Iran: Monuments destroyed in bid to wipe out Christian heritage *Indonesia: Islamists block persecuted church from holding service

April 30, 2012 by admin  
Filed under Asia, Indonesia, Iran, newsletter-asia, Persecution

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Iran, April 24, 2012: Historical Christian monuments in Iran are being destroyed or allowed to fall into a state of decay in what appears to be an attempt by the authorities to wipe out the country’s Christian heritage.

Churches and Christian cemeteries are particularly vulnerable, as experts warn that pre-Islamic historical monuments are at greater risk than ever before.

Earlier this month, Iranian Christian news agency Mohabat News reported that a Christian cemetery, which was over 200 years old, in the Ghal’e Dokhtar area of Kerman province had been completely demolished without the permission of its owners.

Mohammad Mehdi Afzali of the Cultural Heritage organisation of Kerman was quoted as saying:

Destruction of this cemetery was conducted as part of a project by the municipality and Cultural Heritage organisation to release lands around Ghal’e Dokhtar and Ghal’e Ardeshir.

This followed the flattening of the Church of St Andrew, also in Kerman, last year. It was pulled down by bulldozers overnight despite having been registered as a national monument in March 2009, a status that required the 60-year-old building to be protected and restored. The church had previously been converted into an office for a taxi service.
 
The Church of Haftvan, in Salmas county, has been repeatedly attacked and is in danger of collapse. It was registered as a national monument in 2002 but has been left to decay; plants have grown into the building, causing the walls to crack. Trespassers have vandalised the building, and the yard in front of it has been dug up in search of jewels and antiques; this has caused soil erosion, weakening the walls of the church.
 
A Christian from Salmas said:
The Islamic Republic is practically destroying monuments of Christians. It is not Haftvan alone; the church of Ashnak village has become the same or even worse because of some trespassers who are actually officials of the regime… The laws of the Islamic country do nothing to prevent the destruction of these monuments.

Large crosses on gravestones at a Christian cemetery in Bushehr that dates back to the mid-nineteenth century have been removed, and what remains of the site is overgrown and neglected.

Mohabat News said:
It seems that Islamic Republic officials, unsuccessful in stopping the growth of Christianity among the people by pressuring them, arresting them and banning Christian converts from attending church services, want to destroy historical Christian monuments to totally wipe the Christian heritage from the face of Iran.

- barnabas team

Indonesia: Islamists block persecuted church from holding service

 

Indonesia, April 24, 2012: Another Indonesian church whose building has been unlawfully sealed off by the authorities was met with violent opposition from Islamists as it attempted to stage an outdoor service.

The Filadelfia congregation of the Batak Christian Protestant Church (HKBP) in Bekasi has been unable to use the building on the land it bought in 2007. The Christians worshipped in a semi-permanent building while waiting for a permit from the Bekasi government. Despite their meeting all the requirements for one, a permit was not issued, and on 31 December 2009, the church was banned from using the site; the building was sealed off the following month.

HKBP took the case to the Supreme Court, which ruled in their favour. Its decision is however, yet to be implemented.

Last Sunday (15 April), the congregation was met with violent opposition as they tried to hold a service on the street in front of their sealed-off church building. Muslim residents blocked them from the site, and the local authorities had to intervene.

Overwhelmed by the mob, officials told the Christians to hold their service at the local sub-district office – around five kilometres away – but they refused. As they persisted with the service, it was disrupted by the Muslim opponents, who played loud music and rode a motorcycle through the congregation.

Church leader, the Rev. Palti Panjaitan, insisted it was the church’s right to use the building. He was threatened by one of the mob, who shouted, “Palti Panjaitan, you’re dead if you try coming back!”

HKBP’s battle with the authorities and local Muslims has many parallels with the plight of GKI Yasmin Church, whose building in Bogor, West Java, has been illegally sealed off by the authorities, in defiance of a Supreme Court ruling that it should re-open.

More than 200 Christians from the two churches, along with human rights activists and political representatives, staged a peaceful demonstration in front of the Presidential Palace in Jakarta on 15 April. They decried the expropriation of places of worship and called for religious freedom to be upheld, denouncing violations by Islamist groups and the failure of the authorities, including President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, to implement the law.

Activists said that the president was afraid of “alienating” the Islamic fringe in case he lost support and votes.

GKI, which has been holding services on the street in front of its church building since 2008, has now been forced to meet in secret for the safety of the congregation.

Church spokesman Bona Sigalingging said:

We are constantly having to change our location because our existence appears to be unwanted, and we have to hide so that we are not intimidated by intolerant groups… We had hoped for help from the police, but after many attacks on members of the congregation, we see that the police are also involved in this.

In a visit to Indonesia earlier this month, British Prime Minister David Cameron praised the country as an example of religious tolerance. He said:

What Indonesia shows is that in the world’s largest Muslim-majority country, it is possible to reject this extremist threat and prove that democracy and Islam can flourish alongside each other.

While it is true that there is greater religious freedom in Indonesia than some Muslim-majority countries, such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, Sudan and Afghanistan, the ongoing persecution of HKBP and GKI demonstrate that Indonesia still has a long way to go in the treatment of its Christian minorities.

