Home » religious freedom
Category Archives: religious freedom
Some state-run churches were allowed to reopen in China after a 5-month lockdown. But only after proving their loyalty to the Communist Party.
(Bitterwinter) The Lishiting Catholic Church in the Shunhe district of Kaifeng, a prefecture-level city in the central province of Henan, reopened on June 14, after staying closed for five months. “We solemnly raise the national flag here today after the epidemic, witnessing the fruits of all people working together under the leadership of Xi Jinping who directs the government and the Party,” a priest told a gathering of about 20 people, supervised by government officials.
The Gangxi Christian Church in the district was also reopened at 8 o’clock that same morning. “The church finally reopened after five months, 147 days, or 21 Sundays, but instead of singing hymns to praise God, the government required us to raise the national flag and sing the national anthem, praising Xi Jinping’s ‘victory in fighting the epidemic,’” a congregation member commented. “This is completely contrary to our belief.”
Some state-run places of worship were allowed to reopen in June, long after other public venues in China returned to normal after coronavirus restrictions have been lifted. But only those who commit to endorsing patriotism are permitted to open their doors to congregations.
The Two Chinese Christian Councils in Henan, Zhejiang, and other provinces demanded that on the relaunch day, churches must promote patriotism, raise the national flag, sing the country’s anthem, and tell believers “moving stories about China’s battle with the pandemic.”
At 7 a.m. on June 13, over 20 clergy members of the Quannan Church, the largest Christian church in Quanzhou city in the southeastern province of Fujian, held a flag-raising ceremony in its courtyard. An eye-catching slogan promoting the core socialist values was posted on the wall behind the flagpole. (see top photo, Quannan Christian Church)
That day, under the supervision of officials from the city’s United Front Work Department and Religious Affairs Bureau, the church pastor praised President Xi Jinping’s achievements in fighting the epidemic.
“We should love the socialist system and the Communist Party,” he said, going on to promote the “superiority of the socialist system” and criticizing the United States for its efforts battling the pandemic.
“The United Front Work Department and Religious Affairs Bureau demand to hold flag-raising ceremonies and promote patriotism,” a church member commented. “From now on, all churches have to do so, or they will be shut down, and their leaders dismissed.”
A preacher from Henan’s Zhumadian city told Bitter Winter that before his church reopened, he had to attend a conference organized by the local Two Chinese Christian Councils. Participants had to study Xi Jinping’s major speeches on preventing and controlling the coronavirus outbreak and listen to “heroic stories of fighting the epidemic.”
“The government demands to promote these things to congregations after churches reopen,” the preacher explained. “These texts are published in a booklet, over 100 pages long. Preachers must mainly talk about the state’s policies. Those who disobey will be arrested.”
A pastor of the Seventh-day Adventist Church thinks that the requirement to raise the national flag and promote patriotism on the day churches reopen is aimed at “disturbing the minds of believers to transform their ideologies and change the essence of their beliefs.” He is concerned that the CCP will further intensify its control over people of faith through patriotic education and indoctrination.
“Its ultimate goal is to make all people believe in communism only, to ‘sinicize’ Christianity,” the pastor added, calling on believers to “stand guard against the CCP’s vicious intentions, not to become prisoners of communism.”
“Three-Self churches should follow the path of house churches and hold meetings in secret, to avoid being controlled by the CCP and save their pure faith,” the pastor concluded.
VOP NOTE: In a repeat of history, the Chinese government has been implementing tactics to remove not only Christianity but all religion from society. Pressure is being put on Chinese citizens to pledge allegiance and have faith solely in President Xi Jinping and the Communist Party of China.
Threatening and intimidating Muslims, the CCP implemented forced rectifications of mosques in Hui-populated areas in Henan, Hebei, and Ningxia. According to an imam from Shangqiu city, five mosques were forcibly rectified in the city’s Minquan county in April, following the central government’s orders to “sinicize” over 1,000 mosques across the province. Mosques in Bodang township’s Zhaizhuang village and Huji township’s Zhangzhuang village were among the targeted places of worship. The imam added that officials threatened to arrest anyone who dared to protest or oppose the state’s policies.
“The state won’t allow temples to spring up all over the country,” a government employee from the southeastern province of Jiangxi told Bitter Winter. “Religion is certainly restricted in China. People can believe in nothing other than the Communist Party, which will resolutely crack down on anything not supported by it.”
The Chinese government is expanding the scope of crackdowns on religions by stifling businesses that produce religious items.
