Steel on Steel - Donald McElvaney (April 14, 2011)
1. Two Indian Christians Languish in Saudi Prison
�Religious police� raid apartment; no official charges. Special to Compass Direct News
LOS ANGELES, March 28 (Compass Direct News) � Friends and family of two Indian Christians arrested after a prayer meeting in Saudi Arabia in January have tried in vain to secure their release. The Christians were incarcerated for attending the prayer meeting with other Indian nationals and accused of converting Muslims to Christianity, though the government has not leveled formal charges, sources said. Yohan Nese, 31 and Vasantha Sekhar Vara, 28, were arrested on Jan. 21 when mutaween (religious police) raided an apartment where the two had lingered after attending the prayer meeting. Religious police interrogated and beat them to the point that they suffered injuries, according to sources. Authorities asked them how many Christian groups and pastors there are in Saudi Arabia and Riyadh. The religious police also put pressure on them to convert to Islam, according to sources. The next morning, Jan. 22, authorities took the two Christians to the Religious Court in Riyadh, where they were sentenced to 45 days in prison. To date the Christian Indians have been in prison for 67 days. Nese and Vara�s situation in prison is �horrible,� said the source, as they are cramped in a prison cell with only enough room to stand. Vara�s pastor in India, Ajay Kuma Jeldi, said Vara had told him by telephone that he was in prison for religious reasons and that he had been pressured to convert to Islam but had refused. �If I have to die for my God, I will die for him here,� Vara said, according to Pastor Jeldi.
2. Prospects Dim for Religious Freedom in Nepal
Right to convert could harm Nepal�s Hindu identity, lawmakers believe. By Vishal Arora
KATHMANDU, Nepal, March 29 (Compass Direct News) � A new constitution that Nepal�s parliament is scheduled to put into effect before May 28 may not include the right to propagate one�s faith. The draft constitution, aimed at completing the country�s transition from a Hindu monarchy to a secular democracy, contains provisions in its �religious freedom� section that prohibit anyone from converting others from one religion to another. Most political leaders in the Himalayan country seemed unaware of how this prohibition would curb religious freedom. �Nepal will be a secular state � there is no other way,� said Sushil Koirala, president of the Nepali Congress, Nepal�s �Grand Old Party,� but he added that he was not aware of the proposal to restrict the right to evangelism. �Forcible conversions cannot be allowed, but the members of the Constituent Assembly should be made aware of [the evangelism ban�s] implications,� Koirala told Compass. Gagan Thapa, another leader of the Nepali Congress, admitted that banning all evangelistic activities could lead to undue restrictions. �Perhaps, the words, �force, inducement and coercion� should be inserted to prevent only unlawful conversions,� he told Compass.
3. Judge Exonerates Jailed Evangelist in Bangladesh
Judge rules Christian did not �create chaos� by distributing literature near Islamic event. By Aenon Shalom
DHAKA, Bangladesh, March 31 (Compass Direct News) � A judge this week exonerated a Christian sentenced to one year in prison for selling and distributing Christian literature near a major Muslim gathering north of this capital city, his lawyer said. After reviewing an appeal of the case of 25-year-old Biplob Marandi, the magistrate in Gazipur district court on Tuesday (March 29) cleared the tribal Christian of the charge against him and ordered him to be released, attorney Lensen Swapon Gomes told Compass. Marandi was selling Christian books and other literature when he was arrested near the massive Bishwa Ijtema (World Muslim Congregation) on the banks of the Turag River near Tongi town on Jan. 21. On Feb. 28 he was sentenced for �creating chaos at a religious gathering� by selling and distributing the Christian literature. �Some fundamentalist Muslims became very angry with him for selling the Christian books near a Muslim gathering,� Gomes said, �so they harassed him by handing over to the mobile court. His release proves that he was innocent and that he did not create any trouble at the Muslim gathering.� After processing the paperwork for Marandi�s release from Gazipur district jail, authorities were expected to free him by tomorrow, according to his lawyer.
4. Indonesian Church Reports Defiant Mayor to National Police
Bogor official defies Supreme Court, revokes building permit; Christians kept from worship site. By Victor Raqual Ambarita
JAKARTA, Indonesia, April 1 (Compass Direct News) � A month that saw the Bogor city mayor defying a Supreme Court decision granting a building permit for a church in Bogor, West Java culminated in police turning away those seeking to worship � and church leaders today filing a police complaint on the mayor with National Police. Bogor Mayor Diani Budiarto issued a decree revoking the building permit for the Christian Church of Indonesia (GKI) in Yasmin Park on March 11, citing unrest among local Muslims and charging the church with having lied about obtaining area residents� approval when the permit was originally processed. Bogor city officials have also decided to try purchasing the land where the church meets. Church leaders and rights groups scoffed at the city�s claims and its attempt to remove the church from the area after years of protests from Islamic groups. At a press conference last month, Bona Sigalingging, spokesperson for the GKI Yasmin church, read a statement in which the church and 12 interfaith and rights organizations rejected the mayor�s decree. �The mayor of Bogor has publically lied and twisted the facts, which are both crimes and public moral failures,� Sigalingging said. Church lawyers today filed a complaint on the Bogor mayor with the National Police detective unit after Budiarto yesterday (March 31) told newspaper Radar Bogor that action should be taken if the congregation stands by the Supreme Court decision, according to The Jakarta Post. Citing a report from kompas.com, the newspaper quoted GKI Yasmin attorney Jayadi Damanik as saying, �We believe Diani Budiarto has committed unpleasant conduct, issuing threats of violence. We think the police need to deal with this.� The mayor was not immediately available for comment.
