Iraqis Mourn Victims of Massive Attack on Church


Islamic extremist assault, security force operation leave at least 58 dead.

ISTANBUL, November 2 (CDN) — Amid questions about lax security, mourners gathered in Iraq today to bury the victims of Sunday’s (Oct. 31) Islamic extremist assault on a Syrian Catholic Church in Baghdad, one of the bloodiest attacks on the country’s dwindling Christian community.

Seven or eight Islamic militants stormed into Our Lady of Salvation church during evening mass after detonating bombs in the neighborhood, gunning down two policemen at the stock exchange across the street, and blowing up their own car, according to The Associated Press (AP). More than 100 people were reportedly attending mass.

A militant organization called the Islamic State of Iraq, which has links to al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, claimed responsibility for the attack. The militants sprayed the sanctuary with bullets and ordered a priest to call the Vatican to demand the release of Muslim women whom they claimed were held hostage by the Coptic Church in Egypt, according to the AP. The militants also reportedly demanded the release of al Qaeda prisoners.

“It appears to be a well-planned and strategic attack aiming at the church,” said a local source for ministry organization Open Doors.

About four hours after the siege, Iraqi security forces launched an assault on the church building, and the Islamic assailants blew themselves up. It was unclear how many of the 58 people dead had been killed by Iraqi security personnel, but the militants reportedly began killing hostages when the security force assault began. All who did not die from gunshots and blasts were wounded.

The dead included 12 policemen, three priests and five bystanders from the car bombing and other blasts outside the church. The Open Doors source reported that the priests killed were the Rev. Saad Abdal Tha’ir, the Rev. Waseem Tabeeh and the Rev. Raphael Qatin, with the latter not succumbing until he had been taken to a hospital.

Bishop Georges Casmoussa told Compass that today Iraqi Christians not only mourned lost brothers and sisters but were tempted to lose hope.

“It’s a personal loss and a Christian loss,” said Casmoussa. “It’s not just people they kill. They also kill hope. We want to look at the future. They want to kill the Christian presence here, where we have so much history.”

Casmoussa, who knew the priests who died, said that this attack will surely drive more Christians away from the country or to Kurdish administrated northern Iraq.

“Those who are wounded know that it is by the grace of God they are alive, but some of them don’t know exactly what happened,” said Casmoussa. “There is one hurt man who doesn’t know if his son is still alive. This is the drama. There are families that lost two and three members. Do I have the right to tell them to not leave?”

The attack was the deadliest one against the country’s Christians since Islamic extremists began targeting them in 2003.

“It was the hardest hit against the Christians in Iraq,” said Casmoussa, noting that no single act of violence had led to more casualties among Christians. “We never had such an attack against a church or Christian community.”

Memorials were held today in Baghdad, Mosul and surrounding towns, said Casmoussa, who attended the funeral of 13 deceased Christians including the dead priests.

“At the funeral there was the Shiite leader, the official spokesperson of the government ministers,” Casmoussa said. “All the discussion was flippant – ‘We are with you, we are all suffering,’ etcetera, but we have demanded a serious investigation. We can’t count on good words anymore. It’s all air. We’ve heard enough.”

The Rev. Emanuel Youkhana of the Church of the East told Compass that Iraqi Christians have been systematically driven out over the last five years. He said this attack came as no surprise to him.

“I’m not surprised, in that this is not the first time,” said Youkhana. “In the last five years, there has been a systematic terrorist campaign to kick out the Christians from the country. [They are saying] you are not accepted in this country. Christians should leave this country.”

Youkhana said that in the same way that the Jewish community has disappeared from Iraq, the Iraqi Christians, or Medians as they are called, “are in their last stage of existence” in Iraq.

The Iraqi government is to blame due to its lax security measures, Youkhana said.

“I’m ashamed of the minister of defense, who came on TV and said it was a successful and professional operation – 50 percent of the [congregation] was massacred,” said Youkhana of the assault on the Islamic terrorists by Iraqi security forces.

He said that in order for Christians to have any hope of staying in Iraq, the government must come up with a political solution and set up an independent administrative area, like that of the Kurdish administration in northern Iraq.

“Just now I was watching on TV the coverage of the funeral,” Youkhana said. “All the politicians are there to condemn the act. So what? Is the condemnation enough to give confidence to the people? No!”

It is estimated that more than 50 percent of Iraq’s Christian community has fled the country since 2003. There are nearly 600,000 Christians left in Iraq.

“More people will leave, and this is the intention of the terrorists: to claim Iraq as a pure Islamic state,” said Youkhana. “Our people are so peaceful and weak; they cannot confront the terrorists. So they are fleeing out of the country and to the north. This is why we say there should be political recognition.”

Five suspects were arrested in connection with the attack – some of them were not Iraqi, and today an Iraqi police commander was detained for questioning in connection to the attack, according to the AP.

“We can’t make political demands,” said Casmoussa. “We are making a civic and humanitarian demand: That we can live in peace.”

Following the funerals today, a series of at least 13 bombings and mortar strikes in predominantly Shiite neighborhoods of Baghdad reportedly killed 76 people and wounded nearly 200.

Report from Compass Direct News

Christians in Turkey Acquitted of ‘Insulting Turkishness’


But court heavily fines them for dubious conviction of collecting personal data.

ISTANBUL, October 19 (CDN) — After four years of legal battle in a Turkish court, a judge acquitted two Christians of insulting Turkey and its people by spreading Christianity, but not without slapping them with a hefty fine for a spurious charge.

