The following link is to an article reporting on the upcoming movie about Noah, called ‘Noah.’ the film is set to star Russell Crowe as Noah. The film is set for release in the USA during March 2014.
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Unresolved charge of ‘defaming religion’ leaves him in perpetual limbo.
CAIRO, Egypt, December 16 (CDN) — An Egyptian who left Islam to become a Christian and consequently lost his wife, children and business is waiting to see if the government will now take away his freedom for “defaming” Islam.
Ashraf Thabet, 45, is charged with defaming a revealed religion, Article 98f of the Egyptian Penal Code. The charges stem from Thabet’s six-year search for spiritual meaning that eventually led him to become a Christian. During his search, he shared his doubts about Islam and told others what he was learning about Jesus Christ.
Local religious authorities, incensed at Thabet’s ideas, notified Egypt’s State Security Intelligence service (SSI), which arrested and charged him with defamation. If found guilty, Thabet would face up to five years in jail. But because prosecutors have made no move to try the case, Thabet lives in limbo and is subject to a regular barrage of death threats from people in his community in Port Said in northeast Egypt.
“I don’t know what is going to happen in the future,” Thabet said. “They’re making life hard for me. I can’t get back my computer. I can’t get back anything.”
Thabet said that before his search began he was a committed Muslim who did his best to observe its rules, including those for prayer and fasting.
“I wasn’t an extremist, but I was committed to praying and to reading the Quran,” Thabet said. “I went to the Hajj. I did the usual things. I followed the Quran for the most part.”
Despite his efforts, Thabet admitted that his understanding of God was based on fear and routine, nearly rote obedience.
“There was no spiritual relationship between myself and God,” he said. “In general I was always cautious about my relationship with God. I didn’t want to do anything wrong.”
Thabet started looking at Christian Web sites, but his real interest in Christianity began when he watched the film, “The Passion of the Christ” in 2004.
“When I watched ‘The Passion of the Christ,’ I was very touched by Jesus’ story, and I wanted to read more about Him,” Thabet said. “So I asked a friend how I could know more about Jesus, and he told me, ‘The Bible.’”
His friend, a Christian Copt, did not get him a Bible until a month later because, Thabet thinks, he was afraid of being accused of proselytizing. Thabet began reading the Bible, which had a powerful impact on him, especially the Sermon on the Mount.
“I felt inside myself that these were the words of God,” he said. “The Bible tells people to give and to give out freely, so these words couldn’t be the words of a human being or a [mere] person, because human beings are inherently selfish.”
Thabet was also struck by the lives that the early followers of Jesus led, especially their willingness to lose everything, including their lives, for Christ.
The final factor that led Thabet to become a Christian came from Islam’s “Ninety-Nine Names of Allah,” attributes of God according to the Quran and tradition. In the names, God is called a “healer” a “resurrecter” and “just.”
“I started to compare all these characteristics with the characteristics of Jesus, and I saw that Jesus had a lot of the characteristics that God had, not only the human characteristics, being just and being kind, but there were similarities in the supernatural characteristics, like that He raised people from the dead,” he said. “In the Quran only God could raise people from the dead. I noticed that Jesus could raise people from the dead, and that He could heal people. Once I started to notice
the similarities between God and Jesus, I started believing that Jesus is the Son of God.”
Thabet said he cared about others “going the right way,” so he started having conversations with Muslim friends.
At first, people respected Thabet or tolerated what was seen as an awkward curiosity. But after he told his friends they were “only Muslim by inheritance,” they started to turn against him. They asked him what he was going to be if he wasn’t going to be a Muslim.
“I told them I started to read about Christianity, and I was starting to believe in it, and that’s when they brought the elders to talk to me,” he said.
The meeting didn’t go well. The Islamic leaders were unable to answer his questions and ended up yelling at him. Then they reported him to the SSI.
The SSI summoned Thabet and questioned him on his doubts about Islam.
Thabet said by the time he was done with the interrogation, the SSI officer looked almost sick and told him not to talk to anyone else in Port Said about religion.
“I don’t encourage you to talk about these things with people or to open up these types of discussions, because it will just provoke people and make them angry,” the officer told him, according to Thabet.
Two days later, Thabet said, the SSI ordered him to report for more questioning, this time with an officer who specialized in religious issues and countering missionaries. The officer wanted to know what made him start to doubt Islam. He asked specific questions about what Web sites he had been on and what books he had read, and whether he had been baptized.
Thabet said that at the time of his questioning, he was still struggling with his new beliefs. Part of him wanted something that would restore his faith in Islam, so he went to Internet chat rooms for religious discussion.
“A part of me wanted to feel that I was wrong, that there was an answer to my questions,” he said. “I was looking for someone who would say ‘No, no, this is how it is,’ and that I would regain my trust back or not have any more doubts. But none of the people I talked to could answer me. They didn’t say anything to any effect.”
Thabet said he was always respectful, but Muslims found his questions provocative and became increasingly angry.
Eventually police came for Thabet. On March 22 at 3 a.m., he said, 11 officers from the SSI cut the power to his home, kicked down his front door and assaulted him in front of his crying wife and children.
