COLOMBIA: FAMILY OF KIDNAPPED PASTOR FLEE HOME


Alarmed by threatening strangers, wife and children of William Reyes leave Maicao.

INDIANAPOLIS, Indiana, June 24 (Compass Direct News) – The wife and children of pastor William Reyes, who was kidnapped last September in Colombia and is still missing, have moved from their home to another city due to threatening strangers presumably linked to his kidnappers.

Compass learned that Idia Miranda Reyes, her son William, 19, and daughters Luz Nelly, 17, and Estefania, 9, suddenly left their home in Maicao in the department (state) of La Guajira two months ago and moved to an undisclosed location in the country.

The Rev. William Reyes disappeared on Sept. 25, 2008, en route to Maicao from the neighboring city of Valledupar. Since March 2008, the pastor of Light and Truth Inter-American Church and active member of the Fraternity of Evangelical Pastors of Maicao, had been receiving extortion threats from illegal armed groups operating in the La Guajira peninsula.

Family members have not heard from Pastor Reyes since, nor have his abductors contacted the family to demand ransom.

Two incidents earlier this year alerted his wife that she and her children were in danger from the kidnappers. On Jan. 15, an unidentified man appeared at the Inter-American Church in Maicao and asked for Idia Miranda Reyes. When he was told she was not there, the man asked for her address and cell phone number, which church workers refused to give him.

Before he left, the man said testily, “It is in [her] best interest to get in touch with me, than for me to have to find her.”

Six days later, Luz Nelly Reyes was approached by a stranger on the street (the family believes it was the same man), who told her that if she wanted to see her father again, she should come with him. The girl declined the invitation. When he attempted to grab her by the arm, Luz Nelly fled.

“I have not reported this to police, because I’m afraid,” her mother told Compass after the incident. “They could do something to me.”

Through sobs she added, “We never conceived of this happening to us. I just wish they would tell us if they have him or not.”

Idia Miranda Reyes waited to leave Maicao until Luz Nelly completed her senior year in high school; the 17-year-old graduated on March 28. According to sources, the Inter-American church is contributing a modest living allowance to the Reyes family.

Reyes is not alone in her fears; Colombia suffers the highest incidence of kidnapping in the Western Hemisphere and a homicide rate 11 times greater than in the United States.

Due to general lawlessness, Colombians often face harassment from the same criminals who kidnap or murder loved ones. Violent crime is so common in the country that half of the felonies are not reported to police, and only one in nine makes the newspapers.

Another Maicao kidnapping in February underscores the problem. Armed men abducted a woman from a church just a few blocks from the Light and Truth church – while worship was in progress. The pastor of that church later refused to disclose the victim’s identity or discuss the circumstances of her disappearance, citing concerns for the safety of his congregation.

Evangelical Christians are not always passive victims of crime, however. Justapaz, a Mennonite Church-affiliated organization based in Bogotá, and The Commission for Restoration, Life and Peace of the Evangelical Council of Churches of Colombia (CEDECOL) have organized an international prayer and action campaign in response to the Reyes family crisis.

The campaign mobilized concerned citizens to petition the office of Attorney General Dr. Mario Iguarán, asking that authorities conduct a thorough investigation into Pastor Reyes’ disappearance and report their findings to Commission Coordinator Ricardo Esquivia and Jenny Neme, director of Justapaz.

“Despite hundreds of letters from church members in the United States, Canada and across Europe, and repeated attempts to get a response from the Colombian Attorney General´s Office, we have yet to receive any information from them regarding progress in the case,” said Michael Joseph, who coordinates the Reyes case on behalf of CEDECOL and Justapaz. “We’re doing our best to make sure Pastor Reyes’ case is not forgotten.”

The Reyes family joins other “internal refugees” who live as exiles in their own country. Unchecked political and social violence have forced innocent victims – many of them widows and children – to abruptly abandon homes and careers. They must take up life in crowded, far-off cities in order to protect themselves and their children from further attack.

