Steel on Steel - Donald McElvaney (June 14, 2011)
May 25 (Compass Direct News) � Seven Algerian churches face closure this week after the governor of their province sent them written notice that they were operating �illegally.� The notice on Sunday (May 22) from Police Chief Ben Salma, citing a May 8 decree from the Bejaia Province governor, also states that all churches �in all parts of the country� will be closed for lack of compliance with registration regulations, but Christian leaders dismissed this assertion as the provincial official does not have nationwide authority. The May 22 notice from the governor of Bejaia Province in Kabylie region to the president of the Protestant Church of Algeria (EPA) asserted that all churches in the province were illegal because they were unregistered. Registration is required under controversial Ordinance 06-03, but Christians report the government refuses to respond to or grant their applications for registration. The controversial law was introduced in 2006 to regulate non-Muslim worship. In 2008 the government applied measures in accordance with Ordinance 06-03 to limit the activities of non-Muslim groups, ordering the closure of 26 churches in the Kabylie region because they were not registered. No churches had been closed down since then. EPA members argue, however, that the law is impossible to implement as officials refuse to register their churches despite efforts to comply. They said authorities apply the law when they want to harass churches. �It�s always the same thing,� Mustapha Krim, president of the EPA, told Compass. �They use this law when they want to pester us.�
May 30 (Compass Direct News) � Convicting a Christian convert for insulting the prophet of Islam, a judge in Algeria last week stunned the Christian community by sentencing him beyond what a prosecutor recommended. In Oran, 470 kilometers (292 miles) west of Algiers, a criminal court in the city�s Djamel district on Wednesday (May 25) sentenced Siaghi Krimo to a prison term of five years for giving a CD about Christianity to a neighbor who subsequently claimed he had insulted Muhammad. Krimo was also fined 200,000 Algerian dinars (US$2,760), according to Algerian news reports. The prosecutor had reportedly requested the judge sentence him to a two-year prison sentence and a fine of 50,000 Algerian dinars (US$690). �He gave a CD to a neighbor, and for that he has to spend five years in prison,� said the president of the Protestant Church of Algeria, Mustapha Krim, trying to contain his disbelief. Defense lawyer Mohamed Ben Belkacem told Compass that the judge�s verdict was unexpected and heavy, indicating the legal system�s prejudice against Christians. The lawyer said he plans to appeal the case. Krimo is not required to serve his prison sentence until the court hears his appeal and upholds the conviction. The court delivered its verdict the same week that the governor of the province of Bejaia ordered the closing of seven Protestant churches. Over the weekend (May 27-29) authorities did not interfere with the scheduled worship meetings in the district of Bejaia despite the order for all the churches of the area to close and threats that police could use force.
May 12 (Compass Direct News) � Muslim villagers beat a 22-year-old Christian man last month for defending Christian girls against routine harassment and bullying, sources said. Sipon Mondol was beaten on April 20 while returning to his native village of Nittanandapur from Gangni, Meherpur district, some 200 kilometers (120 miles) west of the capital city of Dhaka, his father said. On April 15, at a cultural event to celebrate the Bengali New Year, Poresh Mondol said his son had defended Christian girls against the slurs of a group of young Muslim men in an exchange that led to a gang fight. The Mondol family informed the parents of the young Muslim men, and village elders assured the Christians that they would resolve the long-standing problem, telling them that such harassment would not happen again, he said. �After the complaint, though, those Muslim boys became more predatory,� he said. �He was severely beaten. He was treated in the hospital for one day and released on April 21.� Gangni Police Inspector Motiur Rahman told Compass that authorities were taking the proper steps in response to the Christians� complaint but had so far arrested only one of the seven Muslim suspects.
