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By Michael Ireland, Chief Correspondent, ASSIST News Service (www.assistnews.net)


Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi

Congressional Letter Sheds Light on Rising Intolerance in India


As religious persecution in India continues to intensify, International Christian Concern (ICC) www.persecution.org has closely recorded developments in that country.

In a media briefing obtained by ASSIST News Service (www.assistnews.net), ICC says that in February 2018, the Indian government openly admitted religious intolerance was on the rise and presented evidence that reaffirmed their statements.

ICC said that while admission of growing persecution is a step forward, the government has taken no concrete steps to help curtail the increasing violence.

Following these statements, ICC has worked with members of the United States Congress to author a bipartisan congressional letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

“The letter applauds the admission of the problem by the Indian government, while sternly calling on the prime minister to take action to ensure religious freedom for all religious groups in India,” ICC said.

The letter was led by Congressman Dennis Ross (R-FL) in the House and Senator James Lankford (R-OK) in the Senate. After several other members of Congress signed, the letter was sent to Prime Minister Modi last week.

CC continues to monitor developments in the region and expects a response from the government of India, highlighting steps to ensure religious freedom for all.

In its analysis and commentary on the situation in India, ICC said that although India’s constitution guarantees the right to religious freedom, not all citizens currently enjoy this right.

“Many Indian states have passed so-called Freedom of Religion Acts, or anti-conversion laws, that prohibit ‘coerced’ religious conversion. The congressional letter specifically calls attention to these laws, which are extremely vague and often misused by local authorities to prevent Christians and other religious minorities from publicly practicing their faith. Most organizations working with the persecuted are aware of the situation in India and support the US government’s efforts to apply pressure on Prime Minister Modi and the Indian government,” ICC said.

In 2016, ICC worked on a similar initiative with members of Congress that called on the Indian government to publicly acknowledge ongoing religious freedom violations. The letter helped prompt a response from the Modi regime, which dismissed such acts of persecution as mere “aberrations,” not indicative of a widespread and growing problem. International Christian Concern and partnering NGOs deemed these statements as false.

ICC said it has been working continually to combat persecution in India and hopes that the congressional letter will shed more light on persecution in India.

“Coming off a 2017 visit to the United States, Prime Minister Modi echoed President Trump in saying that he greatly values US-India relations. ICC hopes that this letter will increase pressure on Prime Minister Modi to value human rights and religious freedom as the United States continues its cooperation with India,” the organization said.

Matias Perttula, ICC’s Advocacy Director, told ANS: “International Christian Concern played a crucial role in supporting this congressional letter by making significant contributions to the language by providing expertise, raising awareness, and encouraging members of Congress to sign on to the letter. The bipartisan letter is expected to prompt a public response from the government of India and highlight the concrete steps they plan to take in order to curtail the ongoing persecution.”

International Christian Concern is a non-partisan, 501(c)(3) charitable organization focused on human rights, religious freedom and assisting the persecuted Christian Church around the world.”

Source: Assist News Service

Turkish officials to visit Washington amid tensions over detained pastor Andrew Brunson

A photo of the Rev. Andrew Brunson during his time in prison. Photo courtesy of World Witness

By Alex Williams

Turkey is sending several officials to the United States this week to discuss increasingly strained relations between the two countries, influenced in part by the detention of an American pastor.

The State Department refused to confirm whether any US officials had agreed to meet in Washington with the delegation, which is being led by Turkey’s deputy foreign minister Sedat Onal.

A spokesperson also said no agreement has been reached concerning Andrew Brunson, an evangelical church leader accused of supporting a group Turkey blames for a failed coup two years ago.

Brunson, who is in his early 50s, is currently on house arrest in the coastal city of Izmir, amid a trial where he faces espionage and terror-related charges. He denies any wrongdoing.

Differing attitudes towards the conflict in Syria and trade issues have compounded a cooling of ties between the NATO allies.

Last week, the Trump administration announced Turkey’s duty-free access to the US market was being reviewed.

Photo: World Watch Monitor

Ankara has imposed tariffs on US goods in response to tariffs on Turkish steel and aluminium. The US is also imposing sanctions on two Turkish officials.

Brunson, who is originally from the Black Mountain area of North Carolina, faces up to 35 years in prison if found guilty.

Supporters claim he is being held as a political pawn by Turkey as it hopes the US will extradite preacher Fethullah Gülen, whom it blames for an attempt to overthrow the government in July 2016.

Source: Premier

Egyptian Pastor Details How He Was Tortured for Christ, Used Jet Ski to Escape


WASHINGTON — The Rev. Majed El Shafie was given the offer of a lifetime during his torturous imprisonment in Egypt as the ex-Muslim leader of a successful and rapidly growing underground church movement.

