INDONESIA: CHURCH, BIBLE STUDENTS FIGHT DISCRIMINATION


Village congregation goes to court over loss of permit; SETIA students demonstrate for new campus.

JAKARTA, July 7 (Compass Direct News) – Christians have stood up for their rights in two key cases the last few weeks in heavily Muslim Indonesia.

Members of the Huria Kristen Batak Protestan Church (HKBP) in Cinere village, Depok, West Java appeared in court on June 29 to contest the mayor’s revocation of their building permit in March, while students of the shuttered Arastamar School of Theology (SETIA) demonstrated in Jakarta on June 15, asking officials to honor promises to provide them with a new campus.

HKBP church leaders filed suit against the decision in the state court in Bandung, West Java. Two court sessions have been held so far, on June 2 and June 29, with Depok Mayor Nur Mahmudi Ismail represented by Syafrizal, the head of the Depok legal department and who goes by the single name, and political associate Jhon Sinton Nainggolan.

Mahmudi issued a decree on March 27 cancelling a building permit that was initially granted to the HKBP church in Cinere on June 13, 1998, allowing it to establish a place of worship.

The mayor said he had acted in response to complaints from residents. Contrary to Indonesian law, however, Mahmudi did not consult the church before revoking the permit.

Nainggolan, arguing for Mahmudi, claimed the revocation was legal because it was based on a request from local citizens and would encourage religious harmony in Cinere. But Betty Sitompul, manager of the building project, strongly disputed this claim.

“Our immediate neighbors have no objection,” she told Compass. “A small minority who don’t think this way have influenced people from outside the immediate neighborhood to make this complaint.”

Sitompul added that the church had been meeting in a naval facility located about five kilometers (nearly three miles) from the church building since the permit was revoked, causing great inconvenience for church members, many of whom did not have their own transportation.

According to Kasno, who heads the People’s Coalition for National Unity in Depok and is known only by a single name, the mayor had clearly violated procedures set forth in a Joint Ministerial Decree, issued in 1969 and revised in 2006, regulating places of worship.

Legal advocate Junimart Girsang, representing the church, confirmed that under the revised decree, conflicts must not be solved unilaterally but through consultation and consensus with the parties involved. He also said it was against normal practice to revoke a building permit.

Construction of the church building began in 1998, shortly after the permit was issued, but halted soon afterward due to a lack of funds. When the project recommenced in 2007, members of a Muslim group from Cinere and neighboring villages damaged the boundary hedge and posted protest banners on the walls of the building. Most of the protestors were not local residents, Sitompul said.

By that stage the building was almost completed and church members were using it for worship services. (See “Mayor Revokes Church Permit,” May 5.)

SETIA Protest

In Jakarta, hundreds of SETIA students demonstrated in front of the presidential palace on June 15, calling on officials to honor promises made in March to provide them with a new campus. (See “New Building Site Found for Bible College,” May 11.)

At least 1,400 staff and students remain in three separate locations in sub-standard facilities, causing great disruption to their studies, according to the students. The original campus in Kampung Pulo, East Jakarta, closed after neighbors attacked students with machetes in July 2008 and remains cordoned off by police.

In negotiations with SETIA director Matheus Mangentang in May, Jakarta officials again promised to assist the school in finding a new site, and promised to work with neighbors to secure approval for a building permit.

Joko Prabowo, the school’s general secretary, said he believes officials have now reneged on these promises. When school officials recently requested relocation to Cipayung, East Jakarta, the governor’s office rejected their proposal, citing community resistance.

Deputy Gov. Prijanto, who has only a single name, had initially suggested Cikarang in West Java as a new location, but SETIA staff rejected this offer, saying the site was outside Jakarta provincial limits and a move would be prohibitively expensive.

Report from Compass Direct News 

INDONESIA: NEW BUILDING SITE FOUND FOR BIBLE COLLEGE


Officials promise to buy previous campus site and issue permit for new site.

JAKARTA, May 11 (Compass Direct News) – Officials of the Arastamar School of Theology (SETIA) in Jakarta are considering the purchase of a new campus site after violent protests last July led to the eviction of 1,400 students and staff members.

Indonesian officials on May 1 inspected land for the new campus site and promised to issue a building permit. But SETIA would be required to obtain permission from potential neighbors in Bambu Apus district, East Jakarta, before the school could be built.

Since protests by neighbors of the original campus in Kampung Pulo, some 1,200 remaining staff members and students have moved to three separate emergency locations across Jakarta, in some cases living in leaking tents and holding classes under trees.

