Friday, July 29, 2011

Nigerian Christians to Be Attacked Tomorrow

Nigeria (MNN) ― Christians in the northern states of Nigeria are expecting attacks from terror group Boko Haram tomorrow, July 30.

"There is an intentional effort by the Islamic extremist group named Boko Haram to unleash more violence against Christians in the northern provinces of Nigeria," says Carl Moeller with Open Doors, USA. "There is a specific attack that is scheduled for July 30, and this is causing a great deal of concern on the parts of Christians throughout the country."

The date holds special meaning to the terror group, Moeller says. "It's the second anniversary of the death of the founder of Boko Haram, sort of an indigenous, al Qaeda-affiliated Islamic group in the northern states of Nigeria."

Security is extremely tight in Bauchi and Maidurguri, two key centers of Boko Haram in northern Nigeria. Reportedly the Bauchi branch of the Muslim group has pulled out of the plan to attack Christians and government personnel tomorrow. The situation in Maiduguri is much more dangerous, however, especially after several bomb explosions have rocked the city lately.

The government, under the leadership of Christian president Goodluck Jonathan, has brought in soldiers and increased the security significantly. But Boko Haram has not been afraid to attack government workers in the past.

The country is split roughly down the middle between Christians and Muslims in the population. Thus, many attacks have occurred in the past. Still, believers are bracing themselves for violence like never before. Frightened Christians are fleeing en masse.

In the Wulari area, only a handful of homes are still occupied, and the large Gomari district is significantly deserted. In another area of 1,000 houses, everybody left except one person.

Christians businessman have abandoned their businesses. Churches have locked their doors. Some schools also have shut down, and those still open only run skeletal services.

Some believers are leaving to avoid getting more deeply involved. "Christians have been very concerned about being drawn into that violence through revenge and so forth. So rather than get into that sort of cycle of violence, the Christians have opted to leave--at least temporarily," explains Moeller.

Yet, even the mass exodus seems a victory for Boko Haram. "They may not kill all the Christians in a region, but if they can get them to flee, it effectively accomplishes the same goal for them," notes Moeller.

As July 30 approaches, there are real fears that Boko Haram might unleash terror on other parts of the country where there is not as much security presence as in Maiduguri and Bauchi. Places like Katsina, Suleja in Niger state, where there have been explosions in the past, may be targeted, including churches not attacked before.

With so much violence planned for tomorrow, but also for coming days, Open Doors is urging people to get on their knees and pray.

"We're joining--and encouraging people to join--with the church in Nigeria in this area to fast and pray for the next 21 days," says Moeller, "so that we can see [some peace] not only in the immediate next week of July 30, but also as the situation goes forward." 

Cuban Pastor Granted Asylum but Blocked from Leaving Country

By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service

SURREY, ENGLAND (ANS) -- A Cuban pastor who was imprisoned on bogus charges has been granted asylum by the United States, but refused permission to leave Cuba. He is the second high-profile protestant pastor to be granted asylum in the US this year.

According to a news release from Christian Solidarity worldwide (CSW), Pastor Omar Gude Perez, who was imprisoned in May 2008, his wife Kenia and their two children, learned on July 18 they had been granted asylum. However, two days later, Cuban immigration officials in Camaguey informed them they would not be issued exit visas, referred to in Cuba as a White Card.

CSW said authorities justified their decision to the family by saying Perez must serve out the remainder of his prison sentence in Cuba, despite the Cuban government allowing scores of political prisoners to go into exile last year without completing their sentences.

CSW reported that Perez was granted conditional freedom, and released from prison earlier this year after serving three years of a six-and-a-half year sentence. If he is forced to serve out the rest of his sentence in Cuba, he and his family would be forced to stay in the country until 2014.

As part of the conditions of his conditional freedom, Perez is prohibited from pastoral work, including preaching, and his movements are severely restricted.

CSW's Advocacy Director Andrew Johnston said in a news release, "We were relieved to hear that the Gude family has been granted asylum, but strongly condemn the Cuban government's petty decision to deny Pastor Gude and his family the right to leave the country. Their decision to leave the country was reluctantly made after years of intense persecution on the part of the authorities."

He added, "Unless the Cuban government is prepared to cease its persecution of the family and to allow them to work as pastors openly and without restrictions, they must afford them the same right they have granted so many others and allow them to go into exile."

CSW is a Christian organization working for religious freedom through advocacy and human rights, in the pursuit of justice.

For further information, visit


Jeremy Reynalds is Senior Correspondent for the ASSIST News Service, a freelance writer and also the founder and CEO of Joy Junction, New Mexico's largest emergency homeless shelter, He has a master's degree in communication from the University of New Mexico, and a Ph.D. in intercultural education from Biola University in Los Angeles. His newest book is "Homeless in the City."

Additional details on "Homeless in the City" are available at Reynalds lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico. For more information contact: Jeremy Reynalds

US Government Official testifies Before Congress on Behalf of Imprisoned Iranian Pastor Awaiting Execution by Hanging

By Michael Ireland
Senior Correspondent, ASSIST News Service

WASHINGTON, DC (ANS) -- Michael H. Posner, the Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor in the State Department testified before Congress July 27, 2011 in regards to human rights abuses in Syria and Iran.

