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Prayers for Wuhan: ‘Stay strong and courageous’

The United Bible Societies China Partnership calls on Christians worldwide to pray.

“Let us stand together in prayer with the Christians in China during this trying period of the growing spread of the Wuhan coronavirus in the country. May the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, guard their hearts and minds in Christ Jesus (Phil 4:7). We pray for God to strengthen and sustain them, and to protect them from the virus. We pray for God’s mercy to stop the spread of the virus both in China and around the world.”

Pray for China to ride through the crisis

The 2019-nCoV outbreak, which was first reported in Wuhan, capital of Hubei province at the end of 2019, has infected more than 52,000 people and killed  1,367 people, according to the Xinhua news agency.

Reports from the Hubei Health Commission reveal a four-digit increase of confirmed infections each day and the number of deaths keep climbing.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) a global health emergency on January 30, 2020. As the virus spreads to more countries, many countries have responded by restricting travel to China, limiting international flights to China, and restricting entry for travellers from China.

Impact on churches in China

As part of the policy of the Chinese authorities to restrict gatherings of people to prevent the further spread of the virus, churches across China have suspended all services for two consecutive Sundays and halted other collective activities. Chinese Christians worshipped God and read the Bible at home; pastors turned to the Internet to disseminate recorded sermon audios, Scriptures and hymns to encourage their flock to meditate on God’s word and to pray. How long all church activities will be suspended, no one knows.

“Many who had been previously lukewarm in their faith are now getting on their knees to call out to God.” – Pastor in Wuhan

The authorities have instituted a lockdown on the affected Hubei province, and some other provinces have also restricted travelling for locals. Believers resorted to phone calls or the social media and like platforms to encourage their fellow brothers and sisters.

This encouragement from all modern-day channels has touched the hearts of all Chinese believers, particularly those in the affected Wuhan city. “Many who had been previously lukewarm in their faith are now getting on their knees to call out to God,” shared a pastor from a Wuhan church.

The churches in China have responded quickly to an appeal from Wuhan churches for more medical supplies such as masks and hand sanitisers. Many churches nationwide have donated funds through international aid organisations such as the Red Cross. Donation and funds have also poured in to the Amity Foundation (AF) for purchase of medical supplies and aid to affected areas.

Another pastor from Wuhan, the outbreak epicentre, has appealed to all Christians to pray for all healthcare professionals and others in the front line, as well as for their neighbours and themselves.

Source: ETERNITY NEWS



COURT IN PAKISTAN VALIDATES FORCED CONVERSION, MARRIAGE OF CHRISTIAN GIRL TO MUSLIM

Underage victim continually kept from appearing at hearings.

Huma Younas, 14, was abducted and forced to convert to Islam, her parents say. (Morning Star News courtesy of family)

LAHORE, Pakistan (Morning Star News) – A high court ruling in Pakistan validating the marriage and forced conversion to Islam of a 14-year-old Christian girl has heightened fears that it will encourage others to commit such crimes, sources said.

The High Court in Sindh Province on Feb. 3 dismissed a petition to have the marriage and forced conversion of a Catholic girl overturned, ruling that both were valid since a girl under sharia (Islamic law) can marry after her first menstrual cycle.

Huma Younus was taken from her home in Karachi’s Zia Colony on Oct. 10 while her parents were away and was forced to marry the man who abducted her, identified as Abdul Jabbar of Dera Ghazi Khan, Punjab Province, her attorney said.

“The hearing on Feb. 3 lasted only five minutes,” the family’s attorney, Tabassum Yousaf, told Morning Star News. “The court, in just a few words citing the sharia, has justified the violation of the girl’s body since she has already had her first period.”
Yousaf added that the family was prohibited from seeing Huma because police said her life would be at risk if she was brought to the courtroom.

He said the family challenged Huma’s marriage and forced conversion under the Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act 2013, which declares marrying a person under 18 years old an offense punishable by up to three years in prison.

Although the Sindh government takes credit for becoming Pakistan’s first elected assembly to pass a bill on child marriage in April 2014, the law is still poorly implemented, sources said.

Yousaf said he submitted Huma’s baptismal and school documents in court that proved she was 14 years old, but nevertheless Sindh High Court judges Muhammad Iqbal Kalhoro and Irshad Ali Shah ruled that the marriage was valid based on her menstrual cycle.

The legal battle has been going on for months with constant delays and excuses cited so as not to present the underage girl in court, sources said.

The family has filed an appeal to the Court of Justice in Sindh Province, and Yousaf said a hearing is scheduled for March 4. Police will thus have more time for medical tests to determine Huma’s age, he said.

Guardian Consent Needed

The girl’s parents were informed via text message that Huma had converted to Islam and had married Jabbar “of her free will,” sources said.

Since forced conversions are not illegal in Pakistan, her attorney said he believed the case hinged on Huma’s age.
Prominent Supreme Court Advocate Saiful Malook told Morning Star News that even though sharia allows marriage of a minor girl if she has her first period, the marriage has to be validated by the girl’s guardian.

