Saturday, September 10, 2011

Christians in Bhutan Seek to Dispel Regime’s Mistrust

Church leaders call for dialogue to defend against accusations of unethical evangelism.
By Vishal Arora
THIMPHU, Bhutan, September 9 (Compass Direct News) – Christians in this Buddhist nation have been awaiting a decision on whether they will receive official recognition, but it appears they will first see a measure against fraudulent conversion that the prime minister acknowledges is essentially designed to deter evangelism.
In this tiny country tucked between China and India in the Himalayan Mountains, Bhutan’s parliament is considering an amendment to the penal code that seeks to penalize conversion by coercion or inducement. Under proposed Section 463 of the Penal Code, “a defendant shall be guilty of the offense of proselytization if the defendant uses coercion or other forms of inducement to cause the conversion of a person from one religion or faith to another,” according to the government-run Kuensel newspaper.
Prime Minister Jigmi Yoser Thinley told Compass the proposed clause in the penal code was “essentially… to deter conversion,” saying there was no reason why Christians should seek to induce others to join their faith.
“There are a few Christians and followers of other faiths as well [in Bhutan], and there is no difficulty with that,” Thinley said. “That is good… we promote diversity of cultures. But then, when there are those who try to convert others without understanding the values, the principles, and the essence of the other religion, we have here what constitutes the worst form of discrimination.”
In an exclusive interview in his office, Thinley said Christians seek to convert other Bhutanese citizens with the power of money and an attitude of spiritual superiority, accusations that Christian leaders in the country denied.
Thinley said “inducing a poor person” by “manipulating the social and economic disadvantages and circumstances of that person, to accept your religion, on the ground that it is superior to mine,” divides society.
“And I have seen families being divided in the country,” he said. “I have seen communities being divided.”
The government of Bhutan commands an unusually high level of respect from its people. Christians, estimated to be between 6,000 and 15,000, equally admire the country’s leaders, who in recent months appeared willing to grant them legal recognition but remain indecisive.
Christian leaders said they were distressed with the government’s notion of Christians and Christianity, which they said was “far from true.”
“No evidence of such allegations has come to our knowledge, but still we will never try to defend anyone who indulges in unethical conversions,” said a Christian leader from Thimphu on condition of anonymity. “There might be some who are doing this, and the authorities must deal with them strictly for breaking the law of the country.”
Several other pastors and leaders sitting with him nodded in agreement.
The prime minister, who has headed Bhutan’s first fully democratic government since 2008, said Christianity can be beneficial to society.
“Having read most of the books [of the Bible], having attended church in my young days every Sunday, and then again every weekday when I was in school except for Saturday, I know that it is a good moral and ethical framework for the functioning of a good society,” he said. “But just as I would not encourage and not think well of a Buddhist trying to convert a Christian, I think I feel the same way [about a Christian trying to convert a Buddhist].”
Thinley stressed that religion was “all about ethics and morality,” but that when it is spread through immoral and unethical acts, “it’s a crime against humanity.”
“When a dying patient is being whispered into the ear, [to the effect that ] the only way to survive is to disown your religion and to accept this new faith, and when this whisper is being done by a doctor or by an attending nurse, I think it is the greatest sin one can commit,” he said. “When a poor parent is being told that, ‘Look, your child cannot go to school; you change your faith and we will provide you the possibility to ensure that your child can attend school,’ that is corruption. And when a poor family is being told that, ‘Why don’t you embrace our faith because then you don’t have to bear any cost for the burial of this person who is about to die in your family – it will be free,’ that’s corruption; that’s bribery.”
Some Buddhist sects in Bhutan expect their adherents to have elaborate, expensive funeral rituals.
Christians said officials were wrong to view them negatively and called for dialogue with the government. Compass learned that there has been no formal interaction between the government and Christians leaders apart from some individual pastors occasionally meeting an official.
Several stories have appeared in Bhutan’s newspapers claiming that converts were being paid money by other Christians from Western countries. Compass met many journalists who sincerely believed that foreign Christian groups were offering money for converts.
“Perhaps this is what has created such mistrust between us and our government,” said the Christian leader. “We hope the government would give us a chance to defend ourselves. We are more than willing to address the government’s concerns.”
He added that journalists should speak to pastors and other church leaders to verify stories about inducements to convert.
“We will extend full cooperation, as we do not believe in using coercion or inducement to convert others – it is against our Christian tenets,” he said, adding, “We do not fear the penal code amendment.”
Bhutan Minister for Home and Culture Minjur Dorji told Compass that the passing and implementation of the penal code amendment “may take some more time, due to procedures involved.” Asked if some could misuse the law to make false allegations and thereby create religious disharmony, as in Indian states with similar anti-conversion legislation, Dorji promised he would not allow that to happen.
Official Recognition
Dorji said his department had yet to decide whether Christians could be recognized officially.
“There is no legal provision for that,” he said. “It’s not in the constitution, and not in the Religious Organizations Act.”
The Religious Organizations Act states that one of its main objectives is to “facilitate the establishment of ROs [Religious Organizations] in order to benefit the religious institutions and protect the spiritual heritage of Bhutan [which is Buddhism, according to the constitution].” Only Buddhist and Hindu organizations have been registered by the country’s authority regulating religious organizations, known as the Chhoedey Lhentshog.
Roughly 75 percent of Bhutan’s population of 708,484 is Buddhist, and Hindus, mainly ethnic Nepalese, account for around 22 percent, according to Operation World.
The constitution of Bhutan allows religious freedom. Article 7(4) states, “A Bhutanese citizen shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion,” and Article 3(2) says, “The Druk Gyalpo [King of Bhutan] is the protector of all religions in Bhutan.” Christians say they are thankful to their political leaders and the country’s highly revered king, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, for granting religious freedom to all communities. But no church or Christian organization is a legal entity yet.
“The church in Bhutan is not underground any longer; we meet regularly on Sundays without any interference by the authorities,” said the Christian source. “But we are not allowed to function as an organization with a legally recognized status.”
Until Christian groups are legally recognized, their rights will remain ambiguous, he added.
“Legal status is also imperative for us to be able to actively engage in nation-building,” said another Christian leader. “We love our country as much as other Bhutanese do. And we are equally proud of our nation’s distinct culture.”
One of the world’s most isolated countries until recent years, Bhutan began to open up to the outside world in the 1970s. Former King Jigme Singye Wangchuck envisioned democracy in the country in 2006, after the rule of an absolute monarchy for over a century.
*** A photo of Prime Minister Jigmi Yoser Thinley is attached for subscribers, to be used with credit to Compass Direct News. A high-resolution photo is also available; contact Compass for transmittal.
Copyright 2011 Compass Direct News

Friday, September 9, 2011

9/11 a reminder to reach out to suffering believers

International (MNN) ― A flood of emotions, frustrations, and realizations swept over the United States on September 11, 2001. And when the tide subsided, much of the nation's happy naivety was washed away.

