Hungary: “Discriminatory” new law criticised: Euro body

April 19, 2012 by  
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Hungary, April 18, 2012: Legislative reforms in Hungary that restrict religious freedom have been deemed “excessive” and “discriminatory” by the Council of Europe’s advisory body on constitutional affairs.

Following widespread opposition to the country’s new constitution and associated laws, the Venice Commission was asked to examine the code, which came into effect on 1 January, to assess whether it complied with Hungary’s obligations under international human rights law.

Barnabas Fund was among those to raise concerns about restrictions to certain rights and freedoms, particularly for religious groups. A new law on religion granted state recognition to 14 religious groups and decertified the rest, meaning that over 300, including a number of major Protestant denominations and many small Catholic orders, lost their official status.

In its assessment published on 19 March, the Venice Commission confirmed our fears, identifying a number of sections of the act that fail to comply with internationally-recognised minimum standards, including aspects of religious freedom, freedom of association, access to effective remedies, and non-discrimination amongst religious beliefs and denominations.

It said:

The Act sets a range of requirements that are excessive and based on arbitrary criteria with regard to the recognition of a church.

The Act has led to a deregistration process of hundreds of previously lawfully recognised churches that can hardly be considered in line with international standards … The act induces, to some extent, an unequal and even discriminatory treatment of religious beliefs and communities, depending on whether they are recognised or not.

The Hungarian government has argued that one of the main justifications for the law is to prevent certain organisations that are masquerading as bone fide religious groups, while operating for illicit and harmful purposes or personal gain, from receiving public funding. The Venice Commission accepted that this was a “legitimate concern”.

In response to the Commission’s report, the Hungarian government has said that it intends to introduce amendments, but the details of these have not yet been made public. 

Other concerns about the constitution, chiefly restrictions on media freedom and the independence of the judiciary and central bank, have also been criticised by the EU and Council of Europe. The European Commission started legal action, known as “infringement proceedings”, against Hungary on 17 January. It is now considering the country’s response.   

– barnabas team

The Salafi War on Christians and U.S. Indifference

April 14, 2012 by  
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USA, April 12, 2012: In recent years, we’ve begun to brace ourselves for news of bombings, burnings, and other attacks on churches full of Christian worshipers on religious holy days — for example, in Nigeria, Egypt, Iraq, Pakistan, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Ethiopia. This violence comes out of the growing community of Salafi Muslims, adherents of the radical brand of Islam that is Saudi Arabia’s official doctrine and which Saudi Arabia exports throughout the Sunni world. We’ve also come to expect the willful blindness of the Obama administration about the religious implications of these horrific events. Last weekend’s Easter Sunday was no exception.

On Easter morning, a Protestant church in Kaduna, Nigeria, was targeted by a suicide car bombing that killed 39 and wounded dozens, apparently the handiwork of Boko Haram, the Salafi network whose stated aim is to turn Africa’s largest country into a sharia state. Last Christmas, Boko Haram had bombed St. Theresa’s Catholic Church outside the capital Abuja killing 44 worshipers, as well as attacked various Christian churches in the towns of Jos, Kano, Gadaka, and Damaturu.

Four days have now passed and there has been no official comment from the Obama administration about this most recent monstrous example of anti-Christian persecution. However, on April 8, that is, Easter, Secretary Clinton did manage to issue one press release. It announced that “today we celebrate the history, impact and culture of Romani people” (formerly called “gypsies”), and inveighed against Europe, demanding that it become “more inclusive.” But for the northern Nigerian Christians savagely attacked on one of their most important religious days, there has not been a word of condolence.

Even worse, the day after the Nigeria church bombing, at a forum on U.S. policy toward Nigeria held at Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies, Clinton’s Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson — overlooking Boko Haram’s self-proclaimed identity, pattern of behavior, statements and very name, which means “Western education is a sin” — publicly denied that Boko Haram has religious motives. He went out of his way to stress: “Religion is not driving extremist violence in . . . northern Nigeria.”

Carson is articulating official U.S. policy. Its theory is that Boko Haram is “exploiting religious differences” to “create chaos” to protest “poor government service delivery,” poverty, and a variety of good-governance concerns. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (on which I served as a commissioner until last month) finds that Boko Haram’s violence is indeed “religiously motivated.” Even Nigeria’s Committee of Imams of the Federal Capital Territory has acknowledged that the church bombings are done in the name of Islam and condemned them as “deviant.”

Elsewhere, too, the Obama administration has demonstrated a persistent refusal to acknowledge the pattern of Salafi persecution of Christians. On November 1, 2010, Salafis blew up Baghdad’s Our Lady of Salvation Catholic Church during a Sunday Mass, killing or wounding virtually all of the congregation, including three priests. This is what the White House said:

The United States strongly condemns this senseless act of hostage taking and violence by terrorists linked to Al-Qaeda in Iraq that occurred Sunday in Baghdad killing so many innocent Iraqis. Our hearts go out to the people of Iraq who have suffered so much from these attacks. We offer sincerest condolences to the families of the victims and to all the people of Iraq who are targeted by these cowardly acts of terrorism.

