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Bishop of Peshawar urges British support for Church of Pakistan: CEN 4.03.09 p 6. April 4, 2009

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of Pakistan.
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Christian schools and hospitals play a vital role in fostering interfaith dialogue, the Bishop of Peshawar has claimed, urging British support for the work of the Church of Pakistan.

Speaking last week at a conference in Scotland on minority churches in Islamic majority areas, the Bishop of Peshawar, the Rt. Rev. Mano Rumalshah said the North West Frontier Province was now one of the “most difficult areas in the world today.”

Home to 16 million people, the province was “very precarious and insecure for everybody,” Bishop Rumalshah told members of the World Mission Council of the Church of Scotland. “We have now become the capital for suicide bombers.”

The situation for the Christian minority community was “doubly precarious,” he said, as its members were subject to discrimination and prejudice.

While it accounted for only 3 percent of the population, the church’s “presence is multiplied by what we do” within the community. The church’s schools, hospitals, development programmes and social service agencies “reach out” to the wider community.

“Almost 95 percent of those who visit are Muslim” Bishop Ramalshah said, and “if we don’t engage through these places there is no other dialogue.”


Church’s concern over Sharia law rule: CEN 3.20.09 p 8. March 20, 2009

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of Pakistan, Islam, Persecution.
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The Church of Pakistan will take a wait and see approach to the deal forged last month by the government of the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP) and the Islamist militant group the Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariah-Mohammadi (TNSM) that imposed Sharia law on the Swat Valley.

The General Secretary of the Church of Pakistan, Humphrey Peters told The Church of England Newspaper that it was “not very clear” what form of Sharia law was under consideration in the former princely state of 1.8 million people, located 100 miles northeast of Peshawar.

“We are closely watching what type of law will be implemented, and then we will manage to see and comment on its implications,” Mr. Peters said.

On Feb 16 the NWFP government and the leader of the TNSM, Sufi Mohammad Khan, agreed to a truce to end two years of fighting that according to records released last year by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan had lead to the deaths of at least 400 civilians and the destruction of over 1000 homes.

The push to impose Sharia law in Swat and the NWFP has followed a political, then military trajectory. In 2003 the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), a coalition of six Islamic parties governing the NWFP passed the Sharia Act in the provincial assembly, giving Sharia law equal weight to Pakistan’s secular civil law code. In July 2005 the assembly passed the Hasba Act, which sought to give legal effect to the passage of the Sharia Act
Before the Hasba Act was signed into law by the provincial governor, President Pervez Musharraf intervened and directed the attorney general to petition the Supreme Court to overturn the law under Article 186 of the 1973 Constitution. The government argued that provincial assemblies may legislate only “subject to the Constitution” and “subject to, and limited by, the executive authority expressly conferred by the Constitution or by law made by the Majlis-e-Shoora (Parliament).”

The Supreme Court ruled the Hasba Act was unconstitutional and blocked the implementation of Sharia law. The current round of fighting began in July 2007, when the TNSM declared war.
Founded in 1992 by Sufi Mohammad Khan, in 2002 the charismatic leader of the TNSM was jailed by the government and the leadership of the militant group passed to Khan’s son-in-law Maulana Fazalullah.

Fighting broke out in July 2007 when Fazalullah ordered a jihad, holy war, on the army in retaliation to the military operation that cleared by force Islamabad’s Red Mosque, the Lal Masjid, of Islamist militants. A ceasefire was negotiated in 2008, and Khan released from jail, but the fighting quickly resumed. On Jan 31, 2009 Karachi’s Dawn newspaper estimated that Khan’s 4000 guerillas were arrayed against 12,000 government troops in the valley.

The Human Rights Commission has denounced the TNSM’s campaign to impose Sharia law as an “appalling” breach of civil liberties. Pakistani press reports say the TNSM has beheaded dozens of civilians opposed to their rule, displaying the severed heads as a warning to others. Women accused of prostitution have been forced to dance before their captors, who then kill them. Non-Islamic businesses such as barbershops, video and cd stores, have been burnt to the ground and many have been forced to flee the valley to seek safety in Peshawar.

The TNSM has called for the closing of all girls’ schools, saying that women’s education is contrary to Islamic law. Since the conflict began, Dawn reported, an estimated 170-200 girls’ schools have been destroyed by the militants. In negotiating the truce, the TNSM agreed to allow girls to be educated to the Grade 5 (to the age of 11), while the government has pledged to open all schools. But many parents are keeping their children at home until they see if the truce holds.

Mr. Peters noted that under “proper Sharia law” there is “much protection for the minorities, but then they may become the second class citizens with less civic rights, which means the minorities will become foreigners within their own home land.”

Islamic jurisprudence also forbids the imposition of Sharia law on non-Muslims, he added, with freedoms of worship, trade and family law. “But despite all these points, we are closley watching what type of law will be implemented, and then we will manage to see and comment on its implications,” he said.

