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Congress Clashes With Trump Administration Over Aid for Iraqi Assyrians

Two young Assyrians fled with their families from Islamic State’s held Mosul to Koysinjaq, Iraqi Kurdistan. Photo Flickr christiaantriebert

AL Monitor  By Bryant: Harris Disappointed with United Nations efforts to provide humanitarian aid to Iraqi minorities, Congress is calling on the Trump administration to bypass the world body and provide assistance directly to Christians and other genocide victims.

Even as the Islamic State (IS) loses its last grasp on Iraq, the group’s Yazidi and Christian victims are clamoring for a boost in US support so they can rebuild their lives. They complain that ethnic minorities are having trouble accessing the $1.3 billion that the United States allocated for humanitarian aid to Iraq in 2017, and have turned to Congress for help.

Testifying at a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing last week, a former Yazidi sex slave who goes by the pseudonym Shireen warned that IS’ genocidal campaign will succeed without international help. The hearing aimed to hasten congressional action on the Iraq and Syria Genocide Emergency Relief and Accountability Act, which would authorize the State Department and the US Agency for International Development (USAID) to fund faith-based entities providing humanitarian assistance to Iraqi and Syrian genocide and war crime victims rather than funnel the money through UN agencies.

Read the full story here.

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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).

Islamic Clerics Warn Against Spread of Christianity in the Most Islamic City in Iran

Qom, arguably the most Islamic city in Iran, is a socially and religiously conflicted city where house churches are hunted down and conversion to Christianity is viewed as an action against national security.

Mohabat News – Christianity has been growing at an exponential rate in the last couple of decades in Iran, causing the Islamic government a great deal of concern. In a most recent expression of their distress, one of the high profile Islamic seminary officials, Ayatollah Alavi Boroujerdi, stated “accurate reports indicate that the youth are becoming Christians in Qom and attending house churches”. However, this is not a new development. Earlier reports had also shown a surprising rise in the number of Iranians turning away from Islam and converting to Christianity.

One of the most senior Islamic Shi’ite clerics who has repeatedly expressed his concern over the spread of Christianity among the youth in the country is Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi. He, as well as most of his colleagues blame the foreign influence for the conversion of young Iranians to Christianity. The question that comes up however, is that what could be the real cause for Iranian youths’ rejection of Islam and its principles, despite the serious risks involved with conversion to Christianity in an Islamic country such as Iran?

This high rate of conversion of Iranian youth to Christianity is in spite of rigorous Islamic indoctrination of the youth in their families and educational system. The Islamic government of Iran dedicates massive budgets to the support of Islamic organizations that promote Islam among the youth within and without Iran’s borders. Such efforts to attract Iranian youth is much more noticeable in Islamic cities such as Mashhad and Qom. Regardless of such efforts, Iranian youth seem to become increasingly distant from Islam, which is a cause of great concern for the Iranian Islamic government.

Last year, after Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi expressed his deepest concern over the popularity of Christianity in the suburbs of Mashhad, the city’s religious and political officials immediately sent a vast number of Islamic teachers and preachers to Mashhad’s suburbs in order to turn the youth away from Christianity. The next phase in dealing with this matter was to crack down on the youth who refused to turn back following the efforts of Islamic teachers and preachers. The Iranian law enforcement and intelligence ministry got involved and began waves of arrests and harassment of Christian converts, facing them with long term prison sentences and heavy bails for their temporary release.

Another Iranian Ayatollah, Wahid Khorasani expressed concerns over the spread of Christianity in the country. He said he had received reports about the exponential increase in popularity of Christianity amongst the youth in the Islamic city of Qom. He criticized government authorities “for their negligence in preparing counteracting strategies to stop the spread of Christianity. In his remarks eight years ago, he had encouraged the government authorities to develop a coherent strategy to eradicate Christianity in Iran.
Another Ayatollah, based in Tabriz, stated he had received reports that at one time, 600 residents of one of the cities in Khorasan province had converted to Christianity.

These harsh remarks years ago, led to a rigorous crackdown campaign against the Iranian Christian community, resulting in arrests, imprisonments and disbanding of a number of house church gatherings.

