Friday, August 19, 2011

No justice for kidnapping case

Sudan (MNN) ― Kidnapping, rape, torture, and threats are all methods of persecution suffered by Christians in Sudan at the hands of Muslims. One teenage girl who recently escaped from the hands of her Islamic abductors suffered all four.
Voice of the Martyrs, Canada(VCM) reported that Hiba Abdelfadil Anglo, 16, was abducted last year on June 17 by a Muslim gang. She was just reunited with her family last month after several months of trauma and suffering.

According to VCM's source with Compass Direct, Hiba was kidnapped while going to the Ministry of Education for transcripts to enter into secondary school. She didn't know she was being monitored and one of the kidnappers pretended to work for the Ministry of Education.

She was taken and moved around various locations in Khartoum by her kidnappers. All the while, Hiba was constantly pressured to convert from Christianity to Islam. She was often locked in a room and beaten until she lost consciousness.
In trying to recount the story to Compass Direct, Hiba broke into tears. "They did many bad things to me," she says.

The group members tortured her and referred to her family as "infidels." They would not let her pray Christian prayers, and the leader of the group sexually abused her. "Apart from abusing me sexually, he tried to force me to change my faith and kept reminding me to prepare for Ramadan," says Hiba.

Two days after Hiba was kidnapped, her family started receiving threatening phone calls and text messages demanding a random of 1,500 Sudanese pounds ($560 USD) if they wanted her back.

Hiba's mother, Anglo, went to the police station to open a case to find her daughter, but the police refused unless Anglo converted to Islam as well.

Hiba tried to run away three different times, but each time her captors caught her and severely beat her for trying to escape. Freedom finally did come when Hiba gave enough of a pretense of converting to Islam for her captors to lighten up on guarding her. She got out and begged a motorcyclist to give her a ride to her home two hours away.
Such a situation just shows the intensity of the religious profiling at the level of law enforcement in Sudan and the ongoing persecution there.

Even Hiba's captors were so sure of their safety if they were caught. Hiba says she was warned by her captors, "Even if you call the government, they will not do anything to us."

Anglo says, "It is good that those who prayed for us to know that their prayers were answered, and that my daughter is back at home with me. I also need prayers because I am jobless since the time my daughter was kidnapped."

Please pray for Christians in Sudan suffering persecution both from Islamic groups and from lack of justice by the law.

Pray for the emotional and spiritual wellness of Hiba and she and her family recover in Christ from this traumatic time.

Biden's Top China Priority Should be Gao Zhisheng's Freedom

BEIJING, Aug. 18, 2011 /Christian Newswire/ -- The following is submitted by He Geng together with Bob Xiqiu Fu of China Aid:

When Chinese President Hu Jintao was in Washington in January, feted by President Obama with all the formal trappings of a coveted state visit, I was standing across the street from the White House pleading for the release of my husband Gao Zhisheng, once hailed by the Chinese government as one of the nation's top 10 lawyers but now considered an enemy of the country he once served.

Vice President Joseph Biden is now in Beijing to further U.S.-China relations. But should the United States, which has always stood for freedom and justice, be pursuing relations with China when Gao Zhisheng, a peaceful fighter for the vulnerable and champion of the rule of law, is tortured and disappeared in the netherworld of China's police apparatus?  It is impossible to imagine.  It is my fervent hope that Vice President Biden can bring my husband back to us.

The Vice President's China visit coincides with the fifth anniversary of my husband's disappearance.  He was first taken by police on August 15, 2006.  His "crime" was providing pro bono legal defense to persecuted Falun Gong practitioners, house church Christians, helpless government petitioners, peasants whose land was sold out from under them by local officials to real estate developers, and other victims of abuse of power by Chinese officials.

Over the past five years he has disappeared into police detention no less than six times, and each time he was tortured.  Each time that he has been kidnapped by the police, they have held him for a longer period.  And each time, the torture has been worse.  The first time, they inserted toothpicks into his genitals.  More recently, he nearly died when his bare body was pistol-whipped for two days and two nights.  But there have been even worse tortures that he refuses to talk about.

We now know that when another activist -- artist Ai Weiwei -- was also illegally detained by police and tortured, he was shown video of my husband being tortured and told the same thing would be done to him.  The torture was so horrific that Ai confessed.

The irony of it is, for most of these five years of repeated disappearances, my husband should have been behind bars.  That's because in 2006, he was convicted of inciting subversion and sentenced to three years in prison and five years probation.  If my husband had been allowed to serve his three-year sentence "safe and sound" in prison, we would at least have known where he was, and we should have been allowed regular visits and mail and phone communication.

When U.S. government representatives raised my husband's case during bilateral talks in April and May on human rights, the economy and strategy, the Chinese side assured them that Gao was fine and had been in contact with his family members.  This is a flat out lie.

It has been 16 months since anyone has heard from him.  We have implored everyone we can think of -- from President Obama to the Beijing police official in charge of Gao's case -- for information on his whereabouts and condition.  We don't even know if he is alive.

The Vice President of the United States should make it his top priority to get the truth about my husband from the Chinese government, and the United States should demand that the Chinese authorities follow their own law and regulations.  No government that shows such flagrant disregard for its own code of law and that would so brutally torture its foremost champions of justice should be considered an equal partner of the United States.
He Geng has been tirelessly campaigning for her husband's freedom since coming to the United States in early 2009.  She wrote an appeal that was published in the Washington Post on February 4, 2010 and has spoken at congressional press conferences to draw attention to China's human rights record.

Bob Xiqiu Fu is founder and president of China Aid Association, which monitors and reports on religious freedom violations in China.  Fu has testified before many government and international organizations, including various U.S. congressional committees, the European Parliament and the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, and has been interviewed by media all over the world, including the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, the BBC, the Associated Press and Reuters.

Nepal’s Churches Live under Threat, Discrimination

Lack of official recognition exposes Christians to litigation and other perils.
By Sudeshna Sarkar

KATHMANDU, Nepal, August 18 (Compass Direct News) – Defying pouring rain and flooded streets, over two dozen people have gathered faithfully at the Putalisadak Church in the heart of capital city Kathmandu for the regular Thursday evening Bible study class, bringing a smile of satisfaction on the face of Pastor Dev Kumar Chetri.

The smile fades, however, when he talks about the problems that Nepal’s second-oldest church has faced due to government discrimination. Hundreds of other churches scattered through the former Hindu kingdom have faced the same problem.

The roots of the discrimination are imbedded in history. When four missionaries from neighboring India’s Kerala state came to Kathmandu Valley and founded the Bethshalom Putalisadak Church in 1953, preaching non-Hindu religions was a punishable offense. A powerful Nepalese aristocrat, Col. Nara Raj Shumsher Jung Bahadur Rana, who had secretly converted to Christianity in India, helped build the Protestant church on land bought in his name and those of two others.

“As per the old laws, churches were not allowed to register as religious institutions,” said Chari Bahadur Gahatraj, a Protestant pastor. “They functioned either as Non-Governmental Organizations [NGOs] or personal properties. In 2006, when Parliament formally declared Nepal secular, we thought it would change and churches would be recognized as religious institutions.”

Five years later, however, discrimination against Christians continues, Gahatraj said.
“We have not even been mentioned in the new policies and programs of the government proposed in Parliament this year,” he said.

The Putalisadak church suffered a crisis when two of the men who were co-owners of the land went to court to reclaim their share. The church land had to be carved up to resolve the dispute. Then it suffered another blow when the land it had bought with donations from parishioners in Lele village in neighboring Lalitpur district to build a cemetery 10 years ago could not be used due to fierce resistance by locals.

