(Morning Star News) – Christians in Sri Lanka have never seen such a large-scale attack on them as the one that hit three churches and three hotels on Easter Sunday (April 21), killing at least 290 people, they said.
“I don’t have words to express my pain,” a teary-eyed Eranda Weththasinghe told Morning Star News from Negombo, a predominantly Christian area north of Colombo where 104 worshippers died in a suicide bomb blast at St. Sebastian’s Church. “Tomorrow is going to be the mass funeral service, we only want prayers. We lost so many people.”
Weththasinghe said he lost several friends in the explosion that he witnessed, which the Sri Lankan government blamed on a local Islamic extremist group, the National Thowheed Jamaath. Officials said the small, obscure group could not have carried out the coordinated attacks without international accomplices.
“The smell of flesh is all around me,” Weththasinghe said. “We are a peace-loving community in this small city, we had never hurt anyone, but we don’t know from where this amount of hate is coming. This city has become a grave with blood and bodies lying around.”
Weththasinghe, who helped with rescue efforts after the blast, said some of his friends are still missing.
“Since the past three years, we don’t know why, but we see an extremist’s mindset developing among the Muslims,” he told Morning Star News. “I know many good Muslims, but there are also a lot who hate us, and they have never been so before. It is in these three years that we see a difference.”
While Christians in Sri Lanka have suffered at the hands of radical Buddhists and, increasingly, hard-line Hindus, attacks by Muslim extremists have been rare. Muslims account for 9.7 percent of Sri Lanka’s population of about 22 million, which is 70 Buddhist, 12.6 percent Hindu and 7.6 percent Christian, according to the country’s 2012 census.
Shyami Sirivardene, also a resident of Negombo, told Morning Star News that Negombo and parts of Colombo where the blasts took place are predominantly Christian areas.
“Negombo is fondly called the ‘little Rome,’ with shrines and ancient churches,” Sirivardene said. “We can’t say who is behind the attacks, but the locals suspect it to be the plot of Islamic extremists. The attacks have been planned to affect the Christian community; since the churches in these areas date back to 19th century, people flock in huge numbers to attend the Mass on Easter and Christmas.”
Residents in neighboring areas close to the church buildings join the previous Saturday Easter vigil service, and Christians come from distant areas to attend the Easter morning service, she said.
“They have been targeted,” she said. “Colombo to Negombo and surrounding towns and suburbs is hardly a half an hour drive using the highway, and most Christians prefer to travel by bus or drive on their own using another route, which takes about an hour or more depending on traffic. People are very furious and scared. The busy toll road from Colombo to Negombo connecting the airport somewhere in the midst is empty today.”
A government spokesman told media that police found 87 bomb detonators at the main bus station in Colombo, the capital.
Sirivardene added that the luxury restaurants targeted at the three bombed hotels serve special Easter buffets that attract foreigners, including those from the United States and Europe.
Besides St. Sebastian’s in Negombo, also attacked by suicide bombers were St. Anthony’s Shrine (a large Catholic church in the Kochchikade area of Colombo), and Zion Church in Batticaloa, in the eastern part of the country. Suicide bombers also detonated explosives in Colombo at the Shangri-La Hotel, the ground-floor Taprobane restaurant at the Cinnamon Grand Hotel and at the Kingsbury Hotel.
The suicide bomber blasts also reportedly wounded at least 500 people.
Biraj Patnaik, South Asia director for human rights group Amnesty International, told The Washington Post that the scale of the attacks were “shocking and unprecedented.” They were the worst in Colombo since 1996, when rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam detonated explosives at Sri Lanka’s central bank that killed nearly 100 people.
Sri Lankan police attempted to defuse another explosive substance found in a vehicle parked near St. Anthony’s Shrine, which was exploded without causing damage. Suspicious objects such as bags and boxes discovered in Kotahena and Pettah caused two more explosions.
“We have been asked to stay indoors, and tomorrow [April 23] would be the national mourning day,” said Sirivardene of Negombo. “There would be a mass funeral service for all the bodies collected so far.”
Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne said a foreign network was likely involved with the local Islamist group that carried out the attacks. The group’s name, National Thowheed Jamaath, roughly translates as the National Monotheism Organization.
He reportedly called on Police Inspector General Pujith Jayasundara to resign, as security agencies had received a report warning of attacks by the group against churches and hotels 10 days before.
