VOICE OF THE PERSECUTED

Category Archives: Asia

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INDIA – Trial for seven innocent Christians: appeal for their release

It is urgent to speed up the judicial process which sees seven innocent Christians of Kandhamal, a district in the Indian state of Orissa, in prison. The seven have been languishing in jail because of the false accusation of the murder of Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati , the Hindu leader killed by the Maoists in 2008. This is what the Delhi Minorities Committee (DMC) asks for, which has produced and published a documentary film in Hindi entitled “Kaid mein Bekasoor” (Innocents imprisoned). As reported to Agenzia Fides, the documentary was produced by journalist Anto Akkara who has been spearheading a campaign for the release of the seven innocents.

“It is shocking to know about the plight of these innocents languishing in jail for the last 10 years. It should concern the whole nation”, said Zafarul-Islam Khan, President of the Committee for Minorities. “Our mandate is to speak up for the voiceless and minorities. That is why the Commission decided to host this programme to spread awareness about the shocking injustice to the Christian minorities”, he stressed.
“It is a shame for Indian democracy and judicial system that the seven innocents – six of them illiterates – are in jail to perpetuate a political fraud”, urged Akkara, who made 27 trips to remote Kandhamal jungles villages and authored the nationally acclaimed book “Who Killed Swami Laxmanananda?” that has now been translated into Hindi and Malayalam.

Akkara has been anchoring an online signature campaign for the release of the innocents on www.release7innocents.com. Each signature on this website generates four instant emails to the Chief Justice of India, President of India, NHRC chairman and the Odisha High Court .
“It is time for everyone to come together to fight for law and justice and adequate compensation for the victims of the 2008 anti-Christian violence” said Father Kulokant Dandasena, a Catholic priest who works for the survivors in Kandhamal. “Seven innocent people in prison is a shame for a secular and democratic country like India”, he added.

“We are taking up this case to awaken the minorities and others to massive injustice to innocent people”, said Advocate Sister Anastasia Gill, a lawyer and member of the DMC. “This is the moment for all the minorities to join hands together and challenge the forces that are trying to divide people in the name of religion”, she concluded.

‘Innocents Imprisoned’ – Kandhamal’s Travesty of Justice

Innocents Imprisoned is a documentary on the Hindu nationalist fraud & travesty of justice in Kandhamal jungles (of Odisha state in India) with seven innocent Christians including a mentally challenged illiterate languishing in jail for nearly 10 years due to the subversion of the judicial system. This documentary – visual presentation of the investigative book, ‘Who killed Swami Laxmanananda?’ launched on August 23, 2018 in New Delhi on the 10th anniversary of Kandhamal.

Speak up for these voiceless by signing the online petition for their release at link above.

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Pakistan: Islamic groups threaten Supreme Court judges ahead of Asia Bibi ruling

(World Watch Monitor) Radical religious groups in Pakistan have called for mass protests and threatened the judges of the country’s Supreme Court in Islamabad ahead of their ruling in the blasphemy case of Christian woman Asia Bibi.

The hardline Islamic party, the Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP), threatened the judges in a press conference on YouTube, saying that if Aasiya Noreen, commonly known as Asia Bibi, were to receive clemency, the justices would meet a “horrible” end, reported AFP.

Meanwhile another religious group, the Red Mosque in Islamabad, asked the Supreme Court to order that, if Asia Bibi is released, she would not be able to leave the country.

“Western forces are trying to get Asia Bibi out of the country but she should be hanged,” the petitioner, Hafiz Ihtesham Ahmed, told AFP.

The TLP also announced it would hold a rally on Friday, 12 October, and on social media radical voices call for Asia Bibi to be hanged.

Pakistan’s Supreme Court heard the much-delayed appeal of Asia Bibi, on Monday, 8 October. It did not announce its decision, saying it would ‘reserve judgment’ for several days or possibly weeks.

The story of Asia Bibi

Noreen received the death penalty in 2010 after she allegedly made derogatory comments about Islam’s prophet Muhammad during an argument with a Muslim woman.

In June 2009, Noreen, then about 38, was picking berries in the fields as a day labourer in Sheikhupura, outside Lahore in eastern Pakistan. It was hot. She brought water to a female co-worker, who objected that the touch of a Christian had made the water haram, or religiously forbidden for Muslims. The woman apparently told Noreen to convert to Islam in order to become purified of her ritual impurity. Noreen’s rejoinder was perceived as an insult to Islam. She was arrested, accused of blasphemy against the Prophet and the Qur’an, and has been in prison ever since.

