PHILIPPINES – Church torched and Christians held hostage as Islamists rampage through city in Mindanao
Islamist militants have burnt a church and taken Christians hostage in Marawi, a city on the island of Mindanao in the southern Philippines. Around 100 armed men launched an assault on Marawi on Tuesday (23 May), prompting thousands of residents to flee and leading the president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, to impose martial law across the whole of Mindanao. A local Christian leader said that the Islamists seized a pastor, ten worshippers and three church workers, and are threatening to kill them unless the government withdraws its security forces. There are also reports that a policemen has been beheaded by Islamists.
The government of the Philippines has been engaged in a decades-long conflict with Muslim separatists in the southern Philippines, which has a significant Muslim population. The previous government agreed a peace deal with some Islamist armed groups in 2014 and also proposed creating an autonomous region in Bangsamoro – an area which includes the city of Marawi – with its own laws, which would have allowed for the implementation of sharia. Public opposition to the deal has resulted in the legislation to enact it being delayed, and some Islamists have continued their violent campaign.
From Aljazeera here
IRAQ – Civil servants who peddled houses of refugee Christians arrested
Two Baghdad civil servants who forged documents to sell the houses of refugee Christians have been arrested. The men created false property documentation to market homes vacated by Christians who had fled the country as a result of the wave of anti-Christian violence since 2003. It is not known how many properties the men had sold at the time of their arrest. The police investigation uncovered 160 pre-prepared false documents, which were planned to be used in further fraudulent sales.
The effective theft of homes which Christian refugees had hoped to return to is one of the many obstacles to the reestablishment of Iraq’s historical Christian communities. In 2016, Islamic State openly auctioned believers’ homes in Mosul to Muslims apparently in a deliberate effort to prevent Christians from ever being able to return.
From Fides here
PAKISTAN – First census in two decades brings hope of greater representation for Christian minority
Pakistani Christians are hoping that a new census will bring them greater representation and recognition. The last census, undertaken in 1998, recorded the number of Christians in the country at just over 2 million. There are now thought to be over 5 million Christians in Pakistan, out of a population of around 200 million. However, Christians’ representation in the National Assembly is based on the recorded number of Christians in the country in 1981; there are currently only 10 positions in the 342-seat parliament allocated to non-Muslims. It is hoped that an up-to-date, accurate assessment of the size of the Christian minority will put pressure on law-makers to give greater voice to the needs of Christians, many of whom are among the poorest in society. Some remain sceptical however: one Christian student who spoke to journalists said, “The element of discrimination [from Muslims] is always there.”
From Daily Times here
KENYA – Al-Shabaab threatens Kenya’s Christians in new video
The Somali-based Islamist group al-Shabaab has released a new video, inciting attacks against Christians in Kenya. In the video – which had English subtitles – a senior figure from al-Shabaab reiterated the group’s aim of working to implement worldwide sharia. He claimed that Muslims in Kenya “live under the occupations of the Christians,” citing the eastern coastal town of Mpeketoni which he alleged has “[one] hundred churches and perhaps only one mosque.” Al-Shabaab has a track record of deliberately targeting Christians: in the infamous attack on Garissa University in 2015, Christian students were separated from their Muslim classmates and shot.
Earlier this month, two quarry workers were shot dead in the town of Elwak by suspected al-Shabaab militants, the third time in two years that labourers have been attacked in the region of Mandera, which borders Somalia; the majority of quarry workers in Mandera are non-Muslim. In October 2016, al-Shabaab murdered twelve Christians at a guesthouse in the regional capital.
From the Long War Journal here
INDIA - Hindu mobs attack church service in Uttar Pradesh and prayer meeting in Himachal Pradesh
A church pastor and members of a congregation in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh were attacked and beaten by a Hindu mob on Sunday 14 May. Pastor John Dawson said a ten-strong mob “hit all the males present with the ‘lattis’ [wooden sticks] so hard that we could barely walk. While hitting, they accused us of carrying out forceful conversion.” At the time of writing police have made no arrests.
The same day, a mob of more than 150 Hindus armed with sticks attempted to break into a school in the Himalayan state of Himachal Pradesh where a group of believers were holding a prayer meeting. Two policemen who were guarding the gates of the school were attacked and injured; the meeting was subsequently cancelled.
From Global Christian News here
ERITREA – Christians face specific religious persecution from government, including torture
Eritrean Christians face “systematic, ongoing, and egregious religious freedom violations [which] include torture,” according to the latest report by the independent United States Commission on International Religious Freedom. The Commission also documented “ill treatment of religious prisoners, arbitrary arrests and detentions without charges, a prolonged ban on public religious activities of unregistered religious groups, and interference in the internal affairs of registered religious groups,” noting that “the situation is particularly grave for unregistered Evangelical and Pentecostal Christians,” who account for the majority of religious prisoners.
The report adds that “Prisoners are not permitted to pray aloud, sing, or preach, and religious books are banned. Evangelicals, Pentecostals … released from prison report being pressured to recant their faith, forced to sign statements that they would no longer gather to worship, and warned not to re-engage in religious activities.”
Barnabas Aid’s own special report on Eritrea, published in March 2017, concluded that the government pursues a “specific policy of religious persecution” against Christians.
From USCIRF Report 2017