Friday, October 26, 2012

Azerbaijan: Is Confiscating Religious Literature Censorship?

By Dan Wooding
Founder of ASSIST Ministries

AZERBAIJAN (ANS) -- Azerbaijani customs and secret police officers spent more than six hours searching a family minibus returning from Russia in late September, seizing religious literature they found hidden and confiscating the van and the driver's passport, members of the Byakov family told Forum 18 News Service.
Ironic border sign

According a story by Felix Corley, one copy of each book and magazine has been sent to the State Committee for Work with Religious Organisations in Baku for "religious expert analysis".

"Azerbaijan bans the import of religious literature without State Committee permission," said Corley.
After five months, a car confiscated from other Baptists after religious literature was found in it has been returned, but a criminal case against the three for "illegal" religious literature distribution continues.

"Claiming that censorship has been abolished in Azerbaijan, Prosecutor Zahid Valiyev denied to Forum 18 that confiscating religious literature represents censorship," added Corley.

India's Karnataka State Needs Immediate Attention as Run-up to Elections Begin

By Michael Ireland
Chief Correspondent, ASSIST News Service

KARNATAKA STATE, INDIA (ANS) -- With the state assembly elections In India's Karnataka State not too far away, attacks on Christians in the south Indian state are being reported almost every other day.
The frequency and the intensity of attacks might further increase with the upcoming election, says a report from the World Evangelical Alliance, researched and written by Fernando Perez, and moderated by the WEA-RLC Executive Director, Godfrey Yogarajah.
The WEA report says the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) appears to be consolidating its Hindu votebank in the wake of a new crisis.
Attacks on Christians increased in the state after the BJP came to power on its own in May 2008, after being part of a ruling alliance with a regional party, the Janata Dal-Secular, for about 20 months, the WEA report says.
It states: "While Hindu nationalist groups had been working in Karnataka for decades -- due to the presence of some highly influential Hindu shrines in the state, those groups began to freely implement their agenda only after the BJP's rise to power."
In its analysis, the WEA report says that in the months of August and September in 2008, at least 28 attacks were reported in the state. According to the New Delhi-based Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI), Karnataka saw at least 48 attacks in 2009, and in 2010 the number increased to 56. In 2011, the number slightly decreased to 49 attacks.
The report says: "However, the incidence of attacks has been much higher in the recent months. And the total number of attacks is expected to be unprecedented by the end of this year, thanks to a crisis within the Hindu nationalist party which could further deepen as the election comes closer."
The WEA says that some key leaders of the Karnataka unit of the BJP are facing corruption charges, and the party is also divided within. Former chief minister B.S. Yeddyurappa, who was accused of illegally allotting land and illegally granting mining licenses, was forced by the national party leadership to resign in July 2011. Now, he has announced his decision to leave the party and form his own "secular" political group by December.
The WEA explained that Yeddyurappa belongs to the Karnataka's largest caste community, Lingayat. Though also Hindus, the Lingayats -- who represent more than 20 percent of the state's population -- differ from mainstream Hinduism in certain religious matters. "They have a distinct sense of identity as opposed to other Hindu caste groups. The BJP's first-ever election victory in Karnataka in 2008 was attributed to the party's decision to have Yeddyurappa, from the Lingayat community, as its chief ministerial candidate."
The WEA report goes on to say that, "Now in the run up to the state election due in 2013, the BJP had little choice but to let Yeddyurappa leave. For, corruption is currently the biggest national issue, and the party could not take a risk by featuring him again as its chief ministerial candidate.
"Therefore, the BJP can no longer depend on the Lingayat votebank for re-election in 2013. BJP's second-most influential Lingayat leader in the state, Jagadish Shettar, may or may not be able to bring many votes from the community. Moreover, Yeddyurappa is also expected to take several legislators of the BJP to his new party."
The WEA asks: "So how will the BJP deal with the crisis?" A statement recently made by a former leader of the Bajrang Dal, a violent Hindu extremist group that has been closely associated with the BJP, sheds light on this question.
The WEA said the BJP is trying to bring the state's Hindus together by raising issues against Christians and Muslims. Mahendra Kumar, who was state unit president of the Bajrang Dal until 2009, told the Tehelka magazine recently. "They [state BJP leaders] are in a process of consolidating the Hindu vote bank as they will have to face polls in 2013," he said, referring to Yeddyurappa's expected departure.
The WEA report further explained that "Due to the caste system in Hinduism, and politicization of those caste divisions, no party can easily mobilize Hindus as one votebank. However, this has been done for years by projecting the Christian and Muslim minorities as enemies of all Hindus."
The WEA says that Kumar, who was in jail for 42 days as the main accused in a spate of attacks on Christians in 2008, divulged more to the magazine. He said the days he spent in jail proved to be a turning point of his life, and led him to eventually quit the Hindu nationalist movement.
The WEA report continues by saying that Kumar confirmed what many in India believe, that Hindu nationalism, or Hindutva, "is a political strategy and it has nothing to do with Hinduism or the welfare or benefit of Hindu society." He added that Hindu nationalists play on emotions, "projecting wrong history and some negative points of the minority community, hatred is sown among the Hindu youth," merely to get Hindu votes. Hindu nationalists typically allege that Christians are bribing Hindus to convert them, and denigrating their gods.
The WEA says: "Raising the issue of conversion may also be to divert people's attention away from corruption charges on BJP leaders and the visible divide within."
For example, on Oct. 24, when television channels questioned BJP national president Nitin Gadkari on source of funds for companies owned by him, Mohan Bhagwat, the chief of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) that is believed to be the parent organization of the BJP, suddenly called for the construction of a temple of Hindu god Rama where once the Babri Mosque stood in the northern Uttar Pradesh state. The call for the Ram temple at the disputed location has been one of the most divisive communal issues independent India has witnessed in its history.
WEA concludes: "Christian groups in India have diligently reported incidents of violence against Christians in Karnataka and other states. Since the documentation is available, they could possibly approach the Karnataka High Court through a writ petition, seeking issuance of directives to the state police and government to ensure the security of the minority community.
"This is perhaps the only way to compel the state to do its duty as long as the BJP is the ruling party."
World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) Religious Liberty Commission (RLC) sponsored this WEA-RLC Research & Analysis Report to help individuals and groups pray for and act on religious liberty issues around the world. WEA has a consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council.

