One person dead in explosions that end classes for students this semester.
ISTANBUL, May 5 (CDN) — At least 50 Iraqi Christian students are receiving hospital treatment following a bomb attack on Sunday (May 2) outside Mosul that killed at least one person and has forced nearly 1,000 students to drop classes for the rest of the semester.
Nearly 160 people were injured in the blasts targeting three buses full of Christians traveling to the University of Mosul for classes. The convoy of buses, which brings Christian students from villages east of Mosul, was making its daily route accompanied by two Iraqi army cars.
“This is the hardest attack, because they attacked not only one car, but the whole convoy and in an area that is heavily guarded by the army,” said Syrian Catholic Bishop of Mosul Georges Casmoussa.
The explosions happened east of Mosul between two checkpoints. A roadside bomb followed by a car bomb reportedly exploded as the buses were clearing the second checkpoint in the area of Kokjaly. The checkpoint was staffed by U.S., Iraqi and Iraqi Kurdish soldiers.
The owner of a nearby car repair shop, Radeef Hashim Mahrook, was killed in one of the blasts as he tried to help the students, sources said.
Sources told Compass that lately there have been indications that Islamic extremists intend to increase attacks against Christians in more sophisticated and targeted ways. There were no warnings of the Sunday blasts.
Nearly 20 of the more seriously injured students are receiving treatment in Erbil, capital of the semi-autonomous Kurdish region. Casmoussa said the Turkish Consulate and the Kurdish Regional Government have offered to transfer students needing more medical care to Turkey.
“Some of them were severely injured in the face, arms, necks or eyes,” said Casmoussa. “Now the Turkish consulate and the government of Kurdistan offer us to bring the most injured to Turkey to continue the care.”
Many of Mosul’s Christians have fled the city after repeated violence targeting them and live in the villages east of the city. The students on Sunday’s convoy were from Qaraqosh, Karamless and Bartella, located nearly 32 kilometers (20 miles) away.
Over 1,000 Christian students, most belonging to internally displaced families, and about 100 university faculty and staff members commute to Mosul every week in buses belonging to the Syrian Catholic Bishopric. About 15 buses served the internally displaced Christian community daily.
“The project of transportation of students will be stopped,” said Casmoussa. “We can’t continue now.”
While the church has focused on dealing with immediate medical needs, the bishop said the church simply could not take the responsibility of transporting students after such a calculated and fierce attack.
“The chief of army offered to help us again, but it is impossible,” said Casmoussa. “They were with us every day…yet this is the result. We don’t have another solution now.”
Last February, after attacks against Christians left three university students dead, the Chaldo-Assyrian Student and Youth Union proposed that the Ministry of Education open a new university in a safer area on the Nineveh plains. Nearly 3,000 Christian undergraduate students and 250 graduate students are studying in Mosul.
Casmoussa said the Christian community is hoping the University of Mosul will help Christian students who are unwilling to commute to Mosul by sending faculty members to hold semester-end examinations in Qaraqosh.
“This is [an attack] against all the Christian people,” said Casmoussa. “Our culture is immense capital for the future to build our lives, not just to have bread to eat and continue life without any sense.”
Due to the violence against Christians in Mosul, Casmoussa relocated to the village of Qaraqosh three years ago, and commutes into the city to serve his diocese. On Jan. 17, 2005 gunmen abducted him and released him the next day.
Sunni Muslim insurgents have frequently targeted members of Iraq’s Christian minority, especially in Mosul. Iraq’s current government is Shiite-led.
Report from Compass Direct News
Authorities allegedly kill young man in custody on contrived charge of desecrating Quran.
LAHORE, Pakistan, September 17 (CDN) — At a funeral for a Christian man allegedly tortured to death while in custody on a spurious charge of blaspheming the Quran, police in Sialkot, Pakistan yesterday fired on mourners trying to move the coffin to another site.
Area Christians suspect police killed 22-year-old Robert Danish, nicknamed “Fanish” or “Falish” by friends, by torturing him to death on Tuesday (Sept. 15) after the mother of his Muslim girlfriend contrived a charge against him of desecrating Islam’s scripture. The allegation led to calls from mosque loudspeakers to punish Christians, prompting an Islamic mob to attack a church building in Jathikai village on Friday (Sept. 11) and beat several of the 30 families forced to flee their homes.
Jathikai was Danish’s native village, and some family members and other Christians wished to transfer his coffin to his hometown. Eyewitnesses at the funeral in Christian Town, Sialkot, said police fired shots directly at the Christians, injuring three, when mourners began to move the coffin toward nearby Jathikai. Mourners fled.
Sialkot is 125 kilometers (78 miles) northwest of Lahore in Punjab Province.
Controversy swirled around the cause of Danish’s death, with Christians refusing to accept police claims that he committed suicide. Results of forensic tests are expected within a week.
The dark moment for Danish’s family grew gloomier yesterday when police seemed to be seeking the first excuse for heavy-handed tactics at the funeral attended by hundreds of people, Christian sources said. When the family and other Christians tried to take the coffin to his hometown of Jathikai, police fired on them, charged them with batons and snatched the body from them, Christian sources said.
Eyewitness Sajawal Masih told Compass that as soon as mourners lifted the coffin, police began firing tear gas.
“We were running when police opened fire and one bullet went through my foot, and two others also were injured,” he said.
