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Monthly archives: August, 2016

Iran: Families fear for latest 5 Christians arrested

Crackdown: 40 Christians arrested in August alone

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Left to right: Mohammad Dehnavi, Hadi Asgari, Afshar Naderi, Ramil Bet-Tamraz and Amir Dashti. MEC / Article 18

Five Iranian Christians were arrested on Friday (26 Aug.) during a trip to the Alborz Mountains north-east of Tehran – the latest in a recent spate of arrests. Their wives and families have expressed concern for their safety.
One of them, Afshar Naderi, had been arrested before – on 26 Dec. 2014. Also arrested that day was Pastor Victor Bet-Tamraz, whose son, Ramil, was part of the group arrested on 26 Aug.

Victor Bet-Tamraz led the Tehran Pentecostal Assyrian Church before it was shut down by Iran’s Ministry of Interior in March 2009. He and Naderi – a convert to Christianity – were arrested alongside another convert while celebrating Christmas at the pastor’s house. All three were charged with conducting illegal evangelism and kept mostly in solitary confinement in Evin prison, before being released on bail in February and March 2015.

After his son’s arrest on Friday, Bet-Tamraz visited some of the prisons and interrogation centres in the area, but so far has not found the group. The names of the other three Christians arrested are Hadi Asgari, Mohammad Dehnavi and Amir Dashti. Their wives were separated from them during the raid by security officials from the Ministry of Intelligence and Security. Middle East Concern reports that Afshar had asked to see an arrest warrant and that, after none was produced, he was beaten. Mohabat News reports that only one of them – Amir Dashti – has been able to call his family. He is reported to have told them that they are being held in Tehran’s Evin prison.

“All are understandably concerned, as there seems no reason for the arrest apart from to gather evidence to convict Pastor Victor and the others arrested at the same time,” MEC’s Rob Duncan told World Watch Monitor. MEC reported that the Christians’ families “see no reason for the arrests apart from the connection to the 2014 Christmas arrests. It is feared the aim of the MOIS officials is to force confessions and to extract ‘evidence’ against [them]”.

Victor Bet-Tamraz had previously found it difficult to find a lawyer willing to act as his defence counsel. Some lawyers have experienced a backlash after representing Christians in court.

More than 200 Christians have been detained by Iranian authorities since 2015. Many are in jail, while others, such as Victor Bet-Tamraz, have been released conditionally, pending sentencing or an appeal.

MEC’s Duncan said that at least 43 Christians were arrested in the past month alone.

“The Iranian regime is conducting a very active campaign against house churches at the moment and leaders of house churches are harassed and put under pressure,” he said.

Meanwhile, Amnesty International has criticised Iran’s “cruel” denial of medical care in its prisons. It mentions the case of Maryam Naghash Zargaran, an Iranian Christian who has undertaken two hunger strikes to protest against her being denied the medical treatment she requires for long-standing health issues.

She has twice been released for medical treatment – in October 2015 and in June – and both times was forced to return to prison before the treatment was complete. After her latest hunger strike, which ended on 2 Aug., Middle East Concern said her health had deteriorated further.

UPDATE (31 Aug): Maryam Zargaran has for the third time been allowed to leave prison to receive medical treatment. Her family have said they hope that this time she will be given long enough to receive adequate care.

Source: World Watch Monitor



Prosecutor demands ‘harshest punishment’ for pastors charged with highlighting Sudan Christians’ suffering

Trial of 4 men resumes with Western diplomats and aid groups in courtroom

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Pastors Kuwa Shamal (left) and Hassan Taour are among four Christians facing the death penalty for claims that Christians are persecuted in Sudan. World Watch Monitor

A trial of four men, including two Sudanese church leaders and a foreign aid worker, resumed 29 August in Khartoum with Sudan’s prosecution accusing the defendants of highlighting alleged Christian suffering in war-ravaged areas of the country.
The four defendants are a Czech Christian aid worker named Petr Jasek; Rev. Hassan Abduraheem Kodi Taour and Rev. Kuwa Shamal, pastors originally from the Nuba Mountains of South Kordofan; and Abdulmonem Abdumawla Issa Abdumawla, a Darfuri graduate student.

