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PAKISTAN: Pastor shot dead in ambush attack after Sunday service

Pastor shot dead in ambush attack after Sunday service

By Anugrah Kumar

 

Christian Post (31.01.2022) – https://bit.ly/3uciGlW –  In what police called a “terrorist act,” two unidentified men followed a pastor returning home in his car after a Sunday worship service and shot him to death in Pakistan’s northwestern city of Peshawar, which in 2013 was the scene of one of the deadliest attacks on Christians in the country.

 

The pastor, identified as 75-year-old William Siraj of Shaheed-e-All Saints Church from the Church of Pakistan denomination comprising Methodist and Anglican churches, was shot twice in the abdomen as he and his colleague, identified as Pastor Patrick Naeem, were driving home from church on Sunday.

 

The shooting occurred near Ring Road in the city’s Gulbahar area, leaving Pastor Siraj dead and Pastor Naeem injured, Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper reported, adding that Naeem had been discharged from the hospital where he was treated for minor injuries.

Pastor Siraj’s body had been handed over to his family.

 

News channels showed emergency services removing the pastor from the car as people chanted “Long live Jesus Christ” while carrying his body on a bed through the streets to a house, according to Reuters.

 

“We demand justice and protection of Christians from the Government of Pakistan,” tweeted Bishop Azad Marshall from the Church of Pakistan.

 

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby also responded to the news of the attack. “… We pray for the light of Christ’s justice, hope and peace for our sisters and brothers in the Church of Pakistan,” he wrote on Twitter.

 

Capital City Police Officer Abbas Ahsan called it a “terror attack” and said, “We are determined to protect minorities.”

 

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province’s Chief Minister Mahmood Khan offered his condolences to the Christian community and the family of the deceased.

 

On Saturday, Pakistan’s interior minister Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed warned of possible terrorist strikes across the country over the next two months as security agencies had learned about sleeper cells of militant outfits in that region, The Times of India reported.

No one had claimed responsibility for the shooting as of Monday.

 

The country’s northwestern areas bordering Afghanistan have seen a rise in militant attacks on security forces in recent days, many of them claimed by Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, which is close to the Afghan Taliban, Reuters said.

 

In 2013, at least 81 Christians were killed after two suicide bombers blew themselves up at a church belonging to the Church of Pakistan denomination in Peshawar as hundreds of worshipers were leaving Sunday mass.

 

About 400 worshipers were exchanging greetings after the service at the 130-year-old All Saints Church when the two bombers, each carrying about 13 pounds of explosives, launched the attack. The walls were pockmarked with ball bearings that had been packed into the bombs to cause maximum carnage in the busy church.

 

There are about 70,000 Christians in Peshawar. The community accounts for about 2% of the 180 million people in Pakistan.

 

Muslim minorities, including Shias and Ahmaddiyas, also often face attacks by Sunni terror groups in Pakistan.

 

Photo : BANARAS KHAN/AFP via Getty Images

Further reading about FORB in Pakistan on HRWF website

 





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NEPAL: Pastor sentenced to 2 years in prison for saying prayer can heal COVID-19

Pastor in Nepal sentenced to 2 years in prison for saying prayer can heal COVID-19

By Anugrah Kumar

 

The Christian Post (05.12.2021) – https://bit.ly/3Glq8hr – A court in Nepal has sentenced a pastor to two years in prison under the country’s harsh anti-conversion law for merely saying that prayers can heal COVID-19, according to reports.

 

The District Court in Dolpa this week sentenced Pastor Keshab Raj Acharya to two years in prison and a fine of $165 (20,000 Rupees) for suggesting on social media that prayer could bring healing from the coronavirus, the U.S.-based persecution watchdog International Christian Concern said in a statement.

 

Pastor Acharya was first arrested on March 23 last year from his home in Pokhara, Gandaki Pradesh Province, on charges of spreading false information regarding COVID-19. Though he was released about a fortnight later, he was rearrested moments later on charges of “outraging religious feelings” and “proselytizing.”