May 5 (Compass Direct News) � Placing Egypt on a U.S. State Department list that penalizes countries for their lack of religious freedom would be a mistake, according to some Egyptian human rights activists and Christian leaders. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom issued its annual report on April 28, recommending that Egypt be placed on the list of �Countries of Particular Concern,� or CPCs. While many in Egypt agree with the report�s assertion that religious persecution and sectarian violence are serious issues in Egypt, some said the designation would be counterproductive and would give the burgeoning government a black eye before it has a chance to address the issues. �We don�t think it is helpful to add Egypt to any black list this year,� said Hossam Bahgat, director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights. �It sends a negative message that Egypt is worse off this year now that it is not being ruled by a dictator.� Other rights advocates, as well as clergymen, agreed with Bahgat that placing Egypt on a blacklist would be counterproductive, although they would not comment for the record. Bahgat said that although there is no evidence that the number of attacks has increased from this time last year, there have been �qualitative changes� in the attacks that he finds �very disturbing,� including the demolition in March of church building in Sool village.
May 9 (Compass Direct News) � At least 12 people were killed and more than 200 were wounded when members of a conservative Muslim movement attacked two churches and surrounding Christian-owned homes and businesses in a poor section of Cairo on Saturday (May 7). Salifis, a hard-line Islamic movement with extremist tendencies, set fire to one of the two church buildings, leaving most of it gutted. The arson attack on the Virgin Mary Church in Imbaba was one of many recent assaults on Coptic Christians by members of the Salafist movement, and the second time in two months that a church building in the country has been set ablaze. The first attack started early Saturday evening (May 7) at St. Mina Church in Imbaba after a rumor spread that a Coptic woman who allegedly converted to Islam was being held in the church against her will. Clergy members of St. Mina allowed a group of Islamic imams into the church building to search for the woman, and the imams declared to the gathering Muslims that the woman wasn�t in the building, according to witnesses at the scene. Reports of who struck the first blows were contradictory, but the Salafist crowd was not dissuaded by the imams� report, and by 8:30 p.m. the fight had started. Ramses Roushdy, 43, was injured in the attack. He said a piece of glass went into his eye from an exploding Molotov cocktail while he was defending his father, a lay leader in the church. After unsuccessfully trying to push through the barricades, the mob went to the Virgin Mary Church, an undefended building a 10-minute walk from St. Mina. A few men were in the building when it was attacked. All escaped except for one, Salah Aziz, the church attendant. A group of youths trying to extinguish embers from the fire discovered his body in a side room of the sanctuary that was used a baptismal, said the Rev. Mittias Ilias, head priest of the Virgin Mary Church.
May 11 (Compass Direct News) � Shifting political winds in the north African countries of Egypt and Sudan will leave their mark on history, but local attitudes ensure one thing remains unchanged: the laws against defaming Islam will stand like granite in a sandstorm. As Egyptians continue to grapple with a revolution and seek freedoms commonplace in other parts of the world, there is no sign that Egypt�s version of an anti-blasphemy law will be changed. And in Sudan, where the non-Islamic south is set to split from the Islamic north on July 9, Christians remaining in the north are more vulnerable than ever to baseless accusations of defaming Islam. In Egypt, violation of Article 98(f), can bring five years of prison for �defaming a heavenly religion� or �insulting Islam.� Ashraf Thabet, 45, spent 132 days in solitary confinement under the charge but was never brought to court. In Sudan�s Sunni Muslim-majority north, the maximum sentence for violating the country�s blasphemy law is milder than Egypt�s maximum of five years in prison, but potentially more painful. Violation of Section 125 of the Sudanese Criminal Act, which prohibits �insulting religion, inciting hatred and showing contempt for religious beliefs,� is punishable by imprisonment of one year, a fine, and 40 lashes. As in Egypt, the law can be used as a pretext for taking legal action against anyone who leaves Islam, since conversion to Christianity itself can be interpreted as �insulting� or �showing contempt� for Islam. �This article is being used by the police to crush any person who leaves Islam for Christianity,� said one Christian convert.
