Burma | Reforms Offer No Respite for Ethnic Christians
May 4 (Compass Direct News) – Amid global euphoria over reforms in Burman-majority parts of Burma, life has changed little for more than 3 million Christians and other minorities left to suffer from one of the world’s longest running civil wars. Headlines around the world hailed the induction on Wednesday (May 2) of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi into parliament as the beginning of a new era in Burma, officially known as Myanmar.
But for the 150,000 Internally Displaced People (IDP) living in eastern Karen state’s 4,000 IDP camps, life is still about landmine blasts, gun and mortar attacks, and the possibility of a final war between armed insurgents and the Burma army. As part of its reform initiatives, the Burmese government is trying to ink ceasefire agreements with armed ethnic groups. Karen rebels, however, believe the talks are a government strategy to buy time and prepare for a showdown. Saw Htee Ler, a rebel leader with the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), the armed wing of the Karen National Union (KNU), said the government strategy is to engage the KNU in peace talks so that the military can bring supplies – arms, ammunition and food – into KNU-controlled areas without clashes. Ler said military personnel target civilians because they are seen as the strength of the KNU. “And Christians are targeted simply because their [government troops’] religion is Buddhist,” he said. Aw John Nay Moo, a commando from the KNLA’s Special Force, agreed that Christian civilians were attacked more than Buddhist civilians. He cited a 2007 incident in Pekey Der village in Papu District under the KNLA Brigade 5 area, where troops burned down a church and “defecated on the Bible.”
Egypt | Judge Frees Attackers Who Knifed Christian
May 9 (Compass Direct News) – A judge in Upper Egypt has dismissed all charges against a group of Salafi Muslims who cut off the ear of a Christian in a knife attack in which they tried to force him to convert. The Salafists, who say they base their religion on the Islam of the first three generations after Muhammad, had falsely accused 46-year-old Ayman Anwar Metry of having an affair with a Muslim woman, the Christian told Compass. On April 22 the judge exonerated the assailants only after Metry, under intense pressure in a “reconciliation meeting,” agreed to drop charges, said his attorney, Asphoure Wahieb Hekouky. Metry said his attackers demanded he say the Shahada, the Islamic creed for conversion, and that when he refused, they cut off his ear. Almost as soon as the police questioning ended, the assailants began pressuring him not to prosecute anyone, Metry said.
The attackers threatened all his family members, he said, including his brothers and sisters, to try to force him to drop the charges, he said.
The Salafists were trying to beat him to death, Metry said, and so they could “kill the facts” of the attack. In addition to slicing off his ear, they cut him all over his body and left bruises from a beating that “would have killed a camel,” he said.
Egypt | Court Rulings Mirror Fears, Hopes in Vote
May 30 (Compass Direct News) – In the lead-up to the country’s first democratic presidential election, a court ruling confirmed fears that justice will continue to elude the Christian minority in post-revolutionary Egypt, while another verdict offered some hope. On May 21 a judge sentenced 12 Coptic Christians to life in prison for their alleged part in a riot in Abu-Qurgas village, in Minya Province, that left two Muslims and one Christian dead. Eight Muslims charged with the same crimes in the same riot were all acquitted. The ruling shocked even Copts accustomed to biased and brutal legal judgments. A rare verdict in the case of a Muslim who killed a Christian, however, held out some hope for Copts.
On May 14 an Egyptian court led by Chancellor Mahmoud Salama upheld a death sentence against Amir Ashour Abd al Zaher, a police officer who in 2011 boarded a train, attacked a group of Christians and shot one dead.
The verdicts came against the backdrop of the first round of what is being touted as Egypt’s first truly democratic presidential election. After the first round of elections held May 23-24, unofficial results show the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammed Mursi leads with ex-prime minister Ahmed Shafiq following close behind. Mursi and Shafiq will face each other again in a run-off scheduled for June 16-17.
Ethiopia | Wrongful Conviction Robs Christian of Children
May 17 (Compass Direct News) – His wife died shortly before he was falsely accused of desecrating the Quran, and by the time he was released from prison in southern Ethiopia, his two children, ages 6 and 15, were missing.
