Saturday, February 25, 2012

Arab Spring Brings the Decline of Secularism in Tunisia

Throughout the Middle East, long-standing dictators just ousted in the Arab Spring are being replaced by more oppressive forms of governance, even in the Arab world’s most liberal country, Tunisia

By Aidan Clay
Special to ASSIST News Service

TUNIS, TUNISIA (ANS) -- Widely seen as the most secular country that recently deposed long-standing leaders, many believed that Tunisia had the greatest opportunity to elect a moderate government concerned with democratic principles and human rights. However, the hopes of secularists, Christians, and other minorities were crippled in October when the Islamist Ennahda party won 41 percent of the votes for a national constitutional assembly, a one-year body charged with writing a constitution.

Uprising in Tunis that ousted President
Zine El Abedine Ben Ali
Along with other Islamist movements, Ennahda – at the time called the Movement of the Islamic Tendency – had been outlawed under former President Zine El Abedine Ben Ali. Robin Wright, an American foreign affairs analyst and author of Sacred Rage, described the Islamic Tendency as “the single most threatening opposition force [to Ben Ali’s regime] in Tunis.”

Ennahda’s founder and chairman is Rashid Ghannouchi. He considers himself a pupil of Iranian Ayatollah Khomeini, defended the takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979, and supported Saddam Hussein’s invasion and annexation of Kuwait in 1990. In a speech given in Khartoum just before the Gulf War erupted, Ghannouchi said, “We must wage unceasing war against the Americans until they leave the land of Islam, or we will burn and destroy all their interests across the entire Islamic world,” The Brussels Journal reported.

Martin Kramer, the renowned Middle East scholar at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, labeled Ghannouchi “the most prominent Islamist in the West” during his 22-year exile in the U.K. At an Islamic Conference on Palestine attended by leaders of Lebanon’s Hezbollah and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad in 1990, Ghannouchi said, “The greatest danger to civilization, religion and world peace is the United States Administration. It is the Great Satan.”

The international community has ignored this extremist rhetoric and extolled Tunisia’s revolutionary motives for ‘greater freedoms.’ However, Ennahda is beginning to show its true colors by attacking freedom of speech and tacitly disregarding violent Islamist movements calling for an Islamic state.

Death of Free Speech

Nabil Karoui, the owner of Tunisian channel Nessma TV, is currently on trial for blasphemy after airing the French-Iranian animated film Persepolis which features a cartoon depiction of God and is considered sacrilege to some Muslims. Nearly 140 lawyers filed lawsuits against Karoui for “violating sacred values” and “disturbing public order,” Tunisia Live reported. Following the release of the film in Tunisia, a Salifist-led mob damaged Karoui’s house with Molotov cocktails on October 14. If convicted, Karoui could face three to five years in prison. His trial has been adjourned until April 19, 2012.

“I am very sad when I see that the people that burned my house are free while I am here because I broadcast a film which was authorized,” Karoui told reporters outside the courtroom. He described the trial as the “death of freedom of expression [in Tunisia],” AP reported.

While Human Rights Watch called the trial “a disturbing turn for the nascent Tunisian democracy,” Ghannouchi, the voice of the Ennahda party, backed the trial, saying, “I support the Tunisians’ right to denounce this attack on their religion,” reported The New York Times.

On February 15, in a second disturbing attack on free speech in Tunisia, a publisher and two editors of Tunisia’s Attounissia newspaper were arrested on charges of violating public morals for publishing a revealing photograph of a German-Tunisian football player with his girlfriend. 

The arrests raised further concerns among secularists that the Islamist-led government will increasingly seek to censor material it deems offensive to Islam.

Mongi Khadraoui, a senior member of the Tunisian journalists’ union, told The Independent that article 121 of Tunisia’s penal code, which was used to detain the three journalists, was introduced to arrest opponents of Ben Ali’s 23-year-old regime, and that, while the publication of the photograph was a mistake, it “should be treated as a professional error rather than a crime.”

“This issue is political and aims to quell the voice of the media and stop it [from] criticizing the government,” Jihen Lagmari, a journalist at Attounissia, told Reuters. Lagmari also said she received telephone calls threatening to burn down the paper’s headquarters.

Islamists vs. Secularists

On February 17, hundreds of Salafis – who follow the strict Wahhabi doctrine of Islam – protested in the streets of Tunis with signs calling for Islamic law and shouting “Allah Akbar” after Friday prayers, AP reported.

Thus, Islamists have used their newly gained freedoms to threaten the very freedoms and values of secularists. If Islamists continue to gain power, violations against the rights of non-Muslims and liberals will inevitably continue. However, some believe the elections – that brought the Islamist Ennahda party to power – do not accurately represent the voice of the population’s majority.

“In October 2011, when Tunisia’s first post-revolutionary national elections took place… the turnout was 80 percent; but not, as was deceptively reported by the Western media, 80 percent of the total Tunisian population, but rather 80 percent of the 50 percent who had bothered to register to vote,” British author and journalist John R. Bradley wrote in his book After the Arab Spring. “In other words: Ennahda won despite the fact that more than 80 percent of all voting-age Tunisians did not actually vote for the party.”

Tunis witnessed the secularists’ response when over 6,000 demonstrators chanted slogans “No to extremism” and “No niqab, no to Salafism” in a march for freedom of expression on January 28, Tunisia Live reported. Protestors also called for the government to stop the rise of an Islamist-based society, which would derail Tunisia’s transition to democracy and threaten the gains made by the revolution.

Mustapha Tlili, the founder of the New York-based Center for Dialogues, views the recent actions taken by Islamists as an indicator that Islamists are hijacking the revolution. “Those that staged the revolution see it being stolen and hijacked,” Tlili told Middle East Online. “The Islamists’ discourse is to withdraw Tunisia from its natural environment and make it adopt Islamist values that are not those of the majority of Tunisians. They reject these values because they are not part of their daily life or vision of Islam.”

“We’ve become the ahl al-dhimma,” Abdelhalim Messaoudi, a journalist at Nessma TV, told The New York Times in reference to the second-class status minorities have historically been subjected to in Muslim states. “It’s like the Middle Ages.”

What’s Next? An Islamic State?

On February 20, Aridha Chaabia, or Popular List, the third-largest party in Tunisia's constituent assembly, proposed drafting a constitution based on Islamic law, Reuters reported. If the proposal wins the support of more than 60 percent of parliamentarians, it could pass without a referendum. Rashid Ghannouchi’s Ennahda party, which will have the strongest voice in the vote, has already alluded to its endorsement of an Islamic-based constitution.