Four years ago this month, Turan Topal, 50, and Hakan Tastan, 41, started a legal battle after gendarmerie officers produced false witnesses to accuse them of spreading their faith and allegedly “insulting Turkishness, the military and Islam.”

At the Silivri court an hour west of Istanbul, Judge Hayrettin Sevim on Thursday (Oct. 14) acquitted the defendants of two charges that they had insulted the Turkish state (Article 301) and that they had insulted its people (Article 216) by spreading Christianity. Sevim cited lack of evidence.

He found them guilty, however, of collecting information on citizens without permission (Article 135) and sentenced them to seven months of imprisonment each. The court ruled that the two men could each pay a 4,500 lira (US$3,170) fine instead of serving time, said their lawyer Haydar Polat.

Tastan expressed mixed feelings about the verdicts.

“For both Turan and I, being found innocent from the accusation that we insulted the Turkish people was the most important thing for us, because we’ve always said we’re proud to be Turks,” Tastan said by telephone. “But it is unjust that they are sentencing us for collecting people’s information.”

At the time of their arrests, Topal and Tastan were volunteers with The Bible Research Center, which has since acquired official association status and is now called The Association for Propagating Knowledge of the Bible. The two men had used contact information that individuals interested in Christianity had volunteered to provide on the association’s website.

Administrators of the association stated openly to local authorities that their goal was to disseminate information about Christianity.

The two men and their lawyer said they will be ready to appeal the unjust decision of the court when they have seen the official statement, which the court should issue within a month. Polat said the appeal process will take over a year.

“Why should we have to continue the legal battle and appeal this?” asked Tastan. “We are not responsible for the information that was collected. So why are they fining us for this? So, we continue our legal adventure.”

Still, he expressed qualified happiness.

“We are free from the charges that we have insulted the Turkish state and the people of Turkey and we’re glad for that, but we are sorry about the court’s sentence,” Tastan said. “We’re happy on one hand, and sorry on the other.”

The court hearing lasted just a few minutes, said Polat.

“The judges came to the court hearing ready with their decision,” Polat said. “Their file was complete, and there was neither other evidence nor witnesses.”

Polat was hesitant to comment on whether the decision to convict the men of collecting private data without permission was because they are Christians. He did underline, however, that the court’s decision to fine the men was unjust, and that they plan to appeal it after the court issues an official written verdict.

“This was the court’s decision,” said Polat, “but we believe this is not fair. This decision is inconsistent with the law.”

 

Christianity on Trial

The initial charges in 2006 against Tastan and Topal were based on “a warning telephone call to the gendarme” claiming that some Christian missionaries were trying to form illegal groups in local schools and making insults against Turkishness, the military and Islam.

In March 2009 the Turkish Ministry of Justice issued a statement claiming that approval to try the two men’s case under the controversial Article 301came in response to the “original” statement by three young men that Topal and Tastan were conducting missionary activities in an effort to show that Islam was a primitive and fictitious religion that results in terrorism, and to portray Turks as a “cursed people.”

Two of the three witnesses, however, stated in court that they didn’t even know Topal and Tastan. The third witness never appeared in court. Prosecutors were unable to produce any evidence indicating the defendants described Islam in these terms. At the same time, they questioned their right to speak openly about Christianity with others.

Polat and his legal partners had based their defense on the premise that Turkey’s constitution grants all citizens freedom to choose, be educated in and communicate their religion, making missionary activities legal.

“This is the point that really needs to be understood,” Polat told Compass last year. “In Turkey, constitutionally speaking, it is not a crime to be a Christian or to disseminate the Christian faith. However, in reality there have been problems.”

The lawyer and the defendants said that prosecuting lawyers gave political dimensions to the case by rendering baseless accusations in a nationalistic light, claiming that missionary activities were carried out by imperialistic countries intending to harm Turkey.

Tastan and Topal became Christians more than 15 years ago and changed their religious identity from Muslim to Christian on their official ID cards.

Initially accompanied by heavy media hype, the case had been led by ultranationalist attorney Kemal Kerincsiz and a team of six other lawyers. Kerincsiz had filed or inspired dozens of Article 301 court cases against writers and intellectuals he accused of insulting the Turkish nation and Islam.

Because of Kerincsiz’s high-level national profile, the first few hearings drew several hundred young nationalist protestors surrounding the Silivri courthouse, under the eye of dozens of armed police. But the case has attracted almost no press attention since Kerincsiz was jailed in January 2008 as a suspect in the overarching conspiracy trials over Ergenekon, a “deep state” operation to destabilize the government led by a cabal of retired generals, politicians and other key figures. The lawyer is accused of an active role in the alleged Ergenekon plot to discredit and overthrow Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party government.

Ergenekon has been implicated in the cases of murdered priest Andreas Santoro, Armenian editor Hrant Dink, and the three Christians in Malatya: Necati Aydin, Ugur Yuksel and Tilmann Geske.

In a separate case, in March of 2009 Tastan and Topal were charged with “illegal collection of funds.” Each paid a fine of 600 Turkish lira (US$360) to a civil court in Istanbul. The verdict could not be appealed in the Turkish legal courts. This ruling referred to the men receiving church offerings without official permission from local authorities.

Report from Compass Direct News

Coptic Blogger in Egypt Released from Prison


Pressured to convert to Islam, falsely accused Christian freed under reformed Emergency Law.

ISTANBUL, August 17 (CDN) — A Coptic Christian blogger arrested in Egypt on false charges of insulting Islam, then held for almost two years without charge under the country’s Emergency Law, has been released from prison.

