The following are articles from Compass Direct News from the period I was on my break:
The following are articles from Compass Direct News from the period I was on my break:
Military hostilities against insurgents may result in Christian casualties and persecution.
CHIANG MAI, Thailand, October 22 (CDN) — With Burma’s first election in over 20 years just two weeks away, Christians in ethnic minority states fear that afterward the military regime will try to “cleanse” the areas of Christianity, sources said.
The Burmese junta is showing restraint to woo voters in favor of its proxy party, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), but it is expected to launch a military offensive on insurgents in ethnic minority states after the Nov. 7 election, Burma watchers warned.
When Burma Army personnel attack, they do not discriminate between insurgents and unarmed residents, said a representative of the pro-democracy Free Burma Rangers relief aid group in Chiang Mai, close to the Thai-Burma border. There is a large Christian population in Burma’s Kachin, Karen and Karenni states along the border that falls under the military’s target zone. Most of the slightly more than 2 million Christians in Burma (also called Myanmar) reside along the country’s border with Thailand, China and India.
The military seems to be preparing its air force for an offensive, said Aung Zaw, editor of the Chiang Mai-based magazine Irrawaddy, which covers Burma. The Burmese Air Force (BAF) bought 50 Mi-24 helicopters and 12 Mi-2 armored transport helicopters from Russia in September, added Zaw, a Buddhist.
Irrawaddy reported that the BAF had procured combat-equipped helicopters for the first time in its history. Air strikes will be conducted “most likely in Burma’s ethnic areas, where dozens of armed groups still exert control,” the magazine reported, quoting BAF sources.
“Armed conflicts between ethnic armies and the military can flare up any time,” said Zaw. “However, to boost the morale of its personnel, the military is expected to attack smaller ethnic groups first, and then the more powerful ones.”
Seven states of Burma have armed and unarmed groups demanding independence or autonomy from the regime: Shan, Karenni (also known as Kayah), Karen, Mon, Chin, Kachin, and Arakan (also Rakhine).
The junta has designated many areas in this region as “Black Zones” – entirely controlled by armed ethnic groups – and “Brown Zones,” where the military has partial control, said the source from FBR, which provides relief to internally displaced people in states across the Thai-Burma border.
“There are many unarmed Christian residents in these zones where Burmese military personnel attack and kill anyone on sight,” the source said.
A Karen state native in Chiang Mai who identified himself only as Pastor Joseph, who fled Burma as a child, referred to the junta’s clandestine campaign to wipe out Christians from the country. At least four years ago a secret memo circulated in Karen state, “Program to Destroy the Christian Religion in Burma,” that carried “point by point instructions on how to drive Christians out of the state,” reported the British daily Telegraph on Jan. 21, 2007.
“The text, which opens with the line, ‘There shall be no home where the Christian religion is practiced,’ calls for anyone caught evangelizing to be imprisoned,” the Telegraph reported. “It advises: ‘The Christian religion is very gentle – identify and utilize its weakness.’”
Persecution of Christians in Burma “is part of a wider campaign by the regime, also targeted at ethnic minority tribes, to create a uniform society in which the race and language is Burmese and the only accepted religion is Buddhism,” the daily noted.
The junta perceives all Christians in ethnic minority states as insurgents, according to the FBR. Three months ago, Burma Army’s Light Infantry Battalions 370 and 361 attacked a Christian village in Karen state, according to the FBR. In Tha Dah Der village on July 23, army personnel burned all houses, one of the state’s biggest churches – which was also a school – and all livestock and cattle, reported the FBR.
More than 900 people fled to save their lives.
Vague Religious Freedom
The Burmese regime projects that close to 70 percent of the country’s population is ethnic Burman. Ethnic minorities dispute the claim, saying the figure is inflated to make a case for Burman Buddhist nationalism.
The new constitution, which will come into force with the first session of parliament after the election, was passed through a referendum in May 2008 that was allegedly rigged. It provides for religious freedom but also empowers the military to curb it under various pretexts.
Article 34 states, “Every citizen is equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right to freely profess and practice religion subject to public order, morality or health and to the other provisions of this Constitution.” Article 360 (a), however, says this freedom “shall not include any economic, financial, political or other secular activities that may be associated with religious practice,” apparently to bar religious groups from any lobbying or advocacy.
Further, Article 360 (b) goes on to say that the freedom “shall not debar the Union from enacting law for the purpose of public welfare and reform.”
Adds Article 364: “The abuse of religion for political purposes is forbidden. Moreover, any act which is intended or is likely to promote feelings of hatred, enmity or discord between racial or religious communities or sects is contrary to this Constitution. A law may be promulgated to punish such activity.”
