist believes it is about money. "What they hadn't counted on was that the Turkish government would take the opportunity to build a Muslim camp next to the Christian one. Christian leaders were shocked – but too late, the construction was already underway."
An hour later, I'm drinking tea from a traditional oval Turkish glass in Deyr ul-Zahfaran, one of the world's oldest monasteries. Here, Syriac Orthodox believers have practiced their faith for more than 1,500 years. Now the monastery serves three purposes: as a church, a tourist attraction, and on this day, a home for about 50 refugees.
Jamil Diarbakerli, a local representative of the Assyrian Democratic Organisation, maintains that the persecution of Christians in Syria is exaggerated. "They are just looking for an excuse to leave Syria and escape to Europe," he says. " Christian from the Syrian town of Qamishly. "What are you talking about? The body of my cousin Alexi Skandar has been lying on a street in Aleppo for more than two weeks. No one dares to go and get him; if you do you'll be killed. And he is not alone; many other bodies of Christians are rotting on the streets because Islamists threaten to kill people who want to bury them."
A meeting with local clreics at Mor Abrohom Monastery.
The courtyard is full of enthusiastic tourists brandishing cameras, unaware of the Syrian refugees living upstairs. The young men walk discreetly past the tourists and slip up the steps. We sit outside; you can almost feel the tide of history. We are in northern Mesopotamia, the cradle of civilization according to archaeologists. "First my grandparents fled from Turkey to get away from the genocide of Christians during WWI. Now we, their grandchildren, are fleeing back here to get away from new persecutions", "We were doing fine under Bashar's regime, before the so-called revolution. Certainly, everything wasn't okay, but at least we weren't oppressed because of our religion. It was much better before. Now, al Qaeda and Salafists have taken over certain parts of Syria and are about to occupy more territory. It is really scary."
Two other Syrian refugeeshave heard that we are interested in their stories and have come to find us.
"It's important that you tell the truth, that you get the whole picture," the first one says. "If you're interested in covering the camp, we want you to know that none of us will be staying in the camp. They didn't even ask us before they started building. Personally, I think that women and children should be brought out from Syria, to the camp, and that the men should be given heavier weapons so that they can defend their areas from al-Qaeda and Salafists."
Metropolitan Samuel Aktas, right, at the Mor Gabriel Monastery. 'We are digging our own grave; this way they would be able to purge Syria of its Christian population.'
At around 10 p.m., we are sitting in the hotel lobby with a man named Bashar. He fled Syria after having been robbed, beaten up and had his life threatened because he refused to convert to Islam. Two women in niqab, a black cloth that Shiite women use to cover their face, had entered the shop, closed the door, took off the cloth so that no one could see that they were men, and beat up Bashar.
The cell phone rings. It's a friend from Mardin, with news that two Syrian bishops have been kidnapped, and their driver killed"It's starting now, just like in Iraq," Bashar says. "They kidnap and kill priests to scare people so that they will run away. People will think, if a Bishop can't protect himself then how can ordinary Christians?
Saima Altunkaya for World Watch Monitor
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» 01/13/2014 16:11
Rajshahi: Islamists kill young Catholic who complained about anti-Christian violence
by Sumon Corraya
Ovidio Marandy, an ethnic Santhal, died last Saturday in Gobindoganj (northern Bangladesh). He had organised a demonstration in his village after Islamic extremists had set it on fire to punish Christians for voting in the 5 January election.
Dhaka (AsiaNews) - Islamists murdered Ovidio Marandy, a young ethnic Santhal Catholic man, last Saturday in Gobindoganj, Gaibandha district (northern Bangladesh). His funeral was held today in the Beneedwar parish church.
A native of Beneedwar Parish (Diocese of Rajshahi), the young man was the younger brother of Fr Samson Marandy, a Catholic priest in the Diocese of Dinajpur.
According to his brother and other family members, Muslim radicals wanted to punish the young man, a well-known figure in the local Catholic community, because he had recently organised a demonstration in his village against Islamist violence.
On 5 January, hundreds of Islamic extremists stormed the homes of Christians in the dioceses of Rajshahi and Mymensigh because they had voted in the general election.
