VOICE OF THE PERSECUTED

Category Archives: Asia

Asia Bibi, her Sakharov Prize nomination and Blasphemy laws in Pakistan

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

(Voice of the Persecuted) For 7 years, Asia Bibi has clung to Jesus as she sits in a Pakistani prison facing a death sentence. The Christian mother of 5 upholds she is innocent of the charge, but her court appeals have been postponed to an undetermined date. Extremists have promised to kill Bibi if she is released from prison and her death sentence not upheld. Those exonerated of blasphemy charges are at great risk, even murdered by radicals when released. Christian Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti was also murdered for opposing the blasphemy laws and advocating on her behalf. Some extremists blame her for his death.

Note: Muslims consist of an overwhelming 96 percent of the population in Pakistan. Pakistan’s blasphemy law is often misused by Muslims to attack Christians and other religious minorities to settle personal issues.

Recently Asia was listed as one of the nominees for the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.  The Prize is an initiative of the EU Parliament and is awarded to individuals or groups battling to defend fundamental human rights. Describing Bibi’s nomination, Polish ECR member Anna Fotyga said,

“Her behaviour and dignity in prison all these years is the best proof of her being able to present the dignity of a defender of human rights in the face of the worse fate. We look forward to a final sentence from the supreme court eventually acquitting her.”

Though Bibi is not on the updated short list, her initial nomination brought renewed attention on Pakistan’s unfair blasphemy laws.

Read this OP-ED by Kaleem Dean:

Here in Pakistan, Asia Bibi remains a Christian prisoner of faith. Yet as her seventh year on death row draws to a close – it seems that the outside world has not forgotten about her. For she has been nominated for the prestigious Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought 2017.

The Prize is an initiative of the EU Parliament and is awarded to those individuals or groups battling to defend fundamental human rights. Asia Bibi is in good company. Among this year’s nominees are: a Guatemalan human rights campaigner, two members of the Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), a Swedish-Eritrean playwright, journalist and writer and a Burundian human rights activist.

Asia Bibi has suffered long and hard. Her status as a prisoner of faith was taken up by the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), a political group that enjoys strong presence within the EU Parliament. And it is this backing that has made her a serious contender for the Sakharov Prize. SEE MORE (recommended)

Pray for Pakistan

  • Pray for our sister, Asia Bibi
  • Pray for God’s healing power
  • Pray for God’s mercy
  • Pray for the light of Christ to shine through this darkness
  • Pray for comfort, knowledge, wisdom and guidance
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“Our Lives Have Turned into Hell”

Report Series: Muslim Persecution of Christians, May 2017 by Raymond Ibrahim (Gatestone Institute)

  • Long touted as a beacon of Muslim tolerance and moderation, Indonesia joined other repressive Muslim nations in May when it sentenced the Christian governor of Jakarta, known as “Ahok,” to a two-year prison term on the charge that he committed “blasphemy” against Islam.
  • The blasphemy accusation is based on a video that Ahok made, in which he told voters that they were being deceived if they believed that Koran 5:51, as his opposition said, requires Muslims not to vote for a non-Muslim when there are Muslim candidates available. The Koran passage states: “O you who have believed, do not take the Jews and the Christians as allies. They are allies of one another. And whoever is an ally to them among you — then indeed, he is one of them.”
  • “Morocco’s 2011 constitution allows for freedom of religion. The authorities claim to practice only a moderate form of Islam that leaves room for religious tolerance. Yet, in reality, Moroccan Christians still suffer from persecution.” Mustafa said: “I was shunned at work. My children were bullied at school.”

One month after Islamic militants bombed two Egyptian churches during Palm Sunday and killed nearly 50 people in April 2017, several SUVs, on May 26, stopped two buses transporting dozens of Christians to the ancient Coptic Monastery of St. Samuel the Confessor in the desert south of Cairo. According to initial reports, approximately ten Islamic militants, heavily armed and dressed in military fatigues, “demanded that the passengers recite the Muslim profession of faith” — which is tantamount to converting to Islam. When they refused, the jihadis opened fire on them, killing 29 Christians, at least ten of whom were young children. Two girls were aged 2 and 4. Also killed was Mohsen Morkous, an American citizen described as “a simple man” whom “everyone loved,” his two sons, and his two grandsons.

According to eyewitness accounts, the terrorists ordered the passengers to exit the bus in groups:

“As each pilgrim came off the bus they were asked to renounce their Christian faith and profess belief in Islam, but all of them—even the children—refused. Each was killed in cold blood with a gunshot to the head or the throat.

“By the time they killed half of the people, the terrorists saw cars coming in the distance and we think that that is what saved the rest,” said one source. “They did not have time to kill them all. They just shot at them randomly and then fled.”