Popular support for Sharia law or the TNSM in the Swat Valley appears slight. In the 2008 General Elections the pro-Islamist MMA party returned won only 9 of the provinces 96’s seats in Parliament, and returned no MP’s from the Swat Valley, while the secular Awami National Party won 31 seats in the province, including most of those in the Swat area. The TNSM did not field candidates in the election as it believes democracy is un-Islamic.

Pakistan to abolish blasphemy laws: CEN 1.23.09 p 8. January 28, 2009

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of Pakistan, Persecution.
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The government of Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari will introduce legislation annulling the country’s blasphemy laws. In a Jan 14 interview the Minister for Minorities, Mr. Shahbaz Bhatti promised that the laws “will be abolished.”

Under Pakistan’s penal code section 295C, blasphemy against the prophet Mohammed is a criminal offense. The laws however have been used to persecute Christians and members of minority Muslim groups. The laws have been widely condemned by civil rights groups as capricious and arbitrary as blasphemy is not defined under the code, and prosecutions can be brought on the word of one complainant. Cases of commercial and personal rivalries between Muslims and Christians have led to trumped up charges of blasphemy to clear away rivals, Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) and other civil rights groups have claimed.

As of mid 2008, 892 Christians and Muslims have been jailed for blasphemy, while 25 others accused of blasphemy have been murdered by mobs since the law as introduced 22 years ago.

In an interview with the ANS news service, Mr. Bhatti said “religious minorities have been neglected, victimized and oppressed in Pakistan.”

“They have faced constitutional and institutionalized discrimination and inequality,” he said, adding the government of President Zardari was “committed to address the long-standing issues of minorities. We are making all-out efforts to uplift and empower minorities.”

In a meeting at Lambeth Palace on Dec 18, the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams thanked Pakistani High Commissioner Wajid Shamsul Hasan for his government’s efforts in protecting minority rights.

Dr. Williams shared with the Pakistani High Commissioner concerns expressed by the Bishop of Peshawar, the Rt. Rev. Mano Rumalshah of the difficulties Christians were facing in the country. The ambassador told Dr. Williams his government had given minority rights a high place on its legislative agenda.

A spokesman for the archbishop told The Church of England Newspaper that Dr. Williams thanked the High Commissioner for his government’s initiatives but observed that what was said officially in Islamabad was sometimes not what happened on the ground, and this had been the experience some minorities, including Christians in Peshawar.

In a private meeting in Islamabad on Dec 30, the Bishop of Rochester, the Rt. Rev. Michael Nazir-Ali also thanked President Zardari for his government’s commitment toward the protection of minority rights. According to a government press release, President Zardari spoke of the importance of “interfaith harmony” and “tolerance” in battling “militancy” and thanked the Church of Pakistan for its services towards the country’s “national interests.”

Priest kidnapped and beaten in Pakistan: CEN 1.23.09 p 8. January 25, 2009

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of Pakistan, Persecution, Property Litigation.
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An Anglican priest was abducted, beaten and held for two days by unknown assailants, the Diocese of Peshawar reported last week.

On Jan 9, the Rev. Tanzeel Zafar was kidnapped off the street by two men while traveling from the diocesan headquarters in Peshawar’s Cantonment area to his home. He was beaten and then released two days later near the gates of St. John’s Cathedral, the Rt. Rev. Mano Rumalshah reported.

In a statement released by the diocese, Bishop Rumalshah said that upon his release the 28 year old priest was “immediately rushed to Lady Reading Hospital and given emergency treatment. He is deeply traumatized and has been severely beaten.”

The case is under investigation by the police, the diocese said, and the perpetrators are at large, their identities unknown. Mr. Zafar is the priest-In-charge of Charsadda and Shabqadar parish and is also an assistant in Mardan Parish, in the North West Frontier Province.

Bishop Rumalshah noted with sadness that “kidnapping in the area goes unabated. And it really affects the whole community especially when religious leaders are abducted.”

Violence and threats against Christians and against Muslims who do not follow the strict Islamic code of the Taliban have risen sharply in recent months in Peshawar, Mardan and the Swat Valley. On Jan 17 the Pakistani government reported the Taliban had issued an edict against girls’ schools in the Swat Valley, claiming they were un-Islamic. Government schools have closed and some 300 private schools are not expected to reopen later this month following the end of the winter break in light of the Taliban warnings.

Reuters reports the Taliban have destroyed 175 girls’ schools in recent months. Fighting between government troops and the Taliban has caused many to flee the Swat Valley for the neighboring towns of Mardan and Peshawar.

The Christian community in the North West Frontier has not been able to meet the threat from militant Islam with a united front, as internal disputes have divided the church. Last August, a Diocese of Peshawar priest who had been studying in Norway, the Rev. Peter Majeed, was consecrated Bishop of the Northern Diocese Mardan by the former Church of Pakistan Bishop of Karachi, the Rt. Rev. Arne Rudvin.

Bishop Rudvin, who had been Lutheran Bishop of Mardan before the Lutheran Church merged with the Anglican Church to form the United Church of Pakistan, consecrated Bishop Majeed to re-establish the Lutheran succession in Pakistan, claiming the Church of Pakistan was corrupt and had succumbed to Western liberalism.

