Two Copts wounded in Minya province over plan to use building as church venue.

ISTANBUL July 31 (Compass Direct News) – The recent eruption of sectarian violence in Egypt’s Minya province continued last week as local Christians again faced harsh reprisals from Muslims for trying to convert a building into a worship facility.

On July 24 security forces in the village of Hawasliya were able to prevent a crowd of Muslims, which numbered in the hundreds according to some reports, from torching the building. But the mob succeeded in setting fire to four neighboring stables, killing sheep and cows belonging to Copts.

During the melee two Copts, including an elderly woman, were wounded. Both received hospital treatment.

“When Muslims see that Christians are making a church, they get upset about it,” said Teresa Kamal, a local journalist. “Why are people full of hate like this? Something has happened to radicalize the people.”

Pastor Milad Shehata, 39, heads up the project to convert the four-story property into a church building. He told Compass that the village’s Protestant Christians had no other place to worship.

“I have no intention of leaving this place at any price,” said Shehata. “This place has been built from the sweat and hard-earned money of very poor people. Even if I or my family is killed, it doesn’t matter. I will not leave this place.”

Shehata had begun to refurbish the building to accommodate church meetings and was planning to apply for permission to use it as a place of worship before holding services on the premises.

On July 23, officers investigating complaints from Muslim villagers about two crosses Shehata had installed on the outside of the building took him to the local police station. After questioning, they released him with orders to return the next morning. At that time two policemen escorted him to the main prison in Minya, where he was held without charge until Saturday afternoon (July 25).

“I don’t know why I was arrested,” said Shehata. “I was there for 37 hours, but no one even gave me even a cup of water.”

Since the attack on July 24, elders from the Muslim community have extended the offer of a reconciliation meeting on condition the church is never opened.

“There is no point in holding a reconciliation meeting if we have to close the church,” said Shehata. “The church is the whole point.”

Recent Troubles

There have long been drafts of a unified law for the building of places of worship in Egypt aimed at resolving recurrent conflicts faced by new churches. Such legislation, however, has been consistently passed over in parliamentary sessions.

Human rights lawyer Naguib Gobraiel said there was a stark contrast between the freedom to practice religion given to Muslims and that afforded to Christians.

“Muslims can put a mat down anywhere and pray and no one objects,” he said, pointing out the contrast with Christians’ inability to secure worship sites. “Why do they differentiate? It implies that we can’t have private prayers.”

The July 24 incident marks the fourth time in as many weeks that planned new church buildings have sparked violent responses from inhabitants of villages surrounding the city of Minya.

Despite the recent high incidents of sectarian strife, Minya Gov. Ahmad Dia’a El-Din told Compass that inter-faith relations are not as strained as they may seem.

“These kinds of attacks are not as frequent as some people imagine,” he said. “They are not happening night and day. The proof is the businesses – you find many shops owned by Copts. People live together and Copts are wealthy, they are doing fine business.”

El-Din seemed eager to demonstrate that he led by example.

“I personally work closely with Christian people and have good relationships with them,” he said. “I harbor no personal animosity.”

Gobraiel, however, was not impressed.

“The governorate of Minya has the highest level of radicalization and intolerance,” he said. “The governor has totally failed in tackling this issue from all different aspects – education, media, culture and security.”

Report from Compass Direct News 


Prison term reduced for abused niece who defended herself; family fears retaliation.

ISTANBUL, November 17 (Compass Direct News) – In prison at the age of 14 for having fatally stabbed her uncle in northern Iraq, Asya Ahmad Muhammad’s early release on Nov. 10 thanks to a juvenile court decision was overshadowed by fear of retaliation from her extended Muslim family.

Also known as Maria, the now 16-year-old Muhammad was sentenced to five years in prison for killing her paternal uncle in self-defense on July 9, 2006 when he attacked her, her mother and little brother at their family kitchen utensil store in the outskirts of Dohuk. The uncle had cut her mother with a knife and was fiercely beating them for converting to Christianity and for “shaming” the family by working in public when Muhammad stabbed him.

Clearing her of an original conviction for premeditated murder, the Erbil high court last year had reduced Muhammad’s sentence from five to three-and-a-half years, upholding an earlier decision that she was guilty of killing her uncle though she acted in defense of herself and others.

