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Persecuted at Faith for the Heart http://persecuted.faithfortheheart.com Just another Faith For The Heart Sites site Fri, 19 Jan 2018 17:42:59 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.2 Pence’s plans to help Middle East Christians overshadowed by political storm http://persecuted.faithfortheheart.com/pences-plans-to-help-middle-east-christians-overshadowed-by-political-storm/ Fri, 19 Jan 2018 17:42:59 +0000 https://www.worldwatchmonitor.org/?p=27723

US Vice President Mike Pence’s postponed trip to the Middle East goes ahead this weekend amid myriad tensions and a fast-shifting diplomatic landscape. Pence’s trip is a shortened version of the one planned for last month, which was abruptly cancelled when protests erupted at President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem […]

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US Vice President Mike Pence in a June 2017 photo (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

US Vice President Mike Pence’s postponed trip to the Middle East goes ahead this weekend amid myriad tensions and a fast-shifting diplomatic landscape.

Pence’s trip is a shortened version of the one planned for last month, which was abruptly cancelled when protests erupted at President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

The vice president will meet Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and Jordan’s King Abdullah II tomorrow (20 January), and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin in Jerusalem the next day.

“At President Trump’s direction, the vice president is travelling to the Middle East to reaffirm our commitment to work with the US’s allies in the region to defeat radicalism that threatens future generations,” Pence’s spokeswoman, Alyssa Farah, said.

“One of Pence’s top priorities on this trip had been to engage with Christian communities in the Middle East. But key Christian leaders in Egypt will not meet with him because of their opposition to the Jerusalem announcement.”

Ilan Goldenberg

However, Palestinian leaders and the Coptic Pope have refused to meet Pence, and the West Bank leg of his trip is no longer on his itinerary.

“One of Pence’s top priorities on this trip had been to engage with Christian communities in the Middle East. But key Christian leaders in Egypt will not meet with him because of their opposition to the Jerusalem announcement,” wrote Ilan Goldenberg, a Middle East special adviser under former Secretary of State John Kerry on the website of US-based Foreign Policy. “And Pence’s request to visit Bethlehem and tour the Church of the Nativity has also been denied by religious leaders,” he added.

The cancelled plans from last month, shortly before Christmas, included an elaborate visit to Bethlehem’s Manger Square in front of the heads of Middle Eastern Churches, travelling via the compound of Palestinian President Mahmood Abbas. A visit to the Church of the Nativity was reportedly also discussed. And, according to the UK’s Guardian newspaper, one of the items on the agenda for Pence’s cancelled meeting with Abbas was formal recognition of the status of some Evangelical churches.

Pence has made his concern for Christians living in countries where religious persecution occurs well known. However he is widely regarded as having been the reason behind Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem, to keep Evangelical voters on side.

This decision angered many Arab Christians in the Palestinian Territories and Egypt, leading commentators to question whether Trump was widening a rift between the Evangelicals and Middle East Christians.

Pope Tawadros II, head of the Cairo-based Coptic Church, said Trump’s Jerusalem decision paved the way for “the Judaization of Jerusalem and wiping away [of] the holy city’s pluralist nature”.

This week he attended The Al-Azhar International Conference to Support Jerusalem at Cairo’s Al-Azhar University, the seat of Sunni learning, alongside senior Arab, Islamic and international figures from 86 countries. Another Christian leader who spoke at the conference was the Secretary-General of World Council of Churches, Olav Fykse Tveit, who warned that the Jerusalem announcement “creat[ed] more serious obstacles for just peace”.

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Egypt: Copt thrown out of village and fined over ‘attack’ he denies http://persecuted.faithfortheheart.com/egypt-copt-thrown-out-of-village-and-fined-over-attack-he-denies/ Fri, 19 Jan 2018 16:41:20 +0000 https://www.worldwatchmonitor.org/?p=27706

An Egyptian Christian has been thrown out of his village after it was alleged that he had attacked a Muslim woman. The Coptic community has also been forced to pay the equivalent of nearly 3,000 US dollars to the woman’s family, though they say the allegations are baseless. Awad Zaki, […]

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An Egyptian Christian has been thrown out of his village after it was alleged that he had attacked a Muslim woman. The Coptic community has also been forced to pay the equivalent of nearly 3,000 US dollars to the woman’s family, though they say the allegations are baseless.

Coptic homes and shops were attacked following the allegations (Photo: World Watch Monitor)

Awad Zaki, 55, a blacksmith from the village of El Dawwar in Beheira Governorate, northern Egypt, was owed money for work he had done for a Muslim man. After sending repeated reminders, on Wednesday evening (17 January) he went in person to the house of Mohammed Sobhi Abu Ahmed to collect the remaining money – equivalent to US$17.

A Coptic villager, Medhat Gamil, told World Watch Monitor that Awad “is a very good and honest man and he is loved by all the people in our village”.

However, Gamil said he saw a quarrel took place between the two men, during which the Copt was pulled into the other man’s house, with the help of his brother.

“They tried to hold him in one of the rooms, accusing him of trying to assault Mohammed’s wife, but Awad managed to escape,” Gamil said.

A woman got hurt in the violence in El Dawwar village. (Photo: World Watch Monitor)
A Coptic woman injured doing the violence that followed the allegations. (Photo: World Watch Monitor)

Sameh Mansour, one of Zaki’s relatives, said the allegations against his uncle “don’t make sense”.

“My uncle Awad is an old man and he could not do that,” he said. “Mohammed Sobhi and his family live in a family house. How could my uncle attack a woman in a family home with her children? This doesn’t make sense… He is a married and very religious man and has worked for years without doing anything immoral.”

Stones and bricks

The Copts say that after Zaki left the house, he was followed home by members of Ahmed’s family, who then attacked him and his family with sticks.

When police arrived, they arrested Zaki, his brother and nephew. Then at the police station, the Copts say their mobile phones were confiscated and they were beaten.

Then they say dozens of Muslim villagers gathered in Zaki’s neighbourhood and attacked the Copts’ homes.

“They threw stones and bricks, breaking the windows of three homes and destroying some of their contents,” according to Gamil. “They destroyed a glass shop and book shop owned by Copts, and injured five Copts, including one woman. Some of them threw petrol bombs on roofs of houses, trying to set them on fire, but the owners put them out.”

‘Reconciliation’

Gamil said the police later returned and were able to restore calm, but none of the attackers were arrested.

Instead a customary ‘reconciliation’ session was held last night (18 January) between Coptic and Muslim villagers, in the presence of the mayor of the village, Walid Mahmoud Bassiouni, several MPs, and representatives of senior families in the village.

In the end it was concluded that the Copts were to pay Ahmed the equivalent of just over US$ 2,800 in compensation and Awad Zaki must leave the village.

Copts have long complained about the ‘reconciliation sessions’ they are forced to take part in. In July 2016, Coptic Church authorities said they were tired of so-called ‘conciliation’ meetings because they felt they were often discriminated against.

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Malaysian pastor Raymond Koh’s kidnap inquiry halted http://persecuted.faithfortheheart.com/malaysian-pastor-raymond-kohs-kidnap-inquiry-halted/ Fri, 19 Jan 2018 12:44:38 +0000 https://www.worldwatchmonitor.org/?p=27683

The fragile hopes of a Malaysian family in search of answers to the abduction of church leader Raymond Koh were dashed by a surprise development on Wednesday (17 January). Almost a year after Koh went missing, after little or no progress in police investigations, Malaysia’s newest Inspector General of Police […]

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Raymond Koh was abducted in broad daylight in February 2017 (Everybody Loves RK / Facebook)

The fragile hopes of a Malaysian family in search of answers to the abduction of church leader Raymond Koh were dashed by a surprise development on Wednesday (17 January).

Almost a year after Koh went missing, after little or no progress in police investigations, Malaysia’s newest Inspector General of Police informed a human rights inquiry trying to trace what had happened to the Christian pastor that a man has been charged this week with his kidnap.

This sudden interjection meant that the country’s Human Rights Commission, SUHAKAM, had to halt its scrutiny because the law specifies that its power to hold an inquiry ceases when court proceedings against a suspect are activated.

Koh was kidnapped on 13 February last year by at least 15 masked men driving black 4×4 vehicles. They ambushed his car in a military-precision operation that was caught on CCTV.

Koh was bundled out of his car and carried away. His vehicle was also taken and has not been found.

Video footage of the abduction in broad daylight was shared widely and shocked the nation.

Hopes ‘crushed’

The police action that led to the termination of the inquiry was received with stunned silence at SUHAKAM’s offices in central Kuala Lumpur, where the hearings are being held.

Koh’s family, lawyers, journalists and civil society organisations monitoring the inquiry had no inkling of what was about to transpire, even though a suspect was charged with the abduction two days ago.

Moreover, police witnesses who were scheduled to testify on Tuesday (16 January) boycotted the inquiry.

Koh’s wife, Susanna Liew, 61, said the family was “crushed” by the abrupt end to the inquiry, as they had come to find answers to the many questions they have over Koh’s disappearance.

“It is very shocking for us as a family, as we had no idea this was going to happen,” she said. “We hope that there will be justice. We still have hope in the system but I’m afraid today this hope has been crushed.”

The civil society coalition, Citizens Against Enforced Disappearances (CAGED), said the latest development was “shocking” and “illogical”.

CAGED said it beggared belief that a person was charged in a case that had gripped the nation, and yet the police had not said a word to the media or anyone else except SUHAKAM.

It accused the law enforcement agencies of deftly trying to shut down the inquiry because the evidence heard in 12 days of sittings had embarrassed the police.

The jaw-dropping development arose when the police chief, Mohamad Fuzi Harun, sent a letter to SUHAKAM, stating that a part-time Uber driver, Lam Chang Nam, had been charged with Koh’s kidnapping, and a case is now pending.

Who is Lam Chang Nam?

Lam Chang Nam was originally charged with extorting Koh’s son, but he has now been charged with the pastor’s abduction  (Twitter / thetruenet)

Lam, 31, was charged in March last year with attempting to extort $30,000 Malaysian dollars (US$7,600) from Koh’s son for the release of his 63-year-old father. He denies the charge.

The police subsequently cleared him of any involvement in the actual kidnap.

Lam’s lawyer said on Wednesday (17 January) that his client had pleaded not guilty to the latest charge of kidnap.

The inquiry had provided a glimmer of hope to Koh’s family, Malaysia’s minority Christian population, and the public, that if state actors had been involved in the kidnap they would be held responsible for their actions.

In a statement police chief Mohamad Fuzi said: “Investigations are still ongoing and we have found a new lead that associates Lam with Koh’s abduction.”

He added that a hunt is on for seven others still at large, who are linked to the case.

Raymond Koh’s wife, Susannah (left), takes part in a candlelight vigil for her husband in September 2017 (World Watch Monitor)

Over the year public focus on the kidnap, and candlelight vigils for Koh’s safe return – which attracted large crowds in Kuala Lumpur and the administrative capital, Putrajaya, and in the states of Sabah and Sarawak – rankled with the police.

In March last year Mohamad Fuzi’s predecessor, Inspector-General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar, ordered the media to “please shut up” and stop reporting and talking about Koh’s kidnap. He also wanted an end to the vigils. The threats had their effect and the wakes have been less frequent, with fewer attending.

Other missing Malaysians

Koh’s disappearance in an urban environment in, until recently, moderate-Muslim Malaysia is one of a number of “missing” cases SUHAKAM is investigating.

Ruth and Joshua Hilmy (Facebook / Ruth Sitepu)
Ruth and Joshua Hilmy (Facebook / Ruth Sitepu)

The national human rights commission is also investigating the disappearances of social activist Amri Che Mat, Pastor Joshua Hilmy and his wife Ruth Sitepu.

Amri, the founder of non-profit organisation Perlis Hope, went missing on 24 November 2016. His vehicle was found abandoned.

There has been media speculation that he was promoting the Shia ideology, a branch of Islam that the majority-Sunni Malaysian Muslims reject. Amri’s wife has denied the alleged link to Shi’ism.

Joshua Hilmy, a Malay who converted to Christianity, and his wife Ruth, a Christian from Kalimantan in Borneo, were reported missing on 6 March 2017.

Non-Muslim minority groups remain concerned they could have been abducted by Muslim vigilantes, given the rise of an intolerant strain of Islam in Malaysia that seeks to impose Sharia (Islamic law), mandating amputations.

Their cases, as well as Koh’s, are being closely watched because police have been unable to provide answers after months of investigations.

‘They know what happened’

Close friends of the Koh family who attended the inquiry, which last sat in November before reconvening this month, said police were refusing to disclose any information.

“They know what has happened,” one source, who wanted to remain anonymous because “people are being followed and live in fear of also being abducted”, told World Watch Monitor. “The government can’t play with people’s lives.”

Concerned Malaysians are also asking why the police were less than forthcoming in helping SUHAKAM to uncover the truth, and appeared to want to stop the inquiry.

They said the reputation of the Royal Malaysian Police, respected for its competent track record in solving crimes, is at stake.

The chairman of SUHAKAM, Razali Ismail, acknowledged yesterday that the Koh case was a matter of huge public interest.

“The family has come to talk to us for all these months,” he said. “We really must understand their concerns and, more importantly, the public’s concerns and the various implications. In no way will SUHAKAM pull back from this investigation.”

Razali also said that the commission would play a very “constructive” role in the trial, and that it would do whatever was required, within legal boundaries.

Police criticised

Koh’s family were incensed last year when they heard police had been investigating whether the pastor had been proselytising Muslims, instead of focusing on pursuing his captors. In 2011 Koh had been accused of proselytising Muslims, and had also received bullets in the mail.

While freedom of religion is enshrined in the Malaysian constitution, the government forbids conversion of Muslims.

Koh’s wife Susanna had testified before the public inquiry that her husband had always been very careful to remind staff at his charitable organisation that they were not to proselytise, though she said the charity was “not linked to any religion” and was “not a Christian entity”.

Thomas Fann, from CAGED, claims there has been a lack of urgency in police investigations in all missing-persons cases.

His organisation has also catalogued the disappearances of five other Malaysians of Indian origin in 2011, 2013, 2015 and 2016, some of whom were taken by men in uniform.

CAGED claims that there was little or no public outcry then because they may have been involved in gang-related activities, and such disappearances were a modus operandi the authorities used to deal with “troublesome people”.

“We didn’t care then, but now religious minorities are being targeted,” Fann said.

CAGED wants the rule of law to apply to all citizens; for police to use all the resources available to them to resolve who is behind the abductions; for no-one to be denied a fair trial; and for families to be provided with regular updates of investigations.

Malaysian Christians meanwhile fear that if Lam is convicted of Koh’s kidnap, or even freed because of a lack of evidence, the human rights inquiry will be stalled for a long time and the hope of justice for his family will be more than likely snuffed out.

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UK Parliament hears ‘squeeze’ of persecution of Christians “as dangerous as violence” http://persecuted.faithfortheheart.com/uk-parliament-hears-squeeze-of-persecution-of-christians-as-dangerous-as-violence/ Thu, 18 Jan 2018 16:29:54 +0000 https://www.worldwatchmonitor.org/?p=27645

Most of the 200 million Christians globally under pressure for their faith don’t experience violence but a ‘daily squeeze’ which is more insidious and – if left unchallenged – can lead to violence, MPs and others heard yesterday (17 January) at the launch of Open Doors’ World Watch List 2018 […]

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Children like these boys in Lahore, Pakistan, also feel the 'daily squeeze' because of their Christian faith, in particular at school. (Photo: World Watch Monitor, 2005)
Children like these boys in Lahore, Pakistan, also feel the ‘daily squeeze’ because of their Christian faith, in particular at school. (Photo: World Watch Monitor, 2005)

Most of the 200 million Christians globally under pressure for their faith don’t experience violence but a ‘daily squeeze’ which is more insidious and – if left unchallenged – can lead to violence, MPs and others heard yesterday (17 January) at the launch of Open Doors’ World Watch List 2018 in the UK Parliament.

Religious persecution around the world is growing both in scale and severity, Open Doors’ CEO Lisa Pearce said during the presentation of the report “Death by a thousand cuts: The rise of non-violent persecution as a tool of oppression”.

According to the report, the most dangerous countries to live in as a Christian are also those which are ‘specialists’ in ‘the squeeze’: the pressures a Christian experiences in their day-to-day life – from education and work to family life – from cradle to grave. These countries use a variety of tools including surveillance, arrests, discrimination and unjust laws, to grind down the Christian community in the hope Christians will disappear. When this pressure is used effectively, it can be more insidious than violence, Open Doors says.

Challenges

Hannah from Pakistan told the meeting about a 23-year old Christian, a promising writer, who was completing her degree: “When she handed in his dissertation her supervisor asked why she was so interested in minority rights and especially those of the ‘sweeper Christians’ (the Christian ‘untouchables’) When she answered that this was because she was one of them, the supervisor suggested she would change the text of a certain chapter or the supervisor would interpret it as blasphemy”. For one week she was afraid she would have to leave.

Another (medical) student did not receive a promised reward for his work in rural, poor areas but instead faces relentless discrimination in the hospital where he now works: he has to drink from a different cup to his colleagues and eat in a different room. All because “there was the rumour that his father had decided to follow a religion of his own choice and had become a Christian”, Hannah says.

Young graduates in Egypt face challenges as well because of their faith, Michael from Cairo added, in his speech. They have little chance of finding a job because they are Christian: “Their CVs are shredded, as are their dreams and hopes”. His own father worked in the public sector for 30 years but was never allowed to become head of his department.

He also knows of a sandwich chain that openly advertises on the front of their shops that they do not employ Christians.

Women and children

Young women are particularly vulnerable because of their gender and their Christian faith, Open Doors USA CEO David Curry said earlier: “Christians in these [hostile] communities are overwhelmed, and—in areas where extremists wield power—police forces and governments can’t be relied upon to protect individual Christian women in these communities.”

Michael knows the stories of how in Egypt “a girl is kidnapped and after many months the family will hear news from her, namely that she has converted to Islam. But not of her own choice. She was forced to marry a Muslim man”.

Children are feeling the ‘squeeze’ in school where they are mistreated by teachers. UK MPs heard how nine-year old Mina came home one evening and went up to his bedroom where he tore apart his Bible, saying “Why can’t I be a Muslim? It is so much easier to be like other children in my class”.

A lot of the ‘squeeze’ is fuelled by the trend of growing ‘religious nationalism’ where ethnic and national identity is defined by one ‘acceptable’ religion, according to the Open Doors report. This creates an environment of impunity in countries like India, Myanmar and Nepal. In India alone, 635 Christians are known to have been detained without trial, or unfairly arrested and imprisoned, in the last 12 months.

Article 18

The pressure on freedom of religion or belief, left unchallenged, can turn into violent persecution for both Christians and those of other religious minorities and of no faith too. Lisa Pearce said Western governments continue to chronically underestimate the pressure religious freedom is under around the world, and the importance it has.

The parliamentarians were told that the upcoming meeting of the Commonwealth heads of government in London in April is an opportunity to address this issue. Eight of the 50 countries on the World Watch List where it is most difficult to live as a Christian are members of the Commonwealth: Bangladesh, Brunei, India, Kenya, Malaysia, the Maldives, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

 

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Catholic priest stabbed as violence continues in Central African Republic http://persecuted.faithfortheheart.com/catholic-priest-stabbed-as-violence-continues-in-central-african-republic/ Wed, 17 Jan 2018 18:20:04 +0000 https://www.worldwatchmonitor.org/?p=27631

Catholic bishops in the Central African Republic have condemned a recent upsurge of violence in the country and called on armed groups to lay down their weapons. Fighting between rival armed groups erupted in the north-western town of Paoua and its surroundings at the end of December, while in the […]

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Father Alain Blaise Bissialo, a priest at Christ-King Parish of Tokoyo, was stabbed by unknown armed men on 4 January. (Photo: Alain Blaise Bissialo/Facebook)

Catholic bishops in the Central African Republic have condemned a recent upsurge of violence in the country and called on armed groups to lay down their weapons.

Fighting between rival armed groups erupted in the north-western town of Paoua and its surroundings at the end of December, while in the eastern town of Bangassou, a prominent Catholic priest survived an assassination attempt.

Two ex-Seleka rebel groups – the RJ (Revolution Justice) and the MPC (le Mouvement Patriotique Centrafricain) – are fighting for control of the region’s lucrative natural resources.

The violence broke out on 27 December and tension is still high, with fresh clashes reported on Sunday (14 January).

The violence has claimed more than 100 lives, according to local MPs, and has resulted in a humanitarian crisis.

Some 60,000 people have been displaced, while 15,000 others have fled to neighbouring Chad, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in CAR.

“The painful events which occurred in recent days in some of our prefectures … make us think that our country continues to sink into the abyss,” noted the bishops in a statement issued by the Episcopal conference on Sunday, titled ‘Hope and despair for our country’.

“Armed packs still create anarchy and impose their laws on a tired civilian population, who don’t know where their salvation will come from. In our dioceses we are witnessing on a daily basis this sad reality and deplore the fact that our country is always under the influence of bravado and intrusions of armed militias who do not want the war to stop.”

 

Some 60,000 people have been displaced, while 15,000 others have fled to neighbouring Chad. (Photo: Twitter/OCHA)

Nestor Nongo Aziagbia, archbishop of the diocese of Bossangoa, which comprises Paoua and Markounda, the two main towns affected by the recent violence, told World Watch Monitor that the situation is precarious.

He said dozens of people have been killed, thousands of others displaced, and hundreds of properties set ablaze.

Thousands of people have sought refuge at churches in five parishes within Bossangoa, he said, which have set up camps for internally displaced people (IDPs). In Markounda Parish, there are 5,000 displaced people, while there are thousands more on the site of Bantagafo Parish, he said.

Attempted assassination

The New Year was also marked by attacks targeting the diocese of Bangassou (East), including an assassination attempt.

Father Alain Blaise Bissialo, a priest at Christ-King Parish of Tokoyo, was stabbed by unknown armed men on 4 January.

“The aggression was carried out by eight hooded men, at about 10pm,” José Aguiré, the Archbishop of Bangassou, told World Watch Monitor. “He was bleeding heavily when he was found by other priests, who took him to the hospital.”

Fr. Bissialo was then transferred to Bangui, the capital, for further treatment. “His injuries were not life threatening but he still has difficulty talking and remembering facts,” said Msgr. Aguiré, who also expressed his dismay.

“It’s an unfortunate episode that makes us very sad, but we do not give in to violence. I preach, I pray and I call to the authorities to search for the culprits and bring them to justice so that they pay for what they did,” he said.

Fr. Bissialo, who is the president of the Bangassou Peace and Mediation Committee in the south-east of the country, has been involved in various initiatives for peace and reconciliation between Christian and Muslim communities.

Some believe that his activism for peace and social cohesion in the region may have created enemies.

According to Fr. Martin Modoué, a fellow priest at Christ-King Parish, Father Bissialo “spoke a truth” at a public meeting on 30 December, which could have upset many people “who do not like peace”.

“He denounced the impunity that reigns in the Mbomou [prefecture] and asked the MINUSCA [UN peacekeepers] to open their eyes and find the perpetrators of crimes perpetrated in the region,” Fr. Modoué recalled.

Three days after the attack on Fr. Bissialo, four armed men burst into the premises of St. Peter Claver Cathedral in Bangassou, in the night. They stole some valuables, including a television set.

In reaction, the Episcopal conference condemned the “cowardly and criminal” attack on Fr. Bissialo and “all attempts to intimidate pastoral agents”.

The bishops also denounced “the lack of responsiveness” of some MINUSCA contingents, despite their “own mandate”.

“We call on MINUSCA to develop a strong collaboration with the government, to make good use of its mandate to promote security and peace in areas that are still under the occupation of armed groups,” read their statement.

The bishops also denounced the attitude of armed groups responsible for “terrible abuses” against the civilian population in the areas under their control.

“We call on armed groups to lay down their arms without untenable conditions, in order to put an end to all kinds of crimes and the suffering of our compatriots, the looting of natural resources and the dysfunction of the state,” they said.

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Pakistani Christian girl, 13, raped by fellow worker in field http://persecuted.faithfortheheart.com/pakistani-christian-girl-13-raped-by-fellow-worker-in-field/ Wed, 17 Jan 2018 16:00:08 +0000 https://www.worldwatchmonitor.org/?p=27609 A 13-year-old Pakistani Christian girl was raped in a rural area near the city of Gujranwala, north of Lahore, on Sunday (14 January), as she worked in the fields. The girl was found by her younger cousin, and taken to hospital. The local police station has registered a case and […]

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A 13-year-old Pakistani Christian girl was raped in a rural area near the city of Gujranwala, north of Lahore, on Sunday (14 January), as she worked in the fields.

The girl was found by her younger cousin, and taken to hospital. The local police station has registered a case and yesterday (16 January) the girl was taken to Lahore for a DNA examination.

Her father, whose name is being withheld to protect the girl’s identity, has spent over 30 years as a bonded labourer in the village, working under one man. There are only four Christian families in the village. All are extremely poor and work as labourers.

The rape and murder of 7-year-old Muslim girl, named Zainab, has hit international headlines and brought Pakistanis onto the streets, where they have staged vigils, like this one in Quetta, and protests.

As the girl’s father, who has seven children, is now old and has severe asthma, his daughter helps him to take care of the cattle under his charge.

“My daughter works from early morning to noon everyday with the cattle and I accompany her,” he told World Watch Monitor. “It was Sunday and our family was attending a wedding, so my daughter went to work along with her younger cousin. When I returned and found she hadn’t come home, I went to check at the workplace. Near the fields, I found her cousin tied with her dopatta [a piece of cloth used for head covering].

“She told us that a man called Zaman Khan tied her and forcibly took my daughter to the fields, while injuring her with a sickle. When I reached the fields, she was still yelling for help.

