The following article reports on the possibility of eliminating all Christian symbols from buildings in Tehran.
Archbishop Basile Georges Casmoussa of Mosul said last week that last Thursdya’s anti-Christian attacks in Iraq which destroyed a church and damaged a convent “show that there is a strategy to erase our cultural heritage and more than 2000 years of history” on the part of Muslim extremists, reports Catholic News Agency.
In an interview with L’Osservatore Romano, the archbishop said these Islamic groups “want to destabilize the atmosphere of trust in our country. We must oppose this atmosphere of hatred with strength and with prayer,” he added.
The strategy of these groups “is clear,” the archbishop continued. “As soon as the situation becomes calm and it appears there is a chance Christians can return to their homes in their cities, the terror and violence reappear with greater threats.”
“This is the not the first time extremist groups lashed out at the symbols of the Christian community in Iraq. And it is not the first time that priests and religious have paid with their blood,” he explained.
After recalling the March 2008 assassination of his predecessor Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho, Archbishop Casmoussa said, “It seems like nobody is able to guarantee the safety of Iraqi Christians.”
“The only path to take to placate violence is dialogue,” the archbishop continued. “Only then will we be able to isolate these extremist groups and become a tolerant country. Now we must seek to be close to our small community and give ourselves strength and encouragement.”
Report from the Christian Telegraph
It has been reported that today (Monday, November 23, 2009,) Muslim rioters looted and burned Coptic Christian businesses in the village of Abou Shousha, which lies 25 KM (nearly 16 miles) from Farshoot where recent violence had taken place, reports Dan Wooding, founder of ASSIST Ministries.
“The terrorized Coptic inhabitants of Abou Shousha have stayed indoors, their shops are closed and their children are being kept away from school,” wrote Mary Abdelmassih in a story for the Assyrian International News Agency (www.aina.org ). “They fear a repeat in their village of the Muslim violence which engulfed the town of Farshoot less than 36 hours earlier.
“The Middle East Christian Association (MECA) reported that at least three large Coptic stores and a pharmacy were looted and burnt in Abou Shousha and that the fire brigade arrived one hour late, although their headquarters is only 8 KM (5 miles) away from the village.”
Wagih Yacoub of MECA said, “They gave the pretext of being busy in Farshoot, which is untrue, as Farshoot had a quiet night. Coptic and Muslim neighbors tried to put the fire out.”
Abdelmassih went on to say that Bishop Kirrillos of the Nag Hamady Diocese said that a mob from the neighboring village of Abu Tesht torched the businesses in Abou Shousha. MECA reported that three girls were assaulted in the street by having bricks hurled at them. No serious injuries were reported.
On November 22, 2009, in a joint communiqué from fourteen Egyptian human rights organizations and lawyers called on President Hosni Mubarak to immediately intervene to save the Copts from the wrath of the mob and the subversive leaders behind them, who are seeking to sow discord and divisions among the Egyptians in the name of religion and “to hold accountable all involved in the incitement or attacks on the peaceful Copts in Farshoot.”
Abdelmassih wrote that the signatories to the statement asked President Mubarak to take the necessary measures to hold accountable the security force officials, who played the “role of spectator in the looting, arson and attacks on Coptic property in Farshoot.”
The communiqué strongly condemned the deportation and evacuation of the Copts in Farshoot from their homes and villages by the security forces, in violation of the provisions of the Egyptian Constitution which stipulates in Article 50 and 51 of the Code “No citizen may be prohibited from residing or be forced to reside in a specific area except in the circumstances set out in the law.
The NGOs’ statement stressed the right of the Coptic victims for compensation for the material losses and psychological damage, and strongly condemned the burning and insulting of the symbols of Christianity by the Muslims fanatics, and demanded everyone involved to be charged with the crime of “contempt of a heavenly religion.”
“It is estimated that over 80% of Coptic businesses have been destroyed in the 48 hours of violence in Farshoot,” said Abdelmassih.
A video can be viewed at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eYFsW-uABJg&feature=player_embedded . It was prepared by Free Copts advocacy and shows Muslim mobs chanting Allah Akbar (God is Great) while looting and burning Coptic businesses and shops.
