Land owner falsely charges young man with illicit sex, calls villagers to beat, burn him.
SARGODHA, Pakistan, October 29 (CDN) — A Muslim land owner in Pakistan this month subjected a 25-year-old Christian to burns and a series of humiliations, including falsely charging him with having sex with his own niece, because the Christian refused to work for him without pay.
Fayaz Masih is in jail with burns on his body after No. 115 Chitraan Wala village head Zafar Iqbal Ghuman and other villagers punished Masih for refusing to work as a slave in his fields, said the Rev. Yaqub Masih, a Pentecostal evangelist. The village is located in Nankana Sahib district, Punjab Province.
Sources said neither Fayaz Masih nor his family had taken any loans from Ghuman, and that they had no obligations to work off any debt for Ghuman as bonded laborers.
Yaqub Masih said the young man’s refusal to work in Ghuman’s fields infuriated the Muslim, who was accustomed to forcing Christians into slavery. He said Ghuman considered Masih’s refusal an act of disobedience by a “choohra,” the pejorative word for Christians in Pakistan.
On Oct. 3 Ghuman and 11 of his men abducted Masih from his home at gun-point and brought him to Ghuman’s farmhouse, according to Yaqub Masih and Yousaf Gill, both of nearby village No. 118 Chour Muslim. Gill is a former councilor of Union Council No. 30, and Yaqub Masih is an ordained pastor waiting for his denomination to assign him a church.
Fayaz Masih’s family members told Yaqub Masih that Ghuman was carrying a pistol, and that the 11 other men were brandishing rifles or carrying clubs, axes and bamboo sticks. They began beating Masih as they carried him away, calling him a choohra, Yaqub Masih said.
Gill said that Ghuman’s farmhands tied Fayaz Masih’s hands and legs and asked him once more if he would work in Ghuman’s fields. When he again refused, Gill said, Ghuman summoned four barbers; three ran away, but he forced one, Muhammad Pervaiz, to shave Masih’s head, eyebrows, half of his mustache and half of his beard.
After they had rubbed charcoal on Masih’s face, Ghuman then announced that Masih had had relations with Masih’s 18-year-old niece, Sumeera, and called for everyone in the village to punish him. He and his men placed Masih on a frail, one-eyed donkey, Yaqub Masih and Gill said, and a mob of Muslim men and children surrounded him – beating tins, dancing and singing door-to-door while shouting anti-Christian slogans, yelling obscenities at him and other Christians, and encouraging villagers to beat him with their shoes and fill his mouth with human waste, Yaqub Masih said.
Some threw kerosene on Masih and alternately set him on fire and extinguished the flames, Gill said. He added that Muslims made a garland of old shoes from a pile of garbage and put it around Masih’s neck.
Yaqub Masih said the abuse became unbearable for the young man, and he collapsed and fell off the donkey.
Police Ignore Court
Masih’s sister, Seema Bibi, told Compass that the accusation that Masih had had sex with her daughter Sumeera was utterly false. She said Ghuman made the allegation only to vent his fury at Masih for refusing to work for him.
Seema Bibi said that Ghuman told her daughter at gun-point to testify against Masih in court on Oct. 4. Sumeera surprised the Muslim land owner, however, saying under oath that Masih was innocent and that Ghuman had tried to force her to testify against her uncle. A judge ruled that Sumeera had not had illicit relations with Masih, and that therefore she was free to go home.
Her mother told Compass, however, that since then Ghuman has been issuing daily death threats to her family.
After Masih collapsed from the abuse, Yaqub Masih and Gill called local police. Police did not arrive until three hours later, at 3:30 p.m., they said, led by Deputy Superintendent of Police Shoiab Ahmed Kamboh and Inspector Muhammad Yaqub.
“They rebuked the Muslim villagers that they could have killed this Christian youth, and they told them to give him a bath at once and change his clothes, in order to reduce the evidence against them,” Gill said.
Family members of Masih said Kamboh and Inspector Yaqub arrested some of the leading figures within the mob, but soon thereafter they received a call to release every Muslim.
“Instead of taking the Muslim men into custody, they detained my brother, and he was taken to the police station,” Seema Bibi said.
