Muslim zealots jail convert, burn home of another; in Somalia, a mother and daughter raped.

DADAAB, Kenya, December 10 (Compass Direct News) – A Somali Christian put in a refugee camp police cell here for defending his family against Islamic zealots has been released after Christians helped raise the 20,000 Kenya shilling fine (US$266) that a camp “court” demanded for his conversion dishonoring Islam and its prophet, Muhammad.

But for Salat Sekondo Mberwa of Mogadishu, the war-torn capital of Somalia, this was not the highest price he has had to pay for leaving Islam. A few weeks ago Muslim zealots shot Mberwa in the shoulder and left him for dead, and he and other refugees told of hired Muslim gangs in Somalia raping and killing converts, denying them access to water and, in the refugee camp, burning their homes.

“I thank God that I am alive,” a timid and worried Mberwa said.

At about 9 a.m. on Oct. 13, five Muslim youths knocked on Mberwa’s sheet-iron gate in the refugee camp, one of three that is home to 572,000 refugees from Somalia, Ethiopia and Sudan in northeastern Kenya’s Dadaab town.

“I refused to open the gate, and they started cutting the iron sheets,” he said. “They were shouting and calling me names, saying I was the enemy of the Islamic religion, and that I would pay the ultimate price for propagating a different religion. They threatened to kill me if I did not open the door for them.”

With him inside the house was his 22-year-old son, Nur Abdurahman, he said.

“As the assailants forced their way into our room, I whispered to my son to prepare for war,” he said. “While defending ourselves, I hit one of the young men whom I later came to know as Abdul Kadir Haji.”

They soon overpowered the assailants, he said, and the gang ran away, only to return three hours later accompanied by Muslim elders and the police. They arrested Mberwa and detained him at a camp police cell.

After his release, Mberwa said, he was resting inside his house on Nov. 26 at around 6 p.m. when he heard people shouting his name and swearing to “teach him a lesson” for embarrassing them by having left Islam. Once again he decided to lock himself in, and as before the attackers forced their way in.

“I was trying to escape through the window when one of them fired a gun, but the bullet narrowly missed me,” he told Compass. “Then I heard another gun fire, and I felt a sharp pain on my left shoulder. I fell down. Thinking that I was dead, they left.”

Relatives immediately arrived and gave first aid to the bleeding Mberwa. They arranged treatment for him in Mogadishu, after which he was relocated to Dadaab for recovery.

The officer in charge of Dadaab refugee camp, Omar Dadho, told Compass that authorities were doing their best to safeguard freedom of worship.

“We cannot guarantee the security of the minority Christians among a Muslim-dominated population totaling more than 99 percent,” Dadho said. “But we are doing our best to safeguard their freedom of worship. Their leader, Salat, should visit our office so that their matter and complaints can be looked at critically, as well as to try to look for a long-lasting solution.”

A bitter and exhausted Mberwa told Compass he was not about to give in.

“What will these Muslims benefit if they completely wipe away my family?” he said. “My son has just arrived from Bossaso with a serious bullet wound on his left hand. It’s sad. Anyhow we are happy he is alive.”

In November 2005, leaving behind his job at an international relief and development agency in Mogadishu, Mberwa had fled with his family to Dadaab after Muslim extremists murdered a relative, Mariam Mohammed Hassan, allegedly for distributing Bibles. At that time his oldest son, 26-year-old Abdi Salat, had gone to Bossaso, in Somalia’s autonomous Puntland region.

Situated in a hostile environment with high temperatures and little or no vegetation cover, Dadaab refugee camps house refugees from Somalia, Ethiopia and Sudan: 150,000 people in the Dagahaley camp, 152,000 in Ifo and 270,000 in Hagadhera.

Where Mberwa lives as a refugee, Muslim zealots burned a house belonging to his son-in-law, Mohammed Jeylani, also a member of his camp fellowship.

“It was on Oct. 28 when we saw smoke coming out of my house,” said Jeylani. “Some neighbors managed to salvage my two young children who were inside the house. The people managed to put out the fire before the house was razed. I have been contemplating reporting the culprits to the police, but I do fear for my life.”

Somali Christians cannot openly conduct their fellowship at the relief camps. They meet in their houses and at times at the Dadaab police post among friendly Christian soldiers and public servants.