There was no acknowledgement that the “innocent Iraqis” targeted in this catastrophic attack were all Christians, that the massacre took place in a church, and that it occurred during Sunday worship. It mistakenly describes as “senseless” what was all too sensibly a deliberate and horrific act of religious cleansing against Christians targeted for their faith. That church bombing — one of 70 in Iraq since 2004 — was the watershed moment for Iraqi Christians: Many then concluded that there would be no future for them in Iraq, and en masse abandoned their ancient homeland.

And in Egypt, in October 2011, when the Arab Spring had long since turned into the Coptic Christian Winter, Egyptian government forces massacred two-dozen Copts as they were staging a peaceful street protest in Cairo’s Maspero area. They were demonstrating precisely to demand religious freedom in the face of Salafi religious violence against Coptic churches and the failure of the Egyptian security forces to protect them from it. After the Maspero massacre, the White House stated: “Now is a time for restraint on all sides so that Egyptians can move forward together to forge a strong and united Egypt.”

The statement made no mention of the identity of those who were killed. Nor did it acknowledge that they were attacked while demonstrating against church bombings and burnings in that country on Christmas, New Year’s Day, and many other occasions. And, it drew a moral equivalency between the victims and their aggressors. My Hudson colleague and Coptic expert Samuel Tadros ironically commented: “Perhaps I ought to join the president in his concern and call for restraint: I call upon the security forces to refrain from killing Christians, and upon Christians to refrain from dying.”

It is not as though the administration is reticent in cases involving other religions. On October 4, 2011, and on January 11, 2012, when two mosques were vandalized — though no one was hurt — in Israel, the State Department issued two statements. They were quite specific about the identity of the victims and impassioned in moralizing against the attacks:

The United States strongly condemns the dangerous and provocative attacks on a mosque in the northern Israeli town of Tuba-Zangariyye, which took place on October 3. Such hateful sectarian actions are never justified.

And:

The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms today’s most recent vandalizing of a mosque, as well as the burning of three cars, in the West Bank village of Deir Istiya. Hateful, dangerous, and provocative actions such as these are never justified.

Meanwhile, in Saudi Arabia –the fountain head of Salafi thought and our “strategically” — King Abdullah retains in his distinguished cabinet as Grand Mufti, Salafi Sheikh Abdulaziz ibn Abdullah Aal al-Sheikh, who recently issued a fatwa declaring it “necessary to destroy all the churches in the region,” including those outside of Saudi Arabia, itself (which, of course, does not have any churches to blow up). The Kingdom will not be hearing from the Obama administration about the need to be “inclusiveness” though — here, again, it has fallen silent.

– nina shea, hudson institute’s center for religious freedom

Nigeria: 50 people killed in Easter Sunday bombings

April 10, 2012 by  
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Nigeria, April 08, 2012: At least 50 people were killed when explosives concealed in two cars went off near a church during Easter Sunday services in the northern Nigerian city of Kaduna, eye-witnesses said.

Shehu Sani, the President of Civil Rights Congress based in Kaduna, said two explosions took place at the Assemblies of God’s Church near the centre of the city with a large Christian population and known as a major cultural and economic centre in Nigeria’s north.

“There were two explosions and the casualty figure may go up because some injuries were really critical,” he said on phone.

Another resident of the city, Miss Blessing Audu said that the explosion has caused panic among Christians celebrating Easter.

She said some parts of the church were damaged even as the vibration caused by the explosives were heard in several parts of the city.

An emergency worker on condition of anonymity explained that the bombs were planted in two cars near the church.

At least 50 people were killed amid fears that the casualties may rise from the blasts.

He said his agency has been able to recover 20 bodies from the site.

Police spokesman Aminu Lawal confirmed the incident but sought more time before making a formal statement.

Ahead of Easter celebrations, the US and the UK had warned of possible bomb attacks, advising its citizens against travelling to certain parts of the country.

No one has yet claimed responsibility for the bombings, but the BBC reported that Boko Haram recently said it would carry out attacks in the area over the Easter holiday.

The radical group has carried out a series of attacks on churches and other locations on Christmas Day, including outside the church in capital Abuja, where 44 people died.

It is waging a bloody war against the government to seek the enforcement of strict Shariah law and the release of all its detained members.

The group has bombed churches and attacked mosques in the 150-million nation that has both Muslim and Christian population, with Muslims predominant in the north while Christians mostly living in the South.

Coordinated multiple bombings and gun attacks in the northern city of Kano by Boko Haram cadres killed 185 people, including an Indian from Gujarat on January 20. A suicide bomb attack by the group at the United Nations headquarters in Abuja in July last year killed 26 persons.

