Thailand’s Moken People
Native of Khartoum lives in seclusion in Egypt as brother, ex-husband hunt for her.
NAIROBI, Kenya, December 10 (CDN) — A Sudanese woman who fled to Egypt after converting from Islam to Christianity is living in secluded isolation as her angry family members try to track her down.
Howida Ali’s Muslim brother and her ex-husband began searching for her in Cairo earlier this year after a relative there reported her whereabouts to them. While there, her brother and ex-husband tried to seize her 10-year-old son from school.
“I’m afraid of my brother finding us,” said the 38-year-old Ali, who has moved to another area. “Their aim is to take us back to Sudan, and there they will force us to return to the Islamic faith or sentence us to death according to Islamic law.”
Ali said she divorced her husband, Esam El deen Ali, because of his drug addiction in 2001, before she converted to Christianity. She was living with her parents in Khartoum when she began seeing visions of Christ, she said.
“In 2004, I started to see a vision of Christ speaking to me,” she told Compass. “When I shared it with my friend, who is a Muslim, she said that she used to hear these things from Christians.”
This comment spurred her to seek out a Christian friend from southern Sudan, who told her about Jesus Christ and prayed with her.
“After that time, I begun to see more visions from Christ saying, ‘He is Christ the Good Shepherd,” she said.
Fearing that relatives might discover she was a Christian, in 2007 she escaped with her then-8-year-old son. Previously the family had tried to stop her from leaving on grounds that she should not travel unescorted by an adult male relative, and because they disapproved of her divorce.
“They destroyed my passport, but through the assistance of a Christian friend, I acquired a new passport and secretly left,” she told Compass by e-mail.
Her peace in Egypt was short-lived; earlier this year, while Ali secretly attended church as she stayed with a Muslim relative in Cairo, the relative found out about her conversion to Christianity and notified her brother and ex-husband in Sudan.
They arrived in Cairo in July. She had found lodging at All Saints’ Cathedral, an Episcopal church in Cairo that houses a refugee ministry, but as it became clear that her brother and ex-husband were searching for her, refugee ministry officials moved her and her son to an apartment.
Ali said her brother and ex-husband sought to kill her for apostasy, or leaving Islam – with the support of relatives back in Sudan and others in the community, members of the Shaingia tribe who practice a strict form of Islam.
“Life became very difficult for me,” she said.
The Rev. Emmanuel S. Bennsion of All Saints’ Cathedral confirmed that Ali’s ex-husband and brother were acting on a tip from one of Ali’s relatives when they came searching for her in Cairo. They went to her son’s school to take him back to Sudan. It was a Christian school, and the director refused to hand the boy over to them, Bennsion said.
“Since that time, she has started hiding and become afraid,” Bennsion told Compass.
Ali had received financial support from family in Sudan through the relative in Cairo who notified her family of her conversion; that support has since vanished.
Fearing forcible repatriation to Sudan, Ali tried to go to Israel; Egyptian authorities arrested her at the border and jailed her for two months. During that time, she said, her son was put in an Islamic children’s home. A Muslim family had adopted him, but she was able to win back custody after leaving jail in October.
“We have stopped going out of the apartment or even going to church,” she said. “My son can no longer go to school daily as before. We cannot live our lives as before. I cannot now participate in the Bible study or fellowships – I’m now depending only on myself for growing spiritually, and for prayer and Bible study.”
She said her only hope for living her faith openly in Christian community is to secure asylum to another country that guarantees religious freedom.
Report from Compass Direct News
Sixteen members of Colombia’s Kogui tribe were recently kidnapped in an attempt to force them to recant their Christianity, says Voice of the Martyrs Canada. Currently held in a remote location, these believers won’t be released until they renounce their faith in Christ, reports MNN.
Consisting of men, women and infants, the group was captured during a community meeting summoned by the Kogui governor. Believers were taken prisoner by the governor and his followers; community leaders shouted insults at the Christians throughout the night. Non-Christian leaders who supported the imprisoned believers were shamed.
The governor intends to eradicate the Christian faith from Kogui members through imprisonment and forced denial of the faith. The world’s highest coastal range, Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, is home to the Kogui people, and Kogui Christians number around 120 of the entire 11,000-member tribe.
Reportedly, two of the kidnapped infants have fallen seriously ill. Pray for their recovery and for the immediate release of these believers.
