Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Interfaith conflict threatens to engulf Central African Republic

Evangelical Alliance leader risks arrest to condemn violence; President disbands rebels

Red Cross workers bury a corpse near Bossangoa on Sept 16.
World Watch Monitor
Clashes between Christians and Muslims in the northwest of the Central African Republic (CAR) have increased fears of a prolonged interfaith divide in the country.
The CAR, which borders Chad, Sudan and the Congos, was one of the world’s most evangelised nations (at least on a superficial level), reports Operation World, the internationally recognised handbook of global missions. It says the CAR is 76% Christian and 14% Muslim.
In March, Michel Djotodia ousted the then President in a coup, largely supported by a coalition of rebel groups, including Islamists, which had previously fought to gain power across the north where the Muslim minority is based.
The country’s Evangelical Alliance has condemned this latest violence, which has so far claimed the lives of more than 100 people.
On September 8 armed men, who claimed to be close to ex-President François Bozizé, launched attacks in the town of Bossangoa, 250 km from Bangui, the capital, killing Muslim civilians, according to government spokesman Guy-Simplice Kodégué.
Séléka rebels dispatched troops in the area, carrying out violent acts against Christians, causing many casualties. Witnesses contacted by World Watch Monitor reported summary executions, burned houses and looted churches.
The violence spread to other nearby communities, such as Bouca, 100 kilometers from Bossangoa.
There have been at least 100 deaths so far, while 50 have been injured, according to government figures. Two employees of the French NGO, the Agency for Technical Cooperation and Development, were killed outside of Bossangoa. Their killers are reported to be Séléka fighters. More than 4,500 people took refuge in the diocese of Bossangoa for fear of further violence. An undetermined number of others fled into the bush.
Pastor Nicolas Guerékoyamé, President of the Alliance of Evangelical Churches in CAR (who was last montharrested for speaking out) condemned the latest violence, which, he says, is leading the country towards sectarian conflict.
“We appeal to all communities of the Central African Republic not to yield to the temptation of interfaith divide,” he told World Watch Monitor.
A week after the violence, tension remains high in the northwest of the country. The Archbishop of Bangui, Mgr Dieudonné Nzapalainga, visited the area to comfort the victims and assess their needs. Similar initiatives have also been carried out by senior Muslim leaders.
Christian and Muslim religious leaders are acting within a platform set up in June to prevent interfaith conflict in the country.
President Michel Djotodia announced on Friday (September 13) the dissolution of Séléka, the rebel coalition which brought him to power in March. “All those who will continue to avail themselves of these entities will be treated as bandits,” he told local media.
The dissolution of Séléka came three days after the dismissal of the army’s Chief of Staff, and Djotodia announced the official state forces were now in charge of security.
But no detail was provided as to how these forces would neutralise the thousands of Séléka fighters across the country.
In the past, President Djotodia announced the introduction of measures aimed at curbing Séléka’s acts of violence, but without tangible results. Instead, the rebels rose in number from 5,000 to 25,000 fighters within six months.
Séléka were repeatedly accused of atrocities against civilians. According to local media reports, the offensive that targeted Bossangoa was carried out by villagers exasperated by this violence, who took up arms with the help of former members of the armed forces loyal to deposed President Francois Bozizé.
The President of the Evangelical Alliance appealed to the international community to intervene to end this “tragedy”. He has recently been in Rome, and will be at the General Assembly of the United Nations, which began on September 17 in New York, where the situation in the CAR is due for discussion.
“Too much talk has been done,” he said. “We must act to alleviate the suffering of the Central African Republic’s population. We must proceed with securing the country, and support people who are refugees in the bush, fleeing death.”
To coincide with the UN debate, Human Rights Watch has today (September 18th) published its report of what it calls “horrific abuses” by the country’s new rulers between March and June this year. The 79-page report, ‘I Can Still Smell the Dead’: The Forgotten Human Rights Crisis in the Central African Republic, details the deliberate killing of civilians – including women, children, and the elderly and confirms the deliberate destruction of more than 1,000 homes, both in the capital, Bangui, and in the provinces.
“Séléka leaders promised a new beginning for the people of the Central African Republic, but instead have carried out large-scale attacks on civilians, looting, and murder,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “What’s worse is that the Séléka have recruited children as young as 13 to carry out some of this carnage.”

©2013 World Watch Monitor

Believers shrinking in numbers in Syria

(Photos courtesy Flickr/FreedomHouse)
Syria (ODM) ― "The situation is very grim. There is deep sadness and much stress and anxiety." That is the summary Pastor Edward from Damascus gave to Open Doors on the situation in the Syrian capital.
According to the pastor, about 40% of the members of his church have left the country since the conflict in Syria started over two years ago. Imagine: four of every ten members of your church leaving in such a short period. That means a major loss for every congregation. And that is the reality churches in Syria now face as this example from Damascus shows.

People who have the financial means, and especially those who have contacts abroad, are leaving the country. Pastor Edward knows that in his church, some members still are waiting for the opportunity to leave Syria, too. "They are still trying to find a place to go." However, all the people that left didn't leave the church services empty. "No, we see new people coming to church. Many of the families that we visit and help with a monthly food supply, for example, come to our services now."

Although there is no fighting going on in the central area of Damascus, in several suburbs fighting is a daily reality. No one can escape from the distant sound of explosions and shooting. "It seems that there is no end in sight. Christians are like all other people: concerned for their safety and the future of their children."

In a way, life goes on for many people in the capital. People who work in the public sector still go to work. "But their income is worth less and less as the Syrian pound lost 75% of its value, which caused huge inflation. After over two years of civil war, most people are suffering economically and are traumatized emotionally."

The pastor also mentions "a brighter side" in the gloom. "Church people are closer to the Lord and to each other."

