Prospects of Religious Freedom Appear Grim in Islamic Maldives


Two years after political reforms, freedom of faith nowhere in sight.

MALÉ, Maldives, August 10 (CDN) — Visitors to this Islamic island nation get a sense of religious restrictions even before they arrive. The arrival-departure cards given to arriving airline passengers carry a list of items prohibited under Maldivian laws – including “materials contrary to Islam.”

After Saudi Arabia, the Maldives is the only nation that claims a 100-percent Muslim population. The more than 300,000 people in the Maldives, an Indian Ocean archipelago featuring 1,192 islets 435 miles southwest of Sri Lanka, are all Sunnis.

This South Asian nation, however, has more than 70,000 expatriate workers representing several non-Islamic religions, including Christianity.

Also, around 60,000 tourists, mainly from Europe, visit each year to enjoy the blue ocean and white beaches and normally head straight to one of the holiday resorts built on around 45 islands exclusively meant for tourism. Tourists are rarely taken to the other 200 inhabited islands where locals live.

Nearly one-third of the population lives in the capital city of Malé, the only island where tourists and Maldivians meet.

While the Maldivians do not have a choice to convert out of Islam or to become openly atheist, foreigners in the country can practice their religion only privately.

In previous years several Christian expats have either been arrested for attending worship in private homes or denied visas for several months or years on suspicion of being connected with mission agencies.

According to “liberal estimates,” the number of Maldivian Christians or seekers “cannot be more than 15,” said one source.

“Even if you engage any Maldivian in a discussion on Christianity and the person reports it to authorities, you can be in trouble,” the source said. “A Maldivian youth studying in Sri Lanka became a Christian recently, but when his parents came to know about it, they took him away. We have not heard from him since then.”

The source added that such instances are not uncommon in the Maldives.

“I wish I could attend church, but I am too scared to look for one,” said a European expat worker. “I have not even brought my Bible here; I read it online. I don’t want to take any chances.”

The British reportedly translated the Bible into the local language, Dhivehi, and made it available in the 19th century, as the Maldives was a British protectorate from 1887 to 1965. Today no one knows how the Dhivehi Bible “disappeared.”

“A new translation has been underway for years, and it is in no way near completion,” said the source who requested anonymity.

 

Religion Excluded from Rights

The 2008 constitution, adopted five years after a popular movement for human rights began, states that a “non-Muslim may not become a citizen of the Maldives.”

Abdulla Yameen, brother of the former dictator of the Maldives and leader of the People’s Alliance party, an ally of the opposition Dhivehi Raiyyathunge Party (Maldivian People’s Party or DRP), told Compass that the issue of religious freedom was “insignificant” for the Maldives.

“There’s no demand for it from the public,” Yameen said. “If you take a public poll, 99 percent of the citizens will say ‘no’ to religious freedom.”

Maldivians are passionate about their religion, Yameen added, referring to a recent incident in which a 37-year-old Maldivian citizen, Mohamed Nazim, was attacked after he told a gathering that he was not a Muslim. On May 28, before a crowd of around 11,000 Maldivians, Nazim told a visiting Indian Muslim televangelist, Zakir Naik, that although he was born to a practicing Muslim family, he was “struggling to believe in religions.”

He also asked Naik about his “verdict on Islam.” The question enraged an angry crowd, with many calling for Nazim’s death while others beat him. He received several minor injuries before police took him away.

“See how the public went after his [Nazim’s] throat,” said Yameen, who studied at Claremont Graduate University in California. When asked if such passion was good for a society, he replied, “Yes. We are an Islamic nation, and our religion is an important part of our collective identity.”

Asked if individuals had no rights, his terse answer was “No.” Told it was shocking to hear his views, he said, “We are also shocked when a nation legalizes gay sex.”

Mohamed Zahid, vice president of the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives, told Compass that the country has its own definition of human rights.

“It is to protect people’s rights under the sharia [Islamic law] and other international conventions with the exception of religious freedom,” he said. “We are a sovereign nation, and we follow our own constitution.”

Zahid and several other local sources told Compass that the issue of religious rights was “irrelevant” for Maldivians. “Not more than 100 people in the country want religious freedom,” Zahid said.

 

Politics of Religion

Former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, a virtual dictator for 30 years until 2008, is generally held responsible for creating an atmosphere of religious restrictions in the Maldives, as he sought to homogenize religion in the country by introducing the state version of Sunni Islam. He also led a major crackdown on Christians.

The Protection of Religious Unity Act, enacted in 1994, was an endeavor to tighten the government’s control over mosques and all other Islamic institutions. The Gayoom administration even wrote Friday sermons to be delivered in mosques.

In 1998, Gayoom began a crackdown on alleged missionary activities.

“A radio station based out of India used to air Christian programs via the Seychelles, but the government came to know about it and ensured that they were discontinued with the help of the government in the Seychelles,” said a local Muslim source.

That year, Gayoom reportedly arrested around 50 Maldivians who were suspected to have converted to Christianity and deported 19 foreign workers accused of doing missionary work. A source said Gayoom apparently wanted to regain popularity at a time when his leadership was being questioned.

When the archipelago became a multi-party democracy in October 2008, new President Mohamed Nasheed, a former journalist and activist, was expected to pursue a liberal policy as part of the country’s reforms agenda.

Although Nasheed is the president, his party, the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), has only 28 members and the support of four independents in the 77-member People’s Majlis (Maldives’ unicameral Parliament). Gayoom, now in his 70s and the leader of the largest opposition party, the DRP, has a simple majority – which presents difficulties in governance. Nasheed pleads helplessness in implementing reforms, citing an intransigent opposition.

Today Gayoom’s party accuses President Nasheed of not being able to protect the country’s distinct identity and culture, which the opposition says are rooted in Islam. The Gayoom-led parliament recently sought to impeach the education minister for proposing to make Islam and Dhivehi lessons optional – rather than mandatory – in high school.

To pre-empt the impeachment move, the whole cabinet of Nasheed resigned on June 29, which caused a major political crisis that led to violent street protests. The Nasheed administration allegedly arrested some opposition members, including Gayoom’s brother, Yameen. Political tensions and uncertainties continued at press time.

