Barnabas, Mission Partners of Castle Street, Missions

Barnabas Update – January 12th 2022

(excerpts)

Pakistani sentenced to death for “blasphemy”

Zafar Bhatti, a Pakistani Christian who was convicted of “blasphemy” in May 2017, was sentenced to death by Rawalpindi District Court on 3 January.

Bhatti, who has been fighting to clear his name since his arrest in 2012, appeared in court as part of an ongoing appeal against the life sentence he received when first convicted for allegedly sending texts insulting Muhammad on a phone that was not registered in his name.

The court, however, upheld the 2017 conviction, and further ruled that the proper sentence for “blasphemy” against Muhammad, the Islamic prophet, was death rather than life imprisonment.

The ruling is based on a 1991 constitutional court decision that the death penalty is the only appropriate punishment for “blasphemy” against Muhammad.

Laws outlawing insulting religion have existed in the region since 1860, were incorporated into Pakistan’s Penal Code in 1947 and were strengthened under the military government (1978-88, stating that any person who “defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet” is to be “punished with death or imprisonment for life”.

This, however, was followed by the 1991 court ruling that the only suitable punishment for “blasphemy” against Muhammad was death, a more lenient sentence of life imprisonment being “repugnant to the injunctions of Islam”. 

Higher courts are, nevertheless, reluctant to uphold a death sentence, and no executions have ever been carried out.

Barnabas, Mission Partners of Castle Street, Missions

Barnabas Update – December 15th 2021

Russian armed officers disrupt conference (excerpts)

Barnabas Fund, 14 December 2021

Several dozen officers from the Centre for Combating Extremism disrupted a Christian conference near Moscow, on 2 December, wearing bulletproof vests, armed with machine guns and confining attendees in the conference building for around ten hours.

Before being released the majority of attendees were charged with an “administrative offence” – thus violating “the rules and norms” of the Russian Federation – because the Christian ministry that had organised the event had been declared an “undesirable” foreign organisation.

Having entered the building, security officers aimed their guns at the attendees – including women and children – forcing them to lie face down on the floor.  Some pastors in attendance were kicked as they lay on the floor, despite offering no resistance, and some sustained injuries.

Anybody who asked the reason for the intrusion was met with the answer “shut up” or “shut your mouth”.

“We, as citizens of Russia, are interested in the legality of our actions. We pray for and bless Russia – we want to serve for the good of our country. But such actions of ‘law enforcement officers’ armed to the teeth undermine the credibility of the authorities in the most monstrous way.

“After all, now, judging by everything that happened, armed people will be able to break into any Christian congregation under the guise of it being an ‘undesirable organisation’ and mock believers, including women and children.”

Barnabas, Mission Partners of Castle Street, Missions

Barnabas Update – December 1st 2021

Christian Journalist arrested in Nigeria

Barnabas Fund, 22 November 2021

A Nigerian Christian journalist faces prolonged imprisonment following his reporting of attacks against mainly Christian communities in Nigeria’s Middle Belt and critical assessment of the government’s response.

Luka Binniyat was  charged under the Cybercrimes Act with transmitting electronically information known “to be false”.

He has persistently challenged the narratives of the Kaduna State government on the issues of security and the killings in southern Kaduna.

The charge relates to his story on 29 October, “In Nigeria, Police Decry Massacres as ‘Wicked’ But Make No Arrests”, quoting Senator Danjuma Laah, who criticised Kaduna’s Commissioner of Internal Security and Home Affairs Samuel Aruwan for concealing facts concerning a “genocide against Christians in the southern Kaduna State”.

He has “written a lot about the plight of the people under the persistent attacks by Islamist Fulani militia groups and challenged Kaduna State government narratives on issues of security and killings in southern Kaduna”.

Binniyat “has remained resolute in challenging the information put out by the Kaduna State government”.  If convicted, he could face a 3-year prison sentence.

Attacks on Christian communities in Kaduna State have been numerous.  In his report, he was critical of police for failing to make arrests after gunmen killed 35 people in 2 separate attacks on churches on 26 September.

Barnabas, Mission Partners of Castle Street, Missions

Barnabas Update – November 17th 2021

Myanmar military shell Shan church a second time

Barnabas Fund, 12 November 2021

The Myanmar military attacked a church building in Pekhon Township, southern Shan State on 9 November, for the second time.  There were no reported casualties, but windows and pews were damaged by artillery fire.