VBB shares details of a recent attack

(Image courtesy VBB)
Burma (MNN) ― Despite a ceasefire agreement signed in May, tensions remain high in Burma's Kachin state.

The following was taken verbatim from a report sent to Vision Beyond Borders (VBB) from their contact in the region:

"September 4, 2013: The intruding Burmese Army from the 66th Light Infantry Division arrested and tortured several village headmen, then later transferred them by the riverboat. Their village is under the KIO's 1st Brigade Administrative area.

The same Burmese troops occupied another village and molested the young girls from the village and took them to the jungle for sexual assault and rape, and later released them without clothes.

We are still investigating the details of this incident, how many girls were the victims of sexual violence in this village. The same time, the Burmese Army accused and arrested entire villagers of being supporters of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), then took them by riverboats."

A September 8 account from Kachinland News, as shared on, confirms the abuse. Burma is committed to helping both local and international actors take effective action to help the people of Burma.

"Local residents fear for an imminent escalation in the fighting as Burmese army has begun transporting more troops, food, guns and ammunition using military transport aircraft to KIA’s 7th Battalion area in Machyang Baw in northern Kachin State," the report adds.

VBB has been working with CFE Ministries for many years to help Burma's refugees. They've set up orphanages in the Karen and Karenni camps and have worked diligently to share the love of Christ.

They're now working to get supplies and aid to the Kachin in northern Burma, who are 98% Christian. In a May 2013 report, VBB noted how refugees have to move around constantly to find shelter and security. Medicine remains a top priority.

According to VBB, 364 villages have been fully or partially abandoned, with over 100,000 displaced people. The Kachin National Organization (KNO) has been documenting the Burmese army resupplying front-line posts for what appears to be a major offensive.

Pray for protection and wisdom for VBB's contact as he shares the hope of Christ with Burma's refugees. Pray for encouragement and perseverance for Kachin believers.

Assassins of Pakistani Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti Confess

Officials Say Leader of Al Qaeda-linked Pakistani Taliban captured with two others 

By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service

LAHORE, PAKISTAN (ANS) -- The killers of Pakistan's first Christian to become a federal cabinet member, Shahbaz Bhatti, have confessed to the crime, Bhatti's brother and security sources said.
Tribute to Shahbaz Bhatti. (Morning Star News
via Pakistan Today)
According to a story by Morning Star News, Paul Bhatti, brother of the slain Federal Minister for Minority Affairs, said that security officials and a senior government minister had told him a suspect belonging to terrorist group Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) had confessed to murdering Bhatti.
It was over his efforts to amend Pakistan's blasphemy laws and his support of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman sentenced to death for alleged blasphemy.

"The police had made a similar claim last year which proved untrue, and it seemed that they had given up tracing the killers, but this time I'm confident that they have the real culprits," Bhatti told Morning Star News by phone from Islamabad.

Federal Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan met with Bhatti, the former minister of National Harmony and Minority Affairs, and shared the details of the investigation with him, Bhatti said.

"He told me that a suspected militant taken into custody had revealed during interrogation that besides conducting other terrorist attacks, his group had also killed Shahbaz Bhatti," he said.

The TTP is closely connected with Al Qaeda. The capture of three Islamic extremist suspects in connection with the assassination comes more than two-and-a-half years after the March 2 2011 murder in Islamabad.

Security agencies arrested Hammad Adil, brother of a current superintendent of police, about two weeks ago, along with Muhammad Tanveer, leader of a TTP cell in Islamabad. With the assistance of intelligence agencies, the suspects were arrested from their hideout in Phulgran, a suburban area of Islamabad. The security officials also seized a car laden with explosives.

During interrogation, Morning Star News reported, Adil and Tanveer revealed that besides carrying out terrorist attacks on foreign nationals and security installations, they had also murdered the Christian minister for voicing concern over the blasphemy laws, officials said.

A security official speaking on condition of anonymity told Morning Star News that the two suspects were accompanied by another Muslim extremist, Omar Abdullah, during the attack on Bhatti. He said that the three-member terrorist team carried out reconnaissance of Bhatti's movements for a few days before carrying out their plan.

"The minister was quite apprehensive about his security, especially after the murder of Punjab Gov. Salmaan Taseer, who was gunned down by his own police bodyguard for opposing the blasphemy laws, which is why he used to sleep at his mother's house after leaving his security detail at his own residence," he said.

The official said the assailants waited for Bhatti in a car outside his residence in Islamabad's I-8/3 Sector and opened fire as soon as they spotted the vehicle.

"Adil planned the ambush, while Tanveer provided them with the assault rifles and ammunition," he said.

Morning Star News reported police sources said that Adil and his group members were preparing for a large-scale terrorist attack in Islamabad at the time of the assassination. A suicide bomber, they said, from Pakistan's tribal areas was to drive the explosives-laden vehicle found during the raid into a key target in the capital, Islamabad.

Although law enforcement agencies have finally been able to catch the alleged killers of the Christian minister, it remains to be seen if they will be punished for their crimes in Pakistan's Byzantine justice system. Bhatti's brother, however, was optimistic that the killers would receive justice.

"I'm quite hopeful that the police and judiciary would do their job and punish these terrorists according to the law," he said. "These arrests and subsequent revelations have also vindicated our stance that my brother died for opposing the country's controversial blasphemy laws, and not over some property dispute as alleged by our detractors."

Pakistan's blasphemy laws, which can result in the death sentence or life in prison for those convicted, have been routinely misused to settle personal scores with false accusations.

Morning Star news said police have found most blasphemy accusations to be false during investigation, but accusers can make innocent victims suffer months in jail with quick and easy registration of such cases.
Of 5,000 cases registered between 1984 and 2004, only 964 people were charged with blasphemy, according to the Pakistani newspaper Dawn.
A recent study by the Center for Research and Security Studies (CRSS) found that from 1953 to July 2012, there were 434 people blasphemy "offenders" in Pakistan, including 258 Muslims, 114 Christians, 57 Ahmadis and four Hindus.
Those acquitted of blasphemy charges also face threats from homicidal vigilantes. Of 52 people extra-judicially murdered after being charged with blasphemy in Pakistan, 25 were Muslims, 15 were Christians, five were Ahmadis, one was Buddhist and one was Hindu, according to the CRSS report.

