Newsdesk - 12 October 2017

Pakistan, Afghanistan, Egypt, Mali

 

MALI – Churches attacked and torched by Islamists who threatened to kill Christians seen praying

“Our churches and chapels are now being targeted by extremists, who’ve told Christians not to gather to pray,” explains a church leader in Mali. In the last six weeks, several churches in Mali’s central Mopti region have been ransacked and set on fire. In one attack, the congregation worshipping in a church in Bodwal were driven out of the church and told they would be killed if they were “seen praying.” Following previous attacks, military units have been deployed in Christian areas, although, at the time of writing, this has not happened on this occasion.

Soldiers from other African nations have been deployed in Mali since 2013
Soldiers from other African nations have been deployed in Mali since 2013

In 2012, Tuareg separatists and Islamist groups linked to Al Qaeda seized control of northern Mali and declared the region an Islamic state. Sharia law, including punishments such as amputations for theft, was imposed in Timbuktu. In 2013, France deployed soldiers to Mali to assist the government when Islamist fighters began advancing towards the capital, Bamako. A U.N. force of over 13,000 military personnel is now stationed in the country. But despite the government agreeing a peace deal with rebel groups in 2015, violence continues. In the first half of 2017, more than 42,000 civilians joined the many others already internally displaced in Mali.

From Crux Now here

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AFGHANISTAN – Christian asylum seekers forcibly returned from Europe live in fear

A new report by Amnesty International has highlighted the plight of Afghan Christian converts deported back to Afghanistan, who now live in fear of their lives.

Farid was deported to Kabul from Norway in May 2017. Although his family are from Afghanistan, he grew up in Iran and later made his way to Norway where he converted to Christianity and was baptised. After nine years in Norway, during which time the 32-year-old learned Norwegian, his claim for asylum was rejected. Norwegian authorities told him he would be safe in Kabul, but his Iranian family have rejected him and he cannot live in the province his family come from. “I am scared,” he explains, “I don’t know anything about Afghanistan. Where will I go? I don’t have funds to live alone and I can’t live with [Muslim] relatives because they will see that I don’t pray [Islamic prayers].”

Afghanistan is officially an Islamic republic where Christian converts from Islam can legally face the death penalty
Afghanistan is officially an Islamic republic where Christian converts from Islam can legally face the death penalty - pictured is a street scene in Kabul

In another case, a 24-year-old Afghan Christian convert, deported back to Kabul from Sweden in March 2017, is forced to live in hiding. His photo was circulated in Kabul and his hometown, because he has criticised Islam on social media. He told Amnesty researchers, “I am scared that someone will recognise me and kill me.”

More than 9,000 asylum seekers, some of whom are Christians, have been returned to Afghanistan from European countries since 2015. Afghan Christian converts from Islam can legally face the death penalty for apostasy; the last time a case reached the courts in 2006, international outcry led to the man charged being declared “insane”, thus saving him from execution.  The Amnesty report concludes: “In their determination to increase the number of deportations, European governments are implementing a policy that is reckless and unlawful. Wilfully blind to the evidence that violence is at a record high and no part of Afghanistan is safe, they are putting people at risk of torture, kidnapping, death.”

From Amnesty International here

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PAKISTAN – Two Christians set free as blasphemy charges are dropped

A court in Dunga Bunga, Bahawalnagar has dropped “blasphemy” charges against two non-Muslim men. On 28 September 2017, authorities registered a First Information Report (FIR) to start criminal proceedings against Christian, Vishal Tariq, and Bhola Ram, a Hindu. The FIR referenced several sections of the Pakistan Penal Code including 295-B – part of the country’s infamous “blasphemy” laws – accusing them of burning a government record which included pages with Quranic verses on them. If convicted they would have faced a compulsory sentence of life imprisonment. The men were released on 4 October 2017.

Although this is positive for the Christian community in Pakistan, the men remain in real danger of being killed by ardent Muslims; 69 people have been murdered over alleged “blasphemy” since 1990.  

Because there are no penalties for false accusations, accusers often abuse these laws to settle personal vendettas and target minorities. Insulting Muhammad (section 295-C of the laws) carries a mandatory death sentence. Although a number of Christians, like Nadeem James and Aasia Bibi are on death row, no one has yet been executed.

From Christians in Pakistan here

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EGYPT – Rejection or recognition for thousands of unlicensed churches?

The committee set up to review the status of unlicensed churches in Egypt met for the first time on 9 October. The committee was created in May 2017 shortly after Egypt’s Parliament passed a new law removing draconian Ottoman-era restrictions on church construction. Because church permits were previously so difficult to obtain, some congregations had no option but to worship in unlicensed buildings. This made them vulnerable to legal action or demolition. The committee is now considering over 2,000 requests from churches to receive legal status for their buildings.

New laws to ease restrictions on church building were passed by the Egyptian Parliament in August, but there is still fierce, even violent, opposition at a local level
New laws to ease restrictions on church building were passed by the Egyptian Parliament in August, but there is still fierce, even violent, opposition at a local level

Despite the new law, attempts by congregations to construct buildings continue to be slowed or ignored by local authorities. In one case, a congregation in the Sohag governorate was allocated land to build a church in 1971, but despite submitting more than 30 formal requests to authorities has not been given permission to begin building work. For more than a generation, the congregation has been without a safe, dedicated place to gather to worship.

Egyptian Christians continue to face sometimes violent opposition for trying to meet; in August, authorities in Minya province shut down a church citing “security concerns” following pressure from Islamists.

From Egypt Independent here

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