VOICE OF THE PERSECUTED

Category Archives: Asia

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Hindu Version of Feng Shui Leads to Demolition of Church Building in Southern India

 India (Morning Star News) – Hard-line Hindus on Jan. 9 tore down a church building in southern India because it was built on the west side of a village, which they said violated Hindu principles of placement and positioning, sources said.

The Vastu Shastra architectural and planning principles, a Hindu version of Feng Shui, were said to oppose the construction late last year of the church building in Narnepadu village, Muppalla Mandal, Guntur District, in Andhra Pradesh state. Saying the building’s placement opposed Hindu beliefs, the village president and her husband called a meeting of Hindus and Christians on Jan. 9.

“That morning the village president’s husband, also a local political leader, telephoned church pastor Koteswara Rao and asked him to be present at the meeting to discuss the matter, but Rao declined the invite as he was pre-occupied with his tasks for the day and said that he can be available the following day,” a Narnepadu-based pastor, Konda Lazarus, told Morning Star News. “This annoyed the leader, and he ordered the tribal men to demolish the church.”

The church had met in a rented shed in the same area in 2017, but tribal and upper-caste Hindus who strongly believe in Vastu Shastra collected more than 100 signatures expressing their objection to Christian worship in the location, Pastor Lazarus said.

“Rao and Christians stopped gathering for prayers,” he said. “Last year, area Christians purchased a piece of land in the same locality hoping to construct a church and gather for prayers regularly. They invited Pastor Rao and, since December 2018, the church started anew.”

The Muppala Mandal Pastors Fellowship of Guntur District encouraged Pastor Rao’s ministry in Narnepadu village, he said.

“There has been opposition, and it had been dealt with peacefully so far as we understand that villagers do not have awareness about our rights, and do not really understand why Christians gather for prayers,” Pastor Lazarus said. “Most of the residents are illiterate and only follow the instructions of the village elders: If the elders think having a church to the west is evil, it is evil. They don’t try to reason beyond that.”

Church leaders filed a complaint with Muppalla police, who told them they would file a First Information Report (FIR) soon, Pastor Lazarus said. A Hindu leader from the area identified only as Devendra, however, has asked the pastor not to register a case and to settle the issue amicably, he said.

“But we could see no sign of confession or acknowledgement of crime among the attackers or the leaders who provoked them,” Pastor Lazarus told Morning Star News. “The discussion hasn’t yielded any positive outcome. Hence, we are hoping the police book a case and conduct a fair investigation.”

India this year cracked the top 10 on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2019 World Watch List of countries where Christians experience the most persecution, ranking 10th, up from 11th the previous year.

Bibles Ablaze

Earlier in neighboring Telangana state, radical Hindus stopped a Christian group’s van and set Bibles and gospel tracts on fire, sources said.

In the Kismatpur area southwest of Hyderabad, Christians on Dec. 11 were on their way to meet friends at a construction site after a Christmas-themed outreach of singing and passing out tracts and Bibles, said one of the Christians, veterinarian Noah Gunti.

Realizing their construction worker friends had been sent to another site, they were returning to the main road when a car darted in front of them, nearly hitting the van, he said.

“We stopped, and the person driving the car could see the Bible verses written on the van, and he started abusing us in vulgar language,” Gunti told Morning Star News. “He made some calls, and within a few minutes, about 15 to 20 people had gathered. Then they started beating me and unloaded the van, dumped all the Bibles and Christian literature at one place and lit fire.”

Video of the incident the Hindus circulated on social media does not show how they beat Gunti before setting the Christian literature on fire, the 51-year-old father of three said.

“At least 350 Bibles were burned, but we did not stop,” Gunti said. “That week we continued sharing gospel. We must seek strength from the Lord and must strive to do more work.”

If Christ’s disciples and missionaries throughout history had stopped when they faced persecution, the gospel wouldn’t have reached him or his friends, he said.