Thabet quickly pulled away from the fight, once he realized they were officers from the SSI. The men swarmed over Thabet’s home, seizing his computer and every book and CD he owned. They took him to jail.
Authorities interrogated Thabet non-stop for 12 hours, took a break and then interrogated him for seven more, he said.
Initially he was held for 15 days. Then authorities ordered he be held for another 15 days. Then they extended it again. Thabet said he spent the entire time in solitary confinement, and he wasn’t informed of the “defamation of religion” charge against him until the end of 132 days in jail. He said he was not tortured, however, and that his interrogators and jailers were largely civil.
There was more hardship waiting for him at home. Muslim leaders in his neighborhood convinced his wife to divorce him and take his 10-year-old daughter and 6-year-old son.
“They gave her the money to file for a divorce, a car and another person to marry,” Thabet said, adding that the Muslim leaders had offered him money too if he would stay in Islam. “In the beginning they tried to bribe me to come back to Islam, but I refused.”
Thabet has only had a few brief moments with his children since he was arrested, mainly when his soon-to-be ex-wife came to their home to gather a few belongings. If she goes through with the divorce, according to Egyptian law it is likely Thabet will lose all parental rights to his children, including any right to see them.
In Egypt and most other Muslim-majority countries, leaving Islam is considered ample grounds for termination of parental rights. Thabet said the religious leaders consider him “lost to Islam” and are trying to “save” his wife and children.
He filed a report with police about the Muslim leaders bribing his wife – and about another man who swindled money from him – but police ignored both reports, he said.
Kamal Fahmi of Set My People Free to Worship Me, a group headquartered in Cairo dedicated to raising awareness about the problems faced by Muslims who become Christians, said that under Islam, “Muslim converts don’t have the right to exist.”
Arrests like Thabet’s are common in Egypt.
“It is a tactic used to intimidate people and scare them from leaving Islam and taking alternative beliefs or moral codes,” Fahmi said.
In Islam as it is most often practiced in Egypt, merely expressing doubt about Islam is considered wrong, Fahmi said. Questioning any of its claims is considered blasphemy and is punishable by imprisonment under a variety of charges in Egypt; it is punishable by death in some other countries.
“Saying, ‘I don’t believe in Muhammad,’ is considered defaming Islam,” Fahmi said. “Saying, ‘I don’t believe in Islam as it is not true,’ can lead to death [murder], as you are considered an apostate,” Fahmi said. “Even rejecting the Islamic moral codes can lead to the same thing. Criticizing any of the sharia [Islamic law] is considered blasphemy.”
Thabet said he is uncertain what the future holds. He was released on Aug. 1 but, because he has the defamation of religion charge over his head – with no indication of when the case could go to court – he is unable to work and cannot even obtain a driver’s license.
His savings are almost depleted, forcing him to borrow money from a Muslim friend. He is concerned about re-arrest and receives death threats on a regular basis. He is too afraid to leave his apartment on most days.
“There are a lot of phone threats,” Thabet said. Noting he had been baptized three years ago, he said he has received phone threats in which someone tells him, “We are going to baptize you again with blood.”
On numerous occasions while talking in Internet chat rooms, he has been told, “Look outside the window, we know where you are,” Thabet said.
In recent days Muslims are angry at converts and at Christians in general, he said. “They’re very worked up about religious issues.”
He said he wants to leave Egypt but admits that, at his age, it would be very hard to start over. And if he stays in Egypt, he said, at least he will have a chance to see his children, however brief those encounters may be.
Since Thabet was released from jail on Aug. 1, authorities have seized his passport and summoned him four times for questioning. He said he thinks the SSI is trying to wear him down.
“Everyone is telling me that they [the government] want to make my life hard,” he said. “The problem here in Egypt is the religious intolerance that is found in government ministries. The intolerance has reached a point where they can’t think straight. Their intolerance makes them unaware of their own intolerance.”
Report from Compass Direct News
Court sentences him to three years on dubious charge of ‘attempt to promote civil unrest.’
NEW DELHI, October 18 (CDN) — A court in predominantly Buddhist Bhutan has sentenced a Christian to three years in prison for “attempting to promote civil unrest” by screening films on Christianity.
A local court in Gelephu convicted Prem Singh Gurung, a 40-year-old ethnic Nepalese citizen from Sarpang district in south Bhutan, on Oct. 6, according to the government-run daily Kuensel.
Gurung was arrested four months ago after local residents complained that he was showing Christian films in Gonggaon and Simkharkha villages in Jigmecholing block. Gurung invited villagers to watch Nepali movies, and between each feature he showed films on Christianity.
Government attorneys could not prove “beyond reasonable doubt” that Gurung promoted civil unrest, and therefore “he was charged with an attempt to promote civil unrest,” the daily reported.
Gurung was also charged with violation of the Bhutan Information, Communication and Media Act of 2006. Sections 105(1) and 110 of this law require that authorities examine all films before public screening.
A Christian from Bhutan’s capital, Thimphu, told Compass that the conviction of Gurung disturbed area villagers.
