Iran is taking steps to quell protests as the anniversary of the disputed presidential election nears, reports MNN.
Multiple sources report they’re aggressively deploying paramilitary members, re-arresting activists, and enforcing certain bans on mingling of the sexes and un-Islamic women’s clothing.
The crackdown speaks to the oppressive nature of the government. It also means that everyone is under scrutiny, especially Christians.
In the best of times, the open witness of the Gospel is banned, and government spies monitor Christian groups. Believers face discrimination in education, employment, and property ownership.
However, with the increased scrutiny, discipling becomes dangerous work. Church leaders will continue to cultivate growth in the body of Christ, knowing that those who commit apostasy (turning away from Islam to another faith) face prison, abuse or the death penalty. Evangelist Sammy Tippit explains, "These are people who are from Muslim backgrounds who have come to know Christ. So the only thing they can get is from an outside source."
Believers are often isolated because they can’t worship together in a traditional church. That’s where Tippit’s teaching programs are extremely effective via satellite television. He says, "We need to pray that God will encourage them, will strengthen them, and give them the stamina in the face of great challenge."
Tippit recently met with a group of church leaders outside of Iran in order to encourage them and to let them know they’re not forgotten. "God met with us in an incredible way. Of course, they were hungry, and they were thirsty–these believers. And these were leaders."
Tippit says, "The only thing that the church can do is encourage them, pray for them, and try to give them some kind of biblical foundation that would enable them to claim the promises of God in the midst of suffering."
Report from the Christian Telegraph
Court rejects appeal of 15-year sentence for Alimjan Yimit.
DUBLIN, April 29 (CDN) — Authorities in Xinjiang Province recently moved Uyghur Christian Alimjan Yimit from a prison in Kashgar to a prison in the provincial capital Urumqi and allowed the first visit from family members since his arrest in January 2008, sources told Compass.
Alimjan (Alimujiang Yimiti in Chinese) was noticeably thinner but in good spirits, the family told friends after their brief visit to him in Xinjiang No. 3 prison on April 20, one source told Compass. They were allowed only 15 minutes to speak with Alimjan via telephone through a glass barrier, the source said.
But Alimjan’s lawyers, Li Baiguang and Liu Peifu, were prohibited from meeting with him, despite gaining permission from the Xinjiang Bureau of Prison Management, the China Aid Association (CAA) reported on Saturday (April 24).
Officials have now granted Alimjan’s wife Gulnur (Chinese spelling Gulinuer) and other close family members permission to visit him once a month.
Alimjan and Gulnur pastored a Uyghur ethnic house church in Xinjiang prior to his arrest in January 2008.
Attorney Li told Radio Free Asia earlier this month that while the initial charges against Alimjan were both “instigating separatism” and “leaking state secrets” to foreign organizations, his actual offense was talking to visiting Christians from the United States.
The Kashgar Intermediate Court found Alimjan guilty of “leaking state secrets” on Oct. 27, 2009 and gave him a 15-year sentence. His lawyers appealed the sentence, but the People’s High Court of Xinjiang upheld the original verdict on March 16.
“This decision is illegal and void because it never succeeded in showing how Alimjan supplied state secrets to people overseas,” Li said, according to Radio Free Asia.
“Religion lies at the heart of this case,” fellow legal advocate Li Dunyong, who was effectively disbarred at the end of May 2008 when Chinese authorities turned down an annual application to renew his law license, told Radio Free Asia.
Zhang Kai, another Beijing lawyer who had defended Alimjan, suffered the same fate. (See “China Refuses to Renew Licenses for Human Rights Lawyers,” June 11, 2009.)
Alimjan’s legal team now plans to appeal to the Beijing Supreme Court, according to CAA.
Officials initially interrogated Alimjan during his employment by two foreign-owned companies and forbade him to discuss the questioning with anyone. In September 2007 they closed the business he then worked for and accused him of using it as a cover for “preaching Christianity” among the Uyghurs.
Kashgar police then detained Alimjan on Jan. 11, 2008 on charges of endangering state security before formally re-arresting him on Feb. 20, 2008 for allegedly “inciting secession” and “leaking state secrets.”
He was then held for more than a year at the Kashgar Municipal Detention Center without facing trial.
After an initial closed hearing in the Kashgar Intermediate Court on May 27, 2008, court officials returned Alimjan’s case to state prosecutors citing lack of evidence. During a second secret hearing in July 2008 the charge of “inciting secession” was dropped. After further investigation the case was returned to court officials for consideration in mid-October 2008.
On Mar. 30, 2009, just one week after a rare prison visit from his lawyer, prison officials transferred Alimjan to a hospital in Kashgar. Alimjan called out to onlookers, “I’m sick. Tell my lawyer to come quickly to see me,” according to a CAA report. Compass sources confirmed that Alimjan had been beaten in prison. (See “Detained Uyghur Christian Taken to Hospital,” April 16, 2009.)
