At least two gunmen on a motorcycle opened fire outside a Coptic church south of Cairo on Friday, killing at least nine people in the latest attack on the country’s Christian minority. Read more
How do Christians under pressure for their faith celebrate Christmas? In the fourth of our series we hear from an Iranian Christian who spent three years – and three Christmases – in prison.
Mohabat News – Because converting away from Islam is illegal in Iran, house churches meet in secret and Christmas is an “inner celebration” that takes place in people’s hearts, explains Mojtaba Hosseini, who became a Christian as an adult. He remembers one year when he and other members of their small congregation decorated the house and shared some food together. But they made sure the decorations were not Christmas-themed. “If police carried out a raid – which often happens at that time of year – we could say we were celebrating a birthday.”
In February 2012 the police raided his house church meeting and later that year he and another member were sentenced to 44 months in prison. Mojtaba was found guilty of ‘disrupting national security’ and ‘propaganda against the regime’, which related not only to his leading a house church but also to evangelism and contact with Christians outside Iran. After three years he was released from Shiraz prison on parole.
“Christmas had always been an inside celebration for me, so inside the prison I could celebrate it just the same. I would feel the joy of liberation in my heart,” which, he said, the government “is never, ever able to quench” despite separation from his family, interrogations he endured, uncertainty about the future, and sharing in a cell with “men who had committed the most terrible crimes”.
The President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI), Cardinal Baselios Cleemis, has expressed a lack of trust in the government headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as the leader of the ruling BJP – known for pursuing a Hindu nationalistic agenda.
“The country is being divided on the basis of religious belief. It is bad in a democratic country. I want my country to be united in a secular fabric. But now, this country is being polarised due to religious affiliations. We should fight against it,” Cardinal Cleemis was quoted as saying by the Indian Express.
Cardinal Cleemis shared with media in New Delhi on 21 December his concern over a sudden spurt in anti-Christian violence after his visit to Satna in central Madhya Pradesh state, which made headlines when a team of carol singers were assaulted and then detained by police.
The 30-member Catholic carol team, of seminarians and two priests, was accused of attempting to forcibly convert Hindus in remote Bhoomkhar village, about 15km from Satna, on the night of 14 December. Following an allegation by a Hindu fundamentalist outfit called Bajrang Dal, the police detained the entire team, while the car of eight priests who came to help was torched outside the police station.
“I agree such incidents can happen in a big country… But how do you evaluate the strength and stand of the government? It is the subsequent action and the legal protection that matter,” the report quoted Cardinal Cleemis as saying.
Though India’s interior minister Rajnath Singh had assured the head of the Catholic Church of the “safety” of Christians when the Cardinal called on him after his Satna visit, Cleemis said the incident threatens the “credentials of our democratic system”. The police remained silent spectators when the Christians were manhandled inside the police station, he added.
A.C. Michael, co-ordinator of the United Christian Forum (that documents incidents of anti-Christian violence), visited another state, Uttar Pradesh, at the weekend, over the arrest of seven, including two pastors, two weeks ago on an anti-conversion charge. He told World Watch Monitor: “We are worried about the role of the police and the failure of the judicial system.”
When the bail application of the seven came up for hearing on 17 December before the court in Mathura, 160km south of New Delhi, the judge dismissed it, saying “lawyers were not present”.
“In fact the lawyers were standing in front of the judge,” said Michael, a former member of the Minorities Commission of Delhi state. “We are relieved that finally they were released on bail on 21 December.”
Meanwhile, hardly a day passes without incidents in the media of Christians being threatened not to celebrate during the festive season, and of Christmas celebrations being disrupted.
One such threat was also from Uttar Pradesh (UP), ruled by the BJP, in Aligarh – where the Hindu Jagran Manch (Hindu Vigilance Council) told Christian schools not to celebrate Christmas.
However with global media promptly highlighting that threat, following the attack on the carol singers, the BJP state government said it has asked the HJM to deposit one million rupees as a guarantee that it will not indulge in such acts.
While the Aligarh area has not yet reported any attacks on Christian institutions, despite this threat, another BJP-ruled state, Rajasthan (bordering Pakistan on its west), saw an annual Christmas fair disrupted by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council) at Pratapgarh town on 21 December.
