Friday December 6, 2013
Mohammed Hegazy, now with new name, jailed for allegedly inciting 'sectarian strife.'
By Our Middle East Correspondent
CAIRO, Egypt, December 6, 2013 (Morning Star News) – Egyptian authorities this week arrested a Christian who is arguably the nation’s most well-known convert from Islam and are investigating him for several activities, including allegedly inciting “sectarian strife.”
Bishoy Armia Boulous, 31, formally known by his Muslim name, Mohammed Hegazy, was arrested Wednesday morning (Dec. 4) at a cafe in the city of Minya, 260 kilometers (161 miles) south of Cairo, and is likely being tortured, sources said. Security forces said he had a camera and four flash drives when they arrested him and claimed he was working for The Way TV, a Coptic Christian-owned, U.S.-based religious television channel that broadcasts into Egypt via satellite.
Security forces claimed that Boulous was contributing to a “false image” that there is violence against Christians in Minya. Those familiar with Boulous said his arrest had nothing to do with any reporting work but constituted retaliation for becoming a Christian.
“The police have made it seem like they are arresting him for different reasons other than him being a convert from Islam,” said Mamdouh Nakhla, chairman of the Kalema Organization for Human Rights.
Boulous gained fame, and many would say infamy, across Egypt when he decided in August 2007 to file a legal case to have his religion and name changed on his government-issued identification card. In a country where 84 percent of Egyptian Muslims polled in 2010 said the state should execute those who leave Islam, Boulous became an extremely controversial figure, and his face was plastered on newspapers and magazines across the country.
According to a statement by the head of the Minya police to Egyptian media, Boulous is imprisoned pending an investigation into charges of inciting violence. Several Egyptian newspapers have reported that he is also being investigated for espionage. Advocacy organization United Copts has claimed he is being investigated for evangelism, but “proselytism” is not officially a crime in Egypt, although it is heavily frowned upon.
Human rights activists said they fear for Boulous’ safety.
“There is no doubt that he will be tortured,” said Nakhla, who represented Boulous through part of his identification case. “Those who have previously been in his place have been tortured – if not by the police, they are beaten by their fellow inmates.”
A possible indication of Boulous’ treatment in jail may be the statement of Lt. Amr Hassan, head of police in Minya, who told Egyptian media that reports of persecution against Copts in Minya are “not true.”
Minya, both the city and the province, since August alone has been the site of numerous attacks on Christians, church buildings and Christian-owned properties, all well-documented by journalists, domestic non-profit organizations and international human rights groups.
“The persecution is very obvious, and everybody’s looking at it,” said Joseph Nasrallah, head of The Way TV.
It was unclear why the Egyptian government claimed Boulous was working for The Way TV. In an on-air statement on his channel, Nasrallah said, “The Tarik [Way] Channel had nothing to do with Mohammed Hegazy, who is known as Bishoy Armia Boulous, in any way.”
But Nasrallah told Morning Star News that Boulous, who has worked as a journalist, approached The Way TV seeking employment. Nasrallah said he told Boulous he would consider hiring him but hadn’t done so.
“He offered to work, but I said to him, ‘Let me get back to you. I will consider that,’” he said.
Nasrallah said he was helping Boulous financially and has secured a lawyer to assist him.
“He was not working for The Way TV, but we will never forsake him,” he said.
Boulous was in Minya with a reporter, Nasrallah said, but he did not confirm whether the reporter was working for his television channel. It is possible that Boulous was in Minya collecting information on his own for “The Way TV” to prove his value to them. It is also possible that Boulous either misunderstood or misrepresented his relationship with “The Way TV” to Egyptian authorities. Egyptian authorities may also have misunderstood or could be purposely misleading the public about Boulous and his status as a reporter.
Boulous became a Christian in 1998. After his conversion he was arrested several times by the former State Security Investigations Service (SSI). Boulous was tortured by SSI agents for three days during one of his stints in jail, he told Compass Direct News in 2010. Still, he refused to recant his faith in Christ.
Boulous said the main reason he filed the suit was to protect his children from the same persecution he suffered for becoming a Christian. After filing suit, he was forced into hiding when threats against his life and attacks became overwhelming. In one incident, for several days extremists surrounded a home where Boulous was no longer living. In another, a group of men broke into Boulous’ apartment, rifled through it and set it on fire while he was away.
According to Nakhla, Boulous’ wife, also a convert from Islam, and their two children are living in an undisclosed country in Europe.
Religious freedom is guaranteed under Egyptian law but limited by various interpretations of sharia (Islamic law), which under the past two constitutions trumps national law. While it is easy and even encouraged for someone in Egypt to convert to Islam, it is impossible for a Muslim to legally convert to Christianity.
According to Egyptian law, every citizen age 16 or older must carry a state-issued ID card. The card is necessary for anyone who wants to open a bank account, enroll children in school or start a business, among other activities. Religious identity also determines many of the civil laws to which one is subject.
Boulous was the first convert in Egypt to file suit to change his legal religious identity. In January 2008, a court ruled against him on the grounds that sharia forbids conversion away from Islam.
“The court also stated that such conversion would constitute a disparagement of the official state religion and an enticement for other Muslims to convert,” according to a report issued by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.
In April 2010, an appeals court suspended the case indefinitely, while it waited for the country’s constitutional court to rule on a previous case dealing with religious identity. Before those cases could be resolved, the 2011 revolution happened and the constitution was rewritten. Following the ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood-led government in July, another constitutional revision is underway.
Saturday November 30, 2013
Leverage could be lost, rights advocates say.
By Our Middle East Correspondent
CAIRO, November 30, 2013 (Morning Star News) – As Western powers prepare to ease economic sanctions against Iran in support of a new nuclear non-proliferation treaty, human rights activists say leverage for winning freedom for prisoners of faith may about to be lost.
A human rights advocate and researcher who monitors Iran for Christian Solidarity Worldwide said his colleagues in different human rights groups were concerned when they found out that there was no talk of human rights during negotiations with Iran, specifically about the release of prisoners of faith. In the quest to obtain some sort of agreement this month with the Iranians, they said, the pursuit of basic rights for Christians and other religious minorities was set aside.
“When negotiations [with the Iranians] take place, human rights has to be on the agenda,” said the advocate, whose name cannot be released because of his work in the region. “Otherwise, if you give all these concessions over to Iran, they have no motivation or reason to do anything about human rights.”
