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Life Sentence for Pakistani Christian Changed to Death Penalty

Pakistan (Morning Star News) – Ruling in favor of an Islamist legal group’s petition, the Lahore High Court on March 10 changed a sentence of life imprisonment to the death penalty for a Christian convicted of sending a blasphemous text message in 2011.

The high court’s approval of an appeal for the criminal code revision filed by the Khatam-e-Nabuwwat Forum (KNF, or Movement for the Finality of the Prophethood) seeking the death penalty for such violations has raised fears of a surge in convictions under the controversial laws, sources said.

Relatives of Sajjad Masih, the convicted 36-year-old Christian, said Justice Malik Shahzad Ahmad Khan ruled in favor of the revised sentence and then sent Masih’s appeal to a division bench.

“Justice Shahzad has forwarded the appeal to a division bench to avoid pressure from KNF lawyers, and it’s most likely that this appeal, like other similar appeals, will continue to be delayed due to the fear factor,” one source said.

Masih’s appeal of the conviction has been pending with the Lahore High Court for the last seven years.

A trial court sentenced Masih, a member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Gojra town, Punjab Province, to life imprisonment in July 2013 for sending a controversial text message to a Muslim in December 2011, though there were several gaps in the prosecution’s case, according to his lawyer. Masih was also ordered to pay a fine of 314,500 rupees (US$2,010).

A large number of KNF lawyers swarmed the courtroom during a hearing on both Masih’s appeal and the KNF petition, an intimidation tactic designed to obtain convictions and harsh sentences, according to sources speaking on the condition of anonymity due to security fears.

“They told the judge that capital punishment was the only sentence for blaspheming against Islam’s prophet, and that Sajjad must be executed without delay,” said one source.

Pressure Tactics

Masih was charged under Section 295-C of the blasphemy laws, which states that “Whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine.”

In 1991, however, the Federal Shariat (Islamic) Court fixed death penalty as the only possible punishment for blasphemy, prompting attorney Ghulam Mustafa Chaudhry, president of the KNF, to assert, “The punishment for blasphemers is only death. There is no alternative.”

Since the KNF was founded 20 years ago, the number of blasphemy cases filed against Christians and other minorities in Punjab Province has greatly increased. Chaudhry says his group is representing almost every complainant in cases across Punjab.

“Hundreds of Khatam-e-Nabuwwat lawyers are using their expertise and influence across Punjab voluntarily to ensure that anyone insulting Islam or the Prophet Muhammad is charged, tried and executed,” he told Morning Star News.

Supreme Court Advocate Saif Ul Malook, a Muslim lawyer who has won freedom for Pakistan’s most high-profile blasphemy convict, Aasiya Noreen (better known as Asia Bibi), represents other Christians on death row. He agreed that Chaudhry and his group of lawyers were behind the increase in blasphemy cases, especially in Punjab.

Few Muslim lawyers are willing to put their life at risk by defending a person accused of blasphemy, particularly if they belong to a minority community, Malook said.

“The conduct of Khatam-e-Nabuwwat lawyers is very intimidating,” he said, adding that a crowd of lawyers once left him hardly any space to stand and shouted slogans as he tried to present his case to a judge.

The KNF has instilled fear in lower and higher courts with such pressure tactics, he said.

“I am defending a death-row couple, Shagufta Kausar and her paralyzed husband Shafqat Emmanuel, but their appeal against the conviction has been delayed by the high court on one pretext or the other for the past six years,” he said.

‘No One Safe’

No one in Pakistan has been executed for blasphemy so far, but jails are filling up with those sentenced to death.

False accusations are common and often motivated by personal vendettas or religious hatred. The highly inflammatory accusations have the potential to spark mob lynchings, vigilante murders and mass protests.

Church leaders and human rights defenders say the government’s failure to curb the misuse of the blasphemy laws was emboldening false accusers and outfits such as the KNF. Currently, 24 Christians are in prison due to blasphemy charges. They are defendants in 21 blasphemy cases at various levels of the judicial process.

“The blatant abuse of the law has imperiled the lives of all Pakistanis irrespective of their faiths,” Bishop Azad Marshall, president of the National Council of Churches in Pakistan, told Morning Star News. “While Christians and other minorities are more vulnerable, Muslims themselves are also targeted with fake allegations. Mere allegations are enough to destroy the lives of the accused and their families.”

Calling for an equally harsh punishment for false accusers, Marshall said that blasphemy allegations must be promptly and thoroughly investigated by an independent and impartial authority.

“The law should be amended so that the FIRs [First Information Reports] in all blasphemy cases are registered only after permission from the concerned government before the courts can take cognizance of them,” he added.

The bishop said that the government continually claims that it intends to curb misuse of the laws but has yet to make any concerted efforts.

“We will keep highlighting this issue during official meetings and at inter-faith dialogues, but it’s time the government realizes its long-term consequences for the country,” he said.

A Senate Special Committee on Human Rights and the Islamabad High Court in 2018 recommended that those making false blasphemy accusations be given the same punishments as those for blasphemy convictions, but the government dismissed the recommendation. The recommendation also stated that anyone registering a blasphemy case at a police station must bring two witnesses.

While punishment for blasphemy ranges from several years in prison to death in Pakistan, a person making a false accusation faces potential punishment of only six months in prison or a fine of 1,000 rupees (US$6). Successive governments have acknowledged that the blasphemy laws are blatantly misused, but little effort has been made to stop the abuses.

