Morningstar News http://morningstarnews.org First Light Before the Dawn Mon, 29 Aug 2016 22:59:51 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Iran Suspected of ‘Forcing Confessions’ to Obtain ‘Evidence’ against Church Leader http://morningstarnews.org/2016/08/iran-suspected-of-forcing-confessions-to-obtain-evidence-against-house-church-leader/ http://morningstarnews.org/2016/08/iran-suspected-of-forcing-confessions-to-obtain-evidence-against-house-church-leader/#respond Mon, 29 Aug 2016 22:37:57 +0000 http://morningstarnews.org/?p=5876 Amin Nader Afshar. (MEC)

Amin Nader Afshar. (MEC)

ISTANBUL, Turkey (Morning Star News) – Five members of an Iranian house church are missing after government agents arrested them on Friday (Aug. 26) without a warrant and took them to an undisclosed location, according to a leading advocacy group.

No information is available on the whereabouts of Ramiel Bet Tamraz, Amin Nader Afshar, Hadi Askary, Mohamad Dehnay and Amir Sina Dashti. Iranian Christians are fearful that the arresting officials have attempted to “force confessions” out of them to use as “evidence” against a central figure in the house-church movement, according to Middle East Concern (MEC).

The five men and their wives on Friday (Aug. 26) went on a fishing trip and picnic to Firuzkuh, 93 miles (150 kilometers) east of Tehran. At about 1:30 p.m. security officials from the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) raided the picnic.

When Afshar asked to see the arrest warrant, which the officials did not produce, he was beaten, according to MEC.

Rob Duncan, MEC’s regional manager for Iran, said the arrest was “absolutely illegal” and alarming because it took place at a picnic and not a religious meeting.

“The fact of the matter is they were going on a fishing trip,” he said. “There wasn’t even any intention of having a prayer meeting or anything like that. There was nothing.”

Rameil Bet Tamraz. (MEC)

Rameil Bet Tamraz. (MEC)

MOIS officials separated the men from the women and took the five men away. Family members have been unable to obtain information about their whereabouts.

One of the detained Christians, Tamraz, is the son of Assyrian pastor Victor Bet Tamraz, who was arrested along with other Christians at his home on Dec. 26, 2014 at a Christmas celebration. The elder Tamraz was informally charged with conducting evangelism, conducting illegal house-church activities and printing and distributing Bibles. He was released on bail on March 1, 2015 without ever being formally charged in court.

Afshar, arrested in 2014 along with the elder Tamraz, had been released on bail a month earlier. The two are expected to be summoned to court to face charges related to the 2014 arrests, and MEC representatives believe the government has subjected the five detained Christians to “severe” interrogation to force “evidence” out of them.

The five men join a group of 37 other Christians detained this month in a series of arrests across Iran of Christians involved in the country’s burgeoning house-church movement, according to human rights and religious freedom advocacy groups.

The first raid this month happened on Aug. 12 in Isfahan, 279 miles (449 kilometers) south of Tehran, when armed plain-clothes agents broke up a worship service taking place secretly in a home. The agents arrested 11 people at the house and then rummaged through the building, seizing Christian books, pamphlets and satellite television reception equipment, according to the Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA).

Ten of the 11 detained Christians have been identified by MEC as Amin Ahanin, Mohammad Alyasi, Fatemeh Amini, Edmund Khachaturian, Mohammad Malek Khatai, Mohsen Khoobyari, Arash Qodsi, Hamed Sepidkar, Samaneh Shahbazi-Far and Maryam Zonubi. Human rights groups have not been able to obtain the identity of the 11th person arrested at the gathering.

As with the five arrested on Friday, the 11 are being held incommunicado at an undisclosed location, and their status is unknown. They were last seen being driven away in vans from the scene of the arrests, according to the HRANA.

On Aug. 17 in western Iran, another house church was raided, and nine people were arrested. MEC confirmed that several house churches in northern Iran were also raided within the week, and 17 people are thought to have been taken into state custody. For security reasons MEC was unable to release any other information about the Aug. 17 arrests, other than to report that they appeared to be connected in some way.

“They [Iranian officials] have gathered information that has linked people to different house churches and then swooped on all the house churches the same day to avoid a warning being passed on,” Duncan said.

He added that since June, the number of arrests of house-church members has increased significantly.

“We can only guess the motivation behind the raids on house churches, but it is relentless,” he said.

According to the U.S. State Department’s 2015 International Religious Freedom Report, released Aug. 10, “Christians, particularly evangelicals and converts, continued to experience disproportionate levels of arrests and high levels of harassment and surveillance, according to reports from exiled Christians. Many arrests reportedly took place during police raids on religious gatherings, during which the authorities also confiscated religious property.”

After last month’s beating of Christian convert Ebrahim Firoozi by prison guards, his elderly mother implored authorities to release her son. Firoozi’s mother, who is almost blind, told Iranian authorities that she has no one to assist her through her disability. She also said that because she is almost blind, she is unable to visit her son in prison or go to his hearings.

Prison guards on July 13 beat Firoozi and forcibly took him to a court hearing. A prisoner in Gohardasht Prison in Iran, Firoozi, was summoned to the appeal hearing but refused to go because he thought his lawyer was to allowed to attend in his absence. When Firoozi was brought to court, one of the judges in the case was absent, and the appeal hearing was postponed.

A welder from Robat Karim, 25 kilometers (16 miles) southwest of Tehran, Firoozi has been under the scrutiny of the Iranian security apparatus since January 2010, when he was arrested for leaving Islam and hosting religious meetings. A Revolutionary Court convicted him of creating “propaganda against the state” and sentenced him to 10 months in prison, of which five were suspended.

He was released on June 8, 2011 but then arrested again on March 8, 2012. Charged with creating “propaganda against the state” for allegedly trying to create a website about Christianity, he was sentenced to one year in prison and two years in exile.

On Sept. 16, 2013, Firoozi was arrested a third time, and in April 2015, a judge in Branch 28 of the Revolutionary Court sentenced him to five years in prison for “creating a group with the intention of disturbing national security” for his role in organizing Christian meetings and conducting evangelical work.

Firoozi appealed but waited a year for July’s hearing. During that time, he has been denied access to religious books, even though the books he requested were published with the permission of the Culture and Islamic Guidance Ministry, according to the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran. His next hearing is set to convene in November.

The whereabouts of three Christians from Azerbaijan arrested in Iran still remain unknown. According to MEC, Eldar Gurbanov, 48, Yusif Farhadov, 51, and Bahram Nasibov, 37, from Word of Life Church in Baku all went missing on June 24 after security agents raided an engagement party in Tehran and arrested about 10 people. Most of those arrested were released, but the three along with an Iranian Christian who was with them were detained. Their location is still unknown, but they were able to contact their families once or twice, despite being confined in solitary holding cells.

