NEPAL: CHRISTIANS LITTLE CONSOLED BY ARREST IN CHURCH BOMBING


Militant group threatens more attacks unless non-Hindus leave country within month. 

KATHMANDU, Nepal, June 2 (Compass Direct News) – Vikash and Deepa Patrick had been married for nearly four months before the young couple living in Patna in eastern India managed to go on their honeymoon here. The decision to come to Nepal for four days of fun and sight-seeing would be a choice the groom will rue the rest of his life.

Vikash Patrick’s 19-year-old bride died while praying at the Assumption Church in Kathmandu valley’s Lalitpur district, the largest Catholic church in Nepal, in an anti-Christian bombing on May 23, the day they were to return home. Claiming responsibility for the violence was the Nepal Defense Army (NDA), a group wishing to restore Hinduism as the official religion of Nepal.

Patrick and two of his cousins also were injured in the explosion that ripped through the church, where nearly 400 people had turned up for a morning service.

A dazed Sun Bahadur Tamang, a 51-year-old Nepali Christian who had also gone to the church that day with his wife and daughter, pieced together the incident while awaiting treatment in a private hospital.

“We were in the prayer hall when a woman who looked to be in her 30s came and sat down next to my wife,” Tamang told Compass. “Then she got up and asked us where the toilet was. We said it was near the entrance, and she left, leaving her blue handbag behind. A little later, there was a stunning bang, and I fell on my daughter. People screamed, there was a stampede, and I couldn’t find my wife. I also realized I had lost my hearing.”

Deepa Patrick and a 15-year-old schoolgirl, Celeste Joseph, died in the explosion while 14 others, mostly women and teenagers, were injured. Another woman, Celeste’s mother Buddha Laxmi Joseph, died of a hemorrhage yesterday.

In the church hall, police found remains of the handbag as well as a pressure cooker. From 1996 to 2006, when Nepal’s underground Maoist party fought a guerrilla war against the state to overthrow monarchy and transform the world’s only Hindu kingdom into a secular republic, pressure cookers became deadly weapons in guerrilla hands. Packed with batteries, a detonator, explosives and iron nails, pressure cookers became lethal home-made bombs.

Also found scattered in the hall and outside the church were hundreds of green leaflets by an organization that until two years ago no one knew existed. Signed in the name of Ram Prasad Mainali, a 38-year-old Hindu extremist from eastern Nepal, the leaflets claimed the attack to be the handiwork of the NDA.

“A day after the explosion, a man called me up, saying he was the vice-president of the NDA,” said Bishop Narayan Sharma of the Protestant Believers’ Church in Nepal. “Though he was polite and expressed regret for the death of innocent people, he said his organization wanted the restoration of Hinduism as the state religion.”

Soon after the phone call, the NDA sent a fresh statement to Nepal’s media organizations with a distinctly militant tone. In the statement, the NDA gave “Nepal’s 1 million Christians a month’s time to stop their activities and leave the country” or else it would plant a million bombs in churches across the country.

“There is fear in the Christian community,” said Chirendra Satyal, spokesman for the Assumption Church. “Now we have police guarding our church, and its gates are closed. People coming in are asked to open their bags for security checks. It’s unheard of in the house of God.”

Suspect Arrested

An unexpected development occurred today as last rites were performed at the church on Joseph, the mother of the 15-year-old girl who also died in the explosion.

“At around 3 a.m. Tuesday, we arrested the woman who planted the bomb in the church,” Deputy Inspector-General of Police Kuber Rana told Compass.

Rana, who was part of a three-member police team formed to investigate the attack, identified the woman as a 27-year-old Nepalese, Sita Shrestha nee Thapa. Thapa allegedly confessed to police that she was a member of an obscure group, Hindu Rashtra Bachao Samiti (The Society to Save the Hindu Nation), and had planted the bomb inspired by the NDA.

The NDA made a small splash in 2007, a year after Nepal’s last king, Gyanendra Bir Bikram Shah, who had tried to seize absolute power with the help of the army, was forced to step down after nationwide protests. The cornered king had to reinstate a parliament that had been dissolved several years ago, and the resurrected house promptly decided to end his pretensions as the incarnation of a Hindu god by declaring Nepal to be a secular country.

Soon after that, a man walked into the office of a Nepalese weekly in Kathmandu and claimed to have formed the NDA, a group of former army soldiers, policemen and victims of the Maoists. Its aim was to build up an underground army that would wage a Hindu “jihad.” The man, who called himself Parivartan – meaning change – also claimed the NDA was nurturing suicide bombers.

According to police, Parivartan is the name assumed by a 38-year-old man from Morang district in eastern Nepal – Ram Prasad Mainali. The NDA began to acquire a reputation after it set off a bomb in 2007 at the Kathmandu office of the Maoists, who had laid down arms and returned to mainstream politics. In 2008, it stepped up its pro-Hindu war, bombing two mosques in southern Nepal and killing two Muslims at prayer.

It also targeted a church in the east, a newspaper office and the interim Parliament on the day the latter officially announced Nepal a secular republic.

Though police began a half-hearted hunt for Mainali, the NDA struck again last July, killing a 62-year-old Catholic priest, the Rev. John Prakash, who was also the principal of the Don Bosco School run in Sirsiya town in southern Nepal by the Salesian fathers.

“Extortion and intimidation are the two prime motives of the NDA,” said a Catholic church official who requested anonymity for security reasons. “Father Prakash had withdrawn a large sum of money to pay salaries as well as for some ongoing construction. Someone in the bank must have informed the NDA. It has good contacts, it knows who we are and our phone numbers.”

Small churches in southern and eastern Nepal, which are often congregations of 40-50 people who worship in rented rooms, have been terrified by threats and demands for money, said representatives of the Christian community. Some congregations have reportedly paid extortion sums to avert attacks from the NDA.

“Though the NDA does not seem to have a well chalked-out strategy, its activities indicate it receives support from militant Hindu outfits in India,” said Bishop Sharma of the Protestant Believers’ Church. “It has been mostly active in the south and east, in areas close to the Indian border. Bellicose Hindu groups from north India are likely to support their quest for a Hindu Nepal.”

While Thapa has been charged with murder, Rana said police are also hunting for NDA chief Mainali. And the arrest of Thapa has not lightened the gloom of the Christian community nor lessened its fears.

“There have been instances galore of police arresting innocent people and forcing them to confess,” said Bishop Sharma. “Look at the case of Manja Tamang.”

