The following article reports on the current situation in Egypt for Christians since the ‘Arab Spring’ uprisings. There are fears that the Christian minority may be driven out by Islamists.
Islamic extremist assault, security force operation leave at least 58 dead.
ISTANBUL, November 2 (CDN) — Amid questions about lax security, mourners gathered in Iraq today to bury the victims of Sunday’s (Oct. 31) Islamic extremist assault on a Syrian Catholic Church in Baghdad, one of the bloodiest attacks on the country’s dwindling Christian community.
Seven or eight Islamic militants stormed into Our Lady of Salvation church during evening mass after detonating bombs in the neighborhood, gunning down two policemen at the stock exchange across the street, and blowing up their own car, according to The Associated Press (AP). More than 100 people were reportedly attending mass.
A militant organization called the Islamic State of Iraq, which has links to al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, claimed responsibility for the attack. The militants sprayed the sanctuary with bullets and ordered a priest to call the Vatican to demand the release of Muslim women whom they claimed were held hostage by the Coptic Church in Egypt, according to the AP. The militants also reportedly demanded the release of al Qaeda prisoners.
“It appears to be a well-planned and strategic attack aiming at the church,” said a local source for ministry organization Open Doors.
About four hours after the siege, Iraqi security forces launched an assault on the church building, and the Islamic assailants blew themselves up. It was unclear how many of the 58 people dead had been killed by Iraqi security personnel, but the militants reportedly began killing hostages when the security force assault began. All who did not die from gunshots and blasts were wounded.
The dead included 12 policemen, three priests and five bystanders from the car bombing and other blasts outside the church. The Open Doors source reported that the priests killed were the Rev. Saad Abdal Tha’ir, the Rev. Waseem Tabeeh and the Rev. Raphael Qatin, with the latter not succumbing until he had been taken to a hospital.
Bishop Georges Casmoussa told Compass that today Iraqi Christians not only mourned lost brothers and sisters but were tempted to lose hope.
“It’s a personal loss and a Christian loss,” said Casmoussa. “It’s not just people they kill. They also kill hope. We want to look at the future. They want to kill the Christian presence here, where we have so much history.”
Casmoussa, who knew the priests who died, said that this attack will surely drive more Christians away from the country or to Kurdish administrated northern Iraq.
“Those who are wounded know that it is by the grace of God they are alive, but some of them don’t know exactly what happened,” said Casmoussa. “There is one hurt man who doesn’t know if his son is still alive. This is the drama. There are families that lost two and three members. Do I have the right to tell them to not leave?”
The attack was the deadliest one against the country’s Christians since Islamic extremists began targeting them in 2003.
“It was the hardest hit against the Christians in Iraq,” said Casmoussa, noting that no single act of violence had led to more casualties among Christians. “We never had such an attack against a church or Christian community.”
Memorials were held today in Baghdad, Mosul and surrounding towns, said Casmoussa, who attended the funeral of 13 deceased Christians including the dead priests.
“At the funeral there was the Shiite leader, the official spokesperson of the government ministers,” Casmoussa said. “All the discussion was flippant – ‘We are with you, we are all suffering,’ etcetera, but we have demanded a serious investigation. We can’t count on good words anymore. It’s all air. We’ve heard enough.”
The Rev. Emanuel Youkhana of the Church of the East told Compass that Iraqi Christians have been systematically driven out over the last five years. He said this attack came as no surprise to him.
“I’m not surprised, in that this is not the first time,” said Youkhana. “In the last five years, there has been a systematic terrorist campaign to kick out the Christians from the country. [They are saying] you are not accepted in this country. Christians should leave this country.”
Youkhana said that in the same way that the Jewish community has disappeared from Iraq, the Iraqi Christians, or Medians as they are called, “are in their last stage of existence” in Iraq.
The Iraqi government is to blame due to its lax security measures, Youkhana said.
“I’m ashamed of the minister of defense, who came on TV and said it was a successful and professional operation – 50 percent of the [congregation] was massacred,” said Youkhana of the assault on the Islamic terrorists by Iraqi security forces.
He said that in order for Christians to have any hope of staying in Iraq, the government must come up with a political solution and set up an independent administrative area, like that of the Kurdish administration in northern Iraq.
“Just now I was watching on TV the coverage of the funeral,” Youkhana said. “All the politicians are there to condemn the act. So what? Is the condemnation enough to give confidence to the people? No!”
It is estimated that more than 50 percent of Iraq’s Christian community has fled the country since 2003. There are nearly 600,000 Christians left in Iraq.
“More people will leave, and this is the intention of the terrorists: to claim Iraq as a pure Islamic state,” said Youkhana. “Our people are so peaceful and weak; they cannot confront the terrorists. So they are fleeing out of the country and to the north. This is why we say there should be political recognition.”
Five suspects were arrested in connection with the attack – some of them were not Iraqi, and today an Iraqi police commander was detained for questioning in connection to the attack, according to the AP.
“We can’t make political demands,” said Casmoussa. “We are making a civic and humanitarian demand: That we can live in peace.”
Following the funerals today, a series of at least 13 bombings and mortar strikes in predominantly Shiite neighborhoods of Baghdad reportedly killed 76 people and wounded nearly 200.
Report from Compass Direct News
Iran’s president claimed his country is a genuine cradle of liberty. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is in New York for the annual meeting of the UN General Assembly, reports MNN.
Ahmadinejad insisted that political opponents are free to demonstrate, refusing to acknowledge that opposition groups and Christians have been driven underground by a vicious government crackdown.
"When we discuss the subject of freedoms and liberty it has to be done on a comparative basis and to keep in mind that democracy, at the end of the day, means the rule of the majority, so the minority cannot rule," Ahmadinejad said.
President of Open Doors USA Carl Moeller says, "Any person that’s had any exposure to the realities of life in Iran would disagree with President Ahmadinejad."
Moeller says Ahmadinejad is the master of the big lie. "He’s a holocaust denier, for example. And it’s easy to deny something as long as you don’t have to [back it up with] evidence. In this case, it’s easy to say Iran is a free country because everybody who would dissent knows clearly that if they dissent, they would be sent to prison."
