Christian Who Fled Iran Wins Asylum in Kenya


Judge rules Iranian convert from Islam requires protection from persecutors.

NAIROBI, Kenya, March 15 (CDN) — Mohammad Azbari, a Christian convert  from Islam who has fled to Kenya, knows what it’s like to be deported back to his native Iran.

When it happened in 2007, he said, Iranian authorities pressured the government of Norway to return him and his wife Gelanie Azbari to Iran after hearing rumors that he had forsaken Islam.  

“When we arrived in Iran, we were interrogated by security and severely beaten,” he told Compass in Nairobi, where he and his family fought to persuade the Kenyan government to decline Iran’s demand to deport him back. “My son got scared and began urinating on himself.”

A cousin managed to secure their release, but not before Iranian authorities had taken valuable – and incriminating – possessions.

“They took everything that I had – laptop, camera and some of my valuables which contained all my details, such as information concerning my baptism, and my entire profile, including that of my family,” Azbari said.

Azbari had been employed in the Iranian army before fleeing, he said, and authorities were monitoring his movements because they were concerned that, having left Islam, he might betray his country and reveal government secrets.

When he and his Christian wife, a native of the Philippines, first fled Iran in 2000, he was still a Shia Muslim. The previous year authorities had arrested his wife after finding a Christmas tree in their house in Tehran; Azbari was not home at the time and thus escaped arrest, but as authorities took his wife away they left their then 3-year-old son unattended.

“I was put in a small cell for two days,” Gelanie Azbari told Compass, through tears. “While in the cell two police guards raped me. It was the worst of all the nights I have had in my lifetime. Since that time I have been sick both physically and mentally.”

Authorities soon took her husband in for interrogation, suspecting he was a spy for foreign states.

Still a Muslim, Azbari allowed his wife to follow her Christian faith. He had grown accustomed to watching her pray as a Christian and watch the Jesus Film. As time went by, he developed an urge to embrace Christianity. They started reading the Bible together.

The idea of trusting in and following Christ filled him with fear, as it was against the law to convert from Islam – it would mean losing his life, he said.

“I started questioning our leaders, who see themselves as God,” he said. “The claim of Jesus as the prophet as well as the Word and spirit of God is indicated in the Quran. When I read in the Gospels of Jesus giving people rest, it made me want to decide to accept him as my Lord and Savior.”

Sensing danger, the family fled to the Netherlands in 2000, and it was there that Azbari embraced Christianity. In 2003 the family left the Netherlands for Norway.

Azbari was an avid student of his new-found Lord; while in Norway, he became seminary teacher of Christology.

Throughout, Azbari said, the Iranian government had been monitoring his movements. In 2007 Iranian officials persuaded the Norwegian government to send him, together with his wife and son Reza Azbari, back to Iran.

After their interrogation and mistreatment upon arrival in Iran, Azbari managed to call his sister, who connected him with the army general cousin who helped secure their release. His sister took them in, but his brother in-law was not happy with their Christian prayers; he began quarreling with his wife, Azbari’s sister.

“They began looking for trouble for us,” Azbari said. “Sensing danger, we then left the home and went to find a place to stay. Everywhere we tried to book in we were rejected, since we were people who had been deported.”

They began attending a church made up primarily of foreigners, where Azbari’s wife and son felt more at home than he did. His army general cousin found out and, angry that they had sought refuge in a church after he had secured their release, grew furious.

“He was very angry, as they had also discovered this information from the laptop they had confiscated and threatened that I should be arrested,” Azbari said. “I then decided to move to central Iran to look for employment, leaving my family behind.”

The couple felt they could not go to Gelanie Azbari’s homeland as the Philippines has such friendly relations with Iran, he said.

“To go back to Philippines or Iran is quite unsafe for us,” Azbari said.

In October 2009, his sister notified him that police were looking for him and his family.

“I then decided to flee the country through Turkey, then to Kenya where I was arrested and then deported to Turkey,” Azbari said. “In Turkey they could not allow me to enter the country, hence I was returned to Kenya.”

They were arrested in January for illegal entry into Kenya. On March 4, a judge at Chief Magistrate Court No. 3 of Kenya dropped the charges against him, declaring that Azbari required international protection from his persecutors. The court also directed that Azbari be given back all his documents and the 10,000 Kenyan Shillings ($US130) in bail he had deposited.