A police memo reportedly issued in Sinhalese 10 days before the attack, entitled, “INFORMATION OF AN ALLEGED PLAN ATTACK” and stamped on April 11, said foreign intelligence officials suspected imminent attacks by the National Thowheeth Jamaath against non-Muslims. It instructed all police to be extra vigilant and cautious in monitoring locations under their jurisdiction. It is signed by Deputy Inspector General Priyalal Dissanayake.
Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wikremesinghe told media he did not know about the letter, saying, “Neither I nor any ministers were kept informed.”
President Maithripala Sirisena controls Sri Lanka’s security agencies, but since he tried to oust Wickremesinghe in an Oct. 26 coup, the prime minister has not been invited to security council meetings, a parliamentarian told The Washington Post.
Police have reportedly arrested 21 people in connection with the bombings. Three police officers were reportedly killed in a raid on a house where suspects were hiding.
In his Easter address, Pope Francis called the bombings “horrendous.” In his Easter Monday sermon today, he appealed for help for the people of Sri Lanka.
“I hope that everyone condemns these terrorist acts, inhuman acts, never justifiable,” he said.
Yousef A. al-Othaimeen, head of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, which represents 57 predominantly Muslim nations, “strongly condemned” the “cowardly attacks [on] innocent worshipers and civilians.”
Bishops Dhiloraj Canagasabey and Keerthisiri Fernando of Colombo, along with the Kurunagala Church of Ceylon, issued a joint statement condemning Sunday’s attacks.
“We call on the government to institute quick action to investigate thoroughly these incidents and to bring the perpetrators to justice, to ensure the safety of places of religious worship and to prevent any individuals or group taking the law into their hands or provoking acts of intimidation or violence against any community or group,” their statement said. “We ask for the continued support of all security and emergency services in ensuring public peace and in providing care for the affected; the motives of those twisted and warped minds who planned and executed such appalling acts could very well be to destabilize the country and to cause damage to the unity and harmony of our nation.”
Sri Lanka ranked 46th on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2019 World Watch Listing of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian, from its previous rank of 44th.
Photo 1: Sri Lankan Christians mourn (Angel TV Youtube)
Photo 2: Security memo issued 10 days before April 21 attacks warning of possible suicide bombing by Islamic extremist group National Thowheed Jamaath. (Twitter, Sri Lankan Ministry of Telecommunication)
(Voice of the Persecuted) During a press conference, the Sri Lankan Health Minister, Rajitha Senaratne confirmed that the suicide bombers in the Easter attacks were carried out by Sri Lankan citizens associated with a local Jihadi terror group, National Thowheed Jamath (NTJ), with the help of an international network. The death toll has risen to 290, with over 500 injured.
There are reports of more bombs found near the airport and bus station. Please continue to pray.
(Voice of the Persecuted) It is with a heavy heart to report on Resurrection Sunday that a massacre has taken place targeting Christians who were attending worship services at St. Anthony’s Church in Colombo, St. Sebastian’s Church in Negombo and Zion Church, in Batticaloa in Sri Lanka. At the time of this report, the latest update from police claim that at least 207 were killed and at least 450-500 injured in 8 explosions by suicide bombers at the churches, Shangri-La, Cinnamon Grand and Kingsbury hotels. Viewer Warning: below video content graphic
The majority of casualties are Christians and the death toll and numbers injured are expected to rise. Earlier, the government said they suspected the suicide bombings were carried out by one group. Finance Minister, Mangala Samaraweera said,
The bombings are not the doings of a fanatical individual. It’s obviously a highly coordinated attempt to create murder, mayhem and anarchy in the country.
The Defence Minister, Ruwan Wijewardene, said seven people have been arrested in connection with the attacks. Three police officers were killed in an explosion during a raid pertaining to the attacks.
The government has temporarily blocked social media sites to prevent false news that’s spreading on social media sites. Officials claim the ban will be lifted when their investigations are concluded.
Please remember the injured and families of victims in your prayers, today. Continue to pray for persecuted believers worldwide.
UPDATE: 9:19 p.m. EST
Sri Lankan Defence Minister described the bombings as a terrorist attack by religious extremists, although there was no immediate claim of responsibility. — Thirteen people have been arrested.