Iran is one of the most repressive places to be a Christian. It ranks second on Open Doors’ World Watch list of countries which persecute Christians. "We’ve talked, on this program, about those who have spent months in prison simply for converting to Christianity and suffered huge abuse because of it," says Moeller.
Despite this oppression, Moeller says many Iranians are turning to Christ. They’re responding to Christian radio and satellite television broadcasts. Some are reading about Christ on the Internet. Some young people are starting churches as a result.
Moeller says most Iranians are aware of it. "90 percent of Iranians are aware that Muslims are turning to faith in Jesus Christ and have first-hand knowledge of that. It’s an incredible statistic. And we see that the increase in persecution is a direct relationship with the growth of the church in Iran."
Report from the Christian Telegraph
Chhattisgarh, India, August 31 (CDN) — Police in Sivaho Dhamtari on Aug. 29 arrested three Christians after Hindu extremists filed a complaint against them of luring people to convert to Christianity by offering them money and “false hope.” A source reported that the extremists had recently launched a series of attacks against Pastor Dilip Chakravarty, Ganga Ram and Shankar Lal of the Church of God, accusing them of forceful conversion and trying to force Ram and Lal to “reconvert” back to Hinduism. Ram and Lal sustained fractures on their hands and legs from the attacks. Area Christian leaders said no forceful conversion took place. The three Christians were charged with 295 (a) of the Indian Penal Code for “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion” and were sent to Dhamtari district jail the same day.
Karnataka – Hindu extremists from the Bajrang Dal disrupted the worship meeting of Ebenezer Assembly of God Church and beat Pastor Ravi George and a church member identified only as Ramu on Aug. 29 in K.R. Nagar, Mysore. The Global Council of Indian Christians reported that about 20 extremists broke into the worship meeting, snatched Bibles and a mobile phone from Pastor George and started beating those present. The Christians received hospital treatment for serious head and hand injuries. Pastor George submitted a police complaint.
Karnataka – Christians in Madalawada, Haliya face a social boycott and the Rev. Philip Rock of St. Sebastian Church was charged with “causing disharmony” after Christians refused to follow Hindu rituals. In an effort to stop the spread of cholera in the village, local Hindu leaders On Aug. 24 urged villagers to pray to a Hindu deity and told them not to work on two Tuesdays and three Fridays, reported the Global Council of Indian Christians. Rock advised the Christians not to observe the Hindu rituals, and they resumed their daily activities. The Hindu extremists boycotted the Christians’ businesses and grocery shops, kept students from attending Christian schools and refused to repair Christians’ farm equipment. A police investigation is underway.
New Delhi – Hindu extremists from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Bajrang Dal attacked Pastor Isaac Laal on Aug. 22 in Bhavana, Dariyakala Pura, New Delhi as he was returning home from a Sunday church service. The Evangelical Fellowship of India reported that armed extremists stopped him and took him to Municipal Corporation hall where about 150 RSS members were meeting. The extremists accused Laal of forceful conversion and severely beat him, leaving the pastor with internal injuries. The investigating officer of Bawana police station told Compass that police are investigating but no First Information Report has been registered.
Karnataka – Hindu nationalists on Aug. 20 beat a pastor after falsely accusing him of “allurement” in the conversion of villagers in Bhendwad, Belgaum district. The Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) reported that Pastor David Kalagade of Jeevan Jala Prayer Mandiram was conducting a prayer service at another Christian’s house when 40 area extremists barged into the house at about 8 p.m. and accused him of bribing villagers to convert. Pastor Kalagade told Compass that the extremists tore up Christian literature and dragged him to the village council. Police were summoned, but the extremists could not substantiate their claims that people were given 500 to 1,000 rupees (about US$10 to US$20) to embrace Christianity. Police called the pastor to the police station on Aug. 21 and, contrary to the religious freedom provisions in the Indian constitution, forced him to sign a statement that he would not convert people in the village. Police official Anil Kumar told Compass that police also took a written statement from the extremists pledging that they would not create disturbances for the Christians. GCIC sources told Compass that the extremists were closely monitoring the daily activities of Christians.
Maharashtra – Police on Aug. 20 deported five South Korean students on the basis of the complaint of “propagating Christianity” on Aug. 16 by Hindu extremists in Pune. Manifesting one’s faith is legal in India. The Indian Express reported the police as saying that the five Koreans were distributing pamphlets in Pimpri Chinchwad, which led to a quarrel with local Hindu extremists. Area Christians said the Koreans were leading Bible studies in Christian homes and were distributing pamphlets on health issues to those who wanted them.
Karnataka – Police on Aug. 19 detained a pastor after Hindu nationalists from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) beat him while he was showing a film in Mahalingapura, Bagalkot district. The Global Council of Indian Christians reported that Pastor Hanok Mahadev Inachi of the New Apostolic Church and two Christian students identified only as Sarah and Gauri were showing a film, “Oceans of Mercy” to villagers when a mob of over 200 RSS extremists attacked. The Hindu extremists repeatedly struck the pastor on his back and took the film projector, a DVD player, generators, amplifier and a speaker box worth nearly 100,000 rupees (US$2,135), which police later forced them to return. Pastor Inachi told Compass that the extremists pushed, shoved and struck his back as they forced him to the Mahalingapura police station. He was released the next morning without charges but was forced to sign a statement pledging that he would not enter the village again; the two women were also given a warning.
Madhya Pradesh – Police on Aug. 16 filed charges against a pastor under the state’s “anti-conversion law” after local Hindu extremists disrupted his house church meeting in Nisarpur village, Dhar district. The Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) reported that as independent Pastor Balu Sasya and an assistant pastor identified only as Raju were leading nearly 30 Christians in prayer and worship, about 35 extremists stormed the church, shouting slogans and slapping Raju. Falsely accusing the pastors of forcibly converting villagers, the extremists forced Sasya and Raju to the Nisarpur police station and filed a false complaint against them, GCIC reported. A GCIC regional coordinator told Compass that both Sasya and Raju were in still in Badhawani jail at press time.
Tamil Nadu – Police arrested Pastor S. Martin Rajasekaran after Hindu extremists along with police disrupted a prayer meeting on Aug. 15 in Tanjore. Barging into the prayer meeting led by Pastor Rajasekaran, the extremists chased away the Christians, seized a church amplifier and loud speakers and locked the house, according to the All India Christian Council (AICC). The pastor had been threatened and driven away from his rented house six times by the extremists and insulted and manhandled many times, according to the AICC, but all his complaints to police were ignored.