They had applied for asylum with the United Nations. Appearing before the court on behalf of Azbari on Jan. 15, a representative of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees had argued that he deserved asylum because his religious status had forced him to flee from his country of origin. On March 4 the court found that Azbari and his family require international protection under Section 82 of the laws of Kenya, and he was set free.

“We have witnessed the love of God and the sacrifices of what it means to love one in word and deed,” Azbari said moments after the decision. “We saw the love of Christ from the people who understood and stood with us.”

He thanked friends who introduced his family to Nairobi Pentecostal Church, which provided them spiritual strength. Three attorneys represented Azbari: Wasia Masitsa, a legal officer for the Urban Refugee Intervention Program; Christian lawyer John Swaka; and Laban Osoro of the United Nations. Rene Kiamba of the International Christian Chamber of Commerce had helped him post bail.

Report from Compass Direct News 

India Briefs: Recent Incidents of Persecution


UTTARAKHAND, India, November 3 (CDN) — Hindu extremists from the Bajrang Dal on Oct. 25 disrupted the Sunday worship of a Ministry of the Gospel service in Rudrapur and accused the pastor of forceful conversion. The Evangelical Fellowship of India reported that the extremists barged into the worship service led by Pastor Victor Massey, tore Bibles and took all Christian literature. They threatened to attack anew if the congregation continued to meet for worship, adding that they would force Hindu rituals on them. Ministry of the Gospel leader S.K. Puri told Compass that church officials reported the matter to the district collector and superintendent of police, but when Hindu nationalists heard about the complaint they accosted Pastor Massey on Oct. 30 and again threatened to force Hindu rituals on the congregation. Christian leaders have asked local authorities to provide police protection.

Karnataka – A mob of about 50 Hindu extremists attacked a church on Oct. 25 in old Hubli, burning Bibles and Christian literature. The Evangelical Fellowship of India reported that at about 11 a.m. the Hindu hardliners barged into the prayer meeting of Assembly of God Church and dragged out Pastor David Raj. The attack reportedly began after an unidentified man in attendance repeatedly went in and out of the church building; he was requested to remain sitting so as not to disturb the sermon. The man left and returned with 50 extremists, led by area Bajrang Dal leader Jayathirtha Kati. After the Hindu extremists verbally abused the church members, set fire to the Christian literature and dragged the pastor out to the street, local police arrived and, as is customary in India, detained the victims. They took the pastor, his wife and two church members to the police station and only with local Christian leaders’ intervention were the Christians released at about 5 p.m.

Assam – Hindu extremists and the head of Dayung village called a meeting on Oct. 23 to oppose a Christian ministry after a young woman who became a Christian refused to renounce her faith, a source told Compass. Tara Sabha’s family beat and disowned her after she told the village council that she would not leave Christianity at any cost, the source said. Sabha had received Christ earlier in October. The source told Compass that Hindu extremists held Enosh Lepcha of First Evangelical Church Association of India (FECAI) responsible for the conversion, and on Oct. 23 they and the village head called a public meeting in which they threatened a social boycott if the ministry continued its activities. FECAI’s Abbay Pradhan told Compass that due to extremist pressure, the ministry has stopped many activities.

Andhra Pradesh – Suspected Hindu extremists set fire to India Mission Society Church in Warrangal on Oct. 22, damaging more than half of the building. The Global Council of Indian Christians reported that unidentified people set the church building ablaze at about 2 a.m. Pastor P. Kumarswamy contacted the fire department, which arrived after more than half of the building had been destroyed. Police registered a First Information Report, and an investigation is underway.

Karnataka – Hindu nationalists forced an evangelist and other Christians to go to a police station on false charges of forcible conversion on Oct. 21 after barging into the church leader’s home and demanding money for a Hindu festival in Undedasarahalli, Chikamaglur district. The Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) reported that Hindu radicals leveled the charges after evangelist Kumar Nayak of the Assemblies of God refused to give a donation for the Diwali festival. Nayak and his family were about to leave home for the last of a three-day prayer meeting when nearly 30 extremists led by Prakash Nayak forcibly entered their house and tried to force them to give money for the Hindu rite. The intolerant Hindus verbally abused them, warning that they would not be allowed to stay in the village, and forced Nayak, his wife Bembitha, 52-year-old widow Lalitha Bai and her three children to go to the Banavara police station and filed a complaint. With GCIC intervention, all but Kumar Nayak were released at 11:30 p.m., with the evangelist detained until midnight on condition of reporting to the police station at 9 a.m. the next morning. After extensive questioning the next day, Nayak was released at 4 p.m. without being charged.