While Gurung has the right to appeal, it remained unclear if he had the resources to take that course.
Both Gonggaon and Simkharkha are virtually inaccessible. It can take up to 24 and 48 hours to reach the villages from the nearest road.
“Both villages do not have electricity,” the daily reported. “But Prem Singh Gurung, with the help of some people, is believed to have carried a projector and a generator to screen the movies in the village.”
Over 75 percent of the 683,407 people in Bhutan are Buddhist, mainly from western and eastern parts. Hindus, mostly ethnic Nepalese from southern Bhutan, are estimated to be around 22 percent of the population.
It is also estimated that around 6,000 Bhutanese, mostly from south, are Christian in this landlocked nation between India and China. However, their presence is not officially acknowledged in the country. As a result, they practice their faith from the confines of their homes, with no Christian institution officially registered.
Buddhism is the state religion in Bhutan, and the government is mandated to protect its culture and religion according to the 2008 constitution. As in other parts of South Asia, people in Bhutan mistakenly believe that Christianity is a Western faith and that missionaries give monetary benefits to convert people from other religions.
Yesterday’s Kuensel published an opinion piece by a Bhutanese woman from New York who described herself as “an aspiring Buddhist” condemning both the conviction of Gurung and Christian “tactics.”
“Although we may not like the tactics used by the Christians to proselytize or ‘sell’ their religion to impoverished and vulnerable groups, let’s not lose sight of the bigger picture, in terms of religious tolerance, and what constitutes ‘promoting civil unrest,’” wrote Sonam Ongmo. “If we truly want to establish ourselves as a well-functioning democracy, with equal rights for all, let’s start with one of the fundamental ones – the right to choose one’s faith. We have nothing to worry about Buddhism losing ground to Christianity, but we will if, as a predominantly Buddhist state, we start to deny people the right to their faith.”
While her view is representative of liberal Buddhists in Bhutan, a reader’s response in a forum on Kuensel’s website reflected the harder line.
“These Christians are a cancer to our society,” wrote a reader identifying himself as The Last Dragon. “They had crusades after crusades – we don’t need that. We are very happy with Buddhism. Once Christianity is perfect – as they always claim [it] to be, then let’s see.”
In July, the government of Bhutan proposed an amendment in the Penal Code of Bhutan which would punish “proselytizing” that “uses coercion or other forms of inducement.” (See, “Buddhist Bhutan Proposes ‘Anti-Conversion’ Law,” July 21.)
Christian persecution arose in Bhutan in the 1980s, when the king began a “one-nation, one-people” campaign to “protect the country’s sovereignty and cultural integrity.” Ethnic Nepalese, however, protested the move on grounds of discrimination. Authorities responded militarily, leading to the expulsion or voluntary migration of over 100,000 ethnic Nepalese, many of whom were secret Christians, to the Nepal side of the border in Jhapa in the early 1990s.
An absolute monarchy for over 100 years, Bhutan became a democratic, constitutional monarchy in March 2008, in accordance with the wish of former King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, who served from 1972 to 2006. Since the advent of democracy, the country has brought in many reforms. It is generally believed that the government is gradually giving more freedom to its citizens.
The present king, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, and Prime Minister Lyonchen Jigmey Thinley, are respected by almost all Bhutanese and are seen as benevolent rulers.
Report from Compass Direct News
Chhattisgarh, India, August 31 (CDN) — Police in Sivaho Dhamtari on Aug. 29 arrested three Christians after Hindu extremists filed a complaint against them of luring people to convert to Christianity by offering them money and “false hope.” A source reported that the extremists had recently launched a series of attacks against Pastor Dilip Chakravarty, Ganga Ram and Shankar Lal of the Church of God, accusing them of forceful conversion and trying to force Ram and Lal to “reconvert” back to Hinduism. Ram and Lal sustained fractures on their hands and legs from the attacks. Area Christian leaders said no forceful conversion took place. The three Christians were charged with 295 (a) of the Indian Penal Code for “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion” and were sent to Dhamtari district jail the same day.
Karnataka – Hindu extremists from the Bajrang Dal disrupted the worship meeting of Ebenezer Assembly of God Church and beat Pastor Ravi George and a church member identified only as Ramu on Aug. 29 in K.R. Nagar, Mysore. The Global Council of Indian Christians reported that about 20 extremists broke into the worship meeting, snatched Bibles and a mobile phone from Pastor George and started beating those present. The Christians received hospital treatment for serious head and hand injuries. Pastor George submitted a police complaint.
Karnataka – Christians in Madalawada, Haliya face a social boycott and the Rev. Philip Rock of St. Sebastian Church was charged with “causing disharmony” after Christians refused to follow Hindu rituals. In an effort to stop the spread of cholera in the village, local Hindu leaders On Aug. 24 urged villagers to pray to a Hindu deity and told them not to work on two Tuesdays and three Fridays, reported the Global Council of Indian Christians. Rock advised the Christians not to observe the Hindu rituals, and they resumed their daily activities. The Hindu extremists boycotted the Christians’ businesses and grocery shops, kept students from attending Christian schools and refused to repair Christians’ farm equipment. A police investigation is underway.
