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Egypt Tries to ‘Reconcile’ Coptic Churches to Non-Existence

By  — From attacks by Muslim mobs to closures by Muslim authorities, the lamentable plight of Coptic Christian churches in Egypt always follows a pattern, one that is unwaveringly only too typical.

Thus, last April 14, a Muslim mob—predictably riled by the previous day’s Friday mosque sermons—attacked the church of the Holy Virgin and Pope Kyrillos in Beni Meinin, Beni Suef.   According to Watani, as with 3,500 other Egyptian churches, after patently waiting for decades to receive a permit, the church “had been used for worship for some 10 years now…  [T]he building authority committee had recently [earlier that day] visited the church in preparation for legalising its status, and the attack was waged in retaliation.”

Local authorities’ response was even more typical: Twenty people were arrested after the attack—eleven Muslims (attackers) and nine Copts (defenders).  At least five of the arrested Christians, whose “crime” was to try to put out fires Muslims started, were illegally incarcerated for over a month.  One lost his job due to this prolonged absence (police refused to admit holding him to his employer).

Thereafter, on May 22, followed the usual “reconciliation” meeting between local Christian and Muslim elders, whereby victims forego their legal rights in an out of court settlement.  In order to release their innocents the Copts had to agree to close the church—no more mass, wedding or funeral services on grounds that it is a “security risk”—and agree that the eleven Muslims who led the violent attack also be acquitted.

Just four days after that, the whole process was repeated again: on May 26, another Muslim mob attacked a church in the village of al-Shuqaf in the province of Beheira.  “The mob,” notes the report, “also pelted the Coptic villagers’ houses with stones, damaged the priest’s car, and set on fire a motorbike that was parked in front of the church. Seven Copts suffered slight injuries. The police was called and caught 11 Muslims and nine Copts.”

As with the previous church incident, according to Watani, this church had also

been in use for worship for over three years now, and is known as the church of St Mark…  a few months ago, construction work started on building a mosque close to the church. On Saturday afternoon [May 26], the Muslim worshippers began shouting slogans against the church and the Copts, and used the mosque microphones to call upon the villagers to attack the church. Many villagers gathered and waged the attack.

The Coptic villagers claim that the nine Copts who were arrested had been caught randomly in what has now become common practice by the police in order to pressure the Copts into ‘[re]conciliation,’ so that no legal action would be taken against the Muslim culprits in exchange for setting free the Coptic detainees and ensuring a swift end to hostilities.

Such is the unvarying “boilerplate” plight of Egypt’s Christians and their churches. To become acquainted with the persecution of one Coptic church is to become acquainted with all.  For instance, nearly two years ago I offered the following detailed look at the “reconciliation” process—one that, as these two recent incidences show, remains perfectly applicable to and well entrenched in Egypt:

Christians trying to build a church … are typical violations that prompt large, armed Muslim mobs to attack all the Christians in that village (and their church if one exists) as a form of collective punishment, which is also Islamic….

After the uprising has fizzled out, authorities arrive.  Instead of looking for and arresting the culprits or mob ringleaders—or, as often is the case, the local imam who incites the Muslim mob against the “uppity infidels” who need to be reminded of “their place”—authorities gather the leaders of the Christian and Muslim communities together in what are termed “reconciliation meetings.”  During these meetings, Christians are asked to make further concessions to angry Muslims.

Authorities tell Christian leaders things like, “Yes, we understand the situation and your innocence, but the only way to create calm in the village is for X [the offending Christian and extended family, all of whom may have been beat] to leave the village—just for now, until things calm down.” Or, “Yes, we understand you need a church, but as you can see, the situation is volatile right now, so, for the time being, maybe you can walk to the church in the next town six miles away—you know, until things die down.”…

[Should Christians] rebuff the authorities’ offer and demand their rights as citizens against the culprits, the authorities smile and say “okay.”  Then they go through the village making arrests—except that most of those whom they arrest are Christian youths.  Then they tell the Christian leaders, “Well, we’ve made the arrests. But, just as you say so-and-so [Muslim] was involved, there are even more witnesses [Muslims] who insist your own [Christian] youths were the ones who began the violence.  So, we can either arrest and prosecute them, or you can rethink our offer about having a reconciliation meeting.”