- barnabas team

Vietnam: Leader of unregistered house church jailed for 11 years *Iran: 12 Christians stand trial Easter Sunday

April 11, 2012 by admin  
Filed under Asia, Iran, newsletter-asia, Persecution, Vietnam

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Christians face severe persecution in the Central Highlands - GFDL by DXLINH

Vietnam, April 04, 2012: The pastor of a house church in Vietnam has been jailed for eleven years for “disrupting national unity”.

The 43-year-old church leader admitted to leading the unregistered church in the Central Highlands, where ethnic minority Christians face persecution and restrictions, during a one-day trial.

He had been arrested in April and was also convicted of handing out anti-government leaflets and “enticing ethnic minorities to commit wrongdoing”.

The church leader, who is highly esteemed within the Christian community, was described as “a good man” by one believer.

All churches in Vietnam are supposed to register with the government and submit to its direction. Unregistered groups are particularly vulnerable to persecution, and any religious activity deemed to cause public disorder, harm national security or “sow divisions” is banned. Church buildings have been destroyed and Christians imprisoned on charges of violating national security.

Christians in some areas of the Central Highlands are among the worst affected. In its latest annual report, the US Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) recommended that the Secretary of State designate Vietnam a “Country of Particular Concern” for “systematic and egregious limitations” of religious freedom. CPC designation is reserved for the world’s worst violators of religious freedom; others on the list this year included Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Sudan.

The USCIRF’s report said:
The government of Vietnam continues to control all religious communities, restrict and penalize independent religious practice severely, and repress individuals and groups viewed as challenging its authority.

Individuals continue to be imprisoned or detained for reasons related to their religious activity or religious freedom advocacy; independent religious activity remains illegal; legal protections for government-approved religious organizations are both vague and subject to arbitrary or discriminatory interpretations based on political factors; and new converts to ethnic-minority Protestantism and members of one Buddhist community face discrimination, intimidation, and pressure to renounce their faith.

He had been arrested in April and was also convicted of handing out anti-government leaflets and “enticing ethnic minorities to commit wrongdoing”.

The church leader, who is highly esteemed within the Christian community, was described as “a good man” by one believer.

All churches in Vietnam are supposed to register with the government and submit to its direction. Unregistered groups are particularly vulnerable to persecution, and any religious activity deemed to cause public disorder, harm national security or “sow divisions” is banned. Church buildings have been destroyed and Christians imprisoned on charges of violating national security.

Christians in some areas of the Central Highlands are among the worst affected.

In its latest annual report, the US Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) recommended that the Secretary of State designate Vietnam a “Country of Particular Concern” for “systematic and egregious limitations” of religious freedom. CPC designation is reserved for the world’s worst violators of religious freedom; others on the list this year included Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Sudan.

The USCIRF’s report said:

“The government of Vietnam continues to control all religious communities, restrict and penalize independent religious practice severely, and repress individuals and groups viewed as challenging its authority.

“Individuals continue to be imprisoned or detained for reasons related to their religious activity or religious freedom advocacy; independent religious activity remains illegal; legal protections for government-approved religious organizations are both vague and subject to arbitrary or discriminatory interpretations based on political factors; and new converts to ethnic-minority Protestantism and members of one Buddhist community face discrimination, intimidation, and pressure to renounce their faith.”

- barnabas team

12 Iranian Christians stand trial Easter Sunday

 

Iran, April 09, 2012: Twelve Christians are to stand trial in Iran on Easter Sunday on charges including “crimes against the order”, an activist assisting them with advocacy told Worthy News.

Jason DeMars, director of the Present Truth Ministries group, said Friday that the Christians are facing the court in the northeastern city of Rasht, though “they were earlier for the same ‘crimes’ last year in [the Caspian Sea city of] Bandar Anzali.”

“This highlights once again, that it is illegal to be a Christian in Iran,” De Mars said.

Among the Christians is Pastor Matthias Haghnejad and his wife Anahita Khadeimi, he explained. Others were identified as Mahmoud Khosh-Hal and his wife Hava Saadetmend, Amir Goldoust, Mina Goldoust, Zhaina Bahremand, Fatemah Modir-Nouri, Mehrdad Habibzade, Milad Radef, Behzad Taalipasand and Amin Pishkar.

It comes amid reports of mounting pressure on devoted Christians in Iran, including former Muslims, amid a rapidly growing house church movement in the Islamic nation.

Evangelical Christians

There may be at least 100,000 evangelical Christians in Iran, according to conservative estimates, though some groups say that number is much higher.

Monday’s trial is held not far from the prison where Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani faces possible execution for refusing to abandon his faith in Christ and return to Islam, according to court documents seen by Worthy News.

DeMars explained that his group has urged supporters to “pray for these believers as they stand trial” which was to begin early Sunday local time.

“We pray that God gives them courage to stand for their faith, to express themselves clearly and to bring him honor and glory. We also pray that he touches the heart of the judges to acquit these saints of these “crimes,” DeMars told supporters receiving his electronic newsletters.

Iranian officials have consistently denied wrongdoing, saying they try to uphold the values of Islam and the laws of the land.

