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Pastor Brunson case increased ‘hate speech’ against Turkey’s Protestants

Turkey’s high-profile criminal case against Protestant pastor Andrew Brunson has triggered a significant increase in public hate speech against the nation’s small Protestant community, creating what its church leaders last week called a ‘climate of insecurity’ for its congregations and individual members.

World Watch Monitor shared that according to the Turkish Association of Protestant Churches’ annual human rights report for 2018, the number of attacks designed to incite hatred of Protestants “purely due to their beliefs” in Turkey’s local, national and social media outlets had seriously increased during Brunson’s arrest, jailing and two-year trial.

The report said that the Protestants’ 150 congregations watched the US pastor’s case closely “with great sadness and concern”, disturbed by the media’s repeated practice of linking churches and individual Christians with terror organisations, without providing any substantiating evidence. Instead, the accusations by secret false witnesses against Brunson were “reported as if they were true,” and local and national publications refused to allow the slandered churches and individuals their constitutional right of reply or correction.

Although the government has enacted a Personal Data Protection Law, during the Brunson case the Turkish media published names, personal details, photographs and specific church activities openly in a negative context, the report said, targeting both Protestant churches and their members in direct news reports.

Open publication of the name and company of one Protestant church member, accused by a national newspaper of supporting a terrorist organisation after he visited a church in the eastern city of Van, led to the loss of a number of his business contracts.

Protestants in the cities of Diyarbakir, Mardin, Izmir and Manisa attempted legal action against the “insidious propaganda” linked to the Brunson case that targeted their churches and leaders, the report said. But local authorities either declined to investigate or failed to punish the perpetrators.

Negative Malatya atmosphere recalled

The Protestant Association explained their particularly “serious concern and apprehension” over this recent surge in religious hate speech because of its similarity to widespread Turkish media coverage against Christian churches and activities 12 years ago, just before the 2007 torture and murder of three Christians. Two Turkish citizens and one German resident were stabbed to death by five young Turks in Malatya, in southeast Turkey.

The 2018 report reiterated a number of unresolved problems faced by the Turkish Protestant community over the past decade. They include the longstanding difficulty of establishing recognized places of worship, legal restrictions prohibiting seminaries or other formal religious education for non-Muslim faiths, and the absence of a legal path to obtain official identity as a religious congregation.


Malatya’s Kurtulus (Salvation) Church posted message after an attacker heaved a brick through the church’s display window on 11/24/2017: “’Bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.’ Jesus Christ.” (Photo: World Watch Monitor)

The Turkish government persisted again this past year in failing to invite the Protestant community or any of its church representatives to meetings of religious groups organized by the government or official organisations. Local churches within the Protestant community are not linked with a hierarchical structure like the Orthodox and other ancient Christian traditions in Turkey. Accordingly, the government has yet to acknowledge the Association of Protestant Churches formed in 2009 as the religious group’s representative institutional body.

The report noted that an unspecified number of Protestant foreign church members residing in Istanbul, Izmir, Mersin and other cities were deported or denied re-entry back into Turkey during 2018, or told to leave Turkey within 10 days after renewal of their residence permits was refused.

On a positive note, for the first time since the year 2000, a Protestant church was approved during the past year to form a religious foundation; another Protestant church’s application for foundation status is currently pending.

The Protestant community currently consists of some 150 churches, mostly concentrated in Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir. Only 10 congregations meet for worship in official church buildings, most of them historical buildings. Another 67 fellowships either rent or purchase facilities designated as legal “association” meeting places. A total of six Protestant foundations with five representative branches have been formed and registered. The remaining congregations, including some 25 house fellowships, have no legal entity status.

Photo 1: Pastor Andrew Brunson

After ISIS, Iraq’s Assyrians Now Face New Threat From Shabak Shiite Militias

Karamles, North Iraq (AINA) — There is no peace for Christians in northern Iraq. If, on the one hand, the memory of the violence perpetrated by Islamic State jihadists (SI, ex Isis) is still alive, in recent weeks another threat is shadowing the future of the community: the Shiite militias linked to the Shabak, who are in fact hindering Christians return to the Nineveh plain.