Under the circumstances, dejected Christians generally agree to the further mockery.  What alternative do they have?  They know if they don’t their youth will certainly go to prison and be tortured.   In one recent incident, wounded Christians who dared fight against Muslim attackers were arrested and, despite serious injuries, held for seven hours and prevented from receiving medical attention….

[N]ot only are the victims denied any justice, but the aggressors are further emboldened to attack again.

Indeed, as seen by recent events—including one month where four churches were attacked and then closed—this modus operandi and culture of emboldened impunity is now more entrenched in Egypt than before.

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Two Christians Ambushed, Killed in Central Nigeria

Peace Joseph, 6, slain in attack in Miango, Nigeria on March 8. (Morning Star News)

Nigeria (Morning Star News) – Muslim Fulani herdsmen on Sunday (June 10) killed two Christians and seriously wounded another in central Nigeria as they made their way home from a church service, local sources said.

Ibrahim Weyi, 45, and Larry More, 53, were said to be hacked to death when herdsmen ambushed them at 7:40 p.m. as the Christians were going home on a motorcycle from an evening worship service in Plateau state’s Kwall village, in the Bassa area, Patience Moses told Morning Star News.

A third Christian, 23-year-old Samuel Weyi, was wounded in the attack, the local resident said. All three belong to the Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA) in Kwall, another resident, Lawerence Zango, told Morning  Star News. Weyi is receiving treatment at an Intensive Care Unit of a hospital in Jos, he said.

“Fulani herdsmen have continued to kill innocent Christians in our villages, yet the Nigerian government has not taken proactive measures to end the onslaught,” Zango said.

A spokesman for the Plateau State Command, Mathias Tyopev, confirmed the attack and told Morning Star News that an investigation is underway.

Herdsmen attacks on Christian communities in the Bassa area intensified late last year and have continued in spite of the presence of military personnel, sources said. Since February, 11 Christians have lost their lives in the area at the hands of Muslim Fulani herdsmen, including the two killed on Sunday, said the Rev. Sunday Zibeh, pastor of the ECWA church in Nzharuvo, Miango.

“In these cases, the victims were either ambushed and killed by the herdsmen or attacked in their homes at night,” Pastor Zibeh told Morning Star News. “The sad reality is that the Nigerian government headed by President Muhammadu Buhari, himself a Muslim and a Fulani man, has not acted in any way to end these attacks.”

He gave the names of those killed as Adam Sunday, 38; Jatau Akus, 39; Chohu Awarhai and Marcus Mali, 22, all of Jebbu-Miango village. They were ambushed and killed by the herdsmen on April 18.

“The four victims were construction workers working on site when they were attacked,” he said.

In March two other Christians, 17-year-old Lumumbah Chayi and Joseph Alli, 23, were killed in Jebbu-Miango and Rotsu villages, he said.

“Joseph was attacked and beheaded at about 9:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 15 in Rotsu village, while Chayi, a high school student, was murdered on Monday, March 12, at about 7 p.m. by the Fulani herdsmen in Kwall village,” he said.

In February three other Christians were killed and two injured in an ambush by herdsmen near Zanwra village, Pastor Zibeh said. John Esije was 32; Monday Nzwe was 38; and Saku Giyeri was 41. The wounded survivors are Sunday Bala, 33, and, Gudu Gara, 25, he said, adding that all the victims were members of ECWA church.

Zango, a church youth leader in Miango, which is part of the Bassa Local Government Area, told Morning Star News that since the beginning of 2017, 99 Christians in the Miango area have been killed in attacks on at least 26 villages, with another 44 Christians injured and 863 houses razed.

Among them were three children of an ECWA church member in Nzharuvo village, Miango. Joseph Gah Nze said Muslim Fulani herdsmen broke into his house on at 10 p.m. on March 8 and killed his three children – 12-year-old twins Christopher and Emmanuel, and 6-year Peace Joseph – and 18-year-old nephew Henry Audu.

In addition, Zango said more than 23,000 Christians have been displaced from their Miango area homes, thousands of dollars of farm produce have been destroyed and 15 motorbikes and a bus have been burned. At least 24 irrigation water pumps have been destroyed, he added.

