Friday, March 15, 2013

Christians in Libya face increase in persecution

Libya (ODM) ― An Open Doors field worker for Libya has expressed his deep concerns about the deteriorating situation for Christians in Libya.

He said, "Since Muammar Gaddafi's regime fell two years ago, there have been several reports of violence against Christians. But since February, dozens of Christians have faced hostilities, detainment, and deportation. Several of them have been severely mistreated, and one died while in detention."

Sherif Ramsis was arrested on Feb. 10. He is an Egyptian Christian living in Libya and had been running his business in Benghazi for 10 years. In the following week, a number of other Christians were arrested as well. Among them were four Egyptians and three non-Arab foreigners working in Libya. Some of them knew Sherif from a work-related or social context. It was reported that they were arrested based on the contacts on Sherif's mobile device.

While the non-Arabs are being treated comparatively well while being detained, local contacts report that the Egyptians are badly mistreated. There are reports of a lack of warm clothing and food, and the Egyptians being forced to sleep on the cold concrete floor in their cell. The Egyptians also sustained bruises due to torture in an attempt to extract information.

While suffering from the consequences of the mistreatment, the detained Egyptians were transferred from Benghazi to Tripoli on Feb. 25. In Tripoli, the lack of proper health care had fatal consequences for one of the detained, Ezzat Hakim Atallah, as confirmed by human rights organization Middle East Concern. Atallah was one of the transferred Coptic Christians.

The Open Doors field worker said: "Ezzat was running a cell phone repair shop in Benghazi and had been living in Libya for 10 years. People knew he was an Egyptian Copt, but that never led to serious trouble for him or his family."

During his imprisonment, he suffered severe chest pains. He was moved to a hospital March 6 for treatment, but was later returned and locked up again with the other Egyptian Copts. The medical treatment proved insufficient, and on Sunday March 10, Ezzat died in his cell. While reportedly still being kept in the same room, the other cell mates stood by helplessly and watched him die. Ezzat leaves behind his wife, and a daughter and son, 11 and 15 years old, respectively.

The other Egyptians are in still in detention. Earlier this week, all appeared before the public prosecutor. While it is difficult to have the official charges verified, the families were told that they will be charged with espionage. In February, a police officer told the press agency Reuters that they had been arrested on suspicion of distributing Christian books and proselytizing.

The Open Doors worker commented: "What really surprises me is that authorities claim the legal and judiciary framework from Gaddafi's regime has been put aside. But when it comes to the freedom of religion and situations like this, it seems that these former laws are still being upheld and used.

"To be honest, I had a sparkle of hope that the country could benefit from the regime change," the Open Doors field worker added. "But the developments of the past month are a big blow and a sobering setback. Still, I think it is possible that we will see positive responses from seekers of Christ in the country. I truly hope that more Libyans will stand up and cling to the freedom that was fought over so hard two years ago."

Libya is ranked No. 17 on the Open Doors 2013 World Watch List of the 50 worst persecutors of Christians.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Pakistan: a study of reconciliation, restoration, and caution

(Cover image by Wikipedia. Story image by World Watch Monitor)

Pakistan (MNN) ― Police have arrested around 150 men a day after a mob set fire to homes in a Christian neighborhood in Pakistan. The Christian neighborhood of Joseph Colony in Lahore came under attack on Saturday after a Muslim accused a Christian of blaspheming the Prophet Mohammed.

No one was killed in the attack because police had cleared most of the Christian families from the area. When it was over, the mob had torched over 170 houses, 18 shops, and two churches. Christians protested on Sunday over the lack of protection and the existence of the blasphemy laws that have caused them no end of trouble.

Speaking on a spotty cell phone connection, we reached Hana*, a Christian from Pakistan involved in ministry there that encourages and equips the local church to face persecution. She explains, "Most of the blasphemy accusations in Pakistan have been false. This one is debatable, and there's been a lot of speculation on it. We would hope that there would be some further investigation into the blasphemy laws of Pakistan. We don't know what it holds in terms of a repeal of this law."

Hana goes on to say that even though the area has calmed, "Christians are constantly on edge. In this particular case, Christians were vulnerable because it was a low income area, and there is a problem of alcoholism."

In the aftermath, a committee comprised of Bishops, Muslim legal scholars (called Ulema), and Christian leaders was established to assist in the rebuild. The Muslim scholars, often connected with the enforcement of Sharia law, condemned the attacks in Badami Bagh--the neighborhood within the network of Christian communities within the Joseph colony in Lahore.

The Ulema also termed the attack an anti-state, anti-humanity, and anti-Islam act of violence, setting aside March 15 as a Day of Solidarity with Christian Community in mosques. On March 17, churches will return the favor and mark it as a Day of Tolerance. Government officials also pledged to help residents rebuild their homes and offered $2,000 compensation to each affected family.

Unintended unity sparked by the arsons may eventually impact the upcoming elections. Already Pakistani Christians are conditioning their support at the polls on the repeal of the blasphemy laws. Hana says there's no way to know what that will look like by the time May rolls around.

Law 295a -- blaspheming Islam, and Law 295b -- blaspheming the Qur'an are criminal offenses. Law 295c makes blaspheming Mohammed a crime punishable by death. Courtrooms packed with militants have often pressured judges into returning a guilty verdict or continuing trials indefinitely. Christians are regularly barred from jobs or face troubles from their employers and co-workers. Christian merchants are often harassed. Cases surrounding the use of the laws earned Pakistan the 14th spot on the Open Doors World Watch list of countries known for their persecution of Christians.

