Saturday, January 26, 2013

Christian Girl in Pakistan Allegedly Forced to Convert, Marry Official's Aide

By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service

KARACHI, PAKISTAN (ANS) -- A powerful Pakistani official's aide allegedly running a prostitution ring in Karachi has taken a Christian girl from her home and forced her to convert to Islam and marry him, according to the girl's family.

According to a story by Morning Star News, Khursheed Bibi, a midwife and mother of 15-year-old Asma Masih, said that Ghaji Khan, a close aide of Sindh Provincial Minister for Local Government Agha Siraj Durrani, abducted her daughter from their house in Karachi on Dec. 10.

The girl's father is Rehmat Masih. "Ghaji was our tenant for some months, but we asked him to vacate the premises after two police raids on our house revealed that he was running a prostitution network from the upper portion of our house," said Khursheed Bibi, of Neelum Colony in Karachi's Clifton area.

"The police recovered some girls from Ghaji's rooms in both raids; however, he escaped arrest because of Minister Siraj Durrani, who is considered very close to President Asif Zardari and acts as his enforcer in Karachi."

According to Morning Star News, mother to seven daughters (two married) and six sons, Khursheed Bibi said the family searched for Asma without success that night in Karachi, Pakistan's violence-ridden financial hub.

"The next afternoon we got a call from Ghaji that Asma had eloped with him and they had contracted nikah (marriage)," she said. "He also claimed that Asma had converted to Islam and asked us not to look for her, as she won't be returning home."

Khan had somehow enticed Asma out of their house and took her away, Morning Star News reported she said.

"I could not believe my ears, because Asma is hardly 15 and Ghaji is thrice her age," she said. "I told him that I wanted to speak to Asma for the last time, so he handed over the phone to her. 'What have you done my child, my child?' I asked as Asma burst into tears. (She said), 'They are not going to let me return home, mother - do something.'"

Morning Star News reported Khursheed Bibi said that she and her husband went to Boat Basin Police Station to file a First Information Report, but the duty officer refused to register a case against Khan.

"We told him that Ghaji had abducted our daughter, but the official refused to listen to us," she said. "(The duty officer said), 'Do you know Ghaji works for Siraj Durrani? I'd suggest that you forget your daughter and stop creating problems for your other children.'"

Morning Star News reported that disappointed by the police, Khursheed Bibi said the family filed a court petition to enjoin the police to register a case against Khan and recover Asma from his custody.

"We told the court that our daughter was a minor and could not have made an independent decision to renounce her faith," she said. "It is quite evident from the circumstances that Ghaji had contracted a fake Islamic marriage with her to avoid arrest. The court admitted the petition and ordered police to register a case against Ghaji and produce Asma in court."

Morning Star News said police filed a report concerning Khan on Dec. 22 2012, but despite repeated court directions to arrest him, officers have not complied.

"The judicial magistrate (South) has repeatedly ordered the investigation officer, Sub-Inspector Abdul Ghaffar, to raid the minister's house and arrest Ghaji, but the police have not gone there even once," she said.

On Jan. 19 2012, the judge ordered police to produce Asma in court on Jan. 21, but again police officials said they needed more time.

Meantime, Morning Star News said, Khan's lawyer has submitted a marriage certificate to police claiming that Asma had converted to Islam and had married his client of her own free will. The certificate issued by Mufti Abdullah of Jamia Yousufia at Malir says that Asma had embraced Islam, and that her new name is Farzana.

"The mufti is definitely a part of this racket," Morning Star News reported Khursheed Bibi said. "Even if one supposes for a minute that Asma has willingly accepted Islam, how can the mufti validate a marriage of a 15-year-old, which is strictly against the law? We have submitted evidence (birth certificate and baptism certificate issued by the Philadelphia Pentecostal Church in Karachi) to the court, while Ghaji is claiming that she is over 18."