Most blasphemy case acquittals take place at the appellate level, after courts have denied bail so often that the accused spend years in jail, as lower courts tend to decide based on fear of violence by Islamist groups rather than on merit.

Asia Bibi has been sentenced to death after being incarcerated on false charges of blasphemy since Nov. 2010.
Blasphemy charges against Rimsha Masih, a girl whose mental age was determined to be less than 14 years old, were dismissed on Nov. 20 2012 after a judge ruled that they were baseless. She has since been relocated to Canada.

Pakistan is nearly 96 percent Muslim, according to Operation World, and religiously charged court cases commonly involve clamoring crowds of Muslims and other pressures coming to bear on lawyers and judges. Christians make up 2.45 percent of the population.
For more information about Morning Star News visit

Imprisoned American Pastor Makes Direct Appeal to Iranian President

By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service

WASHINGTON D.C. (ANS) -- American Pastor Saeed Abedini, serving an eight-year prison sentence in Iran because of his Christian faith, is directly appealing to Iran's newly elected President Hassan Rouhani for justice and freedom.

Saeed Abedini and his two children
According to a news release made available to the ASSIST News Service, in a letter written to the Iranian president, Abedini called on the new president to follow through on his pledge of moderation and pleads for compassion and justice so he can return to his wife and children in the United States.

Abedini's letter comes as the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), which represents his wife and children in the U.S. and has been working to secure his freedom, launches a global letter-writing campaign urging President Rouhani to release Abedini.

To support Abedini, the ACLJ is asking for letters to be written directly to the Iranian president. Those interested can add their names to a petition containing the names of more than 620,000 people who have signed on already demanding Abedini's release.

"This is a critical time for this U.S. citizen who has been illegally imprisoned in one of Iran's most dangerous prisons for nearly one year now," said Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the ACLJ, speaking in the news release.

He added, "With Pastor Saeed's direct appeal to the Iranian president and our global letter-writing campaign to urge him to release Pastor Saeed, the new Iranian president can send an important message to the world - that his promise of moderation can be fulfilled by releasing Pastor Saeed from prison. This American pastor has done nothing wrong - imprisoned only because of his Christian faith. We call on Iran to release him so he can return to his family."

The ACLJ said the latest developments come as Abedini's captivity approaches one year with Sept. 26thmarking the anniversary of being taken into custody by Iranian authorities.

In his letter to President Rouhani, Abedini provides details about his work in Iran and the fact he was completing work on an orphanage when he was taken into custody. He writes about the abuse and internal bleeding he has suffered as a result of his year-long imprisonment.

He also calls on the president to follow through on his promise of moderation and urges the Iranian lead er to exhibit compassion and justice so he can return to his family in the United States.

"My wife and children as well as over a billion Christians in the world seek God's justice and then your consideration of this matter," Abedini wrote.

He added, "Please take immediate action in this regard and do not let me and a lot of people in my ward become the victims of the fire that extremists have made, those who have turned Iran into a vortex of crisis. Considering the fact that I came to Iran to serve the orphans, please do not let them make my children orphans and my wife without a guardian."

Abedini's wife Naghmeh said in the release, "Over the last weekend my family celebrated my daughter's seventh birthday, the second birthday in a row my precious Rebekkah celebrated without her father. When asked what she wanted for her birthday, she said she just wanted her daddy home. The reality of his absence is inescapable."

She added, "In a week from now, the president of Iran will be on U.S. soil. And I have to wonder whether my government will use this opportunity to appeal directly to President Rouhani for the release of my husband. I hope President Obama will break his deafening silence and speak out for my husband. But I also ask that everyone join me in appealing directly to President Rouhani by writing letters urging him to release Saeed."

The news release said Abedini also told in his letter of the physical abuse he suffered during the four months he spent in solitary confinement. 

He wrote, "During this extremely difficult, exhausting and tormenting period that cannot be described here, I was in agony from the severity of stomach bleeding and other internal diseases as a result of terrible condition in the detention . . ."

Last month an Iranian court rejected Abedini's appeal, leaving his eight year prison sentence in place.
Abedini was convicted of threatening the security of Iran because he chose to gather with other Christian believers.

On Jan. 27 2013, Judge Pir Abassi, a judge sanctione d by the European Union for his human rights abuses, found Abedini's Christian faith and activities tantamount to national security threat.

On Sept. 26, the one year anniversary of Abedini's captivity, there will be prayer vigils in this country and around the world - a united effort to call attention to Abedini's plight and an opportunity to advocate for his release.

The ACLJ has also launched a new website at - a voice for the persecuted church.

For more information about the ACLJ, visit

Tribal violence in Nigeria on the rise

(Photo courtesy Morning Star News)
Afghanistan (VCM/MNN) ― Lafia, Nasarawa, Nigeria is in chaos.

According to a report from AllAfrica, troops arrived in Lafia on Sunday to reinforce the soldiers already there trying to quell the ongoing crisis between the Eggon and Alago tribes. Their report also notes that four towns and villages have been hit by deadly violence in the last few days.

While not directly linked to the riots, the next part of this story goes to show the anarchy in the region.

Reports from the Voice of the Martyrs Canada have noted tensions on the rise for weeks. Last month, a church in Lafia was attacked by a mob of Muslim militants. The mob generated alarmingly fast over a 20 naira--12 cent (USD)--fee to use a water well.

On August 17, while the St. James Anglican Cathedral choir was rehearsing, Rev. Isaac Onwusongaonye was in a Bible study meeting with the elders when he got notice about a confrontation that took place at the church's water borehole.

