7,000 Kachin Christians forced to flee their homes as violence escalates

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

Myanmar, May 15, 2018: Almost 7,000 people belonging to the largely Christian minority group in Kachin, northern Myanmar, have fled their houses since fighting between the army and a rebel group flared up in early April, according to recent figures from the Red Cross.

“It’s a war where civilians are being systematically targeted by members of Burma Army … [yet] the international community chooses to overlook it,” political analyst and writer Stella Naw told the UK’s Guardian newspaper [on Monday], with international attention on Myanmar focused on the humanitarian crisis facing the country’s Rohingya Muslims.

Thousands of lives have been lost and at least 120,000 people have been displaced in the decades-long conflict between the army and the Kachin Independence Army since the military seized control of the country in 1962.

“It is an invisible war,” said San Htoi, the joint secretary of Kachin Women’s Association Thailand. She told the Guardian that on a recent visit representatives of the United Nations Security Council went only to Rakhine state and “left the country without knowing [about Kachin].”

And according to Thomas Muller, an Asia analyst for Open Doors International, a charity that supports Christians who live under pressure for their faith, it is unlikely the situation will garner more attention “since Myanmar is increasingly coming under economic and political influence from China, its big neighbor.”

“China tacitly supports the large Wa minority in Myanmar, and can effectively veto any inquiry into the situation of any minority, let alone any improvements or measures to bring the civil war to an end,” Muller added.

Following the bombing of a mission school in the state on Saturday, Hkun Htoy Layang of Kachin Relief Fund told Christian Solidarity Worldwide, “It is outrageous that the Burma army targets a Kachin Baptist mission school. We are very concerned that the Burma army is targeting more civilians throughout Kachin State, with impunity.”

Trapped in a Warzone

Yanghee Lee, the U.N.’s human rights expert for Myanmar, raised alarm over the increase in violence in Kachin in her March report to the Human Rights Council.

Last week she called for an immediate end to the fighting, saying, “What we are seeing in Kachin state over the past few weeks is wholly unacceptable, and must stop immediately. Innocent civilians are being killed and injured, and hundreds of families are now fleeing for their lives.”

Internally displaced people gather at a church in Myitkyina, Kachin state’s capital, on 10 May.

More than 400 displaced civilians arrived in Kachin’s capital city, Myitkyina, last Wednesday, where there were already more than 4,000 other displaced people, a Red Cross spokesperson told Radio Free Asia.

Many of them have traveled long distances on foot, making their way through the forest, and ending up seeking help at local churches or existing camps for internally displaced people. Others are staying with relatives.

“The local churches are doing their best to accommodate [those] fleeing from the warzones,” a local source told World Watch Monitor on condition of anonymity. “They also donate food and other materials as much as they can to help [but] prices of commodities [have gone] up to five times the usual price.”

Many other displaced civilians are still stranded in the forest or have become trapped in the warzone, hiding out in the jungle without food or water, or unable to leave their villages, according to local newspaper The Irrawaddy.

According to World Watch Monitor’s source, “Civilians in the warzone are threatened to leave their house or be killed; many houses are burnt down by the government soldiers.”

Meanwhile a coalition of humanitarian groups in Kachin told AP that international aid shipments had been blocked by the army and that United Nations agencies and international humanitarian groups had been denied access.

The military restrictions on aid also make access to food and clean water in the camps difficult, according to AP.

The Irrawaddy reported that state-government officials had started rescue operations to help people trapped in the warzone, after more than 300 Kachin youths, joined by an estimated 1,000 other local residents, organized a sit-in protest in Myitkyina last week, calling for the government to act.

The youth movement’s leader, 25-year-old women’s rights champion Sut Seng Htoi, told Reuters: “People lost their trust in the State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi because the people from the whole country elected the NLD [National League for Democracy], the civilian government, to avoid wars and fighting.”

In November last year, Myanmar’s Christians expressed hope that the visit of Pope Francis would help bring an end to ethnic conflict in the country, but progress stalled despite a new round of peace talks being announced during his visit.


