(CBN) BUDAPEST – In a time when most of Europe is in the grips of atheism, there is a nation where Christianity seems to not only be holding its own but some say is thriving.
Imagine a government that is unabashedly Christian, that thinks Christian values are worth defending; that wants to protect and even nourish the family.
Welcome to Hungary.
A Christian Nation
Hungary’s constitution is explicitly Christian, and says that marriage is between one man and one woman and that life begins at conception. It even includes the phrase, “God bless the Hungarians.”
Hungary’s Faith Church, with 300 branches, is one of the largest Pentecostal churches in Europe, with 70,000 attendees.
Help for Persecuted Christians
And the Hungarian government has taken on the role of protecting Christianity. It’s even set up an office to help persecuted Christians worldwide.
When CBN News revealed the story of Sweden’s threat to deport Iranian actress Aideen Strandsson back to certain prison and torture in Islamic Iran, only one nation stepped up and offered her asylum: Hungary.
The Hungarian government says, “Taking in persecuted Christians is our moral and constitutional duty.”
Returning to Its Christian Roots
Hungarian policy analyst István Pócza says Hungary has only returned to its roots as a historic bastion of Christianity, dating back over a thousand years.
“Hungary wants to protect the European values; European Christian Jewish values,” he told CBN News.
Christianity in Hungary has survived almost 200 years of Muslim Ottoman rule and Soviet Communist domination.
Secretary of State Zoltán Kovács told us, “You have to stick to your traditions and legacies. Europe’s legacy is a Christian legacy, not necessarily in a religious form but most definitely in a cultural form.”
And it’s this belief that has Hungary locked in a battle with the European Union over migrants.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Mihály Orbán has accused the European Union of trying to Islamize Europe, and Hungary has infuriated Brussels by building a fence to keep illegal migrants out.
Orbán has essentially told the European Union to ‘take a hike’ when it comes to open borders. Hungary has seen the terrorism and chaos caused by migration in Western Europe and has said, “not here.”
The European Union has even gone to court to force Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic to take in migrants. Mr. Oban has accused Brussels of “blackmail.”
“Securing the borders to stop illegal migration is indeed a solution, and this is actually the only way to reinstate law and order at the borders of the European union, and not the other way around,” Kovács told CBN News.
Kovács says it matters that most of the migrants trying to enter Hungary are Muslim. And he says Western European nations are paying a heavy price by pretending that Islam doesn’t matter.
“We’ve been living with and close to Islam for centuries in the past and we know about it. So, that’s why it does matter who has come in and in what manner people are coming,” Kovács told CBN News.
Orbán Is No Putin, Or Is He?
Orbán is often portrayed in the western media as a version of Vladimir Putin; an undemocratic strongman. In fact, at an EU summit in 2015, the European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker reportedly greeted Orbán with the words, “Hello, dictator.”
Hungary is most certainly not a dictatorship. But Orbán’s critics accuse him of corruption and using the instruments of government against his political opponents, including the recent billboard campaign against billionaire George Soros.
Tamás Lattmann of the Institute of International Relations told us, “What we see in Hungary today is the shameless use of public money, of tax money to formulate pro-government messages.”
Bulcsú Hunyadi of the Political Capital Policy Research and Consulting Institute said, “Since 2008 the Hungarian government headed by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has been continuously weakening the system of checks and balances and weakening democratic institutions.”
But Orbán, a man who even his critics concede is a skilled politician, doesn’t seem to have a serious political rival, and he will probably remain in power, meaning Hungary’s standoff with the European Union over migrants is likely to escalate.
Is also means that Hungary will continue to have a government that thinks Christianity is worth protecting.
Qom, arguably the most Islamic city in Iran, is a socially and religiously conflicted city where house churches are hunted down and conversion to Christianity is viewed as an action against national security.
Mohabat News – Christianity has been growing at an exponential rate in the last couple of decades in Iran, causing the Islamic government a great deal of concern. In a most recent expression of their distress, one of the high profile Islamic seminary officials, Ayatollah Alavi Boroujerdi, stated “accurate reports indicate that the youth are becoming Christians in Qom and attending house churches”. However, this is not a new development. Earlier reports had also shown a surprising rise in the number of Iranians turning away from Islam and converting to Christianity.
One of the most senior Islamic Shi’ite clerics who has repeatedly expressed his concern over the spread of Christianity among the youth in the country is Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi. He, as well as most of his colleagues blame the foreign influence for the conversion of young Iranians to Christianity. The question that comes up however, is that what could be the real cause for Iranian youths’ rejection of Islam and its principles, despite the serious risks involved with conversion to Christianity in an Islamic country such as Iran?