There were reports of Christian youths pelting officers with stones, and police reportedly said that they needed to rush the crowd and make arrests to prevent “further disturbances.”
On Tuesday night (Sept. 15), Danish’s survivors and other Christians had decided that the body would be buried in Christian Town because of the dangers of potential attack in Jathikai, according to Christian Town Councilor Tanveer Saqib. Saqib said that the funeral was to be held at 10 a.m. on Wednesday (Sept. 16) at the Christian Technical Institute (CTI) Ground in Christian Town, Sialkot city.
Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) Member of National Assembly (MNA) Akram Gill said that when he and several youths took the body from the CTI Ground and began heading toward Jathikai village, police began firing. Gill told Compass that police opened fire on them as well as the crowd, injuring three Christians.
Gill, a Christian, added that police also shot tear gas, and that officers arrested about 100 Christians. The national assembly member said police arrested him and took Danish’s body to the Christian Town Graveyard in Sialkot. In spite of the tear gas, Gill said, he and others went to the graveyard but encountered armed police who also fired tear gas, turning them back.
For three hours, Gill said, Criminal Investigation Department police detained him, and although he was released, police arrested PML-Q Member of Provincial Assembly (MPA) Shehzad Elahi and his whereabouts were still unknown. He said that whenever Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) members come into power in the province, problems for Christians multiply.
Cause of Death
How Danish died remained unclear. Allama Iqbal Hospital Deputy Medical Superintendent Sajid Hussein told Compass that on Danish’s body there was a large welt on the back of the neck and “marks on the legs and back.” He said it was too soon to determine cause of death but that police had pronounced it a suicide.
Tissues taken from the body have been sent to Lahore for chemical and histopathology tests. He said these tests would indicate how the wounds were made, including whether they were inflicted after death.
“The report of these tests would come within a week, and I would inform the media of its findings,” he said. “I cannot comment on whether he committed suicide or not, as the matter is before the court.”
There were unconfirmed reports that state officials were pressuring doctors at Allama Iqbal Hospital to declare Danish’s death a suicide; Hussein denied these statements, telling Compass that they were “mere rumors.”
Hussein said that two Christian doctors, one from Bethania Hospital and the medical superintendent of Jalalpur Jattan Mission Hospital, were allowed to observe the autopsy. Christian Town Councilor Tanveer Saqib said that after the autopsy, the two Christian doctors came out and told media in front of thousands of Christians that Danish had been tortured to death.
Saqib said Danish’s father received the body and, accompanied by thousands of Christians, took it to Baithania Mission Hospital. The procession was so big that it took nearly four hours, though the route was not far.
Over the weekend Danish’s father had been unduly arrested, and upon his release a station house officer told Danish’s uncle, Saleem Masih, that even though Danish’s father was being released, Danish never would be. Saleem Masih told Compass that Danish’s father went back to his jailed son and told him, “My son, we have been trying our best to save you, but it doesn’t seem we will succeed. I think it is the last time I’m seeing you, so I commit you in the Lord’s hands.”
Councilor Saqib said that a Christian constable posted at the Sialkot District Jail told him that he saw Danish in the jail at around 7 a.m. and that he appeared unharmed. At about 10 a.m., however, jail administrators called important figures in the Christian community and told them that Danish had committed suicide, Saqib said.
Danish’s body was taken to a trauma center for a CT scan, he said, then to Riffat Idrees Hospital for an MRI.
“Along with the body were two Christian doctors – Dr. Tariq Malik and Dr. Qammar Sohail – and we were confident that they would tell the facts,” he said, adding that Malik had all medical reports of these tests.
The Punjab provincial government has ordered an investigation into the death, and three prison officials have reportedly been suspended.
A paternal cousin of Danish identified only as Parveen confirmed reports that the conflict grew out of a romantic relationship between Danish and Hina Asghar, a young Muslim woman. She said Danish and Asghar were neighbors and had been seeing each other for three or four years.
On the night of Sept. 10, Parveen told Compass, Danish and Asghar met on the roof, angering the young Muslim’s mother. Early the next morning, Asghar’s mother spoke of the affair with the wife of local Muslim cleric identified only as Amanullah; the cleric’s wife in turn warned Asghar that both she and Danish could lose their lives if the relationship continued, Parveen said.
When Danish met Asghar on the road the next morning, Parveen said, the young Muslim woman refused to talk to him but tried to hand him a letter explaining the warning she had received. Upset, Danish batted her hand away as she was trying to give him the letter.
“Because he pushed her hand with a jerk, supara 21 [a section of the Quran larger than a sura, or chapter] fell from her hand and dropped onto a nearby sewage stream and got smeared with garbage,” Parveen said.
Saleem Masih, Danish’s uncle, questions that what fell from Asghar’s hand was a part of the Quran. He told Compass that Asghar was trying to give Danish a green-colored diary that only looked like the similarly green-covered section of the Quran. After the rumor began circulating that Danish had blasphemed the Quran, Saleem Masih said, Danish told his mother that it was not the Quran but a green diary that Asghar was trying to give him which fell.
According to Parveen, Asghar returned home and began cleaning the recovered scripture part, and her mother asked how it became sullied, Parveen said. Asghar’s mother subsequently rushed to cleric Amanullah’s wife, who then told her husband about the incident.