The epicenter of this new chapter of anti-Christian persecution is Bartella, increasingly drapped with banners depicting the militia battles against Isis as well as saints and sacred figures of the Shiite tradition.

“Bartella is a problem, a special case”, says Paolo Thabit Mekko, head of the Christian community in Karamles, speaking to AsiaNews. “In recent years – he continues – the presence of Shabak has increased dramatically and Christians are afraid to return. At least 600 families who have fled in the IS era are still in Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan, and have no prospect of return at the moment. There is a real demographic upheaval in the city, which began in 2003 after the US invasion and which has accelerated in the last period “.

The presence of local Shiite militias, adds Don Paolo, “creates unease and the prospects for the future arouse anger and concern”. The priest sees a behind-the-scenes attempt to “change the demographics of the area”, according to some a “design” orchestrated by the Shiite leadership and maneuvered from the outside, with the complicity of a part “of the Shabak politicians and exponents in Baghdad who support them “.

Until 30 years ago, the population of Bartella was entirely Christian. The demographic changes of the last decades have turned the composition upside down, ending up dividing it in half between Christians and Shabak, a largely Shiite Muslim ethnic group. When the Islamic State (SI, former Isis) conquered much of northern Iraq, including the Nineveh Plain, the entire population of Bartella left the area due to persecution by Sunni radicals.

Today, two years after the ousting of the “Caliphate” jihadists, less than a third of the original 3800 families that populated the town have returned. Most of them are still in exile and there is fear of returning due to persecution, threats and intimidation perpetrated by some members of the Shabak community, which presides over the Shiite militias that control the area.

Following the expulsion of Isis, confessional divisions, militias and armed groups are emerging with increasing strength, trying to get hold of growing sections of territory in northern Iraq, above all in the plain of Nineveh, which was once almost entirely Christian. Qusay Abbas, a member of the Shabaks in Parliament, said the attacks were the work of a small, unrepresentative minority.

But the stories (and complaints) from Bartella and other towns in the area tell another truth: That the Shiite militias are trying – most of the time by force – to eliminate the Christian component. In fact the cases of sexual attacks, thefts, threats and violence against private individuals is becoming more and more frequent. Recently, an ethnic Shabak man fired bullets in the air for over an hour in front of a church in the town.

“What is happening to Bartella – underlines Don Paolo – is repeated, albeit to a lesser extent, in other areas of the plain such as Karamles and Qaraqosh. We are facing a movement that seeks to expand “.

“A council of the sages of the Nineveh plain – he continues – which includes Christians, Arabs, shabaks has initiated dialogue and is trying to resolve the situation. Unfortunately there are no official agreements and there is no way to apply the rare agreements between the parties “.

In this context the Iraqi Church remains firm on the refusal to create a Christian armed militia and strengthens the initiatives of meeting and confrontation. “The situation remains delicate – concludes the priest – and Christians are afraid. One of the solutions that can be followed, and which we hope, is the establishment of an official, institutional police force, within which Christians can also contribute to enlisting the protection of law and order”.

Christian in Sri Lanka Arrested after Reporting Threat on His Life, Watchdog Group Reports

(Morning Star News) – Police in Sri Lanka arrested a Christian who reported a Buddhist mob’s threat on his life, according to an advocacy group in the island country.

In Nattandiya, in Sri Lanka’s North Western Province, six area Buddhists on Jan. 26 threatened to attack the Christian if he refused to stop inviting a pastor to lead Bible studies at his house, the National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka (NCEASL) reported.

The next day (Jan. 27), the Christian (name withheld for security reasons) filed a complaint about the threat on his life at the Marawila police station, in Puttalam District. This upset the six Buddhists, and with others they formed a mob on Jan. 29 that headed toward his house with intent to assault him, the NCEASL reported.

