China, January 26, 2015: Authorities in the eastern Chinese province of Zhejiang on Friday detained and questioned a Hong Kong journalist who went to cover a story about the demolition of church crosses in the region.
Jiang Yannan, a reporter for the Hong Kong-based Chinese-language news magazine Asiaweek told RFA’s Mandarin Service that she was detained briefly in Pingyang county near Wenzhou, a city that has been dubbed “China’s Jerusalem” because of a high concentration of Christian believers there.
“I was here to do some reporting and interviews on the demolition of crosses [on Christian churches] … They didn’t hold me for very long. They just stopped me from interviewing people.”
She said police had continued to monitor her movements and contact her interviewees since her release after a brief period of detention at a nearby police station.
“I didn’t pay any attention to them, but they asked me what I was doing,” Jiang said. “They have been following me and bothering the people I am trying to interview.”
She added: “I did a lot of interviews on this trip, and this time the local authorities are being much tougher [on journalists].”
Jiang, who arrived in Pingyang earlier this week, told RFA in a later interview that she had already left the province.
“I am no longer in Zhejiang. I have left the area,” she said. “They were following me the whole time.”
“But it’s not convenient for me to give interviews right now,” Jiang said, before hanging up.
Beijing-based rights lawyer Chen Jiangang, who has been following religious issues in Wenzhou, said he had received a phone call from Jiang earlier on Friday asking for help.
“She called me at around 1pm, when she was in the police car,” Chen said.
“She said the police had dragged her into their vehicle against her will, and driven her to the police station and asked to see her ID,” he said.
“She waited around at the police station for about 10-20 minutes, and then they released her,” he said, adding: “I am in touch with her, and she could be subjected to further restrictions by police at any time.”
According to the US-based Christian rights group China Aid, hundreds of Protestant churches in Zhejiang have been targeted for demolition in the past year.
The actions against churches in Zhejiang are all connected to the province’s “Three Rectifications and One Demolition” campaign, which claims to target all illegal structures, the group said in a recent report on its website.
The campaign calls on local officials to take action to “demolish illegal structures that violate laws and regulations, occupy farmland, affect public safety and major construction, seriously affect urban and rural planning, and those that are located on both sides of main lines of transportation,” it said.
A Wenzhou-based Christian church member who declined to be named said Jiang’s detention could be linked to local tensions around plans to sue the Pingyang authorities over the detention of Fengwo Church pastor Huang Yizi.
Huang’s lawyers plan to file three separate lawsuits against the county government and police department on Monday, according to a report on China Aid’s website.
Huang Yizi was detained on August 2 on suspicion of “gathering a crowd to disrupt public order,” following clashes between church followers and officials who demolished the church’s cross in July.
“I think this has to do with the congregants’ planning to sue the authorities,” the church member said. “They have hired some new lawyers.”
Zhejiang-based Protestants estimate that crosses were torn down from at least 410 churches in the province during 2014.
“According to our incomplete statistics, from January to November 2014, more than 400 churches with names have either been forcibly torn down or had their crosses forcibly relocated or demolished,” China Aid founder Bob Fu told RFA in an interview earlier this week.
“Previously, these things only happened during the Cultural Revolution,” Fu said.
“But in 2014, they happened in some major cities and regions of Zhejiang province, then sporadically took place in some other provinces,” he said.
“This is a very noticeable change in 2014.”
Jiang’s detention, though brief, comes amid growing concern over the fate of Zhang Miao, a news researcher from the Beijing bureau of Germany’s Zeit News, who was detained while covering a poetry recital at Beijing’s Songzhuang Artists’ Village last October.
Zhang and six others, including artists and a poet, were detained at the event on the outskirts of Beijing in support of the Occupy Central pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong.
ZEIT correspondent Angela Kockritz, who has launched a social media campaign for Zhang’s release under the hashtag #freemiao, said in a recent online account of her detention that she was accused of “brawling” and assaulting a police officer.
