Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Iranians jailed for ‘house church’ attendance

Christians lose appeals against incarceration for meeting together to pray

Three of the four jailed Christians in Adel-Abad Prison. From left to right:
 Mojtaba Seyyed Alaedin Hossein, Homayoun Shokouhi
 and Mohammad-Reza Partoei.
Mohabat News
Four Iranian Christians jailed for attending a ‘house church’ have lost their judicial appeals.
Mojtaba Seyyed Alaedin Hossein, Mohammad-Reza Partoei, Vahid Hakkani and Homayoun Shokouhi were each sentenced in June to three years and eight months in prison.

Shokouhi’s wife Fariba and son Nima both received suspended sentences of two years’ imprisonment at the appeals-court hearing, which took place in Shiraz.

This is the latest in a long line of prosecutions of Christians in Iran, with the most common charges being actions against public security and propaganda against the regime.

Article 26 of the Iranian Constitution gives the right to religious minorities, including Christians, to form societies and to meet together.

Iran's abuses widespread despite reform promise

(Image courtesy Voice of the Martyrs)
Iran (MNN) ― Iran's regime has made stopping the spread of Christianity a cornerstone of its crackdown on religious freedom.

It's those actions and others like them that have drawn closer scrutiny from the United Nations. The UN's special rapporteur for human rights in Iran has said the country has shown "no sign of improvement" in human rights and "continues to warrant serious concern."

Spokesman for the Voice of the Martyrs USA Todd Nettleton says Iran dismissed the findings. "Their instant response was, ‘Well, this is biased. He doesn't know what he's talking about.' But the reality is: this is what we see happening inside Iran."

There are estimated to be as many as 370,000 Christians in Iran, according to the most recent U.S. State Department report. The UN report noted Iran's "authorities continue to compel licensed Protestant churches to restrict Persian-speaking and Muslim-born Iranians from participating in services, and raids and forced closures of house churches are ongoing.... More than 300 Christians have been arrested since 2010, and dozens of church leaders and active community members have reportedly been convicted of national security crimes in connection with church activities, such as organizing prayer groups, proselytizing, and attending Christian seminars abroad."

Recent attempts to show a more moderate face aren't really convincing, adds Nettleton. "They're not going to fool the people inside Iran who know this is going on, and they're not going to fool the international community because the stories are just too consistent. Even though they would like for the information to stay locked in Iran, it does get out, and groups like the Voice of the Martyrs and others are able to say, ‘This is what's really happening behind the scenes.'"

In fact, a Voice of the Martyrs Canada report indicates Iranian Christians are requesting prayer following a series of arrests that took place about the time the government released some prisoners in an effort to appear more liberal.

At least 20 Christians, mainly from Muslim backgrounds, were detained in Tehran, Karaj, Isfahan, and Tabriz. As a sign of being politically progressive, the government of newly-appointed President Hassan Rouhani pardoned and then released 11 prisoners of conscience on September 20. Two of them were Christians.

Meanwhile, Christian Solidarity Worldwide released a report that documented the sentencing of four Christian men to 80 lashes on Oct. 6.  The men were arrested in a house church after a communion service last December and charged with consuming alcohol in violation of the theocracy's strict laws. The group has ten days to appeal.

How does the new regime respond to international concerns? It's not really up to the administration, explains Nettleton. "Presidents will come and go. The Supreme Council is really where the power's at in Iran. They will decide what the human rights situation is in Iran, and as I said, they're Islamic mullahs, so they're going to go according to Islamic law which teaches that if you leave Islam to follow another religion like Christianity, you're an apostate. The call for that is the death penalty."

Young Iranians, who make up a majority of the population, are dissatisfied with both their religion and government. Why? "One of the real side effects of the human rights situation and the abuse of people in Iran is that it's being done in the name of the government, which is an Islamic government. The people identify that as being done by Islam, so they see the failure of Islam in their country, and they are very open to the Gospel."

That's resulted in a rapidly-growing Church in Iran, which cycles back around again to clerical rulers who see Christianity as a threat to Iran's majority ultra-orthodox Shiite Islamic religion, a crackdown, disillusionment, and more growth.

Persecution has intensified since 2005, with marked increases in 2011 and 2012. Authorities raid house church services, detain worshipers and threaten church members. The publishing, importation, or reprinting of Bibles or Christian literature is illegal.

