The link below is to an article relating to the persecution of Christians in Uganda.
The links below are to articles reporting on news relating to the persecution of Christians in Iran (the most recent are at the top).
For more visit:
The links below are to articles reporting on news related to the persecution of Christians in Nigeria (the most recent articles are at the top).
For more visit:
The link below is to an article reporting on news relating to the persecution of Christians in Indonesia.
The link below is to an article that reports on the persecution of Christians in Morocco.
The links below are to articles reporting on news of the persecution of Christians in Pakistan (the most recent articles are at the top).
For more visit:
The link below is to an article that reports on the persecution of Christians in Algeria.
The links below are to reports concerning the persecution of Christians in Nigeria (the most recent are at the top).
For more visit:
The violent riots that shook Jakarta last week led to at least six deaths, over 700 injured and more than 200 arrests. Demonstrations and rallies are common in Indonesia, but street violence like this had not been seen since the fall of Soeharto in 1998.
Protests began peacefully in front of the Elections Supervisory Agency (Bawaslu) on May 20, after the General Elections Commission (KPU) made the surprise decision to release its official count at 3am that morning.
By 9pm on Tuesday, rioters supporting the defeated presidential candidate, former general Prabowo Subianto, (including some apparently linked to Islamic State) were burning cars and buildings, and using rocks, petrol bombs and fireworks to attack police.
Security forces responded with tear gas, water cannons and rubber bullets. They claim not to have used real bullets, although families of at least two victims claim they died of bullet wounds and the National Police Hospital says autopsies show four died this way.
The violence was repeated the next night and spread beyond Jakarta, with incidents in East Java and Potianak (Kalimantan) as well. The government called in the army to help control the situation. Obviously deeply concerned, it took the extraordinary step of slowing down the internet to obstruct the sharing of provocative material across social media sites. Two nights later, the government seemed to have the situation under control.
On Friday, Prabowo’s campaign lodged protests against the election results with the Constitutional Court. They argue that the convincing 10%-plus margin of victory of his rival, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, was fraudulently obtained. To date, they have not been able to produce convincing evidence to back this up.
If, as likely, the court rejects the petition to annul Jokowi’s win, that may well spark another round of rioting. This is particularly so because Prabowo’s camp has been saying for weeks that the court is biased in favour of the government.
But even if the rioting starts up again, it is very unlikely to topple Jokowi, given the government, police and army seem to have closed ranks behind him.
Many members of the elite do not particularly like Jokowi, a provincial politician who made a spectacular leap to the presidency five years ago and remains somewhat of an outsider. But he has the huge advantage of incumbency. Leaders of the bureaucracy and security forces owe their positions, wealth and power to his administration. They fear being replaced in the purge of senior positions that would follow if Prabowo somehow took over.
Even though Prabowo’s fourth bid to become president seems doomed and Jokowi is doubtless confident of being sworn in on October 20, that does not mean Jokowi’s second and final five-year term will be smooth sailing. The riots seem to have fizzled out, but they are the product of tensions over the place of Islam in Indonesian life and what is now a deep cleavage in Indonesian politics.
How the fall of Ahok started it all
To explain how this has happened, we need to go back to 2017 and the major crisis of Jokowi’s first term: the prosecution and conviction for blasphemy of then Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (known as Ahok, or BTP, as he now prefers).
Ahok had been the deputy governor under Jokowi and stepped up when Jokowi resigned to run for the presidency. An ethnic Chinese Christian governor was seen as unacceptable to hardline Islamists. They used comments about the Qur’an made by Ahok while campaigning for re-election to launch a massive and bitter populist campaign against him. Hundreds of thousands took part in rallies that targeted Ahok and, eventually, his former friend and close colleague, Jokowi, at one stage even marching on the palace.
After Ahok’s fall, some of the Muslim organisations that had formed the so-called “212 movement” to tear him down began aggressively targeting Jokowi. In response, Jokowi has taken tough measures against them, including giving himself new powers to ban civil society groups. He also backed criminal charges against figures he saw as leading public criticism of his government.
As a result, the disgruntled Islamist conservatives who loathe Jokowi lined up behind Prabowo, the only alternative candidate.