Tamirat Woldegorgis walked out of prison in Jijiga on April 25, limping, after spending nearly two years in custody, including months in a small cell with 50 other inmates that left one leg paralyzed. “I have been trying to locate my children, but all in vain,” Woldegorgis told Compass.
“My life is ruined – I have lost my house, my children, my health. I am now homeless, and I am limping.” Muslims in his native Hagarmariam village may have taken his children to further discourage him from having any influence in the area, said Woldegorgis, now staying with a friend in an undisclosed town.
A member of the Full Gospel Church, Woldegorgis was arrested in August 2010 after a Muslim co-worker in the clothes-making business the two operated out of a rented home discovered he had inscribed “Jesus is Lord” on some cloth, area Christians said. His business partner later accused him of writing “Jesus is Lord” in a copy of the Quran, although no evidence of that ever surfaced.
Angry sheikhs from area mosques had Woldegorgis arrested for desecrating the Quran, though sources said Muslims also accused him of writing “Jesus is Lord” on a piece of wood, on a minibus and then on the wall of a house. Woldegorgis was sentenced to three years in prison on Nov. 18, 2010, and eventually he was transferred to a prison in Jijiga. While he was in prison, authorities sometimes beat him in efforts to force him to recant his faith and become Muslim, but he refused, he said. “Life in Jijiga prison was very harsh,” Woldegorgis said. “Some of the inmates died.”
India | Recent Incidents of Persecution
May 31 (Compass Direct News) – On April 30 in Banglawmedu, state police cancelled a Bible study after Hindu extremists from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) disrupted the meeting, roughed up those present and ordered them to cease alleged forceful conversion. The Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) reported that pastor V. Neethirajan of The Church of God Ministry was leading the three-day study.
Holding their party flag aloft, the extremists shouted, “Don’t convert Hindus to Christianity,” and, “We won’t allow it,” and threatened to attack again if they continued the study, according to the GCIC. The pastor and other Christians went to a nearby police station and filed a complaint against the BJP members. Police issued a warning to the extremists, but then ordered the Christians to cancel the remainder of their Bible study meeting.
Karnataka – On April 26 in Yekahanka New Town, Bangalore, Hindu extremists stormed into a prayer meeting, beat a pastor and accused him of forceful conversion. The Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) reported that the pastor, identified only as Prakash, of The Living Hope Church, was leading Christians in prayer when about 10 intolerant Hindus arrived at 7 p.m. and ordered them to stop immediately.
They tore the pastor’s clothes and verbally abused him, according to GCIC. Accusing him of fraudulently and forcibly trying to convert Hindus to Christianity, they dragged him to the Yelahanka New Town police station, which was investigating, reported GCIC. At press time area Christian leaders were still intervening to resolve the matter.
Andhra Pradesh – On April 22 in Saroornagar, Hindu extremists from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh forcibly stopped a Sunday worship service, alleging that the church was illegally built and accusing the pastor of forceful conversion, according to the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC). The pastor, identified only as Sreekantt, produced documentation of the registration of the church land, but the extremists continued to harass him. Local media also disseminated false information against the pastor, reported the GCIC.
Indonesia | Harsh Era Looms in Aceh
May 16 (Compass Direct News) – The election of a hard-line Islamic governor in Indonesia’s Aceh Province last month appears to have opened the way for a crack-down on the minority Christian community, which saw 17 churches sealed shut in early May. Emboldened by the April 9 election of Zaini Abdullah of the militant Aceh Party (Partai Aceh, or PA), hundreds of Islamists demonstrated in front of the office of Aceh Singkil regency on April 30, demanding area church buildings be not only sealed but demolished. Christian leaders told Compass that, besides the usual pretext of lack of church permits – applications for which local authorities routinely deny or delay – the demands were based on a controversial agreement that Christians were reportedly forced to sign in 2001 stipulating that there be only one church and four chapels in the regency. The number of churches in the regency had grown to 22, and the Diakonia Secretary of the Indonesian Fellowship of Churches, Jeirry Simampow, said that the demonstrators were upset with the Interfaith Harmony Forum for allowing the growth of churches in the area.