Morning Star News reported her lawyer, Jamil Virk, has petitioned the court to recover Asma and set up a medical board to determine her exact age. The family has also asked that when police rescue her daughter, she be sent to a government-run women's shelter until the case is decided.

Khursheed Bibi said that Khan and his associates have continuously threatened them, including death threats.

"We are poor Christians with no one to turn to except the courts," Morning Star News reported she said. "I couldn't control myself and broke down in tears before the judge. I told him that we were being continuously harassed and threatened to stop pursuing the case or else we would be killed, yet we still want our daughter back."

Arrest Warrants

Morning Star News said noting that police had repeatedly defied the court's orders by failing to produce either Khan or Asma, on Jan. 21 the judge issued non-bailable arrest warrants for Khan and his wife Zareena Begum, who is also allegedly involved; she is said to help him lure young girls into prostitution.

The judge reprimanded police for favoring the accused, warned against any harm to the applicant and her family and ordered officers to produce Khan in court on Jan. 23.

Sub-Inspector Abdul Ghaffar told Morning Star News that police did not have the evidence against Khan necessary to arrest him.

"We cannot raid the minister's house until we have solid evidence against Ghaji Khan," he said, adding that "Farzana" had told police that she had wilfully married Khan.

Morning Star News said he added without explanation, "The girl is hesitating to appear before the court due to her family."

Ghaffar rejected the elderly mother's claim that police were supporting Khan due to the minister's influence. "There's no pressure on us from Minister Durrani," he said.

Morning Star News said he acknowledged that Khan had "a minor criminal record" but refused to comment about his alleged involvement in sex-trafficking.

"I don't know about the raids on Khursheed Bibi's house, so I cannot comment on the prostitution charges against Ghaji," he said. "He has told us that Farzana is his third wife, and he has a marriage certificate. It's up to the court to determine her age and whether she was forced to convert."

Morning Star News said a large number of women and girls belonging to Christian, Hindu and other minority communities in Sindh Province have been forced by Muslims to convert to Islam. In all cases, the perpetrators are either close relatives or aides of influential politicians and feudal lords.

Morning Star News said according to various media reports, nearly 300 Christian and Hindu girls and young women are forcibly converted to Islam in Sindh Province every year. Such cases are rarely highlighted in the media for various reasons, fear of reprisal by the Muslim majority being the foremost deterrent.

Once converted to Islam, no person can renounce the faith under the Islamic injunction of "death for apostates."

For more information about Morning Star News go to

Burma's Army Shells Kachin Headquarters, Kills Civilians, Earns International Condemnation

LAIZA, Burma, Jan. 22, 2013 /Christian Newswire/ -- Four civilians were killed and three others injured when Burmese government forces shelled the border town of Laiza, the headquarters of the Kachin Independence Organization, as fighting between the two sides escalated in northern Burma, ChinaAid has learned.

Photo: Feet of one of those killed in the Jan. 14 shelling of Laiza. ChinaAid photo

Chinese Christian journalists sent by ChinaAid to the frontlines of the fighting report that the Burmese army hit Laiza on the morning of Jan. 14 with artillery shells that caused the serious civilian casualties. The three wounded were a woman and two children. The shelling also posed a danger to the safety of civilians on the Chinese side of the border in Yunnan province.

The ChinaAid reporters, who have been at the frontlines for almost a year, also sent back graphic photos of the injuries and of many residents fleeing the town.

According to the international media, including the ChinaAid reporters, Burma's military junta is attempting to wipe out the Kachin independent government through military force. In blatant violation of international conventions and the principles of humanitarianism, the military is using terror methods that not only have often resulted in collateral damage but has even caused deliberate civilian injuries.

At a regular press conference on Jan. 17, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei confirmed that at about 4 p.m. on Jan. 15, during armed clashes, a bomb landed in China's Yunnan province, about 500 meters from the border. Fortunately, there were no casualties. China sought urgent diplomatic dialogue with the Burmese government and expressed its deep dissatisfaction. It also urged Rangoon to investigate the incident and take all necessary measure to prevent a recurrence.