— Failure of Islamic Authorities’ Efforts to Stop the Spread of Christianity

The Iranian Islamic government implemented a two fold plan to stop the spread of Christianity in the country, and it has failed on both fronts.
The first front was the allocation of millions of dollars for Islamic propaganda across the country, which over the years has proven to be ineffective as Iranian youth seem to be distancing themselves from the Islamic lifestyle the Iranian government wishes to spread.
The second front, in which the Iranian government’s Islamic agenda has failed is their crackdown campaign on newly converted Christians in order to plant fear in those who are interested in learning more about Christianity and possibly becoming Christians themselves. This failure is obvious as Iranian Islamic authorities continue to express their concern over the rapid growth of Christianity in the country.

In recent years many Iranian Christian converts have been arrested. However, the rate of growth of house churches in the country has been exponential, despite a mass exodus of Iranian Christians.
In this regard, Ayatollah Jafar Sobhani, one of the high profile Iranian Islamic figures, wrote in a paper a few years ago, “There was a time when Islamic institutions in Qom were sufficient to counter the spread of Christianity in our city. However, today we do not have any Islamic institution in Qom that can stop Christian evangelism effectively”. In his remarks he also referred to the son of one of the Islamic clerics as having become a Christian.

In a report released seven years ago, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards identified 200 house churches in the Islamic city of Mashhad. Other reports indicate this number has grown significantly ever since. Mashhad is known as the Islamic capital of Iran and the Shi’ite Muslim world. Other cities having a record number of house churches in Iran include Rasht, Tehran and Karaj.

In Tehran there are many house churches that meet on a regular basis. One of Tehran’s Imams said in an interview, “today Christians present their gospel to our youth in the most appealing way. They gather in many neighbourhoods across the city, including Bani Hashem neighbourhood (in Tehran) where tens of homes have been turned into house churches which evangelize their neighbours”.

One of the visible effects of the Iranian government’s crackdown on Christians has been the closure of numerous churches, including the Central Assemblies of God (AOG) church and Janat Abad church in Tehran and the AOG church in Ahwaz. Additionally, Christian converts were banned from entering official churches and Farsi services were forced to cancel permanently across the country in all churches. Publication of anything related to Christianity or any material referring to Christianity was also restricted and books about Christianity already in the market were confiscated./ Farsi

Iranian Christian released from prison

Photo: Mohabat News

As reported by “Mohabat News” Maryam (Nasim) NaghashZargaran, the converted Christian was released from Evin prison on August 1, 2017, after four years.

This prisoner was released after her long prison term concluded coupled with the extra days of incarceration due to her unwanted absenteeism. She was supposed to have been released on June 28, 2017 while her family waited for her at the entrance to the prison, but the prison authorities, claiming that her release paper were not ready, kept her incarcerated for three extra days.

Maryam NaghashZargaran was born in 1978 and she was interrogated in December 2009 being accused of hosting house churches and promoting Christianity. Eventually, she was arrested and exiled to an unknown area by Sepah Forces in 2012. Despite her temporary release on bail, she was sentenced to 4 years prison in absentia and her appeal court approved the district court’s decision.

Maryam was working in Turkey at that time and she had to come back to face these charges and she was subsequently arrested and sent to the jail on July 19, 2013.

In an objection to the uncertainty in her case and the resultant charges against her, Maryam went on a hunger strike on May 26, 2016. She broke her hunger strike having the promises of prison authorities to reconsider her charges on June 6, 2016. However, she was sent to jail on June 27, 2016. To show her objections she started her hunger strike on July 15, 2016 once again and received the same promises by prison authorities on July 21, 2016, when she got the permission to leave prison for few days.

These hunger strikes weakened her health day by day. This converted Christian suffers from “ASD”, joint pain and trembling, and went on an open heart surgery a few years back. Her health condition worsened due to these repetitive hunger strikes. Her health status was so bad that her mother recorded a video addressing the public and the government authorities to announce her dangerous physical and mental status.

She also mentioned that she might do something terrible anytime. Maryam NaghashZargaran has tried many times to write different letters and convey her rights and objections, apart from these hunger strikes, hoping to get a parole while she never got any responses. Pressures were even more on her when she was given few months leave until her charges were confirmed and while they allowed her to post bail they ultimately punished her with even more days in prison for the days she was absent from prison.

