Nigeria: Pastor and three sons burned alive among at least 20 killed in latest Plateau massacre

A spate of attacks, in which at least 20 were killed in Nigeria’s central Plateau State over the last week of August, has shattered peace efforts by religious and political leaders in its capital, Jos.

Three months ago, heavily armed Fulani militants stormed 15 villages across the same Barkin Ladi Local Government Area (LGA), predominantly Christian, over the weekend 23-4 June, killing more than 230 in a “co-ordinated military style”, as described by the local Stefanos Foundation.

More than 11,500 people were forced to seek refuge in 13 locations across the state, while an undetermined number were injured.

The June violence, one of the deadliest episodes in recent years, forced the state governor, Simon Lalong, to impose a dusk to dawn curfew on the three affected LGAs – Riyom, Barkin Ladi and Jos South – in an attempt to curb the violence.

President Buhari, criticised for his perceived ‘lukewarm’ attitude to the ongoing Fulani violence in the country, visited Jos to announce an unprecedented deployment of security forces in the region.

However, World Watch Monitor learned that more villages were attacked in the following days. Since then the violence has gone unabated.

Rev. Gyang and other victims buried in a mass grave on 29 August 2018. (Photo: World Watch Monitor)

On 28 August, communities including a mining site at Wereh village (Ropp District), Abonong, Ziyat and Bek villages (Foron District), Nafan, Sagas, Rawuru, and Rambuh villages (Fan District), all in Barkin Ladi, came under heavy attack by Fulani militants.

Victims included a pastor and four members of his family. Rev. Adamu Wurim Gyang, 50, and his three children were set ablaze and burnt beyond recognition. His wife, Jummai, 45, was shot and left to die in a pool of blood. More than 14 were killed in that attack; 95 houses were burned down and 225 farm crops awaiting harvest were destroyed. A youth at the mining site also died.

Joshua Kim, 43, who visited Abonong on 29 August told World Watch Monitor that Fulani came to his village on Tuesday night and started shooting sporadically, provoking panic among people who ran for safety. Two youths on their way to Rev. Gyang’s house to charge their phones were shot by the Fulani; one was killed, the other wounded.

Kim also learned that Rev. Gyang, who lived on his church premises, locked himself with his three children in their room during the attack. Jummai Gyang also locked herself into a toilet. But eventually the assailants attacked the pastorium. They shot Jummai and set fire to the room where her family was hiding.

Eldest son, Adamu, 27, a third year student at University of Jos survived: “I was in school when I saw a post on Facebook about the attack…I called my father, his phone was switched off. I called my mother but her phone was switched off as well”.

Adamu managed to speak to someone else, who told him about his parents and three brothers:

“I could not sleep that night”.

Adamu (middle) with his parents (Photo: World watch Monitor)

Early next morning, Adamu got to the village: he was “devastated” when he saw his mother’s body and the remains of his father and three brothers burnt beyond recognition.

“My father had always been the strength of our family. Right now, I don’t know how my life will be without him.”

Rotshak Linus Kamki, who visited hours after the attacks, also told World Watch Monitor: “On Tuesday around 8 to 9pm, I received a call telling me that Fulani were attacking Abonong. The next morning, I and two others from the village set out. On arrival, we saw people mourning and discussing what to do with 12 corpses already found.

“As we were still gathering the bodies, some youths were sent to mount vigilance in the bush. Not long after they left, one group came running from the hills saying they saw Fulani coming. all of a sudden, it was true.

“Before we could do anything, the Fulani started shooting. We didn’t know what to do. We were face to face with them as they came to attack us with weapons, while some were still on the hills. We were helpless”.

An eyewitness says angry village youths took to the streets in protest at the attacks. Security forces who only arrived that afternoon shot at them, killing 6 and wounding several others.

Further details from various sources, including Christian Solidarity Worldwide, revealed that the military, who arrived after the perpetrators had gone, reportedly shot and killed a woman who tried to stop them detaining the local youths, asking them to go after the Fulani militias instead.

In a video circulating online*, as a crowd holds up her body, a visibly distressed clergyman, Rev. Ezekiel Dachomo, appeals for assistance from the US, British parliamentarians and the UN:

“America, please stand for us. We are dying… Please, allow us to survive.  We have nobody.  Only God in heaven can stand for us.  Please, I am begging you. United Nations, your silence is getting worse[er]. …Please, please, I’m begging you stand for the helpless…..Yesterday, one of my colleagues, the reverend was slaughtered with his wife and his children, and I was right there…look at the women, immediately they were commiserating, after the Fulani herdsmen have filled boarded-down two villages.

“Then the soldiers came in, trying to cause confusion. And who are these army men that are using machine-motorcycles? And then they get to shoot, and they would go, who would stand for us?

“There is nobody. Everybody…we are now ready to do [our] last prayers since an Islamic agenda is taking over the nation.

“Now, we’re live at the police station in Barkin Ladi… Look at those IDPs, we have nobody to stand, we are the survivors, now war IDPs have been added. Where do they want them to go?