Pakistani Christian, accused of blasphemy, granted bail

By Michael Ireland
Chief Correspondent, ASSIST News Service

LAHORE, PAKISTAN (ANS) -- Khuram Shahzad, also known as Khuram Masih, a Christian accused of blasphemy, was granted bail on October 22 by Sayyed Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi, a judge of the Lahore High Court, who ordered his release against the payment of bail amounting to 100,000 rupees (US$ 1,000).

According to lawyers of the Legal Evangelical Association Development (LEAD), which followed this case, the 24-year-old man "was physically worn out but overjoyed that he survived.

"He has not stopped thanking God for allowing justice to triumph. His father and family is very happy to know the order of Court."

Khuram Shahzad (Masih) (Courtesy LEAD).
On its website, , LEAD says that on December 5, 2011, a blasphemy case was registered at Shahdara Town Police Station in Lahore against a young, poor Christian man, Khuram Shahzad, who it was alleged burned pages of The Quran and was arrested the same day and put behind bars.

LEAD says he was physically beaten and tortured by police officials during the custody, defective food was provided to him in the jail premises, and due to these circumstances he had "become the patient of certain complicated diseases like bleeding through urine."

On October 18, there was a trial hearing in the jail and LEAD's lawyers, Aric John and Hadayat Bashir Advocate High Court with National Director LEAD and President PCC, Advocate Sardar Mushtaq M.Gill, appeared in the jail for the hearing and submitted an application regarding the medical examination and treatment of their client. Masih was accused of blasphemy under section 295 B PPC, which was accepted by the trial court and the next date of trial was fixed for October 31, 2012.

Lawyers of the Legal Evangelical Association Development (LEAD) followed this case and filed a petition for bail in the session court in Lahore. This was dismissed on January 3, by Judge Anjum Raza. A second bail request was filed in Lahore High Court in which Sayyed Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi, a judge of the High Court, ordered and gave direction of conclusion of trial within three months.

After nearly seven months, on August 8, again lawyers of the Legal Evangelical Association Development (LEAD) filed a bail petition in the same court of Sayyed Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi, a judge of the High Court, who granted bail and passed an order for Masih's release against the payment of 100,000 rupees (around US$ 1,000). Masih had been imprisoned nearly 11 months in the jail premises.

The president PCC and National Director of LEAD Advocate Sardar Mushtaq M.Gill, urged the Pakistani Government to "take some strong measures against the abuses of blasphemy laws against the Christians in Pakistan."

He also requested a judicial policy that those accused of blasphemy laws be granted bail until the final disposal of the case and it should be made a statutory right of the accused in such religious offences and those accused of blasphemy.

LEAD stated: "The fight for the Christian Rights and against the blasphemy laws will be continued within our limited resources so long as we are alive."

LEAD says on its webpage that it is a non-profit and non-Government organization. It is a Christian 'Faith based' inter-denominational organization, "raising a voice for fundamental rights and defending and supporting the persecuted."

It also "encourages and facilitates Christians in the pursuing a vocation in different professions by the integration of a Biblical faith with contemporary legal, moral, social, economic and political issues."

LEAD gives free legal aid, and shares the Word of God with prisoners and supports them according to Hebrews 13:3: "Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body". 

One Christian Prisoner Released on Extraordinary Bail; Others Still in Prison

By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service

IRAN (ANS) -- The official trial of five Christian prisoners was held on Oct. 15, eight months after their arrest.
The five Christians
According to Mohabat News Service, the names of the Christians are:

Mojtaba Hosseini, Mohammad-Reza Partoei (Kourosh), Vahid Hakkani, Homayoun Shokouhi and his wife Fariba Nazemian.

Mohabat News reported that defendants Homayoun Shokouhi and Fariba Nazemian were absent from trial, for unknown reasons.

The other three Christian prisoners, Mojtaba Hosseini, Mohammad-Reza Partoei (Kourosh), Vahid Hakkani, were taken to court at 10 a.m. with their hands and feet chained together.
According to Mohabat News, this use of handcuffs and chains for prisoners of conscience and political prisoners is illegal according to Iranian prison regulations. The way they were transferred to court is the same method used for taking murderers. The three men were chained together so tightly that they were hardly able to walk.

A Mohabat News correspondent in Shiraz said the court session was held behind closed doors, and the families of the Christians were prevented from entering the courtroom.

