Senior district authorities accused of supporting desecration of 150 Christian graves.
LAHORE, Pakistan, March 9 (CDN) — Christians in south Punjab Province are accusing senior district officials of supporting local Muslims who allegedly demolished 150 Christian graves and desecrated holy relics – and are now threatening Christians seeking legal redress.
In the Kot Addu area of Muzaffargarh district, Waseem Shakir told Compass by telephone that an influential Muslim group last Nov. 6 took illegal possession of a 1,210-square yard piece of land designated as a Christian cemetery and set up shops on it. Official records state that the portion of land was allotted as a Christian cemetery, he said.
“Local Muslims demolished 150 Christians’ graves and desecrated the cross and biblical inscriptions on the graves in a bid to construct shops on the property,” said Shakir, a resident of Chak (Village) 518, Peer Jaggi Morr, Kot Addu. “Only five marlas [151.25 square yards] are all that is left for the Christians to bury their dead now.”
Shakir said that all Muzaffargarh area authorities, including the local politicians, were supporting the alleged land-grabbers even as Christians feared a mob attack.
“The situation has come to point where even the local police have warned their higher-ups that the tension could provoke a Gojra-type incident,” he said, adding that Muslim instigators were now openly trying to intimidate him and Boota Masih, who registered a case with police, into dropping the matter.
In Gojra on Aug. 1, 2009, Muslim hordes acting on an unsubstantiated rumor of blasphemy of the Quran – and whipped into a frenzy by local imams and banned terrorist groups – killed at least seven Christians, looted more than 100 houses and set fire to 50 of them. At least 19 people were injured in the melee.
Shakir said Christians had approached police and the district administration to register a case against the Muslims for desecrating their sacred relics and hurting religious sentiments, but authorities have shown little attention to their grievance. Masih registered the complaint on behalf of area Christians, but the station house officer of the Daira Deen Panah Police, Waseem Leghari, altered it to state that Muslims had only occupied a piece of the cemetery land, Shakir said.
“Leghari registered a case against the Muslims under Section 297 of the Pakistan Penal Code [trespass of a place for the dead], which is a bailable offense, despite the fact that a case under the blasphemy law should have been registered against the Muslims for desecrating the Christian holy relics,” Shakir said.
Police took no measures to arrest the 11 named suspects, he added.
“No one seems bothered over the desecration of our cross and biblical inscriptions,” Shakir said.
Section 297 of the penal code states, “Whoever, with the intention of wounding the feelings of any person, or of insulting the religion of any person, or with the knowledge that the feelings of any person are likely to be wounded, or that the religion of any person is likely to be insulted thereby, commits any trespass in any place of worship or on any place of sculpture, or any place set apart for the performance of funeral rites or as a depository for the remains of the dead, or offers any indignity to any human corpse or causes disturbance to any persons assembled for the performance of funeral ceremonies, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to one year, or with fine, or with both.”
Shakir said that, besides the 150 demolished graves, the illegal occupants had thrown garbage on another 50 graves. The police’s indifferent attitude towards the Christian community had been hurtful, he said, and Christians had repeatedly taken up the issue with District Police Officer (DPO) Chaudhry Manzoor and District Coordination Officer Tahir Khurshid.
They did not take the issue seriously, Shakir said.
DPO Manzoor rejected the Christians’ accusations.
“It’s not as serious a case as they are portraying,” he told Compass. “The people who have built shops on the land are not illegal occupants but the real owners.”
He said Christians were furious because the shopkeepers put some of their belongings on the graves.
“No one has desecrated any Christian holy symbol, book or grave,” he said. “Any fears that the issue could lead to another Gojra are baseless.”
Manzoor said the matter would be resolved amicably.
Napolean Qayyum, leader of the Minorities Wing of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), told Compass that open desecration of the Christian symbols and places and the police’s alleged support of the culprits showed the prejudice of the Punjab government towards minority groups.
“An application regarding this incident is lying in the Punjab chief minister’s secretariat, but it seems the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz’s [PML-N] government in Punjab wants another Gojra-like incident to take place in Kot Addu,” he said, adding that it was curious that all major violence against Christians usually takes place when the PML-N is in power in the province.
Qayyum said that he had taken up the matter with the PPP leadership.
“It’s a case of blasphemy, and the culprits should have been rounded up under Section 295-A,” he said. “I have contacted Farahnaz Ispahani, the political adviser to President Asif Zardari, and she has assured me of the federal government’s support in this matter.”
He added that stern action against local police and administrative authorities was necessary to set an example for others.
Report from Compass Direct News
‘Kill all the Christians,’ local imam tells villagers.
CAIRO, March 8 (CDN) — A Muslim mob in a village south of Cairo last weekend attacked a church building and burned it down, almost killing the parish priest after an imam issued a call to “Kill all the Christians,” according to local sources.
The attack started on Friday evening (March 4) in the village of Sool, located in the city of Helwan 35 kilometers (22 miles) from Cairo, and lasted through most of Saturday. A local imam, Sheik Ahmed Abu Al-Dahab, issued the call during Friday afternoon prayers, telling area Muslims to kill the Christians because they had “no right” to live in the village. The attack started several hours later.
The Rev. Hoshea Abd Al-Missieh, a parish priest who narrowly escaped death in the fire, said the clamor of the church being torn apart sounded like “hatred.”
