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NIGERIA – Kidnapped priest released; over 150 violent deaths in a week

Agenzia Fides reported that Fr. Isaac Agubi, a priest who serves at the Holy Name church of Ikpeshi, 230 km away from Benin City, capital of Edo State in southern Nigeria was released by the police. The priest had been kidnapped on June 16th along the Auchi-Igarra road, around 5 pm, as he was returning home from church service. Area hunters helped police forces identify where the kidnappers were in the forest. During the release of the priest one of the bandits was injured.

It’s believed the kidnappers belong to a group of Fulani, who in Nigeria and other West African countries have committed of violent raids. In the last week in northern Nigeria, violence linked to the Fulani issue and others committed by Boko Haram, caused the death of over 150 people, while nine others were kidnapped, the report stated.

In the State of Sokoto on June 15, 25 people lost their lives in raids, likely committed by the Fulani, in three villages. In a separate incident, a woman, and her stepson, were kidnapped by a gang of Fulani on Airport Road, in the city of Osi, in the state of Ondo, on their way to church.

On 12 June an officer and 20 soldiers in the State of Borno were killed in the attack on a military formation. The Islamic State of West Africa (ISWA), then claimed responsibility for the attack.

On June 14, at least 34 people were killed in an assault by an armed group that attacked three villages in the area of Shinkafi in the State of Zamfara. The militanys, who arrived on motorcycles, set fire to the houses and shot all those they encountered.

A few days ago His Exc. Mgr. Augustine Akubeze, Archbishop of Benin City and President of the Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria, had denounced “the unprecedented level of insecurity” and the “complete impunity” of who sows chaos and destruction in the Country.

 

Coptic Christian Arrested for Allegedly Insulting Islam on Facebook in Egypt

Egypt, (Morning Star News) – A young Coptic Christian man has been arrested near Cairo, Egypt for allegedly insulting Islam after a hacker posted material on his Facebook page, he and family members said.

Fady Yousef, 25, was arrested early in the morning of June 11 in Giza, southwest of Cairo, despite having posted a video explaining that hackers had placed the offending material on his Facebook page, according to the Coptic Bishopric of Maghagha and El Edwa in Minya.

The previous night (June 10), Muslim extremists angry over the offending material attacked his parents’ home in Eshneen el Nasara village, near Maghgaha in Minya Governorate, about 260 kilometers (160 miles) south of Giza, according to a statement from the bishopric.

“On Monday [June 10] some extremists reaching a few hundred from Eshneen el Nasara village and the villages around it attacked the home of Yousef Todary,” the statement from Bishop Anba Aghathon read. “They entered and destroyed the contents of the house, then moved to the house next door where his brother lived and attacked it from the outside. They were shouting against the Christian religion and the Copts of the village.”

Damage to home of parents of Fady Yousef in village in Minya Governorate, Egypt. (Nader Shukry, Facebook)

Yousef Todary, his wife and daughter were able to escape minutes before the Muslim extremists broke in and destroyed the refrigerator, television set, mattresses, furniture and windows, according to the bishop.

Stating that Muslim extremists alleged the post was insulting to Islam, the bishop defended Fady Yousef, reiterating that he said his Facebook was hacked.

The young Copt posted an apology on the page saying he would never do such a thing, and that people who knew him know this well. His sister, Nermeen Yousef, also posted a clarification, saying her brother apologized not because he did anything wrong, but because people mistakenly believed that he was the author of the post, according to Copts United.

“He is apologizing because he respects your feelings,” she wrote. “He is not a child to do such a thing, and also his friends are Muslims and always tell me they are dear to him and they know this well.”

Along with Fady Yousef, police also detained his brother and uncle; two other uncles turned themselves in as soon as they heard that police sought them, according to various sources. They were all transported to Minya pending investigations, and on Friday (June 15) Copts United reported that the brother and uncles had been released.

Yousef is in custody facing charges of posting material offensive to religion, according to Copts United. Insulting a heavenly religion (Islam, Judaism and Christianity) in Egypt, where the state religion is Islam, is punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of 500 to 1,000 Egyptian pounds (US$30 to US$60), according to Article 98(f) of the Penal Code.

Police reportedly arrested 25 people suspected of attacking the home of Yousef Todary and those of other Christians in the village, as well as others who wrote posts on social media to instigate attacks.

