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India: Christians attacked on way back from national meeting

Damaged bus. Credit: CSW

A group of 70 Christians were attacked on 5 February whilst travelling home from the Third National Congress of the Synod of Pentecostal Churches in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu.

Three men on motorcycles targeted the bus and minivan, in which the group was travelling at approximately 12:15am at Anna Nagar, on the Bhavani Sagar Road, Erode, Tamil Nadu. The men verbally threatened the passengers before smashing the windshields of the vehicles, causing injury to the driver and passengers, which included women, children and the elderly.

Pastor Paul Raj, one of the passengers, immediately called the police, who arrived at the scene 15 minutes later. A First Information Report (FIR), which is necessary to start an investigation, has reportedly been registered against the perpetrators and investigations have been initiated.

The National Congress of the Synod of Pentecostal Churches was attended by an estimated one hundred thousand people. Local sources report that the attack is believed to have been perpetrated by religious extremists who were aware of the national congress and planned the ambush on the Christians.

The national congress focused on calling on Christians to pray for peace in India at this time, particularly as Christians are experiencing a rising number of hate campaigns that involve church closures, prayer meeting disruptions, police complicity and targeted attacks with impunity by non-state actors. The leadership of the Synod had also called on the government of India to protect religious minorities in the country who are living in fear and to respect the fundamental freedoms of the Indian Constitution. There was also a call for the government to revoke the Citizenship Amendment Act 2019 (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC) which are criticised widely in India for their unconstitutional nature.

CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said: “This attack on a group of Christians returning from a national gathering is a worrying example of the religious intolerance and violence that is being allowed to fester and take root in the largest democracy in the world. Religious minorities in India should feel safe and free to practice and profess their religion or belief without any fear of reproach, and we call on the authorities to put an end to all forms of institutional propaganda that incite hate towards religious minorities. The police must follow up with a thorough investigation of this incident and not allow themselves to be influenced by hardline religious nationalists as they seek to hold those responsible to account.”

Source: Christian Solidarity Worldwide



BREAKING: CHURCH ATTACK KILLS 24 IN BURKINA FASO

Pastor Tindano (l) and Deacon Lankoandé (r) who were killed this month. Via Open Doors

OUAGADOUGOU, BURKINA FASO (BosNewsLife)–Suspected Islamic gunmen interrupted a weekly worship service at a Protestant church in northern Burkina Faso, killing 24 people, authorities confirmed late Monday, February 17. Another 18 people were wounded in Sunday’s attack rocking Pansy town in Yagha province, the regional governor said.

“The armed terrorists attacked the peaceful local population, after having identified them and separated them from non-residents,” added the governor, Colonel Salfo Kaboré. “The provisional toll is 24 killed, including the pastor … 18 wounded and
individuals who were kidnapped,” Kaboré added in published remarks.

Authorities said some 20 attackers separated men from women close to the church in Pansy. The church building was burned down, and several people were yet to be accounted for, according to Christians familiar with the situation.

The gunmen reportedly also looted oil and rice from shops and forced the three youth they kidnapped to help transport it on their motorbikes. A resident of the nearby town of Sebba, whose name was not identified for security reasons, said Pansy villagers had fled there for safety.

It was the latest in an escalation of Islamic attacks against devoted Christians and moderate Muslims in the area in recent days. Last week, also in Yagha province, evangelical church leaders and several family members were killed, aid workers confirmed.

ISLAMIC MILITANTS

On February 10, suspected Islamic militants in Sebba seized seven people at the home of a pastor.

“In the early hours of February 11, the deacon of the Evangelical SIM Church, Lankoandé Babilibilé, was shot and killed by unidentified gunmen in Sebba…”, said well-informed advocacy group Open Doors. “His car was stolen and used to abduct Pastor Omar Tindano of the same church, along with two of Omar’s daughters, his son and two nephews. Yesterday, the news broke that Omar, his son, and his nephews had all been executed,” the group explained.