"We were in large measure--prior to September 11, 2001--blissfully ignorant of the hatred that was brewing in the extremist minds of terrorists around the world," notes Carl Moeller, president and CEO of Open Doors, USA.

Now it was more than just American war veterans who understood how ugly the world could be. All of America was suddenly aware of what it felt like to experience a direct attack, to experience something so much of the world was already privy to.

And yet, Moeller says despite that trauma, many believing Americans have tried to ignore the notion that others suffer daily, too.

"Since [9/11], we no longer have the luxury of that ignorance," reflects Moeller. "The reality is: one of the things we've stubbornly remained ignorant of is the fact that there are Christians in many of the countries that we hear about on our news every day who are facing a storm of persecution."

Just as the States were defiled by an attack ten years ago, over 100 million believers are attacked daily for their faith. Christians are jailed, beaten, even killed for their faith.

As American Christians, in particular, reflect on what they've learned since September 11, 2001, they can no longer remain silent about others who are experiencing attacks. Moeller says just as first responder firefighters and policemen stood in the gap for Americans 10 years ago, the church in America and throughout the world needs to stand in the gap for the persecuted church.

"The idea of standing in the gap is to make a difference in a place where there is no one," says Moeller. Open Doors is encouraging people to stand in the gap through their "One With Them" campaign.

Believers are invited to join in solidarity with the persecuted church by wearing a silicon, barbwire-shaped bracelet reminding Christians to encourage, advocate and pray for believers suffering across the globe. The campaign will culminate with the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church on Sunday, November 13.

In volatile nations, Christians are the ones who can stand in the gap, returning the hatred of extremists with the love of Christ. We need to then stand with these believers who are boldly proclaiming the Truth. Since 9/11, American Christians in particular have been without excuse. To learn more about how you can stand with our persecuted brothers and sisters, visit

5 Months & 600 Arrests Later, Chinese Church Still Defying Beijing

Baptist Press reports that on August 28, five members of a house church in Fangshan, China, woke at 4 a.m. and traveled for two hours to a public square in Beijing in order to worship with members of the embattled Beijing Shouwang house church. On their arrival at 7 a.m., waiting police sent the five back to their local police station. Officials then urged them to sign documents repenting of their decision to support the Shouwang church. All five refused but were eventually released. The Fangshan five are part of a growing wave of house church Christians determined -- despite the consequences -- to support Shouwang Church in its five-month-long stand for greater religious freedom. Shouwang members have attempted to meet in the outdoor venue every Sunday since April 11, after government officials repeatedly denied them access to a permanent worship place. Church leaders prayerfully decided on this course of action as a means of forcing the government to resolve their dilemma. More than 600 arrests have been made over the last 22 weeks, including 15 on Aug. 28 and 12 arrests on Sept. 4. Police arrest the Christians before the service even starts and typically free them within 24 hours. More than 160 people were arrested at the first outdoor meeting of Shouwang Church.

Christian Nurse in Pakistan Boldly Opts to Report Videotaped Rape

Colleague tries to blackmail her into converting to Islam, marrying him.
By Murad Khan
LAHORE, Pakistan, September 8 (Compass Direct News) – A Christian nurse here filed a police report on Saturday (Sept. 3) alleging she was raped by a Muslim colleague who filmed the act in an attempt to blackmail her into renouncing her faith and marrying him, she and hospital sources told Compass.
Shaista Samuel, a 27-year-old nurse at the Services Institute of Medical Sciences (SIMS), filed a First Information Report (FIR) at Shadman police station accusing Ali Adnan, an assistant accounts officer at the hospital, and an armed accomplice of abducting her at gunpoint from the government hospital on Aug. 21 and taking her to a house in Lahore where Adnan’s accomplice filmed the rape.
“[Adnan] was holding my arm tightly and forcibly led me to a white car in the parking lot,” Samuel said in tears, adding that as they approached the car, Adnan’s accomplice came out of the shadows and placed a handgun to her head. “Adnan said that they would shoot me if I raised my voice. I was in complete shock … my senses went numb, and I could not believe this was happening to me. They took me to a house in WAPDA Town [for housing Water and Power Development Authority workers in Lahore], where Adnan raped me while his friend filmed the entire incident. They ruined my life completely.”
Christians have little legal or societal standing in Pakistan, and Muslim criminals tend to assume they will not be prosecuted if their victims are Christians.
Samuel said she had worked several years at the hospital on good terms with Adnan.
“I thought of him as a good friend, since we were working together… he used to visit my home often and was known to my family,” she told Compass.
Recently, however, Adnan had begun acting strangely toward her, she said.
“He started criticizing Christians for not observing the purdah [covering of women] and of following our ‘own brand of religion,’” she said. “One day when I was least expecting it, he told me that he had started liking me and that I should convert to Islam and marry him. I told him that I had always considered him just a friend, and that although I held him in great regard, marrying him was not possible since we belonged to different faiths.”
Adnan began harassing her at the workplace and by telephone, she said.
“He used to block my way at the hospital, and then one day he forced his way into my house and threatened me and my family, saying that he would not rest until they marry me to him,” she said. “He was acting like a mad man … He started cursing my family and even tried to set the house on fire.”
Disturbed by Adnan’s obsessive behavior, Samuel said that she tried her best not to come into any sort of contact with him. On Aug. 21, however, as soon as she entered the hospital he approached her from behind and forced her to sit in a car in the hospital’s parking area, she said.
“All this while, he told me not to make a commotion as it would only create an embarrassing situation for me,” she said. “He said he just wanted to talk to me to ‘clear up some misunderstandings.’”
He then led her to the white car, and the accomplice appeared. Samuel said the two men held her for over an hour and then dropped her back at the hospital, telling her that if she told anyone about the rape they would send the film to her family and also upload it on social networking sites.
In Pakistan, a rape victim is generally considered too shamed to resume a normal life or pursue marriage.
“I was devastated,” she said. “I wanted the earth to open up and swallow me. I did not share my ordeal with any person, not even my parents. I did not have the courage to tell them that their daughter had been dishonored, and decided to keep my misery to myself … I could not see my father and brothers face the shame brought by my bad luck.”
Her misery did not end there – Adnan began trying to blackmail her by phone, she added.
“At first he demanded that I convert to Islam, and only then would he consider forgiving me for refusing his proposal,” she said.
When she refused, he began demanding sexual favors and threatening to come to her house and show the film to her family – Pakistanis tend to shame the victims rather than the perpetrators of rape – but Samuel refused to be manipulated by his threats, she said.
“My defiance angered Adnan to such an extent that one evening he turned up at my home and showed the film to my parents,” Samuel said. “He then told my shocked family that they had no other option but to hand me over to him ... he told them that he ‘owned’ me now.”
Adnan left the house, leaving the family, members of Church of Pakistan-affiliated St. Andrews Church, in deep anguish.
“We had a very tough decision to make,” Samuel said. ‘We could have either conceded to his demand or be ready to face the shame and dishonor by reporting his crime, but we chose the latter. Adnan must be punished for ruining my life. I thank God that he rescued me from Adnan’s blackmailing, otherwise I would have remained in mental agony for the rest of my life.”
Compass tried to reach Adnan for comment, but he was unavailable as he had turned off his cell phone.
Although Shaista and her family have filed an FIR with police, getting justice without higher government help may be difficult. At press time police had yet to arrest the two suspects, who fled their homes soon after the registration of the case and have managed to obtain pre-arrest bail.
“The police deliberately gave them time to get interim bails,” Samuel said. “My father and brothers have been going to the police station every day to ask them to record the statements of the accused, but the investigating officer of the case is using delay tactics. I’ve been asked ridiculous questions about the incident, but I will not be discouraged from seeking justice.”
Samuel said she was tired of suspicious and questioning eyes at her workplace and has taken leave from the hospital. The administration has formed a committee to probe into the matter.
“I am sick and tired of people staring at me and asking questions,” she said, adding that after she took leave, no one from the hospital administration had contacted her though she had heard of the committee’s formation. The two-member committee includes SIMS medical Superintendent Muhammad Javaid and the hospital’s finance director.
Javaid told Compass that the committee would record the statements of the complainant and the accused and would also examine the circumstantial evidence.
Copyright 2011 Compass Direct News