The next question is a hard one to answer, says Hana. "'What now?' We don't know ‘what now.' We do know that Christians in the area are called to proclaim the Gospel. They're called to live for Christ. They're called to be the light and the salt in that area, and there are those that are faithfully doing that."

Christians are wrestling with whether or not to flee the country, says Hana. "We are asking for prayer that Christians would know the peace that passes all understanding at this time, keeping in mind that this has been years of the extremists selling this story that Christians do not belong. "

In the meantime, they're praying that the rebuilding of Badami Bagh will go forward unmolested. Hana says it's especially risky for the teams who will respond to the needs there. "Pray for the protection of the teams that are at work. Once you start working with a group of people that have been accused of blasphemy, you are in essence saying, ‘I will take the flak for this blasphemy case.' You are in essence saying, ‘I'm part of this.'"

*Name changed for security reasons

Kenya: Kenyan religious groups ready to work with President-elect, despite his war crime indictment

‘Let them have a chance to speak at the Hague, and let the ICC decide’, says Catholic leader   
Amongst their first formal meetings as President and Deputy President-elect of Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto on Tuesday 12th March met senior religious leaders, even ahead of meeting outgoing President Mwai Kibaki.  

Mr. Uhuru emerged the winner by garnering 6173,453 votes, meeting the threshold of the country’s Constitution which required a 50% + 1 vote of all total votes cast. This was the first election to be held under a new Constitution passed by Kenyans in 2010.

The threshold requirement was the first of its kind in the country, aimed at ensuring Kenya does not slip into a situation such as the last elections in 2007, where disputed Presidential results led to post-election violence. Over a thousand people were killed and 660,000 displaced from their homes.

Uhuru Kenyatta (son of Kenya’s first post-Independence President Jomo Kenyatta) and his Deputy face indictment at the International Criminal Court in the Hague, charged for their alleged role in organising that 2007-8 post-election violence.  

During his meeting with religious leaders, held at the symbolically-named Kenyatta International Conference Centre, Kenyatta urged politicians and all Kenyans to rise above the partisanship of the latest campaign period and join hands to build the country.

The President-elect said Kenyans should focus on nation building, adding that in his government there will be no losers or winners.

Kenyatta said that religious leaders are the custodians of conscience and commended them for playing what he called the ‘noble’ role of calling upon the political leadership to maintain high standards of probity and integrity, and to keep to the straight path, however narrow it may be.

“I congratulate the religious leadership for the manner in which it has continued to engage the political leadership in all matters of national interest. My government will nurture this tradition,” said Kenyatta.

Pakistan: the bitter fruits of a radicalised society

-- a call to pray for the Church in Pakistan

By Elizabeth Kendal
Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) 201
Special to ASSIST News Service

Christian neighborhood vandalized
 over alleged blasphemy row in Lahore
AUSTRALIA (ANS) -- Sawan Masih (26) is a sanitation worker and Christian resident of Joseph Colony in Badami Bagh, Lahore. For some years now he has wrapped up his day by sharing a drink with his friend and neighbour Shahid Imran, a Muslim. They would sit together outside Shahid's barber shop drinking locally brewed hooch. Though their debates sometimes got heated, they would just sleep it off and start afresh the next day.

On the evening of 7 March, the men had one of their drink-fuelled arguments. This time, however, a good night's sleep failed to clear the slate. The next day, Shahid claimed Sawan had blasphemed during their spat.

Like a spark casually flicked in an incendiary tinderbox, the rumour exploded and spread like wildfire. As soon as Sawan heard what Shahid had done, he fled for his life. Later that evening, inflamed Muslims marched from a nearby mosque to the Masihs' home. To pacify the mob, the police took Sawan's father Chaman Masih into custody. While local Muslims ransacked the Masihs' home, members of the Sunni Tehreek-i-Taliban presented the police with two alleged witnesses who claimed to have heard Sawan's blasphemy. A blasphemy charge was registered, again primarily for the purpose of pacifying the mob. But registering a blasphemy complaint is hardly enough to douse a fire-storm of Islamic fury these days. With rumours circulating that worse was to come, the police advised the Christian community to flee, which they did.

The next day, Saturday 9 March, thousands of Muslims, mostly from the ethnic Pakhtun community, descended on the Christian colony with weapons and fuel to inflict collective punishment. Sources told Morning Star News that the provincial government led by the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) had ordered police not to hinder the protesters and 'let them vent their grief and anger'. With the colony vacated and the police immobilised, the Muslims went freely from door to door, plundering and ransacking..

 By 11:30am Joseph Colony was ablaze. By the time the fire brigade turned up at 3pm, at least 160 homes, 18 shops and two churches -- Assemblies of God and Roman Catholic -- had been looted and burnt. According to the City Superintendent of Police, up to 7000 people took part in the attack. Police are saying they have Sawan in 'protective custody'. Knowing what lies ahead, Sawan's mother is distraught. 'I want my son back,' she wails, 'please bring my son back.'

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan laments, 'The attack is y et another shameful incident against a vulnerable community and further confirmation of the slide toward extremism in society on the one hand and, on the other hand, the apathy and inaction that has become the norm among the police.' On Sunday 10 March Christians rallied in Lahore, Karachi, Islamabad and Multan, expressing their fear, grief and anger over their deepening insecurity. Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif told a private meeting in his home that the attack was in no way a service to Pakistan or Islam. What he really needs to do is get that message accepted in the thousands of hyper-radical mosques and madrassas spread across Punjab. Pakistan has a population of 185 million with Christians accounting for about 2.45 percent (Operation World 2010).