This high rate of conversion of Iranian youth to Christianity is in spite of rigorous Islamic indoctrination of the youth in their families and educational system. The Islamic government of Iran dedicates massive budgets to the support of Islamic organizations that promote Islam among the youth within and without Iran’s borders. Such efforts to attract Iranian youth is much more noticeable in Islamic cities such as Mashhad and Qom. Regardless of such efforts, Iranian youth seem to become increasingly distant from Islam, which is a cause of great concern for the Iranian Islamic government.
- Read more: Iranian Islamic Government Funds Publication of anti-Christian Books
- Read more: Anti-Christianity discussion workshops in Mashhad -IRAN
- Read more: A Brief Overview: 2016 was the Worst Year for Iranian Christians
Last year, after Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi expressed his deepest concern over the popularity of Christianity in the suburbs of Mashhad, the city’s religious and political officials immediately sent a vast number of Islamic teachers and preachers to Mashhad’s suburbs in order to turn the youth away from Christianity. The next phase in dealing with this matter was to crack down on the youth who refused to turn back following the efforts of Islamic teachers and preachers. The Iranian law enforcement and intelligence ministry got involved and began waves of arrests and harassment of Christian converts, facing them with long term prison sentences and heavy bails for their temporary release.
Another Iranian Ayatollah, Wahid Khorasani expressed concerns over the spread of Christianity in the country. He said he had received reports about the exponential increase in popularity of Christianity amongst the youth in the Islamic city of Qom. He criticized government authorities “for their negligence in preparing counteracting strategies to stop the spread of Christianity. In his remarks eight years ago, he had encouraged the government authorities to develop a coherent strategy to eradicate Christianity in Iran.
Another Ayatollah, based in Tabriz, stated he had received reports that at one time, 600 residents of one of the cities in Khorasan province had converted to Christianity.
These harsh remarks years ago, led to a rigorous crackdown campaign against the Iranian Christian community, resulting in arrests, imprisonments and disbanding of a number of house church gatherings.
— Failure of Islamic Authorities’ Efforts to Stop the Spread of Christianity
The Iranian Islamic government implemented a two fold plan to stop the spread of Christianity in the country, and it has failed on both fronts.
The first front was the allocation of millions of dollars for Islamic propaganda across the country, which over the years has proven to be ineffective as Iranian youth seem to be distancing themselves from the Islamic lifestyle the Iranian government wishes to spread.
The second front, in which the Iranian government’s Islamic agenda has failed is their crackdown campaign on newly converted Christians in order to plant fear in those who are interested in learning more about Christianity and possibly becoming Christians themselves. This failure is obvious as Iranian Islamic authorities continue to express their concern over the rapid growth of Christianity in the country.
In recent years many Iranian Christian converts have been arrested. However, the rate of growth of house churches in the country has been exponential, despite a mass exodus of Iranian Christians.
In this regard, Ayatollah Jafar Sobhani, one of the high profile Iranian Islamic figures, wrote in a paper a few years ago, “There was a time when Islamic institutions in Qom were sufficient to counter the spread of Christianity in our city. However, today we do not have any Islamic institution in Qom that can stop Christian evangelism effectively”. In his remarks he also referred to the son of one of the Islamic clerics as having become a Christian.
In a report released seven years ago, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards identified 200 house churches in the Islamic city of Mashhad. Other reports indicate this number has grown significantly ever since. Mashhad is known as the Islamic capital of Iran and the Shi’ite Muslim world. Other cities having a record number of house churches in Iran include Rasht, Tehran and Karaj.
In Tehran there are many house churches that meet on a regular basis. One of Tehran’s Imams said in an interview, “today Christians present their gospel to our youth in the most appealing way. They gather in many neighbourhoods across the city, including Bani Hashem neighbourhood (in Tehran) where tens of homes have been turned into house churches which evangelize their neighbours”.
One of the visible effects of the Iranian government’s crackdown on Christians has been the closure of numerous churches, including the Central Assemblies of God (AOG) church and Janat Abad church in Tehran and the AOG church in Ahwaz. Additionally, Christian converts were banned from entering official churches and Farsi services were forced to cancel permanently across the country in all churches. Publication of anything related to Christianity or any material referring to Christianity was also restricted and books about Christianity already in the market were confiscated./ Farsi
As reported by “Mohabat News” Maryam (Nasim) NaghashZargaran, the converted Christian was released from Evin prison on August 1, 2017, after four years.