On Oct. 4 police sent Masih to District Headquarters Hospital Nankana Sahib for examination, where Dr. Naseer Ahmed directed Dr. Muhammad Shakeel to mention in the medical report how severely Ghuman and his farmhands had beaten him, Gill said. He said the medical report also stated that Masih had sustained burns and that his head, mustache, eyebrows and beard were shaved.
In spite of the court ruling that Masih had not had sex with his niece, police were coerced into registering a false charge of adultery under Article 376 of the Islamic statutes of the Pakistan Penal Code, First Information Report No. 361/10, at the Sangla Hill police station.
At press time Masih remained in Shiekhupura District Jail, said Gill. Gill also has received death threats from Ghuman, he said.
The 11 men who along with Ghuman abducted Masih and brought him to Ghuman’s farmhouse, according to Masih’s family, were Mehdi Hussain Shah and Maqsood Shah, armed with rifles; Muhammad Amin, Rana Saeed, Muhammad Osama and four others unidentified, all of them brandishing clubs; Muhammad Waqas, with an axe; and Ali Raza, bearing a bamboo stick and a club.
Report from Compass Direct News
Due to legislative innovations and ensuing bureaucratic obstacles many religious communities in Azerbaijan failed to re-register within the prescribed period before January 1, 2010, reports The Institute of Religious Freedom. As a result, most of them have been banned from conducting any of the religious activities and threatened with liquidation the status of “juridical entity”, said the Institute of Religious Freedom, Kyiv based on the documents obtained from city Baku.
According to the IRF, the official refusal to renew the registration in order to comply with the new edition of the Azerbaijani “Law on Religion” was issued to the “Nehemiah” Church, "Cathedral of Praise” Church in Baku as well as the Seventh Day Adventists, Baptist and Pentecostal Churches in Azerbaijan.
The biggest obstacle to religious freedom in Azerbaijan became the new procedure of state registration of religious communities. The amendments into the Law made it overly cumbersome and now it consists of more requirements to the founders, than ever before. From now on a religious community must submit a certificate of the date of its occurrence, information about religious education and relations toward secular education.
Moreover, it is prohibited for a religious community to use for its official registration a personal address of a believer. Legislative changes have also limited a congregation’s activity to only the territory where it is officially registered.
However under Article 12 of the Azerbaijani “Law on Religion” religious communities can conduct their activities only at the legal address. Such a rule is often used by the State Committee of Azerbaijan on Relations with Religious Organizations to prohibit a church to perform it’s activity in leased premises. As a result, the religious communities which do not own premises for worship remained outside the law.
A striking example of infringement of religious freedom in Azerbaijan on the basis of the new “Law on Religion” is the situation with the "Cathedral of Praise" Evangelical Church in city Baku.
This religious community provided all the necessary documents for re-registration in time. However in May 2010 it received a copy of an official refusal adopted by the State Committee two months ago. Other Christian Protestant communities also faced similar situation.
The "Cathedral of Praise" Evangelical Church was the first one to object and file an appeal against the refusal of registration in the judiciary. However, representatives of the authorities referred to the formal inconsistency of information about the founders of the community with the data submitted during the initial registration in 2001. On the 30th of July to the utmost surprise of believers, their appeal was turned down. In spite of the complete absence of the necessary documentary evidences the court supported the position of the authorities.
Following on January 2010 the place where the "Cathedral of Praise" Church in Baku worshiped was completely destroyed by fire.
Prior to this in the end of 2008, the building of the Protestant community which was purchased by the believers was confiscated. This happened without any compensation and as a result of a rather questionable trial in favor of the local oil refinery “Azerneftyag”.
The "Cathedral of Praise" Evangelical Church was founded in Baku in 1994 and currently has about 1000 members. At the same time according to official data the majority of Azerbaijan’s population confesses Shia Islam along with its other developments.
In February 2010, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) noted the deteriorating situation in Azerbaijan during the past five years. These legislative changes, hastily adopted in Azerbaijan in May 2009, were particularly alarming for experts and defenders.
Report from the Christian Telegraph
Youths smash walls, rant against evangelist for building home for worship services.
HO CHI MINH CITY, July 23 (CDN) — A gang of youths on Sunday (July 18) attacked a house church as the congregation worshiped in Xi Thoai village in Phu Yen Province on Vietnam’s south central coast, Christian sources said.
