IRAQ: Kurdish forces claim they’ve taken back the town of Bashiqa from so-called Islamic State – as their advance on Mosul continues. But what’s happening in the newly liberated towns? Two years ago we reported the story of Father John Tarachee, who was driven out of Bartella with his entire Christian flock. He’s been living as a refugee ever since. Our correspondent Jonathan Rugman returned with him to his home in Bartella in this exclusive Channel 4 News report.
VOP Note: Please pray for the people of Iraq. Pray for the faith of our Iraqi brothers and sisters. May they have strength and endurance through Christ Jesus and may our Lord have mercy on them.
Father, in the midst of great suffering, the light of Your face is shines in the darkness. Help us to live in the continual fullness of the Spirit and keep our eyes focused solely on you. We ask in the name of Jesus to foil the plans of all who intend to do evil. We pray for a wave of the Holy Spirit to wash over not only Iraq, but the entire Middle East. May Your will be done and your name be glorified. May shouts of praise ring out in the land of Nineveh and beyond.
(Morning Star News) – The future education of more than 1,000 pupils was unclear after authorities closed down a Christian school in eastern Sudan last week, sources said.
Civilians who bused in from Khartoum and elsewhere aided armed police in taking over the Evangelical Basic School in Madani, Al Jazirah state on Oct. 24, an area church leader said. It was the third raid on the school in two months, following efforts to seize the school on Oct. 4 and Sept. 5. On Oct. 6, authorities jailed for four days Christian staff members who tried to prevent the seizure of the institution.
The National Ministry of Guidance and Endowments ordered the takeover of the Christian school so Islamist officials of Al Jazirah state can control it until courts determine final management, sources said.
“They just want to form a government body to run the school,” an area Christian told Morning Star News. “Muslims were on board the bus that came from Khartoum.”
School administrators and teachers are ethnic Nuba – increasingly targeted by a government that has vowed Islamic religion and Arabic culture will reign in Sudan – and from South Kordofan state, where Sudan is fighting an insurgency.
Parents of the students at the school organized a protest march last week to express their concern for their children’s education, an area pastor said.
“How can the government allow such an incident to happen to one of the best schools in the state?” he said.
A legal advisor for the Christian school urged the state government to allow classes to resume on Monday, but it was unclear whether the school would re-open. Local media reported the state Ministry of Education is planning to run the school via a committee selected by the government.
Arrested on Oct. 6 along with the Rev. Samuel Suleiman, headmaster of the school, and the Rev. Ismail Zakaria, were seven other teachers who objected to the takeover of the school. The nine Christian staff members were detained until Oct. 9 before being released on bail, accused of resisting authorities.
Civilians that came from Khartoum, 166 kilometers (102 miles) west, and other parts of the country to forcibly take control of the property acted with the help of five policemen, sources said.
Zakaria is pastor of the church to which the school belongs and is also a representative of the Evangelical Communion, which oversees the property. Armed police and officials from the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) on Sept. 5 arrested Pastor Suleiman and 12 teachers at the school, accusing them of supporting the Sudan People’s Liberation Army-North (SPLA-N), a rebel group fighting government forces farther south in the Nuba Mountains state of South Kordofan.
Pastor Suleiman has strongly denied the charge.
In the Sept. 5 raid, police presented a letter from the National Ministry of Guidance and Endowments, addressed to the State Ministry of Social Welfare, ordering the handover of Evangelical Basic School to the government. The school serves more than 1,000 students, ages 3 to 18, in Madani. Established by the American Mission in 1901, it belongs to the Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church.
Harassment, arrests and persecution of Christians have intensified since the secession of South Sudan in July 2011. The Sudanese Minister of Guidance and Endowments announced in April 2013 that no new licenses would be granted for building new churches in Sudan, citing a decrease in the South Sudanese population. Sudan since 2012 has expelled foreign Christians and bulldozed church buildings on the pretext that they belonged to South Sudanese.
Sudan fought a civil war with the South Sudanese from 1983 to 2005, and in June 2011, shortly before the secession of South Sudan the following month, the government began fighting a rebel group in the Nuba Mountains that has its roots in South Sudan. The rebels in the Nuba Mountains were formerly involved with the southern Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) forces fighting Khartoum before the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA).