This prisoner was released after her long prison term concluded coupled with the extra days of incarceration due to her unwanted absenteeism. She was supposed to have been released on June 28, 2017 while her family waited for her at the entrance to the prison, but the prison authorities, claiming that her release paper were not ready, kept her incarcerated for three extra days.
Maryam NaghashZargaran was born in 1978 and she was interrogated in December 2009 being accused of hosting house churches and promoting Christianity. Eventually, she was arrested and exiled to an unknown area by Sepah Forces in 2012. Despite her temporary release on bail, she was sentenced to 4 years prison in absentia and her appeal court approved the district court’s decision.
Maryam was working in Turkey at that time and she had to come back to face these charges and she was subsequently arrested and sent to the jail on July 19, 2013.
In an objection to the uncertainty in her case and the resultant charges against her, Maryam went on a hunger strike on May 26, 2016. She broke her hunger strike having the promises of prison authorities to reconsider her charges on June 6, 2016. However, she was sent to jail on June 27, 2016. To show her objections she started her hunger strike on July 15, 2016 once again and received the same promises by prison authorities on July 21, 2016, when she got the permission to leave prison for few days.
These hunger strikes weakened her health day by day. This converted Christian suffers from “ASD”, joint pain and trembling, and went on an open heart surgery a few years back. Her health condition worsened due to these repetitive hunger strikes. Her health status was so bad that her mother recorded a video addressing the public and the government authorities to announce her dangerous physical and mental status.
She also mentioned that she might do something terrible anytime. Maryam NaghashZargaran has tried many times to write different letters and convey her rights and objections, apart from these hunger strikes, hoping to get a parole while she never got any responses. Pressures were even more on her when she was given few months leave until her charges were confirmed and while they allowed her to post bail they ultimately punished her with even more days in prison for the days she was absent from prison.
Saeed Abedini the Iranian- American pastor, and Maryam NaghashZargaran were arrested and sent to Evin Prison at the same time. This was perhaps a reason for excreting even more pressure on her in the court and during the interrogations and that is why the Sepah forces pressured her so much, including beating her in the ladies’ ward at Evin so badly that her leg was broken. This incident remained suspicious and never followed up again.
Now she has been released from prison and she has come back to her family after four years but her physical condition on one hand and her mental pressures on the other hand would follow her for even more months and she needs a long time to recover and get back to a more normal life.
(Morning Star News) – Among several Boko Haram bombings that have put northeastern Nigeria on edge this year was a suicide attack on Christian student organization quarters that killed a Christian student, sources said.
Ambore Gideon Todi, a 21-year-old student at the University of Maiduguri in Borno state, was staying in the Evangelical Church Winning All’s student ministry tent when Boko Haram suicide bombers detonated explosives in mid-May, according to leaders of the school chapter of the student ministry.
Joseph Kamida Cham, a Christian leader from Todi’s native Gombe state, told Morning Star News that a friend of Todi’s also staying in the Christian student quarters had decided to travel just prior to the bombing.
“When Ambore’s friend returned from his trip and could not find him during the student ministry fellowship, that made him to start asking questions,” Cham said. “It was later disclosed that Ambore was mistaken for one of the suicide bombers that died.”
School authorities had reported that one army member along with three suspected suicide bombers were affected by the blasts. The school decided against announcing that any students were affected, fearing the school would be closed, Cham said.
Leaders of the university ECWA student ministry confirmed the killing shortly after his death, Cham said.
“It is believed that he was not the only one affected by the bomb blast, as there were others involved and were in their fellowship program,” he said, saying he was close to Todi’s family. “The authorities did not say anything about their demise till after nine days. We knew of his death because he is from my state.”
Only after Todi’s friends alerted authorities to his disappearance nine days after the bombing was he identified as a victim of the bombing, he said.
“He was identified as a victim through his shirt found at the scene of the attack,” Cham said.
Williams Abba Todi, the student’s father, announced the killing in a post on Facebook on May 22.
“KILLED BY BOKO HARAM,” he wrote. “The management of the University of Maiduguri has today officially informed us of the death of our son AMBORE GIDEON TODI killed in the suicide bombing. Ambore rest in the LORD as you were killed in the Church on active service give us consolation you are on the right hand of GOD.”
Williams Abba Todi could not be reached for comment.
Cham said Todi was the only member of his family to have gone to university and the only male child.
