Morningstar News http://morningstarnews.org First Light Before the Dawn Wed, 28 Sep 2016 20:12:26 +0000 en-US hourly 1 After Nine Years, Killers in Malatya, Turkey Slayings Are Convicted, Sentenced http://morningstarnews.org/2016/09/after-nine-years-killers-in-malatya-turkey-slayings-are-convicted-sentenced/ http://morningstarnews.org/2016/09/after-nine-years-killers-in-malatya-turkey-slayings-are-convicted-sentenced/#respond Wed, 28 Sep 2016 19:33:48 +0000 http://morningstarnews.org/?p=5983 Susanne Geske, widow of martyr Tilmann Geske, after memorial ceremony for Uğur Yüksel. (Morning Star News)

Susanne Geske, widow of martyr Tilmann Geske, after memorial ceremony for Uğur Yüksel. (Morning Star News)

ISTANBUL, Turkey (Morning Star News) – After a nine-year legal saga, a Turkish criminal court today sentenced five men to life in prison for the torture and murder of three Christians in southeast Turkey in 2007.

The Malatya First Heavy Penal Court found Salih Gurler, Cuma Ozdemir, Abuzer Yildirim, Hamit Ceker and Emre Gunaydin guilty on three counts each of premeditated murder and sentenced them all to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Despite the conviction and sentencing, however, all five walked out of court free men while their case awaits higher legal review, infuriating Turkish Christians.

Gokhan Talas, close friend of the three slain Christians and witness at the murder scene, said he was “okay” with the decision but was angry that the convicted men walked away free while the sentence is reviewed by higher courts.

“They need to be in jail right now,” Talas said. “This process is unjust. There’s no justice for Christians in this country. This is the proof of that. They are just hiding behind the laws. These people are killers.”

In a press release issued by the Association of Protestant Churches in Turkey, pastor Ihsan Ozbek, chairman of the association, echoed Talas’ dismay that the perpetrators were free despite being handed life sentences.

“Of course the legal process will continue as the case passes to the Regional Administrative Court, and then will go to the Supreme Court. This process can take years, and the killers of our brothers brutally murdered can move around freely for years to come,” Ozbek said. “The continuous postponement of the punishment they deserve severely wounds confidence in justice.”

On April 18, 2007, in the office of the Zirve Publishing House in Malatya in southeastern Turkey, Gurler, Ozdemir, Yildirim, Ceker and Gunaydin killed Ugur Yüksel, 32, and Necati Aydin, 36, both Turkish converts from Islam, and Tilmann Geske, 45, a German national. The five Muslim, Turkish nationalists bound the three men, interrogated them about their Christian activities, mutilated them and then slit their throats, according to court evidence and testimony.

Police arrested the five men almost immediately after the crime was reported. Gunaydin attempted to escape police by jumping out of an upstairs window of the office and suffered serious injuries. Several others were later arrested in connection with the crime, including Turna Işıklı, Gunaydin’s girlfriend.

According to several Christians close to those killed, one or more of those arrested cultivated relationships with the victims. Several Christians said Gunaydin went so far as to pose as being interested in the Christian faith or even becoming a Christian to get as close as possible to the three men.

When they were arrested, at least one of the suspects had a note claiming they committed the slaying for their country.

“They are trying to take our country away, take our religion away,” the note read in part.

Gunaydin today showed no remorse. According to Ozbek, Gunaydin told the court regarding the killing, “I am thankful that I did not shame my country or cause any embarrassment.”

Today’s hearing was the 115th hearing in the trial. The number of hearings and the fact that the case took so long to prosecute was the source of a great deal of anguish for Turkey’s Christians.

In 2008, the court held its first hearing in the case, but the proceedings were problematic and difficult from the start. The judges and prosecutors were changed more than once, causing significant delays, and subpoenaed witnesses simply refused to show up in court to testify without legitimate reason and without being punished later for contempt of court.

Most significant in delays was the attempt to explore links between the killings and a larger alleged attempt by the Turkish military to subvert the Justice and Development Party-led government. There was much speculation that arrests of lawyers and judges in the wake of a coup attempt in July would further delay proceedings.

Nationalist Conspiracy Theory

From the beginning of the trial, Gunaydin was portrayed as the leader of the attack with links to nationalist groups and to nationalist writer Varol Bulent Aral. According to testimony by Gunaydin, Aral urged the killing of the Christians and said he would have support of the state, meaning hard-core nationalists within the military.

In 2009, the murder case was linked to the Ergenekon file, concerning a suspected cabal plotting against the government. As a result of this, a host of new witnesses were called into court, including a colonel in the gendarmerie and three army officers.

Ozbek referred to the efforts to investigate those connections in his press statement.

“Today the judge explained the verdict saying that the murders could not have taken place without connections to a [criminal] organization, but it was important for the court to admit that they had not exposed this connection,” he said, adding that the court ruled, in its own words, “Yes, there is an organization, but [the court] did not find the link.”

Especially galling to families of the victims was that the five suspects on March 10, 2014 were released on bail under a new reform law that reduced the allowable period of pretrial detention from 10 years to five. Under public pressure, authorities required them to wear electronic monitoring devices, a practice that continues after the conviction, but the release has caused extreme distress among the families and friends of the victims.

The suspects had in the past threatened family members of the victims. At one point after the release in March, Talas’ wife suffered a nervous breakdown due to stress and was hospitalized, Talas told Morning Star News. He said the continued freedom of the now convicted killers leaves him “very concerned.”

Anadolu Agency, the official state sponsored Turkish news agency, said the court acquitted 16 suspects that had been arrested in the case. One army officer, retired Col. Mehmet Ulger, was sentenced to 13 years and nine months in jail for “violation of confidentiality of communication and forgery of official documents.” Ulger were detained in March 2011 as a result of the murder case being joined with the investigation of the Ergenekon coup plot trial.

If you would like to help persecuted Christians, visit http://morningstarnews.org/resources/aid-agencies/ for a list of organizations that can orient you on how to get involved.  

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Morning Star News is a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation that relies solely on contributions to offer original news reports of persecuted Christians. By providing reliable news on the suffering church, Morning Star News’ mission is to empower those in the free world to help and to encourage persecuted Christians that they are not forgotten or alone. For free subscription or to make tax-deductible donations, contact editor@morningstarnews.org, or send check to Morning Star News, 34281 Doheny Park Rd., # 7022, Capistrano Beach, CA 92624, USA.

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Night http://morningstarnews.org/2016/09/night-2/ http://morningstarnews.org/2016/09/night-2/#respond Tue, 27 Sep 2016 16:09:06 +0000 http://morningstarnews.org/?p=5978 Auschwitz-Birkenau, main track. (Wikipedia, C. Puisney)

Auschwitz-Birkenau, main track. (Wikipedia, C. Puisney)

(Morning Star News) As Morning Star News enters its fifth year of publication, and in memory of Elie Wiesel, who died on July 2, the editorial that inaugurated the news service website in 2012 is here republished.

