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CHRISTIANS FLEE NORTH-EAST SYRIA AS FIGHTING CONTINUES

DAMASCUS/ANKARA (BosNewsLife)– Tens of thousands of panicked-stricken people, many of them Christians, are seen fleeing north-east Syria amid fears that a brief ceasefire will not end a deadly Turkish invasion. They escape a region where over 100 people, including some Christians, were reported killed in recent fighting between Turkish and Kurdish forces. Others were injured.

“Already one Christian home in a Christian neighborhood in the city of Qamishli has been shelled, with family members injured,” confirmed Christian aid group, Barnabas Fund.

“The mother is in a critical condition in hospital. Two other Christians in Qamishli have been killed and many wounded,” the group added.

Barnabas Fund said, “Christians are alarmed to note that the attacking forces include not only the Turkish army but also Syrian Islamist rebel factions whose extremist ideology makes them strongly anti-Christian.”

At least one Islamic rebel group, the Levant Front, seized Christian homes of those fleeing in the town of Tal Abyad, other Christian aid workers told BosNewsLife. It was not immediately clear how many houses had been taken over.

CHRISTIAN REFUGEES

Barnabas Fund claimed that some of the Christian refugees were already displaced several times during Syria’s civil war. They “finally found stability in this region. Now they must run for their lives again,” the group explained in a statement to BosNewsLife.

As many as 100,000 people have already left their homes, according to the United Nations. The number of internally displaced persons could reach 300,000 in the area, warned Barnabas Fund citing local sources.

Turkey’s attacks, launched last week, target a part of Syria viewed as relatively secure in eight years of civil war. “But overnight it has become a battlefield,” Barnabas Fund complained.

The group noted that the region has strong Christian communities that are “often seen as a peace-keeping buffer between the Arabs and Kurds.”

Barnabas Fund said it is providing humanitarian aid such as food and shelter to Syrian Christians. Additionally, “We have also helped to support our brothers and sisters spiritually. That includes funding projects to strengthen church ministry and build them up in their faith through the years of unrelenting conflict, loss, and trauma,” it stressed. “As Christians, they suffered persecution for their faith in addition to all the normal suffering of the war.”

MORE VIOLENCE

Christians have reasons to fear more violence. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey warned his troops would “crush the heads” of Kurdish fighters if they don’t withdraw from a planned safe zone area in northern Syria.

Turkey agreed on Thursday, October 17, to suspend an offensive for five days to allow Kurdish forces to withdraw from the region.

But both sides have accused the other of violating the ceasefire, which was negotiated by the United States. American forces appeared unwilling Monday, October 21, to be drawn into the conflict. Reporters saw hundreds of trucks carrying American troops crossing into Iraq in a long military convoy Monday.

U.S. President Donald Trump said last week that he would bring all American troops stationed in Syria “back home.” He rejected concerns that this could lead to the freeing of Islamic militants from prisons and more pressure on minority Christians and other vulnerable groups.

American troops fought the Islamic State terror group alongside the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces. Most of these forces will move to western Iraq, U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said. But he suggested that some would remain temporarily in Syria to protect oil fields from Islamic State, despite President Trump’s call for a full withdrawal.

Boko Haram Executes Two Christian Aid Workers in Nigeria

Screen capture from Islamic State’s Amaq news site of Christian aid workers Godfrey Ali Shikagham (left) and Lawrence Duna Dacighir before their execution by Boko Haram. (Morning Star News)

(Morning Star News) – Islamic extremist group Boko Haram released a video last week showing the execution of two Christian aid workers in Nigeria, sources said.

Lawrence Duna Dacighir and Godfrey Ali Shikagham, both members of the Church of Christ in Nations (COCIN) in Plateau state, are shown kneeling while three masked, armed men stand behind them in a video posted Sept. 22 on Boko Haram’s Amaq news agency site. The two young men, who had gone to Maiduguri to help build shelters for people displaced by Islamic extremist violence, are then shot from behind.

