News from the Frontlines

Thursday April 17, 2014

Family of Christian Shot Dead in Pakistan Doubts Suicide Claim

Muslim threatened 24-year-old father of two for declining Islam.

By Our Pakistan Correspondent

LAHORE, Pakistan, April 17, 2014 (Morning Star News) – The family of a 24-year-old Christian who died yesterday accuses a bank security guard of shooting the young man dead after the guard threatened him for refusing to convert to Islam.

Sunny Masih, a father of two, was working as a cleaner at a branch of Bank Islami under construction on Nisbat Road in Lahore. On Wednesday morning (April 16), the bank security guard informed police that Masih had shot himself in the forehead with a pump-action shotgun that the guard had left unattended before going to the washroom.


The guard, Omar Farooq, of Khushab District in central Punjab Province, told police that Masih “looked depressed” when he arrived at the bank at 8 a.m. Sub-Inspector Muhammad Iqbal of the Nolakha Police told Morning Star News that Farooq told officers Masih was in the lobby of the bank when Farooq went to the washroom, leaving his weapon unattended.


“Farooq says that he came out after hearing a gunshot and found Masih’s body on a sofa, and the weapon lying near it,” Iqbal said. “He says that Masih ‘looked depressed’ when he reported for duty that morning.”


Haider Masih, father of the deceased, told Morning Star News that his son was a lively young man and had shown no signs of depression. He said his son got a job at the bank a few days ago.


“Farooq was also deployed at the bank around the same time as my son,” he said. “There is no other staff in the bank, because the branch is being renovated. On April 15, my son told me that Farooq had mocked his Christian faith and had asked him to ‘embrace’ Islam. He told my son, ‘You are a good-looking boy, and I don’t like to see you sweeping floors and cleaning the washrooms. If you embrace Islam, I’ll connect you with people who will take good care of you, provide you with a decent job and even get you married into a wealthy Muslim family.’”


Masih said his son told Farooq that he was satisfied with his Christian faith, and that he should stop nagging him.


“My son told me that when he snubbed Farooq, the guard had threatened him that he would have to face the consequences for refusing the Dawaat [an invitation to accept Islam],” the grieving told Morning Star News at the Mayo Hospital mortuary. “I took the matter lightly and told my son not to worry, as being Christians we have to face such people every second day. I told Sunny to avoid discussing religion with Farooq even if he brought up the matter and keep distance from him, and everything would be alright. Little did I know that my son would end up in a mortuary a day later.”


Masih said he had already lost his first son.


“Masih’s elder brother passed away some years ago, and he [Sunny] was our only son besides three daughters,” he said. “We married him three years ago, and he has a daughter and a son, ages 2-and-a-half and 10 months, respectively.”


Sub-Inspector Iqbal maintained that “circumstantial evidence” suggested Masih had committed suicide, but that police have registered a First Information Report (FIR No. 255/14) and included Farooq’s name as a suspect on the family’s insistence.


“It looks like a case of suicide, but we are interrogating the security guard until we reach a conclusion,” he said. “The guard and the cleaner had been deployed at the bank almost at the same time, and so far no one has informed us about any altercation between the two that might have led to this incident.”


But Khalid Shahzad, a Christian rights activist, said Masih’s father has told police about Farooq’s threat to his son. Shahzad said police are trying to brush the matter under the rug by declaring Masih’s death a suicide. Police registered an FIR of suspected murder only after the family and local Christians staged a sit-in outside the police station, he said.


“The entire locality is shocked by the young man’s death,” Shahzad said. “Even Masih’s wife says that he was perfectly fine when he left for the bank that day. She says that he had neither shared nor she had felt any such thing that showed that her husband was disturbed or depressed. So why is the police bent upon tagging the murder as a suicide case?”


The activist said that the doctor who carried out Masih’s post-mortem had also disputed the police claim that Masih had committed suicide.


“Masih was hit on the forehead just above his eyes, and his skull and brain were completely blown away by the impact at point blank range,” Shahzad said. “The doctor said he found it hard to believe that Masih could have shot himself in the head with a big weapon such as a shotgun. This is what we want the police to find out, but instead they are trying to cover up the matter. We believe the police are showing bias in its probe because it involves a ‘righteous Muslim’ who was trying to convert a Christian.”


Neither the young man nor his family has any financial problems, Shahzad added.