“They have to be careful since they are constantly being monitored by their fellow Somalis,” said Moses Lokong, an officer at Kenya’s Department of Land Reclamation in neighboring Garissa town.


Death and Agony in Somalia

Somali refugees in Kenya commonly have loved ones in their home country who have suffered from violence. On July 18 a Muslim gang killed a relative of Mberwa, Nur Osman Muhiji, in Anjel village, 30 kilometers from Kismayo, Somalia.

The church in Dadaab had sent Muhiji to the port of Kismayo on June 15 to smuggle out Christians endangered by Muslim extremists there. Word became known of Muhiji’s mission, and on his way back a gang of 10 Muslim extremists stopped his vehicle, dragged him to some bushes and stabbed him to death.

Fearing for their lives, the Christians he was smuggling struggled to remain quiet as Muhiji wailed from the knife attack near Anjel village at about 6:30 p.m.

At the Dadaab refugee camp, Muhiji’s widow, Hussein Mariam Ali, told Compass, “Life without Osman is now meaningless – how will I survive here all alone without him? I wish I had gotten children with him.”

Another refugee in Dadaab, Binti Ali Bilal, recounted an attack in Lower Juba, Somalia. The 40-year-old mother of 10 children was fetching firewood with her 23-year-old daughter, Asha Ibrahim Abdalla, on April 15 in an area called Yontoy when a group from the Muslim insurgent group al Shabaab approached them. Yontoy is 25 kilometers (15 miles) from Kismayo.

For some time the local community had suspected that she and her family were Christians, Bilal told Compass. Neighbors with members from al Shabaab, believed to have links with al Qaeda, confronted them, she said.

“They asked whether we were Christians – it was very difficult for us to deny,” Bilal said. “So we openly said that we were Christians. They began beating us. My son who is 10 years old ran away screaming. My daughter then was six months pregnant. They hit me at the ribs before dragging us into the bush. They raped us repeatedly and held us captive for five days.”

The Muslim extremists left them there to die, she said.

“My daughter began to bleed – thank God my husband [Ibrahim Abdalla Maidula] found us alive after the five days of agony,” she said. “We were taken to Kismayo for treatment before escaping to Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya on May 5. My daughter gave birth to a sickly baby, and she still suffers after-birth related diseases.”

Bilal’s daughter told Compass that she still feels pain in her abdomen and chest. She was weak and worried that she may have contracted HIV, or human immunodeficiency virus.  

Report from Compass Direct News


Promise of negotiated settlement fades; Catholic leaders threatened with legal action.

HANOI, September 26 (Compass Direct News) – Authorities in Hanoi have responded to months of Catholic prayer vigils and demonstrations over disputed land by destroying the one-time residence of the papal nuncio in central Hanoi.

In suddenly bulldozing the land that once served as the Vatican embassy and residence near St. Joseph’s Cathedral last Friday (Sept. 19), the government broke its promise to Catholic leaders in February to negotiate a settlement concerning the property.

The destruction of the building held sacred by Catholics is the latest blow to Christians’ long struggle to get the government to return confiscated church properties. Catholic, Protestant and other religious leaders deemed the government response to peaceful Catholic pressure a serious setback for religious freedom.

Authorities cite Vietnamese law stipulating that lands subject to “land management and socialist land reform policies in place before 1991” cannot be considered.

On Monday (Sept. 22) the Vietnam News Agency reported that the Catholic Church ceded the Nha Chung Vatican Embassy property to the state in 1961 and that it would be turned into a library and park.

“Bookworms will soon be able to enjoy the facilities offered by a brand-new library, located at 42 Nha Chung Street, in Hoan Kiem District,” the state reported. “In addition to all of the services usually offered by a library, situated on the premises of an existing three-story, French-designed building surrounded by greenery and including a childrens’ playground, the renovation, which began last Friday, aims to better meet Hanoians’ demands for relaxation.”

Sources said Vietnam’s frequent pronouncements of new openness to religion, and the formation of a joint Catholic/government working committee regarding relationships with the Vatican and other outstanding matters, may have led Catholics to test the waters. Late last year Catholics began to hold prayer vigils outside the fence of the long-vacant Vatican Embassy seized by the government in the mid-1950s.

