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Closure of Large Church in Beijing Deepens Shadow on Religious Freedom in China

An official seal for a church closure in Guangdong Province, China. (China Aid)

(Morning Star News) – The growing crack-down on unofficial churches in China deepened on Sunday (Sept. 9) when authorities closed one of the largest churches in Beijing, according to reports.

The Beijing Chaoyang District Civil Affairs Bureau informed Zion Church that it was “legally banned” for organizing events without registering as an official Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) church, Reuters reported. The church has faced growing threats from authorities, including eviction, since it refused to comply with a government order in April to install closed-circuit television cameras at its worship site.

Bob Fu, president of advocacy group China Aid, said authorities are enforcing rules requiring registration as a TSPM church in order to exercise increased control over ideologies. He called the church closure part of a larger crack-down on Christianity across China.

“The massive clampdown against thousands of churches in Henan [Province] and the forced closure and total shutdown of the largest house church in Beijing, Zion Church, represents a significant escalation on President Xi [Jinping]’s crack-down down against religious freedom in China,” Fu said in a statement. “Now that the Chinese Communist Party has started to burn Bibles and coerce millions of believers in the Christian faith and other religious minorities to even sign a written pledge to renounce their basic religious beliefs, the international community should be alarmed and outraged at this blatant violation of freedom of religion and belief and demand the Chinese regime stop and remedy this dangerous course.”

Zion Church leaders have decided they will continue holding services outdoors, Fu said.

The Associated Press reported that about 60 government officials arrived at 4:30 p.m. accompanied by buses, police cars and fire trucks to close what is regarded as Beijing’s largest unofficial church. They reportedly sealed the church building and froze pastor Ezra Jin Mingri’s personnel assets, besides confiscating “illegal promotional materials.”

Reuters reported that the church had operated for years with relative freedom. China’s unofficial Christian institutions have faced increased harassment since new regulations took effect in February.

More than 30 of Beijing’s hundreds of unofficial Protestant churches released a statement in July lamenting interference, assaults and obstruction since the new regulations came into effect.

In Luohe, Henan Province, more than 50 officials stormed into Meisheng Church on Sept. 2, beat worshippers and confiscated most church property, China Aid reported.

“Uniformed and plainclothes police, as well as agents from the local religious affairs and cultural bureaus, invaded the service as the pastor, Chen Qi, was reading the Bible,” the organization reported.

One Christian told China Aid that officials grabbed the pastor’s microphone and forcibly stopped worship. The director of Luohe’s Yuanhui District Religious Affairs Bureau, identified only as Li, walked to the podium and announced that the fellowship was “illegitimate,” according to China Aid.

“After reading a document about the church’s supposed violation, he asked Chen to sign it, but Chen refused and was taken away,” the group reported. “An official said to him, ‘The document will be effective no matter if you sign it or not.’ During the ordeal, a woman stood in the hallway and photographed the situation. Police pulled her hair and slapped her face as they pushed her up against the wall. Once they were finished, they took her into custody.”

Several police officers also kicked another woman who disobeyed their orders to refrain from taking photos.

“She fell to the ground, and her cell phone was confiscated,” China Aid reported. “When her fiancé confronted one of the officers, saying ‘How can you bully a girl?’ he was punched and accused of assaulting the police.”

Also on Sept. 2, authorities in Xinyang, Henan Province, entered a church service without showing identification, expelled worshippers and welded the door shut, according to China Aid.

“Some of the congregants attempted to film evidence, but police took their phones,” the group reported. “Later on, the church rented a storage unit to hold their services in.”

Officials in the same area closed off the road leading to another church, prohibiting church members from entering, the advocacy group reported.

“Similar disturbances occurred in other areas of Henan, including Hua County, where Christians gathered in front of Baidaokou Church to prevent authorities from breaking in,” China Aid reported. “After a short confrontation, the authorities forced their way into the church and took chairs, desks, and a variety of other items. As they resisted, some of the Christians were injured and fell to the ground. After the authorities left, however, some of the congregants stayed and sang worship songs.”

Article 36 of China’s Constitution stipulates that all Chinese citizens have freedom of belief.

Last year the Henan Provincial Three-Self Patriotic Committee and the Henan Provincial China Christian Council issued an order forbidding churches from organizing summer camps for minors and students, citing high temperatures as a possible health risk.