Reportedly, a Muslim woman in the community got angry, which incited neighboring militants to attack the church after arguing with the Christian young man who runs the well.

Despite the church's attempts to defuse the row by waiving the fee, the woman's son and associates responded with violence. Using knives, clubs, motorcycle chains, iron poles, and wooden rods, the angry mob of 30 attacked the church's security guards, injuring them severely enough to require hospitalization.
In addition, three pastors, four elders, and an indeterminate number of choir members sustained injuries.

Church property was also destroyed. Thankfully, the arrival of police averted plans to burn down the church building. While the ringleader's mother was initially arrested, she was later discharged in exchange for her son. The case is still under investigation.

Thank the Lord for the courage of the security guards who risked their lives while trying to protect the church. Ask God to minister to the traumatized victims, granting them needed comfort and healing. May the Lord encourage and reward the church's leaders and congregation members, bringing justice in this situation and blessing their outreach in the community.

'Recant your faith or get out'

(Image courtesy Christian Aid)
Laos (CAM) ― "Recant your faith or get out!" That’s the ultimatum issued recently to 50 Christians living in a rural community in central Laos.

According to a report from the Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom (HRWLRF), on August 30 the leaders of Nongdaeng village summoned representatives of 11 Christian families to the government headquarters building for an official meeting concerning religious affairs in the village.

During the meeting, officials ordered all 11 families--comprising 50 men, women, and children--to recant their Christian faith and return to their village’s traditional animist religion.

“They charged these Lao Christians with believing the religion of a foreign Western power, which is considered destructive to the Lao nation,” stated HRWLRF. “Officials expressed their intention that no Christian faith can be adhered to or practiced in Nongdaeng.”

The order took effect immediately, and the Christians were given three days to comply. However, on Sunday, September 1, this committed group of believers continued to practice their faith and conducted worship in one of their homes. The Lao Christians insisted they have the religious right and protection under their country’s constitution to practice their faith in the village.

“Between April and May 2013, three Lao Christian families began worshiping God in their homes in Nongdaeng village. Prior to that period of time, they had been traveling to Nonsomboon village for worship, which is about 70 kilometers from Nongdaeng,” the HRWLRF reported. “After beginning the worship in their homes, eight other families in Nongdaeng became interested in the Christian faith and decided to embrace Christianity themselves, resulting in a total of 11 Christian families at the present time.”

HRWLRF is appealing to the Lao government to allow the believers in Nongdaeng to stay and to freely live out their Christian faith. In addition, the group is urging the Lao government to punish village officials for “illegally issuing an eviction order that has now brought hardship to the lives, as well as defamation of the name and honor of Nondaeng villagers who are Christians.”

In February, Christian Aid Mission, your link to indigenous missions, reported a similar incident in which a couple in their 50s was evicted from their home village when they converted to Christianity.

Open hostility and persecution of Christians continues in Laos, where over 56% of the population is Buddhist, and animist traditions remain prevalent in rural areas. Evangelical Christians make up less than 2% of the population.

Despite the challenges, a Christian Aid-assisted ministry in Laos is working quietly behind the scenes to start fellowships among small groups of believers. Bibles ($5) and hymnals ($7) are needed for worship gatherings.

If the 11 families are displaced, the ministry would like to supply them with mats, blankets, and pillows. They also want to give them five cows ($3,000) to help them become financially self-sufficient, as well as building materials ($200 per house).

Please pray for God’s provision for the 50 Christians from Nongdaeng village. Pray also that the village leaders will have a change of heart and that they, too, will come to know and follow Jesus Christ.

Catholic priest victim of latest Zanzibar acid attack

An elderly Catholic priest has been the victim of an acid attack in Zanzibar.

Amselmo Mwangamba was attacked on Friday (September 13) and is now in hospital receiving treatment to burns on his face, chest and arms.

This is the fifth acid attack on the island since November, according to the BBC. Last month, two young British women were subjected to an attack that dominated UK headlines for several days.


Christians flee Pakistani village after pastor accused of blasphemy

Dozens of Christian families have fled from their homes in a village near Lahore after a pastor was accused of blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad.
Masih denies the accusations, saying he said nothing derogatory about Islam or the Prophet.
Teachers from the village school asked Christian students about the religious teachings Masih had been giving them. More than 100 of them were sent home, which raised alarms among their families, causing many of them to flee from the village.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Islamists tell Egyptian Christians 'Convert, go broke, or die

(Photos courtesy Open Doors)
Egypt (MNN) ― Egypt is still upside-down and sideways.

Nearly a month after a state of emergency was declared, the interim government extended the order by two months.

This action gives security forces greater powers of arrest. In mid-August, authorities and protestors clashed violently over the ouster of President, Mohamed Morsi. That led to a backlash of violence that claimed nearly 1,000 lives in the days that followed, with Christians targeted as the scapegoat. Open Doors CEO David Curry says, "Some of these extremist groups think that Christianity itself, the very existence of it, is problematic, so they're trying to snuff it out. So there's a confluence of events which is making it very, very dangerous to be a follower of Jesus in Egypt."

Ever since, a night-time curfew has also been in effect in much of the country. With that in place, how did Islamists managed the takeover of a Christian village in the south? Police can't be everywhere and can't protect everyone, Curry says. The lack of protection is especially dangerous for the residents in Dalga, which was taken over by hardliners a couple of weeks ago. "There are about 20,000 believers that have an enclave there (in Dalga), and they gather together and they go to church. They want to worship in freedom."

What's more, since the siege began, word has leaked out that the Muslim Brotherhood has demanded that the Christians recant, pay a "jizya," or suffer the consequences. Curry explains, "They're literally being taxed until and unless they convert to Islam. So there's a tax levied. If you don't pay the tax, you're going to be attacked, you're going to be punished, and your property is going to be attacked."

