The link below is to an article reporting on the latest developments concerning Edward Snowden’s bid for asylum – now he wants temporary asylum in Russia.
The link below is to an article reporting on the latest developments concerning Edward Snowden’s bid for asylum – now he wants temporary asylum in Russia.
Christian human rights advocate Gao Zhisheng reveals further abuse.
DUBLIN, January 19 (CDN) — Geng He, wife of missing Christian lawyer Gao Zhisheng, is demanding answers from the Chinese government following new revelations of torture of her husband.
“This is the first time that I heard about the details,” Geng, now living in the United States, told Radio Free Asia last week. “My husband did not tell me – would not tell me – how he was tortured.”
After consulting with Geng, The Associated Press (AP) on Jan. 10 published an interview with Gao, an outspoken human rights campaigner, during his brief release from captivity last April, in which he revealed details of the torture he had suffered during the previous 14 months.
Speaking with the AP in a Beijing teahouse on April 7, closely watched by police, Gao described many forms of torture, including a period of 48 hours when he was stripped bare, beaten continually with handguns and subjected to other excruciating abuse.
The AP released the interview in advance of an official visit this week (Jan. 18-21) by Chinese President Hu Jintao to the United States, stating its hope that “publicizing his account will place renewed pressure on the government to disclose Gao’s whereabouts.”
Geng planned to travel to Washington this week to further highlight her husband’s case. At a U.S. State Department dinner at the White House tonight for Hu, she planned to wait outside to draw attention to Gao’s disappearance.
Gao had asked that his account not be made public unless he disappeared again or “made it to someplace safe like the U.S. or Europe,” according to the AP.
Initially seized by public security officials on Feb. 4, 2009, shortly after his wife and two children fled China to seek asylum in the United States, Gao was held virtually incommunicado for more than a year before police staged his brief reappearance in Beijing last April 6. (See http://www.compassdirect.org, “Christian Rights Activist Gao Zhisheng Released,” April 9, 2010.)
After speaking with the AP and other journalists, Gao made a supervised visit to his in-laws in northwestern Xinjiang Province. During that visit, he again vanished on April 20 while in the company of Chinese police, according to a report by The New York Times on April 30, 2009. He has not been seen or heard from since, but China watchers such as Bob Fu of the China Aid Association (CAA) believe he is “definitely in the hands of Chinese security forces.” (See http://www.compassdirect.org, “Human Rights
Lawyer Gao Zhisheng Missing Again,” May 7, 2010.)
In his interview with the AP, Gao explained that police had moved him from his birthplace of Yulin to Beijing, then back to Yulin, and from there to Urumqi, where the most excruciating moments of torture occurred.
Allowed out on an evening walk on Sept. 25, Gao was approached by several Uyghur men, members of a minority ethnic group who claimed to be part of a counterterrorism unit. They punched him in the stomach, handcuffed him and took him to the upstairs room of a building. There they tortured him for a full week, culminating in a period of 48 hours when they stripped him bare and “took turns beating him [with pistols] and did things he refused to describe,” the AP reported.
Gao said this was the darkest point in the 14 months since authorities had seized him in February 2009, and far worse than the torture during a previous disappearance in 2007. At that time, he said in a previous report, security officials gave electric shocks to his genitals and held burning cigarettes close to his eyes to cause temporary blindness.
When Gao in 2007 asked Beijing police why they didn’t put him in prison, they replied, “You’re not good enough for that. Whenever we want you to disappear, you’ll disappear,” according to the AP.
‘Words from the Heart’
Fu of CAA on Friday (Jan. 14) also called on the Chinese government to give an account of Gao’s whereabouts, besides imploring President Obama to address the fate of Gao and other prominent Chinese rights defenders during his meetings with Hu.
Fu also released a previously unpublished statement written by Gao on Jan. 1, 2009, shortly before his family’s escape from China, entitled “Words from the Heart.”
Carried out of China by Gao’s wife, the document claimed that authorities had invested a huge amount of manpower, physical resources and funds to silence him.
“Not only is it now extremely difficult for me to make my voice heard, but it is also extremely dangerous,” Gao wrote.
His faith, however, had enabled him to endure under pressure, he stated.
“I am optimistic by nature, and I am a Christian,” he wrote. “Even when I was tortured to near death, the pain was only in the physical body. A heart that is filled with God has no room to entertain pain and suffering.
Gao expressed concern for his wife and children, who had suffered greatly from police harassment. He said authorities even banned his daughter from attending school, another factor prompting the family’s flight to the United States.
Gao urged friends both inside and outside China to defend other human rights advocates imprisoned or harassed by the government, adding that “Heroes like Guo Feixiong … who sacrifice and risk their lives to defend religious freedom, are the true hope of China.”
He also urged that a network be established within China to report on “countless” abuses of human rights.
“The publication of this article will cause me to be kidnapped again,” Gao concluded. “Kidnappings are a normal part of my life now. If it comes again, then let it come!”
A Brief Biography of Gao Zhisheng
Gao was born in a hillside cave in Yulin, northern China, according to a brief biography written by David Kilgour of Media With Conscience (MWC). Since his parents were too poor to send him to school, he gained a basic education by listening outside the windows of the village classroom.
He then worked briefly as a coal miner before joining the People’s Liberation Army, where he met his future wife, Geng He, obtained a secondary education and became a member of the Communist Party.
Following his discharge from the army, Gao became a street vendor and self-studied to become a lawyer, passing the bar exam in 1994. China’s Ministry of Justice in 2001 named him one of the country’s 10 most remarkable lawyers, according to the MWC biography.
