300 Muslim lawyers storm Egyptian court, prevent lawyers for Christian from entering

March 21, 2012 by  
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Egyptian courtEgypt, March 16, 2012: “More than 300 Muslim lawyers inside and outside a courthouse in the southern Egyptian province of Assuit today prevented defense lawyer Ahmad Sayed Gabali, who is representing the Christian Makarem Diab, from going into court. Mr. Diab was found guilty of ‘Insulting the Muslim Prophet’ and was scheduled today a hearing on his appeal,” Assyrian International News Agency reports.

Attorney Dr. Naguib Gabriell, head of the Egyptian Union of Human Rights Organization, said there was “terror in the Assiut Court today.” He added that he was on his way to court when he was advised that Muslim lawyers have issued death threats to any Christian lawyers who attend the court session. “Makram Diab was assaulted by Muslim lawyers during his transfer from the courtroom and security failed to protect him.”

Peter Sarwat, a Coptic lawyer, said that Muslim lawyers representing the plaintiffs prevented the defense team from entering court. “They said no Muslim will defend a Christian. It was agreed that Christian lawyers would take over and two Coptic lawyers volunteered, but the Muslims decided later that even Christians would not defend him.” Sarwat said the Muslim lawyers wanted to assault the chief judge but he managed to leave the court via a rear door.

Adel Ramadam and Ahmad Mohamad Hossam, two Muslim lawyers and activists from the renowned NGO Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) went to court to defend Diab’s right to a fair trial but were assaulted by the other Muslim lawyers. “They were assaulting us in a beastly and strange way just because we went there to defend a citizen who happened to be a Christian,” said Adel Ramadam. He also said that to get out of court was a complex operation and a huge task for the security personnel. “We left court in a security vehicle which took us to Security headquarters, otherwise, we don’t know what the outcome would have been for us.”

Makram Diab, a school secretary was sentenced by the Abanoub misdemeanor court two weeks ago to six years imprisonment on charges of insulting Islam’s prophet. His defense lawyer, Ahmad Sayed Gabali, was also prevented during that session from entering the court by Muslim lawyers (AINA 3-5-2012).

“I went to court today because I believe this citizen was stripped of all his rights,” said Adel Ramadam in an aired interview today. “He had a quarrel with a Salafi school colleague and then 11 days later, it was suddenly decided by Muslims that they will report the case. He was detained by the prosecution for 4 days and two days later in a 10-minute session and without any defense lawyer present, he was sentenced to 6 years, which is way above the maximum of a misdemeanor case.”

Eyewitnesses reported that the Muslim lawyers were armed with clubs. A police captain, b two EIPR lawyer, and two reporters from Ros-el-Youssef and El-Bashayer Egyptian newspapers were injured in the milieu.

Human rights groups reported that they were also forced out of the courtroom by the Muslims.

Adel Ramadam said the court session never started because the judge knew that the defense were prevented from entering the court, and knew of the assaults. “He just postponed the appeal session to April 5.”

– aina

Second church in central Nigerian city bombed in two weeks *Crackdown on church leaders and Christian activists in Cuba

March 20, 2012 by  
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Regina David DungNigeria, March 15, 2012: A second church in the central Nigerian city of Jos has been hit in a suicide bombing in the space of two weeks; at least ten people were killed in the blast and violent aftermath.

The attack at St Finbarr’s Church happened on Sunday (11 March) at around 10.40am, ten minutes into the second service of the morning. It comes just two weeks after four people were killed in a suicide bombing at the Church of Christ (COCIN) headquarters in Jos, Plateau State, on Sunday 26 February.

The bomb, which was in a car, was detonated just outside the gate of St Finbarr’s after the vehicle was prevented from driving into the church premises. The blast shook the building and caused the ceiling to fall in and the glass to shatter. Three women, one of whom was pregnant, were among those killed. Surrounding buildings were also damaged.

The Anglican Archbishop of Jos, the Rt Rev Benjamin Kwashi, said:

It is worrying that two bombs have gone off within the space of two weeks, and many are fearing a third. Most importantly, a palpable terror is being unleashed on Christians so that Sunday is transformed from a day of worship into a day of fear. We are appealing to the church worldwide to pray without ceasing, and to members of the international community to speak up and take action on our behalf so that we are able to enjoy full religious freedom and worship God freely and without fear.

Two men, one dressed in female clothing, approached the gate of St Finbarr’s in a car. A guard at the gate said he needed to check inside the vehicle’s boot, but they refused to open it and detonated the explosives there.

In the aftermath of the blast, there were clashes involving the security forces and youths, which left at least three more people dead.

And late on Sunday, gunmen ambushed Christians in Chugwi village, south of Jos, killing three and injuring another three. The victims included two brothers, aged 25 and 30. The attackers took their victims’ mobile phones and called the deceased’s relatives to claim responsibility for the murders.

Three other people at the nearby hamlet of Dogo Garba were injured by the same gunmen. The shootings are not thought to be linked to the church blast.

Plateau State is in Nigeria’s Middle Belt, between the Muslim-majority North and mainly Christian South. Christians and churches have frequently come under attack in Jos, the state capital.

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan condemned Sunday’s bombing and restated his government’s commitment “to end the spate of mindless attacks and killings”. He claimed that the authorities were “winning the war against the terrorists” but the unrelenting campaign of violence by militant Islamist group Boko Haram and the apparent inability of the security forces to prevent their attacks suggest otherwise.

