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Ignorance Of Scripture Could Be Hazardous To Your Liberty

 

(Newscom TagID: ndxphotos003239)     [Photo via Newscom]

On October 1st, I had the privilege of defending Mr. George Krail, of Burlington County, New Jersey in a trial in Cherry Hill New Jersey Municipal Court. Cherry Hill, a prosperous stretch of post-World War II suburban sprawl that buried the once blooming orchards of South Jersey beneath miles of asphalt and shopping malls, hosts not one, but two, thriving abortion businesses.  At the Cherry Hill Women’s Center unborn babies up to six-months’ gestation are slaughtered at a breathtaking clip. The Center was the site of the first Operation Rescue sit-in back in 1987, and more recently was the location of the notorious viral video by a young actress (an employee of the Women’s Center) who filmed and posted on the web her own abortion. Not surprisingly, then, the place has been a focus of protestors, sidewalk counselors, and prolife activists of all kinds for three decades now.

One of the most faithful of those folks has been George Krail. George, along with his equally zealous wife, Tina, has long been a fixture on the sidewalks surrounding the Women’s Center. A self-described “outlaw biker for Jesus,” George looks like what John the Baptist would have looked like if John the Baptist had worn a leather vest and denim instead of a leather belt and camel’s hair. And while George’s message to the patients entering the Center has always been one of compassion – he and his wife have sheltered in their home literally dozens of frightened, abused, desperate women who were about to have abortions – his message to the abortionists and their henchpersons has always been full bore, all-out John the Baptist. “I tell them they need to repent,” Krail says. “I give them the whole Gospel, not just the nice parts; that God hates the shedding of innocent blood, that Jesus said it would be better to have a millstone put around your neck and be thrown into the ocean than to harm one of His little ones.”

It’s true that not all prolifers necessarily care for George’s approach.  But it’s hard for anybody to argue with his, and Tina’s, record of saving women and their babies from the abortionist’s grasp. I myself once held in my arms one such baby saved by George and Tina’s “whole Gospel” approach, while I argued to a municipal court judge that – given the very tangible (and very squirming) results – the court should forgive the Krails their trespasses at least that one time.

This week’s case involved a charge of “harassment” brought against George by the Director of the Cherry Hill Women’s Center. Among other things, the case illustrated one of the dangers Christians in this country face living in a decidedly post-Christian world, a world that daily loses touch with even a semblance of connection to the Christian roots of Western culture. There was a time in this country when people of all religions, or no religion, were at least familiar with and had some vague notion of the Biblical origin of phrases like “the blind leading the blind,” “a house divided against itself,”  “casting your pearls before swine,” “all things to all men,” and dozens of others. But no more.

So when George Krail, in April of this year, stood outside the Cherry Hill slaughterhouse and yelled in the direction of the Director that “Jesus said, anyone who harms one of these little ones would be better off having a millstone placed around his neck and being thrown into the sea,” he found himself facing a charge of criminal harassment for threatening to hang the Director and dump her body her in the Atlantic ocean!

Now, there are plenty of legal arguments, constitutional and otherwise that we are making in answer to this ludicrous charge, arguments the court reserved decision on following yesterday’s trial. (The judge asked the parties to submit further written arguments, after which the he will issue a decision.) But what particularly struck me during the trial was just how profound has become the disconnect between the average American and familiar Biblical allusions that used to be part and parcel of a common cultural matrix. The judge himself expressed surprise to hear Krail testify that the phrase about millstones and harming little ones and being thrown into the sea was actually from the Bible. Likewise the prosecutor and, obviously, the Complainant herself. The good news is that the judge seemed receptive to our argument that, in all likelihood, what happened here was that the Complainant simply misunderstood George’s quotation of Scripture and, being completely unfamiliar with the source, misconstrued it into a literal threat to her immediate safety. Krail might just as well have been speaking Martian.

The great translator of Scripture, St. Jerome, once wrote that “ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” But Christians, beware! As this Krail case shows, the ignorance of Scripture that now pervades our post-Christian world could also be hazardous to your liberty.

By Francis J. Manion ACLJ

Nightmare Continues for Family of Freed Prisoner of Conscience in China

Gao Zhisheng. (China Aid)

Gao Zhisheng. (China Aid)

When Chinese authorities released Christian human rights attorney Gao Zhisheng from prison on Aug.7, we didn’t hear anything from him, presumably because of the communist state’s one-year prohibition against him saying anything publicly that might “damage the reputation or interests of the state.”

His family had telephone conversations with him, but they didn’t hear much from him either. After some phone talks in which he said very little, the Los Angeles Times reported, his wife wasn’t sure whether he was still in too much pain to talk or had forgotten how.

It has become clear that isolation and torture left Gao, once a prominent attorney who defended Christians and the Falun Gong, unable to speak coherently. China Aid reports, “Gao has been utterly destroyed. He can barely talk – and only in very short sentences – most of the time he mutters and is unintelligible.  It is believed that he is now suffering from a broad range of physical and mental health problems; he has not been allowed to see a doctor since his release.”

