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Jailed Pakistani Mother Living in Constant Fear, Husband Says
Murder of Punjab governor intensifies security concerns for woman sentenced to death.
LAHORE, Pakistan, January 19 (CDN) — A mother of five sentenced to death on “blasphemy” charges has lived in constant fear since the killing of Punjab Gov. Salman Taseer, her husband told Compass as he came out of Sheikhupura District Jail after meeting with her last week.
Ashiq Masih said his wife, Asia Noreen (alternatively spelled Aaysa, and also called Asia Bibi), is “very afraid.” Her conviction triggered a violent chain of events in Pakistan, including the Jan. 4 murder of Taseer by his bodyguard after the governor voiced support for her.
“She knows the Muslims have announced a prize on her head and would go to any lengths to kill her,” a visibly nervous Masih told Compass. “The governor’s murder in broad daylight has put her in a state of paranoia.”
He added that threats by Islamist extremists have dampened Noreen’s hope of getting justice from the Lahore High Court, where her appeal against the conviction has been filed but yet to be taken up.
Wearing a dark cloak to hide his identity, Masih was visibly nervous after meeting with her on Jan. 11.
“She was asking me about the situation outside,” he said. “I tried to console her, but she knows it’s really bad. She’s also worried about the children.”
The mother of two children and stepmother to three others, Noreen asked him to appeal for more prayers for her, he said.
“Please tell everyone to pray for her,” he said.
Masih said prison authorities had improved Noreen’s security considerably after Taseer’s killing.
“She’s being kept in a separate cell with a warden deployed 24 hours for her security,” he said. “Only I am allowed to meet her, but even I am searched completely before they bring her out for the meeting. I just hope and pray she keeps safe inside the prison.”
Still, prison officials have reportedly said she will be transferred to another prison soon because of security concerns.
The female warden tasked with Noreen’s security the day Taseer was killed told Compass of the Christian woman’s reaction to the news.
“I was escorting her for her routine walk on the evening Governor Taseer was gunned down,” said the warden, who requested anonymity. “We were passing by a barrack when the news broke out on TV that the governor was dead … She stood there in shock for some time, and then she started screaming and crying.”
The warden added that she helped Noreen back to her cell, “as she could barely walk and kept weeping.”
“She cried all evening and also refused to have supper,” the warden said. “The governor’s killing shattered her. The governor’s visit had boosted her morale – she was very happy and every time I spoke to her, I could feel the joy in her heart. She shared with me how she had lost hope, and how God had sent Taseer to help her. A particular verse that she often repeats is from John 14:1, which says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God, believe also in me.”
The warden said she was assigned Noreen’s security following reports that attempts would be made to kill her inside the jail. Since Taseer’s killing, she said, Noreen has grown suspicious of everyone around her.
“She’s only taken out of her cell for an hour, but even then she is fearful of her surroundings, even though all the other inmates are locked up before she’s taken out for exercise,” she said. “One can imagine how insecure she must be feeling after Taseer was killed by one of his own guards.”
Sheikhupura District Jail Superintendent Sheikh Khalid, who recently assumed charge, told Compass that Noreen was the most “high value” inmate of the prison and that he was not going to take any chances regarding her security.
“She is on the hit list of several extremist organizations,” he said, “and there are reports that she might be targeted inside the jail – moreover, she has a 30 million rupee [US$350,000] prize on her head. This is enough incentive for anyone to kill her.”
He said the prison had enhanced its security measures, and additional forces have been employed to guard the premises at night.
“No one except her husband can meet her,” Khalid said. “I have also directed her not to eat anything given to her by any person other than the wardens deployed for her security. We are trying our best to keep her safe, but life and death are in the hands of Allah.”
Noreen’s lawyer, S.K. Chaudhry, declined to discuss the future course of legal action because of the sensitive nature of the case.
Noreen has been condemned to death for insulting Islam’s prophet, Muhammad, a charge she denies. A week after her conviction, the governor of Punjab province visited her in jail. Taseer, a liberal Muslim, did not mince words as he assured Noreen of his support. He told her he believed that the charges against her were fabricated and that there had been a miscarriage of justice. He promised that he would recommend a presidential pardon for her.
During that visit, he called Pakistan’s blasphemy statutes “a black law” and called for their repeal – a demand that ultimately resulted in his brutal killing, as one of his own police bodyguards believed that Taseer had blasphemed by criticizing the law.
Masih, Noreen’s husband, said he was about to have lunch when he first heard the news of the killing of Taseer on TV.
“I had taken the first bite when the news flashed that Governor Taseer had been killed,” he said. “I was stunned, couldn’t swallow the food either … no words can explain that moment.”
He denied government reports that it was providing his family security, saying they were living in a safe-house arranged by “some friends” and surviving on money provided by Christian organizations. Taseer’s murder, he added, had shaken the little confidence the family had after the governor’s assurance of support to them.
“They killed the governor for supporting her,” he said. “He died for us, but it seems his sacrifice has gone in vain.”
Report from Compass Direct News
Indonesian Churches Wary of Islamist Offer of ‘Protection’
Following attacks, Islamic Defenders Front’s Christmas gesture rings hollow.
DUBLIN, December 21 (CDN) — In the wake of several attacks on worship services by Indonesia’s notorious Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), several Jakarta area church leaders rejected the FPI’s offer to help protect them over Christmas.
