Islamists in Pakistan are pushing for the Bible to be banned because they say it denigrates Islamic prophets.
Apparent central government crackdown puts halt to Yuletide celebrations in five areas.
HANOI, Vietnam, December 20 (CDN) — In what appeared to be part of a central government crackdown on Protestant Christianity in Vietnam, hundreds of Christians from 10 northern provinces were locked out of a Christmas celebration that was supposed to take place here yesterday.
The throngs who arrived at the National Convention Center (NCC) in the Tu Kiem district of Hanoi for the Christmas event found the doors locked and a phalanx of police trying to send them away, sources said. Deeply disappointed, some of the Christians began singing and praying in the square in front to the center, they said.
Police moved in, striking some Christians with fists and night sticks in the melee that followed. A number of video clips of the action were posted online by Monday morning (Dec. 20), Hanoi time. Christian leaders worked to calm the disappointed crowd, which eventually left, but not before at least six people – including the Rev. Nguyen Huu Bao, the scheduled speaker at the event – were arrested. They had not been released at press time.
Similar incidents occurred on Christmas Sunday (Dec. 19) in at least four other places throughout the country.
Unregistered house churches under the umbrella of the Hanoi Christian Fellowship rented the auditorium in the name of one of their members. A copy of the six-page contract obtained by Compass says the event was to be a reunion of Vietnamese who had worked in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc countries. Many of northern Vietnam’s house church leaders became Christians during their time there.
While it was understood that this was to be a Christmas event, the managers of the state-owned facility did not want to put this in writing. Organizers had hoped that some 4,000 people would come.
The contract called for at least five days’ written notice before the event if either side wanted to terminate the contract. According to one source, the NCC informed event organizers on Dec. 15, four days before the event, that the contract was voided but gave no reasons as the contract required. The organizers, having completed major preparations and distributed several thousand invitations, considered this a breach of contract and decided to try to go ahead.
When the first Christians arrived Sunday afternoon, they found the doors of the NCC locked. According to a source at the scene, a sign indicated a wedding was taking place. When more than 1,000 people had arrived, some decided to sing and pray in the square in front of the NCC. Police called for reinforcements.
One witness said “possibly hundreds” of uniformed and plainclothes personnel came to try to disperse the growing crowd. Reports from the scene and video clips on the Web show pushing and shoving, with some Christian leaders trying desperately to calm the agitated crowd. Some witnesses said officials punched some Christians, and others were struck hard with night sticks. Late police reinforcements carried electric cattle prods, according to one source. In one clip, people can be seen comforting an 86-year-old woman who was knocked down.
Gradually the Christians dispersed. For many Christians who tried to come – some from great distances and at great personal expense – this would have marked the first time they had ever worshipped in a large gathering.
Sources in Vietnam told Compass that similar stoppages also took place yesterday (Dec. 19) in Thanh Hoa, Nghe An, and Quang Nam provinces, and in the city of Danang in central Vietnam.
In Thanh Hoa province, Christians of various house church denominations planned a joint celebration yesterday at the home of a woman identified only as Tuyet in Dong Phu commune. Pastor Ho Van Thom sent an appeal to the church worldwide asking for the prayers. He arrived at the scene to find some Christians had been beaten and wounded by police intent on preventing their Christmas worship.
In Danang city in central Vietnam, the Rev. Ho Tan Khoa, superintendent of the unregistered United Presbyterian Church of Vietnam, was invited to preach at a house church Christmas celebration yesterday. Pastor Khoa reported that a distraught church leader told him authorities had come that morning and, without a warrant, carted off the chairs, the pulpit and the sound system. They also tore down the Christmas decorations including a backdrop painstakingly decorated by church members, he said.
In Ho Chi Minh City, house churches have received permission for a public Christmas celebration both from authorities of the central government in Hanoi and of Ho Chi Minh City for an event on Dec. 26. But church leaders say that potential venue owners, obviously under threat, will not dare rent to them.