As his wife, Geng He, pointed out to the Times, if he cannot even obtain adequate dental care, what hope does he have for obtaining help to recover his mental health? While she and their two children escaped to the United States in 2009 and are living in northern California, Gao is under virtual house arrest at Geng’s sister’s place in Urumqi, capital of China’s Xinjiang Province in the country’s far west. Dentists there don’t have the means to repair the damage malnutrition did to his remaining teeth, and the government has forbidden him to travel to Beijing, much less to the United States to be reunited with his family.

Gao’ s advocacy for religious minorities led to his conviction in 2006 for “inciting subversion,” and in 2007 he began serving a previously suspended sentence of three years in Shaya County Prison in Xinjiang region. After he wrote an open letter to the U.S. Congress about human rights abuses in China, authorities “disappeared” him on Sept. 21, 2007, torturing him for more than 50 days. Gao later revealed that his captors shocked his genitals with an electric baton and pierced them with toothpicks.

“As with the torture experienced during his pretrial detention, the purpose of this mistreatment was to extract a false confession,” noted a petition by Freedom Now, which works to free prisoners of conscience.

Thugs suspected of being agents of the state again abducted Gao on Feb. 4, 2009. He reportedly reappeared from March 28, 2010, to April 20 of that year, during which he described how police beat him for two days and nights, according to Freedom Now.

China announced on Dec. 16, 2011 that it would take him to prison to serve the three-year sentence imposed on Dec. 22, 2006, thus withdrawing the five-year probation then about to expire. In Shaya Prison since December 2011, Gao remained in isolation in a small cell with little light 24 hours a day, according to China Aid.

“Guards were strictly instructed not to speak with him,” the advocacy group reported. “He was not allowed any reading materials, television, or access to anyone or anything. He was fed a single slice of bread and piece of cabbage, once a day; as a result, he has lost roughly 22.5 kilograms (50 pounds) and now weighs about 59 kilograms (130 pounds). He has lost many teeth from malnutrition. It is believed he was also repeatedly physically tortured.”

His wife commented to China Aid that she was devastated by his condition.

“The only thing I feared more than him being killed was his suffering relentless and horrific torture and being kept alive,” she said. “We desperately need help from our adopted country and from President Obama and Secretary Kerry personally to demand the Chinese government to allow my husband to come to the United States for medical treatment. If President Xi Jinping has any sense of decency or humanity, after crushing my husband both physically and psychologically, the least he could do is allow me as a devoted wife to care for him.”

Jared Genser, head of Freedom Now, told China Aid he was heartbroken for Gao and his family.

“We knew that if Gao wasn’t killed, he would have suffered immensely,” Genser said. “But the situation is far worse than my limited imagination enabled me to contemplate. While China is a great power in the 21st century, the inhumanity and brutality that it has demonstrated by the torture of Gao Zhisheng shows its profound insecurity and fear of anyone in its population who stands up to its repression.”

Morning Star News

Sudanese Christian, Meriam Ibrahim freed on Monday, Rearrested while boarding a plane to the U.S.

boh_sudan_slave

Though we were optimistic with the release of Meriam Ibrahim on Monday, she has sadly been rearrested. Less than 24 hours after she was was spared the death penalty for refusing to renounce her faith in Christ.

Along with her husband and two children, while attempting to leave the country, she was stopped at the airport by more than 40 armed security personnel. They were apprehended when they attempted to board a plane to the US.

The Christian mother was freed by Sudan’s Court of Cassation on Monday, which annulled her death sentence. A court also had sentenced Ibrahim to 100 lashes on charges of adultery for marrying Wani, who is a Christian. That sentence was annulled as well. She was then sent to a secret location for her protection after her family reported receiving threats.

Yesterday, Meriam said she was “very happy” when the appeals court overturned the death penalty imposed on her because she falsely turned her back on Islam and married a Christian. Meriam vows she was never a Muslim and raised as an Orthodox Christian by her Ethiopian Christian mother. She has affirmed she will not renounce her Christian faith.

Her attorney revealed that she was taken to a detention center with her newborn, Maya (born in the prison while Meriam was shackled) and 20-month-old son, Martin. He was shocked by the arrest. He said, “They knew she had been cleared by the court but they have re-arrested her – I don’t know why.” “I’m very concerned. When people do not respect the court, they might do anything,” he added.

Her husband, Daniel Wani was also detained when he refused to leave her side. There was no immediate word on why the family was detained.

The couple planned to travel with their children to America where Daniel has been living in Manchester, New Hampshire.

Religious freedom activists are extremely concerned that she may have been taken by Sudan’s feared National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS). The group called Hardwire has campaigned for Meriam’s release and said the NISS does not operate through the courts if it claims to be working on a matter of national security.

Previously they detained people indefinitely and is notorious for taking prisoners to secret ‘ghost houses’ where they are tortured.

Amnesty International claims the NISS has doled out extremelyinhumane treatment, but protected with immunity.

“Human rights violations, including secret detention and torture, have created a climate of fear in Sudan. Human rights defenders, political dissidents, students and members of ethnic minorities continue to be arbitrarily arrested and detained. Chief among the agents of government repression is the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS), whose members have immunity from prosecution for all crimes committed in the course of their work.” 

More than 1 million people backed a campaign by Amnesty International to free her. Yesterday, they stated,

“Today’s ruling is a small step to redressing the injustice done to Meriam,” said Sarah Jackson, Deputy Regional Director at Amnesty International.  “However, she should never have been prosecuted. Meriam was sentenced to death when eight months pregnant for something which should not be a crime. Furthermore, her abhorrent treatment, including being shackled, violated international human rights law against ill-treatment.”

