China Sentences House Church Pastors to Prison


Christians convicted on fabricated charges arrested en route to file protest of church attack.

LOS ANGELES, December 1 (CDN) — Five pastors arrested without a warrant in China’s Shanxi Province as they were en route to file a complaint over the demolition of their church building have been sentenced to prison terms of three to seven years.

In one of the most oppressive measures against Christians in recent years, house church leader Yang Rongli was sent to prison for seven years for “illegally occupying farming land” and “disturbing transportation order by gathering masses,” according to China Aid Association (CAA). She and four other pastors were sentenced on Wednesday (Nov. 25) at the People’s Court of Raodu district, Linfen City, Shanxi Province.

Yang’s husband, Wang Xiaoguang, was handed a sentence of three years on the charge of “illegally occupying farming land.” Cui Jiaxing was sentenced to four and half years, and Yang Xuan to three and half years, on the same charge; Zhang Huamei received four years of prison for “disturbing transportation order by gathering masses.”

The pastors were among Fushan Church leaders arrested by Shanxi Province officers of the Public Security Bureau (PSB) on Sept. 25 as they made their way to Beijing to protest an attack on a Fushan Church branch congregation in Linfen city. In the wee hours of Sept. 13 some 400 uniformed police and civilians bearing shovels, batons, bricks, iron hooks and other weapons had beaten members of the church who were sleeping at the nearly finished factory building used as a worship site.

With several Fushan County officials involved in the attack, dozens of Christians were seriously injured among the more than 100 who were hurt, CAA reported. According to the Epoch Times, a church member’s relative obtained a license to build the shoe factory and was allowing the group to meet there, as the church was growing too large to meet in homes and the building could hold up to 400 people.

“To punish an innocent house church leader with seven years’ imprisonment is the most serious sentence since 2004, when the senior Henan house church leader Pastor Zhang Rongliang received a similar length,” said CAA President Bob Fu in a press statement. “We strongly condemn these unjust sentences, which are based on trumped-up charges.”

Characterizing the trial as a farce, Fu said the case clearly demonstrated a deteriorating state of religious freedom in China and called upon the international community, including the U.S. administration, to express concern.

“The court’s conduct throughout the trial clearly indicated the government had decided upon the verdict and prepared it in advance,” Fu said in the statement. “Government prosecutors showed over 1,000 pages of so-called ‘evidence materials’ related to this case, but the defense lawyers were only allowed to review about 50 pages before the trial.”

Pastors Yang and Wang were able to chat briefly with their son during a recess near the bathroom outside the courtroom, Fu said; they encouraged the boy to stand firm in his faith in Christ.

The two pastors have led the Fushan Church, part of a 50,000-strong house church network in Linfen and the surrounding villages, for more than 30 years.

“The Fushan Church leaders’ unwarranted arrests, detentions and severe sentences after the massive church destruction on Sept. 13 marks one of the worst crackdowns on house church leaders in the past decade,” Fu said.

The Beijing PSB has misrepresented the demolition and attack on the Linfen branch church as a response to a “violent uprising,” Fu said. The branch congregation had gathered at the Good News Cloth Shoe Factory, a building still under construction in Fushan County, when the government-led mob attacked and took money, Bibles, clothes and cell phones, among other items, he said.

Report from Compass Direct News 

Seizure of 15,000 Bibles in Malaysia Stuns Christians


Imports confiscated for using “Allah,” a forbidden word for non-Muslims.

FRESNO, Calif., November 7 (CDN) — Malaysian port and customs authorities have seized at least 15,000 Bibles in recent months because the word “Allah” for God appears in them.

Some 10,000 of the Bahasa Malaysia-language Bibles, which were printed in Indonesia, are in Kuching, capital of Sarawak in East Malaysia, and another 5,000 copies are in Kelang near Kuala Lumpur.

The Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM) on Wednesday (Nov. 4) called for the immediate release of the confiscated Bibles. At the same time, CFM Executive Secretary Tan Kong Beng told Compass that the federation is striving for amicable relations with government authorities.

“We are open to and desire further discussion with officials so that this problem can be resolved,” the CFM official said.

