Friday, January 4, 2013

Human Rights Organization Concerned about New Decree Restricting Freedom of Religion in Vietnam

By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service

SURREY, ENGLAND (ANS) -- A human rights organization is very concerned about the vague and restrictive nature of a new "decree" in Vietnam relating to freedom of religion or belief that came into force on Jan. 1.

According to a news release from Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), the document, entitled "Decree No. 92:

Specific provisions and measures for the implementation of the Ordinance on Belief and Religion"was issued on Nov. 8 2012 It supersedes "Decree 22," issued in 2005.

The new decree sets out the conditions for registration of religious activities and practitioners and includes a wide range of limitations on religious practice.

CSW said although parts of the decree are similar to the 2005 decree, some new stipulations and conditions are introduced, including new requirements for "foreigners" organizing religious conferences and events in Vietnam.

CSW said Nguyen Hung of AsiaNews believes the decree follows the Chinese model of control of religions. 

Nguyen's report cites Catholic priests and parishioners who believe this "backward" decree is a sign that the government is "looking for a way to control and restrict the freedom of religion."

CSW said in an interview with Radio Free Asia (RFA), Head of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) Thich Quang Do, who is currently under house arrest, warned that the new decree will "seriously curtail religious freedom" in Vietnam.

CSW said the 84-year-old leader claims that the decree is more restrictive than previous decrees. The International Buddhist Information Bureau has also expressed concern that the decree increases state control of religions and further undermines religious freedom in Vietnam.

CSW's Advocacy Director Andrew Johnston said in a news release, "Whilst welcoming the Vietnamese government's recognition of the need for new guidance on the implementation of laws relating to religion in Vietnam, CSW is deeply concerned about the restrictive nature of Decree 92."

He added, "Vietnam has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). However, this decree appears to restrict religious activities in a manner not consistent with its obligations under the ICCPR, and Article 18 particularly, relating to freedom of religion or belief. CSW urges the Government of Vietnam to ensure that the right to freedom of religion or belief is fully guaranteed by law."

CSW works for religious freedom through advocacy and human rights, in the pursuit of justice.

For further information, visit

Open Doors to Release 2013 Worst Persecutors List Jan. 8 at D.C. Press Conference

Compelling 'The Insanity of God' Book to Be Introduced during Event

SANTA ANA, Calif., Jan. 3, 2013/Christian Newswire/ -- Open Doors will release its 2013 World Watch List of 50 countries that are the worst persecutors of Christians on Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2013 during a press conference in Washington, D.C.

The press conference will be held from 10 to 11 a.m. at the National Press Club, First Amendment Lounge, 529 14th St. NW.

"The annual World Watch List has raised awareness of the plight of persecuted Christians for many years," says Open Doors USA interim President/CEO Steve Ridgway. "It is important to get this information out to the public so it can look beyond the headlines and be a voice for those who are often voiceless in places such as North Korea, Syria and Somalia. Even on Christmas Eve in northern Nigeria, suspected Islamic extremists killed a reported 12 Christian worshippers and even more after Christmas."

For the past 10 years, the hermit communist country of North Korea has topped the list. Last year Afghanistan was No. 2, followed by Saudi Arabia. Rounding out the top 10 were Somalia, Iran, Maldives, Uzbekistan, Yemen, Iraq and Pakistan.

Expert speakers at the press conference include veteran journalist Ron Boyd-MacMillan, chief strategy officer for Open Doors International, and Nik Ripken, author of the inspirational new book "The Insanity of God" (B&H Books, 2013). Both Boyd-MacMillan and Ripken have travelled worldwide to meet with those persecuted for their faith.

For more information on "The Insanity of God," go to There will be opportunity for media members to ask Boyd-MacMillan and Ripken questions regarding persecution.

The World Watch List ranks countries according to the intensity of persecution Christians face for actively pursuing their faith.

An estimated 100 million Christians worldwide suffer interrogation, arrest and even death for their faith in Christ, with millions more facing discrimination and alienation. Open Doors supports and strengthens believers in the world's most difficult areas through Bible and Christian literature distribution, leadership training and assistance, Christian community development, prayer and presence ministry and advocacy on behalf of suffering believers. To partner with Open Doors USA, call toll free at 888-5-BIBLE-5 (888-524-2535) or go to our Website

Government increases pressure on Christ-followers

(Image courtesy of Wikipedia)

Iran (MNN) ― Iran is putting more pressure on Christians. In recent days, the government demanded personal details from members of a Tehran church.

"People thought maybe a hundred or so would come forward, and over 700 came forward, gave their names and addresses and said, 'Here we are. Here's where we stand,'" an Operation Mobilizationworker focused on Iran told us at Urbana 12.

The Islamic republic of Iran ranks #5 on Open Doors USA's World Watch List, a compilation of countries most resistant to Christianity. Under Iran's harsh apostasy law, anyone from a Muslim background who becomes a Christ-follower faces the death penalty.

The OM worker said for "Muslims who follow Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, there are often huge obstacles and problems…they'll lose their jobs, their bank accounts are frozen, and in general, life becomes very difficult."
Take Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, for example.

In 2009, Nadarkhani was arrested for protesting the Islamic indoctrination in his sons' school system. He served nearly three years in prison, refusing the multiple opportunities to recant his faith. Despite an execution order signed in February 2012, the pastor was acquitted of apostasy and released seven months later.

Nadarkhani was taken into custody again on Christmas Day. Officials claimed that he must finish the remainder of his sentence, approximately 45 days. In September, the courts had stated that Nadarkhani could finish his remaining time in probation.

"There's not been freedom of religion [in Iran]," the OM worker explained. "There has not been basic recognition of human rights, freedom of conscience, and freedom to practice your faith, especially if you're a Muslim who decides that you want to believe in Jesus Christ."

