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Lord Williams applauds Iran outreach to Baha’is: The Church of England Newspaper, April 28, 2014 June 2, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Bahá’í, Church of England Newspaper, Persecution.
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The former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Williams of Oystermouth has lauded the call by a leading Iranian Shiite ayatollah for peaceful co-existence between Muslims and the Baha’is of Iran. On 7 April 2014 Ayatollah Abdol-Hamid Masoumi-Tehrani Ayatollah Tehrani posted to his website the announcement that he was creating an illuminated calligraphic rendering of several verses from Baha’u’llah’s Kitab-i-Aqdas, the “Most Holy Book” of the Baha’is. “I present this precious symbol – an expression of sympathy and care from me and on behalf of all my open-minded fellow citizens who respect others for their humanity and not for their religion or way of worship – to all the Baha’is of the world, particularly to the Baha’is of Iran who have suffered in manifold ways as a result of blind religious prejudice,” the ayatollah said. The gift was of “immense significance” Lord Williams noted as it “represents not only a personally gracious gesture but also a strand within the Islamic world at its best and most creative which is deeply appreciative of all that helps human beings to respond to God’s will for peace and understanding.” The Baha’i World News Service reported the lead bishop in the Lords on foreign policy the Bishop of Coventry the Rt. Rev. Christopher Cocksworth had also applauded the gesture. “Given the systemic and long standing suffering experienced by the Baha’i community in Iran, this is an imaginatively courageous step by a senior Iranian Islamic scholar,” said Dr. Cocksworth on 9 April.

Death penalty for blasphemy for Lahore Christians: The Church of England Newspaper, April 11, 2014 May 10, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of Pakistan, Persecution.
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A Christian couple has been sentenced to death for blasphemy by a civil court in Lahore for sending blasphemous text messages. On 4 April 2014 a court in the Toba Tek Singh district ruled Shafaqat Emmanuel and his wife Shagufta Kausar were guilty of sending English-language text messages defaming Islam to two prominent Muslim activists. Lawyers for the accused noted the defendants were illiterate and further noted they did not speak English. The lawyers further noted that Mr. Emmanuel, who is disabled, and his wife, a waitress, were not the registered owners of the SIM card that was the source of the alleged message.  An appeal is planned. Their conviction follows the death sentence handed down last month to Christian sweeper Sawan Masih, who was also convicted of blasphemy. The NGO “World Vision in Progress” (WVIP), which has been supporting the couple, responded that “Kangaroo Justice is going on in this country called Pakistan.” They added that for the “last five months we [have been] yelling in front of the International community that all the victims of the Blasphemy Law will be awarded with the same punishment. … If a bold step [is not taken by] the Christian community soon, then it [will] become impossible for them to live in Pakistan.”

Church construction banned in the Sudan: The Church of England Newspaper, May 5, 2013 p 7. May 7, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Episcopal Church of the Sudan, Persecution.
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Sudan’s Minister of Guidance and Endowments, Al-Fatih Taj al-Sir, has told the country’s Parliament the government will not permit the construction of new Christian churches in the country, but said that freedom of religion would be protected under the country’s Islamic Constitution.

On 17 April 2013 the government minister said that no new churches had been built since the secession of South Sudan in July 2011 due to lack of worshipers and the growing number of abandoned churches..

In a briefing published this month, Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) stated that since December 2012, there had been “an increase in arrests, detentions and deportations of Christians and of those suspected of having links to them, particularly in Khartoum and Omodorum, Sudan’s largest cities. There has also been a systematic targeting of members of African ethnic groups, particularly the Nuba, lending apparent credence to the notion of the resurgence of an official agenda of Islamisation and Arabisation.”

“The campaign of repression [has] continued into 2013, with foreign Christians being arrested and deported at short notice, and those from Sudan facing arrest, detention and questioning by the security services,” the report said.

CSW’s Advocacy Director Andrew Johnston said, “The recent spike in religious repression in Sudan is deeply worrying. The Minister’s claims of guaranteeing freedom to worship are at odds with regular reports of Christians being harassed arrested and in some cases expelled from the country at short notice. We urge the Sudanese government to end its campaign of harassment against the Christian community and respect the right of all of its citizens to freedom of religion or belief.”

Bishop’s plea for peace in Sri Lanka: The Church of England Newspaper, April 14, 2013 p 6. April 19, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Church of Ceylon, Church of England Newspaper, Persecution.
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The Bishop of Colombo has called upon India to protect its Sinhalese visitors following a series of high profile assaults on Buddhist monks.

While the April 1 letter of Bishop Dhiloraj Canagasabey is addressed to the Indian government and leads with the condemnation of last month’s attack on two Buddhist monks in Tamil Nadu, sources in the Church of Ceylon tell the Church of England Newspaper the true audience is the government of Sri Lankan Pres. Mahinda Rajapaksa and its subject the sharp increase in sectarian violence targeting Ceylon’s Christians and Muslims

Bishop Canagasabey wrote “several incidents of intimidation and violence against Sri Lankans have been reported recently from within and outside the Sri Lanka,” adding the “most serious” had been the attack on Buddhists monks in Tamil Nadu state.

“In the first incident in Tamil Nadu, a group of post graduate archaeology students had been attacked during a study tour to a temple site in Thanjavoor. In the second a group of Buddhist pilgrims who had arrived in Chennai from a visit to sacred sites in North India had been attacked at the Chennai Railway Station. In both instances the monks had been singled out for abuse and physical violence, possibly due to their distinctive dress. Several extremists Tamil groups have been identified as perpetrators of these attacks in India. I appeal to the Central Government of India, and the State Government of Tamil Nadu to stop this act of violence immediately,” the bishop said.

The Bishop added that “within Sri Lanka, attacks in the form of intimidation and violence especially on Christians and Muslims have been too many to list out.”

The Church “views with grave concern and denounces this growing and very dangerous trend of sectarian violence. These incidents are yet another manifestation of the fast spreading intolerance and fundamentalist extremism which is engulfing many societies today,” the bishops said.

It was a “reflection of the refusal to listen to people who think believe and act differently from us and to accept their freedom and right to do so. From here it is but a short step to blind and mindless violence against the group or groups we choose to demonize,” he said.

He stated that “while we very rightly condemn such acts by others, we also need to turn the spotlight inwards and reflect on and examine our own failings in this regard. It may be that unconsciously in the practice of our own beliefs and religion we have caused avoidable irritation and offence to those of sister faiths,” he said, adding “we can hardly demonstrate against and condemn such acts by others against us, if we ourselves condone or participate in similar behaviour against those who are different from us.”

It was the duty of state to guarantee the protection “of all groups in society,” the bishop said, warning the Buddhist nationalist government “during the past decades we have witnessed in this country the tragedy, huge damage and destruction brought about by the negligence of this primary duty. We must not repeat the mistakes of the past.”

Pakistani Christian sentenced to death for blasphemy freed: The Church of England Newspaper, April 14, 2013 p 7. April 16, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of Pakistan, Persecution.
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Seven years after being sentenced to death for blasphemy a Pakistani Christian has been set free.

On 3 April 2013 Lahore High Court justices Khaja Amtiaz Ahmed and Khalid Mehmood Khan overturned the conviction of Younis Masih and ordered his immediate release from prison.

On 10 September 2005 Masih was arrested after he had asked a party of Muslim men the night before if they would lower the volume of their singing. The men responded by attacking Masih and beat him unconscious. Islamic leaders then incited a mob to burn Christians’ homes, saying Masih had committed blasphemy. More than 100 Christian families were forced to flee.

His lawyers alleged that to placate the mob the police arrested Masih. A Lahore Court sentenced him to death on 30 May 2007. In overturning his conviction the appeals court held there was no proof of blasphemy.

In a statement released last week Release International, which had been working with lawyers from the Legal Aid for Destitute and Settlement society in Pakistan, welcomed the news. 

Release chief executive Paul Robinson said: “We are celebrating with Younis, his family and our partners who have supported them for all these years. We hope this sets a precedent for other victims of Pakistan’s notorious blasphemy laws who should now be released.”

Release commended the “bravery of High Court judges” who released Masih, “despite intense pressure from Muslim hardliners who filled earlier court hearings, apparently trying to intimidate the judges.”

Release partners were now making arrangements for the “safe transfer of Younis from jail to an unspecified location,” it reported.

Christians under fire in Zanzibar: The Church of England Newspaper, March 17, 2013, p 6. March 24, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Church of Tanzania, Church of England Newspaper, Islam, Persecution.
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The Bishop of Dar es Salaam’s home has come under assault, church leaders report.

Bishop Bill Atwood writes: “On 2:45 on Sunday morning, an armed gang attacked Archbishop Valentino [Mokiwa]’s home. Most bishops in that part of the world have watchmen either from the Massai or Hehe tribes who serve as guards. That was the case at Archbishop Valentino’s home as well. His Hehe watchman was captured by armed men who cut through the wire fence. The watchman valiantly fought back crying out. The men with guns cut him severely with machetes (called pandas there), but fled. Archbishop Valentino and his wife and children were inside the house. It is clear that great evil was intended.”

The 10 March 2013 attack follows last month’s murder of Catholic priest Evarist Mushi, who was shot and killed by two gunmen on the steps of his church. A second Catholic priest, Fr. Ambrose Mkenda suffered gunshot wounds in an attempt on his life on Christmas Day while moderate Muslim cleric Sheikh Fadhil Suleiman Soraga was attacked with acid in November. Several churches have been burned over the past few weeks and on the mainland a Pentecostal minister was beheaded by Muslim extremists.

President Jakaya Kikwete’s move to invite foreign investigators to help local police thoroughly investigate the killings has been applauded by Zanzibar’s chief mufti, who has called on the government to actively investigate the targeting of religious leaders in Zanzibar, Tanzania’s Guardian newspaper reported on 4 March.  (March 4th).

Sheikh Thabit Noman Jongo said the terror attacks, believed to have been carried out by al Qaeda-linked groups, violate Islamic principles. “According to the Holy Koran, it is not allowed to take life of another person without any reason … experts should dig more to find the source of these acts,” he said.

Tanzania’s Daily News reported that leaflets calling for Christians to fight back were being distributed over the weekend. “We Christians of Zanzibar and people from the mainland living in the islands have decided to organise ourselves to retaliate,” the leaflet said, according to the Daily News. “It is high time we hit back.”

Bishop Michael Hafidh and Catholic Bishop Augustine Shao condemned the leaflets and their content, and urged Christians not to return evil for evil.

Note: This article has been corrected following its first publication to state the attack was on the home of Archbishop Mokiwa, not Bishop Hafidh.

105,000 Christians murdered for the faith in 2012: The Church of England Newspaper, January 13, 2013 p 6. January 21, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Persecution.
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Over 105,000 Christians were killed because of their faith in 2012, an Italian sociologist told Vatican Radio last week, with reports from Africa, India and Asia showing a surge in anti-Christian persecution over the Christmas holidays.

Yousef Nadarkhani, the Iranian pastor sentenced to death for apostasy from Islam but released after an international protest campaign was re-arrested at his home on Christmas Day, Christian Solidarity Worldwide reports.

In a 26 December 2012 statement, CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said Pastor Nadarkhani had been returned to prison Iran. CSW reported he had “been returned to jail on the orders of the director of Lakan Prison, who claimed he had been released several days too early due to the insistence of his lawyer Mohammed Ali Dadkhah,” who is also in an Iranian jail for having defended Mr. Nadarkhani.

The Mohabat News service reported that on 27 Dec 2012, approximately 50 converts to Christianity from Islam were also arrested by police in Tehran for unlawful assembly.  The converts were released after several hours of police interrogation, but the Rev. Vruir Avanessian, remains in custody.

In Nigeria, the Islamist terror group, Boko Haram, attacked a church service on Christmas Eve in a village in Yobe State, killing the pastor and several members of the congregation.  The First Baptist Church in the northern city of Maduguri was attacked by gunmen during a Midnight Service on Christmas Eve and the church’s deacon was killed.  Reports on the total death count vary, with reports ranging from 12 to 24 killed.  CSW reports that since 2010, 45 Christians have been killed in Christmas church attacks launched by Boko Haram.

On 29 Dec, terrorist believed to belong to an Islamist militia group attacked the Mar Girgis Coptic Church in Dafniya a town near Misrata Libya.  Three members of the church’s staff were killed and two were injured in the attack.  As members of the congregation left the church following the Saturday evening service, a bomb exploded inside the church.  The Coptic Church in Egypt reports the death toll could have been much higher as the blast went off after the congregation had moved from the church to the parish hall at the conclusion of services – those killed were those still inside the sanctuary when the bomb detonated.

A Catholic priest in Zanzibar was shot on Christmas Day, missionaries on the majority Muslim island off the coast of Tanzania tell The Church of England Newspaper.  Fr Ambrose Mkenda was shot by two men riding a motorcycle as stepped out of his car after returning home from celebrating Christmas Day service.  Sources on the island tell CEN Fr. Mkenda, who is recovering in hospital, was not believed to be the primary target of the attack and was mistaken for the Catholic bishop of the island.  Last year the Anglican and Catholic bishops and clergy on the island were forced to flee to the mainland for a week after Uamsho, an extremist Islamic group, sparked riots.

In an interview broadcast on 26 Dec, the Feast of St Stephen the Martyr, Prof. Massimo Introvigne reported that in 2012 it was believed 105,000 Christians were “murdered for their faith”, or “one death every 5 minutes.”

Christians were most at risk in areas with a strong Islamic fundamentalist presence, Nigeria, Somalia, Mali, Pakistan and some parts of Egypt, in Communist North Korea, and in countries with strong ethnic national identities, where national identity is tied to religion.  In Orissa State in India, he said, Christians are considered “traitors to the nation.”

Ideology lay behind the persecution of Christians, Prof.  Introvigne said: “the ideology of radical Islamic fundamentalism, the more aggressive versions of ethno-nationalism and, of course, the vestiges of the old Communist ideology.”

He noted that “when it comes to the 105 000 deaths per year, these are not all martyrs in the theological sense of the term. However, within this number there those people who very consciously lay down their lives for the Church and often also pray for their persecutors and these offer forgiveness,” he said.

This forgiveness of those who persecute them is the “unique feature of Christianity, because many other cultures – even pre-Christian and post-Christian – speak, the right and duty of honor and vengeance. Christianity had this great civilizing function, which today we tend to forget, to have replaced the logic of revenge with the logic of forgiveness,” Prof. Introvigne said.

