Friday, April 13, 2012

Church in Egypt sending out missionaries

Burning Church in Egypt
Church in Egypt sending out missionaries: "COLORADO SPRINGS, COLORADO (ANS) -- Just as persecution in the early church at Jerusalem caused a scattering of missionaries throughout the Roman world, recent pressures on the church in Egypt appear to be having the same effect.

"This is one of the most exciting opportunities I've seen in 49 years of missionary ministry,” says Dr. Howard Folz, the founder of AIMS. “Please join with me in releasing a powerful flow of missionaries to the Middle East and North Africa.""


Islamic Extremists Beat, Mock Christians in India

Islamic Extremists Beat, Mock Christians in India: "Prayer group in West Bengal village is attacked less than one month after woman is driven out.

NEW DELHI, April 12 (CDN) — Islamic extremists in India attacked a Christian prayer meeting in West Bengal state, beating a 65-year-old widow and other women less than a month after they helped drive a young woman out of her home and village for her faith. "


Thursday, April 12, 2012

Pakistani Woman Accused of ‘Blasphemy’ Illegally Held in Jail

Pakistani Woman Accused of ‘Blasphemy’ Illegally Held in Jail: "Authorities fail to file charge sheet against young mother of 6-month-old.

LAHORE, Pakistan, April 10 (CDN) — The mother of a 6-month-old girl has been wrongly jailed for more than a month, as Pakistani authorities have failed to file a charge sheet within the mandatory 14-day period against the young Christian woman falsely accused of “blaspheming” the prophet of Islam, her attorney said.


Religious Liberty Monitoring: MALI: Christians flee as jihadists seize control of north

a representative from the Tibu
 ethnic group shakes hands with
 a Tuareg woman in Sabha
Religious Liberty Monitoring: MALI: Christians flee as jihadists seize control of north: "What started out as a violent, destructive and bloody Tuareg rebellion in pursuit of an independent Tuareg homeland has ended in Islamic conquest and the spectre of al Qaeda.

On Thursday 5 April, after three months of fighting, the main ethnic Tuareg rebel group -- the National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad (NMLA) -- announced a ceasefire. Having seized the capitals of the three main northern provinces in three days -- Kidal, on 30 March; Gao, on 31 March; and Timbuktu, on 1 April (see map) -- the NMLA declared it had achieved its military goal.
See: Tuareg rebels in Mali declare cease-fire, end of military operations
By Associated Press, Published: April 5


Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Suicide Bomber Targets Churches in Kaduna, Nigeria

Site of a bomb explosion at a road in Kaduna,
 Nigeria on Sunday, April 8, 2012

Repelled by church security, suspected Islamic extremist detonates blast at nearby taxi stand.
KADUNA, Nigeria, April 9 (CDN) — Churches celebrating Easter services were the targets of a suicide bomber who killed at least 38 people yesterday in Kaduna city in northern Nigeria, sources said.

Security personnel at one of the church buildings blocked the bomber, believed to belong to the Boko Haram Islamic sect, who then decided to detonate his explosives in the street at a nearby motorcycle taxi center, the sources said. Dozens of people were injured in addition to those killed.

The bombs damaged the buildings of the Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA) Good News church and the All Nations Christian Assembly, besides blasting off roofs from homes and hotels and destroying vehicles. Located on the same street, Gwari Road, are the Redeemed Christian Church of God and an Assemblies of God church.

Luka Binniyat, a Christian resident of the city, told Compass that law enforcement agents believed the ECWA Good News church was the primary target.

“Richard Markus, a detective, mentioned that the bomber’s main target was the ECWA Good News church a few meters from the scene of the bomb blast,” Binniyat said.

Binniyat said that he saw the explosion at about 9:30 a.m., and shortly afterwards spoke with Markus.

“The bomber, described as dark, lean-looking and in his mid-30s, approached the ECWA Good News church at around 9:30 a.m., a plainclothes policeman informed us on Gwari road beside a roadblock set up to safeguard the church about 100 meters from its entrance,” Binniyat said.