“I was in the attack, but I can’t describe it,” he said. “The sound of the church being destroyed that I heard – I can’t describe it, how horrible it was.”
According to villagers, the mob broke into the Church of the Two Martyrs St. George and St. Mina, and as they chanted “Allahu Akbar [God is greater],” looted it, demolished the walls with sledgehammers and set a fire that burned itself out the next morning. Looters removed anything valuable, including several containers holding the remains of venerated Copts – most of whom were killed in other waves of persecution – then stomped and kicked the containers like soccer balls, witnesses said.
After the fire went out, the mob tore down what little remained of the church structure. The group of Muslims then held prayers at the site and began collecting money to build a mosque where the church building once stood, said the assistant bishop of Giza the Rev. Balamoun Youaqeem.
“They destroyed the church completely,” he said. “All that was left is a few columns and things like that. As a building, it’s all gone.”
During the fire, Al-Missieh was trapped in a house near the church building that was filling up with smoke. He faced a difficult dilemma – choke or burn to death in the house, or face an angry mob of thousands screaming for blood.
“When the smoke was too much, I told myself, ‘I am dying anyway,’ so I decided I would go out and whatever happened, happened,” Al-Missieh said.
When he went outside, a man with a rifle told the priest to follow him. At first Al-Missieh was reluctant, he said, but the man fired off two rounds from the rifle and told the crowd to step away.
“No one will touch this man, he is with me,” the priest remembered the man yelling at the mob. Al-Missieh was taken to a house where he met three other workers who were at the church when it was attacked. The men all relayed stories similar to the priest’s.
Friday’s attack was another in a long list of disproportionate responses in Egypt to a rumor of an affair between a Muslim and a Copt. Earlier this month, Sool villagers accused a Muslim woman in her 30s and a Coptic man in his 40s, both of them married, of being involved with each other. On Wednesday (March 2) a village council of Coptic and Muslim leaders convened and agreed that the man should leave the village in order to avoid sectarian violence.
The next day, the woman’s cousin killed the woman’s father in a fight about the honor of the family. The same day, the cousin died of wounds he sustained in the fight. By Friday, Al-Dahab, the local imam, had blamed the entire incident on Christians in the village and called on all Muslims in Sool to kill them.
Because of the attack, Copts in Sool fled to adjacent villages. The women who remained in the village are now being sexually assaulted, according to Youaqeem, who added that he is receiving phone calls from women in the village begging for help. Those reports have not yet been independently confirmed.
“Everybody tried to find a way to get out,” Youaqeem said.
Groups of Muslims have set up blockades around Sool, declaring they intend to turn it into an “Islamic village,” Youaqeem said.
On Sunday (March 6), roughly 2,000 people gathered outside the Radio and Television Building in Cairo to protest the attack and what Copts see as a long-standing government refusal to address or even acknowledge the persecution of Christians in Egypt. Protestors also accused the government of not sending enough troops to the village to control the situation. Holding up crosses and signs, the protestors shouted the name of Jesus and chanted, “We need our church.”
Soldiers armed with AK-47s with fixed-sheathed bayonets held the crowd back from the building as several priests took turns addressing the crowd. When the Giza parish priest, Bishop Anba Theodosius, said the army had pledged to rebuild the church but would not give a written guarantee of the promise, the crowd became enraged and pushed through the line of soldiers.
No one was injured in the push. More protests about the attack continued Tuesday in Cairo.
Youaqeem said the attack has devastated and enraged the Coptic community, but he sees hope.
“As they say – ‘All things work to the good of those who love the Lord,’” he said.
Report from Compass Direct News
Villagers beat young man and his relatives, as well as burn their crops and press charges.
SHEIKHUPURA, Pakistan, October 11 (CDN) — A young Christian has been jailed for nearly eight months and his family was attacked after a Muslim friend framed him for murder, he said.
Yassir Masih, 18, has been locked up at Sheikhupura District Jail since his arrest in late February. In an interview at Narang Mandi police station at that time, Masih said that on Feb. 17 his Muslim friend Muhammad Mubashir came to his house late at night and asked him to accompany him on “an urgent piece of work.”
Residents of Pandori village in Sheikhupura district, Mubashir and Masih went to the home of Muhammad Imran, who was in love with the same girl as Mubashir; Masih said the two one-time friends often quarreled over her, with bitter enmity eventually developing between them.
“Being a friend, I went with him, reluctantly, and we soon arrived at the door of Muhammad Imran,” Masih said. “Muhammad Mubashir knocked on the door, and as soon as Muhammad Imran opened the door, Muhammad Mubashir opened fire with his pistol, killing Muhammad Imran on the spot.”
The gunfire awakened villagers, who gathered and began to search for the killer, Masih said. Frightened of the mob and not wanting to put his family in danger, Masih did not return home but fled with Mubashir. The two young men hid in a field of crops, where they decided to leave the village until passions cooled, he said. As Masih left the village, however, he was unaware that Mubashir had melted into the mob that was looking for the killer, he said.
“Later Muhammad Mubashir went to his house and slept in his warm bed that shivering cold winter night,” Masih said.
The next day villagers discovered Masih was missing and therefore accused him of killing Imran, he said.