Mohabat News said the judge asked the defendants a few short questions and postponed the trial, due to the absence of the other two defendants.

Judge Rashidi, said about Mojtaba Hosseini, "Because he had received a suspended sentence before and his case is still open, a suspended sentence should be applied to his case. This matter will be addressed in the next session."

Mohabat News said Mojtaba Hosseini and Homayoun Shokouhi had been arrested in a house church by security authorities in 2008 for their Christian faith.
Mohabat News said the defendants were transferred to the infamous Adel-Abad prison after the session was over. Their hands and feet were again chained on the way back to the prison.

Judge Rashidi said the next trial would be held on Oct. 25.

After Court
Mohabat News said after court, Shokouhi and Nazemian's son, Nima, was waiting outside the courtroom hoping for an opportunity to see his parents after spending months apart from them.

Mohabat News said Nima, 17, didn't know his parents were not brought to the court. He waited a long time, but didn't see them. Mohabat News said all the stress resulted in him having an epileptic seizure and passing out in the court hallway. Court officials and people in the building called an ambulance.

The judge also saw the crowd and asked what had happened. He asked to see Nima's mother, at the request of family and friends.

Fariba Nazemian Released on Bail
Mohabat News said some hours later, agents brought Nazemian before the judge. Asking questions about Christianity, the judge asked her to denounce her faith in Christ, so she could be released to go home and take care of her children. Nazemian declined the judge's offer.

However, taking her son's sickness into account and his need for care, the court freed Nazemian on a bail of about $204,000.
After issuing the temporary release order, Nazemian's charges were listed as "forming an illegal group in favor of groups opposing the Islamic regime, acting against national security and insulting holy Islamic figures."

Nazemian was temporarily released on Oct. 18. Her next trial-along with the four other defendants- is scheduled for Oct. 25.

'They're like soldiers that are dropped behind enemy lines

North Korea (MNN) ― When you hear the words,concentration camp, what comes to mind? Walking skeletons? Piles of dead bodies? You might think these camps ended with World War II, but they're all over North Korea.

"On the one hand, it is amazing that the international community continues to turn a blind eye to this reality," said Eric Foley with Seoul USA. "On the other hand, it is equally amazing that the North Korean underground church considers this their mission field."

Would you be able to see conditions like torture and starvation as a testing ground for your faith? North Korean Christians do. They don't beg believers on the outside for freedom or for action against their Communist government.
"What the North Korean Church says is, 'Pray that we will be found faithful in every circumstance in which the Lord places us,'" said Foley.

Satellite imagery depicts Camp 14.
 (Images found in a 2003 publication of the
 Commission for Human Rights in North Korea)
In These Are The Generations (a book highlighting the sufferings of a North Korean Christian family), a former inmate describes North Korean gulags as "the best seminary training a Christian can get."

"He thinks of the North Korean concentration camps as…the gates of Hell," said Foley. "And they claim that promise that the gates of Hell shall not prevail against the advance of Christians on a mission."

North Korea tops Open Doors USA's World Watch list, a compilation of 50 countries where persecution of Christians for religious reasons is worst.

Why does it rank over regions like the Islamic Middle East and communist China? Crimes in these areas usually consist of evangelism or unregistered church activity, but in North Korea, the offense is Christianity.

"The crime is simply being Christian," Foley said. Any display can be deadly. "Everything from bowing your head to possessing a Bible, all of those things are considered the highest offense against the State. All of them will land you in a concentration camp."

Of the estimated 100,000 believers in North Korea, a third of them are detained in concentration camps. But, Foley says, they are free in Christ.
"There is a difference between freedom of religion and freedom in Christ," he said. "And freedom in Christ, as Mr. Bae points out in the book, can't be taken away by the government. Freedom in Christ exists in as pure a form in North Korea as it does in the United States.
"Now, the cost of being a believer," he adds, "is much higher."
2 Corinthians 3:17 says, "Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom." Foley questioned the reliance of many western believers on freedom of religion instead of spiritual freedom in Christ.

"If freedom of religion were taken away from us, would we still experience the same freedom in Christ?" Foley asked. "The story of Mr. Bae's family would tell us, 'Yes that is still possible.'"

Pressure to Deny Re-registration in Kazakhstan

By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service

KAZAKHSTAN (ANS) -- Shortly before the Oct. 25 re-registration deadline for all of Kazakhstan's religious communities, officials pressured nearly a quarter of the signatories on the re-registration application of Grace Protestant Church in Karaturyk to remove their names.

Kazakhstan is a country in Central Asia and Eastern Europe.

In a story for Forum 18 News Service by Mushfig Bayram, Church Pastor Zhursyn Koshkinov said, "It seems the authorities especially chose to target those founders who are of Kazakh and Uygur ethnicity."

One of the officials told Forum 18, "We only did what we were asked by the District Internal Policy Department."

That department in turn told Forum 18 the instruction came from the government's Agency of Religious Affairs. 

ARA official Zhumagali Alimbekov refused to tell Forum 18 how the authorities can demand that the Grace Church signatories reveal whether or not they are active in the Church, or write statements to reveal their beliefs, when this is not required by the Religion Law.

Forum 18 said Jehovah's Witness communities have also been raided to ensure they are registered, while a Protestant church's worship was interrupted by the head of a state-backed "anti-sect" center.

