‘Pinpricks’ of Truth Making Way into North Korea


Citizens increasingly enlightened about world’s worst violator of religious freedom.

DUBLIN, April 26 (CDN) — As refugees from North Korea and activists from Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) gather in Seoul, South Korea this week to highlight human rights violations in the hermit kingdom, there are signs that North Korean citizens are accessing more truth than was previously thought.

A recent survey by the Peterson Institute found that a startling 60 percent of North Koreans now have access to information outside of government propaganda.

“North Koreans are increasingly finding out that their misery is a direct result of the Kim Jong-Il regime, not South Korea and America as we were brainwashed from birth to believe,” Kim Seung Min of Free North Korea Radio said in a press statement. The radio station is a partner in the North Korea Freedom Coalition (NKFC), which is holding its annual North Korea Freedom Week (NKFW) in Seoul rather than Washington, D.C. for the first time in the seven-year history of the event.

“We set out to double the radio listenership of 8 or 9 percent, and we’ve seen a dramatic increase in the number of people who have access to information,” said NKFC Co-Chair Suzanne Scholte. She described the flow of information as “pinpricks in a dark veil over North Korea. Now those pinpricks are becoming huge holes.”

The radio station now air-drops radios into North Korea and broadcasts into the country for five hours a day, adding to information gleaned by refugees and merchants who cross the border regularly to buy Chinese goods.

In recent years the government has been forced to allow a limited market economy, but trade has brought with it illegal technology such as VCR machines, televisions, radios and cell phones that can detect signals from across the border. Previously all televisions and radios available in North Korea could only receive official frequencies. 

“The government hasn’t been able to stamp out the markets, so they begrudgingly allow them to continue,” Scholte confirmed. “This means North Koreans aren’t relying solely on the regime anymore.”

Holding the annual event in Seoul this year sends a significant message, Scholte told Compass.

“This is a spiritual conflict as well as a physical one – some people didn’t want us to call it freedom week,” she said. “But we’re making a statement … God gives us freedom by the very nature of being human and North Koreans are entitled to that too.”

All people say they would never allow the World War II holocaust to be repeated, Scholte said, “but this is a holocaust, a genocide. I firmly believe we will be judged if we fail to intervene.”

The coalition hopes this week’s event will empower the 17,000 strong North Korean defectors in South Korea, awaken the consciousness of the world about human rights conditions in North Korea, and inform all who are suffering in North Korea that others will “work together until the day their freedom, human rights and dignity are realized,” Scholte said in the press statement.

As part of the week’s activities, the coalition will send leaflets into North Korea via balloon stating in part, “In the same year the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was passed, Kim Il-Sung was ensuring that you wouldn’t have any of those rights.”

Religious freedom in particular is almost non-existent. The only accepted belief is Juche – an ideology that strictly enforces worship of the country’s leaders.

“The regime is a perversion of Christianity,” Scholte told Compass. Juche has a holy trinity just as Christianity does, with Father Kim Il-Sung, son Kim Jong-Il, and the spirit of Juche said to give strength to the people.

“Kim Il-Sung is God; a real God can’t replace him,” a former North Korean security agent confirmed in David Hawke’s 2005 report, “A Prison Without Bars.”

While four churches exist in the capital, Pyongyang, experts believe these are largely showpieces for foreign visitors.

The government has allowed token visits from high-profile foreign Christians such as Franklin Graham, president of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, who preached at Bongsu Protestant church in Pyongyang in August 2008; and two U.S. Christian bands, Casting Crowns and Annie Moses, attended and won awards at the Spring Friendship Arts Festival in April 2009.

Worship outside limited official venues is simply not tolerated, giving North Korea first place on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2010 World Watch List for persecution of Christians.

Ordinary citizens caught with a Bible or in a clandestine prayer meeting are immediately labeled members of the hostile class and either executed or placed in prison labor camps, along with three generations of their immediate family. Every North Korean belongs to either the “hostile,” “wavering” or “core” class, affecting privileges from food and housing to education and physical freedom, according to Hawke’s report.

There are no churches outside the capital, but the regime in 2001 estimated there were 12,000 Protestants and 800 Catholics in North Korea. In July 2002 the government also reported the existence of 500 vaguely-defined “family worship centers” catering to a population of approximately 22.7 million, according to a September 2009 International Religious Freedom report issued by the U.S. State Department.

By contrast, South Korea’s Dong-A Ilbo newspaper in July 2009 put the estimate at 30,000 Christians, some NGOs and academics estimate there may be up to several hundred thousand underground Christians.

Uncertain Future

As North Korea celebrated the birthday of Kim Jong-Il on Feb. 16, rumors spread that the elderly leader, currently battling heart problems, had chosen third son Kim Jong-Eun as his successor.

Documents extolling the virtues of Kim Jong-Eun began circulating as early as November, according to the Daily NK online news agency. An official “education” campaign for elite officials began in January and was extended to lesser officials in March. One document obtained by the agency described the “Youth Captain” as being “the embodiment of Kim Il-Sung’s appearance and ideology.”

“Kim picked this son because he’s ruthless and evil,” Scholte said, “but I don’t think they’re quite ready to hand over to him yet. There is an uncertainty, a vulnerability.”

Scholte believes this is the ideal time to “reach out, get information in there and push every possible way.”

“There are many double-thinkers among the elite,” she explained. “They know the regime is wrong, but they have the Mercedes, the education for their kids and so on, so they have no incentive to leave.”

The coalition is trying to persuade South Korea to establish a criminal tribunal, she said.

“North Koreans are actually citizens of South Korea by law,” she said. “We have to let these guys know there’s going to be a reckoning, to create a good reason for them not to cooperate [with authorities].”

Those in other countries have an obligation too, Scholte concluded. “When people walk out of the camps, it will haunt us. They’ll want to know, ‘What were you doing?’ We will be held accountable.”

Article 26 of North Korea’s constitution declares that the people have freedom of religion. The organizers of this year’s freedom week fervently hope that this declaration will soon become a reality.

SIDEBAR

The Cross at the Border: China’s Complicity in Refugees’ Suffering

Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) estimate anywhere from 30,000 to 250,000 refugees from North Korea are living in China, either in border areas or deeper inland. Few are Christians when they emerge from North Korea, but the whispered advice among refugees is to “head for a cross,” signaling a Chinese church that may assist them, according to a February 2009 National Geographic report.

