Deadline for re-registration passes; churches face illegal status


Oppressive new laws in Azerbaijan and Tajikistan required religious communities to re-register with the government by January 1, 2010 or face illegal status. As of December 16, only about 100 of Azerbaijan’s 534 religious communities had been able to do so. Fewer than half of Tajikistan’s religious communities re-registered, reports MNN.

According to Joel Griffith of Slavic Gospel Association, officials place obstructions in the paths of churches trying to re-register.

"They will find some technicality or basically any reason to deny registration. So even if some of the groups actually follow the law to the letter and meet the requirements, it just seems very arbitrary and capricious as to whether the officials will agree to register to not," he explained.

It’s unclear how strictly the governments of the two nations will enforce their laws.

"In the worst case scenario…they could basically close congregations down and impose pretty stiff penalties," Griffith said. "In the best case scenario…unless they agree to fully repeal these statues or amend these laws, I think we need to just hope and pray that even though they’re on the books, these things won’t be enforced."

That’s often the case in countries that have similar laws. The new laws include other burdensome requirements in addition to the re-registration mandate. Azerbaijan’s law requires religious communities to provide more information for registration and to obtain approval to build or rebuild places of worship. It also prohibits the sale of religious literature in unapproved locations and religious activity outside registered addresses.

Tajikistan’s religion law censors religious literature, bans state officials from founding religious communities, requires state approval to invite foreigners for religious visits or to travel abroad for religious events, and restricts children’s religious activity and education.

Christians in Azerbaijan are especially concerned about how courts might interpret unclear provisions in the law. They fear a loose interpretation could penalize "peaceful religious activity." Griffith quoted a passage from the law and explained the issue.

"‘The community formulates its relations with other religious confessions on the basis of religious toleration (tolerance), respect and the avoidance of conflict,’ and the community cannot use violence or the threat of violence in proclaiming its faith. Well, if you don’t define those terms, such as ‘respect and the avoidance of conflict’…you could almost say that Christian evangelism could even be illegal under a formulation like that."

Since Christians believe in only one means of salvation — Jesus Christ — it would be entirely possible for disagreement with other religious groups to be interpreted as "conflict." However, Christians are not the only people worried about the potential impact of the law.

"It’s not just Christians that are concerned; we’ve got Muslim groups that are concerned. These are largely Muslim nations," Griffith said. "I think there are a number of people that are concerned about what this will possibly do down the road."

No matter what does happen, the Christian church will remain committed to the Gospel.

"Regardless of what happens in these countries, the churches still have their marching orders from the Lord: to proclaim the Gospel," Griffith said. "And no matter what man does, they’re going to continue to proclaim the Gospel."

Christians in Tajikistan and Azerbaijan need the prayers and support of their fellow believers. SGA has been supporting churches in the former Soviet Union for 75 years, and it continues to support churches in these two countries.

"It’s important to help them take advantage of every open door they can find to share the Gospel," Griffith said. "It might be through supporting a church-planting missionary; it might be through providing Russian-language Bibles and literature; it may be through helping to support in-country training, and sometimes that training has to take place quietly…. But for churches here in the West that have the resources, it’s important to support our brothers and sisters there who don’t have the resources that we do."

Report from the Christian Telegraph 

Seminary Students in Indonesia Evicted from Two Locations


Forced departure from campground and office building leads to demonstration, arrests, injuries.

JAKARTA, Indonesia, October 30 (CDN) — In the past week hundreds of students from Arastamar Evangelical Theological Seminary (SETIA) were evicted from two sites where they had taken refuge after Muslim protestors drove them from their campus last year. 

With about 700 students earlier evicted from Bumi Perkemahan Cibubur (BUPERTA) campground, officers appointed by the West Jakarta District Court on Monday (Oct. 26) began evacuating more than 300 students from the former municipal building of West Jakarta.

In response, the more than 1,000 evicted SETIA students demonstrated in West Jakarta on Tuesday (Oct. 27), clogging traffic and leading to altercations with police that led to the arrest of at least five students. Six officers were injured.

The eviction from the former West Jakarta mayoral building came after the city settled accounts last week with the Sawerigading Foundation, which officially gained ownership of the site from the city after a long court dispute. The foundation plans to build apartments on the land, a 13,765 square-meter parcel with six buildings.

Demonstrating in front of the buildings, the students formed a blockade. A bulldozer began to level buildings, and students began throwing plastic chairs and rocks at police. Officers responded with tear gas that dispersed the crowd.

