The link below is to an article that reports on the easing of the bushfire crisis in New South Wales.
Police threaten or detain some 200 house church members who planned to attend.
DUBLIN, October 15 (CDN) — As organizers prepared for the opening of the Third Lausanne International Congress on World Evangelization tomorrow in Cape Town, South Africa, Chinese police threatened or detained some 200 delegates who had hoped to attend.
After receiving an invitation to attend the event, house church groups in China formed a selection committee and raised significant funds to pay the expenses of their chosen delegates, a source told Compass. Many delegates, however, were “interviewed” by authorities after they applied to attend the Congress, the source said.
When house church member Abraham Liu Guan and four other delegates attempted to leave China via Beijing airport on Sunday (Oct. 10), authorities refused to allow them through customs, reported the Chinese-language Ming Pao News. Officials detained one delegate and confiscated the passports of the other four until Oct. 25, the closing date of the conference.
China’s State Administration for Religious Affairs and the Ministry of Public Security had notified border control staff that the participation of Chinese Christians in the conference threatened state security and ordered them not to allow delegates to leave, Liu told U.S.-based National Public Radio (NPR).
Officials also prevented two house church Christians from Baotou City, Inner Mongolia, from leaving the country, and on Oct. 9 placed one of them in a 15-day detention, the China Aid Association (CAA) reported.
When Fan Yafeng, leader of the Chinese Christian Legal Defense Association and winner of the 2009 John Leland Religious Liberty Award, discussed the harassment with NPR on Tuesday (Oct. 12), officials assigned some 20 police officers to keep him under house arrest.
On Wednesday (Oct. 13), approximately 1,000 police officers were stationed at Beijing International Airport to restrain an estimated 100 house church members who planned to leave for the Congress via Beijing, according to CAA.
CAA also said authorities over the past few months had contacted every delegate, from Han Christians in Beijing to Uyghur Christians in Xinjiang, for questioning, and threatened some family members.
Normal church operations were also affected. The Rev. Xing Jingfu from Changsha in Hunan province told NPR that authorities cited the Lausanne Congress when they recently ordered his church to close.
China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Ma Zhaoxu, in a statement issued to NPR, accused the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization of communicating secretively with members of illegal congregations and not issuing an official invitation to China’s state-controlled church.
According to the Ming Pao report, the Lausanne committee said members of the Three-Self Protestant Movement had asked if they could attend. Delegates, however, were required to sign a document expressing their commitment to evangelism, which members of official churches could not do due to regulations such as an upper limit on the number of people in each church, state certification for preachers, and the confinement of preaching to designated churches in designated areas. House church Christians faced no such limitations.
The first such conference was held in Lausanne, Switzerland in 1974, which produced the influential Lausanne Covenant. The second conference was held in 1989 in Manila. Some 4,000 delegates from 200 countries are expected to attend the third conference in Cape Town.
Progress or Repression?
China watchers said there has been a slight easing of restrictions in recent months, accompanied by a call on Sept. 28 from senior Chinese political advisor Du Qinglin for the government to allow the independent development of the official church. Du made the remarks at the 60th anniversary celebrations of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement, according to the government-allied Xinhua news agency.
The BBC in August produced a glowing series on the growth of Christianity in China after Chinese authorities gave it unprecedented access to state-sanctioned churches and religious institutions. Religious rights monitor Elizabeth Kendal, however, described this access as part of a propaganda campaign by the Chinese government to reduce criticism of religious freedom policies.
NPR also produced a five-part series on Chinese religions in July. The series attributed the growth of religious adherence to the “collapse of Communist ideology” and pointed out that growth continued despite the fact that evangelism was “still illegal in China today.”
The claims of progress were challenged by an open letter from Pastor Zhang Mingxuan, president of the Chinese Christian House Church Alliance, to Chinese President Hu Jintao on Oct. 1, China’s National Day.
In the letter, published by CAA on Oct. 5, Zhang claimed that Chinese house church Christians respected the law and were “model citizens,” and yet they had become “the target of a group of government bandits … [who] often arrest and beat innocent Christians and wronged citizens.” Further, he added, “House church Christians have been ill-treated simply because they are petitioners to crimes of the government.”
Zhang then listed several recent incidents in which Christians were arrested and sent to labor camps, detained and fined without cause, beaten, interrogated and otherwise abused. He also described the closure or demolition of house churches and the confiscation of personal and church property.
He closed with a mention of Uyghur Christian Alimjan Yimit, “who was sentenced to 15 years in prison because he evangelized among Uyghurs – his very own people.”
Report from Compass Direct News
Police randomly arrest Copts as ploy to portray symmetry in ‘sectarian clash.’