A previous attack on the church in June 2021 forced several internally displaced persons to flee into the forest, resulting in the death of a new-born baby from exposure.

Christians across Myanmar are the victims of violence and persecution which has intensified since the February 2021 military coup 

The shelling is part of a spate of attacks against churches and other Christian sites in Shan State, which according to the most recent census is 10% Christian.

The same anti-Christian atrocities occur in other parts of Buddhist-majority Myanmar, including Christian-majority Chin, Kachin and Karen states and Kayah State, which also has a large Christian presence, mainly among the ethnic-Karenni population.

In October 2021, they shelled the town of Thantlang, Chin State, causing fires that destroyed or damaged more than 160 homes and three church buildings.

On 10 November a UN Security Council statement, drafted by the UK, called for an end to attacks on civilians.  “The Members of the Security Council expressed deep concern at further recent violence across Myanmar,” read the statement.  “They called for an immediate cessation of violence and to ensure the safety of civilians.”

Barnabas, Mission Partners of Castle Street, Missions

Barnabas Update – November 3rd 2021

Christian protest in Karnataka, India

Barnabas Fund, 26 October 2021 (excerpts)

Hundreds of Christians staged a demonstration on 25 October in Hubballi, Karnataka state, India in protest at the state’s proposed anti-conversion law and a recent attack on a church.

Hindutva extremists had forcibly entered a church there on Sunday 17 October to protest against alleged forced religious conversions. Some members of the congregation, including the pastor, sustained injuries in the incident. 

The march by Christians began at St Peter’s Church and culminated at a well-known landmark and roundabout in the city centre, where a demonstration was held. Finally, the protesters proceeded to demonstrate outside government buildings. 

Sunil Mahade, the local president of the Christian Pastors and Leaders’ Alliance for Peace March, addressed the gathering, saying that there was no evidence to support unfounded accusations of forced conversions levelled at Christians. It is common in India for Christians involved in legitimate evangelism to be falsely accused of forcing individuals to convert to Christianity.

“We are Indians and we lead our lives according to the Constitution. Don’t make baseless allegations against us and victimise us,” he affirmed. He also challenged the validity of a survey announced by the government of Karnataka into Christian activity designed to prevent allegedly forced conversions to Christianity.

Barnabas, Mission Partners of Castle Street, Missions

Barnabas Update – October 20th 2021

Christianity not “a visa advantage”

Barnabas Fund, 15 October 2021 (excerpts)

Former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey has denied that Christian faith is “a visa advantage” for believers in the Middle East fleeing persecution and violence.

The claim was made in The Times discussing the onslaught against Christians in Syria and Iraq by the Turkish military.

It suggested that “many Christians have received preference in applications for visas to the West”, … prompting “envy and anger among their non-Christian neighbours, who say that Christianity is now more a visa advantage than a faith”.  The claim that Christians are receiving any preference is flatly denied by Lord Carey.

The article, said Lord Carey, “is right that the exodus of Christians from their Middle Eastern homeland is a tragedy that is gathering pace. I doubt, however, it was ever true that Christianity could be described as a ‘visa advantage’”.

“Christian refugees from Iraq and Syria have struggled to be accepted for resettlement to any Western country, particularly the United Kingdom”, he added.

“Barnabas Fund obtained government figures in 2017 and 2018 which showed that, out of more than 8,000 Syrian refugees settled in the UK, only 25 were Christian (0.3 per cent). Before the Arab Spring, Christians represented about 10 per cent of the Syrian population.”

Noting that Afghan Christians now suffering the same situation, Lord Carey argued that the relocation scheme run by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHRC) “discriminates against minorities to this day”.

Barnabas, Mission Partners of Castle Street, Missions

Barnabas Update – October 6th 2021

Anti-conversion laws against Indian Christians

Barnabas Fund, 4 October 2021 (excerpts)

Extremists in India continue to use anti-conversion laws as a means of harassing church leaders and other Christians.

On 28 September a pastor in Himachal Pradesh was arrested on charges of attempting to gain converts to Christianity through force and bribery..

The following day, in Madhya Pradesh, radical Hindutva nationalists disrupted a Christian wedding, alleging that the bride had unlawfully converted from Hinduism.

Pastor Charlie John and two Christian brothers were arrested after extremists ordered them to stop distributing Bibles and leaflets in Rampur, Himachal Pradesh.