Since China will not allow the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees access to border areas, Chinese Christians work with Christian NGOs to provide an “underground railroad” moving refugees via several routes to safety, most often in South Korea.

Chun Ki-Won, director of Christian NGO Durihana, admits that some of the refugees adopt Christianity to win favor with their rescuers, but others retain and strengthen their faith on arrival in South Korea.

China insists that the refugees are economic migrants and pays police a bounty to arrest and return them to North Korea. On arrival, North Korean officials pointedly question the refugees about contact with Chinese Christians or Christian NGOs. If any contact is admitted, execution or imprisonment is likely, according to David Hawke’s 2005 report, “A Prison Without Bars.”

As one refugee told Hawke, “Having faith in God is an act of espionage.”

Still others choose to return to North Korea with Bibles and other Christian resources at great risk to themselves. For example, officials in June 2009 publicly executed Ri Hyon-Ok, caught distributing Bibles in Ryongchon, a city near the Chinese border, South Korean activists reported.

China remains impervious to the refugees’ plight.

“China fears being flooded by refugees if they show compassion,” said Suzanne Scholte, co-chair of the North Korea Freedom Coalition. “But refugee flows aren’t going to collapse the [North Korean] regime. If that was going to happen, it would have happened already during the famine, so their argument doesn’t hold water.”

She added that North Koreans don’t want to leave. “They leave because of Kim Jong-Il,” she said. “Those [North Korean refugees] in South Korea want to go back and take freedom with them.”

Two U.S. Christians entered North Korea in recent months with the same goal in mind. Robert Park, an evangelical Christian missionary, crossed the border on Dec. 25 with a letter calling for Kim Jong-Il to resign.

Officials immediately arrested Park, according to the regime’s Korean Central News Agency. He was later sentenced to eight years of hard labor but released in late February after making what many experts believe was a forced confession.

Fellow activist Aijalon Mahli Gomes entered North Korea on Jan. 25, the same news agency reported. Officials sentenced Gomes to nine years of hard labor and fined him 70 million new Won (US$518,520). At press time Gomes remained in detention.

Report from Compass Direct News 

NIGERIA: DEATH TOLL CLIMBS IN ATTACK BY ISLAMIC SECT


12 Christians killed, 20 churches burned in Borno rioting prompted by extremist group.

LAGOS, Nigeria, Aug. 7 (Compass Direct News) – With 12 Christians, including three pastors, confirmed killed in rioting ignited by an Islamic sect opposed to Western education, the Christian community in northern Nigeria’s Borno state is still counting its losses.

The rioting instigated by an Islamic extremist sect known as Boko Haram, which initially attacked police and government bases, left hundreds of people dead and large property losses. Sharia (Islamic law) is already in force for Muslims in 12 northern states, but the sect is fighting to have it enforced more broadly in those states and to impose it throughout Nigeria.

“We are still taking inventory of how the crisis affected our members, but so far we have confirmed some of the Christians killed and churches burnt,” Samuel Salifu, national secretary of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), told Compass.

Rampaging members of the sect burned 20 churches before police captured and killed Boko Haram’s leader, Mohammed Yusuf. Police say Yusuf was killed “while trying to escape,” but a federal government panel is investigating allegations that security agents executed him after arresting him alive in his hideout.

The chairman of the Borno state chapter of CAN, the Rev. Yuguda Zubabai Ndurvuwa, said many Christians abducted by Boko Haram extremists were yet to be found. He noted that the Christian community usually has been hardest hit in religious uprisings in Borno and other northern states. Violence started on July 26, when armed sect members attacked a police station in Bauchi state that set off a firestorm of violence that spread to the northern states of Borno, Kano and Yobe.

Those killed in Borno include Pastor Sabo Yakubu of Church of Christ in Nigeria (COCIN), the Rev. Sylvester Akpan of National Evangelical Mission and the Rev. George Orji of Good News of Christ Church International, Inc.

Church buildings burned in Borno include five branches of the COCIN denomination, two Catholic churches, two Deeper Life Church buildings, two EYN (Church of the Brethren in Nigeria) buildings, and buildings of the National Evangelical Mission, Celestial Church of Christ, Elijah Apostolic Church, The Lord’s Chosen Charismatic Revival Ministries, Assemblies of God Church, Redeemed Christian Church of God, Christ for All Nations, Baptist Church and Anglican Church, all in different parts of the state.

Nigeria has almost equal numbers of Christians and Muslims, with the north dominated by Muslims and the south largely Christian. Northern Nigeria has a history of religious crisis with heavy casualties among Christians.

A Maiduguri, Borno-based journalist, Abiodun Joseph, said members of the sect kidnapped his two sons after he and his family narrowly escaped being lynched by the sect members.

“They stopped us while leaving the estate where I live, which is close to their headquarters, and threatened to shoot myself and my wife if we resisted the abduction of my two sons,” Joseph told Compass. He found his sons two days later.

“It was a very harrowing experience as we were not sure what would happen to them, but we thank God that they were not killed like others,” Joseph added.

Many other abducted Christians, he said, were killed by rioters for refusing to renounce their faith.

Facing Loss

With calm restored, Pastor Enouch Atiyaye, chaplain of the University of Maiduguri Teaching Hospital, said Christians in Borno who were forced to abandon their homes have been returning to “face the loss of their family members and the burning of their churches and homes.”

“There is a general feeling of despair and dejection among Christians with a high degree of uncertainty, since we don’t know what can happen next,” Atiyaye told Compass. “The fear is that the Boko Haram group has many members who have entrenched themselves in the state over the years. They disappeared during the crisis and can regroup to fight back if necessary security measures are not in place.”

Based on the attack on Christians during the Boko Haram uprising and past experiences, CAN’s Salifu said the association has lost confidence in the ability of the government to provide security for the lives and property of its members.

“If the government continues the way it has been doing, the association would have to give conditions for the co-existence of the various groups in the country” Salifu said at a press conference in Abuja, the country’s capital, on Monday (Aug. 3).

Accusing Borno Gov. Ali Modu Sheriff of complicity in the emergence of the Boko Haram group, Salifu said Christians were apprehensive that there are dangers beyond what was apparent in the sect’s uprising.