Decades of Saudi-sponsored Islamisation, Sunni radicalisation and impunity are producing bitter fruits: local Muslims prepared to kill and destroy their Christian neighbours. Shi'ite Muslims (30 percent, mostly ethnic Hazara) and Hindus (1.5 percent) are also experiencing esca lating systematic persecution. Pakistan is becoming increasingly intolerant and lawless as it lurches towards collapse and disintegration. When local civilians are prepared to eliminate their neighbours on ethnic, caste and/or religious grounds, then the environment is clearly genocidal.

intervene and secure justice for Sawan Masih, as well as security for his extended family and compensation for the Christian community of Joseph Colony.

draw the wounded and traumatised into his embrace, comforting and healing their broken hearts and providing all their needs. 'The Lord is my shepherd . . . He restores my soul. . . You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies . . .' (Psalm 23:1a,3a,5a ESV). THANK YOU Father that nobody was killed.

awaken those who have been turned into killers, bringing a profound conviction of sin upon all who wou ld be willing killers of their own neighbours.

bring a profound sense of shame on Pakistan, so pervasive it demands and enables deep, risky reform at the mosque and madrassa level; may this and a sense of failure and great danger prompt many to seek out a new and better way.
SEE ALSO: Deepening divide leaves Pakistan staring into the abyss
Pakistan's Supreme Court admits a blasphemy petition against Sherry Rehman, Pakistan's Ambassador to the USA.
By Elizabeth Kendal, Religious Liberty Monitoring, 7 March 2013.

Iran: Five Christians Receive Exorbitant Bail Demands

By Dan Wooding
Founder of ASSIST Ministries

SHIRAZ, IRAN (ANS) -- Five members of the Church of Iran denomination appeared before a judge at the 14th Branch of the Revolutionary Court in Shiraz, Fars Province on March 10 and were handed exorbitant bail terms
According to Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), Mohammad Roghangir, Surush Saraie, Eskandar Rezaie, Shahin Lahooti and Massoud Rezaie are charged with disturbing public order, evangelizing, action against national security and an internet activity against the system.

Their trial was expected to commence on March 10; however, during their court appearance, Judge Sadati set bail for Mohammed Roghangir at US$ 200,000, while the others were asked for US$ 80,000 each. No date was set for the continuation of the trial.

CSW says that the five Christians were among seven people arrested on 12 October 2012 during an evening raid by the security services on a house in Shiraz where a prayer service led by Mr. Roghangir was underway. They were initially held in Plaque 100, the Intelligence Ministry's notorious detention centre, before being transferred to Adel-Abad Prison, where they are held separately from other prisoners.

Andrew Johnston, Advocacy Director at Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), said, "CSW is concerned that the Iranian authorities continue to characterize legitimate religious activities as crimes against the state. In addition to our concern at these charges, we also deplore the exorbitant bail demands, which are increasingly common and appear to be designed to economically cripple families and congregations. We continue to call for the release of all prisoners of conscience, without recourse to extortionate payments, and in line with Iran's undertakings under Article 18 of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights."

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

Burma - warning against euphoria over reforms, as military targets minorities Attacks against Kachin Christians and Muslim Rohingyas continue

Dha Der Church in Burma, seen here in October 2010,
 was rebuilt 18 months later (World Watch Monitor)

Christians around the world who have been praying for Burma have been warned against ‘euphoria’ over reform, while Christian and Muslim minorities remain under attack by the military.

Sunday March 10th, 2013, the 16th anniversary of the Global Day of Prayer for Burma (started by Aung San Suu Kyi), celebrated some progress, but warned that grave issues remained, especially continuing attacks against the Kachin and Rohingya minorities.

The Day of Prayer followed a new report claiming government troops have destroyed 66 churches in Kachin State in the north of Burma, and are using rape as a weapon of war. The report, by the Kachin Women's Association of Thailand (KWAT), also claimed the military are using rape as a weapon of war. Speakers in London said non-Buddhist religious minorities were being deliberately targeted under a policy of Burmanisation. The aim was to unite the country under the army and under Buddhism.

A speaker for the Kachin National Organisation accused the President of Burma, Thein Sein (who has been visiting Europe) of lying over his claim to have ordered a ceasefire with the Kachin. Hkanhpa Sadan demanded that the president be indicted for war crimes for calling down air strikes against the Kachin in December 2012 and January 2013.

According to reports, more than 100,000 Kachin have been displaced since the ceasefire collapsed in 2011, and in Rakhine State, to the west, more than 120,000 Muslim Rohingya have been driven from their homes. Many are starving.

The international prayer event coincided with the first party congress in Burma of the National League for Democracy, led by Aung San Suu Kyi. In London, disappointment was expressed over the Nobel Peace laureate’s failure to intervene to protect the ethnic minorities under attack from the Burma army.

The European Union is currently reviewing a temporary suspension of sanctions against Burma. British Parliamentarian Baroness Cox, who has just returned from Kachin State, confirmed to the BBC that military attacks were continuing against the Kachin and called on the EU to maintain sanctions against Burma.

Read full story...

Copyright 2013 World Watch Monitor

Urgent Statement to Condemn Attacks on Innocent Copts in Libya and Call for Actions

WASHINGTON, March 12, 2013 /Christian Newswire/ -- Coptic Solidarity condemns in the strongest terms the unlawful acts by the group Ansarul Sharia in Libya to arrest, torture and detain dozens of Copts; and the detention by Libya's Preventive Security department in Tripoli of the Coptic man Ezzat Hakim Atallah for ten days until he died on March 9 under torture, and the detention of his Coptic colleagues Imad Seddik Ibrahim, Issa Ibrahim Isaac, Emad Shaker, Sharif Ramses, and others who are still being subjected to torture inside the Preventive Security building.

