PAKISTAN: ONE WOMAN DEAD IN ATTACK ON CHRISTIANS


Would-be rapist instigates attack in response to charges leveled against him.

ISTANBUL, March 9 (Compass Direct News) – Gun and club attacks on a Presbyterian church and neighboring homes in the predominantly Christian area of a village in Pakistan last week killed one woman and left 16 people wounded.

Seeking revenge for a robbery complaint that a Christian filed against him, local Muslim Waseem Butt on March 2 led groups of his friends and family members in indiscriminate attacks aimed at the Christian community in Sangu-Wali, village, near Aroop town in Gujranwala district, reported advocacy group Sharing Life Ministries Pakistan (SLMP).

Groups of between five and 15 Muslims arriving from different directions attacked the church and area homes, said Sohail Johnson, head of SLMP. During the violence, 45-year-old Shakeela Bibi sustained bamboo rod blows to the head and died before reaching the hospital.

“The death of my wife is an irreparable loss to me and my children,” Manzoor Masih, Bibi’s husband, told SLMP. “I am concerned that Muslims are very strong here, we are poor, and we can not afford enmity with them. They will kill us too.”

Armed members of the attackers prevented ambulances from attending the scene by firing shots into the air, according to the SLMP report.

SLMP and the Centre for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS) reported that the attack followed an attempt by a Christian to file a First Instance Report (FIR) with police against two Muslims for robbery and attempted rape.

Imran Masih, 18, accused Butt and Zeeshan Butt of stealing a cell phone and 3,000 rupees (US$40) before trying to sodomize him. Masih reported that he was on his way home from work on Feb. 26 when the two Muslims attacked him, and that he managed to escape before they could rape him.

“The Christians are poor and have no weight here,” said SLMP’s Johnson, so Muslims assume, “‘We are Kashmiri, we are Muslim, we are rich – they are sweepers, they are poor, they are weak, they are the minority, how are they going to move a [criminal charge] against us?’ This was in their mind.”

The mother-in-law of the woman who was killed suffered head and spinal injuries in the attack. Naziran Bibi, 80, remained in the hospital along with two others at press time. Another 10 victims, most suffering from head injuries, were treated overnight and released the next day.

Police arrested Waseem Butt shortly after the FIR was filed, and in the past few days they have also tracked down and jailed two other suspects. Widower Masih named more than 10 people in the FIR, accusing them of murder and trespassing. The other attackers have fled the village. Police told SLMP that they will continue to pursue the fugitives and bring them to justice.

Masih, however, has come under pressure to drop the case. He has received both threats and offers for financial settlement, an official with the National Commission for Justice and Peace said. Yousaf Benjamin of the commission said Muslims “see that it is very easy for a Muslim to kill a Christian and then offer some money to the family.”

“So Mr. Manzoor [Masih] has to be an example for the others,” Benjamin said. “He should not hesitate to go for legal procedures. He should not go for the money, he should go to the court and see the decision they make.”

Disregard for the rights and liberties of minority Christians in Pakistan is worsened by a culture of bribery, which often precludes the poor from fair treatment by authorities and recourse to legal protection. But investigating police officer Mohammad Riaz has promised that officers will ask for nothing and do their utmost to help the victims.

“It was very shocking to me that the culprits trespassed in Christians’ houses and attacked females of the family,” Riaz told CLAAS and SLMP investigators.

Report from Compass Direct News

PAKISTAN: CHRISTIAN CHARGED WITH ‘BLASPHEMY’ FOR TEXT MESSAGE


Defender of minority rights allegedly framed for making legal challenges in church land dispute.

ISTANBUL, February 5 (Compass Direct News) – More than 100 protestors last week surrounded a Pakistani courthouse and chanted death threats against a Punjabi Christian said to be framed for sending a “blasphemous” text message on his cell phone.

Rawalpindi police arrested Hector Aleem, 51, on Jan. 22 and detained him on charges of sending a text message that insulted the Islamic prophet Muhammad. At his Jan. 27 hearing at the Rawalpindi Sessions Court, crowds gathered and began shouting death threats.