Meriam’s case attracted more than a million Amnesty International supporters to take action calling for her immediate and unconditional release.

“Amnesty International would like to pay tribute to all those who contributed to this massive showing of support,” said Sarah Jackson. “Their letters showed the Sudanese authorities that people around the world were outraged by Meriam’s ordeal”.

The British prime minister, David Cameron, said he was “absolutely appalled” by her treatment. Political and religious leaders, celebrities and human rights organisations condemned her incarceration. The British Foreign Office and US state department welcomed her release on Monday.

Amnesty International said on Tuesday it was investigating reports of the family’s detention.

Please keep our dear sister and her family in your prayers!

Sources

Amnesty International

The Indepedent

Voice of America

 UPDATE 7:36pm 

Noted Convert in Egypt, Formerly Known as Hegazy, Sentenced to Five Years in Prison

El Amarawy mosque in Minya, Egypt. (Wikipedia)

El Amarawy mosque in Minya, Egypt. (Wikipedia)

(Morning Star News) – A judge in Egypt yesterday sentenced Bishoy Armia Boulous – formerly Mohammed Hegazy, the first Egyptian to try to legally change his religious identity on his official ID – to five years in prison, his attorney said.

The 31-year-old Christian received the prison term and a fine of 500 Egyptian pounds (US$70) for what the judge called “disturbing the peace by broadcasting false information” after documenting political unrest in Egypt brought on by numerous Muslim extremist attacks on Christians, attorney Wagdy Halfa said.

The exact section of the nation’s criminal code that Boulous allegedly violated was not released, but the judge in Minya Criminal Court stated that he was convicted of “disturbing the peace by broadcasting false information on The Way TV, an evangelism channel, that disturbed the peace and public security.”

Halfa is awaiting the official court record of the verdict, expected within a month, which should delineate the exact article violated and reasoning for the sentence. It is likely Boulous was convicted for violating Article 176, or inciting sectarian violence, his attorney said. Boulous plans to appeal, but Halfa said it would likely be refused.

He maintained his client’s innocence.

“He did not commit a crime,” Halfa said. “Even if he did take some photos or videos of a protest, that is legal. Even if he was doing it for a newspaper, that is legal.”

Halfa added that the real reason Boulous was charged and sentenced was because he abandoned Islam and became a Christian.

“The officer who arrested him, when he found that he hadn’t committed a crime, made up things to keep him in prison so he could be sentenced,” he said.

On the morning of Dec. 4, 2013, at a cafe in the city of Minya, 260 kilometers (161 miles) south of Cairo, security forces arrested Boulous with a camera and four flash drives. Officials claimed Boulous was working for The Way TV, a Coptic Christian-owned, U.S.-based religious television channel that broadcasts into Egypt via satellite. Security forces claimed that Boulous was contributing to a “false image” that there was violence against Christians in Minya. At the time of his arrest, Christians in Minya had suffered numerous public kidnappings, assaults, and attacks on their property, including attacks on several churches that mobs of militant Muslims burned to the ground.

In August 2007, Boulous earned widespread fame – and rage from Islamists – when he decided to file a legal case to have his religion and name changed on his government-issued identification card. In a country where 84 percent of Egyptian Muslims polled three year later said the state should execute those who leave Islam, Boulous became an extremely controversial figure as his face appeared on newspapers and magazines across the country.

When he was arrested last year, human rights activists said they feared for his safety. Halfa confirmed that Boulous has been tortured and attacked in prison, but declined to give any details about his mistreatment or injuries.

“He told me he has been treated in an inhumane way in prison,” Halfa said.

Part of the charges against Boulous had to do with his status as a journalist. Egyptian media reported that he was investigated for gathering news for The Way TV.

In an on-air statement on his channel shortly after Boulous’ arrest, Joseph Nasrallah, head of The Way TV, said, “The Tarik [Way] Channel had nothing to do with Mohammed Hegazy, who is known as Bishoy Armia Boulous, in any way.” But Nasrallah gave seemingly contradictory statements to Morning Star News about Boulous, saying that he had been in contact with Boulous, and that Nasrallah had told him that he would consider hiring him but had not committed to doing so.

Boulous became a Christian in 1998. After his conversion, he was arrested several times by the former State Security Investigations Service (SSI). Boulous was tortured by SSI agents for three days during one of his stints in jail, he told a Compass Direct News reporter in 2010. Still, he refused to recant his faith in Christ.

Boulous said the main reason he filed the suit was to protect his children from the same persecution he suffered for becoming a Christian. After filing suit, he was forced into hiding when attacks and threats against his life became overwhelming. In one incident, for several days extremists surrounded a home where Boulous was no longer living. In another, a group of men broke into Boulous’ apartment, rifled through it and set it on fire while he was away.

According to Mamdouh Nakhla, chairman of the Kalema Organization for Human Rights, Boulous’ wife, also a convert from Islam, and their two children are living in an undisclosed country in Europe.