News outlet Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported it had seen documents showing that Sri Lanka’s police chief Pujuth Jayasundara issued an intelligence alert to top officers 10 days ago, warning that suicide bombers planned to hit “prominent churches”.
“A foreign intelligence agency has reported that the NTJ [National Thowheeth Jama’ath, a radical Muslim group in Sri Lanka] is planning to carry out suicide attacks targeting prominent churches as well as the Indian high commission in Colombo,” the alert said, according to AFP.Mr Wickremesinghe said there was not an adequate response and there needed to be an inquiry into how the information was used.
Read full abc.net.au report here
UPDATE: 4-22-2019 Sri Lanka officals: Islamic militants targeted Churches and Hotels
Prosecutors demand 18-month term for Christian youth accused of mocking the burning of an Islamic flag.
Prosecutors in Indonesia have demanded an 18-month jail term and a $715 fine for a Christian student accused of insulting Islam.
Agung Kurnia Ritonga, 22, a student at the University of North Sumatra in Medan, is currently on trial for insulting Islam in an Instagram post by mocking the burning of an Islamic flag in October last year.
Three Muslim youths in Garut, West Java burned a tawhid flag presumed to belong to Hizb ut-Tahrir, a banned militant group on Oct. 21, 2018.
Ritonga’s Instagram post on Oct. 24, was said to have insulted the tawhid flag that has script describing the monotheistic God in Islam and God himself.
“What’s the matter if the tawhid flag is burnt? Your God apparently gets burnt also? So, don’t take many recitations that teach culture, that makes fools. Your God is just silent over there, playing guitar, getting drunk, and writing porn poetry, why are you so busy?” Ritonga wrote.
He was arrested the next day after hundreds of Muslims surrounded his house in protest.
During trial proceedings this week, prosecutors told the panel of judges that Ritonga’s actions could have damaged interreligious harmony.
Muhammad Irwansyah Putra, a local mosque official who made the initial blasphemy complaint, said he was satisfied with the trial’s outcome and agreed with the jail term demanded by prosecutors.
“I agree with the proposed sentence as it should appease anger and avert possible violence,” he told ucanews.com.
Hamdan Hasonangan Harahap, Ritonga’s lawyer, said the student had shown remorse and apologized to Muslims.
“What he wrote did not aim to insult Muslims, he only wanted to debate [with them],” he said.
Bonar Tigor Naipospos, deputy director of Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace, regretted that such a case required a jail sentence.
“It was because of pressure from radical Muslim groups,” Naipospos said.
He referred to the case of a Buddhist woman, also from Medan, who was jailed for 18 months in August last year for complaining about the noise from a local mosque’s loudspeakers during the call to prayer.
The blasphemy law is discriminatory, he said.
VOP Note: As Christians, we must ask the Lord to give us discernment to choose our words wisely for the glory of His Kingdom.
(Morning Star News) – Following the arrest of 44 worshipers from house church meetings in southwestern China in February, police in Chengdu this month arrested a married couple from the church and beat them during interrogation, the church reported.
The couple, identified as Liu and his wife Xing, of Early Rain Covenant Church, were visiting Christian friends when police from Chengdu Shuyuan Police Station on March 2 detained them and took them to Taisheng Road Police Station for interrogation, according to the church, whose pastor along with more than 100 others was arrested in a Dec. 9 raid.
“At 2 p.m., while being interrogated, they were personally humiliated, abused, and violently beaten by seven to eight police officers from the Chengdu Taisheng Road Police Station,” the church’s March 2 statement on Facebook reads. “They were detained for nearly eight hours. After being beaten by police officers from the Taisheng Road Police Station, sister Xing and her husband were escorted by an unidentified person back to their home.”
The unexplained violence was one of the latest instances of persecution of the church in Chengdu, capital of Sichuan Province. After church pastor Wang Yi and his wife, Jiang Rong, were incarcerated in the Dec. 9 raid, authorities on Feb. 24 detained 44 Early Rain members meeting for worship in several homes.
Some were released the next day, and seven others were released on Monday (March 11), the church reported. Pastor Wang and his wife were charged with “inciting to subvert state power” and are in secret detention. Ten others are also facing criminal charges, including four church elders, according to the statement.
Police have pressured landlords to evict some church members and compelled employers to fire others, and one church member has been missing since March 5. In a statement on March 8, the church reported that Pan Fei, who had lost his job because of his church activities, disappeared after his first day at a new job on March 4.