Quyang county, administered by the prefecture-level city of Baoding in the northern province of Hebei, is renowned across China for stone carving crafts. During the reign of the Western Han dynasty (206 BC-24 AD), Emperor Wu (157 BC-87 BC) named the area the “carving town.” Religious statues made in the county are sold all over China and also in Taiwan, but amid the CCP’s campaigns against people of faith, even those who make religion-related items are not spared.
Voice of the Persecuted (VOP) received reports from our Pakistani correspondent of numerous cases where poor Christians had been asked by Muslim charities to denounce Jesus and accept Islam in exchange for food packages during the Covid-19 crisis. It’s immoral that Pakistan’s religious minorities, often the most vulnerable in the society, are targeted for more abuse during a pandemic. The crisis has put them at an even greater risk of being discriminated against and persecuted solely for their faith.
In April, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) shared they were troubled by the reports of food aid being denied to religious minorities amid the spread of COVID-19 in Pakistan.
“In a recent address by Prime Minister Khan to the international community, he highlighted that the challenge facing governments in the developing world is to save people from dying of hunger while also trying to halt the spread of COVID-19. This is a monumental task laying before many countries. Prime Minister Khan’s government has the opportunity to lead the way but they must not leave religious minorities behind. Otherwise, they may add on top of it all one more crisis, created by religious discrimination and inter-communal strife”, added USCIRF Commissioner Johnnie Moore.
These actions are simply reprehensible,” stated USCIRF Commissioner Anurima Bhargava. “As COVID-19 continues to spread, vulnerable communities within Pakistan are fighting hunger and to keep their families safe and healthy. Food aid must not be denied because of one’s faith. We urge the Pakistani government to ensure that food aid from distributing organizations is shared equally with Hindus, Christians, and other religions minorities.”
Pakistan’s economic and social structure is ill-equipped to deal with a pandemic like Covid-19. While the country was in strict lockdown people were unable to work with many Christian laborers unable to feed their families. With little choice, they sought help from charities who misused the situation to forcefully convert people to Islam. That’s when Voice of the Persecuted stepped in to help over 20 families with basic food necessities. We were able to identify impoverished families in Lahore and set out to cover them with food packages during the lockdown.
Our Pakistani representative, Akash Mushtaq, delivered food parcels and spoke with people on the ground. Akash asked Rafiq Masih how he has managed during the coronavirus lockdown.
“We have been very helpless. We have asked for help from government assisted charities and they have turned us down. Many Muslim charities have denied us food because of our Christian names. When they read Masih as our surname, they deny food.”
Many Christians are honored in writing Masih meaning “Christ” in English as their surname.
Shamim, a mother of five, told Voice of the Persecuted,
“I work as a maid in different households and I was able to earn about $200 a month. It was not enough for a family of seven people but we are thankful for whatever we have. Since the lockdown, I have not been allowed to enter homes and I cannot earn. My children are asking for food and clothes and I cannot provide for them. Many Muslims come to offer food if we convert to Islam. We are hungry but not faithless.”
A special thanks to our Pakistani representative for dedication, hard work and a loving heart. A huge thank you to those who have been supporting our work and making these missions possible. Your caring hearts mean more than you will ever know. They give thanks to God for answering their prayers through your gifts.
To contain the virus, Pakistan has decided to reimpose a partial lockdown and sealed off high risk residential areas across the country. The Punjab government decided to impose a ‘smart lockdown’ on seven major cities – Lahore, Rawalpindi, Faisalabad, Multan, Gujranwala, Sialkot, and Gujrat – to cut down the sharp increase in infections. In Lahore, the partial lockdown started Tuesday at midnight with the other six cities went under restriction on Wednesday.
Voice of the Persecuted is asking for your help to distribute food packages to more needy Pakistani Christian families in the newly restricted lockdown areas. Together with your generous help, we can reach the goal to alleviate their suffering. In darkness and desperation, let us serve in love, with open arms and giving hands to provide light and hope. Please consider partnering with us to continue aiding our suffering brothers and sisters in Pakistan during this time of great need.
Everyday, we thank God that He is working through you to care for His children and further His Kingdom! As you greatly bless others, may God continue to bless you. Thank you so much for your support. We couldn’t do it without you!
Please keep the people of Pakistan in your prayers, particularly Pakistani Christians as they continue to battle the crisis while searching for basic food supplies to care for their families.
