News from the Frontlines

Wednesday April 23, 2014

European Effort to Control Unofficial Religious Groups, Homeschooling Disarmed

Resolutions to 'protect minors' violate state neutrality on religion, parental rights, opponents say.

By the Editor

April 22, 2014 (Morning Star News) – Opponents of a European initiative paving the way for governments to rule on the legitimacy of religious groups and reduce homeschooling rights – thus laying the groundwork for potential persecution of Christians – won a battle this month in the Council of Europe, sources said.

In Europe, where public education often includes teachings on morality at odds with churches, and officially unrecognized religious groups are labeled “sects,” the stakes were high for religious freedom advocates when resolutions granting European governments latitude to control “sects” and homeschoolers went to a vote in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) this month.


Religious rights group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) disseminated a memorandum arguing that the report and resolutions of Rudy Salles, rapporteur of PACE’s Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, contravened the European Convention on Human Rights and rulings of the European Court of Human Rights.


“The clear and unwavering jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights regarding state neutrality towards religious groups, coupled with the growing number of judgments from the Court against High Contracting Parties for improperly monitoring religious groups, stands in sharp contrast to the recommendations set forth by Mr. Salles,” the April 2 memo asserted. “Adoption of the Salles Report would further damage the rights of European parents in educating their children according to their own religious and philosophical convictions.”


A petition against Salles’ report, entitled “The Protection of Minors against Excesses of Sects,” obtained more than 10,000 signatures, and a wide array of rights organizations vigorously opposed the proposals. The report sought to establish a “European observatory” to monitor “groups of a religious, esoteric or spiritual nature to make it easier for national centres to exchange information,” according to a draft of the resolutions.


Salles, a member of France’s National Assembly, has been criticized for connections with a French agency, the Inter-Ministerial Mission for Vigilance and Action Against Sectarian Excesses (MIVILUDES), which is accused of conducting witch-hunts against independent religious groups. For his part, his report states that the Parliamentary Assembly had in 1999 attached “great importance to protecting those most vulnerable, and particularly the children of members of religious, esoteric or spiritual groups, in case of ill-treatment, rape, neglect, indoctrination through brainwashing and non-enrollment at school, which makes it impossible for welfare services to exercise supervision.”


In its memorandum, ADF argued that child-protection laws need not single out religious groups.


“To provide unfettered discretion to the state to extra-judicially monitor religious groups injures the very substance of religious freedom, parental rights and church autonomy,” the ADF memo asserted.


On education, the Salles report proposed state oversight, “in particular in terms of conformity of curricula and the quality of the teaching staff. In the case of home schooling, it would be useful for the children to be followed by the relevant departments of local authorities so that the latter can take prompt action if the children are not being properly schooled or there are other problems.”


The report proposed that member states would “make sure that compulsory schooling is enforced and ensure strict, prompt and effective monitoring of all private education, including home schooling.”


Curricula in many European countries violate many churches’ teachings on morality, and ADF argued that “adoption of the Salles Report would further damage the rights of European parents in educating their children according to their own religious and philosophical convictions.”


“In Salzkotten, Germany, 14 Christian parents were imprisoned, some for more than 40 days and most on multiple occasions, simply for opting their 9-10-year-old children from two days of mandatory ‘sexual education’ classes,” according to the ADF memo. “Also in Germany, a 15-year-old girl was placed in a mental institution for wishing to be home educated. The reason for her police detention and subsequent committal to the Nuremberg mental facility was the false diagnosis by a single practitioner that the young girl in question had ‘schoolphobia.’”


ADF further noted that police and social service representatives four years ago took 7-year-old Domenic Johansson off an airplane bound for Sweden simply for being home-educated. The family had been relocating to India to help with orphanages.


“The police had no warrant, and the family was accused of committing no crimes when young Domenic Johansson was taken from his parents nearly four years ago,” ADF asserted. “In Spain, the [José Luis Rodríguez] Zapatero government initiated mandatory classes known as ‘education for citizenship’ which indoctrinated young children with a bombardment of material promoting homosexual behavior, hypersexual behavior, communism and which aggressively mocked the Catholic Church. What was perhaps even more shocking was that the government refused all requests for parental opt-outs of the classes despite more than 50,000 complaints from parents, hundreds of lawsuits and ultimately a class-action style lawsuit at the European Court of Human Rights.”


In Strasbourg, France on April 10, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe removed language from the Salles report that threatened religious freedom and parental rights to educate their children, according to CARE (Christian Action Research and Education) for Europe, a Brussels-based rights organization that works alongside ADF.