“He was the only child of the family who went beyond secondary school,” Cham said. “He was in Physics Department and in his 100 level.”
The family is from Biliri, Gombe state.
Maiduguri has been the site of a series of bombings and attacks by Boko Haram terrorists who aim to impose sharia (Islamic law) throughout Nigeria. They have also attacked predominantly Christian towns of Borno state such as Chibok, Gwoza, and Uba since January.
In an attack on a mosque in Maiduguri on Monday (July 17), at least eight people were reportedly killed when a female suicide bomber detonated explosives. Since being driven out of captured territory by military counter-insurgency operations, Boko Haram has increasingly used women and girls, presumably kidnapped, to carry out suicide attacks.
The previous week, four women reportedly detonated explosives in a suicide mission in the Molai Kolemari area of Maiduguri, killing 19 people and injuring 23 others.
Christians make up 51.3 percent of Nigeria’s population, while Muslims account for 45 percent.
Voice of the Persecuted is on the ground in Nigeria to care for our Christians experiencing brutal persecution. If you would like to show your love and support for those who’ve faced unimaginable persecution, please support our Nigerian mission project, today.
We are committed to being a VOICE for persecuted Nigerian Christians and bring them comfort, relief, and encouragement. We have committed to a long-term mission in Nigeria. When they are able to return home, we will be there to encourage and help rebuild villages and their lives. They will not be forgotten!
We want you to know that even in great hardship, they thank God and feel extremely blessed that He has kept His hand on them. They have been so encouraged and thankful for each one of you who have joined this mission through your prayers and support. Your gifts have brought so many smiles. THANK YOU!
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.
HELP SAVE THE PERSECUTED
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:
2740 Third St
P.O. Box 122
Trenton, MI. 48183
If the Lord is placing it on your heart and you are able, please help us to continue the mission in Nigeria. It will be a long term project. Donations always desperately needed
(Morning Star News) – Egyptian military officers beat a new soldier to death on July 19 upon learning that he was a Christian, relatives said.
Joseph Reda Helmy of Kafr Darwish village, Beni Suef Governorate, had just completed training at Mobarak military training center and was transferred to Al-Salaam special forces police unit, where three officers killed him, relatives told Middle Eastern media. The Egyptian army told relatives Helmy died of an epileptic seizure.
His father, Reda Helmy, told Al Karma TV by phone that his large, strong son had arrived at the camp at 2 p.m. and was dead by 8 p.m. In the same program, the deceased’s cousin, Youssef Zarif, said he received a message at 2 a.m. on July 20 from the Ministry of Interior to come and retrieve Helmy’s body.
When Zarif arrived, he asked to meet an officer and was initially rebuffed. Eventually he met with an officer who told him that Helmy had died of an epileptic seizure. Zarif refused to believe the army explanation, saying Helmy was a healthy, quiet person loved by all in his village of Christians and Muslims. The heavily Muslim country has population that is about 10 percent Christian.
He told Al Karma that the extensive bruising he found on the body did not look like those of an epileptic episode. He said Helmy had bruises on his head, shoulders, neck, back and genitalia, with the worst injuries occurring on his back.
The doctor who examined the body refused to bow to pressure from those who brought it and reported that the cause of death was not natural, Zarif said. A prosecutor accompanying the family firmly concurred and demanded an investigation, he said.
Zarif said he thanked the doctor and prosecutor for not trying to cover up the truth.
The three officers who attacked his cousin are in custody and under investigation, he said.
Zarif said he learned from police and other soldiers that the three officers began to harass Helmy because of his Christian faith, and that the marks on his body indicate they kicked him with their boots and hit him with heavy instruments.
Another cousin, Malak Youakim, confirmed the killing to Alhorreya.TV. Youakim also said Helmy was attacked for his Christian faith.
A Christian leader in Helmy’s home village said many there are in mourning.
“Many women are wearing black, a sign of mourning for the death of one of their Coptic youth,” he told Morning Star News. “Many are sharing the graphic pictures of the bruised body of Joseph Reda Helmy, a new draftee doing his military service.”
He said Helmy had been in the army for only month when he died on July 19.
Several other Coptic Christians have died for their faith while serving in the Egyptian military. On Feb. 17, 2016, the Egyptian military informed the family of Michael Gamel Mansour that the 22-year-old conscript from Assuit had committed suicide. Authorities claimed Mansour, who was assigned to a unit that guards El Gomhoreya Stadium in Cairo, shot himself with a rifle. They asserted that moments before his suicide, Mansour became despondent after a telephone conversation with members of his family.