Abdelmassih added that the Egyptian Union for Human Rights (EUHRO) has advised that it is preparing a file with all the financial losses and damages to Coptic-owned businesses and property in Farshoot in preparation for filing a civil and a criminal case against the Egyptian Prime Minister, the Governor of Qena and the perpetrators.
“They want the Copts to be poor and are therefore destroying the Coptic economy in these areas,” explained Wagih Yacoub.
Bishop Kirollos again condemned the grave violations against Christians and their property, affirming his belief that the attacks were preplanned. “Students of Al-Azhar Institute in Farshoot, were incited by their Dean who sent them out on a rampage against the Copts. They were joined by a great number of locals,” he said.
Report from the Christian Telegraph
Human Rights Watch shows systematic, officially sanctioned religious freedom violations.
DUBLIN, February 20 (Compass Direct News) – A Human Rights Watch (HRW) report released in January details serious and ongoing abuses against the Chin people, a minority group in Burma’s northwest who claim to be 90 percent Christian.
HRW’s research echoes a 2004 report by the Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO) that described targeted abuse of Christians in Chin state, with the Burmese army subjecting pastors and church members to forced labor, arbitrary arrest and detention, torture and sometimes death.
While religious oppression is extreme in Chin state, restrictions also apply elsewhere in Burma, also known as Myanmar. Most recently, officials in January forced the closure of more than 100 churches in Rangoon and ordered owners of apartment buildings and conference facilities not to rent their properties to religious groups.
Based on interviews with Chin refugees in India and Malaysia between 2003 and 2008, HRW’s report describes how an increasing number of army battalions stationed in Chin state since 1988 have inflicted forced labor and arbitrary fines on the Chin people, as well as bullied them away from Christianity toward Buddhism.
“When we meet the army, we are shaking,” a Chin refugee pastor told HRW. “Whatever they want is law.”
The HRW report, entitled “We Are Like Forgotten People,” notes that soldiers frequently forced Christians to donate finances and labor to pagoda construction projects in areas where there were few or no Buddhist residents.
They also occasionally forced Christians to worship in Buddhist pagodas. One Chin pastor described how Burmese soldiers brought him to a pagoda and prodded him with their guns, commanding him to pray as a Buddhist.
“They said that this is a Buddhist country and that I should not practice Christianity,” he told HRW.
The military forced village headmen to present “volunteers” for military training or army construction projects and secured “donations” such as food or finance for army battalions. Soldiers severely beat or detained headmen if a village failed to meet quotas, seizing livestock or property in retribution.
Pastors often faced similar treatment, particularly if church members were accused – often without proof – of involvement with the Chin National Front insurgency group. HRW listed arrest, detention and torture as methods used against those accused of being part of the Chin National Front, based across the border in northeast India. Torture included beatings with sticks or guns and electric shocks via metal clips attached to high-voltage batteries. Such measures were also used to crush dissent against army policies such as failure to pay extortionate and arbitrary fees.
The military government promoted Buddhism over all other religions in Chin state through threats and inducements, destroying churches and other religious symbols, and restricting the printing and importing of Bibles and other Christian literature, HRW reported.
A judge in 1999 sentenced one man from Falam township to three years in prison for bringing Chin language Bibles into Burma, contravening Burma’s 1965 Censor Law. Authorities also burned 16,000 copies of Chin and other ethnic language Bibles brought into neighboring Sagaing Division, another Chin majority area, in 2000.
‘Campaign of Ethnocide’
CHRO’s 2004 report, “Religious Persecution: A Campaign of Ethnocide Against Chin Christians in Burma,” explained that Christianity had become inseparable from Chin culture following the arrival of American Baptist missionaries in 1899.
The report, based on information gathered in Chin state, gave numerous examples of the destruction of churches and crosses, the burning of Bibles and restrictions on other religious publications and activities between 1993 and 2004 – including the extrajudicial killings of four Chin Christians in 1993.
Burmese authorities routinely denied permission for the construction of new churches and required permits for large church gatherings, although lengthy bureaucratic processes meant that most of these gatherings were eventually postponed or cancelled.
A September 2008 U.S. Department of State report confirmed that Chin state authorities have not granted permission to build a new church since 2003.
As recently as last November, a government official ordered residents of Tayawaddy village in neighboring Sagaing Division to destroy the foundations of a new church building erected by members of a Chin Christian student fellowship. A report in the Chinland Guardian claimed villagers were subsequently ordered not to rent their homes to Chin students or the homes would be destroyed.