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) reports that December marks a traditional crack-down on Christians by the Iranian regime. Following Nadarkhani's arrest on Christmas Day, nearly 50 believers were arrested at a Tehran home two days later. CSW says most were released after surrendering mobile phones, full contact details, and passwords to e-mails and social networking sites.

Despite a myriad of challenges, believers are standing firm.

There's a resiliency among Iranians who want to follow Christ, said the worker, "sort of like the story of the man who sold everything in order to get that treasure buried under the ground.

"They value the precious treasure they've found; they're willing to lose everything for…the sake of finding Christ."
What can you do to help them?

"Simply praying for the Church is one of the most significant ways that we can stand with them," the OM worker said.

"The other way we can help is through advocacy. Write to the Iranian embassy, write to the government; Iranian Christians should worship, practice their faith, without fear of persecution."

A Muslim Voice for the Christian Voiceless Who 'Live' In Atrocious Conditions in Islamabad, Pakistan's Capital City

By Shamim Masih
Special to ASSIST News Service

A young girl pictured outside her 'home' in an
Islamabad slum

ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN (ANS) -- When I recently visited the slum settlements of Islamabad, the capital city of Pakistan, I found that living in those colonies was similar to living in any far-flung areas of Sindh or Balochistan, where basic facilities do not exist.

The water supply is limited and technically not feasible to fulfill the needs of the whole vicinity. The sanitary facilities are next to none; as sewer water can be seen flowing on the main boulevard. Almost all the streets are in a dilapidated condition, while there is no process for maintenance and repair of roads in the area.

I am not blaming anyone -- the government or the majority class -- rather I must admit frankly there are rifts within the Christian community as well. The affluent ones in our community don't appear care for the poor segments just like others in the overall of Pakistani society.
Children playing in their Islamabad slum

Its permanent solution lies in the hands of the elected political figures of the constituency. If local elected representative would take an interest to solve their problems then their appalling living can be brought up to the mark.

We (Pakistani Christians) often write the stories of persecution, rape and murder that are more or less daily lot of Christians in Pakistan, but discrimination and oppression takes many less news worthy forms.

One man who is trying to make a difference to the lives of these downtrodden people is Faisal Sakhi Butt, a Pakistani businessman and politician, who obtained his Business Administration degree from Harper Adams University College, Newport, Shropshire, UK.
Faisal Sakhi Butt

Mr. Butt is top rated candidate from Pakistan Peoples Party (the ruling party in the country) for the upcoming election and contesting for the seat of member of National Assembly from NA-48 constituency in Islamabad.

I was able recently meet with Faisal Sakhi Butt, and after a short time of talking with him, I soon felt that he is a strong voice for the weaker sections of the society, including laborers, women, children and religious minorities in the city. He works on human rights issues with a rights based approach.

Faisal Sakhi Butt has been the Chairman of the Prime Minister's Task Force on Islamabad and that position encouraged him to speak out strongly about the rights of vulnerable people of the society and to enhance his interaction with laborer groups as learned more about their many problems.

As a Muslim politician, raising his voice for minorities has not been an easy task, however, he has set a great example for highlighting the issues of the Christians of the slums. He has always spoken up whenever there were threats to the lives and properties of the minorities' community.

Faisal Sakhi Butt during his interview
with Shamim Masih

He says that if he is elected, he plans to bring a "revolutionary change" in the awful living conditions of the slum settlers in the capital. He told me that the votes of these slum settlers for him can bring change in their living standards.

He also emphasized the inculcation of hard work in our life that would not only prosper us as individuals but the whole country and, during our meeting, he strongly spoke out against the "violations of women and child rights." He shared the idea to construct the three storey flats [apartments] for these Christians, thus the provision of the necessities of life would be ensured for them. He has also been helping the poor sanitary workers and had been to their places for the Christmas celebrations this year.

There are numerous examples of his tireless efforts to help these downtrodden people in the field of human rights. He has set up very good examples of resolving issues of workers involving all the stakeholders.

Special Appeal: Faisal Sakhi Butt is a young man with great vision. Your feedback of your support for his plans would further help him to continue this great work despite the challenges especially for the Christians in Islamabad. If you like to know more about him, just send me an e-mail at and I can send you the details.

Shamim Masih was born in village of Sheikhupora, Pakistan, and passed his Master's Degree in Business Administration. He has worked in the banking sector for seven years and at the same time has been involved in freelance writing and working for the rights for Christians and other minorities in his country. He can be contacted by e-mail

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Syria Rebels "Beheaded a Christian and Fed Him to the Dogs" as Fears Grow over Islamist Atrocities

By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service

LONDON (ANS) -- Syrian rebels beheaded a Christian man and fed his body to dogs, according to a nun who says the West is ignoring atrocities committed by Islamic extremists.

According to a story by Nick Fagge for Britain's Daily Mail, the nun said taxi driver Andrei Arbashe, 38, was kidnapped after his brother was heard complaining that fighters against the ruling regime behaved like bandits.

She said his headless corpse was found by the side of the road, surrounded by hungry dogs. He had recently married and was soon to be a father.

The Mail reported that Sister Agnes-Miriam de la Croix said, "His only crime was his brother criticized the rebels, accused them of acting like bandits, which is what they are."

According to The Mail, there have been a growing number of accounts of atrocities carried out by rogue elements of the Syrian Free Army, which opposes dictator Bashar al-Assad and is recognized by Britain and the West as the legitimate leadership.

Sister Agnes-Miriam, mother superior of the Monastery of St. James the Mutilated, has condemned Britain and the west for supporting the rebels despite growing evidence of human rights abuses. Murder, kidnaping, rape and robbery are becoming commonplace, The Mail reported she said.

