Saturday, July 27, 2013

Christian jailed for text messages in Gojra, Pakistan

Islamists demand death penalty for 'blasphemy' as another couple awaits trial
“Only one punishment for the blasphemer; sever his head from the body... Life imprisonment not acceptable, not acceptable and not acceptable.”
“Only one punishment for the blasphemer; sever his head from the body... Life imprisonment not acceptable, not acceptable and not acceptable.”
World Watch Monitor
Tensions are high in the Punjabi city of Gojra after a court sentenced a Christian man, Sajjad Masih, to life imprisonment for blasphemy, only weeks before the fourth anniversary of an outbreak of extreme violence against Christians in the same city.
In August 2009, seven Christians from the same family were killed – six burned to death – and more than 100 Christian homes set alight by angry Muslims, again over an accusation of blasphemy.
Now, even as local Islamists demanded that Masih’s life imprisonment sentence be exchanged for the death penalty, a further blasphemy case was lodged on July 20; police arrested a Christian couple who were sent to jail the next day.
On July 13, the Gojra Additional Sessions Court convicted Masih of committing blasphemy under Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code; for insulting Muhammad, which carries the death penalty.
Masih had been accused of sending blasphemous text messages in a case first lodged in December 2011. Despite an absence of evidence, the court sentenced Masih to life imprisonment (25 years in Pakistan).
The alleged text messages were sent from a SIM card registered in the name of Masih’s former fiancée, Roma. Neither the cell phone nor the SIM was recovered from Masih during police investigation. Nor was there any eyewitness or forensic evidence available. 
Analysts say lower court judges, who are provided little security in Pakistan, often concede to pressure from religious groups in blasphemy cases and convict the accused even if little evidence is available.
Some say this is the reason the judge awarded Masih life imprisonment (though not the death penalty) rather than acquitting him.
The day after the verdict, hard-line Islamists staged a sit-in on Mankanwala Crossing in Gojra and condemned the court’s decision.
The protestors demanded Masih’s death, chanting that nothing less than the death of a ‘blasphemer’ was acceptable.
Banners were hung across the city which read: “Only one punishment for the blasphemer; sever his head from the body... Life imprisonment not acceptable, not acceptable and not acceptable.”
This slogan has been promoted in recent years by Lashkar-e-Taiba (currently known as Jammat-ud-Dawa after the US State Department branded Lashkar-e-Taiba a “foreign terrorist organisation” in 2001).
Inter-communal relations in Gojra are tense, especially with the approach of the fourth anniversary of the 2009 attacks. Christians told World Watch Monitor the area’s radical Muslims were again seeking a pretext to attack Christians.
Shafqat & Shaguftah
Catholic couple Shafqat (43) and Shaguftah (40) Masih
* have also been accused of texting blasphemous messages to Islamic clerics.
Complainant Muhammad Hussein says he was offering tarawih (special prayers offered in Ramadan after the breaking of the fast) on July 18 in Talabwali mosque at around 10pm when his cell phone vibrated. He states that after finishing prayer, he checked his cell phone and found blasphemous text messages insulting both Muhammad and the Qur’an.
Gojra City Police Station House Officer Muhammad Nisar told World Watch Monitor that Hussein’s call data revealed the messages were sent from Shaguftah’s cell phone number.
However, she told them that the cell phone had been lost for a month, and that she did not know who might have sent the alleged messages. Nevertheless, the Gojra City Police detained the couple, along with their four children, and pressured them to name someone who could have sent the messages.
Nisar told World Watch Monitor that a large number of Islamic clerics had been enraged when they heard of these text messages, and that they remained in the police station until the First Investigative Report (FIR) was lodged.
In what some say was an attempt to show that progress had been made, the police formally arrested the couple on July 20 and sent them to Toba Tek Singh District Jail the next day.
“Shafqat has admitted to the police he sent the blasphemous messages and gave this statement to the judicial magistrate,” Nisar said.
Riaz Anjum, who is representing the couple, said the police have lodged the case under Section 295-B and 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code, which recommend life imprisonment and the death penalty, respectively, for blasphemy.
Anjum said the police had made stronger the case against the couple by recording Shafqat Masih’s judicial confession. “Investigation should have been done by the senior superintendent before lodging the case, but here the police have extracted a confession from Shafqat which is illegal,” he said.
He said the police have also charged the couple under 25-D of The Telegraph Act of 1985 which recommends a maximum of three years for intentionally “causing annoyance”.
Islamists again staged a sit-in on Mankanwala Crossing on July 23 and demanded death for the couple.
Shafqat Masih’s backbone was fractured in an accident in 2004. Since then he has been restricted to a wheelchair due to the paralysis of his lower body. He is also fitted with a catheter.
Since his accident, Shaguftah Masih has been the only breadwinner for the family’s four children, Ambrose (13), Danish (10), Sarah (7), and Amir (5).
Her brother Joseph told World Watch Monitor she is the eldest of six siblings.
BackgroundPreviously, at least three other cases have been registered against Christians based on blasphemous text messages.
In May 2006, Qamar David was accused of sending blasphemous text messages to various Islamic clerics  in the city of Karachi. He was convicted in February 2010 and died in prison on March 15, 2011.
In January 2009 Hector Aleem and Basharat Khokhar were accused of sending text messages that hurt Muslims’ religious sentiment. They were acquitted of the charge on May 31, 2011. 
Sixteen-year-old Ryan Stanton was charged with sending blasphemous text messages on October 10, 2012. He fled the country for refugee status in Sri Lanka.
Pastor Zafar Bhatti was accused of the same crime on November 11, 2012.
At least two Muslims, Abdul Sattar and Irfan Rafique, have also been charged for sending text messages.
Pakistani minorities and international bodies have long demanded an amendment or repeal of the blasphemy laws to avoid their misuse.
*'Masih', which derives from 'Messiah', is a common name among Christians in Pakistan.

