Country’s religious regulatory authority expected to consider recognition before year’s end.
NEW DELHI, November 4 (CDN) — For the first time in Bhutan’s history, the Buddhist nation’s government seems ready to grant much-awaited official recognition and accompanying rights to a miniscule Christian population that has remained largely underground.
The authority that regulates religious organizations will discuss in its next meeting – to be held by the end of December – how a Christian organization can be registered to represent its community, agency secretary Dorji Tshering told Compass by phone.
Thus far only Buddhist and Hindu organizations have been registered by the authority, locally known as Chhoedey Lhentshog. As a result, only these two communities have the right to openly practice their religion and build places of worship.
Asked if Christians were likely to get the same rights soon, Tshering replied, “Absolutely” – an apparent paradigm shift in policy given that Bhutan’s National Assembly had banned open practice of non-Buddhist and non-Hindu religions by passing resolutions in 1969 and in 1979.
“The constitution of Bhutan says that Buddhism is the country’s spiritual heritage, but it also says that his majesty [the king] is the protector of all religions,” he added, explaining the basis on which the nascent democracy is willing to accept Christianity as one of the faiths of its citizens.
The former king of Bhutan, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, envisioned democracy in the country in 2006 – after the rule of an absolute monarchy for over a century. The first elections were held in 2008, and since then the government has gradually given rights that accompany democracy to its people.
The government’s move to legalize Christianity seems to have the consent of the present king, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, who is respected by almost all people and communities in the country. In his early thirties, the king studied in universities in the United States and the United Kingdom. Prime Minister Lyonchen Jigmey Thinley is also believed to have agreed in principle to recognition of other faiths.
According to source who requested anonymity, the government is likely to register only one Christian organization and would expect it to represent all Christians in Bhutan – which would call for Christian unity in the country.
All Hindus, who constitute around 22 percent of Bhutan’s less than 700,000 people, are also represented by one legal entity, the Hindu Dharma Samudaya (Hindu Religion Community) of Bhutan, which was registered with the Chhoedey Lhentshog authority along with Buddhist organizations a year ago.
Tshering said the planned discussion at the December meeting is meant to look at technicalities in the Religious Organizations Act of 2007, which provides for registration and regulation of religious groups with intent to protect and promote the country’s spiritual heritage. The government began to enforce the Act only in November 2009, a year after the advent of democracy.
Asked what some of the government’s concerns are over allowing Christianity in the country, Tshering said “conversion must not be forced, because it causes social tensions which Bhutan cannot afford to have. However, the constitution says that no one should be forced to believe in a religion, and that aspect will be taken care of. We will ensure that no one is forced to convert.”
The government’s willingness to recognize Christians is partly aimed at bringing the community under religious regulation, said the anonymous source. This is why it is evoking mixed response among the country’s Christians, who number around 6,000 according to rough estimates.
Last month, a court in south Bhutan sentenced a Christian man to three years of prison for screening films on Christianity – which was criticized by Christian organizations around the world. (See http://www.compassdirect.org, “Christian in Bhutan Imprisoned for Showing Film on Christ,” Oct. 18.)
The government is in the process of introducing a clause banning conversions by force or allurement in the country’s penal code.
Though never colonized, landlocked Bhutan has historically seen its sovereignty as fragile due to its small size and location between two Asian giants, India and China. It has sought to protect its sovereignty by preserving its distinct cultural identity based on Buddhism and by not allowing social tensions or unrest.
In the 1980s, when the king sought to strengthen the nation’s cultural unity, ethnic Nepalese citizens, who are mainly Hindu and from south Bhutan, rebelled against it. But a military crackdown forced over 100,000 of them – some of them secret Christians – to either flee to or voluntarily leave the country for neighboring Nepal.
Tshering said that while some individual Christians had approached the authority with queries, no organization had formally filed papers for registration.
After the December meeting, if members of the regulatory authority feel that Chhoedey Lhentshog’s mandate does not include registering a Christian organization, Christians will then be registered by another authority, the source said.
After official recognition, Christians would require permission from local authorities to hold public meetings. Receiving foreign aid or inviting foreign speakers would be subject to special permission from the home ministry, added the source.
Bhutan’s first contact with Christians came in the 17th century when Guru Rimpoche, a Buddhist leader and the unifier of Bhutan as a nation state, hosted the first two foreigners, who were Jesuits. Much later, Catholics were invited to provide education in Bhutan; the Jesuits came to Bhutan in 1963 and the Salesians in 1982 to run schools. The Salesians, however, were expelled in 1982 on accusations of proselytizing, and the Jesuits left the country in 1988.
“As Bhutanese capacities (scholarly, administrative and otherwise) increased, the need for active Jesuit involvement in the educational system declined, ending in 1988, when the umbrella agreement between the Jesuit order and the kingdom expired and the administration of all remaining Jesuit institutions was turned over to the government,” writes David M. Malone, Canada’s high commissioner to India and ambassador to Bhutan, in the March 2008 edition of Literary Review of Canada.
After a Christian organization is registered, Christian institutions may also be allowed once again in the country, given the government’s stress on educating young Bhutanese.
A local Christian requesting anonymity said the community respects Bhutan’s political and religious leaders, especially the king and the prime minister, will help preserve the country’s unique culture and seeks to contribute to the building of the nation.