Now that President Nasheed’s popularity is declining – due to perceptions that he has become as authoritarian as his predecessor – it is feared that, amid immense pressure by the opposition to follow conservative policies, he might begin to follow in Gayoom’s footsteps.

 

Growing Extremism

Both the ruling and opposition parties admit that Islamic extremism has grown in the country. In October 2007, a group of young Maldivians engaged government security forces in a fierce shootout on Himandhoo Island.

Nasheed’s party alleges that Gayoom’s policy of promoting the state version of Sunni Islam created an interest to discern “true Islam,” with extremists from Pakistan stepping in to introduce “jihadism” in the Maldives. The DRP, on the other hand, says that behind the growth of extremism is the current government’s liberal policy of allowing Muslims of different sects to visit the Maldives to preach and give lectures, including the conservative Sunni sect of “Wahhabis.”

Until the early 1990s, Maldivian women would hardly wear the black burqa (covering the entire body, except the eyes and hands), and no men would sport a long beard – outward marks of Wahhabi Muslims, said the Muslim source, adding that “today the practice has become common.”

Still, Islam as practiced in the Maldives is pragmatic and unlike that of Saudi Arabia, he said. “People here are liberal and open-minded.”

As extremism grows, though, it is feared that radical Islamists may go to any extent to extra-judicially punish anyone suspected of being a missionary or having converted away from Islam, and that they can pressure the government to remain indifferent to religious freedom.

How long will it take for the Maldives to allow religious freedom?

“Maybe after the Maldivian government legalizes gay sex,” the Muslim source joked.

Report from Compass Direct News

Anti-Christian Sentiment Marks Journey for Bhutan’s Exiles


Forced from Buddhist homeland, dangers arise in Hindu-majority Nepal.

KATHMANDU, Nepal, February 23 (CDN) — Thrust from their homes in Bhutan after Buddhist rulers embarked on an ethnic and religious purge, Christian refugees in Nepal face hostilities from Hindus and others.

In Sunsari district in southeastern Nepal, a country that is more than 80 percent Hindu, residents from the uneducated segments of society are especially apt to attack Christians, said Purna Kumal, district coordinator for Awana Clubs International, which runs 41 clubs in refugee camps to educate girls about the Bible.

“In Itahari, Christians face serious trouble during burials,” Kumal told Compass. “Last month, a burial party was attacked by locals who dug up the grave and desecrated it.”

Earlier this month, he added, a family in the area expelled one of its members from their home because he became a Christian.

Bhutan began expelling almost one-eighth of its citizens for being of Nepali origin or practicing faiths other than Buddhism in the 1980s. The purge lasted into the 1990s.

“Christians, like Hindus and others, were told to leave either their faith or the country,” said Gopi Chandra Silwal, who pastors a tiny church for Bhutanese refugees in a refugee camp in Sanischare, a small village in eastern Nepal’s Morang district. “Many chose to leave their homeland.”

Persecution in Bhutan led to the spread of Christianity in refugee camps in Nepal. Though exact figures are not available, refugee Simon Gazmer estimates there are about 7,000-8,000 Christians in the camps – out of a total refugee population of about 85,000 – with many others having left for other countries. There are 18 churches of various faiths in the camps, he said.

“Faith-healing was an important factor in the spread of Christianity in the camps,” said Gazmer, who belongs to Believers’ Church and is awaiting his turn to follow five members of his family to Queensland, Australia. “A second reason is the high density in the camps.”

Each refugee family lives in a single-room hut, with one outdoor toilet for every two families. The Nepalese government forbids them to work for fear it will create unemployment for local residents.

Life was even harder for them before 2006, when Nepal was a Hindu kingdom where conversions were a punishable offence.

“When I began preaching in 2000, I had to do it secretly,” said Pastor Silwal of Morang district. “We could meet only surreptitiously in small groups. I used my hut as a make-shift church while many other groups were forced to rent out rooms outside the camp.”

A fact-finding mission in 2004 by Brussels-based Human Rights Without Frontiers found that police pulled down a church structure built by Pentecostal Christians in the Beldangi camp by orders of Nepal’s home ministry. The rights group also reported that Hindu refugees ostracized the Christians, who had proceeded to rent a room outside the camp to meet three times a week for worship services and Bible study.

When the Jesus Loves Gospel Ministries (JLGM) organization sent officials from India to the Pathri camp in Morang in 2006, they found that local residents resentful of the refugees had taken note of a baptism service at a pond in a nearby jungle.

“In August, we were planning another baptism program,” JLGM director Robert Singh reported. “But the villagers put deadly poisonous chemicals in the water … Some of the young people went to take a bath ahead of our next baptism program. They found some fish floating on the water and, being very hungry – the refugees only get a very small ration, barely enough to survive on – they took some of the fish and ate them. Three of them died instantly.”

Singh also stated that poisoned sweets were left on the premises of the refugee school in the camp. They were discovered in time to avert another tragedy.

Life for Christian refugees improved after Nepal saw a pro-democracy movement in 2006 that caused the army-backed government of Hindu king Gyanendra Bir Bikram Shah to collapse. The king was forced to reinstate parliament, and lawmakers sought to curb his powers by declaring Nepal a secular state.

Though Christian refugees are now allowed to run churches openly in the camps, ill will toward them has yet to end. When Pastor Silwal asked camp authorities to allow him to open a church in 2006, Hindu neighbors protested, saying it would cause disturbances. Camp authorities allowed him to open a tiny church in a separate room on the condition that its activities would not disturb neighbors.

Earlier in his life in Bhutan, said the 40-year-old Pastor Silwal, he had been a stern Hindu who rebuked his two sisters mercilessly for becoming Christians. He forbade them to visit their church, which gathered in secret due to the ban on non-Buddhist religions in place at the time. They were also forbidden to bring the Bible inside their house in Geylegphug, a district in southern Bhutan close to the Indian border.

“I became a believer in 1988 after a near-death experience,” Pastor Silwal told Compass. “I contracted malaria and was on the verge of death since no one could diagnose it. All the priests and shamans consulted by my Hindu family failed to cure me. One day, when I thought I was going to die I had a vision.”

