Saturday, September 29, 2012

Egyptian blasphemy cases pursued as Morsi defends ban at UN

In one rare case, Christianity has also been defamed by Muslim who tore up Bible

By Michael Ireland
Special Correspondent, ASSIST News Service

CAIRO, EGYPT (ANS) -- Several blasphemy cases moved forward this week in Egypt while President Morsi defended curbing free speech in an address Wednesday at the United Nations, according to Kristen Chick, reporting for The Christian Science Monitor ( )

The Monitor says an Egyptian court upheld a six-year prison sentence Sept.27 for an Egyptian Christian charged with insulting Islam and the president, just a day after the opening hearing in the trial of another Egyptian man accused of insulting the religion.

The Monitor reports that an Egyptian rights group also announced Thursday that it would ask Egypt's highest appeals court to consider the case of an Egyptian Shia man convicted of desecrating a mosque. And, in a rare case, prosecutors this week brought charges of defaming Christianity against a Muslim who ripped a Bible.
The Monitor states the flurry of developments in blasphemy-related cases comes in the wake of the uproar, in Egypt and across the Muslim world, over an American-made anti-Islam YouTube clip.

It reports: "The protests and anger over the video have strengthened the push for an anti-blasphemy clause in Egypt's new constitution. Rights activists say such a constitutional clause, like Egypt's current laws criminalizing insults to religion, limit freedom of expression and are often used to target minorities and those with unpopular views."

Egyptian President Morsi (Photo courtesy EPA via Google Images).
The Monitor reported that at a speech at the United Nations Wednesday, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi was unequivocal about Egypt's position on banning "insults" to religion. "Egypt respects freedom of expression," he said, but "not a freedom of expression that targets a specific religion or a specific culture."

Mob Accusations Leveled

The Monitor goes on to cite several recent cases.
Alber Saber, whose case began Wednesday, was arrested during the week of protests against the American film.

The Monitor says that after an angry mob gathered outside his house, accusing him of burning the Quran and insulting Islam, he called police, says his lawyer, Ahmed Ezzat. Instead of confronting the mob, they arrested Mr. Saber. The prosecutor who conducted the investigation repeatedly asked Saber about his religious beliefs, and played a video found on a CD in Saber's home in which Saber, whose family is Christian, questions the meaning of religion.

The Monitor says initial reports said Saber had posted the "Innocence of Muslims" YouTube clip on his Facebook page, but Mr. Ezzat says those reports were false. While he was in jail, police incited other prisoners to attack Saber by telling them he was connected to the "Innocence of Muslims" film, says Ezzat.

The Monitor goes on to say the Christian man whose conviction was upheld Thursday was sentenced to six years in prison for posting pictures on Facebook that were deemed offensive to Islam. He was also convicted for insulting President Morsi.

"He's now going to spend six years in jail for talking, for speech basically," said Amr Gharbeia, of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR).

According to the Monitor, at the hearing Thursday in the southern Egyptian city of Sohag, three lawyers sent to represent the man were threatened and intimidated in court, says Mr. Gharbeia. People in the courthouse called them infidels, and shouted threats at them. At one point the three were separated, and they could not leave the courthouse without a security escort, says Gharbeia.

EIPR Thursday announced it had filed an appeal with the Court of Cassation, the highest appeals court in Egypt, to take up the case of an Egyptian Shia man who was convicted of desecration.

From a Nile Delta town, he was arrested earlier this year when he prayed in a mosque in a way that is traditional in Shia Islam. The "desecration" took place when residents entered the mosque with weapons because they were angry with the way he prayed. "He's being punished for someone else's acts," says Gharbeia.

The Monitor explained that Shia Muslims are repressed and marginalized in Egypt, where they make up a tiny percentage of the population.

Christianity Also Defamed

The Monitor also explained that Egypt's blasphemy law is almost exclusively used to prosecute people for insulting Islam, and is often used against Christians, though it officially protects "heavenly religions," understood as Islam, Christianity, and Judaism, from insult.

The website further states that this week, in a rare case, prosecutors brought charges of defaming Christianity against a Muslim preacher who tore a copy of the Bible outside the US embassy during protests against the YouTube clip.

The Monitor says the self-styled preacher and television personality, known as Sheikh Abu Islam, was released until his trial, while Saber remains in prison during his case.