Rights activists say it’s unlikely that any government will move to repeal or amend the blasphemy laws due to fierce Islamist sentiments in the Muslim-majority country. They say Pakistani authorities must be urged to immediately implement effective procedural and institutional safeguards at the investigative, prosecutorial and judicial levels to prevent abuse of these laws.

The U.S. State Department on Dec. 7 re-designated Pakistan among nine other “Countries of Particular Concern” for severe violations of religious freedom. Previously Pakistan had been added to the list on Nov. 28, 2018.

Pakistan ranked fifth on Open Doors 2021 World Watch list of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.

Persecution Waych: Praying for Believers in Pakistan

3/18/2021 Pakistan: (Voice of the Persecuted) Population 208.4 million, Christians: 4, 05 million

Christians in Pakistan face extreme persecution in every area of their lives. Believers who have converted from Islam face the greatest levels of persecution, but all Christians are considered second-class citizens in this strongly Islamic country. They are given jobs perceived as low, dirty, and dishonorable, and can be victims of bonded labor. There are some Christians among the middle classes, but they are still considered inferior to their Muslim counterparts and often face severe workplace discrimination.

Christian girls are at risk of abduction, rape, and are often forced to marry their attackers and coerced into converting to Islam. [Annually up to 1,000 young Christian and Hindu girls aged between 12 and 25 are abducted by Muslim men, forcibly married and converted.] Pakistan’s notorious blasphemy laws are used to target Christians, and Islamic extremist groups vehemently “defend” these laws, including attacking or killing those believed to have contravened them.

Christian churches do exist, but those that are active in outreach face severe persecution from society. Pakistan remains one of the hardest places to live as a Christian, and violent persecution against Christians and church buildings continues to be particularly bad. Who is most vulnerable to persecution? All Christians are at risk of persecution in Pakistan, particularly those from a Muslim background. Open Doors raises prayer support for persecuted believers in Pakistan.

  • Pray to the Lord that His Holy Spirit will convict the religious rulers and that the infamous blasphemy laws will be invalidated.  Death penalty for defaming Mohamed.

 

  • Pray for courage for Christians in Pakistan to speak about their faith, despite their fears that their words may be used against them. Pray for wisdom for them, and that God will give them the right words to say.

 

  • Pray for protection over Pakistan’s churches, especially around holidays such as Christmas and Easter, when terrorist attacks have happened in the past.

 

  • Pray for protection for young Christian women and girls. Pray for those who have already been abducted and forced to convert and marry, that God will comfort them and give them strength. Pray they will know His love, even in their terrible circumstances

 

  •  Pray to the Lord that the Holy Spirit will guide the accused Christians in their defense as the blasphemy law which is often is misused to target the innocent. If you stay silent, they start suspecting. If you try to answer their allegations, they twist your statements. It must end.”

 

  • Pray that Believers have access to the Christian broadcasts and the internet.

 

  • Pray for Bible translation, as only 7 out of 70 languages have a NT. Many Urdu and Sindhi translations are old and outdated.
  • Pray to the Lord for unity among Christians for united prayer and cooperation.

 

  • Pray for spiritual leadership in the churches. Pray for humble and committed leaders with a passion to serve.

 

  • Pray to the Lord for more audio recordings of the word – officially literacy is 50 plus%, but more realistic is 30 plus % – depending on socio-economic and religious group.

 

  • Pray to the Lord for those who are responsible for the killings of Christians to be convicted with the fear of the Lord.

 

  • Pray that the NGOs will be protected. Pray that the Lord will make a difference as they minister to the persecuted Christians.
  • Pray the Lord will enable Christians to forgive their persecutors.

 

  • Pray that the Lord will raise up a vibrant church, that the forces of darkness can’t harm or hinder the growth of the church.

Again, we want to lift up persecuted witnesses to the Lord:

  •  Leah Sharibu, prisoner of Boko Haram since 2018, pray for her release.
  • Alice Loksha Ngaddah, kidnapped February 2019. She is a mother of two, working as a nurse for UNICEF. Pray for her release.
  •  Pray pastor Wang Yi to be released from prison.
  • Pray for Anita, a Christian convert facing a long prison term who escaped and now waiting for a visa to go to a country where she can express her faith openly.
  • For the release of Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani from Iran, and his family as their Persecution continues. Pastor Nadarkhani is serving the second year of his six-year sentence, recently reduced from ten years.

Andy, Persecution Watch Prayer Call Moderator

Prayer Conference Call Details

Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday

From any location on your phone

Time:

9:00 PM Eastern

8:00 PM Central

7:00 PM Mountain

6:00 PM Pacific

Call in number: 712 775-7035

Access Code: 281207#

Recommended: For those who may be subject to added charges for conference calls. Please download the app, it’s free!

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If you are experiencing any difficulties joining the call, please let us know.

What is Persecution Watch?
Persecution Watch is a U.S. national prayer conference call ministry that prays specifically for the global Persecuted Church. For over a decade, Blaine Scogin led this national network of believers who faithfully pray for the persecuted and the global harvest for the Kingdom of God.

The group meets via a free call-in service every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday night at 9pm Eastern (please check your time zone). Blaine also served as Prayer Director for Voice of the Persecuted and our missions became one. The prayer mission of Persecution Watch is an important part of our own.

With the passing of Blaine into glory on December 26, 2019, Voice of the Persecuted is committed to continue the prayer conference call for the persecuted along with our dedicated prayer warrior team.