But as Gao began to represent farmers in land compensation cases, practitioners of the banned Falun Gong group and house church members, he quickly lost favor with authorities.
In 2005, after Gao wrote open letters to President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao calling for an end to the torture and execution of Falun Gong members, authorities closed down Gao’s law firm, revoked his license to practice law, and placed Gao, his wife and two children under 24-hour police surveillance, according to reports by the China Aid Association (CAA). Police even beat his then 13-year-old daughter, according to the CAA.
In response, Gao in December 2005 publicly resigned from the Communist Party and later declared that he was a Christian.
Weeks later, on Feb. 4, 2006, Gao and several other high profile Chinese activists launched a “Relay Hunger Strike for Human Rights,” in which ordinary Chinese citizens fasted for 24 hours in rotation across 29 provinces in China. The hunger strikes led to a wave of arrests.
Authorities then seized Gao on Aug. 15, 2006, and on Dec. 22, 2006 they gave him a three-year suspended sentence for subversion. Officials then placed Gao on probation for five years and allowed him to remain at home under strict surveillance.
Authorities again seized Gao in September 2007 after he wrote to the U.S. Congress expressing concern about human rights violations prior to the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. On his release in November 2007 Gao issued a statement via the CAA claiming that his captors had tortured him by applying electric shocks to his genitals and holding burning cigarettes close to his eyes. He added that he’d been threatened with death if he spoke about the torture.
Gao was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007, 2008 and 2010 in recognition of his ongoing commitment to the advance of human rights in China, according to Kilgour’s report.
State agents abducted Gao on Feb. 4, 2009, shortly after his wife and children fled China to obtain asylum in the United States, and they held him virtually incommunicado for over a year. (See http://www.compassdirect.org, “Action Urged for Missing Rights Activist in China,” March 24, 2009.)
Perhaps as a response to international pressure, police staged a brief reappearance for Gao on April 6, 2010, CAA reported. But on April 20, during a closely-supervised visit to his in-laws in Urumqi, Xinjiang province, Gao again vanished and has not been seen or heard from since.
Chinese officials at every level have consistently denied knowledge of his current location.
Report from Compass Direct News
Muslim groups, city officials dictate where church can hold services.
JAKARTA, Indonesia, October 15 (CDN) — A church in Banten Province that has been in conflict with Muslim groups for more than two years was compelled to cease meeting in the pastor’s home last week in a bid to put an end to harassment and threats.
The Sepatan Baptist Christian Church (GKB Sepatan) in Pisangan Jaya village, Sepatan, in Tangerang district, conceded that it would no longer worship in the home of the Rev. Bedali Hulu but rather in the facilities of two other churches.
In exchange, officials agreed to process a temporary worship permit that would presumably remove the pretext for Islamic protests against the church, but they refused to accept a deadline for doing so. Pastor Hulu argued at the Oct. 7 meeting with officials and Islamic groups that local government officials be given a three-month deadline for granting the temporary worship permit, but the officials insisted on a “flexible” time for issuing it.
Tangerang district authorities had issued a decree on Jan. 21 ordering all worship activities to cease at the church. Officials had pressured church leaders to sign a statement that they would stop all worship activities, but they refused.
Pastor Hulu said that he had received the government order on Jan. 26. The church had permission to worship from both local citizens and Christians in accordance with a Joint Ministerial Decree promulgated in 1969 and revised in 2006, he said, but pressure from Islamic groups forced local officials to try to close the church.
Representing Islamic interests in the five-hour long deliberations of Oct. 7 was the Communication Forum for Religious Harmony (FKUB) of Tangerang City. Local officials included the Sepatan district chief, Sepatan sector police chief, the sub-district military commander of Sepatan, Civil police, and an official from the Ministry of Religious Affairs of Tangerang.
Pastor Hulu said he felt forced to accept the terms of the Islamic group and officials.
“Actually, we want the district to facilitate our worship by letting us use the function room of their office,” he said. “Also, we hope for the government to grant permission for our worship in accordance with the Joint Decree.”
A member of the Tangerang FKUB, Abdul Razak, said the talks resulted in the city and the Tangerang FKUB committing to help the congregation to worship temporarily in the nearest church buildings, which are seven kilometers (more than four miles) away in Kedaung, East Sepatan and belong to the Assemblies of God and the Pentecostal Church in Indonesia.
But those two churches use their buildings from 6 a.m. until noon on Sundays, Pastor Hulu said.
“Our congregation wants to worship between 10 am to 12 noon, because after 12 worship would conflict with family customs that are usually done at that hour,” he said.
Because of the incompatibility in worship times, the pastor said, GKB Sepatan appealed to a member of the FKUB Tangerang identified only as Zabir, who only suggested Pastor Hulu adhere to the FKUB consensus.
Although the Muslim groups and city officials were able to dictate where the church should worship in the coming months, they allowed the congregation to worship in one of the church members’ homes on Sunday (Oct. 10), as long as it wasn’t Pastor Hulu’s house, he said.
“Next week, if the local government has not been able to facilitate a place of worship to us, then we will worship from house to house,” the pastor said.
The church had worshipped in Pastor Hulu’s house since November 2008. Previously worship rotated among various members’ homes, reducing the congregation from 90 people to 30, he said, but now the congregation numbers 150.
The church has established good relationships with communities, religious leaders and local government, he said.