Report from Compass Direct News
80-year-old’s bones broken after he refused prostitute that four men offered.
SARGODHA, Pakistan, October 21 (CDN) — An 80-year-old Christian in southern Punjab Province said Muslims beat him and his 75-year-old wife, breaking his arms and legs and her skull, because he refused a prostitute they had offered him.
From his hospital bed in Vehari, Emmanuel Masih told Compass by telephone that two powerful Muslim land owners in the area, brothers Muhammad Malik Jutt and Muhammad Khaliq Jutt, accompanied by two other unidentified men, brought a prostitute to his house on Oct. 8. Targeting him as a Christian on the premise that he would not have the social status to fight back legally, the men ordered him to have sex with the woman at his residence in village 489-EB, he said.
“I turned down the order of the Muslim land owners, which provoked the ire of those four Muslim men,” Masih said in a frail voice. District Headquarters Hospital (DHQ) Vehari officials confirmed that he suffered broken hip, arm and leg bones in the subsequent attack.
His wife, Inayatan Bibi, said she was cleaning the courtyard of her home when she heard the four furious men brutally striking Masih in her house.
“I tried to intervene to stop them and pleaded for mercy, and they also thrashed me with clubs and small pieces of iron rods,” she said by telephone.
The couple was initially rushed to Tehsil Headquarters Hospital Burewala in critical condition, but doctors there turned them away at the behest of the Jutt brothers, according to the couple’s attorney, Rani Berkat. Burewala hospital officials confirmed the denial of medical care.
Taken to the hospital in Vehari, Inayatan Bibi was treated for a fractured skull. The beatings had left both her and her husband unconscious.
Berkat said the Muslim assailants initially intimidated Fateh Shah police into refraining from filing charges against them. After intervention by Berkat and Albert Patras, director of human rights group Social Environment Protection, police reluctantly registered a case against the Jutt brothers and two unidentified accomplices for attempted murder and “assisting to devise a crime.” The First Information Report (FIR) number is 281/10.
Station House Officer Mirza Muhammad Jamil of the Fateh Shah police station declined to speak with Compass about the case. Berkat said Jamil told her that the suspects would be apprehended and that justice would be served.
Berkat added, however, that police appeared to be taking little action on the case, and that therefore she had filed an application in the Vehari District and Sessions Court for a judge to direct Fateh Shah police to add charges of ransacking to the FIR.
Doctors at DHQ Vehari said the couple’s lives were no longer in danger, but that they would be kept under observation.
Report from Compass Direct News
Prime Minister Gulia Gillard has announced the make up of her new ministry in Australia’s 43rd national government, in the current ALP minority government supported by the Greens and Independents. A Regional Ministry position was turned down by Independent Rob Oakeshott. There are several changes to the ALP team. The entire ministry can be viewed at:
Due to legislative innovations and ensuing bureaucratic obstacles many religious communities in Azerbaijan failed to re-register within the prescribed period before January 1, 2010, reports The Institute of Religious Freedom. As a result, most of them have been banned from conducting any of the religious activities and threatened with liquidation the status of “juridical entity”, said the Institute of Religious Freedom, Kyiv based on the documents obtained from city Baku.
According to the IRF, the official refusal to renew the registration in order to comply with the new edition of the Azerbaijani “Law on Religion” was issued to the “Nehemiah” Church, "Cathedral of Praise” Church in Baku as well as the Seventh Day Adventists, Baptist and Pentecostal Churches in Azerbaijan.
The biggest obstacle to religious freedom in Azerbaijan became the new procedure of state registration of religious communities. The amendments into the Law made it overly cumbersome and now it consists of more requirements to the founders, than ever before. From now on a religious community must submit a certificate of the date of its occurrence, information about religious education and relations toward secular education.
Moreover, it is prohibited for a religious community to use for its official registration a personal address of a believer. Legislative changes have also limited a congregation’s activity to only the territory where it is officially registered.
However under Article 12 of the Azerbaijani “Law on Religion” religious communities can conduct their activities only at the legal address. Such a rule is often used by the State Committee of Azerbaijan on Relations with Religious Organizations to prohibit a church to perform it’s activity in leased premises. As a result, the religious communities which do not own premises for worship remained outside the law.
A striking example of infringement of religious freedom in Azerbaijan on the basis of the new “Law on Religion” is the situation with the "Cathedral of Praise" Evangelical Church in city Baku.
This religious community provided all the necessary documents for re-registration in time. However in May 2010 it received a copy of an official refusal adopted by the State Committee two months ago. Other Christian Protestant communities also faced similar situation.
The "Cathedral of Praise" Evangelical Church was the first one to object and file an appeal against the refusal of registration in the judiciary. However, representatives of the authorities referred to the formal inconsistency of information about the founders of the community with the data submitted during the initial registration in 2001. On the 30th of July to the utmost surprise of believers, their appeal was turned down. In spite of the complete absence of the necessary documentary evidences the court supported the position of the authorities.
Following on January 2010 the place where the "Cathedral of Praise" Church in Baku worshiped was completely destroyed by fire.