"Ovidio was very brave, and was famous in his community. We are shocked by what happened," said Fr Proshanto Gomes, a local priest. "Christians have the right to vote. Why are Islamists attacking us? We want peace."
» 01/14/2014 14:09
Sri Lankan Buddhist radicals attack two independent Christian churches
Eight Buddhist monks were among the 24 people who carried out the attack. Police were unable to contain the mob, which destroyed buildings and burnt religious literature. According to the attackers, the two churches do not have the permit needed to remain open. Religious intolerance is growing against religious minorities.
The daytime attack took place on Sunday. Led by Buddhist monks, a mob gathered outside the two religious centres to demand that they be closed.
Quickly, the demonstration degenerated as protesters broke through the security ring set up by police and attacked the buildings.
Police admitted that they were unable to contain the mob that surrounded the two independent churches, the Calvary Free Church and the Assemblies of God, throwing stones and bricks.
After smashing doors and windows, the mob broke into the buildings, setting fire to religious symbols and books, including some Bibles.
According to the Buddhist monks who led the attackers, local authorities had ordered the two churches to shut down because they lacked the necessary permit.
However, the pastors in charge of the two centres said their churches were duly registered with the authorities and were therefore entitled to continue their activities.
Such attacks are fuelling a climate of religious intolerance towards minorities, boosted by growing Buddhist nationalism among Sri Lanka's majority Sinhala.
Two Buddhist radical groups have been especially responsible for a number of attacks against Muslims and Christians: Bodu Bala Sena (Buddhist Power Force or BBS) and the Sinhala Ravaya (Sinhalese roar). Both claim that their mission is to protect Sinhalese Buddhists.
Sri Lanka has a population of 21.6 million people. Of these, 73.8 per cent are ethnic Sinhala.
The nation's official religion is Buddhism, which is practiced by 69.1 per cent of the population.
With just 7.9 per cent, Muslims are the country's second religious group.
Turkey: Turkey blacklists foreign evangelist without explanation
17 December 2013
A Canadian-American street evangelist left Istanbul on Saturday (Dec. 14) after Turkey's Ministry of Interior repeatedly denied him a residence permit with no explanation.
David Byle, Chairman of the Bible Correspondence Course (BCC), has opened a court case against Turkey's Ministry of Interior in an effort to remove his name from the country's blacklist.
In the last three years, Byle, 44, has been arrested, taken to court, been denied entry to the country and threatened with deportation. He has also spent time in prison. But the final straw for him has been in the last two years when he has repeatedly been denied a residence permit without any explanation. (He has lived in Turkey since 1999).
Byle says it is because of his Christian evangelism in Istanbul, where he and teams from the BCC gather crowds on the streets.
In November 2009, when Byle was arrested after doing some open-air 'street evangelism' in Istanbul, Turkey's Ministry of Interior accused him of "forceful missionary activity" and "disturbing the peace".
Byle won in 2011, but the Ministry appealed. The case is stuck in a bureaucratic backlog, but Byle's lawyers expect Turkey's high court, Danistay, to consider it in 2014.
They say his case is important because it could set a precedent for other missionaries in Turkey. And if they do not win the case in Turkey, they plan to take it to the European Court of Human Rights.
» 12/24/2013 09:24
INDONESIA – ISLAM
Jakarta (AsiaNews) - Due to the massive protest campaign launched by extremist Islamic groups in recent days, the management of Hermes Palace - a multi-starred hotels in Banda Aceh - have canceled plans for New Year's Eve. The celebrations for the last day of the year were planned some time ago, but the pressure from fundamentalist movements in Aceh, the only province in Indonesia where Shariah , or Islamic law is in vigor, has led to the evening's cancellation for safety reasons and public order. Moreover, the Ulema Advisory Council of Banda Aceh (MPU) has called on the Muslim community not to "celebrate" Christmas and New Year because "they are not Islamic holidays".
The hotel, however, can organize similar events in any one evening in 2014 , but not New Year's Eve because it "does not come from the Islamic calendar , but comes from the Christian tradition".
The fundamentalist movements also promise raids and punishment for those who organize parties or celebrations for the last night of the year.
Catholics are a small minority of about seven million, or 3 per cent of the population. In the Archdiocese of Jakarta, the faithful represent 3.6 per cent of the population.