They didn’t stop at that, said Khalid Gill, chief organizer for Punjab Province of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance. Gill said that in order to deprive the wealthy Christian family of their profitable strawberry, wheat, corn and other crops, Mubashir’s father, Muhammad Gulfam, filed murder, arms possession and terrorism charges not only against Masih but also against his 50-year-old father Abid Masih, as well as brothers Khalid Masih, 30; Asif Masih, 23; Ashir Masih, 15; Faisal Masih, 13; and two others unnamed.
“Most of the Muslims in the area harbored jealousy against the prosperous Christian family,” Gill pointed out, explaining why Gulfam also pressed charges against members of Yassir Masih’s family.
Additionally, the angry villagers on Feb. 18 overran the property of Masih’s grandfather, Rehmat Masih, where four of the late patriarch’s sons lived; the mob beat women and children with clubs and looted appliances, clothes and other household items, Gill said.
“Nothing was left of use for the Christian family,” Gill said.
He added that the villagers ransacked Yassir Masih’s home and burned 20 acres of his fields on Feb. 18. The village comprises about 2,000 Muslim families and only 15 Christian homes, he said.
Officers from Narang Mandi police station arrested Yassir Masih later than month. He and his family members told officers that Mubashir shot Imran, but police listened only to the lies of the plaintiff, Masih said.
On Feb. 19 Yassir Masih’s mother, Shamshad Bibi, went to the Narang Mandi police station to file a complaint against the Muslim villagers for attacking and looting their house and burning their crops, Gill said. Police filed a case against the attackers but so far no one has been arrested, and “all the Muslim leaders who instigated the Muslim mob to attack are still at large,” Gill said.
At the same time, Narang Mandi police have arrested not only Yassir Masih but his brothers Ashir Masih and Asif Masih, 15 and 23 years old respectively, Gill said. While Yassir Masih has been incarcerated at Sheikhupura District Jail, Ashir Masih and Asif Masih were interrogated by Criminal Investigation Agency officers and have been kept at an undisclosed location since Feb. 18.
The accused Christian’s father, Abid Masih, as well as Khalid Masih, were still in hiding at press time. Police exonerated young Faisal Masih of all charges on Sept.1. Gill said that the 13-year-old boy had moved to an undisclosed location.
Report from Compass Direct News
Manoj Pradhan arrested; three more cases pending against Hindu nationalist.
NEW DELHI, September 10 (CDN) — A Hindu nationalist legislator was arrested yesterday after a court pronounced him guilty of playing a major role in the murder of a Christian during anti-Christian carnage in Orissa state’s Kandhamal district in August 2008.
The Fast Track Court II in Kandhamal convicted Manoj Pradhan of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the murder of a 30-year-old Christian, Bikram Nayak, who succumbed to head injuries two days after an attack by a mob in the Raikia area of Budedi village on Aug. 25, 2008.
Judge Chitta Ranjan Das sentenced Pradhan to six years of rigorous imprisonment for “culpable homicide not amounting to murder” under Section 304 of the Indian Penal Code and imposed a fine of 15,500 rupees (US$335) for setting houses ablaze.
Pradhan, who contested and won the April 2009 state assembly election from jail representing Kandhamal’s G. Udayagiri constituency, was not initially accused in the police complaint in Nayak’s murder, but his role emerged during the investigation, according to The Hindu.
One of the primary suspects in violence that followed the assassination of Hindu nationalist leader Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati on Aug. 23, 2008, Pradhan was initially arrested in Berhampur city in neighboring Ganjam district in December 2008. The violence began a day after Saraswati’s killing when Hindu nationalist groups blamed Christians for his murder, although Maoists (extreme Marxists) claimed responsibility for it.
In spite of this week’s conviction, the Orissa state unit of the BJP said the case against Pradhan was weak.
“The case is not strong,” Orissa BJP President Jual Oram told Compass by telephone. “Pradhan was merely present at the scene of crime.”
Pradhan was named in at least 12 police complaints concerning murder and arson. But after he won the election, he was released on bail.
This is the 36-year-old Pradhan’s second conviction. On June 29, Kandhamal’s Fast Track Court I sentenced him to seven years in jail in a case concerning the murder of another Christian, Parikhita Nayak, also from Budedi village, who was killed on Aug. 27, 2008. Though not convicted of murder, Pradhan was found guilty of rioting and causing grievous hurt in the Parikhita Nayak case.
The June 29 judgment led to his arrest, but the Orissa High Court granted him bail eight days later.
The BJP will challenge the convictions in a higher court, Oram said.
Last month Kanaka Rekha Nayak, widow of Parikhita Nayak, complained that despite the conviction of Pradhan and an accomplice, they were immediately given bail and continued to roam the area, often intimidating her.
Rekha Nayak was among 43 survivors who on Aug. 22-24 testified in Delhi before the National People’s Tribunal (NPT), a private hearing of victims of the Kandhamal violence organized by the National Solidarity Forum, a confederation of 60 non-profit groups and people’s movements.
Nayak said local politicians, including Pradhan, hit her husband with an axe. Her husband’s body was later chopped into pieces, she recalled as she sobbed during testimony at the tribunal, headed by Justice A.P. Shah, former chief justice of Delhi High Court.
The fast track courts set up especially to hear cases related to the anti-Christian violence have acquitted Pradhan in seven cases for lack of evidence. Three more cases are pending against him.
