Christians accused of membership in an apocalyptic sect get up to 13 years in prison

January 18, 2018 by  
Filed under Asia, newsletter-asia

China, January 17, 2018: A court in Lincang (southern Yunnan) sentenced a group of Christians up to 13 years in prison for belonging to an apocalyptic sect that the authorities deem an illegal “cult”.

One of them, Ju Dianhong received a 13-year sentence for leading the sect, recruiting new followers, carrying out missionary work, and spreading rumours about an imminent apocalypse.

Ju said she will appeal her sentence, noting that she had never heard of the sect, nor does she know the meaning of the word “cult”.

She explained that she only believes in and prays to Jesus Christ and has never harmed anyone or acted against the principles of the Bible.

The sect in question is that of the Three Grades of Servants, an underground pseudo-Protestant group founded in Henan. It claims to have millions of followers, especially in the countryside.

The sect was founded by one Xu Shuangfu, who was sentenced to death in 2006 for killing members of another competing sect and stealing millions from his followers.

However, at the time, Xu’s daughter, Baiyin, said that her father had signed a confession that had been extorted under torture.

Along with Ju Dianhong, five other people were convicted, their sentences ranging from four to ten years in jail.

According to ChinaAid, at least 200 members of the group were arrested in Yunnan and 40 are waiting to be indicted and prosecuted.

Even though Chinese law guarantees defendants the right to legal counsel, the authorities have tried to intimidate the accused’s lawyers by threatening to review (and suspend) their license to practice.

Still, one of the lawyers, Xiao Yunyang, said that he and his colleagues will continue to defend their clients.

According to scholars at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, sects are spreading in the countryside because they meet an immediate religious need in a society that officially professes atheism.

At the same time, group support and help fill a gap left by a government that does not provide people with proper social services.

– asia news

Coptic Christian was killed after showing Muslims his cross tattoo

January 18, 2018 by  
Filed under Asia, newsletter-asia

Egypt, January 16, 2018: Islamic militants who shot and killed a man on Saturday in Egypt because of his cross tattoo have pledged to kill more people belonging to the nation’s beleaguered Christian community, a friend of the deceased believer has said.

Friends and family of Bassem Herz Attallah, who was shot dead by a group of three gunmen in Sinai on Saturday, have shared details about how and why their loved one was murdered in the streets of Al Arish last weekend.

Milad Wasfi, a close friend of Attallah who spoke with the persecution news outlet World Watch Monitor, explained that he first did not believe the news when he was told that Attallah had been killed on Jan. 13.

Upon hearing the news, Wasfi said that he tried to call Attallah on the phone. However, it wasn’t Attallah who answered the other end of the line.

“The terrorists answered me and said they belong to State of Sinai and promised to kill more Copts before they put down the phone,” Wasfi was quoted as saying.

Attallah’s murder comes as over 100 Christians have been killed since December 2016 thanks to a series of bombings and killings targeting the Coptic Christian community, according to the Associated Press.

Some of the attacks and bombings against Christians over the last year-plus were claimed by Islamic State affiliates in Sinai. Thousands of Christians in Al Arish and other areas of Sinai fled their homes last year after a string of murders carried out against Christians in the town caused many to fear for their own lives.

Attallah and his 38-year-old brother, Osama, were among those Christians who fled Al Arish last year before returning last September, World Watch Monitor reported.

According to World Watch Monitor, Attallah was walking with Osama and their neighbor, Mohamed, while on his way from work when the men encountered the militants.

“We thought they were policemen because they weren’t masked … They were wearing black jackets,” Osama told World Watch Monitor. “They approached us and asked Bassem to show them the wrist of his right hand, and when they saw the tattoo of the cross, they asked him: ‘Are you Christian?’ Bassem answered ‘Yes, I am Christian,’ and repeated that again in a loud voice.”

According to Osama, the militants then asked Mohamed his name and asked them to show him his wrist. When it was revealed that Mohammed did not have a cross tattoo, Osama said that Mohammed was allowed to leave.

The militants did the same for Osama. But since Osama has a common name and doesn’t have a cross tattoo, Osama surmises that the militants believed he was not a Christian and did not know that he was Attallah’s brother.

“They fired two shots on the ground close to my legs and asked me to leave,” Osama explained. “And then they shot Bassem in the head. I could not believe what happened to my brother. He fell on the ground in front of me and I was unable to do anything.”