Millions to Rally on International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church

SAULT STE. MARIE, Mich., Sept. 8, 2011 /Christian Newswire/ -- As summer comes to an end and autumn approaches, Christians around the world are preparing for the 2011 International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church (IDOP). 

The IDOP, which was first organized in 1996 by the World Evangelical Fellowship, has evolved into one of the largest worldwide prayer events in existence today. For the past 15 years, thousands of churches and organizations, as well as individuals and families, have participated in the tradition of setting aside one Sunday each November to spend time in intercessory prayer for the millions of Christians around the world who are persecuted, oppressed, and even martyred for their faith each year -- and who, whenever asked, unfailingly place intercessory prayer at the top of their list of needs. 

On a general scale, Christian persecution has become a humanitarian crisis of unprecedented proportions. According to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, persecution has become especially prevalent in countries like India and Iraq, while countries of particular concern that have been known for consistent religious and human rights violations include North Korea, China, and Sudan. 

But the United States government is not alone in its monitoring of the crisis. Many Christian ministries and nonprofit organizations have made it their mission to advocate and provide humanitarian support for those in the persecuted church, most of whom suffer a range of abuses from societal or even family ostracism, physical abuse, kidnapping, or false imprisonment on an almost daily basis. 

One such organization is Christian Freedom International (CFI), a Michigan-based organization that works extensively in countries like Burma, Pakistan, and Egypt -- all regions where Christian persecution is steadily on the rise. In addition to its humanitarian support of food, clothing, medical assistance and educational opportunities, CFI has been an outspoken advocate for the persecuted church, providing compelling testimony before Capitol Hill and promoting general awareness of persecution through online petition campaigns. Each year, CFI also actively encourages churches and individuals throughout the U.S. to remember the persecuted and participate in the IDOP. 

Although Sunday, November 13 is the designated 2011 International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church, it will be held one week earlier, Sunday, November 6, in the UK and Ireland. 

To learn more about the IDOP and for free, downloadable resources, visit

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Deadly religious strife in Nigeria continues

Nigeria (MNN) ― At least 14 people died in Jos, Nigeria, in a flare up of Christian and Muslim violence. Reprisal clashes heightened fears of larger-scale attacks in the cycle of violence.

Voice of the Martyrs Canada reports that among the dead was a Christian family of eight, two adults, and six children. Spokesman Greg Musselman explains, "You have these radicalized Muslim youth. It was the end of Ramadan, they were celebrating, and again, violence flared up. They were looking for trouble, and they went after some Christian families.

In the escalating violence, two churches were burnt down. Christian and Muslim religious leaders have appealed for peace. Bombs were placed in front of houses of worship.

In 1999, Sharia law was implemented in 12 northern and central states. The question is: why does Plateau State seemingly crack under tensions more than other states. Again, Mussleman says, "Jos straddles the middle ground in Nigeria between the largely Muslim North and the Christian South. So the city and the nation is divided along religious, tribal and political lines."

Due to violence like this, many Christians have been displaced from Muslim areas, initially in the north, where Sharia -- strict Islamic law -- has been imposed. "There are the Islamic militant groups that have really emboldened since the 9/11 attacks, so even though you have a majority Christian population in Jos, you have the Islamists who want to turn that into a Muslim state."

According to a Reuters timeline of the unrest in the same area, there have been nine major flare-ups of rioting and violence between Christians and Muslims since 2000. In each of these incidents, hundreds lost their lives, churches were burned, and many more injured. "Anything that happens politically or any kind of little flare up is used by these Islamic groups to go after the Christians", explains Musselman. He adds, "That's why so many of them are killed. As much as we pray that it would stop, the current climate shows no sign of that slowing down."

Pray that Christians in Nigeria will demonstrate the love of Christ, in spite of the opposition they face. "This is an ongoing situation. It just seems to pop up every few weeks, and lately it's just becoming more intense," Musselman says.
Lately, however, more churches are throwing off the cloak of silence. "They realize that we really need to share the message, and they crossed the line in the sense of: 'Hey, if I get killed, I get killed, but I'm going to preach Christ.' So the message of the Gospel is going powerfully forward, and many of these Islamists are coming to know Christ."

Voice of the Martyrs Canada teams continue to remain active through their medical work, the aid they give to stranded families persecuted for their faith, and in many ways supportive through the prayer networks around the world.

Nigeria: Jos on knife edge; & Sudan: war in Blue Nile State

-- a call to prayer for the church in Nigeria and Sudan

By Elizabeth Kendal
Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) 124
Special to ASSIST News Service

AUSTRALIA (ANS) -- NIGERIA: Jos on a knife edge. Religious tensions soared in volatile Jos, Nigeria, after a sectarian clash in Gada-biu district of Jos North Local Government Area (LGA) on 29 August left at least 20 Christians and 22 Muslims dead. [See RLPB 123 (31 Aug 2011).]

As was expected, Muslim youths immediately plotted revenge, forging plans to attack Christian places of worship the next Sunday, 4 September. However, Jama'tu Nasril Islam and the Council of Ulama Plateau State set up a committee to mediate in the crisis. They managed to convince the Muslim youths to 'sheath their swords' and leave the matter in the hands of the police.

Despite this, on Sunday 4 Sept at around 2am a mob of some 30 Fulani Muslims -- reportedly with 'sophisticated weapons' -- crept into Tatu village and forced their way into the home of the Chollom Gyang Christian family. Apart from the couple's fourth child who was away, all eight other family members were massacred in their beds, including a four-month-old baby. Due to rumours that they would be attacked there, most Christians stayed away from their churches all day.

