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Monthly archives: June, 2017

Iran: Christian converts await court verdict

Iranian Christians request prayer for Christian converts in Rasht awaiting an imminent court verdict.

On 14th June Yousef Nadarkhani, Mohammadreza Omidi, Yasser Mossayebzadeh and Saheb Fadaie were summoned to the 26th Branch of the Revolutionary Court in Tehran, where Judge Ahmadzadeh assessed their case after it was transferred from Rasht earlier this year.

The local court officials had been unable to reach a verdict.

During the hearing the judge informed the men that within 20 days the court would issue a verdict relating to the charge of “acting against national security” which has been made against them.

Yasser, Saheb and Mohammadreza were arrested on 13th May 2016 with their pastor, Yousef, as they were celebrating communion.

There have been two hearings in their case so far.

In addition to the charge of acting against national security, Yasser, Saheb and Mohammadreza have been charged with consumption of alcohol because they drank communion wine, and on 10th September they were each sentenced to 80 lashes.

They have appealed against the sentence of 80 lashes and await a final verdict.

Source: MIDDLE EAST CONCERN



Christian Converts in India Beaten for Refusing to Worship Hindu Gods

BY STOYAN ZAIMOV

People in India have been converting to Christianity following what has been described as miraculous healings done in the name of Jesus, persecution watchdog group Open Doors has said.

Christians held protests and candlelit vigils in the wake of the attack on an elderly nun in West Bengal in India in March 2015.

These Christians have remained devoted to their new faith in Jesus, despite enduring immense pressure from radicals who beat them for refusing to worship Hindu gods.

Open Doors shared the stories of several Christians from India on Monday, with one man, identified as Sohan, describing what happened to him after he and others in his village decided to follow Christ: “The villagers crowded around us and started punching and kicking us, all over our bodies. They asked us to praise Hindu gods and goddesses. We refused. They kicked us harder.”

Sohan was accused by the radicals of converting people to Christianity, which is against the law in five of India’s states.

He said that despite his fear of being arrested, which led to him spending four days in jail, he prayed to God, and saw those prayers answered.

“I preached the Gospel and prayed for an inmate who was sick. He was healed and believed in Christ instantly. My other cell mate was a person suffering from intense depression. He kept saying that he wanted to kill himself. I prayed for him and the suicidal thoughts left him. He also accepted Christ,” Sohan revealed.

He added: “The third person I met was a young man falsely accused of raping a woman. He also used to remain very upset and felt hopeless about his life. I shared the Gospel with him, and he also accepted Christ inside the prison. This way I saw God’s immense power and deliverance.”

Open Doors, which monitors and provides relief to persecuted Christians around the world, was able, along with its partners, to bail out Sohan, who has reportedly returned to his village, which wasn’t named, and lives among the people who attacked him and had him arrested.

“I suffered with many physical ailments and financial troubles before I became a Christian. Now I have freedom from all those problems and have a new life. This new life I will live only for Him, even if it includes persecution,” Sohan said of his experience.

“I give thanks to your organization for your help.”

Another Christian, identified as Mohan, said that while he was still a Hindu, his family prayed to Hindu gods and sacrificed animals in the hopes of healing his sick father.

One day a Christian villager advised that they start praying to Jesus instead.

“When we did, my father was healed. There was no more sickness in my family. Of course, we followed Jesus after that. To be honest, we never anticipated resistance,” Mohan revealed.

His fellow villagers were angry when they saw that the family was happy and healthy and following Jesus, and told them to leave their home. Mohan’s family refused, however, and for the past 10 years they’ve faced constant discrimination and attacks.

“Fifteen men came to their house, tied his parents’ hands behind their backs, and forced them to stand in a pool of water up to their shoulders until Mohan’s brothers could pay for their release. The couple were kept like this for 17 hours,” Open Doors said.

“When Mohan got married, local people forced him and his wife to take part in a Hindu marriage ceremony, and would not allow them to perform a Christian wedding. When Mohan’s father died, their Hindu relatives wouldn’t allow him to be buried in the village; Mohan’s family had to bury him in the jungle.”