©2013 World Watch Monitor

Iranian Christians continue to face arrest, imprisonment

Eight Christians jailed in Shiraz, two more await sentencing in Tehran

Ebrahim Firouzi, 28, charged with “promoting Christian Zionism, attempting to launch a Christian website, contact with suspicious foreigners and running online church service”.
Ebrahim Firouzi, 28, charged with “promoting Christian Zionism,
attempting to launch a Christian website, contact with suspicious
foreigners and running online church service”.

Mohabat News
The steady flow of Iranian Christians facing arrest and imprisonment on spurious charges continues.
In Shiraz, famous for its cultural significance to Iranians as the home of Persepolis (the ancient “city of the Persians”) and the poet Hafez’s tomb, eight Christians were jailed last week (July 16) for “action against national security” and “propaganda against the system”.
Mohammad Roghangir, Massoud Rezaie, Mehdi Ameruni, Bijan Farokhpour Haghighi, Shahin Lahooti, Suroush Saraie, Eskandar Rezaie and Roxana Forughi were sentenced to between one and six years in prison. They were arrested in October last year – seven of them picked up from the same prayer meeting.
Earlier this month near the capital, Tehran, 28-year-old Christian convert Ebrahim Firouzi was charged with “promoting Christian Zionism”.
Firouzi was arrested in March while at work and released on bail in May. At his trial at the Revolutionary Court in his hometown of Robat Karim, just to the south-west of the capital, he was also charged with “attempting to launch a Christian website, contact with suspicious foreigners and running online church services”.
He rejected the charges, saying the allegations were fabricated by security authorities and interrogators, reports Mohabat News. The trial continues.
In June, another Christian convert, Mostafa Bordbar, 27, was charged with “illegal gathering and participating in a house church”.
Bordbar was arrested in December last year during Christmas celebrations with friends. If found guilty, his lawyer Shima Qousheh said he can expect a prison sentence of between two and ten years.
Bordbar was arrested for apostasy five years ago in his hometown of Rasht. The charge remains on his record. At the time he was forced to pay substantial sums of money for bail – a recurring theme for many of the Christians brought to trial in Iran.

Mostafa Bordbar, 27, charged with “illegal gathering and participating in a house church”.

Mostafa Bordbar, 27, charged with “illegal gathering and
participating in a house church”.

Mohabat News

Five Women Beaten in Public India Marketplace for Sharing Love of Jesus

Gospel for Asia Women's Fellowship Leaders Rejoice in Honor of Enduring Persecution

From Gospel for Asia
For Immediate Release
For More Information Contact:
Taun Cortado @ 972-300-3120 

CARROLLTON, TX (ANS) -- Five women have been beaten by a man in the Andhra Pradesh region of India while sharing about the love of Jesus in a public marketplace. Amazingly spared, they retreated to safety, thanking God for the honor of suffering for his sake.

These five Indian Gospel for Asia-sponsored Women's Fellowship leaders were beaten by a man in a public marketplace for sharing about the love of Jesus. They miraculously escaped their attackers and thank God for the privilege of suffering for him.
The women, all leaders in the Gospel for Asia (GFA)-sponsored Women's Fellowship ministry, had been sharing with store owners and shoppers when one man demanded to know what they were doing. The assault began with a powerful slap to the face of one woman and continued to the others, one of whom was isolated and surrounded by five men.

"Jesus promised persecuting and hardships," said Daniel Punnose, vice president of GFA ( "These young ladies see it worth facing the beatings in order to share the love of Christ."

