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RAISE YOUR VOICE
An American pastor, Andrew Brunson, has been falsely charged with “membership in an armed terrorist organization.” Turkey has imprisoned this American pastor without any evidence. He has been a Christian pastor in Turkey for the past 23 years. (more…)
When Family Becomes Enemy Number 1: Egypt’s religious divide forces women and Christians to pay a high price
(World Watch Monitor) Not for the first time in Egypt, a romance between a Muslim divorcee and a Copt eventually ended in tragedy late last year, when the woman, who had ‘converted’ to Christianity, was killed by members of her family.
Many parts of the story seem inexplicable: how a romance between a Muslim woman and a Christian man could end in marriage in a country where Sharia makes this legally impossible; and how a mother could pay with her life for being with a Christian, while her killers remain at large. There appears to be a pattern of collective punishment, favouring the strong against the weak. It’s a sectarian twist to a notoriously familiar ‘honour-killing’ scenario plaguing many Islamic cultures.
It all began in 2013, when a romance started between Marwa Mohamed, 26, and her Coptic neighbour, Karim Eid, 27, in the town of Tamia, 87 km southwest of Cairo.
The Muslim mother of two (Sahar, eight, and Omar, six), used to frequent a nearby Christian jeweller’s shop where Eid was working.
“The frequent visits by Marwa to meet Karim at the shop gave reason for Karim’s employer to dismiss him,” explained George Fahmi, a relative of Eid and a resident of their home town of Tamia.
“During the summer of 2013, the couple made it secretly out of Tamia to Alexandria [280 km away].”
Marwa’s desperate family tried unsuccessfully to locate her. Their attempts included storming the local St. George church and the priest’s home, according to Fahmi.
Unable to bear the shame of his daughter’s elopement with a Christian, Marwa’s father, together with her mother and siblings, left Tamia for Cairo, where he earned a meagre living as a concierge.
During this time, according to Fahmi, Mohamed converted to Christianity (a ‘conversion’ not backed by official papers), and lived with Eid in Alexandria for nearly 30 months, during which time she became pregnant and they had the baby aborted.
‘Honour’ killing with religion twist
On 6 November last year, Eid took Marwa back to see his family in Tamia. Sahar, Marwa’s daughter from her previous husband is said to have spotted her mother. Eid might have thought Marwa’s now quite changed appearance, with Western clothes and without a headscarf, would mask her identity.
Word spread quickly, and as male guardians of the family’s honour – in absence of her father in Cairo – Marwa’s cousins took it upon themselves to storm Eid’s home, where they assaulted his mother and forcibly took Marwa away to her parents in the capital. Eid was not in at the time.
Another uncomfortable fact is that Eid then escaped for his life. For, following constant taunting by the community, the incensed relatives retrieved Marwa from her parents’ Cairo home back to Tamia, where she was killed.
“Marwa stayed in hiding with us for 10 days until her uncle and his two sons found her in my house,” recalled Ahmed Mohamed, Marwa’s father. “They took us all back to Tamia, where they abused us. Early on Wednesday, 18 November, they killed her in front of me, and her mother and sister.”
Marwa’s younger sister was made to slit her older sister throat, “as a way to deter her from following in her footsteps”, Egyptian media quoted sources as saying. Another version of the story said, however, that Marwa was strangled.
After the body was dumped near a cemetery, Marwa’s parents reported her uncle and their nephews to the police for murdering their daughter. But these men are still at large and no charges have been filed against them. (Egyptian courts are known to look with leniency upon perpetrators of ‘honour’ killings, especially when a convert is involved.)
A conciliatory meeting was convened between the Muslim woman’s clan and Eid’s family. In the presence of the local priest and under the auspices of high-ranking security officials, “it was agreed that the Christian family would sell their homes and leave the town for good, and never set foot therein”, sources told Egyptian media.
Ten days were given for Eid’s immediate family to relocate from their hometown, in order to “avert a sectarian incident”.
“Whenever one party is a Christian, such extrajudicial measures are resorted to,” said human rights activist Adel Shafiq. “Christian families are forced to relocate. The weaker side bears the brunt.”
“In scores of incidents, Christian properties were attacked. Often Copts, related to the incident merely by religious association, have been victimised. Offenders are seldom brought to justice,” added Mina Milad, a lawyer and member of the Egyptian Union of Human Rights Organisation.