Open Doors says it has been helping people like Mohan’s family recover and pay for medical expenses, and asked for Christians to pray and help support efforts reaching out to persecuted people in India.

There have been several recent reports of Hindu radicals attempting to convert Christians back to Hinduism.

International Christian Concern, another watchdog group, reported back in May that as many as 15 Christian families were forced to undergo such reconversion ceremonies in the Junwani village of Chhattisgarh over Easter.

“They can stop me from going to church but they cannot take Jesus from my heart. I will find ways and secretly come to church,” one Christian who was forcefully reconverted told a local pastor at the time.

Source: The Christian Post



Sudan churches risk letter to government on ‘systematic violations’, including church demolition

The SCOC church in Algadisia had been there since 1983.

The Sudanese Church of Christ (SCOC) has written an open letter to the Khartoum government protesting “the systematic violation of Christian religious freedoms”, including the recent demolition of one of their churches in the Suba area of the capital, Khartoum.

The SCOC represents about 220,000 of about two million Christians in Sudan*, in over a thousand congregations.

“This is the boldest move the SCOC leadership has yet made against the constant pressure they have been facing from the government,” a worker closely involved in working with the Church in Sudan, who remains anonymous for security reasons, explains. “Over the past years they have complained against all violations of religious rights to all pertinent government bodies, but it is the first time such a letter is distributed on social media.”

In the letter, dated 16 May, the Headquarters of the SCOC detailed the “hard conditions” they have faced in recent years, including the demolition of churches, confiscation of church property, government failure to allocate land for construction of any new churches, and travel restrictions on senior church leaders.

“We feel deeply sorry and strongly condemn these abusive procedures against the holy places.”

Sudan Church of Christ

Their letter was sent only a day before the Sudan government demolished a SCOC building – in Algadisia, east Khartoum, since 1983. According to Middle East Concern, a para-Church charity which monitors Sudan, someone else had recently claimed ownership but refused to provide any proof. The authorities then demanded that the church vacate the land. Even when the church showed ownership documents the authorities refused to hear the case, stating they had orders to carry out the demolition. On 7 May, officials had already demolished the SCOC church in Suba, Al Aradi.

Apart from these two, 25 other churches – ranging from Catholic to Coptic Orthodox, the Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Pentecostal Churches – have also been designated for demolition. The government claims they violate designated purposes for these plots of land.

“We feel deeply sorry and strongly condemn these abusive procedures against the holy places, and we hold the National Intelligence and Security Services [NISS] responsible for the damages and other consequences [that] can be caused due to their confiscation of documents. We also hold the land authorities of the Ministry of the Planning and Infrastructure Development of the Khartoum state responsible for the attacks against the Church and [for] the financial damages caused,” the letter states. It petitions the same Ministry to complete the registration of SCOC’s congregations in Suba and El Ezba.

It also calls on the presidency to allocate land to churches and to guarantee Christians their constitutional right to own land in all of Sudan’s states. It asks President Omar al-Bashir to order the NISS to return all arbitrarily-confiscated land ownership and travel documents and to prevent the NISS from any further violation of Christians’ rights.

The Sudanese Minister of Guidance and Endowments announced in April 2013 that no new licenses would be granted to build new churches in the country, claiming there is no need for new church buildings because many mainly Christian South Sudanese refugees returned to their own country after the secession of South Sudan in 2011.

Authorities have also continued the gradual confiscation of properties belonging to the Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church in Bahri (Khartoum North), which was demolished in April, and Omdurman.

The SCOC letter calls on national, regional and international human rights institutions to intervene on behalf of the Church in Sudan to ensure an end to the violations. The EU Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief, Ján Figeľ, raised the issue of church demolitions in March during a visit to Sudan and was told some of the demolitions had been temporarily stopped.

In a letter to the new Minister of Religious Endowments, Mr. Figeľ wrote in May: “I am sure you would agree with me that these events generate tensions and go counter [to] the many efforts deployed by Sudan to preserve its capital of religious diversity.

