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Global Persecution of Christians Continues Unabated

Friday, January 19, 2001 | Tag Cloud

By Michael Ireland
Chief Correspondent
ASSIST Communications

WHEATON, ILLINOIS (January 19, 2001) -- Persecution continues in many countries around the world even though there are signs of progress in Vietnam, according to the World Evangelical Fellowship's Religious Freedom Report.

According to the report, Vietnamese government officials and World Evangelical Fellowship agreed to monitor religious liberty in Vietnam during meetings Dec. 4 - 9 between WEF Religious Liberty Commission Director Johan Candelin and the Minister for Religious Affairs, the Bureau for Religious Affairs, the Foreign Ministry, and representatives of Parliament.

Candelin stated, "I am very happy with the high level contacts provided by the Vietnamese government. The talks were held in a good and constructive atmosphere and I proposed annual meetings with the authorities, which they accepted. I think it is very important to share information about Protestant Christianity with those who work with religion on behalf of the state of Vietnam."

A new law on religion is under consideration in the Vietnamese Parliament and a new constitution for the Evangelical Church of Vietnam (South) is likely to be approved.

COLOMBIA

In 1993, three missionaries from New Tribes Mission (NTM) were kidnapped. David Mankins, Mark Rich and Rick Tenenoff have not been seen since.

The November 30 arrest of Jose Milc=EDades Urrego Medina, commander of the 57th Front of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) may help solve the long-standing mystery, the WEF report said.

Urrego Medina was the 57th Front's second-in-command at the time of the kidnapping. It is widely held that Urrego Medina ordered the kidnapping. Coaxing him to talk may not be easy since he could implicate himself. It is hoped that Urrego Medina will talk openly with New Tribes Mission personnel.

NIGERIA

The destruction of a church in the Naibawa district of Kano city is one of many cases of harassment and persecution of the Christian community reported since the introduction of Islamic law, or "Sharia," in Kano state of northern Nigeria.

Church leaders said there has been "systematic persecution, discrimination and victimization" being carried out by "overzealous and bigoted officials of the state." The church had been meeting for over 20 years, living peacefully with their Muslim neighbors, when the state government revoked their lawful occupancy of the church.

PAKISTAN AND INDIA

The WEF Religious Liberty Commission is calling for prayer on behalf of Brother Suleman Masih, an evangelist in Mardan in north Pakistan. The WEF report states that, "Without any provocative action, he was arrested and sent to jail on November 30 on charges of preaching in the streets."

Propagation of religion is allowed by the constitution in Pakistan. Incidents of abuse against the non-Hindu Indian religious minorities are reported on a regular basis in India. The following is a sample of incidents reported by WEF.

* A group of men, reportedly Hindu radicals, raided the residence of Port Blair priest John Peter on December 15 and killed him with knives and clubs.

They left behind materials denouncing his activities in converting Hindus.

* A group of nuns will leave their school in Kurpania Bokaro in eastern Indian after an attack. The Sisters of St. Anne were assaulted and a cook at the school was raped when a mob invaded the school.

* Some Christians in the newly formed Indian state of Jharkhand claim that a recent attack on the Catholic school (described above) bodes ill for their future. Missionary-school students and nuns blocked traffic in the state capital of Ranchi to protest the December 2 attack. Jharkhand has a sizable Christian presence, including missionaries from other parts of India who work with the tribal peoples.

* A holy site revered by both Muslims and Hindus in the southern state of Karnataka has become a flash point. Radical Hindus, who have held annual celebrations at the shrine for the past three years, have threatened to seize full control. The site, in the coffee-growing Bababudangiri Hills in Chikmagalur, is considered by Muslims to be a shrine from the 17th century to Sufi mystic Bababudan, who is believed to have brought coffee beans to the region. The shrine also represents the seat of Dattareya, an incarnation of the Hindu deity Vishnu. Local residents have enjoyed good communal relations with both Muslims and Hindus praying at the site for centuries until the recent rise of Hindu nationalism under the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

* Fresh violence against Christians has erupted in Gujarat. In Kamataka, Hindu extremists stoned Christian evangelists. While the All India Christian Council reported that on November 26, the ECI Church in Chindia, Surat District, Gujarat, was forcibly occupied and ransacked by some 400 sword and knife wielding Hindu militant groups.

CHINA

In China, the WEF report states that the state-run Chinese media reports that more than 1,500 churches, Buddhist temples and Taoist shrines in the province around the port city of Wenzhou have been shut down or destroyed since a harsh crackdown began in early November 2000.

China's security services routinely crack down on unauthorized religious activity before Christmas. But officials in Wenzhou -- a city known for its large Christian population -- are engaged in a campaign that residents say is the most destructive since controls on religion were loosened in the late 1970s.