Zhang, who is now being held in a Tongzhou Prison on the outskirts of Beijing, was allowed a meeting with her lawyer on Dec. 10, Kockritz wrote on the ZEIT website on January 14.
“The law forbids police officers and guards to abuse inmates,” she wrote. “But they often avail themselves of certain cell mates who will mistreat other inmates in the knowledge or at the request of the guards.”
“[The lawyer] indicates that we can’t speak freely on the phone, but he does share with me that Miao is suffering both physically and psychologically.”
And in May Japan’s Nihon Keizai Shimbun employee Xin Jian, who worked as a news assistant — a post which often involves reporting activities — was detained ahead of the 25th anniversary of the 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square.
China doesn’t allow its own nationals to work as reporters for foreign news organizations, which instead often hire local journalists to act as news assistants or translators.
China led the world in imprisoning journalists in 2014, with a total of 29 behind bars, according to Paris-based press freedom group Reporters Without Borders (RSF), which said the authorities are also holding 73 netizens out of a global total of 178 detentions.
However, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) put the figure at 44 jailed journalists in its 2014 annual report.
It said restrictions on state media have tightened significantly since President Xi Jinping took power in November 2012.
- radio free asia
Iraq, January 19, 2015: The Islamic State’s execution spree picked up dramatically last week, as the militant group released its latest round of execution photos. Along with photos showing the execution of two gay men, an adulteress and two bandits in Iraq, the group has also reportedly crucified and executed 17 men accused of fighting against the caliphate.
In releasing its latest wave of execution photos on an Islamic State-affiliated JustPaste.It account, photos show a muslim crowd gathered around a tall brown brick building in the ISIS Iraqi stronghold of Mosul that looks to be many storeis high. In the following photographs, two men were forced to the roof of the building and were hurled over the edge by two ISIS militants.
A subsequent picture captured one of the victim’s freefall and another photo showed their lifeless bodies laying on the dirt ground.
Before the executions, the charges against those who would be executed on that occasion were announced by a masked militant holding a small handheld radio. According to The Daily Mail, the masked militant announced that the two men were accused of engaging in homosexual acts, which is a strict violation of Sharia law and punishable by death.
As hundreds of people gathered to watch the execution, Vice News reports that the Arabic caption included with one of the pictures showing the crowd translates to “The Muslims come to watch the application of the law.”
This is not the first time that the Islamic State has executed gay people by throwing them off the top of a building. In December, photos showed eight ISIS militants in Wilayat al-Furat executing a gay man by throwing him off the roof of a three-story apartment building.
In November, ISIS released photos showing gay men being stoned to death. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights states that the November stonings were ISIS’ first public executions of homosexuals.
Also included in ISIS’ latest round of photo executions, the Daily Mail states that the masked militant announced the execution of two bandits and one veiled woman accused of adultery.
Photos showed the two bandits being transported in the back of a pickup truck, while standing trapped with their wrists tied down to metal cross-like structures. The two men were taken out of the back of the pickup truck and placed before the crowd. Then, two militants shot them in the back of the head. The last photo of the bandits shows their lifeless bodies hanging from the crosses.
Photos show that the woman who was stoned to death for adultery was taken away from the large crowd and executed in a secluded wooded area that appears to be outside of the city.
The first photo shows a bearded ISIS official reading the charges against the woman. The next photo shows ISIS militants pelting the woman with large rocks as she lie on the ground in the fetal position. The final photo shows the militants corralling her dead body with a blue tarp.
Last week, the group also executed 17 men from the Syrian province of Deir Ezzor. Eleven of the men were accused of apostasy for fighting against ISIS. After being killed the bodies of the 17 victims were brutally mutilated by the militants.
The Syrian Observatory believes that the latest round of ISIS executions has come in retaliation for recent assassinations of ISIS officials.
“The Islamic State group has executed 16 men in Deir Ezzor and one more in Raqa, to send a message to all their opponents after recent assassinations of 12 Syrian, Iraqi and Algerian jihadists,” said Syrian Observatory for Human Rights Director Rami Abdel Rahman. “ISIS is sending a message to all people living under its control, to say: ‘This is what will happen to any opponent.’”