VOM supports satellite TV and radio broadcasts that are instrumental in sharing the Gospel and teaching the growing church. Nettleton observes, "That's the good news. It is coming with persecution; we believe there are 42 publicly known cases of Christians who are currently in prison in Iran, so that growth is coming with a price."

It's very difficult for us to truly understand the tremendous pressures Muslim converts face in a society that harshly opposes the Christian faith. The Voice of the Martyrs comes alongside this remnant. "One of the very significant ways that we're involved in Iran is to produce Bibles for the Iranian church and deliver them--get them into the hands of the Christians inside Iran," Nettleton explains. "Another thing that we're involved in is helping people to advocate and encourage some of those Christians who are in prison."

Christians stand fast after years of violence, and the Gospel is spreading

(Image courtesy Mission India)
India (MNN) ― In some parts of India, who or what you put your faith in holds the power of life and death.

Orissa is one out of five states in India that has an active anti-conversion law. The violence that exploded between Hindus and Christians in August of 2008 has left bleeding wounds, and hostility remains. As more Indians convert to Christianity, attacks increase.

“Who you worship in India is a big deal,” says Dave Stravers, president of Grand Rapids, Michigan-based Mission India. “The testimony of believers to Jesus is the key factor here.”

Recently, a man was violently assaulted for distributing tracts. He was dragged to the police and told to stop.

In another village, a young man witnessed to four of his friends who then came to Christ. The five young men, mostly teenagers, met for regular prayer meetings. One day, a large group of Hindu activists interrupted their prayer by breaking down the door and beating them.

“Often the persecutors result to violence,” Straver says. “Almost every worker at some point gets physically attacked, beaten up. So we pray for the miracle of great courage.”

These stories echo the acts of genocide in 2008. “That was the typical reaction years ago, but now the new stories we are hearing are actually more encouraging,” says Stravers.

He shares a story of a Mission India church planter in a small village. Four families out of 72 came to Christ as Stravers ministered to them, and the rest of the villagers became terrified. They believed that Shiva, their village god, would punish the whole village because of these four families. Fear for their crops and their health caused great hostility.

The village leaders ordered the families to stop following Christ, but they refused. For the time being, the Christian families are meeting outside of the village to worship.

Members of Mission India are confident that as the fear of Shiva abates, more families will come to Christ in that village. The steadfastness of those four families is very encouraging, and they continue to witness to their neighbors.

Often pride of heritage and culture can be a barrier for the Gospel. Indians are extremely proud of their background, and their resistance to the Gospel can increase when it is presented by a foreigner.

“The fact that there are very few foreign workers in India for the past 30 years is actually positive,” says Stravers. “We try to help the workers in India in a way that does not give a foreign face to the Gospel.”

Poverty is also a barrier for new Christians. Most Christians in India are first generation and do not have great understanding of skills in ministry. They need access to Bibles and other materials that could aid in witnessing. They also would benefit from training. To see how you can help, click here.

Pray that new believers and the workers placed in India will be encouraged. They know that they will face persecution and resistance. Pray for courage and strength, and that they would look to the eternal significance of their work. Pray that the Gospel will continue to spread in India despite the restrictions and hostility toward it.

Two pastors killed in Kenya

Perpetrators must be arrested and security increased, say church leaders

Lauren Pressley / Flickr / Creative Commons
Two pastors from southern coastal towns in Kenya were killed last weekend in separate attacks.
Charles Mathole, a leader of Mombasa's Redeemed Gospel Church in Mtopanga, was found dead in church on the morning of Sunday October 20, shot in the head and with a Bible in his lap.
In Kilifi, about 60 kilometres north of Mombasa, the body of a pastor with the East African Pentecostal Churches, Ibrahim Kithaka, was found dumped in a patch of bushes.
The two deaths come just a few days after the coastal town of Mombasa witnessed its worst rioting in recent years after the drive-by shooting of a Muslim Imam, Ibrahim Rogo, itself in the aftermath of the Westgate mall attack.