Boko Haram has not claimed responsibility for this latest church bombing, but it comes just a week after a spokesman for the group declared “war” on Christians in Nigeria and said that they were planning coordinated attacks to “eradicate Christians from certain parts of the country”.

– barnabas team

Crackdown on church leaders and Christian activists in Cuba


San Lazaro ChurchCuba, March 14, 2012: Pastors have been arrested, beaten, fined and threatened, and Christian human rights’ activists physically blocked from attending church, in a crackdown by the Cuban authorities.

One church leader, Reutilio Columbie (41), from Moa, suffered brain damage in a brutal assault. It is thought that he was targeted because he challenged the confiscation by the authorities of a vehicle the church had bought five years ago to transport its members.

His family started receiving threatening phone calls after Reutilio initiated a complaints procedure. Then, when he left his home on 6 February with the intention of filing the papers, he was attacked; Reutilio was found unconscious on the street a few hours later; the documents were missing. He cannot remember anything about the incident and is still struggling with speech and memory. 

In another incident, on 25 February, four church leaders were detained in Bayamo, Granma Province, while they were sharing the Gospel with people at the local bus station. State security agents beat one of them, Juan Moreno, so severely that he required hospital treatment. The other three were released after being held for a few hours.

Elsewhere, in Alamar, Havana, a pastor has been repeatedly fined huge sums since December because his church building is not registered. He and his family are now in great financial difficulty and facing the prospect of the church being forcibly closed.

Another church leader in Havana, Francisco Rodriguez, has faced harassment and threats of physical violence from the authorities in recent weeks. It is thought that the church’s outreach to people on the margins of society, including the homeless and juvenile delinquents, has brought him to the attention of the authorities.

Activists targeted
The authorities have also been clamping down on Christian human rights’ activists. On 4 March, Caridad Caballero Batista and her husband Esteban Sade Suarez were detained by police while on their way to church. They were mistreated and held in a poorly ventilated mosquito-infested cell for three hours.

The couple, along with their 19-year-old son, have been blocked from attending Christian activities since the beginning of the year. Every Sunday, their home has been surrounded by police and state security agents to stop them from going to church. At other times, they have been followed to Christian meetings and prevented physically, sometimes violently, from attending.

Other Christian human rights’ activists have also been arrested or blocked from attending church services.

Cuba’s Marxist authorities try to limit the churches’ growth and activities as much as possible.

In a film released on the internet last year, the top Cuban official in charge of religious affairs, Caridad Diego Bello said, regarding the government’s crackdown on one Christian group:

We are taking measures and will continue to take measures, the hands of our authorities will not waver.

Despite the authorities’ best efforts, the church in Cuba is growing. Some new Christian groups are meeting in overcrowded houses because they are barred from building new churches.

The authorities subject churches to intimidation and restrictions, while church leaders have been imprisoned in dreadful conditions, sometimes enduring periods of solitary confinement.

– barnabas team

Pastor of torched Egyptian church jailed over building’s height *Christian families from two Lao villages threatened with eviction

March 16, 2012 by  
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Egyptian churchEgypt, March 13, 2012: The pastor of an Egyptian church that was torched by Muslims – prompting a Christian protest that was brutally crushed by the military – has been jailed over the building’s excess height.

Makarios Bolous was sentenced to six months in prison and fined 300 Egyptian pounds for violations regarding the height of St George’s Church in the village of Elmarinab, Aswan province.

The century-old building was torched by a Muslim mob on 30 September 2011. It was under renovation at the time, and permission for the work had been granted by the governor of Aswan.

Local Muslims took objection, and after making demands that the building be stripped of any sign of its being a church, they turned violent. Attackers demolished the dome, walls and columns before torching the building.

Thousands of Christians took to the streets of Cairo in protest, and on 9 October they came under brutal attack by the security forces, Islamists and thugs. In what was described as the worst violence in Egypt since the fall of President Hosni Mubarak, military vehicles charged at Christians who were demonstrating near the state TV building in Maspero Square; the protestors were also shot at, beaten and dragged through the streets. At least 25 people were killed and hundreds were injured.

Following an international outcry over the incident, Field Marshall Tantawi, head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, gave orders to the governor of Aswan that St George’s be rebuilt at the expense of the government. Nothing has yet been done.

One church leader said:

We are not allowed to pray there or come near it by order of the authorities.

Construction workers had started removing the excess height before the building was torched. At Mr Bolous’ court hearing, the church lawyer presented documents showing that the architect and building contractor – not the pastor – had responsibility for this work, but this was not taken into consideration. St George’s will appeal against the ruling.

Mr Bolous has also been prevented from going into the village by the local Muslims.

The attack on St George’s was one of an increasing number of violent anti-Christian incidents in Egypt since the revolution. Now that Islamist parties hold the majority of the seats in the new parliament, Christians are fearful that their vulnerable position in Egyptian society will only worsen.

– barnabas team

Christian families from two Lao villages threatened with eviction


Laos Rice FieldsLaos, March 13, 2012: Christian families from two villages in the same Lao province have been ordered to renounce their faith or face expulsion.

One of the groups – ten families, around 65 people, from Hueygong village, Pakoo district, Luangprabang province – has been given a deadline of 18 March to either recant or leave their homes. Eight of the families became Christians just three months ago.