Last October, authorities finally sentenced Alimjan to 15 years in prison for “leaking state secrets” to foreign organizations.
“It is the maximum penalty for this charge … which requires Alimjan’s actions to be defined as having caused irreparable, grave national damage,” Li Dunyong said in a CAA press statement announcing the verdict.
The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has ruled the arrest and detention of Alimjan to be arbitrary and in violation of international law, according to CAA.
Report from Compass Direct News
Judge rules Iranian convert from Islam requires protection from persecutors.
NAIROBI, Kenya, March 15 (CDN) — Mohammad Azbari, a Christian convert from Islam who has fled to Kenya, knows what it’s like to be deported back to his native Iran.
When it happened in 2007, he said, Iranian authorities pressured the government of Norway to return him and his wife Gelanie Azbari to Iran after hearing rumors that he had forsaken Islam.
“When we arrived in Iran, we were interrogated by security and severely beaten,” he told Compass in Nairobi, where he and his family fought to persuade the Kenyan government to decline Iran’s demand to deport him back. “My son got scared and began urinating on himself.”
A cousin managed to secure their release, but not before Iranian authorities had taken valuable – and incriminating – possessions.
“They took everything that I had – laptop, camera and some of my valuables which contained all my details, such as information concerning my baptism, and my entire profile, including that of my family,” Azbari said.
Azbari had been employed in the Iranian army before fleeing, he said, and authorities were monitoring his movements because they were concerned that, having left Islam, he might betray his country and reveal government secrets.
When he and his Christian wife, a native of the Philippines, first fled Iran in 2000, he was still a Shia Muslim. The previous year authorities had arrested his wife after finding a Christmas tree in their house in Tehran; Azbari was not home at the time and thus escaped arrest, but as authorities took his wife away they left their then 3-year-old son unattended.
“I was put in a small cell for two days,” Gelanie Azbari told Compass, through tears. “While in the cell two police guards raped me. It was the worst of all the nights I have had in my lifetime. Since that time I have been sick both physically and mentally.”
Authorities soon took her husband in for interrogation, suspecting he was a spy for foreign states.
Still a Muslim, Azbari allowed his wife to follow her Christian faith. He had grown accustomed to watching her pray as a Christian and watch the Jesus Film. As time went by, he developed an urge to embrace Christianity. They started reading the Bible together.
The idea of trusting in and following Christ filled him with fear, as it was against the law to convert from Islam – it would mean losing his life, he said.
“I started questioning our leaders, who see themselves as God,” he said. “The claim of Jesus as the prophet as well as the Word and spirit of God is indicated in the Quran. When I read in the Gospels of Jesus giving people rest, it made me want to decide to accept him as my Lord and Savior.”
Sensing danger, the family fled to the Netherlands in 2000, and it was there that Azbari embraced Christianity. In 2003 the family left the Netherlands for Norway.
Azbari was an avid student of his new-found Lord; while in Norway, he became seminary teacher of Christology.
Throughout, Azbari said, the Iranian government had been monitoring his movements. In 2007 Iranian officials persuaded the Norwegian government to send him, together with his wife and son Reza Azbari, back to Iran.
After their interrogation and mistreatment upon arrival in Iran, Azbari managed to call his sister, who connected him with the army general cousin who helped secure their release. His sister took them in, but his brother in-law was not happy with their Christian prayers; he began quarreling with his wife, Azbari’s sister.
“They began looking for trouble for us,” Azbari said. “Sensing danger, we then left the home and went to find a place to stay. Everywhere we tried to book in we were rejected, since we were people who had been deported.”
They began attending a church made up primarily of foreigners, where Azbari’s wife and son felt more at home than he did. His army general cousin found out and, angry that they had sought refuge in a church after he had secured their release, grew furious.
“He was very angry, as they had also discovered this information from the laptop they had confiscated and threatened that I should be arrested,” Azbari said. “I then decided to move to central Iran to look for employment, leaving my family behind.”
The couple felt they could not go to Gelanie Azbari’s homeland as the Philippines has such friendly relations with Iran, he said.
“To go back to Philippines or Iran is quite unsafe for us,” Azbari said.
In October 2009, his sister notified him that police were looking for him and his family.
“I then decided to flee the country through Turkey, then to Kenya where I was arrested and then deported to Turkey,” Azbari said. “In Turkey they could not allow me to enter the country, hence I was returned to Kenya.”
They were arrested in January for illegal entry into Kenya. On March 4, a judge at Chief Magistrate Court No. 3 of Kenya dropped the charges against him, declaring that Azbari required international protection from his persecutors. The court also directed that Azbari be given back all his documents and the 10,000 Kenyan Shillings ($US130) in bail he had deposited.
