Christian Woman in Pakistan Dies after Being Set on Fire

Asma Yaqoob succumbed to her injuries on Sunday night (April 22) after attack last week. (Morning Star News).

LAHOREPakistan (Morning Star News) – A Christian woman in Pakistan died on Sunday night (April 22) after a Muslim in the Sialkot area set her on fire for refusing to convert to Islam and marry him, relatives said.

Muhammad Rizwan Gujjar poured kerosene on 25-year-old Asma Yaqoob and set her on fire on Wednesday (April 17), resulting in burns on 80 percent of her body, sources said.

She and her father, Yaqoob Masih, and her brother Maqsood were at the house where she worked as a domestic worker for Saeeduz Zaman in the Mohalla Pakpura area when the attack took place, according to a police report.

Masih, a resident of Mohalla Bogara near Hajipura, stated in the police First Information Report (FIR 171/18) that he and his son had gone to Zaman’s house at 11 p.m. to meet Asma and inquire after the health of Zaman’s ailing mother.

“We were sitting in a room when there was a knock on the front gate,” he said. “Asma went out to see who had come, when after some time we heard her screaming in pain. Zaman, Maqsood and I rushed outside to see what had happened and saw the accused Rizwan Gujjar fleeing from the scene while Asma was engulfed in flames.”

At Sialkot Civil Hospital, Asma Yaqoob told them that Gujjar had been pressuring her to marry him for some time, but that she had turned him down because she did not want to recant her Christian faith, Masih stated in the FIR.

Asma Yaqoob’s mother, Parveen Akhtar, told Morning Star News that her daughter had previously complained of Gujjar insisting that she convert to Islam and marry him, and that he issued the demand again at Zaman’s house.

“Asma told us that on the night of the attack, Gujjar had come to Zaman’s house and told her that she has no other choice but to renounce her faith and marry him in court the next morning,” Akhtar said. “My daughter refused, upon which he emptied a bottle of petrol on her body and set her alight.”

The family rushed her to Lahore, 154 kilometers away (95 miles), as there is no burn unit in Sialkot Civil Hospital.

Impoverished Christian women in Pakistan are commonly pressured to marry Muslims with promises of a better life. Asma Yaqoob was the sixth of 10 children born to low-income municipal workers who retired years ago, her mother said.

“My daughter is a staunch Protestant Christian and had been resisting Gujjar’s pressure for a long time,” she said. “She was not interested in him and had repeatedly complained about his misbehavior. When all efforts failed to convince Asma to cave in to his demand, Gujjar attempted to kill her.”

Police have arrested Gujjar, and he has confessed to killing the Christian woman, attorney Riaz Anjum of the Pakistan Center for Law and Justice (PCLJ) told Morning Star News, though published reports in Pakistan cited police saying Gujjar claimed she caught fire on accident.

Christian rights activist Napolean Qayyum, also of the PCLJ, said the local Christian community was proud that Asma Yaqoob had stood her ground and refused to succumb to pressure to renounce her faith.

“The brave girl belongs to a very poor family, yet she refused attempts to forcibly convert her to Islam,” he said. “It’s a good thing that the police not only arrested the accused but also managed to elicit a confession from him – in most cases we have seen, the police facilitate the accused when it comes to matters involving girls belonging to minority faiths.”

As an example, Qayyum said that a 13-year-old Christian girl (name withheld) was raped on April 11 by a local Muslim in the Sharaqpur area, some 25 kilometers (15 miles) from Lahore. Three young Muslim men stood guard while another identified only as Shehryar raped her, but the three alleged accomplices were not even named in the FIR, Qayyum said.

“The suspects belong to the powerful Arian community, and we believe that they are influencing the police to prevent their arrests, as none of them have been arrested till date,” he said.

The investigating officer in the case, Sub-Inspector Ijaz Khan, denied that police were showing any bias, telling Morning Star News that only Shehryar was named because he allegedly raped the girl.

“The other three men, according to the victim, did not rape her, so why name them?” he said, declining to comment on why the suspects could not be charged as facilitators, especially as the rape took place in a house belonging to one of them.

The girl’s mother, Razia (surname withheld) told Morning Star News that the accused were pressuring the family for an out-of-court “reconciliation” agreement.

“They are now pressing us to reconcile by offering us money, but we have resolved not to compromise over our daughter,” she said. “The Muslim boys have ruined the life of my daughter, and we will not rest till we get justice.”

Kidnapped Girl’s Church Calls on Buhari to Win Her Release from Boko Haram in Nigeria

Leah Nathan Sharibu. (Morning Star News via family)

JOSNigeria (Morning Star News) – Islamic extremists in northeast Nigeria retained the only Christian among more than 100 kidnapped girls who were freed last week, prompting the head of her church denomination to call on President Muhammadu Buhari to obtain her release.

Boko Haram refused to release Leah Nathan Sharibu, 15, because she would not renounce her faith and convert to Islam, according to released Muslim girls. The Rev. Jeremiah Gado, president of the Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA), said in a press statement on Friday (March 23) that her parents are members of the ECWA congregation in Dapchi, Yobe state, in northeast Nigeria.

“We call on the federal government and all its agencies to ensure the immediate release of Leah Sherubu, who is a member of ECWA, without any conditions,” Gado said. “We condemn in strong terms any attempt to forcefully convert anyone from one religion to another. As a church we continue to pray for her release and the release of all abducted Nigerians.”

Leah was among more than 100 girls kidnapped at a public high school, Government Girls Science and Technical College, Dapchi, by Boko Haram on Feb. 19. Five of the kidnapped girls died from the “stress and trauma” of being kidnapped, including one who was trampled to death, but the girls were not mistreated, one Muslim girl reportedly said. The other girls, numbering at least 101 according to government registers, were released on Wednesday (March 21).

Lado said the ECWA was moved by the courage of the teenager who declined to renounce her faith in the face of threats from the terrorists.

“The Evangelical Church Winning All salutes the courage, doggedness, and faith of Leah Sharubu,” he said. “She has not been released because she refused to denounce her faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as a Christian.”