Michael H. Posner
During his testimony, Posner stated: "On May 1, the Revolutionary Court in the northern city of Bandar Anzali tried 11 members of the Church of Iran, including Pastor Abdolreza Ali-Haghnejad and Zainab Bahremend, the 62-year-old grandmother of two other defendants, on charges of 'acting against national security.' This month, Iranian courts ruled that Christian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani must recant his Christian faith or face the death penalty for apostasy."

In his appearance before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia Congress, Posner thanked Chairman Chabot, Ranking Member Ackerman, and distinguished Members of the Committee for inviting him to appear before them to discuss the Iranian and Syrian governments' continuing and worsening abuses against their own people.

Posner said that as people across the region are taking stock of their governments, "we see in the Syrian and Iranian regimes a parallel failure to respond to or respect the will of their citizens.

"Our concerns about these countries' horrendous human rights abuses are longstanding, but never has their repression been more flagrantly at odds with the realities of the region - the irrepressible demands for democracy and fundamental human rights that have already swept two leaders from power. The United States has played an essential leading role in demanding an end to this repression, enlisting the international community's support for fundamental human rights in the region, and leveraging our resources to support the peoples' demands for justice, freedom and dignity. We have used new authorities to single out and sanction those most responsible for these abuses and have encouraged other countries to do join us in this effort. Going forward, the United States will expand our efforts to answer the call of Syrian and Iranian citizens that their governments be held accountable for their actions," Posner said.

Posner said that as a prime example of its contempt for dissent, the Iranian regime has held the de facto leaders of the Green Movement, former presidential candidates Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, under house arrest without charges since February.

"Many from the second-tier leadership of the Green Movement-affiliated entities remain imprisoned or have fled Iran, and their family members have been intimidated, attacked, and detained. This has left the Green Movement beleaguered and scattered. Although demonstrations are rarer, government intimidation didn't stop the Green Movement last February from demonstrating in solidarity of their kindred spirits protesting government oppression across the Arab world," said Posner.

Posner stated that in Syria, a committed, peaceful grassroots opposition movement has rapidly emerged in response to the Asad regime's brutality.

"Last March, security forces fired upon demonstrators calling for the release of children held for weeks for simply writing political graffiti. That brutal act sparked the collective outrage of the long-oppressed Syrian people. The growing momentum for change, which has drawn people from across Syria to participate in peaceful demonstrations, is now well into its fourth month.

"President Asad and his regime have responded with gunfire, mass arrests, torture and abuse. Human rights organizations report that more than 1,800 Syrians have been killed and over ten thousand jailed, while security forces hold the Syrian people hostage to a widening crackdown. Through high-level intervention, Ambassador Ford and Embassy Damascus have secured the release of ten Americans who had been detained on security grounds since January."

Posner told the committee that Amnesty International has reported killings and torture by security forces in the town of Tell Kalakh near the Lebanese border in May.

"Residents reported seeing scores of males including some elderly and under18 being rounded up. Detainees described brutal torture, including beatings, prolonged use of stress positions and the use of electric shock to the genitals. Human Rights Watch interviewed 50 witnesses to the weeks of violence in Daraa, and reported that member of various branches of the mukhabarat security forces and snipers on rooftops deliberately targeted protestors and that victims had lethal head, neck and chest wounds."

But in spite of this intense repression, said Posner, the Syrian people have lost their fear.

"They have not backed down. They are continuing to take to the streets to demand freedom, respect for their basic rights, and a transition to democracy. Beyond demonstrations, we have also seen the opposition organize itself and begin to articulate an agenda for Syria's future, recognizing that the strongest Syria is one in which all citizens, regardless of faith or ethnicity, are equal participants. And for our part, the Obama Administration has articulated clearly that the United States has absolutely nothing invested in the Bashar al-Asad regime, which has clearly lost legitimacy, most importantly in the eyes of the hundreds of thousands of Syrians who have taken to the streets. A peaceful and democratic transition would be a positive step for Syria, the region, and the world."
Posner continued: "It is up to the Syrian people to determine what the next chapter holds for Syria, as the pages turn toward a new future for this country. President Asad can delay or obstruct it but he cannot, however, stop it. As Syrians chart their own future, we hope to see the participation of and respect for all of Syria's ethnic and religious groups. The United States, and the international community, want to see a Syria that is unified, where tolerance, respect for human rights, and equality are the norm. This is the message that Ambassador Ford is delivering to the Syrian leadership and the Syrian people.

"Even as the Syrian military and security forces have besieged communities, conducted mass arrests, targeted emergency medical responders, tortured children, shot peaceful protestors with impunity, cut off water, internet and telephone services, and barred an independent media, people have found ways to get their word out, through reports, images and videos taken by brave demonstrators and smuggled out."
Posner said that in bearing witness to these terrible abuses, the United States "has and will continue to play a crucial role.