"The free and democratic world is supporting extremists," The Mail reported Sister Agnes-Miriam said from her sanctuary in Lebanon. "They want to impose Sharia Law and create an Islamic state in Syria."

The Mail said the 60-year-old Carmelite nun claims the west has turned a blind eye to growing evidence of a "fifth column" of fanatics within the rag-tag ranks that make up the Free Syrian Army that they back to oust Assad.

One of the most effective fighting forces is the Jabat Al-Nusra, which has an ideology similar to Al Qaeda.

"The uprising has been hijacked by Islamist mercenaries who are more interested in fighting a holy war than in changing the government," The Mail reported she said.

She added, "It has turned into a sectarian conflict. One in which Christians are paying a high price."

The Mail said the rebels attacked the northern town of Ras Al-Ayn, on the Turkish border, last Nov. The fighters entered the Christian quarter, ordering civilians to leave and leaving their homes.

"More than 200 families were driven out in the night," The Mail reported Sister Agnes-Miriam says. "People are afraid. Everywhere the deaths squads stop civilians, abduct them and ask for ransom; sometimes they kill them."

Militants wearing black bandanas of Al Qaeda recently laid siege to the Monastery of St James the Mutilated, located between Damascus and Homs, for two days in an attempt to prevent Christmas celebrations, The Mail reported the nun claimed.

An estimated 300,000 Christians have been displaced in the conflict, with 80,000 forced out of the Homs region alone, she added.

Many have fled abroad raising fears that Syria's Christian community may vanish - like others across Middle East, the birthplace of Christianity.

The Mail reported that Al Assad, a member of the Alawite Muslim sect, claims only his regime can protect Syria's minorities from domination from the Sunni Muslims majority.

Meanwhile the fighting continues to rage with government forces retaking control of a key district in the city of Homs.

The Mail reported that the latest violence comes after United Nations peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi warned of 'hell' for Syria if no political solution could be found.

Russia has stated the conflict is becoming increasingly militarized and sectarian, and risks bringing chaos to the whole region.

The Mail said some 44,000 people have been killed since the uprising against the Al Assad regime began in March 2011.

Popular and Ailing Pastor Imprisoned in Iran

By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service

TEHRAN, IRAN (ANS) -- Well known Armenian-Iranian pastor Vruir Avanesian, 60, was one of about 50 Christians arrested in a raid on a praise and worship service on Dec. 27 2012.
Vruir Avanesian
According to a story by the Farsi Christian News Network (FCNN), Avanesian is now reportedly held in the notorious Evin Prison. He was visited by his wife while undergoing dialysis in a local hospital on Dec. 30. 

FCNN said the other individuals arrested were conditionally allowed home after intense interrogation.

FCNN said the group had been there to visit the ailing Avanesian for Christmas, a normal event. While they were singing worship songs, about 20 balaclava-clad agents entered the house. They arrested and began interrogating everyone. 

Despite Avanesian's wife objecting to the arrest of a sick person in need of constant medical attention, FCNN said the agents bundled the pastor, his books, laptop and some CDs into a car and drove him to an undisclosed destination.

FCNN said Avanesian is a well-known figure amongst Tehran's Christians.
FCNN commented, "For many decades his powerful voice and musical expertise have been a delight to listen to, and a source of inspiration."

FCNN said before Avanesian's long sickness, he was an active member of Christian prayer groups, a senior elder of the Central Assembly of God, and pastor of Narmak's Assembly of God church in Tehran.

FCNN said it was Avanesian's kidney infection and diabetes that forced him into retirement, resulting in him only occasionally assisting in services. A highly popular Armenian singer, particularly during festivities, he is often visited by friends and followers.

Avanesian is in need of dialysis every three days. He also suffers from high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol, and needs numerous medications.

The reasons for Avanesian's arrest are unclear. FCNN said some agents have told his family that the raid was in response to a neighbor's complaints. However, they were unable to explain a number of forms already partly filled out with the names and addresses of those there.

An eye witness told the FCNN that the cell phones of all those present were confiscated, and their Facebook passwords obtained. Cell phone owners will reportedly be called in at a later date for further questioning and the possible return of their devices.

FCNN commented, "The news of this virulent attack, baseless arrest, intimidating interrogations, and imprisonment of the sick, has yet again turned Christmas into (a) time of tribulation, fear and bitterness for Christians living in the Islamic Police State. The Islamic Regime and its organs of state security are directly responsible for the life of the ailing pastor."

FCNN asked for prayer for Avanesian and his family.

Fifty Christians Temporarily Arrested in Christmas Raid

Concern over the Wellbeing of Rev. Vruir Avanessian

By Michael Ireland
Special Reporter, ASSIST News Service

TEHRAN, IRAN (ANS) -- Iranian government forces began a coordinated and pre-planned raid during a meeting of Iranian Christians celebrating Christmas last week, during which many were arrested and detained, including an Armenian pastor.

Mohabat News ( ) says that while many Christians around the world rejoiced and celebrated Christmas in their churches, the Islamic Republic of Iran, "began its annual campaign of terror and fear through its security forces."

According to reports received by Mohabat News, on Thursday December 27th, while approximately 50 newly converted Christians had gathered at a residential home in the Northern district of Tehran to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ and the occasion of Christmas, the government security forces began a coordinated and pre-planned raid that resulted in the immediate on the spot arrest and several hours of interrogation of all individuals present.
Pastor Avanessian (Courtesy Mohabat News).
Mohabat News says this incident resulted in the arrest and detention of Rev. Vruir Avanessian, an officially ordained pastor of Armenian descent, whose whereabouts and condition remains unknown at this time.

