Bangladeshi Christians in peaceful protest
Barnabas Fund, 10 November 2020
Bangladeshi Christians, and other minority groups, took to the streets of Dhaka in a 500-strong peaceful protest march on 7 November against relentless Islamist extremist attacks on minority communities.
At least 17 people from ethnic and religious minority communities were killed between March and September this year, with attacks continuing throughout the Covid crisis.
The protesters say that the Islamist attacks against minority communities ‘‘hurt religious feelings’’, and minority leaders claimed that “the government failed to protect them’’.
A placard stating, ‘‘Stop Using Facebook for Community Attack” highlighted the role of social media in persecution-related incidents.
The 1% Christian minority has typically enjoyed greater religious freedom in Bangladesh than in other Muslim-majority countries but violence against Christians, particularly in rural areas, has been growing, with those active in evangelism and converts from Islam particularly targeted.
Sri Lankan pastor threatened by police and monks
Barnabas Fund, 26 October 2020
A Sri Lankan pastor has been forced to stop his ministry after being threatened and intimidated by police and Buddhist monks.
Police visited the pastor on the morning of 18 October and ordered him to report immediately to the local police station.
Obeying the instructions, the pastor went to the police station where he was taken to an office crowded with monks, who issued a series of threats against him. The monks also had the church attendance list in their possession.
The church has endured similar intimidation tactics over the previous five years and prayers are requested for the church, the pastor and his congregation.
Christians make up eight percent of the population of Sri Lanka, but face frequent persecution and local opposition, which is often led by Buddhist monks.
In February 2020, three Christians needed hospital treatment after they were ambushed and attacked by a 50-strong extremist mob, led by three Buddhist monks.
Christian couple face “apostate” Somaliland trial
Barnabas Fund, 13 October 2020
A Christian couple detained for being “apostates and evangelists spreading Christianity” in Muslim-majority Somaliland are to have their case forwarded to court. Police arrested the couple, who have three children, on 21 September after finding Christian material at their home.
A police colonel threatened that “whoever dares to spread Christianity in this region should be fully aware that they won’t escape the hand of the law enforcement officers and that the spread of Christianity will not be allowed and is considered blasphemy”.
The couple’s arrest and detention caused great concern among the small Christian community in Somaliland and many believers are reported to have fled abroad.
Islam is the official religion of Somaliland, which declared independence from Somalia in 1991. Its constitution states that individuals have the right to freedom of belief. However, the constitution also prohibits Muslims from converting to another religion, bars the propagation of any religion other than Islam and stipulates all laws must comply with the general principles of sharia (Islamic law).
Eritrea releases 69 Christians on bail
Barnabas Fund, 22 September 2020
The Eritrean government has, at the time of writing, released 69 Christian prisoners, many in long-term detention for their faith without trial.
The authorities are continuing make conditional releases from the Mai Serwa prison, near the capital, Asmara.
According to Eritrean Christian leader, Dr Berhane Asmelash, hopes are rising for further significant releases from among the 300 or more Christians who remain incarcerated in the military jail.
Dr Berhane confirmed that most of the prisoners released so far had been in long term detention for at least a decade. No pastors or other senior Christian leaders known to be in captivity were among those released.
“This is an answer to prayer. Thousands of Christians have been praying for this,” he added. “Many have been in prison for a long time. Many will be homeless with nowhere to go. There is no [state] help in Eritrea. People have souls and minds that will need healing.”
Jihadi attacks in the DRC
Barnabas Fund, 15 September 2020
At least 58 people were killed and 17 kidnapped when Muslim militants attacked two villages in the mainly-Christian north-east of the Democratic Republic of Congo in early September.
Twenty-three people were murdered on 8 September and another 35 were killed two days later. Large numbers of the population have since fled.
Members of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), an Islamist militant group active in the region for more than two decades, are thought to have carried out the atrocity. The terrorist group had entered the region to escape military action against them in neighbouring North Kivu province.
More than 700 people have been killed in Ituri province since 2017, according to the UN. The north-east region has seen a surge of violence since October 2019, when the army launched a large-scale offensive against the ADF.