The pastor said he saw a white-robed figure holding a Bible in one hand and beckoning to him with the other. “Have faith in me,” the figure told him. “I will cure you.”

When he woke from his trance, Silwal asked his sisters to fetch him a copy of the Bible. They were alarmed at first, thinking he was going to beat them. But at his insistence, they nervously fetched the book from the thatched roof of the cow shed where they had kept it hidden. Pastor Silwal said he tried to read the Bible but was blinded by his fever and lost consciousness.

When he awoke, to his amazement and joy, the fever that had racked him for nearly five months was gone.

Pastor Silwal lost his home in 1990 to the ethnic and religious purge that forced him to flee along with thousands of others. It wasn’t until 1998, he said, that he and his family formally converted to Christianity after seven years of grueling hardship in the refugee camp, where he saw “people dying like flies due to illness, lack of food and the cold.”

“My little son too fell ill and I thought he would die,” Silwal said. “But he was cured; we decided to embrace Christianity formally.”

Homeless

In 2001, Bhutan4Christ reported the number of Bhutanese Christians to be around 19,000, with the bulk of them – more than 10,500 – living in Nepal.

When persecution by the Bhutanese government began, frightened families raced towards towns in India across the border. Alarmed by the influx of Bhutanese refugees, Indian security forces packed them into trucks and dumped them in southern Nepal.

Later, when the homesick refugees tried to return home, Indian security forces blocked the way. There were several rounds of scuffles, resulting in police killing at least three refugees.

Simon Gazmer was seven when his family landed at the bank of the Mai river in Jhapa district in southeastern Nepal. Now 24, he still remembers the desolation that reigned in the barren land, where mists and chilly winds rose from the river, affecting the morale and health of the refugees. They lived in bamboo shacks with thin plastic sheets serving as roofs; they had little food or medicine.

“My uncle Padam Bahadur had tuberculosis, and we thought he would die,” said Gazmer, who lives in Beldangi II, the largest of seven refugee camps. “His recovery made us realize the grace of God, and our family became Christians.”

The plight of the refugees improved after the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) stepped in, receiving permission from the government of Nepal to run the refugee camps. According to the UNHCR, there were 111,631 registered refugees in seven camps run in the two districts of Jhapa and Morang.

Though Nepal held 15 rounds of bilateral talks with Bhutan for the repatriation of the refugees, the Buddhist government dragged its feet, eventually breaking off talks. Meantime, international donors assisting the refugee camps began to grow weary, resulting in the slashing of aid and food. Finally, seven western governments – Canada, Norway, Denmark, New Zealand, Australia, the United States and the Netherlands – persuaded Nepal to allow the refugees to resettle in third countries.

The exodus of the refugees started in 2007. Today, according to the UNHCR, more than 26,000 have left for other countries, mostly the United States. A substantial number of the nearly 85,000 people left in the camps are ready to follow suit.

Although they now have a new life to look forward to, many of Bhutan’s Christian refugees are saddened by the knowledge that their homeland still remains barred to them. So some are looking at the next best thing: a return to Nepal, now that it is secular, where they will feel more at home than in the West.

“I don’t have grand dreams,” said Pastor Silwal. “In Australia I want to enroll in a Bible college and become a qualified preacher. Then I want to return to Nepal to spread the word of God.”  

Report from Compass Direct News 

Muslim anti-Christian riots spread in Upper Egypt


It has been reported that today (Monday, November 23, 2009,) Muslim rioters looted and burned Coptic Christian businesses in the village of Abou Shousha, which lies 25 KM (nearly 16 miles) from Farshoot where recent violence had taken place, reports Dan Wooding, founder of ASSIST Ministries.

“The terrorized Coptic inhabitants of Abou Shousha have stayed indoors, their shops are closed and their children are being kept away from school,” wrote Mary Abdelmassih in a story for the Assyrian International News Agency (www.aina.org ). “They fear a repeat in their village of the Muslim violence which engulfed the town of Farshoot less than 36 hours earlier.

“The Middle East Christian Association (MECA) reported that at least three large Coptic stores and a pharmacy were looted and burnt in Abou Shousha and that the fire brigade arrived one hour late, although their headquarters is only 8 KM (5 miles) away from the village.”

Wagih Yacoub of MECA said, “They gave the pretext of being busy in Farshoot, which is untrue, as Farshoot had a quiet night. Coptic and Muslim neighbors tried to put the fire out.”

Abdelmassih went on to say that Bishop Kirrillos of the Nag Hamady Diocese said that a mob from the neighboring village of Abu Tesht torched the businesses in Abou Shousha. MECA reported that three girls were assaulted in the street by having bricks hurled at them. No serious injuries were reported.

On November 22, 2009, in a joint communiqué from fourteen Egyptian human rights organizations and lawyers called on President Hosni Mubarak to immediately intervene to save the Copts from the wrath of the mob and the subversive leaders behind them, who are seeking to sow discord and divisions among the Egyptians in the name of religion and “to hold accountable all involved in the incitement or attacks on the peaceful Copts in Farshoot.”

Abdelmassih wrote that the signatories to the statement asked President Mubarak to take the necessary measures to hold accountable the security force officials, who played the “role of spectator in the looting, arson and attacks on Coptic property in Farshoot.”

The communiqué strongly condemned the deportation and evacuation of the Copts in Farshoot from their homes and villages by the security forces, in violation of the provisions of the Egyptian Constitution which stipulates in Article 50 and 51 of the Code “No citizen may be prohibited from residing or be forced to reside in a specific area except in the circumstances set out in the law.

The NGOs’ statement stressed the right of the Coptic victims for compensation for the material losses and psychological damage, and strongly condemned the burning and insulting of the symbols of Christianity by the Muslims fanatics, and demanded everyone involved to be charged with the crime of “contempt of a heavenly religion.”

“It is estimated that over 80% of Coptic businesses have been destroyed in the 48 hours of violence in Farshoot,” said Abdelmassih.

A video can be viewed at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eYFsW-uABJg&feature=player_embedded . It was prepared by Free Copts advocacy and shows Muslim mobs chanting Allah Akbar (God is Great) while looting and burning Coptic businesses and shops.