“His daughters were released, physically unharmed, on the same day,” Open Doors added. All five bodies have been recovered, local authorities said.

Lankoandé helped establish the first churches in the Sebba region, while Omar was the president of the Sebba region of the Evangelical Church denomination, Open Doors confirmed. Separately, shooters reportedly attacked an evangelical church in the eastern town of Nagnounbougou. At least two believers were killed in that attack, Christians said.

At the Vatican, Pope Francis expressed concern about the attacks. He urged prayers for the victims after making a similar request and appeal for interreligious dialogue in Burkina Faso in November, following an attack that killed or injured scores of people.

ALARMING RATE

Church observers and activists say attacks against civilians, including Christians, are increasing “at an alarming rate” in the West African nation

Open Doors said Burkina Faso is now ranking 28th on its annual World Watch List of 50 nations where it is most challenging to be a Christian.

Violent attacks account for this enormous rise, it stressed. “Christians in these areas require urgent prayer and support,” said
Illia Djadi, an Open Doors senior analyst on freedom of religion or belief in sub-Saharan Africa. “They are traumatized and don’t know how to handle all this violence. Even close friends and members of SIM church are reluctant to share details with reporters, fearing further targeting.”

Open Doors investigators noted a climate of fear for believers in Burkina Faso.

The advocacy group Human Rights Watch West Africa said: “Perpetrators use victims’ links to government or their faith to justify the killings.” Others “appear to be reprisal killings for killings by the government security forces,” it added.

THOUSANDS KILLED

French-educated President Roch Marc Kabore is under pressure to end Islamic insurgency.

Nearly 4,000 people were killed in jihadist attacks in Burkina Faso and neighboring Mali and Niger last year, according to United Nations estimates.

Observers say more than 1,300 civilians were killed in targeted attacks 2019 in Burkina Faso, more than seven times in the previous year.

The insecurity has created a humanitarian crisis with an estimated over 760,000 internally displaced people in the Muslim-majority nation. Refugees also face other challenges as Burkina Faso is an impoverished nation, even by West African standards. The landlocked country of 21 million people has also suffered from recurring droughts and military coups.

French-educated Roch Marc Kabore, who served as prime minister and speaker of parliament under veteran President Blaise Compaore, won the November 2015 presidential election, with promises of reforms.

But concerns over the economy and rights violations have overshadowed Kabore’s pledges to introduce changes in Burkina Faso, which means “land of honest men”, and has significant reserves of gold.

Source: BosNewsLife



Church Decimated after Upper-Caste Hindus Stir Hostilities in Andhra Pradesh, India

Christians too fearful to show up after attacks.

Pastor Eswara Rao Appalabattula was attacked in a village in Andhra Pradesh, India. (Morning Star News)

HYDERABAD, India (Morning Star News) – Attacks and harassment of a house church in southern India have decimated the 40-member congregation and left the pastor injured and demoralized.

Pastor Eswara Rao Appalabattula on Jan. 27 pleaded with about a dozen local residents to stop building a wall meant to block people from attending worship services at his home in L.B. Patnam village, Andhra Pradesh. Led by a local Hindu extremist, the group attacked him, breaking his hand, he said.

“They wanted to build a wall right in front of the church and ban us from using the path,” Pastor Appalabattula told Morning Star News. “I pleaded with them to not do so. But the group of at least six neighbors, both male and female, punched me in my stomach several times and pushed me to the floor.”

They picked up a wooden pole and started beating his hands repeatedly with it, he said.

“I was lying there on the floor screaming for help,” he said. “My wife came running and begged them to stop beating me – it was traumatic.”

The attack topped a month of hostilities and years of opposition against the pastor and his wife, who are in their 60s, from Hindu villagers furious at the presence of a church in their community. On Jan. 5, a Hindu priest had led them to his home, where they threatened to kill his wife, Karuna Appalabattula, as she was doing chores outside, she said.