- christian post
Africa, January 18, 2015: International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that churches, Christian business, and pastors’ homes across Niger have been burned and 20 people killed as Muslim protests against Charlie Hebdo’s second portrayal of the prophet Mohammed devolved into violent riots last night. Protests launched by outraged Muslims in former West African French colonies including Niger, Algeria and Senegal as well as in other Muslim-majority countries, including Pakistan, Somalia and Sudan, have produced violent mobs that, at the time of this release, continue to roam the streets of several cities, causing Christians in these and other countries across the world to seek shelter for fear of violent reprisals against them for the French satirical magazine’s provocative publication.
On January 7, Cherif and Said Kouachi stormed Charlie Hebdo’s headquarters in Paris, France, wearing masks and armed with assault rifles. The brothers proceeded to kill 11 Charlie Hebdo staff members while screaming “God is great” and “We have avenged the prophet Mohammed” in Arabic. The brothers then fled back onto the streets of Paris, where they killed two police officers before hijacking a vehicle to escape the scene of the attack. Subsequent attacks connected to the massacre-a violent reprisal for Charlie Hebdo’s inflammatory portrayals of Muslims and the prophet Mohammed-have been carried out across the Île-de-France region of Paris in which radicalized Muslims connected to the massacre murdered five additional French citizens, including both civilians and law enforcement personnel.
According to the BBC, “At least two churches have been set on fire in the capital of Niger amid fresh protests against French magazine Charlie Hebdo’s cartoon depicting the Prophet Muhammad.” But, in an email to ICC, World Renew’s Niger Director wrote from the capital, Niamey, that “many churches have been burned, pastors’ homes destroyed.” The Director continued, “We are on very high alert as the chaotic mass moves through the city. Many local believers have sought shelter somewhere other than their homes.”
In an email to ICC, Christian missionaries based in Niamey, Niger, wrote that “all of [their] churches have been burned along with the pastor’s homes…almost every church [they] know or are associated with has been attacked.” The missionaries, who despite seeing smoke “around all sides of [their] house” remain in Niamey, continued, writing, “Jesus said ‘I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.’ We are confident that this persecution will only grow the church and the Gospel in Niger.”
AFP has reported that as at least seven churches have been burned in Niger, clarifying that “the sites, which were primarily evangelical churches, were torched on the left bank of Niamey, several of them housed in small villas that bore no distinctive religious signs.” The report went on to state that rioters “were also headed for the right bank, which also contains numerous churches.” It’s been reported that in the heart of the city, Niger police have deployed tear gas against those gathered.
International monitors estimate as many as 20 Nigeriennes have been killed in the violence, the worst of which has targeted Christian and government property, including churches, police stations and government buildings in Zinder, Niamey, Maradi and Goure. In an email, World Renew’s Niger Director asked ICC to call on Christians in the West to “pray fervently that the authorities will be able to get the situation under control and that calm will return.”
Burnings of churches and Christian homes and businesses have become increasingly common as radically conservative Islamic teachings imported from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States have infiltrated Niger’s mosques. The poorest country in the world, Niger has become a breeding ground for Islamists and jihadists, including Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau. A Nigeriene by birth, Shekau’s sermons espousing a global war against Christians are regularly played over the loud speakers of mosques across Niger, calling young Muslim men to join the jihadist’s cause both in Nigeria with Boko Haram, and in Niger.
Cameron Thomas, ICC’s Regional Manager for Africa said, “Communities across the Islamic world, outraged by the satirical magazine’s depictions of Muslims and the prophet Mohammed, have formed into violent mobs and taken to burning churches and Christian homes and businesses. In response, Christians in Niger, Mali, Sudan and Somalia have fallen into states of panic and, in many cases, have fled their homes for shelter from possible attack in response to the publication’s decision to confront issues of Islamic extremism with cartoons.