Tamang, a Believers’ Church pastor, was released this week after serving nine years in prison for murder that his co-religionists say he did not commit. Tamang staunchly protests his innocence with his church standing solidly behind him, saying he was framed.

Report from Compass Direct News

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TALIBAN THREATENS POPE IF CHRISTIANITY IS SPREAD IN AFGHANISTAN


In the lead-up to his coming trip to the Holy Land, Pope Benedict XVI has been warned by Islamic extremists that he must stop any attempts to convert Muslims to Christianity or face “the consequences of a severe reaction,” reports Hilary White, LifeSiteNews.com.

ANSA news service reports that the Taliban issued the statement on an Islamic website after the Islamic news service Al Jazeera showed American soldiers holding copies of the Bible translated into the two local languages.

“The Islamic Emirate in Afghanistan asks Pope Benedict XVI to act to stop the foolish and irresponsible actions of the crusaders upsetting the feelings of Muslim rebels, without awaiting the consequences of a severe reaction,” said the message on the website, alemarah1.org.

“The Taleban forcefully exhort the mujaheddin [jihadis], scholars and all religious circles to control the activities of the invaders and crusaders, and not allow anyone to preach religions except Islam,” the message continued.

The US army later responded, “Any form of religious proselytism by troops is prohibited,” and assured that the bibles pictured had been “confiscated and destroyed.”

At the same time, Islamic extremists in Jordan condemned the Pope’s visit, claiming that he had failed to apologise for what they regard as insults to Islam in a speech at Regensburg in 2006. The Pope is scheduled to arrive in Jordan on Friday for the first stage of a tour that will include Israel and the Palestinian territories.

Zaki Bani Rusheid, head of the Islamic Action Front, the political arm of the international organisation the Muslim Brotherhood, told Reuters, “The present Vatican pope is the one who issued severe insults to Islam and did not offer any apology to the Muslims.” The Islamic Action Front is the Jordan’s largest mainstream Islamist party.

In 2006, Pope Benedict spoke to an audience at the University of Regensburg where he had once served as professor of theology, on the inherent unity of faith and reason. In it he quoted the Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus, who wrote in 1391, “Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.” The emperor was writing on jihad and of forced conversions of Christians by conquering Muslims.

The comments, after careful management by liberal western news media, prompted a wave of riots and violence by Muslims around the world, including attacks on Christian churches in Israel, the murder of a nun in Somalia and the beheading of a priest in Iraq.

Observers note that there are early signs that the same media that instigated the “Muslim outrage” in 2006 are setting the stage for another round.

The Huffington Post reported at the end of April that in the town of Nazareth a large banner has been stretched across the main square condemning anyone who insults Mohammad. HP’s Diaa Hadid wrote, “The pontiff may have to tread carefully with his visit to Nazareth,” and said that “many Muslims” are still angry over the Regensburg speech. Hadid quotes an Anglican head of a local ecumenical group that Christians in the area fear more violence if the Pope makes any other “contentious” statements on Islam.

The Guardian’s religious affairs correspondent Riazat Butt wrote on Tuesday that Pope Benedict “must” go to Jerusalem as a “penitent pilgrim.” Butt cites 35 Christians, Jews and Muslims who claim that “papal blunders” are sending out “‘divided messages’ on anti-Semitism and inter-faith activity.”

Report from the Christian Telegraph

PAKISTAN: ISLAMABAD CHURCH ON THE THRESHOLD OF WAR


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

UNIVERSITY WHERE LECTURES ON CHRISTIANITY WERE HELD BOMBED


The BBC has reported that Israeli air force jets have bombed the Islamic University in the Gaza Strip, a significant cultural symbol for Hamas, reports Dan Wooding, founder of ASSIST Ministries.

Warplanes also struck Hamas government offices as air raids aimed at forcing Palestinian militants to halt rocket fire into southern Israel continued.

Palestinian medics say nearly 300 people have been killed in the air raids that began on Saturday.

Israel has threatened to launch a ground assault and is now calling up 6,500 army reservists.

Witnesses in Gaza said they saw six separate air strikes on the Islamic University, hitting a laboratory building, just after midnight.

The university is a centre of support for Hamas – the Islamist militant group which controls the Gaza Strip. Many of its top officials graduated from there.

A BBC journalist in Gaza said the university authorities had evacuated the campus a few days ago as they had been expecting a strike.

Some years ago, I accompanied Brother Andrew, the Dutch-born best-selling author of God’s Smuggler, into Gaza City and it was then that he revealed that he lectured on “Biblical Christianity” at the Islamic University there.

“I was invited to teach on ‘Biblical Christianity’ to the students there,” he said. “When all they were assembled, they were told that I would speak to them about the Bible and some of them tried to leave the lecture hall, but the Hamas leaders blocked their way and they had to sit through my lecture.

“I was also allowed to bring Arabic New Testaments and hand them out to the students.”

Brother Andrew once told the Hamas leaders, “I can’t change the situation you face here in Gaza. I can’t solve the problems you have with your enemies. But I can offer you the One who is called the Prince of Peace. You cannot have real peace without Jesus. And you cannot experience Him without forgiveness. He offers to forgive us of all our sins. But we cannot receive that forgiveness if we don’t ask for it. The Bible calls this repentance and confession of sin. If you want it, then Jesus forgives. He forgave me and made me a new person. Now I’m not afraid to die because my sins are forgiven and I have everlasting life.”

Brother Andrew, who is also the founder of Open Doors, the international organization supporting persecuted Christians, is convinced that the number of Muslims involved in suicide bombings will increase in the coming years. Andrew has visited Lebanon, Israel and the Palestinian areas regularly since the early 1980’s, encouraging the Christians and speaking with radical Muslims about the Gospel. He describes the militant Muslims as deeply depressed.

“They are facing insurmountable problems: they will never be able to defeat Israel and the United States militarily, and their faith makes it very difficult for them to enter Paradise,” he says. “Muslims know that they can only be saved by good works, but they also know that they do more evil deeds than good. Many Muslims are convinced that they will end in Hell when they die.” They also have to admit that Allah does not answer their prayers. The Koran also shows them no way to be saved. Together, that leads many radical Muslims to choose death in Jihad, the holy war, because that is the only direct way to Paradise. “They see no reason to live, so choose the only reason to die,” he said, addressing the 900 attendees of the Open Doors Day in Niedernhausen, Germany, on November 26th, 2005, the 50th anniversary of Open Doors Germany.