Majority-Buddhist Myanmar is made up of eight major and eight minor ethnic groups, each of which hoped for autonomy after Burmese independence 70 years ago, but some of the world’s longest-running civil wars still continue there.

Christian encyclopaedia Operation World calls Myanmar “a deeply fractured nation on a political and especially ethnic level.” The conflict zones along the country’s borders are where most of Myanmar’s Christians live, including the Kachin and Karen ethnic minorities, who have faced years of government oppression.

Christian charity Open Doors International estimates there are more than 4 million Christians in Myanmar, constituting 8 percent of the total population. Most of them live in Kachin, where 85 percent are estimated to be Christians, and northern Shan State.

A 17-year ceasefire between the KIA and the Tatmadaw (the combined forces of Myanmar’s army, navy and air force) collapsed in June 2011, since then more than 120,000 people in Kachin state have been displaced.

Myanmar is 24th on the 2018 Open Doors World Watch List of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to live as a Christian.

– christian post

Bomb attacks on three churches: at least eight dead and 38 wounded

May 13, 2018 by  
Filed under Asia, newsletter-asia

Indonesia, May 13, 2018: At least eight people were killed and 38 wounded in a series of explosions that took place around 7 am this morning in three different churches in Surabaya, the capital of the East Java province. Wisnu Sakti Buana, deputy mayor of the city, said the police arrested one of the bombers, who was about to attack the fourth target, the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

A suicide attack hit the Catholic church of St. Mary Immaculate in the district of Ngagel (photo). The bomb exploded at the entrance of the parish before the 7.30 mass, while faithful were entering the church. In an initial death toll, a parishioner, a policeman and the bomber died; at least 13 people were injured.

A few minutes later, another explosion occurred at the Diponegoro building of the Christian Church of Indonesia (Gki), also in the centre of Surabaya, where two people died. Within a few minutes, another bomb exploded at the Pentecostal church of Jalan Arjuna, causing the death of one person.

At present the government has not issued any official statement, but East Java police spokesman Frans Barung Mangera has told local media that “the identification of victims is underway.” Chief Inspector of the East Java Police, Machfud Arifin, said that according to preliminary investigations the attacks were carried out by suicide bombers who used motorcycles or cars separately. Analysts fear that other churches in the country could be attacked in the coming hours.

In Indonesia, the most populous Islamic country in the world, Christians represent about 10% of the population. Protestants are 17 million, 7 million Catholics (3% of Indonesians). They are often targets of extremists and terrorists’ threats. On Christmas Eve 2000, bomb attacks on 11 churches scattered across the country killing 13 people and wounded 100. On July 22, 2001, in the parish of St. Anna in Duren Sawit (East Jakarta), a bomb caused five dead and injured a dozen.

– asia news

Protests against killing of two Christians in Pakistan

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

Pakistan, April 16, 2018: The leaders of the Christian community have launched a protest against the killing of two Christians near a church by four unidentified gunmen who opened fire at them in Pakistan’s Balochistan province, officials said.

Provincial police chief Moazzam Jah Ansari said that a group of Christians had come out of the church on Sunday when the four gunmen appeared on two motorcycles from a nearby lane and opened fire on them.

“Two people were killed on the spot while six others were injured and rushed to a hospital,” he said.

The deceased have been identified as Azhar Masih and Rohail Masih. They were residents of Essa Nagri which houses a large population of the Christian community.

The attack has been claimed by the Islamic State terror group.

Ansari said that it appeared that the purpose of the attack was to spread panic and fear in the province.

“These terrorists are targeting security forces and now minorities to spread fear and panic because of the ongoing operation against them in the province,” he said.

The Christian community staged a protest demonstration against the provincial government and called for the immediate arrest of the attackers. They also urged the government to provide protection to all members of the Christian community in Quetta.

Pakistan has been battling armed groups, including the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

The attacks often target Pakistan’s minorities, including Shia Muslims as well as Christians, Hindus and members of the Ahmadiyya sect.