Tiffany Barrans, international legal director for the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), a legal group advocating on behalf of imprisoned U.S.-Iranian pastor Saeed Abedini, said not assuring his release at the non-proliferation accords was a “missed opportunity.”
“They didn’t use the opportunity and leverage they had right in front of them,” she said.
Abedini, a convert from Islam, is arguably the best known among Christians imprisoned for their faith in Iran. In July 2012, Abedini went to Iran to continue setting up an orphanage in the city of Rashat when the Islamic Revolutionary Guards detained him, placed him under house arrest at his parents’ home and forbade him from leaving the country. Two months later, the Revolutionary Guards returned, arrested Abedini and eventually transferred him to Evin Prison in Tehran.
Accused of taking part in the house church movement, he was found guilty of “undermining national security” and on Jan. 27 sentenced to eight years in prison. He lost an appeal of the sentence in August.
Abedini’s case has received more attention than usual since September, when Abedini’s wife, Naghmeh, presented a letter to the Iranian delegation to the United Nations during an official state visit of recently elected Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. The same week, U.S. President Barack Obama talked with Rouhani about Abedini during a brief but historic phone conversation.
For a brief moment, things looked hopeful for Abedini’s case, but this month things took a turn for the worse. Without giving any reason why, Iran on Nov. 3 moved Abedini to Rajaei-Shahr Prison in Karaj, according to the ACLJ, a facility about 20 kilometers (12 miles) from Tehran known for its harsh conditions and violent inmates. Now, in addition to dealing with his deteriorating medical condition, he would now have to survive daily interaction with ruthless inmates.
“He is the only political prisoner in a cell with murders and rapists,” Barrans said.
Still, Abedini was hopeful in the lead-up to diplomatic meetings between the United States and Iran that her husband would be released as a good-will gesture. But by Sunday (Nov. 24), when the non-proliferation agreement was announced, there was no word that Abedini would be released. Abedini’s wife was devastated, according to Barrans, who is also a close friend of Naghmeh Abedini.
“She doesn’t know how to explain to her children that he is not coming home for Christmas again,” she said.
Part of the concern about Abedini’s situation is his health. He suffers from a stomach condition made worse by intensive interrogation sessions. According to members of his family, he has internal bleeding that is going untreated.
Poor medical care or denial of medical care has been a common issue over the past month for Christians locked up for their faith in Iranian prisons.
Another convert from Islam, Vahid Hakkani, is in critical condition due to improper medical care in prison, according to Mohabat News. The news service relayed reports that Hakkani had to be transferred to a hospital for surgery to correct internal bleeding, as he was losing as much 300 milliliters (10 ounces) of blood on the worst days.
“It’s well established that the regime doesn’t provide very effective medical care within the prison system, and there are many prisoners in Iran who are suffering from medical complaints,” said an advocate with human rights agency Middle East Concern (MEC) who requested anonymity.
Hakkani is serving a three-year, eight-month prison sentence after being found guilty of attending a house church, spreading Christianity, having contact with foreign ministries, propaganda against the regime and disrupting national security, according to MEC.
Hakkani and three others were arrested in Shiraz in February 2012, during an official crackdown on house churches. All four were found guilty of the charges last month but appealed their case. On Oct. 12, their appeal was rejected.
Human rights activists are still trying to get more information in the case of another Christian, Hossein Saketi Aramsari, also known as Stephen, who was charged with evangelism last week in Branch 6 of the Revolutionary Court. According to Mohabat News, Aramsari was detained on July 23 in Golestan, 400 kilometers (250 miles) northeast of Tehran.
Authorities moved Aramsari around many different jails and intelligence offices, including Ward 8 of the Rajaei-Shahr Prison, which is managed by the Revolutionary Guards. He is currently held in ward 7 of Karaj Central Detention House where he awaits trial, according to Mohabat News.
Amid this regression in religious rights in Iran, there was one bright spot. On Nov. 3, the same day Abedini was transferred to Rajaei-Shahr Prison, Mostafa Bordbar was released from Evin prison after a judge overturned a conviction against him on Oct. 30. Bordbar had been convicted of participating in an anti-security organization and of crimes against national security.
He had been arrested in December 2012 at a Christmas celebration.
Saturday November 30, 2013
Hindu extremists issued death threats, father says.
By Our New Delhi Correspondent
NEW DELHI, Nov. 29, 2013 (Morning Star News) – The father of a 7-year-old boy tortured and killed last week in India’s Rajasthan state said police are ignoring his suggestions on possible suspects – Hindu extremists who have long threatened to kill him.
“For the 10 years I have been a Christian, some local Hindu extremists have threatened to kill me and harm my family countless times – the last threat I received was earlier this month, before my son was killed,” Harish Gemethi told Morning Star News. “I have repeatedly mentioned the names of these people who constantly threatened to take my life and my family in connection to my son’s death to the police, but sadly they are not paying heed to my suggestions.”
Area police did not immediately responded to calls for comment.
The threats against Gemethi of the Believers Church in Gamidi village, Dungerpur District, began soon after Gemethi and 45 people put their faith in Christ after witnessing the miraculous healing of his older brother in 2003.
The body of his small son, Anugrag Gemethi, nicknamed Anmol, was found in a pond on Nov. 18 after he failed to return home from a friend’s house the previous day. His face was mutilated beyond recognition, there were burn marks on his stomach, his toes were chopped off and one hand and arm were deeply slashed, Gemethi said.
“My son’s face looked as if he had been burned up,” he said. “His eyes, nose and ears were gone, and there was nothing that supported his neck.”
An autopsy report denoted only drowning as the cause of death and, except for mention of “animal bites,” said the body was otherwise “normal” – contrary to the mutilation seen in a photograph of the body obtained by Morning Star News. Five witnesses at the hospital at the time of the post mortem told the doctor who did it that the body was far from normal and that there were severe marks of torture, but he ignored them, Gemethi said.
The Rev. P.S. Jose, diocesan secretary of the Believers Church in Rajasthan, stated in a letter to the chairman of the State Minority Commission that police have been slow to investigate. He urged the commission to arbitrate a case of severe brutality against Christians and bring justice to the bereaved family.
“His body was found in a small pond in Tadi Obri, where opposition against the Christians is strong,” Jose told Morning Star News. “The innocent child was killed in an inhumane and barbaric manner. We are deeply hurt by this incident, and it is a clear evidence of atrocity against minorities.”