According to another report:

“The dead and dying lay in the desert sand amid Islamic leaflets left by the assailants extoling the virtues of fasting during Ramadan and forgiveness granted to those who abstain from eating during the Islamic ritual. Ramadan … is often seen as the worst time for persecution of Christians who live in the Middle East.”

video of the immediate aftermath “showed at least four or five bodies of adult men lying on the desert sand next to the bus; women and other men screamed and cried as they stood or squatted next to the bodies.” According to a man who spoke to hospitalized relatives, “authorities took somewhere from two to three hours to arrive at the scene.” The man “questioned whether his uncle and others might have lived had the response been quicker.

The attack occurred in the middle of a three-month state of emergency that began 47 days earlier, on Sunday, April 9, when twin attacks on Coptic Christian churches left some 49 Christians slaughtered. The December before that, 29 other Christians were killed during another set of twin attacks on churches. Both before and after the monastery attack, dozens of Christians, mostly in Sinai, but some in Egypt proper, were killed in cold blood, often decapitated or burned alive. According to a May 9 report, “A [Christian] father and his two sons were recently kidnapped by ISIS and their bodies were finally found over the weekend.”

Days before the latest attack on Middle Eastern Christians, Fox News journalist Shannon Bream announced a forthcoming television segment on the growth of Christian persecution around the world. In response, Matthew Dowd of ABC News tweeted , “Maybe you can talk about the bigger problem which is persecution of Muslims in America and around the globe. Bigger issue…. Muslims are threatened every day in America, by right wing Christian extremists.” Christians, however, are currently the world’s most persecuted religion: 90,000 died for their faith in 2016. And 12 of the 14 worst nations in which Christians are persecuted are Islamic. (The two that are not are North Korea and Eritrea.)

The rest of May’s roundup of Muslim persecution of Christians around the world includes, but is not limited to, the following:

Muslim Slaughter of Christians

Mexico: On May 15, a knife-wielding Muslim attacked and tried to behead a Catholic priest while he officiated at the altar of the nation’s largest cathedral, the Metropolitan Church of Our Lady of the Assumption. The assailant, apparently named John Rene Rockschiil and possibly of French origin, managed to plunge the knife into the neck of Fr. Miguel Angel Machorro, 55, before being restrained by parishioners. Fr. Miguel later died of his wounds.

Germany: A Muslim man and asylum-seeker stabbed and killed a Christian woman with a kitchen knife in front of her two children near a public market. Those who knew the slain woman, an Afghan who had converted to Christianity eight years earlier, said she was a successful “example of integration”. “A religious motivation is being examined” said officials— apostasy from Islam does earn death — “although we cannot confirm this yet,” police spokesman Stefan Sonntag said.

Philippines: In late May, a jihadi uprising of Philippine Muslim militants, including ISIS-linked Indonesians and Malaysians, erupted in the Islamic City of Marawi. In the initial carnage, Muslim militants stopped a bus, and when they discovered that nine passengers were Christian, they were tied together and shot dead, execution style. “I am pissed by those kinds of people,” said a local. “They kill defenseless people. The militants also torched a school and a church. One official called the violence an “invasion by foreign terrorists, who heeded the call of Isis to go to the Philippines if they find difficulty in going to Iraq and Syria.” It took more than three days for the military to quell the uprising; meanwhile, 15 members of the security forces and 31 militants were killed.

Kenya: On May 12, two militant Muslims shouting “Allahu Akbar” — and suspected of being connected to neighboring Somalia’s Al Shabaab terrorist group — shot and killed two non-Muslims, one of whom was a member of a Pentecostal Church. According to the report, “Predominantly Christian workers from Kenya’s interior have been targeted in a series of Al Shabaab attacks that have shaken Christian communities in Kenya’s northeast”. “These Al Shabbab militants,” said a local Christian leader, “have made some of our Christians to be their scapegoats, as they see Kenya as a Christian country that is fighting to rid Al Shabaab from Somalia.”

Muslim Attacks on Churches and Crosses

Sudan: On Sunday morning, May 7, as Christians were preparing to worship in the Sudanese Church of Christ in Khartoum, authorities arrived with bulldozers and demolished the church. The government, according to the report, claims the church was “built on land zoned for residential or other uses, or… on government land, but church leaders said it is part of wider crack-down on Christianity.” A lawyer, Demas James, said that Sudan was in serious violation of constitutional and international conventions of human rights, and that the building being destroyed on a Sunday shows the government’s lack of respect for Christian holy places: “You can see there is no place for worship left now for the believers to worship.” The demolished church is one of 25 church buildings marked for demolition on the claim that the churches were illegally built. The government has yet to shut down or demolish a single mosque on the same claim.

Austria: Someone described as a “dark skinned immigrant” was videotaped by a bystander’s phone camera throwing things and striking at the large cross in front of the St. Marein parish with a long pole, and causing 15,000 euros’ worth of general damage. Police eventually subdued the “apparently insane man” and took him “to a hospital.” There have been countess instances of Muslim refugees attacking churches and other Christian symbols — the cross, and statues and icons as well — in every European nation that has accepted Muslim migrants.