“They have already [been] assigned our lands, have been relocated to them, they have [been] assigned, our villages have been relocated to Fulani herdsmen, and nobody is talking. Even my colleague reverends are keeping quiet.

“Women are dying every day, men are dying. What do you want us to do? Please, please, I am begging you, congressmen, [men] of London…please I am begging you, stand for the helpless. There is nobody [else]…!”

“There is no crisis: rather, people are attacked in their homes and killed”

WWM also learned that on 31 August, Fulani herdsmen with over 200 cattle invaded the Rakung community in Barkin Ladi LGA, and destroyed maize farms belonging to James Pam, Filibus Choji, Bulus Gyang Shut, Yusufu Boyi and Iliya Bature. Security forces, who eventually intervened, seized over 150 cows from the Fulani.

Following an investigation, the herdsmen agreed to pay 400,000 Naira (about $1,100) compensation to the farmers to get their cows back.

Rev. Dachollom Chumang Datiri (Photo: World Watch Monitor)

Fulani herdsmen reportedly also invaded farms in Dorowa community, in Mangu LGA, destroying farm crops and forcing villagers to flee.

Rev. Dachollom Chumang Datiri, President of the Church of Christ in Nations (COCIN), condemned the ‘unacceptable’ killing of the pastor, “an innocent man of God, whose focus was to preach salvation of souls….There is no crisis in Plateau; rather people are attacked in their homes and killed. The government’s first responsibility is to provide security to its people. Go to Abonong and see the crops growing there, yet people were attacked and killed. The attackers cannot say they have issues with these innocent people. And even if they do have issues, it is not with the reverend who preaches to turn away from evil practices who is now killed alongside his family.”

The violence is often described as communal clashes between predominantly Christian farmers and Fulani herdsmen, mainly Muslims; President Buhari refers to the struggle for natural resources such as water and fertile land.

However, many Christian leaders in the area argue there is a religious dimension, and without acknowledging that, politicians will not be able to properly address the conflict. On 28 August, 100 miles away from the attacks, in Jos, a Peace Summit was ending, organized by the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) for the Northern Regions.

It was attended by top officials, including the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) and Governor Lalong, along with Church, Women and Youth leaders from the 19 States of Northern Nigeria and the Federal Capital Territory (Abuja).

“Sustainable Peace and Security in Northern Nigeria as Panacea for Development: The Role of Religious Leaders” aimed to bring lasting solutions to violence which has, in the last few months, amplified the growing wave of insecurity in Central and Northern Nigeria, particularly in Taraba, Adamawa, Benue, Zamfara, Kaduna, Plateau and Nasarawa states.

 

                                            

Three Pastors Severely Injured in Attack on Spiritual Retreat in India

(International Christian Concern) – International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that members of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) severely injured three pastors in an attack on Saturday, September 8. The attack took place under the close watch of local policemen in Premnagar, located in the Barely District of India’s Uttar Pradesh State, where Christians were holding a two-day spiritual retreat. Pastor Ashok Benjamin, Pastor Vijay Masih, and Pastor Shivcharan were among those injured in the assault, sustaining wounds to their heads, hands, and lower backs.

Local sources told ICC that a mob of 50 radicals under the leadership of Pawan Arora, the district chief of the VHP, and a few policemen attacked a hall where approximately 25 Christians were meeting for a two-day spiritual retreat. While hurling verbal insults at the Christians, the mob savagely beat the three pastors who were leading the retreat.

All of this happened in the presence of the police,” Pastor Masih, a 36-year-old pastor who was gravely injured in the attack, told ICC. “The police did not come to our rescue. Rather, they joined the mob in accusing us of doing forcible conversions.

I have terrible pain in the lower end of my spinal cord,” Pastor Masih continued. “The whole area is swollen as they kicked me there with force. Now, I am unable to walk.

Over a dozen people hit me with stones on my head, kicked me, and punched me,” Masih said, describing the attack. “I was in shock and did not know what to do. Their intention was to kill us, but God saved us from the mouth of death.

They want to kill my husband because he is a pastor and preaches about Jesus,” Sandra Ashok, Pastor Ashok Benjamin’s wife, told ICC. “My husband received multiple fractures to the nose and [a] clot in the eye. They also hit him on the head. He was bleeding heavily from his nose and also his head.

After the attack, Pastor Benjamin was able to stand witness in the police station amid a large crowd. As he reported the attack, still covered in his own blood, the police asked him what he was doing at the retreat.

Our lives are in danger with the negative publicity we receive, claiming we do forcible conversions,” Pastor Masih explained. “Still, I will not stop preaching Jesus.

Although there was pressure from VHP members, the police did not file forced conversion charges against the three injured pastors. Instead, the police forced the Christians and radicals to agree to a compromise.

Two other anti-Christian attacks led by Hindu radicals took place in Uttar Pradesh in the past week. On September 2, police arrested pastors in Faizabad after they were falsely accused of forced conversions. The police kept the pastors in police custody for more than five hours, but later released them due to a lack of evidence.

