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Nigeria (Morning Star News) – Islamic extremists have executed five Nigerian men in Borno state, with one executioner saying it was a warning to “all those being used by infidels to convert Muslims to Christianity,” according to a video posted on Wednesday (July 22).
Three of the men shot to death from behind on the video were identified as Christians by a resident of Borno state, where the executions apparently took place.
In the 35-second video posted on YouTube by Eons Intelligence before it was removed, the three Christians kneel blindfolded by red cloth alongside two others believed to be Muslims while five men armed with AK-47 rifles stand behind them.
“This is a message to all those being used by infidels to convert Muslims to Christianity,” one of the executioners says in the Hausa language, translated by Morning Star News. “We want you out there to understand that those of you being used to convert Muslims to Christianity are only being used for selfish purposes.
“And that is the reason whenever we capture you, they don’t care to rescue you or work towards securing your release from us; and this is because they don’t need you or value your lives. We therefore, call on you to return to Allah by becoming Muslims. We shall continue to block all routes [highways] you travel.
“If you don’t heed our warning, the fate of these five individuals will be your fate.”
The speaker than commands, “Bisimilah [Go on],” and the five men are shot dead.
The Borno resident (name withheld for security reasons) identified three of those killed as Christians. He said Ishaku Yakubu, an aid worker from Chibok with Action Against Hunger, was a member of the Church of the Brethren (EYN); Luka Filibus, an aid worker from Monguno with the International Rescue Committee, was an EYN member; and Joseph Prince, a private security firm worker, was a member of the Redeemed Christian Church in Maiduguri.
In a previous video recorded on June 21, Prince and Filibus identified their captors as members of Khalifa, a term used by prior captives for a Boko Haram splinter group, the Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP).
In the prior video, Prince says: “My name is Joseph Prince, and I’m a staff member of Halogen [a private security firm]. I was traveling from Maiduguri to Monguno on official duty on June 1, 2020, when I was captured by Khalifa soldiers at 11:37 a.m. As of today, June 21, 2020, the date this video is being recorded, I’m still being held captive. I plead with my organization to please secure my release.”
In the prior video, Yakubu says: “My name is Ishaku Yakubu, and I work with Action Against Hunger. I was captured on June 8, 2020, while I was traveling from Monguno to Maiduguri. I plead for my organization, Action Against Hunger, to kindly secure my release.”
Filibus, the third Christian victim, in the prior video says: “My name is Luka Filibus, and I work with the International Rescue Committee in Munguno Local Government Area. I was captured by Khalifa soldiers on June 3, 2020, while I was on my way to Maiduguri. I plead with my organization, International Rescue Committee, to kindly secure my release.”
Action Against Hunger and the International Rescue Committee confirmed the deaths of their workers in press statements condemning the executions.
A statement from Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari indicated that the other two men executed worked with Nigeria’s State Emergency Management Agency and a company called Rich International.
Through spokesman Garba Sheu, Buhari sent condolences to the families of those slain and said the government will do all it can to ensure that “every remaining vestige of Boko Haram is wiped out completely from northeastern Nigeria.”
“President Buhari also condoles with the State Emergency Management Agency, Action Against Hunger, Rich International, and International Rescue Committee, whose staff have suffered this gruesome fate,” Sheu said. “He thanks them for their continued dedication and service to the victims of Boko Haram in Northeastern Nigeria.”
In January ISWAP executed Christian university student Ropvil Daciya Dalep, a member of the Church of Christ in Nations (COCIN) who was kidnapped on Jan. 9 on the Damaturu-Maiduguri Highway while returning to studies in Maiduguri, Borno state.
ISWAP in 2016 broke off from the rebel terrorist group Boko Haram, which originated in Maiduguri.
On Jan. 20, Boko Haram terrorists executed the Rev. Lawan Andami, district chairman of the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria (EYN) in Michika County, Adamawa state, and father of eight children.
Edward Kallon, United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator in Nigeria, expressed shock and horror at the killings, saying of the victims, “their safety and securing their safe release have been our highest priority since they were captured in June.”
“These checkpoints disrupt the delivery of life-saving assistance and heighten the risks for civilians of being abducted, killed or injured, with aid workers increasingly being singled out,” Kallon said. “I strongly condemn all violence targeting aid workers and the civilians they are assisting. I am also troubled by the number of illegal vehicular checkpoints set up by non-state armed groups along main supply routes.”
The U.N. has repeatedly called for an end to such blatant violations of international humanitarian law, he said.
“I implore all armed parties to step up their responsibilities and stop targeting aid workers and civilians,” Kallon said. “At a time when humanitarian needs have reached unprecedented levels, it is unacceptable that those who are trying to help are being attacked and killed.”