The "Gadfly" is home after being deported from Iran

Pastor Eddie Romero has arrived back in Southern California after being held for 32 hours following a daring protest on behalf of five prisoners of faith

By Dan Wooding
Founder of ASSIST Ministries

LOS ANGELES, CA (ANS) -- The Rev. Eddie Perez Romero, a minister at the Hacienda Christian Fellowship, La Puente, California, has arrived back in Southern California after being arrested outside of the notorious Evin Prison in Tehran, Iran, following his audacious protest on behalf of five prisoners of faith, including Saeed Abedini, the American pastor who has been sentenced to eight years imprisonment for his Christian activities conscience.
The 'Gadfly' addresses the media at Los Angeles International Airport

Romero, who is also known as the "Gadfly", was held for 32 hours after his protest and then took refuge at the Swiss Embassy in Tehran, was greeted by a large crowd of supporters at Los Angeles International Airport on Wednesday, October 23, 2013.

The pastor, who made headlines in 2008 when he was arrested in China for his human rights activism at the Beijing Olympics, denounced what he called the "belligerent" Islamic regime, but also said that he had been treated well after being arrested.

He told reporters gathered at the airport, "We had long good discussions. The primary interrogator spoke very good English. We really had a serious, serious discussion.

"To me it was just a wonderful time together," he added.

Eddie Romero speaking to his supporters
Romero protested outside Tehran's Evin prison, calling for the release of five inmates who he said were prisoners of faith and conscience, including a prominent human rights lawyer.

"We have to do things outside the box," he told supporters and journalists gathered at Los Angeles International Airport.

"Because conventional ways are way too slow, way too slow for people who are languishing in prison, way too slow for families who are hurting to have their loved ones back."

What made his protest amazing was that Romero managed to livestream about five minutes of his protest, before being arrested and taken into the prison for questioning, according to organizers.

He had been traveling with a tour group but left it three days before the protest, and went into hiding. Reports suggested he stayed at the Swiss embassy in Tehran.

"I'm a little bit unkempt right now, only because I have spent four nights on the streets of Tehran as a homeless person," he told reporters.

The pastor surrounded by the many that came to the airport to show their support
"At least that's what I appeared to be, until I was able to go to the gates of the prison and raise my protest, and then be taken in," he added.

Explaining why he did it, he said: "It is for freedom that Jesus Christ has set us free, not for bondage, not for tyranny. It's important for the church to understand that, and to work in many ways outside the box."

"It's enough for a belligerent government to try to stop people to have a good conscience and freedom of faith. I'm just thankful to the Lord for the journey that we've been able to have here."

The prisoners here protested on behalf are:
1. Farshid Fathi, an Iranian Christian pastor
2. Saeed Abedini, a naturalized American citizen from Iran who started an orphanage in Tehran and was arrested
3. Mostafa Bordbar, a Christian activist
4. Alireza Seyyedian, a member of a Christian house church
5. Mohammed Ali Dadkhah, a prominent human rights lawyer in Tehran and co-founder of Defenders of Human Rights in Iran

And if they have learned of his courageous stand on their behalf, they must be thrilled that a Hispanic Christian pastor was willing to put his life on the line on their behalf. The least we can now do, is to pray for each one of them and thank him for for his most unusual protest.

Muslims in Pakistan Arrested on Forcible Conversion Charges Assailants beat three Christians, shoot at house, police say

By Dan Wooding
Founder of ASSIST Ministries

ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN (ANS) -- Morning Star News (, is reporting that police in Islamabad have arrested three Muslims for pistol-whipping a Christian and his teenage nephews after they refused to convert to Islam, sources said.

Pakistani Christians in prayer
According to the Pakistan Correspondent for the news service, the assailants in an Islamabad suburb allegedly have links to a banned Islamic extremist group. The primary suspect, Muhammad Nadeem, and others approached a 43-year-old Christian, low-level government worker Boota Masih, on the night of Oct. 4 in the Khokhar Town area of suburban Islamabad, Masih said.

"At around 9 p.m. my teenage nephews and I were standing in the street along with some Muslim neighbors when Nadeem and three of his accomplices approached us on two motorcycles," Masih said. "At that time we were discussing the recent terrorist attacks in Peshawar, including the one on a church [in which more than 80 Christians were killed and several dozen injured when two Uzbek suicide bombers targeted the Sunday service]."