Buhari had said earlier through a spokesman, Garba Shehu, that his administration would not cease efforts to get Leah released.

“His heart goes out to the isolated parents who must watch others rejoice while their own daughter is still away [in captivity],” Shehu said. “The lone Dapchi girl, Leah, will not be abandoned.”

Denying that any ransoms were paid or prisoners swapped, the administration has said friendly countries and international organizations helped negotiate the release of the girls.

Parents

Khadija Grema, one of the freed girls, reportedly said Leah was not released because she refused to recant her faith in Jesus Christ.

“They freed all of us except one girl, Leah whom they said would not go because she was a Christian,” Khadija said. “The people that took us away were all speaking Kanuri and Arabic. They didn’t tell us any meaningful reason why we were freed and returned. They just said we are Muslims, and they felt it was right for them to free us so that we will not suffer.”

Leah’s mother, Rebecca Nathan Sharibu, told Nigerian online news outlet Premium Times that her heart was broken when she searched through the released girls on Wednesday and could not find Leah. She reportedly collapsed and had to be taken to a hospital after learning her daughter had not been released.

“What her schoolmates that returned told me was that my daughter was told she must recite the Kalima Shahada [the Islamic profession of faith],” she told the Premium Times. “They said my daughter would only be brought back home the day she recites Kalima Shahada.”

Leah insisted that she did not know how to recite it, and that she was not brought up as a Muslim, the girls told her.

“She then pleaded with her friends that if they eventually made it home successfully, they should inform we, her parents, to continue to help her pray for God to protect her and bring her home safely as well; that whether she survived or not, she still needed prayers,” Sharibu said.

Leah’s father, Nathan Sharibu, told Nigerian radio station Raypower that he was told his daughter was not released because she refused to deny Jesus Christ and recant her Christian faith.

“I called the parents who are in Dapchi,” he told Raypower. “They said she was a Christian, that’s why they could not release her. They said she cannot be released until she becomes a Muslim. And my daughter said she would never be a Muslim.”

Sharibu called on the Nigerian government to ensure his daughter is released.

“The Nigeria government must do all within its powers to go and bring back my daughter, the same way they did to others,” he said.

Bukar Kachalla, father of one of the abducted schoolgirls and secretary of the parents group, told journalists in Dapchi that they were saddened when they learned Leah had not been released.

“We were told by the Boko Haram that she was not released because she refused to put on hijab,” he said.

The Rev. Yakubu Pam, chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Northern Nigeria Chapter, said Boko Haram’s demand that Leah convert vindicates Nigerian church leaders’ position that the terrorist group targets Christians.

“The federal government of Nigeria, which has been in touch with her captors, should hasten effort and ensure that Miss Leah Nathan Sharibu and other Chibok Christian girls are released,” Pam told Morning Star News.

About 100 of the 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.

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.

Hard-line Hindu Confesses to Attempted Murder of Pastor in Southern India, Police Say

House church pastor Madira Koti Reddy was attacked with an axe. (Morning Star News)

HYDERABADIndia (Morning Star News) – A hard-line Hindu has confessed to attempting to murder a pastor in southern India as the Christian leader was praying at night, according to police.

Pastor Madira Koti Reddy, who leads a house church in Rentachintala village, Guntur District in Andhra Pradesh state, on March 29 had gone to his room to study the Bible and pray at about 10 p.m. after eating dinner with his family, his wife told Morning Star News. Madira Shanti said she was in the backyard with their daughter doing dishes at the time.

At about 10:30 p.m., the assailant stealthily entered the house and went to the 55-year-old pastor’s room, where he slashed his arms and head with an axe, she said.

“I heard my husband screaming and ran into the house,” Shanti told Morning Star News.

With just one light bulb on, she couldn’t see the attacker clearly, but she followed him and saw him standing outside the house with the axe, she said.

“He looked to his right and left and quickly ran away,” Shanti said.

Police Inspector Koteswara Rao was patrolling the area at around 11:30 p.m. when he got word about the attack from villagers and rushed to Pastor Koti Reddy’s house, where he found him bleeding profusely.

“I immediately took him to the government hospital nearby, but given the severity of his condition, shifted him to a private hospital in the neighboring town,” Rao told Morning Star News.

After questioning family members and neighbors, police took 11 suspects into custody, he said. Key eyewitnesses informed them that one suspect, Manne Shiva Narayana, also known as Shivayya, was seen walking outside the pastor’s house with an axe that night.

Pastor Madira Koti Reddy recovering in hospital. (Morning Star News)

Pastor Madira Koti Reddy recovering in hospital. (Morning Star News)

Officers searched his house, seized the axe and took him into custody, Rao said.

“He is a staunch devotee of Shiva,” one of the principle Hindu deities, the inspector said. “He confessed that he wanted to ‘finish’ the pastor that night. He said he was offended by the pastor’s routine of sharing the gospel in the village.”

Shiva Narayana has deep-seated hatred toward Christianity, Rao said. Though police found no affiliation with any Hindu extremist groups, Shiva Narayana confessed that it was ‘hate’ that drove him to attack the pastor, the police officer said.

Villagers who requested anonymity told Morning Star News that Shiva Narayana is a self-proclaimed Shaiva Sadhu, a Hindu “holy person” identified by orange dress like that of Hindu ascetics known as Aghori. They said he is 34 and single.

He frequently travels to the Mallikarjuna Jyothirlinga temple, dedicated to the Hindu deity Shiva and wife Parvati, in Srisailam, about 250 kilometers (155 miles) from Rentachintala, villagers said.

“He is very well known in his circles there,” one said.

Pastor Koti Reddy’s son-in-law, John Paul, told Morning Star News that the pastor spoke a few times to the family about the Shaiva Sadhu getting the pastor into religious arguments on faith, and that he requested the family pray for him.

“He was in trouble a couple of times because of boldness in professing Christianity,” he said. “He was several times confronted by people who opposed him distributing gospel tracts, but he never stopped.”