Fighting between Sudan and South Sudan broke out in June 2011, when Khartoum forcefully attempted to disarm the SPLA-N in South Kordofan by force rather than awaiting a process of disarmament as called for in the CPA. When the CPA was signed in 2005, the people of South Kordofan were to vote on whether to join the north or the south, but the state governor suspended the process.
Ethnic Nuba, along with Christians, face discrimination in Sudan, where President Omar al-Bashir has vowed to adopt a stricter version of sharia (Islamic law) and recognize only Islamic culture and the Arabic language.
The Nuba people have longstanding complaints against Khartoum – including neglect, oppression and forced conversions to Islam in a 1990s jihad – but as Sudanese citizens on the northern side of the border, they were never given the option of secession in the 2005 peace pact between northern and southern Sudan.
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 the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom recommended the country remain on the list in its 2016 report.
Sudan ranked eighth on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2016 World Watch List of countries where Christians face most persecution.
INDIA: (Morning Star News) – Hindu extremists in Maharashtra state had severely beaten a pastor, pointed a gun at his head and were sprinkling gasoline on him to burn him to death when he began praying and praising Jesus.
Pastor Prashant Bhatnager, 45, is still recovering from broken hand, arm and leg bones, as well as cuts and abrasions on his head and the rest of his body, after about six Hindu extremists led by Gurunath Mumbaikar, president of the Shri Ram Foundation (Shri Ram Pratishtan Sanghtan), on Sept. 16 beat and urinated on him.
Pastor Bhatnager and four other Christians from House of God Church were praying for a sick person and distributing tracts in Taloja, Raigad District when they were attacked, church leaders in Maharashtra told Morning Star News. The Hindu extremist assailants questioned the Christians, snatched their tracts and took them to a public hall, where they held them for two hours, the church leaders said.
Two hours later, at about 8:30 p.m., another 30 Hindu extremists showed up, disparaging the Christians and threatening to kill them, the church leaders said. But the assailants then released the other four Christians, after warning them not to pray for anyone again, and dragged the pastor of the 350-member church into a car.
“The extremists started beating him as they accused him of forceful conversion and then sped up the car and took him away to an isolated place, followed by another 20 extremists on 11 motorbikes,” area church leader Baban Kamble told Morning Star News
At an isolated area, they dragged the pastor out and beat him with an iron rod while accusing him of forceful conversion and destroying the minds of the villagers by leading them to believe in Christ, Pastor Bhatnagar said.
“They pulled me out from the car and pushed me to the ground while they pointed a revolver at me, snatched my phone away and threatened to take my life,” he said. “All of them started beating me, and I started to bleed form my mouth and nose.”
The extremists later sprinkled gasoline over him to burn him alive.
“I was fearful, and I started feeling convulsive, but then and there I started praising Jesus and praying, and my attackers became angrier as they continued to beat, kick and punch me, told me to shut up, spat on my face and urinated on me,” he said. “How I survived such an attack is miraculous. I see the love and the faithfulness of God more through this incident.”
He went unconscious in a pool of blood. Thinking that that he was dead, the extremists put the pastor back into the car and deposited him at another isolated area. After 15 minutes, however, they gathered him up again and dropped him near his village, he said.
A passer-by found him, poured water on his face and revived him, and then helped him to call friends.
“When we arrived at the roadside where he was taken care of, he was still bleeding profoundly from his nose, mouth and ears, and he fell unconscious again on the way to the hospital,” Kamble said.
The pastor was taken to Kharghar Medicity Hospital, but due to the severity of his injuries, he was later admitted in Navi Mumbai Municipal Hospital, Vashi.
Police registered a First Information Report against the attackers and on Oct. 16 arrested the leader of the assailants, Mumbaikar, church leaders said. They said there was no case of forceful conversion against the five Christians, as they were simply handing out pamphlets to those who wished to take them.
“We pray for people on their request, and people come to the church by their own free will,” Pastor Bhatnager said. “We never force or lure anyone to believe in Christ as they wrongly accused us.”
The Christians were not able to lead a prayer convention (Prarthana Sabha) scheduled for Oct. 17 because of the attack.