VOMC says the largest inhibitors of religious freedom in Columbia are guerrilla and criminal groups. They target Christian leaders who actively oppose corruption and the drug trade. Pastors and youth leaders also fall under opposition because they influence Colombia’s youth, making it difficult for Marxist and paramilitary groups to recruit them.
Report from the Christian Telegraph
Christian natives of Somaliland face opposition from authorities, relatives for sharing faith.
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia, September 16 (CDN) — A convert from Islam in Somalia’s self-declared state of Somaliland has been jailed for distributing Christian materials, and another is on the run from both family members and police upset over his new faith.
Christian sources said Somaliland native Osman Nour Hassan was arrested on Aug. 3 for providing Christian literature in Pepsi village, on the outskirts of the breakaway region’s capital city, Hargeisa.
Promotion of any religion other than Islam in Somaliland is prohibited, contrary to international standards for religious freedom such as Article 18 of the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 5(1-2) of the Somaliland constitution states that Islam is the state religion and prohibits the promotion of any other faith, according to the U.S. Department of State’s 2008 International Religious Freedom Report, and Article 313 outlines penalties for Muslims who change their religion.
Hassan was accused of providing Christian literature to a village Muslim boy, who later showed it to his family and friends. The boy’s Muslim family reported the incident to the police, the sources said, leading to the arrest of the 29-year-old Hassan. He was taken to Hargeisa central police station.
The arrest has upset underground Christians who see it as a muzzle on religious expression. They said other Muslim villagers had received Christian materials from Hassan and took no offense, and that Christian Ethiopian refugees in the area have distributed the same literature without problem.
On Aug. 6, the Muslim family who accused Hassan met with his family and agreed that Islamic teachers, or sheikhs, should go to see him in jail to advise him on Islamic doctrine. Two sheikhs met him in the police station cell and implored him to stop spreading Christianity.
“You are from an Islamic family, and therefore you should not disgrace or paint a bad image of the family,” argued one of the sheikhs, according to a source who spoke with Hassan. In response, according to the source, Hassan told them that he had received the Christian materials as educational material for himself and for others who cared to read them, and that Jesus was his Savior.
Convinced that Hassan had truly left Islam, and angered by his defiance, the sheikhs urged authorities to take him to the harsher conditions of a jail in Mandera, 60 kilometers (37 miles) away, but at press time Hassan was still incarcerated in Hargeisa.
“His stand is that he is waiting for the coming of Issa [Jesus], just as the whole world is also waiting,” said one neighbor.
Somaliland, which is vying for international recognition as a nation, is bordered by the Gulf of Aden to the north, by Ethiopia to the southwest and by Djibouti to the northwest.
Another Somaliland convert to Christianity, Mohamed G. Ali, is on the run from both authorities and family members. Ali has fled to neighboring Ethiopia, but the 27-year-old father of three said this will not be enough to deter relatives who seek to punish him for leaving Islam.
He said relatives previously abducted his wife, who is expected to give birth to their fourth child within the next two weeks, and that they are again looking for ways to kidnap her as well as the children.
The native of Hargeisa said he has already survived several attempts on his life by Muslim fanatics since becoming a Christian in 1998. Family members, close relatives within his tribe, the larger community and local officials have all done him harm, he said.
He first came to Ethiopia in April 2002, subsequently marrying Fatumo Mohamed at the Church of the Nazarene. News of his Christian marriage circulated, preceding him upon his return to Hargeisa; soon after his arrival, he said, Muslim fanatics kidnapped his wife and demolished his house.
Fatumo Mohamed remained captive for several months, later managing to escape and rejoin her husband. For more than three years, as they were displaced from the community and went into hiding, he faced open and official threats. When life became unbearably dangerous, they decided to flee to Ethiopia in August 2005.
Speaking only in general terms to protect loved ones he left behind, Ali said Somaliland authorities were seeking him for reasons related to his Christian faith; other sources confirmed this.
Even after he arrived in Ethiopia, Ali was sought by the Somaliland government, which published a notice on April 11, 2007 displaying his photo in two local Somaliland newspapers, Jamhuuriya and Maandeeq. The notice ordered him to appear before a district court within 30 days, saying failure to do so would result in stiff action being taken against him.
That was just one more episode in a journey of faith that began when he broke his leg in 1996. Receiving treatment in Djibouti, he stayed with a close relative who told Ali the New Testament account of Jesus forgiving an adulterous woman brought for judgment. Amazed at Jesus forgiving the woman, Ali began researching Christianity; three years earlier, he had witnessed the stoning of five young women accused of committing adultery in Hargeisa.
