Persecution News
April 27, 2001

“If one part of the body suffers, every part suffers with it. If one part
is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ,
and each one of you is a part of it.”
(1 Corinthians 12:26-27).

Azerbaijan
POLICE ARREST TWO CHRISTIANS

(Compass) -- Two Christians were sent to jail on April 10 for seven days on charges of "disobeying the police" in the town of Ismailly, 120 miles west of the Azerbaijani capital of Baku. Asif Mardanov and Azer Gasymov were arrested at their homes three days after police had detained them and five other Azerbaijani Christians for several hours. Gasymov was reportedly fired from his job because of the first detention. The seven Christians were picnicking together near Ismailly on April 7 when they were accused by the police of conducting "mass evangelism." No villagers in the area were known to have complained to the authorities, Baku church sources said.

Brunei
CHRISTIAN REMAINS JAILED

(Compass) -- Only one of seven Christians arrested in December and January for alleged "cult" activities remains in jail, but the whereabouts of another is unknown. Yunus Murang was initially accused of evangelism of Muslims in Brunei. He has since been charged with smuggling Indonesian Bibles into the country and given a two-year prison sentence. Murang was arrested at the home of Malai Taufick Haji Malai Mashor, a Muslim convert to Christianity, just after midnight on December 17 in the capital city of Brunei. Taufick was arrested at the same time. In late March, an Internal Security Department spokesperson reported that Taufick was "no longer in their custody." His location is still unknown. The authorities are reportedly looking for Taufick's wife. Among those released in mid February were Tokching bin Ikas, Mariam Murang, Mary Cheong, and 'Ibu' Roslin. They had been arrested on January 30. A source said the Christians were detained because of their participation in a well-organized prayer program. Brunei authorities are obviously concerned about the growth of Christianity. Islam is the state religion.

China
MARTYRDOM OF LIU HAITAO CONFIRMED

(Compass) -- On October 16, 2000, twenty-one-year-old Liu Haitao from Henan
province in central China died as the result of severe police beatings.
There is no question his death was the result of his witness for Christ,
which makes him a martyr for the faith. Local Christians in the area plan
to observe October 16 as a memorial day to the life of the young Christian.
Police brutality is common for many hundreds of Christians detained each
year. As a house church leader in Loyang shared, "At any one moment, there
are probably well over a hundred Christians detained for their faith and
receiving severe beatings from sadistic policemen. Many of them have
permanent injuries as a result." Privately, a government source in Beijing
described the death of Liu as "a bad mistake." He said, "The government
does not wish to create martyrs, because they make religion
uncontrollable."

Colombia
CHRISTIANS FACE INCREASING DANGER

(Compass) -- On Sunday, March 12, Onofre Hernandez Benitez, pastor of the Panamericana Evangelical Church in Arauca, Colombia, was shot by gunmen as he was standing on the sidewalk after morning worship chatting with members of his congregation. He was killed instantly. The dead pastor's wife and two small daughters witnessed the shooting. Police have made no arrests in the Hernandez murder. No one has positively identified the assassins or determined the motive. Cases like the Hernandez murder are terrifyingly common in Colombia these days. The country, torn by civil war and plagued by drug trafficking, suffers the highest homicide rate in the Western world, estimated to be 15 times that of the United States. Murders are so frequent that only half are reported to police, and only three out of 100 assassins are ever brought to justice.

Colombia
KIDNAPPERS DEMAND HEFTY RANSOM FOR PASTOR

(Compass) -- March 25 marked the fortieth day of captivity for Jorge Enrique Gomez, the pastor of 18,000 evangelical Christians who attend the Bethesda Missionary Center church in Bogota, Colombia. He was kidnapped on Valentine's Day by a band of heavily armed men. The pastoral staff of Bethesda Center churches organized a 48-hour prayer vigil, broadcasting appeals for Christians across the country to intercede for G¢mez. But no news has been received of the megachurch pastor's fate. What has become clear in the past 40 days, however, is that Gomez's ordeal has little to do with spiritual issues but much to do with money. Hector Pardo, a Bogot pastor and president of the Latin America Evangelical Confraternity, states, "The kidnapping is not a result of his pastoral activity, or for religious reasons. They have made it clear that this is a kidnapping for extortion." Military intelligence believes that the FARC 42nd Front is holding Gomez.