“Hearing me approaching, Zaman fled from the scene, and we took my daughter to the hospital.”

Khan, 28, is from a nearby village and had been put to work under the same man only a few days before.

Zainab’s picture has been shared widely on social media.

“When the landlord heard [about the incident], he got quite upset and got it announced in nearby mosques, and only because of his personal efforts was Zaman apprehended,” the girl’s father said. “The entire village is on our side despite only four Christian families living in the village.”

Assistant Sub-Inspector Adnan Shahzad, the investigating officer in the case, told World Watch Monitor: “Zaman is in police custody and being interrogated. After this he will be sent to jail.”

This incident took place at a time when the entire Pakistani nation is in mourning for a seven-year-old girl, named Zainab, who was raped and then brutally murdered – a case that has made international headlines.

Christian parliamentarian Mary Gill, who visited the Christian girl’s family, asked whether the same anger would be felt over a girl from a religious minority as was felt for Zainab, a Muslim.

“Will we also speak up for this Christian child, as we did for Zainab?” she asked on Facebook. “… We cannot now save Zainab, but we are responsible for bringing the culprits to justice.”

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Burkina Faso: 2 years on, thousands call for release of ‘doctor of the poor’ by Al-Qaeda offshoot http://persecuted.faithfortheheart.com/burkina-faso-2-years-on-thousands-call-for-release-of-doctor-of-the-poor-by-al-qaeda-offshoot/ Wed, 17 Jan 2018 11:29:51 +0000 https://www.worldwatchmonitor.org/?p=27600

Thousands took to the streets of Djibo, a northern town in Burkina Faso, on Monday (15 January) to call for the government to secure the release of an Australian doctor, Ken Elliott, kidnapped two years ago. The abduction was claimed by the ‘Emirate of the Sahara’, a branch of Al-Qaeda […]

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Ken Elliott (Djibou soutient Dr. Ken Elliot / Facebook)
Ken Elliott (Djibou soutient Dr. Ken Elliot / Facebook)

Thousands took to the streets of Djibo, a northern town in Burkina Faso, on Monday (15 January) to call for the government to secure the release of an Australian doctor, Ken Elliott, kidnapped two years ago. The abduction was claimed by the ‘Emirate of the Sahara’, a branch of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

Djibo, in the province of Soum, is the town where Dr. Elliott, with his wife, had run a 120-bed clinic for 40 years until their abduction. Jocelyn Elliott was released in February 2016; the Islamist group said in an audio recording that it released Mrs Elliott so as “not to make women involved in the war”. She said at the time that she would not leave Burkina Faso, but their clinic is no longer operating.

Several reasons mobilised people to demand more action from the government for the doctor’s release. Dubbed ‘The Doctor of the Poor’, Dr. Elliott was providing free treatment to his patients, saving them significant amounts of money. After the closure of his clinic, people travel via poor transport links hundreds of kilometres to the capital, Ouagadougou, for medical care. They also lack financial resources for travel, accommodation and the treatment itself. These affect children and the elderly in particular.

One of the Djibo demonstration organisers said: “It is with great bitterness that we witness their suffering.”

The demonstrators claim that the government has not kept its promise to re-open the only medical clinic in the town. An open letter addressed to President Roch Marc Kaboré, read aloud, stated a request that the surgeon’s clinic, the result of a 40-year commitment, be continued.

Dr. Elliott, who is believed to be held outside Burkina Faso, was declared a citizen of the West African nation by an official decree in November 2016.

Last July, Dr. Elliott appeared in a video produced by his kidnappers, along with several other Western kidnap hostages. On it, he said: “This video is to ask various governments, in particular the Australian government and Burkina government, to do what they can to help negotiate my release.” Addressing his family, he added: “I just want to say, again, I love you all and I appreciate all your prayers and all your cares. I look forward to one day being reunited.”

The couple’s abduction coincided with a jihadist assault on an upmarket hotel in Ouagadougou in January 2016, which left at least 30 people dead, including seven missionaries.

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Nigerian student arrested after converting from Islam to Christianity http://persecuted.faithfortheheart.com/nigerian-student-arrested-after-converting-from-islam-to-christianity/ Tue, 16 Jan 2018 17:56:18 +0000 https://www.worldwatchmonitor.org/?p=27592

A Nigerian university student who converted from Islam to Christianity has been arrested by state security forces, as has the man who introduced her to Christianity. Nabila Umar Sanda, 19, is a student at Bingham University in Karu, in the central state of Nasarawa, which is owned by one of […]

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Simput Dafup, 33, and Nabila Umar Sanda, 19, have both been arrested (World Watch Monitor)

A Nigerian university student who converted from Islam to Christianity has been arrested by state security forces, as has the man who introduced her to Christianity.

Nabila Umar Sanda, 19, is a student at Bingham University in Karu, in the central state of Nasarawa, which is owned by one of Nigeria’s major churches – Evangelical Church Winning All, or ECWA. It was while studying there that she became friends with Simput Dafup, a 33-year-old Christian, who, once she expressed an interest in Christianity, invited her to meet a local church leader, Jeremiah Datim.

Speaking to the press in Jos, capital of neighbouring Plateau state, Datim explained that after the young woman decided to become a Christian, he immediately made contact with the local Islamic organisation, as has become customary.

“I want to state, for the avoidance of doubt, that the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria guarantees the right to anyone to propagate his faith and the right to also practise any religion of one’s choice. Miss Nabila told me she is 19 years old and therefore free to choose a religion for herself.”

Jeremiah Datim

“Knowing the sensitive nature of conversion from lslam to Christianity, and given that between the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and the Jama’atu Nasril lslam (JNI) … there is a working understanding, or protocol, that where such issues or situations arise relating to any of the two religions, the leaders of the affected religion should contact the leadership of the other religion from which the convert is coming, I immediately contacted the leadership of JNI in the state and informed them that I had one Miss Nabila Umar Sanda in my possession and that she had converted to Christianity,” he said.

Datim then went to meet a JNI leader, who made contact with Ms Sanda’s parents. Later that day, Monday 8 January, Datim said detectives from the Department of State Security Services “stormed my house, assaulted my wife, daughter and eight-month-old baby, and took Nabila away”.

Her friend, Simput Dafup, was arrested that same day, and both are still being held in an unknown location.

Jeremiah Datim and Lydia Dafup speaking at a press conference in Jos (World Watch Monitor)

“I want to state, for the avoidance of doubt, that the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria guarantees the right to anyone to propagate his faith and the right to also practise any religion of one’s choice,” Datim said. “Miss Nabila told me she is 19 years old and therefore free to choose a religion for herself.

“After I met Miss Nabila for the first time … I interacted with her and asked her a lot of questions about both the Christian faith and Islamic faith. Nabila clearly said that she had made up her mind to join the Christian faith and was willing to be a Christian no matter what obstacles were placed on her way.

“I understand that her father has said he has all the ‘connections’ in this country to deal with me, Dafup and any other person found to have been involved in the conversion of his daughter to Christianity, and that he will ensure that we rot in jail. l want to state here without fear of contradiction that neither Dafup, myself or any other person that has established contact with Nabila has breached any law of this land.

“I also learnt that Nabila’s father reported to the DSS that we forcefully abducted and brainwashed her into becoming a Christian. l challenge the DSS to produce Nabila and put us side by side so they can ask her if she was forcefully converted to Christianity or abducted or brainwashed.”

Simut Dafup’s mother, Lydia, also addressed the media in Jos, saying: “The men who stormed my son’s premises, heavily armed, in five Hilux vehicles, blocked everywhere and assaulted even passers-by. It has become so worrisome for me to let you know about this, because, as I speak with you now, I don’t know where my son is. Nobody has contacted me or any member of the family as to his whereabouts.

“I however know as a fact that some of the people that were found in the premises of his house, and who were also assaulted and brutalised along with my son, were taken to the Plateau State Command of the DSS in Jos. But these people said they did not see my son there. The DSS men who whisked my son away put a mask on him and the others they took with him.

“As a mother and a widow, l am worried about the safety of my son. I beg you journalists to help me to trace where my son is please.”

Datim added: “They must not only release him immediately, they must ensure that he is in a good state of health, and the DSS must stop the harassment of members of my family or [Dafup’s] family, or any other person allegedly involved in the conversion of Nabila.”

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Eritrea: mental health challenges for Christian man freed after 13 years in prison http://persecuted.faithfortheheart.com/eritrea-mental-health-challenges-for-christian-man-freed-after-13-years-in-prison/ Tue, 16 Jan 2018 10:58:24 +0000 https://www.worldwatchmonitor.org/?p=27361

Shiden* was young and full of optimism for the future when he was imprisoned for his Christian faith. For the next 13 years he was exposed to torture of different kinds, including months in a very small cell in solitary confinement, and even his eventual release failed to bring about […]

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Shiden* was young and full of optimism for the future when he was imprisoned for his Christian faith. For the next 13 years he was exposed to torture of different kinds, including months in a very small cell in solitary confinement, and even his eventual release failed to bring about the future he had hoped for.

Now, Shiden hardly sleeps. Since his release from prison, he spends most nights fighting the despondency that covers him like a blanket.

Shiden became a Christian when he was in his late teens. His older brother John* had become a Christian earlier and was chased out of the house when their father found out. John was never allowed to return until their father died, but after he moved back home again, Shiden also became a Christian.

He knew it was a dangerous decision. Eritrea’s society is deeply suspicious and antagonistic towards evangelical Christians and the government imprisons those who belong to religious groups outside the three mainline churches or Sunni Islam. Shiden had heard the stories of the terrible suffering of Christians in prison but he decided the risks were worth taking.

‘Why don’t you leave this religion?’

One day, during his military service, when he was 22, he and around 40 other Christians were caught while worshipping in secret. They were all arrested and taken to a military prison in the southern desert city of Assab, where it is extremely hot during the day and extremely cold at night.

After two years there he was moved to the notorious Mai Serwa prison camp on the outskirts of the capital, Asmara. There, Shiden shared a metal shipping container with 30-40 other prisoners. They were given one ten-minute toilet break per day, to be undertaken in a bush outside, where they had to relieve themselves under the close watch of guards. The lack of sanitation caused regular bouts of diarrhoea.

Shiden says the guards taunted him, asking, “Why don’t you leave this religion of yours?”

But he says he would tell the guards, “I won’t leave the faith because I believe it and I live by what I believe. I served this country faithfully and honestly during my military service. When you sent me to work in the field, I did that without complaining. But my belief is my personal belief, and you have to respect that. But if you don’t, then I am willing to pay for it.”

For six months they left him alone, but then they called him in again. He was given two sheets of paper, one with “I believe” and the other with “I don’t believe” written on them, and told to choose. He chose “I believe”, assuring his interrogators, “I will not leave this religion. So if you are going to keep me in the jail, that’s OK. It’s all the same to me.”

Eritrea's extensive prison network. (World Watch Monitor, 2017)
Eritrea’s extensive prison network. (World Watch Monitor, 2017)

A while later they moved Shiden to the general prison in Barentu, 250km west of Asmara, where he remained for the next ten years. He was often put in solitary confinement for six months at a time, staying in a very small cell where he couldn’t stretch out his arms or even stand up straight.

One day, out of the blue, Shiden was released from Barentu and sent back into national service. But even there, Eritreans continue to live as virtual prisoners, as they are watched all the time. The same was true for Shiden. Guards and spies kept a watchful eye on him. What did he talk to others about? Did he pray? Did he have a Bible with him?

It wasn’t long before the spies noticed that Shiden had a few sections of the Bible that he hid under his blanket. The guards destroyed them and placed Shiden in solitary confinement again, for three months. During that time he saw no-one. Once a day, a cup of tea and a slice of bread were put through a gap in the door. He had no idea if anyone even knew what state he was in. He said it was a horrifying experience and that, to make it worse, just beforehand he had heard that some friends had managed to escape and cross the border.

Life after prison

After his sudden freedom, Shiden’s family soon discovered that his release after so many years didn’t solve everything. Returning to normal life was not easy for Shiden and neither he nor his family was prepared.

After years in prison and exposure to torture, 'freedom' can taste bitter. (Photo: World Watch Monitor)
Shiden shared a metal shipping container with 30-40 other prisoners. (Photo: World Watch Monitor)

Eritrean Christian mother’s ‘isolation’ after church-leader husband imprisoned

First, there was the trauma. He told his brother John about some of the things that had happened to him, bringing him to tears.

“I was so proud of him for not denying his faith through all of those years,” his brother said. “But I could not believe the terrible suffering he had been put through.”

Shiden had been imprisoned when he was 22, but came out as a 35-year-old. Though he had survived his ordeal, a return to normal life confronted him with the fact that he had missed out on education and job opportunities. His hope for the future had been eroded.

“Since his release we have slowly seen him change in front of our eyes. He has fallen into deep depression and there are times when he is completely irrational,” John said. “We have to watch him all the time, even at night, to make sure that he does not harm himself. It is very upsetting.”

He said his brother’s situation is far from unique and that there are thousands of Christians suffering like him, having been in prison for different lengths of time.

John said they all “face similar challenges when they come out of prison … and we have to think about how to support [them]. I dream of the day that Shiden will be healed and find hope again”.

*Not their real names.

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Egypt: Sinai militants pledge to ‘kill more Copts’ after murdering man over cross tattoo http://persecuted.faithfortheheart.com/egypt-sinai-militants-pledge-to-kill-more-copts-after-murdering-man-over-cross-tattoo/ Mon, 15 Jan 2018 17:07:33 +0000 https://www.worldwatchmonitor.org/?p=27527

Militants belonging to the ‘State of Sinai’ group in Egypt have promised to “kill more Copts” after murdering a 27-year-old Coptic man because of the tattoo of a cross on his wrist. Bassem Herz Attalhah, also known as Haythem Shehata, was on his way home from work in El-Arish, capital […]

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Militants belonging to the ‘State of Sinai’ group in Egypt have promised to “kill more Copts” after murdering a 27-year-old Coptic man because of the tattoo of a cross on his wrist.

Bassem before he was killed. (Photo: World Watch Monitor)
Bassem Herz Attalhah was 27. (Photo: World Watch Monitor)

Bassem Herz Attalhah, also known as Haythem Shehata, was on his way home from work in El-Arish, capital of North Sinai governorate, on Saturday evening (13 January), with his brother Osama and neighbour and friend Mohamed, when they were stopped by three armed men, aged between 23 and 25.

“We thought they were policemen because they weren’t masked… They were wearing black jackets,” Osama, 38, told World Watch Monitor. “They approached us and asked Bassem to show them the wrist of his right hand, and when they saw the tattoo of the cross, they asked him: ‘Are you Christian?’ Bassem answered ‘Yes, I am Christian’, and repeated that again in a loud voice.”

The men then asked Mohamed his name and made him show his wrist. When they saw he had no tattoo, he was allowed to leave.

Then they turned to Osama.

Osama is a common name, also among Muslims, and the men didn’t know he was Bassem’s brother.

“Bassem told them that I had children,” Osama recalls. “They asked me to show them the wrist of my right hand and, when they didn’t see any cross, they thought that I was Muslim.” The men didn’t see the cross that Osama has tattooed on the top of his hand because it was hidden under his sleeve.

A Coptic cross tattooed on a wrist, like the one over which Bassem got killed. (Photo: World Watch Monitor)
A Coptic cross tattooed on a wrist, like the one over which Bassem was killed. (Photo: World Watch Monitor)

“They fired two shots on the ground close to my legs and asked me to leave,” he recalled. “And then they shot Bassem in the head. I could not believe what happened to my brother. He fell on the ground in front of me and I was unable to do anything.”

On his way to find help, Osama says his legs gave way from the shock. Their mother, upon hearing the news, fainted and had to be taken to hospital.

“We lost a person dear to our hearts. My brother Bassem was a very good and kind man. He had a strong relationship with God. He was always reading in the Bible, praying and going to the church. He was loved by all people,” Osama said.

String of killings

When Bassem’s close friend Milad Wasfi heard he had been killed, he couldn’t believe it and called his friend’s phone. His call was answered, but not by his friend.

“The terrorists answered me and said they belong to State of Sinai and promised to kill more Copts before they put down the phone,” he told World Watch Monitor.

Scores of Coptic Christian families left for Ismailia and Suez, about 200km away, after a string of killings in El-Arish last year – including one incident where a woman witnessed her husband and son killed by a gunman who then ticked them off an IS hit-list. In March 2017 it was estimated that 70 per cent of the 160 Coptic Christian families living in the city had left.

Bassem, Osama and their parents had been among those who fled the city. Struggling to find work in Ismailia, however, the two brothers left for Cairo, and when things did not work out for them there either, they decided to return to El-Arish in September.

The situation seemed to have stabilised and their father joined them, selling carpets, while Bassem and Osama set up a shop for mobile phones. One month later they brought the rest of the family back from Ismailia.

‘Very difficult’

Bassem’s friend Milad, who is still living in Ismailia, fears for his own future and for the other displaced Christians families of El-Arish.

“The hope and the dream of [one day] returning to our homes in El-Arish has become very difficult, especially after this incident,” he said.

In February last year President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi ordered his government  to “take all necessary measures” to help resettle Christians fleeing North Sinai. But, as World Watch Monitor reported in July, as the attacks against Copts continued, they have found it harder and harder to believe their government could protect them.

Bassem was buried this morning (15 January) in his home village of Dweik, in Tema district, Sohag governorate.

Bassem was buried this morning (15 January) in his home village of Dweik, in Tema district, Sohag governorate (Photo: World Watch Monitor)

“Bassem was a very good man,” Milad says. “Honest, quiet, modest, a light-hearted person and close friend to me. From early childhood he loved the Church and he was a man of prayer and worship. He didn’t renounce the faith and didn’t deny his Lord Jesus Christ. He didn’t fear death. Actually, he didn’t die but has won the real life in Heaven, enjoying being with Jesus. We pray that God will comfort us [and] thank God for saving the life of Osama, to care for his five children and his parents.”

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REPORT: ‘Islamic war of expansion’ underpins ‘religious cleansing’ in southern Kaduna, Nigeria http://persecuted.faithfortheheart.com/report-islamic-war-of-expansion-underpins-religious-cleansing-in-southern-kaduna-nigeria/ Mon, 15 Jan 2018 16:06:33 +0000 http://persecuted.faithfortheheart.com/?guid=7a4bf5fd0ad0a9129bd36f3e6d33aa1c A new report highlights Nigeria’s failed attempts, over decades, to deal with the violence perpetrated by Fulani Muslim herdsmen in one of the country’s Middle Belt states. It concludes that continued failings will force Christians to leave the area in a “religious cleansing” that is part of a drive for […]

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Fire damage to homes and a car caused by Fulani herdsmen in Kagoro, southern Kaduna state (World Watch Monitor)
Fire damage to homes and a car caused by Fulani herdsmen in Kagoro, southern Kaduna (World Watch Monitor)

A new report highlights Nigeria’s failed attempts, over decades, to deal with the violence perpetrated by Fulani Muslim herdsmen in one of the country’s Middle Belt states. It concludes that continued failings will force Christians to leave the area in a “religious cleansing” that is part of a drive for “the Islamic war of expansion”.

The Middle Belt region divides the largely Muslim north from the majority Christian south, and has seen persistent conflict between settled farmers, who are mostly Christian, and the mainly Muslim Hausa-Fulani herdsmen.

‘Nigeria: Southern Kaduna and the atrocities of Hausa-Fulani Muslim herdsmen (May 2016 – September 2017) Volume 1’ by Christian charity Open Doors analyses the conflict from a historical perspective, and highlights failures of the State government to protect Christians, particularly women and children.

The report also addresses the controversies connected with the name ‘Southern Kaduna’. “The history of the area,” the report says, “is a Pandora’s Box of struggles for domination”.

Ideological factors are taken into consideration, but the report concludes that perspectives emphasising the environment, ethnicity, political contestation, population and/or economic competition “do not explain the true depth of the problem”.

Read more: Fulani herdsmen ‘terrorists’ ‘pampered’ in Nigeria’s Middle Belt

The report is part of a series looking into conflict in Nigeria’s Middle Belt. A 2017 report, also published by Open Doors, concluded that attacks on Christian communities by Fulani herdsmen was “evidence of ethnic cleansing”.

History of violence

Large-scale violence in the region dates back to 1987, when an attack by Muslims on Christian students over an alleged misinterpretation of the Quran led to the death of hundreds. Other triggers for deadly conflict, according to the report, have been the 2000 Sharia crisis following the introduction of Islamic law to northern Nigeria; the 2011 presidential elections; and land disputes with Fulani herdsmen emerging in 2016.

Government failures

The government “has failed to address the situation justly and provide security for Christian majority communities,” according to the report, which accuses them of deploying soldiers – as “a first option rather than the last resort” – instead of attempting “genuine civil engagement” between the two sides. The report says that, over time, Muslims and Christians have settled into communities determined by religious affiliation, which distrust each other, with each community placing “sectarian division over and above the common interest”.

As the authorities try to deal with the conflict, the voices of the most vulnerable are “stifled and unrepresented”, it says.

Open Doors’ researchers compared the reports of the many government-commissioned inquiries set up to help bring the conflict to an end. Recommendations for heightened military presence were compromised by corruption, such as awarding lucrative security contracts to associates, or real fears that security personnel had become part of the conflict, according to the report.

Emergence of Hausa-Fulani violence

“The resurgence of violent conflict in southern Kaduna towards the end of 2016 has drawn attention to the urgent need to understand the root causes and to give voice in particular to the affected Christian communities,” says the report, which identified a lack of research into the conflict between the two sides and has attempted to address the gap by conducting a series of in-depth interviews from a “grass-roots perspective”.

‘Southern Kaduna’

For years, controversy has surrounded the name ‘Southern Kaduna’. It is either the southern part of Kaduna state, which emerged following a boundary change in 1987, or it has its roots in British colonialism, when the administration set up a new district in an attempt to keep peace between Christian and Muslim communities. The area has, as a consequence, become “a socio-political identity encapsulating the struggle against the Muslim Hausa-Fulani hegemony, particularly in reference to religion, politics and culture”, the report says.

Numbers killed

The report details the number of Christians and Muslims killed, injured and displaced in conflicts between May 2016 and October 2017, as well as the nature of attacks. (Each victim of the conflicts is identified in a second report: ‘Nigeria: Southern Kaduna and the atrocities of Hausa-Fulani Muslim herdsmen (May 2016 – September 2017) Volume 2’.) It gives significant background to other conflicts, dating back to the 1980s. For security reasons, researchers were not able to collect data from some areas on the number of injured Muslims or the number of Muslim properties lost in the conflict.

Within the research period, 709 Christians and 16 Muslims were killed, 130 Christians were injured, and 3,459 Christians and 219 Muslims lost their properties.

Many of the attacks by the herdsmen on Christians happened at night. Men, women and children of all ages were killed. Kidnapping is common and women who were taken but later returned to their communities reported that sexual assault was widespread.

Conclusion – ‘religious cleansing’

The report notes that while analysts blame the conflict on politics, and competition over land (because of the problems of environmental degradation), they avoid talking about “the Islamic war of expansion” played out in southern Kaduna. It notes that the herdsmen are well armed compared to Christians, defending themselves with “sticks and stones”, and that any Christian caught with a weapon is arrested, while, to date, no Hausa-Fulani Muslim herdsmen have ever been arrested.

It says political leaders “often manipulate public sentiments and encourage violence for political expediency”, and that the government favours northern Kaduna for the building of government institutions or the location of officials. Poor infrastructure in the remote villages has led to Christians being vulnerable when it is dark.

Also, the government has not provided aid to displaced southern Kaduna Christians living in camps, according to the report. Instead they rely on NGOs and churches.

The report says the government is failing to listen to Christians when it comes to forming policies. This shows bias, and will not bring an end to the conflict, says the report, which says that, if this continues, Christians will just leave the area – an example of “religious cleansing”.

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Fulani herdsmen ‘terrorists’ ‘pampered’ in Nigeria’s Middle Belt http://persecuted.faithfortheheart.com/fulani-herdsmen-terrorists-pampered-in-nigerias-middle-belt/ Mon, 15 Jan 2018 14:25:51 +0000 https://www.worldwatchmonitor.org/?p=27484

A spate of violence attributed to ethnic Fulani herdsmen in central Nigeria has seen dozens killed since the turn of year. In Benue State, violence has claimed 80 lives and forced 80,000 to flee. The funerals on 11 January for 73 of the victims in Makurdi, Benue’s capital, were broadcast […]

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Thousands of people, dressed in black, attended the burial of 73 victims of recent violence. (photo: Benue State News)

A spate of violence attributed to ethnic Fulani herdsmen in central Nigeria has seen dozens killed since the turn of year.

In Benue State, violence has claimed 80 lives and forced 80,000 to flee.

The funerals on 11 January for 73 of the victims in Makurdi, Benue’s capital, were broadcast live. Among those killed were seven members of Benue State Livestock Guards – a special paramilitary unit set up by the Benue state governor to ensure the full implementation of the recent ban on open grazing – their vehicle burnt and an undetermined number of others injured in separate attacks.

Thousands of people, dressed in black, attended the burial, referred to as “Black Thursday” on social media.

In neighbouring Taraba State, at least 55 people were initially confirmed killed in the town of Lau, by suspected Fulani herdsmen on 10 January. The toll is expected to rise as the violence continues.

The next day, David Misal, spokesman for the Taraba state police command, confirmed that three people were killed and six others injured in Maisamari, a commercial suburb in the state’s southeast, when unknown gunmen attacked a home hosting a dance festival.

The acting chairman of the local government area, Godwin Sol, said an earlier security order had banned cultural activities and festivals in the area. The herdsmen nonetheless converged from surrounding villages for a dance festival in Maisamari. Security forces were sent to disperse the crowd, which relocated to the house.