“We have no doubt in our minds that they would have perceived Christianity as a Western religion, which to them is also haraam [sin] which must also be eradicated,” he said.

At the press conference the Rev. Ladi Thompson, international coordinator of Macedonian Initiatives, a Christian Non-Governmental Organization, accused the government of ignoring warnings by Christian leaders on Boko Haram activities, which he said could have been nipped much earlier.

The governor’s press director, Usman Ciroma, dismissed CAN’s claim of complicity by Gov. Sheriff, saying that it was preposterous and laughable that the tragedy that befell the state could be trivialized in that way.

“Which politician will be so suicidal as to set a group to kill his own people?” Ciroma reportedly said.

The governor, who denied any relationship with the Islamic sect, met with Christian leaders in Borno state for the first time on Wednesday (Aug. 5), during which he disclosed plans to regulate preaching by religious leaders. For two years, according to news reports, attempts by Christian leaders to meet the governor over the plight of Christians in the state had been rebuffed.

“Government officials at the meeting tried to claim that Muslims were not more affected by the crisis, but the there is no indication that any mosque was burnt or any imam killed,” said a Christian leader at the meeting who requested anonymity.

Report from Compass Direct News 

TURKEY: ALLEGED ‘MIDDLEMAN’ IN MALATYA MURDERS A NO-SHOW


State fails to set aside funds to transport key witness to hearing.

MALATYA, Turkey, June 25 (Compass Direct News) – A suspected “middleman” between the alleged masterminds and young executors in the stabbing murders of three Christians here failed to appear at a hearing on Friday (June 19) because of a procedural error.

The state prosecutor’s office failed to set aside funds to transport Varol Bulent Aral to the southeastern city of Malatya from Istanbul, where he is held, the court announced. Aral is the second suspected middleman connecting the five young murderers to “deep state” masterminds who allegedly plotted to kill Turkish Christians Necati Aydin and Ugur Yuksel and German Christian Tilmann Geske.

The three Christians were bound and tortured before they were murdered on April 18, 2007 at Zirve Publishing Co., where they worked. Suspects Salih Guler, Cuma Ozdemir, Hamit Ceker, Abuzer Yildirim and alleged ring-leader Emre Gunaydin were caught at the scene of the crime.

While in prison, Gunaydin testified to the state prosecutor that Aral, a journalist allegedly attached to a far-reaching political conspiracy known as Ergenekon, had contacted him and instructed him to carry out the murders. Gunaydin had also testified that Huseyin Yelki, who worked as a volunteer at the Zirve office, had planned details of the crime with him.

The court heard Yelki’s testimony in the last two hearings, but judges could not arrive at conclusive evidence connecting him to the murders. At the May hearing, Gunaydin retracted his statement that he and Yelki met to strategize before the murders. An order last month to investigate Yelki’s bank accounts for links to suspicious activity has yielded no new information, judges stated at the last hearing. He is still obligated, however, to attend every court hearing.

At a May hearing, the court also requested a list of people who have visited Gunaydin since the beginning of this year, suspecting that he may be under pressure to retract statements he has made implicating middlemen in the murders. The court is still evaluating the list of visitors it received.

Gunaydin’s girlfriend, Burcu Polat, was also expected to testify on Friday but did not appear. The court ordered Polat to appear at the next hearing and is petitioning the prosecutor’s office to funnel the necessary funds for Aral’s transportation from Istanbul to Malatya.

Erdal Dogan, one of a team of plaintiff lawyers in the Malatya case, told reporters after the short hearing that Aral’s absence resulted from a great oversight on the part of the Justice Ministry.

“They didn’t bring the witness due to a lack of funds,” said Dogan. “That the Justice Ministry knew the court date and didn’t put money aside for the witness to come is a tragic state of affairs.”

When asked whether the case will be joined to the ongoing Ergenekon court hearings, Dogan said the court is still researching possible links between the Malatya murders and those of Armenian Christian and newspaper editor Hrant Dink, who was killed three months before the men in Malatya, and Catholic priest Andrea Santoro, who was slain in the Black Sea coastal town of Trabzon in February 2006.

Link with ‘Insulting Turkishness’ Trial?

In Silivri, the case against Turkish Christian converts Hakan Tastan and Turan Topal for “insulting Turkishness” under controversial Article 301 continues to drag on two years after they were charged – leading the defendants to wonder if the “deep state” is also behind their ordeal.

Tastan and Topal were charged after speaking about their faith. The decision to try them under the disputed article came after three young men – Fatih Kose, Alper Eksi and Oguz Yilmaz – stated that Topal and Tastan were conducting missionary activities in an effort to show that Islam is a primitive, fictitious religion that results in terrorism and to portray Turks as a “cursed people.”

Prosecutors have yet to produce any evidence indicating the defendants described Islam in these terms. Turkey’s constitution grants all citizens freedom to choose, be educated in and communicate their religion, making missionary activities legal.

At a June 24, 2008 hearing, two witnesses for the prosecution declared they did not know the defendants and had never seen them before facing them in the courtroom. Several witnesses – including one of the original complainants, Kose – have failed to show up on various trial dates.

On May 28 the court, though yet again reaching no conclusions, ordered five witnesses to appear at the next hearing, set for Oct. 15.

“This is malicious,” Topal told Compass. “Every time they call someone else, find something new to accuse us of. They have called everyone, and this time they’re calling people from the judiciary… claiming that we met with them. It just keeps going on.”

Three of the five lawyers ordered to appear at the next hearing are workers in the country’s judicial system.

“If they would just make up their mind and at least pronounce us guilty, we would have a chance to take the case to the European Court of Human Rights, but now there’s just uncertainty,” said Topal.

He said he and Tastan are convinced that their trial is a set-up from Turkey’s “deep state” and is connected to the murders of the Christians in Malatya.

“In my mind, our court case and these murders were orchestrated,” Tastan said.

He described how, after they came out of a hearing held the day the three Christians were murdered in Malatya, members of the press and others gathered outside the courthouse in Silivri.

“Among the crowd, people yelled out to us, ‘We will cut you up too. We will kill you too,’” he said. “So when did they gather these people? When did they come? When did they learn of the event to know to yell at us if there wasn’t a connection between the two cases?”