The visitors joined the conversation, which turned tense when Nadeem said Christians had altered the Bible over the years and that Christianity was "a distortion of facts."
The scene outside of the Peshawar church after the brutal attack

"He then bluntly asked me to convert to Islam," Masih said, adding that Nadeem told him, "Islam is the only true faith, and you must join us to fulfill Allah's will. The West and Zionists are hatching conspiracies against Islam because they are scared of its rise and popularity in their countries . They know one day Allah will give the whole world in our control and every person will become a Muslim."

The story goes on to say that Masih told Nadeem that he wasn't interested in discussing religion with him, and that he should stop unnecessarily criticizing Christianity, he said.

"The other Muslims present there also objected to Nadeem's provocative remarks and told him to leave us alone, but he refused to leave, threatening instead that they would make sure that all Christians 'seek forgiveness' and 'embrace Islam,' or else they would have to face the 'consequences,'" he said.

Masih said that when Nadeem refused to back down in spite of several warnings, a scuffle broke out between them.
"Nadeem and two of his accomplices hit us with the butts of their handguns, besides punches and kicks, and waved their weapons in the air to prevent others from intervening," he said.

The assailants left him and his two young nephews lying on the road, bleeding profusely, he said.

Masih said that Nadeem was said to be a local ruffian who has been named in several criminal cases, but that this was the first time he had been involved in a religiously motivated incident.

Pakistani Muslims at prayer inside the Faisal Mosque, Islamabad
"If a local maulvi [Islamist cleric] pressured us to change our faith, I would not have been surprised, but being forced by a local criminal to convert to Islam was shocking for me," he said.

Morning Star News says that the next afternoon, Masih said that he and his family were out shopping when a neighbor called him by cell phone and told him that Nadeem and two others had attacked his home.

"We rushed back to our house and saw that the door of the house was damaged," he said. "Nadeem and his accomplices had fired at the door, and bullet holes were also visible on the wall and façade of the house. I thanked God that none of us were present in the house when all of this happened, or else the loss would have been irreplaceable."

Masih said that he decided to register a complaint with the Shahzad Town Police Station against Nadeem and two of his unidentified friends. Shahzad Town Inspector Asjad Mahmood told Morning Star News that police investigated and registered a case against the assailants for forcible conversion under penal code sections 506, pertaining to criminal intimidation, and 298, "deliberate intention of wounding the religious feelings of any person."

The three Muslims who tried to force Boota Masih and his nephews to convert to Islam have been jailed, and police have prepared charges against them, Mahmood said.

"The accused admitted that they had forced Masih and his nephews to change their faith and also confessed to have attacked his house when they refused," Mahmood said. "Such incidents cannot be condoned, as no one can impose their belief on others."

Sub-Inspector Azhar Mahmood, the investigating officer in the case, also told Morning Star News that he had found that Nadeem and his accomplices had tried to force Masih and his nephews to renounce Christianity.

"Nadeem is a local criminal, and several cases are already registered against him," Azhar Mahmood said. "We are still investigating his links with banned outfits, but during interrogation it was revealed that he's also hooked on drugs, which might have played a role in his errant behavior."

He said that on Oct. 11, when he escorted Nadeem and the others to court for their hearing, the primary suspect's parents were also there. He said that Nadeem started verbally abusing his parents, telling them that they should stop worrying about him as he had "devoted himself to serving Islam."

The Pakistan correspondent then said that the police official said that area residents had told officers that Nadeem and his accomplices had recently started picking quarrels with Christian residents. He added that there were about 200 to 300 Christian families in Khokhar Town, but that this was the first time a Christian had registered a formal complaint against Nadeem and his friends.

"We have assured the Christians that we will protect their lives and property from such anti-social elements, but they should also trust us and inform whenever they face such a situation," he said. "Islam preaches peace and tolerance, but such elements are maligning its image by imposing their own brand of religion."

The Pakistani Minorities Teachers' Association Is Planning a Boycott of Ethics Textbooks in Their Country

Their leader, Prof. Anjum James Paul, has written to the Prime Minister of Pakistan saying that they discriminate against non-Muslims

By Dan Wooding
Founder of ASSIST Ministries

FAISALABAD, PAKISTAN (ANS) -- A Pakistani leader of a minority's teacher's group, Professor. Anjum James Paul, has written to the Prime Minister of his country, Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif, claiming that ethics textbooks discriminate against non-Muslims.