The state BJP’s Oram said Christians had created “hype” about the cases against Pradhan to “trouble us.” He added, “The state government is not doing anything to arrest and try the killers of the Swami.”
The NPT tribunal asserted that between August and December 2008, about 2,000 people were “forced to repudiate their Christian faith.”
The tribunal cited government figures asserting that during the violence from August to December 2008, more than 600 villages were ransacked, 5,600 houses were looted and burned, 54,000 people were left homeless, and 38 people were murdered in Kandhamal alone. It also noted that human rights groups estimated that over 100 people were killed, including women, disabled and aged persons and children, and “an un-estimated number suffered severe physical injuries and mental trauma.”
While there were reports of four women being gang-raped, many more victims of sexual assault were believed to have been intimidated into silence, the tribunal concluded.
As many as 295 church buildings and other places of worship, big and small, were destroyed, and 13 schools, colleges, and offices of five non-profit organizations damaged, it said, adding that about 30,000 people were uprooted and living in relief camps, with many of them still displaced.
“More than 10,000 children had their education severely disrupted due to displacement and fear,” it reported. “Today, after two years, the situation has not improved, although the administration time and again claims it is peaceful and has returned to normalcy.”
The Christian community was deliberately targeted by Hindu nationalist groups such as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council), the Bajrang Dal and the active members of Bharatiya Janata Party,” the tribunal concluded.
The jury also observed that cries against religious conversions were used as for political mobilization and “to incite horrific forms of violence and discrimination against the Christians” of Dalit (formerly “untouchables” according the caste hierarchy in Hinduism) origin.
“The object is to dominate them and ensure that they never rise above their low caste status and remain subservient to the upper castes,” it added.
The jury accused police of complicity, which “was not an aberration of a few individual police men, but evidence of an institutional bias against the targeted Christian community.”
“The jury is constrained to observe that public officials have colluded in the destruction of evidence, and there is testimony directly implicating the District Collector [the administrative head of a district] in this misdemeanor.”
The jury expressed concern over the lack of mechanisms to protect victims “who have dared to lodge complaints and witnesses who have courageously given evidence in court,” as they “are unable to return to their homes.”
“There is no guarantee of safe passage to and from the courts. They are living in other cities and villages, many of them in hiding, as they apprehend danger to their lives.”
It also noted mental trauma in children.
“There has been no trauma counselling for the affected children and adolescents in Kandhamal. Even today they have nightmares of running in the jungle, with the killers in pursuit, are scared of any loud sound and are afraid of people walking in groups or talking loudly.”
Bollywood lyricist Javed Akhtar, who was part of the tribunal, said that incidents such as the Kandhamal carnage against religious minorities continued to happen with “alarming frequency” in India.
“As citizens of this democracy, we should hang our heads in shame,” he said.
Report from Compass Direct News
Hostilities common in area in Bihar state; victim had been part of team attacked in 2008.
NEW DELHI, May 11 (CDN) — The gruesome nature of the May 2 murder of an evangelist in Bihar state who had no enmity with anyone has led area Christians to suspect anti-Christian motives.
The mutilated body of Ravi Murmu, 32, was found in Jamalpur, Munger district, with the right hand nearly severed by means of a sharp weapon, and the jaw and neck were similarly slashed.
“Efforts were made to chop off his hand and neck, trying to separate it from his body,” Shekhar Kumar, a member of his church, told Compass.
Police are investigating but have made no arrests so far.
“All his belongings were intact, which included his motorbike, Bible, cell phone, wristwatch and some cash,” Murmu’s brother-in-law, Shiv Kumar, told Compass. “This seems to be a planned murder. That is why Ravi was targeted when he was alone. To me the motive seems to be anti-Christian.”
Murmu’s pastor, Yunus Mandal of Bethel Brethren Assembly in Jamalpur, agreed.
“The intention behind the murder evidently is not robbery,” Mandal said. “I am suspicious that Hindu fundamentalists have done this, but this could also be the handiwork of the Naxalites [Maoist rebels].”
Kumar and Murmu’s widow, Rinku Murmu, both said the evangelist had no enmity with anyone, and that anti-Christian sentiment was the only motive they could surmise.
Murmu was returning from showing a film about the life of Jesus, “Dayasagar,” in nearby Lakshmanpur. He had accompanied a team of seven evangelists showing the film but was alone when attacked. The murder is estimated to have taken place between 9:30 and 10 p.m.
He is survived by his wife, 8-year-old daughter Celesty and his widowed mother.
Pastor Mandal’s wife, Mary Mandal, said anti-Christian hostilities are common in the area but did not reach Murmu.
“It is 32 years that my husband is ministering in Jamalpur, and he has faced threats day in and day out,” she told Compass. “But we never imagined such a thing would happen to Ravi.”
About a year and half ago, however, Murmu was attacked along with others in another part of the state, Pastor Mandal said.
“Ravi Murmu, myself and a team of 10 Christians were visiting the Newada area of Bihar, about 160 kilometers [99 miles] from Jamalpur, for the purpose of preaching the gospel,” he said. “There we were attacked by about 15 members of the [Hindu extremist] Bajrang Dal.”
In the assault Pastor Mandal suffered serious injury to his eye, which bled profusely, he said.