Saleem Masih told Compass that he and his wife, along with Danish’s parents, went to Hina Asghar’s father, Asghar Ali, bowed before him and pleaded for him to stop the false rumors of desecration of the Quran. He responded that Muslim cleric Amanullah would decide on it after the Friday prayers, and that the matter was not in their hands anymore.
On that day, Sept. 11, at about 11 a.m., the Muslim cleric announced during the Friday prayer that a Christian had blasphemed by desecrating the Quran, Parveen said.
Islamic mobs brandishing sticks were already arriving in the village, shouting against Danish and demanding that he be hung to death. They also occupied a house that he owned. Surrounding families fled their homes, leaving domestic animals without food and water.
Nadeem Masih, a paternal cousin of Danish, said that when he arrived at the village by motorbike that day, a large number of emotionally charged Muslims were setting Calvary Church on fire.
He said several Muslims had surrounded Danish’s father, Riasat Masih, and that he managed to get his uncle onto his motorbike to try to escape. They sped through several mob attempts to stop them and were eventually pursued by two Muslims on motorcycles. As Nadeem and Riasat Masih entered the main road, their motorbike slid and fell as they barely avoided an approaching truck. Nadeem Masih escaped but his uncle, Danish’s father, was captured.
Saleem Masih said that the Muslim mob took hold of Danish’s father, tied him up and were about to set him on fire when elderly men intervened, saying punishment for that crime would be too great, and suggested they instead only beat him. After beating Danish’s father, the Muslim mob untied him and took him into the church, where they burned Bibles, hymn books and other items and continued beating him.
Christian sources said police arrived and arrested Riasat Masih – not his attackers – and took him to the police station. Riasat Masih filed a crime report against the jailor and police officials at the Civil Lines Police Station, according to Christian Town Councilor Saqib.
Saleem Masih told Compass that he also was beaten. He said he was with Calvary Church Senior Pastor Dilshad Masih when they arrived in the village to find the mob setting church articles on fire and striking it with whatever they could find on hand. Realizing he could do nothing, Saleem Masih said he ran to his farmhouse, also owned by a Muslim named Bao Munir.
Munir took hold of him, he said.
“He brought out my cot and other belongings and set them on fire, and then he also tried to burn me in this fire,” Saleem Masih said.
Munir told him he could either be burned or go with him back to the village, and he forced all of the Christian’s clothes off of him except a cloth covering his loins and burned them, Saleem Masih said. After some struggle, he said, he managed to escape.
Danish, meantime, was hiding in a house in Jathikai village but was arrested the next morning (Sept. 12) when he went out for drinking water.
Tensions escalated, a source told Compass, when cleric Sabir Ali announced from his mosque in nearby Bhopalwala village that a Christian boy had blasphemed Islam by throwing the Quran in a drain.
After Calvary Church was set on fire, about 30 nearby families fled from the brutal beatings. Eyewitnesses told Compass that the assailants first went to Danish’s house. Not finding anyone there, they attacked the locked church which was only three houses from his.
The eyewitnesses, who were still in hiding and fearing further attacks, said that the assailants burned Bibles and hymnbooks. The assailants brought the church cross out, they said, and beat it with their shoes. The sources said the attackers were mainly from Shabab-e-Milli, a wing of the Muslim extremist Jamaat-e-Islami.
Christian Town Councilor Saqib said that the mob got hold of Calvary Church Senior Pastor Masih and severely beat him while police stood by. Police kept Saqib and his team from going to the blazing Calvary Church building, signaling them from afar not to come near, he said. He added that they had to turn back as the rampaging Muslims turned on them to attack, which police made no effort to stop.
Pastor Masih told Compass that when he and Saleem Masih arrived at the church building, Muslims shouted at them, “Catch these Christians!” He remained standing as others fled, he said, and the mob beat him and took his mobile phone.
“They wanted to kill me, but miraculously I managed to run from there,” he said.
Saqib said MPA Kamran Michael of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PLM-N), the ruling party in Punjab province, reached the village on Friday, but police did not allow him to go to the burning church, citing security threats. About 500 Christians later gathered in Sialkot to protest the church fire, with Michael addressing the crowd.
Michael said that one of the protestors reminded him that after Islamic mobs burned homes in Gojra last month, he had vowed to resign if further attacks took place. The crowd then began demanding that he resign, and police opened fire and charged the crowd with batons. He added that throughout the incident there were several media vans, but none of the major television stations covered the protest.
Several Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and Christian media also faced difficulties in getting in the village, though in all previous incidents media and NGOs were allowed access. In this case, however, police told them that they were not allowed due to security reasons. Also unable to gain access to Jathikai was Pakistan People’s Party provincial Assembly Member Amna Buttar and minority rights groups.
George and Butta Masih, along with four family members, were in Jathikai tending to their five cows on Sunday (Sept. 13). George Masih told a Compass reporter who had somehow got into the village that they stayed home all day and went out only at night to bring some fodder for the animals. They said that Muslims would beat any Christians seen during the day.
On Sunday about 500 to 700 Muslim women staged a protest in Sialkot to refute the notion that a Muslim woman could fall in love with a Christian man.
Several Christian and secular organizations in Lahore have scheduled a candle-light vigil today (Sept. 17) as a memorial for Danish and other members of Pakistan’s minority communities who have been killed or attacked in Islamist attacks.
A field officer for advocacy group Community Development Initiative, Napoleon Qayyum, said such attacks were weakening the Christian community.