“Five people were arrested and taken for questioning by the West Jakarta Police,” Police Commissioner Djoni Iskandar told Compass at the site. The identities of the five students were not known at press time, although the head of the student senate, Alexander Dimu, said that one was identified as Adi Siwa.

Traffic Police Chief Commissioner Sungkono, who goes by a single name, told Compass that two traffic officers and four security policeman were injured by objects the students had thrown.

“Brigade Chief Charles and Sudiyanto had just gotten out of a car when they were hit by flying objects,” he said. “The same was true of four other police: Diak, Arif, Luki, and Mardiana, who had injuries to their hands, feet, and a torn lip.”

Inadequate Alternatives

The students were originally driven from their school when hundreds of protestors shouting “Allahu-Akbar [“God is greater]” and brandishing machetes forced the evacuation of staff and students from the SETIA campus in Kampung Pulo village on July 26-27, 2008.

Urged on by announcements from a mosque loudspeaker to “drive out the unwanted neighbor” following a misunderstanding between students and local residents, the protestors also had sharpened bamboo and acid and injured at least 20 students, some seriously.

The Jakarta provincial government has offered to house students at a city-owned office building in North Jakarta that SETIA officials said was unfit for habitation.

“A barn for water buffalo is much nicer than that place,” Ronald Simanjuntak secretary of the SETIA Foundation, told Compass.

The building has broken windows, non-functioning toilets, a roof that is in disrepair, and a bare cement floor, he said, adding that major renovations would be necessary.

“Our primary request is that we be allowed to return to our own campus peacefully,” Simanjuntak said. “We were in the old West Jakarta mayor’s office because the provincial government sent us there. Don’t imagine that we were trying to take over that place.”

An inspection of the North Jakarta building by representatives from the SETIA Foundation, the Sawerigading Foundation, and city officials found the building was uninhabitable and unsuitable for classes, said SETIA’s rector, the Rev. Matheus Mangentang.

“So the solution is to return us to our campus,” Rev. Mangentang told Compass. “[The North Jakarta building] needs months of renovation work; it was supposed to be torn down.”

The area secretary for the Jakarta Provincial Government who goes by a single name, Muhayat, told Compass that suitability “is a relative thing.”

“Why is the place unsuitable?” he said. “Is it the location?”

According to Muhayat, the Jakarta government plans to sell a property that would allow it to provide proceeds for construction of a new SETIA campus in the Lippo area of Cikarang, West Java Province. Officials hope a sale could be completed late this year, allowing construction to begin in early 2010.

“The students need to be patient and not act unilaterally,” Muhayat said. “The provincial government and the [SETIA] Foundation are in the midst of working on a new campus.”

The students would like to return to their former campus in Kampung Pulo, East Jakarta, with assurances of safety and security from the vice-governor, but area residents reportedly remain hostile.

SETIA’s Simanjuntak said that if students are forced to the North Jakarta building, school officials would ask the Sawerigading Foundation for time to renovate it. Sawerigading has offered 250 million rupiahs (US$26,000) to SETIA for renovations.

Of the total SETIA students, another 297 are still living at the Transit Lodge in Kalimalang, East Jakarta.

Report from Compass Direct News 

SOMALIA: CHRISTIAN SHOT DEAD NEAR KENYA BORDER


Muslim extremists kill convert from Islam they were monitoring.

NAIROBI, Kenya, August 22 (Compass Direct News) – Muslim extremists seeking evidence that a Somali man had converted from Islam to Christianity shot him dead Tuesday morning (Aug. 18) near the Somali border with Kenya, according to underground Christians in the war-torn nation.

Al Shabaab rebels killed 41-year-old Ahmed Matan in Bulahawa, Somalia, according to Abdikadir Abdi Ismael, a former leader of a secret Christian fellowship in Somalia to which Matan belonged. Matan had been a member of the underground church since 2001.

The early morning shooting comes at a time when Islamist groups led by al Shabaab are hunting down converts to Christianity as they seek to establish sharia (Islamic law) throughout Somalia.

Ismael, who fled the area in 2005, said he received a telephone call from Matan two weeks ago in which the convert told him that monitoring by the Islamic extremists kept him from leaving his home and carrying out his small-trade business across the border in Mandera, in eastern Kenya.