“First, we helped victims of the tsunami in Aceh in 2007,” Pastor Hulu said. “Second, we provided basic food, rice, blankets to flood victims in the village of Pisangan Jaya. Third, we have helped provide free medical treatment for residents affected by flooding in the village of Pisangan Jaya.”
The Oct. 7 agreement is yet to be signed. Razak said that the FKUB would draft an agreement for all parties to sign.
“If these problems can be resolved properly, then this will be a moment in history that the district of Tangerang was able to resolve religious issues, particularly related to the establishment of houses of worship,” he said.
The chairman of the Tangerang City FKUB, M. Syuro, said the meetings were necessary to forestall tensions as Tangerang is so close to Jakarta, 20 kilometers (12 miles) east.
Report from Compass Direct News
Congregation accepts offer under condition that government build them permanent building.
JAKARTA, Indonesia, September 29 (CDN) — A West Java church has agreed to move temporarily to a government-selected site following Islamist harassment that included a Sept. 12 attack on two of its leaders.
The Batak Christian Protestant Church (Huria Kristen Batak Protestan, or HKBP) in Ciketing village, Bekasi, decided in a congregational meeting on Sunday (Sept. 26) to accept a government offer to move worship services to the former Organization and Political Party (OPP) building on the condition that local officials will keep a promise to build a new house of worship for them within two years in the Mustika Sari district.
The Rev. Luspida Simanjuntak, who received hospital treatment after she was struck with a wooden plank by suspected Islamic extremists in the Sept. 12 attack, said that the church was ready to stop struggling.
“We are tired of being intimidated and terrorized,” Pastor Simanjuntak said. “We will be able to worship quietly and peacefully.”
Church lawyer Saor Siagian said that the church had accepted the temporary move with the understanding that the Bekasi municipal government must fulfill its pledge. The government will build a new church building to replace the structure the church is leaving on a 2,500-square meter lot belonging to PT Timah, the Government Tin Mining Co. in the Mustika Sari area of Bekasi. The lot is zoned for general and social facilities.
The government had suggested two alternative locations: the PT Timah lot and a 1,900-square meter parcel in the Strada Housing area. The congregation and leaders of HKBP Ciketing chose the PT Timah property.
The first HKBP Ciketing worship service in the former OPP Building took place without incident on Sunday, with the Bekasi government providing buses to transport the congregation to the new site. Pastor Simanjuntak said the congregation is thankful for the new temporary site, but it does not accommodate the entire congregation. The 10-meter by 14-meter building accommodates 250 people, but normally 300 attend services, and some had to stand outside, she said.
Dozens of police guarded the location.
Zaki Oetomo, a Bekasi city official, told Compass that the building could be used rent-free for two years, with an extension possible if the church desired. The government has offered to provide the buses to transport the congregation to and from the site every week.
The Ciketing church originally met in the Pondok Timur Indah housing development with 10 families in 1990, and therefore has generally been called the HKBP Pondok Timur Indah.
“By 1995 it had grown to 30 families,” Manorangi Siahaan, a church member, told Compass.
In those days the worship services were held in different members’ homes. Manorangi acknowledged that the house church worship did spark some small protests.
Between 1990 and 2010, the church leaders requested building permits three separate times, in 1995, 2000 and 2010. Not once did the local government respond, church leaders said.
By 2005 the congregation had grown to 150, and church leaders bought a 2,170-square meter lot in Ciketing village, near Bekasi City, to construct a church building. They built a semi-permanent structure, which was later torn down because they lacked a building permit under pressure from an Islamic group claiming to speak for the local citizens. As a result, the congregation went back to worshipping in homes on a rotating basis.
In 2007 the congregation had grown to 300 people. They bought a house in Pondok Timur Indah, in the Mustika Jaya area of Bekasi City, to use for worship. The Bekasi government sealed the house on March 1 under pressure from Islamic groups. On July 2, the government sealed the house a second time because the congregation was continuing to worship there. Then on July 11, the church was forced to move their worship service to a vacant property in Ciketing, which had been readied for a church building. This site was about 3 kilometers from their property in Pondok Timur Indah.
Protests by Islamic groups mounted each Sunday at the Ciketing site, culminating in the attack on Pastor Simanjuntak and elder Hasian Sihombing, who was stabbed in the stomach and heart.
Report from Compass Direct News
Bekasi officials unable to persuade HKBP congregation to relocate to alternative venue.
JAKARTA, Indonesia, September 23 (CDN) — Following attacks on their church leaders on Sept. 12, a West Java congregation on Sunday (Sept. 19) faced a wall of security officers blocking them from worshipping on their property as authorities tried to coax them to meet at another venue.
Hundreds of security force officers sealed off the street leading to their open-air worship site in Ciketing, near Bekasi, a week after suspected Islamists stabbed Batak Christian Protestant Church (Huria Kristen Batak Protestan, or HKBP) elder Hasian Sihombing and struck Pastor Luspida Simanjuntak with a wooden block. At the Pondok Timur location where the church had gathered to walk three kilometers (less than two miles) to Ciketing on Sunday, an official in a police vehicle announced through a loudspeaker that the Bekasi government requested they worship at the former office of a community organization.
When Compass arrived at the Pondok Timur area, there were 1,500 regular police and public order security police officers standing by, some forming ranks in front of the Nurul Hulda Mosque 500 meters away.
The official on the loudspeaker read a decree by Bekasi Mayor H. Mochtar Muhammad stating that security problems in the Mustika Jaya area were caused by the HKBP worship in Ciketing – where Islamists have staged protests in spite of a mayoral decree granting the congregation the right to worship there – and that in order to guard against further incidents, the church was no longer to hold services there.