Osama had the tough task of going home to tell his mother what had happened to her son.

“We lost a person dear to our hearts. My brother Bassem was a very good and kind man. He had a strong relationship with God,” Osama said. “He was always reading in the Bible, praying and going to the church. He was loved by all people.”

Because of the increase in the persecution Coptic Christians have seen over the last year, Egypt has jumped up to the 17th worst nation in the world when it comes to Christian persecution, according to Open Doors USA’s 2018 World Watch List. In the 2017 report, Egypt ranked No. 21.

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom last year recommended that the U.S. State Department designate Egypt as a “Tier 2” country of concern for religious freedom, a designation that signifies countries where Christians are persecuted but government inaction isn’t serious enough for the country to be designated a “country of particular concern.”

Attallah’s murder comes about two weeks after two other Coptic Christians were shot to death in Giza. Prior to that, 11 people were killed during an attack on a Christian church and Christian-owned business in Cairo.

– christian post

China church demolished and Christians silenced

January 16, 2018 by  
Filed under Asia, newsletter-asia

China, January 15, 2018: Another church in Shaanxi Province has been demolished, while authorities have pressured Christians to remain silent about it. Local officials in Linfen city demolished the church on Tuesday 9 January.

The Golden Lampstand Church was surrounded by officials who thwarted the efforts of the Christians to prevent its destruction, while it was flattened by bulldozers and cranes.

According to ChinaAid, a Christian human rights organization, the Golden Lampstand Church has been under repeated government pressure since it was built in 2009.

Some of the “Church’s leaders have been imprisoned for one to seven years, simply for serving at their church,” stated the charity, and in September 2009, church members who slept at the construction site were beaten by almost 400 officials.

Ren Quanniu, a lawyer who works on religious repression cases, said that Church members often have no means to seek legal redress when their churches are demolished.

“This is not a matter of demolition alone, but also involves a number of political and religious issues,” he explained, which are “more sensitive” in China.

Two weeks earlier, Shaanxi province was the scene of another church demolition on 27 December 2017 in Zhifang village, prompting protests from the local Christians.

– global christian news

Benedictine monks in Thiên An resist pressures and interference from local authorities

January 14, 2018 by  
Filed under Asia, newsletter-asia

Vietnam, January 12, 2018: The monks of the Benedictine monastery of Thiên An, in the archdiocese of Huế (Thừa Thiên Huế province), have launched a protest against the interference by the authorities in the life of their community.

Backed by local Catholics and interfaith associations like the Vietnam Interreligious Council, they have accused the president of the province and his deputy of abuse of power and using pressures to remove their superior, Fr Nguyễn Văn Đức.

“These people have broken the law,” the monks say in a letter. “They have violated the law and intervened in the internal affairs of a religious organisation; they have offended the dignity and honour of the monks and the father superior of the monastery of Thiên An Huế. They also instigated others to break the laws of Vietnam.”

Although authorised under Vietnamese law, the monastery is at the centre of a painful dispute with the Communist regime, which has long tried to eradicate religious practice and seize the building and the more than 110 hectares of protected forest that surrounds it.

For years the local administration has sought to grab the area and compound to turn it over to a travel agency.

The monastery is home to priests, nuns, religious and seminarians who perform pastoral outreach (for Catholics and others) in three different churches of the city.

The monastery of Thiên An Huế and the pine forest are the lungs of the city of Huế and attract millions of visitors.

The region benefits from it from an environmental and spiritual perspective. The archdiocese of Huế, which covers two provinces, has about 70,000 members and 78 parishes.

In a report dated 23 December, the Provincial People’s Committee offended the dignity of Fr Nguyễn Văn Đức and illegally interfered in the internal affairs of the monastery.

Officials have in fact accused the clergyman of breaking the law, when he protested against expropriation attempts.

In order to sow dissent within the monastery and the Catholic community, the authorities even sought to have the superior general of the Benedictine Order transfer him.

Locals and some Vietnamese legal experts have publicly stated that “the Provincial People’s Committee has taken on the role of investigating agency, prosecution, and court in order to assert that Fr Nguyễn Văn Đức violated the law.” However, “they have no sentence nor ruling from a court. There is no evidence to support what they say.”