Local authorities issued the expulsion order on 18 February. Prior to this, Pakoo district officials had demanded information about the number of churches and believers in the area and said that people had to seek permission from the authorities to be Christians. The Pakoo district government has refused to recognise the presence of Christians in its territory, despite the fact that there are eight churches there now.

The head of religious affairs of Luangprabang province has however intervened on behalf of the Hueygong Christians. He has told district officials that the expulsion order is illegal and should be reversed. If it is not, he will take the matter to higher authorities.

The other group of Christians who are facing eviction in Luangprabang province live in Hueysell village, Ngoi district. Two Christian leaders were summoned to the village government headquarters in mid-January and given the verbal order that the Christian residents must renounce their faith or face being ejected. The 14 Christian families, over 80 individuals, have stood firm, and so far the village authorities have not carried out their expulsion threat.

Christians elsewhere in Laos have faced similar harassment. In December 2011, all 47 Christians in Natoo village, Palansai district, Savannakhet province, were told that they must give up their faith in Christ and cease all Sunday worship meetings or leave.

Threats of this nature have been carried out. Christian families were driven out of Katin village, Ta-Oyl district, Saravan Province, at gunpoint in January 2010. They were told that they could return only if they abandoned their Christian beliefs.

Although the Lao constitution and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which the country is a signatory grants freedom of religion, in practice the authorities continue to harass, evict and arrest Christians. The Communist regime is deeply suspicious of Christianity, which they regard as a Western import.

– barnabas team

Cross to bear? UK denies Christians right to wear crucifix *M.Brotherhood consolidates power;Presidency next?

March 14, 2012 by  
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UK denies Christians right to wear crucifixUnited Kingdom, March 11, 2012: The British government asserts that Christians have no right to wear a cross or crucifix at work and is eager to prove it in court.

The case was initiated by two British women Nadia Eweida and Shirley Chaplin, after they were punished for refusing to take off their religious symbols.

Nadia Ewedia is a British Airways employee, who was asked to cover her cross while at work, and was placed on unpaid leave when she refused to do so. Shirley Chaplin is a nurse moved to a desk position after she refused to remove a crucifix.

The women claim they were discriminated against when their employers barred them from wearing a cross and crucifix respectively.

The government position is that wearing the cross is not a “requirement of the faith” and therefore employers can ban the wearing of the cross at work.

The case has been taken to the European Court of Human Rights, which is to decide on whether the right to wear a cross is protected under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Article 9 states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.”

Eweida and Chaplin claim banning the cross and crucifix at work violates their human right to manifest their religion.

But the authorities insist that since wearing the cross is not a “requirement of the faith” it does not fall under the remit of Article 9.

Lawyers for the two women say “manifesting” religion includes doing things that are not a “requirement of the faith”, and that they are therefore protected by human rights.

The case has stirred up British society. The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, accused authorities of “dictating” to Christians, saying it was another example of Christianity becoming sidelined.

Many say the government’s position in this case is largely shaped by the British Roman Catholic Church’s attacks on the government’s plan to legalize same-sex marriage.

The plans were announced by conservatives during the parliamentary elections of 2010.

The country’s PM David Cameron himself spoke in favor of ending the ban on same-sex marriage at the Conservative Party Conference in October 2011. People should embrace same-sex marriage because of their conservatism and their commitment to family values and not in spite of it, Cameron said.

– rt.com

M. Brotherhood consolidates power; Presidency next?


Egyptian parliamentEgypt, March 12, 2012: The Muslim Brotherhood further solidified its power last week by securing the position of speaker in Egypt’s upper house of parliament. The appointment consolidates the Brotherhood’s control over the country’s legislature leading up to presidential elections in May. Already the dominate player in Egypt’s political landscape, liberals fear that the Brotherhood may now be emboldened to field a contender for the presidency despite the Brotherhood’s previous assurances to not back a candidate.

Until now, the Brotherhood has carefully campaigned as a pragmatic political party by concentrating on economic and political reform and by vowing to protect the freedoms of all Egyptians, including minorities. Amr Darrag, the head of the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) in Giza, told The Media Line, “Christians were part of the revolution and they deserve equal status under the law and the future Egyptian democratic process… We do not differentiate between Christians and Muslims, we are all Egyptians.” By directing public attention to issues such as land ownership reform and free elections, the Brotherhood has strived to portray itself as an entity with primarily political rather than theocratic goals.

On February 28, Ahmed Fahmy, of the FJP, was elected speaker by members of the Shura Council during the chamber’s inaugural session. The appointment follows the selection of FJP Secretary General Mohamed Saad al-Katatni as the speaker of the lower house of parliament, or the People’s Assembly, on January 23, which secures the Brotherhood’s control over both houses of the legislature. The Brotherhood holds 47 percent of the 508-seat People’s Assembly and 59 percent of the Shura Council’s 180 elected seats. An additional 90 lawmakers are expected to be appointed to the Shura Council by either the ruling generals or the next president.

The Brotherhood again announced that it will not contend in the next round of elections, this time for the presidency, on May 23. “The Muslim Brotherhood will not support Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh or any candidate,” said Muhammed al-Badi, the leader of the Brotherhood, in reference to former Brotherhood member Abul Fotouh who is now running as an independent. However, Badie was clear that the Brotherhood wants a president with an “Islamic background.”