The August issue of the Diocese of Peshawar newspaper condemned the consecration saying it “insulted the position of bishop.” The diocese noted that its European partners, the Danmission, the Norwegian Mission Society, the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Mission, and the Church of Scotland “condemned the totally illegal consecration” and did not recognize Bishop Majeed’s claims.
Peter Majeed had “cheated and deceived” the diocese by accepting a diocesan scholarship to study in Norway, but “instead he got himself consecrated,” the diocese charged.

On Sept 7, Bishop Majeed was installed as the Lutheran bishop and took possession of St Paul’s Lutheran Church in Mardan, Bishop Rudvin’s former see. On Sept 19, a Pakistani court permitted Bishop Majeed to keep possession of the colonial era church and its adjacent properties. However, threats of violence and litigation between the parties have left the situation unsettled. After the court verdict a mob surrounded St Paul’s and sought to drive the bishop out of town.

Claims advanced by the Rt. Rev. Ijaz Inayat, whose consecration as Bishop of Karachi is disputed by other bishops in the Church of Pakistan and whose office is not recognized by Lambeth Palace, that Bishop Rumalshah had unlawfully alienated church property, turning over the Afghan Mission Hospital in Peshawar in 2006 to a developer, were unfounded, the General Secretary of the Church of Pakistan, Humphrey Peters told The Church of England Newspaper.

In October, Bishop Inayat brought suit against Bishop Rumalshah, seeking a court order to block the development of the property in the Peshawar cantonment. Bishop Rumalshah told CEN the accusations of misconduct were hurtful and false. The old Afghan Mission Hospital building was unsound, and its redevelopment permitted the construction of new diocesan facilities that allowed the dicoese to continue its mission of serving the community, Bishop Rumalshah said.

Pakistan bishops locked in court action over property sale: CEN 10.10.08 p 6. October 11, 2008

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of Pakistan, Property Litigation.
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Pakistan’s battling bishops returned to court this week in a dispute over the sale of church properties to a developer. The Bishop of Karachi, the Rt. Rev. Ijaz Inayat brought suit against the Bishop of Peshawar, the Rt. Rev. Mano Ramalshah and representatives of the Diocese of Lahore, charging they had unlawfully alienated church property, turning over the Afghan Mission Hospital in Peshawar in 2006 to a developer—who has since demolished the structure to make way for a shopping centre.

Bishop Inayat charged Bishop Ramalshah with fraud, alleging he and three other Church of Pakistan bishops were pocketing the bulk of the proceeds from the sale of the hospital—-a charge denied by the bishops’ lawyers during last week’s hearing.

The Bishop of Karachi urged the government to pursue criminal sanctions against the defendants, contending the disputed sale violated laws designed to protect Pakistan’s Christian minority

The fighting amongst the Bishops of Pakistan, which have led at times to rival moderators and bishops for the million member church, has spawned numerous lawsuits and been the subject of a failed intervention by former Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. George Carey.

On Oct 1, 1997 the Rev. Ijaz Inayat was elected Bishop of Karachi by the diocesan synod. Shortly before his consecration, a rival faction within the diocese convinced a court to block the consecration charging his election had been unlawful, and litigation ensued.

In 2002, the Rev. Sadiq Daniel was elected Bishop of Karachi in an election boycotted by supporters of Bishop-elect Inayat. Bishop Alexander Malik of Lahore, Bishop Samuel Azraiah of Raiwind and the former Bishop of Multan, the Rt. Rev. John Smart then Sadiq Daniel as Bishop of Karachi.

In response, Bishop Smart K. Dass of Hyderabad, Bishop John Samuel of Faisalabad, Bishop John Mall of Multan and Bishop Pervaiz Samuel Sialkot consecrated Ijaz Inayat as Bishop of Karachi. Each of the new Karachi bishops claimed their consecration had been led by the Moderator of the Church of Pakistan.

In 1997 Bishop Azariah was elected moderator of the Church of Pakistan. However, at the 2000 meeting of synod, Bishop Azariah closed the proceedings before a vote could be taken for a new moderator. A rump meeting was then held after the formal close of business and Bishop Dass elected moderator.

The rival moderators led to rival consecrations for the bishops of Karachi, then Hyderabad. The 2004 synod meeting elected Bishop Malik moderator, but its actions were not universally accepted by the church as half of the bishops boycotted the proceedings.

Interventions by Dr. Carey in 2004 failed to resolve the split. Within the international councils of the Communion, Dr. Rowan Williams has followed the lead of Dr. Carey and the Church of Pakistan Mission Partners Forum—a support group comprising the Church of England, the Methodist Church, the Church of Scotland, and others mission partners, and have backed Bishop Malik and his faction.

Litigation over the see of Karachi, as well as the disposition of church assets continues.