Prior to this in the end of 2008, the building of the Protestant community which was purchased by the believers was confiscated. This happened without any compensation and as a result of a rather questionable trial in favor of the local oil refinery “Azerneftyag”.
The "Cathedral of Praise" Evangelical Church was founded in Baku in 1994 and currently has about 1000 members. At the same time according to official data the majority of Azerbaijan’s population confesses Shia Islam along with its other developments.
In February 2010, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) noted the deteriorating situation in Azerbaijan during the past five years. These legislative changes, hastily adopted in Azerbaijan in May 2009, were particularly alarming for experts and defenders.
Report from the Christian Telegraph
Evangelistic team cheats death; separately, stray gunshot leads to false charges.
RAWALPINDI, Pakistan, July 15 (CDN) — Suspected Islamic extremists fired bullets into the car of a Christian evangelist with impunity last month, while in another Punjab Province town stray gunfire led to two Christians being falsely accused of murder.
Following a youth revival in Essa Nagri, near Faisalabad, the Rev. Kamran Pervaiz, a guest speaker from Rawalpindi, was in the passenger seat of a Toyota Corolla returning to Faisalabad with his team on June 25 when 12 armed men tried to stop their car, the pastor said.
Pastor Naeem Joseph, an organizer of the revival, was leading the ministry team by motorbike, and he led them past the armed men as they reached the Narawala Road bypass at about 1:15 a.m.
“I didn’t stop,” Pastor Joseph told Compass. “A gunshot was fired at me, but it missed, and instead of going straight I turned right towards the Sudhar bypass and took the motorbike into the fields.”
Pervaiz Sohtra was driving the car.
“Rev. Kamran asked me to increase the speed,” Sohtra said. “The armed men shouted to stop and directly fired at the car. I saw from the rearview mirror that they were coming after us, and I told everyone to stay down.”
The rear window suddenly broke to pieces as bullets pierced the car.
“Pervaiz [Sohtra] turned off the lights and took the car into the fields and turned off the engine,” Kamran Pervaiz said. “The attackers drove by, near the road, without noticing the fields. No one was injured. We were all safe.”
Pervaiz said he was certain that they were targeted because of their involvement in the Christian revival meeting; response to Pervaiz’s preaching jumped when a crippled man was healed after the evangelist prayed for him at the event. Muslim groups had warned the Christians to abort the meeting after banners and posters were displayed across Essa Nagri.
“A local Muslim group tore the banners and threatened us, telling us not to organize the meeting or else we would face dire consequences,” said Salman John, one of the organizers.
A police patrol responded to the ministry team’s emergency number phone call, reaching them in the field shortly before 2 a.m. and escorting Pervaiz and the others in their bullet-damaged car to Model Town, Faisalabad.
Pastor Joseph filed an application for a First Information Report (FIR) at Ghulam Muhammad Abad police station in Faisalabad. Acting Superintendent Shabir Muhammad took the application but declined to register an FIR due to pressure from local Muslim groups, he said.
“I am trying to register the FIR, but the things are out of my control at higher levels,” Muhammad told Compass.
In Gujrat, by contrast, police soon arrested two young Christian men after shots fired into the air by a drunken man killed a neighbor.
Cousins Saleem Masih, 22, and John Masih, 23, were falsely accused of robbery as well as murder, a later police investigation found, and they were released. Both worked at the farm of Chaudhry Ashraf Gondal, who became inebriated along with friend Chaudhry Farhan on June 18, according to Riaz Masih, father of Saleem Masih.
“They were feasting and then got drunk and started firing gunshots into the air for fun, and one of the bullets hit a passer-by near their home, and he died on the spot,” Riaz Masih said.
Yousaf Masih, father of John Masih, told Compass that when police arrived, Ashraf Gondal “gave them some money and asked them to take care of the matter.”
On June 22, police went to Yousaf Masih’s house asking for Saleem and John Masih. When Yousaf Masih said they were at work and asked if everything was alright, the inspector told him that the two young men had robbed and murdered shopkeeper Malik Sajid on June 18 at about 11:30 p.m.
“My son and Saleem came home around 6 p.m. and they didn’t go out after that,” Yousaf Masih told the officers. “On June 18 they were at home – they didn’t go out, so how could they murder Sajid?”
Police went to Ashraf Gondal’s farm and arrested the two young Christians. When police told Ashraf Gondal that they had robbed and murdered Sajid, he replied that they were capable of such a crime as they often asked him for advances on their pay and “they even sell alcohol.” Alcohol is illegal for Muslims in Pakistan and can be sold only by non-Muslims with a license.
Riaz Masih said he and Yousaf Masih rushed to Ashraf Gondal for help, but that he spoke harshly to them, saying, “Your sons have robbed and murdered an innocent person, and they even sell alcohol. Why should I help criminals, and especially Christian criminals?”
The two fathers went to the police station, where the Station House Officer (SHO) refused to allow them to meet with their sons. They went to Pastor Zaheer Latif.
“I’ve known Saleem and John since they were small kids, and they could never rob or murder anyone,” Pastor Latif told Compass. “They were targeted because they are Christians. The SHO and Ashraf knew that these boys would not be able to prove themselves innocent.”
The pastor referred the fathers to the senior superintendent of police operations officer Raon Irfan, who undertook an investigation. When he spoke with Ashraf Gondal, Irfan said, the landowner denied that Farhan had visited him on June 18.