In mid-March, SETIA director Matheus Mangentang met with Fajar Panjaitan, assistant to the deputy governor of Jakarta, to discuss the governor’s promise to provide an alternative campus.

At the meeting, the governor’s office promised to purchase the original campus site but stipulated that the city would pay only for the land, not the buildings. The Jakarta official also promised to improve temporary accommodation for the students and issue a building permit for a new campus in a different location.

Deputy Gov. Prijanto, who has only a single name, initially suggested that SETIA move to an empty factory some 60 kilometers (37 miles) away in Cikarang, West Java, but Mangentang refused on the grounds that SETIA would be charged approximately 50 million rupiah (US$4,800) per month in service and security fees.

On Feb. 9 students had gathered in front of the presidential palace to protest the lack of adequate college facilities.

“We are asking the government to take responsibility for finding us a new campus,” a representative of the student council identified only as Herdi told Compass.

About 450 students are living and studying at a Boy Scouts campground in Cibubur, another 250 are in a migrant’s center in Kalimalang and the remaining 500 are in an abandoned West Jakarta mayoral office that lacks basic facilities such as adequate running water and toilets.

Machetes and Acid

Urged on by announcements from a mosque loudspeaker to “drive out the unwanted neighbor,” hundreds of protestors shouting “Allahu-Akbar [“God is greater]” and brandishing machetes, sharpened bamboo and acid had forced the evacuation of staff and students from the SETIA campus in Kampung Pulo village on July 26- 27, following a misunderstanding between students and local residents. Attackers injured at least 20 students, some seriously.

Key among motives for the attack was that area Muslims felt “disturbed” by the presence of the Christian college. They wanted it to be moved to another area.

Following the evacuation, some students were temporarily billeted in church offices, while others slept in the lobby of Indonesia’s parliament building. Officials then moved 600 female students to the BUPERTA Boy Scouts campground, where they were later joined by 100 male students. A further 400 male students were accommodated at a migrants’ center in Bekasi, while 32 post-graduate students were accommodated in a housing complex in Kota Wisata, not far from the BUPERTA campground.

In October, camp managers asked students to vacate the campground for a Boy Scouts’ event. Over 1,000 students from the campground and other locations then moved temporarily to an abandoned mayor’s office in Jakarta, although 450 of those later returned to the campground.

When no attempts were made to begin renovations on the mayor’s office, Mangentang himself hired bricklayers and carpenters to install more toilets, repair damaged ceilings on two floors of the building and erect partitions to create 13 classrooms. But the building still lacks many basic amenities, according to staff members. Students carry well water into the building in large plastic drums for showers, toilets, laundry and cooking.

Fauzi Bowo, governor of Jakarta, had originally promised the students that they could return to their original campus at the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. He then promised to find a site for a new campus and provide an official building permit. When these promises proved slow to materialize, Mangentang insisted that the governor’s office shoulder costs for temporary accommodation.

Report from Compass Direct News

UGANDAN LRA INVOLVED IN CHRISTMAS MASSACRE AT CHURCH


Uganda’s army is accusing rebels of the Lord’s Resistance Army of hacking to death 45 civilians in a Catholic church in the Democratic Republic of Congo, reports Michael Ireland, chief correspondent, ASSIST News Service.

A story on the BBC website quotes Ugandan Army Capt Chris Magezi who said the scene was “horrendous… dead bodies of mostly women and children cut in pieces.” The attack happened on December 26.

A rebel spokesman has denied responsibility for the killings, which follow a collapse in the peace process, the BBC said.

It also reports the UN saying that at least 189 people were killed in several attacks last week. Some reports say more than 100 people were killed in the church alone.

The BBC said the armies of Uganda, South Sudan and DR Congo carried out a joint offensive against the rebels in mid-December after LRA leader Joseph Kony again refused to sign a peace deal.

The BBC reported the LRA leader, who has lived in a jungle hideout in north-eastern DR Congo for the last few years, is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

It also says Uganda’s government had been involved in lengthy peace negotiations with the LRA, hosted by the South Sudanese government. But LRA leader Kony has demanded that arrest warrants for him and his associates be dropped before any agreement can be struck.

Meanwhile, the UN peacekeeping mission in DR Congo says one of its troops accidently shot and killed a Ugandan soldier in the nearby town of Dungu.

The BBC said that aid officials requesting anonymity near Doruma, which is about 40km from the border with South Sudan, confirmed to Uganda’s Daily Monitor newspaper and to the AFP (Agence France Presse) news agency that the massacre had taken place.

“Bodies of the women and children, with deep cuts are littered inside and outside the church,” an aid official told The Monitor.

