Report shows widespread abuses, including murder, rape and forced labor.
DUBLIN, January 19 (CDN) — Burmese soldiers are systematically using forced labor, torture and rape to persecute majority-Christian residents of Chin state in western Burma, according to a report released today.
Entitled, “Life Under the Junta: Evidence of Crimes Against Humanity in Burma’s Chin State,” the report by Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) documented “extraordinary levels of state violence” against the Chin ethnic population in Burma, also called Myanmar.
Due to the influence of U.S. missionaries last century, the Chin are estimated to be 90 percent Christian, and the study indicates that it is therefore difficult to separate religious attacks from ethnic and other human rights abuses. Persecution of Christians is reportedly part of a wider campaign by the Burmese junta to create a uniform society in which the only accepted religion is Buddhism, according a 2007 government memo circulated in Karen state giving instructions on how to drive Christians out of the state.
Respondents who were specifically targeted for their Christian faith and ethnicity said soldiers had threatened them with the destruction of their homes or villages and threatened to harm or kill family members. A total of 71 households from 13 of 90 villages and towns surveyed also said government authorities had destroyed their local church buildings.
The most brutal attacks included the forced conscription, abduction or murder of children under the age of 15, and the rape of men, women and children. Burmese soldiers, locally known as the Tatmadaw, also confiscated food, livestock and other property and forced families to grow the cash crop jatropha, used to produce biofuel, instead of food crops required for basic survival. The study states that this caused many Chin to flee across land borders to India or Bangladesh.
Burmese soldiers were responsible for 94.2 percent of all specifically ethnic and religious incidents in the survey, supporting claims by advocacy organizations such as Christian Solidarity Worldwide that the military government is systematically working to “cleanse” Burma of ethnic and religious minorities.
Government agents also placed votes for Chin residents during national elections last November, warning them that soldiers in a nearby camp were ready to arrest them if they complained, and ordered a church to close after the pastor refused to wear a campaign T-shirt. (See “Burmese Officials Order Closure of Chin Church,” Nov. 18, 2010.)
When asked why the Burmese army acted as it did, 15 percent of respondents answered, “Because we are Christians.” Another 23 percent replied, “To persecute us,” and a further 23 percent said, “Because we are Chin.”
The report confirms evidence submitted to the United Nations for Burma’s Universal Periodic Review, to take place in Geneva from Jan. 24 through Feb. 4, that holds the ruling military junta responsible for widespread abuse of its citizens.
‘Crimes Against Humanity’
PHR and five partner organizations, including the Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO), used scientific methods to carry out the survey in the early months of 2010, training 23 local surveyors to question a random sample of 621 households across all nine townships in Chin state. PHR identified the households only by survey number to protect their identity.
Those interviewed reported a total of 2,951 incidents in the previous 12 months, of which 95 percent were carried out by the Tatmadaw, local government officials, Burmese police or border security forces.
The report made a clear distinction between internationally recognized “crimes against humanity” and general human rights violations. Of the crimes against humanity, the most prevalent was forced labor for 91.9 percent of those surveyed, followed by ethnic-religious persecution at 14 percent. After these crimes came arbitrary arrest, detention or imprisonment at 5.9 percent, abduction at 4.8 percent, torture at 3.8 percent, rape or other sexual violations at 2.8 percent, murder at 1 percent and miscellaneous abuses at 0.2 percent.
As for lesser human rights violations, 52.5 percent of households surveyed reported livestock killed, 50.6 percent were forced to give food, 42.8 percent forced to give money, 12.8 percent had property attacked or destroyed, 11.2 percent had family members beaten and 9.1 percent had family members wounded from gunshots, explosions or deadly weapons.
In many cases, people suffered from the full range of human rights violations.
Six households, or 1 percent of those surveyed, reported family members killed by the Tatmadaw in 2009, with two households reporting multiple family members killed, and two of the victims being under the age of 15. Three of the six households believed they were specifically targeted because of their ethnicity and Christian faith.
An elderly grandfather who spoke to PHR in March 2010 said he felt depressed and helpless after a year when the Tatmadaw killed an 18-year-old family member and forced others in the family to build roads, porter supplies and carry weapons, threatening to kill them if they refused. The military also stole livestock, demanded food supplies, and forced the family to grow a single crop rather than food crops needed for basic survival.
“We dare not refuse the Tatmadaw, as even mothers with little children are beaten,” one respondent said.
Burmese soldiers tortured more than one person in the family of a 46-year-old man, while local government authorities forced them to relinquish livestock, food and money. Seventeen percent of torture victims and 29 percent of rape victims were under the age of 15.
A 36-year-old father of five in Paletwa township said Burmese soldiers had raped more than one member of his family at knifepoint within the past year, arbitrarily detained another member of the household at gunpoint, conscripted a family member into the army and burned down the church that once stood in his village.
In a foreward to PHR’s report, Richard Goldstone, a PHR board member and former U.N. chief prosecutor, and the Rev. Desmond Tutu of Chairman of The Elders, an independent group of prominent global leaders, urged that a U.N. commission of inquiry be established to investigate reports of human rights violations in Burma.
“It is unconscionable that suffering as dire as that of the Chin people under Burma’s dictatorship should be allowed to persist in silence,” they wrote.
They also urged Burma’s immediate neighbors and trade partners to use the occasion of Burma’s Universal Periodic Review to discuss the violations committed in Chin state and elsewhere in Burma, and work towards an alternative ‘roadmap’ to democracy for the Burmese people.