The local youths smashed the walls of the home and wreaked havoc within as they railed against evangelist Mang Vuong for being a Christian and for building his home to be a house church, the sources said. The sources noted that on the night of June 10 the same youths, spurred by local authorities, broke into Vuong’s home in Xuan Lanh Commune, Dong Xuan district, stole more than $3,000 and destroyed household furnishings, utensils and books.
Since then this same gang of local youths has been harassing and threatening Vuong, sources said. The pastor reported death threats.
Vuong, of the Hroi ethnic minority, is a worker for the Evangelical Church of Vietnam (South), or ECVN(S), Vietnam’s largest government-registered denomination. When the Hroi church at Soi Nga some six kilometers (nearly four miles) away became full, leaders decided to start a congregation in Xi Thoai village where a number of Hroi Christians lived.
In Vietnam, a common approach for church expansion is to build a roomy home for an evangelist to serve also as a meeting place. The evangelist’s house in Xi Thoai was nearly completed when it was first attacked last month.
According to a petition the evangelist sent to commune, district and provincial officials on June 12, it was village officials who assembled young people for a meeting on June 9 and plied them with liquor. Very late at night the youths, including several sons of commune officials, attacked the evangelist’s house.
The petition blames village Chief La Mo Duc, Deputy Chief Le Minh Dien and others for inciting the young people. These two officials are also the local Communist Party leaders.
The gang stole 60 million dong (US$3,091), which had just been borrowed to pay the house contractor, according to the petition. They burned Christian books and either stole or destroyed everything else in the house, including new building materials and the contractor’s tools.
Police from local to provincial levels came to the area several times to “investigate,” visits that village Christians said were attempts to identify the Christians in the village. In the next six weeks, sources said, authorities did nothing to address the crime, and local officials did nothing to stop the daylight raid on Sunday (July 18).
“There was no other reason for this – it is religious persecution, pure and simple, incited and allowed by local government officials,” said one prominent ECVN(S) leader. “The inaction of higher officials casts into doubt our country’s claim to uphold religious freedom.”
A provincial ECVN(S) leader, Pastor Vo Thanh Phe, said that for six weeks he had been urging local and provincial officials to take action, without success. Recently a top national leader of the ECVN(S) visited the village to encourage the beleaguered evangelist and Christians. He informed the provincial ECVN(S) leaders that, having personally verified the facts, he would petition the prime minister.
A source said the ECVN(S) leader needed to make the personal visit as it was assumed that the government had tapped the phones of the local Christians.
Christian groups in Vietnam have found that such petitions rarely accomplish anything. Sources said often the petitions are simply referred back down to local officials, who make life harder on those who have complained.
Phu Yen Province has been the site of other recent abuses. Two ethnic minority Ede evangelists, Y Co and Y Du of the unregistered Vietnam Good News Mission Church, were arrested in January and remain in Phu Lam Prison without charge or trial. This is contrary to Vietnamese law (see http://www.compassdirect.org, “Vietnamese Christian, Family Forced into Hiding,” April 1).
Their wives reported that officials told them their husbands would be freed if the prisoners renounced their faith.
A government seminar in May on national religion policy in Phu Yen Province has apparently had little effect on some local officials.
U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, visiting Hanoi on the occasion of the 15th anniversary of the normalization of US-Vietnam relations, raised the issue of human rights and religious freedom with Vietnam’s leaders yesterday (July 22). She had been pressed by human rights groups and U.S. lawmakers to raise the cases of jailed democracy and religious rights activists with Vietnam.
Clinton said the U.S. side wanted to work with Vietnam “to support efforts to pursue reforms and protect basic rights and freedoms,” The Associated Press reported yesterday. When the sensitive subject of human rights came up, Vietnam Foreign Minister Pham Gia Khiem described it simply as “a difference between Vietnam and the U.S.”
“Since Vietnam achieved its goal of obtaining U.S. trade privileges in 2006 and acceded to the World Trade Organization in 2007, it has hardened its treatment of democracy, rights and religious freedom activists,” said one long-time observer. “Some keen observers of the Vietnam scene do not foresee any positive changes in Vietnam’s human rights record at least until after next January’s five-yearly Communist Party Congress. In preparation for the congress, for which all major decisions are made in advance, no party factions can be seen to be weak on perceived threats to the revolution.”
Report from Compass Direct News
Death threats, ultimatum from powerful Muslims compel father of 12-year-old to move.