FPI leader Rizieq Shihab made the offer last week, saying he was working in cooperation with the Indonesian Communion of Churches and the Indonesian Bishops Conference. But several churches publicly rejected the offer, with online forums comparing FPI church protection to “foxes protecting a chicken coop.”
Jakarta’s police chief on Friday (Dec. 18) promised protection for every “registered” church in the area, The Jakarta Globe reported. Many Indonesian churches are unregistered, however, since they fail to meet the strict conditions of a Joint Ministerial Decree (SKB) governing places of worship.
The Indonesian public has harshly criticized FPI members for their role in multiple church attacks over the past year and faulted police and politicians for failing to intervene.
The most recent attack occurred last Sunday (Dec. 19), when more than 100 Islamists gathered outside the sealed home of the Rev. Badia Hutagalung of Huria Kristan Batak Protestan (HKBP) church in Rancaekek to disrupt worship services, sources said.
Another attack on Sept. 12 led to the arrest and detention of 13 FPI members, including Murhali Barda, leader of the FPI’s Bekasi branch. During the attack, assailants stabbed and critically wounded church elder Hasian Sihombing and beat the Rev. Luspida Simanjuntak over the head with a wooden beam. (See, “Indonesian Church Leaders Wounded in Attack,” Sept. 15.)
‘Christians Should Not Provoke Us’
After making the offer of FPI assistance at the Jakarta police headquarters on Dec. 14, Shihab told The Jakarta Post that “Islam is not allowed to disrupt other religions worship,” but he added the warning that “Christians should not provoke us.”
His offer came just two days after some 300 Islamists from FPI, the Indonesian Ulama Forum and the Islamic Reformist Movement, together with civil service police officers, raided and forcibly closed seven churches in Rancaekek. (See "Islamists Raid House Churches in West Java," Dec. 17.)
Sub-district head Meman Nurjaman on Nov. 16 had sent out a decree ordering 11 churches in Rancaekek to close, citing protests from the local community. Nurjaman later admitted that he had acted under pressure from Muslim hardliners living outside the housing estate, according to a Compass source, who added that Nurjaman had no legal authority to issue the decree.
During the Dec. 12 raid, Islamists forcibly removed at least 100 worshipers from a residential building used by the HKBP Bethania church and several other churches, and they urged the local government to seal the building immediately because it was not a registered place of worship.
Hutagalung said the congregation only worshipped there because they could not meet the terms of the SKB, which requires proof of at least 90 church members, signatures of approval from at least 60 local residents, and approval from village officials and a local interfaith forum.
The mob also attacked six other house churches in Rancaekek on Dec. 12, forcing five of the seven to close.
A day after the raids, Adj. Sr. Comr. Hendro Pandowo, the Bandung police chief, said Christians in Bandung should refrain from putting themselves in harm’s way.
“If they pray in churches, I will protect them if anybody disturbs them,” he told the The Jakarta Globe. “If they pray in places they are not allowed to, they are breaking rules, so why would I protect them?”
Readers posting comments to the Globe article online said it was almost impossible for congregations to obtain a building permit under existing regulations, leaving them no option but to worship in private homes or empty building sites.
One reader, identified only by the log-in name of Aki-Amani, wrote, “Thank you Chief Hendro for your promise of protection – if we follow your dictates. However, don’t be surprised if we are found anywhere, everywhere … praying as we go about our daily activities at home and in the market place, whether you approve and will protect us or not.”
Jakarta police on Friday (Dec. 18) met with leaders representing 1,600 churches in greater Jakarta to discuss security measures for the Christmas season.
Jakarta Police Chief Insp. Gen. Sutarman, identified only by a single name, said at least 9,000 security personnel would be deployed in and around churches in greater Jakarta as part of a total 87,000 security personnel stationed at houses of worship throughout Indonesia over the Christmas and New Year season, the Globe reported.
Police began providing Christmas security for churches after a series of 38 coordinated church bombings on Dec. 24, 2000, left at least 18 people dead and dozens injured across the nation. The bombings were organized by Jemaah Islamiyah, a local Islamic terrorist group.
“The Jakarta police guarantee that celebrations will be conducted peacefully across all churches registered with us in the city,” Sutarman reportedly said.
What that implies for unregistered churches remains to be seen.
Spokesmen from two unregistered churches told the Globe they would meet this Christmas despite explicit threats from the FPI to ransack “controversial” Christmas celebrations.
The congregation of HKBP Filadelfia in Bekasi will meet in a tent on the street next to their sealed church, despite the risk of further aggression or physical harm from the FPI, sources said.
Members of Gereja Kristen Indonesia Yasmin in Bogor, however, reportedly said they will break open the seals on their partially-constructed church, closed in September due to pressure from the FPI and other hard-line groups despite having a legal permit.
“We want to celebrate religious freedom in our church,” spokesman Bona Sigalingging told reporters, adding that police would not be asked to provide security.
Report from Compass Direct News
Orissa, India Christians Still Face Boycott, Forced Conversion
Hindu nationalists continue to oppress Christians in Kandhamal district, report says.
NEW DELHI, November 11 (CDN) — More than two years after losing relatives and property in anti-Christian violence, there is no sense of relief among survivors in India’s Orissa state, as many are still ostracized and pressured to “return” to Hinduism, according to a private investigation.
