Kenya: Two Christian teachers killed by suspected Al-Shabaab attackers

The house near Arabia Boys Secondary school where the two non-local teachers died after an attack by suspected Al-Shabaab militants last week. (Photo: Facebook)The house near Arabia Boys Secondary school, Kenya where two Christian teachers died after an attack by suspected Al-Shabaab militants last week. It’s 1km from Somali border.(Photo: Facebook)

Two Christian school teachers were killed in an attack by suspected Al-Shabaab militants in Kenya’s Mandera County, near the Somali border, last week.

Philip Okumu, 26, and Daniel Wekesa 39, died on Wednesday (10 October) after assailants raided the house for non-local teachers in Arabia Boys Secondary, about one kilometre from the Kenya-Somali border.

According to Olaka Kutswa, the Mandera County Commissioner, over 20 assailants stormed the school around 1 am, outnumbering the four Kenya Police Reservists (KPR) on guard. They threw an explosive device into one of the rooms of the house where the school’s four non-local teachers stayed, setting it on fire, he said in a statement.

Both Okumu and Wekesa were shot when they tried to escape the fire.

Police said yesterday (15 October) that the attack had been planned by Hassan Hodey, a Somali national from the Damasa area, and said Al-Shabaab appeared to be preparing further attacks in the Kenya – Somalia border region.

The school’s other two non-local teachers, Elijah Nderitu and Kelvin Lomusi, survived the attack.

“All the other teachers, students, and workers are safe, and the County Security Committee has held several meetings with the County Education Board to arrange for necessary psychological support and counselling services for them,” said Kutswa.

Survivor Lomusi told Kenya’s The Citizen TV that the attackers had forced open the door to his room before one of them entered to check if there were any survivors. He then fled when a mattress caught fire.

“I was hiding between the bed and the wall,” said Lomusi, who sustained some burns on his face after the mattress caught fire. “Going out was not a simple step to take, since I feared they may still be around.”

“After witnessing the attack and the killing of my colleagues, I can no-longer endure working there anymore,” Elijah Nderitu, the other survivor, told the TV station.

Transfer of all non-local teachers

The teachers, originally from western Kenya, were fairly new in the area. Okumu had worked in the school since 2016, while Wekesa had joined the institution in 2017. Both men were Christians, Fr. Nicholas Mutua, a Catholic priest, told World Watch Monitor.

The attack comes as fear is growing that Al-Shabaab, the Somalia-based east African affiliate of Al-Qaeda, is targeting education, and its proponents, in the predominantly Muslim region.

Following an attack by the group on Garissa University College in April 2015, in which gunmen killed 149 students, Kenya’s president Uhuru Kenyatta suggested the attacks were an attempt by the militants to create a caliphate in Somalia and north-eastern Kenya. Observers say that ‘eliminating’ non-locals from the Muslim-majority region would fit that strategy.

In February, the government ordered the transfer of all non-local teachers from regions near the border with Somalia after two other non-Muslim teachers and the fiancée of one of them were killed in neighbouring Wajir County.

Following those killings the Teacher Service Commission (TSC) transferred 108 teachers (both Primary and Secondary) away from the volatile border areas. An estimated 18, however, chose to remain in the region.

Although the transfers were criticized by local political leaders, a June 2018 report by the TSC showed that non-local teachers were frequently harassed on basis of their religion, race, culture, dress and language. Female teachers were being forced to wear deras (a large dress) and the hijab (veil), and both male and female teachers were frequently attacked by students.

While Al-Shabaab has increased attacks in Kenya, especially since the country sent troops to join the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), some observers fear that local politics and power struggles among local clan leaders may also be fuelling some of the attacks.

According to Mutua, the attacks appear well-planned because non-local citizens are harmed or killed, while the local Muslim teachers and other workers were left unscathed.

In October 2016 Al-Shabaab militants carried out an attack in Mandera town, killing Christian Kenyans who were not from the local area.

“We have been saying that while the actual attacks are carried out by Al-Shabaab militants, local collaborations should not be ignored,” said the priest.

“We have observed that the killing of the teachers tends to occur as national examinations approach. The same trends is repeated when results are released. We need to investigate if the attacks are related to examinations and the control of results,” he said, adding that local people fear that non-locals may reveal secrets related to cheating in the exams.

However, Fr. Alfred Murithi, a Catholic priest in Wajir town told World Watch Monitor in February that Christian teachers say they face many other challenges, such as discrimination by the local communities along religious lines, since they are not Muslims.

Wajir, like Mandera and other counties in the region, are predominantly Muslim, but in both public and private schools, the majority of the teachers (roughly estimated at 60 per cent) are Christians.

Arsonist Throws Molotov Cocktails into Seattle Church During Worship Service

As a group of about 50 congregants attended a worship service at a Seattle-based church, an arsonist hurled several Molotov cocktails toward the sanctuary.

Witnesses told authorities they saw a person throwing lit bottles filled with an unknown substance at Iglesia ni Cristo just after 8 p.m. Thursday and immediately called 9-1-1, according to KCPQ-TV.

The Molotov cocktails started a fire outside the church, Seattle Fire spokeswoman Kristen Tinsley said, causing minor damage to the exterior of the building. No injuries have been reported.

Another Church Building Sealed Shut in Algeria

Police at doors of Church of Jesus Christ on Tuesday (Oct. 15) in Azaghar village, Akbou, Algeria. (Morning Star News)

Police at doors of Church of Jesus Christ on Tuesday (Oct. 16) in Azaghar village, Akbou, Algeria. (Morning Star News)

Compliance with building codes not enough to prevent closure.

