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PAKISTAN: Taliban-linked threat in Pakistan: churches increase security

Taliban-linked threat in Pakistan: churches increase security

By John Pontifex

 

Aid to the Church in Need (03.09.2021)- https://bit.ly/3tzJVVh – Churches across Pakistan have stepped up security in response to the threat of terrorist attacks following the Taliban’s return to power in neighboring Afghanistan. At a meeting of Catholic and Protestant leaders, senior clergy agreed to tighten surveillance and beef up armed protection, especially at Sunday services. The move comes amid concerns that the Taliban’s take-over of Afghanistan will trigger extremist incidents aimed at Christian and other minority faith communities.

Pakistan human rights activist Sajid Christopher, chief executive of the Human Friends Organization, said there were fears raised that the Taliban-associated group Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and other militant organizations in Pakistan would capitalize on events in Afghanistan and target religious minorities including Christians.

Speaking to Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Mr. Christopher said: “When the Taliban were in power before, there were a lot of terrorist attacks in Pakistan. There were terrorist organizations attacking churches and other Christian institutes. They clearly became targets. Now that the Taliban are back, it will strengthen the TTP and other Islamist groups and so there could be attacks.”

 

Building on security protocols already in place, tightened protection measures include increased action to check the identity of people entering church compounds by car, metal detectors used as people go in for services, and a beefed-up armed presence at church entrances.

Mr. Christopher warned that the security outlook for more moderate Muslims was also of concern, saying: “Among peaceful and progressive [Muslim] communities there will also be fear but those with a militant mind-set are happy that the Taliban are back in power again.”

His comments come at a time of fear for the safety of what remains of Afghanistan’s Christian community, those unable to be part of last week’s mass evacuation of the most at-risk people, mainly non-indigenous groups.

Taliban fighters have allegedly gone house-to-house to track down Christians and other minorities and there were reports of people being ordered to hand over their phones with the threat of being killed on the spot if their devices were found to contain Bible verses or devotional material.

Former US international religious freedom ambassador Sam Brownback warned of genocide against Christians and other minorities in Afghanistan. He said: “It’s a deadly and catastrophic situation and could easily lead to genocide.”

 

Photo : churchinneed.org

 

Conference “Is suspension of Pakistan’s GSP+ status overdue?”

 

See on YouTube the conference organized by Human Rights Without Frontiers at the Press Club in Brussels on 9 September: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y9gj9vdx9Wo&t=36s

 

Moderator: Willy Fautré (HRWF)

Speakers:

  • Jan Figel, former EU Special Envoy on Freedom of Religion or Belief
  • Peter Van Dalen, MEP and co-chair of the EP Intergroup on Freedom of Religion or Belief
  • Andy Vermaut, Alliance internationale pour les droits et libertés
  • Akmal Bhatti, lawyer in Pakistan
  • Tabassum Yousaf, lawyer in Pakistan
  • Dr Shahid Mobeen, Professor of Philosophy Dr. Shahid Mobeen from the Pontifical Urban University in the Vatican City.
  • Hans Noot, chair of Noodt Foundation

Further reading about FORB in Pakistan on HRWF website





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NIGER: Aid to the Church in Need Annual Report on freedom of religion

Aid to the Church in Need Report on freedom of religion 2021

 

Legal framework on freedom of religion and actual application

Aid to the Church in Need (2021) – https://bit.ly/3ywjNMk  – The constitution of Niger’s “Seventh Republic”, promulgated on 25th November 2010,[1] guarantees, among other things, the separation of powers, decentralisation, a multi-party system, and protection of civil and human rights. 

 

According to the constitution, the Republic of Niger is a secular state. This provides for a clear separation of state and religion. Respect for all faiths is embodied in Article 8, which enshrines equality of all people before the law, regardless of religious identity.