Reports also suggest that villages between Numan in Adamawa State and the Taraba state capital of Jalingo have been deserted. Security is limited and ordinary citizens have no means of defending themselves.

Sources in Jalingo said more than 70 people have been killed, and there are fears the figure could rise.

Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama, president of Catholic Bishops of Nigeria and the archbishop of Jos, expressed frustration at the continued government reference to “unknown gunmen” waging violence.

“Why should gunmen be unknown for years?” Kaigama wrote on The Nigerian Lawyer website. “They kill innocent people and destroy their means of livelihood and yet they are unknown: we have security agents mandated to ensure the safety of all citizen and within all military and paramilitary agencies we have intelligent units and yet these killers remain unknown.

“I can only describe this as being pervasive and it demonstrates the absence of political will to identify who these unknown gunmen are: we should stop pretending and stop being hypocritical, common sense tells us that these people are known but I think what is lacking is the political will and the sense of character to call a spade a spade.”

Professor Yusufu Turaki, Director of the Centre for the Study of Religion, Church and Society at Jos ECWA Theological Seminary in Nigeria, told World Watch Monitor about the origins of the violence in the Middle Belt.

In the video below, he says “ethnicity” and “religion” are the two motivating factors.

President Muhammed Buhari, criticised for not doing enough to curb the violence, has condemned the killings. He also announced the deployment of Special Forces to Benue.

Shehu Sani, a Nigerian senator representing Kaduna State, has urged President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration to condemn “the repeated horrors perpetrated on farmers by the herdsmen”.

“The mass murder in southern Kaduna, Taraba, Benue, Numan [Adamawa State] and other affected places are unpardonable and despicable crime[s],” he said in a press statement.

These killings and bloodletting threaten the peace, stability and unity of our country. Every attack erodes the credibility and integrity of the present administration and every drop of blood stains the conscience of all men in the position of power.”

The senator also urged the government to stop “protecting, pampering, paying, politicising and prevaricating” over the Fulani herdsmen.

The governor of Ekiti State, Ayo Fayose, has said Nigerians have lost trust in the current government to secure and protect lives.

In addition to grazing restrictions passed in Ekiti, Fayose organised local hunters from the 16 local government areas of the state and charged them with the responsibility of defending Ekiti against herders.

Read more: ‘Islamic war of expansion’ underpins ‘religious cleansing’ in southern Kaduna.

*Dr. Atta Barkindo, Deputy Director at the Kuka Centre, has written extensively on violence in central and northeast Nigeria.

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Netherlands joins UN Security Council to shine light on IS genocide http://persecuted.faithfortheheart.com/netherlands-joins-un-security-council-to-shine-light-on-is-genocide/ Thu, 11 Jan 2018 17:24:47 +0000 https://www.worldwatchmonitor.org/?p=27415

The Netherlands has just joined the UN Security Council as a temporary member for a year. Ten days before, its Foreign Minister, Halbe Zijlstra, published a letter explaining the Dutch government’s response on the use by politicians of the term “genocide”. The Dutch Parliament had had several debates on the […]

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A desecrated church in the Iraqi town of Karamles, in the Nineveh Plains near Mosul (World Watch Monitor)

The Netherlands has just joined the UN Security Council as a temporary member for a year. Ten days before, its Foreign Minister, Halbe Zijlstra, published a letter explaining the Dutch government’s response on the use by politicians of the term “genocide”.

The Dutch Parliament had had several debates on the “genocide” committed by members of the Islamic State group (IS), and came to a consensus that it was not for politicians but for the international judicial system to make such a determination.

The Dutch government’s response – the main points of which can be viewed at the bottom of the article – followed a joint legal opinion from the Advisory Committee on International Law Issues (CAVV) and the External Adjudication Adviser (EVA), which it had requested at the end of 2016.

“The Dutch government must be commended for its work on this topic. Hopefully those promises are translated into action and will be visible over the next year.”

The Dutch government supported this legal opinion, and confirmed its reluctance to use the word “genocide” where such a determination had not been previously made by an international court or UN body.

However, concerning the atrocities perpetrated by IS against Christians and Yazidis, the Dutch government confirmed that it “is the opinion that sufficient facts have been established to judge that [IS] is most likely guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity”. It added that the obligations under the 1948 UN Convention on Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide apply to IS’s atrocities.

This declaration is late, in comparison with other actors. The opinion published by the Dutch government, relying on the joint legal opinion of CAVV and EVA, clarifies the approach to be taken by government and parliamentary officials concerning mass atrocities that may amount to genocide.

Additionally, the Dutch government indicated in its letter the possible direction of work, including: referral of the situation in Syria to the ICC; supporting the work of the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism, a new mechanism established by the UN General Assembly resolution to collect evidence of atrocities in Syria; and assisting the Investigative Team, a new mechanism established by the UN Security Council to collect evidence of IS atrocities in Iraq.

The Dutch government mentioned that it would further advocate focussing on atrocities perpetrated by other actors in addition to IS. Concerning Iraq, this position has been abandoned by other states for the sake of achieving consensus on the issue of IS.

But the Dutch government emphasised that the atrocities perpetrated by other parties must not be neglected and forgotten.

Analysis by Ewelina Ochab*

Ewelina Ochab (Twitter)

The Dutch government must be commended for its work on this topic. Hopefully those promises are translated into action and will be visible over the next year.

It should also be emphasised that apart from the commendable joint opinion of the CAVV and EVA, the Dutch government has had great assistance on the topic from MP Pieter Omtzigt, who represents the Netherlands at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and became a rapporteur on bringing IS to justice in late 2016.

His mandate included preparing a report outlining the options to bring IS to justice, and a resolution proposing recommendations to member states to the Council of Europe. The report and the resolution were adopted by the EU in late 2017.

Omtzigt will continue to hold his mandate for another year to follow up on the recommendations made in the EU resolution, as he looks to ensure the Dutch government makes a firm stance at the UN Security Council.

He has said he wants to ensure IS militants are prosecuted for their involvement and complicity through an international or hybrid tribunal (a domestic court with significant support of international expert and judges).

The UK recently claimed that it was not “crucial” to make such a determination of genocide, and that it has fulfilled its international obligations by working with the Iraqi government on UN Security Council Resolution 2379, establishing the Investigative Team to collect the evidence of IS atrocities in Iraq, and has been providing humanitarian assistance. However, there is more to the story.

Indeed, the determination of genocide should not be crucial to trigger the obligations under the 1948 UN Convention on Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide; historically, however, this has been done first after the use of the word “genocide”.

The UK was the leading force behind the UN Security Council Resolution 2379 that passed successfully on 21 September 2017. However, the resolution proposes that Iraqi courts will deal with prosecutions of the perpetrators. The question is whether Iraqi courts can do so.

British peer David Alton questioned the UK government on what checks it had done before proposing, by way of Resolution 2379, Iraqi courts prosecute IS militants. The UK government responded that it was currently considering the issue, namely after the resolution was adopted and not in preparation of the resolution, to allow it to propose the best solution for bringing IS to justice.

If, in fact, Iraqi courts do not have the capacity, it means that an international or a hybrid tribunal will need to be established, as proposed by Omtzigt. Furthermore, the UK has failed to prosecute returning IS fighters. According to the information submitted by the UK to the Council of Europe, as of early 2017 only 101 individuals connected with IS atrocities have been convicted, which may be just the tip of the iceberg, considering that 425 are said to have returned to the UK.

The UK has been actively supporting the work of the Global Coalition against IS, a coalition of 74 countries with the aim to tackle IS on all fronts. However, at the same time, the assistance provided to the victims of the IS genocide is concerning. The UK government confirmed that it is funding 171 projects in the Christian areas affected by IS atrocities and 80 projects in the Yazidi areas. While this may sound reassuring, the extent, impact, and benefit of these projects is unclear. I attempted to obtain this information by way of Freedom of Information request but have not received word back yet.

However, as indicated in the letter from the Dutch government, the determination of genocide is a vital step towards the fulfilment of the obligations to prevent and punish.

*Ewelina Ochab is a human-rights advocate and author of ‘Never Again: Legal Responses to a Broken Promise in the Middle East’

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Could Pakistan’s place on US ‘Watch List’ create more problems for minorities? http://persecuted.faithfortheheart.com/could-pakistans-place-on-us-watch-list-create-more-problems-for-minorities/ Thu, 11 Jan 2018 12:29:38 +0000 https://www.worldwatchmonitor.org/?p=27378

The US State Department last week placed Pakistan on a ‘Special Watch List’ for “severe violations of religious freedom”. The US did not, however, go as far as adding it to its ten ‘Countries of Particular Concern’* – for countries where “governments have engaged in or tolerated systematic, ongoing, and […]

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Bishop of Multan Leo Paul (left) shows security personnel around his cathedral three days before Christmas, when Christians in Pakistan feared further attacks on their places of worship. (World Watch Monitor)

The US State Department last week placed Pakistan on a ‘Special Watch List’ for “severe violations of religious freedom”. The US did not, however, go as far as adding it to its ten ‘Countries of Particular Concern’* – for countries where “governments have engaged in or tolerated systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom”.

The US Secretary of State said: “The protection of religious freedom is vital to peace, stability, and prosperity. These designations are aimed at improving the respect for religious freedom in these countries.”

This naming of Pakistan comes at a time when the two countries have almost severed their long-standing relationship as allies in the ‘war on terror’, and Pakistani religious minorities have responded with diverse views.

“We have seen more than 100 houses of Christians set on fire on a mere accusation, and not a single person is convicted. If that would remain the same, then how can we stop other countries accusing us of human rights violations?”

Nadeem Anthony

The Bishop of Multan, Leo Paul, told World Watch Monitor there can be no denial that religious minorities are treated with contempt and disrespect, despite constitutional guarantees. “But I am not sure if this measure by the US would actually help Pakistani minorities, or if it could create more problems for them,” he said.

Human rights activist and lawyer Nadeem Anthony told World Watch Monitor: “Religious minorities of Pakistan are ‘with’ their country. If Pakistan puts its best and sincere efforts to change this, then we can get our name off this list. The only issue is sincere effort. If we want it, then this would happen. We have seen more than 100 houses of Christians set on fire on a mere accusation, and not a single person is convicted. If that would remain the same, then how can we stop other countries accusing us of human rights violations?”

(In March 2013, a Christian man from Lahore was accused of committing blasphemy while drinking with his Muslim friend a night before. A mob of at least 3,000 set the entire Christian colony on fire. After a lengthy trial, the court acquitted hundreds of suspects accused of arson.)

Several similar incidents have taken place, and because Christians are a beleaguered and poor community, obtaining justice for them is extremely difficult. Stringent blasphemy laws are often misused to accuse poor minorities, especially Christians.

Pakistan is 5th on Open Doors’ 2018 World Watch List, published yesterday, of the 50 countries where it is hardest to live as a Christian. Last year it was 4th.

National Assembly member Isphanyar Bhandara, of the Parsee (Zoroastrian faith) community, told World Watch Monitor that all injustice to religious minorities is to be condemned, that any discrimination in any form should stop, and that it is good that Western countries take notice. “But this fresh accusation is purely political,” he added. “This move to place Pakistan on the special list is directly linked with the relationship of the two countries, not out of love for religious minorities.”

The day after placing Pakistan on the list, the US froze about 2 billion US$ security assistance to Pakistan – for not taking action against the Taliban and the Haqqani network, groups suspected of violence in Afghanistan.

US-Pakistan relations took a sharp turn in the New Year when US President Donald Trump tweeted: “The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools. They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!”

“The consequences [of being placed on the list] can be far reaching and detrimental for us,” said Krishan Sharma, of the Hindu community, who heads the Rights of Expression, Assembly, Association and Thought (REAT) Network of all major non-profit organisations in Pakistan. “We all need to put our sincere efforts to get our country out of this quagmire. Being an Islamic country, minorities should have been treated better here. But what minorities suffer here is quite the opposite. Putting Pakistan on the watch list has resulted from the long negligence of the state, because it hasn’t taken human rights seriously, despite signing several international treaties. A few days earlier, the European Union expressed its concern and in a few days, an EU team arrives to see if Pakistan is complying with international treaties it signed under the Generalized System of Preferential (GSP) Plus status.”

*The ‘Countries of Particular Concern’ are China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Myanmar, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Of them, seven (all except Myanmar, China and Tajikistan) fall within the top 20 on the 2018 World Watch List. Tajikistan is 22nd, Myanmar 24th, and China 43rd.

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‘Unprecedented’ persecution of Egypt’s Christians heads 2018 World Watch List http://persecuted.faithfortheheart.com/unprecedented-persecution-of-egypts-christians-heads-2018-world-watch-list/ Wed, 10 Jan 2018 13:00:01 +0000 https://www.worldwatchmonitor.org/?p=27120

More Christians abused in India than in all other countries combined; Nepal enters list Islamic extremists driven out of Iraq and Syria are behind a new intensity of Christian persecution in surrounding countries, says global charity Open Doors in its latest annual survey of countries where it is most difficult […]

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Mourners carry the coffin of a victim of the blast at the Coptic Christian Saint Mark’s church in Alexandria, April 2017

More Christians abused in India than in all other countries combined; Nepal enters list

Islamic extremists driven out of Iraq and Syria are behind a new intensity of Christian persecution in surrounding countries, says global charity Open Doors in its latest annual survey of countries where it is most difficult to live as a Christian.

The Open Doors 2018 World Watch List shines a light on the suffering of Coptic Christians in Egypt, ranked 17th on this year’s list. Last year 128 Egyptian Christians were killed in religiously  motivated attacks; many others had to flee their homes for other parts of the country.

Perhaps Egypt’s most clear-cut case of anti-Christian violence was when an assassin asked a Coptic woman to help him cross off from his hit-list the names of her husband and son, whom he had just murdered. A spate of killings over the summer led a Cairo priest to describe the murder of Copts as “the most aggressive campaign against them in the history of modern Egypt”. In February the Islamic State group vowed in a propaganda video to “wipe out” Egypt’s Copts and “liberate Cairo”.

Egypt, which is home to about half the Christians in the Middle East, witnessed several incidents of mass murder during celebrated dates in the Christian calendar. At Easter, 49 people were killed in two church bombings, while in May Islamic extremists attacked people travelling to an Ascension Day service at a monastery in Upper Egypt, killing 28.

“Last year, 128 people were killed in Egypt simply for being Christian. For many more it is an act of quiet resistance to continue attending their churches – not to be scared into staying at home. The violent deaths hit the headlines, but the slow, suffocating discrimination and abuse Christians face every day goes unreported,” said Lisa Pearce, CEO of Open Doors UK and Ireland.

The situation across the Middle East has deteriorated for Christians, as hard-line Islamic views have become more widely held, says the report, which also singles out Turkey for special mention. It was not on Open Doors’ list in 2014, but growing Islamisation and Turkish nationalism have contributed to its rise from a ranking of 41st when it entered the list in 2015 to 31st in 2018.

These are the countries where Christian persecution is most severe. Video shows the top 5, in reverse order:

Nepal enters World Watch List; in India extreme persecution by Hindu nationalists continues

Nepal is a new addition to the list – ranked 25th. It has seen a sharp increase in persecution due to the growing influence of Hindu extremists, who are behind a surge of religious nationalism mirroring the situation in neighbouring India. In 2017 Nepal criminalised religious conversions by passing a law that the country’s minority Christians fear will be used against them to settle personal scores.

Last year 23,793 Christians in India were physically or mentally abused – more than the numbers abused in all the other countries of the World Watch List put together, according to Open Doors. Indian Christians faced almost as many attacks in the first half of 2017 as in all of 2016.

Extreme religious nationalism in India has made life a daily struggle for Christians in many areas. Ranked this year at 11th, the situation for Indian Christians has been deteriorating sharply since 2014 when it ranked 28th. In August last year church leaders protested against the government’s “Hindu nationalist agenda”, after the hurrying through of “anti-conversion laws” in Jharkhand, which became the latest Indian state to pass a so-called Religious Freedom Bill.

North Korea most dangerous place for Christians for 17th year in a row

North Korea remains the most dangerous place in the world to be a Christian. An estimated 70,000 Christians are believed to be imprisoned in labour camps. Last year’s closer monitoring of the country’s border with China is thought to be behind a reported a 13 per cent fall in North Koreans fleeing to South Korea. In August, World Watch Monitor told the dramatic story of how Hannah Cho fled her country but was imprisoned and tortured before finally settling in South Korea.

Emerging persecution in Southeast Asia

Persecution, fuelled by Islamic extremism, has risen across Southeast Asia. Both Malaysia and Indonesia climbed the list. An allegiance to the Islamic State group on the Philippines island of Mindanao led to major fighting there in 2017. World Watch Monitor reported in October that the killing of two Islamist ringleaders, which brought an end to the five-month-long siege of Marawi, may have liberated the city but did not wipe out “the root cause of extremism” on the island.

The Maldives, where conversion away from Islam is forbidden and punishable by death, remains consistently high on the list at 13th.

Central Asia – the crackdown continues

Evangelical Christians in the countries known as the ‘stans’ continue to face intimidation and harsh penalties from the authorities, which are suspicious of non-state groups gaining popularity. Tajikistan and Kazakhstan are ranked 22th and 28th respectively. Kazakhstan is about to pass a new set of religious-freedom restrictions that “flagrantly” violate human-rights obligations.

‘North Korea of Africa’

Two of the top-five countries on the list are in Africa, where Islamic extremists continue to persecute Christians. Somalia ranks 3rd, and Sudan, where a programme of church demolitions continued after the US lifted its sanctions, is one place lower, at 4th. Dubbed the ‘North Korea of Africa’, Eritrea has risen four places in the rankings to 6th. Last year the government stepped up its campaign against Christians, who are considered to be agents of the West and a threat to the state; 375 were arrested, sentenced or imprisoned and 385 were physically or mentally abused.

Extreme levels of violence towards Christians continued in Nigeria. More than 2,000 Christians were killed there last year, and more than 500 Christian women were raped or sexually abused. Rape is used as a weapon of war by Islamic extremists in northern Nigeria. A 2017 report concluded that the thousands of Christians who had lost their lives in non-Boko Haram related violence in Nigeria’s Middle Belt – predominantly at the hands of Fulani herdsmen – amounted to “evidence of ethnic cleansing”.

Interactive map: The 2018 World Watch List

Select a country to see its rank on the list

Note: This map does not display World Watch List data for the Maldives, a tiny island chain in the Indian Ocean, southwest of India, which is ranked 13th on the 2018 World Watch List. Its persecution level is “very high”.

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Ethiopian Christians arrested for ‘praying against government’ http://persecuted.faithfortheheart.com/ethiopian-christians-arrested-for-praying-against-government/ Wed, 10 Jan 2018 12:55:55 +0000 https://www.worldwatchmonitor.org/?p=27323

Seven Ethiopian Christians have been arrested and detained in the north-western town of Chagni on suspicion of praying against the government. A local source told World Watch Monitor the seven men, members of the Meserete Kiristos church, were followed and overheard by a local militia group when they went up a […]

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Christians worship during a church service in a town in central Ethiopia. (Photo: World Watch Monitor, 2016)
Protestant Christianity is said to be the fastest-growing religious group in Ethiopia. (Photo: World Watch Monitor, 2016)

Seven Ethiopian Christians have been arrested and detained in the north-western town of Chagni on suspicion of praying against the government.

A local source told World Watch Monitor the seven men, members of the Meserete Kiristos church, were followed and overheard by a local militia group when they went up a mountain to pray. When the Christians prayed “against Satan’s power and kingdom” (a common choice of words in certain evangelical churches in Ethiopia), the group accused them of referring to the government.

The Christians have not been formally charged yet but they were refused bail at a court hearing on 2 January and remain in custody. It is not clear when their next court appearance will be.

Ethiopia is 29th on the newly released 2018 Open Doors World Watch List of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to live as a Christian. The pressure on Christians there is adjudged to be “very high” because of religious and ethnic tensions, combined with political and civil unrest. Also, the government is growing more authoritarian and has restricted religious institutions.

Ethiopia’s northern Tigray State, for example, has been considering adopting a new law that would restrict Christian activities to within official church compounds, rendering illegal the activities of smaller churches that do not have official buildings and instead gather in private homes.

Although Ethiopia guarantees religious freedom on paper, Pentecostal churches in rural areas often face restrictions in a society dominated by the Ethiopian Orthodox Church (EOC).

World Watch Monitor has reported regularly about attacks on Christians and closure of churches in the country.

Map of religion in Ethiopia (GeoCurrents)

However, the latest (2007) census showed that Christianity is still Ethiopia’s main religion (63 per cent of the population), and it is expanding its influence. Over the past decade, Ethiopia’s religious map has changed considerably – for centuries the country consisted of an Ethiopian Orthodox Christian core, a Sunni Muslim zone in the east, and an animist/indigenous-faith area in the south and the lowland reaches of the far west. In the last 10 years, indigenous faiths have diminished, in most cases yielding to Protestant Christianity, which is said to be the fastest-growing religious group in Ethiopia. This is making the country home to “one of the fastest growing evangelical churches in the world,” wrote theologian Allan Anderson in 2014.

Release of political prisoners

Meanwhile Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn announced on 3 January that the government will release all political prisoners.

He also told reporters that the notorious Maekelawi detention centre in Addis Ababa is to be closed and turned into a museum.

The announcement came as a surprise in a country where the government has been criticised by rights groups for its stifling of opposition and until recently denied the existence of political prisoners.

The PM, however, announced that he wanted to make space for political dialogue and national reconciliation.

Beyene Petros, chairman of Medrek, the biggest opposition coalition, told the Wall Street Journal that the news was “music to my ears”, but that he would have to “see it to believe it”. His own deputy has been detained for over a year.

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Egypt’s human rights move dismissed as ploy to win back US aid http://persecuted.faithfortheheart.com/egypts-human-rights-move-dismissed-as-ploy-to-win-back-us-aid/ Wed, 10 Jan 2018 12:10:49 +0000 https://www.worldwatchmonitor.org/?p=27316

Efforts by the Egyptian government to improve its record on human rights are aimed primarily at persuading the US government to reinstate its generous aid package, Coptic activists have said. Last month Egypt announced it would set up 60 human-rights departments across the country to record complaints from citizens of […]

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Efforts by the Egyptian government to improve its record on human rights are aimed primarily at persuading the US government to reinstate its generous aid package, Coptic activists have said.

Last month Egypt announced it would set up 60 human-rights departments across the country to record complaints from citizens of rights violations.

At least ten people were killed in late December when a terrorist attack on a church in a Cairo suburb was foiled

The move follows a decision by the US in August to deny Egypt US$95.7 million in aid and to delay a further $195 million. According to US officials quoted by Reuters, the decision was taken because of Egypt’s failure to make progress on respecting human rights and democratic norms.

Egypt’s Coptic Christians have long complained that they are discriminated against, both officially by state structures and laws, and unofficially in the workplace and at a social level. Shia Muslims, women, homosexuals, atheists, journalists, government critics and the poor also say their rights are ignored or violated by the state.

The 2018 World Watch List, published by the charity Open Doors, has classified Egypt as the 17th most difficult country in which to live as a Christian, after 128 Egyptian Christians were killed in religiously motivated attacks last year.

A new report into Egypt’s human-rights record, written by a government minister and distributed at a conference hosted by the State Information Service last month, announced the establishment of a committee to develop a national human-rights strategy. Updates on Egypt’s human-rights record will be published annually, the news website Al-Monitor reported.

The report made little mention of rights abuses suffered by Copts, except to mention the promulgation of a 2016 law on the construction and restoration of churches. Although the law aims to regulate church-building in a way that does not antagonise Christians’ Muslim neighbours, critics say it maintains restrictions over the construction and renovation of churches and discriminates against Copts.

At the December conference, the Minister of the House of Representatives Affairs, Omar Marwan, who wrote the report, dismissed findings by US-based Human Rights Watch of the systematic use of torture in Egypt. “There are no forced disappearances or detentions in Egypt. People are detained only by a judicial decision,” he said. Users in Egypt found access to the HRW website blocked the day after its report was published in September.

‘Lost rights’

Copts have long complained that they are vulnerable to imprisonment on false charges, kidnappings for ransom, or in the case of young women, abducted for forced conversions and forced marriages. One Christian resident in Minya said: “In some cases the police connive with the kidnappers and share ransoms with them.”

He added that Coptic Christians’ rights “are lost” because they were often still unable to build or repair churches, and when permissions were granted, Muslim neighbours could still attack Copts or their properties without fear of prosecution.

Coptic activists interviewed by World Watch Monitor had little expectation that the flurry of activity would lead to any reduction to the rights violations experienced by Egyptian Christians.

Pope Tawadros is careful to publicly praise President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, despite protestations from Copts wearied by the threat of unpunished violence. Tawadros’ predecessor criticised then-President Sadat and was placed under house arrest

A senior Coptic human-rights activist in Minya, who asked not to be named for security reasons, said the government was trying to create an impression that it is concerned about human rights, rather than trying to address the violations taking place. “The Egyptian government wants to show to the US Congress and the international media that there aren’t any human-rights abuses in Egypt – because Congress blocked part of the American aid allocation last August and then the Human Rights Watch report mentioned a lot of human rights abuses,” the activist said.

A second Coptic human-rights activist in the eastern city of Sohag, who also asked not to be named, said the human-rights situation in Egypt was “deteriorating” for all Egyptians, and was marked by “indiscriminate detentions and disproportionate sentencing”. The government had so far produced “words without action”, while giving police and national security officers “a green light to use torture with impunity”, the activist said.

According to the Al-Monitor website, the committee announced at last month’s conference will complement “the state’s efforts to promote human rights, while adhering to the provisions of the Egyptian Constitution”. The constitution upholds freedom of religion, while naming Islam as the state religion. The government minister’s report distributed at the conference argued that human rights were not absolute, and that their implementation varied from one society to another, according to customs and traditions.

