Villagers upset with establishment of church break up prayer meetings, invade homes.
DHAKA, Bangladesh, May 3 (CDN) — Four Christian families in southeastern Bangladesh left their village yesterday under mounting pressure by Buddhist extremists to give up their faith in Christ.
Sources told Compass that 20 to 25 Buddhists brandishing sticks and bamboo clubs in Jamindhonpara village, 340 kilometres (211 miles) southeast of Dhaka, began patrolling streets on Friday (April 30) to keep the 11 members of the Lotiban Baptist Church from gathering for their weekly prayer meetings. On Saturday, the Buddhist extremists captured four men and beat one woman who had gathered in a home, threatening to kill them if they did not become Buddhists within 24 hours.
Yesterday, the Buddhist extremists attacked the homes of the Baptists two hours before their 1 p.m. worship service, sources said.
“Just two hours before our church service, a group of people swooped into our houses and drove all of us out so we could not attend the church service,” said one church member who requested anonymity.
The Christians captured Saturday night were released after the extremists, who ripped crosses off the walls of their homes, threatened to kill them if they continued praying and worshipping in the area. After yesterday’s attacks, all Christians in Jamindhonpara fled, taking shelter in another village, source said. Jamindhonpara is located in the Lotiban area, Panchari sub-district of Khagrachari district.
“When they come, they do not listen to us,” said the church member. “They arbitrarily do whatever they like. The situation is indescribable – they hunt us down the same way that one hunts down a mad dog to kill it.”
On Saturday the Buddhist villagers chanted anti-Christian slogans as they formed a procession that snaked through the village.
“They chanted in the demonstration, ‘We will not allow any Christian to live in this area,’ ‘We will not allow them to build a church here,’ and ‘Christians cannot live in Buddhists’ areas,’” said one source. “We did not inform the police or army. Informing them is very dangerous. They could even kill us if we complained about them to police and army or the local administration.”
Local Buddhists were infuriated when Christians established a church in the Lotiban area in December; since then, they have been trying to stop all Christian activities. In the campaign to uproot Christianity, they have tried to expel the pastor of Lotiban Baptist Church by means of various threats, source said.
One of the Christians who fled yesterday, 65-year-old Biraj Kumar Chakma, told Compass that they would not go back to Buddhism whatever pressure might come.
“We left everything,” Chakma said. “We can go through any kind of ordeal, but we will not leave Jesus, even in the face of death. I have not seen in my life a book like the Bible. To stick to it, I left my ancestral house under huge pressure of the Buddhists. They applied much force to give up our faith.”
Chakma said that since his daughter became a Christian, she has not been able to live in the village.
“She is living in a hideout for her safety,” he said.
The Rev. Sushil Jibon Tripura, president of Khagrachari district Baptist Fellowship Church, told Compass that the daily life of the Christian villagers has become intolerable, as they have sacrificed their livelihood for their faith.
“Buddhists are not giving them any work,” Tripura said. “They are not allowed to collect drinking water from local deep tube wells. Nobody mixes with them. They are not allowed to shop in the village market. So the Buddhist villagers have ostracized them.”
The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) runs various projects in the area for the development of tribal people, but most the committee members are Buddhists who deprive the Christians of UNDP assistance, he said. The aid includes financial help for ginger cultivation and small cattle farming and cooperative money given through a committee selected from among the villagers.
“When they were Buddhist, they used to get all the aid provided by the UNDP,” Tripura said. “But when they became Christians, they started facing problems. Recently the committee members took away eight passbooks from Christian villagers given by the UNDP for getting financial help.”
Tripura said he informed the district UNDP office, and officials there said they would look into it.
The United Peoples Democratic Front (UPDF), an armed group in the hill districts that is also a political party, is active in the area. Tripura said some area Buddhists have mobilized only mid-level activists of the UPDF against the Christians.
“Being an inhabitant of this area, I can say that the high-command of the UPDF is not involved here,” he said.