The CFM officially represents the three major Christian groups in the country: The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Malaysia, the Council of Churches of Malaysia, and the National Evangelical Christian Fellowship Malaysia.

A strong Christian community in Indonesia, estimated 37 million by Operation World, has long produced large amounts of literature for export to Malaysia. In 2005 the government of Malaysia agreed to allow the use of “Allah” in non-Muslim literature, according to CFM.

“The government and CFM have exchanged letters on this matter previously,” reads the CFM statement, “and we have a written agreement in December 2005 that Bahasa Malaysia Bibles can be distributed so long as the symbol of the cross and the words ‘A Christian publication’ are printed on the front page.”

With the exception of the temporary suspension of publication of the Roman Catholic Herald newspaper in 2007 and the ongoing court battle over the weekly’s use of “Allah,” few problems were encountered in the policy. This past March, however, authorities suddenly began seizing CDs, Sunday school materials, and Bibles containing the word “Allah.”

Church leaders were stunned that no one had informed them of a change in policy. Quiet negotiations failed to resolve the situation, and several lawsuits began working their way through the court system. These suits challenge the right of the Minister of Home Affairs to restrict the use of “Allah” and to limit freedom of religion.

“To withhold the use of the Bahasa Malaysia Bibles is an infringement of Article 11 of the Federal Constitution, which gives every Malaysian the right to profess his/her faith as well as to practice it,” according to the CFM.

A government official in Malaysia was unavailable for comment. Officially, the government says only that use of the word “Allah” by non-Muslims could create “confusion” among Muslims.

The Kuala Lumpur High Court in Malaysia was scheduled to determine the legality of the word “Allah” in non-Muslim literature on July 7 but postponed the decision. The Herald newspaper had been allowed to use the term until a final court decision was to be handed down, but the Kuala Lumpur High Court on May 30 overturned that brief reprieve. 

The Rev. Lawrence Andrew, editor of the Herald, has cited examples from Malay dictionaries going back to the 17th century that use “Allah” as the vernacular translation for God. He has also noted that “Allah” is an Arabic term derived from the same roots as the Hebrew Elohim, and that the word pre-dates Muhammad, Islam’s prophet.

The Herald has a circulation of 13,000 and an estimated readership of 50,000. The newspaper is sold in Catholic churches and is not available from newsstands.

While the issue is tied up in the courts, many are hoping for a more harmonious solution to the problem. Both Indonesia and Malaysia use variations of Malay as their national languages, and all translations of the Bible in both countries used “Allah” for God until Malaysian authorities decided in the past few years that it was an Islamic term that should be used only by Muslims. In so doing, Malaysia effectively shut off the importation of Christian literature from Indonesia.

Malaysia’s population is about 60 percent Muslim, 19 percent Buddhist and 9 percent Christian. About 6 percent are Hindu, with 2.6 percent of the population adhering to Confucianism, Taoism and other traditional Chinese religions.

Report from Compass Direct News 

Nine Chinese Christian leaders kidnapped by the police


 

Nine Fushan Church leaders, including Pastor Yang Rongli, were kidnapped on Friday, September 25, by Chinese Shanxi Province Public Security Bureau (PSB) officers while traveling to Beijing to petition the central government for justice concerning the local authorities’ brutal attack on September 13, reports Michael Ireland, chief correspondent, ASSIST News Service.

ChinaAid says they were illegally seized without warrant, and have not been heard from since Friday night.

In a news release ChinaAid stated: “After the arrests, local authorities forcibly confiscated all computers, TVs and other church-owned valuables, calling them ‘illegal materials.’ Remaining church leaders and active members were placed under house arrest and are now under constant surveillance.”

China aid goes on to say that on September 26, the central government stationed state military police inside the main Fushan Church in Linfen city, where 5,000 of the 50,000-member Linfen House Church network worship together weekly, to prevent them from entering the building or holding services. Military police now guard the building and the surrounding areas around the clock.

ChinaAid has since learned that the central government was and is directly responsible for the escalating crackdown campaign against the Linfen Church.

The group says: “Ironically twisting the facts, the Beijing PSB has categorized the Linfen Church incident as a ‘violent uprising’ and resolved to use military force to subdue the alleged ‘unrest.'”