Attorney Tehmina Arora of Alliance Defending Freedom-India said the murder shows how elusive religious freedom is in India.
“This is a tragic and brutal killing of a young child, seemingly to curb the free exercise of his and his parents’ religious beliefs,” she said. “In a nation where we have constitutionally guaranteed freedom of conscience and religion, no one should be targeted, let alone murdered, for their faith. This is a sad and painful reminder of how far we have to travel before these fundamental rights become a reality.”
In the same village in September, Hindu extremists stopped the prayer meeting of Believers Church led by the Rev. James Dhilal and threatened to kill him if he continued doing so. Seven years ago in the same village, a Christian woman was murdered in a similar way, church leaders said.
Police have registered a First Information Report against unidentified assailants, but no arrests had been made at press time.
Anugrag never returned home after waving goodbye to his parents as he went to Sunday school at about 10 a.m. on Nov. 17, church leaders said, adding that he was an active Christian who loved Jesus.
After the Sunday worship service, he visited the Christian family of Mani Lal in Tadi Obri about one kilometer from his village and ate lunch with them.
“Mani Lal has five children who were Anugrag’s friends, and he sometimes stayed overnight at their home,” Gemethi said. “But he left their home after lunch after he told them that he needed to go to school the next day.”
Thinking the boy had stayed to play with his friends, Gemethi and his wife only began to worry when Anugrag did not return home that evening; they begin to search for him.
“I called up friends and relatives, and the people who last saw Anugrag were Mani Lal’s children when he crossed a small bridge that connect the two villages and disappeared thereafter,” Gemethi said.
The next day, Gemethi submitted a missing person report at Sadar Thana police station. The small Christian community, friends and relatives continued to search, finding his body floating in a pond at about 4:30 p.m. Though only 20 minutes away, police did not show up until 7 p.m., Gemethi said.
“He was a very special boy, always ready to go to church to worship Jesus, and he was also a good student,” his father said.
Saturday November 30, 2013
Terrorist group likely abducted French priest in Cameroon for helping Nigerian refugees.
By Our West Africa Correspondent
WASHINGTON, November 29, 2013 (Morning Star News) – The same day Islamic extremists from the Nigerian rebel Boko Haram abducted a French priest in Cameroon, Nov. 13, the U.S. State Department designated the group a terrorist organization.
After more than a decade of increasingly sophisticated violence by Boko Haram, the designation of it and its sister organization, Ansura, as Foreign Terrorist Organizations comes just as Boko Haram’s international nature becomes more apparent. With some members coming from Cameroon, Chad and Niger, Boko Haram has grown into a heavily armed militia with ties to Al Qaeda that some fear could become a threat beyond Nigeria’s borders.
Its stated objective is unequivocally limited to Nigeria – to establish strict sharia (Islamic law) throughout the country, and even the Nov. 13 abduction of the Rev. Georges Vandenbeusch was likely rooted in the aid he was giving Nigerian refugees fleeing Boko Haram violence. At the same time, the U.S. designation could help bring international engagement as the group’s fire-power increases from machetes in 2002 to machine guns, grenades and roadside bombs today.
The FTO designation makes it unlawful for any person or financial institution in the United States to knowingly provide material support or resources to Boko Haram. The State Department can also encourage other governments to block finances for such organizations, and the designation bans their members from travel.
The designation was slow in coming as the State Department sought an approach to Boko Haram that did not regard it solely as a military target; in the face of a series of bombings of government, police and religious facilities, in May President Goodluck Jonathan had declared a state of emergency that rushed the Nigerian military to Boko Haram’s seat of power in three northeastern states. Nina Shea, director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom, said the U.S. terrorist designation was “delayed by the administration for political reasons.”
“I believe the administration did not want to acknowledge during the period of the campaigns that Al Qaeda’s presence in Africa is strong, and so I think they waited until after the elections to do it,” Shea told Morning Star News.
The abducted French priest had been caring for about 10,000 Nigerian Christian refugees who fled their communities following attacks by the terrorist organization, sources said. Emmanuel Ogebe, an international human rights attorney with the Washington Working Group on Nigeria, told Morning Star News that Vandenbeusch “was providing assistance to refugees who fled to the Nigerian border with Cameroon to escape Boko Haram’s killings and incessant attacks on their homes and churches.”
Augustine Fonka Awa, governor of Cameroon’s Far North Region on the border with Nigeria, reportedly also believes the abduction of the French priest came in retaliation for his support and care for the Nigerian Christian refugees.
“We suspect that he was being blamed by Boko Haram Islamist rebels for hosting some Nigerian people who escaped the attacks in their country,” Awa told the Nigerian Tribune.
Although Boko Haram has claimed responsibility for the abduction of Vandenbeusch, neither Cameroon nor the French government has established contact with him or his captors, sources said.
Gunmen broke into the church home of Vandenbeusch in Nguetchewe, 10 kilometers (six miles) from Cameroon’s border with Nigerian, and took him away in the night. They have demanded an unknown ransom amount. Monsignor Gerard Daucourt, bishop of the diocese in Paris where Vandenbeusch had served until he came to Cameroon in 2011, said last week that the priest’s briefcase was found on a road with only a checkbook inside it.
Vandenbeusch had been warned of the dangers of his work and abode, but “he chose his service above his life,” Henri Djionyang, vicar-general of Maroua, capital of Cameroon’s Far North Region, reportedly said.
Boko Haram, the name residents of Maiduguri, Borno state originally gave the group that calls itself “The Congregation of the People of Tradition for Proselytism and Jihad” (from the Arabic, Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad,), has killed thousands of civilians, including hundreds of Christians.
Nigeria outlawed Boko Haram and Ansaru on June 4, declaring their activities illegal and “acts of terrorism.”
U.S. President Barack Obama has described Boko Haram as “one of the most vicious terrorist organizations in the world.” The State Department’s 2012 Terrorism report ranked it the second deadliest terrorist group worldwide, after the Taliban.
The same day Vandenbeusch was kidnapped and the State Department designated Boko Haram an FTO, the U.S. House of Representatives’ subcommittee on Africa heard testimony from Habila Adamu, the sole survivor of a Boko Haram attack in Yobe state in November 2012.