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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Charges against Pastors in Sudan Could Lead to Death Penalty http://morningstarnews.org/2016/08/charges-against-pastors-in-sudan-could-lead-to-death-penalty/ http://morningstarnews.org/2016/08/charges-against-pastors-in-sudan-could-lead-to-death-penalty/#respond Mon, 22 Aug 2016 22:15:51 +0000 http://morningstarnews.org/?p=5870 The Rev. Hassan Abdurahim Tawor. (Christian Solidarity Worldwide)

The Rev. Hassan Abdurahim Tawor. (Christian Solidarity Worldwide)

JUBA, South Sudan (Morning Star News) – Prosecutors in Sudan yesterday accused two church leaders and two others of tarnishing the image of the country and crimes calling for the death penalty, sources said.

The trial began yesterday after it was postponed on Aug. 14 when authorities failed to transfer the pastors to court, a defense attorney told Morning Star News. Yesterday prosecutors presented investigators from Sudan’s National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) in calling on the court in Khartoum to execute the Rev. Hassan Abdelrahim Tawor and the Rev. Kwa Shamaal, both of the Sudanese Church of Christ (SCOC), for at least seven alleged crimes against the state, the defense attorney said.

He said the defense team is bracing for the charges concocted, which include the capital crimes of espionage and waging war against the state. In court yesterday, Abdelrahim denied all charges that NISS, said to be staffed by hard-line Islamists with broad powers to arrest people the government deems undesirable, brought against him, the attorney said.

“We are 100 percent ready to defend our clients,” the attorney said.

The pastors have also been charged with: complicity to execute a criminal agreement; calling for opposition of the public authority by violence or criminal force; exciting hatred between classes; propagation of false news article; and entry and photograph of military areas and equipment.

“There is no evidence against the two pastors,” a relative of one of the church leaders told Morning Star News.

Since the pastors’ transfer from a holding cell to Al-Huda Prison on Aug. 11, prison officials have denied them visitors, telling one family member, “Visits are not allowed.” Abdelrahim’s family has been concerned for his health as they have been unable to provide him with the medication he needs for stomach ulcers, according to advocacy group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).

Also charged is Abdulmonem Abdumawla of Darfur, a Muslim who was arrested in December after he began collecting money to help a friend, Ali Omer, who had needed treatment for burns suffered in a student demonstration. Abdumawla contacted Abdelrahim, who donated money for Omer’s treatment, which apparently raised the ire of Sudanese authorities, according to CSW.

Omer had been injured during a demonstration at Quran Karim University in Omdurman last year that left him with severe burns that require regular medical care, according to CSW. A senior member of the student wing of the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) died when 150 NCP students attacked Darfuri students at a meeting at Sharg El Nil College in Khartoum in April 2015, CSW reported.

“Since that incident, Darfuri students have been increasingly targeted by the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS),” CSW reported. “By May 2015, over 100 Darfuri students were detained by NISS in Khartoum and during 2016, NISS has violently suppressed peaceful student demonstrations against government repression.”

Shamaal, head of missions for the SCOC, was arrested on Dec.18, as was Abdelrahim. Shamaal was released on Dec. 21 but was required to report to NISS offices daily, a requirement that was removed on Jan. 16. Shamaal was re-arrested on May 25.

Many church members, mostly from the SCOC, gathered outside of the courtroom to show their solidarity with the two pastors, singing songs calling for their release.

The court appears to be trying to package the case of Omer and the two pastors together with that of a fourth defendant, 52-year-old Petr Jasek, a Christian from the Czech Republic whom NISS accuses of entering the country illegally in October of last year, espionage and tarnishing the country’s image with reports saying Christians in Sudan are being persecuted.

Most SCOC members have roots among the ethnic Nuba in the Nuba Mountains of Sudan’s South Kordofan state, where the government is fighting an insurgency. The Nuba along with other Christians in Sudan face discrimination, as President Omar al-Bashir has vowed to introduce a stricter version of sharia (Islamic law) and recognize only Islamic culture and Arabic language.

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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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 of Christians in India Increases Dramatically in First Half of 2016 http://morningstarnews.org/2016/08/persecution-of-christians-in-india-increases-dramatically-in-first-half-of-2016/ http://morningstarnews.org/2016/08/persecution-of-christians-in-india-increases-dramatically-in-first-half-of-2016/#respond Sun, 21 Aug 2016 22:24:03 +0000 http://morningstarnews.org/?p=5865 Protestors march for protection of Christian community on Jan. 31. (Morning Star News courtesy of Rev. Daniel Inbaraj)

Protestors march for protection of Christian community on Jan. 31. (Morning Star News courtesy of Rev. Daniel Inbaraj)

UDAIPUR, India (Morning Star News) – At least 134 incidents of violence against Christians in India were carried out in the first half of 2016 alone, compared with 147 incidents in all of 2014 and 177 in 2015, according to an independent report.

The Evangelical Fellowship of India’s Religious Liberty Commission (EFIRLC) notes that cases chronicled from Jan. 1 to June 30 were just a fraction of the violence on the ground.”

Of major cases of violence against Christians across 21 of India’s 29 states, the report places Uttar Pradesh as leading the list with 25, followed by Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh with 17 and 15 respectively.

“In Bastar, Chhattisgarh, religious fanatics attacked a church and tried to set a pastor and his pregnant wife on fire after thrashing them at remote Tokapal in Chhattisgarh’s Bastar region,” the report states. “The pastor and his wife managed to escape after they were beaten up and doused with petrol. The attackers destroyed the electronic equipment at the church, besides thrashing the pastor’s children and setting ablaze scriptures and furniture. The FIR [First Information Report] stated the assailants were well-armed and even tried to burn the pastor’s house.”

Physical violence, arrests on false allegations and stopping church services were frequent crimes, with attacks on churches, vandalizing and threats also recurring. One person was reported to have been murdered because of his faith.

EFIRLC’s report, backed by independent fact-finding surveys, points out that local units of the Bajrang Dal, Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Akhil Bharatiya Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram and other Hindu extremist splinter factions affiliated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh were the groups most often behind the violence.

Rise of Tamil Nadu

Though anti-Christian violence is assumed to be more widespread across the north Indian states, Tamil Nadu in the south rose to fourth position on the list with 14 incidents.

Some of them were brutal. A pastor from Kambam in Theni District of Tamil Nadu was attacked during a worship service on Jan. 17. Hindutva (Hindu nationalist) activists attacked his head with a heavy, sharp object, leaving him to what they supposed would be his death. Emergency treatment for profuse bleeding saved his life.

Telangana, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh were the other southern states making it onto the list with seven, six and two cases respectively.

‘Freedom of Religion’ Acts

In many incidents, Christians were accused of conversion by force or allurement and charged under so-called Freedom of Religion Acts after they were harassed, threatened and thrashed. The acts, popularly known as anti-conversion laws, declare conversion by force, allurement or fraudulent means to be criminal. Radical Hindu groups commonly use them to falsely implicate Christians.

In Dhar District of Madhya Pradesh, for example, Balu Sastya and his wife Bhuri, both blind, were called to pray for a sick person. When they had gathered at the house of the sick person along with 11 others, a mob of more than 50 people with sticks and stones surrounded the house.

They uttered abusive words and threatened to kill Sastya and his companions, but when police arrived, the extremists filed a complaint against him and others, accusing them of attempting to convert gullible villagers by promising them physical healing. Sastya, his wife, and their 3-year-old son had to spend two days and three nights in jail before they were released on bail.