– zeenews

Easter bomb attack near Nigeria church kills at least 20 *Southern Sudanese Christians fear forced repatriation

April 9, 2012 by  
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Nigeria, Apr 08, 2012: A car bomb blast outside a church in northern Nigeria on Easter Sunday killed at least 20 people and put the country on alert over fears of further attacks, rescue officials and residents said.

The explosion, a stark reminder of Christmas Day attacks that left dozens of people dead in Africa’s most populous nation and largest oil producer, hit the city of Kaduna, a major cultural and economic centre in the north.

Motorcycle taxi drivers and passers-by caught much of the blast.

As news of the attack spread, security forces boosted patrols in key areas, including in the capital Abuja, where soldiers were sent to reinforce police posted near churches, an AFP correspondent reported.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

At least one car said to be driven by a suicide bomber was involved in the Kaduna attack, but a rescue official speaking on condition of anonymity said two vehicles packed with explosives detonated.

“Now we have 20 dead from the twin explosions,” the rescue official, who was not authorised to speak publicly, told AFP. Officials were still counting the number of wounded, he added.

“Bombs concealed in two cars went off just opposite this church,” he said.

A police officer at the scene said a man believed to be a suicide bomber driving a car was stopped at a checkpoint near the church and turned back, but drove to a nearby area close to a hotel and detonated the bomb.

Other cars in the area were damaged, but it was unclear if they were also carrying explosives, he said.

A spokesman for the national emergency management agency said most of the victims appeared to be motorcyle taxi drivers.

Police said the explosion was a bomb, but did not comment further.

“We have a bomb explosion. We are trying to sort things out,” police spokesman Aminu Lawal told AFP.

Residents reported seeing dead and injured being taken away. An AFP correspondent said he saw 10 bodies, while one resident said he counted at least 10 wounded.

“From my balcony, I could see policemen loading the dead and the injured into waiting vans,” another resident said.

One resident said the explosion was strong enough to shake his house and cause his ceiling to cave in. He ran to the site, which had already been cordoned off, but he said he could see damage to the Assemblies of God Church as well as cars.

Islamist group Boko Haram carried out a series of attacks on churches and other locations on Christmas day, the bloodiest at a church outside Abuja, where 44 people died.

Authorities as well as foreign embassies had warned of the possibility of an attack on Easter Sunday.

Boko Haram’s increasingly bloody insurgency has left more than 1,000 people dead since mid-2009. Police and soldiers have often been the victims of such attacks, though Christians have occasionally been targeted as well.

The group also claimed responsibility for the August suicide bombing of UN headquarters in the capital Abuja which killed 25 people.

Its deadliest attack yet occurred in the northern city of Kano on January 20, when coordinated bombings and shootings left at least 185 people dead.

An attempt to hold indirect talks between Boko Haram and the government last month appears to have collapsed, with a mediator quitting over leaks to the media and a spokesman for the Islamists saying they could not trust the government.

Nigeria’s 160 million population is roughly divided between a mainly Muslim north and predominately Christian south.

Despite a number of high-profile arrests and heavy-handed military raids, Nigerian authorities have appeared unable to stop the attacks.

President Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian from the oil-producing Niger Delta region, said in his Easter message that “as people of faith, we must never succumb to hopelessness and despair.”

There has been intense speculation over whether Boko Haram has links to outside extremist groups such as Al-Qaeda’s north African branch.

Diplomats say such links so far appear limited to training for some Boko Haram members in northern Mali with Al-Qaeda elements, without significant evidence of operational ties.

Analysts say deep poverty and frustration in Nigeria’s north has fed the violence, pushing young people toward extremism.

– afp

Southern Sudanese Christians fear forced repatriation

 

Sudan, April 06, 2012: Christians from South Sudan who have until Easter Sunday (April eight) to try to become citizens of Sudan or be deported fear authorities will use the occasion to rid the country of Christianity, church leaders said.

More than 500,000 citizens of southern ethnic origin who have been living in Sudan for decades – some of them born there – will be considered foreigners after Sunday. Human rights organizations have called on Khartoum to grant them more time to either leave or apply for citizenship.

Christian leaders expressed concern that local media such as the daily Al Intibaha newspaper have been stoking hatred against predominantly Christian southern Sudanese, describing them as “cancer cells in the body of Sudan, the land of the Arab and Islam,” and calling on the government to deport them.

“The local media are becoming very hostile toward us who are still in the north,” one Christian told Compass by phone on condition of anonymity.

Gov. Ahmad Abbass of Sennar state in central Sudan vowed to deport southern Sudanese from his state “without regret,” according to Alsahafa, an Arabic daily. Banners have appeared in Khartoum streets calling on the government and Muslims in general to harass and expel southern Sudanese, some of whom are also Muslims.