India ranked 17th on Open Doors’ 2016 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.
IRAN: (Morning Star News) – Three Iranian Christians sentenced to receive 80 lashes for drinking wine during a Communion service filed an appeal Wednesday (Oct. 25) to have their case overturned, a noted advocacy group reported.
In a trial that lasted a mere 10 minutes, the three converts from Islam, Mohammadreza Omidi, Yasser Mossayebzadeh and Saheb Fadaie, on Sept. 10 were all sentenced to receive 80 lashes for drinking wine. It was the second time Fadaie and Omidi have been sentenced to flogging for taking Communion.
Although Christians are allowed to consume alcohol in Iran, Muslims are not. According to advocacy group Middle East Concern (MEC), the charges “reflect the state view that a Muslim cannot change his or her religion.”
The Iranian government uses the alcohol statute as another way to harass converts to Christianity, Kiri Kankhwende of Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) told Morning Star News.
“The charge of drinking alcohol for Muslims is found in the sharia penal code and is illegal,” Kankhwende said. “Consuming alcohol by non-Muslims is not illegal in Iran, however, Iranian authorities tend to use this to intimidate Christians from a Muslim background, to discourage conversion and make life more difficult for converts.”
Some Iranian Christians believe that more conservative elements in the government are trying to create an Iranian church that is compliant with sharia [Islamic law] or an “Islamic-style church,” she said.
The attorney for the three Christians has not publically released the grounds for the appeal on the alcohol charges, but the filing was submitted on the last day possible. Advocates monitoring the case expected an appeal to be filed on Oct. 15, but complications with another trial in which the three Christians are charged led to a delay in filing the appeal.
On Oct. 15 the three men and a third convert, pastor Yousef Nadarkhani, were tried on charges of “acting against national security,” a catch-all charge often used by the government to punish different types of religious and political dissent, according to human rights activists. The government often uses it against converts instead of the charge of apostasy, according to Rob Duncan, MEC’s regional manager for Iran.
“Prosecutors in Iran are not keen to charge converts with apostasy because of the legal complications as well as international condemnation,” Duncan said. “Therefore, active converts are frequently charged with action against national security as a catch-all. It is poorly defined what such actions are and relatively easy for interrogators, prosecutor and court to say that by becoming a Christian, a Muslim convert is a threat to the stability (security) of the Islamic nation.”
The penalty for crimes against national security can vary from long-term imprisonment to death, but sentences in such cases or even verdicts can be difficult to predict, Kankhwende said.
“Such accusations are often unsubstantiated, and evidence is generally weak or even fabricated,” she said. “Confessions, if they are made, are done under torture or threat of torture. It is very difficult to predict the outcomes at court as prisoners are usually denied access to lawyers.”
Domestic, regional, and international politics may sometimes impact verdicts as cases related to freedom of religion or belief can carry political messages that may reflect certain political tensions, she added.
Iran’s internal security apparatus, VEVAK, on May 13 conducted a series of raids against at least 10 Christian-owned homes. Officials temporarily detained Nadarkhani and his wife, Fatemeh Pasandideh, but then released them both. Authorities took Mossayebzadeh, who was also at one of the houses, into custody.
VEVAK agents summoned Omidi and Fadaie to their office by phone and then arrested them in connection with the raids, according to CSW. Weeks later, Mossayebzadeh and Fadaie were released each on the equivalent of a $33,000 bond, Mossayebzadeh on May 28 and Fadaie on May 29. Omidi remained in detention until officials released him June 7, also on a $33,000 bond.
On July 24, court officials summoned Nadarkhani to court and charged him with crimes against national security. He was ordered to post a bond of $33,000, released and given a week to raise the money.
Nadarkhani is no stranger to government persecution. In 2010, the Iranian government charged Nadarkhani with apostasy and sentenced him to death. The charges stemmed from a 2009 arrest after Nadarkhani went to his children’s school to question the Islamic-only religious education that was available.
Eventually court officials acquitted him on the charges, and in September 2012, he was released from prison. He was found guilty of evangelizing, however, and three months later ordered back to prison on Dec. 25, 2012, and released almost one year later, on Dec. 7, 2013.