Village Hindus dug trench for wall to keep Christians from entering house church in L.B. Patnam village, Andhra Pradesh, India. (Morning Star News)

Village Hindus dug trench for wall to keep Christians from entering house church in L.B. Patnam village, Andhra Pradesh, India. (Morning Star News)

“I did not go to fight with them – but I was panicked,” Karuna Appalabattula told Morning Star News. “I did not know what to do. I asked them, ‘What is this you are doing? Why are you after us?’”
The Hindu priest picked up a large log of wood and came running toward her, she said.

“He kept screaming that he would kill me,” she said. “I was crying for help. But their priest abused me in extremely foul language. They called me names they would never use for a mother, wife, sister or any female member of their families. He called me a Christian prostitute and warned me that he would kill my husband.”

Trembling in fear, she and her husband locked themselves inside the house, she said.

Pastor Appalabattula said the Hindu villagers had stopped worshippers from coming to services throughout January.

“They would threaten and abuse them in foul language and not let them even park their motorbikes in the area,” he said. “Even before they stop at the church, they are chased and sent away.”

Police: ‘Resolve It Yourself’

He informed a police official, who only told him to peacefully resolve the matter himself.

“He told me that these issues between religious groups may cause riots and advised me not to escalate the matter,” Pastor Appalabattula said. “We had kept quiet and were busy with the ministry, but the following Friday [Jan. 7] and the Sundays on Jan. 12, 19 and 26, the members of the church were stopped on the road and were threatened that they would be brutally attacked if they continued gathering in L.B. Patnam village.”

Throughout the month Hindu villagers shouted obscenities when passing their home, trying to provoke them into a fight, Karuna Appalabattula said.

“Not only were our lives but the lives of believers who come for prayers also in danger,” she said. “That entire month, they did not allow us to be at peace.”

On Jan. 27, they informed police that the Hindu villagers had begun digging a trench for construction of the wall. Officers arrived only after the ensuing attack, she said.

Police told her to order a motorized rickshaw taxi to take Pastor Appalabattula to the hospital, they said, adding that a church member who had also been beaten wanted to accompany them, but officers told him to flee for his life. At the village clinic, doctors said they did not have facilities adequate to treat him and suggested they go to the larger hospital in Vizag town.

“I telephoned some of the church members, but they were scared that they too may come under the attack,” Karuna Appalabattula said. “The doctors at the town hospital in Vizag informed us that his right hand has been fractured.”

Officers at the Cheedikada police station registered a First Information Report (FIR) against 11 villagers but not the Hindu extremist leader, Suresh Panchata, Pastor Appalabattula said. He said he reminded officers that he had complained to them several times since 2011 about Panchata, an upper-caste Hindu, and about telephone threats he had received the previous day.

“But the officials told me that the FIR had already been registered, and that later during investigation they would add his name,” he said. “Suresh Panchata has high political links and had been instigating the Hindu priest and villagers that the church activities disturb the Hindu rituals and traditions followed in the village.”

Cheedikada police booked the suspects under Indian Penal Code sections for house trespass, voluntarily causing hurt using dangerous weapons, voluntarily causing hurt and acts done by several persons with common intention.

“My wife and I witnessed drug and alcohol addicts, and the sick, come to Christ, and then they had refused to be a part of Hindu rituals in the village,” Pastor Appalabattula said. “This did not go well with Panchata and his aides.”

Vishakhapatnam District Pastors Association members met with police and urged them to investigate fairly, the pastor said.

As he and his wife were going to the hospital for a check-up on Feb. 4, some of the 12 assailants who had attacked the pastor sped by on motorbikes and pushed him, knocking them down on the road, he said.
Police then provided two officers, but they left after two hours, the pastor said.

“They told me that, ‘Your God has to protect you – when your God is not protecting you from your attackers, what can we do staying here?’” Pastor Appalabattula told Morning Star News. “I told them that it was my God who had been protecting me, if not I would not have been alive in front of you.”