According to news reports, Burma's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has called publicly for a ceasefire after being criticized for her silence. Now a member of parliament, Suu Kyi had spent 15 of the 21 years ending 2010 under government-imposed house arrest.

ChinaAid founder and president Bob Fu said, "Burma's military government must immediately stop indiscriminately shelling the minority Kachin people, soldiers and civilians alike. We call upon the international community and Burma's democratic forces to work together to find a peaceful solution for the protection of Kachins so that an ethnic cleansing tragedy can be prevented."

Christian Newswire

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

To coup, or not to coup?

Eritrean prison camps (Photos by Open Doors)

Eritrea (MNN) ― The buzz word people are using to describe Eritrea's events over the last 48 hours is "coup," but do the signs match an actual coup d'état?

By the government's admission, it was a takeover effort, however small, however failed. Todd Nettleton, a spokesman for the Voice of the Martyrs USA, explains, "Some soldiers surrounded the Ministry of Information in the capital city of Asmara on Monday. They forced a minister to read a statement on State TV in Eritrea. However, it seems that he only got a few sentences into the statement before the TV broadcast signal was cut."

Government troops quelled the would-be rebellion before it got started. However, in a tightly-controlled regime like Eritrea, Nettleton notes, "It seems to be sort of a ‘blip' on the radar, but the fact that there were soldiers acting directly against the government perhaps is a sign of building unrest within Eritrea. Who knows what it means for the future?"

That begs the question of what the else calm facade is hiding. What of the fate of the mutinous soldiers? Nettleton says, "I certainly would not want to be one of these soldiers now, after they have surrendered, because we know that the situation in Eritrean prisons  for Christians is desperate, and obviously, for political enemies of the regime."

The soldiers' demands were two-fold: "They wanted to return to the parameters that were laid down in the constitution of 1997. It also said that they wanted to release political prisoners."

Since independence in 1993, Eritrea has been a one-party state. The government has come under fire by human rights watchdogs who call the regime one of the world's most repressive. That's an assessment Open Doors agrees with.

Open Doors, which comes alongside the persecuted church, keeps tabs on the world's 50 worst countries known for their oppression of Christians. On that list, Eritrea ranks 10th. And that's not a number likely to change for the better in the near future, says Open Doors' spokesman Jerry Dykstra.

In fact, he says just hours before news of the failed coup, "At least 10 leaders of the churches (banned by the government ten years ago) have been rounded up in the past day or two."

Eritrean opposition activists exiled in neighboring Ethiopia said there was growing dissent within the Eritrean military, especially over economic hardships. Of the coup, Nettleton says it might be the first crack in the mask. "The fact that this [involves] soldiers and people in the military, that seems to say that the disenchantment with the leadership there is spreading." He adds, "I think the message that I would take from it is that Eritrea's people are not happy being oppressed under the hand of the president."

Then, there's word that the health of the current president, Isaias Afewerki, is worsening. That might not actually be a positive swing for the oppressed Christians, though, Dykstra reflects. "There is some sense from Open Doors researchers that perhaps a form of radical Islam may take over the country with the death of the president." In short, Eritrea's Christians could find themselves facing a situation similar to those Christians in the newly re-formed Egypt.

As such, church leaders fear that this particular campaign is far more serious because it wants to "eradicate the underground church by targeting its key leaders around the country." If that's true, the death tolls will start climbing. Dykstra says already, "31 Christians died in prisons last year. It's kind of hard to put an estimate on the number of Christians in prison. Last year, it was [estimated] at around 1200."

According to Open Doors, since news of the renewed systematic arrests emerged, several church leaders have gone into hiding for a second time in only a few months. According to trusted sources close to the events in Eritrea, church leaders have remained in good spirits despite these pressures.

For Christians in Eritrea, the past few months have been somewhat of a roller-coaster ride. After the death of the Ethiopian Prime Minister in August last year, there was heightened tension in Eritrea. Christians testified that talk of renewed fighting between Eritrea and Ethiopia after the demise of one of their long-time rivals led to a very grim atmosphere.