Protestors in Tunis
Hamadi Jebali, the Prime Minister of the Ennahda party, implied in mid-November that he sought a return of the Muslim caliphate. He further stated at a rally near his hometown of Sousse, standing side-by-side with a lawmaker from the Islamic Palestinian movement Hamas, that “the liberation of Tunisia will, God willing, bring about the liberation of Jerusalem,” The Jerusalem Post reported.

“[Ghannouchi’s] only condition for Muslim democracy to flourish is the sharing of the immutable principles of Islam as a shared set of values,” Larbi Sadiki, a senior lecturer in Middle East Politics at the University of Exeter, wrote in an editorial for Al Jazeera.

Samir Dilou, spokesman for the Ennahdha Party, tried to ease secularists’ concerns in an interview in May: “We do not want a theocracy. We want a democratic state that is characterized by the idea of freedom. The people must decide for themselves how they live…We are not an Islamist party, we are an Islamic party, which gets its direction from the principles of the Quran.”

But, can an Islamic party governed by the principles of the Quran value the freedoms of the country’s secularists, including its religious minorities? Katharine Cornell Gorka, the Executive Director of The Westminster Institute, does not think so.

“Of all the people in the world, Americans first and foremost should recognize the absurdity of [Dilou’s] statement,” Gorka wrote. “All the evidence is there to suggest that Tunisia’s new government will prove antagonistic both to American interests and to the values America is built on. That is not to suggest we should have intervened to create a different outcome. Tunisia’s fate is its own. But neither should we be at the front of the cheering section, applauding what will likely be a long and brutal lesson for Tunisia on what happens when religion is enchained with politics.”

Recent indicators in Tunisia suggest that Islam and democracy are not and cannot be compatible. John R. Bradley, in his book After the Arab Spring, offers an alarming glimpse into Tunisia’s future governance: “[Ghannouchi] is for democracy ‘as a system of government and a method of change’ but – and here comes the conversation stopper – only insofar as it is compatible with Islam. The Quran remains the sole authoritative bases for legislation, whose earthly manifestation are the scholars… who interpret it so that the state’s function is essentially executive in nature. To put it in a nutshell: Islam is the answer to everything, the final authority, and the sole source of legitimacy of government.”

Aidan Clay is the Middle East Regional Manager for International Christian Concern (ICC), a Washington, DC-based human rights organization that exists to support persecuted Christians worldwide by providing awareness, advocacy, and assistance ( Aidan is a graduate from Biola University in Southern California. Prior to joining ICC, Aidan worked with Samaritan’s Purse in South Sudan and has traveled extensively throughout the Middle East, Africa and Europe. He and his wife currently live in Nairobi, Kenya. For more information, contact Aidan Clay at 

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Miseries of Christians in Pakistan Under Severe Religious Domination

By Michael Ireland
Senior International Correspondent, ASSIST News Service

Christian Rally in Pakistan

PAKISTAN (ANS) -- The miseries of Christians in Pakistan are enormous and visible everywhere and at every level. The religion of Islam dominates in the constitutional, political, judicial, social, cultural, and governmental systems.

So writes Pastor Baber George, a key leader from Pakistan who has had to flee for his life, in an e-mail to ANS.

Pastor George says that Islam is the official state religion, and Islamic Shariah is being enforced as the supreme law of the land.

“Under this system,” he writes, “ the Christians of Pakistan do not have equal political and socio-economic status; or equal opportunities to play a leading role in the national set-up. There are no Christians in government, education, or other leadership offices.”

According to Pastor George, the Christian educational institutions, which were running and managed by the churches, were taken over by force and nationalized by the Bhutto government in 1972.

“Now, no Christian character is visible in these captured institutions. Lots of other non-Christian institutions have been denationalized and given to their real owners. But for no known reason, the Christian institutions are not being denationalized and given to the churches. At present, more than 5000 jobs, which were for Christians, are now held by Muslims,” George said.

Because of this, says George, those 5000 or more Christians have been forced into unemployment and thousands of dependents have been deprived of their livelihood.

“These institutions were the basic centers for learning, social and cultural gatherings, and spiritual development for the Christians. Today Christian teachers, professors, or students are not seen there. Now these places are the dens of automatic weapons and training centers for religious terrorism. Many Muslim and non-Muslim countries have complained that the ground of Pakistan is being used for international terrorism,” he said.

Not all Muslims in Pakistan are terrorists, George writes.

“A large majority of them want to live in a tolerant society and brotherhood-like atmosphere. However, more than 20 Islamic religious parties are misusing the name of Islam, instigating illiterate Muslims against the non-Muslims (Christians, Jews, Hindus) that Jihad (Holy War) has to be launched against them to bring Islam to glorious status.

“When dignitaries visit Pakistan, the government states that it favors the non-Muslim minorities. But that is baseless lip service. Instead, the law is like a sharpened Islamic sword held to the necks of innocent Christians.”

There are many cases of blasphemy law, pending in different courts, with the accused waiting for their fate, although some have gone into hiding, said George.

“However, the Muslim fundamentalists are after them to search and kill them whenever they can find them. The fanatical and rigid Muslim priests often say in public meetings that all Christians are blasphemers because they believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and God Himself,” he said.

“The Christians are hated at the worst level, but their women are chased, kidnapped, raped, and even made to be Muslims by force. Then they are married to Muslims against their will.”

George cited, for instance, the case the daughter of a Christian man named Tara Masih was kidnapped and raped. Another Christian girl named Surryia Bibi, was kidnapped, raped, and forced to marry her kidnapper/rapist.

“The sufferings of Christian women are very troublesome, “ he siad. “They go through a different kind of brutality.

“Under Islamic law, the rights of women have been eroded. Women aren’t equal to men. In Pakistan two women are equal to one man. Under the Islamic Evidence Act, whenever a woman is raped and she wants a criminal case registered against the rapist, she has to produce four Muslim men as witnesses. No women or non-Muslim men or women can be witnesses. The evidence of the Christian man or woman has no validity against any Muslim rapist.”

George goes on to say that Untouchable and ‘detestable’ are the marks of the Christian community.

“Untouchability is not prohibited legally from all sectors,” George says.