The women, Bansari, Jaladhi, Kuyil, Sunita and Viveka, were beaten on their faces, ears and heads. All report that no bystanders came to their defense during the ordeal, and that they miraculously escaped from their multiple attackers and were delivered from further harm.

GFA-sponsored Women's Fellowships are intentional ministries across South Asia for women reaching women with the love of Christ in cultures where men are severely limited in ministering to women. Local Women's Fellowships are often nurtured by one of 2,000 GFA-sponsored women missionaries.

Special prayer is requested for the women attacked in Andhra Pradesh, India, and for all the women missionaries and leaders of Women's Fellowships who work in cultures where women endure cultural oppression and degradation.

"When we see young women publicly beaten for the faith, it tells us what the future holds in regards to persecution," said Punnose. "Things will get worse, but the Lord is faithful in all things."

Friday, July 26, 2013

Protestant churches feel the heat in Kazakhstan

Police arrest a group of young people for an unsanctioned religious meeting.
(Image, caption courtesy Christian Aid)
Kazakhstan (CAM) ― Is religious freedom a reality in Kazakhstan? The answer depends on who you ask.

While the constitution of this Central Asian country provides for freedom to worship, in truth it is adherents of traditionally recognized faiths and denominations who enjoy that privilege.

Ironically, says Christian Aid Mission, more restrictive laws were enacted to stem the tide of growing Islamic radicalism in Kazakhstan. In the process, intense government scrutiny of all minority religious groups has led to persecution of Christians, particularly evangelicals.

A law passed in 2011 requires churches and religious organizations to apply for state registration. The process is not that simple, however, as official registration is restricted to groups of 50 people or more. Most Christian congregations in Kazakhstan are small and meet in private homes.

To comply with the new regulations, a group of believers can only gather for worship or prayer in a state-approved location, such as a church building. Since the purchase or construction of building costs anywhere from $12,000 to $18,000 on average, congregations find themselves facing a great dilemma.

Even believers who are members of government-sanctioned churches sometimes encounter harassment from local authorities and have to prove their case in court.

The crackdown has resulted in arrests, steep fines, and imprisonment. According to the Forum 18 News Service Web site, fines were imposed on at least 62 Council of Churches Baptists since the start of 2013. The denomination refuses to pay the fines on principle, considering them in violation of human rights.

In response, the government has reportedly imposed a new set of restrictions on the Baptist churches, banning the members from traveling outside of the country until the fines are satisfied.

The following report was taken verbatim from a Christian Aid-assisted ministry in Kazakhstan. It reveals the extreme measures taken by local authorities to try to stamp out unregistered churches.

On March 31 in a town in eastern Kazakhstan, nine Christians (mainly elderly people) gathered to celebrate Easter, to pray, communicate, and have some tea. After a while, seven police officers came into the apartment. They brought two drunken men with them as witnesses.

Without presenting any documents, the police began to take a video and do a search of the apartment. The senior captain offered to take the Christians to the police station for questioning, but the Christians refused, demanding a good reason for why they should. The answer was that they were engaged in unregistered religious activities.

On April 3, this group of Christians was called to the police station. After police kept them in the office from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m., they were given the interrogation report to sign. The report stated they were engaged in illegal religious activities and storage and sale of drugs. Some of the elderly people signed the report without reading it. But after one woman pointed out the information about drugs, all of them refused to sign it. The authorities threatened to place the group in jail overnight. The Christians sent a statement to the regional prosecutor’s office, including a copy of the document that accused them of storage and sale of drugs.

An administrative court proceeding took place April 18, where four of the Kazakhs were each fined $577 to be paid within one month. The next day, a trial was held for three more of the Christians. Two were fined a penalty of $577 each, and the other individual was fined $1154. Two more people are in the hospital at the present time and haven’t been given a summons to the court. The total sum of fines was $4616.

Before the “law of religious activity,” this small group of Christians was without any need of registration. With the introduction of new rules, the legal features were established. They applied for registration a couple of times since September of last year and were rejected because there were less than 50 people.

Despite opposition, the Kazakh churches continue to grow. About 25% of the country’s population is Christian, most of whom are from the accepted Russian Orthodox denomination. Protestants, making up 0.8%, are viewed with suspicion as dangerous sects that may pose a threat to the government.

Christian Aid assists ministries in Kazakhstan that have planted more than 120 churches and comprise some 12,000 believers. Donors have also provided funding for a Bible school that graduates over 100 students each year and an orphanage that provides compassionate care in the name of Christ to some 300 youngsters.

American Pastor Saeed Abedini: 300 Days in an Iranian Prison

By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service

WASHINGTON D.C. (ANS) -- July 23 marks the 300th day of American Pastor Saeed Abedini's imprisonment in Iran.