“After the Gojra incident, several Christians said that their Muslim employers had told them not to come to work anymore,” Qayyum said. “This economic dependence further plays part in seeking justice.”
He added that in the June 30 Islamist attack on Bahmaniwala, in Kasur district, Christians did not want to pursue justice as they worked on Muslims’ land and could not afford confrontation.
“Their fear is that they would be left without jobs,” he said. “Due to economic dependence and poor status, Christians neither pursue their cases, nor do they defend themselves in such instances.”
Report from Compass Direct News
State witnessed country’s ‘bloodiest anti-Christian attack last year.’
NEW DELHI, August 22 (Compass Direct News) – One year after India’s worst-ever attack on Christians, which began after the killing of a Hindu leader on Aug. 23 in Orissa state last year, churches across the country will fast and pray for a peace that remains elusive.
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) has appealed to all the Catholic dioceses in the country to “pray for peace and harmony and a spirit of reconciliation” by fasting tomorrow, one year to the day that Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council or VHP) leader Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati was killed by non-Christian Maoists last year.
“This appeal is made in a special context to what happened to the Christians in Orissa after the murder of Saraswati in Kandhamal [district] on Aug. 23, 2008,” CBCI Secretary General Archbishop Stanislaus Fernandes said in a statement.
Archbishop Fernandes urged the Christian community to “adhere to the Christian principle of forgiveness and move forward so as to build a strong and integrated civil society.”
On Monday (Aug. 24), an inter-denominational meeting to pray for peace, healing and reconciliation will be held at The Sacred Heart Cathedral in New Delhi to mark “National Kandhamal Day.”
Leaders of all major denominations and church groups, including the CBCI, the National Council of Churches, the Evangelical Fellowship of India and the All India Christian Council (AICC), as well as government officials, are expected to attend the meeting.
A Distant Peace
Christians believe it may take a long time for peace and reconciliation to become a reality in Kandhamal, where violence in August and September 2008 killed more than 100 people and burned more than 4,500 houses, over 250 churches and 13 educational institutions.
“The road to peace is not easily available to the Christian community,” Dr. Sam Paul, spokesman for the AICC, told Compass.
The Hindu extremists who inflicted the violence last year have warned those who have returned from refugee camps for displaced Christians to withdraw the cases filed against them, Paul said.
“At some places they were threatened to convert to Hinduism,” he said. “At a few places, to maintain the peace, the local Christians had to deny their faith.”
Attorney Robin Ratnakar David, president of the Christian Legal Association, emphasized that without justice there can be no peace.
“Unless the administration is able to work together with the victims to ensure that the attackers are brought to justice, there will never be peace in Kandhamal,” he said. “On the part of the Christians who have been displaced, there is a need to courageously give testimonies against the accused to ensure that minorities everywhere are able to live in peace.”
David said it will take at least a year for the more than 827 criminal cases filed to be settled.
Dr. Krishan Kumar, Kandhamal district collector (administrative head), denied that peace had not returned to the district.
“There has been no incident of violence for more than seven months,” he claimed.
Asked why a majority of the displaced Christians had not returned to their villages yet, he told Compass, “I have no knowledge about it.” He added that he and other officials have been meeting regularly with religious leaders of various communities.
Dr. Sajan K. George of the Global Council of Indian Christians said Kandhamal did not need “mere moments of peace, but an era of peace.”
AICC’s Paul warned that if the attackers were not brought to justice, the impunity would further embolden them.
A New Delhi-based non-profit group, the Indo Global Social Service Society, has spearheaded a campaign to gain signatures for a memorandum highlighting the true condition of Kandhamal and hopes to present it to the president of India tomorrow (Aug. 23).
The memorandum states that although more than 11,000 persons were named in police complaints, only 679 had been arrested.
It also points out that a total of 50,000 persons were displaced as a result of the destruction of their houses, arson and looting, but that less than half of them have returned to their homes.
“A number of those who have returned have been denied access to water, firewood, and even to shops to buy daily necessities,” the memorandum states.
Indo-Asian News Service (IANS), a private news agency, spoke to victims of the Kandhamal violence on the eve of the one-year commemoration.
“It was the darkest night of my life,” recalled 45-year-old Ravinder Nath Pradhan, who a year ago saw his house and paralyzed brother doused with gas and set afire by a fanatical mob. Since then, Pradhan told IANS, justice is “nowhere near.” On Aug. 24, 2008, some 500 people attacked his village and destroyed his house.
“Within moments they flung petrol on my wheelchair-bound younger brother and torched him,” Pradhan, a retired soldier from Gadragaon village, told IANS. “We fled for our lives.”
After the violence, his family and a group of 120 Christians were forced to flee their homes to a relief camp in the state capital, Bhubaneswar.
“We went back once in December to reap our crop,” he told IANS. “Tension still loomed large. We [minority and Hindu families] used to share all our joys and sorrows. Now they say a passing hello and inquire where you are headed, and that’s it. We live underneath trees where we once had our own home.”
Seeds of Destruction
The region had been tense since the 2007 Christmas season, when alleged extremists of the VHP carried out attacks on Christians, killing at least four persons, burning 730 houses and 95 churches and rendering thousands homeless.