Hani Nazeer, 31, a high school social worker and blogger was arrested Oct. 3, 2008 in response to a link to a Coptic Web site he placed on his Web log, “The Preacher of Love.” The Coptic Web site had a link to an online copy of “Azazil’s Goat in Mecca,” a controversial book written in response to “Azazil,” a novel critical of Christianity.

While the Egyptian author of “Azazil,” Youssef Zeidan, won awards internationally and across the Arab-speaking world for his book, the link to “Azazil’s Goat in Mecca” earned Nazeer one year and nine months in prison. Nazeer said that when he posted the link, he did not know the Coptic Web site had a link to “Azazil’s Goat in Mecca,” and that he has never read the book. Nazeer said there is a double standard in Egypt when it comes to any critique of Islam.

During his imprisonment, Nazeer said he was beaten, exposed to constant deprivation and was pressured to convert to Islam by violent criminals.

“One prisoner told me, ‘If you convert, you will be out in two days,’” Nazeer said.

He was released on July 22 because of recent reforms to the Emergency Law.

 

Riots and Arrest

Nazeer’s Web log was exclusively dedicated to human rights issues and concerns facing Egypt’s ethnic Coptic community. He had previously brought attention to himself by criticizing the ever-increasing Islamization of Egyptian civil society.

Nazeer also singled out leaders in the Coptic Orthodox Church and lamented their involvement in politics. In one post, Nazeer wrote that a gathering of activists at a Coptic church building was inappropriate because church buildings were meant to be venues for prayer, not for politics.

He said that despite the controversy, his real problems started the last week of August 2008 when someone in his village discovered the Web site link, and groups of angry young Muslim men began to riot. A local priest brought some of the rioters to meet with Nazeer in an attempt at reconciliation, to no avail.

“He tried to explain to them that the situation was not as they saw it, and that I was not the one who wrote it, and that my link wasn’t to the story – it was to another site,” Nazeer said. “They were so angry, but some of them understood, and some of them did not understand.”

For the next three days, the youths ripped through Qena, a village in Upper Egypt, protesting in the streets, throwing stones at houses and verbally assaulting Copts. The demonstrations happened during Ramadan, Islam’s most sacred month. It is unclear if any of the teenagers or men were arrested on any charges.

Nazeer went into hiding during the riots, seeking sanctuary in a monastery near Qena. The State Security Investigations unit (SSI), Egypt’s secret police agency, took two of Nazeer’s relatives into custody and aggressively interrogated them to obtain his location. Eventually Nazeer turned himself in so the SSI would release the two men.

 

Prison Life

For most of Nazeer’s imprisonment, he was housed in a single cell with at least 30 convicted felons. He said prison conditions were much worse there with the violent felons than in other parts of the prison, and he speculated that authorities placed him there to put pressure on him.

Nazeer previously stated through his attorneys that he felt prison guards had organized attempts through prisoners to force him to convert to Islam. He now says he is unsure if attempts at coercion were directed by anyone.

Nazeer said he wasn’t tortured individually, but that on one occasion guards beat him and other prisoners with sticks during a visit by a police major.

The most difficult time of his imprisonment, he said, was the first two weeks. During this time, authorities isolated him and moved him across Egypt from prison to prison. He was also repeatedly interrogated by SSI agents who tried to make him confess to being “Father Utah,” the as yet unidentified author of “Azazil’s Goat in Mecca.” They told him if he didn’t confess, he would never “see the street again.”

“I had no news about my family – I was cut off from everything,” Nazeer said. “I didn’t know what was going on.”

An active member of his church for 10 years, Nazir said that before he was arrested his faith was strong, but that being in prison served only to make it stronger. He was able to get a Bible in prison and was even able to discuss Christ with two ethnic Copts who were incarcerated on felony charges.

“I spoke to them about the Christian faith when we were together alone,” Nazeer said.

He credited God for carrying him and his family through his imprisonment.

“There were times in prison that I was happy, and I know that is because God was with me,” he said.

 

Reform and Release

Nazeer was imprisoned under Egypt’s Emergency Law, passed in 1981 in the wake of the assassination of then-President Anwar Sadat; it allows the SSI to arrest and hold people indefinitely without charge.

In theory, the law was designed to be used to detain terrorists and others who violently opposed the state. In practice, however, it also has been used to silence opposition to President Hosni Mubarak’s regime and to persecute those outside of the religious mainstream – such as Muslims who have converted to Christianity, or members of Islamic groups considered to be heretical.

In 2005, Mubarak promised to let the law expire if re-elected, but in 2008 his ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) extended the law for two more years.

Nazeer’s attorney filed motions numerous times to have him released, and 10 times judges ruled in his favor – but each time he was released from Borg El-Arab prison just outside of Alexandria, agents from the SSI, whose legal authority supersedes that of the Egyptian Courts, would take him to a different prison, he said.

“Every time the court would order my release, they would take me either to Alexandria or to Qena prison, and then later on, within a week, they would return me back to Borg El-Arab,” Nazeer said.

In May the NDP extended the law again but amended it to say that only people suspected of committing terrorist acts or of selling illegal narcotics could be arrested. In July, the Interior Ministry ordered that Nazeer be released in accordance with the revised statute.

Azza Taher Matar, a member of the International Relations Unit at the Arabic Center for Human Rights Information, an organization that defended Nazeer, said it is likely that the reforms to the Emergency Law will lead to authorities filing more charges of religious defamation against people in an effort to work around changes to the law.

 

Adjustment

Ever since his release, Nazeer, who said he was concerned for his safety, has been living in a residence provided by Bishop Kirollos of Nag Hammadi. He said he sees his family daily, and that Kirollos has said he will let him stay with him until he is “sorted out.”

