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Kidnappings Terrorize Christians in Kaduna State, Nigeria

Nurses, pastor’s wife taken, plus mass abduction from one village.

Nigeria (Morning Star News) – Fulani herdsmen in north-central Nigeria kidnapped a pastor’s wife from her home and two nurses from a hospital, while other Islamic extremists may have joined herdsmen in abducting more than 70 people from one village, sources said.

Fulaki Ozigi was kidnapped along with her husband, Mercy Place Ministry Church pastor Ozigi Hassan, and their four children from their home in Kudenda, in Kaduna state’s Chikun County, in the early hours of April 30, police said. Police pursuing the herdsmen into the forest were able to recover the pastor and the children, but the kidnappers escaped with Fulaki Ozigi, police spokesman Mohammed Jalige said.

At a public hospital in Idon, Kajuru County in southern Kaduna state, heavily armed Fulani herdsmen kidnapped two Christian nurses from a public hospital on the night of April 21, leaders of the Fellowship of Christian Nurses said. Cafra Caino, chairman of the Kajuru Local Government Council, identified the two women as Afiniki Bako and Grace Nkut.

A statement from the Fellowship of Christian nurses said they were “were very committed to sharing and living the gospel in their workplace.”

A nurse who escaped the attack, Rifkatu Alfred, said the herdsmen forced their way into the hospital shooting sporadically.

Nurse Afiniki Bako was kidnapped from a rural hospital in Kaduna state, Nigeria on April 21, 2021. (Fellowship of Christian Nurses)

“When they left, they called to say they were the kidnappers who abducted the two nurses, and if they are not given money, they will kill them,” Alfred told Morning Star News by phone, adding that they initially demanded 500 million naira (US$1.3 million) as ransom but later reduced it to 200 million naira (US$522,876).

Area resident Donatus Ayuba and Shingyu Shamnom, medical director of the hospital, concurred in separate messages to Morning Star News that the kidnappers were armed Fulani herdsmen.

Ishaku Yakubu, chairman of the National Association of Nurses and Midwives of Nigeria, Kaduna State Chapter, said the two nurses were serving the rural poor.

“We’re not safe, and health facilities in the state are no longer secured,” Yakubu said. “Beside the kidnapping of these two, five others were kidnapped before.”

Nurse Grace Zugwai Nkut was abducted in Kaduna state, Nigeria on April 21, 2021. (Fellowship of Christian Nurses)

Under Siege

In Libera Gida village, Kajuru County, militants from the Islamic extremist Boko Haram are suspected alongside herdsmen of kidnapping 72 residents on April 22, sources said.

Villagers counted 72 people missing after the late-night attack, 56 females and 16 males, according to a statement from Luka Binniyat, spokesman of the Southern Kaduna Peoples Union (SOKAPU). The kidnappers called their families on April 29 saying they had 77 Christians in captivity – with the additional five possibly coming from other raids – and that they would be killed if 350 million naira (US$915,033) were not paid, Binniyat said.

The Kaduna state government failed to make any mention of the mass abduction in its regular updates on security in the state, he said.

“Meanwhile, after unceasing siege on Christian farming communities in Kajuru LGA, more Christian communities have fallen under the control of these armed men, which we now suspect to be a coalition of armed herdsmen and Boko Haram,” Binniyat said.

The number of communities captured by armed herdsmen in Kajuru County is now 31, and throughout southern Kaduna state they have taken no fewer than 100 communities, he said.

The Rev. Solomon Tafida, senior pastor of Salvation Baptist Church, Kaduna, estimated there are 4,000 Christians held captive in Kaduna state by either herdsmen or Boko Haram.

“Most of the Christian victims who escaped from the camps of the herdsmen say there are over 4,000 Christians being held in captive camps in forests along the Kaduna-Abuja highway, near Rijana village,” he said.

The Kaduna state government’s quarterly security report stated that a total of 323 persons were killed and 949 others kidnapped by bandits in three months across the state.

“Deaths linked to banditry, violent attacks, communal clashes and reprisals in the first quarter total 323 across the state,” said Samuel Aruwan, commissioner for internal security and home affairs, who released the report on April 30. “Of these, 20 were women and 11 were minors.”

Nigeria led the world in number of kidnapped Christians last year with 990, according to Open Doors’ 2021 World Watch List report. In the 2021 list of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian, Nigeria broke into the top 10 for the first time, jumping to No. 9 from No. 12 the previous year.

In overall violence, Nigeria was second only to Pakistan, and it trailed only China in the number of churches attacked or closed, 270, according to the list. Nigeria was the country with the most Christians killed for their faith last year (November 2019-October 2020), at 3,530, up from 1,350 in 2019, according to the report.

