VOICE OF THE PERSECUTED

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After Killing of Clergyman, Priest Narrowly Escapes Death in Southeastern Nigeria

City of Enugu, in southwest Nigeria. (Wikipedia, Martin Kudr)

“I am sad – what manner of country is this?” A country where some people are untouchables. A country where some people will be killing innocent citizens. What we are witnessing today is simply coordinated attacks against Christians in the country. These senseless killings of innocent Nigerians are becoming a daily occurrence. Why can’t our government put a stop to these killings? Is it not obvious that some people, somewhere are carrying a particular agenda? There is more to this than meets the eye.”

(Morning Star News) – Following the killing of a Roman Catholic priest and a parishioner in southeastern Nigeria earlier this month, another clergyman on Thursday (Aug. 15) narrowly escaped an attack by Muslim Fulani herdsmen about 40 miles away, sources said.

Armed Fulani herdsmen on Aug. 1 killed the Rev. Paul Offu in Awgu town, south of Enugu city in Enugu state, as he was returning to his church site after a visit to other congregations he was overseeing, according to Enugu Diocese officials. The herdsmen shot his car as he drove along Ihe-Agbudu Road, forcing it to a halt, and then dragged him out and shot him to death, diocese spokesman Emmanuel Nkemjika Igwesihi said in a press statement.

The herdsmen took parishioner Kenneth Igwe in the ambush. Police found his corpse on Aug. 5, according to Igwesihi.

“The Rev. Fr. Paul Offu was shot dead by some Fulani herdsmen who took him into the bush around 2 p.m.,” the Rev. Ben Achi, director of communications for the diocese told Morning Star News by phone. “He was accosted by the herdsmen and was shot dead.”

About 69 kilometers (42 miles) north, herdsmen on Thursday (Aug. 15) ambushed another Roman Catholic priest, the Rev. Chimezie Ani, near Caritas University, a Catholic university in Amorji-Nike, as he drove toward Ugwuomu, the priest told Morning Star News.

“I was driving when suddenly the herdsmen, who were armed, shot at my vehicle, aiming at the windshield,” Ani told Morning Star News. “I immediately on noticing them stopped the car and drove in reverse. The bullets from them broke my windshield and riddled the car all over. I miraculously escaped unhurt. They retreated into the bushes after realizing I escaped from them.”

He said Fulani herdsmen have been attacking Christian commuters along that highway “for some time now.”

“I’m sure they were herdsmen,” Ani said.

Achi of the Enugu diocese confirmed the Aug. 1 and Aug. 15 attacks.

“The incident [Aug. 15] happened along Ugwuomu Road as you heard,” Achi said. “We are very grateful to God that he was not harmed, as he was able to navigate on reverse to a safe distance.”

Following the Aug. 1 killing of Offu, more than 200 Catholic priests took to the streets in the city of Enugu, the state capital, in protest on Aug. 2. They marched peacefully to the State House to present a letter to the governor expressing their displeasure over growing Fulani herdsmen attacks on Christians.

Afterwards the Rev. Callistus Onaga, bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Enugu, told reporters of his sadness over the inability of the government, led by President Muhammadu Buhari, a Muslim Fulani, to end herdsmen attacks across the country. Christians in the state have come under a series of attacks over the past seven years, adversely affecting area Catholic churches, Onaga said.

“I am sorrowful and utterly disappointed on the security in the state,” he told a press conference.

Another priest, the Rev. Clement Ugwu, of St. Mark Catholic Church, Obinofia Ndiuno, in Ezeagu County of the state, was kidnapped and killed in March, and herdsmen shot another priest in late July, Onaga said.

“We were shocked to see a priest that joined in our meeting yesterday afternoon in this bishop’s house very healthy and sound being reported to have died. The priest shot by the herdsmen two weeks back is still receiving intensive medical attention as we speak,” Onaga said. “Why we get worried when our priests are attacked is that it shows the level of insecurity other Nigerians face daily. Our priests are very much respected and honored by our parishioners and the people, so if these things can happen to them, what happens to the flock, the people they shepherd?”