They had applied for asylum with the United Nations. Appearing before the court on behalf of Azbari on Jan. 15, a representative of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees had argued that he deserved asylum because his religious status had forced him to flee from his country of origin. On March 4 the court found that Azbari and his family require international protection under Section 82 of the laws of Kenya, and he was set free.
“We have witnessed the love of God and the sacrifices of what it means to love one in word and deed,” Azbari said moments after the decision. “We saw the love of Christ from the people who understood and stood with us.”
He thanked friends who introduced his family to Nairobi Pentecostal Church, which provided them spiritual strength. Three attorneys represented Azbari: Wasia Masitsa, a legal officer for the Urban Refugee Intervention Program; Christian lawyer John Swaka; and Laban Osoro of the United Nations. Rene Kiamba of the International Christian Chamber of Commerce had helped him post bail.
Report from Compass Direct News
Coptic Christian women in Egypt are being forced to marry and convert to Islam and that oppression is part of a larger pattern of persecution against Christians facilitated by the Egyptian government, according to two recent reports, writes Baptist Press.
"Cases of abduction, forced conversion and marriage are usually accompanied by acts of violence which include rape, beatings, deprivation of food and other forms of physical and mental abuse," said a new assessment by Christian Solidarity International and the Coptic Foundation for Human Rights.
At the same time, the 2009 U.S. State Department report on international religious freedom noted the Egyptian government fails to prosecute crimes against Copts and even has taken a hand in destroying church property and, in one case, a government official reportedly raped a woman who had converted from Islam to Christianity.
About 90 percent of the Egyptian population is Sunni Muslim, and the rest primarily identify themselves as Coptic Christians, according to the Human Rights Watch report "Prohibited Identities: State Interference with Religious Freedom." Copts typically are underprivileged and experience discrimination.
Egyptian sex traffickers entice Coptic Christian women from low-income families by promising an escape from poverty, then force the women into Muslim "marriages" or outright slavery, according to the CSI/CFHR report.
"Such abuse remains covered in a cloak of silence and tacit acceptance, even though it is against the constitutional affirmations of civil rights," the report said.
Once a Coptic girl is coerced into marriage and Islamic conversion, her family will not take her back, and if she leaves her "husband," she is considered a "disgrace" to her family, the report said. In addition, the Coptic Orthodox Church excommunicates female members who wed Muslim men, the State Department said.
Since Islam is the "religion of state" in Egypt, conversion to Islam is easy, while returning to Christianity is unacceptable, the HRW report said. The Civil Status Department, which issues national identity cards, sometimes refuses to give Coptic women a new card identifying her as Christian since it is considered apostasy for a Coptic woman to leave Islam, even to return to her religion of origin.
Egyptian law requires every citizen to have an identity card for purposes such as voting, employment and education.
Most of the cases of Coptic women being coerced into marriage are not reported and "observers, including human rights groups, find it extremely difficult to determine whether compulsion was used, as most cases involve a female Copt who converts to Islam when she marries a Muslim male," the State Department report said.
In two examples of coerced conversion, CSI/CFHR reported Nov. 10:
– An Egyptian woman was raped and beaten since she would not have sex with the man she was forced to marry. The Coptic cross on her wrist was later removed with acid.
– Another woman was forced to marry a Muslim lawyer and work for him in "slave-like conditions" for five years.
John Eibner, CSI’s chief executive officer, urged President Obama in a letter to combat the trafficking of Christian women and girls in Egypt and to make sure the U.S. makes this issue a priority in its relations with Egypt.
"Trafficking of Christian women in Egypt is not a new phenomenon…. But this problem has now reached boiling point within Egypt’s Coptic community, which views it as symptomatic of a much broader pattern of religious persecution," Eibner said in his letter.
Report from the Christian Telegraph
Convert to Christianity loses another job as co-workers learn he’s not Muslim.
ISTANBUL, June 15 (Compass Direct News) – Since Iranian native Nasser Ghorbani fled to Turkey seven years ago, he has been unable to keep a job for more than a year – eventually his co-workers would ask why he didn’t come to the mosque on Fridays, and one way or another they’d learn that he was a convert to Christianity.
Soon thereafter he would be gone.
Never had anyone gotten violent with him, however, until three weeks ago, when someone at his workplace in Istanbul hit him on the temple so hard he knocked him out. When he came back to his senses, Ghorbani was covered in dirt, and his left eye was swollen shut. It hurt to breathe.
His whole body was in pain. He had no idea what had happened.
“I’ve always had problems at work in Turkey because I’m a Christian, but never anything like this,” Ghorbani told Compass.
A carpenter by trade, Ghorbani started working at an Istanbul furniture maker in November 2008. From the beginning, he said, the Turks he worked with noticed that he didn’t go to the mosque on Friday. Nor did he behave like everyone else.