Article 9 stipulates that “political parties with an ethnic, regionalist or religious character are prohibited. No party may be knowingly created with the purpose of promoting an ethnic group, a region or a religion.” Religious communities must register with the authorities.[2]

 

The National Assembly of Niger approved a law in June 2019, which reaffirmed the existing legislature on freedom of religion but granted the government the power to regulate and oversee the construction, financing, and use of places of worship and other religious facilities.[3]

 

The country’s president, prime minister and the speaker of the National Assembly must take a religious oath when they assume office. The oath varies according to the office holder’s religion. Conversion is permitted. Larger public events with the aim of proselytising are, however, prohibited for security reasons.[4]

 

Muslims represent the vast majority of the country’s population. There are, though, small Christian (Catholic and Protestant) communities. Religious instruction is not allowed in state-run schools. Schools with religious sponsors require the approval of the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Education.[5] The Office of Religious Affairs in Niger’s Ministry of the Interior is responsible for interreligious dialogue (full name is “Ministry of the Interior, Public Security, Decentralisation, and Traditional and Religious Affairs”).[6]

 

Incidents and developments

 

Because of its location in the heart of the Sahel region, Niger has become an important focal point for Islamist jihadist armed groups, who pose a serious threat of religious radicalisation. In a continued effort to counter the rapid growth of Wahhabism in the country, the government has sought to standardise Islamic practices through an Islamic forum of more than 50 national Islamic organisations.[7]

 

During the reporting period, the Muslim-Christian Interfaith Forum has continued to meet promoting interreligious dialogue and peace. However, some reports suggest a certain deterioration in relations between Christians and Muslims, largely because of increased social pressure from more conservative Islamic branches. One manifestation of interreligious tensions is the decreased acceptance of each other’s religious holidays.[8]

 

The Sahel, where Niger is located, has become one of the hotspots of international and regional jihadist terrorism, and has seen a rapid rise in militant Islamist groups, such as Boko Haram, al-Qaeda, and the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS), which have gained a foothold in the country.[9]

 

In September 2018, Fr. Pierluigi Maccalli, a Catholic missionary, was kidnapped from a parish church in Bomoanga, a village near the border with Burkina Faso, by armed militants from Boko Haram.[10] The Catholic mission had to close due to security concerns and the nuns and missionaries fled to Niamey.[11] The National Committee of Inter and Intra Religious Dialogue, which includes Muslim leaders, condemned the kidnapping and called for his release.[12] He was eventually freed in October 2020 in Mali.[13]

 

In November 2018, Boko Haram kidnapped 15 girls in the Diffa region in south-western Niger. Parliamentarians urged the government to take action and deploy the military in the area to protect the local population.[14]

 

On 13th May 2019, an unidentified group attacked the Catholic parish of Dolbel in the Diocese of Niamey, wounding the priest.[15] Three days later, ISGS militants conducted an ambush in Tongo Tongo, a village also in south-western Niger, killing 28 Nigerien soldiers.[16]

 

In June 2019, Boko Haram threatened Christians in Diffa telling them to leave the region within three days or they would be killed.[17] The next day, a group of demonstrators set a Protestant church on fire in Maradi, the third largest city in Niger, as a protest against the arrest of a prominent local imam.[18]

 

In October of 2019, suspected Islamist militants killed 25 soldiers and wounded six more in an attack against an army post in western Niger near the border with Mali.[19]

 

In December 2019, al-Qaeda and ISGS militants attacked a military base in western Niger, killing 71 soldiers.[20] Later that month, on 26th December, fourteen soldiers escorting a voting registration team were killed in an ambush by Islamist militants in Tillaberi, also in western Niger.[21]

 

On 9th January 2020, suspected Islamist militants conducted the deadliest attack on a Nigerien army base in years with at least 89 fatalities.[22] In February 2020, an action by the French-led military forces, Operation Barkhane, killed 120 terrorists in western Niger.[23] Although less attacks were registered during the Covid-19 pandemic (March to November 2020), the violence continued. 

 

In March 2020, the authorities decided to close all places of worship in order to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. This was met with protests throughout the country, because the holy month of Ramadan was about to begin. 

On 19th April 2020, protesters threw stones at the pastor’s house next to a Protestant church.[24]

 

On 13th May 2020 all places of worship were allowed to reopen.[25]

 

In the first week of January 2021, in the wake of the presidential elections, two attacks by suspected Islamists in the province of Tillabéri caused close to 100 deaths and hundreds more injured among the civilian population. Also, in the same week, at least five French soldiers were ambushed and killed in same region.[26]

 

Prospects for religious freedom

 

The security situation in Niger is very volatile. The country has suffered attacks from various Islamist fundamentalist groups, including al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group. Troops from the United States, Germany, France and Italy have been deployed to the country to combat the terrorist threat. 

Niger’s neighbours are also very unstable and plagued by violence. In the south of the country, troops are combatting expanding Boko Haram terrorist attacks from Nigeria. In neighbouring Mali, the government is fighting against terrorists linked to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). 