“When the romance is the other way round, i.e. a Christian woman converting to Islam for the sake of a Muslim lover, or to escape family pressures, the state deals with it very differently. In this case, the conversion is made legal and paperwork is expedited, even in cases of underage girls,” journalist Nader Shokri wrote on the website, Copts United.
While these issues are not new, one Muslim journalist bemoaned the trend.
“Apparently ISIS is a mentality which puts the knife to the neck of this country,” said Ali Aweiss, suggesting many ordinary Muslims might think or behave in ways not so different from the jihadist movement whose theologically-justified atrocities have made headlines around the world.
“Two lines into the heart-wrenching story of Marwa, one reads right next to it, ‘German family openly convert to Islam’… with a picture showing a man, his wife and two children, mother and daughter clad almost totally in black,” added Aweiss, writing for the Egyptian news site, Misr Times.
“I wonder, would this [German] family be equally hunted down by their relatives and their whole community back home for having departed from their religion of birth?”
VOP Note: Please pray for our brothers and sisters who have converted from Islam. We are in touch with converts in Egypt and it is a hard life for them. But they are not willing to turn back after finding their Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. They have been filled with so much joy, they are sharing the Gospel and starting ‘churches’. Oh Father, protect these dear ones. Guide them with wisdom and without fear to be fruitful in Your Kingdom purposes and will. In Jesus holy name, we pray.
Love and Courage
The courage and love shown by the Abedini family is greatly encouraging to me. A man on fire for the Lord, Saeed is wrongfully imprisoned for his faith yet has such love and wisdom despite beatings and health challenges. A wife, Naghmeh, who even though shy, has managed to speak out to millions in many settings. A Mom and Dad who love their son, willing to live in a hostile environment to be able to visit and encourage him. Two beautiful innocent children who love and miss their Daddy, going to vigils and praying for him to be home. To me this family is Love for Jesus in action!! I am awed by their courage, love and dedication to each other but mostly to their Lord and God, Jesus Christ.
The Abedini’s have a beautiful family testimony. A tapestry that is interlaced with iridescence strands, representing each family members journey of faith and trust in their Lord and Savior! Thank you Arlene for sharing. God bless you.
L. Stradley, VOP Project Team
Tell Pastor Saeed that we understand, and we will pick up the cross and follow Christ as he has.
Join in this project to let the Abedini’s know how they have inspired or renewed your faith. Each testimony will be a source of encouragement to them and the Body of Christ. When the family is reunited, we will gather the stories to be published in a book and presented to them as an appreciation for their steadfast faith. Together, we will be able to provide a little insight into how God has worked through them to be a blessing to more than they realize. Add your testimony below. If your church has been active in praying for this persecuted family, inform them of this special mission so they too can share their thoughts and be an encouragement.
Be encouraged, view submitted testimonies HERE
NEW DELHI (Morning Star News) – Delhi police manhandled nuns, priests, lay leaders and human rights activists in temporarily detaining nearly 300 Christian protestors on Thursday (Feb. 5), sources said.
More than 1,500 Christians had assembled peacefully at the Sacred Heart Cathedral in New Delhi as part of a protest march against the targeting of churches in Delhi and systematic violence against Christians throughout the country. Church buildings in Delhi were targeted in at least five attacks the past two months.
Sparking the latest protest was a break-in on Monday morning (Feb. 2) at St. Alphonsa’s Church, located in the well-to-do Vasant Kunj area of New Delhi. Unknown persons who broke in stole nothing of value and defiled the Communion host, sources said.
“The consecrated host was desecrated and thrown on the floor – however, three donation boxes with money in them were not touched,” said the Rev. Vijayesh Lal, executive director (designate) of the Evangelical Fellowship of India. “The sacristy that contains sacred vessels and vestments was ransacked. The motive was clearly not robbery. The people who broke in did so with the intention of desecrating the church. It is clear that they wanted to spread communal tension in the capital.”
Police registered only a case of petty theft, ignoring arguments by a local priest and other Christian leaders for other charges such as hurting religious sentiments or hate crime.
Protestors arriving at the Sacred Heart Cathedral early Thursday morning were surprised to find some 200 police officers who had cordoned off the area and placed large metal barriers in front of the building.
A senior police officer reportedly said the protestors were detained on suspicion of unlawful assembly, asserting that they had no permission to assemble there. Christian leaders said they had obtained permission for the protest and march but that police later changed their position, saying demonstrators had permission to protest on the church premise but not to march.