 

Hamas, Hezbollah, PLO: immense interest in the Gospel

“Unless we Christians go to the Muslims and tell them that they do not have to die because Jesus died for their sins too, the dramatic situation in the Near East, Iraq and Afghanistan will not change,” he said, reminding Christians of their responsibility. In many encounters with leaders of Hamas, Hezbollah and the PLO, he regularly senses a great interest in the message of Christianity. “I have given thousands of Bibles to radical Muslims, and no-one has ever refused. I have also often spoken with them about Jesus who died for the sins of the world, and nobody has killed me for it.”

 

Be an example, don’t discuss

Andrew called on Christians to show more courage and mercy towards Muslims, who are desperately seeking meaning in life. Many Christians have resigned in the face of the Muslim challenge. “Muslims do not believe, as we do, that Jesus is the son of God, and that he poured out his blood on the cross for the sins of the world. But that is exactly the answer we must give them in their situation.” Christians should seek contact with Muslims, and tell them the Good News in love. “We will never win the encounter with Islam through discussions or sermons. We have to go and show them how Jesus can change people.”

Report from the Christian Telegraph

NIGERIA: SIX PASTORS KILLED, 40 CHURCHES RAZED IN JOS VIOLENCE


As smoke clears, mayhem ignited by Muslim attacks leaves 25,000 people displaced.

JOS, Nigeria, December 11 (Compass Direct News) – The murderous rioting sparked by Muslim attacks on Christians and their property on Nov. 28-29 left six pastors dead, at least 500 other people killed and 40 churches destroyed, according to church leaders.

More than 25,000 persons have been displaced in the two days of violence, according to the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA).

What began as outrage over suspected vote fraud in local elections quickly hit the religious fault line that quakes from time to time in this city located between the Islamic north and Christian south, as angry Muslims took aim at Christian sites rather than at political targets. Police and troops reportedly killed about 400 rampaging Muslims in an effort to quell the unrest, and Islamists shot, slashed or stabbed to death most of more than 100 Christians.

Among Christians killed was Joseph Yari of the Evangelical Church of West Africa (ECWA), Angwan Clinic,Tudun-Wada in Jos. On Nov. 28, his wife Mary Yari told Compass, he had returned from his workplace along Ibrahim Taiwo Road saying he was going to a Baptist church that Muslims were setting on fire.

“Shortly after my husband left, I heard anguished cries, only to be told that my husband had been shot dead on the premises of the church,” Yari said.

Her grief notwithstanding, she said she had forgiven the killers, as “they were ignorant of the crime they have committed because they do not know Jesus Christ.”

The Rev. Emmanuel Kyari, pastor of Christ Baptist Church, Tudun-Wada, told Compass that Joseph Yari died helping other Christians who repelled Muslim fanatics bent on burning down his church building.

“Yari was standing beside my wife when he was shot by Muslims,” Rev. Kyari said. “In addition to Yari who was killed, there were also three other Christians who were shot, and two died instantly.”

Among the six slain pastors was the Rev. Ephraim Masok, pastor of the ECWA Church in the Rikkos area of Jos, who had moved his family out of harm’s way and was returning to the church premises when Muslim fanatics attacked and killed him. Rev. Masok was buried on Saturday (Dec. 6).

A Church of Christ in Nigeria (COCIN) leader in the Chawlyap area identified only as Pastor James was killed in the rioting that left Jos skies covered in smoke, as was the Rev. Bulus Tsetu of an Assemblies of God church. Names of the other three slain clergymen from Roman Catholic, Baptist and Deeper Life Bible churches were not readily available, but their deaths were confirmed, according to church leaders.

Rev. Kyari and the Rev. Benjamin Nasara of ECWA Plateau Church provided the casualty figures to Compass.

Among the 40 destroyed churches in Jos, they said, was the ECWA Church, Rikkos; Kaunar Baptist Church, Rikkos; Christ Baptist Church, Tudun-Wada; Nasarawa Baptist Church; Adebayo Street First Baptist Church; Sarkin Mangu COCIN Church; ECWA Church Kunga; Victory Baptist Church, Gofang; Deeper Life Bible Church, Ungwar Rimi; and Emmanuel Baptist Church, also at Ungwar Rimi.

Other Christians killed by Muslims in the rioting, the church leaders said, were Nenfort Danbaba of the ECWA Plateau Church and Oluwaleke Olalekan Akande of the Anglican Church from Ibadan, in southwestern Nigeria, who was on duty with the National Youth Service Program in Jos at the time of the crisis.

At the funeral service of Akande on Tuesday (Dec. 9), the Rev. Joseph Olatunde Alamu of the Cathedral Church of St. David, Kudeti, Ibadan, said young Christian men killed in the violence did not die in vain.

“Like the blood of Abel cried out for justice, they will not die in vain,” he said. “God will revenge.”

Akande’s parents also spoke at his funeral service.

“God knows why it happened that way,” Akande’s father, 84-year-old Pa J.A. Akande, said. “Oluwaleke, you will be remembered always for your love, steadfastness, courage, obedience and other attributes of your life with which you were endowed by your Maker. Sleep well in the bosom of your Maker.”

Akande’s mother, Madam Akande, told those attending the funeral that her 28-year-old son was too young to die.

“Little did I realize that your telephone call to me on Thursday, the 27th of November, 2008 would be our last conversation,” she said. “No leaf can fall from the tree without the authority, power and knowledge of God. And so I believe you shall rest peacefully in the bosom of our Lord Jesus.”

Akande was a graduate of physics/electronics at The Polytechnic, Ibadan, doing his one-year mandatory national service to Plateau State when he was murdered.

Rev. Nasara of ECWA Plateau Church told Compass that church history shows “the blood of the martyrs brings about the birth of the church. We see these ones who have gone ahead of us as the seeds that God is using to make the church in Jos North and Plateau state to germinate.”

 

Pre-Meditated Violence?

Rioting erupted in Jos in the wee hours of Nov. 28 while results of local council elections held the previous day were still being awaited. In the Nov. 27 elections, according to reports, Muslims in Jos North who suspected vote fraud – specifically, the late arrival of election materials to polling sites – raised a lament, and by 1 a.m. on Nov. 28 Muslim youth had begun burning tires, schools and churches.