Muhammad’s lawyer, Akram Al-Najar, told Compass that following his appeal to the Dohuk juvenile court, the court earlier this month agreed to reduce her sentence to two years and four months on the basis of her good conduct and having served nearly three-quarters of her three-and-a-half year sentence.

“She deserved to be released since her behavior and attitude was excellent,” said Al-Najar. “That is why the court accepted my request and decided to reduce her punishment to two years and four months.”

Local Christians have commented that Muhammad’s sentence was light, considering that it was culturally acceptable for an uncle to beat his niece. Her jail time also meant that she didn’t have to fear reprisal attacks from her relatives.

But Muhammad’s release from prison now means a possible retaliation from extended family members for her uncle’s death, said Al-Najar.

“I am not sure she is safe right now, especially after her release, since there are still people intent on gaining revenge,” said the lawyer.


Father Threatened

Muhammad’s father, Ahmad Muhammad Abdurahman, who converted in 1998 while working in Beirut, said that in the last week family members have called him twice telling him his days of joy are numbered.

“My sisters called me, and my brother’s wife called me also [and said], ‘You are a shame. Don’t be happy in your family; we will never let you be happy in your family,’” Abdurahman told Compass.

He explained that his change in faith was grounds for an “honor” crime in his Kurdish family, and even more so now that blood had been shed. His father, a Muslim cleric, was enraged by Abdurahman’s conversion. Abdurahman’s deceased brother, Sayeed, on five occasions had tried to kill him and had also burned down his house. Abdurahman has seven brothers.

Abdurahman said that since the release of his only daughter, he has left his old home but remains in the town of Dohuk, unsure of what the next step is for his family. He said his only hope now is to come up with the “blood money” necessary to buy peace with his family for his brother’s death. The court has set this amount at 10 million Iraqi dinars (US$8,670).

Unable to keep a stable job, Abdurahman is not sure he will be able to come up with the amount, nor whether it will suffice to keep his family safe within the borders of Iraq.

“I just pray that God gives me provision to take my daughter and family to a different country,” he said. “We have now moved to a different house, but I am afraid they will come and contact me again. I want to keep my daughter and wife safe, but I don’t know how I will manage to do so.”

In a phone interview with Christian support organization Open Doors, Muhammad said her time in prison had been difficult and she was thankful to be back with her family.

“I am very glad because God gave me a miracle, and I am very happy to meet my mother and my father,” she told a representative of the organization. “My hope [is] in Jesus; I always prayed for God to comfort my mother [until] I see my mother, I see my family again.”


Relative ‘Safe Haven’

Despite the recent waves of violence in Mosul, south of Dohuk in northern Iraq, Abdurahman said that the Kurdish part of the country is still considered a safe haven for Christians, where many Christian families from Mosul have also fled in recent weeks

“Many Christians come here from Mosul and Baghdad, and the Kurdish government does a good job to protect Christians,” he said. “That’s what I see.”

He noted, however, that according to Iraqi law it is still not possible for Iraqis to change their religion on their national identification cards.

“It is my dream that one day I will be free to change my ID card,” he said. “My card now writes ‘Muslim.’ But my faith is Christian.”

Abdurahman asked for prayer as he looks for a job or a way to get out of Iraq.

“I don’t know what will come from God,” he said. “I’m not worried about that, but my family needs help, they need food and things … I’m just thanking God that he brought my sheep, my daughter, into the family again.”

Report from Compass Direct News


Anti-Christian violence spills into Kenya as Somali Muslims attack in Nairobi.

NAIROBI, Kenya, October 27 (Compass Direct News) – Among at least 24 aid workers killed in Somalia this year was one who was beheaded last month specifically for converting from Islam to Christianity, among other charges, according to an eyewitness.

Muslim extremists from the al Shabab group fighting the transitional government on Sept. 23 sliced the head off of Mansuur Mohammed, 25, a World Food Program (WFP) worker, before horrified onlookers of Manyafulka village, 10 kilometers (six miles) from Baidoa.

The militants had intercepted Mohammed and a WFP driver, who managed to escape, earlier in the morning. Sources close to Mohammed’s family said he converted from Islam to Christianity in 2005.

The eyewitness, who requested anonymity for security reasons, said the militants that afternoon gathered the villagers of Manyafulka, telling them that they would prepare a feast for them. The people gathered anticipating the slaughter of a sheep, goat or camel according to local custom.