The extremist militant violence has caused great suffering for Niger’s majority Muslim population, though instances of targeted attacks against Christians – as evidenced by the kidnapping and subsequent release of Fr. Maccalli – have been recorded. 

The outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic has compounded the situation. The UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres called for a global ceasefire in April 2020, which Pope Francis echoed and repeated in July,[27] but in Niger the appeals went “almost completely unheard.”[28]

Niger is facing insurgencies both at home and from transnational attacks along its borders. The French-led Operation Barkhane is working in coordination with the G5 Sahel Joint Force to target the Islamic State in the region, especially in the Mali-Burkina Faso-Niger border area[29]. The ongoing high level of violence and the government’s limited capacity to provide security across the vast territory can only lead to a negative evaluation of the prospects for religious freedom in Niger.

 

Endnotes/ Sources

 

  1. Niger 2010 (rev. 2017), Constitute Project, https://bit.ly/3woG6Sm  (accessed 23rd October 2020).  
  2. Office of International Religious Freedom, “Niger”, 2019 International Religious Freedom Report, U.S. State Department, https://bit.ly/3hBpvpe  (accessed 23rd October 2020).  
  3. Ibid.  
  4. Office of International Religious Freedom, op. cit.  
  5. Ibid.  
  6. “Projet ‘Revalorisation du Vivre Ensemble’ (REVE),” SOS Civisme, https://bit.ly/3dS9EBv  9 accessed 3rd January 2021). 
  7. Ibid.  
  8. Pauline Leroux, “Responding to the Rise in Violent Extremism in the Sahel,” Africa Center for Strategic Studies, https://bit.ly/3qRIuQC  (accessed 23rd October 2020).  
  9. “Sidelining the Islamic State in Niger’s Tillabery,” International Crisis Group, 3rd June 2020, https://bit.ly/3ALwzZg  (accessed 30th October 2020).  
  10. “New jihadist attack near the mission of Makalondi,” Agenzia Fides, 19th November 2018, https://bit.ly/3AKfQ8L  (accessed 23rd October 2020).  
  11. “Father Gigi Maccalli’s Christmas: his mission in Bomoanga has closed, but hope does not die, 17th December 2018, Agenzia Fides, 17th December 2019, https://bit.ly/3dSOK5h  (accessed 23rdOctober 2020).  
  12. “Release Fr. Maccalli: appeal by the Muslim leaders of Niger,” Agenzia Fides, 24th September 2018, https://bit.ly/3qR49bs  (accessed 23rd October 2020).  
  13. “Fr. Gigi Maccalli: finally at home, but always with his heart turned to his mission in Bomoanga,” Agenzia Fides, 12th October 2020, https://bit.ly/2V6sVbS  (accessed 23rd October 2020).  
  14. “Violence and kidnappings of Boko Haram in the Diffa region,” Agenzia Fides, 26th November 2018, https://bit.ly/3ADOosX  (accessed 23rd October 2020).  
  15. “Catholic parish attacked, parish priest wounded. Sahel Christian communities increasingly at risk,” Agenzia Fides, 14th May 2019, https://bit.ly/36fRJAL  (accessed 23rd October 2020). 
  16. “At least 28 soldiers in Niger killed in ambush,” CBC, 15th May 2019, https://bit.ly/3dMvG8M  (accessed 3rd January 2021). 
  17. “Boko Haram threaten Christians in Diffa. “Real news, but there is no mass flight of the faithful,” Agenzia Fides, 14th June 2019, https://bit.ly/3qTfesU  (accessed 23rd October 2020).  
  18. “Níger: en Maradi incendian una iglesia cristiana,” Vatican News, 18th June 2019, https://bit.ly/3hjv7pe  (accessed 23rd October 2020).  
  19. “Niger says 25 soldiers killed in latest attack blamed on jihadist militants,” France 24, https://bit.ly/3ypkrei  (accessed 23rd October 2020).  
  20. “Niger army base attack leaves at least 71 soldiers dead,” BBC News, 12th December 2019, https://bbc.in/3qYPGuo  (accessed 29th October 2020).  
  21. “Niger authorities say 14 troops killed during ambush,” France 24, 26 December 2019, https://bit.ly/2UoqYHw  (accessed 26th October 2020).  
  22. Moussa Aksar, “Niger army base attack death toll rises to at least 89: security forces,” Reuters, 10th January 2020, https://reut.rs/36i3cQ9  (accessed 29th October 2020). 
  23. Fergus Kelly, “Joint Niger-Barkhane operation ‘neutralizes’ 120 terrorists, defense ministry says,” The Defence Post, 22 February 2020, https://bit.ly/3jR44TG  (accessed 26th October 2020).  
  24. “Covid.19 protests due to confinement measures cause fear of assault on Christians,” Agenzia Fides, 21st April 2020, https://bit.ly/2TzqmPn  (accessed 23rd October 2020).  
  25. “El Covid-19 no se detiene en África: comienza la reapertura dispersa de lugares de culto,” Vatican News, 19th May 2020, https://bit.ly/3jOjAjp  (accessed 23rd October 2020).  
  26. “Suspected Islamists kill dozens in attacks on two Niger villages”, BBC News, 3rd January 2021,https://bbc.in/36fSKJ5  (accessed on 7th January 2021). 
  1. Javier Romero, “Pope Francis insists on global ceasefire, to help pandemic victims,” Rome Reports, 20th July 2020, https://bit.ly/3xoC3qK  (accessed 3rd January 2021). 
  2. “Appeal to global ceasefire: violence carried out by jihadist groups continues,” Agenzia Fides, 18th April 2020https://bit.ly/2SSD2QZ  (accessed 26th October 2020).  
  3. Fergus Kelly, op. cit. 