“I was surprised that this was the result of the permission taken from the police the day before the protest march,” Lal said, adding that permission to hold a protest march had been conveyed to the police station at Mandir Marg and its station officer, and that a request for a meeting with the Home Minister had also been submitted on Tuesday (Feb. 4).
As soon as Christians began chanting “We want Justice,” police officers began pulling and manhandling protestors, lifting them up and pushing them onto buses waiting to carry them to the Parliament Road police station, eyewitnesses said. The Christians who were caught were detained for the rest of the day.
“The manhandling and use of brutal force by the police on protestors is highly condemnable and totally unacceptable,” the Rev. Savarimuthu Sankar, spokesperson of the Delhi Archdiocese, told Morning Star News. “The way the police manhandled elderly nuns, priests and people showed the sheer brutality of the Delhi police, and I witnessed every bit of it.”
Lal said the Rev. Dominic Emmanuel, former official spokesperson of the Archdiocese of Delhi, was manhandled.
“He is one of the most recognized faces from the Christian community, and he was dragged badly and pushed onto a bus in a brutal manner,” Lal said. “He later told me that the attack from the police had left him in a lot of pain.”
Dr. John Dayal, member of the National Integration Council and spokesperson for the United Christian Forum for Human Rights, told Morning Star News that the rough treatment was a message to Christians from the government.
“The brutalizing of the Christian youth, women and men, many of them nuns and priests, by the Delhi police is symptomatic both of the bigotry and the sadism that seems so seeped into the system,” he said. “The current political dispensation abets it and uses it. It is important to remember that the Christian community had not even started their proposed protest march when the police swooped on them in a pre-emptive strike to stifle their voice.”
Thus far the government has not condemned the harsh treatment or ordered an investigation as demanded by civil society groups who staged a protest on Friday (Feb. 6) in solidarity with the Christian community, he said.
“We told the home minister, Mr. Rajnath Singh, of the manhandling,” Dayal said. “I and Fr. Dominic Emmanuel were among those who were manhandled while being forcibly put into buses to be detained at the Parliament Street police station for the day.”
Intervention of Home Minister
Later a group of Christian leaders who had been detained and released called on the home minister to request his intervention.
“In a meeting that lasted over 40 minutes, the home minister, Mr. Rajnath Singh, listened carefully to the 10-member delegation from the Christian community and their concerns, not only about Delhi but about the situation of Christians in the nation in general,” Lal said.
Singh ordered Delhi police to add to the First Information Report (FIR) on the Feb. 2 incident at St. Alphonsa’s Church sections relating to hurting religious sentiments of a community. Delhi police had treated it only as petty theft.
“Responding to the delegation’s fears that police and administrative apathy was encouraging non-state actors in persecuting the community, Mr. Rajnath Singh did say that the government would not discriminate on the basis of religion, caste or community,” Lal told Morning Star News.
Others present said Singh would ask police to investigate the desecration as a hate crime, but that police believe churches must bear the responsibility of protecting their properties.
Following the meeting with the home minister and the assurances given, the planned protest march was called off with hope that the pledges would be fulfilled.
“I do have faith in the government that due and diligent actions would be taken to protect rights of Christians and every citizen of this country,” Sankar said. “I would certainly wait and see if all the assurances and promises made by the minister are translated into concrete actions and tangible results are achieved.”
Dayal said the desecration of the St. Alphonsa’s Church was the trigger for the protest, but that it was also meant as a cry against impunity enjoyed by police and the administrative apparatus in the matter of violence against religious minorities in various parts of the country.
“They total almost 150 in 2014 – just the ones we were able to document,” Dayal said. “The Hindu, hyper-nationalist, fundamentalist groups that carry out the violence are encouraged by the government’s silence. Politically they believe that [Prime Minister Narendra] Modi has come into power because of their hard work in the run-up to the elections in 2014, and that he is beholden to them and will not take any action against them.”
He added that prime minister and his senior ministers, as well as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that heads the government alliance, is linked with the Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.
“Mr. Modi’s silence has to be seen in this backdrop,” Dayal said.
Sankar said the number of attacks on Christians and church buildings has increased after the BJP came to power in May of last year.
“The attacks on churches in Delhi are unprecedented,” he said. “A clear pattern could be seen, as the churches were targeted and attacked after midnight and before daybreak on different directions on the outskirts of the city within a few weeks.”