Last October, Nazeer told his attorneys from prison that Kirollos was the priest that urged him to turn himself in to the SSI, promising that he would only be held four days and then released. Instead, Nazeer was prosecuted and sent to Borg El-Arab prison.

Nazeer now says he is unsure what role, if any, Kirollos played regarding his arrest. According to Nazeer, when he turned himself in to police, Kirollos said he would return in one hour, but the SSI took him away from the station.

Nazeer said he doesn’t know exactly what happened, but he added, “A priest should not sacrifice any of his people for any reason.”

He has applied for reappointment to his position as a high school social worker. He also said that despite his imprisonment, he will continue blogging.

Nazeer admits he is concerned about his safety, but that he “feels safe in God’s hands.”

Report from Compass Direct News

Pakistani Christians’ Employer Has Them Illegally Arrested


Upset with their objections to discrimination, factory owner uses police to beat them.

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, May 12 (CDN) — Police illegally detained three Christians on false charges of alcohol possession in Sialkot last week at the request of their Muslim employer.

The men – garment factory workers Atif Masih, Kamran Masih and Naveed Gill – said they had objected to their boss demanding they work on Sundays. Factory owner Rana Ejaz promptly accused them of selling alcohol, which is forbidden to Muslims in Pakistan and illegal to sell without a permit.

On May 4 the station house officer of Paka Garah, Sialkot, arrested the three Christians even though Ejaz had filed neither a First Information Report nor registered a written complaint, the Christians said.

“We went to the factory for work at 9 a.m. on May 4, and at around 11 a.m. we were arrested by the SHO [station house officer],” Atif Masih said. “We were severely beaten and asked to give a false statement that we sold alcohol.”

Authorities released them after three days when local human rights groups charged that they had been illegally detained.

Paka Garah police SHO Zulfiqar Ali refused to comment after their release. Previously he had said, “We arrested the three from the factory, and they confessed that they sell alcohol.” Parents of the three Christians denied the charge, asserting that their sons had been falsely accused.

Factory owner Rana Ejaz reportedly said, “I did all this on the advice of the SHO, Zulfiqar, so that I could terminate the Christian workers.”

Kamran Masih said Ejaz seemed to object to the crosses the Christians wore since they began work at the factory last year.

“He didn’t say it, but he used to look at the cross with strange looks,” Kamran Masih said. “Then since February, he said that no one will be allowed to wear a cross at work.”

In March Ejaz began demanding that only the Christian employees come to work on Sundays, Kamran Masih said.

“No other Christians raised any voice,” he said. “We were the only ones to stand up and ask for permission to go to church on Sundays, but he threatened us with dire consequences.”

Their local priest, the Rev. Illyas Mall, said he had known the three families for more than 40 years.

“None of their family members have ever been involved in anything illegal,” he said.

Likewise a friend of the three Christians who spoke on condition of anonymity said they had never touched alcohol and were detained only because Ejaz is a good friend of the SHO, “so he got them illegally detained and tortured.”

Report from Compass Direct News 

Pakistani Authorities Allegedly Torture Christian Girl, Family


Air Force police illegally detain 14-year-old, relatives after allegations of theft.

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, April 29 (CDN) — Local authorities on Monday (April 26) recovered a 14-year-old Christian girl from Pakistan Air Force (PAF) police who allegedly tortured her and her family for five days here as Christian “soft targets” over false theft allegations, sources said.

Islamabad police in predominantly Sunni Muslim Pakistan removed Sumera Pervaiz from a PAF hospital, where she was recovering from injuries that a doctor said could cripple her for life. Earlier this month, according to family and police sources, PAF police were said to have illegally detained her and members of her family after PAF Wing Commander Faheem Cheema, who had hired Sumera as a maid, found gold ornaments and other valuables missing from his home in PAF Colony, Islamabad.

Cheema filed a theft complaint with local police without naming any suspects, but without informing local officers the wing commander on April 15 allegedly directed PAF police to detain Sumera and four members of her family – Pervaiz Masih, Sana Bibi, Parveen Masih and Kala Masih – who live in PAF Colony in Islamabad. PAF police allegedly failed to inform local police about detaining the family.

Cheema has denied that he ordered PAF police to detain the girl and her family members.

When District and Session Court Judge Mazhar Hussain Barlas ordered Sumera to appear at a hearing on April 22, she testified that on April 15 three persons who were not in uniform arrived at her house at midnight and detained her, her father Pervaiz Masih and the other family members.

“For many days we remained in the custody of those people, who severely tortured me during their ‘interrogation,’” she said.

When the judge asked her who had brought her to the PAF hospital, she replied that during questioning she had lost consciousness and later found herself in the hospital.

“So I don’t know who brought me there,” she said.

Because of injuries sustained during torture, Sumera is barely able to walk, said Dr. Nusrat Saleem of the PAF hospital.

“Sumera is under treatment, we are trying our best, but unfortunately the reports indicate that she might not be able to walk for the rest of her life,” Saleem told Compass.

The Pervaiz family’s Roman Catholic parish priest, Samuel James, said that the theft accusation, illegal detainment and torture would not have happened to fellow Muslims.

“I am really disturbed to see that this innocent family has been severely tortured by the police,” he said. “They have been targeted because of their faith.”

At the April 22 hearing, Sumera testified that as PAF police were questioning her, she saw her brother Imran Pervaiz also was there. The judge instructed the court to take note that PAF police had also taken her brother into custody.

In denying that he had ordered PAF to detain Sumera and her family members, Cheema reportedly said, “I don’t know anything about the illegal detention of the family, nor have I asked the police to interrogate them. They detained the family and tortured them on their own.”