Numbering in the millions across Nigeria and the Sahel, predominantly Muslim Fulani comprise hundreds of clans of many different lineages who do not hold extremist views, but some Fulani do adhere to radical Islamist ideology, the United Kingdom’s All-Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom or Belief (APPG) noted in a recent report.

“They adopt a comparable strategy to Boko Haram and ISWAP [Islamic State West Africa Province] and demonstrate a clear intent to target Christians and potent symbols of Christian identity,” the APPG report states.

Christian leaders in Nigeria have said they believe herdsmen attacks on Christian communities in Nigeria’s Middle Belt are inspired by their desire to forcefully take over Christians’ lands and impose Islam as desertification has made it difficult for them to sustain their herds.

The APPG report noted that tribal loyalties cannot be overlooked.

“In 2015, Muhammadu Buhari, a Fulani, was elected president of Nigeria,” the group reported. “He has done virtually nothing to address the behavior of his fellow tribesmen in the Middle Belt and in the south of the country.”

The U.S. State Department on Dec. 7 added Nigeria to its list of Countries of Particular Concern for engaging in or tolerating “systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom.” Nigeria joined Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan on the list.

In a more recent category of non-state actors, the State Department also designated ISWAP, Boko Haram, Al-Shabaab, Al-Qaeda, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, the Houthis, ISIS, ISIS-Greater Sahara, Jamaat Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin, and the Taliban as “Entities of Particular Concern.”

On Dec. 10 the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Fatou Bensouda, issued a statement calling for investigation into crimes against humanity in Nigeria.

‘Bring back our 112 Chibok girls – now and alive!’ Demands for closure and disclosure 7 years on

Pictures of 82 girls freed in 2017; 112 are still un-accounted for
 

(World Watch Monitor) ‘I’m Chibok girl Dad. Bring Back Our Girls Now’ read the white letters on the man’s red T-shirt.

The same morning, 15 April seven years ago, he woke to hear his daughter had been abducted from her school dormitory at night. He’s not seen her since, has no idea if she is alive or dead. But amidst his anguish he pleads “Our people are being killed on weekly basis”.

This came on the 7th anniversary of the kidnap of 276 girls, even as global news headlined an attack on a humanitarian hub in the same state from which the schoolgirls disappeared into the Sambisa Forest on the night of April 14th 2014. 112 of them remain un-accounted for.

The dad pleaded ‘Even if our girls remain in the Forest, how has the government abandoned us? Why can’t it secure their parents and brothers? I appeal to [Borno] Governor Zulum…to bring peace to our land”. (There have been three attacks this week in the Borno town of Damasak, 200 miles north of Chibok, on the border with neighbouring Niger – this time by the Islamic State, West Africa Province (ISWAP), which has splintered away from Boko Haram.

Other figures from Chibok echoed his plea “If Nigeria does not rescue our Chibok girls, there’ll be no peace in Nigeria. Boko Haram is increasing in many ways. No amount of intimidation will stop us demanding your [the girls’] rights” said one into the camera. Asked what she would say to her daughter Sarah in case she might be watching, Mrs Samuel said ‘Keep hope alive; we wait for you’.

Sarah will soon turn 25, so was kidnapped at the age of 17. Mrs Samuel also apparently shocked her audience by saying she had not heard anything from the government since the release of 82 of the girls in May 2017.

During the Zoom event, the founder of Citizens’ Hub, Aisha Muhammad Yesufu also boldly challenged the Nigerian government:

“What is the crime of a Chibok girl? Is it that she’s a girl? Is it that she’s Nigerian? Is it that she’s poor?”

Event speakers all said they struggle to understand why recent mass school kidnaps (there have been at least three this year alone) have seen those children freed almost the very next day.

They point to initial denials and incredulity by the state and federal authorities; indeed the President at the time of the 2014 mass abduction, Goodluck Jonathan, eventually ordered an inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the mass kidnap because his government denied the incident had even happened for the first two weeks. The inquiry, led by retired Army-Gen. Ibrahim Sabo submitted its report on 20 June, 2014 but it has never been published and nothing has been heard of it since, according to one of the speakers.

Hence the slogan for this week’s event: “Bring Back our Girls- now and alive! Disclosure and closure” – disclosure of the Sabo report and closure for the abducted girls, their parents and communities.

Attendees heard that twenty parents have now died before seeing their daughters – again, most of them from high blood pressure or other stress-related medical conditions.

Seven years ago, a report showed how the Chibok girls’ kidnap appeared to be part of the Islamist group’s strategic approach to destroy the Christian community in N. Nigeria, where in some states, Christians still form a significant minority.