“Despite the state administration’s claim of normalcy,” the preliminary report of a fact-finding team states, “a state of lawlessness and utter fear and sense of insecurity” prevails among Christians of Kandhamal district, which saw a major anti-Christian bloodbath in 2008.
The team, consisting of local attorney Nicholas Barla and another identified only as Brother Marcus, along with rights activists Jugal Kishore Ranjit and Ajay Kumar Singh, visited four villages in three blocks of Kandhamal on Nov. 5.
In Bodimunda village in Tikabali, the team met a pastor who said he has been closely watched since Hindu extremists forced him to become a Hindu. The pastor, whose name the report withheld for security reasons, said he had to convert to Hinduism in 2008 “to save his old mother, who could not have escaped the violence as she was not in a position to walk.”
He is still closely watched in an effort to prevent him from returning to Christianity. While the attorneys and activists were still at the pastor’s house, a man who identified himself as from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS, India’s most influential Hindu nationalist conglomerate) came to inquire about his visitors. The pastor felt compelled to tell them that they were “bank officials.”
In the same village, Hindu nationalists have also imposed a de facto ban on any private or public vehicle to ferry Christians or their belongings, said the report.
The team met the family of a paralyzed Christian, Bamadev Pradhan, whom auto-rickshaw drivers refused to take to a hospital when he recently ran a high fever. Eventually a Christian driver took him to the only hospital in Tikabali, around eight kilometers (nearly five miles) from his village of Bodimunda, but as the Christian was driving back, some local men confiscated his vehicle.
With the help of the auto-rickshaw union, the driver (unnamed in the report) got the vehicle released after paying a fine of 1,051 (US$24) rupees and promising that he would not transport any Christians in the future.
Another Christian said area Hindus extremists prohibited Christians from procuring basic necessities.
“We are not allowed to bring housing materials or food provisions or medicines, and nor are we allowed to buy anything from local shops,” he said. “We do not have any shop of our own. Here, we are struggling to live as human beings.”
The team also met a Hindu who had to pay 5,000 rupees (US$112) to get his tractor returned to him, as he had transported housing material for the construction of the house of a Christian.
In the house of a Christian in Keredi village in Phulbani Block, the team found a picture of a Hindu god. The resident, who was not identified in the report, explained that he had to display it in order to protect his family from harm.
The team found pictures of Hindu gods also in the house of a Christian in Gandapadar village in the Minia area, Phiringia Block. A woman in the house told the team that local Hindu nationalists had given her pictures of Hindu gods for worship.
“We have kept them, as they often come to check whether we have reconverted to Christianity,” she said.
Almost all Christians the team met complained that the local administration had done little to protect them and suspected that officials colluded with area Hindu nationalists.
Released on Nov. 8, the report asserts that Christians have been barred from taking water from a government well in Dakanaju village, under G. Udayagiri police jurisdiction in Tikabali Block. The village head, Sachindra Pradhan, has promised to take action “at the earliest,” it added.
Violence in Kandhamal and some other districts of Orissa state followed the assassination of Hindu nationalist leader Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati on Aug. 23, 2008. The rampage killed over 100 people and burned 4,640 houses, 252 churches and 13 educational institutions, according to estimates by human rights groups.
The spate of attacks began a day after Saraswati’s killing when Hindu nationalist groups blamed Christians for his murder, although Maoists (extreme Marxists) active in the district claimed responsibility for it.
John Dayal, a Christian activist in Delhi, told Compass that “the apparatus of 2008 remains undisturbed.” The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was part of the ruling state alliance with the regional Biju Janata Dal (BJD) party at the time of the violence. Although the BJD broke up with the BJP in 2009, blaming it for the violence, the former cannot be excused, said Dayal.
“While the BJP is mainly to be blamed, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik is not entirely innocent,” Dayal said. “Not just that he allowed the BJP and RSS cadres to run amok when they were part of his government, turning a blind eye to their very visible anti-Christian activities, but he was his own home [interior] minister and cannot really shirk command responsibility for the carnage together with his BJP ministerial colleagues and senior officers.”
Kandhamal district Magistrate Krishan Kumar, who was on a tour at press time, could not be contacted for comment despite repeated attempts.
Of the 648,201 people in Kandhamal district, 117,950 are Christian, mostly Dalit (formerly “untouchables” in the caste hierarchy in Hindu societies), according to the 2001 Census. Hindus, mainly tribal people and numbering 527,757, form the majority.
Report from Compass Direct News
Police in Sudan Aid Muslim’s Effort to Take Over Church Plot
With possibility of secession by Southern Sudan, church leaders in north fear more land grabs.
NAIROBI, Kenya, October 25 (CDN) — Police in Sudan evicted the staff of a Presbyterian church from its events and office site in Khartoum earlier this month, aiding a Muslim businessman’s effort to seize the property.
Christians in Sudan’s capital city told Compass that police entered the compound of the Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church (SPEC) on Oct. 4 at around 2 p.m. and ordered workers to leave, claiming that the land belonged to Muslim businessman Osman al Tayeb. When asked to show evidence of Al Tayeb’s ownership, however, officers failed to produce any documentation, the sources said.