The spark that ignited the violence was a minor conflict between VHP supporters and local Christians over the pitching of a tent for Christmas celebrations in Brahmanigaon village. Christians were beaten, and their shops were destroyed as they went ahead with their celebration plans. In the melee, VHP leader Saraswati, who was believed to be behind the assault, came under attack and “retributive” action followed. (See “Four Die in Christmas Rampage by Hindu Extremists,” Dec. 28, 2007.)
Eight months later, with hundreds of displaced victims still living in relief camps, Maoists assassinated VHP leader Saraswati and four of his disciples on the evening of Aug. 23. The VHP wrongly blamed Christians for the murders in order to ignite large-scale violence on the minority community.
VHP leaders made public statements blaming the killing of their leader on local Christians, claiming it was to avenge the December 2007 violence. Fearing tensions, the administration of Kandhamal imposed a curfew. The VHP, too, imposed a “closure” across the state to protest Saraswati’s death, requiring a society-wide shutdown.
Defying the curfew imposed by the administration, the VHP mobilized hundreds of supporters and organized a funeral procession carrying Saraswati’s body from his ashram (religious hermitage) in Jalespata area to another site in Chakapada area – using a circuitous route that took it more than 100 kilometers (66 miles) to provoke greater conflict, according to The Hindu. As the VHP’s funeral procession continued on Aug. 24 with police escort, reports of violence began to flood newsrooms across the country.
Local police were apparently under political pressure not to take action against the organizers of the procession (see “Police Do Little to Protect Christians in Orissa,” Sept. 4, 2008). The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, which has close links with the VHP, was still part of the ruling state government, in partnership with the regional Biju Janata Dal party.
The state government excused itself by blaming its inability to prevent arson, rape and murder on the “difficult” hilly terrain of Kandhamal, according to The Indian Express, and the federal government ruled by the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) offered nothing more than token expressions of concern.
The UPA issued an official warning to Orissa under Article 355 of the constitution, which empowers the federal government to proclaim an emergency. But the warning came three weeks too late – by then the worst was over.
Report from Compass Direct News
Local security officials, Muslim clerics named in police complaint.
GOJRA, Pakistan, Aug. 5 (Compass Direct News) – A standoff here between Pakistani officials and Christians protesting the government’s reluctance to prosecute a murderous Islamic assault ended with officials finally consenting to file a complaint against key Muslim clerics and security officers.
On Sunday (Aug. 2) hundreds of Christians demonstrated in Gojra, where the previous day rampaging Muslims – acting on an unsubstantiated rumor of “blasphemy” of the Quran and whipped into a frenzy by local imams and banned terrorist groups – killed at least seven Christians, looted more than 100 houses and set fire to 50 of them. At least 19 people were injured in the melee.
In protest of government reluctance to name two security officers for negligence in connection with Christians burned to death, demonstrators on Sunday refused to quickly bury the dead as officials requested. Believing the government was stalling in registering a complaint, demonstrators put the coffins with the charred remains on railroad tracks for three hours before officials agreed to include District Police Officer (DPO) Inkasar Khan and District Coordinating Officer (DCO) Sikandar Baloch in the complaint filed against more than 20 named and 800 unnamed people.
Among those arrested include members of the banned Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, a pro-Taliban, Sunni Muslim group, and its al Qaeda-linked offshoot, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi; officials said members of both groups were suspected of planning the attack in Gojra.
The Centre for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS) reported that at least 14 Christians had been killed, and Christians in the affected areas told Compass the final death toll will likely be more than 20. The only deaths confirmed by hospital officials, however, are those of seven members of a family who died when their home was set on fire; names and ages in this report vary slightly from the hospital list as they are based on Compass contact with their survivors: Hameed Masih, 75; his son Akhlaq Hameed, 55; Asia Hameed, 22, wife of Mohsin Hameed; her mother Parveen, 50; Asifa Hameed, 30 (wife of survivor Almas Hameed), and her 8-year-old daughter Umia and 4-year-old son Musa.
With the caskets containing the remains of the dead Christians sitting in public for some time, the local administration tried to force survivors to conduct a hasty funeral, telling them to hold a service in Catholic parish hall and bury the dead as soon as possible.
Federal Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti and other prominent Christians met with the local administration, but negotiations failed as the two security officials were not named in the First Information report (FIR). A Catholic priest identified only as Father Mani then told protestors that an FIR had been registered and that he had seen it, and that therefore the demonstration should be called off.
But protestors did not believe him, insisting that they would not quit until they saw a copy of the FIR. Only after continued protests, with the dead bodies on the railway track for more than three hours, did officials register a case against key suspects in connection with murder, looting and violence: more than 20 identified people, including DPO Khan and DCO Baloch, who are accused of negligence in allowing the Islamic violence to erupt, and some 800 unidentified suspects.
Nevertheless, sources told Compass, the two officers have not been suspended, terminated or arrested. Rather, they have been made Special Duty Officers – an officer who is fully paid but has yet to be posted.
The FIR also names Muslim clerics of several Gojra mosques, including the imam of nearby Chamra Mandi Mosque, called Firdausia Mosque. Muslim groups held a press conference today in Gojra calling on the government to free clerics named in the FIR, according to CLAAS. They also threatened to hang Talib Masih, father of the boy who was falsely accused of tossing cut pages of the Quran into the air as part of a wedding ceremony in Korian.
