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Tensions High as Church in Sudan Strives to Fend Off Further Demolition

Remains of Sudanese Church of Christ demolished in June in North Khartoum. (Morning Star News)

Remains of Sudanese Church of Christ demolished in June in North Khartoum. (Morning Star News)

Sudan (Morning Star News) – As churchwomen wailed and young men shouted that they were prepared to die to prevent further demolition, hundreds of Christians in North Khartoum blocked authorities’ attempts to destroy buildings on their compound this week.

After a bulldozer accompanied by security personnel and police knocked down a wall of the Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church’s (SPEC) Khartoum Bahri Evangelical Church and some houses on Monday and Tuesday (Nov. 17-18), the Christians formed a human barrier to face down further demolition attempts on Wednesday and Thursday (Nov. 19-20), sources said.

One of the homes destroyed in the compound belonged to Nile Theological College; a Christian doctor had rented it, and he lost all his belongings, sources said.

The bulldozer, accompanied by National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) personnel and police, carried out the demolitions based on a court order demanding that church leaders surrender the premises to Muslim businessman Khalid Mustafa. A church committee of members that the Sudanese government interposed made a secret agreement with Mustafa to sell him church property as part of Sudan’s campaign to do away with Christianity in the country, church leaders said.

“The government recently installed some committee to the running of the church, and these are the same people who want to sell the church for business purposes,” pastor Daud Fadul told Morning Star News.

Church members strongly condemned the “government puppet committee” supporting the government agenda to do away with Christianity.

“This is a case of serious persecution of the church in Sudan,” elder Daud Bashir Gadalah told Morning Star News. “We appeal to the international community of the Christian body to stand with us and to advocate for our case. The forces of evil cannot prevail against the church of Christ.”

After Monday’s demolitions, church leaders on Tuesday (Nov. 18) filed a court complaint. They were told they would have to wait until Dec. 4 to have their grievances heard.

The next day authorities destroyed the home of pastor Hafiz Fasaha at the SPEC church compound after ordering personnel inside to leave the premises, church leaders said. Authorities told the Christians a Muslim businessman owned the land and that they had a court order calling for the use of force to take over the property.

The Christians stood helpless as they watched the building destroyed before their eyes.

“We are surprised that our government is determined to take all lands that belong to the church,” said a church member who requested anonymity.

Two other structures housing church youth were destroyed while the young people and the pastor were away, sources said. Pastor Fasaha has not been seen since the demolition, they said.

Church leaders were upset over thousands of dollars in damages to window panes, steel doors, refrigerators, students’ certificates, books, mobiles phones, wardrobes and other valuables.

On Wednesday (Nov. 19) at 2 p.m., police arrived at the church compound with another court order from Judge Mohammed Mohammed Ahmed Mohammed, this one requiring the removal of all property inside the main pastor’s house and the removal of all padlocks to allow the businessman to install his own padlock. After a lengthy discussion between police and church leaders, boisterous young men from the church arrived ready to defend the building.

“We are ready to die for the cause of Christ – the church is a place for worship, not for business,” the rowdy men chanted to police, echoing a message on banners placed throughout the compound.

In addition, church women were wailing and screaming, and police decided to leave, saying they would return later. Church leaders called on members to remain vigilant, and when authorities returned with a bulldozer at 2 a.m. on Thursday (Nov. 20), they encountered hundreds of church members.

“Kill us before destroying our church property,” the Christians told police, according to church leaders. “We are ready to die or to be arrested.”

They made a human shield that prevented the demolition, they said.

Throughout the day, members gathered along with members of other denominations for prayer and fasting.  

“We cannot allow our church building to be taken by force,” another church leader told Morning Star News.

While the church blames the government for the court order that it surrender the property, a representative of the Muslim businessman laying claim to it has said a contract was signed about four years ago giving him the right to invest in the land for a period of up to 20 years. The representative asserts that because of church opposition he had to go to the government to take the land by force.