The Muslim woman, with her sister, were the only two eyewitnesses in the case, but the defence failed to convince the appeals judges that their evidence lacked credibility.

In the Lahore High Court appeal hearing in October 2014, Bibi’s then-lawyer, Naeem Shakir, argued that the main complainant in the case, the local Muslim cleric Mohamed Salaam, had not heard Bibi blaspheme, and that his original complaint had been lodged only five days after the women’s quarrel. Shakir argued that, during her 2010 trial, the only reason given for this delay was “deliberation and consultation”, and said that Salaam had acknowledged this in court.

Salaam was filmed by an international film crew for a film about Bibi in 2014, saying that it is his religious obligation to defend the dignity of Muhammad and that is why he decided to be a witness before the court. He only heard Bibi allegedly confess to blasphemy when she had been brought before a village council several days after the quarrel.

Her other main accuser, Mohamed Imran, owner of the field in which Noreen worked, was not present at the time of the quarrel either; he was away from the village.

However, the High Court ruled that it had no choice but to let the conviction and death penalty stand, based on the way the country’s laws are written, and on what it characterised as an inept trial defence.

At the same time, the court asked Pakistan’s lawmakers to craft legislation that would empower trial courts to apply a test that would make future blasphemy convictions much more difficult to achieve.

Noreen’s lawyer then filed an appeal with Pakistan’s Supreme Court and in July 2015 it agreed it would hear Noreen’s case.

Commentators praised the Court for its courage to hear the appeal in the face of strong public sentiment against anyone seen to denigrate Islam, with some calling it a “historic day for Pakistan”.

However, the appeal stalled in late 2016 when one member of the three-judge panel recused himself.

In April 2018 Pakistan’s chief justice, Saqib Nisar, told Noreen’s lawyer, Saif-ul-Malook, that he would hear Asia’s appeal soon.

Since then Malook, who was the prosecution lawyer in the case of the murder of Punjab Governor Taseer, has been under 24-hours protection. Ahead of the hearing in Islamabad on 8 October he told AP News, “I have lost my health. I am a high blood pressure patient, my privacy is totally lost. You have to be in hiding,” as everyone knew his identity. “They look at this house and they know this is the home of a person who can be killed at any time by angry mullahs,” he said.

Pakistan’s Supreme Court is the last possibility for Noreen to see her death sentence repealed or she has to appeal to the President for mercy.

International attention

Bibi’s case has attracted global attention, much of it critical of Pakistan’s anti-blasphemy laws, which critics contend are routinely abused as a pretext to settle personal scores.

In 2011 two prominent Pakistani politicians, Salmaan Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti, were assassinated after they spoke publicly in Bibi’s defence.

Following the killing of Taseer, Governor of Punjab, Bibi’s husband said she was “very afraid”. “She knows the Muslims have announced a price on her head and would go to any lengths to kill her,” he said. Authorities increased her security and moved her to an all-women facility, Multan Prison.

In May 2018 another politician who has championed the country’s minority communities, Ahsan Iqbal, survived an assassination attempt by a gunman protesting against the country’s blasphemy laws.

Pope Benedict XVI made a public plea for clemency and the EU’s Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief, Jan Figeľ, told Pakistani officials that the renewal of their export privileges to Europe would depend on the release of Asia Bibi.