“He stopped going to work beginning on the following Tuesday morning,” the statement reads. “We have visited his apartment multiple times to look for him but to no effect. We have not been able to contact him.”
Police had arrested Pan Fei several times since May 2018 and had illegally searched his home, according to the church. After police compelled his landlord to evict him, community officers visited him at his new apartment and harassed him regularly, the statement reads.
“In the past, when brother Pan Fei would encounter harassment and persecution, he would ask his brothers and sisters to pray for him,” it reads. “But he has not sent any messages since disappearing four days ago. We are concerned that brother Pan Fei is being targeted for his faith.”
Yesterday (March 14) Early Rain member Zhang Ying and her daughters received a visit at their apartment in Chengdu from her landlord, accompanied by officers from the local police station, according to a church statement online.
“Six males and one female barged into her home,” the statement reads. “They insulted sister Zhang and her three children, threatened them, and derided them. Two of them were extremely aggressive and threatened to rape and beat sister Zhang. Community officers stood by the side and recorded their insults and verbal abuse with a video camera.”
Zhang has signed a two-year contract with her landlord for the apartment, but he falsely claimed that she had violated it without saying what she had done wrong, the statement reads.
“He was harassing her because community officers and police had pressured him to,” according to the church. “When the landlord and community officers left, they required sister Zhang to move out of her home by the end of March.”
One church member whose husband was arrested in the Feb. 24 raids said that a community police officer stopped her and her child during a visit to another Christian’s home, according to a March 1 posting. When she objected, she said, the officer called a police station director identified only as Ding.
Telling her that she was still in custody and needed permission to go anywhere, the police station director told the Christian woman, whose name was withheld, that she couldn’t take home the treat her friend had given her.
“He even grabbed my neck and told me to stomp on it,” she reported. “I firmly refused to stomp on it. He then said that if I didn’t stomp on it, he would throw it into the face of my child right in front of me. He also said that if I didn’t listen to them, he would put me in detention and send my child to a welfare institution. He said, ‘Your husband is still in detention. Do you think I won’t keep him there? I will send him to live with people with AIDS.’”
The official concluded by saying that if she didn’t “behave” that weekend, he would cause trouble for her. “I won’t be as nice to you as I was today,” he told her, according to the church posting. “If this happens again, you will be taken directly to the police station.”
Such threats have become commonplace for church members, according to the church.
“For the most part, there is no member of this church who has not suffered in some way,” the church reported in a Feb. 24 statement.
In the Feb. 24 arrests, plainclothes officers at the police station struck church member Tang Chunliang and his wife in the face, according to a church statement on Feb. 25. Surrounding several homes during worship and making arrests afterward, including all present in two homes, officers did not spare the elderly, 11 children and a pregnant woman, according to the church.
“Some were not released until 2 a.m.,” the statement reads. “Tired children slept on ice-cold tables and floors. Others were not released until 6 a.m.”
Chinese Christians are often charged with “inciting subversion of state power,” punishable by up to five years in prison or 15 in extreme cases, as the Communist regime views religion as a threat to its ideological control, according to advocacy group China Aid. It notes that Christian groups have no intention of threatening government power.
Pastor Wang was a human rights activist and a constitutional scholar before becoming a pastor, according to the South China Morning Post (SCMP). In 2006, he met with then-U.S. President George W. Bush in the White House.
The raids on the Early Rain church are part of a broader crack-down on unofficial or “underground” churches that Beijing escalated since last year following amendments to the Religious Affairs Regulation that give lower-level officials more power to act against churches and impose tougher penalties for “unauthorized religious gatherings,” according to the SCMP.
Unofficial churches decline to become part of the government-sanctioned Three-Self Church, which would subject them to intrusive government controls. The Early Rain church on Tuesday (March 12) posted a video of Xu Xiaohong, head of the government-sanctioned Three-Self Church, telling the National People’s Congress the previous day that officials planned to “Sinicize” Christianity. This plan would rid Christianity of all “Western” influences and ensure that all Christian doctrine and worship conforms to the government ideology, the church stated, noting that Xu denounced churches gathering in “private meeting places” and “black sheep” who are “subverting state security.”