Keynote speaker, Cardinal John Onaiyekan, who retired a year ago from his role as Catholic Archbishop of the capital Abuja, said that the failure of President Buhari to fulfil his promise to defeat Boko Haram ‘by December 2015’ showed ‘graduating incompetence’. He pointed out that the Nigerian army has claimed to have killed the group’s leader Shekau at least four times. He also said that Chibok had led to kidnapping becoming an industry in Nigeria. He also compared the fact that 42 people – teachers and boys – kidnapped in Niger state had been found and freed after ten days, on 27 Feb this year, while one lone Christian girl Leah Sharibu remains in captivity more than three years after abduction, together with UNICEF nurse Alice Loksha, who was kidnapped in October 2018.

Aid groups estimate that more than eight million people in the north-east are in urgent of humanitarian assistance as a result of the 10-year Islamist insurgency.

Christian Girl, 13, Forcibly Married, Converted in Pakistan, Father Says

Protest for recovery of Arzoo Raja in Karachi, Pakistan. (Morning Star News photo courtesy of Ghazala Shafique)

Pakistan (Morning Star News) – Police in Karachi, Pakistan are ignoring the kidnapping and forcible conversion to Islam of a 13-year-old Christian girl by a 45-year-old Muslim whose two brothers are police officials, sources said.

Ali Azhar, a neighbor of the victim’s Catholic family, abducted Arzoo Raja on Oct. 13, and her family went to police that same day, said her father, Raja Lal.

“When we failed to find Arzoo, we registered a kidnapping case with the local police station,” Lal said. “On Oct. 15 we were summoned to the station, where we were shown documents which claimed that Arzoo was 18 and had willingly converted to Islam after marrying Ali Azhar.”

Police have shown no interest in arresting the accused in spite of National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) records showing Arzoo’s age as 13, as she was born on July 31, 2007, he said. Sexual intercourse with a girl below the age of 16 is statutory rape and carries a death sentence or a minimum sentence of 10 years in prison in Pakistan.

Ghazala Shafique, a Karachi-based Christian rights and social activist, said police were doing little in the case.

“Two brothers of the accused are police officials, and they are using their influence to protect him,” Shafique told Morning Star News. “Attorney [Noor Naz] Agha brought this to the court’s notice during the hearing on Saturday [Oct. 24] and also demanded that Ali and all other people involved in the case, including the cleric who signed the Islamic conversion and marriage certificates of the minor Christian girl, be arrested and tried for their crime.”

Agha, a prominent Muslim lawyer, has taken up the case pro bono, a great relief to the grief-stricken parents who have lost their jobs in the search for justice, Shafique said.

“We have asked the police to include the Child Marriage Restraint Act [in the case], but the police are reluctant to include it,” Shafique said. “The court should also ask the police why it has ignored the documents issued by NADRA and Arzoo’s school that clearly state her age. We are also ready for conducting medical tests to determine Arzoo’s age, so why are the police reluctant to produce her in court?”

She said she is demanding that Arzoo be presented in court and that special arrangements be made for recording her statement in a way that would preclude fear from coercion by her abductor.

Shafique said it was the second case of forced conversion of underage Christian girls in Karachi in a year. In October 2019, 14-year-old Huma Younas was kidnapped and forcibly converted to Islam, she said.

“Forced conversion is often disguised as voluntary conversion and both the provincial and federal governments need to act against this persecution,” she said.

In Faisalabad, Punjab Province, 14-year-old Maira Shahbaz was kidnapped and forcibly married and converted to Islam earlier this year. After sending her to a shelter, a court in Lahore on Aug. 4 ordered her to be returned to her abductor based on forged documents, but she escaped on Aug. 22. She told Morning Star News her abductor had blackmailed her into giving false court statements that she had willingly converted and married him.

In Karachi, the accused in Arzoo’s case, Azhar, was Lal’s neighbor in the Muhalla Railway Colony West Camp Road locality.

Lal and his wife, who have three other older children, have been hard-pressed to feed them after losing their jobs and were thankful for the pro bono legal help.

“Thankfully, our pleas have been noticed by Christian rights activists and political leaders, and they are helping us in highlighting the case,” Lal told Morning Star News. “My wife and I have been running from pillar to post since [reporting the case], but the police are not showing any interest in arresting the accused and investigating the case impartially.”

Police did not respond to attempts by Morning Star News to contact them by phone and text message.

Pending Legislation

In spite of growing concern over a rise in abduction of girls from minority communities, particularly Christians and Hindus, and forcibly marrying them and converting them to Islam, successive national and provincial governments have failed to pass laws against perpetrators.

A bill against forced conversions introduced in 2016 in the Sindh Provincial Assembly remains pending after Islamists threatened violent protests.