The tribal people of the area share common ancestors and the same social/cultural milieu, he added.
“We are brothers. But the undercurrent of the hatred is religion,” Tripura said. “We are trying to sit with the Buddhist leaders along with the UPDF leaders for resolving the matter in a peaceful manner.”
The UPDF is one of two main tribal organizations in the hill districts, the other being the United People’s Party of the Chittagong Hill Tracts (Parbatya Chattagram Jana Sanghati Samiti, or PCJSS). The PCJSS, formed in 1973, had fought for autonomy in the region for 25 years, leaving nearly 8,500 troops, rebels and civilians killed. After signing a peace accord in 1997 with the Bangladesh government, the PCJSS laid down arms.
But the UPDF, founded in 1998 and based in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, has strong and serious reservations against the Chittagong Hill Tracts Accord signed in 1997. Claiming that the agreement failed to address fundamental demands of the indigenous Jumma people, the UPDF has pledged to fight for their full autonomy.
The Chittagong Hill Tracts region comprises three districts: Bandarban, Khagrachuri and Rangamati. The region is surrounded by the Indian states of Tripura on the north and Mizoram on the east, Myanmar on the south and east.
Report from Compass Direct News
Court ignores ‘religious hostility’ of Turk who held knife to Christian’s throat.
ISTANBUL, February 12 (CDN) — An Istanbul court has ordered the release of a jailed Turk who publicly threatened and held a knife to the throat of a Christian he attacked six months ago.
In a ruling on Wednesday (Feb. 10), the Kadikoy Seventh Court of First Instance convicted Yasin Karasu, 24, of making death threats and mounting an armed attack against Ismail Aydin. Shouting to attract passersby as he held a knife to Aydin’s throat on Aug. 3, Karasu had denounced the Christian as a “missionary dog” who had betrayed Turkey by leaving Islam and evangelizing others.
The crime is punishable by four years in prison, but Justice Tahsin Dogan ruled that Karasu should be released unconditionally, without serving the remainder of his sentence.
After the attack last August, the 48-year-old Aydin had declined to press charges against his assailant, who was taken into police custody at the scene. But state prosecutors charged Karasu under criminal statutes for making armed threats, obstructing another’s freedom, and attempted harm with a weapon.
He was then sent to prison for the duration of criminal investigations into the case.
After an initial hearing on Jan. 12, Karasu appeared in Istanbul’s Kadikoy district courthouse this week for a second trial hearing. Arriving in handcuffs from Istanbul’s Metris Prison where he has been incarcerated for the past six months, Karasu erupted in several emotional outbursts as he entered the courthouse with an escort of gendarmerie guards.
At the outset, the prisoner heatedly refused to accept the lawyer his father hired to represent him in court. After a guard removed his handcuffs before he entered the courtroom, Karasu took out of his pocket several handwritten pages, which he said he would submit in his own defense.
Under Turkish law, Karasu’s conviction should have left him with a four-year jail term for his death threats and armed attack on Aydin. But the prosecutor, applying a frequently used law of procedures, cited the defendant’s “respectful behavior, condition and manners in the courtroom in his favor” and declared that Karasu’s good conduct had earned him a one-sixth reduction (eight months) in his sentence.
Together with the six months Karasu has already been jailed, that reduced his four-year prison term to a remaining two years and 10 months.
Nevertheless, the court ruled for Karasu’s unconditional release. The Court of Appeal must approve this sentence, however, and his actual release then must be formally approved in writing by the Administrative Board of Penalties.
“It seems that the judge did not take into account at all that this crime was committed with religious hostility,” one member of the legal committee of Turkey’s Association of Protestant Churches told Compass. “That, in my view, should have aggravated the crime and sentence.”
Human rights lawyer Orhan Kemal Cengiz, after reviewing Wednesday’s court record, agreed.
“This is also a crime against the freedom of religion,” Cengiz said. “This should be another factor to be taken into account, and the sentence should be increased accordingly.”