“If someone swore, I would say, ‘Don’t swear,’ or if someone lied, I said, ‘That’s not honest,’” he said. “You know Turks are very curious, and they try to understand everything.”
Although he tried to conceal his faith from his co-workers, inevitably it became obvious.
Soon after he started his new job, Ghorbani and his family found a new apartment. On the planned move-in day, New Year’s Day, his boss sent the company truck along with a truck driver to help; members of the Christian group that often meets in his home also came.
“When the [truck driver] saw all these people at our house, he was surprised,” said Ghorbani’s wife, Leila, explaining that he seemed especially surprised to find foreigners among the group. “It was big news back at the factory.”
Ghorbani said that in the following months the questions persisted, as well as pressure to attend the mosque. He avoided these as best as he could, but he admitted that two mistakes confirmed their suspicions. Someone from work learned that he had a broken personal computer for sale and bought it, only to find Christian documents and photos on the hard drive. Secondly, a mutual friend later admitted to a co-worker that he went to the same church as Ghorbani.
“The attitude in the entire factory changed toward me,” said Ghorbani, chuckling. “It was like they had agreed to marginalize me. Even our cook started only serving me potatoes, even though she had cooked meat as well. I didn’t say anything.”
In May the truck driver who had helped the Ghorbanis move finally confronted him.
“Your country is a Muslim country,” he told him, “and you may have become a Christian, but you are coming to Friday prayers today.”
On May 22 during lunch, his co-workers told him they were taking him to the mosque that day. “You are going to do your prayers,” one said.
Ghorbani brushed it off and, to appease them, said he would come after lunch. But as they were about to leave for the mosque, he asked them why they only pray once a week – and told them that as a Christian he couldn’t accept it and wouldn’t join them.
After the day’s last delivery and pick-up, the truck driver returned to work. As everyone was getting ready to leave, from the corner of his eye Ghorbani saw the truck driver walking up to him, and felt the blow of his fist on his temple. When he regained consciousness, some co-workers were washing his face in the bathroom.
They told him a little about how he was beaten, put him in a cab with one of their colleagues and sent him home. That evening, his fellowship group was meeting at his home. They had just sat down for dinner when Ghorbani arrived later than usual.
“He walked in, and he was limping because his right side hurt,” said an Iranian friend who was at the meeting. “There was dirt all over his clothes, and there was blood in his left eye. When I saw him I got scared. I thought that maybe a car had hit him.”
Wanting to avoid a hospital visit and questions from police, Ghorbani went to a private doctor a few days later. The doctor instructed him to stay home for three weeks to recover from the injuries: badly bruised ribs, shoulder, shins and eye, and internal stomach bleeding.
When he took the medical report to his workplace the following day, co-workers told him that his boss had fired the truck driver, and that even though management was very happy with his work, it would be safer for him to look for employment elsewhere. They said the truck driver blamed Ghorbani for losing his job and had threatened to kill him if he ever saw him.
“I have a family and home and nothing to lose,” the truck driver said, according to co-workers. “If I kill him, the worst thing that could happen to me is that I do some jail time.”
Ghorbani’s friend said that even if other Iranian converts to Christianity don’t suffer violence as Nasser has, life for them is full of pressure and uncertainty at work.
“Maybe for Christians by birth there are no pressures or problems, but people like us who want to [leave Islam to] follow Jesus are fired,” said the friend.
He explained that following their faith means living righteously and not stealing or cheating their bosses out of time and wages.
“That’s when the marginalization starts, when you resist doing wrong,” he said. “But if you live the way they do, lying and stealing, they don’t notice you’re a Christian.”
The Iranian friend said that even before he converted to Christianity in Turkey, his colleagues would pressure him to come to the mosque for Friday prayers because he was a foreigner.
“After becoming a Christian, the pressure gets worse,” he said. “The way they look at you changes … and, honestly, they try to convince you, [saying] that you haven’t researched your decision well enough.”
Now running his business out of his own home, the friend said no one can disrupt his work because of his faith, but he is a rarity among Iranian refugees in Turkey.
Ghorbani’s wife said the New Testament is clear on how to respond to attacks.
“The Bible says don’t be surprised when things happen against you, but love more, because you suffer for Christ,” she said.
Hope for a Future
The Ghorbanis said they are thankful for their time in Turkey, though their future is unclear.
The family first fled to Turkey in 2002 after realizing that their families were becoming aware of Nasser’s newfound faith. Ghorbani had worked in the Iranian Armed Forces for 10 years before he was fired in 1995 because, as a secular Muslim, he refused to attend Quran classes, which were necessary for keeping his job or being promoted.
For the following eight years, the government kept close tabs on the couple, questioning them every six months. Ghorbani could not travel outside of Iran during this period.
