Approval granted to 125 churches in Egypt
Barnabas, November 22, 2022
The government of Egypt licensed 125 churches and church-affiliated buildings on 14 November.
It is the 24th batch of approvals made since the government committee overseeing the licensing process started work in 2017.
The decision brings the number of churches granted licences to 2,526 out of the 3,730 that applied for registration after a Law for Building and Restoring Churches abolished Ottoman-era restrictions on church buildings in 2016.
At the committee’s previous meeting in April, members approved 239 churches, their largest batch.
To obtain a licence, churches must prove land ownership and comply with structural and safety regulations, including the provision of fire extinguishers.
Before the committee started work it was extremely difficult for churches to obtain a licence and many congregations had no option but to worship illegally in unlicensed buildings.
In 2018 the government permitted Christians to worship in unregistered buildings pending the completion of the licensing process.
Barnabas Fund, 26 October 2022 (excerpts)
Burkina Faso is in danger from Islamist militants, warned army Captain Ibrahim Traore when he was sworn in as interim president of the country on 21 October.
“We are confronted with a security and humanitarian crisis without precedent,” said Traore, who ousted his predecessor, the military leader Paul-Henri Damiba, in a coup on 30 September.
“Our aims are none other than the reconquest of territory occupied by these hordes of terrorists,” he added. “Burkina’s existence is in danger.”
Damiba himself had seized power in January, forcing out Burkina Faso’s last elected president, Roch Kabore.
Both coups resulted from anger among soldiers at the authorities’ failure to curtail Islamist groups who have carried out relentless attacks on civilians, many of them targeted at Christians, at the cost of thousands of lives.
Since 2015, jihadi violence has spread from neighbouring Mali and Niger to affect most regions of Burkina Faso, particularly the north and north-east.
It is estimated that Islamist groups control at least 40 per cent of the country and that two million people have been forced from their homes because of the insurgency.
More than 6,000 schools are shut, 50,000 teachers are without work, many thousands of children have no education, the terrorists prevent people from farming and carry away all the cattle.
Barnabas Fund, 4 October 2022 (excerpts)
Ashwini Upadhyay has requested India’s Supreme Court to implement a nationwide anti-conversion law. The court on 23 September asked the federal government to submit a response to the petition by 14 November.
Upadhyay argued that “The injury caused to the citizens is extremely large because there is not even one district which is free of religious conversion by ‘hook and crook’.”
11 Indian states have anti-conversion laws that criminalise seeking converts through force, fraud or allurement. These are often misused by extremists as or an excuse for attacking Christians and Muslims.
A similar petition from Upadhyay in the Delhi High Court was dismissed for lack of evidence earlier this year. On that occasion the two High Court judges asked, “Where are the statistics? How many conversions happened? Who is converted? You say mass conversion is happening, where is the number?”
Justice Sanjeev Sachdeva also opined that “conversion is not prohibited in law”, and that the “right to choose and profess any religion” is “a constitutional right”.
India’s higher courts have a consistent recent record of upholding the rights of Christians. In March 2022 the Supreme Court rejected a request to monitor the activities of Indian evangelists, declaring to the petitioners, “You are actually disturbing the harmony with these kinds of petitions.”
A brave life lived for Christ
Brother Andrew (1928-2022)
Barnabas Fund 3 October 2022 (excerpts)
The death of Brother Andrew is a salutary moment for those of us supporting and championing the cause of persecuted Christians throughout the world.
Born Anne van der Bijl, in Holland, he became known as Brother Andrew – or “God’s Smuggler” – who delivered Bibles behind the Iron Curtain to the underground Church.
His work led to the founding of Open Doors ̶ which he chaired until 1995, around the same time that Barnabas came into being.
The inspiration we take from the life of Brother Andrew is threefold.
Firstly, he loved so much that he was prepared to take great risks for the people he served.
Secondly, he prized the Word of God greatly.
Thirdly, he lived a brave life trusting only in the Lord for his safety.
His wife Corry died in 2018; they are survived by five children and 11 grandchildren.
Preaching Christianity “not a crime”
Barnabas Fund, 6 September 2022
The Pakistani Supreme Court has issued a highly significant ruling, which includes the declaration that the preaching of Christianity “is not a crime, nor can it be made into one”.
The nine-page ruling is a clear denunciation of the way in which “blasphemy” laws are misused in Pakistan.
The court raises issues such as false and malicious accusations, the lack of credible evidence in many cases, and the mob violence often threatening the accused person.
The ruling came in the case of Christian sanitation worker Salamat Mansha Masih, accused of “blasphemy”, who was granted bail by the court on 23-24 August, one of three Christians facing separate “blasphemy” charges.
Salamat was accused, said Justice Faez Isa, of “preaching Christianity”. However, said the judge, this could not be considered a crime “because of the fundamental right to profess, practise and propagate religion”.
Justice Isa argued that “many a time false allegations are levelled to settle personal scores and cases are also registered for mischievous purposes or on account of ulterior motives”.
Courts, added the judge, must act “prudently to ensure that an innocent is not convicted wrongly in respect of offences relating to religion. When there is only the improbable oral testimony of witnesses, then there must be corroboration.”
Christians challenge Indian anti-conversion law
Barnabas Fund, 22 August 2022 (excerpts)
2 Indian Christian organisations have launched a formal challenge against the anti-conversion law in Karnataka.
The court issued notice to the state government on 22 July, requiring a response within four weeks.
