Saturday, January 14, 2012

Muslim Extremists Strike at Christians on East African Isles

In Zanzibar, two church buildings razed; in Comoros, a Christian suffers disease, shunning.
Far from the world media’s gaze in remote islands off the eastern coast of Africa, church buildings are razed and Christians are ostracized and imprisoned for their faith – leaving one with a skin disease.

On Tanzania’s island of Zanzibar, in one week-long stretch last month Muslim extremists destroyed two church buildings, Christian leaders said. The extremists torched the building of the Pentecostal Evangelical Fellowship of Africa in Mtufani Mwera, about 12 kilometers (seven miles) from Zanzibar town, at 7 p.m. on Dec. 3, said Pastor Julius Makoho. Damages were estimated at 1.5 million Tanzania shillings (US$9,350).

“When I arrived at the scene of incident Sunday morning, I found that the church had been reduced to ashes, with bottles seen close by that could be petrol or paraffin that could have been used for the burning of the church building,” Pastor Makoho said.

As the assailants fled, said one church member who requested anonymity, “I heard them shouting, ‘We do not want a church in this area!’”

To date no arrests have been made.

Daniel Kwilembe, bishop of the 80-member church, said authorities on the predominantly Muslim archipelago tend to take no action in crimes against Christians. Bishop Fabian Obedi of the Pentecostal Evangelical Church of Zanzibar concurred.

“The Muslims are burning our church buildings quite frequently here in Zanzibar, but the government is not speaking against this kind of destruction of our church premises,” Bishop Obedi said.

The previous week in Kianga, about 10 kilometers (six miles) from Zanzibar town, a throng of Islamic extremists demolished Siloam Church’s building. Pastor Boniface Kaliabukama said that more than 100 Muslim extremists arrived at the church compound on Nov. 26 chanting “Allahu Akbar [God is greater].”

“The security guard got scared of the mob and fled for his life,” Pastor Kaliabukama said.

The assailants entered the church building with clubs, hammers, torches and swords, tearing it down in about three hours, the pastor said. The arrival of police did not stop them; they kept slamming the structure even as police tried to frighten them off by firing into the air, he said. Officers did manage to arrest group leader Mbarak Hamadi, 60.

“When the church assembly arrived at the church for church service, there was no shelter for them to worship in,” said Pastor Kaliabukama. Siloam Church has a congregation of about 200 members.

Bishop Obedi confirmed the attack, saying that a neighbor called him the night of the incident to tell him that he had heard a Muslim saying, “We are not comfortable with the existence of the Siloam Church – this church is growing very fast, and it is taking some of our Muslim brethren.”

Damages to the brick structure with its sheet-iron roof, completed in August 2011, were estimated at 25 million Tanzanian shillings (US$15,570).

“The government had permitted us to put up the church structure,” Pastor Kaliabukama said. “But these Muslims have no regard to the law. What will be the fate of my church members?”

Zanzibar Island’s population is estimated at 700,000. There are only 60 Christian congregations on the archipelago, according to Operation World. The Zanzibar archipelago united with Tanganyika to form the present day Tanzania in 1964.

On July 30, Muslim extremists burned down a church building in Fuoni, on the south coast of Zanzibar island, that belonged to the Evangelical Assemblies of God-Tanzania. In Kianga, another church building was burned down on July 27, and on neighboring Pemba Island, suspected Muslims extremists in Konde on June 17 razed a Seventh-day Adventist Church building.

Skin Disease
Further south, in Comoros – three tiny islands between Mozambique and Madagascar that declared independence from France in 1975 – a convert from Islam is suffering from a skin disease contracted in prison after his family threw him out.

The ordeal of Musta Kim began in March 2010 when, returning from an overnight prayer meeting, he found someone had broken into his house in Mdjwayezi village. What he thought would be a simple matter of reporting a burglary turned him into an outcast.

While looking for evidence in his home, police stumbled onto Christian materials – a Bible and film – which changed the course of inquiry from pursuing thieves to asking why Kim was practicing a forbidden faith.

The Muslim youth who broke into his home was suspicious that Kim had left Islam, Kim said. Police investigations following the March 4 ransacking lasted three months, and among the Christian materials officers found was the “Jesus Film,” a translation of the Gospel of Luke in the local Ngazidja language and a French Bible.

With the help of Kim’s family, police arrested him and severely beat him during interrogation, injuring his right eye, before throwing him into a jail cell, he said. He slept on a moist thin mattress in the filthy jail cell, leaving him with a skin disease that has affected his whole body. He also developed a serious infection on his navel, with secretion of pus, which required urgent attention.

Kim was rushed to the Roman Catholic Hospital in Mboeni, but his condition worsened, with his skin ailment resembling scabies. He began scratching himself continuously, leading to serious bleeding, and went sleepless nights in intense pain throughout his body, he said.

His health deteriorating, he made an appeal in the high court regarding his eight months of incarceration without trial, and he was released on Feb. 29, 2011.

His family, however, rejected him, and Kim did not know who to turn to for shelter, medicine and food, he said.

“I cannot sleep at night – the whole body is itching and hurting,” he said. “I need medical assistance – my family has deserted me.”

Hailing from Mdjwayezi village 20 kilometers from Moroni town, Kim is an active member of the underground church.

The Comorian constitution provides for freedom of religion, though it is routinely violated. Islam is the legal religion, and anyone found practicing another faith faces opposition. Evangelism is forbidden, and converts to Christianity can expect severe reprisals, according to Operation World, which states that the country is 98.84 percent Muslim and 0.93 percent Christian.