The Moderator of the Church of Pakistan September 27, 2008

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The Rt. Rev. Alexander Malik, Moderator of the Church of Pakistan and Bishop of Lahore.  Photo taken at the 2008 Lambeth Conference.

Honour killing denounced: CEN 9.05.08 p 7. September 5, 2008

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of Pakistan, Politics, Social Inequality.
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The Bishop of Lahore has denounced a Pakistani senator for defending in a speech in parliament the honour killing of five women.

On Aug 30, the Rt. Rev. Alexander Malik, Bishop of Lahore and Moderator of the Church of Pakistan said the he was shocked that Baluchistan Senator Israr Ullah Sehri would defend the “heinous” crime of murdering women to defend tribal “honour.” .

In the upper house of parliament on Aug 29, Senator Sehri broke into a speech by a female legislator, Senator Bibi Yasmin Shah, and defended honour killings as a traditional custom, saying ‘these are our norms which should not be highlighted negatively.”

Senator Shah had brought before parliament the case of five Baluchi women who had been buried alive for defying tribal custom. The crime had been covered up, she alleged, because the one of the murderers was the brother of a People’s Party of Pakistan (PPP) government minister.

The incident allegedly took place in the Jafarabad district of Baluchistan in the village of Baba Kot in June, Asian Human Rights Commission reports. Three teenage girls sought to marry men with whom they were in love. The tribal elders had refused permission for the girls to contract a “love marriage”, and the three were preparing to seek legal sanction from a civil court for permission to marry according to their own choosing.

According to AHRC, six men, including the brother of a Baluchistan government minister, abducted the three girls at gun point, and drove the girls into the wilderness in a government car. The three girls were shot and dumped into a shallow grave, but were still alive. One of the girl’s mother and an aunt protested the shooting and sought to stop the burial of the still breathing girls.

The two women were seized and thrown into the grave, and all five women were buried alive, AHRC said.

“After one month the police have still not registered the case and it is difficult to get more detailed information,” AHRC reported, noting “the provincial minister is so powerful that police are reluctant to provide details on the murder.”

AHRC stated the provincial minister “confirmed the incident by saying that only three women had been killed by unknown persons. He denied his or his brother’s involvement. He went on to say that the police will not disclose any information about the case as to do so now would be implicate themselves. However, concerned officers of two different police stations have confirmed the incident and explained that no one is providing any information. Also as they could not find the graves of the victims it is difficult to register the case. The victim’s family members have since left the place and their whereabouts are unknown.”

Originally a Baluchi and Pathan tribal custom, honour killings are “founded in the twin concepts of honour and commodity of women. Women are married off for a bride price paid to the father. There is no concept for girls to get marriage on their own choice and if it is found then, they are killed in the name of honour,” AHRC said.

In her speech denouncing the murders, Senator Shah charged that the government was stonewalling the investigation because of the involvement of the PPP minister in the killing. The leader of the House, Senator Raza Rabbani said that although the killings were a provincial matter, he would ask the government to investigate.

Bishop Malik urged the government to apprehend the killers and bring them to trial. Honour killings were inhumane and uncivilized, the bishop said, violated the tenets of both Islam and Christianity, and demeaned women.

The Bishop of Faisalabad, the Archbishop of Southeast Asia and the Bishop of Raiwind July 17, 2008

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Album (Photos), Church of Pakistan, Church of the Province of South East Asia, Lambeth 2008.
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From left to right: The Rt. Rev John Samuel, Bishop of Faisalabad, the Most Rev. John Chew, Archbishop of Southeast Asia and Bishop of Singapore, and the Rt. Rev. Sammy Azariah, Bishop of Raiwind.

Taliban releases Christian hostages in Pakistan: CEN 7.13.08 July 13, 2008

Posted by geoconger in Al Qaeda, Church of England Newspaper, Church of Pakistan, Islam, Persecution.
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Sixteen Christians kidnapped by the Taliban in Pakistan ’s North West Frontier Province have been released unharmed. However, a further 16 hostages taken at gunpoint on June 21 from a prayer meeting in Peshawar remain in captivity.

Humphrey Peters, General Secretary of the Church of Pakistan, said Christians along the North West Frontier are “now living in terror and do now know what will happen next.”

Read it all in The Church of England Newspaper.

Taliban releases Christian hostages in Pakistan

Pakistan blasphemy law appeal: CEN 5.30.08 p 7. June 1, 2008

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of Pakistan.
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Read it all in The Church of England Newspaper.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide has called upon Pakistan to repeal blasphemy laws used to oppress Christians and other non-Muslim minorities.

In an interview with Vatican Radio, CSW National Director Stuart Windsor welcomed the April 17 decision by the Pakistani government to endorse the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), but noted the obligations of nationals under the ICCPR conflicted with the Pakistani penal code.

“Under Pakistan penal code 295C — which deals with blasphemy against the prophet Mohammed — some 892 people have been punished over the last 22 years, many of them Muslims as well as Christians, and 22 to 25 have been killed arbitrarily,” Windsor said last week.