Speaking in the Hausa language, the middle one of the three terrorists says in the video that they have vowed to kill every Christian they capture in revenge for Muslims killed in past religious conflicts in Nigeria. Dacighir and Shikagham, originally from Plateau state’s Mangu County, were captured by Boko Haram, now called the Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP), as they carried out their work in displaced persons camps.

Ethnic and religious tensions resulted in large-scale clashes between Muslims and Christians in Jos in 2001 and 2008.

It is not clear from the video, temporarily posted on YouTube, when the two men were executed. Their identities were confirmed by a relative, the Rev. John Pofi, a COCIN pastor.

Pastor Pofi, a cousin of the two executed Christians, told Morning Star News in a text message statement also shared with others that the two Plateau state natives had gone to Maiduguri from Abuja.

“Lawrence and Godfrey left Abuja for Maiduguri in search of opportunities to utilize their skills for the betterment of humanity and paid with their lives,” Pofi said. “We will never get their corpses to bury. The community will have to make do with a makeshift memorial to these young lives cut short so horrifically.”

If the federal government had created economic opportunities for those tempted to join extremist groups and had returned security to the country, his cousins would not be dead now, Pastor Pofi said.

“We must ask ourselves if this is the kind of country we want where young men who are earning an honest living are brutally killed while those who abduct and kill others are invited to dialogue with government and paid handsomely,” he said.

In a letter last week to the United Nations secretary general, attorney Emmanuel Ogebe of the U.S.-Nigeria Law Group, a legal consulting firm with an emphasis on human rights, expressed concern that the Nigerian government did not condemn the killing of the two men even though they were helping to provide shelter for displaced Nigerians.

“Lawrence and Godfrey …were using their skills to provide a basic human need of shelter to others when they were killed,” Ogebe stated. “Your excellency, we wish to draw your urgent attention to the fact that taken together with the execution of aid worker Hauwa  Liman (ICRC) this time last year, the recorded number of aid workers slaughtered by terrorists in Nigeria over the past decade is now in excess of 40.”

Ogebe asserted in his letter that the killing of the two Christians was Boko Haram’s first execution on the basis of “ethnic cleansing.” The two victims were from the predominantly Christian Mwalghavul ethnic group. Previous ethnic/religious clashes took place between the predominantly Muslim Hausa and Fulanis against the predominantly Christian Berom, Irigwe, Afizere, Tarok, Ngas and Mwalghavul peoples.

Ogebe wrote that workers for international aid group Action Against Hunger kidnapped in July issued a distressed plea for government help with no notable administration response. On Wednesday (Sept. 25), Action Against Hunger announced that one of its workers being held hostage had been executed.

“More executions of humanitarian workers could yet occur,” Ogebe wrote to the U.N. “Despite these humanitarian organizations’ resilience in still serving victims, the Nigerian Government has since just last week suspended Action Against Hunger and Mercy Corp on dubious grounds.”

International aid agency Mercy Corps suspended operations in Borno and Yobe states in northeast Nigeria after the Nigerian army closed four of its offices in the region without explanation, the agency announced on Wednesday (Sept. 25).

Ogebe urged the U.N. secretary general to obtain an assurance from Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari that all hostages will be released before the country’s Independence Day on Tuesday (Oct. 1).

“We also ask that you implore him to lift the suspension on humanitarian groups providing urgent services to victims,” Ogebe wrote. “We urge the secretary general to remind President Buhari of Nigeria’s obligations under international humanitarian law to negotiate the protection of aid workers and non-combatant civilians in its dialogue with BH/ISWAP [Boko Haram/Islamic State in Western Africa Province].

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

EU Envoy’s threat of trade sanctions played crucial role in Asia Bibi’s freedom

EU Envoy on religious freedom, Jan Figel, meets with Asia Bibi’s lawyer Saif ul Malook in Lahore, December 2017. (Photo: Jan Figel)

World Watch Monitor—Freed Pakistani Christian Aasiya Noreen, known to the world now as Asia Bibi, has pleaded for the many others like her accused of blasphemy who, she says, are still “lying in jail for years – their decisions should also be done on merit. The world should listen to them.