Later that night, Sunday 4 September, mobs of Fulani Muslim tribesmen accompanied by uniformed Nigerian soldiers raided several predominantly Christian villages, shooting sporadically and hacking down those fleeing. Seven people were killed and three injured at Zallaki village near Babale in Jos North (LGA). A 74-year-old man, his wife and two grandchildren were murdered at Dabwak in Jos South (LGA) and ten were injured in nearby Farin Lamba. The al-Qaeda-linked, Maiduguri-based Islamic fundamentalist group Boko Haram has reportedly sent funds, vehicles and trained militants to Jos to help mobilise a 'mass attack'.
Previously a suicide bomber struck the heavily guarded UN offices in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, on 26 August, killing 23 and wounding some 80. Boko Haram claimed responsibility for this their second suicide bombing in the capital (they struck the police headquarters on 16 June. See Nigeria: the Boko Haram threat, Religious Liberty Monitoring, 11 July 2011) Churches in Abuja are employing security and closing early in daylight hours. Fear and anxiety are rising.

AbyeiSouth Kordofan and Blue Nile are three border regions located in the Arab and Muslim-dominated North but are populated by predominantly Christian African tribes. According to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) they were entitled to determine their own futures by means of popular consultations. [See RLPB 117, 21 July 2011.] Fully defying the CPA, the Government of Sudan (GoS) has seized and ethnically cleansed Abyei and is now doing the same in South Kordofan.

On 1 September fighting erupted in Blue Nile State as GoS forces attacked the home of elected governor, Malik Aggar in Al-Damazin, the capital of Blue Nile State. The GoS then launched a full-scale assault on Sudan People's Liberation Army positions. In what is being described as a 'political and military coup', President Bashir subsequently dismissed Governor Aggar, declared a state of emergency and installed Major General Yahya Mohamed Khair as military ruler. Reports are flowing in of military deployments, aerial bombardments and massive displacements across the region in yet another GoS-engineered humanitarian crisis.

* bring Nigeria's Boko Haram and Sudan's President Bashir to account (Psalm 10:10-13) sooner rather than later, in answer to the prayers of many (2 Corinthians 1:11).
* grace Nigerian and Sudanese Christian leaders -- both civil and religious -- with great spiritual wisdom and authority so they might rightly lead God's people through this 'valley of the shadow of death' (Psalm 23:4).

* intervene for his suffering people in the ethnic-religious fault-line regions of Nigeria and Sudan, providing all their needs and keeping them safe; may he draw them into prayer, hear their cry and answer it (Isaiah 30:18,19) 'that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you alone are the LORD' (Hezekiah's prayer -- Isaiah 37:20b ESV).

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

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Iranian Christian Pays for Faith with 105 Days in Evin Prison

Convert from Islam reflects on the cost of following Christ.
By Damaris Kremida

ISTANBUL, September 6 (Compass Direct News) – It was early in the morning the day after Christmas. It was cold. Mehdi Forootan sat in the back seat of an undercover police car in front of his house in Tehran, Iran. He was barely awake. An officer pointed a camcorder at him.

The officer had recorded the entire police raid on his house, where he and three other officers claiming to be from the anti-narcotics squad confiscated Forootan’s books, computers and other important documents.

Forootan, 33, wasn’t afraid; he was not guilty of anything. He had heard of Christian friends being arrested and released, and he thought he could manage being in prison as they had. The officers said they wanted to ask him some questions and that they would return him home in a few hours. Forootan thought he might make it back in time for the Christmas sermon he had prepared for a group of Iranian believers who were going to meet in a home that evening. The camera was still on him.

“Do you know why you were arrested?” the officer behind the camcorder asked him calmly.

“No,” Forootan said dryly.

“I’ll ask you a second time,” said the officer with the camera. “Do you know why we took you?”

“No!” Forootan replied. “Why don’t you tell me why you are taking me?”

The officer turned off the camera and looked Forootan in the eyes.

“I can beat you until blood is coming out of your mouth and every part of you. The next time I turn on the camera, you tell me why we are taking you,” the officer said and turned the camera back on.

“Ok, I guess you arrested me for Christianity and my faith in Jesus Christ,” Forootan said.

The officer turned off the camera and asked: “Do you want to come back to Islam?”

“No,” Forootan said.

“We want to take you to a bad place,” the officer said. “Do you know anything about Evin?”

Forootan’s heart sank at the mention of the ill-famed prison, though he tried not to show it. “Yes, I know.”

On Dec. 26, 2010, authorities had arrested Forootan in a wave of persecution against Iran’s underground church movement. It is estimated that Iranian authorities arrested over 120 Christians in a two-month period. Most of them were released within days, but Forootan was among a small group who were not. Without explanation, authorities freed him on April 9.

Farshid Fathi was arrested on the same day as Forootan and is still in prison. There has been no news on Noorollah Ghabitizadeh, who was arrested Dec. 24, 2010 in Khuzestan. Abrahim Firouzi, arrested Jan. 8 in in Robat Karim, and Masoud Delijani, arrested March 17 in Kermanshah, were released in recent months. The condition and whereabouts of Mostafa Zangooyee, a university student who was arrested on June 30, are not known.

Solitary Confinement
Forootan couldn’t believe his ears – the car was headed to the harshest prison in Iran. There was no telling what could happen there, or when he could return home.

At Evin Prison, authorities ordered him to change into a blue uniform and took pictures of him from the front, left and right. Forootan felt like a murderer, he told Compass. Authorities took him down a long corridor of single occupancy cells and showed him his: two meters wide, three meters long.

There was no bed, no chair, no table – only a thin blanket, a small toilet and a metallic washing basin. There was a Quran and a Muslim prayer book on the windowsill.

“Settle in and relax,” the prison guard told him. “You’ll be here a long time.”

Forootan spent the first of many nights sleeping on the bare, cold floor. In the morning a prison guard took him out of his cell and left him in the corridor for a few minutes.

“Pst, pst, Mehdi!” Forootan heard familiar voices behind him. Farshid Fathi, Rasool Abdolahi, Mohammad Zardouz and other Christian friends were in cells along his corridor. They had all been arrested the same morning as he was.

“Farshid, why are you here?” Forootan asked.

“In the early morning they arrested us,” said Fathi. “Don’t worry, in a week we’ll be free!”

Of those arrested last Christmas, Fathi and one other are the only Christians still in prison. With the benefit of hindsight, Forootan chuckled ironically to think of how long he and his friends spent in one of Iran’s most notorious prisons for the crime of being a Christian. There were dark circles under his eyes, and though being in prison with friends was a consolation, his time there made his voice break as he spoke.

He sat on a simple Turkish carpet in his rented house in southeastern Turkey where, like so many Iranian Christians, he had fled in hopes for a better future.

Forootan said Evin interrogation authorities brought him to a separate room to ask him endless questions. They blindfolded him. Who did he work for? Why did he visit Afghanistan, Turkey and Armenia? Was he a Christian? They accused him of being a spy, a mason and a friend of Israel.

“They told me that if I told them everything, I could be free in two to three weeks,” Forootan said. “When I heard ‘two to three weeks,’ I understood this was a bad situation and we would be there for a long time.”