Furthermore, Article 382 empowers “the Defense Forces personnel or members of the armed forces responsible to carry out peace and security” to “restrict or revoke” fundamental rights.
The Burmese junta is expected to remain at the helm of affairs after the election. The 2008 constitution reserves one-fourth of all seats in national as well as regional assemblies for military personnel.
A majority of people in Burma are not happy with the military’s USDP party, and military generals are expected to twist the results in its favor, said Htet Aung, chief election reporter at Irrawaddy.
Khonumtung News Group, an independent Burmese agency, reported on Oct. 2 that most educated young Burmese from Chin state were “disgusted” with the planned election, “which they believe to be a sham and not likely to be free and fair.”
They “are crossing the border to Mizoram in the northeast state of India from Chin state and Sagaing division to avoid participating,” Khonumtung reported. “On a regular basis at least five to 10 youths are crossing the border daily to avoid voting. If they stay in Burma, they will be coerced to cast votes.”
There is “utter confusion” among people, and they do not know if they should vote or not, said Aung of Irrawaddy. While the second largest party, the National Unity Party, is pro-military, there are few pro-democracy and ethnic minority parties.
“Many of the pro-democracy and ethnic minority candidates have little or no experience in politics,” Aung said. “All those who had some experience have been in jail as political prisoners for years.”
In some ethnic minority states, the USDP might face an embarrassing defeat. And this can deepen the military’s hostility towards minorities, including Christians, after the election, added Aung.
For now, an uneasy calm prevails in the Thai-Burma border region where most ethnic Christians live.
Report from Compass Direct News
The spiritual climate in Syria is a changing one. While Syria’s Christian minority is generally respected, conversions to Christianity from Islam are rare and sometimes met with opposition, reports MNN.
Voice of the Martyrs reports that evangelizing is legal, but visas are not granted for missionary work. And while there is freedom to worship, any activity that could threaten communal harmony is suspect, making it difficult to spread the Gospel.
Despite the challenges, Reach Global in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) began in 2008. The team working in the area is focused on holistic ministry: meeting physical and emotional needs as well as the spiritual needs of an individual.
They have been working together with churches, national partners, and collaborating with like-minded ministry organizations in order to reach the Syrians with the hope of Christ, and there has been success. A church has been planted.
This June however, the Syrian government closed the doors of that evangelical church. The group is still hoping to meet for worship and Bible study, but they are praying for wisdom and discernment on how to do that and still remain within the law.
Report from the Christian Telegraph
Accused of ‘converting Muslims,’ church leader faces trial – and threat of murder.
ISTANBUL, April 5 (CDN) — An Assyrian pastor the Iranian government accused of “converting Muslims” has been released from prison on bail and is awaiting trial.
The Rev. Wilson Issavi, 65, was released from Dastgard prison in Isfahan last week. Conflicting reports indicated Issavi was released sometime between Sunday (March 28) and Tuesday morning (March 30).
On Feb. 2, State Security Investigations (SSI) agents arrested Issavi shortly after he finished a house meeting at a friend’s home in Isfahan. Along with the accusation of “converting Muslims,” the pastor is charged with not co-operating with police, presumably for continuing to hold such house meetings after police sealed the Evangelical Church of Kermanshah and ordered him not to reopen it.
After his arrest, Issavi was held at an unmarked prison facility in Isfahan and apparently tortured, according to a Christian woman who fled Iran and knows Issavi and his family. The Christian woman, who requested anonymity for security reasons, said Issavi’s wife, Medline Nazanin, visited the pastor at the unmarked facility. Nazanin said it was obvious Issavi had been tortured, the Christian told Compass.
Issavi’s confinement cells were so filthy he contracted a life-threatening infection, Nazanin told the Christian woman.
“They took him to the hospital and then returned him back to the prison,” the woman said.
Friends of Issavi added that he is still dealing with the lingering effects of the infection.
During Issavi’s imprisonment, authorities threatened to execute him, sources close to the case said. The joy of Issavi’s family at his release was tinged with fear as they waited in agony for the possibility of him being killed by Islamic extremists, as is common in Iran when Christians are detained for religious reasons and then released.
“Sometimes they release you just to kill you,” the Christian source said.
Issavi has not been informed of his trial date.
Issavi’s friend said that low-key ethnic Christians, such as the Assyrians, are largely unbothered for long periods of time. Active Christians are treated differently.
“When you start evangelizing, then you are in real trouble,” she said.