“I have read the inquiry report by the SHO,” Irfan told Compass. “I am aware of the fact that this SHO is a corrupt person, and it is clearly a false report.”
Irfan said that, after talking with villagers, he concluded that Farhan was with Ashraf Gondal in Gujrat on June 18, and that they shot into the air for fun and one of the bullets killed Sajid.
“Ashraf bribed the SHO to arrest someone else and file charges of robbery and murder,” Irfan said. “Ashraf is an influential person, and he told the SHO to file the case against Saleem and John, as they are Christians and would not be able to prove themselves innocent.”
Advocacy group Peace Pakistan filed an appeal of the false charges with the Gujrat Session Court on June 25. In light of Irfan’s report, Session Judge Muhammad Gulfam Malik on June 27 released Saleem Masih and John Masih and suspended the SHO for corruption and filing a false case.
No action, however, was taken against Ashraf Gondal or Farhan. Police have not arrested either of them.
Report from Compass Direct News
Sanitation worker on verge of receiving benefits; in another village, church builders attacked.
SARGODHA, Pakistan, June 10 (CDN) — A Christian woman here said she has been falsely accused of theft, beaten, threatened with rape and forced to resign her job in a bid to keep her from obtaining full benefits as a regular government employee.
Razia Bibi, a 38-year-old sanitation worker known as Rajji of village No. 47-NB (Northern Branch), Sargodha, was due to obtain regular status as a government employee at Aysha Girls’ Hostel at the University of Sargodha at the end of May. On May 7, however, Muslim office worker Safia Bibi accused her of stealing 10,000 rupees (US$120) from her cubicle – and when Muslim hostel warden Noshaba Bibi learned of it, she called female police officers and ordered them to beat her until
she confessed, Rajji said.
“Lady police constables subjected me to inhumane thrashing with bamboo sticks and kept saying that I must confess or they would not spare me,” she said, adding that she was beaten for four hours in one of the hostel rooms. “I said that, being a Christian from childhood, I had learned not to steal, therefore I told them the truth, but it seemed they were bent on making me confess a crime I had not committed.”
Her comment about being a Christian and therefore not having stolen anything seemed to especially enrage Safia Bibi and Noshaba Bibi, she said.
“Hostel officials turned violent, and they called Haaser Khan, the chief security officer of the university, accompanied by two junior security guards, and ordered them to take me into a cubicle and take off my clothes and rape me,” she said. “I raised a cry for help, but there was no one to help me.”
Her husband, Nayyer Aftab, told Compass that someone informed him that his wife was in serious trouble at her workplace. Rushing to the girls’ hostel, he said, he found the security guards dragging his wife on the ground as she screamed for help. When Aftab asked why they were treating her this way, Khan charged him with his baton and left him injured on the ground, Aftab said. The chief security officer took Rajji inside.
“Both hostel officers, Noshaba and Safia, told me that Rajji had stolen 10,000 rupees, and that because she didn’t confess her crime the security guards were going to teach her a lesson,” Aftab said.
Aftab said he knew that his wife would not confess to theft even to spare herself from rape, and he pleaded with the two accusers to stop the security guards, promising that he would pay them the amount of the allegedly stolen money.
“At this both Safia and Noshaba ordered to bring Rajji out and not rape her,” Aftab told Compass. “They gave me an hour to make payment of the allegedly stolen amount.”
He said he went to friends and relatives to gather up the 10,000 rupees and gave it to Safia Bibi and Noshaba Bibi, but Aftab said they still compelled his wife to resign by forcibly obtaining a thumb print from the illiterate woman on a resignation statement.
Rajji said she had been happily looking forward to obtaining regular employee status.
“In three weeks I was going to become a regular employee as a sanitation worker at the university, but as I am a Christian, the Muslim hostel officers Safia and Noshaba wanted a Muslim regular employee after their hearts instead of me,” she told Compass.
Noshaba Bibi initially refused to comment on the allegation that she falsely accused the Christian woman of theft in order to provide a job to someone of her choice. After repeated questioning by Compass, however, she became exasperated and used coarse language, yelling, “Yes, I have done it, do whatever you want!”
The Christian couple in the village in Punjab Province has an 8-year-old daughter and two sons, ages 9 and 5.
Christians Beaten, Jailed
In a village in southern Punjab Province, Muslim extremists on Saturday (June 5) attacked Christians trying to construct a church building, and then got police to file charges against them for defending themselves, according to the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA).
A club-wielding Muslim mob led by Muhammad Nazir Ahmed beat Christians who were laying the foundation for the church building in village No. 184/9-L, in Cheechawatni of Sahiwal district, seriously injuring several of them, said Javed Akber Gill, APMA district coordinator in Sahiwal.
Ahmed later enlisted Inspector Allah Ditta, station house officer at the Dera Rahim police station, to file charges against four Christians – Noreen Mumtaz, who is pregnant, and her husband Mumtaz Inayat, Aftab Inayat and Kashif Masih, Christian sources said. All four were charged with critically injuring others and attempting to kill or threaten to kill, they said.