The Irigwe Development Association, an umbrella community organization for Irigwe ethnic peoples, who are predominantly Christian, in April decried the incessant killings. Sunday Abdu, president of the association, said at a press conference in Jos on April 24 that between Jan. 25 and March 12, more than 70 Christians were killed by armed Muslim Fulani herdsmen.

“The Irigwe nation feels compelled to once more raise the alarm over the continuous loss of lives from attacks on innocent villages,” Abdu said. “You are aware that we buried 25 people on the day we had set out to bury four out of the five that were killed on the night of the president’s visit to the state, this is in addition to the ones we have buried from series of attacks since January, not to mention the number of homes we have lost from such attacks and the destruction of farmlands which has ensured a looming hunger.”

Christians make up 51.3 percent of Nigeria’s population, while Muslims living primarily in the north and middle belt account for 45 percent.

 

 

North Koreans ‘betrayed’ by human rights omission in Trump-Kim agreement

(World Watch Monitor) North Koreans were “betrayed” by the failure of US President Donald Trump to include human rights provisions in his agreement with the country’s leader, Kim Jong-un, following their historic meeting in Singapore, according to Human Rights Watch’s Asia Director, Phil Robertson.

“The North Korean people have suffered for so long,” he told the BBC World Service, “and it looks like they’ll have to suffer for a little longer.”

But after the meeting Trump said the many North Koreans currently being held in forced-labour camps were “one of the great winners today”.

Responding to a question from ABC News’s Jon Karl about whether North Korea’s oppression of its people was worse than any other regime on earth, Trump said: “It’s a rough situation over there; there’s no question about it, and we did discuss it today pretty strongly.

“I mean, knowing what the main purpose of what we were doing is – de-nuking – but we did discuss it in pretty good length.

“We’ll be doing something on it. It’s rough; it’s rough in a lot of places, by the way, not just there, but it’s rough and we will continue that, and I think ultimately we will agree to something, but it was discussed at length. Outside of the nuclear situation, [it was] one of the primary topics.”

‘Very deep resentment’

John Choi*, a Christian human rights advocate who escaped from North Korea and now lives in the UK, was more optimistic.

“Hopefully denuclearisation will lead to more money available to feed the everyday citizens of North Korea and provide them with a better life. President Trump said that the human rights issues are a continuing process. I am glad it is now on the agenda. But Kim Jong-un has to be committed to it too. Kim Jong-un has not yet referred to the prison camps or religious freedom. This is an ongoing process and I will continue to advocate and pray for it,” he told the Christian religious freedom charity Open Doors International.

But Yong Sook, whose husband died in a North Korean prison and who now lives in South Korea, told Open Doors she watched the meeting between the US president and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un “with very deep resentment”.

“How many innocent people have died because of the development of the nuclear weapons they are talking about now?” she said. “So far, none of the leaders of North Korea have really taken care of their people. They let them starve to death. Why? Because they don’t want to give up those nuclear weapons. They need them to survive and survival is Kim Jong-un’s desire. Now he wants to give up those weapons? Maybe, but again, he will only give them up if his survival is guaranteed.

“Kim Jong-un should confess what he and his regime have done. He should open the doors of the political camps and kneel down to apologise to those who have suffered due to its regime. The lives of North Korean citizens are just as important as Kim Jong-un’s life.”

Christian roots

Historically, North Korea has a rich Christian heritage, but after Japan’s formal rule from 1910-1945, followed by the Korean War (1950-53), any form of public Christian worship has been banned, and surviving Christians have had to take their beliefs “underground”.

Today North Korea is atheistic and totalitarian, and since 2002 it has been the most dangerous place to be a Christian, according to Open Doors.

If you “merged the Soviet Union under Stalin with an ancient Chinese Empire, mixed in The Truman Show and then made the whole thing Holocaust-esque, you have modern-day North Korea”, Tim Urban wrote in the Huffington Post after visiting the country in 2017.

“It’s a dictatorship of the most extreme kind, a cult of personality beyond anything Stalin or Mao could have imagined; a country as closed off to the world and as secretive as they come, keeping both the outside world and its own people completely in the dark about one another — a true hermit kingdom.”

‘70,000 Christians detained’

There are approximately 300,000 Christians in the country, with almost a quarter of them (70,000) being held in prisons and labour camps, where they face “unimaginable torture, inhumane and degrading treatment purely because of their faith”, according to Zoe Smith, Head of Advocacy at Open Doors UK & Ireland.