Police reportedly dispersed angry crowds and set up protective posts in Eshneen el Nasara and other villages. They also set a protective perimeter around the village the following Friday (June 14) in anticipation of possible violence, according to Copts United.

The bishop’s statement noted that Reda Eid, a Muslim from the same village, during Easter posted derogatory words against Christianity, the church and its leadership. Eid later went to the church leaders to apologize, taking some of his Christian friends with him, according to the statement. Father Soliman responded “You are our son, you came here and I accept your apology, we are all brothers,” thus ending the incident, according to Copts United.

Egypt ranked 16th on Open Doors’ 2019 World Watch List of countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.

Persecuted Pastor Andrew Brunson warns many ‘not prepared for what’s coming’

On Monday night, Pastor Andrew Brunson, who was imprisoned for his faith in Turkey, spoke at the Southern Baptist Convention and warned pastors that he believes the next generation is going to experience more intense Christian persecution and fears they’re not prepared. Persecution is on the move around the world — and gradually moving into American life — but God is at work in the midst of it, according to a panel who spoke on the topic during the Monday evening session. (BP) (watch video coverage below)

During a roundtable discussion at the Southern Baptist Convention 2019, moderated by Timothy George, founding dean of Samford University’s Beeson Divinity School, highlighted three stories of facing persecution. George interviewed Andrew Brunson, a pastor imprisoned for two years in Turkey, and his wife, Norine; Nik and Ruth Ripken, retiring missionaries; and Jack Phillips, a lawsuit-riddled Colorado cake shop owner, along with legal counsel Jim Campbell with the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF).

Sermon by Pastor Brunson begins at minute marker 15:55

Roundtable discussion on persecution with Andrew and Norine Brunson, Nik and Ruth Ripken, Jack Phillips

30 Pentecostal Christians Arrested for Praying in Eritrea

Eritrea’s Pentecostals have faced much persecution and detained for their faith. Recently 30 were arrested by the country’s security forces for praying. According to the BBC, Dr. Berhane Asmelash of Release Eritrea, said the Christians were arrested at three different locations around the capital city of Asmara.

The Eritrean government officially sanctioned and provided protocol status recognition to the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church, the Eritrean Catholic Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Eritrea, and Sunni Islam. All other faiths and denominations are required to undergo a registration process, including personal information on their membership to be allowed to worship. Although the Eritrean government stated that it would allow other groups to be recognized, it has refused to register applications for recognition pending since 2002, even though some of them meet the requirements. Basically, the government considers other religious groups illegal and claim they are instruments of foreign governments.

A few weeks ago, police arrested 141 Christians, including 23 men, 104 women, and 14 minors, from Asmara’s Mai Temenai area.

Eritrea’s population is approximately half Christian and half Muslim. Since 2004, U.S. State Department has recognized Eritrea as a “country of particular concern” for horrific violations of religious freedom.

ASSYRIAN PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH IN IRAN CLOSED DOWN

Iranian Intelligence agents stormed a 100-year-old church, which is a National Heritage site, and tore down the cross from the tower.

(Article 18) The Assyrian Christian community in the northwestern city of Tabriz has been left it a state of shock, after the Presbyterian church was forcibly closed earlier this month.

Intelligence agents stormed the 100-year-old church, which is a National Heritage site, on Thursday, 9 May, changed all the locks, tore down the cross from the church tower, and ordered the church warden to leave.

“They made it clear that the Assyrian people are no longer allowed to hold any worship service there,” explained a trusted source to Article18.

The source said church members had been fearful since just a few days after Christmas, when pastors from other churches were prevented from visiting the Tabriz church for a joint worship service with other Assyrian and Armenian Christians.

Then on 9 May “a large number” of agents from the Ministry of Intelligence and EIKO, an organisation under the direct control of the Supreme Leader, “entered our church compound and changed all the locks on the doors, removed the cross from the church’s high tower, installed some monitoring instruments and started to threaten and force our custodian to leave his place inside the compound immediately”.

The church, belonging to The Assyrian Presbytery, was “confiscated” by Revolutionary Court order in 2011, but church members had been able to continue using the building for services in the Assyrian language – until now. 

“Many churches owned by Protestants have been confiscated in Iran,” explains Article18’s Advocacy Director, Mansour Borji, “In most cases the government has been unable to repurpose them, especially if they were listed. So they typically remain as empty buildings, often neglected, and turn into ruins before being demolished, as was the case with the church in Kerman.”