At times some Jewish friends, astonished, cannot help asking me how Christians can be so indifferent toward religiously motivated violence done to Christians. I reply that it seems Christians are largely unaware of persecution of Christians; during my seven-year stint as editor of persecution news service Compass Direct News, I was surprised to learn how few Christians knew their brethren in, say, India, were being regularly attacked.

But the problem goes deeper than that. A recent nationwide poll shows 74 percent of church-goers want to hear more about the persecuted church, but clergy and media believe otherwise – most pastors especially in the United States back away from the “downer” of persecution, and most media assume their audiences want to hear about anything besides religious rights violations. When not highlighting the trivialities that feed their monstrous appetite for website page views, mainstream media will occasionally let religiously motivated aggression come to light, though invariably miscast as “sectarian strife.”

Systemic biases, then, are at work now as they were before, during and after the Holocaust. In his heart-wrenching account of surviving the Holocaust, “Night,” the late Elie Wiesel shows how even his tightly knit, childhood community of Orthodox Jews in 1942 ignored a co-religionist who was witness to Nazi atrocities. Two years later, 15-year-old Wiesel and his family were rounded up like cattle and taken to Auschwitz.

Very quickly – not long after seeing Jewish children thrown into a fire pit – young Wiesel felt he had entered into a night that, in his soul, would never end. Such darkness is not something that Christians today wish to willingly enter, but Wiesel has devoted his life to showing that to ignore it is to become an accomplice.

When I and other foreign correspondents met with Wiesel in Madrid, Spain in the mid-1990s, our respective newspapers’ response to the 1986 Nobel Peace Prize laureate and his message – “Never forget” – was somewhat disparate. A few of the reporters clearly revered him; my editor back in the states, however, seemed to view him as a kind of publicity hound and said not to worry about writing anything up.

Was systemic bias at work against bringing religious freedom violations to light ? The answer is nuanced but essentially “Yes,” and it is worth noting that it took decades for Wiesel’s witness to be widely heeded. It was Catholic novelist François Mauriac who helped him get his account published in France, and that took three years. When Mauriac first met Wiesel in 1955, even he had to halt his talk of Jesus long enough to hear the exasperated Holocaust survivor uncharacteristically snap that he had seen hundreds of children suffer more than Jesus did.

Mauriac wept. After he helped get “La Nuit” published – and wrote the preface, which reflects a Christian perspective on what was for Wiesel the death of God – Wiesel’s literary agent in New York then toiled two years before finding a publisher that would overlook U.S. readers’ more optimistic tastes and print 3,000 copies. It took three years to sell those.

Raising awareness about religious persecution is not an easy sell; that’s one reason this news service is a non-profit enterprise. It does not exist to sell information, but to shed light. Its reporters, some of whom risk their lives in the undertaking, regard it as a duty and calling to shine a light on the violators and to be the first glimmer of hope for Christians suffering for their faith. What victims enduring the night of religious persecution need, we believe, is the bright morning star.

As Wiesel  – who struggled toward his dawn and rebuilt his view of God  – said in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech: “What all these victims need above all is to know that they are not alone; that we are not forgetting them, that when their voices are stifled we shall lend them ours, that while their freedom depends on ours, the quality of our freedom depends on theirs.”

Originally published Nov. 16, 2012

If you would like to help persecuted Christians, visit http://morningstarnews.org/resources/aid-agencies/ for a list of organizations that can orient you on how to get involved.   

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© 2016 Morning Star News. Articles/photos may be reprinted with credit to Morning Star News.  

Morning Star News is a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation that relies solely on contributions to offer original news reports of persecuted Christians. By providing reliable news on the suffering church, Morning Star News’ mission is to empower those in the free world to help and to encourage persecuted Christians that they are not forgotten or alone. For free subscription or to make tax-deductible donations, contact editor@morningstarnews.org, or send check to Morning Star News, 34281 Doheny Park Rd., # 7022, Capistrano Beach, CA 92624, USA.

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Woman in Uganda Beaten Unconscious for Attending Church Service http://morningstarnews.org/2016/09/woman-in-uganda-beaten-unconscious-for-attending-church-service/ http://morningstarnews.org/2016/09/woman-in-uganda-beaten-unconscious-for-attending-church-service/#respond Mon, 26 Sep 2016 12:47:32 +0000 http://morningstarnews.org/?p=5973 Woman attacked after visiting church service; image altered for security reasons. (Morning Star News)

Woman attacked after visiting church service; image altered for security reasons. (Morning Star News)

NAIROBI, Kenya (Morning Star News) – A Muslim in Uganda beat his wife unconscious for attending a church service on Sept. 18, sources said.

Hussein Kasolo had recently married Fatuma Baluka, 21-year-old daughter of an Islamic leader in a predominantly Muslim village, undisclosed for security reasons, in Eastern Uganda’s Budaka District.

“When I arrived home, my husband shouted at me as an ‘infidel,’ and then and there started hitting me with a metallic object,” Baluka told Morning Star News. “I fell down, only to find myself in a hospital bed.”

Neighbors said they arrived and rescued Baluka, who was bleeding from head and leg injuries as her husband continued to hit her.

“We found Baluka unconscious, and we were able to overpower the husband’s brutal attack,” a resident who requested anonymity told Morning Star News.

They took her to a Budaka District hospital, where she remained until Thursday (Sept. 22).

“I have become an enemy to my husband, and my parents will not receive me either just for attending the church,” she said. “I feel disowned and helpless.”

She had visited the undisclosed, area church with a female friend. The church pastor, whose name also is withheld for security reasons, said she has become a Christian.

“She was among those who were prayed for in the church service, and on Thursday she mentioned to me that the very Sunday when she was prayed for, she felt convicted in her heart that she was a sinful lady, and that immediately a heavy burden rolled away,” the pastor said. “She is now being discipled to be rooted in the Christian faith.”

Baluka has taken refuge at a site away from her home, he said, adding that she needs prayer for emotional and physical healing.

About 85 percent of the people in Uganda are Christian and 11 percent Muslim, with some eastern areas having large Muslim populations. The country’s constitution and other laws provide for religious freedom, including the right to propagate one’s faith and convert from one to another, but Christians in eastern Uganda are suffering continual attacks by non-state figures.

If you would like to help persecuted Christians, visit http://morningstarnews.org/resources/aid-agencies/ for a list of organizations that can orient you on how to get involved.

If you or your organization would like to help enable Morning Star News to continue raising awareness of persecuted Christians worldwide with original-content reporting, please consider collaborating at http://morningstarnews.org/donate/?

 

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© 2016 Morning Star News. Articles/photos may be reprinted with credit to Morning Star News.  