Religious freedom is guaranteed under Egyptian law but is limited by various interpretations of sharia (Islamic law), which can override national law. While it is easy and even encouraged for someone in Egypt to convert to Islam, it is impossible for a Muslim to legally convert to Christianity.

According to Egyptian law, every citizen age 16 or older must carry a state-issued ID card. The card is necessary for anyone who wants to open a bank account, enroll children in school or start a business, among other activities. Religious identity also determines many of the civil laws to which one is subject.

As the first convert in Egypt to file suit to change his legal religious identity, Boulous in January 2008 suffered a setback when a court ruled against him on the grounds that sharia forbids conversion away from Islam.

In April 2010, an appeals court suspended the case indefinitely while it waited for the country’s constitutional court to rule on a previous case dealing with religious identity. Before those cases could be resolved, the 2011 revolution happened and the constitution was rewritten. Following the ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood-led government last July, another constitution was approved in a January referendum.

#Pray For Convert from Islam in Kenya Beaten, Arrested

Kenya=Map=

(Morning Star News) – Within three weeks of putting his faith in Christ, a 26-year-old former Muslim in western Kenya was beaten in a mosque and later arrested without charges, Christian leaders said.

Hassan Hussein Mohammed wouldn’t normally have admitted to being a Christian while attending mosque prayers. But he had to explain why his mind and tongue froze last month when told to lead prayers at a mosque in Mogotio, they said.

Sent to Mogotio for an internship from a mosque in Nyahururu, where he was training to become a Muslim leader, Mohammed met people from a church in the town in Baringo County. Members of a King’s Outreach Church in Mogotio spoke with him about Jesus, and on April 10 he met with church leaders.

“I have just come and want to be prayed for to be a follower of Jesus,” Mohammed told them.

Pastor Victor Kurui prayed for him, and Mohammed received Christ, they said.

Mohammed later went to the mosque only to collect his identification papers, but leaders ordered him to stay and conduct evening prayers. After some hesitation, he agreed. A voice within, he later told church leaders, told him not to lead the prayers, and when he tried to say them his mind blanked. He then admitted that he had accepted “Isa,” Jesus.

Those in the mosque beat him with a blunt object, kicked him and struck him until he was unconscious, he told church leaders. When he regained consciousness a few minutes later, he said, “I am ready to die for Isa, and I forgive you for what you have done to me,” the church leaders told Morning Star News.

He managed to get away and slept in a nearby sisal plantation for two of the next three nights before visiting the church’s Sunday worship on April 13, where he gave the congregation testimony of his conversion. One of the pastors, Johana Cheruiyot, invited him to stay at his house.

News of his conversion spread, and the next day Mohammed received phone threats from Muslims saying they no longer wanted to see him.

“You will regret why you left the prophet’s religion,” said one anonymous text message, church leaders said.

The church participated in a King’s Outreach Church revival event in Eldoret, Uasin Gishu County, 313 kilometers (192 miles) west of Nairobi, on April 18-20, that Mohammed attended. On April 30, Mohammed, pastor Kurui and pastor Cheruiyot were arrested in Mogotio and put in custody for the night. The reasons for Mohammed’s arrest were unclear, but apparently his being a Muslim from outside the area raised suspicions as Kenya cracks down on an increasing extremist presence – with his conversion to Christianity possibly raising even more suspicions.

“Mohammed had one message all through his interrogation – that he had made a sound, conscious personal choice of embracing the Christian faith,” said pastor Cheruiyot. “He kept saying, ‘I converted to Christianity, and I have left Islam.’ This was a big surprise to those who were interrogating him.”

Someone had reported to authorities that pastor Cheruiyot was housing Mohammed, and the pastor was surprised to the see the lead security officer arrive at his house with 20 policemen who arrested him, Mohammed and later pastor Kurui for questioning. The pastors were questioned about Mohammed and his conversion.

The three Christians were taken to Eldoret police on May 1, and the two pastors were released after recording their statements. When the pastors last saw Mohammed, he was still in the vehicle that had taken them to Eldoret. His whereabouts are now unknown.

The pastors tried to persuade officers that Mohammed was not a suspicious character and should be set free, they said. Originally from Marsabit in northern Kenya, Mohammed was known as a law-abiding citizen and was not “in hiding” at the pastor’s house but moved about openly with him, they told police.

Terrorist attacks have increased in Kenya as Somali rebel militia from the Islamic extremist Al Shabaab group have been driven into Kenya by Kenya-led forces fighting them in Somalia, and authorities are increasingly wary of Muslims. Kenya is a 83 percent Christian while only 8 percent are Muslim, according to Operation World.

Muslims in Kenya are increasingly associated with terrorism, a Kenyan Muslim told Morning Star News.

“We are being stopped by policemen and asked to produce identification cards,” he said. “We are now living under fear.”

The two pastors said security officers repeatedly asked them why Mohammed decided to convert to Christianity.

Given the threats area Muslims made against Mohammed, the two pastors suspect those at the mosque may have tried to frame him as terrorist. Both pastors are from Mogotio, and pastor Cheruiyot housing a new convert should not have caused such alarm, they said.

Authorities have impeded the pastors from making contact with Mohammed. The two church leaders told Morning Star News that Mohammed genuinely converted to Christianity.

“We are requesting prayers for the release of Mohammed,” said pastor Kurui.