Karnataka Most Dangerous State in India for Christians

Detail of painting symbolic of assaults on Christians in India,
 displayed at exhibition in New Delhi last year.
(Photo: Compass)

Southern state remains most volatile place for third straight year.
Attacks on Christians accelerated over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays in the south Indian state of Karnataka, which was identified as the most unsafe place for the religious minority for the third consecutive year in 2011.

With 49 cases of violence and hostility against Christians in 2011, Karnataka remained the state with the highest incidence of persecution, according to the Evangelical Fellowship of India’s annual report, “Battered and Bruised…”

The Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC), which is based in Karnataka’s capital of Bengaluru and initially reported most of the incidents, also documented at least six anti-Christian attacks between Christmas Eve 2011 and New Year’s Day.

On the evening of Jan. 1, about 20 men disrupted the New Year’s Day worship service of the Blessing Youth Mission Church at the house of a believer in Hunnur village, in Jamkhandi division of Bagalkot district. Suspected Hindu extremists from the Bajrang Dal, the men manhandled pastor Siddu Seemanth Gunike, accusing him of forcibly and fraudulently converting Hindus. Local police intervened and rescued the pastor and other Christians.

On New Year’s Eve, more than 10 men trespassed onto the premises of the Karnataka Calvary Fellowship Church, in the Ganeshgudi area in Joida division of North Canara district, and disrupted a service of thanksgiving. Believed to be Hindu nationalists, the men forced the church to stop the service. Police arrived but only to summon the pastor, identified as P.R. Jose, to the police station the following morning. After GCIC’s intervention, however, a senior police official assured the Christians of security.

On the evening of Dec. 28, 2011, a group of men from the nationalist Hindu Sriram Sene disrupted the prayer meeting of the Divyadarsana Ministry Church at the home of a Christian, Bima Naik, in SS Layout in Davanagere city, the headquarters of the central Davanagere district. Alleging the meeting was to convert Hindus, the men tried to manhandle the Christians. Police arrived, but instead of detaining the intruders took pastor Raju Doddamani, Naik and three other Christians to the police station for interrogation. They were released late at night.

The same day, unidentified persons burned a Christmas tree and a crib that were part of Christmas celebrations by local Catholics in Maripalla area in Bantwal division of the Dakshina Kannada district. Police arrested two men, but their identities were not disclosed.

Police reportedly said the decorations were burned over suspicion of “conversions.” Evangelizing and conversion are legal in India.

Also on Dec. 28, suspected Hindu nationalists ransacked and broke windows of the Hebron Assembly Church in the Haleangadi area of Mangalore division in Dakshina Kannada district. The attackers also destroyed household items in the house of the pastor, identified only as Prasanna. Police registered a case against the attackers, but at press time no one was reported to have been arrested.

On the evening of Dec. 25, about 20 people beat Christians with stones and wooden clubs as they celebrated Christmas at a house in the Maindguri area, near Surathkal, a few miles from the city of Mangalore, in Dakshina Kannada district. The attackers, allegedly from a local extremist Hindu Jagran Vedike (Hindu Revival Forum), attacked the Christians, including women and children, indiscriminately.

A 27-year-old man identified only as Joyson fractured his leg; a pastor’s wife identified as Lata, sustained chest injuries; a 29-year-old woman identified as Roshini and another woman identified as Annamma received head injuries; and a 23-year-old man identified only as Deepak broke his nasal bridge in the attack. A local Christian told Compass by phone that police arrested five of the attackers, but that they had been released on bail.

The attacks on Christians in Karnataka are “shameful” and “a blot on the secular and democratic India,” GCIC President Sajan K. George said. The local government and authorities were “complicit in the persecution against Christians,” he added.

Anti-Christian attacks increased in the state after the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to sole power in May 2008. At least 28 attacks were reported in less than two months in August and September of that year. In 2009, Karnataka witnessed at least 48 attacks, and the number grew to 56 in 2010, according to the EFI.

In its 2010 report of Christian persecution in India, the EFI had warned about increasing attacks on Christians in Karnataka, remarking that “although in 2007 and 2008 two major incidents of violence occurred in eastern Orissa state’s Kandhamal district and hit headlines in the national as well as international media, little efforts have been taken by authorities in India to tackle the root causes of communal tensions, namely divisive propaganda and activities by powerful right-wing Hindu groups, who do not represent the tolerant Hindu community.”

The violence in Kandhamal district during Christmas week of 2007 killed at least four Christians and burned 730 houses and 95 churches, according to the All India Christian Council (AICC). These attacks were preceded by around 200 incidents of anti-Christian attacks in other parts of the country.

Violence re-erupted in Kandhamal district in August 2008, killing more than 100 people and resulting in the incineration of 4,640 houses, 252 churches and 13 educational institutions, according to the AICC.

Christians account for about 2.3 percent of India’s population, which is more than 1 billion.


Friday, January 13, 2012

North Korea: Seven underground churches raided

By Mark Ellis
Senior Correspondent, ASSIST News Service

LOS ANGELES (ANS) -- Since the unexpected death of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il December 17th, and the succession to power of his third son, Kim Jong-un, the underground Christian church has faced increased persecution.
Kim Jong-un surrounded by military leaders (source: AP)

“Three weeks ago seven underground churches got exposed,” says Thomas Kim, executive director of Cornerstone Ministries, which is actively involved in serving the church in North Korea. “It’s been very difficult for the last month and I think it’s going to continue,” he says.
The North Korean leadership apparently fears the kind of insurrection that swept other communist regimes and is now sweeping the Middle East. “They are scared there will be an uprising,” Kim notes. “They are scared by the expansion of the Christian faith because Christians will die for their faith.”