Before they could get near his house, a friend notified the Christian of their approach and tried to stop them, resulting in a fight in which one of the Buddhists was injured and received hospital treatment, a source said.

“Exact details are not known, however, his injury was not very serious,” the source told Morning Star News.

The Christian was not present at the fight, but the injured Buddhist filed an assault complaint against him, the source said. Police arrested the Christian, who remained in custody at this writing.

Violence and Harassment

Violence and harassment against Christians have been persistent in Sri Lanka, where the population is about 70 percent Buddhist and 13 percent Hindu, with attacks by Hindus on the upswing.

In Western Province’s Kalutara District, officers last month summoned a pastor of the New Covenant Life Centre at Millaniya to the Millaniya police station after a temple monk and several villagers complained that he was leading worship without official permission, according to the NCEASL.

The station chief ordered the pastor to stop religious activities until he received approval from the local divisional secretary, even though such approval is not required, a source said.

In the country’s Eastern Province, unidentified motorcyclists on Jan. 12 disrupted the worship service of Gethsemane Gospel Church in Kurumanveli, Batticaloa District, NCEASL reported.

Shouting obscenities, the mob called for the pastor to come out of the church building. He refused and later filed a police complaint at the Kalawanchikudi police station. Police investigated but told the pastor to settle the matter, and he reached an undisclosed agreement with the instigators.

Cases of intimidation, discrimination, threats, violence, false allegations, legal challenges, demands for church closures, police inaction and demonstrations persist in Sri Lanka but are rarely reported in mainstream media. The NCEASL recorded six cases against Christians since the beginning of January – three threats, two cases of discrimination and one false allegation. In January 2018, the alliance recorded eight cases, and five cases in January 2017.

In 2018, NCEASL reported a total of 86 cases of violence against Christians in Sri Lanka, compared with 93 incidents in 2017, 80 incidents in 2016 and 90 in 2015. The highest number of incidents recorded in 2018 came under the category of threats against Christians, with 20 cases, according to NCEASL figures.

This was followed by 19 incidents of violence; 14 of intimidation; 12 each of discrimination and demands for closure of worship places; three of false allegations; two each of police inaction and registration of cases against Christians; and one each in the categories of legal challenges and demonstrations.

Sri Lanka ranked 46th on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2019 World Watch Listing of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian, from its previous rank of 44th.

Christian Family, Church Devastated by Killing of Church Elder in Nigeria

(Morning Star News) – Ladi Yakubu does not know how her family will eat after Muslim Fulani herdsmen destroyed crops on their farm in Kaduna state, Nigeria on Nov. 26 and shot and killed her husband.

“My husband is no more alive, and so the burden to feed our children is on me,” she said. “How do I feed them without having a job? And I cannot go to the farm because of the murderous activities of these herdsmen.”

The 49-year-old Yakubu, a member of the Dogo Awo village congregation of the Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA) in north-central Nigeria, said she knew the gunmen were Fulani herdsmen because they have lived near the village for several years. Herdsmen also destroyed crops on their farm in late 2016 and late 2017, she said.

Her husband, ECWA elder Yakubu Musa, was 50.

Her 20-year-old son, Believe Yakubu, received a bullet wound in his leg in the attack. Her other children are ages 15, 18, 23, 26 and 28, but without access to their farm outside the village, the adult children have little income-earning power.

The attack was different from night-time raids that have terrorized Christians in north-central and other states in Nigeria. Church members were helping the family to harvest rice the morning of Nov. 26, she said, when they stopped for lunch at about noon.

“As we were eating, a Fulani man came over to where we were sitting under a tree,” Yakubu told Morning Star News. “We offered him food, but he declined to eat with us. When my husband asked the Fulani man whether he needed help in anyway, the man said he was only out to find areas he could take his cattle to for grazing.”

The herdman left, but soon they heard gunshots near the farm, she said. The frightened church members returned to the village, while Yakubu, her husband and their son and nephew stayed to gather the harvest into one place and try to move tools and equipment, she said.