Saeed Abedini
According to a story by Jordan Sekulow for the American Center for Law and Justice, (ACLJ), nearly a year ago, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard raided the home of Abedini's parents in Tehran and imprisoned him solely because of his faith.

The ACLJ commented, "On account of that same faith, he faced a bogus trial and was convicted and sentenced to a lengthy prison term in Iran's brutal Evin Prison. He has been subjected to beatings and harassment which have caused internal injuries necessitating medical treatment."

Suffering from an internal injury in his stomach, Abedini has needed medical attention for some time. On July 20 2013, he was taken to a private hospital in Tehran for treatment. For the first time, he was examined by a physician and prescribed medication for injuries he sustained from the beatings he endured by prison guards.

On two past occasions, ACLJ said, the 33-year-old Abedini has been taken to the local hospital only to be sent home without examination of or treatment for his injuries. This time , authorities proved that they have heard the international outcry for medical attention.

Abedini's wife Naghmeh Abedini responded to this positive step.

She told the ACLJ, "Thank you to all of the individuals who have prayed, written letters, signed petitions, called government officials, run benefit races, tweeted, and shared Saeed's story. Thank you to all the government officials from around the world who have stood for my husband. Iran has listened to your pleas. While I am encouraged that Saeed is finally getting medical care, the fight is not yet over. It has been a difficult 300 days - 300 days of torment simply because Saeed loves Jesus Christ. I am hopeful Iran will do the just and honorable thing and release Saeed."

The ACLJ commented, "We are pleased that Iranian authorities have taken this important step to see that Pastor Saeed is no longer denied access to necessary medical treatment."

The group added, "It is our hope that the Iranian regime will take additional steps to correct their wron gdoings by giving his case a fair and impartial review in the court of appeals, where his case is currently pending. A fair and impartial review must result in a decision that continuing to hold Pastor Saeed is a grave violation of Iran's Constitution and its international obligations."

While Abedini has received medical treatment, he continues to pay a price for his Christian faith daily through his imprisonment.

The ACLj said, "We hope that this recent update out of Tehran indicates that Pastor Saeed - a U.S. citizen - will receive just treatment in the coming days and weeks. Most importantly, we hope to see Iranian officials release him so he can return to the United States where he can make a full recovery in his family's care."

For more information go to or

Bill Passes in India Jailing Converts, Clergy for Failure to Give Prior Notice of Conversion

Madhya Pradesh legislature approves amendment to "anti-conversion" law

By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service

NEW DELHI, INDIA (ANS) -- India's Madhya Pradesh state has passed legislation that would send those who convert and their religious leaders to prison for failing to obtain permission from authorities at least one month prior to conversion.
According to a story by Morning Star News, the bill requires the governor's signature before becoming law.

Existing law in Madhya Pradesh requires those who convert to notify government officials after conversion. The new legislation not only requires prior permission but also obligates religious leaders to report the conversions, and it increases prison terms from one to three years for clergy and converts who fail to do so.

Under the bill in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-ruled state, Morning Star News said religious leaders must fill out an application form giving details of the venue and date of conversion ceremonies and provide a list of names and addresses of those seeking conversion. This application has to be submitted at the district magistrate's office a month before conversion.

The bill, which cleared Madhya Pradesh's Legislative Assembly on July 10, includes a provision for a police inquiry on the conversion request. If the prospective converts are minors, women or members of Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes - disadvantaged people eligible for affirmative action benefits - the legislation stipulates a jail term of up to four years and/or a fine of up to 100,000 rupees (US$1,680).

With India already on a "watch list" of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, Morning Star News reported India's Christians were horrified at the bill's level of interference in private personal belief. In August 2012, the Himachal Pradesh High Court struck down similar legislation.

"These laws are political gimmicks used to polarize voters along religious lines - it is common knowledge that these laws have already been misused to terrorize the minority Christian community across the country," Tehmina Arora, an attorney for Alliance Defending Freedom India, told Morning Star News.

The bill is an amendment to Madhya Pradesh's existing "anti-conversion" law of 1968. Called "Freedom of Religion Acts," such laws forbid forcible or fraudulent conversions, but Hindu nationalists have use d them to arrest and harass Christians with false accusations.

"The U.N. Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief noted in a report after a visit to India that there is a risk that 'Freedom of Religion Acts' may become a tool in the hands of those who wish to use religion for vested interests or to persecute individuals on the ground of their religion or belief," Arora said.

Indira Iyengar, president of Madhya Pradesh Christian Association. (
Indira Iyengar, president of the Madhya Pradesh Christian Association, told Morning Star News the association has written to state Gov. Ram Naresh Yadav and other officials urging them to reject the amendment bill. The governor's post is largely ceremonial, and Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan holds most executive powers.