- worthynews

Iran church threatened with bombing if… *Vatican Nuncio: Syrian Church must not stand & watch

March 20, 2012 by admin  
Filed under Asia, Church, Iran, newsletter-world, Persecution, Vatican, World

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Armenian Church in TehranIran, March 19, 2012: Another church in Tehran has been ordered to stop holding services in the Iranian national language on Fridays, and has been threatened with a bomb attack if it does not comply.

Officers of the Islamic Court served the notice, which came into effect as of Friday 24 February, to the Armenian Anglican Church in the country’s capital. They threatened that if the order is ignored, the church building will be bombed “as happens in Iraq every day”.

It comes after two other Tehran churches, Emmanuel Protestant Church and St Peter Evangelical Church, were also ordered to stop holding services in Farsi on Fridays.

Friday is the main weekend-day in Iran, so it is easier for people to attend a church service on this day than Sunday, which is a work day.

The Armenian Anglican Church was one of the few established churches in Iran that was still allowed to hold Persian language services.

A report by Farsi Christian News Network said:

It now seems likely that the Islamic authorities have imagined that with this new restriction they will somehow hold back the rapid, and evidently extremely worrying, spread of Christianity amongst the people under their yoke.

In a further attempt by the authorities to clamp down on the rapidly growing Iranian Church, they have permanently shut discipleship classes for new Christians run for decades by the Tehran Central Assembly of God Church on Saturdays.

Security agents have been rounding up Christians in a sweep of arrests across the country since Christmas.

- barnabas team

Vatican Nuncio: Syrian Church must not stand & watch

 

Syria Prayer Greek CatholicVatican-Syria, March 16, 2012: In an interview with AsiaNews, Mgr. Mario Zenari, for the past three years nuncio in Damascus, described all the elements that make up the tangled skein of Syria. The deep division between Sunnis and Alawites (Shiites) and the growing hatred. The too fearful Christians must commit themselves to building a society where there is respect for man and his rights, equality for women, equality among all citizens, freedom of religion and of conscience. Being in Syria is a mission. At Homs a priest talks with the rebels and with the army to provide aid to the poor, to save the lives of the inhabitants, to bury the dead that nobody wants to touch. In a year of violence at least 800-900 children have been killed. The majority were shot in the streets by unknown snipers. Syria is changing and there’s no turning back.

“This is the Christians’ hour”; there has begun “a new historical process in Syria” from which it will never turn back and “Christians cannot miss this rendezvous with history”: Msgr. Mario Zenari, for three years now the Vatican nuncio in Damascus, speaks almost excitedly as he recalls the Christians’ missionary efforts of Christians, which is to be “like sheep among wolves”, but with an identity and a task. Precisely because in Syria the gap between the different components of society is widening more and more, he sees an urgent need for Christians to come out into society and build bridges of reconciliation, defending the values typical of the Church’s social doctrine: human dignity, rejection of violence, equality between men and women, fundamental freedoms, freedom of conscience and religion, the separation between religion and state.  “It is urgent”, he said, “to go out into the open, on the attack, and not to sit back and watch.” Mgr. Zenari, 66, tells stories of ordinary heroism of some priests who have remained in Homs during this months’ bombing and violence. While sharing in the mourning for the tragedy of the Belgian children killed in a car accident in Switzerland, he reminds us that in Syria 800-900 children have already been killed, mostly shot “in the head and the heart” by strangers: “Their murder is an atrocity” and it is necessary that the international community ensure “justice for these children.” Here is the full interview which Mgr. Zenari gave via telephone to AsiaNews.

Your Excellency, what is it like is to be in Syria at this moment?

My heart is sad. This is the fourth spring that I’ve lived in Damascus and this year I still haven’t seen spring arrive. They’re expecting the fruits of Kofi Annan’s mission, but there are fears that the parties will say “Yes, but …”,   where the “but” is more important than the “yes”. Instead it is urgent that both parties make a tremendous effort.  The distances between them have become huge and are widening every day. For this reason it’s necessary for both parties to jump through hoops to rebuild the dialogue. A reversal is necessary, a conversion… The climate is so deteriorated that a fair amount of heroism is needed, perhaps a bit more from one particular side. Hopefully the help of the international community will bear fruit, so it will make them make great gestures, but it’s a bit difficult.

Before, the international community accused only the regular army. Now Annan has called for an end to the violence from both sides;  Britain hopes for a peaceful solution; France is doubtful about sending weapons to the rebels…

Yes, this is true. The request has to come from 360 degrees, from all sides. Maybe at the beginning the media exaggerated about only one of the sides. But both parties are called upon to make gestures of goodwill and put an end to violence. At first, perhaps driven by enthusiasm for the Arab spring in other regions, the riots were seen in a very idealistic manner; and then going forward, we saw many other aspects come into play. To date, Syria is a tangled skein, and there are many elements to watch.

Could you list these elements?

Initially there were demonstrations for more democracy, more respect for human rights, fundamental freedoms, with peaceful demonstrations that were suppressed. But then so many factors were added: first, the fact that 75% of the society here is composed of Sunnis; then, that it is governed by 12% of the population who are the Alawites.  This tension between Sunnis and Alawites today is decisive, without forgetting the other aspects. History will assess how the relationship between Sunnis and Shiites has gone (the Alawites are somehow linked to the Shiite world).