Egypt
PROSECUTOR APPEALS EL-KOSHEH MURDER ACQUITTALS

(Compass) -- Egypt's top-ranking Court of Cassation has announced it will hear an appeal requested by the Egyptian prosecutor general. The appeal questions the blanket acquittal of all but four of 96 defendants, including 38 Muslims charged with murder, in the controversial El-Kosheh massacre case. Set for May 21, the appeal hearing is expected to either uphold the original February 5 verdict or order a retrial. Deadly Muslim-Christian clashes that erupted in the predominantly Christian village in southern Egypt over New Year's weekend of 2000 left 21 Christians dead and 260 of their homes and businesses destroyed or looted. The prosecutor general noted that the killings in El-Kosheh were not accidental homicides but rather premeditated murders. The prosecutor general's decision to appeal the El-Kosheh acquittals came after two weeks of widespread outrage from Egypt's Coptic community, which comprises at least 10 percent of the national population.

India
CENSUS DISCRIMINATES AGAINST 'UNTOUCHABLE' CHRISTIANS

(Compass) -- Indian Christians from Dalit (untouchable) and other backward castes will have their identities permanently erased and state benefit withdrawn if the registrar general of India, and Census Commissioner Mr. Jayant K. Banthia, have their way in the latest census of India. The only religion choices available to a Scheduled Caste or Dalit Indian citizen on the census is between the Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist faiths. He is not allowed to claim that he belongs to the Christian, Muslim, animist, indigenous, agnostic, or no-faith categories. The decennial census of India was held from February 9-28, 2001. Sixty-five percent of all Christians in India are Dalits. Eliminating the Dalit identities of these Christians will mean that they are deprived of economic benefits. A number of Dalits who have accepted the Christian faith are thus reluctant to register themselves as Christians for census purposes.

Laos
TWO CHURCHES CLOSED AS AUTHORITIES TIGHTEN CONTROL

(Compass) -- Authorities have reportedly closed two churches, one of them
founded in 1902, in the southern part of the country. The number of
families affected by this closure earlier in the year is between 50 and
100. Lao authorities are also reportedly putting pressure on individual
families to sign an affidavit renouncing their Christian faith -- forcing
them to decide between religion and the nation. Three years ago there were
20 churches open in Savannakhet alone. Today there are only five. Lao
authorities have so far closed 58 churches throughout the country during
the last 18 months. Christians in Laos are accused of being enemies of the
state. Believers have been told that being a Christian is illegal because
"it violates Lao custom and the Bible teaches deception."

Pakistan
NEW BLASPHEMY CASE FILED AGAINST CHRISTIAN

(Compass) -- Police in Punjab province registered another questionable blasphemy case against one of its Christian citizens on April 1, jailing a respected high school principal for slander he allegedly spoke two months ago against Mohammed, the prophet of Islam. Pervaiz Masih was arrested at his home on April 1 during a late-night police raid. The 33-year-old teacher is liable for a mandatory death sentence if convicted. According to Masih's accuser, a Qur'an course teacher named Sajjad Ahmed, the Christian had made the offensive comments two months earlier to three teenage schoolboys he was tutoring privately. One of Masih's Muslim neighbors, who had an ongoing feud with the Christian teacher, convinced village leaders to agree a case should be filed against Masih. After his arrest, Masih was sent to the Sialkot District Jail, where his family has been refused admission to visit him. His family remains "very worried about his safety."