The pastor’s wife said he would write biblical verses on the walls of people’s houses, and that if people objected, he would stop and go away. Inspector Rao said police went to all the places in the village the pastor would visit in a day, and “nobody expressed opposition to the biblical verses on their walls, since this area is mainly dominated by Hindus converted to Roman Catholicism.”

Rao said that, in the jail cell, Shiva Narayana immediately objected to the picture of a cross that an inmate had drawn long ago and asked officers to transfer him to another cell.

“We were able to observe in the Shaiva Sadhu high levels of intolerance,” Rao said. “He did not want to be even physically present in a room where a cross is drawn on the wall.”

Shiva Narayana was charged with attempted murder, punishable by imprisonment of up to 10 years and a fine, with the possibility of imprisonment for life.

Loss of Blood

Pastor Koti Reddy was unconscious when he was brought to the hospital, Dr. Sudheer Bhargava Reddy told Morning Star News.

“If he had been brought in 30 minutes later, we would not have been able to save him,” he said.

At least twelve units of blood were intravenously transfused into Pastor Koti Reddy’s body, Bhargava Reddy told Morning Star News.

“The loss of blood was excessive,” he said. “We first attended to the cuts, and there was urgent need for blood transfusion. He is responding well to the treatment, and as the blood clots clear up, we are operating on him.”

Surgery on Friday (April 6) to repair the pastor’s right arm was successful, and the same operation, involving plates and screws, will take place this week on his left arm, Bhargava Reddy told Morning Star News.

“It would take at least 45 days for the patient to move his hand, and in order to be able to use his hand very well, he needs to rest for at least 75 days,” he said.

He said that a CAT scan shows no major damage to the pastor’s head, and that his frequent headaches can be minimized with medicines and rest.

Pastor Koti Reddy’s wife said God allowed him to live.

“God did not let the blows be very hard and heavy,” she said. “God lifted him up and held him in His hands safe. This attack is only to bring glory to God.”

The couple’s children were deeply disturbed to see their father’s condition at the hospital, Shanti said.

“I am trying to be strong for them,” she said.

The member of the Legislative Assembly from Guntur West, Phillip C. Tocher, visited the pastor and his family in the hospital on Tuesday (April 3). After doctors briefed him on the pastor’s condition, he told the family that the ruling Telugu Desam Party would pay all the expenses for treatment, they said.

Evil Spirits

Originally from Giddalur in Prakasam District, Pastor Koti Reddy moved to Rentachintala village 20 years ago with his wife and children, where he now leads a house church.

“My husband comes from a Hindu family whose house was less a home to live in than like a temple or a dwelling place for Hindu deities and devotees,” Shanti said. “Their family would host several pujas [prayer rituals] and yaagas [ritual offerings] every year, and he was totally involved in idol worship.”

When ill in his youth, he was subject to a shaman’s “tricks,” she said, but he was completely healed after receiving prayer at a Christian church service. Having been freed of evil spirits, she said, he devoted himself completely to Christ, and “it was then through a pastor my parents fixed my marriage with him.”

The couple moved from Krishna District to Rentachintala village after Pastor Koti Reddy told his wife that God was calling him to serve there, she said.

“He saw Rentachintala in a vision God gave him when he prayed about his calling,” she said. “The village was exactly how he described it to me.”

The pastor bicycled around the village sharing the gospel, she said.

“He distributes gospel tracts, and if people show interest, he would have deeper discussions with them, and pray with them even on the road,” Shanti said.

The pastor habitually began his days at 5 a.m. and would spend at least three hours in the morning on his knees worshipping the Lord, she said.

“In my 25 years of marriage, I had never seen him picking fights or arguing with anyone,” she said. “As our boys grew up, several times when they would get into fights with their friends, and their parents came to complain, he would accept that it was his sons who were wrong.”

The family requested prayer for healing for the pastor and strength for them.

The hostile tone of the National Democratic Alliance government, led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, against non-Hindus, has emboldened Hindu extremists in several parts of the country to attack Christians since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took power in May 2014, religious rights advocates say.

India ranked 11th on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2018 World Watch List of countries where Christians experience the most persecution, up from 15th the previous year, and ahead of Saudi Arabia, Nigeria and Egypt.

5 Countries Where Christians Celebrated Easter Despite Persecution

Easter this year was a time of mixed emotions for the Christians who live under pressure for their faith. While political and religious leaders called for peace, reconciliation and brotherhood, Christians in countries like Syria and the Philippines continued to face violence and its consequences.Below, World Watch Monitor gives a snapshot of what Easter 2018 looked like in some of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.

Photo courtesy: ©Thinkstock/elinedesignservices

In war-torn Syria, the Catholic community in the city of Aleppo celebrated Holy Week with a mixture of hope and scepticism, Bishop Georges Abou Khazen told AsiaNews. The Apostolic Vicar of the Catholic Church said: “We have experienced death and destruction but at the same time we have lived great testimonies of love and solidarity. The war continues and new victims die every day, an exaggerated number of deaths. People continue to flee from the country. Faced with all this suffering we cannot remain deaf and impassive; even after eight years we cannot resign ourselves to the logic of violence and war.”

 

Photo courtesy: ©Thinkstockphotos.com

In the Philippines, 7,000 of Marawi’s 400,000 displaced citizens were able to visit their homes on Easter Sunday for the first time since the Philippine army liberated the city, which is on the southern island of Mindanao, from Islamist militants in October.

It followed a day of protests on Good Friday when, according to Catholic news site UCAN, thousands gathered to demand the opportunity to visit and pray in their devastated city. The protestors also claimed displaced residents had been mistreated by the government.

 

Photo courtesy: ©Thinkstockphotos.com

People in Indonesia defied fears of growing Islamist extremism when Muslims joined Christians in celebrating Holy Week. Following dance performances by dozens of young Muslims during a procession on Good Friday in Ambon, capital of the south-eastern Maluku Province, Bishop Canisius Mandagi told the UCAN: “This is an example of where religion becomes a unifying tool and this religious celebration becomes a bridge to strengthening relations”.