According to estimates, Colombia now has 3 million internal refugees, the second largest population of displaced persons in the world after Sudan.

Report from Compass Direct News

COLOMBIA: SIX MONTHS LATER, PASTOR STILL MISSING


The Rev. William Reyes’ wife awaits word, fears for safety of her children.

INDIANAPOLIS, Indiana, March 23 (Compass Direct News) – Six months after the disappearance in Colombia of the Rev. William Reyes of Maicao, La Guajira, no one knows what happened to him.

This week marks six months of agonizing uncertainty for the family of Rev. Reyes. On Sept. 25, 2008, the pastor of Light and Truth Inter-American Church disappeared en route home from a ministers’ meeting in Valledupar, a city in the neighboring department (state) of Cesar.

Family members and friends fear that guerrilla fighters kidnapped the veteran minister; they have not seen or heard from him since his disappearance. Rev. Reyes and colleagues in the Fraternity of Evangelical Pastors of Maicao had received repeated threats from illegal armed groups operating in the La Guajira peninsula since March 2008.

Guerrillas or their paramilitary rivals may have assassinated Rev. Reyes and disposed of his body, and some observers even speculate that he may have fallen victim to rogue units of the Colombian army that murder innocent civilians to inflate the body counts of “terrorists” killed in battle.

But nobody knows for sure what happened to the 41-year-old father of three – William, 19, Luz Nelly, 17 and Estefania, 9. His wife and children live with gnawing fear and uncertainty.

“Some days I feel so desperate, I don’t know what to do,” Idia Miranda de Reyes told Compass by telephone from her home in Maicao. Through tears, she added, “My daughter Estefania helps me stay strong. She tells me, ‘Mama, don’t cry,’ remember that God is with us.’”

Tensions heightened for the Reyes family on Feb. 19, when armed men entered another Maicao church just a few blocks from the Light and Truth Church while worship was in progress and forcibly removed a woman from the congregation. The pastor of the church refused to disclose the victim’s identity or discuss the circumstances of her disappearance, citing concerns for the safety of the woman, her family and other members of his congregation.

Such caution is understandable in Colombia, a country that suffers the highest incidence of kidnapping in the Western Hemisphere and a homicide rate 11 times greater than in the United States.

Six months of silence in regard to her husband’s fate, coupled with this new threat to her community, has made Idia Miranda Reyes justifiably fearful for her family’s safety. Moreover, she now faces financial hardship. The Truth and Light Church kept her on the payroll until Feb. 15, when the congregation appointed a new minister to replace her husband.

She is considering a move to another city to be near her extended family but wants to wait until her daughter, Luz Nelly, graduates from high school this spring. For now, the family survives on donations from friends and church members.

“We know that God is doing something through this,” Reyes said. “I don’t understand what that is, but I’m going to keep trusting Him.”

The Reyes family has received moral support from the Christian community in Colombia. On Oct. 4, 2008, thousands of marchers from Maicao’s churches held a public demonstration to protest the disappearance of Rev. Reyes and demand his immediate release.

The march produced the only clue to his fate. Following the demonstration, the minister’s wallet turned up inside the church building with his identification documents intact. His wife took that as a message that he was still alive and that his captors would be contacting her soon.

That has not happened. But such delay tactics are not unusual in Colombian kidnapping cases, according to Michael Joseph of the Commission for Restoration, Life and Peace of the Evangelical Council of Colombia.

“It’s disconcerting that we have received no ransom request,” Joseph said. “It means he could have been killed. On the other hand, we do know that Rev. Reyes had been receiving extortion threats by phone and text message from months before he disappeared. So really it’s anybody’s guess.”