Scroll.in, a leading news portal, reported that the incident took place at night. The perpetrators tore down decorations, snatched the microphones of the gathering, threw away their Christmas calendars and Christian literature, and accused them of carrying out conversions under the pretext of Christmas celebrations.
That happened days after Mohan Bhagwat, chief of the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh – a national volunteer corps known as the fountain-head of aggressive Hindu nationalism), said “anybody living in India is a Hindu”.
Bhagwat made this statement while addressing an RSS meeting at Agarthala, capital of the north-eastern state of Tripura. In a reference to Christians and other minorities, he added: “The Muslims in India are also Hindus.”
Meanwhile, the Times of India, the largest circulated English daily in the country, in an editorial on 22 December told the government that “right-wing groups must be prevented from disrupting Christmas celebrations”. It continued:
“There is no denying that Christmas has become a secular celebration in India with people from all walks of life and belonging to different faiths taking part. In that sense, such inclusive celebrations highlight the essence of India’s unity in diversity… If Hindutva (Hindu nationalist) groups are allowed to raise the bogey of religious conversion for every non-Hindu festival, then the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of religion, as well as the true spirit of Hinduism, will stand desecrated.”
Kano – A suicide bomber blew himself up Thursday in a crowded market in northern Nigeria, killing six people, security sources said, blaming the attack on the Boko Haram jihadist group, according to News24.
The bomber, who passed himself off as a grain merchant, staged the attack in Amarwa village, about 20km from Maiduguri, the birthplace of Boko Haram and the capital of Borno State.
The attack came days after a failed Boko Haram attack on Christmas Day in Maiduguri.
According to the report, at least six persons were reportedly killed on Christmas day after unknown gunmen invaded Utonkon village in Ado Local Government Area of Benue State.
The attackers also seriously wounded several other persons while many were declared missing.
However, the state police command said two people died in the attack.
Eyewitnesses said the four-man gang stormed the community on motorbikes while some of the locals were busy sharing meat they had bought for the Christmas celebration.
An eyewitness said: “I had gone to the village to visit a friend at about 2p.m. when suddenly, we saw about four men on motorbikes, armed with pump action riffles shooting sporadically at the people who were busy sharing the meat they bought for the Christmas festivity.
“People were scampering for safety, women and children were crying and running into nearby bushes to take cover. About six persons were not so lucky as they were gunned down in cold blood.
on Thursday, UNICEF warned of an alarming surge in the number of children being used in conflict zones around the world as parties to conflicts ignore international laws designed to protect the most vulnerable.
The UN body said in a statement that in northern Nigeria and Cameroon, Boko Haram had forced at least 135 children to act as suicide bombers in 2017, almost five times the number in 2016.
Annual policy applied on country’s independence, religious festivals sees 9,333 Christian prisoners have their sentences reduced, including former Jakarta governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama . Ahok was sentenced to two years jail in May this year, after being found guilty of blasphemy. read more
And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. Luke 2:12-14(KJV)
Rejoice! In the name of the Lord, Rejoice!
In the words of Corrie Ten Boom, “Who can add to Christmas? The perfect motive is that God so loved the world. The perfect gift is that He gave His only Son. The only requirement is to believe in Him. The reward of faith is that you shall have everlasting life.”
The true joy of Christmas is in the everlasting love of Christ.
All over the world, persecuted believers are worshiping God for the greatest gift ever given to mankind. They count their suffering worthy to be in Him as part of the Body of Christ. As we celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior, please take a moment to remember and pray for those who are suffering in the name of Jesus.
This Christmas, let us reflect not on the trials, but on all God’s blessings in our lives. Let us praise the Lord for His faithfulness to give hope to the afflicted, to bind up the brokenhearted, bring liberty to captives and life to the lost. We thank God for comforting all who mourn, giving them strength and peace instead of mourning, and the ability to praise instead of a spirit of fainting. He is always with us in the storm.
Though nothing we could ever give or do will compare to the rescue mission of Christ, because of your prayers and faithful support, persecuted believers have been given hope. From all of us at Voice of the Persecuted and on behalf of the persecuted believers, thank you for standing with us in the mission! We pray for the Lord’s guidance and the ability to do more in the coming year.
To all our persecuted brothers and sisters, our advocates and workers in the field, to all friends of Voice of the Persecuted—and to you who have supported our ministry and make it possible for us to care for our persecuted family… MERRY CHRISTMAS!