                                           

Christian Girl Attacked for Refusing to Marry Muslim

(Evangelical Focus) — A 18-year-old Christian girl from Karachi, Pakistan, almost died when her Muslim friend tried to kill her, because she refused to marry him and convert to Islam.

Binish Paul, a high school student, was being stalked by a Muslim man who was her friend, and when she said no to his petition, he got angry and after beating her, he took her to the second floor of a building and pushed her from there.

The Pakistani girl survived, but has suffered severe fractures in her spine and legs, and she will no longer be able to walk.

Right after the attempted murder, the family of the man, supported by political parties and the local Islamic community, went to see the parents of Binish Paul and ordered them not to prosecute their son legally.

Continue reading this story >>

Hindu Extremists, Media Attack Large Church in Uttar Pradesh, India

‘To me, to live is Christ and to die is gain,’ says pastor.

Police anticipating Hindu extremist threat at church service on Aug. 5 in Bhulandih village, Jaunpur District, Uttar Pradesh, India. (Morning Star News)

Police anticipating Hindu extremist threat at church service on Aug. 5 in Bhulandih village, Jaunpur District, Uttar Pradesh, India. (Morning Star News)

NEW DELHI (Morning Star News) – Dismissing an initial investigation that cleared Christians of wrongdoing, police under pressure from Hindu extremists are pursuing false charges against a pastor and 270 others, sources said.

After appearing to halt Hindu nationalists’ efforts to shut down a large church in northern India’s Uttar Pradesh state, police who had told the pastor that they turned up no evidence of fraudulent conversion are now denying the initial inquiry took place, sources said.

Hindu nationalists filed false charges of fraudulent conversion, mounted a media slander campaign and attacked congregation members trying to attend the 7,000-member Jivan Jyoti Satsang Prarthana Kendra church in Bhulandih village, Jaunpur District, where the pastor suffered police brutality last year, according to area sources.

After Hindu nationalists Brijesh Singh and Siddharth Singh filed charges of fraudulent conversion against 45-year-old pastor Durga Prasad Yadav, Hindu extremists on Aug. 5 stopped Christians en route to worship services, according to video captured by Deep Gupta, editor and chief of National TV News.

“I had placed hidden cameras all over the place,” Gupta told Morning Star News. “About 10-15 of them were stopping the three-wheelers going towards the church filled with people. They broke the vehicles and threatened the drivers to not carry passengers to church. The people were made to leave the transport.”

The Hindu extremists threatened the Christians, beat the drivers and broke the three-wheeled vehicles going in the direction of the church, Pastor Yadav told Morning Star News.

“Despite threats, people still came,” Pastor Yadav said. “Commuters who were asked to leave the public transport walked as much as four kilometers to come to church, and this went on for two weeks, even after the Aug. 5 Sunday [the church also has Tuesday services].”

Besides the pastor, the Hindu nationalists filed the charges against Kirit Rai, a Christian identified only as Jitandra and 268 others alleging conversion by fraudulent means and hurting religious feelings under section 156 (3) of the Criminal Procedure Code. Brijesh Singh and Siddharth Singh contended that the Christians “have been going about in Jaunpur and four other districts preaching against Sanatan (eternal) religion, i.e. Hinduism, alluring the poor and the downtrodden with money and converting them to Christianity.”

Dainik Jagran, a Hindi-language, national newspaper, reported on Aug. 2 that the complainants further alleged that the Christians “ridicule the worship of Sanatan religion and idols. They claim to cure incurable diseases and make the people testify of the false healing. They are made to eat the restricted food [Holy Communion] and made to shout praises to Jesus Christ and declare themselves Christians.”

The complainants also stated that such acts can lead to sectarian riots and that therefore action should be taken against them. The Christians were also accused of hurting religious sentiments.

After the complainants filed the charges, the chief magistrate ordered Chandwak police to investigate, sources said. Members of a Hindu extremist youth group founded in 2002 by present Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh Yogi Adityanath, the Hindu Yuva Vahini, then sought police permission to gather at the church site on Aug. 5.

Police denied their request and, anticipating an attack by the Hindu extremist group, deployed a large force in and around the village from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

“Expecting an attack on the church service, police from five police stations were deployed in and around the church,” said Gupta of National TV News.

As Pastor Yadav was in Allahabad that day, his daughter, 21-year-old Preeti Yadav, led the church service.

Gupta said he interviewed 500 of the 7,000 worshippers, questioning them about their faith and the allegations of “conversion by fraudulent means.”

“As many as I interviewed had stories to share about their sickness and how they got healed after Pastor Yadav prayed for them,” he told Morning Star News. “They said that they attended the church out of their own free will, and that they were not subjected to any force or allurement. They said that despite threats, they will continue to attend church.”

Gupta broadcasted his footage and investigation repudiating the allegations against Pastor Yadav and the other 270 Christians.

Police investigations also found the allegations of forceful or fraudulent conversions to be false, Pastor Yadav said.