Inspector Ditta refused to respond to repeated requests by Compass for comment on allegations that he colluded with the Muslim extremists to falsely accuse the Christian victims of the attack.
The accused Christians pleaded with police that they were innocent, to no avail. Gill said that he was doing his best to resolve the issue peacefully in an attempt to avert the kind of violence that hit the Christian communities of Gojra and Korian in July and August of 2009 and Shanti Nagar in 1997.
The Rev. John Rizwani of Cheechawatni city said the government had allotted a small piece of land to the Christians for the building and that they had permission to build. There are only 25 Christians’ homes amid the approximately 500 Muslim homes in the village.
Ferhan Mazher, chairman of Rays of Development Organization, Azher Kalim, general secretary the Christians Lawyers Foundation and Khalid Gill, head of APMA in Punjab, condemned the attack.
“Attacks on worship places usurp basic human rights and constitute a conspiracy to belittle the name of Pakistan worldwide,” Mazher said.
Left for dead, Christians offer to drop charges if allowed to construct church building.
CAIRO, Egypt, June 9 (CDN) — Rasha Samir was sure her husband, Ephraim Shehata, was dead.
He was covered with blood, had two bullets inside him and was lying facedown in the dust of a dirt road. Samir was lying on top of him doing her best to shelter him from the onslaught of approaching gunmen.
With arms outstretched, the men surrounded Samir and Shehata and pumped off round after round at the couple. Seconds before, Samir could hear her husband mumbling Bible verses. But one bullet had pierced his neck, and now he wasn’t moving. In a blind terror, Samir tried desperately to stop her panicked breathing and convincingly lie still, hoping the gunmen would go away.
Finally, the gunfire stopped and one of the men spoke. “Let’s go. They’re dead.”
‘Break the Hearts’
On the afternoon of Feb. 27, lay pastor Shehata and his wife Samir were ambushed on a desolate street by a group of Islamic gunmen outside the village of Teleda in Upper Egypt.
The attack was meant to “break the hearts of the Christians” in the area, Samir said.
The attackers shot Shehata twice, once in the stomach through the back, and once in the neck. They shot Samir in the arm. Both survived the attack, but Shehata is still in the midst of a difficult recovery. The shooters have since been arrested and are in jail awaiting trial. A trial cannot begin until Shehata has recovered enough to attend court proceedings.
Despite this trauma, being left with debilitating injuries, more than 85,000 Egyptian pounds (US$14,855) in medical bills and possible long-term unemployment, Shehata is willing to drop all criminal charges against his attackers – and avoid what could be a very embarrassing trial for the nation – if the government will stop blocking Shehata from constructing a church building.
Before Shehata was shot, one of the attackers pushed him off his motorcycle and told him he was going to teach him a lesson about “running around” or being an active Christian.
Because of his ministry, the 34-year-old Shehata, a Coptic Orthodox Christian, was arguably the most visible Christian in his community. When he wasn’t working as a lab technician or attending legal classes at a local college, he was going door-to-door among Christians to encourage them in any way he could. He also ran a community center and medical clinic out of a converted two-bedroom apartment. His main goal, he said, was to “help Christians be strong in their faith.”
The center, open now for five years, provided much-needed basic medical services for surrounding residents for free, irrespective of their religion. The center also provided sewing training and a worksite for Christian women so they could gain extra income. Before the center was open in its present location, he ran similar services out of a relative’s apartment.
“We teach them something that can help them with the future, and when they get married they can have some way to work and it will help them get money for their families,” Shehata said.
Additionally, the center was used to teach hygiene and sanitation basics to area residents, a vital service to a community that uses well water that is often polluted or full of diseases. Along with these services, Shehata and his wife ran several development projects, repairing the roofs of shelters for poor people, installing plumbing, toilets and electrical systems. The center also distributed free food to the elderly and the infirm.
The center has been run by donations and nominal fees used to pay the rent for the apartment. Shehata has continued to run the programs as aggressively as he can, but he said that even before the shooting that the center was barely scraping by.
“We have no money to build or improve anything,” he said. “We have a safe, but no money to put in it.”
In the weeks before the shooting, Teleda and the surrounding villages were gripped with fear.
Christians in the community had been receiving death threats by phone after a Muslim man died during an attack on a Christian couple. On Feb. 2, a group of men in nearby Samalout tried to abduct a Coptic woman from a three-wheeled motorcycle her husband was driving. The husband, Zarif Elia, punched one of the attackers in the nose. The Muslim, Basem Abul-Eid, dropped dead on the spot.
Elia was arrested and charged with murder. An autopsy later revealed that the man died of a heart attack, but local Muslims were incensed.
Already in the spotlight for his ministry activities, Shehata heightened his profile when he warned government officials that Christians were going to be attacked, as they had been in Farshout and Nag Hammadi the previous month. He also gave an interview to a human rights activist that was posted on numerous Coptic websites. Because of this, government troops were deployed to the town, and extremists were unable to take revenge on local Christians – but only after almost the
entire Christian community was placed under house arrest.
“They chose me,” Shehata said, “Because they thought I was the one serving everybody, and I was the one who wrote the government telling them that Muslims were going to set fire to the Christian houses because of the death.”