“Why are they still here? The government should expel them from the country,” one banner asserts.

South Sudan seceded from Sudan in a referendum last July 9. The government of Sudan has begun issuing national numbers to designate citizens of Sudan, denying the designation to Sudanese of southern origin. Without a national number, southern Sudanese have no citizenship rights to work or education.

Churches in Sudan have already suffered losses in numbers as many members prepare for forced repatriation, Christian leaders said.

“We are monitoring the situation and praying to God to protect us,” said a church leader who spoke on condition of anonymity.

As Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has pledged to base the new Sudan more deeply on sharia (Islamic law), ethnic southerners are faced with a difficult choice, Elizabeth Kendal writes in the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin.

“The message essentially is this: Submit to sharia or get out,” she writes. “Churches may well be targeted immediately and aggressively, starting 9 April. All across the Sudan, churches have been emptying as ethnic southerners – including those born and raised in the north – flee south. This could eventually become a pretext for closing them.”

At the same time, police have been mistreating some of the more than 113,000 southern Sudanese who are living in open spaces in Khartoum after having fled conflict in South Sudan. Officers have removed their make-shift housing, including temporary latrines, according to Jovana Luka, deputy chairperson of the Relief and Rehabilitation Commission in South Sudan, who recently returned from Khartoum.

Southern Sudanese may not be welcome in South Sudan, either, as increased competition for scarce resources leads to greater tribal conflict, and their fate depends on the mercy of both the Sudan and South Sudan governments, the Rev. Karlo Aika of Khartoum’s St. Peter and Paul Catholic Church told 98.6 FM radio station on Sunday (April 1).

He said he was concerned about security for southern Sudanese whether they stay or return to South Sudan.

“We fear too because we do not know why these things are happening,” he said.

– cdn

700,000 to be evicted from Sudan Easter Sunday

April 7, 2012 by  
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Sudan, April 06, 2012: This Easter Sunday, the Sudanese government is kicking out as many as 700,000 people, many of whom are Christians.

Since South Sudan seceded from Sudan in July 2011, there has been debate over what nation each person should call home. Some reports suggested that an agreement had been reached allowing citizens in either country to live, work, and own property on either side of the new international border.

But that was a month ago. Now, the Khartoum government has made the decision to remove all people of South Sudanese origin currently living in the north.

“This affects not just people who have lived in South Sudan in the past, but those who have parents, grandparents, or great-grandparents from the south,” explains Matt Parker with Kids Alive International.

Although many included in the eviction notice have never even been to South Sudan, droves have fled already. Most southerners are Christians and are fearful of what might happen to them if they stay.

“Church leaders fear persecution if they stay in the north. It’s a very difficult, very unpredictable situation,” explains Parker. “So a lot churches are really moving their ministries from Khartoum down to the south.”

Christians may have reason to fear. Parker says there has been a lot of talk about Sudan becoming “more Islamic.” The mostly-Muslim north has a long history of persecution against believers.

Though fear abounds, many questions remain unanswered as to the Sunday deadline. Parker says, “The deadline itself–8th of April–really is unrealistic. It’s a logistical nightmare in many ways. We’re talking about between 500,000 and 700,000 people.”

Another question remains unanswered for Kids Alive. Based on the number of Christians being asked to leave the nation, how will the government respond to ministries still in the area? Kids Alive has already had to reduce programming in Sudan.

Still, says Parker, “We plan to be there for as long as we’re able to be there. There are lots of kids that still need help. There are thousands that live on the streets or are in need.”

Some of the Kids Alive kids in the north have already fled with their families to South Sudan. Thankfully, Kids Alive does have a number of soon expanding programs in South Sudan as well.

The most powerful solution now is intercession through prayer. Pray particularly for safety for the believers who are fleeing the nation and who are being asked to leave. There have even been rumors of a return to war between Sudan and South Sudan.

“It’s very difficult to predict how the government will act and how they will respond to any southerners who are still in Khartoum after the 8th of April,” says Parker.

Pray for safety for the workers and programs of Kids Alive, and pray that this might be an opportunity for them to trust in the Lord and to spread His name.

– mnn

Pak: Threats to Christians during Holy Week *Sudan bombs Churches & forces Christians out

April 5, 2012 by  
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Pakistan, April 03, 2012: In Eidgah Colony, Sarghoda District, fanatics defaced signs and sacred images belonging to the minority. Police refuse to file a report on the incident, tell complainants to leave the station. Human rights activists file a writ before the Lahore High Court for violation of religious freedom.

Islamic fanaticism is casting a dark shadow over Easter celebrations this year in Pakistan. The country’s Christian community has already received threats and warnings against celebrating the occasion. Now sources in Sarghoda District in Punjab tell AsiaNews that someone tore down Easter signs and decorations at the Eidgah Christian colony. The unknown attackers also threw black paint on the community’s sacred images and made threats against those present, warning them not to continue in their preparations.