“While we were doing this, the Fulani man returned with one other Fulani,” Yakubu said. “Both of them were armed with guns. They shot at us, killing my husband and shooting my son on the leg, while me and my husband’s nephew narrowly escaped being shot. My husband was shot twice in the stomach.”

The armed herdsmen left the area, she said, but the next morning they returned and destroyed crops, water-pumping machines for irrigation, herbicide sprayers and even the food warmers the family had taken to the farm, she said.

“My husband’s corpse was recovered by our church members, and he was buried here in our house,” she said, pointing to the grave. “That is the grave you see by the door to this room where we are seated.”

Police Inaction Emboldens Herdsmen

After a Nov. 25, 2016 raid, when Fulani herdsmen destroyed rice, beans, pepper and other crops, her husband reported the attack to police and the leader of the local Fulani community, but they took no action, Yakubu said.

“No action was taken against them, but then my husband, who loves peace, said we should forgive the Fulani herdsmen and continue to work on the farm and trust God for provisions,” she said.

The police inaction emboldened Fulani herdsmen to return again during the harvest season of 2017 and destroy crops, she said. Again her husband reported the attack to police and the local Fulani leader, with no result.

“We were all devastated by the actions of these herdsmen as we were never compensated even once for the destruction on our farms,” Yakubu said. “Yet they still returned to kill my husband on the same farm they had destroyed our crops.”

Every morning during family devotionals, she said, her husband would instruct them never to repay evil with evil.

“‘Leave judgment of every evil act against you to God,’ he would always tell us,” she said, sobbing. “And in obedience to his instructions, we have forgiven those who murdered my husband. We will never avenge his death, as God says, ‘Vengeance is mine.’”

The Fulani herdsmen killed Yakubu Musa though he had never done anything to them, she said.

“All our crops have been destroyed, and it is not even safe for us to venture out there to even glean on these farms,” she said. “And because of this, I find it difficult to provide food to our six children.”

On Wednesday (Jan. 2), the herdsmen attacked other Christians who went to their fields near Dogo Awo, she said. Dogo Awo village is located south of the town of Jagindi Tasha, Jama’a Local Government Area.

“My only appeal is that those who have the heart to want to help us with prayers and want to help us with something to feed on should please kindly do so,” she said.

Church Affected

A graduate of the College of Education, Gidan Waya, in Kaduna state, with a Nigerian Certificate of Education, Yakubu had taught at a public primary school before she and other Christian teachers were laid off in what has been seen as systematic discrimination by a state government controlled by a Muslim governor.

The Rev. Ali Ndaks, pastor of the ECWA Church in Dogo Awo village, said the killing of his church elder has devastated the congregation.

“Before this incident, our church, even though a small congregation, had 50 members,” Pastor Ndaks said. “But with the incessant attacks on our community, we now have only seven members left. Almost all Christians in this village have fled out of fear of the attacks by the herdsmen.”

The pastor said that herdsmen had also destroyed his farm, as well as those of other villagers.

Musa also served as church secretary, financial secretary, and service leader, Pastor Ndaks said.

“He was a man of peace, always ensuring that issues in the church were resolved amicably,” he added.

Christians make up 51.3 percent of Nigeria’s population, while Muslims living primarily in the north and middle belt account for 45 percent.

Nigeria ranked 14th on Open Doors’ 2018 World Watch List of countries where Christians suffer the most persecution.Photo: Fulani herdsman

Church elder Yakubu Musa, killed in Muslim Fulani herdsmen attack on Nov. 26, 2018. (Morning Star News)

Photo 1. Fulani herdsman

Photo 2. Church elder Yakubu Musa, killed in Muslim Fulani herdsmen attack on Nov. 26, 2018. (Morning Star News) Photo: Fulani herdsman

Christians Hospitalized after Terrifying Christmas Attacks in India

Arjun Mutkekar, injured in Hindu extremist attack on Christians on Dec. 23 in Kohalpur, Maharashtra state, India. (Morning Star News)

(Morning Star News) – Christians in India who previously experienced little or no opposition reported that Hindu extremists stoned, slashed and terrorized them this Christmas season.