Event Details:

What: Coptic Solidarity calls for a peaceful demonstration in front of the Libyan Embassy

When: At noon on Thursday, March 14, 2013

2600 Virginia Avenue, NW Suite 705
Washington, D.C., 20037

Coptic Solidarity further demands that the Libyan authorities at the highest levels order the immediate release of all Copts detained in Libya under the despicable and idiotic charges of proselytizing, simply based on possessing Christian books for personal use.

Coptic Solidarity demands that the Libyan authorities conduct a just investigation into the death of Izzat Hakim Atallah, punish those responsible and compensate fairly the victims' families.

Coptic Solidarity condemns in the strongest terms the Egyptian authorities, especially the foreign minister, the ambassador in Libya and the Consul in Benghazi, for their failure to defend their fellow citizens. In contrast, the presidency and the foreign ministry had enthusiastically rushed to defend a Muslim Brotherhood cell that was arrested in the United Arab Emirates on charges of threatening the country's national security. The attitude of the Egyptian authorities in dealing with the Coptic citizens is shameful.

Coptic Solidarity demands international bodies and organizations and human rights organizations to immediately intervene to stop the flagrant attacks on innocent Copts in Libya, and to conduct investigations and accordingly pursue those responsible.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Pakistan's Christians sort through rubble

(Pakistan images courtesy Christian Aid Mission)

Pakistan (MNN) ― Although Lahore seems calm today, it's been three days of anything but calm in Eastern Pakistan.

On Friday, an argument started between a Muslim and a Christian in the Joseph Colony, a Christian area in Lahore. After prayers that same day, thousands of Muslims took to the streets and took up the call of blasphemy. By Saturday, says Christian Aid Mission spokesman Bill Bray, "There were 170 homes in Lahore, in that area--Joseph colony there, that had been destroyed."

The story spread, as did the arson attacks. "The rioting had spread to Karachi, Islamabad, Multan, and Rawalpindi. In all those cities, burnings and looting of Christian homes and shops" took place. Because police had done little to stop the violence, Bray says, "On Sunday after church, the Christians went out and began to demonstrate and call for police protection."

Police arrested 150 suspects following the arson attack, which was sparked by accusations of blasphemy. Bray notes, "The problem is these terrible blasphemy laws. Their legislature needs to rewrite the blasphemy laws. We just really need to pray for Pakistan."

Law 295a -- blaspheming Islam, and Law 295b -- blaspheming the Qur'an, are criminal offenses. Law 295c makes blaspheming Mohammed a crime punishable by death. Courtrooms packed with militants have often pressured judges into returning a guilty verdict or continuing trials indefinitely. It takes very little to stir whole communities to riot. The accusation itself is hard to disprove.

The good news: "None of our missionaries that we support in the projects that we support have been killed or destroyed in this violence." In fact, police had evacuated the area prior to the Muslim rampage. While frustrating, authorities say the move kept the number of casualties to a minimum.

Still, the emotional scars of the attack will remain vivid for weeks to come. The physical damage is heavy, too. These attacks took place in a poor part of the city. Bray says by yesterday, they were already overloaded by requests. An assessment is underway to determine the best ways Christian Aid can help.

"We're getting calls for help to rebuild churches, help to rebuild homes and families," explains Bray. "The average Christian probably sustained about $10,000 USD damage, which would be a lifetime's savings."
Christian Aid supports indigenous missionaries in Pakistan who provide relief aid in the midst of disaster, distribute Christian literature, and open up Christian schools to educate the poor, all while living with the threat of persecution and violence.

Although Pakistan promises religious freedom for minorities in its Constitution, in practice minority religions are fiercely persecuted. The Rimsha Masih case prompted a debate on blasphemy laws, but others still face charges, and extremist groups continue to incite hatred for Christians. Still, it's an opportunity for the story of Jesus Christ to be told. "Probably, it helps the Gospel more than it harms it," Bray observes. "I think that it helps people be sympathetic to Christians. In quiet moments, it promotes the dialogue between Muslims and Christians."

Pray that Christians in Pakistan will have a bold testimony to those around them. Pray for protection for Christians facing intimidation and threats. Give thanks that the Christian population is growing and a steady but significant trickle of Muslims are joining churches.

It's a battle for the next generation in Russia

Joseph Stalin

Russia (MNN) ― The political winds continue to change in Russia. Many Christians in that country are concerned about the loss of religious freedom under President Vladimir Putin. While it's a far cry from Joseph Stalin, Putin appears to be turning back the clock as it relates to free speech and religious freedom.

Joel Griffith with Slavic Gospel Association says there are questions. "What direction is Putin going? Well, you can't really say he's a communist. He isn't, but he's not really what you would call a western democrat, either."
Since President Vladimir Putin came into power in 2000, he has "launched a comprehensive program to ideologically reeducate society," Lev Gudkov, director of independent Levada Center polling group, told Reuters. 

"Putin's spin doctors did not deny that Stalin's regime had conducted mass arrests and executions but tried to minimize these events...while emphasizing as far as possible the merits of Stalin as military commander and statesman who had modernized the country and turned it into one of the worlds two superpowers," Gudkov wrote.

"There was no doubt that Stalin certainly did build the Soviet system to a position of military might, but the human cost was really high," Griffith says.  

"Joseph Stalin has a very bloody legacy," Griffith continues. "Even compared to the other communist and dictators that followed him, Stalin was--among all of them--the bloodiest. Millions of people died at his orders or as a result of his orders.