In 2019, religious freedom conditions in Eritrea worsened, with increasing interference in and restrictions on religious groups. In spite of the significant regional political changes and the 2018 peace agreement between Eritrea and Ethiopia, Eritrea continues to have one of the worst religious freedom records in the world, and has shown little interest in concretely improving the situation. No new religious institutions were officially registered, and thus only four religious communities remain legally permitted to operate: the Coptic Orthodox Church of Eritrea, Sunni Islam, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Evangelical Church of Eritrea, a Lutheran-affiliated denomination.
During 2019, there was an increase in political activism and calls for democratic reform by secular and religious Eritreans. The government responded harshly to both registered religious groups as well as unrecognized ones, such as the Pentecostal and Evangelical Christian communities, and accused religious actors of political interference for defending their beliefs and human rights. Christians were arbitrarily arrested and detained, including in waves of arrests in May of more than 171 adults and children gathering for worship around Asmara. In August, another 80 were reportedly arrested for practicing their faith. In April, Eritrean Catholic bishops wrote a joint letter calling for national truth and reconciliation. Throughout the year, the government forcibly took over and closed multiple faith-based schools as well as 22 additional Catholic Church-run health centers.
USCIRF Commissioner Johnnie Moore cautions that religious freedom conditions in Eritrea continue to trend negatively. The governmentt maintained severe restrictions on religious practice and conducted waves of arrests of religious minorities.
Please keep our Eritrean brothers and sisters in your prayers.
(Forum 18) Twenty-one-year-old Iranian Christian convert Fatemeh (Mary) Mohammadi has been sentenced to three months plus one day in prison, and ten lashes.
The sentence relates to Mary’s alleged participation in anti-government demonstrations following the downing of a Ukrainian passenger plane in January.
The sentence is suspended for one year, and depends on her future conduct.
Mary has not appealed against the verdict, but commented:
“There was no evidence against me, so I ought to have been acquitted, but instead I was sentenced not only to imprisonment, but also flogging.
“And it should be mentioned that even before the verdict was handed down, I and my family were forced to endure all kinds of torture, none of which was sanctioned by law, and which ought to be considered crimes in themselves. So even if I would have been acquitted, it wouldn’t have been a real acquittal!”
“We have refrained from appealing against the verdict because the appeal courts have turned into confirmation courts!”
During Mary’s court hearing last week, the judge questioned her about her religious views, even though the charges were unrelated to her faith.
He cited no evidence against her, saying that her presence in the area where the rally was taking place was evidence in itself.
Mary’s hearing had previously been scheduled for 2 March, but was postponed due to coronavirus.
After her hearing was rescheduled, Mary tweeted that it would be a “crime against humanity” to send anyone to prison under the current circumstances.
Mary has already spent six months in prison as a result of her participation in house-churches, for which she was convicted of “action against national security” and “propaganda against the system”.
In July last year she faced fresh criminal charges relating to her “improper” wearing of hijab. Those charges, which were eventually quashed, were brought against her after she initially went to police to complain of an assault.
Then in December, Mary was kicked out of her Tehran university, without explanation, on the eve of her English-language exams.
Just a few weeks later, on 12 January 2020, Mary was arrested as protests took place in Azadi Square.
There was no word about Mary’s whereabouts for a month, before it was confirmed that she was being held in Qarchak women’s prison, south of the Iranian capital Tehran.
After her arrest, Mary was forced to sit in a yard, for hours, in extremely cold weather and opposite the toilets, and not given any food for 24 hours.
She was beaten so badly – by male and female officers – that the bruises were visible for three weeks.
Mary was also strip-searched twice by female officers, who told her that if she refused to remove her clothes, they would rip them from her.
Mary is a rare example of a Christian activist still living in Iran. She launched a campaign last year called “Kahma”, fighting for the rights of all Christians – whether from Christian homes, or Christian converts – to be given the right to attend church.
UPDATE on Anita
We had asked you to pray for Anita, a Christian convert who was charge with promoting the underground church in Iran. Her hearing took place on April 15th. The Iranian court had recommended 6 years in prison, but we were encouraged that the judge, who is known to be harsh, had treated her kindly during the trial. After the hearing she was released to house arrest and told the judge would send his final verdict. Sadly, she received a verdict of 10 years in prison. Please pray for Anita and her attorney who will likely appeal the sentence.
(Voice of the Persecuted) Thank you to all who have been praying for Anita. She was arrested, interrogated, tortured and charged for having a role in the underground house church movement. Later she was released to await her trial under house arrest.