Priests in various parts of the state were kidnapped from 2013 to 2016, he said.

“Only in 2017 were we given some breathing space,” Onaga said. “It continued in 2018 and this year, 2019; it is worse as we have suffered the death of a priest in March this year, and now another issue. All we demand is that if there are crop of bad herdsmen in the state, they should be fished out, and we will continue to live in peace with the good ones.”

Also on Aug. 2, the Rev. Paulinus Ezeokafor, bishop of Awka Diocese, in southeastern Nigeria’s Anambra state, told reporters of his concern over the tepid response of the Nigerian government to violence carried out by armed Muslim Fulani herdsmen. Addressing journalists at St. Patrick’s Catholic Cathedral, Awka, he said the government lacks political will to curtail attacks against Christians.

“I am sad – what manner of country is this?” Ezeokafor said. “A country where some people are untouchables. A country where some people will be killing innocent citizens. What we are witnessing today is simply coordinated attacks against Christians in the country.

“These senseless killings of innocent Nigerians are becoming a daily occurrence. Why can’t our government put a stop to these killings? Is it not obvious that some people, somewhere are carrying a particular agenda? There is more to this than meets the eye.”

Police confirmed the attacks on the priests and reported arrests of some of the attackers.

Police spokesman Frank Mba said in a statement on Friday (Aug. 16) that officers were investigating the attacks on the priests.

“Crack detectives from the Intelligence Response Unit, the Forensic and Homicide sections of the Force Criminal Investigation Department have been deployed to Enugu state,” he said. “The deployment is to complement the Enugu Command of the Force in their investigations into the unfortunate incident.”

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

Nigerian Church Leader Calls for Gov’t Protection After Gunmen Kill Pastor, Abduct His Wife

(CBN) A Nigerian pastor was reportedly killed and his wife abducted for ransom by unknown assailants Sunday evening while traveling on a highway where being attacked by criminals has become a common occurrence.

The Punch reported Jeremiah Omolara, the pastor of Living Faith Church in Romi New Extension, a suburb of Kaduna state, was shot and killed when the attackers ambushed his vehicle on the Abuja-Kaduna Highway.

In addition to Omolara’s wife, the couple’s son was also in the vehicle. He was able to escape, according to news reports.

The assailants are demanding a ransom in the amount of more than $138,000 for the pastor’s wife.

Omolara’s murder and his wife’s abduction were confirmed by Rev. Joseph Hayab, chairman of the state chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN).

Hayab urged the Nigerian government to tighten security in the state, according to to the Daily Post Nigeria.

He also told of how kidnappings in the Kaduna are on the rise, especially the abduction of clergy.

“Just last week a clergyman was attacked in Kasuwan Magani,” Hayab explained. “The security man was killed immediately as they struggled to find their way into the house. Thank God, the gunmen could not gain entrance into the room.”

He also added the daughter of a Baptist pastor was recently abducted and the kidnappers are demanding a huge ransom.

“Now the Living Faith Church pastor was killed along Kaduna-Abuja in the presence of his wife, who was later abducted,” Hayab told the newspaper. “That tells you that the new trend is to attack us in our homes or in our churches or on the roads. We are just not safe anywhere and we are asking the same question we have been asking: ‘Where are our security agencies?'”

“Are we being told tactically that we should defend ourselves?” he continued.

Nigerians at risk are often told by authorities to become vigilantes and protect their own villages.

“If we start defending ourselves, it means that we no longer have security or we no longer have government. Or is this government only for those they love and they don’t care about others?”

“We don’t want a situation where we will be forced to think of how to protect ourselves, we believe that government is there to protect us,” Hayab concluded.

As CBN News has reported, hundreds of Christians have been killed in Nigeria by radical Islamic militias, including the Fulani herdsmen.

“Nigeria is now the deadliest place in the world to be a Christian,” explained attorney Emmanuel Ogebe. “What we have is a genocide. They are trying to displace the Christians, they are trying to possess their land and they are trying to impose their religion on the so-called infidels and pagans who they consider Christians to be.”