“The way any person is alleged (to have committed) blasphemy without any proper investigation, without any proper proof, that should be noticed. This blasphemy law should be reviewed and there should be proper investigation mechanisms while applying this law. We should not consider anyone sinful for this act without any proof.”

She made this appeal from her refuge in Canada through a series of answers she provided to the UK’s Sunday Telegraph.

Shortly afterward, the European Post released a video that it says was provided by Noreen, in which she speaks in her native Urdu about her faith and urges fair treatment for anyone accused of a crime.

It’s hard to get a specific tally of the numbers known to be imprisoned, either awaiting trial -sometimes for years – for blasphemy, or already convicted. Many are Muslims. One figure World Watch Monitor saw quoted but could not get confirmed, after Asia Bibi was finally freed in May, was that Christians make up 17 of the 40 current ‘blasphemy’ prisoners. Christians form around 2% of Pakistan’s total population according to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity, its Co-Director Gina Zurlo told World Watch Monitor.

One couple who hit the spotlight immediately after Asia Bibi’s acquittal was Shafqat Emmanuel and his wife, Shaguftah, of Gojra, Punjab, both accused of sending blasphemous text messages. Shafqat has to use a wheelchair and has a catheter, after his backbone was fractured in an accident in 2004. Shaguftah was the main breadwinner for their four children.

Lawyer Saif ul-Malook, who – at the risk of his own life – defended Asia Bibi and successfully argued her appeal in Pakistan’s Supreme court, then promptly left Pakistan for the Netherlands (he was reported to have said that he was forced to flee) but said that he would return if her successful appeal was challenged. At the same time, he said he would now take up Shafqat and Shagfuftah’s case.

‘Justice and dignity for all Pakistanis’

The Sunday Telegraph article also referred to the crucial role for Asia Bibi’s freedom played by the EU Special Envoy on Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB), Jan Figel, from Slovakia, who’s worked tirelessly on her case, as well as for prisoners in Sudan and other countries.

He told World Watch Monitor that he had tried to visit Pakistan in his new role ‘from the start’ but that it had taken a year until a Pakistani high-level delegation (Minister of Trade and Attorney General) had visited his Brussels office. They invited him to Pakistan.

(In May 2018 Pakistan’s then-Minister for Interior, Ahsan Iqbal, who is known to support minority groups, survived an assassination after meeting with a group of Christians. Seven years earlier both the then-Governor of Punjab, Salmaan Taseer, and the Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti were targeted and killed for defending Asia Bibi). That particular Islamist network has many members outside Pakistan.

Following her acquittal Asia Bibi was detained for another seven months. Mr. Figel told the Sunday Telegraph “I think Imran Khan’s government and Pakistan’s military used this delay to get the situation in the country under real control.”

In December Canada’s Prime Minister Trudeau publicly announced willingness to offer asylum at the Peace Centennial of World War I.

In January, in Pakistan’s capital, the “Islamabad Declaration” signed by over 500 Muslim clerics, publicly condemned terrorism, violence committed in the name of religion and fatwas (sacred edicts) widespread by radical Islamic leaders. Fides reported that “observers said it represents a turning point especially in the attitude towards religious minorities and sects such as Ahmadi Muslims. In fact, Fides wrote, ‘the Declaration recognizes that Pakistan is a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country, and notes that “it is the responsibility of the government to ensure the protection of the life of non-Muslim citizens in Pakistan”’.

In February, Pakistan’s Attorney-General again visited Brussels where he again met Jan Figel; the latter tweeted that he raised the fact that Asia Bibi, now freed by the Supreme Court, was still detained in effective ‘house arrest’.

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Pakistan’s Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari also visited Brussels. Figel liaised with Asia Bibi herself via Muhammad Amanullah, a human rights activist.

The EU Envoy confirmed directly to World Watch Monitor that the UK was not on the list of possible countries for her asylum, but that ‘there were a lot of rumours and problems around this’.

Asia Bibi was announced to have finally left Pakistan on 8 May, although it was not clear for a few days whether she had in fact joined her daughters who were already in exile in Canada.