In its memorandum, Morning Star News reported, the association stated that the bill not only contradicts various Articles of the Constitution of India but also violates states' obligations under the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Such legislation will create religious tensions, the association stated, urging the governor to protect the rights of religious minorities.

Sujit Williams, president of the Grand Council of Christians (Isai Maha Sangh), called upon all citizens to reject the bill, saying it "violated the provision of various Articles in the Constitution of India."

Anand Muttungal, coordinator of the counc il, said the bill was unnecessary.

"The government has the right to enact a law, but it should be in accordance with the Constitution of India," Morning Star News reported he said. "Moreover, there is no alarming situation in Madhya Pradesh of conversions for the need of such an amendment."

The Hindu extremist BJP proposed and passed the legislation with little discussion. Party and state officials have been strangely silent on the proposal, and none was willing to comment to Morning Star News. 

Himachal Pradesh Version Struck Down
Himachal Pradesh's "anti-conversion" law of 2006 required prospective converts to give prior notice, and the state high court last August ruled it unconstitutional in response to a petition filed by the ADF-backed Evangelical Fellowship of India.
Under the law, a prospective convert's intentions had been subject to a mandatory state inquiry.

The high court recognized that the provisions violated the fundamental right of priv acy safeguarded under the right to life in the India Constitution.

"A person's belief or religion is something very personal to him," Morning Star News reported the court ruled. "The state has no right to ask a person to disclose what is his personal belief. The only justification given is that public order requires that notice be given."
The court continued, "We are of the considered view that in case of a person changing his religion and notice being issued to the so-called prejudicially affected parties, chances of the convertee being subjected to physical and psychological torture cannot be ruled out. The remedy proposed by the state may prove to be more harmful than the problem."
For more information about Morning Star News visit

Mob Storms A Church In Sri Lanka

Mob Storms A Church In Sri Lanka: "One of the things which constantly amazes me about persecuted Christians, is all that they endure to do the things that I take for granted. As I attend church, I listen to the message and focus on what God is teaching me through the sermon. Afterwards, I make lunch plans and leave my church, never worrying about my security.

However, my brothers and sisters in countries like Sri Lanka are experiencing increased acts of persecution, especially at their churches. Christians in Sri Lanka wonder if they could be attacked for faith, while I enjoy fellowshipping with members of my church. The parallel is astounding.

The following is a story about a church in Sri Lanka, attacked by an angry mob. Take a moment to read their story and to pray for these brothers and sisters."


Thursday, July 25, 2013

Another Christian Convert Tried in Iran

By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service

TEHRAN, IRAN (ANS) -- Another Christian convert was tried in the Revolutionary Court in Robat Karim, a town near Tehran.
Ebrahim Firouzi
According to a story by Mohabat News, the trial of Ebrahim Firouzi, 28, who had been arrested by security authorities, was held on July 6 2013.

Firouzi's charges were officially announced to him during the trial. He was charged with attempting to launch a Christian website, contact with suspicious foreigners, running online church services and promoting Christian Zionism.

Mohabat News said Firouzi was arrested on March 7 2013, when four plainclothes security officers raided his workplace. While arresting Firouzi, authorities also confiscated his personal belongings, including his computer and books related to Christianity.

Mohabat News said after spending 53 days in custody, Firouzi was temporarily released from Evin prison after posting a 30 million Tomans (approx. 15,000 USD) bail. 

He used property as collateral for that sum.

After being arrested, Firouzi was transferred to Ward 209 of Evin Prison. Mohabat News said he was "subject(ed) to intense interrogations for ten days."

He was then moved to Ward 350 of the prison where other Christian prisoners, Saeed Abedini, Farshid Fathi and Mostafa Bordbar are being held.

Mohabat News said according to a report, some agents from the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence were also present during Firouzi's trial.

Mohabat News reported that Firouzi said he was innocent of promoting Christian Zionism and that the charges were made up by security authorities and interrogators.

After considering Firouzi's plea, Mohabat News said "the judge decided that the indictment against him was defective. Therefore he postponed issuing his verdict."

At the same time, Mohabat News said, all of Firouzi's ID has been confiscated.

Mohabat News said Firouzi is a resident of Robat Karim, a town 20 kilometers southwest of Tehran. He lives in the same town as Sattar Beheshti, an Iranian labor activist and blogger, who was arrested and tortured to death by Iranian authorities.

Mohabat News said the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, that monitors religious freed om worldwide, said in its annual report that Iran, together with 14 other countries, are the greatest violators of religious freedom around in the world.

Mohabat News said the annual report accuses Iran of frequent violations of the rights of religious minorities, of the arrest and harassment of religious minorities, and creating an atmosphere of terror among these minorities.

