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Burkina Faso: Gunmen Kill Pastor and 23 Others in Attack Near Church
Burkina Faso: Security forces report 24 people, including a pastor, were killed by gunmen during an attack on a church on Sunday in the northwestern part of the country. 18 were injured in the attack and some were kidnapped by the gunmen who forced them to haul looted goods. Extreme violence against Christians in Burkina Faso has rapidly risen in the past year, including church attacks, abductions and assassinations of pastors and priests.
The Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project claims over 1,300 people were killed in targeted attacks last year which is more than seven times the previous year. Insecurity has created a humanitarian crisis with more than 760,000 people who have fled their homes and now internally displaced. Source
IRAN: ‘NINE CHRISTIANS JAILED FOR LEAVING ISLAM’
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
Pastor in Kenya Fears His Life Is in Imminent Danger from Islamic Extremists
(Morning Star News) – A pastor in Kenya of Somali descent whom Islamic extremist Al Shabaab militants have threatened for leaving Islam fears he soon could be killed.
Somali Al Shabaab rebels have offered a reward to anyone who kills the Rev. Mahad H. Birik, and after a video of him describing his conversion from Islam seeped into major Somali broadcast, Web and print media two months ago, the pastor of an undisclosed church on the outskirts of Nairobi said longstanding threats on his life became concrete this month.
“My family is now living in a sleepless state,” said the father of two children – one age 15 from a wife who was taken from him when he left Islam, and a 2-year-old from remarriage. “My life and that of my family is in imminent danger. It is very serious and real, as Muslim extremists are strategizing on having my head.”
On Sunday (Dec. 14) Somali men unknown to him followed Birik and his wife to their church. A security guard stopped the men, asking them who they were and what they wanted, and they left. Birik said police identified their car as registered to Kamau Kamotho, whom officers have long sought on suspicion of being a hit-man for hire.
After several masked men hovered near his house one night early this year, he relocated his family to another area of Nairobi. On Dec. 4, masked men showed up at about 7:30 a.m. at their new residence, located in a compound where around two dozen other families live. They arrived in a car with tinted windows, he said.
“One of them came out of the car and started asking whether a Somali pastor was still inside the compound,” Birik said. “The watchman became suspicion as it was very early in the morning. He was able to see through the lowered window, where the driver of the car came out from, and saw two masked men, and then he raised an alarm by whistling.”
A second person got out of the car, and the watchman retreated backwards, he said; residents rushed to the scene, and the suspicious figures got back into the car and drove away.
Al Shabaab, an Islamic extremist insurgent group in Somalia, announced through Kenyan and Somali media and over mosque loudspeakers in 2009 that they would pay a large sum of money for Birik’s head, he said.
“The Al Shabaab have a sophisticated network,” said Birik, who also works for a relief agency. “I do not know when they will hit me; I am sure I can no longer hide myself. I therefore want the Christian world as well as human rights groups to know that my life is in danger, and I need urgent rescue.”
Video of Birik’s testimony had circulated on the Web prior to the latest version, which was recorded by a U.S. church volunteer this year and posted on the church website; the church had partnered in Nairobi with a foreign-based ministry to help produce audio recordings of the Bible in the Somali language. Telling the church volunteer his testimony was already available online, Birik had granted the church permission to disseminate the recording of his conversion story, a source said.
Birik said many in the underground network of Somali Christians in Kenya have sent him text messages saying his life is in danger and to be careful of his movements; “You are not safe at all,” one read.
On Dec. 8, a vehicle hit him and sent him caroming into a ditch, but he sustained only minor injuries. Birik said police later located the car, but the owner said it had been on a road test and the driver had not deliberately hit him.
At the end of November, Birik reported to police that Al Shabaab planned to execute him.
“I now have to put on a cap to hide my identity,” Birik said.
On Dec. 7, two Somali women that Birik believes were connected to Al Shabaab began following him. He told Morning Star News that one of them said in the Somali language, “This man is now an enemy of Islam. He used to be an imam. We should finish him off.”
Birik responded, “I am a Somali man; I have heard what you have said. You cannot harm me. Go back,” and immediately they began to run away, one of them falling down and another slipping into mud, he said. Coincidentally, police in the predominantly Somali area of Eastleigh in Nairobi on Dec. 12 arrested eight Somali women on suspicion of being agents of Al Shabaab.