On Dec. 1, 2014, when St. Sebastian’s Church was gutted by fire, police had initially dismissed it as the result of a short circuit. Following protests on Dec. 1 and 2, the governor of Delhi ordered a Special Investigation Team to probe the incident; a report has yet to be received.
The entire interior of the building was charred. There has been no information on promised police action, Christian leaders said. On Dec. 3, windows were smashed at the Syro Malabar Catholic Church, Jasola, during Mass, leaving glass pieces on the altar. On Jan. 3, at the Church of the Resurrection, Rohini, statues were burned to ashes; police dismissed it as the result of a short circuit.
On Jan. 14, the grotto at Our Lady of Grace, Vikaspuri, was attacked. CCTV captured images of vandals, and police arrested three men who claimed they did it as a drunken prank. In the St. Alphonsa’s break-in on Tuesday, police initially tried to minimize it as “breaking into a residential house.”
LAHORE, Pakistan (Morning Star News) – Police in Pakistan say a Christian couple tortured and slain this month over accusations that the wife desecrated the Koran were innocent, while relatives said politicians are trying to shield the killers from justice.
Urged to act from mosque loudspeakers, a frenzied mob on Nov. 4 tore the clothes off Shama and Shahzad Masih, struck them, broke their legs, dragged them behind a tractor and threw them into the burning furnace of a brick kiln – even though Shama was illiterate and could not have known even if koranic verses were among debris that she had burned.
Kasur District Police Capt. Jawad Qamar told Morning Star News that police had confirmed that Shama Masih was illiterate and had no idea of the contents of pages that she had burned.
“She was not guilty of blasphemy,” he said.
On Nov. 2 Shama Masih was cleaning her quarters in Chak 59 village near Kot Radha Kishan, Karur District, about 60 kilometers (37 miles) southwest of Lahore, when she found amulets of her late father-in-law, who had used them in the practice of black magic. The amulets may have contained koranic verses, and a Muslim co-worker, Muhammad Irfan, noticed the half-burnt papers andaccused the family of desecrating the Koran, relatives said.
Under Pakistan’s widely condemned blasphemy statutes, intent must be shown for a conviction of desecrating the Koran.
At a press conference in Islamabad on Monday (Nov. 16), family members said Islamists have offered them land and money as compensation for the murders in an attempt to stop them from prosecuting.
While police have reportedly arrested at least 50 of those named in a First Information Report (FIR), relatives of the couple said that influential Muslims of the area, including a Punjab Province lawmaker, were issuing threats in an attempt to force them to reach an agreement with the killers. Shahzad Masih’s brother, Shahbaz Masih, and his wife Parveen Masih demanded that the government provide them with protection, saying they had already informed the Kasur District police officer of the threats.
They also demanded the formation of a judicial commission to investigate the mob violence, adding that non-Muslim representatives should be included in the team.
“All we want is a fair investigation of the case,” said Shahbaz Masih, demanding that Justice Waheed Siddiqui, a retired Federal Shariat Court judge, be included in the judicial commission.
Among other demands, the deceased man’s family called for the commission and a Joint Investigation Team to make their reports publicly available immediately after completion. Masih also urged the Supreme Court to take suo moto notice and order an independent inquiry into the attack.
Lawmaker ‘Influencing Case’
The family’s concerns come amid reports that the provincial lawmaker of the area, Muhammad Anees Qureshi, was present at the crime scene when the throng of hundreds tortured and killed Shama Masih, 28 years old and five months pregnant, and 32-year-old Shahzad Masih. They are survived by four children, the oldest 7 years old.
Family sources said that Qureshi, a member of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government, was also making efforts to shield the primary suspect, Riaz Kamboh, from justice. Kamboh, a former municipal councillor, is also affiliated with the PML-N and holds considerable influence in the villages surrounding Chak 59 village. He is accused of throwing the couple into the furnace after pouring tractor diesel on their bodies.
“Qureshi arrived on the spot just when the lynchers had tortured the couple unconscious,” said a relative who asked to remain unnamed for security reasons. “They were not hurled into the furnace till then.”
The relative said Qureshi, a member of the Punjab Parliamentary Assembly, was trying to force the impoverished Christians into reaching an agreement in return for a large amount of money. Shahzad Masih was a bonded laborer who was working to repay a sum of money he had received, one of the reasons sources have said his employer locked him in an office at the kiln after a mob formed.