GUJRANWALA, Pakistan, May 25 (CDN) — A Christian who accused a Muslim of raping his 12-year-old daughter has fled his town in Punjab Province with his family following death threats and police pressure to drop the case.
Citing “continuous threats” to take his life, Zafar Masih left Gujranwala’s predominantly Muslim town of Nai Abadi Tatlay Aali within 10 days of accusing Ali Ahmed, a 28-year-old businessman, of beating and raping his daughter on May 12.
His daughter, whose name was withheld, told Compass that her employer, Ahmed, beat and raped her when she went to his home, where she worked as a house servant. When she arrived she was surprised to find him at home in his room, she said.
“He grabbed my hair and asked me to sleep with him,” she said, amid tears. “I refused to let him have sexual relations with me, which enraged him.”
Her body marred with bruises, she said he tore her clothes and she screamed, but no one else was in the home to hear her.
“Ali Ahmed overpowered me, and all my efforts were futile even though I strained with all my energy to stop him,” she said. “After getting stigmatized, I was threatened with dire consequences and the slaying of my whole family if I told about the rape.”
The oldest of four children, she fled the house and immediately sent her younger brother to call her father, who was working in a nearby field, she said.
Masih, her father, said he immediately went to Tatlay Aali police station and submitted an application to file a First Information Report against Ahmed. Station House Officer Inspector Iqbal Ojjhra refused, he said, and began to pressure him to withdraw the application.
A powerful local politician along with the area’s largest land owner, Imtiyaz Kharral, have since threatened to maim or kill him, Masih said.
“I declined to withdraw my application, though I was being immensely pressured by both the leading Muslim men,” Masih said. “And Inspector Ojjhra had a new alibi every day for not registering the case.”
Inspector Ojjhra denied all allegations against him. He told Compass that he declined to register a rape case because he did not want to harm the Christian girl’s dignity, so instead he had recommended trying to resolve the conflict in a public gathering or “punchayat.”
Arif Masih, a Nai Abadi Tatlay Aali representative for local Christians, told Compass that the next evening, May 13, Kharral called a meeting at his farmhouse with Inspector Ojjhra, local Muslims and a contingent of police officers. Also summoned were Zafar Masih and his children, Arif Masih and the other Christian families of the town.
“At Imtiyaz Kharral’s farmhouse gathering, none of the Christians were allowed to speak or express their opinion,” said Arif Masih, who said the wealthy land owner considered himself the head of the town. “Even I being representative of the Christians was not allowed to speak for [Zafar Masih’s daughter] or put forward the demands of the Christians.”
Only Kharral spoke, saying that there were only two options – Zafar Masih could withdraw his rape charge, or he and the other Christian families in Nai Abadi Tatlay Aali could relocate elsewhere.
“He ignored the fact that the girl would have to live her whole life with this irrecoverable loss and stigma,” Arif Masih said. “I was totally helpless in this showdown, because Imtiyaz Kharral and Ali Ahmed have the favor of the local police head, Iqbal Ojjhra.”
Khalid Gill, chairman of the Christian Lawyers Foundation (CLF), condemned the dismissive police attitude toward marginalized Christians. He suggested that the chief justice of the Lahore High Court take suo moto action against the suspect, his associates and police officers as responsible for mental anguish of the area Christians.
Tahir Naveed Chaudhary, a Christian member of Punjab’s legislative assembly, also denounced the alleged rape and pledged to extend legal and financial support to the family of Zafar Masih.
Most of the area Christians are construction laborers, sanitation workers and domestic servants working for daily wages. Zafar Masih said he could not afford to educate his children because he was living close to poverty level.
“My eldest daughter worked as a maidservant for a monthly salary of 500 rupees [less than US$6] to lend a hand,” he said. “We Christians in Pakistan have no life even dogs live better life than us.”
Report from Compass Direct News
Hostilities common in area in Bihar state; victim had been part of team attacked in 2008.
NEW DELHI, May 11 (CDN) — The gruesome nature of the May 2 murder of an evangelist in Bihar state who had no enmity with anyone has led area Christians to suspect anti-Christian motives.
The mutilated body of Ravi Murmu, 32, was found in Jamalpur, Munger district, with the right hand nearly severed by means of a sharp weapon, and the jaw and neck were similarly slashed.