Andhra Pradesh – Hindu extremists on Oct. 18 attacked a worship service in Hyderabad, beating a pregnant woman and her child and seriously injuring a pastor’s ear. The Global Council of Indian Christians reported that about 15 people from the Hindu extremist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh barged into the service led by Pastor Siluvai Kumar and two others pastors, verbally abused the Christians and accused them of forceful conversion. The intolerant Hindus tore and threw Bibles and damaged the church facility, including musical instruments. The Hindu extremists later dragged a pastor identified only as Timothy to Kukatpally police station and filed a false charge of urinating on nearby temple idols. With the intervention of the local Christian leaders, police summoned the attackers to the police station, where the parties reached an agreement in which the extremists apologized to the Christians and pledged not to attack them.

Uttar Pradesh – On Oct. 15 Hindu extremists from the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council) in Pratap Garh accused Pastor Sunil Singh of the Full Gospel Church of fraudulent conversion and threatened to kill him if his church continues its worship services. A source told Compass that the extremists went to the pastor’s house to deliver the threat. The Hindu hardliners filed a police complaint against the pastor of offering money to people to convert to Christianity. Police summoned the pastor to the police station for questioning, and an investigation was underway.

Andhra Pradesh – Hindu extremists on Oct. 13 stopped construction of a Methodist church building and verbally abused Pastor M. Gabriel in Nizamabad. The All India Christian Council (AICC) reported that the Hindu extremists along with the village head, Vital Reddy, were responsible for the hostilities. The pastor filed a police complaint charging harassment and contacted the district collector and superintendent of police, but no action had been taken at press time. An AICC representative told Compass that the pastor has stopped church construction to avoid further disturbances.

Karnataka – State police on Oct. 10 arrested Christians on false charges of forcible conversion in Gowdigere village, Hubli, Dharwad district. The Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) reported that at 9 a.m. about 30 local Hindu nationalists barged into the house of a Christian woman identified only as Venkatamma just after the end of a prayer service. The extremists falsely accused Friends Missionary Prayer Band Mission Pastor Murthy Nayak Ganesh and evangelist Chandrakanth Gopanna Lambani of fraudulently luring people to Christianity. Later the extremists forced the Christians to the village temple, and then telephoned Kundugol police who came to the temple and took the Christians to the station, charging them “punishment of criminal conspiracy,” among others. With GCIC intervention, the pastors were released on Oct. 12, but it was not clear at press time whether charges were still pending.

Punjab – Hindu extremists in Samral Chowk, Ludhiana on Oct. 6 severely beat and stabbed a Christian worker, according to the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI). At About 7:30 a.m. Vijay Kumar, an Indian Pentecostal Church worker and a former student of Punjab Bible College, was distributing gospel tracts when five Hindu extremists arrived in a vehicle with a non-numbered license plate and forced him into it. Beating and stabbing him with a knife in his chest and leg while taking him to different sites, they questioned him about how much money he had received to become a Christian and asked with which Christian groups he was associated, EFI reported. They later took him to a jungle and continued torturing him. A Christian search team began looking for Kumar at 7:30 p.m., and at 2 a.m. that night they received a phone call from him saying the assailants had taken him back to his village and thrown him from the running vehicle. He was taken to Christian Medical College with severe injuries but was recovering well. A complaint was filed at Shingaar police station, but no arrests had been made at press time.

Chhattisgarh – Hindu extremists attacked a pastor and his family and later accused them of forced conversion and other false charges in Jyotipur village, Bilaspur district. Pastor Markus Das of the Assembly of God Church on Oct. 4 went to visit a family in Sadwani village along with his wife and children. On their way back their van had a flat tire, and as his friend Atul Arthur gave them a ride home, a group of people from the Rathore community – closely aligned with the Hindu extremist Bajrang Dal – attacked them. They accused Pastor Das of forcible conversion and tried to drag him and others out of the vehicle, causing minor injuries. They damaged the vehicle, smashing the windows. Pastor Das and his family managed to escape, but the next morning when he went back to pick up his van, he was told that the forest department had confiscated his vehicle after allegedly finding illegal wood in it. Pastor Das said the Rathore community set a trap. “They broke the front windshield of my car and planted the wood in my car when I was away,” he said. A First Information Report has been filed against Pastor Das indicting him for forced conversion and carrying illegal wood, and the pastor has filed an FIR against members of the Rathore Community in the Gorala police station.