Five masked men emerged carrying guns, wielding Somali swords and dragging the handcuffed Mohammed. One pulled back Mohammed’s head, exposing his face as he scraped his sword against his short hair as if to sharpen it. Another recited the Quran as he proclaimed that Mohammed was a “murtid,” an Arabic term for one who converts from Islam to Christianity.

The Muslim militant announced that Mohammed was an infidel and a spy for occupying Ethiopian soldiers.

Mohammed remained calm with an expressionless face, never uttering a word, said the eyewitness. As the chanting of “Allah Akubar [God is greater]” rose to a crescendo, one of the militiamen twisted his head, allowing the other to slit his neck. When the head was finally severed from the torso, the killers cheered as they displayed it to the petrified crowd.

The militants allowed one of their accomplices to take a video of the slaughter using a mobile phone. The video was later circulated secretly and sold in Somalia and in neighboring countries in what many see as a strategy to instill fear among those contemplating conversion from Islam to Christianity.

Unconfirmed reports indicated that a similar incident took place in Lower Juba province of Somalia in July, when Christians found with Bibles were publicly executed. Their families fled to Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya, and such killings are forcing other Christians to flee to neighboring Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti.


Somalis Attacking Somalis

Somali refugees to Kenya include Nur Mohammed Hassan, in Nairobi under U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees asylum. In spite of the protection, two weeks ago five Somali Muslims broke into Mohammed Hassan’s house and beat him and his family, he told Compass.

“On Oct. 14 five Muslims entered my house around 10 o’clock in the night and forced us out after beating us indiscriminately,” Mohammed Hassan said, adding that the youngest of his eight children suffers from a liver disease. “Thank God the police arrived immediately and saved our lives. For two days now we have been sleeping outside in the cold. We have been receiving police security, but for how long will this continue?”

Mohammed Hassan now lives in Eastliegh, Nairobi with his wife and children. He had fled Mogadishu after Muslims murdered his sister, Mariam Mohammed Hassan, in April 2005, allegedly for distributing Bibles in the capital.

“We are nowadays no better than our fellow Somali Christians inside Somalia who are killed like dogs when discovered to be Christians,” Mohammed Hassan said. “We are not safe living here in Eastleigh. The Muslims killed my sister in Mogadishu, and now they are planning to kill me and my family.”

The last three years in Nairobi, he said, he has suffered many setbacks at the hands of other Somali immigrants.

“Indeed the situation for the Muslim Christians in Kenya and Somalia is disastrous and horrifying – we are risking our lives for choosing to follow Christ,” he said. “My family is in danger. No peace, no security. We are lacking the basic necessities of life.”

One of the most dangerous countries in the world, Somalia is subject to suicide bombings, sea piracy and routine human rights violations. Islamic militants object to foreign troop intervention, especially those from neighboring Ethiopia. Christians and anyone sympathetic to Western ideals are targeted, with foreign aid workers especially vulnerable in the past year.

Aid groups have counted 24 aid workers, 20 of them Somalis, who have been killed this year in Somalia, with more than 100 attacks on aid agencies reported. In their strategy to destabilize the government, the Islamic militants target relief groups as the U.N. estimates 3.2 million Somalis (nearly a third of the population) depend on such aid.

Somali Islamic clerics such as Ahlsunna Waljamea have condemned the killing of aid workers in Somalia.

Report from Compass Direct News


Suspects haven’t been charged; politicians shielding them from prosecution.

ISTANBUL, September 4 (Compass Direct News) – Four Pakistani Muslims killed an elderly woman with an axe over a dispute with her husband, who has been unable to prosecute them due to his low social status as a Christian.

Case workers said the alleged culprits targeted the couple for theft and later murder because they believed Pakistan’s legal system would not prosecute them for murdering Christians. The suspects’ connections to mafia and national politicians further emboldened them, they said.

“The Muslims assume the Christians are sheep and don’t have any weight,” said Sohail Johnson, case worker and chief coordinator of Sharing Life Ministry Pakistan (SLMP), a Non-Governmental Organization that supports Christian prisoners throughout the Punjab province. “The culprits thought, ‘[The Christians] have no voice. Nothing will happen if we do something,’” he said.

Noban Bibi, 65, was killed on July 2 in Pakistan’s eastern Kasur province in the village of Khraper.

The dispute that led to her murder started in January, when two men stole money and gold items from the couple.

