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EU Envoy calls on Sudan to release two convicted of aiding Czech Christian ‘spy’
March 31, 2017 By World Watch Monitor Abdulmonem Abdumawla, Demolition, Hassan Abduraheem, Jan Figel, Sudan, Sudan Church of Christ
Abdumonem Abdumawla and Revd Hassan Abduraheem Taour, prisoners since Dec 2015 The Special Envoy for the Promotion of Freedom of Religion or Belief outside the EU, Jan Figel, who visited Sudan in mid-March, has called for the pardon of two jailed Sudanese men, one a leader in the Sudan Church of Christ. Both were sentenced with the now-released Czech aid worker Petr Jasek. Since his pardon and release on 26 February, supporters say there are no grounds to keep the other two in prison. Both prisoners had been arrested in December 2015 for “aiding and abetting” Petr Jasek in his alleged ‘spying’.Two months ago (29 January) Revd Hassan Abduraheem and geologist Abdumonem Abdumawla were found guilty by a court in the Sudanese capital Khartoum of aiding Jasek to ‘spy’, incitement of hatred between religious groups, and propagation of false news. They were sentenced to 12 years in prison, and their families wept as they heard the verdict.Mr. Abdumawla was arrested by Sudan’s National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) in December 2015, after he began collecting money to help his friend, Ali Omer, a young Darfuri student, who had been injured and seriously burned during a demonstration in July 2013. Mr Abdumawla was put in contact with Revd Abduraheem and Petr Jašek, who then donated money towards Mr Omer’s treatment.Mr Abdumawla was held by the NISS between December 2015 and May 2016, not allowed to meet or communicate with his family during this time. He was moved to the Attorney General’s custody in May 2016 when the prosecutor started his criminal investigation. Mr Abdumawla is currently being held in al-Huda Prison in Omdurman.Revd Abduraheem was arrested by NISS at his home on 19 December 2015. NISS held him until 9 May 2016, when he too was moved to the Attorney General’s custody. Thereafter the prosecutor started building a case against him, which revolves around an act of kindness: he donated money towards medical treatment for Ali Omer. He also facilitated a meeting between Jašek and Mr Omer, after which Jašek donated $5,000 to Omer’s treatment.While detained by the NISS, Revd Abduraheem was not allowed to see his family, members of his church, or legal representatives. His family is especially concerned for his health as he suffers from stomach ulcers, and they have been unable to get his medication to him. He is currently also held in al-Huda Prison.Petr Jasek, found guilty of charges and sentenced to more than 20 years in prison, was then pardoned and freed by President Omar Bashir, but Revd Abduraheem and Mr Abdumawla still remain in prison more than a month later. They have appealed against their sentences, which have yet to be ruled on.The chairman of Sudan’s Legislation and Justice Committee at the National Assembly, Ahmed El Tijani, also reported that Jan Figel asked about the demolition of several churches. El Tijani told him that the churches were demolished for land-ownership reasons, and reaffirmed that some mosques have been demolished for the same reason. Last February, there were reports that Khartoum state authorities decided to demolish 25 churches. However, this decision has been suspended.(Following the secession of South Sudan in 2011, seven former Sudanese dioceses moved to South Sudan leaving only two dioceses for the small Christian minority in Sudan, mainly in South Kordofan and Khartoum states).Jan Figel said that the exchanges he had during his visit “demonstrated readiness of Sudanese partners to engage in continuous and constructive dialogue on religious diversity in Sudan, Horn of Africa and globally”.======================
re attacks on DRC churches religiously motivated?
April 10, 2017 By World Watch Monitor ADF, Joseph Kabila, Kasai, Kinshasa, North Kivu
Attacks attributed to ADF militants have claimed more than 800 lives, in eastern DRC, in three years. Photo: WWMAmid the increasing political unrest in the Democratic Republic of Congo, senior Catholic leaders have reported increasing attacks on church properties, and the intimidation and even torture of clergy. Below, World Watch Monitor’s Africa Bureau Chief, Illia Djadi, gives his perspective on what’s driving the new wave of violence.What is happening to the Catholic Church in DRC?ID: “There has been an upsurge of attacks targeting the Catholic Church in DRC in recent weeks and months. From Kinshasa, the capital, to the central Kasai province and, more recently, the eastern North-Kivu province, churches, convents and Catholic schools have been vandalised, looted by armed men, groups of youths or militiamen.“The attacks against the Catholic Church started in February, with demonstrations that occurred on 7, 10 and 11 February in front of the Archbishopric of Kinshasa, by groups of young people. This was then followed by more violent attacks.“On 18 February, the Malole major seminary in Kananga, in central Kasai, was ransacked and set on fire by militiamen.“On 19 February, the parish church of St. Dominic in the Limete municipality of Kinshasa was attacked by a group of youths, who attempted to set fire to the church.“On 31 March, militiamen attacked the town of Luebo, sacking several church buildings, including St. John’s Cathedral. The priests had to flee to the forest for safety.“On Sunday 2 April, armed men attacked the parish of Paida in the eastern town of Beni (North Kivu). Three priests were tortured. The attackers also stole money, computers and other goods.”What’s the background to this?ID: “An insurgency has been spreading since President Joseph Kabila failed to step down last December (at the end of his constitutional term of office). But following weeks of negotiations with the opposition, brokered by the Catholic Church, Kabila agreed that he would leave office after holding an election by the end of this year. However, negotiations collapsed last week amid a disagreement over the procedure for nominating a new Prime Minister from the main opposition bloc.“Meanwhile, unrest began in central Kasai Province in August when government soldiers killed tribal leader Jean Pierre Mpandi (also known as Kamwina Nsapu), who had launched an uprising against the government. The uprising has since spread to four other provinces and both militiamen and security forces have been accused of human rights violations; a number of mass graves have been discovered in Kasai and last month two UN experts sent to investigate abuses were abducted and killed.“In addition, the east of the country has been plagued by instability and violence for two decades. The vast eastern region of North-Kivu, which borders Rwanda and Uganda, has long suffered from lawlessness, and civilians have found themselves at the mercy of militias, rebels and military units. Violence there is exacerbated by competition for the region’s vast mineral wealth. This has created a fertile ground for the rise of a jihadist group, ADF-NALU.”Is this religious persecution?ID: “No, in that it does not constitute a threat to life or freedom on account of religion, which is broadly how the UN defines religious persecution. The leadership of the Catholic Church, which is a powerful force in the country, believes it is being targeted because of its involvement in the political mediation. So far, Protestant and Evangelical churches have not been attacked, nor, generally, have lay-Catholics.“The perpetrators are believed to be either members of political parties or militiamen, unhappy with the political deal. Although the Catholic Church has been critical of President Kabila, Nsapu’s followers have rejected the December agreements and argue that his Government has no right to still be in power. In late March, however, the bishops announced they would pull out of further mediation regarding the implementation of these agreements, citing ‘the lack of sincere political will and the inability of political and social actors to find a compromise’.”Another perspectiveYonas Dembele, an analyst for the World Watch Research unit of Open Doors, which supports Christians under pressure for their faith around the world, added: “Unless President Kabila’s government reaches a settlement with the opposition, it is very likely that the instability in the country will escalate. Any escalation would be likely to expose Christians in DRC to persecution emanating from various sources: If DRC were to descend into another cycle of civil war and chaos, organised crime, ethnic antagonism and militant groups – possibly including radical Islamic groups – could threaten the safety of Christians. Given the size of DRC, it is also likely that any instability could have a spill-over effect in neighbouring countries. It is therefore hoped, that the UN and regional powers will step up their efforts to help resolve this crisis.”