New Delhi – Hindu extremists from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Bajrang Dal attacked Pastor Isaac Laal on Aug. 22 in Bhavana, Dariyakala Pura, New Delhi as he was returning home from a Sunday church service. The Evangelical Fellowship of India reported that armed extremists stopped him and took him to Municipal Corporation hall where about 150 RSS members were meeting. The extremists accused Laal of forceful conversion and severely beat him, leaving the pastor with internal injuries. The investigating officer of Bawana police station told Compass that police are investigating but no First Information Report has been registered.
Karnataka – Hindu nationalists on Aug. 20 beat a pastor after falsely accusing him of “allurement” in the conversion of villagers in Bhendwad, Belgaum district. The Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) reported that Pastor David Kalagade of Jeevan Jala Prayer Mandiram was conducting a prayer service at another Christian’s house when 40 area extremists barged into the house at about 8 p.m. and accused him of bribing villagers to convert. Pastor Kalagade told Compass that the extremists tore up Christian literature and dragged him to the village council. Police were summoned, but the extremists could not substantiate their claims that people were given 500 to 1,000 rupees (about US$10 to US$20) to embrace Christianity. Police called the pastor to the police station on Aug. 21 and, contrary to the religious freedom provisions in the Indian constitution, forced him to sign a statement that he would not convert people in the village. Police official Anil Kumar told Compass that police also took a written statement from the extremists pledging that they would not create disturbances for the Christians. GCIC sources told Compass that the extremists were closely monitoring the daily activities of Christians.
Maharashtra – Police on Aug. 20 deported five South Korean students on the basis of the complaint of “propagating Christianity” on Aug. 16 by Hindu extremists in Pune. Manifesting one’s faith is legal in India. The Indian Express reported the police as saying that the five Koreans were distributing pamphlets in Pimpri Chinchwad, which led to a quarrel with local Hindu extremists. Area Christians said the Koreans were leading Bible studies in Christian homes and were distributing pamphlets on health issues to those who wanted them.
Karnataka – Police on Aug. 19 detained a pastor after Hindu nationalists from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) beat him while he was showing a film in Mahalingapura, Bagalkot district. The Global Council of Indian Christians reported that Pastor Hanok Mahadev Inachi of the New Apostolic Church and two Christian students identified only as Sarah and Gauri were showing a film, “Oceans of Mercy” to villagers when a mob of over 200 RSS extremists attacked. The Hindu extremists repeatedly struck the pastor on his back and took the film projector, a DVD player, generators, amplifier and a speaker box worth nearly 100,000 rupees (US$2,135), which police later forced them to return. Pastor Inachi told Compass that the extremists pushed, shoved and struck his back as they forced him to the Mahalingapura police station. He was released the next morning without charges but was forced to sign a statement pledging that he would not enter the village again; the two women were also given a warning.
Madhya Pradesh – Police on Aug. 16 filed charges against a pastor under the state’s “anti-conversion law” after local Hindu extremists disrupted his house church meeting in Nisarpur village, Dhar district. The Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) reported that as independent Pastor Balu Sasya and an assistant pastor identified only as Raju were leading nearly 30 Christians in prayer and worship, about 35 extremists stormed the church, shouting slogans and slapping Raju. Falsely accusing the pastors of forcibly converting villagers, the extremists forced Sasya and Raju to the Nisarpur police station and filed a false complaint against them, GCIC reported. A GCIC regional coordinator told Compass that both Sasya and Raju were in still in Badhawani jail at press time.
Tamil Nadu – Police arrested Pastor S. Martin Rajasekaran after Hindu extremists along with police disrupted a prayer meeting on Aug. 15 in Tanjore. Barging into the prayer meeting led by Pastor Rajasekaran, the extremists chased away the Christians, seized a church amplifier and loud speakers and locked the house, according to the All India Christian Council (AICC). The pastor had been threatened and driven away from his rented house six times by the extremists and insulted and manhandled many times, according to the AICC, but all his complaints to police were ignored.
Madhya Pradesh – Two Hindu extremists from the Bajrang Dal, Ram Naresh Rai and Santosh Namdin, threatened a Christian convert on Aug. 15 in Dhanora, Lahknadon. Achelal Jhariya of Light of the World Church told Compass that the extremists filed a complaint against him of forceful conversion, claiming that he was constructing his house for conversion activities. Jhariya said the extremists went to the property site and told him to stop worshipping Jesus and warned him to stop construction or they would destroy all his belongings. The Christian said he was not building the house for any conversion activities, though such activities are legal in India, and reported the matter to police. Officers promised him security.
Karnataka – Police arrested two Christians after Hindu extremists from the Bajrang Dal accused them of forceful conversion and disrupted their worship meeting on Aug. 15 in Mandya district. The Global Council of Indian Christians reported that the extremists led by Hanumant Raj, local president of the Bajrang Dal, forcefully entered the worship meeting in Shesha Gowda’s home and started abusing the Christians. They filed a complaint against the Christians of forceful conversion in K.R. Pete police station. Police took 12 Christians to the station for questioning, releasing 10 without charges. Pastor Satish and Evangelist Ravi Pas, however, were arrested under Section 295 and 298 of the Indian Penal Code for “defiling a worship place with intent to insult religion of any class” and “uttering words with deliberate intent to wound the religious feelings of any person respectively.”