There were reports of the government circulating rifles to households in case war broke out. Some Christians described those months of uncertainty as their darkest night while praying earnestly for the light of a new dawn for their country. Nettleton says, "We want to pray for the church as a whole. One of the great challenges is existing in a situation where no public services are allowed. Anytime Christians gather together--evangelical Christians, it's not legal."

Timing now on outreach work will be critical. Anyone viewed as an enemy could be more at-risk for trouble. Nettleton explains, "The president of Eritrea will be watching this and saying, ‘We need to get a handle on this quickly,' which in the short term, perhaps, is going to mean more oppression and more control. It's hard to say at this point what this means."

Dykstra says with circumstances so uncertain, "They're asking for our prayers because of this situation, especially with the loss of the leadership of the 10 Christian leaders."

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Evangelicals arrested in Mexico, pressured to renounce their faith

By Mark Ellis
Senior Correspondent, ASSIST News Service

baptism of new believers
SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA (ANS) -- More than 50 evangelicals were arrested in mid-December in a community north of Mexico City, held without food, water, or sanitation, and pressured to renounce their "new" religion.

"We had some most distressing news of renewed persecution of Indian believers in Mexico," says David Kietzman, executive director of Latin American Indian Mission (LAIM).

There had been strained relations in the community of Pahuatlan, Hidalgo, about 175 miles northeast of Mexico City. "Mostly it had taken the form of pressure on the evangelical pastors, who would be called in, roughed up a bit, and possibly spend the night in jail," Kietzman notes.

"The complaints always focused on the fact that they were breaking the harmony in the community by introducing this 'new' religion that did not respect the old customs, and particularly did not support the village fiestas."

On December 17 the conflict escalated. At a community meeting to appoint delegates to the fiesta for the coming year, all the evangelicals in attendance were arrested.

"Not only were 52 of them carted off to the very small jail, but also guards were sent to all the exits from the town, so that word of this illegal action could not get out to state officials," Kietzman notes.

"Those in jail were kept without food and water (and access to sanitary facilities), the pastor was kept bound to a chair, and the g roup was repeatedly told they could not leave until they signed a renunciation of their new religion."

Iran says American tried to turn children against Islam

In defense, Abedini says he has no political motives

Colorado Springs, Jan. 20 (World Watch Monitor) — Iran on Monday accused an Idaho man of trying to entice young people to Christianity and away from the country’s official religion, Islam, the man’s American-based legal team says.

The trial of Saeed Abedini, 32, of Boise, began Monday in the Tehran courtroom of Abbas Pir-Abbassi, a Revolutionary Court judge notorious for harsh sentences. Abedini faces a lengthy prison sentence and possibly the death penalty for the alleged crime of attempting to undermine the Iranian government through the spread of Christianity.

The American Center for Law and Justice said prosecutors presented evidence that Abedini created “a network of Christian house churches” starting in 2000, the year he left Islam for Christianity.

“The regime alleged that Pastor Saeed intentionally sought to sway the minds of Iranian youth by turning the youth toward Christianity and against Islam, the official religion of Iran,” the center said in a prepared statement.

The American Center for Law and Justice is a Washington, D.C.-based attorney group that uses litigation to press for religious and speech freedom. It has waged a lobbying campaign to persuade the Obama Administration to make a public demand for Abedini’s release.

Abedini was arrested in September during a visit in which supporters say he was managing the construction of a non-religious orphanage. His supporters say he had agreed in 2009 to stop building the church network and to focus exclusively on the orphanage project, and that he had made eight orphanage-oriented visits to Iran before his arrest.

The center said Abedini is represented in Iran by “Naser Sarbazi, a Muslim lawyer in Iran who is dedicated to preserving human rights and upholding the right for all individuals to practice their faith freely.” It also said Abedini’s father, who lives in Iran, was the only family member permitted in the courtroom.