The old guard surrounding Kin Jong-un are anxious for a smooth transition, and this is impacting the church. “The regime has been putting pressure on to stabilize society,” Kim says. In the months preceding Kim Jong-il’s death, there were few attempts to search for underground believers, but that has changed.

“Now the regime is putting out many people to search for the underground church,” Kim notes. “There is a need to pray for protection.”

Mark Ellis is a senior correspondent for ASSIST News Service and the founder  He is available to speak to groups about the plight of the church in restricted countries, to share stories and testimonies from the mission field, and to preach the gospel.

Boko Haram declares war on Christians in Nigeria

Nigeria (MNN) ― Boko Haram's march toward chaos continues. The leader of the militant Islamic sect appeared in a video posted January 11 to justify his group's attacks on Christians in the northern part of Nigeria.

In the video, he also declared war on Christians. Aside from Boko Haram's determination to institute Sharia law across the rest of Nigeria, they've vowed to render Nigeria "ungovernable." Since 1999, Muslim state leaders have imposed Shariah law in 12 northern states and parts of four others.

More than 85 people have died in bomb and gun attacks since Christmas Day on churches in Abuja, the capital, and in the north. 15 sections of the country remain under a state of emergency as assaults were launched on universities, police, secular courts, Christian churches and mosques. President Goodluck Jonathan also closed Nigeria's borders with Chad and Niger Republic. 

The continuous stream of violence has stoked fears that the government can't stop the escalating religious violence in Africa's most populous country. At the same time, a move to end a fuel subsidy provoked several days of protests in Lagos.

According to the Voice of the Martyrs USA and the Voice of the Martyrs Canada, what this means is: the scale of persecution of Christians by Muslims is likely to spread from Nigeria's northern states to the central plateau. Church leaders are warning that Christians will defend themselves by whatever means necessary.

Voice of the Martyrs teams are already responding to medical needs, meeting victims in hospitals, helping them get care, and paying medical bills.

Pray that the Lord will minister to the survivors of the attacks and help them overcome their present sufferings. Pray that those responsible will be brought to justice and that they will come to repentance and gain knowledge of Christ. Pray that God will frustrate the plans of the enemy so the current threat will come to nothing.

Christians hold worship service in Tahrir Square to kick off New Year

Egypt (MNN) ― Thousands of Christians started out the New Year taking a risk in Egypt.

Tahrir Square in Cairo has been the hub for all sorts of protests and even atrocities in Egypt over the last year. But a church near the Square was ready to turn it into something else.

A New Year's Eve praise and worship service was scheduled to be held at Kasr El Dobara Church near Tahrir Square. The church body was hoping to better "share with those who need to understand our hope more fully." What better place to go than to the nearby Square?

According to SAT-7, a satellite television service for Christians in the Middle East and North Africa, between 5,000 and 10,000 people joined the worship service as it moved from the church to the Square. The congregation calmly proceeded down the street holding candles and singing to God.

All went peacefully as Christians and non-Christians alike gathered to pray and call out to God. At least one believer was confident the event would be peaceful, noting, "It'll be peaceful because we've been praying a lot for this."

Thousands more across the nation were able to gather to pray for the country when SAT-7 was able to broadcast the service via satellite television.

Egypt remains in turmoil, but many have now been alerted to the words of Christ. Pray for many to turn to the Lord as a result of this event and other SAT-7 programming.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Muslim extremists haunt Christians in Nigeria

(Photos courtesy Compass Direct News)

(MNN) ― The Boko Haram is stepping up the pace of making good on their threat against Christians in Nigeria.
Military authorities say two Christians were gunned down Monday night in the Northeast in separate attacks despite an increased security presence in the area.

That brings to 54 the number murdered by Boko Haram since an ultimatum to force Christians to the South expired on January 3. President and CEO of Open Doors USA, Carl Moeller says, "Boko Haram is fast becoming one of the world's most notorious terrorist groups. This extremist branch of Islam is really stepping up the violence against the Christians with the expressed intent to spread Sharia law throughout the entire country."

There's a secondary motive that is more insidious. Moeller explains, "One of the other goals of Boko Haram that has been stated as well, is much more threatening, and that's to destabilize the entire country. The recent attacks are pointing in the direction of making this much more threatening for the entire government."

President Goodluck Jonathan imposed a state of emergency just over a week ago in 15 parts of the country most vulnerable to attack. The violence is stirring up sectarian tensions that could erupt into a scene of carnage. "The Bishops of Nigeria have called on the Christians in the Northern States to defend themselves, whereas in the past, they've tried to rely on the government to be the protection for the Christians, but the government has proven that it's incapable of actually protecting its own citizens."

Open Doors reports an attack on January 5 left nine Christians dead and 19 wounded in Gombe state. Days before, Compass Direct confirmed another massacre in which at least 21 Christians were killed in Adamawa state.

Although the government is trying to respond, church leaders are infuriated at their vulnerability, which could play right into the extremist sect's hands. Moeller explains, "Christians will be defending their towns, their villages, their churches, and their families against this kind of violence that can only do one thing: to decrease the respect for the rule of law in Nigeria."
Moeller notes that "Nigeria is so important to the spread of Christianity throughout Africa. Please pray with me for the Christians in Nigeria and to give wisdom to President Goodluck Jonathan in dealing with the attacks and instability."

In an uncertain time, Open Doors comes alongside Christians who have been victimized and traumatized in these situations. Their teams provide physical, emotional and spiritual help. Moeller adds that another interesting effect is more interest in the Gospel. "When Christians are willing to be killed simply for following Jesus, that tends to inspire curiosity among those who are looking into it."