Iranian authorities have set up a video camera outside Issavi’s church to monitor anyone going in or out of the building, according to the pastor’s friend.
Issavi was one of a few Christians in leadership positions arrested in Isfahan in February during what some Middle Eastern experts described as a crackdown on area church leadership.
Isfahan, a city of more than 1.5 million people located 208 miles (335 kilometers) south of Tehran, has been the site of other anti-Christian persecution. In an incident in July 2008, two Christians died as a result of injuries received from police who were breaking up a house meeting.
On Feb. 28, Isfahan resident Hamid Shafiee and his wife Reyhaneh Aghajary, both converts from Islam and house church leaders, were arrested at their home.
Police handcuffed, beat and pepper-sprayed Aghajary and then took her to prison. Her husband Shafiee, who was away from the house when police arrived, was arrested an hour later when he returned to the house. Approximately 20 police officers raided the home, seizing Bibles, CDs, photographs, computers, telephones, personal items and other literature.
The couple is still being held. Other details about their detainment are unknown.
Three Christians Released
Elsewhere, three Christians arrested on Dec. 24, 2009 have been released, according to Farsi Christian News Network (FCNN).
Maryam Jalili, Mitra Zahmati, and Farzan Matin were initially arrested along with 12 other Christians at a home in Varamin. Eventually they were transferred to Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison, though the other 12 prisoners were conditionally released on Jan. 4.
Jalili, Zahmati and Matin were freed on March 17, though terms of their release were unclear. Jalili is married and has two children.
Iran has a longstanding history of religious repression. Shia Islam is the official state religion and is ensconced as such in Iran’s constitution. Every year since 1999, the U.S. Secretary of State has designated Iran as a “Country of Particular Concern” for its persecution of Christians and other religious minorities.
According to the 2009 International Religious Freedom Report issued by the U.S. Department of State, persecution of Christians and other religious minorities in Iran continued to get significantly worse.
“Christians, particularly evangelicals, continued to be subject to harassment and close surveillance,” the report states. “The government vigilantly enforced its prohibition on proselytizing by closely monitoring the activities of evangelical Christians, discouraging Muslims from entering church premises, closing churches, and arresting Christian converts.”
Report from Compass Direct News
Court ignores ‘religious hostility’ of Turk who held knife to Christian’s throat.
ISTANBUL, February 12 (CDN) — An Istanbul court has ordered the release of a jailed Turk who publicly threatened and held a knife to the throat of a Christian he attacked six months ago.
In a ruling on Wednesday (Feb. 10), the Kadikoy Seventh Court of First Instance convicted Yasin Karasu, 24, of making death threats and mounting an armed attack against Ismail Aydin. Shouting to attract passersby as he held a knife to Aydin’s throat on Aug. 3, Karasu had denounced the Christian as a “missionary dog” who had betrayed Turkey by leaving Islam and evangelizing others.
The crime is punishable by four years in prison, but Justice Tahsin Dogan ruled that Karasu should be released unconditionally, without serving the remainder of his sentence.
After the attack last August, the 48-year-old Aydin had declined to press charges against his assailant, who was taken into police custody at the scene. But state prosecutors charged Karasu under criminal statutes for making armed threats, obstructing another’s freedom, and attempted harm with a weapon.
He was then sent to prison for the duration of criminal investigations into the case.
After an initial hearing on Jan. 12, Karasu appeared in Istanbul’s Kadikoy district courthouse this week for a second trial hearing. Arriving in handcuffs from Istanbul’s Metris Prison where he has been incarcerated for the past six months, Karasu erupted in several emotional outbursts as he entered the courthouse with an escort of gendarmerie guards.
At the outset, the prisoner heatedly refused to accept the lawyer his father hired to represent him in court. After a guard removed his handcuffs before he entered the courtroom, Karasu took out of his pocket several handwritten pages, which he said he would submit in his own defense.
Under Turkish law, Karasu’s conviction should have left him with a four-year jail term for his death threats and armed attack on Aydin. But the prosecutor, applying a frequently used law of procedures, cited the defendant’s “respectful behavior, condition and manners in the courtroom in his favor” and declared that Karasu’s good conduct had earned him a one-sixth reduction (eight months) in his sentence.
Together with the six months Karasu has already been jailed, that reduced his four-year prison term to a remaining two years and 10 months.
Nevertheless, the court ruled for Karasu’s unconditional release. The Court of Appeal must approve this sentence, however, and his actual release then must be formally approved in writing by the Administrative Board of Penalties.