Chhattisgarh – Hindu extremists in Raipur on Oct. 3 tried to pressure a Christian family into giving up their faith. The extremists also threatened to publicly dishonor Pastor Kamlakar Roa Bokade by filing charges of forcible conversion against him if he did not stop visiting the family of Modichandan Sahu, a convert who has regularly attended worship services for the past 15 years. Modichandan Sahu’s two daughters had married non-Christians under social pressure, and one of her sons-in-law, Bhuwan Sahu, a member of the Hindu extremist Bharatiya Janata Party, cut off relations with his in-laws several years ago because of his opposition to Christianity. Hindu extremists led by Bhuwan Sahu on Oct. 3 stormed Motichandan’s house, pressured her to give up her faith and tried to force her into Hindu ceremonies and ritual. The next day he began threatening Pastor Bokade, telling him by cell phone that they would frame him for forceful conversion. The Chhattisgarh Christian Forum has notified police of the harassment.

Kerala – Hindu extremist Bharatiya Janata Party newspaper The Janmabhumi Daily forced sub-editor Sredevi Nair to resign from her job on Oct. 1 after management learned that she had received Jesus Christ. Nair resigned two days before her baptism, reported The Indian Catholic. The managing editor of the Janmabhumi daily, Kummanam Rajasekharan, reportedly called her during work hours and said it was not possible for a convert to continue with the newspaper. The Indian Catholic reported that Rajasekharan urged Nair to convert her Christian husband to Hinduism and have a marriage ceremony at a Hindu temple. The Indian Express quoted Janmabhumi Editor Leela Menon as saying that that she was against conversion, and that Nair was trying to malign the newspaper after her resignation.

Madhya Pradesh – Members of the Hindu extremist Abhinav Bharat on Sept. 28 stormed into a house church in Adhartal, on the outskirts of Jabalpur. The Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) reported that at 12:30 p.m. about 15 of the intolerant Hindus arrived on motorcycles and broke into the house church meeting shouting “Jai Sri Ram [Hail to Lord Ram)” and vandalized the property, including damaging the cross at the entrance. The Hindu extremists threatened 51-year-old Pastor Peter Johnson with further attacks. Pastor Johnson filed a complaint with Adhartal police station in Jabalpur, and police have reportedly forwarded it to the City Superintendent of Police and Collector. GCIC reported that police assured a speedy investigation. The Abhinav Bharat is already under the government scanner for anti-Muslim bomb blasts, and some of their leaders holding government posts are in custody and on trial.

Madhya Pradesh – For the third time, radicals from the minority Jains religion on Sept. 27 attacked and threatened the church of Pastor Mukesh Pal of Rajgarh, Dhar district. About a dozen of the Jains, all members of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, interrupted a worship service of some 500 mainly tribal people and cursed, criticized and accused Christians of fraudulent conversion, eating cow meat and mixing harmful chemicals into anointing oil used for prayers for the sick. The Jains religion advocates non-violence and vegetarianism. After those attending the church service argued with the radicals, the extremists left but returned with five policemen. A doctor was called on the spot to test the prayer oil, and he certified it as chemical-free. Nevertheless, police arrested Pastor Mukesh Pal and Ganpat Goyal, and many from the church followed and stood outside the police station demanding the release of the two Christians. After calls from Christian friends, high-ranking officers ensured that police release the two Christians. Pastor Pal told Compass that the radicals attacked their prayer hall in June 2006, badly damaging it. They arrived again in August 2006, warning the Christians not to hold more services and accusing them of forcible conversion, although they did no physical harm.

Andhra Pradesh – Hindu extremists led by Venkat Reddy attacked a Christian identified only as Abhishek, from Hebron Church, and accused him of forceful conversion on Sept. 25 in Ranga Reddy. The All Indian Christian Council (AICC) reported that the extremists attacked the Christian while he was conducting a Bible school class at Hamamguda, mercilessly beating him and accusing him of organizing the study program to forcibly convert children to Christianity. Abhishek received treatment at Apollo Santoshnagar Hospital, reported AICC. The extremists filed a police complaint against the Christian, but later forced the Christian to agree to stop the Bible program.

Report from Compass Direct News 

EGYPT: THOUSANDS PROTEST, VANDALIZE CHURCH


At least five hurt as rioters stone, burn structure after inauguration of extension.