Witness Abel Longi told The Associated Press (AP) news agency that he recognized the LRA rebels by their dreadlocked hair, their Acholi language and the number of young boys among them.

“I hid in bush near the church and heard people wailing as they were being cut with machetes,” he said.

However, LRA spokesman David Nekorach Matsanga has denied that the rebels are behind the killings, the BBC reported.

“Reports about the LRA killing innocent civilians is another propaganda campaign by the Uganda army,” he said.

“I have it on good authority from the field commanders that the LRA is not in those areas where the killings are reported to have taken place.” He said the massacre may have been carried out by Ugandan soldiers.

“They want to justify their stay in DRC [Congo] and loot minerals from there like they did before,” he told the AP.

The BBC reports that Capt Magezi said that on Saturday the army had killed 13 of the rebels behind the alleged attack and were pursuing the rest of the group.

The UN’s humanitarian agency Ocha says 40 people were killed in attacks in DR Congo’s Faradje district, 89 around Doruma and 60 in the Gurba area, according to the BBC report.

The BBC story also says that many thousands of Congolese villagers fled their homes after LRA attacks near Dungu in October.

It explains that countries from Uganda to the Central African Republic have suffered 20 years of terror inflicted by the LRA. Tens of thousands of children have been abducted to be fighters and sex slaves.

Uganda’s government said the joint offensive had destroyed some 70 percent of the LRA camps in DR Congo.

The BBC’s Africa analyst, Martin Plaut, says that LRA leader Kony’s force is relatively small, about 650 strong. However, the difficulty is that when it is hit, it scatters and then regroups.

Report from the Christian Telegraph

BANGLADESH: CHRISTIAN FAMILY BEATEN, CUT – AND FACES CHARGES


Muslim neighbors, local council threaten to burn home if they file assault case.

MALUMGHAT, Bangladesh, December 8 (Compass Direct News) – The harassment that Bangladeshi converts from Islam face from Muslim neighbors in this southeastern area near Cox’s Bazar can take serious turns – as it did last month, when an attack by about a dozen Muslims left a Christian family with machete wounds.

Confident that no police would side with Christian converts from Islam, the Muslims in Chakaria town, near Cox’s Bazar 380 kilometers (236 miles) southeast of the capital city of Dhaka, later filed false charges of assault against the wounded and limping Christians, family members said.

The smallest of claims can serve to provoke such attacks. Laila Begum, a 45-year-old Christian convert from Islam, said she was helping to make disbursements for a local non-governmental micro-credit agency called Darpan in Chakaria town on Nov. 1 when 10 to 15 Muslim neighbors blocked her way and demanded 200 taka (US$3).

Begum told Compass she had borrowed 2,000 taka (US$30) last year from a neighbor, a Muslim woman who goes by the single name of Kohinoor, and this year paid her back with interest. Telling the group she would give them no more money as she had already repaid the loan, Begum said, she asked why they were demanding more.

They began beating her, snatching a pair of gold ornaments from her ear.

“Suddenly they got equipped with sticks, iron rods, knives and machetes,” she said. “Several places of my head were lacerated by machetes and iron rods. They also cut two of my fingers when I tried to fend off their attacks. They beat me in several places of my body by iron rods and sticks.”

Begum said her husband Abdur Rahman, a 48-year-old gatekeeper at Memorial Baptist Hospital, and her 27-year-old son Selim Rahman, heard her screams and were also beaten when they rushed to help her.

“They thrust at my son with machetes and a sharp knife and stabbed him in his thigh,” she said. “They beat my son with sticks and iron rods, knocking him down. They also beat the kneecap of my husband and other parts of his body.”

When her 18-year-old daughter Rosy Rahman came to their aid, the attackers punched her in the neck and chin, she said.

“They beat her in various parts of the body with sticks,” Begum said. “Shamelessly they removed her wrap over the breasts in front of dozens of onlookers.”

One of the attacking neighbors, she said, told her, “Nobody will come to save you if we beat you, because you are converted to Christianity from Islam.”

Begum, her husband and elder son were admitted to a nearby hospital. Her husband is still hobbled, walking with the aid of a stick.

“Muslim neighbors filed a case against us where they mentioned that we had beaten them – it is a false case,” Begum said. “They beat us and they filed a false case against us.”

Police Sub-inspector Manjurul Alam confirmed that the Muslim neighbors had filed a case against Rahman’s family, and that Rahman had also filed an assault case against the attackers.

“We are investigating it,” he said.

Begum said local Muslims threatened to beat the Christians again if they filed a case against them.

“They threatened that if we file a case, they will carry out an arson attack, and our house will be burnt to the ground,” she said. “They will evict us from the locality. They will beat us again and our life will be in great trouble.”