On its website, Mohabat News says sources have reported that approximately 15 plain clothes police and security officers, in a well-orchestrated and coordinated plan, "being fully aware and informed of this celebration by our Christian citizens, entered the home of the host of this special gathering, claiming to be acting on a complaint by neighbors regarding the noise level, began to arrest all the guests.

"Once in the house, the security officers, who were fully aware of the nature of this gathering, ordered everyone to be quiet and cooperate with the officers and no one was allowed to leave the house," Mohabat News reported.

Attendees Interrogated Using Previously Prepared Forms
Mohabat News says that once the security forces realized how many people were assembled there and that it would not be feasible to transport everyone to a facility nearby, they began distributing specially prepared interrogation forms and required everyone to answer every question completely including their full name, home address, and other contact information. Also, they were asked to provide their email, Facebook, and other social media ID and passwords.

The Mohabat News report says: "It has been reported that these forms contained questions regarding the manner in which they accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior, their connection to house-churches, their recent travels to other countries for the purpose of visiting and fellowshipping with other Christians, their core beliefs and why they had abandoned Islam, and their personal and political views about the Islamic Republic of Iran and the foreign policies of the regime."

The report said: "It must be mentioned that the security forces were acting with some degree of respect and calm demeanor while insisting that everyone should be completely honest in answering all the questions on the form. Finally, some of the officers began to collect all cellphones and reminded everyone that once their investigation was complete they would be summoned to the security branch of the area to get their cellphones back and be dealt with individually."

Armenian Pastor Rev. Vruir Avanessian Arrested
Mohabat News says that among the guests at this Christmas celebration was Rev. Vruir Avanessian, an officially ordained Christian pastor of Armenian descent. The security officers took him away to an unknown location and because of his state of health there is much concern about his well-being.

Mohabat News stated: "This report indicates that after the raid by security officers and while everyone was being held at the location of the gathering in Northern Tehran, some of the officers proceeded to the home of Rev. Avanessian, where they conducted a separate raid of his residence.

"While his wife was being held by the security forces and in presence of his children, they ransacked the house and confiscated books, Bibles, a Personal Computer, CDs, worship tapes and music albums Rev. Avanesian had sung/composed himself," the news agency reported.

Concerns and Worry about the Health of Rev. Avanessian
Pastor Avanessian's ID card (Courtesy Mohabat News).
According to Mohabat News, Rev. Avanessian, who is approximately 60 years old, is an Armenian Christian. In his youth, he was one of the more well-known pop singers in the Armenian community of Iran.

"Through divine intervention he was miraculously saved in the late 70s and dedicated his musical talents and voice to the cause of Christ and recorded many songs and albums that told his life story and how Jesus had so powerfully saved him. 

After the Iranian revolution of 1979, he entered the service of Church as worship leader and published Christian books through 'Eternal Life' publishers," Mohabat News said.

The news agency said Rev. Avanessian continued his ministry as the worship leader of the Assemblies of God Church in Tehran. He was a gifted musician and singer who composed and introduced many of the current songs of the church.

"He has produced several Christian musical albums in the Farsi and Armenian languages which have been released and published world-wide for all Farsi-speaking and Armenian churches," Mohabat reported.

Avanessian was also a member of the council of elders of the church and later was appointed as the pastor of the Assemblies of God Church in the suburb of Narmak, a mainly Armenian populated district of Tehran.

After more than 17 years of service and ministry to the Lord Jesus and His church, Pastor Avanessian retired from active service. He suffers from serious heart disease and diabetes which has caused him to almost completely lose his voice and his kidney functions.

"This talented and dedicated artist has lost his ability to sing to his Lord and requires dialysis every other day," Mohabat News stated.

Rev. Avanessian Requires Special Medical Care
Mohabat News continued: "The irony of this incident which resulted in the arrest and detention of this frail and ill servant of God, is that due to his kidney disease he requires special medical care. Every two days he must report to a dialysis clinic in order to have his blood cleansed from all the toxins that are produced and circulate in his body. Without proper care and ongoing dialysis, Pastor Avanessian will soon succumb to blood poisoning and die. His wife and children are extremely worried that the security forces will not pay close attention to his medical needs and this would threaten his health."

Mohabat News went on to say that the Armenian community inside and outside of Iran and all Farsi-speaking churches world-wide "are holding the security organization and the Islamic Republic of Iran responsible for the safety and well-being of Rev. Avanessian and are demanding that responsible authorities look into this matter and provide all necessary medical and other needed treatments to Rev. Avanessian and arrange for his speedy release from detention."
The news agency explained that according to Article 13 of the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran, religious minorities such as Armenians, Jews, and Zoroastrians are the only recognized religious minorities and so are free to worship and live according to their faith and beliefs.

"Every year since the 1979 revolution, and especially in the last three years, with the arrival of the Christmas season, celebrations by the Iranian Christians of all racial backgrounds have been overtaken by a campaign of fear and terror, it said.

Mohabat News concluded by commenting that although there have been fewer reports of overt persecution of Christians this year (2012), especially of former Muslims who have become Christians, "one might assume that the prevailing atmosphere of repression has somewhat subsided. However, the news coming from inside Iran indicates the opposite and clearly shows that the authorities responsible for internal security continue to restrict and limit the manner and degree of celebrations that Iranian Christians are permitted to have as they celebrate the birth of their Lord Jesus Christ."

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Sudan Bombings Kill More Nuba Christians Around Christmas

Several children dead after aerial attacks

By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service

JUBA, SOUTH SUDAN (ANS) -- Non-Arab Christians in Sudan's Nuba Mountains said they feel forgotten after Sudanese air forces killed at least 11 of the faithful in bombings before and after Christmas, according to area sources.