Figel told WWM “Canada deserves international acknowledgement for its spirit of solidarity and real hospitality, also for the professionalism of its diplomacy and its immigration services. Security conditions are crucially important for Asia Bibi and her family”.

On June 25, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, signed the Fourth EU-Pakistan Strategic Engagement Plan (SEP) with the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini in Brussels.

Amongst points relevant to Asia Bibi’s plight were to “Develop mutually agreed co-operation on the implementation of the UN Security Council on Women, Peace and Security”, and (under ‘Democracy, Rule of Law, Good governance, and Human Rights’) the plan mentioned “Working together to ensure…protection of human rights at national and international levels” and “Enhancing…inter-faith dialogue and understanding to promote tolerance and harmony”.

EU Envoy on Freedom of Religion or Belief – role

Jan Figel, a former EU education and culture commissioner, was appointed in May 2016 when the post was created by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. Twice extended for an additional year, Figel’s current mandate ends next month.

A report by Polish MEP Andrzej Grzyb, accepted by the European Parliament, but yet to be formally implemented, argued that Figel had “developed effective working networks” within the EU institutions and praised him for “continuous engagement and co-operation and complementarity of actions with the EU Special Representative for Human Rights”.

It also recommended that the Special Envoy’s role needs to be substantially reinforced, and that his new remit should include extending his term to match that of Commission’s five-year term, and “consolidated with sufficient human and financial resources”.

Figel does not currently have a budget and formal status in the EU institutions, beyond serving as a special advisor to the EU’s Development Commissioner. His staffing budget covers minimal assistance, less than the German government’s Commissioner for Global Freedom of Religion.

Campaigners also argue that freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) is not given the importance it deserves in the EU institutions.

The MEPs’ report also recommends the setting up of a “regular advisory working group of member states’ FoRB institutions and European Parliament representatives, together with experts, scholars, and representatives of civil society, including churches and other faith-based organisations”.

After the US, Canada was among the first countries to appoint a Special Envoy who could focus on the issue of Freedom of Religion or Belief, Andrew Bennett, although his role per se did not last into Justin Trudeau’s government. Since then, the UK has appointed Lord Ahmad to the first-ever UK FoRB role, the need for which has recently been highlighted by the Bishop of Truro’s independent review into the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s response to the persecution of Christians globally.

This summer, the Netherlands has appointed its own Ambassador with an emphasis on FoRB, Jos Douma, a former Ambassador to both Iran and the Holy See.

Officials in Cuba forbid church leaders to attend US religious freedom event

Cuban officials blocked the departure from Cuba of the Rev. Alain Toledano Valiente. (Facebook)

(Morning Star News) – Authorities in Cuba on Sunday (July 14) refused to allow the national presidents of two Christian denominations to board their flight to Washington, D.C., to attend a religious freedom event, sources said.

The Rev. Moises de Prada Esquivel and the Rev. Alida Leon Baez, both members of the Alliance of Evangelical Churches of Cuba (AECC, Alianza de Iglesias Evangélicas Cubana) were slated to represent the organization as members of its executive board at the event.

They were notified at Havana’s José Marti International Airport that they would not be allowed to travel to the U.S. capital because Cuban State Security had blocked their departure from the country, according to an AECC press statement.

Cuban authorities reportedly denied other evangelical leaders permission to travel to the United States. Officials earlier refused to renew the passport of the Rev. Dariel Llanes, president of the Western Convention Baptist Church of Cuba (Iglesia Convención Bautista de Cuba Occidental), reportedly to keep him from attending the meeting in Washington. Immigration officials also reportedly blocked the Rev. Alain Toledano Valiente of the Prophetic Apostolic Movement (Movimiento Apostólico Profético) from leaving the country.

The incidents were the latest in a campaign of repression against the evangelical Christian community in Cuba.

On Friday (July 12), State Security agents forcibly detained independent journalist Ricardo Fernandez Izaguirre following his visit to the offices of human rights watchdog group Ladies in White in Havana.

The Camaguey-based reporter and advocate of religious freedom, who is married with an infant daughter, has since been held incommunicado by authorities, according to advocacy group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).