On Dec.1, after two of Birik’s Somali relatives argued with him over his conversion to Christianity, one of them said, “I wish I could get an opportunity to kill this infidel – just hit him right in his face,” and the ensuing fight between the relative and the pastor resulted in police seeking to arrest them. Officers granted their request to settle the matter outside court, but later the case was registered at Administrative Police Camp at Dagoreti Corner.
The other relative, more sympathetic to Birik, told him that he needs to be careful and to watch his movements, Birik said.
Birik is not a stranger to persecution. Raised in northern Kenya to parents from Somalia, the neighboring country where leaving Islam is punishable by death, upon conversion his family disowned him and took all his property. They also took his wife from him and married her off to another man; the divorce became final in 2004.
“This was a big loss to me, and it took several years for me to recover,” he said.
In 2008 Somali Muslims beat him outside Nairobi for leaving Islam, breaking both his hands, he said, and in 2009 another Islamist gang confronted him and broke his right hand.
“They hit me with blunt objects, with several kicks and blows, and my hand got broken,” he said. “Now it is difficult to use it in doing heavy tasks.”
Birik said he is also in danger of losing his job with a relief organization.
“My employer is considering dismissing me, because my profile, which has been aired in all the Somali televisions and daily papers, will put their operation and lives of visiting staff in danger,” he said. “This organization has had bad experiences in the past, and it will not take chances once again.”
Since the Al Shabaab offer of a bounty to kill him, he has not been able to return to his home town of Wajir in northern Kenya, Birik said. He said the denomination that ordained him has not been responsive, and that he does not have the estimated $1,500 needed to relocate his family to another part of Kenya.
“I am sure if I am not rescued soon, then they will get rid of me,” he said. “It only a matter of when.”
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Sudan Arrests Pastor During Sermon, Threatens Him
Authorities try to intimidate preacher into resigning.
February 28, 2014 (Morning Star News) – Sudanese authorities arrested a pastor in Omdurman as he was preaching on Sunday (Feb. 23) and threatened that he would “face justice” unless he resigned his position, sources said.
Personnel from the Criminal Investigation Department entered the compound of Omdurman Evangelical Church and arrested the Rev. Yahya Abdelrahim Nalu as part of a government plan to take over properties of the church’s denomination, the Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church (SPEC), the sources said. Omdurman is opposite Khartoum on the River Nile.
The Federal Ministry of Guidance and Religious Endowments seeks to replace Nalu, senior leader at the church and moderator of the SPEC Synod, with a government-appointed committee that favors turning SPEC properties over to the government, they said.
Authorities held him at the Central Khartoum Police Station for two days, until midnight Monday night (Feb. 24). Though the government attempt to seize church property is a civil matter, officials sent the criminal investigators to take Nalu into custody and treated the pastor as if he were a criminal, sources said.
“They arrested me in a very shameful way and threw me in the car,” Nalu, a native of South Kordofan State’s Nuba Mountains, told Morning Star News.
Authorities told him that if he did not relinquish his position to the government-appointed committee, he would “face justice” in court, sources said; it was unclear if the threat of legal action to obtain church properties included concocting a criminal charge against the pastor.
The director of church affairs in the Ministry of Guidance and Religious Endowments declined to answer calls from Morning Star News.
SPEC owns properties in strategic places in central Khartoum, Khartoum North and Omdurman. Through the Ministry of Guidance and Religious Endowments, the government seeks full control of SPEC assets by imposing a church leadership loyal to their policies, the sources said.
“They have arrested our pastor without due respect to us as a congregation,” one source said.
On June 25, 2013, plain-clothes police officials raided the offices of the SPEC in Omdurman in what church leaders called a bid to take over the property. Without permission from government authorities, the officers entered the church compound and chased SPEC pastors and others out of the offices, a Christian leader said.
In apparent interference in church affairs, the officers said they had sided with some church officials in an administrative dispute and therefore were ordering church leaders to leave the premises or face arrest, said the Christian leader, who requested anonymity. The government is trying to divide the leadership by becoming involved with administrative disputes within SPEC so that it can take control of the property, he said.
A government official had denied the government was trying to divide the leadership, saying the Ministry of Guidance and Religious Endowments was not favoring one side or the other in the disputes, but admitted the government had inserted itself into church affairs.
Since April 2012, a SPEC compound in Khartoum has been subject to attempted takeovers and attacks by Islamic extremists.
Following the secession of South Sudan in July 2011, Sudan since 2012 has bulldozed church buildings on the pretext that they belonged to South Sudanese, and on Feb. 17 it demolished another. Bulldozers accompanied by local police and personnel from the National Intelligence and Security Services destroyed the Sudanese Church of Christ building in the Ombada area of Omdurman without prior notice, sources said.
