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Nigeria attacks: Blasts and rockets ‘kill 31’ in Borno state

Nigeria’s army chief urged residents in the north-east to return to their homes

Two suicide bombers have attacked a town in north-eastern Nigeria only hours after the country’s army chief urged displaced residents to return home because it was safe.

The blasts hit the town of Damboa in Borno state on Saturday evening and residents say at least 31 people died.

The explosions were followed up by rockets fired from outside the town.

Boko Haram militants are suspected. Army chief Lt Gen Tukur Buratai had said they were no longer a threat.

“Let me use this opportunity to call on the good people of northern Borno… to return to their communities which have long been liberated by our gallant troops,” he said at an inauguration ceremony for gunboats earlier on Saturday.

A four-month military operation started on 1 May to expel Boko Haram insurgents from northern Borno and the Lake Chad region.

No group has said it carried out Saturday evening’s attacks but a militia leader speaking to AFP, Babakura Kolo, said they bore the hallmarks of Boko Haram, a jihadist group that wants to establish a caliphate in northern Nigeria.

Officials said at least 20 people died in the attacks but residents said they had counted the dead and an anonymous local official confirmed the toll.

“It has destroyed our houses. We have also counted 31 innocent people including children and elderly killed in the attack,” local resident Modu Usman, son of a community leader, told Reuters news agency.

More than 40 people were injured in the attacks, which were aimed at people celebrating the Eid al-Fitr holiday in the Shuwari and Abachari districts of the town.
The rocket attacks appear to have caused most of the casualties, a local official said.

The UN says 1.7 million people have been forced from their homes due to the Boko Haram conflict, which is now in its ninth year.

Boko Haram uses suicide bombers, often young girls, to target civilians and soldiers.

In one of the most recent attacks, bombers killed dozens of people in and around a mosque in the town of Mubi.

Despite the ongoing threat of suicide bombings, the security situation in north-east Nigeria has improved, says BBC Africa Editor Will Ross.

But there will be some scepticism about calls to return home, our correspondent adds. Previous promises that it is safe because the jihadists have been defeated have proved to be premature.

Source:BBC News



HOPE FOR CHRISTIANS IN NORTH KOREA FOLLOWING SINGAPORE SUMMIT

History is made as Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un meet. (www.assistnews.net)

By Michael Ireland, Chief Correspondent, ASSIST News Service

WITNEY, OXFORDSHIRE, UK (ANS – June 15, 2018) – Among the topics discussed between Donald President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in historic talks Tuesday (June 12) between the two countries was denuclearization. However, President Trump also said that the subject of Christians in North Korea had been discussed and indicated that he was hopeful of change, according to Open Doors UK & Ireland.

John Choi*, a Christian and a human rights advocate who has escaped from North Korea and now lives in the UK said: ”I hope that if there is economic advancement it will pave the way for more freedom for the people of North Korea, freedom of thought, opportunity and religion. I think this is likely to take 25 to 30 years but I also hope in light of Trump’s comments today it will be much quicker than that.”

According to President Trump, North Korea’s human rights record was discussed at the summit on Sentosa Island in Singapore.

John Choi commented: “This is the beginning of the process. The first steps have been taken. Trump hasn’t clearly spoken about the human rights issues. But he has spoken about denuclearisation. Hopefully denuclearisation will lead to more money available to feed the everyday citizens of North Korea and provide them with a better life.

Choi added: “President Trump said that the human rights issues are a continuing process. I am glad it is now on the agenda. But Kim Jong-un has to be committed to it too. Kim Jong-un has not yet referred to the prison camps or religious freedom. This is an ongoing process and I will continue to advocate and pray for it.”

Zoe Smith, Head of Advocacy at Open Doors UK & Ireland, said: “Open Doors estimates that around 70,000 Christians are interred in prison and labour camps, facing unimaginable torture, inhumane and degrading treatment purely because of their faith.

“The systematic persecution of Christians is just one of many heinous human rights violations perpetrated by the North Korean regime.

“If true change is to come to that country – and we hope it will – any further negotiations must confront the desperate human rights situation.”