Inspector Saleem Khan of the PAF police, however, indicated otherwise.

“Faheem’s family expressed their doubts about Sumera and her family, saying they are Christians and don’t belong in PAF Colony,” he said.

Initially police had tried to keep Sumera from testifying, with Station House Officer Mumtaz Sheikh telling the court, “Sumera’s health doesn’t allow her to come in the court, and she was therefore admitted in the PAF Hospital.” 

The family’s attorneys, Jamila Aslam and Shamoona Javid, replied that their client was in the hospital because she had been tortured and requested that the judge direct that she be produced in court. Barlas so ordered, and a few hours later police brought her from the PAF hospital. It was the judge also who ordered that she and her family members be removed from PAF hospital custody on Monday (April 26).

Barlas also directed police to produce Sumera’s brother, Imran Pervaiz, before the court, saying that failure to do so would result in an order for police to file a First Information Report against Cheema based on testimony by Sumera and her father.

The judge also directed police to ensure that Sumera gets a medical exam, with the results to be shown to the court.

Christian organizations including Ephlal Ministry, Peace Pakistan, Protect Foundation, Life for All and others have condemned the incident. Ephlal Ministry Chairman Mehboob Alam has called on other Christian leaders to assist the family, as they have been evicted from their PAF quarters. 

Report from Compass Direct News 

New Evidence Stalls Murder Trial in Malatya, Turkey


Defense lawyers’ absence also prolongs case that court wants closed.

MALATYA, Turkey, April 21 (CDN) — On the eve of three-year commemorations of the murders of three Christians in southeast Turkey, defense lawyers’ absence and new evidence kept a Malatya court from concluding the case here on Thursday (April 15).

Two defense lawyers excused themselves from the hearing, rendering the judges unable to issue a verdict to the five defendants charged with the murders of three Christians in Malatya on April 18, 2007. Turkish Christians Necati Aydin and Ugur Yuksel and German Christian Tilmann Geske, who worked at a publishing house that distributed Christian material in this southeastern Turkish city, were found murdered three years ago.

At Thursday’s hearing, prosecuting lawyers presented a 28-page detailed request that the Malatya case be joined to a plot called Cage Plan, believed to be part of Ergenekon, a “deep state” operation to destabilize the government led by a cabal of retired generals, politicians and other key figures.

The Cage Plan centers on a compact disc found a year ago in the house of a retired naval officer. The plan, to be carried out by 41 named naval officers, termed as “operations” the murders of the three Christians in Malatya, the 2006 assassination of Catholic priest Andreas Santoro and the 2007 slaying of Hrant Dink, Armenian editor-in-chief of the weekly Agos. The aim of the Cage Plan was to destabilize the government by showing its inability to protect Turkey’s minority groups.

Last week newspapers reported that the Cage Plan, aimed at Turkey’s non-Muslim minorities, not only contained a list of names of Protestant Christians who would be targeted, but also named some of their children.

Judges will announce a decision on whether to combine the Malatya murders with the Cage Plan at the next hearing, scheduled for May 14. Hearings for the Cage Plan are expected to begin on June 15.

“If you ask me, unfortunately at this exact moment we are exactly where we started,” said prosecuting lawyer Orhan Kemal Cengiz. “I’m not talking about public awareness. In terms of public awareness, of course our contribution is something substantial. But in terms of evidence and exposing the real network, we couldn’t get anywhere.”

Judges also decided to call a new witness in May. Burak Dogru, a convict serving time in Sivas, wrote a letter to the court accusing suspect Varol Bulent Aral of organizing the murders and offering him money to kill the three Christians.

“When I refused the offer, he told me to forget what I knew, otherwise I would not see the sunlight again,” he wrote in his letter, reported the Hurriyet Daily News.

In the last court hearing two months ago, the court rejected the prosecuting attorney team’s appeal that the Malatya murders be joined to the Ergenekon file, despite a police report showing links between the two cases.

Cengiz said he believes that the Malatya prosecutor is missing an opportunity to collect more evidence that could connect the Malatya murders to the Ergenekon case.

“The Ergenekon prosecutor is drowning in the files,” said Cengiz. “This [Malatya] prosecutor has enough time and resources because he is in a position to have direct contact with first-hand evidence. But I think he is intimidated and is just trying to get rid of the case as soon as possible. This case is a hot potato for the prosecutor, and he just wants to throw it away as soon as possible.”

In February’s hearing, prosecutors detailed accusations against the five young men accused of slaughtering the Christians – Emre Gunaydin, Salih Gürler, Cuma Ozdemir, Hamit Ceker and Abuzer Yildirim – and demanded three consecutive life sentences for each of them if convicted. The five men are charged with murder, being part of a terrorist organization, holding citizens against their will and stealing.

“We may not have proved that this case is linked to Ergenekon and other shadowy networks,” said Cengiz. “But I think we convinced everyone in Turkey that this murder was not committed by [just five men]. We may not convict them, the network, before the court, but we already convicted them in the eyes of the public. I wish, of course, that we could also do that before the law. But at this stage this evidence and this file doesn’t seem to me capable of doing this.”

Graveyard Memorials

In churches and at various memorial services on Sunday (April 18), Christians around Turkey commemorated the deaths of the three slain men.

Scores of people came to the graves of Aydin in Izmir, Tilmann in Malatya and Yuksel in Elazig, an hour northeast of Malatya, to commemorate the deaths. The Malatya murders have become a milestone for the Turkish church, which is also eager for closure on the murder case and justice for those responsible.