Nigeria ranked 12th on Open Doors’ 2020 World Watch List of countries where Christians suffer the most persecution but second in the number of Christians killed for their faith, behind Pakistan.
Nigeria (Morning Star News) – Muslim Fulani herdsmen on Monday (July 20) killed 11 Christians in an attack in Kaduna state, Nigeria, the latest of more than 50 members of Baptist, ECWA and Catholic churches slain since June 12, sources said.
More than 50 armed herdsmen invaded Gora Gan village, in the north-central state’s Zangon Kataf County, on Monday at about 7 p.m., setting dozens of houses on fire, according to the Rev. Isaac Ango Makama, vice chairman of the local chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN).
Seven other Christians were injured in the attack and were receiving treatment at General Hospital in Zonkwa, and many others are missing, he said. Corpses of those killed were taken to the morgue of the same hospital.
The attack brought to more than 500 the number of Christians taking refuge at a camp for the displaced, said Ezekiel James, one of the officials manning the camp.
“We currently have 559 displaced Christians at the Zonkwa Town Camp,” James told Morning Star News by text message. “They are Christians who escaped the attack against Gora Gan village and other villages in the past few days. These internally displaced Christians are in dire need of food items, drugs, and facilities to treat those who are traumatized.”
The attack brings to more than 50 the number of Christians killed in Muslim Fulani herdsmen attacks in southern Kaduna state since June 12, when the Rev. Bulus Bayi of the Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA) was shot dead.
The herdsmen on Sunday (July 19) attacked predominantly Christian Kukum Daji, in Kaura County, killing 18 Christians and wounding 31 others, according to Christian community leader Yashen Sunday Titus. A wedding reception was taking place at the time, he said.
“The herdsmen stormed our village at 10:35 p.m.; they were heavily armed and began shooting at our people,” Titus told Morning Star News. “Some of our villagers are still missing.”
The injured were receiving treatment at a Christian hospital in Kafanchan and at Barrau Dikko Teaching Hospital in the city of Kaduna, he said.
In Kajuru County, Fulani herdsmen on Friday (July 17) attacked Doka Avong village, killing five Christians, including 3-year-old Faith Shagari and Dorcas Shagari, 6. Also slain were Gloria Shagari, 25; Hussaini Daudu, 40; and Ayuba Bulus, 40, sources said.
On the same day in Katchia County, herdsmen attacked Mai-Ido village, killing four Christians and kidnapping 10 others, resident Chris Maiyaki told Morning Star News by text message.
Attacking the southern Kaduna villages of Chibuak and Kigudu on July 9-10, the herdsmen killed 20 Christians, said the Rev. Aaron Tanko, an area Roman Catholic priest.
“Many others are missing, and we presume that they might have been kidnapped,” Tanko said.
Nine Christians were killed in Chibuak on July 9, and 11 were killed in a night raid on Kigudu village on July 10, he said.
“Some people are still missing, so I cannot conclusively say this is the casualty figure,” Tanko said. “Some of those killed are my parishioners, and other Christians of other church denominations. Christians here are at the mercy of Fulani herdsman, as these herdsmen are always well-armed, and they invade our communities and kill Christians at will.”
On July 12 herdsmen killed two other Christians in Anguwan Audu, sources said. The Rev. Gambo Waziri of the ECWA said recent attacks on 20 predominantly Christian communities have displaced 1,200 people.
Herdsmen attacked the villages of Doka, Afogo, Kallah, Gefe and Libere, all bordering the Ladugga grazing reserve, July 2-5, area Christian leader Awemi Dio Maisamari said in a press statement.
“Our communities are still bedeviled with attacks, kidnappings and occupation of displaced communities,” Maisamari said. “Our farmers are still routinely attacked and sometimes killed when they go to their farms. In the latest incidents on July 2 and 5, two women at Doka were seriously wounded, and one man named Yohanna Mutane was killed at Maraban Kajuru respectively.”
Amid numerous kidnapping in May and June, one person was killed and more than 15 held for ransom, he said.
“With happenings like these, our community is yet to know peace,” Maisamari said.
Herdsmen shot ECWA pastor Bulus Bayi to death while he worked on his farm in Sabon Gari Gusawa village, Kauru County, on June 12, sources said. Pastors in northern Nigeria frequently augment their modest salaries as farmer in order to sustain their families.
Luka Binniyat, spokesman for the Southern Kaduna People’s Union (SOKAPU), said Kaduna Gov. Nasir Ahmad el-Rufai has shown no concern about the killings.