Christians in Muslim-majority countries hostile to even the practice, let alone the spread, of Christianity face incredible hardship for their faith that is often made worse by seemingly unconnected actions in the Western world. Over the course of these riots, dozens of churches and Christian businesses and homes will burn for a cause unconnected to themselves. Our thoughts and prayers go out to those who have lost property and loved ones in the violence, with the hope that no more innocent lives will fall victim to the violence or destruction that was sparked last week on the streets of Paris and has now spilled over onto the streets of Niamey, more than 2,000 miles away.“
Sri Lanka, January 14, 2015: Prompted by Pope Francis’ visit and in keeping with the ongoing theme of reconciliation, more than 600 men and women were released from prisons throughout the island nation of Sri Lanka on Wednesday.
The released prisoners “were minor offenders and those above the age of 75,” prisons spokesman Thushara Upuldeniya said Jan. 14.
Of the 612 prisoners released from 28 prisons, 575 were men and 37 were women.
Upuldeniya noted that they were released under a “special presidential pardon” to mark the Holy Father’s visit.
The prisoners’ release coincides with the theme of reconciliation, which has been at the center of Pope Francis’ apostolic visit to Sri Lanka, which still healing from nearly three decades of civil war.
“The Pope is coming at an auspicious time,” said Andrew Mann, charge d’affaires at the US embassy in Sri Lanka, speaking with CNA on Jan. 14 at the canonization of Saint Joseph Vaz.
“He’s bringing a message of peace and reconciliation,” Mann added, remarking on “the hundreds of thousands of people from all religious groups and ethnic groups, here to celebrate the Pope’s message.”
One of the key events on the Pope’s agenda, more than half a million people attended the canonization Mass for the 17th century missionary said at Galle Face Green in Colombo, Sri Lanka’s largest city.
Pope Francis’ visit to the island nation comes less than six years after the end of an ethnic conflict which claimed the lives of an estimated 80,000-100,000 people. From 1983-2009, the island was gripped by intermittent war between the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil Tigers, who sought an independent Tamil state in the northeast of the country. Tensions between the country’s two largest ethnic groups, the Tamils and Sinhalese, played a significant role in the conflict.
In his homily for the canonization, Pope Francis reiterated the theme of reconciliation, calling the nation’s Christians to “be confirmed in their faith and make an ever greater contribution to peace, justice and reconciliation in Sri Lankan society.”
“This is what Christ asks of you. This is what Saint Joseph teaches you. This is what the Church needs of you,” the Pope said.
This theme of reconciliation extended beyond the words of the Holy Father. The vestments for the Mass, for instance, were made by widows of the soldiers who died during the civil war.
After Mass, Pope Francis traveled by helicopter to the north of the country to visit the Sanctuary of Our Lady of the Rosary in Madhu. Greeted by 500,000 pilgrims, the Holy Father reflected on the need for healing, looking to Mary as an example of forgiveness.
By visiting both the north and south of Sri Lanka, Fr. Shamindra Jayawardena, O.S.B. said, the Pope “has already joined both the south and the north, both communities, together.”
The 17th century Marian shrine, established amid the Dutch invasion and persecution of the Catholic Church, is a main pilgrimage site for Catholics in Sri Lanka and is a symbol of reconciliation.
Fr. Jayawardena noted that both Sinhalese and Tamils frequent the shrine, “coming to join hand in hand.”
“Madhu has been a place for all Sri Lankans, all groups, all ethnic groups,” he said. “It is place of reconciliation, because Our Blessed Mother brings all her children together, and the one shepherd Who is Jesus Christ.”
Over the course of his visit, beginning on the evening of Jan. 12, Pope Francis has met with various pilgrims and political officials, and took part in an inter-religious gathering. Weather permitting, the Holy Father will conclude his visit to Sri Lanka Jan. 15, at which point he will depart for the Philippines.
Sr. Prumelie Fernando of the Sisters of Our Lady of Perpetual Help stressed that the people of Sri Lanka, both northern and southern, are still in need of reconciliation.
“People are ready to reconcile themselves,” she said. “They are ready to accept these challenges.”