Father Fights Islamic Bias in Sudan to Visit Children

After his wife divorced him, court prohibited Christian from seeing boys

By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service

NAIROBI, KENYA (ANS) -- After his wife's family in Sudan urged her to become a Muslim and divorce him earlier this year, Sudanese Christian Mohammed Khidir Khalil was not allowed to see his sons, ages 3 and 5.

Unless there is further opposition, however, according to a story by Morning Star News, Oct. 27 will be the first time the 38-year-old convert to Christianity will have seen his boys since Christmas of last year.

A Sudanese court had ruled in March that his wife, as a member of "the popular religion," be awarded custody of the children and forbade Khalil, as a Christian, to even visit them.

"What wrong did I do against any one of you, that you would punish me by not letting me see my kids again?" Khalil on Oct. 21 told a Sudanese appeals court, with his wife's family present.

Khalil, who did not have a lawyer, told Morning Star News by email that he sensed the Lord opening his mouth at the hearing.

"I said that I have the right to see my children for their psychological balance and their normal behavior in life," he said. "That no matter what is the belief of the father or his status in the eyes of the court, he is still the father of the children. That even a criminal who committed bad crimes is allowed to communicate with his children."

Morning Star News reported that beforehand he feared that at best his case would be dismissed - and that at worst he would ultimately be killed as an apostate challenging Islamic authorities.

Khalil said he was surprised that the court listened to him. "The powerful words my mouth spoke must have touched both the judge and the hearts of my ex-wife's family," Morning Star News reported he said. "There was a big silence in the room, and the necks were bowed as a sign of agreement. Jesus surprised me with His powerfulness."

Moring Star News reported the appeals court ruled that he could see his children every Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., he said.

"Popular Religion"

Morning Star News said that Khalil, who converted to Christianity in 2001, had met Manal Hassan in 2007. At that time she said she was neither a Christian nor a Muslim, and they married in a non-religious wedding. The bride's Muslim family learned that Khalil was a Christian but had no objection to the marriage, he said.

By 2010, Morning Star News said, the couple had joined an undisclosed church and had become visibly active in it. Opposition from their families grew, and after threats from them and others intensified, the couple fled to Egypt in Jan. 2011. Khalil and his young family obtained asylum as refugees in Egypt, and he was encouraged that his wife was attending church with him.

In Aug. 2011, his Muslim mother-in-law visited them in Egypt.

"Without my knowledge, she took my wife and children back to Sudan," Morning Star News reported Khalil said.

In emails to friends back in Sudan, Khalil openly shared his Christian experience and pointed out what he termed as contradictions in Islam.

Morning Star News said that hearing nothing from his family after his mother-in-law took his wife and two sons back to Sudan. On Christmas Day, Khalil decided to return to an undisclosed town in Sudan to search for them. He was shocked to discover that his wife had filed for divorce on grounds that she was a Muslim and he a Christian.

A Sudanese court had granted her custody of their two sons and forbade him to see them, he said.

In February, Morning Star News said, Khalil decided to appeal the divorce ruling. His wife had presented a copy of a U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees certificate showing Khalil's testimony as a Christian. That was enough proof for a judge to rule in March that the marriage be annulled and the children handed over to the spouse professing "the popular religion" - Islam, the supposed faith of Hassan.

Morning Star News reported the court further ruled that Khalil did not have a right even to visit the children, but in April he tried to see them. His former wife's family threatened to call police if he persisted.

After months of upset and depression, Morning Star News reported Khalil said he was overwhelmed with gratitude to those who have prayed for him.

"Praise the name of our Lord! Praise His name forever! I'm grateful for all brothers and sisters in the love of our Lord Jesus," he said, adding, "I pray for continuous blessing on my children as they grow."

Thursday, October 25, 2012

"Escape From North Korea"

The Untold Story of Asia's Underground Railroad 

By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (ANS) -- North Korea is hell on earth. It ranks at the bottom of every international measure of freedom.

Book cover.
Food is scarce. Religion is banned. Jails are abundant. According to a news release made available to the ASSIST News Service, 200,000 men, women and children are incarcerated in political prisons. Their crimes? Possessing a Bible or disrespecting a photograph of Kim John Il.

It is a crime to leave the country. And for those who dare to flee, there is another circle of hell: life on the run in China.
In her book "Escape from North Korea," Melanie Kirkpatrick tells the story of North Koreans escaping to liberty.

The news release says that Kirkpatrick traces the North Koreans' harrowing passage along a secret route through China, which rejects them as criminals, on to Southeast Asia or Mongolia and, finally, to the sanctuary of South Korea and sometimes the U.S. They travel on a new "underground railroad," operated by brokers who are in it for the money and Christians who are in it to serve God.

Just as escaped slaves from the American South educated Americans about the evils of slavery, the North Korean fugitives are informing the world about the evil country they fled.

According to the news release, "Escape from North Korea" describes how these heroic escapees are also sowing the seeds for change within North Korea by channeling news back to those they left behind.

In doing so, the news release says, these escapees are helping to open their information-starved homeland, exposing their countrymen to liberal ideas, and laying the intellectual groundwork for transforming the totalitarian regime that keeps an entire nation in chains.

The news release says Christianity Today calls "Escape from North Korea" "a rare book that puts human faces on the numbers, a lamentation over policies and duplicities that have haunted a people terribly divided."