“It seems that the judge did not take into account at all that this crime was committed with religious hostility,” one member of the legal committee of Turkey’s Association of Protestant Churches told Compass. “That, in my view, should have aggravated the crime and sentence.”
Human rights lawyer Orhan Kemal Cengiz, after reviewing Wednesday’s court record, agreed.
“This is also a crime against the freedom of religion,” Cengiz said. “This should be another factor to be taken into account, and the sentence should be increased accordingly.”
Karasu had taken Aydin hostage by grabbing him around the neck, holding a knife blade to his throat and forcing him along the street to a busy intersection in Istanbul’s Kadikoy district. Within minutes both TV crews and police arrived at the scene, watching as Karasu wrapped Aydin’s head in a large Turkish flag and continued to taunt him as a traitor to the nation.
“I want to see him set free,” Aydin commented outside the courtroom before this week’s hearing. Aydin, who converted to Christianity 22 years ago, said he had forgiven Karasu.
Aydin said Karasu had made contact with him several times during the year previous to his attack, asking him questions about the Christian faith. He said Karasu, who was unemployed when he attacked him, had experienced emotional problems and depression while completing the last months of his military service.
Karasu’s father, who traveled from Erzurum to attend this week’s hearing, told Compass that he could not understand what had caused his son to launch such an attack against Aydin. Confirming that his son had received psychological treatment in the past, he declared his intention to take him back to Erzurum after his release, so that he could live at home and undergo more psychological therapy.
Report from Compass Direct News
Neighborhood residents protest new church building in Kabylie region.
ISTANBUL, December 31 (CDN) — Nearly 50 Muslim members of a community in northern Algeria blocked Christians from holding a Christmas service on Saturday (Dec. 26) to protest a new church building in their neighborhood.
As Algerian Christian converts gathered for their weekly meeting and Christmas celebration that morning, they were confronted by protestors barring the doors of their church building. Tafat Church is located in Tizi-Ouzou, a city 100 kilometers (62 miles) east of the Algerian capital, Algiers. Established five years ago, the church belongs to the Protestant Church of Algeria (EPA). Until recently it met in a small rented building. In November it opened its doors in a new location to accommodate the growing needs of its nearly 350 congregants.
The local residents protesting were reportedly irritated at finding that a church building with many visitors from outside the area had opened near their houses, according to an El Watan report on Sunday (Dec. 27). The daily newspaper highlighted that the residents feared their youth would be lured to the church with promises of money or cell phones.
“This land is the land of Islam! Go pray somewhere else,” some of the protestors said, according to El Watan. Protestors also reportedly threatened to kill the church pastor.
The protestors stayed outside the church until Monday (Dec. 28), and that evening some of them broke into the new building and stole the church microphones and speakers, according to the pastor, Mustafa Krireche. As of yesterday (Dec. 30) the church building’s electricity was cut.
One of Algeria’s Christian leaders, Youssef Ourahmane, said he could not recall another display of such outrage from Algerians against Christians.
“It was shocking, and it was the first time to my knowledge that this happened,” said Ourahmane. “And there weren’t just a few people, but 50. That’s quite a big number … the thing that happened on Saturday was a little unusual for Algeria and for the believers as well.”
A few weeks before the Saturday incident, local residents signed a petition saying they did not want the church to operate near their homes and wanted it to be closed. Local authorities presented it to the church, but Ourahmane said the fellowship, which is legally authorized to exist under the EPA, does not plan to respond to it.
On Saturday church leaders called police, who arrived at the scene and told the Christians to go away so they could talk to the protestors, whom they did not evacuate from the premises, according to local news website Kabyles.net. The story Kabyles.net published on Sunday was entitled, “Islamic tolerance in action at Tizi-Ouzou.”
“In that area where the church is located, I’m sure the people have noticed something happening,” said Ourahmane. “Having hundreds of Christians coming to meet and different activities in the week, this is very difficult for Muslims to see happening there next door, and especially having all these Muslim converts. This is the problem.”
A local Muslim from the neighborhood explained that residents had protested construction of the church building in a residential area, according to El Watan.
“What’s happening over there is a shame and an offense to Muslims,” he told El Watan. “We found an old woman kissing a cross … they could offer money or mobile phones to students to win their sympathies and sign them up. We won’t let them exercise their faith even if they have authorization. There’s a mosque for those who want to pray to God. This is the land of Islam.”
Behind the Scenes
Ourahmane said he believes that Islamists, and maybe even the government, were behind the protests.