“They target us because they are ignorant, they do not know what they are doing,” he said. “Governments cannot protect us from persecution. Any kind of protests or representation to the authorities will not help. We should not be afraid to be used by the Lord, in fact we must be prepared to be persecuted.”

Church Attacked

Also in Telangana state, a Christian’s request to an upper-caste Hindu neighbor that he not dump construction debris at a church site in a suburb of Hyderabad led to a group of radical Hindus attacking a church – and police filing a FIR against the Christians.

The upper-caste Hindu who dumped the construction trash on Hebron Church premises in Jagathgir Gutta had regularly played loud music or Hindu devotional songs during worship services to disturb the Christians, said a 36-year-old church member identified only as Pramod.

When a pastor identified only as Allageshan on Dec. 21 requested the neighbor clear away the debris before a service at the site, the Hindu became furious and beat him, telling him to mind his own business, Pramod said.

“They refused to clean their trash and told the pastor to go complain against them,” Pramod told Morning Star News. “I went to meet my pastor and told him that now that they have become violent, he must inform the police, but he refused to do so.”

As Christian youths went to prepare the building for the evening service, Hindu neighbors followed them on motorbikes, taunting them in vulgar language when they stopped at a tea stall for snacks, he said.

“They mocked the youths, saying, ‘Hey look at these cowards – spineless fellows! We attacked their pastor, but they have no guts to speak up,’” he said.

They drove recklessly around the Christian youths on their motorbikes trying to provoke a fight, he said.

“There was a clash between the groups,” Pramod said. “The youths managed to escape from there and went to church, back to their work of cleaning and unrolling the carpets, making preparations. But they did not share about the attack, and within 10 to 15 minutes, a mob of over 40 Hindu extremists struck the main gate.”

The assailants were shouting vulgarities, he said.

“I rushed to rescue the youths and tried to videotape what was happening,” Pramod told Morning Star News. “But they pinned me down like wrestling champions and bruised my left eye. My phone was taken away, and I was lying there helplessly.”

His father received word that he was beaten and came running from their house four streets away, he said.

“They pushed him, and he too collapsed,” Pramod said. “They were heavily drunk and attacked us like wrestling or boxing champions in rage. I’m sure they must be professionals. I lifted my 62-two-year old father, and we both went to Jagathgir Gutta police station in that condition.”

Police refused to take their complaint, saying the written report was not in the proper format, he said.

“Then, a day later, the area’s circle inspector changed the version, and filed it as a dispute between both parties so they could book cases against me and my dad,” Pramod said. “I was shocked when the inspector told me that he has no other option but to send my dad and me to remand. They booked an FIR against us.”

While the inspector did not follow through on his threat to take them into custody, Jagathgir Gutta police registered case against Pramod and his father, fabricating a charge of “voluntarily causing hurt using dangerous weapons” under Section 324 of the Indian Penal Code, he said.

Open Opposition

On Dec. 31 in Andhra Pradesh state, police stood by as Hindu women knocked down a temporary wall Christians had erected as a barrier against cold winds during a New Year’s Eve service, sources said.

Church members in Kothagudem village, West Godavari District, had returned to their homes at about 8 p.m. and were planning to gather again in an hour, Pastor Shyam Sunder told Morning Star News. The choir was still singing at the site, he said.

“Within about 15 minutes, neighboring Hindu women barged inside and destroyed the wall, right in the presence of police,” Pastor Sunder said. “Yet we continued the prayer service and later filed a complaint in Ungaturu police station.”

Local village leaders and Hindu families said they would cover the costs and pleaded with the Christians not to file a case, he said.

Upper-caste Hindus opposed reconstruction of the aging, original church building last year, applying pressure on authorities to deny permission. A junior civil judge ruled in June that reconstruction could begin and directed opposing parties not to interfere, but a local Hindu official has yet to grant permission for the reconstruction, the pastor said.

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.