Even in states like Uttar Pradesh, where such laws do not exist, propagation of one’s faith, especially Christianity, is generally misperceived as illegal because of the laws.

Police Impunity

At least 10 arrests and repeated cases of false allegations hint at the hand-in-glove relationship between non-state actors and local administrators. In many cases, the local administration and police refused to act and openly sided with the assailants.

Hindu radicals in Digal village of Malkangiri District in Odisha (formerly Orissa) state threatened Christians early this year, warning them to leave the village for worshipping Jesus Christ. As the Christians were on their way to a police station on Jan. 19, the Hindu extremists ambushed and beat them in the presence of local police. Officers declined to help the Christians.

Elections

The escalation of anti-Christian violence was consistently related to city and state election times.

“While Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh have a history of anti-Christian policies and violent non-state agencies targeting the community,” wrote the EFI general secretary, the Rev. Vijayesh Lal,there has been a startling rise in such targeted violence in Uttar Pradesh, which faces elections early in 2017, and in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, governed by [Prime Minister Narendra] Modi’s ally, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, with Miss Jayaram Jayalalithaa as the Chief Minister.”

One of the most infamous cases from Uttar Pradesh state was that of pastor Avdhesh Savita in Orai town, Jalaun District. Members of the Hindu extremist Youth Brigade (Yuvavahini) on Jan. 29 kidnapped Pastor Savita under the guise of policemen, beat him brutally, shaved half of his head, eyebrows and mustache, and paraded him on a donkey for about half an hour. The pastor was later charged with forcible conversion.

Tribal Factor

Findings from Bastar District in Chhattisgarh state, central India, suggest systematic attempts to persecute Christian minorities. Such attempts include hate campaigns and misuse of laws that grant rights of self-governance and preservation of culture to tribal (Adivasi) villages to provoke communal tensions.

Hindu radical groups have succeeded in associating local cultural and customs legislation with Hindu religious practices, denouncing everything non-Hindu as a threat to their culture and identity. Section 129 (c) of the Chhattisgarh Gram Panchayat Act states, “The Gram Sabha shall have the power to safeguard and preserve the traditions and customs of the people, their cultural identity and community resources and customary mode of dispute resolution.”

Such laws are used to restrict Christians from practicing and propagating their faith.

EFIRCL’s report includes detailed and alarming accounts of several other incidents of violence against Christians.

Lal issued the following recommendations in the report:

  1. Enact a comprehensive hate crimes legislation to safeguard the rights of religious minorities.
  2. The Ministry of Home Affairs should provide trainings on human rights and religious freedom standards and practices to the state and central police and judiciary.
  3. Although maintenance of public order is a state responsibility, the central government should issue an advisory to the state governments to repeal the anti-conversion laws.
  4. The government should ensure an active Commission for Human Rights and Commission for Minorities is operational in every state, and that members of each commission are appointed by transparent and non-partisan procedures.
  5. Prevent and pursue, through the judicial process, all violent acts against religious and tribal minorities and Dalits.

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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Seven Christians Killed in North-Central Nigeria by Muslim Fulani Cattle Herders http://morningstarnews.org/2016/08/seven-christians-killed-in-north-central-nigeria-by-muslim-fulani-cattle-herders/ http://morningstarnews.org/2016/08/seven-christians-killed-in-north-central-nigeria-by-muslim-fulani-cattle-herders/#respond Wed, 17 Aug 2016 09:07:28 +0000 http://morningstarnews.org/?p=5858 Kaduna state, Nigeria. (Wikipedia, Himalayan Explorer based on work by Uwe Dedering)

Kaduna state, Nigeria. (Wikipedia)

JOS, Nigeria (Morning Star News) – Muslim Fulani herdsmen attacked a predominantly Christian village in north-central Nigeria on Saturday (Aug. 13), killing seven Christians, sources said.

Two weeks after herdsmen attacked a nearby area in Kaduna state, the assailants attacked Golkofa village in the same state’s Jema’a Local Government Area on Saturday night, they said.

“The Christians were killed in their homes,” Golkofa resident Sunday Saleh told Morning Star News. “Some of the victims were shot while others were cut with machetes.”

Saleh said the seven Christians killed were Thomas Maimasara, 40, and Sabo Boyi, 25, both cousins of his; Bobo Okocha, 18; Monday Hamza, 24; Waje Rubutu, 17; Linus, 20; and Julius, 19. The latter five Christians were members of the Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA) in Golkofa, he said.

Golkofa village is about five kilometers (three miles) from Gada Biyu village, where similar attacks killed 13 people Aug. 1-3.

Saleh said Nigerian police evacuated the corpses of Saturday’s attack at about noon on Sunday and took them to Kafanchan General Hospital. The victims were to be buried on Wednesday (Aug 17).

The Rev. Dr. Sunday Ibrahim, secretary of the state chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), confirmed the killings in a phone interview with Morning Star News.

“These attacks on Christian communities are senseless and uncalled for,” he said. “Why carry out attacks on communities without provocation? The Nigerian government needs to stop these killings by these Muslim herdsmen.”

The chairman of the state chapter of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association, Dr. Haruna Usman, told The Daily Trust newspaper that he was unaware of the attack but noted that herdsmen injured an area farmer on June 26, and in revenge village youths burned down a Fulani settlement.

The Rt. Rev. Timothy Yahaya, Anglican bishop of Kaduna, told Morning Star News that Christians have been attacked incessantly in the state.

“The attacks by the herdsmen on Christian communities are not only condemnable but must be stopped by the Nigerian government,” he said. “We are tired of these bloody attacks on Christians, not only in Kaduna state, but also in other parts of the country.”

Kaduna and Plateau states have been plagued by such attacks for years, with Fulani leaders making unsubstantiated claims of cattle rustling by youths among the predominantly Christian farmers as the pretext for the killings. In recent years there are signs that Islamic extremist groups are arming and/or accompanying Muslim Fulani herdsmen and inciting them in their tribal and economic conflicts with Christian farmers. The assaults on unarmed Christians have reached central-eastern states such as Taraba and Benue, as well as more southern areas.

In Jalingo, Taraba state, Catholic Bishop Charles Hammawa told ChurchMilitant.com that Islamic extremist group Boko Haram, which seeks to impose sharia (Islamic law) throughout Nigeria, has helped arm Muslim herdsmen against Christian farmers and drive them out. He called it a new strategy Boko Haram is employing after losing substantial territory in the past year.

“It appears to be a strategy to deliberately populate areas with Muslims and, by the sheer weight of superior numbers, influence political decision-making in the region,” he said.

Church leaders say attacks on Christian communities by the herdsmen constitute a war “by Islam to eliminate Christianity” in Nigeria. Christians make up 51.3 percent of Nigeria’s population of 158.2 million and live mainly in the south, while Muslims account for 45 percent and live mainly in the north.

A new leader recently took power of Boko Haram, Abu Musab al-Barnawi, who has reportedly promised to kill more Christians and burn down more churches.

A faction of Boko Haram remaining faithful to former leader Abubakar Shekau reportedly released a video via a journalist on Twitter purporting to show many of the 276 girls kidnapped from a high school in Chibok, Borno state in April 2014.