“Maybe this is a new tactic they are trying to use to prevent churches from meeting,” he said. “Instead of coming by force and closing the church, the local police use the Muslim fundamentalists. That’s my analysis, anyhow.”
In February 2008 the government applied measures to better control non-Muslim groups through Ordinance 06-03. Authorities ordered the closure of 26 churches in the Kabylie region, both buildings and house churches, maintaining that they were not registered under the ordinance.
Despite efforts to comply with the ordinance, many Christian groups indicated they were blocked by lack of information, bureaucratic processes or resistance to their applications, according to this year’s International Religious Freedom Report by the U.S. Department of State. None of the churches have closed since then, but their status continues to remain questionable and only valid through registration with the EPA.
“If we have the right to exercise our faith, let them tell us so,” Pastor Krireche told El Watan. “If the authorities want to dissolve our association through legal means, let them do so.”
Recent growth of the church in Algeria is difficult for Muslims to accept, according to Ourahmane, despite public discourse among the nation’s intellectuals advocating for religious freedoms. Unofficial estimates of Christians and Jews combined range from 12,000 to 40,000, according to the state department report. Local leaders believe the number of Algerian Christians could be as many as 65,000.
Increasing numbers of people who come from Islam are like a stab for the Muslim community, said Ourahmane.
“It’s hard for them to accept that hundreds of Christians gather to worship every week,” he said. “It’s not easy. There are no words to explain it. It’s like a knife and you see someone bleeding … They see the church as a danger to Algerian culture.”
The Algerian government has the responsibility to face up to the changing face of its country and to grant Christians the freedom to meet and worship, said Ourahmane.
“The local authorities and especially the Algerian government need to be challenged in this all the time,” he said. “They have to be challenged: ‘Don’t you recognize the situation here?’ I mean we’re talking of tens of thousands of believers, not just a few.”
There are around 64 churches in the Kabylie region, where most Algerian Christians live, as well as house groups, according to Ourahmane. The Kabylie region is populated by Berbers, an indigenous people of North Africa.
“There are lots of healings and deliverance, and people are experiencing new things in their life,” Ourahmane said of the Algerian churches. “They are finding hope in Christ which they have never experienced before.”
There are half a dozen court cases against churches and Christians. None of these have been resolved, frozen in Algeria’s courts.
In ongoing negative media coverage of Christians, last month Algerian newspaper Echorouk published a story claiming that the former president of the EPA, who was deported in 2008, had returned to Algeria to visit churches, give advice and give them financial aid.
The report stated that the former EPA president, Hugh Johnson, was known for his evangelism and warned readers of his evangelizing “strategies.”
Yesterday Johnson told Compass by telephone that the report was pure fabrication, and that he has not set foot in Algeria since he was deported.
Johnson’s lawyers are still trying to appeal his case in Algerian courts.
This year church groups stated that the government denied the visa applications of some religious workers, citing the government ban on proselytizing, according to the state department report.
Report from Compass Direct News
A draft legislation introduced this month threatens to make evangelism nearly impossible in Russia. A date has not yet been released for further ruling on the law, but in the meantime, evangelicals express concern, reports MNN.
“Only religious groups that have been registered in Russia for at least 15 year will be allowed to engage in any evangelistic or missionary activity,” says Bob Provost of Slavic Gospel Association. “For example, if a North American church were to send a youth group over to help with a summer camp (which happens a lot), or if they were to send over a music group to help with evangelistic activity, it would not be allowed. Foreigners in Russia on a temporary visa would not be permitted.”
The legislation also outlaws indigenous churches from any missionary activity within hospitals, orphanages, or homes for the aged. Children, under the new legislation, will be prohibited from attending religious activities without specific permission by a parent or guardian. This part of the law, in particular, would devastate specific ministry opportunities.
“The single greatest evangelistic opportunity that the Church has there today comes at Christmas time when they’re able to hold Christmas events and invite children from the community,” explains Provost. “In many cases, parents and grandparents accompany their children to these meetings and find out that the lies that they’ve been hearing via the media or in the public schools against evangelical Christianity are not true.”
As if all of these restrictions were not limiting enough, the legislation forbids any “offers of material, social and other benefits,” leaving the range of prohibited activity almost completely open-ended.
If passed, anyone convicted of anything under this legislation (offering food to the poor, sharing the Gospel with a child, evangelizing on a short-term trip etc.) could be fined up to $517 USD. The Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists (RUECB) has responded to the absurdity of the open-endedness of the draft legislation, but it does not appear as though the government has not appeared to have made any movement.