Morning Star News is a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation that relies solely on contributions to offer original news reports of persecuted Christians. By providing reliable news on the suffering church, Morning Star News’ mission is to empower those in the free world to help and to encourage persecuted Christians that they are not forgotten or alone. For free subscription or to make tax-deductible donations, contact editor@morningstarnews.org, or send check to Morning Star News, 34281 Doheny Park Rd., # 7022, Capistrano Beach, CA 92624, USA.

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Muslim in Ethiopia Attacks Wife for Leaving Islam http://morningstarnews.org/2016/09/muslim-in-ethiopia-attacks-wife-for-leaving-islam/ http://morningstarnews.org/2016/09/muslim-in-ethiopia-attacks-wife-for-leaving-islam/#respond Wed, 21 Sep 2016 16:38:59 +0000 http://morningstarnews.org/?p=5963 Mosque in Jimma, Oromia Region, Ethiopia. (Wikipedia)

Mosque in Jimma, Oromia Region, Ethiopia. (Wikipedia)

NAIROBI, Kenya (Morning Star News) – A woman in Ethiopia had been a Christian for six weeks when her husband found out and beat her for leaving Islam, sources said.

Habiba Ibrahim, a 34-year-old mother of three in Bokulu Boma, Ethiopia, received hospital treatment for three days after the assault earlier this month by her husband, Ibrahim Dido, the sources said. She had put her faith in Christ on Aug. 2 in Bokulu Boma, about 50 kilometers (31 miles) from the Moyale on the border between Ethiopia and Kenya.

Dido’s anger flared after Sept. 10 morning prayers at a nearby mosque, where he had confirmed rumors that his wife had left Islam, and he began striking her with tree branches, Ibrahim told Morning Star News.

“He locked me in the house and began beating me with sticks, and immediately neighbors arrived and rescued me from my husband’s wrath,” she said.

A neighbor who helped rescue her said Ibrahim’s clothes were covered with blood from a deep cut on her forehead.

“Her husband was shouting, saying that she should die for forsaking Islam,” the neighbor said.

Area residents rushed Ibrahim to a clinic in Bokulu Boma, and she was discharged after three days. Besides the gash on her head, she had bruises on her left hand and elbow.

Ibrahim had placed her faith in Christ after an evangelist spoke with her about saving faith in Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection. Their conversations were part of an evangelistic movement in northern Kenya and southern Ethiopia, begun 10 years ago, in the Burji language spoken by people living on both sides of the Moyale area.

After trusting in Christ, Ibrahim began stepping back from Islamic ritual, she said.

“My husband began questioning me on my laxity in Islamic activities, which I did not respond to,” Ibrahim said.

A week before the attack, a woman from the church with which Ibrahim had connected visited her, saying, “Take care for your life, because the Muslims have discovered that you have converted to Christianity,” a source said.

Ibrahim and her three children, ages 8, 6 and 3, have taken refuge in another village and need medical and financial support.

Ethiopia’s constitution requires the separation of state and religion, establishes freedom of religious choice and practice, prohibits religious discrimination and stipulates the government shall not interfere in the practice of any religion, according to the U.S. State Department’s 2015 International Religious Freedom Report.

Of the population of 99.4 million in Ethiopia, about 20 percent belong to Christian evangelical groups and 40 percent to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church (EOC), while about 34 percent of the total population is Muslim, according to Operation World.

Ethiopia ranked 18th on Open Doors’ 2016 World Watch List of countries where persecution of Christians is most severe.

If you would like to help persecuted Christians, visit http://morningstarnews.org/resources/aid-agencies/ for a list of organizations that can orient you on how to get involved.  

If you or your organization would like to help enable Morning Star News to continue raising awareness of persecuted Christians worldwide with original-content reporting, please consider collaborating at http://morningstarnews.org/donate/? 

 

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© 2016 Morning Star News. Articles/photos may be reprinted with credit to Morning Star News.  

Morning Star News is a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation that relies solely on contributions to offer original news reports of persecuted Christians. By providing reliable news on the suffering church, Morning Star News’ mission is to empower those in the free world to help and to encourage persecuted Christians that they are not forgotten or alone. For free subscription or to make tax-deductible donations, contact editor@morningstarnews.org, or send check to Morning Star News, 34281 Doheny Park Rd., # 7022, Capistrano Beach, CA 92624, USA.

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Muslim Rebels Massacre Christians in Central African Republic http://morningstarnews.org/2016/09/muslim-rebels-massacre-christians-in-central-african-republic/ http://morningstarnews.org/2016/09/muslim-rebels-massacre-christians-in-central-african-republic/#respond Mon, 19 Sep 2016 14:14:09 +0000 http://morningstarnews.org/?p=5955 Central African Republic (CIA Factbook)

Central African Republic (CIA Factbook)

NAIROBI, Kenya (Morning Star News) – Muslim militants slaughtered 26 civilians in a predominantly Christian village in the Central African Republic on Friday (Sept. 16), the worst violence in the embattled country in months, sources said.

Rebels from the former Seleka group attacked the village of Ndomete, about 220 miles north of the capital city of Bangui, at 8 p.m. and went door-to-door killing Christians, a source in neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo told Morning Star News.

Fighting between Seleka, officially disbanded in 2013, and Christian “anti-Balaka” militias has increased in the past year, but government and U.N. officials said Friday’s attack targeted civilians. Violence between Muslim and Christian militias hit nearby Kaga-Bandoro, where the Central African Republic’s U.N. peacekeeping mission reportedly quelled the violence over the weekend, but an area Christian leader cast doubt on the country’s ability to bring order.

“If the government is not going to beef up the security, then we are going to defend ourselves,” he said. “We shall not keep quiet as our brothers are dying.”

Hostility between Muslims and Christians worsened in 2013, when Seleka deposed then-President Francois Bozize and installed Michel Djotodia, a Muslim. Djotodia announced the disbanding of Seleka in September 2013, but the rebels have since rampaged throughout the country, killing Christians and political enemies, leading to the formation of Christian militias to counter them.

Human Rights Watch has documented executions, rape and looting by ex-Seleka fighters. On May 28, 2014, rebels killed 11 people in a grenade and shooting attack at the Church of Fatima in Bangui.

In February former prime minister Faustin-Archange Touadera was elected president, bringing hope that political and religious conflict would subside, but rebel and militia fighters are still active outside the capital.

If you would like to help persecuted Christians, visit http://morningstarnews.org/resources/aid-agencies/ for a list of organizations that can orient you on how to get involved.   

If you or your organization would like to help enable Morning Star News to continue raising awareness of persecuted Christians worldwide with original-content reporting, please consider collaborating at http://morningstarnews.org/donate/?   

 

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© 2016 Morning Star News. Articles/photos may be reprinted with credit to Morning Star News.  

Morning Star News is a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation that relies solely on contributions to offer original news reports of persecuted Christians. By providing reliable news on the suffering church, Morning Star News’ mission is to empower those in the free world to help and to encourage persecuted Christians that they are not forgotten or alone. For free subscription or to make tax-deductible donations, contact editor@morningstarnews.org, or send check to Morning Star News, 34281 Doheny Park Rd., # 7022, Capistrano Beach, CA 92624, USA.