Saeed Abedini the Iranian- American pastor, and Maryam NaghashZargaran were arrested and sent to Evin Prison at the same time. This was perhaps a reason for excreting even more pressure on her in the court and during the interrogations and that is why the Sepah forces pressured her so much, including beating her in the ladies’ ward at Evin so badly that her leg was broken. This incident remained suspicious and never followed up again.

Now she has been released from prison and she has come back to her family after four years but her physical condition on one hand and her mental pressures on the other hand would follow her for even more months and she needs a long time to recover and get back to a more normal life.

‘Risk of genocide’ linked with level of religious freedom

(World Watch Monitor) Yemen is the country where the risk of genocide, or mass killing, rose most last year, says Minority Rights Group International (MRG) in its 2017 Peoples Under Threat index, which also includes a large number of countries in which it is most difficult to live as a Christian.

Nine of the Index’s top 12 are also in the top 12 of Open Doors’ 2017 World Watch List– namely Somalia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya and Nigeria.

MRG calculates its annual index based on a number of indicators directly linked to the level of freedom of religion and expression, including democracy and governance, conflict data, and displacement.

Yemen, for instance, ranks 8th on the MRG Index and 9th on the WWL. The civil war that erupted there in 2014 has caused chaos and lawlessness, creating a climate where oppression can flourish.

Radical Islamist groups such as Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and the Islamic State have exploited the power vacuum in Yemen to gain significant influence. Christians have been killed and abducted, including 16 people killed in an attack on a Christian care home for the elderly in March 2016.

According to MRG’s index, which lists the top 70 countries most at risk of genocide, mass killing or systematic violent repression, two-thirds of the countries where this risk has risen are in Africa.

Also, an increasing number of people are living at “deadly risk” in a growing number of “no-go zones” around the world. MRG says its reports shows “how a lack of access from the outside world allows killing to be perpetrated unchecked in disputed territories, militarized enclaves, and in some cases, whole countries… International isolation is a known risk factor for genocide or mass killing”.

Syria, for example, leads the list for the third consecutive year and, according to the report, UN human rights officials have been “granted no access to Syria since the crisis began in 2011”.

Cholera outbreak

Meanwhile the civil war in Yemen has so far killed more than 8,000 people and injured over 45,000 civilians. The fighting between Iran-backed Houthi rebels in the north and the Saudi-backed government in the south has furthermore displaced more than 3 million people – over 10 per cent of Yemen’s population – reports the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

OCHA says these figures are most likely lower than the reality because of the lack of reporting capacity and people not having access to health centres.

Those who have not been killed or injured in the fighting might still lose their lives in the largest ever recorded cholera outbreak in a single country in a single year, aid agencies warn. With a crumbling health system, with less than half the country’s hospitals operational and a lack of available medication, nearly 2,000 people have died of cholera so far, with an estimated 5,000 Yemenis becoming ill every day. More than 600,000 Yemenis could have cholera before the end of the year, the International Committee of the Red Cross has warned.

Detroit judge blocks deportation of Iraqi immigrants for 90 days

A woman holds a sign and cross as members of the local Chaldean community demonstrate June 16 outside the Patrick V. McNamara Federal Building to protest the arrest and detention of more than 100 Chaldean Christians from the Detroit area. (CNS photo/Jim West) See CHALDEAN-PROTESTS June 19, 2017.

Detroit (Agenzia Fides) – A judge Mark Goldsmith in Detroit has temporarily halted the deportations of Chaldean Christians and other Iraqi immigrants ordered last June by virtue of the new immigration rules implemented by the Trump Administration. The measure had already been temporarily blocked by the same judge for shorter periods, and all the suspensions ended yesterday, Monday 24 July. Yesterday’s new ruling by Judge Goldsmith also took note of Iraqi citizens who referred of the risk of being subjected to violence and persecution once back in the country of origin. Goldsmith also pointed out that the criminal and judicial cases weighing on many of the Iraqis threatened with deportation were actually “dormant” cases. The judge declared that the constitutional rights of Iraqi immigrants, many of whom have long been resident in the United States, have been violated, and that guarantees for the protection of fundamental freedoms can be suspended only in rare cas es of foreign invasion or internal insurgence.