In 2001 he became a Christian under the influence of a customer who ordered furniture from his shop. As soon as Ghorbani’s passport was issued, he fled to Turkey; his family followed a few months later. Soon his family also espoused Christianity after his wife had a dream of Jesus saving her from sinking sand.
“We have learned the truth, and it has set us free,” Leila Ghorbani said.
The family is in the process of applying to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to re-open their case; their first application was denied three years ago.
According to the UNHCR’s most recent Global Report, in Turkey there were 2,100 Iranian refugees and 2,300 asylum-seekers from Iran in 2008. Although there is no data on how many Christian Iranians are living in Turkey, it is estimated that there is an Iranian house church in each of 30 “satellite cities” where the government appoints refugees and asylum seekers to live.
The Ghorbanis have three daughters, ages 20, 17 and 2. Ghorbani said he and his family would be in danger if they were returned to Iran.
“As a Christian I can’t return to Iran, or I risk losing my life,” Ghorbani said. “If they catch me, because I was a lieutenant they will directly hang me.”
Report from Compass Direct News
Family fears for his safety; planned Easter celebration near earthquake area quashed.
DUBLIN, April 17 (Compass Direct News) – Family members of detained Uyghur Christian Alimjan Yimit are increasingly concerned for his safety following reports that police and a prison doctor escorted him in handcuffs to a hospital in Kashgar two weeks ago.
Alimjan (Alimujiang Yimiti in Chinese) called out to onlookers, “I’m sick. Tell my lawyer to come quickly to see me,” according to a China Aid Association (CAA) report.
Sources told Compass that Alimjan had been beaten in prison, although it was not clear who beat him or why.
The transfer from the Kashi Municipal Detention Center in Kashgar, Xinjiang province, came just one week after Alimjan’s lawyer met with him to discuss a court trial anticipated in May. According to CAA, this was only the second time authorities have allowed anyone to visit Alimjan since his arrest in January 2008.
Court authorities last May returned Alimjan’s case to state prosecutors, citing lack of evidence for charges of “leaking state secrets” and “inciting secession.” Family, friends and work colleagues have insisted that Alimjan is a loyal citizen with no access to state secrets, and that his arrest was due largely to his Christian faith and association with foreign Christians.
Compass sources confirmed this week that Alimjan’s family members are emotionally distraught over his continued detention and over lack of communication from prison authorities.
If convicted, Alimjan could face execution; Chinese authorities executed two alleged Uyghur separatists as recently as last Thursday (April 9).
Authorities first detained Alimjan on Jan. 12, 2008 on charges of endangering state security before formally re-arresting him on Feb. 20, 2008 for allegedly “inciting secession” and leaking state secrets to foreign organizations.
After court authorities returned Alimjan’s case to state prosecutors and after their further investigation, his case was returned to court officials for consideration in mid-October.
Compass sources claim Kashgar authorities are wary of the case due to its sensitivity. Officials initially interrogated Alimjan during his employment for two foreign-owned companies and forbade him to discuss the questioning with anyone. In September 2007 they closed the business he then worked for and accused him of using it as a cover for “preaching Christianity” among the Uyghurs. Alimjan was arrested several months later on political charges.
A second Uyghur Christian, Osman Imin (Wusiman Yaming in Chinese), sentenced to two years in labor camp for “leaking state secrets” and “illegal proselytizing,” is due for release this October. Authorities had originally called for a 10-15 year prison sentence for Osman but significantly reduced the term following international media attention.
Authorities permit Osman’s wife and children to visit him once a month.
Human Rights Proposal
On Monday (April 13), as family members waited to hear news of Alimjan’s condition, China’s State Council released a new document outlining proposed human rights improvements. The document focused heavily on protecting the rights of prisoners and included a pledge to abolish torture and other forms of abuse within two years.
The “National Human Rights Action Plan” was one of several measures proposed by a Chinese government delegation at a United Nations review of China’s human rights record held on Feb. 9.
The plan includes a ban on confessions extracted through torture and a new requirement for physical examinations before and after interrogations. It also affirms the right of prisoners to hire and meet with lawyers and to report abuses in writing to the appropriate authorities.
China’s state-run English newspaper, the China Daily, reported on March 24 that bullying and torture were a significant problem in the nation’s detention centers, and that at least five inmates had died under suspicious circumstances since Feb. 8, according to CAA.
‘Break-through’ for Christianity in China a Mirage
By Xu Mei
BEIJING, April 17 (Compass Direct News) – Prior to the event it was publicized abroad as the next great break-through for house church Christianity in China.
A giant, open celebration was to be held on Easter Sunday (April 12) in the western city of Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province. Finally, it seemed, the government would acknowledge the sacrificial work of house church Christians who came to Sichuan from throughout the country to help with rescue and reconstruction for those suffering from last May’s earthquake. It would be an open admission that Christianity – even of the house church variety – was a positive element in Chinese society.
