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‘Window of opportunity’ to end Christian persecution in Sudan

Demonstrators gather in Sudan’s capital of Khartoum, Friday, April 12, 2019. The Sudanese protest movement has rejected the military’s declaration that it has no ambitions to hold the reins of power for long after ousting the president of 30 years, Omar al-Bashir. (AP Photo)

By Eno Adeogun

A religious freedom charity has said that political upheaval in Sudan has presented a window of opportunity for Christians in the country.

Omar al Bashir was removed by the military after almost 30 years in power.

Release International told Premier the new leadership will have the opportunity to enshrine freedom to worship in the law.

Speaking during Premier’s New Hour, Andrew Boyd from the charity explained: “There have been decades now of extreme persecution and Release International’s hope is that this could now be a turning point. It is a window of opportunity for things to change.

“And we call on the international community, leaders of the free world, to help Sudan make the transition it needs to become a democracy, and to expect and require and encourage that country to give that most basic freedom that everybody needs.

“And that’s the freedom of faith.”

Protesters celebrate in Khartoum, Sudan, Thursday, April 11, 2019. Tens of thousands of Sudanese were making their way to the center of the countryÕs capital on Thursday, cheering and clapping in celebration as two senior officials said the military had forced longtime autocratic President Omar al-Bashir to step down after 30 years in power. (AP Photo)

Boyd said Christians in the predominantly Muslim country have faced the heaviest oppression in the Nuba Mountains, where the government has been driving out minority groups in a programme of ethnic cleansing.

Churches have also been demolished and church leaders have been arrested, with church property often seized.

The charity said there have been “encouraging signs” for the two million Christians in Sudan since the coup.

A Sudanese soldier protects protesters at a demonstration near the military headquarters, Tuesday, April 9, 2019, in the capital Khartoum, Sudan. Activists behind anti-government protests in Sudan say security forces have killed at least seven people, including a military officer, in another attempt to break up the sit-in outside the military headquarters in Khartoum. A spokeswoman for the Sudanese Professionals Association, said clashes erupted again early Tuesday between security forces and protesters who have been camping out in front of the complex in Khartoum since Saturday. (AP Photo)

The Chief of the Military Council, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, has released hundreds of political prisoners and described the recent protests as a “peaceful revolution”.

Sudan has been listed by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom among the world’s ten worst violators of religious freedom.

Boyd said while there has been limited media coverage on the persecution of Christians in the African nation, it is important that prayers are said for the people there.

Listen to Premier’s Eno Adeogun speaking with Andrew Boyd:

Source: Premier

Egypt legalises more churches, but even PM thinks process is too slow

Another 111 churches and church-affiliated buildings were legalised in Egypt early in April but the Prime Minister, Mustafa Madbouli, has told the committee overseeing the process that it needs to get a move on.

The latest batch of churches to gain legal status is 45 fewer than the 156 granted approval on 5 March, bringing the total now approved by the committee to 894. The Prime Minister has told the committee it needs to speed up the work it began in 2017 and clear the backlog of unlicensed church buildings as soon as possible.

Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouli has told off the committee legalising churches in Egypt for being too slow

This is the seventh batch of churches to meet safety and civil defence standards laid down under the Law for Building and Restoring Churches introduced in September 2016, but the process remains agonisingly slow.

It means that 2,836 churches or church-affiliated buildings out of the original 3,730 that applied after the law was introduced are still awaiting approval.

It is not the first time the Cabinet-affiliated committee in charge of the process has been given a dressing down by the government. Early in 2018 the previous Egyptian Prime Minister, Sherif Ismail, called for the process to be “sped up”.

Since coming to power in 2014, Egypt’s President al-Sisi has treated Christians more favourably and his government has passed laws making it easier to build new churches, reversing restrictions from the Ottoman era. However, Christian communities regularly face violence at a local level and church buildings are often targeted by Muslim mobs, especially those which are unregistered or newly registered. Muslim-dominated Egypt has a substantial Christian minority, which is one of the oldest Christian communities in the world, dating back to the first century, and pre-dating Islam by some 500 years.