Photo: Church building demolished on Jan. 9, 2019 in Narnepadu village, Guntur District, Andhra Pradesh state, India. (Morning Star News)

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Pakistani Christian aquitted of Blasphemy charges

Attorney Aneeqa Maria, chief of The Voice Society, who pled the case of Pervaiz Masih released facts about his freedom from blasphemy charges in a statement shared with Pakistan Christian Post.

Pakistani Christian Pervaiz Masih, of Garhewala District Kasur, was accused of blasphemy on September 1st 2015. After 20 days of the submitting an appeal of innocence, he was granted bail. This case was different as rarely is bail ever granted to the accused. From start to finish, his trial took three years to be concluded.

Pervaiz Masih and his family suffered much even the loss od their three year old daughter. The statement claimed that Masih’s accusers murdered his little girl by drowning her in a well and later declared to have committed the murder to punish Pervaiz and his family for uttering derogatory remarks about their Prophet.

The report claims Pervaiz’s wife was tortured and received severe injuries while police interrogated her about her husband. Her bones were broken and she lost the ability to walk or stand straight. Pervaiz and his family were forced to stay in hiding during the 3 years after the blasphemy accusation.

The Honorable Court of Mr. Ejaz Ahmad Bosal accepted the application of acquittal filed by the Voice’s legal panel. However, he also gave a second chance to the complainants to re-open the case whenever they wish to do so. The Voice Society chief shared,

“For now, I am happy that he is free from his allegations, and if the complaints do not go for appeal against his acquittal he will always be free legally. But still he is a blasphemer and this allegation will follow his fate and it will be hard and challenging for him to survive this allegation.

People thought that after Asia’s release the situation will be different, or the attitude of the courts will be different. But I cannot find any difference in any sort of attitude. The things are the same as they were before, Pervaiz is released in three years because there was no evidence, and his case was pursued seriously.”

She thanked those who supported the case with their prayers and concerns. “I must say that it is because of their prayers that The Voice have got this opportunity to thank God and rejoice in him. Thank you for supporting this cause with your prayers.”

VOP Note: We rejoice with the news of this brother’s release. Please pray for his family, justice for those accused of blasphemy, the abolishment of the blasphemy law and protection for our brothers and sisters in Pakistan.

Photo: Pakistan Christian Post

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.

Arrests and Torture as China Wages War on Christians

The Chinese government has implemented a crack down on the Church not seen since Mao began his war against Christians in 1949. More Chinese Christians were arrested during the Christmas season. Chinese authorities continue to raid and close churches, arrest unregistered church members, pressure them with round-the-clock surveillance and the threat of detainment. Pastors like Wang Yi of Early Rain Covenant Church are encouraging their congregations to stand strong and to prepare for much greater hardships. See video sermons (below) given by Pastor Wang Yi to his church members before his arrest. Be encouraged in your own faith as well in your prayers for our brothers and sisters in China.

On December 9th, 2018, authorities arrested more than 100 members and leaders of Early Rain Covenant Church, including Pastor Wang Yi as we reported here. He and his wife have been charged with “inciting to subvert state power.”

Three church members who were released described being beaten, deprived of sleep, food or drink and even trampled by police at the station. One brother was dragged after his hands and feet were bound. His body sustained injuries from what he claimed as being tortured in multiple ways.

Early Rain Covenant Church is an “unregistered” church in Chengdu, with more than 500 members. During the raid, authorities confiscated items and sealed off the church including its offices, a kindergarten, a seminary, and a bible college blocking them from going to the church schools. The church’s accounts on Chinese social media was removed. They searched the homes of many congregants and tried to force church members to sign a pledge that they would only worship at meeting places that conform to the laws of the People’s Republic of China. The church building was guarded by police and plain-clothes officers who would not allow anyone to enter. Those that weren’t taken conducted worship service in two separate locations outdoors. One group was dispersed immediately by police, and more than 20 taken away. The other group was dispersed by police after about an hour, and the two people leading the service were taken away. Many if not most members were forbidden from leaving their homes by police standing guard outside, so these brothers and sisters worshiped in their homes.