The Monitor also says Mr. Islam's son and a journalist who interviewed him after the protest were also charged, for reasons that remain unclear.

Friday, September 28, 2012

New religion law could force evangelicals underground in Russia

Russian Ministries trains next generation church leaders.
 Pray the new legislation dies for lack of support.
Russia (MNN) ― Traditional religious leaders and lawmakers in Russia are touting a proposed new law that could require a 3-year prison sentence for insulting the religious feelings of believers and vandalizing holy sites. However, bloggers and opinion columnists across the country believe the law will only make religious freedom more difficult, especially for evangelical Christians.

Mission Network News caught up with Wally KulakoffRussian Ministries in Moscow. He says he's concerned for one important reason. He says the Duma has openly proclaimed that there are only four traditional religions in Russia. 

"That's orthodoxy, Islam, Judaism, and Buddhism. And if you say anything contrary to, or against. then you are insulting the four traditional religions of the former Soviet Union. What place do Protestants have in the former Soviet Union?"

Kulakoff says evangelical Christians insult many when they say God had a Son. "He became the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Islam says that they have a god who does not have a son, and anyone who claims God had a son has no right to live on this earth. Now, who is insulting who?"

Many who oppose the law believe this only opens Pandora's box. Kulakoff says, "Non-traditional religion in Russia with be chastised, prohibited, [and] will have to go underground. There will be no room for the Protestant church."

Russian Ministries School Without Walls program is discipling next-generation church leaders -- young people who are already leaders in their community. If this law is passed and it's interpreted harshly, Kulakoff says, "Then School Without Walls goes underground and will continue to have an impact, but in another form. Rather than openly, it'll be more excluded and secluded."

This law could have far-reaching impact. Kulakoff says the greatest insult to the Orthodox Church is to have a Bible translation that they didn't authorize. "That means Russia will say you can only use one Bible; then, the more modern, the more contemporary translations will be illegal."

In the meantime, Kulakoff and other Christians in the former Soviet Union are asking you to pray that the law would fail. 

They're also asking you to support their work, not only with your prayers but your financial support.

Ministry begins to maneuver outreach in wake of court decision

India (MNN) ― It's been a month since the Himachal Pradesh High Court in India made headlines by striking down parts of the state's anti-conversion law.

The court struck down a section of the law which makes it mandatory for any person seeking to convert to go and give prior notice to local authorities before being baptized. The judges also ruled against another section which mandates the state to inquire into every conversion.

Mawii Pudaite with Bibles For the World agrees with the Asia News assessment that the ruling "upheld and protected the constitution" and recognized that everyone has "a right to choose his or her religion."
Himachal Pradesh's case could set precedent throughout India. Pudaite explains, "Currently, anti-conversion laws are enforced in five states: Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh, and Gujarat. In Arunachal Pradesh and Rajasthan, the laws have been passed but not yet implemented."

According to Open Doors, choice and the freedom to choose are the most important legal principles to emerge from the ruling. Pudaite says, "Pray that God will move in a wonderful way in the great land of India and that multiplied millions will find The Way, the Truth, and the Life. Here in the USA, everyone in every state enjoys freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and so on. It's so easy to take these privileges for granted."

However, the rise of Hindu nationalism could still make things very tricky for Christian workers. What remains of the law is loosely worded, leaving the definitions of "force" or "allurement" open to a wide interpretation. Still, Pudaite says, it's the break their team needed. "With this anti-conversion law being repealed, this is the time to move in."

There is a Bible distribution project in the works. Pudaite says, "We've got 250,000 copies of the Hindi Bible to be given out to the new converts in North India." It means greater exposure. Thus far, "It has been mostly in Punjabi...and Chhattisgarh will read in Hindi, and of course, English for the English-speaking people."

There has been a spike in persecution this year. Religious rights watchdogs attribute it to the growth of the Christian Church.

Please pray that India will continue to recognize and respect the religious freedom of citizens to worship, gather together, and evangelize. Pray that in the meantime, Christians in India will be bold in their faith despite threat of persecution. 

Voice of the Martyrs gives pastor new dignity

(Image courtesy of VOM)

India (MNN) ― In a northern region of India, Pastor Khanna spent 40 days in jail last November for baptizing seven Muslims. While the new believers insisted they weren't offered money to convert, this didn't stop local media from destroying Khanna's reputation in the community.