  • June 2009  Aasiya Noreen, commonly known as Asia Bibi, mother of five, is arrested on charges of blasphemy
  • November 2010  Noreen convicted and sentenced to death by hanging. Her lawyer appeals verdict.
  • January 2011 Salmaan Taseer, governor of Punjab Province who supported Noreen and called for reform of the country’s blasphemy laws, is assassinated by one of his bodyguards. As a result authorities increase security for Noreen and she is moved to the all-women Multan Prison.
  • March 2011 Shahbaz Bhatti, Federal Minister for Minority Affairs who supported Noreen’s case and was outspoken critic of country’s widely condemned blasphemy laws, is assassinated.
  • October 2011 News emerges that Asia has been beaten by prison officer.
  • March 2014 Lahore High Court starts appeal hearing but case keeps circulating among several judges who postpone its hearing, allegedly for fear of reprisal from extremist elements.
  • October 2014 The Lahore High Court confirms Noreen’s death sentence
  • November 2014 Noreen’s lawyer files appeal with Pakistan’s Supreme Court.
  • February 2015 Noreen’s husband speaks out about how family’s lives are under constant threat following her conviction and sentencing five years ago.
  • July 2015 Supreme Court decides to hear Noreen’s appeal.
  • October 2015 Noreen is moved to solitary prison cell because of fears for her security after Supreme Court upholds sentence against former Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer’s murderer.
  • October 2016 About 150 top Muslim clerics from radical Islamist group Sunni Tehreek call for Noreen to be hanged.
  • April 2017 Mufti Muhammad Haneef Qureshi renews call for Noreen’s execution.
  • October 2017 Noreen nominated for the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.
  • November 2017 Three European Parliament members visit Noreen’s family in Pakistan.
  • December 2017 The EU’s Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief, Jan Figeľ, tells Pakistani officials that renewal of export privileges to Europe depends on Noreen’s release.
  • February 2018 Noreen’s husband and daughter meet Pope Francis in the Vatican.
  • April 2018 Chief Justice Saqib Nisar announces he will hear Noreen’s appeal soon.
  • May 2018 Ahsan Iqbal, Pakistan’s interior minister and supporter of the country’s minority communities, survives assassination attempt after meeting prevent her from Christians in his constituency.
  • October 8, 2018 Supreme Court hears Noreen’s case but delays ruling.
  • October 10, 2018 Radical religious groups threaten judges over possibility of releasing Noreen, and ask High Court to leaving the country.

 

Thai Immigration Police arrest Pakistani Christian asylum seekers, refugees and children

Pakistani Christian asylum seekers, refugees and children arrested Oct. 9, 2018

Voice of the Persecuted — Children of persecuted Pakistani Christians in Thailand woke up to the wailing sounds of their parents as Immigration police broke through their doors around 7 a.m. this morning. Immigration police raided Suppamas Mansion (apartment building) in Charan Sanitwong 8 and about 30 families were rounded up from their rooms and taken to the Immigration Detention Center (IDC) at Suan Phlu road in Bangkok. Approximately 80 people including 30 children and 50 adults have been reportedly arrested in that raid.

Pakistani Christian refugees and asylum seekers arrested with their children at apartment building located at Charan Sanitwong soi 8 in Bangkok Thailand CLICK to view larger image

Voice of the Persecuted (VOP) began receiving urgent reports from our Thailand Representative, Christian Malik, while the raids were taking place. We were able to send out an alert to inform Pakistani Christian asylum seekers and refugees to stay indoors and out of sight. We also asked others to begin praying for them.

Among those arrested is Robin Victor, a father of three young children, who is a dialysis patient and is treated every 48 hours on a dialysis machine. We are gravely concerned that if he is not released his health may quickly deteriorate. Over the course of three years, approximately three people have died in the IDC due to medical illnesses. If appropriate action isn’t taken in time, Mr. Victor’s life could be in danger.

Immigration police continued its advance, far and beyond within Bangkok, and conducted two further raids in the evening hours. A building was raided in the Minburi District and about 9 people were arrested. One of those arrested is Tariq Gill, along with his two sisters, who received aid through VOP’s relief program for a few months in 2015 until an Australian church began covering their expenses.

Another apartment building was raided at Phet Kasem 77 in Bang Wa District and several people were detained. The exact figure for this raid is unidentifiable as Immigration authorities quickly took away their mobile phones.

Among other advancements, Immigration police cancelled the visas of Mr. X and Mr. Y. [ names withheld ] Mr. X is over 50 years old and had a retirement visa which he renewed 2 weeks ago, whereas Mr. Y had a non-B visa which he had recently obtained. The visas were rejected on the grounds that Mr. Y could speak Thai despite being in the country for a short period of time, while Mr. X, who had stayed legally in the country for the past 5 years, couldn’t explain how he fulfilled the requirements for his retirement visa. Voice of the Persecuted would like to acknowledge Mr. X for being one of those who has helped our relief mission, Project 133, to deliver aid such as food, toiletries, baby formula and diapers to those suffering inside the IDC. He has done so graciously without the expectation of anything in return. May the Lord bless and have mercy on this faithful servant.