He noted that while the state has never executed anyone for blasphemy, “once a person faces a blasphemy charge then their life is over in terms of what they face if they’re released from prison and released from the charges.”

The CSW said the blasphemy laws were deeply flawed as they failed to adequately define the offense, could be prosecuted upon the testimony of one person alone, and had been used by Islamists to intimidate Christians and other religious minorities.

Windsor said reform of the Pakistani penal code, to bring it in line with the ICCPR, is “not going to happen overnight; it’s going to demand a lot of international pressure on the government and on the president, and also dialogue with the extremists.”

“It’s really a mountain that we face — it took us eight years of hard work and lobbying and pressure to get Pakistan to change their election system so that Muslims could vote for Christians and Christians could vote for Muslims, so this is going to be a long haul. But we want to pray and we want governments in the West and democratic governments around the world to put pressure on Pakistan to repeal these laws because both Muslims and Christians are suffering under them.”

Pakistan churches back UN on defamation call: CEN 4.29.08 April 29, 2008

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of Pakistan, Islam.
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THE NATIONAL Council of Churches in Pakistan (NCCP) has backed the UN Human Rights Council’s call for legislation forbidding the defamation of religion.

On April 16, the NCCP voiced its concern over “the mischievous acts, maligning the Islamic faith in the name of modernisation, secularism and so-called freedom of expression.” Freedom of speech should not be used to hurt the feelings of Muslims, said the group’s chairman, the Anglican Bishop of Iran and in the Persian Gulf, the Rt Rev Azad Marshall.

Read it all in The Church of England Newspaper.

Pakistan churches back UN on defamation call

Church leader tells of his ordeal in Taliban kidnapping: CEN 4.04.08 p 6. April 4, 2008

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of Pakistan, Persecution.
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Details of the kidnapping by the Taliban of the General Secretary of the Diocese of Peshawar have been released by the Church Mission Society (CMS).

Dr. Reginald Humayun Zaheeruddin, the medical superintendent of Pennell Memorial Hospital in Bannu and his driver were held for 26 days by Islamist militants along the Northwest Frontier after their car was stopped by the Taliban as they were was returning home from the town of Dera Ismail Khan on Dec 8.

At a village approximately 100km from Bannu, a vehicle cut across his path, and Dr. Zaheeruddin and his driver were bundled into the back of a car, blindfolded and covered with a sheet.

Threatened with death if they called out, the two men were taken blindfolded to an undisclosed site, chained in leg irons and locked in a dark cell. “The kidnappers unchained one foot of each man for a few minutes morning and evening to wash and relieve themselves, in the same room, causing an unbearable stench,” the CMS account said.

On the first Friday of his captivity a man entered the doctor’s cell and asked him to convert to Islam, but Dr. Zaheeruddin refused. The second week a Muslim priest came four or five times a day to preach and try to convert the captives.

His captives brought him out of his cell at one point, dressing him in a shalwar kameez and demanded that he convert to Islam. With video cameras rolling in anticipation of his profession of Islam, Dr. Zaheeruddin refused, protesting his faith in Jesus Christ. His captives responded that they would beat him and keep him locked up for life unless he relented. He refused and asked his captives what passage of the Koran permitted conversions by force.

Not having an answer to this question, the captives then demanded he write a ransom note to the hospital and diocese seeking £170,000 for his release. The doctor said there was no possibility such a sum could be raised but agreed to write the letter as dictated by his captives.

After he wrote the note, Dr. Zaheeruddin prayed the Lord would take his life rather than allow the hospital or the work of the church to be bankrupted by paying his ransom. “He also says that God gave him a repeated vision of a globe, which grew bigger with faces appearing on it, known and unknown, in thousands, praying for him,” the CMS reported.

Twenty six days after he was seized, his captives said they were releasing him. They took Dr. Zaheeruddin and his driver back to the car and allowed him to drive off—following the released prisoners “to the gates of the hospital” in Bannu.

Details of ransom payments or of the negotiations spearheaded by Bishop Mano Rumalsah of Peshawar to free Dr. Zaheeruddin are unknown. The doctor and his wife are presently touring Pakistan speaking to Christians about his ordeal, the CMS said.

New anger over cartoons: CEN 2.22.08 p 6. February 23, 2008

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of Pakistan, Islam, Persecution.
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Christian minorities in the Muslim world will suffer the consequences of the decision by 17 Danish newspapers to republish cartoon caricatures of the prophet Mohammad, the Church of Pakistan has warned.

Seventeen Danish newspapers, including the country’s three largest dailies, on Feb 13 republished a caricature of the prophet Mohammad that first appeared in the Jyllands-Posten in 2005.  The cartoon showed the head of the prophet Mohammad wearing a turban that contained a bomb with a burning fuse.  The September 2005 publication of 12 caricatures sparked protests from Islamists around the world and death threats against the cartoonists and the editor of the newspaper.

Last Wednesday the Danish newspapers reprinted the cartoon as a protest against censorship following the arrest of three Muslim men charged with conspiracy to murder cartoonist Kurt Westergaard, who drew the turban-bomb cartoon.