The "jizya" is a kind of tax that Islamic law requires religious minorities to pay Muslims. The amounts demanded are ruinous. "We're talking about real money in terms of the Egyptian lifestyle. It may be that a person is made to choose between holding on to their faith and being martyred for their faith."

Already, Muslims in southern Egypt have killed two Christian men for failing to pay it. The Voice of the Martyrs reports that a Muslim man demanded a Christian in a village in Assiut pay him nearly $1,500.

They've also forced at least 140 Coptic Christians to pay 200 Egyptian pounds daily (US $30). When you consider that roughly 40% of Egyptians live on less than $2 USD a day, there aren't many who can remain in their hometown safely. Forty Coptic Christian families have left as a result of the tax.

Still, Curry says there have been reports of people coming to Christ. He explains, "The Christian faith is vibrant, and it's going to find its fruition because people are seeking answers, and they're not looking for political answers." Additionally, the followers of Christ have something that piques curiosity in times like these. "When people are introduced to Jesus, there's peace. There's life there. That's what we want for them.

Certainly, there are still great things happening even in the midst of this difficulty and in this persecution."

Their partners are careful when they respond to needs in the area. "Open Doors is asking everybody to pray for Egypt, to support the believers there. We're on the ground trying to help these churches. We're rebuilding churches. We're trying to help pastors." Curry says you can help, too.

Authorities call for the death of Muslim-background believers

Pray for the safety and success of evangelistic efforts in Afghanistan.
(Image, caption courtesy Voice of the Martyrs Canada)
Afghanistan (MNN) ― According to a report originally published by Mohabat News, Afghanistan's leaders are calling for the death of Christian converts.

"Numerous Afghans have become Christians in India. This is an offence to Islamic Laws and, according to the Quran, they need to be executed," stated the Afghanistan Member of Parliment, Nazir Ahmad Hanafi, in a published report.

The number of people coming to Christ from Muslim backgrounds is reportedly increasing. Most Muslim-background believers have fled to India for safety; a growing church established in Delhi reportedly has around 250 members.

Afghanistan's Parliament has addressed this issue on separate occasions over the past few months. Voice of the Martyrs Canada says authorities view Gospel growth as a threat.

One MP, Abdul Latif Pedram, said that "conversions to Christianity are the result of the presence of the United States in Afghanistan." He feels the conversion of Afghans in India is part of the U.S.'s longer-term plan to alter the country's culture and religion.

According to The Barnabas Fund, Parliamentary speaker Abdul Rauf Rahimi "ordered the country's national security services to take serious steps to stop the spread of Christianity."

Reportedly, some Afghan Islamic clerics have warned their government against the influence of Christianity. The Islamic Council of Afghanistan told President Karzai about more Christian aid workers and missionaries possibly coming to Afghanistan, and the likelihood of more conversions taking place as a result.

Ask the Lord to intervene in this situation and save His followers. Pray for the continued growth of His Church in India among Afghans.

While the building of His church is in process, ask for His divine protection to be upon all the humanitarian ministry workers throughout Afghanistan, multiplying and blessing their efforts to demonstrate His heart of compassion to the lost, broken and needy.

Swift Trial of Moroccan Christian at Odds with Country's Moderate Face

By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service

TIZI OUZOU, ALGERIA (ANS) -- The quick conviction of a Christian for "proselytizing" in Morocco last week shows a harsher reality than the moderate face the country presents to the West, sources said.

According to a story by Morning Star News, a court in Taounate, a town in northern Morocco of some 33,000 people about 50 miles from Fez, sentenced Mohamed El Baladi to 30 months in prison on Sept. 3.

That was just a week after his arrest on Aug. 28 and before police allowed him to obtain a legal representation, a source close to Baladi said.

The source, who requested anonymity, was among the converts from Islam whose names El Baladi was allegedly pressured into revealing, along with the names of two U.S. Christians in Morocco.

"We are surprised to learn that he gave our names to the prosecutor," the source told Morning Star News. "He had to have undergone pressure."

He said the prosecutor in El Baladi's case had ordered the arrest of the named Christians, and that friends of El Baladi have received phone calls from Moroccan security officials seeking to confirm that they know him.
El Baladi, 30, converted from Islam to Christianity seven years ago.

It was highly unusu al, the source said, that the case of El Baladi was concluded in one week. El Baladi was reportedly prohibited from contacting friends, family or an attorney until after his conviction.

Morning Star News said friends of El Baladi have since found him an attorney, Aababou Aderrazzak, who began an appeal on Sept. 10.

"We want to transfer the case to Fez," Aderrazzak said. "It is easier to deal with this in Fez, because Taounate is a small region where the authorities have the upper hand and control over everything. But in Fez, a major city, this will be more difficult for them."

El Baladi was charged with proselytizing young Muslims.

Article 220 of Morocco's penal code states that those inducing a Muslim to convert may be punished by six months to three years in prison (not three to six months, as reported in Wikipedia and elsewhere) and fined up to 500 dirhams (US$60).

According to Morning Star News, the source said El Baladi's fine of 1,500 dirhams exceeded the maximum; the fine has been misrep orted as 5,000 dirhams, probably because police also took 5,000 dirhams from his home during the raid.

While apostasy is not illegal in Morocco, the prosecutor and law enforcement officials reviled El Baladi for leaving Islam to become a Christian, the source said. Strict sharia (Islamic law) condemns apostates from Islam to death.

A representative of the Moroccan Association for Human Rights called El Baladi's conviction and sentencing a violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Algeria is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which implements provisions of the UDHR.

Along with the 5,000 dirhams police stole, gendarmerie also seized several Christian CDs, books and magazines, sources said.

In court, El Baladi did not deny his conversion to Christianity.