Although the Brotherhood is not officially backing Abul Fotouh, Barry Rubin, the director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, believes that the candidate will have the Brotherhood’s support nonetheless: “This is misdirection. The Brotherhood’s influential spiritual advisor Yusuf al-Qaradawi is supporting Abul-Fotouh. And guess what? The Brotherhood is going to support Abul-Fotouh ‘unofficially.’ How? Simple: through the ‘independent’ Justice and Development Party supporting an ‘independent’ presidential candidate.”

“It’s clear now the Brotherhood are willing to throw their weight into the ring… to support someone who is in line with Islamic values and is sympathetic to Islamic law,” Shadi Hamid, a research director at the Brookings Doha Center, told Reuters. “That will have major implications for the race.”

Widespread support for the Brotherhood in parliamentary elections indicates that voters will also likely support the campaign of a former member of the Brotherhood, whether or not he has the Brotherhood’s official endorsement.

“[Abul Fotouh] is one of the great people that the Brotherhood youth look up to and consider as a role model,” Mohammed Qassas, a Brotherhood youth leader, told The Wall Street Journal. “He’s a distinguished person, he represents moderate Islamism and he’s got a good chance to compete.”

Meanwhile, Salafis – who follow the strict Wahhabi doctrine of Islam – will probably have their own candidate, raising the probability that Egypt will elect an Islamist president.

In parliamentary elections, the Salafist al-Nour Party gained widespread support, winning 23 percent of the seats in the People’s Assembly and 25 percent of the elected seats in the Shura Council, making it the second largest party in the legislature. Between the Salafis, the Brotherhood, and other Islamist parties, Islamists hold more than 70 percent of seats in the People’s Assembly and 80 percent of seats in the Shura Council.

The Salafis’ success was the election’s greatest surprise and raises concerns among secularists that the group’s radical interpretation of Islam will be imposed over the whole of Egyptian society. Following Egypt’s uprising in January 2011, Salafis called the appointment of a Christian governor in Upper Egypt ‘anti-Islamic’ and successfully had him removed from the post, protested the killing of Osama bin Laden, and attacked churches, Sufi shrines and mosques, liquor stores, and other institutions or businesses they deemed contrary to Wahhabi doctrine.

Constitutional Assembly

On March 3, the two houses of parliament began preparations for a 100-member panel to draft a new constitution. The constitution, which will be put to a referendum before the presidential election, could drastically alter Egypt’s government and determine the role of Islam in policymaking. The constitutional assembly will be selected by parliament on March 24.

Many secularists and Christians fear that an Islamist majority parliament will use its power to base the constitution on Islamic Sharia law. While liberals prefer a panel of outside experts and activists to draft the constitution, the Islamist-controlled parliament wants a dominant voice in the process.

“We should not come under pressure and waste the right of the majority by falling in the trap of giving the minority the right to write the constitution,” warned Salafist al-Nour party representative, Mustafa Khalifa, who advocates that Islamist parliamentarians should have the greatest voice in writing the constitution.

Salafis have further stated that Islam should be the sole source of legislation and that Christians and women should not be allowed to run for president. Other recent indicators, including charges filed against minorities and secularists for “defaming Islam”, have evidenced this commitment of the Salafis.

Blasphemy Trials

On January 9, Christian telecom mogul Naguib Sawiris, who founded the Free Egyptians political party, was charged for “blasphemy and insulting Islam” when he reposted a cartoon of a bearded Mickey Mouse and a veiled Minnie Mouse on Twitter. Among the group of Islamist lawyers who filed the lawsuit against Sawiris was Mamdouh Ismail, a former member of Islamic Jihad who has been known to represent accused terrorists and was himself arrested for complicity with al-Qaeda in 2007.

The Brotherhood quickly backed Ismail’s lawsuit while Salafis led a nationwide campaign to boycott products and services offered by Sawiris’ companies. Many secularists believed Islamists rallied the nationwide outcry to discredit Sawiris and his secular Free Egyptians Party.

Although an Egyptian court dismissed the second of two cases filed against Sawiris on March 3, other cases remain pending, including charges filed against Adel Imam, Egypt’s leading comic actor, in early-February. Imam appealed a sentence of three months in jail for “defaming Islam” by an Egyptian court for a role he played in a 2007 film. The cases represent only a few of many charges that were filed by Islamist lawyers in recent months to punish individuals for offending Islam and demonstrate that Islamists are using newly gained political powers to stifle freedom of expression.

“In both cases, [Sawiris and Imam] didn’t do anything against ‘Islam’ but merely made fun of Islamists,” commented Barry Rubin. “The battle, of course, is being waged by Islamists who want their interpretation of the religion to be declared as the only acceptable version. Westerners don’t understand that when that happens anything more moderate or flexibly traditional hence becomes illegal and punishable. The Islamist counter-Bill of Rights proclaims that the country’s people have no freedom of speech or freedom of religion, no right to free assembly or of the press.”

Secularists’ Response

The blasphemy trials and other acts of discrimination against minorities have led secularists and Coptic Christians to denounce the Brotherhood’s success in the parliamentary elections which, many claim, did not adequately represent the voice of the Egyptian people. In the latest significant gathering of protestors in Cairo’s Tahrir Square in early February, which marked the one year anniversary of President Hosni Mubarak’s ouster from power, demonstrators condemned both the military’s rule and the Brotherhood’s significant political gains.

“Protestors were shouting, ‘No military council and no Brotherhood. This is our revolution, the youth’s revolution,’” Coptic activist Wagih Yacoub told International Christian Concern. “The Brotherhood is more concerned with their movement than the benefit of the country.”

