Father refuses to give al Shabaab extremists information about house church pastor.

NAIROBI, Kenya, July 1 (Compass Direct News) – Islamic extremists have beheaded two young boys in Somalia because their Christian father refused to divulge information about a church leader, and the killers are searching Kenya’s refugee camps to do the same to the boys’ father.

Before taking his Somali family to a Kenyan refugee camp in April, 55-year-old Musa Mohammed Yusuf himself was the leader of an underground church in Yonday village, 30 kilometers (19 miles) from Kismayo in Somalia. He had received instruction in the Christian faith from Salat Mberwa.

Militants from the Islamic extremist group al Shabaab entered Yonday village on Feb. 20, went to Yusuf’s house and interrogated him on his relationship with Mberwa, leader of a fellowship of 66 Somali Christians who meet at his home at an undisclosed city. Yusuf told them he knew nothing of Mberwa and had no connection with him. The Islamic extremists left but said they would return the next day.

“Immediately when they left, I decided to flee my house for Kismayo, for I knew for sure they were determined to come back,” Yusuf said.

At noon the next day, as his wife was making lunch for their children in Yonday, the al Shabaab militants showed up. Batula Ali Arbow, Yusuf’s wife, recalled that their youngest son, Innocent, told the group that their father had left the house the previous day.

The Islamic extremists ordered her to stop what she was doing and took hold of three of her sons – 11-year-old Abdi Rahaman Musa Yusuf, 12-year-old Hussein Musa Yusuf and Abdulahi Musa Yusuf, 7. Some neighbors came and pleaded with the militants not to harm the three boys. Their pleas landed on deaf ears.

“I watched my three boys dragged away helplessly as my youngest boy was crying,” Arbow said. “I knew they were going to be slaughtered. Just after some few minutes I heard a wailing cry from Abdulahi running towards the house. I could not hold my breath. I only woke up with all my clothes wet. I knew I had fainted due to the shock.”

With the help of neighbors, Arbow said, she buried the bodies of her two children the following day.

In Kismayo, Yusuf received the news that two of his sons had been killed and that the Islamic militants were looking for him, and he left on foot for Mberwa’s home. It took him a month and three days to reach him, and the Christian fellowship there raised travel funds for him to reach a refugee camp in Kenya.

Later that month his family met up with him at the refugee camp.When the family fled Somalia, they were compelled to leave their 80-year-old grandmother behind and her whereabouts are unknown. Since arriving at the Kenyan refugee camp, the family still has no shelter, though fellow Christians are erecting one for them. Yusuf’s family lives each day without shoes, a mattress or shelter.

But Arbow said she has no wish to return.

“I do not want to go back to Somalia – I don’t want to see the graves of my children,” she said amid sobs.

Mberwa said that Arbow is often deep in thought, at times in a disturbingly otherworldly way.

Border Tensions

Western security services see the al Shabaab ranks, reportedly filled with foreign jihadists, as a proxy for the Islamic extremist al-Qaeda group in Somalia. If the plight of Christians in Somalia is horrific – some are slaughtered, others scarred from beatings – the situation of Somali Christians in refugee camps is fast becoming worse than a matter of open discrimination.

“We have nowhere to run to,” Mberwa told Compass. “The al Shabaab are on our heads, while our Muslim brothers are also discriminating against us. Indeed even here in the refugee camp we are not safe. We need a safe haven elsewhere.”

He said that in April three al Shabaab militants were arrested by Kenyan security agents at Ifo refugee camp in Dadaab and taken to Garissa, Kenya’s North Eastern Province headquarters. But local provincial administrators denied any knowledge of such arrests.

“I don’t know” is all Dadaab District Officer Evans Kyule could say when asked about the arrests.

In Naivasha, Kenya, 19 Somali extremists were arrested last month and are scheduled to appear in a Nairobi court tomorrow, according to Kenyan television network.

Al-Shabaab militants have waged a vicious war against the fragile government of Somali President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed. In a show of power in the capital city stronghold of Mogadishu, last week hard-line Islamic insurgents sentenced four young men each to amputation of a hand and a foot as punishment for robbery.

After mosques announced when the amputations would take place, the extremists carried them out by machete in front of about 300 people on Thursday (June 25) at a military camp. It was the first such double amputation in Mogadishu by the rebels, who follow strict sharia (Islamic law) in the parts of south Somalia that they control.

The rebel militants’ strict practices have shocked many Somalis, who are traditionally moderate Muslims, though residents give the insurgents credit for restoring order to regions they control.

Al Shabaab militants are battling Ahmed’s government for control of Mogadishu while fighting government-allied, moderate Islamist militia in the provinces. In the last 18 years of violence in Somalia, a two-and-a-half year Islamist insurgency has killed more than 18,000 civilians, uprooted 1 million people, allowed piracy to flourish offshore, and spread security fears round the region.