 

After more than three months in prison, he was released on July 3, 2020, after paying bail equal to about $2,500.

 

In a viral video published on the internet, Pastor Acharya prayed in front of his congregation, saying, “Hey, corona — you go and die. May all your deeds be destroyed by the power of the Lord Jesus. I rebuke you, corona, in the name of Lord Jesus Christ. By the power or the ruler of this Creation, I rebuke you. … By the power in the name of Lord Jesus Christ, corona, go away and die.”

 

William Stark, ICC’s regional manager for South Asia, said: “For more than a year, authorities in the Dolpa District have seemed bent on convicting Pastor Acharya of something and punishing him for simply being a Christian pastor. Since the new constitution was adopted in 2015, Nepalese Christians have been concerned that Article 26 and its enacting laws would be used to target their community.”

 

Stark added that “Nepal’s sweeping anti-conversion law must be repealed if religious freedom is truly a right to be enjoyed by the country’s citizens.”

 

After his release last July, Acharya had told Morning Star News that it was a “very difficult” time for him.

 

“I would think of my little children and my wife, and I would cry out to the Lord in prayer. I would look up at Him in hope that if it is in His will that I should be put through this, He would get me out of this,” he said at the time.

 

Acharya told the outlet he believed government officials and police worked together against him. “They were laying a thorough plan to make sure I would stay in the jail for a longer period.”

 

Senior Counsel Govinda Bandi, who was defending the pastor, told the U.K.-based Christian Solidarity Worldwide at the time that his repeated arrest was a “very worrying sign of the trajectory of religious freedom in this country.”

 

“The police are clearly acting outside the scope of the constitution and without any regard to the rules of criminal procedure,” Bandi said. “There seems to be a concerted effort to use the draconian provisions in the Penal Code to target him that will also threaten the wider minority community with penal sanctions for practicing their religion or belief. Furthermore, the whole allegation against him, is forged on unfounded and prejudiced allegations. This is without a doubt a targeted persecution and a travesty of our justice system.”

 

Christians have been under attack since before the promulgation of the country’s new constitution in September 2015.

 

Low-intensity blasts occurred in two churches in east Nepal around the time. Pamphlets promoting Hindu nationalism were found at each of the churches and a nationalist group, Hindu Morcha Nepal, issued a press statement calling for Christian leaders to leave the country and for Christian converts to return to Hinduism.

 

The constitution establishes Nepal as a secular country but also effectively bans evangelism, as it states that no one is allowed to make an attempt to convert people of other religions to his or her own. It also calls for the protection of Hinduism, the majority religion.

 

Article 26 (3) of the constitution states: “No person shall behave, act or make others act to disturb public law and order situation or convert a person of one religion to another or disturb the religion of other people…such an act shall be punished by law.”

In 2018, Nepal’s government added the controversial portion of the constitution to the country’s criminal code, which states that an individual found guilty of even encouraging religious conversions can be fined up to $670 (50,000 rupees) and imprisoned for up to five years.

 

Hindu nationalist groups in Nepal allege that Hinduism is under threat as more people could be converted into Christianity. They have been calling for the exclusion of the term “secularism” — which in the South Asian context means equal treatment of all religions by the State — from the charter of Nepal, which was a Hindu monarchy until 2006.

 

Persecution watchdog Open Doors USA ranks Nepal at No. 34 on its World Watch List of 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.

 

Photo : Pastor Keshab Acharya | Morning Star News





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MALAYSIA: Kelantan state criminalizes proselytizing and conversions

Malaysian state criminalizes proselytizing, Christian conversions; violators face jail and canings

By Anugrah Kumar

 

The Christian Post (08.11.2021) – https://bit.ly/30g6DaD – The northeastern Malaysian state of Kelantan has implemented amendments to its criminal code based on sharia law, banning about two dozen activities, including attempts of converting out of Islam. Violators could face prison, fines or canings.