His interrogators told him he was charged with threatening national security because of his evangelization activities and his work with a Christian ministry.

There were always two officers in his interrogations: One was rough and threatened to kill him or keep him in prison forever. The other was reassuring and promised him help if he told all. The interrogations would sometimes take place every three days. Sometimes they would leave him alone for 10 days without questions.

“They are playing with your mind,” Forootan said. “It is a very bad situation when you are alone and you can never do anything. I would start praying, and after some time I would be really sad. ‘God, please get me out of this situation, I want to speak to people.’”

In his solitary cell he once heard the sound of a soccer match playing on the guards’ television down the hall. The commentator’s voice shouted “Goal!” and Forootan got excited.

“I understood there was a football game going and I love football, so I started to listen to the game,” he said.

Finally Forootan could no longer contain himself, and he pounded on his door to get the authorities’ attention. A gruff prison guard appeared.

“What?” he barked.

“Could you please turn up the volume?” Forootan asked shyly, “because I want to hear the match!”

“Shut up!” the guard said, marched back to the TV and turned it off.

‘We Can Do Anything We Want’
One morning while he was in his cell, he heard someone call him. Forootan looked out the little window on his door and saw Fathi in handcuffs, blindfolded. He was on his way to an interrogation, but the guard had left him for a moment alone in the corridor.

“Mehdi, don’t worry!” Fathi said, “We’ll get out of here soon!”

Forootan responded and the two laughed together, then Forootan saw the guard angrily walking back to Fathi. The guard pushed Fathi and kicked him on the floor, telling him that he would shave his head as punishment.

A few days later, during visitation hours when prisoners can talk to relatives from behind a glass pane, Forootan saw Fathi in passing. Fathi’s head was shaved. He looked tired.

“I think he was tired because he misses his children,” said Forootan, “it’s hard for him.”

He said authorities probably kept Fathi incarcerated to make an example of him.

“They keep Farshid because they want the people to be afraid about this situation,” Forootan said. “And they are really afraid of cell groups in Iran. They say, ‘If you are Christian you can go to a [church] building,’ so they can monitor what churches do.”

Forootan didn’t respond to his interrogators until three weeks into his imprisonment, when a police officer walked into the interrogation room with a stack of documents from a friend’s laptop.

“If you continue to be silent, we can keep you in prison for two, three, four years,” the officer said. “You won’t have a lawyer. We can do anything we want.”

That day Forootan wrote his first statement, one of many about his life as a Christian leader in Iran – trying to guess what his interrogators already suspected about him and his activities as a cell group leader in Iran.

Every time he wrote statements, he said he made sure to write from one edge of the paper to the next, careful not to leave any blank space. He scribbled in the blank spots of his paper so that authorities could not alter or add to his statement.

During one interrogation, an officer turned on a camcorder and pointed it toward him.

“Tell us about your crime!” he said, ordering Forootan to speak into the camera.

“I started to tell them how, when I was a teenager, I struggled with substance abuse and how when I was in university I found Jesus and He saved me, and I have been free ever since,” Forootan said. “But he became angry and turned off the camera. He said: ‘I asked you to tell about your crime, not evangelize us.’”

Long Path to Freedom
Forootan was tired of the questions, prison and solitary confinement. He missed his family and his fiancée’s voice, he said.

That is when he remembered the biblical character David, and how in the book of Samuel he acted crazy to get out of a precarious situation.

“Because I was alone and I wanted to get out of the situation,” said Forootan, “I started to act like a mad person. I said, ‘I’m ill, I want to get out of here.’”

Forootan said he did not expect that authorities would prescribe him psychiatric medication for pretending to be ill. They gave him three pills that made him want to sleep, he said, and he told authorities that he was feeling better and didn’t want to take the medication anymore. They force-fed the pills to him for the remainder of his detention.

After 38 days of solitary confinement, around the time he was prescribed the psychiatric medication, his prayer was answered to move from solitary confinement to a group cell, he said. Forootan later learned that his friend Fathi spent 50 days in solitary confinement.

For the next two months, Forootan shared a cell with about 30 other inmates. Some of them were Baha’i, some from Al Qaeda and some from political groups like the Green Movement that protested Iran’s elections in 2009 and demanded President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad step down.

“When I said I’m a Christian and I came out of Islam, they were really angry,” Forootan said of the Al Qaeda members in his prison cell. “A friend in prison told me be careful, ‘These people want to kill you!’ He was from the Green Movement. After a week I started to speak about the Bible with them. I asked them why they kill people with bombs and guns. Is this really Islam? They started to talk about Quran, and I started to talk about Bible, and we became friends after a week ... Because we all have one enemy in prison: the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

On April 9, the heavy door of Evin Prison opened and Forootan stood inside, looking out the entrance. If they were releasing him, he did not know why. He squinted at the sun.

He had been in prison for 105 days. As he stood there, he thought that perhaps he might soon find himself back in his prison cell, as had happened to his friend Fathi. A few weeks prior, he had heard from a fellow inmate in his group cell that authorities had played a cruel joke on Fathi. As the rumor went, authorities told Fathi he could put his clothes on and took him to the prison door. They told him he was free. Then the guard stopped him and told him he had to take him back to his cell.

“This is a game, and after this Farshid [Fathi] was really crushed,” Forootan said, having seen him in passing during the weekly visitations.

At the prison door, Forootan prayed as his head raced. He suspected it was a cruel ruse to break him, too. He waited at the door for three minutes expecting someone to call him back to his cell.

“I thought they were lying to me,” he said. “When they pushed me out the door, and I saw the sun and the free space, I started to run.”

Forootan ran for 30 minutes – to the nearest soccer stadium, where he bought a ticket for a match. He said the best thing for him was to be in a crowd. When the game was over, he called some friends, who picked him up and brought him home, “because for 105 days I hadn’t walked, and my feet were weak,” Forootan said.

For the next five days Forootan couldn’t sleep. His body had developed a dependence on the medication authorities had given him, he said, and he was overcome by fear and paranoia. He thought authorities were listening to his phone, monitoring him through his computer.

“My eyes were wide open,” he said. “I went to a Christian doctor, who told me that whatever they gave me in prison was like a drug, and I needed to be strong because it was a really hard situation.”

In a few weeks, he said his body recovered from his experience in prison and the substances authorities forced him to take.

Forootan said his first month out of prison was one of the worst of his life. He couldn’t speak to anyone of his prison experience for fear that authorities were watching and would re-arrest him. His parents had given the deed of their house to authorities as bail.

He and his fiancée decided it was best for him to leave Iran and go to Turkey as a refugee. For Forootan, this meant an illegal escape through the mountains, because authorities had confiscated his passport.

“I came out of Iran with 70 Afghanis,” Forootan said. “I went to the mountains and walked in the mountains for eight hours, and after eight hours I came to Turkey…That was really hard, because I really love Iran, and I’m really sad about this land. Maybe I can’t see my country again.”