Sources said they do not believe that Mansour killed himself. Family members have said the phone conversation the military cited was about innocuous issues. Mansour was not dealing with any major problems and gave no signs that he was having any sort of psychological episode, they said, and no suicide letter has been found.
Mansour had been scheduled to be discharged from army service on July 1, 2016, according to family members. His case marked the third time in nine months that the government reported a Coptic Christian soldier committing suicide. A fourth Christian was killed in August 2016, according to the government, in a shooting incident in which no one has been criminally charged.
On Nov. 20, 2015, the military informed Nataay Boushra that his son, Private First Class Bishoy Nataay Boushra, a second-year conscript soldier in the Egyptian army, was dead, also a victim of suicide. Boushra, 21, served in the Central Security Forces (CSF), a ubiquitous, 450,000-man unit under the command of the Ministry of Interior used to augment the Egyptian National Police. Boushra was posted to the outskirts of Cairo, guarding the CSF barracks used by his duty section.
According to the military, Boushra was found dead the morning of Nov. 20, 2015 in the bathroom of a military jail cell with a sheet wrapped around his neck. Officials told Nataay Boushra that his son hung himself from a windowsill.
Nataay Boushra rejects the government’s claim of suicide. His son was deeply spiritual and considered suicide to be a grave sin. During his army service, he was in regular contact with his family and gave no indication of any depression before his death. He was just three months away from being discharged from the army and pursuing his lifelong dream of becoming a monk.
As with the case of Mansour, the military made its ruling that the cause of Boushra’s death was a suicide before an autopsy was performed. At the morgue, the family refused to take the remains until officials conducted an autopsy, but while waiting, Nataay Boushra and his brother were able to examine the body. In addition to the ligature marks expected from a hanging or strangling death, Boushra’s torso was covered with bruises and huge welts from what appeared to be sustained, brutal beatings.
For months before his death, according to his father, Boushra endured threats, violence, intense verbal abuse and public humiliation from a fellow draftee, a Muslim known to the public only as “Mustafa.” Boushra took the abuse in stride until Nov. 4, when the Muslim soldier launched into yet another tirade against Christianity. Boushra picked up a stick the size of an ax handle and hit the other soldier in the head, knocking him to the ground, according to military court testimony.
The soldier was taken to a hospital for examination and then released. Both men were arrested and placed together in a jail cell awaiting a hearing in a military court.
For reasons still unknown, another soldier who was a friend of Mustafa was later locked in the military prison cell with Boushra and Mustafa, the same cell in which he was later found dead, according to the military.
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(Voice of the Persecuted) The early church faced much persecution but continued to thrive; today, the persecution exists at an even greater scale.
Matthew 5:11 states, “Blessed are those that are persecuted.”
Many Pakistani Christians who’ve fled to Thailand are very familiar with ongoing aggressions against them. They’re stuck in a limbo after being sucked in a whirlpool of discrimination, persecution and incarceration, all due to their faith in Christ Jesus.
Thousands of persecuted Pakistani Christian brothers and sisters in Thailand sought refuge in UNHCR Thailand. After years of waiting and suffering the brutal incarceration in the Immigration Detention Centre, many of them have been rejected by the UNHCR, with very little chance of getting refugee status through appeals.
Two of our families, that have been part of the Voice of the Persecuted relief project in Thailand, were recently rejected by the UNHCR. Many of you may remember John, a little boy who was brought to us malnourished and very sick. His family has been rejected based on what the UNHCR considers insufficient information to explain the level of threat they would have faced if they had stayed in Pakistan. John’s family maintains their stance of death upon return and have appealed against the decision of UNHCR with hopes of getting a positive result.
Jackson’s family was rejected in the beginning of June. They, like others who’ve been denied asylum, were given 30 days for appeal. The young father is on bail from the IDC and is worried that his appeal would be instantly cancelled and he would have to return to the IDC, estranged from his wife and 1-year old son. Jackson has made a very hard choice to go back to Pakistan as the UNHCR promised to give him airfare and $100 each if they decide to be repatriated. However, this offer would be void if Jackson appeals against the UNHCR decision.
Sadly, the majority of Christian asylum seekers have had little or no luck with their appeals. Majority of them have been rejected and their files have been closed, their UNHCR cards taken away and they are left hopeless to survive on their own in a ruthless country.
Before mid-2015, many Christians were freed on a bail bond of $1400 each, on reason for their registration with UNHCR and further conditions were added including ineligibility to work and reporting to the prison every 15 days. After the UNHCR started rejecting cases, for many it meant that their bails would be cancelled and they are required to return inside the IDC with their children and elders.