Islamists blamed

The Egyptian Parliament’s Foreign Relations Committee is preparing a report to respond to allegations in a bipartisan resolution in the US Congress last month of chronic discrimination against Egypt’s Copts, the committee’s deputy chairman Tarek el-Khouli said last week.

In a statement the committee blamed violence against Copts on the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt Today reported. The Coptic Church also issued a statement, praising the church-building record of the government, on which it depends for its protection.

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Islamism’s spread challenges religious rights http://persecuted.faithfortheheart.com/islamisms-spread-challenges-religious-rights/ Wed, 10 Jan 2018 11:06:09 +0000 http://persecuted.faithfortheheart.com/?guid=c1970c0fb4b64b47dfb619cab922f3dc

To coincide with the launch of Open Doors’ 2018 World Watch List, which ranks the 50 countries in which it is most difficult to live as a Christian, researchers at the charity have identified two major trends accompanying faith-based persecution. One of those is Islamic extremism. When a Filipino city of […]

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To coincide with the launch of Open Doors’ 2018 World Watch List, which ranks the 50 countries in which it is most difficult to live as a Christian, researchers at the charity have identified two major trends accompanying faith-based persecution. One of those is Islamic extremism.

When a Filipino city of 200,000 inhabitants fell into the hands of militants claiming allegiance to the Islamic State group, political leaders could no longer ignore the jihadists’ move east. The regional governments knew it would happen one day, given the presence of groups allying with IS and an Islamist separatist group operating in the south of the archipelago. The battle of Marawi, described by one press agency as “the Philippines’ longest urban war”, was only ended after five months and large-scale intervention by government armed forces. First attacked were a church and a Christian school; Christians were singled out and killed, a priest was abducted and held for four months. But the question that remained was: Where will the radicals go next? Critics say Indonesia and Malaysia have been too lenient with Islamic militants, which could make them vulnerable to intensified violent activity.

The battle to wrest control of Marawi from fighters claiming allegiance to IS paralysed the city and two months after it ended, almost 300 people, including some Christians, were unaccounted for. A priest was kidnapped for four months 

While IS is the most extreme movement, a spectrum of Islamist groups operates in different contexts around the world. The aims of the various groups vary from overthrowing non-Islamic rule by force to introducing sharia (Islamic law) through activism, participation in public life and democratic processes. The question of how much space one Islamic creed or another should occupy in public life has opened up fault-lines between Islamists and secularists, extremists and moderates, Sunni and Shia, not to mention Muslims and non-Muslims. In Muslim-majority countries Islamists can be observed trying to normalise a more radical form of Islam, and in Muslim-minority countries, they can be seen trying to radicalise the Muslim communities there and expanding their influence. Recruits can be successful, educated professionals, as well as less educated, poorer Muslims attracted by a victimhood narrative. One regional expert has suggested some young people see jihad as providing meaning amid the materialistic, superficial “selfie” age.

However, Islamic law poses a threat to religious freedom. Living under it places non-Muslims under pressure in their day-to-day lives and their interaction with neighbours, colleagues and relatives, and it can present security threats. Not only Christians have become targets in places where more radical forms of Islam have spread: in Bangladesh, Hindus as well as Christians, foreigners, and liberal writers have been targets of increasing attacks and Islamic fundamentalism. Islamists have also targeted other Muslim minority groups, such as practitioners of Sufi Islam, a more mystical form of the religion. The South Asian Terrorism Portal writes in its Bangladesh Report of 2017 that “there is the threat of increasing radicalisation, as significant numbers of youth[s] appear to be attracted to the movements of global jihad”.

The Bangladeshi government has consistently denied the presence of international terrorist organisations such IS and Al-Qaeda in the country, despite growing evidence, and has taken a stand against secular critics, arguing that citizens have no right to write or speak against any religion. The government has also been accused of arbitrarily cracking down on political opponents, stifling media and arresting critics.

Militancy and division in Asia

Overall, an increase in Islamic militancy has begun affecting many Asian countries: foiled bomb attacks in Bangladesh and Indonesia; the political fall-out of the blasphemy conviction of the Christian ex-Governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, nicknamed Ahok, in the Indonesian capital; the battle of Marawi and wider Mindanao unrest in the Philippines; and the forging of an “Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army” in Myanmar, to name but a few. Observers believe that the fight for control of Marawi and the expulsion of the Rohingya Muslim minority from Myanmar could serve as a rallying cry to would-be jihadists around the world.

Harder to record than violent attacks in Asia are increases in social pressure. Nonetheless, observers point to trends they have seen. In Indonesia, intolerance towards Christians became visible on banners, in publications and on social media posts during Ahok’s blasphemy trial. It has filtered down to educational institutions, where non-Muslim children can reportedly face overt discrimination. At the same time, government agencies that once secretly funded the proselytism of Christians by Muslims – especially in areas such as Papua New Guinea – are now doing so in an open manner. Such evangelism is strong among the more impoverished groups in Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei. One researcher at Open Doors said: “Call it what it is: Islamisation strategies. Some even illicit – just buying poor people.”

Money is an important factor behind proselytism. In Indonesia and the Maldives, Saudi Arabia has been aggressively expanding its financial prowess through a large number of investment projects. These include building mosques and Islamic boarding schools, where Wahhabism, a fundamentalist form of Islam, is taught. The result, however, is the creation of intolerant societies where freedom of religion is trampled underfoot.

Expansion in Africa

Many of the trends seen in Asia are also occurring in sub-Saharan Africa. Islamic NGOs that have been or still are funded by countries with strong political Islamic agendas, such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Iran, have in the last 20 years expanded madrassas and Islamic schools that teach radical views. The effect of this is increasing intolerance towards Christians that can been seen on the newly launched  World Watch List, where several sub-Saharan African countries have moved up in the direction of the Top 50. 

Indeed, Christians are facing increasing pressure and persecution in Muslim-majority countries in East, West and North Africa. In Egypt last year Islamic State announced that it aimed to wipe out Christians from the region through violence. In parts of northern Nigeria, different forms of Islamism coexist: extremist jihadist attacks by Boko Haram, and sharia creating a tolerance for some of the group’s actions. Other factors come into play, including the reduction of grazing land due to climate change: Hausa-Fulani Muslim herdsmen, often assisted by like-minded settlers, carry out attacks on the country’s Middle Belt’s majority-Christian and African traditionalist inhabitants. This situation suggests ethnic cleansing based on religious affiliation.

Observers have noted a pattern of Christian properties being targeted as Fulani-Hausa herdsmen carry out attacks in Nigeria’s Middle Belt

In addition, researchers at Open Doors believe there is a gradual expansion of political Islam over majority-Christian southern Nigeria, with the intention to Islamise the south. They say this occurs when Muslim leaders and their constituents pressure adherents of other religions “via banking, businesses, symbolism, mosque-building, schools and NGOs, to the extent that Christians (and adherents of other religions) must either leave or gradually adopt Islamic mores and, in some cases, convert to Islam or resist this attempt to impose an Islamic identity on their land.” They argue that similar dynamics can be observed in other countries with different intensities.

A more overt form of pressure being observed in some African countries is a sort of voluntary ghettoisation that serves to radicalise a Muslim community and, as a result, cleanse it of non-Muslims. The result is a stratification of society between Islam and Christianity which is furthered by Muslim communities side-stepping national legislation by setting up informal Sharia courts, and trying to expand into majority-Christian areas. Where governments are unable to create stable states that can protect their citizens, this easily leads to a vicious circle in which authorities are side-lined or co-opted, giving in to perpetrators of persecution for the sake of “peace”.

And a still more overt form of pressure is being applied in northeast Kenya, Nigeria, Somalia and Sudan, where Open Doors researchers believe the murders, torture, displacement and deportation of civilians, and destruction of property, could constitute ethnic cleansing or even genocide, both of which are punishable under international law.

Finally, it is worth mentioning instances where Christians are not targeted but find themselves caught in the crossfire of violence between Sunni and Shia Muslims. In such instances, as was seen in Iraq after the 2003 US-led invasion, Christians were easy targets and their neighbourhoods easy to take control of.

In sum, the increase in Islamist influence in recent decades takes different forms in different contexts. However, from the perspective of the Christian, these developments have resulted in religious freedom being placed under ever greater pressure.

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Egypt: 12 years after church closed, Copts start to rebuild http://persecuted.faithfortheheart.com/egypt-12-years-after-church-closed-copts-start-to-rebuild/ Tue, 09 Jan 2018 15:04:48 +0000 https://www.worldwatchmonitor.org/?p=27097

Twelve years after their previous church was closed, the Coptic community in the Egyptian village of Kom El-Loufy, 250km south of Cairo, is celebrating as a new church is built. Last month, with the agreement of local Muslims, the Copts started digging the foundations on a piece of land 700 metres outside the village. […]

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It has taken 12 years, but finally the Copts are rebuilding (Photo: World Watch Monitor)

Twelve years after their previous church was closed, the Coptic community in the Egyptian village of Kom El-Loufy, 250km south of Cairo, is celebrating as a new church is built.

Last month, with the agreement of local Muslims, the Copts started digging the foundations on a piece of land 700 metres outside the village.

“Thank God so much for this new location and that all parties have now agreed,” said Fr. Feltaws Ibrahim, priest of Saint Abu Sefein Coptic Orthodox church in the nearby village of Ezzbet Rafla, who hosted the 1,600 Copts from Kom El-Loufy while they were without a building.

Fr. Feltaws Ibrahim overseeing the digging of the church foundations. (Photo: World Watch Monitor)
Fr. Feltaws Ibrahim overseeing the digging of the church foundations. (Photo: World Watch Monitor)

Ever since their previous building was closed, the Coptic community in Kom El-Loufy has experienced fierce opposition from their Muslim neighbours. Some locals set fire to four Coptic homes in July 2016, suspecting that a newly built house would be turned into a church. It wasn’t until the very end of 2017 when the Copts finally withdrew their complaint against the arson in exchange for permission to build a church.

Foundations for the Coptic church in Kom El-Loufy are being laid. (Photo: World Watch Monitor)
Foundations for the Coptic church in Kom El-Loufy are being laid. (Photo: World Watch Monitor)

With the building of the church and the charges dropped, it seems that years of struggle for the Copts in the village may have come an end.

As World Watch Monitor has reported, Copts in other villages, such as Ezbat Al-Forn, El-Galaa and Saft el-Khirsa, have faced similar troubles.

In recent years it has been almost impossible for Christians to obtain a license to build a church in Egypt. However, last year Egypt’s parliament finally approved a new law relating to the building and renovating of churches, and in October a cabinet committee met to start work on the legalisation of unlicensed churches.

Fr. Feltaws Ibrahim standing next to the foundations for the new Coptic church in Kom el-Loufy. (Photo: World Watch Monitor)
Fr. Feltaws Ibrahim standing next to the foundations for the new Coptic church in Kom El-Loufy. (Photo: World Watch Monitor)

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Kyrgyzstan church burned down http://persecuted.faithfortheheart.com/kyrgyzstan-church-burned-down/ Mon, 08 Jan 2018 17:34:34 +0000 https://www.worldwatchmonitor.org/?p=27081

A Baptist community in eastern Kyrgyzstan fears for its safety after unknown attackers burned down its church building. The loss of the church has forced its 40 Kyrgyz and Russian members to start searching for a new place of worship, while wondering if there will be a further attack. The […]

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A bible survived the arson attack on the Baptist church (World Watch Monitor)
A Bible survived the arson attack on the Baptist church (World Watch Monitor)

A Baptist community in eastern Kyrgyzstan fears for its safety after unknown attackers burned down its church building.

The loss of the church has forced its 40 Kyrgyz and Russian members to start searching for a new place of worship, while wondering if there will be a further attack.

The church was in Kajisay, a small town in the Issyk-Kul region that borders China.

When local radio and TV stations broadcast news of the arson attack it caused a “great public outcry”, sources told World Watch Monitor.

An investigating police officer said the attack was “organised by those who don’t like your church and Christianity in the midst of a Muslim country”.

“We don’t believe that the police will find and punish those who burned our church,” one of its members said.

Instead of pursuing the arsonists, local Christians said police have asked questions about who funded the church building, how many Kyrgyz are members, and why, as ethnic Muslims, they do not go to the local mosque.

World Watch Monitor reported an attack on a Christian community in August last year when, according to local sources, Islamic radicals sprayed “We will kill you” across the church’s walls. The source added at the time that “police and the authorities will stay away from this case because they do not want to help Christians”, who make up only six per cent of the population.

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India: Kandhamal Christians back in jail after temporary Christmas release http://persecuted.faithfortheheart.com/india-kandhamal-christians-back-in-jail-after-temporary-christmas-release/ Mon, 08 Jan 2018 15:56:22 +0000 https://www.worldwatchmonitor.org/?p=27057

Two of seven Indian Christians who have spent nearly a decade in prison for murdering a Hindu leader – whose death sparked the worst case of anti-Christian violence in India’s history – were granted temporary parole over the Christmas period to spend time with their families. Evidence seems to be […]

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Bijay Kumar Sanseth (left) and Gornath Chalanseth were able to spent time with their families over Christmas (World Watch Monitor)

Two of seven Indian Christians who have spent nearly a decade in prison for murdering a Hindu leader – whose death sparked the worst case of anti-Christian violence in India’s history – were granted temporary parole over the Christmas period to spend time with their families. Evidence seems to be mounting that their convictions may be false. Six of the seven are illiterate, and they all continue to maintain their innocence.

Gornath Chalanseth and Bijay Kumar Sanseth returned to prison on Saturday (6 January), after two weeks on parole. It was the third time Chalanseth has been granted temporary release, but a first for Sanseth, who was accused of masterminding the Hindu leader’s murder in August 2008.

His death had been preceded over Christmas 2007 by violent attacks against Christians orchestrated by extremist Hindu nationalists.

None of the five others convicted have spent a day outside prison since their arrest in 2008.

Bijay Kumar Sanseth and his wife Pabitra say a prayer before a rare meal together (World Watch Monitor)

Indian Christians have demanded their release, and Catholic journalist Anto Akkara has written a book, ‘Who Killed Swami Laxmanananda?’, outlining the reasons he believes they are innocent. At its launch in the Odisha capital, Bhubaneshwar, last week, the President of a People’s Forum campaigning for human rights, Prafulla Samantara, challenged local media: “Is there anyone to challenge the findings of this book?” Independent Indian news service The Wire has also covered the findings of Akkara’s book.

Brinda Karat, a senior of leader of the Communist Party of India, speaking during the 28 December launch in New Delhi, said: “Akkara’s book has brought out the absurdities and discrepancies of the judgement convicting seven persons in the case wherein a resolution of a church, that later turned out to be fudged, is the only evidence. The judgement based on manufactured evidences is the most outrageous travesty of justice. This judgement will be known as ‘what a judgement should not be’.”

Akkara was also involved in the creation of a website, which urges readers to sign a petition for the release of the seven. Each online signature generates instant emails to India’s President, the Chief Justice of India’s Supreme Court and the Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission.

Background

Nearly 100 Christians were killed and 300 churches and 6,000 Christian homes damaged in the Kandhamal district of Odisha, after the killing of Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati on 23 August 2008.

By the end of that year, the seven – Chalanseth, Sanseth, Durjo Sunamajhi, Bhaskar Sunamajhi, Budhadeb Nayak, Munda Badamajhi and Sanatan Badamajhi – had been arrested. In 2013, they were found guilty of the murder by the trial court and each sentenced to life imprisonment.

The convictions shocked India’s Christian community, which was still reeling after the deadly attacks, and Christian advocates have been fighting for their release ever since.

“There is absolutely no shred of evidence that links these people to the murder, so my question is: why are these people in jail?” asked Anto Akkara after Chalanseth was granted temporary release for the first time in March 2016. “The whole case is a blot on the face of India’s judicial system – why have these illiterate, innocent people been convicted? If it goes on like this, these poor people will die like convicts in jail and history will say Christians killed the Swami.”

Fifty-six thousand Christians were displaced after the violence in Kandhamal in August 2008. Since then, the local community has struggled to receive adequate compensation from the government, which has been a source of much contention.

A conspiracy?

The website release7innocents.com outlines the major discrepancies and apparent injustices in the case against the Christians.

“The trial court convicted the seven accused and sentenced them to life imprisonment on the basis of a fabricated Christian conspiracy theory despite hardly any credible evidence brought before the court,” it states.

It then adds that in June 2015 “two top police officials – who had relied upon the same conspiracy theory to ensure the conviction of the innocent Christians – have testified before the Kandhamal judicial inquiry commission that the allegations were false.” However, the website notes that the appeal hearing has since been “repeatedly” postponed.

The website complains that discrepancies within the case against the seven were apparent right from the start, when Hindu fundamentalists blamed Christians for the Swami’s murder.

In the days that followed his murder, the Swami’s body was taken across Kandhamal, “accompanied by thousands of Hindus … to incite the primordial passion of revenge among Hindus in one of the least developed districts of Odisha”, notes the website.

“They wanted to make a spectacle of it, and were prepared – as events were to prove – to take full advantage of the passions that would arise. They did not even go by the shortest route, but meandered across [Kandhamal],” noted a report by a group of human-rights organisations. (See route below.)

Three-quarters of the damage done to Christian homes took place along the route of the funeral procession, the website reports. Among the slogans shouted was, “Kill Christians and destroy their institutions.”

“It was obvious that public reaction to the murder of a prominent religious leader like the Swami would be extreme. Yet when options to be followed after the murder were being considered, there is little evidence that high-level political and official leadership offered guidance and support to the local district administration,” said the National Commission for Minorities, after its September 2008 visit to Kandhamal.

1. Sanatan Badamajhi

Sanatan Badamajhi’s wife Badusi said that a few days before her husband’s arrest, on 4 October, 2008, some of the Hindu village leaders had warned him that he would soon be arrested.

But on the day of the Swami’s murder, Badamajhi, 36, had been tending cattle and sheep, according to a Hindu neighbour, Nakula Mallick.

“Police never came to investigate or ask anything about him. If we had been called, we would have testified for him in the court,” said Mallick.

The judge said a gun was seized from Badamajhi’s house, but his wife says they never owned a gun.

Police also claimed to have seized an axe from the house, but his wife said the police brought the axe from the house of Mukantho Mallick, a Hindu neighbour, who had accompanied the police to identify the house.

“Later, Mukantho has been repeatedly complaining that the police took away the axe. I had only one axe and it is still in my house,” she said.

2. Munda Badamajhi

Munda Badamajhi, 34, was arrested on the night of 4 October, 2008, at his home in the village of Duringpodi.

The prosecution said it recovered a gun from Badamajhi’s home, but his wife, Bandigudali, said her husband did not even know how to use a gun.

“We never had a gun and my husband could not even use a gun,” she said. “This is shocking.”

3. Durjo Sunamajhi

Durjo Sunamajhi, 35, was woken up on the night of 4 October, 2008, when police barged into his house in Budapada village and took him away, as well as the barrel of a broken gun that they found in his house.

His wife Gumili said her husband was on a train towards Kerala on the day of the Swami’s murder and had never touched the gun, which she said was an old and broken hunting rifle last used by her husband’s grandfather.

“The government claim is that they recovered two guns [from the houses of these people], but actually only one barrel of a broken gun, which has not been used for years, had been picked up,” said Akkara. “[Gumili] says her husband never used it, her husband’s father never used it; only her husband’s grandfather used it. Imagine! And there was only a barrel of the hunting gun. Now, the government claims to have recovered two guns from two houses, but in the judgment the judge says he has got the three guns, and he names the three! How is that possible?”

4. Bijay Kumar Sanseth

Sanseth’s wife, Pabitra, said police phoned her on 12 December, 2008, and told him to report to the police station the next day. He did so, and has been detained ever since.

However, police recorded events differently, saying that on 12 December Sanseth met three of the other accused Christians at a Maoist meeting in a jungle near the village of Sartuli. They added that Sanseth, 42, had been overheard discussing plans to murder the Swami outside Kotagarh High School. This claim was attributed to a witness, Mahasingh Kanhar, who initially denied the claim, but eventually endorsed it during a retrial.

“Wherever I go, people tell me: ‘He was a good man. Why he is in jail?'” said Sanseth’s father, Salei. “The popularity of my son and his high contacts with government officials have led to this tragedy. Many were jealous of him.”

5. Bhaskar Sunamajhi

Bhaskar Sunamajhi, 32, was playing cards with his friends in the village of Kutiguda when police came to collect him on 13 December, 2008.

“You can return tomorrow,” his wife heard them say, when they took him away. But after more than seven years, Sunamajhi has not returned home.

The judge said Sunamajhi was “hand in gloves” with the Maoists and had undergone several weeks of training at a Maoist camp. However, his wife Debaki said he “never ventured [far] from home”.

Biracha Paraseth, a neighbour, added: “This is a total lie. He was with us on the day [the Swami was killed]”.

Pavitra Sanseth, another neighbour, added: “He is a good man. He will not do such a crime like killing of a Hindu leader. All of us feel very bad about this. Sir, if we all could have gone [to court] and explained his innocence, please tell us how we can help and ask for his release.”

6. Budhadeb Nayak

Before his arrest, one of the village elders urged Nayak, 42, to go into hiding, but he refused, saying he had done nothing wrong.

Police later came to his house, threatening his eldest son, 20-year-old Lingaraj, that they would soon arrest his father.

On the night of 13 December, 2008, they came back and Nayak was arrested.

“He was wearing only a [sarong]. They tied his hands to take him away. He asked for clothes and I gave him a shawl,” recalled his wife, Nilandri.

Three days later, the family visited him in Balliguda jail. The police said he had been with Maoists in the jungle on 12 December, alongside three of the others accused.

7. Gornath Chalanseth

Chalanseth, 41, was taken into police custody on 13 December 2008, but initially suspected nothing as he was active in politics.

His cousin, a pastor, accompanied him to the police station, and saw him taken away.

A couple of days later, after his cousin had not returned, he went back to the station and heard he had been charged with murder.

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Mosul Christmas Mass hailed a ‘victory over IS’ as Sunni youth install giant Christmas tree http://persecuted.faithfortheheart.com/mosul-christmas-mass-hailed-a-victory-over-is-as-sunni-youth-install-giant-christmas-tree/ Fri, 05 Jan 2018 16:58:32 +0000 https://www.worldwatchmonitor.org/?p=27039

The celebration of a Christmas Eve Mass in Mosul after the city’s devastating three-year occupation by Islamic State (IS) marked “a kind of victory” over the extremists, a church leader there said. And the installation of a number of large Christmas trees around the city was unprecedented, said the leader, […]

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The celebration of a Christmas Eve Mass in Mosul after the city’s devastating three-year occupation by Islamic State (IS) marked “a kind of victory” over the extremists, a church leader there said.

And the installation of a number of large Christmas trees around the city was unprecedented, said the leader, who cannot be named for security reasons.


The Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Sako travelled from Baghdad to preside at the Mass at Mar Paulos church in the suburb of Al-Mundshen. It was the first Mass said in the city since Christians were expelled from the city by Islamic State jihadists in summer 2014.

In a rare display of unity, bishops from two other Churches attended: Syriac Catholic Archbishop Butros Moshe of Mosul and his Syriac Orthodox counterpart, Archbishop Nicodemus Douad.

Around 2,000 people attended the Mass, some travelling from displacement camps in Erbil to where many of Mosul’s Christians fled more than three years ago. Muslim representatives also attended the service, which took place amid tight security.

The Christmas Eve Mass was the first Mass celebrated in Mosul since summer 2014. Photo: Aid to the Church in Need

Since the military defeat of IS, church leaders have sought to stress to their Muslim neighbours that they are committed to returning and living peacefully together. The Churches also want to emphasise that the Christian presence is returning to Mosul, to show the city’s displaced Christians that it is safe to return, and to persuade them not to emigrate. Observers have estimated that if rates of emigration seen during IS’s occupation had continued, the Church in Iraq would have ceased to exist in a matter of years.

According to the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, the Mass was able to proceed only because a group of young Muslims stepped in to help clean up the church and prepare it for the celebration, including erecting the cross. Churches in areas IS occupied have been desecrated and damaged to varying degrees, and the city’s other churches are not yet fit for use.

“What happened this Christmas in Mosul never happened [even] before IS,” a church leader told World Watch Monitor. “Even under Saddam Hussein, people in Mosul were more conservative, they didn’t like signs of celebrating Christmas.”

She said the openness among residents to public signs of Christmas might be the result of Sunni relieved to be out from the control of IS, or Shia forces who are maintaining order there wanting to show they are not like the group, or from Christian leaders wanting to give hope to their congregations after what they have suffered.

Some Christians have voiced fears that Mosul’s occupation by IS would leave the city’s inhabitants permanently radicalised. But the church leader leader said some residents have tried to distance themselves from the group’s ideology.

“Mosul people who were really upset by IS wanted to do some things to show they are not like IS,” she said.

The largest Christmas tree erected in the city centre, she said, “was put up by Sunni young people organised by the Mosul municipal government, while other Christians and Muslims had together put up other trees in the grounds of the city’s university.

“Change is starting; this is the first step,” wrote Fr. Martin Banni, a Chaldean priest from the surrounding Nineveh Plains region, in a message on Facebook. “No one expected Mosul would celebrate Christmas in this way.”

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Nigeria’s New Year begins with attacks on Christians http://persecuted.faithfortheheart.com/nigerias-new-year-begins-with-attacks-on-christians/ Thu, 04 Jan 2018 14:33:06 +0000 https://www.worldwatchmonitor.org/?p=26927

In Nigeria, the New Year celebrations were marked by incidents which claimed dozen lives across the country. According to local sources and media, the attacks were carried out by suspected Fulani herdsmen or Muslim youths, who targeted Christian worshippers. The attacks affected the volatile Middle Belt states (Benue, Kaduna), epicenter […]

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Worshippers in four churches in Ilorin, the capital of Kwara state, were attacked by mobs of youths during services on New Year’s Eve. (Photo: CAN)

In Nigeria, the New Year celebrations were marked by incidents which claimed dozen lives across the country. According to local sources and media, the attacks were carried out by suspected Fulani herdsmen or Muslim youths, who targeted Christian worshippers.