Even those who closely follow Protestant church developments in Vietnam were somewhat surprised at the severity of the crackdown. One well-respected overseas Vietnam leader observed that it is now clear that this was a coordinated, well-planned and executed crackdown involving top Communist Party and government officials.
He noted that sometimes officials in remote areas of the country are excused when they persecute Christians on the grounds they do not yet know the new, more enlightened religion policies of the central government.
“In this case,” he said, “the strong actions against Christians are taking place in Vietnam’s three largest cities. They can’t use that excuse.”
Another observer said that authorities likely became alarmed at the size and attraction of the Christmas events in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi last Christmas. The events in those two cities attracted more than 50,000 people. They were organized by unregistered house churches that somehow obtained permission in spite of prohibitions of such events by Vietnam’s Decree 22, which governs religion.
One key church leader in Vietnam informed Compass that Directive No. 75, a secret Ministry of Interior document dated Oct. 15, ordered the crackdown on unregistered groups.
Unregistered groups are caught in limbo. Denominations with a history before the 1975 communist takeover of Vietnam have now been registered, but many groups that began in the 1980s and later have tried but failed to register their congregations as provided by Vietnam’s regulations. Their requests have mostly been ignored or denied, leaving them vulnerable to capricious repression.
As Christmas Day draws near, it appears the 400,000 or so Protestants that belong to unregistered churches will be denied celebrating together.
Report from Compass Direct News
Muslim hardliners pressure government; nationals fears they may be next victim of ‘purging.’
ISTANBUL, May 21 (CDN) — In a second wave of deportations from Morocco, officials of the majority-Muslim country have expelled 26 foreign Christians in the last 10 days without due process.
Following the expulsion of more than 40 foreign Christians in March, the deportations were apparently the result of Muslim hardliners pressuring the nation’s royalty to show Islamic solidarity.
The latest deportations bring the number of Christians who have had to leave Morocco to about 105 since early March. Christians and expert observers are calling this a calculated effort to purge the historically moderate country, known for its progressive policies, of all Christian elements – both foreign and national.
“I don’t see the end,” said Salim Sefiane, a Moroccan living abroad. “I see this as a ‘cleansing’ of Christians out of Morocco, and then I see this turning against the Moroccan church, which is already underground, and then persecution of Moroccan Christians, which is already taking place in recent days.”
At least two Moroccan Christians have been beaten in the last 10 days, sources told Compass, and police have brought other Moroccan Christians to police stations daily for psychologically “heavy” interrogations.
Authorities are enquiring about the activities of foreign and local Christians.
Legal sources said that according to Moroccan law, foreigners who have lived in the country for more than 10 years cannot be deported unless they are accused of a crime. They have the right to appeal the deportation order within 48 hours.
With only hours’ notice and forced escort to the country’s exit ports, almost none of the deportees were able to appeal their deportations.
“Most of these [deportations] are happening over the weekends, when the courts are closed,” Sefiane said. “Most of them are done in a way where they’re bringing them in [to the police station], intimidating them, and manhandling them out of the country. Many of them are not even going back to say goodbye to their wives, or even to pack a bag.”
With the exception of three foreigners, in none of the forced deportations did authorities produce an official deportation order, sources said. In many cases, Moroccan officials used embassies to notify foreigners that they were being deported. In most cases, foreigners were presented with a document in Arabic for them to sign that stated that they “understood” that they were being deported.
Compass learned of one case in which a foreigner was forced to the airport, and when he resisted he was forcibly drugged and sent to his native country.
“The expats in the country are very vulnerable, and the way it has happened has been against the laws of the country,” said a European Christian who was deported last week after nearly a decade of running his business in Morocco. “When I tried to walk away from the situation, I was physically stopped.”
The deported Christian said that authorities never informed any of the Christian foreigners of their rights, when in fact there are national laws protecting foreigners.