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Authorities Arrest Christian Leader in Al Jazirah State, Sudan, in School Takeover http://morningstarnews.org/2016/09/authorities-arrest-christian-leader-in-al-jazirah-state-sudan-in-school-takeover/ http://morningstarnews.org/2016/09/authorities-arrest-christian-leader-in-al-jazirah-state-sudan-in-school-takeover/#respond Tue, 13 Sep 2016 14:02:20 +0000 http://morningstarnews.org/?p=5943 Al Jazirah state, Sudan. (Wikipedia)

Al Jazirah state, Sudan. (Wikipedia)

JUBA, South Sudan (Morning Star News) – Authorities in southeastern Sudan arrested the headmaster of a Christian school last week and took over its property, sources said.

Armed police and officials from the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) on Sept. 5 arrested the Rev. Samuel Suliman and 12 teachers at the school in Madani, capital of Al Jazirah state. The Christians were accused of supporting the Sudan People’s Liberation Army-North (SPLA-N), a rebel group fighting government forces farther south in the Nuba Mountains state of South Kordofan.

Strongly denying the charge after the accused were released on bail following eight hours in jail, Suliman told Morning Star News that police presented a letter from the National Ministry of Guidance and Endowments, addressed to the State Ministry of Social Welfare, ordering the handover of Evangelical Basic School to the government.

“Over the past days, we have experienced difficult times in the school,” Suliman said, asking for prayer.

The school serves more than 1,000 students, ages 3 to 18, in Madani. Established by the American Mission in 1901, it belongs to the Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church.

Harassment, arrests and persecution of Christians have intensified since the secession of South Sudan in July 2011. The Sudanese Minister of Guidance and Endowments announced in April 2013 that no new licenses would be granted for building new churches in Sudan, citing a decrease in the South Sudanese population. Sudan since 2012 has expelled foreign Christians and bulldozed church buildings on the pretext that they belonged to South Sudanese.

Sudan fought a civil war with the South Sudanese from 1983 to 2005, and in June 2011, shortly before the secession of South Sudan the following month, the government began fighting a rebel group in the Nuba Mountains that has its roots in South Sudan. The rebels in the Nuba Mountains were formerly involved with the southern Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) forces fighting Khartoum before the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA).

Fighting between Sudan and South Sudan broke out in June 2011, when Khartoum forcefully attempted to disarm the SPLA-N in South Kordofan by force rather than awaiting a process of disarmament as called for in the CPA. When the CPA was signed in 2005, the people of South Kordofan were to vote on whether to join the north or the south, but the state governor suspended the process.

Ethnic Nuba, along with Christians, face discrimination in Sudan, where President Omar al-Bashir has vowed to adopt a stricter version of sharia (Islamic law) and recognize only Islamic culture and the Arabic language.

The Nuba people have longstanding complaints against Khartoum – including neglect, oppression and forced conversions to Islam in a 1990s jihad – but as Sudanese citizens on the northern side of the border, they were never given the option of secession in the 2005 peace pact between northern and southern Sudan.

Due to its treatment of Christians and other human rights violations, Sudan has been designated a Country of Particular Concern by the U.S. State Department since 1999, and the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom recommended the country remain on the list in its 2016 report.

Sudan ranked eighth on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2016 World Watch List of countries where Christians face most persecution.

If you would like to help persecuted Christians, visit http://morningstarnews.org/resources/aid-agencies/ for a list of organizations that can orient you on how to get involved.  

If you or your organization would like to help enable Morning Star News to continue raising awareness of persecuted Christians worldwide with original-content reporting, please consider collaborating at http://morningstarnews.org/donate/?   

 

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© 2016 Morning Star News. Articles/photos may be reprinted with credit to Morning Star News.  

Morning Star News is a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation that relies solely on contributions to offer original news reports of persecuted Christians. By providing reliable news on the suffering church, Morning Star News’ mission is to empower those in the free world to help and to encourage persecuted Christians that they are not forgotten or alone. For free subscription or to make tax-deductible donations, contact editor@morningstarnews.org, or send check to Morning Star News, 34281 Doheny Park Rd., # 7022, Capistrano Beach, CA 92624, USA.

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Persecution in Eastern Uganda Persists as Christian Convert Is Killed in Western Area http://morningstarnews.org/2016/09/persecution-in-eastern-uganda-persists-as-christian-convert-is-killed-in-western-area/ http://morningstarnews.org/2016/09/persecution-in-eastern-uganda-persists-as-christian-convert-is-killed-in-western-area/#comments Thu, 08 Sep 2016 17:41:22 +0000 http://morningstarnews.org/?p=5934 Aisha Twanza recovering from poisoning at her home in Kakwangha, eastern Uganda. (Morning Star News)

Aisha Twanza recovering from poisoning at her home in Kakwangha, eastern Uganda. (Morning Star News)

NAIROBI, Kenya (Morning Star News) – While Muslim villagers continue to persecute Christians in eastern Uganda, Islamists last month killed a Christian in the western part of the country, sources said.

The blood-stained body of a convert from Islam, 32-year-old Enoch Shaban, was found hanging from a tree in Mbarara District. An area resident in Kitebero Cell, Katete Ward, Nyamitanga Division said that on Aug. 10 at about 8 p.m. he heard Shaban shouting for help after another man said, “We have warned you several times of being a disgrace to our religion, and you have not taken seriously our warnings.”

A source in Mbarara told Morning Star News that Shaban had told him of area Muslims threatening to kill him.

“Two weeks before meeting his death, he had mentioned several messages on his phone warning him to recant the Christian faith and return to Islam,” the source said.

Shaban, a member of the Church of Uganda, appears to have been struck with a metallic object on his forehead and, after death, been hung with rope from a tree, according to local newspaper Kamunye. The suspects are area residents who have not been seen since the murder.

His body was found a little over a mile from the shop where he worked, on the route to his home. The morning before his death, Muslims were reportedly seen loitering conspicuously around his shop. The area is predominantly Muslim.

A police officer in-charge of criminal investigations at the Mbarara police station, Afande Taban Chiriga, reportedly said he is optimistic about finding the suspects.

Convert Poisoned

On the same day Shaban was killed, a Christian woman in eastern Uganda was poisoned, she said.

Aisha Twanza, a 25-year-old convert from Islam, ingested an insecticide put into her food after family members upbraided her for becoming a Christian, she told Morning Star News. She and her husband, who live in Kakwangha village in Budaka District, put their faith in Christ in January.

The couple had moved to Kakwangha from Kedenge village, Iki-iki County, after relatives there threatened to kill them for leaving Islam, she said.

Twanza said she had hurried to Kedenge on Aug. 10 after relatives told her that her mother was seriously ill, but that she arrived to find she was not sick.