A more recent raid against the Early Rain members ended in the arrest of 60 more members in addition to over 100 already in custody.  On Christmas Eve, the 23rd-floor sanctuary of Early Rain Covenant Church was officially converted into an office space for community police. Community police, or shequ, are local authorities with less power and jurisdiction than typical city police. They are like community monitors. A translation of the notice is below.


“Notice:
Esteemed residents and friends,
Hello!
Because of work-related needs, the community police will be moving to North Taisheng Road 56, Jiangxin Building, 23rd floor on December 24th, 2018. We are deeply sorry for the inconvenience. The entire community police staff will be waiting for everyone to visit us at our new office location.
Shuangyanjing Community Police
12/22/18”

Remaining members of the Early Rain church attended Christmas Eve services elsewhere. Follow latest updates here

Most Chinese Christians belong to “unregistered” churches. Chinese underground, house, or unregistered churches are those who refuse to be state-controlled such as the Three-Self Patriotic Church. The TSP church is considered by many believers to be corrupted for making doctrinal compromises required by the Chinese Communist Party and it’s agenda to force Christians to put the state before God.

Praise God for what He is doing in China. In the name of Jesus, pray for mercy and the perseverance of the saints in China. Pray that that they will gain a new strength of boldness sharing the Gospel, the message of what Christ did on the Cross for all. May the true Church continue the speed of expansion that has been witnessed for the last 20 years. All for the glory of God! Amen

Christian Brothers Sentenced to death for blasphemy

(Voice of the Persecuted) Pakistani Christian brothers, Qasir (also shared as Qaisar) and Amoon Ayub, have been sentenced to death in the Talagang District Jhelum court after being accused of blasphemy. Both brothers have been held under the charge of 295-A, B and C of the Pakistan Penal Code in the District Jail Jhelum since their arrest in 2014. Their case was heard on December 13, but due to security reasons, the brothers were not in the courtroom and told of the death sentence ruling from inside the jail. Qasir is married with three children, while Amoon is also married and a teacher at the Cathedral School in Lahore.

The allegations surfaced when they were accused of posting disrespectful material on their website, reported AsiaNews. However, Qasir said he closed his account in 2009 but one of his Muslim friends, Shahryar Gill, somehow managed to restore the website and kept ownership in Qasir’s name.

He had worked at the international office of the Raja Centre in Lahore. While at work in 2010, an argument broke out between his friends and one of them made a comment about another’s sister. The ‘friend’ blamed Qasir and warned him that it was a serious matter in Pakistan. Shortly after, Qasir started to receive death threats from them and he went into hiding. When the situation deteriorated he and his brother fled to Singapore without telling their wives. After a month, they returned to Pakistan and Amoon shared the whole story with his his wife. Yet the situation remained tense, so they left again this time for Thailand. Unable to survive there for very long, they went back to Pakistan in 2012.

After four years on the run they were arrested. A friend told Qasir that the authorities were looking for him. On November 10, 2014, while Amoon was on his way to work, the police detained him. They questioned him about his brother and said a case had been registered against him. Qasir told Amoon to stay hidden. Qasir was later arrested and sent to District jail Jhelum. Fearing for his safety, Amoon again tried to flee the country but was detained by Immigrant Police at the Lahore Airport. Later police sent him to Jhelum District Jail for the same offense as his brother.

Amoon’s wife did all she could to get her husband released, but has failed. She approached the Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS) for assistance.

(CLAAS) represented Qasir and Amoon and told Voice of the Persecuted that they will challenge the sentence before the Lahore High Court Bench at Rawalpindi as soon as possible. The group believes judges hearing blasphemy cases are threatened by religious fanatics and why those accused of blasphemy are convicted.

CLAAS-UK Director, Nasir Saeed told Voice of the Persecuted,

“This is a very unfortunate situation as because of threats from hardliners, lower courts pass their responsibility to the higher court and then it takes years to prove the accused innocent. In this case the trial Judge did not apply his judicious mind and convicted the accused in a very casual manner.