TIZI-OUZOUAlgeria (Morning Star News) – Authorities in Algeria sealed shut a church site on Tuesday (Oct. 16) even after Christian leaders complied with orders to meet building codes, sources said.

In Azaghar village near Akbou, about 185 kilometers (114 miles) east of Algiers in Bejaia Province, Kabylie Region, eight policemen sealed shut the doors of the Church of Jesus Christ, pastor Ali Benkhelat told Morning Star News.

Government officials had ordered the closure in February after local administrators visited the 300-member church’s worship site in December 2017 and January, he said.

“After their visit to our place of worship, they asked us to provide another emergency exit door and fire extinguishers, which we have done,” Pastor Benkhelat said. “We even had to close the premises for three weeks for different development work. If they let us work until today, it’s because they had nothing to reproach us for.”

The five-year-old church is a legal entity by virtue of its affiliation with the Protestant Church of Algeria (EPA), but the government order stated that its building was originally meant to be used for a poultry business. Christian leaders said it was clean and never had chickens in it.

Police first went to the building owner, Da Amar, at 4 p.m. on Monday (Oct. 15) and asked him to go to the police station at 5 p.m., which he did, Pastor Benkhelat said. The officer on duty told Amar, who makes the building available to the church free of charge, that police would close the building the next day on orders from Bejaia provincial officials.

“This after having reminded him of a notification which had been delivered to him on Feb. 18, 2018, and in which he had been informed of the closure of the premises for reasons of nonconformity,” Pastor Benkhelat said.

Besides citing lack of an emergency exit and fire extinguishers, the Feb. 18 order mentions use of the building to receive foreign pastors as being against Law No. 11-08 of July 25, 2008 as a reason to stop using the building, “under pain of making a decision to close the premises within 15 days.”

After Amar called Pastor Benkhelat on Monday (Oct. 15), the church leader immediately made contact with EPA President Salah Chalah, who arrived from about 100 kilometers (62 miles) away with EPA Vice President Youcef Ourahmane on Tuesday (Oct. 16).

The owner, pastor and EPA representatives went to the Akbou police station to try to get the closure order reversed.

“We presented the necessary documents, including the affiliation of the church to the EPA, but unfortunately their decision only obeyed an order issued by the head of Bejaia Province,” the EPA’s Pastor Ourahmane said.

The closure order this week was issued by a new Bejaia Province head who took office on Oct. 1, the Christian leaders said.

“It was ordered to proceed with the closing of the premises of the church with the sealing of the main entrance door,” Pastor Benkhelat said. “A brigade of eight gendarmes thus appeared around 11:30 and proceeded to execute the established order.”

The sealing of the church building comes amid a rash of church closures in the past year in Algeria. Three churches closed in Oran have since been allowed to re-open, but church buildings closed in Maatkas, Tizi-Ouzou Province, in May, and in Riki on July 11 remain shut, Christian leaders said. The Riki church, near Akbou, continues to hold worship services in the open air outside their closed premises.

On May 26 authorities ordered the closure of a church building in Ait-Mellikeche, also in Bejaia Province.

In addition to orders to close Protestant places of worship, Algerian authorities are trying to block evangelical activity in the country, Christian leaders said. In Oran Province, pastor Rachid Segheir visits provincial offices weekly to appeal for the reopening of his bookstore, which was closed and sealed by police in Oran city.

All churches affiliated with the EPA have been visited by investigators and ordered to comply with requirements for non-Muslim places of worship or face closure.

A 2007 executive decree requires all non-Muslim places of worship in Algeria to register with the state, according to the U.S. State Department, but a government freeze on new EPA members has kept churches from registering.

Idir Hamdad

At the same time, the case of a Christian previously acquitted of frivolous charges again surfaced this month.

Idir Hamdad, a 29-year-old convert from Islam, had been acquitted on July 8 of importing unauthorized (Christian) items without a license, but a prosecutor appealed the decision. A judge on Oct. 9 rejected the appeal, acquitting Hamdad again and ruling that he was prosecuted solely for his faith, though the court did not reveal the decision to his lawyers until Thursday (Oct. 18).

Algeria ranked 42nd on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2018 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.

Violence, Discrimination against Christians Escalate in Sri Lanka

Fifth-century Aukana statue of Buddha in north-central Sri Lanka. (Wikipedia)

Fifth-century Aukana statue of Buddha in north-central Sri Lanka. (Wikipedia)

Hindu extremism emerging along with Buddhist aggression, advocates say.

NEW DELHI (Morning Star News) – Attacks and other actions against Christians in Sri Lanka have escalated this year, with Hindu extremism beginning to take root along with long-time Buddhist aggression, according to rights advocates.

“Last month there have been more incidents that have been documented than previous months,” an attorney with the National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka (NCEASL) who requested anonymity told Morning Star News.

NCEASL reported 67 incidents against Christians in Sri Lanka from January through September. Last month saw the highest number of cases reported this year, 12, while 10 incidents were recorded in each of two months, July and March, followed by April and January with eight incidents each.

June and July saw seven incidents each, followed by May with four and February with two.

The highest number of incidents fell under the category of “violence” and “threats” against Christians, with 16 cases each, according to NCEASL figures. This was followed by nine incidents in each of the categories of “discrimination,” “demands for closure” (of worship places) and “intimidation,” while “police inaction,” “false allegations” and “registration” (of cases against Christians) registered two incidents each. One case each of “legal challenge” and “demonstration” were recorded.

Sri Lanka’s population is about 70 percent Buddhist and 13 percent Hindu.

Entire Communities Instigated

There is a trend from group attacks to groups instigating entire communities, the rights advocate said.