“I was questioned about my new faith in Christ, and I could deny this,” she told Morning Star News. “They were very disappointed with me for deserting Islam.”

They later served her food, she said.

“After I ate the food, they allowed me to go back to Kakwangha,” she said. “Reaching home, I started feeling stomach upset that continued persisting. Soon the pain intensified, and my husband rushed me to Mbale hospital, then I was taken to Pallisa, where poisoning was discovered after several tests.”

A doctor at Olaja & Sons Nursing Home in Kabole, Pallisa District, told Morning Star News that Twanza ingested diazinon, an insecticide that in high amounts can cause the symptoms she suffered: severe stomach pains, diarrhea and vomiting.

Weak and unable to stand, she was treating the poisoning with medication when Morning Star News visited her.

“I never expected my parents to do such a thing to me, but I thank God for saving me and healing,” she said. “Now I am getting better.”

About 85 percent of the people in Uganda are Christian and 11 percent Muslim, with some eastern areas having large Muslim populations. The country’s constitution and other laws provide for religious freedom, including the right to propagate one’s faith and convert from one faith to another, but Christians in eastern Uganda are suffering continual attacks by non-state figures.

If you would like to help persecuted Christians, visit http://morningstarnews.org/resources/aid-agencies/ for a list of organizations that can orient you on how to get involved.   

If you or your organization would like to help enable Morning Star News to continue raising awareness of persecuted Christians worldwide with original-content reporting, please consider collaborating at http://morningstarnews.org/donate/?   

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© 2016 Morning Star News. Articles/photos may be reprinted with credit to Morning Star News.  

Morning Star News is a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation that relies solely on contributions to offer original news reports of persecuted Christians. By providing reliable news on the suffering church, Morning Star News’ mission is to empower those in the free world to help and to encourage persecuted Christians that they are not forgotten or alone. For free subscription or to make tax-deductible donations, contact editor@morningstarnews.org, or send check to Morning Star News, 34281 Doheny Park Rd., # 7022, Capistrano Beach, CA 92624, USA.

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Muslims Shoot Father of Kidnapped Christian Woman in Pakistan, Sources Say http://morningstarnews.org/2016/09/muslims-shoot-father-of-kidnapped-christian-woman-in-pakistan-sources-say/ http://morningstarnews.org/2016/09/muslims-shoot-father-of-kidnapped-christian-woman-in-pakistan-sources-say/#respond Wed, 07 Sep 2016 11:25:53 +0000 http://morningstarnews.org/?p=5924 Gulzar Masih. (Morning Star News)

Gulzar Masih. (Morning Star News)

LAHORE, Pakistan (Morning Star News) – Three days after police in Pakistan refused to comply with a court order to arrest Muslims who abducted, raped and tried to convert and marry a young Christian woman, one of the kidnappers shot her father, sources said.

Ghulam Hussain and three other Muslims kidnapped 27-year-old Asma Gulzar at gunpoint four months ago and repeatedly raped and tortured her, the woman informed her family after fleeing her captors last month when they forgot to lock the door of their hideout, the family attorney said. She had gone missing from her paternal aunt’s home in Sialkot’s Hajipur area in Punjab Province.

Her father, Gulzar Masih, took the assailants to court over their claim that Asma Gulzar had voluntarily converted from Catholicism to Islam and married Hussain. After hearing the woman’s testimony of abduction and rape, a judge on Aug. 24 ordered police to immediately arrest the accused, an attorney said.

On Aug. 27, Hussain and one of his accomplices, identified only as Akram alias Billa, attacked Masih near a deserted plot, Masih told Morning Star News at his home, where he was recuperating.

“I was immersed in thoughts regarding the case when I saw Ghulam Hussain and Akram running towards me, hurling threats and abuses,” he said. “As soon as they came near me, Hussain whipped out a pistol and fired a shot aimed at my chest. He then fired two more bullets at my legs, after which I fell down on the road. He then asked Akram to break my skull with a metal object that he was carrying. I was hit in the head, after which I lost consciousness.”

Masih said his family had received warnings to withdraw their complaints against Hussain, but that he was determined to get justice for his daughter “at all costs.”

“They may try again to kill me, but I will not stop from knocking on the doors of justice to avenge my daughter’s dishonor,” he said. “Hussain and his friends are also threatening my three sons with dire consequences, but we have resolved not to sit quiet and let them get away with such a heinous crime.”

Islamist Pressure

Gulzar initially thought his daughter, who has a speech and hearing impairment, had left home of her own free will when she disappeared, and so he did not file a missing persons report, said his attorney, Hafiz Atiqur Rehman Salim.

“However, in August, the girl unexpectedly returned home and informed them that she had been forcibly taken by Ghulam Hussain and three other men at gunpoint and was kept hostage at an unknown location where the accused had repeatedly raped her,” Salim said. “She told her family that she had fled from captivity when Hussain forgot to lock the door of the hideout.”

Masih immediately contacted police and requested registration of an abduction and rape case, but instead Sub-Inspector Zafar Iqbal of the Rangpura Police tipped off the accused, Salim said, and Hussain subsequently filed an application demanding custody of his “wife.” Hussain claimed that Asma Gulzar had been his wife for three years and had married him after converting to Islam. He produced a marriage certificate and a religious conversion certificate issued by a local Islamist cleric who recorded her name as Ayesha, allegedly her Muslim name, Salim said.

He added that Hussain, accompanied by 20 to 25 Islamist clerics, started pressuring police to hand Asma Gulzar to them, claiming she was a Muslim and should be given back to her Muslim husband.

“Asma denied all claims relating to her marriage with Hussain and the alleged conversion to Islam in a written statement to the police,” Salim said. “However, the police’s connivance with the accused became clear when Sub-Inspector Iqbal started forcing Masih and his daughter to ‘settle the matter amicably’ with Hussain and go with him, as she was his ‘lawfully wedded wife.’”

When she refused to go with Hussain, the police official sent her to a women’s shelter, saying that she would have to stay there until a court decided her legal status, the attorney said. He and the family believe the documents Hussain provided were falsified because, among other things, they identified her father as “Yousaf Bhatti.”

“Asma’s father is Gulzar Masih, and this information is registered in all official documents, including her National Identity Card,” Salim said. “Even if someone changes their religion, how is it possible to change the father’s name?”

The counsel said that after the police’s refusal to register a First Information Report (FIR) against Hussain, the victim’s family filed a motion with the court seeking return of Asma Gulzar from the shelter. Judge Qamar Abbas admitted the family’s petition and ruled that she should return home. The judge also directed police to register an FIR against the accused and investigate the case on merit, Salim said.

The court’s order fell on deaf ears, however, and police refused to move against Hussain, he said. The attorney then filed an application in the court of Additional Session Judge Syed Nasir Bukhari, who ordered Iqbal to appear in court on Aug. 24. Bukhari also ordered that Asma Gulzar appear in court and sought assistance from the head of a local government institution for the impaired to interpret her statement.