“Hordes and hordes of Muslims loaded on tractor trolleys arrived on the scene during his [Qureshi’s] presence, yet the lawmaker made no effort to rescue them,” the relative said.
Qureshi has requested the family not register a separate case against Kamboh, brick kiln owner Yousaf Gujjar and Imam Ghulam Hussain, among others, he said, adding that the demands were made through local administration and land revenue officials.
Qureshi denied that the couple was thrown into the furnace in his presence.
“Shama and Shahzad were already dead when I reached the spot,” the member of the Parliamentary Assembly said in his statement to police. “That’s why I couldn’t do anything for them.”
Morning Star News made repeated efforts to get Qureshi’s comment on accusations that he was influencing the relatives of Shahzad and Shama to reach an agreement with any of the murder suspects, but the lawmaker declined.
Punjab spokesman Zaeem Qadri told Morning Star News that the suspects would not be able to escape prosecution, because the state was the complainant in the case.
“This is why the government decided to become the complainant in this case, so that the accused are not able to coerce the poor families into reaching a compromise,” he said. “Pardoning the accused is not in the families’ hands now.”
Asked about the chances of convictions in the atrocity, especially when there is a precedent of all suspects in the Joseph Colony arson case last year walking free even when the state was the complainant in the case, the Punjab spokesman cut short the conversation, saying only, “This time it will be different.”
Qamar told Morning Star News that the area’s local police in-charge had sent a team to the site when he was informed of tensions, but that mobs were too large to be contained by just five men.
“It was Ashura [a Shia Muslim commemoration] day, and all district police was deployed on Shia procession routes and Shia places of worship for security, which is why it took time to gather a bigger contingent,” he said, adding that police were now trying their best to arrest all the remaining accused in the case.
Contrary to published reports, Qamar said police have arrested 43 of some 60 named suspects, of whom 39 were in jail, while four were to be produced in an anti-terrorism court today on completion of their police remand.
Tahir Ashrafi, a member of the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII), Pakistan’s top religious body, held police responsible for failing to act to protect the couple before the mob violence occurred.
“All culprits must be arrested and punished, including the cleric [who made the blasphemy accusation in a mosque] if he’s involved,” he said.
Rufus Solomon, a Christian politician from the opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), said that it was a test case for the PML-N government, which has termed the allegation of blasphemy against Shama “false and baseless.”
“If the perpetrators of Gojra, Joseph Colony and the Rimsha Masih case had been punished, no one would have dared to mete out such barbarity on the poor Christian couple,” Solomon said.
American Kenneth Bae speaks to the media at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state after being released from detainment in North Korea Saturday.
The two Americans still imprisoned in North Korea, Kenneth Bae and Matthew Todd Miller have been released and are returning home!
Update from his family:
The day we’ve been praying for has finally arrived! Early this morning, my family heard news from the US State Department that my brother was on a plane from DPRK (North Korea) with fellow detainee Matthew Todd Miller. They had left North Korean airspace, bound for America.
Words cannot adequately express our relief and gratitude that Kenneth is finally coming home! We have been waiting for and praying for this day for two years. This ordeal has been excruciating for the family, but we are filled with joy right now.
I am thrilled to imagine hugging my brother soon. He will not have to spend another day at a labor camp. He can now recover from this imprisonment and look forward to his wife, kids and rest of his life. Our Thanksgiving celebration this year will be one we will never forget.
We sincerely thank the United States government for all the hard work and dedication to securing my brother’s release, as well as the release of Matthew Todd Miller. We are also grateful to the DPRK government for allowing them to come home. We must also thank the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang for their tireless efforts to advocate for Kenneth during his prolonged imprisonment.
We are grateful to everyone who has supported my brother’s cause, including reporters and editors who cared enough to see this through. We are thankful for people here in Seattle and across the world who have continued to advocate and pray for Kenneth.
We believe that God is with people who endure hardship, and that He never leaves them. It is with great joy and with thankfulness to God to see Kenneth released. Our family could not have been sustained without the knowledge that Kenneth was in God’s care, when it seemed we were helpless to do anything.
Voice of the Persecuted is rejoicing with great thanks to our almighty God. When in the flesh it appears there is no hope, we can always trust our God to do the impossible! Never give up, stay always in prayer and trust He is doing great things in the most turbulent storms in His time. Working all things together for our good and His purpose. Thank you for continually keeping Kenneth in your prayers.