Meanwhile Jakarta’s Catholic Archbishop Ignatius Suharyo Hardjoatmodjo toldChristians they “should go out and mingle with people from different backgrounds. This is a very important thing to do right now”. In his Easter message he also challenged the “money, power and prestige” that, he said, have become “serious challenges to national unity in Indonesia”, as “money is spent to gain power through bribery and corruption.”

 

Photo courtesy: ©Thinkstockphotos.com

For Catholics in the mountainous north-western part of Vietnam, Holy Week was marked by the first ever visit by a bishop since Catholic communities were established in the area over a century ago, reported UCAN. Bishop John Mary Vu Tat of Hung Hoa, in Hanoi, travelled 160km north-west to Yen Bai Province, where he visited nine parishes, sub-parishes and mission stations.

He baptised and administered Confirmation to members of the ethnic minority Hmong people group during an Easter Mass at Vinh Quang Church, which was attended by 2,000 people. A Paris-based Vietnamese human rights group recently expressed concern about an increase of attacks against religious minorities, like the Hmong Christians, in the Southeast Asian country.

 

Photo courtesy: ©Thinkstockphotos.com

In Israel, 13 church leaders in Jerusalem issued a joint Easter message on Good Friday as violence erupted between Palestinians and Israeli security forces along the Israeli-Gaza border. “We pray to almighty God that people who are walking in the way of the cross may find it the way of hope, peace, and life,” they said.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Christianity’s holiest site, was visited by hundreds of pilgrims on Easter Sunday. This following its closure in Februarywhen churches protested against the municipality’s plan to end the tax-exempt status with regards to commercial properties the churches hold.

 

Photo courtesy: ©Thinkstock/Matthew Brousseau

Pope Francis addresses the crowd gathered in St Peter’s square on 2 April 2018.

In his Easter message, Pope Francis remembered the people in Syria and other conflict zones in his annual Urbi et Orbi (‘To the City and the World’). He called for reconciliation in the Middle East and other regions, and told tens of thousands gathered in Rome’s St Peter’s Square that the resurrection of Christ “bears fruit even today in the furrows of our history, marked by so many injustices and violence”.

‘Brotherhood’ was one of “the most precious fruits of Christ’s resurrection”, the Pope told pilgrims on Easter Monday. “Jesus tore down the wall of division among men and restored peace, beginning to weave the web of a new [sense of] brotherhood. It is so important in our time to rediscover brotherhood, just as it was experienced in the early Christian communities. There can be a no true communion nor commitment to the common good and social justice without brotherhood and sharing,” he said.

Meanwhile, Prince Charles focused his Good Friday message on the plight of those persecuted for their faith, telling them in a video message that they were “not forgotten and that they are in our prayers”. The prince recently met with Church leaders from the Middle East, including the Chaldean Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil, whose diocese has been taking care of thousands of families who fled Islamic State in 2014.

 

The post Persecuted Christians celebrate Easter with mixed emotions appeared first on World Watch Monitor.

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Four Christians Killed, Girl Wounded in Easter Monday Attack in Pakistan

Body of Firdous Masih after attack in Quetta, Pakistan. (Morning Star News)

LAHOREPakistan (Morning Star News) – Four Christians, including a woman, were killed and a young girl wounded in a terrorist attack in Pakistan on Monday (April 2), sources said.

Rickshaw driver Pervaiz Masih was transporting his brothers-in-law Imran Masih and Tariq Masih, along with their sister-in-law Firdous, in Quetta, capital of the restive province, when two unidentified terrorists opened fire on them, killing them instantly, according to the driver’s cousin, George Anjum. The visitors had just boarded the vehicle when they were attacked.

Pervaiz Masih’s 12-year-old daughter, Sidra, suffered bullet wounds and was receiving treatment at Quetta’s Civil Hospital. Her life was said to be out of danger.

The rickshaw driver lived in Quetta, while his relatives were visiting from Sheikhupura District, Punjab Province, to celebrate Easter, Anjum told Morning Star News.

“Imran had especially traveled to Balochistan to celebrate Easter with his sister in Quetta,” he said. “Their elder brother Emmanuel, whose wife Firdous is among those killed, makes a living as a rickshaw driver. He was inside the house when the attack took place. The poor man will now have to bring up his three minor children – two daughters and a son – all by himself.”

The bodies of the three visitors reached Lahore today for burial in their native Narangmandi, Sheikhupura District.

Bodies of slain Christians arrive home after arrival from Quetta. (Morning Star News)

Bodies of slain Christians arrive home after arrival from Quetta. (Morning Star News)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Islamic State (IS, also known as Daesh), claimed responsibility for the attack but presented no supporting evidence. An IS statement said that a “covert unit” of ISIS militants “managed to target a number of the combatant Christians.” It added that the assailants “shot them with a pistol, which resulted in the killing of four of them, and all praise is due to Allah.”

Police found 9mm bullet casings at the scene of the attack.

After a suicide bombing at a Methodist church in Quetta in December, a week before Christmas, IS claimed responsibility for the assault that killed at least nine people and wounded more than 50. It was the first time the Islamist terrorist group had claimed responsibility for a church bombing in Pakistan, though a number of churches have been attacked in the more than 96-percent Muslim country in recent years.

Suspects

A senior Balochistan police office, on condition of anonymity, told Morning Star News that the IS claim was not confirmed and that the attack seemed to be the handiwork of Sunni terrorist group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ).

The official said that intelligence reports indicated the LeJ was collaborating with the proscribed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and Tehreek-e-Taliban Afghanistan (TTA) to target law enforcement agencies and army personnel, as well as the Hazara Shia and Christian minorities in Balochistan, particularly in Quetta.

“Armed forces personnel are on top of these terrorists’ hit-list, followed by Hazara Shias and Christians,” he said. “After studying their modus operandi, we have concluded that these outfits are targeting security personnel and members of the Shia and Christian communities through a well-planned strategy in a bid to destabilize Balochistan.”