“Ravi at that time was also beaten up and sustained injuries on the face and to his teeth,” he said. “They would have killed us, but they found money in our possession worth about 180 U.S. dollars, and so they looted it and fled.”
In 2008, he added, members of the local Hindu student union protested when a family decided to follow Christ after a healing through prayer. But overall, Murmu had amicable relations with everyone, he said.
“Ravi was a very open-hearted, kind, honest, balanced and sensible human being,” Pastor Mandal said. “He was a pearl of our assembly. The loss is immense.”
Police detained two people in connection with the murder but later let them go.
Church members requested that Compass not speak with local police, fearing that resentful officers would further antagonize them; already police have asked pointed questions of the seven others on the evangelism team and of Murmu’s widow, as well as searching their homes, they said.
An autopsy was performed on May 3, but the report has not yet been submitted to police or handed over to the family members, they said.
Rinku Murmu said she and her husband were to celebrate their 11th wedding anniversary on June 23.
She told Compass that her husband had preached Christ in Lakshmanpur for two years.
“He left home as usual but had informed me that he would come home late, as they had plans to show the film about Jesus to the villagers,” she said. “The next morning at 6 o’ clock, someone came home to inform me that a mutilated body has been found and that I should go and identify it. I could not believe it, and I took Pastor Mandal along with me.”
Murmu’s body was found on Margret road, East Colony area of Lakshmanpur, about four kilometers (less than two miles) from his house. One leg was stuck under the motorcycle.
“He was killed ruthlessly,” said Pastor Mandal.
Shekhar Kumar, who was one of the seven team members showing the film that day, told Compass that they had publicized the film for nearly 10 days and had also invited surrounding villagers.
“About 150 to 200 people had gathered to watch the film – there were Christians as well as Hindus,” Kumar said. “The generator broke down in the middle of the film, and even after many efforts we could not repair it.”
The team announced to the gathering that the rest of the film would be continued the next day, and they went home.
“The road divides at one point – one part goes towards Ravi and Pastor Mandal’s house, and the other goes toward Choti Keshavpur village, where the six of us live,” Kumar said. “Departing at that point, we said goodbye to Ravi, and he went alone on that deserted road. It was around 9:30 p.m. at that time.”
Pastor Mandal, who had returned earlier, had taken the same road half an hour ahead of Murmu, he added.
Murmu’s wife told police that she had called her husband’s cell phone at 10 p.m. from a neighbor’s house and he did not answer the call, so police estimated the murder to have taken place between 9:30 and 10 p.m.
“I pray that God would change the hearts of those who have done this,” Rinku Murmu said. “My prayer is that one day they too would carry the cross of Christ and share the Good News.”
Report from Compass Direct News
Al Shabaab militants execute pastor; government-aligned Islamists burn house containing Bible.
NAIROBI, Kenya, March 24 (CDN) — Islamic militants in Somalia tracked down an underground church leader who had previously escaped a kidnapping attempt and killed him last week, Christian sources said.
Islamic extremist al Shabaab rebels shot Madobe Abdi to death on March 15 at 9:30 a.m. in Mahaday village, 50 kilometers (31 miles) north of Johwar. He had escaped an al Shabaab attempt to kidnap him on March 2.
Abdi’s death adds to a growing number of Christians murdered by Islamic militants, but his was distinctive in that he was not a convert from Islam. An orphan, Abdi was raised as a Christian.
Sources said the militants prohibited his body from being buried, ordering that it be left to dogs as an example to other Christians. Al shabaab, which is fighting the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) of President Sheikh Sharif Sheik Ahmed, has embarked on a campaign to rid the country of all non-Muslims.
“The al Shabaab say, ‘Leaving Abdi’s body outside is a warning to all that a murtid [infidel] is a disgrace to Muslims,’ hence creating fear to whoever would like to choose Christianity,” said a source.
In 2009 Islamic militants in Somalia sought out and killed at least 15 Christians, including women and children. This year, on Jan. 1 Islamic extremists shot an underground church leader to death. Having learned that he had left Islam to become a Christian, al Shabaab members murdered 41-year-old Mohammed Ahmed Ali after he had left his home in Hodan, on the outskirts of Mogadishu.
The transitional government in Mogadishu fighting to retain control of the country treats Christians little better than the al Shabaab extremists do. While proclaiming himself a moderate, President Ahmed has embraced a version of sharia (Islamic law) that mandates the death penalty for those who leave Islam.
Ahmed was formerly the leader of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), an Islamist array of sharia judges and militants that vied for power after losing control of much of southern Somalia at the end of 2006. A contingent of the ICU reached a power-sharing agreement with the TFG in January 2009 that resulted in the election of Ahmed as president.
The ICU still exists under the auspices of Ahmed’s TFG, and alleged members of the ICU last month set fire to the house of an underground church member they suspected of having left Islam. The gutted house is located on the outskirts of Mogadishu.
Having learned that there was a Bible and Christian pamphlets inside, the angry militants stormed the house in Hamarwien district of Mogadishu on Feb. 17 at 1:15 p.m. as a warning to those who dare possess any Christian literature, sources said.
“Since there is no law and order in this country, there is no one we can turn to for protection,” said the owner of the house, who requested anonymity and has relocated to another city. “But we know that we’re covered with the blood of Jesus Christ.”