Joseph traveled to Maicao last October to interview Rev. Reyes’ wife on behalf of the commission, which then mounted a public letter-writing campaign together with Justapaz, a Mennonite Church-affiliated organization based in Bogotá. Concerned citizens petitioned the office of Attorney General Dr. Mario Iguarán to “take all steps necessary to locate Pastor Reyes and to protect his family,” and the organizations are still urging people worldwide to write to the Colombian official. A model letter can be found at http://www.justapaz.org/spip.php?article114 .

At press time, law enforcement authorities had not responded to the petition, but this is not unusual for kidnapping cases in Colombia. The attorney general’s office reportedly faces a backlog of 1 million unsolved homicides, abductions and other serious crimes.

General lawlessness in some areas of the country means that Colombians often face retaliation from the same criminals who murder or kidnap loved ones, should they dare report such crimes to the authorities as Rev. Reyes’ wife has done. She lives in fear as she awaits word of her missing husband.

“I have three kids, and I am very fearful for them,” she said. “If it were not for the solace the Lord gives me, I would go crazy. I am trusting in God alone.”

Report from Compass Direct News

 

 

INDIA: NEWS BRIEFS


Recent Incidents of Persecution

Kerala, October 31 (Compass Direct News) – Suspected Hindu extremists burned down a school building run by a church on Oct. 16 in Kuravilangad. The Global Council of Indian Christians reported that the main building of St. Mary Higher Secondary School was destroyed in the fire, and authorities found materials used to set the school ablaze on the premises. Church authorities demanded an investigation, and government officials have visited the site. The school has a reputation for holding seats open for poor Dalit Christians in spite of strong opposition from the upper-caste Hindus. A police investigation was ongoing at press time.

Karnataka – Mangalore police on Oct. 14 assaulted a Christian for participating in a recent protest rally against attacks on churches. The Global Council of Indian Christians reported that local police targeted Herald D’Souza for taking part in the rally, dragged him to a police station and severely thrashed him, then charged him with rioting. The head constable, identified only as Gopalakrishna, assaulted him without initiating any inquiry. D’Souza sustained serious injuries on his backbone, chest, face and hands. A complaint has been registered against the head constable, but senior police officials are pressuring the Christian for a settlement.

Andhra Pradesh – Police on Oct. 14 arrested Christians in Kamareddygudem village of Nalgonda district. The Evangelical Fellowship of India reported that at about 8 p.m., as the five-member Operation Mobilization (OM) Christian media team led by Kummari Rajesh was screening a film on Jesus, a group of extremists arrived on motorbikes. They assaulted the OM team and destroyed equipment worth more than 200,000 rupees (US$3,950). Rajasekhar Sarella, legal counsel for the Christians, told Compass that Rajesh filed a First Information Report against the extremists at Thripuraram police station, and the extremists filed a counter complaint. The Christians were charged with “unlawful assembly” and “hurting religious sentiments.” They were released on bail on Oct. 20. Police also arrested Hindu extremists Gundeboina Lingaiah, Srinivas Reddy and Narshingh Venkatreddy for damaging property and voluntarily causing hurt with dangerous weapons. The extremists were also released on bail.

Karnataka – Unknown assailants set a church building on fire on Oct. 13 in Yadavanahalli, Bangalore, burning it down at 1 a.m. According to the Global Council of Indian Christians, a pulpit, tables, sound system, fans, music instruments, lights and other furniture of St. Anthony church were reduced to ashes, with damages estimated at around 100,000 rupees (US$1,975). Police claimed that it was an accident, while the Electrical Inspectorate of Karnataka ruled out an electrical short circuit. Church authorities have filed a complaint, and at press time a police investigation was underway.

Andhra Pradesh – Hindu extremists belonging to the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council) disrupted worship and threatened Christians on Oct. 12 in Madanapally, Chitoor. The Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) reported that about 20 extremists barged into Krupa Prayer House shouting the Hindu devotional slogan “Jai Sri Ram [praise lord Ram]” and told the Christians not to conduct future worship meetings. The Hindu extremists planted a stone in front of the church and told the Christians that they were planning to build a Hindu temple there. A GCIC representative told Compass that the matter was settled, with a police official promising to give the Hindu extremists land for a temple elsewhere.