Bangladesh: The evening of May 10, a Muslim mob vandalized and invaded the Seventh Day Adventist Church in Khagrachhari district. According to the church’s pastor, Stephen Tripura:

“They stormed into the church after kicking and smashing in the door. They attempted to rape my sister and niece who live there by tearing off their clothes. After hearing their cries, local Christians rushed over to help and the attackers fled. My sister and niece moved here to get an education but now they are traumatized…. We didn’t file a case for fear of angering local Muslims further and inviting more violence.”

Islamic Attacks on Christian Freedom

Indonesia: Long touted as a beacon of Muslim tolerance and moderation, Indonesia joined other repressive Muslim nations in May when it sentenced the Christian governor of Jakarta, known as “Ahok,” to a two year prison term on the charge that he committed blasphemy against Islam. According to one report, “The blasphemy accusation was key in Ahok’s defeat in a bid to be re-elected as governor of Jakarta,” and “Islamic extremist groups opposed to having a non-Muslim lead the city organized massive demonstrations against Ahok.” The blasphemy accusation is based on a video that Ahok made in which he told voters that they were being deceived if they believed that Koran 5:51, as his opposition said, requires Muslims not to vote for a non-Muslim when there are Muslim candidates available. The Koran passage states:

“O you who have believed, do not take the Jews and the Christians as allies. They are allies of one another. And whoever is an ally to them among you—then indeed, he is one of them.”

Effigy used in recent protests against Jakarta’s Christian Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama falsely accused of blasphey.

A five-judge panel concluded that Ahok was “convincingly proven guilty of blasphemy.”

Pakistan: A Christian pastor who has been “tortured every day in prison” since July, 2012 when he was first incarcerated, was sentenced to life in prison in May. Zafar Bhatti, 51, was found guilty of sending “blasphemous”[1] text messages from his mobile phone, but human rights activists contend that the charge “was fabricated to remove him from his role as a Pastor.” His wife, Nawab Bibi, says:

“Many Muslim people hated how quickly his church was growing; they have taken this action to undermine his work… I wish our persecutors would see that Christians are not evil creatures. We are human beings created by God the same God that created them although they do not know this yet… There have been numerous attempts to kill my husband — he is bullied everyday and he is not safe from inmates and prison staff alike.”

In 2014, he “narrowly escaped assassination after a rogue prison officer,” Muhammad Yousaf, went on a shooting spree “to kill all inmates accused of blasphemy against Islam.” Bhatti is one of countless Christian minorities to suffer under Pakistan’s blasphemy law, which has helped make that country the fourth-worst nation in the world, after North Korea, Somalia, and Afghanistan, in which to be Christian. Asia Bibi, a Christian wife and mother has been on death row since 2010 on the accusation that she insulted Muhammad.

As Bhatti was being sentenced to life in Pakistan, all charges against Noreen Leghari — a 20-year-old Muslim medical student who was arrested in connection to a planned suicide attack on a church packed for Easter celebrations — were dropped and she was set free. During a televised public statement, Major General Asif Ghafoor, voicing public concern and compassion for her, and indicated that it would be a shame to destroy her career. As Wilson Chowdhry, a human rights activist, remarked, however:

“How many of these same Pakistani citizens would be so forgiving had Miss Legahri planned to bomb a Muslim School?…. If it were Muslims that were targeted by Legahri I am certain many of the campaigners would find her crime too offensive for granting a pardon – Christian lives are ostensibly less valuable in Pakistan…. It is hard to believe the deep-rooted hatred that Miss Leghari had towards Christians that led to her becoming a suicide recruit, has simply vanished…. I asked several Pakistani Christians whether they would trust a doctor who had previously attempted to bomb a Church on Easter Day, to administer care for them. It was no surprise to me that the unanimous response was a resounding no.”

Morocco: Converts to Christianity in the 99.6% Muslim majority nation are coming out of the closets, complaining of their treatment and “demand[ing] the right to give our children Christian names, to pray in churches, to be buried in Christian cemeteries and to marry according to our religion,” said Mustapha, a convert since 1994, who, along with other converts, wrote a request to the official National Council of Human Rights to end the persecution of Christians in Morocco. According to the report, “even though the state religion is Islam, Morocco’s 2011 Constitution allows for freedom of religion. The authorities claim to practice only a moderate form of Islam that leaves room for religious tolerance. Yet, in reality, Moroccan Christians still suffer from persecution.” Accordingly, “[f]or two decades, Mustapha kept his faith in Christ secret.” When he finally came out in public about his conversion less than two years ago, all his friends and family “turned their backs on me,” he said: “I was shunned at work. My children were bullied at school.”

Muslim Contempt and Hate for Christians

Iraq: One of the Shia-majority nation’s leading Shia clerics, Sheikh Alaa Al-Mousawi — who heads the government body which maintains all of Iraq’s Shia holy sites, including mosques and schools — described Christians in a video as “infidels and polytheists” and stressed the need for “jihad” against them.