The church had signed a contract with al Tayeb stipulating the terms under which he could attain the property – including providing legal documents such as a construction permit and then obtaining final approval from SPEC – but those terms remained unmet, church officials said.
Church leader Deng Bol said that under terms of the unfulfilled contract, the SPEC would turn the property over to al Tayeb to construct a business center on the site, with the denomination to receive a share of the returns from the commercial enterprise and regain ownership of the plot after 80 years.
“But the investor failed to produce a single document from the concerned authorities” and therefore resorted to police action to secure the property, Bol said.
SPEC leaders had yet to approve the project because of the high risk of permanently losing the property, he said.
“The SPEC feared that they were going to lose the property after 80 years if they accepted the proposed contract,” Bol said.
SPEC leaders have undertaken legal action to recover the property, he said. The disputed plot of 2,232 square meters is located in a busy part of the heart of Khartoum, where it has been used for Christian rallies and related activities.
“The plot is registered in the name of the church and should not be sold or transfered for any other activities, only for church-related programs,” a church elder who requested anonymity said.
The Rev. Philip Akway, general secretary of the SPEC, told Compass that the government might be annoyed that Christian activities have taken place there for many decades.
“Muslim groups are not happy with the church in north Sudan, therefore they try to cause tension in the church,” Akway told Compass.
The policeman leading the officers in the eviction on Oct. 4 verbally threatened to shoot anyone who interfered, Christian sources said.
“We have orders from higher authorities,” the policeman shouted at the growing throng of irate Christians.
A Christian association called Living Water had planned an exhibit at the SPEC compound on Oct. 6, but an organization leader arrived to find the place fenced off and deserted except for four policemen at the gate, sources said.
SPEC leaders said Muslims have taken over many other Christian properties through similar ploys.
“We see this as a direct plot against their churches’ estates in Sudan,” Akway said.
The Rev. John Tau, vice-moderator for SPEC, said the site where Al Tayeb plans to erect three towers was not targeted accidentally.
“The Muslim businessman seems to be targeting strategic places of the church in order to stop the church from reaching Muslims in the North Sudan,” Tau said.
The unnamed elder said church leaders believe the property grab came in anticipation of the proposed north-south division of Sudan. With less than three months until a Jan. 9 referendum on splitting the country according to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2005, SPEC leaders have taken a number of measures to guard against what it sees as government interference in church affairs.
Many southern Sudanese Christians fear losing citizenship if south Sudan votes for secession in the forthcoming referendum.
A top Sudanese official has said people in south Sudan will no longer be citizens of the north if their region votes for independence. Information Minister Kamal Obeid told state media last month that south Sudanese will be considered citizens of another state if they choose independence, which led many northern-based southern Sudanese to begin packing.
At the same time, President Omar al-Bashir promised full protection for southern Sudanese and their properties in a recent address. His speech was reinforced by Vice President Ali Osman Taha’s address during a political conference in Juba regarding the signing of a security agreement with First Vice President Salva Kiir Mayardit (also president of the semi-autonomous Government of Southern Sudan), but Obeid’s words have not been forgotten.
Akway of SPEC said it is difficult to know what will become of the property.
“Police continue to guard the compound, and nobody knows for sure what the coming days will bring,” Akway said. “With just less than three months left for the South to decide its fate, we are forced to see this move as a serious development against the church in Sudan.”
Report from Compass Direct News
Thousands of trafficked girls found in Mali slave camps
Nigerian girls are being forced to work as prostitutes in Mali "slave camps," Nigerian officials say, reports CISA.
The girls, many of them underage, are often promised jobs in Europe but end up in brothels, said the government’s anti-trafficking agency. According to BBC correspondent, the brothels are run by older Nigerian women who prevent them from leaving and take all their earnings.
Nigeria’s National Agency for the Prohibition of Traffic in Persons (Naptip) said officials visited Mali in September to follow up "horrendous reports" from victims, aid workers and clergy in Mali.The agency said it was working with Malian police to free the girls and help them return to Nigeria.
They said there were hundreds of brothels, each housing up to 200 girls, run by Nigerian "madams" who force them to work against their will and take their earnings.
"We are talking of thousands and thousands of girls," Simon Egede, Executive Secretary of Naptip, told a news conference in Abuja, adding that they were between 20,000 to 40,000.
He, however, did not give details as to how the figure had been reached.
In a statement, Egede said girls were "held in bondage for the purposes of forced sexual exploitation and servitude or slavery-like practices."
"The madams control their freedom of movement, where they work, when they work and what they receive," he said.
The trade is centred on the capital Bamako and large cities, but the most notorious brothels are in the mining towns of Kayes and Mopti, where the sex workers live in "near slavery conditions," said Naptip.
Many of the brothels there also had abortion clinics where foetuses were removed by traditional healers for use in rituals, said Egede.
Most of the girls were reported to have come from Delta and Edo States in Nigeria.
Many were lured with the promise of work in Europe, given fake travel documents and made to swear an oath that they would not tell anyone where they were going.
On arrival in Mali, they were told they would have to work as prostitutes to pay off their debts. Prostitution is legal in Mali but not if it involves minors.
Naptip said it had also uncovered two major trafficking routes used to transport the women from Nigeria through Benin, Niger and Bukina Faso to Mali.
Egede said Naptip was working with the police in Mali to return the girls to Nigeria safely, shut down the trade and prosecute the traffickers.