“I dream that one day all the Egyptian people will demonstrate against the Brotherhood,” said activist Mary Ibrahim Daniel, whose brother Mina Daniel was killed during protests on October 9. “I was surprised to see so many people, including Muslims, protesting against them outside the House of Parliament… The Brotherhood is hijacking the ideals and motives behind the revolution.”

Nonetheless, it is unlikely that secular activists can muster enough strength to gain widespread support when some two-thirds of Egyptian Muslims voted for Islamist parties in parliamentary elections. Whether liberals like it or not, thus far the leading candidates for the presidency are Islamists. Moreover, to run for president requires the endorsement of 30 parliamentarians. Only four parties have that many – the Brotherhood, the Salafis, the Wafd, and the liberal Egyptian Bloc (Free Egyptians Party). Undoubtedly, there will be few, if any, charges in the slate of presidential candidates before registration to run for president ends on April 8.

The question now is which candidate, if any, the Brotherhood will put its weight behind. It could “unofficially” endorse Abul Fotouh or choose to back another frontrunner without a party, like the nationalist Amr Moussa, who is a former foreign minister and Arab League head. It appears that the Brotherhood’s support will dictate the election’s outcome.

The Brotherhood’s consolidation of power over Egypt’s two houses of parliament and its potential influence in the presidential elections has become a frightening reality for the country’s liberals and minorities. While the Brotherhood shares many of the Salafis’ fundamental beliefs, it does not wish to alarm moderates or Western allies and so has directed its public activities toward economic and political reform. Yet, many Egyptians worried about personal freedoms remain unconvinced. The Brotherhood’s official slogan has long been “Islam is the Solution” and few liberals are persuaded that the group’s sudden rise to political stardom will alter its fundamental Islamic agenda.

“There are genuine fears because the heads of the Brotherhood now and the Salafis who got into parliament, none of them – neither their organizations nor their ideas – reflect that they are people who live in this day and age and understand how a nation can progress,” Gamal al-Banna, the more moderate brother of the Brotherhood’s founder Hassan al-Banna, told Reuters.

“Any nation founded on religion must fail… [Egypt’s revolution] was a popular uprising that succeeded in destroying a system, but not in building a new one,” al-Banna concluded. We will soon see whether the rule of Mubarak will be replaced with the tyranny of Sharia law.

– icc

Christian jailed for six years in Egypt for “Insulting” Muhammad

March 10, 2012 by  
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bars_egyptEgypt, March 07, 2012: A Christian man has been sentenced to six years in prison for “insulting” Muhammad following a dispute with a Muslim colleague in Egypt.

Makram Diab, a school secretary, was given double the maximum sentence for Defamation of Religion, prompting accusations that the judge acted to appease Muslim groups at the court in Assiut. An angry 2,500-strong mob gathered outside, demanding the death penalty for the defendant. Some were reportedly carrying knives; they were blocked by police from breaking into the court.

There have been complaints about the court proceedings. Diab’s Muslim lawyer, Ahmad Sayed Gabali, said that he had never experienced anything like it in his 18 years of practice. He said:

Over 80 Islamist lawyers representing civil rights claimants filled the court, locked the door of the court from the inside, not allowing the judge out, and prevented me as the defence lawyer from going inside the court and defending my client.

Diab was accused on 23 February of insulting Muhammad, almost two weeks after a heated discussion with a Salafi teacher at the school where they worked. The complaint was made by another teacher, who was not present during the dispute, and signed by another 11 teachers. Muslim staff at the school went on strike until Diab was arrested and prosecuted.

According to the official court version, Diab allegedly said that Muhammad had sexually harassed his disciples, but the defendant’s sister said that he had simply asked the Muslim teacher whether it was true that Muhammad had married 40 wives.

Defamation of Religion is considered a misdemeanour under Egyptian law, punishable by a prison sentence of one month to three years.

An appeal has been lodged on Diab’s behalf and will be heard on 15 March. He is being held in the high security section of the Assuit prison.

Case thrown out

In another high profile religious defamation case, two lawsuits brought by Islamists against the Christian businessman and liberal political leader Naguib Sawaris have been thrown out of court.

Mr Sawaris was charged with “blasphemy and insulting Islam” for an image he tweeted last June depicting Mickey and Minnie Mouse in an Islamic guise, with a long beard and face veil respectively.

Both lawsuits filed against him were rejected – one on 3 March, the other on 28 February – on the grounds that the plaintiffs were not eligible to bring the case.

The tweet sparked a Muslim backlash against telecommunications executive Mr Sawaris with conservative groups calling for boycotts of his companies. Mobinil, in which he is a major shareholder, reportedly lost around 300,000 customers in what has been dubbed locally as the “Mickey row”.

Mr Sawiris, co-founder and leader of the secular liberal Free Egyptians party, has spoken out against the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in the country.

The filing of recent blasphemy cases by Salafi lawyers has sparked alarm among liberals who are concerned about the threat to freedom of speech in the new Egyptian order.

– barnabas team

Vatican: 70% of the world live in high persecution areas

March 8, 2012 by  
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Global Restrictions on Religion

Global Restrictions on Religion

Vatican City, March 06, 2012: “Terrorist attacks on Christians in Africa, the Middle East and Asia increased 309 per cent between 2003 and 2010. Approximately 70 per cent of the world’s population lives in countries with high restrictions on religious beliefs and practices, and religious minorities pay the highest price”. These words were pronounced on 1 March by Archbishop Silvano M. Tomasi C.S., permanent observer of the Holy See to the United Nations at Geneva, during the course of the nineteenth ordinary session of the Human Rights Council.