Last week a federal government commission on minorities announced that it would draft a bill to curb forced conversions only after consultations with provincial and religious leaders. Christian political and church leaders told Morning Star News that state institutions and government parties should not succumb to pressure by Islamist parties.

“The government should bring the legislation on forced conversion to parliament without capitulating to any party that objects to its contents or underlying spirit,” said National Council of Churches in Pakistan President Bishop Azad Marshall.

He said that forced conversion is not seen as a crime, much less as a problem that should concern “mainstream” Pakistan.

“But it is a very serious crime against the minority population, and the government must show some spine in addressing the matter,” he said.

Marshall added that Pakistan’s entire legal system, from police to the courts, are violating laws and facilitating such conversions especially of minor girls.

“When the parents present a certificate that the age of the girl is below 18 years, the police usually do not attach this document in the FIR [First Information Report], but we have women protection laws in the country, and we need to implement them,” he said. “Besides that, Pakistan is signatory to several international obligations, and such incidents bring a bad name to the country.”

Pakistan is a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that no one shall be subject to coercion to change their religion. The European Court of Human Rights has given some guidance regarding the distinction between permissible persuasion and coercion.

Amir Naveed Jeeva, a Christian lawmaker of the opposition Pakistan People’s Party and a member of the parliamentary committee tasked with investigating forced conversions, said the committee is trying to build consensus on the draft bill.

“One suggestion is to introduce a new marriage rule that includes the mandatory presence of a guardian at the time of marriage and the establishment of shelters managed by the district administrations to house underage girls who want to get married, in order to clear the confusion between force and consent,” he said.

Shunila Ruth, a ruling party Christian lawmaker and parliamentary secretary on human rights, said that forced conversion needs to be addressed at the federal level.

“There is a difference of opinion on the issue at the state level, but things are gradually heading in a positive direction, and we hope that all stakeholders will succeed in formulating a solution to this issue,” she said.

According to data compiled by the Peoples Commission for Minorities’ Rights and the Centre for Social Justice, of 156 incidents of forced conversions which took place between 2013 and 2019, a vast majority of the girls are minors, with numerous cases of girls as young as 12 years old. Muslim groups oppose a minimum age for conversion or marriage, claiming that this is not sanctioned by Islam.

Although intercourse with a girl below the age of 16 is statutory rape, in most cases a falsified conversion certificate and Nikahnama, or Islamic marriage certificate, influences police to pardon kidnappers.

Pakistan ranked fifth on Open Doors 2020 World Watch list of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian, and on Nov. 28, 2018, the United States added Pakistan to its blacklist of countries that violate religious freedom.

Christian Girl Kidnapped in Pakistan Says Muslim ‘Husband’ Raped, Threatened Her

Grand Jamia Masjid in Bahria, Lahore, Pakistan. (Meemjee)

Pakistan (Morning Star News) – The Muslim who regained custody of a 14-year-old Christian girl he had kidnapped threatened to kill her and her family unless she gave court statements that she had married him and converted to Islam of her own free will, the girl told Morning Star News.

Maira Shahbaz, who escaped from Nakash Tariq five days ago, told Morning Star News by telephone that he had raped her and filmed her naked in order to blackmail her into giving the court statements. The Lahore High Court on Aug. 4 ordered her return to Tariq after dismissing documents proving she was a minor and evidence of a fake marriage certificate because she testified that, “she’s 18 years old, recited the Kalma Tayyaba to prove she had embraced Islam without any duress, and married Nakash Tariq by choice.”

Tariq and accomplices kidnapped Maira, of Medina Town, Faisalabad, on April 28, according to family members.

“Nakash and two other men took me to an unknown place at gunpoint, where Nakash repeatedly raped me,” Maira told Morning Star News. “He also videotaped me naked and threatened that he would kill me and my family and also upload the video on social media if I told anyone what he had done to me.”

She said she had been forced to sign blank papers and denied that she had willfully become a Muslim.

“I was coerced into making those statements in the courtrooms,” she said. “They threatened to kill us all.”

When her family challenged the underage marriage, a judge had sent Maira to a women’s shelter on July 28 before the Aug. 4 verdict returning her to Tariq.

Maira contracted false marriage with the already married Tariq on Oct. 25, 2019. A family attorney asserted that the cleric whose name was listed on the marriage certificate denied involvement in the sham marriage.

Maira’s attorney, Sumera Shafique, said she had applied for police protection for the girl at the Lahore High Court’s Rawalpindi Bench because Tariq posed a serious threat to her life.