Children attend a UNICEF-supported Co-curricular activities at a government primary school in Bogharmang Union Council, Pakistan. (© UNICEF/PAKA2008-1519/Giacomo Pirozzi)
And he has told the ASSIST News Service that his group, the Pakistani Minorities Teachers' Association, are planning a boycott of these ethics textbooks in their country.

He said, "There is Islamization of textbooks as Islamic prayer is written almost on each and every textbook while these books are for all the students regardless of any creed".

In his letter to the Prime Minister, Paul says that article 25 (1) of the Constitution of Pakistan guarantees equal citizenship to all Pakistanis as it describes, 'All citizens are equal before law and are entitled to equal protection of law'".

He went on to say, "It is a sorrowful state that there is the violation of the constitution in this regard. There is discrimination with the fundamental rights of the students of the religious minorities. There are biases and propagation on the religious basis against Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism, Christians, Hindus and Sikhs in the contents of the present curriculum and the textbooks.
Prime Minister of Pakistan. (© UNICEF/PAKA2008-1519/
Giacomo Pirozzi)

"Muslim students have been provided the facility of the subject of Islamic Studies and of the teachers but the minority students have been have been deprived of their fundamental right to study their own religion/s. It is the responsibility of the state to provide equal opportunity to all citizens without any discrimination. Due to this the parents and students from the minorities are in oppression and depression.

"They feel insecure to send their children even to the public sector educational institutions because anything wrong can happen to them. The minority students have to suffer due to the biased curriculum, biased textbooks and biased environment of the educational institutions.

"Sir, the subject of Ethics has been introduced only for the minority students though it is the utmost need of all the students to have the human values such as tolerance, patience, human dignity and human rights. The minority students have to study mythology and comparison study of religions from grade 3 to grade 11 which is a master level course while the majority students have to study only the fundamental teachings of their own religion. The subject of Ethics is like a poison for these innocent minority students of the age 6 or 7. This is the age for them to know their own religion/s but they are going to be confused in the forthcoming textbooks.
Children at a Pakistan school held in the open.(© UNICEF/PAKA2008-1519/Giacomo Pirozzi)

"The curriculum in the subject of Ethics is biased and even there has not been any role of Christians, Hindus, and Sikhs to develop the textbooks according to their beliefs. The subject of Ethics is being imposed on the minority students. The minorities have always demanded the subject of "RELIGION" for their children as their constitutional and fundamental right but unfortunately no government has paid heed on this genuine demand."

He then said that the Pakistan Minorities Teachers' Association has the following demands on behalf of the religious minorities of Pakistan.

1. The subject of 'Ethics' must be replaced into the subject of 'Religion'.
2. There must be separate textbooks and teachers for Christian, Hindu, Sikh, Baha'i, Parsi and other minority students as it is in the case of the majority students.
3. The curriculum and textbooks in the subject of 'Religion' must be developed by the educationists and the theologians of the relevant religion/s.
4. The biased and hate promoting material against Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism, Christians, Hindus, Sikhs and other religions must be abolished from all the textbooks.
5. Comparison between or among religions must be abolished from all the textbooks as it is described in the instructions of the Curriculum Wing, but deliberately violated while the textbooks are developed by the publishers.
6. There must be chapters on peace, human rights, human dignity, social and interfaith harmony at all levels.
7. The role of all the Pakistani heroes in different fields must be included in the textbooks without the distinction of race or creed as all the Pakistanis have played their role in the creation and construction of Pakistan.
Professor Anjum James Paul
Anjum Paul added, "Sir, the rights of child are guaranteed not only in the Constitution of Pakistan but also in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Convention on the Rights of the Child, International Covenant on the Civil and Political Rights, International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief."
He then said that PMTA he would like to present a brief description of the Articles that safeguard the rights of the child in this regard which included Article 22 of the Constitution of Pakistan 1973, which says,
Article 22: Safeguards as to educational institutions in respect of religion, etc.
(1) No person attending any educational institution shall be required to receive religious instruction, or take part in any religious ceremony, or attend religious worship, if such instruction, ceremony or worship relates to a religion other than his own.
(2) In respect of any religious institution, there shall be no discrimination against any community in the granting of exemption or concession in relation to taxation.
(3) Subject to law
(a) no religious community or denomination shall be prevented from providing religious instruction for pupils of that community or denomination in any educational institution maintained wholly by that community or denomination; and
(b) no citizen shall be denied admission to any educational institution receiving aid from public revenues on the ground only of race, religion, caste or place of birth

He concluded his letter to the Prime Minister by saying, "Sir, we request you to kindly address the demands of the Pakistan Minorities Teachers' Association (PMTA) and provide the constitutional, fundamental and legal rights to bring the minority students from oppression and depression. There must be the supremacy of law and all citizens must be treated equally as guaranteed in the Article 25 (1) of the Constitution of Pakistan. There will be good a gesture to the community of nations as Pakistan is already signatory of the above mentioned Covenants and Conventions and has ratified them.