The pastor explained, “I only offered the Bible, and I gave it to those who freely accepted the Good News.”

“Someone refused the Gospel I was giving them and I didn’t insist.  “We share the Good News with people, tell them about Jesus, but without forcing anyone to convert. The accusations made against me are totally false.” 

In Madhya Pradesh the police filed no charges against the couple or the wedding party, but continue to investigate. 

“The newly wedded couple are Christians and their marriage reception was disturbed based on a false allegation of religious conversion,” said a local pastor.

An Indian legal expert has argued that “a ban on conversion motivated by any sort of gain is in effect a ban on all conversion” which therefore nullifies India’s constitutional commitment to freedom of religion.

Barnabas, Mission Partners of Castle Street, Missions

Barnabas Update – September 15th 2021

Indian Pastor Burned with Acid

Barnabas Fund, 7 September 2021 (excerpts)

A 16-year-old Christian suffered burns over 60 per cent of his body as the result of an acid attack in eastern India.

The pastor was attacked at the end of August 2021 shortly after leaving his house to go and sell vegetables in the village market early in the morning.

The teenager’s family, who converted to Christianity two years ago and regularly hold Christian meetings in their home, say they believe that radical Hindutva nationalists carried out the attack.

The pastor conducted daily prayer meetings in his house but was warned to stop by the extremists. His refusal led to the acid attack.

In India, it is not unusual for someone to be serving as a pastor at such a young age. There are so few Christian workers, a situation aggravated by the death of at least 2,000 Christian leaders since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

An Indian church leader told Barnabas Fund that the state in which this attack was carried out is not known for anti-Christian violence, adding, “I am worried that this will become a model of attack for others to follow.”

The Evangelical Fellowship of India documented 145 cases of atrocities against Christians in the first half of 2021. These incidents included three murders, 22 attacks on churches and 20 instances of ostracism or social boycott in rural areas for those refusing to give up their faith.

Barnabas, Mission Partners of Castle Street, Missions

Barnabas Update – September 1st 2021

The dangers facing Afghan Christians

Barnabas Fund, 24 August 2021 (excerpts)

The Taliban takeover in Afghanistan creates great danger for Afghan Christians, all of them converts from Islam or the children of converts.

If caught by the Taliban, they are very likely to be killed. Although the Hanafi school of sharia, which predominates in Afghanistan specifies death only for adult sane male apostates from Islam, the Taliban’s track record of an ultra-strict interpretation of sharia means it is very likely they will kill all apostates – men, and women, and children too.

But if Christians join other Afghans desperate to flee for various reasons, will they reach a safe haven?

American forces decide who may flee the country by air. Christians must make themselves known in order to be considered for evacuation. If they are not accepted, this leaves them and their families highly vulnerable to being attacked and killed by the Taliban.

All their family members’ names and contact details must be sent in advance on a list to the Americans.  The reason for their vulnerability must also be stated – so Christians will have to reveal that they are Christians.  Those accepted for evacuation must not go to the airport until called or they will be turned away.

After the deadline of 31 August, any Christians still waiting at the airport will run the risk of being exposed as the Taliban takes control.

It appears that most Afghan Christians will need to make their way overland across a border somehow.

Barnabas Fund is working hard, through Operation Safe Havens, to enable Afghan Christian families to reach safety.

Barnabas, Mission Partners of Castle Street, Missions

Barnabas Update – August 18th 2021

Pastor’s son killed in Nigeria

Barnabas Fund, 13 August 2021 (excerpts)

Local authorities have demolished a church building in Maiduguri, Borno State, Nigeria, leading to the death of Ezekiel Bitrus, the son of a pastor.

The Borno Geographic Information System (BOGIS) conducted the demolition on 5 August as church members gathered to protest.

It is alleged that the Civilian Joint Taskforce (CJTF) accompanying the BOGIS demolition group then opened fire on the protesters, killing 29-year-old Bitrus and injuring five others.

29-year-old Ezekiel Bitrus was allegedly shot and killed by Borno State’s Civilian Joint Task Force while protesting against the demolition of a church building

It is further alleged that the CJTF had confiscated the phones of church members in order to prevent documentation of the demolition process or the subsequent shooting.

The CJTF operative accused of shooting Bitrus has been arrested as part of an investigation ordered by Borno State Governor Babagana Zulum.