Uttar PradeshHindutva (Hindu nationalist) extremists allegedly belonging to the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak and Bajrang Dal on Oct. 12 disrupted worship, desecrated Bibles and vandalized furniture at a church in Anola. The Evangelical Fellowship of India reported that at about 10 a.m. some 15 to 20 extremists led by Sanjeev Saxena stormed into an Assemblies of God Church, denouncing Christ and cursing. They warned pastor Jallal Masih and the nearly 35 believers not to worship in the church building again. A representative of the Christian Legal Association told Compass that no Sunday worship has been held there since then.

Tamil Nadu – Hindu extremists attacked a church and damaged a statue of Mary on Oct. 9 in Ganapathy, Coimbatore. The Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) reported that the assailants entered the church premises, broke the glass cabin and damaged the six-foot tall statue. The incident sparked protest among Christians, resulting in about 100 church members gathering on the road demanding protection and the immediate arrest of the Hindu extremists. Police have arrested three extremists, said the GCIC, and at press time calm had returned to the area.

Karnataka – Hindu extremists on Oct. 5 burned Immanuel Full Gospel church, and police forced its pastor to give a false statement in Kanaji Pura, Chamarajanagar. The Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) reported that extremists set fire to the church, damaging the pulpit, Bibles and hymn books. The extremists along with police officials had threatened pastor C.J. Patrick two weeks prior, telling him to cease worship and shut down his church. A police complaint has been filed, but police have pressured the pastor to falsely state that it was an accident and not an attack. A GCIC representative told Compass that the case was closed, as the pastor gave the false statement in writing.

Uttar Pradesh – Police raided a church based on a complaint filed by Hindu extremists belonging to the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council, or VHP) for forceful conversion on Oct. 2 in Baradabari. The Global Council of Indian Christians reported that police investigated The Alliance Ministry’s Life Church, taking away a church register and other documents. After the enquiry police returned the register and allowed pastor Rajender Gautham to continue his ministry, but on Oct. 4 summoned him again. They told him to halt future worship meetings in the church building, as the VHP had threatened to attack Christian meetings in the area.

Chhattisgarh – Violent attacks rattled the Christian community in Dantewada district in the past month, with Hindu extremists seriously injuring a Christian woman attending a funeral with an axe blow to the head. As Christians gathered for a memorial service for Somli Bai of Narli village on Sept. 29, an angry mob attacked them, injuring about 35 Christians, six of them seriously. A woman identified only as Bode was admitted to a hospital with a serious head injury from an axe, as was Raju Karma, who was critically wounded and his motorcycle burned. Some of the Christians took shelter in a nearby jungle, with three persons missing. On Oct. 5, a mob demonstrated in front of Indian Pentecostal Church in Kirandul, 10 kilometers (six miles) from Narli, accusing the pastor of forcible conversions. He has reportedly gone into hiding following death threats to his family and him. In Bacheli (three kilometers from Narli), pastor Sudarshan Pani told Compass that Hindu extremists tried to kidnap Satish Basra, pastor of the late Bai’s church. Local residents foiled the kidnapping attempt. Police have been informed of all the incidents, but a First Information Report has not been filed, according to local sources. “These troubles have been started by outsiders who have come into the Kirandul-Bacheli area and are inciting local people against Christians,” Pastor Pani said. “A few high-caste families have voluntarily accepted Christianity in the past few days and this has added more fuel to the fire. The convert families are firm, but the pressure is being felt by the entire community.”