Abdelmassih added that the Egyptian Union for Human Rights (EUHRO) has advised that it is preparing a file with all the financial losses and damages to Coptic-owned businesses and property in Farshoot in preparation for filing a civil and a criminal case against the Egyptian Prime Minister, the Governor of Qena and the perpetrators.

“They want the Copts to be poor and are therefore destroying the Coptic economy in these areas,” explained Wagih Yacoub.

Bishop Kirollos again condemned the grave violations against Christians and their property, affirming his belief that the attacks were preplanned. “Students of Al-Azhar Institute in Farshoot, were incited by their Dean who sent them out on a rampage against the Copts. They were joined by a great number of locals,” he said.

Report from the Christian Telegraph 

Recent Incidents of Persecution


Chhattisgarh, India, November 17 (CDN) — Police on Nov. 8 detained Christians based on false allegations of “allurement to conversion” in Yadunandan Nagar, near Bilaspur. The Global Council of Indian Christians reported that at 8:45 p.m., nearly 150 locals stormed the house where a prayer service led by Kesboram Bhagel and his sister-in-law, Sangeetha Daniel, was taking place for a sick boy. Led by Hindu extremists from the Dharam Sena and Bajrang Dal shouting “Jai Shri Ram [Hail Lord Ram],” area Hindus dragged Bhagel out of the house as they slapped and kicked him. Police came to the site but remained mute spectators as the extremists continued beating Bhagel. Officers took Bhagel and other Christians to the Civil Lines Police Station at 10:10 p.m., followed by nearly 70 Hindu extremists, and released them at 3:30 a.m. without being charged. Police officials told Compass that they could not arrest any of the Hindu aggressors because Bhagel stated that he could not identify any of them. 

Karnataka – Police along with Hindu nationalist extremists on Nov. 6 disrupted a house church service in Bhadravathi, Shimoga district, falsely accused a physically challenged pastor of forcible conversion and verbally abused him. The Global Council of Indian Christians reported that around 12:30 p.m. nearly 20 intolerant Hindus barged into the Faith in Christ house church as three families assembled for their weekly service. Pastor Kannan Ramesh, owner of a small tailoring shop out of the same house, told Compass that the extremists angrily questioned two Christians identified only as Thrimurthi and Kumar about “conversion activities” at the church. They also tried to coerce Kumar into falsely testifying that Pastor Ramesh was forcibly converting local villagers, which Kumar refused to do in spite of threats. The extremists took Pastor Ramesh by auto-rickshaw to Old Town Rural Police Station in Bhadravathi, along with Kumar and Thrimurthi. Police questioned Pastor Ramesh about his tailoring business and warned him against using the place as a church, and then released the Christians without charges at about 11 p.m.

Karnataka – Nearly 20 Hindu nationalist extremists from the Bajrang Dal on Nov. 3 attacked a Christian identified only as Manjunath on the pretext of “forcible conversions” near an apartment complex in Attavar, Mangalore. The Daijiworld Media Network reported that the extremists struck Manjunath, a construction worker, with their hands at the BG Court Apartments as he stood outside his rental unit. They entered Manjunath’s apartment and found Christian literature. Neighbors said they had no knowledge of any conversion activity at his apartment; local sources confirmed this to Compass, and police arrived at the same conclusion after an investigation. Occasionally Manjunath’s friends assembled for prayer at his house, sources said, and Hindu extremists noticed and mobilized a mob, bringing along local television crew that filmed the attack.

Chhattisgarh – Nearly 100 Hindu nationalist extremists on Nov. 1 stormed a Sunday service, attacking a pastor, his family and the congregation and spewing baseless accusations of forceful conversion in Fukagirola, 30 kilometers (19 miles) from Kondagaon, Bastar district. The Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI) reported that at 11 a.m. the mob barged into Milan Prarthana Mandir church, accused Pastor Angel Natham of forcible conversion and started beating him. They snatched his 1-year-old son, Akush Raj, from his wife and threw him to the ground, then beat her and 10 others. EFI reported that Kondagaon police arrived at 1 p.m. and took the pastor to the police station, and only afterward was he sent to a hospital where he underwent treatment. His son’s left ear was reportedly injured, and the infant was having difficulty hearing. A police official told Compass a complaint of forcible conversion against the pastor was filed by a person identified only as Shuklal, and that an investigation into the assault was in progress.

Chhattisgarh – Suspected Hindu extremists attacked a Sunday worship service on Oct. 25 at Masturi, 17 kilometers (10 miles) from Bilaspur district, injuring the backbone, arms and chest of Pastor Pavitra Kumar Beshra. The 27-year-old pastor of Beersheba Church of God, who works with Indian Evangelical Team (IET), was attacked by masked men dressed in cricket uniforms at 1:30 p.m. They arrived on motorcycles and called Pastor Beshra out of the church, then started to beat him with a cricket bat and stumps, Anish Charan told Compass. The pastor managed to escape and shut himself into the church building. The attackers also injured another church member, Triveni Basanti, 34, according to IET, and damaged a church member’s motorcycle. The unidentified men left the place shouting “Jai Shri Ram [Hail Lord Ram].” Pastor Beshra has filed a First Information Report with local police.

Karnataka – Hindu extremists attacked a school for street children in Hubli district on Oct. 22. Some 25 members of the Sri Ram Sene (Army of Lord Ram) forcefully entered the school building of the Adarsha Children’s Education Centre, which belongs to the minority Christian community, and damaged school property, Bibles and other books, reported the Global Council of Indian Christians. After vandalizing the school, the extremists went to a police station and pressed charges against school authorities for allegedly “forcefully converting” students to Christianity. This educational center, managed by Daniel Lingaraju, was started in July and is dedicated to training and teaching poor street children.

Report from Compass Direct News 

Coptic Blogger in Egypt Pressured to Convert in Prison


Christian critical of Islamization of society, Orthodox church jailed without charges.

ISTANBUL, October 31 (CDN) — A Coptic Christian blogger in Egypt entering his second year of prison without charge is being pressured to convert to Islam in exchange for his freedom, his attorneys said.