Markus described the suicide bomber as wearing shorts and a T-shirt; he said he had an army uniform in the back of the Honda Academy car he was driving, according to Binniyat.

“He tried forcing his way past, but the security man stood in between him and the blockade,” Binniyat said. “He even pushed him a ways before some policemen manning the gate of the church rushed down to the scene.”

According to Binniyat, Markus said, “When we saw the uniform, I told him that he was a disgrace to the force. I said he should have been here to help with security instead of trying to be such a nuisance. Anyway, the police, fully armed, told him to move away. He drove away in a reckless manner.

“As we were regretting not searching his car, in about four to five minutes, we heard an earth- shaking explosion. The car that exploded was the same car that wanted to enter here.”

Residents of Kaduna who witnessed the attack told Compass some of the church buildings were affected. John Shiklam, a Kaduna-based Christian journalist, said the explosion shattered windows of church buildings and nearby establishments.

“A suicide bomber attempted to bomb the ECWA church and the All Nations Christian Assembly, both located at Gwari Road by Junction Road, but security agents repelled him,” Shiklam said. “However, on his way out the bomb exploded at Junction Road, near the Stadium Roundabout, killing the bomber and damaging some commercial vehicles at the junction.”

Blessing Audu, who witnessed the explosion, confirmed that parts of the Assemblies of God church building were also damaged.

Emergency rescue workers from the National Emergency Management Authority and the Red Cross removed bodies and evacuated the injured to four hospitals in Kaduna and Zaria. At St. Gerard’s Hospital, staff members told Compass that they had received five bodies and 10 wounded persons. Other hospitals receiving corpses and treating the wounded were Barau Dikko Hospital, Military Hospital and the Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital.

Boko Haram (literally “Forbidden Book,” translated as “Western education is forbidden”) has targeted state offices, law enforcement sites and some moderate mosques in its effort to destabilize the government and impose a strict version of sharia (Islamic law) on all of Nigeria, but Kaduna resident Stanley Yakubu said that Christians are one of its main targets.

“The truth is that there is a deliberate effort to silence or eliminate the Christians in the north,” he said. “Otherwise, why have churches suddenly become the target of suicide bombers? Are there no mosques and Islamic centers in the north? Let the world accept the fact that there is no ‘Boko Haram,’ but ‘Christianity Haram.’”

Another resident, Malachy Gwatiyap, told Compass that attacks on Christians must stop. The bomber detonated the bomb in order to kill Christians disembarking from motorcycle taxis heading to their churches, he said.

“It appears from this heinous incident that Boko Haram is changing tactics – if they can’t get Christians in the churches, it would still serve their purpose to get them either on their way to or from church,” he said. “Shall we continue to suffer in silence? Shall we continue to be the sacrificial lambs on the altar of bigotry of these Islamists? We have suffered enough.”


Turkey’s Religious Freedom Record Slides

Pastor in Black Sea region’s bastion of nationalism feels the hate; slow justice in Malatya.
ISTANBUL, April 9 (CDN) — Sentiment against Christians in Turkey has persisted long enough for a U.S. religious rights monitor to recommend it as a “Country of Particular Concern,” and pastor Orhan Picaklar knows such anti-Christian hostility first-hand.

Picaklar, of Agape Church in Samsun, lives in the Black Sea region, a bastion of Turkey’s unique Islamic-imbued nationalism, where Christians live under increasing pressure. He has seen his building attacked and his family and congregation threatened.

“Just as it is difficult to belong to Jesus all over the world, unfortunately it is the same in Samsun, if not worse,” Picaklar said. “We have been here for 10 years, and people here still treat us like cursed enemies. Our families feel anxiety. On the hour my wife calls me and I have to say, ‘There’s no problem,’ as if to say, ‘I’m still alive.’”

Picaklar’s son received death threats on Facebook last September. A man in his early 20s caused minor damage to Picaklar’s church building last month, the latest in a series of aggressions that has led the church to file charges after long declining to do so.

Police called Picaklar in the middle of the night on March 4 to tell him to come to the police station because a young man had disturbed neighbors near the church building. Neighbors heard the suspect, Eren Cilce, yelling, “Corrupt, perverted Christians, we are going to bring this church down on your heads, get lost,” among other threats, Picaklar said.