With all of these objectives brewing, an explanation as to “why” is appropriate. But so far, there doesn’t appear to be substantial reasoning. Provost suggests that the legislation may be in defense of the Orthodox Church in Russia. Although the Baptist Church is not growing astronomically in Russia, it is growing and may well be considered a threat.
“It’s evident to me that president Putin, when he came into power, put the government’s arm around the Orthodox Church again in order to unify the country,” says Provost. As a result, “Any religion that starts to get in the way of the Orthodox Church is going to be considered a threat, and steps are being taken to remove it.”
Amid all of the concern, the Church continues to live on in Russia. “605 men have been set apart and are ready to be sent as missionaries all over the former Soviet Union. We’re praying for partners who would help us send them,” says Provost. “Nine out of ten communities are still waiting for a Gospel witness presence. In other words, nine out of ten communities have never had a Bible teaching church.”
The RUECB is asking churches in Russia to fast and pray that the legislation would not be passed in any of the stages toward becoming law. Please pray with them.
Slavic Gospel Association will continue their work in Russia and the former Soviet Union.
Report from the Christian Telegraph
Previously beaten in a mosque, evangelist has faced opposition for more than a year.
DHAKA, Bangladesh, January 6 (Compass Direct News) – The torture and harassment that a Christian pastor in Meherpur district has faced for more than a year loomed anew last month when a 4,000-strong crowd of Muslims celebrating Islam’s largest festival accused him of “misleading” Muslims.
Jhontu Biswas, 31, said residents of Fulbaria town, 270 kilometers (168 miles) west of Dhaka, accused him of misleading Muslims by distributing Christian booklets. They confronted him en masse on Dec. 9 as they gathered for the Islamic Eid al-Adha festival of sacrifice.
“They also accused me of converting poor people by offering money,” said Biswas. “They called several local journalists in that massive assembly to publish news against me and my activities. They took my photograph and interviewed me but did not publish anything in their respective newspapers.”
Biswas denied the accusations against him, and the Muslims threatened to harm him and others who converted from Islam to Christianity, especially in the event of a hard-line Islamic government coming to power following Dec. 29 elections, he said.
“They said, ‘You will be in great trouble at that time,’” Biswas said.
Fortunately for Biswas, the left-leaning Awami League-led Grand Alliance won a landslide victory in the election, and it does not include Islamic fundamentalist parties such as Jamaat-e-Islami. Prior to Bangladesh’s national election on Dec. 29, the country was ruled for two years by an army-backed, caretaker government that imposed a countrywide state of emergency.
Had the previous Bangladesh Nationalist Party coalition government including Jamaat-e-Islami come to power, area Christians said they would be in even greater danger.
“We hope that we can work our religious activities properly during the tenure of this government, and also hope that this government will ensure all of our constitutional rights regarding religious activities,” Biswas said.
Beaten in Mosque
The pastor has been under continuous pressure to give up his faith and not spread Christianity since he was baptized on Feb. 14, 2007, he said. He was in a meeting with members of his church on Dec. 31, 2007, he said, when police suddenly surrounded the building and dragged him out.
A drug peddler, a 36-year-old woman named Fulwara Begum, had left a bag full of illegal drugs behind his church in accordance with a plan hatched by area Muslims, he said. They informed police, and officers arrested him for drug possession and sale – but instead of taking him to the police station, they took him to a nearby mosque.
“It was a trick to arrest me and slander my reputation so that I cannot do evangelical activities here,” said Biswas. “They told me, ‘If you accept Islam after confessing to Christianity and ask forgiveness of Allah, we will not do anything against you and release you.’ They beat me with sticks in the mosque after my vehement denial to their proposal.”
Police called on a Muslim cleric to encourage Biswas to seek forgiveness for embracing Christianity.
The following day, Jan. 1, 2008, police sent him to Meherpur central jail on drug charges, but the jailer would not admit him because of his battered condition. Police took him to a nearby hospital, where he was treated for five to six hours. He was subsequently put into jail.
“Whenever I did not agree with them, police beat me inhumanely in the police station,” he said. “They tried to brainwash me into accepting Islam throughout almost the whole night. But I did not agree with them. Then they tortured me.”
After 20 days in jail, Biswas was released on bail.
Elderly Shop Owner Struck
On Aug. 16, Muslim extremists had vandalized a grocery store near Biswas’ church. The 78-year-old owner of the shop, Abdus Sobhan, told Compass that he was beaten and his shop was looted. They also hurled stones and bricks at the nearby church.
“My angry Muslim neighbors did it,” Sobhan said. “Around seven to eight people came on that night and vandalized the shop. I am a poor man. That shop was my only source of living. They demolished it and looted stuffs of around 30,000 taka [US$443].”