Karnataka – Police on Sept. 28 disrupted a worship service and detained a pastor in Hubli. The Global Council of Indian Christians reported that police took the pastor for questioning based on Hindu extremists’ allegations of forceful conversion. Worship came to a halt as police ordered members to stop the meeting. Saying that that he had not caused any disturbances and was conducting the worship service in a Christian’s building, pastor Daniel Kote was released after questioning. Recently Hindu extremists had attacked another worship meeting led by Pastor Kote in Hotel Chalukya, resulting in services moving to the church member’s building.

New Delhi – Hindu extremists belonging to Bajrang Dal and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh vandalized a church, accused the pastor of forcible conversion and brought down the roof and a wall of Rehma Faith Church on Sept. 17 in Peeragarhi, west Delhi. The same mob on Sept. 18 arrived at the church with saffron flags, vandalized the remains of the church and pelted Christians with stones, while police stood by as mere spectators, reported the Christian Legal Association of India. A child and three church members were injured in the attack. A complaint has been registered and police protection has been provided on the church premises.

Andhra Pradesh – A revenue inspector and his workers demolished a church building on Sept. 3 in Hyderabad. According to the All India Christian Council (AICC), the revenue inspector identified only as Srihari said that he had carried out the demolition according to orders from another revenue inspector identified only as Sudhakar. The pastor, identified only as Jairaj, had all pertinent documents for legal ownership of the land, but the inspector refused to listen to him and went ahead with the demolition work. Hindu extremists reportedly had earlier pressured the pastor to vacate the building. Pastor Jairaj has sought help from the National Minority Commission. Moses Vattipalli told Compass that AICC has decided to file a case against the revenue officers.

Report from Compass Direct News

PAKISTAN: CUSTODY CASE COULD GO TO SUPREME COURT


Muslim kidnappers continue to pressure girls at shelter: ‘Your parents will kill you.’

ISTANBUL, August 20 (Compass Direct News) – A custody battle in Pakistan over two Christian girls kidnapped and allegedly forced to convert to Islam remained inconclusive after a hearing today, with rights advocates for the family suspecting Muslim fundamentalists of pressuring the minors and a medical board.

Judge Malek Saeed Ejaz of the Lahore High Court’s Multan Branch set the next hearing for Sept. 9 after a two-hour proceeding. Lawyers for the Masih family said that if the girls are not returned to their parents at the next hearing they will appeal to the Pakistani Supreme Court.

Until then, Aneela and Saba Masih, 10 and 13 respectively, will remain at Multan’s Dar Ul Rahman women’s shelter, where they have stayed since a July 29 hearing.

Islamic jurisprudence and Pakistani law do not recognize the forced marriages of minors. The judge’s decision to extend the case was based on Saba Masih’s testimony that she is 17 and on a Lahore medical board’s ruling that she is between 15 and 17.

The medical board, however, may have been pressured to declare Saba Masih an adult, lawyers said.

“This is a case of conversion from Christianity to Islam, so we can say there is pressure, especially from fundamentalist groups,” said Aneeqa Maria, legal advocate for the Lahore-based Center for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS)

Rights advocates said the girls themselves may have come under pressure while at the women’s shelter, although they were sent there with the purpose of escaping coercion by the Muslim family that captured them.

The Muslim family continues to threaten the girls at the shelter, said Rashid Rehman of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.

“They are giving them misinformation regarding their parents, saying, ‘If you return to your parents, they will kill you,’” he said.

The court has not accepted Saba Masih’s baptismal records or birth certificates as evidence of her minor status in previous hearings.

Pakistani law requires females to be at least 16 to marry without permission of legal guardians. A minor cannot marry regardless of his or her religion.

Both sides agree Aneela Masih is a minor and that therefore custody of her cannot be granted to the captor’s family. The lawyers for the defense argue, however, that custody of her should be given to her older sister and not to her Christian parents.

A strict interpretation of Islamic law does not allow non-Muslim parents to have custody of a Muslim child.

The prosecution says there is no proof the girls converted freely to Islam, and that they should be given back to their Christian parents. In fact, the Muslim family’s claim to custody of the girls doesn’t even meet the legal muster of Islamic jurisprudence, Rehman argued.