Report from Compass Direct News
Hostilities common in area in Bihar state; victim had been part of team attacked in 2008.
NEW DELHI, May 11 (CDN) — The gruesome nature of the May 2 murder of an evangelist in Bihar state who had no enmity with anyone has led area Christians to suspect anti-Christian motives.
The mutilated body of Ravi Murmu, 32, was found in Jamalpur, Munger district, with the right hand nearly severed by means of a sharp weapon, and the jaw and neck were similarly slashed.
“Efforts were made to chop off his hand and neck, trying to separate it from his body,” Shekhar Kumar, a member of his church, told Compass.
Police are investigating but have made no arrests so far.
“All his belongings were intact, which included his motorbike, Bible, cell phone, wristwatch and some cash,” Murmu’s brother-in-law, Shiv Kumar, told Compass. “This seems to be a planned murder. That is why Ravi was targeted when he was alone. To me the motive seems to be anti-Christian.”
Murmu’s pastor, Yunus Mandal of Bethel Brethren Assembly in Jamalpur, agreed.
“The intention behind the murder evidently is not robbery,” Mandal said. “I am suspicious that Hindu fundamentalists have done this, but this could also be the handiwork of the Naxalites [Maoist rebels].”
Kumar and Murmu’s widow, Rinku Murmu, both said the evangelist had no enmity with anyone, and that anti-Christian sentiment was the only motive they could surmise.
Murmu was returning from showing a film about the life of Jesus, “Dayasagar,” in nearby Lakshmanpur. He had accompanied a team of seven evangelists showing the film but was alone when attacked. The murder is estimated to have taken place between 9:30 and 10 p.m.
He is survived by his wife, 8-year-old daughter Celesty and his widowed mother.
Pastor Mandal’s wife, Mary Mandal, said anti-Christian hostilities are common in the area but did not reach Murmu.
“It is 32 years that my husband is ministering in Jamalpur, and he has faced threats day in and day out,” she told Compass. “But we never imagined such a thing would happen to Ravi.”
About a year and half ago, however, Murmu was attacked along with others in another part of the state, Pastor Mandal said.
“Ravi Murmu, myself and a team of 10 Christians were visiting the Newada area of Bihar, about 160 kilometers [99 miles] from Jamalpur, for the purpose of preaching the gospel,” he said. “There we were attacked by about 15 members of the [Hindu extremist] Bajrang Dal.”
In the assault Pastor Mandal suffered serious injury to his eye, which bled profusely, he said.
“Ravi at that time was also beaten up and sustained injuries on the face and to his teeth,” he said. “They would have killed us, but they found money in our possession worth about 180 U.S. dollars, and so they looted it and fled.”
In 2008, he added, members of the local Hindu student union protested when a family decided to follow Christ after a healing through prayer. But overall, Murmu had amicable relations with everyone, he said.
“Ravi was a very open-hearted, kind, honest, balanced and sensible human being,” Pastor Mandal said. “He was a pearl of our assembly. The loss is immense.”
Police detained two people in connection with the murder but later let them go.
Church members requested that Compass not speak with local police, fearing that resentful officers would further antagonize them; already police have asked pointed questions of the seven others on the evangelism team and of Murmu’s widow, as well as searching their homes, they said.
An autopsy was performed on May 3, but the report has not yet been submitted to police or handed over to the family members, they said.
Rinku Murmu said she and her husband were to celebrate their 11th wedding anniversary on June 23.
She told Compass that her husband had preached Christ in Lakshmanpur for two years.
“He left home as usual but had informed me that he would come home late, as they had plans to show the film about Jesus to the villagers,” she said. “The next morning at 6 o’ clock, someone came home to inform me that a mutilated body has been found and that I should go and identify it. I could not believe it, and I took Pastor Mandal along with me.”
Murmu’s body was found on Margret road, East Colony area of Lakshmanpur, about four kilometers (less than two miles) from his house. One leg was stuck under the motorcycle.
“He was killed ruthlessly,” said Pastor Mandal.
Shekhar Kumar, who was one of the seven team members showing the film that day, told Compass that they had publicized the film for nearly 10 days and had also invited surrounding villagers.
“About 150 to 200 people had gathered to watch the film – there were Christians as well as Hindus,” Kumar said. “The generator broke down in the middle of the film, and even after many efforts we could not repair it.”
The team announced to the gathering that the rest of the film would be continued the next day, and they went home.
“The road divides at one point – one part goes towards Ravi and Pastor Mandal’s house, and the other goes toward Choti Keshavpur village, where the six of us live,” Kumar said. “Departing at that point, we said goodbye to Ravi, and he went alone on that deserted road. It was around 9:30 p.m. at that time.”
Pastor Mandal, who had returned earlier, had taken the same road half an hour ahead of Murmu, he added.
Murmu’s wife told police that she had called her husband’s cell phone at 10 p.m. from a neighbor’s house and he did not answer the call, so police estimated the murder to have taken place between 9:30 and 10 p.m.
“I pray that God would change the hearts of those who have done this,” Rinku Murmu said. “My prayer is that one day they too would carry the cross of Christ and share the Good News.”
Report from Compass Direct News
Freed on bail, Naveed Masih on trial for killing Muslim in Islamist attack on Gojra.
LAHORE, Pakistan, December 29 (CDN) — A Pakistani Christian accused of killing a Muslim during the Aug. 1 Islamist attack on Christians in Gojra said he was arrested and tortured only because he was a key witness of the mob assault that left at least seven Christians burned to death.