Christians from Iran’s historic Assyrian and Armenian communities are a recognised minority, who are usually able to freely practise their faith, providing they don’t open their doors to Muslim-born Iranians by holding services in Persian.

Dozens of Christians killed and kidnapped in Nigeria

Nigeria (Morning Star News) – Gunmen suspected to be local Fulani Muslims killed several Christians as they made their way home from church services in Jos, Nigeria on Sunday (May 26) following the murder of another area Christian last week, sources said.

Area Christian Peter Sarki informed Morning Star News by text message that local Muslims east of Jos, Plateau state, killed seven Christians on Sunday after unidentified Muslims killed Moses Victor, a member of the Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA), in the Rikkos area of Jos on May 20.

Police put the number of people killed in the areas on Sunday (May 26) at five and said 12 houses were burned. Sarki said more than 12 houses were burned, and that 12 additional Christians were wounded in the attacks. He said the violence took place in the Jos areas of Rikkos, Angwan Rukuba, Tina Junction, Cele Bridge, Dutse Uku, and Yan Trailer.

Sarki identified two of the Christians killed as they made their way home from ECWA church services on Sunday morning as Enoch Monday and Istifanus Ismailaj. Michael Anthony Pam of St. Michael’s Catholic Church, Nasarawa Gwong, and four others yet to be identified were also killed, he said.

Michael Anthony Pam, killed in attacks in Jos, Nigeria on Sunday, May 26, 2019.(Morning Star News courtesy of diocese)

“Pam was the president of the Catholic Youth Organization of Nigeria of his parish,” Sarki told Morning Star News.

Tyopev Matthias Terna, spokesman for the Plateau State Command, said in a press statement that the body of Enoch Monday was found on Sunday between Dutse Uku and Angwan Damisa in Jos North Local Government Area, and that units were dispatched to the area to restore calm.

As gunfire echoed and smoke from burning homes billowed in the distance, a Morning Star News correspondent and his family were temporarily stranded at their church building near the area on Sunday morning after receiving word from local people that Cele Bridge, Tina Junction, Rikkos, Dutse Uku, Yan Trailer and Angwan Rukuba were under attack. Other motorists who had attempted to pass through the areas were forced back due to the attacks.

The attacks may have led to more fatalities. The head of a northern Nigeria pastors’ fellowship known as the Arewa Christians and Indigenous Pastors Association (ACIPA), the Rev. Luke Shehu, said in a press statement that “about 30” Christians were killed and 20 houses burned.

Pastor Shehu, who oversees a congregation in Jos, said that ethnic Fulani Muslim militia were responsible for the attacks, which he said were part of a planned “Fulanisation and Islamization” of Nigeria.

“Despite the intervention of security operatives, in less than 12 hours about 30 Christians were killed and over 20 houses where burnt or destroyed by Muslim militia, some in military uniforms from around Tina junction, Cele bridge, Dutse Uku and Nasarawa areas, all bordering Muslim communities in Jos North,” Pastor Shehu said. “These targeted attacks on innocent Christians are unacceptable, particularly with confirmed arrests of over 30 Christian women fruit and food vendors by soldiers around Tina junction in Jos after the attack today, 27th May 2019.”

A purported executive order by President Muhammadu Buhari revoking all firearms licenses beginning June 1 is largely seen as a ploy to keep Christians and minority tribes unarmed in the face of the heavily armed “Fulani militias and terrorists,” he said.

In the Riyom LGA of Plateau state about an hour south of Jos by car, gunmen believed to be Fulani militants reportedly killed six members of one family on Monday (May 27) at 7 p.m. Two children, their parents and grandparents of the Lo-Gwong Du family were killed, according to local press reports.

Christians make up 51.3 percent of Nigeria’s population, while Muslims living primarily in the north and middle belt account for 45 percent.

Nigeria ranked 12th on Open Doors’ 2019 World Watch List of countries where Christians suffer the most persecution.

Converts, Pastors Threatened with Death; Gospel Meetings Banned in Town in Uganda

(Morning Star News) – Police have banned evangelistic events in a town in western Uganda following open-air preaching in which many Muslims put their faith in Christ, sources said.