The first victim of the Nigerian Islamist terror group to testify before the U.S Congress, Adamu described how Boko Haram assailants asked him if he was a member of the police or military, to which he answered he was not.
“Okay, are you a Christian?” they asked him.
“I said, ‘I am a Christian,’” he said. “They asked me why are we preaching the message of Muhammad to you and you refuse to accept Islam. I told them I am a Christian … Then they asked, ‘Habila, are you willing to die as a Christian?’ and I told them, ‘I am ready to die as a Christian’ … They fired gun shots at my nose, and the bullet came out through my back.”
They left him for dead; he miraculously survived.
Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), who chaired the House subcommittee session, had visited areas where Boko Haram and Ansura operate and came back with the conviction that the actions of the two organizations prove that “they are in the global jihad movement that wages violent war worldwide to establish their skewed version of Islam.”
Wednesday November 27, 2013
Suspected Fulani herdsmen slaughter 37 in Plateau state; Boko Haram attacks in Borno.
By Our Nigeria Correspondent
JOS, Nigeria, November 26, 2013 (Morning Star News) – Suspected Muslim herdsmen slaughtered 37 Christians in coordinated attacks on four Plateau state villages early this morning after Boko Haram terrorists killed at least 34 Christians in Borno state earlier this month, sources said.
In attacks on the four predominantly Christian villages that started at 1 a.m. in the Barkin Ladi Local Government Area in Plateau State in central Nigeria, ethnic Fulani herdsmen killed 37 people, injured many others and destroyed homes, the military’s Special Task Force spokesman, Salisu Mustapha, said in a press statement.
“The attackers killed 13 persons in Katu Kapang, eight in Daron, nine in Tul and seven others in Rawuru,” he said.
Mustapha told Morning Star News by phone that the heavily-armed assailants were believed to be Muslim Fulani herdsmen. Soldiers were still trying to repel the attackers as he spoke.
The Miyetti Allah cattle-rearing association reportedly denied that Fulani herdsmen were responsible for attacking the villages.
Most mainstream media mentioned vague accusations of cattle theft or unsupported statements of political and land disputes as possible motivations for the attacks, although in recent months Muslim Fulani herdsmen have increased the unprovoked slaughter of unarmed Christians in their homes that has taken place for several years in Plateau state.
Christian leaders otherwise at a loss to explain the increase in attacks believe Islamic extremist groups are inciting Fulani Muslims to attack them in Plateau state as well as in Kaduna, Bauchi, Nasarawa and Benue states. They fear that the herdsmen, with backing from Islamic extremist groups, want to take over the predominantly Christian areas in order to acquire land for grazing, stockpile arms and expand Islamic territory. Hit-and-run, guerrilla-style attacks on Christian villages in which children are shot to death as they sleep support their suspicion that the assaults are motivated by desire to eliminate Christianity.
Christians make up 51.3 percent of Nigeria’s population of 158.2 million, while Muslims account for 45 percent. Those practicing indigenous religions may be as high as 10 percent of the total population, according to Operation World, so the percentages of Christians and Muslims may be less.
The Rev. Pam Jang Pam of the Church of Christ in Nations (COCIN) in Plateau state’s Foron village told Morning Star News that he received phone calls from anguished members of his congregation.
“I received distress calls at about 1 a.m. from the members of our church in the villages of Rawuru, Tasu, Foron, and Gurabok informing me that they were being attacked and that they need help,” he said.
Felicia Anselem, spokesperson for the Plateau State Command of the Nigeria Police, confirmed that the attacks on the villages were coordinated strikes.
“The attacks were carried out at about 1 a.m. this morning in the villages of Rawuru, Tasu, Foron and Gurabok,” she said. “The attackers attacked the villages at the same time, having gone there in groups.”
The slaughters come after members of the Islamic extremist Boko Haram group in Borno state killed at least 26 Christians Nov. 11-13 and eight others on Nov. 3 in Nigeria’s northeast. Boko Haram, whose name is translated as “Western education is a sin,” has attacked religious, governmental and police centers in its campaign to impose a strict version of sharia (Islamic law) throughout Nigeria.
The Rev. Titus Pona, chairman of the Borno chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), told Morning Star News that Boko Haram slaughtered the Christians and drove many others from their villages.
“For three days, between Monday, Nov. 11, and Wednesday, Nov. 13, they attacked the Christian villages,” he said. “They came in two Hilux vehicles, three buses and about 30 motorcycles armed with AK-47 rifles, going from house to house, killing, looting, and burning houses.”
Paul Gadzama, a director with Green Planet, a Non-Governmental Organization and a Christian from Askira Uba Local Government Area in Borno, said that more than 26 Christians had been killed and hundreds forced to flee. Gadzama said the Islamic extremists attacked the predominantly Christian villages of Bdagu, Izge, Hartsa and Yazza.
“They destroyed houses, killed Christians, and displaced hundreds of others,” he said. “They set fire to about 40 houses.”
Pona added that Boko Haram attackers also invaded Dille and Lassa villages, among others.
CAN President Ayo Oritsejafor and the Rev. Dr. Musa Asake, CAN secretary, said this month that Boko Haram members also attacked Ngoshe village in Gwoza Local Government Area of Borno State on Nov. 3, killing eight Christians. Several church buildings were razed. No arrests have been made, they said.
Among the dead were Baba Ayuba, Baba Bitrus and Baba Isa Biyabra, a security guard and four others they had yet to identify, they said in a statement.
“They burned 11 houses owned by the Christians and three churches, which were the EYN [Brethren] church, Deeper Life Bible church and the Redeemed Christian Church of God,” the statement read. “We were informed that when the Christian community sought to meet the state governor on this issue, he said he has no time to see them until February next year.”
The Rev. Dr. Soja Bewarang, president of COCIN, said in a Nov. 22 address to the 83rd General Church Council that innocent members of the church had been killed and their property destroyed by Boko Haram militants and Muslim Fulani herdsmen.
“In Borno, Yobe and Gwoza, our members are systematically identified and killed,” he said. “My heart beats for our staff and members in Borno. Retired Rev. Daniel Gula was almost killed by Boko Haram recently. He is presently in Jos recovering from injuries sustained in the cause of running for his dear life. His wife is in the UK for the obvious reason of possibility of kidnapping, being a white person.”
Bewarang said in spite of appeals to the Nigerian government to contain the dangers confronting the church, Christians are not unmindful that God has a final say on resolving the persecution the church is facing in Nigeria.