Of the 17 churches closed, 11 belong to the Protestant Christian Church of Pakpak Dairi, or GKPPD. The Rev. Elson Lingga, GKPPD district superintendent, told Compass that the mob clamored for the demolition of the church buildings, and that on May 2 a new acting regent had agreed to the demand. “This position was supported by the police chief, who said that the time for dialog was past – all he wanted was a schedule of the church demolitions,” Lingga said. “It’s not that Christians do not want to apply for permits, but it is extremely difficult to secure permission even though we have put forth our maximal efforts.”
Indonesia | Islamist Mob Throws Urine at Church
May 23 (Compass Direct News) – No arrests have been made since 600 Islamists hurled bags filled with urine and ditchwater at about 100 members of a church last week and threatened to kill its pastor.
Police looked on as the mob attacked the Philadelphia Batak Christian Protestant Church worshipping on the street in Bekasi, near Jakarta in West Java Province, on Thursday (May 17), church attorney Saor Siagian told Compass by phone. The mob, which included the chairman of the Bekasi chapter of the extremist Islamic Defenders Front, began to throw urine, ditchwater, rotten eggs, stones and dirt when Pastor Palti Panjaitan came to address the congregation. The church had to disperse, Siagian said. Pastor Panjaitan told local media he received a death threat and has filed a police complaint. Authorities had asked the church, part of the Huria Kristen Batak Protestan denomination and located in Jejalen Raya village, to worship at a site about six miles from church land, Siagian said. The church applied for a permit to construct its house of worship five years ago as mandated by law. The local administration asked it to shut down in December 2009. The Supreme Court overruled the administration’s decision in July last year, saying the church was eligible for a permit, but due to pressure from Islamist groups, Bekasi officials insist the congregation meet elsewhere.
Iran | Lawyer of Pastor on Death Row Faces Prison
May 8 (Compass Direct News) – The main defense lawyer for Iranian pastor Yousef Nadarkhani, who is appealing a death sentence, may be facing imminent imprisonment for defending the rights of Iranians, according to Amnesty International. Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, a prominent human rights activist, had been sentenced in July to a nine-year prison sentence and a 10-year ban on legal practice and teaching, and he learned on April 28 that an appeals court had upheld the sentence. Charges against him included “membership of an association seeking the soft overthrow of the government” and “spreading propaganda against the system through interviews with foreign media,” according to a press statement by Amnesty International. At press time it was not known whether he had been detained, but he has reportedly said he expected to be imprisoned.
An expert on Iran who requested anonymity said that Dadkhah had been Nadarkhani’s main lawyer, but that if he were imprisoned the effect on Nadarkhani’s fate would be unclear. “What is clear is that this development is not good news,” the source said. “My sense is that the rule of law in Iran is abused, and the decisions of the Iranian courts are unpredictable and at the whim of the authorities. If Nadarkhani is hanged or released, it will not be primarily on the basis of the arguments of a good lawyer, but based on the whim of the authorities.” In another significant case, the Iranian Revolutionary court sentenced Farshid Fathi, a Christian held in Tehran’s Evin Prison since December 2010, to six years in prison, Mohabat News reported last month. Fathi’s lawyer plans to appeal the case.
*** A photo of Mohammad Ali Dadkhah is available to subscribers. A high resolution photo is also available; contact Compass for transmittal.
Iran | Officials Heighten Control on Farsi-Speaking Church
May 11 (Compass Direct News) – Leaders of the Assemblies of God’s (AOG) Central Church of Tehran told their congregation on Sunday (May 6) that authorities have demanded a list of names and identification numbers of church members, a major risk to converts from Islam. Church leaders then asked members in attendance to volunteer their information. The AOG church holds two Sunday services, both of which are conducted in Farsi. It is the only church remaining in Tehran that offers Farsi-language worship on Sundays.
“This [government move] is basically to make sure the church is not taking in new members and to make it difficult and risky for non-Christians to attend,” Monsour Borji, an Iranian Christian and advocacy officer for rights initiative Article 18, told Compass. “It is an effort to limit the church, basically.” The result of the most recent demand, according to Borji, is that as members of the Central AOG church consider whether they are willing to turn over their names and identification numbers, some are faced with the ethical dilemma of whether they would be denying Christ by declining to reveal themselves in this way. “It has created an ethical dilemma for some church members who are not sure what to do, because giving their information feels suicidal,” Borji said.