Church leaders hold ownership papers to the property and believe any contract surrendering it comes from a government ruse. On Oct. 5, 2013, Sudan’s police and security forces broke throughthe church fence, beat and arrested Christians in the compound and asserted parts of the property belonged to a Muslim investor accompanying them.

As Muslims nearby shouted, “Allahu Akbar [God is greater],” plainclothes police and personnel from NISS broke onto the property aboard a truck and two Land Cruisers. After beating several Christians who were in the compound, they arrested some of them, including Pastor Fadul; they were all released later that day.

Authorities asserted that another Muslim businessman, Hisham Hamada El-Neel, had signed a contract giving him a right to invest in land. Church members were not told who gave him the contract, and they suspected the government was behind the move.

This week the church has declared a time of prayer and fasting for the property, and tensions were high as members remained on the compound to protect against further demolition.

“The demolition will make the church have no place to worship,” said another church leader.

At press time a heavy police contingent surrounded the church building. There was a possibility of the business interests using authorities to storm the compound at any time, a church leader said.

Harassment, arrests and persecution of Christians have intensified since the secession of South Sudan, when President Omar al-Bashir vowed to adopt a stricter version of sharia (Islamic law) and recognize only Islamic culture and the Arabic language.

On June 30 authorities in North Khartoum demolished another church building, just a day after giving verbal notice during the congregation’s worship service, sources said. Bulldozers demolished the Sudanese Church of Christ in the Thiba Al Hamyida area of the city as church members watched, with security personnel threatening to arrest them if they tried to block their efforts, church members said.

On Aug. 24 another Christian property, the Khartoum Christian Center housing the Sudan Pentecostal Church, was closed down. Church leadership said an Islamic Facebook page indicated the church should be closed because it was winning many Muslims to Christ.

On Feb. 17, bulldozers accompanied by local police and personnel from the NISS destroyed the Sudanese Church of Christ building in the Ombada area of Omdurman, across the River Nile from Khartoum, without any advance notice.

Officials gave no reason for the demolition except that, as it was located in a “Muslim area,” the 300-member church was not wanted there, a church member said. Another source, a church leader, confirmed to Morning Star News that authorities destroyed the building and confiscated the land without warning. The orders came from the Ombada locality, or city council, sources said.

Following the secession of South Sudan in July 2011, Sudan since 2012 has expelled foreign Christians and bulldozed church buildings on the pretext that they belonged to South Sudanese. Besides raiding Christian bookstores and arresting Christians, authorities threatened to kill South Sudanese Christians who do not leave or cooperate with them in their effort to find other Christians (see Morning Star News).

Due to its treatment of Christians and other human rights violations, Sudan has been designated a Country of Particular Concern by the U.S. State Department since 1999, and in April 2013, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) recommended the country remain on the list.

Many foreign Christians have been expelled from the country, and others have fled.

Police Say Woman Slain in Pakistan Innocent of Blasphemy; Politicians ‘Protecting Killers’

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LAHORE, Pakistan (Morning Star News) – Police in Pakistan say a Christian couple tortured and slain this month over accusations that the wife desecrated the Koran were innocent, while relatives said politicians are trying to shield the killers from justice.

Urged to act from mosque loudspeakers, a frenzied mob on Nov. 4 tore the clothes off Shama and Shahzad Masih, struck them, broke their legs, dragged them behind a tractor and threw them into the burning furnace of a brick kiln – even though Shama was illiterate and could not have known even if koranic verses were among debris that she had burned.

Kasur District Police Capt. Jawad Qamar told Morning Star News that police had confirmed that Shama Masih was illiterate and had no idea of the contents of pages that she had burned.

“She was not guilty of blasphemy,” he said.

On Nov. 2 Shama Masih was cleaning her quarters in Chak 59 village near Kot Radha Kishan, Karur District, about 60 kilometers (37 miles) southwest of Lahore, when she found amulets of her late father-in-law, who had used them in the practice of black magic. The amulets may have contained koranic verses, and a Muslim co-worker, Muhammad Irfan, noticed the half-burnt papers andaccused the family of desecrating the Koran, relatives said.

Under Pakistan’s widely condemned blasphemy statutes, intent must be shown for a conviction of desecrating the Koran.

