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Threats of anti-Christian attacks over Christmas amid arrests, violence and murder

Country/Region: India, South and East Asia, Pakistan, Lao, People's Democratic Republic, China, Iran, Middle East and North Africa

 Christian children in India may be in danger this Christmas
Christian children in India may be in danger this Christmas

A sequence of threats, arrests and violence in India, Pakistan, Laos, China and Iran signal grave danger for Christians throughout the world over the Christmas period.

The festive season of Christmas and the Western New Year is a time when Christian minorities often face increased persecution and violence as they attempt to celebrate the birth of Jesus, and this year looks set to be no exception.

Murder in India to "create climate of fear among Christians"

The murder of Christian activist Rabindra Parichha in Kandhamal District, Orissa State, India, has been interpreted as "a strategic move by extremists to create a climate of fear among Christians" in the run-up to Christmas. This was the verdict of Sajan George, President of the Global Council of Indian Christians.

Rabindra was found dead on 16 December; the circumstances of his murder are as yet unknown.

Meanwhile in Kandhamal, extremists have called for a bundh – strikes and protests – to coincide with the Christmas period, 24-27 December. The same group had called for a similar strike in December 2007, which precipitated anti-Christian attacks in which five Christians were killed and hundreds of houses torched. The violence resumed in August 2008 and continued for two-and-a-half months. More than 90 people died and thousands were injured. Around 6,000 homes were burnt down, and over 56,000 people were displaced; many are yet to return home.

Christians in Kandhamal have not celebrated Christmas openly since then but were planning to do so this year. Amid the latest security concerns, however, a senior church leader in Kandhamal said that the celebrations had been cancelled, and church-run schools, hostels and orphanages closed down.

Barnabas Fund's Co-ordinator for India said that the Christmas season has been used to target Christians in Orissa for the last three years. He added, "With the killing of Christian activist Rabindra Parichha we could assume an escalation of violence against Christians during this Christmas season."

Terrorist threats in Pakistan

Intelligence reports have warned that terrorists are planning to target Christian gatherings on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in Lahore, Pakistan. The report described security at all 433 churches in the city as "inadequate" and named 20 churches as "sensitive".

Police have met with Christian leaders to discuss security measures; 2,000 police officers will be deployed to protect churches in the city, with snipers on the rooftops of those most vulnerable to attack. Police officers and Christian volunteers will perform searches with metal detectors at the entrance, and there will be extra security and patrols during services.

Arrests in Laos

Eight church leaders were arrested on 16 December for holding a Christmas service in Boukham village, Laos. Four were placed in handcuffs and wooden stocks. After two attempts by a senior church leader to obtain their release, one of the detainees was set free upon the payment of a fine. The other seven were asked to admit to being guilty of flouting the village's law by conducting a Christmas worship service; the local authorities said it violated the hiit, the traditional spirit cult of the village. The Christians declared their innocence, citing the Lao constitution that guarantees freedom of religion. They were held in detention, and all seven were placed in wooden stocks.

Christmas crackdown in China

In China, the authorities broke up a public Christmas celebration staged by an unregistered church ("house church") and allegedly beat Christians in attendance at the event.

The Xintan Village Church set up for the Christmas gala on a stage in the village square on the evening of 13 December. They were playing Christmas music, which was abruptly silenced when uniformed police cut the electricity. A scuffle ensued in which worshippers were allegedly pushed and punched, leaving five injured. Sound and music equipment was damaged.

The church said the local government had authorised the event, but an official said that the Christians were asked to cancel because regulations forbid outdoor worship, and Buddhists in the community had complained.

History repeating in Iran?

Last Christmas, the Iranian authorities launched a crackdown on Iran's house church movement in which more than 70 Christians were arrested. There are indications of a repeat this year; Christians in seven cities have been interrogated by the authorities, while police have been gathering information about Christian-owned businesses across the country.

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