The killing of non-Muslims followed in the early morning. Muslims began attacking Christians in areas such as Nasarawa Gwong, Congo-Russia, Rikkos, Ali Kazaure, Bauchi Road, Dutse Uku, Ungwar Rimi, and Tudun-Wada. Commands to defy authorities and join the “jihad” blared from a mosque loudspeaker in the Dilimi area, according to advocacy group Christian Solidarity Worldwide, including instructions to ignore a night-time curfew and attack anew.

Authorities’ efforts to halt the rampage, including a Muslim assault on a police barracks, accounted for the estimated 400 corpses reportedly deposited in a key mosque, according to CSW, citing security sources.

Christians tried to defend their lives and properties, and non-Muslim youths reportedly began retaliatory attacks on Muslims, mosques and Muslim houses in the early morning. The Nigerian military arrived before noon to try to rein in the mayhem, which continued into the night.

At the end of two days, hundreds of persons from both sides of the religious divide were killed, with others injured and hospitalized at Jos University Teaching Hospital, ECWA Evangel Hospital, OLA Hospital and Plateau State Specialist Hospital.

More than 25,000 displaced persons have taken refuge at Rukuba Military barracks, NDLEA (Nigerian Drug Law Enforcement Agency) Barracks and Police Headquarters and Barracks, according to NEMA.

Rev. Nasara said the displacement of people who have lost their homes has had a severe affect on Jos churches.

“Right now I have two families and some Christian students from the university here, making up a total of 12 persons, who were displaced, and I have to take them in here in my house,” he said.

The Most Rev. Ignatius Kaigama, Roman Catholic archbishop of Jos Archdiocese and Plateau state chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria, said in a statement that fanatical Muslims ignited the violence by attacking Christians.

“We were greatly taken aback by the turn of events in Jos – we thought it was a political issue, but from all indications it is not so,” he said. “We were surprised at the way some of our churches and properties were attacked and some of our faithful and clergy killed. The attacks were carefully planned and executed. The questions that bog our minds are: Why were churches and clergy attacked and killed? Why were politicians and political party offices not attacked, if it was a political conflict?”

Businesses and property of innocent civilians were destroyed, he added.

“We strongly feel that it was not political but a pre-meditated act under the guise of elections,” Kaigama said.

Plateau Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice Edward Pwajok said in a statement on Tuesday (Dec. 9) that 500 persons had been arrested in connection with the violence, and that they will appear for trial at the High Court of Justice and Magistrates Courts.

On Sept. 7, 2001, religious conflict in Jos resulted in more than four years of bloodshed, killing thousands of people and displacing thousands of others. In 2004 an estimated 700 people died in Yelwa, also in Plateau state, during Christian-Muslim clashes.  

Report from Compass Direct News

EGYPT: CHRISTIANS ARRESTED, SHOPS LOOTED IN VILLAGE


Funeral incident leads to disproportionate response from Muslim mobs, police.

ISTANBUL, November 21 (Compass Direct News) – Authorities in an Egyptian village arrested 50 Coptic Christians, whose shops were then looted, to pacify Muslims following violence that erupted on Nov. 4 over a Christian boy’s unwitting break with custom.

Muslim villagers attacked the homes and shops of Coptic Christians in violence-prone Tayyiba, a town with 35,000 Christians and 10,000 Muslims, after 14-year-old Copt Mina William failed to dismount his donkey as a funeral procession passed.

William was watching the procession in Tayibba, 220 kilometers (137 miles) south of Cairo, with Nathan Yaccoub, also 14. William’s failure to dismount violated a local custom of showing respect, Copts United reported, and members of the procession reportedly beat him before completing the procession. William suffered minor injuries.

After the funeral procession, the processional members began throwing stones at the homes of local Copts and attacking their shops before police broke up the crowd with tear gas.

A priest said members of the procession did not attack the youths for showing disrespect but as an excuse to lash out against the community’s Christians for a previous episode of sectarian violence.

“These two children with the donkey didn’t know about the traditions,” said Father Metias Nasr, a Cairo-based priest with connections in areas south of the capital. “The Muslims there were angry about the last case of violence and wanted to create a new problem with these two children there.”

When the violence began, police presence increased significantly in the city. But rather than quell the unrest, police reportedly made matters worse for the Christians. After breaking up the crowd, officers detained 50 Copts and 10 Muslims.

A source told Compass that police arrested a disproportionate amount of Christians to create a false sense of equanimity and to pressure the Christians into “reconciliation” with the attackers so the Copts would not prosecute them. The arrested Christians have since been released.

In the two weeks since the attacks and looting, the increased police force in the village has harassed Copts through intimidation, “fines” and racketeering. Police have taken an estimated $50,000 from village Copts, the source said.

Once police lifted the curfew, Coptic shopkeepers returned to their stores to discover that they had been looted. Sources said the perpetrators were “supply inspectors,” local government inspectors who do quality control checks on goods. They gained access by smashing locks and doors of the shops.

The sources said supply inspectors plundered grocery stores, a poultry shop, an electronics store and a pharmacy.

According to Coptic weekly Watani, looters stole nearly $2,000 worth of goods from grocer Bishara Gayed. Another victim of the looting, an owner of a poultry shop who declined to give his name, blamed supply inspectors for running off with his stock.

A local clergyman condemned the violence.

“It is unreasonable that a mistake by some 14-year-old should lead to all that rampage,” a village Coptic priest known as Father Augustinus told Watani. “Something ought to be done to halt all this.”

 

Orphanage Bulldozed

Numerous instances of sectarian violence have struck Tayyiba in the last few months.

Last month a Coptic Christian was killed over a dispute with a Muslim who wanted to buy his house. Violence escalated, resulting in damaged storefronts, 48 arrests and injuries sustained by three Christians and a Muslim.

Such quarrels typically arise from land ownership issues. A Coptic source told Compass that Christians in Tayyiba are generally wealthier than their Muslim counterparts, often leading to resentment.

Tayyiba was stable at press time, though the town is considered to be continually in danger of religious violence flaring. This situation is common throughout Egypt, Fr. Nasr told Compass.

“The village is like anywhere in Egypt,” he said. “In every place in Egypt we can say that in one minute everyone can be destroyed by fanatics, sometimes through the encouragement of security [forces].”

The Coptic Church has faced recent difficulties in other Egyptian cities, with government officials attempting to obstruct their religious activities. On Wednesday (Nov. 19), city officials in Lumbroso, Alexandria destroyed an unfinished but recently furnished Coptic orphanage owned by Abu-Seifein Church and worth 6 million Egyptian pounds (US$1 million).