Leading up to the summit, North Korea released three American citizens who had been put in labour camps for “anti-state activities”. One of the detainees, Kim Hak Song, recently said his captors had told him he was imprisoned because of his “hostile act” of prayer.

“The systematic persecution of Christians is just one of many heinous human rights violations perpetrated by the North Korean regime,” Smith said. “If true change is to come to that country – and we hope it will – any further negotiations must confront the desperate human rights situation.”

Meanwhile North Korea appears to be upgrading its longstanding neighbourhood-watch system, or ‘inminban’, whereby every North Korean is called upon to report on any criminal activity or political disobedience that they see. According to the South Korea-based news service Daily NKinminban leaders now receive special rations in return, while in some places, like the capital Pyongyang, they have the authority to expel families who have engaged in illegal activities.

According to the US State Department’s International Religious Freedom Report for 2017, there were more than 1,300 religious-freedom violations in North Korea last year, while it is estimated that its camps hold more than 120,000 political prisoners.

In December three jurists called on the International Criminal Court to establish a special tribunal to prosecute North Korea’s leader and his top officials for committing “crimes against humanity”.

(*) Name changed for security reasons

Prayercast Ramadan Challenge: Day 27 – Islamic State (IS)

“This war is from Satan against you, Lord. Against humanity, created in your image.”

SUMMARY—Up to 1.2 million people were displaced by the violence in Iraq in 2014 alone. Millions more live in fear. Massacres, beheadings, crucifixions, abductions, and sexual violence are rampant. Islamic State has attempted to eliminate entire Christian communities. As many as eight million people are believed to now live under the partial, or complete, control of IS.

This modern day nightmare has not only darkened the landscape of Iraq and Syria, but the whole world, with over 11,000 people from abroad joining the ranks of the 30-50,000 Islamic State militants. Teaching an extreme interpretation of Sunni Islam, they believe they are the only true believers and see the rest of the world as their enemy. Using violence to get what they want, their goal is the creation of an Islamic caliphate ruled by a single political and religious leader, ruling Muslim communities around the world.

Despite these gruesome realities, “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but…against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph 6:12). This is a spiritual battle against our adversary, the devil, who “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Pet 5:8).

We hate the darkness and underlying evil, and we grieve the resulting bloodshed and pain. Yet Jesus still says, “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt 5:44). God’s love reaches not only those suffering under this oppression, but it reaches even into the ranks of Islamic State. Just as God transformed Saul into Paul through an encounter with Jesus, so can He transform today’s persecutors into tomorrow’s evangelists. And He is doing just that.

As we continue on the nightly prayer conference call during Ramadan, using the Prayercast Ramadan Challenge prayer points, let us unite in prayer that the church will grow where the enemy tries to destroy those who follow Christ. Let us pray that they will come out of the darkness to follow Jesus. Pray the Light of Christ will shine in places where there is hatred from those who don’t know our Lord and Savior.

Pray for those who persecute you from Voice of the Persecuted on Vimeo.

Our prayers do have an impact on the things of eternity and the souls of men and women to find truth in him who is the Living Word. Please join us on the prayer conference call to lift prayers up together. As ever, I remain your brother and prayer partner in our Lord Jesus. Meet you on the call!

Blaine Scogin, Prayer Director of Persecution Watch and Voice of the Persecuted

VOP Note: If you are unable to participate on the call, or cannot join us on a particular evening, you can still use the prayer points and pray in your personal prayer closet. The only thing I would urge you is, please do it.  Whether you pray privately, in a group, or on our call, please pray for a great harvest of souls during this time of Ramadan.

Nightly Call scheduled through Ramadan 

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Police in Pakistan Kill Young Christian Man in Raid, Relatives Say

Body of Waqas Masih. (Morning Star News)

Pakistan (Morning Star News) – Poor Christians in Pakistan commonly see police target them for extortion on false charges, and last week such a case ended in the death of a 24-year-old Christian, relatives said.

On the assumption that Christians with few legal resources can be targeted with impunity in the 96-percent Muslim country, policemen on May 29 killed Waqas Masih when his uncle refused their demand for money after they threatened to file false charges, the relatives said. Police are now pressuring the family to drop the murder case, they said.