Naveed Masih, released on bail on Wednesday (Dec. 23), told Compass that several Muslims have offered him large amounts of money to alter his testimony regarding the assault in Gojra, 50 kilometers (31 miles) from Faisalabad in Punjab Province. The mob attack, prompted by calls from Muslim clerics spreading a false rumor of “blasphemy” of the Quran, included banned Islamic terrorist groups and resulted in the looting of more than 100 houses and the burning of 50 of them; at least 19 people were injured.
Masih said one of the Muslims accused in the attack, Qadir Awan, approached him at an early court hearing and invited him to come to his house to strike a cash-for-testimony deal.
“He said that I could make lots of money because I was the witness of the ransacking, but I feared God,” the 32-year-old Masih said. “Because I was not prepared to take money, he had me implicated in the counter-charges.”
He said that several other Muslims contacted him in jail to tell him that they could help him.
“I told them that my brothers and sisters in Pakistan and abroad are more than enough to help me,” he said. “I said, ‘You take care of yourself – you people beg our brothers and sisters in the United States for aid and financial assistance to run the country, how is it that you can help me?’”
Fearing for his life now that he is out on bail, Masih said he has asked several organizations for assistance and, assuming he is acquitted, eventually for safe passage out of Pakistan.
“I would not be left alive if I live here in Pakistan,” he said.
In counter-charges filed as a cover for accused Muslims after Christians filed charges, he said, 129 people including Bishop of Gojra John Samuel were accused in a First Information Report (FIR), yet only Masih and his brother Nauman Masih were arrested. The Faisalabad Anti-Terrorism Court released the 25-year-old Nauman Masih on bail in October.
The Lahore High Court granted bail to Naveed Masih last week after the Faisalabad Anti-Terrorism Court had denied it to him in October. Naveed Masih is accused of killing one of the assailants in the Gojra attacks, Muhammad Asif. He is said to have fired warning shots from a rooftop into the air and at the feet of the approaching Muslim mob to try to disperse them, but both brothers deny using any weapons.
The brothers gave shelter to 300 people during the attacks; they were arrested in early September initially for “rioting with deadly weapons and spreading terror with firing.”
Naveed Masih said police knew the counter-charges filed by Muslims nearly two months after the Aug. 1 attack were entirely concocted, but that they arrested and tortured him anyway.
“When I was arrested, the policemen said, ‘Catch this choohra [a racial slur typically used against Punjabi Christians],’” he told Compass. “They asked me which organization I belonged to, what my mission was and who had sent me on this mission.”
Authorities beat him the first several days in jail, he said.
“They blindfolded me and hung me in a dark well, and sometimes I hung all night upside down without clothes,” he said. “They also kept me hungry and tried to force me to confess that some religious organization funded me to fire a weapon and instigate Muslims.”
Akbar Munawar Durrani, an attorney for the Centre for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement, said that the prosecutor in the trial has told the court that Christians were the ones who instigated Muslims by firing weapons, and that for this reason Asif died.
“I told the court,” Durrani said, “that it is strange that two days before the Aug. 1 incident, dozens of houses of Christians were burned in [nearby] Korian village, and then in this incident of Aug. 1 more than 100 houses of Christians were burned, and the prosecution keeps trumpeting this claim that Christians were the aggressors.”
Durrani said that when Lahore High Court Chief Justice Khawaja Sharif asked Investigation Officer Muhammad Aslam about his findings, Aslam told the court that if Christians hadn’t provoked Muslims then nothing would have happened. The judge asked Aslam how many Christians and how many Muslims died, Durrani said, to which the officer replied one Muslim and eight Christians.
“Still you say that Christians were the aggressors,” the judge told Aslam in a reprimanding tone.
Durrani, an executive member of the Supreme Court Bar Association, said he told the court that Masih was implicated in the killing of Asif only because he was one of two witnesses in the FIR filed against the Muslims. If Masih hadn’t defended Christians that day, he told the court, then the Christian Colony in Gojra would have suffered much more harm.
Masih said that he had learned that during the Aug. 1 attack, a member of the banned terrorist group Sipah-e-Sahaba stopped the motorbike he was riding, took gas out of it and set houses on fire.
Nauman Masih has told Compass that of the 17 Muslims named in the FIR on the Aug. 1 attack, only one, Abdul Khalid Kashmiri, was in jail. Kashmiri has offered 1 million rupees (US$12,500) if the Christian complainants would withdraw the case, he added.
The rest of the Muslim assailants are still at large, and sources said police have no intention of arresting them.
Naveed Masih said he learned that even before he was sent to jail, inmates were murmuring that he had killed a Muslim during the mob attack.
“I told them that they only talked about the Muslim who actually came to attack and got killed, but they never mentioned eight Christians who had died during that rampage,” he said. “‘Christians are also human beings,’ I told them, ‘why don’t you count those who were killed by Muslims?’”
He said Muslim inmates often asked him “nonsense questions,” but that he always answered them sensibly.
“I am sure that the Holy Spirit helped me answering them, because once they had asked any such questions, then they never again raised such questions,” he said.
Masih said police stopped torturing him after the first several days in jail. He said he continually prayed for God to free him, as well as for all Christians who supported him and his brother through their ordeal.
Report from Compass Direct News
Waves of arrests hit church networks; judge asks converts from Islam to recant.