The U.S. State Department announced on Dec. 10 that it had included China among 10 countries designated as Countries of Particular Concern for severe religious rights violations.
China ranked 27th on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2019 World Watch List of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.
INDIA (Morning Star News) – Cases of hate and violence against Christians in India increased 57 percent the first two months of this year compared with the same period last year, an advocacy group reported.
The Evangelical Fellowship of India’s Religious Liberty Commission (EFIRLC) documented 77 incidents of hate and targeted violence against Christians in January and February, up from 49 cases during the same period last year. The cases include the murders of one Christian in Odisha state and another in Chhattisgarh state, both in February.
“We have reasons to believe that both men, who were in their 40s, were killed because of their faith,” the Rev. Vijayesh Lal, general secretary of the EFI, told Morning Star News. “We have recorded cases where Christians have been facing social boycott and have been excommunicated from their villages, and in a few instances have had to flee to save their lives.”
Of the 77 incidents, 16 took place in Tamil Nadu state, 12 in Uttar Pradesh, six in Maharashtra and five in Chhattisgarh, the report found. The states of Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and, surprisingly, Kerala each saw four cases, followed by other states, Lal said.
The 49 cases recorded in the first two months of 2018 followed the documenting of 50 cases during the same period the previous year.
In one of the incidents this year in Uttar Pradesh, female police officers on Jan. 13 disrupted a Sunday worship service and arrested four women and two men, including the female pastor leading worship. At the police station, a female police officer physically assaulted the woman pastor, Sindhu Bharti, who fell unconscious.
“Boiling tea was forcibly thrust in her mouth because the police thought that she was feigning her unconsciousness,” an eyewitness, Madhu Bharati, told Morning Star News. “When that did not work, they poured two jugs of cold water on her face, not caring that it was already severely cold due to winter.”
Those arrested were charged with intent to hurt religious feelings, defilement of a place of worship and rioting, among other charges. The intervention of Christian leaders resulted in police freeing the arrested female Christians, but the men were kept under judicial custody.
Pastor Bharti received medical treatment for her injuries.
In the murders, two Christians were killed by Maoists, known as Naxalites, after area tribal people influenced the rebels in Odisha and Chhattisgarh respectively.
“Munglu Ram Nureti from Kohkameta village in Chhattisgarh was killed because villagers who were opposed to his practicing the Christian faith falsely reported him as a police informer to the Maoists,” Lal said. “Anant Ram Gond, from Nabarangpur in Odisha was killed a day before Munglu Ram Nureti in a similar but more gruesome manner. He was already being persecuted for his faith for some time. It has been reported and verified by credible sources that he was reported to be a police informer by villagers [who were angry at him becoming Christian] to the Maoists, which led to his killing.”
Gond had been living outside the village for some time after facing social boycott because of his faith, Lal said.
“There have been occurrences where Christians have been taken to temples and made to chant Hindu verses and seek forgiveness for the ‘sin’ of conversion,” he told Morning Star News. “At least two instances have been recorded where public banners against Christians have been placed outside Navsari, Gujarat and in Alangulam village near Tirunelveli in Tamil Nadu. The Navsari banners prohibit the entry of Christians in the town, while those in Tamil Nadu, apparently put up by the Hindu Munnani, reportedly ask the Hindus to awake against religious preaching in the village.”
Alliance Defending Freedom-India, which provides legal advocacy for Christians, reported on Feb. 19 that 29 incidents against Christians took place in January.
Throughout 2018, the EFIRLC documented 325 incidents against Christians in India. The previous year, it recorded 351 such cases, up from 230 in 2016.
Its 2018 annual report, “Hate and Targeted Violence against Christians in India,” released on Feb. 22, took note of the “sudden spurt of violence in a few districts of Uttar Pradesh, the country’s most populous province, and in Tamil Nadu in the extreme south of the subcontinent.”
The cases documented in the report are by no means exhaustive, as it was based on voluntary reporting and civil society investigations, it states. The EFIRLC said most cases go unreported, either because the victim and witnesses are terrified, or the police, especially in the northern states, turn a blind eye and refuse to record mandatory First Information Reports.
With general elections due in April-May, attempts at religious polarization were at an all-time high, the report noted. It added that the “small Christian community, 2.3 per cent of the 1.3 billion population, which seems to be targeted on issues of conversion, is also collateral victim of the hate crimes against the much larger Muslim community, which is about 15 percent.”