“This is the saddest story,” Pastor Chetri said. “Our church records indicate there are nearly 2 million Christians and about 4,000 churches in Nepal now. But most of them don’t have a final resting place, as Christianity is still not recognized in Nepal. It is as if we don’t exist.”   
Operation World’s estimate of the number of Christians in Nepal is lower than the church’s – 850,801 – but the latest edition estimates a higher number of congregations, 9,780, than the Putalisadak church does.

The third-oldest church in Nepal, Nepali Isahi Mandali, founded in 1957, was also dragged to court by a resentful neighbor.

“When our congregation started growing, in 2006 we started building a bigger hall to accommodate them,” said Pastor Samuel Karthak. “But it was opposed by a neighbor, who went to court. The dispute went up to the Supreme Court before it was resolved. We would have felt so much more secure if the churches had been recognized as religious institutions. However, we are still regarded as second-class citizens, and churches as places that exist only to convert people. We still don’t have a voice.”

Stung by government apathy, Christians this month joined forces with other excluded religious communities like Buddhists and Muslims to begin a campaign seeking an end to religious discrimination.

The Inter-Religious Secularism Protection Movement (IRSPM) is asking the government to allow churches, mosques, Buddhist monasteries and all other institutions run by religious minorities to be registered as religious institutions and be exempted from paying taxes.

“Despite ratifying several international conventions and despite becoming secular, Nepal has not recognized Buddhist monasteries, mosques, churches, Sikh gurdwaras [worship halls] and other religious institutions belonging to the religious minorities as religious trusts,” said Ishu Jung Karki, IRSPM’s acting coordinator. “Instead, it is nurturing laws that promote one particular religion.”

The campaigners are demanding that the government amend the draft of a new penal code that has triggered widespread controversy and condemnation over the inclusion of clauses that make conversions a punishable offense. Instead, they are asking for a new Religion Act as well as Religion Commission to resolve religious disputes.
Christians make up 2.85 percent of the population of Nepal, a nation that is 16 percent Buddhist and 4.4 percent Muslim; Hindus are the majority at 75 percent, according toOperation World.

For the first time, Christians and other religious minorities are seeking proportional representation in all state organs such as the army, judiciary and civil service on the basis of population. Though Nepal’s new Parliament has 601 seats with the provision that the prime minister should nominate representatives from unrepresented communities, the stipulation has been virtually ignored. Most ignored have been Christians.

The campaign has also expressed concern at strident propaganda by a section of the Nepalese media against religious minorities; these media representatives say the religious minorities’ proposals aim to spread “envy, hatred and strife.” The Christian community has been especially alarmed by a recent article in a popular English daily, authored by the editor of a financial newspaper, who alleged that all international NGOs that had set up office in Nepal aimed to propagate Christianity.

Perhaps the greatest concern by Christians is about the delay in promulgating a new constitution that was to have bolstered the nascent republic’s secular status. The major political parties failed to meet two deadlines – one last year and one in May – to get the charter ready. A third deadline looms on Aug. 31, and it is evident that not even the first draft of the document will be ready.

The inordinate delay has given militant Hindu groups time to push for the restoration of Hinduism as the state religion and for a referendum to decide if Nepal should remain secular.

“The government should implement the new constitution by Aug. 31,” reads an IRSPM press statement. “That is the mandate of the people as well as the pro-democracy movement.”
The pro-democracy movement ended Hindu King Gyanendra Shah’s army-backed rule and brought the political parties to power.

Copyright 2011 Compass Direct News

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Zimbabwe: Chief Justice grants excommunicated Kunonga control over Anglican properties

Zimbabwe's Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku has just released an interim order -- valid until the matter is finalised in the Supreme Court -- confirming Bishop Chad Gandiya as the Bishop of Harare, but upholding the 24 July 2009 High Court ruling granting renegade Anglican bishop Nolbert Kunonga control over all Anglican Church assets in Harare.

As these properties belong to the Church of the Province of Central Africa, from which Kunonga was excommunicated in 2007 on the grounds of schism, Bishop Gandiya is right to ask, "How can he [Kunonga] be given custodianship of properties of an organisation of which he is not a member?"

Kunonga gets control
The Zimbabwean, 12 Aug 2011

Supreme Court gives bishop Kunonga custodianship of Anglican Church’s assets
By William Matsvimbo, for Religion in Zimbabwe, 12 Aug 2011

Kunonga gets custody of church property
by Irene Madongo, for SW Radio Africa, 16 August 2011

Bishop Gandiya has told the Anglican Communion News Service (ACNS) that the diocese and the Church of the Province of Central Africa (CPCA) are waiting to see what will happen next. While the ruling means that Kunonga's legal challenge to Gandiya's installation as Bishop of Harare is finally over, the ownership of Anglican properties remains in the hands of the Supreme Court. "If the Supreme Court does not return the properties to our church then we will have no way of appealing the decision," Gandiya said.

In a letter to his supporters, Bishop Gandiya writes: "All along he [Kunonga] has been abusing church members and misusing church properties with the support of some in the Zimbabwe Republic Police and nobody stopped him. [Background] We thought that the laws of the land would stop him but now we see the law legitimising his impunity. We have tried to engage various responsible authorities but to no avail.

"We believe that this is setting a very dangerous precedent in the country. Dr Kunonga is claiming ownership of properties that do not belong to him. This is daylight robbery now with the support of the law. We continue to hope for the time when reason will prevail to the glory of God."

Bishop Gandiya expressed concern over what the ruling might mean for Anglican clergy. "You can well imagine the distress and chaos this is likely to result, especially for our priests who are living in rectories. I am very concerned about the likely disturbances to my priests and their families."


On 16 August the Anglican Communion News Service reported the first eviction.

"The Rev. Dzikamai Mudenda, his wife and their extended family were forced to leave St. James Anglican Church in Mabvuku, Diocese of Harare, in the wake of a High Court judgment that Kunonga had interim custody of church properties.

"Other priests living in parish rectories have received stamped copies of the High Court judgment from supporters of Kunonga who, in one case, were accompanied by the police. The priests, including Friar Joshua from Bishop Gaul College, have all been told to move out.

"Bishop Chad Gandiya of Harare said Aug. 15 that alternative accommodation has been found for Mudenda and that they are preparing for the eviction of other priests.

"'Our parishes are busy finding alternative accommodation for them,' he said. 'We don't know who he [Kunonga] is going to put in these houses. This is not going to be easy at all. It will disrupt their family life and ministry. I have been busy this evening getting in touch with my priests and encouraging them.'"

As eviction of Anglican priests begins, Harare bishop prays 'God help us'
By ACNS staff, 16 August 2011

Michael Chingore, registrar for the Anglican Diocese of Harare,confirmed to the Episcopal News Service (ENS): "The Rev. Dzikamai Mudenda and his family left after they were threatened by people from the Kunonga group who came with copies of the court judgment. They have been going around the vestries and parishes dropping copies of the judgment and demanding that the church officers leave."

The global head of the Anglican Church, the Archbishop of Canterbury,Rowan Williams, will visit Zimbabwe in early October. He is pressing for a meeting with Robert Mugabe, but the President's Office has not as yet confirmed an appointment.

Rowan Williams has appealed to Robert Mugabe previously -- unsurprisingly, to no avail.