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Tibet is burning: Get Religion, January 18, 2013 January 19, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Buddhism, China, Get Religion, Persecution, Politics.
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Let me commend for your reading this AP article by reporter Gillian Wong on the military crack down in Tibet. Entitled “As Tibet burns, China makes arrests, seizes TVs” this article reports on the wave of self-immolations that have swept across Tibet in protest to the Chinese regime’s occupation of the region.

It opens with a strong lede, provides the facts in a straight forward – balanced way, offers good comments from knowledgeable experts, provides the principle points of view — all while being written under a Beijing dateline (which means the reporter can find herself severely discommoded by the government for reporting unpalatable truths.)

The article opens:

Chinese authorities are responding to an intensified wave of Tibetan self-immolation protests against Chinese rule by clamping down even harder – criminalizing the suicides, arresting protesters’ friends and even confiscating thousands of satellite TV dishes.

The harsh measures provide an early indication that the country’s new leadership is not easing up on Tibet despite the burning protests and international condemnation.

For months, as Tibetans across western China doused themselves in gasoline and set themselves alight, authorities responded by sending in security forces to seal off areas and prevent information from getting out, but those efforts did not stop or slow the protests. The self-immolations even accelerated in November as China’s ruling Communist Party held a pivotal leadership transition.

There is a strong religious component to the story:

Nearly 100 Tibetan monks, nuns and lay people have set themselves on fire since 2009, calling for Beijing to allow greater religious freedom and the return from exile of the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.

Speaking technically, (e.g., removing the subject of the story and looking at its construction, language and the reporter’s craft) this is a superior news story — it has all the elements of good journalism. And when you add in the compelling subject matter of religious freedom and political self-determination for Tibet you have a great story.

Where I to add anything to this story, it would be a paragraph or two on what the Dalai Lama or the Tibetan Buddhist tradition has to say about self-immolation. Buddhism holds that human life is sacred — how does suicide as political/religious protest stand in light of these teachings?

My sense is that a reporter writing from Beijing can only go so far down this path before they find their visa cancelled. One telephone call to a leader of the Tibetan exile community in a story might pass police muster — direct quotes or a response from the Dalai Lama would be too much. An informed reader should look at the dateline of an article — the location where the story was written often placed in parentheses at the beginning of an article — so as to understand how to read the story. A dateline of Beijing as opposed to Hong Kong or Tokyo for this story says very different things. Let the reader understand.

Informed Western readers of this article are likely to come to this story with the knowledge the Arab Spring began with the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi in Tunisia. Older readers will remember the self-immolation of Buddhist monks during the Vietnam war in protest to the South Vietnamese government’s policies. Is this the tradition in Tibet?

Not according to the Tibetan government in exile. They released a You-Tube video this past summer that looks into this question — noting the first Tibetan self-immolation took place in 2008.  The video received little news attention when it was released, and I do hope that it is picked up by the press now that the Chinese government has pushed this issue into the limelight with its crackdown.

What say you GR readers? Is an extra sentence or paragraph necessary to explain the religious “why” question behind this story? Or, given the threat of censorship from Chinese government that hovers over all Tibet or religion (think House Churches, Falun Gong) stories, is it incumbent upon the reader to approach these stories with a modicum of wisdom — knowing that he will only hear part of the story?

First printed in Get Religion.

Yousef Nadarkhani re-arrested: Anglican Ink, December 27, 2012 December 27, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Ink, Iran, Persecution.
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Yousef Nadarkhani, the Iranian pastor jailed sentenced to death for apostasy from Islam but released after an international protest campaign was re-arrested at his home on Christmas Day, Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) reports.

In a 26 December 2012 statement, CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said: “We are disappointed to hear Pastor Nadarkhani has been returned to prison in such an irregular manner. The timing is insensitive and especially sad for his wife and sons, who must have been looking forward to celebrating Christmas with him for the first time in three years.”

Born in a non-practicing Muslim family, Mr. Nadarkhani (35) converted to Christianity as a young man and for ten years led of a network of house churches in Rasht in Iran’s Gilan province on the southern shore of the Caspian Sea.  On 12 Oct 2009 he was brought before a political tribunal after he complained about new government regulations requiring that his two sons be instructed in Islam.

Read it all in Anglican Ink.

Freed Iranian pastor travels to London to thank CSW for its support: The Church of England Newspaper, December 2, 2012 p 6. December 7, 2012

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The Iranian pastor sentenced to death for apostasy from Islam but released after three years imprisonment following an international protest campaign, was granted a special visa last month to travel to London to address Christian Solidarity Worldwide’s National Conference.

On 10 Nov 2012 Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani spoke to the For Such a Time as This conference through an interpreter thanking Christians in the West for their prayers and petitions on his behalf.

“It is the opportunity for me to share about what the Lord did for me and to thank you because you supported me by your prayers, you supported my family in a very difficult time,” he said.

“My prayer is I ask the Lord to bless you for what you did for me as a small member of the body of Christ. Today my presence here is the will of God and the result of what your prayers did for me.”

Last month’s trip, which included a visit to Holy Trinity Brompton Church in London, was the first for the Iranian Christian leader since his release from prison.  “It was a pleasure to welcome Pastor Nadarkhani to our conference and to hear his testimony of faith and perseverance, and of his love for God, for his family and for his nation. His quiet courage, integrity and lack of recrimination cannot fail to have inspired anyone who heard him to deepen their own commitment to their faith,” CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said.

First published in The  Church of England Newspaper.

Self censorship and the New York Times: Get Religion, December 5, 2012 December 5, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Al Qaeda, Free Speech, Get Religion, Islam, Persecution.
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An International Herald Tribune report about Pakistan seems a bit confused as to what constitutes sectarian violence. Written under the title “Christian Aid Worker Is Shot in Pakistan” the article from the New York Times’ international edition ties together three different stories in one article. But it does not want to say why.

This story with a dateline of Hong Kong is a compilation of Pakistani press reports and wire service bulletins. As per its ethical reporting standards, the Times‘ man acknowledges his debt to these sources, though he did make a few phone calls to provide some original material to the stories. As this is a first report on the incidents I am not that concerned with how complete it is or if all the facts are properly nailed down. My interest in in how the reporter laid out his story given what he had in hand.

And it is the construction of the article and the unwillingness to state the obvious that leads me to say the Times has lost the plot.

The shooting of Swedish missionary, an attack on a Ahmadiya graveyard, and the kidnapping of a Jewish-American aid worker all have something in common (it is called militant Islam) but the Times’ reporter appears at a loss as to how to put the pieces together. Last month the New York Times brought on board as its CEO Mark Thompson, the former Director General of the BBC. It also appears to have taken on board Thompson’s policy of treating Islam with kid gloves.

Here is the lede:

HONG KONG — A Swedish woman doing charity work through her evangelical church was shot outside her home in Lahore on Monday, according to news reports from Pakistan. A gunman riding a motorcycle fired at the 72-year-old woman as she got out of her car in the upscale Model Town neighborhood.

It was not immediately clear whether the attack was sectarian in nature or was perhaps linked to another event Monday in Model Town in which masked gunmen vandalized a cemetery.

The article then goes into the details as they were known of the attack and then links to the second subject with this transitional sentence:

But early Monday morning in Model Town, gunmen tied up the caretakers of an Ahmadi cemetery and desecrated more than a hundred grave markers, the Express Tribune newspaper reported.

The Times gives details of the attack on the graveyard, notes that Ahmadiya Muslims are “considered heretical by mainstream Muslims”, and recounts past terror attacks and government fostered discrimination against the Ahmadiyas.

The story closes with the tale of a kidnapped American aid worker Warren Weinstein seized by al Qaeda last year. Details of Mr. Weinstein’s plight are offered and a quote from an earlier Times story is offered.

Mr. Weinstein, now 71, also appeared in a video in September, embedded below, in which he appeals for U.S. acceptance of the Qaeda demands. At one point he addresses Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, saying:

Therefore, as a Jew, I’m appealing to you, Prime Minister Netanyahu, the head of the Jewish state of Israel, one Jew to another, to please intervene on my behalf. To work with the mujahideen and to accept their demands so that I can be released and returned to my family.

These three stories share the common theme of extremist Muslim violence against religious minorities in Lahore: Christians, Ahmadiyas and Jews. What then is the problem I have with this article, you might ask?

Look at the second sentence of the story.

It was not immediately clear whether the attack was sectarian in nature or was perhaps linked to another event Monday in Model Town in which masked gunmen vandalized a cemetery.

The choices the Times is offering the reader are: a) the shooting of the Christian missionary was a sectarian act; or b) it was not a sectarian act but somehow linked to the attack by Salafist Muslims against an Ahmadiya graveyard. Perhaps I am thick but I do not see the distinction between a and b. Are they not both sectarian attacks?

And by adding in Mr. Weinstein’s case, which also took place in Lahore and also has a religious element — an American Jew being held captive by Muslim extremists who is forced to make a plea to the Israeli prime minister for his life — the militant Islam links are all there. But the Times does not want to connect the dots.

Why? Maybe the author was in a rush to get something into print quickly and mangled his syntax. Or is this an example of the Times‘ stifling political correctness? Is the Times heading the way of the BBC and self-censoring its stories?

In March 2012 the Daily Telegraph carried a short item reporting on Mark Thompson’s decision not to broadcast a show that might be offensive to Muslims.

Although the BBC was willing to disregard protests from Christians who considered its decision to broadcast Jerry Springer: The Opera as an affront, Mark Thompson, its outgoing director-general, is more wary of giving airtime to Can We Talk About This?, the National Theatre’s examination of how Islam is curtailing freedom of speech.

Lloyd Newson, the director of the DV8 physical theatre company which staged the new work, challenged Thompson to screen his production during a platform discussion at the theatre.

He pointed out that Jerry Springer: The Opera was a lot more controversial because it was a “satire”, whereas his work, consisting of a series of comments and factual statements set to dance, is “a factual piece”.

Thompson’s spokesman tells me: “We are currently working with the National on various ideas. There are currently no plans to broadcast Can We Talk About This?, but this is not due to the play’s content or themes.”

In the past, Thompson has conceded that there is “a growing nervousness about discussion about Islam”. He claimed that because Muslims were a religious minority in Britain, and also often from ethnic minorities, their faith should be given different coverage to that of more established groups.

Has more than Mark Thompson crossed the Atlantic from London? While the Times has long been a bastion of PC reporting, its aping of the BBC’s supine stance on Islam is disappointing. The hiring of Mark Thompson did not cause the New York Times to engage in self-censorship on Islam — but I suspect courage will not be one of the strengths he will bring to his new post.

First posted in GetReligion.

Yousef Nadarkhani thanks Christians for their prayers: Anglican Ink, November 26, 2012 November 26, 2012

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Yousef Nadarkhani, the Iranian pastor jailed sentenced to death for apostasy from Islam but released after an international protest campaign was in London this month to thank Christian Solidarity Worldwide for its advocacy on his behalf.

On 10 Nov 2012 Pastor Nadarkhani spoke to the For Such a Time as This conference through an interpreter thanking Christians in the West for their prayers and petitions on his behalf.  The following Sunday he preached at Holy Trinity Brompton in London, speaking to the plight of Christians in Iran.

He told the CSW conference his visit was an “opportunity for me to share about what the Lord did for me and to thank you because you supported me by your prayers, you supported my family in a very difficult time,” he said.

Read it all in Anglican Ink.

Muslim extremists attack Zanzibar’s Anglican Cathedral: The Church of England Newspaper, October 28, 2012 p 6. October 30, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Church of Tanzania, Church of England Newspaper, Islam, Persecution, Terrorism.
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Ponda Issa Ponda

Christ Church Cathedral in Stone Town on the island of Zanzibar came under assault last week after militant Islamists rioted in the wake of the disappearance of a leading Muslim cleric, Sheikh Farid Hadi Ahmed.

The Muslim Mobilization and Propagation Group (UAMSHO) has been calling for the dissolution of the United Republic of Tanzania and the creation of an Islamist state for the island of Zanzibar.  UAMSHO cadres have also demanded the expulsion of Zanzibar’s Christians, saying they have no place on the island.  In July two rural Pentecostal churches were attacked by Islamist extremists and attacks on Christians have been reported across the island.

On the morning of 16 October 2012 Sheikh Ahmed was seen getting into a car driven by an unidentified man.  UAMSHO reported his disappearance to the police soon after.

Police Commander Said Juma told the Dar es Salaam Daily News the police had not arrested Sheikh Ahmed and “immediately we started to investigate.”

“Unfortunately as the investigation continues, youths started demonstrating by blocking streets with stones, garbage and burning tyres.” He reported a leisure centre was destroyed by fire and riot police deployed to the old city area of Stone Town.

Anglican leaders were warned to evacuate as Islamist militants had issued death threats against Bishop Michael Hafidh and foreign clergy serving on the island.  Unconfirmed reports from Stone Town sent to Dar es Salaam report militants had attacked the cathedral after the bishop was evacuated and attempted to burn the coral stone building.  Built on the sight of the former slave market of Zanzibar, the Nineteenth century cathedral is one of the island’s leading tourist attractions.  It also hosted Dr. Rowan Williams and the primates of the Anglican Communion in 2007.

Four days after leaving the island, the bishop and the evacuated clergy were able to return to their homes.  One priest told the Church of England Newspaper that although his car had been vandalized his home appeared untouched, as the army was patrolling the streets and had restored order.  As of our going to press, no reports have been released on the condition of the cathedral.

Riot police were also deployed in the Central Business District of the capital Dar es Salaam last week after militants marched on the Central Police Station demanding the release of Mr. Ponda Issa Ponda, the Secretary of the Council of Muslims’ Organizations.

Mr. Ponda had been arrested on 16 Oct after threatening President Jakaya Kikwete.  The Muslim leader had issued an ultimatum to the government calling upon it to release members of his organization arrested last week for their involvement in a sectarian riot sparked by claims a 14-year old Christian boy had urinated on a Koran.

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Anglican Unscripted Episode 54, October 26, 2012 October 27, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Church of Tanzania, Anglican Consultative Council, Anglican Covenant, Anglican.TV, Canon Law, Church of England, Church of Nigeria, Church of North India, Church of South India, Fort Worth, Persecution, Zimbabwe.
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In this weeks episode Kevin and George bring an update on the Diocese of South Carlina and their separation from the Episcopal Church. Also this week they talk about Women’s Ordination and the new task force created by the Anglican Church in North America. And what episode would be complete without news from one of the broken Anglican “Instruments of Unity”. Peter talks about the reality of Women Bishops in England and Allen Haley guildes the viewer thru the Kangaroos courts found in Title IV. Comments to AnglicanUnscripted@gmail.com #AU54

Appeal from Pakistan to rebuild St Paul’s Mardan: The Church of England Newspaper, October 14, 2012 p 6. October 19, 2012

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Bishop Peter Majeed has issued an appeal for assistance to rebuild St Paul’s Church in Mardan.