"It is utmost need of the time to promote the culture of peace, harmony, tolerance, human rights and social justice. Such a culture can only flourish when education system is fair and unbiased and according to the guidelines of UNESCO. Secure minds can secure the nation but not the arms".

Professor Anjum James Paul also sent ANS a brief introduction to the efforts and achievements of the Pakistan Minorities Teachers' Association (PMTA), in which he said, "The Pakistan Minorities Teachers' Association (PMTA) was established on August 28, 2005 by Professor Anjum James Paul. PMTA is constantly struggling with a dream to make Pakistan a role model state where people of religious minorities will one day live as a part of Pakistani nation and where they will not be judged by their faiths but by the content of equality.

"PMTA feels pleasure to share with you its role and achievements and expects more positive changes in the near future. Though it is a way to Calvary but we know that way to Calvary is a way to victory. The achievements are the results of our reservations and recommendations that have been brought to the notice of the esteemed offices of the government of Pakistan through correspondence, raising voice through electronic and print media, the support of minorities politicians ,religious leaders of the minorities and the civil society.

"Though much has to be achieved yet but we are hopeful that we shall surely be able to achieve our destination someday. The reservations and recommendations have also been placed in the end so that the readers may come to know for our unending efforts to abolish all sorts of discriminations from the Pakistani educational system and to make this land according to the vision of its founder Quaid-i- Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah that he presented in the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan on August 11, 1947".

Clerics call on UN military force to secure Central African Republic

In joint statement, Christian leaders warn of ‘interfaith civil war’

Church leaders in the Central African Republic
have issued a joint appeal for international action.
World Watch Monitor
The leaders of the Central African Republic's 4 million Christians have issued a joint plea for military help to disarm a largely Muslim insurgency and prevent "genocidal interfaith civil war."
Meeting Oct. 3-6 in the capital, Bangui, the more than 100 church leaders issued a document accusing the Séléka rebel coalition of killing pastors, raping nuns, torturing civilians, burning villages, destroying churches and looting property.
The church leaders' "Bangui Declaration" urges the international community to "fly rapidly to the rescue, to prevent the country from falling into the hands of extremists and religious fanatics." They said security units provided by neighbouring countries are ineffective and urged the UN to send a more robust, multinational, force.
The delegation to Bangui contained representatives of all Catholic and Protestant denominations in the country. Their declaration was signed by four representatives: Rev. Franco Mbaye-Bondoi, general secretary of the Evangelical Alliance of Central Africa;  Rev. Nicolas Geurekoyame-Gbangou, president of the alliance; Mgr. Dieudonné Nzapalainga, the Catholic archbishop of Bangui; and by Abbot Cyriaque Gbate-Doumal, general secretary of the Episcopal Conference of Central Africa.
Their statement also asks for humanitarian aid to affected areas, and for the creation of a transitional government to craft a new constitution and prepare elections.

Northern Iraq no longer safe for Christians

The Kurdish capital of Erbil is one of a number of cities
where bombings have left Christians feeling unsafe.
Tom Blackwell / Flickr / Creative Commons
An increase in violence against Christians in northern Iraq has increased the flow of Christians leaving the country.

The north, generally considered a relatively safe area of the country, had become home for many Christians fleeing from the tumultuous central and southern regions.

However, several bombings in the north in recent months have caused panic among the Christian community.