He adds: “This is promoted against the Christians. All of the jobs, which are considered the most degradable, Untouchable, or considered below Muslim dignity are reserved for the Christians. The Christians are treated inhumanely, socially degraded, and of the lowest community. They are not allowed to enter the dining rooms or kitchens while they are cleaning the houses. Nor are they allowed to sit on the furniture, where Muslims have to sit. The Christians are hated at the worst level.”

George concludes by saying that all the pastors, clergies, evangelists, social and human-rights activists, Christian politicians, and all other Christian leaders are under the severe target of Muslim extremists, terrorists, and other Muslim hard-liners.

“Even police authorities are chasing the Christian leaders. Those Christian religious ministers and human-rights activists who show special concern to the Christian victims, their life and properties, families, and interests, are under great danger.”

** Michael Ireland is the Senior International 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 the 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 International Reporter

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The terror continues in Iran

Now a 78 year old Christian woman has been arrested in Esfahan by security authorities

By Dan Wooding
Founder of ASSIST Ministries

ESFAHAN, IRAN (ANS) -- In recent times, the security authorities of Iran have been taken action against the growth of Christianity and house church movement in Iran and have arrested many believers in different cities of Iran.

The arrested woman
But now they have exceeded their own terrible record of harassment of believers in their country by arresting a 78-year-old Christian woman at her home in Esfahan which is 272 miles from Tehran, the Iranian capital.

According to the Iranian Christian news agency, Mohabat News 

(, Ms. Giti Hakimpour, a Christian minister, was arrested in her apartment by security authorities at earkt on Wednesday, February 22, 2012, and transferred to an unknown location.

The security authorities not only raided Ms. Hakimpour’s home but at the same day attacked the home of another Christian, Pastor Hekmat Salimi, and also took him into custody.

“Ms. Hakimpour, who is 78-years-old, is a member and minister of St. Luke’s Anglican church in Esfahan. She was living on her own in an apartment and witnesses saw both police and private cars parking down below her flat from around 6:00 AM,” said a spokesperson for Mohabat News.

Knowledgeable sources told Mohabat News that the intelligence officers initially interrogated her in her flat and then arrested her, and then went on to thoroughly search her apartment and confiscated some of her personal belongings.

Eyewitnesses said the officers were there for three hours until 9:00 AM, and then they took Ms. Hakimpour with them.

“No information is available concerning her whereabouts and health condition at this time,” the spokesperson told the ASSIST News Service. “She has no relatives inside Iran; however, the news of her arrest has caused a wave of anxiety among her relatives living outside Iran.

“The Iranian Christian community calls on Iranian authorities to release her and take measures to exonerate her of any charges.”

He added, “It has been reported that Ms. Hakimpour had not been in a good health the night before her arrest and was using some medicines because of knee replacement surgery she had undergone. Also her doctor had ordered that she should not be stressed and that she needs to be under special care.

"So, holding her in custody without basic facilities could cause her difficulties. The responsibility of life and any possible health problems for this elderly lady rest directly on Iranian authorities.”

Ms. Giti Hakimpour was born into a family who converted to Christianity from a Jewish background. She is a relative of Bishop Iraj Mottahedeh, former bishop of St. Luke's church in Esfahan. She retired from a hospital of an oil industry company in Masjed-Soleiman and where she was a matron. She trained many nurses, some of whom are currently serving in the hospitals of Iran.

“It needs to be remembered that the security authorities of the Iranian Intelligence Office attacked the home of Pastor Hekmat Salimi in Fooladshahr, a district of Esfahan at 7:00 AM, also on February 22, 2012. They also arrested and transferred him to an unknown location without providing any kind of explanation. There are still no updates available concerning his situation,” added the spokesperson.

“No doubt, these anti-Christian actions are being taken in order to intimidate and terrorize Christians, especially Christian converts. These are being done after when some while ago, Mohammad Taqi Mesbah Yazdi, who is known as the theoretician of the Islamic regime, said in a meeting with the President and Vice President of the Office of Islamic Propaganda in the Islamic Seminary of Qom that, ‘some work has been done and monies have been spent to counter the growth of Christianity in some provinces but the outcome is not satisfactory because no one is supervising these efforts.”

According to the reports published by Mohabat News, during these first two months of 2012, the security authorities of the Intelligence Ministry have arrested Christian citizens individually or in groups in cities of Ahwaz, Shiraz, Tehran and Esfahan.

Dan Wooding, 71, is an award winning British journalist now living in Southern California with his wife Norma, to whom he has been married for 48 years. They have two sons, Andrew and Peter, and six grandchildren who all live in the UK. He is the founder and international director of ASSIST (Aid to Special Saints in Strategic Times) and the ASSIST News Service (ANS) and was, for ten years, a commentator, on the UPI Radio Network in Washington, DC. He now hosts the weekly “Front Page Radio” show on KWVE in Southern California which is also carried throughout the United States. The program is also aired in Great Britain on Calvary Chapel Radio UK and also in Belize and South Africa. Besides this, Wooding is a host for His Channel Live, which is carried via the Internet to some 192 countries and also provides a regular commentary for Worship Life Radio on KWVE. You can follow Dan Wooding on Facebook under his name there or at ASSIST News Service. He is the author of some 44 books, one of which is his autobiography, “From Tabloid to Truth”, which is published by Theatron Books. To order a copy, press this link. Wooding, who was born in Nigeria of British missionary parents, has also recently released his first novel “Red Dagger” which is available this link.

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Rumors of Imminent Execution of Iranian Pastor Unconfirmed

Lawyers await written confirmation that court issued execution order.
Lawyers for an Iranian pastor awaiting a final decision on his death sentence have not received communication from authorities that their client will be executed, despite reports that his death is imminent.

Rumors of an imminent execution of Yousef Nadarkhani were leaked this week after a source close to one of his lawyers contacted international media, informing them that a lower court had signed Nadarkhani’s execution papers and that his death sentence would be carried out soon, sources told Compass.

“The lawyer is waiting for confirmation, but he understood from a source that the execution was issued,” said Firouz Khandjani, a member of the council of the Church of Iran, Nadarkhani’s denomination. “Now we are trying to understand exactly what is happening. Because the information came from someone close to the lawyer, he took it seriously.”

Nadarkhani’s case had been sent to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei for a decision on his death sentence, but legally the lower court still has the authority to issue an execution order, Khandjani said. Khamenei may or may not make a decision, and if the court were to issue an execution order, Khameni would have the authority to block it, Khandjani said.