Abedini’s wife, Nagmeh, posted this account of Monday’s courtroom proceedings on the “Pray for Pastor Saeed Abedini” Facebook page:

Saeed was able to share from the Bible to the Judge and say that he was not a political person and had no political intentions, but he was a follower of His Lord Jesus Christ. There will be no more hearings and the formal charges and sentences will most likely be announced next week according to his lawyer in Iran.

There seemed to have been moments when the judge was moved by Saeed's testimony. Please continue to pray for the Judge and Saeed's release and his return back to our family.

We should be hearing some news next week.
The American Center for Law and Justice posted a report on its website Monday that claims several lay leaders of the house churches have been summoned to appear in court. But it also said it’s unknown whether the judge will permit any more witnesses, or whether the trial is essentially completed.

Abedini and his wife were born Muslim in Iran. She moved to the United States as a child, obtained U.S. citizenship, converted to Christianity, relocated to Idaho with her family, and eventually returned to Iran to connect with her extended family, said Lauren Phillips, coordinator for international outreach for Cavalry Chapel of Boise, where the couple are members. Though ordained after his work planting house churches in Iran, Abedini is not active as a pastor in his home church.

In Iran Nagmeh met Abedini, who had converted to Christianity in 2000 and was helping to start house churches. Married in 2004, they moved to Idaho in 2005 after Abedini endured an interrogation session over his church activities, according to an attorney at the American Center for Law and Justice. As the spouse of an American citizen, Abedini too was granted U.S. citizenship.


Copyright 2013 World Watch Monitor

Stakes raised in religious hostility

International (MNN) ― 75% of the world’s population lives in countries and/or societies with religious hostility, according to a report last year from The Pew Research Center.

That number is up from 70% the year before.

Of the five specific religions cited in the study, Christians were ranked with the highest number of nations harassing them.

However, Tom Elliff, President of the International Mission Board, says persecution of Christians will not dampen the Gospel. “That’s what persecution proves in a country. There are those who totally abandon the faith, and then there are those to whom the Gospel IS them. It is their life. It is their salvation. They understand it is only Christ, and only in Him is there eternal life.”

Although there is more hostility to the Gospel, there is also a greater need for people to hear the name of Christ.

“The world’s population is not declining. It is growing,” says Elliff. “It took until 1804 to reach the first billion [people] in our history, and now we have 7 billion on this globe. It’s not just that they’re being born, but they are dying at 2 [people] per second. That means an entire city disappears from this globe every 24 hours.... These are people who, for the most part, do not know Christ, and many of them right now--1.27 billion of these people--could die without ever hearing the name of Jesus.”

Elliff says in a world’s growing opposition to the Christians, the Church’s response will be defined. “Does that mean we’re going to pull in our dollar, go back home and say, ‘Well, let’s find the 25% of the [world’s population] that are friendly to us?' Or are we going to find creative ways like global strategic mobilization? Are we going to find creative ways to share the Gospel with people who are in this dark, broken world?”

For the IMB, creatively mobilizing the Gospel last year resulted in almost 30,000 churches planted and hundreds of thousands coming to know Christ.

Get involved with IMB missions or give to support their work.

Fake Picture caption still doing the rounds

It alleges that it shows the charred bodies of Nigerian Christians supposedly burned in a massacre perpetrated by Muslim terrorists

By Dan Wooding
Founder of ASSIST Ministries

The picture that has been doing the rounds
LAKE FOREST, CA (ANS) -- In the dark days when I worked for the British tabloids, we had a motto which was, "Never let the truth interfere with a good story."

Well sadly, this seems to also be the motto of well-meaning Christians who have been circulating messages claiming that the photo here shows the charred bodies of 500 Nigerian Christians burned in a terrible massacre by Muslim terrorists.
While the story is true, for back in March of 2010, a terrible massacre took place close to Jos where as many as 500 people, many of them women and children, were killed by Hausa-Fulani, Muslim herders, the picture that has been doing the rounds, has nothing to do with Nigeria, but instead comes from a terrible tanker explosion in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Having been born in Northern Nigeria to British missionary parents, and given the Hausa name of Dan Juma (son of Friday), I was horrified when I first saw the picture of the hundreds of charred bodies.