“Masih had no reason to commit suicide,” he said. “He didn’t even know how to load or fire a weapon, so how come he just went to the bank and pulled the trigger to end his life? Moreover, why had the guard kept the gun charged when there’s nothing valuable in the under-construction bank except a few pieces of furniture? Masih’s father has told police about Farooq’s threat to his son, but they are still trying to pin the blame on the deceased.”


Shahzad said those who knew Sunny Masih doubt the suicide claim.


“We asked about the boy in his Shafiqabad neighborhood, and everyone praised Masih for his good nature and honesty,” he said.


Thursday April 17, 2014

Islamic Extremists in Nigeria Abduct High School Girls in Christian Town

Boko Haram strikes Christian enclave in Chibok, Borno state.

By Our Nigeria Correspondent

JOS, Nigeria, April 16, 2014 (Morning Star News) – Islamic extremists from the insurgent Boko Haram who kidnapped more than 100 girls last night targeted a public high school in a predominantly Christian town, sources said.


In Borno state, in Nigeria’s predominantly Muslim northeast where Boko Haram is based, the Islamist group abducted at least 129 girls who were asleep in their dormitories at Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok, one of three towns considered Christian enclaves in the state. Gwoza and Askira Uba are the other two Christian towns.


The Boko Haram gunmen set fire to houses and shops and afterward looted them, area residents said. Sunday Aimu, 38, told Morning Star News that about Christian 300 female students were asleep at school dormitories at the time of the raid. The attack occurred after 11 p.m., Aimu said.


“A family member had phoned me at 11:45 and told me that all was not well as the town was being attacked,” he said. “I could hear sounds of gunshots.”


Aimu said relatives told him the attack lasted until about 4 a.m. Wednesday. A government spokesman said the girls were herded onto trucks after a long gun battle with soldiers guarding the school, but Aimu said the assailants met no effective resistance.


“They, the Boko Haram gunmen, carried out the attack unchallenged,” he said. “The town’s market was burned down, houses were destroyed, and food items and vehicles were taken away by them.”


A video released on March 23 by Boko Haram, which seeks to impose sharia (Islamic law) throughout Nigeria, showed leader Abubakar Shekau threatening to kidnap schoolgirls. Borno officials temporarily closed all 85 of its secondary schools in early March due to increasing Boko Haram attacks, and until yesterday Christians in the state considered Chibok the safest area to send their children for schooling.


The Rev. Titus Pona, chairman of Borno State Chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), told Morning Star News most of the kidnapped girls were members of Church of the Brethren in Nigeria (EYN). Eyewitnesses, he said, estimated about 200 girls were kidnapped.


“We have been praying for the kidnapped girls and hoping that God will intervene,” said Pona, a native of Chibok. “So far, God has answered our prayers as 20 of the girls have escaped from their captors and have returned safely.”


A military spokesman later said all but eight of 129 girls abducted had been recovered, but it was not clear how they became free and what condition they were in, and at press time the assertion had yet to be independently confirmed. Maj. Gen. Chris Olukolade also said one of the alleged assailants had been captured.


While Boko Haram (translated as “Western education is a sin”) is the moniker residents of Maiduguri, Borno state gave the insurgents, the group calls itself the Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad, translated as “The Congregation of the People of Tradition for Proselytism and Jihad.” In 2013 the U.S. government designated it a Foreign Terrorist Organization, and it has links with Al Shabaab in Somalia and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.


Paul Gadzama, a native of Borno state and a director with Relief Missions, which ministers to persecuted Christians, told Morning Star News that the kidnapping of the Christian students was the latest in a series of horrific incidents Christians in northeastern Nigeria have faced.


“Nothing has been done by the Nigerian government to put an end to these atrocities against the church,” Gadzama said. “We have a situation in which Muslim gunmen, at will, storm Christian villages in this part of Nigeria and kill Christians at will, and yet, there is a state of emergency that had been declared and soldiers are in the state.”

He called on the government to take urgent measures to contain the attacks on Christians in Borno, Yobe, Adamawa and other states in northern Nigeria.


Before the Nigerian military’s announcement, Chibok resident Aimu said parents of missing girls were making frantic efforts to locate their whereabouts; the girls were believed to have been taken to a forest around Nigeria’s border with Cameroon.


“Please, pray for Christians in Chibok,” Aimu said.


News from the Frontlines

Wednesday April 16, 2014

Authorities in Vietnam Incite Villagers to Attack Christian Converts

Ethnic minorities targeted in rural areas.