Two key figures pressing the Article 301 charges and promoting sensational media coverage of the Silivri trial are now jailed themselves, unable to attend the hearings. Both ultranationalist lawyer Kemal Kerincsiz and spokesperson Sevgi Erenerol of the Turkish Orthodox Church – a Turkish nationalist denomination with no significant following – are accused of playing leading roles in Ergenekon, an ultranationalist cabal of retired generals, politicians, journalists and mafia members under investigation for conspiracy to overthrow the government.

“I think that it was the same people who orchestrated this,” said Tastan, referring to Ergenekon.

Report from Compass Direct News

TURKEY: IRANIAN REFUGEE BEATEN FOR HIS FAITH


Convert to Christianity loses another job as co-workers learn he’s not Muslim.

ISTANBUL, June 15 (Compass Direct News) – Since Iranian native Nasser Ghorbani fled to Turkey seven years ago, he has been unable to keep a job for more than a year – eventually his co-workers would ask why he didn’t come to the mosque on Fridays, and one way or another they’d learn that he was a convert to Christianity.

Soon thereafter he would be gone.

Never had anyone gotten violent with him, however, until three weeks ago, when someone at his workplace in Istanbul hit him on the temple so hard he knocked him out. When he came back to his senses, Ghorbani was covered in dirt, and his left eye was swollen shut. It hurt to breathe.

His whole body was in pain. He had no idea what had happened.

“I’ve always had problems at work in Turkey because I’m a Christian, but never anything like this,” Ghorbani told Compass.

A carpenter by trade, Ghorbani started working at an Istanbul furniture maker in November 2008. From the beginning, he said, the Turks he worked with noticed that he didn’t go to the mosque on Friday. Nor did he behave like everyone else.

“If someone swore, I would say, ‘Don’t swear,’ or if someone lied, I said, ‘That’s not honest,’” he said. “You know Turks are very curious, and they try to understand everything.”

Although he tried to conceal his faith from his co-workers, inevitably it became obvious.

Soon after he started his new job, Ghorbani and his family found a new apartment. On the planned move-in day, New Year’s Day, his boss sent the company truck along with a truck driver to help; members of the Christian group that often meets in his home also came.

“When the [truck driver] saw all these people at our house, he was surprised,” said Ghorbani’s wife, Leila, explaining that he seemed especially surprised to find foreigners among the group. “It was big news back at the factory.”

Ghorbani said that in the following months the questions persisted, as well as pressure to attend the mosque. He avoided these as best as he could, but he admitted that two mistakes confirmed their suspicions. Someone from work learned that he had a broken personal computer for sale and bought it, only to find Christian documents and photos on the hard drive. Secondly, a mutual friend later admitted to a co-worker that he went to the same church as Ghorbani.

“The attitude in the entire factory changed toward me,” said Ghorbani, chuckling. “It was like they had agreed to marginalize me. Even our cook started only serving me potatoes, even though she had cooked meat as well. I didn’t say anything.”

In May the truck driver who had helped the Ghorbanis move finally confronted him.

“Your country is a Muslim country,” he told him, “and you may have become a Christian, but you are coming to Friday prayers today.”

On May 22 during lunch, his co-workers told him they were taking him to the mosque that day. “You are going to do your prayers,” one said.

Ghorbani brushed it off and, to appease them, said he would come after lunch. But as they were about to leave for the mosque, he asked them why they only pray once a week – and told them that as a Christian he couldn’t accept it and wouldn’t join them.

After the day’s last delivery and pick-up, the truck driver returned to work. As everyone was getting ready to leave, from the corner of his eye Ghorbani saw the truck driver walking up to him, and felt the blow of his fist on his temple. When he regained consciousness, some co-workers were washing his face in the bathroom.

They told him a little about how he was beaten, put him in a cab with one of their colleagues and sent him home. That evening, his fellowship group was meeting at his home. They had just sat down for dinner when Ghorbani arrived later than usual.

“He walked in, and he was limping because his right side hurt,” said an Iranian friend who was at the meeting. “There was dirt all over his clothes, and there was blood in his left eye. When I saw him I got scared. I thought that maybe a car had hit him.”

Wanting to avoid a hospital visit and questions from police, Ghorbani went to a private doctor a few days later. The doctor instructed him to stay home for three weeks to recover from the injuries: badly bruised ribs, shoulder, shins and eye, and internal stomach bleeding.

When he took the medical report to his workplace the following day, co-workers told him that his boss had fired the truck driver, and that even though management was very happy with his work, it would be safer for him to look for employment elsewhere. They said the truck driver blamed Ghorbani for losing his job and had threatened to kill him if he ever saw him.

“I have a family and home and nothing to lose,” the truck driver said, according to co-workers. “If I kill him, the worst thing that could happen to me is that I do some jail time.”

Ghorbani’s friend said that even if other Iranian converts to Christianity don’t suffer violence as Nasser has, life for them is full of pressure and uncertainty at work.

“Maybe for Christians by birth there are no pressures or problems, but people like us who want to [leave Islam to] follow Jesus are fired,” said the friend.

He explained that following their faith means living righteously and not stealing or cheating their bosses out of time and wages.

“That’s when the marginalization starts, when you resist doing wrong,” he said. “But if you live the way they do, lying and stealing, they don’t notice you’re a Christian.”

The Iranian friend said that even before he converted to Christianity in Turkey, his colleagues would pressure him to come to the mosque for Friday prayers because he was a foreigner.

“After becoming a Christian, the pressure gets worse,” he said. “The way they look at you changes … and, honestly, they try to convince you, [saying] that you haven’t researched your decision well enough.”

Now running his business out of his own home, the friend said no one can disrupt his work because of his faith, but he is a rarity among Iranian refugees in Turkey.

Ghorbani’s wife said the New Testament is clear on how to respond to attacks.

“The Bible says don’t be surprised when things happen against you, but love more, because you suffer for Christ,” she said.

Hope for a Future

The Ghorbanis said they are thankful for their time in Turkey, though their future is unclear.

The family first fled to Turkey in 2002 after realizing that their families were becoming aware of Nasser’s newfound faith. Ghorbani had worked in the Iranian Armed Forces for 10 years before he was fired in 1995 because, as a secular Muslim, he refused to attend Quran classes, which were necessary for keeping his job or being promoted.