On occasion, persecuted brothers and sisters have been invited on the call to share the trials they’re facing. The team serves to encourage them by washing their feet in Spirit led prayer.

Time is often reserved for those on the call to ask questions. We believe this helps to gain a better understanding of the situation that persecuted Christians endure in their specific nations. Q&A also helps us to focus our prayers based on their current needs.

Persecution Watch also hosts callers who want to pray united from other nations. If your heart is perplexed by the sufferings of our persecuted brothers and sisters, you no longer need to pray alone. We welcome all who desire to pray for the persecuted church and consider it a joy to pray together with you.

If you’re new to the call and can’t find your voice, listen in and pray silently or on mute. We are grateful and thank the Lord for bringing us all together to pray in agreement for our persecuted family in Christ. We can all be prayer warriors on this call!

NOTE: Persecution Watch has a new email address for the prayer team and those who would like to receive urgent prayer requests, weekly call prayer points and notification of special prayer events and special guest speakers.

Please fill out the form below to be included in our new distribution list to receive this important information. We are grateful for your prayers and to the Lord for guiding us as we continue the Persecution Watch prayer call mission.

Note to Voice of the Persecuted (VOP) readers: The Persecution Watch prayer team is also the prayer team of Voice of the Persecuted. SIGN UP today.

 

Father Recovers Forcibly Converted/Married Daughter

Police found Farah Shaheen, 12, chained in a home in Faisalabad, Pakistan on Dec. 5, 2020. (Morning Star News)

Kidnapped 12-year-old Christian girl in Pakistan was found chained in home of ‘husband.’ 

Pakistan (Morning Star News) – Asif Masih beamed with joy to have his 12-year-old daughter back home on Tuesday (Feb. 16) in Faisalabad, Pakistan following her alleged kidnapping and forcible conversion and marriage to a 45-year-old Muslim.

“Praise God, for He has answered our prayers and rescued my daughter,” Masih said hours after Faisalabad Session Judge Rana Masood Akhtar ordered that Farah Shaheen be released from a government shelter “because she wants to go with him.” In a Jan. 23 hearing, Farah had told the court that she wanted to live with her so-called husband, Khizar Hayat – a statement made under threats and pressure at the shelter, her lawyer said.

The court verdict states that since the marriage between Farah and Hayat was not registered and a Nikahnama (Islamic marriage contract) was not verified by the area union council, she could not be kept in the shelter indefinitely.

“She’s deeply traumatized and fearful, but my child is very happy to be back in her family,” Masih told Morning Star News. “Just when we thought that we had lost her, this miracle happened. May God keep all daughters in His protection.”

Masih, a Roman Catholic daily wage laborer, had fought for Farah’s recovery since she was allegedly kidnapped by three Muslims from the family’s home in the Ahmedabad area of Faisalabad in June. The child was allegedly raped, forcibly converted to Islam and forced to marry Hayat.

Although intercourse with a girl below age 16 is statutory rape in Pakistan, in most cases a falsified conversion certificate and Nikahnama influences police and courts to pardon kidnappers.

Hayat was taken into custody and released on bail, but he has yet to be charged for alleged kidnapping or rape, and fears for Farah’s security remain.

Police found Farah chained in the suspect’s home on Dec. 5 after Masih reported she had been kidnapped on June 25, and a judge ordered her to be kept in police custody; she was then sent to a government-run shelter home while her case went to court.

Church leaders and rights activists said they fear that such shelter homes, police and courts were facilitating the forced conversions of Christian girls.

Rights activist Lala Robin Daniel told Morning Star News that Hayat and his alleged accomplices would remain a threat to Masih and his family until they are taken into custody and punished.

“All those who were involved in this case should be given exemplary punishments so that people have a fear of the law,” Daniel told Morning Star News. “Unless stern legislation is brought against forced conversions of minor girls and the accused are punished, there is little hope for safety of our children.”

Legislation on Religious Conversion

A parliamentary panel on minorities has forwarded key legislation to the government on curbing forced conversions of minority girls in Pakistan, recommending that only adults should be allowed to change religion and only after appearing before a senior district judge.

The Parliamentary Committee to Protect Minorities from Forced Conversions on Tuesday (Feb. 16) recommended that the Stymie Forced Religious Conversion Bill be forwarded to the Senate, which will decide whether to forward the draft to the relevant ministry.

The bill includes recommendations for validating conversion, stating, “Any person who is not a child and able and willing to convert to another religion will apply for a conversion certificate from the additional sessions judge of the area where the person ordinarily resides.”

The bill calls for an application form that would include conversion candidates’ current religion, age, gender, national identity number, reason for conversion and details of parents, siblings, children and spouse if any.

The committee suggested that the additional sessions judge shall set a date for an interview within seven days of receipt of the application for conversion.

“On the date provided, the person shall present himself/herself before the additional sessions judge who shall ensure that the conversion is not under any duress and not due to any deceit or fraudulent misrepresentation,” the bill states.

The additional sessions judge may, upon the conversion candidates’ request, arrange his/her meeting with religious scholars of the religion the person wishes to convert to, according to the draft. A clause also empowers the additional sessions judge to grant 90 days to the person to undertake a comparative study of the religions and return to the office of the judge.

“Only after satisfaction, the additional sessions judge may issue the certificate of change of religion,” the draft states.

Skepticism

Church leaders endorsed the recommendations in the bill but questioned the will of the government to address the issue.