LOS ANGELES, August 11 (Compass Direct News) – Amid a violent crackdown on protestors and a purge of opponents within the Iranian government, more than 30 Christians were arrested in the last two weeks near Tehran and in the northern city of Rasht.
Two waves of arrests near Tehran happened within days of each other, and while most of those detained – all converts from Islam – were held just a day for questioning, a total of eight Christians still remain in prison.
On July 31 police raided a special Christian meeting 25 kilometers (15 miles) north of Tehran in the village of Amameh in the area of Fashan. A Compass source said about 24 Christians, all converts from Islam, had gathered in a private home. In the afternoon police squads in both plain clothes and uniform raided and arrested everyone present.
“Many people stormed the villa, and in the same day they took everything,” said the source, a Christian Iranian who requested anonymity.
All present were taken by private car to their residences, where police took all their passports, documents, cash, CDs, computers and mobile phones, and from there to the police station.
“There were many cars so they could take each person with a car to their house from the meeting,” said the source. “Think of how many cars were there to arrest them. And they took all their books, PCs, CDs mobile phones, everything.”
While most of them were released the same evening, seven of them – Shahnam Behjatollah, and six others identified only as Shaheen, Maryam, Mobinaa, Mehdi, Ashraf and Nariman – all remain in detention in an unknown location. They have no contact with their family members.
Police have questioned each of their families and told them to prepare to pay bail. In the case of Behjatollah, for whom police had a warrant, authorities showed his family the official order for his arrest and told them they “knew all about him,” according to the source. Behjatollah is 34 years old, married and has a 6-year-old daughter.
The second wave of arrests of some of the same Christians near Tehran took place on Friday (Aug. 7).
“They brought the released members for interrogation to the secret police again, to get more information about their movements,” said the source.
In Rasht, a total of eight Christians belonging to the same network were arrested on July 29 and 30 in two separate rounds of arrest. Seven were released, while one, a male, remains in the city’s prison. Compass sources were unable to comment on the conditions of their arrest.
Two Women Asked to Recant
On Sunday (Aug. 9) two Christian women appeared before a judge who asked them if they would deny their newfound faith and return to Islam.
Maryam Rostampour, 27, and Marzieh Amirizadeh Esmaeilabad, 30, have been held in the notorious Evin prison since March 5 accused of “acting against state security” and “taking part in illegal gatherings.” In a short court session, the judge asked them if they were going to deny their faith and return to Islam, reported the Farsi Christian News Network (FCNN).
As both women refused to recant their faith, the judge sent them back to their prison cells “to think about it,” according to a source who spoke with family members.
“When they said, ‘Think about it,’ it means you are going back to jail,” said the source. “This is something we say in Iran. It means: ‘Since you’re not sorry, you’ll stay in jail for a long time, and maybe you’ll change your mind.’”
The source said the first goal of judges in such cases is usually to make “apostates” deny their faith through threats or by sending them back to prison for a longer time.
“This is what they said to Mehdi Dibaj, who was in prison for 10 years and martyred in 1994,” said the source about one of Iran’s well-known Christian martyrs. “The charge against them is apostasy [leaving Islam].”
FCNN reported that in the last five months the women have been unwell and have lost much weight. Esmaeilabad suffers from spinal pain, an infected tooth and intense headaches and is in need of medical attention. None has been provided so far.
With a draft penal code that may include an article mandating death for apostates in accordance to sharia (Islamic law) expected to be reviewed once again this fall when the parliamentary session begins, experts on Iran fear things may get worse for the country’s converts from Islam.
Dr. Wahied Wahdat-Hagh, a senior fellow with the European Foundation for Democracy, wrote in http://www.Iranpresswatch.org last month that false hopes have arisen from a statement by the chairman of the Majlis Legal Affairs Committee, Hojatoleslam Ali Schahroki, that a provision for mandatory death penalty for apostates had been stricken from the bill. The Council of Guardians and Iran’s Supreme Leader, he wrote, have the final say on capital punishment for leaving Islam.
“Recent political events in Iran have ushered in a new phase in the emergence of a totalitarian dictatorship,” he wrote. “Pressure on Iranian Christians is growing just as foreign powers are being blamed for rioting that broke out due to the electoral fraud. The argument on the influence of foreign powers is well known to Iranian Christians.”
Public allegations that detainees have been tortured, abused, killed and most recently – according to a top opposition official – raped in custody have fueled fury in Iran and spurred powerful conservative Ali Larijani to comment that a parliament committee would investigate the reports, reported The Associated Press.
At least four senior Intelligence Ministry figures were fired in an effort to purge officials who are opposed to the crackdown on protestors and opposition following last month’s disputed presidential elections, the AP reported yesterday.
Iranian sources said that the long-standing rift in the government between liberal and conservative factions is widening and becoming more apparent, and the two sides are in a battle of words and ideas in mass media for the first time in Iran’s history.
“Everything is in the newspaper,” the Christian Iranian source told Compass. “We have never had such a thing … the point is that now all these old problems that were inside the government between liberals and fundamentalists are coming out, and we can see them on TV, radio, newspaper, the public media in the country. It isn’t something we’re guessing anymore. It’s something you can see and read.”
The source said the crackdown on protestors and recent mass arrests are the sign of a weak government trying to show it is in control of a country roiled by discontent.
“Everyone now is saying is that the government is having problems inside so they have lost the control,” the source said. “So what they did in the last couple of weeks is that they arrested people … minority religions, Baha’i and Christians.”