“The threat to religious liberty from French MP Rudy Salles’ Report and Resolution calling for the French anti-sect approach (with the label ‘sect’ being applied to any small or independent churches or other minority religious groups) to be rolled out across Europe, was defeated at the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly plenary session in Strasbourg by substantial amendments being passed which CARE had lobbied for,” said David Fieldsend, manager of CARE for Europe. “These largely stripped the text of the undefined terminology ‘excesses of sects’ and replaced it with calls for child protection laws to be applied even-handedly to all situations with no religious or other groups singled out for special investigation as prejudicially presumed child abusers, as well as reaffirming the right of those belonging to minority religious groups to full religious liberty and especially the right to an education for their children in accordance with their convictions and beliefs.”


Evangelical churches in countries with strong majority national churches, particularly in eastern Europe, have suffered from only limited toleration by national authorities and "a cultural climate of suspicion, which the original text of this Resolution could have exacerbated,” Fieldsend said.


The Parliamentary Assembly is one of the two statutory organs of the Council of Europe, which is composed of the Committee of Ministers (foreign affairs representatives) and the Assembly, representing the majority and opposition political forces in member states.


News from the Frontlines

Tuesday April 22, 2014

Muslim in Uganda Kills Daughter for Leaving Islam, Sister Says

Siblings went to church service after having same dream.

By Our East Africa Correspondent

NAIROBI, Kenya, April 19, 2014 (Morning Star News) – The 17-year-old daughter of a Muslim man in Uganda was able to attend one church service this month before he killed her for leaving Islam, sources said.

Abdul Hakim Ibanda of Kamuli town in eastern Uganda beat Nanvunani Shamimu and her 19-year-old sister, Nawudo Hasifa, with a blunt instrument after learning that they had attended the church service on April 6, Hasifa told Morning Star News.


The two sisters turned to the Christian faith after they had the same dream the night of April 4, she said.


“We both saw a man dressed in white clothes, telling us to go and be prayed for in the church, but he did not tell us which church to go to,” Hasifa said.


On April 6 they attended United Believers Church in Kawaga, Kamuli District.


“On Sunday morning we arrived at the United Believers Church and straight away went to see the pastor and explained to him about the dream and that we were ready to be Christians,” she said. “The pastor prayed for us to accept Jesus as Lord and Savior of our lives. After prayers we then went to church, where the pastor introduced us to the church and that we were new members of the church. The church faithful were cheerful to receive us.”


Area Muslims who saw them enter the church building immediately reported it to their father, sources said. He gathered a group of 32 youths to attack the church, said pastor Musis James of United Believers Church.


“When we saw the rowdy youth approaching the church, the Christians made an alarm and we all left the service in readiness for any eventuality,” James said. “Some of the Muslims retreated, while a few came to where we were and warned us that the two girls should not worship with them, then they left.”


The two sisters arrived home that evening to find their father was furious.


“Our father did not even greet us, but immediately questioned us why we decided to attend the church,” Hasifa said. “We kept quiet. Our silence angered our father. He removed a blunt object and started beating us indiscriminately. My sister was hit somewhere near the neck. She fainted and became unconscious. My father got shocked and stopped beating me. He tried to wake up my sister, but there was no response. I knew she was gone.”


Ibanda wanted to kill her also, Hasifa said, but he was also overcome with fear and decided to perform Islamic ablution. He told her to fetch some water outside for the ritual cleansing.


“When I got out of the house, I decided to slowly escape to the home of a nearby church elder, but I was feeling a lot of pain,” Hasifa said.


The church elder put her on a motorcycle and drove her to an undisclosed town where she sought refuge among Christians.


“She arrived at my house bleeding,” the pastor of the area church, undisclosed for security reasons, told Morning Star News. “Her left hand was also injured. We as a church have taken the responsibility of taking care of her.”


The pastor said that when he mentioned to Hasifa that they must report the case to police, she wept and said, “You people want my father to kill me the way he killed my sister?”


At the same time, Hasifa granted permission for Morning Star News to publish her account of the attack.


“The girl is still traumatized as a result of the death of her sister and needs prayers and counseling,” said the pastor in the majority-Christian nation, which is 11.5 percent Muslim, according to Operation World.


Hasifa told Morning Star News her father would not want her to return home.


“I know I cannot go back to my father because I have become a Christian,” she said. “I am grateful to the church for welcoming me and taking me as their child. I now have a new home.”


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.


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