The slain young man’s mother, a widow who belongs to a Pentecostal church, told Morning Star News that three policemen forced their way into the home of her brother, rickshaw driver Saleem Masih, in in Punjab Province’s Haider Colony, Gujrat District. Saleem Masih had recruited Waqas Masih and other relatives to help him with a construction project at his residence.

“Around 6 p.m., I was informed that three policemen had beaten my son to death,” Khalida Bibi, a sweeper at a hospital, told Morning Star News. “The police are now mounting pressure on us to ‘reconcile’ with their accused colleagues. They were initially reluctant to even arrest the accused, but eventually they had to take them into custody when we threatened to launch protests.”

Saleem Masih’s son, Emmanuel Saleem, told Morning Star News that he and other relatives were sitting in the courtyard of their home when three officers identified only as Shoaib, Shehbaz and Saqib forced their way in around 5:15 p.m.

“We asked them what they wanted, to which they said that they had information that we are drug peddlers and that they had raided the house to recover the narcotics,” he said, adding that the allegation was frivolous as the three policemen were notorious for blackmailing poor people in the area.

“We are poor Christians, but we earn our livelihood with honesty and integrity,” Emmanuel Saleem said. “We knew that the policemen were there for extorting money, but since we had done nothing wrong, my father chose to confront them rather than succumb to their blackmail.”

A heated argument ensued between his father and the police, and they began threatening to file false charges against him and other family members, he said.

“This must have panicked Waqas, who ran outside the house,” Emmanuel Saleem said. “The three cops ran after him, as did my other cousins, Qaiser and Dawood. The cops got hold of Waqas soon after and started hitting him mercilessly with punches, kicks and gun butts. Qaiser and Dawood tried to save Waqas from the police torture, but they were pushed back and warned not to intervene in the beating.”

His two cousins had returned to the house to tell his father what had happened when the policemen arrived and told them to check on Waqas Masih, saying he was “feigning illness,” Emmanuel Saleem said.

“We immediately rushed toward Waqas and saw him lying on the street, motionless,” he said, adding that he had already died by the time they arrived.

Waqas Masih worked as an assistant gardener at a government-run, rural health center. Asked why he had run from the house, Emmanuel Saleem said police often target poor Christians for extortion and file fake charges against them when they don’t have anything to pay. He said this was not the first time local police had illegally entered a home and beat Christians.

“Waqas was a very honest and hard-working young man who had no criminal history,” he said. “I guess he got frightened after the policemen threatened to implicate the cousins in fake cases.”

He confirmed that officials were pressuring the family to “pardon” the accused and give statements in their favor.

“We have even been offered money, besides threats to withdraw the FIR [First Information Report], but we have decided to hold our ground,” he said.

Police Denial

Gujrat District Police Officer (DPO) Jehanzeb Nazeer, however, denied that the accused officers were pressuring the family.

“I immediately ordered the registration of the FIR, and the three accused officials were taken into custody within 72 hours of the incident,” he said, but he added that the officers have not been formally charged with murder as the initial post-mortem report did not reveal the cause of death.

“The initial post-mortem report does not state any injury marks on the deceased’s body or the cause of death, therefore we are now waiting for a full report from the Punjab Forensic Science Agency [PFSA] before reaching a final conclusion about the incident,” he said.

Initial investigation showed the three officers raided the house on a tip that drug peddlers were present, he said.

“Waqas fled when the officials sought to frisk him, resulting in a chase,” he said. “The boy reportedly fell on the road, and one constable claims that he only kicked him twice in anger. The boy died on the spot, and the officials fled the scene.”

When asked if the deceased had any criminal record, the police chief said that they had not found any case registered against him.

Nazeer denied that the three accused officers extorted money from citizens.

“Since the matter involves a minority community, I took immediate action so that no one tries to exploit the situation for their ulterior motives,” he said. “Action will be taken in accordance with the law if the PFSA report points to police high-handedness.”

The three officders were taken into custody so that they could not influence the investigation or fabricate evidence against the victim, he added.

Pakistan is ranked fifth on Open Doors’ 2018 Word Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.