Karasu had taken Aydin hostage by grabbing him around the neck, holding a knife blade to his throat and forcing him along the street to a busy intersection in Istanbul’s Kadikoy district. Within minutes both TV crews and police arrived at the scene, watching as Karasu wrapped Aydin’s head in a large Turkish flag and continued to taunt him as a traitor to the nation.
“I want to see him set free,” Aydin commented outside the courtroom before this week’s hearing. Aydin, who converted to Christianity 22 years ago, said he had forgiven Karasu.
Aydin said Karasu had made contact with him several times during the year previous to his attack, asking him questions about the Christian faith. He said Karasu, who was unemployed when he attacked him, had experienced emotional problems and depression while completing the last months of his military service.
Karasu’s father, who traveled from Erzurum to attend this week’s hearing, told Compass that he could not understand what had caused his son to launch such an attack against Aydin. Confirming that his son had received psychological treatment in the past, he declared his intention to take him back to Erzurum after his release, so that he could live at home and undergo more psychological therapy.
Report from Compass Direct News
HANOI, Aug. 6 (Compass Direct News) – Local authorities in Vietnam have balked at registering house churches, contributing to a recent uptick in sometimes violent harassment of congregations.
Four police officers and two government officials broke up the Sunday morning worship service of a house church in Tran Phu Commune in Hanoi on July 26, announcing that it was illegal to worship and teach religion. The police chief of Tran Phu Commune in greater Hanoi, Dang Dinh Toi, had ordered the raid.
When Christians under the leadership of Pastor Dang Thi Dinh refused to sign a document admitting they were meeting illegally, an angry police officer shouted, “If I find you meeting here next Sunday, I will kill you all like I’d kill a dog!”
Officials had previously refused to grant the church’s application for registration. Pastor Dinh and the national leader of the Ecclesia Revival denomination, Pastor Vo Xuan Loan, appealed to commune authorities the following day – again trying to register the church according to the Prime Minister’s 2005 Special Directive Concerning Protestants.
The commune head angrily proclaimed, “There are absolutely no Christians in this commune!” and then shooed them away, church leaders reported.
In nearby Hung Yen province, an Agape Baptist house church led by Pastor Duong Van Tuan was raided several times in June (see “Police Attack House Churches, Jail Leaders,” June18). Since then Compass learned from Pastor Tuan that his wife Nguyen Thi Vuong was badly abused on June 21. A group of policemen roughed her up, and then two of them seized her by her arms and repeatedly banged her head into a wall, he said.
When she fainted, Pastor Tuan said, they dragged her out and dumped her in a nearby field. Fellow Christians took her to medical care. The church situation remains unresolved.
Also in the north, in Viet Thuan Commune of Thai Binh Province, commune police broke up a house church meeting of the Vietnam Good News Mission Church on July 25, seizing seven hymnals and summoning Pastor Bui Xuan Tuyen to the police station for interrogation. In a letter to his superiors, Pastor Tuyen complained of police cursing and scolding him.
They confiscated his motorbike and sent it to a distant district office. In spite of such pressure, he refused to write a confession for what they termed his “crimes.” He was held until 10 p.m. before being released to collect his motorbike.
The situation is not better in the south. On Friday (July 31) Vietnam Good News Mission Church Pastor Mai Hong Sanh was subjected to a public denunciation and trial reminiscent of 1950s-style communism in the town of Ea Hleo, in Dak Lak Province.
He was sentenced to three months of “local re-education” for expanding his house without permission and giving religious training without permission – both practically impossible for Christians to obtain – and “causing social division.” This was the government’s answer to his church’s aspirations and attempts to provide training for ethnic minority church workers at Pastor Sanh’s home.
As a result, he can go nowhere without prior permission and must submit to political indoctrination courses at the whim of local officials. About 120 people, mostly town officials and police, attended his “trial” – Pastor Sanh was not allowed to defend himself, and authorities marshaled people they said were members of another church to accuse him, Christian sources said.