North Koreans bow before a giant statue of their leader. (Open Doors International)

Bowing before KiM Il Sing statue smallerOpen Doors supports the church in North Korea by supplying persecuted believers with emergency food, medicine and clothes, and distributing Bibles and other Christian materials, as well as providing shelter, aid, training and training materials to North Korean believers in China (who often travel back to North Korea). Training is also provided through radio broadcasting into North Korea.

Christians in North Korea

Speaking about his life in North Korea John Choi said, “I grew up believing Christians were evil and dangerous. We watched the government’s propaganda alongside public executions. It told us that Christians wanted to kidnap children and that the cross was evil.

“The first time I saw a man being executed it was because he had smuggled Christian things into the country and enticed people into the church. The whole village was told to come and watch, the children were allowed to sit at the front to get a good view. It enforced that belief that Christians were dangerous.”

John Choi found faith after he escaped North Korea. He said, “When I fled North Korea I went in a safe house run by a Christian man. He was saving me, but because he had a cross necklace,. I ran away from him. I was frightened of him. He told me to pray and say ‘Amen’ Later, when I was in trouble I said, ‘Please keep me safe, amen.’”

Then, after he was caught and thrown in an international Chinese prison, John Choi started to read the Bible. “In the Chinese prison I met an ex-gangster from South Korea,” he said. “He had a Bible and told me to read it, so I did because I was bored and had read everything else. I didn’t understand it because it was written in the old fashioned way. Proverbs was the only thing that resonated.”

Now, John Choi lives in the UK and is a human rights advocate. “My first escape from North Korea was for survival,” he said. “But my second was because I wanted democracy to come to North Korea. I hope to share ‘democratic light’ with oppressed people in North Korea. I want North Korean people to have the life that I have here in the UK. I want the next generation to have freedom.

“When there is a church in my home town in North Korea then my dreams will be realized. When North Korean people can go to church and talk freely about their faith and have freedom of expression and opportunity, then North Korea will be a free country.”

North Korea is number 1 on the Open Doors 2018 World Watch List of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to live as a Christian.

An older North Korean man and young boy walking together.

Open Doors UK & Ireland says that all North Korean Christians know that one day they may have to die for their faith. Each year hundreds of Christians are exposed, tortured and sent to camps where they are worked or starved to death.

Persecution is led by the state, which sees Christians as hostile elements that have to be eradicated. Due to constant indoctrination, neighbours and family members, including children, are highly watchful and report anything suspicious to the authorities. If Christians are discovered they are usually deported to labour camps as political criminals or killed on the spot; their families share their fate. Meeting for Christian worship is almost impossible, so it is done in utmost secrecy.

Despite the constant surveillance and horrific punishments, Open Doors estimates that 200,000-400,000 Christians remain in North Korea today. Of those around 70,000 are believed to be in prison camps. Christians are treated worse than the other prisoners. They are made to perform the most dangerous tasks, given less food, and beaten in the hope that they will denounce their faith. If a guard succeeds in making a prisoner recant their faith they are given a promotion. Guards who show compassion are punished. Most Christians will not survive their imprisonment.

Open Doors’ goal has always been to “strengthen what remains and is about to die” (Revelation 3:2). This verse is especially relevant to the North Korean church. Without Open Doors support, many Christians would starve to death.

*Name changed for security reasons

Source: Assist News Service



Nine years in prison for Asia Bibi

Asia Bibi

By Tola Mbakwe

A Pakistani Christian woman who was imprisoned under her country’s blasphemy laws has been remembered on the ninth anniversary of her captivity.

British Pakistani Christian Association (BPCA) held a gathering on Thursday in honour of Asia Bibi and presented a narration of her arrest and the incident leading up to her blasphemy conviction.

Young boys held signs saying, “Asia Bibi Pakistani Christians are with you,” and “We are praying for Asia Bibi.”

Wilson Chowdhry, chairman of BPCA told Premier’s News Hour Bibi has been the victim of intense persecution.

“She spoke about the wonderful sacrifice Christ made of his life for us and asked the simple question, ‘What has Mohammed done for you?’ For that, this torture, this beating, this isolation, attempts to assassinate her…

“We’ve never heard of such animosity that would result in, in essence, the whole country being against her. It has been really awful; she’s been separated from her five children for the whole period of that time.