Madhya Pradesh – Two Hindu extremists from the Bajrang Dal, Ram Naresh Rai and Santosh Namdin, threatened a Christian convert on Aug. 15 in Dhanora, Lahknadon. Achelal Jhariya of Light of the World Church told Compass that the extremists filed a complaint against him of forceful conversion, claiming that he was constructing his house for conversion activities. Jhariya said the extremists went to the property site and told him to stop worshipping Jesus and warned him to stop construction or they would destroy all his belongings. The Christian said he was not building the house for any conversion activities, though such activities are legal in India, and reported the matter to police. Officers promised him security.
Karnataka – Police arrested two Christians after Hindu extremists from the Bajrang Dal accused them of forceful conversion and disrupted their worship meeting on Aug. 15 in Mandya district. The Global Council of Indian Christians reported that the extremists led by Hanumant Raj, local president of the Bajrang Dal, forcefully entered the worship meeting in Shesha Gowda’s home and started abusing the Christians. They filed a complaint against the Christians of forceful conversion in K.R. Pete police station. Police took 12 Christians to the station for questioning, releasing 10 without charges. Pastor Satish and Evangelist Ravi Pas, however, were arrested under Section 295 and 298 of the Indian Penal Code for “defiling a worship place with intent to insult religion of any class” and “uttering words with deliberate intent to wound the religious feelings of any person respectively.”
Karnataka – Police on Aug. 13 detained Christians after accompanying Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) members to a church and standing by as the BJP extremists disrupted their worship in Birur, Chikmagalur district. The Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) reported that the Indian Pentecostal Church pastor identified only as Dileep, along with 10 other Christians including three women and a young child, were taken to the Kadur police station and interrogated for over four hours. During the interrogation, BJP extremists surrounded them and shouted false accusations of forcible conversion and other abusive statements at the terrified Christians. With GCIC intervention, the Christians were released at 8:30 p.m. with a strict warning, contrary to the religious freedom provisions in the Indian constitution, to refrain from conversion activities in the area.
Uttar Pradesh – Members of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Aug. 8 disrupted a Christian prayer meeting in Mailani, Lakhimpur-Kheri district, according to the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI). Nearly 25 BJP extremists accompanied by police gathered at 11 a.m. at Life Prayer Centre, where nearly 600 Christians had congregated for worship. The intolerant Hindus shouted slogans and demanded that Pastor Robert Samson come out, EFI reported. Police dispersed the Christians and took Pastor Samson in for questioning, releasing him later that afternoon without charges but allegedly threatening to shut down the church, according to EFI. Police also prohibited the congregation from gathering the following Sunday. Using a loudspeaker, the BJP nationalists continued making public accusations of forcible conversion by Pastor Samson throughout the day, EFI noted.
Karnataka – Members of the extremist Hindu Jagaran Vedike, a wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, on Aug. 8 disrupted a prayer meeting and falsely accused Christians of “forceful conversion” in Kanakagiri, Koppal district. The Evangelical Fellowship of India reported that at about 7:30 p.m. nearly 60 extremists stormed into an Evangelical Church of India service led by Pastor John Harris in the home of a family interested in learning about Christianity that had been regularly attending the church for about a year. Ordering the Christians to go outside where broadcast media were waiting, the extremists verbally abused the Christians for their faith, told them to stop all worship meetings and falsely accused them of forcible conversion. The Hindu nationalists took the Christians to the police station and pressured officers to arrest them. Police forced the Christians to sign a statement that they would not conduct meetings in homes and threatened to file a case against them if they did.
Bihar – Hindu extremists from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh on Aug. 7 attacked Singhasini Church and threatened Christians in Raxual. A source reported that the extremists pasted several pictures of Hanuman, a Hindu god, on the church’s wall and demanded that Christians leave the area. The extremists further threatened the Christians that they would hoist the Hanuman flag over the church building if they continued to worship Jesus. With area Christian leaders’ intervention, no further harm came to the church.
Maharashtra – Armed Hindu extremists on Aug. 1 attacked a church meeting and beat Christians including women and children, seriously injuring two people in Orlem, Malad. The Global Council of Indian Christians reported that after a group of armed extremists barged into the Sunday worship meeting of the Church of North India’s St. Emmanuel Church, Ponkumar Nadar and Devashish Nagarwere sustained injuries that required treatment in a local hospital. The congregation was attacked with rods and other blunt weapons, according to the Catholic Secular Forum (CSF). Joseph Dias, secretary of CSF, told media that the Hindu extremists were drunk at the time of the attack.
West Bengal – Muslim extremists on Aug. 1 destroyed a vegetable field belonging to a Christian in Natungram, Murshidabad. The Evangelical Fellowship of India reported the field belonged to Gaffar Sheik, a member of Believer’s Community Worship Center. Earlier, Raffiqul Sheik had warned Gaffar Sheik that if he continued to worship Christ, his crops would be burned. The extent of the damage was estimated at about 20,000 rupees (US$400). Police visited the site, and an investigation is underway.
Uttar Pradesh – Police detained Christian students after accusing them of forceful conversion on July 24 in Lukcnow. The All India Christian Council (AICC) reported that four students from Compassion for India Ministry were visiting the slum area when the police team led by an officer identified only as Tripati called their pastor to the police station. The officer accused the pastor and his team of forceful conversion and forced the Christians to report about their work in detail. Police took money from the pastor before releasing the students, reported the AICC. The students maintained that they were just distributing food to the needy in the poor area and that there was no forceful conversion.
Uttar Pradesh – A mob of about 50 Hindu extremists from the Bajrang Dal barged into a Christian meeting shouting, “Jai Shri Ram [Praise lord Ram]” on July 23 in Kanpur. The Global Council of Indian Christians reported that the extremists forcefully entered the two-day meeting organized by Pastor Samuel Sarkar of the Kanpur Pentecostal Church and stopped the service. Police came to the spot and took the two parties to the police station, where officers told the Christians to cancel their meeting, which was subsequently discontinued.
Report from Compass Direct News
Hindu extremists raid revival meeting in one area, while others attack gospel event in another.