The historic building property on Nha Chung Street is adjacent to the Hanoi archbishop and cardinal’s residence and only a half block away from St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Hanoi’s Old Quarter.

The daily morning and evening prayer vigils began to draw large crowds, especially on Saturdays and Sundays, when thousands came to Masses at the cathedral. Authorities in a country where demonstrations are not allowed became seriously worried when warnings to stop went unheeded.

In discussion with Catholic leaders in late February, the government agreed to negotiate a settlement in good faith on the condition that Catholic leaders would call a halt to the prayer vigils. Archbishop of Hanoi Ngo Quang Kiet told Compass in April that after agreeing to a joint working committee, the government showed no sincerity in building relationships or in settling grievances.

In late August an aide to the archbishop told Compass in Hanoi that the twice daily prayer vigils had resumed. At that time about 100 people participated each time, but the number and intensity was growing. Catholic leaders made no secret of their appeal to prayer and assembled people as their only tools in their struggle with the government for redress on confiscated properties.

In recent weeks the Redemptorists at Thai Ha, also in Hanoi, also began prayer vigils to recover some of their large property. Over the years their part of an original plot of 60,000 square meters had been reduced by government confiscation to less than 2,000 square meters.

According to observers, the Catholics conducted themselves during their vigils with decorum and order as they reverently marched, prayed and sang. The government’s response however, quickly escalated from accusing the Catholics of interfering with traffic to accusing them of all night public disturbances – and then accusing Catholic leaders of inciting riots and breaking religion laws.


Catholic Leaders Warned

Authorities this week delivered a written warning to Archbishop Kiet warning him of “extreme action” if he did not stop the daily prayer vigils. They also issued a warning to four priests at a Hanoi church locked in the land dispute. The archbishop and priests are accused of “stirring the population” and encouraging illegal religious activity.

State and Hanoi city media releases and radio and TV coverage during September painted the Catholics in the worst possible light; sources said the media fabricated stories and paid people to speak against the Catholics. With no opportunity to make their side of the story known through Vietnam’s state-controlled media, Catholics are reporting events through VietCatholic News, Zenit and other overseas news sites.

Catholic calls for media to retract specific, demonstrably false stories and appeals to press laws have gone entirely unheeded. Rather, sources said, improbable accusations and vicious slander against Catholics sharply escalated.

Vietnam Cardinal Jean Baptiste Pham Minh Man, archbishop of Saigon, wrote a letter to all priests, religious and faithful on Monday (Sept. 22) denouncing the state’s media lies. Unrest is spreading throughout Vietnam’s Catholic community, believed to number more than 7 million, as the letter by the cardinal and others by bishops are read in the churches.


Thugs Bussed In

Demonstrations escalated this week with estimates of 7,000 to 10,000 people, including students gathered at Thai Ha on Wednesday night (Sept. 24). It was said to be the largest public demonstration since the Communist unification of Vietnam 33 years ago.

Wednesday afternoon (Sept. 24), hundreds of police and plainclothes officers tried to control an upset crowd of Catholics as a statue of the Virgin Mary was removed from the Vatican Embassy area under police protection and taken to an unknown location. The next day, sources said, authorities recruited gangs that included uniformed Communist youth league members and others and bussed them to the site, where they attacked Catholic protestors outside the archbishop’s residence.

Similar gangs destroyed property, including sacred items at Thai Ha, the same day.

The state media also announced that the 17,000-square meter Thai Ha Redemptorist property in Hanoi is also to be turned into a public park.

The reversion to old-style, default Communist repression involving violence cloaked in lies is also worrying to Vietnam’s Protestants, some of whom have joined Catholics in the prayer vigils.

Protestant leaders contacted by Compass were united in their disappointment in and condemnation of the government’s belligerent response to peaceful prayer vigils.

“Sadly, the government has again shown its true attitude toward religions,” said one Protestant leader. “We have doubted the sincerity of recent improvements, and now they have clearly shown everyone what is still in their hearts.”

Some Vietnam observers fear the government’s belligerence may be evidence of hard-liners’ ascendance in an ongoing struggle with more moderate reformers. The timing of this property destruction, some Vietnamese church leaders said, is calculated to take advantage of uncertainty in the United States, especially as elections draw near.  

Report from Compass Direct News