 

Eritrea: Orthodox Patriarch Antonios expelled for ‘heresy’

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Patriarch Abune Antonios was removed by the Asmara government and placed under house arrest in 2007 after he refused to comply with the regime’s attempts to interfere with church affairs. The event led to a schism in the EOC with a pro-government group supporting a new government-approved replacement who was not recognised by the Papacy in Egypt who installed the patriarch and his predecessors, as reported by ICN.

Following international pressure Antonios made a first public appearance in 2017 as he participated in a mass which rights called a “marketing exercise” by the government.

He remained under house arrest but in April filmed a video that was broadcast in which he reportedly talked about his circumstances and criticised the fact the Church was being led by a layman. The patriarch, who is suffering from health problems, allegedly also said his fellow clergy did not care for his wellbeing. He is currently staying in servant’s quarters of the house owned by the pro-government Bishop Lukas, who himself has ambitions to become the next patriarch, said ICN.

Apparently referring to the video, the pro-government bishops said in a letter explaining their decision to expel the church’s legitimate leader, it was ‘recent activities’ by Abune Antonios that had raised questions about the sincerity of his repentance and that they were concerned about the growing risk of heresy in the church. They did, however, say they would continue to provide the patriarch with food and a place to stay.

In May, a monitoring group for the UN said “thousands” of Christians are facing detention as “religious freedom continue[s] to be denied in Eritrea” and questioned why the UN was not monitoring the situation more closely.

Eritrea is 7th on Open Doors International’s 2019 World Watch List of the 50 countries in which it is most difficult to live as a Christian.

Pregnant Mother among Five Christians Slain in North-Central Nigeria

Muslim Fulani herdsmen have become heavily armed in recent years. (File photo)

Nigeria (Morning Star News) – A pregnant mother of two children was among three Christians killed by Muslim Fulani herdsmen in north-central Nigeria the night of July 14 and morning of July 15, sources said.

Margaret Wakili, a 27-year-old member of the Baptist Church in Ancha village, Plateau state, was slain on her farm at about 10 a.m. on July 15, area residents told Morning Star News.

The herdsmen attacked the Christian communities of Ancha, Tafigana, Kperie, Hukke and Rikwechongu, killing the three Christians and burning down 75 houses and two church buildings, according to area residents Patience Moses, Zongo Lawrence and Chinge Dodo Ayuba.

Ancha village was the scene of an attack two years ago, when Fulani herdsmen killed 22 Christians, all members of the Baptist Church in the village.

Moses told Morning Star News by phone that Muslim Fulani herdsmen attacked the villages on the night of July 14 and the early hours of July 15. In Tafigana village, Bassa County, she said, they killed Thomas Wollo, 46, and his son, Ngwe Thomas Wollo, 7.

“Both of them were ambushed and killed in Tafigana village as they were returning to their home after attending a church program at St. Peter’s Catholic Church, Tafigana, at about 8:30 pm,” she said.

Lawrence, of Miango town, told Morning Star News that the herdsmen beheaded the elder Wallo after killing him. He said attacks on Christian communities in the area have heightened, with one village or another attacked nearly every day.

“We have been experiencing daily attacks by these Fulani herdsmen in our communities, most especially on Sundays during worship hours or Thursdays when church activities are held,” he said.

Lawrence said that 75 houses with food stores and two church buildings were burned down.

“The herdsmen destroyed farm produce worth millions of naira, and a lot of domestic animals were killed in the two villages,” he said.

The attacks on the farms occurred on July 14 as Christians were in worship services in the villages, he said.

Ayuba, another resident of the area, confirmed that Wollo and his son were killed on July 14.

“The attacks by the herdsmen continued on Monday morning with another village, Ancha, attacked, and a woman killed,” Ayuba said. “As a people, we are continuously under attack, and nobody seems to be hearing our cries for help, while killing of our people has now become a routine.”

Two other area Christians were killed in prior attacks. On July 7 in Kperie village of Kwall District, also in Bassa County, the herdsmen ambushed and killed a Christian identified as Ezekiel Audu, 25, at about 9 pm., Moses said.