The same rumor of desecration of the Quran that led to Saturday’s massive protest and attack in Gojra, 50 kilometers (31 miles) from Faisalabad, also prompted the arson assault on Thursday (July 30) by Islamic extremists on the village of Korian, seven miles from Gojra.
In the Gojra violence, several people have also implicated Qadir Awan, president of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) in Gojra, who was also named in the FIR. Zahid Iqbal, administrative head of a section of Gojra called Union Council-21, said that Awan had no role in the rioting.
The bodies of the seven Christians had been kept in the mortuary of Civil Hospital in Gojra, where the Christian advocacy group called Community Development Initiative (CDI) helped wash the bodies and facilitated their transfer to the families.
Amid strict security, a funeral service for the victims of the Gojra riots’ victims took place on Sunday (Aug. 2). Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah and Minorities Affairs Minister Bhatti participated in the funeral procession.
There Sanaullah announced that Punjab Chief Minister Sharif would visit the Christian community to express his condolences – “Beyond the FIR we are with you in punishing those who let this conspiracy succeed or participated in this conspiracy,” Sanaullah said – but Christians were disappointed the next day when he didn’t show.
Christians refused to speak with the representatives the chief minister had sent in his stead nor with other PML-N members. Provincial Minorities Minister Kamran Michael threatened to resign over the issue, and due to this pressure Chief Minister Sharif visited the area yesterday (Aug. 4), assuring the community that he would do his utmost to provide justice.
To assess the damage, the chief minister has constituted a 16-member group under the chairmanship of Michael.
Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has formed a committee to ascertain the amount of damage done during the rioting, and as soon as President Asif Ali Zardari learned of the incident he sent Minorities Minister Bhatti to Gojra.
President Zardari also announced that 500,000 rupees (US$6,040) will be made available for each person killed and 300,000 rupees (US$3,624) for those whose houses were burned. Prime Minister Gilani is also expected to announce a special package for the affected families.
A report submitted by Bhatti to the president states that the Punjab government and local administration failed to stem the violence. It adds that additional troops were not sent to help local authorities in Gojra, despite the advice of the minorities minister.
Interior Minister Rehman Malik has also sought a report from the interior secretary and the Punjab inspector general.
Farahnaz Ispahani, spokesperson for President Zardari, told Compass that after Muslims burned more than 50 homes in Korian village on July 30 and 31 – following the accusation of “blasphemy” of the Quran that proved to be false – the president asked the Punjabi government to report on it. After the subsequent Aug. 1 rioting in Gojra, she said, he immediately dispatched Bhatti to the site with orders to report back.
Ispahani said that after the president talked to Prime Minister Gilani, the prime minister called Chief Minister of the Punjab Sharif over the incident. When it became clear that police were unable to handle the matter, she said, the president ordered Rangers – paramilitary troops mainly deployed along the border for security – into Gojra to take charge and save Christians from further damage.
CDI Field Officer Napoleon Qayyum told Compass that CDI had strongly objected to the route of the Aug. 1 Islamic demonstration – which had been called to protest the release of the man whose son was falsely accused of desecrating pages of the Quran – saying he had told DPO Khan that it should not pass by any churches or Christian areas. As Islamic clerics made threatening announcements from mosques the day before the rampage, Qayyum said, DCO Baloch also had ample warning that violence was imminent.
“The way things were moving in Gojra, no rocket science was needed to predict this fallout,” he said, adding that announcements from loudspeakers mounted on vehicles broadcast how Christians had supposedly desecrated the Quran.
Punjab Minister for Law Sanaullah said an initial investigation of allegations of the Quran being blasphemed indicated “there has not been any incident of desecration.”
The CDI also objected to a two-member committee set up by provincial Chief Minister Sharif regarding violence in Korian village.
“Our objection was that no Christian was on the committee,” Qayyum said, “because how could administration and police be thought to be unbiased? It was the first step where the provincial government showed partiality.”
After Korian village Christians were attacked, the government showed no interest in arresting or reining in rampaging mobs, according to Qayyum, who said that the day after that assault he saw crowds there still armed with clubs wearing green, dark brown or black turbans, an indication that “religious fanatics were still roaming free.”
Likewise, he added, the provincial government allowed the civil administration and police to use delaying tactics in June 30 violence in Bahmaniwala village, where 110 houses were plundered and ransacked in Kasur.
Christians make up less than 5 percent of Pakistan’s 175 million population, which is mainly Muslim.
Report from Compass Direct News
By Brian Nixon
Special to ASSIST News Service
I met Dr. Steven Collins in the reception area of Trinity Southwest University in Albuquerque, where he serves as provost and professor. Instead of staying at the school, we headed off to a local coffee shop.
Dr. Collins didn’t look like your average jet-setting archeologist: no Indiana-Jones leather jacket, hat, or whip. Instead, Steve wore jeans, sandals, and a “Life is Good” t-shirt. And for Steve, that motto is playing out in his own life.
With his newest discoveries in Jordan, life is turning out very good for the unassuming archeologist from New Mexico.
I first got word of his recent finding at Calvary of Albuquerque, where Steve sat down for an interview with Senior Pastor, Skip Heitzig. Steve brought some convincing evidence of a monumentally significant find. Dr. Collins contends that he may have discovered the historic city of Sodom.
Steve told me in our interview that his interest in the location of Sodom began in 1996. Then, Steve was working on a dig in the West Bank north of Jerusalem, the site of biblical Ai, but was also leading archeology tours in the Near East.