According to the news release Richard Land says, "Melanie Kirkpatrick has done humanity a great service by telling this compelling story."

The news release says Seth Lipsky of the New York Sun writes, "Her story reminds us all of why communist regimes so fear religion."

Escape from North Korea is published by Encounter Books.

Melanie Kirkpatrick is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, and former deputy editor of The Wall Street Journal editorial page.

Trial of Egyptian Muslim Cleric Accused of Burning Holy Bible Resumes

By Michael Ireland
Chief Correspondent, ASSIST News Service

CAIRO, EGYPT (ANS) -- The trial of an Egyptian Muslim cleric accused of tearing and burning the Holy Bible convened for the third time on Sunday, October 21 at Nasr City Misdemeanour Court.
Egyptian cleric Ahmed Abdallah,
also known as Abu-Islam 
(Photo courtesy of AINA).
According to Egyptian journalist Mary Abdelmassih, writing for the Assyrian International News Agency (AINA), on trial were clericAhmed Abdallah, known as Abu-Islam, owner of al-Omma TV Channel, his son Islam and journalist Hani Mohammed Yasin, editor of al-Tahrir newspaper.

AINA says they were charged with contempt of religion by the state prosecutor. Abu-Islam is charged with tearing and burning a copy the Holy Bible during demonstrations in front of the U.S. embassy on 9/11.

The AINA report says dozens of supporters of Abu-Islam disrupted the trial, ripped and burnt images of Jesus and the late Pope Shenouda III, and trod on them with their feet.

A number of Christian Copts attempted to remove a banner on one of their cars which read "O Beloved [Abu-Islam] prophet of Allah." According to eyewitnesses the confrontations were about to turn violent when security forces took control of the situation, AINA reported.

According to the AINA report, Abu-Islam's supporters attempted to attack two Coptic lawyers, Dr Naguib Gabriel and Sherif Ramzy. "Court security guards intervened and hid us in their office for two hours," said Gabriel, "and then drove us away in one of their cars from the court's back entrance."

AINA reports that during the previous court session on October 15, Abu-Islam's supporters assaulted Coptic lawyers and activists with planks of wood, injuring attorneys Dr. Naguib Gabriel and Mr. Bebawi, as well as activist Rami Kamel of the Maspero Coptic Youth Federation.

Inside the court, defense lawyers for the three defendants were belligerently confrontational with the prosecution. Abu Islam's lawyers withdrew from the case and applied for a change of venue, in protest of the lack of response from the court to their requests, specially their request to summon Bishop Pachomius, the acting Coptic Pope to attend court, "to ask him whether the 'ripped book' is the Holy Bible and whether it is used for worship in Egypt."

AINA also says the defense also requested the appearance of the editor in chief of al-Tahrir newspaper, to ask him how his reporter recorded without permission an interview with the defendant Abu-Islam, in which he criticized the Holy Bible and Copts. The defense also asked for a technical committee to investigate the tapes and CDs provided by claimants and Abu-Islam. The prosecutor described these requests as unrelated to the case, and asked the defense to reread the records of investigations where Abu-Islam's statements matched his words on the videos outside the U.S. embassy and denounced all requests for the acting Pope to appear in court.

AINA reports that Mamdouh Ramzi, one of the Coptic lawyers who joined the case as civil rights claimant, argued during the court session that the accused committed a great crime by tearing the Holy Bible, and incited the Muslim community to attack Copts, which threatens their lives, stressing that the Holy Bible is integral and there is no difference between the Holy Bible in Egypt and USA, otherwise the translated Koran would also not be considered sacred. Abu-Islam has argued that he only tore the English translation of the Bible used by pastor Terry Jones and not the Arabic Bible used by Copts in Egypt.

AINA explained that Abu-Islam is one of the most controversial Islamist figures gaining his reputation from insulting the Coptic Church, Copts and Christianity, by throwing doubts on the authenticity of the Holy Bible. "There is no such thing as a Bible on Earth," he said recently on ON-TV Channel.

His al-Omma TV Channel does not transmit from Egypt but through a UK based company "in order not to embarrass the Egyptian government with the material I transmit, besides there will be a confrontation between me and the Coptic Church with all its ill-manners and its transgression against the Prophet Mohammad time after time, also the Copts might make a similar channel. This way I have my freedom!" he told Al-Watan newspaper in a recorded interview.

AINA said the case was adjourned to November 4, to decide on the request of the defense team to change the venue.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Nigerian Americans Standing Against Boko Haram Terrorists

WASHINGTON, Oct. 22, 2012 /Christian Newswire/ -- The Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD) is expressing solidarity with a newly-formed group seeking to counter the Islamic supremacist and terrorist group Boko Haram.

The Christian Association of Nigerian-Americans (CANAN) press conference will address misconceptions and explain why some U.S. Congressmen believe Boko Haram should be designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO).

Opposed to western education and culture, Boko Haram killed almost 1,200 people, primarily Christians, in the northern and central belt states of the West African country between January and September of 2012. The group declared Christians must leave northern Nigeria, convert to Islam, or be killed. In one horrific incident in Bauchi State recently, a suicide bomber killed 3 and injured 48 church members of St. John's Catholic Cathedral that were departing after services.