On Sunday (Aug. 2), some 15 policemen barged into a house church worship service in Xuan Thoi Thuong Commune, Hoc Mon district, Ho Chi Minh City. Brandishing batons and electric prods, police demanded that people leave immediately, according to local sources. Two new believers fled, they said, but most of the small congregation remained.
In a show of force, police officers also lined up outside the house and announced to curious neighbors who had gathered, “If anyone of you come to Chinh’s house and believe in his God, you will be in deep trouble,” according to the sources. Nguyen Van Chinh, leader of this independent house church, had been receiving such visits and threats by security forces since January.
Following the advice of local authorities, he had tried to register his house church as provided by Vietnamese law, but to no avail. At midnight on July 24, five police officers beat on his door demanding to be let in “to check IDs.”
Though he had submitted a registration application months before, they told him that “future zoning would not allow religious activities” and that he must permanently cease church meetings, sources said. When his congregation continued meeting, he was issued an “administrative fine,” which he appealed. His house church continued worshiping, leading to Sunday’s raid.
Church leaders said such incidents are representative of many others not reported for security reasons. Asked about the reasons for this uptick in harassment, church leaders strongly agreed that it is a firm though unwritten government policy to try to stop any expansion of Christianity. They said the harassment was so widespread that it must have approval from the top level of the central government.
All of the churches in this report tried to register according to supposedly clear government guidelines but have been denied without a legitimate reason.
Christian leaders also observed that Vietnam, having achieved its goal of getting off the U.S. religious liberty black list and won accession to the World Trade Organization, no longer worries much about international opinion. Others added that authorities, who retain a special suspicion of Christianity, are trying to suppress any expressions of the widely growing discontent with Vietnam’s government and the Communist Party.
At the same time, Catholics have been involved in larger clashes with authorities and with gangs of thugs widely believed to be hired and stirred up by the government. The government-backed gangs have beaten Catholic families. A fierce clash between Catholics and the government flared up in Dong Hoi City, in central Quang Binh province, on July 22. Police and hoodlums interfered with some 200 faithful trying to rebuild part of the bombed out Tam Toa Cathedral.
Reminding Catholics of the heavy-handed ending to church property claims in Hanoi last year, this incident quickly got the support of Catholics around the country. Some estimated that up to 500,000 Catholics nationwide participated in prayer vigils the following Sunday.
According to a long-time Compass source on Vietnam, the legally registered Protestant bodies are no more optimistic than their Catholic counterparts. Their leaders complain of unending bureaucratic blockages, harassment and interference.
“Overall, there is more pessimism today than four or five years ago, when people had hopes that new religion regulations might lead to steady improvement,” the source said.
“But it was not to be. Hence trust in government promises to improve religious liberty is at a very low ebb.”
Report from Compass Direct News
ISTANBUL, August 6 (Compass Direct News) – In a bizarre show of Turkish nationalism, a young Muslim here took a Christian Turk at knife point, draped his head with the national flag and threatened to slit the throat of the “missionary dog” in broad daylight earlier this week.
Yasin Karasu, 24, held Ýsmail Aydýn, 35, hostage for less than half an hour on Monday (Aug. 3) in a busy district on the Asian side of Istanbul in front of passersby and police who promptly came to the scene.
“This is Turkey, and you can’t hand out gospels,” he yelled, according to the daily newspaper Haberturk. “These godless ones without the true book are doing missionary work.”
About 99 percent of Turkey’s population is at least nominally Muslim, and in the popular mindset the religion is strongly connected with being Turkish.
Karasu threatened to slit Aydin’s throat if anyone came near him and commanded those watching to give him a Turkish flag. Within minutes, Aydin told Compass, bystanders produced two flags. Karasu, who has known Aydin for a year, wrapped the larger of the two flags around Aydin’s head, making it difficult for him to breathe in heat that reached the low 30s Celsius (90s F) this week.