Prayercast Ramadan Challenge: Day 23 – Egypt

SUMMARY: Egypt’s ancient legacy and span of achievements is truly astounding. This remarkable nation is often known by the world for its ancient pyramids, nearly 3,000 years of history, and the Biblical story of the deliverance of the Israelites. Though it has a predominantly desert landscape, farms and sprawling cities line the banks of the Nile River. Egypt remains the most populous country in the Arab world and holds great regional and global influence. What happens here has the potential to impact the entire Muslim world!

The Arab Spring (a series of anti-government protests and uprisings across the Middle East starting in 2011) sparked political upheaval across the Arab world. Egypt was no exception, erupting in mass protests that led to the ousting of then President Hosni Mubarak. Clashes between the Muslim Brotherhood protesters and the brutally reactive military left hundreds dead. Conflict continues to polarize the nation. Amid an increasingly repressive government, Egypt is terrorized by Islamic extremism. Following the overthrow of President Mohamed Morsi in 2013, militants linked to the Islamic State (IS) led an insurgency, bringing widespread terror and the tragic deaths of thousands. Political unrest has inhibited the nation from addressing economic problems, corruption, and strained resources. Approximately a quarter of the population lives in poverty, only exacerbated by the water crisis. Farmers face imprisonment or hunger due to the regulations on crops that require more water. In addition to this tragedy, forced labor and sex trafficking leaves street children especially vulnerable.

Egypt was a majority-Christian nation for over 1,000 years, and today it remains home to the Middle East’s largest body of Christians – the Coptic Church (12%). Evangelical Christianity is on the rise, though still only about 3% of the population. Yet Islam remains the state religion and the faith of 87% of its people. Egypt is also often seen as the intellectual center for Sunni Islam. Though the Egyptian Church has endured persecution for over 2,000 years, recent instability and the presence of the Islamic State have intensified their suffering. Horrific scenes of church bombings have brought the plight of Egyptian Christians to the world stage. However, even as persecution increases, so does the number of Muslims turning to Christ! Scripture is more accessible than ever, and the Church is growing in unity across theological differences.

As we continue on the nightly prayer conference call during Ramadan, using the Prayercast Ramadan Challenge prayer points, let us unite in prayer that the church in Egypt will grow. Let us pray that there will be those who will come under the shadow of Jesus, and for the Light of Christ to shine in that Nation.

Continent: Africa

Capital City: Cairo

Government: Republic

Population: 97,041,072

Major People Groups: Arab 92.1%, Berber 2%,

Gypsy 1.4%, Nubians 1.1%, other 0.8%

Religion: Muslim 90%, Christian 10%

Language: Arabic, English, French

GDP Per Capita: $13,000

Literacy Rate: 73.8%

UNREACHED: 59.5%

PRAYER POINTS

• Pray for a stable and trustworthy government to act in the interest of all its people.

• Pray for the Church to continue to overcome evil with divine forgiveness and love.

• Pray for Jesus to reveal Himself to an unprecedented number of Muslims disillusioned by Islamic State.

Our prayers do have an impact on the things of eternity and the souls of men and women to find truth in him who is the Living Word. Please join us on the prayer conference call to lift prayers up together. As ever, I remain your brother and prayer partner in our Lord Jesus. Meet you on the call!

Blaine Scogin, Prayer Director of Persecution Watch and Voice of the Persecuted

VOP Note: If you are unable to participate on the call, or cannot join us on a particular evening, you can still use the prayer points and pray in your personal prayer closet. The only thing I would urge you is, please do it.  Whether you pray privately, in a group, or on our call, please pray for a great harvest of souls during this time of Ramadan.

Nightly Call scheduled through Ramadan 

Time:
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8 p.m. Central time
7 p.m. Mountain time
6 p.m. Pacific time
Call Number:  
712-775-7035
Access Code:
281207#

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Pakistan: Christians told they can’t have a church in Muslim-majority village

The church in Nayya Sarabah (Chak 336) village was built in 2012 (World Watch Monitor)

Christians in a village in Pakistan’s Punjab province have been told to remove every visible sign of Christianity from their church, six months after being forced to sign a form pledging they would no longer hold services, reports World Watch Monitor.

The 40 Christian families in Nayya Sarabah (Chak 336) village, part of Toba Tek Singh district near Faisalabad, haven’t held a service since before Christmas.