Sri Lanka
MORE BLOWS FOR EMBATTLED CHURCH

(Compass) - In March, Hindu militants joined Buddhist extremists in
initiating attacks on Christian worshippers. A mob of about 50 Hindu
extremists attacked three Christians walking to church on March 4 in
Hanguranketha. Then on March 15, the New Life Christian Church in
Hingurakgoda, which had its property smashed and its congregation attacked
by a machete wielding mob on February 18, lost its worship hall to arson.
On March 18, the Catholic Bishops Conference called for the prompt revival
of the Committee for Christian Affairs, which has not met since June 2000,
to address the grievances of the Christian minority. In addition, the
Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka had to issue a rebuttal of claims by a
Buddhist organization that they converted villages to Christianity though
unethical and coercive means. The climate of toleration in Sri Lanka is
disappearing fast.

Sudan
NUBA CHRISTIANS UNDER FIRE

(Compass) -- "The government is continuing to persecute the Nuba people, especially the intellectuals, many of whom are Christians," stated a church leader working in Khartoum. More than 10 Nuban teachers have disappeared from the Nuba capital, Kadugli, since 1993. An elder of the Church of Christ was arrested in 1998 in Kadugli for distributing Bibles. He was beaten by the police so brutally that he almost died. Another man had his hands burned while in police custody following his arrest for preaching in a public place. "In reality, it is very difficult and dangerous to preach the gospel or distribute Christian literature and Scriptures in Sudan, especially outside the church buildings," said the leader. "Permissions to build new schools or churches are refused. We are not even allowed to help orphans, although Muslims receive permissions with no problem," said another church leader.

Sudan
FACING PERSECUTION IN KHARTOUM

(Compass) -- Every Friday, during the Muslim holy day, a special group meet in a house. The group consists of Muslims who have become Christians. It is one of a few in Khartoum and neighboring Omdurman that caters especially to people from other religious faiths. "It is hard for a Muslim to become a Christian here," said the group leader. "Leaving Islam is like betraying your family and God and is blasphemy. All blasphemy in Islam is punishable by death," he explained. If a Christian convert from Islam wishes to make his new faith public, he will face persecution and rejection in Sudan. Islam is aggressively attempting to win converts and often promises good promotion prospects, education and help with business or farming in return for conversion.

Turkey
POLICE FORBID PROTESTANT WORSHIP IN GAZIANTEP

(Compass) -- On March 23, Turkish security police ordered a Protestant Christian church in Gaziantep to stop meeting for worship in their purchased facilities. The police declared the group was violating national laws governing city zoning and public meetings. The police intervention came 16 months after the Love Fellowship of Jesus Christ had first notified ocal authorities in Gaziantep that they were forming an independent Protestant church. But since the beginning of 2001, the Gaziantep security police have called and visited them several times, declaring that the church did not comply with a number of laws regulating religious worship. So in April, the little group of 30 Christians moved their Sunday worship services temporarily to a rented apartment in a residential area of the city. "Doesn't there have to be some place in Gaziantep which the authorities will allow us to use for Christian worship," an American church member observed, "since that's a constitutional right for both the citizens of Turkey and expatriates living here?"

Turkey
CONTRADICTORY COURT TESTIMONY GIVEN AGAINST CHRISTIAN

(Compass) -- Two of three prosecution witnesses called to testify against a Turkish Christian accused of slandering Islam gave opposing statements before a Diyarbakir court on March 27. A third accuser failed to appear, despite a court summons. It was the second hearing against Kemal Timur, 32, a convert from Islam to Christianity. The defendant was indicted by the local prosecutor's office last October. If convicted, he could be sentenced for six months to one year in prison for religious slander. Timur denied the charges at his first court hearing on January 30. After duly recording the conflicting statements, the presiding judge set a third hearing for May 31 and ordered the absent third witness to be subpoened to appear. Timur is married with two children.