Pakistan: Mian Mir Hospital, which is run by the City District Government of Lahore, was exposed as forcing Christian paramedics and staffers “to either recite verses from the Holy Quran at morning assembly or be marked absent for the day,” says a report. This news came to light when the Medical-Superintendent, Dr. Muhammad Sarfraz, “slapped a Christian paramedical staffer for not attending the assembly.” The act led to staff protests against Dr. Muhammad and other supervisors. “Experts said extremism was creeping into public hospitals and was a massive concern for law enforcement agencies,” continues the report.

Separately, when a Christian girl in the Pakistani public school system sought “to study Ethics rather than Islamic Studies because of her Christian beliefs,” says a report, her Muslim teacher informed her that “if she refused to take a class in Islamic studies, she must leave…. The teacher also ordered her Muslim students to avoid eating with the Christian girl because of her faith.” According to the teenage Christian girl, Muqadas Sukhraj, her problems started in early April:

“… class teacher, Zahida Parveen unnecessarily began creating problems for me and expressing her displeasure with me because I chose Ethics. First, the teacher argued over the textbook of the Ethics class. Then she sent me out of the class as punishment. Later, she told me that if I could not study Islamic education, then why do I study in a Muslim school in the first place? She even told me, that, when she comes into the class, I must leave.”

Much of this is in keeping with ongoing revelations, including a 2016 report by Pakistan’s National Commission for Justice and Peace, which found that the government continues to issue textbooks that promote religious hatred for non-Muslims.

Also separately, after a fist fight broke out when a Muslim teenager snatched a Christian teenager’s phone, a mob of armed Muslims responded by attacking Christians in Phul Nagar, District Kasur in Punjab Province. According to the report:

“The armed men pitilessly bashed every person who came in their sight on the streets. What is more they stormed into the houses of Christians and sta[r]ted beating the Christians. They also resorted to aerial firing, therefore, causing terrors and harassment in the entire neighborhood. The attackers did not spare Christian women, and beat them also.”

Christians informed local police, who did not arrest any of the assailants, although they are known to police by name and face.

Uganda: Area Muslims continue to hound Pastor Christopher James Kalaja for having filed a court case against sword-waving, “Allahu Akbar”-screaming Muslims who earlier destroyed his farm, home, and church. “We just want to inform you that the battle is now on, and you risk losing the whole family,” read one text message he received after formally filing a police case. According to his wife, who lives in hiding, he “makes a brief appearance at our current residence because the Muslims are trailing him. They can do anything to kill him, so as [to] stop the court case to proceed since he is the key witness.” The couple’s seven children are also “very fearful” and constantly asking “Why are we here? What have we done that we are undergoing such a great suffering?” “These are questions that I cannot answer,” said the mother. “I only tell the children to pray.”

Nigeria: Janet Habila, a 16-year-old Christian youth leader and daughter of “a devoted church leader with the United Mountain of Grace in Shundna village,” was forced to convert to Islam and marry a Muslim man against her will. According to the report, the Christian girl “was enrolled in the tailoring institute in 2016 by her parents … but rather than learning the trade, the parents were shocked to receive a notification of her marriage through a Sharia court.” According to sources, a Muslim man named Nasiru “craftily organized some Muslim men and women in the area to stand as the parents of Janet in court to enable the marriage to take place.”

About this Series

While not all, or even most, Muslims are involved, persecution of Christians by Muslims is growing. The report posits that such Muslim persecution is not random but rather systematic, and takes place irrespective of language, ethnicity, or location.

Raymond Ibrahim is the author of Crucified Again: Exposing Islam’s New War on Christians(published by Regnery with Gatestone Institute, April 2013).

INDIA – Place of anti-Christian violence becomes a place of inspiration for Indian Christians

Christians pray in India

(Agenzia Fides) – The victims of anti-Christian violence perpetrated in the Indian state of Orissa in 2007 and 2008 “are testimonies of authentic faith, that overcame difficulties and persecution, and today inspire many people in India and abroad”: says Archbishop John Barwa, at the head of the Archdiocese of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar, in the Indian state of Orissa (or Odisha), to Agenzia Fides. The district of Kandhamal, theater of that violence, has become a “place of pilgrimage where one listens to the testimony of survivors and therefore share solidarity with the victims, where economically poor people, but strong and rich spiritually”, explains the Bishop.

Fides learned, a delegation of 45 women, representatives of 14 Indian regions, convened by the Bishops’ Conference of India for the National Meeting on “The Role of Women in creating the Family” gathered in Kandhamal. The delegation was led by Mgr. Jacob Mar Barnabas, President of the National Bishops’ Commission for Women and by Sister Talisha Nadukudiyil, Secretary of the Commission.

After the visit, Mgr. Jacob Mar Barnabas told Fides: “We visited a land of martyrs, we have a rich experience of faith that we must proclaim. These people need our solidarity. We shared their pain and suffering lived through faith in Jesus. These people shared his same cross. We too are called to live and proclaim that Christ is the Lord, like the people of Kandhamal. Their experience can be very important especially for young Indians”.