The officer said that security across the province, especially in Quetta, was on high alert from Good Friday to Easter to prevent attacks on the Christian community.

“Since security was tight in churches, we believe that the terrorists chose to target the Christians on the roads instead,” he said.

Khalil George, a Christian member of the National Assembly from Balochistan, said that terrorists are now looking for soft targets, making Christians living in Quetta and elsewhere in the province vulnerable.

“The police and other law enforcement agencies had beefed up security at churches, and we acknowledge their efforts to protect us,” George told Morning Star News. “However, it’s imperative to trace and break terror networks involved in such attacks in order to ensure that all people, irrespective of their religious faiths, are able to move around freely without the fear of terrorists.”

Since 2007 Pakistan has been battling terror groups, including the TTP, LeJ, Jamaatul Ahraar and others that seek to impose a stricter sharia (Islamic law) on the country. Violence has dropped in recent years as a series of military operations succeeded in displacing the TTP and allied groups from their strongholds in northwestern Pakistan, but sporadic, large-casualty attacks continue.

In all, at least 242 people were killed in attacks in Balochistan Province in 2017, according to the South Asia Terrorism Portal research group.

Attacks often target Pakistan’s minorities, including Shia Muslims as well as Christians, Hindus and members of the Ahmadiyya sect.

The suicide bombing on the Methodist church in December was claimed by the ISIS affiliate in Afghanistan and Pakistan, known as ISIS Khorasan. In 2016, a Pakistani Taliban splinter group targeting Christians killed a bystander and injured three members of Pakistan’s security forces when suicide bombers struck a Christian neighborhood near Warsak Dam on the outskirts of Peshawar.

Also in 2016, an Easter Sunday bombing targeting Christians at an amusement park in the eastern city of Lahore which killed at least 69 people, mostly Christians.

Pakistan is ranked fifth on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2018 Word Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.

Hindu Extremists Turn Tribal, Animist Villagers against Christians in India

Guru Kuldi. (Morning Star News via social media)

NEW DELHI (Morning Star News) – About 20 villagers questioning Christians gathered for worship in a home in Odisha state, India were animists who worshipped objects in nature and other gods, but Hindu nationalists had led them there.

“Why have you left your ancestral faith and begun following the Christian faith?” a few of them asked, in succession, accusing them of trying to convert everyone in Kendupada village, Dhenkanal District. “If everyone in the village becomes Christian, where would the village gods go?”

In an increasingly common phenomenon, Hindu nationalists trying to drive a wedge between tribal peoples and Christians had persuaded the villagers that those who had left their beliefs, sacrifices and other rituals had betrayed their ancestors, gods, and the country of India. The Hindu nationalists then obtain tribal support for political candidates and policies and introduce Hindu beliefs and practices into animist religious systems, analysts say.

“They were told that no Christian would be allowed to stay in the village and strictly instructed them not to share the gospel with anybody,” said Sukanta Naik, a volunteer for the Evangelical Fellowship of India, who visited the 27 Christians after the mob attacked them that day (Feb. 20).

The villagers issued threats to the five families of the house church, pressuring them to return to their ancestral beliefs, and when the Christians refused to do so, the tribal animists and Hindu nationalists began to beat them, Naik said.

Pandu Tirai. (Morning Star News via social media)

Pandu Tirai. (Morning Star News via social media)

“They grabbed three women – Raibari, Sabita and Malati – and paraded them around the village while beating them severely,” he told Morning Star News.

The women sustained serious internal injuries, and Raibari, 54, injured her left eye, while the 26-year-old Sabita’s right hand was hurt. In all, seven Christians were reported to have sustained serious injuries as a result of the attack.

The five families, the only Christians in a village of 206 families, had all previously practiced native tribal religions, with four of them converting in the past two years and one family eight years ago.

Rango Kuldi, 52, the first in the village to become a follower of Christ, was beaten ruthlessly and still complains of pain, Naik said. His son, Guru Kuldi, an 18-year-old high school student, received stitches from a deep cut on his head. Rango Kuldi’s wife, Dusama, suffered internal injuries.

Pandu Tirai, 62, was beaten badly on his right ear, which bled relentlessly, sources said. He has lost his hearing in the ear. When Naik visited him nearly a month after the attack, his ear was still bleeding.

“The doctor has advised a scan,” Naik said.

Raju Chatar, 40, sustained an injury on his left leg and continues to have swelling. Uchhaba Taison, 32, the husband of Malati, sustained several blows on his back and internal injuries, besides visible external wounds.

Some of the injured were admitted at the hospital at Kamakhya Nagar, nearly 35 kilometers (21 miles) from their village, while others were treated at a local clinic.

“They got their treatment done at their own expense, even though the police station in-charge had instructed the assaulters to pay for the Christians,” Naik told Morning Star News.

The five Christian families fled their homes to save their lives, taking refuge in a neighboring village for almost a week.

Arranged Agreement

After the Christians filed a First Information Report (FIR) at a local police station, officers summoned the families and the assailants and brokered an agreement, Naik said.

“The police personnel have instructed the Hindu extremists not to interfere in the Christian worship services and fellowship meetings,” he said. “We wonder how long the extremists will abide with the instructions. Such warnings have been issued to them even in the past, but to no avail.”

In spite of the opposition and ostracization from villagers, the Christian families remain steadfast in their commitment to Jesus, he said.

“Though they have begun to find relief in their physical bodies, fear has gripped their minds, and they need much prayer,” Naik said.

Kendupada village, nearly 100 kilometers (62 miles) from Bhubaneshwar, the state capital, is an undeveloped area where most of the population follows the tribal faith with the exception of a few Hindus.

“Lately Hindu right-wing groups have been very active here in reaching out to the tribals and indoctrinating them,” Naik said.

The remote Christian families are overseen by a pastor from Mayurbhanj, nearly 350 kilometers (217 miles) away. He travels regularly to offer them care.

Odisha, where Christians make up less than 2.8 percent of the total population, was known as Orissa when the worst persecution of Christians in India took place there in 2008. More than 120 people lost their lives, at least 50,000 people were internally displaced and more than 6,000 Christian homes were destroyed and damaged.