Nigeria is ranked No. 13 on the Open Doors World Watch List of 50 countries which are the worst persecutors of Christians. According to World Watch List, Nigeria had at least 300 martyrs in 2011, although the actual number could be doubled or tripled. That number is the most in any country although North Korea could have had more but information is hard to obtain due to the isolation of the communist state.

Human Trafficking Awareness Day is every day for Compassion International

International (MNN) ― Today is Human Trafficking Awareness Day in the United States.

Today--and actually the whole month of January--has been set aside to reflect on the state of slavery in the world. Currently, there are 27 million slaves worldwide--a higher number than there has ever been at one time in history. 80% of that 27 million are women, and 50% of that 27 million are children.

Human trafficking accounts for a wide range of violations, including the coercion of women into the sex trade to forced child labor. Compassion International does everything they can to prevent all of it.

"There are a lot of groups that do rescue, and we're so thankful for them. But there are very few who actually are involved in the prevention part of it. And that's where Compassion fits in," says Compassion's Kathy Redmond.

Compassion works to bring children across the globe out of poverty, a key component to fighting human trafficking as well. "Wherever there's poverty, there's this kind of risk," Redmond explains.

Compassion has indeed come across many children who either have had relatives trafficked or who have been trafficked themselves.
"It's a very easy way to make money for survival," explains Redmond. "So in quite a few countries, we deal with mothers who have been prostitutes themselves to turn their kids over to that when they're ten years old."

It's a way to make money to eat in some nations. In others, the poor kidnap children to use them to make money themselves. This is especially a problem in regions with a high demand for prostitution.

For instance, says Redmond, "With the Olympics going to Brazil, and the World Cup going to Brazil, there's a very lucrative market for sex trafficking. And they're already working on it now; the market is there."

Compassion cracks down on these horrors in a number of ways. The first and most obvious way is to just get kids off the streets, to feed them, to give them an education, to share the Gospel with them, and to therefore provide them a way out of the cycle of poverty. If poverty and human trafficking are so closely linked, eliminating poverty helps cut down the vulnerability of Compassion children now and later on.

Compassion is also able to go beyond the kids though. The ministry has been able to intervene and talk to mothers about trafficking, sharing the freedom of Christ with them as well.

Compassion also has some ministries directly in the heart of high risk areas, including a ministry in a neighborhood in India full of sex workers. Victims of the human trade then have access to Compassion workers and churches.

Compassion is working to make a dent in the growing issue of human trafficking, and you can help. Sponsoring a child might seem like just a drop in the bucket, but Redmond says that sponsorship can be the difference between ending up in a vulnerable life of poverty and escaping the cycle and the horrors that accompany it.

To commit to sponsoring a child, thus preventing human trafficking and introducing the life-changing message of the Gospel, visit

Women's climb up Mt. Kilimanjaro shouts for Freedom from trafficking

Tanzania (MNN) ― Today is Human Trafficking Awareness Day, and to kick it off, a group of 46 women is climbing mountains to combat human trafficking--literally.

After training for weeks to be able to finish the feat, theOperation Mobilization group of women from around the world has chosen today to start a climb up Mt. Kilimanjaro. As part of a campaign called The Freedom Climb, this group of women will climb Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania to raise awareness of human trafficking.

Lysa McMillan is one of the climbers. She says she and the other 45 ladies feel so passionate about putting an end to modern day slavery--which makes up the realities of over 27 million lives worldwide--that they feel called to shout out about it.

"Sometimes when you have a crisis that serious, you need to shout from the rooftops. You need to do something extreme in order to put attention on such a serious issue," says McMillan. "So that's where Kilimanjaro comes in. Kilimanjaro becomes that extreme measure of doing something kind of radical, kind of 'off the wall,' to say ‘We want to put light on a dark issue. We want to shout from the rooftops about an injustice that needs to end.'"

McMillan approaches that objective literally: "A lot of people don't realize, but Kilimanjaro is known as the roof of Africa."

The Freedom Climb has many facets. The women are not only raising awareness but also funds to combat oppression, slavery, exploitation, and global trafficking. Each woman raised $10,000 to go toward OM projects in Asia, Africa, South America and Europe that prevent trafficking or provide care for those who have been affected by it.

This climb is also symbolic of the challenging climb that victims face while climbing out of oppression and into freedom. All of the climbers are women, just as 80% of trafficked victims worldwide are women.

The summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro is called "Uhuru Peak." Uhuru is the Swahili word for "freedom" and reinforces the hope that women and children worldwide can be free from their oppression.

None of the 46 women in Tanzania today are professional climbers, but they are united in, and motivated by, the purpose of being a voice for the voiceless. Some of the climbers were victims of sex trafficking and other injustices.

The climbers are also passionate about the Gospel. Their funds will go to OM projects that share and proclaim the ultimate freedom in Jesus Christ.

To follow The Freedom Climb, visit and sign up for e-mail updates. You can learn more and support the climbers there.