The family informed local governing council members about the attack, but they demanded 20,000 taka (US$300) to settle the matter and also threatened them, she said.

“The local council officials also told us that if we file any case in the police station, our houses will be burnt to ashes and we will be evicted from the locality,” she said. “The Muslim neighbors are spreading rumors that we beat them, that we borrowed 22,000 taka from them and that we did not pay them back the money. But we do not have anyone to stand beside us and listen to us.”

 

Belligerent Attitude

Because the family members are converts from Islam, they said, neighbors and distant relatives often pick quarrels with them over any small issue, with villagers later joining in to threaten or attack them.

“If we go to the market or any public places, Muslim people push us roughly from behind and use filthy words against us about Christianity,” said the oldest son, Salim Rahman.

The entire family is living in isolation due to their conversion, which the female members said is especially difficult for them.

“Whenever I go outside, local people look at me with evil leers,” said the oldest daughter, Rosy Rahman. “Everyone bad-mouths me and casts aspersions on our faith.”

She said such harassment forced her to stop going to school in 2004.

“If I had not stopped going to school, my life would have been in trouble,” she said. “I feel insecure and mixed-up, because local people always want to deflower me. If anything bad happens to me, no one in the society will stand beside me. What did we do against the society? We did nothing against them, we simply changed our faith.”

She said the ostracism and societal misconduct sometimes lead her to contemplate suicide.

 

History of Resentment

When the family and others converted to Christianity in 1991, area resentment festered and finally broke into violence in late 1992, when local Muslims vandalized and burned the local church and several Christian-owned homes.

The government deployed more than 2,000 police and other law enforcement personnel to bring the situation under control, and some local Muslims were arrested for arson.

“The arrests made the local Muslims very angry,” said pastor Benu Barua of Memorial Christian Baptist Church of Malumghat.

Rage dating back to the events of the 1990s may be at the root of the beating of Begum’s family, he said.

“The Muslim neighbors beat them for such a small amount of money – any small issue to the Muslim neighbors is like a red rag to a bull,” Barua said. “This kind of oppression, what happened to Begum’s family, is less common on other traditional Christians or those who converted from the Hindu religion. But Muslim-converted Christians are more oppressed here.”  

Report from Compass Direct News

INDONESIA: THEOLOGY STUDENTS MOVE TO ABANDONED OFFICE


Evacuated after Muslim attack in July, Christians forced to leave campground.

JAKARTA, October 27 (Compass Direct News) – Over 1,000 students forced from the Arastamar Evangelical School of Theology (SETIA) in East Jakarta have now moved into an abandoned mayor’s office in Jakarta after management at the Bumi Perkemahan Cibubur (BUPERTA) campground demanded that 700 students temporarily resident there had to leave by Oct. 14.

Urged on by announcements from a mosque loudspeaker to “drive out the unwanted neighbor,” hundreds of protestors shouting “Allahu-Akbar [“God is greater]” and brandishing machetes, sharpened bamboo and acid had forced the evacuation of staff and students from the SETIA campus in Kampung Pulo village on July 26 and 27, following a misunderstanding between students and local residents. Attackers injured at least 20 students, some seriously.

Key among motives for the attack was that area Muslims felt “disturbed” by the presence of the Christian college. They want it to be moved to another area.

Following the evacuation, some students were temporarily billeted in church offices, while others slept in the lobby of Indonesia’s parliament building. Officials then moved 600 female students to the BUPERTA campground, where they were later joined by 100 male students. A further 400 male students remained at a migrants’ center in Bekasi, while 32 post-graduate students were accommodated in a housing complex in Kota Wisata, not far from the campground in Cibubur.

Campground manager Umar Lubis sent a letter to SETIA principal Matheus Mangentang on Oct. 6 ordering the students to vacate the premises in advance of a pan-Asian scouts jamboree scheduled at the facility for Oct. 18-27. Lubis sent a copy of the letter to Fauzi Bowo, the governor of Jakarta.

Mangentang initially protested, since the campground could accommodate up to 30,000 people and there would only be 300 participants in the jamboree. He also noted that despite an agreement reached in September, Bowo had failed to repair and extend bathroom facilities in an abandoned mayoral office in Jakarta offered for use by the staff and students.

When the council made no attempt to begin renovations on the mayor’s office, Mangentang himself hired bricklayers and carpenters to install more toilets, repair damaged ceilings on two floors of the building and erect partitions to create 13 classrooms.

The students last week moved into the abandoned mayor’s office. But the building still lacks many basic amenities, according to staff. Students carry well water into the building in large plastic drums for showers, toilets, laundry and cooking.