IRD Religious Liberty Program Director Faith J.H. McDonnell commented:
    "IRD welcomes the Christian Association of Nigerian-Americans. We will stand with our Nigerian brothers and sisters in combating the evil persecution of Nigerian Christians and all those that are targeted by Boko Haram.
    "Close ties bind us to the Anglican Church of Nigeria, the largest province in the worldwide Anglican Communion. One Anglican diocese has been almost completely wiped out by Boko Haram with communicants either killed or exiled. In all Nigerian Christian churches, parishioners worship not knowing whether they will still be alive by the end of the service.

    "The U.S. Congress and Department of Justice urge the State Department to designate Boko Haram as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. Simultaneously, the State Department plans to give Islamists in north/central Nigeria billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars, under the impression that Islamic jihadists act as they do because they have been financially and socially deprived. There has been no monetary recompense at all to the Christian victims of Boko Haram for burned or bombed houses, businesses, schools, and churches, or for murdered breadwinners.

    "IRD is upset at the climate of moral equivalence concerning Nigeria by the Administration and by foreign policy Think Tank elites. Some try to blame 'extreme, militant evangelical proselytization' for the terrorist attacks. Others push a false narrative of equal blame for conflict between Christians and Muslims."

    Another Christian teenager held for blasphemy in Pakistan

    By Dan Wooding
    Founder of ASSIST Ministries

    KARACHI, PAKISTAN (ANS) -- A Muslim mob ransacked the home of a 16-year-old Christian boy accused of sending a blasphemous text message; he has been charged with Pakistan's most serious "blasphemy" offence, which carries the death penalty.

    A mob burning belongings of Ryan Stanten, a Christian boy accused of sending anti-Islam texts to his Muslim neighbors, in Karachi
    According to Barnabas Fund (, Ryan Stanten allegedly forwarded on Tuesday. 

    October 9, 2012, a text containing material deemed offensive to Islam. It was sent to fellow residents of a middle-class colony in Gulshan-e-Iqbal, Karachi, for employees of a gas company.

    The 16-year-old was brought before the gas company boss and a local imam; Ryan told them that he had received the text message from someone else and then forwarded it to Muslim friends without reading it.

    "The following day, an angry Muslim mob led by Islamic clerics attacked the home where Ryan lives with his mother, Rubina Bryan," said a spokesperson for the UK-based group. "They ransacked the property and set fire to numerous household items, including a bed, washing machine and fridge, after dragging them into the street. The assailants also shouted insults against the Christian family, who had already abandoned the house.

    "The police arrived at the scene and tried to appease the protestors by assuring them that a case would be registered".

    Barnabas Fund went on to say that Ryan was subsequently detained and charged with the most serious blasphemy offence in the Pakistan Penal Code, section 295-C, which carries the death penalty for using derogatory remarks against Muhammad. He was also charged under the country's Anti-Terrorism Act and Telegraph Act.

    His mother has reportedly been dismissed from her job at the gas company.

    The case against Ryan Stanten follows that of compatriot Rimsha Masih, a 14-year-old Christian girl detained on a blasphemy charge in August. She has been released on bail pending her next court appearance.

    Authorities Close Down Churches in Aceh, Indonesia

    By Jeremy Reynalds
    Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service

    NEW DELHI, INDIA (ANS) -- At the prompting of Islamic extremists, authorities in Indonesia's Aceh Province have forbidden nine churches to worship, saying they are "illegal."

    According to a story by Morning Star News, Illiza Sa'aduddin Djamal, deputy mayor of Banda Aceh, capital of Aceh Province, called pastors of nine churches and five Buddhist monasteries for a meeting on Oct. 15, said Veryanto Sitohang, head of rights group United North Sumatra Alliance.

    Representatives from five of the nine churches attended the meeting. Morning Star News reported they were forced to sign an "agreement" saying they would stop all activities because they did not have official permits.
    Those permits are obtainable only by meeting very difficult requirements from local governments, Sitohang told Morning Star News. The other four churches will also be told to sign the agreement soon, he added.

    Sitohang said that the Aceh official told the church leaders that if they did not sign the agreement, the government would not be responsible for their security.

    "The agreement was projected as a measure to protect the safety of the religious minorities," Morning Star News reported Sitohang said.

    All nine churches were registered with Indonesia's Department of Religion, Sitohang said. However, officials in Aceh also require local licensing that is difficult to obtain and selectively enforced, thus providing a pretext for local Islamists to close down churches.

    Morning Star News reported that even compliance with local regulations does not guarantee that a church will be allowed to function. However, authorities and extremist groups also cite 1979 and 2001 agreements between Muslims and Christians stipulating that only one church be built in each district. Those agreements were cited when Aceh Singkil closed down churches in May.

    Morning Star News reported the Aceh official said on Oct. 15 that the nine churches should take their congregations to the four "official" churches in the city for Sunday services.

    "But this is not feasible, because these congregations come from different backgrounds," said Sitohang.

    Morning Star News said on Oct. 12, a prominent Muslim cleric, Teungku Usman Kuta Krueng, a.k.a. Abu Kuta Krueng, asked the mayor of Banda Aceh to stop the activities of "illegal" churches and Buddhist monasteries, according to the local newspaper Serambi Indonesia. The cleric had been briefed about the churches and monasteries by the extremist Islamic Defenders Front (locally known as the FPI).

    After Monday's meeting, Morning Star News reported, the Aceh division of the FPI said its members would keep an eye on all the "illegal" churches to prevent them from violating the "agreement."