Jihadi militants take 100s hostage in Nigeria
Barnabas Fund, 27 August 2020
22 trucks loaded with heavily armed jihadists thundered into a mainly-Christian town in north-eastern Nigeria, with the militants taking hundreds hostage on August 18th.
The Islamic State West Africa Province terrorist group, an off-shoot of Boko Haram, captured local people as they fled and launched an attack on a nearby military station protecting the town.
The 1,200 residents had only recently returned to their home town near the border with Lake Chad, after spending 2 years in refugee camps 120 miles to the south in the state capital.
The residents had returned full of hope to restart their lives and cultivate their farmlands “only to end up in the hands of the insurgents”.
Local government authorities had declared the town safe and ordered the residents to return under a military escort.
In the past two years, some two million internally displaced people (IDPs) have been repatriated to towns in the north-east. But many IDPs are wary that jihadists still have a foothold and it remains unsafe for them to return.
Pakistani Christian arrested for “blasphemy”
Barnabas Fund, 14 August 2020
An angry Muslim mob forced its way into a Pakistan police station on 5 August after a Christian man was arrested for alleged “blasphemy” in Punjab province.
Sohail Masih was accused by a local Muslim leader of insulting Islam in a Facebook post.
A crowd gathered outside the police station became enraged when they heard that a case had not been registered against Sohail, and some forced their way inside.
Sohail was later charged with “defiling the name” of Muhammad, which carries the death penalty.
Even when accused Christians have been cleared of blasphemy of “blasphemy” allegations, it may never be safe for them to return home because of the threat from the local Muslim community.
To date no one has been executed under the “blasphemy” law, but a number of Christians and others have received death sentences.
Fulani Muslim rescues Nigerian Christians
Barnabas Fund, 28 July 2020
A Fulani Muslim man rescued two Nigerian Christian missionaries when he found Pastor Zakka Ibrahim and Samuel Mabas exhausted and hungry and gave them shelter. The men were kidnapped by Islamists on 17 May and abandoned by their kidnappers without food.
Their rescuer looked after them for two days before taking them to church leaders. The men have since returned home.
The majority of Fulani nomadic cattle herders are Muslim, although some have converted to become Christians, and many live peacefully alongside their Christian neighbours.
Other Fulani have become radicalised and carry out savage raids on Christian communities in Nigeria’s Middle Belt, attacks that have sharply increased during the coronavirus lockdown.
“Where is democracy” for Chinese churches?
Barnabas Fund, 30 June 2020
“Where is democracy?” a Christian in China asked after two communist party-approved candidates were foisted on their church committee.
Four deacons presented a written complaint against two candidates put forward by the local United Front Work Department when it confirmed its candidates on their church committee, effectively handing control of church activities to the government.
The new Template for Religious Activity Venues demands that all such venues establish a “democratic management committee” with “clergy members, representatives of religious citizens, and other relevant members”.
A clergy member from a church in Shandong province lamented, “If we don’t follow the Template, our church will be shut down.”
In Henan, a communist-party-supporting preacher was appointed director by government officials in December 2019 because he fulfilled the criteria of “proactive cooperation with the government”.
The continuing crackdown in China has seen hundreds of “house churches” and official churches shut down, with violent police raids, thousands of arrests and detentions, imprisonment of pastors and forced installation of surveillance cameras inside some churches.
Turkey’s president to protect minority religions
Barnabas Fund, 9 June 2020
Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan will do “everything possible” to protect “members of other minority faiths”, following a recent attack on a church in Istanbul. Police are currently holding a man in detention on suspicion of carrying out the church attack.
Critics of the government say the rhetoric of the president has fuelled recent intimidation and violence against ethnic and religious minorities, including the fatal stabbing of a 20-year-old Kurd in Ankara.
Opposition MP, Tuma Celik, who is a Christian, said, “I don’t have evidence they (recent events) are an organised effort, but I believe they are the result of polarising rhetoric used by the most senior members of the government.”
Hostility towards Christians has worsened in recent years, as secularism has given way to Islamisation with the rise of Erdogan’s AKP.