The monastery, founded on 10 June 1940 by French missionaries, is often attacked by thugs hired by local authorities to frighten Catholics and persuade them to leave the area.

In addition, police have on several occasions raided the place, breaking into the compound, and threatened to occupy it. The cross and the statue of Jesus Christ, desecrated on 28 June2017, were destroyed in 2015 and 2016 and promptly rebuilt by monks and believers.

– asia news

Pakistani Church condemns the ‘brutal’ rape and murder of a 7-year-old girl

January 12, 2018 by  
Filed under Asia, newsletter-asia

Pakistan, January 11, 2018: The Church in Pakistan “condemns the rape and murder of Zainab, a seven-year-old girl”. This was stated by Msgr. Joseph Arshad, archbishop of Islamabad-Rawalpindi and head of the Pakistani Church, commenting on the news that has aroused indignation across the country. The episode has pushed many users of social media to break the wall of silence that surrounds the issue of pedophilia and rape of minors in the country. According to Msgr. Arshad, “the prevalent mindset cannot be beaten by academic education alone. People should be re-educated about human dignity “.

News of the rape has been reported by media throughout the country. The body of Zainab was found yesterday in a landfill in Kasur, near Lahore. On January 4, the child had disappeared from home while on her way to her Islamic religion class. The autopsy investigations reveal that she was raped several times and then strangled to death.

Her murder has provoked violent reactions among the local population, who denounce police negligence in conducting investigations into the murder. Two people died in the clashes between demonstrators and police. Some videos traced by the family show the small girl hand in hand with a man, still unknown. The relatives complain that if those videos had been acquired in time by the investigators, perhaps the child could have been saved.

The latest data on violence in Kasur has only heightened tension. In the last three years, 720 child abuse incidents were recorded, including 129 cases of rape in 2017. The killer’s modus operandi is similar in several incidents, which suggests the presence of a serial killer. For now, the police have collected DNA samples from 90 suspects.

Msgr. Arshad claims that “creating job opportunities for young people can help to reduce the trend of child abuse”. Many famous people have expressed their indignation on the social media. Among them, Nobel Laureate Malala Yousafzai, who tweeted: ” Heartbroken to hear about Zainab … This has to stop. Gov and the concerned authorities must take action”. Shehbaz Sharif, chief minister of Punjab, visited the Zainab’s family and promised them there would be a swift investigation.

This afternoon the Rawadari Tehreek (Movement for Tolerance) organized a march for peace. The procession of 30 activists will leave Lahore and will arrive in Kasur [50 km away, ed]. Yesterday, the group demonstrated against the murder in front of the press club. The banners held called for “Justice for Zainab”.

Fr. Morris Jalal, executive director of a Catholic television station run by the archdiocese of Lahore, suggests a campaign to raise awareness of rape and the protection of children. ” he cancer Pedophilia is spreading fast, it is not a new phenomenon. Media has only focused on this evil recently. Easy availability of porn on internet has further aided such mindset. Children attending private tuition of Quran in neighborhood are soft targets. Suffocation in society has created psychos. The families should seriously think about protecting their children. These methods should also be made part of school syllabus”.

– asia news

Chinese officials demolish yet another church

January 11, 2018 by  
Filed under Asia, newsletter-asia

Bangkok, January 11, 2018: Authorities in China demolished a large church in the city of Linfen, Shanxi province on Jan. 9, despite efforts by worshippers to halt the demolition and who were then pressured to remain silent, according to witnesses.

It was the third Christian church demolition or closure in China in just over two weeks and comes amid a broader crackdown on “Western” religions by the government of authoritarian leader Xi Jinping. Muslims groups, especially in the far flung province of Xinjiang have also been targeted.

Officials surrounded the Golden Lampstand Church, while bulldozers reduced the large building to rubble, a witness told Radio Free Asia

“It has now been demolished,” a church member said.

The church member, speaking on condition of anonymity, said a large anti-riot team carried out the demolition.

ChinaAid, a Texas-based Christian human rights organization, said the Golden Lampstand Church had been subject to government pressure since it was built in 2009.

“China repeatedly cracks down on house churches, which are churches that refuse to register, often to opt out of government monitoring. Officials often prosecute such choices, however, and some of Golden Lampstand Church’s leaders have been imprisoned for one to seven years, simply for serving at their church,” ChinaAid said in a statement on Jan.9.