The two pastors have been ordered to report to Mogotio police on June 2, when they hope officers will cooperate with them in their efforts to learn Mohammed’s location.

HELP Pregnant Sudanese Christian Woman Sentenced To Death – Open Doors USA

meriam sudan

Meriam Yahia Ibrahim is a 27-year-old Sudanese doctor due to have her second baby next month. She has been condemned to death by hanging, after refusing to renounce her Christian faith, despite pressure on her to do so, even in court. 

Would you join with us in helping to keep this brave Christian woman alive?

Please take a moment to send this letter to some key government officials in Sudan. Be sure to read the guidelines and information provided, to ensure this is sent to the proper officials.

Thank you for helping to keep this strong Christian woman alive! 

Open Doors

Guidelines:

* Please use only the sample letter.
* Please send letters to the Minister of Justice, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and your local Sudanese Embassy/Consulate with copies to the Minister of Interior (Addresses below)
* Do not mention Open Doors

*Do not mention Voice of the Persecuted

Sample letter

Your Excellency,

I am writing to express my great concern over the case of Sudanese citizen, Mrs. Meriam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag.

Mrs. Ibrahim was born to an Ethiopian Christian mother and a Muslim Sudanese father, but she was raised by her mother. Mrs. Ibrahim considers herself a Christian and married a Christian man in a church ceremony which was accepted by the authorities. However, on February 17 this year, Mrs. Ibrahim was arrested and charged with adultery under article 146 and apostasy under article 126 of the Criminal Code and taken into prison along with her infant child. She is in her ninth month of pregnancy. On May 11 she was sentenced to 100 lashes and to death by hanging by the Public Order Court in El Haj Yousif, Khartoum.

We are deeply concerned over the conditions the expecting Mrs. Ibrahim is facing in prison and about the fact that her infant child is incarcerated with her and denied access to his father. We are also concerned over the fact that Mrs. Ibrahim is denied medical attention and antenatal care for her unborn child.

According to international human rights law, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Sudan is a State Party, everyone has the right to freedom of religion. This includes the “freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching”.

I respectfully petition your intervention in this case. I call upon the government of Sudan as state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to respect Mrs. Ibrahim’s right to freedom of religion by allowing her to freely practice her Christian faith. I therefore appeal that you ensure that both sentences against Mrs. Ibrahim be rescinded, and that she is freed immediately and unconditionally so that she and her child can be reunited with her husband.

I call upon your government to approach Mrs. Ibrahim’s case with justice and compassion that is in keeping with the values of the Sudanese people.

Yours sincerely,

{First Name}, {Last Name}
{Country}
{Addresses}

Minister of Justice
Mohamed Bushara Dousa
Ministry of Justice
Email: moj@moj.gov.sd

Minister of Foreign Affairs
Ali Ahmed Karti
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Email: ministry@mfa.gov.sd
Fax: +249 183 764 168 / +249 183 770 883

Minister of Interior
Ibrahim Mahmoud Hamed
Ministry of Interior
Email: mut@isoc.sd

President of Sudan
HE Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir
Office of the President
Fax: + 249 183 783223

For information on Sudanese embassies and consulates

Open Doors USA

VOP: Our letters have been sent for our sister in Christ. Can you spare a moment to help save a life and share your letters also? Will you be her VOICE? Please remember to keep this dear sister in your prayers!

speak-up

 

Forced conversion to Islam a serious threat to religious freedom in Pakistan

forced-conversion

Forced conversion to Islam of Christian and Hindu girls continues to rise in Pakistan. A recent report launched by the MSP (Movement for Solidarity and Peace) revealed that 1,000 Christian and Hindu girls, aged between 12 and 25, are forced to convert to Islam every year. It is estimated that Christian girls make up 70 per cent of this number, while Hindus make up the remainder.

The revelations are extremely alarming as minorities make up only five per cent of the country’s population where Muslims are the overwhelming majority. This is taking place against a backdrop where minorities are already feeling very insecure and vulnerable, placing them at unimaginable risk.

Christians are poor and 80 to 85 per cent of them live in the Punjab province, with 40 per cent of them living below the poverty line. I can see this number growing in the future, not just because the government has no interest but also because the Christian political and church leadership have no interest whatsoever either.

In villages the majority of poor Christians work with the landowners, while in urban areas poor Christian girls and women work as domestic servants where they are sexually abused, harassed, sometimes forced to convert to Islam, and are even killed on occasion.

I remember the case of 12-year-old Christian girl Shazia Bashir who was killed by her employer. I am not aware of anybody being punished for the crime.

Christian girls are the weakest and most vulnerable because their communities are poor, defenceless and marginalised, therefore they easily exposed to harassment and threats. Often they do not even have the courage to denounce the violence or lodge complaints about the treatment they suffer.

The findings in the new report do not come as a surprise, as a few years ago the HRCP (Human Rights Commission of Pakistan) made similar revelations. But unfortunately the government institutions keep denying these facts and have failed to implement any change.

These facts and figures have been taken from a major newspaper and NGOs working on this issue, and it is thought the actual number could be much higher as many cases of forced conversion go unreported because influential locals and religious leaders are often involved.