Source: Barnabas Fund

Pakistani Minorities Call for Legislation to Combat Increased Forced Conversions


WASHINGTON, DC (ANS) — For years, Pakistani Christians have raised their voices against increasingly frequent incidents of forced abductions, conversions, and marriages of Christian girls.

Election after election, new governments have failed to provide any protective measures against these cruel practices, according to International Christian Concern (ICC).

ICC says in a recent update that religious minority communities across Pakistan have expressed renewed concern following reports of increasing abductions and forced conversions to Islam.

A church in Pakistan

According to reports, eight teenage girls belonging to the Hindu community and four Christians were kidnapped, forcefully converted to Islam, and married off to Muslim men in different parts of Sindh and Punjab in just the first three months of 2019.

On February 6 in Cholistan, Bahawalpur, 13-year-old Sadaf Khan was abducted by local Muslims named Maqbool Hussain, Mubashir Hussain Baloch, and Azhir Hussain Baloch. When Sadaf’s family became aware of her abduction, they reached out to the family of the abductors who told them that Sadaf would be returned to them.

Eight days later, the abductors told the Christian family that Sadaf was married and had converted to Islam. They then showed the family a marriage certificate which falsely claimed that Sadaf was 18, which is the legal age for someone to get married without parental consent in Pakistan. The abductors then threatened Sadaf’s family, saying that if they tried to contact Sadaf there would be “consequences of the law.”

On February 25, Saima Iqbal, a Christian woman, was kidnapped and forcefully converted to Islam on the outskirts of Islamabad. After several failed attempts to recover his wife, Saima’s husband, Naveed Iqbal, appealed to Pakistan’s prime minister in a Facebook video that went viral. As a result of the widespread coverage of Saima’s case, she was recovered from her kidnappers and returned to her husband and children.

In March 2019, a 15-year-old Christian girl was abducted and reportedly converted to Islam in a village in the suburbs of the Faisalabad district. After her parents’ protests, the cleric presented a certificate of conversion of the girl to her parents and warned them of the “unbearable consequences” if they continue protesting against a newly-converted Muslim girl.

Sheeza, also 15 years old, was another Christian victim of forced conversion. According to local reports, she was kidnapped from Qila Dedar Singh, a neighborhood in the District of Gujranwala last month. Her parents have called on the prime minister and chief justice of Pakistan to recover their innocent daughter, as local police are not listening to or cooperating with the victim’s family.

In its report, ICC states that forced conversions to Islam remain one of the cruelest abuses directed toward Pakistan’s minority communities. The abusers often use forced conversions and marriages as a means of covering up their crimes of sexual assault and abduction. To complicate the matter, the majority of victims claim that Pakistan’s police force is complacent or complicit with the kidnappers because of their shared religious identities.

While speaking with International Christian Concern (ICC), Irfan Mufti, Executive Director of South Asia Partnership Pakistan, said, “The phenomena of forced conversion is getting serious now. In last couple of years, the cases of forced conversions, particularly of the minor girls, have increased. This shows that there are certain elements who not only believe in these conversions, but also take advantage of such situations and conversions.”

“Without meaningful legislation and administrative checks, such cases cannot be discouraged such,” Mufti said, adding: “New legislation should be promulgated which must include a set age for a person to convert from and to any religion. There must be a procedure through which a person who wants to convert shall have independence of opinion and not be forced.”

In 2016, the local government in Sindh introduced a bill that would confront the issue of forced conversions and marriages in the provincial parliament. However, the bill was withdrawn following strong opposition from Islamic religious groups.

Source: Assist News


5 years on, 112 Chibok girls missing – but they are just ‘tip of the iceberg’

Dr Rebecca Dali talks of 5th anniversary of Chibok girls’ kidnap, from Abuja, Nigeria (Credit: Julia Bicknell

Five years ago, April 14th, 2014, about 230 girls from Chibok Girls’ Secondary School in NE Nigeria were rounded up at night by men in army dress and driven off on trucks into the darkness.

In the immediate aftermath, 47 of them escaped; some jumped off the trucks, others managed to get away within a few days.

At least 200 of the girls belonged to the EYN Church: wife of a former President of EYN, Dr. Rebecca Dali (one of the first to visit the parents after the mass kidnap), told World Watch Monitor that she was pleading for the Nigerian government to find and free the girls.