“We are called not to be just spectators. Before our brothers and sisters who have shown so much courage in defending faith, it is not enough to show sympathy and to listen to their story: it is necessary to engage, as a unique community, for the entire process of reconstruction. Only then our visit will be fruitful. This is a task for the entire Church in India”, added Mgr. Barnabas.
“My husband sacrificed his life so as not to not deny Christ. His sacrifice made me stronger in faith in Jesus. Every single breath I take today is the breath of faith in Jesus, which my husband witnessed with his life”, said to those present widow Kanakarekha Nayak, wife of Christian Parikit Nayak, attacked and tortured by Hindu militants.
“This visit caused emotion and I was really inspired and strengthened in the faith in Jesus”, says Chinama Jacob, a Catholic woman of Delhi, after listening to these stories. “I would like to come to Kandhamal and teach local students”, adds Mary Lucia from Tamil Nadu.
“Many women expressed the desire to economically and materially help the local community”, says Sister Bibiana Barla, regional secretary of the Bishop’s Commission in Orissa.

The whole group of women experienced so much love and affection from the villagers, despite their suffering and poverty. “Even if the people are poor and illiterate, their faith is firm in God’s word”, explains to Fides sister Talisha Nadukudiyil, promising commitment to nurturing co-operation and friendship.

In the wake of indiscriminate violence perpetrated in Kandhamal in 2008, about 100 Christians were killed by militant Hindu extremists, and the violence engulfed 600 Christian villages, 5,600 homes were looted, 295 churches and other places of worship destroyed, including 13 schools and leprosies. About 56,000 Christians in Kandhamal had to flee to save themselves and became refugees. During the violence, the faithful were told that the condition for them to remain in that district was to become a Hindu. (PA) (Agenzia Fides, 12/10/2017)

Blasphemy charges against 2 Christians and a Hindu in Pakistan

(Voice of the Persecuted) Our foreign correspondent (Asia) reported to Voice of the Persecuted (VOP) that blasphemy charges were laid against Bhola Ram, a 45-year old Hindu man, Vishal Tariq (18) and Adil Saleem Masih (25), both Christians. All three were employed at Civil Hospital Dunga Bunga as sweepers.

Bhola Ram, a government employee, is the main suspect in the case. He was relocated from Chak Panj Kosi, Southern Punjab to Donga Bunga. Ram had been transferred to work at Civil Hospital Dunga Bunga and an employees’ quarter was sanctioned for his stay. Among other things, he found the quarters filled with hospital records. He asked Dr. Kashif Nazir, the doctor in charge, about the records and was told to move them to the next room.

After Ram moved the records, he gathered all the trash and took it outside to be burned. While the trash was on fire, he saw what appeared to be pages containing verses of the Quran and he panicked. Not able move fast enough, due to a previously broken leg, he asked the two Christian boys to get the pages out of the fire.

VOP’s correspondent said,

“It’s worth noting that the Christians were so afraid of the situation that they risked themselves by going directly into the flames to save the pages. As a result, the hands and feet of both boys were burned.”

The report continued that a female health worker reported that Bhola Ram and the boys had burned pages of the Quran. Like wildfire, the news spread quickly causing journalists and locals to rush to the scene. It was alleged that the 3 accused were beaten by the people, but they denied it under pressure from the police.

FIR (police report) accused for blasphemy

The initial police report (FIR no. 1014/2017) was registered on September 28, 2017 against Bhola Ram and Vishal Tariq under section 295-B (Blasphemy law), 435, 201 and 109 of the Pakistani penal code. Muhammad Farooq, sub inspector at the police station, was the complainant. Adil Saleem Masih was not named in the report as one of the accused, but still alleged to be part of the incident. The FIR claimed the complainant received a call from a local journalist about the incident. When the police arrived at the scene, they were briefed of the situation and asked Dr. Nazir to write a statement and submit it to the police. In his statement, Dr. Nazir deliberately didn’t mention the burning of pages containing Quranic verses.

Ata-ur-Rehman, a district police officer (DPO) of Bahawalnagar, dismissed the FIR due to the support of the local lawyer community. They argued that Bhola Ram, being illiterate, could’nt have done what he was accused of. Religious groups present insisted the matter be brought to investigation, but DPO Ata ur Rehman maintained his position.

This is only one event where the accused have been freed without any damage, but there is no surety that they will be safe from violence or murder at the hands of extremists, warned the VOP correspondent.

Life-and-death Issue in Pakistan

Pakistan’s blasphemy cases have often evoked anger among groups in the majority Muslim country. This has led to extreme violence by large vigilante mobs and hardliners. Sadly, some have been murdered though later found innocent. Such was the case with Shahzad Masih (28yr) and his pregnant wife, Shama (25yr) who were brutally tortured, thrown into a brick kiln furnace and burned to death in an act of sheer barbarism by a vicious mob. The couple had three young children. See our report 

Often the accused are continually considered guilty of blasphemy even though they have been exonerated from all charges. AMNESTY International shared that Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are often used against religious minorities and others who are the target of false accusations, while emboldening vigilantes prepared to threaten or kill the accused.