Report from the Christian Telegraph
Police Keep Indonesian Church from Worship Site after Attack
Bekasi officials unable to persuade HKBP congregation to relocate to alternative venue.
JAKARTA, Indonesia, September 23 (CDN) — Following attacks on their church leaders on Sept. 12, a West Java congregation on Sunday (Sept. 19) faced a wall of security officers blocking them from worshipping on their property as authorities tried to coax them to meet at another venue.
Hundreds of security force officers sealed off the street leading to their open-air worship site in Ciketing, near Bekasi, a week after suspected Islamists stabbed Batak Christian Protestant Church (Huria Kristen Batak Protestan, or HKBP) elder Hasian Sihombing and struck Pastor Luspida Simanjuntak with a wooden block. At the Pondok Timur location where the church had gathered to walk three kilometers (less than two miles) to Ciketing on Sunday, an official in a police vehicle announced through a loudspeaker that the Bekasi government requested they worship at the former office of a community organization.
When Compass arrived at the Pondok Timur area, there were 1,500 regular police and public order security police officers standing by, some forming ranks in front of the Nurul Hulda Mosque 500 meters away.
The official on the loudspeaker read a decree by Bekasi Mayor H. Mochtar Muhammad stating that security problems in the Mustika Jaya area were caused by the HKBP worship in Ciketing – where Islamists have staged protests in spite of a mayoral decree granting the congregation the right to worship there – and that in order to guard against further incidents, the church was no longer to hold services there.
“From now on, HKBP will hold its worship services in the [former] Organization & Political Party Building [the auditorium in back of several buildings occupied by different political parties] on Charil Anwar Street in Bekasi City,” he said.
The new mayoral decree dictating where the church was to worship was the product of a Sept. 15 meeting of the West Java governor, the Jakarta area military commander, Jakarta area police, the general secretary and the director general of the Ministry of the Interior, and the Department of Religion, he said.
“We invite the HKBP members to climb aboard the seven buses that we have prepared to take them to the [former] Organization & Political Party [OPP] building,” the official said to the congregation, which had gathered outside the Pondok Timur area building they had used for worship before authorities sealed it in June.
The HKBP congregation ignored the invitation. Muhammad Jufri, head of the Bekasi municipal legal department, then invited the congregation to board the buses. No one responded.
A few minutes later the Rev. Pietersen Purba, district head of the HKBP Pondok Timur District, along with two other pastors and two lawyers, requested that the congregation be allowed to worship at the open-air site on their property in Ciketing. Authorities denied the request.
An argument ensued between Bekasi officials and HKBP leaders.
“For our common good, both government and congregation, and in accordance with the decision of the coordinating meeting, we have prepared a temporary worship place at the former OPP building,” said Jufri, of the Bekasi legal department. “Because of this you may worship there, and while you are worshipping the municipal government guarantees your safety.”
Pastor Purba responded by requesting security for their current location.
“I am surprised that we are forbidden to worship on our own property,” he told authorities. “Our services there were sanctioned by a letter from the mayor that allows us to worship in Ciketing. We are the victims – my pastor was beaten. Are we not citizens with the right to worship in this country? Because of this we ask that the police help us with security so that we may worship in Ciketing. The congregation and I desire to worship there.”
HKBP lawyer Saor Siagian asked a policeman to open the way toward their property in Ciketing; the officer refused.
Jufri then began to read the mayor’s new decree aloud, but he had spoken only a few sentences before one of the HKBP lawyers, Sahala Pangaribuan, interrupted him.
“Sir, if you want to read, do so, but don’t prevent us from walking,” Pangaribuan said.
Jufri continued reading the entire decree.
“We heard what you read,” Pastor Purba replied, “but we don’t easily believe our beloved government, because we remember the case of HKBP Jatimulyo, Bekasi, which was sealed by the government, and then promised facilities for a place of worship. Now it has been five years, and the promise is still unfulfilled.”
The argument lasted another 30 minutes, and the congregation gave up on its request to meet in Ciketing. They were granted 10 minutes to pray in their former Pondok Timur building and additional time for congregational discussion, which was led by the national secretary general of the HKBP, the Rev. Ramlan Hutahayan.
At press conference later that day, Hutahayan said that freedom of worship was fundamental.
“We hope that every citizen will have the right to construct houses of worship to praise and glorify God together,” he said.
Bekasi officials have offered the former OPP building as a temporary venue for worship and two alternative locations on land zoned for general and/or social purposes: one owned by P.T. Timah and one belonging to the Strada Foundation. Thus far the congregation has not approved of these alternatives because they are far from their homes.
At a press conference with other Christian leaders, the head of the Jakarta Christian Communication General Forum, Theophilus Bela, said a statement by the Jakarta provincial police chief that the Sept. 12 attack on the church leaders was a “purely criminal act” was hasty.
“After arrests and investigation, it has been shown that this is not a pure criminal act, but an organized scenario with the Islamic Defenders Front as the field command,” Bela said.
He and other Christian leaders criticized government officials for closing churches and revoking church building permits that had already been approved.
“They have been passive in the face of anarchy and terrorist acts that have been done in the name of religion by groups such as the Islamic Defenders Front, the Betawi-Rempug Forum, the Islamic Congregation Forum, the Congress of the Indonesian Muslim Community, and so on,” he said.