The news release states reliable government sources informed ChinaAid that a notice was sent to all relevant government agencies over the weekend, ordering them to be prepared to use military force to crackdown on the churches throughout China, in the same way the recent violent incident in Xinjiang was suppressed. They are calling the maneuver the “Xinjiang Model, ” a method that resulted in the deaths of several hundred people in Xinjiang in August.

“To have military police occupy a peaceful church is an unprecedented tragic development in 60 years of PRC history, which itself shows the reality of today’s situation regarding religious freedom in China,” ChinaAid President Bob Fu stated.

He added: “The Chinese government has no reason to be fearful of the peaceful Christian church. We call upon the international community to continue to urge the Chinese government to respect Chinese citizens’ religious freedom and to avoid shedding innocent blood.”

ChinaAid denounces the comparison of the attack on the peaceful Fushan Church to the Xinjiang incident and the excessive use of military force to suppress the Linfen House Churches.

The group says: “We call for the immediate release of the kidnapped church leaders, and the rightful restoration of all church property. We further call on the Chinese central government to cease enacting the “Xinjiang Model” of military involvement to unjustly subdue a peaceful church populace.

“We call on the international community to continue protesting the brutal treatment of Christians and the suppression of religious freedom in China.”

Report from the Christian Telegraph 

Worship Site Demolished, Pastors Arrested in China


Officials put on alert to use military force against potential “unrest” by churches.

LOS ANGELES, October 7 (CDN) — Following a mob attack on a church in northeastern China and the demolition of their worship site last month, the government put officials on alert to use military force against churches to quell potential “unrest,” according to a leading advocacy group.

Citing reliable government sources, China Aid Association (CAA) reported that the central government on Sept. 26-27 ordered officials in “all relevant government agencies” to prepare to use military force against Christians who might react to the attack on a Fushan Church branch congregation in Linfen city, Shanxi Province. In the wee hours of Sept. 13 some 400 uniformed police and civilians bearing shovels, batons, bricks, iron hooks and other weapons beat members of the church who were sleeping at the nearly finished factory building used as a worship site.

With several Fushan County officials involved in the attack, dozens of Christians were seriously injured among the more than 100 who were hurt, CAA reported. According to the Epoch Times, a church member’s relative obtained a license to build the shoe factory and was allowing the group to meet there, as the church was growing too large to meet in homes and the building could hold up to 400 people.

On Sept. 25 Shanxi Province officers of the Public Security Bureau (PSB) detained nine Fushan Church leaders on their way to Beijing to protest the attack, and the next day authorities placed state military police inside and around the main Fushan Church building in Linfen city, the advocacy organization said.

“To have military police occupy a peaceful church is an unprecedented, tragic development in 60 years of PRC [People’s Republic of China] history, which itself shows the reality of today’s situation regarding religious freedom in China,” China Aid President Bob Fu said in a statement.

Some 5,000 of the 50,000-member Linfen House Church network had worshipped weekly at the main facility, where the central government stationed police to prevent them from entering or holding services.

“Military police now guard the building and the surrounding areas around the clock,” Fu said. “More than 30 daughter churches in nearby townships have been prohibited from gathering to worship in their churches and homes.”

Among the nine Fushan Church leaders arrested without a warrant and held in a secret location was Senior Pastor Wang Xiaoguang and his wife Yang Rongli, according to the CAA.

Other church leaders and members have been placed under house arrest and are now under constant surveillance, Fu said, adding that local authorities confiscated all church computers, TVs and other valuables as “illegal materials.”

The Beijing PSB has labeled the demolition and attack on the Linfen branch church as a response to a “violent uprising,” Fu said. The branch congregation had gathered at the Good News Cloth Shoe Factory, a building still under construction in Fushan County, when the government-led mob attacked and took money, Bibles, clothes and cell phones, among other items, he said.

Fushan PSB officials met with church leaders on Sept. 19 and offered 1.4 million yen (US$20,540) for reparations in exchange for the church not constructing a building for religious purposes, Fu said.