At least 18 incidents against Christians were reported and verified during the Christmas season, according to the Religious Liberty Commission (RLC) of the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI). Of those incidents, 10 were reported from Uttar Pradesh state, three from Uttarakhand state, three from Tamil Nadu state and two from Maharashtra state.

“Both the frequency of the attacks and their intensity has increased in the past few years,” said the Rev. Vijayesh Lal, general secretary of the EFI and the national director of the RLC.

The worst attack took place in Kowad village, Kolhapur District in Maharashtra state, where masked men carrying sharp weapons attacked a Christmas gathering on Dec. 23. The bloody assault sent seven Christians to hospital intensive care, with three undergoing surgery.

Around 20 masked men barged into the Sunday worship service of the New Life Fellowship Church with swords, knives, iron rods, glass bottles, stones and other sharp objects and attacked the congregation meeting at the presbyter’s residence. Milton Norenj, coordinator of the New Life Fellowship Jadhinglaj, said the suspected Hindu extremists entered the service shouting, “Jai Bhawani, Jai Shivaji,” that is, victory to Bhawani, a Hindu goddess, and victory to the historical Hindu warrior king Shivaji.

“They barged into the worship hall and began to throw big stones and empty beer bottles at the worshippers,” Norenj said.

Pastor Bhimsen Ganpati Chavan, 36, who has been leading the church since its inception 12 years ago, said about 40 people were present at the service when the Hindu extremists arrived.

“As soon as they entered, they began to shoot empty beer bottles and stones at the congregation,” Pastor Chavan said. “As they stepped forward, they attacked us with swords, iron rods and knives mercilessly, men and women alike.”

Of the seven people who were hospitalized, three had serious head injuries. One of the three Christians who underwent surgery, 48-year-old Vittal Jadhav, lost part of his finger to a sword chop. Jadhav also sustained a fracture in his shoulder, and he lost so much blood that doctors had to postpone an MRI needed to decide on surgery.

In all, the injuries of six of the 16 men injured were serious, while two of the 11 injured women received deep cuts on their hands, requiring stitches.

“I have been living here since the year 2000,” Pastor Chavan told Morning Star News. “We have faced some opposition before, but never an attack of this kind.”

Hindu extremists had issued threats and told church members to leave the area in 2014-2015, he said, but the issue was resolved after church leaders filed a First Information Report (FIR) with police, he said.

Swati Chavan, the pastor’s wife, was discharged from the hospital on Wednesday (Dec. 26).

“I was hit by an iron rod on my hand and received a head injury,” she said. “They hit my back repeatedly with their fists, which caused swelling. I had to undergo a head scan to rule out clotting.”

The attack, which lasted five to seven minutes, would have gone longer had it not been for the quick thinking of Pastor Chavan’s 65-year-old mother, he said.

“My mother had just ground fresh red pepper,” he said. “She took handfuls of the powder and threw it on the faces of the attackers. It got into the eye of one of the attackers, and they began to withdraw and fled.”

Some women and children in the congregation ran to the police station, five minutes away, for help, and by the time officers arrived, Christians had already called for an ambulance, he said. Three ambulances carried the injured first to a local private hospital.

When doctors saw the condition of the injured, they told the Christians to take eight of the more seriously wounded to a hospital in nearby Belgaum city, Pastor Chavan said.

Seven Christians were admitted in the Intensive Care Unit and are still undergoing treatment. Swati Chavan was discharged after receiving treatment.

Sachin Bagde, 23, required surgery for a clot in his head suffered when a stone hit his skull. Arjun Mutkekar, 47, also underwent surgery for a broken hand and elbow, as well as a hip injury, Pastor Chavan said.

Maruti Patil, 69, suffered a serious head injury and fractured his hand. Sachin Jadhav, 25, son of Vittal Jadhav, sustained a deep cut on his head. Ashok Mane sustained a head injury beside a hand fracture and injury on his neck.