“The judge has ordered the regional police officer to ensure Maira’s security and also probe the video used to blackmail her,” she told Morning Star News. “I have also filed a suit for cancellation of her marriage and forced conversion in the family court.”

She said that Tariq had filed a kidnapping case in Faisalabad against Maira’s mother and other relatives alleging that they had forcibly taken away his “lawfully wedded wife” from his home.

“The family is in hiding due to the case registered by Nakash,” she said. “I was told that the accused is searching for the girl to stop her from revealing the truth, which is why we decided to appear before the Rawalpindi bench of the LHC as a security precaution.”

She said Maira will appear before the Regional Police Officer on Friday (Aug. 28) to record her statement.

Earlier this month, while ruling on a petition filed by Tariq seeking custody of Maira, a Lahore High Court bench presided by Justice Shahid Mahmood Abbasi stated, “The statement of Maria [sic] Shahbaz as well as her general appearance unambiguously show that she is a grown-up young lady who seems to have attained the age of puberty and who acknowledges Nakash Tariq as her lawfully wedded husband.”

The verdict acknowledged that the judge dismissed evidence her family’s attorney provided that the minor could not have contracted marriage without the consent of her guardian and that the marriage certificate was fake.

“As far as proof of marriage is concerned, the other formalities can be ignored and simple acknowledgement of husband and wife regarding their Nikah [marriage] is sufficient to prove the same,” the verdict states. “In such circumstances, the mandatory requirement of presence of two witnesses can be ignored.”

Regarding authenticity of the marriage certificate, the verdict stated, “Only the family court would be in a better position to resolve the controversy between the parties regarding genuineness or otherwise of ‘Nikah Nama.’”

In February the forced conversion to Islam and marriage of another 14-year-old Christian girl was validated in a court ruling in Pakistan. The High Court in Sindh Province on Feb. 3 dismissed a petition to have the marriage and forced conversion of Huma Younus overturned, ruling that both were valid since a girl under sharia (Islamic law) can marry after her first menstrual cycle.

Huma, a Catholic, was taken from her home in Karachi’s Zia Colony on Oct. 10, 2019 while her parents were away and was forced to marry the man who abducted her.

‘Forced Conversions Must Stop’

National Council of Churches in Pakistan (NCCP) President Azad Marshall said that Maira’s case and similar incidents called for immediate steps to ensure that minors from minority communities are not forced into false marriages and conversions.

“Forced conversion and marriages of children belonging to the minority communities is a major issue facing our communities,” said Marshall, who is senior most bishop of the Church of Pakistan.

Pakistan’s senate has introduced a bill calling for seven years of prison and a fine of 100,000 rupees (US$590) for those found guilty of forced conversion. The bill also proposes 10 years in prison and a fine of 100,000 rupees for forcing someone to change religion for marriage.

Marshall said enforcement would be key.

“Legislations are made by parliament, but unfortunately we have witnessed that their implementation is lacking,” he told Morning Star News. “The bill for protection of minority rights is a step in the right direction, and we hope that the government will not only ensure its approval but also make sure that the law enforcement agencies implement it in letter and spirit.”

Under the Protection of the Rights of Religious Minorities Bill, the state would take measures to curb forced conversion of minority communities and would also support victims. Marriage of a minor arranged after changing her/his religion would be considered “coerced” and be declared void.

In a bid to further strengthen protections for minority communities in the 96-percent Muslim country, the draft proposes three years of prison time and a fine of 50,000 rupees (US$295) in case of hate speech or maltreatment of a member of a non-Muslim community. It also bans discriminatory chapters in textbooks.

Those found guilty of discriminating against anyone on the basis of religion would be jailed for one year in addition to a fine of 25,000 rupees (US$147). The bill also protects religious symbols of non-Muslim Pakistanis, proposing a seven-year sentence and a fine of 50,000 rupees in such a case. All of these sentences would be non-bailable.

The senate chairman has forwarded the bill to the relevant standing committee for consideration.

Pakistan ranked fifth on Open Doors 2020 World Watch list of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian, and on Nov. 28, 2018, the United States added Pakistan to its blacklist of countries that violate religious freedom.

Nine Christians Killed in Gun and Machete Attack in North-central Nigeria

Nigeria (Morning Star News) – Women and children were among nine Christians shot or hacked to death in an attack on Wednesday (June 3) in north-central Nigeria, with seven others kidnapped, sources said.

While more than 30 corpses of slain Christians still lay in nearby villages from prior attacks, Muslim Fulani herdsmen invaded predominantly Christian Tudun Doka village, Kajuru County in Kaduna state, early in the morning, area residents said.

“We woke up around 5 a.m. when we heard sounds of gunshots,” survivor Rifkatu Hassan told Morning Star News by phone. “The herdsmen attacked our homes and shot at us and cut others with machetes.”