On July 31, a Christian man traveling overseas from the Tehran International airport was stopped for questioning because he was wearing a black shirt, a Compass source said. The colors black and green have become associated with opposition to the government, and those wearing them are suspected of ideologically agreeing with the protestors.
The authorities found his Bible after a questioning and searching. He was taken to a room where there were others waiting, all wearing green and black shirts. Authorities confiscated his passport and have opened a case against him for carrying the Bible, said the source.
Although there has been no mention of Christians being tortured in the most recent arrests, an increase in executions of persons under the commonly fabricated charges of drug abuse and trafficking bodes ill for the future of those in Iranian prisons. As detainees are allowed neither legal counsel nor communication with their families, their conditions are nearly unknown.
On Friday (Aug. 7) Amnesty International reported an average of two executions a day since the disputed presidential elections held on June 12.
“In just over 50 days, we recorded no less than 115 executions, that is an average of more than two each day,” said Irene Khan, Secretary General of Amnesty International. “This represents a significant increase, even compared to the appallingly high rate of executions that has been so long a feature of the human rights scene in Iran.”
The report described the government’s attempt to suppress the mass “and largely peaceful” protests as brutal and also expressed concerns that those who were executed were likely to have been denied fair trials. Most of those executed are said to have been convicted of drug-smuggling or related offences. Authorities have not released the names of 24 prisoners executed on Wednesday (Aug. 5) in the Rejai Shahr Prison in Karaj.
Report from Compass Direct News
Madhya Pradesh, July 10 (Compass Direct News) – About 50 Hindu extremists from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and Bajrang Dal ( Youth Wing of the World Hindu Council) chanting, “Jai Shri Ram [Praise lord Ram]” barged into Beersheba Church and attacked pastor Kuldeep Daniel, his family and church on June 14 in Ratlam. The Global Council of Indian Christians reported that the extremists beat, punched and kicked the pastor, his wife, two children and brother and also verbally abused them. They also destroyed church musical instruments and took the pastor’s books and his brother cell phone. The couple suffered minor injuries. The pastor filed a police complaint at Alkapuri police station, but no arrests had been made at press time.
Karnataka – Police on June 12 detained Christians on a false complaint of conversion by allurement at Renuka Lodge, Athishaya Colony, Krishnaraja Sagar. The Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) reported that a Church of Christ house church pastor, K. Nagaraj, had organized a fasting and prayer service on June 9-12 in which many pastors and other Christians had gathered. At 11 a.m. a Hindu extremist from the area identified only as Vaiaramudi led a mob of around 20 people into the lodge, making baseless allegations of bribing people to convert to Christianity. The extremists beat the Christians and took them to the police station, where they registered the complaint. Police allowed the injured Christians to obtain medical treatment but detained Pastor Nagaraj and his wife, Anusuya. With the intervention of GCIC, the couple was released at 11:45 p.m. without charges.
Andhra Pradesh – Police on June 7 arrested pastor David Raju on a baseless complaint of forceful conversion from Hindu extremists in Hyderabad. According to the Evangelical Fellowship of India, Pastor Raju was invited by local Christians in Mangalagiri to preach in their church. Upon his arrival, about 20 extremists gathered and began beating the pastor, accusing him of forceful conversion and distributing gospel tracts. The Hindu hardliners later dragged the pastor to a local police station, where he was detained for about eight hours. With help from local Christian leaders, the accused reached an agreement with the Hindu extremists in which the pastor was given permission to continue Christian meetings in the area and the Christians forgave the extremists.
Karnataka – Police on June 7 disrupted a Sunday worship service and closed an Apostolic Church in Davanagere, claiming that the church had an illegal license. The Global Council of Indian Christians reported that the village head and Hindu extremists had interrupted a prayer meeting conducted by pastor Prem Prasanth on May 29 and questioned him about permits for constructing a church building there. The pastor told them that he obtained the necessary permission from the village head, to which the official denied giving Christians any such permission, saying they were engaged in forcible conversion efforts. On May 31, the pastor received a notice cancelling the church license. Police subsequently disrupted the following Sunday worship meeting, ordering Christians to leave and locking up the church. The pastor appealed to police, who told him to take the matter up in the court. The church remained shut down at press time.
Assam – Hindu extremists from the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council) on May 31 vandalized a Baptist church in Jorhat and threatened two Christian girls, 16-year-old Moromi Gogoi and Monica Gogoi, 18, daughters of a pastor who was arrested on May 8 by Assam police on false charges of forcible conversion. The Hindu hardliners also demanded 5,000 rupees (US$100) from the girls. A source reported that about 10 intolerant Hindus entered the church premises and broke the church’s fence, walls, windows and doors, and they had threatened the two girls several times via mobile phone to stop their ministry or face dire consequence. Assam Valley Baptist Mission (AVBM) leaders took the matter to officials, refusing to meet the demands. An AVBM representative told Compass that calm had returned to the area as news spread that police were following up the matter.
Andhra Pradesh – Police detained Christians after Hindutva (Hindu nationalist) extremists falsely accused them of forcible conversion. The Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) reported that pastor S. David of Yesu Prarthana Mandiram (Jesus Christ Prayer House), in Shad Nagar, Mahaboob Nagar district, organized a Vacation Bible School on May 25-31 for nearly 75 children in Kammadanam village, Mahaboob Nagar district. On May 28, as two Christians identified only Narasimhalu and Ramesh were conducting classes, local extremists from the Hindu extremist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and Vishwa Hindu Parishad arrived and accused the Christians of forcibly converting village children. The extremists filed a complaint at Shad Nagar police station against Pastor David, Narasimhalu and Ramesh. Jey Prakash, GCIC regional coordinator, told Compass that police held the Christians until evening and released them without charges, but the Vacation Bible School was stopped immediately.