The assailants looted the home before setting it afire. Area residents tried to extinguish the blaze, which left the house uninhabitable.
“I saw smoke coming out of the house, then I ran outside and I saw two men coming out of the house with a bucket of gasoline,” said a neighbor who sought anonymity. “One of the men was shouting, ‘Allah Akbar! Allah Akbar [God is Greater],’ then they entered a waiting car and drove off.”
An eyewitness told Compass that after the looting, the ICU extremists belonging to the TFG locked the doors before setting it on fire. At the time of the attack, there was one New King James Version of the Bible, along with some copies of Christian pamphlets that had been printed off of the Internet, according to sources.
They said they did not know who leaked information about the existence of Christian literature in the house.
“There were Christian books in the house at the time of the looting and arson attack,” said one church leader.
Islamic militants have displayed an unusual brutality in hunting down suspected converts to Christianity, with leaders of the underground church movement being executed as a means of discouraging others from joining the growing church.
Report from Compass Direct News
Assault on community center, church, homes leaves 24 Copts wounded.
ISTANBUL, March 17 (CDN) — A mob of enraged Muslims attacked a Coptic Christian community in a coastal town in northern Egypt last weekend, wreaking havoc for hours and injuring 24 Copts before security forces contained them.
The violence erupted on Friday (March 12) afternoon after the sheikh of a neighborhood mosque incited Muslims over a loudspeaker, proclaiming jihad against Christians in Marsa Matrouh, in Reefiya district, 320 kilometers (200 miles) west of Alexandria, according to reports.
The angry crowd hurled rocks at the district church, Christians and their properties, looted homes and set fires that evening. The mob was reportedly infuriated over the building of a wall around newly-bought land adjacent to the Reefiya Church building. The building, called al Malak al Khairy, translated Angel’s Charity, also houses a clinic and community center.
“I was very surprised by the degree of hatred that people had toward Christians,” said a reporter for online Coptic news source Theban Legion, who visited Reefiya after the attack. “The hate and the disgust were obvious.”
The attack was a rarity for a northern coastal resort town in Egypt; most tensions between Copts and Muslims erupt in southern towns of the country.
According to a worker building the wall around the newly-bought plot, local Sheikh Khamis along with a dozen “bearded” men accused the church and workers of blocking a road early on Friday, staff members of Watani newspaper said.
Worried that the dispute could erupt into violence, one of the priests ordered the workers to take the wall down.
The governor of Marsa Matrouh approved the building of the church center and granted a security permit to conduct religious services in 2009.
Following afternoon mosque prayers, Sheikh Khamis rallied neighborhood Muslims, gathering more than 300 people. The mob broke into groups, attacking the church and nearby houses of the Coptic Christian community. There are nearly 2,000 Coptic Christians in Reefiya.
Around 400 Copts fled into the church building while the rioting mob looted and destroyed 17 houses, 12 cars and two motorcycles, according to Watani.
Local security forces were unable to contain the attack and called-in back up from nearby Alexandria. At nearly 1:30 a.m. on Sunday (March 14) they managed to contain the crowd and let the Christians out of the church.
Police arrested 16 young Christian men among those who were inside the church building, according to Watani. Later, four of them who were released because they were underage told reporters that security forces beat them. Police also arrested 18 of the assailants.
Some of the attackers and security forces were also wounded in the altercation. Of the wounded Copts, two were reportedly rushed to a hospital in Alexandria in critical condition. Sobhy Girgis, 33, was taken to Alexandria’s Victoria Hospital for internal bleeding in the kidney from injuries sustained from rocks the crowd threw at him, and Mounir Naguib, 41, was treated for multiple stab wounds, according to Watani.
Naguib, a teacher, said he was accosted while on his way to the Angel’s Charity building, with a knife-wielding member of the mob asking him if he was a Christian. When he said he was, the Muslim told him to convert to Islam by pronouncing the two testimonies of the Muslim faith (that there is no God but Allah and that Muhammad is his messenger).
“When I refused, he stabbed me in the thigh and hit me on the head,” Naguib told Watani.
One Copt, Nabil Wahba, told of how his house was destroyed. Wahba said he came home at 6 p.m. to find around 40 men hurling stones at his house. At 9 p.m. they came back with clubs and iron pipes, ripping the windows open and throwing fireballs into the house.
“When we tried to put out the fire, they hurled stones at us, while others were pulling down the garden fence and setting the other side of the house aflame,” Wahba told Watani.
Security forces pulled Wahba and his sister out of his blazing house.
On the same day that violence erupted in Marsa Matrouh, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) released a report denouncing Egypt’s legal system for not bringing people to justice for violent acts against Christians and their property.
According to the report, in the last year there have been more than a dozen incidents in which Coptic Christians have been targets of violence.
“This upsurge in violence and the failure to prosecute those responsible fosters a growing climate of impunity,” USCIRF Chairman Leonard Leo states in the report.
Since 2002, Egypt has been on the USCIRF “Watch List” as a country with serious religious freedom violations, including widespread problems of discrimination, intolerance and other human rights violations against members of religious minorities, according to the report.
Commenting on the Marsa Matrouh attack, the Theban Legion reporter stated that among the mob were members of Bedouin communities who are intolerant of plurality and diversity in society.
“The law of the land is supposed to be a civil law, and we would like to see a civil law applying to everybody,” he said.