On the other hand, the universal head of the Church, the Lord Jesus Christ, does not need Mugabe's permission for anything. The Church must intercede for the persecuted church in Zimbabwe.


Another article of interest:
Zimbabwean Churches Told to Support Ruling Party—or Else
Mugabe regime violently targeting wide spectrum of congregations.
George Conger, for Christianity Today, 10 Aug 2011

Bloody Ramadan in Iraq

Iraq’s day of carnage on Monday may result in this year’s Islamic fast month of Ramadan matching last year’s when it comes to deadly violence in the country, reports. Some 70 people were killed in multiple attacks across the country, with the choice of targets pointing to the strong likelihood that al-Qaeda-linked Sunni militants were responsible. 

The surge of violence comes roughly halfway through Ramadan. When Ramadan began at the beginning of August, the secretary-general of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) issued a statement calling on Muslims “to respect the sanctity of this blessed month and put an end to all forms of enmity and blood-shedding.”

Kidnapped lawyer still missing

China (MNN) ― Last Monday, August 15, marked the fifth year since Christian lawyer Gao Zhisheng was first kidnapped and tortured by Chinese officials. It has been over a year since his last kidnapping took Gao off the face of the map.

ChinaAid, a Voice of the Martyrs partner, formally petitioned the UN this past Monday to start an investigation into the illegal kidnapping and torture of the disappeared Gao.

The request was filed by the legal counsel of China Aid Association with the United Nations Special Rapporteur of Torture.

Gao first earned the Chinese government's attention in 2005 when he took on "sensitive" cases representing persecuted Christians, groups, and house churches in court. His wife and two young children were placed under communist police surveillance.

On August 15, 2006, Gao was kidnapped by police from the home of his sister, confined, and tortured. Authorities later charged him with inciting subversion or rebellion.

Gao was kidnapped again on September 21, 2007 after writing a detailed report to the U.S. Congress on the Chinese government abuses of human rights. His kidnappers brutally tortured Gao for 50 days before releasing him with a death threat if he spoke of his torture.

However, death threats wouldn't stop Gao. He waited until his family had escaped police surveillance and gained asylum with ChinaAid before publishing an account of his last kidnapping and torture.

A third kidnapping took place in February 2009 following the publishing of his torture account. Gao was released after the international community's outrage gained enough attention.

The last time Gao was heard from was in April 2010 before he was kidnapped again. European Parliament president Jerzy Buzek says he is assuming the worst after reading Gao's previous account of the torture he suffered.

The U.S. State Department has inquired of Chinese officials concerning Gao's whereabouts, and the UN declared Gao's treatment by the Chinese government to be illegal.

In response, the Chinese government blatantly told the UN to "mind its own business," saying this is a matter of internal affair in their country. This is despite the fact that China signed the UN Declaration of Universal Human Rights as well as 20 other UN agreements and documents.

ChinaAid's legal counselor, David E. Taylor, states, ""Nonetheless, we believe it is important for the international community to see again how the Chinese Communist Party responds with arrogance and recalcitrance to the UN, and to show the world--especially Gao's family and the Chinese government--that Gao has not been forgotten for even one second, and never will be."

Hopefully, through Gao's bold refusal to back down from supporting the persecuted in the face of threats and trial, other Christians will be bold to stand up for the Gospel and their fellow believers.

Please pray for the UN to pursue investigations of the illegal conduct of the Chinese government towards Gao. Pray that Gao would be found and released and that the Lord would protect him from harm.

Click here to sign the petition for Gao's freedom.

Iranian, Syrian ties spell trouble in the Middle East

Middle East (MNN) ― There are growing concerns that Iran and Syria are becoming fast friends who share not only ideology, but also methodology. Iran's open backing of Syria has raised some red flags as the Assad regime deals with the uprisings of the Arab Spring.

As Iraq prepares for the eventual U.S. troop drawdown, security there seems to be in question with the recent week of bombings. The greater concern, though, is what could happen between the  two Shia-leaning countries without a force in between them. Iran and Syria could be open to overtures from Hamas and Hezbollah, which would make the region a "Shiite Crescent."

Once Syria's crisis gets settled, will the region return to peace? Sara Afshari with SAT-7 says, "Iran likes to be the main power player in the Middle East, not only as the powerful country but as the leader of Islam. They like to achieve power and authority in whatever way they can around those countries, including Syria, Iraq, and even Bahrain."

Brutal repression of dissidents is the usual pattern--one that hasn't escaped the notice of SAT-7, a Christian satellite television Ministry to the Middle East and North Africa. Afshari explains, "Christianity inside Iran is really growing. Seeing themselves and seeing that Christianity is growing rapidly inside their own country is a little bit hypocritical for them."

While SAT-7 PARS hasn't been directly targeted, their team has noticed an uptick in harassment on the government level from Iran. "You see a wave of arrests and more difficult situations for Christians in Iran--more persecution, more imprisonment for new believers and new (Christian) leaders."

The young people of Iran are restless. They're looking for a message that rings of truth, Afshari explains. "They lost their hope, their motivation. That is why we feel that we need to be there for them--emotionally, psychologically and spiritually."

The hope of Christ has been embraced warmly by the Farsi-speaking audience. "Almost all television channels have become very political. When they watch our channel and see that we don't take a side, but we try to be there with them with our prayers, with the message of hope and peace, they feel it's a place where they can come and rest."

With all of the oppression, fighting and disillusionment, the love of Christ runs counter to nearly every other message right now, says Afshari. "We are there with the message of hope, and especially with the message of reconciliation, with the message of forgiveness, with the message of living together peacefully and in harmony--with the message of the Gospel to heal the wounds."

Through SAT-7 PARS programming on satellite TV, the house church movement in Iran is growing. People are contacting the counseling centers to find out more. Even though recurrent attacks on Christianity are brutal in the region and many believers are in jail, the light of Christ is shining even brighter.
Afshari notes that spiritual warfare is intense and that intercession is needed for the growth and protection of Christians. "Pray for wisdom for our teachers, our presenters and our writers--[that they would know] how to present programs which can touch people's hearts and impact their lives."
The hope is that in the end, SAT-7 PARS can be one of the tools God uses to bring freedom to the countries that would be part of the "Shiite Crescent." Learn more about SAT-7 here.

Sixteen Degar Montagnard Christian Worshippers Attacked, Brutally Beaten

Twelve Beaten Unconscious, One Arrested by Vietnamese Police

By Michael Ireland
Senior Correspondent, ASSIST News Service

WASHINGTON, DC (ANS) -- A violent attack against indigenous minority Christians in the central highlands of Vietnam took place this past July, leaving sixteen men and women severely injured and one man still under arrest; his welfare remains unknown to date.

ICC (International Christian Concern) says the systematic persecution of Degar Montagnard Christians continues, with this brutal attack as proof of the regime's purposeful policing, harassment, and aggressive oppression of this indigenous people and minority religious group.

In a media advisory, ICFC says that on July 7, 2011, at approximately 8 o'clock in the evening, Vietnamese security forces and police descended upon a worship service in the village of Buon Kret Krot (H'Ra commune, Mang Yang district, Plei Ku city, in Gai Lai province), and began kicking and beating the attendees.

According to ICC, security forces threatened the villagers, stating: "If anyone worships like this way, we will return to arrest you all and put you in prison for five years."

The ICC report states that twelve men and four women were beaten, and of these, ten men and two women were violently beaten to unconsciousness.