Officials claimed the building did not have a license, although church leaders said the demolition came on orders from the religiously zealous Islamic mayor. Ali Labib, former head of police and state security in Alexandria, in his two-year tenure as mayor has refused license applications for new church construction or rebuilding, said a Cairo-based Coptic priest who requested anonymity.

The priest said the orphanage was only able to obtain a license because it was issued before Labib’s tenure.

Islam is a growing presence in Egypt’s public sphere. While the government has attempted to crack down on extremists, Islamic civil groups that have drawn widespread support by offering cheap medical assistance and private lessons to school children include the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist organization with jihad in its credo that has been accused of violence.

The Muslim Brotherhood is well regarded by the average Egyptian, who equates the government with autocracy, corruption and repression, author and intellectual Tarek Heggy reportedly said. Over the last four decades, the Muslim Brotherhood has introduced its brand of fundamentalist Islam into Egyptian schools, mosques and media, he added.

Egypt’s ethnic Christians, known as Copts, belong to the Orthodox Church and number 12 million among the country’s 79 million inhabitants. There are smaller groups of Catholics and Protestants.  

Report from Compass Direct News

MALAYSIA: GOVERNMENT ISSUES DEMAND TO CATHOLIC NEWSPAPER


Letter warns weekly of potential ‘sterner actions;’ suspension possible.

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, August 21 (Compass Direct News) – The Ministry of Home Affairs has issued a warning letter to a Catholic weekly demanding an explanation for articles that did not “focus” on religion and for a report that allegedly degraded Islam entitled, “America and Jihad – where do they stand?”

Father Lawrence Andrew, editor of the Herald, revealed on August 10 that the ministry had issued the “show-cause” letter accusing the newspaper of breaking publication rules on July 16.

In an article on August 14, the Sun quoted Minister of Home Affairs Syed Hamid Albar as restricting religious writing to “questions on rituals, adherence to God, followers and anything related to your divine mission.” Despite his apparently broad definition, the minister said mixing religion with politics “can create a lot of misunderstandings.”

The ministry’s letter reportedly warned that it “would not hesitate to take sterner action” if the Herald repeats its alleged offenses. According to The Associated Press (AP), an unnamed ministry official on August 11 said the Herald must explain satisfactorily why it ran the articles and pledge to stick by the rules or risk suspension.

Fr. Andrew told Compass the letter did not specify exactly what the “sterner actions” would be. He has yet to reply to the ministry, since the letter did not specify a date by which the newspaper had to respond.

The letter is the latest in a series that the ministry has issued to the publisher this year. Prior to the show-cause letter, the publisher had received two other “advisory” and “cautionary” letters from the ministry for publishing on current affairs and politics and for allegedly denigrating Islam.

The Herald is a multilingual newspaper published by the Catholic Church of Malaysia with a circulation of 13,000 and an estimated readership of 50,000. The publication is sold in churches and is not available from newsstands.

In his editorial in the latest edition of the Herald (August 17), Fr. Andrew highlighted the upcoming Permatang Pauh by-election, which he called a “serious” election since the outcome would determine the direction of the country for the next four years and beyond. He urged readers to pray that God may grant courage and wisdom to the voters to “choose a suitable and trustworthy candidate.”

The editorial makes no mention of Anwar Ibrahim, adviser to the People’s Justice Party, who is trying to make a comeback to Parliament in the election.

In anticipation of this editorial, a ministry official was quoted in the Star on August 13 as saying the then-yet to be published editorial could earn the Herald another warning letter and possibly suspension.

 

Defense of Newspaper

The Herald maintains it has not overstepped its boundaries.

According to the AP story of August 11, Fr. Andrew defended the Herald’s stance by saying it is “normal for [Christians] to have an ethical interpretation of current events and politics.”

In an editorial in the August 10 edition of the weekly, the editor added that in response to a previous letter from the ministry, he had informed it that no definition of religion was provided in the application form for renewing its printing permit, and that neither is there a definition of religion in the Federal Constitution. He asked the ministry to point out where the newspaper had gone wrong but has yet to receive a reply.

Bishop Paul Tan Chee Ing, chairman of the Christian Federation of Malaysia, said in an August 15 statement that the letters were “unjustified and an infringement of the right to circulate news within one’s own religious community – a right guaranteed under our Federal Constitution (Article 11).” He called on the ministry to unconditionally withdraw the letters.

“Christians believe that all of life – in its political, economic, social, cultural and religious aspects – come under the sovereignty of God,” he said, and therefore it is necessary to write on such matters to educate Christians to discern God’s will and purpose.

The Catholic Lawyers’ Society issued a statement on Saturday (August 18) in support of the Herald. The society’s president, Mabel Sabastian, called on the ministry to withdraw its letters and maintain the Herald’s publishing permit.

Sabastian argued that “interpretation of what constitutes religious matters should be left to the leaders and adherents of the faith,” and that the government ministry “is not in a position to dictate to Catholics the scope of their religion.”

The Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) reportedly expressed concern over the possible suspension of the Herald, saying it would be deemed as an infringement on freedom of expression.

Late last year, the government issued a series of warnings to the Herald trying to prohibit the publisher from using the word “Allah” in referring to God in the Malay language section of its multilingual newspaper. The government feared use of the word would cause confusion among the country’s majority-Muslim population.

The publisher, however, maintained that it had a right to use the word and has sued the government over the issue. The lawsuit is pending hearing in the courts.

Report from Compass Direct News

NIGERIA: ISLAMIST GROUP ATTACKING CHRISTIANS IN KWARA STATE


Clergymen say extremists blame Christian prayers for Muslim leader’s death.

ILORIN, Nigeria, August 14 (Compass Direct News) – Blaming the death of their leader on Christian prayers, an Islamist group that launched a hate campaign in response to an evangelistic event in 2004 is reportedly attacking Christians in this Kwara state capital with renewed virulence, area Christians said.

At least three Christians have died and several others have been injured in attacks with machetes and other weapons since June, clergymen said. They said the attacks began after the death in May of Dr. Ali Olukade, head of a local group of Islamists called Tibliq, possibly patterned after the worldwide Tablighi Jamaat missionary movement.

Dr. Olukade was critically injured in an auto accident in 2006, and after extensive recovery efforts he succumbed to his injuries in May. His extremist followers, according to the Rev. Cornelius Fawenu, secretary of the Kwara chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), believe that his death was the result of prayers by Christians upset when Muslim threats cut short a major event by German evangelist Reinhard Bonnke in 2004.