NEW DELHI, April 27 (CDN) — Hindu extremists raided Christian events in India’s Madhya Pradesh state this month, leaving a visiting theology student dead and several other Christians injured.
The body of 23-year-old Amit Gilbert was recovered from a water well 25 feet from the site of a Christian revival meeting that 15 to 20 Hindu extremists attacked on April 17 in Gram Fallaiya, Post Pathakheda, Betul district. With covered heads and carrying iron rods and bamboo clubs, members of the Hindu extremist Dharam Sena and Bajrang Dal cut electricity at the night-time event and began striking, sending the more than 400 in attendance running, Christian leaders said.
Eyewitnesses said the assailants chased Gilbert, of Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh state, and beat him mainly on his legs. Police in the state controlled by the Hindu extremist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) said that for the moment they believe Gilbert accidentally fell into the well amid the chaos, but Christians present said that is unlikely.
His body was found with his head and legs submerged in the 1.5-meter deep water of the well, yet he had no water in his lungs or stomach when Christians drew him out, said Pastor Santwan Lal, organizer of the April 15-17 revival event, suggesting that Gilbert was dead before being thrown in.
“Amit was hit first and then picked up and thrown into the well,” Pastor Lal said. “If he had fallen into the well, he would have had more bruises and at least a broken bone or two, since the well is rocky and narrow. But that was not the case.”
Pastor Lal and others Compass spoke with said they believe the posture of the body leaves no doubt that Gilbert was murdered.
“He sustained an injury on the left side of his face near the ear,” Pastor Lal added.
An autopsy was conducted, but authorities are not disclosing findings, Pastor Lal said. Hindu extremists from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and Bajrang Dal are reportedly exerting intense pressure on local authorities.
Betul Assistant Sub-Inspector Santosh Jain told Compass that the results of the autopsy, conducted by a team of doctors, will not be released because they have now become politicized.
Police on April 19 arrested nine people in connection with the incident and charged them with rioting, violence and trespassing, but not murder. Officers also registered Gilbert’s death under the Section 174 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, which pertains to inquiry and report on an incident involving death of a person whether suicide or otherwise.
“We are trying hard, but this case does not seem to be moving forward,” Jain said. “A report has been registered against 10 to 12 [initially] unidentified people, and we have so far arrested nine. All have accepted their involvement in the crime, and all belong to the Bajrang Dal. Not one of them is a local from Betul. Their bails have been rejected at the lower court.”
Arrested were Rakesh Dhurwe, Neeraj Rajput, Radheshyam Sahu, Sonu Rajput, Raju Kahar, Rajesh Oriya, Raju Deshmukh, Arun Thackrey, and Hemrath Bahalavi, he said.
Though police have initially determined that Gilbert fell into the well, they say they are open to the possibility that he was thrown into it.
Pastor Lal added that two women were also injured in the melee.
“As a result of the violence, two ladies attending the meeting were hit, and one of them was admitted in a local hospital for three days,” he said.
Christian leaders said Betul has increasingly witnessed such attacks since the BJP came to power in the state in 2004, with various incidents of Christians being beaten, arrested and intimidated.
The April 17 attack was sudden and without provocation or warning, Pastor Lal said. Soon after the assailants left, the Christians gathered to determine if anyone were missing. An unnamed girl and a nephew of the pastor were missing but later found, and that night Gilbert’s body was found when a Christian shined a flashlight into the well.
Gilbert was visiting as a volunteer to another pastor after having finished his Masters in Divinity degree from Central India Bible College, Itarsi, Madhya Pradesh, in March. He had reportedly insisted on staying to help Pastor Abhishek John in Sallaiya village in order to gain ministry experience.
Sources said April 17 was to have been Gilbert’s last day of volunteer service, as he was planning to return home to Uttar Pradesh the next day.
Rampage in Balaghat
In Balaghat on April 14 and 15, Hindu extremists attacked a three-day gospel meeting with fuel-bombs in spite of the presence of police summoned beforehand to provide security.
Prior to the event attended by 10,000 people in Balaghat’s Mulna stadium, local newspapers carried open threats issued by the Bajrang Dal and BJP workers against the Christian community. On April 14Bajrang Dal members threw two fuel-bombs into the stadium that did not explode.
“They had hurled petrol bombs even in the presence of the police,” Saurabh Panduria, a local Christian doctor, told Compass. “Thankfully it did not explode, or anything could have happened as there were many women, children and sick people in the crowd.”
The next day Bajrang Dal and the BJP workers attacked the event as well as the quarters where people who had come from outside Balaghat to attend the meetings were staying, including Kamla Nehru hall.
Police increased security for the April 15 meeting, but as it was drawing to a close about 150 BJP andBajrang Dal members surrounded the stadium. Some of them tried to storm in, but police repelled them. Hindu extremists responded by pelting them with stones and throwing fuel bombs at police vehicles. They also attempted to destroy stadium property.
Bajrang Dal workers Golu Thakre and Manu Yadav were among those who harassed participants at an afternoon meeting on April 15, said Dr. Amos Singh of Jeevan Jyoti Ministries in Balaghat.
“Darbari and Ganesh from Barai village in Mandla, Madhya Pradesh, and Sunil Jagne from Gondia, Maharashtra, were severely beaten by the Bajrang Dal people, and they were interrogated like they were criminals,” Singh said. “The police arrived later.”
At 5 p.m. extremists caught hold of some Christians and forced them to the BJP local office in Balaghat, where BJP and Bajrang Dal members assaulted at least three of them.
Police arrested nearly 23 Bajrang Dal members, including eight leaders. This prompted BJP Member of Parliament K.D. Deshmukh and Member of Legislative Assembly Ramesh Bhatere to lead a mob that surrounded the police station and protested throughout the night, loudly shouting slogans against the administration and the Christian community.
About 1,000 to 1,500 BJP and Bajrang Dal supporters fanned throughout Balaghat, bunching particularly around a bus stand and railway station and damaging at least three vehicles, including ones belonging to a senior police officer and an ex-Member of Parliament, Ashok Singh Saraswat. The mob attempted to set fire to buses from Maharashtra state transport corporation.
Since most of those attending the meeting were outsiders, the Bajrang Dal members descended on the railway station and bus stand and harassed passengers and broke property, damaging both buses and railway coaches, Singh said. If the extremists found a Bible in the luggage of people at the railway station and bus stand, they attacked them, he said.