Chowdry said it’s very unlikely she’ll be set free, but all her supporters are still praying for a miracle.

In an interview from 2015, Bibi’s husband Ashiq talked about her decision to stand firm in her faith.

He said: “Asia believes she will be set free and her face is unquestionable, unshakeable! She is extremely proud of her Christian faith and would never deny the God.

“We have received offers of asylum in several western nations, and I will not regret leaving Pakistan, the land of my ancestors, as we have seen too much animosity here. We will leave with no regrets.”

BPCA has launched a new petition in hope of bringing more awareness of the mistreatment of Bibi.

Chowdry added: “The nation of Pakistan must now release this innocent woman before her health fails her – she has suffered enough through no fault of her own.

“Moreover the pernicious blasphemy laws of Pakistan have to be terminated they serve no purpose in modern day society and are not even sanctioned by the Quran. Moreover what divine being would need man-made laws for protection?”

Source: Premier



A ‘dire time for human rights in Russia’ as World Cup begins

“This is a very dire time for human rights in Russia,” according to the Russia programme director for Human Rights Watch, Tanya Lokshina, speaking ahead of the start of the 2018 Football World Cup, which kicked off in Moscow earlier today.

Since Vladimir Putin became Russia’s president again in 2012 there has been a “staggering human rights clampdown”, she told the Australian Associated Press last week.

“What we see in Russia today, as far as freedom of expression is concerned, is just devastating,” she said. “Every year it is just getting worse.”

“There is no sign that … persecution of religious minorities and foreign missionaries is coming to an end.”
However, she said the World Cup may at least shine a light on the abuses: “Russia being in the spotlight, so many fans coming from all around the world, so many media publications… It’s all going to make people focus on the profound human rights crisis in Russia.”

Among the challenges facing Russians is the clampdown on religious freedom since the introduction two years ago of the so-called “anti-missionary law”.

Under this law, prosecuted individuals face heavy fines, up to six years in prison, and, for foreigners, deportation.

Ruth and Don Ossewaarde (donossewaarde.com)

An American missionary, Donald Ossewaarde, who was based in the Russian city of Oryol, was one of the first convicted under the law. In March 2017, he filed an application to the European Court of Human Rights arguing that his right to religious freedom had been violated by the law after he was found guilty of conducting “illegal missionary activities”. He had been holding weekly Bible meetings at his home for 14 years before the introduction of the law.

Following his application to the court last year, Ossewarde wrote on his blog: “Russia may or may not respect the ECHR’s decision if it finds a violation in my case, but it would be an embarrassment to them, and might result in an amendment to the law. Filing the case puts international pressure on Russia.”

Ossewaarde left the country after his unsuccessful appeals in Russia, and the ECHR approached the Russian government in July last year with a number of questions, though regional news agency Forum 18 said last month that it is not yet known whether the government has responded.

“There is no sign that … persecution of religious minorities and foreign missionaries is coming to an end,” the United States Ambassador to the Vatican, Callista Gingrich, said yesterday (13 June) during a roundtable discussion on the Ukraine, held at the US embassy in Rome.

“Today, Russia ranks among the worst violators of religious freedom and human rights,” she said, as reported by Catholic newspaper The Tablet.

In February the US Commission on International Religious Freedom criticised the so-called “anti-missionary law” – officially titled the Yarovaya Law, after one of its authors – which was formally introduced as an anti-terrorism measure in July 2016, saying “vague and problematic definitions of ‘extremism’ in Russian law give the authorities wide latitude to interfere in peaceful religious observance and persecute believers”.

 

A Muslim man, Ilgar Aliyev, was sentenced on 28 May by a court in the Dagestan republic to eight years in jail and two years of restrictions for “leading and involving others” in the study of books written by the late Turkish theologian Said Nursi.

According to Forum 18, “law enforcement typically interprets this as continuing the activity of the banned extremist organisation ‘Nurdzhular’, which Muslims in Russia deny even exists”.

Longest known sentence for religious meeting

The longest known sentence previously for such a meeting was four years’ imprisonment. Aliyev has appealed the sentence but remains in detention.