Another picture of the charred bodies not in Nigeria, but Congo
One posting of the picture said, "Christians burnt alive by Sunni Muslims in NIGERIA.PLEASE SHARE IT OR JUST UPLOAD YOUR OWN.BUT SOMEHOW SPREAD IT IF YOU'RE EVEN 1% CHRISTIAN - It is still not over yet!"

Another read: "The religion of peace is really showing us how it needs to be done. Apparently this happened in April 2011, but it did not make front page news. Why does the Western Church think they are special and needs to be raptured before the tribulation starts? We really need a wakeup call."
Being a journalist now for some 43 years, I have learned never to accept these claims on face value, so I did some checking and finally found this story by Katrina Manson of Reuters dated Saturday, July 3, 2010, with the headline, "Fuel tanker explosion kills over 230 in Congo."

So it appears that the photo above was apparently not taken in Nigeria at all, but in Congo and story begins, "At least 230 people were killed when a fuel tanker overturned and exploded in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, unleashing a fire ball that tore through homes and cinemas packed with people watching World Cup soccer.

"Officials said on Saturday the explosion late on Friday also injured 196 people, adding that the death toll could rise.

"They described scenes of devastation in the town of Sange, where houses were burned and bodies littered the streets. Some people died while trying to steal fuel leaking from the tanker, but most were killed at home or watching World Cup soccer in cinemas."

So, like so many of you, I am horrified with the shocking violence that is being perpetrated by groups like Boko Haram in Nigeria, but I believe that we should also be careful when we circulate items like this one, and check them out, before claiming them to be true, which this time was apparently was not the case.

Muslims Attack Christians in Egypt on Rumor of Sexual Assault

By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service

EGYPT (ANS) -- Thousands of Muslims from Marashda and surrounding villages attacked eight Coptic homes and businesses, including five pharmacies, which were looted and torched. Coptic-owned cars were also torched.

According to a story by Mary Abdelmassih of the Assyrian International News Agency (AINA), the attacks were caused by rumors that a 55-year-old Coptic man, Nader Masoud, sexually assaulted a 6-year-old Muslim girl.

The attacks on the village, which has a mostly Christian population, started with several Coptic businesses being torched and the Church of Abu Fam having its cross demolished and glass smashed.

AINA reported that Anba Kyrollos, Bishop of Nag Hammadi, said a medical check of the Muslim girl proved her "virginity," but the attacks "took place after the Muslims knew of the medical verdict and the sexual assault was only a rumor."

Bishop Kyrollos said Masoud turned himself in to police for his own safety.

Then clashes broke out again later in the day in Marashda, this time between security forces and the Muslim protesters. The incident occurred after the police arrested 10 Muslims reportedly responsible for some of the morning's violence.

AINA said more than 2,000 Muslims were on the village bridge trying to stop the police from transporting the arrested Muslims. The mob prevented police vehicles from passing, and tried to break into the police cars to free the suspects.

AINA said this led security forces to call for reinforcement troops from the Central Security Directorate in Qena, which fired teargas on the protesters.

According to the newspaper Aldostor-Assly, the Muslim Brotherhood Freedom and Justice Party and the Salafists groups denied any involvement in the Marshada events.

AINA said there's now a relative calm in the village after a friendly meeting occurred at the church. It was attended by the pastor, security officials, the Muslim girl's family and Muslim elders. They decided to let the courts resolve the issue.

However, AINA said, some Muslims continued to demonstrate in front of the police station where the accused Coptic man is being held.

Meanwhile, Copts are staying in their homes for fear of attacks. The Coptic Church cancelled an evening service celebrating the feast of Epiphany, and security forces are still present in the village.