In January 2016, the Nigerian military were reported to have freed 1,000 women held captive by Boko Haram, – but none of them were Chibok girls.

30 months on, the Islamist terrorist group freed 21 of the Chibok girls (Oct 2016), then 82 more in May 2017.

Half of them -112 – have yet to be freed, says the Chairman of the Chibok Parents’ Association. Meantime at least a dozen of the Chibok parents have died, either themselves killed by Boko Haram, or by stress-related illness.

The most recent report (from Reuters in Oct 2018) referring to the missing 112 quoted a woman who had escaped from a Boko Haram camp in Cameroon. From near Chibok herself, she reported she’d been held with 6 of those girls, and that more than 50 of them were now held in two locations in N. Cameroon. But Cameroon intelligence sources told World Watch Monitor that this report appeared to be untrue.

Five years ago, a report showed how the Chibok girls’ kidnap appeared to be part of the Islamist group’s strategic approach to destroy the Christian community in N. Nigeria, where in some states, Christians still form a significant minority.

And now verified reports emerge that show that, while the Chibok girls were kidnapped and abused by a terrorist group, that incident is only the ‘tip of the iceberg’; many other teenagers in the same region are being abducted from their homes, abused physically and psychologically, forcibly converted to Islam, and frequently quickly married to older Muslim men – all with apparent impunity and lack of the rule of law.

The Hausa Christian Foundation has compiled a table (see below) of at least 12 girls (almost all under-age) who it has, after intensive negotiation, brought back to their families.

Here are a few of their stories:

13 year old Kaduna girl: kidnapped, converted, returned after 5 months

Christiana Abimaje after she returned to her family, 1 Aug, 2017 (Credit: HACFO)

Christiana, 13, daughter of Jacob and Blessing Abimaje, was a Government Secondary School student whose family lived on the campus of the well-known Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria, Kaduna State [one of the top educational institutions in Africa]. In early 2017, her young brother had half his body burned in a fire; his parents spent almost two months in Zaria’s Shika Hospital.

One day in March, as Jacob was about to go to Samaru market to buy food to take to his wife in the hospital, a girl arrived, saying she was Christiana’s classmate. The father had no time to question her as he dashed off; but local Muslims had sent her to expedite Christiana’s disappearance.

When Jacob returned, he couldn’t find Christiana; she had been taken to the Hakeemi* of Bomo and kept there. After Jacob had searched for almost a week, the Hakeemi ordered him to come to his palace, where they brought out a girl dressed head to toe in Islamic dress: even her eyes were covered with a veil. The Hakeemi asked the girl to remove the veil; it was only then that her father recognized her. The Hakeemi told Jacob that Christiana, now a Muslim, would be staying with him, and denied Jacob’s request for her to return home.

Jacob and Blessing were in double agony: their son still in hospital, and now their daughter abducted and forcibly converted to Islam.

Blessing could not bear to stay in the hospital; so she came home – with her son – to fight for her daughter. She went to the Hakeemi, who warned her to stop coming to his palace. She went to the man in charge of the girl, a Mallam (Islamic scholar) on the staff of the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Ahmadu Bello University, who also refused to give Christiana back.

Both parents found it very difficult to attend to their usual business; they were scared because the Hakeemi was involved. Despite the fact that he’d been sacked by the Kaduna state government, he kept causing trouble, and – since they are Igala, from southern Nigeria – they felt taking it to the police would make no difference. Indeed they feared they would be killed.

Blessing, however, kept going to visit Bomo for her daughter – to the point that whenever the locals there saw her, they laughed and mocked her. Once, when the Hakeemi saw her persistence, he said Christiana was too scared to return and might run away, so her parents should follow her gently. However, when the parents did ease off, Christiana’s captors went to court with an affidavit to change her name to Aisha Yakubu (Jacob) Suleiman.

This meant the Mallam, Suleiman, became her ‘legal’ father, with the right to decide anything for Christiana. She was then engaged to be married, even though she was still only 13.