“At that point I failed to see the meaning of compassion in Islam,” he said. “Many questions started coming to my mind – that not even a single person in the midst tried to call for compassion for the young ladies. I felt that it could have been even better to kill them with a gun than subjecting them to such inhumane killing.”
Ali, who is seeking asylum and has conveyed his security concerns to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, is struggling to meet the basic needs of the family – food, shelter, education and clothing – and he is facing an urgent health concern. For three years he has been living with a bone infection, he said, and the danger of paralysis is rising. Looking worried and frightened, and that without asylum he could lose his family as well as his life.
“I will continue trusting in God’s protection, for blessed are those who are persecuted for His sake,” he said.
Report from Compass Direct News
Leader in Christian-Muslim relations accused of ‘malicious’ distribution.
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia, September 15 (CDN) — A convert from Islam who has led a push for Muslim-Christian understanding in Ethiopia has been in jail for nearly four months since his arrest for “malicious” distribution of Bibles.
Christian sources in Ethiopia said that, contrary to Ethiopian law, 39-year-old Bashir Musa Ahmed has not been formally charged since his arrest on May 23 in Jijiga, capital of Somali Region Zone Five, a predominantly Muslim area in eastern Ethiopia. Zonal police arrested him after he was accused of providing Muslims with Somali-language Bibles bearing covers that resemble the Quran, the sources said.
An Ethiopian national, Ahmed is known as a bold preacher of Christianity and is credited with opening discussion of the two faiths between Christian and Muslim leaders. He is well-known in the area as a scholar of Islam, but his case has gone largely unreported in Ethiopia.
A source who requested anonymity said authorities likely are secretly planning to transfer Ahmed from his Jijiga cell to Ghagahbur jail some 200 kilometers away near the Somali border, in part to prevent other Christians from visiting him and in part because he has not been charged.
The source told Compass that Ahmed’s own relatives and tribe instigated the arrest with the intent of stopping him from spreading Christianity in the region, whose 5 million predominantly Muslim inhabitants are mainly of Somali origin.
“The Ethiopian constitution allows for religious tolerance,” said the source, “but to date Ahmed has not been taken to court. He is still in the cell now, going on the fourth month, which is quite unusual for an Ethiopian nationality and the constitutional requirements.”
For providing Bibles with cover pages resembling the Quran, Ahmed is accused of “maliciously” distributing Bibles and trying to convert Muslims to Christianity, although conversion and manifesting one’s faith are not illegal in Ethiopia. At issue is whether the Bibles with covers resembling the Quran violate copyright issues and disrespect Islam.
Christian converts in the area said the kind of Bible that Ahmed distributed is widely available on the market in Ethiopia and is commonly used by Somali Christians inside and outside of the country.
Following a recent visit to Ahmed, the source said he looked strong in faith but seemed to have lost weight and was in need of clothes.
“I am doing fine here in prison, but it is a bit unfortunate that some of my close friends who claimed to advocate and serve the persecuted Christians have not come to see me,” Ahmed told the source. “I am thankful for those who have taken their time to come and see me as well as advocate for my release.”
Sources said hostility toward those spreading faith different from Islam is a common occurrence in Muslim dominated areas of Ethiopia and neighboring countries. Christians are subject to harassment and intimidation, they said, to stem a rising number of Muslim converts.
“In God’s own time I know I will be set free,” Ahmed told the source. “Continue praying for me. I know it is God’s will for me to be here at this time and moment in life.”
Ethiopia’s constitution, laws and policies promote freedom of religion, but occasionally local authorities infringe on this right, according to the U.S. Department of State’s 2008 International Religious Freedom Report. An estimated 40 to 45 percent of Ethiopia’s population belongs to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, evangelical and Pentecostal groups make up an estimated 10 percent of the population and about 45 percent of the population is Sunni Muslim, according to the report.
In Ethiopia’s federal state system, each state is autonomous in its administration, and most of those holding government positions in Somali Region Zone Five are Muslims.
Report from Compass Direct News
Bengali-speaking settlers file case against Christians; one threatens, ‘I will finish your life.’
DHAKA, Bangladesh, September 1 (CDN) — Bengali-speaking, Muslim settlers have seized five acres of abandoned government property used by a church and falsedly charged Christians with damaging the land in southeastern Bangladesh’s Khagrachari hill district, Christian leaders said.