“Basically they are trying to con everyone into leaving the country,” he said.
Deported foreigners have had to leave their families behind in Morocco, as well as their friends and communities. Many of the deportees were the male breadwinners of the family and have left their families behind as they try to decide their future.
“It’s devastating, because we have invested years of our lives into our community, business community and charity sectors,” said the European Christian. “People flooded to our house when they heard I was bundled into the back of a police car by the local authorities. It was like a death in the family – forcibly ejected from the country without being able to say goodbyes, just like that.”
The deportees have included Christians from North America, Latin America, Europe, Africa, New Zealand and Korea.
“It’s come out of left field,” said the European. “No one really knows why this is happening.”
A regional legal expert said on condition of anonymity that a small number of extremist Muslims have undertaken a media campaign to “get [Christians’] good works out of the public eye and demonize Christians,” in order to expel them and turn the nation against local Christians – some of whom are third-generation followers of Jesus.
“There are too many eyes and ears to what they want to do to the native Christians,” said the expert. “They’re trying to get to them …They want to shut down the native Moroccan Christians.”
Deportation orders are coming from the Ministry of Interior, and speculation on the reason for the sudden spike in expulsions has centered on the arrival of a new, hard-line Muslim interior director in January.
Moroccan officials have cited “proselytism” as the reason for the deportations. Reuters news agency reported Religious Endowments and Islamic Affairs Minister Ahmed Toufiq as saying “proselytism” and “activism of some foreigners” had “undermined public order.”
On April 12 local media reported that 7,000 religious Muslim leaders signed a document describing the work of Christians within Morocco as “moral rape” and “religious terrorism.” The statement from the religious leaders came amid a nationwide mudslinging campaign geared to vilify Christians in Morocco for “proselytism” – widely perceived as bribing people to change their faith.
Religious rights advocates point out that under Article 18 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the more than 100 foreigners who had lived in Morocco, some for decades, not only had the right to stay in the country but had contributed to the nation.
“They expelled people who helped build up the country, trained people, educated Moroccan children, cared for orphans and widows, increased the GDP and trade,” said the regional legal expert. “These people they expelled weren’t even proselytizing under their own law. There’s an international standard, yet they changed the definition of the terminology and turned it into this horrible ‘religious terrorism.’”
One of the country’s most prestigious educational institutions, George Washington Academy in Casablanca, has come under fierce criticism from media and investigation by authorities.
“The biggest problem is the image the Ministry of Justice is pushing about who the Christian foreigners are,” said another observer on condition of anonymity. “All the articles have been extreme exaggerations of the manipulative aspect of what foreigners were doing, and especially when it comes to minors.”
Local Christians have reported to sources outside of Morocco that attitudes towards them, which used to be more tolerant, have also shifted as a result of the extremist-led campaign, and some are experiencing family and societal pressure and discrimination as well.
While the deportations have perplexed the local Christian community, the regional legal expert said that in some ways this was calculated and inevitable.
He said that the Organization of the Islamic Conference had been putting pressure on countries across the Middle East and North Africa to remove their Christian elements. Iraq, with its decline in Christian population from a few million to a few hundred thousand over the last decade, is a case in point.
“Countries which have been more forward looking and spoken about rights, freedoms and equalities have been pressured to demonstrate their Muslim credentials, and the best way to do this is to sanitize [religious] minorities from the borders,” he said.
Congressman Frank Wolf (R-Va.), co-chairman of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, has called congressional hearings on June 17 to examine the human rights situation in Morocco in light of the expulsions. On Wednesday (May 19) Wolf called on the U.S. government to suspend $697.5 million in aid it has pledged to Morocco based on criteria that it is “ruling justly.”
“We’ve been told the Christians are a threat to the national security, so they are using terrorism laws against peace-loving Christians,” said the deported European Christian. “But it is massively backfiring.”
The Christian described how the Moroccan friends of Christian foreigners have been asking why they are being deported for their faith.