Former Nigerian Governor allows ‘under-age’ marriage loophole into Constitution

Human rights activists fear lack of protection for young girls

The first Governor to introduce sharia law into a Nigerian State (Zamfara, in 2000), now a Senator, has succeeded in stopping the removal of a clause from Nigeria’s Constitution, which critics say remains a loophole, through which marriage of under-age girls remains possible under sharia law.
It happened during the Nigerian Senate’s debate (on Tuesday, July 16) of amendments drawn up by the Constitution Review Committee, which seeks to update the country’s 1999 Constitution, whose long-promised overhaul to recognise a changing Nigeria had been promised by the end of June.
The clause was in fact one which says that any married woman is recognised ‘of age’ to be able to give up their Nigerian citizenship. (This has been the subject of many memoranda from women's groups in the past because it discriminates and recognises under-18 marriage). victory for keeping the status quo was won by Senator Ahmad Sani Yerima, a controversial Muslim figure.
His critics argue that his victory leaves a loophole through which under-age marriage could be allowed. Nigeria at present, however, continues to hold that 18 is when a child becomes ‘of age’.
The reason for Senators originally voting for the clause’s deletion was that girls under 18 may not be able to make this sort of decision. However Senator Yerima argued against the removal of the clause (set to be removed by a majority vote of his fellow Senators) by questioning why this section dealing with the age of a married woman was to be deleted, describing this move as un-Islamic.
He insisted that under Islamic tenets, a woman is of age once married, and to counter that order would be discriminatory and in violation of another section of the Constitution.
Under Article 61, of the Second Schedule of the Nigerian Constitution, the Nigerian Government has no power to legislate on “marriages under Islamic law and Customary law including matrimonial causes relating thereto”.
“The Constitution says the National Assembly shall legislate on marriage except those under Islamic rites,” said the former Governor. “Islam says once a woman is married, she is of age”.
The Senator’s procedural success has been attacked not only for the manner in which it happened (amidst many votes on amendments on varied aspects of the Constitution) but also because in 2009 he himself married a 13-year-old Egyptian girl in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, as his 4th wife, causing widespread outrage. (He had also previously married another 13-year-old, and divorced one wife before she was 18).
He was investigated for having violated Nigeria's Child Rights Act of 2003, which deems “a child is anyone below the age of 18”.
However, under Article 61, it was ruled that Senator Yerima had no legal case to answer and the investigation was dropped. He maintained that he had not violated sharia: "History tells us that the Prophet did marry a young girl as well”.
In last Tuesday’s debate, Senator Yerima was backed by Senator Danjuma Goje, also a former State Governor (Gombe) amidst rowdy scenes as the Upper Chamber of Senators debated the technicality.
The offending clause had originally been unanimously voted to be removed, and Senator Yerima’s filibustering came late in the day, apparently catching the Senate President David Mark unawares.
Mr. Mark first ruled that as a member of the Constitution review committee, Senator Yerima had had every opportunity to have sought a review and that it was against the Chamber’s rules to seek an amendment while a vote was taking place.
However the Senate President conceded to a second vote after other proposed amendments had been concluded, saying he had to act due to the “sensitivity” of the matter as it concerns religion.
It was then Senator Yerima said the deletion would be in contravention of another part of the Constitution. demand to retain the clause was again defeated 60 to 35 at a second vote, but the section could not in fact be deleted as Constitution amendments require two thirds of the entire members – 73 for the Senate – for a proposal to pass.
So the status quo remains and the deletion was dropped – at least in the Senate.
Rev. Austin Nnorom, the Lagos State Chairman of the Conference of Nigeria Political Parties (CNPP), urged the lawmakers to cancel the resolution.
“It is worrisome and I think it's a very unhealthy thing by the National Assembly; we pray that they should immediately repeal that law,” he said.
“We are looking for local government autonomy and better laws, not a law that will allow children, under-aged, to be sexually abused, and it's going to cause a lot of social vices in the country.”
Human rights activists have also been quick to respond. Those representing Christians living in ‘sharia’ states fear that if the Constitution retains a loophole for recognition of under-age marriage, Christian girls abducted for forced marriages will have less protection.
Some fear it could also potentially give under-age girls the vote, and that they could be manipulated or coerced in how they use it.
Sam Adeyemi, Founder of Daystar Christian Centre in Lagos said: “If Islam permits something that the rest of the country and many parts of the world feel is detestable, then it’s a serious issue.”
The Nigerian Feminist Forum’s spokesperson, Gerdyn Ezeakile, issued an angry statement in Lagos, saying: “This action is a clear violation of Article 21(2) of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child which prohibits child marriage and betrothal as well as Article 6 (b) of the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa which [ensures] that the minimum age of marriage for women is 18 years”.
Abiola Afolabi-Akiode, Coordinator of the Gender and Constitution Reform Network, (GECORN), described the resolution as a big setback for the Nigerian people, not only women.
“We ask, is the Senate saying that a 13-year-old girl has the mental capacity to renounce her citizenship? Thus, we argue that Senator Ahmed Yerima basing his argument solely on child marriage is treacherous and a deliberate attempt to misrepresent the intention of the 1999 Constitution,” she said.
“It contradicts Section 21 of the Child’s Rights Acts which says ‘no person under the age of 18 is capable of contracting a marriage; and any marriage that is contracted by a minor is null and void and has no effect whatsoever’.
“The Constitution is supreme, so the Child’s Rights Acts falls under the Constitution. So, what the man has done is to set back all the gains of the struggle of Nigerian women.
“So this kind of law will just legalise the abuse of children in the country… How the table now turned against the children of Nigeria is what we don't understand.”