At a press conference in Islamabad on Monday (Nov. 16), family members said Islamists have offered them land and money as compensation for the murders in an attempt to stop them from prosecuting.

While police have reportedly arrested at least 50 of those named in a First Information Report (FIR), relatives of the couple said that influential Muslims of the area, including a Punjab Province lawmaker, were issuing threats in an attempt to force them to reach an agreement with the killers. Shahzad Masih’s brother, Shahbaz Masih, and his wife Parveen Masih demanded that the government provide them with protection, saying they had already informed the Kasur District police officer of the threats.

Shazad Masih and his wife Shama Shazad Masih

Shazad Masih and his wife Shama Shazad Masih

They also demanded the formation of a judicial commission to investigate the mob violence, adding that non-Muslim representatives should be included in the team.

“All we want is a fair investigation of the case,” said Shahbaz Masih, demanding that Justice Waheed Siddiqui, a retired Federal Shariat Court judge, be included in the judicial commission.

Among other demands, the deceased man’s family called for the commission and a Joint Investigation Team to make their reports publicly available immediately after completion. Masih also urged the Supreme Court to take suo moto notice and order an independent inquiry into the attack.

Lawmaker ‘Influencing Case’

The family’s concerns come amid reports that the provincial lawmaker of the area, Muhammad Anees Qureshi, was present at the crime scene when the throng of hundreds tortured and killed Shama Masih, 28 years old and five months pregnant, and 32-year-old Shahzad Masih. They are survived by four children, the oldest 7 years old.

Family sources said that Qureshi, a member of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government, was also making efforts to shield the primary suspect, Riaz Kamboh, from justice. Kamboh, a former municipal councillor, is also affiliated with the PML-N and holds considerable influence in the villages surrounding Chak 59 village. He is accused of throwing the couple into the furnace after pouring tractor diesel on their bodies.

“Qureshi arrived on the spot just when the lynchers had tortured the couple unconscious,” said a relative who asked to remain unnamed for security reasons. “They were not hurled into the furnace till then.”

The relative said Qureshi, a member of the Punjab Parliamentary Assembly, was trying to force the impoverished Christians into reaching an agreement in return for a large amount of money. Shahzad Masih was a bonded laborer who was working to repay a sum of money he had received, one of the reasons sources have said his employer locked him in an office at the kiln after a mob formed.

“Hordes and hordes of Muslims loaded on tractor trolleys arrived on the scene during his [Qureshi’s] presence, yet the lawmaker made no effort to rescue them,” the relative said.

Qureshi has requested the family not register a separate case against Kamboh, brick kiln owner Yousaf Gujjar and Imam Ghulam Hussain, among others, he said, adding that the demands were made through local administration and land revenue officials.

Qureshi denied that the couple was thrown into the furnace in his presence.

“Shama and Shahzad were already dead when I reached the spot,” the member of the Parliamentary Assembly said in his statement to police. “That’s why I couldn’t do anything for them.”

Morning Star News made repeated efforts to get Qureshi’s comment on accusations that he was influencing the relatives of Shahzad and Shama to reach an agreement with any of the murder suspects, but the lawmaker declined.

Punjab spokesman Zaeem Qadri told Morning Star News that the suspects would not be able to escape prosecution, because the state was the complainant in the case.

“This is why the government decided to become the complainant in this case, so that the accused are not able to coerce the poor families into reaching a compromise,” he said. “Pardoning the accused is not in the families’ hands now.”

Asked about the chances of convictions in the atrocity, especially when there is a precedent of all suspects in the Joseph Colony arson case last year walking free even when the state was the complainant in the case, the Punjab spokesman cut short the conversation, saying only, “This time it will be different.”

Qamar told Morning Star News that the area’s local police in-charge had sent a team to the site when he was informed of tensions, but that mobs were too large to be contained by just five men.

“It was Ashura [a Shia Muslim commemoration] day, and all district police was deployed on Shia procession routes and Shia places of worship for security, which is why it took time to gather a bigger contingent,” he said, adding that police were now trying their best to arrest all the remaining accused in the case.

