Christians in this Himalayan nation who are still longing to openly practice their faith were disheartened this month when the government proposed the kind of “anti-conversion” law that other nations have used as a pretext for falsely accusing Christians of “coercion.” The amendment bill would punish “proselytizing” that “uses coercion or other forms of inducement” – vaguely enough worded, Christians fear, that vigilantes could use it to jail them for following the commands of Christ to feed, clothe and otherwise care for the poor. “There was always a virtual anti-conversion law in place, but now it is on paper too,” said a senior pastor from Thimphu on condition of anonymity. “Seemingly it is aimed at controlling the growth of Christianity.” Kuenlay Tshering, a member of Bhutan’s Parliament and the chairperson of its Legislative Council, told Compass the National Council proposed that offenses under the proposal be classified as misdemeanors, punishable by one to less than three years in prison. Tshering said that the amendment bill “may be passed during the next session of Parliament, after the National Assembly deliberates on it in the winter session.” Authorities usually act on complaints by local residents against Christian workers, so frivolous complaints can lead to their arrest, said another pastor who requested anonymity. The ambiguous status of Christians in Bhutan has led to another problem: In the Lamperi area, near Thimphu, a national daily recently reported that at least eight graves of Christians had been exhumed and the skulls and thigh bones extracted for a Buddhist ritual. Although the report marked the first time the practice had made the news, Christian leaders said more than 100 graves have been dug up as the trade in human bones has been going on for more than five years.
PASTOR IN RUSSIAN REPUBLIC KILLED ***
July 28 (Compass Direct News) – A pastor in the Russian republic of Dagestan known for founding the biggest Protestant church in the region and for successfully reaching out to Muslims has been killed by unidentified gunmen, local authorities have confirmed. Artur Suleimanov, 49, pastor of Hosanna Christian Church in Makhachkala, the capital of Dagestan, was shot on the evening of July 15 while leaving his church building. The identity of the shooters remains unclear, but in the weeks leading up to the killing Dagestan media broadcast calls for people to take measures against Suleimanov because he was too “active” and converted ethnic Muslims. According to a letter Suleimanov wrote to Compass several years ago, 80 percent of the congregation is made up of former Muslims. The church distributes food and other aid to residents of the poverty-ridden country. His death follows the shooting of Orthodox priest Daniil Sisoev of St.Thomas church in Moscow last November; a Muslim group claimed responsibility for the slaying. Suleimanov is survived by his wife, Zina, and five children.
CONVICTION OF LEGISLATOR FALLS SHORT OF EXPECTATIONS
July 2 (Compass Direct News) – Christians in Orissa state had mixed feelings about the sentencing on Tuesday (June 29) of state legislator Manoj Pradhan to seven years in prison for causing grievous hurt and rioting – but not for murder. “Pradhan is not convicted of murder, but offenses of voluntarily causing grievous hurt by dangerous weapons and rioting were upheld,” attorney Bibhu Dutta Das told Compass. Kanaka Rekha Nayak, widow of murdered Christian Parikhita Nayak, acknowledged that the judgment on Pradhan and fellow Hindu nationalist Prafulla Mallick did not meet her expectations. She said she was happy that Pradhan was finally behind bars, but that she “expected the court to at least pronounce life imprisonment on Pradhan and Mallick for the gruesome act that they committed.” Pradhan has been charged in 14 cases related to the August-September 2008 attacks on Christians in Kandhamal district, Orissa, of which he has been acquitted in seven and convicted of causing “grievous hurt” in the Nayak murder, with six more cases pending against him. Of the 14 cases in which he has faced charges, seven involved murder; of those murder cases, he has been acquitted in three. After a series of trials in which murder suspects in the 2008 Kandhamal district violence have gone free as Hindu extremist threats kept witnesses from testifying, the testimony of Nayak’s 6-year-old daughter, Lipsa Nayak, helped seal Pradhan’s conviction. Along with the seven years of prison, the Phulbani Court sentenced the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party member of the Legislative Assembly of Orissa to a fine of little more than US$100, as it did for Mallick. “I have the highest regard for the judiciary,” Pradhan told Press Trust of India after this week’s verdict. “We will appeal against the verdict in the higher court.”