May 20 (Compass Direct News) � Hundreds of Muslims, angered by the prospect of a government-closed church re-opening in their neighborhood, protested outside the church yesterday, causing the provisional military authority to back away from its promise to allow Orthodox clergy to reopen it. Protestors started gathering on Thursday afternoon (May 19) outside the Church of the Virgin Mary and St. Abraam in Ain Shams, a poor section of northeastern Cairo. The church was scheduled to reopen that day, but protestors surrounded the building, preventing anyone from getting into it and trapping priests who were inside. Several people were injured in fights between the Copts and the Muslims. Protestors threw rocks at each other, according a witness. One Coptic bystander was seriously injured, another witness said, when he took out a cell phone camera to record the protest and a group of Muslims surrounded and beat him. Several Copts were arrested, according to church officials. Peter Rizq, a lay minister at the church, said he, the priests and others trapped in the building found a way to sneak to safety after Muslims threatened to kill the head priest of the congregation. �He told us, �We need to go home now,�� Rizq said. �He told us we couldn�t stay any longer in the church because it would cause more problems.� The men left the church building one by one, but some of them were later arrested and charged with illegal possession of weapons, a charge Rizq said was untrue.
May 12 (Compass Direct News) � On Feb. 8, a large mob in Indonesia gathered outside a courthouse in Temanggung, Central Java, chanting �Kill, kill!� after judges awarded Antonius Richmond Bawengan, a Roman Catholic, the maximum five-year sentence for blasphemy. By nightfall some 1,000 people had rampaged through the town burning vehicles, two churches and a church-run school, injuring nine people in the process. Three days later, prosecutors in Jakarta sentenced Murhali Barda, a regional leader of the hard-line Front Pembela Islam (FPI or Islamic Defenders Front) to only five-and-a-half months in prison and fined him the equivalent of 10 US cents for orchestrating an attack on a Protestant church in which two Christians were seriously injured. These events provide a snapshot of the rising fanaticism that has seriously damaged Indonesia�s reputation as a moderate Islamic nation. �The real root of the country�s religious intolerance is the 1965 Blasphemy Law,� wrote Armando Siahaan in a recent Jakarta Globe report. Many observers agree that the 1965 law and associated legislation, coupled with a lack of political will to curb hard-line groups, are to blame for the steep climb in religious violence. �The FPI have established fear in so many hearts, including the courts and the government, that we all feel it would be less troubling to just �let it go,�� a local Christian leader who requested anonymity told Compass. �In religious cases, the radicals pressure the judges and let them know when they�re not happy with a verdict.�
May 18 (Compass Direct News) � A pastor in Kirkuk, Iraq told Compass that sources close to a Christian reportedly kidnapped, tortured and murdered by al Qaeda over the weekend said the kidnappers had pressured his employer to fire him because he was a Christian. The body of Chaldean Christian Ashur Issa Yaqub was found on Monday (May 16) with marks of severe torture and mutilation. He had worked as a construction worker from the northeastern city of Kirkuk, and al Qaeda members had demanded $100,000 for his release, according to Agence France-Presse. �It seems that the contractor that Ashur was working for was told he had to fire Ashur because he was Christian, but he refused,� said the pastor, who spoke on condition of anonymity. �Because the contractor was rich and they couldn�t do anything to him, they kidnapped Ashur, and unfortunately they killed him.� The 29-year-old Yaqub, whose surname is also spelled Jacob, is survived by his wife and three children. Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Kirkuk Louis Sako told Compass by phone from Rome that he was shocked to get the news of Yaqub�s death. While noting that the murder was unusually brutal, the archbishop said it was probably the work of criminal opportunists trying to make money, and that Yaqub was not necessarily targeted as a Christian. �It was horrible,� Sako said. �When I heard it, I was ripped. He was kidnapped for money. That happens, but kidnappers don�t usually torture and kill this way. This wasn�t human �this is like they were beasts.�
May 3 (Compass Direct News) � Christian leaders have called for an investigation into political violence that targeted churches and Christian homes, with at least one clergyman saying yesterday that Islamic attacks following federal elections were premeditated. Pastor Emmanuel Nuhu Kure of Kafanchan in Kaduna state reportedly said at a press briefing that the religious component of the political violence should not be discounted. �How come the Muslim fighters . . . were neatly surrounding the walls of the Anglican Cathedral, and the Yoruba Baptist pastor�s house and setting them on fire while shooting, without any resistance, if it was not premeditated and planned?� Pastor Kure said. Christians suffered many casualties in Kaduna state after supporters of Muslim presidential candidate Muhammudu Buhari lost the April 16 federal election to Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian. Over the weekend Christian leaders in northern Nigeria called for a federal probe into the violence, saying more than 200 church buildings were burned. �The violence was both political and religious, because Christians, our churches and property, were the main targets for the destruction by the perpetrators of the violence,� the chairman and secretary of the northern branch of the Christian Association of Nigeria said in a press statement. Bishop Jonas Katung, national vice president of the North Central Zone of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria, said in a statement that seven Christians were killed and 65 churches were either burned or damaged in Katsina state; 28 Christians were killed in Bauchi state, while 78 church buildings and other properties were set ablaze; in Gombe state, 38 Christians were killed, 17 church buildings and 27 houses were burned; in Zamfara state, five church buildings and one pastor�s house were burned; in Jigawa state,17 churches were burnt in Hadeija and seven in Jahun, he said.
May 10 (Compass Direct News) � As she lay on the ground after being shot and then slashed with a machete, Dune James Rike looked into her husband�s tear-filled eyes and asked, �Is this the end between us, so we shall not be together again?� Pastor James Musa Rike told Compass he held the hands of his dying, 35-year-old wife and told her, �Hold on to your faith in Jesus, and we shall meet and never part again.� Muslim extremists who attacked Kurum village, in the Bogoro local government area of Nigeria�s Bauchi state, had already killed two of their children in a rampage that began Wednesday (May 4) at midnight. Rike, pastor of a Church of Christ in Nigeria congregation in Kurum, next heard the cries of his 13-year-old daughter, Sum James Rike, who lay mortally wounded a few yards away. �She told me that the Muslim militants told her they would kill her and �see how your Jesus will save you,�� he said. The girl told her father that she responded by telling them that Jesus had already saved her, and that by killing her they would only be making it possible for her to be with Him. Pastor Rike prayed for her as she died. Shooting and setting homes on fire, the Muslim extremists killed 12 other Christians in the attack. Bauchi police reported 16 dead � one man, three women and 12 children. Pastor Rike and his son survived the attack, and his adopted daughter, Whulham James Rike, was injured and receiving treatment at the General Hospital in Bogoro, along with five others. The assailants set more than 20 houses ablaze before leaving the village, police said.
May 16 (Compass Direct News) � Christians from a local Evangelical Church Winning All congregation of this Plateau state town have been displaced after Muslim extremists set their church building and some homes on fire last month. The Rev. Ishaku Danyok of the church told Compass that the April 29 incident occurred after Muslims approached Christian music shop owner Gabriel Kiwase and told him that his music was disturbing them as they said their prayers. The young Christian man quietly switched off the music, and 20 minutes after the Muslims left, they returned and burned down the music shop, then set fire to the pastor�s house and the property of five other Christians, Danyok said. The pastor�s family, his wife and four children were left homeless, he said. Christians from his church, a Roman Catholic parish and Deeper Life Bible Church in Dengi town lost property in the attack, he added. Danyok said that as a result of the destruction, most members of his church have fled the town, reducing attendance at services to 50. �We currently worship in the destroyed church building with no roof to shield us from the sun and the rains,� he said.