©2013 World Watch Monitor

More Christians in Pakistan Accused of Sending 'Blasphemous' Text Messages

Married couple jailed under laws that call for death or life in prison

By Dan Wooding
Founder of ASSIST Ministries

LAHORE, PAKISTAN (ANS) -- Morning Star News ( is reporting that a Pakistani Christian couple was arrested on Saturday (July 20) for allegedly sending blasphemous text messages to a Muslim cleric in Gojra, a religiously volatile city where a week before a young Christian man was sentenced to life in prison on the same charge.

Pakistani Christians protest against the killing of two Christian brothers accused of blasphemy
According to the news service's Pakistan 
Correspondent, Shafqat Masih, 43, and his 40-year-old wife Shagufta, who reportedly have four children between the ages of 5 and 11, were taken into custody on a complaint by Muslim cleric Rana Muhammad Ejaz, who alleged that he had received blasphemous text messages from Masih from a number registered in the name of Shagufta.

"Gojra City police registered a case under Section 295-C of Pakistan's widely condemned blasphemy laws for allegedly defaming Islam's prophet, Muhammad. Conviction is punishable by death or life in prison, which is 25 years in Pakistan," said the correspondent.

"Saying police coerced him into recording a false admission of guilt, Masih has denied sending the text messages, according to an official at a Christian rights organization who requested anonymity."

The source said, "Shafqat says the couple has been framed in a false case. He says that the police had forced him to record his confession before the magistrate."

The official said two lawyers representing his organization had met with Shafqat, adding, "The case is quite complex."

The story went on to say that the accusation is the third known incident in Pakistan of Christians charged for allegedly sending blasphemous content via cell phones.

The first was registered in Karachi against Qamar David, who was allegedly killed in Karachi Central Prison in 2011 (official cause of death was heart attack). In the second case, 29-year-old Sajjad Masih was sentenced to life imprisonment and fined 200,000 rupees (US$1,980) in Gojra on July 13.

"Accusations of blasphemous text message could be a dangerous trend, as obtaining and activating SIM cards on someone else's national identity card is not difficult in Pakistan. Such evidence is hard to challenge in court, leaving people of all faiths at risk of being falsely convicted of blasphemy," the correspondent continued.

Gojra City Police Chief Inspector Muhammad Nisar told Morning Star News by phone that police had verified that the SIM used to send the blasphemous text messages was registered in Shagufta's name.

"Her husband has admitted to using the SIM in his phone to send the messages to Ejaz," said Nisar.

Shagufta works at St. John's School in Gojra as a maid, and her husband is a night watchman at the campus. 

There was no immediate word on who was caring for their children; the couples' relatives have reportedly fled the area in fear of violence.

"We took the couple into custody on Saturday after checking the call data records and the SIM's ownership," Nisar said. "Shafqat admitted in the police station that he had sent the blasphemous text messages. But he did not say why."

Adding that Masih's statement remained unchanged when he appeared before a local magistrate for judicial remand, the police official said the couple had been sent to prison.

Morning Star News said that Rufus Solomon, minorities' leader of the opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, said that he had visited Gojra to inquire about the incident, as it had caused tension and raised fears among area Christians.
Surveying the ruins: A Christian women in Pakistan visit a house that was destroyed by a mob in Gojra (Photo: PA)

Gojra was the site of bitter violence in 2009, when eight Christians were burned alive and at least 40 houses and a church building were set on fire by Muslim mobs following rumors that local Christians had desecrated the Quran.

"The police were very hostile and refused to share their investigation with us," Solomon told Morning Star News. "They even refused to hand over a copy of the FIR [First Information Report] to us, claiming that the Faisalabad Regional Police Officer (RPO) had ordered them to seal it because of the sensitivity of the situation. But the SHO was lying, as we managed to get a copy of the FIR from the very police station after a few hours. This one action of the police makes the case suspicious."