“It was a big relief that the case was dismissed against me and my church members,” he said.

On Wednesday (Sept. 5), however, the newspaper published the same false news story with a heading stating, “A case shall be registered against 271 Christians including the pastor against the allegations of religious conversion.” It stated that a court ordered the police on Tuesday (Sept. 4) to investigate and submit a report.

Station Head Officer (SHO) Shashichand Chaudhary told Morning Star News that police received orders from the court on Wednesday (Sept. 5) to investigate the accusations. Asked about the previous investigation on Aug. 5, with a report clearing the Christians submitted by officer Mahendra Kumar Yadav on Aug. 7, he denied any prior investigations took place.

“We had provided security to Pastor Yadav and his church on Aug. 5, but no investigations were made,” Chaudhary said.

Pastor Yadav was upset at this turn.

“Their objective is nothing but to cause trouble for me,” he told Morning Star News.

National TV News editor Gupta said he fears that the previous investigation report was dismissed in order to make way for the new investigation.

“A lot of pressure is being exerted by the Hindu fundamentalist political parties over the authorities, be it judiciary or the police,” he said.

Pastor Yadav said Hindu extremists continue to threaten him nearly every other week.

“Threats kept pouring, from here-and-there,” he told Morning Star News.

The allegations were preceded by false newspaper reports. After a report by a Dainik Jagran on July 21 alleging large-scale conversions of Hindus in Dobhi block went viral, police from Chandwak police station picked up Pastor Yadav’s brother, Jai Prakash Yadav for questioning on July 23.

Police interrogated the farmer for about three hours regarding his brother’s pastoral work.

“I was very concerned for my brother,” Pastor Yadav said, “but the police let him go after rigorous enquiry about me and the church activity.”

Several articles followed portraying the pastor’s church as carrying out conversion through allurement and alleging that he demeaned other religions and their deities, leading to the Aug. 2 case registered against him and 270 others.

Gupta of National TV News said he was shocked over the newspaper’s “twisting of facts.” He told Morning Star News that some of the village names mentioned in one article did not exist. The interviews of people attending church were distorted, he said, and a police officer-in-charge denied making a statement attributed to him.

“I interviewed the same people, and they told me that they were told that their testimony of faith in Christ would be published in the newspaper and hence they testified without apprehensions,” Gupta said.

They told the reporter that the pastor had not told them to stop going to Hindu temples, and that they decided on their own to stop doing so. They told him they believe in Jesus of their own free will, and that they will continue to do so as it is their fundamental right to do what they choose, Gupta said.

June 2017 Assault

Recalling an assault by senior officers at the police station a year ago brings chills to him even today, Pastor Yadav said.

Two policemen came to his house one morning in June 2017 and told him to go with them to the police station, he said. Upon arrival, he learned that the sub-divisional magistrate (SDM) had ordered the station house officer (SHO) to summon him.

The SDM soon arrived and began questioning and assaulting him, the pastor said.

“He screamed and shouted at me, blaming me that I would convert the whole of Uttar Pradesh into Christianity,” Pastor Yadav told Morning Star News. “He asked me to leave the state and go somewhere else. Whatever answer I gave, he would hit me with a patta [the belt in a police uniform].”

The SDM advised Pastor Yadav to become a Sadhu, a Hindu monk who has renounced worldly life, grown a beard and performed Hawan/Homa, Hinduism’s purification procedure, he said.

“I was physically assaulted, verbally abused and beaten badly and was told to leave the city,” the pastor said.

The SDM told the SHO to keep him in custody and register a case against him.

“Before the policemen could begin the formalities of registering a case against me, some members of my church reached the police station enquiring about me,” he said. “My well-wishers called the police station questioning my detention. Pressure was built, and the SHO decided to let me go without registering any case against me.”

This incident left him injured and frightened, he said.

“I wept bitterly one day and asked God if I should leave all of this and go away,” he said.

Looking for an answer, he opened the Bible and happened upon the Book of Jonah, he said.

“God spoke to me through it, telling me that neither the waves of the sea, nor the stomach of the fish could kill Jonah. God wanted him to remain alive to go to Nineveh, and so he did. I got this assurance that no one can kill me until the Lord allows,” he said. “And when the day comes for me to go, I will be more than happy, as, ‘For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain [Phil. 1:21].’”

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.

Christians in Egypt Jailed for Worshipping in Unlicensed House

Muslim mobs give police ‘security’ pretext for closing church

Worshippers at house church in Al-Zeneeqa village, near Esna, in Luxor Governorate, Egypt. (Facebook Safwat Samaan)

Worshippers at house church in Al-Zeneeqa village, near Esna, in Luxor Governorate, Egypt. (Facebook Safwat Samaan)

(Morning Star News) – Authorities yesterday ordered 15 more days of jail for Christians arrested on Aug. 22 in Egypt for worshipping in a house without a permit, rights activists said.

After Muslim mobs demonstrated against the Virgin Mary and St. Mahrael church in Luxor Governorate, 435 miles south of Cairo, police accused five Coptic Catholics of worshipping without a permit, according to Coptic rights activist Safwat Samaan.