Also, the Nanyang Municipal Religious Affairs Bureau in Henan ordered all 20,000 house-church members in the province to join the Three-Self Church, according to China Aid. Many Chinese Christians disagree with the Three-Self Church based on theological discrepancies and rampant government censorship, making the forced merging of these two branches a violation of religious freedom, the advocacy group asserted.

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Gujranwala’s Christian suffers ‘serious’ injuries in male acid attack

According to (CIP) a young Pakistani Christian suffered life-changing injuries during an acid attack, a crime most often seen against women. Gujranwala’s Faraz Baddar was attacked by unknown men and details emerged that Faraz has been attacked previously and tortured by the attackers.

Faraz is employed at a local hospital in Gujranwala. He worked as manager in the hospital. Purportedly, the attack is a result of religion based dislike. Social media reports claim that the attack comes as a result of extreme emotional hatred due to his Christian faith. It is speculated that he was disliked, because his co-workers did not like being working under the authority of a Christian.

Please pray for his safety and healing.

Why Religious Freedom? Why Freedom of Conscience or Belief?

“The defining question of the 21st century centers on the idea of religious freedom, the cornerstone of all human rights.”

The first is a short yet compelling video provides a narrative introduction to the importance of religious freedom worldwide.

Also, watch former UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Heiner Bielefeldt, discuss the importance of religious freedom.

Amnesty International’s calls for urgent action and the immediate release four Iranian Christians

Mohabat news_ On August 23, 2018, Amnesty International issued an appeal for urgent action to quash the sentences of the pastor “Victor Bet Tamraz” and his wife “Shamiram Isavi” and the Christian convert “Amin Afshar Naderi” and “Hadi Asghari”.

In the Amnesty International’s appeal, it was stressed that these sentences were issued only due to the peaceful exercise of their rights to freedoms of religion and belief, expression, and association, through their Christian faith.

Victor Bet-Tamraz, his wife Shamiram Issavi, Amin Afshar-Naderi and Hadi Asgari, have been sentenced to a total of 45 years in prison on charges of acting against national security and spreading propaganda against the system through evangelism and the formation of house churches.

Pastor Victor Bet-Tamraz and Shamiram Issavi, ethnic Assyrian Christians, and Amin Afshar-Naderi and Hadi Asgari, Christian converts, have been sentenced to 5 to 15 years in prison.

Holding Christmas gatherings, organizing and conducting house churches, and travelling outside Iran to attend Christian seminars, all of them are known as “illegal church activities” which “threaten national security”, and security agencies including Intelligence Organization of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and the Ministry of Intelligence, and the Islamic Republic’s judiciary attach these activities to the case, and the judge will issue a verdict based on this attachment.

The four Christian citizens who are all currently free on high bails, are awaiting the verdict of the appeal court.

This case was opened due to the incidents occurred on 26 December 2014, when Victor Bet-Tamraz was arrested with Amin Afshar-Naderi and one other individual after plain-clothed security forces raided his home in Tehran during a private Christmas gathering. They were taken to Tehran’s Evin prison where they had no access to their lawyers and little contact with their families. They were released on bail several months later.

On 21 May 2017, they were put on trial with Hadi Asgari, who had been arrested in a separate incident on 26 August 2016 in the city of Firuzkuh, Tehran Province. In July 2017, Branch 26 of the Revolutionary Court in Tehran sentenced each of them to 10 years in prison on the charge of “forming a group composed of more than two people with the purpose of disrupting national security” in relation to their church activities.

The same court sentenced Amin Afshar-Naderi to a further five years in prison for “insulting Islamic sanctities” for a comical Facebook post he shared from someone else’s account that adopted a Quranic writing style about the sharp rise in the price of chicken in Iran.
Hadi Asgari was released on bail in April 2018.

On 19 June 2017, Shamiram Issavi was summoned to the Office of the Prosecutor in Evin prison and charged with offences related to her practicing her Christian faith. In January 2018, Branch 26 of the Revolutionary Court in Tehran sentenced her to five years in prison for “membership of a group with the purpose of disrupting national security” and another five years in prison for “gathering and colluding to commit crimes against national security.” / FARSI

Christian Loses Sight in One Eye in Attack by Muslim Neighbors

Vikram John. (Morning Star News)

Pakistan (Morning Star News) – A young Christian man in Karachi, Pakistan lost sight in one eye when armed, Muslim neighbors attacked his family, his father said.

Vikram John, 25, lost sight in his left eye after Muslim neighbors who had pressured his family to leave the neighborhood with months of harassment beat him and other family members on the night of Aug. 18, his father Alvin John told Morning Star News by phone.