ISTANBUL, June 16 (Compass Direct News) – Egyptian news sources report security forces have wrongly detained two Christians for nearly a month as part of a ruse to cast a Muslim attack on Copts as “sectarian violence.”
Violence broke out last month in the village of Toma, near El-Mahalla El-Kubra in the middle of the Nile Delta, when local Muslims attacked Copts who had rescued Nermeen Mitry, 16; Muslims had kidnapped the Coptic girl and tried to convert her to Islam, according to Assyrian International News Agency (AINA).
Some 150 Muslims attacked five of Mitry’s family members as they drove home to their village following her rescue after the May 21 kidnapping. Police arrested 14 Muslims and 11 Copts. In the course of the violence, a carton recycling warehouse owned by her father was burned down.
Most of the perpetrators have been released, Copts said, while two Muslims and two randomly selected Copts are still detained – a ruse to disguise the one-sided nature of the attack and to keep both sides from causing further disturbances. Hany Haziz, a local watchmaker who participated in reconciliation meetings, asserted that the Minister of Interior ordered the detentions for 45 days to create a false sense of symmetrical “community strife,” according to Coptic News Bulletin.
Coptic activists concurred that the state uses arrests of Copts when Muslims instigate sectarian violence to create a false sense of equivalence.
“This was a balance game; the security services play this every single instance,” said Helmy Guirguis, president of the U.K. Coptic Association. “They must take an equal number, and sometimes they snatch people on the street.”
International and Egyptian news agencies quoted state security forces saying that Mitry was engaged to local Muslim youth Hossam Hamouda, and that their relationship resulted in fierce clashes in the village of 2,000 people.
In addition, a report on Thursday (June 11) from the Egyptian Association for Democracy included quotes from local Muslims who repeated the statements of state security forces. But the authors of the report were not allowed to interview Mitry’s sister.
Some Copts, however, said that Muslim residents of Toma were angry that the kidnapping and attempted forcible conversion of Mitry had failed, as the perpetrators stood to earn money from Islamic groups that pay substantial sums for such conversions.
“The Muslims were angry that the girl escaped Islamization,” an Egyptian journalist told Compass. “There is a lot of money involved in Islamization of Coptic girls, as much as thousands of U.S. dollars, funded mainly by Saudi Arabia and Gulf states.”
Kidnap Victim’s Account
Mitry told the Free-Copts Organization that she was drugged by a Muslim friend and kidnapped, according to AINA.
When she awoke, she was in a house in Zagazig, a city in the eastern Nile Delta, and a bearded Muslim man was trying to convert her to Islam. He was later found to be Essam Abu Deiof Hamoud, a relative of the girl who allegedly drugged Mitry.
“The man was very confident and told me that I would be the fourth Coptic girl to ‘know the true Allah’ and convert to Islam through him,” Mitry told Free-Copts, according to AINA. “I told him, ‘I am engaged to be married when I come of age, and would never convert to Islam,’ as this would be a catastrophe for me. He did his best to make me change my mind.”
One of the abductor’s family members, who knew Mitry’s family, contacted them and told them her whereabouts. Her family came to rescue her from Hamoud.
Police told the family to bring her to the state security directorate, but because they distrusted government forces they instead brought her to the Coptic St. Demiana Convent northeast of Cairo. Egyptian authorities have been known to return Coptic girls to their Muslim kidnappers and summarily close cases.
At press time Mitry was still in the convent waiting until tensions diffuse in Toma. Some Christian advocates believe Copts will arrange a marriage for her before she returns to the village to make her less susceptible to a future kidnapping.
Until then, reconciliation meetings between Copts and Muslims continue under the auspices of the police. No Christian clergy are present.
Such meetings are somewhat customary in Egypt, in which different parties come together to settle legal matters out of court. They carry a social purpose of restoring faith and communal harmony in the face of sectarian tensions. But advocacy groups worry when meetings go beyond easing community tensions and act as a substitute for administrative justice and proper investigation.
Rights groups say that Mitry’s kidnapping is a small part of a larger campaign to rid Egypt of its Coptic element through pressuring conversions or otherwise erasing Christianity in the country.
That campaign includes a recent official decree by the Justice Ministry stating that Abu Hennes, one of Egypt’s few completely Coptic cities, would be renamed Wadi al-Neinaa (Mint Valley). The city’s Coptic legacy dates back to the fourth century, and the site is symbolically important as it is believed to have received Mary, Joseph, and Jesus after their flight from Israel.
On Thursday (June 11), thousands of Copts protested the attempted name change, according to Egyptian Christian weekly Watani. Similar demonstrations occurred in 1979 when former President Anwar Sadat also attempted a name change. In the face of protests, he ultimately backed down.
Report from Compass Direct News