In a propaganda video apparently made in part to garner funding as the main Boko Haram group continues to receive foreign financing, one of the girls speaks of their suffering from aerial bombing as she begs “my people and our parents” to urge the Nigerian government to release Boko Haram prisoners so the girls can return to their families.

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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At least 13 Christians Killed in Muslim Fulani Herdsmen Attacks in Kaduna State, Nigeria http://morningstarnews.org/2016/08/at-least-13-christians-killed-in-muslim-fulani-herdsmen-attacks-in-kaduna-state-nigeria/ http://morningstarnews.org/2016/08/at-least-13-christians-killed-in-muslim-fulani-herdsmen-attacks-in-kaduna-state-nigeria/#comments Wed, 10 Aug 2016 16:17:01 +0000 http://morningstarnews.org/?p=5850 JOS, Nigeria (Morning Star News) – Muslim Fulani herdsmen attacked a cluster of predominantly Christian villages in Kaduna state last week, killing at least 13 Christians and scattering members of three churches, area sources said.

A survivor of the attacks told Morning Star News that the herdsmen killed two Christian women in Ninte village in the Jema’a Local Government Area (LGA) of the north-central state on Aug. 1, and that she knew of eight Christians killed in Gada Biyu on Aug. 2. Local newspapers reported nine people were killed in Gada Biyu, with an additional two men killed in Akwa’a on Aug. 3.

One of hundreds of Christians displaced from the area, Martha Yohanna of Alheri Baptist Church in Gada Biyu village, told Morning Star News that the attacks on Ninte and Gada Biyu villages were carried out by Muslim Fulani herdsmen from Aug. 1 to Aug. 3.

“On Aug. 1 at about noon in Ninte, the Fulani herdsmen attacked two Christian women and a man while they were on their farm,” she said. “They cut them with machetes. A woman and her daughter in-law were killed by the Fulani herdsmen while the man is still in the hospital as I talk with you.”

The next day, the Fulani herdsmen killed eight Christians in Gada Biyu, including five identified only as Friday, Akoro, Mamman, Danladi, and Jerry, she said.

Her brother-in-law, 25-year-old Joseph, is missing and is presumed to have been killed by the herdsmen, Yohanna said.

“It is over a week now that he has not been seen, and nothing has been heard about him,” she said.

On Aug. 3, after security forces had turned away the herdsmen, the assailants returned to Gada Biyu at about 6 p.m. to burn down houses, she said.

“They carried out the destruction for three hours,” Yohanna said. “I escaped from Gada Biyu to Gidan Waya on Monday [Aug. 1] when the Fulani came to attack the village at noon, and returned on Wednesday afternoon to retrieve some of our clothing. By the evening of that Wednesday, the Fulani herdsmen returned to my village to destroy our homes. They lit fire on some houses before policemen and soldiers were brought there to repel them.”

Gada Biyu, near the Kafanchan, has three Christian congregations that were displaced as a result of the attack, she said: Alheri Baptist Church, Sabon Rai Baptist Church, and an Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA).

“The three pastors escaped from the village during the attack, and since the attack have not returned to the village,” she said. “My pastor, the Rev. Nathan Jaweson of Alheri Baptist Church, on Monday, following the killing of the two women in Ninte village, evacuated his family to Godogodo and returned to Gada Biyu. However, he narrowly escaped being killed on Tuesday [Aug. 2] as he swam across the river at Gada Biyu. He’s currently living as a displaced person in Kafanchan.”

The pastor of the ECWA church has fled to Godogodo, while the whereabouts of the pastor of Sabon Rai Baptist Church are unknown, she added. Because of the attacks, the three churches of Gada Biyu held no worship services on Sunday (Aug. 7). Alheri Baptist Church normally has about 300 members.

The attack on Gada Biyu village marks the Muslim Fulani herdsmen’s fourth attack on Christian communities this year in the area, sources told Morning Star News in Gidan Waya, a few kilometers from Gada Biyu. Officials on Tuesday (Aug. 9) told Morning Star News not to proceed to Gidan Biyu as herdsmen activities still made it unsafe.

In early June, Fulani herdsmen attacked five Christian women on a farm in Ninte village, the sources said, and wounded a young man with machetes. A week later, Fulani herdsmen attacked two area Christian men on their farm. One of them, identified only as 40-year-old Jerry, suffered machete wounds and was taken to a hospital at Godogodo.

In May of this year, Fulani herdsmen attacked Ninte village again, killing two Christians identified only as Saleh and Joshua, both members of the Baptist Church in Ninte.

In May 2015, an area Christian identified only as Ango was attacked on his farm by Fulani herdsmen. They cut him with machetes and left him half dead before a pastor of the Baptist Church at Ninte found him. He was taken to the hospital at Kafanchan.

Kaduna and Plateau states have been plagued by such attacks for years, with Fulani leaders making unsubstantiated claims of cattle rustling by youths among the predominantly Christian farmers as the pretext for the killings. In recent years there are signs that Islamic extremist groups are arming and/or accompanying Muslim Fulani herdsmen and inciting them in their tribal and economic conflicts with Christian farmers. The assaults on unarmed Christians have reached central-eastern states such as Taraba and Benue, as well as more southern areas.

Church leaders say attacks on Christian communities by the herdsmen constitute a war “by Islam to eliminate Christianity” in Nigeria. Christians make up 51.3 percent of Nigeria’s population of 158.2 million and live mainly in the south, while Muslims account for 45 percent and live mainly in the north.

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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House-Church Leader among Four Pro-Democracy Activists Sentenced in China http://morningstarnews.org/2016/08/house-church-leader-among-four-pro-democracy-activists-sentenced-in-china/ http://morningstarnews.org/2016/08/house-church-leader-among-four-pro-democracy-activists-sentenced-in-china/#respond Mon, 08 Aug 2016 13:32:44 +0000 http://morningstarnews.org/?p=5843 House-church leader and activist Hu Shigen. (nchrd.org)

House-church leader and activist Hu Shigen. (nchrd.org)

(Morning Star News) – Two Christians were among four activists convicted under fabricated charges of “subverting state power” in China last week.

The Tianjin No. 2 Intermediate People’s Court sentenced house-church leader Hu Shigen, 61, on Wednesday (Aug. 3) to seven and a half years in prison on charges of “subverting state power” for his work as an activist advocating democracy, according to news reports. On Friday (Aug. 5), the court sentenced Christian activist Gou Hongguo to a three-year, suspended sentence on the same charge. The 55-year-old Gou thus will not serve time in prison.

Also sentenced was 55-year-old human rights advocate Zhai Yanmin, who on Tuesday (Aug. 2) received a three-year suspended sentence for “subverting state power.” Prosecutors accused Zhai, along with Hu, Zhou and detained lawyer Li Heping, of establishing “a systematic ideology, method and steps to achieve” subverting state power, according to state media.

On Thursday (Aug. 4) the court sentenced human rights attorney Zhou Shifeng to seven years in prison for “subverting state power.” The 52-year-old Zhou leads a law firm, Fengrui, that defended people the communist government opposed.

“After more than 12 months of arbitrary arrest and detention in ‘black jails’ without any legitimate legal representation or family visitations, these rushed trials and harsh sentences are clearly nothing but political and religious persecution,” China Aid President Bob Fu said in a statement on Friday (Aug. 5). “The international community should unequivocally condemn this total disregard of the rule of law and the Chinese government’s commitment to international human rights laws.”