“For the church, it’s another one of those events in life which we don’t understand but entrust it to the hands of a loving God who we believe in,” said Zekai Tanyar, chairman of the Association of Protestant Churches in Turkey. “I think one aspect is that the church in Turkey said this does not pull us away from the Lord; we continue to follow Him. It’s probably brought in sort of a depth in some ways, and it has certainly brought in awareness from the worldwide church, and therefore more prayer for Turkey.”

Tanyar said that while churches want to see closure for the sake of the families who lost their loved ones, they also want “the truth, the real culprits and mindsets behind the killings to be revealed somehow. So in a sense, our prayer is that God who is the worker of miracles will work these two contradictory expectations out; a closure and an exposure at the same time.”

Report from Compass Direct News 

Vietnam’s Temporary Release of Priest Goes against Trend


Government granting leave to Father Ly is said to be tightening control overall.

DUBLIN, March 30 (CDN) — Vietnamese officials have in recent months tightened control over those they regard as dissidents, and the temporary release of Catholic priest Thadeus Nguyen van Ly on March 15 was a rare exception, according to Amnesty International (AI).

Officials on March 15 released Ly, now 63, from prison for one year so that he could receive medical treatment.

An outspoken advocate for religious freedom, Ly was sentenced to eight years in prison in March 2007 for “spreading propaganda” against the state. He had previously received 10- and 15-year sentences on similar charges.

“The release of Father Ly appears to be a one-off, related to his health,” Brittis Edman, Asia researcher for AI, told Compass by phone.

Human rights lawyer Le Thi Cong Nhan was released on March 6 after serving a three years in prison.  Officials have sentenced 16 other “perceived dissidents” since last September.

“Those 16 are people whose names are in the public domain,” Edman added. “There are probably others we’re not aware of.”

Edman confirmed that Ly was recently diagnosed with a brain tumor, although few details are available on the prognosis or the availability of treatment. Fellow priests told the Union of Catholic Asian News (UCAN) that Ly had suffered three strokes in May, September and November of last year, partially paralyzing his right arm and leg and making it difficult for him to walk, write or feed himself.

Following urgent requests from diocesan priests and family members, officials on March 14 granted Ly one year’s reprieve from his jail sentence. On March 15 they transported him by ambulance from Ba Sao prison camp in northern Ha Nam province to a home for retired priests in Hue, central Vietnam.

Under pressure from international advocacy groups including AI, the government may have granted Ly’s release to ward off potential embarrassment should he die in prison, Edman said.

“He’s a very public figure, and the Vietnamese government is not comfortable with being criticized.”

Religious Rights Campaigner

Ly was first jailed for one year in 1977 when he distributed a Church statement decrying the arrest of Buddhist monks and the treatment of Catholics in Vietnam, according to an AI report.

This was followed in December 1983 by a 10-year sentence served from the time of his arrest in May 1983 until his early release in July 1992. Prior to his arrest, Ly wrote a seven-point document urging officials to cease harassing Christians and announced that he was willing to be martyred for his faith.

In November 1994 Ly issued a “Ten Point Statement on the State of the Catholic Church in the Hue Diocese,” criticizing the lack of adequate training for would-be priests, the state’s interference in church teachings and its appropriation of church property.

He also became an advisory board member of the U.S.-based Committee for Religious Freedom in Vietnam (CRFV), according to AI.

In 1999, authorities objected when Ly coordinated relief projects for flood victims in partnership with CRFV. In November 2000, while U.S. President Bill Clinton and a CRFV delegation were in Vietnam, Ly reissued his ten-point statement and later made further appeals for religious freedom.

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom in February 2001 invited Ly to address a hearing on Vietnam. Though unable to attend, Ly submitted written testimony stating that the Vietnamese government had “stripped all churches of their independence and freedom” and urging that the U.S. Congress not ratify a long-negotiated U.S.-Vietnam Bilateral Trade Agreement.

State-owned media then accused Ly of inviting “foreign hostile forces to intervene in Vietnam’s internal affairs” and inciting Catholic followers against the state.

Officials in May 2001 seized Ly during a church service and sentenced him to 15 years in prison for allegedly spreading anti-government propaganda. He was released under house arrest in February 2005 but arrested again in February 2007 and sentenced to eight years for organizing a pro-democracy event.

When the government released over 5,000 prisoners to mark Vietnam’s National Day last Sept. 2, Ly was omitted from the list despite vigorous international campaigns for his release. In a state media report quoted by UCAN, Vice Minister of Public Security Le The Tiem declared that the priest was “still in good enough health to serve his sentence.”

Report from Compass Direct News 

Recent Incidents of Persecution


Punjab, India, March 1 (CDN) — Hindu extremists from the Bajrang Dal and Shiv Sena on Feb. 20 beat Christians and vandalized two churches in Batala after a protest against an objectionable picture of Christ. Christians had noticed the picture posted as part of a composite poster for an upcoming Hindu festival, Ram Naumi. The poster contained pictures of other religious deities as they normally appear, while Jesus was portrayed with a cigarette and a beer, reported the Evangelical Fellowship of India. In response to the Christian protest, the Hindu extremists went on a rampage, beating the pastor of the Church of North India and a Salvation Army officer and burning and looting the two churches. With church leaders’ pressure, police registered a case against Hindu extremists Pratap Singh and Raj Kumar, who were said to have put up the picture of Jesus, for a “malicious act intended to outrage religious feelings of others” and “punishment of criminal conspiracy.”

