Syria, October 4, 2012 : British Prime Minister David Cameron and US President Barack Obama last week made key statements at the UN about the conflict in Syria. They both spoke strongly against President Bashar al-Assad and condemned the atrocities committed by his troops, calling for regime change.
But there was no word about the grave abuses being committed by the opposition forces whom Britain, the US and other Western powers are supporting. Just over a week before Mr. Cameron and Mr. Obama addressed the UN, Human Rights Watch released a report that documented evidence of armed opposition groups in Syria subjecting detainees to ill-treatment and torture, and committing extrajudicial or summary executions.
Nor did the British and US premiers make any mention of the terrible plight of the Christian community in Syria, which has been deliberately targeted by the rebels from almost the very beginning of the 18-month uprising.
Barnabas Fund has been gathering information from trusted contacts on the ground in Syriaand has decided to release some of this information so that the sufferings of Christians there can no longer be ignored by the international community. This report is by no means exhaustive; it is intended to illustrate something of the breadth and depth of the crisis that has engulfed Syria’s Christian community.
The country’s 2.3 million Christians have been well treated and enjoyed considerable freedoms under President Assad regime and are consequently assumed to be supporters of his government. Their vulnerability has intensified with growing numbers of Islamist militants joining the opposition campaign.
- barnabas team
Pakistan, October 10, 2012: A Christian-Muslim march to demand an end to the violence against religious minorities, respect for human rights and an end to the personal attacks against journalists, women and innocent workers. It is an initiative promoted by civil society of Faisalabad (Punjab), under the motto “Non-violence for a peaceful coexistence.” Supporters of the march include Peace and Human Development (Phd Foundation), led by Christian leader Suneel Malik, and the Association of Women for Awareness and Motivation (Awam), led by Christian Naseem Anthony.
The demonstration in the streets of the city (pictured) was held on October 2, coinciding with the celebration of the birth of Mahatma Gandhi, World Day for peace and non-violence , held for the first time in 2007, according to the guiding principles of the Indian leader who was assassinated by a Hindu extremist in 1948.
The demonstrators, both Christians and Muslims, together condemned all forms of violence, torture and discrimination perpetrated in the name of religion. They also condemned the attacks on the sensibilities of the faithful, citing the case of anti-Islamic film “The innocence of Muslims” that sowed death and destruction around the world.
Speaking to AsiaNews, the leader of Phd Foundation Suneel Malik points out that “the State must promote peace and harmony” and to achieve the goal needs “a table of negotiations” between the various factions. Naseem Anthony, of Awam, denounced “the murders of journalists who try to tell the truth behind the facts” and stressed that the profession is now considered a harbinger “of death” in Pakistan.
The Muslim politician Arif Ayaz appeals to the government, to “respect and promote the of ethnic, religious, linguistic and cultural diversity ” that make up the country, to create a true “climate of harmony.” Nasreen Bukhari, of the Muslim union, said that “a culture of non-violence can be made possible only if each individual – and all society – aims” for peace and social harmony. Finally activist Asghar Shaheen, of the Islamic faith and committed to the defense of workers’ rights, affirmed “the State must ensure compliance with the law” and at the same time “protect the rights of marginalized groups such as minorities, workers, women, children and disabled. ”
Pakistan, October 5, 2012: Khuram Masih, a Christian accused of blasphemy was under the custody of police behind the bars and his bail petition is pending in next date of hearing is 8 October 2012 in the court of Sayyed Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi, a judge of the High Court.
Lawyers of the Legal Evangelical Association Development (LEAD), which followed his case, said the 23-year-old man was physically worn out but overjoyed that he survived. He has not stopped thanking God for allowing justice to triumph. On 5 December 2011, there was registered a blasphemy case FIR No. 1211/11 at Police Station Shahdara Town Lahore against one poor
Christian young man Mr.Khuram Masih was alleged of burning pages of Quran and was arrested same day and put behind the bars, he was physically beaten by police officials during the custody.
Lawyers of the Legal Evangelical Association Development (LEAD) followed this case and filed bail petition in session court Lahore and the same was dismissed on dated 3 January 2012 by Judge Anjum Raza Sayyed, additional and session judge and a second bail was filed in Lahore High Court in which Sayyed Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi, a judge of the High Court, ordered and gave direction of conclusion of trial within three months.
On dated 8 August 2012 again after nearly seven months lawyers of the Legal Evangelical Association Development (LEAD) filed bail
Petition in the same court of Sayyed Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi, a judge of the High Court and are very hopeful that the bail will be granted. And he will be released very soon and be united with his family, same way as Rimsha Masih was released on bail.