Some of the thousands of Nuba Mountain civilians who have taken refuge from government bombing in caves. (Diocese of El Obeid photo).
According to a story by Morning Star News, following bombings of non-Arab civilians in Christian villages in Sudan's South Kordofan state from Dec. 18 to Dec. 26, the ethnic Nuba Christians are praying for a change of government in Khartoum. That's according to a church leader from the state who recently visited Juba.

"We are surprised why the international community is so silent about the killing in South Kordofan," said the church leader, who requested anonymity.

Morning Star News reported the source said that on Dec. 26, Sudan's Russian-made Antonov airplanes dropped nine bombs in Al Dar village in Buram County, killing two Christian women - 70-year-old Kuku Tia and 45-year-old Aisha Tutu Tolodi.

The same attack struck a different Christian village, Um Serdiba in Buram County, where two Christian children were killed instantly, he said. They were identified as Rehab Adam Alfol, 8, and her 4-year-old sister, Najaha Adam Alfol.

Morning Star News said according to online news portal Nuba Reports, at 12:30 a.m. the same day Sudan dropped 12 bombs on Kauda town, wounding pastor Ayube Ibrahim and killing three cows.

Nuba Reports said that four churches in Kauda usually celebrate Christmas for three days starting Dec. 25.

Nuba Reports is run by aid worker Ryan Boyette, who remained in South Kordofan after his Christian humanitarian organization was forced to evacuate when military conflict escalated last year,
The church leader who spoke to Morning Star News said area contacts reported that in Um Serdiba village on Dec. 23, a Sudanese bomb killed Sholi Jalbor, a Christian civilian whose house was reduced to ashes in the attack.

Morning Star News said sources confirmed to the church leader that on Dec. 18, five people from one family were killed when an Antonov airplane dropped a bomb in Eire village that landed on a Christian family's home, killing five.
They identified the dead as 4-year-old girl Intisar Mubarak Sabil, 4-year-old boy Ramadan Mubarak, 7-year-old Nadia Ibrahim and 60-year-old Fatima Naway. Nuba Reports identified the fifth victim as 9-month-old Gamu Ibrahim.

Another family member, Regina Ibrahim, was wounded in the attack, according to the church leader.

Morning Star News said on Christmas Day afternoon, according to Nuba Reports, an Antonov airplane dropped 10 bombs on the villages of Mendi and Kalkutta. No casualties were reported.

Since South Sudan split from Sudan in a referendum last year, ethnic Nuba peoples in Sudan's South Kordofan state believe the government's goal of quashing Sudan People's Liberation Army-North (SPLA-N) rebels is also meant to rid the area of non-Arab peoples and Christianity.

Morning Star News said since military conflict began in June 2011, the Sudanese military has bombed Nuba churches, schools and farms. Witnesses told Human Rights Watch most civilian deaths took place where there was no evident military target or rebel soldier, according to an August New York Review of Books article.

Thousands of civilians have reportedly taken refuge in Nuba Mountain caves. Morning Star News said the Nuba people have longstanding complaints against Khartoum - including neglect, oppression and forced conversions to Islam in a 1990s jihad. However, as Sudanese citizens on the northern side of the border, they were never given the option of secession in the 2005 peace pact between northern and southern Sudan.

The SPLA-N rebels in the Nuba Mountains were formerly involved with the southern Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) forces fighting Khartoum before the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA).

The SPLA's political arm, the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), now governs South Sudan, and a border conflict has kept the two Sudans on the verge of another full-scale war since June 2011.

Morning Star News said the growing rebel movement in the Nuba Mountains has sparked tensions, and Sudan reportedly bombed civilians in the South Sudan state of North Bahr El Ghazal on Nov. 20-22, killing seven.

Morning Star News said fighting between Sudan and South Sudan broke out in June 2011, when Khartoum forcefully attempted to disarm the SPLA-N in South Kordofan by force rather than awaiting a process of disarmament as called for in the CPA. When the CPA was signed in 2005, the people of South Kordofan were to vote on whether to join the north or the south, but the state governor suspended the process.

The disputed election of Ahmed Haroun as state governor, whom many in South Kordofan consider a Khartoum appointment, helped trigger military conflict in 2011.
Morning Star News reported sources say Nuba Mountain Christians increasingly feel they are being driven into South Sudan, especially as Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has said post-secession Sudan will stick more closely to Islam and Arabic culture.

Morning Star News said Sudan air forces are also targeting farms and animals, and Christian leaders in war-devastated South Kordofan are raising concerns to their counterparts around the world to pray for an end to the war.

For more information about Morning Star News go to

Catholic Priest Seriously Wounded in Zanzibar

Tanzania suspected Islamist extremists shoot clergyman through cheeks on Christmas Day

By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service

Father Ambrose Mkenda in hospital

NAIROBI, KENYA (ANS) -- Suspected Islamic extremists on Christmas Day shot a Roman Catholic priest on the Tanzanian island of Zanzibar, seriously wounding him, area church leaders said.

According to a story by Morning Star News, two individuals on a motorcycle shot Rev. Ambrose Mkenda through his cheeks and in the shoulder before 8 p.m. as he arrived home in Tomondo. That's about four miles from Zanzibar city, capital of the semi-autonomous island in the Indian Ocean about 25 kilometers (16 miles) off the coast of Tanzania.

Morning Star News said Christian leaders suspected members of the separatist group Uamsho or "Awakening,"
the Association for Islamic Mobilization and Propagation. The group has threatened Christians since an Oct. 10 children's argument in Dar es Salaam resulted in a boy allegedly defiling the Koran. Key Uamsho leaders were jailed for subsequent attacks on church buildings.

"Just as he was arriving at the gate, the suspected group shot him from his right through his cheeks, and he became unconscious," said Lucian Mgaywa, general secretary of the Church of God in Zanzibar. "He was then rushed to Mnazi Mmoja Hospital""

Morning Star News reported that a priest at Mpedae Parish three miles from Zanzibar city, Mkenda's condition deteriorated and he was flown to the Tanzania mainland the following day and put in intensive care.