Report from Compass Direct News
Briefs: Recent Incidents of Persecution
Chhattisgarh, India, August 31 (CDN) — Police in Sivaho Dhamtari on Aug. 29 arrested three Christians after Hindu extremists filed a complaint against them of luring people to convert to Christianity by offering them money and “false hope.” A source reported that the extremists had recently launched a series of attacks against Pastor Dilip Chakravarty, Ganga Ram and Shankar Lal of the Church of God, accusing them of forceful conversion and trying to force Ram and Lal to “reconvert” back to Hinduism. Ram and Lal sustained fractures on their hands and legs from the attacks. Area Christian leaders said no forceful conversion took place. The three Christians were charged with 295 (a) of the Indian Penal Code for “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion” and were sent to Dhamtari district jail the same day.
Karnataka – Hindu extremists from the Bajrang Dal disrupted the worship meeting of Ebenezer Assembly of God Church and beat Pastor Ravi George and a church member identified only as Ramu on Aug. 29 in K.R. Nagar, Mysore. The Global Council of Indian Christians reported that about 20 extremists broke into the worship meeting, snatched Bibles and a mobile phone from Pastor George and started beating those present. The Christians received hospital treatment for serious head and hand injuries. Pastor George submitted a police complaint.
Karnataka – Christians in Madalawada, Haliya face a social boycott and the Rev. Philip Rock of St. Sebastian Church was charged with “causing disharmony” after Christians refused to follow Hindu rituals. In an effort to stop the spread of cholera in the village, local Hindu leaders On Aug. 24 urged villagers to pray to a Hindu deity and told them not to work on two Tuesdays and three Fridays, reported the Global Council of Indian Christians. Rock advised the Christians not to observe the Hindu rituals, and they resumed their daily activities. The Hindu extremists boycotted the Christians’ businesses and grocery shops, kept students from attending Christian schools and refused to repair Christians’ farm equipment. A police investigation is underway.
New Delhi – Hindu extremists from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Bajrang Dal attacked Pastor Isaac Laal on Aug. 22 in Bhavana, Dariyakala Pura, New Delhi as he was returning home from a Sunday church service. The Evangelical Fellowship of India reported that armed extremists stopped him and took him to Municipal Corporation hall where about 150 RSS members were meeting. The extremists accused Laal of forceful conversion and severely beat him, leaving the pastor with internal injuries. The investigating officer of Bawana police station told Compass that police are investigating but no First Information Report has been registered.
Karnataka – Hindu nationalists on Aug. 20 beat a pastor after falsely accusing him of “allurement” in the conversion of villagers in Bhendwad, Belgaum district. The Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) reported that Pastor David Kalagade of Jeevan Jala Prayer Mandiram was conducting a prayer service at another Christian’s house when 40 area extremists barged into the house at about 8 p.m. and accused him of bribing villagers to convert. Pastor Kalagade told Compass that the extremists tore up Christian literature and dragged him to the village council. Police were summoned, but the extremists could not substantiate their claims that people were given 500 to 1,000 rupees (about US$10 to US$20) to embrace Christianity. Police called the pastor to the police station on Aug. 21 and, contrary to the religious freedom provisions in the Indian constitution, forced him to sign a statement that he would not convert people in the village. Police official Anil Kumar told Compass that police also took a written statement from the extremists pledging that they would not create disturbances for the Christians. GCIC sources told Compass that the extremists were closely monitoring the daily activities of Christians.
Maharashtra – Police on Aug. 20 deported five South Korean students on the basis of the complaint of “propagating Christianity” on Aug. 16 by Hindu extremists in Pune. Manifesting one’s faith is legal in India. The Indian Express reported the police as saying that the five Koreans were distributing pamphlets in Pimpri Chinchwad, which led to a quarrel with local Hindu extremists. Area Christians said the Koreans were leading Bible studies in Christian homes and were distributing pamphlets on health issues to those who wanted them.
Karnataka – Police on Aug. 19 detained a pastor after Hindu nationalists from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) beat him while he was showing a film in Mahalingapura, Bagalkot district. The Global Council of Indian Christians reported that Pastor Hanok Mahadev Inachi of the New Apostolic Church and two Christian students identified only as Sarah and Gauri were showing a film, “Oceans of Mercy” to villagers when a mob of over 200 RSS extremists attacked. The Hindu extremists repeatedly struck the pastor on his back and took the film projector, a DVD player, generators, amplifier and a speaker box worth nearly 100,000 rupees (US$2,135), which police later forced them to return. Pastor Inachi told Compass that the extremists pushed, shoved and struck his back as they forced him to the Mahalingapura police station. He was released the next morning without charges but was forced to sign a statement pledging that he would not enter the village again; the two women were also given a warning.
Madhya Pradesh – Police on Aug. 16 filed charges against a pastor under the state’s “anti-conversion law” after local Hindu extremists disrupted his house church meeting in Nisarpur village, Dhar district. The Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) reported that as independent Pastor Balu Sasya and an assistant pastor identified only as Raju were leading nearly 30 Christians in prayer and worship, about 35 extremists stormed the church, shouting slogans and slapping Raju. Falsely accusing the pastors of forcibly converting villagers, the extremists forced Sasya and Raju to the Nisarpur police station and filed a false complaint against them, GCIC reported. A GCIC regional coordinator told Compass that both Sasya and Raju were in still in Badhawani jail at press time.