Police closed the church in Al-Zeneeqa village, in Esna, which has been holding worship services at the site for 18 years, according to Samaan. Five Muslims were also arrested, with another 10 arrested on Aug. 24 as they prepared another demonstration against the church, according to U.S.-based Catholic publications The Tablet.

The Copts were arrested even though they did not take any action against the demonstrators, the Catholic outlet reported. Besides charging the Christians with worshipping in an unlicensed venue, they charged them and the Muslims with illegal gathering, disrupting public peace and inciting sectarian strife, according to local media.

The church was the third one in Luxor closed in four months after Muslim extremists protested their existence, giving police the pretext of “security” threats for shuttering them. Hundreds of churches have submitted applications for legalization under a law passed on Sept. 28, 2016 regulating church construction, with little hope of obtaining licenses soon.

In the past 11 months, authorities approved only 220 of the 3,730 church and other ministry buildings that have applied, Watani newspaper reported on Aug. 26. Many churches have already waited 15 years for decisions on their applications for permits, and at the current rate, it will take 17 years to obtain decisions on applications from “unofficial” churches, according to Watani.

Human Rights Watch has described the 2016 law’s restrictions over construction and renovation of church buildings discriminating against Christians.

“The new law empowers provincial governors to approve church building and renovation permits, previously the domain of security services,” The Tablet reported. “However, it grants a governor the right to deny a building or renovation permit on security and public safety grounds, which allows mob violence to dictate the matter. Usually, such mob attacks serve as a pretext for closing the church, especially in upper Egypt where perpetrators act with impunity.”

In Beni Suef Governorate, a member of the security forces responsible for protecting St. George Church in Zaytoun village, some 75 miles south of Cairo, on Aug.  25 charged into their building and shouted, “You are infidels …All of you are infidels,” the Catholic outlet reported.

Muslim mobs that week reportedly demonstrated against a church in Sultan Basha, in Minya Governorate, keeping Copts from worshipping.

Egypt was ranked 17th on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2018 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.

Hindu Extremists Suspected in False Charges against Pastor in India, Sources Say

Hindu extremists In Phulpahari village, Jharkhand state celebrate after 16 Christians were sent to jail. (Morning Star News)

HYDERABADIndia (Morning Star News)– A pastor could face life in prison after police in eastern India falsely charged him with leading a tribal rebel movement, sources said.

Christian leaders in Khunti District, Jharkhand state suspect Hindu extremists are behind the sudden, baseless accusations against pastor Jidan Herenz in March, when he was charged with sedition for allegedly leading the rebellious pathalgadi, a movement by tribal Adivasis to fight for indigenous rights.

After police in Murhu village, Khunti District booked him under 13 sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), accusing him of convening unlawful assemblies, altering the appearance of Indian currency (coin), criminal conspiracy and sedition, Pastor Herenz and his family fled deep into district forests. He has since planted a church among remote tribal people there.

“It worries me, it is difficult to gather as a church, and several false cases have been booked against me,” Pastor Herenz, 55, wrote to Morning Star News last month. “There is severe opposition, threats, but the ministry must continue.”

Section 124(a) of the IPC prescribes life imprisonment for sedition. On Aug. 8, the Ranchi High Court granted anticipatory bail to the pastor.

“It’s a miracle that I have been granted bail by the High Court,” Pastor Herenz told Morning Star News. “Everybody I met after moving back to Khunti told me the allegations are very serious, and they never thought that I can be free.”

Area pastor Zacharias Purthi said he was with Pastor Herenz when the charges were filed, and that the police action was clearly a plot by Hindu extremist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) members to frame him and stop the spread of Christianity.

An area Christian who spoke on condition of anonymity said RSS members have long tried to trap pastors in false cases.

“It becomes easier for them to declare India as a Hindu nation if they can stop pastors from sharing the gospel and spreading Christianity,” he said. “Unless they disable the pastors from preaching and assembling as a church, they can’t influence the members of the society.”

Christian pastors enjoy respect in local communities as they serve the poor and reach remote areas where government officials hesitate to go, the source said.

“Pastors mingle with all classes of the society without differences, which the RSS or any Hindu body cannot since they strongly hold on to class and caste differences,” he said. “RSS is now laboring hard like an army troupe, targeting pastors and pressuring the police to arrest them so they can gain control over the oppressed classes.”

Pastor Purthi said Murhu police falsely accused Pastor Herenz of seeking to eliminate the police post by uniting Adivasis against officers.

“He was never involved in those matters,” Pastor Purthi told Morning Star News. “As pastors, we are busy in the ministry and pastoral duties, and he or me, we never showed any interest in the local politics.”

Police have tried to portray Pastor Herenz as the mastermind behind Pathalgadi, Pastor Purthi said. Placing huge stones or sign boards with the rights of Adivasis posted on them, tribal rights advocates are highly active in the district where Pastor Herenz has been ministering for the past 28 years.