The report, “As good as dead”: The impact of the blasphemy laws in Pakistan, shows how people accused of blasphemy face a grueling struggle to establish their innocence. Even if a person is acquitted of the charges against them and released, usually after long delays, they can still face threats to their life. View report 

We witnessed this in the case of a young, mentally-challenged girl falsely accused of blasphemy. Rimsha Masih was arrested in August 2012 and accused of burning the pages of some Islamic texts. She was jailed after angry crowds threatened to burn Christian homes in the Islamabad Christian neighborhood where her family lived. The charge against Rimsha was brought to the attention of the global community and caused international outcry. The case against her later collapsed after police were informed the cleric of the mosque in Rimsha’s area had planted the burned pages on her. Pakistani courts eventually threw out the charges citing a lack of evidence, which angered many.  The cleric was arrested for the false accusation, but later released without penalty, again, due to lack of evidence.

Following the infamous blasphemy case over 400 Christian families from her neighborhood were forced to flee due to serious threats. Rimsha, who had faced the possibility of the death penalty, was secretly evacuated from the country and given asylum in Canada where she now resides with her family.

Please pray for our brothers and sisters in Pakistan and for those who’ve fled persecution to seek asylum, but now face extreme hardship and discrimination in places such as Thailand.

VOP is on the ground in Thailand. 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.

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PAKISTAN – Discrimination against religious minorities is “institutionalized”

The campaign “Green for White”, with reference to the Pakistani flag, where green indicates the Muslims and white representing religious minorities.

Lahore (Agenzia Fides) – The government of the Pakistani region of Sindh, in the south of Pakistan, issued a public competition announcement at the end of September for some jobs in the police administration. Among the positions: person in charge of maintenance, car mechanic, laborer and also “cleaner”. For this latter occupation it is specified: “For non-Muslims only”. This is an institutionalized religious discrimination.
“This wording is a flagrant violation of Article 26 of the Constitution of Pakistan, which, among the fundamental rights, explicitly speaks of ‘non-discrimination’ regarding the access to public places, towards all citizens”, said to Fides Anjum James Paul, Pakistani Catholic professor and president of the “Pakistan Minorities Teachers’ Association” (PMTA).

Anjum James Paul was a schoolmate of Shahbaz Bhatti, the Catholic minister who was killed, and shared his commitment to human rights and the promotion of religious minorities in the country. Today he says to Fides: “It is a discrimination carried out by the state. It is a shameful treatment reserved to religious minorities. According to the Constitution, all citizens have equal rights and duties. It is time to put an end to this discriminatory practice not only in social relations but also in state institutions and structures. The regional government of Sindh should also follow the disposition to reserve religious minorities 5% of the state seats available, in every order and degree, but it does not”.

The theme of discrimination against religious minorities in Pakistan cyclically comes back in public debate on the occasion of the “National Day of Minorities”, which is celebrated in the nation every August 9. “Non-Muslim Pakistani citizens are forced to accept more humble jobs, which are reserved for them, such as cleaners, stretcher-bearers, domestic workers, street cleaners”, said Samson Salamat of the Rwadari Tehreek organization.

Religious minorities in Pakistan recall the well-known speech of Ali Jinnah, founder of Pakistan, who on August 11, 1947 in the constituent assembly declared: “We are all citizens of the same State. We should keep this principle before us as our ideal. So one will discover that over the years Hindus will cease to be Hindu and Muslims will cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because this is the personal faith of every individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State”.

Since the birth of Pakistan, in 1947, religious minorities were conceived as “an integral part of the nation” by Ali Jinnah, to the point that their presence is also symbolically on the national flag, where the green part represents the Muslim majority, while the white part indicates non-Muslim minorities.

Today, civil society forums call on the government for constitutional reforms in order to put an end to discrimination and prejudice, ensuring effective political participation and representation to religious minorities.

Pakistan is characterized by religious, ethnic and linguistic pluralism: Muslims are over 90% of 180 million people, but there are Ahmadis, Christians, Baha’is, Buddhists, Hindus, Jainists, Jews, Parsites and Sikhs. In general, minorities account for about 8% of the population. (PA) (Agenzia Fides, 6/10/2017)

PAKISTAN – Case of the Christian student killed in school taken to Parliament

Photo: Youtube

(Agenzia Fides) – “The case of Sharon Masih is tragic and a shame for the country. It is necessary to act urgently. That is why I have asked all members of the National Assembly to reconsider the issue of the school curricula reform in Pakistan as a priority and I have asked to introduce the theme ‘inter-religious harmony’ as a subject in all public schools of every order and degree of study”: says to Agenzia Fides Christian parliamentarian Khalil George, who on 12 September spoke to the Pakistani Parliament concerning the case of the lynching of Christian student Sharon Masih, who was killed in school on August 30 by his Muslim peers (see Fides 2/9/2017 and 13/9/2017). As Fides learns, the serious question was listened and discussed by legislators. The episode, notes the Christian parliamentarian, “is an opportunity to reiterate the curriculum reform in schools”.