Contrary to published reports, Qamar said police have arrested 43 of some 60 named suspects, of whom 39 were in jail, while four were to be produced in an anti-terrorism court today on completion of their police remand.

Tahir Ashrafi, a member of the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII), Pakistan’s top religious body, held police responsible for failing to act to protect the couple before the mob violence occurred.

“All culprits must be arrested and punished, including the cleric [who made the blasphemy accusation in a mosque] if he’s involved,” he said.

Rufus Solomon, a Christian politician from the opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), said that it was a test case for the PML-N government, which has termed the allegation of blasphemy against Shama “false and baseless.”

“If the perpetrators of Gojra, Joseph Colony and the Rimsha Masih case had been punished, no one would have dared to mete out such barbarity on the poor Christian couple,” Solomon said.

Please Pray for the Courageous, yet Invisible Workers going out in Faith

Only Days Remain to November 24 Deadline for World Powers and Iran to Reach Final Nuke Deal. Can You #Pray2Minutes?

VOICE OF THE PERSECUTED:

Please join us in prayer

Originally posted on IRAN: Free All Three Americans!:

Wendy s DOS UnderSecy 2 2014

Wendy R. Sherman, Under Secretary of U.S. Department of State.

Wendy Sherman was America’s lead negotiator at Iran nuclear talks in the 1990′s during the Clinton Administration. She holds that post now at the P5+1 talks with Iran. In the middle of her recent speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a Washington think tank, Ms. Sherman indicated other ‘sideline’ issues on the margins could be decided too, including the fate of four Americans detained in Iran.

This makes me want to pray … how about you?

Ms. Wendy Sherman, U.S. Dept. of State, addressing the Iran nuclear talks at a Symposium in Washington DC on October 23, 2014: 
“In separate and dedicated meetings on the margins of each of our talks, I and members of my team raise our concerns regarding the status of U.S. citizens missing or detained in Iran. Nothing matters more to me as Under Secretary of State than ensuring the fair treatment of American citizens. Amir Hekmati…

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Christians Beaten, Jailed in Hindu Extremist Attack in Maharashtra, India

India map

(Morning Star News) – Four Christians in Maharashtra state, one 70 years old, were released on bail today after more than two weeks in jail, accused of “rioting” when Hindu extremists beat them and damaged two of their homes.

The incident in Kamseth village, Nasik District in western India began on Oct. 28 when the Hindu extremists told Christians to remit 300 rupees (US$5) for the celebration of the Hindu festival of lights, orDiwali. The Christians submitted half the amount, which the Hindus later angrily returned to them, area church leader Prem Barnabas told Morning Star News.

The Hindus summoned four Christians from two families – 70-year-old Govind Janu Galat, Gulab Govind Galat, Dilip Laxu Galat and Sakaram Govind Galat – to the village’s Hindu temple and told them to return the rest of the money so that they could use it to buy alcohol, reported the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI).

The Christians readily gave the money back to them, but the extremists began pushing, beating and kicking them as they insulted their Christian faith, according to EFI.

“Somehow three Christians managed to run away after a while, but the one who remained, Dilip Laxu Galat, was severely beaten up,” Barnabas said.

The assailants then hurled stones at the house of Govind Janu Galat and stole items and 10,000 rupees ($US163) from his home. The long-time Christian says he came to Christ 30 years ago after visiting a church service in which his sight was restored after a pastor prayed for him.

They also stoned another house of one of the Christians, breaking wall tiles and half of the roof, and damaged the small shop of another.

Fearing for their lives, the four Christians fled, hid in mountainous terrain, and called the police. Officers reached the site later that evening. Under cover of darkness, the Hindu mob pelted police with stones, breaking their vehicle windows, and roughed them up.

The Christians had come out of their hiding place when the police arrived, and the Hindu extremists resumed their attack on them, a Harsul police official identified only as Kirtekar told Morning Star News.

“The mob wanted to continue beating the Christians, and as a safety measure we took them inside our vehicle, which further agitated the attackers, and they started to stone our vehicles,” he said.