TWO CHRISTIANS PLAY DEAD TO SURVIVE ATTACK
July 27 (Compass Direct News) – Two evangelists said they survived an attack in Balaghat district, Madhya Pradesh by playing dead when suspected Hindu extremists on July 20 surrounded them and severely beat them. The six assailants accused Mahindra Kharoley, 20, and 30-year-old Munshi Prasaad Bahey of “forced conversion.” The two evangelists were bicycling to their home village of Susua following a prayer meeting at Dunda Sivni, 25 kilometers (15 miles) from Balaghat district, when the attackers on two motorbikes, with their faces covered, attacked them in Bhalwa village at around 10 p.m. The assailants did not wait for them to respond to the charges of forced conversion before they began hitting and kicking them, the evangelists said. “They banged my head on the cement road and hit me hard with their boots on top of my head, splitting my forehead,” said Bahey. After 20 minutes they lay motionless, pretending to be dead in order to survive, they said. Bahey told Compass that one of the attackers called another by name, saying, “Mahesh, stop hitting them, they are already dead – let’s get out of here.” With no moonlight, they were left bleeding in the pitch darkness of the jungle road about 800 meters from their home village. Kirnapur police accepted a complaint about the incident but have yet to investigate, the station officer in-charge told Compass. “I am busy till Aug. 5 in other, more important cases,” said Sub-Inspector Sandhir Chaudhary. “I will look into this only after that.”
CONVICTED HINDU NATIONALIST LEGISLATOR RELEASED ON BAIL ***
July 30 (Compass Direct News) – Less than a month after Orissa state legislator Manoj Pradhan was sentenced to seven years of prison for his part in anti-Christian mob violence in 2008, he was released on bail pending his appeal. Along with fellow Hindu nationalist Prafulla Mallick, Pradhan on June 29 was convicted of causing grievous hurt and rioting in connection with the murder of a Christian, Parikhita Nayak. Justice B.P. Ray heard the petition on July 7, and the same day he granted Pradhan and Mallick bail conditional on posting bail bond of 20,000 rupees (US$430) each. Pradhan and Mallick were released from jail on July 12 and await the outcome of an appeal to the Orissa High Court. Attorney Bibhu Dutta Das said that ordinary people don’t get bail so easily when convicted of such crimes. “It takes years for convictions in High Court,” Das told Compass. “We will not sit silent. We will challenge this bail order in the [New Delhi] Supreme Court very soon.” The Christian community expressed shock that someone sentenced to seven years in prison would get bail within seven days of applying for it. “I am very disappointed with the judiciary system,” said Nayak’s widow, Kanaka Rekha Nayak, who along with her two daughters has been forced into hiding because of threats against her. “I went through several life threats, but still I took my daughters for hearings whenever I was called by the court, risking my daughters’ lives – certainly not for this day.” In addition to the bail, the court has issued a stay order on the 5,000 rupee (US$107) fine imposed on Pradhan and Mallick.
MUSLIMS CALL FOR HALT TO ‘CHRISTIANIZATION’ ***
Muslim organizations in Bekasi, West Java, on Sunday (June 27) declared their intention to establish paramilitary units in local mosques and a “mission center” to oppose “ongoing attempts to convert people to Christianity,” according to the national Antara news agency. At a gathering at the large Al Azhar mosque, the leaders of nine organizations announced the results of a June 20 meeting of the Bekasi Islamic Congress, where they agreed to establish a mission center to halt “Christianization,” form a Laskar Pemuda youth army and push for the implementation of sharia (Islamic law) in the region, The Jakarta Post reported. “If the Muslims in the city can unite, there will be no more story about us being openly insulted by other religions,” Ahmad Salimin Dani, head of the Bekasi Islamic Missionary Council, announced at the gathering. “The center will ensure that Christians do not act out of order.” Observing an increasing number of house churches, Muslim organizations have accused Bekasi Christians of aggressive proselytizing. The Rev. Simon Timorason of the West Java Christian Communication Forum (FKKB), however, told Compass that most Christians in the area do not proselytize and meet only in small home fellowships due to the lack of officially recognized worship venues. Many Christian seminary graduates prefer to remain on Java rather than relocate to distant islands, Timorason added, making West Java the ideal place to launch new home-based fellowships for different denominations. But neighbors see only the multiplication of churches, he said, and therefore suspect Muslims are converting to Christianity. “The ideal solution is to have one building with a permit to be used by different denominations in each housing complex,” Timorason said. “If every denomination wants their own church in the same area, it’s a problem.”