“Christian residents said Audu was riding his motorcycle in company of his friends when they were ambushed and shot by the herdsmen,” she said. “He was a member of ECWA [Evangelical Church Winning All] church in Kperie village.”

Prior to the July14-15 assaults, the herdsmen also attacked Hukke and Rikwechongu villages, destroying crops on farms belonging to Christians.

On May 3 at about 10 p.m., the herdsmen had attacked the same two villages, killing a Christian identified as 63-year-old Di Zere. Zere was killed in his room when the herdsmen broke into his house as he and his family were sleeping. His corpse was burnt, and his 10-year-old daughter sustained gunshot wounds.

Lawrence said Fulani herdsmen have killed 17 area Christians this year.

“We are left without rescue,” he said. “Houses were burnt and razed down, alongside many churches. Farm produce has been destroyed, while many with gunshot wounds are currently in hospitals. Hundreds of our people have been killed by the Fulani herdsmen in the past three years.”

Enugu State Shooting

In southeastern Nigeria’s Enugu state, Fulani herdsmen shot and wounded a Catholic priest and one of his parishioners on Wednesday (July 17), sources said.

The Rev. Ikechukwu Ilo of St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, in Numeh, was shot as he and Chika Egbo drove along the Numeh-Nenwe Highway in Nkanu East County at about 7 p.m., according to a church press statement.

The statement from the Catholic Church quotes the priest as saying that those who attacked them were armed herdsmen.

“As we drove towards the village, the Fulani killer herdsmen, who spoke both in English and Fulani languages, opened fire, trying to force us to stop,” Ilo said. “Seeing that we were not ready to cave in to their intimidation, they started raining bullets on our vehicle at close range, and in the process, shot me at my ankle and shoulder while the other victim was shot in her leg and waist.”

The Rev. Benjamin Achi, spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of Enugu, told Morning Star News by phone that the attack on the priest and parishioner was carried out by Fulani herdsmen.

“Fr. Ilo and the woman with him are currently receiving treatment at a Catholic Church health facility, the Annunciation Specialist Hospital, Emene, Enugu state,” Achi said.

Police also on Friday (July 19) confirmed the attack.

“The Enugu state command of the Nigeria Police Force through its operatives are investigating the attack on a priest identified as Rev. Fr. Ikechukwu Ilo of St. Patrick Parish, Numeh on Wednesday July 18, 2019, along the Numeh axis of Nkanu East Local Government Area of Enugu State,” police spokesman Ebere Amaraizu said in a press statement.

There is a history of attacks on Catholics in the state. In October 2016, herdsmen kidnapped two priests as the clergymen carried out pastoral duties in their local parishes. One of the kidnapped priests, the Rev. Aniako Celestine of St. Joseph Catholic Church, in Ukana, Udi County, was kidnapped by Fulani herdsmen while carrying out pastoral duties in the town of Ezeagu.

The second kidnapped priest, the Rev. Chijioke Amoke of St. Theresa’s Catholic Church, Onicha Enugu Ezike in Igboeze North County, was also kidnapped by armed herdsmen, diocesan officials reported.

Another Catholic priest, the Rev. Lazarus Nwafor, in August 2016 was killed by herdsmen when they attacked Attakwu town in Enugu state. The Rev. Callistus Onaga, bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Enugu, stated then that Nwafor was cut several times in the attack by the herdsmen on the Attakwu Christian community in Nkanu West County.

Such attacks by Muslim Fulani herdsmen have adversely affected churches and crippled productive activities in the area, church leaders say.

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

Unable to Finish School for Becoming Christian, Young Man in Uganda Faces Bleak Future

(Morning Star News) – Asuman Kaire is missing his last year in high school in eastern Uganda for having become a Christian two years ago.

Homeless and without money to pay school fees since his Muslim stepfather disowned him earlier this year in Lelya-A village, Kabweri County in Kibuku District, the 20-year-old Kaire said he wouldn’t be able to finish high school even if he had the money.

“I fear my classmates who are Muslims, as they might plan something bad for my life,” Kaire told Morning Star News.