“Regarding the ongoing confiscations of religious properties from Evangelical churches, I cordially encourage you in your new important assignment to ensure your Government’s full protection of the rightful legal church committees, as recognised by the respective religious leaders and the Supreme Court of the Republic of the Sudan. The past practice of appointing alternative committees has brought only confusion and suffering to the religious communities.

“I also raise your attention on the procedures relating to the construction of new churches. During my meeting with your predecessor, your services indicated that since 1989, nineteen new churches were built in Sudan. My impression, based on information received during and after my visit, is that the procedure to obtain a licence is yet not clear to many stakeholders and licences are difficult to obtain. I encourage you to share information on this procedure in order to avoid false perceptions and misunderstandings.”

Mr Figeľ confirmed to World Watch Monitor, at the European Parliament Intergroup on Freedom of Religion or Belief and Religious Tolerance on 20 June, that he has so far received no reply to his letter.

After his March visit to Sudan, Figeľ’ reported that he had “reminded the authorities about the importance of upholding Freedom of Religion or Belief in the Constitution and recommended the construction of a civil state based on equal citizenship for all”. He added that he had stressed that “public life must be organised around citizenship, not religion” and “advocated for reform of the legal framework in order to ensure consistency with international agreements in the area of religious freedom”.

(*World Christian Database 2017)

Source: World Watch Monitor



US former NBA player interviewed about his meeting with N Korea leader Kim Jong-un

By Dan Wooding

Dennis Rodman talks on ABC about his latest trip to North Korea

He says, “I think it’s worth it,” despite the widespread criticism and backlash he has faced for his trips to North Korea

Dennis Rodman, the former NBA great, and friend of North Korea Leader Kim Jong-un, broke down in tears during an interview on ABC News.

Kim Jong-un and Dennis Rodman enjoying a basketball game in Pyongyang in March 2013 (Photo: KCNA/AFP)

Rodman, who just got back from his most recent trip to North Korea, sat down with Good Morning America’s Michael Strahan, himself a former American football defensive end who spent his entire 15-year career with the New York Giants of the National Football League, to talk specifically about his motivation for the trips and the backlash he faces for going.

In his exclusive interview with ABC News, the retired professional basketball player, who played for the Detroit Pistons, San Antonio Spurs, Chicago Bulls, Los Angeles Lakers, and Dallas Mavericks in the National Basketball Association (NBA), appeared to suggest that that he was partly responsible for the reclusive nation’s release of American college student Otto Warmbier, who died last Monday, just days after being medically evacuated from a North Korean prison.

“I was just so happy to see the kid released,” Rodman told Good Morning America co-anchor, Michael Strahan of when he first learned of Warmbier’s release. “Later that day, that’s when we found out he was ill, no one knew that. We jumped up and down … Some good things came of this trip.”

Otto Warmbier being arrested in North Korea.

Warmbier, who was released on the same day that Rodman arrived in North Korea for a brief visit, was sent back to the U.S. in a state of unresponsive wakefulness, according to doctors at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center.

The University of Virginia student was detained by North Korea for nearly 17 months following his January 2016 arrest in Pyongyang, for allegedly trying to steal a propaganda poster while he was visiting the country on a sightseeing tour.

ABC News said, “Despite Rodman’s belief that he had something to do with Warmbier’s release, a Department of State spokesperson has said that Rodman had nothing to do with Warmbier’s release, according to the Associated Press. Warmbier’s father also said in a statement to ABC News that ‘Dennis Rodman had nothing to do with Otto returning to the United States.’”

Chris Volo, Rodman’s agent who accompanied the athlete on his trip to North Korea, told ABC News that before they went, “I asked on behalf of Dennis for his release three times.”

“I know being there had something to do with it,” Volo said of Warmbier’s release. “Because when I was organizing the trip … and I meet with the delegates here, you know, I addressed … Otto Warmbier. And I said to them, ‘we…would need his…you know, a release, some type of good faith, if we’re ever going to do some type of future sports relations … They said they understood.”

Rodman hungs Kim Jong Un

Rodman said he wished to “give all the prayer and love” to the Warmbier’s family, adding “I didn’t know that he was sick.”