While the West has generally applauded Morocco's new constitution of 2011, which prohibits torture, Morning Star News reported sources said El Baladi had to have been tortured or threat ened with torture to have revealed the names of other converts from Islam.

The new constitution also provides for a fair trial and presumption of innocence until proven guilty for those accused of breaking the law. Morocco's new constitution came in response to calls for a more democratic state as similar "Arab Spring" movements generated unrest in the Middle East and North Africa.

While police harassment of Christians is common in Morocco, El Baladi's case comes as Christians have become increasingly unsettled by arrests of Moroccan faithful and deportations of foreigners.

Morocco's King Mohammed VI is seen as a moderate, but Islam is the official religion of the state, and the king's titles include, "The Defender of the Faithful." Christians are also suspicious as his government shares power in a coalition that includes the Justice and Development Party, considered to have links with the Muslim Brotherhood; the party calls for a society governed by Islam.

On Dec. 28, 2005, Christian convert Jamaa Ai t Bakrim was sentenced to 15 years in prison for proselytism and for destroying the goods of others by burning two abandoned telephone poles touching his property.

In March 2010, the government expelled at least 33 Christian foreign residents from the country. Among them were 10 adult Christians, along with their children, who were running The Village of Hope, a foster daycare center for orphans. The foster children were turned over to the care of people they did not know.

Morning Star News said in addition to the expulsions, about 81 people were declared "persona non grata" for alleged proselytizing.

There are about 8,000 Moroccan Christians out of a population of almost 35 million people, according to the 2012 International Religious Freedom Report of the U.S. Department of State.

Two Christians Murdered in Egypt for Refusing to Pay Muslim Poll Tax

By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service

EGYPT (ANS) -- Two Coptic Christian government employees have been shot dead for refusing to pay Jizya, the Muslim poll tax on Christians.

According to a story by Mary Abdelmassih for the Assyrian International News Agency (AINA), Emad Damian, 50, and his cousin Medhat Damian, 37, from the village of Sahel Selim in Assuit Province, were contacted two days before their murder by the leader of a Muslim gang. 

He was identified by Watany Coptic Newspaper as Ashraf Ahmed Mohammed Khalajah, a registered criminal from the village.

According to Emad's brother Dr. Samy Damian, Emad was contacted about 9:30 PM by a member of the gang, who demanded 10,000 Egyptian pounds so that he could buy weapons.

He said, "My brother said that he had no problems with anyone, does not require services from anyone, and does not have the money."

In an interview on Al Nahar TV Channel on Sept. 12, Ahmed Fawzi, secretary for the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, said the two murdered Copts, who were members of his political party, reported the matter to the police in Sahel Selim and asked for police protection.

However, AINA reported he said, t he police did nothing.

"A couple of days later the gang surprised the two Copts by going to their home in the morning and showering them with bullets, leaving both dead," Fawzi said. "The police know who the killers are but are doing nothing to arrest them."

The districts of Sahel Selim and Ghanayem are the most dangerous areas in Assuit, and their police stations were heavily shelled by the Muslim Brotherhood on Aug. 14.

Meanwhile, the security situation remains tense in the village of Delga, Deir Mawas, 160 miles south of Cairo in Minya.

AINA said Muslim Brotherhood gangs completely control the village after the ouster of former President Morsi. They target the 20,000 Coptic inhabitants by imposing Jizya on them, allegedly to "safeguard" them from acts of violence and vandalism to their homes and shops.

Despite the arrival last week of a new director of security in the province, the scene is still grim for many.
Rev. Youannas Shawky, pastor of the Monastery of Our Lady and Saint Ebram in Delga, which was completely destroyed on July 3 by pro-Morsi supporters said the practice of collecting Jizya from Copts started after Morsi's departure.

He said it continues to be levied on all Copts in the village without exception, pointing out that the value of the tribute and methods of payment vary from one place to another within the village.

The amount varies from 200-500 Egyptian pounds daily, which are exorbitant amounts to many villagers. Shawky estimated 50 families have left the village so far.

AINA said many Egyptian activists have sounded the alarm on what is happening to Christians.

In an open letter to the Egyptian provisional government, AINA reported prominent journalist Fatma Nahoot said, "Where is the government, the Interior Minister and General al-Sisi on what is happening to the Copts in Minya, including harassment, murder, intimidation, displacement and imposing Jizya on them?"

Religious Books in Uzbekistan Only Permitted in Religious Communities' Buildings

By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service

UZBEKISTAN (ANS) -- In two separate cases on the same day in August in Samarkand and Kashkadarya, fines on 20 religious believers for "illegal religious literature" totaled the equivalent of nearly 68 years of the official minimum wage.

Uzbekistan is a landlocked country in Central Asia. Before 1991, it was part of the Soviet Union.

According to a story by Mushfig Bayram for the Forum 18 News Service, in the Samarkand case, the judge ordered the confiscated literature - including the New Testament and the Pentateuch - destroyed. Uzbekistan's courts routinely order Muslim and Christian literature to be destroyed.

Begzod Kadyrov, Chief Specialist of the government's Religious Affairs Committee, told Forum 18, "Those are court decisions and the courts are independent from us."

Asked why such penalties are handed down, and why individuals cannot carry their religious books like the Koran or Bible with them, Forum 18 said Kadyrov replied, "According to the Religion Law, religious books are only allowed to be read within registered religious communities' buildings."

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Persistence through Persecution

Gospel for Asia
For Immediate Release

CARROLLTON, TX (ANS) -- Gospel for Asia pastor Nateshwar has one goal in the village where he ministers-to share the Good News of Jesus. Sometimes people respond with genuine interest in what he has to say, but often he is met with hostility and accusations of attempting to create disunity within the community.

Some men and women have even been looking for an opportunity to chase him out of the village. However people respond to him, though, Pastor Nateshwar presses on and continues in his mission to share the love of Christ.