“From now on, HKBP will hold its worship services in the [former] Organization & Political Party Building [the auditorium in back of several buildings occupied by different political parties] on Charil Anwar Street in Bekasi City,” he said.
The new mayoral decree dictating where the church was to worship was the product of a Sept. 15 meeting of the West Java governor, the Jakarta area military commander, Jakarta area police, the general secretary and the director general of the Ministry of the Interior, and the Department of Religion, he said.
“We invite the HKBP members to climb aboard the seven buses that we have prepared to take them to the [former] Organization & Political Party [OPP] building,” the official said to the congregation, which had gathered outside the Pondok Timur area building they had used for worship before authorities sealed it in June.
The HKBP congregation ignored the invitation. Muhammad Jufri, head of the Bekasi municipal legal department, then invited the congregation to board the buses. No one responded.
A few minutes later the Rev. Pietersen Purba, district head of the HKBP Pondok Timur District, along with two other pastors and two lawyers, requested that the congregation be allowed to worship at the open-air site on their property in Ciketing. Authorities denied the request.
An argument ensued between Bekasi officials and HKBP leaders.
“For our common good, both government and congregation, and in accordance with the decision of the coordinating meeting, we have prepared a temporary worship place at the former OPP building,” said Jufri, of the Bekasi legal department. “Because of this you may worship there, and while you are worshipping the municipal government guarantees your safety.”
Pastor Purba responded by requesting security for their current location.
“I am surprised that we are forbidden to worship on our own property,” he told authorities. “Our services there were sanctioned by a letter from the mayor that allows us to worship in Ciketing. We are the victims – my pastor was beaten. Are we not citizens with the right to worship in this country? Because of this we ask that the police help us with security so that we may worship in Ciketing. The congregation and I desire to worship there.”
HKBP lawyer Saor Siagian asked a policeman to open the way toward their property in Ciketing; the officer refused.
Jufri then began to read the mayor’s new decree aloud, but he had spoken only a few sentences before one of the HKBP lawyers, Sahala Pangaribuan, interrupted him.
“Sir, if you want to read, do so, but don’t prevent us from walking,” Pangaribuan said.
Jufri continued reading the entire decree.
“We heard what you read,” Pastor Purba replied, “but we don’t easily believe our beloved government, because we remember the case of HKBP Jatimulyo, Bekasi, which was sealed by the government, and then promised facilities for a place of worship. Now it has been five years, and the promise is still unfulfilled.”
The argument lasted another 30 minutes, and the congregation gave up on its request to meet in Ciketing. They were granted 10 minutes to pray in their former Pondok Timur building and additional time for congregational discussion, which was led by the national secretary general of the HKBP, the Rev. Ramlan Hutahayan.
At press conference later that day, Hutahayan said that freedom of worship was fundamental.
“We hope that every citizen will have the right to construct houses of worship to praise and glorify God together,” he said.
Bekasi officials have offered the former OPP building as a temporary venue for worship and two alternative locations on land zoned for general and/or social purposes: one owned by P.T. Timah and one belonging to the Strada Foundation. Thus far the congregation has not approved of these alternatives because they are far from their homes.
At a press conference with other Christian leaders, the head of the Jakarta Christian Communication General Forum, Theophilus Bela, said a statement by the Jakarta provincial police chief that the Sept. 12 attack on the church leaders was a “purely criminal act” was hasty.
“After arrests and investigation, it has been shown that this is not a pure criminal act, but an organized scenario with the Islamic Defenders Front as the field command,” Bela said.
He and other Christian leaders criticized government officials for closing churches and revoking church building permits that had already been approved.
“They have been passive in the face of anarchy and terrorist acts that have been done in the name of religion by groups such as the Islamic Defenders Front, the Betawi-Rempug Forum, the Islamic Congregation Forum, the Congress of the Indonesian Muslim Community, and so on,” he said.
Report from Compass Direct News
Court revokes decree prohibiting Christian activities of HKBP Filadelfia.
JAKARTA, Indonesia, September 15 (CDN) — A court in West Java Province has revoked a local decree that forbade Christian activities of a church in Bekasi and has ordered officials to allow the Christians to establish a place of worship.
After months of conflict and legal battles, the State Administrative Court in Bandung on Sept. 3 revoked the Dec. 31, 2009 decree prohibiting Christian activities of Batak Christian Protestant Filadelfia Church (Huria Kristen Batak Protestant, or HKBP Filadelfia) in Jejalan village, Bekasi. The church had argued that the decree, along with the closure of their worship building on Jan. 12, resulted from pressure by Islamist groups that did not represent the wishes of the area residents.
The Rev. Palti Panjaitan of HKBP Filadelfia said he was happy that the church at last had found fair authorities who based their decisions on the rule of law, “unlike the regent of Bekasi, who often has been unjust in making a decision by tending to side with a small group of people.”
Since 2008 HKBP Filadelfia has sought permission for a place of worship from Bekasi Regent H. Sa’duddin, who declined to grant it under pressure from a small group of Islamists called the Forum Islamic Ummah Jejalen Raya Bekasi, according to church leaders. The group succeeded in pressuring the Bekasi district to seal the church’s temporary worship place on Jan. 12.
As a result, the church had been holding services on a strip of roadside land in front of the temporary site, using umbrellas to protect them from the intense heat of the sun and from sudden rainstorms.
The judges, identified only as Setiobudi, Irna, and Susilowati, ruled that the regent of Bekasi should issue a permit for the church to establish a place of worship.