"From a Christian perspective, you look back on it and see how Stalin persecuted the church. There was a brief period of thaw during WWII, when the believers were needed for support, so he stopped the persecution of churches for a while. 

Then after the war was over, it was resumed with a renewed vigor. So Stalin, from the perspective of believers, has an awful bloody legacy."

In a 1994 poll, two-thirds of Russians agreed with the statement that "Stalin was a cruel, inhuman tyrant, responsible for the deaths of millions of innocent people." But for the last 13 years of his power, Putin has put a different light on Stalin.
In a 2013 poll, asking the same questions asked in 1994, 47% of respondents said Stalin was "a wise leader who brought the Soviet Union to might and prosperity." Only 32% of those who responded said it was negative. This is roughly the opposite of the 1994 survey.

Many older Christians remember the days when fellow believers would disappear in the night, never to be seen again. 

But the younger generation has only stories to rely on when it comes to Stalin, says Griffith. "The generation that's growing up now has no memory of that communist past, and that certainly is a concern. We've really got to pray for the next generation as well, that they are able to have a really firm, truthful historical grasp."

Pray that believers will continue to share the good news of Christ in Russia. "I don't think we can ever let our guard down as prayer warriors for believers over there," urges Griffith. "They are going to continue advancing the Gospel, no matter what."

Official Pakistan condemns attacks on Lahore Christians

Hundreds of houses burned, leading to protests across country

Pakistan’s national assembly joined a chorus of condemnation Monday following Saturday’s rioting in Lahore by Muslims that prompted Christians to flee before scores of their houses were burned.

“We fled for our lives, do not ask us where we are,” a Christian teacher sobbed to World Watch Monitor before her phone went dead.

“Everything is gone and they will come and get us next,” said another Christian, who refused to leave Badami Bagh, a working-class urban sector of Lahore. “We have decided it is best to stay and lay low. If they come we will also flee, but we pray they will not. We do not know if their rage has been satisfied.”

News reports quote Lahore police as saying the rioting was sparked by an argument between a Christian and a Muslim who had been talking over drinks. Savan Masih, a sweeper, had been drinking with a friend, Shahid Imran, in Shahid’s barber shop, as was their custom, according to the Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement, a Christian organization.

The next day, Friday, Shahid claimed Savan had uttered a blasphemy against the prophet Mohammed. Under Pakistan law, insulting Mohammed is punishable by death. Though the penalty has yet to be carried out, the mere accusation of blasphemy alone has, in other cases, led to rioting and murder.

Press reports say a mosque broadcast the complaint from loudspeakers. Upwards of 2,000 Muslims converged on the Joseph Colony portion of Badami Bagh, threatening to burn Christians in their homes unless they left. Hundreds of families fled.

On Saturday, an estimated 3,000 Muslims, some armed, and some with flammable chemicals, looted and torched about 150 houses in the area and beat Christians who were unable to flee, including children and the elderly, according to news accounts. So far, there have been no reports of deaths.

“There is nothing left in the houses of the Christians of Joseph Colony. They have lost everything and they are helpless,” the legal-aid center said.

Among the houses torched was that of Savan Masih, who has three children and lives with his parents. One news report claims announcements were made at mosques to kill his family. Masih has since been arrested and charged with blasphemy under section 295-C of the Pakistan penal code.

Throughout the rest of the weekend, Christians across Pakistan waged angry demonstrations, clashing with police in Lahore and Karachi. In Lahore, police used batons and fired into the air to try to calm the crowds. Some 300 protesters were arrested, according to the Pakistan Daily Times, and 60 were injured. Several police were also hurt by stones, according to Reuters. Crowds in Lahore pelted a bus station with stones and damaged shops belonging to Muslims. Street fighting with police continued into the evening.

The Punjab Law Minister warned Christians not to take the law into their own hands, and not all demonstrations were violent.

Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Monday issued an order demanding a report on the Badami Bagh riots. The order said Lahore police had failed to protect residents in the face of Saturday’s angry mob. Police say they have arrested about 150 people.

Tensions are running high in Pakistan, where elections are slated for May. In the Joseph Colony, Christians have been anxious for years.

“We live in constant fear of being accused of blasphemy,” one resident told World Watch Monitor last year.

“One day they will get us for blasphemy,” added a Christian worker. “They always say we should stop teaching people about God’s ways and freedom, and if we do not they will come looking for us and make up a case against us.”

Christians have lived in Badami Bagh since Pakistan and India were partitioned in 1947. Many of them are poor, illiterate and work as domestic servants for their Muslim neighbours.

“We live here because God has called us to minister and reach those who have never been able to read or write,” said a teacher who lives in the area. “Many of our students and the people we work with have been abused and have faced persecution in so many different ways.”

The attacks on the Joseph Colony were condemned by the President of the Pakistan Christian Congress, Nazir Bhatti, who told the Pakistan Christian Post, “The Punjab government has failed to provide security of life and property to Punjab’s 18 million Christians.” Christians make up the largest minority group in Punjab.

The Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement has defended many Christians in Pakistan against charges of blasphemy, which it says often are made to settle scores with rivals. Saturday’s attack, the center said, was motivated by a desire to seize land belonging to Christians.

On Monday, the National Assembly interrupted its agenda to condemn the attack, while the Supreme Court rejected an initial Punjab government report on the rioting. The bench threw out the report because it failed to mention the reasons behind the incident or state what actions had been taken against the perpetrators. Minority-rights organizations across the country added their condemnation of the attack on the Christian enclave.

