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Christmas and New Year violence against Christian minorities in Asia, Africa and the Arab world

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Christmas and New Year violence against Christian minorities in Asia, Africa and the Arab world

Country/Region: Iraq, Iran, Indonesia, Pakistan, China, Zimbabwe, Algeria, Egypt, Malaysia

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Christmas is meant to be a season of peace and goodwill. However for Christians in many parts of the world this did not occur. A spate of threats and violence against Christian minorities has marked the Christmas and New Year season just past.

 

Anti-Christian persecution is often focused on Christian festivals, and the last few weeks have seen attacks in at least eight countries, both around the Western Christmas Day on 25 December and the Eastern Christmas Day on 7 January. Tension was particularly high this season in Shia contexts (e.g. Iran and parts of Iraq) because the main Shia festival of Ashura, which moves with the Islamic calendar each year, almost coincided with Christmas, falling around 27 December.

The Western New Year on 1 January is also a frequent focus of anti-Christian violence, as it is believed by many in other parts of the world to be a Christian festival.

The following overview includes only reported incidents that were apparently timed deliberately to coincide with Christmas or New Year events. At least six Christians were killed in Egypt and three in Iraq.

December 16 – Iraq: Two car bombs were detonated near churches in Mosul causing extensive damage, wounding nearby schoolchildren and killing at least three Christians. The minister of one of the churches said “Words cannot describe what has happened ... but we will pray in the streets, in homes, in shops. God is everywhere, not just in churches.”

December 17 Iran: A meeting of 70 converts from Islam to celebrate Christmas and New Year was raided by 15 police officers, and two leaders were arrested.

December 18 Indonesia: A new church building in Bekasi Regency, near the capital Jakarta, which was almost finished and scheduled to be ready by Christmas, was attacked by a mob of motorcyclists (men, women and children) who came armed with kerosene. Despite the damage, police and government authorities urged the church minister not to cancel the planned Christmas service.

December 23(?) Iraq: On or before this date Christians in Basra were warned by Shia Muslims that they were not to celebrate Christmas in any way apart from attending church. This was owing to the main Shia celebration during the Islamic month of Muharram, which in 2009 began on 18 December, with the climax celebration around 27 December.

December 23 – Iraq: Two churches were damaged in separate bomb attacks in Mosul, killing at least three people. Iraqi Christians saw the December bombings as timed to coincide with the Christmas season. A senior church leader later said in his Christmas service, “My dear people, your attendance to the church is the best gift you provide to our new born Child at Christmas regarding the dangerous situation of our city Mosul.”

December 24-25 – Pakistan: A massive government security operation protected Christians attending Christmas services. In some areas, other Christmas celebrations were scaled down or cancelled on police advice because of security concerns. Intimidating text messages had been circulating threatening Christians with “a special gift at Christmas”, which led to the increased security precautions.

December 25 – Iraq: A mob of armed Shabaks (a Kurdish minority group) attacked the Christian-majority town of Bartilla, near Mosul in northern Iraq. They took over the entry check-point for more than five hours and tore down Christmas decorations in the shops. They also tried to enter a church in the middle of the market to perform the Ashura self-flagellation ritual inside the building. The church was successfully defended by its security guards, but four Christians including a policeman received gunshot wounds.

December 25 – Zimbabwe: A cathedral in Harare and three churches were raided by police. Police burst into a communion service in the cathedral, beat up worshippers and forced them out of the building.

December 25 – China: Police arrested several elderly Christians in Korla City, Xinjiang province, as they gathered to celebrate Christmas. A 71-year-old woman was thrown roughly against a police car. In another incident, police raided the home of an ailing Christian woman who is confined to her bed. They seized Bibles and other Christian literature and publicly burned them in a bonfire outside her home.

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