Even if they dare to report the matter to the police, such cases are hardly registered and if the case is registered the complainants are threatened to withdraw the case. If the case does somehow reach court, justice is hardly done and therefore many cases go unreported. In many cases even if the abducted person is produced, she gives a statement in favour of her abductor stating that she converted to Islam and married by her own free will.

This is because they are terrified, as throughout the proceedings they are in their abductor’s custody, instead of being with their parents, or in independent accommodation and a fear-free environment. Under duress and the threat of their parents and families being killed, young girls are forced to give statements saying that they converted of their own accord.

I have studied many cases and reached the conclusion that whenever the girls get the chance, they escape from their abductors, like the case of Nadia Naira who has returned to her parents after 10 years. There are several such examples.

The police are normally inactive and reluctant to register such cases, where Christian or non-Muslims girls are kidnapped and forcibly converted to Islam and then married to their Muslim abductor.

Magistrates and lower courts have failed to implement the law, sometimes they are pressurised by the local religious and political leaders, but are mostly complicit. Even the Supreme Court has failed to uphold international norms of justice in non-Muslim cases and use the available selective procedures.

The adult age for Christian girls in Pakistan is 18, while under Islamic laws, there is no age limit for a Muslim. But courts sometimes override the non-Muslim personal law and decide the case under Muslim law, like in 2009 when two Christian sisters Saba Younis, aged 13, and her sister, Anila Younis, 10, were abducted.

CLAAS, a Christian NGO, was directly involved in this case, but at the end of the day, the judge decided their case under the Islamic law and sent Saba with her husband, while Anila returned to her family. CLAAS objected and called it a miscarriage of justice protesting that the decision did not meet the international criteria, but since it was a matter of Christian girls, no one cared.

I have understood from several cases that the practice of forced conversion is well organised and well established, and to seek immunity from the crime, the culprits obtain conversion certificates from local mosques and change their names too.

Sometimes counter FIRs (first information police reports) are registered to harass the girl’s family. The abducted girls are threatened and are forced to sign sometimes blank papers, and sometimes a statement that she has embraced Islam by her own free will, just to save their and their families’ lives.

Sometimes they are told that since they have become Muslim they cannot reconvert to Christianity as it would be considered apostasy. In such circumstances they have no choice but to accept the hand fate has dealt them, and suffer in silence in the custody of their abductors.

They are not allowed to see their parents and other relatives, and are kept under tight security – nothing short of modern day slavery and a serious violation of fundamental and human rights.

In such cases the victim may be subjected to sexual violence, rape, forced prostitution, human trafficking, sale or domestic abuse.

Pakistan is considered one of the toughest and most hostile countries for minorities. Religious extremism, hatred, and religious intolerance continues to grow and exacerbate the misery of young Christian girls.

Religious freedom should be recognised as a fundamental right as Pakistan is a signatory of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but it is hardly applied in practice.

Apart from the that, Pakistan has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, and several other international treaties and instruments which explicitly talk about religious freedom and women rights, but Pakistan is a country where the value of human rights has no significance and when it comes to the matter of minorities nobody cares.

The human rights situation continue to deteriorate and the international community has raised its concern on several occasions, and the recent GSP-plus status granted to Pakistan was linked to the human rights situation improving, but Pakistan is well practised in the art of fooling the West.

Apart from international treaties, Pakistan’s own constitution includes several articles referring to religious freedom, protection of minorities, and equality before the law. Despite this, minorities are unfortunately rarely allowed to enjoy their rights and live under constant fear of their lives.

Minorities are demanding new legislation to stop this enduring situation, but the court has said that there is no need for new laws.

The government has also failed to address this problem so it means their misery will worsen in the coming years. Hindus and Christians have already started migrating to India and other countries because Pakistan’s laws have failed to protect their honour, and for these women honour and life are all they have.

Forcible conversion to Islam in Pakistan in the 21st century is an open challenge for everybody who believes in equality, justice, religious freedom and human rights. Minorities are losing faith in the government and courts. There is a loathsome continuation of dual discrimination towards women, as females and as members of minority communities. It is a serious issue of survival for minorities in Pakistan and the international community must pay attention to stop the continuous violation of the fundamental and human rights of minorities.

By Nasir Saeed, Pakistan Christian Post

KYRGYZSTAN: 14 year Church Ownership Annulled

Bishkek

By Mushfig Bayram, Forum 18 News Service

Authorities in Kyrgyzstan’s capital Bishkek are seeking to confiscate the building of a Protestant Church, the Church of Jesus Christ, Forum 18 News Service has learned. In January a court annulled the sales contract signed more than 14 years ago, claiming it was in violation of the law. The Church’s appeal against the decision – and its separate appeal to have the whole case thrown out – are due to be heard in Bishkek City Court on 18 April.

Some Church members, and members of other Protestant churches in Bishkek, told Forum 18 that the authorities’ legal moves to seize the building may be motivated by their dislike of the Church’s activity and its members spreading their faith across Kyrgyzstan.

However, other Church members speculate that a major incentive might be financial. “The authorities just want to take advantage of us,” they complained to Forum 18 on 3 April. They point out that the building is in a “prestigious district” of Bishkek with a market price of “about one million US dollars”. The authorities “just want to take it away from us because, we think, they have potential buyers”.