There is also an attempt to internationalize the conflict.

We are neighbors with Iraq, with Israel, with Lebanon; and we’re not far from Iran… and so in Syria ingredients come in from all sides and complicate the mess.

There is a risk that the international community use Syria as a chessboard for its interests: the West, Saudi Arabia and Qatar against Iran; Israel against Hezbollah; Turkey against Syria … But the needs of the Syrian people are forgotten.

There are various readings. There is the simplistic one of the regime which claims that a foreign conspiracy is present. It’s impossible to evaluate fully how much is true and how much is propaganda.

The Syrian Christians, 10% of the population, seem caught in the crossfire.

For me there is a place for Christians and they cannot afford to miss this appointment with this new historical process. There is no doubt that Syria is changing: a new process has begun and there’s no going back. Where should the Christians place themselves? I would answer based on the Psalms, a wisdom that is at least 2500 years old. And one Psalm says:  Do not lean on a falling wall [Ps 61 (62), 4]. And neither should a man stand by, gazing out the window. Christians are in society and must roll up their sleeves. In the past there have been faithful who have made a glorious contribution in the field of culture, art, politics: one of the founders of the Baath Party was a Christian. Woe, therefore, if they miss this appointment. What’s more, Christians start off with an advantage. The Pope, a few months ago, at the Syrian ambassador’s presentation of credentials [June 9, 2011], pointed out that there are exemplary relations between Christians and Muslims. The Christians in Syria also have a good elite: cultural figures, academics, lawyers, presidents of hospitals… It’s time to live out our task and make our contribution, reclaiming our dignity and our identity, based on the Gospel and the social doctrine of the Church: human dignity, rejection of violence, equality between men and women, fundamental freedoms, freedom of conscience and religion, the separation between religion and state, etc… It is urgent to go out in the open, on the attack, and not to sit back and watch.

Three years ago I presented my credentials to President Assad. And I was impressed that for following 15 minutes during the personal interview, the president continued to speak of the importance that Christians have for Syrian society. He truly admired the Christian components in the country. In this phase of transformation, one cannot look back and think about some protection from the outside: we must work for a rule of law, in which all citizens are equal, have the same rights and duties.

Another thing I noticed is that at every level Christians serve as a bridge. In many mixed villages, Alawites and Christians live in peace, Sunnis and Christians the same, Druze and Christians live in harmony… In these times, with the conflict, sometimes there has been friction and confrontation, but until now, no church has ever suffered even a scratch. In any case, we Christians can have a function of reconciliation among all the groups living in the country. The idea is going around that the fate of Christians in Syria is likely to be similar to what happened in Iraq. But Syria is not Iraq, and it’s not even Egypt: it has its own characteristics, with a tradition of good tolerance.

The Gospel tells us: I send you out as sheep among wolves. And the wolves are not only in Damascus but also in Frankfurt, New York, London, Paris …. only somewhat more subtle and refined. Being in the midst of wolves is part of our mission and we need not fear. The Gospel also says: “Do not be afraid.”

I have continually before my eyes outstanding examples of this mission. In these days Homs is hell. Everyday I phone three priests who have remained there. As we speak, we hear gunfire because the Christian quarter is between in the crossfire. One of them is remarkable for what he is able to do: he talks to the rebels to halt the violence, asking them permission to let pass the trucks with food aid for the poor. On the other hand, from the other side, he asks the army not to shoot, in order not to hit the neighborhoods where there are still inhabitants, or sacred buildings. And he serves as a bridge, like a sheep among wolves. Several days ago there were the bodies of three soldiers in front of the cathedral. They had been there for 10 days. No one dared to recover them because there was the risk of being killed. So he went to the rebels and asked for clemency for these bodies. The rebels at first were angry, shouting: “What do we care for these pigs?” But he said: “No, after we are dead we are not pigs, we are all equal.” And he managed to get them to listen:  they loaded the bodies onto a truck and dumped them onto a piece of road where it was easier for their fellow soldiers to recover them.

The Church can do a lot, on a practical, charitable level, and with our choices, focusing on the defense of the human person, above party lines. We must give attention to the hungry, the wounded, the dead… So many people have been killed and no one knows by whom. We must go out, denounce, give our testimony in favor of the human person.

These days the world has been impressed by the tragedy of that bus that crashed in a tunnel in Switzerland. 22 Belgian children died and the emotion that it aroused is understandable. Here in Syria, until 2 weeks ago, according to the UN there have been 7500 killed, but now we are up to 9500. Of these, at least 500 are children! This means that out of every 15 deaths, one was a child. Some of them died crushed by the rubble caused by bombs, but the majority died in the street and not because they stumbled or fell, no: they were shot in the heart or the head with bullets. I hope that the international community can do something to ensure justice for these children. It is good and fitting to be moved over 22 children, but here there are 800-900 who have died. It is urgent to denounce these crimes. Human life is sacred, that of those who wear the military uniform, like that of the rebels, but even more so that of children. Their murder is an atrocity.

The road Syria is on is long, difficult and painful, like that of a river: it may deviate, go right or left, but it reaches the sea. The Synod for the Middle East prompted the bishops and the faithful to witness to the faith and work together to build the city of man along with the others. The Church must speak its position, meet, comfort, clean up these disfigured faces. Being in this country is a mission.