“Freedom of expression gives you the right to think, to speak and to draw what you like… no matter how many terrorist plots there are,” the conservative Berlingske Tidende wrote in an editorial, and urged “the Danish media to stand united against fanaticism.”

Support for Westergaard and the Jyllands-Posten crossed political lines, with the tabloid and left wing press joining the condemnation of the murder plot.  The leftist newspaper Politiken—which in 2005 had denounced publication of the cartoons—said the murder plot showed “there are fanatic Islamists who are ready to make good on their threats and there are people in this country who neither respect freedom of expression nor the law.”

Westergaard told one newspaper “with this drawing I wanted to show how fanatical Islamists or terrorists use religion as a kind of spiritual weapon.”

“I feel that I am fighting a righteous fight to defend freedom of expression, which is under threat,” he said.

However, the Moderator of the Church of Pakistan, Bishop Alexander Malik of Lahore on Feb 15 said reprinting the cartoons would damage Christian Muslim relations.  Church leaders also feared it could provoke a violent response.  Following the publication of the cartoons in 2005, mobs set fire to the Danish embassies in Damascus and Beirut and over one hundred people died in sectarian clashes in Nigeria and Pakistan.

“Prophets are regarded in great esteem in all religions and no amount of freedom of expression should have the right to ridicule them,” he said.

“Such acts hurt the sentiments of people and widens the gap between different faith communities instead of building bridges of understanding,” said Bishop Malik.

Pakistan’s Roman Catholic bishops have also denounced the Danish decision.

Bishop acquitted of murder: CEN 2.01.08 February 1, 2008

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of Pakistan, Crime.
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A LAHORE court has acquitted the Bishop of Raiwind and seven co-defendants of murder.

Last Friday Sessions Judge Abdul Karim Langah dismissed all charges against the Rt Rev Samuel Azariah (pictured) and his co-defendants, finding they were innocent of the 2006 murder of Khalida Gill.

On April 24, 2006, three men entered the home of Nathanial Gill, an attorney litigating a land dispute case against the diocese of Raiwind. The intruders shot Mrs Gill, who died three days later without having regained consciousness.

Read it all in The Church of England Newspaper.

Bishop acquitted of murder

Future ‘grim’ for Pakistani Christians, says Bishop: CEN 1.18.08 p January 20, 2008

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of Pakistan, Civil Rights, Persecution.
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samuel-azariah.gifPAKISTAN has entered a ‘spiral of violence’, reports the Bishop of Raiwind and the short-term prospects for the country’s Christian minority are grim.

Bishop Samuel Azariah told The Church of England Newspaper on Monday that his country was in the midst of a political and economic meltdown, and urged the government of President Pervez Musharraf to restore the democracy and the rule of law.

In 2007, 50 suicide bombings killed 770 people, and civil unrest has left almost 3,500 dead. “The common belief amongst the people is that the bombings are the work of either Islamic extremists, belonging to al-Qaeda and the Taliban, or rogue elements close to the military establishment,” he said.

“Whoever is responsible for these heinous crimes, the intent is clearly to subvert through terror the democratic process in order to negate the will of the people,” Bishop Azariah said. The Musharraf government was engaged in counter-insurgency operations in Waziristan, the North West Frontier and in Swat and ‘right or wrong people believe that this is an American war and the Pakistan army is killing its own people at the call of the Americans,’ he said.

The war on terror had led to ‘much anger and hatred against the West’ and paradoxically to America and Britain being blamed for the country’s social and political ills. “This of course has repercussions on the Christians and the Church in Pakistan as we are considered a legacy of the West because of our colonial heritage,” he said.

The resulting political instability has ‘had an adverse impact on the economy’ with essential foodstuffs and commodities like wheat flour, sugar, petroleum in short supply. All of this has led to the government losing ‘all credibility’ and becoming ‘virtually crippled.’

The mood among the country’s political elite was that the forthcoming ‘elections will not be free and fair,’ and opposition leaders have called for President Musharraf to step down and form a national unity government.

“This, however, is unlikely to happen because the US-led Coalition and the Pakistan military establishment continue to support Musharraf. The US Administration is of the view that Musharraf is indispensable to the war on terror and Pakistani Generals are not ready to share power with civilians because over the years they have accumulated huge economic, commercial and political interests,” Bishop Azariah said.

“Human life is a gift of God,” he said. “As such violence and acts of terrorism against innocent civilians are a sin against God and are contrary to his values of peace, love, forgiveness and compassion. As people of faith we are committed to universally condemn all forms of violence, particularly the type that inflicts indiscriminate death and injury on civilians,” he said.

Pakistan was ‘passing through a very difficult period in its history’. Bishop Azariah asked for prayers for his country and to ask God to ‘bring our people consolation and invest in them the hope and courage to face up to the challenge of healing and reconciliation.’