The hostile tone of the National Democratic Alliance government, led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, against non-Hindus, has emboldened Hindu extremists in several parts of the country to attack Christians since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took power in May 2014, religious rights advocates say.

India ranked 11th on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2018 World Watch List of countries where Christians experience the most persecution, up from 15th the previous year, and ahead of Saudi Arabia, Nigeria and Egypt.


Staff Members at Emergency Maternity Ward in Pakistan Kill Christian, Relatives Say

Sunil Saleem died at the hospital after doctors beat him to death, relatives said. (Morning Star News)

LAHOREPakistan (Morning Star News) – Medical staff and security guards at a major government hospital in Lahore, Pakistan on Monday (March 26) killed a Christian father of four and injured five members of his family, including the pregnant sister he had brought because she was in labor, sources said.

Anil Saleem said that he, his brother Sunil Saleem and other relatives had taken their pregnant sister Kiran Kashif to the emergency labor ward of the Government Services Institute of Medical Sciences (commonly known as Services Hospital), because she was suffering labor pains.

“Kiran went to the doctor on duty, Dr. Saira, who was playing with her cell phone while sipping on tea,” Anil Saleem said. “Dr. Saira told Kiran to wait outside until she finished her tea. We waited for some time, but since Kiran was experiencing severe pain, she again went inside the ward to request for immediate attention.”

As soon as the woman in labor approached Dr. Saira, she started cursing her for not waiting and told a nurse to attend her, he said.

“When my sister protested against the rude behavior, the doctor started slapping her, throwing her on the floor,” Anil Saleem said. “She asked my sister how dare a Chuhri [a derogatory term for Christians] question her order?”

On hearing the commotion, Anil Saleem, his brother, brother-in-law Kashif Ashiq and cousins Raza Guddu and Kashif Robin entered the ward, but as soon as she saw them, Dr. Saira shouted to the other doctors and security guards to lock the ward’s doors from the inside and “teach these Christians a lesson,” Anil Saleem said.

“Around 15 to 20 paramedical staff and security guards and eight to 10 young doctors, including Dr. Salman, Dr. Irfan, Dr. Hasan and Dr. Sahi lunged at us with iron rods, chairs, leather belts and other things and started beating us,” he said. “Sunil, a police constable in the National Highway and Motorway Police, tried his best to placate the assailants but they continued to beat him mercilessly, kicking and punching him in the groin and chest until he fell unconscious.”

Anil Saleem and the three other men tried to defend themselves, but they were greatly outnumbered and were saved only when police arrived, he said.

He said that the doctors also beat the crew of a local news channel who happened to be in the hospital at that time; published reports indicate the altercation spilled into the hospital corridor, which they caught on film.

After a delay in treatment, Sunil Saleem died for lack of timely emergency medical assistance, he said.

“Most of the doctors fled after the incident, while those who were present paid no attention to our cries to help our dying brother,” Anil Saleem told Morning Star News.

Sunil Saleem leaves behind his wife and four children, the eldest son 10 and the youngest barely 3 months old.

Anil Saleem, who works for the state-owned Sui Northern Gas Pipeline Company Limited as a staff attendant, said that although police registered a First Information Report (FIR No. 163/18) under sections related to murder and violent rioting, they have not arrested any of those named in the killing.

“The police called us to the station today for conducting our medical examination but we refused to go with them as they wanted to take us to the same hospital where we had been subjected to torture and also lost our brother,” Anil Saleem said. “Moreover, we have registered a murder case against the doctors and other staff members, so how could the police even think that the hospital staff will treat us fairly?”

Services Hospital Medical Superintendent Dr. Amiruddin told Morning Star News that the doctors were “innocent” as the family had attacked them first.

“I can’t say anything for sure, but I’ve been told that the patient’s family started the quarrel after they were told to wait,” he said.

Amiruddin declined to comment on Sunil Saleem’s death, saying a committee headed by a former principal of Allama Iqbal Medical College, Eice Muhammad, will investigate and submit a report within three days to Specialized Healthcare and Medical Education Secretary Najam Ahmed Shah.

The hospital administration has filed an application for a counter-FIR against the family for violent rioting and injuries to medical staff. Hospital officials claim that the conflict arose because doctors refused to carry out a C-section on the sister of Anil Saleem.

Anil Saleem denied this version, reiterating that the violence grew out of Dr. Saira’s unprofessional remarks. He also denied that family members had injured anyone seriously, though he acknowledged they acted in self defense.

The Young Doctors Association has issued a threat to the Punjab government that it will call a strike in all government hospitals across the province if police do not withdraw the FIR registered against the hospital staff within two days.

Rights activists suspect the government will use the police to pressure the impoverished family into reaching an out-of-court agreement with the accused doctors.

Punjab Province officials released a press statement saying that Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif had taken notice of the matter and ordered authorities to arrest those involved in the rioting and murder. Despite the chief minister’s orders, no arrest was made at this writing.

Sunil Saleem’s sister, Kashif, had yet to give birth at this writing.

Disbelief

Expressing serious concern over religiously-motivated violence perpetrated by doctors at a government hospital, political and human rights activists told Morning Star News it reflected growing prejudice towards minority communities, particularly Christians and Ahmadis.

“We had barely overcome the Sajid Masih incident, and now we have got this lynching inside a government hospital,” said Christian rights activist Napolean Qayyum. “It pains to say this, but the Pakistani government has failed to make this country safe for its minority communities, especially Christians. The government showed no interest in investigating the federal officers involved in the inhumane torture on Sajid Masih and Patras Masih, so I don’t think there’s any hope for justice for the Christians in this case as well.”

Shunila Ruth, a lawmaker with the the opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), echoed the sentiment.

“It’s shocking that even doctors, who are supposedly educated and have taken an oath to save lives regardless of caste, color or faith, have resorted to such acts of religious intolerance and violence,” she said, adding that had the state showed some courage against religious persecution of minorities in the name of blasphemy, the situation could have been different.