Israel | Victims of Explosion Lament Plea Agreement
May 31 (Compass Direct News) – A Messianic Jewish congregation leader whose son was almost killed by a bomb planted by an ultra-right wing Jew said he feels like the Israeli criminal justice system has abandoned him. On Monday (May 28), the Jerusalem District Court approved a plea agreement for the man accused of bombing pastor David Ortiz’s home, Jack Teitel, without consulting Ortiz or his attorneys, Ortiz said.
The plea agreement is unique in that the court said Teitel committed the acts, but it did not hold him responsible for committing them. Ortiz, leader of the Congregation of Ariel, said the prosecutor’s office has also consistently misled his attorneys about basic information on important court filings for the case. Teitel has multiple charges against him for several acts of violence, including two killings, but prosecutors in Ortiz’s case have sidelined or deliberately avoided him, Ortiz said. The Ortiz family opposes any plea bargain. The prosecutor that is supposed to be protecting Ortiz’s interests is neglecting his duty, he added. “He doesn’t want to be seen protecting Christians,” Ortiz said. “It doesn’t benefit him in society.”
Nigeria | Islamic Terrorist Bases Raided in Cities Of Jos, Kano
May 21 (Compass Direct News) – The Nigerian military’s discovery here of a Muslim terrorist base full of ammunition and explosives on Saturday (May 19) refutes Islamist claims that Christians have been bombing their own churches, a local pastor said. An intensive three-day search by Nigeria’s Special Military Task Force found four Improvised Explosive Devices, along with 19 other explosive devices. In northern Nigeria’s Kano state, Nigerian forces killed a suspected Islamist militant in a raid on May 1 following Boko Haram’s April 29 attack on worship at Bayero University, where 19 people reportedly died from bomb blast and gunfire. Two of those killed in the attacks were professors. A Catholic church held a memorial service on May 11 for the 10 Catholics slain at the university.
The Rev. Emefiena Ezeani, who had just finished conducting mass at his parish when he heard about the attack, said too many people are refusing to acknowledge that churches are as much primary targets of Boko Haram as police, government and media facilities. “Has Boko Haram, thanks to their being truthful, not made it unequivocally clear that their ultimate intention is to Islamize the whole of Nigeria? I am worried by the disturbing and deafening silence,” he said. In an attack in Maiduguri, in the northeastern state of Borno, that authorities said was related to the Kano assault as it took place on the same day, April 29, suspected Boko Haram militants reportedly charged into a Church of Christ in Nigeria service and began firing as the congregation was about to take communion. Witnesses reportedly said that when congregation members who escaped later returned, they found the pastor dead along with four other slain worshippers.
Nigeria | Violence Continues as Akinola Criticizes President
May 29 (Compass Direct News) – In Nigeria’s Plateau state, Christian leaders said more Christians have died at the hands of Muslim extremists than the 35 that the military reported thus far in May. In three local government areas in Plateau state, armed Fulani herdsmen attacked 15 Christian villages, killing and maiming Christians, destroying homes and leaving more than 1,000 villagers displaced, sources said.
Villagers said the attackers were Muslim Fulani herdsmen likely supplied and instigated by Islamic extremist groups. Sources told Compass that Muslim gunmen invaded Rinyam village on May 9 at about 12:30 a.m. and shot seven Christians in their homes, though increasingly assailants are using only machetes and knives to avoid notice by soldiers charged with keeping order.
The Nigerian president on Sunday (May 27) took pointed criticism over the violence. At a special worship service in Abuja for Democracy Day with President Goodluck Jonathan in attendance, the former Anglican primate of the Church of Nigeria, Peter Akinoloa, told those gathered at the National Christian Centre Abuja that the government should not dialogue with Boko Haram. “They want to eliminate ‘infidels,’ which includes you, Mr. President,” Akinola said. “You open yourself to ridicule if you open dialogue to a group that has made the country ungovernable. Don’t treat them with kid gloves. You don’t dialogue with criminals.” Speaking later, Jonathan said he has directed security agencies to launch a complete war against Boko Haram. “We have done a lot and committed resources to advance our security architecture in order to tackle terrorism, and, God willing, we shall overcome,” he said. “My request is for you to stand by me.”