“Efforts were made to chop off his hand and neck, trying to separate it from his body,” Shekhar Kumar, a member of his church, told Compass.
Police are investigating but have made no arrests so far.
“All his belongings were intact, which included his motorbike, Bible, cell phone, wristwatch and some cash,” Murmu’s brother-in-law, Shiv Kumar, told Compass. “This seems to be a planned murder. That is why Ravi was targeted when he was alone. To me the motive seems to be anti-Christian.”
Murmu’s pastor, Yunus Mandal of Bethel Brethren Assembly in Jamalpur, agreed.
“The intention behind the murder evidently is not robbery,” Mandal said. “I am suspicious that Hindu fundamentalists have done this, but this could also be the handiwork of the Naxalites [Maoist rebels].”
Kumar and Murmu’s widow, Rinku Murmu, both said the evangelist had no enmity with anyone, and that anti-Christian sentiment was the only motive they could surmise.
Murmu was returning from showing a film about the life of Jesus, “Dayasagar,” in nearby Lakshmanpur. He had accompanied a team of seven evangelists showing the film but was alone when attacked. The murder is estimated to have taken place between 9:30 and 10 p.m.
He is survived by his wife, 8-year-old daughter Celesty and his widowed mother.
Pastor Mandal’s wife, Mary Mandal, said anti-Christian hostilities are common in the area but did not reach Murmu.
“It is 32 years that my husband is ministering in Jamalpur, and he has faced threats day in and day out,” she told Compass. “But we never imagined such a thing would happen to Ravi.”
About a year and half ago, however, Murmu was attacked along with others in another part of the state, Pastor Mandal said.
“Ravi Murmu, myself and a team of 10 Christians were visiting the Newada area of Bihar, about 160 kilometers [99 miles] from Jamalpur, for the purpose of preaching the gospel,” he said. “There we were attacked by about 15 members of the [Hindu extremist] Bajrang Dal.”
In the assault Pastor Mandal suffered serious injury to his eye, which bled profusely, he said.
“Ravi at that time was also beaten up and sustained injuries on the face and to his teeth,” he said. “They would have killed us, but they found money in our possession worth about 180 U.S. dollars, and so they looted it and fled.”
In 2008, he added, members of the local Hindu student union protested when a family decided to follow Christ after a healing through prayer. But overall, Murmu had amicable relations with everyone, he said.
“Ravi was a very open-hearted, kind, honest, balanced and sensible human being,” Pastor Mandal said. “He was a pearl of our assembly. The loss is immense.”
Police detained two people in connection with the murder but later let them go.
Church members requested that Compass not speak with local police, fearing that resentful officers would further antagonize them; already police have asked pointed questions of the seven others on the evangelism team and of Murmu’s widow, as well as searching their homes, they said.
An autopsy was performed on May 3, but the report has not yet been submitted to police or handed over to the family members, they said.
Rinku Murmu said she and her husband were to celebrate their 11th wedding anniversary on June 23.
She told Compass that her husband had preached Christ in Lakshmanpur for two years.
“He left home as usual but had informed me that he would come home late, as they had plans to show the film about Jesus to the villagers,” she said. “The next morning at 6 o’ clock, someone came home to inform me that a mutilated body has been found and that I should go and identify it. I could not believe it, and I took Pastor Mandal along with me.”
Murmu’s body was found on Margret road, East Colony area of Lakshmanpur, about four kilometers (less than two miles) from his house. One leg was stuck under the motorcycle.
“He was killed ruthlessly,” said Pastor Mandal.
Shekhar Kumar, who was one of the seven team members showing the film that day, told Compass that they had publicized the film for nearly 10 days and had also invited surrounding villagers.
“About 150 to 200 people had gathered to watch the film – there were Christians as well as Hindus,” Kumar said. “The generator broke down in the middle of the film, and even after many efforts we could not repair it.”
The team announced to the gathering that the rest of the film would be continued the next day, and they went home.
“The road divides at one point – one part goes towards Ravi and Pastor Mandal’s house, and the other goes toward Choti Keshavpur village, where the six of us live,” Kumar said. “Departing at that point, we said goodbye to Ravi, and he went alone on that deserted road. It was around 9:30 p.m. at that time.”
Pastor Mandal, who had returned earlier, had taken the same road half an hour ahead of Murmu, he added.