Christians in Joseph Colony who lost their homes have been offered compensation of at least 500,000 rupees, or about US $5,000, and promised their homes will be quickly rebuilt.

(Additional sources: BBC; The Centre for Legal Aid; Assistance and Settlement; Pakistan Christian Post; Reuters; Pakistan Daily Times; the News International, Pakistan; Express News Pakistan;



Copyright 2013 World Watch Monitor

Christian Protesters Decry Muslim Mob's Arson Spree Following Blasphemy Charge

By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service

ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN (ANS) -- Outraged Pakistani Christians took to the streets of Lahore on Sunday, protesting a rash of violence against their community over the weekend.

According to a story by Nasir Habib for CNN, demonstrators denounced the burning of more than 100 homes of Christians on Saturday.
 The activity was initiated by allegations that a Christian man made remarks against the Muslim prophet Mohammed.

Some of the hundreds of protesters Sunday threw stones at police, saying the government failed to adequately protect Christians, Lahore senior police official Rai Tahir said.

CNN reported Tahir said video footage of the fires helped lead to the arrests of more than 150 attackers. He said charges of terrorism have been filed against the suspects.

The violence that tore through Lahore's Badami Bagh community Saturday followed the arrest of Sawan Masih, a Christian in his 20's accused of blasphemy.

CNN said Masih's arrest wasn't enough to appease an angry mob of Muslims irate over the alleged crime.
"(The) mob wanted police to hand them over the alleged blasphemer," said Hafiz Majid, a senior police official in Badami Bagh.

The mob also looted some shops run by Christians, CNN reported he said.

Majid added that Christians have fled the area for fear of being killed.

If convicted, Masih faces the death penalty.

He denies the allegations made by the two men who filed the blasphemy complaint against him with police on Friday, CNN reported Majid said.

Masih said the three got into an argument while drinking and that the other two men threatened to publicly accuse him of blasphemy, according to Majid.

"The attack is yet another shameful incident against a vulnerable community and further confirmation of the slide toward extremism in society on the one hand and, on the other hand, the apathy and inaction that has become the norm among the police," CNN reported the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan said in a statement.

The group accused police of arresting Christians in the incident, "while those who went on a rampage and can easily be identified from television footage have gone scot-free."

CNN said Pakistan's blasphemy laws were first instituted to keep peace between religions. However, they have been criticized by human rights advocates who say the laws enable legal discrimination against religious minorities. At time, the laws have been misused to settle personal differences between Muslims and Christians.

There have been about 1,400 blasphemy cases since the laws were first enacted in 1986, according to U.S.-based Human Rights Watch. There are more than 15 cases of people on death row for blasphemy in Pakistan, and more than 50 people have been killed while facing trial for the charge, according to the organization.

Last year, CNN reported, a Pakistani court dismissed blasphemy charges against a Christian teenager whose case prompted international outrage.

Her detention stirred up religious tensions in the predominantly Muslim country. It also generated fierce criticism of Pakistani authorities and renewed debate over Pakistan's blasphemy laws.

CNN said President Asif Ali Zardari issued a statement Saturday on the most recent "unfortunate incident."

He said the country's constitution protects the rights of all Pakistanis, and that "such acts of vandalism against minorities tarnish the image of the country."

Debunking rumor re: Youcef Nadarkhani

(Images courtesy Present Truth Ministries)

Iran (MNN) ― You know how internet rumors run. They get started from some misinformation and sometimes runs for months.

That's the case surrounding the erroneous story of the execution of Iranian Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani. There were fears that the Iranian pastor had been killed after Facebook messages surfaced last week.

Jason Demars of Present Truth Ministries who was very involved in the Pastor Youcef case explains: "The Anglican vicar in Baghdad is a reliable person. I'm not sure where he got the information from, but they were basically reporting...the status he put on his Facebook page."

When Demars heard that story, "I began to reach out to some of my contacts to see if they could get in touch with the family to verify whether that was the case or not." Demars and Present Truth Ministries were very involved in the Pastor Youcef case. Soon, he heard back from his contacts. "They did reach the family and were able to confirm that he's alive and doing fine."

Last September, an Iranian court acquitted him on apostasy charges, a charge which carries the death-sentence. Instead, the court sentenced him to three years for "evangelizing Muslims." Since he had already spent nearly three years in Lakan Prison, he posted bail and was released on January 7.

Misinformation is common in stories from closed or creative access nations, so sometimes it's hard to know what's really happening. Demars says credibility is really important when communicating security -sensitive information. It's important "when we're asked about situations, to follow through and get direct confirmation of the news."

Even though this story was proven false, there are other Iranian Christians who are serving long prison terms. Iranian-born American Pastor Saeed Abedini is serving an eight-year prison term in Tehran's notorious Evin Prison on charges linked to his Christian faith.

Both the Voice of the Martyrs and Open Doors have noted the uptick in harassment against Christians. Iranian authorities seem to be targeting the growing number of Muslim-background believers who often worship in underground house churches.

Iran ranks 8th on the Open Doors World Watch list, a compilation of the top 50 countries around the world known for their persecution of Christians. Evangelism, Bible training, and publishing Scriptures in Farsi are illegal.

However, Open Doors notes that many disillusioned Iranian Muslims are becoming curious about Christianity. Demars says for those who can provide answers from the Gospel, "Pray for their safety, pray that they have wisdom in their dealings from day to day and that they would continue doing what God has called them to do with strength and faith."

The problem is: rumors like this one sometimes take a while to die down. They can be distracting. Be part of the solution. Demars says, "As these things come up, learn more about them and be an advocate for the persecuted, as well."