In Zhejiang province more than 1,500 churches, both Catholic and Protestant, have been targeted for demolition or cross removals in recent years, sources have said in a campaign against churches not coming under state control. Chinese authorities are increasingly using property regulations to remove crosses and demolish churches.

On Dec. 27 a Catholic church in Zhifang village of Lauyu district of Xian city in neighboring Shaanxi province was pulled down after authorities claimed it was occupying land illegally. A Protestant church in northwest China’s Xinjiang region was also shut down around the same time

Freedom of worship was harshly restricted last year in China, where authorities “physically abused, detained, arrested, tortured, sentenced to prison, or harassed adherents of both registered and unregistered religious groups,” the U.S. State Department said in an annual report released in August.

– ucan

Over 100 China Christians protest church demolition

January 9, 2018 by  
Filed under Asia, newsletter-asia

China, January 9, 2018: Almost 100 Christians protested the demolition of a church in China, shouting: “Give back my church” and “Freedom of belief.”

The authorities in a village in Lauyu district, Shaanxi province, northwest China, demolished a church on 27 December 2017.

They also destroyed a cross, removed religious items, and forbade people from going near the demolished church. The authority’s pretext was a 20 December notice claiming that the church was illegally occupying the land.

However, Christians fought back, using social media to post photos of the demolition and attached official documents proving that authorities had indeed given the church permission to use the land.

A local church leader stated that the authorities have sent officials to apologise and discuss compensation. The church has set up a special team to negotiate with the government to resolve the incident.

A local source states that monetary compensation alone is undesirable, and that the Christian community would require land provided to rebuild the church.

In similar fashion, local authorities in other provinces like Zhejiang have carried out a campaign of church demolitions.

– global christian news

US lists Pakistan for ‘violations of religious freedom’

January 8, 2018 by  
Filed under Asia, newsletter-asia

Lahore, January 8, 2018: Days after US President Donald Trump threatened to cut American aid to Pakistan, the State Department placed the South Asian Islamic country on a Special Watch List for “severe violations of religious freedom” under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998.

The move came three days after Trump, in his first tweet of the new year, accused Pakistan of providing a safe haven to terrorists despite receiving billions of dollars in aid over the years.

“The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools. They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!” Trump wrote.

Islamabad has rejected the US move and said it is not based on objective criteria.

“Pakistan is firmly committed to the promotion and protection of human rights including the right of religious freedom under its constitution. Wide-ranging legislative, institutional and administrative measures have been taken by the government of Pakistan to ensure full implementation of guarantees afforded by the constitution,” the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Jan. 6.

The Trump administration has halted US security assistance worth $900 million to Pakistan.

Pakistan accused the US of adopting double standards. “It is surprising that countries that have a well-known record of systematic persecution of religious minorities have not been included in the list. This reflects the double standards and political motives behind the listing and hence lacks credibility,” the ministry added without naming any country.

Pakistan said its counter-terrorism campaign had served as a bulwark against the expansion of scores of terrorist organizations in Afghanistan — a fact acknowledged by US authorities at the highest level.

Pakistan’s successful counter-terrorism cooperation against Al-Qaeda had led to Pakistan suffering a brutal backlash, including the killing of hundreds of its schoolchildren by terrorists based in Afghanistan, a statement by Pakistan’s powerful National Security Committee said on Jan. 2.

On Jan. 4, the Trump administration announced it had suspended all security assistance to Pakistan until it proves its commitment to fight all terrorist groups operating in the region.

Apart from Pakistan, the US Secretary of State also redesignated Myanmar, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan as “countries of particular concern” on Dec. 22.

The US annually designates governments that have engaged in or tolerated systematic, ongoing and egregious violations of religious freedom as countries of particular concern.

“The protection of religious freedom is vital to peace, stability and prosperity. These designations are aimed at improving the respect for religious freedom in these countries,” the US said in a statement.

It also acknowledged that several designated countries were working to improve their respect for religious freedom.

“We welcome these initiatives and look forward to continued dialogue. The United States remains committed to working with governments, civil society organizations and religious leaders to advance religious freedom around the world,” it added.

Meanwhile, minority representatives said that there was ample justification for the US to place Pakistan on the watch list.