“We are witnessing that communities are being mobilized in an increasing manner against Christians,” the attorney said. “The incidents are not anymore only led by extremist groups, but we are seeing that the extremist elements are able to influence communities as a whole and lead violent mob attacks against places of worship and people.”

Among recent cases, a large mob in Southern Province gathered to protest against a church in their community, which was followed by a violent attack, and then discrimination. In Beliatta in Hambantota district, a mob of about 100 people from nearby villages on Sept. 12 vandalized the Assemblies of God Church building.

NCEASL reported that the assailants damaged the church building structure, two motorcycles parked outside and desecrated and removed religious symbols hanging on the front door. A few of them entered the premises, threatened the pastor and his family with death, demanded that worship services stop and told the pastor to leave the village.

They harassed women in the congregation and spewed obscenities, and a Buddhist monk later joined them and further aggravated matters. When three police officers arrived at 12 p.m., they had to call for back-up because the crowd had grown out of control and was not allowing the pastor or anyone else to leave – the mob assaulted a member of the congregation who tried to leave.

After 10 more officers arrived, only then were police able to carry the pastor safely to the Beliatta Police Station. He filed a complaint.

Later that night at about 11:45 p.m., according to NCEASL, unidentified people pelted the pastor’s home with stones for about 20 minutes. The stones injured the pastor’s uncle, endangered his child and damaged roof tiles. Police secured the area after the pastor called an emergency hotline.

Police arrived at about 1 a.m., arrested one person and continued to provide security to the pastor’s family with seven officers at his place. The following day, the pastor filed another complaint.

On Sept. 12 in the same town, around 500 people, including Buddhist monks, staged a protest against the pastor and church worship.

“Both these protests were in the Southern Province, and the people who were protesting were Buddhists since the province is largely a Buddhist area,” the attorney told Morning Star News. “But what is concerning is that since the end of the [1983-2009 civil] war, we now also see such attacks taking place also in the Hindu Tamil areas, in the east particularly.”

Rise of Hindu Extremism

Some attacks by Hindus have been reported in the north as well, where there are sizeable Hindu populations, but not as many as in the eastern Hindu areas, the attorney said.

“In the Eastern Province, we see a lot of influence from the India’s Hindu right-wing groups such as the RSS [Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh] seeping into Sri Lanka,” the attorney said. “Hindu extremist groups have had meetings with Hindu villagers promoting hatred and division and inciting them towards violence.”

The instigation has led to violence, denial of burial in public cemeteries and other rights violations.

“In this way, we see not only Buddhist extremism, which is something that has always been in the country, but also a rise in Hindu extremism, particularly in the Eastern Province,” the attorney told Morning Star News.

With NCEASL help, victims have been able to file police complaints, leading courts to take up their cases, the attorney said.

“There have been instances when cases have been filed against Christians, and the bias is very visible,” the attorney said. “In these cases, the Christians have had no choice but to approach the courts. Some judges who may also be biased never give an order in a matter of religious freedom because they do not want to set a precedent and very often force the Christians to settle the matter rather than giving justice. So, in many incidents no one gets punished by law.”

The attorney has seen many cases where Christians have responded in forgiveness and have moved on, but also many instances where Christians get very discouraged.

“I have come across a few pastors who has been so discouraged that their congregations have left them, and at least two pastors have actually left the country in the past year,” the attorney said. “It has been a sad situation. On one hand there has been growth in the church because of persecution, but there have also been instances where it has completely broken the church.”

Sri Lanka is ranked 44th on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2018 World Watch List of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.

Leah Sharibu Kept as Slave, Aid Worker Killed as ‘Apostate,’ in Nigeria, Report Says

Leah Nathan Sharibu. (Morning Star News via family)

Leah Nathan Sharibu. (Morning Star News via family)

Boko Haram’s Islamic law allows ‘infidels’ to be enslaved, group says.

(Morning Star News) – Islamic extremist group Boko Haram has killed an aid worker as an “apostate” from Islam and vowed to keep kidnapped high school girl Leah Sharibu as a “slave for life,” Nigerian news outlet The Cable reported.

Leah, kidnapped along with more than 100 schoolgirls from Dapchi, Yobe state in February but not released with the others because she refused to convert to Islam, will never be freed because Boko Haram’s Islamic law allows “infidels” to be kept as slaves, according to a statement by the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), commonly known as Boko Haram, released through The Cable.

Alice Ngaddah, a Christian who works with UNICEF, will also be kept as a slave, according to the statement. Leah and Ngaddah, a mother of two, “are now our slaves,” the Boko Haram group said.

“Based on our doctrines, it is now lawful for us to do whatever we want to do with them,” the group said.

The group has executed Hauwa Leman, an aid worker with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), according to the statement.

“In a short clip seen by a special correspondent of TheCable, Leman was forced to kneel down, with her hands tied inside a white hijab which has a crest symbol, and then shot at close range,” The Cable reported.

Boko Haram in September killed Saifura Ahmed, one of the three humanitarian workers abducted in Rann, Borno state, in March. Leman, a 24-year-old midwife and student of health education at the University of Maiduguri, was among those then kidnapped.

In its statement, the Boko Haram group said, “Saifura and Hauwa were killed because they are considered as Murtads [apostates] by the group because they were once Muslims that have abandoned their Islam, the moment they chose to work with the Red Cross, and for us, there is no difference between Red Cross and UNICEF…If we see them, we will kill the apostates among them, men or women, and chose to kill or keep the infidels as slaves, men or women.”

Leah was the only Christian among more than 100 high school girls kidnapped from the Government Girls’ Science and Technical College, Dapchi, on Feb. 19. The other girls were released in March.