This split meant that many members of the world’s largest Muslim organisation, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), which is generally more tolerant of religious difference, sided with Jokowi, particularly after he chose NU leader Ma’ruf Amin as his running mate.
The world’s second-largest Muslim organisation, Muhammadiyah, traditionally NU’s rival, was officially neutral. But many of its members clearly sided with Prabowo. So did other, more conservative, Muslim organisations, such as the Islamist PKS party, and more extreme groups like the thuggish Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) – and, of course, the 212 alumni.
The result was a vicious social media campaign, full of trolling, hoaxes and conspiracy theories, fake news and online vilification. Rumours that Jokowi is a closet Christian from a communist family were circulated once again.
The election thus polarised Indonesia, reviving old divisions in an atmosphere of renewed anxiety about ethnic and religious identity. Jokowi prevailed in Javanese communities linked to NU and in areas where non-Muslims are a majority or a large minority, like Papua, Bali, East Nusa Tenggara and North Sulawesi.
On the other hand, majority Muslim outer islands often associated with Muhammadiyah largely fell to Prabowo, such as West Sumatra. Likewise, Prabowo took back South Sulawesi, Southeast Sulawesi, Bengkulu and Jambi from Jokowi, who won them in 2014.
West Java tells the story. Although part of Java, it has never been a NU stronghold but is seen as historically a centre for Islamist conservatism. It went for Prabowo. Jakarta, urban and more urbane, but on the cusp of West Java, was split.
Divisions show no sign of healing
Prabowo’s defeat does not spell the end of his supporters’ aspirations for a less tolerant Indonesia that privileges their brand of Islam. The election’s geopolitical polarisation is likely to be a continuing source of problems for Jokowi in the years ahead.
With NU in the vice-presidential office and very likely to continue its stranglehold on the Ministry of Religious Affairs, resentment from Muhammadiyah, PKS and others will be maintained. It will play out in conflicts in the legislature and in and around government.
The tough measures Jokowi’s administration – obviously worried – deployed in recent weeks to try to head off the riots has only exacerbated the situation. Former general Wiranto, now coordinating minister for politics, law and security, ominously formed a team to investigate “unconstitutional behavior”.
Twenty or so people linked to Prabowo, including two former generals, have been arrested on charges including treason and weapons smuggling. At one stage a warrant was issued to bring Prabowo himself in for questioning (although this was quickly rescinded).
These measures reflect a wider trend towards so-called “soft authoritarianism” in Jokowi’s administration, which has concerned many Indonesian and foreign observers. It also feeds the narrative promoted by his Islamist opponents of a president willing to use the full force of the state to marginalise them, and that simply entrenches the battlelines.
Jokowi is a pragmatic politician who values stability and cohesion above most other things. Once the riots die down, Jokowi’s instinct will be to “buy in” the Muslim right and Prabowo’s core supporters. He may do this by offering them positions in the incoming administration or access to resources.
If that doesn’t work, we can expect more trouble ahead.
In the wake of any tragedy, it should be enough to grieve and stand in solidarity with those who mourn. With a massive toll – about 250 dead, according to revised government figures – it feels disrespectful to the people of Sri Lanka to be dissecting what went wrong even as the dead are being buried.
But the reality is that most, if not all, of these lives need not have been taken. We owe it to them and their loved ones to make sense of what happened and work towards doing all that can be done to ensure it does not happen again.
The Easter attacks represent one of the most lethal and serious terrorist operations since the September 11 attacks in the US, outside of attacks within active conflict zones. And this in a now peaceful country, which for all its history of civil war and ethno-nationalist terrorism in decades past has never had a problem with jihadi radical Islamist terrorism.
A return to deadlier, more coordinated strikes
The long-anticipated claim of responsibility for the attacks was made by the Islamic State (IS) on Tuesday night. This could help explain how one local cell based around a single extended family circle of hateful extremists not previously known for terrorism could execute such a massive attack. It was larger even than IS’s previous truck-bomb attacks in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.
The attacks follow a familiar, if now rarely seen, IS operandi of coordinated suicide bombings. The targeting of Catholic churches, which made little sense initially in the context of the domestic social issues at the heart of the country’s recent civil war, fit an all-too-familiar pattern of IS attacks on Christians, along with fellow Muslims.
Who are Sri Lanka’s Christians?