Madhya Pradesh – About 10 Hindu extremists from the Hindu extremist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh attacked pastor Ramesh Mandevey, leaving him unconscious on May 24 in Dewas. The Global Council of Indian Christians reported that about 10 Hindu hardliners stopped the pastor as he was on his way back from visiting a Christian’s home and assaulted him. Sustaining internal injuries, the pastor was hospitalized in a local hospital. Local Christian leaders filed a police complaint at Dewas police station, but no arrests have been made.
Assam – Police on May 8 arrested and beat pastor Tarun Gogoi for alleged forceful conversion, suspicion of having links with Naga rebel militants and receiving donations from them for construction of their church building in Jorhat, Guwahati. The Hindustan Times reported that the pastor was accused of carrying out religious conversions – which are legal in India – with the help of tribal Naga underground groups, and the administration ordered him to temporarily stop construction work on their church building. Hindu extremists had filed a complaint against the pastor of luring local people to Christianity by offering cash and gifts-in-kind. Area church leaders denied any involvement with underground groups and forceful conversions, and they demanded legal action from authorities against officers who mistreated Pastor Gogoi. The pastor was released on May 9 after church intervention. Temsu Wathi, president of Assam Valley Baptist Mission, told Compass that after an inquiry, local officials said there was no evidence of forceful conversion and allowed the Christians to resume the church construction.
Tamil Nadu – Hindu extremists in Krishnagiri attacked pastor Paul Chinnaswamy on May 6, seriously injuring him. The Global Council of Indian Christians reported that the intolerant Hindus assaulted Pastor Chinnaswamy near his church. Kicking and punching him, they struck his chest and jaw and broke two of his teeth. Local Christians rushed to the scene and took him to a nearby hospital. The pastor filed a police complaint at Uddinapally, and officers took the pastor to three areas to identify the attackers, but he was unable to identify anyone. No arrests had been made at press time.
Report from Compass Direct News
Two Christian teenager boys, who had received gunshot wounds from police’s alleged firing on April 22 amid protest of Christians against chalking of church wall with slogans commending Taliban have died from their injuries, ANS has learnt.
The deceased have been identified as Imran Masih, 13 and Intikhab Masih, 18.
Former Member of Provincial Assembly Sindh, Michael Javaid told ANS that militants had allegedly forced Christian residents of Taseer town to shout slogans “Taliban Zindabad” Long Live Taliban and “Islam Zindabad” Long Live Islam.
He said when Christian residents refused to chant slogans the miscreants made forcible entry into the church.
They desecrated Bible, manhandled Christian men and women, robbed Christian residents of cash and other valuables, said Javaid.
ANS has learnt that Ms Shermila Farooqi, advisor to Chief Minister Sindh, Syed Qaim Ali Shah, Anwar Laldin, Special Assistant to Chief Minister Sindh, Stephen Asif, Member of Provincial Assembly Sindh, Mr. Saleem Khokhar, Member Provincial Assembly Sindh, Mr. Michael Javaid, former member of provincial assembly Sindh, government officials including Mr Kamran Dost, Special Home Secretary Government of Sindh, Deputy Inspector General of Police Karachi (Operation) and Director General Rangers also visited the affected area on April 24.
“It is sad that peaceful Christian community has been attacked by militants. Justice will be done and culprits will be arrested soon,” Michael quoted Shermila as telling affected Christians.
A committee has been formed to probe the April 22 incident.
Speaking to Christian residents of Taseer town Michael Javaid questioned opening of fire on Christians by militants in presence of rangers and police officials.
Condemning April 22 incident, he said Christians would not tolerate any repeat of such a gruesome incident. He also demanded that the gvernment should provide security and protection to Christians and called for compensation to be paid to the Christians who had been affected.
Report from the Christian Telegraph
The controversial Anti-Conversion Bill in Sri Lanka has suffered a great setback with the recent suspension of the Bill by the Parliament as a result of intense opposition from the Christian population, reports Success Kanayo Uchime, special to ASSIST News Service.
In a report from the UK-based Release International (RI), a parliamentary committee comprised of Christian parliamentarians and leaders of political parties examined the Bill and agreed that it could have serious consequences on religious activities, spark inter-religious conflict and possibly violate the country’s constitution.
It stated that the Minister of Religious Affairs Pandu Bandaranayake, who confirmed that Christians have called for more clarity on some words in the Bill said that despite the opposition from the Buddhist-led party, Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU), the Bill will be re-examined by the Ministry’s religious consultative committee.
RI report noted that a local media said that part of the Bill rejects the offer of a gift, cash or any other incentive to convert or attempt to convert a person from one religion to another and is punishable with up to seven years’ imprisonment and a maximum fine of 500,000 rupees (about £6,800).
“Christians fear that the wording is open to abuse, and may severely restrict Christian activities in Sri Lanka,” the report said.
In another report by the BBC, it said that it has gathered that the United Nations International Children Emergency Fund (UNICEF) in Sri Lanka has reported that the conflict in Sri Lanka has killed hundreds of children and left many more injured.
It noted that thousands of children are at risk because of a critical lack of food, water and medicines and that the intense fighting is going on between Sri Lankan troops and Tamil Tiger rebels in north-eastern Sri Lanka.