Volo added that they have contacted the family and are hoping to meet them, “but we were told that, you know, it just couldn’t happen.”

The two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year said he didn’t meet with North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, during his most recent visit.

“The previous times we did,” he added. “I think the fact that, you know, my trips going up to North Korea is more like trying … to get to communicate sports-wise. It ain’t about trying to release people.”

“It’s not trying to do … political stuff. It’s almost just trying to reach out for sports and see if I can bring sports to North Korea,” Rodman said.

Rodman also discussed how the country has changed over the course of his visits, saying “we’ve seen a lot of changes,” including “the fact that it is so modernized now.”

“When you go over there, and you hear the radio, and … people are talking,” Rodman said. “They’re so happy now, because it’s more like … it’s civilized again.”

Rodman, who calls North Korean leader Kim Jong-un a friend, said, “people don’t see … the good side about that country. It’s like going, like, to Asia. It’s like going to like Istanbul, Turkey, or any place like that. It’s pretty much just like that. You’re know, you going to see some poverty. You’re going to see some people that’s not doing too well.”

Rodman talks to the media

“We sing karaoke,” Rodman added of his relationship with Jong-un. “It’s all fun. Ride horses, everything.”

“I think people don’t see him as … a friendly guy,” Rodman added of the country’s dictator, adding “if you actually talk to him” you would see a different side of him.

“It’s the politics that’s the bad thing. If we can try to figure something out, just open the door,” Rodman suggested, saying that he believes “if Donald Trump had a chance,” he would fly to North Korea “and try to make peace.”

Rodman, who identifies as a Trump supporter, also called on the president to join him in creating peace with North Korea.

“I’ll ask him right now. Donald, come talk to me. Let’s try to work this out. Because you know what? I get nothing out of this. The only thing I get is out of pride for my country, America. I love America,” Rodman said. “But I want these two sides to get together and try to figure something out. Some dialogue. That’s it.”

Rodman also revealed that the North Korean leader gave him a message to pass on to former President Obama on one of his previous visits, and he thinks the next time he visits, the leader may give him a message for President Trump.

“I think the next time we go, I think it’s going to be in August. I think the fact that when … I sit there and talk to him … he’ll throw comments out there,” Rodman said of Kim Jong-nn. “You know, he’ll say, ‘I want three things, Dennis, from you, if you can do this for us.’”

Rodman said that his message for former President Obama was to ask him to “move his ships.”

“He said, ‘There’s just one thing I, I, would love for … Obama to do,’” Rodman said of his conversation with Kim Jong-un. “He said, ‘I would love him if he can move his ships…away a little bit.’ That’s the one thing he asked me. He said, ‘If he can do that, I think we can have some new positive.’”

Screen shot of Kim Jong Un

Rodman said that he is not going to North Korea for attention, saying, “I don’t need to be on TV.”

“What am I getting out of this? I’m going over there out of my kindness of my heart just to try to help. Just to open the door … a little bit so we can have [a] talk,” Rodman said.

“I’m spending hundreds of dollars just to go over there to try to just open the door a little bit,” Rodman said.

Rodman said despite the widespread criticism and backlash that he has faced for his trips to North Korea, “I think it’s worth it.”

* ABC News’ Morgan Winsor contributed to this report.

 

Source: ASSIST News Service



Christians Taking Children to Camp in India Charged with Kidnapping, Forced Conversion

Ratlam railway station in Madhya Pradesh state, India. (Morning Star News via Indiarailinfo.com)

HYDERABAD, India (Morning Star News) – Six Christians taking children to a Vacation Bible School camp in Madhya Pradesh state, India, remain in custody after police detained them last month on charges of kidnapping and forcible conversion, sources said.

Also detained was a 15-year-old boy who was held in a juvenile detention center for nearly a month before he was released on Tuesday (June 20).
“I missed my home so much – I cried every day, and prayed and prayed,” Akash Gundia told Morning Star News. “Finally, the Lord heard me. I am happy to be back home.”