In February, the Islamic State group claimed an attack on a Russian Orthodox Church in Kizlyar, Dagestan, in which five people were killed and five others were injured.

‘Cry of despair’

Meanwhile, at least 30 Jehovah’s Witnesses have been charged for criminal activities in Russia in the last six months, according to Forum 18.

“The law enforcement crackdown on Jehovah’s Witnesses across Russia is gathering pace,” the news agency said. “Law enforcement agencies launched multiple armed raids in another four regions in the space of a week in late May and early June, followed by lengthy interrogations and detentions.”

Last year Russia outlawed the group, shutting down its administrative centre and 395 local congregations, and seizing assets.

The wives of Jehovah’s Witnesses who have been imprisoned wrote an open letter to Russia’s Council on Human Rights last week, which they called their “cry of despair”.

World Cup concerns

Seven of the 32 competing teams in the World Cup come from countries that can be found on the 2018 Open Doors World Watch List of the 50 countries where it is most dangerous countries to live as a Christian.

The charity says that Christians in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Tunisia, Mexico and Colombia “are not free to live out their faith without facing persecution – whether that be rejection, isolation, denial of rights and freedom, or even violence”.

Russia, meanwhile, is on Open Doors’ list of “Persecution Watch Countries” beyond the top 50.

 

Source: World Watch Monitor



Christians Arrested at Wedding Site on ‘Forcible Conversion’ Charge in India, Relatives Say

Location of Simdega District in Jharkhand state, eastern India. (Wikipedia)

HYDERABAD, India (Morning Star News) – Two weeks ago a Christian couple in eastern India was about to get married, not knowing the bride’s father had filed a false complaint of forcible conversion against them, relatives said.

As they were preparing for the wedding on May 28, police in Jharkhand state arrived at the site of the ceremony and arrested the bride and groom, along with pastor Sudarshan Manjhi, who was to officiate, and a Christian woman invited to attend, they said.

In his complaint, the bride’s father, Somaru Manjhi, alleged that Christians beat him and threatened to kill him if he did not convert to Christianity, allegations which his 18-year-old daughter, Tripti, said were false.

Bolba police in Simdega District registered a First Information Report on May 30, charging the Christians with forcible conversion under Jharkhand state’s new anti-conversion act.

“My father was drugged with alcohol that day, and the Sarna tribals, including the village president, abetted him to submit the false complaint in the police station pending the wedding so there won’t be a Christian wedding in the village,” Tripti told Morning Star News.

“He [Somaru Manjhi] is now repentant for what he has done, but it is too late.”

Everybody in her family of six (four children) put their faith in Christ except her father, she said. Her sister, Sumanti Kumari, the bride, was baptized in 2012 and could never think of marrying a non-Christian in the Sarna tradition, Tripti said.

Though her father wanted Sumanti Kumari to marry a tribal Sarna, she refused, and the rest of the family supported her, Tripti said. Her marriage to 28-year-old Rupesh Manjhi was decided after discussions with elders in the family and church in the presence of Pastor Manjhi, she said.

The pastor’s wife, Biyari Devi, told Morning Star News that the wedding was decided according to the bride and groom’s wishes.

“They both come from Sarna families but have accepted Christ, and it is obvious that they would want a holy matrimony,” Devi said. “Somaru Manjhi is my uncle also in relation. He has always been against Christ and the church since the house church was established in 2008. But he never became violent or aggressive with us until the question was about his daughter’s marriage.”

Rupesh Manjhi, the groom, was ostracized by his family after he came to Christ, Devi told Morning Star News.

Tripti said her family has been pleading with her father to drop the charges.

“We have been pleading with my father to testify in the court that he was instigated by the Sarnas, and that the allegations are false,” she said. “My younger brother and I keep asking him, ‘How can you go against your own daughter? She is in jail because of you. Why are you doing this?’”

Her father responded that he had filed the complaint on the command of the village president and elders, and that he would ask them for help to free only his daughter, Tripti said. Completely in their control, he had only signed the complaint they wrote, she said.