Behnam Irani Released
On the evening of Oct. 17, after serving six years in prison, Behnam Irani, a pastor and convert from Islam, was released from prison, according to Present Truth Ministries, a ministry group that specializes in Iran.
Irani, one of the leaders in the “Church of Iran,” was initially arrested in 2006 and found guilty of action against national security in 2008 and given a five-year suspended jail sentence. In 2010, Irani was arrested during a house-church meeting and eventually found guilty on new charges of action against national security. He was sentenced to serve one year in prison.
In May 2011, he was ordered to begin serving the sentence to which the suspended five-year sentence was added.
All throughout Irani’s imprisonment, he suffered serious health issues, including chronic, life-threatening internal bleeding. He was also tortured by prison officials and subject to numerous beatings by his fellow prisoners.
In September 2014, Irani was placed in solitary confinement after being charged with “Mofsed-e-filarz.” Loosely translated as “spreading corruption on Earth,” the charge carries the death penalty.
The charge was eventually reduced, and on Dec. 9, 2014, it was dropped in an appeal.
CSW Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said in a press statement that he welcomed Irani’s release but that his detention lacked even the appearance of justice.
“The continuing systematic harassment and imprisonment of Christians and other religious minorities is in violation of Iran’s commitments under its constitution and the international covenants to which it is party,” he said. “No one should suffer as pastor Irani has done, simply for following their conscience and belief.”
Fishing Trip Arrests
On Oct. 10, Iranian officials released Ramiel Bet Tamraz and Mohamad Dehnay after each submitted a security bond equivalent to $33,000. They were part of a group of five Christians arrested in August while on a fishing trip with their families.
On Aug. 26, at about 1:30 p.m. security officials from the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) arrived at the picnic in Firuzkuh, 93 miles (150 kilometers) east of Tehran, raided the picnic, separated the men from the woman and arrested all the men. When one of them asked to see an arrest warrant, which the officials did not produce, he was beaten, according to MEC.
Tamraz and Dehnay were taken into custody along with Amin Nader Afshar, Hadi Askary and Amir Sina Dashti. Originally there were reports that Afshar had been released, but those reports proved unwarranted.
Tamraz is the son of Assyrian pastor Victor Bet Tamraz, who was arrested along with other Christians at his home on Dec. 26, 2014 at a Christmas celebration. The elder Tamraz was informally charged with conducting evangelism, conducting illegal house-church activities and printing and distributing Bibles. He was released on bail on March 1, 2015 without ever being formally charged in court.
According to MEC, no charges have been filed against any those arrested, “despite weeks of interrogation.” Hadi faced particularly intense interrogation, according to MEC.
(Voice of the Persecuted) Blasphemy charges have been dropped against an eight-year-old Christian boy in Quetta, Pakistan. The youngster ‘m’ and his mother were both accused of burning pages of the Quran, the Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS) told Voice of the Persecuted (VOP).
The incident is said to have taken place on October 20 and soon afterwards the police filed a report against them.
While the Christian boy and his mother remained behind bars, local Christian leader including JUIF’s (Jamait Ulema Islam F) Member of National Assembly Asiya Nasir in collaboration with the Christian MPs Member of Provincial Assembly Baluchistan William Barkat and Shahzad Kundan played a role in their release, CLAAS said.
The matter was resolved one day later when the JUI played a pivotal role in retrieving the Christian mother and son.
The blasphemy accusations were quashed while a FIR no. 167 was filed against unknown persons.
Nasir Saeed, Director CLAAS-UK told VOP this is not the first time that a minor has been charged with a blasphemy offence. He cited several examples like in 1993 when 12 yr. old Slamat Masih was charged under the blasphemy law for a crime he never committed. Also in 2011, a 13 yr. old Christian girl, F Bhatti was accused of blasphemy by her Muslim teacher for misspelling.
Rimsha Masih’s case is well-known and now an eight-year-old boy was charged with blasphemy.
He may have never have even heard the word of blasphemy. Unfortunately, this is the worst example of hatred and intolerance against Christians and treatment towards them in Pakistan, Mr Saeed said.
“The Government of Pakistan must look into such cases and take appropriate steps to bring necessary changes to stop the ongoing misuse of this law.