His attorney, Malik Tafik, told Compass that a local man allegedly framed Aleem for the charges because Aleem has made legal challenges on behalf of Christians involved in a land dispute. Aleem directs a small agency that often defends the rights of Christians.

Last November, a scholar associated with the national Islamist political movement Sunni Tehreek received a text message claiming to have come from Aleem. The religious scholar registered blasphemy charges against Aleem on Nov. 28 at the Rawalpindi police station.

Police raided Aleem’s house at 1:30 a.m. on Jan. 22 and assaulted him, his wife, and his two daughters. They also stole 50,000 Pakistan rupees (US$630) worth of valuables and broke pictures of Jesus hanging on their walls, according to a report from the Center for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS).

Authorities charged him with violating sections 295c (blasphemy) and 109bb (abetting) of the Pakistani criminal code. Aleem was transferred to a Rawalpindi anti-terrorism court for a second hearing on Jan. 30, where an even larger crowd of protestors gathered shouting that his life would not be spared. Many of those who came to protest were associated with Sunni Tehreek, which has been involved in violent sectarian clashes with other Islamist movements in the last decade.

“There were about 150 people protesting that Aleem should be handed over to them,” Tafik said. “And there were many journalists, two news stations, and lawyers who came out to protest against him.”

Aleem is detained at the Adiyala Jail in Rawalpindi. During his incarceration, police have mistreated him and denied him adequate food and access to medicine for his heart condition. He told lawyers that police have not allowed him to meet with his family and referred to him as “choohra” (sweeper), a derogatory term for Pakistani Christians to designate them as the lowest rung of society.

At a hearing at an anti-terrorism court on Monday (Feb. 2), Judge Sakhi Mohammad Kohut exonerated him of blasphemy charges but did not clear him of abetting. A government official told Compass that the judge’s decision was heavily influenced by Islamic extremists attending the open court hearing who told the judge, “If you release [Aleem], then we will kill him outside.”

At the hearing, the judge implicated the man who allegedly framed Aleem – Bashar Kokar, previously charged multiple times with fraud – accusing him of using his cell phone to send a blasphemous message against Muhammad. Kokar was charged with blasphemy and arrested later that day. But court evidence shows the original text message came from an unregistered mobile number that pertained to neither Kokar nor Aleem, sources said – exonerating Aleem, but also making it difficult to prove that Kokar framed him. Khushdil Khan Malik, deputy secretary of Pakistan’s Ministry of Human Rights, said he believes the judge implicated Kokar as a scapegoat for the blasphemy charges in order to appease the extremists.

The next hearing will be held in March. Attorney Tafik told Compass he believes Aleem will be cleared of all charges because there is no evidence against him.

 

Targeted for Defending Christian Rights

Sources said they believe Aleem was framed due to his social activism as director of a small Non-Governmental Organization that lobbies for the rights of Pakistani Christians in Islamabad.

In November he became involved in a land dispute between a congregation and a local municipality that wanted to demolish their church building. He has been wrongfully implicated in the past for minor offenses, a government deputy said, particularly for his advocacy work against the Capital Development Authority, a municipal works agency that has been charged with unlawful confiscation and destruction of Christian property.

Aleem has been cleared of these minor offenses. The seriousness of the blasphemy charge, however, puts him and his family in danger. Besides his attorney, other legal advocates said they believe he will be cleared of all charges as there is no evidence that he sent the original text message.

Until then, his family is hiding underground due to threats of violence by Muslim extremists, said Joseph Francis, national director of CLAAS. And once he is released, it will be hard for Aleem to return to a normal life in Rawalpindi with the stigma of even unproven charges of blasphemy hanging over his head.

“What will happen after [the trial] is a matter of concern,” said Malik of Pakistan’s human rights ministry. “There have been many incidents of the sudden deaths of people charged with blasphemy.”

As many of those hostile to him are members of Sunni Tehreek who are dispersed throughout Pakistan, he and his family would be targeted by local members of the organization if they fled to another city. The only solution may be to seek asylum in another country, a source told Compass.