SEALED CHURCH IN BOGOR APPEALS TO UN ***
July 6 (Compass Direct News) – The Gereja Kristen Indonesia (GKI) Taman Yasmin Church in Bogor, West Java has filed a religious discrimination appeal with the United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, church leaders said. Since April 11 the congregation has held services in stifling heat on the roadside in front of the church sealed by the mayor. The church pastor, the Rev. Ujang Tanusaputra, told Compass that the church had received an official building permit from the Bogor City government. He said that even though the church brought suit against the sealing in court – and won – the congregation is not permitted to worship in the building, which is 80 percent completed. Construction was going smoothly until a Muslim group began demonstrating and the government sealed the building to appease them. Jayadi Damanik, a member of the church’s legal team, said the government wants people to obey the law, yet the government itself is not respecting the rule of law. In Bekasi, government officials on June 20 sealed the house where the Huria Kristen Batak Protestan Podok Timur Indah Church was meeting. The church pastor, the Rev. Luspida Simanjuntak, said the church that was meeting in Mustika Jaya district had attempted talks with the government, but pressure from Islamic organizations, including the Islamic Defenders’ Front, was so strong that the government could not stand up to it. The church has been meeting in the house as the local government has delayed the processing of its application for a building permit.
POLICE DEMOLISH CHURCH HOUSE
July 22 (Compass Direct News) – Public order personnel on Monday (July 19) supported Bogor police officers who demolished a house where a church regularly met in a village in Bogor Regency, West Java. Clashes broke out with church members and others as police tore down the Narogong Pentecostal Church building in Limusnunggal village, Cileungsi sub-district, and officers arrested 10 people. Those arrested were questioned and released. Some officers and a civilian were reportedly injured. Local residents, including non-Christians, had accepted the presence of the church, said local Block Captain Junaedi Syamsudin, but a group called the Forum of the Muslim Brotherhood of Limusnanggal has worked since 2008 to have the church eliminated. Three months ago members of the forum went to Cileungsi offices to object to the church’s presence, Syamsudin said, and the regent promised to demolish the house. Eddy Hidayat, head of Bogor police operations, said the house lacked a use permit. The building coordinator for the Pentecostal church, Hotlan P. Silaen, said police were not neutral in the dispute. “The clash with citizens could have been avoided if the police had been neutral and not been goaded into a situation that caused bodily harm,” Silaen said. The Rev. Rekson Sitorus said the church will take legal action against those responsible for demolishing the house, including the Bogor administration.
MESSIANIC JEWISH CHURCH WON’T APPEAL COURT RULING ***
July 14 (Compass Direct News) – A congregation of Messianic Jews in Israel who recently lost a lawsuit against an ultra-orthodox Jewish group that allegedly incited a riot against them has decided not to appeal their case, the church’s pastor said. After meeting with his congregation and members of the Messianic community in Israel, Howard Bass, pastor of Yeshua’s Inheritance church in Beer Sheva, said that although there are strong legal grounds for an appeal, he believes it is not God’s will to do so. “We didn’t see that it’s right to appeal, even though there is good legal basis. But we don’t feel it’s the Lord’s will to appeal,” Bass said, later adding he felt the verdict was “totally distorted.” In 2007, Bass filed suit against Yehuda Deri, chief Sephardic rabbi in the city of Beer Sheva, and Yad L’Achim, an organization that fights against Messianic Jews in Israel, for allegedly inciting a riot at a December 2005 service that Bass was leading. On Dec. 24, 2005, during a baptismal service in Beer Sheva, a group of about 200 men pushed their way into a small, covered structure being used to baptize two new Christians and tried to stop the service. The assailants tossed patio chairs, damaged audiovisual equipment, threw a grill and other items into a baptismal pool, pushed Bass into the pool and broke his glasses. In the days before the riot, Yad L’Achim issued notices to people about a “mass baptism” scheduled to take place at the facility in the city 51 miles (83 kilometers) southwest of Jerusalem. In the days after the riot, Deri bragged about the incident on a radio talk show, including a boast that Bass had been “baptized” at the gathering. Bass demanded either a public apology for their alleged role in the attack, or 1.5 million shekels (US$389,052) from the rabbi and Yad L’Achim. The case, Bass said, was to “honor the name of Jesus Christ in Israel.” He said he had sought monetary damages “to show how serious the offenses were under the law.”