The four are accused of conducting intelligence activities and providing material support for rebels in Sudan’s South Kordofan region.

According to the Paris-based Sudan Tribune, the prosecutor on 29 August displayed photos and videos which he claimed Jasek handed over to a US-based medical-relief agency.

The photos apparently show sites in war-affected areas of South Kordofan state, which borders the now-independent South Sudan; a team from the relief agency looking at a map of the Nuba Mountains; and the defendants appearing beside destroyed buildings with members of the agency and the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Army/North. The prosecution alleges that the defendants claimed the buildings were bombarded by government warplanes.

The prosecutor claimed Jasek was planning to go to areas “claimed to have been destroyed by the Sudanese army” and that the medial-relief agency intended to interview civilians whom the agency says were tortured by the Sudanese authorities.

The judge, Osama Ahmed Abdallah, said the photos underscored that Jasek was present alongside the relief agency’s team in the Nuba Mountains in 2012. The Nuba Mountains are an area of significant Christian presence adjacent to South Sudan. The Nuba region never benefited from the 2011 plebiscite that allowed the mainly Christian south to secede from Sudan.

The court session took place amid “remarkable presence” from western diplomats and rights groups, Sudan Tribune reported.

‘Islamic state governed by Sharia’

Some of the charges against the four defendants, whose trial began last week, are punishable by death. The prosecutor demanded the harshest punishment, and the judge heard an “investigating consultant”, who spoke on behalf of the security apparatus that filed the case against the defendants, Darfur’s Radio Dabanga reported.

“During the presentation of the photos [by the prosecutor], the electricity was cut. This was before the consultant had the time to present recordings that were also brought in as evidence,” defence lawyer Dimas James Marajan told Radio Dabanga.

Meanwhile, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/North on 27 August called on US Special Envoy Donald Booth, who is currently visiting the country to help to secure the release of detained pastors and activists in Sudan.

Milad Musa, a pastor of the Sudanese Christian Church, urged human-rights defenders through Sudan’s Radio Tamazuj to put pressure on Khartoum to allow the two pastors to see their families.

Between December and the start of the trial, the four had mostly been held without charge, even though Sudanese law forbids it.

Following South Sudan’s independence in 2011, President Omar al-Bashir – wanted by the ICC for crimes including genocide – has reasserted Sudan as an Islamic state governed by Sharia. Pressures have been ratcheted up against Christians since.

Arrests, confiscations and demolitions of churches have increased, and the government has repeatedly stated that new church licences will not be issued.

In August 2015, Khartoum yielded to international pressure and released two South Sudanese pastors, whom it had accused of “spying”. Yat Michael and Peter Yen were in prison for eight and seven months, respectively.

In a separate case, three human rights activists detained since May were scheduled to appear in court 30 August on numerous charges, including crimes against the state, that carry the death penalty.

According to Open Doors’ 2016 World Watch List, Sudan is ranked 8th in a list of 50 countries where Christians come under the most pressure. The country has a rating of “extreme” and for the past two years has remained among the top 10 offenders.

Source: World Watch Monitor



Nigeria ready to negotiate for Chibok girls’ freedom

The government wants to begin talks with terror group Boko Haram, if it can figure out who’s in charge

by Onize Ohikere
 

"Bring Back Our Girls" co-founder Obiageli Ezekwesili, left, console Esther Yakubu, mother of one of the kidnapped school girls, after she saw her daughter in a video release by Boko haram during a briefing in Abuja, Nigeria. Sunday Aug. 14, 2016 . The mother of one of the Chibok girls kidnapped more than two years ago by Nigeria's Islamic extremists on Sunday saw the first proof her daughter is alive — a video of her begging Nigeria's government to exchange detained militants for the girls' freedom. (AP Photo/Olamikan Gbemiga)

“Bring Back Our Girls” co-founder Obiageli Ezekwesili, left, console Esther Yakubu, mother of one of the kidnapped school girls, after she saw her daughter in a video release by Boko haram during a briefing in Abuja, Nigeria. Sunday Aug. 14, 2016 . The mother of one of the Chibok girls kidnapped more than two years ago by Nigeria’s Islamic extremists on Sunday saw the first proof her daughter is alive — a video of her begging Nigeria’s government to exchange detained militants for the girls’ freedom. (AP Photo/Olamikan Gbemiga)

ABUJA, Nigeria—The Nigerian government is ready to begin negotiations with “bona fide leaders” of extremist group Boko Haram for the release of the kidnapped Chibok girls, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari said Sunday.