Egypt’s Christians mourn 49 killed in Palm Sunday church bombings
April 10, 2017 By World Watch Monitor Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Coptic Church, Egypt, Islamic State, Palm Sunday, Pope Tawadros IIEgypt’s Christians are in mourning and profound shock after yesterday’s twin suicide bombing attacks on churches packed for Palm Sunday, which left at least 49 people dead and more than 110 injured.The Coptic Pope, Tawadros II, narrowly escaped injury, having just celebrated Mass in one of the cathedrals that was targeted.Pope Tawadros told local television that “sinful acts will not undermine the unity and coherence of the Egyptian people in the face of terrorism”.
Worshippers at St George’s Cathedral in Tanta rush to tend to a man severely injured after a suicide bomber blew himself up during the Palm Sunday liturgyHis deputy, Fr. Sergius, added: “The Church will celebrate Easter and the terrorism cannot prevent it from doing that. We will not … let them break our joy.”The bombing in St. George’s Cathedral in the Nile Delta city of Tanta, 60 miles north of Cairo, killed at least 25 and injured at least 78, the state-run news agency, Al-Ahram, reported.A suicide bomber then blew himself up among worshippers leaving St. Mark’s Cathedral in Alexandria, where Pope Tawadros had just finished celebrating Mass. Eighteen worshippers and four police officers were killed, and 35 were injured.
Chaos in St George’s Cathedral, Tanta, after a suicide bomber blew himself up during the Palm Sunday liturgyEgyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi declared three days of nationwide mourning and said a three-month state of emergency would begin once legal and constitutional measures have been completed.Abanoub Gamal, a member of St. George’s, told World Watch Monitor: “I was standing behind the back pews, next to the church door. At about 9.05am I noticed a man wearing a brown jacket enter the church and walk among the pews from the back to the front … [He] stood in front of the church altar and he then exploded himself.”He continued: “Then there was a huge explosion, the lights went off, all the people screamed, the situation was terrible. The church was filled with the bodies of the dead, body parts and the injured. Blood was splattered all over the place and reached the church ceiling.”Mr. Gamal said he believed the Bishop of Tanta, Paula, was targeted but escaped death because he was not the celebrant at yesterday’s Mass. However, “the blast destroyed his chair by the altar”.Video footage shows a robed male choir singing in the moments before the explosion, when the picture cuts out and shouting and screaming can be heard. Most victims were men and many were deacons because the suicide bomber detonated his vest near to the pews in which the men sit.Mr. Gamal said he believed the Bishop of Tanta, Paula, was targeted but escaped death because he was not the celebrant at yesterday’s Mass. However, “the blast destroyed his chair by the altar”.Video footage shows a robed male choir singing in the moments before the explosion, when the picture cuts out and shouting and screaming can be heard. Most victims were men and many were deacons because the suicide bomber detonated his vest near to the pews in which the men sit.
Palm fronds for use in the service lie in a pool of blood after the attackMobile phone footage from the moments after the blast shows palm fronds in pools of blood, the floor of the church spattered with in blood, dust and masonry, and the decapitated body of one of the dead being carried out on a stretcher. One woman is heard screaming hysterically, while other members of the congregation move pews to get to the injured.Meanwhile, in Alexandria, eyewitnesses said the suicide bomber tried to enter the church as worshippers were leaving. A member of the congregation, Mina Makram, said one of the cathedral’s guards, a man named Nasim, “stopped him, prevented him from entering the cathedral, and asked him to pass through a metal detector first. The man entered the detector briefly, then took a step back and exploded the suicide vest he was wearing under his jacket.”Mr Makram said Nasim’s actions had saved many lives, including that of Pope Tawadros, at whom he said he believed the attack was aimed.“Pope Tawadros was targeted to be killed … If this suicide bomber had been able to enter the church, the number of the victims would have been more,” he said.Sameh Fahim, who had attended the papal Mass, told World Watch Monitor: “I walked just 20 metres out of the church and heard the sound of a huge explosion. White dust filled the place, body parts were flying through the air, people were screaming and running in the street. One was screaming, ‘My son!’; another was screaming, ‘My wife!’; and another was screaming, ‘My grandson!’, as they searched for their loved ones. I saw body parts like a body without a head; it was a terrifying sight.”The attacks raise questions again about security in Egypt’s churches and the government’s commitment to safeguarding its non-Muslim citizens. A priest at St. George’s Cathedral said they pointed to “a security defect”.“How did this suicide bomber reach the nave?” asked Fr. Youssef Sabry. “Where were the security forces who were guarding the church? How did they allow a person wearing a suicide vest to enter the church without searching him? There must be an investigation to find out who is behind this laxity and who is being held accountable.”The Islamic State group, which in February threatened to wipe out Egypt’s Copts, claimed responsibility for the attack and warned of more attacks, saying in a statement in Arabic: “The Crusaders and their apostate followers must be aware that the bill between us and them is very large, and they will be paying it like a river of blood from their sons, if Allah is willing.”Bishop Angaelos, General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the UK, lamented “the senseless and heartless brutality that can lead a person or people to indiscriminately take innocent lives, especially at the most vulnerable hour of prayer”.
During Pope Francis’ 28-29 April visit to Egypt he will visit Al-Azhar and is expected to voice his concerns about religious violencePope Francis, who is due to visit Egypt at the end of April, received word of the attack in Tanta while celebrating Mass in St. Peter’s Square yesterday.“I pray for the dead and the victims. May the Lord convert the hearts of people who sow terror, violence and death and even the hearts of those who produce and traffic in weapons,” he said in hastily prepared comments at the end.Grand Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb, head of Egypt’s Al-Azhar University, the seat of Sunni learning, said it was a “despicable terrorist bombing that targeted the lives of innocents”.The World Council of Churches condemned the attack and urged President Sisi “to act swiftly and boldly to safeguard the fundamental religious rights of worshippers of all faiths, to ensure security in the face of violence and to guarantee justice for all people”.One commentator urged Francis to cancel his trip, not only for his safety but also to ensure he would not boost the legitimacy of President Sisi.Rania Elmalky, former editor-in-chief of the Cairo-based Daily News Egypt, wrote on the Middle East Eye website that Egypt’s “ignominious record of church bombings”, as well as a “massacre” of political opponents, has been followed by “no legal path to justice, no closure for the families of victims, but lots of tempestuous speeches about religious unity and the need to eradicate terrorism”.A local Christian known as “Nehemiah”, who works to support Christians under pressure for their faith in Egypt, told World Watch Monitor he feared some Christians would be too scared to attend the daily church services that will take place throughout the rest of Holy Week.He added: “One of the most joyful days for Christians in Egypt is Palm Sunday. To prepare for that day, parents buy palm leaves for children the day before and weave them together and decorate them with spring roses, so that children can carry them happily the next day to church and place them near the pulpit… But that joyful day turned into a painful tragedy.“My soul is bitter and my spirit is crying in pain and agony. Lord have mercy on Egypt, Lord unveil the dark spirit of deception and show Your light, Lord help Your children to continue to be people with guts, courage and strong convictions, and may Your name be glorified even in the middle of death, pain and devastation.”==========
========================In choosing Christianity, Mexican tribals risk alienation, eviction from their communities
April 6, 2017 By World Watch Monitor Bolaños, Converts, Guadalajara, Jalisco, Tribals, Tuxpan de Bolaños, WixárikasA giant statue of a deer stands high above the Mexican town of Bolaños, a symbol of its significance for the locals, who believe a deer-god protects them.The belief dates back to when the Wixárika tribe first arrived in the area, in the western state of Jalisco, and encountered a deer which seemed to appear in front of them whichever way they turned. The tribe interpreted this as a sign of its promise of protection.Today, in a community still dominated by members of the same tribe, the deer retains its significance as one of three local “gods”. The others are the maize upon which the community subsists and a hallucinogenic drug believed to invite an encounter with the spiritual realm.For many of the tribe, to be Wixárika is to believe in the power of the three and to partake in the rituals and sacrifices offered to the gods – rituals involving blood, water and the use of the drug.Yet not all Wixárikas believe in these practices. There are some, dotted around the communities of the surrounding mountains, who have become Christians and now don’t want to take part in the rituals.