Churches in Bwera, on Uganda’s western border with the Democratic Republic of Congo, held a joint evangelistic event amid the large Muslim population in Bwera beginning on May 20. The success of the event led not only to the ban but to church leaders receiving evangelistic , pastors said.

“Tomorrow we are coming to kill all of you during the open air crusade,” read one text message to a church leader a day after several Muslims put their faith in Christ on May 20.

Police halted the event, which was supposed to continue until May 26, on May 25.

On the first day, several former Muslims spoke at the open-air meeting, the church leaders said.

“Jesus changed my life when I acknowledged him as my Lord and being the Son of the most high God,” one former sheikh (Muslim teacher) testified.

This testimony touched many people, and large numbers showed up the following day, many of them putting their faith in Christ, church leaders said. In all, 35 Muslims put their faith in Christ.

Another former sheikh on the second day of the event used the Koran to argue for the uniqueness of Jesus. Offended Muslims began mobilizing, and more than 250 Muslims armed with long swords and clubs showed up at the event on May 25 in anticipation of attacking.

Muslim leaders reported what speakers were saying at the meeting to police, who summoned church leaders, pastors said. Hundreds of Muslims marched to Bwera police station led by several Islamist leaders issuing threats and calling for the meetings to be banned, organizers said.

“We cannot allow the Christians to use the Koran in their meetings or to allege that Jesus is the Son of God – this a serious blasphemy to Muslims,” said the head of the mosque in Bwera, Muzamiru Aramanzani, according to the pastors.

The demonstrating Muslims also threatened to kill all former Muslims who embraced Christianity in Bwera, the church leaders said.

“We cannot watch the Christians changing our faithful members to Christianity. If those who have joined Christianity will not return back to Islam, then we are going to treat them as infidels, hence deserving death according to the teaching of Islam,” said another sheikh, according to organizers.

Following the May 25 meeting, police later that day banned all open-air Christian meetings in Bwera, they said. The event had been scheduled to end on May 26.

The ban sent a chilling message to those who have become Christians, who said they are afraid to go to worship services or other Christian meetings.

“I am very afraid for my life,” said one former sheikh. “I have received threatening messages in my phone that the Muslims want my head.”

Organizing the event was the Anglican Church of Uganda, the Sound of Salvation Ministry and the Church of Uganda of Bwera Custom Church.

The churches hoped to complete the event by seeking the help of a large number of police and military personnel, but the Muslim’ threats to kill the church leaders if they continued invoking the Koran in their teaching led police to cut the campaign short, organizers said.

Church leaders in Bwera called on the international community to pray for protection and that converts remain firm in Christ.

The opposition marks the latest of many cases of persecution of Christians in Uganda that Morning Star News has documented.

Uganda’s constitution and other laws provide for religious freedom, including the right to propagate one’s faith and convert from one faith to another.

Muslims make up no more than 12 percent of Uganda’s population, but with high concentrations in eastern areas of the country.

Genocide of Christians Reaches “Alarming Stage”

Christian persecution ‘at near genocide levels,’” the title of a May 3 BBC report, cites a lengthy interim study ordered by British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt and led by Rev. Philip Mounstephen, the Bishop of Truro.

According to the BBC report, one in three people around the world suffer from religious persecution, with Christians being “the most persecuted religious group”; “religion ‘is at risk of disappearing’ in some parts of the world”; and “In some regions, the level and nature of persecution is arguably coming close to meeting the international definition of genocide, according to that adopted by the UN.”

British foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt is also quoted on why Western governments have been “asleep”—his word—concerning this growing epidemic:  “I think there is a misplaced worry that it is somehow colonialist to talk about a religion [Christianity] that was associated with colonial powers rather than the countries that we marched into as colonisers.  That has perhaps created an awkwardness in talking about this issue—the role of missionaries was always a controversial one and that has, I think, also led some people to shy away from this topic.”

Whatever the merits of such thinking, the fact is, many of the world’s most persecuted Christians have nothing whatsoever to do with colonialism or missionaries.  For example, those most faced with the threat of genocide—including Syria’s and Iraq’s Assyrians and Egypt’s Copts—were Christian several centuries before the ancestors of Europe’s colonizers became Christian, let alone went missionizing.