“They are being impacted by the reality of Christ through this, and it’s having more of an effect on the community than years and years of quietly demonstrating Christ peacefully and lawfully,” he said. “By breaking their own laws, they have opened the lid on the reality of the life of Christ.”
There are an estimated 1,000 Moroccan Christian converts. They are not recognized by the government. About 99 percent of Morocco’s population of more than 33 million is Muslim.
Report from Compass Direct News
Land-grabber seizes cemetery, keeps mourners from burying body of young man.
GUJRANWALA, Pakistan, April 1 (CDN) — A Muslim land owner who effectively seized a Christian graveyard here refused to allow the burial of a young Christian at the site on Sunday (March 28).
Christians in Noshera Virkan, Gujranwala, have only one graveyard measuring little more than one acre. This longstanding disadvantage turned into a nightmare when Muhammad Boota, who owns much of the land in the area, prohibited Christians from burying the body of 25-year-old Riaz Masih there on Sunday (March 28).
Social worker Sajjad Masih told Compass that in the midst of the dispute, police from Saddar police station arrived and sided with Boota.
“You may burn your dead, but you cannot bury them in this graveyard,” Assistant Sub-Inspector (ASI) Asif Cheema told mourners while beating them and pushing them out of the graveyard, according to Masih.
The Christian mourners dispersed, and then went to the Station House Officer of the Saddar police station with their complaint. He did not pay heed to them, Masih said.
The death of a youth is always seen as a great tragedy in Pakistani culture, he said, making Boota’s denial especially callous. Masih said that when the Christian mourners saw no other option, he helped them organize a protest the next day; he and the crowd took the body to the office of the highest police officer in the city, the deputy inspector general (DIG) of Gujranwala. Mourners protested for two hours before the DIG on Monday (March 29), and police later accompanied them to the graveyard to allow the burial.
“We blocked a road and chanted slogans against the police and Muhammad Boota,” Masih said, “and after a few hours the DIG called us to his office. After listening, the DIG assured his support and referred the case to the relevant superintendent of the police, who told us that Boota would be arrested, and that he would also suspend ASI Asif Cheema.”
The SP said he would also order the arrest of anyone who kept Christians from burying their dead in the graveyard, Masih added.
None of the promises have been fulfilled. Khalid Gill, chief organizer in Punjab Province of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance, said Boota has not been arrested, nor has ASI Cheema been suspended, as the superintendent of police had only promised those actions to appease the Christian community.
“It is a very common practice of government officials to settle down tensions with false promises that they never fulfill,” Gill said.
Gill told Compass that Boota had stationed armed men two weeks prior to the attempted burial to stop Christians from entering the graveyard. The graveyard has a long history as a Christian burial site, Gill said, but in 1997 Boota obtained one-fourth of it and then immediately filed a court case for full possession, bringing an interim stay order until the case is decided.
Pakistan civil cases often go on for decades, Gill said, and the case is still pending. He said that Boota turned part of the graveyard land that he obtained into a bus stop and used another part for his residence.
A local area source told Compass on the condition of anonymity that Boota enjoyed the backing of Member of Provincial Assembly Chaudhry Khalid Parvaiz Virk. He said that Virk was part of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), which is in power in Punjab Province.
“He was supporting the land grabbers, and the provincial government has taken no notice of it,” the source said.
Report from Compass Direct News
Defectors’ descriptions add to evidence of strong but severely persecuted church.
DUBLIN, April 24 (Compass Direct News) – Eom Myong-Heui of North Korea was a loyal communist in the Workers’ Party of Korea before she became a Christian under the influence of her business partner – a missionary who was later arrested and tortured into revealing that Eom was a believer.
Authorities placed Eom into a detention center in her hometown of Moosan and tortured her into denying her faith – but her incarceration continued under appalling conditions. Officials eventually released her due to her previous national loyalty. Now an assistant pastor at a church in Seoul, South Korea after a harrowing escape from her home country, Eom relates a journey that is part of a growing body of evidence of a strong – and severely persecuted – church in North Korea.