The church was housing visitors who had travelled from Romania, he said. Visitors, especially foreigners, attract unwanted attention from local nationalist groups, he added.

The assailant’s threat was nothing new. In June a man broke into the church building and painted threats on the wall. When authorities captured the perpetrator, he asked Picaklar for forgiveness. The church didn’t press charges.

Though Picaklar’s congregation has never pressed charges for previous hate crimes, last month they decided to formally complain.

“We are always forgiving, but since the threats are continuing in aggression and we are innocent, we decided as a congregation for the first time to press charges,” he said.

A court hearing will likely take place in May, and Picaklar said he expects the culprit will be fined. Police informed him that Cilce was drunk, and Picaklar said he hopes the court doesn’t dismiss the case on that basis. The congregation does not have a lawyer.

Of the 50 members of his church, only a dozen have made the brave move to change the religion status on their identification cards from Muslim to Christian, or at least to leave it blank, Picaklar said.

Many in Turkey see Christians as corrupt elements of the West out to shake the integrity of Turkey and Islam; this portrayal has been propagated to some extent in media and literature, including school textbooks. Though constitutionally Turks are allowed to share their faith with others, the word “missionary” carries negative connotations, including the mistaken notion of undermining Turkish sovereignty. In recent years a series of assassinations of Christians in Turkey has brought to the fore deep-rooted prejudices against Christians.

Country of Particular Concern
Such indiscretions are one reason the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) last month recommended that Turkey be designated as a “Country of Particular Concern (CPC),” among Iran, Saudi Arabia and Sudan, for religious freedom violations.

The report cited the government for “systematic and egregious limitations” on religious freedom, stating that Turkey, “in the name of secularism, has long imposed burdensome regulations and denied full legal status to religious groups, violating the religious freedom rights of all religious communities.”

Restrictions that deny non-Muslim communities the rights to train clergy, offer religious education and own and maintain places of worship have led to their decline and in some cases their disappearance, the report stated. The Greek Orthodox community of Turkey has dwindled to around 2,500 from tens of thousands early in the 20th century.

The report called some of the positive steps the government has made in the area of property, education and religious dress as “ad hoc” that have not led to systematic constitutional and legal changes.

Religious restrictions in Turkey have not increased in the last year, but the report stated that continued legal discrimination against non-Muslim groups was a dangerous trend.

Turkish officials called USCIRF’s recommendation to the U.S. Department of State “null and void.” Turkey’s parliament is in the process of drafting a new constitution, and a special parliamentary committee has met with members of Turkey’s non-Muslim communities to hear from them how the new constitution could better represent their communities.

A researcher on religious freedom in Turkey, Mine Yildirim of ABO Academy in Finland, told Compass that USCIRF’s portrayal of religious freedom in Turkey is correct but that the country did not deserve to be designated as a CPC.

“I think it was an unfair attestation, and though they wanted to give a strong message to Turkey, it backfired because the ministry said it was null and void and they wouldn’t take it into account at all,” said Yildirim, a Turkish Christian.

Yildirim acknowledged that religious freedom violations against Protestants had increased in 2011, noting that with few exceptions they are still unable to establish places of worship. Most of Turkey’s churches function as civil associations and can therefore meet in buildings.

Malatya, Five Years LaterFive years after the murder of Turkish Christians Necati Aydin, Ugur Yuksel and German Christian Tilmann Geske in Malatya, no verdict has been issued due to Turkey’s slow judiciary. This has not helped Turkey’s religious rights image.

The Malatya Third Criminal Court is making some progress in shedding light on a shadowy group that was allegedly behind the murders, experts said, but the process has been painfully slow.

A new indictment due last month against the alleged “masterminds” of the murders is still not ready, prosecution lawyers said, setting back hopes for progress at hearings this week.

“Nothing is going to happen,” plaintiff lawyer Erdal Dogan said before today’s court hearing. “We are still waiting for the new indictment.”

The court decided to re-convene on June 18.