Tomasita, who lives in Tuxpan de Bolaños, now calls herself a Christian.Nor do they wish to give money to the tribal authorities – locally elected officials from among the native communities, which possess a certain degree of autonomy from the rest of Mexican society, and its laws.In several communities, this has created friction. In one town, Tuxpan de Bolaños, which is two hours from the municipal hub, 30 of the Christians were forcibly ejected from the town.
Tuxpan de Bolaños.A group of around 25 other Christians remains, but only because the Bolaños police force, which answers to the state government and not the tribal authorities, stepped in and refused to allow the others to be literally driven out of town.The first group were initially dumped by the side of the road in sub-zero temperatures in January 2016. Eventually, the police came to their aid, taking them to the main town of Bolaños, but the Christians still carry the trauma of the manner of their displacement.Then there is the trauma of being separated from loved ones – families were split down the middle, with children separated from their parents, and brothers from sisters – and forced to start again in a new town, miles from home.
Parents have been separated from children, brothers from sisters.The conditions in their new home remain less than ideal, with the 30 Christians inhabiting two storage shelters once home to crates of wine. Stepping inside, the lack of privacy is extremely striking, as is the suffocating heat. When all the Christians are together, sleeping in as many bunk beds as the shelter can handle, it must get even hotter. And goodness knows how husbands and wives find time to be alone together.For the Christians still in Tuxpan, they are having to survive without their pastor – he was part of the evicted group – while their church building (erected in 2010 beside the pastor’s home) is now officially off-limits.
The church.They now meet at the home of one of the women, Cenaida Bañuelos Sanchez, who acts as the group’s new spiritual leader.Sanchez, who will be 50 in June, is one of those whose family has been split in two – her son, daughter-in-law and five-year-old granddaughter are in Bolaños. Another of her children, Yolanda, remains with her and her husband in Tuxpan.
Cenaida Bañuelos Sanchez.A local indigenous missionary, Casimiro Martin Vazquez Mendoza – the man who brought the Christian message to Tuxpan – visits when he can. For 12 years, he has been travelling amongst his fellow Wixárikas, going back and forth between towns and villages which are hours apart. He has seen many accept the message he has brought, but he has also faced opposition.The tribal authorities – particularly the shamans in charge of the religious rituals – don’t take kindly to his attempts to lead others on a different path, nor do they like it when the converts then refuse to contribute towards the sometimes-week-long festivals.To some, the actions of missionaries like Mendoza might appear divisive – creating conflicts where there were none – but he is unapologetic.“People need Christ in these ethnic communities,” he says. “There is a lot of need, spiritual need… It’s a very difficult, very sad [life]… There’s lots of poverty.”
Casimiro Martin Vazquez Mendoza.Omar Rodriguez, who presides over a church in the state capital, Guadalajara, and also supports the Christians in Tuxpan and Bolaños, takes the same view.“We are convicted that God gave us the Great Commission,” he says, “and when He said to go out to the whole world, that includes our indigenous friends and compatriots, who also have a need to fill the emptiness in their hearts.
Omar Rodriguez.“And what could be better for us to share with them than the real God, the King of Kings and the God of Gods. The God who created the [things] that these guys worship.”The original pastor of the group, Jose de Jesus, who is now in Bolaños, adds: “Our Lord Jesus Christ changes us completely, He cleanses us completely, of all our filth, our greed, our hatred, and in addition to that He gives us His Spirit,” he says. “And therefore we are different, we no longer think about the [Wixárika] parties.”It isn’t only religious groups offering help and advice. Eduardo Sosa from Jalisco’s Human Rights Commission says he hopes that in time Wixárikas who become Christians will be able to live harmoniously with their fellow people, though he says it won’t happen overnight.“We need time, and that’s exactly what we don’t have,” he says. “The thing we need the most is the thing we have the least because the educational and sensitisation process is a long-term process.“When Christians evangelise [in these communities], they experience the same difficulty as the Human Rights Commission does when it arrives with the ideology of respect for human rights in a cultural structure totally different from the rest of the Western world.”Mr. Rodriguez, back in Guadalajara, shares his hope, saying: “We believe that our Christian community in Tuxpan can live in harmony with non-Christian Wixárikas because they have the same culture, the same principles. But some of their customs are not pleasing to God and our brothers have tried really hard not to practise those, which is part of the conflict that they have. However, we believe that living in harmony can be achieved, through intercession with the government and the state.”To achieve this, Dennis Petri from Christian charity Open Doors, which supports Christians under pressure for their faith around the world, says the Mexican government has a balancing act on its hands.“It’s very important that the right to the preservation of the indigenous and rural traditions are protected, and the Mexican Constitution provides for that … but that shouldn’t be used as an argument to violate the rights of individuals within those communities who decide to convert to another religion,” he says. “It’s essential that those rights are balanced.”The Christians still living in Tuxpan are trying to build bridges. Newly elected tribal officials were recently invited to Cenaida’s home, where 180 “gorditas” (tortilla wraps filled with meat or cheese) were handed out to the officials, as a kind of substitute payment.All the other locals had given money, but the Christians say they felt uncomfortable doing so, knowing it may go towards practices they disagree with. They say they hope their gesture will be received well and will help build relations with the new officials. A meeting has been arranged for 8 April, when the Christians will meet them to discuss what changes may be made to ensure a more harmonious existence.Mr. Rodriguez says the meeting is a “very important” step and “could be the start of something”.Signs of hope, then, that in time Christian Wixárikas may be able to live peacefully amongst their fellow people.
Christians easy targets in Mexico’s lawless borderlands
April 6, 2017 By World Watch Monitor Chihuahua, Drugs, Juarez, Organised CrimeThe Governor of Mexico’s northern state of Chihuahua, Javier Corral, admitted last week that his government does not have the means to tackle organised crime, and that he’s asked for federal resources to fight the drug cartels.This came four days after the murder of a local journalist, who’d reported extensively on links between organised crime and politicians.Chihuahua’s largest city, Juarez, on the border with the US state of Texas, used to be known as the murder capital of the world. From 2007-2014, thousands of people were killed every year in Juarez in violence related to organised crime. In 2011, the death toll across Mexico was greater even than in Syria and Juarez was at the centre of it.A period of relative calm has followed – though dozens are still killed every month – but a local church leader fears another crescendo of violence is around the corner.Most of the violence is drug-related and centres on Mexico’s 3,000km-long northern border, where cartels seek to take Class A drugs on the final leg of their journey from South America to the States.While the violence affects everyone, “actively practising Christians” are particularly vulnerable according to Dennis Petri, Latin American analyst at Open Doors, a charity that supports Christians under pressure for their faith around the world.Given that as many as 90% of Mexico’s population would identify as Christian, Petri says “it’s important not to look so much at their identity as Christians, but more at their behaviour that results from their Christian convictions. Whenever a Christian starts to engage in social work – for example setting up a drug rehabilitation clinic or organising youth work, that is a direct threat to the activities and interests of organised crime because it takes the youth away from them, so it is a direct threat to their market.”Petri mentions one church leader who was killed for setting up a drug rehabilitation clinic and then refusing to close it despite threats. He also cites the example of another church leader who set up a football team for vulnerable boys, some of whom were working as informants for cartels. When one boy then told the cartels he no longer wished to be an informant, he was killed.A more obvious example of why active Christians are easy targets comes from the perception that churches and their leaders have a lot of money, so congregations offer a ready source of cash – cartels can simply enter, lock the doors and ask the congregation to empty their pockets.Chito Aguilar, 62, a former drug trafficker who now leads a church, told World Watch Monitor: “Compared to a convenience store, they say, ‘Well if in a church there are 40 or 50 people, or 100’ – because [the cartels] do this on Sunday, not during the week – they say, ‘So they will bring money, they’re going to give their offerings’. So they become an easy target, because [the cartels] will come here, as they do here in Ciudad Juarez: eight people walk into a church, one or two will remain at the doors and the others will start collecting watches, rings, wallets … everything. So they become an easy target of the attackers.”