When residents turned to the local police to file a report, no one at the station would do it. Instead, they told the complainants to leave.

With courage and determination, some of the faithful put back the signs and images. However, once again, in the evening of Palm Sunday, fanatics came back for another raid. This time, they threw away the images and threatened punitive reprisals against the Christian colony.

Yasir Masih, a local resident, spoke to AsiaNews about the situation. “For years, colony residents have come together to prepare Holy Week,” he said. Equally, “for years, we have been threatened. Even though we reported it to the authorities, they didn’t take it seriously. This year, they [the fanatics] have come to our streets and threatened us. We are not safe, and we are scared.”

The Masihi Foundation, a humanitarian organisation, condemned the threats and has filed a writ this morning with the Lahore High Court, demanding protection for the Eidgah Christian Colony, and more generally for Christians in Punjab. More specifically, it has called on the authorities to enforce the residents’ right to freedom of religion.

“Christians live Holy Week in terror,” said Fr John Gill, a priest in Sargodha. “The state has failed to provide them security.”

For him, the Punjab has become a hub of violence against minorities. “We urge the authorities to take immediate action to put an end to the senseless violence.”

– asianews

Sudan bombs Churches and forces its Christians out

 

Sudan, April 03, 2012: Thousands of Christians stripped of their citizenship are now being forced out of Sudan in the wake of the South’s secession back in January 2011.

Christians have until April 8 to either leave the Islamic northern state, or be treated as foreigners under a regime that is openly hostile to non-Arabs and non-Muslims. To date, Sudanese Armed Forces have destroyed 10 churches.

Christians remaining in Sudan after the April deadline may face increased persecution, or forced repatriation; in either case, thousands of refugees to South Sudan will surely trigger a humanitarian crisis.

The Sudanese ultimatum comes as the new state of South Sudan struggles with a food shortage caused by a drought that has ruined its crops. The UN World Food Program estimates that as many as five million people in South Sudan will suffer from malnutrition this year.

Further, South Sudan’s resources are already being strained by the arrival of refugees from South Kordofan and the Blue Nile where 185,000 have already fled the latest genocidal campaign of a dictator demanding a purely Arab Islamic state.

“Despite the end of the long civil war and independence of South Sudan, Christians in both nations continue to suffer grievously,” said Dr. Patrick Sookhdeo, International Director of Barnabas Aid. “South Sudan is taking the strain as hundreds of thousands of people flee from President Omar al-Bashir’s ongoing brutal campaign to Islamize and Arabize Sudan completely. Our brothers and sisters need our help and prayers as they are forced to leave their homes and rebuild their lives elsewhere.”

After earlier denying that it had bombed civilians, last week Sudanese aerial strikes targeted church buildings and schools in Kauda, South Kordofan state. Antonov aircraft dropped bombs on homes and livestock near churches and schools in an “ethnic cleansing” campaign against non-Arab peoples in Sudan’s multi-ethnic state. As a result, the churches are holding worship services early in the morning and late at night to avoid these aireal attacks.

The U.N. estimates the conflict has created nearly 400,000 refugees, most of them in danger of starvation. Following last year’s secession of southern Sudan, Christians in Khartoum, notably those from the Nuba Mountains, live under uncertainty as they approach the April 8 deadline to either leave Sudan, or become its citizens and live under shar’ia. Sudan’s Interim National Constitution considers Islamic law as a source of legislation for policies that often favor that religion.

– worthynews

Christians prosecuted for reading Bible in public

April 4, 2012 by  
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California, March 30, 2012: Taking the concept of culture wars to new heights, two Christians were arrested in front of a California DMV for reading the Bible—and prosecuted.

Pastor Brett Coronado and Mark Mackey were charged with a misdemeanor. Mackey was reading the Bible aloud on Feb. 2, 2011, in front of a group waiting for the DMV to open for business.

A trial court in Riverside County, Calif., on Wednesday heard arguments for the defendants. Advocates for Faith & Freedom are the duo, whose case has generated national news.

When Mackey was arrested, police stated it was illegal to “preach to a captive audience.” The defendants were jailed, but later learned that no such penal code prohibits preaching to a “captive audience.”

The officer issued a citation for “impeding an open business” with threats or intimidation under Penal Code Section 602.1(b). However, the district attorney again changed the charges claiming trespass after the government realized the business was not actually open and, presumably, saw the video showing no threats or intimidation.

The trial judge declined to dismiss the case. Advocates vows to appeal the decision because the trespass law authorities are relying on is unconstitutional. In fact, other federal courts that have reviewed the same statutory language used in the California Penal Code have been declared unconstitutional.

“This is an abuse of power on the part of the CHP,” said Robert Tyler, associate general counsel for Advocates for Faith & Freedom. “The arresting officer could find no appropriate penal/ code to use when arresting these men. The purpose of the arrests appears to have been to censor them.”