“I am afraid for my life – the al Shabaab want to get a proof that I follow the Christian faith,” Matan told Ismael. “They have not been seeing me in the mosque and seem to have realized that I am not part of them.”

Ismael subsequently learned from a member of the underground church who requested anonymity that on Aug. 18 Matan was shot dead as he was about to enter Mandera with a donkey carrying goods for sale such as sugar, batteries and shampoo. He was a father of three, his last child just 3 months old.

Since the beginning of this year, Ismael said, the Islamic militants had been questioning Matan about why he was carrying on business outside of Somalia.

“They then began monitoring him, especially from the beginning of this year,” said Ismael.

Besides his infant child, Matan leaves behind a widow, Fatuma, and children ages 7 and 4.

Ismael was visibly shaken by the death of his close friend.

“We have been going through difficult times because of choosing to follow Christianity,” Ismael told Compass. “We have lost everything. We even lack words to share our feelings. I have been always on the run from one refugee camp to another. The Muslims have issued a fatwa on me.”

Ismael had been the leader of the underground church in Bulahawa before fleeing in 2005. Bulahawa has gained a reputation for harboring Islamic extremists, mainly al Shabaab militants said to be linked with al Qaeda terrorists.

Matan, who is from a Maharan sub-clan called Habar Yaqub, was an industrious small-scale merchandise trader. His problems with the Islamist militia began long ago when he expanded his business sojourns to Kenya’s northern town of Mandera, Ismael said.

The border area near Mandera, including Bulahawa, has become the site of frequent kidnappings. Lack of security forces in the area has given free rein to brutal activities by al Shabaab, which kidnapped three foreigners in the area on July 17 and spirited them into Somalia. Ismael described Bulahawa as “a very insecure and sensitive area.”

In Mahadday Weyne, 100 kilometers (62 miles) north of the Somali capital of Mogadishu, al Shabaab Islamists on July 20 shot to death another convert from Islam, Mohammed Sheikh Abdiraman, at 7 a.m., eyewitnesses told Compass. They said the Islamic extremists appeared to have been hunting the convert from Islam.

The sources told Compass that Abdiraman was the leader of an underground “cell group” of Christians in Somalia. He was survived by two children, ages 15 and 10, and his wife died three years ago due to illness.

Intent on “cleansing” Somalia of all Christians, al Shabaab militia are monitoring converts from Islam especially where Christian workers had provided medical aid, such as Johar, Jamame, Kismayo and Beledweyne, sources said. Mahadday Weyne, 22 kilometers (14 miles) north of Johar, is the site of a former Christian-run hospital.

Already enforcing sharia in large parts of southern Somalia that they control, al Shabaab rebels have mounted an armed effort to topple President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed’s Transitional Federal Government and impose Islamic law.

The militants reportedly beheaded seven Christians on July 10. Reuters reported that they were killed in Baidoa for being Christians and “spies.”

Report from Compass Direct News 

INDIA: NEWS BRIEFS


Recent Incidents of Persecution

Madhya Pradesh, February 27 (Compass Direct News) – Police on Feb. 25 arrested the Rev. Venkata Rao Paulose in connection with the sale of a book said to hurt the religious feelings of Hindus; the book was sold near a Christian conference Rev. Paulose organized in January in Sanjay Nagar Colony, Anuppur district. The Global Council of Indian Christians reported that Rev. Paulose, founder of Pine Mount English Medium School, was directing the conference at the school on Jan. 16-18 while, unknown to him, two persons were selling books near the school compound. Hindu extremists from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and Bajrang Dal purchased copies of a book, “Secularism and Hindutva” by M.G. Matthew, and took it to the Chachai police station. There they filed a complaint against Rev. Paulose, pastor of Pentecostal Church of God. At 1 a.m. on Jan. 19, police ordered the pastor to the police station, where he gave a statement saying he didn’t know who was selling books near the conference site; he was reprimanded and released. On Feb. 19, police arrested pastors Kailash Mashih and Sharda Prasad Muthel in Anuppur in connection with the complaint about the book and took them to the Chachai police station. Investigating Officer D.S. Divedi told Compass that the pastors were arrested under Section 295(A) of the Indian Penal Code for “deliberate and malicious acts to outrage religious feelings.” One of the pastors (undisclosed) was put in Shadol district jail, and the other was freed on bail. On Feb. 25, police for unknown reasons again arrested Rev. Paulose in connection with the complaint about the book. An Anuppur district court judge refused to grant him bail, and at press time the pastor of the 150-member church was in jail at the Chachai police station.