“The Tigers have been driven from most of the territory they held by the army. They are now cornered in a small patch of jungle and coastal area in Mullaitivu district,” UNICEF report said.
In his reaction, the UNICEF Executive Director, Ann Veneman, said the children and their families caught in the conflict zone are at risk of dying from disease and malnutrition.
“Regular, safe access for humanitarian agencies is urgently required, so that life-saving supplies can be provided, and civilians must be allowed to move to safe areas where essential humanitarian support is more readily available,” Veneman further said.
Sri Lanka is said to have a multi ethnic and multi religious population, while Buddhism constitutes the religious faith of about 70% of the population of the island, most of whom follow the Theravada school of Buddhism.
Further to that Sri Lanka also has the longest continuous history of Buddhism of any predominately Buddhist nation, with the Sangha having existed in a largely unbroken lineage since its introduction in the 2nd century BCE.
Report from the Christian Telegraph
Draft ‘Bill for the Prohibition of Forcible Conversions’ enters final phase.
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka, January 26 (Compass Direct News) – The Sri Lankan Parliament may soon enact laws designed to restrict religious conversions.
A standing committee assigned to consider a draft “Bill for the Prohibition of Forcible Conversions” presented its report to Parliament on Jan. 6, suggesting minor amendments that clear the way for a final vote in February. The provisions of the bill criminalize any act to convert or attempt to convert a person from one religion to another religion by the use of force, fraud or allurement. Those found guilty of breaking the law could be imprisoned for up to seven years and/or fined up to 500,000 rupees (US$4,425).
The Ven. Omalpe Sobitha Thero, a member of the Buddhist Jathika Hela Urumaya party (JHU or National Heritage Party), first proposed the draft in 2004. While the JHU claims the bill is designed to stop unethical conversions, civil rights groups and Christian churches say it will infringe on the constitutional rights of freedom of religion and legitimize harassment of religious minorities.
Buddhists form a 70 percent majority in Sri Lanka, with Roman Catholics constituting 7 percent and Protestant Christians only 1 percent of the population.
After the first reading of the bill in Parliament in August 2004, 22 petitions were filed in the Supreme Court challenging the validity of the draft legislation.
The Supreme Court determined the draft bill to be valid except for clauses 3 and 4(b), which it deemed unconstitutional. These clauses required any person who converted or participated in a religious conversion ceremony to report to a government official and prescribed punishment for failure to report such conversions.
The draft was then referred to a parliamentary standing committee for further review. In its report, presented to the House on Jan. 6, the committee made a few amendments to the original draft in keeping with Supreme Court recommendations. The most notable amendment was the deletion of the need to report conversions and the punishment prescribed for not reporting them.
These amendments paved the way for the draft bill to be passed by a simple majority vote when it is presented for a final reading in Parliament this February.
Chief Opposition Whip Joseph Michael Perera, however, has requested a two-day debate on the draft bill on grounds that it would affect all religions.
Fulfilling Campaign Promises
The JHU, founded and led by Buddhist clergymen, made anti-conversion legislation a cornerstone of its debut election campaign in 2004, when it won nine seats in Parliament. With the possibility of an early general election this year, the bill has become a matter of political survival for the JHU.
At a press briefing on Jan. 7, Ven. Ellawela Medhananda Thero, a Buddhist monk and Member of Parliament representing the JHU, called on all political parties to vote in favor of the bill.
“People expected us to fulfill two goals,” he said. “One was to end unethical conversions and the other was to liberate the country from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. That is why we entered politics.”
Ven. Medhananda Thero added that the purpose of the bill was to protect all major religions in the country from fundamentalists and unethical conversions.
Sri Lanka’s Christian community and civil rights groups have strongly objected to the draft legislation. Far from stemming alleged forced conversions, they claim the bill will become a weapon of harassment through misapplication, limiting the fundamental rights of thought, conscience and religion. These rights include the right to adopt a religion and the right to practice, observe and teach religion.
The National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka (NCEASL) said in a recent press statement that, “It is our gravest concern that this bill will grant legal sanction for the harassment of religious communities or individuals, and offer convenient tools of harassment for settling personal disputes and grudges, totally unrelated to acts of alleged ‘forced’ conversion.”
According to Section 2 of the draft bill, the offer of any temptation such as a gift, cash or any other gratification to convert or attempt to convert a person from one religion to another is punishable with up to seven years of prison and a maximum fine of 500,000 rupees (US$4,425) – equal to approximately three years’ wages for the average Sri Lankan citizen.
Sri Lankan Christians have repeatedly expressed concern that key sections of the draft bill are open to wide and subjective interpretation that could criminalize not only legitimate religious activity but also legitimate social action by faith-based organizations or individuals.
“A lady who heads a charitable trust caring for orphans asked if she could be charged under this law, since she is a Christian and some of the children she cares for are not,” a lawyer told Compass. “Many people will now think twice before helping the poor or needy, for fear of being accused of committing a criminal act.”
Ironically, on June 4, 2008, in his address to the new Sri Lankan ambassador to the Holy See, Pope Benedict XVI had acknowledged the Sri Lankan government’s appreciation of the Catholic Church’s charity work in the country.
“Such action is a concrete example of the Church’s willing and prompt response to the mission she has received to serve those most in need,” he said. “I commend any future measures which will help guarantee that Catholic hospitals, schools and charitable agencies can continue to care for the sick, the young and the vulnerable regardless of ethnic or religious background.”