Chito Aguilar.There was a period, says Aguilar, when Christians were viewed as particularly susceptible to extortion because they would always pay. Church leaders, or members of their family, were kidnapped and a ransom demanded.Adrian Lara, a musician at Mr. Aguilar’s church, said: “The city of Juarez has been known around the world because the violence has been really hard. Today, in 2017, it’s less prevalent. But in 2012, it was very terrible. Every businessman was called by people, who said: ‘If you don’t pay, we are going to kill your children, or burn your house. We are going to do many things to you if you don’t pay’.”But some now refuse to pay. Mr. Aguilar even says he actively encourages his congregants to do the same. He says the tactic has worked, but that he fears the violence is on an upward curve again.
Adrian Lara.“Seven years ago, the situation was very difficult in Ciudad Juarez,” he says. “Lots of pastors were kidnapped, their children killed. It seems like for four years we had a period of calm, but in the last year the violence has started increasing again. Pastors are starting to be extorted, leaders threatened with kidnapping, and I believe that among the pastors there is fear because of what we lived and experienced seven or eight years ago.”With such large sums of money involved, corruption is inevitable, and fear pervades. World Watch Monitor had arranged interviews with three pastors and a pastor’s daughter, each of whom had suffered at the hands of the cartels – whether through kidnapping, threats or extortion – but interviews were either cancelled or phone calls repeatedly ignored. It is little wonder that people are scared when violence so abounds.But some did agree to talk. And the picture they painted was gruesome.One pastor, Eduardo Garcia, described the moment he learnt that his son Abraham, who was 24, had been killed, during the height of the violence in October 2009.
Eduardo Garcia holds an old family photograph in which his son, Abraham, stands in the middle.“The telephone rang and I heard my wife yell. I was on the second floor, but I heard her cry ‘No!’ very loudly,” he said. “So I went downstairs quickly and asked, ‘What happened?’ And she just said, ‘They killed Abraham’.“The pain we feel is really strong. We wouldn’t wish it on anyone… We had decided to try to rescue the city, but I never imagined we would become a part of the statistics.”Eighteen months later, Garcia’s daughter, Griselda, was kidnapped and her father was forced to pay a ransom to secure her release.Jorge Rodriguez, the Director of Religious Affairs for the city government, says the trials of the Garcia family shine a spotlight on crimes that in many cases go under the radar.“These [criminal] groups are affecting the whole city and especially the Christian community because we are a people of peace,” he says. “In many cases, the abuses are not even reported, but we have specific cases of pastors being kidnapped and children of pastors being kidnapped, such as in the case of Pastor Eduardo Garcia and his family.”Life in Ciudad Juarez is still fraught with danger. Fear pervades. And Christians are caught in the middle.=================
==============================Jakarta’s Christian governor reveals repeated sectarian attacks at trial testing Indonesia’s pluralism
April 5, 2017 By V. B. Sonata Ahok, Blasphemy, Indonesia, JakartaThe Indonesian Christian governor on trial for blasphemy said yesterday (4 April) that he has been the target of racist and religious attacks since he was elected to public office in 2005.Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (better known as “Ahok”), the governor of Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta, also reiterated to the court his belief that the Qur’anic verse at the centre of his trial – Al Maidah 51 – does not tell Muslims they cannot vote for a Christian. (The verse instructs Muslims to “not take the Jews and the Christians as allies”.)
Ahok’s trial, which has overshadowed his campaigning for election as Governor of Jakarta, is being seen by some commentators as a test of Indonesia’s commitment to pluralism. Photo: Jakarta Post videoSpeaking on the final day of witness testimony, he criticised his opponents’ interpretation of the contentious verse. He said he had insisted that it does not forbid Muslims from choosing a Christian governor. Ahok also said that hard-line cleric Rizieq Shihab, who on account of this argument had accused him of “insulting Islam”, was “a liar”.On Monday (3 April), before Ahok’s appearance in court, a senior figure in Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), Indonesia’s biggest Islamic organisation, said the verse was being deliberately misinterpreted by Mr. Shihab and other conservatives in order to unseat Ahok in Jakarta’s gubernatorial elections, which conclude later this month.The NU’s supreme council secretary-general, Yahya Cholil Staquf, told ABC: “What I believe is that Ahok is not guilty, and the case that he is charged with, it has all been a manipulative thing going on for the purpose of the election.”Ahok was charged with blasphemy after accusing his political opponents of using Qur’anic verses to stop Muslims from voting for him. Ahok had been labelled an “infidel” (a derogatory word for non-Muslims) by some of his opponents in the elections.