"Demonstrators have peacefully protested for over a month in Hama, where over 10,000 Syrians were killed in 1982 by President Asad's father Hafez Asad. The people of Hama kept their peace despite their tragic history and the provocation of the government forces besieging the city. We know this precisely because our representative to the Syrian people, Ambassador Ford, toured Hama and reported seeing no protestors carrying weapons, nor damage to government buildings. We also know through Ambassador Ford's reports that, contrary to the promises from President Asad to end the emergency law and follow proper judicial procedures, the government has carried out sweeps and arrested dozens of peaceful demonstrators in Hama, and reports of torture in custody are well documented. Our diplomatic presence and watchfulness is an important way for us to gain independent knowledge of the facts, to show support for Syrians' rights, and to speak directly and plainly to the Syrian government about the need to change course."

Returning to the topic of Iran, more than two years since that country's disputed presidential election, Iranian authorities persist in harassment, arbitrary detention, torture, and imprisonment of their citizens, as well as some of ours, Posner said.

"Targets include those who demand accountability from their government and who stand up for the rights of their fellow citizens; ethnic and religious minorities; journalists, women's rights activists, bloggers and students."
Unfortunately, the situation has only further deteriorated in 2011, he said.

"Protestors were killed in Tehran in February and in ethnically-Arab areas in April; political prisoners are held in deplorable conditions with convicted murderers in former stockyards; those released from prison are forced to pay exorbitant bail sums or often released with conditions such as long bans on travel or work in their field; additional sentences were levied on those already in prison merely for sending letters to family members; mass executions of mainly ethnic minority prisoners have been carried out without their families' knowledge; at least 190 people have been executed this year, more than in any other country in the world except China; restrictions on speech have intensified; journalists and bloggers continue to be targeted by the regime for daring to write the truth; teachers and other workers are harassed and incarcerated when they seek freedom of association and payment of wages owed; trade union leaders remain imprisoned on questionable charges; politically-active students have been banned from universities; entire university faculties deemed un-Islamic face threat of closure; and, recently, female journalists and artists have been arrested for merely practicing their profession."

Posner told the committee that what is particularly troubling is the deepening persecution of religious minorities.
"On May 1, the Revolutionary Court in the northern city of Bandar Anzali
Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani
tried 11 members of the Church of Iran, including Pastor Abdolreza Ali-Haghnejad and Zainab Bahremend, the 62-year-old grandmother of two other defendants, on charges of 'acting against national security.' This month, Iranian courts ruled that Christian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani must recant his Christian faith or face the death penalty for apostasy. In March, over 200 Gonabadi Sufis were summoned to courts around the country to answer allegations that they were insulting Iranian authorities. In April, eight other Sufis were re-arrested on charges of disrupting public order - charges for which they had been punished with flogging and imprisonment. The Iranian government also continues to arrest and harass members of the Baha'i faith."

Posner went on to say: "As the Iranian and Syrian regimes have expanded their repressive tactics, we have expanded the scope of our efforts to challenge these governments' deplorable human rights violations. We have designated 11 Iranian officials and three government entities for serious human rights abuses in accordance with the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions Accountability and Divestment Act and, as the act requires, we are actively seeking more information on possible targets. Separately, on July 8, the United States and the United Kingdom imposed visa restrictions on officials of the Government of Iran and other individuals who have participated in human rights abuses in Iran. Iranian officials subject to this visa ban include government ministers, military and law enforcement officers, and judiciary and prison officials."

He told the Committee that responding to the atrocities in Syria, President Obama signed two executive orders. The first, E.O. 13572, signed on April 29, targets those responsible for human rights abuses and the repression of the Syrian people. The second, E.O. 13573, signed on May 18, targets senior officials of the Syrian government because of the ongoing crackdown and refusal to implement political reform.

"These two authorities were used to impose sanctions against President Asad and senior Syrian officials responsible for human rights abuses. In addition to President Asad, the sanctions so far have designated the Vice President, Prime Minister, ministers of interior and defense, the head of Syrian military intelligence, and director of the political security directorate. Other U.S. sanctions target President Asad's brother and two cousins, the Syrian military and civilian intelligence services, its national security bureau and the air force intelligence, as well as Iran's Revolutionary Guard Qods Force and senior Qods force officers that have assisted the Asad regime in suppressing Syrian civilians."

Posner suggested that: "It is no coincidence both Iran and Syria have responded to their citizens with similar contempt and brutal tactics. As the latter designation shows, we know that the Syrians have employed Iranian help in curbing dissent. This has exposed a strident hypocrisy on the part of the Iranian regime, which has tried unsuccessfully to take credit for democratic movements in Egypt and elsewhere and laud protesters when it suited its strategic interests, but has materially helped the Syrian government crush its own protestors in order to preserve their ally. The Iranian regime's false narrative is further exposed even as the regime continues to smother its own domestic opposition.. Nevertheless, hundreds of brave Iranian citizens continue to engage in the most basic but critical of human rights work, documenting and reporting on abuses, with the hope that one day Iranian government officials will be held accountable for crimes they have committed against their fellow citizens.