Kiron Joti Chakma, field director of Grace Baptist Church in Khagrachari district, told Compass that the settlers had taken over the church building and the five acres of land in Reservechara village in June and filed a case on Aug. 4 against five tribal Christians. The Bengali-speaking Muslims had come from other areas of Bangladesh in a government resettlement program that began in 1980.
“In the case, the settlers mentioned that the Christians had cut the trees and damaged the crops on their land and that they should pay 250,000 taka [US$3,690] as compensation,” said Chakma. “We cultivated pineapple in the land around the church. But the settlers damaged all of our pineapple trees and built two houses there.”
The government has allowed the Christians to use the land. Tribal leaders said that land-grabbing in the area hill tracts, undulating landscape under Dighinala police jurisdiction 300 kilometers (186 miles) southeast of the Dhaka, began again during the army-backed interim government of 2007-2008.
“It is still continuing, and our demands to stop land-grabbing do not rate very high with the administration and law enforcement agencies,” said one of the accused, 32-year-old Mintu Chakma.
When he went to the police station regarding the false case filed against the Christians, he said, the leader of the Bengali settlers was there and threatened him in front of officers, telling him, “I can devour dozens of people like you – I will finish your life.”
Church leaders have informed a nearby army camp of the seizure. Military officers said they would take action, but they have done nothing so far, Christians said.
“Our leaders informed the army zone commander, and he assured us they would take necessary action, but nothing has happened so far against those land grabbers and arsonists,” said 25-year-old Liton Chakma (Chakma is the name of the tribe), one of the Christians accused in the Grace Baptist case.
The Muslim settlers had burned a Seventh-day Adventist Church building in 2008 in Boachara village, close to the Grace Baptist Christians’ village, in an effort to frighten tribal people away from becoming Christian, said Liton Chakma. He told Compass that Bengali settlers had also hindered their attempt to construct the church building in August in 2007.
“Many new believers saw nothing had happened to the arsonists, and many of them reverted to their previous Buddhism,” he said. “The army and local administration allowed them to run wild. They always threaten to beat us and file cases against us.”
Mintu Chakma said that Muslim settlers seized a garden next to his house in 2007.
“They not only destroyed my pineapple garden, but they built a mosque there,” he said.
Local police inspector Suvas Pal told Compass that neither tribal people nor Bengali settlers were the owners of that land. It is government-owned, abandoned land, he said.
“The Bengali settlers claim that the land was assigned to lease to them, but we did not find any copy of lease in the deputy commissioner’s office,” said Pal. “On the other hand, the tribal people could not show any papers of their possession of the land.”
Investigating Officer Omar Faruque told Compass that the Muslim settlers had built two houses there, though they did not live there or nearby.
“I told the Bengali settlers that if they [tribal Christians] worship in the church there, then do not disturb them,” said Faruque.
Dipankar Dewan, headman of the tribal community, told Compass that the tribal Christians have an historical claim to the land.
“The land belonged to the forefathers of tribal Christians, so they can lay claim to the property by inheritance,” said Dewan.
During conflict between tribal people and Bengali people in the hill tracts, the tribal people left the country and took shelter in neighboring India, leaving much of their land abandoned. Bengali settlers took over some of the land, while the government leased other tracts to Bengali settlers, Dewan said.
“Many lands of the tribal people were grabbed in the hill tracts in the two years of state-of-emergency period of the previous army-backed, interim government,” he said. “Those Bengali settlers tried to grab the land during the tenure of the army-backed, interim government.”
Members of the Shanti Bahini, tribal guerrillas who fought for autonomy in the hill tracts, ended a 25-years revolt in the Chittagong Hill Tracts area in 1997 under a peace treaty in which the government was to withdraw troops and restore land acquired by settlers to local tribesmen.
Some 2,000 Shanti Bahini guerrillas surrendered their weapons following the 1997 treaty. But the tribal people say many aspects of the treaty remain unfulfilled, including restoration of rights and assigning jobs to them.
The guerrillas had fought for autonomy in the hill and forest region bordering India and Burma (Myanmar) in a campaign that left nearly 8,500 troops, rebels and civilians killed.
Recently the Awami League government ordered one army brigade of nearly 2,500 troops to pull out from the hill tract, and the withdrawal that began early last month is expected to be completed soon. Four brigades of army are still deployed in the hill tracts comprising three districts – Rangamati, Khagrachari and Bandarban.