May 2 (Compass Direct News) � Hundreds of Muslims in Gujranwala on Saturday (April 30) attacked Christians� homes, a school and a Presbyterian church building after learning that police had released two Christians accused of �blasphemy� � amid reports of another alleged desecration of the Quran. Mushtaq Gill and his son Farrukh Mushtaq were released on Friday afternoon (April 29) after a handwriting expert hired by police determined that the latter had not written a threatening note accompanying burned pages of the Quran, police sources said. The two Christians had been taken into protective custody on April 15. On Saturday morning (April 30), however, as news of their release spread, a Muslim claimed that pages of the Quran had been burned in Gujranwala�s Aziz Colony cemetery in Punjab Province. Announcements over area mosque loudspeakers began blaring, and Muslim residents and members of extremist groups began gathering. The mob started rioting and hurling rocks at the houses of Christians, including a school owned by a Christian, Eric Isaac, who was among eight Christians police took into custody for questioning, as well as at a neighborhood church building. At least 18 people � 15 Muslim protestors and three policemen � were injured and had to be hospitalized after police used tear gas and batons to disperse the mob. There were no reports of injured Christians. Around 150 protestors were arrested, with two cases registered against them for attacking Christian property and �creating a law and order situation.� Retired Maj. Timothy Nasir, principal of Faith Theological Seminary in Gujranwala, told Compass by telephone that the violent riots had forced a large number of Christian families to flee.
May 6 (Compass Direct News) � Police in Chichawatni, Sahiwal district have charged a mentally ill Christian with �injuring religious feelings� under Pakistan�s widely condemned blasphemy laws. Three families related to 25-year-old Babar Masih � the only other Christian families in the area � have fled their homes after a Muslim mob threatened to harm them, relatives of the accused told Compass. Police in Chichawatni, Punjab Province registered the blasphemy case against Masih on Monday (May 2) after arresting him at about 10 p.m. that night; the young man�s own family handed him over to police because a large number of Muslim clerics had gathered outside their house and demanded that he be turned over to them so that they could �do justice� by killing him, relatives said. His brother, Amjad Masih, told Compass that Babar Masih has suffered a mental illness for the past six or seven years typified by fits of unprovoked rage, abusive language and lack of concern for food and clothing. Masih was charged under Section 298 of Pakistan�s blasphemy statues for �uttering words . . . with deliberate intent to wound religious feelings� and Section 298-A for �use of derogatory remarks . . . in respect of holy personages.� Attorney Khurram Shehzad Maan of the European Center for Law and Justice�s office in Pakistan said that the complainant clearly states in the First Information Report that Babar Masih was addressing the stars as he allegedly cried out against the prophet and holy personages of Islam, Maan said. �It means that the police must have come to know since the beginning that Babar was not a sane person, who was addressing stars, and also Babar never meant to injure feelings of any Muslims,� Maan added. Police were not available for comment at press time.
May 13 (Compass Direct News) � Pakistan�s notorious �blasphemy� laws can put even children at risk, and Christians say the days when they could teach their offspring pat answers to protect them from accusations of disparaging Islam or its prophet seem to have passed. A 30-year-old Pakistani woman who grew up in Lahore said her Christian parents taught her formula answers to keep from falling prey to accusations under the blasphemy statutes, such as �I am a Christian, I can only tell you about Him.� Now radical Islamists have begun influencing Pakistani society, and parents teach schoolchildren not to discuss religion, she said. �We just tell children, �Don�t talk about religion in school.� This is shaky ground now.� Thousands of Pakistanis who think and believe differently than mainstream Muslims are at risk of being slandered under the blasphemy law. Personal vendettas from neighbors, co-workers and rivals are the most common reasons blasphemy law cases are filed, according to Paul Marshall of the Hudson Institute�s Center for Religious Freedom. �There are more victims from mobs and vigilantes than from the government itself, but the government bears responsibility because it does not protect the victims,� he said. Pakistan is moving increasingly towards a state driven by fear of extremists, where even moderate politicians make conservative choices to appease Islamist threats, according to Sara Taseer Shoaib, daughter of Punjab Province Gov. Salman Taseer, who was murdered for his opposition to the blasphemy laws. �Pakistan is definitely becoming more right-wing and extremist when it comes to religion,� she said.