Protestors took to the streets of Jakarta in opposition to their Christian governor after he was accused of blasphemy. Photo: World Watch MonitorIn the first round of elections, on 15 February, Ahok led with 42 per cent of the vote. But this fell short of the required 50 per cent + 1 vote needed to win. Therefore, the election commission called for another round of voting, which will take place on 19 April.In the next round, his political opponent will be the former Minister of Education and Culture, Anies Baswedan, who followed a close second with 40 per cent of the vote.Even if Ahok were to win the second round, he might still lose the governorship if he is found guilty of blasphemy. According to Indonesian law, a regional head who is a defendant in a court case must be suspended from office if the punishment exceeds five years. The Penal Code 156 and 156A used in Ahok’s case put each sentence to a maximum of four and five years’ imprisonment, respectively.This scenario has many Indonesians asking if this could be the real face of Indonesia. Is the country, the largest Muslim-majority nation in the world, still democratic and tolerant? Or has it become a conservative country whose laws are becoming strictly compliant with Islamic rules, with the rights of minorities forced to give way to the rights of Muslims?Ahok rose to be very popular, and was voted Asia’s Best Governor in 2015 by The Globe Asia magazine. Before his blasphemy charge, more than one survey showed that more than 80 per cent of Jakartans were satisfied with his performance.“According to the survey, the governor’s electability has in part been boosted by tangible proof of his work while serving as governor, as well as his firm and straightforward style in leading the Jakarta administration. Jakartans also believe Ahok’s performance in areas such as health, public service and electricity provision is improving,” the Jakarta Post noted.However, minority groups such as Christians are worried. The margin between Ahok, a Christian, and Anies, a Muslim and a newcomer to politics, in the first round of elections was extremely narrow. Two surveys last year showed that after he was named as a blasphemy suspect in November his popularity ratings fell – one by 20 per cent, another by more than 40 per cent, even while Jakartans’ satisfaction with his performance was still high.A Bahasa Indonesian edition of the survey said that Jakartans were still satisfied with Ahok’s work but chose not to vote for him because of his case. This suggests that even moderate Muslims preferred to relinquish their support for him, even though the accusations against him were unproven.So the second round of elections in Jakarta could be seen as a battle between pluralism and fundamentalism in the country. After all, Jakarta is known as a “mini-Indonesia” and a symbol of the nation’s diversity.Fighting corruption and reforming JakartaAhok was not elected as Jakarta’s governor, but rose to the position when the former governor, Joko Widodo, was elected president in 2014. During both their administrations, Jakarta has been reformed: flooding and heavy traffic, for which it was famous, have been effectively reduced and the city’s public transport has improved.In this year’s run for governorship, Ahok pledged to continue to improve Jakarta’s infrastructure and governance.“We will still provide free access to health, education, better housing and transportation. But my biggest goal is for a clean administration and to educate the people about good governance,” he said.Ahok’s battle against Jakarta’s corrupted bureaucratic core has attracted many supporters, who long for clean and upright officials. But he has also attracted enemies — the old breed of political actors and officials, who feel threatened by his determination to fight corruption. The fact that Ahok is a Christian and of Chinese descent, both attributes of minority groups in Indonesia, makes it easy to do that. And the weapon they chose to accomplish that goal – religious fanaticism – has proven to be effective, as in other countries in Southeast Asia.One radical Muslim group, the Islamic Front Defenders (FPI), has been involved in politics since 2009, although this has been denied many times by its chief, Rizieq Shihab. However, it is common knowledge that political parties and actors “use” FPI: its members are sometimes nicknamed “pasukan nasi bungkus,” meaning “people who are paid to participate in a demonstration”.Since Ahok became governor of Jakarta, FPI has strongly voiced its opposition to his leadership, arguing that a non-Muslim should not rule over Muslims – a position backed by Indonesia’s Ulama Council, the country’s top Muslim clerical body. Huge demonstrations have been held against him.With the elections for governor round the corner, pressure is mounting on the central government to suspend Ahok. However, the Minister of Home Affairs, Tjahjo Kumolo, has refused to give in to the pressure, saying he will wait until after the public prosecutor announces its verdict on the blasphemy trial.‘History chose me for this position’At the start of the trial, in December 2016, Ahok looked upset and angry, as he was filmed by the lenses of national television cameras. At one point, the statesman was even caught crying. But he is now more upbeat and says his case has allowed crucial questions to be placed before all Indonesians.“Our founding fathers created the nation as a secular republic, based on the concept of ‘unity in diversity’, but they want to force the implementation of Islamic law. How come? So, I’m happy that history chose me for this position. I am not afraid of losing my position for doing what is right,” he said. “We must really have faith in God according to our religion. I have faith in Isa [‘Jesus’ in Arabic]. And I have faith about where I belong and where I will go when I die — and that’s why I’m not afraid to lose my life. In all I’ve been through, Jesus has always protected me and provided for all my needs.”=================
Sudanese Christian leader fatally stabbed at protest over seizure of church school
April 7, 2017 By World Watch Monitor Bahri Evangelical Church, Sudan Evangelical Presbyterian Church, Younan Abdulla
Younan Abdulla’s funeral was held on Tuesday (4 April). He is survived by his widow and two young children. Photo: CSW A Sudanese Christian was killed earlier this week while participating in a peaceful protest against the government’s attempted appropriation of a Christian school.Younan Abdulla, part of the Sudan Evangelical Presbyterian Church (SEPC), was participating in the three-day protest, after the government-linked committee in 2016 authorised the sale of the land on which the school is situated, without the school’s consent.A second church member, Ayoub Kumama, also suffered stab wounds. He was taken to hospital but has since been discharged.Bahri Evangelical Church, a SEPC church of which Mr. Abdulla was a member, has long been in a dispute with a committee linked to the government, which wants to buy the land on which the SEPC-owned school is situated.According to reports, around 20 people armed with knives and other weapons attacked the protestors, some of whom are thought to be linked to the committee, which was set up in contravention of Sudanese law.Police made one arrest. According to the charity Middle East Concern (MEC), Shamshoun Hamoud, a member of the committee, was arrested after eyewitnesses identified him as the person who stabbed Mr. Abdulla. The charity noted that no more arrests were made despite more people being involved in the attack.MEC wrote: “The police were present but failed to intervene to protect those who were attacked. They also failed to help Younan after he was stabbed.”School staff protesting against the proposed sale had been arrested on previous occasions -last month and in July last year.Prior to this attack the police had repeatedly arrested Christians in peaceful protests at the school, including Mr. Abdulla and the school’s headmaster on 16 March.Mr. Abdulla’s funeral was held on Tuesday (4 April) and he is survived by his widow and two young children. The service was attended by senior representatives of the US and UK embassies, MEC reported.A Foreign Office spokesperson confirmed religious freedom in Sudan “remains a concern for the UK“.The charity Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) said that Khartoum’s targeting of the SEPC was part of its drive to “diminish or remove the Christian presence from Sudan”.CSW noted that the Khartoum Bahri Administrative Court last week rejected a case brought by 25 churches challenging a government order to demolish their places of worship. The 25 churches belong to denominations including the Catholic, Coptic Orthodox, Sudan Church of Christ, Jehovah Witness and Pentecostal Churches.The harassment of Christians has intensified since the secession of South Sudan in 2011, when Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir vowed to adopt a strict interpretation of Sharia (Islamic law) and many Christians left for the newly created country.
Why were Pakistani politicians considering giving higher marks to veiled female students?
April 7, 2017 By World Watch Monitor Pakistan; religion; hijab; veil; students; IslamThe role of Islam in Pakistani public life is fiercely fought over, especially in areas that are home to non-Muslim communities. One example is Punjab province, where most Pakistani Christians, as well as much of Pakistan’s Hindu minority, live.
The commotion around whether girls should wear headscarves in schools shows the confusion around the role of religion in Pakistan’s public life. Photo: Open Doors InternationalPunjab Higher Education Minister Syed Raza Ali Gilani was last month (14 Mar) forced to make a U-turn after announcing in a public ceremony that wearing the hijab would be “compulsory” and female students would be awarded 5 per cent extra marks for doing so.However the Punjab government immediately rejected the news in the strongest terms, obliging the minister to backtrack. A spokesman tweeted: “5% marks for Hijab students is absolutely WRONG news… Academic excellence only based on MERIT.. It’s clear policy of the Govt of Punjab.” .The next day, the hijab issue was raised in the Punjab Assembly. Assembly member Nabila Hakim Ali, who belongs to the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party run by former cricketer Imran Khan, submitted a resolution in the Punjab Assembly that:“The assembly demands from the Punjab government that [the] hijab must be made mandatory in public and private schools for girls, and the girls who observe it be given extra marks.”Minutes later, Mrs Hakim Ali retracted her resolution by tabling another resolution in the assembly:“This assembly demands from the Punjab government that [the] hijab must not be made mandatory in public and private educational institutions, nor they be tempted by offering extra marks.”Kashif Aslam, of the Catholic National Commission on Justice and Peace programme office, told World Watch Monitor that the situation exposed how confused the nation is about the role of religion in the public sphere, especially when it comes to educational institutions.Aslam, who found this confusion replicated in Pakistani textbooks in research he carried out last year, said that prior to elections, parties may choose to appear more religious to attract votes. However, he said there is a limit to that approach and that politicians sometimes jump into things before realising the gravity of their actions.“Also, there is an effort to reform the country, but this [the short-lived hijab proposal] is like one step forward and two steps back,” he added.=========
===========Majority-Christian Mexico still struggling to ensure religious freedom for rural converts
April 6, 2017 By World Watch Monitor Catholics, Converts, Oaxaca, San Juan Ozolotepec
Some of the current and former members of the Evangelical church in San Juan Ozolotepec, including Alonso Silva (top centre), who was forced to leave, and Guadalupe Aragon Reyes (far right), who followed him.As many as 90% of Mexico’s population would identify as Christian, yet not all of them are free to practise their faith.Some come under pressure from drug cartels, either by being members of churches who meet regularly and carry money for giving offerings there and are therefore seen as easy targets, or because of the ways in which they put their faith into practice and how this sets them up against the ambitions of the cartels.For others, such as converts from indigenous communities, the pressure comes as a result of their refusal to continue to participate in the same religious, social and cultural activities as the rest of their community. In places like Tuxpan de Bolaños in the western state of Jalisco, some of the converts who refused to participate in tribal religious rituals and sacrifices, or offer money towards them, were forced out of the town.In other communities, such as the town of San Juan Ozolotepec in the southern state of Oaxaca, converts are targeted by people who at first glance would seem to be fellow Christians.The vast majority of the people of San Juan would say they are Catholics, though the reality is more nuanced, as Dennis Petri, Latin American analyst for Christian charity Open Doors, explains.“In rural areas, the religious practice of the people is very much influenced by indigenous traditions, so there’s really a syncretic mix between some elements of Catholicism and other indigenous traditions and beliefs,” he says. “Many Protestants who suffer hostilities from groups practising folk religion tend to think that it’s the Catholic Church that is behind it, but since the Catholic Church doesn’t really have that much influence over those communities, that’s really not correct.”In San Juan, as in Tuxpan, some of those who now call themselves “Evangelical” Christians have been evicted from their community.One of them, the leader of the group, Alonso Silva, 43, was badly beaten and then imprisoned alongside other converts, while his house, car, and the church building the converts had recently finished constructing, were all demolished.Mr. Silva and his wife and three children now live in a town just outside the state capital, four-and-a-half hours from San Juan. They are forbidden from returning home.