He said his time in hiding brought joy.

“The six months spent in the forest sharing the gospel, and in prayer and worship, were fruitful and joyous, and the bail is a result of the Lord hearing our prayers,” Pastor Herenz said. “The Lord raised a church there.”

At least 50 Adivasis from the forest area have put their faith in Christ and gather every Sunday for worship, the pastor’s brother, Paulus Herenz, told Morning Star News.

“It was not clear what the future holds because of these cases,” he added. “Their allegations are false, but his name is on the FIR, and the police were on the lookout to arrest him.”

The pastor is an Adivasi but, rather than practicing indigenous beliefs and rituals, he was raised in a Christian family, he said. He has planted nine churches in Jharkhand state.

ADF: ‘Playground for Hindu Nationalists’

In Dumka District, volunteers from the Friends Missionary Prayer Band visiting a Christian family in Phulpahari village of Dumka District were held hostage by villagers who later handed them to police.

Sixteen Christians have been jailed by orders of a judge on July 7, said their defense counsel on condition of anonymity. A petition for bail was rejected by the District Sessions court, and an appeal has been filed before the Ranchi High Court.

“The Christians were held hostage under the supervision of the village head, who is a close associate of the RSS,” the source said. “The complaint initially filed by the villagers was later modified so as to frame the Christians under the draconian anti-conversion law.”

Shikaripara police booked the Christians under section 4 of the Jharkhand’s “Freedom of Religion Act,” which calls for prison terms of up to four years and a fine of 100,000 rupees (US$1,470) for forcible or fraudulent conversion.

“We have no idea how Jharkhand police understand the terms ‘force,’ ‘fraud’ and ‘allurement,’ and on what basis they have been filing cases under the state’s anti-conversion law,” said a source who requested anonymity. “These charges don’t stand in the court of law, as they are false and baseless, but it is not easy to avail bail. This is a method employed by the police and RSS to harass the Christian community.”

Christians in Jharkhand have been targeted in both the anti-conversion law and in denial of benefits as Adivasi “scheduled tribes” when they convert, said Sandeep Tigga, a volunteer for Alliance Defending Freedom-India.

“Converts to Christianity from Adivasi communities are told not to identify themselves as scheduled tribes and to not receive the benefits of reservations,” said Tigga of ADF-India, which undertakes legal advocacy for religious freedom. “In government jobs, particularly, although Christian candidates make it meritoriously, their appointment is subject to scrutiny as they are Christians.”

Christians also face discrimination in college admissions, and sedition charges are filed against Christians who raise their voices against such injustices, Tigga said.

“Jharkhand has become the playground for Hindu fundamentalist forces,” he said. “This tribal state is an experimental lab/ground for them to experiment with their political propaganda. They want to bring the anti-conversion laws in other states as well.”

Local police only protect Christians when there is pressure from higher officials, he said.

“There is no safety for Adivasi Christians,” he said.

Such hostilities toward Christians have increased since Hindu nationalism, which seeks to purge the country of all non-Hindu faiths, gained wider acceptance after the ascent to power of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, according to ADF, which is celebrating the 70th anniversary of the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Article 18 of the U.N. declaration asserts that believers have the freedom to practice their faith “in teaching, practice, worship and observance,” ADF notes in its campaign to obtain signatures supporting the The Geneva Statement on Human Rights at www.ImHumanRight.org.

Lost Property

In Palamu District, a Christian family has been denied entry onto their property after their renunciation of the Sarna religion upset Adivasi village heads. Sarna, also called Saranaism, is recognized as the indigenous religion of Adivasi tribes in eastern India.

“We filed a complaint with police, but they told us to solve the matter internally with the village heads,” Reeta Devi, resident of Sidhwatola village, told Morning Star News.

The family has been ostracized since openly declaring their Christian faith, the mother of two said.

“The villagers pick fights over basic necessities – even access to drinking water is challenging,” she said. “They decide whether to supply water to us or not after every fight. They don’t like to be around us or even cross paths.”

Three months ago the tribal people seized part of the Christian family’s high-yielding land, she said.

“We have been very patient and never abused or fought back when they attacked us physically,” Devi said.

India ranked 11th on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2018 World Watch List of countries where Christians experience the most persecution.

Kidnapped Schoolgirl Leah Sharibu Appeals for Rescue in Audio Recording, Reports Say

Leah Nathan Sharibu. (Morning Star News via family)

(Morning Star News) – In an audio recording revealed yesterday, kidnapped Christian schoolgirl Leah Sharibu appeals to the government of Nigeria to win her release from Islamic extremist group Boko Haram, according to several published sources.

Boko Haram released more than 100 schoolgirls about four weeks after kidnapping them on Feb. 19 but held Leah, 15, because she refused to convert to Islam, Morning Star News revealed on March 26.

In the audio recording obtained by a journalist for Nigerian online news outlet The Cable, Leah says in her native Hausa that she wants the government and “people of goodwill” to rescue her.