Over 40 percent, or 132, of the documented incidents in the 2018 report took place in the state of Uttar Pradesh, where Christians were targeted the most. This was followed by Tamil Nadu with 40 incidents, while Telangana came third with 24.
The increase of incidents in Uttar Pradesh can be attributed to the systematic campaign against Christians in the eastern part of the state, particularly Jaunpur District, where 45 incidents were documented, according to the report.
Churches in Jaunpur have been targeted through a systematic campaign involving Hindu extremist groups, media, local politicians and the state administration, according to the report. Arrests and detention of pastors and the stopping of church services have become commonplace.
Uttar Pradesh is the most populous state of India, home to almost 17 percent of the country’s population. Christians make up only 0.18 percent of the state’s population.
The state is currently led by Yogi Adityanath, who along with being the chief minister is also the high priest of the Gorakhnath temple in Gorakhpur. The chief minister is also founder of the Hindu Yuva Vahini, a Hindu youth militia that has been involved in communal violence and in targeting religious minorities.
India is ranked 10th on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2019 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian. India was ranked at 31st in 2013 but has been ranked worse each year since Narendra Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party came to power in 2014.
“We are still collecting and verifying information almost on a daily basis,” Lal said.
(Morning Star News) – Police in Sri Lanka arrested a Christian who reported a Buddhist mob’s threat on his life, according to an advocacy group in the island country.
In Nattandiya, in Sri Lanka’s North Western Province, six area Buddhists on Jan. 26 threatened to attack the Christian if he refused to stop inviting a pastor to lead Bible studies at his house, the National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka (NCEASL) reported.
The next day (Jan. 27), the Christian (name withheld for security reasons) filed a complaint about the threat on his life at the Marawila police station, in Puttalam District. This upset the six Buddhists, and with others they formed a mob on Jan. 29 that headed toward his house with intent to assault him, the NCEASL reported.
Before they could get near his house, a friend notified the Christian of their approach and tried to stop them, resulting in a fight in which one of the Buddhists was injured and received hospital treatment, a source said.
“Exact details are not known, however, his injury was not very serious,” the source told Morning Star News.
The Christian was not present at the fight, but the injured Buddhist filed an assault complaint against him, the source said. Police arrested the Christian, who remained in custody at this writing.
Violence and Harassment
Violence and harassment against Christians have been persistent in Sri Lanka, where the population is about 70 percent Buddhist and 13 percent Hindu, with attacks by Hindus on the upswing.
In Western Province’s Kalutara District, officers last month summoned a pastor of the New Covenant Life Centre at Millaniya to the Millaniya police station after a temple monk and several villagers complained that he was leading worship without official permission, according to the NCEASL.
The station chief ordered the pastor to stop religious activities until he received approval from the local divisional secretary, even though such approval is not required, a source said.
In the country’s Eastern Province, unidentified motorcyclists on Jan. 12 disrupted the worship service of Gethsemane Gospel Church in Kurumanveli, Batticaloa District, NCEASL reported.
Shouting obscenities, the mob called for the pastor to come out of the church building. He refused and later filed a police complaint at the Kalawanchikudi police station. Police investigated but told the pastor to settle the matter, and he reached an undisclosed agreement with the instigators.
Cases of intimidation, discrimination, threats, violence, false allegations, legal challenges, demands for church closures, police inaction and demonstrations persist in Sri Lanka but are rarely reported in mainstream media. The NCEASL recorded six cases against Christians since the beginning of January – three threats, two cases of discrimination and one false allegation. In January 2018, the alliance recorded eight cases, and five cases in January 2017.
In 2018, NCEASL reported a total of 86 cases of violence against Christians in Sri Lanka, compared with 93 incidents in 2017, 80 incidents in 2016 and 90 in 2015. The highest number of incidents recorded in 2018 came under the category of threats against Christians, with 20 cases, according to NCEASL figures.
This was followed by 19 incidents of violence; 14 of intimidation; 12 each of discrimination and demands for closure of worship places; three of false allegations; two each of police inaction and registration of cases against Christians; and one each in the categories of legal challenges and demonstrations.
Sri Lanka ranked 46th on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2019 World Watch Listing of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian, from its previous rank of 44th.
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.
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.”
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.
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)