For the following eight years, the government kept close tabs on the couple, questioning them every six months. Ghorbani could not travel outside of Iran during this period.

In 2001 he became a Christian under the influence of a customer who ordered furniture from his shop. As soon as Ghorbani’s passport was issued, he fled to Turkey; his family followed a few months later. Soon his family also espoused Christianity after his wife had a dream of Jesus saving her from sinking sand.

“We have learned the truth, and it has set us free,” Leila Ghorbani said.

The family is in the process of applying to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to re-open their case; their first application was denied three years ago.

According to the UNHCR’s most recent Global Report, in Turkey there were 2,100 Iranian refugees and 2,300 asylum-seekers from Iran in 2008. Although there is no data on how many Christian Iranians are living in Turkey, it is estimated that there is an Iranian house church in each of 30 “satellite cities” where the government appoints refugees and asylum seekers to live.

The Ghorbanis have three daughters, ages 20, 17 and 2. Ghorbani said he and his family would be in danger if they were returned to Iran.

“As a Christian I can’t return to Iran, or I risk losing my life,” Ghorbani said. “If they catch me, because I was a lieutenant they will directly hang me.”

Report from Compass Direct News

PAKISTANI CHURCH WALLS HIT WITH SLOGANS HAILING THE TALIBAN


At least three Pakistani Christian men, who were protesting against pro Taliban and Al-Qaeda slogans written on their local churches, have been injured in a gun battle between law enforcement agencies and Pashto-speaking suspected militant Muslims on Wednesday (April 22, 2009) afternoon, reports Dan Wooding and Sheraz Khurram Khan, special to ASSIST News Service.

Pashto language is spoken by people in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) of Pakistan and also by the residents of Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).

Christian residents of Taseer Town awoke on Wednesday morning to discover the slogans, “Taliban Zindabad” (Long-Live the Taliban) and “Al-Qaeda Zindabad” (Long Live Al-Qaeda), which are thought to be have been posted by some unidentified people, on the walls of different churches in their town located in Sector 35 Lyari, in the port city of Karachi.

They were so upset that some of them set ablaze tires and blocked the roads, bringing the traffic in the area to a standstill.

Heavy contingents of rangers and police rushed to the scene to disperse the protesting Christians.

Michael Javaid, a former member of the Sindh Provincial Assembly, spoke to ANS from tension-ridden area of Taseer Town apprised ANS that three Christians were injured as firing broke out between law enforcement agencies’ officials and militants at 11:30 am Pakistan time on Wednesday.

He alleged that the police opened fire on protesting Christians instead of protecting them. The injured were taken to Abbasi Shaheed Hospital in Karachi.

One of the injured, Imran Masih, received a bullet to his head and was rush to the hospital where his condition is said to be “critical.” The other two injured Christian men were later identified as Qudus Masih and Irfan Masih.

ANS has discovered that Qudus received an injury to his arm. Javaid, who visited the injured in the hospital, said the medics had plastered Qudus arm. He apprehended that the Christian man would have arm-disability all his life.

Three houses of Christians in the Taseer Town have also been burned. ANS could not ascertain what caused fire.

Javaid told ANS the police “manhandled protesting Christian men and women,” adding that the police removed the Christian women from the protest site by “pulling them from their hair.”

He claimed suspected militants also forced their entry into a church in the area and “desecrated Bibles.”

Javaid said he witnessed rangers removing slogans in favour of Pakistani Taliban and Al-Qaeda from the walls of churches.

Asked if the police have registered First Information Report (FIR) against assailants, Michael said the police have instead arrested two Christian men and four workers of Pakistan Peoples Party, who he said had come to express their solidarity with the Christians from their nearby office.

Recent attack on Christians and churches by Islamists comes about three months as two churches in Karachi were attacked on New Year’s Eve.

The incident has sparked fear and uncertainty among the Christian residents of Karachi. The tense situation has prompted several Christian women to flee their homes.

Asked if this was beginning of the “Talibanization of Karachi,” he said that a sizable number of Taliban had entered the city “in an attempt to press their demands of enforcing Sharia Justice System in the Sindh Province.

He termed the sketching of walls of churches in Karachi with slogans backing Taliban and Al-Qaeda as a “conspiracy” to slap Sharia Justice System on Pakistani Christians.

When ANS drew his attention to Taliban’s taking control of Buner district which is only 96 kilometers (60 miles) from capital Islamabad, he said they (Taliban) were bent upon enforcing Sharia Justice System across Pakistan.

He pointed out that the Taliban in Orakzai, located at border of the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan, had already started demanding Jaziya (Minority tax) from Sikhs there.

“I fear the Taliban will start demanding minority tax from Pakistani Christians too,” he said.

He added: “Christians are not a ‘conquered community.’ They are not supposed to pay any minority tax.”

Javaid appealed to Pakistan President, Asif Ali Zardari, and Prime Minister, Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani, to ensure protection of the lives and properties of Pakistani Christians

Report from the Christian Telegraph

COLOMBIA: SIX MONTHS LATER, PASTOR STILL MISSING


The Rev. William Reyes’ wife awaits word, fears for safety of her children.

INDIANAPOLIS, Indiana, March 23 (Compass Direct News) – Six months after the disappearance in Colombia of the Rev. William Reyes of Maicao, La Guajira, no one knows what happened to him.

This week marks six months of agonizing uncertainty for the family of Rev. Reyes. On Sept. 25, 2008, the pastor of Light and Truth Inter-American Church disappeared en route home from a ministers’ meeting in Valledupar, a city in the neighboring department (state) of Cesar.

Family members and friends fear that guerrilla fighters kidnapped the veteran minister; they have not seen or heard from him since his disappearance. Rev. Reyes and colleagues in the Fraternity of Evangelical Pastors of Maicao had received repeated threats from illegal armed groups operating in the La Guajira peninsula since March 2008.

Guerrillas or their paramilitary rivals may have assassinated Rev. Reyes and disposed of his body, and some observers even speculate that he may have fallen victim to rogue units of the Colombian army that murder innocent civilians to inflate the body counts of “terrorists” killed in battle.

But nobody knows for sure what happened to the 41-year-old father of three – William, 19, Luz Nelly, 17 and Estefania, 9. His wife and children live with gnawing fear and uncertainty.