ICC said police beat A Jung, a 29-year old male, repeatedly with a baton until he collapsed to the ground where they continued to kick and stomp on his stomach and back until he lost consciousness. A Jung was taken away by police and remains in custody; he has likely experienced torture while imprisoned.

Other villagers were beaten with batons, firearms and tree branches, and kicked and stomped upon by the Vietnamese security forces. The youngest victim was Y Kang, a 13-year old girl.

ICC explained that "Vietnam has a long-standing practice of policing, harassing, and arresting Christians who are unaffiliated with the government-sanctioned and only legally-recognized religious bodies in the nation."

According to Scott Johnson, with the Montagnard Foundation, "The Vietnamese government has targeted indigenous Degar Montagnards for simply being members of Christian house churches, in a long running policy designed to eliminate independent Christian house churches.

"Hundreds of Degar Montagnards remain in prison today and in custody many prisoners are brutally tortured and even killed. There is a shameful silence from the international community, including the United Nations and State Department, as to the plight of these forgotten prisoners even while the evidence of systematic religious persecution is overwhelming."

According to Human Rights Watch, since 2001 more than 350 Degar Montagnards have been arrested and sentenced to long prison sentences on vaguely-defined charges that are considered to be subversive to the Vietnamese regime.

ICC's Regional Manager for Southeastern Asia, Kris Elliott, said, "We call upon the Vietnamese government to cease this systematic practice of violence and persecution against Christians, especially Degar Montagnards. We also urge the US Department of State to once again designate Vietnam as a Country of Particular Concern, as conditions for religious minorities have vastly deteriorated since the designation was lifted in 2006.

"A CPC designation backed by strong US policies has the potential to pave a path towards significant improvements for Christians and other religious minorities in Vietnam."

ICC is a Washington-DC based human rights organization that exists to help persecuted Christians worldwide.

ICC provides Awareness, Advocacy, and Assistance to the worldwide persecuted Church. For additional information or for an interview, contact ICC at 800-422-5441 or 301-585-5915.

** 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 make a donation online under 'Donate' tab, then look for 'Michael Ireland Media Missionary' under 'Donation Category' to support his stated mission of 'Truth Through Christian Journalism.' Michael is a member in good standing of th e National Writers Union, Society of Professional Journalists, Religion Newswriters 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

Motives for Church Burnings in Indonesia Questioned

Outside Islamist groups use lack of permits as pretext for violence.
By Victor Raqual Ambarita
JAKARTA, Indonesia, August 17 (Compass Direct News) – Suspected Islamists were behind the burning of three homes used as churches on Sumatra Island’s Riau Province this month, though a political motive may also have played a role, Christian leaders said.
Muslim mobs burned the meeting places of a Batak Karo Protestant Church (GBKP) congregation and a Pentecostal Church in Indonesia (GPDI) group on Aug. 1, and that of a Methodist Church of Indonesia on Aug. 2, all in Kuantan Singingi district.
Provincial GBKP leader Sahat Tarigan reportedly said about 100 people on motorcycles arrived at the home at 11 p.m. on Aug. 1, throwing stones, threatening church members with knives and ultimately pouring gasoline and setting it on fire. A number of church members were inside painting at the time of the attack, but there were no casualties, Tarigan told Radio 68H News Agency.
The same mob also set the GPDI home on fire some five kilometers (three miles) away, he said.
“We do not know where they came from, but certainly we have no problem with local people,” he told Radio 68H. “Those who burned the churches are not residents who live around us.”
Tarigan said the home where the GBKP church meets was built about three years ago, and area resident have never objected to any worship there. He said he did not know the reason mobs set the home on fire, though Metrotvnews reported that an area Muslim said the site lacks a permit and that the singing bothers Muslims fasting by day for Ramadan.
But the executive secretary of the Communion of Churches in Indonesia, Jeirry Sumampow, said he suspected political motives. An election in April in which all churches in the Kuantan Tengah sub-district backed the winning regent may have played a role, he said.
“I regret that the church has been the victim of political in-fighting,” Sumampow told Compass.
He said those who burned the house churches were not dressed as hard-line Muslim demonstrators customarily are. He noted that the incident occurred only in the one sub-district where the churches backed the victorious candidate.
“At the time of the election there was tension, because the Christians in the sub-district openly stated their support for the candidate who is now elected,” he said.
Sumampow said he regretted that police were slow to react to the attacks of Aug. 1, which contributed to the third house church burning on Aug. 2.
The governor of Riau Province urged citizens to refrain from vigilante violence. Riau Provincial Administration spokesman Chairul Rizky said the governor ordered the regent of Kuantan Singingi to urge residents to resolve conflicts with dialogue rather than force.
Rizky said that although the house churches do not have permits, arson cannot be tolerated. Though the governor ordered police to protect church sites that have permits, this does not mean that people can attack those that do not have permits, he said.
“The governor ordered police to protect places of worship that have been permitted, and to not let anyone take the law into their own hands to solve problems,” Rizky told Radio 68H. “So, we hope this problem can be resolved in a short time, so that Christians can pray without being disturbed.”
He added that the three house churches did not have permits because their leaders sought only housing authorization, rather than church permits.
The head of Criminal Police in Kuansing, AKP Darmawan, confirmed the attacks, telling the structures set on fire were not church buildings but private homes made of wood.
The vice chairman of the Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace, Bonar Tigor Naipospos, said he regretted the burning of churches during Ramadan, adding that Muslims who are fasting during the month are supposed to be able to restrain their passions.
The former chairman of the Muhammadiyah socio-economic reform movement in Indonesia, H. Ahmad Shafi Ma’arif, was furious over the church burnings.
“Only crazy people want to burn churches, and no matter what the reason, such incidents cannot be tolerated,” Ma’arif reportedly said, adding that such incidents continue to occur because law enforcement is weak.
At press time Riau Provincial Police had reportedly questioned 21 witnesses and arrested two suspects.
Church Shuttered
In West Jakarta, about 100 hard-line Muslims from the Betawi Rempug Forum (FBR) went to a three-storey shop where Maranata Bible Church meets in Jalan Kacang Tanah, Bojong Indah, on July 31 and demanded that it close because it was operating without a permit.
After meeting with the Islamist group for half an hour, church leaders agreed to stop worship services and remove the church sign until it obtains a permit, though no area residents had complained about the church.
Promising to obtain the permit from the mayor of West Jakarta immediately, Pastor Silas Kusah said he had already obtained permission from local residents for the church to operate. Area residents have never complained about the existence of the church, which has been active for three-and-a- half years, he said.
The head of the Cengkareng sub-district reportedly said the church had no permits because residents had presented no objections.
The Setara Institute’s Bonar said that as no one in the area disputed the existence of the church, there should be no problems with the processing of its application for a permit.
Copyright 2011 Compass Direct News

Matthias Haghnejad Arrested

On August 17, 2011, in Iran, by Jason DeMars

Brother Matthias Haghnejad, from Bandar-e Anzali, Iran was arrested around 11:00 AM CST on August 17, 2011 in Rasht. He was in the home of a friend and was arrested there. You may recall, recently, he was acquitted of the charge of activities against the Order. More details on the charges against him and his current circumstances will follow, God willing. Pray for his safety and quick release.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

India Briefs: Recent Incidents of Persecution

By Mahruaii Sailo
Chhattisgarh, India, August 17 (Compass Direct News) – After receiving a letter from Hindu extremists demanding the closure of Grace Church in Dhamtari, district government officials on Aug. 6 stopped the church’s worship service, warning those present that they could be attacked if they continued to hold services in the area. The Global Council of Indian Christians reported that the officials warned that if there is anymore Christian worship at Grace Church, the Christians would be responsible for any subsequent rioting. The church, led by Pastor Rohit Sahu, discontinued meeting, but area Christian leaders are taking steps to solve the matter.