Though Nadarkhani’s lawyers have not received written confirmation of an execution order, Khandjani said he found it “worrying” that the government has repeatedly disregarded its own law and legal process in its treatment of Christians.

The Iranian government has executed prisoners without prior notice, sources told Compass, though it is not common.

“We are concerned for the safety of Christians in Iran, because the government is not respecting the law or the legal procedures,” Khandjani said. “We are waiting for a confirmation, but we have to take action, because we know of people who were executed without notification.”

Nadarkhani spoke to his wife as recently as Wednesday (Feb. 22), according to sources, and Jubilee Campaign reported that the American Center for Law and Justice had confirmed that he was still alive earlier today.

Some sources told Compass they are skeptical of the credibility of information that Nadarkhani’s lawyers received and the certainty with which international press have been reporting his “imminent death.” They say this may be a governmental ploy to gauge international reaction to such a rumor.

Christians in Iran are routinely arrested and interrogated. Most of them belong to networks of house churches meeting in small groups in secret.

In December the head of Iran’s Judiciary, Ayatollah Sadeq Larijani, reportedly ordered the presiding judge over the trial in Rasht to make no moves on Nadarkhani’s case for one year.

In September 2010 Nadarkhani was sentenced to death after a court of appeals in Rasht, 243 kilometers (151 miles) northwest of Tehran, found him guilty of leaving Islam. He has been in prison since October 2009.

The court in Rasht was expected to pronounce a verdict on Nadarkhani’s appeal in October 2011 but instead sent the Christian’s case to the nation’s Islamic authority, Khamenei.

At an appeal hearing in June, the Supreme Court of Iran upheld Nadarkhani’s sentence but asked the court in Rasht to determine if he was a practicing Muslim before his conversion. The court declared that Nadarkhani was not a practicing Muslim before his conversion, but that he was still guilty of apostasy due to his Muslim ancestry.

The Supreme Court had also determined that his death sentence could be annulled if he recanted his faith. The Rasht court gave Nadarkhani three chances to recant Christianity in accordance with sharia(Islamic law), but Nadarkhani refused to do so. The Supreme Court in essence ruled that Nadarkhani could be executed if he did not recant.

“You have to consider that Nadarkhani has been condemned twice,” Khandjani said. “One time by a local court, and then the Supreme Court confirmed the death sentence.”

Authorities arrested Nadarkhani in his home city of Rasht in October 2009 on charges that he questioned obligatory religion classes in Iranian schools. After finding him guilty of apostasy, the court of appeals in Rasht in November 2010 issued a written confirmation of his charges and death sentence.

One of Nadarkhani’s lawyers, Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, also faces charges for “actions and propaganda against the Islamic regime,” due to his human rights activities.

Iranian authorities view Iranian Christians as pawns of the West trying to bring down the regime, sources said. As Christians in Iran are held hostage to the government’s political whims, some Iranian Christians say the key to their freedom is continued pressure from the international community.

“We have to keep praying and sharing information about Christians in Iran, because this is a difficult moment for the people of Iran,” Khandjani said. “The minorities are particularly affected, but Iranians in general are under pressure from the government. Their freedoms are very restricted.”


Friday, February 24, 2012

Imprisoned Christian Newspaper Editor, South China Church Leader Li Ying Released Five Years Early

Li Ying

JINMEN, Hubei, China, Feb. 23, 2012 /Christian Newswire/ -- A Christian newspaper editor and house church leader sentenced in 2002 to 15 years' imprisonment for "intentional assault" was released almost five years before the end of her prison term as the result of a world-wide letter-writing campaign and other international efforts on her behalf.
Li Ying, of the South China Church in Hubei province, was released on Dec. 25, 2011. She tearfully told ChinaAid founder and president Bob Fu that during her 10 years in prison, thousands of letters for her were sent to the prison. She said the letters had helped to significantly improve her prison conditions and contributed to her early release. She expressed thanks to ChinaAid and asked ChinaAid to convey her gratitude to the international community and churches worldwide.
Li was one of the first prisoners featured by the international human rights group Voice of the Martyrs on its website, from where concerned Christians could write letters of encouragement to imprisoned Christians. According to Voice of the martyrs, more than 11,400 letters were written to Li through the site since 2004.
Li is the niece of Pastor Gong Shengliang, founder of the South China Church, one of the fastest growing house-church movements in China. She was also editor in chief of the church newspaper, South China Special Edition (Huanan Zhuankan). She had been arrested several times and had previously spent a year in prison in 1996.
As a condition of her release, Li was required to sign a guarantee to submit to "community correction," which included the requirement that she live only in government-appointed neighborhoods and attend government-appointed churches.
In December 2001, Li was one of 17 South China Church leaders who were convicted of "using a cult to undermine enforcement of the law," five of whom were sentenced to death. Li was one of them. But as a result of the ensuing international outcry, a higher court in Hubei revoked the death sentences in September 2002, citing lack of clarity about certain facts and insufficient evidence, and the Jinmen Intermediate Court in October 2002 retried the case. Instead of the crime of "using a cult," the five who had been condemned to death were convicted of "intentional assault."  
The five were Gong Shengliang, Xu, Fuming, Hu Yong, Gong Bangkun, and Li Ying. Gong Shengliang was also convicted of rape. Three of them -- Gong Shengliang, Xu Fuming, and Hu Yong -- were sentenced to life imprisonment.  Gong Bangkun and Li Ying were given 15-year prison terms.

Indonesian President Sidesteps Church Controversy

The GKI Yasmin church from Bogor worshipped
 in front of the presidential palace on Feb. 12.
(Photo: Compass)

Declines to enforce Supreme Court ruling that GKI permit be reinstated.
In a defeat for the rule of law in Indonesia, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has declined to enforce a Supreme Court ruling that a local government allow a West Java church to worship in its building.

The Bogor city government revoked the building permit of the Christian Church of Indonesia (Gereja Kristen Indonesia, or GKI) Yasmin church in February 2008; the Supreme Court ordered it be reinstated in December 2010, but Bogor Mayor Dhani Budiarto has refused.

President Yudhoyono said on Feb. 13 that he would hand the matter back to the Bogor municipal government and the Ministry of Religion.

“I have turned over [the issue] to the Bogor city government assisted by the minister of Religion, so that worship may be held at the church just as other faiths in this country do,” he said at a televised press conference.