Burma, December 11, 2014: Burmese President Thein Sein has been criticised by human rights associations for approving a draft bill that curbs conversion to other religions and marriages between Buddhist women and men of other religions. Initially proposed by nationalist Buddhist monks who form the Committee for the Protection of Nationality and Religion, a group also known as Ma Ba Tha, the bill was signed on 3 December and submitted to Parliament for final approval.
If approved, the new bill will force anyone who converts to a different religion to seek a range of permissions from the authorities, or face penalties (not yet stipulated). And if a Buddhist woman wishes to marry a man from another religion, they must first apply to local authorities for permission. A public notice of the engagement will be produced and only if no objections are made can the couple get married. If they fail to follow this procedure, they could face a jail sentence of up to two years.
Although the new bill does not mention any religion in particular, some commentators believe that the new restrictions are proposed in a bid to prevent Muslim men from coercing Buddhist women to convert to Islam through marriage. Clashes between Buddhists and Muslims in 2012 saw more than 200 deaths. It will also introduce other restrictions on family life.
Opponents of the draft bill have criticised it on the basis that it is discriminatory towards women and religious minorities. The proposed restrictions on changing religion would also affect Buddhists who want to convert to Christianity. Speaking out on the subject, the Archbishop of Yangon, Charles Bo, said that “the right to marry, convert and vote are inviolable human rights”.
According to Human Rights Watch, improvements have been made in terms of Burma’s human rights record since Thein Sein was sworn in as president in 2011. Several hundred political prisoners have been freed and some laws have been amended. However, many repressive laws remain in place and the religious liberty situation remains a serious concern.
The US Secretary of State re-designated the country as a “Country of Particular Concern” with regard to religious liberty in August 2011, for engaging in or tolerating particularly severe violations of religious freedom, and again in 2014 for serious abuses against ethnic minority Christians in Kachin state during recent military interventions there. According to the 2013 report produced by the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Burma, there is evidence of “the targeting of religious venues in military operations, forced labor of church members, restrictions on building places of worship, destruction of religious venues and artifacts, and prohibitions on some religious ceremonies”.
- barnabas team
Malaysia, December 9, 2014: Iban and Bahasa Malaysia-speaking Christians in Sarawak are seething over the stamping of Malay and Iban-language Bibles with a warning by the Selangor religious authorities, saying the act of desecration had marred any sincerity over the release of the holy books which were seized earlier this year.
Pastor Graman Ujang, the chairman of Gempuru Besai Sarawak, the largest Christian grouping representing 6,000 Iban-speaking congregations in the state, said the Selangor religious authorities had showed bad faith in the return of the Bibles.
“It showed they were not sincere in wanting to return them. They did so because they were pressured to. “But why on earth did they do that, stamping the Bibles?” Ujang asked.
Ujang said he also felt embarrassed because the stamping showed Muslims in Malaysia were so weak in their faith that they would go to such lengths to reassure themselves.
“It also shows they just don’t have any respect for other religions,” Ujang told The Malaysian Insider.
The Bibles contain the Arabic word “Allah” for God. In the Alkitab and Bup Kudus, the Iban-language Bible, God is referred to as “Allah Taala”.
A total of 321 copies of the Bible were seized by the Selangor Islamic Religious Department (Jais) from the Bible Society of Malaysia (BSM) bookshop on January 2. They were released to Sarawak Christians through the Association of Churches of Sarawak (ACS) at a ceremony witnessed by the Sultan of Selangor on November 14.
They were released to Sarawak Christians rather than the peninsula-based BSM from where they were seized, as the scriptures were not to be used in Selangor, a press statement by the Selangor Islamic Religious Council (Mais) had explained.
However, the Bibles were stamped with a warning that the holy books were not to be published or used anywhere in the state of Selangor.
The warning in English reads: “Strictly for non-Muslims usage only and shall not be published or used in any part of the state of Selangor pursuant to section 9 (1) Non-Islamic Religions (Control of Propagation Amongst Muslims) Enactment 1988″.