 

Problematic Law

Blasphemy has been used frequently in Pakistani law as a tool to silence or intimidate non-Muslims, including another case this week.

Yesterday a pastor, his son, and his father were charged with blasphemy in the village of Baddomehli, 100 kilometers (62 miles) from Lahore. Muslim classmates of pastor Shafik Masih’s teenage son claimed he had a blasphemous pamphlet in his backpack and began to assault him, according to a CLAAS report.

Realizing the danger of sectarian violence, the police chief of the region yesterday called on Christians to seek refuge as local Muslims were assembling a protest.

Christian members of Pakistan’s Parliament have moved to strike the blasphemy laws from the national criminal code.

“In the past, only a superintendent of police could file blasphemy charges,” attorney Tafik said. “But now a private person can register a case of blasphemy and it can be misused because anyone can use it.”  

Report from Compass Direct News

IRAN: MARTYR’S SON DETAINED IN WAVE OF ARRESTS


Four other Christians arrested as apparent crackdown continues.

LOS ANGELES, September 10 (Compass Direct News) – Five arrests in three cities across Iran in August suggest a continued crackdown on Iranian Christians by authorities, sources told Compass.

The most recent of the arrests took place on Aug. 21, when Ramtin Soodmand, son of martyred Assemblies of God pastor Hossein Soodmand, turned himself in after repeated calls from the Ministry of Information in Tehran. His father was executed by the state in 1990 for leaving Islam.

Sources told Compass that for weeks Soodmand had received repeated calls from authorities telling him to travel from Mashhad, where he lives, to Tehran. Yielding to pressure, Soodmand surrendered himself to the media center of the Ministry of Information at 9 a.m. on Aug. 21 but was not heard of until 3 p.m. of the next day. He has remained in detention since then.

Shortly after his detention, Soodmand’s wife, Mitra, tried to visit her husband and was told to come back later. “Your husband is going to be in jail for a very long time,” sources reported that authorities told her.

Soodmand has been able to make only one phone call – to his mother, who is blind, on Aug. 23. He told her that he was fine, but authorities did not allow him to call his wife, sources said.

Last week Soodmand’s wife and two young children were finally allowed to visit him in Tehran. When they arrived, however, they found that they could only speak with him through a phone receiver and never saw him.

In the two-minute conversation, Soodmand told his wife several times, “I am fine, don’t worry,” sources reported. No other family members or friends have been allowed to see or speak to Soodmand. Neither his condition nor where he is being held were clear.

Sources said that authorities have also not informed his family of the charges against him.

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

The week before Ramtin Soodmand turned himself in, another Christian in Mashhad, Iman Rashidi, was arrested. Rashidi’s whereabouts and condition are unknown. Rooz, a Farsi news website, reported him as under 18 years old.

 

Kurdish Christian Awaits Trial

A Christian member of Iran’s Kurdish community, Shahin Zanboori, was arrested on Aug. 9 in the southwestern city of Arak, located in the Central Province of Iran, bordering Iraq.

Secret police detained Zanboori while he was evangelizing, sources told Compass. He was tortured during interrogation and suffered a broken arm and leg.

While in jail he told sources that he “felt God’s presence in spite of the horrific treatment he received.” He described being handcuffed and suspended from the ceiling while police severely beat the soles of his feet to get him to confess to crimes and give the names of all the believers he knew, according to sources.

Authorities also confiscated Zanboori’s computer and cell phone.

Zanboori was released on Aug. 31 to his father, who lives in Kermanshah. His trial date had been set for Monday (Sept. 8), but sources have yet to learn the outcome of the hearing. He is expected to be charged with spying for foreign powers – a less serious offense than “apostasy” (leaving Islam).

In the city of Kerman in south central Iran, a couple identified as Darioush and Shirin were reportedly arrested on Aug. 8. At press time nothing more was known about their 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.

 

Possible Reasons for Crackdown

One source who works closely with Iranian refugees believes that politics are one reason for Iran’s crackdown on Christians.