Approximately 100 people have been arrested in raids across Bangkok today and more successive raids could follow. Many of those arrested are recognized refugees protected under International law.

The raids are a result of Thailand’s Immigration policy to eliminate illegal immigrants within the country. Unfortunately refugees and asylum seekers are also considered illegal as Thailand has not ratified the UNHCR Refugee treaty. Their asylum cases filed with the UNHCR, nor their UNHCR asylum cards are not considered by the government.

Thailand’s Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwan yesterday instructed Pol Maj-General Surachate Hakparn, Thailand’s acting Immigration Bureau chief to crack down on foreigners overstaying their visas…….”

This recent news report, read here, shows that the Thai Immigration authorities have increased their crackdown and will continue to raid and arrest illegals for the coming month. Unfortunately, our brothers in Christ will be affected and suffer even more.

Please continue to pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ and that God may be with them through this difficult time.

Some are asking why the Thailand authorities would do something like this. Thailand, a popular tourist hot spot, had been one of the major destinations for Christians fleeing persecution in Pakistan. But many came without the full knowledge of the dangers that lie ahead. Thailand, not being a signatory of the UN 1951 Refugee Convention, regularly arrests asylum seekers and refugees. They are not distinguished from other immigrants, legal or illegal, even having UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) documents. In Thailand, all immigrants without valid documents are seized by the authorities and detained in the Immigration Detention Center (IDC). Often times, those arrested are first taken to the Central Jail and incarcerated along side those convicted of murder, rape and other serious crimes. We are expecting bail will be needed to keep many out of the Central Jail, approx. $100-$200 U.S. depending on the Judge. We are hoping for the ability to keep some from going to this dangerous place. However, this does not prevent them from being detained in the IDC.

At this time, bail is being denied for those in the IDC. They are forced to stay in it’s horrid conditions until they choose to self-deport. Hundreds are in the notorious Immigration Detention Center and some living in the deplorable situation for several years. The Immigration Detention Center is designed to hold about 50 detainees at a time. We approximate that before the latest raids there were 180 Pakistani’s, not including other nationalities, being held in the IDC. These large numbers lead to lack of space, sanitation and serious health concerns. They are at risk of contracting highly infectious diseases such as, tuberculosis, skin infections, among other air/water borne illnesses. They’re malnourished due to a diet of nothing more than mix of soupy rice and cucumber. Babies and children are not offered milk and they solely relying on outside help to sustain them.

this child was helped through your generosity

Please pray for them to remain steadfast in holding onto their faith. VOP is on the ground in Thailand. Join hands with us to spread the love of Jesus.  Please consider helping our mission to cover these expenses and donate, today. Nutritional items, baby milk and diapers will be high on the list of needs. We may not be able to cover all expenses, but let us cover as many as we can! Your donations, whether large or small, aid in our ability to carry out this mission and are gratefully appreciated by our persecuted family. Go with us to Thailand through your blessings to share with these dear brothers and sisters who have suffered so much. Keep us in your prayers as we try to raise the needed funds for the relief mission.

HELP SAVE THE PERSECUTED

Together with your generous help, we can reach the goal to alleviate horrific suffering. In darkness and desperation, let us serve in love, with open arms and giving hands to provide light and hope.

HELP SAVE THE PERSECUTED

Every day, we thank God that He is working through you to care for His children and to further His Kingdom! As you greatly bless others, may God continue to bless you. Thank you so much for your support. We couldn’t do it without you!

High Court hears Asia Bibi’s final death sentence appeal, but holds back verdict

 

Asia Bibi was the first woman to be sentenced to death under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws and her case is one of the most controversial

(VOP) There is much speculation about the outcome of Asia Bibi’s final appeal heard today by a special three-member bench of Pakistan’s Supreme Court, Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar, Justice Asif Saeed Khosa and Justice Mazhar Alam Khan Miankhel. They will decide whether or not to confirm the death sentence of Asia Bibi. The chief justice warned the media and those present against commenting on or discussing the case until the court’s detailed judgement has been issued. No date is given when the Supreme Court will announce it’s decision.