Ruth said that the Punjab government was directly responsible for the crime and should therefore compensate the family.

“All those involved in the incident should be arrested immediately, specially the lady doctor who provoked the attack on the Christians, and the state itself should guarantee punishment for each one of them,” she said.

Rights activist Rufus Solomon said the harrowing ordeal had marred Easter enthusiasm among Christians.

“I am still trying to digest the fact that doctors took the life of an innocent man,” Solomon said. “What hope can one have for justice to the family if police have been unable to arrest even one of the accused?”

He added that the crime shows that an anti-Christian narrative propagated by such ultra-extremist, Islamist clerics as Khadim Hussain Rizvi of the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLYR) is gradually gaining traction among Muslims, who make up more than 96 percent of Pakistan’s population.

“Rizvi and other mullahs continue to spew hatred publicly against Christians and Ahmadis, but what is the government doing about it?” he said. “Nothing, absolutely nothing.”

Pakistan is ranked fifth on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2018 Word Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.


Coptic teacher charged with contempt of religion for questions about Muhammad

A Coptic teacher at an Egyptian state school has been charged with contempt of religion after including wordplays in a set of questions about Islam’s prophet, Muhammad.

Magdy Farag Samir, 49, a teacher of social studies at Barot Preparatory School for Girls in Beni Suef Governorate, asked his students: “Where was the prophet Muhammad born?” He then suggested three options: 1. Yathrib (in Saudi Arabia). 2. Mecca (also in Saudi Arabia) 3. Hafiza Abo Tartour (Abo Tartour is a village in Egypt, but also the word for a cone hat).

He also asked: “Who was the nurse of the prophet Muhammad?” The two options were: 1. Halima Al-Saadia (the correct answer). 2. Halima Bta’at El ta’amiya (“Bta’at El ta’amiya” translates as “a seller of falafel”, a Middle Eastern dish).

Beni Suef Directorate of Education received a complaint against a Coptic teacher following an "insult" to the prophet Muhammad (World Watch Monitor)
Beni Suef’s Directorate of Education received an official complaint against Magdy Samir for his alleged blasphemy (World Watch Monitor)

“The students and their parents considered this as an insult to the prophet Muhammad and Islam,” said a relative of the teacher, who did not wish to be named, “But Magdy didn’t mean any kind of insult, he did that just to facilitate the right answers to the two questions.”

Samir was forced to transfer to a different school following the incident, which took place in December, but the parents of his former students also submitted a formal complaint against him to the governorate’s Directorate of Education, which was then sent to the Public Prosecution Office for investigation.

On 14 March, Samir was arrested and charged with contempt of religion. He was initially detained for four days, but a day later his detention was extended to 15 days, pending investigation.

“The revolution of June 2013 was supposed to get rid of the religious regime,” a human rights activist from Minya, who also did not wish to be named, told World Watch Monitor, “But this has not been achieved so far. Many Copts are being charged with contempt of religion and jailed for nothing … because the revolution dropped the Muslim Brotherhood but left their ideology unchanged.”

"Convictions for contempt of religion are 'harsh' against Copts" - Coptic lawyer (World Watch Monitor)
Convictions for contempt of religion are “harsh” against Copts – Coptic lawyer (World Watch Monitor)

“Egypt’s law of contempt of religion only applies to one side – Islam,” he added. “Crimes of contempt in Egypt only refer to contempt of Islam.”

A Coptic lawyer from Beni Suef, who again wished to remain anonymous, told World Watch Monitor: “The judicial system has recently discriminated against Copts and perpetrated injustice. Copts face judicial discrimination most blatantly in prosecutions for blasphemy.”

Convictions for contempt of religion are “harsh” against Copts, said another Coptic lawyer, from Cairo. “The accused person is charged with several offences, such as ‘provoking sectarian strife’ and ‘contempt of religion’. This is done in order to increase the term of their incarceration,” he said.

“People accused of contempt of Islam are not only sanctioned by the courts but also ostracised by their community, who force Copts to leave their homes,” the lawyer added, saying extremist Muslims play a significant role in cases of contempt of Islam filed against Christians – by assembling in front of courts to put pressure on judges.


Kidnapped Girl’s Church Calls on Buhari to Win Her Release from Boko Haram in Nigeria

Leah Nathan Sharibu. (Morning Star News via family)

OSNigeria (Morning Star News) – Islamic extremists in northeast Nigeria retained the only Christian among more than 100 kidnapped girls who were freed last week, prompting the head of her church denomination to call on President Muhammadu Buhari to obtain her release.

Boko Haram refused to release Leah Nathan Sharibu, 15, because she would not renounce her faith and convert to Islam, according to released Muslim girls. The Rev. Jeremiah Gado, president of the Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA), said in a press statement on Friday (March 23) that her parents are members of the ECWA congregation in Dapchi, Yobe state, in northeast Nigeria.

“We call on the federal government and all its agencies to ensure the immediate release of Leah Sherubu, who is a member of ECWA, without any conditions,” Gado said. “We condemn in strong terms any attempt to forcefully convert anyone from one religion to another. As a church we continue to pray for her release and the release of all abducted Nigerians.”

Leah was among more than 100 girls kidnapped at a public high school, Government Girls Science and Technical College, Dapchi, by Boko Haram on Feb. 19. Five of the kidnapped girls died from the “stress and trauma” of being kidnapped, including one who was trampled to death, but the girls were not mistreated, one Muslim girl reportedly said. The other girls, numbering at least 101 according to government registers, were released on Wednesday (March 21).

Lado said the ECWA was moved by the courage of the teenager who declined to renounce her faith in the face of threats from the terrorists.

“The Evangelical Church Winning All salutes the courage, doggedness, and faith of Leah Sharubu,” he said. “She has not been released because she refused to denounce her faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as a Christian.”

Buhari had said earlier through a spokesman, Garba Shehu, that his administration would not cease efforts to get Leah released.

