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Newsdesk - 14 December 2017

14 December 2017



EGYPT – Islamic State uses fake news to call for Christmas attacks on Christian

Islamic State (IS) is calling for attacks on Egyptian Christians over Christmas, alleging Christians were responsible for last month’s terror attack on a Sinai mosque.

A social media post from a new account named the “Sons of Jesus Movement” has claimed responsibility for the 24 November bombing and shooting at a Sufi Muslim mosque in Al Rawdah, near Al Arish in the Egyptian Sinai, which killed more than 300 people.

Mina, Killed in the 2017 Palm Sunday suicide bombings of two churches in Egypt, and his son Kirillos, who is among the injured being helped by Barnabas Fund

Shortly after the post went public, IS media began calling for the targeting of Egypt’s Christians during the upcoming holiday season, citing the social media claim.

Experts have found no other evidence of the existence of the Sons of Jesus Movement, which is suspected to be a “crude fabrication” by IS supporters. The attack in Al Rawdah is widely thought to have been carried out by IS, who regard Sufi Muslims as apostates.

From MEMRI here



MIDDLE EAST – Senator Rubio calls for action to help Middle Eastern Christians

Senator Marco Rubio, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Human Rights Sub-committee, has highlighted the rising persecution of Christians in “the very cradle of our faith” – the Middle East.

Republican Senator Marco Rubio
CC BY-SA 2.0 by Gage Skidmore

Speaking at the three-day International Conference on Religious Freedom in Washington on Monday, he paid tribute to “the bold and unapologetic faith of believers dwelling in lands where their identity as Christians makes them susceptible to displacement, attack, persecution and even death,” and called on the US to stand with them.

Senator Rubio said that religious freedom – “deeply personal” to him – was central to American government. He lamented that around the globe, but especially the Middle East, “the persecution of Christians … has reached staggering levels.”

This persecution has led to a continual decline in the region’s Christian population, and Rubio emphasised that it would not be mitigated by the eventual military defeat of Islamic State. The US must ensure the Christian community has proper access to humanitarian assistance and resources to rebuild their lives. “But words alone are hollow unless action follows,” he continued, or more Christians will be forced to abandon their “ancient homeland.”

The senator commended Vice President Mike Pence’s “personal commitment” to “draw[ing] attention to the plight of persecuted Christians and religious minorities in the Middle East.”

Iraq and Syria have some of the oldest Christian communities in the world, some existing from the first century AD. They have been persistently targeted by Islamist violence.

From The Jerusalem Post here



SYRIA – More than 120 churches destroyed by Islamists

“Terrorists destroyed more than 120 churches,” a notable Syrian Christian leader told his counterpart in Russia and the Russian foreign minister during a visit to Moscow.

Islamists have deliberately targeted churches across Syria

However, the leader expressed hope that with the expulsion of Islamic State (IS) from most of Syria and Iraq, “the issue of providing assistance to people who need to return to their homes, creating jobs and bringing their lives back to normal comes to the fore.” He was hopeful that destroyed churches and other Christian buildings will be rebuilt.

From The Syria Times here



PAKISTAN – Government surrenders to demands of Islamist protestors over “blasphemy”

Authorities in Pakistan have surrendered to the demands of Islamist protestors, with the government forcing the resignation of the country’s Law Minister and guaranteeing “no leniency” to those convicted of “blasphemy.”

Zahid Hamad resigned on 27 November after weeks of violent protests by Islamists, who accused him of “blasphemy” after he proposed changing the declaration made by candidates running for political office locally and nationally.

Muslim mobs have attacked Christian communities on multiple occasions following accusations of "blasphemy"; pictured are Christian homes destroyed in Lahore in 2015

The declaration – required for candidates running in any vote supervised by the country’s electoral commission – previously required them to “solemnly swear” to Muhammad being Islam’s “last prophet,” wording which was altered to “I believe.” Islamists alleged the change opened the way for members of the Ahmadi sect – who are viewed by them as apostates – to potentially run for office as declared Muslims. Ahmadiyyas were officially defined as non-Muslims by the government in 1974.

The street demonstrations, which paralysed cities across Pakistan, were ended after representatives from the country’s powerful military oversaw negotiations, in which the government caved in to Islamist demands.

As well as the resignation of the Law Minister, the government accepted a raft of demands made by the leaders of the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Islamist party. The government agreed to guarantee that “No difficulty will be faced in registering cases under Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code” (the “blasphemy” law which criminalises “defiling the name of Muhammad” and carries the death penalty); and “No leniency will be given to those convicted by courts for blasphemy.”

The Pakistani government’s capitulation in the face of violent Islamist protests sets a dangerous precedent, which is likely to make the situation of Christians accused of “blasphemy,” and those appealing against their convictions even more perilous.

 From Pakistan Today here



IRAQ – Christians cannot return home without international protection

Christians who have trickled back into the recently liberated Bahzani town – their livelihoods and homes in ruins, their sense of safety and security shattered – are once again desperate to leave. Only 130 Christian families live in the town from a pre-Islamic State (IS) number of 400. “The village is dirty and there is no electricity. No water coming, no markets,” said a pastor.

“We expect more attacks. It is like staring into the darkness,” explained the pastor after a Sunday service at St. George Cathedral, a 133-year-old church, which was desecrated by IS when they occupied the city. “The reality is we cannot stay without the U.S. or the U.N. helping to protect Nineveh directly.”

Bahzani – “House of Treasure” – in the historically Christian northern Iraq, is contested between the Iraqi central government and the Kurdistan Regional Government. Six weeks ago, Iraqi troops replaced Kurdish soldiers that initially occupied the town after IS was defeated.

From Assyrian International News Agency here



INDONESIA – Islamists tell Muslims to only vote for Muslim politicians to “defend Islam”

Islamist leaders have called for Indonesians to only vote for Muslim politicians “who can defend Islam” in a direct criticism of the Christian former governor of Jakarta jailed for “blasphemy” earlier this year.

Speaking at a rally held to commemorate the demonstrations in December 2016, which led to the conviction of “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama the then Christian governor of Jakarta for “blasphemy,” one of the leaders of the Islamic Defenders Front claimed Indonesian Muslims should consult clerics before voting.

“Now Indonesia is in need of more Islamic leaders from national to regional levels, who can defend Islam and make sure that Islamic teachings are applied,” said Ahmad Sobri Lubis, the Front’s chairman. “We don’t want people like Ahok to lead,” he added.

A former leader of the Islamist group who spoke at the 2 December rally told the estimated 40,000 attendees to “fight for an Indonesia that is based on sharia [law],” claiming that it was “the only way to save the country and protect … from blasphemy.”

From UCA News here



BELARUS – Christians fined for singing and distributing religious literature

Lepel town police have continued to disrupt and arrest members of a church library ministry for singing and offering Christian books and magazines to passers-by at the entrance to the town market. The local court repeatedly fined one of them to the total equivalent of double his monthly wage.

“I’ve been conducting the street library ministry for 16 years, offering Bibles, children’s literature and magazines for people to read and return,” said a church member. “Over the last 10 years we never had any conflicts.” The street library had not been disrupted for thirteen years until mid-October 2017.

A Christian sustained a facial injury during his arrest and detention by the police of Lepel town, north-eastern Belarus. He has lodged a complaint with the “Investigative Committee.”

The government in Belarus enforces strict regulations on Christian groups and requires all religious communities to register with the State.

From Forum 18 here