China says it guarantees freedom of religion, as long as people worship in one of its "patriotic" or state-controlled religious institutions. But many believers refuse to submit to the government's authority, choosing to worship secretly in homes or underground churches.

The crackdown comes as China struggles to contain a nationwide religious revival that some officials believe threatens their authority. Underground churches and unorthodox sects, such as the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement, offer a source of moral values independent of the Communist Party.

Members of one congregation said they refused to register their church with the government because the Communist Party would require the names of all members. Their faith, they said, is incompatible with party control. In Zhong, for example, some residents refuse to worship in the "patriotic" church because they feel it doesn't interpret the Bible strictly enough.

Residents in Longwai village are at peace about losing their church, a small, one-room structure they built in 1986. The government smashed it to pieces at the end of November after residents turned down a chance to register it.

"We're not sad, because it's just a church. God isn't in the church. God is in our hearts," said Zhen Chuanlian, 27, one of the worshipers. "They can take away the church, but they can't take away our faith," he continued.

There is considerable speculation that the erosion of religious liberty is directly related to the passage of the Chinese trade bill by the U.S. Senate on September 19. The bill was bitterly contested in the U.S. by those who felt that it was one of the few ways of controlling China's human rights behavior, since China's trading status was reviewed each year.

Frequent recent arrests, accompanied by torture have been reported. Christians describe how they were beaten with fists, batons and poles, hung from the ceiling and tied in excruciating positions. Hundreds of Christians suffer daily in the grueling labor education camps in China, others are released only on payment of heavy fines.

There are 12 million registered Christians in China. Missionary organizations put the true total at nearly five times that.

NORTH KOREA

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom wrote President Clinton, the Secretary of State, and congressional leaders December 18 with recommendations for promoting religious freedom in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK or North Korea).

The Commission wrote, "U.S. policy...should reflect America's concern for religious freedom in a country ruled by one of the worst violators of religious freedom. In the DPRK it is apparent that religious freedom is non-existent. The government has imprisoned religious believers and apparently suppresses all organized religious activity except that which serves the interest of the state."

SPECIAL REPORT ON INDONESIA

In JAKARTA, Indonesia, Christmas Eve bombings targeting Christian churches across Indonesia killed at least 15 people and injured scores of others in Jakarta and eight other cities and towns.

National Police spokesman Brigadier Genera Saleh Saaf said the TNT-powered bombs exploded within minutes of each other in what appeared to be a coordinated assault, the Associated Press reported.

Indonesia has weathered political, religious and ethnic turmoil since the fall of the Suharto regime in May 1998. Since the beginning of 1999, more than 4,000 people have been killed in Christian-Muslim clashes and more than a million left homeless.

Many thousands have been forcibly converted to Islam, according to Western groups monitoring the situation in a country where Christians comprise less than 5 percent of the 210 million population.

Most of the trouble has centered on Ambon and other Maluku (Moluccas) islands, the one part of the country, which had a sizeable Christian community. Self-declared jihad warriors from a paramilitary group called Laskar Jihad were shipped in from other parts of Indonesia, and by mid-2000 Christian leaders were begging the international community to send in peacekeepers -- an option rejected by the government in Jakarta. It is reported that Pakistanis, Afghans, Libyans, Saudi Arabians, Arabs and Filipinos had been identified among the Muslim militants, as well as members of the Indonesian armed forces.

The Christmas Eve bombings coincided with the final days of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month devoted to fasting from sunrise to sunset. The militants promised that the closing days of Ramadan in the Maluku Islands would bring greatly increased violence.

A statement issued by the Muslim paramilitary group, however, condemned the bombings as "immoral and politically motivated," the Associated Press reported.

Most of the bombs were planted in cars parked outside targeted churches. Clergymen received others wrapped as gifts and police defused 13 unexploded devices.

The nation's president, Abdurrahman Wahid, a respected Muslim leader and advocate of religious tolerance, on Dec. 25 condemned the bombings as aimed at "destabilizing the government and creating fear and panic so that the government cannot work. There is an effort to use the name of Islam to destroy Christians or to use the name of Christianity to destroy Muslims," Wahid said. "This is the last breath of those who fear that if the government can remain stable we will enter a new era, an era of economic awakening and democracy."

Police reported making two arrests in one city, according to one news report, while the AP reported that 48 people were being questioned nationally by police, including 16 men in relation to a possible bomb factory in the city of Bandung in west Java.

Blasts were reported outside churches in Medan, on Sumatra. Two people were killed in a blast at a Christian-owned house in Bandung, on Java, Indonesia's main island, police said. On Batam Island, not far from Singapore, three blasts injured 22 people. Explosions rocked three churches in the town of Mojokerto in East Java. Bombs also went off near three churches in Mataram on the tourist island of Lombok.

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