“A lot of people ask me if there really are people in North Korea who believe in Christ,” she said. “Do you really think that the missionaries who were there and all the believers who meet underground are all dead?”
Even as the North Korean government this month allowed two high-profile, U.S. Christian bands to perform at a music festival in Pyongyang, the fear of punishment authorities have instilled in North Korean Christians keeps most of them from publicly revealing their faith. As many as 400,000 Christians are estimated to worship secretly in the country, and Suzanne Scholte, head of an association of some 60 groups campaigning for change in the country called the North Korean Freedom Coalition (NKFC), estimates that more than 200,000 North Koreans are held in political prison camps for various perceived “disloyalties” to the regime, including adherence to Christianity.
Christian support group Open Doors estimates that of the 200,000 people incarcerated in political prison camps, at least 40,000 are Christians. Under North Korea’s policy of juche, or self-reliance, citizens may worship only President Kim Jong Il and his late father, former ruler Kim Il Sung.
Jung Eun Hye, one of several North Korean refugees expected to speak about conditions in the country at events in Washington, D.C. next week, said that freedom of religion is stipulated in North Korea’s constitution, but that “Christians have to risk their lives to have a secret service away from the oppression of the government.”
Jung, who faced severe persecution after authorities caught his father and aunt with Bibles in their possession, said he did not know that any churches existed in Pyongyang until he escaped from North Korea. While a handful of government churches do exist in the capital, Jung is one of many refugees who believe that these churches exist only to “deceive the outside world.”
“Here is my question,” said Jung. “If North Korea has freedom of religion, why does the government arrest, kill or imprison Christians in camps from which they never return?”
Testimony from various sources confirms that the government actively seeks out Christian groups and meeting points and imprisons Christians solely because of their faith. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) last year reported refugees saying that Christianity remained a key factor in the interrogation of people repatriated from China to North Korea. Border guards reserved the harshest punishment for those who admitted having any contact with Chinese or South Korean Christians.
“There is no freedom of belief or religion,” one refugee stated. “[We are taught] that if one is involved in religion, one cannot survive.”
Former police and security officers interviewed for USCIRF’s report admitted that their superiors had instructed them to play the role of Christians and infiltrate “underground” prayer meetings in order to incriminate, arrest, imprison and sometimes execute believers in North Korea.
‘Abyss of Death’
A delegation of North Korean refugees recently described their experiences ahead of events on Capitol Hill from Sunday (April 26) through Saturday (May 2) as part of North Korea Freedom Week.
Kim Young Soon, a refugee who spent nine years in a prison camp, said North Korean ruler Kim “is pushing the people into the abyss of death. In such a society, no one can trust anyone.”
Authorities sent Kim Young Soon and her family to prison camp No. 15, otherwise known as Yodok, after she made a seemingly innocent comment about the regime.
“Every mountain and field in Yodok was covered with dead bodies because of malnutrition and hunger,” Kim said. She described waking at 3:30 a.m. to run six kilometers (nearly four miles) to her assigned workplace and surviving on a diet of unripe, salted corn. Her parents and two of her sons died during their incarceration; border guards shot her third son when she fled with him to China shortly after their release.
Former prisoner Jung Gwangil said prison guards sadistically controlled inmates through collective punishment.
“If I did something wrong, all the members of the group I belonged to were punished,” he said. “When guards withheld food or switched off heaters in the middle of winter, fellow prisoners would sometimes beat the responsible inmate to death.”
Another former prisoner, Kim Tae Jin, described being left naked in a freezing cell and forced to sit on quicklime in the rain, resulting in severe burns to her skin.
“Even now, there are people who cut their own fingers off to avoid hard labor, who disguise themselves as madmen, or who lose their arms from beatings because they believe in a God who supposedly doesn’t exist,” she added.