Lamenting that cases of persecution of minorities rise in Punjab Province whenever the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz is in government, Solomon called for an independent inquiry into the incident.

"Shafqat's statement could have been taken forcibly to appease the mobs," he said. "The life of two people is at stake, therefore the chief minister should ensure that justice is administered."

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Eight Christians in Iran Sent to Prison for Threatening "National Security"

Convictions typical for those in country who leave Islam

By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service

ISTANBUL (ANS) -- Eight Iranian Christians received heavy jail sentences on July 16 after being found guilty of “action against the national security” and “propaganda against the system.”

According to a story by Morning Star News, they are charges typically leveled against Muslim converts to Christianity in Iran.

Morning Star News said human rights group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) reported that the eight members of the Church of Iran were sentenced in Shiraz, 571 miles south of Tehran. Seven of them were originally arrested in Oct. 2012, when security forces raided an evening prayer service. The eighth, Massoud Rezaid, was arrested six days later.

Sentences ranged between one and six years.

Morning Star News said Iranian Christian leaders denied the eight were involved in politically subversive activity.

“In accordance with the gospel, the church is apolitical,” said a statement released by the National Council of the Church of Iran. “While individual Christians are entitled to hold political opinions, the church does not. These charges are entirely without foundation . . . However, as loyal citizens we will continue to pray for our leaders and for peace and reconciliation in our nation.”

Morning Star News said after their initial arrest, the Christians were detained at Plaque 100, the Iranian Intelligence Ministry's detention center notorious for harsh conditions. They were released after paying enormous bail amounts.

The convicted Christians are expected to appeal their convictions.

Morning Star News said the sentencing comes a month after the presidential election of Hassan Rouhani. Many international analysts believed he would be a modernizing force after the eight-year presidency of hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his crack-down on religious minorities and political dissidents.

Little has changed in terms of religious freedoms for non-Muslims since Rouhani's election, CSW Press Officer Kiri Kankhwende told Morning Star News.

“It is now common practice to subject religious minorities to political charges, as any alternative belief system is deemed a threat to the theocratic state,” she said.

Morning Star News said the sentencing of the eight follows enormous bail amounts imposed by a previous judge, causing severe financial hardships to family and church members. To pay these bills, many used their homes as collateral.

The bail amounts ranged between $80,000 and $200,000, creating hardship for those who assisted in raising the money. The high price was intentionally designed financially punish Christians, according to CSW.

Morning Star News said Iran is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which upholds the rights of all religious minorities to freedom of belief. But its national law characterizes most forms of evangelistic non-Muslim religious activity as national security crimes.

Mervyn Thomas, CSW chief executive, called for the group's unconditional release and for Rouhani to bring Iran's laws into conformity with international standards of religious freedom.

“It is both disappointing and deplorable that the Iranian regime persists in detaining religious minorities on political charges, as has occurred once again in this case,” Morning Star News reported he said in a news release. “These Christians in no way constitute a threat to the state.”

Trial in Tehran

Morning Star News said the sentencing follows the trial of Mostafa Bordbar, 27, another convert to Christianity from Islam. He is charged with participating in an “illegal gathering and participating in a house church,” according to Mohabat News

He could receive between two and 10 years in prison if convicted, his attorney reportedly said.

Before his most recent hearing, on June 9 at Branch 26 of the Revolutionary Court of Tehran, he had a short visit with his parents and fiancé, but not even his lawyer was allowed to enter the courtroom, Mohabat News reported.

Morning Star News said Bordbar is held in Evin Prison, a facility that houses political prisoners alongside the nation's most dangerous criminals.

Morning Star News said his arrest came Dec. 27, 2012, when police raided a Christmas and New Year's celebration in a local Christian's home. He was also detained five years earlier for converting to Christianity and being involved in a house church. Bordbar was later released on bail.

Judge Pir-Abbas is handling the case. He is known in the international legal arena as the “hanging judge,” for handing down long prison sentences and death penalties following 2009 protests of the presidential election.

Mornign Star News said it was Pir-Abbas who sentenced U.S.-Iranian pastor Saeed Abedini, 33, to eight years in Evin Prison on Jan. 27.

According to Mohabat News, Bordbar and two other imprisoned Iranian Christians, Farshid Fathi and Alizreza Seyyedian, wrote a letter to incoming President Rouhani, requesting that he reform the Islamic state's law and ease their suffering.

“When you take control of this respectful position, we hope that with God's help, respect and honor will return to the name of Iran and freedom will be given back to religious minorities, especially Christians,” they wrote.

For more information about Morning Star News, visit