Andhra Pradesh – In Ramagundam, Karimnagar, police on Aug. 3 arrested a pastor, five of his evangelistic team members and a local bystander after Hindu extremists filed a complaint against them of forceful conversion. All India Christian Council representative Moses Vattipalli told Compass that the Christian team was on an evangelistic outreach that included scrawling Bible verses on the rocks of a hill near a Hindu temple when the extremists appeared and began verbally abusing them, took their cell phones and beat them. The assailants forced the Christians to erase the Scripture verses and manhandled an onlooker who had been reading them, according to Vattipalli. Six Christians and the bystander were charged with promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion and were sent to the district sub-jail of Karimnagar, he said, adding that they were released on bail after two days.

Uttarakhand – A mob of about 300 Hindu extremists in Makhdoompur on July 31 beat Christians at a church service and accused Pastor Bachan Singh of forceful conversion. The All India Christian Council (AICC) reported that as the church was about to take the Lord’s Supper, a large mob of Hindu extremists gathered, accusing the congregation of forceful conversion. Those the extremists beat included women and children as the extremists demanded that the Christians stop all church activities, according to the AICC. Local police arrived after about 25 minutes and stopped the commotion, and no one was seriously hurt.

Chhattisgarh – Police in Bilaspur, Kawardha district on July 29 arrested Pastor Diwarkar Kumar after an attorney along with Hindu extremists filed a complaint against him of forceful conversion. A source told Compass that on July 28 Rani Matle visited a lawyer for help in submitting a legal request to the church stating her wish to attend a seminary. Another lawyer, Naval Kishore Pandey, learned that Believers’ Church Pastor Diwaker Kumar had advised her to do so and contacted a local Hindu extremist group, which filed a complaint against Kumar of forceful conversion. Subsequently police took Kumar and Matle into custody for questioning, the source said. Matle told police that there was no forceful conversion and stated that she willingly chose to follow Christ, and police released the pastor without charges. The next day, however, police summoned Kumar, Matle and her father to the station and forced Bharat Matle to sign a First Information Report (FIR) against Kumar “for deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings or any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs,” the source said. The FIR also cited sections 3 and 4 of the Chhattisgarh law outlawing forcible and fraudulent conversion. The pastor was sent to Pandariya Jail and was released on bail on Aug. 5.
Madhya Pradesh – Hindu extremists in Dewihar, Bajna, Ratlam on July 15 barged into a prayer meeting conducted by a Christian convert from Hinduism, damaging a roof and ransacking the house, stealing 20,000 rupees (US$440), some silver and five kilograms of corn. The Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) reported that they entered Suresh Maida’s house and verbally abused those at the gathering for their faith in Christ. The Christians filed a police complaint, according to GCIC, but at press time police had made no arrests.
Uttar Pradesh – Police in Katra Divan Kheda, Dhagpur, Unnoa on July 14 arrested pastors Om Prakash, Ganga Prasad, Premshankar, Desh Kumar and one identified only as Vinod of the New India Church of God for leading a prayer meeting in Prakash’s home. The Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) reported that the Hindu radicals ordered Prakash and his family to give up their faith in Christ and stop the services in their home. Police along with the Hindu extremists had earlier threatened Prakash’s wife, Uma, and her three grown daughters if they continued in their faith, according to the GCIC. The church subsequently stopped Christian activities in the area.

Orissa – Hindu extremists in Banapur, Khurda, on July 8 harassed a Christian family for their conversion from Hinduism to Christ, ending in a Hindu woman beating her Christian daughter-in-law. The Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) reported that after Satyaban Nayak and his family began to trust Christ as Lord and Savior and were healed from physical ills, Nayak’s mother strongly opposed her son’s worship of Christ and warned him to either forsake Christianity or be deprived of his birthright; she also told him she might commit suicide if he and his family did not deny Christ. When this failed, according to the GCIC, she planned a village meeting or “panchayat”  with area hard-line Hindus so that the community would pressure him into forsaking his faith, but the village head questioned him and his wife about their faith in Christ and found them guilty of no wrongdoing. Nayak’s mother took a firewood log from a burning furnace and began beating her daughter-in-law in front of the crowd, cursing and verbally abusing her, knocking her to the ground as the extremists demanded the family’s expulsion from the village, the GCIC reported, adding that Nayak’s wife, Sarojini, continued to pray and praise the Lord amid the beatings. As her mother-in-law continued to deal her painful blows, Sarojini prayed louder, praising God with calls of “Halleluiah” and asking forgiveness for her, according to the GCIC. The village head and some villagers rescued the Christians.
Copyright 2011 Compass Direct News