What can we Catholics do in the rest of the world? The Custody of the Holy Land, for example, has launched a campaign to help the Christians of Syria…

We must begin by thanking you for your generosity and solidarity, which is much needed. I hope that with Caritas and other institutions we can alleviate all the suffering in the country. It is also necessary try to understand the situation of the Christians. It’s one thing is to reason at a table, and another thing to get carried away by sentiment. We must understand even the feelings and listen.

What worries me most is the growing hatred in society. For now it isn’t manifest, but it’s burning. The bullets that the two groups are exchanging are only the tip of the iceberg. We are walking on embers that can ignite at any time. For our part, we Christians witness to charity. It’s the Christians’ moment, we must act and go on the offensive in defense of the human person: it is important not to miss this historic moment.

- asianews

Death penalties rise as two men are publicly executed

March 17, 2012 by admin  
Filed under Asia, Iran, newsletter-asia, Persecution

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execution_mashhadIran, March 13, 2012: In 2011, there were 65 hangings, 19 in 2010 and 9 in 2009. With today’s executions, the number of public executions rises to 15 this year. The United Nations calls for a moratorium and legal guarantees for the accused. Iran slams the West for using human rights to strike at the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Two men were publicly hanged in Mashhad, north-eastern Iran (pictured), a day after a human rights report on Iran was released at the United Nations headquarters in Geneva that included a request for a moratorium on the death penalty.

According to official Iranian news agencies, the men were charged and convicted of involvement in 13 rape cases. They were arrested less than three months ago. The public hangings took place in Mashhad’s Ferdowsi Square at 6:30 am, local time. The prisoners were identified as Akram Norouz Zahi, aka “Yasein”, and Mojtaba Afshar, aka ‘Saddam”.

According to the Iran Human Rights annual report on the death penalty there was a dramatic increase in the number of public executions in 2011 in Iran. Sixty-five people were hanged publicly last year; that is more than three times the number in 2010 (19 public hangings) and seven times higher than in 2009 (nine public executions). This trend is continuing in 2012 where so far, at least 15 people have been hanged publicly.

Today’s public executions took place just one day after the UN Special Rapporteur Ahmad Shaheed presented his report on the human rights situation in Iran at the UN Security Council meeting in Geneva. The report criticises the dramatic increase in the number of executions, calling on the Iranian government “to seriously consider a moratorium on the death penalty for all crimes” and “allow for legal representation of accused persons at all stages of investigations.”

Secretary of Iran’s Human Rights Council Mohammad Javad Larijani lambasted Shaheed’s report, saying it was biased. Larijani insisted that Iran would never allow UN human rights mechanisms to become tools in the hands of US and some Western states to exert political pressure on the Islamic Republic of Iran.

- asianews

Petition: Free Pakistani Christian woman set for execution *Iran admits Youcef convicted of religious charges

March 16, 2012 by admin  
Filed under Iran, newsletter-lead, Pakistan, Persecution

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Asia BibiPakistan, March 14, 2012: Activists presented a petition on Tuesday to the United Nations Human Rights Council calling on Pakistan to free a Christian mother of five, from being put to death on the charge of blasphemy.

A Pakistani court held Asia Bibi guilty of defiling the name of the Prophet Mohammed during a 2009 argument with Muslim fellow field workers. The offense is punishable by death or life imprisonment, according to Pakistan’s penal code. Bibi was sentenced to hang.

But an investigation by a Pakistani government ministry found the charges stemmed from religious and personal enmity and recommended Bibi’s release.

The petition was signed by 50 activists including a former Czech foreign minister, the president of the U.N. General Assembly, a survivor of Tiananmen Square and a women’s rights advocate from Mali.

“With Pakistan now running for a seat on the U.N. Human Rights Council, the government should make an important gesture by releasing Asia Bibi, and repealing its blasphemy law, which is inconsistent with basic human rights,” said Hillel Neuer, director of U.N. Watch, a Geneva-based human rights group that organized the petition.

However, Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has said that the government will not change the country’s controversial blasphemy laws.

Liberal politician Salman Taseer, then governor of Punjab, who led a campaign to end the law, was assassinated in January 2011. Taseer said the blasphemy laws were being misused to persecute religious minorities and had called for Bibi’s release.

Bibi writes about her ordeal in a recently published book called “Get Me Out of Here.” It includes a letter she wrote to her family urging them to have faith in God. “My children,” she wrote, “don’t lose courage or faith in Jesus Christ.”

- cnn

Iran admits Youcef convicted of religious charges

 

Ahmed Shaheed, the U.N. Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Iran

Ahmed Shaheed, the U.N. Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Iran

Iran, March 13, 2012: For the first time since his arrest in 2009, Iran has admitted publicly that Christian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani has been convicted of religious crimes.

During a United Nation Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva on Monday, Iran said Nadarkhani, who has been sentenced to death, was found guilty of three charges: building a church in his home without government permission, preaching to minors without parental consent and offending Islam, according to a meeting transcript.

The dialogue fueled hope that Nadarkhani is still alive. The last update from Iranian sources on Feb. 26 indicated the pastor hadn’t been executed; however, Iran has a history of holding secret executions.