Karnataka – Police on Feb. 24 detained two Christian women in Chickmagalur after Hindu extremists filed a complaint of forcible conversion based solely on the women welcoming two new converts into their home. The Global Council of Indian Christians reported that the Hindu extremists saw a recent convert to Christianity identified only as Panamma and her daughter visit the home of Christians identified only as Sangamma and K.P. Mary. The Hindu nationalists filed the complaint against Mary and Sangamma at N.R. Pura police station, and the Christian women were in police custody for about two hours. A station officer who goes by only one name, Revannea, told Compass that an inquiry was made into the matter and the two women were released without charges after a warning not to undertake further evangelism. 

Chhattisgarh – Hindu extremists on Feb. 23 disrupted a prayer service in Ambikapur, accused the pastors of forceful conversion, beat them and damaged motorcycles. A Compass contact said pastor Joseph Toppa was leading the prayer meeting at the house of Parmeshwar Lakda when the Hindu extremists barged in at about 7 p.m. The extremists belonged to the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarhi Parishad (student wing of the Bharatiya Janata Party), Dharm Sena (Religious Army) and Dharm Jagran Manch (Religious Awakening Forum), all affiliated with the Hindu extremist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. Police arrived and, as is customary in India, arrested the victims; officers took about 30 Christians to the police station. Local Christian leaders intervened, and the Christians were released at about 11:30 p.m. after giving their statements. There were no serious injuries.

Andhra Pradesh – On Feb. 22 Hindu extremists led by a village leader barged into the Sunday worship meeting of a church in Ranga Reddy, attacked a pastor and demanded that he turn the property over to them. Led by village head Rokalbanda Ramulu, the intolerant Hindus arrived at about 11 a.m. and beat the pastor, tearing his shirt. About six policemen arrived at the spot and brought the situation under control. Pastor K. Krupanamdam of True Wine Church filed a police complaint. Two officers have been posted to protect the church, but no First Information Report was filed.

Chhattisgarh – Police on Feb. 17 arrested 11 pastors from the Believers Church in Sarguja under Chhattisgarh’s anti-conversion law after Hindu extremists stormed into their revival meeting and beat them. The Evangelical Fellowship of India reported that Hindu extremists led by the local legislative assembly member from the Hindu extremist Bharatiya Janata Party, Renuka Singh, arrived at about 7 p.m. and attacked the pastors, tore Bibles and banners and damaged the sound system. The pastors were bruised but reported no serious injuries. The Christians were conducting the meeting with prior permission of the police and the civil administration. Police intervened at about 11 p.m. after persistent calls from local Christian leaders. As is customary in India, authorities took the victims of the violence to the police station “for security measures” but ended up filing charges against them under unsubstantiated claims of forceful conversion. The pastors were released on bail on Feb. 18.

Andhra Pradesh – Hindu extremists on Feb. 14 attacked a Christian media team, accused them of forceful conversion and threatened to kill them in Kawadipally, Ranga Reddy district. Moses Vatipalli of the All Indian Christian Council told Compass that three Christians identified as K. Anand Kumar, Mudi Jacob and Swami Das were distributing gospel tracts when about 15 Hindu hardliners attacked them. The intolerant Hindus assaulted the Christians, tore the remaining gospel tracts, damaged their vehicle and threatened to kill them if they did not leave the village immediately. The Christians were badly bruised but reported no serious injuries. A complaint was filed at Hayath Nagar police station, but no arrests had been made at press time.

Karnataka – Hindu extremists on Feb. 3 burned a Christian’s house and threatened to build a Hindu temple on his land in Tumpur. According to a local source, about 15 extremists went to the house of the Christian, identified only as Dasappa, on Feb. 1 and insisted that the area member of the legislative assembly was asking for the site for a Hindu temple. Dasappa refused, saying that the land was legally owned by his son, and the extremists asserted that there was no place for Christians in the area. On Feb. 3, the Hindu extremists went to his house again, splashed gas on it and burned it to ashes. Local Christian leaders filed a complaint, but police refused to register a case.

Karnataka – A group of Hindu extremists from the Bajrang Dal on Feb. 2 attacked a Christian truck driver in the Deralakatte area on the outskirts of the Mangalore. The Hindu newspaper reported that the extremists beat Albert D’Souza, 48, with iron rods after he found them breaking the windshield of his Jeep and marring the Christian stickers on it. D’Souza was brought to a city hospital in critical condition, the report stated. Konaje police registered a case, saying the attack was communally motivated, and arrested three of the five persons believed to be responsible for the assault.