“On the day of the hearing, Asma narrated her entire ordeal to the court,” Salim said. “She outright denied ever having renounced her Christian faith or marrying Hussain. She told the court that she had been whisked away by Hussain and his masked accomplices from near her paternal aunt’s home, and they had kept her in illegal captivity since then, during which she was subjected to torture and rape. After hearing the victim’s statement, the judge ordered Sub-Inspector Iqbal to immediately register an FIR against Hussain and arrest all those involved in the case.”

In the subsequent attack on Gulzar Masih, he suffered a severe head wound from Akram’s blunt instrument, a flesh wound from the bullet aimed at his chest, and broken bones from bullets fired at his legs, Salim said.

Ten 10 days since the attack on Masih, Iqbal was still dragging his feet in registering an FIR and arresting the accused on charges of attempted murder, he said.

“The main accused, Hussain, is roaming around freely, while his accomplice, Akram, has been taken into custody on the basis of the complaint we moved for registration of the FIR,” he said. “The brazen attack on Masih could have been prevented if the police had acted swiftly on the court’s order and arrested the accused.”

The lawyer said he had filed a contempt petition against Iqbal with Bukhari’s court for not implementing the directive to register an FIR and arrest the accused, while an application has been filed in another court seeking registration of an FIR related to attempted murder of Masih.

A hearing on both the cases has been set for Thursday (Sept. 8). Salim said the prosecution was prepared to challenge the marriage and religion conversion certificates.

“We will try our best to see that none of the accused escapes the law, no matter how influential they may be,” he said.

Morning Star News made repeated attempts to contact Iqbal for comment, but the police official declined, saying “the matter is in court.”

A senior lawyer told Morning Star News that the rape allegation might not hold in court, “as much time has lapsed since the occurrence of the incident, and no medical examination of the victim was undertaken by the police.”

“The prosecution should focus its case on the charge of abduction and illegal captivity,” said Chaudhry Shoaib Salim, a Lahore High Court attorney. “They should also challenge the authenticity of marriage and religion conversion documents in court, besides filing applications with senior police officials and the court against the partiality shown by the police official responsible for arresting the accused persons and ensuring justice to the victim.”

Seeking Justice

Masih, who stitches soccer balls at sporting goods factory, said he will not submit to threats to withdraw the case.

“Ghulam Hussain and his friends abducted my daughter at gunpoint and took her to an unknown place,” he said. “They tortured and raped her for months, and her escape from their captivity is nothing less than a miracle for us. My daughter Asma has studied until Grade 10 and is literate enough to reveal what she was made to suffer during her months in captivity.”

Nasir Saeed, director of the Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance & Settlement-U.K., said in a press statement that an alarming rise in forced conversion and abduction of Christian girls in Pakistan is due to authorities’ inaction.

“Since the government has failed to investigate Muslim clerics who are suspected of being involved in forced conversions and issuing of false certificates of conversion and marriages, such crimes will continue happening, and I see no end to the miseries of girls belonging to the Christian and other minority faiths,” he said. “Instead, I fear that it will worsen.”

If you would like to help persecuted Christians, visit http://morningstarnews.org/resources/aid-agencies/ for a list of organizations that can orient you on how to get involved.  

If you or your organization would like to help enable Morning Star News to continue raising awareness of persecuted Christians worldwide with original-content reporting, please consider collaborating at http://morningstarnews.org/donate/?   

 

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© 2016 Morning Star News. Articles/photos may be reprinted with credit to Morning Star News.  

Morning Star News is a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation that relies solely on contributions to offer original news reports of persecuted Christians. By providing reliable news on the suffering church, Morning Star News’ mission is to empower those in the free world to help and to encourage persecuted Christians that they are not forgotten or alone. For free subscription or to make tax-deductible donations, contact editor@morningstarnews.org, or send check to Morning Star News, 34281 Doheny Park Rd., # 7022, Capistrano Beach, CA 92624, USA.

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Christian Security Guard Killed in Islamic Extremist Terrorist Attack in Pakistan http://morningstarnews.org/2016/09/christian-security-guard-killed-in-islamic-extremist-terrorist-attack-in-pakistan/ http://morningstarnews.org/2016/09/christian-security-guard-killed-in-islamic-extremist-terrorist-attack-in-pakistan/#respond Sun, 04 Sep 2016 22:44:50 +0000 http://morningstarnews.org/?p=5917 Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, Pakistan. (Wikipedia)

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, Pakistan. (Wikipedia)

LAHORE, Pakistan (Morning Star News) – Swift action by security forces prevented a major tragedy in northwestern Pakistan after four Taliban suicide attackers armed with bombs and assault rifles targeted a Christian colony early Friday (Sept. 2).

One Christian security guard was killed and five others – two Christians and three security personnel – were injured in the attack on the gated community near Peshawar, capital city of Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province. Suicide bombers with notorious terror group Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Jamaatul Ahraar faction, launched an attack on the colony when the security guard opened the main gate.

The TTP Jamaatul Ahraar group had also carried out the Easter attack aimed at Christians in Lahore’s Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park on March 27, killing more than 70 people, including women and children, and injuring over 300 others. Though aimed at Christians, most of the victims were Muslims.

Some 30 Christian families live in the colony attacked on Friday, which is close to the Warsak Dam some 20 kilometers (12 miles) from Peshawar. Most of the Christians work at the dam and its affiliated offices. The colony is also near the borders of the restive Khyber and Mohmand tribal agencies. Situated close by are an army training center, a cadet college and an Army Public School.

Intelligence sources said that the army installations were initially the target of the attack, but since security forces had already received intelligence and were alert to the threat, the Islamic extremist instead moved in to attack the Christian colony.

The four assailants were waiting outside the main gate of the colony when Christian security guard Samuel Masih, 55, unlocked it at 5:30 a.m.

“Masih was hit by a volley of bullets fired from an assault rifle as soon as he unlocked the main gate,” a senior security official said. “He died instantly while two other security guards were injured during the crossfire.”

Church of Pakistan Bishop of Peshawar Humphrey Peters told Morning Star News that Masih was a hero who had sacrificed his own life to save the lives of his community members.

“This was yet another attempt to terrorize the Christian community, but we are thankful to God that he has saved us from an attack that could have caused massive deaths,” he said, adding that timely intervention of security forces had thwarted the terrorists’ plan to inflict maximum casualties.

Masih is survived by his wife, Razia Bibi, and five children – two sons and three daughters.

The senior security official said one of the bombers entered an under-construction house owned by a local Christian named Farrukh Masih and blew himself up. There were no casualties when the bomb exploded.

In a statement on the army media wing’s official twitter handle, Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Director General Asim Bajwa said that, “Authorities promptly responded, and all four suicide bombers are dead.”

Wearing suicide vests and carrying firearms, the attackers exchanged fire with security forces backed by army helicopters and were killed, Bajwa said. Two soldiers, a policeman and two civilian security guards were wounded, he added.