"You would hang your head in shame at what was written about [the pastor's] family," said a Voice of the Martyrs, USA partner.

The ordeal took a serious toll on Khanna's family and the church's view of his leadership. His wife became sick, as well as deeply disappointed by the church's lack of support. Meanwhile, church leaders hinted that Khanna shouldn't have baptized the converts from Islam.

Although his case was eventually dropped because of a lack of evidence, Khanna was dismissed from church leadership without pension.

But VOM has given the pastor new dignity. When lawyers in Kashmir refused to represent Khanna during his ordeal, VOM's partner in India helped him out. They recently came to the rescue again by offering the former pastor a job in Bangalore.

Pastor Khanna now speaks on behalf of persecuted Christians in churches throughout India. The move has improved both Khanna's confidence and his wife's health. Pray that her health continues to improve.

"I am not bothered by what happened to me, but I glorify the Lord," declared Pastor Khanna.

While Hinduism is India's majority religion, India has the world's third-largest Muslim community. Most people in Kashmir are Muslim. They surround churches during worship services and circulate hate literature with a racial undertone against Christians. Pig blood is highly offensive to Muslims, and the Kashmir media portrays believers as people who use it in their religious practices.

Pastor Khanna held many community-wide events in Kashmir, trying to reconcile Muslims and Christians. The controversial baptism that triggered Pastor Khanna's arrest was recorded at one of these events, and the video was later posted to YouTube.

VOM supports persecuted pastors in restricted nations throughout the world. Click here to learn more about their work. 

You can sponsor Pastor Khanna and write him a letter by contacting VOM directly. Click here to fill out the form and type "Pastor Khanna" in the comments field.

From Africa to Asia, offended Muslims vent anger at Christian churches

Believers assaulted, churches burned, and websites hacked

Thousands of Muslims burn a church in Mardan, Pakistan.
Sept. 27, 2012 (Open Doors News) — Across much of the Muslim world, more than two weeks of backlash to the internet video "Innocence of the Muslims" has occasionally been directed at Christians, from computer hacks to church burnings.

It can be difficult to sort deliberate acts of persecution from simple undirected anger sparked by the video, which portrays Muhammad as a womanizer and false prophet. And, as anger over the video reverberates from Africa to Asia, it can be difficult to distinguish between video-inspired backlash against Christians, and the longer-running pattern of pressure targeted at Christians that has existed long before the film clip hit You Tube.

On Sept. 16, five days after Libyan rioters in Benghazi killed the U.S. ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans, a band of gunmen in the Nigerian city of Bauchi shot dead six Christian men playing cards. Though the killings were carried out at the same time demonstrators were marching in cities across the region to protest the video, the Bauchi state governor said the killings were not religiously motivated. Instead, authorities said they were part of a deadly weekend of violence in that part of Nigeria at the hands of Boko Haram, a radical Islamic sect that has carried out attacks in a similar manner in the past.

There was little doubt, however, two days earlier in the Niger town of Zinder as about 1,000 Muslims emerged from the Friday Jumu'ah prayers, divided into groups of several hundred each, and started marching toward the churches in town. They set the Winners Chapel afire. They severely vandalized the Union of Evangelical and Protestant churches’ community center, the Church of the Assemblies of God, and a Catholic church.

Several Christians were injured, though the exact number has not been verified. After police regained control at the churches, smaller groups damaged the homes of the evangelical church pastor and homes of members of the Catholic church. Police made numerous arrests.

Meanwhile, as far away as Pakistan, Christians anticipated the wave of Muslim anger to wash into their country.

"‘The day the Libyans killed an American we knew this would not stay far for long," said a teacher in the northwest part of Pakistan, referring to the Sept. 11 Benghazi attack. By Sunday the 16th, rumors abounded that Christians in Pakistan were under attack.

"We were so on edge we panicked," said the teacher, whose name is being withheld to protect her from retribution. "Even when it became evident this was a false alarm, we knew it could still happen."

It did.

The following Friday, the 21st, an angry mob torched St. Paul Lutheran Church in Pakistan's Mardan district. Protestors destroyed not only the church building but a school attended by Christian and Muslim children.

"Nothing is left," a St. Paul pastor said, sitting on a pile of rubble, turning a brick over in his hand. "Pray for the healing of our hearts and hopes, that we may be the real Church in this place and be like the Prince of Peace. I do not know if I have the energy for that."

