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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.”

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

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Iran, Persecution.
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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.

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

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.

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.

Foreign Office reports no govt persecution of Christians in the Sudan: The Church of England Newspaper, June 17, 2012 p 5. June 19, 2012

Posted by geoconger in British Foreign Policy, Church of England Newspaper, Episcopal Church of the Sudan, House of Lords.
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Bishop Ezekiel Kondo of Khartoum and Archbishop Rowan Williams

The Foreign Office reports there is no evidence of an anti-Christian pogrom being waged by the National Islamic Front government in Khartoum.

In a written statement given in response to a question from the Bishop of Bath and Wells, Foreign Office Minister Lord Howell on 23 May 2012 said “We have no evidence that there is a state orchestrated campaign against Christians. However, recent rhetoric by government leaders on the north-south conflict has led to tension between communities and fear of attacks against South Sudanese in Sudan, many of whom are Christians.”

The government’s view of the conditions in Sudan is at odds with reports from Sudanese Christians and NGOs. Southern Christians living in the North were stripped of their Sudanese citizenship and are being expelled to the South, forcing hundreds of thousands into refugee settlement. In a 12 Oct 2011 speech to university students in Khartoum, President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan stated: “Ninety-eight percent of the people are Muslims and the new constitution will reflect this. The official religion will be Islam and Islamic law the main source [of the constitution]. We call it a Muslim state.”

Last year Bishop Ezekiel Kondo of Khartoum reported that in his home province, South Kordifan, now on the Khartoum government’s side of the border between North and South, the Islamist government was engaged in the religious cleansing of the province, driving Christian Nuba across the border and burning the region’s principle town of Abyei.

The violence prompted a statement from the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams. “Numerous villages have been bombed. More than 53,000 people have been driven from their homes. The new Anglican cathedral in Kadugli has been burned down,” Dr. Williams reported, adding that “many brutal killings are being reported.”

However in his statement to Parliament last month, the minister said the British government was “very concerned by a recent attack on a church in Khartoum, although there was no evidence of state involvement. We welcome the announcement from the Ministry of Religious Guidance and Endowments of an investigation into the incident and urge them to ensure this enquiry is thorough, independent and timely. We continue to remind the Government of Sudan of their obligation to protect all of their civilians, including those in religious groups.”

In response to a second question from Bishop Peter Prince concerning the disputed border provinces, Lord Howell said the British government had pressed both sides to come to the negotiating table.

“We are also encouraging the Government in Sudan to put in place a political process of constitutional reform that will address the needs and views of all its people, including those in the conflict affected states of Southern Kordofan, Blue Nile and Abyei,” Lord Howell said.

In May 2011, the Sudanese army occupied Abyei following a three-day clash with South Sudanese troops. Christian Solidarity Worldwide reported that a dispute over who could vote in the independence referendum in the state led to the clashes. Sudan had argued that the Miseriya, a nomadic northern tribe that roam into Abyei in order to feed and water their livestock, should be included in the referendum, while South Sudan maintained that only the Ngok Dinka people who reside in Abyei should participate.

After the Sudanese Army entered the province, approximately 130,000 Ngok Dinka residents were displaced to the south and forced to seek assistance from aid agencies. Last week Sudan agreed to honour UN Security Council Resolution 2046 and pulled its troops out of Abyei.

CSW’s Advocacy Director Andrew Johnston said his organization welcomed the troop withdrawal. But the resumption of peace talks “must not be allowed to obscure the Sudanese government’s responsibility for the creation of humanitarian crises not only in Abyei, but also in Darfur and most recently, in the Nuba Mountains, where access is being denied to a civilian population that is deliberately targeted by the military and faces imminent starvation.”

Lord Howell told Parliament the UK has worked hard to “ensure United Nations Security Council Resolution 2046, which supports the roadmap, dealt with Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile State under a Chapter VII mandate.”

“We continue to remind the Government of Sudan of their obligation to protect civilians and allow humanitarian access to both states. I welcomed the news that South Sudan have withdrawn their remaining security forces from Abyei on 11 May, and we now urge the Sudanese security forces to do the same,” the minister said.

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

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

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Church of Myanmar, Church of England Newspaper, Persecution, Politics.
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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.

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.