"As of Dec. 27, his health had worsened, and he was then taken to the Intensive Care Unit at Muhimbili National Hospital in Dar-es-Salaam, to try to save his life," Mgaywa said.

Morning Star News said Uamsho distributed leaflets threatening church leaders in Zanzibar in October, when authorities arrested group Commander Sheikh Farid Hadi Ahmed and six others following several attacks on church buildings on Zanzibar and the mainland.

"The threats issued by Uamsho read, 'We now want the heads of all the church pastors in Zanzibar,'" Morning Star News reported Mgayway said.

He added, "Such utterances caused a lot of panic, and some of the pastors feared for their lives and fled out of Zanzibar to the mainland of Tanzania."

The Uamsho threats have deeply unsettled area Christians, which make up a tiny minority on the majority-Muslim island, Morning Star News reported he said.

"Since the arrest of the Uamsho leaders, rumors have been moving all over Zanzibar that the group is planning to mount up a serious attack to pressure the government to release the leaders of the Uamsho group," Morning Star News reported Mgaywa said. "Church leaders link the attack to this group."

Police reportedly said the assailants did not take anything from the unconscious priest.

Morning Star News reported that Obeid Fabian, head of the Zanzibar Pastors' Fellowship, said the suspects have not been arrested, and the Uamsho threats leave little doubt about who shot the priest.

"The leaflets have threatening messages targeting four bishops in Zanzibar to kill them by whatever means - that includes Roman Catholic, Anglican Church, Tanzania Assemblies of God and Pentecostal Church," Fabian said.

Morning Star News said an Islamist group fighting for full autonomy of the Zanzibar archipelago, Uamsho arose after Zanzibar's primary opposition, the Civic United Front (CUF), formed a government with the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party in 2010.

"The situation in Zanzibar at the moment is alarming," Mgaywa said. "We request that we be remembered in prayers."
For more information about Morning Star News go to at

Libya Coptic Church Blast Kills Two Egyptians

By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service

LIBYA (ANS) -- Two Egyptians have been killed and two injured in an apparent attack on a Coptic church building near the Libyan city of Misrata, officials say.

According to a story by the BBC, a Misrata city council official said there was an explosion at the building as the four victims were eating lunch there.

The BBC said it is unclear who was behind the blast in the small town of Dafiniyah, and there were conflicting reports as to whether it happened on Saturday or Sunday.

The Misrata council official told the BBC that homemade dynamite used for fishing was found on the site of the explosion.

The Egyptian government has requested more security at the church, Egypt's Mena news agency reported.
"Egypt is requesting an investigation into the circumstances of the operation and for those responsible to be put on trial," it quoted Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohammed Kamel Amr as saying.

The church in Dafiniyah, just outside Misrata, is frequented by Egyptians.

According to the BBC, Libya has a small Christian population composed mainly of foreigners. These include migrant workers from Egypt, where Coptic Christians are the biggest religious minority.

The BBC said the Libyan government has been struggling to impose its authority and provide security in the aftermath of the conflict that toppled Muammar Gaddafi last year.

Recently, there has been a series of attacks against diplomatic missions and aid agencies, including a deadly September assault on the US embassy in the eastern city of Benghazi.

The BBC said there have also been attacks in Libya against Sufi shrines and mosques that witnesses say were carried out by militant Islamists.

Terrorists Slashing Throats of Nigerian-Christians -- A 'Save -Our -Souls' Cry to White House and President Obama

Statement by the Christian Association of Nigerian-Americans, CANAN on the 2012 Christmas day attacks by Boko Haram in Nigeria

NEW YORK, Dec. 31, 2012 /Christian Newswire/ -- We had warned that Boko Haram would continue its tradition of killing Nigerian Christians on Christmas day. Last week marked the third straight year that the terror group has murdered Nigerian Christians in the church on a Christmas day.

But the problem is worse than that. This year alone Boko Haram has killed almost 800 Nigerians, most of whom are Christians. In the last three years, over 3000 have been sent to tragic deaths. Victims also include people from several other countries.

The Nigerian President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan again over the weekend acknowledged his government's inability so far to quell the Boko Haram attacks. According to the Associated Press, Jonathan's remarks offer a glimpse into "the worried leader's mind as his weak government remains unable to stop attacks by the Boko Haram."

Our government in Washington DC, especially the White House and the State Department are fully aware of what is going on. But both President Barack Obama and outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have simply tolerated this impunity by their inaction.

Already, American citizens have been affected, and the United Nations building in Abuja has been attacked by this terrorists. The US Congress have affirmed that Boko Haram is a threat to the US, especially with the group's suspected links to al-Qaida.

On Christmas day in northern Nigeria, Boko Haram was busy slashing the throats of Christians right inside their churches or at their homes. At least 15 of such barbaric killings have been reported in the past number of days. Worshippers had to watch in terror as their colleagues throats were cut off!

We are asking today: is President Barack Obama and the State Department comfortable to be a mere witness to this evil? Is President Obama not aware that they are cutting the throats of innocent Nigerians who are simply practicing their faith?

In the hope that President Obama is not comfortable with what is going on, we as Nigerian-Americans, are appealing to his humanity to please instruct the State Department to do what is right and to label the Boko Haram group an FTO.

Such a designation would send the warning signal to those financing and supporting the terrorists that the game is up. Without it, Boko Haram financiers and supporters are being dangerously awarded a grant of impunity.