The April 2007 murders are believed to be part of a conspiracy to overthrow the current pro-Islamic government.

Prosecuting lawyers and members of the local Protestant community still hope that the new indictment due ahead of the June 18 hearing will be a step forward in bringing the perpetrators to justice.

“I believe the indictment will uncover many details we are not aware of,” Umut Sahin, coordinator of the Legal Committee of the Association of Turkish Protestant Churches (TEK), told Compass. “I think it might surprise us.”

Sahin said he believed the delay of the new indictment was due to its complexity and length and not any unwillingness to advance the case.

Since 2008 there have not been similar bloody attacks against Protestants, but according to TEK, 2011 saw a spike in hate crimes against the association’s 4,500 members.

Commenting on the slow proceedings of the Malatya trial, researcher Yildirim of the ABO Academy said that the judiciary and Turkish “problems of rule and law” were partially to blame, but that the forthcoming new indictment would be a positive step.

“For Malatya, if you put aside the slowness, now finally a new indictment is being prepared to find the instigators,” she said. “So this is a positive effect. It’s not what we expect from justice, but even though it is slow, this is a positive outcome of the trial.”


Monday, April 9, 2012

Southern Sudanese Christians Fear Forced Repatriation

Khartoum gives them until Sunday to apply for citizenship or be deported.
JUBA, South Sudan, April 6 (CDN) — Christians from South Sudan who have until Easter Sunday (April 8) to try to become citizens of Sudan or be deported fear authorities will use the occasion to rid the country of Christianity, church leaders said.

More than 500,000 citizens of southern ethnic origin who have been living in Sudan for decades – some of them born there – will be considered foreigners after Sunday. Human rights organizations have called on Khartoum to grant them more time to either leave or apply for citizenship.

Christian leaders expressed concern that local media such as the daily Al Intibaha newspaper have been stoking hatred against predominantly Christian southern Sudanese, describing them as “cancer cells in the body of Sudan, the land of the Arab and Islam,” and calling on the government to deport them.

“The local media are becoming very hostile toward us who are still in the north,” one Christian told Compass by phone on condition of anonymity.

Gov. Ahmad Abbass of Sennar state in central Sudan vowed to deport southern Sudanese from his state “without regret,” according to Alsahafa, an Arabic daily. Banners have appeared in Khartoum streets calling on the government and Muslims in general to harass and expel southern Sudanese, some of whom are also Muslims.

“Why are they still here? The government should expel them from the country,” one banner asserts.

South Sudan seceded from Sudan in a referendum last July 9. The government of Sudan has begun issuing national numbers to designate citizens of Sudan, denying the designation to Sudanese of southern origin. Without a national number, southern Sudanese have no citizenship rights to work or education.

Churches in Sudan have already suffered losses in numbers as many members prepare for forced repatriation, Christian leaders said.

“We are monitoring the situation and praying to God to protect us,” said a church leader who spoke on condition of anonymity.  

As Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has pledged to base the new Sudan more deeply on sharia (Islamic law), ethnic southerners are faced with a difficult choice, Elizabeth Kendal writes in the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin.

“The message essentially is this: Submit to sharia or get out,” she writes. “Churches may well be targeted immediately and aggressively, starting 9 April. All across the Sudan, churches have been emptying as ethnic southerners – including those born and raised in the north – flee south. This could eventually become a pretext for closing them.”

At the same time, police have been mistreating some of the more than 113,000 southern Sudanese who are living in open spaces in Khartoum after having fled conflict in South Sudan. Officers have removed their make-shift housing, including temporary latrines, according to Jovana Luka, deputy chairperson of the Relief and Rehabilitation Commission in South Sudan, who recently returned from Khartoum.

Southern Sudanese may not be welcome in South Sudan, either, as increased competition for scarce resources leads to greater tribal conflict, and their fate depends on the mercy of both the Sudan and South Sudan governments, the Rev. Karlo Aika of Khartoum’s St. Peter and Paul Catholic Church told 98.6 FM radio station on Sunday (April 1).

He said he was concerned about security for southern Sudanese whether they stay or return to South Sudan.