The president of PCC of Lahore District and National Director of LEAD Missionary Pastor and Advocate Mushtaq Gill urged to Pakistani
Government to take some strong measures against the abuses of Blasphemy laws against the Christians in Pakistan, he also requested
a judicially policy that the accused of blasphemy laws be granted bail till the final disposal of the case and it should be made statutory right of accused of such religious offences and blasphemy accused. They also demanded that the trial of such cases always should be conducted in the Jurisdiction of High Court rather than Lower Courts.
Uzbekistan, September 24, 2012: A disabled Christian woman and her mother were beaten up in a violent police raid on their home in Uzbekistan; officers then tried to pressurise them to convert to Islam
The flat that Natalya Pleshakova (26) shares with her mother Valentina (53) in Tashkent was broken into on 6 August by six plain-clothes officers with sticks and bats. One of them hit Natalya, who walks with the aid of crutches, and the men dragged her into the kitchen. They continued to beat her and also rained blows on Valentina.
The officers turned the home upside down, seizing Bibles and other religious literature. The two women were dragged into a minibus and taken to the local police station. Officers tried to pressure them to accept Islam, saying it was better than Christianity, and that a married man could marry them because Muslim men are allowed to have four wives. When the women refused to comply, the officers threatened and beat them.
After an ordeal that lasted nearly ten hours, Natalya and Valentina were released in the early hours of the following morning. But they were summoned later that day to the district court, where they were convicted of an offence relating to the illegal distribution of religious materials.
The court ordered the destruction of the literature and fined each of the women 1,447,100 Soms (£450; US$740), which is 20 times the minimum monthly wage in Uzbekistan. The fines were, however, cancelled two weeks later following the intervention of a senior church leader, and the penalty reduced to a warning.
Shortly afterwards, the Pleshakovas were slandered in an article on a state-backed website that accused them of being Jehovah’s Witnesses.
HOUSEHOLD ITEMS SEIZED
The authorities in Uzbekistan frequently raid Christian gatherings and even private homes. One Christian couple from Navoi, Artur and Irina Alpayev, had essential household items including their refrigerator, washing machine and dining table illegally confiscated by bailiffs in two seizures, one on 8 August, the next on 11 September. This followed their failure to pay huge fines imposed on them on 9 June for keeping Christian books in their flat.
The Alpayevs, who have five children, have been warned that more of their possessions may be taken. Artur said the bailiffs had been instructed to “leave only one spoon, one mug and one mattress for each member of the family”.
Another couple from the same unregistered Baptist church, Nikolai and Larissa Serin, are also facing the confiscation of their property. They were fined along with the Alpayevs following a raid on the latter’s home in April; Bibles and Christian literature were confiscated.
The two men were each fined 3,146,000 Soms (£990; US$1,600), which is 50 times the minimum monthly wage in Uzbekistan, while their wives were each ordered to pay 2,516,800 Soms (£790; US$1,280), which is 40 times the minimum monthly pay, for possession of religious literature.
Artur said that as well as the fines being beyond the families’ ability to pay, they had refused to comply on principle. Baptists in Uzbekistan reject state interference in their religious affairs.
An appeal had been filed, but some of the Alpayevs’ property was seized before the final hearing took place on 10 August. The appeal was unsuccessful.
The publication and distribution of religious literature is subject to intense state control inUzbekistan.
- barnabas team
Mumbai, September 28, 2012: The Pious Disciples of the Divine Master in Bandra (Mumbai) pray for their brothers and sisters in Syria, that they may enjoy lasting peace. Founded in the spirit of Saint Paul, who met Jesus on his way to Damascus, the congregation “holds Syria in a special place.”
“We are praying for the victims of the terrible killings in Syria and for the whole country, that lasting peace may reign where Christ appeared to Saint Paul,” said the Pious Disciples of the Divine Master (PDDM), as they launched a day of prayer and fasting for the victims of the Syrian war at their Prathnalaya or House of Prayer.
“We are devastated by Syria’s terrible situation,” Sister Valeriana told AsiaNews. For the mother superior of the congregation, “yesterday’s reports have increased our sense of desperation. We pray incessantly.”
“Our congregation was created by the Blessed Giacomo Alberione, in the spirit of Saint Paul who med the Divine Master on his way to Damascus. This,” she insisted, “unites us intimately to this land, which today is a place of death and destruction for many innocent people.”
“The Blessed Giacomo Alberione said that we must all consider Saint Paul the Apostle, as our father, master, example and founder,” Sister Valeriana explained.
“Our congregation was born from him and has been nourished and risen in him. We received our spirit from him. If someone suffers in the mystic body of Christ, we suffer too. Syria and Damascus hold a special place for us.”