Earlier this month, four members of a Christian family travelling in a rickshaw were killed in a firing incident on Quetta’s Shah Zaman road. The Christian family belonged to Punjab Province and had come to Quetta to see relatives.

In December last year, nine people were killed and 30 injured in a suicide attack on the Bethel Memorial Methodist Church on Quetta’s Zarghoon Road.

At least two suicide attackers had struck the Bethel Memorial Church while Sunday service was ongoing. There were 400 worshipers inside the church when the assault started.

– times of india

Lahore Christians protest against cemetery confiscations for real estate speculation

April 13, 2018 by  
Filed under Asia, newsletter-asia

Lahore, April 13, 2018: A group of more than a hundred Christians protested against the occupation of a cemetery that belongs to the local Church.

At the cry of “Down with Punjab government” and “Down with encroachment mafia”, protesters on Tuesday blocked the road in front of the Lahore Press Club for more than two hours.

The Gora Qabrastan (cemetery) Action Committee (GQAC) organised the rally to oppose the confiscation of the Christian cemetery in the heart of the provincial capital.

For the past two years, the committee has been demanding the removal of the family of the retired graveyard guardian, Munawar, who has been using three residential buildings (more than 500 sq metres).

GQAC deputy chancellor Khalid Shahzad told AsiaNews that “the family is trying to sell the houses with fake documents.”

“Both the Catholic and Protestant bishops sent the former guardian an eviction notice, but the family refuses to leave. We have organised innumerable meetings with district officials, but our complaints remain buried under the bribes.”

In August 2017, the Supreme Court of Pakistan “conveyed its displeasure” to its Human Rights Cell “with direction to submit report within two weeks” about the affair.

Illegally grabbing Church-owned land is nothing new in the country. At least three cemeteries are currently illegally occupied in the archdiocese of Lahore alone.

According to real estate website Zameen.com, Pakistan’s real estate is soaring as house prices have more than doubled in Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad.

In 2012, the Lahore Development Authority bulldozed more than 8,000 sq metres of land that housed the Gosh e Aman missionary institute, a chapel, a Caritas laboratory and other social welfare buildings operated by the Catholic Church.

In 1972, the Pakistani government nationalised all Church schools and colleges in Punjab and Sindh provinces.

They were denationalised between 1985 and 1995 without compensation. Several missionary schools are still under government control.

“Instead of paying us rent for 35 years, Churches have had to pay to take back control of their institutions,” said Colonel (retired) Azim Ilyas, coordinator of the Lahore Diocesan Board of Education, Church of Pakistan.

A lot of money was “spent in the renovation of dilapidated buildings which affected the quality of education in once esteemed institutes. Those still in government possession have turned into ruins.”

– asia news

Christian family shot dead in southwestern Pakistan

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

Pakistan, April 3, 2018: Four members of a Christian family were gunned down in southwestern Pakistan on Monday, police said, in the latest attack on the minority community.

The family was travelling in a rickshaw when armed men on a motorcycle intercepted them and opened fire in Quetta city, the capital of Baluchistan province.

A woman was rushed to hospital. Her father and three cousins were killed.

“It appears to have been a targeted attack,” provincial police official Moazzam Jah Ansari told Reuters. “It was an act of terrorism.”

The attack comes a day after Pakistan’s Christian community celebrated Easter on Sunday. Around 2 percent of Pakistan’s population are Christians.

Minority religious festivals are a security concern in the majority Sunni Muslim country where there have been a number of high casualty attacks on Christians and Shi’ite Muslims.

Baluchistan, a region bordering Iran as well as Afghanistan, is plagued by violence by Sunni Islamist sectarian groups linked to the Taliban, al Qaeda and Islamic State. It also has an indigenous ethnic Baloch insurgency fighting against central government.

In December, a week before Christmas, two suicide bombers stormed a packed Christian church in southwestern Pakistan, killing at least 10 people and wounding up to 56, in an attack claimed by Islamic State.