Report from Compass Direct News
Devastating cyclones, bitter ethnic wars, and human rights abuses have all had a part in contributing to the poverty and spiritual darkness that characterizes Mynamar, which was formerly known as Burma, reports Michael Ireland, chief correspondent, ASSIST News Service.
Despite this opposition, the church in Burma is gaining ground against principalities, powers, rulers of darkness and spiritual wickedness in high places, according to a report from Christian Aid.
Christian Aid assists a number of ministries in Burma, which remain unnamed for their security, who submitted the following reports concerning their various strategies for spreading the gospel.
Faith with Works
“I am conducting meetings with the churches, pastors, and workers, exhorting them to stand firm in the faith,” said one ministry leader.
“These are fiery times for testing their faith. The government has put high restrictions on work among the cyclone victims. They presume that what we are doing is for political purposes. (Even Buddhist monks and laymen, interested in helping victims, are being persecuted. Some were caught and sentenced to very long jail terms — 45 to 65 years!).”
Local church planted by native missionaries
“Because of your faithful and consistent support, my workers and I were able to reach 300 Buddhists. We shared about the last days and distributed tracts among them. In another area we were able to distribute rice and used clothing, as well as medicine for the elderly and ailing. This particular tribe lives in a secluded area, so we were able to preach the gospel,” said another leader.
“The mobile clinic you helped open allowed us to treat 1,130 patients. Many of them were elderly, who shed tears of joy. They were so grateful for this display of Christian love.”
Bible Teaching and Training
Yet another brother, who leads a teaching ministry, remembers a time when confusion arose among the churches in Burma due to a lack of theological training.
“This was in the 70’s and even though a revival swept through the country, there were no reputable Bible schools. Church leaders of that era left the country and enrolled in schools in other areas of the world. When they completed their studies, they returned to Burma to launch an indigenous ministry.”
He added: “We began with only four faculty members and 77 students our first year. But despite opposition to the Bible, the Lord, and Christians in general, this ministry is going forward. With help received from Christian Aid recently, we were able to assist 20 more Bible students from the scholarship fund. We also have a Bible correspondence course available for those wanting to learn more about Jesus, or who find it difficult to leave their current ministry for an extended period.”
Church Planting meets needs, builds relationships
“Week-long evangelistic camp meetings in remote towns and villages are held wherever the Lord opens the door,” says another ministry leader.
“Relationships are built by providing for some of their needs, such as food, medicine, and nursing care. The Word is preached and Bibles are given out. When our evangelistic team leaves the village, we leave behind a church planter. In time he will disciple a vessel chosen from the tribe to become the church leader. This new disciple is then brought back to our training center for three months of training. When he returns to his village, he will take over as pastor. Our original worker is then ‘rotated’ into another un-reached area,” explains another Burmese leader.
Christian Aid says that while much has been accomplished, much needs to be done.
The ministry explains: “Many people who survived the cyclone are still without adequate shelter or other basic necessities. More follow-up is needed in the remote villages where the gospel has been heard for the first time. Income generating projects, such as raising pigs or ducks, will help the people re-establish their lives. (Businesses that were destroyed during the cyclone are no longer a source of income.)”
“Please continue to pray for our ministry,” writes Brother G. “My most pressing goal is to witness in every nook and corner of our country before the imminent return of our Lord Jesus.”
Christian Aid seeks to establish a witness f our Lord Jesus Christ among unreached people groups by assisting highly effective native missionaries who already know the language and culture and are getting the job done for less cost.
Report from the Christian Telegraph
KATHMANDU, Nepal, July 30
(Compass Direct News) – Three years after a pro-democracy movement led to the proclamation of Nepal as a secular state, some Christians say they are in greater peril than ever.
They are now being targeted by militant Hindu organizations that blame the church for the abolition of Hinduism as the state religion and the end of monarchy. A little-known, shadowy organization that claimed to be building an army of suicide bombers has achieved notoriety with two brutal attacks on Catholics in two years.
Since May, when the Nepal Defense Army (NDA) – which claims to have links with militant Hindu organizations across the border in India – struck one of Kathmandu valley’s oldest and biggest churches, the group has threatened to drive all Christians from the country. And now a group claiming to be the parent organization of the NDA has warned that on Aug. 10 it will start a “Save the Hindu nation” movement.