ISTANBUL, November 26 (Compass Direct News) – Thousands of Muslim protestors on Sunday (Nov. 23) attacked a Coptic church in a suburb of Cairo, Egypt, burning part of it, a nearby shop and two cars and leaving five people injured.

Objecting to a newly constructed extension to the Coptic church of St. Mary and Anba Abraam in Ain Shams, the huge crowd of angry protestors gathered outside the church at around 5 p.m. following a consecration service for the addition earlier that day.

Chanting, “We will demolish the church,” “Islam is the solution” and “No God but Allah,” according to Helmy Guirguis, president of the U.K. Coptic Association, rioters pelted the church with stones and burned part of the structure; priests and worshipers were trapped inside, and five people were injured.

“It was a terrifying moment,” said lawyer Nabil Gobrayel, who was inside the church at the time. “They were shouting ‘holy slogans’ like, ‘We will bring the church down,’, ‘The priest is dead’ and ‘The army of Muhammad is coming.’”

Police slow to arrive were not prepared for the scale of the protest. Angry Muslims swarmed to the area from a two-kilometer radius, and although estimates varied, some suggested as many as 8,000 people gathered.

Rioters’ stones broke the structure’s windows, and a nearby shop and two cars belonging to Christians were set on fire.

Reinforcements for the overwhelmed security forces did not arrive until two hours later and were then engaged in clashes with the mob until the early hours of Monday (Nov. 24) morning.

Armored vehicles brought in riot police, who used tear gas to disperse the crowd while fire services aided their efforts with water cannons.

A United Copts of Great Britain statement suggested that police were slow to arrest perpetrators in the early stages of the demonstration but did eventually detain 41 people around midnight.

Of the 38 Muslims arrested, 30 were quickly released “under the pretext of being minors,” according to the United Copts statement. Three arrested Christians, however, remained in prison without charges.

United Copts also reported that Wael Tahoon, a police officer, was said to be involved in instigating the attacks.

A source told Compass that Pope Shenouda, head of The Holy Synod of the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria, ordered that prayers at the church site be stopped.

According to Gobrayel, the church will be closed for two months while officials consider its future.

 

Opposition from Outset

The newly constructed extension stands on the site of an old factory that was demolished 18 months ago, when the land was purchased using funds raised by donations from the congregation.

When building began, church members were surprised to find that construction of a mosque also started just across the street.

During construction of the church addition, Muslim radicals insulted and harassed workers, issuing death threats and urinating on the structure’s walls.

At 10 a.m. on Sunday (Nov. 23), the morning of the consecration service, the adjacent mosque began broadcasting verses from the Quran at high volume.

According to witnesses, the imam of the mosque justified the unusual broadcasts by saying that they were in celebration of the Muslim festival of Eid. Christians said this would be highly irregular, however, with area parishioners maintaining it was done to provoke them.

 

Government Role

Church leaders had obtained the necessary permits for building the extension, Coptic leaders said, but protestors said the addition was not licensed for prayer and worship.

Christians have found obtaining church building permits from Egyptian authorities rife with obstacles, with many applications never granted.

“The National Assembly cannot make a decision for 15 years about building projects for churches,” said lawyer Naguib Gobrail. “Every time they say, ‘This session we can discuss this project,’ but the session ends and we see nothing. Everything is only a promise.”

In a recent editorial, Youssef Sidhom, editor-in-chief of Egyptian weekly Watani, addressed the inequality of regulations that govern the building of places of worship.

“It now appears obvious that the government has no intention whatsoever of placing the long-awaited bill for a unified law for building places of worship on its agenda,” he wrote. “For four consecutive rounds [of Parliament], the bill has remained shelved despite the need for it to ward off so called sectarian problems that erupt every so often.”

 

Wedding Violence

Advocacy group Voice of the Copts issued a report on Monday (Nov. 24) that, a day before the attack on St. Mary and Anba Abraam, Muslim radicals ambushed a wedding party at a church just 10 minutes away.

A man and woman interrupted the ceremony shouting obscene remarks, according to Voice of the Copts, and when angered wedding guests ushered them outside, the Copts were set upon by a gang of people waiting in a shop across the road. Two were severely injured.

While Christians account for varying estimates of 10 to 15 percent of Egypt’s population and date back to the first century of the faith, churches are still seen as foreign bodies and, in the words of the Ain Shams rioters, an “infidel’s worship house in an Islamic Land.”  

Report from Compass Direct News