Verbal permission had been obtained for 2,500 house church Christians throughout China to meet for the special celebration entitled, “Build Up the Church and Bless Society.” Some 50 government officials had been invited to the event, to be held at Chengdu’s new exhibition center. Christians from Singapore and the United States flew in for it.
But the day before Easter, police abruptly informed the center that the event was cancelled. Organizers hastily changed the venue to a smaller, old exhibition center where only about 1,000 people could be accommodated. Plans for a more low-key event were stitched together, to start at 5 p.m. on Easter Sunday.
But even this was too much. An hour before the event, police barred the door. The foreigners left. None of the promised government officials turned up. A few hundred bemused Chinese house church Christians seized the opportunity to hold an impromptu worship service in a nearby parking lot.
Police intervened there, too, and arrested some local house church leaders. They were released later that evening.
The debacle comes after another much-publicized “break-through,” a supposedly government-sponsored seminar in Beijing last Nov. 21-22 in which officials were said to have met with house church leaders (see http://www.compassdirect.org, “Officials Reach Out to House Churches; Raids, Arrests Continue,” Dec. 9, 2008). The chief organizer later denied there was any government involvement, much less a break-through.
Rather, a minor Non-Governmental Organization had assembled academics, including some Christians, to meet with house church leaders to discuss church-state relations and make proposals they hoped might be passed on to the government at some future stage.
Observers speculate that in both the symposium and the Easter celebration, Christians overseas and perhaps some younger Chinese Christians – who have less experience than their elders with the machinations of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) – had overestimated the benevolence of government authorities. Faced with the enormity of an economic crisis, sources said, the government seems to be in no mood to take major steps to liberalize oppressive religious policies, let alone legalize house churches.
That the Beijing seminar was actually held, and that the Chengdu celebration could be organized only to be stopped at the last minute, could be viewed as hopeful signs of how the Chinese government has lumbered forward, at glacial pace, towards a more open policy towards Christians over the last decade or so. But powerful reactionary forces within the CCP view with dismay the extraordinary growth of the church, sources say.
Many officials still view Christianity – and especially house churches – as an ideological and political threat. Limits on the public expression of Christian worship and evangelism are clearly laid down in a welter of national, provincial and local documents issued by CCP and government over the past 25 years. Sources say minor infractions may be winked at, but major changes in a more liberal direction are not to be expected.
Officials are struggling to control a country that threatens to become increasingly uncontrollable. Depending on how long the economic recession grips China, sources say, it seems likely that for the next two years at least, the government will err on the side of caution.
Report from Compass News Direct
Detailed evidence of human rights violations omitted from U.N. summary report.
DUBLIN, February 11 (Compass Direct News) – A Christian defender of human rights in China – whom authorities detained last week – detailed state-sponsored torture he suffered in 2007 in an open letter released on Monday (Feb. 9), the same day advocacy groups criticized a U.N. review of China’s treatment of Christians and other minorities for omitting serious abuses.
While a Chinese delegate at the U.N. review asserted that China would never allow torture against religious members or other minorities, the open letter by Christian lawyer Gao Zhisheng – whom officials seized from his Beijing home on Feb. 4 – described 50 days of beatings and electric shocks on his mouth and genitals by state-sponsored thugs that left him desperate to die.
Gao and his family authorized China Aid Association (CAA) to release the letter, written on Nov. 28, 2007, when Gao was under house arrest in Beijing. Currently Gao’s whereabouts are unknown, according to CAA.
The letter gives a detailed account of torture he suffered in September and October of 2007. Gao said his official captors – some of whom he recognized – referred to a report he had written earlier on the torture of Falun Gong members and warned him that he was about to experience the same treatment. They urinated on Gao and repeatedly prodded his body, mouth and genitals with electric shock batons. Other methods used were too graphic and “horrible” to describe, Gao said.
Officials later asked Gao to write articles cursing Falun Gong and praising the government. When he refused, they pressured him to write a statement saying that Falun Gong practitioners had given him false evidence of torture, and that – despite constant harassment – the government had treated him and his family well. Gao said he signed this statement, as well as others in which he confessed to sexual impropriety, after beatings that left him unrecognizable and the insertion of toothpicks into his genitals.
“I can’t use any language to describe the helplessness, pain and despair that I felt then,” he wrote. “Finally I made up stories, telling them about affairs that I had with four women. After more repeated torture, I had to describe how I had sex with each of these women. This continued until dawn the next day.”
During the U.N. review of China’s human rights record on Monday (Feb. 9), Chinese delegate Song Hansong of the Supreme People’s Procuratorate said that use of torture to obtain evidence was a criminal offense and that China had “established a comprehensive safeguard measure against torture in all our prisons and detention facilities.”