Yudhoyono later told reporters that such matters should be handled by local administrations in accordance with the Indonesia’s regional autonomy law, according to The Jakarta Post.

The president’s statement constitutes “a false argument to give legitimacy to his decision for not getting involved in the dispute,” lawmaker Eva Kusuma Sundari of the Indonesian Democratic Party told thePost.

At the press conference, Yudhoyono said he hoped the problem could be settled in a manner that satisfies all parties, and that the government is serious in implementing the 1945 Constitution, which states that every citizen should be able to worship in a peaceful orderly manner.

Other such cases have arisen since 2002, he said, adding that he hoped the respective mayors, regents and governors could resolve them.

“I want Christians to be able to worship in this country,” he said.

Yudhoyono said he hoped that an extra-legal solution – presumably some kind of local agreement, even though the parties in dispute are at an impasse – would lead to quick implementation of the Supreme Court decision to reinstate the GKI Yasmin church permit.

Worship at National Palace
The GKI congregation, along with sympathizers from other religious faiths, has held worship services three times in front of the National Palace.

Now forbidden to worship even on the roadside strip in front of the building that Bogor municipal government has sealed, the congregation gathered at 1 p.m. on Feb. 12, enthusiastic but hot under umbrellas. The service lasted 30 minutes and was led by the Rev. Ujang Tanusaputra.

Church lawyer Jayadi Damanik said afterward that the service took place in front of the National Palace to remind Yudhoyono and other government officials not to close their eyes to the plight of the church. He said he hoped that the central government would take concrete steps to stop GKI Yasmin’s experience of discrimination, threats and prohibition of worship.

The Coordinator of Religious Freedom Defense Team, Saor Siagian, said that if the president does not order Bogor Mayor Budiarto to carry out the decision of the Supreme Court to remove the seal on GKI Yasmin, then the president will have become a “provocateur.”

“Yes, the president will be a provocateur because he was not firm with his underling, the mayor of Bogor, who refuses to carry out the decision of the Supreme Court,” Saor Siagian told the gathered crowd.

ExpelledThe Indonesian president’s appeal for local authorities to work out an agreement with the church came five days after Islamic political parties in the Muslim-majority nation had church representatives ejected from a meeting with the minister of Religion and others.

After twice cancelling meetings, the House of Representatives held a meeting with the coordinating minister for Politics, Law, and Order, the minister of Religion, the minister of the Interior, the Ombudsman and GKI Yasmin church officials on Feb. 8. The GKI delegation included the spokesperson, the lawyer, the pastor, elders and church members along with interfaith groups such as the Islamic Anshor Youth Movement, the Unity in Diversity Alliance, the Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace and others.

Representatives from Islamic parties such as the Unified Development Party and the Prosperity and Justice Party protested the presence of the GKI Yasmin members in the room, claiming that other community groups from the Yasmin Park subdivision of Bogor had not been invited.

After 45 minutes of debate, the GKI Yasmin representatives were ejected from the meeting room and told to sit in the balcony. GKI spokesperson Bona Sigalingging said that he was most upset with the order.

“We felt that we were fairly invited here, and we had hoped to speak,” Sigalingging said as the representatives moved to the balcony. “Nevertheless, we will follow the law and honor this body. We are very upset with the order [to move], but we are ready to obey.”

Interior Minister Gamawan Fauzi told the meeting that because the issue was in the midst of a legal process, enforcement of the Supreme Court order should wait.

“We wish this thing to be finished nicely,” he said.

He offered a temporary relocation of the congregation – the Harmony Hotel, 200 meters from the sealed church building.

“It would be a temporary relocation until the building permit problem is settled,” he said.

In addition, Fauzi said that the Bogor government was willing to purchase a piece of land to relocate the church.

“If Bogor doesn’t have enough money to do this, I will help as long as GKI Yasmin worships at that new place,” he said.

He also suggested that the church stop worshipping on the roadside strip.

“It is best to worship in a building that the government has suggested,” he said adding that he believed that the problem of permitting a house of worship would be settled amicably within six months.

The House committee requested information from the National Ombudsman, and Vice Ombusdman Azlaini Agus reported that there had been disobedience to legal decisions with the force of law, specifically the decision of the Supreme Court. Agus said the governor of West Java and the mayor of Bogor had not carried out the 2011 recommendation of the ombudsman to rescind the mayoral decree revoking the GKI building permit.

The recommendation was given, Azlaini added, so that the minister of the Interior could oversee its enactment.

“We have done our work,” he said. “If our recommendation is not carried out within 60 days by the governor or the mayor, then we are to send a notice to the president, the House of Representatives, and to publish the news,” he said. “That’s as far as our duty goes. The situation has not been resolved, which means that there has been disregard for the decision of the court, which carries the force of law.”

The meeting ended with the conclusion that the central government and the Bogor municipal government should resolve the GKI Yasmin problem by involving all elements of the community in a peaceful orderly manner – as soon as possible, but without a time limit.

After the meeting, the GKI spokesperson Sigalingging said that GKI Yasmin firmly rejects moving to another building. According to him, the building the government has designated is not suited for worship.

“We want a suitable place in accord with the recommendations of the Supreme Court and the ombudsman,” he said. “Because of this, we will not relocate,” he stated.


Boko Haram hits Kano again

(Photos by Compass Direct)

Nigeria (MNN) ― Explosions and the sound of gunfire were heard throughout Nigeria's largest northern city of Kano Wednesday.

The military spent the day engaged with suspected militants from the Boko Haram Islamist sect, with clashes that have become increasingly violent.

One of Boko Haram's signature moves is setting off multiple bombs in succession followed by shooting sprees. The terrorist group is suspected in for church bombings on Sunday in Suleja and claimed responsibility for attacks on Tuesday in Maiduguri.

The February 19 church attack came just two months after Islamists killed 44 Christians and blinded seven in a church bombing in nearby Madalla. Carl Moeller is President and CEO of Open Doors USA. He says this is not surprising. "The increasingly intentional activity of Boko Haram is now taking on the characteristics of a real war. These are not random attacks, as they're often characterized in the media. They're really intentional, and they're designed with one purpose in mind: the elimination of Christianity."

Boko Haram, which is waging an insurgency to try to impose Sharia law, has become increasingly coordinated and deadly in its methods in the last six months. In Hausa, the name means "Western education is forbidden."