In same week of the Benghazi attack, a church in next-door Algeria reported receiving threats because of the video. Police were alerted and no harm came to the church.

In Iraq, Christians working in government office in Mosul have started to receive written threats. "Warning to the Dirty Nazeris," the computer printouts say, referring to the word Nazareth, and ordering Christians to leave the city.

Computer hackers took down at least one Christian website in the Persian Gulf region. They replaced its usual homepage with this message:

"You have been Hacked

"Islam means Peace. We, the Muslims want peace all over the world. But you don't want to be stay in peace. Don't think us weak. We are more more and more stronger than you that you cannot imagine. By creating this video you have just insulted our 'Islam' and our beloved Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) and break the peace between you and us. Now we are in your cyber space to destroy it. We will hit you until you stop hitting us and want marcy for your did."

A check on the website Thursday showed a homepage that said the site is "under maintenance."

Yet amid the anger and violence, there have been some moments of peace.

Protests had spilled into Egypt during the days that followed the Sept. 11 uprising in Libya. Angry Egyptian Muslims stormed the American embassy in Cairo. It was well after midnight Sept. 14, and tear gas was in the air. In the nearby Kasr-el-Dobara Evangelical Church, fears were running high.

Unable to breach the embassy perimeter, some of the protesters turned their attention to the church. "Death to the worshippers of the cross!" they painted on the wall.

Inside, a pastor and about 30 young people prayed. The mob began to damage the downstairs bookshop. Some carried Molotov cocktails.

Then a man emerged from the crowd and started yelling. He said the Christians from the church had come to his aid, tending his wounds, during the 2011 popular uprising against the Egyptian government. Then another man stepped forward, and said the church had offered water, earlier that very day, to wash the feet of Muslims before prayers.

The crowd fell silent, turned, and left.

"These two men weren't just men," said a senior member of the church staff. "One day we will discover if they were men, or angels, just there to protect the church."

Copyright 2012 Open Doors News

Thursday, September 27, 2012

74-year-old disabled woman the latest victim of police violence

Uzbekistan (MNN) ― The nation ranked #7 on the Open Doors USAWorld Watch List has recently produced a string of offenses against believers, including police raids, beatings, and outrageous fines for religious activity. Forum 18 News Service reports that two elderly women are the latest victims.

Police broke into the home of Nina Cashina, a 74-year-old disabled Protestant, and confiscated 25 Christian books, including 7 Bibles and 3 Russian New Testaments, 25 DVDs, and 20 audio tapes. They then broke into a home belonging to Cashina's neighbor, Gulya. Forum 18 was unable to discover Gulya's full name but learned from sources that she is registered as a disabled person at a local clinic.

After raiding Gulya's home, police handcuffed the woman and dragged her to their car, where she was beaten by several officers. The two women were then taken to a nearby police station, where Gulya suffered an epileptic attack. Pray for this woman's recovery.

Doctors wanted to take her to a hospital, but police wouldn’t let them, said Forum 18. Instead, they "forced her to write a dictated statement that Chashina [was] distributing DVDs of Christian films among Muslims."

Both women were released, and Chashina may now face administrative charges. Forum 18 said a multitude of believers in Uzbekistan have faced persecution like this. In some cases, fines soar nearly 30 times the minimum wage.
In the eastern region of Uzbekistan, a Baptist was fined for singing Christian songs.

Forum 18 reported the excessive fines against Viktor Kotov in early September. On a Sunday morning, Kotov's home was raided by fifteen plain-clothed officers, who began questioning the group without showing any documentation. 

Reportedly, officers then made records and left. Kotov was later fined 314,600 Soms, or five times the minimum monthly wage.

"When the officials broke in, [Kotov], his wife and children and an elderly woman who is a friend of the family were simply singing Christian songs," local believers told Forum 18.

"This case shows once again that Uzbekistan's authorities are resolute in leading a struggle against the country's Christians."

Pakistani Bishop Peter Majeed asks the International Community for Help in Rebuilding the Church in Mardan

By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service

ISLAMABAD PAKISTAN (ANS) -- Angry Muslims attacked the Church in Mardan near Peshawar following noon prayers last Friday.