The “church, bishop’s house, diocesan center, priest’s houses, principal’s house, library and school” were damaged in the attack on 21 Sept 2012, the Lutheran bishop reported.

“This was the third time in two years that the church and my house have been attacked.  First two times the mob were not able to damage the above mentioned places, but this time the mob comprised thousands of people who were protesting against the blasphemous movie and the damage they managed to do was much more severe. The mob managed to get into the church compound, after which they first burnt down the church building, and then stole the cash and other expensive items. A car, three motor bikes and all belongings were stolen from the priest houses. We thank God that our families managed to escape safely,” Bishop  Majeed wrote.

He added the mob also sought to kill the 20 year old son of the Rev. Chan Masih and “tried to throw him in the burning church, but he was saved with the help of some people and police.”

Built in 1937 by Norwegian and Danish Lutheran missionaries, the interior of the church was constructed of Burmese teak. Now “only the ashes are left behind” while the walls are “in danger of collapsing any time.”

The chief minister of Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, Ameer Haider Khan Hoti, said on 25 September 2012 his government would contribute Rs30 million for the church’s reconstruction.  While the mob was justified in their anger at the YouTube video “Innocence of Muslims”, they were wrong to have burnt a church in response.

“Muslims had the every right to stage peaceful protest on [the festival of] Yum-i-Ishq-i-Rasool. However, unfortunately some miscreants damaged valuable property and destroyed the church. These elements have earned the country and Islam a bad name,” he said.

Bishop Majeed appealed to “all Christians in the world to stand with us in prayers and help us to rebuild the house of God and the houses of His servants, who have been rendered homeless and are living with their friends and relatives.”

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

What’s happening in Zanzibar: Get Religion, October 18, 2012 October 19, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Church of Tanzania, Get Religion, Persecution, Press criticism.
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It’s been about five years since I was last in Zanzibar. I was part of the press gaggle accompanying the archbishops of the Anglican Communion on a day trip from the mainland to Christ Church Cathedral in Stone Town — the island’s principal town. Built over 125 years ago on the site of the old slave market (the altar was built atop the sight of the market’s whipping post) the picturesque coral stone cathedral is a monument to the British suppression of the slave trade. Zanzibar had been the entrepôt for slaves captured on the mainland before they were shipped north to the Arab world.

Zanzibar was a welcome diversion from the rather limited delights of Dar es Salaam, and I have followed and reported on the news from the island — part of the Republic of Tanzania — ever since. My knowledge of the island and its history has grown from a vague idea it was connected with Freddie Mercury and a Bob Hope movie. I have also come to know the Anglican bishop of the island and am a “Facebook friend” with one of his clergy.

Hence this story from Reuters caught my eye. Through Facebook posts I was aware of the situation on the island and was waiting to see what would come across the wires.

The 18 Oct 2012 story begins:

STONE TOWN, Zanzibar (Reuters) – Supporters of a separatist Islamist group in Zanzibar looted shops and fought with police on Thursday after their leader disappeared, witnesses said, the third outbreak of violence this year on the Indian Ocean archipelago.

Supporters of Sheikh Farid Hadi, a leader of the Islamic Uamsho (Awakening) movement who has not been seen since Tuesday, threw stones at police, blocked roads with cut-down trees and burned tyres in the island’s main town. “Police are everywhere and firing teargas. There is nobody around town and the shops are closed. It’s a terrible situation,” Said Salleh, 40, a businessman from Zanzibar, told Reuters by phone.

Witnesses said protesters looted shops and video footage showed a number of rioters holding machetes and hiding their faces with balaclavas. Heavily armed police stepped up patrols late on Thursday and continued to engage in sporadic battles with rioters in Zanzibar’s historic Stone Town. “The streets are deserted … Only heavily armed policemen are now patrolling the town. We are afraid to go out, we can still hear the sound of gunfire,” Rukiya Khalifa, a resident of the historic Stone Town area, told Reuters.

The latest violence raised concerns of an escalation in religious tension in the predominantly Muslim island which is part of Tanzania but ruled by a semi-autonomous secular government.

The article continues with background information on the political roots of the discontent, statements from police and government leaders, and closes with this sentence:

In May Uamsho supporters set fire to two churches and clashed with police over the arrest of senior members of the movement.

What struck my eye as I read this story was a suspicion that the dateline for this story was incorrect. At the foot of the story a note states the reporting took place from Dar es Salaam, with additional reporting taking place at other locations. The language of the story, “told Reuters by phone” and  “video footage showed” strongly suggests this report was not written from Stone Tone in Zanzibar as the dateline states, but elsewhere.

Reporters cannot be everywhere and there is nothing wrong with basing stories upon telephone interviews, government press statements, and video footage. But I question the wisdom of leading with the Stone Town claim, for if the reporter were writing from the island, I wonder why he would have omitted the news that Christ Church Cathedral was attacked by Uamsho militants, some Christians have gone into hiding for fear of their lives, and the Bishop of Zanzibar and some of his clergy were evacuated by plane from the island.

I am not in Stone Town and my knowledge of the above comes from telephone and Facebook communications from those who witnessed the riots and have fled the island — one fellow saying he and his family left house and car, dog and cat behind and wondering what he will find when he is permitted to return. Nor do I know the fate of the Roman Catholic bishop of Zanzibar or if militants attacked St Joseph’s Cathedral.

While the Reuters piece closes with a mention of the past church burnings, there is no sense in this story that the militant outrage over the arrest of their leader by police is expressed in attacks on a small and vulnerable Christian minority. Is it that after reports of pogroms and persecution of Christians in Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, Somalia the Sudan, Nigeria, and Kenya in recent weeks, another church burning does not warrant more than a brief mention? I am also uneasy about the lack of context for this story. I will concede that context is a rare thing in a wire service story where a reporter must squeeze as much as he can into 400 words or less. But omitting the over arching place of radical Islam in the story does leave the piece unfinished.

At the same time, I am writing from the safety of the U.S. and am not of interest to the East German-trained security services of Zanzibar nor subject to the country’s press laws. There is no danger of my prattling on about persecution as I am safe from it. Tell me GetReligion readers, where does the balance lie? How much can be told? How much should be told? Can a story be shaded to claim it was written on sight, but remove the clues that would give a malevolent eye a hint as to who was talking? What say you?

First printed at Get Religion.

40 students murdered in Nigerian sectarian massacre: The Church of England Newspaper, October 14, 2012 p 6. October 16, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of Nigeria, Persecution.
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Christian leaders in Nigeria have denounced the murder of 40 university students in Mubi, Nigeria and have called for the government to implement tough new laws to combat sectarian terrorism.

On the evening of 1 Oct 2012, terrorists dressed in military uniforms went door to door in a student dormitory at Adamawa State University shooting students or cutting their throats with machetes.  Some press accounts reported the killers were working from a list, and asked each man his name and then freed him, or took him outside to be killed.  No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, but Boko Haram is suspected of having been behind the attack.

The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) released a statement last week condemning the massacre. CAN national secretary the Rev. Musa Asake said “CAN rejects the theory of election dispute as responsible for the massacre of over 40 students, considering the manner it was reportedly carried out. It believes that the reason is phony and that such a theory, arrived at in haste, can only serve to shield the real culprits and cover up their motives.”

He applauded President Goodluck Jonathan’s promise to track down the killers and urged Christians not to respond to the murders with revenge attacks. “We call on all men and women of goodwill in Nigeria to join the government to fight what may snowball into a religious or ethnic war,” Mr. Asake said.

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Pakistan President denounces church burning; The Church of England Newspaper, September 30, 2012, p 6. October 5, 2012

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St Paul’s Mardan after the 21 Sept 2012 attack

The President of Pakistan has condemned last week’s attack on a church in Mardan in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

A mob set fire to St. Paul’s Lutheran Church and looted St Paul’s High School in response to Western acts of “blasphemy” against Muhammad made in the “Innocence of Muslims” YouTube video.

On 23 September 2012 President Asif Ali Zardari said “vandalizing revered places of worship and inflicting damage in retaliation amounted to playing into the hands of perpetrators of the crime who produced the anti-Islam film.”

On 21 Sept a several thousand strong mob stormed the church compound after Friday prayers on Ishq-e-Rasool day. The Diocese of Peshawar reported the church was set alight and the homes of its two priests and the school’s headmaster were destroyed. The school, which serves the Christian and Muslim community, was ransacked and newly installed computers taken away by the mob.

Interior Minister Rehman Malik has ordered inquiry into the attack and has called for patience on the part of the Christian community, Express News reported.

“The damage has been very severe, and we will need to rebuild. We are asking for people around the world to keep us in your prayers,” said Bishop Humphrey Peters of Peshawar.

The Moderator of the Church of Pakistan, Bishop Samuel Azariah released a statement condemning the attack, saying the church burnings would damage “relations between the communities in Pakistan and around the world.

“The government and faith leaders in Pakistan have a role to play in education people that they have the right to protest, but to damage property and terrify people in this way is completely wrong. The government and faith leaders should provide the lead in preventing attacks,” Bishop Azariah said.

On 12 Sept 2012 a remote-controlled explosive device placed against the wall of St Paul’s detonated, causing one wall of the church to collapse.

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

2 Dead in Nigerian Sectarian Bombings: The Church of England Newspaper, September 30, 2012 p 5. October 5, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of Nigeria, Persecution, Roman Catholic Church.
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Two people have been killed and 45 wounded in a car bomb attack on St John’s Catholic Church in the Northern Nigerian city of Bauchi.

On 23 September 2012, a car attempted to enter the church compound shortly after 9:00 am. Police report the driver detonated an explosive device and the car exploded in the church’s parking lot, killing him and one other person attending mass in the church.  The militant Islamic group Boko Haram is suspected to be behind the attack.

The Bauchi bombing is the first major incident since the Nigerian army reported that it had killed several of the group’s leaders in a gun battle on 17 September outside of Kano.  Boko Haram had switched tactics in recent weeks, also, destroying 30 mobile phone towers in Northern Nigeria, cutting off communications in some parts of the country.

The chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), the Rev. Pokti Lewis told Sahara Reporters, “we are sad but are appealing to all Christians to be calm and not seek revenge, we have not kicked against anyone and his or her religion but God is watching and time will tell.”

“Just few Sundays ago we lost nine persons in a suicide bombing and today again,” he said, warning Boko Haram was engaged in a war of religion. “This clearly cleansing agenda by those perpetrating this act” designed to convert, kill or drive out Northern Nigeria’s Christians.

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Pakistan church torched by Muslim mob: Anglican Ink, September 21, 2012 September 22, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Ink, Church of Pakistan, Islam, Persecution.
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St Paul’s Mardan

A Muslim mob has set fire to a church and looted its school in response to Western acts of “blasphemy” against Muhammad.  Reports from Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province near the border with Afghanistan remain unclear on the size and motivation of the mob, however, the Church of Pakistan and the security services police have confirmed the assault and looting of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church and St Paul’s High School in Mardan.

On 21 Sept 2012 the mob, a several thousand strong mob stormed the compound after Friday prayers.  The Diocese of Peshawar reports the church was set alight and the homes of its two priests and the school’s headmaster were destroyed.  The school, which serves the Christian and Muslim community, was ransacked and newly installed computers taken away by the mob.

“The damage has been very severe, and we will need to rebuild. We are asking for people around the world to keep us in your prayers,” said Bishop Humphrey Peters of Peshawar.

Read it all in Anglican Ink.

Christians under threat from Burmese govt, NGO reports: The Church of England Newspaper, September 16, 2012 p 5 September 20, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Church of Myanmar, Buddhism, Church of England Newspaper, Persecution.
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Christians in Chin State worshiping in a makeshift church beside the ruins of their old church, destroyed by the military. Photo: CHRO

The Chin people of western Burma are denied religious freedom and are being coerced into abandoning their Christian faith and forced to convert to Buddhism by the state, according to a new report by the Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO).

The 160-page report, entitled “‘Threats to Our Existence’: Persecution of Ethnic Chin Christians in Burma” released on 5 September 2012 documents the military junta’s abuse of religious freedoms including forced labour, torture, church demolitions, banning of Christian worship services and forced conversions to Buddhism.

The 2012 US State Department’s International Commission on Religious Freedom categorized Myanmar as a country of “particular concern”, but a reform government led by President Thein Sein which came to power in March 2011 has ended press censorship, ended the ban on opposition parties, and released many political prisoners.

However, “Threats to Our Existence” reports the abuses of religious rights for the Chin have not ended.  The government’s “claims that religious freedom is protected by law but in reality Buddhism is treated as the de-facto state religion,” said CHRO Program Director Salai Ling.

“The discriminatory state institutions and ministries of previous military regimes continue to operate in the same way today. Few reforms have reached Chin State.”

Chin students are also frequently targeted for enrollment in schools run by Myanmar’s military which convert them to Buddhism, she said, adding that Christian students are beaten for failing to recite Buddhist scriptures.  CHRO Advocacy Director Rachel Fleming stated, “These schools are designed to facilitate a forced assimilation policy under the guise of development. The schools appear to offer a way out of poverty but there is a high price to pay for Chin students.”

“They are given a stark choice between abandoning their identity and converting to Buddhism, or joining the military to comply with the authorities’ vision of a ‘patriotic citizen’,” she said.

Chin state, which borders India, is home to around 500,000 people – the majority  of whom are Baptist or Anglican Christians.  Amnesty International reports that tens of thousands of Chin have fled to India and still face persecution from the state in Burma.

“The government needs to recognize that a multi-ethnic Burma needs to be a multi-religious Burma,” said Phil Robertson, Asia deputy director for Human Rights Watch. “This is a challenge the government has to face.”

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Iran frees imprisoned Christian pastor jailed for apostasy: The Church of England Newspaper, September 16, 2013 p 7 September 15, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Persecution.
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Yousef Nadarkhani

An Iranian court acquitted Yousef Nadarkhani of apostasy from Islam this week, permitting the Christian pastor to return home after three years imprisonment.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) reports that at an 8 September 2012 hearing, a court in Rasht in Iran’s Gilan province on the southern shore of the Caspian Sea court overturned Yousef Nadarkhani’s 2010 conviction for apostasy, finding him guilty instead of proselytizing Muslims.  The court sentenced him to three years imprisonment for seeking to evangelize Muslims, but ordered he be released for time served.