"In the case of Syria," Posner said, "we have seen the regime play a cruel double game designed to divert attention away from people's demands and justify the regime's monopoly on power. Asad is exploiting fears of sectarianism and factionalism by surreptitiously fomenting violence of an intentionally sectarian nature, while at the same time cautioning Syrians not to rock his carefully guided boat. As a consequence, deadly violence has at times taken a purportedly sectarian shade. This has only left more blood on Asad's hands.

"We view these incidents as further evidence that President Assad's government continues to be the real source of instability within Syria. He has promised reforms but delivered no meaningful changes. He talks about dialogue, but continues to engage in violence that proves his rhetoric hollow. Assad has made clear that he is determined to maintain power regardless of the cost. And the human toll is mounting."

"Nevertheless," he said, "the Syrian people will not be distracted -- they have shown they will not cease their demands for dignity and a future free from intimidation and fear, and they are countering the regime's propaganda falsely accusing them of seeking that division and ethnic strife. Asad has made occasional conciliatory gestures, but to date these starts have not been credible, sustained, or made in good faith. The regime's promises of reform have been shown to be false by the continued arrests and shootings of peaceful demonstrators."

Posner said the European Union and other nations have joined the United States in enacting sanctions on key regime figures in Iran and Syria to hold their leaders accountable for the violence.

"We continue to urge more nations to join our call, in bilateral and multilateral settings, to shine a spotlight on these countries' gross violations of human rights. We also urge other countries to press Iran on its abuses in their bilateral diplomacy. An international consensus is forming to mobilize greater diplomatic pressure on these regimes. We successfully prevented both governments from joining the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) after they had announced their candidacies and have appropriately used this forum to draw the world's attention to their offenses. And in the U.N. General Assembly last year, we helped win passage of a Canadian-led resolution condemning Iran's human rights abuses by the largest margin in eight years. At the March session of the HRC, we led a successful effort to establish a Special Rapporteur on Iran, the first country-specific human rights rapporteur created since the Council came into being, and last month, the Council confirmed former Foreign Minister for the Maldives Ahmed Shaheed at that position. This historic action sent an unmistakable signal to Iran's leaders that the world will not stand passive in front of their systematic abuse of their own citizens' human rights. More importantly, the Special Rapporteur serves as a critical voice for those Iranians whose own voice is repressed because of their political, religious, and ethnic affiliations."

Posner went on to tell the committee, "In a Special Session in April, the HRC also condemned the ongoing violations by the Syrian authorities. The Council called on Syrian authorities to release prisoners of conscience and those arbitrarily detained, and to end restrictions on Internet access and journalists. It also established an international investigation led by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, though President Asad refuses to allow the monitors mandated by the Council to enter Syria. In the June HRC session, the United States joined Canada and more than 50 other countries in a forceful joint statement that again condemned violations committed by the Syrian authorities and called for credible, independent, and transparent investigations into these abuses, accountability for those who perpetrated such abuses, and unfettered access to the UN High Commissioner's mission to investigate the many allegations of human rights abuses. The High Commissioner will present a report on the human rights situation in Sy ria in the September session."

He added: "We have been working assiduously with other members on the UN Security Council to obtain a resolution condemning the ongoing atrocities being committed by the Asad regime. We are aware that some key Council members oppose such a resolution, but we are moving to forge consensus and will press for a vote.

"Our efforts to support the Iranian and Syrian people as they seek to exercise their rights have been consistent and sustained. Just as we do throughout the region, we work with civil society organizations to support their efforts to defend human rights and to advocate for change. We help them expand political space and hold their government accountable. We provide training and tools to civil society activists in Iran and Syria, and throughout the world, to enable citizens to freely and safely exercise their freedoms of expression, association, and assembly on the Internet and via other communication technologies. In cases like Iran and Syria, where governments have good reason to fear the spotlight on their activities, access to technological tools allows the people to tell their story to the world. Despite both government's ramped up activities to try to suppress information flows, the days are gone when governments could brutalize their people without the world knowing."

Posner further told the committee members: "As Secretary Clinton has said, 'we stand for a single internet where all of humanity has equal access to knowledge and ideas. .This challenge may be new, but our responsibility to help ensure the free exchange of ideas goes back to the birth of our republic.' Our Internet freedom programming is aimed at making sure that voices for peaceful democratic reform across the region can be heard. "Countering such regimes' increasingly active Internet surveillance and censorship efforts requires a diverse portfolio of tools and training. State Department grants will support more advanced counter-censorship technologies, including circumvention tools in Farsi and Arabic, secure mobile communications, and technologies to enable activists to post their own content online and protect against cyber-attacks. We also have trained 5,000 activists worldwide, including many from the Middle East, in cyber-self-defense. And we plan to expand these efforts to teach democratic activists, journalists, blogger s, human rights defenders and others how to protect their online privacy and their data - so that they in turn can train others. Given the evolving state of technology, no single tool will overcome the efforts of Internet-repressive regimes, and that is why we have invested in incubating a diverse portfolio of technologies and digital safety training. This way, even if one particular tool is blocked, other tools will still be available. Likewise, we work to prevent all repressive governments from acquiring sensitive technology to repress its citizens."

A strong, representative government can be responsive to popular demands; an autocratic one is threatened by empowered publics, said Posner.