Enticement to Convert
CHRO’s report gave clear evidence of government support for coerced conversions. For example, the government offered free secular education to several children from impoverished families, only to place them as novice monks in Buddhist monasteries in Rangoon.
The Ministry of Religious Affairs has also sent Buddhist monks to villages and towns throughout Chin state under the Hill Regions Buddhist Mission program, one of several Buddhist missionary initiatives highlighted on the ministry’s website. Chin residents who spoke to CHRO likened these monks to “military intelligence” operatives who worked in partnership with Burmese soldiers to control the Chin people.
According to one Chin resident, “Anyone who doesn’t abide by the monks’ orders is reported to the State Peace and Development Council [Burmese government officials] and punished by the army.”
Another Chin man from Matupi township attended a government-sponsored “social welfare” training session only to discover that it was a propaganda session led by a Buddhist monk.
“In the training we were taught the 17 facts of how to attack and disfigure Christians,” he explained.
The 17-point method encouraged converts to criticize Christian ways of life as corrupting culture in Burma, to point out weaknesses in Christianity, and to attack Christians by both violent and non-violent means.
“We were promised that 1,200 kyats per month [US$190] would be provided to those families who became Buddhist,” the training participant added. That amount of money is significant in the Burmese economy.
The instructor also ensured participants that they would be exempt from “portering” and other forms of forced labor and compulsory “donations” if they converted, and that the government would provide education for their children.
“I became a Buddhist because of such privileges rather than because I think Buddhism is better than Christianity,” the Chin participant told CHRO.
Religious Policy Elsewhere
According to CHRO, both the Burmese army and the monks are pursuing an unofficial government policy summed up in three words; “Amyo, Batha, Thathana,” which translates as “One race, one language, one religion” – or Burman, Burmese and Buddhist.
This policy was exemplified by the forced closure in January of more than 100 churches in the capital, Rangoon.
Officials on Jan. 5 invited pastors from more than 100 Rangoon churches to a meeting where they were ordered to sign documents pledging to cease operation of their churches or face imprisonment. About 50 pastors attended, according to Burmese news agency Mizzima.
A CHRO spokesman told Compass yesterday that a significant number of these churches were ethnic rather than majority Burman churches.
In mid-January, officials ordered several other major Rangoon churches to close, including Wather Hope Church, Emmanuel Church and an Assemblies of God Church. (See Compass Direct News, “Burma Clamps Down on Christians,” Jan. 21.)
Officials from the Ministry of Religious Affairs in January summoned the owners of buildings where churches met and ordered them not to rent their properties to religious groups, according to another local online news source, the Democratic Voice of Burma.
In the late 1990s, Burma stopped issuing permits for land purchase or the construction of new churches in Rangoon and elsewhere, leading many Burmese Christians to conduct services in rented apartments or office buildings.
The church closure orders may simply be an extension of Burma’s existing religious policies, which elevate Buddhism in an effort to solidify national identity. The country’s population is 82 percent Buddhist, 9 percent Christian and 4 percent Muslim, with traditional ethnic, Chinese and Hindu religions accounting for the rest.
In a 2007 report describing religious persecution throughout Burma, including Chin state, Christian Solidarity Worldwide cited the “Program to Destroy the Christian Religion in Burma,” a 17-point document that had circulated widely in Rangoon. Allegedly authorized by the Ministry of Religious Affairs, the program’s first point declared that, “There shall be no home where the Christian religion is practiced.”
The Ministry of Religious Affairs subsequently pressured religious organizations to publicly condemn CSW’s report and deny all claims of religious discrimination in Burma.
Report from Compass Direct News
Charges still unknown; another convert faces possible ‘apostasy’ accusation.
LOS ANGELES, February 9 (Compass Direct News) – Arrested on Jan. 21 in Tehran, converts from Islam Jamal Galishorani and his wife Nadereh Jamali have been released on bail with an open case, though charges against them are still unknown, sources told Compass.
Authorities released Galishorani yesterday, and officials at Evin Prison freed his wife last week. Iranian Christians and international human rights agencies have feared that they could be charged with “apostasy,” or leaving Islam – potentially punishable by execution in the Shia Islamic republic.
A third Christian also arrested in Tehran on Jan. 21, Armenian Hamik Khachikian, was released after one week without charges.