“Christians who were returning from the meeting and attempting to get away from Balaghat as soon as possible were attacked and beaten with sticks and pelted with stones,” Singh said. “Women workers of the BJP attacked Christian women staying in Sindhi Dharamshala [hall], and some Christians who had come from Gondia and other places from nearby Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh had to flee for their lives, leaving behind their luggage in the Kamla Nehru hall and other places where they were put up.”
Pastor Kamlesh Nagpure said that he and his family were stuck in the stadium, unable to go to their home outside the city limits of Balaghat.
“People were driven to safety in tractors and private cars following the ruckus, and they were attacked even till early morning, 4 a.m.,” he said. “The attackers used large sticks to rough people up and indulged in brick throwing, which also damaged some vehicles. Some of us who could not get a safe ride outside town limits were forced to stay inside the stadium the whole night. Most of the crowd was composed of women and children.”
Christian leaders reportedly said the mob also damaged a Catholic church in Balaghat and attempted to attack other church buildings and houses belonging to Christian leaders. They threw fuel-bombs at the house of the Rev. Arvind Deep, where several participants had taken refuge that night.
At last the administration was forced to impose a curfew until April 17, even as the BJP declared a total shutdown of market and other activities on April 16 and 17 as part of their protest.
“Targeting participants of the meeting and beating and intimidating them continued till 10 a.m. on April 16,” Singh told Compass. “Many Christians have fled Balaghat out of fear and have gone to live with their relatives.”
Eight people who were arrested on April 15 were reportedly released the next morning.
Report from Compass Direct News
Christians targeted as political tension builds in weeks leading to parliamentary polls.
ISTANBUL, March 5 (CDN) — Political tensions ahead of parliamentary elections in Iraq on Sunday (March 7) have left at least eight Chaldean Christians dead in the last three weeks and hundreds of families fleeing Mosul.
“The concern of Christians in Mosul is growing in the face of what is happening in the city,” said Chaldean Archbishop of Kirkuk Louis Sako. “The tension and struggle between political forces is creating an atmosphere of chaos and congestion. Christians are victims of political tension between political groups, but maybe also by fundamentalist sectarian cleansing.”
On Feb. 23 the killing of Eshoee Marokee, a Christian, and his two sons in their home in front of other family members sent shock waves across the Christian community. The murder took place amid a string of murders that triggered the mass exodus of families to the surrounding towns and provinces.
“It is not the first time Christians are attacked or killed,” said the archbishop of the Syrian Catholic Church in Mosul, Georges Casmoussa. “The new [element] in this question is to be killed in their own homes.”
The capital of Nineveh Province some 400 kilometers (250 miles) northwest of Baghdad, Mosul has been known as the most dangerous city for Christians. At least 275 Assyrian Christians have been murdered by Islamic insurgents since 2003, according to a report prepared by the International Committee for The Rights of Indigenous Mesopotamians.
While in 2009 the organization listed 16 deaths, since January there have been at least 13 murders, eight of which took place the second half of February.
The movement of internally displaced persons to surrounding areas started in mid-February and tripled between Feb. 24 and Feb. 27 to about 683 families, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Although the rate of displacement into areas around Mosul has slowed, the report estimates that 720 families had fled the city as of March 1. This represents about 4,320 people.
Christian Students Affected
The murders have not only driven families away from the cities but have also kept students away from university. Three of the Christians killed in February were university students. As a result, around 2,000 Christian students are staying away from their classes until the tension in Mosul eases.
“We believe that the attack against these students was somehow related to the political situation in Mosul,” said General Secretary of the Chaldo-Assyrian Student and Youth Union Kaldo Oghanna. “This has affected our people in Mosul badly, and they have left the university.”
Oghanna said that the union has proposed that the Ministry of Education open a new university in a safer area of the Nineveh plains for the nearly 3,000 Christian undergraduate students and 250 graduate students studying in Mosul. He also said that they have appealed to the university’s administration to make necessary exceptions for the Christian students who have not attended classes in the last few weeks.
Although some local Christian leaders say they expect the tension to ease after Sunday, security may not improve as the Christian community is caught in political tensions between Arabs and Kurds vying for control of the province. Archbishop Casmoussa said regardless of who is behind the murders, the Christian community demands justice.
“We urge the Central and Regional Government to pursue the murders and their masters and judge them according to Iraqi laws, even if they are supported by religious or political parties,” Casmoussa said. “Enough is enough. Are we to pay the price of political struggles or ambitions?”
Sako said that in other cities security has improved, and that Christians are eager to cast their votes.
The election on March 7 will decide the 325 members of the Council of Representatives of Iraq, who will then elect the prime minister and president of Iraq. Of these seats, five are reserved for the nation’s Christian minority, estimated at around 600,000. Most of them live in the Nineveh plain.
At the beginning of the Iraq war, there were about 1.2 million Christians living in Iraq. Iraq’s population is roughly 30 million.
Report from Compass Direct News
Messianic Jews hope for punishment from courts, mercy from God, for confessed killer.
ISTANBUL, November 13 (CDN) — One morning during the week of March 10, 2008 in Ariel, Israel, David Ortiz opened his Bible randomly, read the words on the pages that opened before him and was filled with dread.
“I opened the book to Jeremiah, and a verse jumped out, “Ortiz said, referring to Jeremiah 9:21: “Death has climbed in through our windows and has entered our fortresses; it has cut off the children from the streets and the young men from the public squares.”
“I was afraid,” he said. “It was given to me like a promise, but of a different kind.”
For weeks, Ortiz had felt a premonition that something horrible was going to happen to him or his family. Six months prior, while in Norway, Ortiz watched a violent storm rip over the countryside. The wind tore out trees and threw them across a field. But still, through it all, some trees survived. Ortiz felt God was using the storm to speak to him.
“The ones that are rooted are the ones that remain,” he said.
On March 20, 2008, Ortiz’s fears came to pass. When his 15-year-old son lifted the lid of a Purim basket, left anonymously as a gift at their Ariel apartment, a bomb inside the basket exploded.