Because of his busy schedule, Shehata and Samir, 27, were only able to spend Fridays and part of every Saturday together in a village in Samalut, where Shehata lives. Every Saturday after seeing Samir, Shehata would drive her back through Teleda to the village where she lives, close to her family. Samalut is a town approximately 105 kilometers (65 miles) south of Cairo.
On the afternoon of Feb. 27, Shehata and his wife were on a motorcycle on a desolate stretch of hard-packed dirt road. Other than a few scattered farming structures, there was nothing near the road but the Nile River on one side, and open fields dotted with palm trees on the other.
Shehata approached a torn-up section of the road and slowed down. A man walked up to the vehicle carrying a big wooden stick and forced him to stop. Shehata asked the man what was wrong, but he only pushed Shehata off the motorcycle and told him, “I’m going to stop you from running around,” Samir recounted.
Shehata asked the man to let Samir go. “Whatever you are going to do, do it to me,” he told the man.
The man didn’t listen and began hitting Shehata on the leg with the stick. As Shehata stumbled, Samir screamed for the man to leave them alone. The man lifted the stick again, clubbed Shehata once more on the leg and knocked him to the ground. As Shehata struggled to get up, the man took out a pistol, leveled it at Shehata’s back and squeezed the trigger.
Samir started praying and screaming Jesus’ name. The man turned toward her, raised the pistol once more, squeezed off another round, and shot Samir in the arm. Samir looked around and saw a few men running toward her, but her heart sank when she realized they had come not to help them but to join the assault.
Samir jumped on top of Shehata, rolled on to her back and started begging her attackers for their lives, but the men, now four in all, kept firing. Bullets were flying everywhere.
“I was scared. I thought I was going to die and that the angels were going to come and get our spirits,” Samir said. “I started praying, ‘Please God, forgive me, I’m a sinner and I am going to die.’”
Samir decided to play dead. She leaned back toward her husband, closed her eyes, went limp and tried to stop breathing. She said she felt that Shehata was dying underneath her.
“I could hear him saying some of the Scriptures, the one about the righteous thief [saying] ‘Remember me when you enter Paradise,’” she said. “Then a bullet went through his neck, and he stopped saying anything.”
Samir has no way of knowing how much time passed, but eventually the firing stopped. After she heard one of the shooters say, “Let’s go, they’re dead,” moments later she opened her eyes and the men were gone. When she lifted her head, she heard her husband moan.
When Shehata arrived at the hospital, his doctors didn’t think he would survive. He had lost a tremendous amount of blood, a bullet had split his kidney in two, and the other bullet was lodged in his neck, leaving him partially paralyzed.
His heartbeat was so faint it couldn’t be detected. He was also riddled with a seemingly limitless supply of bullet fragments throughout his body.
Samir, though seriously injured, had fared much better than Shehata. The bullet went into her arm but otherwise left her uninjured. When she was shot, Samir was wearing a maternity coat. She wasn’t pregnant, but the couple had bought the coat in hopes she soon would be. Samir said she thinks the gunman who shot her thought he had hit her body, instead of just her arm.
The church leadership in Samalut was quickly informed about the shooting and summoned the best doctors they could, who quickly traveled to help Shehata and Samir. By chance, the hospital had a large supply of blood matching Shehata’s blood type because of an elective surgical procedure that was cancelled. The bullets were removed, and his kidney was repaired. The doctors however, were forced to leave many of the bullet fragments in Shehata’s body.
As difficult as it was to piece Shehata’s broken body back together, it paled in comparison with the recovery he had to suffer through. He endured multiple surgeries and was near death several times during his 70 days of hospitalization.
Early on, Shehata was struck with a massive infection. Also, because part of his internal tissue was cut off from its blood supply, it literally started to rot inside him. He began to swell and was in agony.
“I was screaming, and they brought the doctors,” Shehata said. The doctors decided to operate immediately.
When a surgeon removed one of the clamps holding Shehata’s abdomen together, the intense pressure popped off most of the other clamps. Surgeons removed some stomach tissue, part of his colon and more than a liter of infectious liquid.
Shehata could not eat normally and lost 35 kilograms (approximately 77 lbs.). He also couldn’t evacuate his bowels for at least 11 days, his wife said.
Despite the doctors’ best efforts, infections continued to rage through Shehata’s body, accompanied by alarming spikes in body temperature.
Eventually, doctors sent him to a hospital in Cairo, where he spent a week under treatment. A doctor there prescribed a different regimen of antibiotics that successfully fought the infection and returned Shehata’s body temperature to normal.
Shehata is recovering at home now, but he still has a host of medical problems. He has to take a massive amount of painkillers and is essentially bedridden. He cannot walk without assistance, is unable to move the fingers on his left hand and cannot eat solid food. In approximately two months he will undergo yet another surgery that, if all goes well, will allow him to use the bathroom normally.
“Even now I can’t walk properly, and I can’t lift my leg more than 10 or 20 centimeters. I need someone to help me just to pull up my underwear,” Shehata said. “I can move my arm, but I can’t move my fingers.”
Samir does not complain about her condition or that of Shehata. Instead, she sees the fact that she and her husband are even alive as a testament to God’s faithfulness. She said she thinks God allowed them to be struck with the bullets that injured them but pushed away the bullets that would have killed them.