The four were detained along with dozens of other lawyers and activists in a widespread crack-down on human rights advocates in July 2015. In a rehearsed guilty plea designed to avert further abuse, Hu reportedly said he had taken a “criminal path” to promote Western-style democracy since the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests and confessed to trying to overthrow the Communist Party. He pledged to refrain from taking part in further “anti-government or anti-party” actions.

The court accused Hu of sending Gou to Taiwan in 2014 to take part in the Interethnic/Interfaith Leadership Conference in Taipei, organized by the U.S.-based Initiatives for China, a Non-Governmental Organization. Gou is a member of Hu’s church. Prosecutors said the conference featured speakers and supporters of (non-violent) independence for Xinjiang, Tibet and Inner Mongolia and was thus considered anti-China training.

Defense lawyers reportedly argued that Gou learned who was speaking at the forum only after he arrived, and that he did not address the conference. Nor did he distribute the forum speeches upon his return to mainland China, they said.

Gou was also accused of organizing and paying for a lunch gathering in Beijing on Feb. 1, 2015, where house-church members, attorneys and other pro-democracy activists discussed social movements in Robert’s Rules of Order, a 19th century book on conducting meetings and making decisions as a group. Prosecutors said the meeting’s discussion of protests and labor law was meant to challenge the Communist Party’s rule.

Defense attorneys argued that Gou played only a small role in the luncheon of 15 people. In his rehearsed plea to forestall further abuse, however, Gou expressed regret for his alleged violation, adding that he has an older brother who is disabled and a 1-year-old son to care for. He vowed not to appeal.

Fu of the U.S.-based China Aid urged the U.S. government to intervene.

“With next month’s G20 summit being held in China, we urge the United States to ask the Chinese government to immediately release those who were sentenced and those who are about to be tried in the next few days, including attorney Li Heping,” he said. “The Chinese regime should also immediately stop mistreating their family members, including their wives and 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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Youths in Eastern Uganda Pay Heavy Price for Turning to Christ http://morningstarnews.org/2016/08/youths-in-eastern-uganda-pay-heavy-price-for-turning-to-christ/ http://morningstarnews.org/2016/08/youths-in-eastern-uganda-pay-heavy-price-for-turning-to-christ/#respond Fri, 05 Aug 2016 12:48:52 +0000 http://morningstarnews.org/?p=5837 Pastor Brian Mukisa and some of the children he is caring for, in photo altered for security reasons. (Morning Star News)

Pastor Brian Mukisa and some of the children he is caring for, in photo altered for security reasons. (Morning Star News)

NAIROBI, Kenya (Morning Star News) – Eight children from four families have taken refuge with Christians in eastern Uganda after their parents beat and disowned them for leaving Islam or animism, sources said.

In another village in eastern Uganda, a high school student is recovering from a serious head injury inflicted by the Muslim father of a young woman he led to Christ, area residents said.

The eight children in Busalamu village, Bukanga Sub-County, Luuka District came to Christ after visits from pastor Brian Mukisa, 29, who began Power Gates Church earlier this year as people put their faith in Jesus Christ. The new-found faith of the children, ages 9 to 16, angered their parents, who beat them in an effort to deter them from sneaking to worship services, and on June 29 the young ones took refuge at the church building, area sources said.

The pastor on June 15 had moved the worship site 10 kilometers (six miles) away to a temporary structure, providing the children transport to services, after the angry parents led by a local mosque leader destroyed the church’s initial, rented building on May 25, sources said.

The church lost chairs, tables and musical instruments when Muslims led by Bavakuno Ibra, Kalemba Farouk and the mosque leader, identified only as 48-year-old Imam Jengo, destroyed the first building.

“Your church activities will not be tolerated in this area,” one of them told the pastor, he said. “If you do not leave our village, then we shall soon come for your life.”

Pastor Mukisa had made a partial payment on land for a church building in the village when the Muslim parents wrested control of it by offering a higher price to the seller, also a Muslim, sources said. The seller returned Pastor Mukisa’s partial payment to him.

The children, whose names are withheld for security reasons, are 9, 11, 13 and 14, and there are two 15-year-olds and two 16-year-olds. Some of them have yet to fully recover from injuries sustained in the beatings and do not have funds for medical care, the pastor said. Disowned by their parents, they are staying with various church members but lack fees for attending school.

“The parents have totally disowned them as infidels,” Pastor Mukisa said. “They need prayers to come to terms with the separation from parents for choosing Christ.”

The burden on the small church is heavy, and he asked for prayer for the church.

“Busalamu is a Muslim stronghold, and any church presence here will meet with strong resistance,” he said. “We are worshipping in a temporary church structure, and we also appeal for financial assistance in assisting both the persecuted young children and our young upcoming church.”

Wounded High School Student

In Iganga District, a 20-year-old high school student is still suffering throbbing pain after the father of a young woman he led to Christ threw a metal object at his head.

Waiswa Sowedi, who secretly put his faith in Christ two years ago, led 18-year-old Sera Muzamiru to faith in Christ earlier this year in Nabidongha village, Nakigo Sub-County. In early June, Sowedi was on his way back from a church service when he decided to check on Muzamiru. He found her father, 40-year-old Makanika Muzamiru, beating her for befriending Sowedi, whom he called a pagan and an enemy of Islam.

“I tried to persuade her father to stop beating his daughter and explained to him that my intention of passing by his home was to assist her on educational issues,” Sowedi told Morning Star News. “He could not listen to this, and instead he became more furious and threw a sharp metallic object right at my forehead that penetrated very deep.”

The young woman’s father told Sowedi, “I would rather kill you than let you mislead my daughter to a wrong faith,” he said.

Sowedi was rushed to Iganga Main Hospital, where doctors declined to tend to the injury because of its severity, as the object was still lodged in his head. He was transferred to a hospital in Mulago, where he spent a week under various treatments before the removal of the object. Doctors operated the second week after he regained some consciousness, and he was put on drugs costing the equivalent of $10 per day, which he said was more than he can afford.

After his release from the hospital, Sowedi was unable to return to his Muslim parents’ home as his father forbade him to live there, and Sowedi lacked funds to return to school. He has taken shelter with a relative, and Muzamiru also has taken refuge away from her home.

Sowedi’s father, 45-year-old Muhamood Kayaga, suspected his Muslim wife might have known about their son’s conversion and took a second wife as a kind of contingency for himself and a reproach of his original wife, sources said. Kayaga and Makanika Muzamiru are devoted Muslims from Mohamood Mosque Nakavule, led by an imam identified only as Sheik Mayaye. The Muslim fathers have informed the local council chairperson, Muhamood Fundi, that a local church (undisclosed for security reasons) was influencing their children to change the religion, sources said.

Both Sowedi and Sera Muzamiru said they are in serious crises, with Sowedi still in pain from the head injury, medication farther out of reach and prospects for continuing his education unknown.