We have seen this in the recent case of Asia Bibi, who was similarly convicted by the lower court and it took her years to reach to the Supreme Court to get justice. I am afraid now Qasir and Amoon will have to wait years to get justice. It is a sad reality that the present government has no intention even to talk about or to take steps to stop the ongoing misuse of the blasphemy law. Pakistani President Dr Arif Alvi has already said that the government would not amend the law. This means the killing of innocent people will continue despite growing opposition to the law around the world.”

He shared that the Prime Minister, Imran Khan, has been acknowledged by the world for his recent decision of opening the Kartarpur corridor for Indian Sikhs. However, he has no plans for Pakistan’s own minorities. Nasir added that minorities feared Khan’s statements of making Pakistan a Medina-like state.

“Very recently, his statement that there is no mention of Jesus in history, hurting the feelings of Christians not just in Pakistan, but throughout the world,” he also lamented.

The sentence was handed down only two days after America put Pakistan on a religious freedom blacklist, and is expected to again draw attention to the country’s harsh blasphemy laws.

Qasir’s son (14yr.) has been experiencing extreme anxiety since his father’s incarceration. Please keep these brothers and their loved ones in your prayers.

China Cracks Down on Unofficial Church, Arresting Pastor and 100 Members

Early Rain Covenant Church pastor Wang Yi poses with sign that reads, ‘Pray for the nation on June 4,’ the date of the 1989 Tiananmen Square killings. (China Aid)

Chinese Christians in dire need of our prayers. (Morning Star News) – Authorities in China have detained the pastor and more than 100 members of a prominent, unofficial church since Sunday (Dec. 9), according to media and advocacy agencies.

Security authorities raided the 800-member Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu, Sichuan Province at about 6 p.m. on Sunday (Dec. 9) and also took some church leaders and members from their homes or off the streets, according to the South China Morning Post. Pastor Wang Yi was reportedly detained on Sunday night for allegedly “inciting subversion of state power,” and officials also seized his wife, Jiang Rong, from her mother-in-law’s home; her whereabouts were unknown at this writing.

Chen Yaxue, Wang’s 73-year-old mother, told the SCMP that the couple’s 11-year-old son remains with her while security personnel maintain 24-hour surveillance outside her home.

The charge against Pastor Wang calls for a sentence of up to five years, or 15 years in extreme cases. Wang has reportedly yet to be allowed to meet with lawyers or family members.

Advocacy group China Aid said in a statement that Chinese Christians are often charged with “inciting subversion of state power.”

“The Communist Party views religion as a threat to their ideological control and, as such, their rule,” the group noted. “However, China’s Christians practice their religion peacefully and never intend to threaten government power.”

Church members released an open letter Pastor Wang wrote in September in which he said he would use non-violent methods to stand in faith and oppose laws that contradicted the Bible and God, according to the SCMP. The pastor had given instructions that the letter be publicized if he went missing for more than 48 hours, the newspaper reported.

“My Savior Christ also requires me to joyfully bear all costs for disobeying wicked laws,” Pastor Wang wrote, according to SCMP.

He had been a human rights activist and a constitutional scholar before becoming a pastor, SCMP reported. In 2006, he met with then-U.S. President George W. Bush in the White House.

“The round-up in Chengdu is part of a broader crack-down on unofficial or underground churches that Beijing has escalated this year,” SCMP reported. “The moves were bolstered by amendments to the Religious Affairs Regulation that gave grass-roots officials more power to act against churches and impose tougher penalties for ‘unauthorized religious gatherings.’”

Church members have practiced their faith openly, posting sermons online and evangelizing on the streets, RCMP reported. Weekly gatherings across more than a dozen meetings in Chengdu draw more than 800 regulars, the newspaper reported, adding that the church also has about 100 seminary students and an elementary school with about 40 children.