Government representatives and advocates within Nigeria, along with the international community have called for her release.

Boko Haram has not made known its demands for the release of the hostages. It had set a deadline of Monday (Oct. 15) for its demands to be met or it would kill one of the hostages.

Nigerian Minister of Information and Culture Alhaji Lai Mohammed said in a statement that government officials were shocked and saddened at the killing of Leman in light of efforts the government has taken to secure the release of the hostages. Mohammed said the killing was “dastardly, inhuman and ungodly” and said the government did all within its powers to save her life.

“As we have been doing since these young women were abducted, we kept the line of negotiations open all through,” Mohammed said in the statement. “In all the negotiations, we acted in the best interest of the women and the country as a whole…We are deeply pained by this killing, just like we were by the recent killing of the first aid worker. However, we will keep the negotiations open and continue to work to free the innocent women who remain in the custody of their abductors.”

Leah’s mother, Rebecca Sharibu, on Sept. 29 called on President Muhammadu Buhari to secure Leah’s release. Buhari later spoke with Leah’s mother, pledging to do everything possible to get her released.

Boko Haram has kidnapped more than 1,000 children in Nigeria since 2013, according to CNN.

About 100 of 276 girls kidnapped by Boko Haram from the town of Chibok, in Borno state, in 2014 are still missing.

Boko Haram, whose name is loosely translated as, “Western education is a sin,” has fought for nine years to impose sharia (Islamic law) on all of Nigeria, killing tens of thousands of people and displacing more than 2 million. Boko Haram militants reportedly warned parents of the returned Dapchi girls not to send their daughters back to school.

In 2015 the Nigerian military began taking back most of the territory Boko Haram had controlled, but many areas remain, and the terrorists are still mounting isolated attacks. Jubilee Campaign reports that, according to figures from the Stefanos Foundation, Boko Haram in 2017 took responsibility for attacks that claimed more than 650 lives.

Christians make up 51.3 percent of Nigeria’s population, while Muslims living primarily in the north and middle belt account for 45 percent.

Nigeria ranked 14th on Open Doors’ 2018 World Watch List of countries where Christians suffer the most persecution.

Christian Indian wives wait for justice Ten years after arrest of their illiterate husbands,

The wives of seven Indian Christians imprisoned for 10 years for a murder many believe they didn’t commit (World Watch Monitor)

It was around midnight on 4 October 2008 that Munda and Sanathan Badamajhi, and Durjo Sunamajhi, were arrested by dozens of police in their shanty homes in India’s eastern Odisha state.

Ten years on, these three illiterate Christians, from the remote Madaguda area of Kandhamal are yet to return home.

Four other Christians – Bhaskar Sunamajhi, Bijay Kumar Sanseth, Buddhadeb Nayak, Gornath Chalenthseth – also arrested by police in December 2008 – continue to languish in jail.

All seven were charged with the August, 2008 murder of Hindu leader Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati that triggered the worst orchestrated anti-Christian violence in modern India.

(Nearly 100 Christians were killed, 300 churches and 6,000 Christian houses plundered and torched, leaving over 56,000 homeless in Kandhamal after a Hindu nationalist group promptly claimed that the murder was a ‘Christian conspiracy’).

The seven were abruptly convicted to life imprisonment in October 2013 by a third judge after two trial court judges – who had openly indicated during the trial that the accused were innocent – were transferred one after another during the long four years of trial.

However, in June 2015, two top police officials – who had relied upon the same conspiracy theory to ensure the conviction of the innocent Christians – testified before the Kandhamal judicial inquiry commission that the allegations were false. Despite this, the appeal hearing has been constantly postponed.

“My husband had never gone to that place (the ashram where the Hindu leader was shot dead). He was with us at the time the Swami was killed. How could he be punished for that murder?” Pabitra Sanseth told the media in mid-September, tears pouring down her cheeks.

With three other wives, she had travelled to Bhubaneswar, 380 kms from home, for the dubbing into Odia of a documentary ‘Innocents Imprisoned’.  (It was commissioned by journalist Anto Akkara, who has championed the men’s case for release).

“Since my husband was a firm believer and active Christian leader, they targeted him,” said Pabitra about her husband Bijay – the only one in the group to go to school in childhood.

Jeremiah Sunamajhi, nephew of Durjo, has a witness to his uncle being carried away by the police around midnight. But in fact, when the Swami was killed, Durjo had been out of Kandhamal with Jeremiah to board a train to southern Kerala to seek a job.

“It is a matter of shame and sorrow that the judicial system has let the innocents down,” Jeremiah told WWM. “Even Hindus around us ask why they are still in jail.

“We cannot understand why their appeal (in the Odisha High Court) is dragging on,” lamented Jeremiah who had met the Indian president in 2015 in a delegation seeking the release of all seven men.

“Our lives have been ruined by the illegal arrest and shocking conviction of my father,” Nithaniel Chalenseth, son of Gornat, told WWM October 5 from Kotagarh area of Kandhamal where his father was the Block Panchayath (Area Village Council) president before his arrest.

Nithaniel had to drop out of Engineering studies and seek a job to support his mother and younger siblings. A decade on, Nithaniel is still to settle down with a steady job as he often has to rush home for family concerns.

Here is a summary of the men’s cases:

1. Sanatan Badamajhi

Sanatan Badamajhi’s wife Badusi said that a few days before her husband’s arrest, on 4 October, 2008, some Hindu village leaders had warned him he would soon be arrested.

But on the day of the Swami’s murder, Badamajhi, 36, had been tending cattle and sheep, according to a Hindu neighbour, Nakula Mallick.