“Intolerance and religious hatred towards minorities are instilled in the minds of students through study programs. Instead, they should be based on inter-religious harmony, the basis for social cohabitation”, he explains to Fides. In the case of Masih, George adds, “serious action must be taken against the perpetrators, and the assassin must be punished according to the law”.

Khalil George also announces that he will present an official request to name the school, where he was lynched, after Sharon Masih. “And the victim’s parents, who live poorly, must be supported by the government”, he notes.

Other details of Sharon Masih’s story emerge. According to the reconstruction of some family members, one of the pretexts used by Muslim students to hit him (Masih was the only Christian in a class of 70 students) is “having used a glass used by all other students to drink water”. “Sharon was beaten up and the teachers did nothing to stop the violence”, they say. One of the teachers who attended school this morning told the police that he had not seen anything, as he was “busy reading a newspaper”.

The Pakistan Minorities Teachers Association, founded and led by Catholic Professor Anjum James Paul, said: “As confirmed by our studies, many textbooks adopted in schools contain sentences that give a distorted vision and fuels hatred and discrimination against non-Muslims. We are trying to convince the government to change this situation. We want to help make Pakistan a state in which people belonging to religious minorities feel and live as an integral part of the nation”. (PA) (Agenzia Fides, 14/9/2017)


 

Persecuted Christians pressured to return to homeland under threat of persecution

Christian asylum seeker worries for 1 yr. old son born in Thailand

 

Bangkok Thailand (Voice of the Persecuted)  – Pakistani Christians fleeing persecution face much discrimination receive little help while seeking asylum through the UNHCR. Instead of a reprieve, most are living in horrid conditions with little to no support. They are unable to legally work and therefore unable to shelter or feed themselves or their children. Cries of hunger from the little ones is a heartbreaking reality for many parents. Their poor children are not even allowed to attend school.

Pakistani Christian asylum seekers at risk of arrest

Thailand is not a signatory to the 1951 refugee convention and considers these asylum seekers, who hold UNHCR asylum seeker cards, as being illegals in the country. The are live in constant fear of being arrested and sent to the IDC, or worse, the Central Jail. Imagine years of going through this process waiting to be approved and sent to a host country. High blood pressure and depression is common even for young adults.

Many Pakistani Christians in Thailand are now being denied asylum status. When the UNHCR denies asylum, the applicant is given 30 days to appeal against the decision or their case file is automatically closed. If they decide to appeal, then their cards are extended for another year.  If the applicant decides not to appeal, then they must file an application in writing to be repatriated which they can do through the International Organization for Migration (IOM) who are accepting applications for those with active and closed files that want to repatriate.

Jackson, his wife and their 1 yr. old son, who was born in Thailand, is a family who had received support through Voice of the Persecuted’s relief program. Sadly are going back to Pakistan. After a series of devastating events, the couple made the very hard choice to leave Thailand and return to Pakistan. The UNHCR had recently denied their application for refugee status and told them it was safe for them to return despite the heavy impetus of ongoing persecution against Christians in Pakistan.

The family was extremely disappointed with the decision and did not want to go back as they feared for their lives in their homeland. Despite the UNHCR’s rejection, they were determined to stay in Thailand and appeal the denial. However, they were forced to review their decision when Jackson was called back to the Thai Immigration Detention Centre (IDC) on 31st August 2017.

Along with other asylum seekers, Jackson was arrested when Bangkok police and Thai immigration authorities carried out raids in March 2015. He went through a harrowing experience of staying in Central Jail with hardened criminals then subsequently moved to the IDC. He had been on a bail bond of 50,000 THB ($1500) since August 2015. He was required to report every 2 weeks to the Immigration Detention Center (IDC) and he had been punctual in doing so. In March 2017, his bail was in jeopardy as the IDC was in conflict with UNHCR. The IDC issued a notification that the bails of those who had not received refugee status from the UNHCR would be cancelled. At that time, approximately 200 asylum seekers were on bail. Like them, Jackson was still waiting for the status result and told to return to the IDC.

Miraculously, some charities and the UNHCR negotiated with the IDC to extend the deadline so the UNHCR would have more time to assess the cases. Unanimously it was decided that the IDC would extend its deadline till August 2017 and in return the UNHCR would give results of all those on bail. It is disturbing to note since then, all except one have been denied refugee status by UNHCR. Upon appeal, most have had their files closed and their UN identity cards confiscated. The closure of their UNHCR asylum file automatically gives the IDC the right to cancel the bail. However, Jackson’s case remained active because, in fear for his family’s situation, he never appealed against the UNHCR’s decision. He feared that the UNHCR would close their case if they appealed, so they requested for return tickets from the IOM instead.