Christiana Abimaje with her Mum (R) and aunt, 1 Aug 2017 (Credit: HACFO

Christiana was finally returned to her family after 5 months, on 29th July 2017, the week that she was due to be married to a Muslim. Her rescuers had to trek deep into the heart of Bomo town; the roads were too narrow for vehicles. Mallam Suleiman kept them waiting for about 30 minutes, while local men and women massed around her parents and their supporters. After the crowd had gathered, he then brought Christiana out. She was crying out loud that she would not follow her parents. All the women around her began to cry aloud as well, causing tension. Youths came from nowhere ranting “Nobody will force her to go, and nobody will arrest Mallam Suleiman with abusive language”.

The parents decided to go to speak to the Imam. While they were doing that, her captors asked Christiana to run away; as she ran, Mallam Suleiman ran after her. For more than an hour, the two refused to come back until her parents had left.

The captors eventually went to Samaru Police station, apparently anticipating things would go in their favour. The parents noticed that the ‘senior officer’ seemed to act very strangely: he blamed Christiana’s parents, and said what the Hakeemi did was the right thing. When the parents expressed their suspicions, they discovered that the policeman was not the ‘senior officer’ and was, in fact, more junior; it appeared that her captors had already connived with him to keep Christiana. When the real senior officer arrived, Christiana was finally handed over to her biological parents.

The Constitution of Nigeria says that a minor is in the custody of their biological parents, and no- one has the right to forcefully take them from those parents, even in the name of religion.

On 25th December, 2019 Christiana will be exactly 16 years old.

(*‘Hakeemi’ – an honorific title in Hausa meaning ‘wise’ or ‘learned, given to an Islamic local ruler)

Aisha, 14, kidnapped to be second wife to 30 year old Muslim

Aisha reunited with her parents July 20, 2017 (Credit HACFO)

On 25th June, 2017, 14 year old Aisha Bala Mazadu left her home for nearby Sambirni to buy some medicine. On her way home, a 30-something Muslim married man, Bello Chiroma, kidnapped her with the support of his brother-in-law, the ‘King’ of Sambirni, Sarki Haruna and local Islamic clerics. Chiroma had earlier threatened to marry Aisha by force after her parents had told him to stop visiting her; now he took Aisha to the palace of the Hakeemi of Maigana, about 45 minutes’ drive away.

After four days, the Hakeemi sent for her parents to come to the palace. To their great shock, they saw Aisha in full Islamic dress. The Hakeemi told them he’d summoned them to let them know that their daughter was not ‘lost’, but now in good hands, that she was now a Muslim and would be married to her kidnapper the following Friday (6th July). And that she would not be able to return to them, because, they said, ‘a Muslim cannot live with a Christian’, so she would be provided with Muslim parents to replace her ‘infidel’ biological parents.

The parents (who lived in Gidan Mato, Soba Local Government Area, Kaduna) and their pastor reported to the police the plan to have Aisha married, but the police – saying they could not act – told them they should take the case to the Local Government Chairman (who would be very difficult to access).

On 30th June, Hausa Christian Foundation (HACFO) staff visited Sambirni to verify the facts. They found that the man was moving about freely, bragging that he’d done something commendable in Islam because Aisha was an ‘infidel’. Instead of punishing the kidnap* of a minor, the local ruler denied knowing what had happened, associating it with Islamic custom and practice.

Meanwhile, Aisha’s mother was in anguish, weeping night and day.

HACFO staff went back to Maigana on 3rd July, 2017 for a day-long meeting with all involved from the Soba LGA: the Sole Administrator and his team, the Chairmen of both Christian and Muslim associations (CAN and the JNI), the Council of the Hakeemi’s palace, the police and others. At the end, they concluded that Aisha be brought to the police station.

Her captors went away for about 3 hours, but then returned without Aisha – on the grounds that it was late and if they returned Aisha to her parents, their people could turn violent. But they promised to give her back to her family by noon the next day (4 July).

On the 4th, after another intense discussion, the Muslims brought Aisha, as if they would give her back, but the Hakeemi’s secretary, quoting the Sole Administrator, said they could not do so until after a security meeting (which the Sole Administrator had summoned for 5th July).