The attacks affected the volatile Middle Belt states (Benue, Kaduna), epicenter of the deadly attacks by Fulani Herdsmen in recent months, but also some typically peaceful states like Rivers in the predominantly Christian south and Kwara in the east, both usually spared by religiously motivated violence.

Worshippers attacked, women raped in Kwara

Worshippers in four churches in Ilorin, the capital of Kwara state, were attacked by mobs of youths during services on New Year’s Eve.

The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) condemned the attack in a statement. The worshippers were attacked at the Christ Apostolic Church, CAC, Oke-Isegun, the Methodist Cathedral and the St. Joseph Catholic Cathedral.

According to CAN, some women returning back home were raped, while others were rescued. The association also said the assailants destroyed buildings, religious articles and vehicles. They also dispossessed some worshippers of their phones, bags and other valuables.

More than 16 killed in Rivers

At least 16 people were killed as gunmen opened fire at churchgoers returning from a midnight service on New Year’s Eve in Omuku, in Nigeria’s southern Rivers state. Several others were injured, as World Watch Monitor reported. But according to an NGO on the ground, Stefanos Foundation, the death toll is much higher.

Rivers state is Nigeria’s main oil-producing region and, according to local reports, the incident was linked to growing tensions between rival gangs, who demand a greater share of oil revenues.

The president of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari, condemned what he called these “unacceptable” acts. (Photo: Stefanos Foundation)

Scores killed in Benue

At least 50 people lost their lives as suspected Fulani herdsmen invaded five communities in Benue state, on New Year day and in the early hours of 31 December. Many others were wounded.

According to The Nigerian Guardian, the assailants, armed with various weapons, attacked a suburb of Ayilanmo and Turan villages in Gambe-tiev Local Government Area, while residents were in church.

The assailants also attacked Tomatar and Umenger villages in Guma Local Government Area, killing some villagers. They also burnt a patrol vehicle.

The state governor, Samuel Ortom, who visited the victims on New Year Day, condemned the violence.

“What happened, from the report I have received, is far beyond what you have seen here,” the governor said. “So many houses have been burnt. So many people have been killed. Some are still missing. Can you imagine innocent children and women being killed and their private parts removed? People were slaughtered like animals.”

Traditional ruler and pregnant wife killed in Kaduna

A traditional ruler and his pregnant wife were shot dead by gunmen believed to be Fulani herdsmen in his hometown of Ark village, in southern Kaduna, on New Year’s Eve.

According to This Day, Gambo Makama and his wife were killed at around midnight. His 45-year-old son also sustained serious injuries during the attack and was taken to hospital. The assailants also set the house ablaze and burnt a vehicle, which was recently given to the chief as a gift.

This Day also reported further attacks, which claimed at least 10 lives. On 22 December, four people were killed and eight others injured in Nidem village, in Jama’a Local Government Area.

According to the newspaper, the assailants invaded the village square, where Christmas carols were being sung.

In the second attack which took place on Christmas Eve in Anguwan Mailafiya, also in Jama’a, six people were killed by armed men believed to be Fulani Herdsmen.

Traditional ruler abducted in Kaduna

On Tuesday (2 Jan), a ruler of Ikulu in Zangon Katang Local Government Area of southern Kaduna was kidnapped in his private residence in Anchuna village.

The ruler, Yohanna Kukah, is the younger brother of Mathew Hassan Kukah, the Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Sokoto.

Another brother, Samuel Kukah, told The Daily Trust that around 20 well-armed men stormed Yohanna Kukah’s house at about 8.30pm.

“They surrounded the chief, who was making a call, tied his security guard in one of his cars and took the chief inside the house and asked him for money,” Samuel Kukah said. “They seized all his handsets and those belonging to his family members, collected his money and whisked him away without saying or demanding anything.”

 Two killed in Adamawa

According to Stefanos Foundation two people were killed and eight others injured in two separate attacks in the north-eastern state of Adamawa during the final week of the year.

On 28 December, Fulani militants attacked Tamboh Jimoh village, in Gerei Local Government Area. They killed one – James Hamman – and injured four others.

Three days earlier, one person – Danbaki Talami – was killed and four others injured in an attack carried out in the same area.

The president of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari, condemned what he called these “unacceptable” acts.

“You can’t kill to please God, and I know no religion tolerates the taking of another person’s life in the name of a religious movement,” he said in a statement. “There is never a justification for killing any member of the society. We have been tackling the Boko Haram menace, and we have made significant impact, and we will extend the measures to stop all wanton killings.”

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Egypt: brothers shot dead ahead of Coptic Christmas http://persecuted.faithfortheheart.com/egypt-brothers-shot-dead-ahead-of-coptic-christmas/ Tue, 02 Jan 2018 17:54:55 +0000 https://www.worldwatchmonitor.org/?p=26880

Two brothers helping a Coptic Christian shop owner were shot dead on New Year’s Day in Giza, Greater Cairo. The men, who owned a car-parts shop next door, had been helping to stock the shop with alcohol, reported Al Arabiya. The Christian brothers were killed when a gunman pulled up […]

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Over 100 Coptic Christians were killed in 2017. The latest in a long line of violent incidents took place on 29 December, when a man attacked a church in Helwan, and then two brothers were murdered (World Watch Monitor)

Two brothers helping a Coptic Christian shop owner were shot dead on New Year’s Day in Giza, Greater Cairo. The men, who owned a car-parts shop next door, had been helping to stock the shop with alcohol, reported Al Arabiya.

The Christian brothers were killed when a gunman pulled up outside the shop on a motorbike before shooting them with a rifle.

It is illegal to sell alcohol without a licence in Egypt. On 2 January last year a Muslim man slit the throat of a Coptic store owner in Alexandria. The attacker, who was sentenced to death, told the court he would kill all alcohol sellers if he could.

The New Year’s Day incident took place only days after eight Christians were shot dead in a double attack on 29 December targeting Christians leaving a morning service at Mar Mina and Pope Kyrillos VI Coptic Orthodox church in Helwan – also part of Greater Cairo – and, earlier in the same day, another shop near to the church. The attack on the shop resulted in the deaths of brothers Romany and Atef Shaker Roshdy who were sons of the shop owner.

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack, which involved two assailants, including one on a motorbike who was shot by security forces during an attempt to break through a barrier outside the church.

Security forces are braced for further attacks against Coptic Christians ahead of the official Orthodox celebration of Christmas on 7 January – last year five Christians were murdered over a 13-day period surrounding the celebrations.

Bishoy Hosny, 26, a member of Mar Mina, was defiant in the face of further attacks. “This incident will not affect [Coptic] Christmas and Christians will go to their churches without fear,” he said. “We will celebrate Christmas because a real Christian doesn’t fear anything. Tightening security doesn’t prevent incidents. We know we are still targeted but we insist on going to our churches and celebrating our feasts. This is what must be done to confront terrorist threats.”

Fady Rezk, 23, also a member of the church, also expressed doubt that heavier security would prevent more attacks. “The security forces have failed to secure churches at the time of the feasts both this year and in previous years,” he said. “But, like us, some of them are killed too.”

Redad Abdel Rohman, a Muslim police officer guarding the church, was later named as one of the dead.

Six Christians – Wadih Al-Qomes Markos Boutros, Emad Abdel Shahid, Safaa Abdel Shahid, Evelyn Shukrallah Atallah, Wagid Ishaq Ghobrial and Nermin Sadiq Souss – were killed outside Mar Mina church, while Romany and Atef Shaker Roshdy were killed earlier in the day, while working at their father’s homeware shop. Four others were injured in the two attacks, including another security officer. All are in hospital, with one in a critical condition.

Police identified one of the attackers as Ibrahim Ismail Mustafa, 33. He was arrested at the scene after being shot by police. The other attacker escaped on a motorbike.

Eyewitness account

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack on the church, which involved two assailants, including one on a motorbike who was shot by security forces during an attempt to break through a barrier outside the church (World Watch Monitor)

Girgis Nady, another member of Mar Mina, saw the attack unfold. “The two masked gunmen stopped their motorcycle in Mostafa Fahmy street [the small side-street to the church]. One of them carried an automatic weapon, and was wearing a protective jacket with a small bag over his shoulder,” he said.

“He got off the motorcycle and approached the police officer and two soldiers guarding the church. He opened fire, killing one of them and injuring the two others.

“It started at 10.27am, at the end of Mass, when worshippers were leaving the church. After the terrorist fired on the guards, he tried to enter the church, but the young people from the church managed to close the main door from inside.

“That was a miracle from God to protect his people because if this terrorist had been able to enter the church, the number of victims would have been in the hundreds.”

The second assailant arrived on the motorbike and both started firing on Copts leaving the church. Police arrived shortly afterwards, shooting and arresting Mustafa, while the second attacker fled on his motorbike. The shooting ended at 11am, lasting just over half an hour, according to Nady.

At 7pm on the day of the attack, funerals for the eight dead Christians were held at The Virgin Mary Coptic Orthodox church in Helwan. Thousands attended the service, including both Copts and Muslims, a source told World Watch Monitor. The eight were buried at the monastery of Anba Barsoum El-Erian in 15th of May City.

Copts react

One of the church’s priests said: “The attackers chose our church because it is small and the number of police assigned to guard it are few” (World Watch Monitor)

“The attackers chose our church because it is small and the number of police assigned to guard it are few,” said Father Boulas Younan of Mar Mina church. “It was easy for them to attack and control the situation. They had planned for everything and were crafty. They knew the church entrances and exits very well. They attacked the shop first to keep the police busy.

“This attack confirms the attempts of those terrorists to disrupt our celebrations of New Year and Christmas. They wanted to spoil our joy of Christmas and New Year, they want to intimidate us and prevent us from going to church to pray. But such incidents just increase our determination to go to church, and fight terrorism and uproot it.

“The terrorists have no religion and no homeland. We join hands with each other, Muslims and Christians, to confront this brutal terrorism.”

Father Mina Gaber Ishaq, another priest at Mar Mina, said he “expected” the attack, which he said was aimed at damaging national unity.

More than 100 Coptic Christians were killed in 2017 in Egypt, which ranks 21st on the 2017 Open Doors World Watch List of the 50 countries where Christians face the most extreme persecution. The 2018 World Watch List is published on 10 January.

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A Nigerian Christmas: no will or means to celebrate http://persecuted.faithfortheheart.com/a-nigerian-christmas-no-will-or-means-to-celebrate/ Mon, 01 Jan 2018 06:00:04 +0000 https://www.worldwatchmonitor.org/?p=26829

How do Christians under pressure for their faith celebrate Christmas? In the ninth installment of our series, we hear from Nigerians in central Plateau State affected by violence. While the Islamist group Boko Haram has gained notoriety for its attacks on civil, military and Christian targets, a second source of […]

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How do Christians under pressure for their faith celebrate Christmas? In the ninth installment of our series, we hear from Nigerians in central Plateau State affected by violence.

One of Ms Dalyop’s brothers who was injured in the attack

While the Islamist group Boko Haram has gained notoriety for its attacks on civil, military and Christian targets, a second source of violence has become a deadlier threat. Disparate groups of armed ethnic Fulani nomadic herdsmen have attacked villages, homes and people in Nigeria’s verdant Plateau state as the Sahara Desert pushes south and water sources and good pasture become scarcer. The Fulani are mostly Muslim and often the land to which they move their herds belongs to agricultural farmers who are Christian. Therefore although the clashes are primarily about resources, they are being viewed by some through a religious lens, and the government’s perceived failure to protect or compensate farmers is seen as being a continuation of its ambivalence regarding protecting Christians and other civilians in the north of the country from Boko Haram. Many of the communities attacked by Fulani herdsmen say they have received no aid from government or charities.

Solomon Dachung Danboyi lost four nephews in an attack in November on Diyan village in Riyom Local Government Area of Plateau state. Several other relatives were hospitalised. He said neither he nor the boys’ parents could think about celebrating Christmas. “We would only take out time to pray quietly in our home,” he said.

Local government officials have been accused of complicity with herdsmen involved in the attacks, which have been going on for more than five years

In addition, the family has suffered financially. “Our farmlands have been destroyed completely. Where do we get money to have a celebration? No one has come to our aid after the attacks: government, humanitarian organisations and individuals, including Christians, have all left us to our fate.

For barrister Sarah Dalyop, who lives in Jos, the costs mounted up as she and her family struggled to pay medical costs for two of her brothers and other relatives injured in a separate attack in Riyom. “Relatives had to contribute to transport the corpses of the victims who died in hospital back to their villages for burial,” she said.

Ive Malachi, who lost his sisters in the attack on Nkiedonwhro village in which 27 persons were killed in a classroom, said the State Emergency Management Agency, a charity called the Stefanos Foundation, and individual donors have provided essentials such as food and bedding to survivors.

A visit from the Fulbe Christian Association of Nigeria, an association of Fulani Christians in Nigeria, went a long way to calm frail nerves in the community, he said.

However, he added, the memory of the incident still lingers, especially when the people pass by the mass grave that holds the remains of their loved ones.

Festivities planned to mark the new year also were cancelled. “We have decided to shelve the annual New Year festival the community is renowned for,” Malachai said. “This we unanimously decided to do to honour our people that were killed in the attacks on Nkiedonwhro village.”

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Cuban Christmas: Silent night – because walls have ears http://persecuted.faithfortheheart.com/cuban-christmas-silent-night-because-walls-have-ears/ Sun, 31 Dec 2017 06:00:07 +0000 https://www.worldwatchmonitor.org/?p=26784

How do Christians under pressure for their faith celebrate Christmas? In the eighth in our series we hear from a Cuban church leader. Christmas in communist Cuba is a quiet affair; you won’t hear carols in the streets or on television, except for during one concert involving the Churches that […]

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How do Christians under pressure for their faith celebrate Christmas? In the eighth in our series we hear from a Cuban church leader.

Christmas in communist Cuba is a quiet affair; you won’t hear carols in the streets or on television, except for during one concert involving the Churches that is broadcast on Christmas Day. Catholic churches may hold a Christmas Mass, and some Evangelical churches will celebrate Christmas on their own premises but not in public spaces. Other Evangelical churches don’t hold Christmas services because years of fierce government restrictions led some pastors to abandon their liturgical calendar.

Some Cuban Christians avoid celebrations of the revolution by attending all-night prayer services

For many Cubans, bigger than Christmas is the anniversary of the revolution, 1 January. So on 31 December, towns come alive with street parties and dancing. Many churches sidestep these festivities by holding all-night services.

However, Christians watch what they say, even in church. For a long time after the revolution, Christmas couldn’t even be mentioned in a church. One Cuban church leader told World Watch Monitor that nowadays such tight controls have relaxed to an extent, but “there continue to be government informants in all church services”.

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Christmas for refugees in Lebanon: far from home and reduced to handouts http://persecuted.faithfortheheart.com/christmas-for-refugees-in-lebanon-far-from-home-and-reduced-to-handouts/ Sat, 30 Dec 2017 06:00:41 +0000 https://www.worldwatchmonitor.org/?p=26776 How do Christians under pressure for their faith celebrate Christmas? In the seventh in our series we hear from a Lebanese Catholic who helps look after Iraqi and Syrian refugees in Beirut. Lebanon has absorbed more than a million refugees from conflicts in nearby Syria and Iraq, where Christians either […]

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How do Christians under pressure for their faith celebrate Christmas? In the seventh in our series we hear from a Lebanese Catholic who helps look after Iraqi and Syrian refugees in Beirut.

Lebanon has absorbed more than a million refugees from conflicts in nearby Syria and Iraq, where Christians either fled general violence or direct targeting. Because of Lebanon’s multi-faith make-up, many Iraqi and Syrian Christians have sought refuge there. They may not be the most materially impoverished, because the Churches there have tried hard to help them find rented accommodation.

However, Raphaël Paul Koupaly, Vice President of the Chaldean Charity Association, said that the Iraqi Christian refugees he looks after in Beirut feel their losses more keenly at Christmas, because their families are scattered and they are reduced to celebrating it in a way that feels alien to them. They live off savings or charity: in Iraq “it was easier for them to give gifts; here they have to wait for the Church to distribute them.” Even the flour and the nuts for the festive treats are slightly different, so they don’t quite taste right!

At home, Iraqi Christians would go to church on Christmas Eve for a host of special events. In Beirut, where many feel scared to go out into a city they do not know, “they’ll only go to church at midnight, then go home.” The association put on a free Christmas concert in Beirut cathedral for refugees, two Christmas parties for 1,200 children with gifts and food and animators, and is distributing food and hygiene parcels for 600 families for Christmas.

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Machine-gun ambush kills Christians leaving church near Cairo http://persecuted.faithfortheheart.com/machine-gun-ambush-kills-christians-leaving-church-near-cairo/ Fri, 29 Dec 2017 23:24:52 +0000 https://www.worldwatchmonitor.org/?p=26839 Several Christians were gunned down as they left church services on the morning of Dec. 29 near Cairo, the Coptic Church and various government authorities reported. At least two assailants were involved in the 10 a.m. attack on the Mar Nina Church in the Helwan district south of Cairo, government […]

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Several Christians were gunned down as they left church services on the morning of Dec. 29 near Cairo, the Coptic Church and various government authorities reported.

At least two assailants were involved in the 10 a.m. attack on the Mar Nina Church in the Helwan district south of Cairo, government officials said. The church was full of worshipers, who were leaving the building, a Coptic Church spokesman told the New York Times.

Prior to arriving at the church, at least one of the church attackers first fired on a Coptic-owned appliance shop, killing two brothers — sons of the owner, according to a statement by the Coptic Church posted on Facebook.

CNN reported that the Coptic archbishop of the Helwan district, Father Ebram Mihail, said the attack on the church began 10 minutes after services had ended. People were streaming out the door when they were gunned down, and those still inside heard gunfire for 15 minutes, he said. Witnesses told the Associated Press that church members closed the gates, and people on the streets darted for cover.

The Interior Ministry told news media that a gunman on a motorcycle, having already killed several people, tried to break through a security barrier outside the church. He was shot in an exchange of gunfire with security personnel, the news service Al Arabiya English reported, citing police officials, and did not get into the church.

The Guardian reported that a second attacker was arrested as he tried to flee the scene. On the whole, however, early media reports were inconsistent on whether there was one, or two, attackers, and which of them had been arrested. Most reports indicated that one of the attackers had been killed and another arrested, but details were inconsistent. One was reported to have an explosive device; photos circulated on social media purported to show one of the attackers, dead in the street and wearing a bulky vest.

The attack was carried out by an affiliate of the self-proclaimed Islamic State, according to a statement posted on the messaging app Telegram, the Times reported.

THE VICTIMS

Accounts of the number of people killed and injured by the attackers varied.

Number of people killed and injured

Government sources and news media provided varying accounts of the death toll at Mar Nina church south of Cairo on Dec. 29
Worshipers at the churchNearby Coptic-owned shopUnspecifiedPolice / security officer at churchAttackerTotal deadInjuredSource
5218Coptic Church statement posted on Facebook
5218Mada Masr, citing the Coptic Church
1010Mada Masr, citing the health ministry
91105Reuters, citing the interior and health ministries
811105AP, citing the health ministry
6211104Ahram Online, citing interior and health ministries
52119"Several"The Guardian, citing interior ministry, Coptic Church statement
6219BBC, citing interior ministry
811105CNN, citing health ministry
91105Al Arabiya English, citing health ministry and the Coptic Church
621110Unspecified numberDaily Nation, citing interior and health ministries
8211129New York Times, citing Coptic Church spokesman

REACTION

Islamist violence against Egyptian Christians has escalated during the past year. Making up about 10 percent of the population, they live in a deeply polarised society, caught between secular nationalists and radical Islamists. In 2013 they were perceived as supporting the ousting of President Mohamed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood government. Scores of churches across the country were attacked and burned. IS has vowed to “wipe them out”.

Egypt is No. 21 on the World Watch List, a ranking of the 50 countries were it is most difficult for Christians to live. It is published by Open Doors, a global NGO that serves Christians who live under pressure because of their faith.

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The Syrian refugee’s Christmas: free from danger but not from worry http://persecuted.faithfortheheart.com/the-syrian-refugees-christmas-free-from-danger-but-not-from-worry/ Fri, 29 Dec 2017 06:00:15 +0000 https://www.worldwatchmonitor.org/?p=26768

How do Christians under pressure for their faith celebrate Christmas? In the sixth of our series we hear from a Syrian Catholic who has come to Britain as a refugee. “Back in Damascus we would have a big meal with our extended family on Christmas Eve – anything from three to […]

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How do Christians under pressure for their faith celebrate Christmas? In the sixth of our series we hear from a Syrian Catholic who has come to Britain as a refugee.

“Back in Damascus we would have a big meal with our extended family on Christmas Eve – anything from three to 10 courses – before going to Midnight Mass and wishing each other a happy Christmas,” remembers Nadim, a former tour company operator.

Nadim remembers his last Christmas in Damascus and kept this photo with him as he fled to Europe

“Then we’d have another special meal on Christmas Day with our immediate family, and perhaps visit friends in the morning or the afternoon. We would eat Syrian delicacies, although the idea of turkey is invading the world!”

Nadim fled to the UK as a refugee after his family’s house in the Old City in Damascus was bombed as Al Nusra, the Al Qaeda offshoot and Sunni extremist group, shelled their part of the city. He travelled first, then his wife and two sons got permission to come almost a year later, in November 2016. “Last Christmas was very special – to have my wife and sons with me again and to see them safe,” he adds.

Having run his own business in Damascus, Nadim has found work in a hotel in London and has requested Christmas Day off. Although his immediate family is safe, his extended family remains in Syria. “I worry about the continued unrest in my country though: my wife and I both still have relatives in Damascus and I worry we’ll get bad news,” he says.

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Indian Christmas: fear and Western ways http://persecuted.faithfortheheart.com/indian-christmas-fear-and-western-ways/ Thu, 28 Dec 2017 06:00:40 +0000 https://www.worldwatchmonitor.org/?p=26750

How will Christians under pressure for their faith celebrate Christmas? In the fifth of our series we hear from India. “Where is the joy? There is so much of fear now,” said AC Michael, a prominent Christian leader, when asked about the mood among Christians as they prepare for Christmas […]

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How will Christians under pressure for their faith celebrate Christmas? In the fifth of our series we hear from India.

“Where is the joy? There is so much of fear now,” said AC Michael, a prominent Christian leader, when asked about the mood among Christians as they prepare for Christmas 2017. Michael, the co-ordinator of the United Christian Forum, which monitors incidents of anti-Christian violence in India, told World Watch Monitor that the arrest of a group of 30 carol singers from a Catholic seminary in Satna in central Madhya Pradesh state and, later, eight priests has shaken Indian Christians.

A statue of the Virgin Mary desecrated in the 2008 violence

They were detained after a Hindu man accused them of trying to convert him. The priests’ vehicle was torched outside the police station while they were detained inside, and some reports said the singers were assaulted by activists linked to the Hindu nationalist group Bajrang Dal. “With carol singers being beaten up, many even here in the national capital are afraid of going out to sing carols these days,” Michael, who is based in New Delhi, added. Allegations of attempted conversion also lay behind an attack on a church and its priest in the southern state of Kerala earlier this month.

Christians blame a recent increase in attacks on Hindu nationalist extremists, who they say have become emboldened since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s right-wing government came to power in 2014.

Michael said that because of the increasing intimidation of Christians, including schools, this Christmas would be the worst in India in a decade. Christmas 2007 saw almost 100 churches in Kandhamal, Odisha state, destroyed and worshippers terrorised in what would be a forerunner to weeks of violence the following August in which nearly 100 Christians were killed and 56,000 made homeless. Seven Christians, six of them illiterate, remain in jail for the murder which triggered the violence, responsibility for which has been claimed by Maoists.

Other Christians in India complain of a different sort of pressure. Wanting to focus Christmas on the poor and the diversity of Christianity in India, they despair of the over-use of English and imported Western symbols such as Santa Claus and reindeer.

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Iranian Christmas: Inconspicuous decorations … then celebrating behind bars http://persecuted.faithfortheheart.com/iranian-christmas-inconspicuous-decorations-then-celebrating-behind-bars/ Wed, 27 Dec 2017 06:00:19 +0000 https://www.worldwatchmonitor.org/?p=26759 How do Christians under pressure for their faith celebrate Christmas? In the fourth of our series we hear from an Iranian Christian who spent three years – and three Christmases – in prison. Because converting away from Islam is illegal in Iran, house churches meet in secret and Christmas is […]

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How do Christians under pressure for their faith celebrate Christmas? In the fourth of our series we hear from an Iranian Christian who spent three years – and three Christmases – in prison.

Because converting away from Islam is illegal in Iran, house churches meet in secret and Christmas is an “inner celebration” that takes place in people’s hearts, explains Mojtaba Hosseini, who became a Christian as an adult. He remembers one year when he and other members of their small congregation decorated the house and shared some food together. But they made sure the decorations were not Christmas-themed. “If police carried out a raid – which often happens at that time of year – we could say we were celebrating a birthday.”

In February 2012 the police raided his house church meeting and later that year he and another member were sentenced to 44 months in prison. Mojtaba was found guilty of ‘disrupting national security’ and ‘propaganda against the regime’, which related not only to his leading a house church but also to evangelism and contact with Christians outside Iran. After three years he was released from Shiraz prison on parole.