It was on one of these trips that Steve began to question the traditional site of Sodom, what is known as the “Southern Theory.” This theory attributes the site of Sodom to the southern region of the Dead Sea.
“I began to read Genesis 13-19, and realized that the traditional site did not align itself with the geographical profile described in the text,” Steve told me.
“Now let me say,” he continued, “that many scholars don’t have a high view of Scripture. Some even frown upon using biblical texts as a tool for location designation. My philosophy is that the text is generally reliable and can—and should—be used (at bare minimum) as a basic guide for a geographical profile.”
“When I read how the author of Genesis described the area of Sodom and then looked at the area of the traditional site in the Southern region, I said: ‘This cannot be the place. There are too many differences of description.’
“Sadly, because of my work at the site of Ai, I was unable to really investigate and do research on my initial thoughts. So I let it sit for over five years.”
The geographical point at issue, according to Steve, is how the text in Genesis describes the region of the Kikkar, understood as “the disc of Jordan.”
Dr. Collins continued, “When the Bible uses the description of Kikkar, it is only referring to the circular region of the Jordan Valley east of Jericho and north of the Dead Sea.”
“This region is the breadbasket of the area, full of freshwater and farmland,” he explained. “All of this is interesting to me because Kikkar can also mean “flat bread,” like a tortilla here in New Mexico.”
So what’s the issue?
According to Collins, “The traditional “Southern Theory” site of Sodom does not have the geographical parallels described in the text. Namely: 1. One can see the whole area from the hills above Jericho (Bethel/Ai), 2. It must be a well-watered place (described, “like Egypt.”), 3. It has a river running through it (the Jordan), and 4. It must follow the travel route of Lot” (who went to the other side of the Jordan, eastward, away from Jericho.)
Though the traditional site does not have any of these geographical indicators, the site in Jordan, Tel-al-Hamman, does. How did Dr. Collins become aware of this site? That is a fascinating story in and of itself—which we’ll turn to in Part 2.
Report from the Christian Telegraph
Officers hit pastor, elder of house church; attempt to register denied on specious grounds.
HANOI, June 18 (Compass Direct News) – Police invaded the Sunday service of the Agape Baptist congregation in Vietnam’s Hung Yen Province on June 7 and beat worshippers, including women, and arrested a pastor and an elder.
Christian sources said police put the two church leaders into separate cells, and each man was beaten by a gang of five policemen. Pastor Duong Van Tuan of the house church in Hamlet 3, Ong Dinh Commune, Khoai Chau district said that officers beat them in a way that did not leave marks: hard blows to the stomach.
The beatings came in retaliation for Pastor Tuan refusing to leave the area as police had ordered, Christian sources said. He and the church elder were released later that evening.
The congregation in Hung Yen, a small but populous province that straddles the Red River 50 kilometers (31 miles) south of Hanoi, has endured harassment and attacks by police and other officials since April. Police officers disrupted worship services on April 19, bloodying Pastor Tuan’s mouth with punches, and also on May 24 and 31.
In the May 31 incident, he was attacked as he preached. The deputy commune police chief, identified only by his surname of Them, grabbed him by the neck while another officer tore the Bible from his hand, Christian sources said. His arms were twisted behind his back and “he was marched off like a criminal gang member,” one said.
Authorities took Pastor Tuan to the office of the commune people’s committee, clubbing him several times en route. Immediately after arriving at the office, police tried to force him to sign a document saying he had resisted their investigation, though he had yet to be questioned, and said that he was under administrative arrest. Christian sources said he was also ordered to sign a document accepting the seizure of his Bible, which they had taken from him two hours prior.
Officers ended by issuing him an order “to leave the commune immediately by the most direct route.”
A woman from his congregation who was unable to obtain cooperation from authorities at lower levels, Le thi Nhung, prepared and sent a detailed, three-page petition to local, provincial and national authorities on June 1, a week before officers last stormed their worship service.
In the petition, Nhung explained that one of the first things Pastor Tuan did on his arrival in March was to explain to church elders how to register their congregation’s activities according to the Prime Minister’s Special Directive on Protestantism of 2005. This directive permits and urges local authorities to register house churches to carry on religious activities. Pastor Tuan also went to the local Fatherland Front chair, a woman identified only as Hao, explained the church’s aspirations and asked her to help them meet requirements.
The church elders submitted an application to register locally, in accordance with the directive. Authorities, however, did not respond within the 30-day period prescribed by the directive. On the 31st day, they sent a document denying registration.
Officials gave two reasons for denying registration, Christian sources said: that the congregation needed permission from higher authorities, including the central Bureau of Religious Affairs; and that in any event the Prime Minister’s directive applied only to churches on mountains and not to churches on plains.
Both reasons, local Christians said, are contrary to the directive.
The church’s petition to the government clearly spelled out two articles of the constitution (71 and 73) and four articles of Vietnam’s criminal code (87, 124, 129 and 33) that police and local authorities violated in attacking their church and pastor.
The petition also reflects awareness of related international affairs. It says that on national news in Vietnam on May 27, church members heard the appeal of Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials to the U.S. Congress to vote down a recommendation by some U.S. officials to return Vietnam to the U.S. list of worst religious liberty offenders as a “Country of Particular Concern.”