“After exchanging a few hot words with the Muslim youths led by a political activist named Ihsan, Vikram came inside the house,” Alvin John said. “Moments later, bricks and stones came smashing through our window glass and hitting our gate. The attackers threatened us, saying to move out of the neighborhood if we wanted to stay alive as they hurled curses and abuses on us.”

Earlier in the evening, Vikram John was involved in a minor altercation with Muslim neighbors who had teased his 18-year-old sister, said his father, who 10 months ago moved the family to Karachi’s Mehmoodabad No-II neighborhood from Sahiwal District in Punjab Province.

“This wasn’t the first time they had harassed her,” he said. “For months we had been requesting the boys’ families to stop the hooliganism, but it seems that they had found this to be an effective tool to intimidate us, so the harassment continued unabated.”

The Muslims have been harassing and intimidating the family, who belong to an Assemblies of God church, since they moved into the rented house, he said – teasing his children when they stepped out the doorway and mocking them for being Christian.

Although there is a sizeable Christian population in the Mehmoodabad area, the John family is the only one on their street of 15 to 20 Muslim families, he said, adding that the neighbors tried various antics to force them out.

“Soon after the Muslims started harassing us, I had made up my mind that I would not let my children suffer in this environment,” he said. “I was waiting for the 12-month rental agreement to finish so that we could relocate to some other area or even go to Lahore and start afresh. I wish I had the financial means to leave that neighborhood earlier.”

Alvin John said that when a group of Muslims started pelting their home with stones the evening of Aug. 18, they broke window panes and damaged the gate.

He said that the Muslim leading the assailants, Ihsan, was affiliated with the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), a Karachi-based political party notorious for supporting gangs of assassins and extortionists in the financial hub of the country.

“After the attackers left the scene, I told some neighbors who had gathered there that we were going to launch legal action and sought their assistance in the matter,” he said. “However, around 11 p.m., some 30 armed Muslims attacked our house again, this time forcing their way into our home. Someone had informed them about our intention to approach the police, so they had come to ‘teach us a lesson.’”

He said that the assailants beat him and his two sons as his wife and daughter screamed in panic.

“They beat Vikram mercilessly while my younger [22-year-old] son Sunil and I made frantic efforts to save him,” he said. “The Muslims beat us too, but our injuries are not serious. The attackers also broke the furniture and ransacked our other belongings.”

Police and other security officers eventually arrived and took them to Jinnah Hospital, where they learned that Vikram John, a chemical engineering student, had lost sight in his left eye, besides serious injuries to other parts of his body, he said.

Alvin John said he suspects police have made no arrests because of the Muslim gang’s political backing.

“I was contacted by the brother of a senator belonging to the ruling Pakistan People’s Party, who assured us of support in registering the case and bringing the assailants to justice, but so far there has been no progress in the arrests,” he said.

Mehmoodabad Police Inspector Muhammad Sarwar told Morning Star News that police were making efforts to arrest the accused persons.

“No one, including MQM or any other political or religious group, can go scot-free after committing such crimes,” he said.

Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Sen. Saeed Ghani told Morning Star News by phone from Karachi that he had been informed about the incident by PPP Christian lawmaker Anthony Naveed.

“My brother Farhan Ghani, who is the chairman of the local municipality in Mehmoodabad, is already extending full cooperation to Naveed in helping the Christian family seek justice,” Ghani said. “It is against Islam’s preaching to target people belonging to minority communities, and PPP has always condemned religious extremism and persecution.”

Pakistan is ranked fifth on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2018 Word Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.

Kiarash Alipour: Christians in Iran face organized discrimination

Mohabat News– On August 23, 2018, Amnesty International appealed to urgent action to quash the sentences issued for the pastor “Victor Bet Tamraz” and his wife “Shamiram Isavi” and the Christian converts “Amin Afshar Naderi” and “Hadi Asghari”. These four Christians have been sentenced to a total of 45 years in prison.

In an interview with Manoto News, Kiarash Alipour, spokesman for the Article 18 organization, in answer to the question, how much such measures can reduce the pressure on Christians in Iran, says: “Despite the government propaganda, the Islamic Republic continues to violate the freedom and rights of religion and belief minorities, and the Christian community in Iran faces the organized and structural discrimination of the government. On the one hand, these measures will be effective in informing the Iranian people and, on the other hand, the international community in putting pressure on the Iranian government to respect the rights of its citizens, and for this reason, I appreciate the Amnesty International”.