Shafie, who was held in the torture chambers of Cairo’s Abu Zabal Prison for seven days in 1998 as the leader of a 24,000-member Christian organization, was told by a guard after days of beatings that he would be free to go and given any car, house and pretty girl of his dreams if he would just give up the names of his brothers and sisters in Christ.

The offer was tempting but not one that Shafie was going to take. After fooling the guard into thinking that he was going to tell him the names of his friends in exchange for a good meal of shish kebab, the only name that Shafie uttered was that of the organization’s true leader — Jesus Christ.

What followed was another brutal attack by the guard and three more days of torture and imprisonment before Shafie was finally sent to a police hospital for three months of recovery. Shafie would be sentenced to death on three charges that were supposed to shut him and his faith up for good.

But thanks to the help of rented watercraft, Shafie escaped to Israel and was later given asylum in Canada, where he went on to create a human rights nonprofit that has helped countless persecuted believers from multiple faiths around the world over the last 15 years.

Last week, Shafie was one of many persecuted believers who attended the U.S. State Department Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom. The Christian Post caught up with the founder of One Free World International who detailed his firsthand suffering in Egypt and his harrowing escape through the Gulf of Aqaba.

Coming from a prominent family of Muslim lawyers, Shafie said he was 18 when he accepted Christ as his Lord and Savior in 1996.

He didn’t waste time in following the Great Commission and launched an organization that advocated for equal rights for religious minorities in Egypt. It grew to over 24,000 people in just two years.

It was on Aug. 15, 1998, when he was arrested from his office.

“I was taken to the prison for seven days torture,” the 40-year-old explained. “They started by shaving my hair off my head, putting my head in buckets of cold and hot water, hanging me upside down. On the third day, they released dogs to attack me but the dogs didn’t attack. After that, they crucified me for two days and a half.”

“I Almost Died”

Shafie wasn’t crucified with nails, but rather had his hands tied to a cross. At the end of the two days, Safie’s hands were untied and he was subjected to another form of torment.

“They made a cut on the back of my left shoulder to the bones and they rubbed salt in my open wound. I almost died,” he recalled. “I was in the police hospital for three months. They didn’t want me to die right away because that would have made me a martyr. What they do is they destroy your reputation first.”

After his three months in the police hospital, Shafie was subjected to house arrest for a period of eight to nine months. He said that he was convicted on three charges: arranging revocation against the Egyptian authority, trying to change the official religion of Egypt from Islam to Christianity and loving and worshiping Christ.

“My statement was ‘If loving and worshiping Christ is a crime, I am guilty as charged,'” Shafie said.

According to the court, those were crimes that warranted the death penalty. Shafie’s team found out about the sentence and warned him. He escaped his home imprisonment and went to Alexandria.

The Escape

There were really only two options for Shafie to escape the country since he was blacklisted and would be detained if he tried to leave on an airplane. He had to either cross over the mountains or go by sea to Israel.

“Egypt is surrounded by other Muslim countries. You go to any of them, you face the same situation,” Shafie explained. “The only way was to escape to Israel. So I stole jet ski and crossed from Taba to Eilat.”

He rented a jet ski and waited for the perfect time of the day to jet past two military ships — one Israeli and one Egyptian — that were guarding the border. Shafie decided that he was going to cross between the two boats because that was the only spot where troops on both boats could not shoot at him without aiming toward the other military ship.

“I waited until 5:50 p.m. with the sun behind me. Whoever looking at you would be blinded for a few seconds or two. I just bolted between the two boats. When I bolted between the two boats, the Egyptians and the Israelis aimed at me but that was when they realized that they were actually aiming at each other. That is called crossfire,” Shafie detailed. “The last thing they want to do is start a new war in the Middle East just because of a guy crossing on a jet ski. Now when you go to Sinai and you go to the same point where I escaped, the boats do not stand against each other anymore. That is because my escape. They changed the whole system because of that.”

Although he was arrested in Israel, he was eventually released thanks to pressure from the United Nations and human rights groups.

With the help of Amnesty International and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, he was relocated as an asylum seeker to Canada in 2002. He became a Canadian citizen in 2006.

“I started One Free World International. I started to defend people that used to be in the same position like myself,” Shafie, who was the focus of the 2012 documentary “Freedom Fighter,” said.

Among those that his organization has helped are over 600 women and children who were held hostage by the Islamic State terrorist organization in Iraq as sex slaves. One Free World International has been heavily involved in helping finance rescue missions for Christians and Yazidis held by the jihadi death cult. Shafie said that they have spent nearly $3 million toward that effort.

Rev. Majed El Shafie poses for a photo with U.S. Ambassador at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback during the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom at the Harry S. Truman Building in Washington, D.C. on July 24, 2018. (PHOTO: FACEBOOK/ONE FREE WORLD INTERNATIONAL)

The Ministerial

Shafie said he was honored to take part in the first-ever State Department Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom. With delegations from over 80 countries around the world in attendance, he felt it was a much-needed gathering that he hopes will grow and improve each year to advance the cause of religious freedom worldwide.