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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Key Figure in Fight for Religious Freedom in Egypt Freed, Declares Return to Islam http://morningstarnews.org/2016/08/key-figure-in-fight-for-religious-freedom-in-egypt-freed-declares-return-to-islam/ http://morningstarnews.org/2016/08/key-figure-in-fight-for-religious-freedom-in-egypt-freed-declares-return-to-islam/#comments Wed, 03 Aug 2016 23:00:24 +0000 http://morningstarnews.org/?p=5826 Screenshot of Mohammed Hegazy, who after becoming Christian had taken the name Bishoy Armia Boulous, speaking in YouTube video. (Morning Star News)

Screenshot of Mohammed Hegazy, who after becoming Christian had taken the name Bishoy Armia Boulous, speaking in YouTube video. (Morning Star News)

ISTANBUL, Turkey (Morning Star News) – After more than two and a half years of unlawful detention and abuse at the hands of the Egyptian government, a prominent convert from Islam to Christianity has issued a public statement declaring he has returned to Islam.

Mohammed Hegazy, also known by his Christian name, Bishoy Armia Hegazy, posted on Saturday (July 30) the statement of Islamic faith known as the Shahadah on YouTube (recorded the previous day) and declared the supremacy of its prophet, Muhammad. Hegazy then said he wouldn’t discuss his return to Islam or speak to the media again.

“I went through an experience with all its good and bad and all that is in it, but it was an experience,” Hegazy said on the video. “But praise be to God who strengthens me in Islam. I am not coming today to talk about specific things, because it was a personal thing between a person and God. But I am coming today because I hurt a lot of people in my family and my friends and caused them a lot of problems.”

Hegazy apologized to family members, who had threatened to kill him after he became a Christian.

The fact that Hegazy declared that he wasn’t speaking under duress but at the same time would no longer speak to media has aroused concern among human rights activists in Egypt that he may have been coerced or threatened to make the statement. More likely, they fear that after Hegazy’s time in prison, where he was subject to a constant stream of beatings, abuse, humiliation and held for more than a year and seven months without charge, he simply succumbed to the pressure and, rather than face a lifetime of indefinite imprisonment, chose to make a public act of conversion.

After Hegazy’s initial release in July, attorney Karam Ghobrial asked that Morning Star News not publish the information to protect his safety. Since then, Ghobrial has declined to talk about the case other than to confirm that he thinks that Hagazy made his confession of faith because he was a terrified and broken man.

He noted Hegazy seemed stilted in he video, and that the statement he gave seemed scripted.

“I personally think that he recorded this video to get out,” he said.

‘Thinking about Suicide’

Hegazy was released on bail on July 23 after spending more than three weeks being transferred from prison to prison across Egypt, under the direct orders of the Ministry of Interior (MOI), according to Ghobrial, Hegazy’s attorney during his imprisonment. It was unclear if he still faces charges.

On June 26 a judge ordered that Hegazy be released from prison, and the next day, after posting a bond of 5,000 Egyptian pounds (US$565), he should have been released. But instead, in what his lawyer said in June was part of an ongoing multi-year effort to break Hegazy’s will and force him to convert back to Islam, the government’s internal security police detained him without charge June 29 at a local jail in Ain Shams. It was the second time the MOI denied Hegazy his freedom in defiance of a standing court order for his release.

Since June 29, security agents from the MOI transferred Hegazy to at least four different prisons or police holding cells no less than six times with no hope of ever being released, and without giving any reason why he was being detained, his attorney said. With each transfer, Hegazy became increasingly suicidal. The last time Ghobrial saw Hegazy, the prisoner was at a breaking point, the attorney said.

“It broke my heart to see him crying at the police station today,” Ghobrial said after a rare visit to see Hegazy. “I couldn’t do anything to help him. He’s lost hope in life and is thinking about suicide.”

‘Here He Is – Kill Him’

After being transported to the jail in the Ain Shams police station, authorities started giving Hegazy the first in what would prove to be a long list of conditions in order for him to be released, according to Ghobrial. The terms seemed designed to keep Hegazy in police custody; they were impossible to complete, or, if successfully completed, would have exposed him to attacks from Muslims still enraged about his leaving Islam.

Among the terms the MOI said Hegazy had to meet before he could be released was providing a valid residential address to security police. In effect, this meant he had to rent an apartment or find some other place to live while detained in jail with no access to any form of communication.

It was a task that would have been difficult to achieve anywhere, but in a country where more than 80 percent of the population thinks the national government should execute apostates from Islam, according to Pew Research Center figures, it was impossible. An alternate condition officials set, and the one that Hegazy finally met, was to return to live with his parents, who were the first people to turn him in to the government for leaving Islam and who have made no secret about their desire to see him dead for converting.

“I feel like [releasing him to his parents] would be the end of Hegazy,” Ghobrial told Morning Star News in July. “Because Port Said is a small city, and it isn’t only his parents who live there but his whole extended family. Port Said is where he converted to Christianity. He will be easy to recognize and easy to kill. I don’t understand the police’s insistence that he live with his parents. It’s basically like saying, ‘Here he is – kill him,’ and then handing him over on a silver platter.”

Trying to Protect his Child

Hegazy, 34, left Islam when he was 16. He began to suffer persecution almost immediately, and in 2002 he was jailed and tortured by the Egyptian internal police, then known as the State Security Investigations services (SSI).

On Aug. 2, 2007, Hegazy filed a lawsuit to force the Ministry of Interior to change the religious affiliation listed on his state-mandated national identification card from Muslim to Christian. Hegazy said in 2007 that he filed the case mainly to protect his soon-to-be-born child from being forced to suffer the same persecution he experienced. In 2008 he lost the case, but never appealed the decision.

In response to the lawsuit, some Islamic leaders in Egypt called for Hegazy’ death, and he suffered through numerous attacks, including having his home set on fire by a group of militant Muslims. Eventually he was forced into hiding.

In 2011, when the “Arab Spring” revolution started in Egypt, Hegazy was able to come out of hiding, convinced that he could enjoy relative anonymity in the chaos that ensued through out the country. Hegazy tried to make a living as a freelance journalist during this time. He could also occasionally be seen on Christian talks shows broadcast by satellite into Egypt, raising his public profile even higher. For some Christians, especially converts in Egypt, he became a symbol of a sort.

During the summer of 2013, one of the worst waves of anti-Christian attacks in the history of Egypt took place. The spree of violence, documented at length by numerous journalists but largely denied by the government, included public kidnappings, assaults, destruction of property and attacks on several church buildings that mobs of militant Muslims burned to the ground. Hegazy went out to document the attacks.

On Dec. 2, 2013 in Minya, 260 kilometers (161 miles) south of Cairo, Egyptian authorities arrested Hegazy at a café at the Agricultural Association and accused him of working for The Way TV, a Coptic Christian-owned, U.S.-based television channel that broadcasts into Egypt via satellite. The government claimed that Hegazy was contributing to a “false image” that there was violence against Christians in Egypt.

From the start, human rights activists said the charges against Hegazy were without merit. In an official complaint filed with the Egyptian government in March 2013, 18 different human rights groups from Egypt and around the world stated that the charges against Hegazy were “clearly related to his religious conversion.”