“Under pressure from the central government, the leading Fushan PSB officer expressed a desire to make amends for the agency’s corporate actions, with the goal of preventing any turmoil that could potentially mar the 60th anniversary National Day celebrations,” Fu said in the statement. “Angered by the brutal treatment, but willing to cooperate, the six [church] members raised their concerns, including the continued critical conditions of several hospitalized victims and the destruction of 17 buildings on the factory compound.”

The Christians reached a verbal agreement that the Fushan PSB would pay the reparations fee in exchange for the church not constructing a building, but Fu said continued arrests and state military presence at the main church site confirm the negotiations were insincere, a tactic to delay actions against the central government.

Pastor Arrested

In Beijing, the crackdown ahead of the Oct. 1 National Day included the arrest of a pastor known internationally as a house church rights defender.

PSB and State Security agents from Fengtai district in Beijing seized Pastor Hua Huiqi of Tent-Making Ministry on Sept. 17. That evening his wife, Ju Mei, received a telephone call from him saying PSB agents had forced him into a car on the highway. She received another call a half hour later saying he had been taken to an unknown location before the phone went dead.

That night a Beijing PSB officer, Ding Xu, went to his home to pick up clothes for him and refused to answer his wife’s questions, according to CAA. The director of the PSB’s Domestic Security Protection Squad later told CAA that Hua was still in custody but declined to reveal his condition or whereabouts.

“Hua has been repeatedly arrested, beaten, and interrogated by PSB officials within the last two years, and his family has sacrificed their safety for the lawful defense of human rights,” Fu said in a statement. “Hua’s mother, Shuang Shuying, was released only months ago from her two-year imprisonment for her rights defense work.”

Report from Compass Direct News 

Christian Arrested for Distributing Tracts in Egypt


Protestant Copt, 61, illegally detained then released without charges after four days.

ISTANBUL, October 6 (CDN) — An Egyptian Christian arrested in Cairo for handing out gospel leaflets and held in prison illegally for four days has been released, the freed Protestant Copt told Compass.

Abdel Kamel, 61, was arrested on Sept. 23 in downtown Cairo for handing out copies of a Christian leaflet. As they arrested him, police told Kamel it was “unlawful” to hand out religious information on public roads. When Kamel countered that Muslims commonly hand out Islamic literature, police told him it was “more unlawful” for Christians. Kamel also didn’t have his identification card with him.

Nabil Ghobreyal, an attorney who worked to gain Kamel’s release, said there is no law in Egypt forbidding the distribution of religious material. 

Police handcuffed Kamel, put him into a police car and seized his leaflets. Authorities then took him to a police station for interrogation. While in custody, Kamel said, he remained in handcuffs for hours, was thrown to the ground, spit upon and threatened with violence.

Kamel said he wasn’t tortured, but when asked to describe his treatment, he wept uncontrollably.

The lay preacher said he was proclaiming repentance and forgiveness in Christ because he views it as a service to others.

“I love my people,” he said. “I love Egypt, and I feel my service is directed toward the people I love and the country I love.” 

Authorities held Kamel for four days without charge and did not allow him to see family members or a lawyer. He said officers did allow him to receive food, medicine and written messages.

Attorney Ghobreyal said that Kamel was an “honest and innocent man” who was arrested illegally. When Ghobreyal approached an assistant attorney general to ask for Kamel’s release, the prosecutor asked him to wait for three days, which Ghobreyal immediately challenged. Ghobreyal said that in free speech cases involving religion, state attorneys are often “loathe” to keep police from breaking the law, or at best “complacent” about letting them make baseless arrests.

Sometime close to midnight on Kamel’s second day in jail, police continued their investigation by going through his apartment and removing all written materials in his house. Describing his apartment in Al-Nakhl as being “ransacked,” he said it was what most angered him about his arrest.

“[The gospel] is all about a message of love, a message of peace,” he said. “There is nothing illegal about it, and it is annoying that they know that, but in spite of that they came there in this manner. It is very bad.”

Kamel said there is a double standard in Egypt when it comes to freedom of religion. He said Muslims in Egypt are allowed to promote Islam using “books, pamphlets and loudspeakers,” but Christians are often forbidden from sharing their faith.

“Why, when we are doing it, are we not even allowed to put our view across?” he said. “Why aren’t we treated the same?”