Although the country's constitution recognises religious freedom, Catholics have been the victims of violence and abuse.
» 12/23/2013 13:16
Iraqi government declares Christmas a 'national holiday'
by Joseph Mahmoud
Baghdad (AsiaNews) - In a new and important step towards the Christian minority, the Iraqi government accepted a request by the Chaldean Patriarchate to recognise 25 December as an official day of celebration and a national holiday for all of the country's citizens. In Karrada, a neighbourhood on the eastern bank of the Tigris River where Christians, Shias and Sunnis live peacefully together, the authorities had already set up a five-metre Christmas tree.
For the patriarch, such a recognition would be a way to acknowledge the value and importance of a community that has for centuries actively contributed to the development of the nation.
In his letter, the Chaldean Patriarch explained that "Jesus did not come just for Christians, but for everyone", stressing the "special respect" Muslims "have for Him."
In Baghdad, local authorities also decked out some areas of the capital with Christmas lights and trees to "show their respect for and closeness to" the Christian community at this time of celebration.
After the US invasion in 2003, Islamic extremists targeted the Christian minority, killing hundreds of its members, including a bishop, priests, businessmen, doctors, and politicians.
Because of this, Christians in their thousands have fled the country over the past ten years, reducing the community from more than two million to less than 300,000.
Nigeria North: Nigeria's Boko Haram strikes again in Cameroon
04 December 2013
A missionary has been killed and several churches set ablaze in attacks by Nigeria's Islamist group Boko Haram in neighbouring Cameroon.
The Nigerian missionary, David Dina Mataware, with the Christian Missionary Foundation (CMF), was killed on November 13 by suspected Boko Haram militants in Ashigashia, a village which straddles the Nigeria-Cameroon border.
Mataware had worked with CMF since 2010. Its ministry is focused on the tribes of Mandara, Kanouri and Guemergou in the district of Mora in northern Cameroon.
"An undetermined number of armed men crossed the border and entered into Cameroon at midnight. On their way back, they attacked the CMF compound. Unfortunately, one of the six missionaries had his throat cut. Five others managed to flee," said the church leader, who wished to remain nameless.
Rumour of tryst triggers anti-Christian violence in Egypt village
Published: December 09, 2013
When it finally blew over, one person was dead, nine were wounded, nearly 20 houses had been burned, and a teen-aged girl had been hurled from a building, breaking both her arms. And it was just one of many violent anti-Christian episodes in Egypt's Minya province since the July removal of President Mohamed Morsi, head of the Muslim Brotherhood.
It began Nov. 25 when a 20-year-old Nazlet El-Badraman woman left the town and went to Cairo.
Fr. Srapamon Agban, a priest at Mar Gerges Church in Nazlet El-Badraman, told World Watch Monitor that the woman paid a visit to Shenouda Louis Habib, who is a neighbour to the woman, but who works in Cairo.
The woman is Muslim. Habib is a Coptic Christian. Mideast Christian News, one of the few news services to report on the incident, reported that the woman visited two men — Habib and his brother — not one. MCN said the woman's father dispatched a family member to his daughter in Cairo, "where she was checked to see if she was still a virgin". The news service reported that "a medical examination of the girl revealed she had not been harmed", and both the woman and Habib were warned any further contact would result in a fine for both of them.
The woman returned to Nazlet El-Badraman the following day, Nov. 26, Agban said. By then, he said, rumours were flying.
Two days later, he said, relatives of the woman went to the home of Shenouda's father, Louis Habib Hanna. There was a quarrel.
Soon afterward, the houses of Louis Habib Hanna and his brother, Nabil, were burned. Several of the Christian inhabitants were injured, Agban said.
On that same night, a Muslim resident of the village, whom Agban identified as Hamada Saber Abdullah, 39, died in a motorcycle accident. Soon, he said, another rumour spread: The Christians killed him.
Mar Gerges Church finished mass quickly the next morning. "We finished the mass of Friday very early at 8:30 and cancelled all the Friday children meetings, and closed all the doors of the church because of were afraid of the Muslims' attacks," Agban told World Watch Monitor.
The attacks began after mourners had buried Abdullah. Marchers processed from the funeral to the Christian neighbourhood. Some threw firebombs from the roof of an elementary school, Agban said. Others looted homes.