Islamic uproar over the evangelistic event in Ilorin forced it to a venue outside the city, and Bonnke had to “abort” three days of the planned five-day event, Rev. Fawenu said.

When the local Tibliq leader was injured in the car crash in 2006, Rev. Fawenu said, “The members of his Muslim sect went on rampage, demonstrating against America and the state of Israel, over claims that it was the prayers of Christians over the aborting of the gospel event of 2004 that caused their leader to be involved in an auto crash. Dr. Olukade, the Muslim sect’s leader, died in May 2008, and since then Muslim fanatics have embarked in serial killings and attacks on Christians in the city.”

The group from the Tibliq movement in Ilorin, Rev. Fawenu said, had spear-headed opposition to the evangelistic event.

The Kwara chapter of CAN has received 10 reports of Christians attacked by the Muslim extremists in the past two months, Rev. Fawenu said, adding that he believes unreported assaults on Christians average about four daily.

Facts on even the confirmed reports, however, are few. Last month the state CAN chapter petitioned the inspector general of police to investigate the attacks on Christians in Ilorin, which Rev. Fawenu said resulted in the death of a former leader of an Evangelical Church of West Africa congregation known only as Pastor Habila. The former church leader was assaulted in the Oke Oba area of Ilorin in June and died on June 15 from his injuries, Rev. Fawenu said.

“The corpse of another Christian victim was found along stadium road, with his Bible beside him, on June 18,” Rev. Fawenu said. “So also, a young Christian girl living near the stadium road was also murdered in the same manner within this period.”

The Kwara state CAN leader said he did not have the names of these victims but that their deaths resulted from attacks that fit a pattern of other area assaults – taking place after dark as Christians either went to or returned from church services.

Another church leader injured from an attack, he said, is known only as Pastor Olagunjo. Rev. Fawenu said the assaults have reduced attendance at Christian worship services in the state.

 

Survivors

The Kwara chapter of CAN staged a three-day prayer rally over the attacks from June 30 to July 2, which drew large crowds.

Samuel Ajiboye, pastor of New Testament Christian Mission in Ilorin, told Compass that Muslim extremists attacked a member of his church, Nanle Nathaniel, in June.

“Nanle Nathaniel was attacked on June 11 near our church,” Ajiboye said. “He saw a man with a machete coming towards him, and before he realized what was happening, the man cut him on his head with the machete, and thereafter fled.”

Ajiboye added that Nathaniel shouted and dragged himself to a nearby house, where neighbors phoned the pastor, and he told them to take Nathaniel to the University of Ilorin Teaching Hospital. At press time Nathaniel was still receiving treatment for nerve damage on his head, he said.

Ajiboye echoed the Kwara state CAN leader’s assertion that there are many Christian victims of such attacks, and that some of them have died.

Another survivor was Rachael Harry of Blessed Chapel, a church in the Sango area of Ilorin. Attacked on June 25, she also received head injuries for which she received hospital treatment, according to 70-year-old pastor and photojournalist Gabriel Oki Olufemi, of Chapel of Redemption church in Ilorin.

“While being attacked, she was rescued by her neighbors,” Olufemi told Compass. “I was there shortly after she was attacked, and I personally took pictures of her and interviewed her.”

Olufemi said Harry was about 100 meters from her house when she was attacked. “She was a trader returning from the Ministry of Agriculture, where she sells food,” he said, adding that she was attacked at about 7 p.m. near the home of her pastor, who was out of town at the time.

“Only yesterday [August 7], I was told that another Christian was attacked by the railway station in the city,” Olufemi said. “The police recovered an iron rod from the scene where she was attacked. All those killed or attacked are Christians.”

Olufemi said he interviewed another girl who was attacked near the venue of the June 30-July 2 prayer rally. “So also,” he said, “a young Christian man was attacked while on his way from night vigil in his church.”

 

Islamist Sect Fingered

The group said to be behind the attacks, Tibliq, may reflect the influence of the radical Sunni Tablighi Jamaat, a worldwide missionary movement originating in India in 1927.

Active in north African countries such as Morocco and Algeria, the secretive Tablighi Jamaat describes itself as pietistic but comprises an extremist wing that advocates jihad through the sword, according to a 2005 article in the Middle East Quarterly. Yusef Fikri, a Tablighi member and leader of the Moroccan terrorist organization At-Takfir wal-Hijrah, was sentenced to death for helping to plan the May 2003 Casablanca bombings that killed 45 people.

Tablighi Jamaat has always adopted an extreme interpretation of Sunni Islam,” Alex Alexiev wrote in the Middle East Quarterly, “but in the past two decades it has radicalized to the point where it is now a driving force of Islamic extremism and a major recruiting agency for terrorist causes worldwide.”

Rev. Fawenu recalled the evangelistic event in 2004 that he said is at the root of recent attacks. The rally by German evangelist Bonnke was to take place in the heart of the city, he said, but Tibliq-led Muslim opposition led to the Kwara state government moving the event to a village miles outside of Ilorin.

“However, two days into the five-day event, the government again brought the police to stop the event,” he said. “The event was aborted following opposition from Muslims in the city.”

After the leader of the Tibliq, Dr. Olukade, was injured in the car crash, he was taken to a hospital in Germany but returned to Nigeria last November with his condition still critical, Rev. Fawenu said.

“Before his death,” Rev. Fawenu told Compass, “Dr. Olukade was a medical doctor with the University of Ilorin Teaching Hospital, and was also the proprietor of TIM Hospital Ilorin.”

Most of the victims of the attacks, he said, have been treated at the University of Ilorin Teaching Hospital, as well as at the Delink Hospital in the Oja-iya area of Ilorin.

Report from Compass Direct News

INDONESIA: RELIGIOUS TENSIONS RISE IN WEST PAPUA


Authorities must act now to prevent Malukan-style conflict, report says.

DUBLIN, July 14 (Compass Direct News) – Authorities in West Papua, Indonesia, must move fast to prevent tension between Christian and Muslim communities escalating into a Malukan-style conflict, according to a recent report by the International Crisis Group (ICG).

The neighboring Maluku islands erupted into bitter sectarian warfare between 1999 and 2002, leaving thousands dead, injured or homeless.

While the conflict in West Papua dates back to Indonesia’s takeover of the region in 1963, several developments from the beginning of the decade have heightened tension in recent months, according to ICG’s June 16 report, “Communal Tensions in Papua.”