May 19 ( Compass Direct News) � An influential Muslim family in a village near Sheikhupura is holding a 17-year-old Christian girl hostage because one of her brothers allegedly eloped with a woman from the Muslim family. The Muslim parents have threatened further retaliation against the Christian family if they do not produce their daughter, whom they have also threatened to publicly shoot dead as an �honor killing.� An area clergyman identified only as Father Emmanuel called the situation �critical,� saying it has pitted the area�s 1,800 Muslim families against its 70-to-100 Christian families and could lead to violence. Abid Masih, a welder at a factory in Sheikhupura, told Compass by telephone that the family was asleep in their home in Ghazi Minara village on Friday night (May 13) when armed Muslims belonging to the village�s influential Gujjar family arrived at their doorstep. They took him, his sister Rakhel, an uncle and a cousin to their house and beat them throughout the night in an effort to disclose the couple�s whereabouts, he said. The Muslim woman who allegedly eloped with Sajid was identified as Saleha; both are in their early 20s. Masih said that on Saturday (May 14), the Gujjars freed the three Christian men but kept Rakhel hostage in their home, and on Tuesday (May 17), they released her but forcibly took her 17-year-old sister Maryam. �They have warned us that if we approach the police, they will turn the issue into a religious matter, and the bloodshed there would make the Gojra carnage small by comparison,� he said. At least seven Christians were burned alive by Muslim mobs in Gojra after the spread of a rumor of blaspheming Islam on Aug. 1, 2009.
May 24 (Compass Direct News) � Sudanese National Security Intelligence and Security Service agents have arrested a Christian woman in a Darfur camp for displaced people, accusing her of converting Muslims to Christianity, said sources who fear she is being tortured. At the same time, in Khartoum a Christian mother of a 2-month-old baby is wounded and destitute because she and her husband left Islam for Christianity. In Darfur, Hawa Abdalla Muhammad Saleh was arrested on May 9 in the Abu Shouk camp for Internally Displaced Persons in Al-Fashir, sources said. Abdalla has yet to be officially charged, but authorities have accused her of possessing and distributing Bibles to others in the camp. Sources said she could also be tried for apostasy, which carries the death sentence in Sudan. Abdalla has been transferred to an unknown location in Khartoum, sources said, adding that they fear she could be tortured as she was detained and tortured for six days in 2009. In Khartoum, Omar Hassan and Amouna Ahamdi, both 27, said they fled Nyala for Khartoum in June 2010, but knife-wielding, masked assailants on May 4 attacked them after relatives learned that they had converted to Christianity. Ahamdi was injured trying to protect Hassan during the attack, he told Compass. Ahamdi said her brother had stabbed her three times in the stomach nine months ago, seriously injuring her spleen, after she told him she had become a Christian. �We cannot deny Christ � this is a big challenge to us, because we do not have a place to go,� she said, through tears. �We have no food, and we are jobless. I am still in pain, besides having a 2-month-old baby boy to care for.�
May 6 (Compass Direct News) � The government tried to portray several thousand Hmong followers of a sub-Christian messianic cult as orthodox Christians while the military forcibly disbanded their gathering yesterday and today. The cult members recruited from orthodox Christian groups � vulnerable to false teaching in a country where Christians cannot print their own Bibles and are subject to other restrictions � had gathered for religious reasons in Muong Nhe district, Dien Bien Province, but it turned into a confrontation before local defense forces disbanded them, bolstered by Vietnam People�s Army reinforcements hastily dropped in by helicopters. Sources in Muong Nhe told Compass today that several thousand Hmong who had initially gathered to wait for the ushering in of a new Hmong kingdom had been sent or taken back to their home areas, but that some 3,000 remained. A source said that about 50 Hmong followers, including the purported �messiah� and another top leader, fled into the forest but were captured by the military. The two leaders were said to have been severely beaten by the military. One Compass source said that no one had been killed in the military action, contrary to one published report. A Vietnam expert said government information, foreign press agency reports, and an unnamed diplomat quoted in an Agence France-Presse report on events in Muong Nhe district contain information that wrongly impugns the entire large Hmong Christian movement. �
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