When Forootan arrived in Turkey, he and his fiancée, also a convert to Christianity, got married. They found a house and were together for two months before she had to return to Norway, where she had been granted asylum.

In southeast Turkey for three months, Forootan said the only thing more difficult than leaving his parents in Iran was not knowing what his future held. He said he hopes he can join his wife in Norway one day and finally start a Christian family of his own in freedom. For now, as he seeks refugee status in Turkey, he said he feels stateless.

“I miss Iran,” Forootan said. “I read in the Bible once about how the Jewish people were banished in Babylon; it says there that when my child is born in the banished land, then I will feel this is my land. When my child is born in Norway, I can say that is my land.”


*** A photo of Mehdi Forootan is attached for subscribers, to be used with credit to Compass Direct News. A high resolution photo is also available; contact Compass for transmittal.
Copyright 2011 Compass Direct News

Five Iranian Believers Must Report to Prison to Serve One Year Sentence

By Michael Ireland
Senior Correspondent, ASSIST News Service

SHIRAZ, IRAN (ANS) -- The five Iranian Christian believers and ministers who were convicted of crimes against the Islamic Order on March 8, 2011 in Shiraz, Iran have been told to report to prison immediately to serve a one-year prison sentence.

According to Jason DeMars of Present Truth Ministries ( ) their names are: Behrouz Sadegh-Khandjani, Mehdi "Petros" Furutan, Mohammed "William" Belyad, Nazly Belyad, and Parviz Khalaj.

DeMars told ANS that Nazly is about seven months pregnant.

"This absolutely breaks our heart. Please pray for these brothers, our sister, and the little baby that is growing inside of her.

"We ask that you pray for miracles to take place so that she does not have to be in prison," he said.

ASSIST News will provide further details as they become available.

** 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.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Prime Minister announces Turkey will hand over stolen properties 75 years later

Turkey (MNN) ― In the last days of August, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced that Turkey would relinquish all properties or current property values to Christians and Jews who had had land confiscated 75 years ago.
Turkey has long been a difficult place for Christians to live. While persecution is not nearly as prevalent as in many neighboring countries, believers remain a small minority in the Muslim nation, and they have often been treated as second class citizens.

A prime example of these injustices was in 1936, when, Compass Direct reports, the Turkish government officially registered an incomplete list of minority properties. Hundreds of properties were confiscated from Christian and Jewish communities, some sold to third parties, others used for various offices. (For instance, the Istanbul offices of the Secretariat General for EU Affairs reside in a former grade school building of a Greek Orthodox Church. )

The overturn of the legislation came after years of pressure from the European Union, notes Compass Direct, which slapped heavy fines on Turkey in recent years for failing to return these properties. Turkey has been applying for full membership in the EU, but this property dilemma has been a key component of the EU's demands.

Sources have yet to speculate whether or not this will truly mean less day-to-day persecution for believers as they share their faith.Voice of the Martyrs, Canada notes that while the Turkish constitution includes freedom of religion, worship services are only permitted in "buildings created for this purpose," and officials have restricted the construction of buildings for minority religions. The few who dare to openly profess Christ face harassment, threats, and imprisonment. Evangelism is also met with harassment.

Sources have yet to comment on whether this overturn will guide Turkey away from such practices.
In the meantime, however, the announcement to overturn a 75-year-old injustice has been met with joy by Christ-followers. Christians will receive back what had been schools, churches, churches, cemeteries, stores hospitals, orphanages, houses, apartment buildings and factories years ago. Buildings that were sold to third parties will not be returned, but if Christians apply within the next 12 months, they will receive equivalent compensation.

Voice of the Martyrs, Canada thanks God for the development in a recent news release. The ministry asks for prayer that the transition of land will go smoothly and that there will be no resistance or negative reaction in response.

Prime Minister Erdogan is reported as saying, "The times when citizens in our country were oppressed for their beliefs, their ethnic heritage, or the way they dressed is over." Pray that this would be true and that the decision will thus be an encouragement to believers in Turkey. Pray that believers would be even more determined to be a light for Christ as they live out the Gospel in this Muslim nation.

More Fines, Physical Abuse and Religious Literature Destruction in Uzbekistan

By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service

UZBEKISTAN (ANS) -- Uzbekistan's authorities continue to punish peaceful religious believers with fines, physical abuse and court-ordered destruction of religious literature.

Uzbekistan is a doubly landlocked country in Central Asia. It shares borders with Kazakhstan to the west and to the north, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to the east, and Afghanistan and Turkmenistan to the south. Prior to 1991, it was part of the Soviet Union.

According to a story by Forum 18's Mushfig Bayram, police in eastern Fergana Region raided the home of a Protestant couple in late July and are preparing an administrative case against them.

The police inspector who led the raid told Forum 18 that police found and confiscated “banned” religious literature. Asked what literature found in their home was banned, he identified the Bible and the New Testament.

Also in July, courts in the capital of Tashkent and eastern Syrdarya Region have handed down fines of up to one hundred times the minimum monthly wage to ten Protestants to punish them for unregistered activity.

In both cases, Forum 18 said, the courts ordered that confiscated Christian literature - including Bibles and New Testaments – be destroyed. Another court in central Samarkand Region fined a member of an officially registered Baptist Church for “illegal” religious teaching.
Court officials in Fergana and Syrdarya Regions declined to discuss the two cases with Forum 18, while in the Tashkent case the Assistant to the Judge tried to explain away their decision.
Unwilling to talk

Also unwilling to talk to Forum 18 were officials of the state Religious Affairs Committee in Tashkent, whose responsibility is to assist the country's religious communities to fulfil their religious needs and regulate relations between them and the State.

Forum 18 tried to find out from Committee officials why peaceful religious activity continues to be punished, whether the Bible and New Testament are banned or cannot be stored in private homes, and why Bibles and New Testaments - among other religious literature - are ordered to be destroyed.

The Assistant to Committee Chair Artyk Yusupov (who did not give his name) told Forum 18 that Yusupov was busy in a meeting. Zulhaydar Sultanov, Head of the Committee's International Relations Department, declined to comment, telling Forum 18, “I am no expert in those matters, and you called the wrong department.”

The official who answered the phone for Sobitjon Sharipov, Head of the Expert Analysis Department, (who did not give his name) said that Sharipov was not available and he could not answer questions over the phone.

“Please, come to our office, and we will give you information,” he said. When Forum 18 continued asking questions, he terminated the conversation.

Forum 18 said religious literature in Uzbekistan of all faiths remains under tight government censorship. Courts frequently order that religious material confiscated during raids – including Bibles - be destroyed

Assault during home raid

Police who raided a Protestant family home in Fergana physically abused the husband and confiscated Christian literature, a local Protestant speaking on condition of anonymity told Forum 18.

On the evening of July 23, 10 officers – three in police uniform and the rest in plain clothes -raided the home of a married couple, Muradiljon Umurzakov and Dilorom Mamasidikova, who were entertaining a friend, Ravshan Muminov.