Anita’s final hearing was held yesterday, April 15, 2020. The court had recommended over 5 years in prison. The judge hearing her was known to be tough. However, during her trial the judge was kind and recommended 1-1/2 years. As the hearing progressed his heart seemed to soften towards her. At the end he released her back to house arrest and said he would send his final verdict.
Please continue to pray for Anita and a favorable verdict with no prison time, and for all Christians in Iran.
Urgent Prayer Request: (Voice of the Persecuted) Please pray for Anita who gave her life to our Lord and converted to Christianity in Iran. She was arrested, interrogated, tortured and charged for having a role in the underground house church movement. Later she was released to await her trial under house arrest. Anita’s final court/trial date is scheduled tomorrow (April 15) in Iran, which would be this evening for those of us in the USA.
In recent weeks, we’ve heard of many being released from Iranian prisons due to the coronavirus. However, it appears the authorities may be set on giving Anita a heavy conviction and moving forward with her trial. Please pray for the judge’s heart to be softened. Continue to pray for all Christians in Iran. Pray for the many unbelievers to hear the Gospel with hearts ready to accept and follow our Lord, Jesus Christ.
Be encouraged as you read this praise report!
Morning Star News) – When a convert from Islam in Iran was sentenced to two years in exile in Sarbaz last year, the judge warned him that religious extremists in the remote desert town would treat him harshly.
When Ebrahim Firoozi arrived in November to southwest Iran near the border with Pakistan, though, he discovered the fear the judge had tried to instill in him was unfounded – local Muslims were helpful, open and hospitable, the Christian said in a recent online interview.
This discovery was all the more welcome as in March his term of exile was extended by another 11 months.
Upon his arrival in Sarbaz, one person invited Firoozi to stay at his home the first night; others quickly found him a place to live. Local people’s kindness only increased, he said, when they learned he was exiled for his Christian faith rather than for a crime.
“I found these people to be very noble,” Firoozi, 34, told Joseph Hovsepian of Hovsepian Ministries in an interview posted on YouTube in which he opened up about his conversion and his years in prison before exile.
Firoozi and advocates believe this kindness was an answer to the prayers of worried friends, family and others.
“The reason people were nice to me wasn’t because of my own character or my goodness. It was all because of God,” Firoozi told Hovsepian.
Released from Rajai Shahr Prison in Karaj on Oct. 26, Firoozi was ordered to report to Sarbaz following a brief period to order personal matters. Shortly after arriving, though, he sought permission to leave the area to settle family affairs in Hamedan and, receiving no response, in December he departed.
As a result, he received an additional eight months of exile for violating terms of the sentence and three more for failing to show for a daily check-in, according to advocacy group Middle East Concern (MEC).
Besides punishment, the purpose of exile is to keep people from continuing to be an influence in their areas, a researcher at MEC told Morning Star News. He added, however, that Firoozi has been an inspiration to Christians in his desire to stay in Iran, rather than fleeing in the face of persecution, and in his attitude throughout the process.
“His faithfulness in the midst of persecution is an inspiration to others,” he said.
Firoozi’s lifestyle in exile is simple, the researcher at MEC added, and he spends much of his time reading Christian literature.
It is unknown whether Firoozi has found work in the area, but Hovsepian told Morning Star News, “He is not alone, and he will be taken care of.”
Before exile, Firoozi had spent almost seven years in prison, starting in 2011, when agents searched his house, arrested him and presented tracts and other materials as evidence against him, he said in his online interview.
The judge initially sentenced Firoozi to 10 months in prison. When Firoozi was released, he continued to share his faith, and in 2013 he was given a one-year sentence and two years in exile.
Five years were added to the one-year sentence. As he was preparing to turn himself in to serve the initial one-year sentence, Firoozi said, he met with people to say goodbye, during which agents entered and interrogated them and accused him of conducting a Bible study group, and five years were added to his initial one-year sentence.
He was sentenced to five years under charges of “crimes against national security,” “participating in illegal gatherings” and “colluding with foreign entities.” Criminal charges are given to Christian converts for involvement and fellowship with Christian groups and activities. The sentences, Firoozi said, are rarely put in writing to avoid evidence of unjust convictions.
In court he was pressured to ask for forgiveness and renounce his faith in exchange for a lighter sentence, he told Hovsepian.