Christians kidnapped in Pakistan are released: CEN 1.18.08 p. 8. January 20, 2008

Posted by geoconger in Al Qaeda, Church of England Newspaper, Church of Pakistan, Crime.
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FIVE Christian men kidnapped by the Taliban in Waziristan have been released unharmed. Sources in Peshawar tell The Church of England Newspaper the five were released on Jan 7 following negotiations with government and church

An aide to Peshawar Bishop Mano Ramalshah, Mr Yaqub Sahotara, said the five had been seized by suspected Taliban insurgents while driving to Dera Ismail Khan near Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan.

Taliban leader Baitullah Mahsud had demanded the release of six of his jailed lieutenants in return for the safe release of the Christians. It is not known what terms were agreed for the men’s release.

Mahsud has been named by the government of President Pervez Musharraf as the leader of the group that assassinated PakistanPeople’s Party (PPP) leader Benazir Bhutto.

Church Worker Freed: CEN 1.11.08 p 7. January 12, 2008

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mano-rumalshah.jpgThe General Secretary of the Diocese of Peshawar has been freed unharmed 26 days after he and his driver were seized by kidnappers along Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier.

Dr. Reginald Humayun Zaheeruddin, the Medical Superintendent of Pennell Memorial Hospital in Bannu was returning home from the town of Dera Ismail Khan when suspected Taliban militants stopped his car, taking him prisoner.

While details of the negotiations to free Dr. Zaheeruddin remain unclear, the secretary to Bishop Mano Rumalshah (pictured) of Peshawar, Mr. Yaqub Sahotara reports the bishop had been working to secure the doctor’s release.

“Thankfully [Dr. Zaheeruddin] returned home after 26 days and we breathed a sigh of relief but it has been a traumatic experience for all of us,” Mr. Sahotara said.

While always precarious, the safety of Pakistan’s Christian minority has taken a perilous turn since the Dec 27 assassination of Benazir Bhutto. “Again yesterday [Jan 6] five Christians have been kidnapped in South Waziristan area,” he told The Church of England Newspaper.

Police suspect Taliban insurgents affiliated with Baitullah Mehsud of kidnapping the five men as they were driving to Dera Ismail Khan near Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan. In return for freeing the five Pakistani Christians, the Taliban are demanding the release of six of Baitullah Mehsud’s lieutenants held by police.

Baitullah Mahsud has been named by the government of President Pervez Musharraf as the leader of the group that assassinated Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) leader Benzair Bhutto.

Bishop Rafiq Masih of Hyderabad told CEN the murder of Benazir Bhutto was a “national tragedy” and “severe attack on the hope of a new democratic government.”

Christians had also come under threat in the Diocese of Hyderabad following the assassination, he reported. “Since we are serving in Sindh, which is surrounded by other small suburbs with heavy vote block of PPP, we ask your special prayers for us,” he said.

All Christians were united in “appeal and pray for the national harmony in Pakistan at this difficult time,” he said.

Suicide Attack Condemned as Benazir Bhutto Returns: CEN 10.26.07 p 6. October 24, 2007

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of Pakistan, Politics.
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CHURCH leaders in Pakistan have condemned the suicide attack launched against former premier Benazir Bhutto in Karachi last week, which killed 139 and wounded hundreds more.

On Oct 19 two bombs exploded in the port city as crowds gathered to welcome home the once-exiled leader of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP).

“We condemn this dastardly act. The whole nation is shocked by this tragedy,” said Victor Azariah, general secretary of the National Council of Churches of Pakistan. “It is shocking that ordinary people who queued up enthusiastically to see Bhutto had to die like this,” he told ENI.

The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Lahore, Mgr Lawrence John Saldanha, condemned “this loss of innocent lives and express solidarity and condolences with the families of the deceased.

Read it all in The Church of England Newspaper.

Suicide attack condemned

New Gulf Rules Opposed: CEN 10.19.07 p 6. October 18, 2007

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of Pakistan, Episcopal Church in Jerusalem & the Middle East.
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majeed-al-alawi-of-bahrain.jpgProposals to expel foreign workers from the Persian Gulf states after six years’ residence are discriminatory and economically foolhardy, the Area Bishop of the Persian Gulf said this week.  The Rt. Rev. Azad Marshall, Bishop of Iran and Area Bishop for the Persian Gulf in the Church of Pakistan told The Church of England Newspaper that proposals by the Bahrain Labour Minister Majeed al-Alawi (pictured) for consideration by the Gulf States could effect upwards of 13 million expatriate workers living in the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

The Gulf States fear that under international law foreign workers might claim government education, health and housing benefits, and be able to apply for citizenship after five year’s residency.  Over one million Filipinos work in Saudi Arabia, while in the UAE over 80 percent of the population consists of expatriate workers of whom almost a third are Christian.

“In some areas of the Gulf, you can’t tell whether you are in an Arab Muslim country or in an Asian district. We can’t call this diversity and no nation on earth could accept the erosion of its culture on its own land,” al-Alawi told the Gulf Daily News.

“The majority of foreign manpower in the region comes from different cultural and social backgrounds that cannot assimilate or adapt to the local cultures,” he said.

