Pastor of torched Egyptian church jailed over building’s height *Christian families from two Lao villages threatened with eviction
Egypt, March 13, 2012: The pastor of an Egyptian church that was torched by Muslims – prompting a Christian protest that was brutally crushed by the military – has been jailed over the building’s excess height.
Makarios Bolous was sentenced to six months in prison and fined 300 Egyptian pounds for violations regarding the height of St George’s Church in the village of Elmarinab, Aswan province.
The century-old building was torched by a Muslim mob on 30 September 2011. It was under renovation at the time, and permission for the work had been granted by the governor of Aswan.
Local Muslims took objection, and after making demands that the building be stripped of any sign of its being a church, they turned violent. Attackers demolished the dome, walls and columns before torching the building.
Thousands of Christians took to the streets of Cairo in protest, and on 9 October they came under brutal attack by the security forces, Islamists and thugs. In what was described as the worst violence in Egypt since the fall of President Hosni Mubarak, military vehicles charged at Christians who were demonstrating near the state TV building in Maspero Square; the protestors were also shot at, beaten and dragged through the streets. At least 25 people were killed and hundreds were injured.
Following an international outcry over the incident, Field Marshall Tantawi, head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, gave orders to the governor of Aswan that St George’s be rebuilt at the expense of the government. Nothing has yet been done.
One church leader said:
We are not allowed to pray there or come near it by order of the authorities.
Construction workers had started removing the excess height before the building was torched. At Mr Bolous’ court hearing, the church lawyer presented documents showing that the architect and building contractor – not the pastor – had responsibility for this work, but this was not taken into consideration. St George’s will appeal against the ruling.
Mr Bolous has also been prevented from going into the village by the local Muslims.
The attack on St George’s was one of an increasing number of violent anti-Christian incidents in Egypt since the revolution. Now that Islamist parties hold the majority of the seats in the new parliament, Christians are fearful that their vulnerable position in Egyptian society will only worsen.
- barnabas team
Christian families from two Lao villages threatened with eviction
One of the groups – ten families, around 65 people, from Hueygong village, Pakoo district, Luangprabang province – has been given a deadline of 18 March to either recant or leave their homes. Eight of the families became Christians just three months ago.
Local authorities issued the expulsion order on 18 February. Prior to this, Pakoo district officials had demanded information about the number of churches and believers in the area and said that people had to seek permission from the authorities to be Christians. The Pakoo district government has refused to recognise the presence of Christians in its territory, despite the fact that there are eight churches there now.
The head of religious affairs of Luangprabang province has however intervened on behalf of the Hueygong Christians. He has told district officials that the expulsion order is illegal and should be reversed. If it is not, he will take the matter to higher authorities.
The other group of Christians who are facing eviction in Luangprabang province live in Hueysell village, Ngoi district. Two Christian leaders were summoned to the village government headquarters in mid-January and given the verbal order that the Christian residents must renounce their faith or face being ejected. The 14 Christian families, over 80 individuals, have stood firm, and so far the village authorities have not carried out their expulsion threat.
Christians elsewhere in Laos have faced similar harassment. In December 2011, all 47 Christians in Natoo village, Palansai district, Savannakhet province, were told that they must give up their faith in Christ and cease all Sunday worship meetings or leave.
Threats of this nature have been carried out. Christian families were driven out of Katin village, Ta-Oyl district, Saravan Province, at gunpoint in January 2010. They were told that they could return only if they abandoned their Christian beliefs.
Although the Lao constitution and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which the country is a signatory grants freedom of religion, in practice the authorities continue to harass, evict and arrest Christians. The Communist regime is deeply suspicious of Christianity, which they regard as a Western import.
- barnabas team