The family killed on Monday had come to visit relatives in Quetta’s Shahzaman road area, where a large number of the city’s Christian community lives.

Rome’s ancient Colosseum was lit in red for an evening in February in solidarity with persecuted Christians, particularly Asia Bibi, a Catholic woman who has been living on death row in Pakistan since 2010, when she was condemned for allegedly making derogatory remarks about Islam.

– channel news asia

Christian parents praying for son on death row in Pakistan for ‘Blasphemy’

March 15, 2018 by  
Filed under Asia, newsletter-asia

Pakistan, March 15, 2018: The Christian parents of a 30-year-old Pakistani man who has been sentenced to death on the charge of blasphemy are continuing to pray for his release.

Billo Bibi, Masih’s mother, said in a ucanews.com report Wednesday that her son, who’s a father of three, is in Central Jail Faisalabad awaiting an appeal against the death sentence he received in 2014.

Masih was convicted of insulting the Islamic prophet Muhammad while arguing with a Muslim friend of his in 2013, in an incident which also led to a 1,000-strong mob to burn down his home in Lahore’s Joseph Colony neighborhood.

The mob attack also led to 116 houses and two churches being destroyed.

“I used to call him Buri. We still pray for his release. My elderly husband has developed breathing complications since his arrest. He does not speak anymore. My daughter-in-law [now lives with] her parents,” Bibi said.

“The prison authorities are planning to relocate Masih to Sahiwal [over 105 miles from Lahore]. Travelling to another city was already tough. Now they are sending him farther away,” she added.

The mother also said she attends a candlelight vigil every year on March 9 on the anniversary of the mob attack at the gates of Joseph Colony, with believers offering prayers for the churches in the area.

Christian leaders, such Church of Pakistan Bishop Azad Marshall of Raiwind, have also marked the anniversary of the attack by attending gatherings, while Rawadari Tehreek, a movement promoting pluralism, held a hunger strike in front of the Punjab Assembly.

Persecution watchdog groups, such as International Christian Concern and the British Pakistani Christian Association, have warned that for many years now Christians have been targeted by blasphemy laws as a way to settle personal scores and falsely accuse them of insulting Islam.

Those accused of blasphemy have been imprisoned and even placed on death row by authorities, while radical mobs have burned down homes, and on occasion killed followers of Christ

One of the most famous cases that continues drawing international attention concerns Christian mother of five Asia Bibi, who since November 2010 has been on death row, after being accused by Muslim co-workers of insulting their faith.

Despite several appeals and hearings, Asia Bibi’s fate in prison remains uncertain.

Major international bodies, such as the European Union, have spoken out on Asia Bibi’s case, and have threatened to impose heavy economic consequences for Pakistan unless it agrees to release the Christian mother.

Jan Figel, the special envoy of EU for the promotion of religious freedom worldwide, told the Pakistani government during a recent visit to the country that the fate of Asia Bibi is going to directly affect trade favors the EU bestows upon Pakistan, with hopes that the warning could persuade the government to free the mother.

– christian post

Catholic church in China has crosses removed

March 13, 2018 by  
Filed under Asia, newsletter-asia

Hong Kong, March 13, 2018: Crosses on Shangqiu South Church (Cathedral of the Sacred Heart of Jesus) in China have been removed by the district government.

It is the first Catholic church in Henan province to have crosses removed. Officials later installed new ones but they were much smaller in numbers and size.

A source who asked to be unnamed told ucanews.com that street office and district committee officials on March 8 asked the church to remove its crosses.

“The officials said the largest one at the highest point of the cathedral had to be removed but church staff disagreed,” the source said.

Church staff reported the incident to both the municipal and district religious affairs bureaus. They also disagreed with the crosses’ removal but the street office and the district committee insisted.

Officials from both bureaus visited district officials, who refused to listen and removed the crosses on March 9 by using a crane.

The South Church comprises an old small church, a cathedral and a gate tower. A total of 10 crosses were removed — six above the cathedral, one above the door of the cathedral, and three above the old church next to the cathedral.