“I am begging you to treat me with compassion, I am calling on the government, particularly, the president, to pity me and get me out of this serious situation,” she says on the audio.

CNN today reported that her father, Sharibu Nathan, confirmed that the voice is that of his daughter.

Boko Haram, which seeks to impose Islamic law (sharia) throughout Nigeria, kidnapped the girls from a boarding school in Dapchi, the Government Girls Science Technical College, in nothereastern Nigeria’s Yobe state.

President Muhammadu Buhari’s spokesman, Garba Shehu, told CNN that intelligence personnel were analyzing the voice recording, and that officials would issue a statement after studying it.

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.

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.

Town changes rules to ban church from civic center

Rules and regulations

A church of only a few dozen people in Edisto Beach, South Carolina, was growing and needed a space bigger than a garage beneath a stilt home, so it rented a room in the local Civic Center a couple of times.

Finding it worked well, church leaders asked for an ongoing rental agreement.

But town attorney Bert Duffie was worried about violating the Constitution’s establishment clause, so he convinced the council to reject the request and amend the center’s use guidelines to ban church worship services.

Now the town is being sued by Redeemer Fellowship for depriving members of the same opportunities other organizations are given.

“Churches shouldn’t be treated less favorably than other groups that want to rent facilities,” said Christiana Holcomb, a legal counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom, which is defending the church.

The small church had rented the Edisto Beach Civic Center for Sunday worship on two occasions, but after the church proposed another rental agreement, the town council first turned down the request.
Then the officials changed their rules to ban the church.

The lawsuit notes that another religious organization, an Episcopal church, has been renting a multi-purpose room for approximately five years. That church “uses the Civic Center room for church office space, Vestry meetings, Bible studies, and theological training.”

The lawsuit charges the town with viewpoint discrimination, because it allows groups “to engage in singing, teaching, social interaction, and similar expressive activities” but then bans those doing the same things “from a religious viewpoint.”

“Redeemer Fellowship is being told they are unwelcome – in the same civic center where secular groups may meet and where another church already rents a room for Bible studies, vestry meetings, and theological training,” said ADF’s Erik Stanley, “The town is constitutionally required to treat religious organizations equally and fix its policy barring Redeemer Fellowship from worship.”

The complaint, in U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina, explains: “The town’s amended guidelines permit virtually all community groups to rent the center for all expressive activities, with the sole exception of religious worship services . The town’s determinations and amended guidelines violate Redeemer Fellowship’s rights under the Religion and Free Speech Clauses of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, as well as the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment.”

The decision left the church members meeting underneath the stilt house, with their meeting space “exposed to the elements and changing weather conditions,” the lawsuit says.

“There is no compelling government interest sufficient to justify prohibiting religious worship services in the Civic Center,” it continues.

The case seeks injunctions against the restrictions, as well as declarations that the town engaged both in content-based and viewpoint-based discrimination.

Christian Loses Sight in One Eye in Attack by Muslim Neighbors

Vikram John was beaten by Muslim neighbors in Karachi, Pakistan. (Morning Star News)

Vikram John. (Morning Star News)

LAHOREPakistan (Morning Star News) – A young Christian man in Karachi, Pakistan lost sight in one eye when armed, Muslim neighbors attacked his family, his father said.

Vikram John, 25, lost sight in his left eye after Muslim neighbors who had pressured his family to leave the neighborhood with months of harassment beat him and other family members on the night of Aug. 18, his father Alvin John told Morning Star News by phone.

“After exchanging a few hot words with the Muslim youths led by a political activist named Ihsan, Vikram came inside the house,” Alvin John said. “Moments later, bricks and stones came smashing through our window glass and hitting our gate. The attackers threatened us, saying to move out of the neighborhood if we wanted to stay alive as they hurled curses and abuses on us.”

Earlier in the evening, Vikram John was involved in a minor altercation with Muslim neighbors who had teased his 18-year-old sister, said his father, who 10 months ago moved the family to Karachi’s Mehmoodabad No-II neighborhood from Sahiwal District in Punjab Province.

“This wasn’t the first time they had harassed her,” he said. “For months we had been requesting the boys’ families to stop the hooliganism, but it seems that they had found this to be an effective tool to intimidate us, so the harassment continued unabated.”

The Muslims have been harassing and intimidating the family, who belong to an Assemblies of God church, since they moved into the rented house, he said – teasing his children when they stepped out the doorway and mocking them for being Christian.

Although there is a sizeable Christian population in the Mehmoodabad area, the John family is the only one on their street of 15 to 20 Muslim families, he said, adding that the neighbors tried various antics to force them out.

“Soon after the Muslims started harassing us, I had made up my mind that I would not let my children suffer in this environment,” he said. “I was waiting for the 12-month rental agreement to finish so that we could relocate to some other area or even go to Lahore and start afresh. I wish I had the financial means to leave that neighborhood earlier.”

Alvin John said that when a group of Muslims started pelting their home with stones the evening of Aug. 18, they broke window panes and damaged the gate.