The Malaysian Insider had reported on Sunday that the stamping was most likely discovered only after the handing over ceremony of the Bibles towards the end of November, as the BSM had released an earlier statement thanking the sultan for helping to secure their release. It had also considered the matter settled then.
The BSM, in a strongly-worded statement on Sunday, had demanded an apology from the Selangor religious authorities.
“The Christian minority in this country has been made to suffer at the hands of religious zealots and extremists working within the government,” BSM president Bishop Datuk Ng Moon Hing had said in the statement.
The BSM also considered the stamping a repeat incident of desecration, the first time being in March 2011, when 5,000 copies of the Alkitab were stamped and serialised by the Home Ministry, which held the consignment worth RM70,000 (US$20,000) for two years after seizing them at the Kuching Port on March 20, 2009.
Prominent social activist Nicholas Bawin told The Malaysian Insider he was “very angry” as the desecration had violated one of the greatest fears Sarawak’s founding fathers of Malaysia had, that the freedom to worship any religion in predominantly Muslim Malaysia would gradually be eroded.
“Where is the hope of freedom of worship with all these,” said Bawin, who is also a PKR politician.
Ujang had earlier this year commented on the January 2 seizure of the Bibles from BSM’s bookshop in Petaling Jaya, calling it a “serious and intolerable” violation of the constitutional right of Christians to practise, preach and propagate their faith.
“If one copy had been taken, it would have been understood to be for inspection.
“But seizing multiple copies is a clear attempt to restrict the Iban-speaking Christians from accessing the Bible in our own language,” he had said.
Iban Christians make up some 52.6% of Sarawak’s Christians. Christianity is Malaysia’s third largest religion, with 2.6 million followers or about 10% of the country’s population, a 2010 census showed.
Malaysia has an ongoing dispute in the courts over the use of the word “Allah” by non-Muslims, which began with the Catholic Church’s suit against the government for banning the word in the Bahasa Malaysia edition of its newsletter, Herald.
The Federal Court first denied the church leave to appeal a Court of Appeal ruling which banned the word, and has now fixed January 21 to hear the church’s review application to set aside the earlier ruling and to establish a new panel to re-hear the leave application.
The word “Allah” and several other Arabic words pertaining to prayer, faith and worship were first banned from non-Muslim publications under a Home Ministry circular in 1986. This prohibition is now in several Islamic state enactments.
A 10-point agreement by the federal government issued before the April 2011 state elections in Sarawak allowed the Alkitab and Iban-language Bibles to continue being imported, distributed and used.
But there has been ambiguity in its implementation, with some politicians saying it can only be used by Sabah and Sarawak Christians in their states, despite the fact that many of them live and work in the peninsula.
News of the recent stamping and the BSM’s angry response follows a plea by Sarawak’s largest church group, Sidang Injil Borneo (SIB) Sarawak, for the right to use the word “Allah” in worship throughout Malaysia.
SIB Sarawak president Rev Dr Justin Wan had said that “Allah” was used in almost all native languages of the Sarawak natives, and noted the “high mobility” of people between the two Borneo states and the peninsula. – December 9, 2014.
- the malaysian insider
“Two gunmen riding a motorcycle opened fire outside my residence at 9:30pm [on Wednesday] and sped away. They returned again after midnight, knocked at my door and dropped a letter,” Shahbaz Gurmani told ucanews.com on Friday.
Gurmani is defense counsel for Junaid Hafeez, a lecturer in the English department at Bahauddin Zakariya University in Karachi.
Hafeez was arrested in March 2013 after being accused by the student wing of a hardline Islamist party of posting derogatory comments about the Prophet Muhammad and Allah on his Facebook page.
Hafeez denies the charge, claiming he was falsely accused by a supporter of the party who wanted his job but was overlooked for the position.
“In the letter, supposedly sent by Daish, the Arabic acronym for IS, I have been told to withdraw from the Junaid Hafeez case or face serious consequences,” Gurmani said.
“Haven’t you learned any lesson from what we did to Rashid Rehman Khan? You will be beheaded if you do not quit this case,” he said, quoting the letter.