Orissa – Police on Feb. 20 arrested the Rev. Anant Prasad Samantray after Hindu extremists filed a complaint against him of making derogatory remarks against Hinduism in Bhabanipatna, Kalahandi district. Having obtained written permission from local police, Samantray, a former Hindu priest, spoke at a revival meeting of his journey to becoming a Christian pastor, remarking that “Jesus is the only way, the truth and the life,” a local source told Compass. After hearing his speech, some Hindu hardliners dragged him to a police station and filed a complaint against him of speaking ill against Hinduism. Officers arrested the Christian for “malicious acts to outrage religious feelings of others” and “uttering words to wounds religious feelings.”

Karnataka – Hindu extremists from the Bajrang Dal and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh on Feb. 15 attacked Christians in Gokalam, Mysore. A source told Compass that Hindu extremists attacked church members of Shekinah Assembly of God Church because of their faith. Running from one house to another, the extremists beat the Christians in their homes, took Bibles and Christian literature and burned them. A Christian identified only as Shivmurthy sustained serious head injuries, lost four teeth and underwent an operation on his right ear. Jaylaxmi Puram police refused to register a complaint filed by the Christians, who left the area out of fear of further attacks; at press time 22 families had taken refuge among Christians in a neighboring area. 

Karnataka – Hindu extremists on Feb. 14 stopped the inaugural service of Native Village Vision Church’s new building and accused Christians of forceful conversion in Mysore. The Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) reported that at about 5 p.m. a mob of intolerant Hindu radicals barged into the inaugural service of the new church building, verbally abused the Christians and accused them of forceful conversion. The extremists filed a complaint against the Christians of forceful conversion at the Beechanahalli police station. Officers told the Christians to cease future worship, though GCIC reported that Pastor N.S. Suresh had obtained permission from the village head to construct a church building and had produced required legal documents. Nevertheless, revenue officials locked up the church building on Feb. 15. At press time area Christian leaders were meeting with authorities to resolve the matter. 

Karnataka – Hindu extremists from the Rakshana Vedike, affiliated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, on Feb. 8 attacked a pastor identified only as Timothy G. and two Bible students in Bangalore. An Evangelical Fellowship of India representative reported that the extremists attacked the Christians, who belong to Lord Living Hope Church, as they made their way home after visiting a sick Christian in the area. The extremists verbally insulted them and manhandled them, shoving them and threatening to do more harm if they continued Christian activity in the area. The Christians reported the matter to the police and continued to conduct worship meetings in the area. 

Orissa – Hindu extremists on Feb. 7 attempted to rape a refugee at Mondakai Camp and threatened to harm Christians there if they filed a police complaint against them in Phulbani, Raikia P.S. area. A Christian Legal Association (CLA) representative reported that one unidentified man from the Hindu extremist community followed Afasari Nayak, who had fled her home during 2008 anti-Christian violence, as she went to take bath in a river near the camp after work. Nayak shouted for help as the man started attacking her, and people rushed to rescue her. At about 7 p.m. the suspect along with four other extremists went to the camp and threatened to hurt the Christians if they filed a complaint, saying also that the refugee Christians should not return to the village unless they convert to Hinduism, the CLA source said. 

Orissa – Police arrested 11 Christians after Hindu extremists filed a complaint against them of assault on Feb. 3 in Badimunda, Kandhamal. The Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI) reported that Hindu extremists verbally abused two Christians and threatened harm unless they stopped worshipping Jesus; when the two Christians asserted their right to worship Christ, the extremists began beating them. People of both faiths amassed, and the two Christians managed to escape further attack. At about 7:30 p.m. the next day, five extremists showed up at the same place searching for the two Christians. Forcefully entering the house of Dibyakand Nayak, a Christian, one of the extremists hurt his own forehead, according to EFI. Upon seeing this, the extremists started beating Nayak. They damaged household goods and dragged him to the police station. Police arrested 11 Christians for allegedly causing hurt, causing hurt by dangerous weapons and obscene acts and songs. All except Nayak were released on bail.

Orissa – Two Fast-Track Courts on Jan. 30 convicted 15 people and acquitted 39 others in cases related to anti-Christian violence in August 2008. Judge Sobhan Kumar Das sentenced 13 people to five years imprisonment and fined them 2,500 rupees (US$54) each for torching houses in the Sarangarh area, Kandhamal district, between August 2008 and October 2008. The court, however, acquitted 17 people for “lack of evidence” in the same case. In a separate case related to arson at Ranjabadi village of Kandhamal district, the court sentenced two persons to five years of prison and imposed a fine of 2,000 rupees (US$43) on each of them. Judge C.R. Das of Fast-Track Court II acquitted four people who were accused of violence in Baliguda block, while 18 people were acquitted in another case of arson that took place in Phiringia block, Kandhamal. The district was rocked by anti-Christian violence that lasted more than three months after the Aug. 23, 2008 death of Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati, who was assassinated allegedly by Maoists.

Andhra Pradesh – About 50 Hindu extremists on Jan. 29 accused a pastor of forceful conversion and forced him to eat food offered to Hindu idols in Secunderabad. The All India Christian Council reported that the extremists stopped Pastor Satyam Yellasiri of Good Shepherd Community Church at about 9:30 p.m. as he was returning from a birthday celebration and accused him of forceful conversion. The extremists forced him to eat the food offered to Hindu idols and threatened to beat him when he refused. Police, alerted by the extremists, arrived and took the pastor to the police station, where they detained him for two hours. Officers initially refused to register his complaint against his assailants. The next day, though, with area Christian leaders intervening, police accepted the complaint. Officers claimed they detained the pastor as a safety measure and assured the Christians that immediate action would be taken against the attackers. 