Akash was one of 72 children preparing to board a train in Ratlam on May 21 for a Vacation Bible School (VBS) camp in Nagpur before Ratlam Railway Police detained them and the eight adults supervising them. The children were all Christians whose parents had granted permission for them to go to the program, sources said.

“I told the police I am a Christian by birth, and we are going to attend the VBS, but they did not listen to me and took us to the police station,” Akash said after his release from Ratlam Juvenile Detention Center. “Children as young as 6 also were in police custody, but when their parents came, the police handed them over to the parents. I was produced in court a day later, and from there was sent to a juvenile detention home.”

The children had arrived at the station from other villages, so it took two or three days before their parents learned of their detention and were able to get to Ratlam to retrieve them.

From Jabua village, 60 Christian children along with adults had travelled by bus to Megh Nagar on May 21 to catch a train to Ratlam Railway Station. Another 12 Christian children accompanied by two adults from Alirajpur village churches had also arrived by train from Indore Railway Station to join them.

The combined groups were to catch a private bus arranged by a church in Ratlam to reach Nagpur.

Akash’s father, Hartesh Singh Gundia, told Morning Star News that he and other parents arrived at the Ratlam Police Station within two or three days and informed officers that they were already Christians and that there was no case of forcible or fraudulent conversion.

“But they refused to hand over my child to me,” Singh Gundia told Morning Star News. “Later, I got to know from the police station that police had not intended to file the case, but that there was pressure from RSS [Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a Hindu extremist umbrella group] and Bajrang Dal activists, because of whom my child spent 25 days in judicial custody.”

The parents customarily send their children to such camps every summer, he said.

Singh Gundia’s son was found innocent of any wrongdoing, but the Ratlam District Court and the state High Court denied bail to five adults volunteering to supervise the children.

Asserting that police had yet to submit the charge sheet with the case diary, the High Court on June 12 denied bail to Ameya Jaal, 45; Alkesh Ganava, 27; Pandu Singh Vasuniya, 31; Nitin Mandod, 23; and Lalu Babore, 28, Singh Gundia said.

A sixth volunteer, 17-year-old Vijay Meda, was also denied bail and remains in custody. Determining that he was over 17 years old but less than 18, the Juvenile Justice Board rejected his bail application. On June 16 the counsel representing him filed an application to the Juvenile Justice Board to transfer his case to Ratlam Railway Court.

“We are making all efforts to get them bailed out,” Singh Gundia said.

Two women who were also supervising the children, Sharmila Damore and Savita Buria, were also detained on May 21. The Additional Sessions Court of Ratlam granted them bail on May 27.

Legal delays appear to be prolonging the case; prosecutors have told the court that the case diary is not available and therefore requested that the trial be put off. A hearing is scheduled for Wednesday (June 28).

Eight Years in Prison

While police appear to be slow to submit the charge sheets to judicial authorities, they have charged the Christians under sections 3 and 4 of Madhya Pradesh’s anti-conversion law, the so-called Freedom of Religion Act prohibiting forcible conversion, attorney Anand Nagarkar told Morning Star News.

The prison term for forcible conversion is one year, he said.

The VBC volunteers were also charged with Section 353 of Indian Penal Code prohibiting kidnapping, which calls for a prison term of seven years.

“The children were travelling with tickets accompanied by the adults, and we argued it before the court,” Nagarkar said. “The charges were framed based on malice and suspicion, and on this basis there can be no conviction, but the police have been taking it slow to file the challan [charge sheet]. They are under pressure by the Bajrang Dal and RSS activists.”

The parents of the 72 children have submitted an affidavit before the court that all the children were born to Christian parents, and that the adults were volunteers in Sunday schools of the respective churches, Nagarkar said.

“My daughters also were among the children; they were going to the VBS camp,” said Dhum Singh Gundia, pastor of a church in Jabua.

Since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took power in May 2014, the hostile tone of his National Democratic Alliance government, led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), against non-Hindus has emboldened Hindu extremists in several parts of the country to attack Christians, religious rights advocates say.

India ranked 15th on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2017 World Watch List of the countries where Christians experience the most persecution.

Source: Morning Star News