“Do you see this missionary dog?” he yelled at the crowd. “He is handing out gospels and he is breaking up the country!”
Karasu placed the smaller flag in Aydin’s hand and commanded him to wave it.
“Both flags came at the same time,” Aydin told Compass. “The big one he put very tightly over my head, and in the heat I couldn’t breathe.”
The whole time Karasu held a large knife to Aydin’s throat.
“You missionary dogs, do you see this flag?” he said, commanding Aydin to wave the flag. “This is a holy flag washed in the blood of our fathers.”
Aydin said he told Karasu, “Yasin, in any case this flag is mine as well! I’m a Turk too, but I’m a Christian.”
Karasu insisted that Aydin was not a Turk because he had betrayed the Turkish flag and country by his evangelism, according to Aydin.
Aydin said he told Karasu, “No, Yasin, I’m a Turk and I’m waving this flag with love. This is my flag. I’m a Turk.” He said Karasu replied, “No, you can’t be – you are breaking up the country, and I won’t allow it.”
Police managed to convince Karasu to put down the knife and release Aydin, telling him that if he killed the convert Turkey would be ridiculed around the world, and that as a last resort they were authorized to shoot to kill him.
“If you love this country, leave the man,” they told him.
A member of the Turkish Protestant Alliance’s legal team said Karasu was evidently trying to get attention.
“He was the type of person who would commit a crime,” said Umut Sahin. “He had just gotten out of the army, he probably didn’t have a job … Anyway he achieved his goal of putting on a show.”
Sahin added that Karasu had previously gotten into trouble for selling pirated CDs.
Aydin, who escaped with a slight cut on his throat, said that he never would have believed that Karasu would do such a thing.
The two men have known each other for about a year. While in the army, Karasu showed interest in learning more about Christianity and would call Aydin, a convert from Islam, to ask questions and talk, saying he was interested in other religions.
“He would call me often, because while in the army he was really depressed and he would often call me to tell me,” said Aydin. “He wanted relief and to talk to someone, but at the same time he was researching about religions.”
After his release from compulsory army duty, Karasu called Aydin and the two planned to meet at a Protestant church in the district of Kadikoy. Karasu came with a friend identified as Baris, who preferred to stay outside while the two of them had tea alone in the church basement.
Aydin said they spoke for nearly 20 minutes about Karasu’s life in his hometown of Erzurum and his financial and family difficulties, as well as some spiritual matters, but since his friend was outside they made it short. Karasu was smiling, in good spirits and not at all the way Aydin remembered him from their meeting nearly a year earlier when he was depressed, he said.
“He looked so healthy, and he was smiling, he was dressed well, he was talking comfortably, he looked so cheerful,” recalled Aydin with disbelief. “He was not at all depressed! I was so surprised!”
Karasu thanked Aydin for the conversation, and the two got up from the table to go up the stairs. Aydin led the way, walking ahead of Karasu about a meter. Just as Aydin reached the stairway, he felt an arm grab him around the neck.
“At the first step he violently grabbed me, putting his arm around my neck, and gripped me tightly,” recalled Aydin. “I was surprised and thought someone had come up from behind me to tease me, but then I remembered it was just the two of us downstairs. ‘Yasin,’ I said, ‘Is that you? Are you playing a joke on me?’”
“What joke!” he said, pulling out a knife, according to Aydin. “You’re a missionary dog, and I’ve come to cut your throat.”
Karasu told Aydin that he planned to make an example of him in the eyes of the nation by killing him in public. Two members of the church tried and failed to stop Karasu. The two church members and Karasu’s friend followed them to a busy street down the road.
“He took me down to the busy street by the sea, threatening to kill me,” Aydin said. “The funny thing about it is that I had the impression that we were playing a part in a film. Not a single person on the way down tried to stop him or told him to stop. They just all looked on with consternation.”
Within one or two minutes, he said, police and a television crew arrived.