Alcoholic Neighbor Is Hostile to Pastor

Persistance pays off in his life
Nateshwar's heart was burdened for his neighbor, Miten, who was short-tempered, arrogant and stubborn and who believed there was no God apart from the gods and goddesses of the traditional Asian religion he practiced.
When he was sober, Miten was relatively hospitable to the pastor. 

Unfortunately, Miten was often drunk and therefore angry with anyone who crossed his path. He would beat his wife for insignificant reasons and had no interest in listening to Pastor Nateshwar's advice to seek the Lord and change the way he treated his wife.

"The Christians have misled you. Don't you have any dignity that you forsake your own god and goddesses just for money?" Miten said to the pastor. "You should be proud of your ancestor gods rather than acting very cheap." Still, Miten's false allegations against the pastor did not keep Nateshwar away.

On one particular night when Pastor Nateshwar visited the man's home, Miten happened to be sober. Nateshwar took the opportunity to gently encourage the man once again to change his ways. Miten became irritated and did not want to listen to the pastor.

"If you are not willing to listen to me then it is up to you," Pastor Nateshwar responded. "But let me just pray for you and your family." After the prayer, the genuine care of the pastor surprised Miten that night. He apologized to Nateshwar for saying and doing hateful things toward him in the past.

"You are truly a man of God," Miten said. "I am so blessed to have known you, and I am so thankful to you for your concern about my well-being."

Man's Daughter Suffers Illness, Pastor Prays

It was only a few days after the special time of prayer that Miten's 3-year-old daughter became very sick. Miten and his wife gave their daughter medicine, but it did not help. Miten thought of Pastor Nateshwar's recent prayer, and asked him to pray for his daughter to be healed.

After Pastor Nateshwar prayed over the little girl, he headed back to his house. A few minutes after he got home, Miten and his wife showed up at his door. Miten cried with joy as he explained to Nateshwar that God had already healed his daughter!

Miten and his wife spent time with Pastor Nateshwar reading God's Word together and thanking Jesus for the wonderful things He had done. Miten's heart was changed, and he and his family trusted in Christ.

After becoming a Christian, Miten began facing the same kind of opposition Pastor Nateshwar has been enduring. Miten, like Nateshwar, has stood firm even in the face of mockery from his friends and neighbors.

"I know what the Lord has done for a wretched person like me," Miten tells his opposing neighbors. "I know in whom I believe, and Jesus is truly worth believing and worshiping."

Stark dilemma for Christians in Syria, former ambassador says

By Mark Ellis
Senior Correspondent, ASSIST News Service

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA (ANS) -- He was one of two Americans who investigated Saddam Hussein's gassing of the Kurds in northern Iraq, and authored the Prevention of Genocide Act of 1988, which passed the U.S. Senate unanimously. Now he's sounding the alarm about the plight of Christians and other minority groups in Syria.

Syrian Christians
"I'm against genocide and the plight of the Christians concerns me, but also the plight of the Kurds and Alawites," says Peter W. Galbraith, former U.S. ambassador to Croatia and the author of two books on Iraq.

The population of Christians, Kurds, Alawites, and Druze make up about 35-40% of the Syrian population. Galbraith has been meeting with representatives of these minority groups over the last year. Without the support of these groups, the opposition is unlikely to succeed, even with increased help from the United States, he maintains.
Galbraith notes a profound unease among Christians and other minorities about their prospects in a post-Assad Syria.

"I question a strategy that supplies weapons to the opposition, because the opposition is almost entirely Sunni Arab," he notes. While some in the opposition favor democratic principles, a growing number are "extremists whose agenda is to create an Islamic state."

As the Syrian civil war has unfolded, there have been unsettling changes on the ground. "The upr ising did not begin as an Islamic uprising, but the extremists have become prominent in the fight, including foreign fighters," Galbraith observes.

"This is morphing into a larger fight that goes beyond Syria. Basically, it's a Sunni-Shiite clash."

Christian Widows in India Beaten for Refusing to 'Reconvert' to Hinduism

One left homeless; another dragged to Hindu temple, left unconscious

By Jeremy Reynalds
Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service

NEW DELHI, INDIA (ANS) -- When Laxmi Sovi, a Christian widow in India's Chhattisgarh state, heard her door opening one morning last month, she could not have guessed that by the next day she would be hospitalized and her home demolished.
According to a story by Morning Star News, three Hindu extremists identified only as Veeru, Chaytu and Mangru burst into Sovi's house in Kakadi Beda village, Kondagoan, at 9:30 a.m. on Aug. 24 and demanded that she and her children convert back to Hinduism. She refused and the three men left. 

However, that night at about 11 p.m., the same Hindu nationalists forced their way into her house. 

"They asked me why I converted to Christianity and left all the Hindu idols, and they also told me that I should reconvert to Hinduism or else be killed," Sovi said. 

Sovi, who became a Christian four years ago, refused to renounce Christ. The Hindu extremists began beating her and her two children, threatening to rape her teenage daughter. The children managed to escape and hid in the surrounding jungle, but the men continued to assault Sovi while insisting that she deny Christ. 

One of the men struck her on the neck with a club, and she collapsed in pain. 

According to Morning Star News, she later took refuge in the jungle, where she hid for the rest of the night - with a fractured left hand, swelling on her neck and multiple contusions. 

The next morning, Sovi returned home with area Christian leaders to find her house demolished. She received treatment at Rabindranath Tagore Hospital in Kondagoan. 

"As her house was completely demolished, she is taking shelter at the house of another Christian in the area," Rev. A.K. Netam, an area pastor, told Morning Star News. 

Mother, Daughter Dragged to Temple

A week before, in the southern state of Karnataka, Hindu extremists dragged another widow, along with her daughter, to a Hindu temple and beat her unconscious when she refused to convert back to Hinduism.