“Christmas had always been an inside celebration for me, so inside the prison I could celebrate it just the same. I would feel the joy of liberation in my heart,” which, he said, the government “is never, ever able to quench” despite separation from his family, interrogations he endured, uncertainty about the future, and sharing in a cell with “men who had committed the most terrible crimes”.

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Christmas in North Korea: an inner celebration http://persecuted.faithfortheheart.com/christmas-in-north-korea-an-inner-celebration/ Tue, 26 Dec 2017 06:00:12 +0000 https://www.worldwatchmonitor.org/?p=26745

How will Christians under pressure for their faith celebrate Christmas? The third instalment in our series focuses on North Korea. North Korea is the most difficult country in which to live as a Christian, according to the advocacy charity Open Doors, which has ranked it no. 1 in its World […]

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How will Christians under pressure for their faith celebrate Christmas? The third instalment in our series focuses on North Korea.

North Korean Christians worship alone or in small groups because they cannot meet legally

North Korea is the most difficult country in which to live as a Christian, according to the advocacy charity Open Doors, which has ranked it no. 1 in its World Watch List of persecution for the past 11 years. The handful of permitted churches in the capital, Pyongyang, are seen by critics as little more than window-dressing, to give foreigners the impression that religious freedom exists. However any North Korean who is identified as a Christian is seen as defying the imperative to revere President Kim Jong-Un, and is at risk of imprisonment and torture in a labour camp, where they may die.

Kim officially banned Christmas festivities last year, directing any citizen who would have celebrated the day to commemorate 24 December 1919, the birthdate of his grandmother, instead. And this year he has outlawed gatherings that involve singing and consuming alcohol, according to South Korea. For years a 60′ tower just inside South Korean territory was lit up like a Christmas tree and topped with an illuminated cross. Visible from within North Korea, Pyongyang described is as a “provocative display of psychological warfare”.

Given such overt hostility towards Christmas and Christian symbols, it is little surprise that many North Korean believers hide their faith from family, friends and neighbours. They will most likely celebrate Christmas alone and in secret. A meeting could be two people on a park bench muttering prayers and praise quietly. Occasionally, for Christians in remote areas, groups of up to 70 people might dare to meet.

Nonetheless, Open Doors believes the church there is growing, and may have as many as 300,000 members. The charity believes some North Koreans have become Christians when they flee to neighbouring countries in search of food, and share their faith when they return home.

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A merry Saudi Christmas and the flight from Egypt http://persecuted.faithfortheheart.com/a-merry-saudi-christmas-and-the-flight-from-egypt/ Mon, 25 Dec 2017 06:00:31 +0000 https://www.worldwatchmonitor.org/?p=26733

How will Christians under pressure for their faith celebrate Christmas? In the second of our series we hear from Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Saudi Arabia: Migrant workers challenged to live Christmas every day No, really – although building churches, displaying crosses or meeting for Christian worship is outlawed in the […]

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How will Christians under pressure for their faith celebrate Christmas? In the second of our series we hear from Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

Saudi Arabia: Migrant workers challenged to live Christmas every day

No, really – although building churches, displaying crosses or meeting for Christian worship is outlawed in the oil-rich Sunni kingdom, many of its foreign workers – especially Indians and Filipinos – are Christians and, far from home and family, they find a way to meet and worship in secret. There are estimated to be between 1.5 and 2m Christians among the migrant workers across Saudi Arabia who in 2013 numbered an estimated 9 million, more than half the workforce. If Christians don’t draw attention to themselves or cause disturbance, they are mostly left unharmed if they organise services for their own community in non-public places.

Foreign Christians are mostly left unharmed if they organise services in private spaces

Visiting Westerners sat in on an early Christmas service celebrated by some Indian Christians in an inconspicuous meeting room after dark one evening earlier this month. After singing some Indian worship songs, the people heard the pastor challenge them: “Are we limiting Christmas to four weeks a year? Now it’s Christmas, but every other day of your life is meant to share God’s gift of life with the people around you.”

He said Indian Christians support each other financially if the wages on which their families back home depend are delayed, and some Hindus have joined their congregations. But he said that the 2016 “Saudisation” policy – replacing foreign workers with Saudi nationals in the private sector, partly to combat high youth unemployment – has halved his congregation in the last two years. “Fewer migrant workers also means fewer Christians working and praying in this country,” he said.

Egypt: religious cleansing, constant fear and a broken promise

While the Holy Family found refuge in Egypt, some Egyptians today are fleeing their homes to seek refuge elsewhere. Some 500 Coptic families fled the region of El-Arish when IS took control of it in spring this year, just as Iraqi Christians did on a larger scale when IS seized Mosul and the Nineveh Plains in 2014. For these Copts displaced from El-Arish, Christmas looks bleak and exile is impoverishing them. They have been placed in low-cost accommodation in nearby cities after fleeing in February but the Church has helped some to move into rented flats.

One displaced Christian, Moheb Qadri, told World Watch Monitor: “We don’t feel any joy this Christmas because of what happened to us. We left everything. I lost my work there; I was working as scrap dealer and the ISIS group took my truck. We can’t return; my brother in-law Nabil Saber Ayoub Mansour went back in May and was shot dead by masked men four days later. All the displaced Christians lost hope of returning after that – what will our future be? I haven’t found work here and we can’t afford presents or new clothes for our children.”

Happy Christmas displayed in English outside St Mark’s Cathedral in Cairo

Meanwhile Emad Adel, a Christian lawyer from Cairo, told WWM that while Copts have seen President Sisi as preferable to an Islamist government, their support for him is waning. There is growing anger at the security forces’ apparent inability to prevent several bloody attacks on Christian targets, and some Copts are again thinking of emigrating. As he usually does, Sisi is expected to attend the 7 January Christmas Mass celebrated by Pope Tawadros, which this year will take place in a newly built cathedral. “Sisi has failed to honour the promises of equality he made four years ago to the Copts … He could not take away their constant fear, because of the failure of his administration in the war on terror. Copts fear for their future in Egypt,” said Mr Adel.

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Pakistan and Iraq: Christmas joy mixed with grief http://persecuted.faithfortheheart.com/pakistan-and-iraq-christmas-joy-mixed-with-grief/ Sun, 24 Dec 2017 06:00:57 +0000 https://www.worldwatchmonitor.org/?p=26726

How will Christians under pressure for their faith celebrate Christmas? In the first of our series we hear from Pakistan and Iraq. Pakistan: Pattern of suicide attacks during festivals This is the fourth time in three years that suicide bombers have targeted churches or gatherings around Christian festivals. Last Sunday […]

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How will Christians under pressure for their faith celebrate Christmas? In the first of our series we hear from Pakistan and Iraq.

Pakistan: Pattern of suicide attacks during festivals

This is the fourth time in three years that suicide bombers have targeted churches or gatherings around Christian festivals. Last Sunday (17 Dec) at least two suicide bombers attacked a service at a Methodist church in Quetta, leaving 11 dead and 50 injured.

Last Sunday’s attack on a church in Quetta left 11 people dead

“Security will be tight around churches across the country and the mood will on this Christmas be sober than jubilant, because we are grieved over the Quetta incident,” the Bishop of Multan, Leo Paul, told World Watch Monitor.

A Supreme Court judgment in 2014 ruled that the government should create a security force to protect non-Muslim places of worship, but it has done the opposite, and is obliging churches and others to provide their own security measures such as CCTV. But the Christian community in Pakistan is extremely poor and many congregations have been unable to do this.

Christmas in Pakistan will be ‘sober, not jubilant’ after last Sunday’s attack at this church in Quetta. Photo: Sara Faruqi/Herald

At Bethel Memorial Methodist Church in Quetta, the busy Advent and Christmas programme of services has been interrupted by the funerals held on Monday for those killed in the previous day’s horror. But its pastor Simon Bashir told World Watch Monitor: “Church members are still resolute to continue with our church programme. We will mark our Lord Jesus Christ’s birth with full vigour, honour and solemnity.”

Security agencies are on high alert for Christmas. This Easter, security forces foiled a “major” terrorist plot against Christians in Lahore, home to the largest population of Pakistani Christians. The previous year a suicide attack took place on a park in Lahore, killing 340 people, mostly Christians celebrating Easter. Just before Easter 2015, around 25 people were killed in suicide attacks on two churches in a Christian neighbourhood in Lahore.

Iraq: Joy as families return

Some 6,330 families, around one-third of all those who fled Iraq’s Nineveh Plains to escape Islamic State jihadists in 2014, have now returned, according to the charity Aid to the Church in Need.

But many Christians are returning to homes that have been badly damaged and churches that have been desecrated, and there is a long road ahead to material recovery. More troubling is that many Christians believe the ideology of IS still hangs over the region. Sako said last week that a Sunni cleric in Kirkuk, which never fell to IS, recently described Christians as “infidels”, and a similar message was emanating from some mosques in the northern Kurdish region, meaning the threat to Iraqi Christians and other minority faith groups persists.

Merna (pictured) explains that even though families suffered during the three years they were in exile, this year will be different because people are happy to be back home.

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Egypt teenager’s murder ‘aimed to intimidate Copts ahead of Christmas’, says his pastor http://persecuted.faithfortheheart.com/egypt-teenagers-murder-aimed-to-intimidate-copts-ahead-of-christmas-says-his-pastor/ Fri, 22 Dec 2017 20:47:05 +0000 https://www.worldwatchmonitor.org/?p=26796

The body of Ishak Nashaat Birwan was found on Wednesday (20 Dec), 11 days after he disappeared, in a canal near where he lived in Izziyah, a large Christian village near Manfalout in Assyut. Samir Fekry, Ishak’s cousin, told World Watch Monitor that the body was taken to the morgue […]

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Murdered 14 yr old Ishak Nashaat Birwan, who drove a ‘tuk-tuk’ taxi

The body of Ishak Nashaat Birwan was found on Wednesday (20 Dec), 11 days after he disappeared, in a canal near where he lived in Izziyah, a large Christian village near Manfalout in Assyut.

Samir Fekry, Ishak’s cousin, told World Watch Monitor that the body was taken to the morgue at the public hospital in Manfalout for a post-mortem.

“Ishak’s body had facial deformities, it had no eyes and there were signs of torture on different parts of his body,” he said.

Mr Fekry said Ishak’s family went to the police the day after his disappearance but “none of them did anything to help us investigate the matter.”

People told us later that on 9 December, three young men asked Ishak for a lift in his tuk-tuk, Mr Fekry said. “Ishak then disappeared and there was no word from him,” he added. “We tried to call him many times but his mobile phone was turned off. We searched for him everywhere in our village and the villages nearby, but we couldn’t find him.”

Ishak’s body was released from the morgue after a day and his funeral at Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Izziyah village was attended by large crowds of people.

Crowd outside the church to mourn murdered 14yr old Ishak Nashaat Birwan

The church’s pastor, Rev. Adel Rafaat, told World Watch Monitor: “Ishak was a very good young man, he was one of our church members. He was loved by all of us and he loved everybody. He always had a smile.

“Ishak was targeted and killed because of his faith, because he is Christian. They wanted to spoil the joy of our coming Christmas. Extremists chose a young man from our village specifically because our village is a big Christian village and their aim was to turn Christmas joy of the villagers to sadness.”

Mr Fekry expressed frustration with the authorities for not taking more action to find his cousin. He said: “Ishak had no enemies … After kidnapping him, none of the kidnappers contacted us demanding any ransom for his return. So why he was killed? Was it because he is a Christian? We demand the government find the killer and the cause of the killing and how he disappeared for 10 days until he was found dead,” he said.

Crowd outside the church at 14 yr old Ishak Nashaat Birwan’s funeral

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Adding insult to injury – Pakistani church leaders arrested, fined for ‘not putting security in place’ http://persecuted.faithfortheheart.com/adding-insult-to-injury-pakistani-church-leaders-arrested-fined-for-not-putting-security-in-place/ Fri, 22 Dec 2017 18:19:53 +0000 https://www.worldwatchmonitor.org/?p=26779

Pakistan intelligence agencies on Tuesday put out an alert that major parks could be targeted by suicide bombers over Christmas in Lahore, capital of Punjab province – where the largest population of Christians resides. On Sunday (December 17), two suicide bombers attacked Bethel Memorial Methodist Church in the restive area […]

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Bishop of Multan Leo Paul with a security inspection team outside Multan Cathedral, late Dec 2017

Pakistan intelligence agencies on Tuesday put out an alert that major parks could be targeted by suicide bombers over Christmas in Lahore, capital of Punjab province – where the largest population of Christians resides.

On Sunday (December 17), two suicide bombers attacked Bethel Memorial Methodist Church in the restive area of Quetta, leaving 11 worshippers dead and more than 50 injured.

According to the local newspaper ‘Pakistan Today’, the Pakistani Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) force said it acted in time to foil a “Christmas plot” “after it said that two terrorists were killed in a gunfight in Multan” on Thursday night.

In another incident, 40 kilometers from Multan, according to local TV channel 92 News, three alleged terrorists were arrested near a church in Muzaffargarh. They were reported to be planning to target the church and were in possession of three hand grenades.

According to the local Urdu newspaper, Jang, the provincial government in Punjab has now suspended all Christmas programs that were going to be held in the Arts Council in the district of Faisalabad, 150 km from Lahore.

Pakistan introduced the Punjab Security of Vulnerable Establishment Ordinance in 2015 to impose security measures on worship places, including church buildings, prompted after the Army Public School in Peshawar was attacked.

The Ordinance says “that a committee, constituted under the law, will inspect vulnerable establishments on a quarterly basis and issue an “advice, in writing, to the manager of a vulnerable establishment for such security arrangements as may be necessary on the basis of threat perception.”

The definition of “vulnerable establishment” does not precisely define when a worship place becomes “a vulnerable establishment”. It is quite possible that, if only a few people meet somewhere, the police may ask them to install heavy security equipment. And most small churches have been unable to meet those requirements.

Indeed, several court cases have been lodged against church leaders who had failed to put in place security measures such as metal detectors, CCTTV cameras, walk-through security gates and barbed wire installed on church boundary walls.

In February, two pastors were even arrested for holding church services without putting security measures in place.

Daycare Church Pastor Kamran Shafqat from Rahim Yar Khan told World Watch Monitor that, in February, the police asked him to come to the police station to discuss security matters. “When I reached there, the police head told me to hand over my belongings as I was arrested for not putting church security measures in place.”

After one night, Shafqat was transferred to jail, from where he was released on bail on the third day. In December, a judge dismissed the case after Shafqat informed him that all security measures had now been put in place, and the state was not pursuing the case.

In another instance, Glory Church Pastor Kashif Aziz from Bahawalpur was arrested on February 19. The court within a week decided that he must pay a fine of 50,000 rupees (roughly $500) or face six months’ imprisonment. The pastor paid the fine. He said that he hadn’t been informed about the Punjab Ordinance, and that the case against him was lodged without his knowledge.

 

Pastor Kashif Aziz, arrested in February 2017 for failing to adequately ‘secure’ his church

 

Bishop of Multan, Leo Paul, told World Watch Monitor that it is ironic that Pakistani churches are under a security threat, and they are to put in place security as well. Yet if they fail to do so, their leaders are jailed and face trial. He himself has had a visit from the Committee set up under the Punjab Ordnance.

On June 19, 2014, the then-Chief Justice of Pakistan had announced a landmark judgment that required the government to take seven steps to improve the lives of religious minorities. One of these was to establish a special police force to protect their worship places.

So far, no such force has been created. Rather, locals say the Punjab provincial government has ‘tricked’ the clergy, to avoid implementing the Supreme Court’s order.

The Punjab Human Rights and Minority Affairs Minister Khalil Tahir Sandhu co-ordinated a meeting of the Christian clergy with the Chief Minister of Punjab, Shahbaz Sharif. Based on that meeting, Punjab Chief Secretary Khizar Hayat Gondal later told the Supreme Court “there was no need of raising another force for this purpose”. He also told the court that the clergy generally agreed with the law and order situation, and that the protection of worship places “was quite satisfactory in the Punjab, and reasonable security was being provided.”

The chief secretary also told the Supreme Court that the Punjab chief minister had ordered that “sufficient deployment for the security of places of worship” was ensured.

However, the Bishop of Peshawar, Peters Humphrey, told World Watch Monitor that law enforcement agencies are not providing sufficient security. He said that the December 17 attack exposed the fact that, if police had been sufficiently deployed, then church volunteer security guards would not have died.

“A [third] pastor from Dera Ismail Khan was arrested for not putting in place security measures. What is the use of the Supreme Court’s orders, if the church is going to bear the responsibility for security arrangements?”

About 2 percent of the total population of Pakistan is Christian. So far terrorist attacks have particularly taken place against the beleaguered Christian minority in Pakistan

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India’s top Catholic on Hindutva attacks: “country being divided on basis of religious belief” http://persecuted.faithfortheheart.com/indias-top-catholic-on-hindutva-attacks-country-being-divided-on-basis-of-religious-belief/ Fri, 22 Dec 2017 15:46:55 +0000 https://www.worldwatchmonitor.org/?p=26742

  The President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI), Cardinal Baselios Cleemis, has expressed a lack of trust in the government headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as the leader of the ruling BJP – known for pursuing a Hindu nationalistic agenda. “The country is being divided on […]

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Known for its famous mausoleum, the Taj Mahal, India's most populous state of Uttar Pradesh hosts a Christian population of only 0.18 per cent.
Known for its famous mausoleum, the Taj Mahal, India’s most populous state of Uttar Pradesh hosts a Christian population of only 0.18 per cent.

 

The President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI), Cardinal Baselios Cleemis, has expressed a lack of trust in the government headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as the leader of the ruling BJP – known for pursuing a Hindu nationalistic agenda.

“The country is being divided on the basis of religious belief. It is bad in a democratic country. I want my country to be united in a secular fabric. But now, this country is being polarised due to religious affiliations. We should fight against it,” Cardinal Cleemis was quoted by the Indian Express on December 22.

Cardinal Cleemis shared with media in New Delhi on December 21 his concern over a sudden spurt in anti-Christian violence after his visit to Satna in central Madhya Pradesh state, that had made headlines when a team of carol singers had been assaulted, then detained by the police.

The 30-member Catholic carol team, of seminarians and two priests, were accused of conversion in remote Bhoomkhar village, about 15 km from Satna, on the night of 14 December. Following an allegation of conversion by a Hindu fundamentalist outfit called Bajrang Dal, the police detained the entire team while the car of eight priests who came to help was torched outside the police station.

“I agree such incidents can happen in a big country… But how do you evaluate the strength and stand of the government? It is the subsequent action and the legal protection that matter,” the report quoted Cardinal Cleemis as saying.

Though India’s interior minister Rajnath Singh had assured the head of the Catholic Church of the ‘safety’ of Christians when the Cardinal called on him after his Satna visit, Cleemis said the incident threatens the “credentials of our democratic system.” The police remained silent spectators when the Church people were manhandled inside the police station, he added.

Michael Williams, co-ordinator of the United Christian Forum (that documents incidents of anti-Christian violence), visited another state, Uttar Pradesh, at the weekend, over the arrest of seven, including two pastors, two weeks ago on an anti-conversion charge. He told WWM “We are worried about the role of the police and the failure of the judicial system.”

When the bail application of the seven came up for hearing on 17 December before the court in Mathura, 200 kms south of New Delhi, the judge dismissed it saying ”Lawyers were not present.”

“In fact the lawyers were standing in front of the judge,” pointed out Michael, a former member of the Minorities Commission of Delhi state. “We are relieved that finally they were released on bail on 21 December“.

Meanwhile, hardly a day passes without incidents in the media of Christians being threatened not to celebrate, and Christmas celebrations being disrupted.

One such threat was also from Uttar Pradesh (UP), ruled by the BJP, in Aligarh – where the Hindu Jagran Manch (Hindu Vigilance Council) told Christian schools not to celebrate Christmas.

However with global media promptly highlighting that threat, following the attack on the carol singers, the BJP state government tried to declare that it has asked the HJM to deposit one million Indian Rupees as a guarantee that it will not indulge in such acts.

While the Aligarh area has not yet reported any attacks on Christian institutions despite this threat, another BJP-ruled state, Rajasthan (bordering Pakistan on its west) saw an annual Christmas fair disrupted by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council) at Pratapgarh town on 21 December.

Scroll.in, a leading news portal, reported that the incident took place at night. The perpetrators tore down decorations, snatched the microphones of the gathering, threw away their Christmas calendars and books about the Gospels, and accused them of carrying out conversions under the pretext of Christmas celebrations.

That happened days after Mohan Bhagwat, chief of the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh – a national volunteer corps known as the fountain-head of aggressive Hindu nationalism) – that “Anybody living in India is a Hindu.”

Bhagwat made this statement while addressing an RSS meeting at Agarthala, capital of the north-eastern state of Tripura. But in a reference to Christians and other minorities, he added “The Muslims in India are also Hindus”.

Meanwhile, the Times of India, the largest circulated English daily in the country, in an editorial on 22 December reminded the government that “Right-wing groups must be prevented from disrupting Christmas celebrations”. It continued:

“There is no denying that Christmas has become a secular celebration in India with people from all walks of life and belonging to different faiths taking part. In that sense, such inclusive celebrations highlight the essence of India’s unity in diversity….If Hindutva (Hindu nationalist) groups are allowed to raise the bogey of religious conversion for every non-Hindu festival, then the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of religion, as well as the true spirit of Hinduism, will stand desecrated.”

 

 

 

 

 

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Egypt: After 12 years of delays, new church for Copts, who agree to drop arson claims http://persecuted.faithfortheheart.com/egypt-after-12-years-of-delays-new-church-for-copts-who-agree-to-drop-arson-claims/ Thu, 21 Dec 2017 16:50:18 +0000 https://www.worldwatchmonitor.org/?p=26710

Copts in the Egyptian town of Kom El-Loufy, Upper Egypt, 250 km south of Cairo, started the construction of a church today, 12 years after their previous building was closed. They have withdrawn their charges against 23 Muslims who burned down some of their houses in June last year. Ever […]

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After 12 years of fierce opposition Coptic Christians in Kom El-Loufy, Minya, will soon again have a church. (Photo: World Watch Monitor)
After 12 years of fierce opposition Coptic Christians in Kom El-Loufy, Minya, will soon again have a church. (Photo: World Watch Monitor)

Copts in the Egyptian town of Kom El-Loufy, Upper Egypt, 250 km south of Cairo, started the construction of a church today, 12 years after their previous building was closed. They have withdrawn their charges against 23 Muslims who burned down some of their houses in June last year.

Ever since their previous building was closed the Coptic community of 1,600 people in Kom El-Loufy has experienced fierce opposition from their Muslim neighbours. Some locals set fire to four Coptic homes in July last year, suspecting that a newly built house would be turned into a church.

A local source told World Watch Monitor that, with the agreement of the local Muslims, the Copts started digging the foundations for their new church on a piece of land 700 meters outside the village. An official application for a license to build a church was first filed ten years ago.

Fr. Feltaws Ibrahim, priest of Saint Abu Sefein Coptic Orthodox church in the nearby village of Ezzbet Rafla, who hosted the 1,600 Copts from Kom El-Loufy while they were without a building, was said to be glad at the news: “Thank God so much for this new location and that all parties have now agreed”.

The Copts initially rejected the offer of a location 2 km outside the village as they said it would be unsafe. During a reconciliation meeting held last week they were, however, offered another piece of land, 700 meters away from the village, which they accepted.

In return, they decided to drop possible claims against those who had burned some of their houses, a day before Minya Criminal Court was due to rule. The defendants still face charges of assaulting policemen and damaging police vehicles.

Earlier they told the Coptic news site Watani that they had made this decision “for the sake of ‘social peace’, especially now they had been allowed to build a church on the outskirts of the village”. They feared that a court ruling would fuel religious tensions in the village further.

Sectarian tensions

During a previous “reconciliation meeting” with the Muslim villagers in April, the Copts had suggested possible locations for a church.

Gamal Samy, a Christian who lives in Kom El-Loufy, explained to World Watch Monitor that one option involved the reopening of their closed building, the other was to build a church near the homes of some Christians on the outskirts of the village.

In that meeting, both ideas were rejected and instead land 2 km outside the village was allocated for the new church which, the Copts felt, was an unsafe place.

On 9 July 2017 tian villagers of Kom El-Loufy met with a number of MPs to discuss the issue of not having a church in their village. (Photo: World Watch Monitor)
On 9 July 2017 Christian villagers of Kom El-Loufy met with a number of MPs to discuss the issue of not having a church in their village. (Photo: World Watch Monitor)

They then took their case to local and national authorities but to no avail. Ezzat Ibrahim, a human rights activist and Director of the Egyptian Center for Human Rights in Minya, said it was “clear that the security [officials] are afraid of the re-occurrence of sectarian tensions”.

Recently, seeking to ease tensions between Muslim and Christian villagers, local authorities in Egypt closed four Coptic churches in one October weekend alone. In response, the Bishop of Minya, Anba Macarius, said: “It is as though worship is a crime that Copts have to be penalised for.”

The governorate of Minya is home to 5 million people, of whom 35-40 per cent are Copts, and has experienced the greatest number of sectarian attacks, with more than 75 targeting Christian residents in the past six years.

In July 2016, Coptic Church authorities were saying they were getting tired of so-called ‘conciliation’ meetings because they felt that Copts were put under unfair pressure to relinquish their rights as Egyptian citizens.

Licenses

With the building of the church and the charges dropped, it seems years of struggle for the Copts in the village may have come an end.

As World Watch Monitor reported, Copts in other villages such as Ezbat Al-Forn, El-Galaa, and also in Saft el-Khirsa, have similar experiences.

It is almost impossible for Christians to obtain a license to build a church in Egypt. But last year, Egypt’s parliament approved a law relating to the building and renovating of churches, and in October a cabinet committee met to start work on the legalisation of unlicensed churches.