“This point is important because if the regent of Bekasi does what the judge said, then we will build our church and no longer serve in the hot sun and the rains that sometimes come unexpectedly,” Pastor Panjaitan said.
He said the church will give notice to the area residents, government officials and security forces to accept the decision of the administrative court.
The regent was given 14 days to appeal, and a member of the church legal team, Parasian Hutasoit, said that the regent has no legal grounds to reject the judges’ decision.
“The decree of the regent of Bekasi is contrary to the constitution of 1945, which is the constitutional foundation of the Republic of Indonesia,” Hutasoit said. “The decree had violated Article 28 of the constitution, which guarantees freedom of religion. Also, it was contrary to Article 29, which guarantees freedom of worship and Law No. 39, 1999, concerning human rights.”
HKBP Filadelfia is now able to worship in the building that was sealed by the regent in January, he said.
Regent Sa’duddin had ruled that the church needed to find a new place to construct its prospective permanent church building because local residents had rejected it – even though the church had secured approval from local residents when it submitted its application for a permit in 2008.
The local government never acted on the application, and Islamist organizations organized protests to pressure government officials to deny approval. The church on March 30 filed suit against Sa’duddin for unilaterally closing their building under construction.
Hutasoit said church leaders would try to approach the regent to discuss the matter further.
“We need not hurry to do that, because all that happens is God’s plan,” he said.
If efforts prove unsuccessful, then the church leaders will proceed to enforce the judges’ ruling through legal means, he said.
Report from Compass Direct News
Kidnapped relief workers had come to provide aid to victims of massive flooding.
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, August 27 (CDN) — Authorities on Wednesday (Aug. 25) recovered the bodies of three Christian relief workers who had been kidnapped and killed by members of the Pakistani Taliban in the flood-ravaged country, area officials said.
Swat District Coordination Officer Atif-ur-Rehman told Compass that the Pakistan Army recovered the bodies of the three foreign flood-relief workers at about 7 a.m. on Wednesday. An official at the international humanitarian organization that employed the workers withheld their names and requested that the agency remain unnamed for security reasons. Military sources who withheld news of the deaths from electronic and print media to avoid panicking other relief workers granted permission to Compass to publish it in limited form.
“The foreign aid workers have been working in Mingora and the surrounding areas,” Rehman said. “On Aug. 23 they were returning to their base at around 5:35 p.m. when a group of Taliban attacked their vehicle. They injured around five-six people and kidnapped three foreign humanitarian workers.”
Pakistan has been hit by its worst flooding in decades, with the United Nations now estimating more than 21.8 million people have been affected. Foreign aid workers are involved in relief activities across the country, including Swat district in Khyber-Paktunkhwa Province in northern Pakistan. At least 8 million people require emergency relief, with hundreds of thousands reportedly isolated from aid supplies.
An army Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) source said rangers have been deployed in Swat and other potential target areas to help provide security for relief workers.
“The Taliban had warned about attacks on foreigner aid workers and Christian organizations,” the ISPR source said. “All the international humanitarian organizations have been notified, and their security has also been increased.”
Rehman noted that the Taliban also has been trying to bring relief to flood victims.
“The Taliban are also trying to support the flood victims, and many other banned organizations have set up camps in southern Punjab to support the victims,” he said. “They intend to sympathize with the affected and gain their support.”
The president of advocacy organization Life for All, Rizwan Paul, said the bodies of the three relief workers had been sent to Islamabad under the supervision of the Pakistan Army.
“We strongly condemn the killing of the three humanitarian workers,” Paul said. “These aid workers came to support us, and we are thankful to the humanitarian organizations that came to help us in a time of need.”
Pointing to alleged discrimination against minorities in distribution of humanitarian aid, Paul added that Christians in severely flood-damaged areas in Punjab Province have been neglected. The majority of the effected Christians in Punjab are in Narowal, Shakargarh, Muzzafargarh, Rahim Yar Khan and Layyah, he said.
“The Christians living around Maralla, Narowal, and Shakargarh were shifted to the U.N.- administered camps, but they are facing problems in the camps,” he said. “There are reports that the Christians are not given tents, clean water and food. In most of the camps the Christians have totally been ignored.”
Life for All complained to U.N. agencies and the government of Pakistan regarding the discrimination, but no one has responded yet, he said.
“There have been reports from Muzzaffargarh and Layyah that the Christians are living on the damaged roads in temporary tents, as they were not allowed in the government camps,” he said.
In Sindh Province Thatta has been flooded, and around 300 Christian families who tried to move from there to Punjab were forbidden from doing so, a source said. Meteorologists are predicting more rains in coming days, with the already catastrophic flooding expected to get worse.
Kashif Mazhar, vice president of Life for All, said that in the northern province of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa conditions for Christians are better as there are Christian camps established, and Garrison Church in Risalpur is also providing aid to victims.
“It is discouraging to see that the Christian organizations are wholeheartedly supporting the victims regardless of the religion or race, but in most of the areas the Christians are totally ignored and not even allowed to stay,” Mazhar said.
Foreign targets are rarely attacked directly in Pakistan, despite chronic insecurity in the nuclear-armed state, which is a key ally in the U.S.-led war on Al Qaeda and the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan. On March 10, however, suspected Islamic militants armed with guns and grenades stormed the offices of a Christian relief and development organization in northwest Pakistan, killing six aid workers and wounding seven others.