By Our Vietnam Correspondent

April 15, 2014 (Morning Star News) – Inciting social hostility appears to have become a key way government officials in rural Vietnam try to contain, or at least slow, the growth of Christianity among ethnic minorities, sources said.

Ethnic Hmong Christians were the targets of two incidents the past two months in Vietnam’s northwest. Village officials in Son La Province dragged a couple from their home in late March, and the previous month authorities in neighboring Dien Bien Province incited a mob to beat a Christian family – including a 9-year-old girl – and drive them from the village.


In the latter case in Dien Bien Dong District, Public Security officers Hang Da Sinh and Cu Ninh Vang recruited some 30 villagers of Trun Phu Village, Na Song Commune, to accompany them to the home of Hang A Khua the evening of Feb. 26, according to Khua. Backed by an intimidating mob, the officers ordered Khua and his family of nine to recant their Christian faith and immediately and publicly signify their sincerity by re-establishing a family altar and worshipping their ancestors.


Khua refused, and the two officers ordered the accompanying villagers to attack the family. They did so vehemently, swinging short lengths of electrical cable at both adults and children, Khua reported in a petition to international human rights organizations and the United Nations. The parents sustained large welts and bruises, as did their 9-year-old daughter, Hang Thi Dia.


Next, officers Sinh and Vang told the crowd to ransack the house. They took some valuable legal papers, including eight birth certificates and health insurance policies, as well foodstuffs, including 10 large sacks of paddy rice, Khua said. They announced the confiscation of the family’s rice fields, drove them out of their house and proceeded to smash and demolish it. Cell phone photos of their injuries accompanied the petition.


Finally, after three hours of such abuse, the officers announced that the family was permanently expelled from Dien Bien Dong District and incited the mob to chase them away.


“Today my family is living in the forest without a place to call home,” Khua wrote in the April 2 report, “and day after day we do not know how we will live or where we will end up … please rescue my family!”


The tragic incident took place in a region noted for ongoing violence against Christians.


Khua believes the orders come from high officials; he cited the Communist Party and the Central Government of Vietnam as having “given permission” to Dien Bien District authorities (Vang Tong Cu, chair of the district people’s committee, and Thao A Thua, deputy district police chief)  “to order” their public security officers to attack his family.


In adjacent Son La Province, in Phu Yen District, area Christian Thao A Say reported four Hmong Christian families in March were similarly threatened. The four families’ formal affiliation with the legally-recognized Evangelical Church of Vietnam-North (ECVN-N), and their respectful notification of local officials of their conversion, did not spare them; commune officials told them that Christianity did not exist in their village of Suoi Cu.


“You cannot believe in Christ – if you do, you and the other three families who do must leave this village!” the chairman of the People’s Committee of Huy Tan Commune, identified only as Mr. Tuyen, told them, according to a report Say wrote to provincial and district officials and to the ECVN-N.


Fellow villagers, incited by authorities, threatened to destroy the Christians’ homes and kill them unless they recanted.


On March 25 at 10 a.m., two men named Thao A Chu and Thao A Tung barged into Say’s home while he and his wife were taking a noon rest. The two men picked up chairs and began beating the couple, kicking and punching them, according to Say. They dragged his wife, Vang Thi Mua, out to their yard by her hair.


In his report, Say asked if being a Christian in Vietnam really meant one should be mistreated in this way and considered less than an animal.


“Please allow us to practice our faith in peace, like the law says,” he concluded.


In another long-running battle in southern Vietnam’s Binh Phuoc Province, where ethnic minority Stieng Christians make up a large part of the population, authorities are still trying hard to force the highly inconvenient consolidation of long established congregations and suppress the use of the crosses on church buildings. These churches belong to the Evangelical Church of Vietnam-South, legally recognized since 2001.


Decree 92, an amended regulation on church registration which came into effect on Jan. 1, 2013, was supposed to “clear up and smooth the process,” according to the government. Instead, many house-church leaders say, it has further slowed church registration.


One Hanoi house-church leader of a growing movement reports only his Hanoi congregations have been granted first-step registration to operate. Applications for seven more congregations to operate in six other provinces and cities have either been denied or did not even receive a reply.


One official of the Committee of Religious Affairs (CRA) told the church leader that many provinces still did not have a church registration policy. If true, it says little good about the decade-long, well-publicized CRA efforts to educate local officials about improved religious freedom policies.