The official said the attackers might have been attempting to enter an adjacent security installation by exploiting weaker security arrangements in the residential area.

A spokesperson for the Inspector General of Police Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province told Morning Star News that police have enhanced security at Christian establishments, schools, hospitals, colonies and churches.

“Police have sensitized the administration regarding security alert,” he said. “Schools’ security has also been beefed up.”

Jamaatul Ahraar Responsible

The TTP Jamaatul Ahraar said in a statement issued to media that its attack came in response to recent claims by the Pakistan Army that it has pushed back terror groups.

The attack on the Christian colony came barely a day after Bajwa gave an exhaustive rundown of progress made against terrorists in the country’s northwestern region in Operation Zarb-e-Azb, launched in June 2014.

He highlighted that Pakistan had suffered a cumulative loss of $106.98 billion in the war on terror between 2001 and 2015.

“We are not doing it for anyone but ourselves,” he stressed.

He said 3,500 terrorists had been eliminated during the course of Operation Zarb-i-Azb.

The attack on the Christian Colony comes just three weeks before the third anniversary of a deadly twin suicide bombing on All Saints Church in Peshawar on Sept. 22, 2013, in which at least 96 Christians died, including many children.

If you would like to help persecuted Christians, visit http://morningstarnews.org/resources/aid-agencies/ for a list of organizations that can orient you on how to get involved.  

If you or your organization would like to help enable Morning Star News to continue raising awareness of persecuted Christians worldwide with original-content reporting, please consider collaborating at http://morningstarnews.org/donate/?   

 

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© 2016 Morning Star News. Articles/photos may be reprinted with credit to Morning Star News.

Morning Star News is a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation that relies solely on contributions to offer original news reports of persecuted Christians. By providing reliable news on the suffering church, Morning Star News’ mission is to empower those in the free world to help and to encourage persecuted Christians that they are not forgotten or alone. For free subscription or to make tax-deductible donations, contact editor@morningstarnews.org, or send check to Morning Star News, 34281 Doheny Park Rd., # 7022, Capistrano Beach, CA 92624, USA.

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Coptic Teenagers Sentenced in Egypt for ‘Defaming Islam’ in Video Flee to Switzerland http://morningstarnews.org/2016/09/coptic-teenagers-sentenced-to-prison-in-egypt-for-defaming-islam-in-video-flee-to-switzerland/ http://morningstarnews.org/2016/09/coptic-teenagers-sentenced-to-prison-in-egypt-for-defaming-islam-in-video-flee-to-switzerland/#comments Sat, 03 Sep 2016 15:46:14 +0000 http://morningstarnews.org/?p=5909 (From left) Moller Yasa, Klenton Faragalla, Bassem Younan and Albir Shehata at Istanbul Ataturk Airport before departure on Thursday (Sept. 1). (Morning Star News)

(From left) Moller Yasa, Klenton Faragalla, Bassem Younan and Albir Shehata at Istanbul Ataturk Airport before departure on Thursday (Sept. 1). (Morning Star News)

ISTANBUL, Turkey (Morning Star News) – Sentenced to prison in Egypt for allegedly insulting Islam in a video, four Coptic teenagers who had taken refuge in Turkey for months on Thursday (Sept. 1) flew to Switzerland to seek asylum.

In exclusive interviews with Morning Star News, the boys said they made their video before the release of the Islamic State (IS) mass execution video they were said to be mocking, and that at the time they had never even heard of the group.

Sentenced to five years in prison, the boys fled Egypt in April and, with the backing of Christian and human rights organizations, lived in secret for five months in a safe house in Istanbul. Two weeks ago, each was granted a humanitarian visa “under special circumstances” to Switzerland, where they will seek asylum.

Albir Shehata, 17, told Morning Star News that the ordeal was unfair and has been crushing, but that the opportunity to start again in Switzerland gives him new hope.

“In Egypt, no one gets punished for blasphemy against Christians,” Shehata said. “There was no reason to be treated that way for something that silly. It was all a joke with the teacher. But now it’s a great feeling, because I feel like I have an opportunity for a better life than what I had in Egypt, because in Egypt my future is ruined. In Switzerland I have an opportunity to make up for it.”

A judge on Feb. 25 sentenced Shehata, Klenton Faragalla, 18, Moller Yasa, 17, and Bassem Younan, 17, all of Al-Nasriyah village in Upper Egypt, to five years in prison for violating Article 98F, Defaming a Revealed (or Heavenly) Religion, in a mobile phone video.

In the 32-second video, Shehata appears for a few seconds kneeling and performing the Salat, the prayer performed five times daily by observant Muslims. Right before the video stops, Younan holds his hand as if it were a knife and draws it across Shehata’s throat. The other two boys shown on camera only wave to the person recording the video and to the other boys.

The boys’ teacher, 43-year-old Gad Younan (no relation to Bassem Younan), recorded the video with his mobile phone on Feb. 14, 2015 at a youth retreat for Copts. Gad Younan was recording everyone in the room, not just the boys, and Shehata and Bassem Younan said neither of them intended to mock Islam in any way; they were merely trying to get the teacher’s attention in a dorm room crowded with Christians by making silly gestures.

Gad Younan later misplaced his phone, and on April 6, 2015, a Muslim in their village found it and played the video.

Word of the video spread rapidly throughout Al-Nasriyah. By the next day, a group of Muslims complained to the police, and on April 8 a mob of enraged Muslims began tearing through the village, beating any Copt they could find.

For three days the rioting raged as thousands of Muslims from adjacent villages came to Al-Nasriyah to join the looting. At least 15 stores were damaged or destroyed. Mobs roamed through Al-Nasriyah chanting Islamic slogans and demanded all Christians be pushed out of the village.

During the rioting, the four boys were terrified for their lives. On more than one occasion mobs surrounded their homes chanting for their deaths. Shehata said that while he was trapped in his home, hiding, he could hear people outside arguing over who had the right to kill him.

“People were arguing over who would get the blessing and honor of killing me, or if they should all join in and have part of the blessing,” he said.

Even after the rioting ended, mobs occasionally formed and marched through the streets, threatening Copts.

The teacher was arrested on April 7, 2015 at his home, one day after the phone was found, and on April 9 the boys were able to get to the village mayor’s house during a lull in the rioting. A detail of soldiers took them to police after telling them they would spend just a few hours at the station to be admonished by authorities and then released, the boys said. Instead, the minors were severely interrogated, beaten and then put in jail.

Conditions in jail were harsh. In addition to being given little other than rotten, boiled eggs and bread to eat, Faragalla said prison guards offered rewards to inmates to beat them, and they did so regularly. The guards and inmates also tried to force them to convert to Islam.

“When I was put in the cell on the first day, the guard told them, ‘These boys dare to insult Islam – show them how we treat people who insult our holy religion,’’ Faragalla said.

As harsh as the treatment was, at times a handful of inmates protected the boys from violence and made sure they had more food.