Forum 18 said the raid was led by Fergana City's Police Inspector Dilshod Ataugliyev from the Crime Prevention Unit, but other officers are believed to have been from the local National Security Service (NSS) Secret Police.

When Umurzakov asked the officials on what basis they “intruded and violated their privacy, and asked them to show their identification documents,”the police officers “twisted his arms, and threatened that they could continue physically to assault him,” the Protestant told Forum 18.
He continued, “The officers also threatened that they could open a criminal case against him."
As a result of the shock, Umurzakov developed high blood pressure and an ambulance was called.

Unlawful search and confiscation

The source also told Forum 18 that while the doctors were examining Umurzakov, the officers “without the hosts' permission” unlocked his son's room in the house. The son is currently working in Russia. The officials “without witnesses” confiscated from the son's room a Bible, an Uzbek New Testament, a Proverbs of Solomon in Uzbek and a Koran in Russian.

All of these have been “authorised” by the Religious Affairs Committee to be imported into and sold in Uzbekistan, the Protestant said.

“We found out later that - in order to cover up their unlawful acts - the Police took an official letter from Akhat Akhmedaliyev, the chair of the local mahalla (residential district), saying that Umurzakov and his family were involved in illegal missionary activity among local Muslims,” the Protestant also told Forum 18.

Forum 18 said that Mahalla committees, the lowest level of administration in Uzbekistan, are used by the authorities as a key instrument in their attempts to control society, including by trying to prevent religious activity.

Police are preparing to open a case against the couple and Muminov under sections of the Administrative Code.

Forum 18 said police told Umurzakov that the confiscated books will be sent to the Religious Affairs Committee for “expert analysis,” after which a case will be opened against the three.
Are the Bible and Injil banned?

Police Inspector Ataugliyev defended the raid which he had led.
“We knew he (Umurzakov)stored banned religious literature in his home," he told Forum 18. The inspector declined to tell Forum 18 how the police knew this.

Asked what literature found in Umurzakov's home the police considered banned, Forum 18 said Ataugliyev said, "The Bible, Injil (Uzbek New Testament), and other books.”

Asked whether the Bible and New Testament are banned in Uzbekistan, Forum 18 reported he refused to say anything other than, “The case is under investigation at the moment.”

Forum 18 said he refused to talk further, and when asked whether he and his colleagues physically abused Umurzakov, he terminated the conversation.

Fined for "illegal" teaching of religion

Forum 18 said a member of an officially registered Baptist Church has been fined in central Samarkand Region for an alleged violation of the procedure for teaching religious doctrines).
Forum 18 said on Aug. 11, Judge Aziz Safarov of Nurabad District Criminal Court fined Shoira Allayarova, member of Nurabad Baptist Church, 57,200 Soms (or 33 US Dollars at the “inflated” official exchange rate), one month's minimum wage (the presidentially-decreed official minimum monthly wage rose to 57,200 Soms on Aug. 1).

The court decision – viewed by Forum 18 - says that Allayarova "illegally" taught religion to Zamira Yarkulova, a resident of the village of Jom in Nurabad District.

However, Forum 18 reported, local Baptists, who asked not to be named, told the news organization that they believe that the authorities specifically targeted Allayarova, who has hearing deficiency, and was born to parents who cannot hear or talk.

“The authorities punished her because she was also giving material help to Zamina,” they told Forum 18.

Reached on Aug. 25, Judge Safarov took down Forum 18's name. But when asked why he fined Allayarova, and whether it is illegal in Uzbekistan for individuals to share their beliefs with others, he hung the phone up.

For more background, see Forum 18's Uzbekistan religious freedom survey

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 at

Christians in Pakistan speak up to stop violence in Karachi

‘Karachi is burning,’ says one Christian leader

By Ashfaq Fateh
Special to ASSIST News Service

KARACHI/LAHORE, PAKISTAN (ANS) -- Karachi is an economic hub, seaport, and the largest city in Pakistan, as well as the capital of the province of Sindh.

The never-ending violence in Karachi
The city, which has an estimated population of 13 to 15 million, while the total metropolitan area has a population of over 18 million, is home to a variety of people of different religions and ethnicity, and was once called “A city of peace and lights.”

But, for the last few years, the crime rate has been mounting with every passing day and over the past six months, due to various kinds of crimes, thousands of innocent people have been killed.

The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), Mutihida Qumi Movement (MQM) and the Awami National Party (ANP), are the main parties in the Sindh Assembly and all three are the rulers.

However, there is no letup in violence and killings and all three parties are blaming each other, but still violence is growing. The writ of the local government is no more in the city and non-state actors are gaining power.

Pakistanis are worried about what is going on in this economic capital. The army busy is fighting against terrorism, while the government is struggling to eradicate poverty, resolve the power crises when electricity goes out for hours at a time, and improve social services.
However, the ethnic, sectarian and street crimes are occurring.

Atif Jamil Paagan addressing the rally (Photo: Ashfaq Fateh)
Finally, Christians, opposition parties, civil society and Islamic religious groups are raising voice to find ways to stop killings in Karachi.

One is Mr. Atif Jamil Paagan, a Christian leader and central Chairman of Pakistan Minorities Democratic Movement (PMDM), has now given a nationwide call during a rally at the Lahore Press Club to the people of religious minorities to march peacefully demanding to “restore peace” in Karachi to “save Pakistan” on September 03, 2011.

Addressing the rally, Mr. Paagan said, “Karachi is burning. In last six months, over two thousand innocents have been killed in target killings. Street crimes, kidnapping for ransom, robbery, land grabbing and many other server crimes are on rise.

“The key players in the legislative assemblies are part of the government and besides the ‘blame game’ nothing is happening. Karachi a backbone of the country and Pakistan’s economy is at stake. The bloodshed is on rise and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), Awami National Party (ANP) and the Mutihida Qaumi Movement (MQM) are not serious. Former Home minister, Dr. Zulfiqar Mirza, has given the details of people involved in Karachi violence but the government is silent and making no progress to stop violence.”

Protestors at the rally (Photo: Ashfaq Fateh)

He went on to say, “Today Hindus, Christians, Sikhs and Dalits appeal the President and Prime Minister of Pakistan to take urgent action to stop the killings of innocents in Karachi and restore peace. Reconciliation and peace is very important for the prosperity of Pakistan.”

Rasheed Jalal, District, President Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) for the minorities wing said, “Religious minorities sometimes feel that their sufferings are bigger than others, such as persecution for their faith, violence, denial of basic rights to Christians and other religious minorities.

“Many who are arriving in Lahore from far flung areas during heavy rains, Christians and other religious minorities have shown that despite all of these issues, they express solidarity with their countrymen/women at a time when they are being killed”

The call at the gathering was well responded to by the religious communities of Hindus, Dalits, Sikhs, civil society members, and Islamic peace building groups.