“This is not the first time such practical recommendations have been proposed to the government, but unfortunately all such pro-minority legislations are either put on the back-burner or outright dismissed under pressure from religious groups,” said Pakistan National Council of Churches President Bishop Azad Marshall.

The Senate’s Standing Committee on Religious Affairs recently rejected a bill seeking protection for Pakistan’s minorities against religiously motivated violence.

Committee chairman Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri, of the far-right Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, claimed in a Feb. 2 meeting that minorities in Pakistan already enjoyed “unprecedented religious freedom” and that therefore there was no need for more legislation. Sen. Sirajul Haq of the hard-line Jamaat-e-Islami derided the bill as part of the agenda of Non-Governmental Organizations.

Bishop Marshall said it was unfortunate that some religious leaders have created hindrances to such crucial legislation over the years.

“Forced conversions, misuse of blasphemy law, hate speech and religious violence are real issues affecting the minority communities that need to be tackled together as a national cause,” he said.

Former parliamentarian and rights advocate Mary James Gill said the protection for minorities bill introduced by her Muslim party colleague, Sen. Javed Abbasi, was a sincere effort to curb forced conversions and other issues facing non-Muslim citizens, especially Christians and Hindus.

“It’s time that the government and opposition parties should rise beyond party lines and seriously work on these issues,” she said. “Intolerance and extremism are increasing in our country, and if we don’t stop them now, this fire will eventually devour all of us.”

Gill lauded the recommendations made in the religious conversion bill but, like Bishop Marshall, she too voiced concern over how Islamist parties and groups would react to it.

“Religious leaders need to understand that legislation for protection of minorities does not mean an attack on their faith,” she said. “Matters like forced conversion and misuse of blasphemy laws are serious human rights issues, and all of us need to take a firm stand against it.”

Pakistan led the world in forced marriages, with about 1,000 Christians married against their will to non-Christians from November 2019 to October 2020, according to Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2021 World Watch List report. In terms of abductions, the report listed Pakistan as fourth with an estimated 100 kidnappings.

Overall, Pakistan was ranked No. 5 on the 2021 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.

According to the Center for Social Justice, 162 questionable conversions have appeared in the media since 2013. About 52 percent of allegedly forced conversions occurred in Punjab Province, and 44 percent in Sindh Province, while 1.23 percent each were reported in the federal and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa areas. One case was reported from Balochistan Province.

The data show that 54.3 percent of the girls and women were Hindu, 44.4 percent were Christian and 0.62 percent belonged to Sikh and Kalash communities.

More than 46.3 percent of the victims of forced conversion were minors – with 32.7 percent between the ages of 11 and 15 – while only 16.7 percent of the victims were above 18 years old, though lower courts did not always verify those ages through records of the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) and schools.

VOP Note: Please pray for the many Christian girls who are kidnapped, forced to convert and married to their abductors. They suffer horrific abuse with physical and mental injuries.

Christian Nurse and Two Studying Bible in Park Charged with Blasphemy

Pakistan (Morning Star News) – Police in Lahore, Pakistan have charged two Christians with blasphemy after Muslims objected to their Bible study in a park last weekend, the attorney for one of the accused said.

Haroon Ayub Masih, 26, and friend Salamat Mansha Masih, about the same age, were studying the Bible in Lahore’s Model Town Park on Saturday (Feb. 13) when a group of Muslims approached and told them they should not read the Bible in public, attorney Aneeqa Maria of The Voice Society said.

When Haroon Masih told them that reading the Bible in public was not a crime in Pakistan and that they had no right to stop them, the Muslims began questioning them about their Christian faith and asked if they had any reading material to help them understand the Bible, Maria said.

“On their insistence, Haroon gave them a Christian book entitled, ‘Zindagi Ka Paani’’ or ‘Water of Life,’” said Maria, who represents Haroon Masih. “The youths took the book and left Haroon and Mansha for the time being.”

Haroon Masih returned home a few minutes later, while Mansha Masih remained in the park, she said.

“A few minutes later, the Muslim youths returned to the spot where Mansha was present and attacked him, claiming that he and Haroon had blasphemed against their prophet,” Maria told Morning Star News. “They also summoned the park’s security and lied to them that the two Christians were evangelizing to Muslims in the park and had used derogatory words for the Koran and the prophet [Muhammad].”

Maria said someone from the group of Muslim friends, which was led by Haroon Ahmed, then called the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), a far-right Islamist political party reportedly behind most blasphemy cases against Christians and the Ahmadiyya, a sect originating in Islam that Muslims repudiate. A TLP co-founder, Muhammad Afzal Qadri, called for the death of three Supreme Court justices involved in the 2018 acquittal of Christian Aasiya Noreen (Asia Bibi), who had been wrongly convicted of blasphemy and condemned to death.

TLP leaders arrived, and under their pressure police registered a case against the two Christians for derogatory remarks against Muhammad (Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code), punishable by death; defiling the Koran (Section 295-B), punishable by imprisonment for life and fine; and deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings (Section 295-A), punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a fine, Maria said. The complainant is listed as Haroon Ahmed.

“Mansha was taken into custody from the spot, while we have managed to obtain pre-arrest bail for Haroon Masih till Feb. 24,” she said. “Haroon and Mansha were not preaching to the Muslims as alleged in First Information Report [FIR] No. 61/21. In fact, they were reading the Bible and discussing it amongst themselves when a group of Muslim boys, including Ahmed, overheard them and objected to their Bible study.”