Pastor T.S. Surendara of the Rehebothe Prarthana Mandir Church told Morning Star News that this assault was led by Hindu extremist Chinna Bhovi. 

Hindu extremists beat Christian widow Doddamma unconscious. (Morning Star News)
The attackers forced their way into the home of a widow referred to only as Doddamma at 6:30 p.m. on Aug. 18 in the Government Ashraya housing area of Chickmagalur.

The Hindu nationalists asked them who gave them permission to convert to Christianity and talk about Christianity with their neighbors, Surendara said.
They dragged Doddamma and her daughter, Laxmi, to a Hindu temple and tried to force them to convert back into Hinduism, but they refused to renounce Christ.

"The extremists beat, kicked and punched them with their hands for almost an hour and uttered foul abuse at them," Surendara, their pastor, said.

Doddamma lost consciousness, and her daughter was semi-conscious when neighbors found them lying on a road, reported attorney Moses Muragavel of the Karnataka Legal Aid Cell.

Morning Star News said Doddamma and Laxmi suffered multiple bruises and swelling and were hospitalized for three days.

"The extremists also looted Doddamma's house, stole their safe cupboard, clothes, ratio n card and all important documents, and further vandalized her house," Surendara said.

Police have registered a First Information Report against seven suspects under various sections of the Indian Penal Code, but no arrests had been made at press time.

In another incident in Karnataka, Hindu extremists attacked house church Pastor Parama Jyothi in Mobanahalli village, in Chitradurga District, on Aug. 11.

"At about 10 a.m., the extremists barged in while we were praying and started to beat me up," Jyothi told Morning Star News.

The Hindu extremists dragged him along a road, tearing his clothes until he was half naked. Jyothi's body was covered in bruises, and three front teeth were broken, according to Muragavel of the Karnataka Legal Aid Cell.

Church members took their pastor to a hospital, where he was treated for about a week.

Morning Star News said Jyothi submitted a letter to the Bejikere Police Station requesting protection, as the Hindu extremists had warned him that he should vacate his house and leave the village within a week if he continued to follow Christ.

Arson a 'small price to pay' for Egyptian pastor

(Photos courtesy SAT-7)
Egypt (SAT-7) ― Days ago, SAT-7, a Christian satellite television service to the Middle East and North Africa, aired footage of Egyptians worshipping in the remains of the Evangelical Church of Beni Mazar.
Located in the town of Minia, it was one of over 80 Egyptian churches targeted in violent attacks during August. This special episode aired as part of the SAT-7 program, "My Church."

Dark smears mark where flames licked the outside walls of the church building after arsonists set it ablaze. The charred hull of the interior is crumbling and peeling where wood and paint previously existed. Singed wiring hangs loose from the ceiling.

On August 14, Rev. Hany Jacque received a phone call notifying him that angry rioters had broken in the door of the church. For seven hours, the rioters stole furniture from inside, broke the glass windows, and burned the church's books, including its Bibles. They also looted and burned its community services building next door, which had provided medical and financial assistance to all the residents of Beni Mazar, regardless of their religion.
Rev. Jacque reflected on the destruction, "The Church is not walls and buildings. The Church is us, the people of God. They burned and destroyed the building, but it will never be possible for them to burn and destroy the Church because the Church will remain forever. If this was the cost for the God's people in this place, that's alright. Pay it, because God's people must always speak the truth.... This is a small price to pay for us to speak the truth."

During the service aired on SAT-7 this week, congregants filled the desecrated building with songs of praise and the words of Scripture. Congregants sang, "Jesus, we bless Your name." They joined hands and prayed that God would accomplish His will in the Church. The song leader encouraged the congregation, saying, "The joy of the Lord is your strength...God's glory in the midst of the Church is a sign for what is coming in the land of Egypt. The Church will be filled with glory."

Rev. Jacque preached a message from Haggai 2. He read encouragement from the Word to the congregation, saying, "‘The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,' says the Lord Almighty. ‘And in this place I will grant peace,' declares the Lord Almighty." Toward the end of the service, Rev. Jacque asked Church members to forgive the rioters. He quoted what Jesus said of His attackers on the cross: "They know not what they do."

The Reverend emphasized that while they would have a new building, it was just as important that all things become new in their hearts and their thinking. Another church member closed in prayer, saying, "We turn our eyes today from our surroundings to Your lordliness.... Lord, we pray today for everyone who wronged us, with all love: for each one who extended his hand with an axe, for each one who extended his hand with fire, or stole from the Church."

Attacks targeting Christians intensified after former president Mohamed Morsi was removed from power.

Dr. Terence Ascott, SAT-7 CEO, reflects on the response of Egyptian Christians: "It is evident that the almost universally non-violent response to these attacks (the worst assault on Christians in Egypt for almost 600 years) has greatly impressed many Muslims. This has been a very public turning of the other cheek by the Christians of Egypt and a very public act of obedience to Jesus' injunction for His followers to 'love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you' (Matt 5:44)."

Some Christians are leaving Egypt in hopes of economic opportunities and security, but there is also a spiritual revival taking place among those who remain. Programming Manager George Makeen, an Egyptian citizen, is optimistic about the new opportunities that the revolution brings. He says, "People try to find ways to co-exist and live together, as they now feel responsible for their safety and their future. There are still drastic troubles of lack of trust and misunderstandings, but I think we are moving forward toward knowing and respecting each other."

Makeen sees improvements in education as the key to a brighter future for Egyptians and believes a SAT-7 program could shed light on this. Current public school curricula do not provide an accurate presentation of national history or teach the components of a democratic system.

Given the opportunity, Makeen would also arrange for SAT-7 to do more filming in rural areas to raise awareness for the problems residents outside the cities face. In the meantime, SAT-7 provides a broad platform for reaching and teaching Arabic speakers throughout the region with Christ's message of hope and reconciliation.