ASSIST News Service Pakistan Correspondent and human rights activist Shamim Masih said the Sept. 21 violence was as a result of the anti-Islamic video that has stirred riots and protests throughout Pakistan.
Bishop Peter Majeed

According to church pastor Bishop Peter Majeed, whom Masih interviewed on the phone, thousands of people broke into the church compound, burnt the church, school books, Bibles, and copies of the Jesus film.

Majeed said the rioters destroyed 27 homes on the church compound, including the residences of two priests and the school principal.

Displaced families are living with their friends and relatives, and are in need of help to replace what they lost.

Masih said he learned that the militants tried to set the pastor's son, Zeeshan, on fire. In addition, items of value to the militants--computers, office equipment, and chairs were stolen.

Innocent Pakistani Christians had nothing to do with the production or promotion of the video. Masih said most know little about it, yet they are paying the price simply for being Christian in a nation dominated by Islamic extremists - a country where government officials and moderate Muslims fear to talk to protect minority's rights on their behalf.

The Diocese of Peshawar, where the attack took place, provides education and health services to the local community - Muslim and Christian alike - and provided substantial support to victims of floods and a major earthquake in recent years, regardless of their religious affiliation.

Masih commented, "Where's the media outrage? When a Quran is burned or a film considered blasphemous appears on You Tube, Muslims respond with global riots and protests. But When Christian holy books are destroyed, or a church is burned, there is silence. Where is the Chief Justice of Pakistan?"

Masih said Majeed is asking Christians around the world to pray for God's protection for Pakistani believers. He is also requests assistance to rebuild the church building as soon as possible.

Nigeria: Catholic Cathedral in Bauchi Bombed In Second Attack on Christians in the Space of a Week

By Dan Wooding, who was born in Nigeria
Founder of ASSIST Ministries

BAUCHI, NIGERIA (ANS) -- At least two people died and over 40 were injured on Sunday, September 23, 2012, in a suicide bomb attack on St. John's Catholic Cathedral, Murtala Mohammed Way, in the Bayan Gari area of Bauchi Town.

The bomb going off by St. John's Catholic Cathedral
According to Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), the suicide bomber is reported to have detonated his explosives at the church gate after being refused entry into the grounds at around 9 am. The bomber, a woman and a child are confirmed to have died at the scene, while many others are hospitalized with life threatening injuries.

"This is the second attack on Christians in Bauchi Town within the space of a week. Last Sunday, four gunmen in a tricycle descended on the Zongo area, firing indiscriminately at a building where people generally gather in the evening to relax and play cards. At least five people were killed on the spot, while four died later in hospital," said a CSW spokesperson.

Local sources describe a growing sense of panic in Bauchi Town, with several claiming the state's government is not doing enough to safeguard the lives and property of Bauchi's Christian community.
The devastation after the explosion

In a comment to Christian Solidarity Worldwide, the Anglican Bishop of Bauchi, the Rt. Revd Musa Tula, said: "Unfortunately, this is an ongoing situation in Bauchi State. Christians are attacked on a weekly basis. We need prayers because real protection can only come from God. We urgently need prayers from our brethren around the world for the peace of Bauchi State."

CSW's Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said: "We extend our heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims of the attacks that have occurred in the last week in Bauchi Town. We also pray for a speedy recovery for those injured in these appalling acts of violence. However, it is regrettable that Christian communities in Bauchi remain extremely vulnerable and are in urgent need of effective protection. We urge the state government to implement comprehensive, long-term security arrangements to guarantee the safety of innocent civilians and halt these attacks, which are now occurring with alarming regularity."

Note: Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) is a Christian organisation working for religious freedom through advocacy and human rights, in the pursuit of justice.

Analysis: India’s narrow path to religious freedom

In August, the high court of India’s Himachal Pradesh state rejected a portion of the state’s laws regulating religious conversion. Open Doors News asked Steven David, director of the Centre for Contemporary Studies, in Bangalore, to provide his perspective.

By Steven David

Bangalore, India, Sept. 26 — Shimla apples are world-famous. They are grown in the north Indian hill state of Himachal Pradesh whose capital, Shimla, also was the summer capital of British India. The famous red delicious apples, though, owe their fame to a young American Quaker, Samuel Evans Stokes, who brought the special apple strains from the United States to Himachal Pradesh, making it the second-biggest apple producing state in India.