On Oct. 3, 2008, Hani Nazeer, a 28-year-old high school social worker from Qena, Egypt and author of the blog “Karz El Hob” (“Love Cherries”), was arrested by Egypt’s State Security Investigations (SSI) and sent to Burj Al-Arab prison. Although police never charged him with any crime, Nazeer has been detained for more than a year under Egypt’s administrative imprisonment law.

Gamel Eid, executive director of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), the group representing Nazeer, said Nazeer was arrested unfairly and now is being coerced to abandon his faith.

“Hani complains about that, it happened, and it’s true,” said Eid. “But the police do it in a subtle way. They do it by inspiring the inmates to suggest to Nazeer that if he converts to Islam, police will work to get him out of prison.”

Nazeer is confined in what is commonly known as the “general population” area of the prison, meaning he is housed with both violent and non-violent felons. Nazeer told his attorneys he is often treated harshly. Despite this, Eid said Nazeer is constant in his faith.

A few days before his arrest, on Oct. 1, 2008, a group of young Muslims in Nag Hammadi saw his website and clicked on a link to an online copy of “Azazil’s Goat in Mecca,” a novel written under the pseudonym “Father Utah.” The book is a response to “Azazil,” a novel critical of Christianity by Yusuf Zidane that is famous in Egypt.

While Zidane’s critique of Christianity garnered him awards throughout the Arab world, locals protested the link to Utah’s site.

Insulting religion is considered a crime in Egypt, although typically the law is only enforced when Islam is criticized. Police have not publicly produced any evidence linking Nazeer to Utah’s work. After Nazeer was arrested, posts continued on Utah’s website. It is unclear if the teenagers who saw Nazeer’s website and were offended were students at his school.

Eid said the deeper issue was that Nazeer upset Islamic authorities by criticizing the increasing Islamization of Egyptian civil society and irked church leaders by lamenting political involvement of the Coptic Orthodox Church. In one post, Nazeer wrote said that a gathering of activists at a Coptic church was inappropriate because churches were meant to be venues for prayer, not for politics.

Police had detained Nazeer’s relatives at a police station and threatened to hold them until he came out of hiding, Eid said, and Nazeer turned himself into a police station in October 2008 – on the advice of Bishop Kirollos of Nag Hammadi, Nazeer reported to his attorneys.

Kirollos assured Nazeer he would be detained no more than four days and then be released. According to Nazeer and the ANHRI, the bishop colluded with authorities to get rid of Nazeer, whose online criticism had become bothersome.

“[Kirollos] is the one who turned me in after he denounced me to security,” Nazeer told his attorneys. “He bluffed [that] we were going for a short investigation and it will be all over. Then I found out it was a charade to turn me in to state security.”

Eid claimed the arrest achieved two complementary goals for police and Kirollos – calming those protesting “Azazil’s Goat in Mecca,” and silencing a blogger who had been critical of Islamic hardliners and the Coptic Orthodox Church.

All attempts to reach Kirollos were unsuccessful. Several attempts to reach Bishop Anba Yoannes, authorized to speak about the case on behalf of the Coptic Orthodox Church’s Pope Shenouda III, were also unsuccessful. Egypt’s SSI, a political police force run by the Interior minister, routinely declines to comment on cases.

Release Orders Invalidated

Nazeer’s attorneys are set to appeal his imprisonment on Sunday (Nov. 1), but it is unclear how or even if the appeal will affect his case. Courts have ordered Nazeer’s release several times before. The SSI has rendered the orders for release invalid by invoking the country’s longstanding emergency law, which supersedes court authority.

When local police execute a court order to release prisoners held under the emergency law, security police commonly re-arrest them minutes later. The law, enacted after the 1981 assassination of President Anwar Sadat, allows authorities to hold people without charge. Eid estimated that there are approximately 14,000 people imprisoned under this law.

Eid said Nazeer’s case is extremely difficult.

“Hani is in between the hate of the Islamists and the hate of the Christians,” he said. “The Islamists of course are against him, and the church [leadership] is against him, so he’s being badly squeezed between the two.”

Kalldas Fakhry Girgis, Nazeer’s cousin, saw him 15 days ago. Girgis said that despite Nazeer’s confinement, he is in good spirits. He remains strong in his faith and his convictions.

“He wants to know why he’s been arrested,” Girgis said about his cousin. “He’s hopeful. His morale is high. But he is feeling stressed.”

Report from Compass Direct News 

Maldives: Almost no religious freedom for migrant workers


Just as Maldivian citizens do not have the right to religious freedom – Sunni Islam in the state-approved form is the only permitted faith – migrant workers too are denied this right, reports Odd Larsen, Forum 18 News Service.

The Maldives prevents the import of non-Muslim books and other religious items, for example by searching foreigners’ luggage for “un-Islamic” materials. Migrant workers are banned from practising non-Muslim faiths even privately, while the lack of privacy in which many live makes it almost impossible to worship “unnoticed by locals”, as one migrant worker put it to Forum 18 News Service.

Some 80,000 migrant workers – mostly Muslims, Buddhists, Christians and Hindus from South Asia – make up about a quarter of the country’s population, but are mostly in low-status jobs and find it difficult to challenge human rights violations.

The government has not acted on United Nations recommendations to grant migrant workers religious freedom. The International Labour Organisation – which the Maldives has just joined – told Forum 18 that “although freedom of religion may not exist in Maldives, migrant workers can count on ILO protection when it comes to rights at work and working conditions.”

Report from the Christian Telegraph

AUSTRALIA: BUSHFIRES UPDATE – Saturday 14th February 2009


As Victorians brace themselves for hotter weather this weekend and the possible return to ‘fire weather,’ there are still some 15 major bushfires burning, a further 18 fires burning out of control and about 100 fires considered under control. Each day there are new fires and new threats, though these are not viewed with the same level of concern as the fires last Saturday and Sunday. However, as the weather conditions begin to turn more towards ‘fire weather’ status, each fire will be viewed with increasing concern. Should conditions deteriorate no further, fire-fighters can expect to be fighting these fires for a further 2 to 3 weeks.