Conviction of Christians for Murder of Hindu Leader in India Biased, Unfounded

Attorneys Say Evidence insufficient for convicting seven sentenced to life in prison

By Dan Wooding
Founder of ASSIST Ministries

NEW DELHI, INDIA (ANS) -- Morning Star News ( is reporting that the sentencing of seven Christians this month to life in prison for the murder that triggered anti-Christian riots in India's Orissa state resulted from a "biased and unfounded conviction", Christian attorneys and leaders said.
Swami Laxmananda Saraswati. (Wikipedia)

The New Delhi Correspondent of the news service said that Maoists have twice claimed responsibility for the Aug. 23, 2008 murder of Hindu leader Laxmananda Saraswati and his four followers in Kandhamal District of the eastern state of Orissa (officially "Odisha" since 2011).
While the state is part of India's "Red Corridor" and most Maoist extremists are said to be Christians, nowhere in the judicial process was it established that the seven Christians convicted are Maoists, Christian leaders said.

"The trial court has proceeded in a biased manner and convicted these innocent persons against whom there is no clinching evidence," the Rt. Rev. D.B. Hrudaya, representative of the Evangelical Churches of Orissa, told Morning Star News. 

"Obviously, the judgment was declared under political pressure that it has to be like this. We will appeal in the Orissa higher court for the seven Christians."

The story said that an eighth suspect, Pulari Rama Rao (alias Uday), reportedly has links with Maoists and was also sentenced to life in prison. Police reportedly recovered from Rao a pistol used in the killing. Several other Maoists accused in the case, including leader Sabyasachi Panda, have absconded.

The court of the additional district and session judge of Orissa state in Phulbani on Sept. 30 found the eight guilty of conspiring and murdering Saraswati and his four disciples. 

Among the charges for which the eight were convicted was unlawful assembly and rioting. They were sentenced on Oct. 3. A ninth suspect was released for lack of evidence.

The seven accused Christians were implicated primarily on the basis of belated statements by two witnesses, Mahasingh Kanhar and Birendra Kandar, whose testimony changed in the course of the trial, defense attorneys told Morning Star News. Initially called by the prosecution, the two witnesses surprised them by saying they didn't know anything about the case.

After prosecutors won the right from the High Court to re-examine them, Kanhar and Kandar switched their testimony again, saying they saw the suspects meeting in a forest and overheard them conspiring against the Hindu leader.

"The inconsistencies available in the prosecution case and the attempt to implicate the accused persons by hiring witnesses cannot go unnoticed," S.K. Padhi, trial court lawyer on behalf of the accused told Morning Star News. "Whenever the witnesses failed to support the prosecution case at the initial stage, they started supporting examination on recall for the reasons best known to the prosecution. This unusual behavior of the witnesses clearly indicates that at a later state the witnesses have been tutored at the instance of the police."

Two eyewitnesses at the scene of the killing in Tumudibandh, Kumudini Pradhan and Malati Pradhan, said there were four assailants, two with masks and two without, and described them as "tall and dark." This later led to the identification - without a police lineup of other people - of two Christians, Durjyodhan Sanamajhi and Bijaya Kumar, as suspects. But another eyewitness, security guard Brahmavhari Madhap Chaitanya, stated that four gunmen who entered the ashram were all wearing masks, and that he could not identify them.

Morning Star News went on to say that some have suggested that the investigating officer may have neglected to question eyewitnesses at the crime site, as witnesses there at that time did not disclose information to police, said Tehmina Arora, an attorney with Alliance Defending Freedom-India, who appeared for the accused at the Supreme Court for their bail application.

"It's hard to understand why those who were eyewitnesses to such a tragic event failed to disclose the same to the police," she told Morning Star News. "The reliance placed on certain witnesses by the court seems unjustifiable and based on assumptions and presumptions. Furthermore, in spite of little evidence of the same, the court has made very strong and unwarranted statements against the seven Christians."

Attorney Pratap C. Chhinchani, counsel in the High Court of Orissa, said evidence was insufficient for a conviction.
"The evidence which have been brought on record are hardly sufficient to convict these accused persons, since the charge of criminal conspiracy or murder and other offenses have not been proved or established against them by leading cogent evidence," Chhinchani said.

Church leaders said that the seven Christians were arrested without being informed of the charges against them, with four of them dragged from their homes in the middle of the night in whatever they were wearing.

"The judge at Fast Track Court at Phulbani, Orissa, intentionally delayed the hearings of the cases for years," said Sajan George, national president of the Global Council of Indian Christians. "The accused were detained in jail without bail from the time of their arrest till the date of their conviction despite numerous bail applications filed on their behalf."
Violence against Christians in Orissa

Saraswati was a leader of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, a Hindu nationalist umbrella group opposed by Orissa's communist Naxalite movement. His death set off anti-Christian attacks, with ethnic and political differences also playing a role in the violence. At least 100 people were killed, according to church leaders. 