Stokes, inspired by an American missionary’s work among leprosy patients in the Shimla hills, sailed the seas hoping to be a Quaker missionary there. Moved by the plight of the locals, he decided to fight poverty by transforming the economy of the region by helping create hundreds of apple orchards by bringing in a special strain of apple from the U.S. in the 1920s. Evans became to the hill state nestled in the Himalayan ranges what Johnny Appleseed was to the American heartland of the early 1800s.

As apple orchards bloomed and the economy boomed, so did Stokes’ love for India: He married a local girl, crusaded for social justice by taking on British rulers, became the only American to fight along Mahatma Gandhi in India’s freedom struggle, and converted to Hinduism, changing his name to Satyananda before dying in the hills, age 63, in May 1946.

Shimla, the summer capital of British India, didn’t bristle with anti-conversion rhetoric so common today, because Stokes made his decision to become Hindu freely, of his own will. Of course, in India, it’s never been unpopular to convert to Hinduism. Now, it seems, India is testing whether it can tolerate less popular, yet equally freely chosen, conversions away from Hinduism.

A two-judge bench in Himachal Pradesh believes it must. On Aug. 30 it struck down provisions of the state’s 2006 Freedom of Religion Act that required a 30-day notice period for those who intended to convert from one religion to another. To the Evangelical Fellowship of India, which brought the lawsuit, and other minority religion leaders closely monitoring the ramifications of the judges’ order, the concept of free will – choice, and the freedom to choose – will be the most important legal principle to emerge from the ruling.

The judges basically observed that the state had no role to play if anyone exercised his or her own will to convert. They noted red flags would go up if conversion was the result of force, fraud, or inducement, and if it threatened the secular fabric of India.

Semitic, Abrahamic faiths such as Islam and Christianity are the key targets of these anti-conversion laws. Conversion to Hinduism, contrary to popular definition, is sought to be viewed as “return to the faith of the forefathers.”

H.T. Sangliana, vice chairman of India’s National Commission for Minorities, charged with safeguarding the legal rights of India’s nearly 20 million minorities, said this development could have “some cascading effect across the country.” Other persecuted groups, he said, may find encouragement in the ruling and approach the courts in other states where such laws are in place.

Yet he said the commission remains concerned about states’ rush to pass new anti-conversion laws, taking their inspiration from a document nearly as old as the Indian government itself. India’s constitution, adopted in 1950, was drafted by B.R. Ambedkar, a Dalit educated at Columbia University and London School of Economics who later converted to Buddhism. The charter provides guarantees and protections including freedom of religion and its propagation.

Just six years later, the government formed a commission, headed by Justice MBS Niyogi, former chief justice of the Nagpur high court, and including a Christian professor, SK George. The commission’s first job was to investigate Christian mission activities, but its report also recommended statutory restrictions against conversion, and has influenced several anti-conversion bills across India.

Some of the commission’s recommendations, long dormant until the rise of the Hindu nationalism, if widely adopted would leave Christians occupying the slimmest of legal territory within India. One example: “[A]ttempts to convert by … penetrating into the religious conscience of persons for the purpose of consciously altering their faith, should be absolutely prohibited.”

Another recommendation: “[R]ules relating to registration of doctors, nurses and other personnel employed in hospitals should be suitably amended to provide a condition against evangelistic activities during professional service”

In other words: Mother Teresa is welcome, a silent servant whose actions spoke louder than any preacher’s words. Anyone who wants to actually speak up about Jesus would have much less room to maneuver. This narrow lifeline in the law, upheld and confirmed by the Himachal Pradesh court last month, is what anyone who is not Hindu must rely upon for protection.

A former Supreme Court judge, K.T. Thomas, speaking at a public lecture in Bangalore in 2007, underscored this note of caution for the minority community, saying “no legislation has imposed any restriction on conversion if it is done by one’s free will.”

In their ruling, Shimla high court judges have gone beyond the usual fusillade of anti-Christian charges against Hindutva ideologues such as the nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP. They have shown that the seeds of anti-conversion legislation were not sown just in the recent past. Political leaders of so-called secular parties such as the Congress Party, which prides itself as the savior of minorities, have been equally responsible in fanning the anti-conversion flame over the years.

“The biggest priority for the church leaders is to first understand how the Indian Constitution works and go with its guidelines,” Sangliana said. “All those involved in the work of the gospel must bear in mind the sensitivity of the situation when sharing their message. Free will is the key, not force or inducement, and this is where much teaching and guidance within the community would be required.”