Asia Bibi, a Christian mother of 5, was accused of blasphemy in 2009. In 2010, she was sentenced to death by hanging and spends her time in solitary confinement cooking her own meals to prevent an assassination attempt. Asia firmly denies the blasphemy allegations against her. If you are unfamiliar with the charges and details of her case, please read: What you need to know about Asia Bibi’s trial

Covering today’s appeal, Fides News agency shared that Christians in Pakistan await with bated breath, immersed in prayer and the conclusion of this final hearing. In the report Fr. James Channan who runs the ‘Peace Center’ in Lahore shared,

“It is good to know that, after such a long time, Asia Bibi’s case is brought to trial. Many people are praying for her release in Pakistan and around the world. It is our firm hope that, thanks to continuous prayer, she can be released. I am sure that the panel of judges will examine the case without prejudice and that justice will be done, without being influenced by external pressures. I pray that Asia may be released soon and may reunite with her family members who have lived many years of pain and anguish. If she is released, it will also give great relief to all those who, in the world, have felt deeply involved in this case, praying for her, so that this innocent woman may finally have justice. Moreover, if she is proved innocent, it will be necessary to punish those who falsely accused her, abusing the controversial blasphemy law”. He concluded, “Today we also remember those who were killed because of the support given to Asia Bibi: former governor of the Punjab province, the Muslim Salman Taseer and the Catholic leader Shahbaz Bhatti, Federal Minister for Minority Affairs. We hope their sacrifice was not in vain”.

Some are expecting the verdict to be announced within a couple of days, others believe that the risk of national riots and violence may delay the court’s verdict for sometime. Speaking to Voice of the Persecuted, a Pakistani Christian shared,

“The government doesn’t want her to be there anyways but the pressure from hardliners is keeping them from releasing her. There could be a national revolt if she is released so nobody has been willing to take the risk. If she is executed then Pakistan will face huge international humiliation. It needs to go through the due process and it will be a very tough decision.”

Asia is expected to ask the nation’s president for clemency if her appeal is rejected by the Supreme Court. Dawn News reports, “If that fails, she could become the first person in Pakistan to be executed for blasphemy”.

Asia’s husband and youngest daughter are in the U.K. as guests of the Catholic charity, Aid to the Church in Need. Her husband told the Catholic News Service that they visited Bibi in Multan Prison on Oct. 1. He declared she was in good health, psychologically, physically and spiritually strong, contrary to reports that she was developing dementia. He relayed that Asia had a message that the international community must remember her in their prayers and that those prayers would open the prison doors for her soon release. He also said that while Asia is praying, she feels Jesus encouraging and supporting her, that she was ready and willing to die for Christ and would never convert to Islam.

She has suffered so long. Please keep our dear sister, Asia, in your prayers. May God have mercy on her. Pray also for Pakistani Christians and the nation of Pakistan.

The movie below was filmed in 2014 in Pakistan, France and Italy. It features Asia Bibi’s family, her lawyers, journalists and friends, all actively engaged in campaigning for her release. It also includes an interview with Anne Isabelle Tollet, the journalist and author of the book Blasphemy, helping to bring public attention to Asia’s case.

Indonesia: Three churches closed in permits dispute

Members of one of the closed churches hold a sign that says: “Our Assemblies of God church has been sealed by the government.” (Photo: World Watch Monitor)

Three churches were closed in an Indonesian village last week amidst rumors Muslims were planning to protest against the churches’ presence because they did not have the required permits.

But a pastor from one of the affected churches in West Kenali village, Alam Barajo district, in Sumatra’s central Jambi province, told World Watch Monitor: “We had been worshipping here since 2004 and fulfilled all building license requirements. We have even built a good relationship with the local authorities. Yet the permit was not granted.”

“The rapid church growth in the area during the last decade may have caused restlessness among the majority-Muslim neighbourhood,” said the pastor, who leads an Assemblies God church.

“The rapid church growth in the area during the last decade may have caused restlessness among the majority-Muslim neighbourhood.”

The other two affected churches belong to the Huria Kristen Indonesia (HKI) and Gereja Methodist Indonesia (GMI) branches.

A local source, who wished to remain anonymous, said the churches were closed to prevent unrest ahead of a planned protest by supporters of the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI).

“The village head filed a complaint with the higher authorities and rallied the support of radical group Islamic Defenders Front to hold protests against the churches,” the source said. “The day before the church closures, a letter had been circulated saying that a thousand Muslim residents would rally in front of the three churches on Friday, September 28. The government decided to seal the churches to prevent the commotion.”