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NIGER: Jihadists attack Christians in Niger

Jihadists attack Christians in Niger

By Paolo Beckett

 

Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) – (02.07.2021) – https://bit.ly/3hhNVVL  – ACN has received news of a jihadist attack on Fantio and Dolbel, two towns in the Tillabéri region in southwestern Niger. Survivors of the attack fled to the Dori region of Burkina Faso, sources told ACN. It is a group of women with small children and babies. According to these witnesses of the attacks, the terrorists attacked the towns twice, killing the men. The two towns were abandoned by the rest of the inhabitants.

In Fantio, the jihadists took a statue of the Virgin Mary, liturgical books and musical instruments and burned them. They then desecrated the Blessed Sacrament by throwing the sacred hosts on the ground and finally setting the church on fire. This is the third parish in this part of Niger that has been abandoned due to terrorist attacks and incursions by extremist groups. Survivors of the attacks flee to Niamey, seek refuge in the parish of Téra, or cross the border into the Diocese of Dori in Burkina Faso.

Islamist terrorist groups began to extend their reach into Burkina Faso and Niger in 2015. According to ACN’s Religious Freedom in the World Report 2021, the area has become one of the hotspots for militant jihadism in Africa. In the meantime, the number of internally displaced persons in Burkina Faso has grown to about one million.

ACN has been supporting the Catholic Church in Burkina Faso by helping those who have experienced Islamist violence to return to normal life. Accordingly, a primary focus of its relief efforts is on projects that work to alleviate the impact of trauma.

Photo : IDPs in the Kaya region of Burkina Faso





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INDIA: In Gujarat state, new anti-conversion law threatens non-Hindus

In India’s Gujarat state, new anti-conversion law threatens Christians, Muslims

By Jose Kavi & Saji Thomas

 

Aid to the Church in Need (10.05.2021) – https://bit.ly/3eGFXEd – CATHOLIC CHURCH LEADERS IN INDIA have opposed an anti-conversion law passed by Gujarat state, saying it goes against the Indian Constitution which allows citizens to profess, practice and propagate a religion of their choice. Opponents want the western Indian state government to abrogate the Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act 2021, which was passed on April 1.

Jesuit Father Cedric Prakash, a well-known human rights activist based in Ahmedabad, Gujarat’s commercial hub, said under the new “draconian” law even “a blessing given in good faith to a person from different religion can be construed as an attempt to religious conversion.” Gujarat had already enacted an anti-conversion in 2003; the new act is its amended form and includes stringent provisions for up to 10 years jail and a fine of up to 500,000 Indian rupees ($6750), Prakash told Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).

The nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP, Indian People’s Party) that now rules the state amended the law for the purpose of checking the “love jihad,” mostly to target Muslim youths who allegedly feign love to marry girls from other religions and convert them to Islam.

According to Prakash, the new law targets both Christians and Muslims. “Other religions in the country are considered part of Hinduism, India’s main religion.” The Hindu nationalists oppose Christianity and Islam because of their foreign origin and target their followers, accusing them of promoting religious conversion or eating beef, among other things.