The crack-down on the Early Rain church came as the U.S. State Department announced on Monday (Dec. 10) that it had included China among 10 countries designated as Countries of Particular Concern for severe religious rights violations.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) on Wednesday (Dec. 12) released a statement condemning the arrest of Pastor Wang and the other church members.

“These actions, in addition to the continued systematic repression of Uighur Muslims, Tibetan Buddhists, and Falun Gong practitioners, continue a pattern of escalating violations of religious freedom and other human rights under President Xi Jinping,” USCIRF stated. “USCIRF strongly condemns these actions by Chinese authorities and calls for the immediate release of Pastor Wang and all of his fellow church members.”

China ranked 43rd on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2018 World Watch List of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.

VOP note: Please pray for our Chinese brothers and sisters as they prepare to celebrate the precious birth of Christ. Pray they will stand strong as the government puts more an more pressure on them. In the name of Jesus, Lord have mercy on these dear ones.

Indonesian Christian governor Ahok set for early release from prison

(World Watch Monitor) Jakarta’s former governor, known as “Ahok”, who was sentenced last year to two years in jail for blasphemy against Islam, is to be released from prison next month, four months ahead of schedule.

The ethnic Chinese Christian, whose real name is Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, was due to be released in May but has been granted early release, scheduled for 24 January, for good behaviour, according to Sri Puguh Budi Utami, Director General for Prison Affairs, as reported by AsiaNews.

Ahok had refused parole in July as he hoped for early release after serving almost two-thirds of his sentence.

Widespread condemnation

Ahok, the first Christian and ethnic Chinese to govern Indonesia’s capital since the 1960s, was charged with blasphemy in December 2016 after accusing his political opponents of using Quranic verses to dissuade Muslims from voting for him in his bid for re-election as Jakarta governor.

In April last year, one day after he lost the election to his Muslim contender, Anies Rasiyd Baswedan, prosecutors downgraded the blasphemy charges against him and recommended he serve no prison time if found guilty. They suggested two years’ probation with a possible one-year jail term if he committed a crime during that period. The judge, however, decided a harsher punishment was called for, telling the court: “Mr. Purnama was found to have legitimately and convincingly conducted a criminal act of blasphemy, and because of that we have imposed two years of imprisonment.”

His sentence received widespread condemnation globally as politicians, academics and rights groups expressed their concerns about the growing threat to religious pluralism in Indonesia.

During the trial, Ahok’s supporters clashed repeatedly with extremist Islamist groups and it was for this reason that the former governor initially decided not to appeal his sentence – “for the sake of our people and nation”.

Politics and fake news

However in February Ahok filed an appealafter a court found a communications professor from Jakarta, Buni Yani, guilty of hate speech for editing the viral video that formed the basis for the allegations against Ahok. But the Supreme Court rejected Ahok’s appeal.

Before Ahok’s trial, in November 2016, Catholic news agency UCAN reported that according to Syafi’i Ma’arif, the former chairman of Muhammadiyah, the second largest Islamic group in Indonesia, there was “no blasphemy” in Yani’s video, and the charges against the Christian governor had been fabricated for political purposes.

During his trial, Ahok told the court he had been the target of racist and religious attacks since he was elected to public office in 2005.

In March it was reported that Ahok may also have been a victim of a sophisticated anti-government campaign of “fake news” and malicious bots. An online jihadist network known as the Muslim Cyber Army (MCA) posted “inflammatory content and messages designed to amplify social and religious division, and push a hardline Islamist and anti-government line”, authorities said.

An Indonesian musician is currently facing a two-year prison sentence for allegedly committing hate speech against Ahok during his bid for re-election in 2017, as World Watch Monitor reported.

Earlier this year, Indonesia’s Human Rights Commission announced plans to publish guidelines to avoid sectarian clashes in the run-up to next year’s national elections as some hard-line Islamic leaders had called on Indonesians to vote only for Muslim candidates.

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