Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Algeria - no prison, but a bigger fine, for Algerian Christian

Under 2006 law, talking about the gospel with Muslims is illegal

Feb. 15 (World Watch Monitor) — A court in Algeria has thrown out a prison sentence, but has increased a fine, on a man convicted of trying to convert a Muslim to Christianity.

Ibouène Mohamed was sentenced in July 2012 to one year in prison and a fine of 50,000 Algerian dinars after he was accused by a co-worker of attempting to convert him to Christianity, a charge that Mohamed denied.

The verdict and penalty were affirmed by an appeals court on Jan. 23. On Wednesday, the prison sentence was overturned by a further appeals court in Béchar in northwest Algeria, but the fine was doubled to 100,000 dinars, or about US $1,300.

“We are profoundly upset by the verdict,’’ Mustapha Krim, president of the Protestant Church of Algeria, told World Watch Monitor. ‘‘It is absolutely unfair to condemn a young man to a prison sentence just because he had a talk with his co-worker.’’

Originally from the more Christian northern region of Algeria, Mohamed is employed in a multinational company in the western city of Tindouf.

Algeria passed a law in 2006 regulating the public expression of religions other than Islam. It permits courts to sentence Christians to a maximum five years in prison for preaching the gospel to a Muslim. Since the law was adopted, several Christians have been sentenced to suspended prison terms and fined.

In 2008, Christian teacher Habiba Kouider was charged under the 2006 law for illegal possession of bibles. Her trial drew widespread media attention and rebukes from the European Parliament and human-rights watchdogs such as Amnesty International. The case is still pending.

In May 2011, the governor of the north-east province of Béjaïa invoked the 2006 law to order the closure of seven protestant churches accused of operating ‘’illegally.”

‘‘This law is unacceptable and must be removed,’’ Krim said.

Algeria is ranked No. 29 in the 2013 World Watch List of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian. The list pressure on Christians is increasing, due primarly to Islamization of the region in the wake of the two-year-old Arab Spring.

The World Watch List is published annually by Open Doors International, a worldwide ministry to persecuted Christians.
Copyright 2013 World Watch Monitor

The Second Anniversary of the Libyan Revolution Brings Arrests of Foreign Nationals

By Dan Wooding
Founder of ASSIST Ministries

BENGHAZI, LIBYA (ANS) -- The Arab Spring was supposed to be about freedom and democracy. Since then we have seen an increase in extremist activities throughout nearly every country that had a revolution.
Protesters in Benghazi during the Arab Spring demonstrations that have since turned sour for many Christians in Libya

Last year, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) had to suspend its activities in eastern and central Libya after its offices in Benghazi and Misrata were attacked.

The aid group was accused by some people of proselytizing activities and distributing Bibles to internally displaced Tanagra people in Benghazi - accusations it strenuously denied.

In the last couple days, seven foreign nationals were arrested in Benghazi under allegations that they were engaged in spreading Christianity and forced conversions.

One of the men being detained in Libya is Sherif, an Egyptian who has resided in Libya and operated a bookstore for many years. He is being subjected to severe torture on a daily basis including hanging from a ceiling, beatings and wetting his clothes and leaving him in a cold room without any heat. They are attempting to force him to confess to things he has not done.

In an interview with Aljazeera, Sherif said, "The revolution brought democracy and freedom. The first principle in democracy is freedom of opinion and belief and if there is no freedom of belief then there is no freedom at all."

On Friday, the loud speaker of the mosque located next door to Sherif's residence called for the people to kill the infidels who brought their book to destroy the Libyan people's faith. Sherif's landlord and neighbors vowed to protect his family.
Christians praying in a church in the Libyan capital Tripoli on Feb. 8, 2013. Since the fall of Gaddafi's regime in 2011, the Christian minority in Libya expressed concern about the rise of Islamic extremism (Photo: AFP)

On any given day, people all over the world can access information about nearly anything they are looking for on the Internet -- some of it good, some of it not so good. Whether through Facebook, Youtube, or any Google search, the world truly is at our fingertips. That is why it is strange that countries that claim to be secure in their religious beliefs are still so afraid of their citizens having access to comparative religious materials. Countries like Libya and other Arab nations fought hard during the Arab Spring for freedom and democracy.