Coptic Christian Killed in Attack on Village in Upper Egypt

Muslim mob murders him in his home in assault on village.
By Wayne King
ISTANBUL, August 10 (Compass Direct News) – A Coptic Christian was killed and several others were injured in Upper Egypt after Muslims on Sunday (Aug. 7) attacked a predominantly Christian village following an argument between a Muslim and Christian.
The attack at Nazlet Faragallah village in Minya, 218 kilometers (136 miles) south of Cairo, lasted until Monday morning (Aug. 8), Christians said. The attackers raided an unknown number of homes owned by Christian villagers and set eight on fire, area residents said.
The assailants killed Maher Nassif, 46, a civil servant and livestock farmer, when he tried to defend his home. The men burst into Nassif’s house, shot him in the head and slit his throat while his teenage son watched from under a bed where he was hiding, Christian villagers said. The men looted the home and stole Nassif’s livestock as his son escaped into the night, according to villagers who spoke with the boy.
One villager, Melad Thabet, a 25-year-old teacher, said he spent the night of the attack listening to gunfire and the sound of people “weeping and screaming in the village.”
“Any [Christian-owned] house close to a Muslim house was looted and attacked,” Thabet told Compass. “And if someone had stood up to them, they would have killed them as they did with Maher.”
Initial reports on what sparked the attack varied widely, but as the dust settled, the general consensus was that on Saturday (Aug. 6) a Muslim man driving a three-wheeled taxi known across Egypt as a touk-touk had an argument with a Coptic woman in Nazlet Faragallah. The nature of the argument could not be confirmed, but several Coptic men came to the aid of the woman, ending the dispute.
Several hours later, a group of Muslims arrived at the village church and started pelting congregants with rocks as they left the building, villagers said. The Copts responded in kind. Several people suffered cuts and bruises, and some of the windows of the church building were broken.
According to Thabet, the leader of the Muslims attacking the church was the cousin of the man involved in the initial argument involving the Coptic woman. He is also a police lieutenant stationed in the village. The lieutenant was hit in the face with a rock, Thabet said.
In response to the villagers’ claims, police have issued their own report about the incident, stating that it started on Sunday (Aug. 7) after a Coptic man began screaming insults and throwing rocks at Muslims exiting prayer at one of the two mosques near the village. Thabet said this version “doesn’t make any sense.”
One mosque is in a Muslim area, and any Copt going there “would be killed,” he said. The other mosque near the village, he added, is located at the far edge of the community and only one Muslim attends it – the man who opened it.
Regardless of what triggered the incident, by Sunday groups of Muslim men carrying long knives and automatic weapons were seen gathering around the village.
“They went around all the neighboring villages spreading a rumor that ‘the Christians burned the mosque and killed some Muslim people,’ which isn’t true,” Thabet said. “And we suddenly found that the village was surrounded by Muslims from everywhere.”
Late that night, after the Ramadan fast had ended for the day, the attacks began, Thabet and other sources said.
Waiting for the Army
Running through the community shooting rifles into the air and screaming, “Allahu Akbar [God is greater],” the Muslim villagers attacked houses and businesses isolated on the edge of the village, Thabet said.
They forced the victims out of their homes and then looted their property, he said, and not all homes were set on fire. Thabet named six different families whose homes were destroyed but said a total of eight homes were torched, and not all homes that were looted were set ablaze.
The house of the parish priest was razed. He hid on the upper floors of his home during the attack and somehow escaped the fire with only minor scrapes and bruises, according to Thabet.
Nazlet Faragallah is a Christian-majority village surrounded by a string of Muslim villages. The villagers are largely impoverished and make their living by farming and doing sporadic work at a nearby rock quarry.
During the attack, only 10 soldiers and one officer were posted to Nazlet Faragallah, an area with a combined population of about 10,000 people, according to 2006 United Nations population figures. Thabet said that in addition to a lack of manpower, the army isn’t equipped to stop violence in the community. Because of this, he said, local soldiers are simply unwilling to get involved in any disputes.
It took some four hours for soldiers to get back up from other army units in the area, he said.
“Every time we asked him [a police officer] to get involved to stop what was happening, he kept saying he was ‘waiting for the army,’” Thabet said. “Even when they [police] came, the number was very, very small. It didn’t help at all. They weren’t even able to protect themselves. They didn’t even have weapons; they had sticks. Having sticks is not the right thing to face machine guns.”
According to the Egyptian newspaper Watani, seven Muslims were arrested because of the incident. One Coptic man was arrested and charged with illegal possession of weapons. Some fear he was arrested to give officials a bargaining tool to force the Copts into a “reconciliation meeting” agreement with unfavorable terms.
Based on the concept of traditional tribal meetings, such reconciliation meetings are ostensibly meant for parties to come to amicable solutions outside of court. In reality however, the meetings are used to deny Copts their rights when they are attacked, human rights activists in Egypt say.
A reconciliation meeting took place on Tuesday (Aug. 9), said Zakaria, a Coptic villager who would only give his first name. He said Muslims and Christians involved apologized for the incident, and the council agreed to fine anyone else causing further trouble.
Nassif’s killer has not yet been arrested, in spite of being identified by his son. Zakaria said the atmosphere in the village was so tense on Monday morning, after the attacks, that Christians buried Nassif’s body outside of the village.
“They usually hold the funeral prayers in the village, but because of what happened they had to do it outside the village,” he said.
Thabet said relations between Christians and Muslims in Egypt have gotten much worse since the Jan 25-Feb. 11 revolution. He blamed worsened relations on the increased radicalization of certain Muslims in Egypt who want to “complete their faith by killing Christians.”
An incident like the one in Nazlet Faragallah can happen “for any silly reason,” he said.
“What does it do if you just keep chanting ‘Islam! Islam!’ when there is a stupid problem between two ordinary people in the village?” he asked rhetorically. “There is no relation between two people just having an ordinary argument and having religion getting involved in it. Sometimes religion controls people. They don’t think, they just do.”
Thabet said he has fled his home in anticipation of other attacks. Keeping in touch with his neighbors by phone, he said that at night there are still skirmishes on the edges of the village.
“Any house near the fields and away from anything can get looted and attacked by the thugs and these people,” he said. “A lot of the villagers have left to escape with their lives. All our young men have locked themselves in their houses and try to hide, just waiting for whatever is going to happen to them – either waiting for their house to be burned or for somebody to get in and attack them.”
Zakaria confirmed that many residents have fled the village.
“In the beginning, the people who were leaving were the women and children,” he said, adding that now “the people who live in the houses at the edge of the village” are leaving too.
Zakaria was unable to leave, he said, because it was still too dangerous to pass through the villages surrounding Nazlet Faragallah on foot.
Thabet said he doesn’t think the village will be safe again.
“When I was in the village, I saw my family and friends getting shot at, and I couldn’t do anything for them,” he said. ‘I didn’t know who to contact, who to call to protect us. I hope God protects us.”
Copyright 2011 Compass Direct News

Insurgent Blast Ravages Church Building in Iraq

Attack on Syriac Orthodox building in Kirkuk is its third in five years.
By Damaris Kremida
ISTANBUL, August 16 (Compass Direct News) – An insurgent blast left a church building in Kirkuk, Iraq severely damaged on Monday (Aug. 15) in a second round of attacks against the city’s Christian community in two weeks.
The bombing of the Syriac Orthodox Church of Mar Afram was the only attack against Christian targets amid a wave of violence that swept across Iraq yesterday, hitting 17 cities and claiming about 70 lives, according to The Associated Press.
An explosive device next to one of the church’s walls exploded at 1:20 a.m. on Monday. Photos showed the bricks of one of the side walls strewn across the church floor and furniture, and one of the metal doors twisted open.
In two other separate attacks on Monday, insurgents placed deadly vehicle bombs in the center of Kirkuk, killing one and injuring four.
No Christians were killed in the attack against the church. Police announced higher protective measures for Kirkuk’s churches, according to Alsumaria Iraqi Satellite TV Network.
On Aug. 2, insurgents targeted three churches in the city. Police discovered and disarmed a bomb near a Protestant church building and one by a Syriac Orthodox church. A third bomb exploded in front of the Holy Family Syriac Catholic Church, killing 13 Muslims who lived nearby.
Abuna Gourgis Alyes, a priest at the Mar Afram church, told Compass that Monday’s attack was the third and most devastating one against his church in the last five years. The church building suffered minor damage from bomb blasts in 2006 and 2008.
A Protestant pastor who requested anonymity spoke to Compass by phone as he stood in the rubble of Mar Afram on a visit to the Orthodox priest’s church.
“Now I am here and seeing it with my own eyes,” the pastor said, overwhelmed at the sight of the blown-out wall and wreckage. “They have to demolish the church and rebuild it.”
The pastor’s church building was also damaged in the Aug. 2 attack, as security forces tried to neutralize a car bomb parked in front of the church complex.
Alyes said no one was hurt in Monday’s attack, but that he did not know how he would continue to perform mass for the church’s 90 families. In a matter-of-fact voice, he said the greatest damage to the congregation is the fear that will surely drive more families out of town to the Kurdish part of Iraq or beyond the country’s borders. Since January, 10 of Mar Afram’s families have fled Kirkuk.
“Many will leave Kirkuk because of this explosion,” Alyes said. “Many Christians take this event as an opportunity to make their decision to leave the city. I am sure many will leave after this.”
According to Christian support organization Open Doors, there are 300,000 to 350,000 Christians left in Iraq, down from 1.2 million before the 2003 U.S.-led military operation in the country. The U.S. government plans to withdraw its troops from Iraq by the end of 2011.
Kirkuk and its surrounding towns belong to an oil-rich territory claimed by Kurdish and Arab administrations. For years authorities have postponed a referendum to determine which side would have the right to Kirkuk, an ethnically diverse city that includes Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen, including a small minority of Arab Christians.
The conflict over the city has put Christians in the cross-fire of the opposing groups. A young Muslim Iraqi from Kirkuk’s Turkmen community told Compass that Monday’s unrest and the damage to the church is part of an effort to destabilize the country in an ongoing struggle for power.
“When Christians are targeted, they accuse extremists,” said the Iraqi, who identified himself only as Kamal. “I think some people are trying to create unrest and destabilize the situation. We have Turkmen, Arabs, Kurds; there are many politicians who benefit from Kirkuk’s instability.”
He said Kirkuk is one of the hottest points of tension in the country, with all three groups – Turkmen, Arabs and Kurds – competing for control of the city. Article 140 of the Iraq’s constitution states that the city’s future will be determined based on a demographic majority of the population in a referendum.
“There are many groups trying to take Kirkuk to their territory,” he said. “These attacks are mostly politically [rather] than terrorist motivated, so that Christians can leave the city so that it is left to other groups, who will also be targeted.”
Christian journalist Emad Matty said the attacks in Kirkuk are part of a greater, politically motivated tactic to purge Arab-majority cities, including Baghdad and Mosul, of their Christian populations.
Asked how he thought Christians saw the attacks in Kirkuk this month, he said the predominant feeling was fear.
“It’s like it was in Baghdad and Mosul: They are afraid and are under attack from unknown gunmen,” said Matty, a freelance reporter. “There are political groups, and I don’t want to say which ones, but there are groups who are targeting Christians for political reasons.”
Alyes, who has lost a relative to the violence, said he would not give up hoping for peace and stability in Iraq nor stop holding mass in the city. He asked Christians around the world to pray toward that end.
“In your heart pray for us to Jesus that he gives us peace and stability,” Alyes said. “For the sake of Jesus, even if we don’t have a building, we will keep praying.”
Kirkuk is located 250 kilometers (155 miles) north of Baghdad and has about 10,000 Christians.