Area Muslims put a sign near the shop that designated it as that of a Christian and stating, “Do not buy anything from here.”
Sobhan went to police to file a case. Instead, officers asked him barrage of questions about why he became a Christian. Resigned, he left the police station.
The father of nine daughters and two sons, Sobhan said he became a Christian on Feb. 24, 2007 along with his wife.
The president of the Assembly of God church in southern Khulna division, Jonathan Litu Munshi, told Compass that Biswas was the first Christian in the area. Through him 200 to 230 people have received Christ as their redeemer in the predominantly Muslim area within the past year and a half.
“Local people filed a false case against him to torture him so that he does not continue his religious activities,” said Munshi. “Unfortunately a septuagenarian convert was also beaten in that area for his faith in Christ.”
The Islamic political party Jamaat-e-Islami is influencing the area residents, Christians said, adding that party workers have persuaded Muslims not to hire Christian converts, who are largely day-laborers eking out a living.
Report from Compass Direct News
Evacuated after Muslim attack in July, Christians forced to leave campground.
JAKARTA, October 27 (Compass Direct News) – Over 1,000 students forced from the Arastamar Evangelical School of Theology (SETIA) in East Jakarta have now moved into an abandoned mayor’s office in Jakarta after management at the Bumi Perkemahan Cibubur (BUPERTA) campground demanded that 700 students temporarily resident there had to leave by Oct. 14.
Urged on by announcements from a mosque loudspeaker to “drive out the unwanted neighbor,” hundreds of protestors shouting “Allahu-Akbar [“God is greater]” and brandishing machetes, sharpened bamboo and acid had forced the evacuation of staff and students from the SETIA campus in Kampung Pulo village on July 26 and 27, following a misunderstanding between students and local residents. Attackers injured at least 20 students, some seriously.
Key among motives for the attack was that area Muslims felt “disturbed” by the presence of the Christian college. They want it to be moved to another area.
Following the evacuation, some students were temporarily billeted in church offices, while others slept in the lobby of Indonesia’s parliament building. Officials then moved 600 female students to the BUPERTA campground, where they were later joined by 100 male students. A further 400 male students remained at a migrants’ center in Bekasi, while 32 post-graduate students were accommodated in a housing complex in Kota Wisata, not far from the campground in Cibubur.
Campground manager Umar Lubis sent a letter to SETIA principal Matheus Mangentang on Oct. 6 ordering the students to vacate the premises in advance of a pan-Asian scouts jamboree scheduled at the facility for Oct. 18-27. Lubis sent a copy of the letter to Fauzi Bowo, the governor of Jakarta.
Mangentang initially protested, since the campground could accommodate up to 30,000 people and there would only be 300 participants in the jamboree. He also noted that despite an agreement reached in September, Bowo had failed to repair and extend bathroom facilities in an abandoned mayoral office in Jakarta offered for use by the staff and students.
When the council made no attempt to begin renovations on the mayor’s office, Mangentang himself hired bricklayers and carpenters to install more toilets, repair damaged ceilings on two floors of the building and erect partitions to create 13 classrooms.
The students last week moved into the abandoned mayor’s office. But the building still lacks many basic amenities, according to staff. Students carry well water into the building in large plastic drums for showers, toilets, laundry and cooking.
One staff member told Compass that the water was slimy to the touch and not suitable for showering.
Bowo had also promised Mangentang that the students could return to their original campus at the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. He then promised to find a site for a new campus and provide an official building permit, but at press time there was no evidence of action taken to fulfill these promises.
Mangentang has refused to cover costs for the campground, which now amount to some 580.7 million rupiah (US$58,418), on the grounds that since they were unfairly evicted from their campus, the governor’s office should fund the cost of temporary relocation.
Cibubur campground officials had also charged SETIA 50,000 rupiah (US$5) per day for water. When Mangentang refused to pay this fee, officials restricted the water supply so that there was not sufficient water available for laundry and shower facilities for the students.
Bowo had committed to paying those bills but said he must first meet with the local House of Representatives to request funding for them and any other expenses that would be incurred by providing a new building site and campus for SETIA.
SETIA staff sought advice from the National Commission on Human Rights in Jakarta on Sept. 7. The commission then wrote to the superintendent of police in Jakarta, asking for a police escort to return the students safely to their campus, but the superintendent did not respond. Neither has any investigation been carried out against the residents who violently attacked staff and students in July.