He spoke from experience. Having been informed that Kaire was living at a village church building, local Muslims with sticks and Somali swords on June 15 attacked, demanding his death as they tried to enter the church compound shouting the jihadist slogan, “Allah Akbar [God is greater],” sources said.

Christians and Muslim neighbors in the predominantly Muslim area with the help of a local official managed to repel the assailants, sources said. Kaire sought shelter at the home of a Christian at an undisclosed location.

After putting his faith in Christ in 2017 and secretly meeting with an undisclosed church, Kaire’s life began to crumble this year when Muslim relatives began monitoring his movements after his mosque attendance dropped. In March a Muslim classmate told his stepfather he attended a church, sources said.

On April 7, his stepfather, Abdu Talisuna, waited for him along with seven other radical area Muslims on a roadside as Kaire made his way home from a church service. Talisuna alone beat him with a blunt object, leaving him unconscious, his clothes bloodied, his left leg broken and his right hand injured, sources said.

“The Muslim stepfather caught hold of him close to the church and started beating him at around 7 p.m.,” a church elder told Morning Star News. “He cried for help. Several members of the church were still around who rushed to the scene. When the Muslims saw the big number from the church, they ran away, leaving the young man unconscious.”

Kaire was rushed to a Kibuku hospital and discharged after a week, the church leader said.

He has not been able to go home since then.

“My stepfather beat me saying I am a disgrace to the family,” Kaire told Morning Star News by phone. “After recovering, I feared going back home because I knew they were going to kill me.”

Kaire needs a long-term place to stay and an opportunity to attend school elsewhere, area Christians said.

The attack is 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.

7-Year-Old in Nigeria: How Herdsmen Shot Me and Killed My Uncle

Muslim Fulani herdsman shot 7-year-old Christian boy in Gwanje village, Nasarawa state, on May 3, 2019. (Morning Star News)

Nigeria (Morning Star News) – As a Baptist church member tried to fight off an armed Muslim Fulani herdsman in a village in north-central Nigeria, he told his 7-year-old nephew and other relatives to run.

The boy remained, crying and calling for help.

Jerome, whose real name is withheld for security reasons, recalled how gunshots woke him and his family around midnight on May 3 in Gwanje village, 18 kilometers (11 miles) from Akwanga in Nasarawa state. His account of a relatively limited attack gives a glimpse of how hundreds of Christian families have been terrorized by herdsmen.

A neighbor rushed over to tell Jerome’s father that he had received a call that the herdsmen were attacking from the south and coming toward their home north of the village.

Jerome’s father, 39, told his younger brother, 21-year-old Istifanus Arewa, to take the family into hiding in a forest 200 meters away. As Jerome fled with his uncle, mother and grandmother, the herdsmen began to shoot at them, the boy said.

“My uncle pulled me down and asked my mother and grandmother to also lie down on the ground in order to avoid the bullets that were being shot at us,” Jerome told Morning Star News. “As we lay there on the ground, one of the herdsmen came to where we were and pointed his gun at my uncle. When the Fulani man was about to shoot my uncle, my uncle jumped up and grabbed him, and they began to wrestle each other.”

Arewa shouted for them to run, the boy said.

“My mother and grandmother ran away while I stood there crying and calling for help,” Jerome said. “But as this was going on, another Fulani man shot me, and the bullet hit me on the upper side of my right shoulder. I fell down and crawled under a thick shrub.”

He watched as his uncle and the other Fulani wrestled. The herdsmen who shot Jerome then turned and shot at his uncle, who was holding tightly to the other Fulani.

“The shooting brought the two of them down, and after sensing that he killed both my uncle and the other Fulani, the Fulani man left,” Jerome said. “I ran back to the village and saw an open door to a room in another house, were I entered and hid. I was in there until my parents and other people found me in that room the following morning.”

Arewa died trying to save his relatives, said Jerome’s father, whose identity is withheld for security reasons.

“My younger brother, in order to protect the little boy, my wife and mother, braved it to wrestle with the armed Fulani man,” he said.

He confirmed that the shot that killed his brother instantly also killed the other Fulani.