The Galishoranis and Khachikian are members of Tehran’s Assemblies of God Church, an officially registered church, and were said to have held Bible studies in their home. The arrests of the Galishoranis and Khachikian, according to a source, are just part of the government’s increased harassment of Iran’s Christians.
“The pressure is continuous,” the source said. “In the past it came and went with waves.”
Possible Apostasy Charge
Sources told Compass that Mahmoude Azadeh, a 55-year-old Christian who has been incarcerated in Mashhad since last August, could face charges of apostasy.
He is expected to learn of exact charges, which also could include forming a Christian house group and propagating Christianity, at a Mashhad court hearing on Thursday (Feb. 12).
Azadeh has been in jail since security agents raided his house church in Nishapur; five others arrested with him were released shortly after. Azadeh has spent two months of his time in jail in solitary confinement, the sources said.
He was first arrested in June 2007 in Nishapur for two days, and after he and his family moved to Isfahan, authorities arrested him there in September of the same year, a source said.
In 2008, there were 73 documented arrests of Christians in Iran. A source working closely with churches in Iran expects there to be more arrests this year. A high-profile church leader was also taken into custody this year, the source said, and is still being held.
“With elections coming this year, there will be more arrests,” the source said. “The regime rules through fear, and they want Christians to be afraid.”
In addition to the approaching spring elections, the source said, exaggerated estimates of conversions by well-intentioned ministries outside of Iran may be contributing to reasons for the government’s increased scrutiny of the church.
“One minister in America claimed that in 2008 alone, 800,000 Iranians came to Christ,” the source said, adding that the government viewed such a high number of converts as a genuine threat to its rule and began to clamp down on churches.
The source noted that many Iranians wear Zoroastrian symbols and crucifixes merely as acts of rebellion against the government. “This doesn’t always mean that they are true believers,” he said.
The recent spate of arrests also included Baha’is.
As many Iranian Christians are either in prison or awaiting trial, the government continues to debate the adoption of a proposed penal code that would mandate the death penalty for apostates. The Iranian Parliament approved the new penal code last September, and the Guardian Council has yet to rule on it.
The council is made up of six conservative theologians appointed by Iran’s Supreme Leader and six jurists nominated by the judiciary and approved by Parliament. In the past, death sentences for apostasy were issued only under judicial interpretations of sharia (Islamic law).
The proposed legislation in the Iranian Parliament would make the death penalty mandatory for male apostates, while women convicted of apostasy would receive life in prison at most.
Many Iranian Christians believe the arrests in January mark the beginning of a renewed crackdown.
Report from Compass Direct News
The persecution of a Baptist layman in India’s state of Orissa provided the focus of an Oct. 13 article in The New York Times about the oppression of Christians by Hindu militants in the region, reports Baptist Press.
Solomon Digal symbolized almost two months of suffering inflicted by the violence, which has claimed more than 30 lives and seen 3,000 homes and 130 church buildings destroyed.
The persecution began in the aftermath of the Aug. 23 murder of a revered Hindu teacher in the area. Although police have said communist rebels committed the killing, Hindu extremists blamed Christians and began inciting violence against them in retribution.
Digal, a Christian since childhood, told The Times that his family was forced to turn over their Bibles, hymn books and images of Jesus to village leaders in Orissa’s volative Kandhamal district. The family was forced to kneel and watch as the symbols of their faith were burned. Family members were told that if they did not convert to Hinduism, their house would be destroyed and they would be killed or driven from the village.
Later, a stiff fine of 501 rupees was levied against the family for telling a reporter about their circumstances.
Although India’s constitution guarantees freedom of religion, Hindus in at least six Indian states are forcing Christians to convert under threat of violence. Christians account for only about 2 percent of India’s 1.1 billion people. The religious problems are heightened by long-running ethnic and economic tensions between the Pana and Kandha people groups, according to the Times article.
Other stories of persecution abound, ranging from five men who were forced by machete-wielding neighbors to submit to a conversion ritual to the story of a Catholic priest and nun who were paraded naked in the streets before she was gang-raped.
When The Times reporter asked the leader of a Hindu radical group in the state to respond to the rape allegation, he described the violence as “a spontaneous reaction” and said the nun had engaged in consensual sex.
Report from the Christian Telegraph