Karnataka – Police on Jan. 27 arrested a pastor in Bangalore for alleged fraudulent conversion after Hindu extremists who assaulted him filed charges. The Global Council of Indian Christians reported that about 30 Hindu extremists led by Shiva Rame barged into the house of pastor G. Kiran Kumar of Bethesda Church and accused him of trying to convert children by luring them with free tuition and asserting that he had insulted Hindu deities. The extremists assaulted the pastor and his father and dragged them to the Vidyaranyapura police station. Surrounding the police station, they bullied officers into arresting the Christians, with pastor Kumar charged under sections 503 and 153(A) of the Indian Penal Code for “criminal intimidation” and “promoting enmity between groups on grounds of religion” respectively. The pastor was released on bail on Jan. 31.

Karnataka – Hindu extremists on Jan. 27 accused a pastor of conversion by allurement in Belgaum because he offered light refreshments at his house church on Christmas Day. The Global Council of Indian Christians reported that when the intolerant Hindus heard that pastor Tanaya Sunder Nayak served the refreshments at a prayer meeting of his house church last Christmas, they filed the complaint and manipulated police into going on a hunt for him. Arrest warrant in hand, police went to the pastor’s house while he was away. Umesh Pangam, area additional superintendent of police, told Compass that after an inquiry police realized there was no basis for the charges and dropped the case.

Assam – A mob of about 600 Hindu extremists from the Kamalabari-Sattara Establishment assaulted Christians on Jan. 24 in Majuli Island, Jorhat. The Indian Catholic reported that about 400 believers from St. Anthony’s church in Mariani had gone to Majuli Island for an ordination ceremony. Shouting anti-Christian slogans, the Hindu extremists stopped the Christians as they were en route home, accused them of forcible conversion and threatened to cut them to pieces, according to the newspaper. The Hindu mob asserted that Christians should never enter their area, where a temple affiliated with the Hindu extremist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh is located. The violent mob kicked and punched the Christians, including women and children. Pulling the Christians’ ears, they forced them to walk barefoot to Ferry Ghat five kilometers (nearly three miles) away. Civil administration officials intervened after a priest informed them of the incident and arranged transportation to assist the Christians home. Alan Brooks, spokesman of the Assam Christian Forum, told Compass that Christians filed a First Information Report in Kamalabari and Jarmukh police stations, but no arrests were made.

Kerala – Hindu extremists from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh on Jan. 22 assaulted a pastor and beat him till he fell unconscious in Vaithiry. According to the Evangelical Fellowship of India, pastor T.T. Abraham of the Brethren Assembly Church was distributing gospel tracts when three intolerant Hindus stopped him. In the assault the pastor suffered serious injuries on his neck, stomach and back. The Hindu extremists fled the scene when they saw an approaching auto-rickshaw, and the driver took the pastor to a government hospital. No police complaint was filed, as the pastor said he chose to forgive the extremists.  

Report from Compass Direct News

SAUDI ARABIA: PASTOR FLEES DEATH THREATS


Religious police, others warn key figure in expatriate church to leave.

LOS ANGELES, January 30 (Compass Direct News) – A prominent foreign pastor in Saudi Arabia has fled Riyadh after a member of the mutawwa’in, or religious police, and others threatened him three times in one week.

Two of the incidents included threats to kill house church pastor Yemane Gebriel of Eritrea. On Wednesday (Jan. 28), Gebriel escaped to an undisclosed city in Saudi Arabia.

A father of eight who has lived and worked as a private driver in Saudi Arabia for 25 years, Gebriel told Compass that on Jan. 10 he found an unsigned note on his vehicle threatening to kill him if he did not leave the country. On Jan. 13, he said, mutawwa’in member Abdul Aziz and others forced him from his van and told him to leave the country.

“There was a note on my van saying, ‘If you do not leave the country, we will kill you,” Gebriel told Compass by telephone. “Three days after that, [Aziz] said, ‘You’re still working here, why don’t you go out of the country?”

Aziz, another member of the mutawwa’in and a policeman had waited for Gebriel shortly after 9 p.m. A sheikh at a Riyadh mosque, Aziz raged at Gebriel for about five minutes, accusing him of being a Christian and trying to change the religion of others, said a Christian source in Saudi Arabia.

