Officials in China’s eastern province of Zhejiang sent in monks to burn incense and chant Buddhist scriptures as a “provocation” as Christian believers faced off with a government-backed demolition gang intent on removing a large cross from the roof of their church, church members told RFA on Monday.
The monks came in and chanted prayers, burning incense at the door of the Jinjia’er church in Zhejiang’s Huzhou city, where believers had been staging a sit-in in the hope of blocking access by the demolition gang for several days, a church follower who asked not to be named told RFA.
“We are Protestant Christians, so by sending monks to chant sutras they were trying to get us riled up,” the Jinjia’er congregant said. “They blocked the main door, and they were detaining anyone who got physical with them on public order charges.”
“They were trying to make us angry so that we would retaliate against them. They think that anyone who opposes the government is a traitor, or someone trying to overturn the Communist Party,” he said.
President Xi Jinping warned Communist Party ideologues earlier this year that the development of religion in China, which is already closely controlled by an army of religious affairs officials, should be “independent of foreign influence.”
Citing the rapid expansion in Christian believers after churches began to re-open in the wake of the political turmoil of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), Xi has described religion is a tool that can easily be used “by hostile foreign forces.”
By Todd Daniels and Sandra Eliott
07/27/15 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) – “There is horrible and uncontrolled violence and chaos [that is] leaving non-Muslim minorities like the Christians [in] fear for their lives…”
Joseph Kassab, President of Iraqi Christians Advocacy And Empowerment Institute (ICAE), explains that only two options remain for Christian in the region: either submit to the violence or flee to Kurdistan and neighboring countries.
The current generation has grown up in a world where Iraqi land is bloodstained and war-torn. Nevertheless, Iraq was once the home to some of the most tolerant and ethno-religiously diverse cultures in the world. The fabric of coexistence stitched together both monotheists and polytheists in an ancient land held dear by all living upon it. Yazidi shrines neighbored Christian sites and Mosques shared a land marked with tombs of Jewish prophets.
Sadly, we now face a new reality of sectarian hatred and radical jihadists that are intent on erasing all cultures other than their own.
Many forget that the Middle East was the birthplace of Christianity and, until recently, a large number still lived there. In 1947 Iraq was home to approximately 4.5 million Christians; in 2003 the figure stood close to 1.5 million. Today, however, the number of Christians in Iraq has tragically fallen to less than 200,000, with perhaps another 150,000 in the Kurdistan region.
Still more tragic are the conditions in which these 200,000 live. The majority of remaining Christians live in Baghdad, where recently, four Christian men were kidnapped by Islamic extremists.
Dr. Bashar Ghanem Al Akrawi, Saad Galyana Shaba, Qais Abd Shaya and Saher Hanna Sony were all kidnapped within two weeks of each other in early July. The former two were rescued and are well, while the latter two were both killed by their captors, despite their families having paid ransoms for their lives.
These types of abductions among other forms of criminality are sectarian based and carried out by powerful and armed militias. Christians have likewise had their homes and household goods stolen from them by means of falsified documents and government corruption.
These people face a dim lit future.
A Chaldean Patriarch in Iraq recently told Asia News that Christians are “fully fledged citizens of the state, and for hundreds and hundreds of years they have contributed to its civilization and its culture.” He appealed to the government authorities to protect the lives and property of these citizens in Baghdad.
Joseph Kassab contrastingly explained to ICC that this is not a problem that the Iraqi government will be able to easily resolve as the government itself is fragile and corrupt.
“There is no hope in this country”
Iraqi Christians, among other minorities, are suffering under dire circumstances with little to no help. Soon enough, their ancient presence in Iraq will no longer be. Bernan Petros, a Christian originally from Bartella, Iraq, told Rudaw News, “There is no hope in this country. We have no hope here. We are so tired of this situation, and now we are thinking of leaving–all Christians together–to seek another place in Europe.”
This is exactly what will happen unless the Western church acknowledges the reality of what is happening in the Middle East and acts to change it. There is an urgent need for security and aid, but even more important are the tools to restart life. If families are to choose to stay in Iraq they will require sources of income and opportunities for their children. These will be the building blocks for a new future.
We must realize that this is a war being waged against religious freedom, not just Iraqis. It is a war to drive out those who don’t adhere to the radical beliefs of ISIS or other extremists.
How many more fathers, sons, husbands and brothers need to be kidnapped and murdered before we stop turning a fearful blind eye to atrocity?