“There were lots of bullets being shot, but they didn’t hit us, only three or four,” she said. “Where are the others?”
Even in the brutal process of recovery, Samir found cause for thanks. In the beginning, Shehata couldn’t move his left arm, but now he can. “Thank God and thank Jesus, it was His blessing to us,” Samir said. “We were kind of dead, now we are alive."
Still, Samir admits that sometimes her faith waivers. She is facing the possibility that Shehata might not work for some time, if ever. The couple owes the 85,000 Egyptian pounds (US$14,855) in medical bills, and continuing their ministry at the center and in the surrounding villages will be difficult at best.
“I am scared now, more so than during the shooting,” she said. “Ephraim said do not be afraid, it is supposed to make us stronger.”
So Samir prays for strength for her husband to heal and for patience. In the meantime, she said she looks forward to the day when the struggles from the shooting are over and she can look back and see how God used it to shape them.
“There is a great work the Lord is doing in our lives, we may not know what the reason is now, but maybe some day we will,” Samir said.
For the past 10 years, Shehata has tried to erect a church building, or at a minimum a house, that he could use as a dedicated community center. But local Muslims and Egypt’s State Security Investigations (SSI) agency have blocked him every step of the way. He had, until the shooting happened, all but given up on constructing the church building.
On numerous occasions, Shehata has been stopped from holding group prayer meetings after people complained to the SSI. In one incident, a man paid by a land owner to watch a piece of property near the community center complained to the SSI that Shehata was holding prayer meetings at the facility. The SSI made Shehata sign papers stating he wouldn’t hold prayer meetings at the center.
At one time, Shehata had hoped to build a house to use as a community center on property that had been given to him for that purpose. Residents spread a rumor that he was actually erecting a church building, and police massed at the property to prevent him from doing any construction.
There is no church in the town where Shehata lives or in the surrounding villages. Shehata admits he would like to put up a church building on the donated property but says it is impossible, so he doesn’t even try.
In Egypt constructing or even repairing a church building can only be done after a complex government approval process. In effect, it makes it impossible to build a place for Christian worship. By comparison, the construction of mosques is encouraged through a system of subsidies.
“It is not allowed to build a church in Egypt,” Shehata said. “We can’t build a house. We can’t build a community center. And we can’t build a church.”
Because of this, Shehata and his wife organize transportation from surrounding villages to St. Mark’s Cathedral in Samalut for Friday services and sacraments. Because of the lack of transportation options, the congregants are forced to ride in a dozen open-top cattle cars.
“We take them not in proper cars or micro-buses, but trucks – the same trucks we use to move animals,” he said.
The trip is dangerous. A year ago a man fell out of one of the trucks onto the road and died. Shehata said bluntly that Christians are dying in Egypt because the government won’t allow them to construct church buildings.
“I feel upset about the man who died on the way going to church,” he said.
The shooters who attacked Shehata and Samir are in jail awaiting trial. The couple has identified each of the men, but even if they hadn’t, finding them for arrest was not a difficult task. The village the attackers came from erupted in celebration when they heard the pastor and his wife were dead.
Shehata now sees the shooting as a horrible incident that can be turned to the good of the believers he serves. He said he finds it particularly frustrating that numerous mosques have sprouted up in his community and surrounding areas during the 10 years he has been prevented from putting up a church building, or even a house. There are two mosques alone on the street of the man who died while being trucked to church services, he said.
Shehata has decided to forgo justice in pursuit of an opportunity to finally construct a church building. He has approached the SSI through church leaders, saying that if he is allowed to construct a church building, then he will take no part in the criminal prosecution of the shooters.
“I have told the security forces through the priests that I will drop the case if they can let us build the church on the piece of land,” he said.
The proposal isn’t without possibilities. His trial has the potential of being internationally embarrassing. It raises questions about fairness in Egyptian society during an upcoming presidential election that will be watched by the world.
Regardless of what happens, Shehata said all he wants is peace and for the rights of Christians to be respected. He said that in Egypt, Christians have less value than the “birds of the air” mentioned in the Bible. According to Luke 12:6, five sparrows sold for two pennies in ancient times.
“We are not to be killed like birds, slaughtered,” he said. “We are human.”
Derogatory remarks, beatings, pressure to convert to Islam drive two girls to drop out.
SARGODHA, Pakistan, May 19 (CDN) — Muslim teachers at a girls school here have derided Christian students for their faith, beat them, pressured them to convert to Islam and forced them to clean school bathrooms and classrooms after class hours, according to area Christians.
Muslim teachers at Government Higher Secondary School in village No. 79-NB (Northern Branch), Sargodha, in Punjab Province, have so abused Christian students that two of the dozens of Christian girls at the school have dropped out, said a 16-year-old student identified only as Sana.
“Christian students are teased and mocked by radical Muslim, female teachers from the start of the school day to the end,” she said. “Due to the contemptuous behavior on religious grounds by the fanatical Muslim principal and staff, Christian students feel dejected, depressed and frustrated. I am totally broken-hearted because of the intolerance and discrimination.”
Rebecca Bhatti, a 16-year-old grade 10 student, told Compass she left the government school because her main teacher, along with an Islamic Education & Arabic Language teacher identified only as Sumaira, a math teacher identified only as Gullnaz, other Muslim teachers and Ferhat Naz, the principal, would call Christian girls in to the staff room at recess and demand that they polish their shoes or wash their undergarments and other clothes.