She said both Christians come from poor families, and Haroon Masih’s family has had to go into hiding out fear for their safety.

“Haroon will now join the investigation and record his statement with the police,” she said.

The case comes after a Christian nurse was charged with blasphemy in Karachi on Jan. 29 under pressure of an Islamist mob hours after police had dismissed the accusation against her. Staff members of the Sobhraj Maternity Hospital in Karachi on Jan. 28 slapped, beat and locked nurse Tabeeta Nazir Gill, 42, in a room after baselessly accusing her of blaspheming Islam, sources said.

Police had questioned and released Nazir Gill after concluding that the accusations against her were false and based on a co-worker’s personal vendetta, but a Muslim mob later besieged the police station when the complainant called on Muslim leaders to mobilize them. Nazir Gill and her family have gone into hiding since the registration of the FIR.

In a video circulating on social media that a hospital staff member recorded of the attack, Nazir Gill, said to be a Catholic who is also a locally popular gospel singer, is seen crying for help as Muslim hospital personnel slap and punch her, and in one clip they thrust a notebook and pen into her hands to try to force her to sign a confession.

They call for her to “confess your crime in writing” amid a din of accusations and curses, and a staff member strikes her with a broom.

“I swear to God I haven’t said anything against the prophet [Muhammad],” Nazir says in the video clip. “They are trying to trap me in a fake charge.”

Staff members at the Sobhraj Maternity Hospital where Nazir Gill has worked for nine years locked her in a room after trying to force her to sign the confession

False Allegations

False accusations of blasphemy in Pakistan are common and often motivated by personal vendettas or religious hatred. The highly inflammatory accusations have the potential to spark mob lynchings, vigilante murders and mass protests.

Many of those accused of blasphemy never reach the courtroom; violence has killed 62 accused people since 1990, with few prosecutions. Lawyers defending those charged with blasphemy, presiding judges, and individuals speaking against the law are also targeted.

In Pakistan 24 Christians are in prison due to blasphemy charges. They are defendants in 21 blasphemy cases at various levels of the judicial process.

With no presumption of innocence in Pakistan, anyone accused of blasphemy can be jailed, often for years, while those who make false allegations go unpunished. In 2018, a Senate Special Committee on Human Rights and the Islamabad High Court had recommended that those making false blasphemy accusations be given the same punishments as those for blasphemy convictions, but the government dismissed the recommendation. The recommendation also stated that anyone registering a blasphemy case at a police station must bring two witnesses.

While punishment for blasphemy ranges from several years in prison to death in Pakistan, a person making a false accusation faces potential punishment of only six months in prison or a fine of 1,000 rupees (US$6). Successive governments have acknowledged that the blasphemy laws are blatantly misused, but little effort has been made to stop the abuses.

Rights activists say it’s unlikely that any government will move to repeal or amend the blasphemy laws due to fierce Islamic religious sentiments in the Muslim-majority country. They say Pakistani authorities must be urged to immediately implement effective procedural and institutional safeguards at the investigative, prosecutorial and judicial levels to prevent abuse of these laws.

The U.S. State Department on Dec. 7 re-designated Pakistan among nine other “Countries of Particular Concern” for severe violations of religious freedom. Previously Pakistan had been added to the list on Nov. 28, 2018. The other countries on the list are Burma, China, North Korea, Eritrea, Iran, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. Sudan and Uzbekistan were removed from the department’s Special Watch List due to improvements in their religious rights records.

Pakistan ranked fifth on Open Doors 2021 World Watch list of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.

Persecution Watch: Praying for Believers in Afghanistan

1/28/2021 (Voice of the Persecuted) AFGHANISTAN – Population: 38 million, Christians: a small number.

What does persecution look like in Afghanistan? What is life like for Christians?

It is impossible to live openly as a Christian in Afghanistan. Leaving Islam is considered shameful, and Christian converts face dire consequences if their new faith is discovered. Either they have to flee the country or they will be killed.

If a Christian’s family discovers they have converted, their family, clan or tribe has to save its “honor” by disowning the believer, or even killing them. Christians from a Muslim background can also be sectioned in a psychiatric hospital, because leaving Islam is considered a sign of insanity.

Meet a secret Afghan believer. – “How we survive daily only God knows. He knows because He has been kind to dwell with us. But we are tired of all the death around us.”

What has changed in Afghanistan?

Afghanistan remains the second highest country on the World Watch List, and persecution is only very slightly less oppressive than in North Korea. The Islamic State group and the Taliban continue to have a strong, violent presence in Afghanistan, with the Taliban controlling large regions.

Who is most vulnerable to persecution?

All Christians in Afghanistan are extremely vulnerable to persecution. Areas controlled by the Taliban are particularly oppressive, but there is no safe way to express any form of Christian faith in the country.

What does Open Doors, Voice of the Martyrs and many other NGOs do to help Christians in Afghanistan?

It is predominantly spiritual support for persecuted believers in Afghanistan.

· Pray for a government that is going to be tolerant to Christianity.

· Pray for the abolishment of the blasphemy laws which are a tool for persecution.

· Pray for protection for the small percentage of Afghani believers. Pray that God would make “seeing eyes blind” and that anyone who might be looking for secret Afghan Christians would not discover them.

· Pray that despite their isolation, Afghan believers would be strengthened and encouraged in their faith.

· Pray they would find safe ways to access the Word of God and communicate with other believers.

· Pray that God would be at work in the hearts of Islamic extremists—such as members of the Taliban and the Islamic State group—that they would come to know the love of Jesus and that He would turn their lives around.