Alonso Silva and his wife Silvia.Some members of his congregation have followed him, choosing to turn their backs on a town in which they were regularly insulted or subjected to discrimination. Children were bullied at school; adults found they were no longer permitted to buy things from local stores.One woman who followed the Silvas out of San Juan, Guadalupe Aragon Reyes, 36, told World Watch Monitor that the mob who arrested Mr. Silva also arrested her and her husband, and that they attempted to rip the clothes from her back.“They said I was there [in prison] because I was a prostitute,” she explained. “They treated me really badly. They said they were taking me to the pastor because I sleep with him, I do this and that to him … and they kept their promise. They threw me into the cell where the pastor was lying naked … but when I was in there and I saw the pastor, I couldn’t recognise him. His face was deformed. He had been beaten up, was injured and totally naked.” Mrs Reyes said that after she was released from the jail, she tried to find some clothes to take back for Mr. Silva but that on her way back, she was insulted again, and beaten, by a group of women outside the jail. “When I went through, they hit me with sticks and taunted me, asking why it was me who was helping the pastor and not his own wife,” she said. “But I feared they would do something to her, so I had decided to take the clothes myself. Then I went to the authorities to plead for the release of the pastor and the other Christians, but they kept saying it was the people and not the authorities who had placed them there; it was the people’s choice and they wouldn’t release them.”Despite the difficulties the converts have continued to face, around 50 of the group have remained, though they say they continue to feel abandoned by the local authorities – and even several of the faith-based organisations that have visited the area.World Watch Monitor asked the state government if it wished to comment on the situation but received no reply.Open Doors’ Petri added that the state police is “too far away and too ill-equipped to be able to protect these people”.Mrs Reyes, speaking on behalf of the group, said: “We would love for things to be resolved there, but we do not know how, because we can’t make the people understand that people should be free to choose the faith they want to follow. They close their minds and can’t understand that we can be free, we can decide our faith. They want to force us to be who they are, to do what they do, what they practise. We decided to separate and get away from the things they do – their traditions, their religious customs – and that’s what bothers them.“We would like help, for [organisations] to help us to have dialogue with the community, to find some kind of agreement, because we have tried but they did not want to accept. They do not want to.”Petri told World Watch Monitor that the state government, “and in many cases the federal government”, has failed to properly document the case as a “convenient way for them to ignore the problem and not to act upon it”.The Inter-American Human Rights Commission has repeatedly reprimanded the Mexican State for not fulfilling its duty to document cases of human-rights violations, he added.Petri added that the issue is political as much as it is religious. However, he said that any debate about the root of the problem is less important than working towards a solution.“To one degree, you could interpret the building and opening of a church in a rural community as just believers exercising their right to freedom of religious expression, or freedom of worship, but in the context of those communities the church building is also a symbol that directly threatens the moral authority of the local leaders,” he said. “A church building therefore is not just a house of prayer, but also it’s a political statement of subversion and people are indirectly saying, even subconsciously, that they no longer submit to the authority of the community and also refuse to take part in the rituals and other traditions of the community.“But … it’s not really important whether it’s a religious issue or a political issue. What’s more important is that something is done about the human rights violations – the torture, the beatings, the other physical assaults that happen as a result of this. That is much more important.”He challenged the Mexican government and judiciary to do more, and also the Catholic Church.“A lot of the persecution happens in the name of the Catholic faith, but is not part of what the Catholic Church believes,” he said. “And we have a unique opportunity with a Latin American Pope, who has himself suffered religious persecution when he was bishop in Argentina, so he would certainly be someone who would understand.”A complicating factor in San Juan, as in Tuxpan and other indigenous communities, is the government’s constitutional requirement to protect the traditions – or “uses and customs” – of the ancient communities.As such, a certain level of autonomy has been granted to each community, whereby they can appoint their own local leaders, even if they are still, officially at least, beholden to the state authorities and its laws on respecting religious freedom, and human rights in general.“It’s very important that the rights to the preservation of the indigenous and rural traditions are protected, and the Mexican Constitution provides for that … but that shouldn’t be used as an argument to violate the rights of individuals within those communities who decide to convert,” says Petri. “It’s essential that those rights are balanced.”========================Escaped North Korean risks her life to visit Christian family she left behind
April 3, 2017 By World Watch Monitor China, Human Trafficking, Prison, South Korea
Myoung-Hee now lives with her family in South Korea. Photo: Open Doors, 2016It was a shock to Myoung-Hee* when she discovered that most of her family were Christians. Although it was four decades ago, she remembers it well.One night her father stumbled into the house, pale and weak, and she wondered if he was ill.Before he spoke, Myoung-Hee’s mother sent her into another room. Her father then cried so loudly that Myoung-Hee thought the neighbours would hear, and might even report them to the police.Her mother pushed her husband into the bathroom and locked the door. Myoung-Hee thought someone must have died, and she was right – her father’s younger brother had been executed because he was a Christian.The family secretHer uncle wasn’t the only one killed, 10 other Christians were murdered too. She was then let in on the family secret: most of her relatives were Christians.She felt that religion had caused her uncle’s death, and, as other family members were Christians too, she wanted nothing to do with their faith. “I wanted life to go back to normal so I focused on school. I read lots of books translated from Russian that I got from the library. I particularly liked Tolstoy; back then I didn’t know he was actually a Christian.”The Russian writers taught her what she wasn’t learning at school – that a different world existed outside North Korea.As her world view changed, she wanted to know more but knew better than to start asking awkward questions. She didn’t want to be one of the people who went missing because they came under suspicion of the state.“I wanted to leave North Korea. I got the opportunity to go to China on a sponsored student program, but I refused. Going abroad under the umbrella of the state meant they would monitor and control me. No, if I wanted to leave, I had to go by myself without telling anyone.”