"But these crackdowns also indicate a basic lack of understanding that free speech - whether it's supportive speech or subversive speech - is harder than ever to suppress in the Digital Age. The young people who have taken to the streets across the Arab world this year understand what their governments are suppressing. It's not just the Internet, it is people - it's their demands for dignity and a say in the political and economic future of their countries.

He stressed to the committee that the United States will continue to stand with those who struggle to assert their fundamental humanity.

"It is essential that these brave people know that the international community supports them, just as it is essential that human rights abusers in Damascus and Tehran know that we are watching them. Until such time as they are held accountable by domestic authorities, it is our responsibility to hold them accountable at the international level," he said.

He concluded: "Similarly, we hope that today's hearing will serve as further evidence that the American people and our government in Washington stand united in our admiration and support for those across the region who have boldly assumed the duty and made the sacrifices to advance their rights. For this opportunity, we wish to thank the Committee again, and welcome your questions."

Michael H. Posner was sworn in as Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor on September 23, 2009.

Prior to joining State Department, Mr. Posner was the Executive Director and then President of Human Rights First. As its Executive Director he helped the organization earn a reputation for leadership in the areas of refugee protection, advancing a rights-based approach to national security, challenging crimes against humanity, and combating discrimination. He has been a frequent public commentator on these and other issues, and has testified dozens of times before the U.S. Congress. In January 2006, Mr.. Posner stepped down as Executive Director to become the President of Human Rights First, a position he held until his appointment as Assistant Secretary.

Mr. Posner played a key role in proposing and campaigning for the first U.S. law providing for political asylum, which became part of the Refugee Act of 1980. In 1998, he led the Human Rights First delegation to the Rome conference at which the statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) was adopted.

Mr. Posner also has been a prominent voice in support of fair, decent, and humane working conditions in factories throughout the global supply chain. As a member of the White House Apparel Industry Partnership Task Force, he helped found the Fair Labor Association (FLA), an organization that brings together corporations, local leaders, universities, and NGOs to promote corporate accountability for working conditions in the apparel industry. He also was involved in the development of the Global Network Initiative, a multi-stakeholder initiative aimed at promoting free expression and privacy rights on the internet.

Before joining Human Rights First, Mr. Posner was a lawyer with Sonnenschein, Nath & Rosenthal in Chicago. He lectured at Yale Law School from 1981 to 1984, and again in 2009. He was a visiting lecturer at Columbia University Law School since 1984. A member of the California Bar and the Illinois Bar, he received his J.D. from the University of California, Berkeley Law School (Boalt Hall) in 1975, and a B.A. with distinction and honors in History from the University of Michigan in 1972.

Jason DeMars of the Minneapolis, Minnesota-based Present Truth Ministries ( ) , which has been closely following Pastor Nadarkhani's case, told ANS: "We are glad that the State Department is making an effort to stand for Christians under persecution in Iran.

"Our desperate plea is that you continue to pray for the power, peace and joy of God to overcome all fears in the hearts of Iranian Christians, pray specifically for brother Youcef and brother Abdolreza that are mentioned here. But pray for the other believers to experience God's love, power, peace and joy in ways they have never done so before."

DeMars said you can also write a letter to Youcef by using a great service that Voice of the Martyrs provides called Prisoner Alert. Please write him a letter and remember him daily in prayer before God.
If you go to  you will see Pastor Youcef's profile. From there, you can email Iranian officials politely requesting his immediate release, and, more importantly, you can send an encouraging letter to him in prison.
Earlier this week, DeMars told ANS that at that point, 1,444 letters had been sent as part of the campaign to raise awareness of Nadarkhani's situation.
Please forward this email to your friends and ask them to take action on behalf of Pastor Nadarkhani.

** Michael Ireland is Senior Correspondent for ANS. He is an international British freelance journalist who was formerly a reporter with a London (United Kingdom) newspaper and has been a frequent contributor to UCB UK, a British Christian radio station. While in the UK, Michael traveled to Canada and the United States, Albania,Yugoslavia, Holland, Germany,and Czechoslovakia. He has reported for ANS from Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Israel, Jordan, China,and Russia. Michael's volunteer involvement with ASSIST News Service is a sponsored ministry department -- 'Michael Ireland Media Missionary' (MIMM) -- of A.C.T. International of P.O.Box 1649, Brentwood, TN 37024-1649, at: Artists in Christian Testimony (A.C.T.) International where you can donate online to support his stated mission of 'Truth Through Christian Journalism.' Michael is a member in good standing of the National Writers Union, Society of Professional Journalists, Religion Ne wswriters Association, Evangelical Press Association and International Press Association. If you have a news or feature story idea for Michael, please contact him at: ANS Senior Reporter

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin July 2011 Monthly Update and Round-up

By Elizabeth Kendal
Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) 118
Special to ASSIST News Service

AUSTRALIA (ANS) -- Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. (Matthew 18:18 ESV)

JULY 2011 UPDATE -- During July we prayed for . . .