Yet, in Libya as they celebrate the second year anniversary of the revolution, some people seem to be rejecting the very tenets of freedom altogether.

Daily Muslim's practice their faith all over the world, without fear of being forced to convert to another religion. Even in the US, a Christian majority nation, Muslims and Christians live together in peace and can freely read and discuss the other's religious materials at any time. Yet, nearly every Muslim majority nation has fear based laws that prevent Christians from talking about their faith. Why do extremists who claim to be firmly secure in their faith, fear Christianity? Perhaps it isn't Christianity they fear, but freedom.

According to a trusted source, since the 2011 fall of Muammar Gaddafi's regime, the small Christian community in Libya fears for its safety, especially after a church bombing in December killed two people in the Mediterranean town of Dafniya.

"The main Catholic Church's clergyman in Libya have said that Christians are being driven out of eastern Libya by Muslim fundamentalists," said the source who has asked not to be named for security reasons.

The Apostolic Vicar of Tripoli, Giovanni Innocenzo Martinelli, has said the situation was "critical" and the "atmosphere very tense."

Two religious communities in the east of the country -- the Congregation of the Holy Family of Spoleto and the Franciscan Sisters of Child Jesus - were forced to leave "after being pressured by fundamentalists."

Muslim Mob Torches Church in Egypt

By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service

CAIRO, EGYPT (ANS) -- On Friday evening Muslims in the village of Sarsena, Tamiya district in Fayoum province (103 KM southwest of central Cairo) set fire to the church of St. George. They also threw rocks at the church, causing damage to its dome.

According to a story by Mary Abdelmassih for the Assyrian International News Agency (AINA), they also they broke the cross on top of the dome, demolished parts of its interior and defaced and destroyed its icons.

AINA said this was prompted by Salafists Muslims who instigated the villagers to attack the church because the church is "an unlawful neighbor to the Muslims who live adjacent to it and must therefore be moved."

AINA said they demanded the relocation of the church away from Muslim homes and are not allowing its priest, Pastor Domadios, to enter the church. All these events were witnessed by the security authorities who AINA said did nothing to stop the attack.

The church was built in the mid-1980's, and serves nearly 200 Coptic families. Three months ago the Muslims made a hole in the church to monitor the activities inside.

AINA said on Thursday, the Muslims said the church has to move and refused an offer from the church to buy the home of the Muslim neighbor. The Muslims also demanded the church not use a small plot of land it owns as a kindergarten.

The Muslim neighbor increased the size of the monitoring hole in the church to over one square meter.

AINA said the head of the district police came to the village and tried to reconcile the church's pastor and the Muslim parties. However, the Muslims did not agree to any of the proposals and left the meeting.

Shortly afterwards and in the presence of the police, hundreds of Muslims began congregating and hurled bricks at the church; the police made no effort to stop them.

AINA said the mob climbed to the church dome, and started demolishing it and setting it on fire. The dome collapsed into the burning church and caused a lot of damage. Muslims used bricks from the dome and the holy cross and hurled it at the altar inside the church, causing part of it to be demolished. All the icons of saints were destroyed.

According to AINA, Muslims tried to assault Father Domadios and threw stones at him, but he was saved by a Muslim family who brought him away from the village in their car.

"All this took place in the presence of the police chief," reported Coptic activist Nader Shoukry. Muslims continued throwing stones at the church, breaking the roof water tank, which fell inside the church and helped quench the fire.

AINA said security authorities later persuaded the Muslim perpetrators to stop their assault and leave the place after a considerable part of the church was destroyed. Some Copts and the priest were slightly injured by stones thrown at them.

According to Nader Shoukry, the Coptic inhabitants are staying indoors for fear of being assaulted by the Muslims. AINA said none of the alleged perpetrators has been arrested, and the situation is still volatile.

Two Pastors in India Arrested after Being Beaten

Threatened Hindu nationalist mob tries to force them to worship idols in temple

By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service

Pastor Mallik Arjun and his family
NEW DELHI (ANS) -- Pastor Mallik Arjun knew something was wrong when he received a call from the cell phone of his friend and fellow pastor in Gadag District, Karnataka state - but it was a stranger on the other end of the line.