“He finished by telling Yemane to get out of the country or ‘measures’ would be taken,” said the source, who requested anonymity for security reasons. He said Gebriel was in genuine danger of losing his life. “In meeting with me on the morning of Thursday, Jan. 15, Yemane himself was clearly very frightened,” said the source.

That night (Jan. 15), Gebriel told Compass, four masked men – apparently Saudis – in a small car cut off the van he was driving. “They said, ‘We will kill you if you don’t go away from this place – you must leave here or we will kill you,’” he said.

Gebriel subsequently took temporary refuge in a safe house in Riyadh, and after consulting with consular officials from four embassies on Tuesday (Jan. 27), the pastor was whisked away to another city the following day.

In 2005, the religious police’s Aziz had directed that Gebriel be arrested along with 16 other foreign Christian leaders, though diplomatic pressure resulted in their release within weeks.

“No doubt Sheikh Abdul Aziz is still burning,” said the local Christian source. “Nor may such type of death threat be possibly idle words. The current situation and circumstance remind me very much of the machine-gun murder of Irish Roman Catholic layman Tony Higgins right here in Riyadh in August 2004.”

 

Raids Feared

Gebriel, 42, led a church of more than 300 foreign-born Christians, though because of work obligations only a little over 150 are able to meet regularly in his villa for Friday worship. He fled without his family, as his wife and children had managed to relocate in Egypt in August 2007.

Gebriel and three others started the house church in Riyadh 10 years ago, the local source said, and only a few months ago the pastor handed leadership over to others in the church.

“But right now the entire church is very frightened,” the source said. “They are expecting a raid one Friday shortly – just like in 2005. The congregation doesn’t even know yet that we have whisked Yemane away from them as well as from the religious police.”

In April and May of 2005, the mutawwa’in arrested 17 pastors – two Pakistanis, two Eritreans (including Gebriel), three Ethiopians and 10 Indians. None were deported after their release.

“Are there signs that 2009 might prove to be such a year again? I think so,” the source said. “Every three or four years, there is a clamp-down in Riyadh. It seems that we should expect 2009 to be a year of repression. However, the underground church here is far better placed than heretofore to manage any such persecution.”

The Saudi regime has reportedly begun to restrain the mutawwa’in, which historically has acted as a virtual vigilante force enforcing the kingdom’s Sunni Islamic social codes as volunteer agents of the semi-autonomous Commission to Promote Virtue and Prevent Vice. The U.S. Department of State’s 2008 International Religious Freedom Report noted that abuses by mutawwa’in have continued.

“Mutawwa’in (religious police) continued to conduct raids of private non-Muslim religious gatherings,” the report states. “There were also charges of harassment, abuse, and killings at the hands of the mutawwa’in, or religious police. These incidents caused many non-Muslims to worship in fear of, and in such a manner as to avoid discovery by, the police and mutawwa’in.”

In the past year, mutawwa’in sometimes have not respected the Saudi policy of allowing private worship for all, including non-Muslims, according to the report. Religious police are not allowed to mete out punishment, but in the past year the Saudi government has investigated several incidents in which the mutawwa’in were accused of violating restrictions on that and other activities, according to the state department report.

The mutawwa’in still wear no uniforms, but the report notes that they are now required to wear identification badges and can act only when accompanied by police. They are authorized to monitor the practice of non-Muslim faiths, display or sale of pornography, alcohol production, distribution or consumption, and adultery, homosexuality and gambling, among other violations.

While Saudi law forbids public practice of any religion besides Islam, foreigners are generally allowed to worship privately if their congregations do not grow too large.

With the Quran and sayings of Muhammad (Sunna) as its constitution, Saudi Arabia enforces a form of sharia (Islamic law) derived from 18th-century Sunni scholar Muhammad ibn Abd Al-Wahhab that calls for the death penalty for “apostasy,” or conversion from Islam to another faith, although the state department’s report notes that there have been no confirmed reports of executions for apostasy in recent years.

Saudi Arabia’s ruling monarchy restricts media and other forms of public expression, though recently authorities have tolerated criticism of the mutawwa’in and the Commission to Promote Virtue and Prevent Vice.

“The government-controlled press frequently criticized mutawwa’in activity,” the report adds.  