“Some days I feel so desperate, I don’t know what to do,” Idia Miranda de Reyes told Compass by telephone from her home in Maicao. Through tears, she added, “My daughter Estefania helps me stay strong. She tells me, ‘Mama, don’t cry,’ remember that God is with us.’”

Tensions heightened for the Reyes family on Feb. 19, when armed men entered another Maicao church just a few blocks from the Light and Truth Church while worship was in progress and forcibly removed a woman from the congregation. The pastor of the church refused to disclose the victim’s identity or discuss the circumstances of her disappearance, citing concerns for the safety of the woman, her family and other members of his congregation.

Such caution is understandable in Colombia, a country that suffers the highest incidence of kidnapping in the Western Hemisphere and a homicide rate 11 times greater than in the United States.

Six months of silence in regard to her husband’s fate, coupled with this new threat to her community, has made Idia Miranda Reyes justifiably fearful for her family’s safety. Moreover, she now faces financial hardship. The Truth and Light Church kept her on the payroll until Feb. 15, when the congregation appointed a new minister to replace her husband.

She is considering a move to another city to be near her extended family but wants to wait until her daughter, Luz Nelly, graduates from high school this spring. For now, the family survives on donations from friends and church members.

“We know that God is doing something through this,” Reyes said. “I don’t understand what that is, but I’m going to keep trusting Him.”

The Reyes family has received moral support from the Christian community in Colombia. On Oct. 4, 2008, thousands of marchers from Maicao’s churches held a public demonstration to protest the disappearance of Rev. Reyes and demand his immediate release.

The march produced the only clue to his fate. Following the demonstration, the minister’s wallet turned up inside the church building with his identification documents intact. His wife took that as a message that he was still alive and that his captors would be contacting her soon.

That has not happened. But such delay tactics are not unusual in Colombian kidnapping cases, according to Michael Joseph of the Commission for Restoration, Life and Peace of the Evangelical Council of Colombia.

“It’s disconcerting that we have received no ransom request,” Joseph said. “It means he could have been killed. On the other hand, we do know that Rev. Reyes had been receiving extortion threats by phone and text message from months before he disappeared. So really it’s anybody’s guess.”

Joseph traveled to Maicao last October to interview Rev. Reyes’ wife on behalf of the commission, which then mounted a public letter-writing campaign together with Justapaz, a Mennonite Church-affiliated organization based in Bogotá. Concerned citizens petitioned the office of Attorney General Dr. Mario Iguarán to “take all steps necessary to locate Pastor Reyes and to protect his family,” and the organizations are still urging people worldwide to write to the Colombian official. A model letter can be found at http://www.justapaz.org/spip.php?article114 .

At press time, law enforcement authorities had not responded to the petition, but this is not unusual for kidnapping cases in Colombia. The attorney general’s office reportedly faces a backlog of 1 million unsolved homicides, abductions and other serious crimes.

General lawlessness in some areas of the country means that Colombians often face retaliation from the same criminals who murder or kidnap loved ones, should they dare report such crimes to the authorities as Rev. Reyes’ wife has done. She lives in fear as she awaits word of her missing husband.

“I have three kids, and I am very fearful for them,” she said. “If it were not for the solace the Lord gives me, I would go crazy. I am trusting in God alone.”

Report from Compass Direct News

 

 

CHURCH ASKS FOR PRAYER AFTER TRAGIC SHOOTING OF ITS PASTOR


Following Sunday’s tragic shooting of its pastor, Dr. Fred Winters, during the early morning service at the First Baptist Church in Maryville, Illinois, the church website has issued a statement.

Under the headline, “A Message About Today’s Loss,” it reads:

“Today, a little after our 8:15 service began, a man entered First Baptist Church and fired several gunshots at our Senior Pastor, Dr. Fred Winters. Pastor Winters was taken to the hospital but died of his wounds.

“Please pray for Dr. Winter’s family, our two brave members who were injured when they stopped the assailant, for the assailant himself and his family, and for our church members as they deal with this tragic loss.

“In this day, where uncertainty seems to abound creating an environment in which people are vulnerable in doing things they might not do otherwise, one thing is certain, we, as human beings need a foundation upon which we can live our lives. We at First Baptist Maryville, along with other Christian believers, share this conviction: that foundation is God’s Word. In the pages of the Book we call the Bible, we find the pathway for peace, hope, and a quality of living life despite what circumstances we find ourselves in.

“To those who believe in the power of prayer, we covet your prayers right now.”

The message then gave some “Prayer Service Information” which said, “Due to the limited size of the auditorium at Metro Community Church, our prayer service this evening will be reserved for our members only. We would appreciate everyone continuing to pray for those injured in the attack this morning and their families and for our church as we deal with this tragic loss.

Report from the Christian Telegraph

ARREST WARRANT ISSUED FOR SUDAN’S PRESIDENT OVER DARFUR


The Hague issued a warrant for the arrest of Sudan’s President, Omar al-Beshir, over the trouble in Darfur. He becomes the first sitting head of state to be charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity, reports MNN.

The International Criminal Court wants answers from Mr. Bashir for a range of crimes, including the attempt to destroy ethnic groups deemed to be supporting rebel factions.

In addition, there are worries that the warrant could worsen Sudan’s deadly conflicts and raises issues of double standards.

Todd Nettleton with Voice of the Martyrs says Khartoum’s response is not encouraging. “It’s not promising that their initial step was to kick out aid workers who are helping to meet the needs of the Sudanese people. That really shows that their interest is not in having the Sudanese people better taken care of; their interest really is in making a point to the international community: ‘We didn’t like this. We’re going to strike back at you.’”

The death toll from the trouble in Darfur is at nearly 300,000 since rebels began fighting with the government in 2003. The United Nations estimates the internal displacement at nearly 2.5 million Darfuris.

Although Darfur’s issues were separate from those that engulfed the rest of the country in civil war, the warrant issue seems to have and an unexpected unifying effect.

A referendum is slated for 2011 to determine whether or not the South, which is mainly Christian, should remain a part of Sudan.

However, now there is animosity aimed at all things deemed “Western,” which includes Christianity. Nettleton says that animosity raises the stakes for their ministry partners. “Times of uncertainty and of unsettledness can be great times of revival as people think about eternity. They think about things beyond their government, and so that can be a time of spiritual awakening. We need to pray that that will happen also.” Keep praying for the ministry teams as they work to share the hope of Christ during a tense time in Sudan.