“China is firmly against torture and would never allow torture to be used on ethnic groups, religious believers or other groups,” Song said.
Louis-Martin Aumais, speaking for Canada, had asked that China follow recommendations of the Committee Against Torture, particularly on the inadmissibility in court of statements obtained through torture. He also asked that China ensure fundamental legal rights for those detained on state security charges, including access to counsel, public trial and sentencing and eligibility for parole.
Australian representative Caroline Millar welcomed improvements in China over the past 30 years but expressed concern over “reports of harassment, arbitrary arrest, punishment and detention of religious and ethnic minorities.”
Li Baodong, ambassador and permanent representative of China at the United Nations, said that 50 government departments were working on a national human rights plan to be implemented this year and in 2010.
Rights groups such as CAA and Human Rights Watch stated that a summary of reports submitted for the review omitted documented details of serious human rights abuses, including the treatment of Christians and other minority groups. Omitted documentation that Non-Governmental Organizations had submitted included evidence of mistreatment of Christians, Tibetan and Uyghur minority groups and human rights defenders.
Harassment of house church Christians increased significantly last year, according to a CAA report released on Feb. 5. A total of 2,027 Christians were affected in incidents reported to CAA in 2008, compared with 788 people in 2007. Of the 2008 total, 764 Christians were arrested and detained, most for brief periods, and 35 were sentenced to prison terms or re-education through labor.
In Beijing, the total number of people persecuted was 539, up 418 percent from the 104 reported in 2007, CAA said.
“This is not hard to understand, because whenever the government holds important social events, serious suppression is implemented to maintain the appearance of stability through spreading fear among people,” the report states. “Beside the factor of the Olympic Games, we cannot ignore that the persecution of Christianity and of some other religions serves as an essential policy of the atheist Chinese Communist government.”
Local governments in China last year reported on continued measures to prevent “illegal” religious gatherings and curb other criminalized religious activities, according to reports from the U.S. Congressional Executive Commission on China (CECC) on Dec. 20 and Feb. 2. The commission consists of nine senators, nine house representatives, and five senior administration officials appointed by the U.S. president.
From information provided on a local government website, the CECC learned that authorities in Hechuan district, Chongqing municipality last October had launched a six-month campaign to root out “illegal venues for worship.” Authorities were concerned about “anti-Chinese political forces” using Christianity to “infiltrate the area” and outlined a five-point plan to address illegal worship sites, including the “transformation through re-education” of Protestant members of unauthorized meeting places.
A website of the Wuhan municipal government in Hunan province described draft legislation aimed at curbing freedom of worship in private homes; the new law would permit only immediate family members to take part in such gatherings.
The United Front Work Department in Fuzhou city, Jiangxi province, responsible for the oversight of religious communities, reported last year that work to “transform and expand the patriotism of underground Catholic forces” was a key objective, as these forces were exerting a negative impact on the city, according to the CECC. The Fuzhou department report also expressed concern about unauthorized Protestant preaching.
A Xinjiang government website also detailed a campaign to educate children and young people against ethnic separatism and illegal religious activities, according to the CECC.
Evidence from these sources concurred with reports from watch groups such as CAA regarding the closure of house churches, detention of house church members and harassment of house church leaders, the commission said.
Arrests on ‘State Security’ Charges
In Xinjiang, Uyghur Christians Alimjan Yimit (Alimujiang Yimit in Chinese) and Osman Imin (Wusiman Yaming in Chinese) both detained on state security charges, remain behind bars – one sentenced, the other still waiting for a trial date.
In a closed trial in September 2007, the Xinjiang State Security Bureau (SSB) had sentenced Osman to two years of re-education through labor for “revealing state secrets” and “illegal proselytizing.” Associates, however, said he knew nothing about state matters and was arrested for being an outspoken Christian and a leader in the Uyghur church.
Officials had called for a 10-15 year criminal sentence, but after international media attention they significantly reduced the term.
Xinjiang court officials returned Alimjan’s case to state prosecutors in May last year, citing lack of evidence on charges of “inciting secessionist sentiment” and “collecting and selling intelligence for overseas organizations.” State prosecutors returned the case to court officials in mid-October for reconsideration.
During Alimjan’s employment with two foreign-owned companies, SSB officials regularly called him in for interrogation, forbidding him to discuss the questioning with anyone. In September 2007, they closed the business Alimjan worked for and accused him of using it as a cover for “preaching Christianity among people of Uyghur ethnicity.”
Officials have since denied regular visits from lawyers or family members and threatened to hand down a sentence ranging from six years in prison to execution.
Lawyers had hoped for an early acquittal for Alimjan based on unfair treatment due to his Christian beliefs, but a lengthy bureaucratic process has dimmed these hopes.