“Of the scores of gruesome attacks, the governor has never made any sympathy visit to the communities, let alone take steps to alleviate their suffering by providing relief materials to the displaced,” Binniyat said in a press statement. “Many of these threatened communities have consequently relocated to surrounding communities, thereby creating a very serious humanitarian situation.”
On Jan. 30 Christian Solidarity International (CSI) issued a genocide warning for Nigeria, calling on the Permanent Member of the United Nations Security Council to take action. CSI issued the call in response to “a rising tide of violence directed against Nigerian Christians and others classified as ‘infidels’ by Islamist militants in the country’s north and middle belt regions.’”
Nigeria ranked 12th on Open Doors’ 2020 World Watch List of countries where Christians suffer the most persecution but second in the number of Christians killed for their faith, behind Pakistan.
Legislation could enable regime to ban any group as a ‘sect.’
(Morning Star News) – Legislation passed by parliament in Iran could make it easier to arrest and imprison Christians and other religious minorities, rights advocates said.
Under amendments to articles 499 and 500 of the Islamic Penal Code, those found guilty of “deviant psychological manipulation” or “propaganda contrary to Islam,” whether in the “real or virtual sphere,” could be labeled as “sects,” according to advocacy group Article 18.
The law enables the regime to ban any group as a sect and may lead to punishment that could be escalated to include the death penalty, said Hamid Garagozloo, U.S. representative of The International Organization to Preserve Human Rights (IOPHR), while moderating a recent webinar panel discussion with representatives of religious minorities that could be affected by the law.
Expanding the margin for Iranian authorities to justify discriminatory actions against Christian converts, the law would make it more difficult for lawyers to defend them and other religious minorities, according to a Middle East expert at advocacy group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).
While the amendment has been in the pipeline for two years, it was recently approved by parliament in the middle of May, according to a researcher at advocacy group Middle East Concern (MEC).
“The last couple of weeks, religious minorities have started to take notice and are thinking about what to do and how to raise awareness,” he said. “It is quite worrying, because the amendments made, rather than protecting religious freedom at all, try to define exactly who is following fundamental theology or not.”
Before the law is implemented, it must be approved by the Guardian Council in Iran, he said, adding that it is unclear when that decision could be made.
The government has been arresting Christian converts and giving them sentences of up to 15 years under vague terms such as, “acting against national security,” said Mansour Borji, advocacy director of Article 18 in the webinar hosted by IOPHR. In the past decade, these charges have been used to replace more obvious religious charges such as apostasy, he said. This obscuring of religious freedom violations by shying away from terms like “apostasy” was largely due to international pressure, according to Article 18.
Advocates believe this effort to extend greater control could be the regime’s reaction to losing credibility among its people amid economic difficulties and poor handling of the novel coronavirus pandemic. As crises in the country mount, they said, religious minorities and Western Christianity may become an easy scapegoat.
“Many Christian groups and church leaders are worried because this would add another layer to their ongoing suffering at the hands of the Islamic regime,” said the expert at CSW.
Other religious minorities that would be affected by the law include Sunni and Sufi Muslims and the Baha’i.
Aside from Shia Islam and Judaism, Christianity is one of the three recognized religions in Iran. Protections, however, apply only to a small number of approved Christian groups, namely ethnically Christian Assyrians and Armenians.
All but a handful of churches who offered their services in the national language of Farsi have been forced to close since the Islamic revolution in the 1970s, Borji said in the webinar. The remaining churches are monitored to make sure that no Muslim-born Iranians attend them. Converts are forced to practice their faith in secret, underground churches and are routinely harassed and arrested, he said.
Most recently, four Iranian Christian converts accused of endangering state security and promoting Zionism obeyed a summons issued at the end of May and presented themselves to Evin Prison to begin serving sentences of five years each, according to MEC.
Hossein Kadivar, Khalil Dehghanpour, Kamal Naamanian and Mohammed Vafadar had been released on bail of about $13,000 each last July. All but Vafadar are married with children.
The four were among nine Christian converts belonging to the Church of Iran who were arrested at the beginning of 2019 over a four-week period. In October 2019, all nine were convicted of “acting against national security” and given five-year sentences, which were held on appeal in February.
“It is very sad, of course, for those people involved,” the MEC representative said. “It’s easy to say five years, but for the people who actually experience this, it’s so difficult.”
The remaining five men out of nine have been in Evin Prison, unable to post bail following a disagreement with a judge over their choice of a defense lawyer.
About a year-and-a-half ago, Iran set which lawyers would be able to defend political prisoners. The five were unwilling to let go of the lawyer they chose, who was not on the list. This angered the judge and caused him to set the exorbitant bail, according to the researcher at MEC.