One staff member told Compass that the water was slimy to the touch and not suitable for showering.

 

Broken Promises

Bowo had also promised Mangentang that the students could return to their original campus at the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. He then promised to find a site for a new campus and provide an official building permit, but at press time there was no evidence of action taken to fulfill these promises.

Mangentang has refused to cover costs for the campground, which now amount to some 580.7 million rupiah (US$58,418), on the grounds that since they were unfairly evicted from their campus, the governor’s office should fund the cost of temporary relocation.

Cibubur campground officials had also charged SETIA 50,000 rupiah (US$5) per day for water. When Mangentang refused to pay this fee, officials restricted the water supply so that there was not sufficient water available for laundry and shower facilities for the students.

Bowo had committed to paying those bills but said he must first meet with the local House of Representatives to request funding for them and any other expenses that would be incurred by providing a new building site and campus for SETIA.

SETIA staff sought advice from the National Commission on Human Rights in Jakarta on Sept. 7. The commission then wrote to the superintendent of police in Jakarta, asking for a police escort to return the students safely to their campus, but the superintendent did not respond. Neither has any investigation been carried out against the residents who violently attacked staff and students in July.

Last year the Muslim extremist Islamic Defenders’ Front demonstrated in front of the college, accusing it of having misapplied its permit.

Since 2007, protestors have held six demonstrations. On March 7, 2007, more than 200 Muslims set fire to construction workers’ quarters in an effort to keep SETIA from adding a fifth dormitory.

Three days later, some 300 people gathered to protest the construction, demanding that the school close. They claimed it was disturbing area residents when students sang during their classes and that students were evangelizing people in the area.

Government officials have brokered talks between the conflicting parties, without success.

Report from Compass Direct News

MEXICO: THREE FAMILY MEMBERS MURDERED IN CHIAPAS


Suspecting family of witchcraft, neighbor’s gang takes machetes to adults, children.

MEXICO CITY, September 3 (Compass Direct News) – When the 11-year-old daughter of Antonio Gomez became ill of a stomach ailment, her father decided that it was due to witchcraft committed by his evangelical neighbor.

Gomez, of the Jolitontic community of Chalchihuitan municipality in Chiapas state, gathered seven friends to kill the family of the supposed culprit. After midnight on August 23, they allegedly killed three adults – the parents and their eldest son – and wounded six children with machetes.

Mariano Lopez Perez, public prosecutor of Indian Justice, reportedly said neighbors regarded the father in the attacked family, Pedro Gomez Diaz, as “an evangelical who prayed a great deal.” The neighbors reportedly denied that the family believed in or practiced any kind of witchcraft as far as they knew.

According to Tuxtla Gutierrez-based Cuarto Poder newspaper in Chiapas, all eight of the men who participated in the massacre of three Indians in Jolitontic are now in jail in San Cristobal de las Casas, awaiting justice.

The attackers burst into the hut of the family to kill first the eldest son, Rene, 32. They then slashed the mother, Marcela Hernandez Giron Gomez, and the father, Gomez Diaz.

Before he died Gomez Diaz’s cries alerted the rest of the family, but the murderers managed to seriously wound six other children: Esteban, 4; Ernesto, 6; Anita, 7; Maria, 14; Petrona, 16; and Martin, 18. They were all taken to the public health hospital of San Cristobal de las Casas.

Petrona Diaz was reported to be in the most serious condition; two of the children required surgery. The hospital refused to give further information to Compass, but reports regarding the children indicate that Petrona Diaz suffered the amputation of one thumb and an exposed broken bone.

Maria Diaz was reportedly gravely ill, and her siblings Ernesto and Anita were discharged from the hospital on Aug. 25. The next day they went to be with their grandmother in another town.

Authorities reportedly found three machetes that had been used in the attack, hidden in the brush.

Police reportedly buried the bodies of the three murder victims in a common grave behind their house, as “because they had no relatives in the community.”  

Report from Compass Direct News

INDONESIA: UNHOUSED THEOLOGY STUDENTS ORDERED TO LEAVE CAMPGROUND


Principal refuses; mobs with knives and sharpened bamboo still active.

JAKARTA, August 28 (Compass Direct News) –The manager of a campground in East Jakarta this week asked staff members and 600 female students from a theological college who had taken refuge there to leave and pay stiff fees.

Officials had sent the students to the facility after a violent mob attacked the Arastamar Evangelical School of Theology (SETIA) in East Jakarta on July 25. Principal Matheus Mangentang refused to leave, saying that Fauzi Bowo, governor of Jakarta, had ordered them to stay at the campground.