    The closed churches had been operating for years.

    "The religious atmosphere in the city is tense, and we do not know where we will go on Sunday for worship," a pastor speaking on condition of anonymity told Morning Star News. "We are confused. The government must provide us with some solution."

    Aceh is a special region that has the highest proportion of Muslims in Indonesia and is partially governed by sharia (Islamic law). Gubernatorial Regulation No. 25/2007 makes it extremely difficult for non-Muslim groups to get permits for building a new house of worship. A petition must be signed by at least 150 worshipers who must provide copies of their identity cards. It must also be supported by 120 other local residents.

    Morning Star News said among the churches closed were the Surabaya Pentecostal Church (Gereja Pentakosta Pusat Surabaya); Bethel Church of Indonesia (Gereja Bethel Indonesia); the Pentecostal Church of Indonesia (Gereja Pentakosta di Indonesia); the Christian Congregation of Indonesia (Jemaat Kristen Indonesia); the Holy Christian Church of Indonesia (Gereja Kristen Kudus Indonesia); the Victory of Faith Church of Indonesia (Gereja Kemenangan Iman Indonesia); and the Tabernacle of David Christian Church (Gereja Kristen Kemah Daud).

    About 98 percent of the population in the city of Banda Aceh is Muslim. Aceh Province has 4.4 million Muslims, a little over 50,000 Protestants and about 3,300 Catholics, according to the Central Statistics Agency.

    In May, Morning Star News reported, 17 churches in Aceh's Singkil Regency were closed down by the local administration. These closures were ordered by Regent Razali A.R. in a letter signed on April 30, which asked members of the congregations themselves to tear down the church buildings. The order came following a protest by members of the FPI at the regency office the same day.

    Morning Star News said Aceh turned more intolerant after the election of a hard-line Islamic governor in April. The FPI has said authorities in all areas in Aceh should close down "illegal" churches.

    Morning Star News said closures of and attacks on churches are not uncommon in other parts of Indonesia either. The Gereja Kristen Indonesia (the GKI Yasmin Church) in the city of Bogor and the Philadelphia Batak Christian Protestant Church in Bekasi, both near Jakarta in West Java Province, remain sealed by their respective authorities for months despite Supreme Court orders in their favor.

    Morning Star News said with about 210 million Muslims, Indonesia is home to the world's largest Muslim population. While the majority of the Muslims are from the Shafi'i school of the Islamic jurisdiction, which is considered fairly moderate, Salafi and Muslim Brotherhood approaches to Islam took root in 1942 during the Indonesian War of Independence from the Dutch Empire.

    Two Churches Raided in Kazakhstan

    By Jeremy Reynalds
    Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service

    Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev
     signed the new laws in October 2011

    KAZAKHSTAN (ANS) -- Two unrelated Protestant churches in different parts of Kazakhstan were raided in early October, reportedly over a criminal case launched 15 months ago.

    Kazakhstan is a country in Central Asia and Eastern Europe.

    According to a story by Mushfig Bayram of Forum 18 News Service, the case follows a complaint by the mother of a member of Astana's Grace Church that it harmed her health. These allegations were denied by church members to Forum 18.

    Forum 18 reported masked police searched the church, and seized computers, valuables and religious books they insisted were "extremist," although they were unable to explain what was extremist or who had said they were. Police requested church members to give blood samples, so they could see if the church uses "hallucinogenic" substances for communion.

    Nine days later the unrelated New Life Church in Oral (Uralsk) was raided in the same case.

    Asked by Forum 18 why masked police broke into Grace Church in a manner church members found threatening, Senior Investigator Vyacheslav Glazkov adamantly denied the charge. He said, "We did not threaten anyone; we just made a search."

    Members of both churches fear the authorities will use the case to prevent them gaining the mandatory re-registration for religious communities to be allowed to continue operating after Oct. 25.

    Rimsha Masih's case extended

    Police picture of Rimsha Masih after her
     arrest. (Photo Courtesy of ANS)
    Pakistan (MNN) ― 14-year-old Rimsha Masih was arrested two months ago, accused of committing blasphemy. Her court case has been extended to November 14, 2012, a month away. 

    According to an Assist News correspondent in Pakistan, the Islamabad High Court (IHC) has extended her stay during the hearing of the petition. "The court extended the stay in order to first decide on the petition for quashing the First Informational Report (FIR). During Wednesday's hearing of Rimsha's petition, Chaudhry Abdul Aziz, Advocate, submitted his power of attorney on behalf of Malik Ummad, the accuser."

    In the petition filed, Rimsha's lawyer had said that it was the Imam, Khalid Jadoon Chishti, who fabricated the charge of blasphemy. His reason, according to the lawyer, was that he wanted the Christian community to vacate the area. That is exactly what happened, too. 

    Living in a country where 97% of the population is Muslim, allegations of blasphemy can create public fury. Pakistan is #10 on the Open Doors World Watch List for persecution of Christians. Rimsha's arrest made hundreds of Christians in her neighborhood flee in fear for their lives. 

    Hafiz Zubair, prosecution witness, recorded on August 31 that the Imam put pages of the Holy Quran in the shopping bag. In doing so, it made a case against the Christians. 