Report from Compass Direct News
Hindu nationalists try to burn Christians alive for protesting offensive Jesus banners.
NEW DELHI, March 3 (CDN) — Attacks on Christians last month in Punjab state following protests against banners depicting Jesus drinking and smoking were eerily similar to the anti-Christian violence in Orissa state in 2007 and 2008, according to a fact-finding mission.
“I was struck by the similarities between the attacks in northern Punjab state and the violence in eastern Orissa state in 2007 and 2008,” said Dr. John Dayal, a member of the All India Christian Council (AICC) fact-finding mission, which released the report yesterday.
Dayal pointed out that factors such as the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) being part of the ruling coalition, police inaction, coordination of attacks and support of the local merchant community for Hindu nationalist groups in the anti-Christian attacks in Punjab reminded him of mayhem in Orissa’s Kandhamal district.
“I have been in Orissa almost a week a month since December 2007 and have become quite familiar with the range of right-wing groups’ violence techniques,” Dayal, a member of government’s National Integration Council, told Compass. “The strategy of the assailants in Punjab was eerily reminiscent of what was practiced and perfected against churches in Orissa.”
Violence erupted in Orissa state’s Kandhamal district during Christmas week of 2007, killing at least four Christians and burning 730 houses and 95 churches. The attacks came in retaliation for an alleged attack on a Hindu extremist Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council or VHP) leader, Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati. More blood was shed there in August-September 2008, after the assassination of Saraswati by a Maoist group, as Christians were falsely blamed for it. The attacks killed more than 100 people and burned 4,640 houses, 252 churches and 13 educational institutions.
Following the Feb. 20 attacks, the AICC fact-finding team visited the affected region from Feb. 22 to Feb. 25. In its report, it gave an account of the attacks in Batala town near Amritsar city in Gurdaspur district in west Punjab, where most Christians are from Dalit (formerly “untouchable” according to Hinduism’s caste hierarchy) backgrounds.
It reported that supporters of the Hindu extremist Sangh Parivar burned the 1865-built Church of the Epiphany belonging to the Church of North India (CNI) denomination on Feb. 20. They also tried to destroy a nearby Salvation Army church, built in 1958, and attacked its pastor, Gurnam Singh, leaving him seriously injured.
The Sangh Parivar is the family of outfits under the umbrella of India’s chief Hindu nationalist organization, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), seen also as the parent body of the BJP.
“Even as the larger group of attackers focused on burning the CNI church, a group of men armed with sticks and rods came to the house of the CNI deacon,” the report notes. “The deacon, Victor Gill, and his wife Parveen, hid themselves under the bed. The assailants damaged the doors, tried to enter the room forcibly, and told the couple they would be burnt alive if they did not come out.”
At the same time, the report notes, Hindu nationalists at a second CNI house overturned a scooter, took gas from it and doused teacher Christopher Morris and his daughter Daisy with the fuel while her mother, Usha, cringed in their home.
“They tried to set the two on fire, but the matchbox had also been soaked in the petrol, and despite three attempts to strike a match, the matchsticks would not ignite, saving the family from being burnt alive,” the report states.
Provoked and Attacked
Christians were attacked while they were trying to enforce an area-wide closure of markets to protest a picture of Jesus Christ holding a can of beer in one hand a lit cigarette in another. It appeared on roadside banners in preparation for a Hindu festival, Ram Navami (the birthday of Rama), which falls on March 24 this year.
“The banners were sponsored by a coalition of local political, media and business leaders, together with the trading community, which is almost entirely Hindu,” said the report without identifying the sponsors.
“The Sangh Parivar reacted to the Christian protest by mobilizing shopkeepers and youth ‘to teach a lesson to Christians,’” the report states. “Otherwise, local shopkeepers routinely enforce closures.
The Rev. Madhu Chandra, AICC’s regional secretary, also a fact-finding team member, told Compass that the banners were apparently put up to provoke Christians and then launch attacks on them. The fact-finding team included attorney M. Adeeb of the Human Rights Law Network and Marang Hansda of the AICC.
The offensive picture of Jesus was taken from a cursive writing exercise book for Class I of a private school in Shillong, the capital of the northeastern state of Meghalaya, reported the Press Trust of India on Feb. 18. Published by Skyline Publication, the book used the picture to illustrate the alphabet “I” for the word “Idol.”
When some parents of the students noticed the picture, they reported it to the school authorities, which reported it to police. Christians, who constitute 80 percent of Meghalaya’s population, protested. On Feb. 18, police registered a case against the Delhi-based publisher and confiscated the books.
In Batala town in Punjab more than 1,500 miles away, however, the same picture was appeared on banners, causing tensions.
The Tribune, a regional newspaper, reported on Feb. 20 that Christian youth tried to forcibly implement the market shut-down, or “closure,” and looted shops. But Chandra of the AICC said the district officials the fact-finding team met were not sure if the allegation was true.
“The officials asked us if the newspaper reports were true,” he said. “But we also read it in newspapers only.”
Dayal said that Hindu nationalists used the market shut-down to attack Christians.
“Instead of sympathizing and cooperating with the protest – as merchants do when the Sangh Parivar or the ruling Shironami Akali Dal party calls for closures on routine intervals – they sought to teach the Christians a lesson,” said Dayal.