Fr Giacomo Alberione, founder of the Pauline Family, set up the congregation in 1924.
The pope established the feast day of Jesus the Divine Master in 1958 following a request from the founder of the congregation.
Pakistan, September 25, 2012: A church, Christian school and library, and the homes of two pastors and the head teacher, were looted and torched in Muslim riots against the anti-Islam film in Pakistan.
Friday (21 September) was declared a national holiday, “Love for the Prophet Day”, by the Pakistani government amid violent protests over Innocence of Muslims that have hit around 20 countries. The government encouraged peaceful demonstrations in Pakistan, but the day descended into clashes between protestors and police that left at least 20 people dead.
The compound of St Paul’s Lutheran Church in Mardan, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, was set upon by hundreds of rioters armed with clubs and sticks. They looted the church building and smashed furniture before setting the premises alight.
They raided the adjacent church-run school, taking newly-installed computers, and also torched that building. Because the day had been declared a national holiday, none of the school’s 500 primary and secondary pupils were present.
A library on the site containing more than 3,000 books about the Bible and more than 6,000 books about other religions, including Islam, was burned down by the protestors in an act that would itself be considered blasphemous under Pakistani law.
The homes of two church leaders and the head teacher, within the compound, were also destroyed, along with a car and nine bikes.
The attack continued for more than three hours, with minimal efforts by the authorities to stop it.
The local church leader said that he thought it was pre-planned because the assailants had arrived with petrol and other materials to start a fire.
Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari condemned the attack on the church compound, saying that such incidents portrayed the country and Muslims negatively. Interior Minister Rehman Malik ordered an inquiry into the attack and promised that security would be provided to all churches in the country.
Around 64 suspects have been arrested in connection with the incident.
Christians in Pakistan have shown solidarity with Muslims by publicly condemning the film, which depicts Muhammad as fraudulent and depraved, and have even joined in peaceful protests against it. But this has not prevented them from being targeted by those wanting revenge for Innocence of Muslims. At one peaceful protest outside a church in Hyderabad on 16 September, men on motorbikes shot at Christian and Hindu demonstrators.
In another incident on 18 September, Christian workers at a hospital in Hyderabad were threatened by protestors who damaged doors and windows to the building. A Christian-run hospital in Quetta had to close its gates when a mob of hostile Muslims gathered outside.
Blasphemy is a highly sensitive subject in Pakistan, where the penal code prescribes the death penalty for defiling the name of Muhammad and life imprisonment for desecration of the Quran.
- barnabas team
A suicide bomber struck a church in Bauchi, Nigeria, on Sunday (23 September), killing himself and at least four people.
The attack on the church in the Bayan Gari area of Bauchi Town happened at around 9am as worshippers were leaving after the first service of the day. The bomber detonated his explosives at the church gate after failing to gain access to the site.
A boy aged around seven was among the fatalities. The death toll could rise, as many of the 48 people who were wounded suffered life-threatening injuries.
The incident followed another attack on Christians in the town the previous Sunday (16 September). Gunmen opened fire at a place where people gather to socialise in the evening; nine were killed.
LAOS: FIVE CHRISTIAN LEADERS FROM SAME DISTRICT ARRESTED
Five Christian leaders were arrested as part of a crackdown on the Church in one Lao district.
On 11 September, three pastors, Bounlert of Alowmai church, Adang of Kengsainoy church and Onkaew of Kapang church, along with two other Christian leaders whose names have not been made public, were detained by police in Phin district, Savannakhet province.
The latter two were released on 13 September, but the other three have been held in harsh conditions, their hands and feet chained. Adang and Onkaew are seriously ill.
While the church pastors were locked up, police officers went to their congregations and questioned their wives and other leaders; they were asked about church finances, their own Christian faith and that of others, as well as details about the pastors’ work.
IRAQ: YOUNG CHRISTIANS HOLD PRAYER VIGIL AFTER CHURCH BOMBING
Over 150 young Christians held a day of prayer and fasting for peace in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk on Saturday (22 September), following an explosion in front of a church there. Inspired by the International Day of Peace on Friday, they were also joined by older believers.
A bomb hidden in a bag had exploded at the door of the cathedral in Kirkuk on Sunday 16 September at 8.45pm. The building was damaged but nobody was hurt.
- barnabas team
China, September 27, 2012: Believers at Beijing’s Shouwang Church in China are full of joy and praise despite 17 months of difficult outdoor worship. The believers have been meeting outdoors since the government began thwarting their efforts to rent premises to worship indoors (click here to learn more).
While recently conducting their 38th outdoor worship service of the year, 22 believers were arrested. Ten were released soon after, while the rest were detained at a local police station. The remaining believers were released in the afternoon.