“There is no example in Islamic history of minor girls who converted to Islam without permission or the presence of their legal guardian,” he said. In Islamic law, “women do not have full capacity to give testimony in court. How is it possible to accept the statement they have embraced Islam?”

 

Possible Outcomes

Maria of CLAAS speculated that the court would give custody of Aneela Masih to her parents at the Sept. 9 hearing. Since both sides agree she is a minor, the prosecution will argue she doesn’t understand what has been happening and could not have freely chosen to convert.

Rehman said pursuing custody of the older sister would be more difficult.

“It will not be fruitful for us, because Saba herself has claimed she is married,” he said. “She has attained the age of puberty and is claiming to have married by her own choice. She has also claimed she is 17 years old. She will likely be given custody to her Muslim husband.”

If both girls aren’t returned to their Christian parents, then the prosecution plans to appeal to the Pakistan Supreme Court.

An Aug. 6 hearing at the Lahore High Court’s Multan branch ruled that the district medical board of Multan should examine Saba Masih to determine if she was old enough to marry of her own volition. In previous hearings she claimed she was 17.

A crowd of about 20 people gathered at the courthouse today and shouted threats at the Masih family and their lawyers. Among those in the crowd were Islamic scholars from Mufti groups, which have also made threatening telephone calls to CLAAS for trying to give Christian parents custody of Muslim children, Maria said.

The two sisters were kidnapped on June 26 while traveling to visit their uncle in Sarwar Shaheed, northwest of Multan. Their parents say local fruit vendor Muhammad Arif Bajwa kidnapped them in Chawk Munda, a small town in south Punjab.

Saba Masih was married to Amjad Ali, a Muslim, the next day. Bajwa and Ali registered a case with the police on June 28 for custody of the girls based on their alleged conversion to Islam.

Younis Masih, the girls’ father, claimed Ali and his family kidnapped the girls while they were en route to visit their uncle. He only learned of their location after the men filed for custody and summoned Masih to the police station.

In a July 29 hearing, Judge Saghir Ahmed said he did not believe the girls converted to Islam of their own volition and ordered them to be sent to a government women’s shelter so that they could think freely until the Aug. 6 hearing.

The girls’ father has tried to gain custody of his daughters by appealing to Islamic authorities. On July 10 he obtained an edict from Chawk Munda imam Mohammad Abdul Majeed on whether his 13-year-old daughter’s marriage was valid according to Islam.

Majeed replied that a 13-year-old girl’s marriage is valid if she has attained puberty and freely chosen to convert. If Saba Masih’s conversion were coerced, then her marriage would be invalid because Islam does not allow compulsion in religion, he said.

Majeed’s ruling, however, was not accepted in previous hearings since he declined to appear in court and testify.

 

Kidnapping and Threats

Today’s hearing in Multan came during increased kidnappings of Christian minors and threats against legal activists in Pakistan, a majority-Muslim country of 168 million.

Phone threats from Islamic groups have forced Maria, lawyer for a Christian legal advocacy group and counsel for the Masih family, to go underground for the last two weeks.

CLAAS has come under scrutiny for taking up cases of the forced conversion of kidnapped girls such as the Masih sisters and that of Sonia Younis, 13. On June 24 a Muslim woman in Lahore kidnapped Younis and married her to her son, Mohammead Imran.

When Younis’ parents filed a complaint with a local police station, an investigator returned three days later with a certificate stating Younis had become a Muslim and married Imran. Younis’ parents charged Imran’s parents with kidnapping, but police dismissed it on religious grounds, according to CLAAS.

Kidnappings of non-Muslims are common in Pakistan, where the Christian population is less than 2 percent.

“Generally, because the courts are biased, they give custody to the Muslims,” Maria of CLAAS said. “In many cases the girls are minors. These kinds of cases are similar to others.”  

Report from Compass Direct News