The gunmen besieged the offices of international humanitarian organization World Vision near Oghi, in Mansehra district, of the North West Frontier Province. Suicide and bomb attacks across Pakistan have killed more than 3,000 people since 2007. Blame has fallen on Taliban and Al Qaeda-linked militants bitterly opposed to the alliance with the United States.
The U.N. decided last year to relocate a limited number of its international staff from Pakistan because of security concerns. Its World Food Program office in Islamabad was attacked in October last year, with five aid workers killed in a suicide bombing.
Then on Feb. 3, a bomb attack in the NWFP district of Lower Dir killed three U.S. soldiers and five other people at the opening of a school just rebuilt with Western funding after an Islamist attack.
Report from Compass Direct News
Taliban takes responsibility, but medical organization unsure of killers’ identity.
ISTANBUL, August 12 (CDN) — The killing of a team of eye medics, including eight Christian aid workers, in a remote area of Afghanistan last week was likely the work of opportunistic gunmen whose motives are not yet clear, the head of the medical organization said today.
On Friday (Aug. 6), 10 medical workers were found shot dead next to their bullet-ridden Land Rovers. The team of two Afghan helpers and eight Christian foreigners worked for the International Assistance Mission (IAM). They were on their way back to Kabul after having provided medical care to Afghans in one of the country’s remotest areas.
Afghan authorities have not been conclusive about who is responsible for the deaths nor the motivation behind the killings. In initial statements last week the commissioner of Badakhshan, where the killings took place, said it was an act of robbers. In the following days, the Taliban took responsibility for the deaths.
The Associated Press reported that a Taliban spokesman said they had killed them because they were spies and “preaching Christianity.” Another Taliban statement claimed that they were carrying Dari-language Bibles, according to the news agency. Initially the attack was reported as a robbery, which IAM Executive Director Dirk Frans said was not true.
“There are all these conflicting reports, and basically our conclusion is that none of them are true,” Frans told Compass. “This was an opportunistic attack where fighters had been displaced from a neighboring district, and they just happened to know about the team. I think this was an opportunistic chance for them to get some attention.”
A new wave of tribal insurgents seeking territory, mineral wealth and smuggling routes has arisen that, taken together, far outnumber Taliban rebels, according to recent U.S. intelligence reports.
Frans added that he is expecting more clarity as authorities continue their investigations.
He has denied the allegation that the members of their medical team were proselytizing.
“IAM is a Christian organization – we have never hidden this,” Frans told journalists in Kabul on Monday (Aug. 9). “Indeed, we are registered as such with the Afghan government. Our faith motivates and inspires us – but we do not proselytize. We abide by the laws of Afghanistan.”
IAM has been registered as a non-profit Christian organization in Afghanistan since 1966.
Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, a former political candidate, dismissed the Taliban’s claims that team members were proselytizing or spying, according to the BBC.
“These were dedicated people,” Abdullah said according to the BBC report. “Tom Little used to work in Afghanistan with his heart – he dedicated half of his life to service the people of Afghanistan.”
Abdullah had trained as an eye surgeon under Tom Little, 62, an optometrist who led the team that was killed last week. Little and his family had lived in Afghanistan for more than 30 years with IAM providing eye care.
IAM has provided eye care and medical help in Afghanistan since 1966. In the last 44 years, Frans estimates they have provided eye care to more than 5 million Afghans.
Frans said he doesn’t think that Christian aid workers are particularly targeted, since every day there are many Afghan casualties, and the insurgents themselves realize they need the relief efforts.
“We feel that large parts of the population are very much in favor of what we do,” he said. “The people I met were shocked [by the murders]; they knew the members of the eye care team, and they were shocked that selfless individuals who are going out of their way to actually help the Afghan people … they are devastated.”
The team had set up a temporary medical and eye-treatment camp in the area of Nuristan for two and a half weeks, despite heavy rains and flooding affecting the area that borders with Pakistan.
Nuristan communities had invited the IAM medical team. Afghans of the area travelled from the surrounding areas to receive treatment in the pouring rain, said Little’s wife in a CNN interview earlier this week, as she recalled a conversation with her husband days before he was shot.
Little called his wife twice a day and told her that even though it was pouring “sheets of rain,” hundreds of drenched people were gathering from the surrounding areas desperate to get medical treatment.
The Long Path Home
The team left Nuristan following a difficult path north into Badakhshan that was considered safer than others for reaching Kabul. Frans said the trek took two days in harsh weather, and the team had to cross a mountain range that was 5,000 meters high.
“South of Nuristan there is a road that leads into the valley where we had been asked to come and treat the eye patients, and a very easy route would have been through the city of Jalalabad and then up north to Parun, where we had planned the eye camp,” Frans told Compass. “However, that area of Nuristan is very unsafe.”
When the team ended their trek and boarded their vehicles, the armed group attacked them and killed all but one Afghan member of the team. Authorities and IAM believe the team members were killed between Aug. 4 and 5. Frans said he last spoke with Little on Aug. 4.
IAM plans eye camps in remote areas every two years due to the difficulty of preparing for the work and putting a team together that is qualified and can endure the harsh travel conditions, he said.
“We have actually lost our capacity to do camps like this in remote areas because we lost two of our veteran people as well as others we were training to take over these kinds of trips,” Frans said.
The team of experts who lost their lives was composed of two Afghan Muslims, Mahram Ali and another identified only as Jawed; British citizen Karen Woo, German Daniela Beyer, and U.S. citizens Little, Cheryl Beckett, Brian Carderelli, Tom Grams, Glenn Lapp and Dan Terry.