“Even as we are looking at these issues, we need not forget that God has the final say on man and his security concerns,” he said. “Therefore we must always surrender our security concerns to the Lord, because the Watchman watches in vain if the Lord does not watch alongside with him.”
Wednesday November 27, 2013
Group says British volunteer their first ever to be arrested in country.
By Our Middle East Correspondent
CAIRO, Egypt, November 26, 2013 (Morning Star News) – An Israeli immigration judge has ordered the deportation of a Messianic Jewish man from England who was arrested last week for taking part in an evangelistic event in southern Israel.
Barry Barnett, 50, a worker with Jews for Jesus UK, was ordered on Sunday (Nov. 24) to leave the country by Dec. 3. Barnett, who is based in England, was volunteering at the Jews for Jesus “Behold your God Israel” campaign around the city of Be’er Shiva when he was arrested Wednesday (Nov. 20) at about 4 p.m.
According to his wife, Alison Barnett, six immigration control officers took him from Be’er Shiva, 125 kilometers (78 miles) south of Jerusalem, to an immigration office in Omer, just outside of the city. He was held there for several hours without charge, then transferred to an immigration-holding unit of a prison in Ramle, near Tel Aviv. He spent four days in jail before his court hearing.
The team present at the time of the arrest was made up of Israeli citizens except for Barnett. Dan Sered, Israel director for Jews for Jesus, said in a press release that the arrest was “outrageous.”
“As an Israeli, I have been proud that our country allows for freedom of religion,” he said. “Yet those who seized Barry and took him to prison have done a shameful thing.”
According to Sered, the presiding judge ruled that Barnett was not allowed to engage in “missionary activity” while in Israel.
“They did not really give a reason why they detained him,” Sered told Morning Star News. “All they said is that he was doing ‘missionary activity.’ That is correct, he was doing missionary activity, and that is legal to do in Israel.”
The reason the state of Israel gave for his deportation, he said, was that Barnett was engaging in missionary activity and not regular tourist activity on a B2 tourist visa.
“But the global ethics code for tourism, which the state of Israel signed and even advertises on its own Ministry of Tourism Web page, states that tourism for the purpose of exchanging religious beliefs is not only valid but also should be encouraged,” Sered said. “Therefore, his deportation and arrest by the state of Israel was done without a real legal cause.”
Sered said Jews for Jesus would fight the deportation order. If the order is not overturned, there is a risk that it will become a legal precedent that could be used to expel missionaries or any expatriate engaging in religious activities deemed unacceptable by the Israeli government – or by government officials acting alone.
The immigration officers who arrested Barnett seized a banner he was holding with a group of Israelis who were campaigning with him. Julia Pascoe, UK branch leader for Jews for Jesus, said there was nothing inherently offensive on the banner. The banner read, “Salvation equals Jesus,” which Pascoe said was an explanation of Jesus’ name and declared him the source of salvation. It also had a telephone number to contact Jews for Jesus.
Pascoe conceded, however, that, “The gospel is an offense to those who don’t want to hear it.”
Alison Barnett said that the ultra-Orthodox, anti-Christian group Yad L’Achim had followed the Jews for Jesus teams to their campaign sites in Israel since the event started. Yad L’Achim has a long-standing history of links with sympathetic government officials who issue legal actions on their behalf.
Jews for Jesus members fear there is a troubling possibility that immigration officials under the influence of Yad L’Achim may have an unwritten directive to arrest foreign religious workers as part of a general crackdown on missionaries.
Yad L’Achim has worked to deny Messianic Jews (who believe Jesus is the promised Messiah) the right of return to Israel and to deny spouses of Messianics immigration visas. They also picket and severely harass Messianics at their homes and their congregations and have been linked to different government agencies revoking the licensing of Messianic-owned businesses.
Informing on Barnett would fix a pattern of cooperation between Yad L’Achim and the government that has been well documented by the Israeli media. On Yad L’Achim’s website, the organization reported about interfering with the Jews for Jesus outreach’s “spiritually poisonous propaganda.”
“Yad L’Achim has been dispatching beefed-up teams of activists wherever the missionaries are taking up positions in order to alert the public as to their nefarious goals,” the ultra-Orthodox, nationalist organization stated.
Jews for Jesus is an international organization whose stated purpose is to, “Make the messiahship of Jesus an unavoidable issue to our Jewish people worldwide.” This is the first time a Jews for Jesus member, either a worker or a volunteer, has been arrested in Israel, Pascoe said.
“We have enjoyed freedom of religion in Israel over many campaigns similar to this one; the treatment we received was atypical of the way the law is usually enforced,” she said. “We have never experienced this before.”
Pascoe added that she doesn’t believe whoever directed the arrest is “a representative of the majority.”
Barnett’s wife, who wasn’t with her husband when he was arrested, said she was surprised about it as well.
“This is the first time we have had any problem like this at all, and we have done eight campaigns,” she said. “It was quite a shock.”
Nevertheless, Alison Barnett said she expects “opposition” when in Israel.
“And quite frankly,” she added, “if we don’t get any [opposition], we probably aren’t doing our jobs right.”
Tuesday November 26, 2013
Islamic extremists, criminals reappear after lull.
By Our Middle East Correspondent
CAIRO, Egypt, November 25, 2013 (Morning Star News) – Three months after the Egyptian Army liberated Delga from militant Muslims, Islamists and criminals are terrorizing Christians in other towns across Egypt, human rights activists said.
Islamists in the towns are again charging Jizya, a Koranic fine on non-Muslims also known as the “submission” or “humiliation” tax, after a lull following the retaking of Delga on Sept. 16, said human rights activists within the country. In several towns across Egypt, Muslim extremists and criminals have set up a cottage industry persecuting Christians for profit, the activists said.
Extortionists using the threat of kidnapping, torture and murder are seizing money, land and other property from Christians thoughout the southern part of the country but mainly in Minya and Assiut governorates.
“What you are dealing with now is some criminals attacking Christians – Christians who own shops and things like that,” said Mina Thabet, founding member of the Maspero Youth Union. He added that in the case of militant Islamists, persecuting Christians is seen “as a religious duty.”
Although exact numbers of the crimes are difficult to estimate, human rights activists say the attacks are both common and widespread, affecting Christians in dozens of towns. Almost every week, there are reports of Copts kidnapped and held for ransom.