“In no way can any court of law endorse an underage marriage unless it is supported by the girl’s guardian,” Malook said. “Marriage is governed by the Contract Act, wherein no minor can enter into a contract or agreement without the explicit approval of her guardian. In this particular case, the court must take into account whether the girl’s legal guardian has consented to her marriage even if it’s judging the act under the sharia.”

He added that a 14-year-old minor cannot be deemed mature enough to change her religion by her own will, considering the fact that she could have been coerced or blackmailed into renouncing her faith. Huma reportedly filed an affidavit declaring that she married of her own free will, but Yousaf has said that such an affidavit can’t be filed legally until she obtains an identity card at age 18.
The high court must order Huma to record a statement in the courtroom, Malook said.

“If the police are not producing the girl before the court on various pretenses, the court should be wise enough to see through the police’s mala fide and hand the custody of the minor back to her parents,” he said.

Malook, who represented Pakistan’s most high-profile blasphemy convict, Aasiya Noreen, better known as Asia Bibi, before the Supreme Court and won her freedom, said that abducting for the purpose of forced conversion and underage marriage is a major problem in Pakistan. He added that legislation effective in curbing the practice is long overdue.

Christian rights activists believe that the ruling of the Sindh High Court will encourage more perpetrators of such crimes to hide behind sharia. Pakistan Center of Law of Justice Executive Director Napoleon Qayyum told Morning Star News that the high court’s ruling would result in a surge in cases of forced conversion and underage marriages of Christian girls.

“Another Christian girl aged 14 was recently abducted and gang-raped by some Muslim youths in Bihar Colony area of Lahore,” Qayyum said. “The victim is a student of grade nine and was abducted by four or five boys on her way to a local tuition center on Jan. 16, 2020. The abductors not only raped her but also obtained her signatures and thumb impressions on some papers.”

Police were able to recover her on Jan. 19, but Qayyum said he fears the suspects will use her signed documents to produce a fake marriage certificate and religion conversion letter in a bid to escape abduction and rape charges.

“This is common modus operandi of Muslims to confuse the court and avoid justice,” he said.

In nearly all such cases, he said, the rapists threaten to harm the girls’ families if they reveal the truth.

“Moreover, the girls are also forced to give false statements in court that they have changed their religion of free will and had married of their own choice,” Qayyum said. “Girls belonging to minority communities often succumb to pressure and consideration for their family’s security, which has further emboldened the men belonging to the majority faith.”

Most victims of forced conversion and marriage in Pakistan are reportedly Christian and Hindu girls and women forced to marry Muslim men who are much older than them. According to the Centre for Social Justice, at least 159 such cases were reported between 2013 and 2019.

The Sindh legislature in 2016 passed a law outlawing forcible conversions and conversions before the age of 18 but, under pressure from Islamic extremist groups, the governor declined to sign it. Each year about 1,000 Christian and Hindu women in Pakistan are forcibly converted to Islam and then married off to their abductors or rapists, according to the National Commission of Justice and Peace and the Pakistan Hindu Council.

Pakistan ranked fifth on Christian support organization Open Doors 2020 World Watch list of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian, and on Nov. 28, 2018, the United States added Pakistan to its blacklist of countries that violate religious freedom.

Source: Morning Star News



Eighteen civilians including a Christian “selectively” killed by gunmen in Burkina Faso

Eighteen people, including a Christian nurse, were murdered by militant gunmen in Lamdamol village, Burkina Faso, in an attack that began late on the night of 1 February.

The unidentified heavily armed militants arrived in the village, in northern Seno province bordering the Sahel, on motorbikes and selectively picked out civilians before killing them.

Hundreds of Christians have been killed and thousands displaced from villages in northern Burkina Faso since Islamist terror attacks intensified across the region in 2019

Amongst the dead was Christian Robert Milogo, a senior nurse who had travelled to help those suffering in the terror afflicted zone, despite the known risks from Islamist militant activity. Many people have already fled to safer towns and villages in the Central North.

A local church leader reported that the victims were selectively killed by the militants. “This is not the first attack where civilians were killed for a reason or another including their [Christian] faith,” he told Barnabas.

The attack came a week after a jihadi ultimatum was sent out demanding the community leave the region, bringing widespread panic to the village and surrounding area.

A week earlier jihadists murdered “in the name of Allah” at least ten Christians in an attack on Silgadji, in neighbouring Bourzanga province.

From Barnabas Fund contacts

Source: Barnabas Fund



U.S. Launches The First-Ever International Religious Freedom Alliance

On February 5, 2020, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo launched the International Religious Freedom Alliance (IRF Alliance), “an Alliance of like-minded partners who treasure, and fight for, international religious freedom for every human being.” 

The burnt Church of Saint Peter in Douroum, which was torched during a January 2020 attack

 “The Alliance is intended to bring together senior government representatives to discuss actions their nations can take together to promote respect for freedom of religion or belief and protect members of religious minority groups worldwide.” The UK is one of 27 nations involved. 