Middle East protest and repression set to continue, says Amnesty

Repression and state violence is likely to continue to plague the Middle East and North Africa in 2012 unless governments in the region and international powers wake up to the scale of the changes being demanded of them, Amnesty International warned today in a new report into the dramatic events of the last year.
In the 80-page Year of Rebellion: State of Human Rights in the Middle East and North Africa, the organization describes how governments across the region were willing in 2011 to deploy extreme violence in an attempt to resist unprecedented calls for fundamental reform.
But Amnesty International said that the region’s protest movements appeared to show few signs of abandoning their ambitious goals or accepting piecemeal reforms.
“With few exceptions, governments have failed to recognize that everything has changed,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s interim Middle East and North Africa Director. “The protest movements across the region, led in many cases by young people and with women playing central roles, have proved astonishingly resilient in the face of sometimes staggering repression.”
“They have shown that they will not be fooled by reforms that make little difference to the way they are treated by the police and security forces. They want concrete changes to the way they are governed and for those responsible for past crimes to be held to account.”
“But persistent attempts by states to offer cosmetic changes, to push back against gains made by protesters or to simply brutalize their populations into submission betray the fact that for many governments, regime survival remains their aim.”
Despite great optimism in North Africa at the toppling of long-standing rulers in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, Amnesty International said that these gains had not yet been cemented by key institutional reforms to guarantee that the same kinds of abuses would not be repeated.
Egypt's military rulers, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), pledged repeatedly to deliver on the demands of the “January 25 revolution” but Amnesty International found that they had in fact been responsible for a catalogue of abuses that was in some aspects worse than under Hosni Mubarak.
The army and security forces have violently suppressed protests, resulting in at least 84 deaths between October and December 2011. Torture in detention has continued while more civilians have been tried before military courts in one year than under 30 years of Mubarak’s rule. Women appear to have been targeted for humiliating treatment to try to deter them from protesting. In December the offices of a number of Egyptian and international NGOs were raided by security forces in an apparent attempt to silence critics of the authorities.
Amnesty International said it feared that 2012 could see further attempts by the military council to restrict the ability of Egyptians to protest and freely express their views.
The uprising in Tunisia brought significant improvements in human rights, but one year on many consider that the pace of change has been too slow, with families of the victims of the uprising still awaiting justice.
Following elections in October a new coalition government was formed. Moncef Marzouki, a human rights activist and former Amnesty International prisoner of conscience, is the country’s interim president.
Amnesty International said that that in 2012 it was critical that Tunisians seized the opportunity of drafting a new constitution to ensure that it guaranteed protection of human rights and equality under the law.
In Libya, there were significant questions about the ability of the new authorities to control the armed brigades that had helped oust the pro-Gaddafi forces and prevent them from replicating the patterns of abuse learnt under the old system.
Despite the National Transitional Council calling on its supporters to avoid revenge attacks, serious abuses by anti-Gaddafi forces have rarely been condemned. In November the UN stated that an estimated 7,000 detainees were being held in makeshift centres under the control of revolutionary brigades, with no prospect of a proper judicial process.
Elsewhere, Amnesty International said that governments remained grimly determined to cling onto power, in some cases at almost any cost in human lives and dignity.
The Syrian armed forces and intelligence services have been responsible for a pattern of killings and torture amounting to crimes against humanity, in a vain attempt to terrify protesters and opponents into silence and submission. By the end of the year there were over 200 cases of reported deaths in custody, over 40 times the recent average annual figure for Syria.
In Yemen the standoff over the Presidency caused further suffering for ordinary Yemenis. More than 200 people were killed in connection with protests while hundreds more died in armed clashes. Tens of thousands were displaced by the violence, causing a humanitarian crisis.
There were hopes in Bahrain that the November publication of an independent report by international experts on protest-related abuses might mark a fresh start for the country. At the end of the year the strength of the government’s commitment to implementing the commission's wide-ranging recommendations remained to be seen.
The Saudi Arabian government announced major spending packages in 2011, in what seemed to be an attempt to prevent protests spreading to the Kingdom. Despite that – and the drafting of a repressive anti-terror law – protests continued at the end of the year, in particular in the country’s eastern region.
In Iran, whose domestic policies remained largely out of the spotlight during 2011, the government continued to stifle dissent, tightening restrictions on freedom of information and specifically targeting journalists, bloggers, independent trade unionists and political activists.
Amnesty International said the response of international powers and regional bodies such as the African Union, Arab League and EU to developments in 2011 had been inconsistent, and had failed to grasp the depth of the challenge to entrenched repressive rule in the region.
Human rights were espoused as a reason in favour of a military intervention in Libya, but the Security Council, stymied by Russia and China in particular, had by the end of the year only issued a weak statement condemning the violence in Syria.
And while the Arab League acted quickly to suspend Libya from membership in February and later suspended Syria and sent a team of observers, it remained quiet when Saudi Arabian troops, acting under a Gulf Cooperation Council banner, backed the Bahraini government’s efforts to crush protests.
“Support from world powers for ordinary people in the region has been typically patchy,” said Philip Luther.
“But what has been striking about the last year has been that – with some exceptions – change has largely been achieved through the efforts of local people coming onto the streets, not the influence and involvement of foreign powers.”
“The refusal of ordinary people across the region to be deterred from their struggle for dignity and justice is what gives us hope for 2012.”