5. Nepal Church Bomber Faked Repentance
Imprisoned chief of Hindu militant group used Christianity to cover up extortion, terror. By Vishal Arora
KATHMANDU, Nepal, April 4 (Compass Direct News) � The chief of a militant Hindu extremist group sought to disguise his extortion and terror activities from behind bars by claiming he had repented of bombing a church in Nepal and showing interest in Christianity, according to investigators. The revelation emerged when Nepal�s premier investigation agency foiled a plot to explode a series of bombs devised by Ram Prasad Mainali, former chief of the Hindu militant outfit Nepal Defence Army, in the capital city of Kathmandu. Police on March 4 arrested six cohorts of Mainali carrying powerful home-made bombs and high-explosive powder, to be used as part of a plan to extort money from industrialists, The Himalayan Times reported. In an interview last year, Mainali had told Compass that his interaction with Christians inside jail in Kathmandu�s Nakkhu area had led him to repent from his deeds and read the Bible. Mainali was arrested on Sept. 5, 2009 for exploding a bomb in a Catholic parish in Kathmandu, Our Lady of the Assumption, which killed a teenager and a newly married woman and injured more than a dozen others on May 23 of that year. A local Christian worker who had known Mainali said the church bomber used Christianity to evade police surveillance. �I was disheartened when I recently learned that Mainali had threatened some pastors with violent attacks , demanding protection money from them,� he told Compass on condition of anonymity.
6. Malaysian Christians Seek to End Restrictions on Malay Bibles
Federation calls for removal of �every impediment� to importing and printing Scripture. By Jasmine Kay
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, April 6 (Compass Direct News) � Christian importers of Bibles that Malaysian officials detained are balking at conditions the government has imposed for their release, such as defacement of the sacred books with official stamps. The Home Ministry last month stamped the words, �This Good News Bible is for use by Christians only� on 5,100 Bibles without consulting the importer, the Bible Society of Malaysia (BSM), which initially refused to collect them as it disapproved of the conditions. BSM has since collected them �to prevent the possibility of further acts of desecration� but will not sell them; rather, they �will be respectfully preserved as museum pieces and as a heritage for the Christian Church in Malaysia.� Another 30,000 Bibles detained since Jan. 12 remain in port after the Sarawak state Home Ministry told the local chapter of Gideons International that it could collect them if the organization would put the stamp on them. Gideons has thus far declined to do so, and a spokesman said yesterday (April 5) that officials had already defaced the books with the stamp. The government has made several attempts to try to appease the Christian community; on Saturday (April 2) it issued a 10-point statement that included the lifting of restrictions to allow for the local printing and importation of Malay and other indigenous-language Bibles into the country. No conditions were imposed on such Bibles in Sarawak and Sabah, but in West Malaysia the Bibles must have the words �Christian publication� and the sign of the cross printed on the front covers. Most Christians remained skeptical. Bolly Lapok, an Anglican priest, told the online news agency Malaysian Insider, �It�s an assurance, but we have been given such assurances before.�
7. Church in China to Risk Worshipping in Park
Evicted from one site and denied others, unregistered congregation resorts to open air. Special to Compass Direct News
LOS ANGELES, April 7 (Compass Direct News) � One of the largest unregistered Protestant churches in Beijing plans to risk arrest by worshipping in a park this Sunday (April 10) after eviction from the restaurant where they have met for the past year. The owner of the Old Story Club restaurant issued repeated requests for the Shouwang Church to find another worship venue, and authorities have pressured other prospective landlords to close their facilities to the 200-member congregation, sources said. Unwilling to subject themselves to the controls and restrictions of the official Three-Self Patriotic Movement, the congregation has held three services each Sunday in the restaurant for more than a year. Church members have said they are not opposed to the government and are not politically active, but they fear authorities could find their open-air worship threatening. �Normal� (state-sanctioned) religious assembly outdoors is legal in China, and even unregistered religious gatherings are usually tolerated if no more than 50 people gather, said a source in China who requested anonymity. Although the congregation technically risks arrest as an unregistered church, the primary danger is being viewed as politically active, the source said. �For a larger group of Christians to meet in any �unregistered� location led by an �unregistered� leader is illegal,� he said. �The sensitivity of meeting in a park is not being illegal, but being so highly visible. Being �visible� ends up giving an impression of being a political �protest.��
8. Religious Conversion Worst Form of �Intolerance,� Bhutan PM Says
Propagation of religion is allowable � but not seeking conversions, top politician says. By Vishal Arora
THIMPHU, Bhutan, April 13 (Compass Direct News) � In the Kingdom of Bhutan, where Christianity is still awaiting legal recognition, Christians have the right to proclaim their faith but must not use coercion or claim religious superiority to seek conversions, the country�s prime minister told Compass in an exclusive interview. �I view conversions very negatively, because conversion is the worst form of intolerance,� Jigmi Yoser Thinley said. Christian leaders in Bhutan have told Compass that they enjoy certain freedoms to practice their faith in private homes, but, because of a prohibition against church buildings and other restrictions, they were not sure if proclamation of their faith � included in international human rights codes � was allowed. Thinley, who as head of the ruling party is the most influential political chief in the country, said he views attempts to convert others with extreme suspicion. While he affirmed that it is allowable for Christians to proclaim their faith � a practice commanded by Christ, with followers agreeing that it is the Holy Spirit, not man, that �converts� people � Thinley made his suspicions about Christians� motives manifest. �Any kind of proselytization that involves economic and material incentives,� he said. Thus far, Bhutan�s Religious Organisations Act of 2007 has recognized only Buddhist and Hindu organizations. As a result, no church building or a Christian bookstore has been allowed in the country. Asked if a Christian federation should be registered by the government to allow Christians to function with legal recognition, Thinley said, �Yes, definitely.� �
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