News from the Frontlines of Persecution
In today’s “Insurgent Blast Ravages Church Building in Iraq,” the previous Aug. 2 explosion at the Holy Family Syriac Catholic Church injured 13 residents; it did not kill them. We regret the error. – Eds.

Christians in Bangladesh Cleared of Charge of Offending Muslims

Workers at free health clinic exonerated after what lawyer calls police harassment.
Special to Compass Direct News
LOS ANGELES, August 15 (Compass Direct News) – A court in Bangladesh on Thursday (Aug. 11) exonerated two Christians along with four Muslim friends accused of “hurting religious sensibility.”
Nurul Islam, another Christian and their Muslim friends were cleared of the charge after police failed to provide documentation of any evidence against them, an attorney said.
In March Christians under the direction of the Way of Peace movement had arranged a two-day health camp offering free treatment to poor villagers in Damurhuda area in Chuadanga district, some 210 kilometers (126 miles) northwest of Dhaka.
Around 100 villagers attended the camp for free treatment the first day, March 23, and a Japanese doctor treated them. But two of the Christian organizers and their Muslim friends were arrested on March 24 under Section 54 of the penal code, a special power granted to police to arrest anyone on any suspicion.
They were released on bail three days later. Police are required to submit a primary investigation report within 15 days of the beginning of prosecution, and when they failed to do so, the Christians were released at a hearing on April 10. Police again filed a case on April 13, however, charging them with “hurting religious feelings” of area Muslims after a foreign doctor offered Bibles to patients at a health camp.
The Japanese volunteer doctor offered Christian leaflets and Bibles to the patients, telling them they were under no obligation to take the literature, Christian said. The foreign doctor was not named in either of the cases.
Lawyer Aksijul Islam Ratan told Compass that police had harassed his clients from the beginning, saying officers rather than any known victim filed the case as plaintiff.
“It was a very complicated case, as neither any individual nor any group filed the case,” Ratan said. “But the accusations from the government side against the Christians were baseless, so the honorable court exonerated them.”
The Christians were accused of distributing leaflets to convert poor Muslims, thus allegedly hurting the religious feelings of those in the area, said Ratan.
“The police harassed them from the very beginning, and what the police did was excessive,” he said. “Again police could not show relevant documents regarding their charge. So the honorable court did not take the charge into cognizance and discharged my clients.”
Islam told Compass that justice was done in the face of police hostility against him and the others.
“We got proper justice twice from the court,” he said.
The Bangladeshi constitution provides for freedom to propagate one’s religion subject to law, but authorities and communities often object to efforts to convert people from Islam, according to the U.S. Department of State’s 2010 International Religious Freedom Report.

Bangladesh is the world’s third-largest Muslim-majority nation, with Muslims making up 89 percent of its population of 164.4 million, according to Operation World. Christians are less than 1 percent of the total, and Hindus 9 percent.
The Pew Research Centre’s Forum on Religion and Public Life, a private U.S. research group, said government restrictions and public hostility involving religion grew in some of the most populous countries from mid-2006 to mid-2009. Besides Pakistan, the countries most restrictive or hostile towards certain religions included India, Indonesia, Egypt, Iran, China, Myanmar, Russia,Turkey, Vietnam, Nigeria and Bangladesh – although most of these did not show much change in the three years, according to the Pew report.
Copyright 2011 Compass Direct News

Girl in Uganda Loses Use of Legs after Leaving Islam for Christ

Muslim father locked 14-year-old in room with almost no food or water for months.
By Simba Tian
NAIROBI, Kenya, August 11 (Compass Direct News) – A 14-year-old girl in western Uganda is still unable to walk 10 months after her father tortured her for leaving Islam and putting her faith in Christ, according to area Christians.
Susan Ithungu of Isango village, Kasese district, has been hospitalized at Kagando Hospital since October 2010 after neighbors with police help rescued her from her father, Beya Baluku. He was arrested shortly afterward but quickly released, sources said.
Susan and her younger brother, Mbusa Baluku, lived alone with their father after he divorced their mother. In March 2010 an evangelist from Bwera Full Gospel Church spoke at Susan’s school, and she decided to trust Christ for her salvation.
“I heard the message of Christ’s great love of him dying for us to get everlasting peace, and there and then I decided to believe in Christ,” she said from her hospital bed. “After a month, news reached my father that I had converted to Christianity, and that was the beginning of my troubles with him. Our father warned us not to attend church or listen to the gospel message. He even threatened us with a sharp knife that he was ready to kill us in broad daylight in case we converted to Christianity.”
Pastor Joseph Baluku of Bwera Full Gospel Church in Kasese said neighbors took her to the government hospital about 45 kilometers (28 miles) from Kasese town after she was freed.
“He locked her up in a room of the semi-permanent house for six months without seeing sunlight,” the pastor said. “The younger brother was warned not to tell anyone that Susan was locked up in a room and was not given any food.”
Young Mbusa said that when their father was away, he roasted bananas for his sister.
“I also dug a hole under the door, where I could pour water through,” he said. “My sister could drink the water using her tongue. But most days she could only feed on mud.”
A nearby resident who requested anonymity said neighbors became concerned after not seeing her for several months.
“Her brother then disclosed to us that Susan was locked up in one of the rooms in the house,” the area resident said. “We then reported the case to the Harukunggu local council and then to the Bwera police station. The police went to the house and broke the door.”
Susan was immediately taken to the provincial government hospital about 17 kilometers (11 miles) away near Bwera town, where Pastor Baluku visited her.
“The miserable young Susan was bony, very weak, and not able to talk or walk,” said the pastor. “Her hair had turned yellow, she had long fingernails and sunken eyes, and she looked very slim, less than 20 kilograms [44 pounds].”
Members of the Full Gospel Church in Bwera prayed for her and visited her in the hospital, which like many government-subsidized hospitals in the region does not customarily bill until the patient is discharged, and at rates well below those of private hospitals. It is unknown when Susan will be released, but Pastor Baluku said area residents and church members will try to gather funds for medical costs incurred.
The pastor said billing from such government hospitals can often be deferred until enough money is raised.
“It could be a challenge, but we will try to do our best,” he said.
“By God’s grace Susan is still alive,” he said after a visit last week. “Though she can’t walk, she can now talk. She is still feeding on soft foods. The great news is that Susan is still strong in the Lord Jesus Christ. She needs prayers and support, so that she can resume her education soon.”
*** A photo of Susan Ithungu is attached for subscribers, to be used with credit to Compass Direct News.
Copyright 2011 Compass Direct News