Christian roots of ANC recalled during anniversary celebrations

The Christian roots of the African National Congress (ANC) were cited during weekend celebrations in South Africa marking the centennial of Africa's best known liberation and political movement - writes Trevor Grundy.
More than a dozen African heads of state and representatives from around the world attended to honour the movement that eventually overcame the apartheid system of racial segregation.
On 8 January, hundreds packed into the recently-renovated Waaihoek Wesleyan Church in Bloemfontein, where the ANC began. The church echoed with the haunting sounds of the anthem "God Bless Africa" and stomping feet before ANC Chaplain General Vukile Mehana began an hour-long service.
The movement was founded by Christian pastors, mission-educated journalists, lawyers and social workers on 8 January 1912. Bloemfontein, about 200 miles southwest of Johannesburg, was the centre of white Afrikaner power in a country ruled exclusively by Europeans until ANC leader Nelson Mandela became president in 1994.
Mehana noted that "we are ... having the main service for all religions here. We are all one family of the ANC, all of us from various faiths."
During a radio broadcast delivered on the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC), retired (Anglican) Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate for his efforts against apartheid, said he hoped the ANC would remain true to its origins
In a telephone interview with ENInews, the Rev Mautji Pataki, General Secretary of the South African Council of Churches (SACC) noted that "the people who in 1912 founded the South African Native National Convention [known after 1923 as the African National Congress] were all Christians."
He added, "Christianity is embedded in our movement. The first four Presidents of the ANC were devout Christians and one of the best known of all was the late Oliver Tambo (1917-1993) who remained a devout Anglican all his life."
However, outside the church, South African President Jacob Zuma reminded his followers that Africans had religious beliefs long before the arrival of Christian missionaries in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Zuma, a traditional leader from Natal and scion of the once powerful Zulu nation that dominated central and southern Africa in the early 19th century, led the slaughter of a black bull during a "cleansing and thanksgiving ceremony" conducted by traditional healers who are known in Africa as "n'angas."
The site featured a giant portrait of Mandela, who at age 93, was too frail to attend the celebration.
Last month, Zuma blamed 19th century Christian missionaries for Africa's main problems, saying they had dismantled traditional ways. "As Africans," he said," long before the arrival of religion and the (Christian) gospel, we had our own way of doing things."
"We have heard criticisms about Christianity from President Zuma many times," Pataki told ENInews, "and always answered them. Today, South Africa is a secular society with a wonderful constitution extending full democratic rights to all religions, all people, all ways of life. But our roots are Christian and they will shine through whatever our present problems."
He said that the centennial coincided with the death of Ilse Naude, the 98-year old widow of Afrikaner theologian and anti-apartheid activist the Rev Christian Frederick Bayers Naude, who died in 2004.
"I attended her funeral [on 7 January] at a Dutch Reformed Church in Johannesburg and the South African Council of Churches honours this great Christian woman who gave such support and strength to her husband at a time when whites who supported the black struggle for freedom were few and far between and whose lives were constantly in danger," Pataki told ENInews.
About 73 per cent of South Africa's population of 50 million identifies as Christian, with about 15 per cent following traditional religions.
[With acknowledgements to ENInews. ENInews, formerly Ecumenical News International, is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Communion of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]

Police involved in Andaman Island 'Human Safaris'

The Observer newspaper has revealed evidence of police involvement in ‘human safaris’ in India’s Andaman Islands.
The scandal, first exposed in 2010 by Survival, the NGO which campaigns for the rights of tribal people, involves tourists using an illegal road to enter the reserve of the Jarawa tribe. Tour companies and cab drivers ‘attract’ the Jarawa with biscuits and sweets.
The Observer has obtained a video showing a group of Jarawa women being ordered to dance for tourists by a policeman, who had reportedly accepted a £200 bribe to take them into the reserve.
One tourist has previously described a similar trip: ‘The journey through tribal reserve was like a safari ride as we were going amidst dense tropical rainforest and looking for wild animals, Jarawa tribals to be specific’.
In recent weeks the Islands’ administration has again ruled out closing the road, known as the Andaman Trunk Road revealed for the first time that it plans to open an alternative route by sea to bypass most of the Jarawa reserve.
Survival has called for tourists to boycott the road, which the Supreme Court ordered closed in 2002. Working with a local organisation, SEARCH, Survival has distributed leaflets to tourists arriving at the Islands’ airport warning of the dangers of using the road.
Survival’s Director Stephen Corry said today, "This story reeks of colonialism and the disgusting and degrading ‘human zoos’ of the past. Quite clearly, some people’s attitudes towards tribal peoples haven’t moved on a jot. The Jarawa are not circus ponies bound to dance at anyone’s bidding."

Nigeria asked to end police attacks on fuel price protesters

The Nigerian authorities must immediately end excessive use of force against protesters, Amnesty International says, after at least one person was killed in Kwara state during protests over fuel price rises.
Witnesses say a student, 23-year-old Muyideen Mustapha, was shot by police attempting to disperse protesters in the state capital of Ilorin on Tuesday. Police officials claim he was stabbed to death by other protesters and say an investigation into the killing has been launched.
Police reportedly fired tear gas and beat protesters as demonstrations continued over the weekend.
“The police have a duty to protect lives and property and uphold the rule of law. It is therefore completely unacceptable for them to use live ammunition against protesters,” said Paule Rigaud, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Africa.
“The Nigerian authorities should respect and protect peoples’ rights to freedom of expression guaranteed by the Nigerian constitution, and should instruct the police force to refrain from shooting at protesters,” she said.
Under a controversial regulation, known as “Police Force Order 237”, police officers can shoot at rioters or protesters whether or not they pose a threat to life. The regulation directs officers to fire “at the knees of the rioters” and explicitly prohibits firing in the air.
“Force Order 237 is being abused by police officers to commit, justify and cover up illegal killings at every given opportunity. This regulation goes against international standards and should be repealed immediately,” said Paule Rigaud.
Thousands of Nigerians in cities across the country have taken part in marches protesting against the removal of a state fuel subsidy, which has seen fuel prices and transport fares double.
Civil society groups and labour unions have announced further protests on 9 and 11 January 2012.
“With more protests coming up, it’s essential that the Nigerian police publicly announce that the use of lethal force is only allowed when strictly unavoidable to protect life. This simple step could make a big difference to the number of unlawful police killings we are seeing in Nigeria,” said Paule Rigaud.
Amnesty International has documented numerous incidents of excessive and unlawful use of force by police and other security forces, especially during demonstrations.