The Indonesian Evangelical Fellowship (PGLII) and the Communion of Churches in Indonesia (PGI) released a statement, urging the government to uphold religious freedom, protect minorities and not give in to mass pressure.

PGI also sent a legal team to support the churches, reported VOA. “The local government keeps delaying the process to have the permit, or just reject it without any reasons,” PGI General Secretary Gomar Gultom said.

Jambi District Spokesman Abu Bakar told VOA the church closures were just a “temporary action” due to “administrative issues”.

Bakar also denied that there had been pressure from the FPI to close the churches and said that if they submitted the required documents, they would receive permits within a week.

‘Religious politicisation’

Paul Marshall, Wilson Professor of Religious Freedom at Baylor University, warned recently that Indonesia was likely see an increase in the “politicisation of religion” ahead of the 2019 elections.

“Much of this manipulation is done by people who are not especially religious,” he said at the Fourth Annual Southeast Asia Conference on Freedom of Religion or Belief in Bangkok, in August.

He added: “What is most likely to lead to conflict is not robust, believing religion, but rather shallow religion that is used as a political identifier. The problem is usually not strong religion, but weak religion that is a strong source of identity.”

More than 1,000 churches have been closed or prevented from being built in Indonesia since a “religious harmony” law was passed in 2006, ordering minority religious groups to obtain the permission of the local majority group before building houses of worship, according to Human Rights Watch.

In Cilegon, a city in Banten, Java’s westernmost province, 21 churches registered under Cilegon’s Inter Church Cooperation Body (BKSAG) had all either been closed or were facing that threat, its President, Steven Polii, told World Watch Monitor in September last year. An historic agreement between local Islamic leaders and the government dictated that no churches are allowed in Cilegon, in order to preserve its Muslim identity, he said.

VOP Note: Indonesian Christians have contacted Voice of the Persecuted (VOP) asking that our Prayer Team pray for them. Please join us in lifting them up to the Lord.

Charge of “Promoting Christianity” for an Armenian student imprisoned in Iran

Iran: An Armenian student, arrested in nationwide demonstration December 2017, faces charges of attempting to form warrior groups against the regime, promoting Christianity and anti-Islamic activities.

(Mohabat News) Karen Vartanian, born Tehran in 1994, is singular and 9th semester student of pharmacy at Arak University. He is one of the Armenian Christians and one of the detainees in the nationwide demonstration.

According to news sources, this student protester was arrested on December 30, 2017, and spent 17 days under the most severe physical and mental torture, so that he lost 15 kilos of weight during the deterrence.

“Karen Vartanian “was summoned to the Revolutionary Court two weeks ago. His trial was held on Tuesday, August 28, 2018, in the presence of him and his lawyer. In the court, he faces charges of insulting and disseminating lies, disturbing the public opinion, attempting to form warrior groups against the regime, promoting Christianity and anti-Islamic activities. Temporary detention was issued to him and the date of the main court was determined. Despite the protests of him and his attorney, they were informed that he would be transferred to the Fashafiyah prison until the trial date.

“Karen Vartanian” has congenital heart disease and had heart surgery in April 2018. Although his family and lawyer asked the judge to bail out due to his heart disease and threat of his life, the judge told them that the bail would not be issued to security detainees at the behest of the judiciary, even if the trial date is one year later.

According to a reliable source, “Karen Vartanian” was beaten by the prison authorities during the transfer from court to the detention center in front of her mother’s and sister’s eyes, and the agent of assassin said falsely to the people present at the site: “The accused has raped several daughters under 18 years old.

After two days of arrestment at a temporary detention center, the arrested student was transferred to the notorious Prison of Fashafiyah in Tehran on Thursday, August 30, 2018.

He suffered a heart attack at the Fashafiyah Prison and was transferred to Rajai Hospital on Sunday, September 2, 2018 with manacle and under guarded care with a plainclothes officer and a soldier. His family could see him only for a few minutes behind the glass, and this short meeting was enough to see the effects of beating on the face, eye and feet of their son. Despite the physician’s advice, that his 3-4-day rest was urgent due to surgery and his severe physical condition, prison authorities did not agree that his treatment continued at the hospital and returned him to prison after an outpatient treatment.