Report from the Christian Telegraph

IRAN: SON OF MARTYRED PASTOR FREE ON BAIL, AWAITING TRIAL


Uncertainty remains about condition of Christian charged with ‘propaganda.’

LOS ANGELES, November 10 (Compass Direct News) – Concerns about the health and safety of the son of martyred Iranian pastor Hossein Soodmand are swirling around Ramtin Soodmand as he awaits trial for “promoting anti-government propaganda.”

Soodmand was released on bail Oct. 22 after more than two months in a Mashhad prison, having originally been charged with “proselytizing.”

Before turning himself in to police in Mashhad on Aug. 21, Soodmand received a call from Fershteh Dibaj, the daughter of another Christian martyr, Mehdi Dibaj, telling him that intelligence officers wanted to meet with him. Puzzled, Soodmand asked, “Why do they want me to come there? I am living in Tehran,” according to a family member. (Compass earlier reported incorrectly that Soodmand was ordered to go from Mashhad to Tehran.)

Expecting Soodmand to be in Mashhad for no more than two days, family members told Compass that they were shocked when he remained in prison.

A family member also expressed frustration that the court repeatedly changed the bail amount before finally settling on $22,000. Soodmand’s in-laws put the deed to their home up to ensure bail.

Soodmand has been officially charged with “promoting anti-government propaganda.” But with a new penal code under consideration in Iranian Parliament this month that would mandate capital punishment for “apostates,” or those who leave Islam, friends and family worry that he may face the death penalty. A family member told Compass that the court had originally accused Soodmand of religious activity and proselytizing.

His father, the last Iranian Christian convert from Islam executed by the Iranian government, was accused of working as “an American spy.” Since then at least six Protestant pastors have been assassinated by unknown killers.

Friends and relatives of Soodmand questioned his treatment while in prison. One source told Compass that he asked about Soodmand’s health on three separate phone conversations. “The government cut off the phone three times,” the source said.

A source closely following the case said that when he asked Soodmand about his treatment in prison, he responded, “No place on [my] body is hurting.” That source believed Soodmand was saying that he had recovered from being tortured.

Another source interested in the case told Compass, “It’s odd that Mitra [Soodmand’s wife] and Ramtin were only allowed to talk by phone. She never saw his face the whole time he was in prison.”

A family friend said he believes that no physical harm was done to Soodmand, telling Compass, “Ramtin was abused emotionally by being interrogated many times but was never beaten. He was taken to a room where he was told his father had spoken his last words before being executed.”

While there are many questions about Soodmand’s treatment, those close to the family agree that Soodmand has suffered during this ordeal.

“He [Soodmand] asks for prayer because he was badly shaken,” a source told Compass.

Soodmand’s father was executed by the state in 1990, and there is speculation that Ramtin Soodmand may have been singled out because of the relationship.

“I am not sure, but … once something like this happens for you in your family, you are ‘marked,’” said a source closely following the case.

Under the past three decades of Iran’s Islamist regime, hundreds of citizens who have left Islam and become Christians have been arrested for weeks or months, held in unknown locations and subjected to mental and physical torture.

The arrests of Iranian Christians in the last few months have deeply affected churches in Iran. “There is less trust among the believers,” a friend of Soodmand’s said to Compass. “They are suspicious of outsiders or newcomers because they could be ‘moles.’”

The friend also reported that the activities of house churches he works with have been sharply curtailed because many members believe they are under surveillance.

A family member is concerned for the Christians living in Mashhad.

“We got news from Iran that the intelligence service in Mashhad arrested 15 Christian people,” he told Compass last week.

Report from Compass Direct News

PAKISTAN MINORITIES WILL CONTINUE FIGHTING FOR REPEAL OF BLASPHEMY LAWS


Reiterating his pledge to continue mounting efforts for a repeal of Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy laws, Shahbaz Bhatti, the Chairman of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA) has assured the family of a blasphemy-accused that the APMA would not rest until release of Dr. Robin, a Pakistani Christian homeopathic doctor who was arrested in May 2008 after he was accused of blasphemy.

Dr. Robin was accused of passing derogatory remarks against the beard of Prophet Muhammad.

He is currently detained in Gujranawala jail. Dr. Robin’s family was forced to go into hiding as the family members of the accused cannot stay at their home after the stigma of blasphemy has been slapped on any of their family members.

The family of Dr. Robin and some 20 Christian residents of district Hafizabad had come to see the APMA Chief; Mr. Shahbaz Bhatti, after Dr. Robin was accused of blasphemy. They apprised him of the insecurity they had become exposed to after Robin was implicated in a blasphemy case.

The APMA has been extending financial support to the family as well as free legal aid to Dr. Robin since the occurrence of alleged blasphemy by Dr. Robin.

The family of the accused including Veenus, 50, Tariq 42, Waseem Bhatti, 32 and Francis Masih, a relative of Dr. Robin came to the APMA office in Islamabad on October 3, 2008.

Describing the fear and uncertainty that gripped the family members following leveling of blasphemy charges on Dr. Robin, Waseem told ANS that they felt as if a roof had been snatched from them.

“We felt secure after we met the APMA Chief Shahbaz Bhatti,” he said.

“We wanted our voice to be raised. We were desperately looking for someone to steer us out of the problem we were confronting. We were praying for some help. We prayed to God and we knew our prayers were heard when we met Shahbaz Bhatti”, said Waseem.

The young Christian man went on to say that fears of sorts were assailing the family’s mind after detention of Dr. Robin. They (fears) left us disturbed and helpless all the more, he said.

After incarceration of Dr. Robin, he said the family had lost the breadwinner and they were not in a position of hiring a lawyer.

“You need a lawyer to defend you even in a simple dispute. We knew we had to hire a competent defense counsel for Dr. Robin. It was again Mr. Shahbaz who extended free legal aid for Dr. Robin”, said Waseem as tears ran down his cheeks.

Waseem, who works as an animator in a local Non Governmental Organization (NGO) feared that it had become virtually impossible for Dr. Robin to run his clinic at the same locality.

He also ruled out possibility of any of his family members staying at the same place after leveling of blasphemy accusations on Dr. Robin.