They were immediately transferred to Evin Prison after not being able to meet the bail amount of $130,000 each, according to MEC.
Reduction in Sentences
After an appeal, three other Christian converts who had been handed sentences of 10-years were given a reduction of their sentences.
Sentences against Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani and Zaman (Saheb) Fadaie were reduced to six years, and for Mohammadreza (Yuhan) Omidi, to two years, according to MEC.
Omidi was expected to be eligible for release in July. The decision regarding a fourth church member who was arrested and convicted at the same time, Yasser Mossaybezadeh, was not yet known.
The men will appeal again, said the expert at CSW.
The men and their families were hoping that the sentences would be completely overturned, said the expert at MEC, as they should never have been in prison in the first place.
“On the one hand it’s great that it’s been reduced, but on the other hand, they were expecting more,” he said.
An appeal hearing to review the cases of Pastor Victor Bet Tamraz, his wife Shamiram Issavi Khabizeh and three Christian converts was canceled with no reason given, according to MEC.
Advocates are not sure why the appeal has been delayed but it could be because the case of Tamraz has become publicized, said the researcher at MEC. There are many inconsistencies and mistakes in handling the case, he said, which could be another reason for the delay. Continually delayed hearings are also often used as a form of harassment, he added.
Four other Christians belonging to the Church of Iran denomination were accused of spreading “Zionist Evangelical Christianity” and “home church meetings,” according to a CSW press statement.
They received a summons from the third branch of the Public and Revolutionary Prosecutor’s Office of Tehran on June 19, according to the release.
Judges Hassan Babaie and Zenjani signed a verdict based on Article 498 of the Islamic Penal Code, which criminalizes the establishment of groups that aim to “overthrow the system,” according to CSW.
Iran was ranked ninth on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2020 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.
DAMASCUS/ANKARA (BosNewsLife)– Tens of thousands of panicked-stricken people, many of them Christians, are seen fleeing north-east Syria amid fears that a brief ceasefire will not end a deadly Turkish invasion. They escape a region where over 100 people, including some Christians, were reported killed in recent fighting between Turkish and Kurdish forces. Others were injured.
“Already one Christian home in a Christian neighborhood in the city of Qamishli has been shelled, with family members injured,” confirmed Christian aid group, Barnabas Fund.
“The mother is in a critical condition in hospital. Two other Christians in Qamishli have been killed and many wounded,” the group added.
Barnabas Fund said, “Christians are alarmed to note that the attacking forces include not only the Turkish army but also Syrian Islamist rebel factions whose extremist ideology makes them strongly anti-Christian.”
At least one Islamic rebel group, the Levant Front, seized Christian homes of those fleeing in the town of Tal Abyad, other Christian aid workers told BosNewsLife. It was not immediately clear how many houses had been taken over.
Barnabas Fund claimed that some of the Christian refugees were already displaced several times during Syria’s civil war. They “finally found stability in this region. Now they must run for their lives again,” the group explained in a statement to BosNewsLife.
As many as 100,000 people have already left their homes, according to the United Nations. The number of internally displaced persons could reach 300,000 in the area, warned Barnabas Fund citing local sources.
Turkey’s attacks, launched last week, target a part of Syria viewed as relatively secure in eight years of civil war. “But overnight it has become a battlefield,” Barnabas Fund complained.
The group noted that the region has strong Christian communities that are “often seen as a peace-keeping buffer between the Arabs and Kurds.”
Barnabas Fund said it is providing humanitarian aid such as food and shelter to Syrian Christians. Additionally, “We have also helped to support our brothers and sisters spiritually. That includes funding projects to strengthen church ministry and build them up in their faith through the years of unrelenting conflict, loss, and trauma,” it stressed. “As Christians, they suffered persecution for their faith in addition to all the normal suffering of the war.”
Christians have reasons to fear more violence. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey warned his troops would “crush the heads” of Kurdish fighters if they don’t withdraw from a planned safe zone area in northern Syria.
Turkey agreed on Thursday, October 17, to suspend an offensive for five days to allow Kurdish forces to withdraw from the region.
But both sides have accused the other of violating the ceasefire, which was negotiated by the United States. American forces appeared unwilling Monday, October 21, to be drawn into the conflict. Reporters saw hundreds of trucks carrying American troops crossing into Iraq in a long military convoy Monday.
U.S. President Donald Trump said last week that he would bring all American troops stationed in Syria “back home.” He rejected concerns that this could lead to the freeing of Islamic militants from prisons and more pressure on minority Christians and other vulnerable groups.
American troops fought the Islamic State terror group alongside the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces. Most of these forces will move to western Iraq, U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said. But he suggested that some would remain temporarily in Syria to protect oil fields from Islamic State, despite President Trump’s call for a full withdrawal.
TEHRAN, IRAN (BosNewsLife)– An Iranian court has sentenced a pastor and eight fellow members of the big evangelical Church of Iran movement to jail for leaving Islam.
Church leader Matthias Haghnejad and the other believers were each sentenced to five years imprisonment after a short hearing on September 23, trial observers confirmed to BosNewsLife.
Pastor Haghnejad was detained by the feared Islamic Revolutionary Guard following a church service in February this year, said advocacy group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), which supports the Christians.
The other believers Shahrouz Eslamdoust, Babak Hosseinzadeh, Behnam Akhlaghi, Mehdi Khatibi, Mohammad Vafadar, Kamal Naamanian, Hossein Kadivar (Elisha) and Khalil Dehghanpour were reportedly taken into custody in the coastal city of Rasht in early 2019.
Confirmation about their sentences came days after jailed Church of Iran pastor, Yousef Nadarkhani, ended a three-week hunger strike, according to Christians familiar with his situation.
Nadarkhani, who is serving a ten-year prison term for church activities, began his action on September 23 to protest against his children being prohibited from continuing with their education.
He described his hunger strike in a letter to prison authorities as “the cry of a father, unjustly imprisoned.” The pastor stressed that the second-generation Christian children are increasingly penalized by educational authorities who do not recognize their faith.
It was not immediately clear whether Nadarkhani would be able to meet the other jailed Christians. Trial observers said the nine men faced a severe July hearing by Judge Mohammed Moghisheh, who activists claim “is notorious” for miscarriages of justice.
He allegedly attempted to coerce Pastor Haghnejad, Eslamdoust, Hosseinzadeh, Akhlaghi and Khatibi, into accepting a court-appointed legal representative.
The judge eventually suspended the proceedings, remanding them in custody on significantly increased bail terms when they refused to do so, reported CSW. “Judge Moghisheh subsequently resumed the trial of Mr. Vafadar, Mr. Naamanian, Mr. Kadivar (Elisha) and Mr. Dehghanpour, who were representing themselves…during which he asserted that the Bible was falsified and called the men’ apostates’,” the term used for leaving Islam, the group added.
During another hearing last month, the defendants’ lawyer was allowed to speak shortly, Christians said. “However, Judge Mogisheh is reported not to have responded to his statement. A source informed CSW that “it seemed as if the judge had already made his decision,” the group explained.
CSW claimed that the judge “allowed this process as a formality before pronouncing a pre-determined sentence.”
All nine Christians are appealing their sentences, but Pastor Haghnejad and those defended by a lawyer were already jailed, CSW said.
CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas told BosNewsLife that his group condemns “in the strongest terms,” the sentences handed to the Christians. “Once again, it is clear from the brevity of the trial and reported lack of interest of the presiding judge that due process was not observed. And the judge was not impartial,” he added.
“The charges against these Christians are excessive, completely unfounded and constitute a criminalization of a religion which the Iranian constitution purportedly recognizes,” Thomas said.
He confirmed that CSW called “for the immediate and unconditional release of these nine men,” and all who are behind bars “for their religion or belief in Iran.”
The detentions are part of a broader crackdown on devoted Christians in the Islamic nation, according to several church sources and activists. Apostasy and spreading Christianity often lead to long prison terms and possibly a death sentence in Iran.
Despite these difficulties, mission groups suggest there are at least an estimated 360,000 Christians in the country. They include many former Muslims who turned to Christianity, seeking freedom from strict Islamic rules. Iran’s government-led Statistical Center reports 117,700 Christians in this nation of just over 82 million people.
The U.S. State Department has classified the Islamic Republic as a “country of particular concern” under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 “for having engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom.”
Iranian authorities have denied wrongdoing but say they want to protect the country against dangerous outside influences.
By BosNewsLife Middle East Service with Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
LAOS- Christians in southern Laos faced a grim New Year after seven believers including church leaders were detained by the Communist government’s security forces during violent church raids, reported Stefan J. Bos for (BosNewsLife).
Sirikoon Prasertsee, who leads the advocacy group Human Rights Watcher for Lao Religious Freedom (HRWLRF), said the detentions occurred late Saturday, December 29, when police stormed a Christmas church service in Nakanong Village located in the Phin District of Savannakhet Province.
He said three male church leaders, identified as Akeo, Kert, and Somwang, were first moved to the regional police headquarters. Police returned to the church and detained 4 more Christian men. “They were led away to the Phin district police headquarters,” Prasertsee said.
Shortly after BosNewsLife made the international community aware of their arrest, the seven were released.
Security forces also “demolished the stage, cut off the power line, destroyed the sound system, and seized 3 mobile phones,” according to HRWLRF, which represents Christians in the area.
Police are reportedly charging the Christians with the “illegal gathering for a Christmas church service without state permission.”
The HRWLRF said it had urged the Lao government to release immediately and unconditionally the seven Lao Christians and pay for the damages to the physical properties of the church. It was not immediately clear when and how the government would react to these demands.
However, the detentions are the latest in a series of incidents targeting Christians in Laos.
Activists and local Christians say the persecution is partly linked to concerns within the Communist party and movement Pathet Lao, which has ruled the Southeast Asian nation since 1975, ending a six-century-old monarchy and instituting a strict regime aligned with Vietnam.
Communists view the spread of Christianity as a threat to their power base and way of thinking, BosNewsLife established.
“The government has recently made efforts to increase the monitoring of illegal house churches with the help of registered churches, resulting in the arrest and detention of Christian believers,” said advocacy group Open Doors.
“Provincial and local authorities hinder Christian activity. They often cooperate with community leaders like Buddhist monks to put pressure on Christians, especially converts. Families of converts heavily contribute to this persecution within the home.”
Christians comprise less than two percent of the mainly Buddhist population of over 7 million people, according to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
The detentions come despite reported Western-style reforms in other areas such as the limited return to private enterprise and the liberalization of foreign investment which began in 1988. Laos also became a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 1997 and the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2013.
In a statement to BosNewsLife, the HRWLRF urged the Lao government to respect “the right of the Lao people to religious freedom and the accompanying rights as guaranteed in the Lao constitution and the U.N. International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ratified by Laos in 2009.”
Under these laws, the individual has the right to adopt a religion or belief of choice and the freedom to “manifest that religion or belief” publicly. ——
Christianity is considered a Western influence and especially dangerous by the Communist Party in Laos. Authorities heavily monitor all religious activities, including those of registered Christian churches, religious gatherings must be reported beforehand. House churches are forced to operate illegally, in secret.
Buddhist teachings are often considered part of Lao “cultural education,” and included in the curriculum at some schools. In one case, Christian students were required to attend a Buddhist temple ritual.
Converts to Christianity become outsiders within their Buddhist-animist communities, pressured by Buddhist monks, family members and local authorities to recant their new faith. Some believers are arrested and detained when caught engaging in illegal church activities, or when Bibles or other Christian literature are discovered. Others are threatened, fined or beaten in an attempt to make them renounce their faith.
- Pray that Christians would have wisdom in witnessing to their Buddhist neighbors and family members. Pray that their efforts would be well received.
- Pray that Christians in Laos would be able to freely access Bibles and register churches. Pray also that Christian children in Buddhist schools would not be discriminated against and receive low marks simply because of their faith.
- Laos is one of the five remaining Marxist-Leninist countries in the world, and as such, it is strictly opposed to any influence deemed foreign or Western. The Communist Party puts enormous pressure on the small Christian minority. Please pray for increased openness and acceptance towards Christianity.
NIGERIA (Voice of the Persecuted) Fr. Gideon Obasogie, Director of Social Communications of the Diocese of Maiduguri in northern Nigeria, reported to Voice of the Persecuted (VOP) that two Catechists (pastors) and a student Catechist were killed during a suicide attack carried out by two young women outside a Church in Pulka. The village is located in the Gwoza local government area which borders with Cameroon and the Sambisa Forest.
On 11/12/2017, we gathered that the Boko Haram elements sent two female suicide bombers to blend in with the internally displaced (refugees) returning from the Minawao camp. Pastor Joseph Naga, 56 was nearing a church to interview those preparing for the Sacrament of Confirmation when the two women accosted and hugged him. Concerned by the women’s actions, Pastor John Manye, 38 and student-pastor Patrick, 27 went to assist the older pastor. According to Fr. Gideon, “Little did the Catechists know that the women were suicide bombers.” But as the younger Catechists approached, the two suicide bombers detonated their vests and John and Patrick were also caught up in the blast. Dozens inside the church were injured and rushed to the Hospital, he said. There are no reports of any fatalities from the wounded. The attack was also near an IDP camp hosting the returnees.
The men had been appointed by the Bishop of Maiduguri, Most Rev. Oliver Dashe, to see to the immediate pastoral exigency of the catholic faithful in Pulka. Vatican Radio reported Catechists Joseph Naga was married and with eleven children and had worked as a Catechist for 36 yrs. John Manye, a Catechist for 11 years is survived by a wife and five children. Patrick, the student-Catechist was unmarried, [but will also be sorely missed by his loved ones].
Fr. Gideon shared with VOP,
“THE PLIGHT OF MY PEOPLE: Since Boko Haram’s ferocious campaign and occupation of most communities in the Northeast around the later part of 2014, life hasn’t been wonderful for the survivors and returnees. The Boko Haram fighters moved out of the Sambisa forest, overran most communities bordering the fierce forest and tried to extend their counterfeit caliphate from Gwoza to the north through Pulka and Bama in Borno State. Then, to the north of Adamawa state through Madagali, Michika, Uba and Mubi. With the help of God and the courage of our military men, we saw a twist and the ruthless arm of terrorism was rolled back”
The drama of displaced people caused by Boko Haram
“Gradually, as days rolled into weeks and weeks into months, a considerable number of our people have come home to settle and begin life anew. The destruction had been done and all we are left with is heartache and ulcer pains. The mere thought of the destructive acts of Boko Haram breeds heart attacks and spinal shocks. Little wonder a lot of our beloved friends have passed on in recent times, he lamented. The rate of psychosis is alarming, my people now suffer from a wide range of disorders, heightened fear of the future and nervousness, which were all together alien in our land”.
“Before the end of 2015, we saw our displaced people who sought refuge in save havens courageously traced their steps back to their ancestral homes. Probably they were propelled by the popular saying ‘no place is good as home.’ Some came home to seek their aging parents and sick relatives, while others came not only to count their losses but to rescue some valuables.
The truth of the matter is that our people in the Northern part of Adamawa State, under the Ecclesiastical circumscription of Maiduguri Diocese (Madagali, Michika, Uba and Mubi), are back to their communities. Their means of livelihood in this part of the globe, after the shift of the militants, have become consistently challenging.
Our farms have become comfort zones for the terrorists. We cannot go to the farms since returning. My people can only plant vegetables and grains in the neighborhood. It is worth noting that this is an agricultural community where farming is invaluable. It’s not uncommon that even graduates and most civil servants make time to cultivate their farms to feed themselves and sell their produce likely pay the school fees of their wards.”
It’s no news that Governor Bindow’s administration of Adamawa State has long declared a State of emergency on the Health sectors. “We sincerely hope that this would be a snake oil to the challenging, dilapidating and seemingly total absence of health care facilities in Michika- Madagali axis of the State. The Catholic Church is however, putting made-shift or mobile clinic to see to the immediate needs of our people.”
THE RETURN TO PULKA
Fr. Gideon emphasized that among the millions of displaced, there are over 91,000 people who left Nigeria to take refuge in Cameroon. However, the hostilities they encountered had pushed many to return to Nigeria at the cost of exposing themselves to the violence of the armed Boko Haram group. The Nigerian army has been re-gaining control of most of the north-east. Since the start of 2017, populations slowly began to return to the area. Nevertheless, returnees, including those from Cameroon refugee camps, are coming back to a precarious humanitarian and tenuous security situation as Boko Haram terrorists continue to rage against the innocent civilian population.
The Bishop of Maiduguri was scheduled to visit the Pulka community at a later date to pray with and encourage the faithful. While he calls on the government and military to check and double check all corners so as to completely wipe out the terrorists, he continues to pray for the safety of the community and the victims in this attack.
Fr. Obasaogie said, “The Pulka community was joyfully preparing for the pastoral visit of the Bishop but have now been thrown into this sadness. They are scared, but they say they will stand for Christ and that the death of their Catechists shall not be in vain.”
We are committed to being a VOICE for persecuted Nigerian Christians and bring them comfort, relief, and encouragement. We plan for a long-term mission in Nigeria and they will not be forgotten!
Voice of the Persecuted is on the ground in Nigeria to care for our persecuted Christians including those who’ve fled government camps to escape the ongoing threats and pressure to convert. Our mission also supports families, staying at a Christian IDP camp, from the Pulka community who were forced to flee their homes during Boko Haram attacks. All recent reports confirm their apprehensions of returning back to this dangerous area with their families.
In great hardship, they thank God and feel extremely blessed that He has kept His hand on them. They have been so encouraged and thankful for each one of you who have joined this mission through your prayers and support. Your gifts have brought so many smiles. THANK YOU! There are at least 200 men, women and children still living in the camp. Food, clothing, medicine and medical attention are their greatest needs. If you would like to show your compassion for those who’ve faced unimaginable persecution please support our Nigerian relief mission, today. Together with your generous help, we can reach the goal to alleviate horrific suffering. In darkness and desperation, let us serve in love, with open arms and giving hands to provide light and hope. We pray they will experience much joy as they glorify God, this Christmas!