“But that was absolutely not an option for me,” he said. “I could never turn my back on my faith and submit to this, and by God’s grace I encountered a few years in prison in exchange for an eternity with him.”
At the beginning of his faith journey, Firoozi said he knew that he would face this type of persecution.
His journey began at age 20, when his family moved from Hamadan to Tehran. Through Christian media, he was introduced to a Christ much different than the one he had heard of while growing up.
When the friends he had been staying with blocked the Christian programs, he listenedto short-wave radio broadcasts with headphones on the roof of the house, Bible in hand, until he could find his own place. Through subsequent contacts with Christians, he said, “I came to accept him as my Lord and Savior.”
After his conversion, he openly shared his faith and gave people Bibles, and even declared himself as Christian on official forms.
Staying in Iran
While emphasizing that his experience in prison was not necessarily like that of all Christian inmates, Firoozi said he was not mistreated. He was eventually allowed to have a Bible, to build a small library, and when all Christians were transferred to Rajai Shahr Prison in 2013, he was able to be with fellow believers.
He told Hovsepian that in prison he realized the value of freedom, love and grace toward others as well as the endurance and submission required of biblical heroes like Job.
While serving his sentence, his mother died. Hovsepian said the fact that Firoozi’s heart is not filled with bitterness is a testament to his character.
“In a way I would say maybe he is an icon of the young generation of persecuted believers in Iran,” said Hovsepian, 46.
While there is hope that in future generations Christians will not be imprisoned for their faith, Hovsepian noted that persecution often strengthens the church.
“I have seen that wherever there is persecution, the church grows fast,” he said. “The church purifies. The church unites, and the opposite also happens wherever there is no persecution.”
While some might use their conversion as a means to request asylum abroad, Firoozi told Hovsepian that he has no intention of doing so. Instead, he wants to stay, bring change and spread hope and the gospel to Iranian people.
He asked for prayers that Iranians would be granted human rights, that those in prison would feel supported and that the leaders of the country would have a change of heart.
“I don’t want people to be discouraged by stories of people like myself being imprisoned or other believers being persecuted in Iran or other countries,” Firoozi said, “but instead I want them to emphasize the fact that God is with the church in Iran and gives the church grace and strength to endure in difficult times.”
Iran was ranked ninth on the Open Doors’ 2020 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.
Urgent Prayer Request: Please pray for Anita who gave her life to our Lord and converted to Christianity in Iran. She has been charged for having a role in the underground house church movement. Her final court/trial date is scheduled tomorrow, April 15 in Iran, which would be this evening for those of us in the USA. In recent weeks, we’ve heard of the many being released from Iranian prisons due to the coronavirus. However, it appears the authorities may be set on giving her a heavy conviction and they’re moving forward with her trial. Pray for the heart of the judge hearing her case to be soften. Please continue to pray for all Christians in Iran as well.
Population: 1.4 billion Christians 97million.
The management of religious affairs is with the Communist Party, which is also the Government. You can’t distinguish one from the other.
When president Xi Jingpin came to power he started crackdowns and persecution against Christians, in both registered and unregistered chutches. Forbid Landlords to rent to Christians for meetings. It started with CCTV monitoring, finger printing and spies. Both medical workers and teachers are not allowed to have religious affiliation. No one under 18 is allowed to attend church.
Now the Party/Government moves to total control.
A new mandate entitled “Administrative Measures for Religious Groups” has been approved by the CPC and is comprised of six chapters and 41 articles dealing with the organization, functions, offices, supervision, projects and economic administration of religious communities. The new rules also seek to ensure that religious leaders support, promote and implement total submission to the Chinese Communist Party at all times.
In addition, Article 17 specifies that all religious organizations “must spread the principles and policies of the Chinese Communist Party” in everything they do. Religious groups must also engage in “supporting the socialist system, adhering to and following the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics …,” according to the restrictions. In essence, the Chinese government is insisting the church conform to it and where Christianity and the government contradict, they require Christians to forsake their beliefs in favor of the government. The government knows this is a trap as Christians place more value on the word of God than the worldly government they are under.
Pastor Wang Yi has spoken boldly against the Chinese government and for the sake of Jesus Christ. Faithwire reports that last September “shortly before he was detained, Pastor Yi personally called on Chinese President Xi Jinping to repent of his sins and come to Jesus.” This inevitably put a giant target on Yi’s back and possibly disturbed President Jinping and his government to the point of establishing new rules against Christians.
Andy, Prayer Moderator, Persecution Watch