Karnataka – Police on Aug. 13 detained Christians after accompanying Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) members to a church and standing by as the BJP extremists disrupted their worship in Birur, Chikmagalur district. The Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) reported that the Indian Pentecostal Church pastor identified only as Dileep, along with 10 other Christians including three women and a young child, were taken to the Kadur police station and interrogated for over four hours. During the interrogation, BJP extremists surrounded them and shouted false accusations of forcible conversion and other abusive statements at the terrified Christians. With GCIC intervention, the Christians were released at 8:30 p.m. with a strict warning, contrary to the religious freedom provisions in the Indian constitution, to refrain from conversion activities in the area.
Uttar Pradesh – Members of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Aug. 8 disrupted a Christian prayer meeting in Mailani, Lakhimpur-Kheri district, according to the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI). Nearly 25 BJP extremists accompanied by police gathered at 11 a.m. at Life Prayer Centre, where nearly 600 Christians had congregated for worship. The intolerant Hindus shouted slogans and demanded that Pastor Robert Samson come out, EFI reported. Police dispersed the Christians and took Pastor Samson in for questioning, releasing him later that afternoon without charges but allegedly threatening to shut down the church, according to EFI. Police also prohibited the congregation from gathering the following Sunday. Using a loudspeaker, the BJP nationalists continued making public accusations of forcible conversion by Pastor Samson throughout the day, EFI noted.
Karnataka – Members of the extremist Hindu Jagaran Vedike, a wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, on Aug. 8 disrupted a prayer meeting and falsely accused Christians of “forceful conversion” in Kanakagiri, Koppal district. The Evangelical Fellowship of India reported that at about 7:30 p.m. nearly 60 extremists stormed into an Evangelical Church of India service led by Pastor John Harris in the home of a family interested in learning about Christianity that had been regularly attending the church for about a year. Ordering the Christians to go outside where broadcast media were waiting, the extremists verbally abused the Christians for their faith, told them to stop all worship meetings and falsely accused them of forcible conversion. The Hindu nationalists took the Christians to the police station and pressured officers to arrest them. Police forced the Christians to sign a statement that they would not conduct meetings in homes and threatened to file a case against them if they did.
Bihar – Hindu extremists from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh on Aug. 7 attacked Singhasini Church and threatened Christians in Raxual. A source reported that the extremists pasted several pictures of Hanuman, a Hindu god, on the church’s wall and demanded that Christians leave the area. The extremists further threatened the Christians that they would hoist the Hanuman flag over the church building if they continued to worship Jesus. With area Christian leaders’ intervention, no further harm came to the church.
Maharashtra – Armed Hindu extremists on Aug. 1 attacked a church meeting and beat Christians including women and children, seriously injuring two people in Orlem, Malad. The Global Council of Indian Christians reported that after a group of armed extremists barged into the Sunday worship meeting of the Church of North India’s St. Emmanuel Church, Ponkumar Nadar and Devashish Nagarwere sustained injuries that required treatment in a local hospital. The congregation was attacked with rods and other blunt weapons, according to the Catholic Secular Forum (CSF). Joseph Dias, secretary of CSF, told media that the Hindu extremists were drunk at the time of the attack.
West Bengal – Muslim extremists on Aug. 1 destroyed a vegetable field belonging to a Christian in Natungram, Murshidabad. The Evangelical Fellowship of India reported the field belonged to Gaffar Sheik, a member of Believer’s Community Worship Center. Earlier, Raffiqul Sheik had warned Gaffar Sheik that if he continued to worship Christ, his crops would be burned. The extent of the damage was estimated at about 20,000 rupees (US$400). Police visited the site, and an investigation is underway.
Uttar Pradesh – Police detained Christian students after accusing them of forceful conversion on July 24 in Lukcnow. The All India Christian Council (AICC) reported that four students from Compassion for India Ministry were visiting the slum area when the police team led by an officer identified only as Tripati called their pastor to the police station. The officer accused the pastor and his team of forceful conversion and forced the Christians to report about their work in detail. Police took money from the pastor before releasing the students, reported the AICC. The students maintained that they were just distributing food to the needy in the poor area and that there was no forceful conversion.
Uttar Pradesh – A mob of about 50 Hindu extremists from the Bajrang Dal barged into a Christian meeting shouting, “Jai Shri Ram [Praise lord Ram]” on July 23 in Kanpur. The Global Council of Indian Christians reported that the extremists forcefully entered the two-day meeting organized by Pastor Samuel Sarkar of the Kanpur Pentecostal Church and stopped the service. Police came to the spot and took the two parties to the police station, where officers told the Christians to cancel their meeting, which was subsequently discontinued.
Report from Compass Direct News
Taliban takes responsibility, but medical organization unsure of killers’ identity.