According to a First Instance Report, Yaqoob Shareef and Hadayat Ali broke into the house of Dara Masih, 85, while his wife was away in Lahore. They stole gold ornaments and 15,000 Pakistan rupees (US$200).

Masih demanded they return the stolen goods or he would prosecute them. The alleged culprits then began threatening to kill him.

On July 2 at 2:30 a.m. Shareef, Ali, and two unknown persons entered their house and killed Bibi with a pickaxe.

An autopsy obtained by Compass said Bibi had multiple lacerations on her head, some nearly four inches long.

Johnson of SLMP said the alleged culprits believed they wouldn’t be prosecuted due to their connections to politicians and mafia.

Shareef, 36, and Ali, in his late 20s, are members of a criminal organization and have connections with local and national politicians that they are using to leverage the criminal justice system, said Shazhad Kamran, an SLMP case worker.

“In Pakistan, politicians always need criminals to assert their power in an area,” Kamran said. “They always depend on criminals, and criminals depend on politicians to save them.”


Bribery and ‘Dissimulation’

Masih nevertheless registered the murder with the local police. He could not convince local police officer Muhammad Akram to arrest Shareef and Ali, according to an SLMP report, because Akram received a bribe requiring him to threaten Masih to drop charges against them.

Masih then took the case to a district police officer in Kasur, who arrested Ali and Sharif. The two suspects, however, have not been formally prosecuted.

When the SLMP’s Johnson and Kamran approached Sub-Inspector Aslam Pistooly and Investigation Officer Malik Mansab Ali on Aug. 2, Pistooly claimed the two suspects were not guilty. To prove this, he said the accused would swear an oath of innocence in front of prominent Muslims at a mosque, the report said.

Johnson and Kamran refused the offer for the suspects to do so, stating that swearing an oath at a mosque is not a part of Pakistani criminal investigation proceedings.

Pistooly then became angry and told Johnson and Kamran, “If you are not satisfied that Muslims will go into the mosque and swear they are innocent, then if you can go into the church, put your hand on the Bible, and swear they are guilty, then I will make legal action against him,” according to Johnson.

Speaking by telephone from Kasum, Investigation Officer Ali, who was at the Aug. 2 meeting, said swearing an oath in a mosque as proof of innocence is illegal under Pakistani criminal law. Asked if Pistooly had asked the culprits to testify in a mosque, he told Compass he could not confirm it.

“I have not compelled any person to swear an oath in a mosque, and Pakistani law does not permit it,” he said through a translator.

The SLMP case workers said the Muslim suspects wanted to swear an oath at the mosque to take advantage of an Islamic tradition that allows accused men to give false testimony when under threat.

Known as Al Taqiyya (dissimulation), this concept allows Muslims to conceal the truth at a time of danger to save themselves from physical or mental injury. In some traditions, Al Taqiyya can only be used when one is wrongfully accused.

On Aug. 4 Punjab Minister for Human Rights and Minority Affairs Kamran Michael transferred the case from the district police office to the Karsur superintendent of police.

The SLMP case workers met with Kasur Superintendent of Police Rana Shahid Ahmed on Aug. 18. In their first meeting he was uncooperative and pressured Masih to drop all charges against the two suspects, the report said.

Johnson said he believes justice will not come easily for Masih because the case has become an issue of pride for local Muslims. Members of Parliament are supporting the alleged criminals and putting pressure on police to find them innocent, he said, “just to save the skin of Muslims.”

The SLMP is now trying to move the investigation to the Criminal Investigation Agency. It will first file a complaint in a lower criminal court against the alleged culprits and police for not registering the case.

Kasur is an agricultural city located in the Punjab province with a long Islamic history. The area contains radical conservative Muslim elements, such as members of Jamaat-Ud-Dawa, a Pakistani charity that the U.S. State Department designated a terrorist organization in 2006.

In recent years Christians in Kasur have faced charges of blasphemy against Islam, torture and forced conversion.

In July 2007 Catholic prisoner Dil Awaiz was tortured, barred from teaching Bible classes to fellow Christian prisoners and placed in solitary confinement. He was released in April this year.

Human Rights and Minority Affairs Minister Michael spoke to Christians in Kanganpur, 50 kilometers (31 miles) southeast of Kasur, on Friday (Aug. 29). He said the government was taking every step to protect minority rights, according to the Associated Press of Pakistan.  

Report from Compass Direct News