Advocates for Faith & Freedom has filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of these three men for violation of their right to free speech and for unlawful arrest, but that case has been stayed pending the resolution of the state court prosecution.

– charismanews

Another Pak Christian woman battles *Lebanese-Syrian border humanitarian crisis

April 2, 2012 by  
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Hanifan Bibi, Pakistani ChristianPakistan, March 31, 2012: Hanifan Bibi was segregated at home by her husband who converted to Islam following an extramarital affair with a Muslim woman. He wanted to take the house bought with money earned by his wife. The intervention of NCJP activists has helped justice prevail. Now the court will assess civil damages.

She fought a tough battle against her husband, who wanted to drive her from the house she built over time thanks to the hard earned money of her own work, while the man – converted to Islam in November 2011 – spent his time on women and drinking. Hanifan Bibi’s tenacity and the support of NCJP activists have allowed the woman to get justice in court so she can remain in her home with her children, pending the decision of the civil court in Faisalabad, which is to assess the instance of separation and alimony.

This is the story of suffering, abuse and oppression that emerges from the story of Hanifan Bibi (pictured), a 37 year old Christian, mother of two children, born and raised in a poor family of Gurala Dajkot, a district of Faisalabad (Punjab). For years her husband was abused her, leaving her alone at home with their children to waste his wife’s hard earned money on drinking, women and partying. And when he returned, for short periods, the situation certainly did not not improve, because he beat her brutally.

However, the reality came crashing down four months ago when her husband Sarwar Masih decided to convert to Islam, taking the name of Muhammad Sarwar, following an extramarital affair that had been going on for some time with a Muslim woman, Nasreen Bibi. “Since I have not decided to change faith like him – Hanifan tells AsiaNews – he segregated me in the house” and by March 10 she found herself a prisoner in her own home.

Muhammad Sarwar, after locking up his wife, denounced her illegal possession of the house. With the collaboration of a group of Muslim families he filed a lawsuit in court and threatened the woman if she resisted.

Speaking to AsiaNews, local Christians and Muslims confirm that the man is a “despicable person who does not deserves trust,” because he “engaged in dishonest behavior” and never wanted to work and help support the family. Instead he treated Hanifan like a maid, to “bring home money to feed the families” and ensure a decent life to their children.

Having learned of the issue, the activists of the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) of the Catholic Church in Faisalabad intervened in defense of women. They obtained the dismissal of Harifan’s trial, while judges have opened a civil case against the man for the separation and compensation. “I continue to receive threats from my ex-husband and his fellow Muslims,” Hanifan Bibi, tells AsiaNews, but she remains steadfast in her faith and intention to see her rights recognized.

– asianews

Humanitarian crisis worsening on the Lebanese-Syrian border

 

Syria-Lebanon, March 29, 2012: Caritas Lebanon chief says actual refugee numbers higher than official figures. Caritas and other international organisations could run out of supplies. Cor Unum announces fundraiser during Holy Thursday Mass in Rome’s St John Lateran Cathedral.

“The situation is getting worse by the day. The number of refugees is rising constantly. At present, there are more than 20,000 of them; some sources say 30,000 people have crossed the border into Lebanon,” said Caritas Lebanon chief Fr Simon Faddoul.

Speaking to AsiaNews, he explained that most refugees refuse to give their names fearing retaliation back home. It is thus difficult to have accurate numbers. The figure of 9,000 used by the United Nations and the international community to determine the amount of aid is just an estimate and does not correspond to the reality of the situation.

“Refugees have come especially from Homs and surrounding villages, where the worst cases are found: divided families, orphans, old people, sick or those wounded during the bombing,” Fr Faddoul explained. “However, some people have fled other districts like Jableh, in northern Syria, hundreds of kilometers from the Lebanese border.”

“Those who still have money try to cross the border with their cars, using it to pay off security forces and rent a place in Lebanon. Our motorways have been filled with cars with Syrian license plate, especially from Damascus and Alep, for the past few days.”

For the priest, an immediate ceasefire is needed to allow humanitarian aid into Syria to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe.

Through Caritas, the Lebanese Catholic Church has collected food, blankets and clothes in parishes at home and abroad for about 2,000 families.

“In recent months, international organisations have joined the effort and set up sites for refugees,” Fr Faddoul said. “However, it is not enough. We are going to launch a new appeal a few days from now asking for more humanitarian aid. It will be read in all the churches of the world.”

Yesterday, the papal charity Cor Unum announced that funds raised during Holy Thursday Mass in St John Lateran in Rome would be devolved to Syrian refugees.

“This is a great gesture on Benedict XVI’s part,” Fr Faddoul said. “It shows that the Church is close to the people of Syria. The amount of money is not important. The initiative is especially important as spiritual support for Catholic volunteers who are moved to donate everything to all these people.” (S.C.)