Clashes, protests stir Bangladesh

(Photo by Rajiv Ashrafi)
Bangladesh (MNN) ― Deadly political unrest in Bangladesh continued to escalate over the weekend. 

Hundreds of demonstrators rallied in Dhaka at the end of last week, demanding capital punishment to the war criminals, and a ban on Jamaat-e-Islami. The date last week had historic significance.

On March 07, 1971, the Independence leader of Bangladesh Sheikh Mujibar Rahman asked people to make the Bangladesh free from Pakistan. On March 26, 1971, Bangladeshis started the liberation war against Pakistan. Horrors and crimes against humanity followed. 

This month's uproar is blamed on the verdict of a tribunal, which was supposed to help Bangladesh come to terms with its bloody birth in 1971. However, the verdict seems to have provoked an outcry louder than any other heard in their 42 year history. 

It's not likely to die down soon. Shahbagh demonstrators staged rallies in Uttara, Chittagong, and Ashulia on March 10 and had plans to strike again on March 16.

Over 50 people have been killed, and many houses have been burnt in the rallies. Transportation has become difficult in the major cities. Some persecution of minority religious groups has occurred. 

So far, all Compassion-assisted families and Compassion staff members are safe and unharmed. As a precaution, Compassion Bangladesh temporarily suspended project activities of 20 centers last week. Re-opening is dependent on whether or not the turmoil settles down over the next few days.

All staff members have been instructed to be on emergency alert. Additionally, due to the difficulties, the staff of Compassion Bangladesh has enough to do without having to be concerned over the safety of visitors. For the time being, they won't be hosting any Tours or Vision trips.

Every child who participates in a Compassion program is given the opportunity to learn about Jesus and discover how to develop a lifelong relationship with God. This good news is modeled and shared in age-appropriate and culturally relevant ways. Community transformation results. 

Please pray for the protection of Compassion-assisted families and Compassion staff members throughout Bangladesh.

Pakistan: Blasphemy Accusation Triggers Burning Of As Many As 100 Homes in Christian Neighborhood in Lahore

Another illustration of mob violence against Christians in the country

By Dan Wooding
Founder of ASSIST Ministries

LAHORE, PAKISTAN (ANS) -- A highly-charged mob of between 3,000 and 4,000 extremists set torched as many as 100 houses in the Christian-majority area of Joseph Colony, Badami Bagh, Lahore, over the weekend to "take revenge of the blasphemy" allegedly committed by a young Christian.
This pictures posted on a social
networking site says it all

Eyewitnesses said that the mob broke into houses, looted them and burnt the remaining belongings on the roads. At least two police officers were reportedly injured when the mob pelted a police contingent with stones.

According to Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), the violence was reportedly triggered by a blasphemy accusation made against a young Christian, Savan Masih.

"The unrest spiraled as word spread of the allegation and protestors demanded his arrest," said a spokesperson for CSW. "Police took him into custody today, but it is unclear whether or not he has been formally charged. At least one local religious leader has openly called for Savan to be killed."

The mob also attacked Savan's house, setting it on fire and pelting it with stones.

A protestor celebrates the burning of homes (Photo: Abid Nawaz/Express, Pakistan)
Nearly all the residents of Joseph Colony, home to around 150 Christian families, including women and children, hastily fled the area in anticipation of the attacks, some on the advice of local police.

Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari said that he has "taken notice of the incident" and has sought a report from authorities, reported Radio Pakistan.

Dr. Paul Bhatti, Advisor to the Pakistan's Prime Minister on Interfaith and Harmony has condemned the incident and called all relevant authorities to "ensure the safety of the Christians of Pakistan."

Punjab Law Minister, Rana Sanaullah, told Pakistan's Express News that he saw no reason for the mob's violence especially after the person accused of blasphemy had been arrested on Friday. He added that cases have been registered against those responsible for Saturday's vandalism and that they will be prosecuted. He also stated publicly that the Christians "will be compensated for the loss of property."

A protester burns belongings from Christian houses in Lahore on Saturday (Photo: Abid Nawaz/Express, Pakistan)
Michelle Chaudhry, activist and Executive Director of the Cecil & Iris Chaudhry Foundation, also condemned the attacks, saying, "The residents of Joseph Colony are among some of the poorest in Lahore and now many have lost everything - it is crucial that the government follows through on its promises to provide compensation.

"It is however encouraging that we have been receiving messages and offers of support from Muslim friends all day. It reminds us that this country does still have a soul."

According to ANS correspondent, Shamim Masih,  on hearing the news, Christians of Islamabad/Rawalpindi, cancelled all their engagements and immediately convened an emergency meeting about this incident.

"Later," he said, "Christians, human rights activists, and members of the local civil society, staged a protest at the National Press Club, Islamabad. They were holding banners and shouting slogans against on the attack on the poor Christians of Joseph Colony, Lahore."

Basharat Khokhar, a human rights activist said that the "ugly fact is that the blasphemy laws are an enabler of mob violence against vulnerable groups."

Christians of Islamabad/Rawalpindi staged protest against the latest shocking incident (Photo: Shamim Masih)
He added, "As long as such laws remain on the books and the authorities remain unwilling or unable to rein in mobs playing judge, jury and executioner, Pakistan will remain plagued by abuse in the name of religion."

In August 2012, a similar incident was narrowly averted in Islamabad, in the wake of the false blasphemy charge against a Christian teenager, Rimsha Masih. The Christian community fled their homes in fear of violence in that instance as well. Eventually, Rimsha was acquitted and freed, but not until there was much suffering by the local Christian community at the hands of extremists.