“The international community has continuously expressed its concern and called for amendments.”
(Voice of the Persecuted) received an update on American Christians, Andrew Brunson and his wife, Norine’s situation as of late Friday, October 21. Turkish officials arrested and detained the couple on October 7 in the coastal city of Izmir on grounds of conducting activities constituted as “national security risks”.
Norine and Andrew have been living in Turkey for 23 years, running a church with the full knowledge of the local authorities. They were summoned to the police department on Friday, October 7, for what they assumed would be questions about their recent residency application. Upon their arrival they were presented with a letter from Ankara labeling them a threat to national security and ordering their deportation. They were immediately detained, their phones were confiscated, and they were completely isolated from the outside world.
The authorities denied repeated requests from their lawyers, the US State Department, and friends to see them or communicate with them in any way. They were explicitly forbidden from having a Bible, and were not allowed to receive books or any change of clothes. Andrew’s glasses and watch were taken away. They were told that their government had forgotten about them and that “hopefully” they would be deported, suggesting that they might simply disappear and never be heard from again.
Norine was released after 12 days (Oct. 19) and verbally told that all charges against her were dropped, but her lawyer has told her that is almost certainly not true given that nothing was put in writing. She was allowed to see Andrew for half an hour on October 20, but was denied any access on October 21. Apart from Norine, Andrew has had no contact with the outside world since October 7.
Norine and Andrew explicitly waived their right to protest the deportation, and yet there has been no deportation to date. The right to legal counsel is guaranteed under Turkish law, and the right of the US State Department to visit detained US citizens is guaranteed by 36(1)(c) of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, which Turkey has ratified. Both of these rights have clearly been violated.
At this point, the priority is to get Norine and Andrew safely out of Turkey, something entirely in keeping with the deportation order. Norine’s current visa expires on November 10, and though she might be forced to leave at any time, she really does not want to leave the country without Andrew. Norine is also concerned that her husband might be transferred from the current immigration center to a prison. Prison in that environment is entirely different from prison in the United States, and often includes people disappearing and without ever being heard from again.
There are far more serious charges supposedly brought against them, but none of it in writing, and none of it with any semblance of transparency or accountability. Those charges cannot be discussed openly, but Norine indicates that it’s difficult to overstate how dangerous the situation is.
The new objective is to see Norine and Andrew safely released from Turkey. They are willing and ready to comply with the deportation order, and yet the authorities continue to hold Andrew. Very little progress has been made through normal channels, so we will now start pressing the issue through Congress, through the media, and through the Turkish embassy.
It is time to press Turkey for Norine and Andrew’s rights to be restored. If the objective was to deport them, why detain them and deny them rights guaranteed under both Turkish and international law? Where are they being held and why have the charges not been stated in writing? Why hold them in isolation and confiscate things like Andrew’s glasses?
As always, your continued prayers are much appreciated, and we know that God will cause good to come from this.
ACT NOW by
PRAYING and sharing this urgent prayer request:
- Pray that Andrew would be released from detention
- Pray that the authorities would not discriminate against Christians in Turkey;
- Pray for religious freedom in Turkey.
(11/11/16 UPDATE:) At this time, due to ongoing negotiations, we are only sharing that Turkish authorities have released Norine Brunson. We request that prayer and fasting continue for her husband, Andrew who is still being detained. The Brunsons have been residents of Turkey for the past 20 years. Pastor Andrew Brunson had been leading the Izmir Resurrection Church, a small Protestant congregation averaging 30 to 40 worshipers, in Turkey. We will share further updates, including how you can get involved if further action becomes necessary.
As always, your continued love, concern and prayers are much appreciated. We know that God will cause good to come from this. Andrew’s wife, Norine told Voice of the Persecuted that she is tremendously blessed to hear that a large network of prayer warriors are lifting her and husband in prayer, each day.
“Amazing. Humbling. Please pass on our gratefulness,” she added.
Your prayers are such an encouragement and make a difference to those suffering for Christ. Please continue to press in for this couple and their family.
- Pray for Andrew and peace for his wife, Norine.
- Pray the authorities would not discriminate against Christians in Turkey.