The bomb was devastating. It damaged the Ortiz family apartment and destroyed much of what they owned. When young Ami Ortiz was taken to the hospital, he was blind, covered with blood and burns and full of needles and screws contained in the bomb. The doctors told his mother, Leah Ortiz, that Ami was “Anush.”
“Literally, in Hebrew it means the spirit is leaving the body,” she said.
Now, 20 months later, Ami is 16, back in school and playing basketball. And yesterday the man that police say committed the crime was indicted for attempted murder.
Other than what has been released in court proceedings, little is known about Jack Teitel, the man accused of bombing the Ortiz family. One thing is certain – he believes he was acting in accordance with the will of God. Walking into court, the 37-year-old, U.S.-born West Bank settler shouted that God was proud of him.
“It was a pleasure and honor to serve my God,” Teitel reportedly said. “God is proud of what I have done. I have no regrets.”
Police said that Teitel is an ultra-Orthodox Jewish nationalist who picked out his targets based on his nationalist philosophy. Along with the Ortiz case, police said Teitel is responsible for the June 1997 shooting death of Samir Bablisi, a Palestinian taxi driver who was found in his cab with a single bullet wound to his head. Two months later, police said, Teitel shot Isa Jabarin, a Palestinian shepherd who was giving Teitel driving directions to Jerusalem.
Police also said that Teitel attempted to burn down a monastery and unsuccessfully planted several bombs. He is also accused of the September 2008 bombing of Zeev Sternhell of Hebrew University in Jerusalem. The bombing left the emeritus history professor slightly wounded.
Teitel has told police he was trying to kill David Ortiz, pastor of a church of Messianic Jews called Congregation of Ariel, not injure his son.
In all, Teitel has been indicted for two cases of pre-meditated murder, three cases of attempted murder, carrying a weapon, manufacturing a weapon, possession of illegal weapons and incitement to commit violence.
Adi Keidar, Teitel’s attorney, reportedly said his client is “mentally unstable.” He cited Teitel’s alleged confession to acts he did not commit. After a psychiatric evaluation by the state, Teitel was deemed fit to stand trial. Keidar is representing Teitel or behalf of the Honenu organization, a nationalistic law firm endorsed by Mordechai Eliyahu, a rabbi known for his far-right Orthodox views.
Honenu is known for defending, among others, Ami Popper. Popper was convicted in 1990 for shooting seven Palestinian workers who were waiting for a ride at a day labor pick-up site. Popper’s attack, like all others cited in Honenu’s website, was said to come “in response” to Palestinian aggression. Despite numerous attempts to contact Keidar, he could not be reached for comment.
David Ortiz said he is not surprised by Teitel’s claim that God is proud of him. Ortiz cited biblical verses where the early Christians were warned that one day people would kill them and think that they were doing the will of God. Teitel, Ortiz said, saw him as an enemy of the nation of Israel.
“He saw me and the professor as false prophets,” Ortiz said.
Police have brought no evidence linking Teitel to any other co-conspirator. But Leah Ortiz said she thinks Teitel worked with others. Teitel’s neighbor, Yosef Espinoza, was brought in for questioning and later released. Teitel does not speak Hebrew, but when he was arrested he was distributing handouts written in Hebrew criticizing homosexuals in Israel.
When his apartment was raided, police found a cache of illegal weapons he has been indicted for owning. Ortiz also said that a recording tape from a closed-circuit television camera taken on the day of the bombing shows Teitel was driven to the Ortiz apartment by another person.
Regardless, Leah Ortiz scoffs at the claim that Teitel was politically motivated. Instead, she said, he used politics and religion as a foil to justify murder.
“He is a serial killer,” she said.
In spite of all the pain that the Ortiz family has gone through, Leah Ortiz said she has seen much good come from the tragedy, including miraculous healings. She said that the bombing has helped soften the opinion of people in Israel toward Jews who believe that Jesus is the Messiah promised by the Jewish prophets.
“It has made them face the facts of how they see Jesus,” she said.
Howard Bass, a leader of a Messianic congregation in Beer Sheva, Israel, said he isn’t so sure.
“It’s not that simple,” he said, adding that such attacks may help tolerant people to eschew violence, but that others will actually be encouraged by the bombings. “It makes people aware of how far they [people set against the Messianic Jews] will be willing to go and abhor them. It’s bringing things to light and forcing people to make a decision: What is good and what is evil?”
Bass himself was a victim of at least one attack by anti-missionary, Orthodox extremists. On Dec. 24, 2005, several hundred Orthodox Jews mobbed an outdoor service held by Bass. The mob destroyed church equipment, terrorized congregants and threw Bass into a baptismal pool.
Bass has since sued Yad L’Achim, an Orthodox, anti-missionary organization he said is responsible for inciting the attack. A court decision in the case is due later this month.
On its website, Yad L’Achim asserts that missionaries are “devious” and are trying to “destroy the Jewish people.” The organization makes no distinction in its website between missionaries and Messianic Jews. The site also goes as far as to accuse Messianic Jews of “playing the victim to the hilt” in reference to the Ortiz bombing.
Despite numerous attempts to reach members of Yad L’Achim, no one was made available for comment.
According to the International Religious Freedom Report 2009 issued by the U.S. Department of State, there are 10,000 Messianic Jews in Israel. The report documents several cases of violence against Messianic Jews, including one case on May 15 in which “Ultra-Orthodox residents of the Tel Aviv suburb of Rehovot attacked and beat a group of Messianic Jews who were handing out New Testament pamphlets on the street.”
Additionally, Bass cites a book published this week in Israel entitled, “The King’s Torah.” Bass said the book encourages the killing of gentiles and anyone else deemed to be a threat to Israel.
“We’re seeing a spirit rising,” Bass said, “where they feel they have a legitimate right to kill anyone who threatens the Jewish state.”
Mentioning the book, David Ortiz agreed with Bass, calling the bombing and recent anti-Christian aggression “a shadow of things to come.”
As for what the Ortiz family wishes for Teitel, Leah Ortiz said she hopes he will receive a sentence that is “equal to his crime.” Because Israel has no death penalty, this very likely would mean life in prison.
Regardless of what happens in court, members of the Ortiz family say they have forgiven Teitel. David Ortiz hopes one day to sit down face-to-face with Teitel and talk. He said he hopes Teitel will become another Apostle Paul.