· Pray that the Lord open doors for NGOs that The extremist can’t shut and keep His hand of protection on the field workers.

· Pray for easy access to the internet and that both believers and Muslims will see messages that encourage and or convict them.

· Pray the Lord will enable Christians to forgive their persecutors.

· Pray against the forces of darkness and that your church Lord Jesus will cease to be an underground church and will be recognized and seen throughout all Afghanistan.

Again, we want to lift up persecuted witnesses to the Lord:

  • Leah Sharibu and Alice, prisoners of Boko Haram, pray that they will be set free.
  • Pray pastor Wang Yi to be released from prison.
  • Pray for Anita, a Christian convert persecuted for her faith in Iran.

You are invited to join us on Thursday, January 28 in a prayer call for the persecuted church.

Andy, Persecution Watch Prayer Call Moderator

Prayer Conference Call Details

Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday

From any location on your phone

Time: (U.S. Time zones)

9:00 PM Eastern

8:00 PM Central

7:00 PM Mountain

6:00 PM Pacific

Call in number: 712 775-7035

Access Code: 281207#

Recommended: For those who may be subject to added charges for conference calls. Please download the app, it’s free!

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What is Persecution Watch?
Persecution Watch is a U.S. national prayer conference call ministry that prays specifically for the global Persecuted Church. For over a decade, Blaine Scogin led this national network of believers who faithfully pray for the persecuted and the global harvest for the Kingdom of God.

The group meets via a free call-in service every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday night at 9pm Eastern (please check your time zone). Blaine also served as Prayer Director for Voice of the Persecuted and our missions became one. The prayer mission of Persecution Watch is an important part of our own.

With the passing of Blaine into glory on December 26, 2019, Voice of the Persecuted is committed to continue the prayer conference call for the persecuted along with our dedicated prayer warrior team.

On occasion, persecuted brothers and sisters have been invited on the call to share the trials they’re facing. The team serves to encourage them by washing their feet in Spirit led prayer.

Time is often reserved for those on the call to ask questions. We believe this helps to gain a better understanding of the situation that persecuted Christians endure in their specific nations. Q&A also helps us to focus our prayers based on their current needs.

Persecution Watch also hosts callers who want to pray united from other nations. If your heart is perplexed by the sufferings of our persecuted brothers and sisters, you no longer need to pray alone. We welcome all who desire to pray for the persecuted church and consider it a joy to pray together with you.

If you’re new to the call and can’t find your voice, listen in and pray silently or on mute. We are grateful and thank the Lord for bringing us all together to pray in agreement for our persecuted family in Christ. We can all be prayer warriors on this call!

NOTE: Persecution Watch has a new email address for the prayer team and those who would like to receive urgent prayer requests, weekly call prayer points and notification of special prayer events and special guest speakers.

Please fill out the form below to be included in our new distribution list to receive this important information. We are grateful for your prayers and to the Lord for guiding us as we continue the Persecution Watch prayer call mission.

Note to Voice of the Persecuted (VOP) readers: The Persecution Watch prayer team is also the prayer team of Voice of the Persecuted. SIGN UP today.

Persecution Watch: Praying for Believers in India

1/21/2021 (Voice of the Persecuted) India Population: 1.4 billion, Christians: 66.2 million

In August 2017, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) ranked India’s persecution severity at “Tier 2” along with Iraq and Afghanistan. Over the past seven years, India has risen from No. 31 to No. 10 on Open Doors’ World Watch List, ranking just behind Iran in persecution severity. In April, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom requested that the U.S. State Department name India as a “country of particular concern” because of Christian persecution -attacks.

Some government leaders now refer to India as HINDUSTAN, the land of the Hindus. They actively try to purify Hindustan by making the whole nation Hindu, no room for Christians.

Hate crimes against Christians in India, including instances of murder, rape, and arson, have risen by 40 per cent in the first half of 2020, according to a new report. The report, by campaigning group, Persecution Relief, noted that the “disconcerting” rise has taken place in spite of a three-month national lockdown.

Several charities identify state cooperation with extremists as a key problem. Since the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a Hindu nationalist party, won the general election in 2014, Christian commentators have claimed the government, particularly at a local level, has been unwilling to clamp down on extremist Hindus.  According to Persecution Relief, between January 2016 and June 2020, there have been 2,067 crimes inspired by religious intolerance against Christians in India.

And as increasing numbers of Dalits become Christians, more states in India are reacting by passing anti-conversion laws, which, believes Paul Robinson, ‘will pave the way for further violence.’

The latest state to legislate against freedom of faith is Uttarakhand. Christians there who share their faith could face a jail sentence of up to five years. The new law requires clergy leading a person to Christ to give one month’s notice, which will trigger a police investigation into the proposed conversion. And individuals wanting to change their religion must first get permission from the state government. Similar anti-conversion laws are in force in Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh and Jharkhand, and are pending elsewhere. Significantly, there have also been moves to impose anti-conversion legislation that would be binding across the whole of India.

The law legislates against ‘forced conversion’. On the face of it, this may sound reasonable. But the law is wide open to abuse. Any warning of judgement could be considered a threat, and the promise of heaven as an inducement. And Christian charitable works could be portrayed as a form of bribery.

Hindu radicals have made death threats against Christians in Uttarakhand and have ordered them to close their churches. Acts of intimidation are reported on an almost daily basis.