The petition argues that the anti-conversion law infringes on a person’s right to convert from one religion to another for any reason they choose.
Furthermore, the ordinance places the burden of proof on the accused – the person alleged to have caused another to convert – rather than on the prosecution.
Finally, it argues the anti-conversion law is not compatible with India’s constitution, which enshrines freedom of religion.
The government of Karnataka issued the anti-conversion ordinance in May 2022. An ordinance is effectively a temporary law that lasts for six months.
It states that a person wishing to convert from one religion to another must inform the district magistrate two months in advance. The magistrate will then investigate the reasons behind the conversion. Failing to inform the magistrate can result in up to 3 years’ imprisonment for the one wishing to convert, and up to 5 years for the one helping them.
A permanent anti-conversion law may subsequently be passed at the next session of the Karnataka Legislative Assembly, though the date of the next session has yet to be announced.
10 other Indian states have anti-conversion laws that prohibit conversions through force, fraud or allurement. Extremists often interpret any evangelism as unlawful.
Mozambique Islamists behead 2 Christians
Barnabas Fund, 5 August 2022
Islamist militants beheaded two Christian men during an attack on a minibus in northern Mozambique.
The attack took place on 30 July in Macomia district, Cabo Delgado.
The killings were claimed by the Islamic State (IS) of Mozambique, known locally as al-Shabaab.
A statement bi IS-Mozambique declared, “By the grace of God Almighty, the soldiers of the Caliphate … killed two Christians, beheading them, and shooting them with weapons.”
Islamists gained effective control of an area of Cabo Delgado in 2017. The province has since been termed “the Land of Fear” owing to brutal violence meted out against both Christians and moderate Muslims.
Mozambican and Southern African Development Community forces had started to drive the Islamists back in late 2021. However, the Islamist insurgency now appears to be spreading.
In June 2021, IS-Mozambique claimed responsibility for the “beheading of several Christians” in Cabo Delgado.
Another was beheaded during a raid on a Christian village in the neighbouring province of Nampula.
Religious freedom rolled back in Sudan
The prosecution of 4 Christian converts from Islam under an apostasy law abolished 2 years ago confirms concerns about the Sudanese government returning to Islamism.
The 4 young men now face the death penalty in line with Islamic law. The apostasy law was abolished in 2020 by the reforming government of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok.
Sudan gained independence from joint British and Egyptian rule in 1956. In 1983, Colonel Jaafar Nimeiri, imposed full sharia law, declaring Sudan to be an Islamic state.
Under Omar al-Bashir (1989 – 2019) sharia was enforced, and the Christian minority suffered fierce persecution. Conversion from Islam to another religion was made officially punishable by death.
Sudan is one of the few countries where the death penalty for apostasy is carried out. In 1985 an Islamic theologian, convicted of apostasy after a 2-hour trial for urging a more liberal interpretation of sharia, was hanged 10 days later. In 1994, two tribal Christian converts from Islam were crucified.
Reforms by the transitional government in April 2019 raised hopes that Sudan was moving towards a “new era”.
After calls by Islamist groups, however, the new government was removed in a fresh coup in October 2021.
Now it seems that the reforms that had improved the lives of Muslim-background believers are being rolled back.
India’s Supreme Court to hear petition
Barnabas Fund, 7 July 2022
India’s Supreme Court was to hear a petition on 11 July, seeking a direction to end “hate speech” targeted against Christians and attacks on their places of worship.
A division bench of Justice Surya Kant and Justice JB Pardiwala directed the court registry to list the plea on a priority basis the day courts reopen after the summer vacation.
The petition was filed by the Archbishop of Bangalore Dr Peter Machado together with the National Solidarity Forum and the Evangelical Fellowship of India.
Senior Advocate Colin Gonsalves, for the petitioners, said there are on average 45 to 50 violent attacks on Christian institutions and church leaders every month in India. However, 57 violent incidents took place in May.
“What you are saying is unfortunate, if it is happening,” said the bench when Gonsalves pleaded for an urgent hearing. “What we can ensure is that your matter is listed on reopening day itself.”
The plea refers to a “sinister phenomena of violence” and “targeted hate speech” against the Christian community by vigilante groups and nationalist organisations.
It alleges that central and state governments have not taken immediate and necessary action against groups involved in widespread violence.
Christian Vietnamese family forced out of home
Barnabas Fund, 24 June 2022
A Christian family in Vietnam’s Nghe An province have been forced from their home village for refusing to re-convert to a local animist religion.
The local authorities on 4 June voted to expel them from their home village in Ky Son district, confiscated their livestock, a plough, and wood for building a house, as well as cutting off electricity supplies for a week. The family home was also attacked with stones.
A child was denied a birth certificate without which they may be unable to access healthcare or attend school.
The family has sought refuge elsewhere, requesting help from central government to resolve the ongoing issues.
In a report to the Evangelical Church of Vietnam, 26-year-old Xong Ba Thong said his family, his parents and younger siblings converted to Christianity in 2017 after hearing evangelistic radio broadcasts.
He explained that in 2019 local authorities told the family that “it was against the law to follow another religion”.
The family applied to join the Vietnam Evangelical Church General Assembly, a legally recognised religious group, and their application was approved in April 2022.
According to Thong, “they said the law has no effect here, in this province.”
The family are from the Hmong ethnic group who suffer the worst persecution in Vietnam.