ICC Note: Almost four months after the April 2 attacks on Garissa University, where al-Shabaab terrorists spared Muslim students and specifically targeted and killed Christian students, survivors of the attack recall in horror the events that unfolded that day. In the aftermath of the attack, the students explained how several Christians now fear living on campus, and that tensions have been heightened between Muslim and Christian students. Simon Kande, the chairman of FOCUS, has asked for prayers of healing and protection, while also praying to remain a powerful witnessing community for Christ at Garissa University.
By Krish Kandiah
7/25/15, Kenya (Christian Today) – “I heard gun shots at 5.50am and I managed to hide in the wardrobe for one and a half days. When I was rescued I found out my roommates did not survive. Because of my tiny wardrobe space, I was unable to walk for two weeks after that but I thank God for sparing my life” – Elsie Karemi.
The world was shocked when news of a massacre on a Kenyan university campus broke over the Easter weekend this year. What wasn’t widely reported was that many of the victims, like Elsie, were members of an evangelical student ministry called FOCUS.
The ministry began in the late 1950s, started by Christian faculty at the University of Nairobi. It is now working in 144 universities and higher education colleges. There are 68 staff, including 32 interns, and in total there are 42,000 students in the movement.
Garissa is in Northern Kenya and is the only university campus in that region. The FOCUS group there had 250 students involved, meeting for Bible study, prayer and praise. Like all the student Christian Unions in Kenya they hold their own Sunday services. In a Muslim dominated area both Muslims and Christians wake up early to pray. It was normal custom for CU members to meet at 5am for daily morning devotions.
ICC Note: Nearly four months after al-Shabaab’s deadly assault on Kenyan Christians in Garissa, Kenya on April 2, local Christians remain fearful of further attacks. The Garissa University attack claimed 148 lives while injuring dozens more. During the attack, the insurgents spared Muslim students and specifically targeted and murdered Christians. Due to continued threats, many Christians no longer find it safe to live and worship in Garissa. In the face of fear and uncertainty though, some Christians refuse to leave their churches and homes in Garissa, risking their lives and safety in the face of potential future attacks.
By Nima Elbagir and Antonia Mortensen
7/26/15, Kenya (CNN) – Christians have come under repeated attacks in North Eastern Province in Kenya at the hands of Al-Shabaab militants who have killed hundreds.
It’s sunrise over the Tana River. Traffic starts to flow over the bridge and morning rush hour begins. What looks like the beginning of a normal workday here has a much darker undertone. Most of the commuters are day laborers, people going into their offices, but also many Christians who are too scared to sleep inside Garissa town. They have decided to move themselves and their families across to the other side of the river to safety.
We met Esther as she was crossing the bridge on foot on her way to work. She is a mother of three and a Christian. When we ask her why she decided to move her and her family out of town she tells us: “It is because of Al-Shabaab that I moved out of Garissa. You can be shot anytime while you are walking. Even when we’re at home they can just come from the bush.”
In April this year, hundreds of students at Garissa University in northern Kenya came under attack when Al-Shabaab militants from across the border in Somalia raided dormitories at the college. Separating Christian students from their Muslim classmates, the raiders killed 147 and wounded dozens more. Today, the university stands empty.
Christians in North Eastern Kenya have come under repeated attacks by Al-Shabaab militants.
Recently, Hindu nationalist organizations have escalated their efforts to convert Christians and other religious minorities to Hinduism. These efforts at proselytization are part of an ongoing campaign by Hindu nationalists against Christians. In violation of India’s constitution, Hindu nationalists have steered government welfare benefits away from Christians, pressuring them to convert to Hinduism in order to receive benefits. As Christians are disproportionately found in the poor Dalit class, the decision to stand firm in their faith exacerbates their economic misery.
7/27/2015 India (Christian Post) – A Hindu nationalist organization has converted 39 people from Dalit Christian families to Hinduism in a controversial ceremony aimed at making them eligible for a government benefits program.
“We are moving ahead with our initiative and more families from other religions will be reconverted to Hinduism soon. We are being approached by many people who want to come back to their original faith,” said Viswha Hindu Parishad Alappuzha District Chief Prathap G Padickal, according to the Times of India.
The “ghar wapsi” programme in Kerala’s Alappuzha district previously oversaw another 30 Dalit Christians convert to Hinduism in December 2014.
The Dalits, known as the “untouchables,” make up India’s lowest caste, and are eligible for certain government benefits if they identify as Hindus
International Christian Concern, which reports on persecution taking place in India, noted that Christians from such low caste backgrounds are often soft targets for Hindu nationalists, who are seeking to take advantage of the stipulation in the government benefits program and lure people of other faiths into Hinduism.
“In most cases, people from low caste backgrounds are afforded government stipends and advantages, but these stipends and advantages are denied to low caste people who are registered as Christians or Muslims in India,” ICC noted. “In many cases the allurement o these government stipends and advantages are enough to convince people to convert to Hinduism.”