HELP SAVE THE PERSECUTED
Every day, we thank God that He is working through you to care for His children and to 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!
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If the Lord is placing it on your heart and you are able, please help us to continue the mission in Nigeria. It will be a long term project. Donations always desperately needed
Qaraqosh (Agenzia Fides) – On Sunday 10 December hundreds of Iraqi Christians were able to take part in the celebrations for the feast of Mar Behnam (San Behnam) at the Shrine-Monastery where the relics of the Saint are kept. The Mar Behnam Monastery, a few kilometers from the city of Qaraqosh, in the Nineveh Plain, is being rebuilt after the massive devastation carried out by the jihadists of the self-proclaimed “Islamic State” (Daesh). The project to rebuild the important place of worship is supported in particular by the French association Fraternité en Irak. The large participation of the faithful in Eucharistic liturgies, celebrated outdoors, was an important sign of the will of the Iraqi Christians to return to live their daily life, marked by the feasts and celebrations of the liturgical year, in the places of its traditional roots.
The jihadist militiamen of the self-proclaimed “Islamic Caliphate” already in July 2014 had driven out the three Syriac Catholic monks who had officiated the monastery until the day before. Even some families residing at the monastery had been expelled. Since then, concerns have been expressed about the fate of the heritage kept in the ancient monastery, dating back to the fourth century and dedicated to the Assyrian martyr prince Behnam and his sister Sarah, which is one of the oldest and most venerated places of worship of Syriac Christianity. After a few months from the beginning of the jihadist occupation, as early as 2014 (see Fides 15/10/2017) the militiamen of Daesh had removed all the crosses and burned ancient manuscripts kept in the monastery. Then, in 2015, they had largely devastated it with explosives, and had not spared the Saint’s grave.
Last July (see Fides 17/7/2017), the Nineveh Plain Protection Units (NPU) had arrested some members of the so-called “Babylon Brigades” on suspicion of looting private houses and churches Christians, including the Mar Behnam monastery.
The Nineveh Plain Protection Units represent a local military organization, formed in part by native Christians and established in 2014 as a territorial self-defense militia.
The so-called “Babylon Brigades”, headed by Ryan al Kildani (Rayan the Chaldean), also claim their militia label composed by Christians, even if their connection with Shiite militias such as the People’s Protection Units is documented (Hashd al Shaabi) who also operate in the area. (GV) (Agenzia Fides, 11/12/2017)
Saints Behnam, Sarah, and the Forty Martyrs
…were 4th-century Christians who suffered martyrdom during the reign of Shapur II. They are venerated as saints in the Oriental Orthodox Church and their feast day is 10 December.
Behnam and Sarah were born in the 4th-century in Adiabene, and were the children of Sinharib, an Assyrian king. Whilst hunting on Mount Alfafwith forty slaves, Behnam became separated from his entourage and was forced to spend the night on the mountain. He received a dream in which an angel instructed him to seek Saint Matthew, who lived on the mountain, as the saint could heal his sister Sarah, who was afflicted with leprosy. Behnam met with his entourage the next day, and they discovered Saint Matthew in a cave and requested he join them on their return to the city, to which he agreed.
Behnam and his entourage returned to the city ahead of Saint Matthew and told his mother of his dream and the saint. His mother allowed Behnam and Sarah to return to the saint in secret, and he healed Sarah of her leprosy, after which Behnam, Sarah, and the forty slaves were baptised and Saint Matthew returned to Mount Alfaf. Sinharib discovered Behnam and Sarah’s conversion and demanded they abandon Christianity. Stalwart in their faith, Behnam, Sarah, and the forty slaves, fled to Mount Alfaf, but were slain by soldiers sent by Sinharib.
Following his children’s death, Sinharib was afflicted with madness. Behnam spoke to his mother in a dream and instructed her to seek Saint Matthew, as he could heal the king. The queen took the king to the place of Behnam and Sarah’s death, where he met with Saint Matthew and was cured. Sinharib and his wife returned to Assur with the saint and were baptised. The king had a monument to the martyrs built at the place of their martyrdom, and, at the request of Saint Matthew, constructed a monastery on Mount Alfaf, which later became known as the Monastery of St. Matthew. Sinharib had the martyrs buried at the monastery atop Mount Alfaf. In the 6th century, a Persian merchant constructed a shrine to the martyrs alongside Sinharib’s monument, and would later develop into the Monastery of Saints Behnam and Sarah. Source: Wikipedia