Rashid Rehman Khan, a lawyer and coordinator for the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, was shot dead inside his office in May this year for defending Hafeez.
Khan had taken up the case after two other defense lawyers, Muddassir Sagheer and Haq Nawaz, withdrew following death threats.
Gurmani said he would not be intimidated by threats and would continue to fight Hafeez’s case.
Rights campaigners say Pakistan’s blasphemy law is misused to target minorities, stoke religious hatred and settle personal scores.
Nepal, December 02, 2014: Catholics in Nepal “are not only God’s messengers. They are messengers of God in a former Hindu monarchy. Today this country is known for Mount Everest, the highest peak in the world. Now we want to make the nation the highest peak in the Kingdom of God,” said Mgr Paul Simick.
Speaking to AsiaNews, the prelate is clear about his mission as apostolic vicar to Nepal. Appointed by Pope Francis last April, he has already identified the most pressing challenges the local Catholic Church faces.
“Nepal is a very diversified country in religious, cultural, ethnic and linguistic terms,” Mgr Simick told AsiaNews. “For this reason, more than others, it urgently needs dialogue”.
However, “The laity must be the engine of dialogue, as the link between government, political parties and other religious groups. Giving them more power can only benefit the nation.”
“In order to implement the dialogue I have in mind,” he added, “we have to teach lay Catholics the concepts of openness and identity”.
“Everyone should be open to other faiths, and be ready to respect their neighbours. At the same time, we must not forget to share our identity, without fear. “
Admitting to growing spiritual hunger in the country, he said, “We should make our just and meaningful presence through works of charity. After we reach people, we can share the Good News but it is God who converts people.”
Bangladesh, November 9, 2014: On Nov. 9, Faith Bible Church baptized 42 believers from Muslim backgrounds in Lalmonirhat, north Bangladesh. While the event was going on, at least 200 local Muslims attacked the new believers and pastors Salim Haidar and John Arif.
The Muslims called the police and had the Christians arrested. Charges were then filed against the two pastors. They were accused of converting Muslims by offering them money.
“The police detained the believers all night,” said a local Open Doors source. “The believers strongly denied the allegations.”
The believers were released the next morning, but the two pastors were kept in custody. They posted bail with the help of a lawyer, but it was denied. The first hearing is set for next Monday.
“The officer-in-charge said that he cannot release the pastors because of pressure from Islamic leaders,” added the same source.
- open doors
Lahore, November 20, 2014: In the two weeks since a Christian couple was killed by a Muslim mob in Pakistan, local leaders from both religions have come together repeatedly to call for justice in the matter, and an end to the misuse of blasphemy allegations.
On Nov. 4, Shahzad Masih and his wife Shama were reportedly killed and their bodies burned by a mob after they were accused of desecrating the Quran. The couple lived in Kot Radha Kishan, a city located nearly 40 miles southwest of Lahore.
The couple worked at a brick kiln, and it has been reported that the kiln owner noticed Shama burning some belongings of her recently-deceased father-in-law, and charged that some pages she burnt were from the Quran – he then detained them. They owed him money, and he refused to release them without being paid.
It was then announced from local mosques that the couple had desecrated the Quran, and a mob forced their way into the room where the Masihs were held, and beat them. Reports vary as to whether or not the couple’s bodies were thrown into the kiln before or after their deaths.
The incident has led to calls for better justice and increased solidarity throughout Pakistan.
On Nov. 18, a group of Muslim and Christian scholars and religious leaders met with Mohammad Sarwar, governor of Punjab, the province in which Kot Radha Kishan is located, “to express our deep shock on this barbaric act of burning alive, the fears of Pakistani Christian religious minority and our reservation on the follow up of this heinous crime,” according to a report by Fr. James Channan, O.P., director of the Peace Center Lahore.
The meeting “was also to listen to the point of view of the government of Pakistan and what strategy it has adopted to deal with such a crime and would justice be ever done?”