“There is something inside him that makes him want to kill people. If God has had mercy on me, maybe he’ll have mercy on others,” Ortiz said. “The Lord forgave David and many people in the Bible – my goal and my prayer for him is that he will repent and be saved.”
Report from Compass Direct News
Government stops paying rent for site where students were driven more than a year ago.
JAKARTA, Indonesia, October 20 (CDN) — Approximately 700 students from Arastamar Evangelical Theological Seminary (SETIA) are facing eviction at the end of the month from a campground where Muslim protestors drove them last year.
Education will end for students who have been living in 11 large tents and studying in the open air at Bumi Perkemahan Cibubur (BUPERTA) campground, many of them for more than a year. Hundreds of protestors shouting “Allahu-Akbar [“God is greater]” and brandishing machetes forced the evacuation of staff and students from the SETIA campus in Kampung Pulo village on July 26-27, 2008.
Urged on by announcements from a mosque loudspeaker to “drive out the unwanted neighbor” following a misunderstanding between students and local residents, the protestors also had sharpened bamboo and acid and injured at least 20 students, some seriously.
The Jakarta provincial government has ceased paying the rental fee of the campsite in East Jakarta, a bill that now totals 2.7 billion rupiahs (US$280,000), which camp officials said will result in the eviction of the students and the end of their studies at the end of the month.
At the beginning of the month, camp officials cut off electricity and water; as a result, the students have had to go 1,500 meters to bathe and use the toilet in the Cibubur marketplace. Additionally, several of the student tents were taken down. In spite of the conditions, sources said, the students have maintained their enthusiasm and no one has quit the school.
SETIA officials said camp management rejected their request for an extension.
“The electricity and the water were cut off after the Cibubur campground managers rejected Arastamar’s request,” said Yusuf Lifire, SETIA administrator.
Other students at the seminary have taken temporary shelter in the other parts of greater Jakarta. Those living quarters, however, are so overcrowded that some of the students have become ill.
Umar Lubis, head of BUPERTA campground, said camp officials have provided the students great leeway and shown great tolerance in the year that rent has not been paid.
“We have provided water, electricity, and other facilities,” Lubis told Compass. “However, Jakarta Province has not paid us campground rental since October 2008. The government did pay 700 million rupiahs [US$75,000], but that only covered the rental fees through September 2008.”
Muhayat, area secretary of Jakarta Province who goes by a single name, told Compass that beginning in October 2008, the provincial government was no longer responsible for campsite rental for the SETIA students. The provincial government made this decision, he said, because the seminary refused to move to Jonggol, Bogor, West Java, about 50 kilometers (31 miles) from the old campus.
“We offered to move them to Jonggol, but Arastamar took a hard line and wanted to be in Jakarta,” Muhayat said.
The Rev. Matheus Mangentang, rector of SETIA, said that they refused to move to Jonggol because their school permit was for Jakarta.
“If we moved to Jonggol, we would have to get a new permit,” Mangentang told Compass. “We suspect that this would be an extremely difficult process.”
Many students are suffering from respiratory and other illnesses, and some have breast cancer. The sick are being cared for at the Christian University of Indonesia hospital.
One of the students living at the BUPERTA campground told Compass that many of the students had fever from mosquito bites.
“When it rains here, we sleep on water and mud,” said a 21-year-old student who identified herself only as Siska. Her statements were echoed by a Christian education major named Ahasyweros.
“We struggle daily in a place like this – especially after our request was turned down,” the student said. “We don’t know where we are going to go. We hope that the Jakarta provincial government will have the heart to help us.”
The staff and students were forced from their campus by a mob that claimed to be acting for the local citizens of Pulo Kampung, Makasar District, East Jakarta last year. Key among motives for the attack was that area Muslims felt “disturbed” by the presence of the Christian college. They wanted it to be moved to another area.
The approximately 1,300 seminary students were placed in three locations: 760 at the BUPERTA campground, 330 at the Kalimalang Transit Lodge, and 220 at the former office of the mayor of West Jakarta.
The fate of the students at all locations was similar; they were overcrowded and short on water, and overall facilities were substandard.
Jakarta Vice-Gov. Prijanto, who goes by a single name, had promised to find a solution. He had also stated that the government was ready to help and would pay for the students’ room and board, but this has not been the case.
Mangentang said he continues to hope for good will from the Jakarta government, which he said should return the school to its original site in Pulo Kampung.
“Even if there is talk in the provincial government that the locals don’t accept us, we still want to go back,” he said. “After we are back, then we would be prepared to talk and negotiate about the future. Healthy discussions are not possible if we are not back in our own home. If we tried to talk now, while we are trampled upon and pressured, nothing healthy would result. It is better that we return to our own place so that we can talk at the same level.”
Report from Compass Direct News
Maher El-Gohary provides requested documents, but judge dismisses them.
ISTANBUL, June 16 (Compass Direct News) – A Cairo judge on Saturday (June 13) rejected an Egyptian’s convert’s attempt to change his identification card’s religious status from Muslim to Christian, the second failed attempt to exercise constitutionally guaranteed religious freedom by a Muslim-born convert to Christianity.
For Maher El-Gohary, who has been attacked on the street, subjected to death threats and driven into hiding as a result of opening his case 10 months ago, Saturday’s outcome provided nothing in the way of consolation.
“I am disappointed with what happened and shocked with the decision, because I went to great lengths and through a great deal of hardship,” he said.
El-Gohary follows Mohammed Ahmed Hegazy as only the second Muslim-born convert in Egypt to request such a change. El-Gohary filed suit against the Ministry of the Interior for rejecting his application in August last year.
In contrast to their angry chants and threats in previous hearings, lawyers representing the government sat quietly as Judge Hamdy Yasin read his decision in a session that lasted no more than 10 minutes, according to one of El-Gohary’s lawyers, Nabil Ghobreyal.
The judge rejected El-Gohary’s application even though the convert provided a baptism certificate and a letter of acceptance into the Coptic Orthodox Church that the judge had demanded.
“The judge said he will not accept the [baptism] certificate from Cyprus or the letter from Father Matthias [Nasr Manqarious],” said Ghobreyal. “Even if he gets a letter from the pope, the judge said he would not accept it, because the remit of the church is to deal with Christians, not to deal with Muslims who convert to Christianity; this is outside their remit.”