Aisha’s family patiently waited, out of respect for authority. On the 5th, the Muslims phoned around to find out who she was with (pretending that they would return her), but from 9am to 7pm refused to release her; the Sarki of Sambirni repeating that this would give rise to serious uproar from his people. Instead, Aisha’s captors said they would hand her over to the Social Welfare services for two weeks, after which they would check if she wished to return to her parents or remain with her captors.

The Department of State Services (DSS) and the Social Welfare Department then went to the boy’s village for a meeting with him and his parent. Then they called in Aisha’s parents – in her absence. According to the social services officials, they had been sent from local government to not give Aisha back; so they pleaded with the parents to allow Aisha to be married to her kidnapper. Her parents unwaveringly responded that they wanted Aisha back. (Meanwhile, the Social Welfare Department – where she was supposed to be staying securely – returned her to the JNI (the local Islamic religious leaders).

While the DSS and Social Welfare Department were meeting with Aisha’s parents, Chiroma, his parents and others left for the wedding. Aisha was brought too, to become his second wife.

When HACFO staff found out that Aisha had been married – despite all the promises – they petitioned the Kaduna State office of the National Human Rights Commission. Three days later, they had an interview there, and were directed to the State Police Commissioner. Finally, after all involved had met again for 8 hours at Police Command, Aisha was allowed to return to her parents.

19-year-old Christian student held against her will for 2 months

Alheri Garba with her father and brother 3 days after she was freed (Credit: HAFCO

A formal report was submitted to the Authority of the Federal College of Education, Zaria Area Command of the Nigerian Police Force, the Department of Social Services, the Divisional Police Office of Zaria LGA, but no-one showed any concern or acted on it, perhaps because Alheri was an adult in Nigerian law.

After Alheri returned to her family, her HACFO rescuers said she’d been held in the cruellest form of captivity they had ever seen in: “He brought her out in a really terrible condition…her head was shaved, and we think he dumped her in a street – lifeless – as he thought she would die…She doesn’t know where she is, she has completely lost her senses. She could not even stand on her own feet. There is no form of abuse that she has not been subjected to…This man almost killed Alheri. She has been under intensive medical care and a total rehabilitation program ever since she was released.”

Christian girls abducted, forcibly converted and married in N. Nigeria June 2017 – Aug 2018.

Some of these stories feature in a brand-new report about gender–specific persecution of Christians in Nigeria.

The accounts of the treatment of Nigerian girls parallels that of Coptic Christian girls in Egypt, which featured in an earlier report of gender-specific persecution on that country. Here, an ex-kidnapper admitted ‘they get paid for every Coptic Christian girl they bring in’.

‘G’, an Egyptian, admitted he was in a network actively targeting Coptic girls for years before he left Islam; he says that the kidnapping of such girls is now at an all-time high in Egypt. “Salafist networks began in the seventies and it’s reached its highest levels now, in the era of President Sisi… A group of kidnappers meets in a mosque to discuss potential victims. They keep a close eye on Christians’ houses and monitor everything that’s going on. On that basis, they weave a spider’s web around [the girls],” he says.

Other countries which have featured in the series of gender-specific reports produced by the World Watch Research unit of Open Doors International, a global charity which monitors persecution of Christians include the Central African Republic, Colombia, Ethiopia and Iraq.

Source: World Watch Monitor


Christian girl sold to Muslim man in Pakistan to return home

A 14-year-old Christian girl who was kidnapped, sold to a Muslim and forced to marry him is to be handed back to her parents in Pakistan.

The underage girl also had to endure a forced conversion to Islam before the illegal marriage to Zafar Iqbal in February.

Christian girls in Pakistan are vulnerable to kidnap followed by a forced conversion to Islam and marriage to a Muslim

Police brought the girl into Lahore High Court on 10 April and Justice Tariq Saleem Shaikh ordered she be reunited with her parents.

She was snatched in nearby Faisalabad and having purchased her, Iqbal renamed her “Ayesha”, and married her despite the girl being two years under the legal age, which is 16 for women in Pakistan.

Non-Muslim girls and young women in Pakistan are very vulnerable to kidnap, forced conversion and marriage to Muslims, and authorities rarely intervene. A report compiled by a Pakistani NGO in 2014 estimated that every year about 700 Christian and 300 Hindu girls and young women in Pakistan suffer similar abuse.

Source: Barnabas Fund