Nadarkhani, who was arrested by authorities in October 2009 on charges of apostasy, led a congregation of about 400 from his home. Although apostasy isn’t a crime under Iran’s legal code, it is a crime under its religious codes; and Articles 513 and 514 do criminalize “insults” to “Islamic sanctities,” including holy figures, Iran’s leadership and the religion in general.

Tiffany Barrans, the International Legal Director at the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), said the Iranian representative to the council was responding to the presentation of a new report by Ahmed Shaheed, the U.N. Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Iran, who used the platform to call for Nadakhani’s release.

In the past, Iran had claimed that Nadarkhani had been charged with “security related crimes,” including rape and spying, but leaked court documents signed by Iranian Supreme Court judges belied the claim, indicating only that Nadarkhani was sentenced to death for apostasy and that he’d refused to convert to Islam when given the option by the court.

During the U.N. meeting, American representative Charles O. Blaha also called for Nadarkhani’s release, and demanded that Iran “uphold the universal rights, including religious freedom, of all its citizens, to release the more than 80 Baha’is jailed for their beliefs, and to cease state-sponsored Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism.”

The execution process in Iran – from sentencing to the final order for the hanging — has been known to take place in just a few weeks, especially for violent criminals.

Iran doesn’t always notify the family or legal counsel of those on death row before an execution, so a hanging or stoning may not be made public until days later – when the body is delivered to next of kin.

Shaheed, of the U.N., said on Wednesday that Iran executed a total of 670 people in the last year, about 250 of those secretly.

Shaheed noted the number of executions–most of them for minor drug offenses that he believes were actually political crimes covered up posthumously–spiked in the final three months of 2011. He has been condemned by Iran as little more than a proxy for the United States.

“From the first day that Mr. Ahmed Shaheed was appointed as the UN [human rights] rapporteur, we suspected he was a U.S. agent; but after he published a few reports [on the human rights situation in Iran], we became certain he had been sent on mission by the Americans,” Alaeddin Boroujerdi, the chairman for the Committee for Foreign Policy and National Security of the Iranian Parliament, told state-run Press TV on Saturday.

Boroujerdi added that Iran believes Shaheed is politically motivated and selective on what he reports to the U.N.

Iran’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations, as the country’s representative body is known, declined comment for this story; however, Iranian human rights chief Mohammad-Javad Larijani called Shaheed’s charges baseless in a statement and attacked both his methods and his person.

“Instead of fulfilling his main duties, he has taken part in interviews with various media outlets like a movie star,” said Larijani.

- ibntimes

Conflicting reports Ps. Nadarkhani *For Peace in Sri Lanka… Catholic bishops

March 1, 2012 by admin  
Filed under Asia, Iran, newsletter-asia, Persecution, Sri Lanka

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youcef_foot_present_truthIran, February 29, 2012: Reports of the imminent execution of Christian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani are now being countered by news of delay.

Spokesman with the Voice of the Martyrs USA Todd Nettleton says the latest information he’s heard is still being confirmed. “There is a report from an Israeli media outlet saying that the execution has been postponed. It’s unclear when it will happen. The other part of this report that has new information to me is that it was scheduled to take place today (February 28), but it was postponed indefinitely.”

There are other stories indicating there was actually no execution order and that Nadarkhani was being held for rape and “other crimes,” not apostasy. (Article 225 of the Iranian penal code states, “Punishment for an Innate Apostate is death,” and “Punishment for a Parental Apostate is death.”) Naturally, the changing details beg the question, “Is this a campaign of misinformation?”

“There are so many different pieces of information coming from different directions, that it’s hard to know what is real and what is not real,” Nettleton notes. It could discredit future reports coming out of Iran. Who benefits from discrediting the stories? The bigger question, says Nettleton, is: “What role does the Iranian government play in this? They have a history of not being transparent with the rest of the world as far as what’s going on inside Iran. So it is interesting to wonder if they are perhaps playing with this information as a way to try to gauge: ‘How is the world going to respond if we do this?’”

However, delay could be a response to the international scrutiny, too. “When it comes to some of the European countries, those countries can have sway on Iranian public policy. The Iranian government does tend to pay attention to what they’re saying. In this case, many of them are also sounding the chorus that a person should not be executed for their religious beliefs.”

The American Center for Law and Justice added their voice the chorus of concern. “If a human being becomes a bargaining chip for the ayatollah, that’s not a situation that will lead to anything positive,” says ACLJ’s executive director, Jordan Sekulow.

Nettleton says the lack of movement could also signal an acknowledgement of the conundrum Iran’s judiciary faces. If the court releases the pastor, it denies Sharia law, risking the wrath of Muslims in Iran. If they execute him, they face the displeasure of the international community, which includes dozens of human rights groups, the White House, members of Congress, leaders from the European Union, France, Great Britain, Mexico and Germany.

Trying to find a way out of the dilemma, the court gave Nadarkhani a chance to recant and return to Islam, but he refused. His story reveals a distress the government can’t ignore. Nettleton explains, “The government is responding with lethal force in this particular situation because the church is growing in a way that the government can’t understand and can’t control. They see putting someone to death as saying, ‘This will put a stop to Muslims leaving Islam to follow Christ.’”