– asianews

On the Watch for Religious Persecutors

March 28, 2012 by  
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World, March 23, 2012: Open Doors has released its World Watch List of the 50 worst persecutors of Christians worldwide.

Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty, said Thomas Jefferson, and that includes religious freedom. Religious persecution is tragically common abroad.

While members of all faiths are sometimes at risk somewhere, Christians are constantly victimized almost everywhere. And in many of these cases the threat is violence, imprisonment, and even death. Martyrdom apparently is more common today than during Roman times.

The California-based group Open Doors has released its latest World Watch List of the 50 worst persecutors of Christians around the globe. A Baker’s Dozen are communist or former communist states, led by North Korea. An incredible 38 are Muslim, including several of Washington’s allies. (Seven are both communist/former communist and Islamic, truly a toxic combination.) The other six are a potpourri — Hindu India, Buddhist Burma and Bhutan, conflict-ridden Colombia, and Eritrea and Ethiopia, which are both repressive and religiously divided.

Topping the World Watch List is the so-called Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, which leads any parade of the world’s repressive, impoverished, or just plain awful places. Explains Open Doors: “Defiantly Communist in the Stalinist style, a bizarre quasi-religion was built around the founder of the country, Kim Il Sung. Anyone with ‘another god’ is automatically persecuted, which is why the 200,000-400,000 Christians in this country must remain deeply underground.” At least a quarter of them may be confined to labor camps.

Number two is Afghanistan, where Americans and Europeans continue to die trying to create a Western-style liberal democracy. The status of Christians continues to decline. Reports Open Doors: “Despite having signed all international agreements designed to protect the freedom of religion, the government in the current setting is not even able to guarantee the most basic tenants of this right.” To the contrary, mobs cheerfully murder Americans and other non-Muslims when copies of the Koran are accidentally burned.

Another “friend” of Washington, Saudi Arabia, is number three. “Religious freedom does not exist in this heartland of Islam where citizens are only allowed to adhere to one religion,” notes Open Doors: “Apostasy — conversion to another religion — is punishable by death if the accused does not recant.” Of course, the Saudi royals live licentiously when abroad while posing as defenders of Islam at home.

Fourth is Somalia, another Muslim land. This area no longer constitutes a traditional nation. Alas, says Open Doors, “The overall persecution situation in Somalia tightened a bit more in the country. The main persecution engine is Islamic extremism.”

Iran, most in the news over fears that it might be developing nuclear weapons, ranks number five. “Religious persecution of certain minorities has intensified in Iran since 2005,” concludes Open Doors, including of Baha’is, Sufi Muslims, and Christians. Indeed, the group adds, “almost all Christian activity is illegal, especially when it occurs in Persian languages.” The regime has publicly denounced the expansion of Christianity, which it blamed on “the enemies of Islam.”

The Maldives comes next at six, a small island nation which simply bans other faiths. States Open Doors: “As every Maldivian citizen has to be Muslim, all deviant religious convictions are strictly forbidden.” Believers must “practice their faith in utmost secrecy, always in fear of being discovered.”

Number seven is Uzbekistan, where “All activities of unregistered churches are strictly forbidden, both inside and outside the churches. Youth activities are forbidden, outreaches are forbidden, seminars and training are forbidden.” Uzbekistan is a Muslim state that spent seven decades under Communism, a tragic mix almost guaranteeing religious persecution.

Also in the news is Yemen, which falls to eight on the World Watch List. Reports Open Doors: “Islam is the state religion and sharia is the source of all legislation. There is some religious freedom for foreigners, but evangelism is prohibited; several expatriate workers were deported in the past for Christian activities. Yemenis who leave Islam may face the death penalty as a result.”

Persecutor number nine is Iraq, a nation nominally liberated with American blood. Unfortunately, the U.S. invasion unleashed civil chaos and conflict which may have consumed 200,000 lives. The Christian community ended up as collateral damage. Explains Open Doors: “A true exodus of Christians is going on in Iraq. Christians are fleeing the country.” And for good reason: “Christian individuals are still being threatened, robbed, raped, or kidnapped and churches attacked.” Moreover, the situation is deteriorating even in Kurdistan, which until recently had been relatively safe for Christians.

Another not-so-loyal ally, Pakistan, rounds out the negative top ten. “Christians are a beleaguered minority… caught between Islamic militant organizations that routinely target Christians for violence, and an Islamizing culture that makes Christians feel less and less a part of Pakistan,” says Open Doors.

In eleventh place is Eritrea, a religiously mixed state ruled by one of the most viciously repressive governments in the world. Reports Open Doors: “Christians from the evangelical minority are pressurized to change or renounced their religion. They are tortured and forced to revert to the registered denominations. While no Christian has been killed in the last year, five Christians died in prison due to illness.”