The Iraqis already arrested on June 12 at the disposition of the Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE, US Federal Agency responsible for border control and immigration) were 114, but potential expulsion measures threatened about 1,400 immigrants from Iraq. Most of the Iraqis already arrested (see Fides 11/7/2017) lived in the area of Detroit and belonged to Chaldean Christian families. The operation was implemented after the agreement between the United States and Iraq with which the government of Baghdad had agreed to host a number of Iraqi citizens subjected to the expulsion order, while being removed from the black list of affected nations from the so-called “Muslim ban”, wanted by President Donald Trump to prevent access to the United States for citizens from six Muslim majority countries considered as potential “exporters” of terrorists. Even some of the arrested Christians had in the past had problems with justice.

Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako also intervened on the case: in a letter to Chaldean Bishop Frank Kalabat, at the head of the Eparchy of St Thomas the Apostle in Detroit, the Primate of the Chaldean Church expressed solidarity and closeness to Iraqi families affected by the provisions of expulsion, and hoped for an adequate solution to the humanitarian emergency caused by the expulsion measures, also directed against family men with small children.

Now Iraqi immigrants, at risk of deportation, have three months to arrange their legal strategy with their lawyers to render ineffective the expulsion orders issued by the ICE. (GV) (Agenzia Fides, 25/7/2017)

In June, protesters against federal agents’ rounding up more than 100 Iraqi-American immigrants told local media that those who were detained had no prior warning that Immigration and Customs Enforcement would be arresting them.

The report shared that U.S. Democratic Reps. Sander Levin and Brenda Lawrence of Michigan joined members of the Chaldean Christian community gathered in front of the Patrick V. McNamara Federal Building. They held up signs, crosses and American flags, venting their frustration against federal authorities who detained their father, brothers and uncles, many of whom have been in the community for decades.

Late June 20, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington released a letter that conference officials sent to Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, urging him from a moral perspective to defer deportation of the individuals apprehended by ICE, particularly Christians and Chaldean Catholics, “who pose no threat to U.S. public safety” and would be sent back to a region where the persecution of religious minorities continues.

VOP note: Please speak out and pray for our Iraqi brothers and sisters to remain safe in our country.

Iraqi Assyrian Girl Freed From Islamic State Says ‘Mum, Dad’ Again

Iraqi Assyrian Christina Ezzo Abada, a former hostage of Islamic State militants for three years, sits next to her sister inside a cramped home at a refugee camp in Erbil, Iraq June 10, 2017. ( Reuters/Erik De Castro)

(AINA) Reuters– A six-year old Iraqi Christian girl, kidnapped by Islamic State when she was three, was reunited with her family on Friday, and getting used to saying “mum” and “dad” once more.

“The best day of my life is the day when Christina came back,” said her mother, Aida Nuh, on Saturday.

Dark circles around her eyes are evidence of sleepless nights since August 2014, when the militants snatched Christina from her, a few weeks after overrunning the town of Qaraqosh, 15 km (10 miles) southeast of Mosul.

“She stayed three years with the terrorists. Of course she forgot who her mother is, who her father is, that we are her family, but she will learn again.”

Islamic State has kidnapped thousands of men, women and children from Iraq’s minorities, mainly Yazidis.

Christians who did not or could not escape in time were faced with an ultimatum – pay a tax for protection, convert to Islam, or die by the sword. Some, like Christina, were kidnapped.

Christian families who remained in Qaraqosh were forcibly displaced on Aug. 22, 2014. The militants took away Christina from the minibus which had driven them to the edge of Islamic State territory, after threatening Aida, who desperately resisted.

The family’s efforts to track her though Arab friends were rewarded on Friday, when they got a call telling them Christina had been found in Hayy al-Tanak, a poor neighborhood of Mosul.

Eighth months into the U.S-backed offensive to take back Mosul, all of the city has fallen to Iraqi government forces except a pocket by the western bank of the Tigris river.