Police detained a few people and registered a case against unidentified attackers for injuring or defiling place of worship with intent to insult the religion of any class (Sections 295 of the Indian Penal Code), attempt to murder (Section 307), voluntarily causing grievous hurt by dangerous weapons (Section 326), rioting (Section 147) and rioting armed with deadly weapon (Section 148).

A delegation of Christian leaders met with the district collector and the superintendent of police on Wednesday (Dec. 26). They asked authorities to take swift action.

Officers formally arrested five people on Saturday (Dec. 29). Ajay Appaji Patil, Gajanand Bhaukana Patil, Amul Bhaukana Mudgekar, Mahesh Parshuram Patil and Gopal Laxman Kalkamkar, all of Belgaum District in Karnataka state, were arrested, according to local media.

“The investigations are still on, and we will soon reveal to the media what organization the attackers are associated with,” the investigating officer told a television news reporter.

Hindu Extremist Strategy

In almost all 18 cases reported during the Christmas season, police came under pressure from Hindu extremists, revealing the strategy of Hindutva (Hindu nationalist) groups to harass Christians with legal problems, sources said.

Christian leaders throughout India condemned the attacks.

“They want to create communal disharmony for their own political advantage,” said Nehemiah Christie, legal advocacy group Alliance Defending Freedom-India’s Tamil Nadu coordinator told Morning Star News.

Christie said Hindu nationalists have a well-planned strategy to target Christmas processions, services, carols and programs to try to create an atmosphere of disharmony and polarize people.

Shibu Thomas, head of Persecution Relief from Kerala state, said religious freedom is at stake especially for the minority community, who must be given full freedom to practice their religion and faith in peace.

“The secular fabric of India and Indian democracy is being shredded every day,” Thomas said. “It might take several years to eliminate the hatred that has been injected in the society based on religion, polarizing communities.”

Children’s Bus Attacked

In Haridwar, Uttarakhand state, a mob of about 30 men from the Bajrang Dal, the youth-wing of the Hindu extremist Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council), stopped four buses carrying 200 children on their way to a Dec. 25 Christmas program.

The children, all Hindus from slums of Haridwar, were on their way to the nearby city of Dehradun. The Bajrang Dal complained that the children were being taken to churches in Dehradun to be forcefully converted to Christianity and subjected to sexual abuse by pastors.

They demanded the arrest of the teacher – a Hindu – who was escorting the children to the Christmas program. The teacher, Sandeep Kashyap, was arrested, and police came under intense pressure from extremists to hold him in custody even after learning that no forceful conversion was taking place, sources said.

Rajeev Uniyal, the officer in-charge at Shyampur police station, said that the Bajrang Dal accusations were baseless.

“The Bajrang Dal volunteers suspected that these children were taken to Dehradun to forcefully convert them and make them Christians, but our prima facie enquiry has revealed that nothing of such sort was going to take place,” Uniyal told Morning Star News.

The older children in the bus told police that they were all Hindus and were going to Dehradun to attend the Christmas program. The teacher, Kashyap, said that he has been working with slum children for 10 years and has been taking them to the Christmas program the past four years.

“Never has such a problem risen in the past years,” Kashyap told Morning Star News. “I did not know that taking the children to witness a Christmas program was such a big crime.”

Police ‘Exhausted’ from Baseless Complaints

In Uttar Pradesh state, newspaper Amar Ujjala on Wednesday (Dec. 26) reported that police were exhausted on Christmas Day from taking several calls alleging “forceful conversion,” and that they had to comply by raiding several Christmas programs.

“All our energy is getting consumed in running around,” a police officer from Uttar Pradesh who requested anonymity told the newspaper. “Phone calls keep coming from Hindu groups who allege conversions, and so we have to go and investigate. We cannot afford to ignore them.”

A Christian leader from Uttar Pradesh requesting anonymity told Morning Star News that, while at a police station to speak to the officer in charge, he witnessed police receiving at last 25 to 30 phone calls.