Slovak court rules against anti-Roma school discrimination

The elementary school in the Slovak village of Sarisske Michalny in the Presov region must desegregate Roma classes as ordered by a court decision communicated earlier this month, Amnesty International and the Slovak non-governmental organization (NGO) Centre for Civil and Human Rights report.
In a landmark decision, the Presov District Court ruled on 5 December 2011 that the school had discriminated against Romani children by teaching them in separate classrooms without reasonable justification. The decision was delivered by the court on 3 January 2012.
“For the first time a domestic court in Slovakia has addressed the widespread and unlawful practice of segregated education of Romani children that affects the lives of thousands of children and traps them in a cycle of poverty and discrimination,” said Barbora Cernusakova, Amnesty International’s expert on Slovakia.
“Romani children in the elementary school in Sarisske Michalany are starting the new term in segregated classes but it must not be for long. The school must make immediate arrangements so that they can enjoy the same educational standards as other children within integrated classes," said Stefan Ivanco from the Centre for Civil and Human Rights.
For years the elementary school in Sarisske Michalany has organised separate mainstream classes on a different floor of the building attended exclusively by children of Roma ethnic origin. This situation was compounded in the school year 2008/2009 when the school transferred to the separate classes all the remaining Romani children who had previously attended integrated classes with other children from the majority population.
The proceedings against the school were initiated by the Center for Civil and Human Rights in June 2010. The Center argued that this segregated education of Romani children in separate classes constituted a serious form of unlawful discrimination based on their ethnic origin and a violation of their right to an education free from discrimination. Amnesty International submitted a written intervention in the case highlighting that the separation of Romani children in segregated Roma-only classes constitutes a violation of the right to equal treatment and the prohibition of discrimination under international law.
The Presov District Court rejected the school’s arguments that the education of Romani children from socially disadvantaged background in separate classes is the only means to provide equal quality of education for all pupils. The school had argued that the separate classes were set up to allow teachers to adopt a more individualised approach when teaching those children. However, the school failed to provide any evidence of the benefits for the Romani children of being taught in separate classes and that the measure was only temporary rather than long term.
Furthermore, drawing on a range of international and regional human rights standards including relevant judgments by the European Court of Human Rights, the District Court stated that the school practice of segregated education violates the country’s human rights obligations. The school is considering whether to appeal the District court decision.
"The school authorities must eliminate all forms of segregation and replace it with inclusive education. This may be a challenging task, but there is no alternative in order to fully realise the rights of all pupils in the school. We will be happy to assist the school in formulating and implementing an internal desegregation plan in line with the Court's decision," said Stefan Ivanco from the Centre for Civil and Human Rights.
"The implications of the Court’s decision go much further than the elementary school in Sarisske Michalany. It is a wake-up call for Slovak schools in general to adopt an inclusive approach based on the ethnic, cultural and social diversity of children. Inclusive education in a diverse environment teaches them to be friendly, tolerant, considerate and responsible in a society that is inherently diverse."
"All elementary schools must develop an individualised approach to teaching which does not unjustly exclude any child from mainstream education. National and local governments have to fully support them in line with their domestic and international legal obligations."
Amnesty International and the Center for Civil and Human Rights have been raising concerns over entrenched discrimination and segregation of Romani children in Slovak schools with the Slovak government for years. In September 2010, Amnesty International recommended a set of measures to be taken by the government in order to ensure the prohibition of segregation is enforced and put into practice.
“The Court’s ruling against segregation in education based on ethnic origin in one particular school must spur Slovak authorities into action. Following the resignation of the government in November 2011, all political parties that will form the new government following elections in March must pledge to eradicate the existing systemic discrimination and segregation within the school system in the country,” said Barbora Cernusakova from Amnesty International.
“Real change won’t happen without genuine political will. So far we have seen very little action from the Slovak authorities. Accountability for the elimination of discriminatory barriers and for the successful integration of Romani children into mainstream education lies with the Slovak government.,” she concluded.

Somali Convert from Islam Whipped in Public

Woman left bleeding in front of hundreds of spectators for becoming Christian.
A Somali convert from Islam was paraded before a cheering crowd last month and publicly flogged as a punishment for embracing a “foreign religion,” sources said.

Sofia Osman, a 28-year-old Christian from Janale city in Somali’as Lower Shabelle region, had been taken into custody by Islamic extremist al Shabaab militants in November; the public whipping was meant to mark her release. She received 40 lashes on Dec. 22 while jeered by spectators.

“Osman was whipped 40 lashes at 3 p.m., but she didn’t tell what other humiliations she had suffered while in the hands of the militants,” an eyewitness, told Compass, adding that whipping left her bleeding. “I saw her faint. I thought she had died, but soon she regained consciousness and her family took her away.”

The whipping was administered in front of hundreds of spectators after Osman was released from her month-long custody in al Shabaab camps. Nursing her injuries at her family’s home, in the days after the punishment she would not talk to anyone and looked dazed, a source close in touch with the family said. She has since been relocated.

“Please pray for her quick recovery,” the source said.

Janale, one Somalia’s major cities, is about 200 kilometers (124 miles) from Mogadishu.

Osman became a Christian four years ago and was a member of the underground church in the war-torn Horn of Africa country largely controlled by the al Qaeda-linked militants from al Shabaab.

The al Shabaab militia is being hunted down by Kenya Defense Forces in southern Somalia following the extremists’ incursions into Kenya. They had killed and kidnapped tourists and aid workers inside Kenya, prompting military forces to formally enter into war to secure its borders.

In response, the al Shabaab militants have targeted churches in northern Kenyan towns such as Garissa in the hope of dividing Kenyans along religious lines. The Kenyan public, however, is largely backed the government decision to pursue the militants deep into Somalia.