Bishop Marshall said Arabs traditionally have been known for their “warm hospitality which has helped create a model of congeniality among Arabs and Asians working together.”

“Many Arabs have created similar pockets of Arabs in some European cities,” he said adding that denying this right to Asian immigrants to the Arab world was unfair.  “In this age of global economy one should move with time towards reciprocity and acceptance.”

Bishop Marshall stated that unlike Europe or the US, guest workers in the Gulf can only live “in these countries for the tenure of their visas. They give their best years and skills to these countries, for jobs and money of course, but without any hope of ever becoming permanent visa holders, residents or citizens.”

Pakistan Christians appeal: CEN 8.24.07 p 8. August 25, 2007

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of Pakistan, Civil Rights, Islam.
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Pakistan’s Christian community marked the sixtieth anniversary of independence with a march in Lahore last week and calls for a repeal of the country’s “blasphemy laws”.


The crowd, which organizers from the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA) estimated at “tens of thousands,” delivered a 30-point petition on Aug 11 to the country’s Chief Justice calling for a return to the vision of a secular Pakistan articulated by the “Father of the Nation” Muhammad Ali Jinnah.


The leader of the opposition Pakistan People’s Party in the Punjab Provincial Assembly brought greetings from the national party leader Benazir Bhutto to the rally. The former prime minister expressed her support for the rally since “the country had never been in so great a need for a voice against religious intolerance and extremism.”


Roman Catholic speaker Fr Bonnie Mendes called upon the government to separate Islam from state. This is the “only way that we can make Pakistan the Pakistan of Quaid-e-Azam” [the Great Leader—Muhammad Ali Jinnah] Asia News reported.


The petition called for Jinnah’s words to the first session of Pakistan’s constituent assembly to be added to the nation’s constitution. “You are free. You are free to go to your temples. You are free to go to your mosques or to any other places of worship in this state of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion, caste or creed – that has nothing to do with the business of the State … We are starting with this fundamental principle, that we are all citizens and citizens of one state.”


Group Captain Cecil Chaudhry, Executive Secretary of APMA, told Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists and Parsees as well as moderate Muslims from across Pakistan attended the rally.

Benedict Rogers, CSW’s Advocacy Officer for South Asia, said: “Discrimination against minorities has been widespread for far too long in Pakistan. Such discrimination, hatred and persecution flies in the face of the vision that the nation’s founder, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, set out 60 years ago.


“This rally demonstrates that despite the rise of extremism, many people in Pakistan hold onto Jinnah’s vision for a nation which accepts its citizens equally, regardless of religious background,” he said.


Rushdie Award Upsets Pakistan Churches: CEN 7.06.07 p 6. July 6, 2007

Posted by geoconger in British Foreign Policy, Church of England Newspaper, Church of Pakistan, Islam.
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Church leaders in Pakistan have condemned the award of a knighthood to author Salman Rushdie saying the government honour could provoke violence against Christians.The award was a “very bad decision” the general secretary of the National Council of Churches in Pakistan, Victor Azariah, told Ecumenical News International on June 28 as “such insensitive decisions will only worsen the anti-Christian feelings in the Muslim world.”

“Revenge attacks against Christians in Pakistan could take place like they did last year,” Fr Aftab James Paul, the director of the Roman Catholic National Commission for Interfaith Harmony and Ecumenism in Pakistan, told Asia News.

Reaction to the award has been fierce in Pakistan. “We deplore the decision of the British government to knight him,” a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said, while the lower house of parliament unanimously passed a government-backed resolution calling Rushdie a “blasphemer.”

Pakistan’s minister of religious affairs, Mohammed Ijaz ul-Haq, son of the late dictator General Zia ul-Haq, endorsed suicide bombing against Britain as a response. “If someone exploded a bomb on his body, he would be right to do so unless the British government apologizes and withdraws the ‘sir’ title.” He told the Pakistani parliament that “If someone commits suicide bombing to protect the honor of the Prophet Muhammad, his act is justified.”

The Foreign Office Other has issued a statement of “deep concern,” through its High Commissioner in Islamabad, but noted the minister’s threat will not harm a “very good relationship” with Pakistan and has not blocked a private visit by ul-Haq to Britain.

The death threats against Salman Rushdie bagan in 1989 when Ayatollah Khomeini issued a ‘fatwah’ stating that “the author of the book entitled The Satanic Verses – which has been compiled, printed, and published in opposition to Islam, the Prophet, and the Qur’an and all those involved in its publication who were aware of its content, are sentenced to death. I call on all zealous Muslims to execute them quickly.”

The death sentence remains in force. Last week Iran’s speaker of parliament, Gholamali Haddadadel, threatened that Muslims “will not leave this imprudent and shameless act without response,” while Iran’s Foreign Ministry Director for Europe, Ebrahim Rahimpour, was quoted as saying by the state-run IRNA news agency “this insulting, suspicious and improper act by the British government is an obvious example of fighting against Islam.”