ISTANBUL, August 12 (CDN) — The killing of a team of eye medics, including eight Christian aid workers, in a remote area of Afghanistan last week was likely the work of opportunistic gunmen whose motives are not yet clear, the head of the medical organization said today.
On Friday (Aug. 6), 10 medical workers were found shot dead next to their bullet-ridden Land Rovers. The team of two Afghan helpers and eight Christian foreigners worked for the International Assistance Mission (IAM). They were on their way back to Kabul after having provided medical care to Afghans in one of the country’s remotest areas.
Afghan authorities have not been conclusive about who is responsible for the deaths nor the motivation behind the killings. In initial statements last week the commissioner of Badakhshan, where the killings took place, said it was an act of robbers. In the following days, the Taliban took responsibility for the deaths.
The Associated Press reported that a Taliban spokesman said they had killed them because they were spies and “preaching Christianity.” Another Taliban statement claimed that they were carrying Dari-language Bibles, according to the news agency. Initially the attack was reported as a robbery, which IAM Executive Director Dirk Frans said was not true.
“There are all these conflicting reports, and basically our conclusion is that none of them are true,” Frans told Compass. “This was an opportunistic attack where fighters had been displaced from a neighboring district, and they just happened to know about the team. I think this was an opportunistic chance for them to get some attention.”
A new wave of tribal insurgents seeking territory, mineral wealth and smuggling routes has arisen that, taken together, far outnumber Taliban rebels, according to recent U.S. intelligence reports.
Frans added that he is expecting more clarity as authorities continue their investigations.
He has denied the allegation that the members of their medical team were proselytizing.
“IAM is a Christian organization – we have never hidden this,” Frans told journalists in Kabul on Monday (Aug. 9). “Indeed, we are registered as such with the Afghan government. Our faith motivates and inspires us – but we do not proselytize. We abide by the laws of Afghanistan.”
IAM has been registered as a non-profit Christian organization in Afghanistan since 1966.
Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, a former political candidate, dismissed the Taliban’s claims that team members were proselytizing or spying, according to the BBC.
“These were dedicated people,” Abdullah said according to the BBC report. “Tom Little used to work in Afghanistan with his heart – he dedicated half of his life to service the people of Afghanistan.”
Abdullah had trained as an eye surgeon under Tom Little, 62, an optometrist who led the team that was killed last week. Little and his family had lived in Afghanistan for more than 30 years with IAM providing eye care.
IAM has provided eye care and medical help in Afghanistan since 1966. In the last 44 years, Frans estimates they have provided eye care to more than 5 million Afghans.
Frans said he doesn’t think that Christian aid workers are particularly targeted, since every day there are many Afghan casualties, and the insurgents themselves realize they need the relief efforts.
“We feel that large parts of the population are very much in favor of what we do,” he said. “The people I met were shocked [by the murders]; they knew the members of the eye care team, and they were shocked that selfless individuals who are going out of their way to actually help the Afghan people … they are devastated.”
The team had set up a temporary medical and eye-treatment camp in the area of Nuristan for two and a half weeks, despite heavy rains and flooding affecting the area that borders with Pakistan.
Nuristan communities had invited the IAM medical team. Afghans of the area travelled from the surrounding areas to receive treatment in the pouring rain, said Little’s wife in a CNN interview earlier this week, as she recalled a conversation with her husband days before he was shot.
Little called his wife twice a day and told her that even though it was pouring “sheets of rain,” hundreds of drenched people were gathering from the surrounding areas desperate to get medical treatment.
The Long Path Home
The team left Nuristan following a difficult path north into Badakhshan that was considered safer than others for reaching Kabul. Frans said the trek took two days in harsh weather, and the team had to cross a mountain range that was 5,000 meters high.
“South of Nuristan there is a road that leads into the valley where we had been asked to come and treat the eye patients, and a very easy route would have been through the city of Jalalabad and then up north to Parun, where we had planned the eye camp,” Frans told Compass. “However, that area of Nuristan is very unsafe.”
When the team ended their trek and boarded their vehicles, the armed group attacked them and killed all but one Afghan member of the team. Authorities and IAM believe the team members were killed between Aug. 4 and 5. Frans said he last spoke with Little on Aug. 4.
IAM plans eye camps in remote areas every two years due to the difficulty of preparing for the work and putting a team together that is qualified and can endure the harsh travel conditions, he said.
“We have actually lost our capacity to do camps like this in remote areas because we lost two of our veteran people as well as others we were training to take over these kinds of trips,” Frans said.
The team of experts who lost their lives was composed of two Afghan Muslims, Mahram Ali and another identified only as Jawed; British citizen Karen Woo, German Daniela Beyer, and U.S. citizens Little, Cheryl Beckett, Brian Carderelli, Tom Grams, Glenn Lapp and Dan Terry.
“I know that the foreign workers of IAM were all committed Christians, and they felt this was the place where they needed to live out their life in practice by working with and for people who have very little access to anything we would call normal facilities,” said Frans. “The others were motivated by humanitarian motives. All of them in fact were one way or another committed to the Afghan people.”