AUTHORITIES CONTINUE TO PURGE NATION OF FOREIGN CHRISTIANS ***
July 1 (Compass Direct News) – Moroccan authorities expelled eight more foreign Christians from the country last weekend, bringing the total of deported Christians since March to 128. Two foreign women married to Moroccan Christians were included in this third wave of deportations since March, raising concerns that local authorities intend to harass the country’s small but growing Protestant community. “They are all in fear,” a source told Compass, “because this happened to people who are married.” One of the women, a Lebanese national married to a Moroccan, was diagnosed with cancer last month and is the mother of a 6-year old girl whom she was forced to leave behind. A Spanish national, Sara Domene, 31, was also deported on Monday (June 28), according to news sources. Domene was working as a language teacher in the Western Sahara, a territory under Moroccan sovereignty. Authorities called the foreigners to police stations across Morocco on Friday (June 25) and told them they had 48 hours to leave the country on grounds of “threatening public order.” Other nationals who were forced to leave the country over the weekend came from France, Egypt, Lebanon, Switzerland, Nigeria and Spain. A source explained that Moroccan authorities are essentially deporting Christians for “proselytism,” which is illegal in Morocco, but in order to justify the deportations they have claimed that the foreigners pose a threat to the state. The deportations come amid a nationwide mudslinging campaign geared to vilify Christians in Morocco for “proselytism” – widely perceived as bribing people to change their faith.
MUSLIM MOB KILLS WIFE, CHILDREN OF CHRISTIAN
July 8 (Compass Direct News) – A Muslim mob in Jhelum, Pakistan murdered the wife and four children of a Christian last month, but local authorities are too afraid of the local Muslim leader to file charges, according to area Muslim and Christian sources. Jamshed Masih, a police officer who was transferred 50 kilometers (31 miles) from Gujrat to Jhelum, Punjab Province, said a mob led by Muslim religious leader Maulana Mahfooz Khan killed his family on June 21 after Khan called him to the local mosque and told him to leave the predominantly Muslim colony. Masih’s Muslim neighbor, Ali Murtaza, said that after a shopkeeper refused to sell laundry detergent to Masih’s oldest son, 11, Khan led a Muslim mob to Masih’s home and confronted his wife. The mob accused the boy of blaspheming Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, and when she protested, they killed her and her children. When Masih tried to file a complaint against Khan for the murder, Station House Officer (SHO) Ramzan Mumtaz refused to do so, according to Murtaza and Presbyterian clergyman Saleem Mall. Murtaza said, “The SHO just said, ‘I am a poor man, I have a family, and I was pressured by higher authorities not to register the FIR [First Information Report] as Khan is a very influential man. I am sorry; I don’t have anything in my hands.’” Contacted by Compass, SHO Mumtaz confirmed that he responded to the request to file the complaint against Khan in these exact words. Masih has filed a complaint with the chief minister of Punjab Province begging him for justice, Mall told Compass.
TWO CHURCHES COME UNDER ATTACK FROM ISLAMISTS ***
July 13 (Compass Direct News) – Christian communities in two areas in Punjab Province came under attack earlier this month. In Sargodha, an unidentified motorcyclist on July 1 tossed a grenade in front of the gates of St. Filian’s Church of Pakistan, next to a small Christian-owned amusement park where children were playing, Christian sources said. It did not explode. The Rev. Pervez Iqbal of St. Filian’s said the Bomb Disposal Squad and New Satellite Town police took the grenade away. High-ranking police officials cordoned off the area, declaring a “High Red Alert” in Sargodha, he added. At a small village near Sheikhupura, a church building and Christian homes came under threat of demolition on July 5. Islamic extremists issued threats as, accompanied by local police, they intended to demolish the Apostolic Church Pakistan structure in Lahorianwali, Narang Mandi, with a bulldozer, area Christians said. Assistant Sub-Inspector Rana Rauf led Narang Mandi police and the extremists in an attempted demolition that was averted with the intervention of Christian leaders who called in district police. Area Christian Zulfiqar Gill told Compass that the Islamic extremists threatened the Christians. “They said that if we ever tried to rebuild the walls or renovate the frail Apostolic Church building, they would create a scene here like Gojra,” Gill said, referring to Aug. 1, 2009 attacks that left at least seven Christians dead.