“This singular act by my brother, who fought with his bare hands against the Fulani man, forced the herdsmen to retreat,” he said. “If this bravery and heroic act by my younger brother had not happened, the herdsmen would no doubt have killed us all and burned down our homes.”

Arewa was a member of the Men’s Missionary Union of the Bishara Baptist Church in Gwanje, he said.

At about 5 a.m. the next day (May 4), family members returned to the village from the forest and found the corpses of Arewa and the Fulani, said Jerome’s father, a lay leader in the Baptist church.

“My little son, who throughout the night of the attack was missing, was found by us in a room where he ran into and hid himself,” he said. “He took us to the spot they were shot at, and we found the corpses.”

Wounded Christian

Also wounded that night was Moses Ayuba, a 29-year-old member of the Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA) in Gwanje. He received treatment for serious injuries at the Federal Medical Center, Keffi, in Nasarawa, relatives said.

In the southern end of Gwanje village, Ayuba was shot in his hand and waist, his father, Ayuba Para, 65, told Morning Star News.

Para said that his son went out after hearing the sound of gunshots, thinking they came from police who usually patrol the area.

“Unfortunately, on this night, the policemen were not around, and so my son ran into the herdsmen who were invading the village, and they shot him,” Para told Morning Star News. “And when I heard him crying, I ran out to the spot only for the herdsmen to shoot at me. I narrowly escaped being killed as I ran into the bush behind my house.”

After shooting Ayuba, the herdsmen left, he said.

The herdsmen attack on Gwanje village was the second in two weeks on Christian communities in Akwanga County.

For his part, Jerome’s father said he was saddened that the Nigerian government has taken no serious measures to end such attacks.

“I’m not happy about these unnecessary attacks on innocent Christians in Nigeria,” he said. “There’s the need for the government to act to end these killings. I plead also, that other fellow Christians pray for an end to these killings. We are in need of God’s peace in our country.”

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

Chibok Parent Insists 49 Towns Are Occupied By Boko Haram, Adesina Reacts

 

Displaced Christian Children on Christmas Day 2013

Voice of the Persecuted Note: Despite government reports, the article below confirms multiple communications sent to VOP from our sources that the Boko Haram still controls a very large area in North Nigeria’s Gwoza Local Government area. Unable to return home, many Christians have been trying to survive in IDP camps for years.

A Chibok Parent, John Bassa, has stated that at least 49 towns in the north east, are still being occupied by Boko Haram insurgents.

He said this on Tuesday during a town hall organized by Channels to assess the performance of the Muhammadu Buhari administration in the last four years.

Bassa who stated that 44 of his relations who were Boko Haram commanders had been killed, and at least 50, were still “active and high-ranking officers of Boko Haram” controlling some territories, maintained that many towns are currently empty as a result of the insurgence.

When asked: “Are you saying that Boko Haram is still in control of some territories in the northeast, from where they plan and execute these attacks – he responded by saying “of course”.

He went further to explain that “out of 52 towns in Gwoza, its only three right now that you can freely live within. (that is, Limankara, Gwoza town and Pulka).

“Gwoza town was liberated by our former President Goodluck, one week before election then in 2015 and the new administration liberated Limankara and Pulka so, 49 towns are still empty with nobody apart from the Boko Haram. READ MORE

New Christian in Algeria Sentenced for ‘Organizing Worship’ in His Home

Tent set up after authorities closed church building in Azaghar, near Akbou in Algeria. (Morning Star News)

(Morning Star News) – A judge on June 16 handed a Christian father of two in northwest Algeria a suspended prison sentence and a hefty fine for holding worship at his house, four days before another judge fined the owner of land that a church uses.

Prosecutors had sought a six-month prison sentence and a fine of 500,000 Algerian dinars (US$4,200) for the 35-year-old father in Mostaganem, a coastal town about 350 kilometers (217 miles) west of Algiers. The judge instead delivered the two-month, suspended prison sentence and a fine of 100,000 dinars ($840) to the new Christian, who requested anonymity as he fears for his life in the officially Muslim North African country.