According to a story by Morning Star News, the stranger told him that Pastor Nagesh Naik was being held at a hotel near Korlahalli village and to come and find him. It was a Sunday evening, Feb. 3, after Pastor Arjun's colleague had led a home worship of the Gypsy Mission church in a neighboring village.

 "I went with three church members on two motorbikes, and we were looking for such hotel all through the way and could not find one," Pastor Arjun, of the Indian Pentecostal Church, told Morning Star News.

He continued, "Finally we found a mob swelling up in a temple, and that was where they kept him - and as soon as we reached the temple, they accused us of forceful conversion and started to attack me, Pastor Nagesh and the other three Christians."

At Hanumanthappa temple in Korlahalli village, near Mundargi, the Hindu extremists beat and kicked the Christians, threatened to set them on fire and tried to force them to worship Hindu idols, Pastor Arjun said.

"They told us they will rape our wives and give twin children to us," Morning Star News reported he said. "I have never heard such foul abuse in my entire life." 

Earlier, at about 7 p.m., some 200 Hindu extremists led by Laxman Gaji and another who goes by a single name, Gudadirayya, had stopped Pastor Naik as he made his way home after leading a worship service at a Christian's home in Sugar Factory quarters, near Sharanahalli village, according to attorney Moses Muragavel.

They then took him to the temple before calling Pastor Arjun, said Muragavel, of the Karnataka Legal Aid Cell.

At one point during the ordeal, Morning Star News reported Pastor Arjun said, he kneeled down in a corner of the temple and began to pray.

"One extremist gripped me on my back, dragged me up and said, 'You are even praying to Jesus even in a Hindu temple,' and then he tried to force me to worship Hindu idols," he said. "I asked him why he was forcing me to worship idols and told him that nobody can force me, and I have the right to choose the God that I worship."

Morning Star News said Pastor Naik added that the Hindu nationalists then threatened to set the Christians on fire with kerosene.

"They were shouting to each other to take petrol (gasoline) from our bikes and burn us up," he said, adding that another extremist stopped them, saying, 'Do you want the whole village to go to jail?'" 

Morning Star News reported Pastor Arjun said that the assailants then demanded they leave Jesus and proclaim, "Praise my motherland, praise Lord Ram and praise Lord Krishna."

"I told them that I will never leave Jesus - that I can say, 'Praise my motherland,' but I will never say Jai Shree Ram or Jai Shree Krishna," Pastor Arjun said. "The extremists became more furious, and they continued to slap, kick and push us, and tore off our clothes." 

The extremists also denigrated Pastor Naik for his Lamani ("gypsy") ethnic origin, saying he had converted to Christianity because he came from low caste, said Pastor Francis Xavier, president of Gadag Pastor Association.

Morning Star News said Pastor Arjun received treatment at Mundargi Government Hospital for injuries to his right ear, back and nose, as did Pastor Naik for injuries to his head and neck, besides bruises covering his body. The other three church members received minor bruises. 


Morning Star News reported the Hindu nationalists took the Christians to Mundargi Rural Police Station at about 10:30 that night and filed a complaint of forcible conversion. The two pastors were released at about 5 a.m. on Feb. 4, but had to report back to the police station at 10 a.m.

Police charged them with "promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings or any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs."

Morning Star News said they were also charged with "acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention" under the Indian Penal Code.

According to Morning Star News, the pastors were released on bail on Feb. 7, but they have to report to the police station on the second Sunday of every month until the charges against them are dropped.

On Feb. 10, Police Inspector Sunil A. Savdi and two officers from the Mundargi Police Station went to the Indian Pentecostal Church and questioned members about how long they had attended the church; how they came to know about it; and whether they had been offered money to attend.

All members said that they had come to the church on their own free will.

For more information go to http://morningstarnews.org

Algeria Upholds Conviction of Convert from Islam

Christian's one-year prison term for alleged proselytizing revoked, but fine doubled

By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service

Image Credit: Religion Today
TIZI OUZOU, ALGERIA (ANS) -- An Algerian judge under pressure from Islamists to uphold a Christian's conviction for alleged proselytizing rescinded his one-year prison term today but doubled his fine, an attorney said.

Algeria is a country in North Africa on the Mediterranean coast.