Insecure property ownership

Religious communities can face insecurity over property ownership. The State Property Fund official who represented it in court in the Church of Jesus Christ case told Forum 18 that it is also looking at property ownership affecting other religious communities, but refused to identify them.

Religious communities also face inspections by a range of state agencies, as has happened to mosques and churches in Bishkek since early 2014.

Among those visited several times was Bishkek’s Hope Baptist Church, most recently on 7 April. Officials inspected the documents of its building. The Church’s Pastor Eduard Pak told Forum 18 on 7 April that the Mayor’s Office has already “ordered us to vacate the land since we are only renting it” (see forthcoming F18News article).

 

Contract annulled

gavelOn 24 January, in the absence of Church representatives, Judge Zhyrgalbek Nurunbetov of Bishkek’s Inter-District Economic Court annulled the 1999 sales contract between the Church of Jesus Christ and the State Property Fund. Judge Nurunbetov claims in the decision, seen by Forum 18, that the contract was signed in violation of the Law and that the Church did not fulfil its contractual obligations.

Church members, who wished to remain unnamed for fear of state reprisals, adamantly deny this.

The suit, the decision notes, was brought by the State Property Fund, which was represented in court by Aysulu Orozbekova. Also the State Commission for Religious Affairs (SCRA) was invited as an interested party and represented in court by its lawyer Kanybek Mamataliyev.

Hearings began in the Economic Court in November 2013, with two other hearings in December 2013, where Church representatives and interested third parties to whom it rents rooms in the building participated. The Church boycotted the fourth and final hearing, held on 24 January 2014. “We and the third parties gave all the evidence for the defence but the Court ignored it totally,” church members complained. “Then in our absence the Judge made the decision.”

Church members learned of the final 24 January hearing only two days earlier, when the Economic Court rejected their separate motion to have the whole case thrown out. Church members told Forum 18 they did not wish to be seen to endorse the case by attending the final hearing.

The 1999 contract

The Church of Jesus Christ was registered in 1991. It bought the Culture House of the old Bishkek Machine-Building Plant from the State Property Fund under a 1 September 1999 contract signed by Tursun Turdumambetov, then Deputy Chair of the State Fund, and Vasily Kuzin, the Church’s Senior Pastor. The contract was registered on 26 October 1999 in the State Inventory and Appraisal of Property Department. According to the contract, the building occupies 3,200 square metres (10,500 square feet), with an additional 3,000 square metres of adjacent park.

The contract – seen by Forum 18 – states that the building was sold to the Church for 1,946,218 Soms (then 354,000 Norwegian Kroner, 43,000 Euros or 46,000 US Dollars) for it to use and manage the building with the condition that it remain under the control of the State Property Fund. The contract allows the Fund to terminate it unilaterally if the Church fails to fulfil its contractual obligations, that is if it does not maintain social activity, such as courses for young people, as its main profile.

Church members told Forum 18 that they have arranged courses for young people, including dancing and singing classes, and classes for children preparing to go to school. A children’s charity helping poor families and a newspaper’s editorial office are among other users of the building, they said. This is also seen in the Court decision, as it summoned to the hearings as interested parties representatives of 15 organisations which rent rooms in the building.

“Violation of norms”?

Judge Nurunbetov claims in the decision that the State Property Fund sold the building to the Church not on a tender but directly with violation of the norms of direct sales of state property. According to Provision 70 of the 1995 Law on Privatisation and Denationalisation of State Property, state property can be sold only on the initiative of the Government, Ministries, State Committees, State Administrations, State Committee on management of State Property, or local Administrations.

Judge Nurunbetov argued that the initiator in this case was the Church itself by writing a request to purchase the building, which was endorsed by Boris Silayev, then Deputy Prime Minister, in a separate letter with a seal and his signature on it. This, according to Judge Nurunbetov, is a violation, since the initiative did “not come directly” from the Government but the Church.

Judge Nurunbetov also claims that the Church did not observe the social profile of the building, and has not paid tax on the additional plot of land which came with the building.

Church members reject the first two claims. “That they requested the Government does not mean that they initiated the sale, since the initiative came from the then Deputy Prime Minister.” They also insist they kept the social profile of the building by renting out space to organisations supporting young people.

Church members told Forum 18 that it had not paid tax on the additional land. They pointed to the contract, which says “nothing on how we are supposed to use it or whether we should pay tax on it. However, we have taken care of the park all these years.”

“We invested thousands of dollars in repairing the building, improving the area around the building, taking care of the park, and thus have fulfilled our obligations on the contract,” church members insisted. “It is not just that the State Fund brought a suit in the court more than 14 years after it sold the building to the Church.”

Why did authorities bring suit after 14 years?

Asked by Forum 18 on 3 April why the court accepted the suit brought by the authorities more than 14 years after the Church and State Property Fund signed the sales contract, Judge Nurunbetov refused to say. “I have my decision, and let them bring an appeal. I will not comment over the phone.”

Orozbekova of the State Property Fund vehemently defended the suit to Forum 18 on 4 April. Told that it was the Fund which sold the property to the Church, endorsed by the Government, and asked what had changed after 14 years that the authorities seek to confiscate it now, she responded: “The General Prosecutor’s Office raised the case in 2009 but it did not reach the Court at that time because soon after there was regime change in Kyrgyzstan.”