He went on to assure the government that “the Church will continue in her efforts to reach out with compassion to all.”
On Jan. 8, at his traditional New Year meeting with all ambassadors to the Holy See, the pope appeared to be addressing concerns over anti-conversion legislation.
“The Church does not demand privileges, but the full application of the principle of religious freedom,” he said. He also called on Asian governments to ensure that “legislation concerning religious communities guarantees the full exercise of this fundamental right, with respect for international norms.”
Since the first draft anti-conversion bill was presented to Parliament in 2004, the National Christian Council of Sri Lanka, NCEASL and Catholic Bishops Conference of Sri Lanka have repeatedly called for an alternative solution based on inter-faith dialogue with fair representation of all religious communities.
“Enactment of laws to regulate something as intrinsically personal as spiritual beliefs will not contribute towards resolving disagreements and promoting religious harmony,” said Godfrey Yogarajah, executive director of the World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty Commission. “On the contrary, it will create mistrust and animosity.”
Report from Compass Direct News
Influential Muslim villagers, local media said to falsely blame Christians, Hindu.
VENNABARI, Bangladesh, January 20 (Compass Direct News) – The pastor of a Baptist church in this village about a 100 kilometers (62 miles) south of Dhaka said that earlier this month local Muslims tied him and his wife up, robbed his living quarters on the church property and gang-raped his wife.
The Rev. Shankar Hazra, 55, of Chaksing Baptist church in Gopalganj district, said that before leaving, the assailants desecrated the church building.
The night of the attack, the pastor said, he and his wife, 45, went out to a toilet outside their home at about 2 a.m. on Jan. 6.
“Suddenly a man loomed up from the darkness and thrust the snout of a homemade rifle at my chest and told me to keep mum, otherwise both of us would be killed,” Rev. Hazra told Compass. “Around seven to eight people swooped on us and tied me and my wife. They blindfolded my wife and took her inside the house.”
While Rev. Hazra was tied to a pillar on the porch of his house of corrugated tin and wood, the assailants took the keys of chests and trunks and looted valuables: gold and silver jewelry worth US$500, cash totaling US$300, a mobile phone, television, CD players, all their clothes except his cassock, and utensils.
“They even looted my daughters’ dresses,” Rev. Hazra told Compass. “After looting everything, they gang-raped my wife.”
The assailants also asked about the whereabouts of his two grown daughters, who had left the previous day after spending the Christmas and New Year holidays with their parents. Their daughters, ages 22 and 20, had returned to their studies in separate districts.
“If my daughters had been present in the house at that night, they would have been victims as their mother was,” Rev. Hazra said.
After the assailants left, Rev. Hazra managed to untie himself and found his wife lying unconscious on the bed, he said.
“My neighbors came and rushed her to a nearby hospital, and that hospital referred my wife to another big hospital in Gopalganj district because her condition was very serious,” he said.
The assailants also broke the door of the church building and urinated and defecated there, Rev. Hazra added.
Rev. Hazra and his wife said all of the assailants were Muslims, but that villagers tried to implicate non-Muslims and portray the attack as resulting from internal conflicts among Christians.
Police, influential villagers and local Muslim-owned media are trying to conceal likely anti-Christian motives for the crime, he said, by falsely accusing two Christians and a Hindu of participating – and labeling a local Baptist pastor as the “mastermind” of the attack. Police wrote the First Information Report (FIR) implicating the Christians and Hindu based on lies from villagers, and Rev. Hazra signed it without reading it due to his shaken state, he said.
Rev. Hazra’s wife, Depali Hazra, later filed an affidavit contesting the FIR in which the two Christians and one Hindu, along with a known criminal who is Muslim, were accused of the gang rape and theft. The Christians and Hindu were not involved in the rape and robbery, she reported in the affidavit.
“I was seriously ill after [the] gang rape, and my husband’s mind was unhinged at that time,” she reported. “Only [the] Muslim man Ilias Mridha and his yes-men did it. When I recuperated a little bit from illness, I came to know about the names of the Christians and Hindu in the case. Spontaneously and knowledgably I did this affidavit to get rid of those Christian and Hindu names from the case copy.”
Local police inspector Liakat Ali confirmed to Compass that non-Muslims had been implicated in the rape and theft charges filed at the police station. Other statements in the FIR – such as the number of assailants, four, rather than the seven or eight cited by the pastor – are at odds with Rev. Hazra’s account, further indicating that police relied on second-hand information from villagers rather than the experience related by the victims.
“We have arrested three people so far in connection with gang rape and looting out of four people mentioned in the FIR by Hazra,” said Ali. “Among those mentioned, two people are Christians, one Hindu and one Muslim. According to the case information, the mastermind of the incident is Monotosh Banarjy, a pastor of a Baptist church, who might not have been present at that time.”
There is no criminal record against the Christian arrested, Sushil Baroi, a Catholic, he said.
“But the arrested Muslim man, Ilias Mridha, is a criminal who had been arrested several times before,” said Ali.
Local Christians said Mridha, 38, who has been jailed several times, commits crimes under the direction of local influential persons.
Father Jacob Gobbi, head priest at Baniarchar Catholic Church, told Compass that Baroi was not involved in the gang rape and robbery.
“He is innocent, and we want that he should be released as soon as possible,” Fr. Gobbi said.
Rev. Hazra said he and his wife are living temporarily with her relatives as protection from further attacks at their church quarters.
Report from Compass Direct News