Fernandez Izaguirre, an active member of a network of unregistered charismatic Christian churches, has reportedly been working with the predominantly Roman Catholic Ladies in White to document violations of freedom of religion and belief, a right enshrined in the Cuban constitution.

The jailed journalist’s friends and family have been unable to contact him since his arbitrary detention, and his mobile phone appears to have been disconnected, according to CSW.

Anna-Lee Stangl, head of advocacy for CSW, appealed to authorities for Fernandez Izaguirre’s release.

“CSW holds the Cuban government responsible for the well-being of Ricardo Fernandez Izaguirre,” Stangle said. “We call on the authorities to release him immediately.”

Evangelical leaders suspect mounting pressure on Christians – and on the AECC in particular – is rooted in their outspoken opposition to proposed constitutional changes aimed at legalizing homosexual marriage in Cuba. A new Cuban draft constitution approved in 2018 by the National Assembly of People’s Power replaced a clause defining the family as “a union between one man and one woman” with “a union between two persons…with absolutely equal responsibilities.”

Backlash from Cuba’s Christian community forced authorities to delete the new language, but constitutional framers specifically avoided re-inserting the traditional definition of marriage as a union between one man and one woman. That left the door open to approve homosexual marriage through the new Cuban Family Code, set to be ratified within two years.

Christians fear it also practically guarantees that the campaign of repression against outspoken Christians will continue.

“In Cuba, there is no real freedom of expression or of worship,” a veteran evangelical pastor who requested anonymity told Morning Star News. “Any person who openly opposes the established system is looking for problems.”

Were the government to listen to the voice of Protestant Christians on the issue and maintain the definition of marriage as between a man and a woman, there would be a possibility for resolution, the pastor said.

“But given the fact that the daughter of Raul Castro, (LGBT activist Mariela Castro Espin) is the force behind the constitutional change, I think it very unlikely that the government will back down from its intentions,” he said.

The AECC, composed of Protestant churches choosing not to identify with the regime-friendly Cuban Council of Churches, counts 1 million members among its affiliate denominations, a number that represents nearly 10 percent of the country’s 11 million population.

ASSYRIAN PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH IN IRAN CLOSED DOWN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Genocide of Christians Reaches “Alarming Stage”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Large Family in Eastern Uganda Becomes Big Target for Muslim Extremists

(Morning Star News) – Yusuf Tulo and his sizeable family were worshiping in their home in eastern Uganda on April 28 when they heard their neighbors shouting, “Fire!”

Tulo, 35, had left Islam to put his faith in Christ last October. He still had three wives and 14 children dependent on him living on a homestead with more than one house in Bugwere village, and the house they used for worship was on fire.

When they went outside, however, something was not right; among neighbors standing around the house looking at the smoke, one said, “Please remain indoors – your lives are in danger.”

Tulo had been receiving threatening messages from Muslims for months, but faced with the danger of smoke coming from the house, he chose to remain outside. An hour later, the roof collapsed in flames and the house was charred.

“We lost everything in that house: beddings, clothing, books, documents and other household belongings worth more than $1,000,” Tulo told Morning Star News.

The village is in Kitantalo parish, Tirinyi Sub-County of Kibuku District, and Tirinyi police arrived at the scene an hour later.

Since then the family has been living with friends and neighbors – in intense fear for their lives, he said. Among the threats he has received, one text message read, “The burning of the house was just warning. If you continue hardening your hearts and fail to return to Islam, then expect a worst thing that you have never seen before,” he said.

“We thank God that no one was physically hurt but emotionally are very hurt as we continue receiving threatening messages warning us of a possible attack,” Tulo said. “The pressure from the extended family and radical Muslims is really troubling my family, and we cannot risk going back to our houses.”

Muslim extremists began throwing stones at their houses at night soon after the family embraced Christ and started attending a Pentecostal church in a nearby village. He began receiving threatening messages in January from radical Muslims who also have confronted family members on several occasions, he said.

Muslim villagers and the imam of the Bugwere mosque have insulted them verbally, with one villager saying in February, “If you do not come back to Islam, then expect something unusual to befall your family,” he said.