VOM partner China Aid has been working with house churches and teams of Christian lawyers to explore strategies for using the legal system in China to defend the rights of churches and Christians. Shouwang Church has submitted an application for an official administrative review in response to harassment and ongoing detentions by authorities attempting to inhibit their outdoor worship services.
Please join with the believers of Shouwang Church who are praying: “Let your steadfast love, O LORD, be upon us, even as we hope in you” (Psalms 33:22). Please pray that the administrative review will shine a light on the persecution believers face and help usher in more freedoms in China. Pray that God will use the faithfulness of the believers at Shouwang Church to bring others to Him.
- canada free press
Myanmar, September 6, 2012: A Christian aid group has revealed that students from Myanmar’s Chin ethic minority are being forced to shave their heads and convert to Buddhism, despite the president’s insistence that religious freedom is protected in the South Asian nation.
“President Thein Sein’s government claims that religious freedom is protected by law but in reality Buddhism is treated as the de facto state religion,” said Salai Ling, Program Director of the Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO).
Myanmar’s population of 55 million is heavily Buddhist at 89 percent, the CIA Factbook reveals, with Baptist Christians accounting for three percent and Roman Catholics numbering one percent.
The Chin nonprofit group, which was established on the India-Burma border by a group of Chin activists, stated, however, that an ultra-nationalistic viewpoint has gripped the country, pushed by a military regime that dictates that “to be Burmese, you should be Buddhist.”
The organization highlighted the plight of Christian students who enroll at schools run by Myanmar’s military, explaining that often times the students are beaten for failing to recite Buddhist scriptures, forced to shave their heads as per Buddhist tradition and convert to the Eastern religion.
The Chin population, which numbers about 500,000 people, struggle with poverty and their only real source of income is fishing, the human rights group reported. This situation leads them to seek out military schools, which provide free food, education and government jobs once they graduate.
“These schools are designed to facilitate a forced assimilation policy under the guise of development. The schools appear to offer a way out of poverty but there is a high price to pay for Chin students. They are given a stark choice between abandoning their identity and converting to Buddhism, or joining the military to comply with the authorities’ vision of a ‘patriotic citizen’,” CHRO Advocacy Director Rachel Fleming said.
A detailed report by CHRO explores the hardships the Chin population have faced for over a decade, and documents human rights abuses they have suffered such as forced labor and torture, which has forced thousands of them to flee their homeland.
In its report, the organization urges the government to abolish the Ministry of Religious Affairs and the military-controlled Education and Training Department under the Ministry for Border Affairs, and instead use the resources to further education and minority languages in the national curriculum.
Pakistan, September 12, 2012: Rimsha Masih, the Christian girl detained for blasphemy in Pakistan, has been freed on bail but remains “at grave risk”; meanwhile attacks on vulnerable young Christian girls in the country continue.
The 14-year-old with Down’s syndrome was granted bail on Friday (7 September) by a court in Islamabad after three weeks in a high-security prison. Amid fears that Islamic hard-liners would try to attack Rimsha, she was bundled, head covered, into a helicopter as heavily armed police stood guard. She was flown to a secure location to be reunited with her family.
Rimsha is the first person accused of blasphemy inPakistan to be granted bail; it is not a bailable offence, but the judge was swayed by pleas over her juvenile status and the insistence of the investigating officer that the Christian girl had been framed. Imam Khalid Jadoon Chishti is alleged to have planted evidence on her to “get rid of Christians” from Maherabad.
But Rimsha’s terrible ordeal is far from over. The charges against her have not been dropped, and it has not yet been decided if she will have to stand trial. Even if she is cleared, the youngster will remain vulnerable to attack by Muslim extremists; people who have been accused of blasphemy have been killed by vigilantes following their release. She may have to remain under armed guard for the rest of her life.
Raja Ikram, one of the lawyers defending Rimsha, said:
She is at grave risk in the sense that the people who managed this whole drama and fabricated the evidence against her most certainly wish her harm.
The case has sparked widespread condemnation of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws and calls for them to be reformed. But most analysts consider it highly unlikely that there will be any change, leaving Christians open to further malicious and devastating accusations.
Rimsha’s plight has also drawn attention to the abuse of Christians in Pakistan, but this also continues unabated.
One particularly savage incident, which happened on 14 August, involved the gang-rape and murder of a 12-year-old Christian girl, Muqadas Kainat, by five Muslim men in a field.
In another case, a ten-year-old Christian girl was raped by a 60-year-old Muslim man on 25 August. He lured the youngster to his home in Faisalabad, where he brutally assaulted her.
- barnabas team