During the detention, Karen Vartanian only had short phone call with his family two times. This Christian family is very concerned about the life threatening and the situation of their son. Despite the continuous follow-up of the family, he was not allowed to visit the family and the judge did not specify the date of his trial./FARSI

 

Rebels in Burma Detain More than 90 Christian Leaders, Shut Down More Churches

Photo: Nick Youngson CC BY-SA 3.0 Alpha Stock Images

Burma (Morning Star News)  After shutting down at least 10 churches in early September, ethnic Wa rebels in eastern Burma (Myanmar) have closed dozens of other churches and detained 92 Christian leaders and 42 students in a bid to curtail Christian activities, sources said.

The United Wa State Army (UWSA) in late September detained the Christian leaders and students in territory it controls in Shan state, leaders of the Lahu Baptist Convention said in statement released on Tuesday (Sept. 25). Some students were also forced to serve as UWSA soldiers, according to the statement.

The 52 churches in Mong Pauk Township have been shut down, and the UWSA destroyed three church buildings and removed all Christian symbols such as crosses, according to the ethnic Lahu Christian leaders. A few religious schools also have been shut down.

Earlier in September, the UWSA troops shut down at least 10 churches, including six belonging to the Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC).

“The Wa officials instructed Christians in Mong Pauk not even to worship at home these days,” a local Christian leader based in Keng Tung told Morning Star News on condition of anonymity. “So, some Christian members dare not to live in Mong Pauk any longer. They came to stay in Keng Tung town as they are fearful.”

Wa soldiers are holding arrested Christian leaders and students in Mong Maw town, a stronghold base of the Wa rebels, said Tat Jack, a local resident whose relatives are detained.

“My uncle is a preacher,” Tat Jack told Morning Star News. “He lives at a village nearby the Wa rebel base, Panghsang city. He and his son were detained in early September. But we are not allowed to visit them. We also heard that many members of the Christian community there are detained.”

Christian leaders have said the militants, who predominantly follow tribal religions, seek to reduce the spread of Christianity. Wa rebel spokesperson Nyi Rang told The Irrawaddy, a Yangon-based new outlet, that the UWSA had detained the Christian leaders because there were “extremists” among them.

A UWSA statement released on Sept. 13 stated that all church buildings constructed after 1992 would be destroyed or shut down, as they were built without permission from the UWSA’s leaders.

On a UWSA-run television program, it was stated that the UWSA has arrested and interrogated the religious leaders for violating organization regulations and laws prohibiting foreigners to serve as religious leaders in Wa-controlled areas. It also accused some detainees of forcing ethnic people to convert to Christianity.

Dr. M. Hkawng, chairman of an ethnic Kachin political party, the Kachin National Congress, has said that missionaries improve the lives of ethnic minorities in the Wa region, educating them and enabling them to travel to overseas to Japan, the United States and other countries to pursue their education.

Although most of the population in Wa territory worships spirits or Nats, there are also Buddhists as well as Christian communities such as Baptists and Roman Catholics. Many area members of ethnic minority groups, such as the Ahkar, Lahu and Kachin, as well as the Wa, are Christians, sources said.

Some Christians suspect Chinese authorities are behind the recent aggression against Christians.

The UWSA is the military wing of the United Wa State Party (UWSP), the de facto ruling party of the area. It was formed after the collapse of the armed wing of the Communist Party of Burma in 1989.

The UWSA announced its territory as the Wa State Government Special Administrative Region on Jan. 1, 2009, and although the government of Burma does not officially recognize its sovereignty, the Burmese military has fought alongside the UWSA against Shan nationalist militias.

Though de facto independent from Burma, the Wa state officially recognizes Burma’s sovereignty over all of its territory, and in 2013 the two parties signed a peace deal.

Burma is about 80 percent Buddhist and 9 percent Christian.

The country is ranked 24th on Open Doors’ 2018 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.

Closure of Large Church in Beijing Deepens Shadow on Religious Freedom in China

An official seal for a church closure in Guangdong Province, China. (China Aid)

(Morning Star News) – The growing crack-down on unofficial churches in China deepened on Sunday (Sept. 9) when authorities closed one of the largest churches in Beijing, according to reports.