Eventually Kamel was transferred to a jail in Al Minya, where he was interrogated a second time for two and a half hours. Investigators told him that the pamphlets he distributed did not “insult Islam,” a serious charge commonly on the law books of Islamic-majority countries.

Police made it clear to Kamel that they did not want to release him, Ghobreyal said. They released him grudgingly because they were worried about reports in the media and from human rights groups. He was released without charge.

“The pressure in the media and the announcements made on the Internet helped me a lot,” Ghobreyal said.

Kamel, who describes himself as being a committed Christian for 30 years, said he does not plan to file a complaint against the police but will rather “leave it to God to reward them accordingly.”

His 29-year-old daughter, Mariam Kamel, said that even though she is afraid that police will continue to harass her family, she is thankful to God that police released her father.

“I’ve seen God’s hand in every crisis we’ve had over the past 30 years of his work preaching the gospel,” she said.

She said she was sure her father would return to preaching. Still shaken, her father said he was not so sure.

“Who can carry on in a situation like this?” Kamel said.

Report from Compass Direct News 

A Chinese pastor secretly transferred to a labor camp


A Chinese pastor, currently serving a sentence for ‘illegal activities’ while leading his church, has been transferred to a labor camp in Henan Province, China, reports Michael Ireland, chief correspondent, ASSIST News Service.

ChinaAid says that on June 29, about 3 p.m., Pastor Dou Shaowen was secretly transferred to Shifo Re-education Through Labor Center in Zhengzhou city, Henan province.

The Christian human rights group says authorities still have not informed his family of his transfer. Pastor Dou is currently serving a one-year sentence of re-education through labor for ‘engaging in illegal activities’ because of his leadership of Rock (Panshi) Church.

ChinaAid says: “Pastor Dou was first arrested on June 14 when government officials raided and forcibly abolished and sealed Rock Church’s building, a house church in Zhengzhou city, Henan. Police arrested him, his wife Feng Lu and five other believers. Pastor Dou and Feng Lu received one-year re-education through labor sentences, while the five other believers were each sentenced to 15 days detention and a 500 yuan ($74USD) fine.”

ChinaAid goes on to say that Pastor Dou was held in Jinshui Branch Detention Center of Zhengzhou City until June 25, when at about 6:30 p.m., he was transferred to Baimiao Re-education Through Labor Center located on Wenhua Road, Zhengzhou city.

ChinaAid contacts reported: “He was given inhuman treatment in the re-education through labor center. When he wanted to talk to the police officers, he was forced to squat. He worked 18 hours a day from 6 a.m. to 12 a.m. midnight. Over 70 people sleep in a room. Due to the hot weather and the poor sanitary conditions…some prisoners have eczema, herpes and other skin diseases. They have to work 18 hours a day without enough to eat.”

At about 3 p.m. on June 29, Pastor Dou was transferred to Shifo Re-education through Labor Center where conditions are reported to be worse.

According to a ChinaAid media update, authorities have permitted Pastor Dou’s wife, Feng Lu, to serve her one-year sentence at home, in order to care for their 12-year-old daughter.

The news release says: “When Feng Lu went to see her husband at the Baimiao Re-education Through Labor Center, she was told she was not allowed to visit him for a month, and was not informed he would be transferred to another labor camp. Feng Lu is required to report to the Public Security Bureau regularly, and could be sent to labor camp again if she is found ‘engaging in illegal religious activities’ again.”

ChinaAid explains that Rock Church’s gathering site is still sealed at this time, and authorities have refused to release the computer and other materials that were confiscated in the raid on June 14.

Rock Church recently released a ‘Declaration on June 14 Incident by Rock Church of Zhengzhou’ to the international community and a petition to the Chinese government.

In the declaration, the Christians of Rock Church state, “We hope the government can give us justice, give back our innocence, cancel the penalties of one year of re-education through labor for Dou Shaowen and Feng Lu immediately, protect the normal religious life of the believers, severely punish those people who committed crimes when they are supposed to enforce the law and apologize to all the believers.”