“His heart goes out to the isolated parents who must watch others rejoice while their own daughter is still away [in captivity],” Shehu said. “The lone Dapchi girl, Leah, will not be abandoned.”

Denying that any ransoms were paid or prisoners swapped, the administration has said friendly countries and international organizations helped negotiate the release of the girls.

Parents

Khadija Grema, one of the freed girls, reportedly said Leah was not released because she refused to recant her faith in Jesus Christ.

“They freed all of us except one girl, Leah whom they said would not go because she was a Christian,” Khadija said. “The people that took us away were all speaking Kanuri and Arabic. They didn’t tell us any meaningful reason why we were freed and returned. They just said we are Muslims, and they felt it was right for them to free us so that we will not suffer.”

Leah’s mother, Rebecca Nathan Sharibu, told Nigerian online news outlet Premium Times that her heart was broken when she searched through the released girls on Wednesday and could not find Leah. She reportedly collapsed and had to be taken to a hospital after learning her daughter had not been released.

“What her schoolmates that returned told me was that my daughter was told she must recite the Kalima Shahada [the Islamic profession of faith],” she told the Premium Times. “They said my daughter would only be brought back home the day she recites Kalima Shahada.”

Leah insisted that she did not know how to recite it, and that she was not brought up as a Muslim, the girls told her.

“She then pleaded with her friends that if they eventually made it home successfully, they should inform we, her parents, to continue to help her pray for God to protect her and bring her home safely as well; that whether she survived or not, she still needed prayers,” Sharibu said.

Leah’s father, Nathan Sharibu, told Nigerian radio station Raypower that he was told his daughter was not released because she refused to deny Jesus Christ and recant her Christian faith.

“I called the parents who are in Dapchi,” he told Raypower. “They said she was a Christian, that’s why they could not release her. They said she cannot be released until she becomes a Muslim. And my daughter said she would never be a Muslim.”

Sharibu called on the Nigerian government to ensure his daughter is released.

“The Nigeria government must do all within its powers to go and bring back my daughter, the same way they did to others,” he said.

Bukar Kachalla, father of one of the abducted schoolgirls and secretary of the parents group, told journalists in Dapchi that they were saddened when they learned Leah had not been released.

“We were told by the Boko Haram that she was not released because she refused to put on hijab,” he said.

The Rev. Yakubu Pam, chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Northern Nigeria Chapter, said Boko Haram’s demand that Leah convert vindicates Nigerian church leaders’ position that the terrorist group targets Christians.

“The federal government of Nigeria, which has been in touch with her captors, should hasten effort and ensure that Miss Leah Nathan Sharibu and other Chibok Christian girls are released,” Pam told Morning Star News.

About 100 of the 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.


Pakistani Christians Must Reveal Religion to Vote or Apply for Jobs

Court: Pakistani Christians Must Reveal Religion to Vote or Apply for Jobs

Pakistan’s citizens must now declare their religion when applying for identity documents, or if they want to work in government or register to vote, Islamabad’s High Court ruled this month.

Applicants who disguise their true religion defy the constitution and betray the state, the judge stated. Their true religion must now also be visible on birth certificates, ID cards, voters’ lists, and passports.

Those who apply for a job in the judiciary, armed forces, civil services, and other government jobs also need to submit an affidavit declaring the Khatm-i-Naboowat (that Muhammad was the final prophet), stated Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui in his ruling, as reported by Pakistani newspaper Dawn.

Human Rights Watch’s Saroop Ijaz said the judgement “would enable and incite violence,” in particularly directed at the Ahmadi community, Reuters reported.

“All [the judge’s] specific instructions are about ensuring and finding out who is an Ahmadi,” human rights lawyer Jibran Nasir told Reuters. He said the order would provide the government with lists of who belonged to which religious minority.

Pakistani passports already show the holder’s religious belief. A local source told World Watch Monitor (WWM) that minority groups, such as Christians and Ahmadis, did not object against this because it has benefited them in, for example, applying for asylum elsewhere.

A previous move by the government in 1992 to try to add citizens’ religious belief to their ID cards, however, was met with protests by Christians, who said they would face economic and social exclusion. The idea was then shelved.

Christians and Ahmadis are two of a number of minority groups in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, who together make up an estimated 20 percent of the total—mainly Sunni Muslim—population. The Ahmadis face a lot of discrimination because they are considered non-Muslims; to call themselves Muslim or to refer to their faith as Islam is a punishable offence under the country’s blasphemy laws.

Christians are already instantly recognisable in Pakistan because of their names—men are given the surname Masih, deriving from Messiah. But this is not the case for Ahmadis, making the new ruling more of an issue for them, as they can no longer hide their identity nor safely claim to be Muslim.

During the hearings, the court learned how a group of 10,000 Ahmadis apparently changed the religious status on their Computerised National Identity Cards to Muslim when applying for a government job. They would then change it again once retired.

The court case was opened following a petition by Islamist political party Tehreek-e-Labaik, which opposed a parliamentary initiative to the change of wording in electoral law, suggesting replacing the religious oath with a simple declaration.

The proposed bill, however, also made room for Ahmadis to take part in elections on general seats, even though they are labelled “non-Muslims” in the constitution. Following large-scale protests, the government reinstated the original text.

In his verdict, the judge ordered parliament to develop legislation and amendments to existing laws “to ensure that all the terms specifically used for ‘Islam’ and ‘Muslims’ were not used by the persons belonging to any of the minorities for hiding their real identity or for any other purpose.” If no appeal is filed, parliament has to follow the court’s directives.

WWM’s source said the court only has jurisdiction in Islamabad, so this could be first and foremost a “political stunt.” But “it still sends a strong message how the debate about religion has gone deeper and deeper in Pakistan, and religious minorities—especially Christians—are being affected by this.”

The court order will make minority groups even more vulnerable, according to Nasir Saeed, director of the Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance, and Settlement (CLAAS-UK), who told Independent Catholic News the government should rather promote harmony and religious tolerance and establish peace in the country. All Pakistanis, including minorities, need to know they are secure, protected, and equal before the law, he said.