While she was in prison, she said, a fellow inmate known only as Park formed a small “fellowship” of seven Christians. Prison guards eventually caught Park, beat him severely and asked him, “Who told you about the existence of God?”
“Do we have to be told about the existence of the sun to know that it’s there?” Park replied. “We learn its existence by feeling its warmth.”
In such conditions, the journey to faith is perilous for North Koreans – or nothing short of miraculous in the case of Eom, an assistant pastor at Seoul’s New Pyongyang Full Gospel Church (a fellowship for North Korean Defectors associated with Yoido Full Gospel Church).
She was extremely loyal to the regime until she made contact with a South Korean-Chinese Christian businessman.
“It’s very hard to live in North Korea, so if you don’t secretly do business, you can’t survive,” Eom said in sharing her story with members of another large church in Seoul, South Korea. “So for a few days I just kept being polite and agreeing with whatever he said about God, even though I knew he was wrong … but then God started to change my heart.”
Eventually the missionary gave her a small New Testament.
“I enjoyed it,” she said. “The teaching to love your enemy, give him food if he’s hungry, give him water if he’s thirsty. I also took to heart the words about loving each other.”
Eom asked a superior why North Korea didn’t have a religion other than worship of the Kim family.
“His eyes got big and he told me that religion was poison,” she said, “and that if I tried to learn about Christianity I would automatically become a traitor.”
As a teacher, Eom knew what happened to children of traitors and immediately began to worry about her two daughters. When police arrested the missionary and someone warned her that she could be next, Eom packed a small bag and assured her youngest daughter that she would return in three days.
“At the time,” she told the Seoul congregation, “I didn’t realize that this trip would bar me from ever entering the country again.”
Detained by police, she said, she could not understand why the authorities were so concerned about whether she was a Christian instead of asking about her business activities. After her release and unable to rescue her daughters, she escaped to China, where she was arrested twice and told, “If we arrest you again, we will kill you.”
From China Eom made a dangerous journey via Myanmar to Thailand, where she spent six months in a detention center before being granted asylum in South Korea in 2002.
“This is a most critical time for the North Korea human rights movement,” said Scholte, head of the NKFC and president of the Defense Forum Foundation. “We either advance these issues now with the opportunity that comes from a new administration and a new Congress, or we see another decade of death and despair for those whose great misfortune was to be born under the Kim Jong Il dictatorship.”
Report from Compass Direct News
The bushfire emergency in Victoria is far from over tonight as the death toll for the fires has now reached 210 confirmed dead. Three fire-fighters have been injured today as a number of new fires have broken out and older fires continue to burn.
Currently under threat are communities to the east of Melbourne, where a home (in Belgrave Heights) is believed to have been destroyed today, with the possibility of others also having been destroyed. Two fire tankers have also been lost to the fire.
Communities in the Dandenong Ranges have come under threat due to a sudden wind change which is now pushing a bushfire in their direction. The blaze is thought to be threatening Upwey, Tecoma, Belgrave Heights, Belgrave South and Belgrave.
Students at Belgrave Heights Christian School were evacuated this afternoon as the fire came within 4 km of the school. Residents in the communities of Warburton and Yarram have also fled their homes as the fire approaches.
Daylesford may also come under threat, with a bushfire burning to the south of the town. The fire may cause a threat to the communities of Bullarto, Bullarto South, Leonards Hill, Musk, Woodburn and Newbury.
The huge Kilmore East fire (80 000 hectares) is moving ever closer to Warburton, while the Murrindindi North fire (155 000 hectares) is burning to the west of Enoch Point.
Another fire (19 000 hectares) is still burning out of control in the Wilsons Promontory National Park and small communities in the area are preparing for worsening fire conditions.
Current Updates and Advice on the fires can be found at the CFA web site:
The full list of fires (and there are dozens) can be found at:
BELOW: Footage from the National Day of Mourning Service