*** A photo of the Rt. Rev. Peter Akinola is available to subscribers. A high resolution photo is also available; contact Compass for transmittal.
Pakistan | Injured Convert Tries to Rebuild Life
May 15 (Compass Direct News) – Muhammad Kamran isn’t sure who sent the men to beat him after his Muslim wife told both her family and his that he had become a Christian.
The 34-year-old native of Karachi said his wife’s brothers had begun coming to his office to threaten him before unidentified assailants attacked him as he was returning home two years ago. “I don’t know who sent those men,” Kamran said. “It could have been my family or hers. They beat me up mercilessly, the effects of which I’m suffering even today. My pelvic area and groin were badly injured by their kicks and punches, and still today I’m suffering from pain.” Even help from a local politician has not been able to procure medical treatment funding for a convert from Islam in Pakistan’s current religious climate. “The biggest hurdle I’m facing is his name,” said the politician, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “I can only recommend government funds for people belonging to minority communities, but seeking money for a man with Muhammad in his name and ‘Christian’ in the religion column of an official form is a recipe for disaster, and frankly the situation in Pakistan is not such where anyone will be willing to take such a big risk.” Kamran’s wife divorced him and he married a Christian woman, but his family members have continued threatening them. He and his wife Asha, now eight months pregnant, have changed residences four times to avoid his family. His wife told Compass they are living in constant fear. “Every other day, we receive threatening phone calls,” she said.
“They are now asking him to abandon us and renounce Christianity, threatening that they will kill me and our child.”
Pakistan | Life Sentences for ‘blasphemy’ Overturned
May 18 (Compass Direct News) – A court acquitted a Christian couple of “blasphemy” charges yesterday, overturning their life sentences, their lawyer said. Chaudhry Naeem Shakir told Compass that Justice Mazhar Ali Akbar Naqvi of the Lahore High Court accepted the couple’s appeal because prosecutors failed to prove allegations that 32-year-old Munir Masih and his wife Ruqayya defiled the Quran or insulted Muhammad on Dec. 8, 2008.
The allegations by Muhammad Nawaz in Mustafabad, Kasur district, came under sections 295-B and 295-C respectively of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, which are routinely employed to exact revenge on Christians over personal disputes; in this case, the Christian couple’s children had fought with the family of Muhammad Yousaf, who directed his driver, Nawaz, to file the blasphemy charges. A trial court had exonerated them from charges of blasphemy against Muhammad in 2010 but sentenced them to life imprisonment (25 years in Pakistan) for allegedly defiling the Quran. The couple then filed an appeal in the Lahore High Court pleading not guilty. “During the trial, not a single witness spoke against the couple regarding the allegations of blasphemy,” Shakir said. “Therefore, [Kasur Additional Session] Judge Muhammad Ajmal Hussain on March 2, 2010 acquitted the couple in 295-C but awarded them life imprisonment under Section 295-B.”
Pakistan | Muslims Rape Girl, Beat Relatives for Prosecuting
May 21 (Compass Direct News) – A band of Muslims this month severely beat a pregnant Christian woman in Punjab’s Narowal district – causing her to lose female twins to miscarriage – in an effort to pressure her family into dropping charges of raping her 13-year-old niece, the woman’s husband said. Asher Masih of Dhamala village told Compass by phone that the men attacked his home on May 8.
“All three male members of our family, including my father, brother and myself, were out for work when Irfan Safdar and his accomplices trespassed into our house and started beating up my mother, sister-in-law and my wife, who was in her fifth month of pregnancy, mercilessly,” he said.
Muslim criminals in Pakistan believe police and courts will give little credence to the complaints of Christians. Masih said the family tried to register a First Information Report with local police after the March 29 rape, but officers turned a deaf ear to their pleas as a prime suspect is the son of former police inspector Safdar Bajwa. Police refused to file their complaint for more than a week, during which time the suspects repeatedly threatened the family, he said.