“Police never came to investigate or ask anything about him. If we had been called, we would have testified for him in the court,” said Mallick.

The judge said a gun was seized from Badamajhi’s house, but his wife says they never owned a gun.

Police also claimed to have seized an axe from the house, but his wife said the police brought the axe from the house of Mukantho Mallick, a Hindu neighbour, who had accompanied them to identify the house.

“Later, Mukantho has been repeatedly complaining that the police took away the axe. I had only one axe and it is still in my house,” she said. “Can anyone understand my pain and sorrows of the last 10 years without my innocent husband?”

2. Munda Badamajhi

Munda Badamajhi, 34, was arrested on the night of 4 October, 2008, at his home in the village of Duringpodi.

The prosecution said it recovered a gun from his home, but his wife, Bandigudali, said

“We never had a gun and my husband could not even use a gun,” she said. “This is shocking…

Did he commit any mistake? But still to spend 10 years in jail!”

 

3. Durjo Sunamajhi

Durjo Sunamajhi, 35, was woken up on the night of 4 October, 2008, when police barged into his house in Budapada village and took him away, as well as the barrel of a broken gun that they found in his house.

His wife Gumili said her husband was on a train towards Kerala on the day of the Swami’s murder and had never touched the gun, which she said was an old and broken hunting rifle last used by her husband’s grandfather.

“The government claim is that they recovered two guns [from the houses of these people], but actually only one barrel of a broken gun, which has not been used for years, had been picked up,” said journalist Anto Akkara. “[Gumili] says her husband never used it, her husband’s father never used it; only her husband’s grandfather used it. Imagine! And there was only a barrel of the hunting gun. Now, the government claims to have recovered two guns from two houses, but in the judgment the judge says he has got three guns, and he names the three! How is that possible?…”

Gumili told WWM in Oct 2018 “We lost our 10 years without committing any mistake! We want justice!”

4. Bijay Kumar Sanseth

Sanseth’s wife, Pabitra, said police phoned her on 12 December, 2008, and told him to report to the police station the next day. He did so, and has been detained ever since.

However, police recorded events differently, saying that on 12 December Sanseth met three of the other accused Christians at a Maoist meeting in a jungle near the village of Sartuli. They added that Sanseth, 42, had been overheard discussing plans to murder the Swami outside Kotagarh High School. This claim was attributed to a witness, Mahasingh Kanhar, who initially denied the claim, but eventually endorsed it during a retrial.

“Wherever I go, people tell me: ‘He was a good man. Why he is in jail?’” said Sanseth’s father, Salei. “The popularity of my son and his high contacts with government officials have led to this tragedy. Many were jealous of him.”

5. Bhaskar Sunamajhi

Bhaskar Sunamajhi, 32, was playing cards with his friends in the village of Kutiguda when police came to collect him on 13 December, 2008.

“You can return tomorrow,” his wife heard them say, when they took him away. But after more than seven years, Sunamajhi has not returned home.

The judge said Sunamajhi was “hand in gloves” with the Maoists and had undergone several weeks of training at a Maoist camp. However, his wife Debaki said he “never ventured [far] from home”.

Biracha Paraseth, a neighbour, added: “This is a total lie. He was with us on the day [the Swami was killed]”.

Pavitra Sanseth, another neighbour, added: “He is a good man. He will not do such a crime like killing of a Hindu leader. All of us feel very bad about this. Sir, if we all could have gone [to court] and explained his innocence, please tell us how we can help and ask for his release.”

6. Budhadeb Nayak

Before his arrest, one of the village elders urged Nayak, 42, to go into hiding, but he refused, saying he had done nothing wrong.

Police later came to his house, threatening his eldest son, 20-year-old Lingaraj, that they would soon arrest his father.

On the night of 13 December, 2008, they came back and Nayak was arrested.

“He was wearing only a [sarong]. They tied his hands to take him away. He asked for clothes and I gave him a shawl,” recalled his wife, Nilandri.

Three days later, the family visited him in Balliguda jail. The police said he had been with Maoists in the jungle on 12 December, alongside three of the others accused.

7. Gornath Chalanseth

Chalanseth, 41, was taken into police custody on 13 December 2008, but initially suspected nothing as he was active in politics.

His cousin, a pastor, accompanied him to the police station, and saw him taken away.

A couple of days later, after his cousin had not returned, he went back to the station and heard he had been charged with murder.

Christian woman faces death for giving water to Muslims

Asia Bibi

In what may be a final opportunity to save her life, a Christian woman in Pakistan appealed her death sentence for blasphemy to the nation’s Supreme Court on Monday.

Pakistan’s Supreme Court held a hearing on the case but “reserved its judgment.”

Members of the Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan political party, the TLP, “which makes punishing blasphemy its main campaign rallying cry,” according to Reuters, said, “If there is any attempt to hand her over to a foreign country, there will be terrible consequences.”

In 2011, the governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, was assassinated by his bodyguard for speaking up for Bibi.

No one ever has been executed in Pakistan for blasphemy, but dozens have been killed by mobs bent on their own justice.

Reuters reported the TLP has no parliamentarians in the National Assembly but “wields outsized influence due to street power of its die-yard supporters.”

FRC said Monday there “appears to be a glimmer of hope that she could be acquitted by the high court and set free, with sources currently reporting the justices are set to reverse her conviction.”

As WND reported, a three-judge panel was assigned to hear her case.

Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar was to be joined by justices Asif Saeed Khosa and Mazhar Alam Khan Miankhel.