He further asked that the manager send the bill, amounting to 268 million rupiah (US$29,000) for four weeks of accommodation, to the governor’s office. The governor then suggested moving the staff and students to an old building once used as the office for the mayor of West Jakarta.

Mangentang again refused, as the building would accommodate only 100 students and has very limited water and bathroom facilities.

Protestors first attacked the SETIA campus in Kampung Pulo, East Jakarta, on July 25. When police intervention failed, staff members and students were evacuated on July 26 and 27, even as protestors armed with swords, machetes, bamboo stakes and acid continued to attack them.

At least 20 students were injured in the attack, some with sword slashes.

Following the evacuation, some students were temporarily billeted in church offices, while others slept in the lobby of Indonesia’s parliament building. Officials then moved the female students to the Bumi Perkemahan Cibubur (BUPERTA) campground in East Jakarta, while the 500 male students were sent to a transmigrant accommodation facility in Bekasi.

At press time, police had still not arrested anyone in relation to the attack nor carried out an investigation.

The school, founded 21 years ago, has full legal permission and registration to operate. While now sitting in the middle of a populated area, when originally established the college was surrounded only by cornfields and banana plantations. (See Compass Direct News, “Students Demand Safe Return to College in Indonesia,” July 31.)

 

Mobs Still Active

When a rumor spread that SETIA students would return to the campus on Sunday (August 24), a mob assembled at the entrance gate, equipped with swords, knives and sharpened bamboo stakes. The rumor, however, was false, and the mob eventually dispersed.

On August 21, when staff member Miryo Suripati returned to her home near the campus to collect some clothing, a crowd of young people carrying swords and other weapons gathered outside the building. A local public order official explained that Suripati was not a student but a resident of the community and quickly escorted her out of the housing estate.

A handful of men who declared themselves spokesmen for the Kampung Pulo area have since claimed that residents object to the presence of the college. Compass sources refuted this claim, pointing out that students were welcome customers at area photocopying facilities, snack shops and other retail outlets, while residents were employed at the college as kitchen hands, cooks and security personnel.

The mobs were mostly composed of people from neighboring communities, not local residents, sources said.

 

Female Students in Tents

The BUPERTA campground is about a 90-minute drive from Jakarta, far from snack shops or stores selling daily necessities.

The female students are accommodated in large tents, with their belongings stacked against the tent walls, limited laundry and toilet facilities and a makeshift open-air kitchen. Some students expressed concern that the rainy season might begin soon, turning the flat campground into a swamp.

Church leaders who recently visited BUPERTA and took note of conditions said they would lobby the governor for permission for the students to return to their campus.

Several students, including Julidana Reva and Lasse (who has only a single name), who traveled from distant Nias Island to study at SETIA, told Compass that study was extremely difficult under these circumstances and that their lives were virtually “on hold” until they returned to campus.  

Report from Compass Direct News

NIGERIA: ISLAMIST GROUP ATTACKING CHRISTIANS IN KWARA STATE


Clergymen say extremists blame Christian prayers for Muslim leader’s death.

ILORIN, Nigeria, August 14 (Compass Direct News) – Blaming the death of their leader on Christian prayers, an Islamist group that launched a hate campaign in response to an evangelistic event in 2004 is reportedly attacking Christians in this Kwara state capital with renewed virulence, area Christians said.

At least three Christians have died and several others have been injured in attacks with machetes and other weapons since June, clergymen said. They said the attacks began after the death in May of Dr. Ali Olukade, head of a local group of Islamists called Tibliq, possibly patterned after the worldwide Tablighi Jamaat missionary movement.

Dr. Olukade was critically injured in an auto accident in 2006, and after extensive recovery efforts he succumbed to his injuries in May. His extremist followers, according to the Rev. Cornelius Fawenu, secretary of the Kwara chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), believe that his death was the result of prayers by Christians upset when Muslim threats cut short a major event by German evangelist Reinhard Bonnke in 2004.

Islamic uproar over the evangelistic event in Ilorin forced it to a venue outside the city, and Bonnke had to “abort” three days of the planned five-day event, Rev. Fawenu said.

When the local Tibliq leader was injured in the car crash in 2006, Rev. Fawenu said, “The members of his Muslim sect went on rampage, demonstrating against America and the state of Israel, over claims that it was the prayers of Christians over the aborting of the gospel event of 2004 that caused their leader to be involved in an auto crash. Dr. Olukade, the Muslim sect’s leader, died in May 2008, and since then Muslim fanatics have embarked in serial killings and attacks on Christians in the city.”

The group from the Tibliq movement in Ilorin, Rev. Fawenu said, had spear-headed opposition to the evangelistic event.