Report from the Christian Telegraph 

Maldives: Almost no religious freedom for migrant workers


Just as Maldivian citizens do not have the right to religious freedom – Sunni Islam in the state-approved form is the only permitted faith – migrant workers too are denied this right, reports Odd Larsen, Forum 18 News Service.

The Maldives prevents the import of non-Muslim books and other religious items, for example by searching foreigners’ luggage for “un-Islamic” materials. Migrant workers are banned from practising non-Muslim faiths even privately, while the lack of privacy in which many live makes it almost impossible to worship “unnoticed by locals”, as one migrant worker put it to Forum 18 News Service.

Some 80,000 migrant workers – mostly Muslims, Buddhists, Christians and Hindus from South Asia – make up about a quarter of the country’s population, but are mostly in low-status jobs and find it difficult to challenge human rights violations.

The government has not acted on United Nations recommendations to grant migrant workers religious freedom. The International Labour Organisation – which the Maldives has just joined – told Forum 18 that “although freedom of religion may not exist in Maldives, migrant workers can count on ILO protection when it comes to rights at work and working conditions.”

Report from the Christian Telegraph

SOMALIA: KENYAN PASTOR BEATEN AT SOMALILAND BORDER


Immigration officials threaten to kill convert from Islam unless he renounces faith.

NAIROBI, Kenya, May 8 (Compass Direct News) – A pastor trying to visit Somalia’s autonomous, self-declared state of Somaliland earlier this year discovered just how hostile the separatist region can be to Christians.

A convert from Islam, Abdi Welli Ahmed is an East Africa Pentecostal Church pastor from Kenya who in February tried to visit and encourage Christians, an invisibly tiny minority, in the religiously intolerant region of Somaliland.

Born and raised in Kenya’s northern town of Garissa, Ahmed first traveled to Addis Ababa, the capital of neighboring Ethiopia. When he arrived by car at the border crossing of Wajaale on Feb. 19 with all legal travel documents, his Bible and other Christian literature landed him in unexpected trouble with Somaliland immigration officials.

“I was beaten up for being in possession of Christian materials,” Ahmed told Compass. “They threatened to kill me if I did not renounce my faith, but I refused to their face. They were inhuman.”

Ahmed said the chief border official in Wajaale, whom he could identify only by his surname of Jama, took charge of most of the torturing. Ahmed said their threats were heart-numbing as they struggled to subdue him, with Jama and others saying they had killed two Somali Christians and would do the same to him.

His pleas that he was a Kenyan whose faith was respected in his home country, he said, fell on deaf ears.

“I was abused, and they also abused my faith as the religion for pagans, which they said is unacceptable in their region,” he said. “I told them that I am Kenyan-born and brought up in Kenya, and my Christian faith is respected and recognized in Garissa.”

Jama ordered Ahmed’s incarceration, and he was locked up in an immigration cell for nine hours. The officials took from his bag three CDs containing his personal credentials and Christian educational literature. They also took his English Bible, two Christian books and US$400, he said.

Ahmed said he was released with the aid of an unnamed Ethiopian friend.

“They warned me to never dare step into or think of going to Somaliland again,” said Ahmed, who doubles as a relief and development worker.

On March 22 he sent letters of complaint to Ethiopian, Kenyan and even presumably less-than-sympathetic Somaliland officials; none has shown any signs of pursuing justice, he said.

Compass e-mailed a copy of the letter to Alexander O. Oxiolo, head of consular affairs at Ethiopia’s Foreign Affairs ministry, who subsequently denied receiving it. When Compass printed the letter and took a hard copy to him, Oxiolo said he could not act on it because the complainant had not signed it.

He also questioned whether Ahmed was a Christian because of his Muslim name, apparently expecting him to have changed it after conversion.

Ahmed converted to Christianity in 1990. Soon after he was baptized in 1995, Ahmed came under threat from Muslims and fled to Niger in 1996, where he married. He and his wife returned to Kenya in 2000, Ahmed said, and since then he has received a steady stream of threats from Muslims in Garissa. On several occasions he has been forced to leave Garissa for months at a time, he said, waiting for tensions to cool.

Ahmed was ordained in 2004.

Report from Compass Direct News

MOROCCO: OFFICIALS DEPORT FIVE FOREIGN CHRISTIANS


Female visitors said to be merely attending Bible study with fellow believers.