For inviting a Christian couple to pray with him, an area source said, he was accused of organizing Christian worship in his home under Algeria’s notorious religion law of June 2006, commonly known as the 03/06 law, which forbids non-Muslim worship for unregistered churches. The law stipulates that churches must obtain the permission of a national committee to be registered, but this committee has never met, and no church request has been officially considered or approved, sources said.

“Incredible but true, it was enough that a neighbor denounced him and accused him wrongly, and he is condemned, all because he welcomed a Christian couple to pray together,” said the area source, who cannot be identified for security reasons. “He is frightened and shocked by this accusation.”

Police had summoned the Christian for questioning several times, the source said.

“During these visits to the police station, the poor man had to endure terrible pressure and intimidation, though he was known as a man of peace,” he said.

‘Intimidation’

In Akbou, about 185 kilometers (114 miles) east of Algiers in Bejaia Province, Kabylie Region, a judge on Thursday (June 20) fined the owner of a church that was ordered to close in October 2018.

Prosecutors had sought a 500,000-dinar (US$4,200) fine and six months in prison for Amar Ait-Ouali, owner of the land where City of Refuge Church meets in Azaghar village near Akbou, for allowing a worship tent on the land after authorities closed the 300-member congregation’s church building on Oct. 16, 2018. The judge instead fined Ait-Ouali 50,000 dinars (US$420), Ait-Ouali said.

“I’m not afraid of them, and all their intimidation is just wind,” Ait-Ouali told Morning Star News. “I have the right to be a Christian, and I also have the right to make my home and my land available to the church. All this is injustice. ”

His attorneys, a group of human rights lawyers, said they would appeal.

The pastor of the church, Jughurtha Sadi, said the congregation is trusting in God for the outcome.

“We have nothing to fear,” the pastor said. “The EPA [Protestant Church of Algeria, an umbrella group] is on our side to support us. Whatever they do, we will continue to praise our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

Gendarmerie had questioned Ait-Ouali following the installation of the tent for the church, which began meeting in November 2013. After the church building and two others in the region were closed and the Azaghar church began meeting in the tent, soon gendarmerie visited Ait-Ouali and threatened to arrest him if he did not remove it, he said.

The church continued to meet, and he received a court summons in Akbou.

In Tigzirt, 34 kilometers (21 miles) north of Tizi-Ouzou, a judge summoned Nouredine Benzid, pastor of a church in Makouda, on Thursday (June 20), after Islamists pressured local officials into seeking to seal his church building, sources said.

He answered accusations by the Makouda administration that the church did not have permission to meet, they said.

Prosecutors seek to fine him 500,000 dinars (US$4,200). A verdict is expected on Thursday (June 27).

The church of Makouda, also affiliated with the EPA, has more than 300 members.

These cases follow the sealing of another church building and its Bible school in northwestern Algeria on May 22. Citing the 2006 law requiring authorization for non-Muslim places of worship, gendarmes locked the doors of the evangelical church building in Boudjima, 20 kilometers (12 miles) northeast of Tizi-Ouzou, capital of the province of the same name in Kabylie Region.

While three churches in Oran Province that the provincial head closed in November 2017 and February 2018 have since reopened, others that authorities closed last year in Akbou, in Kabylie Region, remain sealed. On Dec. 30, authorities ordered the closure of an evangelical church in Ait-Jimaa village, 45 kilometers (27 miles) from Tizi-Ouzou.

The EPA has 45 affiliated churches throughout the country with nearly 50,000 Christians. Since November 2017, “building-safety committees” have visited most EPA-affiliated churches and inquired about licenses required by the 2006 law regulating non-Muslim worship, according to advocacy group Middle East Concern (MEC). Officials have yet to issue any license for a church building under the regulation, according to MEC.

Several churches have since received written orders to cease all activities, and authorities have closed a number of them for operating without a license.

Islam is the state religion in Algeria, where 99 percent of the population of 40 million are Muslim. Since 2000, thousands of Algerian Muslims have put their faith in Christ. Algerian officials estimate the number of Christians at 50,000, but others say it could be twice that number.

Algeria ranked 22nd on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2019 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian, up from 42nd place the previous year.

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