On the basis of the complaint filed by the attackers, however, police arrested the four Christians under accusations of “rioting,” though the police official said they were arrested in order to “protect” them. Police also filed a First Information Report against the 14 assailants.

“We managed to nab eight of them, and we also hope to arrest the others who have absconded,” he said.

On Nov. 1 the Hindu extremists again stoned the houses of the two Christians, and several Christians, including women and children, fled into the mountains in fear. They have since returned to their homes.

“All our people are poor, and we wanted to have a compromise with the villagers,” Barnabas said. “We have talked to the village head, and he is ready to help us in securing a compromise.”

Tension remains, however, and an agreement that would bring peace remained elusive.

The seed of conflict and hatred in Kamseth village appears to have been planted by the area leader of the Hindu extremist World Hindu Council (VHP), Promod Kurkani, according to the church leaders. He was once banned from a neighboring village, Ether, for spreading hateful propaganda against Christians, they said.

“Ether village is a strong Christian community,” Barnabas said. “After the village leaders realized that he had been trying to fill the minds of the simple villagers with his hate agendas, they banned him from staying there one year ago.”

Relatives had fasted prayed for the four Christians while they were jailed.

“Their faith in the Lord is exemplary and very touching,” Barnabas said.

Naghmeh Abedini, wife of Pastor Saeed to visit DETROIT AREA: Religious Freedom Rally Saturday, Nov. 15

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Come and hear Naghmeh Abedini, Pastor Saeed’s wife, as she shares the latest updates regarding her husband, who is currently serving an 8-year prison sentence in Iran for sharing his Christian faith.

Hear how this has strengthened her faith in God. Join us as we petition the international community to demand release of this innocent man, followed by a time of prayer for the persecuted church.

FRIDAY NIGHT Nov.14, 2014 at 8pm-11pm

Naghmeh will also be at the  Dearborn Justice House of Prayer

Springwells Church -14900 Michigan Ave., Dearborn, MI. 48126

SATURDAY NIGHT Nov.15, 2014 at 5pm

Religious Freedom Rally at

Dearborn Heights First Assembly of God

5650  Telegraph Rd., Dearborn Heights, MI. 48125

Click to enlarge flyer

Click to enlarge flyer

GOD TV: Programming on the Persecuted Church Beginning This Sunday, Nov. 16

100 MILLION Christians face persecution. The level and intensity is increasing. Their freedom to believe is under threat. In countries like North Korea, Somalia, Syria, Iraq, Pakistan, Christians are under constant threat of arrest, interrogation, and sometimes even death. The time to become aware of the horrific Persecution of Christians is now. The time to unite in prayer for our brothers and sisters in Christ is now. That is why GOD TV is dedicating a season of programming to highlight this issue; to mobilise the army of God, to stop the persecution.

PERSECUTED #LOOKAWAY:
A Season of programming on the Persecuted Church. Featuring world class documentaries, teachings and interviews. See programming HERE

Postcard Blitz on the White House for Pastor Saeed

saeed-postcards

We at the ACLJ are grateful creative minds of individuals have taken initiative to help free American Pastor Saeed Abedini.

As the November 24th deadline for the nuclear negotiations with Iran approaches, a movement has started to blitz the White House with postcards asking that President Obama not forget Pastor Saeed, a U.S. citizen.

You can join these efforts.  If you have a Facebook account, visit this event page and join the cause.

Churches, organizations, and individual can join these efforts to plead for Pastor Saeed’s release by purchasing and mailing a pre-designed postcard addressed to President Obama. Postcards are available for purchase through Trinity Worldwide Reprographics by calling (562) 567-2050 or by emailing freesaeed@trinity3in1.net.

It’s simple – order a bundle of postcards and pass them out to your friends and family to send. It costs $25.60 to order 100 postcards, with the cost decreasing for each 100 thereafter. Set up a table at your church and have people sign the postcards and mail them to the White House.