“This past month alone, we had nine cases of kidnapping in Minya, and they all paid their ransom, which was between 100,000 and 250,000 Egyptian pounds [US$14,500 to $36,300] for each case,” said Ezat Ibrahim, director of the Minya branch of the Al-Kalema Human Rights Organization.
Most of the kidnapping victims have been tortured, Ibrahim said. Many were tortured so severely that when they returned to their families, they were completely broken, unable to talk about their ordeals, much less report the crimes to police.
One victim, a Copt who works as a human rights researcher, was kidnapped in an undisclosed town in Minya and severely tortured. The kidnappers tied him up, held an automatic rifle next to his ear and fired it repeatedly. Besides the emotional damage he suffered, the shockwaves exiting the rifle combined with the muzzle blast shattered the Christian’s eardrums and burned his face. The Copt begged his family to gather the ransom money, and eventually they paid the kidnappers some 50,000 Egyptian pounds (US$7,260). He returned to his family shattered and unable to speak of the ordeal until recently.
Most of attacks are happening in Minya Governorate, 152 miles (245 kilometers) south of Cairo, with another large share taking place in Assiut Governorate, 200 miles (320 kilometers) south of Cairo. In Manshat al-Mughlaqa, a village in Minya, a heavily-armed group led by a criminal who goes by the name of Saddam Hussein collects the Jizya by threatening to kill Christians or their children, according to Watani Weekly. Many Copts have paid the “tax” with amounts ranging from 25,000 to 250,000 Egyptian pounds (US$3,630 to US$36,300).
The ransom demands are enormous for the average Egyptian, with the amounts based on Muslims’ widespread perception that Copts are wealthy. And those who don’t have the means to pay have to beg for money from family and neighbors, meaning just one kidnapping can terrorize and financially drain an entire community. If victims of extortion attempts fail to submit and happen to own land, their fields and livestock are promptly set on fire.
Under attack for weeks, the Copts of Manshat al-Mughlaqa have asked police and military security several times for protection, but personnel have done nothing, according to Watani. Thabet said it is rare for police or military security to intervene to protect Copts because the forces lack either the will or the capability to take on criminal gangs.
Lack of initiative by police, perpetrators’ hatred for Christians and failure of the justice system to prosecute people attacking Christians all contribute to the extortion and allow it to continue, Thabet said. There is a perception that Christians can be attacked with impunity.
“If you hurt a Christian, no one is going to do anything to you,” Thabet said. “No one is ever brought to justice in any sectarian violence against Christians.”
The Egyptian Army on Sept. 16 moved into Delga ostensibly to break up a group of Islamists that had set up a state within a state who claimed they had done so under the authority of Islam. In two days, the army brought the town back under control with sporadic fighting and arrests that lasted until Sept. 20.
What seemed to be an attempt to save the Copts, Thabet said, was actually meant to crush Islamic opposition to the military government that took power following a wave of national protests that led to the removal of then-President Mohamed Morsi. Weeks after the army cleared the streets, Islamists and criminal elements returned to Delga and villages across Minya Governorate to make money by attacking Christians, although to a lesser degree and in ways that were less of a threat to the national government than before.
“It’s like groups of criminals were coming there for a job,” Mina said.
Part of the difficulty in breaking up the groups is the way they are structured and how they go about committing their crimes. The extortion gangs started operating when Morsi was still president. Before the military removed him from office on July 3, the gangs usually forced Copts off land by “squatting” on their property and harassing and threatening them until they abandoned the lands or even their businesses, Ibrahim of Al-Kalema said.
The Morsi regime did nothing to stop the seizures; in fact, most Coptic activists and journalists say that his rhetoric, which tended to be divisive, contributed to the atmosphere of impunity. But after Morsi was pushed out of power, the extortion gangs switched their approach to kidnapping and intimidation. Victims could be abducted in one village and held in another until the ransom was paid. Even if police did decide to get involved in stopping the extortion, they would be faced with a constantly moving target, Ibrahim said.
Thabet said that regardless of the cost, the Christian community, international interests and the Egyptian government all have to do something to stop the extortion and kidnappings.
“We have a long history of sectarian violence,” he said. “But we are in the 21st century now. There has to be a stop to this. We have to be more.”
Friday November 22, 2013
Christian goes into hiding after secret police learn of his activities.
Special to Morning Star News
ISTANBUL, Nov. 22, 2013 (Morning Star News) – The young woman in Tehran, Iran who introduced her boyfriend to Jesus hasn’t seen him since he fled the city, but his dreams give her hope that he is well.
The Iranian woman has heard that since Armin Davoodi fled authorities who threatened him with death for proclaiming Christ earlier this year, he has been having the same recurring dream he had before he put his faith in Christ and stopped his drug addiction and suicide attempts. She was the one who, two years ago, first explained to him that the shepherd in his dream pointing toward the light was Christ.
Like Davoodi, the young woman (name withheld for security reasons) is also an ex-drug addict and convert from Islam. She met Davoodi in a Tehran rehabilitation center where she worked as a volunteer who taught painting therapy.
“They fell in love, and she told him about her conversion and her belief and the wonders of Lord Jesus,” said a friend. “He told her about the dream, and she knew immediately the meaning of this holy dream and told him to be patient because ‘someone is watching over you and loves you.’”
Davoodi eventually accompanied her to an underground church.
“After five months he converted too, and he never used any drugs again,” the friend said. “Also, he never smoked anything again. He became a true believer and devoted his life to the Lord Jesus and chose to evangelize. He wanted to save lives and souls.”
In Iran, which is nearly 99 percent Muslim according to Operation World, courts can impose the death sentence on Muslim men who leave Islam and life imprisonment on women apostates. The young man who once wondered about the mysterious forces that seemed to save him from two suicide attempts now lives in hiding, but he tells Christians he is not afraid of the death that authorities said awaits him if he continues to tell Muslims about Christ.
After Iran’s secret service learned he was evangelizing in the Christian rehabilitation center, Davoodi was falsely convicted of selling drugs in the facility and was sentenced to prison. His probation officer also told him he would face death if he failed to show up for his weekly meeting with him.
“Unfortunately, the secret police got a tip from someone inside the rehab center about his evangelism activities and arrested Armin,” the friend said. “He was beaten and tortured very badly. Since then he has very bad headaches that keep him from functioning for a couple of hours.”