 Prayer Points

  • Pray that the Lord will touch president Narenda Modi and his government officials and convict them of their anti-Christian actions and give religious freedom.

 

  • Pray to the Lord that He will protect His believers from the many active as well as proposed ant conversion laws. That the laws will prove to be ineffective to spread the good news

 

  • Pray that Christians will not be excluded from COVID-19 relieve. The pandemic is used as a new weapon for persecutors. Many Christians are often deliberately overlooked when official COVID-19 food and aid are distributed. This has left many desperate for food, particularly since many Christians are from the Dalit caste and thus very poor and have lost their sources of income this year.

 

  • Pray that the Lord will protect Open Doors and the many other NGOs who works through local church partners to strengthen the Indian church through providing emergency aid.

 

  • Pray for the Rapid Response teams that are often first on the scene after violent attacks, persecution survival training, Bibles, livelihood and community development programs, advocacy support and legal training trauma counseling.

 

  • Pray that the Lord will make seeing eyes blind when pastors and missionaries are faced with India’s immigration officers.

 

  • Pray for protection for our brothers and sisters, especially those who are new Christians from Hindu background, and those who live in rural areas and are particularly isolated. Pray God will help their families and communities to accept their new faith.
  • Pray for easy access to the internet and that both believers and Hindus will see messages that encourage and or convict them.

 

  • Praise God that many are coming to faith in India through miraculous healings and the courageous witness of India’s Christians. Pray this will continue, and many more will come to know Jesus.

Pray the Lord will enable Christians to forgive their persecutors.

Pray against the forces of darkness and that in spite of their efforts the church will continue to expand rapidly.

Again, we want to lift up persecuted witnesses to the Lord:

  • Leah Sharibu and Alice, prisoners of Boko Haram, pray that they will be set free.
  • Pray pastor Wang Yi to be released from prison.
  • Pray for Anita, a Christian convert persecuted for her faith in Iran.

You are invited to join us on Thursday, January 21 in a prayer call for the persecuted church.

Andy, Persecution Watch Prayer Call Moderator

Prayer Conference Call Details

Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday

From any location on your phone

Time:

9:00 PM Eastern

8:00 PM Central

7:00 PM Mountain

6:00 PM Pacific

Call in number: 712 775-7035

Access Code: 281207#

Recommended: For those who may be subject to added charges for conference calls. Please download the app, it’s free!

MOBILE APP: Free Conference Call HD also provides a quick and easy way for you to dial into conference calls without having to remember the dial-in credentials. Save all of your conference call dial-in numbers and access codes using this free app. With the Free Conference Call HD you can instantly dial into a conference call via 3G/4G data network and or regular mobile carrier. Google Play link or App Store – iTunes

What is Persecution Watch?
Persecution Watch is a U.S. national prayer conference call ministry that prays specifically for the global Persecuted Church. For over a decade, Blaine Scogin led this national network of believers who faithfully pray for the persecuted and the global harvest for the Kingdom of God.

The group meets via a free call-in service every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday night at 9pm Eastern (please check your time zone). Blaine also served as Prayer Director for Voice of the Persecuted and our missions became one. The prayer mission of Persecution Watch is an important part of our own.

With the passing of Blaine into glory on December 26, 2019, Voice of the Persecuted is committed to continue the prayer conference call for the persecuted along with our dedicated prayer warrior team.

On occasion, persecuted brothers and sisters have been invited on the call to share the trials they’re facing. The team serves to encourage them by washing their feet in Spirit led prayer.

Time is often reserved for those on the call to ask questions. We believe this helps to gain a better understanding of the situation that persecuted Christians endure in their specific nations. Q&A also helps us to focus our prayers based on their current needs.

Persecution Watch also hosts callers who want to pray united from other nations. If your heart is perplexed by the sufferings of our persecuted brothers and sisters, you no longer need to pray alone. We welcome all who desire to pray for the persecuted church and consider it a joy to pray together with you.

If you’re new to the call and can’t find your voice, listen in and pray silently or on mute. We are grateful and thank the Lord for bringing us all together to pray in agreement for our persecuted family in Christ. We can all be prayer warriors on this call!

NOTE: Persecution Watch has a new email address for the prayer team and those who would like to receive urgent prayer requests, weekly call prayer points and notification of special prayer events and special guest speakers.

Please fill out the form below to be included in our new distribution list to receive this important information. We are grateful for your prayers and to the Lord for guiding us as we continue the Persecution Watch prayer call mission.

Note to Voice of the Persecuted (VOP) readers: The Persecution Watch prayer team is also the prayer team of Voice of the Persecuted. SIGN UP today.

Hindu Nationalists Incite Animists to Attack Christians in India

Church structure demolished in Chichima village, Rayagada District, Odisha State on Dec. 13, 2020. (Morning Star News)

(Morning Star News) – Six Christian families were worshipping in a wood-and-hay structure in eastern India last month when an influential man of wealth wielding an axe led others in and, in coarse language, asked why they had abandoned their tribal religion.

Elder Burjo Tadinji of the church in Odisha state’s Chichima village, answered, “We have known the true living God; we will not leave him. We used to indulge in fights and speak lies, but we do not do all that now. We like this faith, and that is why we follow it.”

Outraged, the leader of the mob of 20-25 men from three different villages began swinging the axe on the church structure, according to pastor Bibudhan Pradhan, who normally leads the small congregation of 15 but was absent that day (Dec. 13).