Report from Compass Direct News
Christians normally permitted to leave Gaza for Bethlehem during Christmas found themselves unable to return home and separated from their families when fighting erupted between Israel and Hamas-controlled Gaza in late December, reports Baptist Press.
Isa,* a layman at Gaza Baptist Church, was one of those separated from his family. He returned to Gaza on Dec. 26 to take care of some church business. His family remained in Bethlehem, unaware the borders were about to close. “This is the worst it has ever been [in Gaza],” Isa told a Christian worker.
The Gaza Baptist Church building has sustained damage over the past two weeks. According to a Christian worker, the majority of the damage occurred Dec. 27 when a police station across the street took a direct hit.
Another Christian family found themselves separated when they tried to exit Gaza to find safety in Israel, the Christian worker said. The father and his two sons were allowed to go to Bethlehem, but the wife and two daughters were not. The man quickly returned to Gaza, despite the violence.
Residents of Israel are struggling, too.
One Israeli soldier asked a Christian worker to pray for him while he was at war. To the worker’s surprise, the soldier didn’t ask him to pray for his safety but rather that he wouldn’t have to use his gun.
Life must go on — even in scary situations, the Christian worker added.
A nurse in southern Israel was on her way to a hospital one morning when bomb sirens started blaring. “You can’t stay in your car, because the shrapnel will kill you,” a Christian worker in the area said. “You have to get out of your car and lie in the ditch beside the road.”
Schools in southern Israel have been closed because of bomb threats. Many kindergarten buildings have been hit directly by missile fire from Gaza, a worker said; however, no children or teachers were inside at the time.
“Pray that those who want peace will have the victory,” the worker said. “There’s a lot of praying [among Israeli believers], not only for the soldiers but for the believers in Gaza.”
The hope of Christian workers in Israel is that calm will be restored quickly and that the economy will recover.
Employment in Gaza has plummeted, the worker noted. Twenty years ago nearly 100,000 men went into Israel daily to work; before the latest conflict that number had decreased dramatically. Now, with the border closing, it is down to zero.
Flour has been scarce for more than a week in Gaza — in a culture where bread is served with every meal, the worker said. When a bakery does receive a shipment, it is not uncommon for more than 600 people to line up for the chance to get one piece of flatbread.
Even if families have flour, rotating blackouts make baking nearly impossible, the worker explained. They never know when electricity will be available. Some areas of Gaza haven’t seen power for five days.
Because food, water and electricity are limited in Gaza, Israel is promising to allow aid to reach Palestinian civilians during a three-hour period each day, according to news reports. Food, water, cooking oil and medicine are among the supplies expected to flow into the area.
Report from the Christian Telegraph
With the passing of the year 2008 and the beginning of 2009, I am looking forward to what I hope is a much better year than the one just finished. It would be very easy for me to simply look on 2008 as a year to forget (if I could), given the many difficulties that I had to pass through during the year.
Among the most difficult events of the year was my near fatal car accident in February 2008. I have been recovering from that accident for the entire year and still have a way to travel until I can again be confident that I am as fully fit as I can expect to be. Yet even here, I can be thankful that I wasn’t killed and that I have been able to return to work, am approaching a condition in which I should not be affected to greatly in the long term as a result of the accident, etc.
My greatest loss in 2008 was that of my dear friend Rebecca in June. She was my dearest friend whom I loved greatly. I have missed her every day since she died and will never forget her. This was the tragedy of 2008 for me, far surpassing the car accident and anything else that happened. Her death left me shattered and it is a blow from which I will never fully recover. Yet it was a tremendous privilege to have been given the opportunity to know her at all and to count her as my dearest friend for as long as I was able to do so is something I will forever be thankful for. Thank you Rebecca for giving me a place in your heart and in your life – I was blessed for knowing you.
There have been financial difficulties also from which I am beginning to emerge and I think this has been for the good, even through the immediate hardships that resulted. They will be for my good for the rest of my life and I look forward to the continuing recovery ahead.
2009 has the promise of a rebuilt life and that of continuing personal reformation which excites me as much as it will challenge me. When I left my previous employment in 2007 I thought the rest of my life was about to begin and a second chance presented itself. However, 2008 has been a continuance of that transition period and 2009 may well be the beginning of my second chance at life – so to speak.
I know I ended 2007 feeling very relaxed and contented with where I was at that exact moment and the ride ahead is something I look forward to. I have an agenda of personal reform, life changes and interests to pursue throughout 2009 – I now go ahead seeking to fulfil them as best I can.
Unlike New Years’ resolutions, I can have the confidence that progress can be made in these areas without the fear of simply failing to achieve what I have set out to do. With the Spirit of God operational in my life I have a living force that is more powerful than any of the obstacles that I can foresee and that I will in time confront. By the grace of God I can go on. Praise be to Him – I know my Redeemer lives!!!