Born in a non-practicing Muslim family, Mr. Nadarkhani (35) converted to Christianity as a young man and for the past ten years has been the pastor of a network of house churches in Rasht.   In 2009, Mr. Nadarkhani was arrested and brought before a political tribunal on 12 October 2009 after he complained that new government regulations requiring that his two sons, Daniel (10) and Yoel (8) be instructed in Islam in school violated the Iranian constitution’s guarantee of the free practice of religion.

Mr. Nadarkhani was brought to trial on 21-22 September 2010 before the 1st Court of the Revolutionary Tribunal. On 13 November 2010 the court handed down a guilty verdict and ordered he be hanged.  The third chamber of the Iranian Supreme Court in Qom on 28 June 2011 upheld the conviction for apostasy and the death penalty, but stayed execution pending an investigation by the trial court to determine when Mr. Nadarkhani had left Islam.

In October 2011 the trial court wrote to the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khameini, requesting his opinion as to how to proceed in light of the Supreme Court’s decision. Last month it was announced the local court would review the proceedings in light of Sharia law precedents and investigate at what age Mr. Nadarkhani had left the Muslim faith.

Each of Islam’s five major schools of jurisprudence call for the death penalty for those who leave Islam for another faith. However Islamic law distinguishes between apostasy of an adult and a child. Iran’s proposed Islamic Penal Law also divides apostates into two categories: parental and innate. Innate apostates were those whose parents were Muslim, made a profession of Islam — the Shahada — as an adult and then left the faith, while parental apostates were those born in non-Muslim families, converted to Islam as an adult, and then left the faith.

Iranian law is unclear as the punishment for apostasy, but the proposed Article 225-7 of the Islamic Penal Law states the “Punishment for an innate apostate is death,” while Article 225-8 allows a parental apostate three days to recant their apostasy. If they continued in their unbelief, “the death penalty would be carried out.”

The push to impose penal sanctions on apostates from Islam comes amidst a rise in conversions to Christianity in Iran.  Approximately 200,000 or one percent of Iran’s population, belong to officially sanctioned groups that have historic ties to the region such as the Armenian, Assyrian and Catholic Churches.

However, the number of Protestant Christians is unclear.  In 1979, there were less than 500 known Christians from a Muslim background in Iran.  “Today the most conservative estimate is that there are at least 100,000 believers in the nation,” reports Elam Ministry –  a British based Christian ministry to Persians.

News of the release of Mr. Nadarkhani was greeted with joy by Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), one of the principle organizations in the West that had championed his cause. CSW chief executive, Mervyn Thomas said they were “delighted to learn of Pastor Nadarkhani’s release after a long incarceration. We commend the Iranian judiciary for this step, which is a triumph for justice and the rule of law.”

“While we rejoice at this wonderful news, we do not forget hundreds of others who are harassed or unjustly detained on account of their faith, and CSW is committed to continue campaigning until all of Iran’s religious minorities are able to enjoy religious freedom as guaranteed under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is party.”

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Attack on Bible Study leaves 1 dead in India: The Church of England Newspaper, September 9, 2012 p 7. September 13, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of South India, Hinduism, Persecution.
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Hindu nationalists attacked a Church of South India (CSI) prayer meeting last week in Tamil Nadu, leaving one man dead and a dozen injured.

On 26 August 2012 supporters of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)attempted to break up a prayer service led by a CSI minister at the home of one of his parishioners in Sasthancode village in the Diocese of Kanyakumari.  One church member is alleged to have invited a friend, a Hindu woman, to attend the Bible study, prompting protests from Hindu militants the pastor was seeking to convert Hindus to Christianity. Two Christians were hospitalized following the attack and the melee spread to the neighboring village of Nadaikavu where a Christian man, Edwin Raj (29), was allegedly beaten to death by Hindu extremists.

The Indian press reports the police have charged seven BJP party members in connection with the attack and are also seeking to question the Kanyakumari district BJP party chief over his role in the pogrom.  A curfew and ban on public assembly was also imposed by police on 29 August to prevent further violence.

The BJP is alleged to have tested police resolve by staging a protest march the next day.  Approximately 800 BJP cadres including the Tamil Nadu BJP party leader, Mr. Pon Radhakrishnan, were arrested on 30 August in Marthandam.

BJP national secretary Muralidhar Rao denounced the arrests saying the incident was a Christian provocation.  “This entire act of falsely implicating the BJP leader and innocent people was part of the attempt by police to please local churches and Christians at the behest of certain political leaders,” he said in a statement to the press.

Mr. Rao said the invitation to a Hindu woman to attend a Bible study angered local Hindus.  The local BJP party chief had been present in an attempt to defuse the tension, however the violence began when members of the Bible study attacked Hindu protestors.

Sajan George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) told the Catholic news service, AsiaNews the situation in Kanyakumari was “rapidly deteriorating.”

“The central government and that of Tamil Nadu must do something. Religious freedom is a fundamental human right and the basis of any healthy society. Such hostility and intolerance are a bad omen for India. If the whole population is not guaranteed freedom of worship, Christians could become second class citizens,” he said.

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Mullah accused of fabricating evidence in Pakistan child blasphemy case: The Church of England Newspaper, September 9, 2012 p 7 September 12, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of Pakistan, Islam, Persecution.
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One of the accusers of the 11-year old Christian girl imprisoned in Pakistan and awaiting trial on for blasphemy has been arrested by Islamabad police for fabricating evidence and filing false charges.

On 31 August 2012, a witness came forward to inform the police that a local mullah, Khalid Jadoon Chisthi, had concocted the accusations against Rimsha Masih, and had conspired to foment anti-Christian hatred.

The Express Tribune reported that Hafiz Zubair informed police that he had witnessed Mr. Chishti fabricate the evidence and had heard him describe his plan to frame the Christian girl.  “We tried to stop him but he said this would strengthen the blasphemy case against Rimsha,” said Zubair in his statement to the police.

A police spokesman told the Express Tribune Chishti “put pages into the ashes, showed them to the people of the area, gathered them to attack the girl’s house and detained her before taking her to the police station. He made the boy Hammad become a complainant in the case and urged the police to press blasphemy charges against the 11-year-old girl,” said the police officer.

Rimsha, whose baptismal certificate indicates she is 11 years of age, although a police medical examination places her age at 13, has Downs Syndrome and is illiterate.  She was arrested on 16 August after she was accused by Chishti and others of burning a Koran.  The girl and her mother remain in protective police custody and a hearing is scheduled on her case this week.

The outcry over the arrest of Rimsha led to an anti-Christian pogrom, allegedly fomented by Chishti, that forced 900 families from their homes – emptying the Islamabad neighborhood of Christians who feared for their lives.

If convicted of falsifying evidence in a capital case, Chishti could face life imprisonment.  If charged with blasphemy for burning the pages containing Koranic verses, he could be executed.

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Iran frees Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani: Anglican Ink, September 8, 2012 September 8, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Ink, Islam, Persecution.
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The Iranian Christian pastor awaiting execution has been acquitted of the charge of apostasy and released from imprisonment.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) reports that at an 8 September 2012 hearing, the court overturned Yousef Nadarkhani’s 2010 conviction for apostasy, finding him guilty instead of proselytizing Muslims.  He was sentenced to three years imprisonment, but released for time served.

In 2009, Mr. Nadarkhani was arrested and charged with apostasy after he complained that new government regulations requiring that his two sons, Daniel (10) and Yoel (8) be instructed in Islam in school violated the Iranian constitution’s guarantee of the free practice of religion.

Read it all in Anglican Ink.

Church leaders urge Egypt’s new president to support religious tolerance: The Church of England Newspaper, September 2, 2012 p 6. September 6, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Episcopal Church in Jerusalem & the Middle East, Islam, Persecution.
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The sacking of the country’s top generals puts an end to 52 years of military rule and restores the rule of law to Egypt, President Mohammed Morsi told a gathering of Christian leaders this week, the Bishop of Egypt Dr. Mouneer Anis writes.

On 22 August, Dr. Anis along with 12 other bishops and ministers representing Egypt’s  Coptic Orthodox Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Anglican and Protestant Churches met for two hours at the presidential palace with the new president.

“I, and all my colleagues, appreciated the fact that the President called us twice in less than two months to talk and listen to us. This never happened in the last 30 years,” Dr. Anis said.

“The President shared with us the reasons behind his recent decisions to dismiss the military chiefs and the cancelling of the constitutional declarations they made. By these decisions the President put an end to the military ruling of the country which started since 1952. He also shared his hopes that the new Constitution would represent the hopes and views of all Egyptian regardless of their religion, ethnic background and political views. This will guarantee the support of the vast majority of people to the new constitution,” the bishop reported.

Asked to share with him the concerns of Egypt’s Christian minority, the church leaders urged the president to clamp down on sectarian violence.  “Ignorance and wrong teaching are behind such congestion,” they told the president and urged him to support the “sound and moderate religious teaching of Islam as taught by Al Azhar.”

A member of the Muslim Brotherhood before his run for office, President Morsi has supported the introduction of Shari’a law in Egypt. At a 13 May rally broadcast by Misr-25 TV, he told supporters the Koran would be the true constitution of Egypt.

“Above all – Allah is our goal… The shari’a, then the shari’a, and finally, the shari’a. This nation will enjoy blessing and revival only through the Islamic shari’a. I take an oath before Allah and before you all that regardless of the actual text [of the constitution]… Allah willing, the text will truly reflect [the shari’a], as will be agreed upon by the Egyptian people, by the Islamic scholars, and by legal and constitutional experts,” he proclaimed.

The Christian leaders urged the president to improve the quality of Egypt’s schools to “care for the education of the new generations so that they become more tolerant and good citizens. We suggested that common values should be taught in schools,” Dr Anis said.

They also asked the president to ensure non-partisan policy and that the security services apply the “rule of law on everyone, especially when sectarian clashes” as well as take steps to improve public order across the country.

“We told the President that we are aware that he received a heavy responsibility at a very difficult time in Egypt’s history and we all need to be patient and hard-working in order to see the desired fruits,” the bishop reported, adding the president “assured us that he is working to achieve the dream of Egypt: to be a democratic and modern country where the rights of citizenship and the constitution are held up high.”

“In the end, we came out of the meeting very encouraged and determined to do our best in order to see the Egypt that we dream of,” said Dr. Anis.

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Is it Race or Religion at Issue in Burma: Get Religion, September 5, 2012 September 6, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Buddhism, Get Religion, Islam, Persecution, Press criticism.
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What is driving the violence in Burma? Race or religion? And can the two be distinguished from one another. Reports from the South East Asian nation have framed the conflict in terms of sectarian violence — but is religion really the issue here?

The English-language service of France 24 reported that Buddhist monks had staged a mass political rally in the streets of Burma’s second largest city Mandalay. But unlike the 2007 anti-government protests that sparked the unsuccessful “Saffron Revolution”, France 24 reported this week’s rally was in support of the government and against Muslims.

Drawn from an AFP wire service report, France 24‘s headline read: “Buddhist monks stage anti-Rohingya rally”. The subtitle firmly anchored the story to the theme of sectarian Buddhist-Muslim clashes.

Hundreds of Buddhist monks marched in the Burmese city of Mandalay on Sunday to back President Thein Sein’s proposal to deport members of the Rohingya Muslim minority group. Fighting between the two sides has left almost 90 people dead since June.

The article stated:

“Protect Mother Myanmar by supporting the President,” read one banner, while others criticised United Nations human rights envoy Tomas Ojea Quintana, who has faced accusations that he is biased in favour of the Rohingya, following deadly unrest between Buddhists and Muslims in western Rakhine state.

This article is the best I have seen so far on the disturbances. Written from Burma, it offered comments from a leader of the monks as well as concerns from international rights groups. But the title and subtitles given by France 24 do not quite match the story written by AFP.

The leader of the protest march did not use religion as a reason for his march, but race.

Wirathu, the 45-year-old monk who led the march, claimed that as many as 5,000 monks had joined the procession, with another several thousand people taking to the streets to watch.

He told AFP the protest was to “let the world know that Rohingya are not among Myanmar’s ethnic groups at all”.

The monk, who goes by one name, said the aim was also to condemn “terrorism of Rohingya Bengalis who cruelly killed ethnic Rakhines”.

Speaking a dialect similar to one in neighbouring Bangladesh, the estimated 800,000 Rohingya in Myanmar are seen by the government and many Burmese as illegal immigrants and the violence has stoked a wave of anger across the Buddhist-majority country.

The video accompanying the France 24 story along with the text of the article quoted the leader of the monks as stressing a clash of peoples who happen to be of different faiths, than a clash of faiths. In the video Wirathu tells the camera that all Burmese “religions, sects and political parties” are united against the Rohingya.

A second AFP story from Burma suggested that race and religion may not be divisible. In an article entitled “Myanmar Christians forced to convert: rights group” a spokesman for the Chin, a predominantly Christian minority group in Burma, stated:

Rachel Fleming, another member of the [Chin] group, said Christianity does not fit with the national view that “to be Burmese, you should be Buddhist”.

Where then should the emphasis be in the phrase “Rohingya Muslim minority group”? On the ethnic — Rohingya — or religious — Muslim — descriptors for this minority group? It may well be argued that this is a meaningless distinction, that the reasons for the Rohinga’s suffering are of secondary consequence to the fact of their suffering. I have some sympathy for this argument, but it is a journalist’s duty to split these hairs and dig into a story. The bottom  line is that what AFP reported is not so straight forward as the France 24 title suggested.

To paraphrase Neville Chamberlain, Burma is a far away country that we know little about — and hence care little about. Why would balancing race versus religion matter? One consequence of the Rohingya conflict is that it has become a political football in the Islamic world, with some extremist groups calling for jihad against Buddhists.

The anti-Buddhist rhetoric became so bad the Central Tibetan Administration — the Dhali Lama’s government in exile — issued a press statement denouncing the use of misleading photos to whip up anti-Buddhist sentiment in the Muslim world.

The Central Tibetan Administration based in Dharamsala is deeply disturbed and concerned over the circulation of a misleading photograph in some section of the media showing Tibetan monks in their reports on the recent violence in Myanmar involving Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims.