“Mr. Hegazy’s detention, treatment, and prosecution blatantly violate Egypt’s recently established constitution, which clearly states that ‘freedom of belief is absolute,’” their complaint read. “His case is also a violation of international agreements to which Egypt has been party for decades.”

Internal documents from the MOI obtained by Morning Star News showed that during the time of his arrest, the ministry was employing at least one informant to follow Hegazy. The documents also showed that the MOI had extensively documented Hegazy’ religious life, including his conversion and even details of his baptism. The same documents also showed that, unlike Hegazy, three female journalists arrested with him were all questioned and then released.

Sometime during Hegazy’ detention, security agents from the MOI resurrected inactive blasphemy charges filed against him about the time he went into hiding in 2009. Two lawyers supported by a group of Islamists sued Hegazy for allegedly defaming Islam on the grounds that the very act of leaving Islam cast the religion into ill repute. The lawsuit was never settled and, and according to Ghobrial, passed the Egyptian statute of limitations. A court later struck down the statute of limitations.

On June 18, 2014, six months after he was arrested, a judge found Hegazy guilty on three charges stemming from the 2013 arrest, sentenced him to five years in prison and levied a fine of 500 Egyptian pounds (US$70) against him. Ghobrial immediately filed a request for appeal, and on July 20, 2014, a judge granted the appeal and ordered Hegazy be released on bail. But in the 24 hours that state prosecutors had to comply with the judge’s order, Homeland Security (HS), the post revolutionary successor to the SSI, took Hegazy into custody to be interrogated in Cairo for the 2009 lawsuit.

According to Egyptian law, HS then had to apply for 45 extensions of the detention with a time limit of six months to detain Hegazy in connection with the investigation.

On Dec. 28, 2014 while Hegazy was still in HS custody, an appeals judge upheld the charge of spreading false information meant to “cause harm or damage to the public interest” and sentenced him to a year in prison. He dismissed the two other charges against him.

Because Hegazy had already spent more than a year in prison waiting for his trial to take place and then his appeal to be heard, he should have been automatically released at the conclusion of the appeal hearing for having spent “time served,” according to his attorney. But technically, because HS only had him in its custody for five months, officials kept him in detention for another month. On Jan. 21, 2015, however, when the six-month time period expired and Hegazy should have been released, HS refused to release him and also declined to file charges against him.

In all, Hegazy has spent two years, seven months and 26 days in prison. All but one year of that time, he has been held without charge. During that time, according to his attorney, Hegazy was beaten, had his head shaved by force and suffered through constant harassment to force him to convert back to Islam. All through his ordeal, Ghobrial said, his captors offered him freedom if he would convert back to Islam.

Although the issue of the treatment of converts in Egypt doesn’t receive as much public attention outside of the country as does the persecution of the Coptic Orthodox minority by the Muslim majority, it is one of the most contentious subjects regarding religious freedom inside the country. Numerous Christians in Egypt who have left Islam to embrace their new faith have found themselves living in hiding from relatives in fear for their lives.

Although the Egyptian constitution guarantees freedom of expression and belief, security agents from the Ministry of the Interior routinely harass and arrest coverts who are suspected of leaving Islam.

In June, during Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting, Al-Azhar Mosque’s Grand Imam Ahmed el-Tayyib, arguably the most respected Islamic scholar in the world, said during a daily TV program that leaving Islam was “treason” and that apostates should be executed.

“The penalty for an open apostate, departing from the community, is well stipulated in Sharia,” El-Tayyib said. “An apostate must be pressed upon to repent within a variable period of time or be killed.”

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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Iran Levels Serious Charge against Noted Church Leader, Beats Another http://morningstarnews.org/2016/08/iran-levels-serious-charge-against-noted-church-leader-beats-another/ http://morningstarnews.org/2016/08/iran-levels-serious-charge-against-noted-church-leader-beats-another/#respond Tue, 02 Aug 2016 13:42:20 +0000 http://morningstarnews.org/?p=5809 Yousef Nadarkhani (Present Truth Ministries photo)

Youcef Nadarkhani (Present Truth Ministries photo)

ISTANBUL, Turkey (Morning Star News) – Iranian authorities charged a well-known pastor with “acts against national security” and beat another as persecution of Christians continued the past month.

Youcef Nadarkhani, a pastor once charged with apostasy and then acquitted in 2012, was charged with acting against national security. Summoned to the 13th Branch of the Revolutionary Court in Rasht on July 24, he was released but then told he had a week to raise the equivalent of US$33,000 in security bond, according to Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).

It was unclear why the court would release him without bond in order to raise a bond for his release. It was also unclear how much of the bond Nadarkhani has been able to raise.

Iranian Security Service (VEVAK) officers on May 13 raided the home of Nadarkhani and his wife, Tina Nadarkhani, in Rasht along with 10 other Christian households. The Nadarkhanis were arrested and then released immediately. Three other Christian converts, Mohammadreza Omidi, Yasser Mossayebzadeh and Saheb Fadaie, were detained and then later released without charge on a bond of approximately US$33,000.

“With regards to Pastor Nadarkhani, the authorities summoned him, charged him and let him go home to raise the money within seven days, at which point he will be imprisoned if he fails,” said Kiri Kankhwende, senior press officer for CSW. “We cannot speculate as to why his case was handled this way while the other three members of his church were detained pending bail. Conjecture may prove unhelpful, so we would rather not speculate.”

In 2010, the Iranian government charged Nadarkhani with apostasy and sentenced him to death. The charges stemmed from a 2009 arrest after Nadarkhani went to his children’s school to question the Islamic-only religious education that was available. In September 2012, he was released from prison following his acquittal on apostasy charges. He was found guilty of evangelizing, however, ordered back to prison on Dec. 25, 2012 and released on Dec. 7, 2013.

Mervyn Thomas, CSW’s chief executive, said in a press statement, “It is deeply troubling to hear of the renewed harassment of Pastor Nadarkhani. The national security charges leveled against him are spurious and an indication that the authorities persist in criminalizing the Christian community for exercising their right to freedom of religion or belief.”

Hunger Strike

Christian prisoner Maryam Naghash Zargaran, 36, ended a hunger strike she had resumed on July 5 after Iranian authorities denied her demands for early release.

Because Zargaran has served a third of her sentence and has shown good behavior, she qualifies for review for early release, according to Iranian statutes. She also sought release for several medical ailments, including a serious congenital heart condition known as an atrial septal defect, commonly referred to as “a hole in the heart.” Zargaran also has severe headaches accompanied by ear pain, tremors, chronic joint and spine pain and numbness in her hands and legs.

According to Middle East Concern (MEC), on July 20 prison officials examined Zargaran and produced a medical report confirming that her medical condition was serious. Nevertheless, according to MEC, “Maryam’s request was considered and denied by an Iranian court, and the reason given for rejecting her demand was that MOIS [Iranian Ministry of Intelligence] did not want her to be freed.”

According to the International Campaign for Human Rights, an official from MOIS met with Zargaran last month in prison and said that officials would review her case.

It is likely family pressure had some role in Zargaran’s decision to end her hunger strike. Twenty days into the protest, Zargaran’s family and friends noted a significant deterioration in her health.