About the author:
Steven David is director of the Centre for Contemporary Issues, a research and advocacy think-tank in Banaglore, India. He was selected by the U.S. State Department for its 2005 International Leadership Program, in which he lectured on contemporary issues at several universities, federal agencies and research institutes across the United States. He was a political journalist in India for more than 20 years.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Pakistani teen Christian declared 'innocent' of blasphemy by police, but case still continues

By Dan Wooding
Founder of ASSIST Ministries

ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN (ANS) -- The strange case of Rimsha Masih, the 14-year-old Christian Pakistani girl who had faced life in prison for allegedly burning the Koran, but then police declared that she was "innocent", took another twist today, when surprisingly her case was not dismissed, but instead she will have her case now heard in a juvenile court. 

Rimsha Masih
A local court today (Monday, September 24, 2012), ordered the transfer of her case to juvenile court according to the girl's lawyer, Tahir Naveed Choudhry.

Pakistani police had told CNN that their investigation concluded Rimsha Masih is innocent and was framed by an Imam (Muslim leader).

"There was no legal evidence against Rimsha," officer Munir Jafri told CNN.

Rimsha, a Christian, believed to be around 14 years of age and reportedly suffering from some mental disability, was allegedly seen burning pages inscribed with Koranic verses, last month.

The news of the desecration spread like wild fire, following which furious locals attacked Rimsha and her mother. The police later arrested Rimsha on August 16 on the demand of the locals. Rimsha languished in judicial custody for weeks, after which she was released and transferred by helicopter to an undisclosed location, which some believe was to Norway.

The original case took a turn when a witness said in his statement before the police that Khalid Jadoon Chishti, a local Imam, had added some burnt pages of the Holy Koran to execute his plan to expel the Christian community from the locality, police sources said.

He has now been charged and many expected that at the court today, Rimsha would be granted her freedom and the case be dismissed.

Attending the court proceedings for ANS, Shamim Masih, a freelance journalist and a human rights activist, said that Pakistani Judge Ghulam Abbas Shah on Monday rejected the district administration's request to hold the hearing on the Rimsha case in jail and ordered the police to submit a charge sheet in the special court in accordance with the juvenile laws.

"Earlier, the Investigating officer, Munir Jafri, declared her innocent and said in his investigation he could not find any evidence against Rimsha who was accused of burning pages from Koran in a case which sparked an international hue and cry," said Mr. Masih.

"In the proceedings today, the district attorney had submitted his application blaming the investigation officer of threating him while, in his defense, presented his side of the situation.

Police escort blindfolded Muslim cleric Khalid Jadoon Chishti as he is brought before a judge at a court in Islamabad September 2, 2012. (Photo: Faisal Mahmood/Reuters)
"The court has passed the matter of animosity over the charge sheet between the investigating officer and the district attorney to the relevant court."

Mr. Masih said that judge also ordered Senior Superintendent Police (SSP) to investigate the matter and submit his report before the next date.

The court adjourned the case until Monday, October 1, 2012, and ordered that Rimsha be brought to the court.

Shortly after the girl was granted bail, she gave her first interview to CNN, and in it Rimsha, speaking from an undisclosed location, expressed fear for her life, but said she was happy to be back with her family.

"I'm scared," she said by phone. "I'm afraid of anyone who might kill us."

The teen spoke, said a CNN reporter, in short sentences, answering "yes" or "no" in a shy and nervous voice.

Although Rimsha was not acquitted today, many inside Pakistan believer will not be long before she is.

"This is a precursor to the case ending, and that is quite unprecedented in the 25-year history of Pakistan's blasphemy laws," said Ali Dayan Hasan, the Pakistan director of Human Rights Watch, while speaking to CNN.

Police have submitted the findings to the court. Pakistan courts usually go with what police recommend.

There is a lot of evidence implicating Imam Khalid Jadoon Chishti for framing the teenager and for himself tearing pages out of the holy book, Jafri told CNN.

This is significant, said Human Rights Watch's Hasan, because "never before has a false accuser been held accountable."

The teen's case sparked international outcry against the Pakistani government, some saying the blasphemy laws are used to settle scores and persecute religious minorities.

Blasphemy laws have been a part of life in Pakistan for 25 years, first instituted primarily to keep peace between religions, Hasan said.