Karnataka – On Jan. 24 in Bidarikere, Chitradurga, Hindu extremists from the Rashtriya Swayamsavak Sangh broke into the worship meeting of Indian Evangelical Mission and assaulted a Christian worker. The Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI) reported that at about 10:30 a.m. the extremists barged into the meeting shouting slogans and started beating H. Raju, who was leading the meeting, and accused him of forceful conversion. They also burned Bibles and Christian literature and dragged him out to the streets, forcing him to identify Christians’ homes in the area, according to EFI. Entering three Christian houses, the Hindu hardliners threatened to harm Christians if they did not stop worshipping Jesus. Local Christian leaders on Jan. 27 filed a police complaint with Jagalur police, and the next day police arrested three extremists. 

Karnataka – Hindu extremists accompanied by local police stopped the worship service of Calvary Gospel Church (CGC) on Jan. 24 in Dudda, Hassan. Two local police stopped the Sunday worship in the rented house of Sekhar Chandra and his wife, Kala Chandra, and chased the Christian worshippers out of the house. Hindu extremists had filed a complaint against the couple, whose rented home was being used for the worship service. After the Jan. 24 disruption, Hindu extremists announced to all villagers they were not to allow any house be used for Christian worship. Subsequently, the landlord along with an agitated mob threw the couple out of their rented house, along with their household goods. The Christian workers are now renting the house of another Christian in the same area and are continuing their ministry. 

Madhya Pradesh – Hindu extremists from the Bajrang Dal accompanied by Madhya Pradesh police stopped the worship meeting of Central India Christian Mission’s (CICM) Shahdol Christian church on Jan. 23 and forced church members to falsely testify against Pastor S.K. Ashawan in Shahdol. A source reported that the extremists barged into the prayer meeting attended by about 35 Christians, verbally abused them and dragged them to Shahdol police station. Amassing at the police station, the angry extremists beat, punched and kicked the Christians, forcing them to testify falsely against the pastor by saying he offered each of them 5,000 rupees (US$108) to convert them to Christianity and also forced them to eat beef. Under pressure, the Christians gave a written statement with these accusations. Police summoned the pastor, detaining and questioning him for two hours. The town inspector told Pastor Ashawan that 35 Christians had testified against him, and he threatened to beat and arrest the pastor if he did not give him 100,000 rupees (US$2,168). “It was midnight, and I was under pressure with the police threatening to beat and put me in jail if I did not submit the money,” Pastor Ashawan told Compass. The pastor started calling area Christians for help. That night, a source said, 100,000 rupees arrived into the inspector’s hands. Ajay Lal, Director of the CICM, took the matter to administrative authorities, but state Chief Minister Shivraj C. Chauhan advised the area district collector to close the case immediately. Christian leaders planned take the matter to a higher court.

Andhra Pradesh – Hindu extremists on Jan. 10 stormed a house church, disrupting worship and beating a pastor in Jillelguda L.B. Nagar, Hyderabad. The Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) reported that at 9 a.m. nearly 50 area extremists belonging to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh barged into Heavens Glory Church, shouting Hindu devotional chants. Repeatedly slapping Pastor Benhur Johnson, they falsely accused him of forcible conversion and warned him against conducting Christian services in the area. The extremists also beat some who came forward to help the pastor. A GCIC regional coordinator told Compass that Christians telephoned police, who rushed to the church and stopped the attack. Pastor Johnson along with other Christians went to police to register a complaint, but an official mediated an agreement between them and the extremists. The pastor told Compass that no worship was held on Jan. 17 or 24 out of fear of another attack.

Report from Compass Direct News 

Evangelical Christians at risk from Russian government


Evangelical Christians may be at risk in Russia as Orthodoxy gains more and more governmental favor, reports MNN.

The Liberty of Conscience Institute recently discovered that the Russian government is cozying up to the Russian Orthodox Church in ways that may inhibit religious freedoms. Joel Griffith of Slavic Gospel Association says there is reason to be concerned.

"Russia’s president [has] taken the initiative to permanently assign orthodox priest army units, and they’re also wanting to introduce religious education classes at state schools."

The more power the Orthodox Church gains, the more risk there will be to the religious freedoms of all minority religions, no less evangelical Christianity. Griffith says history proves that evangelical Christians may well be targeted if such legislation is passed. A sizeable evangelical movement would well be viewed as an encroachment on Orthodox territory, and would consequently not be taken lightly.

If this is the case, evangelical movement could be very much hindered in Russia. As it now stands, some evangelical churches experience virtually no opposition at all from the government, while others experience a great deal. If a national legislation should pass, opposition will likely extend to every evangelical church.

"If this becomes a policy of the national government to freeze out evangelicals, obviously that’s going to have a pretty big impact not only on freedom of worship," cautions Griffith, "but also on the proclamation of the Gospel."

Fortunately, in order for any such government-orthodox partnership to be enforced via the military and education, it would have to pass through a significant number of hoops. As it stands, this sort of breach on the separation of church and state goes directly against the Russian constitution, not to mention Western ideals.

"The West is concerned with human rights and the freedom of conscience and the freedom of worship," notes Griffith. "And officially under the constitution, there’s supposed to be freedom of religion and freedom of worship in Russia. So any moves to do this certainly fly in the face of what the Russian constitution would say."

Unfortunately, many Russians consider Orthodoxy as a given. Historically, the Orthodox Church has, more often than not, been considered an arm of the Russian government. Pray that the obvious infringement of government policy on the basis of the constitution would be enough to stop Orthodox alliances with the Russian government from being nationally enforced.

Slavic Gospel Association helps equip churches in Russia with training and materials to prepare them for every situation as evangelicals.

Report from the Christian Telegraph