BURMA (RLPB 115), where the predominantly devout Christian Kachin peoples of Kachin State in Burma's far north are fleeing the Burman-Buddhist junta as it seeks to advance its economic interests through the ethnic cleansing of the Kachin.
UPDATE: Despite all the efforts of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), the Burmese military is reportedly closing in on the KIA stronghold of Laiza, where thousands of displaced Kachin are seeking refuge. A humanitarian crisis is unfolding on the Chinese border where up to 20,000 refugees are holed up without humanitarian aid. China is refusing entrance. There have been more reports of systematic rape and of villagers suspected of supporting the KIA being tortured, mutilated and even killed (see http://www.kach ). 

Please pray for the Kachin. May our Mighty God, 'Jehovah Jireh' (the Lord will provide), supply the churches with the aid they need to care for the refugees. And may our Mighty God, Yahweh Sabaoth (the Lord of Hosts / Commander of heaven's armies), rise up in defence of his people.

NIGERIA (RLPB 116), where Boko Haram terror is increasing. Al-Qaeda is backing Boko Haram with the aim of establishing a foothold in Nigeria that would facilitate operations in West Africa. Boko Haram has declared its intent to carry out a massive campaign of terror at the end of July to commemorate the 31 July 2009 death in custody of their founder and leader, Sheikh Mohammed Yusuf. They have declared Christians to be targets. There will be an extreme risk of terror on Sunday 31 July. Please pray for the Church in Nigeria.

SUDAN (RLPB 117), where the Sudan government, having rejected dual citizenship, has passed a law that strips South Sudanese of their Sudanese citizenship, leaving them without rights -- and largely without jobs. Meanwhile in South Kordofan, Sudan's only oil-producing state, there is satellite evidence of mass graves containing many thousands of corpses. This confirms eye-witness reports of mass killings and ethnic cleansing of African, predominantly Christian Nuba peoples by the Arab-Islamist regime in Khartoum and its allied Arab militias. Please pray for God to intervene in Sudan.

JULY 2011 ROUND-UP -- also this month . . .


In early July WORLD Magazine received video pictures that reportedly showed the beheading of a convert to Christianity. In the video, Abdul Latif (in his 40s) is accused of apostasy and condemned to death by militants quo ting passages from the Qur'an and Haddith (sayings of Mohammed). He is then pinned to the ground and beheaded to cries of 'Allahu Akhbar' (Allah is great). The killing comes as the Associated Press of Pakistan (APP) claims that 'Christian missionaries have stepped up their proselytising activities' ahead of the US withdrawal (APP 18 July). The Ulema Union of Afghanistan (UUA) has reportedly strongly condemned the missionary activities that the UUA claims are carried on 'using the cover' of humanitarian aid and 'under patronage provided by foreign forces'. The Taliban, which is ascendant in Afghanistan, recently punished an unco-operative policeman in Helmand Province by kidnapping and hanging his eight-year-old son. The Taliban has been intimidating police in Uruzgan Province and many are surrendering due to the terror. Pray for God's remnant in Afghanistan.


'And they will do these things [ persecute and kill you -- John 15:18ff] because they have not known the Father, nor me.' (John 16:3 ESV.) Muslims need Jesus Christ so they may have their sins forgiven and be saved. 

Persecuted minority Christians in Islamic States need Muslims to be saved and transformed so that persecution might cease. Pray for Muslims during Ramadan'For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.' (2 Corinthians 10:3,4 ESV)


On 21 July Tajikistan's Upper House of parliament passed the highly controversial and repressive Parental Responsibility Law (See Forum 18). It also amended the Criminal Code to extend criminal punishment to those who organise or participate in ' unapproved gatherings' such as unsanctioned religious meetings. These were approved by the Lower House on 15 June. (RLPB 114.) The Parental Responsibility Law bans children under 18 from participating in the activities of religious organisations, with the exception of State-sanctioned 'religious education'. 'Specialists' will infiltrate religious groups to monitor them and parents will be held accountable. Furthermore, the law bans parents from sending their children abroad for study without the permission of an appropriate state agency. As one Protestant lamented, 'It will be against the law for children to be in church.' The Parental Responsibility Law will be enacted as soon as President Emomali Rahmon -- who proposed the law -- signs it into force.


The UK Islamic fundamentalist group, Muslims Against the Crusades (MAC)  have declared their intention to enforce Sharia (Islamic) Law in the Yorkshire towns of Bradford and Dewsbury, and in East London's Tower Hamlets. (MAC was formerly Islam4UK and before that, al-Muhajiroun, changing their name each time they are banned.) As part of its 'Islamic Emirates Project', MAC has erected posters in various districts warning: 'You are entering a Shariah controlled zone -- Islamic rules enforced.' MAC's first target for Islamisation will be Waltham Forest. According to the MAC leader, Anjem Choudary, Sharia will be enforced by thousands of volunteer 'Sharia cops' or Islamic 'Guardian Angels'. MAC is planning an 'Islamic Emirates March' on Saturday 30 July from Leyton Underground Station to Walthamstow Central. MAC hopes this will be a catalyst for nationwide campaigns during Ramadan, which starts on 1 August. MAC's 'Islamic Emirates Project' comes straight after Baroness Cox's proposal for an Arbitration and Mediation Servic es (Equality) Bill that would criminalise any attempt to subjugate British law to another system. The battle has begun. Please pray for the UK, in particular for genuine Christian revival.

Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. This prayer bulletin was initially written for the Australian Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty Commission (AEA RLC).

Elizabeth Kendal's blogs:
Religious Liberty Monitoring and Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin

Lawyer Accuses Egyptian Military Council of Burying Church Bombing Case

By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service

ALEXANDRIA, EGYPT (ANS) -- A lawyer for the Two Saints Church in Alexandria has accused the military council of ignoring the church bombing case.

Blood covered mural outside Two Saints Church in Alexandria
According to a story by Mary Abdelmassih for the Assyrian International News Agency (AINA), the bombing occurred on New Year's Eve in front of the church, and claimed the lives of 25 Copts and injured over 100 others who were attending midnight mass.

AINA reported that Joseph Malak, lead lawyer for the case, said the Coptic Church intends to file a lawsuit against the President of the Council of Ministers, the Interior Minister, and the Attorney General.

The suit is intended to compel them to re-open the investigation into the bombing, pointing out that a large number of affidavits, with the participation of a number of families of the victims, have been sent to the attorney general and the military council, without any reply.

According to AINA, Malak made these statements at a conference held by the Egyptian Center for Development Studies and Human Rights on July 24 at the Church of St. Mark in Alexandria. The conference was attended by the media, Alexandria priests, members of the Coptic Confessional Council in Alexandria and family members of the victims.

"We will demand the Attorney General to take determined action to complete the investigation into the case and to speed up detection of the perpetrators and bring them to trial," Malak said. AINA reported he explained this would include questioning former Interior Minister, Habib al-Adli, and the disclosure of the reasons for the release of the suspects who were arrested after the bombing.

AINA said he added that the lawsuit will also ask for the cancellation of the prohibition of publication of the bombing incident imposed by the attorney general in January, which is still in effect. It also obligates the Ministers of Interior and Justice to complete investigations and sentencing as soon as possible.

AINA said Father Makkar Fawzi, Pastor of the Two Saints Church, asked the media to press the issue, saying "You are our last resort; we have talked with many officials without any answer."

He added the State is fully responsible to search for the perpetrators, and the issue should not be ignored.
Rev. Abraham Emil, Deputy Pontifical for Alexandria and the priest of the Church of St. Mark, said the security and intelligence services are able to find the offenders.

AINA said he rejected the ongoing silence about the case, and called for the need to give the injured and the families of the victims their rights as Egyptians, and the state to be held responsible for the care of their families financially and socially.

"They have same rights as victims of the Revolution," he added.

AINA said Camil Saddik, Secretary of the Coptic Confessional Council in Alexandria, said it was not acceptable for the State to abandon the rights of the Copts killed during worship at church, stressing that their demands for revealing the real perpetrators is the least the victims deserve. He said the way the government is evading its responsibilities is a "stigma."

AINA said Saddik speculated on whether they was a connection between the bombing of the Two Saints Church and the threats issued to the Coptic Church eight hours before, demanding the release of detainees held by the Church.

AINA reported Coptic activist Edward Fahmy said, "Saddik is voicing what the majority of Copts believe, that the Salafists in collaboration with State Security carried out the bombings of the Alexandria Church."

Tamer Salah al-Din, one of the organizers of the conference, accused the Egyptian State Security of complicity in the bombing and spoke of their role in causing sedentary strife between Muslims and Christians.

AINA said he added that suspicions about the involvement of the State Security have risen after revelations that officers and security personnel who were assigned to protect the church at the time were not at their posts at the time of the bombing.

Jeremy Reynalds is Senior Correspondent for the ASSIST News Service, a freelance writer and also the founder and CEO of Joy Junction, New Mexico's largest emergency homeless shelter, He has a master's degree in communication from the University of New Mexico, and a Ph.D. in intercultural education from Biola University in Los Angeles. His newest book is "Homeless in the City."

Additional details on "Homeless in the City" are available at Reynalds lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico. For more information contact: Jeremy Reynalds

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The curious and sad case of Farah Hatim

She is one of thousands of Pakistani women who fall victim to 'forced marriage'

By Dan Wooding and Rodrick Samson
Special to ASSIST News Service

SOUTH PUNJAB, PAKISTAN (ANS) -- Farah Hatim, 24, a resident of Rahim Yar Khan, a city in South Punjab, Pakistan, was allegedly abducted on May 8, 2011 by a Muslim man and his brothers, and was forced to convert to Islam and then marry the Muslim.

Farah Hatim
Now a Pakistani human rights organization and the Catholic Church in the country has condemned the act and demanded action for what they call a "violation of human rights."

The Justice and Peace Commission is leading the case, which they took to the Session Court, and since they took this action, there have been claims that the police had been threatening Farah Hatim's family and also that the Session Judge, Khawaja Mir, decided to transfer the case to the High Court for a hearing due to the "sensitivity of the matter."

The appeal at the High Court was presented by the Justice and Peace Commission along with the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA).

Justice Khalil-ur-Rehman from the High Court Bahawalpur bench had instructed the Rahim Yar Khan district police, and the families, to appear before the court on July 20, 2011.