A guard house on the North Korean side of the Yalu river, which forms a border with China. Photo: Open Doors, 2014Myoung-Hee waited until she had graduated from school and then found an opportunity to leave the country. She went to the Chinese border, swam across the river and left her home behind. She trekked into China until she came to a village.With some reluctance, she explained what happened next: “I was caught by human traffickers and sold to a Chinese farmer. He wasn’t as bad as most Chinese men who buy North Korean women. I had a child with him, but I could never feel at home in his family.”Her mother-in-law also lived with them but Myoung-Hee often felt she behaved suspiciously.“Some days she left without saying where she was going. One night I followed her. It was a long way before she reached a place where some kind of meeting was going on. I called after her. She was surprised to see me, but then invited me to take part. It was a Christian meeting, which made me uncomfortable because I had always been against Christianity. But my curiosity got the better of me and I decided to stay. I actually found myself wanting to learn more about God.”Myoung-Hee converted to Christianity and kept going to the meetings with her mother-in-law.Eventually she wanted to tell her family in North Korea that she too had found their faith. Her Chinese family, perhaps less naïve than her, did not want to let her go, but in the end she persuaded them.The border crossing did not go as planned. She was arrested by a military patrol and sent to prison.Again, Myoung-Hee found it difficult talking about these events in detail. “When I saw how the other prisoners and I were treated – as if we weren’t human – I felt like giving up. I worried a lot in prison, thinking I would never see my family again.”She drew on her new faith to give her hope that she could be reunited with her family. Often she repeated memorised Bible verses, especially verses six and seven from Psalm 62, about God being “my mighty rock, my refuge”.After a few months in the camp, the prison guards found out where Myoung-Hee came from and – as is the custom in North Korea – she was transferred to a camp closer to her home town.Opportunity to escapeThe new camp had less surveillance, and she saw an opportunity to escape. “One night the guards were drunk and they hadn’t locked the doors. I sneaked out and ran. My heart was pounding so fast. I didn’t stop running until I saw a sign pointing to my home.”Myoung-Hee was reunited with her family. “It was the most joyous experience ever. We were so happy to see each other. For the first time we worshipped God together as a family. I also attended small gatherings of other Christian families.”She felt her faith helped her find her family again, and she wanted to share that joy with her own husband and son.“I decided to go back to my Chinese family,” she said. “My husband and son had to hear the Gospel too. It was a dangerous trip. I could have been arrested again and punished. But nothing could extinguish my passion for Christ.”Myoung-Hee returned to China, thankful to the people who helped her get back there. “I wish more people could have the blessing I received through them.”Myoung-Hee is now in her mid-40s and lives with her family in South Korea. Her husband and son both became Christians.“I will never forget my childhood,” she said. “There are so many Christian parents in North Korea who cannot share their faith with their children. It breaks my heart. I was once a victim of this too. But thanks to other people’s prayers I found God in the end. And thanks to the prayers of my mother-in-law, I survived prison. My life story testifies to the power of prayer. I hope it’s a call to all Christians to join in prayer so that God will bring grace and justice to North Korea.”*Myoung-Hee’s name is protected for security reasons.
Pakistan: Christian boy, 16, arrested for Kaaba ‘blasphemy’
September 20, 2016 By World Watch Monitor Blasphemy, Facebook, Faisalabad, Islam, Kaaba, Lahore, Mecca
Nabeel Masih, 16, is alleged to have
Nabeel Masih, 16, is alleged to have “defamed” the Kaaba in Mecca, the building at the centre of Islam’s most sacred mosque.Amalia Sari / Flickr / CCA 16-year-old Christian boy has been accused of committing blasphemy by “liking” and sharing a post on Facebook which “defamed and disrespected” the Kaaba in Mecca, the building at the centre of Islam’s most sacred mosque.Most of the Christians in the boy’s village have since fled their homes for fear of an angry backlash against them.At around 3pm on Sunday (18 Sep.), several police vans raided Nabeel Masih’s house in Dina Nath village – in the Kasur district of Punjab province, 30 miles southwest of Lahore. There are at least 300 Christian homes in the village.The complainant, Akhtar Ali, filed this accusation at the nearby Phoolnagar Police Station: “On 18 September, I was with my friends Bakht Khan and Saddam … We took our friend Waqar’s mobile phone and started seeing pictures of his various friends on Facebook. But when we opened Nabeel Masih’s profile, there was a picture posted in which the Kaaba is defamed and disrespected. Seeing that picture, our religious feelings were hurt.” “It was only a mistake and he clearly stated that he did not intend to hurt [anyone] but to condemn the post.” –Imran MasihNabeel’s cousin, Imran, 24, told World Watch Monitor that Nabeel had nothing against Muslims and meant no harm.“It was only a mistake by him and he clearly stated that he did not intend to hurt but to condemn the post,” Imran said. He added that Nabeel is illiterate and works as a labourer in a nearby ghee factory.Pastor Samuel Masih, who was visiting his sisters in the village, said that, although everything seemed calm, “many of the Christians have left the area due to fear of security”.Phoolnagar Police Station head, Shahbaz Ahmed Dogar, reiterated that everything was under control and urged Christians to return.“There was no announcement from mosque loudspeakers or any gathering of people,” he said. “Those who have left the area have taken only precautionary measures and I would encourage them to return to their houses.”In several instances in the past, Christian neighbourhoods in Pakistan have been targeted following blasphemy allegations, resulting in the looting, ransacking and burning of Christian homes. In 2009, more than 100 Christian homes were ransacked and set on fire in Gojra, near Faisalabad, while in March 2013 another 150 Christian homes were set on fire in Lahore’s Joseph Colony.Christians attacked after Friday prayers
Shahzad Masih, 25, his brother Zahid, 23, and his mother Parveen, were hospitalised after the attack.
Shahzad Masih, 25, his brother Zahid, 23, and his mother Parveen, were hospitalised after the attack.World Watch MonitorMeanwhile, a poor Christian neighbourhood in a remote village 20 miles south of Faisalabad came under attack after Muslim Friday prayers on 16 September.Five people were hospitalised, including two women who also faced public humiliation after their clothes were torn, but police said the injuries were not sufficient for the formal registration of a case.At least 20 men armed with sticks and firearms attacked the Christian neighbourhood – in the village of Chajwal, in the Samundri district. The incident took place only the day after the Punjab Minister for Human Rights and Minorities Affairs, Khalil Tahir Sandhu, told local media that “minorities in Pakistan are more secured (sic) than [in] other countries of the region”.Villager Razaq Masih, 55, lodged a formal complaint at the Samundri Saddar Police Station, in which he named six alleged attackers. He said that, at around 4pm on Friday, those six, alongside 30-35 others, came to the village, “yelling that today they would teach a lesson to these ‘chuhras‘* … [and] attacked the Christians”.Masih added that the assailants had stormed into the house of a Christian woman, Sharifan Bibi, “torn [her] clothes” and “while beating her, dragged her … out of the house”. “My sons are labourers and they had just returned from their work. I tried to save my sons, after which they beat me with clubs and attacked us with bricks.” –Parveen BibiParveen Bibi said she was also beaten as she tried to protect her two sons – Shahbaz, 25, and Zahid, 23.“My sons are labourers and they had just returned from their work,” she told World Watch Monitor from her hospital bed. “I [pleaded with the attackers] and tried to save my sons, after which they beat me with clubs and attacked us with bricks.”Arif Masih, 55, who also works as a labourer, was returning home from a wedding when he was beaten.“I could not even understand why they were beating me,” Masih told World Watch Monitor at the hospital.Hundreds of Christians from the village gathered together on Sunday evening (18 Sep.) and resolved to seek justice. They told World Watch Monitor the attackers must have had support from local politicians, which is why the police had refused to officially register the case, and said they were fearful of further attacks.“About 300 to 400 Christian households are in Chajwal, whom the influential community of Gujjars [an agricultural caste] have been trying to suppress for a while,” said Shahid Masih Paul, chairman of Christ Assemblies International, a Pentecostal group. “The Gujjars are influential in the area. Decades ago, these Christians were dependent … on [these] landlords, but over time their number has decreased and most of them work as labourers in the city.”What sparked the attack?