What's more disconcerting is that since they reformed after being crushed in 2009, Moeller says, it looks like they got help. "All indications are that they're connected to the global terror network like Al Shabbab and Al Qaeda and others. We've seen Boko Haram become far more organized and intentional about their attacks. It's very clear that there's a strengthening here."

Compass Direct News reports Sunday's bomb was planted in a parked car outside of Christ Embassy church. Triumphant Ministries International Church was close enough to make investigators suspect both churches had been targets. Authorities arrested members of the sect the same day.  

Even with the arrests, stopping the carnage won't happen in the near future. Moeller explains, "Nothing we can see is showing that there's enough resolve at the government level, enough coordination, to destroy the network within Northern Nigeria. Frankly, the tide in Nigeria is very strong WITH Boko Haram."

There's been little international outcry on behalf of the Christians. The crisis does not seem to merit attention on the international stage, says Moeller. "Frankly, most of the world is quite reticent to get involved in some distant conflict in Nigeria. With so many things other happening around the world, Nigeria happens to fall off the plate of international attention, and yet unfortunately, that's going to result in thousands of more deaths."

However, many of the Christians Open Doors has been partnering with refuse to give up or to flee. They are still meeting for worship, and the Gospel is still going forward. "The fact that the church continues to meet in some of these places that churches have been burned out and they continue to assemble, has been a great testimony to their persecutors, that this message of Jesus is valid and powerful."  

Moeller goes on to say that, "Nigeria is so important to the spread of Christianity throughout Africa. Please pray with me for the Christians in Nigeria and for wisdom for President Goodluck Jonathan in dealing with the attacks and instability."

One thing that can be done for believers is prayer. Many believers face quandaries on at least two fronts: fight back with deadly force against the attackers, or don't. Stay or go. "Jesus told us to pray for those who persecute us and to bless our enemies. That's kind of the role the church in Nigeria has to take up now. That they're doing it is a testimony to the truth of the Gospel."

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.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Sudan & Syria: millions of Christians facing death

By Elizabeth Kendal
Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) 147 
Special to ASSIST News Service

AUSTRALIA (ANS) -- Millions of Christians' lives are at risk on account of the crises in Sudan and Syria.


As reported in RLPB 145 , the UN estimates that some half-million displaced predominantly Christian African (non-Arab) Nuba will face famine conditions by March. Not content to decimate the Nuba by means of famine -- something the Arab-supremacist, Islamist regime in Khartoum achieved in the early 1990s -- nor to allow their escape into South Sudan, Khartoum appears to be preparing to completely annihilate the Nuba. Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) soldiers are killing Nuba at manned checkpoints. Furthermore SAF tanks and artillery are blocking the refugees' southward escape route through the Kauda Valley while helicopter gunships and Antonovs (used as bombers) arrive at recently renovated airstrips.

The regime has warned that any attempt to cross the southern border with aid for the Nuba would be regarded as a hostile act, i.e. an excuse for war against South Sudan. Urged on by Christian and Jewish anti-genocide groups, the US administration has intensified efforts to pursue a breakthrough in Sudan, even offering to write-off Khartoum's debts, estimated at $2.4 billion. Yet Khartoum remains intransigent, maintaining the Nuba are 'rebels' -- enemies of the state -- being assisted by foreign aid groups.

On Sunday 19 February the Government of Sudan (GoS) agreed to involve international organisations in an operation to assess humanitarian needs in South Kordofan. Khartoum also advised it was considering a proposal put forward by the Arab League. Sudan's Minister of Social Welfare and Security, Amira Al-Fadail, reiterated the GoS position that all aid must be distributed through Sudanese facilities. Of course this has happened before in the early 1990s when the GoS, after engineering famine in the Nuba Mountains, herded the displaced and starving Nuba into 'Peace [concentration] Camps'. Receiving food there was conditional on converting to Islam. Forced thus to choose between Islam and starvation, hundreds of thousands of Nuba chose starvation. To allow repetition of such a situation would be absolutely unacceptable. However, with famine closing in, Sudan analyst Eric Reeves is warning of 'a looming catastrophe that will make Syria, in terms of total casualties, look like a gang war in the park'.


The NATO-US-Saudi-Gulf Arab alliance and al Qaeda both want the same thing in Syria: regime change to install a Sunni Islamist regime more favourable to their interests. According to former Central Intelligence Agency officer Philip Giraldi, unmarked NATO planes are transporting weapons from Libya to the Free Syrian Army (FSA) base at Iskenderum, on Turkey's border with Syria. Meanwhile, Western Special Forces trainers are there on the ground training the Syrian rebel jihadists [echoes of Afghanistan?]. Furthermore, US military and intelligence drones are operating over Syria, reportedly gathering evidence to 'make a case for an international response', but doubtless also monitoring Syrian troop movements for the FSA.

On 11 February al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri publicly exhorted 'honourable' Muslims across the region to join the jihad in Syria. Subsequently, a group calling itself the Al Baraa Ibn Malik Martyrdom Brigade announced its formation in the Syrian town of Homs and vowed to start employing suicide bombers against Syrian security forces.

British author and a former UK foreign correspondent John Bradley recently cautioned that Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi forces, with funding from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf, have totally hijacked the popular revolts. Bradley maintains that the conflict in Syria is now principally a US-Saudi-Gulf Arab alliance war aimed at countering ascendant Iran. He claims that what will come after Assad will be much worse: ' . . . the minority Alawites and Christians and Jews and moderate Sunnis in Syria will fight to the death because they know much better than us that the opposition, the civilian opposition is dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood and the insurgents [are] now infiltrated by Salafi jihadis.' As Bradley notes, for all its faults Assad's has been a secular regime that has protected minorities. Russia is brokering talks. The 2 million-plus Christians in Syria (including over 300,000 Assyrian refugees from Iraq) are in desperate need of a political breakthrough. For, as Bradley notes, the alternative is 'a civil war in Syria that will be so bloody and murderous that it will make what took place in Libya look like a high school prom'.
To see this RLPB with links, go to Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin blog 
  • send his Holy Spirit into these war zones in a powerful and palpable way, bringing awakening, repentance and spiritual revival to multitudes.
  • hear the cries of his imperilled people and be quick to answer with demonstrations of power, love and justice; may escape and deliverance be enabled and may there be provision of food, shelter, security and hope.
  • erect a bulwark against those who devise evil against God's Kingdom and cruelty against his precious children. (See Psalm 140.)
In Sudan, some half-million predominantly Christian Nuba, displaced by ethnic cleansing in South Kordofan, face impending famine. After destroying their lands, the Arab-supremacist, Islamist regime in Khartoum has closed off not only their escape routes, but all access to humanitarian aid. Satellite images show the government is also concentrating troops in South Kordofan preparing for a military onslaught. Unless there is a breakthrough, the genocide of the Nuba is imminent. Meanwhile in Syria, some two million Christians (including over 300,000 Assyrian refugees from Iraq) face the prospect of a brutal and deadly civil war if the Assad regime falls -- a secular regime that protected minorities. The NATO-US-Saudi-Gulf Arab alliance and al Qaeda are actively backing its destruction. Please pray for breakthroughs in Sudan and Syria. 