A photograph of Tibetan monks standing in front of a pile of dead bodies appeared in  many websites in the Muslim countries, especially Pakistan. This photo of Tibetan monks was actually taken during their relief work in Kyegudo (Yushul), eastern Tibet, after a devastating earthquake hit the region on 14 April 2010. The Tibetan monks extended remarkable service in the rescue and relief operations at the time.

The relevant department of the Central Tibetan Administration wrote a letter to a website in Pakistan (ColumPk.com, Urdu Current Affairs Portal) on 30 July to remove the photo from its website, which it did so the next day. But the photo is still in circulation, as some Muslims carrying the photo during their recent protest in Mumbai on 11 August 2012, appeared in Zee News, a leading news channel in India.

We strongly appeal to the media across the world not to use this photo, which is being circulated by miscreants to provoke conflict between the Buddhist and Muslim communities.

Pakistani pro-democracy bloggers have chronicled the use of the fake atrocity photo by Islamist extremist groups to inflame public sentiment, while retaliatory attacks on Buddhist temples in Indonesia by Muslim extremist groups in the wake of the Burmese conflict have been reported. Would these attacks have taken place if the Muslim angle were downplayed and the ethnic angle stressed? Does it make any difference? Should the press dig deeper into this story and find out what is really going on in Burma?

What say you GetReligion readers? How should this story be played out? Should reporters worry about the consequences of their stories if fanatics seize upon them for their own ends?

First printed in GetReligion.

Are There Muslim Evangelists? Get Religion, August 28, 2012 August 28, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Islam, Persecution, Press criticism.
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How far should the press go to acculturate their overseas news stories — to make them palatable to an American audience while also being true to the underlying facts? NPR Morning Edition reporter Lauren Frayer had a great story last week that “gets religion”, but also brought this issue to mind.

Her report broadcast on Pakistan’s Aamir Liaquat was an example of solid reporting. Her story entitled “Pakistani Televangelist Is Back On Air, Raising Fears” meets the Orwell test for journalism as it is free from cant, has a moral compass, is well researched and well crafted. But were the correct nouns used?

Here is the lede:

Pakistan’s most famous, and infamous, TV evangelist has been rehired by a top station. In 2008, Aamir Liaquat made on-air threats against a religious minority, the Ahmadis. Those comments were followed by widespread violence against the group. Liaquat’s return to the airwaves has rekindled the controversy.

As Pakistan’s media has expanded in recent years, there’s been a rise in Islamic preachers with popular TV call-in talk shows. And they’ve had their share of scandal. One famous TV host fled the country after embezzlement allegations. Others are accused of spewing hate speech

That’s the case for Pakistan’s most popular televangelist, Aamir Liaquat, who’s just been rehired by the country’s top TV channel despite accusations that he provoked deadly attacks in 2008.

I have some small knowledge of the political and religious culture of Pakistan and can say she knows what she is talking about. I encourage you to listen to the broadcast. To often Western reporters are parachuted into overseas hotspots and report on issues they know nothing about — either mangling the facts or mouthing a script written by others. My colleague at GetReligion M.Z. Heminway reported on a particularly egregious howler along these lines committed by the New York Times.

I applaud NPR for bringing this story to an American audience. Given the growing U.S. involvement in the Muslim word, it behooves the American press to cover these stories and not confine them to the ghetto of specialist publications.

In writing about the Muslim world, however, I wonder how appropriate it is to use Christian terminology. Terms such as “fundamentalist Muslim” are often dropped into stories to give Western readers some context or equivalence. In the headline of this story, and in the opening paragraphs the term evangelist and televangelist are used to describe Liaquat. Is that right?

Using the Associated Press style book as a guide, using this terminology is not wrong — but it is not quite right either. It states:


Capitalize only in reference to the men credited with writing the Gospels. The four Evangelists were Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. In lowercase, it means a preacher who makes a profession of seeking conversions.

Conversions to what? To proselytize is the verb that means to attempt to convert someone to another faith or point of view, while a Muslim evangelist traditionally has been someone who seeks to convert Muslims to the Christian faith. Turning to Wikipedia provides little clarity as it defines an evangelist as one who practices Christian evangelism, while the Merriam-Webster‘s dictionary further refines evangelist as a:

Protestant minister or layman who preaches at special services [or] an enthusiastic advocate <an evangelist for physical fitness>

On one level it may well be appropriate to use terms familiar to readers to illustrate a story. That is after all the purpose of an analogy. But is this appropriate when language is available to describe the same fact set in the terms of the culture being described?

A Muslim preacher who seeks to evangelize is called a sheikh or imam. Da‘wah, meaning the issuing of a summons, call or invitation, is the duty of every Muslim to invite people to their faith or to recall lapsed or nominal Muslims to a deeper faith.  A Muslim who practices da‘wah, either as a preacher, religious worker or someone engaged in a faith-building community activity is called a da‘i, plural du‘at.

To a Muslim audience, Aamir Liaquat is a da‘i — someone who seeks to renew the Muslim faith, proselytize non-Muslims, and combat false teaching. Yes, he is an enthusiastic advocate for Islam, but should Christian terms be used to describe this activity when then are Muslim terms to describe such actions?

At the same time there is a danger in taking this too far.

A Saturday Night Live skit that aired on 10 November 1990 and can be viewed here made fun of the mock Spanish some television reporters used on air. Entitled “NBC News Employees”, the skit starred Latino actor Jimmy Smits and the shows regular cast.  The scene opens with a reporter speaking on air from Nicaragua, who says the word Nicaragua in a hyper-Spanish phonology.  The skit progresses with the Anglo characters pronouncing Spanish place names (Los Angeles, San Diego, Honduras), foods (enchilada, burrito), and even sports teams (Denver Broncos) in a ridiculous Spanish accent.

Jimmy Smits’ character, Antonio Mendoza, is introduced to the Anglo reporters and says his name with an American English accent.  The other actors respond by saying his name with an excessive accent and Smit’s character becomes more and more uncomfortable as the skit progresses. He finally states:

If you don’t mind my saying, sometimes when you take Spanish words and kind of over pronounce them, well its kind of annoying.

So, GetReligion readers, is it kind of annoying to Muslim terms for Muslim religious leaders in news stories? Is it too politically correct, or effete — perhaps pretentious? Unnecessary? Ridiculous? A tele-sheikh? Or is it demeaning to the non-Western world to subsume all things into an American milieu? What say you?

First published in GetReligion.

11 year old girl with Downs Syndrome jailed for Blasphemy: The Church of England Newspaper, August 26, 2012 p 6. August 28, 2012

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The Government of Pakistan has confirmed that an 11 year old Christian girl with Downs Syndrome has been arrested for blasphemy and is being held by police for questioning – and for protection from a mob that is seeking her death.

A spokesperson for Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, said the president has taken “serious note” of the arrest of Rimsha Masih and has directed the Interior Ministry to look into the matter.

The sequence of events that led to the arrest of Rimsha (also spelled Rifta) Masih remains unclear. However the Express Tribune reported that officials at the Ramna Police Station outside Islamabad had confirmed the girl had been accused of burning a Muslim text – variously described as 10 pages from the Koran or portions of the Noorani Qaida – a children’s Koran reader. The girl has since been taken into custody, the police have confirmed.

The police said after the complaint was filed on 16 August the girl and her mother were assaulted by a mob.  The website “Christians in Pakistan” which first reported the arrest, stated the girl who lived in the Mehrabadi neighborhood of the capital had Downs Syndrome – a fact subsequently confirmed by the police after a medical examination.

Following her arrest, local mullah’s called for all Christians to leave the village.  The Pakistan Christian Post reports that approximately 1000 Christian families have fled the Islamabad slum out of fear of reprisals from Muslim extremists.

A police investigation into the incident is underway, however, on local official said that if the girl had not been taken into custody, she might have been harmed by the mob.  Under Pakistan’s Blasphemy Laws, those found guilty of insulting Mohammad or the Koran can be sentenced to death.

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Ramadan poisoning victims told to keep silent: The Church of England Newspaper, August 19, 2012 p 6. August 21, 2012

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Nine Christian nurses hospitalized last month after allegedly being poisoned for violating the Ramadan fast in Karachi, have been warned that if they speak out they will be punished.

In a statement posted on his Facebook page, Capuchin Father Abid Habib, president of the Major Superiors Leadership Conference of the Roman Catholic Church in Pakistan stated the nurses were “warned that giving out information could result in hospital authorities slapping a court case on them, accusing them of taking drugs before drinking the tea.”

“We are still convinced that they were victims of religious intolerance,” Fr. Habib said.  Police have launched an investigation into the 29 July poisonings of the student nurses at Karachi’s Civil Hospital.  Supporters of the nurses claim that their decision not to participate in the dawn to dusk Ramadan fast angered Islamist extremists, who retaliated by poisoning their tea.

When the nurses returned to their hostel after their shift and made tea, they became ill and had to be hospitalized.

Nasreem Gill, the hospital’s chief nursing superintendent, told local newspapers that tests of the tea and blood samples from the nurses were being examined at the hospital’s laboratory and results were expected shortly.

The Catholic UCA news agency noted that Christian activists in Pakistan have claimed that the country’s Ramadan law, which bans eating, drinking or smoking in public places during the fasting hours, has been used to persecute Christians.  Violations of the Ramadan law are subject to a three month prison sentence or fine.

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Nurses ‘poisoned’ for breaking Ramadan fast claim: The Church of England Newspaper, August 12, 2012 p 6 August 14, 2012

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Christian leaders in Pakistan have called for a government probe after nine nurses were allegedly poisoned for breaking the Ramadan fast by drinking tea.

On 30 July, nine Christian nursing students at the Karachi Civil Hospital were taken ill after drinking tea during a work break. At least three of the nurses were in intensive care following the poisoning but all are expected to recover.

Police have launched an investigation into the incident, which Christian leaders believe was staged by Muslim extremists who were angry the nurses were not observing the dusk-to-dawn Ramadan fast. Catholic Archbishop Joseph Coutts of Karachi told the charity Aid to the Church in Need that he had asked that the incident be investigated by the Pakistan Catholic advocacy organisation the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP).

“It is still unclear what the motive was behind this incident of poisoning,” the Archbishop said. “Was it a religious motive, was it a criminal motive or was it purely accidental?”

According to a report printed in the Express Tribune, one of the nurses brewed the tea in the nurses’ hostel before the start of the evening shift at 10:00 pm. After drinking the tea they all became ill and had to be taken to the hospital’s emergency department.

Mr Saleem Khokhar, a member of parliament, said he did not believe this was a religiously motivated crime as the poisoned tea was consumed after dusk, when the Ramadan fast was over, while the hospital’s medical superintendent, Prof Saeed Quraishy said he did not believe this was a criminal act as the Christian nurses had made the tea themselves.

However, Christian leaders remain convinced this was a religious attack. Speaking at the Karachi Press Club, William Sadiq – a Christian NGO worker – said it was likely the tea had been poisoned earlier in the day. Tensions over Christians not observing the Ramadan fast arose during the day.

“Whatever the truth, it is definitely a cause for concern,” the Archbishop said.

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

‘No reprisals’ Nigerian archbishop tells embattled Christians: The Church of England Newspaper, July 29, 2012 August 4, 2012

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The Archbishop of Kaduna has called upon Christians in Northern Nigeria to “stay and pray” in the face of sectarian attacks by Islamist militants and not respond to violence with violence.

In an interview published last week in the Sunday Tribune, Archbishop Edmund Akanya urged Christians “to pray. We are against the issue of reprisal and attacks because that would not lead anybody anywhere. Two wrongs don’t make a right. What we preach is peace; we do not preach violence. We do not encourage it and we are telling our members not to join in that kind of reprisal. That is the stand of the church on this issue.”

On 7-8 July, Muslim Fulani herdsmen reportedly attacked Christian Berom farmers in Plateau state killing more than 100 people including two government officials.  While clashes between migrant herdsmen and farmers have taken place in the past, the Muslim militant group Boko Haram has claimed involvement in the latest clashes.

Boko Haram spokesman Abu Qaqa, told Nigerian reports his group “wants to inform the world of its delight over the success of the attacks we launched…in Plateau State on Christians and security operatives, including members of the National Assembly.  We will continue to hunt government officials wherever they are; they will have no peace again.”

Security experts have questioned the Islamist terrorist group’s involvement in these latest attacks, but former U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria John Campbell writing on the website of the Council on Foreign Relations stated “whether Boko Haram was actually involved or not, Abu Qaqa’s rhetoric looks, indeed, like he is trying to incite all-out religious war.”

Reprisal attacks have also been launched against Muslim targets, and on 17 July a Muslim school was bombed in the state capital of Jos killing a boy.

Archbishop Akanya said churches in Northern Nigeria were taking steps to defend themselves.  “We are encouraging our churches to put fence and gates; they should disallow cars from entering. They should get security men who can man the place. In many churches that I have visited, the bombers were not able to get access because of these barricades that are there.”

Those carrying out reprisal attacks were not true Christians, the archbishop said.  “These boys that even carry out these reprisals do not go to church.  That is the truth. I know what I am saying because those who go church will put their succor and relax their case in the hands of God and not going to fight back because they went to fight outside of the church environment. If it is self-defense, it would not have been outside of the church environment.”

Christians must not take the law into their own hands. “I do not think, by my conviction and the Bible I read that we have that instruction to go and be fighting people as a church or Christian. If anything, we should all cry to God to forgive our iniquities. Who knows if God is using this to warn us and to turn our hearts back to him. We should look at those facets and begin to think of how to cry unto God. We have seen cases that were worse than this in scriptures and how God delivered the people and it is still the same God. He can still do it for us,” Archbishop Akanya said.

Somber celebrations in Sudan on the 1st anniversary of independence: The Church of England Newspaper, July 22, 2012, p 6. July 26, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Episcopal Church of the Sudan, Persecution, Politics.
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Anglican and Roman Catholic Church leaders in the Sudan have warned that relations between the National Islamist Front government in Khartoum and the SPLM government in Juba have “deteriorated to an unacceptable level” and that full scale war may soon erupt between North and South Sudan.

“We reject war as an option to resolve disputes, and we call on all parties to respect the cease-fire and to withdraw their forces from the border region,” said Roman Catholic Archbishop Paulino Lukudu Loro of Juba, and Anglican Archbishop Daniel Deng of Juba on 9 July 2012 – the first anniversary of independence for South Sudan.

While the archbishops noted the blessings that peace and independence had brought to South Sudan, they voiced concern over tribal conflicts in South Sudan and the on-going civil wars in Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile as well as the persecution of Christians by the Khartoum government.