Muslim resident Hajji Muhammad Siddique told World Watch Monitor that, as “Muslims are in the majority in the village, we can’t allow a church here”.

“Now we are working with the civil administration to give a piece of land to Christians outside the village,” said Siddique, 73, who runs a dispensary. “When it is done, we will make the Christians write an agreement that they will sell this current church building or at least dismantle the church structure and crosses.”

“Most of the Christians of the village work as brick-kiln labourers,” he added. “It is only Rafaqat Masih, who, being a retired army personnel, is trying to be a leader and has helped build a church in the village.”

The church is run by Pastor Samuel Masih, but it is Rafaqat Masih, a union councillor for minorities, who has been at the forefront of efforts to resolve the matter.

“Muslims are in the majority in the village, so we can’t allow a church here.”

Most of the Christians are poor labourers. The church belongs to Full Gospel Assemblies, an evangelical group working in Pakistan, and was built on land belonging to 70-year-old Christian named Rafiq Masih.

“Rafiq is childless, so he bequeathed this property for the construction of a church building,” Rafaqat Masih told World Watch Monitor. “The construction began in 2012 and we had been holding worship services since then. But in December 2016 the local Muslims objected over it and filed an application against us in the local police station. At that time, a compromise was reached and we again started holding services. But, again, in December 2017, they submitted an application in the police station, after which we were called in and were told to sign an agreement.”

The police station in the nearby town of Rajana brought together Muslims and Christians of the village on 14 December 2017, and had them sign an agreement according to which the Christians would “hold religious ceremonies in their houses. There will be no programme in the church. If anyone will violate this agreement, then legal action will be taken. [Christians] will not gather in any house for a religious programme. If there will be any violation of this, legal action will be taken”.

That same month, the Muslims submitted an application to close down the church, and the local police and civil administration told the Christians that, as their church was not included on the official list of churches that must be provided with security on Sundays, they could no longer hold services.

(Due to the rise of terrorism, all gatherings in Pakistan are provided police security. Churches are provided security on Sunday or any other given day that Christians request police protection. However, in this case, the police told them that the church is not part of the authorised list of churches, so they cannot be provided security. Now, because security cannot be provided, they cannot come together. So in the name of security, they stopped the Christians from gathering in the church, and also from worshipping in any house.)

The Christians in the village have therefore not held a service this year, but have made frequent visits to the civil administration to either permit them to hold services in their church or to provide them with an alternative venue.

‘We are being forced to demolish the church’

Christian and Muslim villagers were called together for another meeting on Saturday, 2 June, held in the presence of Deputy Superintendent of Police Muhammad Tahir.

After the meeting, Rafaqat Masih told World Watch Monitor: “We are being forced to demolish the existing church structure and, in lieu of this, they would let us build a church on a piece of government land outside the village which is already dedicated for a school.

“They haven’t even given any documentary proof that this piece of land would be transferred to Christians. Then another issue is that we worked for several years to construct this church building. Now who is going to pay for building from scratch?”

Masih, who runs a small shop in the village, told World Watch Monitor that he had submitted an application to the Toba Tek Singh Deputy Commissioner for including the name of the church in the list of the churches which are provided security.

“The civil administration tells us that they cannot provide us security, so it is in our benefit that they have stopped us from holding a church service,” he said.

On 22 February, the Toba Tek Singh Deputy Commissioner wrote a letter to the district police chief, a copy of which World Watch Monitor has seen, saying: “Priest (sic) Samual (sic) and others of Chak No. 336/GB (Nia Saraba) Tehsil and District Toba Tek Singh has informed the [respectable] Deputy Commissioner that they have established a church in said village and the police has not permitted them to offer their prayers… I have been directed by the [respectable] Deputy Commissioner to convey you that the tension between both the parties/communities may cause an untoward situation. In view of the sensitivity of the issue, you are requested to please look into the matter at personal level and resolve the issue, to avoid any law and order situation, which may result in disturbing the peace and tranquillity of society.”

Deputy Superintendent Muhammad Tahir told World Watch Monitor that the Christians being forced to pledge to end services was not legal. “We are trying to amicably resolve this matter,” he said.

Rasheed Jalal, a member of the district council belonging to the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, said the Christians were “not being treated equally”.