Some 5,600 houses in 415 villages were looted and set on fire, and 54,000 people were left homeless. 

Nearly 300 church buildings were destroyed, along with a number of convents, schools, hostels and welfare facilities, according to the government figures.

Many of the victims lost identity papers and title deeds to their properties that are vital to exercise their basic constitutional rights.

Christian 'Gadfly' arrested outside the notorious Evin Prison in Tehran, Iran, while protesting on behalf of five prisoners of faith, including Saeed Abedini

By Dan Wooding
Founder of ASSIST Ministries

TEHRAN, IRAN (ANS) -- A Southern California pastor who made headlines in 2008 when he was arrested in China for his human rights activism at the Beijing Olympics, has been arrested again, this time outside the notorious Evin Prison in Tehran, Iran.

Rev. Eddie Perez Romero
The Rev. Eddie Perez Romero, a minister at the Hacienda Christian Fellowship, La Puente, and an instructor of religion, ethics and philosophy at Mt. San Antonio College, largest community college in the United States, was arrested last night (Sunday, October 20, 2013) outside the prison where he was protesting on behalf of five prisoners of faith, including Saeed Abedini, the American pastor who has been sentenced to eight years imprisonment for his Christian activities.

A statement made available to the ASSIST News Service ( by his organization, exodust8one (, said, "Last night at 10:30 pm PST, Pastor Eddie Romero, also known as Gadfly, made a declaration of protest and surrendered to the authorities at Evin Prison in Tehran, Iran.

"It was 9 a.m. Monday morning in Tehran. Three days earlier he left his tour group in Tehran and went into hiding until the event. He protested on behalf of five prisoners of faith and conscience who are currently being held at the prison."

They are:

1. Farshid Fathi, an Iranian Christian pastor
2. Saeed Abedini, a naturalized American citizen from Iran who started an orphanage in Tehran and was arrested
3. Mostafa Bordbar, a Christian activist
4. Alireza Seyyedian, a member of a Christian house church
5. Mohammed Ali Dadkhah, a prominent human rights lawyer in Tehran and co-founder of Defenders of Human 

Rights in Iran

The statement went on to say, "Pastor Eddie's event was 'Up streamed', and includes about five minutes of video and 30 minutes of audio. Pastor Eddie was heard protesting, surrendering, and being taken inside the prison and questioned briefly. Once his phone was discovered, the call was ended soon after.

"The event is posted on the website ( and more videos should be coming that recorded what happened."
Pastor Romero talking about his first day in prison

The website also has posted Pastor Eddie's first prerecorded video that talks about his first day in prison. To view it, please go to

The statement added, "Pastor Eddie's current whereabouts are unknown and no word has yet been sent to his family from the government. Pastor Eddie's friends and family await word from him and support him in his appeal to the government to release five prisoners of faith and conscience."

The name of his organization is taken from Exodus 8:1, which says, "This is what the Lord says: 'Let my people go, so that they may worship me.'"

According to Wikipedia, "A Gadfly is a person who upsets the status quo by posing upsetting or novel questions," something that this unusual pastor certainly does, even at the risk of his own life.

Gunmen Attack Christian Wedding in Egypt, 3 Killed, 18 Injured

By Dan Wooding
Founder of ASSIST Ministries

Scene inside the church after the deadly attack
GIZA, EGYPT (ANS) -- Two unidentified gunmen riding motorcycles opened fire on guests exiting the Virgin Church, located in Warrag, Giza, Egypt, on Sunday, October 21, 2013.

According to Mary Abdelmassih of the Assyrian International News Agency (, the gunmen fired automatic weapons as the guests exited the church after attending a wedding ceremony.

According to Reverend Justus, the pastor of the church, one man, one women and an 8 year old girl were killed, and 18 were injured.

Reverend Justus said the gunmen were masked and were able to flee despite traffic congestion.

Anguished women pictured inside the church (Screenshot)
The Director of Giza Security formed a task force to find the gunmen.

The Corniche Road leading to the area was evacuated.
The attack is yet to be classified as "criminal" or "terrorist."

A YouTube video (Arabic) shows scenes from the church after the attack. To view it, please go