The Kwara chapter of CAN has received 10 reports of Christians attacked by the Muslim extremists in the past two months, Rev. Fawenu said, adding that he believes unreported assaults on Christians average about four daily.

Facts on even the confirmed reports, however, are few. Last month the state CAN chapter petitioned the inspector general of police to investigate the attacks on Christians in Ilorin, which Rev. Fawenu said resulted in the death of a former leader of an Evangelical Church of West Africa congregation known only as Pastor Habila. The former church leader was assaulted in the Oke Oba area of Ilorin in June and died on June 15 from his injuries, Rev. Fawenu said.

“The corpse of another Christian victim was found along stadium road, with his Bible beside him, on June 18,” Rev. Fawenu said. “So also, a young Christian girl living near the stadium road was also murdered in the same manner within this period.”

The Kwara state CAN leader said he did not have the names of these victims but that their deaths resulted from attacks that fit a pattern of other area assaults – taking place after dark as Christians either went to or returned from church services.

Another church leader injured from an attack, he said, is known only as Pastor Olagunjo. Rev. Fawenu said the assaults have reduced attendance at Christian worship services in the state.

 

Survivors

The Kwara chapter of CAN staged a three-day prayer rally over the attacks from June 30 to July 2, which drew large crowds.

Samuel Ajiboye, pastor of New Testament Christian Mission in Ilorin, told Compass that Muslim extremists attacked a member of his church, Nanle Nathaniel, in June.

“Nanle Nathaniel was attacked on June 11 near our church,” Ajiboye said. “He saw a man with a machete coming towards him, and before he realized what was happening, the man cut him on his head with the machete, and thereafter fled.”

Ajiboye added that Nathaniel shouted and dragged himself to a nearby house, where neighbors phoned the pastor, and he told them to take Nathaniel to the University of Ilorin Teaching Hospital. At press time Nathaniel was still receiving treatment for nerve damage on his head, he said.

Ajiboye echoed the Kwara state CAN leader’s assertion that there are many Christian victims of such attacks, and that some of them have died.

Another survivor was Rachael Harry of Blessed Chapel, a church in the Sango area of Ilorin. Attacked on June 25, she also received head injuries for which she received hospital treatment, according to 70-year-old pastor and photojournalist Gabriel Oki Olufemi, of Chapel of Redemption church in Ilorin.

“While being attacked, she was rescued by her neighbors,” Olufemi told Compass. “I was there shortly after she was attacked, and I personally took pictures of her and interviewed her.”

Olufemi said Harry was about 100 meters from her house when she was attacked. “She was a trader returning from the Ministry of Agriculture, where she sells food,” he said, adding that she was attacked at about 7 p.m. near the home of her pastor, who was out of town at the time.

“Only yesterday [August 7], I was told that another Christian was attacked by the railway station in the city,” Olufemi said. “The police recovered an iron rod from the scene where she was attacked. All those killed or attacked are Christians.”

Olufemi said he interviewed another girl who was attacked near the venue of the June 30-July 2 prayer rally. “So also,” he said, “a young Christian man was attacked while on his way from night vigil in his church.”

 

Islamist Sect Fingered

The group said to be behind the attacks, Tibliq, may reflect the influence of the radical Sunni Tablighi Jamaat, a worldwide missionary movement originating in India in 1927.

Active in north African countries such as Morocco and Algeria, the secretive Tablighi Jamaat describes itself as pietistic but comprises an extremist wing that advocates jihad through the sword, according to a 2005 article in the Middle East Quarterly. Yusef Fikri, a Tablighi member and leader of the Moroccan terrorist organization At-Takfir wal-Hijrah, was sentenced to death for helping to plan the May 2003 Casablanca bombings that killed 45 people.

Tablighi Jamaat has always adopted an extreme interpretation of Sunni Islam,” Alex Alexiev wrote in the Middle East Quarterly, “but in the past two decades it has radicalized to the point where it is now a driving force of Islamic extremism and a major recruiting agency for terrorist causes worldwide.”

Rev. Fawenu recalled the evangelistic event in 2004 that he said is at the root of recent attacks. The rally by German evangelist Bonnke was to take place in the heart of the city, he said, but Tibliq-led Muslim opposition led to the Kwara state government moving the event to a village miles outside of Ilorin.

“However, two days into the five-day event, the government again brought the police to stop the event,” he said. “The event was aborted following opposition from Muslims in the city.”

After the leader of the Tibliq, Dr. Olukade, was injured in the car crash, he was taken to a hospital in Germany but returned to Nigeria last November with his condition still critical, Rev. Fawenu said.