Murmu’s wife told police that she had called her husband’s cell phone at 10 p.m. from a neighbor’s house and he did not answer the call, so police estimated the murder to have taken place between 9:30 and 10 p.m.
“I pray that God would change the hearts of those who have done this,” Rinku Murmu said. “My prayer is that one day they too would carry the cross of Christ and share the Good News.”
Report from Compass Direct News
Government unduly seals shut one church building, Islamic mob forces halt to another.
JAKARTA, Indonesia, March 25 (CDN) — An Islamic mob stopped construction of Santa Maria Immaculata Catholic Church in Citra Garden, West Jakarta earlier this month even as government officials in Yasmin Park, Bogor, West Java halted work on an Indonesian Christian Church (GKI) building.
On March 12, the same day GKI faced closure from government officials, protestors led by the United Islam Forum (FUIB) blockaded the entrance to Citra Garden, demanding that construction of the Catholic church building there cease. They based their demand on the claim that it did not have the approval of the local citizens, but the church had official permission and therefore has been under construction for several weeks.
The building permit was posted in plain view, but the Islamic protestors said they felt that not all citizens had agreed to allow the building.
The Rev. Peter Kurniawan Subagyo of Santa Maria Immaculata said the church belonged to the parochial district of Cengkareng, but that the district became so large (20,000 people) that a separate parish needed to be established. The church had found an 8,000-square- meter lot in Citra Garden.
The building permit was processed normally, and all necessary citizen signatures were secured, he said. The Jakarta provincial government approved the permit, which was formally published in state-owned media on Jan. 18.
Shortly after approval of the building permit, the church building committee went to work. Construction had been under way for only a few weeks before Islamic crowds began demonstrating in the name of the local citizens.
Church leader Albertus Suriata said the congregation never has had problems with local people.
“We have had good relations,” Suriata told Compass. “I don’t think that anyone near the church had objections. We suspect outsiders.”
He said that the church had attempted to resolve the problems posed by the protestors through a number of informal channels.
“We had just begun to build,” he said. “Do we have to stop just because of demonstrations? Besides, we have official permission from the government.”
SealedIn West Java, Bogor city police on March 12 sealed the construction site of the Yasmin Park Indonesian Christian Church. Previously the Bogor city government had revoked the church building permit, claiming that the congregation created “uneasiness” among local people.
Sources said the permit revocation and closure were the direct result of pressure from organizations such as the Muslim Communication Forum of Indonesia (FORKAMI), Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia, and the Muslim Lawyers’ Team (TPM), which had repeatedly called for a halt to church construction.
Chief Abdul Rahman of the Bogor police said he sealed the building site on instructions from Area Secretary Bambang Gunawan.
“We followed the instructions of the Bogor Area Secretary and sealed the church,” Rahman told Compass.
The Bogor city government’s claim that the church caused “uneasiness” among the local people is false, said a source who requested anonymity. The source said the Bogor city government came under pressure from several Muslim organizations to revoke the building permit, and that in fact Yasmin Park residents had no objection to a church in their midst.
“Relations between the church and the residents were always good,” the source said.
Ayu Augustina, leader of Muslim Communication Forum of Indonesia in Bogor, was resolute in his opposition.
“We intend to continue meeting – we will pursue this matter to the end,” he told Compass. “The church must be sealed.”
GKI spokesperson Ujang Sujai said that the church is working to arrange a meeting between the Area Secretary Gunawan and Yasmin Park residents said to be opposed to the building.
Report from Compass Direct News
Judge rules Iranian convert from Islam requires protection from persecutors.
NAIROBI, Kenya, March 15 (CDN) — Mohammad Azbari, a Christian convert from Islam who has fled to Kenya, knows what it’s like to be deported back to his native Iran.
When it happened in 2007, he said, Iranian authorities pressured the government of Norway to return him and his wife Gelanie Azbari to Iran after hearing rumors that he had forsaken Islam.
“When we arrived in Iran, we were interrogated by security and severely beaten,” he told Compass in Nairobi, where he and his family fought to persuade the Kenyan government to decline Iran’s demand to deport him back. “My son got scared and began urinating on himself.”
A cousin managed to secure their release, but not before Iranian authorities had taken valuable – and incriminating – possessions.
“They took everything that I had – laptop, camera and some of my valuables which contained all my details, such as information concerning my baptism, and my entire profile, including that of my family,” Azbari said.