“Since then my family became vigilant, and we even hired a guard to take care of the family during the night, but the stone-throwing continued in one of the houses while the guard was on patrol on the other side of the homestead,” Tulo told Morning Star News.

The family requested financial assistance and prayer.

“We sincerely need prayers and financial support,” Tulo said. “My family is scattered, and the children are unable to go to school. We gave our lives to Jesus and here we are living a troubled, restless life. The law should bring these perpetrators to book.”

The attacks were the latest of many cases of persecution of Christians in eastern Uganda that Morning Star News has documented.

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

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

Photo: Charred home of Yusuf Tulo in Bugwere village, Kibuku District, eastern Uganda. (Morning Star News)

17 Christians Communities wiped out by Boko Haram in Nigeria

Voice of the Persecuted (VOP) By our Nigerian Correspondent — Boko Haram has been carrying out vicious attacks against Christians communities mainly in the southern part of Borno State and northern Adamawa State. Christians constitute 85% of the population in these areas. Scores of victims and eyes witnesses spoke with VOP’s Nigerian Correspondence who recounted that the latest attacks as aimed at destroying Christian communities.

According to some of the IDP (internally displace people) camp officials, there are over 4,000 Christians in an unofficial internally displaced camp in Lassa from 17 Christian communities in Borno and Adamawa States. These communities include, Bdagu,  Ngurhengwal,  Yaza,  Kwang, Multafu, Pambam, Emmi,  Kelekasa,  Shawa, Maikdadri, Kummaza,  Nkirvu,  Yaffa,  Huyum, Bagajaw, Izge and Wassada. Residents are predominately Christian who are members of Church of Brethren in Nigeria (EYN), ECWA, Redeemed Church of God, and the Catholic Church.  “We have nowhere to go”, a witness said.

These communities depend on seasonal farming as a major means of income, while others rear animals, sell craft work or petty trading for survival. They’ve suffered perpetual attacks with great losses, including their homes, from the Boko Haram since 2013. Many have been gunned down, slaughtered and abducted since the Islamic militants began terrorizing the region.

Fleeing residents and Christian leaders are extremely concerned with the rise of recent attacks by the armed group. Within a week, the militants raided, Kuda-Kaya, Diambo, Makalama, Yimirali-Autlha, Yimirali-Barka, Yimira Kopa, Gatamarwa,- Maik-dadri  and Multafu villages killing scores of people, took their food and belongings then set their homes ablaze.      

Interview with residents of 2 Christian communities recently attacked:

Maikadiri Village Attack:

Those from Maikadiri are predominantly farmers with over 70% Christians who worship with denominations such as Church of Brethren in Nigeria (EYN), Deeper Life Bible Church (DLBC) and Catholic Assemblies. The village is located in the Uba Local Government Area of Borno State. 

Boko Haram attacked Maikadiri village on March 18, 2019. They went through along Lassa settlements killing 2 people and abducted many others on their way back to hideouts in the Sambisa Forest.

One eye witness who narrowly escaped shared his experience with our correspondent.

“Using a robe, they tied my hands behind my back and killed the two others in front of me. Once they identify you as Christian, they don’t waste time and butcher you with knife”, he added. Their attention was drawn from me when the Lassa security forces started shooting from afar. I quickly crawled on my stomach for some distance then ran into a bush and escaped.

A church leader who spoke with VOP’s correspondent commended the effort of the Lassa security forces who ambushed the insurgents. They exchanged fire with the militants and many of the Boko Haram members were killed. The security force also seized 3 of their cars and 5 motorcycles.

After the military left the community, the Boko Haram returned for a revenge mission on March 26, 2019. They assumed the villagers collaborated with the military to ambush them, so they burned down the entire village. The community members lost everything they owned. It was also dangerous for them to stay within the region without military protection. With no other choice, they moved to the unofficial IDP camp as a result of the dire security challenges.  

Multafu Attacks:

On March 22, 2019, an armed group of Boko Haram rode into Multafu village on motorcycles and bicycles around 7p.m.and started shooting. Two Christians were killed in the presence of their family members.