He also stated: “Article 13 of the Iranian Constitution recognizes Zoroastrians, Christians and Jews as the only recognized religious minorities, and emphasizes that they are free to perform their religious ceremonies and that they are allowed to live according to their religion. Also, Article 23 of the Constitution states that inquisition is prohibited. The Charter of Citizenship Law, which was published with a lot of advertisings by the government of Hassan Rowhani, emphasizes on this matter, but these citizens were sentenced only due to the use of their own right namely freedom of religion and belief”.

In the answer to the question, why the pressure on Christians has increased recently, Alipour also says: “In the past few years, Christianity has grown dramatically in Iran, and in a religious government that is dominated by theocracy instead of democracy, converting people into other beliefs raises questions about the legitimacy of this system, and thus, such peaceful activities are considered as acts against national security”.

The spokesman for the Article 18 organization described the judicial process for Christian converts’ case as “very bad and unfair” and also said: “For example, these four Christians were under pressure over interrogations and had very short trials, and in general we saw cases that were unbelievable. Once a while they attacked on a Christian’s house, and seized the Christmas tree as instrument of crime and the carpet beneath it and Christian paintings including the Last Super which was also found in Iranian market”.

At the end, he pointed to the arbitrary detentions and a security approach to religious minorities, and said: “Heavy prison sentences, denial of education, pressure on families of overseas Christians, as well as exile, have been indicative of increased pressure on Christians in Iran./FARSI

Kidnapped Schoolgirl Leah Sharibu Appeals for Rescue in Audio Recording

Morning Star News – In an audio recording revealed yesterday, kidnapped Christian schoolgirl Leah Sharibu appeals to the government of Nigeria to win her release from Islamic extremist group Boko Haram, according to several published sources.

Boko Haram released more than 100 schoolgirls about four weeks after kidnapping them on Feb. 19 but held Leah, 15, because she refused to convert to Islam, Morning Star News revealed on March 26.

In the audio recording obtained by a journalist for Nigerian online news outlet The Cable, Leah says in her native Hausa that she wants the government and “people of goodwill” to rescue her.

“I am begging you to treat me with compassion, I am calling on the government, particularly, the president, to pity me and get me out of this serious situation,” she says on the audio.

CNN today reported that her father, Sharibu Nathan, confirmed that the voice is that of his daughter.

Boko Haram, which seeks to impose Islamic law (sharia) throughout Nigeria, kidnapped the girls from a boarding school in Dapchi, the Government Girls Science Technical College, in nothereastern Nigeria’s Yobe state.

President Muhammadu Buhari’s spokesman, Garba Shehu, told CNN that intelligence personnel were analyzing the voice recording, and that officials would issue a statement after studying it.

Boko Haram has kidnapped more than 1,000 children in Nigeria since 2013, according to CNN.

About 100 of 276 girls kidnapped by Boko Haram from the town of Chibok, in Borno state, in 2014 are still missing.

Boko Haram, whose name is loosely translated as, “Western education is a sin,” has fought for nine years to impose sharia (Islamic law) on all of Nigeria, killing tens of thousands of people and displacing more than 2 million. Boko Haram militants reportedly warned parents of the returned Dapchi girls not to send their daughters back to school.

In 2015 the Nigerian military began taking back most of the territory Boko Haram had controlled, but many areas remain, and the terrorists are still mounting isolated attacks.

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 14th on Open Doors’ 2018 World Watch List of countries where Christians suffer the most persecution.

Please pray for this dear girl, her release and her family.

Christian in Pakistan Charged with ‘Blasphemy’ in Scheme Involving Islamist Party, Sources Say

Sialkoti Gate (Brandreth Gate) in Gujranwala, Pakistan. (Wikimedia)

Morning Star News – A member of an Islamic extremist party in Pakistan has charged a Christian with blasphemy as part of a scheme by the accused’s ex-girlfriend and her brother, sources said.

Farhan Aziz, 26, was arrested under Pakistan’s notorious blasphemy law in Muslim Town, Gujranwala District, Punjab Province, after the brother and sister allegedly misused the Christian’s phone to send text messages deemed defamatory to Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, according to Aziz’s brother, Amir Aziz.

He said that the Garjakh police in Gujranwala District, some 70 kilometers (43 miles) from Lahore, on Aug. 1 charged his brother with Section 295-C of the blasphemy law; a conviction would call for the death sentence. The charge was based on a complaint by Rafique Ahmed, a member of the Tehreek-e-Labbaik. The Islamist party was founded in honor of Mumtaz Qadri, who assassinated former Punjab governor and human rights advocate Salmaan Taseer.