“Before his death,” Rev. Fawenu told Compass, “Dr. Olukade was a medical doctor with the University of Ilorin Teaching Hospital, and was also the proprietor of TIM Hospital Ilorin.”

Most of the victims of the attacks, he said, have been treated at the University of Ilorin Teaching Hospital, as well as at the Delink Hospital in the Oja-iya area of Ilorin.

Report from Compass Direct News

INDONESIA: STUDENTS DEMAND SAFE RETURN TO COLLEGE


Demonstrations turn violent at theological school; at least 17 injured.

JAKARTA, July 31 (Compass Direct News) – For a second consecutive night some 580 students from the Arastamar Evangelical School of Theology (SETIA) in East Jakarta slept in the lobby of Indonesia’s parliament yesterday following demonstrations against the school that left at least 17 students injured.

Urged on by announcements from a mosque loudspeaker to “drive out the unwanted neighbor,” hundreds of protestors shouting “Allahu-Akbar [God is greater]” and brandishing machetes, sharpened bamboo and acid continued to attack 1,400 students and school staff members even as they were evacuated over the weekend (July 26-27).

Besides the students in the parliamentary building, hundreds of others were evacuated to area denominational and medical facilities. The violence took place in spite of the efforts of 400 police officers summoned after tensions erupted on Friday (July 25).

Students and school staff taking refuge in the parliament building lobby asked government officials to return them to the college and guarantee their safety there. They talked with members of parliament, particularly from the Prosperous Peace Party (PDS), a Christian party led by Karol Daniel Kadang.

The parliamentary members promised the students, staff members and their lawyers that they would contact the head of the National Police Department to file a complaint about officers who failed to protect them during the July 25-27 violence that caused 85 million rupiahs (US$9,325) in damages.

Lawyers for the students and staff members also demanded capture of those responsible for the violence, as well as the firing of the mayor of East Jakarta, known as Murdani, for blaming the Christian students whom he referred to as a minority group that “should behave.”

A seemingly harmless incident touched off the protests. Local sources said that at 10:30 p.m. on Friday (July 25), two SETIA students, Julius Koli and Jonny Gontoh, returned to their dormitory to find a large rat, and one of them threw his sandal at it. The sandal fell onto a neighbor’s property, and when the two went there to retrieve the sandal, area residents shouted “Thieves!”

By midnight mobs had formed and were attacking two male dormitories. At 2:30 a.m., mobs had reached the third floor of one of the dormitories and were trying to burn it down. Local sources said that when they set the building on fire, gasoline spilled onto the leg of one of the attackers, and they ran away.

Another mob attacked the main building of SETIA with stones. Male students threw the stones back at them, and by 5:30 a.m. Saturday morning (July 26) local policemen arrived.

That night, area residents and Muslim extremist groups made their way past police checkpoints and some of them armed with metal clubs and machetes broke into a women’s dormitory, where male students had been transferred after female students were relocated. While the attackers ransacked the dormitory, those outside threw tear gas and home-made “Molotov cocktail” bombs at the structure.

Evacuations of students began that night. On Sunday evening (July 27), as police were further evacuating students and staff members, the attackers slashed some male students with swords. At least 17 students received treatment for injuries at the Christian University Indonesia Hospital Cawang, East Jakarta.

Among them were Gabriel Dessa, 21, and 22-year-old Yopiter M. Bessa, who both suffered stomach and hand wounds. Local sources said police officers did not arrest the assailants even though the assaults took place in front of them.

Motives for Attack

Key among motives for the attack, according to a member of the village assembly, was that area Muslims felt “disturbed” by the presence of the Christian college. They want it to be moved to another area.

SETIA officials explained to parliamentarians that the school, founded 21 years ago, has full legal permission and registration to operate. While now sitting in the middle of a populated area, when originally established the college was surrounded only by cornfields and banana plantations.

School public relations official Bayu Kusuma told the parliamentarians that the college has permission from the Religious Department, a special construction permit for a school/seminary building and registration with the official gazette (Berita Negara), along with documentation from the Republic of Indonesia.

Last year, the Muslim extremist Islamic Defenders’ Front demonstrated in front of the college, accusing it of having misapplied its permit.

Since 2007, protestors have held six demonstrations. On March 7, 2007, more than 200 Muslims set fire to construction workers’ quarters in an effort to keep SETIA from adding a fifth dormitory.

Three days later, some 300 people gathered to protest the construction, demanding that the school close. They claimed it was disturbing area residents when students sang during their classes and that students were evangelizing people in the area.

Government officials have brokered talks between the conflicting parties, without success.

Report from Compass Direct News