But a military leader in Pakistan in the middle 1980s tightened the laws, introducing amendments that "essentially made blasphemy a capital offense," Hasan said.

"They were vaguely worded ... and became an instrument of coercion and persecution," he said. "The laws were disproportionately used against the weakest and most vulnerable in society -- religious minorities, women, children and the poor."

According to a CNN story, there have been 1,400 blasphemy cases since 1986, according to Hasan. There are more than 15 cases of people on death row for blasphemy in Pakistan, and 52 have been killed while facing trial for the charge, Hasan said.

Extremist Hindus rout Christians from rural Indian village

Small community has been ostracized since 2006

Balod, Chhattisgarh, India, Sept. 25 (Open Doors News) — Hindus twice assaulted a Christian community in a rural India village early this month, beating believers, forcing them into Hindu worship rituals, and damaging their homes, according to Christian witnesses.

The Sunday worship meeting was underway Sept. 2 at the home of a new Christian, Daminbai Sahu, in Bhanpuri, a village in the Balod district of India’s state of Chhattisgarh. The witnesses said a group of villagers stormed into the house and beat several of the people attending the meeting, including a visiting pastor identified only as Dada, of the Philadelphia Fellowship.

The attackers accused Dada of forcefully converting Hindus to Christianity, the witnesses said, and dragged him out of the house. As hundreds gathered around the commotion, the extremists ordered Dada out of the village and threated to kill him if he returned, said Samuel Philip of the Church of God in Balod. They forced believers to renounce their faith in Christ late into the night, said Church of God Rev. Sandeep Claudius.

The following night, at 11 p.m., about 600 Hindu extremists stormed the houses of five Christian families belonging to the Philadelphia Fellowship, Claudius said. Led by four men he identified as Manish Sahu, Virendra Yadav, Vinod Gond, and Vinod Sahu, the mob called the Christians “pagans” and accused them of trying to forcefully convert Hindus to Christianity. They threatened dire consequences if they did not give up their faith. They broke doors, damaged the houses and household items, Christian witnesses said.

Claudius said the extremists forced the Christians to bow before Hindu idols and chant Hindu slogans.

“We will not forsake Christ even at the point of death because he has forgiven our sins and gave us new life,” one victim, Deherram Sahu, told Open Doors News.

The extremists forced Sahu and believers from three other families, Sarjuram Sahu, his wife Janakbai Sahu, and Ubhayram Sahu to leave the village at about 1 a.m., in the monsoon rain. The four reached a small town of Gurur, about 12 kilometers away, and informed the church leaders at Balod. Later they found shelter in Balod with local Christians.

Christians remaining in Bhanpuri, including children and elderly, were unable to come out of their houses.

“The Christians were banned from collecting drinking water from the village well,” Philip said. “It was raining and the Christians collect some water from the rain. However after realizing that the Christians have little water in their houses, the extremists went over to their houses and threw all their water away.”

Family members were rescued from the village after some days by area church leaders. They went to the Gurur police station, but were turned away. “He advised the believers to go back to the village and worship Hindu gods,” Philip said.

Church leaders eventually prevailed upon the police to accept the complaint, and statements from the four believers evicted from Bhanpuri have been registered. But police have not filed a first-information report detailing the assaults.  
The small Christian community of Bhanpuri has faced ostracism since converting to Christianity in 2006.

“They were not allowed to sell and buy in the village, were not allowed to draw water from the well, and were treated as outcasts,” Philip said. “They were not allowed to walk on the main road because the extremists were frightened that it will get contaminated because of their faith in Christ.”

The Open Doors International World Watch List describes India as a nation where Christians generally are free, but “violence against pastors and church gatherings continues on a monthly basis, usually in rural areas.” The World Watch List documented more than 100 incidents of violence against Christians in 2011.

The Indian constitution guarantees religious freedom, but in five of India’s 28 states, including Chhattisgarh, the law also forbids forced conversion from one religion to another. Christians under pressure in those states frequently face accusations that they are actively recruiting Hindus away from their religion.

In August, the high court of India’s northern state of Himachal Pradesh reaffirmed the law’s prohibition of forced conversion. But it struck down a 2006 addition to the law, one which requires a person to give the government 30-day notice before conversion.

"A person not only has a right of conscience, the right of belief, the right to change his belief, but also has the right to keep his beliefs secret," the court ruled.



Copyright 2012 Open Doors News