Mervyn Thomas, Chief Executive of Christian Solidarity Worldwide, said, "We are shocked and saddened to hear of another terrible attack of this kind. While blasphemy accusations do affect Pakistanis of all faiths, cases against minorities routinely lead to the violent targeting of the wider community of the accused. It is absolutely unacceptable that local police did not take more serious measures to prevent this entirely foreseeable violence.

"Just as the handling of Rimsha Masih's case represented a step forwards, this situation underlines the huge amount of work that remains to be done. The lessons of past episodes of violence have still not been learnt. We strongly condemn these attacks and call upon the Pakistani government to take immediate steps to increase security in the area, to support those who have fled, to arrest those inciting and carrying out the violence, and to ensure that the blasphemy accusation is properly and fairly investigated so that mob justice does not prevail."

Six Children Killed in Slaughter of Families in Plateau State

Nigeria Islamic extremists suspected in murder of 10 Christians in village near Jos

By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service

KOGOM TAH, NIGERIA (ANS) -- Regina Luka does not know whether it was rogue soldiers or Islamic terrorists who invaded her two-family dwelling and killed 10 Christians.
Regina Luka on her hospital bed after the attack in Plateau state. (Morning Star News photo)
According to a story by Morning Star News, all she knows is that her husband and two young children are dead.

Luka, 20, was recovering from gunshot and machete wounds on her legs and back when she spoke with Morning Star News about the attack on Feb. 21 in Kogom Tah, about 30 kilometers (19 miles) southwest of Jos in central Nigeria's Plateau state.

From her bed at Vom Christian Hospital about six miles from the village, she said she and her brother-in-law's family had gathered in front of their joint-home compound to discuss burial arrangements for their recently deceased grandfather when gunmen began shooting sporadically at them.

"I ran into our house and straight into our bedroom to take cover and to ensure that my children were safe, but minutes after getting into the room, some gunmen forced their way into the room, shooting and cutting anyone they found with machetes," Morning Star News said the tearful Luka recounted.

Flying bullets forced her to dive under a bed, but the assailants dragged her out, cut her back with a machete and shot her buttocks and leg.

"Six of us had run into that room, but five were killed while I was the lone survivor in the room," Luka said.
Morning Star News said she added, "Those who attacked us thought I was dead, and so they left."

In that bedroom, her 30-year-old brother-in-law, Jacob Musa, was killed along with his wife, Naomi Jacob, 25, and their three children: Blessing Jacob, 5; Dachollom Jacob, 4; and Ayuba Jacob, 1. Killed in another room in the dwelling was her husband, Luka, and their two children, 4-year-old Aaron Luka and 2-year-old Mary Luka.

Also killed were relatives Dawan Musa, 18, and 15-year-old Benjamin Joseph.

Morning Star News said along with Regina Luka, 15-year-old John Dalyop was wounded in the attack.
Morning Star News reported that a nurse at the hospital, Chundung Badung, said Regina Luka's gunshot and machete wounds were very serious, and that she had undergone a blood transfusion.

"Right now she cannot afford to pay for medical bills, because her husband and children were killed in the attack," Badung said. "So an NGO (Non-Governmental Organization) has provided her with some free medications. She needs support from others who may be moved by the Spirit to assist her."

The slain relatives had worshiped at New Life Christ Church, one of four churches in Kogom Tah village.
Morning Star News said Rev. John Mwatbang, the 58-year-old pastor of their church, said he was sitting with his family at home at about 7:30 p.m. when he heard gunshots about two kilometers away.

"I quickly instructed my family to remain indoors while I found out what was going on there," he said. "I knew that members of my church must be in danger, as I heard shootings without end. By the time I got to Regina's house, the attackers had left, and I saw 10 dead bodies in the compound."

Morning Star News said the identities of the attackers were unknown. Ethnic Fulani herders, primarily Muslim, have longstanding tribal conflict with predominantly Christian farmers from the Berom tribe, and Islamic terrorist groups have aided and encouraged Fulani attacks on Christian areas.

Some residents reportedly said the assailants wore military uniforms, and others said Special Task Force (STF) personnel charged with preventing such attacks did not come after receiving emergency calls.
Morning Star News said an STF spokesman later said local residents attacked the STF forces, preventing them from reaching the site. Claiming the assailants were STF soldiers, Vwang District head Choji Balack reportedly said the Fulani could not "carry out such shooting."

Whether Fulanis, trained terrorists or Muslim extremist soldiers breaking ranks with the STF, Mwatbang and other residents said the onslaught had all the markings of previous Islamist assaults.

"There is no doubt that this is an Islamic agenda," Mwatbang told Morning Star News. "It is a plan to wipe us Christians out of this part of Nigeria."

Morning Star News said the pastor, whose church was established in 1960 and has about 350 members, said that in spite of complaints to the Nigerian government about how the area has become a terrorist target, the administration has made no serious effort at protection.
The slaughter was the second in the area in less than a year, he said.

Plateau state lies between Nigeria's primarily Muslim north and largely Christian south. Christians make up 51.3 percent of Nigeria's population of 158.2 million, while Muslims account for 45 percent. Nigerians practicing indigenous religions may be as high as 10 percent of the total population, according to Operation World, so the percentages of Christians and Muslims may be less.
For the surviving members of the Kogom Tah Christian community, Morning Star News reported, village life feels like walking through a minefield.

"We do not know the hour or the time the attackers would come back to attack us again," said a resident who declined to give his name.

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