The fact that 40 or more Sri Lankans travelled to Syria to fight with IS could help explain how the terror network was able to build vital personal links in the very small community of Sri Lankan Islamist extremists so it could subcontract its attack plans to them. At this point, the precise involvement of returnees from Syria and foreign IS supporters in the bombings remains under investigation.
The Easter weekend attacks more resemble the al-Qaeda attacks of the 2000s than they do recent attacks of IS. Like the 2000 attack of the USS Cole in Yemen, the September attacks in New York and Washington, the 2002 bombings in Bali, the 2003 truck bombs in Istanbul, the 2004 train bombings in Madrid, the 2005 tube and bus bombings in London, the Sri Lanka bombings involved multiple attackers acting in concert. With the exception of September 11, all of these also involved improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
The Sri Lanka bombings exceeded all but the September 11 attacks in sophistication and deadliness, despite the fact the perpetrators were previously known only for acts of hateful vandalism.
Over the past decade, al-Qaeda has been unable to carry out significant attacks outside of conflict zones. It has also become increasingly focused on “reputation management” and has tended to avoid indiscriminate mass killings, all the whilst growing its global network of affiliates.
The emergence of IS saw the tempo and scale of terrorist attacks transformed. Most attacks took place in conflict zones (Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan, southern Philippines).
A number of significant attacks were conducted well beyond the battlefield. There were at least four such attacks in 2014, 16 in 2015, 22 in 2016, 18 in 2017, and 10 in 2018. The vast majority of these attacks were conducted by lone actors.
Why was it that, outside of conflict zones, not just al-Qaeda but even IS at the height of its powers focused largely on lone-actor attacks?
It is probably not for want of trying. The reason is that most larger, more ambitious plots were tripped-up by intelligence intercepts. This is especially the case in stable democracies, including our neighbours Indonesia and Malaysia.
Why Sri Lanka?
The other big question is how one of the deadliest terrorist attacks ever was able to be executed in Sri Lanka?
Sri Lanka was a soft target. Having successfully defeated the Tamil Tiger rebel group a decade ago through military might, Sri Lanka has become complacent. It has not seen a pressing need to develop police and non-military intelligence capacity to counter terrorism.
At the same time, it has struggled with good governance and political stability. Just six months ago, it faced a major constitutional crisis when President Maithripala Sirisena sacked his deputy, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, and attempted to replace him with the former prime minister and president Mahinda Rajapaksa.
The attempt failed, but in the stand-off that ensued, Wickremesinghe, and ministers loyal to him, were excluded from intelligence briefings. In particular, they say that they were left unaware of the multiple warnings issued by the Indian intelligence service, RAW, to the authorities in Colombo about the extremist figures who played a key role in the Easter attacks.
Thus, despite several discoveries earlier this year of large amounts of explosives stored in remote rural locations on the island, and multiple warnings from the Indians, including final alerts just hours before Sunday’s attacks, the government and security community were left distracted and caught off-guard.
Between “fighting the last war” and fighting each other, they deluded themselves that there was no imminent terrorist threat.
What other countries are vulnerable?
If the massive attacks in Sri Lanka over Easter serve to remind us that IS is very far from being a spent force, the question is where this energetic and well-resourced network will strike next.
For all that it achieved in Sri Lanka, IS is unlikely to be able to build an enduring presence there. So long as the Sri Lankan government and people emerge from this trauma with renewed commitment to unity – and with elections at the end of the year, this is far from certain – the “perfect storm” conditions exploited by IS are unlikely to be repeated.
So where else is IS likely to find opportunity? India and Bangladesh continue to present opportunities, as does much of Central Asia. In our region, it is Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines that we should be most worried about.
Malaysia has emerged stronger and more stable from its swing-back to democracy but continues to be worryingly in denial about the extent to which it is vulnerable to terrorist attacks, downplaying the very good work done over many years by the Special Branch of the Royal National Malaysian Police.
Thailand and the Philippines remain less politically stable, and rather more brittle than they care too acknowledge. And both tend to delude themselves into thinking that the problems of their southern extremes will never manifest in a terror attack in Bangkok or Manila, respectively.
The people of Sri Lanka have paid far too high price for the lessons of the Easter weekend attacks to be ignored or forgotten.