CHRISTIANS NARROWLY ESCAPE FLYING BULLETS ***
July 15 (Compass Direct News) – Suspected Islamic extremists fired bullets into the car of a Christian evangelist with impunity last month, while in another Punjab Province town stray gunfire led to two Christians being falsely accused of murder. Following a youth revival in Essa Nagri, near Faisalabad, the Rev. Kamran Pervaiz was in the passenger seat of a Toyota Corolla returning to Faisalabad with his team on June 25 when 12 armed men tried to stop their car, the pastor said. The rear window suddenly broke to pieces as bullets pierced the car. The driver turned into a field and turned off the engine, and the assailants sped past. Pervaiz said they were targeted because of their involvement in the Christian revival meeting; Muslim groups had warned the Christians to abort the meeting after banners and posters were displayed across Essa Nagri. At Ghulam Muhammad Abad police station in Faisalabad, Acting Superintendent Shabir Muhammad declined to register a First Information Report on the attack due to pressure from local Muslim groups, he said. “I am trying to register the FIR, but the things are out of my control at higher levels,” Muhammad told Compass. In Gujrat, by contrast, police soon arrested two young Christian men after shots fired into the air by a drunken man killed a neighbor. Saleem Masih, 22, and John Masih, 23, were falsely accused of robbery as well as murder, a later police investigation found, and they were released. Their employer, Chaudhry Ashraf Gondal, had become inebriated along with friend Chaudhry Farhan on June 18, and Farhan fired gunshots into the air for fun, killing Malik Sajid, said senior superintendent of police operations officer Raon Irfan. “Ashraf bribed the SHO to arrest someone else and file charges of robbery and murder,” Irfan said.
CHRISTIANS ACCUSED OF ‘BLASPHEMY’ SLAIN ***
July 19 (Compass Direct News) – Today suspected Islamic extremists shot dead two Christians accused here of “blasphemy.” Armed gunmen shot the Rev. Rashid Emmanuel, 32, and his 30-year-old brother Sajid Emmanuel days after handwriting experts on Wednesday (July 14) notified police that signatures on papers denigrating Muhammad did not match those of the accused. Expected to be exonerated, the two leaders of United Ministries Pakistan were being led in handcuffs under police custody back to jail when they were shot at 2:17 p.m., according to Rizwan Paul, president of advocacy group Life for All. “Five armed, masked men attacked and opened fire on the two accused,” Paul said. “Sajid died on the spot,” while Rashid Emmanuel died later.” Christian Lawyers’ Foundation President Khalid Gill said the two bodies bore cuts and other signs of having been tortured, including marks on their faces, while the brothers were in police custody. Muslims staged large demonstrations in the past week calling for the death penalty for the brothers, who were arrested when Rashid Emmanuel agreed to meet a mysterious caller at a train station but was instead surrounded by police carrying papers denigrating Muhammad – supposedly signed by the pastor and his brother and bearing their telephone numbers. The Muslim who allegedly placed the anonymous call to the pastor, Muhammad Khurram Shehzad, was the same man who filed blasphemy charges against Emmanuel and his brother and was already present at the Civil Lines police station when the pastor and an unnamed Christian arrived in handcuffs, said Atif Jamil Pagaan, coordinator of the Harmony Foundation advocacy group. The shooters escaped, and Punjab’s inspector general has reportedly suspended the superintendent of police and deputy superintendent police for their failure to provide security for the slain brothers.