Police also went to his home and temporarily arrested Davoodi’s parents, besides confiscating his personal computer and books, including Bibles he used to take to the rehabilitation center.
“Armin gave police wrong church address information, and that’s why they beat him badly, but they could not break him, because he knew that he has a Protector, and it really helped him to survive in jail,” the friend said. “‘So Jesus saved me again,’ he told everybody when he got released after a while.”
Without evidence for a conviction with a longer sentence, a judge delivered a five-month prison term to Davoodi on charges not only of drug-dealing but activities against religion and being a danger to the government and Islam.
Relatives with strong mosque and secret police connections were able to get him released sooner under numerous conditions, including a requirement that he state in writing that Christians had misled him into the faith and an admission that he sold large amounts of drugs in the rehab center. His parents paid “a lot of money” for his release, the friend added.
“He promised and wrote down also that he was never going to church and never talking with other Muslims about the gospel, and that if he did, he will get his real punishment, execution, so he had no other choice but to go with their proposal to get released,” he said. “He had to see his probation officer at the secret police office once a week, and if he didn’t appear, then he was considered outlawed and had to fear for his life.”
Davoodi’s brother-in-law told him that if he detected any Christian activities, he would call his probation officer. Davoodi’s parents received phone calls from people calling them anti-Islamic and drug barons. Muslims who heard that he had returned to drugs, and that he was working as a convert from Islam paid by the church, beat him in front of his home. Neighbors did nothing to help him.
He was unable to reclaim his previous job at a rehab center where he had successfully led many people out of drug addiction, and the night school where he had been studying social work sent him a letter saying he was no longer qualified to attend.
“He was monitored and shadowed at home by his brother-in-law, in his neighborhood area by almost everybody and sometimes by secret police and militia,” the friend said.
Davoodi eventually found another job in a private rehabilitation center outside Tehran.
“He did everything very secretly, because he was aware of the consequences if they catch him again, but he had already chosen his way of life and did not fear anything, even death,” the friend said. “Everything went okay, and he was able to help a couple of addicted people by giving them the Holy Bible, taking some of them to one of the secret addresses for Bible studies and helping them to convert. He did it very carefully.”
Family members of one of the addicts who had received a Bible from Davoodi, however, visited their relative at the center and asked him how he obtained it. When they got no answer, they called a security officer at the center. Secret police forced the addict to tell them about Davoodi’s activities and the underground church.
A Christian co-worker at the center took notice and sent a text message to Davoodi telling him not to come to work and to try to leave the city. Davoodi has been in hiding since then.
“Nobody knew where he was hidden, that’s why we were worried and knew that he was in danger,” the friend said. “Everybody thought that he was arrested and was in jail.”
Secret police visited his parents, searched the house without a warrant, and took personal property again – computer, books and DVD recorder – and beat his father because of his objections. They found Bibles in the basement and took them as evidence.
The probation officer goes daily to Davoodi’s family-run bakery and threatens to close it as punishment for failing to persuade the fugitive to turn himself in, the friend said.
“But Armin’s dad knows that his son will never do this, because this time the police will never let him go,” he said. “In Iran, these cases are very usual, and we see them on TV and the news.”
Every week, vandals break the windows of Davoodi’s family home; they hope to leave the area and move into an apartment.
“The world should know about the situation of converted Iranians,” the friend said. “We cannot understand why they are afraid of giving freedom of religion to us.”
Earlier this year, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom recommended that Iran be designated as a Country of Particular Concern for its “systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom, including prolonged detention, torture, and executions based primarily or entirely upon the religion of the accused.”
Noting that many parents of imprisoned children in Iran inquire daily about their whereabouts and welfare and never receive an answer, the friend was thankful that Davoodi is not incarcerated but said he needs prayers for power to survive.
“He called one of his friends and said not to worry,” he said, “because he sees every night the old shepherd dream again.”
Thursday November 21, 2013
New constitution considered as sharia looms.
By Our Sudan Correspondent
JUBA, South Sudan, November 20, 2013 (Morning Star News) – A Christian lawyer helping to promote religious freedom in Sudan has fled the country after authorities threatened to kill him if he failed to report to them every day, the attorney said.
As Sudan prepares to draft a new constitution, personnel from Sudan’s National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) in Khartoum this year questioned the lawyer, Nahmia Ibrahim Omer Shaloka, about conducting training on religious freedom and reconciliation in Sudan, he told Morning Star News.
After security officials arrested him at his home in Khartoum on May 27 and seized his documents, laptop and Internet modem, they interrogated him for eight hours, he said.
“While in custody, they interrogated me about many things, including workshops I conducted on freedom of religion in Sudan,” Shaloka said.
If he failed to report to their office on a daily basis, the NISS officials threatened to kill him, he said. Later in the year, he managed to flee to another country, where the now destitute Christian from the Nuba Mountains has few options but feels that his life is less in jeopardy.
“I knew it would be bad if I had returned back to them,” Shaloka said.
As a rights worker for a Christian organization, Shaloka had been collaborating with other civil society groups urging Sudan to include religious freedom provisions in the constitution to replace the Interim National Constitution that grew out of the 2005 peace agreement with southern Sudan.
The interim constitution upholds sharia (Islamic law) as a source of legislation, and the laws and policies of the government favor Islam, according to the U.S. Department of State. If sharia is further entrenched in the Sudanese constitution, Christians fear they and people of other faiths will lose all religious and many other civil rights.
How and when the new constitution will be formulated is a matter of deep uncertainty.
Christian institutions formerly owned by or associated with southern Sudanese Christians have already faced months of seizure or destruction at the hands of authorities influenced by Islamist elements. Among them is a Catholic school that authorities confiscated on the claim that its ownership can be traced to southern Sudanese who lost citizenship rights following the secession of South Sudan on July 9, 2011.
Authorities from Khartoum’s Karary District – north of Omdurman District, where the church is located – first forcefully entered Comboni School more than a year ago, confiscating the building on Aug. 5, 2012 on the claim that it belonged to South Sudanese who were no longer citizens.
“We were so surprised to learn that some people are determined to seize the school and make many students go without school,” said a school official.
The school produced documents showing it belonged not to South Sudanese but to the Khartoum Diocese of the Catholic Church and made several appeals to Khartoum state officials and the Court of Appeal. That court ruled on March 26, however, that the school belonged to South Sudanese.