The rally began at the Railways Servant Quarters and ended up at the Lahore Press Club. The demonstrators were holding the flags of PMDM and carrying cards demanding the government to stop debating non-issues and restore lasting peace in Karachi.

Part of the rally in front of the Lahore Press Club (Photo: Ashfaq Fateh)

An ANS-Pakistan team covered the whole program at which Munir Mall, a worker with PMDM and the organizer of what was called the “Karachi Peace rally” told ANS, “The rally is a message to the government and anti-state elements that Christians and other religious minorities are well aware of the problems of the country and cannot remained silent. Today, hundreds of people, including men, women, children who belongs to different faiths, are demanding with one voice, ‘We want peace in Karachi.’”

Minorities have dedicated September 11, 2011 a day of prayer to express solidarity with people of Karachi. Special peace prayers are to be said in churches, temples and other houses of worship and candles will be lit in memory of what were called the “Karachi martyrs.”

The demonstrators raised slogans such as, “We want Peace in Karachi,” “Save Karachi,” “Save the nation,” “May peace be in Karachi,” “May peace be in Pakistan,” “Long live Pakistan,” “Pakistani minorities are the sons and daughters of the soil,” as well as many others.

ANS observed a big national media attending the event including print and electronic were present to cover this great initiative of the Christians of Pakistan. The leading newspaper, including DAWN, Express Tribune, The Frontier Post, Jang Group and others, highlighted the PMDM rally on their main pages.

Ashfaq Fateh, 38, studied civic and human rights, at Pakistan's leading University, the Aga Khan University in Karachi. He has been working to promote peace, human rights and particularly for Christian's rights. He has also been working against the discriminatory laws prevailing in Pakistan. His wife, Rafia Salomi, is serving as deputy director for Society for Human Development, popularly known as Human Development Center, an icon of Christian's rights in Pakistan since 1984.

** You may republish this story with proper attribution.

Christians Live in Cloud of Fear in Zanzibar, Tanzania

Young man flees family death threats on Muslim isle; another chooses jail over violent mob.
By Simba Tian
NAIROBI, Kenya, September 5 (Compass Direct News) – On Tanzania’s semi-autonomous island of Zanzibar, Christians live in a climate of fear. It’s a place where a young man flees the island to escape death threats from his Muslim family, and a Christian who accidentally burned pages of the Quran opts for jail by entering a guilty plea rather than face certain death from a furious mob.
Yusuf Abdalla, 23, fled to Moshi, mainland Tanzania, after his family threatened to kill him in June. Having converted to Christianity in October 2010 after hearing the gospel on the radio, he was enrolled at a vocational school in Zanzibar city to learn tailoring when his family found out in March that he had left Islam.
The beating he then received from family members left him with injuries to his head, hand and torso, as well as a serious mouth wound and substantial loss of blood, said an area pastor who requested anonymity.
“The family then took back the tailoring machine which they had bought him,” the pastor said. “They also vowed not to support his training.”
As soon as he had recovered enough to leave, Abdalla found refuge on the premises of the pastor’s church before staying at his home on May 5. Within two months, reports had reached Abdalla’s family that he was staying at the pastor’s house, and on June 10 they threatened to kill him, the pastor said.
The church arranged for his escape to Moshi.
Another convert from Islam, Juma Suleiman of Chake-Chake on the neighboring island of Pemba, is also facing death threats. Suleiman became a Christian just two months ago when Tanzania Assemblies of God pastor Yohana Mfundo preached to him while he was in prison, Mfundo said.
Suleiman was released a little over two weeks ago, and family members have already threatened to kill him. He is now in hiding and plans to flee the island.
The Safety of Jail
In Kiembesamaki, near Zanzibar city’s airport, area pastors said 28-year-old Ramadhan Hunda Tuma earlier this year opted for jail by entering a plea of guilty to charges that he burned the Quran, rather than face an enraged mob calling for his death.
More than 50 Muslims had packed into the courtroom to hear the judge’s Feb. 21 ruling on Tuma, whose landlady had ordered him to burn his trash after evicting him because he had converted to Christianity; he was not aware that among the trash was a small copy of the Quran used by beginning students in madrassas (Islamic schools), area pastors said.
“Outside the courtroom, there was a mob baying for his blood in case he was set free,” said Pastor Leonard Massasa of the Evangelical Assemblies of God-Tanzania. “One lady from church overheard them say, ‘If he is going to be released, then we will kill him.’”
Tuma, member of a church of another denomination in Zanzibar city, accidentally burned part of the Quran.
“Due to the conditions prevailing then, Tuma pleaded guilty because he feared for his life,” said another pastor, who requested anonymity. “He chose to go to jail rather than to be released only to be killed.”
Arriving home from a Sunday church service, Tuma found the wealthy landlady furious to learn that he had converted to Christianity; she had thrown all his belongings out of the house. She ordered him to leave, the pastor said. Tuma burned the trash under the supervision of his landlady, who reported him to a sheikh in a nearby mosque. A raucous crowd of Muslims showed up to kill him before police arrived and took him to the police station, the pastor said.
The church is caring for Tuma’s young family – his wife, 6-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter, the pastor added.
District Magistrate Khamis Ali Simai of Mwanakwerekwe, Zanzibar, sentenced Tuma to 18 months for “disrespecting a religious faith” and six months for “threatening public peace,” though both terms are to run simultaneously, according to International Quran News Agency (IQNA). Simai ruled that Tuma’s burning of the Quran on Nov. 16, 2010 angered the Muslim community, thereby jeopardizing public peace, according to IQNA.
The judge said the punishment was to serve as warning to other would-be offenders, IQNA reported.
Prosecutors led by Raya Issa Mselem said they were not satisfied with the ruling and intended to appeal for a harsher sentence; Mselem said a stiffer penalty would better deter others who would be tempted to commit similar offenses, according to IQNA.
Tuma, who represented himself and was put under tight police protection, pleaded for leniency on grounds that he was the sole breadwinner for his family and that he was suffering from a stomach ailment.
Dangerous Cafés
In Pemba, it has become extremely risky for churches to have their documents typed or printed in cybercafés, sources said, as shop personnel are saving copies that they take to Muslim sheikhs in order to disclose Christian activities.
Their findings are announced in mosques, the pastors said.
“They have announced in their mosques that no Muslim should sell land to infidels,” said pastor Yohana Makulanya of the Seventh-day Adventist church.
The Muslim majority oppresses religious minorities in more subtle ways. Schools teach only Islamic studies, not Christianity, and any student stating that Jesus is Lord will not receive a grade, the pastors said.
“Sometimes our children are forced to change their Christian names to Muslim names so as to be considered for employment,” said the Rev. Apolinali Mapendo Musaki, a Catholic priest.
At times churches are deprived of piped water.
“Here in Wete, we rely on rainwater – no piped water is supplied to us,” said the Rev. Stephen Kamwendo of the Anglican Church.
The church leaders said many Christians have been forcefully converted to Islam, including four from the Catholic Church and six from the Seventh-day Adventist church.
Copyright 2011 Compass Direct News