The two Afghans were buried earlier this week. Little and Terry, who both had lived in the war-torn country for decades, will be buried in Afghanistan.
Despite the brutal murders, Frans said that as long as the Afghans and their government continue to welcome them, IAM will stay.
“We are here for the people, and as long as they want us to be here and the government in power gives us the opportunity to work here, we are their guests and we’ll stay, God willing,” he said.
On Sunday (Aug. 8), at his home church in Loudonville, New York, Dr. Tom Hale, a medical relief worker himself, praised the courage and sacrifice of the eight Christians who dedicated their lives to helping Afghans.
“Though this loss has been enormous, I want to state my conviction that this loss is not senseless; it is not a waste,” said Hale. “Remember this: those eight martyrs in Afghanistan did not lose their lives, they gave up their lives.”
Days before the team was found dead, Little’s wife wrote about their family’s motivation to stay in Afghanistan through “miserable” times. Libby Little described how in the 1970s during a citizens’ uprising they chose not to take shelter with other foreigners but to remain in their neighborhood.
“As the fighting worsened and streets were abandoned, our neighbors fed us fresh bread and sweet milk,” she wrote. “Some took turns guarding our gate, motioning angry mobs to ‘pass by’ our home. When the fighting ended, they referred to us as ‘the people who stayed.’
“May the fruitful door of opportunity to embrace suffering in service, or at least embrace those who are suffering, remain open for the sake of God’s kingdom,” she concluded.
Concern for Afghan Christians
Afghanistan’s population is estimated at 28 million. Among them are very few Christians. Afghan converts are not accepted by the predominantly Muslim society. In recent months experts have expressed concern over political threats against local Christians.
At the end of May, private Afghan TV station Noorin showed images of Afghan Christians being baptized and praying. Within days the subject of Afghans leaving Islam for Christianity became national news and ignited a heated debate in the Parliament and Senate. The government conducted formal investigations into activities of Christian aid agencies. In June IAM successfully passed an inspection by the Afghan Ministry of Economy.
In early June the deputy secretary of the Afghan Parliament, Abdul Sattar Khawasi, called for the execution of converts, according to Agence France-Presse (AFP).
“Those Afghans that appeared on this video film should be executed in public,” he said, according to the AFP. “The house should order the attorney general and the NDS (intelligence agency) to arrest these Afghans and execute them.”
Small protests against Christians ensued in Kabul and other towns, and two foreign aid groups were accused of proselytizing and their activities were suspended, news sources reported.
A source working with the Afghan church who requested anonymity said she was concerned that the murders of IAM workers last week might negatively affect Afghan Christians and Christian aid workers.
“The deaths have the potential to shake the local and foreign Christians and deeply intimidate them even further,” said the source. “Let’s pray that it will be an impact that strengthens the church there but that might take awhile.”
Report from Compass Direct News
International Christian Concern (ICC) has told the ASSIST News Service (ANS) that it has learned that an Afghan parliamentary secretary has called for the public execution of Christian converts from the parliament floor, reports Dan Wooding, founder of ASSIST Ministries.
On Tuesday, the Associated Free Press reported that Abdul Sattar Khawasi, deputy secretary of the Afghan lower house in parliament, called for the execution of Christian converts from Islam.
Speaking in regards to a video broadcast by the Afghan television network Noorin TV showing footage of Christian men being baptized and praying in Farsi, Khawasi said, “Those Afghans that appeared in this video film should be executed in public. The house should order the attorney general and the NDS (intelligence agency) to arrest these Afghans and execute them.”
An ICC spokesperson said, “The broadcast triggered a protest by hundreds of Kabul University students on Monday, who shouted death threats and demanded the expulsion of Christian foreigners accused of proselytizing.
"As a result, the operations of Norwegian Church Aid (NCA) and U.S.-based Church World Service (CWS) have been suspended over allegations of proselytizing. The Afghan government is currently undertaking an intensive investigation into the matter.
"According to Afghan law, proselytizing is illegal and conversion from Islam is punishable by death.”
ICC sources within Afghanistan have reported that many national Christians are in hiding, fearful of execution. Under government pressure during investigations, some Afghans have reportedly revealed names and locations of Christian converts.
Aidan Clay, ICC Regional Manager for the Middle East, said, “It is absolutely appalling that the execution of Christians would be promoted on the floor of the Afghan parliament. Khawasi’s statement sounded a whole lot like the tyrannical manifesto of the Taliban not that of a U.S. ally. American lives are being lost fighting terrorism and defending freedom in Afghanistan – yet Christians are being oppressed within Afghan borders.
“This comes after billions of U.S. dollars have been invested in the war effort, and millions more have been given in aid. The U.S. government must intervene to protect the religious freedoms and human rights of all Afghans. The U.S. is not a mere outside bystander – but, is closely intertwined within Afghan policy.”
Clay added, “Intervention is not a choice, but a responsibility, as Afghan policies reflect the U.S. government’s ability and commitment to secure a stable government in Afghanistan.”
Report from the Christian Telegraph
Hostilities common in area in Bihar state; victim had been part of team attacked in 2008.