“They have used him to falsely frame the pastor and the couple,” Tripti told Morning Star News.

An attorney representing the Christians told Morning Star News that a family dispute has turned into a nonbailable offense by the “draconian” anti-conversion act.
“The fact that an irrelevant law has been pulled in needlessly in a family dispute that could have simply arisen from difference of opinions between the members is unfortunate and must be condemned,” the attorney said on the condition of anonymity. “It is very unfortunate police registered the FIR without enquiring or verifying into the matter under a law that contains harsh provisions.”

A bail petition was rejected by the chief judicial magistrate. The attorney said a decision on another bail petition before the district sessions judge is awaited.
“They are just a young couple who wanted to be married, and two other people, the pastor and a female believer who were present at the venue, also have been arrested,” the attorney said.

Section 4 of the Jharkhand’s anti-conversion law, ironically titled a “Freedom of Religion Act,” punishes a person guilty of forcible conversion of a minor, woman or a person belonging to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes by imprisonment of four years and fine up to 100,000 rupees (US$1,480).

In 2017, six Christians from a Simdega village were falsely charged with hurting religious beliefs after the villagers attacked them for praying for a sick woman.

11 Christians Arrested

In neighboring West Singhbum District, 11 Christians in Mohanpur have been charged with forcible conversion, including a politician who ran in state Legislative Assembly elections in 2014.

Indrajeet Samad, 53, leader of Adivasi Ho Samaj Mahasabha Prakhand Samiti, a movement launched by indigenous tribes, submitted a complaint to Mohanpur police against the Christians, sources said.

Samad alleged that the Christians who visit his village often entice tribal people with money in order to convert them to Christianity. The May 12 complaint, translated from Hindi, accuses Christians Ajay Champiya, as well as Suman Champiya and his family, of being influenced by Christianity and conducting prayers at their residence with the 11 Christians.

He also claimed that the Christians threatened his group, alleging that they warned that if Samad’s party resisted their conversion efforts, they would have Maoists kill him and his colleagues.

“These are false allegations,” one of the accused told Morning Star News. “Eleven are booked in one case, and there is no connection between us. I belong to CNI [Church of North India], others are Pentecostal or Baptist.”

In 2016, villagers ostracized Suman Champiya’s family after they were baptized, and they have been under pressure since then, said a source who requested anonymity.
On April 9, Ajay Champiya and his wife, Suman Champiya, filed a complaint with Mohanpur police that villagers had ostracized them for more than two years, and that Samad and his colleagues had made it difficult for Christians to live in the village.

“They told us that they work for [Hindu extremist group] RSS, and that all the Christians should be put to death,” the Christians said in the complaint. “Inderjeet Samad passed an order that the Christians water supply must be disconnected, and that they should not be allowed to excrete in fields.”

Mohanpur police refused to register a First Information Report (FIR) based on the two-page complaint, filing an FIR only after tribal leader Samad filed a complaint. Only Samad’s complaint made its way into the FIR. Police charged the Christians with criminal intimidation and Section 4 of the anti-conversion act.
“We moved a petition before the district’s sessions judge with the help of a Christian attorney and are waiting for anticipatory bail,” another accused Christian told Morning Star News.

An attorney representing the Christians said the complaint randomly accuses them of saying certain people have come to know Christ.
“The accusations do not seem specific to any particular person, and the Christian family in question were converted 10 years ago,” the attorney told Morning Star News. “Eleven individuals who have no connection with each other are booked under the draconian act merely because they identify themselves as Christians.”
Samad is a front-runner as the Hindu extremist Bharatiya Janata Party’s candidate for the Legislative Assembly from Mohanpur in elections to be held in 2020, said another source.

Religious freedom advocacy group Alliance Defending Freedom-India has recorded 76 incidents of violence against Christians in India in the first four months of 2018, a rate of 20 per month, as recorded on its United Christian Forum helpline (1-800-208-4545).

ADF-India’s records show 15 Christians have been booked under Section 4 of Jharkhand’s anti-conversion act since it became a law in February 2018.
According to the 2011 Jharkhand Religion Census, only 4.3 percent of the state’s population practices Christianity.

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.

Source: Morning Star News