The Khartoum state minister of education subsequently determined that the school was owned by the Catholic Church, not South Sudanese, and school officials on May 14 instructed the Karary District officials to turn the property over to them. The Karary officials refused based on the court’s refusal to acknowledge ownership by the Catholic Church.
“We would like to assert that the school belongs to the Catholic Church,” the school official said.
Friday November 15, 2013
Complainant, mullah seek to make example of illiterate vendor.
Special to Morning Star News
ISTANBUL, Nov. 15, 2013 (Morning Star News) – An illiterate vendor in Pakistan beaten by a Muslim mob for unwittingly using pages containing Koranic verses received “forgiveness” from his accusers, but the complainant filed a blasphemy case against the Christian anyway under direction from Islamic leaders.
In Pakistan’s northeastern town of Wazirabad, 100 kilometers (62 miles) north of Lahore, 15 to 20 furious Muslims severely beat Tariq Masih in late October after discovering fireworks bought from him were encased with pages from a children’s instructional book on Islam containing verses of the Koran. Although Masih cannot read or write and was unaware of the verses, he apologized to those who beat him.
Khurram Shahzad, who had purchased the fireworks, pardoned Masih, the complainant told Morning Star News. Shahzad added, however, that a day after he and others beat Masih “for desecrating our holy book,” he spoke of the incident with the prayer leader of his mosque, Mullah Sherazi, who told him that a “blasphemer” should be sternly punished for his “crime.”
“I registered the case against Tariq Masih and his brother on the directions of Mullah Sherazi and prayer leaders of three other mosques of the area,” Shahzad said. He also noted, “We would have thrashed him more had our elders not stopped us. Tariq Masih admitted before us that he had used the holy pages and sought forgiveness. He even promised us that he would not make the fireworks again.”
Masih has gone into hiding, and police have arrested his brother, Arif Masih, in order to keep Muslims’ anger from growing violent and to pressure the fugitive Christian into turning himself in, authorities said.
A conviction for desecrating the Koran – which requires proof of intent – is punishable by life in prison. Attorney Salvance Jacob told Morning Star News that a First Information Report (No. 533/13) under the penal code’s Section 295-B, which forbids desecrating the Koran, was registered on Oct. 29 against his Christian clients, residents of a locality called Thattha Faqirullah in Wazirabad, Gujranwala District, Punjab Province.
Jacob said Tariq Masih was employed at a local crockery manufacturer and also made fireworks at his home. Shahzad, also of Thattha Faqirullah, bought some fireworks from him on Oct. 27 for a friend’s wedding.
“According to Shahzad, some of the firecrackers he bought from Tariq Masih did not go off,” Jacob said. “He says that when a friend emptied the explosive material from the casings the next day, he found that it was made up of Koranic pages. A group of about 15-20 Muslims then marched towards Tariq Masih’s house and beckoned him to come outside.”
The mullah, Sherazi, was not present in the area during the ensuing beating, and he did not participate in the settlement meeting in which Tariq Masih apologized. Jacob said registration of a case just one day after the Muslim mob had decided to drop the matter indicated hidden hands wished to make an example of Masih and create religious strife through misuse of the blasphemy statutes.
Shahzad said the investigating officer has assured them that police will capture Tariq Masih soon.
“The police have also told us that they have put his name on the exit control list at all airports, and he will not be able to leave Pakistan,” Shahzad said. “His punishment will be an example to all those who dare insult Islam and our holy book.”
Sub-Inspector Maqsood Alam told Morning Star News that police arrested Arif Masih on Oct. 29 to prevent the situation from getting out of hand – that is, to appease Muslims’ tempers and forestall aggression against the Christian community, as typically accompanies blasphemy accusations in Pakistan.
“Arif Masih was taken into custody as he is a co-accused in manufacturing of the fireworks,” Alam said. “He has now been sent to Gujranwala District Jail on judicial remand. We are making efforts to arrest Tariq Masih as it is vital to resolve the issue amicably.”
Although the matter had already been settled peacefully before registration of the blasphemy case, Alam said that the complainant party was demanding Tariq Masih’s arrest before sitting for talks “to settle the matter peacefully.”
“We have been urging both sides to maintain peace to avoid recurrence of the Joseph Colony arson incident,” Alam said, referring to March 9 riots that devastated a Christian area of Lahore due to a false blasphemy allegation (see Morning Star News, March 11). “So far we have been successful in protecting the Christians, but they have to surrender Tariq Masih for investigation. I assure you that the police will investigate the case on merit and without bias.”
The police official was critical of some Christian rights groups whose actions were counterproductive, he said.
“Two relatives of the accused had come to us with an application seeking protection in the wake of anticipated violence. We kept them in safe custody for three days, but then a Christian NGO [Non-Governmental Organization] filed a habeas corpus petition in the High Court and brought a bailiff to raid our station for their ‘recovery,’” he said. “We showed the bailiff the men’s application for protection and asked them to leave with him. The police are sincerely trying to resolve the matter, but it needs the support of the Christians ... Such tactics will only create problems for them and us.”
In Sheikhupura District also in Punjab Province, a banned Islamic extremist group allegedly pressured police into charging another Christian with blasphemy last month.
Asif Pervaiz was charged under all three parts of the Section 295 blasphemy statute as well as 25/D of the Telegraph Act (FIR No. 678/13) on Oct. 2 at the Green Town Police Station for allegedly sending blasphemous text messages to Saeed Ahmed Khokhar.
Islamic extremists with the banned Jamaat ud Dawa (JuD) were said to have a role in the arrest of Pervaiz, a father of two children. He was under judicial remand after being arrested from Narang Mandi.
Khokhar alleged that he had received at least three text messages from a mobile number registered in the name of Pervaiz.
“I received the first message on Sept. 25, the second on Sept. 26 and a third text on Sept. 29,” Khokhar claims in the FIR. “The texts were extremely insulting towards Islam, the Holy Koran and our Holy Prophet, Muhammad.”
Pervaiz denies sending the derogatory messages. He stated to authorities that he lost his cell phone SIM card, which was later misused by unknown others.
Repeated attempts to contact the complainant and investigating officer were unsuccessful.
Pakistan’s population is nearly 96 percent, with Christians accounting for only 2.45 percent of the population, according to Operation World.