Steel on Steel - Donald McElvaney (February 22, 2011)
1. Official Recognition Eludes Christian Groups in Bhutan
Christians can practice their faith even without legal identity, officials argue.
By Vishal Arora
THIMPU, Bhutan, February 1 (Compass Direct News) – Bhutan officials have given assurances that freedom for Christians to worship “within the cultural norms” of the tiny Buddhist nation in the Himalayas will not be violated, but they remain ambiguous on whether and when the miniscule community will obtain legal identity. The cultural norms include a prohibition against proselytizing. But Bhutan Minister for Home and Culture Lyonpo Minjur Dorji told Compass there are provisions in the Constitution of Bhutan that can be interpreted as allowing room for Christianity. The country’s agency regulating religious organizations was expected to make a decision last December on whether it could register a Christian federation representing all Christians, but an official at the agency said the matter requires further investigation. Meantime, Home Minister Dorji indicated no change was necessary. Dorji Tshering, member secretary of the regulatory authority locally known as Chhoedey Lhentshog, told Compass that “certain issues” needed to be looked into before a decision could be made. “The intent of the Religious Organizations Act of Bhutan is to protect and preserve the spiritual heritage of Bhutan,” he said. “We need to see if such preconditions can be met if we register a Christian organization.” Bhutan’s constitution states that Buddhism is the “spiritual heritage” of the country.
2. Anti-Christian Speeches in Iran Led to Crackdown, Sources Say
As many as 120 Christians arrested as government tries to stop house church movement.
By Damaris Kremida
ISTANBUL, February 1 (Compass Direct News) – Speeches by Iranian religious and political figures between August and October who acknowledged the existence of home fellowships and condemned them as a threat to the state triggered Iran’s crackdown on Christians in the past few months, analysts said. In the past few weeks, Iranian authorities have arrested more than 70 Christians after previous round-ups near Christmas, according to a report last week by Elam Ministries. With the release of seven Christians last week after they spent a month in solitary confinement, at least 26 Christians remain incarcerated. Sources said that the number of Christians detained since Christmas could now be as high as 120. Though authorities have released most of the Christians after interrogations, many of them are still in prison, especially house group leaders. Many released in the last month had to sign statements saying they would not attend church again. Iranian leaders have described house churches as the work of the “enemy,” analysts said. On Oct. 19, in Qom, Iran’s religious center, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said that Iran’s enemies want to shake the country’s religious and societal values through the spread of Baha’ism and a network of Christian house churches. Khamenei’s speech marked the fifth public statement from an Iranian leader condemning Iranian Christians in the three-month period. “The public statements show that the government acknowledges the presence of the church and considers it a threat,” a regional analyst who requested anonymity told Compass. “It’s striking they have been talking about it publicly in a way they haven’t previously.”
3. Attacks on Indonesian Churches Spiked in 2010, Group Says
Religious freedom violations jumped from 12 to 75, according to Setara Institute.
By Victor Raqual
JAKARTA, Indonesia, February 3 (Compass Direct News) – Violations of Christians’ religious freedom in Indonesia jumped from 12 incidents in 2009 to 75 last year, according to a report from the Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace. Setara Institute researcher Ismail Hasani said at a press conference last week that 43 incidents involved attacks on churches and other security threats, the sealing of worship venues and prohibition of activities, among other violations. Other incidents among the 75 violations included keeping churches from establishing places of worship and banning services and other religious activities. In previous years most religious freedom violations overall have occurred in West Java Province, and that trend continued as Setara recorded 91 incidents against Christians and other groups in 2010. “West Java, besides having a history of radicalism, is a region that also has thriving hard-line Islamist organizations that have special agendas such as enforcement of sharia and eradication of immorality, besides being anti-Christianization and anti-proselytizing,” Hasani said. After the 75 violations committed against Christian groups, the minority Muslim Ahmadiyya sect endured the next highest number of violations with 50, he said. West Java officials have shown hardly any resolve to protect freedom of religion and belief, Setara’s Hasani said.
4. Nigerian Violence Claims Lives of Christians
Cycle of attacks sparked by Christmas Eve bombings leaves growing list of victims.
By Lekan Otufodunrin and Obed Minchakpu
JOS, Nigeria, February 4 (Compass) – Amid sectarian violence by Muslims, Christians and security forces in this capital city of Plateau state, a flash point for ethnic and religious conflict in Nigeria, scores of Christians were estimated to have been killed in the past month. Christmas Eve bombings by Islamic extremists touched off tit-for-tat violence that has killed more than 200 people in Plateau state, according to Human Rights Watch. In the predominantly Christian Barkin Ladi Government Area on the outskirts of Jos, Muslim assailants led by a police officer from Abuja on Jan. 27 killed 14 Christians, according to a military spokesman, and the next day Muslim youths stabbed two students at the University of Jos on the assumption that they were Christians. Capt. Charles Ekeocha, spokesman for the Special Task Force (STF) charged with maintaining order in Jos, said the Muslim attackers in the Barkin Ladi area invaded four Christian villages in the early hours of Jan. 27, killing eight Christians in Dorowa, two in Nding Susut, three in Fanloh and one in Nding Jok. Military forces arrested 29 of the assailants, killing two in the process, he said. At the University of Jos, weekend clashes between students and Hausa Muslim youths following a Jan. 28 attack by the youths left at least four persons dead and 20 injured. Christian leaders accused the Muslim minority of trying to take over the control of the state. The North Central Zone of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN), in a Jan. 24 newspaper advertisement, condemned a call by the Plateau State Chapter of the Muslim Council of Ulama for a state of emergency, which they said would leave Muslims in control of the state. “The ill-concealed Islamic agenda of the Ulamas is to make Plateau state ungovernable so as to justify the truncating of democracy,” the Christian leaders stated.