ISTANBUL, March 31 (Compass Direct News) – The Moroccan government announced on Sunday (March 29) it had expelled five foreign female Christians for trying to “proselytize” in the Islamic country, although sources said they were foreign visitors merely attending a Bible study with fellow Christians.

The accused women were among 23 tourists, expatriates and Moroccans arrested in Casablanca on Saturday during what the Interior Ministry called a “proselytizing” meeting involving Moroccan citizens. Police seized numerous pieces of evangelistic “propaganda,” including Arabic books and videos.

But a source told Compass that everyone in attendance was a Christian and that they had merely gathered for a Bible study, which he said falls within Morocco’s constitutional right of freedom to express one’s faith.

Arriving at the meeting at 5 p.m., 18 plainclothes police officers arrested all in attendance and transported them to a police station. They were detained and questioned until 5 a.m. Sunday morning.

“This was a great humiliation for these women, most of which were of the same family, to be arrested as criminals,” the source said.

Prior to the arrest, all the materials at their meeting had received official government approval. Those in attendance included 15 Moroccan women and one man, two female expatriates of Iraqi and U.S. origin, and the five women visiting Casablanca on the group’s invitation. The women the government called “missionaries” – four Spaniards and one German – were deported to Spain via ferry, according to Morocco’s official MAP news agency.

While the decision to expel the five women indicated lack of religious freedom in Morocco, it likely has more to do with a Moroccan bias against missionary activity in general, not against Christian evangelism per se, said Elliot Abrams, senior fellow for the Council on Foreign Relations.

Morocco severed ties with Iran in early March on suspicion that the latter was supporting Shiite Islamic missionary activity, which officials believed would disrupt the unity of the 99-percent Sunni country. Earlier this month a Shiite school was closed after accusations that it was attempting to convert students, and rights groups claim that about a dozen people have been arrested for allegedly converting to Shiite Islam, according to The Associated Press.

In light of these moves, Abrams said, the government would have been hard-pressed to allow Christian activities the five women were suspected of undertaking after it shut down Islamic missionary enterprises.

“[Morocco] is generally more sensitive about missionary activity, and cannot be seen to allow Christian activity while stopping Muslim activity,” he said.

A Christian worker agreed with this assertion. He said the government may be attacking Christians “for balance,” even if they are only having a Bible study, after launching an initiative against Shiites.

The North African country prides itself on its religious freedom and tolerance. The constitution provides for freedom to practice one’s religion, but Article 220 of the Penal Code criminalizes any attempt to induce a Muslim to convert to another religion.

 

Official Church Leaders Pounce

Without directly mentioning the women, representatives of Morocco’s official churches swiftly condemned all forms of “proselytism” – a term with a pejorative connotation of asserting one’s will, as distinct from “evangelism,” or proclaiming Christ for people to respond freely – adding that the role of the nation’s churches is only to guide Christians on their “spiritual quest.”

Archbishop of Rabat Monsignor Vincent Landel and Chairman of the Evangelical Church in Morocco Jean-Luc Blanc issued a joint statement that Catholics and Muslims should focus on dialogue, which “by definition rules out proselytizing activities.”

“This dialogue has an intellectual and theological dimension and copes with the social and cultural realms,” they wrote. “Thus, Christians are engaged in various activities alongside Muslims, share the same values and goals and are not afraid of showing their differences.”

Blanc pastors a French Pentecostal church in Casablanca, a congregation mostly made up of expatriates from across Africa. He has criticized independent foreign mission groups, mainly out of worry that they could upset a delicate religious balance in the Sunni Muslim country.

Catholic and Protestant churches have been operating in Morocco for more than a century, and “have learned over the years to live in harmony with the country and its people,” he said in the statement.

In 2007 the Ministry of Islamic Affairs and Endowments claimed that foreign missionaries had converted more than 3,000 people to Christianity, particularly in remote areas of the country, according to the 2008 U.S. Department of State Report on International Religious Freedom.

But a source with contacts in Morocco said that radical Islam is perceived as far more of a threat than evangelical Christianity.  

Report from Compass Direct News