The American Center for Law and Justice, which defended her, said Bibi was “convicted in 2010 under Pakistan’s medieval blasphemy laws and sentenced to death for blasphemy against the prophet Muhammad after she offered water to a Muslim co-worker who believed Asia had made the water ceremonially unclean by drinking from the same cup.”

“Since then the Christian mother of five has languished on death row, while her husband and children wait anxiously, praying for a miracle.

“This is a clear cut human rights violation,” ACLJ said.

If the court rejects her arguments, only the nation’s president could intervene.

China rewriting Bible, churches must sing communist anthems

China’s communist government is overseeing churches throughout the nation as they implement a five-year plan to make Christianity more compatible with socialism and forcing congregants to sing communist national anthems.

China Aid Founder Rev. Bob Fu – who led a house church in China before immigrating to the United States in 1997 to form his watchdog organization of China’s persecuted Church – warned U.S. Congress of the Chinese government’s aggressive move during a House hearing Thursday, divulging details about the plan administered by leading state-sanctioned Chinese denominations geared to “Sincize” Christianity nationwide.

Breaking down the crackdown

The Chinese American champion of the persecuted Church alerted U.S. officials to what is considered the most intense persecution of independent faith groups China has witnessed in decades, noting how the communist crackdown has resulted in the demolition of numerous house churches and removal of thousands of crosses from churches throughout the country.

“Religious freedom in China has really reached to the worst level that has not been seen since the beginning of the Cultural Revolution by Chairman Mao [Zedong] in the 1960s,” Fu explained to members of the House Foreign Affairs’ Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations at the nation’s capital, according to The Christian Post (CP).

The Chinese government’s new regulations restricting religious freedom that was enacted on February 1 was the focus of Fu’s report, which revealed that the plan has taken persecution of Christians in China to a whole new level – as the revised mandate works to actively guide religion to “adapt to socialist society.”

“[Religious activity sites will be forced by the new regulations to] accept the guidance, supervision and inspection of relevant departments of the local people’s government regarding the management of personnel, finances, assets, accounting, security, fire protection, protection of relics, health and disease prevent[ion] and so forth,” Fu’s written testimony informed, according to CP. “The Three Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) and the Chinese Christian Council (CCC) [China’s state-sanctioned Protestant bodies] developed the five-year plan promoting the Sinicization of Christianity [to comply with the new religious regulations].”

Transforming the Church away from Christ

The Christian leader noted that the TSPM and CCC administered a seminary meeting in July 2017 as a preliminary discussion about the five-year plan, which was finalized in a March meeting this spring.

“[The plan proposes] cultivating and implementing the socialist core values,” Fu explained. “[It will be supervised by the national religious affairs bureau and] every province, autonomous region and municipality’s TSPM and CCC seminaries and churches will cooperate with it.”

He said the state-sanctioned Protestant bodies are “retranslating” the Old Testament in their plan to Sinicize Christianity, while crafting new commentary for the New Testament to give socialist ideals and Chinese culture a more divine feel.

“The plan made it clear that ‘Sinicization of Christianity’ means to change ‘Christianity in China’ into ‘Chinese Christianity,'” Fu made clear. “[The plan] emphasized that ‘the heart and soul of Christianity’s Sinicization is to Sincize the Christian theology,’ – and even proposing to ‘re-translate the Bible or re-write biblical commentaries.'”

Giving an example of the latest outline of the plan, Fu explained that the summary consists of the Old Testament mixed with some Buddhist scripture and Confucian teachings – along with the newly devised New Testament commentary.

“There are outlines that the new Bible should not look westernized and [should look] Chinese and reflect Chinese ethics of Confucianism and socialism,” Fu informed CP after the hearing in Washington D.C. “The Old Testament will be messed up. The New Testament will have new commentaries to interpret it.”

Communist Chinese nationalism is now to be the new focus at churches – above God and His Word.

“[The five-year plan advocates for] incorporating the Chinese elements into church worship services, hymns and songs, clergy attire and the architectural style of church buildings,” Fu continued. “This includes ‘editing and publishing worship songs with Chinese characteristics and promoting the Sinicization of worship music,’ using uniquely Chinese art forms – such as Chinese painting, calligraphy, inscription and paper-cutting to express the Christian faith. [It’s also] encouraging churches to blend in style with Chinese architecture to local architectural style.”

Noting that more than 4,000 to 6,000 crosses have been ripped down from atop state-sanctioned churches, Fu also shared that portraits of communist Chinese leaders must also accompany crucifixes displayed within their worship centers.

“[Churches that have crucifixes on the inside must] put up pictures of Chairman Mao and Chairman Xi [Jinping] on both sides of the cross,” Fu added. “In the beginning of every church worship service, the choir of the church has to sing a few communist revolutionary songs praising the communist party before they can sing the worship songs.”

Non just minimizing, but eradicating Christianity

Door-to-door campaigns have reportedly been launched by Chinese officials urging Christians to renounce their Christian faith by signing a statement.

“For first time since cultural revolution, the communist party is now implementing a policy to mandate the Chinese faithful citizens to sign a form to renounce their faith,” Fu pointed out. “We have produced documentation showing [government officials] going door-to-door to force believers to sign a prepared form claiming that these believers were misled by evangelists into believing Christianity. Now – after a few weeks of self-examination and political studies – they have realized they made a mistake. This has not happened in the past.”

Keeping kids away from Jesus

Other large campaigns to weaken the Church in China have been administered in various provinces throughout the nation, with some expressly targeting children.

“In some provinces, they have even banned children from going to church,” CP’s Samuel Smith pointed out. “Fu said there is also a plan to shut down about two-thirds of the state-sanctioned churches in China in an effort to merge them. State officials have also urged 20,000 house churches to close and join state-sanctioned churches, according to Fu.”