According to a story by Morning Star News, Mohamed Ibaouene, 36, was shocked to learn on Dec. 11 that he had been convicted in absentia on July 4, 2012 by a court in Tigzirt, sentenced to one year in prison and fined 50,000 dinars (US$635) on a charge of pressuring a Muslim to convert.

His attorney, Mohamed Benbelkacem, told Morning Star News that the appeals judge in Tindouf, in raising Ibaouene's fine to 100,000 dinars, must have realized there was no basis for the charge but was under pressure from Islamists to impose a sentence.

"The judge must have undergone some pressure to arrive at this sentence - that is the only explanation," Benbelkacem said.

He added, "That is why he had to choose to split off one of the two punishments; he could not decide for the punishment sought by the prosecutor, namely two years in prison followed by a 100,000-dinar fine, because it was unfair and unfounded. Unfortunately, we are faced with an act of injustice, and we intend to appeal."

Morning Star News said Ibaouene was convicted of "inciting a Muslim with pressure to change his religion" under Algeria's controversial Law 06/03, which places restrictions on the religious practice of non-Muslims.

The decision on the appeal of his sentence was to be announced on Feb. 6, but the judge delayed the verdict until today without explanation.

Morning Star News said Ibaouene denies the charge, saying the a machine operator at the company where he worked as a manager, identified only as Abdelkrim M., was the one pressuring him to change his religion.

The 27-year-old machine operator, known to be an Islamic extremist, leveled the accusation only after Ibaouene, a convert from Islam, refused to renounce Christ, Ibaouene said.

According to Morning Star News, Ibaouene's attorney said the case provided a long-sought sentencing of a Christian under Law 03/06, with the case resolved quickly compared with delays in other such cases.

"He could not decide for acquittal because of the pressure, so it must be that the Algerian justice system finally found a scapegoat to finally be able to implement the effects of Law 03/06," Benbelkacem said.

Morning Star News said he added, "I am not satisfied with the verdict, and I am even disappointed and upset, because in this case there is no evidence to support the accusation against my client."

The judge's verdict was short. "The accused, Mohamed Ibaouene, is condemned to pay a fine of 100,000 dinars," thereby revoking the one-year prison sentence.

The president of the Protestant Church of Algeria (EPA), Mustapha Krim, told Morning Star News the ruling was an affront to freedom.

"Certainly we will appeal the ruling," Krim said. "Moreover, we will meet soon in the EPA to discuss follow-up to this case. I must say that as long as Law 03/06 exists, there will always be those who will falsely accuse us as Christians."

Morning Star News said Ibaouene, who was never contacted by police or other authorities prior to his conviction, said Abdelkrim M. had approached him at his office for the sole purpose of asking him if he was a Christian and trying to persuade him to convert back to Islam.

When Ibaouene refused to renounce Christ, Abdelkrim M. then asked him if he believed in Islam. Morning Star News said in spite of what Ibaouene had already told him, was astonished when the Christian told him he did not believe in it at all, but rather in God and Christ, Ibaouene says.

Abdelkrim M. then filed a complaint with the National Gendarmerie in Tindouf, accusing Ibaouene of pressuring him to renounce Islam, according to a copy of the judgment obtained by Morning Star News.

Authorities did not serve the judgment to Ibaouene sooner presumably because he had left Tindouf after marrying in June 2012 and they were not aware of his whereabouts, and because of slow administrative processes.

Morning Star News said Ibaouene is part of an undisclosed church in Tizi Ouzou, capital of Tizi Ouzou Province on Algeria's northern central coast.

Morning Star News said Law 03/2006, commonly known as Law 06/03, mandates a prison term of two to five years and a fine of 500,000 to 1 million dinars for anyone who "incites, constrains, or utilizes means of seduction tending to convert a Muslim to another religion, or using for this purpose the institutions of education, health, social, cultural, or educational institutions, or other establishment, or financial advantage; or (2) makes, stores or distributes printed documents or films or other audiovisual medium or means intended to undermine the faith of a Muslim."

Algeria's population of 35.4 million people is more than 97 percent Muslim and .28 percent Christian, according to Operation World.

Morning Star News said the Algerian constitution makes Islam the state religion and requires the president to be Muslim. Algerian law also prohibits non-Muslims from gathering to pray except in areas approved by the state.

For more information go to http://morningstarnews.org