Turkmenistan
CONVERT ISOLATED IN MAXIMUM SECURITY PRISON

(Compass) -- Turkmenistan's religiously repressive government has stifled any word on the condition of Turkmen Christian prisoner Shageldy Atakov since March 23, when the seriously ailing Baptist convert was transferred to his third prison location in two months. Atakov, 39, is now incarcerated in the notorious Turkmenbashi maximum security prison. The Turkmenbashi prison is considered "one of the worst in the country, with particularly harsh conditions." Turkmen officials have bluntly ignored requests from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) for permission to visit Atakov. Meanwhile, Atakov's wife continues to live with their five children under house arrest in Kaakhka village, near the Iranian border, where she was subjected in mid March to heavy official pressure to convert to Islam.

Turkmenistan
CONVERT FAMILIES FLEE

(Compass) -- Four Turkmen Christians from Ashgabad, all converts from Islam to Christianity who were arrested, tortured and evicted from their homes by the KNB (former KGB) last November and December, have fled the country with their families. The four -- Shokhrat Piriyev, Batir Nurov, Umit Koshkarov and Babamurat Gaebov -- had been implicated in the use of "contraband" Christian videos in the Turkmen language. Under the harsh dictates of Central Asia's most religiously repressive republic, KNB officials have over the past three years harassed, arrested, fined, evicted and tortured followers of all religious faiths except the government-sanctioned Sunni slam and Russian Orthodoxy. All other places of worship are being relentlessly demolished or confiscated.

Vietnam
SOUTHERN PROTESTANTS OFFICIALLY RECOGNIZED

(Compass) -- For the first time since the communist takeover in 1975, authorities in Vietnam have granted legal recognition to a Protestant organization in the south. "There's still well-documented persecution of Christians in Vietnam, but as a trend, this is important," a Western diplomat said. In a document dated March 16, the government's Bureau of Religious Affairs stated that the southern Evangelical Church of Vietnam (ECVN) "may operate within the framework of the laws of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam." Yet these are the same "laws" that are often unclear and subjectively interpreted by local officials. They have been used in the past to prevent religious activity. It remains to be seen whether the ECVN will now be given the freedom to train clergy, print Christian materials, build and repair meeting places and connect with Christians outside the country. On April 3, ECVN leaders celebrated the 90th anniversary of the coming of the Protestant faith to Vietnam.

MINORITY CHRISTIANS 'PUNISHED' IN VIETNAM
Officials Seek Reprisal Against Believers for Unrest in Central Highlands Special to Compass Direct

HO CHI MINH CITY, April 16 (Compass) -- Evangelical Christians blamed for the unrest in Vietnam's Central Highlands in early February have been abducted, tortured and prevented from worshipping together by security police, according to reports from the region.

The latest pressure on ethnic minority Christians in Vietnam stems from accusations by government officials that Christians are associated with the Dega separatist movement based in Dac Lac and Gia Lai provinces. Recent violent protests over land and religious rights issues in the Central Highlands have put the government on edge and prompted provincial officials to seek reprisal for the disturbances.

"We will severely punish Christian believers in the three provinces of the Western Highlands, so that they will not be able to raise their head," said Mr. Y. Luyen on February 8 to a group of local citizens from Cu Eber Commune in the Cu Jut district of Dac Lac province. Luyen, the Communist Party secretary of Dac Lac province, had invited those who were not Christians to meet at the peoples' committee office in the commune.

The next day, police began to carry out his threat. Pastors and evangelists throughout Dac Lac province indicated that they were not able to function at all. Even weddings and baptisms had to be cancelled. Churches were effectively cut off from their leadership.

In Gia Lai province, authorities tore down a Protestant church on March 10 in their continuing efforts to clamp down on ethnic unrest, the Associated Press reported on March 28.

In recent years, thousands of minority peoples have become Christians, particularly among the Mnong, Ede, Jarai, and Bahnar peoples who live in the regions where the demonstrations took place. One group, the Ede, have seen the number of Protestants grow from 15,000 in 1975 to more than 150,000 today.

PERSECUTION NEWS is a non-regular periodic service of Foot of the Cross Publications. Articles are copied from various sources, including Associated Press, Newsweek, Compass Direct, Religious News Today and FridayFax. The information is for the sole purpose of disseminating information about persecution of Christians around the world, and subscriptions are free.

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