He said he had met with several senior government figures, including the Provincial Minister for Human Rights and Minority Affairs, National Assembly members and Muslim clerics, but that “nothing worked”.

“Christians are peace-loving people,” said Full Gospel Assemblies Principal Dr. Liaquat M. Qaiser. “We don’t desire any conflict. If the local Muslims do not want Christians worshipping among them, then they should provide them an alternative place. They are poor people and do not have resources to buy another place and build a church once again.”

According to the Pakistan’s constitution, a person’s security is the responsibility of the state. The constitution also provides special protections for religious minorities in religious, social and economic matters. However, contrary to these constitutional protections, churches are often forced to provide for their own security, which is primarily the responsibility of the state.

Turkey Turns On Its Christians

The ultra-nationalist Islamist group Alperen Hearths staged a forced conversion of Santa Claus to Islam, putting a gun to the head of an actor dressed as Santa Claus. This photograph was then posted on Twitter.

(Middle East Forum) While Christians make up less than half a percent of Turkey’s population, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his ruling Justice and Reconciliation Party (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi, AKP) depict them as a grave threat to the stability of the nation. With Erdoğan’s jihadist rhetoric often stereotyping Christian Turkish citizens as not real Turks but rather as Western stooges and collaborators, many Turks seem to be tilting toward an “eliminationist anti-Christian mentality,” to use historian Daniel Goldhagen’s term. Small wonder that the recent launch of an official online genealogy service allowing Turks to trace their ancestry has kindled a tidal xenophobic wave on the social media welcoming the fresh possibility to expose “Crypto-Armenians, Greeks, and Jews” mascarading as true Turks. [1]

“The Mosques Are Our Barracks”

Persecution of Turkey’s Christian minority has long predated Erdoğan and the AKP. As it stood on the verge of extinction, the Ottoman Empire engaged in mass deportations and massacres that culminated in the Armenian genocide. The end of World War I saw the expulsion of more than a million Greeks,[2] and the position of the dwindling Christian community only somewhat improved in Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s secularist republic. Yet while Kemalist Turkey paid lip service to the equality of its non-Muslim minorities, the AKP unabashedly excludes these groups from Turkey’s increasingly Islamist national ethos.[3]

An ominous indication of what lay in store for the religious minorities was afforded as early as December 1998 when Erdoğan, then mayor of Istanbul and an opposition politician, announced that the “mosques are our barracks, the domes our helmets, the minarets our bayonets, and the faithful our soldiers,” quoting a line from a poem by the nineteenth-century nationalist poet Ziya Gökalp underscoring the Islamist foundation of Turkish identity. And while this recitation landed Erdoğan in prison for inciting religion-based hatred,[4] once at the helm, he steadily realized this vision, systematically undoing Atatürk’s secularist legacy and Islamizing Turkey’s public space through such means as the government-operated Religious Affairs Directorate (Diyanet), which pays the salaries of the country’s 110,000 imams and controls the content of their Friday sermons.

Things came to a head during the July 15, 2016 abortive coup when the regime ordered the imams to go to their mosques and urge the faithful to take to the streets to quash the attempted revolt.[5] Not surprisingly, this Islamist-nationalist reassertion was accompanied by numerous Christophobic manifestations (in Ayyan Hirsi Ali’s words),[6] notably attacks on churches throughout the country.[7] In Malatya, for example, a gang chanting “Allahu Akbar” broke the glass panels of the front door of a Protestant church while, in the Black Sea city of Trabzon, rioters smashed the windows of the Santa Maria Catholic church. Witnesses said the attackers used hammers to break down the door of the church before Muslim neighbors drove them away.[8] As Istanbul pastor Yüce Kabakçı lamented:

The reality is that Turkey is neither a democracy nor a secular republic. There is no division between government affairs and religious affairs. There’s no doubt that the government uses the mosques to get its message across to its grassroots supporters. There is an atmosphere in Turkey right now that anyone who isn’t Sunni is a threat to the stability of the nation. Even the educated classes here don’t associate personally with Jews or Christians. It’s more than suspicion. It’s a case of let’s get rid of anyone who isn’t Sunni.[9]

Anti-Christmas Campaigns… [Full Story]

Please pray for Christians in Turkey and for our brother, Andrew Brunson, an American imprisoned for his faith and awaiting the next session of his trial on July 18th.

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