Fire-fighters from Canada, New Zealand and the United States have now joined the thousands of Australian fire-fighters in the fight against these bushfires. Though Australia has some of the best-trained and prepared fire-fighters in the world, every bit of help that can be given is appreciated and required.

Authorities are facing growing problems associated with the bushfires and relief efforts, with rubber-neckers (sightseers), looters, arsonists and fraudsters preying on victims and the generosity of most Australians who are doing what they can for the victims. Collection tins have been robbed by a bloke without compassion (captured on security footage as seen below) and one fire-ravaged town has posted signs throughout their community warning that looters will be shot on sight. Another town is issuing citizens special stickers for their cars so locals will know who should be there and who shouldn’t be. It is a tragedy that grows worse by the day, in more ways than one.

1831 homes have now been confirmed destroyed in the bushfire emergency, along with numerous other structures including 2 police stations, three schools, a water treatment plant, a timber mill, a football club, a kindergarten, a church, etc. The damage bill will be enormous.

The death toll currently stands at 181 confirmed dead with many still missing. The death toll will reach 200 plus (possible 300). 7000 people are now homeless. 4 300 further homes remain without power.

ABOVE: Images of Fire Victims

420 000 hectares of bushland, farmland and communities have been reduced to ash by the fires. It is thought that there may be as many as 1 million animal victims of the bushfires.

 

ABOVE: Animal Victims of the Fires

With arsonists being blamed for a number of fires, one fire near Murrindindi is being blamed on a careless person who threw a cigarette from a car window. A farmer says he saw the fire begin on the side of the road near Murrindindi Mill. This fire merged with the Kilmore fire and destroyed Kinglake and Marysville.

ABOVE: Arsonist Arrested

PAKISTAN: TALIBAN BOMBS CATHOLIC GIRLS’ HIGH SCHOOL


Blast claims no victims but reflects radical Islam’s tightened grip.

ISTANBUL, October 14 (Compass Direct News) – Taliban militants bombed a Catholic-run girls’ school in Pakistan’s war-torn Swat Valley as part of a larger effort to subvert women’s status in society through Islamic law, locals say.

On Wednesday (Oct. 8) the Islamic terrorist group bombed the Convent Girls’ School in Sangota, run by the Presentation Sisters, a Catholic religious order that has opened girls’ schools around the world. Militants have threatened the school frequently for offering education to females.

No one was injured in the attack. The school had closed a few months earlier due to deteriorating security in Swat, a source told Compass. Students and faculty left in July following threats.

“The Taliban said, ‘We have asked you so many times to close down the school but you are not listening. We are going to set it on fire,’” said Yousef Benjamin, a Lahore-based peace activist.

Militants had already attacked or blown up and forced the closure of many girls’ schools in Swat, said Cecil Chaudhry, executive secretary of All Pakistan Minorities Alliance. They told the nuns they would destroy their school if it weren’t closed. Following the bombing the militants ransacked the school’s adjoining convent.

The high school enrolled approximately 1,000 female students, nearly 95 percent of them Muslim.

The Santoga school has faced threats from Islamic extremists before. It closed its doors in September 2007 after received a threatening letter from extremists that demanded all teachers and female students wear the burqa. The letter claimed the faculty was working to convert Muslim students to Christianity.

The Taliban has not singled out the school for its Christian ties but instead wants to clamp down on all girls’ schools, which they believe encourage female participation in society, government officials claim.

In the last two years it has indiscriminately targeted more than 150 public and private girls’ schools in northwest Pakistan.

“For them it doesn’t matter if it’s a Christian school, government school or a private school,” Benjamin said. “Last week I was in [the northern city of] Peshawer and the Taliban told women to not even go to the market.”

The Taliban ruled Afghanistan from 1994 to 2001. They severely curtailed women’s rights, barring females from education, employment or traveling outside of their homes without a male relative.

“A few years ago the Taliban government in Afghanistan did not even allow women to be seen outside their houses, and that’s the version of Islam the Taliban promotes,” Chaudhry said.

Located near the Afghanistan border, Swat has been a flash point between the country’s security forces and Islamic militants. The area used to be a thriving tourist haven with hotels and a ski resort but came under complete control of Taliban militants in September 2007.

Government security forces cleared out the Taliban from the valley in recent months, but the area came under their control once again three weeks ago.

With their re-asserted control, the Taliban has forced all Swat residents to live according to their strict lifestyle guidelines, whether Muslim or Christian.

Men have grown beards and adopted Islamic dress. Women are required to wear burqas and sit in the back seat of their own vehicles. Advertisements cannot feature pictures of women.

“The Taliban wants to create a culture of terror, insecurity and they want to impose a self-created system of sharia [Islamic law] inspired by the system in Afghanistan,” said Shabhaz Bhatti, a National Assembly member from the Punjab province and chairman of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance.

The 70 or so Christian families scattered in the valley occupy the lower class, working as laborers and street sweepers.

Since July 2007, militants and followers of Muslim cleric Maulana Fazlullah have pressured the tiny community of Christians to accept Islamic law.

 

Political Motives

Islamic militants have stepped up attacks across Pakistan in recent weeks. Last Thursday (Oct. 9) a suicide bomber injured eight people in an attack on an Islamabad police station. In September another suicide bomber killed 50 people at the Marriott Hotel.

Motivations for the surge in attacks could be political as well as religious. Pakistani forces have been cracking down on militants in the nation’s tribal areas as the government has resolved to fight domestic terrorism.

The Pakistani military launched a three-week-long air strike operation in Afghanistan in August and killed more than 400 Taliban militants. Pakistan declared a cease-fire in September during Ramadan.

The militant attacks could also be in retaliation to recent U.S. bombings against Taliban targets within Pakistan, a source told Compass.

Inter-Services Intelligence Director Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha told Pakistan’s parliament on Wednesday (Oct. 8) that the Taliban had gained complete control over certain districts of the country. The military has attempted to regain control in a bitter struggle that has claimed the lives of 1,368 troops since 2001, according to the Pakistani Daily Times.

While Christians are worried about their safety, they stress that the Taliban is a threat to all Pakistanis, regardless of religion.

They urged fellow Christians to pray for the surging violence within the country to ebb.