 

The Kelantan Syariah Criminal Code (I) Enactment 2019 went into effect on Nov. 1, making 24 activities illegal, The Star newspaper reports.

 

Banned activities include proselytizing, distorting Islamic teachings, disrespecting the month of Ramadan, destroying houses of worship, tattooing, undergoing plastic surgery, engaging in sexual intercourse with corpses and non-humans, witchcraft and false claims.

 

The new offenses are punishable by imprisonment up to three years and a fine up to RM5,000 (US$1,202) or six strokes of the cane.

 

The amendments to the state’s criminal code, proposed in 2019, are based on the Syariah Criminal Code (II) 1993 and the existing 1985 Syariah Criminal Code. The state sultan, Muhammad V, gave consent to the amendments in July 2020.

 

Kelantan Chief Minister Ahmad Yakob has said during a program on Oct. 31 that the enforcement of the new bans will help strengthen the sharia law not only in Kelantan but also in other states in the Muslim-majority Southeast Asian country.

 

He was also quoted as saying that the enforcement seeks to educate and bring the violators back to the right path of Islam and is not simply a means to punish them.

Malaysia is 66% Muslim and less than 10% Christian, according to The Pew-Templeton Global Religious Futures Project.

 

Open Doors USA’s 2021 World Watch List ranks Malaysia as the 46th-worst country globally when it comes to Christian persecution. In Malaysia, Christians have suffered from many forms of Islamic repression.

 

According to Open Doors USA, which monitors persecution in over 60 countries, Catholics and Methodists are monitored by authorities in Malaysia. Still, nontraditional Protestant groups are more often targeted because they tend to be more active in evangelism. Open Doors reportsthat it is illegal to share the Gospel with Malaysian Muslims.

 

Responding to the new ban, the U.S.-based persecution watchdog International Christian Concern notes that critics in Malaysia are concerned the new enactment could contribute to an exclusive and intolerant Islam.

 

The women’s rights group Sisters in Islam expressed concern that these developments violate fundamental principles of democracy because they suppress critical thought and expression.

 

The new enactment comes as the case of Malaysian Pastor Raymond Koh remains unsolved. Koh has been missing since he was abducted in a well-organized, military-style operation more than four years ago after being accused of preaching to Muslims.

 

Photo: A woman prays at church in Malaysia. (Reuters)

Further reading about FORB in Malaysia on HRWF website





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ERITREA: Two elderly pastors imprisoned for their faith in maximum security centre

Two elderly pastors imprisoned for their faith

By Anugrah Kumar

 

The Christian Post (11.09.2021) – https://bit.ly/3CfdH4M – Two elderly pastors are being held in Eritrea’s maximum-security interrogation center as one of the world’s most repressive and closed countries continues to persecute Christians.

 

Pastor Girmay Araya, 75, and Pastor Samuel Okbamichael, 74, were taken from their homes in the middle of the night and brought to an unknown location,” the news agency Church in Chains reported, according to the U.S.-based persecution watchdog International Christian Concern. “It later emerged that the two pastors were taken to the maximum-security Wengel Mermera Central Criminal Investigation interrogation centre …”

 

Police intended to also arrest 72-year-old Pastor Georgio Gebreab “but they found him sick in bed and told him he was under house arrest until he is well enough to be taken into custody.”

 

When arrested, Eritrea’s persecuted Christians often disappear without a trace, leaving their loved ones with no information on their whereabouts or safety. Prison conditions are some of the harshest in the world, with inmates kept in shipping containers and believers often tortured in an attempt to get them to renounce their faith.

 

Eritrea’s President Isaias Afewerki is a member of the Eritrean Orthodox Church in Asmara — belonging to the largest among the only three Christian denominations allowed to function in the country: the Eritrean Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Lutheran churches.