“Prison medical staff say that her blood pressure is very low, she has pains and numbness in her feet – possibly early signs of Multiple Sclerosis – and that she is suffering psychologically as a consequence of her imprisonment,” MEC said in an earlier statement about her hunger strike.

The July hunger strike was not the first time Zargaran chose to starve herself over her detention. On May 27, she began a hunger strike to protest the prosecutor’s repeated refusal to allow her to temporarily leave the prison and go to a hospital for treatment that the prison wouldn’t or couldn’t provide. On June 6, she received permission to go to a hospital and stopped her hunger strike. But on June 19 she was ordered to return to prison. She complied and returned on June 27, too soon, sources said, for proper treatment of her infirmities. She resumed her hunger strike soon after.

Iranian officials arrested Zargaran in January 2013 for her activities in the Iranian house-church movement and her association with Saeed Abedini, a U.S.-Iranian Christian pastor imprisoned on fabricated charges related to his house-church work. Zargaran was found guilty of “threatening national security” and sentenced to four years in prison, which she began serving on July 13, 2013. An appeal for retrial was denied.

Appeal Hearing

Ebrahim Firoozi, a Christian convert from Islam, was beaten by prison guards July 13 and forcibly taken to a court hearing.

Firoozi, a prisoner in Gohardasht Prison in Iran, was summoned to the appeal hearing but refused to go because he thought it was sufficient for his lawyer to attend in his absence. Ironically, when Firoozi was brought to court, one of the judges in the case was absent, and the appeal hearing was postponed. It is set to reconvene in November.

A welder from Robat Karim, 25 kilometers (16 miles) southwest of Tehran, Firoozi has been under the scrutiny of the Iranian security apparatus since January 2010, when he was arrested for leaving Islam and hosting religious meetings. A Revolutionary Court convicted him of creating “propaganda against the state” and sentenced him to 10 months in prison, of which five were suspended.

He was released on June 8, 2011 but then arrested again on March 8, 2012. Charged with creating “propaganda against the state” for allegedly trying to create a website about Christianity, he was sentenced to one year in prison and two years in exile.

On Sept. 16, 2013, Firoozi was arrested a third time, and on April 2015, a judge in Branch 28 of the Revolutionary Court sentenced him to five years in prison for “creating a group with the intention of disturbing national security” for his role in organizing Christian meetings and conducting evangelical work.

Firoozi appealed but had been waiting for last month’s hearing for a year. During that time, he has been denied access to religious books, even though the books he requested were published with the permission of the Culture and Islamic Guidance Ministry, according to the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.

The whereabouts of four Christians from Azerbaijan arrested in Iran in June remain unknown. According to MEC, Eldar Gurbanov, Yusif Farhadov and Bahram Nasibov from Word of Life Church in Baku all went missing on June 24 after security agents raided an engagement party in Tehran and arrested about 10 people. Most of those arrested were released, but the four were detained. Their location is unknown, but they were able to contact their families once or twice, despite being confined in solitary holding cells.

Through MEC, the families of the three men issued a brief statement about the arrest and detention.

“On 22nd June 2016 our husbands and fathers – Eldar Gurbanov, Yusif Farhadov and Bahram Nasibov – travelled to Tehran in the Islamic Republic of Iran,” the statement read. “They were invited as guests in Iran to participate in an engagement ceremony and meet with their Iranian friends. As we discovered later, they were arrested on 24th June by security agents during an engagement ceremony and they have not been charged with any crime. Eldar, 48, Yusif, 51, and Bahram, 37, are all married and have children. Yusif has a young son with Down’s syndrome under his care. They have not been charged with any crime, and their future is unknown to all of us. We ask all who are concerned to help our husbands and fathers to return safely to their homes!”

According to Present Truth Ministries, Amin Khaki, an assistant pastor and convert from Islam, was released July 14 from Ahvaz Prison. Khaki was arrested March 5, 2014 along with seven other Christians at a picnic in Shoush, in Khuzestan Province.

Khaki and three other Christians were later found guilty and sentenced to one year in prison for spreading Christianity. A re-trial was held on Feb. 1, and the sentences were upheld. In June, all four Christians presented themselves to Ahvaz Prison to serve their sentences.

Present Truth Ministries was concerned that Khaki would be forced to serve a previously suspended sentence of a year, but the threat never materialized, and he was released. Hossein Barounzadeh, Mohammad Bahrami and Rahman Bahmani still have four months left of their sentences to serve.

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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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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Pastor in Eastern Uganda Killed for Evangelizing Muslims, Refusing to Sell Land http://morningstarnews.org/2016/07/pastor-in-eastern-uganda-killed-for-evangelizing-muslims-refusing-to-sell-land/ http://morningstarnews.org/2016/07/pastor-in-eastern-uganda-killed-for-evangelizing-muslims-refusing-to-sell-land/#respond Fri, 29 Jul 2016 15:44:24 +0000 http://morningstarnews.org/?p=5800 Grave of Pastor Robert Bakulubanywa. (Morning Star News)

Grave of Pastor Robert Bakulubanywa. (Morning Star News)

NAIROBI, Kenya (Morning Star News) – Upset with a pastor for evangelizing and refusing to sell them land for a mosque, Muslims in eastern Uganda tied him up and killed him on Sunday (July 24), sources said.

Pastor Robert Bakulubanywa of Bubulanga Victory Church in Bubulanga village, Kibuku District, was on his way home from an evening fellowship at 8 p.m. when a band of Muslims killed him near his house, sources told Morning Star News. He was 38.

“They grabbed him, then tied him up and cut him with very sharp pang [sword],” an area resident told Morning Star News.

Pastor Bakulubanywa’s wife said area Muslims had threatened the pastor on several occasions, especially after Friday prayers last week.

“The Muslims had issued several warnings to him to stop converting the Muslims to Christ, especially the youth,” his wife, whose name is withheld for security reasons, told Morning Star News. “For over a month the Muslims have been pressuring us to sell a piece of land to them for the construction of a mosque, but my husband refused.”

After prayers at the local mosque on July 22, she said, one Muslim neighbor told her, “Please, things are not good for your family. Tell your husband to be very careful and leave the Muslims alone.”

The pastor’s wife said she became troubled when her husband was delayed in arriving home Sunday night. After trying to call him without success at about 9 p.m., she called a church elder who told her the pastor left for home at about 7:30 pm with another member of the church. Fear gripped her, she said, as her husband had had “serious confrontations with the Muslims.”

“I telephoned a neighbor who had accompanied the pastor, and he informed me that some five Muslims stopped them on the way and started questioning Robert on several issues, including taking their young boys to church,” she said. “The talk got tense, and one of them tightly got hold of him. The neighbor then took off for his life, leaving my husband struggling with the gang.”

She and Christian neighbors went to the site of the attack.

“We found my husband killed and lying in a pool of blood,” she said.

The pastor leaves four children, ages 3, 6, 8 and 10.

Christians reported the killing to the local council chairman, Tyogo Muniru, a Muslim, who took no action. Later Kibuku police station received a report, and officers are now searching for the killers.

In predominantly Muslim Bubulanga village, the killing has left area Christians confused, frustrated and fearing for their lives, sources said. One area resident said Christians need prayer for God to raise another pastor who is passionate in reaching out to Muslims with the gospel.

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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