She said most of those killed were women and children who were members of Assemblies of God, Baptist, Catholic and Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA) churches. Hassan identified eight of them as Richard Yusuf, Kefas Yusuf, Fidelis Wada, Kachia, Genesis Soja, Victoria Gyata, Rose Soja and Rahab Soja.

At least two children were injured in the attack, 3-year-old Elizabeth Samaila and Rita Friday, 8, said area resident Alheri Magaji.

“May the blood that keeps being spilt cause sleep to depart from all those who carry out these attacks,” Magaji told Morning Star News.

Seven other Christians were taken away at gunpoint, area resident Williams Kaura Abba said by text message. He identified the same Christians killed as Hassan did, also unsure of the identity of the ninth victim.

Kajuru County authorities confirmed that nine people were killed in the attack.

“Tudu Doka village in Agwala Dutse general area was attacked this morning,” the chairman of the Kajuru Local Council, Cafra Caino, said in a press statement on Wednesday (June 3). “A detailed inventory of casualties is being taken. My heart goes out to all the families affected; may God grant the souls of the victims eternal rest.”

The attack follows similar herdsmen attacks on Christian communities in Idazau, Etissi, Bakin Kogin, Dutsen Gora, Ungwar Gora, Pushu Kallah and Magunguna villages. More than 30 bodies of people killed in late May in 15 villages had yet to be retrieved as residents fled and Muslim Fulani herdsmen have taken them over, said Jonathan Asake, president of the Southern Kaduna People’s Union (SOKAPU) in a May 30 press statement.

“Our people cannot go there and recover their dead bodies,” Asake said. “In fact, over 30 Christians who were killed their corpses are still in the bush. Christians in the affected villages have not been allowed to go and recover these dead bodies for burial. The sad reality is that these corpses are already decomposing.”

The attack on Tudun Doka has left 60 people still unaccounted for, he said.

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.

Court in Pakistan Validates Forced Conversion, Marriage of Christian Girl to Muslim

Pakistan (Morning Star News) – A high court ruling in Pakistan validating the marriage and forced conversion to Islam of a 14-year-old Christian girl has heightened fears that it will encourage others to commit such crimes, sources said.

The High Court in Sindh Province on Feb. 3 dismissed a petition to have the marriage and forced conversion of a Catholic girl overturned, ruling that both were valid since a girl under sharia (Islamic law) can marry after her first menstrual cycle.

Huma Younus was taken from her home in Karachi’s Zia Colony on Oct. 10 while her parents were away and was forced to marry the man who abducted her, identified as Abdul Jabbar of Dera Ghazi Khan, Punjab Province, her attorney said.

“The hearing on Feb. 3 lasted only five minutes,” the family’s attorney, Tabassum Yousaf, told Morning Star News. “The court, in just a few words citing the sharia, has justified the violation of the girl’s body since she has already had her first period.”

Yousaf added that the family was prohibited from seeing Huma because police said her life would be at risk if she was brought to the courtroom.

He said the family challenged Huma’s marriage and forced conversion under the Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act 2013, which declares marrying a person under 18 years old an offense punishable by up to three years in prison.

Although the Sindh government takes credit for becoming Pakistan’s first elected assembly to pass a bill on child marriage in April 2014, the law is still poorly implemented, sources said.

Yousaf said he submitted Huma’s baptismal and school documents in court that proved she was 14 years old, but nevertheless Sindh High Court judges Muhammad Iqbal Kalhoro and Irshad Ali Shah ruled that the marriage was valid based on her menstrual cycle.

The legal battle has been going on for months with constant delays and excuses cited so as not to present the underage girl in court, sources said.

The family has filed an appeal to the Court of Justice in Sindh Province, and Yousaf said a hearing is scheduled for March 4. Police will thus have more time for medical tests to determine Huma’s age, he said.

Guardian Consent Needed

The girl’s parents were informed via text message that Huma had converted to Islam and had married Jabbar “of her free will,” sources said.

Since forced conversions are not illegal in Pakistan, her attorney said he believed the case hinged on Huma’s age.

Prominent Supreme Court Advocate Saiful Malook told Morning Star News that even though sharia allows marriage of a minor girl if she has her first period, the marriage has to be validated by the girl’s guardian.

“In no way can any court of law endorse an underage marriage unless it is supported by the girl’s guardian,” Malook said. “Marriage is governed by the Contract Act, wherein no minor can enter into a contract or agreement without the explicit approval of her guardian. In this particular case, the court must take into account whether the girl’s legal guardian has consented to her marriage even if it’s judging the act under the sharia.”