Police say Ram Prasad Mainali, the elusive NDA chief, hired a local woman to plant a bomb at the Assumption Church on May 23 during mass. Two women and a schoolgirl were killed in the attack. The NDA also claimed responsibility for killing a Catholic priest, John Prakash Moyalan, in southern Nepal last year.
Though police have issued an alert for his arrest, Mainali continues to evade capture, and it is murmured that he has political connections. Undeterred by the hunt, he continues to threaten the Christian community.
Last month, the Rev. Pius Perumana, a senior Catholic priest, received a phone call.
“The caller said he was in charge of the NDA in Kathmandu valley,” said Perumana of Ishalaya Catholic Church, located in Godavari on the southern rim of the capital. “However, I recognized the voice. It was Ram Prasad Mainali himself.”
Godavari is an important Catholic hub that includes a Catholic pastoral center, a shelter for destitute, HIV-infected women and homeless children, a day care center and a small clinic.
Perumana said he has received at least five threatening calls from the Hindu supremist ordering him to close all Christian organizations and leave Nepal, he said. The NDA leader has also been calling Protestant pastors, demanding money. In districts outside Kathmandu, where security is weak, some pastors are said to have paid up out of fear.
Mainali’s success has spawned at least one copycat extortion attempt.
“At least one pastor in Kathmandu has received an extortion letter,” said Chirendra Satyal, spokesman of the Assumption Church. “The writer claimed to be the vice-president of a Hindu group, the National Defence Party (NDP), calling it the mother organization of which Mainali’s NDA was the military arm. The pastor was asked to pay 7.5 million Nepalese rupees [US$98,190].”
The letter warned that starting on Aug. 10, the underground organization will start a “Save the Hindu nation” movement.
No Christian Corpses
Until three years ago, Nepal used to be the only Hindu kingdom in the world where Christians faced discrimination by the state, ostracization by society and imprisonment if found guilty of preaching Christ.
Things officially changed in 2006 after a pro-democracy movement led to the ouster of the army-backed regime of Hindu King Gyanendra, and Parliament proclaimed the Himalayan kingdom a secular, federal state.
But three years later, nothing has changed in reality, said the Rev. Nayaran Sharma, bishop of the Protestant Believers’ Church.
“We bought a plot of land in a forest in Gorkha district in western Nepal so that we could have an official graveyard,” Sharma told Compass. “But when the locals heard of it, they made us return the land, saying they did not want corpses in their midst as they would attract evil.”
Even three years after Nepal became secular, Christians have to be buried clandestinely on private property with the danger of graves being dug up, he said.
“Churches have not yet been registered by the government, and so we don’t get state assistance like the Hindu temples and Muslim mosques do,” Sharma said. “Temples are provided free land, electricity and water; the madrassas – the Muslim schools – receive state funding, and the government subsidizes the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca.”
Christians make up about 2.5 percent of Nepal’s 25 million population. Nearly 75 percent of the population in Nepal is Hindu.
Christians are said to be both angered and disheartened by the new, 601-member constituent assembly mandated to draft a new constitution by May 2010.
“There’s not one Christian among the 601, though the government had the power to nominate members from unrepresented communities,” Sharma said. “Though Christianity has been in Nepal for almost 350 years, Christians are still like orphans. There is no one to speak for us, and we are discriminated against beyond imagination.”
Political instability and the subsequent lawlessness and impunity leave Christians vulnerable to violence, as Sanjay Ekka, a Catholic priest from India’s impoverished Jharkhand state, learned on Monday (July 27).
Ekka came to Nepal in 2000 to teach at St. Xavier’s School, a Jesuit-run school in eastern Jhapa district. Five years ago, he was brought to the capital city of Kathmandu to run the Loyola Students’ Home, a hostel for boys from the Tamang community of Nepal, who, like Ekka’s own tribe, the Oraons, are among the poorest, least educated and most oppressed groups in Nepal.
Despite the similarities of the two tribes, the 40-year-old Ekka was subjected to a savage attack on Monday (July 27) by an expelled student that left his left arm severely slashed and deep gashes on his hip.
“It’s another sign of the growing lawlessness in the country,” says the Rev. Lawrence Maniyar, former principal of St. Xavier’s School in Kathmandu valley, which was founded in 1951. “With crimes soaring, Christians are being targeted as they are seen as soft targets.”