Tamil Nadu – Police arrested Pastor S. Martin Rajasekaran after Hindu extremists along with police disrupted a prayer meeting on Aug. 15 in Tanjore. Barging into the prayer meeting led by Pastor Rajasekaran, the extremists chased away the Christians, seized a church amplifier and loud speakers and locked the house, according to the All India Christian Council (AICC). The pastor had been threatened and driven away from his rented house six times by the extremists and insulted and manhandled many times, according to the AICC, but all his complaints to police were ignored.
Madhya Pradesh – Two Hindu extremists from the Bajrang Dal, Ram Naresh Rai and Santosh Namdin, threatened a Christian convert on Aug. 15 in Dhanora, Lahknadon. Achelal Jhariya of Light of the World Church told Compass that the extremists filed a complaint against him of forceful conversion, claiming that he was constructing his house for conversion activities. Jhariya said the extremists went to the property site and told him to stop worshipping Jesus and warned him to stop construction or they would destroy all his belongings. The Christian said he was not building the house for any conversion activities, though such activities are legal in India, and reported the matter to police. Officers promised him security.
Karnataka – Police arrested two Christians after Hindu extremists from the Bajrang Dal accused them of forceful conversion and disrupted their worship meeting on Aug. 15 in Mandya district. The Global Council of Indian Christians reported that the extremists led by Hanumant Raj, local president of the Bajrang Dal, forcefully entered the worship meeting in Shesha Gowda’s home and started abusing the Christians. They filed a complaint against the Christians of forceful conversion in K.R. Pete police station. Police took 12 Christians to the station for questioning, releasing 10 without charges. Pastor Satish and Evangelist Ravi Pas, however, were arrested under Section 295 and 298 of the Indian Penal Code for “defiling a worship place with intent to insult religion of any class” and “uttering words with deliberate intent to wound the religious feelings of any person respectively.”
Karnataka – Police on Aug. 13 detained Christians after accompanying Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) members to a church and standing by as the BJP extremists disrupted their worship in Birur, Chikmagalur district. The Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) reported that the Indian Pentecostal Church pastor identified only as Dileep, along with 10 other Christians including three women and a young child, were taken to the Kadur police station and interrogated for over four hours. During the interrogation, BJP extremists surrounded them and shouted false accusations of forcible conversion and other abusive statements at the terrified Christians. With GCIC intervention, the Christians were released at 8:30 p.m. with a strict warning, contrary to the religious freedom provisions in the Indian constitution, to refrain from conversion activities in the area.
Uttar Pradesh – Members of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Aug. 8 disrupted a Christian prayer meeting in Mailani, Lakhimpur-Kheri district, according to the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI). Nearly 25 BJP extremists accompanied by police gathered at 11 a.m. at Life Prayer Centre, where nearly 600 Christians had congregated for worship. The intolerant Hindus shouted slogans and demanded that Pastor Robert Samson come out, EFI reported. Police dispersed the Christians and took Pastor Samson in for questioning, releasing him later that afternoon without charges but allegedly threatening to shut down the church, according to EFI. Police also prohibited the congregation from gathering the following Sunday. Using a loudspeaker, the BJP nationalists continued making public accusations of forcible conversion by Pastor Samson throughout the day, EFI noted.
Karnataka – Members of the extremist Hindu Jagaran Vedike, a wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, on Aug. 8 disrupted a prayer meeting and falsely accused Christians of “forceful conversion” in Kanakagiri, Koppal district. The Evangelical Fellowship of India reported that at about 7:30 p.m. nearly 60 extremists stormed into an Evangelical Church of India service led by Pastor John Harris in the home of a family interested in learning about Christianity that had been regularly attending the church for about a year. Ordering the Christians to go outside where broadcast media were waiting, the extremists verbally abused the Christians for their faith, told them to stop all worship meetings and falsely accused them of forcible conversion. The Hindu nationalists took the Christians to the police station and pressured officers to arrest them. Police forced the Christians to sign a statement that they would not conduct meetings in homes and threatened to file a case against them if they did.
Bihar – Hindu extremists from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh on Aug. 7 attacked Singhasini Church and threatened Christians in Raxual. A source reported that the extremists pasted several pictures of Hanuman, a Hindu god, on the church’s wall and demanded that Christians leave the area. The extremists further threatened the Christians that they would hoist the Hanuman flag over the church building if they continued to worship Jesus. With area Christian leaders’ intervention, no further harm came to the church.
Maharashtra – Armed Hindu extremists on Aug. 1 attacked a church meeting and beat Christians including women and children, seriously injuring two people in Orlem, Malad. The Global Council of Indian Christians reported that after a group of armed extremists barged into the Sunday worship meeting of the Church of North India’s St. Emmanuel Church, Ponkumar Nadar and Devashish Nagarwere sustained injuries that required treatment in a local hospital. The congregation was attacked with rods and other blunt weapons, according to the Catholic Secular Forum (CSF). Joseph Dias, secretary of CSF, told media that the Hindu extremists were drunk at the time of the attack.