“We ask a special prayer for peace in our country and that the terrorist elements who believe in violence would not succeed in killing innocent people,” Bhatti said. “Pray for Pakistani Christians – may God protect them and give them courage to remain strong in their faith and witness.”

Report from Compass Direct News

INDIA: NEWS BRIEFS


Recent Incidents of Persecution

Karnataka, September 17 (Compass Direct News) – A mob of about 300 people attacked and torched a Christian prayer hall on Sept. 7 in Bada village, Davangere district just after prayers concluded at about 9 a.m., according to the The Hindu. The assailants broke the asbestos ceiling and windows and set fire to material inside, including Bibles, a cross and a pulpit, the daily reported. A pastor identified only as Lukas E., who was at the site of the attack, described the attackers as “locals” but refused to name them. Police have registered a case, though the pastor said he did not wish to file charges against anyone because they were his “own people.” Villagers who accused the pastor of “converting the locals” by luring them with gifts and by “demeaning Hindu gods and religious customs” told the newspaper that the attack was “spontaneous.” A police official told Compass that 10 persons have been taken into custody. The incident occurred even as prohibitory orders were in force for an area within a 200-meter radius of three other prayer halls in Davangere town, which have been under attack since mid-August. The Hindu nationalist Hindu Jagarana Vedike had threatened to forcibly close down these “unauthorized places” if the district administration did not do so by Sept. 6, stated the daily.

Karnataka – Police on Sept. 6 arrested a pastor in Terekere, Chikmagalur district. Dr. Sajan K. George, national president of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) said that on Aug. 31 nearly 40 Hindutva (Hindu nationalist) extremists had disrupted Sunday worship of Emmanuel Church and threatened pastor C.S. John, warning him to hold no further Christian worship. On Sept. 6 nearly 25 intolerant Hindus came to Emmanuel Church, shouting anti-Christian slogans and making false conversions allegations against Pastor John. A GCIC representative told Compass that the Hindu extremists forced Pastor John to a local police station and filed a false complaint against him for “malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings,” and insulting a class of people’s religion or religious beliefs. With GCIC intervention, the pastor was released on bail on Sept. 8.

Karnataka – Hindu extremists on Aug. 31 stormed Sharon Church in Holalkere block of Chitradurga district, Karnataka beat the pastor, dragged believers out of Sunday worship and forcibly applied Kumkum red circles on their foreheads. As is customary in India, police were mute spectators. The Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) reported that as pastor N. Kumar had finished preaching, nearly 25 intolerant Hindus led by area extremists identified only as Srinivas, Hanumantha and Basavaraj barged into the church shouting “Jai Bajrangi [Hail Lord Hanuman].” Armed with wooden clubs and saffron flags, the extremists slapped Pastor Kumar and made false accusations of forcible conversions. According to GCIC, the extremists threatened the assembly of around 35 believers that they had to convert to Hinduism or else be smacked with clubs. Grabbing him by his collar, the extremists dragged the pastor outside the church, other frightened believers were made to follow, and kumkum was applied to their foreheads. The believers were warned that they would be tonsured if they worshipped in Sharon Church again. The watching policemen then took Pastor Kumar to Hollakera police station. The GCIC brokered a compromise between the Hindu extremists and the church: Pastor Kumar did not file a complaint, and the extremists agreed not to harass the believers. Kumar was given first aid at Hollakera government hospital for a bleeding ear.

KarnatakaHindutva (Hindu nationalist) extremists on Aug. 31 stormed Full Gospel Church at Sharavati Nagar, Old Hubli, beating a pastor and others and making false allegations of forced conversions. Dr. Sajan K. George, national president of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC), reported that as worship was going on a group of nearly 30 extremists led by D. Kabadi, Jagadish Katti Satish and another person barged in shouting Hindu devotional chants, walked up to the dais and slapped and punched the Rev. David Perumal. When pastor Thankaraj Dhansingh rushed to the aid of Perumal, he too was repeatedly hit on his head and back. The Hindu extremists cursed congregants and chased them away. Police arrived and took Rev. Dhansingh and Perumal to the police station, with the intolerant Hindus following shouting anti-Christian slogans. With the GCIC’s intervention, a First Information Report was filed against the extremists, George said. Perumal was admitted to a medical clinic for treatment. At press time no arrests had been made.

Karnataka – About 30 Hindu extremists belonging to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council) on Aug. 24 handed over a pastor and 10 others to the Frazer town police station for preaching the gospel and pressured police to file a case against them in Bangalore. The Global Council of Indian Christians reported that the pastor, identified only as Nelson, and the 10 others were preaching and distributing gospel tracts in Doddigunta when the extremists began threatening them and took them to a police station, where they were arrested for “hurting religious sentiments,” statements conducive to public mischief and unlawful assembly. The Christians were released on bail after two days.

Karnataka – Hindu extremists on Aug. 27 disrupted a prayer convention, accused a pastor of forced conversions and beat him in Kala Bhavan, Gadag. The Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) reported that Hindu extremists from the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council) disrupted the two day-prayer meeting held with prior police permission, brutally beat a pastor identified only as Santosh and dragged him to the police station. The extremists forced the pastor to give a written statement saying he would not conduct future prayer meetings or share the gospel with anyone. He was released after he was forced to submit a written statement to police. Again on Aug. 28, the intolerant Hindus threatened the pastor at his house, saying that they would burn him and his family if they did not leave the area within 24 hours. The pastor filed a police complaint. GCIC told Compass that a First Information Report was not filed, and that the two parties reached a compromise.