Speaking English, Archbishop Tomasi recalled how, “in general, rising restrictions on religion affect more than 2.2 billion people. Those affected have either lost the protection of their societies or have experienced some government-imposed and unjust restrictions, or have become victims of violence resulting from an impulsive bigotry”.

Among the causes of this phenomenon, the archbishop mentioned “the evolving political situation, wrong perceptions of the role of religion, expediency, and subtle ambiguities in the understanding of secularism”. In the current situation, it is vital for the international community “to assure the protection of people in their exercise of freedom of religion and religious practice”.

In this context, the Holy See observer noted that States must guarantee all their citizens the right to religious freedom, at both the individual and community level. Freedom of religion is not a derived or granted right, “but a fundamental and inalienable right of the human person. … The task of government is not to define religion, … but to confer upon faith communities a juridical personality so that they can function peacefully within a legal framework.

“Respect for the religious freedom of everyone may be at stake in places where the concept of “State religion” is recognised, especially when the latter becomes the source of unjust treatment of others, whether they believe in other faiths or have none”.

The archbishop went on: “Above the institutional considerations, the critical problem facing the promotion and protection of human rights in the area of religious freedom is the intolerance that leads to violence and to the killing of many innocent people each year simply because of their religious convictions. The realistic and collective responsibility, therefore, is to sustain mutual tolerance and respect of human rights and a greater equality among citizens of different religions in order to achieve a healthy democracy where the public role of religion and the distinction between religious and temporal spheres are recognised. … But to achieve this desirable goal, there is a need to overcome a culture that devalues the human person and is intent on eliminating religion from public life”.

“Religions are not a threat, but a resource”, he said. “They contribute to the development of civilisations, and this is good for everyone. Their freedom and activities should be protected so that the partnership between religious beliefs and societies may enhance the common good. … The educational system and the media have a major role to play by excluding prejudice and hatred from textbooks, from newscasts and from newspapers, and by disseminating accurate and fair information on all component groups of society.

“But lack of education and information, that facilitates an easier manipulation of people for political advantages, is too often linked to underdevelopment, poverty, lack of access to effective participation in the management of society. Greater social justice provides fertile ground for the implementation of all human rights. Religions are communities based on convictions and their freedom guarantees a contribution of moral values without which the freedom of everyone is not possible. For this reason”, Archbishop Tomasi concluded, “it becomes an urgent and beneficial responsibility of the international community to counteract the trend of increasing violence against religious groups and of mistaken and deceptive neutrality that in fact aims at neutralising religion”.

– vatican info

Dissident says faith drives his fight for Cuba

March 3, 2012 by  
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Cuban dissident Jose Daniel FerrerCuba, February 29, 2012: Cuban dissident Jose Daniel Ferrer said his commitment to fight for freedom in the country is inspired by the Gospels and the Catholic Church.

“I have always believed we should be in the place God wanted us to be and that we should contribute as committed Christians,” said Ferrer, who serves as coordinator of the Patriotic Union of Cuba.

The activist was recently detained by state police for political dissent in eastern Cuba and was released on Feb. 28.

“What I see in the Gospels is that we cannot remain indifferent to the land where we live, to the nation where we were born, that we should do everything possible so that freedom and the fundamental rights of the person are respected,” he told CNA.

Ferrer was among the 75 dissidents jailed by the Castro government in what’s known as the Black Spring of 2003.

He was condemned to 25 years in prison and was released in 2011 thanks to the Church’s intervention.  However, he refused to be expatriated to Spain and now leads the Patriotic Union of Cuba, which seeks a peaceful transition to democracy for the country.

Ferrer explained that his political ideas “are in large measure based on the Gospels and the Social Doctrine of the Church,” and that he fully shares John Paul II’s vision – outlined in his encyclical Centesimus Annus – on the need for nations to be governed by democratic systems and by the authentic rule of law.

He criticized the Communist regime of the Castro brothers for violating the rights and freedoms of Cubans, as well as those who do nothing to change the country and “stand on the sidelines” waiting for others to make sacrifices.

“I think that is a somewhat non-committal, if not almost cowardly attitude,” he said. “Every lay Catholic, every Christian should make a commitment to ensure a legal framework exists in every nation that allows all people to defend their ideas, not only religious ones, not only their faith in God, but also their political and cultural ideas, in every area, in the freest way possible.”

Cubans ought to have the freedom to choose from more than just the one Communist party that exists in the country, Ferrer added, noting that Communism goes against Christianity in its tendency towards totalitarianism.

“This is the reason or my desire and my commitment for change in Cuba,” he said.

On the state of Cuba after John Paul II’s visit in 1998, Ferrer said that although few things have changed, any positive advancements are due to the “sacrifice of heroic men and women, with courage and faith like that of the early Christians.”

“The rights and fundamental freedoms of Cubans continue to be violated,” he said. “There have been very few social, economic and cultural rights, if any.”

He said John Paul II was very clear and precise in his messages to Cuba, which Cubans have yet to fully embrace. “We cannot ask the Pope to do our job for us,” he said.

Ferrer’s remarks to CNA come just weeks before Pope Benedict’s heavily anticipated trip to the country  from March 25-28.