Targeting youth is a government tactic to inculcate Chinese nationalism in the nation to ultimately usurp Christianity’s influence in future generations.

“Authorities in China have tightened their grip on the country’s churches by ordering that children are to be banned from joining religious groups,” the United Kingdom’s Daily Mail reported. “The ban also prohibits children from attending religious sermons and other activities in several provinces across the country.”

An all-out ban on youth attending services at more than 100 churches was reported this month in just one province alone.

“Earlier this month, over one hundred churches in Wenzhou – China’s Zhejiang province – reportedly received a notice from government officials informing them that young people will be banned from entering churches, according to a report,” the Daily Mail’s Sophie Williams recounted. “Minors are also reportedly banned from participating in religious activities. Members of the church were told not to participate in religious activities, and churches were not allowed to organize a youth summer camp.”

Assuring allegiance to the state

Just to make sure leaders of state-sanctioned churches are thoroughly aligned with communist dictates and loyal to the state above God, the denomination and church leaders were forced by communist officials to go through a second round of examinations.

“The first criteria they have to pass is whether they can publicly pledge they will [uphold] the party’s words and the party’s path,” Fu explained. “These slogans are being hanged around the church – even in many Catholic churches – on the walls and on the doors. On the entrance door, it says, ‘Listen to the words of the party, follow the path of the party.’ How can you have a real independent faith as believers? As Christian believers, we are taught to obey the command of the Lord and listen to the command of the Lord. Essentially, the communist party wants to impose themselves as the Lord over the Church.”

The former TSPM chairman insists that those in the movement are of the mindset that the road to salvation through Jesus Christ is incomplete.

“[They believe the] doctrine of justification of faith by Jesus Christ is too narrow,” Fu told CP. “He is promoting justification by love in doing good deeds. He essentially said that God is very inclusive, so these communist party heroes he listed are doing so many good deeds and they should be accepted into Heaven by our God. It is kind of a universalist doctrine.”

Rebels for Christ

In the face of aggressive government efforts to de-Christianize China, the new regulations were condemned by hundreds of Christian leaders this month via an online statement, which also expressed opposition to the communist party’s takeover of churches and to the intensified persecution Christians are facing at the government’s hands.

“[W]e believe and are obligated to teach all believers that all true churches in China that belong to Christ must hold to the principle of the separation of church and state and must proclaim Christ as the sole head of the church,” the online statement declares. “We declare that in matters of external conduct, churches are willing to accept lawful oversight by civil administration or other government departments as other social organizations do. But under no circumstances will we lead our churches to join a religious organization controlled by the government, to register with the religious administration department, or to accept any kind of affiliation. We also will not accept any ‘ban’ or ‘fine’ imposed on our churches due to our faith. For the sake of the Gospel, we are prepared to bear all losses – even the loss of our freedom and our lives.”

Intercession by the Trump administration is being sought to fight the communist takeover of the Church in China.

“Activists have called on the United States government to label China as a ‘country of particular concern’ – a State Department designation that carries with it the potential for additional sanctions,” Smith informed. “Optimism was expressed during the hearing that the State Department could be on the verge of designating China as a country of particular concern. At its Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom in July, the State Department released a formal statement condemning China for its religious freedom violations, however, the statement was only signed by three other nations.”

Rebels in Burma Detain More than 90 Christian Leaders, Shut Down More Churches

YANGONBurma (Morning Star News) – After shutting down at least 10 churches in early September, ethnic Wa rebels in eastern Burma (Myanmar) have closed dozens of other churches and detained 92 Christian leaders and 42 students in a bid to curtail Christian activities, sources said.

The United Wa State Army (UWSA) in late September detained the Christian leaders and students in territory it controls in Shan state, leaders of the Lahu Baptist Convention said in statement released on Tuesday (Sept. 25). Some students were also forced to serve as UWSA soldiers, according to the statement.

The 52 churches in Mong Pauk Township have been shut down, and the UWSA destroyed three church buildings and removed all Christian symbols such as crosses, according to the ethnic Lahu Christian leaders. A few religious schools also have been shut down.

Earlier in September, the UWSA troops shut down at least 10 churches, including six belonging to the Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC).

“The Wa officials instructed Christians in Mong Pauk not even to worship at home these days,” a local Christian leader based in Keng Tung told Morning Star News on condition of anonymity. “So, some Christian members dare not to live in Mong Pauk any longer. They came to stay in Keng Tung town as they are fearful.”

Wa soldiers are holding arrested Christian leaders and students in Mong Maw town, a stronghold base of the Wa rebels, said Tat Jack, a local resident whose relatives are detained.

“My uncle is a preacher,” Tat Jack told Morning Star News. “He lives at a village nearby the Wa rebel base, Panghsang city. He and his son were detained in early September. But we are not allowed to visit them. We also heard that many members of the Christian community there are detained.”

Christian leaders have said the militants, who predominantly follow tribal religions, seek to reduce the spread of Christianity. Wa rebel spokesperson Nyi Rang told The Irrawaddy, a Yangon-based new outlet, that the UWSA had detained the Christian leaders because there were “extremists” among them.

A UWSA statement released on Sept. 13 stated that all church buildings constructed after 1992 would be destroyed or shut down, as they were built without permission from the UWSA’s leaders.

On a UWSA-run television program, it was stated that the UWSA has arrested and interrogated the religious leaders for violating organization regulations and laws prohibiting foreigners to serve as religious leaders in Wa-controlled areas. It also accused some detainees of forcing ethnic people to convert to Christianity.