“We fear too because we do not know why these things are happening,” he said.


Lao Officials Confiscate Church Buildings

Separately, northern officials order Christians to give up faith or be expelled.
AUCKLAND, New Zealand, April 6 (CDN) — Lao officials on Thursday (April 5) confiscated and sealed a church building in southern Laos after holding a two-day seminar warning against religious belief, according to advocacy group Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom (HRWLRF).

Besides sealing the church building in Khamnonsung village, Saybuly district, they also warned that other unrecognized churches in the district in Savannakhet Province would soon be shut down.

Local Communist Party official Saysamorn, along with Saysana, district deputy chief of police, and Bountha, district head of religious affairs, ordered all villages to attend the seminar, held from Tuesday through Thursday (April 3 to 5) and entitled “Tricks of the Enemy.”

According to villagers present at the seminar, the officials declared that Westerners, particularly those from the United States, were using the Christian faith to destabilize the government. They then declared that the 745 Christians in the village could only meet in private homes, claiming that they did not have permission to construct the Khamnonsung church building – although it was erected in 1963, prior to the 1975 Communist takeover of Laos.

“How do these officials know that Khamnonsung did not follow proper procedures back in 1968?” HRWLRF asked in a press release issued today. “And if a permit is required for this building, why wait 49 years to tell them?”

The officials also declared that only one church in the district, located in Dongpoong village, was officially recognized and that all others would soon be shut down, HRWLRF reported.

There are a total of 30 church buildings scattered throughout Savannakhet Province – but only seven are approved by the government.

Christians Protest 
On Sunday (April 1), members of two other Lao churches in Saybuly district met for worship in buildings that were earlier confiscated by authorities, according to HRWLRF.

Authorities confiscated the 37-year-old Kengweng village church building on Feb. 22 and another belonging to a church in Dongpaiwan village on Sept. 22. At 7 a.m. on Sunday (April 1), Kengweng church members removed the padlock from the door of their building, entered and worshipped there. Members of Dongpaiwan did not enter their building but assembled outside it, HRWLRF reported.

The congregations met as a protest against the continued lack of access to worship facilities, a spokesman from HRWLRF told Compass.

Another church in Nadeng village was confiscated on Dec. 4, but members have not yet dared to meet in or go near the building.

Saysamorn, Saysana and Bountha also traveled to Kengweng on Feb. 21 and conducted a compulsory two-day seminar for villagers, urging them not to adopt or follow foreign religions, according to HRWLRF. At the close of the seminar on Feb. 22, they confiscated and sealed the village church building and ordered the 178 Christian not to hold services there.

Church members were instructed to submit a formal written request to village, district and provincial level officials if they wished to use the building again, according to a local church member who preferred to remain unnamed.

On Sept. 14, some 20 Saybuly district officials, military and police personnel seized Dongpaiwan village church and tore down a cross on the building on grounds that church members, numbering around 200, had not obtained prior approval for construction. (See, “Lao Officials Seize Church Building, Convert it into School,” Sept. 26, 2011.)

The villagers argued that while permission was necessary, the local government routinely denied new applications for the construction of churches, thereby creating an impossible situation and denying them the right to worship freely as guaranteed in the constitution.

Officials then converted the church into a school for fifth graders, moving chairs and desks into the building and posting a military guard on the property to prevent Christians from returning there.

Trouble in the North
In northern Laos, Officials in Luang Namtha and Luang Prabang provinces recently ordered Christians in several villages to renounce their faith or face expulsion, according to HRWLRF reports.

On March 2, some 20 officials including district police officers, Communist Party members and village security forces, summoned pastor Khamla of Dongvieng village, Viengphuka district in Luang Namtha Province, and sharply rebuked him for believing in Christianity. After interrogation, officials ordered Khamla to give up his faith within five days or “be cast out of the village.”

Khamla was the only known Christian in a district with a population of 20,000.

On Feb. 18, the chief of Hueygong village in Pakoo district of Luang Prabang Province ordered 10 Christian families in the village, a total of 65 people, to give up their faith or face expulsion. The Christians, most of whom became Christians only three months prior to the eviction order, were meeting for worship in the home of church leader Yar Yang.

