Category: Friends In The West

Indian pastor forgives arsonists who razed church in Tamil Nadu

Pastor Ramesh Jebaraj says he forgives the arsonists who destroyed his church in Tamil Nadu State, southern India, in the early hours of 13 June.

Arsonists reduced the Real Peace Gospel church in rural Vayalur to a burnt out shell

The partially-sighted pastor who runs the Real Peace Gospel church in rural Vayalur said, “We don’t suspect anyone in particular. People of all faiths come here to pray. Someone may have done it out of jealousy, but we forgive them.”

Police are investigating the blaze that destroyed the thatched roof of the church, built ten years ago, and reduced the building to a burnt out shell. The charred remains of a drum, microphones and a table could be seen in the ruins.

No services had been held in the church since the nationwide coronavirus lockdown began in March. Pastor Ramesh said, “There is no possibility of any electrical short circuit. We use only rechargeable batteries during service and take them back.” The building was not connected to a mains power supply. 

Sajan K George, president of the Global Council of Christians of India (GCCI), believes the fire was an arson attack, adding that extremists have continued to sow fear among Christians in Hindu-majority India, despite the lockdown. “We are alarmed by this attack while the government is grappling with the pandemic crisis,” he said.

“India is a secular democracy, and Christians are no threat to anyone. We represent only 2.3 per cent of the population, and declining. Despite this, radical groups continue to attack and intimidate Christians, burning their churches,” the Christian leader added. 

In May, the Alliance Defending Freedom India Trust (ADF) reported that at least three Christian families in India’s Chhattisgarh State had been prevented from burying their loved ones by religious extremists as persecution and mob violence against believers continued during the Covid-19 lockdown.

ADF lawyers said they had also received reports of six incidents of targeted violence against Christians in Chhattisgarh State and three incidents of anti-Christian violence in Jharkhand State in April. In neighbouring Odisha (formerly Orissa) State, a 14-year-old Christian boy was tortured and murdered by local extremists in his village, in Malkangiri district, in June. 

The Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI) said the number of recorded incidents of violence and hate crime against Christians rose in 2019 to 366 incidents, compared to 325 in the previous year. EFI’s annual report, published in March, revealed Tamil Nadu State had the second highest number of anti-Christian incidents in 2019, with 60 attacks, behind Uttar Pradesh State, which recorded 86 attacks.

From Barnabas Fund contacts and other sources

Source: Barnabas Fund



UK Politicians Highlight Nigeria’s ‘Unfolding Genocide’

Orpington, England (ANS) – Christian charity Release International has welcomed a new report by UK parliamentarians highlighting the religious element behind much of the growing violence in Nigeria. The report warns of the risk of an unfolding genocide and calls for UK aid to be linked to efforts to protect Nigerian villagers from attacks by Islamist extremists.

Armed Muslim Fulani herdsmen killed 13 Christians in Plateau state, Nigeria on Wednesday (Jan. 8, 2020) PHOTO: File

Release says the new report by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Freedom of Religion and Belief, Nigeria: Unfolding Genocide? is the result of an investigation by 100 UK parliamentarians from a wide range of political parties.

It describes attacks on churches and Christians which killed more than 1,000 in 2019. A partner of Release International, which supports victims of violence, estimates 30,000 have been killed since the conflict began in the 1980s. The United Nations put the death toll at 27,000.

In recent years, Fulani militants have taken over from Boko Haram terrorists as the number-one killers in the region. These herdsmen, searching for grazing lands reduced by global warming, have slaughtered farmers and driven them from their homes.

‘But this is not just about resources,’ says Paul Robinson, the Chief Executive of Release International.

‘This report acknowledges the religious dimension to much of the violence, which can no longer be ignored. This report shows these attacks can no longer be simplistically caricatured and written off as “herder-farmer violence”.’

According to the APPG report, many of those attacks have been carried out by militants shouting ‘Allah u Akhbar’ [Allah is greater] and ‘Destroy the infidels.’ The heavily armed extremists have destroyed more than 500 churches in Benue State alone.

The APPG report urges the world to face up to this religious dimension, however uncomfortable: ‘Commentators must not shy away from describing conflicts as motivated by religion or ideology when that is the case.’

Adds Paul Robinson: ‘Release joins with British parliamentarians in urging the world to wake up to the unrelenting Islamist violence in Nigeria.’

The report argues that in killing and driving out Christian villagers, the Fulani militants, wittingly or unwittingly, are serving the same agenda as Boko Haram. The stated aim of the terrorist group Boko Haram is to turn Nigeria into an Islamist state. Its spokesman has declared: ‘This war is against Christians.’

The APPG report stated: ‘While not necessarily sharing an identical vision, some Fulani herders have adopted a comparable strategy to Boko Haram and Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP) and demonstrated a clear intent to target Christians and symbols of Christian identity such as churches.’

In the APPG report, Co-Chair Baroness Caroline Cox said: ‘While the underlying causes of violence are complex, the asymmetry and escalation of attacks by well-armed Fulani militia upon these predominately Christian communities are stark and must be acknowledged.

‘Such atrocities cannot be attributed just to desertification, climate change or competition for resources, as [the UK] Government have claimed.’

And Vice Chair of the APPG, Fiona Bruce MP, added: ‘Targeted attacks against churches and heightening religious tensions indicate that religious identity plays a role in the farmer-herder conflict.’