The archbishops also called upon the Khartoum government to honor its commitment to allow a referendum for the oil-rich Abyei state, and stated the unresolved disputes over territory had grave economic repercussions for the two countries.

“Oil is a God-given resource that the two Countries should benefit from,” said the two Archbishops.

“We call for a settlement based on international standards for the transportation of crude oil and to recognize the damage caused by the current impasse to the populations of both States. Prices are rising and there are shortages of essential goods, including fuel, which make life difficult for ordinary citizens.”

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Outrage over church demolitions in the Sudan: The Church of England Newspaper, July 1, 2012 p 5. July 3, 2012

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Bishop Kondo dedicating Saint Johns, Haj Yousif in 2009

The Sudanese government has demolished an Anglican Church in Khartoum, claiming that as all South Sudanese have been ordered to leave the country, there is no need for any Christian churches in Khartoum.

On 18 June 2012 Khartoum police ordered all South Sudanese to leave the Khartoum suburb of Haj Yousif within 72 hours and demolished St John’s Episcopal Church. Dedicated on 24 May 2009, the Diocese of Khartoum reported the church had been built by the members of the community to serve the town’s Christian population.

However, Bishop Kondo told Radio Tamazuj the police claim the church was now no longer being used. “They argue that all Christian Sudanese have moved to South Sudan. But the authorities are fabricating lies. There are still many South Sudanese living in Sudan. Moreover, the church acts as a place of worship to all, not just the South Sudanese” the bishop said.

On 25 June the heads of the World Council of Churches [WCC] and the All Africa Conference of Churches [AACC] issued a formal protest over the “renewed destruction of church property in Khartoum.”

The WCC and AACC “strongly condemn the demolition of the Episcopal Parish Church of Saint John” by “government authorities.”

The attack on Saint John’s was part of a pattern of discrimination against Christians and follow government sanctioned attacks on churches and schools.  “We are further reminded that, the government of Khartoum had, for the first time in the country’s history, denied its citizens the Christmas holiday in December 2011.”

“We express our fears that all these events may not be isolated but rather calculated attacks on Sudanese civilians who are not of the Muslim faith and their property in Khartoum, and in particular Christians,” the church leaders said, adding that “it is now public knowledge that Christians of Muslim background have also been targeted and have been dispossessed of their properties and their spouses.”

“We once again regret that despite repeated rhetoric about freedom of religion and the protection of the minorities in the Republic of Sudan, the government policy seems to be bent on threatening and discriminating against Christians in Khartoum. By protecting religious fundamentalists who wreck mayhem and havoc on innocent civilians with impunity, the Republic of Sudan undermines the tenets on which a multi-religious society is based.”

The church leaders said they “cannot remain silent while such a horrific violation of human rights and threat to lives continues unabated” and called upon the Islamist National Front government to “fully investigate the motive of these repeated incidents and apprehend those responsible for these criminal acts, and to provide adequate and true security to Christians in Sudan.”

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Jihad fears for Zanzibar: The Church of England Newspaper, June 17, 2012 p 5. June 18, 2012

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Church leaders in Tanzania report the government has cracked down on Islamist extremists following two days of rioting in Zanzibar.

Members of the Islamist militant group Uamsho — the Association for Islamic Mobilization and Propagation – took to the streets on 28-29 May 2012 in protest to the arrest their leaders by police.  Emails received from clergy in Zanzibar report that militants clashed with police and burned two Christian churches, shutting down Stone Town — the central business and tourist district of Zanzibar.

In a letter printed on 2 June 2012 in the Guardian of Dar es Salaam, three Zanzibari Christian leaders, Bishop Augustino Shayo of the Catholic Church, Bishop Michael Hafidh of the Anglican Church and Pentecostal Pastor Timothy Philemon of the Pentecostal Church, warned that Muslim fanatics were plotting to destroy all churches and church related buildings – schools, convents, cemeteries and heath centers on the island.  Members of their churches were receiving mobile text messages warning them to leave the island or face death.

The Indian Ocean archipelago of about 1 million people merged with mainland Tanganyika in 1964 to form the modern Tanzania, but Zanzibar retains its own president and parliament. Tanzania is set to introduce a new constitution in 2014, and Uamsho has urged voters to push for dissolution of the union with Tanganyika.

After meeting with government ministers on 31 May 2012, Archbishop Valentino Mokiwa read a statement to the press on behalf of the country’s Christian leaders.  “Our followers are living in fear, because of what happened to our churches some few days,” the Anglican archbishop said, adding “there is also displeasure, on the part [of Christians] over government inaction and failure to take those responsible to court,” he said.

“This is not the first time” he noted, stating that “25 churches have been burned so far in different parts of Zanzibar, and the government is quiet, despite the initiatives taken to report the incidents to the police. We don’t know who should bear the blame.”

The archbishop, who is also chairman of the Tanzanian council of churches, added that government inaction had created the “impression that these acts have government blessing.”

“The government is duty-bound to extensively trace them and bring them to book – in order to restore public trust and confidence in the government,” he said.

Zanzibar President Dr Ali Mohamed Shein responded on 1 June saying his government was “conducting a thorough assessment before taking necessary measures, including the possibility of compensation.”

Speaking to the press, Dr. Shein said the government had banned unauthorized religious meetings, assemblies and demonstrations as a threat to public order.  “We will not allow the peace and harmony created by the National Unity Government to be threatened by a few individuals who are using a religious umbrella” to shelter their political ambitions.

An Anglican clergyman who asked not to be named for fear of retribution from extremists told CEN the dispute appears to have died down. Zanzibar “is always fragile and relations between the ruling Muslims and religious minorities touchy,” he said.

“It doesn’t help for the media in general to exaggerate and sensationalize” as it “puts more pressure on the Christians” which “can really cause problems.”

The roots of the current dispute, he said were political.  Opposition leaders want an independent Zanzibar.   “They’re being particularly problematic during this time of constitutional review,” he clergyman said, adding that at present “Christian leaders are asking for the protections promised by the president” of Zanzibar.

Dr. Shein “has always been a public advocate for religious freedom and was very gracious in his speech last month at the consecration of the new Anglican bishop.”

However, the “situation generally is stable now everything is calm [with] things moving as usual” sources in Zanzibar report.  The government has intervened “and they are dealing accordingly with the Muslim group which caused the riot.”

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Akinola warns of a Nigerian jihad from Boko Haram: The Church of England Newspaper, June 10, 2012 p 7. June 8, 2012

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The former Primate of Nigeria has rejected claims that the Boko Haram insurgency in Northern Nigeria is driven by economic deprivation or tribal jealousies.

Speaking to a congregation that included the country’s president, Goodluck Jonathan, and its political elites, Archbishop Peter Akinola lambasted the country’s parlous political state. Human sin, tribal passions and Britain’s determination to get out of Africa before it had prepared the new nation for independence had led to the present state of affairs.

“Shun all political claims that Boko Haram is not against Christianity. It is,” Archbishop Akinola said on 27 May 2012 in a sermon at the National Christian Centre in Abuja in celebration of Democracy Day.

The war has been “going on since 1966. They are committed to Jihad. You can’t stop them it is their religious obligations. They have been doing it for 36 years; they have not stopped and they won’t stop,” Archbishop Akinola said.

Recent press reports in the West have argued that the Boko Haram insurgency is not, at heart, a religious war.  On 24 May 2012 the Voice of America reported that a report by the NGO Human Rights Watch claimed that while the conflict may be along ethnic and religious lines, but the “root of the fighting is often political and economic.”

“We have ignored the truth. Boko Haram must be seen in the right context. It is a continuation of the past,” the archbishop said.

“Boko Haram means Jews and Christians are abomination. They have been unleashing terror since 1966 and they have a mandate. This problem is not peculiar to Nigeria, many other stakeholders are disenchanted but waiting for their time. They want to eliminate infidels which includes you Mr. President,” the archbishop said to the congregation, which included Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan.

Archbishop Akinola warned the country’s leaders gathered for the Democracy Day service that Nigeria had lost its way.  “We are still disunited.  Leaders are interested in their own, no national identity. We are blood thirty and bloodletting society with no regards for sanctity of life. Nigeria is at war against itself. Selfish politicians are doing all things on basis of political exigency.”

Nigeria’s former colonial master had done the country no favours by its hasty grant of independence, the archbishop said.  “A word of truth about our past amalgamation, there was no consent from the South and North. It was done for political and economic gains of the colonials. Our leaders failed to gather the authentic representatives of Nigerians to seek the kind of independent Nigeria they want.”

“This would have led to a new Nigeria,” the archbishop said according to accounts of his speech published in the Nigeria press.

“The euphoria of independence was consequently short-lived,” he said and the “political atmospheres” were now “full of acrimony. There is tribal war. The country has been fragmented with inhibitions to progress.”

The general election of first republic was based on a “faulty census leading to blood-letting that led to the [Biafran Civil War],” he said, as national unity cannot be maintained by “military fiat.”

The 1970s and 1980s in Nigeria were “characterised by unrest, military rule, coup, and armed robbery.” The year 1999 saw the “return of democracy,” but since that time “rather than dealing with the causes, successive governments have been hiding from the truth putting new wine in old bottle.”

“Insecurity has been with us. About 30 crises so far has occurred in the country leading to religious and ethnic cleansing. In 1980 another religious riot with Christians killing took place. In all cases, we have failed to address the causes,” the archbishop warned.

Nigeria’s structural problems were also coupled with the moral failings of its people. “Corruption, the hydra-headed monster, has taken over the soul of Nigeria,” Archbishop Akinola said.

“Officials are stealing us blind,” he said, and they scavenge the country’s “carcass” for their own ends.  Government anti-corruption campaigns were “selective” and short lived. The police and judiciary did not have “clean hands” while the country’s universities had become diploma mills giving honours and “questionable titles” to the powerful.  All of this “will continue because government pays lip service to the fight against corruption,” the archbishop said.

In his address to the gathering, President Jonathan disputed the predictions of further chaos made by Archbishop Akinola. “Even though people are predicting the disintegration of Nigeria, let me assure you that Nigeria will not disintegrate. Though we have these challenges, but we will succeed,” he said.

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Anger over Saudi anti-Christian fatwah: The Church of England Newspaper, April 13, 2012 p 7. April 18, 2012

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Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah

Church leaders in India have joined the call made by Catholic and Orthodox leaders in Europe to condemn the call to tear down all Christian churches in the Arabian Peninsula made by the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia.

The All Indian Christian Council (AICC) said the comments made by Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah were “bigoted” and “dangerous” for the millions of Christians living Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf states.

Last month the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia told a group of Kuwaiti clerics that it was “necessary to destroy all the churches of the region.”  His remarks came as Kuwait’s parliament began debate over legislation banning the construction of new Christian churches.  Over 3.5 million Christians live in the Arabian Peninsula including one million Filipino Roman Catholics and several hundred thousand members of the Church of South India along with members of other orthodox churches and protestant denominations.

Saudi Arabia forbids Christian worship and its rigorous anti-Christian policing has drawn condemnation from Western governments.  The AICC’s general secretary, John Dayal, called on the Indian government to protect its citizens and for other “civilized countries to ensure that the nations of the Arabian Peninsula clearly reject the Wahhabi imam’s bigoted statement.”

Archbishop Mark of Yegoryevsk, the head of the Moscow Patriarchate’s department for overseas churches called the Saudi sheikh’s statement “alarming, while the Roman Catholic bishops’ conferences of Germany and Austria said the statement by the Saudi sheikh was an unacceptable denial of human rights for the millions of “overseas foreign workers” in the region.

Cautious optimism in Burma: The Church of England Newspaper, April 13, 2012 p 7. April 17, 2012

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Aung San Suu Kyi

Church leaders have welcomed the National League for Democracy (NLD) in Burma’s parliamentary by-elections elections his week, but have warned that a great deal of work lies ahead for the new government.

In just the third election the country has held in the last 50 years the NLD won 43 of the 44 seats it contested in Sunday’s by-election. Official results have not yet been released, but NLD leader and Nobel peace prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi hailed the vote as a “new era” for Burma.

“This is not so much our triumph as a triumph for people who have decided that they must be involved in the political process in this country,” Mrs. Suu Kyi said in a victory speech at her party headquarters in Rangoon. “We hope this will be the beginning of a new era.”

The NLD will be a minority party in a parliament that is dominated by representatives of the military junta and its political allies.  Of the 664 seats in parliament, the military is allotted 25 per cent of the seats and the junta controls a further 55 per cent of the seats.  However, Mrs. Suu Kyi stated “we hope that all parties that took part in the elections will be in a position to cooperate with us in order to create a genuinely democratic atmosphere in our nation.”

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) welcomed the election results but “warned that Burma still has a long way to go, and urged the Burmese government to proceed with further reforms as part of the process towards genuine democratisation, peace and national reconciliation in the country.”

CSW’s East Asia Team Leader Benedict Rogers said, “This is clearly a very significant and very welcome result, and it shows the true feeling of the Burmese people. Their clearly expressed desire is for freedom, justice and democracy, values represented by Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD whom voters have overwhelmingly supported. This is, however, just the beginning, and there is still a very long way to go.”

The military government’s hostile attitude towards religious groups, critics charge, is one of the key areas needing reform.  Last week the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) 2012 Annual Report listed Burma as one of its “countries of particular concern.”

“It’s no coincidence that many of the nations we recommend to be designated as CPCs are among the most dangerous and destabilizing places on earth,” said USCIRF Chairman Leonard Leo. “Nations that trample upon basic rights, including freedom of religion, provide fertile ground for poverty and insecurity, war and terror, and violent, radical movements and activities.”

Christian churches have been subjected to years of government repression in Burma. Within the last month government troops ransacked a Baptist Church in Kachin State and on 10 March broke up a Christian conference in southern Chin State.

Mr. Rogers urged the Burmese government to “initiate a political dialogue with the ethnic nationalities, to secure a political agreement and a peace process that will end more than sixty years of civil war and stop the military’s crimes against humanity.”

“Until these steps are taken, the international community should be careful about how it responds to the by-election results,” he said, noting that “until all the people of Burma can live in peace and freedom, we cannot say that Burma is free. Today Burma has taken a welcome step forward towards change, but it has not yet changed.”

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Stay ordered in Kashmir blasphemy case: The Church of England Newspaper, February 17, 2012 p 7. February 23, 2012

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First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

A high court justice in Kashmir has ordered a stay of proceedings in the case of the Rev. C.M. Khanna on charges that his baptism of Muslim converts had caused a breach of the peace and aggravated religious tensions in the Northern Indian state.