“His (Dr. Robin’s) family members are living in hiding. They have been able to find a roof above their heads with the help the APMA Chief extended to the family but you still feel alienated. You take time to settle down at a new place. You continue to live a tension-ridden life”, he said.

“The children of Dr. Robin have been robbed of fatherly love. Michael Rose, the youngest of Dr. Robin’s children used to stay in a hostel. He does not feel comfortable staying at the hostel now”, said Waseem.

In response to a question he said that during this period of tribulation Dr. Robin had emerged as a strong Christian. He said his (Dr. Robin’s) belief in Christ had only become stronger.

Tariq, a relative of Dr. Robin told ANS that Dr. Robin wished to be released as soon as possible.

He said the incident had come as a big jolt to the children of Dr. Robin.

He said they had not been able to concentrate on their studies fully after Robin was arrested by the police.

Francis, brother-in-law of Dr. Robin called for repeal of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.

Citing his talks with a couple of Muslim friends, he said that they were of the view that the law should be repealed.

“My Muslim friends admitted that a thorough investigation should be made before lodging of a blasphemy-related Police First Information Report (FIR)”, said Tariq.

Tariq disclosed that he had been able to record a conversation between the complainant and some family members of Dr. Robin in which the complainant tried to do a “deal” with the family of the accused.

According to Tariq, the complainant said that he would withdraw charges against Dr. Robin if his family agreed to pay him money.

He claimed he recorded the conversation on September 19, a day ahead of the hearing of Dr. Robin’s case in a lower court.

Echoing a grave concern of Pakistani Christians, who like their fellow Muslim Pakistanis want their concerns to be highlighted on national and print media, Tariq said that Dr. Robin’s case only drew marginal coverage of the incident.

Lashing out at the police he alleged that the police failed to provide adequate security to Dr. Robin’s family.

“If the Police had provided security to Dr. Robin’s family and his vulnerable relatives then they might have decided to continue staying in Hafizabad but in the absence of any such security the family was forced to go into hiding”, he said.

In an apparent bid to support his disbelief in the police, he said that police did not take initiative for rescuing Dr. Robin’s family “rather some local Christians entered Dr. Robin’s home at about 3 am and rescued the family members who had become prone to attack by the angry Muslim residents of Hafizabad”.

“Do you want us to jump into fire”, he quoted a police official as saying, who Tariq and other Christian residents of the area wanted to rescue Dr. Robin’s family members.

Post-arrest situation

Tariq said when he and some other members of Dr. Robin’s family went to Dr. Robin’s place to collect some clothes, books and some other daily use items they saw a “shocking scene”.

“Not even a single thing was at its place. There were visible signs of human presence at Dr. Robin’s house. It was not hard to conclude that some people have been living at Dr. Robin’s house. We saw crumbs of bread, chicken bones, and unwashed dishes.

Dr. Robin’s house had been ransacked”, said Tariq, who looked scared while sketching the ransacked home of Dr. Robin.

He said that the lower court rejected a post-arrest bail petition, prompting the APMA to file a petition in Lahore High Court.

Asked who could have inhabited Dr. Robin’s house after his arrest and exiting of his family members, Tariq said that the fundamentalist Muslims of the area could have maintained their presence at Dr. Robin’s house. Nobody could have dared entering Dr. Robin’s home if the police had been vigilant, he said.

Tariq disclosed that a small but angry Muslim crowd took out a rally in a bid to pressurize the court.

He said that participants of the rally were holding placards, which were inscribed with slogans, “Give death to Dr. Robin.”

He disclosed that the witnesses at a court hearing had submitted their written version on legal papers that Dr. Robin did not commit blasphemy.

He said he learned that Dr. Robin’s lawyer also gave precedents of post-arrest bails granted to blasphemy accused in the past “but even then the judge did not grant post-arrest bail to Dr. Robin”.

Talking to the APMA Chief, Mr. Shahbaz Bhatti, Veenus said that recording of the alleged conversation between the complainant and some family members further angered the local Muslims.

Thanking Mr. Shahbaz, she said she was optimistic that Dr. Robin would soon be home due to the APMA’s efforts.

She said: “I urge the Christians across the world to pray for release of my husband from prison. I cannot give fatherly love to my children. We want him back as soon as possible”, she said while talking to the APMA Chief”.

The APMA Chief told ANS that he was going to urge authorities to do an in-camera trial of Dr. Robin for security purposes. An application in this regard would be moved soon, he said.

He assured the family of the accused that Dr. Robin would soon be with them.

“The APMA is concerned. It (APMA) has been since leveling of the blasphemy accusations on Dr. Robin. We stand by you at this critical juncture in Robin’s and your life,” Shahbaz told the family of Dr. Robin who had come to see him at his office in Islamabad.

“It is the case of entire Christian community. When children of Dr. Robin talk to me by phone, I could feel the agony in their voices. I understand what they are living through. The APMA will do all it can to ensure expedient release of Dr. Robin”, said Shahbaz.

“We understand that the Pakistan blasphemy laws are being misused to settle personal scores. Religious enmity, prejudice and intolerance have been found behind filing of blasphemy cases in the past”, he maintained.

“God will move in His own mysterious way. Dr. Robin will be with you soon”, the APMA Chief told Dr. Robin’s spouse, Veenus.

Shahbaz reiterated his pledge that the APMA would continue to extend free legal aid to the blasphemy accused.

He said the APMA would continue to struggle until the blasphemy laws are repealed.

A person is reduced to the status of a refugee in his country after blasphemy allegations are leveled against him, said Shahbaz implying to the threats the accused and his family receive after slapping of blasphemy charges.

Responding a question, he said the APMA had been providing free legal aid and shelter to the blasphemy-accused since the abuse of the law became rampant in Pakistan.

The APMA, he said, wants to see the controversial laws abolished. He disclosed that he wanted to table a bill in parliament in a bid to either get the laws repealed or see them significantly amended.

He appealed to the Christians across the world to pray for the APMA and Pakistani Christians.

“I thank you for your previous prayers and support. We need your prayers to be able to continue fighting for the rights of the marginalized and the down-trodden Pakistani Christians and other minorities”, he said.

Dubbing Pakistan blasphemy laws as a death warrant in the hands of extremists, Shahbaz called for the repeal of the law, which he said had done more harm than good since their introduction in 1986.

Report from the Christian Telegraph