“All these calls were from Hindu organizations, some from their top leaders, pressuring the police to stop alleged conversions happening in Christmas services across the district,” he said. ‘The police listen to them as they enjoy political patronage. The police also know that their charges are false, but they have to act.”

What is happening in Uttar Pradesh, especially in Jaunpur, is very worrying, said Lal of the EFI.

“We have documented many instances where the police, instead of protecting and safeguarding the religious freedom of Indian citizens, are actually stopping them from participating in worship,” Lal said. “Even Christmas services were disrupted by policemen in uniform. Arbitrary arrests and detention of pastors and Christian leaders on the most frivolous of excuses seems to have become the order of the day.”

Anyone can accuse someone of forceful conversion without offering any proof, and police take it upon themselves to stop regular worship services and arrest the pastor and congregation members, he added.

The 10 incidents reported from Uttar Pradesh during the Christmas season include disruption of worship services by police as well as by members of various Hindu nationalist groups; arrests and detention of pastors and Christian leaders; and raids on churches and homes of pastors, according the EFI’s religious liberty commission.

The hostile tone of the National Democratic Alliance government, led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, against non-Hindus, has emboldened Hindu extremists in several parts of the country to attack Christians since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took power in May 2014, religious rights advocates say.

India ranked 11th on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2018 World Watch List of countries where Christians experience the most persecution.

Seven Christians Detained For ‘Illegal’ Christmas Service

LAOS- Christians in southern Laos faced a grim New Year after seven believers including church leaders were detained by the Communist government’s security forces during violent church raids, reported Stefan J. Bos for (BosNewsLife).

Sirikoon Prasertsee, who leads the advocacy group Human Rights Watcher for Lao Religious Freedom (HRWLRF), said the detentions occurred late Saturday, December 29, when police stormed a Christmas church service in Nakanong Village located in the Phin District of Savannakhet Province.

He said three male church leaders, identified as Akeo, Kert, and Somwang, were first moved to the regional police headquarters. Police returned to the church and detained 4 more Christian men. “They were led away to the Phin district police headquarters,” Prasertsee said.

Shortly after BosNewsLife made the international community aware of their arrest, the seven were released.

CHURCH DAMAGES

Security forces also “demolished the stage, cut off the power line, destroyed the sound system, and seized 3 mobile phones,” according to HRWLRF, which represents Christians in the area.

Police are reportedly charging the Christians with the “illegal gathering for a Christmas church service without state permission.” 

The HRWLRF said it had urged the Lao government to release immediately and unconditionally the seven Lao Christians and pay for the damages to the physical properties of the church. It was not immediately clear when and how the government would react to these demands.

However, the detentions are the latest in a series of incidents targeting Christians in Laos.

Activists and local Christians say the persecution is partly linked to concerns within the Communist party and movement Pathet Lao, which has ruled the Southeast Asian nation since 1975, ending a six-century-old monarchy and instituting a strict regime aligned with Vietnam.

Communists view the spread of Christianity as a threat to their power base and way of thinking, BosNewsLife established.

INCREASED MONITORING 

“The government has recently made efforts to increase the monitoring of illegal house churches with the help of registered churches, resulting in the arrest and detention of Christian believers,” said advocacy group Open Doors.

“Provincial and local authorities hinder Christian activity. They often cooperate with community leaders like Buddhist monks to put pressure on Christians, especially converts. Families of converts heavily contribute to this persecution within the home.”

Christians comprise less than two percent of the mainly Buddhist population of over 7 million people, according to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

The detentions come despite reported Western-style reforms in other areas such as the limited return to private enterprise and the liberalization of foreign investment which began in 1988. Laos also became a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 1997 and the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2013.

In a statement to BosNewsLife, the HRWLRF urged the Lao government to respect “the right of the Lao people to religious freedom and the accompanying rights as guaranteed in the Lao constitution and the U.N. International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ratified by Laos in 2009.”