The paradox of persecution, says Nettleton, is met by prayer. “There is an incredible hunger for the Gospel. There is an incredible openness to hear about Jesus Christ. We need to pray that there will be ministries and people and workers who will work in those harvest fields.”

Check our Featured Links Section for more about the work of the Voice of the Martyr with the persecuted church.

- mnn

For peace in Sri Lanka: learn from past failures

 

For peace in Sri Lanka, government should learn from past failures, say Catholic bishopsSri Lanka, February 29, 2012: Bishops urge the government to translate all of its documents in both Tamil and Sinhalese, draw up the list of people who went missing during the civil war and dismantle all illegal armed groups. The government focuses instead on big economic projects and disregards the country’s real problems, like its 200,000 internally displaced people and its 39,000 war widows, who live without aid or work. The bishops’ Conference calls for a Sri Lankan identity, not one that is either Sinhalese or Tamil.

In a press release, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Sri Lanka has called on the government to dismantle illegal armed groups, draft a list of people who went missing during the civil war and translate all official government documents in both Sinhalese and Tamil. This way, the report issued by the Lessons Learnt e Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) set up by President Mahinda Rajapaksa to investigate the final phase of the war can be more effectively implemented. Released in December 2011 after a year’s work, the report contains some proposals for national reconciliation.

Almost three years since the end of the civil war, the country is still licking its wounds. However, the government continues to borrow money to invest in mega tourist projects (taking a heavy toll on the environment and on thousands of farmers and fishermen) and build up the country’s armed forces.

In the meantime, more than 200,000 people are languishing in refugee camps, unable to go home to their villages or move elsewhere. On Jaffna Peninsula alone, 39,000 war widows live without any kind of public help or job to earn a living. At the same time, some 12,000 people, mostly men, are still missing, vanished in thin air, with the authorities providing no account for their fate or whereabouts.

For many, the LLRC report is a response to a UN report released on 26 April 2011, which blamed the Sri Lankan government for the death of 40,000 civilians in air bombings or cold-blooded executions.

Two days ago, a resolution went before the United Nations Human Rights Council on alleged abuses by the Sri Lankan government and Tamil rebels during the civil war. On the same day, the government organised anti-UN protests across the island.

In their press release, signed by Card Malcolm Ranjith and Mgr Norbert Andradi, respectively the president and the secretary general of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Sri lanka, the bishops say “another valuable opportunity” should not “to pass us by”. In fact, “We believe that it is not incorrect to state that the most unfortunate experience of war was the result of thousands of missed opportunities. Hence, it is our great responsibility to clinch yet another vital opportunity God places before us.”

For this reason, “The report needs to be disseminated to the masses. It would be necessary to have the report, particularly its recommendations, translated into the two official languages of the nation.”

“Let all that concerns good governance be implemented. Illegal armed groups need to be disarmed. We also urge that the government to address the painful issue of missing persons and present a list of those who are still in custody as it always helps anyone to know if and when his or her loved ones are no more.”

The bishops also called for a cultural renaissance through art, drama and music. “We need,” they argue, “to identify the linguistic and cultural commonalities and affinities in establishing a Sri Lankan identify and be mindful of the fact Sinhalese and Tamil cultures have very rich roots”.

- asianews

Churches ordered to stop holding services in Iranian national language

February 24, 2012 by admin  
Filed under Asia, Iran, newsletter-lead, Persecution

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Iranian-Christians-worshipIran, February 21, 2012: The last two registered Tehran churches to hold services in Farsi have been ordered to stop doing so on Fridays in an apparent bid to prevent Muslims from hearing the Gospel in their own language.

The pastors of Emmanuel Protestant Church and St Peter Evangelical Church were issued with the order by the Ministry of Intelligence and Security earlier this month and announced it to their congregations on 10 February.

It means that there are now no Christian services in Farsi, the language of the Muslim majority in Iran, in any officially registered church in the capital on Fridays. The order was not applied to Sundays, but Friday is the main weekend-day in Iran, and it is difficult for people to attend church on any other day because of work commitments.

The two churches are among the small number of officially registered churches that principally serve the Armenian and Assyrian communities of Iran. Most of their activities are conducted in the Armenian and Assyrian languages.

Middle East Concern said that the order to stop Farsi services was consistent with the authorities’ policy of restricting Christian activities to these traditional communities. It is illegal to conduct church services and Bible studies in Farsi, which prevents Muslims from hearing the Gospel and converts from Islam from worshipping in their own language.

Individuals Targeted

Individual members of the two churches have also been targeted; some have lost their jobs after the authorities put pressure on their employers.

In a separate case, Maasis Mosesian, an elder of the Assemblies of God church in Tehran, was arrested in a raid on his workplace by state security agents on 8 February. No reason has been given for the arrest of the married father of two, whose family have not been allowed to see him.

The Iranian authorities are also continuing their campaign against the country’s growing house church movement. On 8 February, a house church in Shiraz was raided by security officers; they searched the premises, confiscated Bibles and arrested at least seven Christian converts. Their homes were also searched, and items including Gospels, Christian books, CDs, computers, faxes and satellite TV receivers were seized.