Harassment, arrests and persecution of Christians have intensified since secession, when President Omar al-Bashir vowed to adopt a stricter version of sharia (Islamic law) and recognize only Islamic culture and the Arabic language. Besides raiding Christian bookstores and arresting Christians, authorities threatened to kill South Sudanese Christians who do not leave or cooperate with them in their effort to find other Christians (see Morning Star News, July 12, 2013).
South Sudan’s secession has also served as a pretext for Bashir’s regime to deport Christians based on their ethnicity, sources said. In a report issued in April 2013, Christian Solidarity Worldwide noted an increase in arrests, detentions and deportations of Christians, including many of South Sudanese origin, since December 2012. The organization also reported that systematic targeting of Nuba and other ethnic groups suggests the resurgence of an official policy of “Islamization and Arabization.”
Due to its treatment of Christians and other human rights violations, Sudan has been designated a Country of Particular Concern by the U.S. State Department since 1999, and in April 2013, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) recommended the country remain on the list.
USCIRF noted the crackdown in a statement last year.
“With the independence of South Sudan, senior Sudanese government officials have called for a more comprehensive and rigid application of Sharia law in Sudan, where southerners who are Christian have been subject to a range of religious freedom violations,” USCIRF stated. “In particular, there have been credible reports of the destruction of churches, refusal to permit construction of new churches and other forms of intimidation and harassment.”
South Sudanese lost citizenship in Sudan and were ordered to leave by March 1, 2012, but thousands have been stranded in the north due to job loss, poverty, transportation limitations and ethnic and tribal conflict in South Sudan. South Sudanese Christians in Sudan have faced increased hostilities due to their ethnic origins – though thousands have little or no ties to South Sudan – as well as their faith.
By MSN Sudan Correspondent
Hindu Extremists Accused of Killing Pastor in Andhra Pradesh, India
NEW DELHI (Morning Star News) – The gang that knocked on the door of a pastor’s home in Andhra Pradesh state and stabbed him to death earlier this month consisted of Hindu extremists, authorities said.
State police have arrested seven of the eight members of the Hindu Vahini group accused of attacking pastor Orucanti Sanjeevi on Jan. 10 at his home in Vikarabad, 64 kilometers (39 miles) from the state capital of Hyderabad, Area Deputy Superintendent of Police J. Ram Mohan Roa told Morning Star News. The other suspect is absconding, he said.
Pastor Sanjeevi, 48, succumbed to his injuries on Jan. 13.
“The key member of this module is Gandikota Srinu, alias RK, a full-time member of the Hindu Vahini, and these same people attempted to kill another pastor in Narketpally,” Roa said.
The Rev. Madhusudan Das of the Evangelical Fellowship of India said the Hindu extremists were upset about Christian growth in the area.
“The area where the pastor was killed was a strongly Hindu-dominated area,” Das said. “However, the church has seen growth as many people decided to follow Christ. The extremists harbored strong resentment against the pastor for the same reason.”
A large throng of Christians had besieged the state chief minister’s office on Jan. 14, protesting the killing and demanding justice, with police detaining some of the protestors.
At about 8:30 p.m. on the night of the attack, the Hindu extremists knocked on the door of the pastor’s house, claiming they wanted to pray with him, sources said. When his wife, Pramila, opened the door, they hit her with an iron rod, they said.
The Hindu extremists then stormed into the house, stabbed the pastor, beat him with clubs and hit him on the head with an iron rod. His wife managed to run out and call for help.
“The pastor was lying in a pool of blood when some people came to help him,” area Christian leader Franklin Sudharkar told Morning Star News. “The attack lasted only about 10 minutes, but the pastor sustained severe injuries as he was stabbed in the liver, intestines and spleen.”
He was rushed to a hospital and put on ventilator, but he succumbed to his injuries at about 3 p.m. on Jan. 13.
Sajan K. George, president of the Global Council of Indian Churches, told Asia News that members of a Hindu extremist group had engaged the pastor in a heated discussion about three months ago and threatened him.
Pastor Sanjeevi had overseen the 250-member Hebron Church in Vakirabad.
The attack appeared to be well-planned, and police believe the extremists have made a hit list of targets, Roa said.
On Dec. 29, he said, the same Hindu extremists knocked on the door of the house of Baptist pastor Nama Moses in Narketpally, about 170 kilometers (105 miles) from Vakirabad, and attacked him in a similar way. The pastor opened the door thinking the person knocking was seeking shelter, said Moses Vatipalli of the All India Christian Council (AICC).