On 28 Oct 2010 the Anglican priest was called before a Sharia court to answer charges of blasphemy. The summons came in the wake of the publication on the internet of a mobile phone video of a baptismal service Mr. Khanna conducted for seven Muslim men. The baptismal liturgy’s call to renounce Satan and all his works and make amendment for one’s past life was “blasphemous,” local mullahs had charged.

On 19 Nov, police arrested Mr. Khanna and charged him with “fomenting communal strife.”  The All India Christian Council denounced the arrest, noting the Sharia Court had no legal authority in India and accused the police of arresting the priest in order to forestall an anti-government rising by Muslim extremists.  No member of the Kashmir bar would appear in court on Mr. Khanna’s behalf and a number of attorneys called for the state to refuse him bail.

However, bail was granted on 1 December after outside counsel travelled to Srinigar to defend Mr. Khanna before the state court.

On 11 February 2012, Justice J.P Singh of Jammu and Kashmir High Court issued an order staying legal proceedings and directed the Director General of Police and the Home Office to answer Mr. Khanna’s petition that his arrest was unlawful.

According to the petition filed with the court, on 26 Oct Mr. Khanna was summoned to appear before the Sharia Court to answer charges of blasphemy on 28 Oct.  The following day the police began a formal investigation of Mr. Khanna on charges of disturbing the peace – a charge, he noted that was a cloak for the blasphemy charge brought by Muslim leaders.

Mr. Khanna was summoned a second time by the Sharia Court and appeared on 11 Nov before 25 to 30 Muslim clerics.  “The atmosphere in the said proceedings was so surcharged that everybody was shouting insults and false accusations against the petitioner. These proceedings were highlighted almost in every local newspaper in the [Kashmir] Valley,” the petition noted.

It was in the wake of these proceedings that the police arrested Mr. Khanna for fomenting religious strife on 19 Nov, he argued.  He was subsequently kept at a police station “under illegal detention” until he was bailed.

In his petition, Mr. Khanna noted that the Sharia Court had issued a Fatwa on 19 January that ordered his “life ban” on returning to Kashmir.  He asked the court to dismiss the criminal proceedings as no prima-facie case had been presented by the police that he had violated any civil law.  Sharia law, his attorneys argued, should not be empowered by a secular state through the support of the government.

Sharia court orders expulsion of Christian clergy from Kashmir: The Church of England Newspaper, January 27, 2012, p 6. February 2, 2012

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First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Two priests convicted of blasphemy by an Indian sharia law court have been expelled from the state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K).

On 19 January 2012 the Deputy Grand Mufti of Srinigar, Muhammad Nasir-ul-Islam held a press conference to report that a sharia court had decided that the Rev. C.M. Khanna of the Church of North India’s All Saint’s Church in Srinigar, Roman Catholic Mill Hill missionary Fr. Jim Borst and two lay catechists, Gavoor Massi and Chandra Kanta must be expelled from J&K – the only Muslim majority state in India.

The four Anglican and Roman Catholics were “guilty of luring the Muslims especially young boys and girls to Christianity by exploiting their financial conditions, promoting immorality and moral degradation, exploiting serious health ailments by facilitating different kind of help to Muslims against the conversion from Islam to Christianity,” Nasir-ul Islam told the press conference according to the Kashmir newspaper the Rising Kashmir Daily.

The sharia court had “imposed a life time ban” on entering J&K, he said, adding that the state government had agreed to enforce the sharia court verdict.

Mr. Khanna, who has left Srinigar for the safety of the state’s winter capital Jammu, told UCANews the sharia court’s actions had put his life in peril, and the “government has not done anything to protect us.”

On 20 January the Greater Kashmir – the state’s largest circulation English language newspaper — published an article allegedly written by one of Mr. Khanna’s converts that offered a lurid account of his conversion.  Mr. Khanna and his wife were accused of plying the young man with alcohol, narcotics, sex, money and the opportunity of moving to California if he became a Christian.  The article entitled “Apostasy Unveiled” culminates with the fantastical passage:

“There were candles and an empty glass on the table. As the prayers went on, someone brought a jug full of red liquid and poured it into the glass. It was swine blood which we all had to drink. Khanna took some sips, then his daughter and I joined the others.”

The 64 year old Anglican minister has denied the charges proffered by the Sharia court, but has had to leave Srinigar after 24 years of service.

The Church of North India’s Bishop in Amritsar, the Rt. Rev. P K Samantaroy denounced the sharia court’s order saying “nobody has the right to expel us from the state or country.”

He told UCANews that it was “unfair” to question the integrity of Christians who “have played a major role in building peace and harmony in the state.”

However, Mufti Nasir warned Christians from trying to return to the state.  He called upon the government to take over the administration of Srinigar’s Anglican and Roman Catholic mission schools and to combat the “dirty and sinister designs” of Christian missionaries.

The mufti appealed to his “fellow Muslims to remain vigilant and guard that such elements don’t reappear in the state.”

Chinese Christian dissident freed from prison: The Church of England Newspaper, January 27, 2012 p 6. February 2, 2012

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Shi Enhao

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

A Chinese Christian leader sentenced to two years of “reeducation through labour” has been released early from detention, the China Aid Association (CAA) reports.

The jailing of Pastor Shi Enhao, deputy leader of the Chinese House Church Alliance (CHCA), prompted an international outcry last year, and was part of a wider crackdown on evangelical Christians by the Chinese authorities.

On 4 March 4, 2011 Pastor Shi was arrested by officers of the Suqian Municipal Public Security Bureau.  During his interrogation he was beaten and ordered to recant his faith and cease his activities.  He was released from custody but on 31 May police raided Shi’s church in Suqian City in Eastern China during worship services.  They ordered the evangelical congregation to cease worship and confiscated the church’s musical instruments, choir robes, and bank accounts.  Shi and other church officials were detained, and on June 1 they searched his home, threatening his wife, Zhu Guangyun, and their four adult children, the CAA reported.

While other church leaders were released within a few days, police kept Shi in custody, first sentencing him to 12 days administrative custody.  On June 21 he was placed in criminal detention and charged with “illegal meetings and illegal organising of venues for religious meetings.”  Though no trial was held, Pastor Shi was ordered jailed for two years in a labour camp for reeducation by government officials.

Under Chinese law, Protestant churches are required to register with and be administered by the government’s Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM).  However, members of China’s House Church movement have refused to submit to the TSPM, accusing the agency of censoring sermons, controlling the appointment of ministers and propounding liberal theology.

On 20 January 2012, Pastor Shi was freed from prison, though the CAA reports that no explanation has been offered for his early release.

The émigré rights group said it welcomed the “early release of Pastor Shi Enhao” but also called upon authorities to “uphold the policy of freedom of religion” and release all Chinese citizens jailed for their faith.

Civil War looms in Nigeria: The Church of England Newspaper, January 6, 2012, p 7. January 6, 2012

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Bishop Emmanuel Chukwuma

Action, not talk is needed from Muslim leaders if Nigeria is not to fall into civil war, the Primate of the Church of Nigeria said last week in the wake of Christmas Day terror attacks mounted by the Islamist militant group, Boko Haram.

Archbishop Nicholas Okoh appealed to Nigeria’s Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs to exercise leadership, saying “it is not enough to condemn the act. It is not enough to dissociate itself from it.”

Muslim leaders “must take some pragmatic steps in the interest of all of us to bring about an end to this matter. There is no other body in a better position to speak to Boko Haram,” the archbishop told reporters last week during a visit to St Theresa’s Catholic Church in Madalla in the Niger State.

On 1 Jan 2012 Boko Haram issued an ultimatum to Christians living in the Muslim majority areas of Northern Nigeria to leave within three days, or face their wrath.  The terror group has claimed responsibility for a series of bomb and gun attacks on churches and the police stations across five states on Christmas Day.  At St Theresa’s Catholic Church in Madalla near the capital of Abuja, 35 people were killed when a bomb was tossed into the congregation as the service was ending.  A half dozen other Christians were killed in related attacks across the North also.

Archbishop Okoh called upon Nigeria’s political and traditional leaders to take immediate action to prevent the country from falling into civil war.  The governors of Nigeria’s northern states must come together, he said.  “They meet to discuss national issues and I don’t see any national issue that is more critical than this one; the issue of the security of the nation.”

“If they can meet on other things, this is a critical issue that should engage their attention. They should find a solution to it. They are in a better position to find a solution to it.”

“I also make my appeal to the political elite in the National Assembly and those of them in the states,” the archbishop said.  “They should find a solution to this matter as a matter of urgency, because if there is no Nigeria, there will be no political office holders.”

The spectre of sectarian war loomed, the head of the Christian Association of Nigeria, the Rev. Ayo Oritsjafor told AFP. “The consensus is that the Christian community nationwide will be left with no other option than to respond appropriately if there are any further attacks on our members, churches and property.”

In a speech given on 30 Dec 2011 Bishop Emmanuel Chukwuma also warned that the Ibo people of the South-East would not hesitate to follow the example of the late Ikemba Nnewi – the leader of the short-lived Biafran Republic which attempted to break away from Nigeria in the 1960’s – and take up arms to protect themselves.

“If the Federal Government fails to do something urgently, we shall declare war in Nigeria. Our quietness should not be seen as cowardice. If the issue is not addressed, we will resume [Ikemba Nnewi’s] fight against injustice. Enough is enough.”

First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

Christians targeted in Christmas bombing campaign in Nigeria: The Church of England Newspaper, December 23, 2011 p 7. December 29, 2011

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Archbishop Ben Kwashi

Islamist militants are suspected of being behind a pre-Christmas terror campaign in the Northern Nigerian city of Jos.  Boko Haram – a militant Muslim group that has pledged to convert all of Nigeria to Islam – has threatened to disrupt the Christmas holidays, the Nigerian media reports.

On 10 Dec 2011, three bombs exploded as crowds gathered to watch a Real Madrid – Barcelona football match at a public television viewing centre.  One man was killed and 11 injured, while a fourth bomb was defused by police.

In the early hours of the following morning, a woman was killed and two others were wounded when gunmen attacked a Christian village in Kagora.

Speaking on the persecution of Christians in Nigeria at a conference sponsored by Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Archbishop Ben Kwashi of Jos observed that sectarian violence was unknown in the city until 1987.

In that year a Hausa militant group was organized and the administration of the city divided in two, with a Muslim majority area created for the north of the city.  By 1997 tensions between the majority Christian population and the Muslim minority – who wielded political power through the support of the military government – began to erupt and fighting ensued.

Over 2000 people were killed in sectarian fighting in 2001, the archbishop said, and 2010 saw a “huge massacre” of Christians at the hands of Islamist militants.  The Boko Haram insurrection saw the introduction of terror bombings of Christian sites in the city, with the first attack launched over Christmas 2010.

Archbishop Kwashi stated there has “never been an arrest” in the attacks on Christians in Jos, while the results of government investigations into the violence have been kept secret.

“If the killing of Christians is not called by its name,” he told the CSW meeting, this “crime will continue to go on under the name of religion.”

“If it is declared criminal” by the government, the “persecution will be reduced,” he said.

Speaking in response to last week’s bombings, CSW’s Advocacy Director Andrew Johnston said, “The security situation in both Plateau and Kaduna States are of great concern. Security services must remain vigilant regarding threats to disrupt Christmas celebrations in Jos, and take proactive steps to secure areas in both Plateau and Kaduna States where attacks are likely to occur. ”

Korea on high alert following death of Kim Jong-il: The Church of England Newspaper, December 23, 2011, p 6. December 24, 2011

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First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

The Communist tyrant Kim Jong-il is dead, North Korea’s state media reports.

On 19 December 2011 a black-clad newsreader informed North Korea their “dear leader” had died following a heart attack on Saturday at the age of 69. The official KCNA news agency attributed Kim’s death to physical and mental overwork. “It is the biggest loss for the party, and it is our people and nation’s biggest sadness,” the weeping newsreader said, adding the nation must yet “change our sadness to strength and overcome our difficulties.”

Kim’s youngest son, Kim Jong-un, has been named the “Great Successor”, KCNA reported. The state media has called upon workers, peasants and soldiers to “faithfully revere” the new leader, broadcasts monitored by wire services in South Korea have report.

According to Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) Kim Jong-il presided over a vicious police state with “one of the worst human rights records in the world. The country has a system of prison camps with an estimated 200,000 people jailed in desperate conditions and subjected to the worst forms of torture and cruel and degrading treatment. Summary executions are common.

“The practice of ‘guilt by association’ often means that entire families are often imprisoned, and punished for the crimes of family members up to the third generation. North Korea has no religious freedom, and Christians are jailed and sometimes executed for their beliefs.”

Speculation is rife as to what steps the regime will take to consolidate its hold over power. Last year, at the age of 26, Kim Jong-un was made a full General in the North Korean Army and on 28 September 2010 he was named vice chairman of the Central Military Commission and appointed to the Central Committee of the Korean Worker’s Party. His birthday, 1 January, was declared a national holiday by his father, the AFP news service reported last year. But it is unclear whether the army will back Kim Jong-un, the third generation of his family to rule North Korea since his grandfather, Kim Il-sung, was installed by Soviet troops in1945.

South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak has called for calm in the wake of Kim’s death, but the government has been placed in “emergency mode.”

“President Lee urged the public to go about their usual economic activities without turbulence,” a senior presidential aide told a televised news conference.

The South Korean government spokesman said President Lee and US President Barack Obama had conferred by telephone following the news of Kim’s death, and the “two leaders agreed to closely co-operate and monitor the situation together.” The South Korean army and the 28,000 US troops stationed on the peninsula have also been placed on high alert.

The vice-president of the Korean Mission Partnership of the Church of England, Bishop Robert Ladds, said the death of Kim Jong-il was a time for prayer.

“Christians in South Korea are deeply aware of the difficulties in general faced by those in the North and especially by their fellow Christians under a totalitarian regime.  Many in the South have family and extended family members in the North, which is an extra personal anxiety.  There is always a very delicate, complex and moving political balance across the Korean peninsula and any change of leadership is bound to add to uncertainties,” he told The Church of England Newspaper.

CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said the death of Kim provided an opportunity to “change direction, end its isolation, stop the brutal oppression of its own people and open up to the world.”

CSW called upon the new leaders of North Korea to “take the initiative at this unique moment in time in order to introduce fundamental changes and close the prison camps, end torture, slave labour and summary executions, respect religious freedom and release all prisoners of conscience. The international community should seize the moment to press for these changes.”