“Think of how much hard work by the government, the Ministry of Public Security and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, has just been thrown into the ocean by the officials of Ong Dinh Commune,” the petition states.
It concludes with a respectful request to all appropriate government authorities to investigate and “to help us law-abiding, tax-paying citizens of Khoai Chau District who practice pure and orthodox religion to peacefully practice our faith as a right protected by the State.”
In separate letters to supporting friends abroad, the leaders of the Agape Baptist House Church group, with 34 congregations throughout Vietnam, say that according to their long experience, “persecution is often a sign that the Lord is at work.” They add that they are not discouraged and see a growing maturity among Christians who suffer and overcome such gratuitous abuse. But they also say they feel much pain in seeing their Christian family disrespected, mistreated and abused.
The experience of this congregation is not uncommon, Christian sources said. Other unregistered house church groups report their requests for registering local congregations are being either ignored or denied.
Compass sources said they rarely see such abuse as well-documented as in this case. Said one advocate, “It would be very easy for authorities to follow this up and do the right thing, but few expect they will. It illustrates once more the famous Vietnamese maxim, ‘The law of the Emperor yields to the custom of the village.’”
Report from Compass Direct News
Nephew, mother suspect Hindu hardliners shouting anti-Christian threats that morning.
NEW DELHI, February 25 (Compass Direct News) – Family members of a Christian found murdered last week in the Pandagadu area of Orissa state’s Kandhamal district said they believe the killers were Hindu nationalists such as those responsible for more than two months of violent anti-Christian rioting last year.
Hrudayananda Nayak, a 42-year-old father of two, was found dead on Thursday (Feb. 19) with several injuries to his head sustained as he took a shortcut through a forest to his home village of Rudangia, two kilometers from Pandagadu and five kilometers from G. Udayagiri.
His mother, Prasanna Kumari Nayak, has submitted a written complaint to police alleging the killers were associated with Hindu hardliners involved in last year’s rioting. His nephew Sujan Nayak, a lawyer and resident of Rudangia who saw the victim’s body, said that his uncle appeared to have undergone a fatal beating.
Sujan Nayak told Compass that on the day of Hrudayananda Nayak’s death, Feb. 18, his uncle told him before leaving home that he had received threats from three drunken men who were standing outside shouting threats at Christians in general that morning.
“He quoted them as saying, ‘We will not burn houses this time but will kill all Christians one by one,’” Sujan Nayak said.
Describing the injuries on his uncle’s body, Nayak told Compass there were wounds on his forehead, a severe wound on the left side of his head near the ear, as well as injuries to the back of his head and “marks around his neck.” He added that a blood-stained towel and flashlight battery were found near the body.
“From the battery and the injuries on his head it is evident that a huge torch was used for hitting him, and the mark on the neck shows that the towel was put around his neck to drag him,” he said.
There is reason to suspect the men who had threatened anti-Christian violence, he said.
“The three men threatening violence in the morning were seen on the same road passing through the forest where Hrudayananda was murdered at 11 at night on the date of the murder,” Nayak said, adding that the three suspects have absconded. “It is one week since the murder, and the suspects have not returned back home.”
He said that the victim’s mother also witnessed the threats that her son and others received the morning of the murder, “but due to fear of revenge from them she did not reveal this to the police.”
District Superintendent of Police S. Praveen Kumar reportedly said it is not clear that the murder was related to last year’s anti-Christian rioting.
“I am not sure if his death has anything to do with the communal violence,” he told media. “Our investigation is on. Somebody may have hit him on the head, causing his death.”
The killing is the third such murder since October 2008, when the more than two months of large-scale, anti-Christian violence that began in August officially came to an end.
Sujan Nayak said that his uncle left home in Rudangia for a market at G. Udayagiri on the afternoon of Feb. 18.
On his way back, Hrudayananda Nayak took a vehicle from G. Udayagiri as far as Gressgia village, from which he took a shorter route to Rudangia, crossing the forest by foot. It was around 7 in the evening. He had covered a distance of two kilometers and reached an isolated part of Pandagadu when he was attacked.
When he did not return home as expected that day, the following day villagers went searching for him in different directions. Around half a kilometer from the site of the murder is a school, and students there informed the search team of a blood-stained slipper lying near the school grounds.
The victim’s mother identified the slippers as belonging to her son, Hrudayananda Nayak. A rigorous search began around the area, and soon they noticed blood spots on a path leading up a hill. Reaching the top of the hill, between two huge rocks forming a cave shape they found Nayak’s body.
“His shirt and pants were taken off and kept aside, which means they had intentions of burning the body,” said Sujan Nayak. He explained that it is normal practice in the area to remove clothes on a body to be burned to reduce the time necessary for cremation.
Police were immediately informed, he said, adding, “Sniffer dogs were brought who led them to the lane of the house that belongs to one of the men who screamed threats the other morning, and then to a pond located in the same area used for bathing.”
Police suspect the killers had washed in the pond after committing the crime, Sujan Nayak said.
The house of the suspect to which the dogs led police is about 200 kilometers (124 miles) from the house of the victim.
According to Sujan Nayak, even after the dogs traced the lane where one suspect lives, police have been slow to proceed with the case.
Hrudayananda Nayak is survived by his 35-year-old wife, Reena Nayak, a 10-year-old daughter and a 7-year-old son.
Report from Compass Direct News