INDONESIA – Blasphemy charge against Christian governor dropped a day after he loses to Muslim in election
Prosecutors announced last week that they were dropping their claim that “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama had insulted Islam the day after the Christian incumbent lost to a Muslim in Jakarta’s governor elections. Ahok will still face trial on charges of “showing animosity toward others”, for which prosecutors are demanding a non-custodial sentence, but the blasphemy charge, which had come to define the election, has been dropped.
Ahok lost in the final round of voting to Anies Baswedan, a Muslim candidate who had increasingly courted the Muslim vote since November, when it was announced Ahok would face trial for blasphemy. The leader of Indonesia’s largest Islamic organisation stated earlier this month that the blasphemy allegations were “all manipulation … for the purpose of the election”.
From Jakarta Post here
HOLY LAND – Fear of Muslim violence shrinking Gaza Christian community
Easter festivities were muted in the Gaza strip this year. “The situation is very difficult. Easter celebrations did not go well. There is a lot of fear among Christians because of the attacks in Egypt,” explains one church leader. The tiny Christian community in the Gaza Strip – thought to number around 1,000 believers among more than 1.7 million Muslims – is in a perilous position. Hamas, the Sunni Islamist group which has ruled Gaza since it won elections in 2007, has imposed restrictions on women’s dress and attempted to introduce elements of sharia. Living as an embattled minority, many believers see little choice but to leave. “There are fewer and fewer [Christians]. Those who manage to get out do not come back. They seek peace elsewhere … the church is increasingly empty."
From Asia News here
IRAQ & SYRIA - Plight of Middle Eastern Christians “a stain on humanity”
The plight of Christians in the Middle East is “a stain on humanity”, according to Israel’s President, Reuven Rivlin. At a meeting with Christian leaders in Jerusalem following Easter, the president said: "I say to you here, our Christian brothers of Jerusalem, our thoughts are with you at this difficult time … We have all seen the pictures from Syria … What has happened there to the Christian community ─ and to the whole country ─ is a stain on all of humanity."
While many of the Christians who are internally displaced in Iraq feel unwelcome and unsafe in their home country, Syrian Christians now face a new threat as Islamist groups which have been known to target believers have begun to focus their attacks on Damascus, where many Syrian Christians have sought refuge.
From Jerusalem Post here
IRAN – Calls for Christians to be barred from running in elections as it is “against sharia law”
The head of Iran’s Guardian Council – an Islamic legal body which has power to overrule parliament and ban candidates from standing in elections – has called for religious minorities, including Christians, to be barred from running in elections next month (classical Islam teaches that non-Muslims should not be in authority over Muslims) Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati wrote an open letter, suggesting that religious minority candidates should not be allowed to run for city council seats in Muslim-majority areas, as it would violate Islamic law. His statement has been contradicted by the speaker of the Iranian Parliament and at the time of writing it remains unclear whether non-Muslims will be permitted to stand in the elections on 19 May.
Only members of Iran’s historical Christian communities, such Armenians and Assyrians, are able to seek limited political representation: the Iranian authorities do not recognise Muslim background believers’ conversion to Christianity and they face arrest and detention, sometimes for months without trial.
From Mohabat News here
RUSSIA – Supreme Court bans Jehovah’s Witnesses and orders seizure of property; again, we ask: will evangelical Christians be next?
Russia’s Supreme Court has banned all activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses and ordered that property owned by the religious organisation be seized by the state. Jehovah’s Witnesses who attempt to meet now face the prospect of criminal prosecution for “extremist activity”. The original case was submitted to the court by the Russian Justice Ministry last month.
Evangelical Christians have experienced increasing persecution at the hands of Russian authorities since the government amended anti-terror laws in July 2016 to restrict “missionary activity”, but the Supreme Court’s support of a government ban on an entire religion sets a deeply disturbing precedent.
From Forum 18 here
PAKISTAN – Teenage Christian girl abducted, sexually assaulted and forced into marriage
Maria, a 13-year-old Christian girl from a village in Punjab, was abducted by a Muslim man on 15 April and sexually assaulted. Her abductor – who is known to the family – now claims Maria has married him and converted to Islam. The village’s Muslim Council attempted to dissuade the family from officially registering the case with the police, stating that it should instead be adjudicated by the Council. At the time of writing the police have arrested one man in connection with Maria’s disappearance but her abductor remains at large.
In February, the Punjab regional government opposed legislation to criminalise forced conversion and marriage in the northern state; similar legislation was passed in Sindh in November 2016.
From CLAAS report