Fr. Channan was joined at the meeting by Hafiz Tahir Mehmood Ashrafi, chairman of the Pakistan Ulama Council, and two Anglican bishops.
Sarwar condemned the killing, Fr. Channan reported, and “said that the case of Radha Kishn is a test case for the government of Pakistan. We want that all those who are involved in this heinous crime must be given exemplary punishment so that no one else dares to commit such a crime in (the) future. Our government will make sure that all the criminals are brought to justice.”
Robert Azriah, the Anglican bishop of Raiwind, said that it was unfortunate that the government had failed to punish the perpetrators of such acts in the past, saying that had those criminals been punished then such incidents would not have taken place.
“The miscreants must be punished and all those who misuse these laws must be given exemplary punishment so that no other person dares to misuse these laws,” Fr. Channan reported him saying.
The Dominican also noted that Tahir Ashrafi lamented that in the past, “no one was punished who attacked Christian villages and colonies. That is big question for me … if they were penalized then this incident would have not taken place.”
“He said we are with our fellow Christian citizens and we lament and mourn with them. He said that a group of 100 Ulama went to the site of the crime and condoled our Christian brothers and sisters. We are with you and will raise voice so that justice is done to you.”
The Pakistan Ulama Council had already, on Nov. 12, demanded “that judicial inquiry should be conducted into the Kot Radha Kishan tragedy and the culprits must be brought to justice.”
On Nov. 18, the kiln owner and more than five other suspects in the case of the Masihs were jailed on judicial remand, according to the Daily Times, based in Lahore.
The previous day, relatives of the Masih’s said at a press conference that they were being pressured to withdraw the case against those who are believed responsible for their deaths, with both threats and promises of land and money.
Sajid Ishaq, chairman of the Pakistan Interfaith League, said “We want the government to relocate the family to a safer place to protect them from the people pressuring them,” according to The Express Tribune.
On Nov. 13, the Peace Center Lahore, United Religious Initiative, and the Muslim-Christian Dialogue Forum of Minhaj ul Quran organized a peaceful protest march in Lahore over the Masihs’ tragedy.
Minhaj ul Quran reported that its secretary general, Khurram Nawaz Gandapur, “said that those who have perpetrated this horrible crime are not only enemies of Islam but also of humanity” and “that the purpose of this interfaith prayer and protest is to give message to the peace-loving people of the world that they should play their individual and collective role for establishment of peace.”
In addition, the Pakistani bishops’ conference and the Major Superiors Leadership Conference of Pakistan on Nov. 12 sent joint letters to several government officials, and to the U.N. Council on Human Rights in Islamabad, demanding that the government take action to protect minorities in the wake of the Masihs’ case.
The matter “is a grim reminder that intolerance in the name of religion in Pakistan has escalated beyond the rule of law,” read the text of the letter, which was made available to the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.
“The situation has now reached beyond the application of laws for justice, to where crowds and police are repeatedly setting precedents for street justice … such incidents reflect lack of governance.”
The letter, signed by Archbishop Joseph Coutts of Karachi and Fr. Pascal Paulus, O.P., presented six demands to the Pakistani government, including that all those involved in the crime or inciting the violence be dealt with according to law, that clerics responsible for inciting violence through mosque loudspeakers be held accountable; that the government “take immediate measures to stop the misuse of the Blasphemy laws”; and that mob violence be curtailed by “training and sensitizing its police force and hold them accountable in future for any negligence on their part.”
Pakistan’s state religion is Islam, and around 97 percent of the population is Muslim. The nation has adopted blasphemy laws which impose strict punishment on those who desecrate the Quran or who defame or insult Muhammad.
The blasphemy laws are said to be often used to settle scores or to persecute minorities; while non-Muslims constitute only 3 percent of the Pakistani population, 14 percent of blasphemy cases have been levied against them.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom’s 2013 report cited “chronic” sectarian and religiously motivated violence in the country, as well as the Pakistan government perpetrating and tolerating “systematic, ongoing and egregious violations of freedom of religion or belief.”
- cna / ewtn