Meanwhile, last month, 21 evangelical churches received approval for the Minya Governor to restore, expand and rebuild. Some had been waiting for more than 20 years for a permit to come through. Some analysts noted that the approvals preceded several visits by international evangelical delegations to Cairo.

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Egypt: ‘Let them live to tell the story’- boys who saw dad die on the monastery road http://persecuted.faithfortheheart.com/egypt-let-them-live-to-tell-the-story-boys-who-saw-dad-die-on-the-monastery-road/ Thu, 21 Dec 2017 12:18:44 +0000 https://www.worldwatchmonitor.org/?p=26691

Marco and Mina live in a small village in the Minya region of rural southern Egypt. Both look young for their age, 16 and 12 respectively. On 25 May 2017, they joined their father Ayad to go to the monastery of St. Samuel. Ayad worked there and was going to […]

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Mina (12) and his brother Marco (16) on his right hand side, still carry the wounds of witnessing the attack that killed their father in May this year. (Photo: World Watch Monitor)
Mina (12) and brother Marco (16) on his right, still carry the wounds of witnessing attack that killed their father, May 2017. (Photo: World Watch Monitor)

Marco and Mina live in a small village in the Minya region of rural southern Egypt. Both look young for their age, 16 and 12 respectively. On 25 May 2017, they joined their father Ayad to go to the monastery of St. Samuel. Ayad worked there and was going to teach the teenagers his job. He never got the chance.

Right before them on the road to the monastery, a bus full of pilgrims was attacked by a group of armed men. All the Coptic men who would not confess Islam were shot. Then the gunmen heard Ayad’s pick-up truck approach.

Mina recalls what happened that day, his empty eyes stare at the floor, his legs wobble impatiently. “My dad was driving, some of his colleagues rode with us. Then we heard shouting.”

While Mina stares in front of him, his mother, dressed in black, adds: “The boys told me they ducked behind the truck benches when they heard shouting. They were so afraid.”

Mina continues, his arms tightly wrapped round his body: “We heard them force our father to get out first. The man shouted he had to convert to Islam. My father said no. They shot him.”

One by one, the men were forced to step out of the truck. All chose Jesus over their own life. Then the men discovered the boys. Mina remembers that he was so, so afraid. One man shot at them but missed. “Another said: ‘No, let them live to tell the story.’”

The two were left with the dying. Marco, silently listening to his brother, continued: “We didn’t know what to do. We wanted to get help, but didn’t have mobile reception. I never drove before, but I told Mina to get back in the pick-up truck so we could find a place to call Mum.”

Marco, short as he is, could barely reach the pedals and didn’t show much above the steering wheel. But, amazingly, he drove the car to a place where they could phone. Then back to their father, who lay on the road, still bleeding.

Mina puts his little hands on his own chest: “This is where they hit them.” He taps his skinny legs, “And here as well.”

“My father was still breathing,” says Marco. “He couldn’t talk anymore, but he wagged his finger, signing us to go away. But we didn’t want to leave him.” They tried to lift him into the truck, but they were simply not strong enough.

“Then I put my father on my chest.” Marco says, his hand motioning to his body. “Soon my clothes were soaked with his blood, but I didn’t care.” Not much later Ayad died.

“And in his arms,” adds Marco.

Marco and Mina with their mother and elder sister hold portrait of their father who died in 25 May attack. (Photo: World Watch Monitor)
Marco and Mina with their mother and elder sister hold portrait of their father who died in 25 May attack. (Photo: World Watch Monitor)

Now the boys and their older sister live without a father. Only in big pictures in the room is Ayad still with them. The brothers talk about what happened a lot. The images go through their minds daily. Asked if he still has nightmares, Mina answers with a quick yes.

“Mina is the one I worry about most,” his mother says, “he has become very fearful. He doesn’t dare to go out alone anymore. This wound he will carry for the rest of his life.”

But if family members stand up to pray, Marco and Mina join in. A quick glance at their father’s picture, before they close their eyes to be taken up in the loud prayers, reminds them that they must now cling to their Father in heaven.

The post Egypt: ‘Let them live to tell the story’- boys who saw dad die on the monastery road appeared first on World Watch Monitor.

The post Egypt: ‘Let them live to tell the story’- boys who saw dad die on the monastery road appeared first on Persecuted at Faith for the Heart.

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Indian ‘converted by carol singers’ now claims membership of militant Hindu group http://persecuted.faithfortheheart.com/indian-converted-by-carol-singers-now-claims-membership-of-militant-hindu-group/ Tue, 19 Dec 2017 16:48:36 +0000 https://www.worldwatchmonitor.org/?p=26656

An Indian man who claimed a group of carol singers illegally converted him has now said he is a member of the militant Hindu group Bajrang Dal and is unwilling to confirm his allegation. The complaint made last Thursday (14 December) to the police by Dharmendra Dohar led to the […]

The post Indian ‘converted by carol singers’ now claims membership of militant Hindu group appeared first on World Watch Monitor.

The post Indian ‘converted by carol singers’ now claims membership of militant Hindu group appeared first on Persecuted at Faith for the Heart.

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A protest march by members of Bajrang Dal, the militant Hindu group Dharmendra Dohar claims to belong to.
A protest march by members of Bajrang Dal, the militant Hindu group Dharmendra Dohar claims to belong to (Creative Commons)

An Indian man who claimed a group of carol singers illegally converted him has now said he is a member of the militant Hindu group Bajrang Dal and is unwilling to confirm his allegation.

The complaint made last Thursday (14 December) to the police by Dharmendra Dohar led to the arrest of 30 Christians, who insisted they were only singing songs.

When Dohar was asked by New Delhi TV if he had changed his religion, he said: “I can’t speak on this… If I do, I will get embroiled in the issue… It will be said that I’m changing my statement”.  The “group”, [assumedly Bajrang Dal] he said, doesn’t want “such people (Christians) to come in here”, reported the broadcaster.

NDTV asked Dohar if it was Bajrang Dal or the police he was afraid of. He said: “I’m concerned about my family. It is because of me they got into trouble… We were told not to allow these people (Christians) to come into our homes and mingle with us.”

Dohar also alleged that the carol singers paid him 5,000 rupees (US$80) and told him to “worship Jesus Christ”.

The incident took place in a village near Satna in Madhya Pradesh. The central Indian state has some of the strictest “anti-conversion laws” in the country.

Following their arrest, the group of Christians said they were beaten up by a group of Bajrang Dal members who went to the police station where the group had been detained. The attack was condemned by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, which expressed “shock, pain and hurt at the unprovoked violence” against the group, which, it added, had been singing Christmas carols in the area for the last 30 years. The car of eight priests who went to help those detained was set on fire near the police station.

In an interview with NDTV, the Bishop of Satna, Father Mar Joseph Kodakallil, denied the alleged conversions.

Meanwhile a right-wing Hindu nationalist group in Uttar Pradesh has warned Christian schools in one of the state’s largest cities not to celebrate Christmas.

Hindu Jagran Manch (HJM), which was set up in 2002 by Yogi Adityanath, now Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, issued the warning to schools in Aligarh where Hindu students are in the majority, reports the Times of India.

Students being asked to bring toys and gifts into school to celebrate Christmas, the Hindu group claims, is a step towards forced conversions. “This is the easy way to lure them into Christianity,” Sonu Savita, City President of HGM, told the newspaper, adding that “we are talking to parents’ organisations too and appeal to them to oppose these activities”.

On Monday (18 December) HGM issued letters to all Christian schools in Aligarh, calling on them to refrain from Christmas celebrations.

“If the schools fail to follow our directives, we will stage protests outside the institutions,” said Sanju Bajaj, HJM State Secretary.

SN Singh, a director of the Ingraham Institute, a Methodist education organisation, told the Times of India: “No school forces any student to celebrate any particular festival.” He added that the HJM’s demands were “unprecedented” and “strange”, and said if they receive any directives from it, the schools will seek protection from the police.

Yogi Adityanath was appointed Chief Minister in Uttar Pradesh by Prime Minister Modi’s BJP in March this year. The choice of Adityanath – a controversial Hindu monk who has been repeatedly accused of stirring anti-Muslim sentiments –  was a shocking rebuke to religious minorities, wrote the New York Times at the time.

Mr Adityanath has previously led many anti-Muslim riots in the state. He has been facing criminal charges. He has also led the purification movement aimed at Christian converts called “ghar wapsi” (homecoming) since 2005.

The post Indian ‘converted by carol singers’ now claims membership of militant Hindu group appeared first on World Watch Monitor.

The post Indian ‘converted by carol singers’ now claims membership of militant Hindu group appeared first on Persecuted at Faith for the Heart.

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Indian ‘converted by carol singers’ now claims membership of militant Hindu group http://persecuted.faithfortheheart.com/indian-converted-by-carol-singers-now-claims-membership-of-militant-hindu-group/ Tue, 19 Dec 2017 16:48:36 +0000 https://www.worldwatchmonitor.org/?p=26656

An Indian man who claimed a group of carol singers illegally converted him has now said he is a member of the militant Hindu group Bajrang Dal and is unwilling to confirm his allegation. The complaint made last Thursday (14 December) to the police by Dharmendra Dohar led to the […]

The post Indian ‘converted by carol singers’ now claims membership of militant Hindu group appeared first on World Watch Monitor.

The post Indian ‘converted by carol singers’ now claims membership of militant Hindu group appeared first on Persecuted at Faith for the Heart.

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A protest march by members of Bajrang Dal, the militant Hindu group Dharmendra Dohar claims to belong to.
A protest march by members of Bajrang Dal, the militant Hindu group Dharmendra Dohar claims to belong to (Creative Commons)

An Indian man who claimed a group of carol singers illegally converted him has now said he is a member of the militant Hindu group Bajrang Dal and is unwilling to confirm his allegation.

The complaint made last Thursday (14 December) to the police by Dharmendra Dohar led to the arrest of 30 Christians, who insisted they were only singing songs.

When Dohar was asked by New Delhi TV if he had changed his religion, he said: “I can’t speak on this… If I do, I will get embroiled in the issue… It will be said that I’m changing my statement”.  The “group”, [assumedly Bajrang Dal] he said, doesn’t want “such people (Christians) to come in here”, reported the broadcaster.

NDTV asked Dohar if it was Bajrang Dal or the police he was afraid of. He said: “I’m concerned about my family. It is because of me they got into trouble… We were told not to allow these people (Christians) to come into our homes and mingle with us.”

Dohar also alleged that the carol singers paid him 5,000 rupees (US$80) and told him to “worship Jesus Christ”.

The incident took place in a village near Satna in Madhya Pradesh. The central Indian state has some of the strictest “anti-conversion laws” in the country.

Following their arrest, the group of Christians said they were beaten up by a group of Bajrang Dal members who went to the police station where the group had been detained. The attack was condemned by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, which expressed “shock, pain and hurt at the unprovoked violence” against the group, which, it added, had been singing Christmas carols in the area for the last 30 years. The car of eight priests who went to help those detained was set on fire near the police station.

In an interview with NDTV, the Bishop of Satna, Father Mar Joseph Kodakallil, denied the alleged conversions.

Meanwhile a right-wing Hindu nationalist group in Uttar Pradesh has warned Christian schools in one of the state’s largest cities not to celebrate Christmas.

Hindu Jagran Manch (HJM), which was set up in 2002 by Yogi Adityanath, now Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, issued the warning to schools in Aligarh where Hindu students are in the majority, reports the Times of India.

Students being asked to bring toys and gifts into school to celebrate Christmas, the Hindu group claims, is a step towards forced conversions. “This is the easy way to lure them into Christianity,” Sonu Savita, City President of HGM, told the newspaper, adding that “we are talking to parents’ organisations too and appeal to them to oppose these activities”.

On Monday (18 December) HGM issued letters to all Christian schools in Aligarh, calling on them to refrain from Christmas celebrations.

“If the schools fail to follow our directives, we will stage protests outside the institutions,” said Sanju Bajaj, HJM State Secretary.

SN Singh, a director of the Ingraham Institute, a Methodist education organisation, told the Times of India: “No school forces any student to celebrate any particular festival.” He added that the HJM’s demands were “unprecedented” and “strange”, and said if they receive any directives from it, the schools will seek protection from the police.

Yogi Adityanath was appointed Chief Minister in Uttar Pradesh by Prime Minister Modi’s BJP in March this year. The choice of Adityanath – a controversial Hindu monk who has been repeatedly accused of stirring anti-Muslim sentiments –  was a shocking rebuke to religious minorities, wrote the New York Times at the time.

Mr Adityanath has previously led many anti-Muslim riots in the state. He has been facing criminal charges. He has also led the purification movement aimed at Christian converts called “ghar wapsi” (homecoming) since 2005.

The post Indian ‘converted by carol singers’ now claims membership of militant Hindu group appeared first on World Watch Monitor.

The post Indian ‘converted by carol singers’ now claims membership of militant Hindu group appeared first on Persecuted at Faith for the Heart.

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Indian ‘converted by carol singers’ now claims membership of militant Hindu group http://persecuted.faithfortheheart.com/indian-converted-by-carol-singers-now-claims-membership-of-militant-hindu-group/ Tue, 19 Dec 2017 16:48:36 +0000 https://www.worldwatchmonitor.org/?p=26656

An Indian man who claimed a group of carol singers illegally converted him has now said he is a member of the militant Hindu group Bajrang Dal and is unwilling to confirm his allegation. The complaint made last Thursday (14 December) to the police by Dharmendra Dohar led to the […]

The post Indian ‘converted by carol singers’ now claims membership of militant Hindu group appeared first on World Watch Monitor.

The post Indian ‘converted by carol singers’ now claims membership of militant Hindu group appeared first on Persecuted at Faith for the Heart.

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A protest march by members of Bajrang Dal, the militant Hindu group Dharmendra Dohar claims to belong to.
A protest march by members of Bajrang Dal, the militant Hindu group Dharmendra Dohar claims to belong to (Creative Commons)

An Indian man who claimed a group of carol singers illegally converted him has now said he is a member of the militant Hindu group Bajrang Dal and is unwilling to confirm his allegation.

The complaint made last Thursday (14 December) to the police by Dharmendra Dohar led to the arrest of 30 Christians, who insisted they were only singing songs.

When Dohar was asked by New Delhi TV if he had changed his religion, he said: “I can’t speak on this… If I do, I will get embroiled in the issue… It will be said that I’m changing my statement”.  The “group”, [assumedly Bajrang Dal] he said, doesn’t want “such people (Christians) to come in here”, reported the broadcaster.

NDTV asked Dohar if it was Bajrang Dal or the police he was afraid of. He said: “I’m concerned about my family. It is because of me they got into trouble… We were told not to allow these people (Christians) to come into our homes and mingle with us.”

Dohar also alleged that the carol singers paid him 5,000 rupees (US$80) and told him to “worship Jesus Christ”.

The incident took place in a village near Satna in Madhya Pradesh. The central Indian state has some of the strictest “anti-conversion laws” in the country.

Following their arrest, the group of Christians said they were beaten up by a group of Bajrang Dal members who went to the police station where the group had been detained. The attack was condemned by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, which expressed “shock, pain and hurt at the unprovoked violence” against the group, which, it added, had been singing Christmas carols in the area for the last 30 years. The car of eight priests who went to help those detained was set on fire near the police station.

In an interview with NDTV, the Bishop of Satna, Father Mar Joseph Kodakallil, denied the alleged conversions.

Meanwhile a right-wing Hindu nationalist group in Uttar Pradesh has warned Christian schools in one of the state’s largest cities not to celebrate Christmas.

Hindu Jagran Manch (HJM), which was set up in 2002 by Yogi Adityanath, now Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, issued the warning to schools in Aligarh where Hindu students are in the majority, reports the Times of India.

Students being asked to bring toys and gifts into school to celebrate Christmas, the Hindu group claims, is a step towards forced conversions. “This is the easy way to lure them into Christianity,” Sonu Savita, City President of HGM, told the newspaper, adding that “we are talking to parents’ organisations too and appeal to them to oppose these activities”.

On Monday (18 December) HGM issued letters to all Christian schools in Aligarh, calling on them to refrain from Christmas celebrations.

“If the schools fail to follow our directives, we will stage protests outside the institutions,” said Sanju Bajaj, HJM State Secretary.

SN Singh, a director of the Ingraham Institute, a Methodist education organisation, told the Times of India: “No school forces any student to celebrate any particular festival.” He added that the HJM’s demands were “unprecedented” and “strange”, and said if they receive any directives from it, the schools will seek protection from the police.

Yogi Adityanath was appointed Chief Minister in Uttar Pradesh by Prime Minister Modi’s BJP in March this year. The choice of Adityanath – a controversial Hindu monk who has been repeatedly accused of stirring anti-Muslim sentiments –  was a shocking rebuke to religious minorities, wrote the New York Times at the time.

Mr Adityanath has previously led many anti-Muslim riots in the state. He has been facing criminal charges. He has also led the purification movement aimed at Christian converts called “ghar wapsi” (homecoming) since 2005.

The post Indian ‘converted by carol singers’ now claims membership of militant Hindu group appeared first on World Watch Monitor.

The post Indian ‘converted by carol singers’ now claims membership of militant Hindu group appeared first on Persecuted at Faith for the Heart.

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Indian ‘converted by carol singers’ now claims membership of militant Hindu group http://persecuted.faithfortheheart.com/indian-converted-by-carol-singers-now-claims-membership-of-militant-hindu-group/ Tue, 19 Dec 2017 16:48:36 +0000 https://www.worldwatchmonitor.org/?p=26656

An Indian man who claimed a group of carol singers illegally converted him has now said he is a member of the militant Hindu group Bajrang Dal and is unwilling to confirm his allegation. The complaint made last Thursday (14 December) to the police by Dharmendra Dohar led to the […]

The post Indian ‘converted by carol singers’ now claims membership of militant Hindu group appeared first on World Watch Monitor.

The post Indian ‘converted by carol singers’ now claims membership of militant Hindu group appeared first on Persecuted at Faith for the Heart.

]]>
A protest march by members of Bajrang Dal, the militant Hindu group Dharmendra Dohar claims to belong to.
A protest march by members of Bajrang Dal, the militant Hindu group Dharmendra Dohar claims to belong to (Creative Commons)

An Indian man who claimed a group of carol singers illegally converted him has now said he is a member of the militant Hindu group Bajrang Dal and is unwilling to confirm his allegation.

The complaint made last Thursday (14 December) to the police by Dharmendra Dohar led to the arrest of 30 Christians, who insisted they were only singing songs.

When Dohar was asked by New Delhi TV if he had changed his religion, he said: “I can’t speak on this… If I do, I will get embroiled in the issue… It will be said that I’m changing my statement”.  The “group”, [assumedly Bajrang Dal] he said, doesn’t want “such people (Christians) to come in here”, reported the broadcaster.

NDTV asked Dohar if it was Bajrang Dal or the police he was afraid of. He said: “I’m concerned about my family. It is because of me they got into trouble… We were told not to allow these people (Christians) to come into our homes and mingle with us.”

Dohar also alleged that the carol singers paid him 5,000 rupees (US$80) and told him to “worship Jesus Christ”.

The incident took place in a village near Satna in Madhya Pradesh. The central Indian state has some of the strictest “anti-conversion laws” in the country.

Following their arrest, the group of Christians said they were beaten up by a group of Bajrang Dal members who went to the police station where the group had been detained. The attack was condemned by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, which expressed “shock, pain and hurt at the unprovoked violence” against the group, which, it added, had been singing Christmas carols in the area for the last 30 years. The car of eight priests who went to help those detained was set on fire near the police station.

In an interview with NDTV, the Bishop of Satna, Father Mar Joseph Kodakallil, denied the alleged conversions.

Meanwhile a right-wing Hindu nationalist group in Uttar Pradesh has warned Christian schools in one of the state’s largest cities not to celebrate Christmas.

Hindu Jagran Manch (HJM), which was set up in 2002 by Yogi Adityanath, now Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, issued the warning to schools in Aligarh where Hindu students are in the majority, reports the Times of India.

Students being asked to bring toys and gifts into school to celebrate Christmas, the Hindu group claims, is a step towards forced conversions. “This is the easy way to lure them into Christianity,” Sonu Savita, City President of HGM, told the newspaper, adding that “we are talking to parents’ organisations too and appeal to them to oppose these activities”.

On Monday (18 December) HGM issued letters to all Christian schools in Aligarh, calling on them to refrain from Christmas celebrations.

“If the schools fail to follow our directives, we will stage protests outside the institutions,” said Sanju Bajaj, HJM State Secretary.

SN Singh, a director of the Ingraham Institute, a Methodist education organisation, told the Times of India: “No school forces any student to celebrate any particular festival.” He added that the HJM’s demands were “unprecedented” and “strange”, and said if they receive any directives from it, the schools will seek protection from the police.

Yogi Adityanath was appointed Chief Minister in Uttar Pradesh by Prime Minister Modi’s BJP in March this year. The choice of Adityanath – a controversial Hindu monk who has been repeatedly accused of stirring anti-Muslim sentiments –  was a shocking rebuke to religious minorities, wrote the New York Times at the time.

Mr Adityanath has previously led many anti-Muslim riots in the state. He has been facing criminal charges. He has also led the purification movement aimed at Christian converts called “ghar wapsi” (homecoming) since 2005.

The post Indian ‘converted by carol singers’ now claims membership of militant Hindu group appeared first on World Watch Monitor.

The post Indian ‘converted by carol singers’ now claims membership of militant Hindu group appeared first on Persecuted at Faith for the Heart.

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Indian ‘converted by carol singers’ now claims membership of militant Hindu group http://persecuted.faithfortheheart.com/indian-converted-by-carol-singers-now-claims-membership-of-militant-hindu-group/ Tue, 19 Dec 2017 16:48:36 +0000 https://www.worldwatchmonitor.org/?p=26656

An Indian man who claimed a group of carol singers illegally converted him has now said he is a member of the militant Hindu group Bajrang Dal and is unwilling to confirm his allegation. The complaint made last Thursday (14 December) to the police by Dharmendra Dohar led to the […]

The post Indian ‘converted by carol singers’ now claims membership of militant Hindu group appeared first on World Watch Monitor.

The post Indian ‘converted by carol singers’ now claims membership of militant Hindu group appeared first on Persecuted at Faith for the Heart.

]]>
A protest march by members of Bajrang Dal, the militant Hindu group Dharmendra Dohar claims to belong to.
A protest march by members of Bajrang Dal, the militant Hindu group Dharmendra Dohar claims to belong to (Creative Commons)

An Indian man who claimed a group of carol singers illegally converted him has now said he is a member of the militant Hindu group Bajrang Dal and is unwilling to confirm his allegation.

The complaint made last Thursday (14 December) to the police by Dharmendra Dohar led to the arrest of 30 Christians, who insisted they were only singing songs.

When Dohar was asked by New Delhi TV if he had changed his religion, he said: “I can’t speak on this… If I do, I will get embroiled in the issue… It will be said that I’m changing my statement”.  The “group”, [assumedly Bajrang Dal] he said, doesn’t want “such people (Christians) to come in here”, reported the broadcaster.

NDTV asked Dohar if it was Bajrang Dal or the police he was afraid of. He said: “I’m concerned about my family. It is because of me they got into trouble… We were told not to allow these people (Christians) to come into our homes and mingle with us.”

Dohar also alleged that the carol singers paid him 5,000 rupees (US$80) and told him to “worship Jesus Christ”.

The incident took place in a village near Satna in Madhya Pradesh. The central Indian state has some of the strictest “anti-conversion laws” in the country.

Following their arrest, the group of Christians said they were beaten up by a group of Bajrang Dal members who went to the police station where the group had been detained. The attack was condemned by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, which expressed “shock, pain and hurt at the unprovoked violence” against the group, which, it added, had been singing Christmas carols in the area for the last 30 years. The car of eight priests who went to help those detained was set on fire near the police station.

In an interview with NDTV, the Bishop of Satna, Father Mar Joseph Kodakallil, denied the alleged conversions.

Meanwhile a right-wing Hindu nationalist group in Uttar Pradesh has warned Christian schools in one of the state’s largest cities not to celebrate Christmas.

Hindu Jagran Manch (HJM), which was set up in 2002 by Yogi Adityanath, now Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, issued the warning to schools in Aligarh where Hindu students are in the majority, reports the Times of India.

Students being asked to bring toys and gifts into school to celebrate Christmas, the Hindu group claims, is a step towards forced conversions. “This is the easy way to lure them into Christianity,” Sonu Savita, City President of HGM, told the newspaper, adding that “we are talking to parents’ organisations too and appeal to them to oppose these activities”.

On Monday (18 December) HGM issued letters to all Christian schools in Aligarh, calling on them to refrain from Christmas celebrations.

“If the schools fail to follow our directives, we will stage protests outside the institutions,” said Sanju Bajaj, HJM State Secretary.

SN Singh, a director of the Ingraham Institute, a Methodist education organisation, told the Times of India: “No school forces any student to celebrate any particular festival.” He added that the HJM’s demands were “unprecedented” and “strange”, and said if they receive any directives from it, the schools will seek protection from the police.

Yogi Adityanath was appointed Chief Minister in Uttar Pradesh by Prime Minister Modi’s BJP in March this year. The choice of Adityanath – a controversial Hindu monk who has been repeatedly accused of stirring anti-Muslim sentiments –  was a shocking rebuke to religious minorities, wrote the New York Times at the time.

Mr Adityanath has previously led many anti-Muslim riots in the state. He has been facing criminal charges. He has also led the purification movement aimed at Christian converts called “ghar wapsi” (homecoming) since 2005.

The post Indian ‘converted by carol singers’ now claims membership of militant Hindu group appeared first on World Watch Monitor.

The post Indian ‘converted by carol singers’ now claims membership of militant Hindu group appeared first on Persecuted at Faith for the Heart.