Buhari said Boko Haram can choose an internationally recognized nonprofit as an intermediary if it does not want to work directly with the government. But Boko Haram must convince the intermediary it still has the girls and clearly state the number of Boko Haram leaders it wants Nigeria to release from prison, Buhari added.

“If they do it through the modified leadership of Boko Haram and talk with an internationally recognized NGO, then Nigeria will be prepared to discuss for their release,” Buhari said at a conference in Nairobi, Kenya.

Boko Haram released a video this month showing some of the kidnapped Chibok girls still in its custody, threatening to keep them if the government refuses to release detained Boko Haram fighters. The video raised hope some of the girls are still alive and increased pressure on the Nigerian government to act.

Any upcoming negotiations will mark the first official talks between the Nigerian government and Boko Haram since the group began its insurgency in 2009. Buhari said the federal government will not waste time and resources with doubtful sources claiming to know the whereabouts of the Chibok girls. The last Nigerian administration began talks with a group that falsely claimed to be Boko Haram representatives.

“We want those girls out and safe,” Buhari said. “The faster we can recover them and hand them over to their parents, the better for us.”

Islamic State earlier this month announced Abu Musab al-Barnawi as the new leader of its West African affiliate, Boko Haram. But the group’s former radical leader, Abubakar Shekau, claims he’s still in charge. Martin Ewi, a counterterrorism expert with the Institute for Security Studies in South Africa, said the Nigerian government should keep the internal split within Boko Haram at the forefront of its negotiations.

“Who are we going to negotiate with?” Ewi said. “Does one group have the girls, or did they split them between the two groups? These questions should be answered before we put the negotiation cap on the table.”

Source: Onize Ohikere
Onize is a reporter for WORLD Digital.



Yemen suicide attack claimed by IS ‘kills dozens’ in Aden

At least 60 people have been killed in a suicide car bombing at a military facility in the southern Yemen city of Aden, doctors say.

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So-called Islamic State said it carried out the attack

A training camp, or compound used by the pro-government Popular Resistance militia, was hit, reports say.

So-called Islamic State said it carried out the attack.

It comes amid a fresh push to end Yemen’s 17-month-old war between Saudi-backed government and rebels that the UN says has left 6,600 people dead.

Some 2.5 million Yemenis have also been displaced.

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IS’s self-styled news agency Amaq said the group had carried out Monday’s attack.

Meanwhile, the government and rebels have responded positively to a new Gulf-backed initiative to end the conflict.

The plan, announced last week by the US, calls for the withdrawal of Shia Houthi rebels from the capital, Sanaa, and talks on forming a unity government.

The rebels said they were prepared to restart negotiations, provided the Saudi-led coalition stopped attacking and laying siege to territories held by them.

The latest round of peace talks in Kuwait collapsed earlier this month.

The Saudi-led coalition has been carrying out air strikes in Yemen since March 2015 in support of the internationally recognised government of President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi.

The campaign began after the Houthi rebels, backed by supporters of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, took over parts of the country, including Sanaa, forcing the government into exile.

The government and its allies have since retaken Aden. Saudi Arabia says the Houthis are supported financially and militarily by its regional rival Iran – something Tehran denies.

Source: BBC News



Somalia: bomb and gun attack kills seven in Mogadishu

At least seven people have been killed in a bomb and gun attack on a seaside restaurant in the Somali capital Mogadishu.

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Police said a car bomb exploded outside the Banadir Beach Club in the Lido area and gunmen then stormed the building.

Security forces say they killed two attackers and arrested another after a six-hour operation overnight.

The militant Islamist group al-Shabab stages regular attacks in Mogadishu and other parts of Somalia.

Earlier this year, 17 people died when the group stormed a restaurant on Lido beach.

Al-Shabab, which is linked to al-Qaeda, was ousted from Mogadishu in August 2011 but still has a presence in large areas of southern Somalia.

Source: BBC News