“If any girl turned down the orders of any of the Muslim teachers, they were punished,” Bhatti said as she spilled tears. “The Muslim school teachers ordered us to wash lavatories daily and clean the school compound and classrooms, even though there is staff to keep the school clean.”
She said that the school also denied Christian students certificates of completion when they had finished their studies.
“This was to bar Christian students from gaining admission to other educational institutions or continue their education,” she said.
The principal of Christian Primary School in the village, Zareena Emmanuel, said that Naz and Sumaira subjected Christian students to beatings. Emmanuel also said that Muslim teachers at the secondary school derided Christian students for their faith.
“I regret that it is the only government school of higher education for girls at the village and adjoining areas,” Emmanuel said, “and therefore Christian girls have to experience such apathy, religious discrimination and bitterness each day of their schooling, which is supposed to be a time of learning and imagination.”
Christian residents of the village said they have been longing to bring abuse at the school to light. The Rev. Zaheer Khan of Maghoo Memorial United Presbyterian Church and Emmanuel of the primary school have asked education department officials of Sargodha Region to investigate, he said.
Khan also said that Naz and Muslim teachers including Gullnaz, Sumaira and Muzammil Bibi have treated Christian students contemptuously and have frequently asked them to convert to Islam.
“The attitude of the Arabic & Islamic Education teacher, Sumaira, toward the Christian students is beyond belief,” he said, “as she has forced the Christian girls to wash toilets, classrooms and clean the school ground, saying they must not be hesitant to do sanitation work because it’s the work of their parents and forefathers handed down to them.”
Questioned about the abuses, Naz told Compass that she would immediately take note of such incidents if they had occurred.
“Any of the teachers held responsible of forcing Christian students convert to Islam will be punished according to the departmental rules and regulations,” Naz said. “A few Christian girls have abandoned their education because of their domestic problems, but even then I’ll carry out a departmental inquiry against the accused teachers, and no one will be spared if found guilty.”
Naz said the inquiry would focus especially on the accusations against Sumaira, Muzammil and Gullnaz.
Protesting residents gathered outside Naz’s office last week said she had no real intention of investigating the alleged abuses; some said she was making weak excuses to defend her staff members. They urged an independent investigation of Sumaira, Gullnaz, Muzammil and Naz.
“This cannot be tolerated, as it’s a matter of their girls’ careers and education,” said one protestor.
Noureen Austin, a 19-year-old Christian student in grade 12, described the school environment as discriminatory, depressed, gloomy and agitated.”
“No Christian student can get a quality education there,” she said. “Most of the school faculty are fanatical female Muslims who would not waste any chance to target Christian girls because of their belief in Christ.”
Report from Compass Direct News
Employer charges non-Muslims at least 400 percent interest.
LAHORE, Pakistan, May 14 (CDN) — A low-wage Pakistani Christian said his Muslim employer last week forced him to sell his kidney in an effort to pay off a loan his boss made at exorbitant interest rates charged only to non-Muslims.
John Gill, a molding machine operator at Shah Plastic Manufacturers in the Youhanabad area of Lahore, said he took a loan of 150,000 rupees (US$1,766) – at 400 percent interest – from employer Ghulam Mustafa in 2007 in order to send his 17-year-old daughter to college.
“I kept paying the installments every month from my salary, but after three years I got tired of paying the huge interest on the loan,” Gill told Compass.
The employer denied that he had received payment installments from his Christian worker, although Gill said he had receipts for monthly payments.
Mustafa confirmed that he took over Gill’s home last week after giving the Christian two weeks to pay off the outstanding interest on the loan. Then, on May 6, Mustafa came to Gill’s home with “about five armed men” and transported him to Ganga Ram hospital, where they forced him to sell his kidney against his will, the Christian said.
“They sold my kidney and said that they will come next month for the rest of the money,” Gill said.
The value of the kidney was estimated at around 200,000 rupees (US$2,380), leaving Gill with outstanding debt of about 250,000 rupees (US$2,976), he said. Recovering at home, Gill said he did not know he would repay the rest of the debt.
Mustafa told Compass that Gill owed him 400 percent interest on the loan.
“I only offer 50 percent interest to Muslim employees,” he said, adding that he refused to take less than 400 percent interest from any non-Muslim.
There was no immediate confirmation from Ganga Ram hospital. Rights groups, however, have complained that hundreds of rich foreigners come to Pakistan every year to buy kidneys from live, impoverished donors.
Kidney failure is increasingly common in rich countries, often because of obesity or hypertension, but a growing shortage of transplant organs has fueled a black market that exploits needy donors such as Gill and risks undermining voluntary donation schemes, according to Pakistan’s Kidney Foundation.
Pakistani legislation aimed at curbing trafficking in human kidneys has not ended a business that has turned the country into the world’s “kidney bazaar,” critics say.
Gill said he is trying to contact local Christian advocacy groups to help him recover and overcome his financial and spiritual difficulties. Christians are a minority in heavily Islamic Pakistan, where rights groups have lamented discrimination against Christian workers.
Report from Compass Direct News