Tuesday, January 10, 2012

SYRIA: false narratives and propaganda

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The battle presently taking place in Syria includes a battle by foreign powers for Syria -- a battle for the regional balance of power; a battle that pits the US-Saudi / Gulf Arab Sunni Axis against the Iran-Hezballah Shi'ite axis of which Arab, mostly Sunni Syria is integral.

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 137 | Wed 07 Dec 2011

Aisling Byrne writes for Asia Times Online (5 Jan 2012), that the battle for Syria is essentially the first stage of a "war on Iran". Byrne quotes Saudi King Adbullah who observes: "Other than the collapse of the Islamic Republic itself, nothing would weaken Iran more than losing Syria." Likewise, notes Byrne, the US administration has also commented that regime change in Syria would constitute a massive blow to Iranian power in the region.

"What we are seeing in Syria," she concludes, "is a deliberate and calculated campaign to bring down the Assad government so as to replace it with a regime 'more compatible' with US interests in the region. [. . .] Not for the first time are we seeing a close alliance between US/British neo-cons with Islamists (including, reports show, some with links to al-Qaeda) working together to bring about regime change in an 'enemy' state."

See: A mistaken case for Syrian regime change 
By Aisling Byrne, Asia Times Online, 5 Jan 2012


Byrne's article is essential reading for anyone confused by the conflicting narratives coming out of Syria, for Byrne's main complaint is against the "deliberate construction of a largely false narrative that pits unarmed democracy demonstrators being killed in their hundreds and thousands as they protest peacefully against an oppressive, violent regime, a 'killing machine' led by the 'monster' Assad." (emphasis mine)

Most of the article's ten pages are devoted to exposing and analysing the propaganda that is pouring out of Syria and being disseminated by those with a strategic interest in regime change and others determined not to let truth get in the way of a sensational story.

Byrne notes: "Of the three main sources for all data on numbers of protesters killed and numbers of people attending demonstrations - the pillars of the narrative - all are part of the 'regime change' alliance".

In particular, the British-based Syrian Observatory of Human Rights -- which is funded by US and Gulf Arab money -- "has been described as the 'front office' of a large media propaganda set-up run by the Syrian opposition and its backers." As Byrne comments, the Observatory has been pivotal in sustaining the narrative of "massacres" and more recently "genocide". Yet not only is the Observatory not legally registered as a company or charity, it has no office, no staff and yet is "reportedly awash with funds".

Byrne reports: ". . . a YouGov poll commissioned by the Qatar Foundation showed last week that 55% of Syrians do not want Assad to resign and 68% of Syrians disapprove of the Arab League sanctions imposed on their country. [. . .] Unsurprisingly, not a single mainstream major newspaper or news outlet reported the YouGov poll results - it doesn't fit their narrative."

-- (or at least foreign backing)

As was the case in Libya, Syria's is an asymmetric conflict: the Syrian opposition cannot match the Syrian military. As Stratfor has noted, "Thus far al Assad has resisted his enemies. Though some mid-to-low-ranking Sunnis have defected, his military remains largely intact; this is because the Alawites control key units. Events in Libya drove home to an embattled Syrian leadership -- and even some of its adversaries within the military -- the consequences of losing. The military has held together, and an unarmed or poorly armed populace, no matter how large, cannot defeat an intact military force." (Stratfor: "Syria, Iran and the Balance of Power in the Middle East." By George Friedman, 22 Nov 2011.)

Consequently, the Syrian opposition knows that it needs external support, and to get it, it has to make a case for at best foreign intervention, and at least foreign backing. 

Of course the West will never intervene on purely humanitarian grounds; it must have economic or geo-strategic interests. This is why multitudes of genuine humanitarian concerns are ignored or worse, treated as embarrassments and inconveniences to be covered up.

In order to launch a "humanitarian intervention", the Western governments concerned -- being democracies -- will first need to convince their constituents that a humanitarian catastrophe is indeed underway. Of course anyone can create a humanitarian catastrophe -- real or imagined. It has been done before by Islamist separatists in Bosnia, Yugoslavia; Albanian Islamist separatists in Kosovo, Serbia; Islamist imperialists in Ivory Coast and Islamist imperialists in Libya. It has also been attempted unsuccessfully by Islamist imperialists in the Palestinian Territories and in South Lebanon. Yes, false narratives have been created and propaganda used before to pave the way for US-NATO bombing campaigns against innocent civilians from Belgrade to Abidjan to Sirte, all so US-NATO states can advance their own economic and geo-strategic interests.

Byrne quotes American Conservative which notes that figures being cited by the UN are based on rebel sources and are uncorroborated. Likewise, reports of mass defections are a fabrication, with few defections actually being confirmed. Furthermore, American Conservative asserts that "Syrian government claims that it is being assaulted by rebels who are armed, trained and financed by foreign governments are more true than false".

See: NATO vs. Syria 
By Philip Giraldi, American Conservative, 19 Dec 2011

Byrne's article in Asia Times Online includes many more such quotes and claims, including that the US has been pumping money into Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated groups specifically for the purpose of advancing regime change in Syria with the goal of hurting Iran.

As already noted, Byrne's article is essential reading for anyone trying to make sense of the situation in Syria.


Like the Papuans of Eastern Indonesia and the Kachin of northern Burma, the threatened, imperiled, besieged Christians of Iraq and now Syria are just an inconvenience to Western powers that have economic and geo-strategic interests in their sights.

Western Christians need to accept the new reality: their governments do not inhabit a moral high ground. Rather, they are driven by economic and geo-strategic interests (money and power) and will not be hamstrung by inconvenient truths concerning the devastating consequences their actions will have on the liberties, lives and even future survival of local Christian communities.