The party has emerged as a mainstream political force, fielding almost as many candidates as established parties in July 25 general elections and surprisingly winning three provincial seats in Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces.

Farhan Aziz had been in a relationship with Farhat Rashee, a Christian known as Tina, for several years before his father urged him to break up with her two years ago, Amir Aziz told Morning Star News. Her brother Sajjad had converted to Islam, and Aziz’s father had objected to Rashee’s family.

“It has now been revealed to us that Tina and her brother Sajjad had been fleecing money from Farhan over the years,” Amir Aziz said. “When my brother demanded that they return his money, the duo conspired with Rafique Ahmed and got him implicated in a fake blasphemy case by using a SIM card and cell phone that he had given to Tina some months ago on her demand.”

Ahmed claimed that Farhan Aziz, whose family belongs to the Presbyterian Church, “used to send obscene text messages to Tina” and did not stop despite being warned against it, according the First Information Report (FIR No. 3556/18). The complainant accused Farhan Aziz of sending a blasphemous text message to her on Feb. 28 and another one on March 23.

“Farhan again sent a text disrespecting Islam’s prophet Muhammad on July 29,” Ahmed alleged in the FIR. He also accused Farhan Aziz of “throwing a phone on the roof of Tina’s house on Aug. 1, 2018, in the presence of her father Shamaoon and brother Sajjad …Upon inspecting the phone, it was revealed that the same device had been used to send the blasphemous text messages.”

Ahmed urged police to arrest Farhan for allegedly “hurting the religious sentiments of Muslims.”

‘Farhan Fell for Trap’

Amir Aziz denied that his brother sent blasphemous texts.

“It’s true that Farhan gave the phone to Tina after she conveyed a message to him that she wanted to talk to him but didn’t have a phone,” he said. “He fell for her trap, hoping that he would be able to talk her into returning the money.”

Malafide is evident in this case because Ahmed, who filed the FIR, is not even related to the matter, he said.

“We fear that the Islamist organizations have some underlying agenda, due to which they are supporting the real perpetrators of those blasphemous texts – Tina and Sajjad,” Amir Aziz said.

Phone Misuse ‘Possible’

Garjakh Police Inspector Jawad Anwar told Morning Star News the police are including Tina and her brother in the investigation.

“We will investigate the case on merit,” Anwar said. “It is quite possible that Farhan’s phone was misused by the brother-sister duo to send blasphemous texts to themselves.”

Anwar said police initially sent the case to the Federal Investigation Agency’s cybercrime unit, but agents there had returned the FIR, saying they deal only with issues involving social media, Internet and the like.

“In this case, text messages were sent from the phone,” he said.

Christian advocacy group leaders said the case appears to have been made hastily, as Aziz was also charged under two sections of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016, for which the FIA would be the investigating authority. In cases involving telephones and text messages, the police should have charged him under Section 25-D of the Telegraph Act, they said.

According to the Telegraph Act, any person who uses any telephone, public or private, to annoy or intimidate another person, or for obnoxious calls, shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both.

Investigator Anwar could not explain why police failed to file charges under the Telegraph Act.

“I have sought the opinion of the police legal department on how to proceed further in this case,” he said. “Till then, Farhan is being kept at a safe location for his security, as the situation is quite tense in the area after this incident was reported.”

Christians at Risk

About 25 Christian families have settled in the Muslim Town area where the accused and his family have their home.

Napolean Qayyum of the Pakistan Center for Law and Justice told Morning Star News the conflict has sparked religious tensions in the area.

“Christians there are skeptical about their security, since TLP has a huge following in the city, and it can gather thousands on one call,” he said. “The case against Farhan was also registered under pressure of the religious outfit, otherwise it is quite clear that the young man has been falsely implicated in the matter.”

Katherine Sapna of advocacy group Christians’ True Spirit echoed Qayyum’s concerns.

“Many men are now going to their workplaces fearing an attack on their houses,” she said, adding that her group would provide food rations to the affected Christians “till the situation normalizes.”

According to a recent report by Centre for Social Justice, 74 percent of all cases related to blasphemy in Pakistan take place in Punjab Province. The report asserts an “extraordinary increase” in the number of blasphemy cases in Punjab over the last three decades.

Recent studies by Amnesty International and other rights organizations have documented that Pakistan’s blasphemy law is widely abused to justify hate crimes based on religion, avenge personal vendettas and perpetrate economic injustice.

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