– can

Sharia law to govern Tunisia under Draft Constitution

March 2, 2012 by  
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shariah_law_tunisiaTunisia, February 29, 2012: Post-revolution Tunisia is moving in an increasingly Islamist direction with a draft constitution that denotes sharia as “the principal source of legislation”.

Popular List, a party in coalition with the main Islamist party Ennahda, which took the largest share of the vote in the elections for the national constituent assembly in October, has been tasked with drawing up the country’s new constitution. On 20 February, it announced that in its draft, Islam is called “the principal source of legislation”.

Shortly after Ennahda’s election victory, in an apparent attempt to reassure secularists, leader Rachid Ghannouchi said that the first article of the constitution should remain unchanged.

It says, “Tunisia is a free State, independent and sovereign; its religion is Islam, its language is Arabic, and its form is the Republic.”

Ghannouchi said in November that the reference to Islam was “just a description of reality… without any legal implications. There will be no other references to religion in the constitution.”

Popular List founder Hachmi Hamdi said that the draft was more Islamic than expected because “the public that voted for us is a conservative public that wants sharia as the principal source of the constitution”.

The draft says:

Using Islamic sharia as a principal source of legislation will guarantee freedom, justice, social equality, consultation, human rights and the dignity of all its people, men and women.

The tenets of sharia are however incompatible with Western understanding of many of these concepts, as evidenced in other countries, such as Iran, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan, that are based on Islamic principles.

Democratic Rights Denied

Key human rights, such as freedom of speech, are already under threat as Tunisia comes under increasing Islamist influence.

The broadcast of the French-Iranian film Persepolis, which features a cartoon depiction of God, sparked outrage; a mob of Islamists petrol-bombed the TV channel owner Nabil Karoui’s house. He is now on trial for blasphemy, having been accused of “violating sacred values” and “disturbing public order” in lawsuits filed by almost 140 lawyers. Mr Karoui is facing three to five years in prison if convicted.

Human Rights Watch called the trial “a disturbing turn for the nascent Tunisian democracy”, but Ghannouchi said that he supported Tunisians’ right “to denounce this attack on their religion.”

The direction in which Ennahda is leading Tunisia is not Islamic enough for the growing number of hard-line Salafists in the country. According to research by the French-based North African media outlet, Le Courrier de l’Atlas, there are an estimated 100,000 Salafist activists and sympathisers in Tunisia. They are targeting mosques and Quranic schools, and using various media, in an effort to increase support for their extremist agenda.

On 17 February, hundreds of Salafists rallied in Tunis, calling for Islamic law and shouting “Allahu Akbar” (“god is great”).

It appears that Western hopes that the revolution would lead to the establishment of a secular democracy in Tunisia are looking increasingly wishful.

– barnabas team

Islamists Solidify Control over Egypt *Pope uses Twitter…Lent

March 1, 2012 by  
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mideast-egypt-parliamentEgypt, February 29, 2012: International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that an Islamist was elected speaker of Egypt’s upper house of parliament on Tuesday, consolidating the Muslim Brotherhood’s control of the country’s legislature and raising fears among Christians and secularists that new laws heavily influenced by Sharia may soon be enacted.

Ahmed Fahmy, of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), was appointed speaker of the Shura Council during the chamber’s inaugural session on February 28. The appointment follows the selection of FJP Secretary General Mohamed Saad al-Katatni as the speaker of the lower house of parliament, or the People’s Assembly, on January 23, solidifying the Muslim Brotherhood’s control over both legislative bodies.

The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s most powerful Islamic organization, holds 47 percent of the 508-seat People’s Assembly and 59 percent of the Shura Council’s 180 elected seats. The Salafist al-Nour Party, which follows the strict Wahhabi doctrine of Islam, also made strong showings in elections for both chambers, holding 23 percent of the seats in the People’s Assembly and 25 percent of the elected seats in the Shura Council. An additional 90 lawmakers are expected to be appointed to the Shura Council by either the ruling generals or the next president.

Many Coptic Christians and liberals accuse the Muslim Brotherhood of participating in fraudulent elections and using social programs and religion to secure votes. “The Brotherhood had booths in front of polling stations telling people, many who are illiterate, how to vote and who to vote for,” said activist Mary Ibrahim Daniel, whose brother Mina Daniel was killed by the military during protests on October 9. “They are also very well funded and have lots of money to help the poor. If someone is hungry and you give them a loaf of bread, they could care less about politics. What they care about is feeding their children. I don’t think the elections [adequately] represented the voice of the Egyptian people.”

“The political debate focused largely on religion and not on the issues of social justice that we wanted to get across to the electorate,” Khaled El-Sayed, of the Socialist Popular Alliance, told Ahram Online. “And neither the liberals nor the Islamists will be concerned with social justice when sitting in parliament or when drawing up a new constitution.”

The two houses are due to hold a joint session later this week to select a 100-member panel to draft a new constitution that will be put to a referendum before the presidential election scheduled for June. Many Christians and secularists fear that an Islamist majority parliament will use its power to base the constitution on Sharia law, which will greatly restrict the rights of non-Muslims.