The Beijing Chaoyang District Civil Affairs Bureau informed Zion Church that it was “legally banned” for organizing events without registering as an official Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) church, Reuters reported. The church has faced growing threats from authorities, including eviction, since it refused to comply with a government order in April to install closed-circuit television cameras at its worship site.

Bob Fu, president of advocacy group China Aid, said authorities are enforcing rules requiring registration as a TSPM church in order to exercise increased control over ideologies. He called the church closure part of a larger crack-down on Christianity across China.

“The massive clampdown against thousands of churches in Henan [Province] and the forced closure and total shutdown of the largest house church in Beijing, Zion Church, represents a significant escalation on President Xi [Jinping]’s crack-down down against religious freedom in China,” Fu said in a statement. “Now that the Chinese Communist Party has started to burn Bibles and coerce millions of believers in the Christian faith and other religious minorities to even sign a written pledge to renounce their basic religious beliefs, the international community should be alarmed and outraged at this blatant violation of freedom of religion and belief and demand the Chinese regime stop and remedy this dangerous course.”

Zion Church leaders have decided they will continue holding services outdoors, Fu said.

The Associated Press reported that about 60 government officials arrived at 4:30 p.m. accompanied by buses, police cars and fire trucks to close what is regarded as Beijing’s largest unofficial church. They reportedly sealed the church building and froze pastor Ezra Jin Mingri’s personnel assets, besides confiscating “illegal promotional materials.”

Reuters reported that the church had operated for years with relative freedom. China’s unofficial Christian institutions have faced increased harassment since new regulations took effect in February.

More than 30 of Beijing’s hundreds of unofficial Protestant churches released a statement in July lamenting interference, assaults and obstruction since the new regulations came into effect.

In Luohe, Henan Province, more than 50 officials stormed into Meisheng Church on Sept. 2, beat worshippers and confiscated most church property, China Aid reported.

“Uniformed and plainclothes police, as well as agents from the local religious affairs and cultural bureaus, invaded the service as the pastor, Chen Qi, was reading the Bible,” the organization reported.

One Christian told China Aid that officials grabbed the pastor’s microphone and forcibly stopped worship. The director of Luohe’s Yuanhui District Religious Affairs Bureau, identified only as Li, walked to the podium and announced that the fellowship was “illegitimate,” according to China Aid.

“After reading a document about the church’s supposed violation, he asked Chen to sign it, but Chen refused and was taken away,” the group reported. “An official said to him, ‘The document will be effective no matter if you sign it or not.’ During the ordeal, a woman stood in the hallway and photographed the situation. Police pulled her hair and slapped her face as they pushed her up against the wall. Once they were finished, they took her into custody.”

Several police officers also kicked another woman who disobeyed their orders to refrain from taking photos.

“She fell to the ground, and her cell phone was confiscated,” China Aid reported. “When her fiancé confronted one of the officers, saying ‘How can you bully a girl?’ he was punched and accused of assaulting the police.”

Also on Sept. 2, authorities in Xinyang, Henan Province, entered a church service without showing identification, expelled worshippers and welded the door shut, according to China Aid.

“Some of the congregants attempted to film evidence, but police took their phones,” the group reported. “Later on, the church rented a storage unit to hold their services in.”

Officials in the same area closed off the road leading to another church, prohibiting church members from entering, the advocacy group reported.

“Similar disturbances occurred in other areas of Henan, including Hua County, where Christians gathered in front of Baidaokou Church to prevent authorities from breaking in,” China Aid reported. “After a short confrontation, the authorities forced their way into the church and took chairs, desks, and a variety of other items. As they resisted, some of the Christians were injured and fell to the ground. After the authorities left, however, some of the congregants stayed and sang worship songs.”

Article 36 of China’s Constitution stipulates that all Chinese citizens have freedom of belief.

Last year the Henan Provincial Three-Self Patriotic Committee and the Henan Provincial China Christian Council issued an order forbidding churches from organizing summer camps for minors and students, citing high temperatures as a possible health risk.

Also, the Nanyang Municipal Religious Affairs Bureau in Henan ordered all 20,000 house-church members in the province to join the Three-Self Church, according to China Aid. Many Chinese Christians disagree with the Three-Self Church based on theological discrepancies and rampant government censorship, making the forced merging of these two branches a violation of religious freedom, the advocacy group asserted.

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