‘These attacks are taking place with impunity,’ says Paul Robinson. ‘And there is a growing religious dimension to these attacks. Nigeria must act to stop the violence.’

Release has been providing support, including trauma counselling, to victims of violence in Nigeria. Through its international network of missions, Release International is active in some 25 countries around the world, supporting pastors, Christian prisoners and their families; supplying Christian literature and Bibles, and working for justice.

Source: ASSIST News



Militant extremists kill 57 villagers in attacks on mainly-Christian north-east Democratic Republic of Congo

At least 57 people were killed in renewed attacks by jihadists on villages in the mainly-Christian north-east of the Democratic Republic of Congo, at the end of May.

Members of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), an Islamist militant group active in the region for more than two decades, attacked Samboko village on 26 May, murdering with machetes more than 40 villagers and looting food and other valuables.

A day earlier, on 25 May, the extremists attacked the nearby village of Makutano, killing at least 17 people.

More than 700 people have been killed in Ituri province, where the two villages are located, since 2017, according to the UN. The north-east region has seen a surge of violence since October 2019, when the army launched a large-scale offensive against the ADF.

In January, the ADF murdered Pastor Ngulongo Year Batsemire, 60, after he refused their demands to convert to Islam. On the same day, militants murdered at least 30 people in a raids on four villages in the Beni region. Barnabas contacts reported that rise in the violence caused many Christians to flee.

Source: Barnabas Fund




The world’s first trial of Syrian state torture.

We are asking for prayer for Wafa Mustafa (pictured below) and friends of hers from Syria, whose family members and loved ones are among the 130,000 people who have disappeared, believed to have been detained and tortured by the Syrian regime, ISIS, and other armed groups.

Syrian campaigner Wafa Mustafa sits between pictures of victims of the Syrian regime as she holds a picture of her father, during a protest outside the trial against two Syrian alleged former intelligence officers accused for crimes against humanity, in the first trial of its kind to emerge from the Syrian conflict, on June 4, 2020 in Koblenz, western Germany. – Wafa was part of the resistance against the Syrian government and had to flee Syria once her dad was arrested. She came to Germany in 2016. (Photo by Thomas Lohnes / AFP) (Photo by THOMAS LOHNES/AFP via Getty Images)

Wafa herself picks up the story:

Today is a big day as I am once again outside the courthouse in the German town of Koblenz to witness the world’s first trial of Syrian state torture. Two members of Assad’s regime are on trial for murdering and torturing thousands of detainees and it’s the first week that survivors are finally speaking out against their oppressors in court.

It’s a crucial first step towards accountability in Syria, that might eventually expose a chain of command that goes all the way up to Assad. But at the same time, people are still suffering in inhumane cells to this day. We must not wait until they are killed by COVID or tortured to death to start seeking justice.

I am a member of Families for Freedom, a women-led movement of Syrians like me searching for our family members amongst the 130,000 people who have been detained and tortured by the Syrian regime, ISIS, and other armed groups.

Together we are pushing the international community to do more to free all detainees and missing persons and to hold those responsible to account.

So many families wanted to be here with me today but couldn’t travel due to coronavirus restrictions. Instead, I’ve come alone with photos of their fathers, sisters, brothers and daughters in the hope that our calls for freedom will be heard. 

These photos of our loved ones, snatched from us and missing from every birthday meal and family moment, are the closest we can get to representing them here at the trial.

My father is a human rights defender and I have learnt from him and I will never stop demanding freedom for those detained. I will continue to campaign until my dad is standing by my side and able to speak up for justice using his own voice. 

Could you sign Families for Freedom’s petition demanding the release of Syria’s detainees?


In hope and solidarity,

Wafa



Jihadists kill 58 people within 24 hours in attacks targeting Christians in Burkina Faso

Christians were among those targeted and killed when armed jihadists launched three separate attacks within 24 hours in Burkina Faso that left at least 58 dead.

Fifteen were killed when a convoy of traders, including children, was attacked while travelling from Titao to Sollé, in Loroum province, on 29 May.

On 30 May, armed Islamist militants opened fire at random in a cattle market in Kompienga province, killing at least 30 people and injuring many others.

On the same day, a humanitarian convoy was attacked by extremists in Barsalogho, Sanmatenga province, claiming the lives of six civilians and seven soldiers. Another 20 people were injured and a number were reported missing.

A Barnabas contact reported that it was clear from the testimony of a survivor that the militants were targeting Christians and humanitarians taking food to an internally displaced people (IDP) camp, where many mainly-Christian villagers had taken refuge after fleeing prior jihadi violence.

A survivor described how he was travelling in an ambulance in the convoy when it was attacked. The survivor said, “The driver shouted ‘forgive, forgive, we are also followers of the prophet Muhammad’. One of them [the gunmen] turned to his fellows saying ‘they have the same religion with us’.” The attack on the vehicle was apparently then halted. 

Violence by Islamist extremists has surged in Burkina Faso in the last year, causing thousands to leave their homes. The increase in vicious attacks targeting Christians began in April 2019 in the northern town of Silgadji when a pastor, his son and four members of his congregation were shot in cold blood for refusing to convert to Islam.

From Barnabas Fund contacts

Source: Barnabas Fund