Under these laws, the individual has the right to adopt a religion or belief of choice and the freedom to “manifest that religion or belief” publicly. ——

Christianity is considered a Western influence and especially dangerous by the Communist Party in Laos. Authorities heavily monitor all religious activities, including those of registered Christian churches, religious gatherings must be reported beforehand. House churches are forced to operate illegally, in secret.

Buddhist teachings are often considered part of Lao “cultural education,” and included in the curriculum at some schools. In one case, Christian students were required to attend a Buddhist temple ritual.

Converts to Christianity become outsiders within their Buddhist-animist communities, pressured by Buddhist monks, family members and local authorities to recant their new faith. Some believers are arrested and detained when caught engaging in illegal church activities, or when Bibles or other Christian literature are discovered. Others are threatened, fined or beaten in an attempt to make them renounce their faith.

  • Pray that Christians would have wisdom in witnessing to their Buddhist neighbors and family members. Pray that their efforts would be well received.
  • Pray that Christians in Laos would be able to freely access Bibles and register churches. Pray also that Christian children in Buddhist schools would not be discriminated against and receive low marks simply because of their faith.
  • Laos is one of the five remaining Marxist-Leninist countries in the world, and as such, it is strictly opposed to any influence deemed foreign or Western. The Communist Party puts enormous pressure on the small Christian minority. Please pray for increased openness and acceptance towards Christianity.

The most precious Gift, Merry Christmas from VOP!


In the darkness of night, Christ was born to bring hope and light into the world. He did what no other could accomplish; salvation to all who believe, love and follow Him. Joy to the world, no other gift can compare!

This Christmas, let us reflect not on the trials, but on all God’s blessings in our lives. Let us thank the Lord for His faithfulness to bring hope to the afflicted, to bind up the brokenhearted, liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners. We thank God for comforting all who mourn, giving them strength and peace. For the ability to praise in the midst of trials, He goes with us in every storm.

As we celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior, please take a moment to remember and pray for those who are suffering for their faith in Jesus. All over the world, persecuted believers are worshiping God for the greatest gift ever given to mankind, salvation through Christ alone. They’re counting their suffering as worthy to be in Him as part of the Body of Christ.

To all our persecuted brothers and sisters, our advocates and workers in the field, supporters and friends of Voice of the Persecuted, Rejoice! In the name of the Lord, Rejoice! Christ is King and Savior of the world. May Peace be your gift at Christmas and your blessing all through the year. We thank you for standing with us in the ministry!

God bless you,

From the Voice of the Persecuted (VOP) Team

Blasphemy death sentence appeal hearing postoned

(Voice of the Persecuted) The November 27, 2018 appeal hearing of Sawan Masih, a Pakistani Christian accused and sentenced to death for blasphemy, was postponed. Nasir Saeed, a spokesperson from CLAAS, Sawans’s defense counsel, told Voice of the Persecuted that they have yet to receive a rescheduled hearing date. It’s possible that the court avoided conducting the hearing deliberately because of the present situation in the country after Asia Bibi’s acquittal, he added. 

Sawan is at the center of a case that caused a mob of 3000 Muslim men to attack the Joseph Colony of Lahore, Pakistan in March of 2013. (View report and photos) After a local mosque announced the blasphemy charge over loudspeakers, the vigilantes stormed the Christian community where Masih lived. They burned or ransacked 180 Christian homes, 75 shops and at least two churches during the attack. Mob members threatened to burn the Christians alive if they tried to defend or hide in their homes. Hundreds of families were forced to flee for their lives as the angry mob destroyed their village. 

Masih was accused by his Muslim friend, Shahid Imran. A local bishop said the incident had more to do with personal enmity between the two men than blasphemy. He claimed the men got into a brawl after drinking late one night, and in the morning the Muslim man made up the blasphemy story as payback. Some claimed that Sawan was ‘winning’ their argument. They believe a Christian having the upper hand incensed Shahid Imran to falsely accuse Masih. Please keep praying for Masih and other victims of Pakistan’s blasphemy law.

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