“Within a minute, both police and cameras showed up – how quick was that?” he said. “I was surprised.”
Suspicion of ‘Terrorism’
Although Aydin said he believes the act was an isolated incident, other Christian Turks as well as police suspect it may have been an act of propaganda to frighten Turkey’s small Protestant community, most of whom are converts from Islam.
“I don’t think it was planned,” said Aydin, “but it is possible that it was.”
The police section on terrorism combat is researching the possibility that the attack was planned by a wider group. Aydin has decided not to press charges, telling Turkish media that he forgave Karasu.
“I think it was an isolated case, but I have to see the police report,” said Sahin of the Turkish Protestant Alliance. “If this was a provocation he would have killed him. He just wanted to show off … with the Turkish flag.” He added with a chuckle, “As if we don’t like waving it.”
According to Article 24 of the Turkish Constitution, people of all faiths have the right to spread information about their faith.
Aydin, who was convinced he was going to lose his life, said he feels the experience instilled new life into him.
“On Aug. 3 I died and was reborn,” said Aydin. “That was my date of death and birth. I was sure I was going to die. It’s like a new opportunity, a new life. I really think the Lord gave me a second chance, because if you think of it, after other events, like Hrant Dink or the Malatya killings, those brothers weren’t so fortunate, right?”
Police found two knives on Karasu’s person, along with two cell phones and the two flags he got from his audience. He is still in police custody with his friend.
In February 2006 an Italian Catholic priest was killed in the Black Sea coastal town of Trabzon, and Armenian Christian editor Hrant Dink was shot in front of the weekly Agos three months before three Christians – two Turks and a German – were killed in Malatya in April 2007.
Last month a German businessman was also murdered for being a Christian on a busy Istanbul street (see “Christian Murdered on Busy Street in Istanbul,” July 28).
All murders were committed by Turkish men in their 20s.
Report from Compass Direct News
As bushfires rage across most of south-eastern Australia, the north, and in particular the north-east, has been hit by severe weather that has included a cyclone and widespread flooding. Areas of Queensland have been struck repeatedly by floods in the last couple of weeks and at least 60% of the state will be flood affected by the time the flooding has passed.
It is not just the initial areas that have been flooded that will be flooded, for the water is now moving in great volumes further downstream and will begin to flood areas that did not even experience rain during the severe weather. Inland areas of New South Wales and South Australia, including Lake Eyre, can expect moderate to major flooding in coming weeks as the water heads downstream.
Several lives have been lost as a result of the flooding, including a five year old boy who may have been taken by a Crocodile at Cape Tribulation in the Daintree region, after following his pet dog into flood waters.
Dozens of roads have been closed across Queensland and the damage bill is expected to be immense. There are fears that southern Queensland may soon be hit by flooding as the monsoonal trough heads south.
ABOVE: Report from Ingham
ABOVE: Footage near Cardwell
ABOVE: Footage around Paronella Park
ABOVE: A report from the 4th February 2009
Yes you read the title of this post correctly – there is a major crime wave in Sydney that warrants a massive redirection of funds. According to news reports today, a number of Sydney local governments are keen to test dog droppings with DNA technology in order to crackdown on owners who refuse to clean up after their dogs.
Dog owners are required to pick up dog droppings here and this is generally done by disposable gloves (or the like) and a plastic bag that dog owners take with them when walking the dog. The owners are then required to dispose of the waste in a responsible manner. However, it seems that a number of dog owners just can’t bring themselves to clean up after their dogs – perhaps these owners are simply above doing this type of thing or maybe they can’t stomach doing so.
Dogs are currently required to have an identification microchip installed (for want of a better word) and under the proposed DNA testing scheme, they would then also be DNA tested so that their records are kept on a database. With this done, dog droppings could be DNA tested and the results cross referenced with the database. The owners of offending dogs would then be easy to track and revenue increased for local councils (oops, did I suggest that this was a revenue raising scheme) through the issue of a fine.