New, less tolerant strands of Islam and Christianity have gained influence since 2002, creating fissures within and between religious communities, the report claims. Also, faith issues have acquired a political dimension, since many Papuan Christians believe a Special Autonomy Law passed in 2001 was too limited, while Muslim migrants firmly support centralized rule from Jakarta and accuse Christians of separatism.

Most importantly, an influx of Muslim migrants, initially sponsored by the government, has changed demographics in the region, with Papuan Christians now fearing they will become a minority.

Indonesian troops and special police forces assigned to the region to quell independence movements have tortured and sometimes executed Christians suspected of involvement with the Free Papua Movement, according to other reports from local human rights organizations.

 

Manokwari: Trouble in ‘Gospel City’

Two incidents covered in the ICG report illustrate the potential for violence. In May, church leaders in the city of Manokwari – commonly referred to as “Gospel City” – circulated the second draft of a regulation designed to protect Christian values and traditions, drawing heavy criticism.

The “Regulation on Designating Villages for Mental Spiritual Guidance” came in response to a proposed mosque building project on Mansiman Island, considered the “birthplace” of Christianity in the region since the first two missionaries to West Papua landed there in 1855.

A local politician first proposed building a Grand Mosque and Islamic study center on the island in 2005. Uproar followed, with Christians asking whether Muslims would be offended if the most visible landmark in the deeply Islamic province of Aceh was a church.

The Manokwari District Interchurch Cooperation Board issued a statement decrying the “discriminatory and unjust” stance of the national government towards Christianity, pointing to a total of 991 attacks against Christians, churches and individuals throughout Indonesia dating back to 1949; trauma suffered by Christians in conflict areas such as the Malukus, and legal discrimination against churches under a 1969 Joint Ministerial Decree (SKB) regulating the establishment of places of worship.

Civil authorities then rejected the building proposal submitted by the mosque committee, citing objections from church leaders.

In response, Muslims claimed that Islam had come to Papua long before Christian missionaries arrived. One Muslim also told ICG that the rejection of a “house of Allah” provided grounds for jihad.

Jihadi groups outside Papua were quick to offer assistance. Three Javanese followers of the infamous Abu Bakar Ba’asyir traveled to Manokwari in December 2005 and drew up a hit list of 38 pastors leading the campaign against the Great Mosque. A similar group from the Malukus arrived in January 2006, but local Muslims turned both groups away.

The Evangelical Christian Church (GKI) of Papua decided in February 2006 that a regulation should be adopted to preserve Manokwari’s status as the Gospel City. In March the GKI circulated a first draft of the “Regulation on Implementing Mental Spiritual Guidance.” Muslims believed the draft law referred to the proselytizing and conversion of Muslims, which further inflamed tensions.

Both Muslim and Christian leaders denounced the draft regulation, but it became a national issue, with major Muslim newspapers portraying it as an attack on Islam. Another jihadi group, the Laskar Jundullah in South Sulawesi, briefly discussed launching a new jihad in Manokwari, spreading rumors that the draft regulation was a foreign plot to combine Maluku and Papua into a single independent Christian state.

On the contrary, Christians fear they will be increasingly marginalized in the region, according to John Barr, general secretary for the international mission wing of the Uniting Church in Australia.

“Christianity came to West Papua more than 100 years ago, and most Papuans eagerly adopted it to the point that Christianity reinforces and now underlines their identity,” he told Compass. “Where Papuan culture appears to be in the process of being eroded, Christianity serves to maintain local values and provide Papuans with a strong sense of who they are.”

Formally declaring Manokwari a Gospel City is an attempt to address this despair, he explained. “It’s an attempt to be proactive about the future.”

 

Kaimana’s Iron Christmas Tree

Tensions also erupted unexpectedly last year in Kaimana, a district historically known for religious tolerance, with Christians sitting on mosque development committees and Muslims assisting in the construction of churches, according to ICG.

In October 2007, during the Muslim celebration of Ramadan, the Protestant Church of Indonesia in Papua (GPI) scheduled a fund-raising concert at a school situated between two mosques. Muslims were incensed when plans for the concert emerged, but mosque leaders averted a clash by asking GPI to reschedule the event for 9 p.m., after evening prayers.

In December 2007, GPI leaders erected an iron Christmas tree crowned with a Star of David in a public park near the town center, claiming they had a permit to do so from the deputy district head. Local Muslims were furious, and a crowd quickly gathered. Rumors spread that Christian neighborhoods would be attacked and panic took hold, with some Christians fleeing into the jungle.

District head Hasan Achmad intervened and negotiated a compromise; the tree could remain in the park until January 21.

Tensions remained high, however, with GPI leaders calling an emergency meeting on December 28 following rumors of impending attacks on Christians. The rumors came to nothing, and on January 21 the GPI reluctantly complied with orders to remove the tree. By then, however, mutual trust and acceptance had been shattered.

 

Both Sides Aggrieved

ICG concludes that potential for communal conflict is high because both sides consider themselves aggrieved.

In some areas, local governments have controlled tensions by pairing a Papuan Christian district leader with a non-Papuan Muslim deputy. This has proved effective in some areas, but not all, the report stated.

ICG suggests that in areas where conflict is greatest, indigenous Papuan Muslim organizations such as the Papuan Muslim Council might play a bridging role.

Other West Papua observers such as Barr and Elizabeth Kendal of the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) believe ICG’s report is a useful analysis but somewhat biased toward the Muslim point of view.

In her analysis, Kendal remarked on ICG’s unquestioning acceptance of Muslim claims that Islam came first to West Papua, and that Christian colonialists then proceeded to obliterate all traces of Islam, despite no evidence that Islam ever became popular in the region. She also criticized the report for suggesting that the development of indigenous Muslim scholars and teachers was a realistic solution to the problem.

“The report forecasts that if Muslim-versus-Christian clashes do erupt, they will remain localized,” Kendal added. “I do not agree with that assessment. The jihadist groups, the pro-Indonesian militias and in particular the Indonesian military are looking for an excuse to unleash violent repression and ethnic-religious cleansing. Any clash therefore has incendiary potential.”

 

Outside Influences

According to ICG, there are multiple reasons for the breakdown in trust throughout West Papua.