After their removal, a few Catholics went to the cathedral and prayed outside. An old lady was seen crying.

The source said someone reported the incident to the provincial National People’s Congress (NPC) and the provincial Chinese People’s Political Consultation Conference (CPPCC).

Under pressure from the two organizations, the street office erected new crosses on March 10.

Only three crosses instead of six were placed above the cathedral, while one was put above the door of the cathedral and one instead of three on the old church.

The central cross above the cathedral had been three meters in height but its replacement was only half that size.

Father John of Henan province said the cadres’ action was “brutal” and misunderstood the recently revised regulations on religious affairs.

A Catholic who works in the provincial NPC and CPPCC said the cathedral is legal but the removal of crosses was illegal and should be suspended. He asked why the original heritage crosses were not reinstalled.

Several incidents have targeted Christianity in Henan recently, including the removal of crosses and the posting of signs prohibiting minors to enter churches, but Father John believes Henan is not a particular target.

“Since the newly revised regulations on religious affairs were enforced, such incidents have happened nationwide,” he said.

The crackdown on religious groups such as Eastern Lightning started in Henan and then had an impact on Christianity, he said.

– ucan

Christian religious freedom campaigner: ‘Dark days for China’ as it abolishes presidential term limits

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

China, March 11, 2018: A Christian religious freedom campaigner has said China’s parliament approving the removal of presidential term limits has paved the way for continued Christian persecution in the country that may worsen.

The National People’s Congress’ nearly 3,000 hand-picked delegates endorsed the constitutional amendment on Sunday, voting 2,958 in favour with two opposed, three abstaining and one vote invalidated.

It means President Xi Jinping can rule indefinitely.

Benedict Rogers, East Asia team leader at religious freedom charity Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) said the vote is an “extremely significant development, which will in all likelihood mean a continuing crackdown on human rights generally, and religious freedom in particular”.

He added: “The past five years since Xi Jinping became president have seen the most severe and widespread crackdown on human rights since the Tiananmen massacre of 1989.

“In particular we have seen the arrest and disappearance of human rights lawyers, many of whom are Christians or have been involved in defending religious freedom, and increasing restrictions on religious freedom, including the destruction of thousands of crosses in Zhejiang province, the destruction of several churches, increasing persecution of other religious groups such as Uighur Muslims, Tibetan Buddhists and Falun Gong, and the introduction of new regulations tightening rules on religious practice.”

The amendment overturns a system enacted by former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping in 1982 to prevent a return to the bloody excesses of a lifelong dictatorship typified by Mao Zedong’s chaotic 1966-1976 Cultural Revolution.

The constitution had until now limited presidents to serving only two consecutive terms.

Rodgers told Premier that now Xi Jinping is President for life and his power-base is strengthened, Christians in China can expect to see “continuing, perhaps increasing, repression”.

He added: “We also expect to see China to use its increasing power to act to prevent progress on human rights around the world. These are very dark days for China – with very serious implications for the world.”

A number of prominent Chinese figures have publicly protested against the move, despite the risk of official retaliation.

– premier

Pakistan Senate calls for punishments for false “blasphemy” allegations

March 8, 2018 by  
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Pakistan, March 8, 2018: Punishments should be imposed for false ‘blasphemy’ allegations, according to a key recommendation from the Pakistan Senate’s influential Special Committee on Human Rights earlier this month. The Committee also said that anyone wishing to register a case of blasphemy with the police should bring multiple witnesses.

Lawmakers stressed however that they were “not trying to make changes” to the “blasphemy” laws, but only to prevent misuse; the laws are repeatedly exploited to target Christians and also used to settle personal grudges.

The calls from the Senate committee were openly challenged by one member from the Islamist Jamiat Ulema Islam party, who described them as “an attempt to sabotage the blasphemy law”. Previous suggestions that the laws would be amended have led to violent street protests.

In 2016, riots broke out in Islamabad when a police guard who had murdered a politician who advocated reforming the “blasphemy” laws received the death penalty.

Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab was shot dead in 2011. He had highlighted the case of Aasia Bibi, who is still in prison on death row, having been sentenced to death for “blasphemy” in 2010.

– global christian news

Pakistani churches demand justice for christian cousins accused of blasphemy

March 6, 2018 by  
Filed under Asia, newsletter-asia

Pakistan, March 4, 2018: Protestant and Catholic churches in Pakistan have come together to start a movement to call on the government to ensure justice for Christian cousins accused of blasphemy, one of whom recently survived a jump from a fourth floor after being told to perform oral sex on his cousin durning interrogation.

More than 200 churches gathered in front of the Punjab Assembly in Lahore on Friday to demand an independent inquiry into the case and a fair trial, according to ucanews.

The rally was organized by a new group, Pakistan Christian Action Committee, which was formed a day earlier during a meeting of Christians at the National Council of Churches in Pakistan.

“The committee will function as a permanent ecumenical entity to counter the increasing cases of violence against minority Christians. Peaceful protests will be carried out all over the country until the Christian youths get justice. The ongoing persecution has become a national issue. We are also ready for martyrdom,” said group convenor Pastor Amjat Niamat was quoted as saying.

Patras Masih, 17, and his cousin, Sajid Masih, 24, a sweeper at a school, are the accused in the blasphemy case. The complainants are members of the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah and other religious parties. They claimed that Patras had posted a blasphemous photo to a Facebook group.

Last week, Sajid was called by the Federal Investigation Agency in Lahore, the capital of Punjab Province, for interrogation. He was first beaten inside a bathroom at the agency’s cybercrime wing, and then asked to perform oral sex.

“They told us to insult each other by using the word ‘Laanti’ (men under a curse), my frightened young cousin complied under great duress,” Sajid told his lawyer in the hospital where he was admitted after he jumped off the fourth floor. “They asked me to remove my cousin’s trousers and have oral sex with him. I refused outright. I explained that I can’t have oral sex with him because he is my brother, but my pleas made them angry. They then started shouting loudly at both of us. I saw a window in the room and quickly jumped out of it.”

Al Jazeera reported Saturday that Sajid is at an intensive care unit in critical condition. Doctors are waiting for him to stabilize before they do surgeries on his neck, face and legs. Both of his legs are in casts.

“We are all Sajid and Patras Masih. Do not push us to the wall. Sexual harassment by police is both immoral and irreligious. Sajid is a kid and a Pakistani. We demand proper medical treatment for him,” Bishop Azad Marshall of Raiwind said at the protest rally on Saturday.

His cousin Patras’ lawyer, Aneeqa Maria, told Pakistan Today earlier that a group of about 15 people led by the prime complainant, Hafiz Awais, attacked her client outside the district courts where the police had taken him for seeking remand last Friday, the day Sajid jumped off the fourth floor.

“The complainant and his accomplices slapped and punched Patras when the police brought him out from the courtroom. Later the police handed over his custody to the FIA and the IO (investigating officer), Khalid Saeed, asked the complainant party to also reach the FIA HQs for recording their statements.

“We requested the police to provide security to the accused and his family as we feared that the complainant party might attack them again, but our appeal fell on deaf ears. Even at the FIA office, I requested Khalid Saeed to ensure the security of Patras’s family, but he said it was not his responsibility. Hardly a few minutes after we left the FIA building, we were informed that Sajid had ‘fallen off’ the fourth floor …”

A few days earlier, hundreds gathered outside Patras’ home in Lahore’s Shahdara area, calling for him to be executed and even beheaded. One man held up a sign that reads: “Wicked Christian Patras should be punished for committing blasphemy!”

Pakistan’s notorious blasphemy laws are embedded in Sections 295 and 298 of the country’s Penal Code. The laws carry the death penalty with no provision to punish a false accuser or a false witness of blasphemy. Allegations of blasphemy often stem from the Muslim accuser’s desire to take revenge and to settle petty, personal disputes, according to Christian groups working in the country.

– christian post

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