“I know that the foreign workers of IAM were all committed Christians, and they felt this was the place where they needed to live out their life in practice by working with and for people who have very little access to anything we would call normal facilities,” said Frans. “The others were motivated by humanitarian motives. All of them in fact were one way or another committed to the Afghan people.”
The two Afghans were buried earlier this week. Little and Terry, who both had lived in the war-torn country for decades, will be buried in Afghanistan.
Despite the brutal murders, Frans said that as long as the Afghans and their government continue to welcome them, IAM will stay.
“We are here for the people, and as long as they want us to be here and the government in power gives us the opportunity to work here, we are their guests and we’ll stay, God willing,” he said.
On Sunday (Aug. 8), at his home church in Loudonville, New York, Dr. Tom Hale, a medical relief worker himself, praised the courage and sacrifice of the eight Christians who dedicated their lives to helping Afghans.
“Though this loss has been enormous, I want to state my conviction that this loss is not senseless; it is not a waste,” said Hale. “Remember this: those eight martyrs in Afghanistan did not lose their lives, they gave up their lives.”
Days before the team was found dead, Little’s wife wrote about their family’s motivation to stay in Afghanistan through “miserable” times. Libby Little described how in the 1970s during a citizens’ uprising they chose not to take shelter with other foreigners but to remain in their neighborhood.
“As the fighting worsened and streets were abandoned, our neighbors fed us fresh bread and sweet milk,” she wrote. “Some took turns guarding our gate, motioning angry mobs to ‘pass by’ our home. When the fighting ended, they referred to us as ‘the people who stayed.’
“May the fruitful door of opportunity to embrace suffering in service, or at least embrace those who are suffering, remain open for the sake of God’s kingdom,” she concluded.
Concern for Afghan Christians
Afghanistan’s population is estimated at 28 million. Among them are very few Christians. Afghan converts are not accepted by the predominantly Muslim society. In recent months experts have expressed concern over political threats against local Christians.
At the end of May, private Afghan TV station Noorin showed images of Afghan Christians being baptized and praying. Within days the subject of Afghans leaving Islam for Christianity became national news and ignited a heated debate in the Parliament and Senate. The government conducted formal investigations into activities of Christian aid agencies. In June IAM successfully passed an inspection by the Afghan Ministry of Economy.
In early June the deputy secretary of the Afghan Parliament, Abdul Sattar Khawasi, called for the execution of converts, according to Agence France-Presse (AFP).
“Those Afghans that appeared on this video film should be executed in public,” he said, according to the AFP. “The house should order the attorney general and the NDS (intelligence agency) to arrest these Afghans and execute them.”
Small protests against Christians ensued in Kabul and other towns, and two foreign aid groups were accused of proselytizing and their activities were suspended, news sources reported.
A source working with the Afghan church who requested anonymity said she was concerned that the murders of IAM workers last week might negatively affect Afghan Christians and Christian aid workers.
“The deaths have the potential to shake the local and foreign Christians and deeply intimidate them even further,” said the source. “Let’s pray that it will be an impact that strengthens the church there but that might take awhile.”
Report from Compass Direct News
Representative for HKBP congregation in West Java tells court sealing was illegal.
JAKARTA, Indonesia, June 18 (CDN) — In a hearing in its lawsuit against a local government, a representative for a church that Bekasi, West Java officials summarily closed earlier this year told an administrative court that the action was unconstitutional.
The Huria Kristen Batak Protestan (HKBP) Filadelfia church had filed a lawsuit on March 30 against the local government for its Jan. 12 sealing of the building under construction. Regent H. Sa’adudin on April 12 issued a decree to cease worship and other activities.
At a court hearing on June 2, the coordinator of the litigation team, Thomas Tampubolon, explained that the regent’s decree of Dec. 31, 2009 to seal the building conflicted with Indonesia’s 1945 constitution. He said the decree violated Article 28 of the constitution, which guarantees freedom of religion.
“It also violates Article 29, which guarantees freedom of worship, and Law No. 39 (1999) concerning human rights,” Tampubolon said as he read the suit to an administrative court.
Tampubolon said that the decree also violated 2006 Joint Ministerial Decree No. 9 regarding the role of regional administrators in maintaining harmony between religious groups and in the construction of houses of worship.
Lastly, he said that the regent’s decree violated the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Indonesia ratified in 2005. The legal team requested that the Bandung Administrative Court issue an injunction staying the decree of the Bekasi regent.
Additionally, the team requested that the regent’s order be rescinded and that he be ordered to process the building permit request and to grant permission to construct a house of worship in accordance with current regulations.
Deddy Rohendi, a member of the regency defense team, replied that Tampubolon’s claims were false, and he requested that the court dismiss the suit.
“The regent’s decree was legal,” Rohendi said.
As the judges are considering the HKBP Filadelfia’s case, they are expected to travel to the village to interview citizens about the church building.
A member of the legal team who is also a member of the church, Parasian Hutasoit, said that the Filadelfia congregation was very upset with the Department of Religion and the Interfaith Harmony Forum because neither had acted upon the request for permission to build which was submitted on April 2, 2008.
“Our application has not been acted upon, and suddenly our church is sealed without clear reason,” he said.
Hutasoit said he regretted that the church had been forced to resort to court action. He added that he hopes the suit will force the government to show more care regarding the problem of places of worship and ensure the rights of groups such as HKBP Filadelfia that have obtained the required signatures of local people.
Prior to the hearing, Muslim opponents harassed the church’s Sunday worship, demonstrating against it on May 30, as they have on past occasions.