"I received a great deal of calls from the Christians whose homes were ransacked and destroyed," the priest said. He said more than 10 homes were fully burnt, and more than 30 were ransacked. One man was killed, MCN reported. Attackers attempted to break into the church, but failed, Agban said.
The attackers entered the home of Bushra Ekladios, grabbed his 14-year-old daughter, Yvonne, and threw her from the second floor of the house.
Agban told World Watch Monitor that police did little to stop the attacks, and that several Christians were arrested, though "they didn't do anything". MCN reported several of the victims were arrested, and that police used tear gas to chase off the attackers.
Christian children haven't returned to school since the violence, Agban said. Ten families have left the town, and those who remain are afraid to venture out of their homes, he said.
"There is a situation of panic and fear among the Christians here", he said. "We are afraid that they can attack us again, especially after the security forces leave the village".
Minya, south of Cairo in the region known as Upper Egypt, has the country's highest concentration of Christians..
The Nov. 28 violence in Nazlet El-Badraman prompted the secretary for Coptic Pope Tawadros II to appeal directly to Egypt's interior minister to protect the town's Christians. The minister promised immediate reinforcements, MCN reported.
Egypt's new constitution protects religious freedom, but gives too much power to the military
Released yesterday, the draft proposal ostensibly respects human rights, freedom of religion and freedom of worship. Quotas will be set for Christians, women, the disabled and other groups, but no percentage is given. Controversy surrounds the excessive powers given to the army and the interim government. Fr Greich Rafiq, spokesman for the Catholic Church, wonders whether the new constitution was "drafted in order to please everyone, or will it be used as an effective legislative tool that can change the country."
After it receives Senate (Shura) approval, the 247-article draft will be submitted to a referendum between now and January 2014.
At the same time, Muslims continue attacking Christians in Upper Egypt with the latest episode occurring on 28 November in Wabor (Minya), where a group of Islamists from the nearby village of Hawarta attacked and destroyed homes and shops owned by members of the Coptic Orthodox community.
The Islamists left only after a joint police-army intervention, who however simply disperses the crowd without arresting the perpetrators of violence.
French priest 'kidnapped' by Nigeria's Boko Haram in Cameroon
19 November 2013
"I can confirm that the French priest is in the hands of Mujahideen [fighters] from Jama'atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda'awati wal-Jihad [Boko Haram's Arabic name], who carried out the operation that was co-ordinated with Ansaru," an anonymous source told the AFP news agency.
Ansaru is a Boko Haram splinter group that has attacked several Western and Nigerian targets. It claimed responsibility for the kidnap and murder of seven international construction workers earlier in 2013.
Father Georges Vandenbeusch, 42, was kidnapped in Goza, near his parish of Nguetchewe in northern Cameroon.
According to witnesses and officials in Cameroon, the abduction was carried out at night by between 10 and 20 gunmen. The attackers, who are said to have spoken English and Hausa, attacked nuns in the compound, asking for money, before heading to Father Vandenbeusch's house.
Northern Cameroon is considered a "red zone" by the French authorities: French nationals are formally discouraged from visiting the area due to terrorist threats and the risk of kidnapping.
World Watch Monitor
Turkey: Turkish pastor arrested on human trafficking accusations
15 November 2013
A Turkish Protestant pastor arrested by police in the Black Sea province of Samsun this week is accused of involvement in prostitution and the human trafficking of refugees.
Pastor Orhan Picaklar of the Samsun Agape Church was summoned to local police headquarters for questioning on Monday afternoon (November 11). The 42-year-old pastor was detained until Wednesday evening in a police investigation led by the Morals Bureau of the Public Order Division. The criminal case was reportedly based on a telephoned complaint from an unidentified person.
Picaklar and his congregation have been accused repeatedly of "illegal missionary activities" by local TV channels and newspapers, claiming the church used bribery and prostitution to deceive klamaťyoung people and convert them to Christianity. The church building itself has been vandalised, stoned and its windows broken a number of times. The pastor continues to receive death threats over the telephone and internet, and was once kidnapped by men posing as plainclothes policemen.
Church welcomes US designation of Boko Haram as Foreign Terrorist Organisation
Published: November 15, 2013
Splinter group Ansaru also classified as 'terrorists'