“A mere divine blessing or a suggestion for a better lifestyle can be termed as violation of the new law, making the life of a Christian or Muslim miserable in their country where freedom of religion is paramount,” said the Jesuit.

 

The new law does not allow a Christian or Muslim man to marry a girl from another religion. Such marriages would be treated as illegal under the charge that the marriage was performed for converting the woman to the religion of the man, the priest explained.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court of India, the top court in the country, declared on April 9 that “people are free to choose their religion and have the right under the Constitution to profess, practice and propagate” that religion.

The top court also asserted that individuals 18 and over are free to their religion, asking the petitioner to withdraw a petition containing a demand for the court to direct the federal government to pass a national law to check religion conversion.

The court’s ruling has had no impact on the Gujarat government, which vehemently opposes any demand for the law’s repeal. That law also provides for punishments of priests who preside over conversion ceremonies.

“In case someone wants to convert, he or she must notify the designated government officer who, after conducting a probe, would have to permit the conversion.  Failing that, the conversion would be considered a crime,” Father Prakash said, asking: “As religion is a very personal and individual issue, how can a state interfere with it?”

Since the state government remains adamant about enforcing the new law, a group of social activists under the Citizens for Justice and Peace banner has challenged the law before the Supreme Court. The same petition has also challenged similar laws in three other states— Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh—all BJP-ruled states, said Father Prakash, one of the petitioners.

The new anti-conversion laws in these states, Father Prakash charged, “are a real threat to minorities, especially Christians and Muslims.” Christians form 2.3 percent and Muslims 14.2 percent of India’s population of 1.37 billion people.

Photo: Father Cedric Prakash – Aid to the Church in Need





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Countdown to death of Christianity in parts of Middle East ticking ever louder

Report: 2019 Persecuted and Forgotten?:
https://persecutedchristians.acninternational.org/

 

Aid to the Church in Need (23.10.2019) – The countdown to Christianity’s disappearance in parts of the Middle East is ticking ever louder – and can only be stopped if the international community acts now – according to a new report launched today (Wednesday, 23rd October) in London.

 

The 2019 Persecuted and Forgotten? report, produced by Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), warns of Christianity vanishing from towns and cities in the region, as – despite the defeat of Daesh (ISIS) – the impact of genocide has led to haemorrhaging numbers of the faithful.

 

There were 1.5 million Christians in Iraq before 2003 but by mid-2019, they had fallen to well below 150,000 and perhaps even less than 120,000 – a decline of up to 90 percent within a generation.

 

In Syria Christian numbers have fallen by two thirds since the conflict began in 2011.

 

The ACN report notes that the international community has shown unprecedented concern about the persecution of the region’s Christians, but failed to provide the aid required to ensure its survival during that period covered by the report (2017-19).

 

Persecuted and Forgotten? found that “Governments in the West and the UN failed to offer Christians in countries such as Iraq and Syria the emergency help they needed as genocide got underway.”

 

The report warns that the Church in the region could vanish if radical Islamists were to mount another attack on vulnerable communities – a threat highlighted by reports of jihadists escaping prison, as a result of this month’s renewed violence in north-east Syria. The Persecuted and Forgotten? report concludes: “Were there to be another Daesh-style assault on the faithful, it could result in the Church’s disappearance.

 

“However, if security can be guaranteed there is every indication that Christianity could survive in Nineveh and Erbil.”

 

Persecuted and Forgotten? also found that the persecution of Christians has worsened the most in South and East Asia – noting that, in 2017, 477 anti-Christian incidents were reported in India.

 

In the same region, 300 people died – and more than 500 were injured – in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday 2019 when jihadists bombed sites including three churches.

 

In a number of African countries Christians were threatened by Islamists seeking to eliminate the Church – either by use of force or by dishonest means, including bribing people to convert.

 

In Nigeria’s north and the ‘Middle Belt’ regions, militants continued a reign of terror against Christians and Muslims alike –3,731 Christians were reportedly killed in 2018.

 

While in other parts of the African continent, the main threat to Christians came from the state – over a 12-month period, more than 70 churches were attacked in Sudan’s Nuba Mountains with 32 burnt down.

 

The report can be consulted (for now only in the English version – other languages coming soon): https://persecutedchristians.acninternational.org/


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