The BBC report highlights “political correctness” as being especially responsible for the West’s indifference, and quotes Hunt again in this regard: “What we have forgotten in that atmosphere of political correctness is actually the Christians that are being persecuted are some of the poorest people on the planet.”

Although the BBC report has an entire heading titled and devoted to the impact of “political correctness,” ironically, it too succumbs to this contemporary Western malady.  For while it did a fair job in highlighting the problem, it said nothing about its causes—not one word about who is persecuting Christians, or why.

For instance, it is well established that the overwhelming majority of Christian persecution occurs in Muslim majority nations.  According to Open Doors’ World Watch List 2019, which surveys the 50 nations where Christians are most persecuted, “Islamic oppression continues to impact millions of Christians.”  In seven of the absolute worst ten nations, “Islamic oppression” is the cause of persecution.  “This means, for millions of Christians—particularly those who grew up Muslim or were born into Muslim families—openly following Jesus can have painful consequences,” including death.

Among the worst persecutors are those that rule according to Islamic law, or Sharia (which academics such as Georgetown University’s John Esposito insist is equitable and just).  In Afghanistan (ranked #2), “Christianity is not permitted to exist,” says the WWL 2019, because it “is an Islamic state by constitution, which means government officials, ethnic group leaders, religious officials and citizens are hostile toward” Christians.  Similarly, in Somalia, (#3), “The Christian community is small and under constant threat of attack. Sharia law and Islam are enshrined in the country’s constitution, and the persecution of Christians almost always involves violence.”  In Iran (#9), “society is governed by Islamic law, which means the rights and professional possibilities for Christians are heavily restricted.”

Equally telling is that 38 of the 50 nations making the WWL 2019 are Muslim majority.

Perhaps the BBC succumbed to silence concerning the sources of Christian persecution—that is, succumbed to “the atmosphere of political correctness” which it ironically highlighted—because it did not rely on the WWL in its own report.  The problem with this interpretation is that the study the BBC did rely on, the Bishop of Truro’s, is saturated with talk concerning the sources of Christian persecution.  In this regard, the words “Islam” and “Islamist” appear 61 times; “Muslim” appears 56 times in this comprehensive review on persecuted Christians.

Here are a few of the more significant quotes from the Bishop of Truro’s report:

  • “The persecution of Christians is perhaps at its most virulent in the region of the birthplace of Christianity—the Middle East & North Africa.”
  • “In countries such as Algeria, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Syria and Saudi Arabia the situation of Christians and other minorities has reached an alarming stage.”
  • “The eradication of Christians and other minorities on pain of ‘the sword’ or other violent means was revealed to be the specific and stated objective of [Islamic] extremist groups in Syria, Iraq, Egypt, north-east Nigeria and the Philippines.”
  • “[T]here is mass violence which regularly expresses itself through the bombing of churches, as has been the case in countries such as Egypt, Pakistan, and Indonesia.”
  • “The single-greatest threat to Christians [in Nigeria] … came from Islamist militant group Boko Haram, with US intelligence reports in 2015 suggesting that 200,000 Christians were at risk of being killed…  Those worst affected included Christian women and girls ‘abducted, and forced to convert, enter forced marriages, sexual abuse and torture.’”
  • “An intent to erase all evidence of the Christian presence [in Syria, Iraq, Egypt, north-east Nigeria and the Philippines] was made plain by the removal of crosses, the destruction of Church buildings and other Church symbols. The killing and abduction of clergy represented a direct attack on the Church’s structure and leadership.”
  • “Christianity now faces the possibility of being wiped-out in parts of the Middle East where its roots go back furthest. In Palestine, Christian numbers are below 1.5 percent; in Syria the Christian population has declined from 1.7 million in 2011 to below 450,000 and in Iraq, Christian numbers have slumped from 1.5 million before 2003 to below 120,000 today. Christianity is at risk of disappearing, representing a massive setback for plurality in the region.”

The BBC should be commended for (finally) reporting on this urgent issue—even if it is three years behind the times.  As the Truro report correctly observes,  “In 2016 various political bodies including the UK parliament, the European Parliament and the US House of Representatives, declared that ISIS atrocities against Christians and other religious minority groups such as Yazidis and Shi’a Muslims met the tests of genocide.”

At the very least, it may be hoped that the BBC has stopped trying to minimize  the specter of Christian persecution, as it did in 2013, when this phenomenon was just starting to reach boiling point.

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