“One extremist with a knife barged into the house and started stabbing the pastor and the wife while two were standing outside,” Vatipalli told Morning Star News. “The pastor received nine stab wounds, and his wife sustained seven stitches on her head where the extremist hit her with an iron rod.”
The couple received hospital treatment for 15 days, and the pastor was still on bed-rest at press time.
Roa added that the assailants “held grudges against the Christian couple, as his grandparents started attending Christian meetings regularly.”
In the same area on Aug. 9, 2011, masked Hindu extremists attacked pastor Jaya Raj and an unidentified church member at midnight at the pastor’s home. The assailants broke Raj’s left hand and broke his nose, and the other Christian sustained severe injuries to his head, reported the AICC. Both of them received hospital treatment.
INDIA: Pastor illegaly held in jail for past 25 days
INDIA: Pastor Lalit Kumar Khugur (35yr) working with CGM Ministries in Jashpur, Chattisgarh State. Jashpur is around 100 kilometers from Raipur City the Capital of Chattisgarh.
When Pastor Lalit was holding his usual church service in his home on Sunday, 12/29/2013, 24 people barged into his house [4 Policemen and 20 neighbors] and started shouting to come out and stop the service.
Pastor Lalit’s wife, Meena asked why they should stop the Church service and informed them that they will go out later. When Pastor Lalit came out, they took hold of him and started dragging him. Frightened, Meena followed them and told them to stop the illegal act of forcefully taking her husband in such a way. They told her to meet them at the police station, as they continued to drag him away. No further details are given in the report.
Meena went with another believer to the police station where Lalit had been locked up.
The couple have 3 children 8yr-4yr-3yr and Meena delivered her 4th baby while her Pastor Lalit in the Jail, now over 25 days. Please lift this dear brother up in your prayers.
Another Year Begins As Pastor Saeed Continues to Suffer in Iran
American Pastor Saeed Abedini remains imprisoned in Iran’s deadliest prison. Another year begins with Pastor Saeed separated from his wife, his kids, and his country, suffering in chains for the Gospel.
With a new year comes a renewed resolve to obtain this persecuted pastor’s freedom. Abandoned by his country, not the American people but the Obama Administration, it is incumbent upon each one of us to fight for his freedom.
Our offices around the world, from here in the U.S. to Europe and Brazil, continue to press forward with a number of efforts to secure his freedom.
Pastor Saeed – a U.S. citizen – must not be allowed to endure another year in the brutal conditions of an Iranian prison. He has done nothing wrong; his only “crime” is his faith in Christ
Pastor Saeed’s family in Iran was unable to visit him over the holidays, and it is uncertain when the next opportunity will come. It has been 4 weeks since family members visited Pastor Saeed. And since his transfer to Rajai Shahr prison in November, visitations are much less frequent and more uncertain than when Pastor Saeed was confined in Evin prison.
Even through the Christmas and New Year holidays we have been working nonstop, fighting for his release.
It is crucial that we not allow Iran to make Pastor Saeed disappear.
In fact, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani sent out a tweet around Christmas, claiming to wish all Iranian Christians a Merry Christmas, even while his regime imprisons and tortures Christians like Pastor Saeed.
We immediately responded. It is tactics like this that the regime constantly uses in an attempt to deflect public pressure away from the realities of its abominable human rights record.
Once again President Rouhani’s words do not match his actions. His statement wishing Christians health, success, and happiness in the new year is nothing more than his continued push to redefine his radical regime in an effort to make it appear more moderate on the world stage. By continuing to hold American Pastor Saeed Abedini in prison for more than a year simply because of his Christian faith, Iran continues to show its blatant disregard for religious freedom and human rights. Pastor Saeed’s heath continues to deteriorate and his captors refuse to provide him with prescribed medication. If President Rouhani is sincere about his wish for Christians – his wish for health, success, and happiness – he would release Pastor Saeed immediately so he could be reunited with his wife and children without delay.
Until that happens – until Pastor Saeed is safely in the arms of his loving family here in the U.S. – we will not let up. We will not relent in exercising every available channel and opportunity, here in the U.S. and globally, to bring Pastor Saeed home. And we urge the White House and the State Department to fully engage this issue. Every innocent American deserves the full support of their government, especially those who suffer for their faith.
We will continue to have updates about Pastor Saeed’s case and how you can be involved in the fight for his freedom at BeHeardProject.com. Please continue to share his story and pray that this year, 2014, would be the year Pastor Saeed comes home.