The Supreme Court of Pakistan has agreed to hear an appeal filed by Asia Bibi regarding her blasphemy charge, which is punishable by death. Until the Court has heard the appeal, Bibi cannot be executed. Bibi’s case is one of the most high profile stories of religious freedom abuses emanating out of Pakistan. Despite both international and internal calls for reform, the prevalence of intolerance and extremism in Pakistan has stifled any meaningful efforts to reform the country’s infamous blasphemy laws.
7/27/2015 Pakistan (Gatestone Institute) – Pakistan’s authorities appear to have found a solution to at least one of their problems in the international arena: Aasiya Noreen — or “Asia Bibi” — a 50-year-old Christian woman and mother of five, who has been on death row for six years for allegedly insulting Muhammad.
Instead of executing Asia Bibi and further advertising to the international community that theirs is a savage and backwards nation — and instead of releasing her and provoking millions of angry Muslims to turn on the government and accuse it of supporting “apostasy” — Pakistan’s authorities appear to be letting time, wretched conditions, severe maltreatment, and beatings slowly kill her.
Recent reports state that she is deathly ill and “so weak she could hardly walk.” Mission Network News says that Asia Bibi has “internal bleeding, abdominal pain, and is vomiting blood. If she does not receive immediate medical care, she could die.”
ICC Note: ICC cooperates with China Aid, specifically in support of the persecuted church in China. This article details the testimony of China Aid president Bob Fu before Congress.
By Rachel Ritchie
07/24/2015 China (China Aid)
China Aid president and founder, Bob Fu, gave his testimony concerning religious freedom in China yesterday to the Congressional-Executive Commission on China in Washington, D.C.
Fu gave several recommendations during the hearing, titled “Religious with ‘Chinese Characteristics’: Persecution and Control in Xi Jinping’s China,” including the following for the United States Department of State:
• “The U.S. State Department should strongly consider posting an officer at the U.S. Embassy in China with the sole responsibility of reporting religious freedom and related human rights abuses in China, including the areas of Tibet and Xinjiang.”
• “The State Department should make an official public statement condemning this forced demolition of crosses and churches in Zhejiang and other areas of China. So far neither Secretary Kerry nor the spokesperson have issued even a public statement condemning this large, brutal, shameful campaign.”
• “The State Department should raise, publicly and at all levels of exchange with the Chinese government, the cases of prisoners of conscience, especially the China 18 and others. And I know you had led the campaign to urge President Obama to meet with the daughters of the China 18 multiple times. I think the excuse [of] not meeting with these family members in China is that it could pose a danger or [is] a potential threat. But how about here in the United States; there is no threat.”
Others that spoke at the hearing, led by Congressmen Chris Smith, (R-N.J.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), included Anastasia Lin, actress, human rights advocate and Miss World Canada 2015; Rebiya Kadeer, president of the World Uyghur Congress; and Losang Gyatso, service chief of Voice of America’s Tibetan service.
Fu’s full testimony, below, and the testimony of the other witnesses, along with a video of the hearing can be found here.
ICC Note: The U.S. State Department has reportedly barred some Christians from testifying on Christian persecution occurring in predominantly Muslim countries, including Nigerian Governor Jonah David Jang. Last year, after the U.S. Institute for Peace invited different Nigerian governors from northern majority-Muslim states for a conference, Governor Jang, the only Christian, had his visa denied by the State Department. According to Nigerian human rights lawyer Emmanuel Ogebe, this is due to the anti-Christian bias that exists within the State Department and U.S. government as a whole. This ignorance and refusal to acknowledge Christian persecution in Nigeria may have serious implications for U.S. aid designed to assist Nigeria in combating Boko Haram.
By Raymond Ibrahim
7/24/15, Washington, D.C. (Gatestone Institute) – During the height of one of the most brutal months of Muslim persecution of Christians, the U.S. State Department exposed its double standards against persecuted Christian minorities.
Sister Diana, an influential Iraqi Christian leader, who was scheduled to visit the U.S. to advocate for persecuted Christians in the Mideast, was denied a visa by the U.S. State Department even though she had visited the U.S. before, most recently in 2012.
She was to be one of a delegation of religious leaders from Iraq — including Sunni, Shia and Yazidi, among others — to visit Washington, D.C., to describe the situation of their people. Every religious leader from this delegation to Washington D.C. was granted a visa — except for the only Christian representative, Sister Diana.
After this refusal became public, many Americans protested, some writing to their congressmen. Discussing the nun’s visa denial, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said: