Attack mainly by outsiders carried out during Independence Day celebrations.

JAKARTA, August 19 (Compass Direct News) – On Sunday (August 17) a Muslim mob stormed a church service in Cipayung, East Jakarta, forcing Christians to flee and then erecting banners in the street declaring a ban on “churches and religious services.”

As about 20 church members were celebrating the nation’s Independence Day at the service, the angry assailants arrived at the Pentecostal Church of Indonesia in Pondok Rangon village, Cipayung, at 9:30 a.m. shouting “Allahu Akbar!” or “God is greater!” Some in the mob were neighbors, but the majority were not local residents, according to pastor Chris Ambessa.

Church members tried to close the gate leading into the church compound, but the mob forced its way in, storming into the welcoming room of the church and overturning furniture.

Ambessa managed to close a roller door protecting the room where services were held. But the attackers then chased church members out into the street, warning them not to return for future services.

The intruders then erected large banners in the street declaring a ban on “churches and religious services” in the village. Technically prior approval from district officials is required to erect such banners, but Public Order official Hadi Sumantri and plainclothes policemen present made no attempt to intervene or remove them.

Two days prior to this incident, Ambessa sought permission from district officials to hold a special thanksgiving service on Independence Day. Officials gave verbal approval, despite contention over the existence of the church.


Demolition Order

Ambessa has been in the middle of a dispute over his house church. On July 3 the Cipayung civil engineering department had ordered Ambessa to dismantle the second floor of his home, and on July 13 it ordered him to cease religious activity for an indefinite period following neighborhood protests against the house church. Neighbors had demanded that Ambessa completely demolish the building.

Ambessa, whose home has functioned as a legally recognized house church for the past 12 years, built the second floor extension to accommodate his growing congregation. Realizing the prohibitive cost and difficulty of obtaining a Religious Building Permit (IMB), and on grounds that the building was a residential home, Ambessa had proceeded with the extension without applying for the IMB.

Ambessa’s lawyer, August Pasaribu, told Compass he planned to challenge the demolition order, since the demand was in breach of local regulations.

Construction of the extension was completed on May 17. On May 21, a neighborhood group threatened Ambessa and forced him to sign a document stating that he would cease holding church services in his home. Ambessa told Compass that he had signed the document under duress, fearing attacks on his wife and daughters.

Ambessa had planned to rent a separate building for church services in another location, at a cost of 8 million rupiah per year (US$862). After Sunday’s attack, however, Ambessa said he felt disheartened and saw little point in reporting the incident to the local police station since he did not expect positive intervention.  

Report from Compass Direct News


Officials crack down in three provinces; some believers held in wooden stocks.

DUBLIN, August 8 (Compass Direct News) – Authorities in Laos have detained or arrested at least 90 Christians in three provinces in recent weeks, including an arrest last Sunday (Aug. 3) of a pastor and two other believers from a house church in Boukham village, Savannakhet province.

Arrests were reported in the southern provinces of Saravan and Savannakhet and in Luang Prabang province in the north.

In one incident on July 21, Compass sources said officials detained 80 Christians in Katin village, in the Tah Oih district of Saravan province, after residents seized a Christian neighbor identified only as Pew and poured rice wine down his throat. The wine flooded his lungs and killed him, according to the sources who spoke on condition of anonymity.

When mourning family members buried him – an immediate necessity because of the warm climate – and put a wooden cross on the grave, village officials accused them of “practicing the rituals of the enemy of the state” and seized a buffalo and pig from the family as a fine.

A few days later, on July 25, officials rounded up 17 of the 20 Christian families in the village – a total of 80 men, women and children – and detained them in a local school compound, denying them food for three days in an attempt to force the adults to sign documents renouncing their faith.

Three other Christian families in the village had already renounced their faith under increasing pressure from authorities, according to a report from Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom (HRWLRF).

As their children grew weaker, 10 families signed the documents and on July 30 were allowed to return home. The remaining seven families, however, were evicted from the village and have since settled in an open field outside the village, building small shelters and surviving on food found in the nearby jungle.


Arrests in Boukham

The most recent arrests occurred last Sunday (August 3) in Boukham village, Savannakhet. Officials arrested a leader of a house church identified only as Pastor Sompong, during a Sunday worship service at his home, along with two young people identified only as Boot and Khamvan.

HRWLRF reported they were detained at an area police station. On August 2, authorities arrested another villager in Boukham, identified only as Menoy, charging her with “believing in Jesus and worshiping God.”

They handcuffed Menoy and took her to a prison in Ad-Sapangthong district, where she joined two other believers, identified as Kantalee and Loong Peng, who had been arrested the previous day and charged with the same religious offense.

Authorities had previously arrested Pastor Sompong and four other believers from the Boukham church on July 20, detaining them for two days in a prison in nearby Dong Haen. Police stormed into the church that Sunday and ordered the 63 Christians present to cease worshiping or they would face arrest and imprisonment for “believing and worshiping God.”

When the Christians refused to comply, stating that Sunday was a Christian holy day and they must continue worshiping, the police arrested Pastor Sompong and two other church leaders identified only as Kai and Phuphet.

While some of the officers handcuffed the three church leaders and took them to a prison in Dong Haen, other policemen stayed in the village. When the service continued, police entered the house again and arrested a man identified only as Sisompu.

When the believers again failed to cease worshiping, police arrested a 17-year-old girl, identified only as Kunkham, who was actively leading the group. All five Christians were detained in Dong Haen prison with their feet secured in wooden stocks.

Officials charged the five with spreading the gospel and holding a religious meeting without permission. Although the Lao constitution “guarantees” freedom of religion and worship, church fellowships must be registered with government-approved institutions. Such registration comes with strict limitations on the activity of the church, however, and many Christians prefer not to register.

On July 22, three Christians approached the provincial religious affairs office in Savannakhet to challenge the arrest of Pastor Sompong and his fellow church members, asking how the five Christians could be charged for “spreading the gospel” during a worship service.

Officials then released the five on condition that they would cease holding worship meetings. They ordered them to seek permission from village authorities if they wanted to continue meeting together.

Elsewhere, in late July authorities in Saiphuthong district of Savannakhet summoned the pastor of a church in Nachan village and questioned him about the increasing number of villagers who had elected to believe in God.

Compass sources also reported that officials on July 27 detained a family of Hmong Christians in northern Luang Prabang province.

More arrests were reported, but details have yet to be confirmed.

Report from Compass Direct News


Hosts of house church succumb to injuries following raid; daughter still in custody.

ISTANBUL, August 6 (Compass Direct News) – An Iranian Christian couple in their 60s died last week from injuries sustained when secret police raided a house church service hosted at their house and severely beat them, a source told Compass.

Less than a week after Abbas Amiri’s funeral, his wife died from similar injuries and stress from her husband’s death, according to Farsi Christian News Network (FCNN).

Police beat and arrested Amiri on July 17, along with seven other men, six women and two minors who were attending the service, the source said. Amiri died in a hospital on July 30 from injuries sustained from the beating.

Amiri’s wife, Sakineh Rahnama, died on Sunday (Aug. 3) from stress-related causes, according to FCNN.

Secret police raided the house church meeting hosted by Amiri and his wife in Malek Shahr, just outside the central Iranian city of Isfahan. They beat and arrested all those in attendance, including the two minors and the hosting couple.

Violence against Amiri reportedly intensified when the policemen discovered that he had taken a pilgrimage to Mecca, one of the five pillars of Islam required of all devout Muslims, before he had become a Christian. He was also a veteran of the Iran-Iraq War, a strong source of Iranian national pride, so his conversion further infuriated police, according to FCNN.

All those arrested at the house meeting are reportedly still in custody, including Amiri’s daughter and the two minors.

Three days before his death, Amiri was moved to the Sharieti Hospital of Isfahan. Family members who saw him said his chest was severely bruised and believe that was the cause of his death, a source told Compass.

Amiri was buried the day after his death in a cemetery in his birthplace of Masjid-Soleiman, located near the Iran-Iraq border, on Thursday (July 31). Many friends and supporters attended the funeral, though security officials reportedly attempted to prevent their attendance.

Following Rahnama’s death on Sunday, secret police in Masjid-Soleiman put the Amiri family’s house under surveillance. They ordered the family not to have a memorial or funeral service for Rahnama and said they had to leave the city immediately.

Amiri’s son then yelled at the security officers, who proceeded to beat him, according to FCNN. Rahnama was buried on Monday (Aug 4).

Arrests and violence against Iranian Christians have intensified in recent weeks. Twelve Christians traveling to Armenia via Tehran were arrested on July 12 at the Kerman airport in south-central Iran. Two Christian converts have been jailed for two months in Shiraz, one of whom is diabetic and in critical condition.

In February the Iranian parliament proposed a draft penal code that demands the death penalty for leaving Islam. Under current Iranian law, “apostasy” is considered a capital offense, but punishment is left to the discretion of the judge.

The draft penal code is scheduled to be reviewed in the next parliamentary session.

Report from Compass Direct News


Latest incident in crackdown meant to keep him from meeting with foreign officials.

DUBLIN, August 5 (Compass Direct News) – As U.S. President George W. Bush attends Olympic events in Beijing this week and a church service in the capital next Sunday, Chinese authorities have banished house church pastor Zhang Mingxuan from the city for the duration of the Games. Several other Christians remain in detention or face ongoing harassment.

Plainclothes police officers forcibly removed Zhang and his wife Xie Fenglan from a guesthouse in Beijing on July 18 and took them toYanjiao, Hebei province, to prevent them from meeting foreign officials visiting Beijing for the Games, according to Friday’s (August 1) South China Morning Post (SCMP).

The couple had moved from one guesthouse to another at least six times prior to the raid to escape police harassment. They have since moved from Yanjiao to another remote town in Hebei to await the completion of the Games.

Zhang told reporters that constant police crackdowns had reduced the number of house churches he has established over the past decade from more than 10 to just three.

Thousands of Christians throughout China belong to similar house churches, which have refused to register with official government agencies in order to avoid legal restrictions on the size of their gatherings, appointment of clergy and sermon content.


History of Arrests

Zhang, a Christian for 22 years, 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, 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.

In 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, according to SCMP. Also in June, officials detained Zhang when he attempted to meet with Bastiann Belder, a rapporteur of the European Parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs.

When police tried to persuade Zhang and his ailing wife to leave Beijing prior to the Games, Zhang refused.

“A police officer even suggested paying us 5,000 yuan [US$730] if we would leave Beijing for three months,” Zhang told reporters. “We’ve been praying for a successful Olympic Games for eight years. We didn’t do anything wrong, so why are they doing this to us?”

Officials are perhaps aggravated by the activities of the China House Church Alliance, backed by a team of Christian lawyers who file cases against local authorities when Christians are jailed or sent to labor camps. To date some 30 cases have been filed, and six have been successful, Zhang said. Prior to the formation of the alliance, Christians rarely took such cases to court.

One of the lawyers, Li Baiguang, said it was extremely difficult to win such cases, but that when they ended at least officials stopped harassing these Christians.

Baiguang was scheduled to meet with members of the U.S. Congress in Beijing in June, but officials detained him and one other lawyer to prevent them from attending the meeting. Several other lawyers were warned not to attend or they would face severe consequences.


Bookstore Owner’s Health Worsens

Christian bookstore owner Shi Weihan, detained without charges by authorities on March 19, has suffered a rapid deterioration in health. In addition, officials have reportedly convinced Shi to sign a “confession” convicting him of engaging in the printing and distribution of a large number of illegal publications.

China Aid Association (CAA) reported on Thursday (July 31) that Shi’s weight had dropped by more than 10 kilograms (22 pounds). Shi suffers from diabetes, a condition exacerbated by a poor diet and restricted access to appropriate medication.

Shi’s bookstore continues to operate in its prime location near the Olympic Village, according to Compass sources.

The bookstore is registered with authorities, and Shi had permission to sell Bibles and other Christian materials. Officials objected, however, when Shi printed some Bibles and Christian literature without authorization for distribution to local house churches, according to Asia Times Online.

Despite a law restricting detention without charges to a maximum of two months, officials in June stated they would delay action on the case indefinitely. By late June, they had granted only one visit by Shi’s lawyer, Zhang Xingshui.


Elsewhere in China

Officials also evicted Christian rights activist Hua Huiqi from his home in Beijing on July 2. After using a heavy hammer to break down the doors and locks of his apartment, they beat Hua’s brother and forced the entire family, including Hua’s 90-year-old father, onto the street with their furniture, CAA reported.

On July 6, officials moved Pastor Zhang Zhongxin of Jiaxiang county, Shandong province to a labor camp to begin two years of re-education through labor. With the help of a lawyer, Zhang’s wife Wang Guiyun has since submitted an appeal to the Jining City district court asking it to withdraw the labor camp sentence, CAA reported last month.

On July 14, police raided the home of Lu Xiaoai, a fellow church member of Zhang and Wang, seizing Bibles and Christian materials. They also investigated church member Lian Dehai, seizing Christian material from his home and placing him in criminal detention.

Police then proceeded to carry out several other raids on the homes of house church members in Jiaxiang county.

CAA reported on other incidents in Beijing municipality, Gansu and Henan provinces during June and July.

At Olympic venues however, China has presented a different face, with clergy from the five accepted religious groups providing official religious services to athletes and other visitors. The Chinese Olympic committee has granted athletes permission to bring personal religious articles into the Olympic village and permission for well-known evangelist Luis Palau to distribute his evangelistic book, “A Friendly Dialogue Between an Atheist and a Christian,” to athletes and coaches during the Games.

In June, Chinese authorities announced they would print 50,000 gospel booklets – including 10,000 Chinese-English complete Bibles – for distribution during the Games.

In July, the state newspaper Xinhua published a visitors’ guide to churches in Beijing. The article gave a brief history of the Catholic and Protestant streams of Christianity but made only a brief mention of four Catholic churches in the capital.

Xinhua also noted that “since the Chinese constitution was amended in 1982 to allow freedom of religion,” the number of Christians in China had “surpassed 16 million,” an official figure given by the China Christian Council, an agency representing government-approved Protestant churches.

Compass sources, however, estimate there are at least 60 million evangelical Christians in China: 10 million in major house church networks, 35 million in independent rural house churches and 15 million in independent urban house churches. In addition, there are 15 million Catholics and 15 million members of the official Three-Self Patriotic Movement church.

Report from Compass Direct News