Before the order was given, Pakoo district officials told Christians in the district to report the number of church members and churches and apply for official permission to adopt the Christian faith. A leader of one of eight house churches in Pakoo explained to HRWLRF that the district chief, the religious affairs office and the local secretary of the Communist Party had to give their approval before Christians could openly confess faith and worship God.

When Christians failed to comply with these orders, officials gave them a month to recant their faith or face expulsion.

Before the expulsion could take place, however, Bousee Chantuma, head of religious affairs in Luang Prabang, reportedly told Pakoo officials that they must reverse the expulsion order as they had no legal grounds to issue it, and threatened to take the matter to provincial and central religious affairs offices. He also warned them that Christians in the district could not be arrested without his permission, according to HRWLRF.

Earlier, on Jan. 13, authorities in Hueysell village, Ngoi district of Luang Prabang Province, summoned two Christian leaders and ordered them and their congregation of about 80 people to abandon their faith or be expelled.

To date the Christians have held firm to their faith, and authorities have yet to follow through on the eviction order.


Court in Egypt Sentences Young Christian for ‘Insulting Islam’

In legal double standard, free speech takes a blow in conviction regarded as dubious.
CAIRO, Egypt, April 6 (CDN) — In a show of partiality to Muslims who go unprosecuted for like offenses against Christianity, a juvenile court in Egypt on Wednesday (April 4) sentenced a Coptic Christian teenager to three years in prison for allegedly insulting Islam.

Gamal Abdou Massoud, 17, denies the charges. The court claimed that he posted cartoons on his Facebook account in December that mocked the Islamic religion and its prophet, Muhammad. The court also claimed that he distributed the pictures to other students.

After the incident came to light, Muslims in Assuit, where Massoud lives, rioted. They fire-bombed his home and burned down at least five other Christian-owned homes in several Assuit villages. Massoud’s family left their village. It is uncertain if they were ordered out, left from fear or left because they had no home.

The sentencing was considered significant not only because violates the free speech clauses of the U.N.’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, of which Egypt is a signatory, but also shows another area where justice is executed unequally between Muslims and Christians in Egypt. The sentencing also shows that rights are given to the Christian minority in Egypt only when Islamic sensitivities are not involved.

When Muslim public figures violate Egyptian laws related to insulting Christianity, which happens often, the laws are ignored, Coptic Christians said. But when Christians are accused of violating the same laws against Islam, they pointed out, even a minor is usually punished to the full extent of the law.

The court also held Massoud responsible for inciting the riots. No one responsible for burning down any of the homes has been charged.

Samia Sidhom, managing editor at  Watani newspaper in Cairo, said the sentencing was a clear example of the double standard. When Coptic lawyers bring cases before the court about alleged instances of inflammatory speech broadcast publicly by Islamic or government leaders against Christianity, the Bible or Christians, the charges “are simply sidelined,” with cases going on for years with no outcome.

“They never get any sentences,” Sidhom said.

The three-year sentence was the maximum Massoud could have received.

Sidhom also called into question the veracity of the charges. She said her reporters could find no evidence that Massoud had even had a Facebook page, calling him “almost computer illiterate.”

This is the third high-profile case of “insulting Islam” to be brought to court against Copts in Egypt in roughly a month. On March 3, a Cairo court dismissed a case against Naguib Sawaris, a Copt and telecommunications tycoon, who was accused of insulting Islam for placing a cartoon of Minnie Mouse in a veil on his Facebook site as a satirical comment on what Egypt would look like if Islamists gained political power in the country.

Two weeks later, on March 16, a group of Muslim lawyers blocked off a courtroom where Makram Diab, a Coptic Christian, was trying to launch an appeal against a six-year prison term levied against him for insulting Islam. A Salafi Muslim brought the accusations against him after the two had a quarrel at a school where the two worked. Salafists claim to practice the Islam of the first three generations after Muhammad.

Sentenced six days after authorities arrested him, Diab was not allowed to have a defense attorney present at his original court hearing. His appeal is pending.