A villager told Voice of the Persecuted, “They went straight to the Church of Brethren of Nigeria (EYN) and burned it to ashes while chanting “Allahu Akbar.” They also looted food then burned down 7 Christian homes.  

During the attack the insurgents caught a fleeing woman with her 2 daughters. They let her to go but started to leave with her daughters. The woman quickly made up a story and claimed that one of her daughters was married. Not wanting any married women, they left the one thought to be married and sadly abducted the other one.  One victim told VOP that the Boko Haram used the abducted girl’s mobile phone after they left. The caller stated, “We are coming back to take more girls, food and burn the houses.”     

After hours of operations, the militants looted food items and left at their own convenience. Security forces within area refused to respond even when they were called at the beginning of the attack. “We no longer have hope in the security forces, we knew they would never come,” said a community leader.

Unfortunately, on March 24, 2019,the Boko Haram came again as promised. With the cover of night and no security forces around to repel the attack, they traveled through the same towards the village. They interrupted church services taking place, killed 3 men and set the whole village on fire. Witnesses claim they did their operations calmly and stayed in the village for some days.

“We thought the insurgents had left, so we went back to the village to bury our dead. To our surprised, they were still in the village waiting to ambush us on our return,” said a witness.

“I have told security forces several times, but they refused to show up” a clergyman shared. They took up courage with the help of a vigilante group and a few security forces to retrieve the bodies of the murdered members of the community. The militants engaged them and after much pressure, they were finally able to gather the remains and bury them. 

Analysis of Security Challenges

  • Since the displacement of people beginning with Boko Haram attacks in 2013, victims have been battling with insecurity in their region. The security formations and installations have proven to not be enough for both Adamawa and Borno states.
  • Security forces don’t respond to attacks in adequate time and in some instances don’t respond at all.
  • Residents have been forced and often encouraged by local government to form their own vigilante groups to protect their communities.
  • In 2017, when they wanted to regain their communities from the Boko Haram. They selected community members as delegates to approach the Borno State government to help with a security installation to liberate their communities. The government refused to act.
  • Residents met with the former Caretaker Chairman, House of Assembly member and political stakeholders but VOP was told, “They deceived us by saying they would look into the matter but then deliberately refused. A community member said, “We believe the inaction occurred because we are a Christian community.” Later, they and concluded to hire the service of a local vigilante group to partner with their Christian youth to liberate their communities. “We had initial meetings with Muslims including Fulani herdsmen within the community, but to our dismay they betrayed us by withdrawing from the process.” We contributed between (N1000 –N2000) per household and called on some of our brethren based in the cities to send their contributions as well. We gathered around N700, 000 and approached the Vigilante leader at Gombi Village.
  • In that same week, a government delegation from Yobe State came to the same vigilante leader for the same job. Out of sympathy, he agreed to our request and decided to offer 30 trained vigilantes to be paid every month at a sum of N30, 000 each.
  • They stayed for 3 months and we spent a total amount of N6, 000,000.00 on their salaries and feedings. They worked hard, chased away the Boko Haram from our communities and gave us access to farming and other normal activities,
  • While we were enjoying the peace process, the insurgent had renewed strategies and used the herdsmen around the region and massively attacked the vigilante group and killed the leader. After that, they chased the Christians from their communities.                   

Challenges and Needs

  • We want to go back to our communities we need security so that we can start faming to feed ourselves; the government is not doing anything to help us. 
  • There is no good school for our kids; public school is inadequate for learning and prone to abduction at any moment. Although there is EYN private school, they charge N3,200 as tuition fee and it’s not affordable to most of us.
  • We need medical attention, spiritual reading materials and prayers to stand in these moments of trial and persecution. 

VOP Note: Please keep praying for our brothers and sisters in Nigeria. Multiple attacks have taken place since this update.

Voice of the Persecuted is on the ground in Nigeria to care for our Christian brothers and sisters experiencing brutal persecution.

We are committed to being a VOICE for persecuted Nigerian Christians and bring them comfort, relief, and encouragement. They will not be forgotten!

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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 thank God for each one of you who have joined this mission through prayer and your support.

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
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!

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