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Pakistan: mourners bury 11 killed in Quetta church suicide attack, as 50 injured http://persecuted.faithfortheheart.com/pakistan-mourners-bury-11-killed-in-quetta-church-suicide-attack-as-50-injured/ Mon, 18 Dec 2017 14:49:15 +0000 https://www.worldwatchmonitor.org/?p=26604

Pakistani Christian mourners today (Monday) are burying their dead only days before they should be celebrating Christ’s birth. Worshippers were lining up to take the Holy Communion when at least two men, armed and wearing suicide vests, attacked Bethel Memorial Methodist Church in western Pakistan’s restive city Quetta on Sunday […]

The post Pakistan: mourners bury 11 killed in Quetta church suicide attack, as 50 injured appeared first on World Watch Monitor.

The post Pakistan: mourners bury 11 killed in Quetta church suicide attack, as 50 injured appeared first on Persecuted at Faith for the Heart.

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Mourners carry wreaths at the funeral of victims of the Bethel Memorial Church bombing, Quetta, Pakistan (World Watch Monitor)
Mourners carry wreaths at the funeral of victims of the Bethel Memorial Church bombing, Quetta, Pakistan (World Watch Monitor)

Pakistani Christian mourners today (Monday) are burying their dead only days before they should be celebrating Christ’s birth.

Worshippers were lining up to take the Holy Communion when at least two men, armed and wearing suicide vests, attacked Bethel Memorial Methodist Church in western Pakistan’s restive city Quetta on Sunday morning. They left at least eleven dead and more than 50 injured, many in a critical condition, unofficial local figures say.

“It was a pleasant morning. We had sung songs and children had presented a Christmas program. Pastor Simon Bashir had finished his sermon and we were moving towards the altar when we started hearing gunfire outside the church,” said Sohail Yousuf. His 13 year-old daughter Mehak lost her life; her 16 year-old sister Wasiqa is critically ill after an operation in Quetta’s Combined Military Hospital (CMH).

Yousuf, a manager in an insurance company, migrated 16 years ago to Quetta from Punjab after his wife, a government schoolteacher, was posted there.

Crowds hold the coffin of a victim of the Bethel Memorial Church bomb attack, Quetta, Pakistan (World Watch Monitor)
Mourners carry coffin of victim of church attack (World Watch Monitor)

“We bolted all the doors and were praying that God would protect each of us. Then a suicide bomber blew himself up at the main door. The explosion shattered the door and injured many inside. When some rushed outside, they were injured by gunfire as the terrorists were on the church lawn. But soon the situation was brought under control by the volunteer church security guards and police present there.”

Caritas Executive Director Sheezan William told World Watch Monitor that the first person killed was the church security guard George Masih, who tried to stop the men advancing towards the church.

“I came to know while the exchange of fire was taking place. I phoned two youths in the choir. I could hear gunfire on the phone and then rushed to the church.”

Leading Pakistani newspaper ‘Dawn’ also confirms that police intervened after the church security guard scuffled with one attacker. About two hundred congregants were inside the church, beautifully decorated for Christmas, when the terrorists unleashed their attack. Islamic State (IS) has claimed responsibility but provided no evidence for this claim.

Medics treating victims of a bomb blast, Quetta, Pakistan (World Watch Monitor)
More than 50 people were injured in the church attack, many taken to hospital in a critical condition (World Watch Monitor)

“The injured were taken to the Civil Hospital, CMH, Akram Hospital and other private hospitals. Relatives picked up two bodies from the church and took them away, which is why they are not counted in official numbering.”

Retired Brigadier Samson Simon Sharaf, a political analyst who is close to security agencies, told World Watch Monitor the attackers were four in number. “They were equipped with ample ammunition supply and were aiming to take worshippers hostage and kill them one by one, prolonging the scene of terror as much as they could.”

Video footage shows a church security guard was quick to close the door when he saw two men approaching. This provided more time for local security personnel to plan.

“One terrorist was shot in the compound before he could blow himself up inside the church. Meanwhile, the other one rushed to the church entrance where he blew himself up,” said Sharaf. “The agencies chased the other two who fled, and a search operation is ongoing.

“The incident has taken place close to the sad day in the country’s history, December 16 [when Pakistani forces were defeated in 1971, leading to East Pakistan becoming Bangladesh]. Our enemy keeps reminding us of our history. This time Christians are targeted who stand united with other Pakistanis against the menace of terrorism.”

William added “A team of about 70 youths is working day and night to provide blood supplies, food or any other assistance to the injured, and coffins for the burial.” He told World Watch Monitor that seven families living in the church compound, including that of Pastor Simon Bashir, were told to vacate their houses. “All of them have moved to relatives until the area is given clearance.”

Al-Jazeera reports Moazzam Jah Ansari, police chief of Balochistan province, as saying “We have cleared the immediate area around the church, and we are now clearing a peripheral area”.

Balochistan, the largest province of Pakistan, is situated along the Afghan border. The mineral rich, mostly hilly, region – the least populated area in the country – is where an insurgent separatist movement has long been going on. Most Christians in this province have migrated from Punjab but mostly remain unharmed by the separatists, though the separatists are against Punjabis, believing they are doing an injustice to them by controlling their land and resources.

The Quetta Methodist church, established in 1959, came under the control of the Church of Pakistan in 1971 after six Protestant denominations, including the Methodist Church, united as one denomination.

Punjabi Christian protesters outside Lahore Press Club (World Watch Monitor)

Ten days ago, a seven-year-old boy and two others were killed during a hand grenade attack on the gates of a Christian colony in Chaman, also in Balochistan, south-western Pakistan.

Punjabi Christians staged a protest, about the way they feel the government does not do enough to protect them against radical Islamic militant extremists, outside the Lahore Press Club a few hours after the Quetta attack.

Last week, the EU Envoy on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Jan Figel, was in Pakistan, and took part in the set-up of an inter-faith advisory commission. Its main aim is to help stop misuse of the blasphemy law.

Since 9/11, Christians are the main religious minority that has come under both communal attacks on the pretext of blasphemy, and by terrorist attacks on their places of worship. Immediately after 9/11 there were six attacks on churches, Christian hospitals and educational institutions. Such attacks re-surfaced again in 2013 with the suicide attack on All Saints’ Memorial Church in Peshawar province, which is also on the Afghan border. About 90 people died in that incident, including many children.

Then on 15 March 2015, just before Easter, two churches in a Christian neighbourhood in Lahore came under twin suicide attacks. About 25 people died. In 2016 in Lahore, Punjab – where the largest Christian population lives – a suicide attack took place on a park, killing mostly Christians as they celebrated Easter. This year, security was on high alert at Easter. In March, Pakistan’s military agency, to prevent an attack, killed a husband and arrested his wife, who’d been trained in Syria by IS. (She was later released by security agencies.) Security agencies are on high alert for Christmas.

The worst attack in Pakistan’s history (which changed the course of the country by triggering new anti-terrorism laws after showing the population how ruthlessly Islamist militant radicals could behave), took place exactly three years ago in Peshawar when terrorists raided an army public school, massacring 141, including 132 children.

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Why are Chile’s churches under attack? http://persecuted.faithfortheheart.com/why-are-chiles-churches-under-attack/ Fri, 15 Dec 2017 16:30:07 +0000 https://www.worldwatchmonitor.org/?p=26567

Seven hours’ drive south of Chile’s capital, Santiago, in the Araucanía region, 27 churches have been burnt down in the past couple of years by a radical indigenous group, Weichan Auka Mapu. The attackers leave behind messages spelling out the demands of the Mapuches, an ancestral tribe whose land was taken […]

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In June 2016, masked men invaded a Sunday service at this church, ordered the Christians to leave the church and then set the building on fire. (Photo: La Tercera)

Seven hours’ drive south of Chile’s capital, Santiago, in the Araucanía region, 27 churches have been burnt down in the past couple of years by a radical indigenous group, Weichan Auka Mapu.

The attackers leave behind messages spelling out the demands of the Mapuches, an ancestral tribe whose land was taken from them during Chile’s colonisation by Spanish Catholics. A high percentage of Mapuches now identify as Christian: 55% Catholic, 32% Protestant. But for some others, Christians are still seen as invaders.

“I was inside with my children… They broke the windows and entered, firing their guns into the air, and then they threw us out… They came after us with large guns, machine guns, and they were wearing masks. They told us to leave or they would set us on fire as well – the children and all.”

Of the 20 churches burnt down between 2015 and 2016, 12 were Catholic, eight Protestant. In 2017, a further seven have been torched. These churches also served as schools, meeting places and shelters for those fleeing natural disasters. Many belonged to the poorest sectors of the poorest region in Chile, and were attended by Mapuches themselves.

The leader of an Assemblies of God church burnt down in July recalls the moment his attractive wooden church, built 15 years ago using money church members had raised, was reduced to ashes.

Juan Mella, president of the local Pastors’ Council (Photo: Israel Vilches)

Juan Mella, who is also head of the local Pastors’ Council, said the event demonstrated an intolerance among the Mapuches.

“Each human being can have their own views with regard to faith, spirituality. We have never imposed our faith, but we have shared it with everyone because the Lord sent us to every nation, every tribe,” he said.

Abelino Apeleo, an Anglican bishop in Araucanía and also an ethnic Mapuche, said the primary issue is ignorance on the part of some of his fellow Mapuches.

“One sector of the Mapuche people – those with a more radical, violent attitude – blame the Church for creating the problems of the Mapuches,” he said. “This is totally wrong. And of course we cannot support violence as a response.”

The incident that has received the most publicity took place in June 2016, when masked men invaded a Sunday service at La Iglesia del Señor in Padre Las Casas, a city just south of the regional capital, Temuco. It has become known as the “Case of the Burnt Church”, and is the only case so far that has led to arrests.

A lady from the church, identified only by her initials, MC, explained what happened that day.

“I was inside with my children, my husband, my brother-in-law and my brothers,” she recalled. “They broke the windows and entered, firing their guns into the air, and then they threw us out. Then they came after us with large guns, machine guns, and they were wearing masks. They told us to leave or they would set us on fire as well – the children and all.”

The note the attackers left behind on that occasion read: “Christianity: accomplice of the repression of the Mapuche people.”

The attackers leave notes behind, in which they blame Christianity for the repression of the Mapuche people. (Photo: Radio BioBio)

Four people were detained after the incident: Alfredo Tralcal, and three brothers – Benito, Pablo and Ariel Trangol Galindo, who are being investigated for links with Weichan Auca Mapu, a radical group that demands the release of Mapuche prisoners and has claimed responsibility for the church attacks.

The attacks have continued despite police efforts to find other possible perpetrators. In fact, after four more churches were burnt down on 20 September this year, many other congregations also received threats, forcing the police to station guards outside two Protestant churches in the region.

“It isn’t only the attacks on the churches, it’s the pamphlets they leave behind, on which they write their demands and also provide a context for their behaviour,” said Luis Torres, in charge of the prosecution of the four men.

“It is the responsibility of the State to ensure that events such as these don’t happen again, by ensuring that those responsible are brought to justice, as well as protecting the victims and ensuring their church is rebuilt.”

Araucanía Pastors’ Council

However, Pamela Nahuelcheo, acting for the defence, has called into question the evidence against her clients.

“It has been reported that the defendants were found at the place where the fire took place and were detained on the spot,” she said. “But that isn’t true. They were actually arrested two and a half hours after the fire, 7km away from the church. One of the police officers said they smelt strongly of petrol and this is why they were detained. But there have been complaints about the actions of the police officers, that they fired shots at my defendants and beat them. And that the backpack supposedly found on them was not theirs at all.”

It was in this context and due to overwhelming pressure, including by the defendants, who had undertaken a four-month hunger strike, that the government in October said the charges against the men should be changed to arson, instead of terrorism.

This message says “all churches will be burned” (Photo: Radio BioBio)

There have been two further hearings since then, and prosecutor Luis Torres is determined the arsonists – whoever they are – are brought to justice.

“It can’t be normal to attack people attending a church service,” he said. “Children are attacked and thrown out of the church. They shoot at them to make them leave, and then the church is set on fire. If they didn’t do it and weren’t running away, why were their clothes wet? Why were some of their clothes torn? Why did they have evidence on them that links them directly to the attack?”

The local pastors say they continue to hope the situation will be resolved.

“We know that God protects us,” said Juan Mella. “And though our church was burned, we will rebuild it. And anyway, Jesus said: ‘Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.’”

Bishop Apeleo added: “We will continue to bear witness to the Gospel. We have to apply the teachings of Jesus: to forgive, to have mercy and to love our enemies. At some point they may need our help and we will be there for them.”

The Pastors’ Council of Araucanía released a statement, saying: “It is the responsibility of the State to guarantee events like these don’t happen.”

It called on the government to protect its citizens, and bemoaned the decision to change the charges against the men, saying violence can never be justified, “whether by State, or non-State actors”.

The Council demanded that the government “takes charge of the very serious situation … [which] led to a service being stopped, preventing 15 people – mostly women and children – from continuing with their meeting. They were driven out violently from their own church, and then forced to watch as their place of worship was burned down in front of them.

“It is the responsibility of the State to ensure that events such as these don’t happen again, by ensuring that those responsible are brought to justice, as well as protecting the victims and ensuring their church is rebuilt.”


Israel Vilches is a Chilean journalist and director of Cosmovisión. He is also a correspondent for Mundo Cristiano.

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Indonesian children still in recovery mode one year after church bombing http://persecuted.faithfortheheart.com/indonesian-children-still-in-recovery-mode-one-year-after-church-bombing/ Thu, 14 Dec 2017 16:17:46 +0000 https://www.worldwatchmonitor.org/?p=26428

Three-year-old Anita Sihotang is still too scared to leave her house. It has been just over a year since a terrorist threw a Molotov cocktail into the grounds of the church yard where she was playing in Indonesia’s East Kalimantan province. The explosion killed one of her friends, two-year-old Intan […]

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Three-year-old Anita Sihotang is still too scared to leave her house. It has been just over a year since a terrorist threw a Molotov cocktail into the grounds of the church yard where she was playing in Indonesia’s East Kalimantan province. The explosion killed one of her friends, two-year-old Intan Banjarnahor, and seriously injured Anita and two others.

One year after the explosion that killed her best friend, five-year-old Trinity, seen here with her mother Sarinah, has to travel to China to receive specialist treatment for her burns

Anita’s mother Tetty says her daughter screams if she hears vehicle engines, thunder or fire. “It’s very depressing to see her cry and scream, ‘I’m scared’, over and over again, but not be able to explain what it is that scares her,” she says.

Five-year-old Alvaro had 17 operations in the first four months after the explosion and his parents say his burns have affected his self-confidence.

Trauma counselling is available but Tetty does not always manage to take her daughter to appointments because she is also looking after Anita’s elder brother and sister.

The parents five-year-old Alvaro Sinaga, who had 17 operations in the first four months after the explosion, are still worried his hair may never grow back fully, but said very fine hairs have begun to grow back on many parts of his head that were badly burnt. His mother, Novita, said: “This is a miracle, because the doctor said that the right part of his head wouldn’t be able to grow hair anymore.”

She added that her son has overcome his fear of fire or explosion-like sounds through attending sessions with a hospital psychologist. “The counsellor will talk and play with him during these visits… The counselling sessions are really helping him,” she said. But she voiced concerns for the ongoing way the scarring has affected his confidence.

Financial gifts from friends and their church have enabled Alvaro’s father, Hotdiman, to stop work to help look after his son. A construction consultant, he had been working in West Borneo, more than 1,000 miles from home, when the attack took place.

At a trial in September, one of the perpetrators received a life sentence for his part in the attack. Juhanda bin Muhammad Aceng, 32, who reportedly wore a black T-shirt with the message, “Jihad Way of Life”, as he threw a Molotov cocktail from his passing motorbike, had been convicted for terrorism offences in 2011 and paroled in 2014. Later that year he was arrested again after he was found with an IS flag.

Four others, who had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group and were involved in the incident, received prison terms ranging from six to seven years.

Intan was just two when she lost her life and her mother Diana still cannot bear to be around the other children from the Sunday School

Trinity’s mother, Sarinah Gultom, gave evidence at the trial. She cried as she described her child’s disfiguration after the blasts. After she left the dock she walked towards the defendants and said: “I forgive you. Please repent; no more innocent children killed and wounded. Mine is enough.”

Judge Surung Simanjuntak, of the East Jakarta District Court, granted compensation of about IDR 240,000,000 (US$17,600) to each of the victims and their families.

The families of Alvaro and Trinity said the compensation money will help pay for the children’s treatment, but they have yet to receive it.

Watch Trinity try her hand at photography here.

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British PM Theresa May hears about plight of Christians in Middle East http://persecuted.faithfortheheart.com/british-pm-theresa-may-hears-about-plight-of-christians-in-middle-east/ Thu, 14 Dec 2017 13:11:04 +0000 https://www.worldwatchmonitor.org/?p=26406

The British Prime Minister Theresa May was briefed on the plight of Christians and minorities in the Middle East in a meeting yesterday (13 December) with an Iraqi priest who has been looking after refugees who fled IS violence. Father Daniel Alkory highlighted the plight of Christians and minorities in […]

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Dame Caroline Spelman, Father Daniel Alkory and Lisa Pearce present Prime Minister Theresa May with a Bible found burnt but intact at a shrine in Karamles, after IS was ousted from the Nineveh Plains last year (Photo: World Watch Monitor)

The British Prime Minister Theresa May was briefed on the plight of Christians and minorities in the Middle East in a meeting yesterday (13 December) with an Iraqi priest who has been looking after refugees who fled IS violence.

Father Daniel Alkory highlighted the plight of Christians and minorities in the Middle East and asked for help in securing a better future for them.

The priest has been looking after Iraqi refugees (or “relatives”, as he prefers to call them) in his church compound after they were forced to flee their homes by Islamic State in the summer of 2014.

Fr. Alkory, accompanied by Lisa Pearce, CEO of the religious freedom charity Open Doors UK and Ireland, and MP Dame Caroline Spelman, presented May with a Bible that had been found burnt but intact at a shrine in Karamles, after the jihadist group was ousted from the Nineveh Plains region last year.

Open Doors, which has been calling for the international community to do more to enable displaced Christians to return to the region, said in a press release: “The survival of the Bible symbolises the hope which the Christian community in Iraq continue to hold on to.”

‘Genocide’

Later that day Fr. Alkory told around 30 MPs, Peers and church leaders assembled at the UK parliament that there was a genocide taking place in his homeland and that it would depend on their actions whether there would be a future for Christians in the Middle East.

He said that although the terror of Islamic State may have ceased, “this does not mean we have become free, [as] IS was not the only one who persecuted us”.

Lisa Pearce noted that the number of Christians in Iraq had shrunk in the last 15 years from an estimated 1.2-1.5 million to just over 250,000 today because of targeted violence against them.

The priest said Iraqi Christians were disappointed with the West, saying: “Many might have been against the war in Iraq, but if you are silent, you are guilty too… I believe that whether my people will [one day] be gone will depend on your actions”.

‘Is there room for Christians in the Middle East today?’

Fr. Alkory described how among the refugees in Erbil there are those who wish to remain in their homeland, and those who want to leave. He said his strategy in uniting these groups has been working with young people “because they are the future”, and when children are happy, parents will start think differently about the future.

Lisa Pearce said there is no future for Christians and other minority groups in the Middle East if religious leaders are not involved in peace-making and the building of a sustainable future.

According to the UK’s Minister for the Middle East and North Africa, Alistair Burt, “the Middle East [will] not survive without tolerance”. He said Christians had long exemplified this tolerance in the region and that, if they left, tolerance could leave with them.

Meanwhile Open Doors supporters, dressed as Mary and Joseph, gathered outside parliament, holding placards that read: “Is there room for Christians in the Middle East today?”

The event came after 808,172 people from 142 countries signed an Open Doors petition, asking the United Nations and governments around the world to ensure Middle Eastern Christians and other minorities enjoy the right to equal citizenship, dignified living conditions and a prominent role in reconciling and rebuilding their society.

Earlier this week Noeh, a 12-year-old from northern Iraq who lived in Fr. Alkory’s church compound in Erbil for over three years, presented the petition to UN representatives in New York and then the US Vice President, Mike Pence, in Washington DC.

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Iraq bishop recalls his abduction from Baghdad in new book http://persecuted.faithfortheheart.com/iraq-bishop-recalls-his-abduction-from-baghdad-in-new-book/ Wed, 13 Dec 2017 16:33:07 +0000 https://www.worldwatchmonitor.org/?p=26284

It was 2001 and Saad Hanna watched in horror as his TV showed the Twin Towers of New York’s World Trade Center smouldering and collapsing. Then a trainee priest studying in Italy, he said to fellow seminarians, “The world is turning upside down. The Americans will not let this be.” […]

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It was 2001 and Saad Hanna watched in horror as his TV showed the Twin Towers of New York’s World Trade Center smouldering and collapsing. Then a trainee priest studying in Italy, he said to fellow seminarians, “The world is turning upside down. The Americans will not let this be.”

Bishop Saad Sirop Hanna (YouTube)

With this flashback, the now-Bishop Hanna sets the scene for what he would endure five years later. In a first-person account, he vividly relates the 27 days of his kidnap and torture at the hands of Sunni armed men in a book, ‘Abducted in Iraq: a priest in Baghdad’.

It was 2006 and the tide of anger that followed the US-led dismantling of the government of President Saddam Hussein, and much of the country’s infrastructure, was fast-flowing and destructive. The young Baghdadi priest was driving home after a Mass and a big celebratory meal on the Feast of the Assumption, when four armed men ordered him from his car and pushed him onto the floor of theirs. He didn’t know them and believed they had the wrong man. Between beatings, his captors accused him of collaborating with the Americans.

In a dynamic that has become all too familiar to people concerned about Iraqi minorities, the priest found himself not only at the mercy of violent extremists, but also let down by members of the international community who could have rescued him. In a brief moment of contact with a world beyond his blindfold, he was handed a mobile phone, through which a member of the coalition forces told him: “We do not have orders to come and liberate people from kidnap.”

At another point, he was given a phone and told to talk to the Chaldean Patriarch, Emmanuel Delly, but a prisoner exchange promised by his captors didn’t materialise.

Unable to see his surroundings, Hanna invites the reader on his inner journey: of hopes raised and dashed; of holding on to his faith; to a Gethsemane-like acceptance of death; and into his near-obsession with “the malleability of time”, which preoccupies him when he is deprived of sight and freedom.

Bishop Hanna varies the pace well between the rapid, intrusive violence and long periods of isolation and reflection, in which his deep spirituality comes to the fore. His recollections are philosophical, elegantly expressed, and coloured not with bitterness but with incomprehension and an un-self-conscious courage. Hanna humanises his captors as much as he can manage. “They too were concerned, these men, and wondered what would be next,” he says.

He resolves “not to judge one faith to be above another, but to see that some people can find a rationale for violence from religion, while others find a rationale for unity”.

In his Foreword, British Catholic peer Lord David Alton invites readers to see Hanna’s story – of suffering a dual blow of extremist violence and Western inaction – as the story of all Iraqi Christians. To do this illustrates why so many Iraqi Christians believe their country is no longer safe and have sought refuge overseas, placing the future of Iraqi Christianity in question. Saad was one of a number of clergy targeted around that time – and not all survived. Arguably, the lasting damage inflicted by Bishop Saad’s captors was not the physical or psychological violence inflicted on the individual, but the convincing of thousands of Iraqi citizens to uproot and scatter themselves abroad.

The book ends with a reproduction of the telegram Pope Benedict XVI sent to Patriarch Delly which appeals for Hanna’s release, and a sentence listing Bishop Hanna’s various roles now, inside and outside Iraq. It does not mention that the Catholic seminary where he worked relocated from Baghdad to Kurdistan because of his kidnap, or answer the questions left hanging while he was in captivity, or say at least that he still does not have answers, such as: Who were his captors? Why was he not released straight after his conversation with the Patriarch? What negotiations led to his eventual release?

For anyone exasperated by the ongoing violence in the Middle East, or wondering how best to respond to it, Bishop Saad’s well-told account of his kidnap makes for a gripping and challenging read.


Abducted in Iraq: a priest in Baghdad

Saad Sirop Hanna with Edward S Aris

Notre Dame Press, US, 2017. 169pp

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Tajikistan pastor jailed for singing religious songs ends appeal http://persecuted.faithfortheheart.com/tajikistan-pastor-jailed-for-singing-religious-songs-ends-appeal/ Tue, 12 Dec 2017 16:49:20 +0000 https://www.worldwatchmonitor.org/?p=26262

A Protestant pastor serving three years in prison for “singing extremist songs in church and so inciting religious hatred” has chosen to make no more appeals against his sentence, reports regional news agency Forum 18. Bakhrom Kholmatov, 42, was sentenced in July and began serving his three-year prison term in […]

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Bakhrom Kholmatov
Bakhrom Kholmatov (Facebook)

A Protestant pastor serving three years in prison for “singing extremist songs in church and so inciting religious hatred” has chosen to make no more appeals against his sentence, reports regional news agency Forum 18.

Bakhrom Kholmatov, 42, was sentenced in July and began serving his three-year prison term in solitary confinement in a prison in Yavan, 360km from Khujand, where his family live. Officials said it was “normal procedure” to place convicts in solitary confinement for 15 days before they are released into the main prison.

His decision about making no further appeal was revealed by Protestants who wanted to remain anonymous for fear of state reprisals.

Members of Kholmatov’s Sunmin Sunbogym (Full Gospel) Protestant Church in Khujand claimed they were harassed and tortured by secret police after the arrest of the pastor.

Kholmatov, who is married with three children, was arrested on unspecified charges during a 10 April raid on his church. Affiliated churches in the Sogd region were raided and closed down earlier in the year.

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