Newsdesk - 18 May 2017

 

UK – Syrian church leader allowed to visit UK after Home Office U-turn

The UK government has now granted a visa for a Syrian church leader to visit the UK, having initially refused her visit, claiming she might overstay. The Home Office originally informed Rev. Rola Sleiman – an influential figure in the National Evangelical Church of Syria and Lebanon – that they were “not satisfied” that she would leave the UK at the end of her visit, despite the fact that her trip was being sponsored by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. However, the Home Office reversed its decision on Tuesday (16 May).

A representative from the Church of Scotland told journalists, “It was clear from the support that we received overnight from the media, the public and the church that people felt a mistake had been made and an important voice might be missing from our Assembly.”

The Home Office has repeatedly denied visas to Syrian and Iraqi church leaders for short visits to the UK, while at the same time granting visas to radical Islamists from organisations known to incite violence against Christians, a troubling inconsistency that Barnabas Aid has highlighted to the national press.

From The Sunday Herald and BBC

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SUDAN – Freedom at last for Christians imprisoned for “espionage” for highlighting persecution

A Sudanese pastor and Sudanese Christian student, who were sentenced to twelve years imprisonment in February for helping to document the plight of persecuted Christians in southern parts of Sudan, have now been released. The Rev. Hassan Abduraheem Kodi Taour and Abdulmonem Abdumawla were finally set free on 11 May, having been held in jail since December 2015 when they were first accused of “espionage”. The two men were given a presidential pardon. The Czech aid worker arrested with the two Sudanese Christians, Petr Jacek, was pardoned in March.

Sudan
Sudan's autocratic Muslim president, Omar al-Bashir [centre]
CC BY-SA 2.0 by Al Jazeera English

Following the secession of predominantly-Christian South Sudan in 2011, Sudan’s president has moved to eradicate what remains of the country’s minority Christian community, waging a violent counter-insurgency campaign against historically Christian regions in the south, demolishing churches and forcibly deporting Christians to South Sudan.

From Middle East Concern here

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IRAQ – Protect ancient Christian communities, urge Iraq’s church leaders

Iraq’s three main church traditions issued a joint statement on Friday (12 May), calling for international action to safeguard the “rights of Christian communities in the historic Nineveh Plains”, including the establishment of a “safe haven” for Christians in the region. The joint statement by church leaders followed a proclamation by a prominent Iraqi Shia cleric that “Jihad should be implemented in regard to the Christians in order for them to convert to Islam, either they will become Muslims or we must fight them, or they ought to pay jazzya.” Jizya is a tax paid to an Islamic government by non-Muslims as a sign of subjugation, according to classical Islam.

A damaged church in Qaraqosh, near Mosul, once the largest Christian town in Iraq
A damaged church in Qaraqosh, near Mosul, once the largest Christian town in Iraq

The threat of anti-Christian violence continuing despite the progress made in defeating Islamic State remains a real concern for Iraqi believers; speaking earlier this month, an Iraqi MP stated that around 1.5 million Iraqi Christians have fled the country since 2003.

From Rudaw here

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PAKISTAN – Hospital management forces Christian staff to recite from the Quran, or be marked absent

A Christian worker in a Lahore hospital has reported that non-Muslim staff have been forced to recite from the Quran, or be marked absent from work. Marshal, a Christian paramedic, was physically assaulted by the hospital’s Superintendent when he refused to attend the morning gathering, where staff have been compelled to quote verses from Quran. Police have conducted an inquiry into the incident and evidence has been referred to the Punjab Health Department. Another paramedic at the hospital, Fahad Ahmed, told journalists: “I do not know why the administration is forcing our Christian brothers to do this. This is totally unacceptable.”

A senior law enforcement official, speaking on condition of anonymity, stated that extremism among medical staff in public hospitals was nothing new, “The issue of Mian Mir hospital [in Lahore] is just a small manifestation.”

From Pakistani Tribune here

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MYANMAR  – Christians face “intimidation and violence” 

Despite Myanmar (Burma) taking encouraging steps towards greater democracy, many of the country’s Christians continue to face severe persecution from the Buddhist majority. The independent United States Commission on International Religious Freedom documented the situation in Myanmar in their latest report, stating that “discriminatory restrictions on land ownership, intimidation and violence against Christians, the forced relocation and destruction of Christian cemeteries, violent attacks on places of worship, and an ongoing campaign of coerced conversion to Buddhism.”

Thousands of Christian ethnic Kachin live in refugee camps
Thousands of Christian ethnic Kachin live in refugee camps

Most of Myanmar’s Christians come from non-Burman ethnic minorities and these groups continue to be singled out. The government’s long-running war against Kachin separatists has “deeply impacted Christian and other faith communities, including by restricting their access to food, shelter, health care, and other basic necessities.” Thousands of Kachin Christians have lost their homes and live in camps.

Children in ethnic minority Christian communities are particularly vulnerable: “there are 33 Na Ta La [Buddhist] schools across the country, more than half of which are in rural, impoverished Chin, Kachin, and Naga areas. The Na Ta La schools offer free education and boarding to children of poor families who might otherwise not have access to education. In return, however, Christian students are not allowed to attend church; must practice or learn about Buddhist worship, literature, and culture; and become initiated into the monkhood or nunhood. Students effectively are cut off from their parents, and upon graduation are guaranteed government employment so long as they officially convert to Buddhism, including on their national ID cards”

From USCIRF Report 2017

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TAJIKISTAN: Church pastor held by police for “extremist” Christian literature

Secret police arrested a church pastor in Khujand – the second largest city in Tajikistan – last month (10 April) and are investigating him on criminal charges of “extremism” for being in possession of Christian literature, including church hymnbooks. Bakhrom Kholmatov’s family have not heard from him since his arrest.

The Tajikistan government imposes heavy restrictions on all religious groups and the import, export and distribution of religious publications has to be approved by the authorities. Under new laws introduced in 2011, children under the age of 18 are prohibited from taking part in public religious activities – a cause of great concern for Christian parents. Christians make up around 2% of Tajikistan’s mostly Muslim population.

From Forum 18 here

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