The group of women and children said they were from the Islamic Communications Forum of Jejalan Raya village. They gathered at 8 a.m. in order to hinder church members from worshipping in the area in front of the sealed building.
The Rev. Palti Panjaitan explained that the demonstration lasted about 15 minutes, ceasing after a community leader from Jejalan Raya village told the demonstrators they were causing a disturbance. Worship for the church is normally from 9 to 11 a.m.
“Only the building committee and the church leaders had come,” said Panjaitan.
He recounted that on May 27 the church learned a mob was going to demonstrate the next day and notified police.
“Apparently the demonstrators thought that because Friday was a holiday, we would have services,” Panjaitan said. “Actually, we did not have anything.”
He wished that the police would be more proactive about demonstrations. “As for the demonstrators, what more do they want? We have been forced to worship under the sky, on newspapers, in front of our sealed church, and they still demonstrate against us,” Panjaitan concluded.
On Jan. 3, a mob unrolled mats and sat in front of the church. “They wanted to keep us from worshipping,” Panjaitan said.
The Filadelfia Church was founded in April 2000 by Batak families in four village divisions in the North Bekasi area. They held Sunday worship in different homes on a rotating basis.
Citizens from the Islamic Communications Forum of Jejalan Raya village were disturbed by these house services. After the house services were banned, the congregation searched for a piece of land on which to build.
On June 15, 2007, HKBP Filadelfia was able to purchase land from a woman identified only as Sumiati. The Christians told her that they wished to build a church on the property, and Sumiati and her heirs signed affidavits stating that they agreed to this use. The Bekasi government issued the deed on Sept. 26, 2007.
After the purchase, the church began collecting signatures of local citizens in order to satisfy the requirements of 2006 Joint Ministerial Decrees No. 8 and No. 9 requiring at least 90 Christians and at least 60 non-Christians agreeing to construct a church building.
The church quickly obtained the required signatures, and on April 2, 2008 the head of Jejalan Raya village issued a letter recommending that the congregation be given a building permit. The letter was addressed to the Regent of Bekasi with copies to the Department of Religion, the Interfaith Harmony Forum and the District Officer of Tambun Utara (a sub-district of Bekasi).
Since then, nothing has been done. No building permit has been issued. Since Jan. 12 the Bekasi Regency Government has sealed the temporary building the church had been using. As a result, the congregation has been holding services in front of the building fence in the open air.
Umbrellas protect them from the tropical sun, where temperatures often reach 33 degrees Celsius (92 degrees Fahrenheit), and occasional rainstorms hit.
One dead, two hospitalized; village chief threatens other residents.
DUBLIN, May 14 (CDN) — In spite of assurances of religious rights by officials in March, Lao Christians expelled from a village in Saravan Province in January are suffering from a prolonged lack of adequate food and clean water.
The lack of basic resources has led to diarrhea, dehydration, eye and skin infections, fainting and general weakness for the Christians expelled from Katin village, and one person has died, Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom (HRWLRF) reported.
A Christian who went by the single name of Ampheng died suddenly in April while praying for one of two other Christians who were hospitalized with illnesses caused by their living conditions, an HRWLRF spokesman told Compass. The exact cause and date of Ampheng’s death were not immediately known.
Expelled from their village at gunpoint on Jan. 18 for failing to renounce their faith, the 48 Christians were forced to build temporary shelters at the edge of the jungle, about six kilometers (nearly four miles) away from the village.
They have since survived on food found in the jungle and water from a hand-dug well that is unfit for cooking or drinking, sources told HRWLRF.
District officials in early May gave the Christians permission to return to Katin village and take rice from their family rice barns to prevent starvation, said another source on condition of anonymity.
In addition, some of the Christians have returned to tend their family rice fields, fearing that if the fields are completely abandoned they may lose the right to cultivate them next year. Water buffaloes essential for farm work, however, were confiscated in January along with the Christians’ homes and registration papers, according to HRWLRF.
When the Christians interred Ampheng at the local burial ground, district officials fined them for failing to produce the required proof of house registration, according to HRWLRF.
Katin’s village chief recently warned other residents that their personal possessions would be confiscated if they had any contact with the expelled Christians. If any family continued to maintain contact despite repeated warnings, their own homes would be torn down, the chief reportedly said.
Official reactions to the plight of the Christians have been mixed. In March, a delegation of provincial and district officials led by Gov. Khamboon Duangpanya visited the Christians at their jungle site and assured them of their legal right to embrace the faith of their choice and to live anywhere in the district.
Just days earlier, however, the district head, identified only as Bounma, summoned seven of the Christians to his office and said that he would not tolerate the existence of Christianity in areas under his control. (See “Lao Officials Visit Expelled Christians, Give Assurances,” March 19.)
High level officials failed to intervene last July when villagers seized a Christian identified only as Pew and poured rice wine down his throat, killing him by asphyxiation. Village officials later fined Pew’s family for erecting a cross on his grave, and then detained 80 Christians in a school compound, denying them food and pressuring them to renounce their faith.
The heads of 13 families then signed documents renouncing Christianity in order to protect their children, but most resumed attendance at worship meetings within a few months.
Provincial officials did call a meeting in September 2008 asking Katin authorities to respect Lao religious laws and allow the Christians freedom to worship, but their request was ignored.
A communist country, Laos is 1.5 percent Christian and 67 percent Buddhist, with the remainder unspecified. Article 6 and Article 30 of the Lao Constitution guarantees the right of Christians and other religious minorities to practice the religion of their choice without discrimination or penalty.
Report from Compass Direct News