Progress on religious freedom in Vietnam, at least in rural areas, has clearly flat-lined.


News from the Frontlines

Monday April 14, 2014

Christians Killed in Egypt Reflect Growing Hatred in Segments of Society

Coptic teacher in Minya Province, woman in Cairo latest victims of vitriol.

By Our Middle East Correspondent

ISTANBUL, Turkey, April 12, 2014 (Morning Star News) – A Coptic Christian teacher in Egypt allegedly shot by the teenage brother of one of his students has died, human rights activists said yesterday.

Ashraf Alahm Atef Hanna, an English teacher at Marzouk Prep School in the village of Marzouk in Minya Province, succumbed to injuries from the shooting on Tuesday (April 8). He was 35.


In what some activists said was a sign of both endemic disrespect toward educators and the vitriol of some segments of Egyptian society toward Christians, Hanna was shot in the head on April 1 by the 16-year-old Muslim brother of one of his students. According to human rights activists and local media sources, the teacher caught one of his students smoking in class. When the teacher told the boy to stop smoking, the Muslim student cursed at the teacher and insulted him in front of class.


The teacher responded by striking the student, allowed under school guidelines, and the boy stormed out of the class in anger.


The student later returned to the school with his family, which area residents said has ties to local Islamic extremist groups. The group chased the teacher through the school, and after catching him, they beat him and shot him once in the head. He was taken immediately to a hospital, where he lay near death for a week.


Authorities arrested at least four members of the family, including Mohamed Naser Mustafa, the one alleged to have shot Hanna.


Mina Thabet, spokesman and founding member of The Maspero Youth Union, said that the near constant din of anti-Christian vitriol from Islamists that creates and reinforces hate toward the Copts is to blame for the killing.


“They have an ideology about creating the ‘other,’” he said. “That’s the problem. They hate everyone different from them. The hate speech is responsible for the majority of sectarian violence and the majority of killings in Egypt.”


The most recent killing comes during a recent spate of seemingly random attacks against Copts in Egypt, including the shooting death of a 25-year-old Coptic woman, Mary Sameh George.


On March 28, in the Ain Shams section of Cairo, George was shot while on her way to take money to three people she knew from a ministry in which she was involved.


Contrary to multiple reports, George was not stabbed or strangled but had been shot in the chest at least once through the windshield of her car, according to her father, Sameh George. He examined her body and said there were no signs of stabbing or strangling.


She was driving near the Church of the Virgin Mary and the Archangel Michael in Ain Shams, where supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood were rioting. According to George, the mob spotted a cross in her car and a pair of cross earrings she was wearing and, along with the fact that she wasn’t wearing a veil, they discerned that she was a Christian.


The mob pulled her out of her car after she was dead or close to dying, he determined, and then set the vehicle on fire. They left her corpse in the street.


Eyewitness reports of George being stabbed and/or strangled were likely rooted in the chaotic scene and the fact that in the same general area on the same day she was shot, a female journalist and three other Muslims were killed.


No charges have been filed in the killings, and no confirmation of arrests has been released by the government.


George was a law school graduate who was working at a small private company. Her father said that, contrary to media reports, she was not engaged. She had recently told her father that she had no desire to get married because she wanted to dedicate all of her energy to serving God and helping Cairo’s many poor.


“She told me, ‘What good are other people getting out of it?’” Sameh George said. “She said she preferred to work with ministries.”


George said he was devastated by the killing and that his wife is utterly shattered. She is unable to speak to anyone about the loss of her daughter. Still, he said, his daughter’s death has taught a valuable if bitter lesson.


“From what happened to my daughter we learned that we have to be ready,” he said. “We all have to wake up. There is no guarantee when someone is going to die. So we have to start getting prepared now…That’s the thing that we all woke up to.”


On the day Hanna died, several gunmen opened fire on a Coptic-owned electric supply store in the Al-Matariyyah area of Cairo. Although unrelated to the shooting, the attack was widely believed to be part of an effort to incite attacks on Copts in southern Cairo. Two brothers suffered serious injuries, but despite their shop being gutted by bullet fire, they were not killed. No arrests were made in the killing.


On Monday (April 7) a Muslim tried to set fire to the Virgin Mary Church in Mansheet Nasr, on the outskirts of Cairo, by pouring gasoline on the one of the church buildings. Copts at the building turned him away, but he returned later with an unspecified weapon. Thabet of the Maspero group said three people were seriously injured and needed hospitalization.


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