May Peace be your gift at Christmas and your blessing all through the year.
From all of us at the Voice of the Persecuted, God bless you!
We have only a few days left to deliver Christmas relief packages, much needed supplies and nutrition to those in desperate need. VOP is on the ground in Nigeria and Thailand. This Christmas, join hands with us to spread the love of Jesus. We’re planning an outreach for a large number of Christians in a refugee camp in Nigeria and Christians detained at the notorious Immigration Detention Center in Bangkok. If you feel led to help, please consider our mission and donate, today. Go with us to Thailand through your blessings and share the joy of Christmas with these dear brothers and sisters who have suffered so much. God bless you and your families. May your Christmas be filled with much joy as you celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, our dear Lord and Savior.
Together with your generous help, we can reach the goal to alleviate horrific suffering. In darkness and desperation, let us serve in love, with open arms and giving hands to provide light and hope.
Every day, we thank God that He is working through you to care for His children and to further His Kingdom! As you greatly bless others, may God continue to bless you. Thank you so much for your support. We couldn’t do it without you!
You may also send your gift to:
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P.O. Box 122
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Donations always desperately needed
Mohabat News In an interview with Radio Farda, Article 18 spokesman, Kiarash A’lipour confirmed the news, adding, “Milad Goudarzi, Amin Khaki, Alireza Nour-Mohammadi and Shehabuddin Shahi were all arrested by security forces on Tuesday, December 12, in Karaj”.
According to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Iran ratified in 1975, “everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.”
Meanwhile, a website that exclusively reflects the news concerning Iranians converted to Christianity, Mohabat News reported, “The security forces raided six houses in Karaj where the converts used as a home church”.
While a Christian ceremony was held, the security forced stormed into the houses, detained four and dragged them away, Mohabat News reported.
Furthermore, the security forces raided two shops belonging to two of the detainees, confiscated shoes and purses and sealed off one of the shops.
The shops were sealed off for “overcharging”, “profiteering” and “breaking guild regulations”. Moreover, a Bible and a laptop (notebook) computer were also confiscated during the security operations.
One of the shops, located in Fardiss neighborhood in Karaj is owned by one of the detainees, Milad Goudarzi.
On Tuesday, the government’s official news agency, IRNA reported that “Elements of a devious Christian cult who were promoting it and attempting to disrupt the market and economic order have been arrested”.
IRNA did not elaborate what it meant by “disrupting market and economic order.
One of the detainees, Amin Khaki was earlier detained along six of his fellow Christians in 2013 and recently freed after serving his term in a prison in Ahvaz, capital of Khouzestan province, southwestern Iran.
Many Muslims who converted to Christianity have been arrested in recent years, days before Christmas.
Last year, in a joint statement, 19 human rights organizations called on the international community to press Iran to end the persecution of newly converted Iranian Christians.
According to Christian and human rights organizations, “In less than two months, since June 2017, Judge Mashallah Ahmadzadeh of Branch 26 of the Revolutionary Court in Tehran has issued long prison sentences to at least 11 Christian converts and the former leader of the Assyrian Pentecostal Church in Iran.”
On July 6, Ahmadzadeh sentenced four Protestant Christian converts to 10 years in prison each in a trial completely lacking due process, according to Mansour Borji, the advocacy director of Article 18, a London-based organization that defends Christians in Iran.
“Charges against these Christians is legally unfounded, and their conviction to 10 years’ imprisonment is violating the obvious right of freedom of opinion,” Borji told Radio Farda. “So many Christians in Iran are accused of merely attending Mass and prayer gatherings even in the privacy of their homes. They are all waiting for the Revolutionary Courts’ verdict against them.”
There are no recent official statistics available on the number of Christians in Iran, but 117,704 were counted in a 2011 state census, CHRI maintained. Those who said were Christians in an official census mostly belong to recognized and tolerated traditional ethnic churches, such as Armenian churches.
But evangelical or other new Christian movements, which are spreading covertly among Muslims, are treated harshly by the Islamic Republic.
In 2010, the World Christian Database (WCD) recorded 270,057 Christians in Iran. Some Christian organizations argue the number is much higher.
At least five church leaders have been murdered and hundreds more have been either interrogated or incarcerated in Iran since the Islamic Revolution in 1979.
Publishing the Persian version of the Bible in Iran is forbidden, while several churches have been forced to shut down.