However, the chairman of the Korean Mission Partnership, the Rev Luke Lee, was less sanguine about the prospects for change. He told CEN the North Korean communist regime was “unique.”

“The leader of the country was regarded as a semi-god and no one is allowed to challenge his authority. As this is a system that has been built over many years, I don’t think it will collapse overnight because of Kim Jung-il’s sudden death,” he said.

“The Christians in North Korea have been persecuted because they believe in God as the supreme authority and no other gods. As long as the North Korean Communist regime remains as it is now there will be no change in their policy on persecuting Christians,” Fr Lee said.

Kashmir priest arrested to placate Muslim extremists, report finds: The Church of England Newspaper, December 16, 2011 p 7. December 15, 2011

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The Rev. C.M. Khanna

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Fears of an anti-government rising by Muslim extremists prompted the imprisonment of an Anglican priest in Kashmir, an investigation by the All India Christian Council has found.

In an 8000-word report paper released on 5 Dec 2011, the All India Christian Council stated that the Rev. C.M. Khanna, the vicar of All Saints Church in Srinigar, was arrested to placate Muslim leaders, angered by his baptism of seven young Muslim men.  The baptismal liturgy’s call to renounce Satan and all his works and make amendment for one’s past life was “blasphemous,” local mullahs charged.

On 19 Nov, police arrested Mr. Khanna and charged him with “fomenting communal strife.”  The arrest followed the circulation of a mobile phone video of a baptismal service he conducted for seven Muslim men.  The priest has since been released from prison on bail on 1 Dec, and warned neither to leave the state nor to baptize any more Muslims.

According to the All India Christian Council report, Mr. Khanna had been wary of baptizing Muslims for fear of an agent provocateur seeking to discredit the church.  He had also turned away those who sought financial assistance and offered to convert to Christianity in return for cash.  While Kashmir has no anti-conversion laws, the small Christian community in Srinigar (300 Anglicans and 100 Roman Catholics) has sought to avoid confrontation with the Muslim majority.

However, the seven young men had been attending the church for ten months and displayed “great piety,” Mr. Khanna told investigators. “He was convinced of their motives. But even then, he questioned them and explained the difficulties they could face. They were firm in their new faith and insisted that he baptise them.”

After watching a video of the baptism, the Chief Mufti of Srinigar, Bashir-u-din ordered Mr. Khanna to appear before a Sharia court on 28 Oct.  He interrogated Mr Khanna for six hours and then released, warning him not to baptise anyone else.

The Chief Mufti told the fact finding mission that he had summoned the priest before the court after having received complaints.  “He said by calling their converts’ previous life in Islam in the same breath as shaitan or devil, Rev Khanna had also insulted Islam and had committed a blasphemy to add to the crime of apostasy of the people he had baptized,” the report said.

The mufti waived away the fact finding mission’s observation that religious courts had no legal standing, stating that “the court is a reality and has jurisdiction in the valley, if not in the entire Jammu and Kashmir State.”

“And yet the State government had taken no notice of this development which could have serious repercussions for the state and its religious minorities,” the report noted.

Mr. Khanna’s mistreatment continued after his arrest, as local newspapers printed false stories saying he had paid the young men to convert, and fabricated quotes from the priest that served to inflame public sentiment.  None of the city’s lawyers would agree to act as his counsel, the report noted, and while he was held in jail crowds gathered outside the prison calling for Islamic justice.

While the police stated they had treated Mr. Khanna well and that he had not been tortured, the seven converts were arrested and beaten by the police, who sought confessions that they had been paid to become Christians.  They have since fled the area in fear for their lives.

“We met two of them in Jammu where they are in hiding,” the report said, and “their names are being kept secret because it is feared they may be targeted by both the police and the Islamic groups.”

One of the converts said he “had turned to Christianity after the miraculous healing of his pregnant wife. Both said they had become Christians without any allurement and without any threats, of their own free will, and fully knowing the repercussions of their action.”

The report noted that the “most recent tension against Christians has been brewing since Autumn. Many people told us that some extremist groups and vested interests were planning to use the Christian issue of alleged conversions” as an “issue in their political confrontations with the state government and political parties on the one hand, and with other Islamic groups, specially the moderates, on the other.”

The report said that Islamist extremists were seeking to supplant the traditional Sufi Islam of the region and “were perpetually looking to score political points against each other, and any excuse was good enough to foment trouble, stoning on the roads and widespread riots.”

“This is why the government was jittery and would go to any extreme to ward off trouble from the Islamic groups. The arrest of the pastor had to be seen in this light,” the report said, noting the “writ of the government ran only superficially in the Kashmir valley” and Islamic groups could “mobilise the people in highly emotionally charged demonstrations and riots.”

The All India Christian Council called upon the police to drop all charges against Mr. Khanna and to “follow the law, and not allow themselves to be coerced by mobs.”

They also urged the federal government to intervene and “show its commitment to secularism in all parts of the country by acting with alacrity.”

At the same time, “in a hostile environment such as the Kashmir valley, Christian priests, pastors, NGOs and religious workers must tread cautiously les they infringe unwritten rules and cross invisible lines in social interaction.”

Sudan Synod plea to stop the fighting: The Church of England Newspaper, December 11, 2011, p 6. December 13, 2011

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First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

The General Synod of the Episcopal Church of the Sudan (ECS) has called for an end to the government campaign of terror waged against civilians.

Meeting at All Saints Cathedral in Juba from 13-16 November 2011, the ECS Ninth General Synod denounced the war along the border between north and south Sudan as well as the guerrilla war waged by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) of Joseph Kony in the country’s Western Equatoria State along the border with Uganda, the Congo and the Central African Republic.

“We strongly condemn the persistent aerial bombardment of civilian territories, summary executions of innocents, and combat in civilian areas” in the border regions, the 16 November statement said.

“The bombs that fall are indiscriminate; they kill and maim young and old, man and woman, Christian and Muslim. In short, innocent civilians have become a target and their suffering has become political currency” in the hands of the government of President Omar al-Bashir and his Islamist-backed National Congress Party in Khartoum.

The ECS “categorically” denounced these “crimes against humanity” and called for the governments in Juba and Khartoum to “return to the negotiating table and discuss national issues in a way amenable to peace and stability. We urge both governments to resolve any differences peacefully and not to resort to war and killing of the innocent civilians who yearn for peace.”

The Church also called attention to the ravages of the LRA. Driven from their bases in Uganda, the LRA has retreated into the bush terrorizing villagers in the Sudan. The “cancer of Western Equatoria State, namely the Lord’s Resistance Army, persists and requires immediate and committed international mediation for the most equitable solution for peace.”

The Church called for “peaceful methods of engagement” to be used to end the fighting – which has seen the deployment of 100 US soldiers to Uganda to coordinate operations against the rebels.

While the Sudan had been divided into two countries — north and south – the ECS would remain one and continue to work for peace, the statement said.

“In the area of advocacy for peace and reconciliation, the ECS will remain committed to its national and international partners but particularly to the Government of South Sudan, the relevant state governments and the United Nations in order to collectively implement a peace process throughout Sudan and South Sudan.”

It pledged to continue to “proclaim the gospel” and “continue its efforts of high-level political and grassroots evangelisation in order to reach all the communities of the Sudan and South Sudan. The ECS will also continue to adhere to the traditions of the Anglican Communion through use of the Prayer Book and training to new and existing pastors on the meaning of Anglicanism.”

Anglican Unscripted, December 5, 2011 December 5, 2011

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Kevin and George discuss the very latest news from the Province of Rwanda and its relationship with AMiA.  They also talk about interpreting Church Canons and the miracle from the Diocese of South Carolina.  Peter Ould discusses the dirty little secret of the Church of England — don’t worry, we have the same secret here in America.  And, finally AS Haley talks about another Bishop being deposed last week.

Kashmir priest arrested for baptising Muslims: The Church of England Newspaper, November 25, 2011 p 7. November 26, 2011

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Bishop Pradeep Kumar Samantaroy of Amritsar

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

A priest has been arrested in the Indian state of Kashmir and charged with promoting religious enmity and outraging religious feelings after he baptised 15 Muslim young men who had converted to Christianity.

The Rev. Chander Mani Khanna, rector of All Saints Church in Srinigar in the Church of North India’s Diocese of Amritsar was jailed on 19 Nov 2011 by police following complaints laid against him by a local Muslim leader.

While India does not have a law forbidding religious conversions, a police official told the Hindustan Times Mr. Khanna had been booked for having violated laws against offering “allurements” to converts and for breaching the peace by having baptised the young Muslims.

The Bishop in Amritsar, the Rt. Rev. Pradeep Kumar Samantaroy denied claims lodged against Mr. Khanna.  The “allegations were fabricated and no material benefits were offered to anyone desirous of baptism,” he said, according to the website Christian Today.

“The Muslim youths were coming to Church for more than one year and they had voluntarily expressed their desire for baptism. The converts in detention have denied the allegation that they were forced to become Christians,” Bishop Samantaroy said.

The Christian Messenger reported that Mr. Khanna said he had not proselytized the young men, but would not turn away those who wanted to know more.  “It is my responsibility to preach God’s Word. I can’t refuse anyone. The house of God is open for all.”

According to Indian press accounts the 15 young men had been attending services at the church for some months.  When they asked to be permitted to receive Holy Communion, Mr. Khanna said that they would have to undergo a course of instruction and be baptized.  The young men agreed and were received into the church after they completed their catechetical training.

After a film of the baptism ceremony appeared on YouTube, the local Sharia court – which has no civil or criminal jurisdiction over non-Muslims – summoned Mr. Khanna to appear to answer charges that he had forcibly converted the young men.   According to AsiaNews, witnesses claim that police beat the converts to make them give evidence against the pastor.

The former Bishop of Rochester, the Rt. Rev. Michael Nazir-Ali stated that he knew Mr. Khanna “and he is a respected parish priest of the Church of North India who would never use underhand methods to evangelise.”

“I am astonished that such a person can be arrested by an India committed to religious freedom and democracy. I call not only for his immediate and unconditional release but also for protection for him and his family. Let us pray that freedom and justice will prevail in Kashmir for everyone: Muslim, Christian and Hindu,” Bishop Nazir-Ali said.

Chinese church demolition condemned: The Church of England Newspaper, November 18, 2011 p 6. November 21, 2011

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The banner on the church building reads: “Return church property!

Return our church building! Religious discrimination! Destroying Century-Old Historical Landmark!” : Photo courtesy ChinaAid

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Real estate developers in league with local government officials have begun tearing down a 125-year old former Anglican mission church in China’s Shantung province.  However, the North China Mission church in Tai-an was designated a national historic landmark in 1994 and is currently an approved congregation of the Three Self Patriotic Movement [TSPM] – China’s official Protestant Church.

The battle in Tai-an is part of a larger struggle between developers and conservationists in China’s booming Eastern coastal provinces.  It also highlights the precarious state of China’s property laws as local governments seek to profit from the property boom at the expense of a Chinese Christians.

Built in 1886 by missionaries from the Church of England’s North China Mission society – an auxiliary of the SPG – the Tai-an mission church and school was confiscated from the Diocese of Shantung following the Communist seizure of power.  In the 1950’s the congregation was merged into the Three Self Patriotic Movement, but was closed during the Cultural Revolution and its buildings seized by the government.

In the wake of the Chinese government’s liberalizations of the early 1990’s towards Christianity, four buildings of the mission compound were designated historical landmarks and turned over to the TSPM.

ChinaAid reported that last year workmen began tearing down the outer wall of the compound.  However, on 16 Nov 2010 approximately 40 members of the congregation stated a sit in at the church, and halted demolition.

Last month demolition started again.  When elderly members of the church tried to stop the work, they were beaten by members of the work crew.  The physical attack on the members of the congregation has led to an appeal to the national government for help.

“We sincerely hope that the central government’s policy on religion can be carried out in reality, so as to win the trust of the people and bring a resolution to the Tai-an Church’s long-standing property dispute,” the appeal read.  “All the members of the Tai-an Church have full confidence in the God whom we believe and in his words.  Jesus said, ‘Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and unto God what is God’s.’ …”

ChinaAid condemned the demolition saying it “demonstrates that it is not just house churches … that face government persecution.  Even the legitimate rights of government-approved churches that are part of the [TSPM] can be arbitrarily trampled.”

Barnabas Fund cleared of hate charges: The Church of England Newspaper, November 4, 2011 p 6. November 4, 2011

Posted by geoconger in Church of England, Church of England Newspaper, Free Speech, Persecution.
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First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

The Charity Commission has endorsed the right of free speech and free expression of religion for religious charities, rejecting accusations the Barnabas Fund promoted sectarian hatred by promoting Christianity. The decision comes as a setback in the ‘lawfare’ battle waged in England to use the state to silence criticism of Islam.

In a decision handed down last month, the commission found there was no basis for the charge the fund’s Operation Nehemiah booklets were “divisive” and violated the laws governing charities.

The complaint arose from an article in the 7 Aug 2011 issue of the Sunday Times that highlighted the Barnabas Fund’s campaign to halt the spread or radical Islam in the UK. An individual identified as a “lay Reader in the Church of England” filed a complaint with the Charity Commission alleging the Barnabas Fund’s booklet Slippery Slope had engaged in sectarian and racial hatred by “campaigning” against the spread of Islam.

In its decision, the Charity Commission held the Barnabas Fund had acted in good faith and had complied with British law.

“The charity, in its campaigning around Operation Nehemiah appears to be acting within its objects, as the campaign can be seen as promoting ‘the advancement of the Christian faith’. A charity can become involved in a campaign which furthers or supports its charitable purposes.

“The Commission acknowledge that the campaign material fits within its aims, and that the booklet quotes sources for the claims that it makes. They quote its statement of intent, not to promote anti-Muslim fear or hatred, but to address seriously the challenge of Islam to society.

“The campaign does not appear to be inciting racial hatred and the charity believes that it has public benefit in that it ‘is committed to maintaining Christian values of freedom of conscience, speech and religion for the next generation in church and society’.”

Dr Patrick Sookhdeo, International Director of Barnabas Fund, released a statement welcoming the ruling by the Charity Commission.

“We have been deeply saddened that some Christians regard Barnabas Fund as preaching hatred when we raise the plight of the persecuted Church, and the growing influence of Islamism and its impact on the Church and the Christian heritage and liberties of Western society. We are unshakably committed to our stated goals and will continue to pursue them with vigour, for the sake of our Lord’s persecuted people at home and abroad.”