CHRISTIAN NURSING STUDENT NEARLY DIES FROM ASSAULT ***
July 26 (Compass Direct News) – A Catholic nurse trainee has regained consciousness after a Muslim doctor allegedly raped her and threw her from a hospital’s fourth-floor window this month. The third-year student nurse told media and rights groups that on July 13 several Muslim men, led by Dr. Abdul Jabbar Meammon, beat and raped her, and then threw her from the window of Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Center (JPMC) to keep her from revealing the abuse. Meammon, who had taken over a room in the all-female wing of the hospital, has a history of abusing Christian nurses, a hospital administrator said. Dr. Seemi Jamali, chief of JPMC’s Emergency Department, told Compass that Meammon had been suspended from the hospital seven times for drinking alcohol on the job and other misbehavior, and that he was drunk when he assaulted Ashraf. A medico-legal officer at the hospital who carried out autopsies, Meammon was forcibly occupying a room in the women-only wing of the doctors’ hostel, Jamali said. She added that Meammon is an influential figure backed by a leading political party in Karachi. The young woman, Magdalene Ashraf, was unconscious for 56 hours as surgeons fought for her life at the intensive care unit of JPMC and is still in critical condition. Police have charged Meammon and his accomplices with attempted murder, but Christian organizations are urging police to file gang-rape charges. He added that police have also arrested Dr. Ferhat Abbas and another doctor identified only as Tayyab. Dr. Donald Mall, an administrator with Seventh Day Adventist Hospital, told Compass that there “are hundreds of rape cases of Christian nurses by doctors which go unreported in Pakistan,” and that the Sindh Province Health Department has ignored them.
SUSPECTED ISLAMISTS SHOOT FIVE CHRISTIANS TO DEATH ***
July 29 (Compass Direct News) – A dozen masked men shot five Christians to death as they came out of their church building here on July 15, two months after a banned Islamic extremist group sent church leaders a threatening letter, relatives said. Pastor Aaron John and church members Rohail Bhatti, Salman John, Abid Gill and Shamin Mall of Full Gospel Church were leaving the church building after meeting to discuss security in light of threats they had received, said the pastor’s son, Shahid John. “As we came out of the church, a group of a dozen armed gunmen came and opened fire at us,” said Shahid John, who survived a bullet in his arm. Besides Shahid John, five others were wounded in the attack. In May church leaders received a letter from Islamic extremist group Sip-e-Sahaba (formerly Sipah-e-Sahaba until it was banned) warning the Christians to leave the area, said Kiran Rohail, wife of the slain Rohail Bhatti. Sip-e-Sahaba and Sunni Tehrik extremist groups are both linked with an area madrassa (Islamic school) whose students had been threatening the church since 2008, Christian sources said. The masked gunmen of July 15 had young physiques like those of students, Christian sources said, and their manner of attack indicated they were trained extremists. The madrassa students that have threatened the church since 2008 belong to the Sunni Tehrik extremist group, the sources said. Pastor John and Bhatti had reported the threats of the past two years to police, but officers at the local station did not take them seriously, relatives said. Police also declined to register a First Information Report (FIR) when church leaders reported the threatening letter of May. An independent government source confirmed the shooting deaths of the Christians, adding that local Islamist pressure had prevented media from reporting on it.
GOVERNMENT-INCITED GANG ATTACKS HOUSE CHURCH ***
July 23 (Compass Direct News) – A gang of youths on Sunday (July 18) attacked a house church as the congregation worshiped in Xi Thoai village in Phu Yen Province on Vietnam’s south central coast, Christian sources said. The local youths smashed the walls of the home and wreaked havoc within as they railed against evangelist Mang Vuong for being a Christian and for building his home to be a house church, the sources said. The sources noted that on the night of June 10 the same youths, spurred by local authorities, broke into Vuong’s home in Xuan Lanh Commune, Dong Xuan district, stole more than $3,000 and destroyed household furnishings, utensils and books. According to a petition the evangelist sent to commune, district and provincial officials on June 12, it was village officials who assembled young people for a meeting on June 9 and plied them with liquor. Very late at night the youths, including several sons of commune officials, attacked the evangelist’s house. The petition blames village Chief La Mo Duc, Deputy Chief Le Minh Dien and others for inciting the young people. These two officials are also the local Communist Party leaders. Police from local to provincial levels several times came to the area to “investigate,” visits that village Christians said were attempts to identify the Christians in the village. “There was no other reason for this – it is religious persecution, pure and simple, incited and allowed by local government officials,” said one prominent Evangelical Church of Vietnam (South) leader. “The inaction of higher officials casts into doubt our country’s claim to uphold religious freedom.”