He added that in Orissa state’s Kandhamal district, Hindu nationalist groups likewise befriended merchants, mostly tribal or aboriginal people, and turned them against Dalit Christians.
The fact-finding report deplored police inaction. When the mob tried to burn Morris and his daughter Daisy, said the report, “police were watching” but did nothing to help.
It quoted Pastor Gurnam Singh as saying, “We pleaded with the police to help, but they did not.”
Police were outnumbered by rioters, as happened in Kandhamal in Orissa, remarked Dayal.
Despite intelligence reports of Christian anger and the Hindu nationalist groups’ plans to counterattack, authorities said they “could not enforce a quick curfew until late on Feb. 20 because most of the police were sent to the Pakistani border nearby, where Home Minister P. Chidambaram inaugurated a defence outpost.”
By the time the police returned and a curfew was imposed, “violence had already occurred,” the report states.
“No police report has been filed on the attempted murders, even as the top police and administrative officers enforced a one sided ‘peace accord’ on the local Christian leadership,” the report notes. “Christians were instructed not to press for charges immediately so that a number of Christian youth who were arrested – together with a few Hindu men – could be released. Police forcibly cleaned up the Church of the Epiphany. They removed burnt furniture and made the presbyter whitewash the walls to remove traces of fuel oil used in the blaze. This was done before a formal enquiry could be conducted by the government.”
Referring to the police inaction, Dayal pointed out that “the BJP, as in Orissa during 2007 and 2008, is in power in Punjab as member of the coalition government with the regional Shironami Akali Dal party.
Punjab Chief Minister Sardar Prakash Singh Badal has asked his officials to unravel the “entire conspiracy,” the report states.
There are around 300,000 Christians in Punjab, or roughly 1.2 percent of the total population.
Report from Compass Direct News
Young man convicted of ‘desecrating Quran’ by accusation of rival shopkeeper.
FAISALABAD, Pakistan, January 22 (CDN) — A young Christian shopkeeper was sentenced to a life term in prison and fined more than $1,000 last week following a dubious conviction of desecrating the Quran, according to Pakistan’s National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP).
Peter Jacob, general secretary of the NCJP, said 22-year-old Imran Masih of the Faisalabad suburb of Hajvairy was convicted of desecrating the Quran (Section 295-B of Pakistan’s legal code) and thereby outraging religious feelings (Section 295-A) by Additional District & Sessions Judge Raja Ghazanfar Ali Khan on Jan. 11. The conviction was based on the accusation of a rival shopkeeper who, as part of an Islamic extremist proselytizing group, allegedly used a mosque loudspeaker system to incite a mob that beat Masih and ransacked his shop.
Neighboring shopkeeper Hajji Liaquat Abdul Ghafoor accused Masih of tearing out pages of the Quran and burning them on July 1, 2009. Denying that he burned any pages of the Quran, Masih told investigators that the papers he burned were a heap of old merchandise records he had gathered while cleaning his store.
Masih’s family members said Ghafoor fabricated the blasphemy case against him because of a business dispute. Nearby shopkeepers, initially reluctant to talk out of fear of reprisals but eventually speaking on condition of anonymity, told Compass that they had seen the two men arguing over business a few days before the incident occurred.
The shopkeepers said that when Masih burned the papers, Ghafoor started shouting that he had desecrated the Quran and blasphemed Islam and its prophet, Muhammad. In the case against Masih, police later accused Ghafoor of misusing the loudspeaker system of a mosque to stir up the mob.
“Ghafoor started shouting that Masih had desecrated the Quran and made blasphemous remarks about Islam and prophet Muhammad,” said one of the shopkeepers. “Ghafoor spread misconceptions about Imran Masih, and a mob of angry Muslim men unaware of the facts attacked Masih and viciously beat him, looted his shop and later handed him over to police.”
The shopkeepers added that Ghafoor was a hard-line Muslim and part of an Islamic proselytizing group.
Section 295-B of Pakistan’s legal code, desecrating the Quran, is punishable by imprisonment for life. In accordance with Section 295-A (instigating religious hatred and outraging religious feelings), Masih was also sentenced to 10 years in prison and a fine of 100,000 rupees (US$1,170); if he is unable to pay the fine, he will be assessed an additional six months in jail.
A conviction for blaspheming Muhammad (Section 295-C) is punishable by death under Pakistani’s notorious blasphemy laws. Widely condemned by the international community as easily invoked to settle personal enmities, Pakistan’s blasphemy laws have come under review in recent months, but to no avail.
The laws are routinely invoked to harass members of minority communities. Additionally, while police cannot make arrests without a court-issued warrant for Section 295-A, they can arrest suspected blasphemers under sections 295-B and 295-C on the complaint of a single individual.
Masih is incarcerated at District Jail Faisalabad. Sources said he plans to appeal his sentence to the Lahore High Court.
“No pages of the Quran were burned or desecrated,” said one member of Masih’s family, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “It was just a lame excuse to implicate him in a fabricated case of blasphemy.”
Tahir Naveed Chaudhary, a Christian member of Punjab’s legislative assembly and Sargodha zone head of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA), said Masih’s case was just one in a long list of incidents in which blasphemy laws have been used to settle personal grudges. He said that APMA would provide legal assistance to Masih.
Report from Compass Direct News