Christians gathered on Sunday evening (18 Sep.) and resolved to seek justice. They said they suspected the attackers had support from local politicians and that they were fearful of further attacks.
Christians gathered on Sunday evening (18 Sep.) and resolved to seek justice. They said they suspected the attackers had support from local politicians and that they were fearful of further attacks.World Watch MonitorRazaq Masih told World Watch Monitor that he had been sitting with a Muslim man in front of some Christian homes, when some Gujjars, as well as people from the Julaha (weavers) caste, arrived and wanted to beat up the man.“They had a grudge against him because of a relationship he had a year ago with a young woman, who was also Muslim,” Masih explained. “The Christians intervened and said that if the relationship had ended, then why should he be beaten? Within no time, about 30 men arrived, yelling that we will teach these ‘chuhras‘ a lesson for raising their heads [to defend the Muslim].”Chairman Paul said that the Gujjar and Julaha communities had long wanted to direct their sewerage water into the cesspit beside the Christian community, but that “Christians have been refusing because they think that the pond would then overflow and their houses would be inundated. That is the core issue. It is not bearable for the Gujjar and Julaha that these poor Christians, who have long been their tenants, have started to resist them.”Razaq Masih said all the Christians live on government land. “They have not been able to buy the land, but for decades they have been living there. If the [Gujjars] are allowed to channel their sewerage water there and it inundates the Christians’ houses, they would then have to leave the village.”Rao Kashif, provincial parliamentarian for Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, told World Watch Monitor that he could not confirm whether or not the Christians were beaten up.
Arif Masih: ‘I could not even understand why they were beating me.’
Arif Masih: ‘I could not even understand why they were beating me.’World Watch Monitor“I regularly come to my office but how can I know if none of them has come to me?” he said.The Christians complained that since the incident no parliamentarian has yet raised their case. In the past, many incidents of violence against Christians have taken place, which have been seen as a precursor for later evicting them from the government land they live on.Christians continue to be regarded as lower-class citizens and are often forced to live in the less desirable parts of an area, such as close to sewerage-filled ponds. This attitude towards them is reinforced from schooldays onwards.A recent report by Pakistan’s National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) says the government has failed to keep its promise to eradicate religious “hate material”, including against minority Christians, from textbooks used in schools.After the attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar in Dec. 2014, the government introduced a 20-point National Action Plan to discourage religious extremism and to provide a counter-narrative to promote religious harmony, saying an “end to religious extremism and [the] protection of minorities will be ensured”. However, the NCJP report, “Freedom from Suffocating Education”, claims that no curriculum reforms have so far been adopted at the school level, aside from the production of a few booklets.This backs up the findings of another recent report by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, which concluded: “The trend toward a more biased curriculum towards religious minorities is accelerating. These grossly generalized and stereotypical portrayals of religious minority communities signal that they are untrustworthy, religiously inferior, and ideologically scheming and intolerant.”The NCJP report, which focused on textbooks used in the 2015-16 school year, noted that “hate material” previously identified had not been removed from the curriculum yet.
* “Difficult to translate, the word connotes dark skin, low social status and un-touchability” (Pakistan Herald, Sep. 2016) – the term “chuhra” (“dirty”/”filthy”) is considered by some Pakistanis as almost synonymous with “Christian”. It’s linked with “bhangi” and “jamadar” (sweepers or sanitary workers), the lowest-caste occupations still overwhelmingly populated by Christians.
======================Pakistani prosecutor to Christians: ‘I’ll acquit you if you convert to Islam’
April 4, 2017 By Asif Aqeel Conversion, LahoreThe father of one of 42 Pakistanis – who are on trial for lynching two men they suspected of the double bombing of neighbouring churches in March 2015 – has confirmed that the public prosecutor offered to acquit all the suspects if they were to convert to Islam.
Protests on Ferozepur Road, Lahore, the day after the March 2015 church bombing. Photo: World Watch MonitorTwo churches in the Christian neighborhood of Youhanabad in Lahore, Punjab were simultaneously targeted by suicide bombers who tried to enter their Sunday services. The twin attacks claimed at least 17 lives, and injured 80; more deaths were prevented by volunteer church guards who tackled the bombers.Shortly after, hundreds of terrified worshippers streamed out in panic. An angry panicky crowd set upon two men already detained by the police at the scene, and lynched them to death.In the aftermath of the bombings, the Pakistani mainstream media focused far more on the killing of the two Muslims (itself condemned by all Church leaders) than on the 97 victims of the bombers.(A year later, last Easter Sunday, March 27, at least 70 were killed in the Gulshan Park bombing, targetted at minority Christians celebrating the festival with their children, though many Muslims also died.)Police arrested over 500 in connection with the March 2015 lynching; of those, 84 were eventually detained on charges of murder and terrorism. Of those, 42 were acquitted in summer 2016.Justice Sajjad Ahmed is hearing the lynching case against the remaining 42 in an Anti-Terrorism Court in Lahore. Now David Nixon, whose 37-year-old son Sunil is on trial, has confirmed to World Watch Monitor that “On March 27, when we were coming out of the court after attending the hearing, the Deputy District Public Prosecutor (DDPP) offered to acquit all 42 suspects if they converted to Islam”.A report about this allegation was first published in a local English language newspaper, Express Tribune, and then was carried by top prime TV news channel show “Aaj Shahzeb Khanzada Kay Saath”. On the TV programme, the Special Assistant to the Chief Minister of Punjab, Malik Muhammad Ahmed Khan, said “This [offer of acquittal] is not just shameful but a heinous crime as well. The government is not in the picture because we were not informed by anyone. But a full enquiry will be conducted. We are all set to end the “extremist mindset and steer the country to a tolerant and moderate society. Therefore, we cannot tolerate anyone in the government machinery with this mindset”.The Deputy District Public Prosecutor (DDPP) Syed Anees Shah has denied the charge, but he has been removed from office until he faces an inquiry.According to the Express Tribune, there was a video recording of Shah offering acquittal for conversion. However, David Nixon says that Shah’s comment was made inside the court and cell phones are deposited at the entrance; hence, there is no video evidence.Catholic Bishop Joseph Arshad of Faisalabad, who chairs a Church-related organisation, the National Commission for Justice and Peace, has condemned the pressure for conversion.Regarding the trial, David Nixon said that, so far, only the recording of evidence has begun. “At the last hearing, a video was shown which showed the lynching. However, it was not clear who videoed that incident, as is the basic requirement of evidence in the court of law.”Forced conversion to Islam is considered a threat to minority communities in Pakistan. Last November, in the second most populated province Sindh, its Assembly adopted a bill to curb forcible conversions, especially of young girls. But due to severe pressure from Islamic religious parties it was withdrawn in January.In early 2016, the Pakistan National Assembly passed the “Criminal Laws Amendment Act 2016”, a law that punishes sectarianism, forced conversions and mass lynching. The text has been welcomed as a step forward in the conditions for religious minorities.The new rules amend some laws that already exist, prescribing imprisonment from one to three years for inciting religious hatred and violence. The text also makes being lynched by “crowds who take the law into their own hands a criminal offence”.
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