 

Afewerki, 75, who’s the leader of the ruling People’s Front for Democracy and Justice Party, also has a reputation of being an alcoholic and a ruthless autocrat. Afewerki’s policy of restrictions is more about his fear that religion will mobilize people as a political force than religion itself.

 

In March, authorities raided two separate prayer meetings in Asmara and the city of Assab and imprisoned 13 of the 35 Christians, including several women, who were taken into custody, ICC reported at the time.

 

In February, 70 Christians from evangelical and Orthodox backgrounds, including women, were released from three prisons in Eritrea, some after being held without charge for more than a decade.

 

Since last September, at least 160 Christians had been released from prisons in Eritrea at the time, but the news arrests “dampened hopes that the government was easing its harsh repressive policy against Christians,” Barnabas Fund said at the time.

 

“In Eritrea, citizens have a duty to report anything untoward happening in their community,” Release International added. “This can turn ordinary neighbors into spies. In some cases, their own family members have reported Christians.”

 

Photo: Reuters/Pascal Rossignol

Further reading about FORB in Eritrea on HRWF website





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INDONESIA: Muslim cleric arrested on blasphemy charges about Christianity

Muslim cleric arrested on blasphemy charges for insulting Christianity

By Anugrah Kumar

 

The Christian Post (30.08.2021) – https://bit.ly/3DxP2K3 – Police in the Muslim-majority country of Indonesia arrested a Muslim cleric for allegedly blaspheming against Christianity by calling the Bible fictitious and false in one of his sermons.

 

Police arrested Muhammad Yahya Waloni, a former Protestant who became a Muslim in 2006 and later an imam, from his home in the national capital of Jakarta on Thursday, UCA News reported.

 

The arrest on charges of blasphemy and hate speech came in response to a complaint filed by a civil group, which was not identified, in April.

 

“Investigations are still ongoing,” police spokesman Brig. Gen. Rusdi Hartono was quoted as saying. “It will be explained in more detail later, we are waiting for data from the Criminal Investigation Department.”

 

Indonesia’s Religious Affairs Minister Yaqut Cholil Qoumas recently called for a crackdown on people accused of committing blasphemy and hate speech.

 

“All are equal before the law. Therefore, there must be fair treatment in all cases, including blasphemy and hate speech,” he said.

 

However, Christians complain that law enforcement doesn’t treat accused from the majority community the same way they deal with members of religious minorities, including Christians.

 

“In cases of blasphemy, police and law enforcement officials must be fair instead of siding with a certain group. Christians have been arrested and brought to court in blasphemy cases, while those insulting Christianity or other religions have been left alone,” Philip Situmorang, spokesman of the Communion of Churches in Indonesia, said in a statement.

 

Three days earlier, a Muslim convert to Christianity, identified as Muhammad Kace, was arrested in Bali on charges of blasphemy. He allegedly uploaded videos on YouTube saying  that the Islamic prophet Muhammad was “surrounded by devils and liars.”

 

The Southeast Asian country is home to the world’s largest Muslim population. Its Constitution is based on the doctrine of Pancasila — five principles upholding the nation’s belief in the one and only God and social justice, humanity, unity and democracy for all.

 

However, there are many extremist groups in Indonesia that oppose Pancasila.

 

Churches often face opposition from local groups that typically question the authenticity of the signatures by area residents — a requirement as per law — to obstruct the construction of non-Muslim houses of worship.

 

The Human Rights Watch previously said that more than 1,000 churches in the archipelago had been closed due to pressure from such groups.

 

Indonesia is ranked No. 47 on Open Doors USA’s World Watch List of countries where Christians face the most extreme levels of persecution.

 

Photo: Members of the clergy conduct Easter mass in an empty church and streamed online as part of social distancing measures amidst the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic in Jakarta on April 12, 2020. | ADEK BERRY/AFP via Getty Images

Further reading about FORB in Indonesia on HRWF website


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