Report from Compass Direct News

BANGLADESH: MUSLIMS THREATEN PASTOR FOR EVANGELIZING


Previously beaten in a mosque, evangelist has faced opposition for more than a year.

DHAKA, Bangladesh, January 6 (Compass Direct News) – The torture and harassment that a Christian pastor in Meherpur district has faced for more than a year loomed anew last month when a 4,000-strong crowd of Muslims celebrating Islam’s largest festival accused him of “misleading” Muslims.

Jhontu Biswas, 31, said residents of Fulbaria town, 270 kilometers (168 miles) west of Dhaka, accused him of misleading Muslims by distributing Christian booklets. They confronted him en masse on Dec. 9 as they gathered for the Islamic Eid al-Adha festival of sacrifice.

“They also accused me of converting poor people by offering money,” said Biswas. “They called several local journalists in that massive assembly to publish news against me and my activities. They took my photograph and interviewed me but did not publish anything in their respective newspapers.”

Biswas denied the accusations against him, and the Muslims threatened to harm him and others who converted from Islam to Christianity, especially in the event of a hard-line Islamic government coming to power following Dec. 29 elections, he said.

“They said, ‘You will be in great trouble at that time,’” Biswas said.

Fortunately for Biswas, the left-leaning Awami League-led Grand Alliance won a landslide victory in the election, and it does not include Islamic fundamentalist parties such as Jamaat-e-Islami. Prior to Bangladesh’s national election on Dec. 29, the country was ruled for two years by an army-backed, caretaker government that imposed a countrywide state of emergency.

Had the previous Bangladesh Nationalist Party coalition government including Jamaat-e-Islami come to power, area Christians said they would be in even greater danger.

“We hope that we can work our religious activities properly during the tenure of this government, and also hope that this government will ensure all of our constitutional rights regarding religious activities,” Biswas said.

 

Beaten in Mosque

The pastor has been under continuous pressure to give up his faith and not spread Christianity since he was baptized on Feb. 14, 2007, he said. He was in a meeting with members of his church on Dec. 31, 2007, he said, when police suddenly surrounded the building and dragged him out.

A drug peddler, a 36-year-old woman named Fulwara Begum, had left a bag full of illegal drugs behind his church in accordance with a plan hatched by area Muslims, he said. They informed police, and officers arrested him for drug possession and sale – but instead of taking him to the police station, they took him to a nearby mosque.

“It was a trick to arrest me and slander my reputation so that I cannot do evangelical activities here,” said Biswas. “They told me, ‘If you accept Islam after confessing to Christianity and ask forgiveness of Allah, we will not do anything against you and release you.’ They beat me with sticks in the mosque after my vehement denial to their proposal.”

Police called on a Muslim cleric to encourage Biswas to seek forgiveness for embracing Christianity.

The following day, Jan. 1, 2008, police sent him to Meherpur central jail on drug charges, but the jailer would not admit him because of his battered condition. Police took him to a nearby hospital, where he was treated for five to six hours. He was subsequently put into jail.

“Whenever I did not agree with them, police beat me inhumanely in the police station,” he said. “They tried to brainwash me into accepting Islam throughout almost the whole night. But I did not agree with them. Then they tortured me.”

After 20 days in jail, Biswas was released on bail.

 

Elderly Shop Owner Struck

On Aug. 16, Muslim extremists had vandalized a grocery store near Biswas’ church. The 78-year-old owner of the shop, Abdus Sobhan, told Compass that he was beaten and his shop was looted. They also hurled stones and bricks at the nearby church.

“My angry Muslim neighbors did it,” Sobhan said. “Around seven to eight people came on that night and vandalized the shop. I am a poor man. That shop was my only source of living. They demolished it and looted stuffs of around 30,000 taka [US$443].”

Area Muslims put a sign near the shop that designated it as that of a Christian and stating, “Do not buy anything from here.”

Sobhan went to police to file a case. Instead, officers asked him barrage of questions about why he became a Christian. Resigned, he left the police station.

The father of nine daughters and two sons, Sobhan said he became a Christian on Feb. 24, 2007 along with his wife.

The president of the Assembly of God church in southern Khulna division, Jonathan Litu Munshi, told Compass that Biswas was the first Christian in the area. Through him 200 to 230 people have received Christ as their redeemer in the predominantly Muslim area within the past year and a half.

“Local people filed a false case against him to torture him so that he does not continue his religious activities,” said Munshi. “Unfortunately a septuagenarian convert was also beaten in that area for his faith in Christ.”