Masih said the Muslim family used various tactics to compel the victim’s family to drop the charges, and when all efforts failed, they attacked their house. After neighbors informed them of the attack, they took the injured women to a hospital.
“The doctors tried to save the babies, but Nosheen had a miscarriage because of the severe injuries inflicted by the attackers,” he said, adding that his wife was still in a state of shock and grief. Saddar Station House Officer Sohail Tariq was unavailable for comment.
Pakistan | Christian Accused of ‘blasphemy’ after Billiards Dispute
May 22 (Compass Direct News) – Police in Pakistan have charged a young Christian man with “blasphemy” after he had an argument with Muslims over a billiards game in Punjab Province’s Sheikhupura district, his cousin said. Farooqabad Police arrested Sajid Inayat, 20, on Friday (May 18) and charged him with desecrating the Quran under the country’s controversial blasphemy laws after area young men accused him of setting on fire “holy pages” placed in a box on an electricity pole, Irfan Manzoor said. Inayat was charged under Section 295-B, which makes willful desecration of the Quran or use of an extract in a derogatory manner punishable with life imprisonment. Manzoor told Compass by telephone that his cousin had been falsely accused because he had had an argument with some local Muslim boys over a billiards game just two days before the alleged incident. Sheikhupura District Police Officer Haider Ashraf said that authorities had sent Inayat to jail on judicial remand. Ashraf said the matter was serious and that police were investigating from all angles.
Pakistan | Bhatti Murder Case Increasingly Murky
May 25 (Compass Direct News) – The investigation into the murder of Pakistan’s only cabinet-level Christian, Shahbaz Bhatti, has become mired amid suspicions of a possible cover-up, sources said. Lax investigations, a series of freed suspects and lack of coordination across law enforcement organizations have stalled the case following the March 2, 2011 slaying of the federal minister for Minority Affairs, they said.
A trial court in Rawalpindi this month exonerated yet another suspect arrested for his alleged role in the murder, Ziaur Rehman, after an investigating officer told the court that he was no longer wanted in the case due to lack of evidence. Bhatti’s family cited business disputes between Rehman and Bhatti as their reason for suspecting Rehman. In February police had dropped investigations into another suspect, Abid Malik for lack of evidence. Bhatti’s brother, Paul Bhatti, said the family is not satisfied with the police investigation and authorities’ low level of interest in bringing the perpetrators to justice. “We thought Ziaur Rehman’s arrest would lead us to the killers of my brother, because the police had obtained an international arrest warrant based on evidence,” he said. “I don’t understand why they issued the request [for an Interpol warrant] if they did not have sufficient evidence.” At the scene of Bhatti’s murder, police recovered a leaflet asserting that Bhatti had been killed for raising his voice against Pakistan’s notorious “blasphemy” laws. Officially, police claim that the Taliban were behind the murder, while Interior Minister Rehman Malik has put the blame on militant group Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan. Napolean Qayyum, who belongs to the Pakistan People’s Party, as Bhatti did, said there was some indication that officials were hesitating to publicize their assessments of the case.
Sudan | Authorities Close Christian Offices in South Darfur
May 14 (Compass Direct News) – Security agents in Sudan’s South Darfur state have closed down the Nyala offices of the Sudan Council of Churches (SCC) and relief group Sudan Aid, sources said. Agents from the Sudanese National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) arrived at the organizations’ compound in Nyala at 8 a.m. on April 22, ordered SCC staff members to hand over keys of offices and vehicles and, without explanation, ordered them to leave immediately, an SCC staff worker said. Three staff members from Sudan Aid were arrested in the course of the closure and were taken to an undisclosed location, the source said. NISS agents also closed down a church clinic that was serving the needy in the area. The actions came as Christianity is increasingly regarded as a foreign faith to be excised from Sudan, which has begun transporting ethnic South Sudanese to South Sudan following the latter’s secession last year. An estimated 350,000 ethnic South Sudanese, many of them Christian, remain in the Islamic north, with many having never lived anywhere else. Sources told Compass the incident left churches in South Darfur, one of five states that makes up the Darfur region, deeply disturbed and frightened.
May 2012:Released June 1, 2012
Copyright 2012 Compass Direct News
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