Next at twelve comes backward Laos, still ruled by communists in a world in which communism has been largely relegated to academia, requires registration of religious groups, which are then controlled. Open Doors explains that “Other small independent Protestant congregations are under pressure and have been refused recognition. The activities of unrecognized churches are considered illegal by authorities, who detain and arrest their members and leaders under various pretexts.”

–  american spectator

Israel and the Plight of Mideast Christians

March 21, 2012 by  
Filed under newsletter-world, Persecution, World

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damaged_crucifixMiddle-East, March 09, 2012: The church in Bethlehem had survived more than 1,000 years, through wars and conquests, but its future now seemed in jeopardy. Spray-painted all over its ancient stone walls were the Arabic letters for Hamas. The year was 1994 and the city was about to pass from Israeli to Palestinian control. I was meeting with the church’s clergy as an Israeli government adviser on inter-religious affairs. They were despondent but too frightened to file a complaint. The same Hamas thugs who had desecrated their sanctuary were liable to take their lives.

The trauma of those priests is now commonplace among Middle Eastern Christians. Their share of the region’s population has plunged from 20% a century ago to less than 5% today and falling. In Egypt, 200,000 Coptic Christians fled their homes last year after beatings and massacres by Muslim extremist mobs. Since 2003, 70 Iraqi churches have been burned and nearly a thousand Christians killed in Baghdad alone, causing more than half of this million-member community to flee. Conversion to Christianity is a capital offense in Iran, where last month Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani was sentenced to death. Saudi Arabia outlaws private Christian prayer.

As 800,000 Jews were once expelled from Arab countries, so are Christians being forced from lands they’ve inhabited for centuries.

The only place in the Middle East where Christians aren’t endangered but flourishing is Israel. Since Israel’s founding in 1948, its Christian communities (including Russian and Greek Orthodox, Catholics, Armenians and Protestants) have expanded more than 1,000%.

Christians are prominent in all aspects of Israeli life, serving in the Knesset, the Foreign Ministry and on the Supreme Court. They are exempt from military service, but thousands have volunteered and been sworn in on special New Testaments printed in Hebrew. Israeli Arab Christians are on average more affluent than Israeli Jews and better-educated, even scoring higher on their SATs.

This does not mean that Israeli Christians do not occasionally encounter intolerance. But in contrast to elsewhere in the Middle East where hatred of Christians is ignored or encouraged, Israel remains committed to its Declaration of Independence pledge to “ensure the complete equality of all its citizens irrespective of religion.” It guarantees free access to all Christian holy places, which are under the exclusive aegis of Christian clergy. When Muslims tried to erect a mosque near the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth, the Israeli government interceded to preserve the sanctity of the shrine.

Israel abounds with such sites (Capernaum, the Hill of the Beatitudes, the birth place of St. John the Baptist) but the state constitutes only part of the Holy Land. The rest, according to Jewish and Christian tradition, is in Gaza and the West Bank. Christians in those areas suffer the same plight as their co-religionists throughout the region.

Since the Hamas takeover of Gaza in 2007, half the Christian community has fled. Christmas decorations and public displays of crucifixes are forbidden. In a December 2010 broadcast, Hamas officials exhorted Muslims to slaughter their Christian neighbors. Rami Ayad, owner of Gaza’s only Christian bookstore, was murdered, his store reduced to ash. This is the same Hamas with which the Palestinian Authority of the West Bank recently signed a unity pact.

Little wonder, then, that the West Bank is also hemorrhaging Christians. Once 15% of the population, they now make up less than 2%. Some have attributed the flight to Israeli policies that allegedly deny Christians economic opportunities, stunt demographic growth, and impede access to the holy sites of Jerusalem. In fact, most West Bank Christians live in cities such as Nablus, Jericho and Ramallah, which are under Palestinian Authority control. All those cities have experienced marked economic growth and sharp population increase—among Muslims.

Israel, in spite of its need to safeguard its borders from terrorists, allows holiday access to Jerusalem’s churches to Christians from both the West Bank and Gaza. In Jerusalem, the number of Arabs—among them Christians—has tripled since the city’s reunification by Israel in 1967.

There must be another reason, then, for the West Bank’s Christian exodus. The answer lies in Bethlehem. Under Israeli auspices, the city’s Christian population grew by 57%. But under the Palestinian Authority since 1995, those numbers have plummeted. Palestinian gunmen seized Christian homes—compelling Israel to build a protective barrier between them and Jewish neighborhoods—and then occupied the Church of the Nativity, looting it and using it as a latrine. Today, Christians comprise a mere one-fifth of their holy city’s population.

The extinction of the Middle East’s Christian communities is an injustice of historic magnitude. Yet Israel provides an example of how this trend can not only be prevented but reversed. With the respect and appreciation that they receive in the Jewish state, the Christians of Muslim countries could not only survive but thrive.

– mr. oren is israel’s ambassador to the united states

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