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

** You may republish this story with proper attribution.

Iranian pastor's execution could come at any time

Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani (Photos
courtesy of Present Truth Ministries)

Iran (MNN) ― Sources in Iran say an execution order for Christian Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani has been signed.

According to Present Truth Ministries (closely connected with Nadarkhani), this is grim news. Todd Nettleton, a spokesman for Voice of the Martyrs USA, confirms the news.  "Apparently, that execution order has not been delivered to his family or his attorneys, but the report is that it has been signed. That means that at any time, he could be executed."

Often the government will execute people without any prior notice to attorneys or family. It's also unclear whether it has been approved by the Ayatollah who is the head of the Judiciary Sadegh Larijani.

Nadarkhani was born to a Muslim family and admits that he was introduced to the teachings of Islam, but he claims he never accepted the faith. That was the basis of his appeal to the High Court on the apostasy verdict.  

Nettleton explains, "His reply to that is: 'Well no. I wasn't a practicing Muslim.' This execution order being signed says that the court has not approved that logic. They are saying: 'Yes in fact, you were a Muslim. Because you're a Christian now, you're an apostate, and you'll be executed for that apostasy.'"

Pastor Youcef has refused to recant his faith during the three years he's been separated from his wife and two sons. His conviction and sentence has been delayed due to international pressure, according to other reports from Present Truth Ministries. 

Meanwhile, on February 17, Rep. Joseph Pitts (R-PA) introduced a resolution denouncing Iran for its leaders' ruling of apostasy against Youcef Nadarkhani and calling for his immediate release. So far, it has the support of seven other members. Nearly 90 members of Congress previously signed a letter supporting Nadarkhani.

When asked if international pressure would be enough to intervene again, Nettleton responded, "The most important thing we can do is to pray. There are petitions you can sign. We have Pastor Youcef on They can also send e-mails to Iranian authorities asking that he not be executed."

Given the application of the apostasy law, one would think it would have a severe "chilling effect" on evangelism. Quite the opposite, says Nettleton. The Arab Spring and Iran's Revolution played a big role in that. 

Ruthless government oppression of the protestors shook many Muslims' faith. To them, the government is the mullah, and the mullah is the government. That means, Nettleton goes on to say, that "when there is disappointment with the government or frustration with the government, it translates in people's minds to disappointment and frustration with Islam."

People are looking for an anchored Truth, "so there's hunger for the Gospel. There's an openness for the Gospel. And the Church is growing at a rate that is really mind-boggling."   

Ask the Lord to uphold and sustain Youcef, his wife, and their two children. Pray that this family may soon be reunited. Pray for Youcef's legal team and all those in authority connected with this case.

Pray that the Body of Christ will continue to multiply and mature despite persecution.

Producer flees country in North Africa

HCJB Global is reaching 1.5 million
 people each week through radio.
 You can help.

North Africa (MNN) ― The Arab Spring has taken its toll on many nations in North Africa. In a few of those nations, it's difficult to even "be" a Christian, let alone practice your faith. Doing so could be a death sentence. That fear has caused one Christian man to flee his country.

HCJB Global's leader in the region is a man we're calling "Lobito." He tells us about the man who fled: a program producer with one of their ministry partners in North Africa. "He couldn't go back to his country. He was all of a sudden without family, without friends, without work, without anything and even illegal in another country. Then he decided in the midst of all the circumstances to produce programs for his own country."

According to Lobito, there were no active churches in his country, so HCJB Global helped him. "We helped him to get a portable studio. We helped him to get some income so he could start to produce programs."

Lobito says they have been touching hearts through short-wave radio broadcasting. As a result, people began giving their hearts to Jesus. This week, however, the program producer began facing problems again. "He had to flee again out of this country. We transferred some money to him, and now we don't know where he is. We hope to get in contact with him as soon as possible. We really have to pray for this person."

While the Arab Spring created incredible conflict in the Middle East and North Africa, it also created openness. Libito says, "Arabic people are nervous or confused about how Muslims can kill other Muslims. This is a starting point for rethinking, 'Is this really the truth that we believe in?'"

That's why Christians around the world need to be praying about HCJB's partner broadcasts into North Africa and the Middle East. Lobito says, "As we work with a lot of local people on the ground, we need wisdom on how to encourage local people to continue producing local programs reaching their neighbor."

This time in world history could be strategic. "In the midst of a hopeless moment, God starts to work. We really don't know how long we're able to do the ministry. But for now, and for the next couple of months, we see an open door."

Results from an independent radio survey firm reveal that more than 1.5 million people in the Arab World are tuning in at least weekly to HCJB's Arabic-language broadcasts. In addition, statistics indicate that those listening through Internet live-streaming and mobile apps increased by more than 300% in the past two years.

HCJB is absolutely passionate about mobilizing Christ-followers to use radio to introduce Jesus Christ as the Hope of the world to those who live in North Africa and the Middle East.

You can touch the lives of individuals in this region by helping them hear radio programs that become friends on their journey to knowing Jesus Christ.

$35 will sponsor 1 hour of broadcasting. If you would like to help support this work in North Africa, click here

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Two Churches Targeted in Bomb Attack in Nigeria

One of seven victims blinded by blast at Catholic
 church in Madalla, Nigeria on Christmas Day.
(Photo: Compass)

Suspected Islamic extremists detonated a bomb outside a church building here on Sunday (Feb. 19), two months after Boko Haram Islamists killed 44 Christians and blinded seven in a church bombing in nearby Madalla.

Sunday’s blast in Suleja, in front of Christ Embassy church during their morning worship, injured five people, one seriously, sources said. The bomb, planted in a parked car, was left by suspected members of Boko Haram, which seeks to impose sharia (Islamic law) throughout Nigeria, and authorities arrested some members of the sect the same day.