Somalia’s government, which controls little more than a few blocks of Mogadishu, has declared a state of emergency and appealed for foreign intervention, including help from Somalia’s neighbors. Kenya recently has stepped up patrols along her common border with Somalia, vowing to respond militarily should militants make any incursions. At the same time, al Shabaab militants have warned that they would invade Kenya should the military patrols persist.

Nearly Losing a Son

On Oct. 7, 2008, al shabaab militia attacked the 28-year-old son of Mberwa in Sinai village, on the outskirts of Mogadishu. They interrogated Mberwa Abdi about the whereabouts of his father, maintaining that they had information that incriminated him as the leader of a Christian group.

Abdi denied having any knowledge of his father’s faith, and the Islamist extremists took Abdi out of the village and threatened to kill him. Covering his eyes and tying his hands behind him as he knelt down, they began beating his back with a gun. Abdi remained silent. The militants fired at his left side near the shoulder, and when Abdi fell they left him for dead.

On hearing the sound of the gunshot, neighbors ran to the scene and found Abdi still alive. They rushed him to Keysany Hospital in Mogadishu, where he underwent surgery.

Salat Mberwa received information from neighbors that his son had been killed on Nov. 1, 2008 by al Shabaab extremists, and that his body was in Keysany Hospital. Later he heard that his son was in a coma and sent 2,500 Kenyan shillings (US$35) for medical care. He also arranged for his wife and two youngest children to flee, knowing that they were the next target. They reached a refugee camp in Kenya in mid-December of last year.

After a month, Abdi was discharged from the hospital and arrived in the same refugee camp on Jan. 8. Medicins San Frontiers provided medicine for the ailing Abdi. Abdi bears the scars of bullet wounds on his body, and he still looks ill.

Asked why he denied his father’s Christian faith, Abdi said Christians are hunted like wild beasts.

“Everybody is afraid of this militia group and always tries to play things safe,” he said. “There is urgent need to help Christians in Somalia to get out as soon as possible, before they are wiped out.”

Salat Mberwa said he is concerned about the way Christians are being mistreated in the refugee camp.

“The Muslims cannot come to our aid in case one of us gets into a problem,” he said. “They always tell us, ‘You are Christians and we cannot help you. Let your religion help you.’”

While thankful for aid from Christian groups in Nairobi, Mberwa lamented that aid agencies and denominational associations have not employed Christian refugees in the camp, though many are qualified as drivers, electricians, carpenters and educators.

Report from Compass Direct News


Beleaguered government officials could view church as threat – or a force for stability.

BEIJING, February 25 (Compass Direct News) – With China’s central government last December issuing a number of secret documents calling on provincial officials to strive to prevent massive unrest in a rapidly collapsing economy, observers are watching for signs of whether authorities will view Christian groups as a threat or a stabilizing influence.

While the Sichuan earthquake last May proved that Christians were willing and able to assist in times of national crisis, raids on house church groups have continued in recent weeks.

The secret reports have come in quick succession. A central government body, the Committee for Social Stability (CSS), issued an internal report on Jan. 2 listing a total of 127,467 serious protests or other incidents across China in 2008, many involving attacks on government buildings or clashes with police and militia.

“Recently every kind of contradiction in society has reached the level of white heat,” the CSS warned in an earlier document issued on Dec. 16.

The document said some officials had “ignored the welfare of the masses … piling up pressure until the situation exploded,” and concluded that, “The relevant Party and State organs must … give daily priority to the task of getting rid of all the maladies which produce social instability and the present crisis.”

On Dec. 10, the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party and the National People’s Congress issued an internal document calling on senior provincial officials to make every effort to alleviate social and political problems exacerbated by the current recession.

On Dec. 12, the Ministry of Public Security authorized provincial officials to tighten control of all communications in the sensitive period prior to Chinese New Year, which this year fell on Jan. 25. Fearing turmoil as millions of newly-unemployed factory workers headed home for New Year celebrations, the government cancelled all leave for Public Security Bureau (PSB) officers, placed them on high alert and mobilized an additional 150,000 police and armed militia for the holiday period.

On Dec. 15, the public security ministry issued a further document calling for tightened security at government ministries, military bases, armament stores, state borders, airports and railway stations.

In its Dec. 16 report, the CSS warned that provincial authorities must try to resolve grievances by non-violent means before protestors begin attacking factories and government offices or stealing, looting and burning property.

The scale of demonstrations and riots has already reached frightening proportions. In the Jan. 2 internal assessment leaked in Hong Kong, the CSS said the 127,467 serious incidents across China last year involved participation of around 1 percent of the population. Of these cases, 476 consisted of attacks on government and Party buildings, while 615 involved violent clashes with police and militia, leaving 1,120 police and Party officials and 724 civilians killed or injured.