El-Gohary sounded perplexed and frustrated as he spoke by telephone with Compass about the verdict.
“The judge asked for letters of acceptance and baptism,” he said. “It was really not easy to get them, in fact it was very hard, but if he was not going to use these things, why did he ask for them in the first place? We complied with everything and got it for him, and then it was refused. What was the point of all this?”
A full explanation of Yasin’s decision to deny the request will be published later this week. The judge’s comments on Saturday, however, provided some indication of what the report will contain.
“The judge alluded to the absence of laws pertaining to conversion from Islam to Christianity and suggested an article be drawn up to deal with this gap in legislation,” said Ghobreyal.
High Court Appeal
Such a law would be favorable to converts. Thus far, hopeful signs for converts include a recent decision to grant Baha’is the right to place a dash in the religion section of their ID cards and a High Court ruling on June 9 stating that “reverts” (Christians wishing to revert to Christianity after embracing Islam) are not in breach of law and should be allowed to re-convert.
At the age of 16 all Egyptians are required to obtain an ID that states their religion as Muslim, Christian or Jewish. These cards are necessary for virtually every aspect of life, from banking, to education and medical treatment.
No Egyptian clergyman has issued a baptismal certificate to a convert, but El-Gohary was able to travel to Cyprus to get a baptismal certificate from a well-established church. In April the Coptic, Cairo-based Manqarious recognized this certificate and issued him a letter of acceptance, or “conversion certificate,” welcoming him to the Coptic Orthodox community.
El-Gohary’s baptismal certificate caused a fury among the nation’s Islamic lobby, as it led to the first official church recognition of a convert. A number of fatwas (religious edicts) have since been issued against El-Gohary and Manqarious.
El-Gohary’s case could go before the High Court, his lawyer said.
“This is not the end; this is just the beginning,” said Ghobreyal. “I am going to a higher court, I have ideas and I am going to fight all the way through. It’s a long road.”
Ghobreyal’s tenacious attitude is matched by his client’s.
“I am going to persevere, I will not give up,” said El-Gohary. “Appealing is the next step and I am ready for the steps after that. I am going to bring this to the attention of the whole world.”
The judge had received a report from the State Council, a consultative body of Egypt’s Administrative Court, which expressed outrage at El-Gohary’s “audacity” to request a change in the religious designation on his ID. The report claimed that his case was a threat to societal order and violated sharia (Islamic law).
El-Gohary’s lawyers noted that the report is not based on Egypt’s civil law, nor does it uphold the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights that Egypt has signed. It stated that those who leave Islam, “apostates” such as El-Gohary, should be subject to the death sentence.
Report from Compass Direct News
By Elizabeth Kendal
Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin
Special to ASSIST News Service
The Margala Hills are all that lie between al-Qaeda-Taliban jihadists and their goal: nuclear-armed Islamabad. While most popular media reports give the impression that this crisis has only recently emerged, this is far from the case. The reality must be absorbed and lessons must be learned.
In 2003, as part of their ‘War on Terror’ alliance, America and Pakistan agreed that the Pakistani Army be given the job of eliminating al-Qaeda and Taliban elements in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Agencies (FATA) of North West Frontier Province (NWFP). However, a high death toll — including the loss of possibly 3000 soldiers — weakened both Army moral and public resolve, creating domestic political problems for then-president General Musharraf.
In pursuit of political gain, Musharraf brokered ‘land-for-peace’ deals with the al-Qaeda-Taliban alliance. In February 2005 South Waziristan was ceded, followed by North Waziristan in September 2006. With this ‘peace’, the military withdrew and jihadists were released from prison with compensation on a mere pledge not to engage in terrorism. If there were a turning point in the ‘War on Terror’, this unconditional surrender of Waziristan was surely it, for the power of the al-Qaeda-Taliban alliance has grown in both Afghanistan and Pakistan ever since.
The jihadists were never going to be pacified so long as their goal — the total Islamisation and Talibanisation of fortress Afghanistan and nuclear-armed Pakistan — remained unchanged and unrealised. The ‘Islamic Republic of Waziristan’ simply became a terrorist sanctuary and launching pad for further advances. Within months several more tribal areas had fallen under Taliban control. (‘Land-for-peace’ deals with agenda-driven fundamentalist Islamists and jihadists secure incremental Islamist advance, not peace.)
In July 2007 the government’s assault on the Islamists of the Lal Masjid (the Red Mosque in the centre of Islamabad) left some 100 Islamists dead. (The Islamists say thousands died, including children.) Consequently in September 2007 Al-Qaeda declared jihad against the government of Pakistan and the war was on in earnest. This war pits a determined al-Qaeda-Taliban alliance (with numerous high-level sympathisers) against an unstable and equivocating Pakistani government and a conflicted and divided Pakistani Army plagued by Pashtun and Sunni defections.
In the 18 months since, the jihadists have held or captured all the tribal areas. In February 2009 President Asif Ali Zardari brokered a ‘sharia-for-peace’ deal with the Taliban in Malakand Division which comprises one third of NWFP and includes the glorious, albeit Taliban-held, Swat Valley. All of NWFP is now either ceded to the Taliban or under some degree of Taliban control or influence.
Emboldened by its Malakand victory and its advances in strategic Peshawar, the Taliban launched its Spring Offensive with a further escalation. In early April a more united Taliban (see RLP 518, 23 Feb 2009) surged with little resistance south east from Swat (towards Islamabad) into Buner District in a ‘blitzkreig’. From there they quickly infiltrated Haripur District which borders the outskirts of Islamabad and Rawalpindi. According to most Western and Indian analysis and intelligence, Pakistan’s fall is inevitable and imminent, although according to Pakistan, this assessment is ‘ridiculous’.
The Church in Pakistan’s NWFP is already suffering severe repression and persecution under Taliban tyranny. Christians there are living in fear and paying jizya, the’tax’ or protection money demanded of subjugated Jews and Christians in the Quran (Sura 9:29). Their lives are always in the balance. The Church in Islamabad stands on the brink of the same fate. If the al-Qaeda-Taliban alliance manages to capture Islamabad in the months ahead, the world will instantly become a different place, and the Church in Islamabad and across Pakistan will see suffering and persecution unlike anything it has ever known before.
Report from the Christian Telegraph