The ministerial came as about three-quarters of the world’s population lives in a religiously repressive country.

“I think this is an important event because this is the first time in history,” he commented. “For them to try something like this, it is absolutely amazing. It is something we didn’t see from the previous administration.”

Shafie recalled that the first American politician he ever met when he first came to North America was then-U.S. Senator and current Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback, who chaired the ministerial.

“I was 25 years old. First thing I see in his office is [a sign that reads] ‘Sam Brownback — Not for Sale or Rent,'” Shafie said. “He took me and embraced me.”

Over 16 years later, he believes that Brownback’s legacy will come in the form of bringing more “muscles and teeth” to the State Department’s International Religious Freedom Office that will allow the office to truly influence American foreign policy.

“This position where he is right now is his legacy,” Shafie contended. “It is not that he used to be a senator. It is not the fact that he used to be a governor. But now that he is the ambassador for the freedom of religion office. I think that is his true calling.”

Source: The Christian Post

South Sudan government and rebels sign peace deal

Riek Machar and Salva Kiir signed the agreement at a ceremony in Sudan

South Sudan’s government has reached a power-sharing agreement with the country’s main rebel group.

President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar signed the deal in neighbouring Sudan.

The deal, which will see Mr Machar return to power as one of five vice-presidents, is aimed at ending a five-year civil war which has killed tens of thousands and displaced millions.

Previous attempts to find a peaceful solution have failed.

“In initials, an agreement on outstanding issues has been signed and this agreement expresses the commitment of all parties to a ceasefire,” said Sudanese Foreign Minister Al-Dirdiri Mohamed, who helped to broker the deal.

Mr Kiir said on Friday he was more confident that the current deal would work because it had not been “forced on us” unlike previously.

“This agreement will not collapse and I am sure that it will not collapse because the people of South Sudan have now agreed that they must make peace among themselves,” he said, quoted by Reuters.

South Sudan became independent in 2011. It has been wracked by civil war, which has seen ethnic cleansing and numerous atrocities, since 2013.

The conflict has been fuelled by divisions between the Mr Kiir’s Dinka and Mr Machar’s Nuer ethnic groups.

It began when Mr Kiir fired his then deputy Mr Machar, accusing him of planning a coup – an allegation he denied.

Source: BBC News

Religious minorities fear backlash as Sunni Islam declared state religion of the southeast African island nation ofComoros


The amended constitution of the Comoros declares Sunni Islam as the “religion of the state”. (Picture by David Stanley)

On Monday 30 July, the “Yes” vote recorded an overwhelming victory in the referendum on constitutional reforms in the southeast African island nation of Comoros, declaring Sunni Islam the “religion of the state”.

“The state draws from this religion the principles and rules of Sunnite observance,” the amended constitution reads.

According to World Watch Monitor’s local source, this is expected to have a tough impact on the country’s small Christian minority, who number only a few thousand of the country’s roughly 825,000 population.

“Things have been very hard on indigenous Christians before, and this kind of specification is expected to make things even harder for them,” the source said.

The referendum was initiated by President Azali Assoumani. The amended constitution gives him the right to run for another presidential term; previously the power rotated between the country’s three islands every five years. In April, Assoumani had suspended the constitutional court over “incompetence”, which observers saw as an attempt to diminish the rule of law in the country.

Comoros is an idyllic place for tourists, but difficult for local Christians. (World Watch Monitor)

During his campaign, Assoumani appealed to the masses that if they voted “Yes” to extend the presidential term limit, tougher measures would be taken against those who are not Sunni – meaning that Shia Muslims and Christians are likely to be targeted, according to World Watch Monitor’s source.

More than 95 per cent of Comoros’s population are Sunni Muslim, while approximately 2 per cent are Catholic and just 0.1 per cent Protestant, according to figures from the World Christian Database.

Over the years, the rise radical Islamic thought among the population, government officials, religious leaders and Muslim youth groups have caused anxiety among Christians, according to the charity Open Doors International.

“In mosques and madrassas Muslim religious leaders teach anti-Christian sentiments and government officials obligate parents to send their children to madrassas,” says Open Doors. They also prohibit Christians from preaching or engaging in religious discussion in public, according to the charity.

Converts to Christianity from Islam can be prosecuted, and the converts that exist face severe discrimination from the Muslim majority, says Open Doors: “The state also denies worshipping space for Christians in general. An ultra-conservative group of radical scholars, locally known as Djaulas, are pushing the country to a more extreme view of Islamic law (sharia) in the country and are against Christians.”

Source: World Watch Monitor