Another factor endangering Christians in Nepal is the tension in the nascent republic’s relations with its southern neighbor and largest trading partner, India. As the smaller neighbour, Nepal has lived in fear of being annexed since 1975, when the kingdom of Sikkim decided to abrogate monarchy and become part of India after a controversial referendum.
Tensions worsened in 1989, when India imposed a virtual blockade of Nepal, hitting the fragile economy of the land-locked kingdom. A substantial number of Christian priests in Nepal are from India.
“The heads of three Catholic organizations have been asked to leave Nepal,” said Bishop Anthony Sharma. They are the Rev. Boniface Tigga, principal of St. Xavier’s School in Kathmandu valley, the principal of St. Mary’s Higher Secondary School, identified only as Sister Nancy, and Sister Teresa Mandassery, who heads the Navjyoti Day Care Center for the mentally challenged in Kathmandu. All three are from India.
“Now the animosity is out in the open,” said Maniyar of St Xavier’s in Kathmandu valley. “There has been growing union trouble in St. Xavier’s School. While we were holding talks with the union representatives, they told us to our face, ‘You priests from Kerala [in southern India] think you can run the school the way you want.”
Maniyar said it is useless trying to explain reality to such people.
“We are in Nepal not because we are Indians,” he says. “We are here because we are Jesuits. It is an international organization with an administrative structure of its own, and we have to follow our superiors and go where ever they want us to.”
Report from Compass Direct News
NEW DELHI, July 14 (Compass Direct News) – Nearly 11 months after an unprecedented wave of anti-Christian attacks shook the eastern state of Orissa, a reign of terror continues in the area as the former rioters issue death threats to witnesses.
Of the more than 750 cases filed in various police stations in Kandhamal district and neighboring Gajapati district, only one has resulted in conviction. Some trials are underway amid reports of armed extremists threatening to kill witnesses.
The Rev. Dibya Paricha of the Cuttack-Bhubaneswar Catholic Archdiocese said several witnesses are shrinking away to save their lives. On Thursday (July 9), a witness in Salapsahi village, in the Kasinpadar area under the Phiringia police station, refused to testify in a murder case.
“During the trial, the complainant, the younger brother of the victim, said he did not know anything about the case,” Paricha, coordinator of the Christian Legal Association’s (CLA) legal cell in Kandhamal, told Compass. “The previous day, he had said that he would tell the truth so that the culprits would be punished … From a reliable source we came to know that he was threatened with death.”
On June 30, three men carrying pistols – Sanjeeb Pradhan, Bikram Pradhan and Pratap Pradhan – threatened witnesses in the Gondaguda area of the Chenchedi Gram Panchayat administrative area, under the jurisdiction of the Sarangarh police station in Kandhamal, Paricha said.
The three men have been issuing death threats to witnesses through the area villages, he said.
“I know them [the three gunmen] personally,” Paricha said. “They were living hand-to-mouth until recently, and now they are riding a motor vehicle and threatening the survivors.”
Information on the threats has been provided to the sub-collector (an administrative officer in charge of a sub-district), the sub-divisional police officer and the district collector (administrative head), he said, and a First Information Report has been registered at the Sarangarh police station.
Another witness and complainant in a riot-related case, 55-year-old Batia Digal, was threatened on June 17, said Paricha. Gobida Chandra Pradhan from Piserama village and Shricharnan Mohan Pradhan from Dodaingia village in Raikia area tried to pressure Digal to withdraw the case, in which a local legislator from the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Manoj Pradhan, is one of the accused.
The Raikia police station is investigating the case.
On July 4, Christians saw a ray of hope when a fast-track court in Phulbani, Kandhamal district convicted a tribal leader of arson – the first conviction in a 2008 violence case. The court sentenced a 58-year-old Chakradhar Mallick to two years of prison and a fine of 1,000 rupees (US$20). Mallick had burned the house of a Christian, Loknath Digal, and threatened to kill him in August 2008.
But the granting of bail to one of the prime suspects in numerous anti-Christian riot cases – local BJP legislator Pradhan of the G. Udayagiri assembly constituency – on July 6 dampened the spirits of the Christians. Bail was granted for 15 days so that Pradhan could take oath as a member of the new assembly, reported Indo-Asian News Service. Pradhan was arrested in October 2008 on various charges including murder, rioting and arson.