He added that a 14-year-old minor cannot be deemed mature enough to change her religion by her own will, considering the fact that she could have been coerced or blackmailed into renouncing her faith. Huma reportedly filed an affidavit declaring that she married of her own free will, but Yousaf has said that such an affidavit can’t be filed legally until she obtains an identity card at age 18.

The high court must order Huma to record a statement in the courtroom, Malook said.

“If the police are not producing the girl before the court on various pretenses, the court should be wise enough to see through the police’s mala fide and hand the custody of the minor back to her parents,” he said.

Malook, who represented Pakistan’s most high-profile blasphemy convict, Aasiya Noreen, better known as Asia Bibi, before the Supreme Court and won her freedom, said that abducting for the purpose of forced conversion and underage marriage is a major problem in Pakistan. He added that legislation effective in curbing the practice is long overdue.

Christian rights activists believe that the ruling of the Sindh High Court will encourage more perpetrators of such crimes to hide behind sharia. Pakistan Center of Law of Justice Executive Director Napoleon Qayyum told Morning Star News that the high court’s ruling would result in a surge in cases of forced conversion and underage marriages of Christian girls.

“Another Christian girl aged 14 was recently abducted and gang-raped by some Muslim youths in Bihar Colony area of Lahore,” Qayyum said. “The victim is a student of grade nine and was abducted by four or five boys on her way to a local tuition center on Jan. 16, 2020. The abductors not only raped her but also obtained her signatures and thumb impressions on some papers.”

Police were able to recover her on Jan. 19, but Qayyum said he fears the suspects will use her signed documents to produce a fake marriage certificate and religion conversion letter in a bid to escape abduction and rape charges.

“This is common modus operandi of Muslims to confuse the court and avoid justice,” he said.

In nearly all such cases, he said, the rapists threaten to harm the girls’ families if they reveal the truth.

“Moreover, the girls are also forced to give false statements in court that they have changed their religion of free will and had married of their own choice,” Qayyum said. “Girls belonging to minority communities often succumb to pressure and consideration for their family’s security, which has further emboldened the men belonging to the majority faith.”

Most victims of forced conversion and marriage in Pakistan are reportedly Christian and Hindu girls and women forced to marry Muslim men who are much older than them. According to the Centre for Social Justice, at least 159 such cases were reported between 2013 and 2019.

The Sindh legislature in 2016 passed a law outlawing forcible conversions and conversions before the age of 18 but, under pressure from Islamic extremist groups, the governor declined to sign it. Each year about 1,000 Christian and Hindu women in Pakistan are forcibly converted to Islam and then married off to their abductors or rapists, according to the National Commission of Justice and Peace and the Pakistan Hindu Council.

Pakistan ranked fifth on Christian support organization Open Doors 2020 World Watch list of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian, and on Nov. 28, 2018, the United States added Pakistan to its blacklist of countries that violate religious freedom.

Photo: Huma Younas, 14, was abducted and forced to convert to Islam, her parents say. (Morning Star News courtesy of family)

Four Christian Farmers Killed by Muslim Fulani Herdsmen in Kaduna State, Nigeria

Professor Felix Ilesanmi, chaplain of Trinity Chapel at the Federal University of Technology, Yola, was kidnapped in northeastern Nigeria. (Morning Star News) [modified]

Nigeria (Morning Star News) – Muslim Fulani herdsmen on Nov. 14 killed four Christians in north-central Nigeria, attacking them with machetes as they slept in their beds, area residents said.

The four members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Agban village, near Kagoro in Kaduna state’s Kaura County, were farmers who were killed in the early morning hours, villagers said.

“Hosea Ayuba, Ado Adamu, Abagu Danladi and Kusa Danladi were killed by armed Muslim Fulani herdsmen,” area resident Derek Christopher told Morning Star News in a text message. “They were attacked with machetes, and their corpses had machetes cut wounds. The herdsmen came to the area in a minivan and a motorbike.”

A relative of Ayuba, Williams Adamu, mourned the loss, calling the latest attack in the area, “one too many.” Herdsmen also attacked Agban in 2017 and 2015.

A member of the Seventh-day Adventist church in Agban, Gideon Akut, and another village Christian, Didam Ashio, also said that the four named Christians had been killed by Fulani herdsmen.

“Please help me pray for my dear Agban community,” Ashio told Morning Star News.

Christopher said area Christians mobilized to pursue the herdsmen, who reportedly also stole three cows, apprehended the killers and turned them over to police in Kafanchan town, Jema’a County.

Kaduna State Police Command spokesman Yakubu Sabo said in a statement that the murders were reported at 3 a.m. to the Kafanchan station “through our operatives at a security checkpoint.”