New strands of Christianity and Islam began arriving in West Papua early this decade, bringing voices not necessarily in tune with the traditional tolerance of Papuans. Salafism, an ultra-Puritan method of practicing Islam, eventually made it to Papua after spreading rapidly through Indonesia in the 1990s. Some Papuan Muslims who had studied elsewhere in Indonesia or in the Middle East also returned with new, less tolerant interpretations of their faith.

Newer evangelical churches such as the Congregation of the Holy Way, Bethel and Bethany churches began to hold mass religious rallies, locally known as KKRs, in public places. Often these meetings featured testimonies from Muslim converts. Muslim residents objected to the KKRs and responded by publicly questioning basic tenets of the Christian faith, such as the divinity of Jesus, further compounding tensions.

An influx of both Christian and Muslim refugees from the neighboring Maluku islands brought its own problems, with refugees sharing personal accounts and video clips of bloody confrontations in Ambon and Seram. Video clips of beheadings in Iraq also circulated on cell phones, reinforcing negative images of Islam in some circles.

Human rights organizations began to report sightings of jihadi groups and training camps in West Papua. ICG’s report contends that most if not all of these “jihadis” were members of a non-violent Islamic missionary group, Jemaah Tabligh, active in Papua since 1988. Jemaah Tabligh members dress as the Moluccan Laskar Jihad members do, with men in white robes and turbans and women in full veils rather than headscarves.

Kendal, who analyzed ICG’s report for the WEA, noted that the source who rejected reports of jihadi sightings was identified in the footnotes as a “Muslim activist.”

Ja’far Umar Thalib, the leader of Laskar Jihad, admitted that some of his men arrived in Papua in late 2000 to assess “the needs of Muslims.” Thalib then sent approximately 200 men to Papua in 2001 to “crush” the Papuan independence movement, which he claimed was a Christian conspiracy to secede from Indonesia and form a Christian state.

 

Changing Demographics

The Indonesian government launched a migration program in 1975 that brought an influx of Muslim citizens into the mostly Christian territory of West Papua, sparking Papuan fears of a religious takeover. The program ended in 1985, but migration continued; of approximately 2.5 million inhabitants of West Papua today, 1 million are migrants.

Officially, Christians still make up about 56 percent of the total population and 95 percent of the indigenous population in West Papua, according to Jim Elmslie of the West Papua Project at the Center for Peace and Conflict Studies, University of Sydney, Australia. But both communities dispute these figures. Christians claim the number of Muslim migrants is deliberately downplayed, while Muslims claim authorities have combined animist and Christian populations to project a Christian majority.

When the Indonesian government took control of the region in 1963, it passed a new law declaring all land and natural resources property of the Indonesian state. This measure gave migrants and multinational oil companies access to Papuan ancestral lands, sparking angry demonstrations from indigenous landowners, many of them Christians.

 

Toward a Solution

While potential for conflict is high, Barr said a church-sponsored human rights group, ELSHAM, is already conducting workshops in peace education and conflict resolution, and churches have worked hard to rectify abuses of both Muslim and Christian communities.

This has occasionally put Christians at risk. For example, Kendal reports that in January 2007, Indonesian police occupied the headquarters of the indigenous Kingmi church in Jayapura, accusing the Rev. Benny Giay and the Rev. Noakh Nawipa of engineering an attack on a gold and copper mine in August 2002 in support of the independence movement. Giay and Nawipa rejected the allegations and said they were targeted because of their non-violent work for peace and justice in West Papua.

“ICG’s report does raise critical questions,” Barr concluded. “Papua is part of Indonesia, and Christians need to live alongside Muslims in a harmonious society. The alternative is horrific, and the Malukus bear witness to this.”

 

Timeline of Events in West Papua, Indonesia

1419

An Indian trader brought Islam to Papua on this date, according to a Papuan Muslim preacher. Other scholars claim the Bacan sultanate in North Maluku brought Islam to Papua in 1569.

 

1855

Two German missionaries landed on Mansiman Island, off the coast of Manokwari in West Papua.

 

1963

Dutch colonialists handed the territory of West Papua (then known as West Irian Jaya) to the United Nations, which then gave it to Indonesia on condition that a referendum on integration be held by December 1969. Following the takeover, Indonesia passed a new law declaring all West Papuan land and natural resources as the property of the Indonesian state.

 

1969

Under the ”Act of Free Choice,” 1,025 hand-picked West Papuans voted unanimously – under great duress – for integration with Indonesia.

 

1975

Indonesia’s Suharto government launched a migration program that would last until 1985. Thousands of Indonesian Muslims migrated to West Papua, both under this program and through voluntary migration.

 

May 1998

The Suharto government collapsed, sparking independence demonstrations in Papua.

 

1999 – 2002

Violent conflict in the Maluku islands sparked a refugee influx into West Papua. Jihadi groups also established a limited presence in West Papua.

 

2001

Indonesia granted limited autonomy to West Papua with a Special Autonomy Law; today, many provisions of this law have yet to be implemented.

 

November 2001

Indonesian Special Forces abducted and murdered popular Papuan leader Theys Eluay.

 

December 2003

The Indonesian government appointed Timbul Silaen to head the police force in West Papua. U.N. prosecutors had previously indicted Silaen for his role in war crimes and crimes against humanity while he headed the Indonesian police force in East Timor in 1999.

 

September 2005

A politician in Manokwari promised Muslim voters that he would build a Grand Mosque and Islamic study center on Mansiman Island.

 

October 2005

Civic authorities rejected an application for the Grand Mosque building project.

 

November 2005

Christians in Manokwari demonstrated against the construction project.

 

December 2005

Jihadis from Java arrived in West Papua and draw up a hit list of 38 pastors who campaigned against the mosque project. Local Muslims rejected their offer of assistance.

 

January 2007

Police accused the indigenous Papuan Kingmi church of being the religious arm of the Free Papua Movement (OPM).

 

March 2007

Church leaders in Manokwari outlined a draft “Regulation on Implementing Mental Spiritual Guidance,” creating a national uproar.

 

December 2007

Christians in Kaimana erected an iron Christmas Tree topped with a Star of David in a public park, infuriating local Muslims.

 

January 2008

Christians removed the Christmas Tree from the park as agreed in a meeting with town leaders.

 

May 2008

Church leaders in Manokwari circulated a second draft of their “Regulation on Designating Villages for Mental Spiritual Guidance.”

 

April 2008

Christians celebrated the 100th anniversary of local Christianity. In the same month, Muslims held a seminar entitled “Awakening of Irian Muslims” to assert the prior arrival of Islam in West Papua.

 

Report from Compass Direct News