Many are opting to go back to Pakistan and risk their lives in a desperate effort to survive. In April, a woman named Asia Johnson sadly went back to Pakistan. Voice of the Persecuted had been able to pay her overstay fine in December 2015 and subsequently she was bailed with the help of another charity. Her appeal was refused and her cards were taken away, as a result, her bail was cancelled. She was given an ultimatum to return to the IDC with her 2 young daughters, the youngest being 6 years old. She described the IDC as hell and decided to move back to Pakistan. She has moved to another part of Pakistan in hopes of hiding from her persecutors. Since, she has been untraceable to us. We pray for her protection and safety as she could potentially face threats due to her faith in Christ. This is the story of hundreds of Pakistani Christians who have been re-persecuted by the UNHCR and are left with no choice than to go back to face persecution for their faith in Christ.
Please continue to keep our aid missions in your prayers. We have been trying to increase our mission in Thailand but are unable to do that without help. We have been sustaining support for Jacksonn’s and for John’s family as they fight for their claim to be approved, but we have been struggling to maintain ongoing funds for our families. Please pray for them. Continue to support our mission through your prayers.
God bless the persecuted church.
1 John 4:19 states, “We love because He first loved us.” Let us continue to share our love bestowed upon us through our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ.
God bless us all.
By our Asian correspondent
Join us during our 12-hour prayer conference call, today. We are expecting to speak with and pray with a Pakistani brother between
Time of the Call:
9 a.m.- 9 p.m. Eastern time
8 a.m.-8 p.m. Central time
7 a.m.-7 p.m. Mountain time
6 a.m.-6 p.m. Pacific time
Call number: 712.775.7035
Access code: 281207#
Please pray for persecuted Christian families suffering in Thailand. Pray the Thai government will soften their hearts towards them. And pray the UNHCR will find a way to speed up and fairly investigate the unbearably long process of their asylum cases.
VOP is on the ground in Thailand. 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.
HELP SAVE THE PERSECUTED
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:
2740 Third St
P.O. Box 122
Trenton, MI. 48183
MALDIVES: Maldives Ruling Party Should Repudiate Attacks on UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) strongly condemns the verbal and online attacks against UN Special Rapporteur Ahmed Shaheed. The statements by the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) and the online postings of at least one religious scholar include harsh criticism and accusations that Shaheed is an apostate from his Muslim faith. The denunciations of this advocate for religious freedom have even resulted in calls online for his beheading.
According to reports, statements from the PPM, the party of current President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom, accuse Dr. Shaheed of spreading “evil deeds” among Maldivians. “As if this were not enough,” said USCIRF Vice Chair Kristina Arriaga, who recently met with him in Oxford to discuss religious freedom, “the party also called on the public to speak out against Shaheed’s ‘irreligious’ activities, which resulted in online postings accusing him of apostasy and calling for his beheading. Coming from the ruling party, this is nothing less than government-sanctioned incitement to violence. That is unacceptable in the Maldives or any other country.”
Shaheed is currently the United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief. In this key position, he is mandated to “identify existing and emerging obstacles to the enjoyment of the right to freedom of religion or belief and present recommendations on ways and means to overcome such obstacles.” Freedom of religion or belief is intimately linked to freedom of expression. Dr. Shaheed is being attacked by political and religious figures in his home country for exercising his freedom of expression on a variety of issues spanning several countries.
One reported Facebook posting by an alleged religious scholar called for Muslims who have expressed views such as Shaheed’s to “repent,” and if they do not, “Their heads will have to be removed [from their bodies] as a non-believer. [This has to be] implemented by the ruler.” Postings and statements such as this and those by the PPM have resulted in numerous explicit, violent threats against Dr. Shaheed as well as his family.
USCIRF Chairman Daniel Mark added, “The PPM should retract its statements threatening Dr. Shaheed and condemn in the strongest possible terms any calls for action against him. Rather than inciting violence against a fellow citizen, the PPM should protect Dr. Shaheed and indeed any other Maldivian citizen who exercises his or her right to freedom of expression. A government is responsible for protecting its citizens, not being complicit in threats to their lives.”
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom is an independent, bipartisan U.S. federal government commission, the first of its kind in the world. USCIRF reviews the facts and circumstances of religious freedom violations abroad and makes policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State, and Congress. USCIRF Commissioners are appointed by the President and the Congressional leadership of both political parties.