Karnataka – Police on Aug. 27 arrested a pastor on charges of hurting religious sentiments and “uttering words with intent to insult the religion of any class” after Hindutva (Hindu nationalist) extremists filed a false complaint of forcible conversion against him in Arasikere, Hobli, Davangere. Dr. Sajan K. George of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) said that nearly 100 extremists belonging to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and Bajrang Dal came by van to the Full Gospel Assembly Church. Pastor K.P. Rajshekar was not at the church building, and the Hindu extremists angrily asked four Christians identified only as Nagappa, Umesh, Yogaraju and Mallesha Naik, about allurements they supposedly received to convert to Christianity. Asha Devi, a GCIC representative, told Compass that the extremists also forced the four believers to the Yellamma Temple, smeared vermillion on their foreheads and made them bow to Hindu idols. “However, they have not renounced Jesus Christ,” Devi told Compass. As is customary in India, police jailed the victims of Hindu extremist aggression. At press time, the GCIC was seeking their release on bail. The extremists had also demanded that the four Christians provide details about the pastor and other families who worshiped there and subsequently went to Pastor Rajshekar’s house, dragged him out and shoved him into the van along with his wife Anapoorna and daughter Geetha. They took them to a police station and filed bogus charges of fraudulent conversion against the pastor and his family.

Karnataka – Police on Aug. 24 detained a pastor after Hindu extremists stormed an evangelistic meeting, attacking the pastor and bringing forth false witnesses to testify against him in Ramalingeshwara Camp, Koppal district. The Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) reported that Pastor Jeeva Prakash of the Bethesda Prayer House was preaching at a gospel meeting in Ramalingeshwara Camp, where nearly 100 believers had congregated, when a mob led by two local extremists identified only as Virupakshappa and Giri of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh barged into the assembly shouting curses. They slapped Prakash and attempted to make him chant “Jai Sri Ram [Hail Lord Rama].” In spite of repeated hitting and punching on his stomach and head, Pastor Praskash staunchly refused to give in, at which point the extremists dragged the pastor and a few others to a police station, the report stated. GCIC regional coordinator Laxminarayan Gowda told Compass, “The extremists brought two persons identified only as Chinnappa and Lakshmamma, who falsely testified that Prakash had promised them money to attend the meeting.” With GCIC intervention, the pastor and believers were released at around 10:45 p.m. without being charged.

Orissa – Evangelist Prem Dan Khora was arrested on Aug. 22 after Hindu extremists belonging to the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council or VHP) filed false complaints of “forcible” conversion and destruction of idols against him in Dasamantapur, Koraput district. According to the Global Council of Indian Christians, Khora was distributing gospel tracts in the area when Hindu extremists from the VHP were demonstrating against a commission set up to probe the December 2007 anti-Christian violence in Kandhamal district. The extremists snatched the tracts and thrashed him for nearly an hour, leaving him barely conscious. They dragged him to the police station, where he was arrested for “hurting religious sentiments” and trespassing. GCIC told Compass that the whereabouts of the evangelist remained unknown at press time.

Maharashtra – Kashinath Kadale, a tribal Christian laborer, was allegedly beaten and hanged to death by seven anti-Christian assailants from Jamblipada village in Thane district on Aug. 21, the national daily Times of India reported. At midnight the attackers barged into the house and thrashed the couple, with Kadale’s wife Tai escaping and returning hours later only to find her husband hanging from the roof. She filed a complaint with Jawahar police, saying they were sleeping in the house when they were attacked by seven unknown men. The Rev. Sanjiv Andrap, the village pastor, was quoted by Times of India as stating that the reason for the attack was that the villagers opposed Christian families and wanted them to leave the village. Over the last three years, on five occasions villagers had tried to evict the Christian families from the village, the daily reported. But the report stated that Inspector Rajendra Naik of the Jawahar police station said that the allegation made by the deceased’s wife was untrue, that the couple was drunk and “abused” the seven people who were going past their house. According to the police investigation, the seven people had an argument with the couple and later left. Abraham Mathai, vice-chairman of the minority commission told Compass that tribal peoples in the Thane area are constantly vulnerable to attacks from the local Hindu extremists.

Karnataka – Hindu extremists in Chikka Savananoor village, Gadag district on Aug. 20 beat an evangelist, made false accusations of forced conversion, dragged him to the village temple and tied him to a pillar to mock him. The Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) reported that Nagaraj Yellappa Limbuji, a private tutor who worships in Shalom Prayer Hall, was en route to work when a group of nearly 20 intolerant Hindus stopped him on the road and made false allegations of forcible conversions. The extremists slapped Limbuji before taking him to the village temple and tying him to one of the temple pillars. The GCIC’s Sajan K. George told Compass that the extremists kept him tied to the pillar for nearly one and a half hours, continuously mocking and cursing him. “One of the believers in the village informed the police, who arrived and set him free,” George said. “Limbuji has refused to register a complaint as he has forgiven the extremists.”

Andhra PradeshHindutva (Hindu nationalist) extremists belonging to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh on Aug. 17 demolished the half-built Jesus Prayer House Church building in Uppal hills, Hyderabad. The Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) reported that nearly 20 extremists led by Shekar Reddy marched towards the church structure under construction and, armed with iron rods, began harassing pastor David Raj, who was supervising construction. They made false accusations of forced conversion. Reddy also claimed that the land belonged to Hindus and that Christians had no right to worship or construct a church in the area. The intolerant Hindus shoved Raj to the ground and began demolishing the church building. Lion Francis, regional GCIC coordinator, told Compass that Pastor Raj filed a complaint at Uppal police station, but at press time no arrests had been made.

Uttarakhand – Six Christian workers and a Bible college student were beaten by a group of Hindu fanatics on India’s Independence day, Aug. 15, reports The Persecution Times. The mob became enraged after they saw Bible college student Rasul Sarvak passing out gospel literature with a team of other students from the college. When the mob attacked, the other students were able to escape, but Sarvak, the youngest in the team, was captured and beaten as the intolerant Hindus tried without success to force him to deny his faith in Jesus. “You are trying to make our country a Christian nation,” they yelled at him. They dragged Sarvak to the police station, where officers placed him in custody to protect him from the furious mob. Four Gospel for Asia (GFA) workers arrived at the police station for Sarvak’s release, but the fanatics stopped them outside and beat them at length in the presence of police. Two more GFA workers drove up to the police station and were also brutally attacked, with one of them suffering a severe eye injury. The mob vandalized the GFA vehicle and threw it in a ditch. They then turned to the vehicle used by the first group of GFA workers and tried to burn it, but police at last stopped them. The Hindu extremists left, and police transported Sarvak and the six GFA workers to another station to keep them safe. There, some local Christians came and filed paperwork, and the group was released.

Report from Compass Direct News