The Islamic political party Jamaat-e-Islami is influencing the area residents, Christians said, adding that party workers have persuaded Muslims not to hire Christian converts, who are largely day-laborers eking out a living.  

Report from Compass Direct News

GERMAN CHURCHES CRITICIZE JESUS CHOCOLATES AS BAD FORM


German churches have criticized a businessman for selling thousands of chocolates shaped like Jesus, reports Catholic News Agency.

The candies come from Frank Oynhausen’s “Sweet Lord” chocolate-making business, which wraps the figures in gold foil.

“I started thinking about how I could reintroduce traditional religious values into this commercial world,” Oynhausen states on his web site.

The figures at present are custom-produced, costing about $190 for almost a quarter pound. Oynhausen expressed hopes of mass producing the product and exporting it for sale in countries such as the U.S.

The German Protestant Church criticized the idea as “tasteless.”

Aegidius Engel, a spokesman for the Catholic Archdiocese of Paderborn, was also critical, saying:

“It is terrible that Jesus is being wrapped up in gold foil and sold along with chocolate bunnies, edible penguins and lollipops.”

“This is ruining the symbol of Jesus himself,” he added, according to Reuters.

Report from the Christian Telegraph

INDONESIA: PASTOR ASSAULTED, THREATENED


Public Order official’s colleagues kick student ministry leader, issue more death threats.

JAKARTA, September 18 (Compass Direct News) – A Public Order official’s colleagues kicked Charles Hutahaean, chairman of the Indonesian Christian Students’ Movement (GMKI) in Jakarta, in the stomach last week and threatened to kill other GMKI staff members.

The Public Order official, Crisman Siregar, threatened to stab Hutahaean with a bayonet in the confrontation between him and his colleagues and the GMKI leader on Sept. 9. Previously Siregar had warned Hutahaean to “be careful with your life.”

Volunteer Public Order officials normally mediate local conflicts, among other community functions, but in this case have sided with a private company in a land dispute with GMKI. Land granted to the church was sold to a business venture, the Kencana Indotama Persada (KIP) Co., without the consent of GMKI, and construction workers have already partly demolished an old GMKI office building on the site.

GMKI now shares a newer office building with its parent ministry, the Alliance of Indonesian Churches (PGI). When KIP construction workers built a wall separating the new building from the old, GMKI students demolished it, sparking two violent attacks by Public Order officials on Aug. 26 and 28.

As GMKI staff members on Sept. 9 gathered to discuss these issues, two carloads of Public Order officials drove up and parked outside. Six men entered the premises and began tearing down banners erected inside the GMKI fence. The banners, which faced onto a busy road, protested the sale of the disputed land and accused Public Order officials of “masterminding” the August attacks.

When Hutahaen and other staff members tried to stop them, Siregar drew out a bayonet and threatened to stab the pastor. Following Siregar’s lead, the other officials threatened to kill GMKI members. They also kicked desks and chairs in the office building, causing minor damage.

GMKI staff members immediately reported the incident to the police, who arrived shortly after the attackers had left. Police officers, however, said it would be difficult to press charges since Siregar had not actually used the bayonet.

It was two weeks earlier, following the attacks on GMKI’s office, that Siregar had warned Hutahaean to “be careful with your life.” (See Compass Direct News, “Land Dispute Leads to Attacks on Christian Hub in Indonesia,” September 3.)

Compass sources said Public Order officials would likely benefit financially from protecting KIP’s business interests.

 

Mysterious Appropriation

The disputed property is a large piece of land originally granted by the Dutch colonial government to the Vereneging Christian School (VCS) Foundation. The VCS then gave the land to the Christian School Association, which in turn passed it on to a branch of its own association, the Christian Education Foundation (YBPK).

Although occupied by many Christian ministries and associations, including the Christian University of Indonesia and the Indonesia Bible Institute, sources said the land belonged to YBPK.

Under the terms of the land grant, the land could not legally be sold to business entities, according to GMKI lawyer Nikson Lalu. In August 2006, however, a board member of YBPK, acting independently of the board, sold a small plot of land to KIP. An old office belonging to GMKI was still standing on the plot of land, adjacent to a newer building shared by GMKI and PGI.

Compass sources noted that a gas station and business offices had replaced other ministry offices on the granted land. It was not clear, however, how the businesses had appropriated the land from YBPK.

Report from Compass Direct News