    To make the case even stranger, three witnesses testified against Imam. According to DawnNews, soon after, they withdrew their testimonies. The witnesses stated that they had been forced into recording statements by the police. 
    Two witnesses recorded separate statements saying they saw Jadoon putting some pages of the Holy Quran in a plastic bag, tearing them. 

    The court delayed the hearing in Jadoon's bail plea until October 3. On the 11th of October, he was granted bail, six weeks after his arrest. His bail was set at 200,000 rupees ($2,065 US) after witnesses again retracted their statements early in October. 

    In the beginning of September, Rimsha was granted bail. Under protective custody, she was airlifted to an unspecified location. She now has to wait until November 14 for her next court date. 

    Iran: Two More House Church Members Arrested In Shiraz

    By Dan Wooding
    Founder of ASSIST Ministries

    SHIRAZ, IRAN (ANS) -- Two members of the Church of Iran, who belong to a house church that was raided on Friday October 12, 2012, by security forces, were arrested today in the city of Shiraz in Fars Province. Their arrest came after they were summoned to the Intelligence Ministry's detention centre, Pelak (Plaque 100), where seven other members of their house church are currently being held.

    Map of Iran showing Shiraz
    According to Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) Afsar Bahmani, a middle aged woman in need of specialist medication due to heart and kidney complications, was detained at around 1pm along with a man named Massoud Rezaie, after responding to the summons.

    Both are converts and long standing Christians. Mrs. Bahami was present during the raid of their house church on 12 October which resulted in the arrest of seven members, but was not detained at that time.

    These arrests are occurring against the backdrop of a sharp upsurge in the harassment and persecution of Christians, particularly converts.

    Christian Solidarity Worldwide has received reports of a significant increase in arrests during recent weeks.
    Pastor Benham Irani with his family. (Courtesy Present Truth Ministries).

    CSW has also been informed that another member of the Church of Iran, Pastor Benham Irani, remains in critical condition in Ghezel Hesar Prison, where he has been denied adequate treatment for severe stomach ulcers and colon complications.

    CSW's Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said, "CSW is deeply concerned about the arrests of Mrs Bahmani and Mr Rezaie, which appear to be part of a renewed wave of arrests of house church members in Shiraz.

    We are particularly concerned for Mrs. Bahmani's health and for Pastor Irani, whose condition continues to deteriorate. The harassment and arrest of religious minorities solely on account of their faith contravenes international covenants to which Iran is a signatory, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which guarantees the right to freedom of religion.

    "We call on the Iranian authorities to ensure that Mrs. Bahmani and Pastor Irani are allowed access to specialist medical care. We also urge the Iranian government to uphold the rule of law and to release all who have been detained on account of their faith immediately and unconditionally."

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

    New Report Documents Government of Sudan's Starvation Warfare Against Its Own People

    By Jeremy Reynalds
    Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service

    SOUTH KORDOFAN, SUDAN (ANS) -- Food security conditions in South Kordofan, Sudan are dramatically declining, and malnutrition among children in the rebel-held areas of the conflict-torn state is on the rise.
    An estimated 500,000 people in Sudan's South Kordofan state are at risk of starvation if food aid is not delivered
    to the conflict zone. These children were in
    Kadugli, South Kordofan on Oct. 21, 2011
    That's according to a news release from the Enough Project, showing findings from the first international rapid food security and nutritional assessment conducted in South Kordofan since 2011.

    According to the assessment, the prevalence of malnutrition among children in South Kordofan is "serious" bordering on "critical"-the worst or most dire World Health Organization malnutrition classification. The amount of households surviving on one meal per day has jumped to a staggering 81.5 percent, compared to only 9.5 percent one year ago, and zero percent two years ago.

    According to the news release, more than 65 percent of households in South Kordofan have less than one week's worth of food. This is a problem, because food is not readily available for purchase in the area, and incomes are scarce or non-existent.
    In addition, the news release stated, as a result of ongoing bombardment by the Sudan Armed Forces, the harvest this year is expected to be low-yielding and will run out quickly, leading to only a temporary improvement in the conditions there.

    John Prendergast, Enough Project Co-founder, said in the news release, "The assessment's findings indicate that the situation in South Kordofan today is similar to the conditions leading up to the Horn of Africa famine in 2011. If the international community does not respond to these early warning indicators in South Kordofan, the situation could have devastating consequences for hundreds of thousands of people."
    The news release said the nutritional assessment was carried out by an international non-governmental organization but, due to security reasons, the organization requested to remain anonymous and asked the Enough Project to publish the report.
    According to the news release, the Enough Project was responsible for the report's final production and distribution, and had the assessment vetted by experts at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health who found its findings to be credible.

    Jennifer Christian, Enough Project Sudan policy analyst, said in the news release, "The rapid food security and nutritional assessment corroborates existing evidence of the humanitarian crisis unfolding in South Kordofan."
    She added, "Given the government of Sudan's failure to comply with the terms of U.N. Security Council Resolution 2046, the U.N. Security Council must enact measures against Sudanese government officials responsible for the denial of aid into Blue Nile and South Kordofan states, and call on U.N. member States to take all measures necessary to deliver aid should the government of Sudan continue to ignore its obligations."

    Enough is a project of the Center for American Progress to end genocide and crimes against humanity. Founded in 2007, the Enough Project focuses on crises in Sudan, eastern Congo, and areas of Africa affected by the Lord's Resistance Army.