5. Christian Leaders in Indonesia Decry Lax Security after Attacks
Two churches, school damaged by massive Islamic extremist throng.
By Victor Raqual
JAKARTA, Indonesia, February 11 (Compass Direct News) – Christian leaders faulted Indonesian authorities for security breaches that allowed Islamic extremist mobs this week to attack a defendant convicted of defaming Islam, the judge that sentenced him, two churches and a Christian school. The judge in Temanggung, Central Java on Tuesday (Feb. 8) sentenced Antonius Richmond Bawengan to five years in prison – the maximum allowed under Indonesia’s “blasphemy” law – for distributing pamphlets that allegedly disparaged the Kaaba, the black cube-shaped building in Mecca, Saudi Arabia that Muslims face when praying, a source said. Not satisfied with the five-year sentence, Islamist mobs suddenly rushed toward the defendant and judge, who were whisked out of the courtroom. Crowds outside began to break windows and burn vehicles around the courthouse, also damaging the lobby, and before nightfall more than 1,000 Muslim extremists had damaged Sts. Peter and Paul’s Church and the Indonesia Pentecostal Church, as well as Shekinah Christian School. The Rev. Gomar Gultom, general secretary of the Communion of Churches in Indonesia, told Compass that the body condemned all violence against members of any faith. “We also condemn the state, which has committed such omission when violence occurred,” he said. A priest was injured in the melee. The secretary of the Indonesian Bishops Conference, the Rev. Benny Susetyo, said he has asked the government to definitively resolve the growing problem of anti-Christian violence in Indonesia, as such incidents have repeatedly occurred. “If the government does not act, those who have committed violence may feel above the law,” Susetyo told Compass. “And that means legal Indonesian civilization has been destroyed.”
6. Christian Killed by Muslim Employer, Relatives Say
Family says police, hospital colluded with powerful landowner.
By Asher John
LAHORE, Pakistan, February 16 (Compass Direct News) – The Christian family of 24-year-old Imran Masih in Pakistan’s Punjab Province was in anguish. The previous week, on Feb. 7, Masih was found dead at his Muslim employer’s farmhouse. The employer, influential landowner Chaudhry Maqsood Cheema, claimed that Masih committed suicide by hanging himself. Masih’s relatives believe that Cheema – seeing the young Christian man as a “soft target” whose family had little standing or legal recourse in the predominantly Muslim society – killed him for taking a day off without informing him. Masih had married eight months ago, and the couple was expecting their first child, his father Lal Masih told Compass by telephone from Nath Kallan village in Esa Nagar, Gujranwala district. Family members tried to register a report, but police refused to accept their complaint. Napolean Qayyum, field officer for Christian legal aid organization Community Development Initiative (CDI), said his team accompanied the family to the hospital on Feb. 10 and only after persistent efforts were they able to obtain the autopsy report. Qayyum said he suspected someone had tampered with the report, which stated Masih died by hanging. The CDI team discovered that Cheema’s cousin, Dr. Muhammad Asif, had been present at the autopsy and might have influenced the report. “Lal told us that the men who had washed Masih’s dead body had reported seeing a swelling on his private organs, which suggested that he had been hit badly in that area,” Qayyum said. “There was also a bruise on the back of his head.”
7. Christian Leaders in Nigeria Call Bauchi Violence Premeditated
Numerous weapons and mercenaries point to plans awaiting a triggering incident, they say.
By Obed Minchakpu
TAFAWA BALEWA, Nigeria, February 15 (Compass Direct News) – Christian leaders in Bauchi state said religious violence here sparked by a row over a billiards table on Jan. 27 bore signs that Muslim extremists were prepared for a large-scale slaughter of Christians. Initially authorities said only 18 people were killed after sectarian violence erupted in the areas of Tafawa Balewa and Bogoro, where there are large Christian populations in predominantly Muslim Bauchi state in northern Nigeria. Since then, estimates have ranged wildly from 25 to 96 people killed over a three-day period starting Jan. 27, with Christian leaders asserting that Muslim extremists used the billiards table incident as a pretext for unleashing attacks with a stockpile of weapons hidden in mosques. Christian leaders in Tafawa Balewa told Compass that triggering incident – in which a Muslim was said to have burned a billiards table belonging to a Christian, prompting youths from Christian families to burn mosques and Muslim homes – led to the emergence of Muslim weapons caches and Islamist mercenaries. Islamists had made preparations for attacks in the areas with large Christian populations, the Christian leaders said, and were awaiting a pretext for carrying them out. The Rev. Ibrahim Ezekiel, pastor of a Church of Christ in Nigeria congregation in Maryam, a suburb of Tafawa Balewa, said that area Muslims “used a lot of weapons to attack our people.” Apart from the use of guns and other weapons to attack Christians, Ezekiel said area Islamists brought in Muslim mercenaries. “The Muslims have been attacking us, and the government of Bauchi state knows this,” Ezekiel said. “Yet the government has given these Muslims the backing to attack us. They want to exterminate the Christian communities here, and that is the reason they are supporting the attacks on us.” †
For more information concerning the persecution of Christians around the world, please contact:
Compass Direct at www.compassdirect.org
Frontline Fellowship at www.frontlinefellowship.net
Christian Freedom International at www.christianfreedom.org
Jihad Watch at www.jihadwatch.org
Open Doors at www.opendoorsusa.org
The Voice of the Martyrs at www.persecution.com
Gospel for Asia at www.gfa.org
Voice of the Copts at www.voiceofthecopts.org
Barnabus Aid at www.barnabasfund.org
Christian Solidarity International at www.csi-int.org
Smyrna Ministries International at www.smyrnaministries.org