The return process was also not easy for them. They needed travel documents to return. Jackson’s passport had been confiscated by the IDC and his son didn’t have a passport as he was born in Thailand. Jackson had to go to the Pakistan Embassy in Bangkok, Thailand where embassy officials treated him with disgust and humiliated him by calling him a traitor.

Jackson cried and told them that he had 1-year old son and asked them to have pity on him. The officials asked him to give a copy of his UN cards and told him to write in the application that he felt safe returning to Pakistan. Under pressure, he felt he had to write as they asked. We believe the Government of Pakistan will use such applications at an international level to prove its innocence despite its World Watch List status of the

VOP representative includes a message for our suffering brothers and sisters in the IDC

4th worst country to live as a Christian.

The young father pleaded to the Immigration to extend his bail by 4 more days as he had return tickets for this month, but they didn’t listen to him. He was put in the IDC while his wife remained outside with their son. They too have confirmed tickets. Jackson would be taken to the airport from the IDC and his wife travel alone with her son. She was also expected to pay 20,000 THB ($614) or else she would not be allowed to embark the flight. Because she evaded arrest during her stay in Thailand, the penalty of staying illegally in Thailand must be paid before she could leave. If the fine couldn’t be paid, she would have to stay, with her son, in the IDC for over 1 week before being allowed to leave the country. She feared her 1-year old son might contract a skin infection or other contagious diseases. Graciously, a Thai citizen paid her fine and airfare for the family. We are grateful for their compassion.

By Christian, VOP Asian Correspondent

“Blessed are those that are persecuted.” Matthew 5:11 

This appalling situation has forced ‘our brother and sister’ to make this high-risk decision. Our hearts are hurting for them and our prayers go with them.

Once in Thailand, the family will move to another province in effort to be safe from their persecutors, but there is no guarantee that they would ever be safe.

Please keep them in your prayers as they wanted to stay but were stuck in whirlpool of problems in Thailand’s harsh system which instigated their extremely hard choice to return.

VOP is on the ground in Thailand. 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

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!
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“It’s a War on Christians”: Muslim Persecution of Christians, April 2017

 

As in former years, Easter was under attack in various Muslim nations, most spectacularly in Egypt. On April 9, two Coptic Christian Orthodox churches packed with worshippers for Palm Sunday Mass, which initiates Easter holy week, were attacked by Islamic suicide bombers. Twenty-seven people—mostly children—were killed in St. George’s in Tanta, northern Egypt. “Where is the government?” an angry Christian there asked AP reporters. “There is no government! There was a clear lapse in security, which must be tightened from now on to save lives.” Less than two hours later, 17 people were killed in St. Mark’s Cathedral in Alexandria. Since the original building, founded by the Evangelist Mark in the first century, was burned to the ground during the seventh century Muslim invasions of Egypt, the church has been the historic seat of Coptic Christianity. Pope Tawadros, who was present—and apparently targeted—emerged unharmed. About 50 Christians were killed in the two bombings, 126 wounded and many mutilated. (Graphic images/video of aftermath here.)

A few days earlier, on April 1, 3,000 fatwas [opinions by Islamic authorities] inciting the destruction of churches in Egypt had been circulated throughout Egypt. A number of Egyptian Christians interviewed after the twin bombings said that government-funded mosques regularly incite hatred and violence for Christians over their loudspeakers. In other mosques, according to Michael, a middle-aged Christian, “there are prayers to harm Christians. They incite to violence, youths are being filled with hatred against us and acting on it. It concerns us all. It leads to terrorism and to Christians being targeted.” Separately a Christian woman said, “The problem starts at school where children are treated differently. In school some refused to speak to me because I was a Christian.”

In Nigeria, Muslim Fulani herdsmen randomly opened fire on a Christian village. According to Bishop Bagobiri, “The attack came when the people were in the church for the Easter Vigil celebration.” The Muslim gunmen killed “at least 12 persons on the spot, with many injured,” including women and children. Instead of celebrating Easter Sunday, the bishop and a local priest presided over the burial of “at least ten Catholics.” The bishop publicly accused the local governor, a Muslim, of complicity with the perpetrators and bias against their victims.

In Pakistan, a “major terrorist attack” targeting Christians during Easter celebrations was foiled, according to the nation’s military. An Islamic militant was killed and four soldiers injured during the raid. Among the Muslim terrorists arrested was a female second-year medical student who said she was preparing to “martyr” herself as part of a suicide attack on a church during Easter Sunday. Last year in Lahore, an Easter Day Islamic attack left more than 70 people dead.

In Indonesia, 300 Christians from two churches that remain sealed by authorities in West Java, celebrated their fifth Easter by protesting outside the presidential palace in hopes that the president lifts a banning order preventing them from holding services in their own houses of worship. Both churches are legally registered but “are being persecuted by local authorities who refuse to allow them to worship in (more…)

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