“They manhandled the Christians, damaged [an adjacent] Christian home, and broke the thatched structure with the axe,” Pastor Pradhan, 48, told Morning Star News. “They threatened to chase them out of their homes and the village if they reported the matter to the police.”

The mob joined in, and soon the church structure was reduced to pieces, with Tadinji’s adjoining home also damaged. They tore the clothes of one Christian and with a stone broke the mobile phone of another Christian recording the attack, Pastor Pradhan said.

The mob leader, whose name is withheld to protect area Christians, then warned them not to report the attack to police, church elder Tadinji said.

“If the police come, we will not let you live in the village and we will chase you away,” he said, according to Tadinji.

The Christians present were all converts from animistic tribal religion. The animist assailants were trained and incited by Hindu nationalists, sources said.

Pastor Pradhan established the church in Chichima, a remote mountain village in Rayagada District, five years ago. The land on which the structure was built belongs to Tadinji.

“Though I insisted that we file a complaint, the villagers fear the repercussions and refuse to risk losing their birth-village,” Pastor Pradhan said.

Tadinji said the Christians delivered a written complaint of the assault to the village head.

“He said, ‘I will deal will this’ but did nothing,” Tainji said. “He too fears the influential man.”

‘Hinduization’ of Tribals

Members of the Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) are visiting area villages and appointing leaders, sources said.

RSS members usually identify a tribal villager with leadership qualities and a strong physique, train him in influential speaking, and task him with propagating the idea that the tribal people are Hindus even if they practice the animistic rituals of their ancestors. In every village in Rayagada District, a source who requested anonymity said, Hindu nationalists have placed an image of the Hindu deity Shiva.

Pastor Pradhan said all the villagers are told to sacrifice a chicken to Shiva every year.

“It is in the tribal culture to offer a sacrifice of a chicken while buying land, planting seed, harvesting the land, and other occasions,” he told Morning Star News. “When someone in their homes has fever or illness, they sacrifice a chicken to please the god of nature. They seldomly visit hospitals – only in emergencies. They often visit the witch doctor, who again demands them to perform sacrifice.”

Sukanta Naik, a volunteer for the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI) who has travelled to Odisha for 40 years, said Hindu nationalist groups have become very active in indoctrinating tribal people. Hindu nationalists increasingly try to drive a wedge between tribal peoples and Christians, persuading villagers that those who have left their beliefs and other rituals have betrayed their ancestors, gods, and the country of India.

The Hindu nationalists then obtain tribal support for political candidates and policies and introduce Hindu beliefs and practices into animist religious systems, analysts say.

Ostracized

Villagers in Chichima stopped associating with Christians when tribal people there first converted about five years ago, Pastor Pradhan said.

“Fear has gripped their minds, and they need much prayer,” he said, unsure when church services might resume.

Villagers have warned the pastor not to enter the village, saying they will damage his motorbike, he said, adding that police stand with the Hindus and do not protect the Christians.

Odisha (formerly Orissa) state, where Christians make up less than 2.8 percent of the total population, saw anti-Christian violence in 2008 in which more than 120 people lost their lives, at least 50,000 people were internally displaced and more than 6,000 Christian homes were destroyed and damaged.

The hostile tone of the National Democratic Alliance government, led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, against non-Hindus, has emboldened Hindu extremists in several parts of the country to attack Christians since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took power in May 2014, religious rights advocates say.

India ranked 10th on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2021 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian, as it was in 2020. The country was 31st in 2013, but its position worsened each year after Modi came to power.

Chhattisgarh Attack

Pastor Pradhan, who has also ministered to Christians in Kondagaon District, Chhattisgarh state, said that Christians in the area are still living in fear after a mob of more than 3,000 agitators on Sept. 22 damaged 10 homes belonging to seven Christians in Kakadbeda.

The next morning, they proceeded to Singanpur village, damaging homes of three Christians, and Tiliyabeda village, damaging the homes of two Christians, he said. They assaulted Christians and sent them fleeing for their lives.

“They are praying in their own homes,” Pastor Pradhan said. “I went to visit them to start regular worship service, but they refused. Only after they feel safe to start a church service, they will inform me. So they have asked me not to visit them until then.”

Worship in a church in Perigaon village, Rayagada District, Odisha state has also ceased. Tribal animists there have on three occasions blocked Pastor Pradhan and his wife from entering by placing a huge log on the road, he said. On Dec. 1, 2018, the animists burned the church building where he had led services.

Special Report-Nuns arrested by Chinese Communist Party as Beijing turns up heat on Church in Hong Kong

Hong Kong

Extracts from The Guardian article: Read the full report here. In May, two Chinese nuns who work at the mission were arrested by mainland authorities during a visit home to Hebei province, according to three Catholic clerics with knowledge of the matter. The nuns, in their 40s, were detained for three weeks before being released into house arrest without being charged. They are forbidden to leave the mainland, according to one of the clerics. Meanwhile, Western diplomats say, Chinese security agents have stepped up surveillance of the mission in recent months.”

Fearless, Cardinal Zen calls for courage.

“We are at the bottom of the pit – there is no freedom of expression anymore,” the former Bishop of Hong Kong, Cardinal Joseph Zen, told Reuters in a written reply to questions. “All these things are normal in mainland China. We are becoming like any other city in China.”

With the exception of 88-year-old Cardinal Zen, all Church leaders, local priests and parishioners interviewed for this article declined to be named. “For any word you say,” Zen told Reuters, the authorities “can say you’re offending the National Security Law.”

 

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