West Bengal – Muslim extremists on Aug. 1 destroyed a vegetable field belonging to a Christian in Natungram, Murshidabad. The Evangelical Fellowship of India reported the field belonged to Gaffar Sheik, a member of Believer’s Community Worship Center. Earlier, Raffiqul Sheik had warned Gaffar Sheik that if he continued to worship Christ, his crops would be burned. The extent of the damage was estimated at about 20,000 rupees (US$400). Police visited the site, and an investigation is underway.
Uttar Pradesh – Police detained Christian students after accusing them of forceful conversion on July 24 in Lukcnow. The All India Christian Council (AICC) reported that four students from Compassion for India Ministry were visiting the slum area when the police team led by an officer identified only as Tripati called their pastor to the police station. The officer accused the pastor and his team of forceful conversion and forced the Christians to report about their work in detail. Police took money from the pastor before releasing the students, reported the AICC. The students maintained that they were just distributing food to the needy in the poor area and that there was no forceful conversion.
Uttar Pradesh – A mob of about 50 Hindu extremists from the Bajrang Dal barged into a Christian meeting shouting, “Jai Shri Ram [Praise lord Ram]” on July 23 in Kanpur. The Global Council of Indian Christians reported that the extremists forcefully entered the two-day meeting organized by Pastor Samuel Sarkar of the Kanpur Pentecostal Church and stopped the service. Police came to the spot and took the two parties to the police station, where officers told the Christians to cancel their meeting, which was subsequently discontinued.
Report from Compass Direct News
Christian Child Abducted, Forced into Bonded Labor in Pakistan
Muslim landowner offers to remove chains from 11-year-old boy if he converts to Islam.
WAZIRABAD, Pakistan, June 21 (CDN) — An 11-year-old Christian boy here is growing weak and ill from malnutrition from working in slave-like conditions for a Muslim landowner who kidnapped him and is forcing him to work off his family’s debts, his mother told Compass.
Katherine Bibi said landowner Ashraf Cheema of Dhonikay village, Wazirabad, has offered her son better conditions and possibly cancellation of the debt if he will convert to Islam.
“He is frequently invited to convert to Islam by Ashraf Cheema, and in return he is promised that he will be freed from the iron chains and his work will be eased and he will be served better meals,” she said. “Cheema has said, ‘The debt of your father and brother might also be forgiven if you convert.’”
Young Danish Masih works without break from 4 a.m. to 11 p.m., often in iron chains, on half a loaf of bread per day, according to Dawood Masih of the National Commission of Justice and Peace (NCJP).
“Due to the lack of sleep and immense physical and mental pressure, he is becoming weaker and ill,” Dawood Masih said. “And he is doing this bonded labor without any kind of leave, including sick leave, for the last one-and-a-half years, in place of his father Riaz Masih and elder brother Adnan Kashif.”
The boy’s father and older brother had been working for Cheema to pay off a debt of 142,000 rupees (US$1,640), but their employer was neither paying their monthly wages nor deducting the amounts from their debt, said Emmanuel Berkat Gill of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA). Riaz Masih’s monthly wage was 3,000 rupees (US$35), and Adnan Kashif earned 2,500 rupees (US$29) per month.
Cheema also extorted land worth 35,000 rupees (US$404) from the boy’s older brother, again without deducting the amount from their debt, and ransacked the family’s house in Ali Naggar village, stealing Katherine Bibi’s dowry worth 200,000 rupees (US$2,308), she and Gill said.
“Being a rich, powerful and influential Muslim landowner, Cheema did all of this and also had the cruelty to not deduct the amount from the debt,” Gill said.
Suffering under Cheema in this way, the family decided to flee to Islamabad, 165 miles (102 miles) away, Katherine Bibi said. About 18 months ago, however, the peaceful life they had begun anew was shattered when Cheema abducted their youngest son, also known as Mithu, and took him to his farmhouse at Dhonikay village near Ali Naggar in Wazirabad.
“After all these cruelties, Ashraf Cheema owes us some amount, rather than us owing him,” an inconsolable Katherine Bibi told Compass by telephone.
She has gone to court to recover her son – both her husband and older son do not risk provoking Cheema by attaching their names to the case – and on June 10 District and Sessions Judge Chaudhary Muhammad Ilyas sent a bailiff to Cheema’s farm to secure the return of the 11-year-old.
“But the bailiff returned unsuccessfully without Mithu, as Ashraf Cheema, being an influential and rich landowner, was told beforehand about the raid by an anonymous insider, and he hid the child,” Katherine Bibi said.
She said that since the bailiff failed to recover her son, Cheema has hurled threats at her and her husband, saying, “After this raid by the bailiff, you will neither be able to get back your son, nor will you be granted a cancellation for your debt.”
After joint efforts by Gill of APMA and Dawood Masih of the NCJP, however, Cheema agreed that if Riaz Masih would work in place of his son, he would release the child, Gill said. When Gill, Dawood Masih and Riaz Masih went to Cheema’s farmhouse, however, the landowner went back on his word and refused to hand over the boy.
Contacted by Compass, Cheema said that no such boy works at his farm or fields, and that “someone must have misled you.”
Besides the court recognition of the abduction, however, Gill and other credible sources assert that Danish Masih works from dawn to dusk under a sizzling summer sun without any break or meal.
At press time local Christian leaders had petitioned the deputy superintendent police of Wazirabad to recover Danish Masih.
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