- barnabas team

Urgent Prayer & Action: Death – Final Verdict for Pastor Youcef

February 24, 2012 by admin  
Filed under Asia, Iran, newsletter-lead, Persecution

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Pastor Youcef NadarkhaniIran, February 22, 2012: “The world needs to stand up and say that a man cannot be put to death because of his faith.” -J. Sekulow, ACLJ

According to a FOXNews report today, the final verdict has been handed down on Christian Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani’s fate—death.

As Youcef’s supporters all around the world feared, the Iranian trial court has decided that he will be executed on the charges that he left Islam to convert to Christianity.

These charges have stood in spite of the fact that it could not be proven that the 34-year-old father of two had been a Muslim during his adult years, which would prove apostasy. In addition, Youcef himself has always maintained his innocence saying that he was always a Christian as an adult.

He was given the chance to recant his Christian faith, but he refused, and he also refused to say that Muhammad was a prophet.

Jordan Sekulow, executive director of The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), said, “The world needs to stand up and say that a man cannot be put to death because of his faith.

“This one case is not just about one execution. We have been able to expose the system instead of just letting one man disappear, like so many other Christians have in the past.”

According to the report, the final order was given just days after US Congress supported a resolution sponsored by Penn. Rep. Joseph Pitts, which denounced the charges and called for an “immediate release.”

“Iran has become more isolated because of their drive for nuclear weapons, and the fundamentalist government has stepped up persecution of religious minorities to deflect criticism,” Rep. Pitts toldFoxNews.com. “The persecuted are their own citizens, whose only crime is practicing their faith.”

Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani’s family and supporters are asking for urgent prayer by Believers worldwide, on his behalf, and for people to contact their legislators to ask for intervention.

- breakingchristiannews

10 Christians arrested in Iran

February 16, 2012 by admin  
Filed under Asia, Iran, newsletter-asia, Persecution

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Iran Underground ChurchcpIran, February 14, 2012: The situation in Iran is becoming increasingly difficult for Christians in Iran. According to Iranian Christian News, plain clothes security authorities raided a house church and arrested 10 members who were gathered for prayer service last week. All 10 believers were taken into custody, but nobody knows where.

Evangelist Sammy Tippit is beaming Christian television programming via satellite into Iran. He says it’s needed more now than ever. “Many times the believers are not able to get together; it’s too dangerous. So, many of the believers–because of what’s happening with arrests and various things–have started basically getting their [spiritual] food from the television.”

Tippit’s program airs today in Iran. He says it’s critically import because many of these people are new Christians. “They don’t have a lot of knowledge of Scripture, so they really need some guidance at this point in time. And we’re trying to help them with that.”

Tippit is helping, despite being declared an enemy of the state. “Because of our broadcasts, an article came out stating that I was an enemy of the state, which means I can’t get in. But I can get in digitally.”

That’s about the only way to get training to these new believers, says Tippit. “Many of them are suffering. They’re being arrested. They’re being rounded up. As the political tensions escalate, spiritual tensions are escalating at the same time, and we need to be praying for the believers.”

While Christians are facing more persecution, Tippit says that’s actually helping the church. “That produces spiritual growth as well, and so there’s somewhat of a deepening as well as a broadening. I would say probably the broadening of the church isn’t quite so rampant, but the deepening is much more rampant.”

While funding is always needed for the broadcasts, Tippit is asking for prayer. “We need prayer for wisdom. We need prayer for the broadcasts going in, and that believers would have grace, strength and wisdom to do the will of God.”

- mnn

University student in Iran denied education because of Christian activities

February 14, 2012 by admin  
Filed under Asia, Iran, newsletter-world, Persecution

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Islamic Azad University Central, TehranIran, February 13, 2012: The Iranian authorities have given an apparently unprecedented penalty to a Christian convert from Islam: “deprivation of education” for one year.

Fatemeh Nouri, an art student at a university in Tehran, was convicted on charges of “attending a house church, insulting sacred figures and activities against national security”.

She had been arrested at her home last September and spent nearly three months behind bars. Tehran’s Revolutionary Court sentenced her to one year of deprivation of education.

Iranian Christian news agency Mohabat News said thatprior to Ms Nouri’s case, such sentences had not been issued for Christian converts, although they had been used to put pressure on members of another persecuted religious group in Iran, the Bahá’í community, as well as dissatisfied university students.

Mohabat News said that the use of this new penalty showed the failure of the regime’s former methods of stopping the spread of Christianity among university students. Attempts have been made to turn converts back to Islam through Islamic courses.

The news agency highlighted that the deprivation of education on religious grounds is against international law; the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone has the right to education and that higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.

Fatemah’s case is connected to that of Leila Mohammadi, reported by Barnabas Fund earlier this month. She was jailed for two years having been declared guilty of “broad anti-Islamic propaganda, deceiving citizens by forming what is called a house church, insulting sacred figures and activities against national security”.

The crackdown on converts and house churches by the Iranian authorities continues. On 8 February, plain clothes security officers raided a home where Christians had gathered to pray. Ten people were arrested and taken to an unknown location.

Among them is believed to be a man named Mojtaba Hosseini, who was previously arrested in May 2008 with eight other converts because of his Christian faith. On that occasion he had been asked to renounce Christ.

- barnabas team

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