Mayor in Indonesia Again Balks at Granting Church Permit

Bogor chief dismisses ombudsman’s recommendation to obey Supreme Court ruling.
By Victor Raqual Ambarita
JAKARTA, Indonesia, August 15 (Compass Direct News) – A mayor in West Java who disregarded a Supreme Court ruling to reinstate the building permit of a church in Bogor has now dismissed a recommendation by the National Ombudsman Institute to do so.
Bogor Mayor Diani Budiarto rejected the recommendation to reinstate the permit for the Indonesian Christian Church (Gereja Kristen Indonesia, or GKI) Yasmin Bogor Church last month, leaving the congregation to worship on a small strip of land as 15 to 20 Muslim demonstrators taunt them.
“The Ombudsman’s recommendation is only a suggestion,” the mayor told Tempo magazine. 
Church spokesman Bona Sigalingging said at a press conference last month that 15 people who claimed that they were from the neighborhood near the church site disrupted services on July 3 and 10.
“They demonstrated and insisted that the church stop services that were already underway,” Sigalingging said.
He said the mayor sent two letters to the church, one in May and one on July 9, urging the congregation to cease services on the roadside strip. In the letter he claimed that the church created a general annoyance and suggested they worship at the Harmony Building some 500 meters from the sealed GKI Yasmin Church building.
The congregation paid no heed to the letter, Sigalingging said, because the church’s worship on the roadside is a result of the mayor’s own doing.
“We worship in the roadside strip because the mayor has locked and sealed our church, which is against the Supreme Court decision,” he said. “If Budiarto had not locked and sealed our church, we would certainly not worship by the roadside.”
Sigalingging said holding services at the Harmony Building is not an appropriate solution because it was not designed for worship, even though church members do not like worshipping on the roadside in the torrid heat and unexpected rain showers.
Sigalingging acknowledged that the congregation had used the Harmony Building in early January for worship, a temporary arrangement the mayor had offered while awaiting a final decision from the Supreme Court.
“And the mayor promised that he would abide by whatever decision was handed down by the Supreme Court,” he said.
Rather than complying with the Supreme Court decision, he said, the mayor made revocation of the GKI building permit permanent.
“Based on this experience, we no longer believe the mayor,” he said.
In addition, Sigalingging said, on March 7 the Bogor City government verbally offered the church relocation to one of four locations.
“We did not respond to this offer, because relocation is not the solution,” he said.
The Supreme Court decision was final, he said, and the mayor should have complied instead of “trying to bargain.”
He cited the experience of another church in West Java, the Batak Christian Protestant Church (Huria Kristen Batak Protestan, or HKBP) in Ciketing, Bekasi, which has been promised a building permit but has received nothing. The church is still meeting in a community organization building, and the Bekasi City government has declined to issue a building permit.
“Referring to the law that exists, we reject the offer of relocation,” Sigalingging said.
The GKI Yasmin Bogor congregation is determined to continue worshipping on the roadside if the government refuses to open the seal on the church. “As long as the mayor refuses to take off the seal, we are going to continue worshipping on the roadside,” he said.
The vice president of the Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace, Bonar Tigor Naipospos, said that there is suspicion that the Bogor City government intends to prevent the existence of the GKI Yasmin church by all possible means.
The demonstrators against the church give reasons that are artificial and senseless, Naipospos said.
“Why are they demonstrating now, and not two years ago, when the church was in the planning stages?” he said.
Budiarto has staged an attack because he has clearly broken the law, he added.
“The decision of the Supreme Court is final; why did he revoke the GKI Yasmin building permit?” he said. “Similar problems are going to arise, if this is left [unresolved].”
Naipospos speculated that if the problem remains unaddressed, other conflicts could appear.
“This is very dangerous, and I worry that if this problem languishes there will be incidents such as occurred at Ciketing [where a church elder was stabbed], or at Cikeusik [where three members of the Ahmadiyah sect were beaten to death by a mob],” he said.
Copyright 2011 Compass Direct News

Bloody week in Iraq raises terror concerns

Iraq (MNN) ― Although no one claimed the bloodiest day this year for Iraq, the attacks this week bore the hallmark of al Qaeda.

Suicide bombers, car bombs, and roadside explosives hit more than a dozen Iraqi cities and towns. The explosions killed roughly 70 people. Homes, business and houses of worship were targeted.

Todd Nettleton with Voice of the Martyrs says the group behind the Monday assault was sending a message. "When you talk about more than 40 attacks coordinated all across the entire country, you're talking about: 'We're still here and we can make a lot of trouble.' I think the other message that they're sending is: 'You should be very afraid.'"

As U.S. troops draw down and leave Iraq, the Christians there have a very real concern. Nettleton explains that they're wondering if the government can respond to the threats against them. Believers are asking, "Who will protect us? Who will make sure that our churches are not bombed, that our people are not attacked and killed?" Nettleton says, "There's a very real concern about what role the Iraqi government will play in providing protection for the Christian citizens of Iraq to meet together, to gather for worship."
Attempts to destabilize the region have been ongoing, but there has been a concerted effort to erase the presence of the Christians in Iraq since the beginning of the war. Watchdog groups like Open Doors USA and Voice of the Martyrs have been calling the eradication effort a "religicide."

According to Open Doors' statistics, there are fewer than 250,000 Christians who call Iraq home. Thousands more are reported to have fled to neighboring countries. The resilience of the insurgency threatens to disrupt outreach efforts.
Nettleton says their teams are active in many directions, but the two most obvious are through Bible distribution and Action Packs.
Whenever possible, VOM will distribute complete copies of the Bible. Where it is too dangerous or costly to deliver complete Bibles, VOM will deliver New Testaments.

When participants  order an Action Pack, Voice of the Martyrs will send a special pre-printed vacuum bag and a list of suggested items which are needed. Participants purchase items, fill the bags, and ship them back to The Voice of the Martyrs who will distribute them along with a color Gospel storybook, He Lived Among Us.

These help keep believers encouraged. Nettleton says the projects allow Christians to answer these questions: "How do we live out the Gospel? How do we share our faith with the people around us when there's so much danger and so much threat?"

Equipped with these tools, the resources of the church are also keeping doors open to share the hope of the Gospel.

 "The other thing that comes to mind is acts of love and service," says Nettleton. "We've heard of churches in Iraq that are providing medical clinics, medical care, and medicines. They are really seeking to be Christ."

Is it effective? Nettleton thinks so. "When all around you is turmoil, and yet you have a peace in your heart and a peace on your face, that is a witness in and of itself, without ever saying anything."

Pray for protection for Christians during this time of upheaval and danger. Pray for ministry opportunities for churches and Christian relief organizations working in Iraq. Nettleton adds, "We can pray for the salvation of the attackers, the troublemakers, the people in Iraq, to come to know Christ in a personal way."