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Christian Newswire

World Watch Monitor: China’s Christians seize internet opportunities

Sharing of faith, even challenging censor by speaking out on persecution

A priest holds services at a crowded
 house church in Xining, Qinghai Province.
(Getty Images)
London, Dec. 31  (World Watch Monitor) — Chinese Christians are sharing their faith on Weibo, China’s giant, state-regulated, social network – and some are beginning to challenge the censor by speaking out against religious persecution.

When Christian band Rainbow Come appeared on China's equivalent of “The X Factor,” Christians turned to social networking to drum up votes for the band so their music could reach more Chinese.

Within a few days, thousands of votes had been posted for Rainbow Come, according to China’s Gospel Times, enough to propel them this month to a leading position in the seventh round of “Chinese Dream” on Zhejiang Television. Such is the power of social networking – even in China, which has officially banned Facebook and Twitter.

In the place of these established but unregulated sites, the Chinese authorities have permitted Weibos – microblogs. From its inception in 2009, China’s leading microblog company, Sina Weibo, now boasts 400 million users, and the number is rising. Rival companies also lay claim to hundreds of millions of subscribers.

According to the China Internet Network Information Centre, 40 percent of the population of China are now Internet users, and most of these are microbloggers. To put that in perspective, there are more microbloggers in China than the populations of Britain, Germany, France and the United States combined, by some margin.


Chinese Christians, too, are getting in on the act. Some are beginning to share their faith on Weibo and a few are reaching substantial audiences. According to the website Christians in China, one of the leading faith bloggers is Pan Shiy, a real estate billionaire who “frequently shares prayers on Sundays with his six million plus followers”. Christians in China claims "China's microblog has become the new frontier of China's Christian movement."

If so, how far will China’s cyber police permit that movement to stray from the official Party line? China’s Christians are starting to mobilise prayer, even to discuss religious freedoms. But on this monitored and regulated social network, would China’s ever-watchful authorities allow Christians to rally support against religious persecution in their own land? China still ranks among the top 50 worst persecutors of Christians in the annual World Watch List published by the Christian charity Open Doors. And China is well aware that social media was used to powerful effect to muster protest in the Arab Spring. Yet it permits these microblogs.

As with Twitter, Weibo postings are restricted to 140 characters. But that is less of a limitation than it sounds. In Chinese languages, 140 characters are equivalent to 70 or 80 words in English – enough to spark a debate or begin to tell a story.
Users also can post pictures and video clips to their Weibo pages. And from there, they can link to the Chinese equivalent of YouTube –Youku – where the band Rainbow Come can be seen performing.

An earlier indication of growing boldness among China’s Christian community came in August, when a picture was posted on Weibo of a young man standing in a public square holding a placard with a Gospel message. Christians on Weibo praised him for his courage and commended him for the example he was setting.

Others began to follow that example. Another picture was posted of a little girl, holding a yellow sign surmounted by a cross, proclaiming, ‘Believe in Jesus and receive eternal life.’ She was holding the banner aloft in a public square in Shenzhen, while her parents shared their faith with passers-by. According to the Gospel Times, 20 people responded by committing their lives to following Jesus.

The girl’s father later thanked the Christian online community for its encouragement, saying: “[You have] given me great strength. May the gospel arise in China and save the country and people from their sin. May God receive all the praise and glory.”

Yet another Weibo blog displays a map giving the location of churches across China. The east of the country is thick with them. Beside the map, the posting says: "Western missionaries… through much suffering, gave their lives to irrigate this hard and rocky soil. Every Christian should think about this."

A veiled reference, perhaps, towards persecution today in China? According to Christians in Communist China, the country has 14 million ‘registered’ believers, whose churches come under the control of the atheist state. Yet more than five times as many Christians risk suspicion, surveillance and arrest by choosing to worship in unregistered, and therefore illegal, house churches.


So how are Christians using Weibo to confront persecution? Norwegian-based religious liberty group Forum 18 notes that much of the discussion on persecution is in an historical context, or focuses on trouble overseas. In September, "an urgent call for prayer!" went out for Iranian pastor Yousef Nadarkhani, who was under sentence of death for apostasy in Teheran. That message was picked up and re-posted extensively. Pastor Nadarkhani was later released, but this month was brought back into custody.

But there also have been postings about the lack of religious freedom for Christians in China itself. In July, Shanghai's newly-ordained auxiliary Bishop, Ma Daqin, resigned from his post in the state-approved Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association. He stepped down immediately after his ordination, in a gesture described by the BBC “as a challenge to Chinese state control over Catholic churches and clergy.”

The government responded by closing his Catholic seminary, to a flurry of protests on Weibo. Forum 18 highlighted one notable posting: "a regime that deprives a religious organisation of autonomy and attacks and divides religious workers… is not qualified to say that the country under its rule has… religious freedom."

On Dec. 14, Bishop Ma was stripped of his title by the government, and he’s believed to be under house arrest.

Christians have also posted messages on Weibo in support of Shouwang Church, the largest unregistered Protestant congregation in Beijing, which has been repeatedly refused permission to buy or rent premises. Members have been worshipping in the open air since 2011 and have faced harassment and arrest.

So far, such murmurings have been tolerated by officialdom, and Weibo is fast establishing a track record for exposing corruption and the abuse of power at lower levels of government – the level at which religious persecution often takes place.

Citizen journalism

Weibo shot to prominence as a forum for citizen journalism after a train crash in 2011 killed 40 and injured 200 in Zhejiang province. The first news of the crash broke on Weibo, when passenger Yangjuan Quanyang posted: “Our carriage has fallen onto its side. Children are screaming . . . Come to help us please! Come fast!” According to China Daily, her plea for help was reposted 100,000 times. By the following week, postings about the crash had multiplied to 30 million on the two main microblog sites. And it was footage on Weibo that exposed local officials trying literally to bury the evidence – by burying the actual train. It caused a furore.