“A team of police detectives led by the Area Commander, Kafanchan, acted on a tip-off and intercepted a bus with Reg. No. BLD 43 XA conveying three suspected armed men,” he said. “Investigation is already on over the killing at Agban.”

He reportedly identified the two captured suspects as Sadiq Umar and Umar Abubakar, both of Unguwan Nungu of Jema’a County. Efforts were underway to capture fleeing accomplices, he added.

Previously herdsmen attacked Agban village on Feb. 21, 2017, shooting dead five Christians – Emmanuel Gabriel, Kalat Boniface, Victor Joseph, Lucky Iliya and Zakaria Kabok. Herdsmen also attacked Agban on Feb. 20, 2015, sources said.

Kidnapped Professor Released

On the same day, Nov. 14 as the attack in Kaduna state, gunmen in military fatigues in northeast Nigeria kidnapped a chaplain at a public university, sources said. He was reportedly released within a week.

The five men kidnapped professor Felix Ilesanmi from the campus of Modibbo Adama University of Technology (MAUTECH) in Yola, Adamawa state, at about 8:30 p.m., at gunpoint, area residents told Morning Star News.

Chaplain of Trinity Chapel at the Federal University of Technology, Yola (FUTY) on the MAUTECH campus, Ilesanmi teaches at FUTY’s department of Urban and Regional Planning.

Area resident Rebecca Musa told Morning Star News he was taken from his apartment on the university campus in the Girei area of Yola by five armed gunmen who took him away on motorbikes. Zidon Love, another resident of the area in Yola, said Ilesanmi was kidnapped at 8:30 p.m. by five gunmen in military uniform.

“They collected his wife’s phone also,” Love said. “They carried him from his house within the university in a vehicle, but on getting outside the school put him on a [motor]bike and rode off.”

Ilesanmi is also area chairman of the Nigeria Fellowship of Evangelical Students (NIFES), Love said. On Oct. 16, sources said, he had led Christian students and staff members of the university through teachings on the power of the Holy Spirit in leading people to Christ.

Adamawa State Police Command spokesman Suleiman Nguroje was quoted in local press on Tuesday (Nov. 19) as saying Ilesanmi had been released. He said the unidentified kidnappers abandoned him, but terms of the release were unknown.

In October, a professor of Soil Science at the university, Adamu Zata, was kidnapped. He had also been kidnapped in October 2018.

Nigeria ranked 12th on Open Doors’ 2019 World Watch List of countries where Christians suffer the most persecution.

Girls, Staff Members Kidnapped from Christian-Run High School Released

Engravers’ College sign in Kakau Daji village, Chikun County, Kaduna state, Nigeria. (Morning Star News)

(Morning Star News) – Six girls and two staff members from a Christian-run high school in north-central Nigeria have been released after torture and payment of a ransom, according to local reports.

The girls and staff members kidnapped at gunpoint on Oct. 3 in Kaduna state from Engravers’ College in Kakau Daji village, Chikun County near Kaduna city, were released by their Muslim Fulani captors on Oct. 26, one of girls’ parents told Nigerian reporters.

“Several people prayed in churches and mosques,” Ohemu Fredrick told reporters. “Through their prayers, God brought us help. God used a former governor of Kaduna state to assist us.”

Fredrick did not disclose the former governor’s name or the ransom amount. He said the former official offered the children and staff members free medical treatment, as the hostages were reportedly tortured each time the kidnappers called the parents so they could hear their screams, according to another parent whose identity was withheld.

That parent reportedly said that after the kidnappers set them free, police picked them up and dropped them off near a toll gate about five kilometers (three miles) from the city center.

Suspected to be herdsmen who have carried out numerous kidnappings and attacks in southern Kaduna state, the armed Fulani invaded the school at 12:20 a.m.

Shunom Giwa, vice principal of Engravers’ College, previously told Morning Star News that initially five armed herdsmen appeared at the door of his house and spoke with each other in the Fulani language. Others with the school’s vice principal arrived shortly after they told him to lie down, and Giwa escaped, he said.

The school, which is open to both Christian and non-Christian students, has a secular curriculum in accordance with Nigeria’s Ministry of Education but includes a Christian perspective, and students take Christian Religious Knowledge as a subject, an official told Morning Star News.

The school has a student population of 100, with rampant insecurity in the state compelling some parents to withdraw their children from the school, Giwa said.

The village lies in the kidnapping belt of the state and is on the route to Kwanti village, where Morning Star News last year reported the displacement of many Christians due to kidnappings by armed Fulani Herdsmen, according to area residents.

Nigeria ranked 12th on Open Doors’ 2019 World Watch List of countries where Christians suffer the most persecution.

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