The spate of violence that erupted in Kandhamal in August-September 2008 killed more than 100 people and resulted in the incineration of 4,640 houses, 252 churches and 13 educational institutions. The violence began following the assassination of a Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu council or VHP) leader, Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati, by a Maoist (extreme Marxist) group. Hindu nationalist groups blamed Christians for the assassination.
Although more than 100 people were killed in the attacks, only 26 murder cases have been registered under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code. According to CLA statistics, 13 cases were registered in the Raikia police station alone. Five complaints were filed in Tikabali, two each in G. Udayagiri, Sarangada, and Balliguda, and one each in Gocchapada and Phiringia.
At least nine cases were registered for attempted murder: four in Balliguda, two in G. Udayagiri, and one each in Tumudibandha, Phulbani, and Sarangada. Two rape cases were registered, one each in the Phulbani and Balliguda.
Over 550 cases have been filed for arson and looting: 323 in G. Udayagiri alone, 59 in Tikabali, 32 in Raikia, 31 in Gocchapada, 26 in Phulbani, 23 each in Phiringia and Balliguda, 18 in Daringbadi, 10 in Sarangada, four each in Tumudibandha and Kotagarh, and three in Khajuripada.
Around 680 people were arrested in the numerous cases, but some have managed to get bail from courts, according to The Deccan Herald newspaper.
The CLA and a non-profit group, the Human Rights Law Network (HRLN), are providing free legal services to the victims and their relatives in Kandhamal. In neighboring Gajapati district, which also faced numerous anti-Christian attacks in August-September 2008 as fallout of Saraswati’s murder, the All India Christian Council (AICC), in partnership with the HRLN, is providing free legal aid to victims of the violence.
“At least 337 families lost homes or businesses [in Gajapati district],” Dr. Sam Paul, AICC spokesman, told Compass. “[However,] most rehabilitation as well as public attention has focused on Kandhamal district.”
Commenting on the need for legal help in Gajapati, Paul added, “On one single day [in June], the lawyers counselled and drafted petitions for 30 persons.”
The AICC and HRLN are also helping the victims in Gajapati to receive compensation and recover lost identity cards and other documents.
Silence of Inquiry Panel
At the same time, a judicial commission headed by Justice S.C. Mohapatra to probe the August-September 2008 violence submitted a 28-page interim report to the state government on July 1 without blaming any group or organization for the violence.
“Sources of the violence were deeply rooted in land disputes, conversion and re-conversion and fake certificate issues … Suspicion among the scheduled tribe and scheduled caste inhabitants of Kandhamal is the main cause of riots, with the tribals suspecting that Pana Dalits were capturing their land through fraudulent means,” Mohapatra said, according to The Hindu.
Those belonging to the Kui tribe in Kandhamal are mostly Hindu. Christians make up an estimated 16 percent of the 650,000 people in the district, with more than 60 percent of them belonging to the Pana community and classified as “Scheduled Castes,” better known as Dalits (formerly “untouchables”).
The Pana community has been demanding recognition as a tribal community, as Dalits lose their right to government’s affirmative action after they convert to Christianity. The Kui people, however, oppose the demand, as it would increase the number of candidates eligible for government-reserved jobs. Sections of the Kui people believe that Pana Dalits make fake certificates to get the land that can belong only to tribal people.
“I know it will take at least two years to complete inquiry, but the interim report will help the government to make immediate intervention,” added Mohapatra.
Archbishop Raphael Cheenath of the Cuttack-Bhubaneswar Catholic Archdiocese told private channel Zee News, “Justice Mohapatra had given remarks on other matters without touching the subject for which the commission was set up, to investigate culpability in the series of attacks on Christians.” Cheenath said that conversion was “not at all” a factor behind the Kandhamal violence.
The National Commission for Minorities in October 2008 had accused the then-ruling state government, a coalition of a regional party, the Biju Janata Dal (NJD) and the BJP, of not controlling the violence. It said that despite knowing that public reaction to the murder of a prominent religious leader like Laxmanananda would be extreme, there was little evidence of action by political and administrative higher-ups in Bhubaneswar, reported The Indian Express daily on Oct. 30, 2008.
In March 2009, the BJD broke its 11-year-old alliance with the BJP, saying it did not want to partner with a “communal” party. The BJD fought and won the April-May state assembly election alone. Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik held the BJP and groups linked with it, such as the Hindu extremist VHP and its youth wing Bajrang Dal, responsible for the violence, according to private news channel CNN-IBN.
Report from Compass Direct News