He said that the Muslim leading the assailants, Ihsan, was affiliated with the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), a Karachi-based political party notorious for supporting gangs of assassins and extortionists in the financial hub of the country.

“After the attackers left the scene, I told some neighbors who had gathered there that we were going to launch legal action and sought their assistance in the matter,” he said. “However, around 11 p.m., some 30 armed Muslims attacked our house again, this time forcing their way into our home. Someone had informed them about our intention to approach the police, so they had come to ‘teach us a lesson.’”

He said that the assailants beat him and his two sons as his wife and daughter screamed in panic.

“They beat Vikram mercilessly while my younger [22-year-old] son Sunil and I made frantic efforts to save him,” he said. “The Muslims beat us too, but our injuries are not serious. The attackers also broke the furniture and ransacked our other belongings.”

Police and other security officers eventually arrived and took them to Jinnah Hospital, where they learned that Vikram John, a chemical engineering student, had lost sight in his left eye, besides serious injuries to other parts of his body, he said.

Alvin John said he suspects police have made no arrests because of the Muslim gang’s political backing.

“I was contacted by the brother of a senator belonging to the ruling Pakistan People’s Party, who assured us of support in registering the case and bringing the assailants to justice, but so far there has been no progress in the arrests,” he said.

Mehmoodabad Police Inspector Muhammad Sarwar told Morning Star News that police were making efforts to arrest the accused persons.

“No one, including MQM or any other political or religious group, can go scot-free after committing such crimes,” he said.

Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Sen. Saeed Ghani told Morning Star News by phone from Karachi that he had been informed about the incident by PPP Christian lawmaker Anthony Naveed.

“My brother Farhan Ghani, who is the chairman of the local municipality in Mehmoodabad, is already extending full cooperation to Naveed in helping the Christian family seek justice,” Ghani said. “It is against Islam’s preaching to target people belonging to minority communities, and PPP has always condemned religious extremism and persecution.”

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.

Mexican pastor survives assassination attempt

Eduardo Garcia, pictured last year holding a photo of his wife and late son, was shot six times on 8 June. (World Watch Monitor)

A Mexican pastor who survived an assassination attempt in the notorious border city of Juarez in June says he was targeted because his church’s work is seen to negatively impact upon the efforts of drug cartels.

A hitman entered the pastor’s home on 12 June, making him kneel down on the floor and telling him “you don’t know who you are messing about with”. The man then pulled the trigger on his gun, but it failed to fire, so he knocked the pastor unconscious and stole his wallet, before fleeing.

“All I can say is that with the work we do as a church we have affected the activities of those groups involved in drug trafficking and also the organised crime. We are not sure what comes next,” said the pastor, whose name is being withheld to protect him.

In recent years the number of violent deaths in Mexico has gone up dramatically. According to the National Institute of Statistics and Geography, in 2017 there were over 30,000 homicides in Mexico, the highest figure on record since the statistics were first collected in 1997.The attack came just days after the murder of fellow local pastor Eduardo Garcia.

In cities like Ciudad Juarez, in the state of Chihuahua, one of the most violent places in the country, 80 per cent of the murders relate to the drugs industry.

In June alone, there were 177 murders in Juarez, according to municipal authorities – that’s six a day.

Background

While the violence affects everyone, “actively practising Christians” are particularly vulnerable according to Dennis Petri, Latin American analyst at Open Doors International, a charity that supports Christians under pressure for their faith around the world.

Given that as many as 90% of Mexico’s population would identify as Christian, Petri told World Watch Monitor last year that “it’s important not to look so much at their identity as Christians, but more at their behaviour that results from their Christian convictions. Whenever a Christian starts to engage in social work – for example setting up a drug rehabilitation clinic or organising youth work – that is a direct threat to the activities and interests of organised crime because it takes the youth away from them, so it is a direct threat to their market”.

“Whenever a Christian starts to engage in social work – for example setting up a drug rehabilitation clinic or organising youth work – that is a direct threat to the activities and interests of organised crime because it takes the youth away from them, so it is a direct threat to their market.”

Petri mentioned one church leader who was killed for setting up a drug rehabilitation clinic and then refusing to close it despite threats. He also cited the example of a church leader who set up a football team for vulnerable boys, some of whom were working as informants for cartels. When one boy then told the cartels he no longer wished to be an informant, he was killed.

A more obvious example of why active Christians are easy targets comes from the perception that churches and their leaders have a lot of money, so congregations offer a ready source of cash – cartels can simply enter, lock the doors and ask the congregation to empty their pockets.

Chito Aguilar, 62, a former drug trafficker who now leads a church, told World Watch Monitor: “Compared to a convenience store, they say, ‘Well if in a church there are 40 or 50 people, or 100’ – because [the cartels] do this on Sunday, not during the week – they say, ‘So they will bring money, they’re going to give their offerings’. So they become an easy target, because [the cartels] will come here, as they do here in Ciudad Juarez: eight people walk into a church, one or two will remain at the doors and the others will start collecting watches, rings, wallets … everything. So they become an easy target of the attackers.”