Azbari had been employed in the Iranian army before fleeing, he said, and authorities were monitoring his movements because they were concerned that, having left Islam, he might betray his country and reveal government secrets.
When he and his Christian wife, a native of the Philippines, first fled Iran in 2000, he was still a Shia Muslim. The previous year authorities had arrested his wife after finding a Christmas tree in their house in Tehran; Azbari was not home at the time and thus escaped arrest, but as authorities took his wife away they left their then 3-year-old son unattended.
“I was put in a small cell for two days,” Gelanie Azbari told Compass, through tears. “While in the cell two police guards raped me. It was the worst of all the nights I have had in my lifetime. Since that time I have been sick both physically and mentally.”
Authorities soon took her husband in for interrogation, suspecting he was a spy for foreign states.
Still a Muslim, Azbari allowed his wife to follow her Christian faith. He had grown accustomed to watching her pray as a Christian and watch the Jesus Film. As time went by, he developed an urge to embrace Christianity. They started reading the Bible together.
The idea of trusting in and following Christ filled him with fear, as it was against the law to convert from Islam – it would mean losing his life, he said.
“I started questioning our leaders, who see themselves as God,” he said. “The claim of Jesus as the prophet as well as the Word and spirit of God is indicated in the Quran. When I read in the Gospels of Jesus giving people rest, it made me want to decide to accept him as my Lord and Savior.”
Sensing danger, the family fled to the Netherlands in 2000, and it was there that Azbari embraced Christianity. In 2003 the family left the Netherlands for Norway.
Azbari was an avid student of his new-found Lord; while in Norway, he became seminary teacher of Christology.
Throughout, Azbari said, the Iranian government had been monitoring his movements. In 2007 Iranian officials persuaded the Norwegian government to send him, together with his wife and son Reza Azbari, back to Iran.
After their interrogation and mistreatment upon arrival in Iran, Azbari managed to call his sister, who connected him with the army general cousin who helped secure their release. His sister took them in, but his brother in-law was not happy with their Christian prayers; he began quarreling with his wife, Azbari’s sister.
“They began looking for trouble for us,” Azbari said. “Sensing danger, we then left the home and went to find a place to stay. Everywhere we tried to book in we were rejected, since we were people who had been deported.”
They began attending a church made up primarily of foreigners, where Azbari’s wife and son felt more at home than he did. His army general cousin found out and, angry that they had sought refuge in a church after he had secured their release, grew furious.
“He was very angry, as they had also discovered this information from the laptop they had confiscated and threatened that I should be arrested,” Azbari said. “I then decided to move to central Iran to look for employment, leaving my family behind.”
The couple felt they could not go to Gelanie Azbari’s homeland as the Philippines has such friendly relations with Iran, he said.
“To go back to Philippines or Iran is quite unsafe for us,” Azbari said.
In October 2009, his sister notified him that police were looking for him and his family.
“I then decided to flee the country through Turkey, then to Kenya where I was arrested and then deported to Turkey,” Azbari said. “In Turkey they could not allow me to enter the country, hence I was returned to Kenya.”
They were arrested in January for illegal entry into Kenya. On March 4, a judge at Chief Magistrate Court No. 3 of Kenya dropped the charges against him, declaring that Azbari required international protection from his persecutors. The court also directed that Azbari be given back all his documents and the 10,000 Kenyan Shillings ($US130) in bail he had deposited.
They had applied for asylum with the United Nations. Appearing before the court on behalf of Azbari on Jan. 15, a representative of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees had argued that he deserved asylum because his religious status had forced him to flee from his country of origin. On March 4 the court found that Azbari and his family require international protection under Section 82 of the laws of Kenya, and he was set free.
“We have witnessed the love of God and the sacrifices of what it means to love one in word and deed,” Azbari said moments after the decision. “We saw the love of Christ from the people who understood and stood with us.”
He thanked friends who introduced his family to Nairobi Pentecostal Church, which provided them spiritual strength. Three attorneys represented Azbari: Wasia Masitsa, a legal officer for the Urban Refugee Intervention Program; Christian lawyer John Swaka; and Laban Osoro of the United Nations. Rene Kiamba of the International Christian Chamber of Commerce had helped him post bail.
Report from Compass Direct News