Dr. M. Hkawng, chairman of an ethnic Kachin political party, the Kachin National Congress, has said that missionaries improve the lives of ethnic minorities in the Wa region, educating them and enabling them to travel to overseas to Japan, the United States and other countries to pursue their education.

Although most of the population in Wa territory worships spirits or Nats, there are also Buddhists as well as Christian communities such as Baptists and Roman Catholics. Many area members of ethnic minority groups, such as the Ahkar, Lahu and Kachin, as well as the Wa, are Christians, sources said.

Some Christians suspect Chinese authorities are behind the recent aggression against Christians.

The UWSA is the military wing of the United Wa State Party (UWSP), the de facto ruling party of the area. It was formed after the collapse of the armed wing of the Communist Party of Burma in 1989.

The UWSA announced its territory as the Wa State Government Special Administrative Region on Jan. 1, 2009, and although the government of Burma does not officially recognize its sovereignty, the Burmese military has fought alongside the UWSA against Shan nationalist militias.

Though de facto independent from Burma, the Wa state officially recognizes Burma’s sovereignty over all of its territory, and in 2013 the two parties signed a peace deal.

Burma is about 80 percent Buddhist and 9 percent Christian.

The country is ranked 24th on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2018 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.

Four Children, Grandmother among 17 Christians Slain in Attack by Muslim Herdsmen in Nigeria

Cynthia Kogi, 22, killed in Sept. 27 attack by Mulslim Fulani herdsmen in Jos, Nigeria. (Morning Star News)

Cynthia Kogi, 22, killed in Sept. 27 attack by Muslim Fulani herdsmen in Jos, Nigeria. (Morning Star News)

JOSNigeria (Morning Star News) – Armed Fulani herdsmen accompanied by militants in Nigerian army uniforms killed 17 Christians in their homes in the heart of Jos, north-central Nigeria, on Thursday (Sept. 27), including four children, area sources said.

At about 7:30 p.m. in an area known as Rukuba Road, the assailants broke into one home shooting randomly and killed 14 members of one family, including 15-year-old Ishaya Kogi, 17-year-old Jonathan Kogi, Cynthia Kogi, 22, and Lucky Kogi, 25, their uncle told Morning Star News.

Two of Lucky Kogi’s children, 3-year-old Majesty Lucky and Blessing Lucky, 14, were also killed in the assault, he said.

“When the Fulani herdsmen came, they shot into the house randomly, breaking and forcing their way into rooms shooting defenseless women and children and anyone in sight,” the mournful Rogu Audu, who lost his mother and two of his own children in the attack, told Morning Star News.

The 50-year-old member of ECWA church, Blue Zinc, Rukuba Road, Jos, said his mother, Kande Audu, 75, was killed in the assault, along with two of his children – Ruth Rogu, 18, and Dorcas Rugu, 20. The two had gone to their grandparents’ house to take them dinner, he said.

The attack took place close to the Nigerian army military cantonment, Rukuba Barracks, in Jos. Surviving family members told Morning Star News that the Fulani herdsmen, armed with both firearms and machetes, were accompanied by Nigerian army soldiers.

“The Fulani herdsmen came from the Wild Life Park, which shares a border with our community,” Audu said. “The park is located in the southern flank of Rukuba Road and has rocky hills, which provided the attackers with cover to enable them to invade our community.”

Ruth Rogu, 18, killed in Muslim Fulani herdsmen attack in Jos on Sept. 27, 2018. (Morning Star News)

Ruth Rogu, 18, killed in Muslim Fulani herdsmen attack in Jos on Sept. 27, 2018. (Morning Star News)

The four children of one family slain were those of Kogi Audu, 47, also killed. She was the wife of Rogu Audu’s brother. Her fifth child, Blessing Kogi, 22, was injured in the slaughter and was receiving treatment in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of Bingham University Teaching Hospital, Jos, he said.

Two other female relatives, Azumi Gado, 20, and Ladi Rigi, 22, were on a visit to the house at the time of the attack and killed, Audu said.

Rogu Audu also told Morning Star News that armed Fulani herdsmen attacked the home of his uncle, 65-year-old Sunday Moru, killing Moru’s granddaughter, Blessing Sunday, 18, and her fiancé, 23-year-old Monday. The couple was visiting him.

All those killed were members of the local Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA) congregation, he said.

Area resident Daniel Kadiya, 60, told Morning Star News that the herdsmen also attacked his son’s house, where three of his grandchildren were struck with machetes. Wounded were Redzie Yakubu, 14, Patience Yakubu, 8, and Philip Yakubu, 5, he said.

“They had machete cuts and are currently receiving treatment at the Bingham University Teaching Hospital, Jos,” Kadiya told Morning Star News. “Redzie was cut on her head, Patience was cut on her right hand, while Philip was cut on the face and hands.”

His son and daughter-in-law were not at home at the time of the attack.

Rogu Audu said that the armed Fulani herdsmen on the same day killed three other ECWA members in the area, members of the Yoruba ethnic group, but their names were not readily available as residents said relatives had moved their property out of their house the following afternoon.

Attacks by Fulani militant herdsmen have increased in the past three years, according to Jubilee Campaign.

“Since the beginning of 2018, the violence is again spiking with reported deaths attributed to Fulani militant herdsmen climbing to at least 1,860 people, with an additional 300 plus victims claimed by Boko Haram,” Jubilee reported earlier this year. “Again, most of these victims are Christians from small ethnic minority communities in the northeastern states.”

Christians make up 51.3 percent of Nigeria’s population, while Muslims living primarily in the north and middle belt account for 45 percent.

Nigeria ranked 14th on Open Doors’ 2018 World Watch List of countries where Christians suffer the most persecution.