The message is already written for you – all you need to do is order, sign, and mail.  The postcard reads:

Mr. President,

A man in your position has been given great power and responsibility to represent every American, whether on domestic or foreign soil.  Please hold to your own words, that no one is left behind.  We, the American people, ask you to do everything within your power to bring U.S. citizen, pastor, husband & father, Saeed Abedini, home to his family from his time of incarceration in Iran.

Sincerely,

According to the organizer of this effort, over 80,000 postcards have already been ordered.  The goal of the effort is to have “one card, on united message, and one voice to speak up for our brother in chains.”

VOP is also grateful to all who are leaving their comfort zones to come out to care for and help the Abedini family. Join the movement today!

Police stood back and watched while Shahzad and Shama were killed. A failed Government cover up dispels the myth that they desire reform.

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Sharing this report from our fellow activist Wilson Chowdhry of the British Pakistani Christian Association (BPCA) in London.

Read about Kasur protest and follow up in London 22nd November 2014 (Click here)

Sign their global petition (click here) 

More details are emerging about the beating and incineration of a young Christian couple in eastern Punjab last week (4th November 2014), including information from their distraught 6 year old son.  The information from relatives of the victims may also explain some of the contradictory accounts.

The victims, Shahzad and Shamma, were a young couple in their mi-twenties, originally from a Christian village, Clarkabad where, for various reasons, unemployment has been fairly high.  They have four children, although due to poverty, one of their children was adopted by an uncle.  Reports say that there had been considerable tension between the surrounding villages and Clarkabad because, despite the unemployment issues, it had been the first village in the area to have amenities such as electricity, a post-office, a bank and a high school.  Jealousy because Christian individuals or businesses or communities have become more prosperous despite the disadvantages Christians face has been an occasion for huge outbreaks of violence in the past, most notoriously the sacking of Shanti-Nagar, a largely Salvation Army village in the 90’s.

This particular family had needed work, so some time ago they moved to the nearby village of Chak 59 village near Kot Radha Kishan, Kasur district, around 35 miles south-west of Lahore city.  A number of Shahzad’s brothers (he was the youngest of 6 brothers) and their families also went to the village to work in the brick kiln.  It appears that, as is so often the case in such situations, their employer was also their landlord.  He had advanced them a fee to work for him, which they then had to pay back – this is a standard method to trap people into bonded slavery.  It is so easy to add exorbitant interest or otherwise fudge the figures (especially due to high levels of illiteracy) and keep the victims in perpetual servitude – something that is technically illegal but goes on unchecked and can enslave families for generations.   Relatives reported that such cheating was going on in the case of Shahzad and he had wanted to escape, and thus there was a dispute between Shahzad and his ‘employer’.

Shahzad’s father died on 30 October 2014.  He had apparently practiced black magic involving amulets with written paper charms in them.  Shamma, about five months pregnant, and illiterate, was cleaning out his stuff on Sunday 2nd November when she found these amulets, and took them out and burned them along with other occult material, as she wanted nothing to do with such evil objects.  She threw the ashes on the garbage pile outside their house and a Muslim co-worker – according to some reports an overseer or manager in the brick kiln – saw half burnt paper fragments and accused her of burning the Koran and therefore of committing blasphemy.  The entire family (all 6 brothers worked in the brick kiln) approached the owner Gujjar over the issue because tension was so high in the village over the incident.  He told them not to worry, that nothing would happen, and that he would take care of it, but he also told his accountant not to let the couple leave the village without paying back their ‘bond money’.  To further add to the complicated back story, reports are emerging from local Christians that this kiln accountant had actually raped Shama a few days earlier, hence Shahzad wanting to leave. READ MORE

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Voice of the Persecuted is helping to rescue and support Christians facing extreme persecution in Pakistan. We cannot continue the work without your generous support. Help us reach life saving goals by joining us in the mission to Pakistan.

Recommended: Read a Persecuted Christian’s message to the West for a true account of the reality of life for Christians in Pakistan HERE.

 

Kenneth Bae’s Statement of Thanks

American Kenneth Bae speaks to the media at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state after being released from detainment in North Korea Saturday.


 

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