The Judge then questioned Farah Hatim and asked her if she had been kidnapped and also if she had gone with the Muslim man of her own will.

After a few moments of silence, according to an eye-witness, she said, "I went of my own will." He then followed up with a more questions and the judge then announced that Farah will now be living with her "new family."

The eye-witness told ANS that Farah Hatim then "broke into tears" as the court announced the decision.

Illustration from 
Farah Hatim was allowed a few moments to meet with her family and later, Hatim's brother said, "I am shocked at what Farah said in the court. She is under threat and now all hopes are gone for her return to us. Why did we have to face this? It is only because we are Christians!"

According to a spokesperson for the Justice and Peace Commission, "Farah has become a victim of a racket that is involved in prostitution. Her 'husband' tried to force her into prostitution while she was a student at the Sheikh Zaid Medical College in Rahim Yar Khan, but at the time she refused.

"Because of this, he decided to take his revenge. The current decision by Farah to not speak out is possibly because she is pregnant and fears that her family will be killed if she tries to go back to them. Even if she had taken the brave stance of returning, she wouldn't have been accepted by society as she had been kidnapped and raped. The fear of rejection is also a possible reason."

According to the spokesperson, "Thousands of girls from the minorities here in Pakistan are kidnapped and forced into marriage. We are fighting against the cancer of kidnapping and these forced marriages."

The Hatim family, now in despair, has appealed to the high authorities to take actions or legislate laws against forced marriages that "convert" minorities.

Farah's elder brother, with tears in his eyes outside the court, then said, "We don't want this to happen again to any other girls. We have lost our sister and we know how it feels. The pain is unexplainable. We are targeted because we are minorities and we demand that the government not to abandon the minorities."

According to the Catholic News Agency (, a leading Vatican diplomat said that the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights should intervene in the case of Farah Hatim.
Freedom of religion is "a test for the respect of all human rights," said Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the head of the Holy See's permanent observer mission to the United Nations in Geneva.

At least 700 Christian girls are kidnapped and forced to convert to Islam every year, Fides reports.
Archbishop Tomasi called the alleged crime against Farah "a violation of human rights, freedom of conscience and religion, and abuse of personal freedom, freedom to choose how to live one's life."

No one can communicate with Farah at present, the archbishop said on June 15, 2011.

He suggested a mechanism be created for these situations to allow the family and state officials to investigate and determine the truth.

Archbishop Tomasi recommended that the U.N. Council for Human Rights create such a venue. Some U.N.-accredited Catholic NGOs are receiving direct information from Pakistan and are collecting data to present a report to the council.

"Solidarity with Christians who suffer for their faith . must be remembered," Archbishop Tomasi said.

International mechanisms to protect persecuted people should be used and the "indifference" of Western media should be "shaken" because "they often do not report the discrimination that millions of believers suffer."
Pakistan faces problems in the education system, problems of corruption and "widespread extremism," he added.

The Guardian newspaper in the UK has reported, "In much of Pakistan, marriage clearly is imposed on women against their will. Those brave enough to complain to the courts or run from their homes are hunted down by their families and forced to return or, all too frequently, murdered to restore a distorted sense of honor. The police usually turn a blind eye."

The story added, "Many of the women need medical care and psychological counseling, but they are free to leave the house by day to work or shop for their children, if they wish.

"One woman, Razia, was forced into a marriage when she was 13 and regularly beaten and locked in a room by her husband. 'He said if I told anyone he would kill me,' she said.

"After a beating late one night she broke down, poured kerosene over her head and set herself alight. 'I felt that death was better than this life,' she said. Her husband quickly divorced her and married again.
The United Nations views forced marriage as a form of human rights abuse, since it violates the principle of the freedom and autonomy of individuals. The Roman Catholic Church deems forced marriage grounds for granting an annulment - for a marriage to be valid both parties must give their consent freely.

Sadly, in this case, Farah Hatim now has to endure her "forced marriage" and "conversion," and all we can now do for her is to pray that she will be protected in this situation.

Rodrick Samson is a freelance journalist based in Pakistan.

Dan Wooding, 70, is an award winning British journalist now living in Southern California with his wife Norma, to whom he has been married for 48 years. They have two sons, Andrew and Peter, and six grandchildren who all live in the UK. He is the founder and international director of ASSIST (Aid to Special Saints in Strategic Times) and the ASSIST News Service (ANS) and was, for ten years, a commentator, on the UPI Radio Network in Washington, DC. He now hosts the weekly "Front Page Radio" show on KWVE in Southern California which is also carried throughout the United States. The program is also aired in Great Britain on Calvary Chapel Radio UK and also in Belize and South Africa. Besides this, Wooding is a host for His Channel Live, which is carried via the Internet to some 200 countries. You can follow Dan on Facebook under his name there or at ASSIST News Service. He is the author of some 44 books. Two of the latest include his autobiography, "From Tabloid to Truth", which is published by Theatron Books. To order a copy, press this link. Wooding, who was born in Nigeria of British missionary parents, has also recently released his first novel "Red Dagger" which is available this link.