Church as Subversive

Concerned by the growth of unregistered house church groups in an uncertain political and social climate, the Chinese government has ramped up efforts both to identify Christians and to portray Christianity as a subversive foreign force.

Local governments in China last year reported on continued measures to prevent “illegal” religious gatherings and curb other criminalized religious activities, according to reports from the U.S. Congressional Executive Commission on China (CECC) on Dec. 20 and Feb. 2. (See “Tortured Christian Lawyer Arrested as Officials Deny Abuses,” Feb. 11.)

In recent months authorities have quietly gathered data on church growth using surveys at universities and workplaces, and called meetings at various institutions in the capital to discuss the supposed dangers of foreign religious influence. (See “Officials Grapple with Spread of Christianity,” Feb. 4.)

Raids on unregistered church groups have continued in recent weeks, with police perhaps prompted to ensure tighter controls on church activity. On Feb. 11, police arrested two South Korean pastors and more than 60 Chinese house church leaders from four provinces who had gathered for a seminar in Wolong district, Nanyang city, the China Aid Association (CAA) reported. The police also confiscated personal money, cell phones and books, and forced each person to register and pay a fine before releasing some of the elderly leaders.

Authorities held six of the detained leaders for several days but by Sunday (Feb. 22) had released all of them, Compass sources confirmed.

In Shanghai, police and members of the State Administration of Religious Affairs on Feb. 10 ordered Pastor Cui Quan to cancel an annual meeting for house church leaders, and then ordered the owner of the hall used by Cui’s 1,200-member congregation to cease renting it to Cui within 30 days, according to CAA.

Senior staff at Beijing’s Dianli Hospital on Feb. 6 ordered elderly house church pastor Hua Zaichen to leave the premises despite being severely ill, CAA reported. Government officials had refused to allow Hua’s wife, Shuang Shuying, an early release from prison to visit her dying husband unless she agreed to inform on other Christians, according to Hua’s son. After refusing their offer, Shuang was finally able to visit Hua on her release date, Feb. 8; Hua died the following day.

Both Shuang and her husband have suffered years of persecution for their involvement in the house church movement.

On Feb. 4, police seized Christian lawyer and human rights defender Gao Zhisheng from his home in Shaanxi province, CAA reported. At press time his whereabouts were unknown.

While other incidents have gone unreported, house church leaders in northern China told Compass in January that despite tighter restrictions in the current economic and political climate, they were optimistic about the ability of the church to survive and flourish.



Disenchantment, Dissent Spread Across China

In December, China celebrated the 30th anniversary of Deng Xiaoping’s “open door” economic reform policy, which had led to a high annual growth rate of some 10 percent. While Party leaders publicly congratulated themselves, an internal party document warned that 75 percent of the financial benefits had gone to only 10 percent of the population, mainly high and middle-ranking Party members and some entrepreneurs.

With the growth rate now seriously dented, relations between Party members and the general public were “about to explode,” the document warned.

The document also referred to an “ideological vacuum in Party and state,” a “moral vacuum in upholding regulations,” and a “vacuum in spiritual civilization,” in stark contrast to the moral and spiritual values held by religious groups.

According to the Research Institute of the State Council, urban unemployment among young people had already risen to 10.5 percent by last June. If foreign investors continued to withdraw funds, the institute warned, this figure could rise to 16 percent or higher, sparking more outrage against the government.

Tens of thousands of factories closed down in the first six months of 2008, well before the full impact of the global recession hit China. By November, 10 million migrant workers were unemployed; most recent estimates put the figure at 20 million, and officials admit this figure will reach at least 35 million by the end of 2009.

Vice-Premier Hui Liangyu, responsible for agricultural affairs, warned in a recent report that 30 percent of all villagers have set up peasant organizations to challenge local government officials and crime bosses. Some groups also have plans to launch armed insurgencies and their own peasant governments.

Several million university graduates will also face unemployment this year, potentially lending their voices and leadership skills to mass protest movements.

An increasing number of intellectuals have already signed Charter 08, a petition issued in December calling for multi-party elections, human rights, press freedom and the rule of law.

On Jan. 7, a prominent Chinese lawyer, Yan Yiming, filed an application with the Finance Ministry demanding that it open its 2008 and 2009 budget books to the public. On Jan. 13, more than 20 Chinese intellectuals signed an open letter calling for a boycott of state television news programs because of “systematic bias and brainwashing,” while a Beijing newspaper ran an article arguing that freedom of speech was written into the constitution, The Washington Post reported in late January.

In response, Public Security Minister Meng Jianzhu warned China’s leaders via state media that, “The present situation of maintaining national security and social stability is grave.”

Many analysts agree that the Chinese Communist Party may be facing its greatest challenge to date.

Report from Compass Direct News