Aidan Clay, ICC Regional Manager for the Middle East, said, “There is grave concern that Egypt’s Islamist-led chambers of parliament will center the new constitution on Islamic law that will prove detrimental to the country’s minorities and liberals. Since Egypt’s uprising a year ago, Salafis – who hold about one-fourth of the seats in each house of parliament – called the appointment of a Christian governor in Upper Egypt ‘anti-Islamic’, protested the killing of Osama bin Laden, and attacked churches, Sufi shrines and mosques, liquor stores, and other institutions or businesses they deem contrary to Islam. Will the Muslim Brotherhood, who has the largest voice in parliament, continue to appear moderate or join Salafis by voting in favor of Sharia? Egypt’s Christians hope and pray for freedom and equality, but fear the worst is yet to come.”

– icc

Pope uses Twitter to send Lenten messages


pope-uses-twitterVatican City, February 29, 2012: The account is managed by the Pontifical Council for Social Communications.

Pope Benedict XVI is using his Twitter account to spread the Good Word during this Lent season.

For the next 40 days, the pope will be sharing messages in various languages, including English, Spanish and German, through the Twitter account @Pope2YouVatican.

The account is managed by the Pontifical Council for Social Communications.

It is using the Twitter handle in the pope’s name to spread themes from the 2012 Lenten message, speeches and documents.

The account has been in use since before Ash Wednesday this year, featuring messages and photos that date back into last year.

The Pope has been experimenting with technology and social media since he sent his first tweet in June 2011.

In December, the pontiff lit the world’s biggest Christmas tree with an Android-powered Sony tablet computer

– huffingtonpost

Suicide bomber strikes Nigerian church during service; three killed *Lent: Prayer, Penance and Charity to renew our relationship with God

February 29, 2012 by  
Filed under newsletter-lead, Nigeria, Persecution, World

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Church of Christ in Nigeria AttacksNigeria, February 28, 2012: A suicide bomber forced his way into the grounds of a major Nigerian church, killing three people plus himself during a service on Sunday morning.

He drove a Volkswagen Audi car packed with explosives into the compound of the Church of Christ (COCIN) headquarters in Jos at 7.20am on Sunday 26 February. The vehicle sped past a security checkpoint and exploded three metres from the church building.

Two women and an 18-month-old child were killed, and around 50 people were injured in the blast. One of the women had recently fled the anti-Christian violence in Yobe state.

The church and surrounding buildings were damaged, and the windows of around 30 cars parked in the compound were shattered.

The attack took place about 15 minutes into the first of the three services of the day. Around 3,000 worshippers attend services at the Church of Christ headquarters.

One church member, who was planning to attend the second service, said: “It makes me feel tense… we don’t know to which extent this will go until it is controlled.”

Militant Islamist group Boko Haram, which has been behind numerous attacks on Christians in Nigeria, has claimed responsibility for the blast.

Prior to the incident, a list of potential Boko Haram targets in Jos, which included the COCIN headquarters, had reportedly been found.

Elderly Christian’s Throat Slit

Elsewhere in Nigeria, an elderly Christian woman was murdered, with a threatening note – believed to be directed at her son, a pastor – left on her chest.

Shetu Haruna Malgwi (79) was attacked in the north-eastern city of Maiduguri on Wednesday 22 February. The assailants slit her throat, then wrote a note in Arabic with red pen that said, “We will get you soon,” and placed it on her chest. A Bible had been left under the church choir member’s feet.

Boko Haram has been blamed for Mrs Malgwi’s murder.

Church Bomb Blast

On the previous Sunday, 19 February, five people were wounded when a bomb planted near an abandoned car exploded outside a church in Suleja, near the capital Abuja, during a service.

Security guards at the church had noticed something suspicious by the car before the service began and had prompted the pastor to get everyone inside.

Boko Haram is suspected of being behind the bombing. The group, which wants to establish an Islamic state in Northern Nigeria, issued on New Year’s Day a three day ultimatum for Christians to leave the North.

Since that deadline expired, numerous churches have been targeted and many Christians have been shot dead.

Boko Haram has also struck at the security forces and at mosques deemed “insufficiently Islamic”. The group is believed to have killed over 300 people so far this year.

– barnabas team

Lent: Prayer, Penance and Charity to renew our relationship with God


Pope - LentVatican City, February 26, 2012: In his reflections before praying the Angelus this morning with faithful gathered in St. Peter’s Square, Benedict XVI commented on the Gospel reading from this Sunday’s liturgy, St. Mark’s narrative of the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness.

“The Lord chose to undergo the attack of the tempter so as to defend us with His help and instruct us with His example”, said the Holy Father quoting a text written by St. Leo the Great. This episode teaches us that man is never free from temptation, but we can become stronger than any enemy “by following the Lord every day with patience and humility, learning to build our lives not without Him or as if He did not exist, but in Him and with Him, because He is the source of true life. The temptation to remove God, to regulate ourselves and the world counting only on our own abilities, has always been present in the history of man”, the Pope said.

In Christ, God addresses man “in an unexpected way, with a closeness that is unique, tangible and full of love. God became incarnate and entered man’s world in order to take sin upon Himself, to overcome evil and to bring man back into God’s world. But His announcement was accompanied by a request to respond to such a great gift. Indeed, Jesus said “repent, and believe in the good news’. This is an invitation to have faith in God and to convert every day of our lives to His will, orienting our every action and our every thought towards what is good. The period of Lent is a good time to renew and strengthen our relationship with God through daily prayer, acts of penance and works of fraternal charity”.

Following the Angelus the Pope greeted pilgrims in a number of different languages, asking them to pray for him as he and the Roman Curia retire for their Lenten spiritual exercises, which begin this evening.

– vis

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