At the launch, Secretary Pompeo stressed the ever-growing need for such a combined effort listing some of the worst acts of violence based on religion or belief from recent years, including “terrorists and violent extremists who target religious minorities, whether they are Yazidis in Iraq, Hindus in Pakistan, Christians in northeast Nigeria, or Muslims in Burma” and “the Chinese Communist Party’s hostility to all faiths.” Indeed, such acts of violence based on religion or belief are at increase and need urgent and comprehensive response to stop the atrocities, assist the victims and survivors, prosecute the perpetrators and protect the communities from re-occurrence of such acts of violence in the future. 

Countries joining the IRF Alliance, include: Albania, Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Colombia, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, The Gambia, Georgia, Greece, Hungary, Israel, Kosovo, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Senegal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Togo, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom. The members of the IRF Alliance have pledged to uphold the “Declaration of Principles”, a constitution for the IRF Alliance solidifying their commitment to protect the right to freedom of religion or belief. Today In: 

The “Declaration of Principles” incorporates several reactive and proactive measures that the members of the IRF Alliance are to adopt to promote and protect the rights to freedom of religion or belief for all. Furthermore, it incorporates a list of potential instruments of actions to aid their work, including “regular monitoring, reporting, information-sharing and outreach to impacted individuals and faith communities”, “support for victims, such as through redress, resettlement, or other actions as appropriate”, “targeted sanctions against perpetrators”, “raining of law enforcement officials, building the capacity of national human rights institutions, and cooperating with civil society”, “investment in projects to protect space for civic engagement by assisting human rights defenders and victims of persecution, as well as to build societal resilience.”

During the launch, Secretary Pompeo further announced that Poland will host the next Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom in Warsaw from July 14-16, 2020. The upcoming Ministerial will be organized in cooperation with the United States and will address several topics requiring urgent response including “improving the lives of persecuted and discriminated communities, empowering individuals to affect change, and promoting inclusive dialogue to mobilize action and increase awareness regarding the scale of persecution against religion or belief worldwide.”

The U.S. must be commended for the work it has carried out to lead the efforts to promote and protect the rights to freedom of religion or belief for all. The IRF Alliance is intended to provide a springboard towards action to address violations of the right to freedom of religion or belief globally. To be able to do so, the IRF Alliance must grow in numbers and in the common commitment. Other states must join and stand up for human rights of all people persecuted for their religion or belief. 

Source: Forbes



Catholic parents of abducted girl issue plea to international community

by Ruth Sax

The parents of Huma Younus, a teenager at the centre of an abduction, forced marriage and conversion case have begged the international community for help, fearing her case will be deliberately delayed for several years until she turns 18.

In an exclusive video message to Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Younus and Nagheena Masih, said they will take her case to the Supreme Court of Pakistan.

Her mother, Nagheena, said: “On February 3rd we went to the Sindh High Court but our little girl was not in the court room. If we do not get justice, we will address [the case] to the Supreme Court of Pakistan.

“We believe that the government and the judges are delaying the decision because our girl is 14 years old. They want to wait for her to turn 18 and then close the case.”

Huma’s parents said she was abducted on 10th October 2019, forced to marry her abductor, Abdul Jabbar, and convert from Catholicism to Islam.

They say Huma is 14 and argue that the marriage is invalid, in line with the Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act that forbids marriage involving anyone under 18.

On 3rd February, Huma was summoned to appear in court. Had she done so, it would have been a first in Pakistani court history but in the event she did not attend.

In her absence, the Sindh High Court ruled, in accordance with Shari’a law, that, even if Huma was proven to be a minor, her marriage would be valid as, once a girl of any age has had her first period, she can marry.
Her parents said: “We appeal to the international community to raise their voices for us and we thank Aid to the Church in Need… that continues to support us.”

The Sindh High Court’s pronouncement went against the letter of the Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act, passed in 2014, to stop forced marriages to minors in the province, primarily of Hindu and Christian girls, where it is prevalent.

Condemning the apparent failure to act in accordance with the marriage act, Huma’s lawyer, Tabussum Yousaf, told ACN that such laws “are formulated and approved only to improve the image of the country in front of the international community, ask for development funds, and freely trade Pakistani products on the European market.”

At a debate on the persecution of Christians on Thursday in the UK House of Commons, Brendan O’Hara, MP for Argyll and Bute, raised the issue of Huma’s abduction. 

He said: “Will the Minister or her Government respond-if not today, at some point in the future-to this critical issue of a child, who has been abducted, forced to convert and forced into marriage?”

In response, UK foreign office minister Heather Wheeler said: “…we condemn all forced marriages. If I did not say it loudly enough, I say it again now.”
 

Dear Lord, 

We pray for Huma, for her release.

We pray for protection and safety and peace of mind and also for her parents, may you give them hope and strength to keep fighting for Huma.

We pray her case gets more awareness to enable authorities to act on this case.

Amen

Source: Premier