NEW DELHI, May 11 (CDN) — The gruesome nature of the May 2 murder of an evangelist in Bihar state who had no enmity with anyone has led area Christians to suspect anti-Christian motives.
The mutilated body of Ravi Murmu, 32, was found in Jamalpur, Munger district, with the right hand nearly severed by means of a sharp weapon, and the jaw and neck were similarly slashed.
“Efforts were made to chop off his hand and neck, trying to separate it from his body,” Shekhar Kumar, a member of his church, told Compass.
Police are investigating but have made no arrests so far.
“All his belongings were intact, which included his motorbike, Bible, cell phone, wristwatch and some cash,” Murmu’s brother-in-law, Shiv Kumar, told Compass. “This seems to be a planned murder. That is why Ravi was targeted when he was alone. To me the motive seems to be anti-Christian.”
Murmu’s pastor, Yunus Mandal of Bethel Brethren Assembly in Jamalpur, agreed.
“The intention behind the murder evidently is not robbery,” Mandal said. “I am suspicious that Hindu fundamentalists have done this, but this could also be the handiwork of the Naxalites [Maoist rebels].”
Kumar and Murmu’s widow, Rinku Murmu, both said the evangelist had no enmity with anyone, and that anti-Christian sentiment was the only motive they could surmise.
Murmu was returning from showing a film about the life of Jesus, “Dayasagar,” in nearby Lakshmanpur. He had accompanied a team of seven evangelists showing the film but was alone when attacked. The murder is estimated to have taken place between 9:30 and 10 p.m.
He is survived by his wife, 8-year-old daughter Celesty and his widowed mother.
Pastor Mandal’s wife, Mary Mandal, said anti-Christian hostilities are common in the area but did not reach Murmu.
“It is 32 years that my husband is ministering in Jamalpur, and he has faced threats day in and day out,” she told Compass. “But we never imagined such a thing would happen to Ravi.”
About a year and half ago, however, Murmu was attacked along with others in another part of the state, Pastor Mandal said.
“Ravi Murmu, myself and a team of 10 Christians were visiting the Newada area of Bihar, about 160 kilometers [99 miles] from Jamalpur, for the purpose of preaching the gospel,” he said. “There we were attacked by about 15 members of the [Hindu extremist] Bajrang Dal.”
In the assault Pastor Mandal suffered serious injury to his eye, which bled profusely, he said.
“Ravi at that time was also beaten up and sustained injuries on the face and to his teeth,” he said. “They would have killed us, but they found money in our possession worth about 180 U.S. dollars, and so they looted it and fled.”
In 2008, he added, members of the local Hindu student union protested when a family decided to follow Christ after a healing through prayer. But overall, Murmu had amicable relations with everyone, he said.
“Ravi was a very open-hearted, kind, honest, balanced and sensible human being,” Pastor Mandal said. “He was a pearl of our assembly. The loss is immense.”
Police detained two people in connection with the murder but later let them go.
Church members requested that Compass not speak with local police, fearing that resentful officers would further antagonize them; already police have asked pointed questions of the seven others on the evangelism team and of Murmu’s widow, as well as searching their homes, they said.
An autopsy was performed on May 3, but the report has not yet been submitted to police or handed over to the family members, they said.
Rinku Murmu said she and her husband were to celebrate their 11th wedding anniversary on June 23.
She told Compass that her husband had preached Christ in Lakshmanpur for two years.
“He left home as usual but had informed me that he would come home late, as they had plans to show the film about Jesus to the villagers,” she said. “The next morning at 6 o’ clock, someone came home to inform me that a mutilated body has been found and that I should go and identify it. I could not believe it, and I took Pastor Mandal along with me.”
Murmu’s body was found on Margret road, East Colony area of Lakshmanpur, about four kilometers (less than two miles) from his house. One leg was stuck under the motorcycle.
“He was killed ruthlessly,” said Pastor Mandal.
Shekhar Kumar, who was one of the seven team members showing the film that day, told Compass that they had publicized the film for nearly 10 days and had also invited surrounding villagers.
“About 150 to 200 people had gathered to watch the film – there were Christians as well as Hindus,” Kumar said. “The generator broke down in the middle of the film, and even after many efforts we could not repair it.”
The team announced to the gathering that the rest of the film would be continued the next day, and they went home.
“The road divides at one point – one part goes towards Ravi and Pastor Mandal’s house, and the other goes toward Choti Keshavpur village, where the six of us live,” Kumar said. “Departing at that point, we said goodbye to Ravi, and he went alone on that deserted road. It was around 9:30 p.m. at that time.”
Pastor Mandal, who had returned earlier, had taken the same road half an hour ahead of Murmu, he added.
Murmu’s wife told police that she had called her husband’s cell phone at 10 p.m. from a neighbor’s house and he did not answer the call, so police estimated the murder to have taken place between 9:30 and 10 p.m.
“I pray that God would change the hearts of those who have done this,” Rinku Murmu said. “My prayer is that one day they too would carry the cross of Christ and share the Good News.”
Report from Compass Direct News