Decimated and Demoralized

The attacks have left the couple feeling lonely and deserted, they said. Youths and Christians from neighboring villages who used to come to their home daily for worship and hours of fellowship are too fearful to come now, Karuna Appalabattula said, tears in her eyes.
“They were like our own children,” she said. “I would prepare meals and feed them. We sang and worshipped together…We both are very old and weak and are in need of prayers and support.”

Pastor Appalabattula said they are going through a very difficult time.
“I am ready to die for Christ. But the ministry we had started here has come to a sudden halt,” he said. “Not even four members are gathering for Sunday worship. The believers have been very scared, and nobody dares to come and see us.”

Legal advocacy group Alliance Defending Freedom-India has contacted officers at Cheedikada police station and urged them to provide security for the house church. ADF-India’s allied lawyers had organized legal seminars and awareness campaigns in Andhra Pradesh last year.

Pastor Appalabattula, formerly a carpenter who built the house where the church worships, had returned to his home village of L.B. Patnam in 2011 after dedicating himself full-time to ministry in Vishakapatnam District.

“At first, in the year 2011, they had demolished the newly constructed structure, and we had to rebuild it,” he told Morning Star News. “The upper-caste Hindus have been opposing the ministry here since the day the church was established.”

India is ranked 10th on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2020 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian. The country was 31st in 2013, but its position has worsened since Narendra Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party came to power in 2014.

Source: Morning Star News



Iran: Christian woman beaten in prison, facing criminal charges

By Tola Mbakwe

It’s been revealed that an Iranian Christian woman who was reported missing is now in prison, being abused and facing crime charges. 

The Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) has confirmed Fatemah Mohammadi, known as Mary, is in Qarchak Prison in Varamin and has been mistreated.

The 21-year-old was arrested last month in Iran near protests about the downing of a Ukrainian passenger plane. For several weeks, her whereabouts were unknown.

Religious freedom charity Middle East Concern (MEC) said Mary was badly beaten when she was arrested.

The charity said in a statement: “At Vozara she was forced to sit on the ground in the yard in front of the toilets. Later she faced three interrogators and was given 30 questions to respond to. She refused to comply without a lawyer present. During the first 24 hours following arrest she was denied food.

“Female officials forced Mary to strip and sit and stand several times in front of them. She was later transferred to Branch 6 of the prosecutor’s office in Evin Prison, Tehran, and charged with ‘disrupting public order by participating in an illegal gathering’.”

Although Mary’s bail was set to the equivalent of £1,533, a prosecutor has refused to allow her to be released. Her case been moved to public criminal court. 

MEC said Mary is open about her Christian faith. She has been campaigning for rights for Christian converts in Iran and the freedom to attend Christian places of worship.

In November 2017 she was arrested at a house church and imprisoned for six months, having been convicted of “membership in evangelical groups”, “engaging in Christian activities,” and “acting against national security through propagating against the regime.”

Source: Premier



Pastor, three family members and deacon killed by jihadists in Burkina Faso

Pastor Tindano Omar and three members of his family, who were kidnapped by Islamic extremists, were murdered by their captors on 13 February in Burkina Faso.

Lankoande Babilibilé, a deacon at the church, was murdered by the militants on 10 February, the night of the family’s kidnapping. His killers stole Babilibilé’s car and used it for the abduction from the village of Sebba, in northern Burkina Faso.

Pastor Tindano Omar, who was murdered, along with his son and two nephews, by their jihadist captors in Burkina Faso

The pastor died along with his son and two of his nephews. Two of the pastor’s daughters, who were also abducted, were released unharmed. Pastor Tindano Omar is also survived by three other children who attend university in another region.

Islamists militants are stepping up murderous attacks in northern Burkina Faso. On 1 February, 18 people, including a Christian senior nurse, were murdered by militant gunmen in Lamdamol village, Seno province.

From Barnabas Fund contacts

Source: Barnabas Fund