Triumphant Ministries International Church is also near the site of the explosion. Peter Osema, a search-and-rescue worker with Nigeria’s National Emergency Management Agency, told Compass that the bomb was likely meant to affect both churches, and indeed Compass learned that at least one of those injured belongs to the Triumph Ministries church.

“We found five vehicles destroyed, and we believe that the bomb was targeted at these two churches here,” Osema said.

Collins Anyobi, a member of the Triumphant Ministries International Church, told Compass that his teenage son, Confidence Anyobi, was injured in the blast.

“Confidence was injured by flying pieces of glass from car windshields when the bomb exploded near our church,” he said.

Uyi Idugboe, pastor at Christ Embassy church in Suleja, told Compass that an unidentified person drove a Honda car with registration number Abuja 383 ABC into the parking lot and hurried away in another vehicle as church members were trying to find out who he was.

“This person’s sudden running away in another vehicle raised suspicion,” Idugboe said. ‘Nobody suspected him when he was parking the car, but when our members saw him leave hastily, they became suspicious about the parked car.”

The blast occurred a few minutes after the worship service began at 10 a.m., he said.

“When my members called my attention to the car, I asked all members to remain in the church, and we then phoned security agents alerting them about the car, but before they got here, the bomb exploded,” he said.

Besides Confidence Anyobi, also injured in the blast were Christians Chike Emefor, Anthony Nweke and Maureen Kenneth; the fifth victim was not identified at press time.

In addition to the two churches on Morocco Road in Suleja, a Christian-owned hotel, Crisia Hotels, is located on the same street.

If the bomb was planted by Boko Haram, it would be the sixth attack by the Islamic extremist sect in Suleja, including violence against the All Christian Fellowship Mission church.

A week before Sunday’s attack, Dr. Ola Makinde, prelate of the Methodist Church of Nigeria, had called on Nigerian church leaders to adopt urgent security measures.

“Prayer alone is not enough to tackle the menace of Boko Haram,” Makinde said at his church’s synod in Lagos. “We should not only pray but watch.”

Niger State Commissioner of Police Ibrahim Maishanu said yesterday that five members of the Boko Haram sect had been arrested in connection with Sunday’s attack. He said police were able to arrest the Boko Haram members the afternoon of the attack following information provided to authorities.

Madalla Church BlastAt St. Theresa’s Catholic Church in Madalla, where the casualty figure has varied the past few months as victims were sought and identified at various hospitals, the Rev. Isaac Achi said Monday (Feb. 20) that 44 church members were killed in the Christmas Day blast.

“Of the 127 victims, we lost 44, and of the injured seven lost their sight,” he said. “Four are still at Gwagwalada Specialist Hospital, and eight at the National Hospital, Abuja. Others have been referred to Kano, Zaria, Lagos and Enugu hospitals.”

Achi lamented that what was supposed to be a day of joy for Christians was turned into one of mourning. St. Theresa’s has about 2,400 members spread among three worship services each Sunday.

Security agencies are still investigating the attack, and several Boko Haram members have been arrested in connection with it. The State Security Service has reportedly re-arrested the alleged mastermind of the Christmas bombing, Kabiru Abubakar Dikko Sokoto, and is seeking a former soldier in the Nigerian Army, Habibu Bama. The agency has also reportedly arrested Mohammed Aliyu and is trying to find another alleged mastermind of the attack, Bashiru Madalla.

In response to continuing attacks in northern Nigeria, President Goodluck Jonathan on Dec. 31 declared a state of emergency in some areas, deploying the military and other security agencies.


Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Mixed news for Christians coming out of Jammu and Kashmir states

India (MNN) ― There's a bright spot amongst all the news coming out of India's Jammu and Kashmir states.
According to Lee DeYoung with Words of Hope, Rev. Chander Mani Khanna--accused of bribing Muslim young people to convert to Christianity--is free, and the case against him is dismissed for lack of evidence. 

The bad news is: the stress silenced the pastor. "He retired officially from the only open church in Kashmir, (that is the All Saint's Church in Srinagar), in mid-January. The church is still there, but at this point, it seems as if Christian activity has been driven completely underground and has been severely curtailed."

DeYoung confirms the Compass Direct News report saying because no charges were filed against him, the state's High Court on Feb. 11 halted proceedings in the police complaint of "promotion of religious enmity by conversions" against Khanna.

Khanna can now travel because the order binding him to the state was lifted, as well. The court asked the government to file its response by March 14, and then it will set the date for the next hearing. 
What's odd is that while Kashmir's sharia (Islamic law) court has no legal authority in India, the committee charged and convicted three church leaders of "luring the valley Muslims to Christianity." As part of their sentence, the trio was ordered to leave the state, and the state government was told to take over the management of all Christian schools in the region. 
DeYoung says, "Local Christians say that the Sharia court is continuing to pursue Christians. Newspaper announcements are posted, naming suspected or known Christians and urging people to turn them in."

As a result, life has been extremely difficult for Kashmir's Christians since the verdict. First, there's the intimidation. 

"They're also seeking to prevent conversions and to re-convert Christians," says DeYoung. "Committee members of this Islamic Sharia court are visiting Christian homes and allegedly pressuring them and their families to return to Islam."

Then, there are the threats, which have to be taken seriously. DeYoung says they're taking steps to keep the staff safe. 

"Words of Hope's radio broadcasts in the Kashmiri language, which had been on the air for a number of years, are going to be suspended at the end of March--in part, because the people who have been recording the programs, the production effort has been disrupted by this persecution."

The fifteen-minute program, "Ray of Hope," airs four days a week and includes music, a health segment, and a Bible-based message. Personal contacts have been made with listeners. The few seekers who respond to the program need support and encouragement to stand for their faith in their own community.

The decision to pull back a little is not limited to Words of Hope. "The shortwave transmissions of FEBA radio are going to cease to the Indian subcontinent at the end of March. We are continuing to pursue other opportunities, and we hope that it will be possible to restart this ministry sometime in the future."

As noted in an earlier interview with another Words of Hope staffer, for all practical purposes "active ministry has ceased for the moment, as far as we know, and the Christians who were involved in that have had to flee for their lives."

There was openness to the Gospel, so keep praying for opportunity. DeYoung says the story isn't over yet. "[We] seek the prayers of God's people for an easing of this illegal persecution and for the work of the Gospel to continue--and hopefully increase."