Last year the Muslim extremist Islamic Defenders’ Front demonstrated in front of the college, accusing it of having misapplied its permit.
Since 2007, protestors have held six demonstrations. On March 7, 2007, more than 200 Muslims set fire to construction workers’ quarters in an effort to keep SETIA from adding a fifth dormitory.
Three days later, some 300 people gathered to protest the construction, demanding that the school close. They claimed it was disturbing area residents when students sang during their classes and that students were evangelizing people in the area.
Government officials have brokered talks between the conflicting parties, without success.
Report from Compass Direct News
Four other Christians arrested as apparent crackdown continues.
LOS ANGELES, September 10 (Compass Direct News) – Five arrests in three cities across Iran in August suggest a continued crackdown on Iranian Christians by authorities, sources told Compass.
The most recent of the arrests took place on Aug. 21, when Ramtin Soodmand, son of martyred Assemblies of God pastor Hossein Soodmand, turned himself in after repeated calls from the Ministry of Information in Tehran. His father was executed by the state in 1990 for leaving Islam.
Sources told Compass that for weeks Soodmand had received repeated calls from authorities telling him to travel from Mashhad, where he lives, to Tehran. Yielding to pressure, Soodmand surrendered himself to the media center of the Ministry of Information at 9 a.m. on Aug. 21 but was not heard of until 3 p.m. of the next day. He has remained in detention since then.
Shortly after his detention, Soodmand’s wife, Mitra, tried to visit her husband and was told to come back later. “Your husband is going to be in jail for a very long time,” sources reported that authorities told her.
Soodmand has been able to make only one phone call – to his mother, who is blind, on Aug. 23. He told her that he was fine, but authorities did not allow him to call his wife, sources said.
Last week Soodmand’s wife and two young children were finally allowed to visit him in Tehran. When they arrived, however, they found that they could only speak with him through a phone receiver and never saw him.
In the two-minute conversation, Soodmand told his wife several times, “I am fine, don’t worry,” sources reported. No other family members or friends have been allowed to see or speak to Soodmand. Neither his condition nor where he is being held were clear.
Sources said that authorities have also not informed his family of the charges against him.
His father, the last Iranian Christian convert from Islam executed by the Iranian government, was accused of working as “an American spy.” Since then six more Protestant pastors have been assassinated by unknown killers.
The week before Ramtin Soodmand turned himself in, another Christian in Mashhad, Iman Rashidi, was arrested. Rashidi’s whereabouts and condition are unknown. Rooz, a Farsi news website, reported him as under 18 years old.
Kurdish Christian Awaits Trial
A Christian member of Iran’s Kurdish community, Shahin Zanboori, was arrested on Aug. 9 in the southwestern city of Arak, located in the Central Province of Iran, bordering Iraq.
Secret police detained Zanboori while he was evangelizing, sources told Compass. He was tortured during interrogation and suffered a broken arm and leg.
While in jail he told sources that he “felt God’s presence in spite of the horrific treatment he received.” He described being handcuffed and suspended from the ceiling while police severely beat the soles of his feet to get him to confess to crimes and give the names of all the believers he knew, according to sources.
Authorities also confiscated Zanboori’s computer and cell phone.
Zanboori was released on Aug. 31 to his father, who lives in Kermanshah. His trial date had been set for Monday (Sept. 8), but sources have yet to learn the outcome of the hearing. He is expected to be charged with spying for foreign powers – a less serious offense than “apostasy” (leaving Islam).
In the city of Kerman in south central Iran, a couple identified as Darioush and Shirin were reportedly arrested on Aug. 8. At press time nothing more was known about their case.
Under the past three decades of Iran’s Islamist regime, hundreds of citizens who have left Islam and become Christians have been arrested for weeks or months, held in unknown locations and subjected to mental and physical torture.
Possible Reasons for Crackdown
One source who works closely with Iranian refugees believes that politics are one reason for Iran’s crackdown on Christians.
“Christians are viewed as potential spies allied with Israel or America,” he said, adding that the overwhelming number of Iranian Christians he counsels have been visited and intimidated by police, leading them to flee from Iran.
He also believes that the apparent explosion in the number of house churches frightens Iran’s government.
“They see it as something they cannot control, so they are afraid of house churches,” he said.
Another expert on Iran believes Christians outside of Iran who exaggerate the number of conversions and house churches are partly responsible for the growth of persecution. When Christians claim there are thousands of house churches throughout the country, he said, Iranian authorities feel threatened .
“They [the police] are obligated to crack down on Christian activities when these activities become too public,” one Iranian Christian said.
Report from Compass Direct News