“God really took care of us,” Shehata said.

After hearings for the trial started, the boys eventually were released on a security bond of 10,000 Egyptian pounds (US$1,125) each. In all Shehata, Yasa, and Younan spent a little more than 50 days in jail. Faragalla spent 63.

“We went into a jail for adult prisoners, but we were still children,” Faragalla said. “But we saw people doing hashish and all other sorts of drugs.”

Bizarre Trial

From the beginning, the boys said, the trial appeared to have a foregone outcome of conviction.

The teacher had been banished from town during a “reconciliation” meeting. Taking their cue from the banishment and concerned that they would be killed as they awaited trial, the four suspects went into hiding almost immediately after being released on bail.

Yasa and Younan fled to the resort town of Sharm El Sheikh, while Shehata hid in Hurghada, a city on the Red Sea.

Faragalla was forced to spend most of the next year on the run, sleeping in the streets of Cairo and Alexandria. Churches that had known him before the incident refused to help him, largely out of fear, he said.

The boys had very little part in their defense. They said their defense attorney, in an effort to garner sympathy for them, claimed they were making fun of IS terrorists in the video, following the release of IS’s video showing the beheading of 20 Coptic Christians in Libya. The boys adamantly denied this to Morning Star News.

They said that until recently they never read the news regularly and knew nothing about the existence of the terrorist group, much less the mass beheading. They said the attorney’s claim was a total fabrication, as the mobile phone video was recorded before IS released its now infamous video of the mass beheading.

Because of their attorney’s statements, however, the fiction about IS being the subject of the boys’ scorn was widely reported in Egyptian and international media.

A great deal of other false information was spread about the video inside Egypt, they said. Rumors circulated that it was a form of trailer for a movie, or that the video circulating in the public was actually a sample of one that was an hour long.

The boys’ attorney told them that the judge who sentenced them to prison never even watched the video, they said, adding that the only judicial authority that reviewed the video was a judge who ordered them released on bail.

The boys were stunned when they heard the news that they were sentenced to five years in prison.

“I was shocked; I couldn’t believe it, I was so confused,” Shehata said.

Faragalla said he thought Yasa was kidding when he told him the sentence.

“I thought it was a joke, and that we had been released with no charge,” he said.

Flight from Egypt

In early April, the boys’ left the places they were hiding, snuck out of Egypt and flew to Turkey.

Most of the details about how they escaped Egyptian authorities cannot be published for security reasons.

Despite the relative anonymity of living in a large city like Istanbul, on one occasion the boys were recognized together by an Egyptian Muslim traveling in Turkey. The boys also suffered persecution from people in Turkey who assumed they were Muslim based on their Middle Eastern features and became incensed when they found out they were Christian. On one occasion, a Turkish man on the street where Shehata was living assaulted him when he found out Shehata wasn’t a Muslim.

Other persecution came when the boys looked for jobs. Wherever they approached shopkeepers or business owners, they were asked if they were Muslim, they said. When the boys said they weren’t, they were briskly turned away.

“It was a very hurtful thing; sometimes we lied so we wouldn’t be embarrassed,” Faragalla said.

Shehata said when he came to Turkey he wore his cross on top of his clothes, but because of reactions in Istanbul, he eventually wore it under his shirt.

“My cross was never a sign of shame for me,” he said. “The cross is a sign of pride, but in Egypt it is seen as shameful. It seems to be the same in Turkey.”

At the end of April the four boys registered with the United Nations to apply for refugee status. After the boys were registered, one human rights group and at least two Christian organizations worked apart from the U.N., discreetly through international channels, to obtain entry visas for them to a potential host country where they could apply for permanent asylum. Daniel Hoffman, executive director of Middle East Concern (MEC), one of the agencies working to protect the four teenagers, said Switzerland responded completely differently from all other countries they approached.

“We are grateful for the Swiss authorities and our partners in Switzerland who helped get them to Switzerland,” Hoffman said. “We applied to a number of countries to allow these boys to come in outside of the U.N. process, and Switzerland was the first and only one to respond positively.”

Normally, Hoffman said, one of MEC’s goals when assisting persecuted Christians is to help them remain safely in the region. In this case, however, the teenagers had already fled Egypt before they requested MEC’s help.

Roundly Criticized

The boys now join other Copts banished from their lives because of the blasphemy law. Egyptian teacher Demyana Abd al-Nour fled to France in 2013 after being falsely charged with blasphemy. She had been sentenced to six years in prison.

Also forced into internal exile for blasphemy was Kerolos Shouky Attallah, 31, of Al-Mahamid village, who was sentenced to six years in prison in 2014 for “liking” a Facebook post on a Christian website about Islam. Since the conviction, he lives secretly in different church buildings and monasteries.

Human rights advocates in Egypt and internationally roundly condemn the the country’s statutes against “defaming a heavenly religion,” saying they are “weaponized laws” used against the Coptic minority in Egypt that violate the basic human right to free speech.

While the case against the boys may be considered religious persecution in that the trial was apparently biased, the punishment disproportionate and the existence of the blasphemy law itself a tool for targeting religious minorities, critics say it is also a case of violation of free speech. The case illustrated once again the double standard in Egypt that Copts suffer from Egyptian government officials and society, human right advocates said.

While anti-Christian hate speech is common in all elements of Egyptian society, only one Muslim in Egypt has ever been charged with defiling Christianity in Egypt. Ahmad Mahmoud Abdullah, also known as “Abu Islam,” a Salafi Muslim and former television preacher known for his vitriolic anti-Christian messages, was sentenced to six months in prison on appeal for burning a Bible in front of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo in 2012.

Other Muslim clerics whose comments have incited riots in which Christians have been killed have escaped punishment.

“The blasphemy law is unfair and should be canceled,” Yasa said. “It’s only used against the Christians.”

The boys said they were all grateful to have an opportunity to start a new life, but Faragalla said he hopes one day to return to Egypt.

“We’re not going to lose hope about going back to Egypt in the future,” he said. “We will either go when we get citizenship or permanent residency to a new country.”

If you would like to help persecuted Christians, visit http://morningstarnews.org/resources/aid-agencies/ for a list of organizations that can orient you on how to get involved.  

If you or your organization would like to help enable Morning Star News to continue raising awareness of persecuted Christians worldwide with original-content reporting, please consider collaborating at http://morningstarnews.org/donate/?   

 

###

© 2016 Morning Star News. Articles/photos may be reprinted with credit to Morning Star News.  

Morning Star News is a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation that relies solely on contributions to offer original news reports of persecuted Christians. By providing reliable news on the suffering church, Morning Star News’ mission is to empower those in the free world to help and to encourage persecuted Christians that they are not forgotten or alone. For free subscription or to make tax-deductible donations, contact editor@morningstarnews.org, or send check to Morning Star News, 34281 Doheny Park Rd., # 7022, Capistrano Beach, CA 92624, USA.

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