Public anger boiled over when official directives attempting to gag and finesse reporting of the crash were posted online. The state-run Global Times described the local authorities’ handling of the crash as a “public relations disaster" – a disaster that came to light because of a wave of outrage in the Chinese social media.

The international news media picked up on this and on other Weibo exposés. The BBC reports “Weibo's ability to connect people has been used by campaigns to help street children, boycott polluting companies, even to ban the use of sharks' fins in soup.”

Some local authorities have embraced the phenomenon by engaging in debate and encouraging feedback from citizens, and China watchers believe Weibo is tolerated because it enables central government to keep local corruption in check and provides a pressure-relief valve to vent public concern. It also allows the state to listen in to its citizens – a useful surveillance tool to spot potential dissidents and nip more serious protest in the bud. As Chinese-American freedom campaigner Martin Johnson pointed out: “The reason Weibo exists is because the Party allowed it.”


So, unsurprisingly, Weibo is subject to censorship, though with a lighter touch than the rest of the Chinese media. According to Martin Johnson’s website,, the authorities have blocked 1,700 Weibo search terms. Prohibited words include Tiananmen, Tank man, revolution, uprising and 1989 – the year of the Tiananmen Square student protests.
Also verboten are the words Lama – as in the Dalai Lama – and Falun, as in the outlawed religious group Falun Gong. Messages containing politically sensitive phrases are removed either automatically, by filters, or by operatives reading and deleting by hand.

As well as words, some subjects also are forbidden. These include “democracy and freedom” and any criticism of the Communist Party and its top leadership. A New York Times article exposing the ‘billions in hidden riches’ acquired by the family of Premier Wen Jiabao was blocked and every reference to the article on Weibo was assiduously removed. A Harvard University study estimated that around 13 percent of blogs posted in China have been subject to censorship.

Discussion has been permitted, though, on a key area of public policy close to the heart of government – China’s one-child policy. Christians, concerned about the sanctity of human life, are being drawn into debate on the issue – and some have gone further, becoming involved in active opposition to government policy.


According to USA Today, almost a million postings flooded into Weibo after photos were put online showing a mother who had been forced to have an abortion in Ankang City, Shaanxi Province. Feng Jianmei was pictured lying in a hospital bed beside the dead body of her aborted daughter, who had been killed by lethal injection after almost eight months in the womb. Many of the Weibo postings were in protest at the one-child policy.
The story caught the attention of Beijing-based Christian lawyer, Zhang Kai, who, along with other human rights lawyers, has faced harassment and intimidation for campaigning for religious freedom in China. He told USA Today "I think governments shouldn't plan family planning, it's the citizen’s right. God won't allow humans to do forced abortions, and he's unhappy to see it."

It’s not hard to see why the abortion issue has struck a nerve on Weibo. According to Britain’s Daily Telegraph, "young Chinese in particular have embraced the net with religious fervour". The Telegraph estimates half of China's Internet users are under 25, spending around 16.5 hours online every week. And the Shanghai Teenage Research Centre told the Telegraph that many young netizens turn to Weibo to replace the companionship of the brothers and sisters denied to them by China's strict one-child policy.

Lawyer Zhang Kai helped Feng Jianmei and her husband successfully mount a legal protest against their forced abortion and get compensation. He wrote in his blog: “Thanks to all the many netizens for caring . . .. Hope that with our efforts, after a few years, such tragedies will never happen again.” Underlying that message is the inference of mobilising public opinion to impact public policy – as China’s cyber police will be well aware.


So, could Christian activists use Weibo to mount a campaign for religious freedom in China, much as Twitter and Facebook were used to marshal protests during the Arab Spring?

One issue for Weibo users here is that they are being monitored – and they know it – although perhaps less effectively than the authorities might have wished. Although subscribers are forbidden from using aliases when applying for accounts, the largest microblogging company, Sina Weibo, admits it has not always complied with that regulation for fear of losing subscribers.

According to Forum 18, state censors can act within minutes to remove troublesome posts. But other than instances of cancelling users’ accounts, Forum 18 has no record of sanctions being imposed on bloggers that cross the Party line.

However, American-Chinese freedom campaigner Martin Johnson told the Reuters news agency that the Communist Party permits social media only because it “thinks it can use Weibo to its advantage." Johnson, who founded to press for internet freedom, has launched his own microblogging site,, which aims to bypass government censorship. Within a month of going live in October, the authorities tried to block that, too.

But where there’s a will, there’s a way to get around the Great Firewall of China – by using internet connections that can be routed internationally. According to U.S. reports, China now has 63.5 million Facebook users – an almost eightfold increase in just two years, while users of Twitter have tripled since 2009 to more than 35 million – despite government bans. But even these figures are mere drops in the ocean compared to the sea of Weibo users.

Forum 18’s verdict on Weibo is that while it is “advancing religious freedom in China to some extent . . . it is not yet (if it ever will be) an effective means for people to mobilise to actively defend their rights to freedom of religion or belief.

 For now, Chinese Weibo users will have to be content . . . to express their religious or non-religious beliefs publicly – which would have been unthinkable in China not very long ago.” But hedging its bets, Forum 18 adds: “Weibo may become a vehicle for political change in China – or serve as a means by which the Communist Party remains in power.”
Meanwhile, Chinese Christian band Rainbow Come are celebrating their meteoric rise, courtesy of their supporters on Weibo. Band leader Zhao Bingheng said winning “Chinese Dream” was not the band’s main aim: “The biggest value of this whole thing is to see your support and know that in Jesus Christ we share the same goal . . . so we can learn to serve each other and care for each other and thus accomplish His greater glory!”

He posted that comment – where else? – on Weibo.

Original source: Forum 18. Other sources are cited in the body of the article.


Copyright 2012 World Watch Monitor