Told that in 2009 the Church had already maintained the building for ten years and observed its contractual obligations by renting out space for social projects, and asked why the Fund still wants to take it away from the Church, Orozbekova insisted: “It is not just the Church of Jesus Christ’s property under investigation at the moment. Other religious and non-religious buildings are also under question.”

Orozbekova refused to give any details to Forum 18 of which other religious communities’ property is being investigated. “There are so many cases, I cannot remember all the details,” she retorted.

General Prosecutor’s Office opened investigation in 2009

Church members told Forum 18 that on 12 May 2009, during the rule of then President Kurmanbek Bakiev, the General Prosecutor’s Office sent a proposal to the Government’s State Property Ministry to “remedy the breaches of the Law in the contract”, but that no suit was brought to court.

“Now no suits can be brought in court based on the Law because the three years’ limitation period for bringing a suit after an alleged violation expired in May 2012.” Church members pointed out that more than four years had passed between the General Prosecutor’s proposal on the alleged violations and November 2013, when the Court accepted the suit.

Lyudmila Usmanova, Deputy General Prosecutor, said she was unable to comment. “First of all I cannot comment on why the General Prosecutor’s Office raised this issue in 2009, especially if we take into account that there was a fire in our building in 2010, and many documents were burnt,” she told Forum 18 on 4 April. “I also cannot say why the Court made such a decision at the moment.”

Will any officials be punished for “illegal contract”? 

Orozbekova also evaded Forum 18’s question whether any officials who signed and endorsed the contract will be held responsible and punished. “It is not our responsibility – it is the duty of the law-enforcement agencies.”

Deputy General Prosecutor Usmanova also declined to answer the question, asking Forum 18 to send its questions in writing. Forum 18 sent its questions in writing on 4 April, but received no response by the end of the working day in Bishkek on 8 April.

Will Church be properly compensated?

Church members told Forum 18 that approximately one thousand people attend Church services in their building every week. “We cannot afford to lose the place, particularly in view of its central location. It would be hard for us to buy a new place, especially given market prices.”

Asked whether the Church would accept any compensation from the State, they said that they do “not want to lose the place but in the worst case they will accept compensation based on the property’s market value.” They pointed to Article 184, Point 4 of the Civil Code, which states: “When a transaction – as a result of which a property was bought by a person, who is a conscientious buyer – is not valid, the value of the property at the point of time when the Court makes a decision will be exacted from the guilty persons for benefit of the owner of the property.”

Told that the Church will have trouble to find a place and funds to buy such a building for worship, especially given rising prices, and asked why should it suffer the consequences of the authorities’ decisions, Orozbekova responded: “Many illegal contracts were made and buildings sold in earlier years. Staff of the State Property Fund have now changed and we are investigating many property deals. We are not against the Church or its activity but the contract was null and void from the beginning and must be annulled.”

Asked whether the authorities will properly compensate the Church, Orozbekova responded that the Fund intends to return to the Church “just what it paid 14 years ago”. Asked why the Fund should not pay the Church the market price of the property according to Civil Code Article 184, Point 4, if it deems that the only solution is the return of the property, Orozbekova laughed. “The Church paid such a ridiculously small amount for it, why should we now pay them such a large sum?”

Why is SCRA party to case? 

Tabyldy Orozaliyev, Deputy Head of the SCRA, claimed to Forum 18 on 4 April that the SCRA is not a party in the case, and that the only reason their lawyer Mamataliyev participated in the hearings was because the Court “summoned him as a witness to ask questions on the legal status of the organisation”.

Told that the Court decision indicates that the State Commission is an interested party, he denied it. “It is a civil case, and we were represented there neither to speak against or defend the Church, but to answer whether or not the Church is registered at the indicated address.”

However, Church members objected. “Mamataliyev came to all the hearings we participated in. He falsely accused us of not keeping the building’s social profile,” they told Forum 18. “At our insistence the Court invited our sub-tenants, who testified to the Court about their social activities and that they are using our building for this purpose.”

Told about this and that one of the tasks of the SCRA is building bridges between the authorities and religious communities, and asked why their lawyer said nothing in defence of the community, Orozaliyev sounded agitated. “Do not ask improper questions, do not teach me what we should or shouldn’t do.”

Asked by Forum 18 whether he or the SCRA is not concerned that the Church might lose its building, he responded angrily: “You get lost.” He then put the phone down.

Construction company interested in buying site

downloadA commercial company EVOS constructed a high-rise building next to the park by the Church. One employee of the company, who did not give his name, told Forum 18 on 4 April that the park “is our property, and soon we are going to put up a fence around it and make it into a park for recreation of our tenants”. He added that the company intends to buy up the land around the building, which he called a Culture House.

When Forum 18 noted that the building is a Church building, the employee objected saying that it is a “Culture house,” and that “not a Church but a sect occupies only part of the building.” Asked what will happen to the building, he told Forum 18: “It will be decided in future, but we are waiting for more investment in our project to build more high-rises in the area.”

Told by Forum 18 that construction company EVOS hopes to buy new plots of land around the Church building, and asked whether this is why the suit is being brought now, Orozbekova of the State Property Fund refused to answer. “Look, I have no time to discuss with you all of these questions you have,” she said, and declined to talk further.

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