“Christians are viewed as potential spies allied with Israel or America,” he said, adding that the overwhelming number of Iranian Christians he counsels have been visited and intimidated by police, leading them to flee from Iran.

He also believes that the apparent explosion in the number of house churches frightens Iran’s government.

“They see it as something they cannot control, so they are afraid of house churches,” he said.

Another expert on Iran believes Christians outside of Iran who exaggerate the number of conversions and house churches are partly responsible for the growth of persecution. When Christians claim there are thousands of house churches throughout the country, he said, Iranian authorities feel threatened .

“They [the police] are obligated to crack down on Christian activities when these activities become too public,” one Iranian Christian said.  

Report from Compass Direct News

CHINA: HOUSE CHURCH PASTOR DETAINED


Police seize Zhang Mingxuan, wife and co-pastor after leader agrees to BBC interview.

DUBLIN, August 7 (Compass Direct News) – Chinese police detained house church leader Zhang Mingxuan, along with his wife Xie Fenlang and co-pastor Wu Jiang He, at a police station in Hebei after a BBC journalist attempted to interview him on Monday (August 4).

International affairs journalist John Simpson phoned Zhang to request an interview, as required in a handbook given to journalists reporting on the Olympic Games in Beijing. Zhang agreed to the interview, but as Simpson traveled to meet him, police seized Zhang and his companions and moved them to a local police station.

When Zhang informed Simpson of their whereabouts using a cell phone, Simpson drove to the police station and shouted a few questions across the courtyard to Zhang, who was visible through an open window on the second floor of the building, as shown on BBC video footage.

Public Security Bureau (PSB) officials had banished Zhang and his wife from Beijing for the duration of the Games, fearing they would try to meet with visiting foreign officials. After forcing Zhang and Xie to leave their home and evicting them from several other temporary residences, police on July 18 entered a guesthouse where they were staying and drove them to Yanjiao in neighboring Hebei province.

Zhang and Xie then moved to another, more remote town to await the completion of the Games. (See “China Banishes Pastor from Beijing Prior to Games,” August 5.)

 

Protests to President

Zhang traveled as an itinerant evangelist throughout China before moving to Beijing in 1998. He is co-founder and president of the China House Church Alliance, established in April 2005 to defend the rights of house church Christians.

In 2005, U.S. President Bush invited Zhang to a meeting during an official visit to China. The meeting never took place, however, as officials detained Zhang before he could attend.

As president of the alliance, Zhang in November 2007 sent an open letter to President Hu Jintao, urging China to grant greater religious freedoms.

The letter, also signed by Zhang’s wife, read in part, “President Hu, are you aware that officials under you arrest, beat and drive away the Christians from their homes?”

Zhang also mentioned several detentions for his religious activities, including a 185-day imprisonment in 1986, shortly after he became a Christian, and numerous threats, beatings and arrests after he moved to Beijing. In 1999, PSB officials seized Zhang for preaching in a public place and confined him to a mental hospital for 13 days.

The letter described harassment, including threats to cut off water and electricity, and accusations that Zhang was illegally adopting orphans after he established an orphanage and school at Yanjiao.

In his conclusion, Zhang implored Hu to improve the rights of religious minorities, particularly Christians, for the social and moral benefit of China.

This June Zhang met with U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf and Rep. Christopher Smith during a visit to Beijing, but officials placed him under house arrest the following night, the South China Morning Post reported. Also in June, officials detained Zhang when he attempted to meet with Bastiann Belder, a rapporteur of the European Parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs.

Also this week, authorities arrested three Christian activists who were demonstrating in Tiananmen Square. The Rev. Pat Mahoney of the Christian Defense Coalition in Washington, D.C., Brandi Swindell of Generation Life in Boise, Idaho, and Michael McMonagle, national director of Generation Life, were taken into custody yesterday (August 6) after displaying a banner that read “Jesus Christ Is King” in both English and Chinese.

They were released soon after.

Report from Compass Direct News