- Pray for religious freedom in Turkey.
(Agenzia Fides) – “Ambulances and police continue to occupy the city. [More than] 60 people were killed and more than 200 wounded. They were all police officers and young people who were being trained in the military school [police academy]. We are shocked by another act of terrorism aimed at innocent people. The main target is the military”: is what is reported to Agenzia Fides by Fr. Renard Lawrence, missionary of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI) in Quetta, where in the early hours of this morning there was a major terrorist attack against the Balochistan Police College, located just outside the city. Three suicide bombers broke into the building during the night, two of them blew themselves up, killing students and young people, while the third was stopped.
The school had already been the object of attacks in the past. According to investigators, the terrorists were believed to be from the “Lashkar-e-Jhangvi militant group” which has bases in Afghanistan. In August 88 people were killed in two attacks in a hospital and in front of the court in Quetta.
Communication intercepts showed the attack was carried out by Al-Alimi faction of the Lashkar-i-Jhangvi (LJ) militant group, IG Frontier Corps (FC) Major General Sher Afgan said.
Separately, the militant Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack, according to the group’s Amaq news agency.
“These attacks are carried out in places where there is less defense and security so as to hit as many innocent victims. It is terrible”, says Fr. Renard. “We strongly condemn the attacks and terrorist violence. Many families suffer for this slaughter of innocents. We entrust them to the Lord, who can console them”, adds Fr. Inayat Gill, OMI, pro Vicar general of Quetta. “I cannot deny that there is a certain fear, but we have learned to live with it. With the grace of God, we are carrying out our mission quite peacefully in this area of the country. The Catholic community (about 35 thousand souls) have settled in the remote areas of this province, but we have easy access to these people and we accompany them in their spiritual and material needs without any obstacle”.
The Apostolic Vicariate of Quetta, in Baluchistan province, runs seven schools attended mostly by Muslims students and carries out social work through Caritas. “These works of the Church are very much appreciated by the population”, he concludes. (PA) (Agenzia Fides 25/10/2016)
Pray for peace in Pakistan. Pray for the families grieving their loved ones. Pray also for our Pakistani brothers and sisters, living under the constant threat of terrorism, to remain strong in faith and to shine the light and love of Jesus Christ.
Further updates reveal that Christian convert prisoner, Amin Afshar Naderi is still being held in Evin prison, despite earlier reports about his release.
Mohabat News – On October 19, 2016, a report came out of Iran that three of the five Christians arrested earlier in Firouz-kouh county, had been released. However, follow-up efforts have revealed that one of the three Christians previously thought to have been released, Amin Afshar Naderi, is still being held in prison.
Knowledgeable sources told Mohabat News that the other two Christians, Mohammad Dehnavi and Ramil Bet-Tamraz, son of Pastor Victor Bet-Tamraz were in fact released on bail, while their fellow believer, Amin Afshar Naderi still remains in prison.
As previously reported, the two Christians who were in fact released, had to post very heavy bails. They will be released until the day of their trial. As of now, three of the five believers still in prison are Amin Afshar Naderi, Amir Saman Dashti and Hadi Asgari, none of whom are officially charged yet. There are no further updates on their case and how long they will be held in prison in uncertainty.
Keeping political prisoners and prisoners of conscience in prison without any official charge is a known tactic of the Iranian government in order to pressure such prisoners.
These five Christian prisoners had been arrested on August 26, 2016 in a raid on a family gathering in Firouz-kouh county.
Reports from that incident state the plain-clothed security authorities beat a number of those attending the family gathering and after arresting five of them, they left their families with no news on the whereabouts of their loved ones. Their families said they checked with many prisons across the country but they were told such names are not registered as official prisoners in their system.
As many Iranians have shown incredible interest in Christianity in recent years, the Iranian Islamic regime has ramped up its campaign to crack down on Iranian Christian converts and prevent the spread of house church gatherings. Iran falsely sees its citizens’ conversion to Christianity as a threat to its existence and national security.
The U.S. State Department’s 2016 report on International Religious Freedom lists Iran as a country where religious and ethnic persecution is on the rise. In a response to this report, the Iranian government called it unreal and non-constructive./ FARSI