Father Abid Habib of the Justice and Peace Commission of the Association of Major Religious Superiors also expressed his concern at the situation of religious freedom in the country.

“The memory of the recent carnage in Quetta still haunts us. The facts are before everyone,” he said, referring to the Dec. 17 suicide bombing at Bethel Memorial Methodist Church in Balochistan province. Nine worshippers were killed and more than 50 were wounded in an attack which triggered strict measures for churches at Christmas and New Year.

“Terrorists may be small in number but where are they getting inspiration from? I even fear speaking about it on the phone,” Father Habib told ucanews.com.

“Any attempt to correct the controversial blasphemy laws causes havoc in the country. Country leaders literally hate Ahmadis and stay silent whenever their places of worship are attacked. The silence of Muslim countries on atrocities done in the name of Islam is appalling.”

The Capuchin priest welcomed the suspension of US security aid to Pakistan. “The state, like the Church, is depending on foreign aid. It is about time we stood on our own feet,” he said.

Anjum James Paul, chairman of the Pakistan Minorities Teachers’ Association, said the education system in Pakistan is devoid of religious freedom.

“Muslim students can study Islam but minority students are compelled to study ethics as an alternative subject. They are deliberately being kept away from studying their religion. They are often being targeted and thus feel insecure even inside institutes,” said the Catholic activist, citing Sharoon Masih, a Christian student who was murdered last August by a classmate in a government school.

“Those who target officials supporting religious minorities later become heroes. Punishments for religious crimes against minorities are light. The constitution is also ambiguous when speaking about the rights of religious minorities,” said Paul.

Saleem ud Din, a spokesman for Pakistan’s Ahmadis, admitted that things had gone from bad to worse for their minority community in 2017.

“I am going to announce for the very first time that we will boycott the upcoming general elections,” he said.

“We have been further marginalized through a recently adopted Election Act that approves a separate voter list for Ahmadis. We are being treated as low caste within our own country.

“We had no connection whatsoever with the now withdrawn amendments regarding election declaration but yet we were the main target of hate speeches made by radical groups during their recent sit-ins in Islamabad.

“The US watch list doesn’t make any difference as we have been facing systematic state persecution since the 1970s.”

Saleem ud Din said 300 Ahmadis had been killed due to faith-based violence in Pakistan over the last three decades.

– ucan

Vietnamese Christian activist jailed “propaganda”

January 5, 2018 by  
Filed under Asia, newsletter-asia

Vietnam, January 5, 2018: A Vietnam Christian human rights activist has been jailed for nine years for “propaganda against the state”.

Christian mother of two, Maria Trần Thị Nga, faces nine years in jail and a further five years of house arrest, after her appeal against her conviction for “propaganda against the state” was unsuccessful.

Known for her work defending the rights of Vietnamese migrant workers and victims of government land seizures, she was attacked by unknown assailants and left seriously injured in 2014, and later arrested in January 2017. Ahead of her unsuccessful final appeal in the High Court on 22 December, Human Rights Watch called for the Vietnamese government to grant her immediate release. Nga’s lawyers insist there is “no legal evidence” to support the charges of which she has been found guilty.

Vietnamese Christians are viewed with suspicion by the one-party state, particularly those who take a stand on human rights issues. They are also the targets of harassment by local officials. Last month, Christians in Nghe An Province gathered to protect a nativity scene, which local officials had ordered to be removed.

– global christian news

Five Christians arrested for celebrating Christmas in Laos

January 3, 2018 by  
Filed under Asia, newsletter-asia

Laos, January 3, 2018: Laos district official claims “Christianity is the religion of the Europeans and Americans” after five believers are arrested for celebrating Christmas.

Authorities in southern Laos arrested five Christians last month, after four believers from one village invited a pastor from another village to join them to organise Christmas celebrations. Christians in Phin district are only permitted to hold Christmas celebrations in their own village.

A local official told journalists shortly after the arrests: “In general, Christians are still restricted in this district. They are not allowed to teach from the Bible or to spread their religion to others, because Christianity is the religion of the Europeans and Americans.”

Laos’ communist government is officially secular but Buddhists, who make up around 80% of the population, enjoy comparative religious freedom while Christians face localised harassment.

New laws introduced by the government in 2016 require churches to register to conduct services and make it illegal for them to disturb “national harmony.”

– global christian news

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