We went to a dirty place in Hayy el-Tanak (..), we took the child,” said Christina’s blind father, Khader Touma, wearing dark glasses and surrounded by the family now complete with the return of his youngest daughter.

Her two sisters and two brothers had escaped to Kurdish territory before the arrival of the militants.

“I’m with mum and dad,” said Christina, playing with a plastic toy, in a mobile home for displaced people in Ankawa, a Christian suburb of the Kurdish capital Erbil, east of Mosul.

The parents said they now hoped to emigrate, to put their ordeal behind them.

In the meantime, they face a long wait in the cramped cabin, because their home in Qaraqosh was almost completely destroyed in the fighting to dislodge the militants.

Syndicated News
By Hamuda Hassan and Isabel Coles

Writing by Maher Chmaytelli; Editing by Andrew Bolton.

Half of Syria and Iraq’s Christians have left since 2011, says report

(World Watch Monitor) Three years to the day since the Islamic State group took control of the Iraqi city of Mosul, a new report estimates that 50-80% of the Christian populations of Iraq and Syria have emigrated since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011.

The arrival of IS was only the “tipping point” of a trend already gathering pace as Christians experienced an “overall loss of hope for a safe and secure future”, according to the report, produced by Christian charities Open Doors, Served and Middle East Concern.

The report also notes that for the Christians who have settled elsewhere, there is “little incentive” to return, with several interviewees saying “the Middle East is no longer a home for Christians”.

“There is little incentive to return, with several interviewees saying the Middle East is no longer a home for Christians.”

In a policy paper released alongside the report, the three charities call on the EU to help establish an “accountability mechanism” to deal with incidents of religious and ethnic persecution and discrimination in Iraq and Syria.

“Creating a national accountability mechanism for grievances is a long-term solution which aims to restore faith in a system that ensures all religious and ethnic communities are affirmed as equal citizens and deserving of protection, while also deterring negative actors from taking adverse actions against these communities,” the charities write.

They urge the EU to “advocate for the establishment of the mechanism through its contacts with the Iraqi and Syrian governments” and to provide funding, technical support and monitoring. The mechanism, the charities add, “should be transparent and inclusive, ensuring all key stakeholders at all levels (government, community leaders, civil society and the public) are represented adequately”.

Major findings

The report, ‘Understanding the recent movements of Christians leaving Syria and Iraq’, acknowledges the difficulty of producing definitive figures, as it estimates that the overall Christian population of Iraq has reduced from “well over 300,000” in 2014 to 200,000-250,000 today – “many” of whom are now displaced internally. In Syria, meanwhile, the charities estimate that the Christian population of around 2 million in 2011 has “roughly halved”.

“Factors for leaving included the violence of conflict, including the almost complete destruction of some historically Christian towns in the Nineveh plains of northern Iraq, the emigration of others and loss of community, the rate of inflation and loss of employment opportunities, and the lack of educational opportunities,” the report notes. “While direct violence, such as the movements of ISIS in both Iraq and Syria, was the tipping point for displacement, the ultimate decision to leave the countries was portrayed as an accumulation of factors over time.”

A greater number of Christians are thought to have left Syria, but only because the initial population was higher, according to the report, which adds that a greater proportion of Iraq’s Christians have left the country.

The Christians have emigrated via a range of routes, including resettlement programmes through churches, formal refugee registration and “illegal routes” – though the deaths of Christians trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea to Europe have reportedly “dissuaded some”, while “the high price of these routes have made them unavailable for others”.

Lebanon has reportedly taken in the most Christians, while thousands more have resettled in Jordan and Turkey, and a smaller number in European countries such as Sweden and Germany. However, “recent policy changes, as well as living conditions, have made arrival or staying in many of these countries, such as Sweden, incredibly difficult”, the report concludes, adding: “There were reports of returns [home], but many expressed the sentiment that Christians have given up hope of returning.”

However, the charities note that “many” of those who remain “want to play their part in rebuilding the shattered societies of Iraq and Syria. They want to be seen as Iraqi or Syrian citizens, enjoying the full rights of citizenship, such as equality before the law and full protection of their right to freedom of religion or belief, including the ability for everyone to freely worship, practise, teach, choose and change their religion. They are not calling for special privileges as a religious minority.”

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