IRAN – Three converts arrested in “new campaign” against Christians in Iran
Three Christian converts from Dezful city, in south-west Iran, were arrested on 10 October, in what is being described as a “new campaign” against Christians by intelligence services. Two of the three were released after hours of interrogation.
Ali Torabi, aged 39, is still being held. Plain-clothes police arrested him at his workplace and took him to his house, where they confiscated Bibles and other Christian material. His family were told that he would be released within a week.
Iranian Christians from Muslim backgrounds are the targets of arbitrary detention and are extremely vulnerable in the Iranian judicial system. The state does not recognise their conversion from Islam. In July, 46-year-old convert Naser Navard Goltapeh, was sentenced to ten years in prison for threatening “the security of the country,” after he was arrested at a house church meeting.
From Mohabat news here
INDONESIA – Islamists protest against government efforts to maintain religious equality
Around 1,000 Islamists protested outside the Indonesian Parliament in Jakarta on Tuesday 24 October, as members of parliament approved a presidential decree banning organisations which go against the state doctrine of Pancasila.
Pancasila is a secular doctrine of religious tolerance and national unity, introduced when Indonesia became independent in 1949. Pancasila grants equal status to Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Confucianism and lists these six religions as acceptable for citizens to follow.
In July, President Joko Widodo ordered the disbanding of organisations deemed to be in conflict with Pancasila. Hizb ut-Tahrir, an Islamist group aiming to impose sharia across Indonesia, was the first ordered to disband for seeking to replace Pancasila and make Islam superior to other religions. Hizb ut-Tahrir had campaigned to bring blasphemy charges against the Christian former governor of Jakarta, who was jailed for two years in May.
Despite this week’s step from the government to uphold Indonesia’s history of religious equality, there is ongoing pressure to reduce the influence and visibility of the Christian minority.
Last week, Christians organising an open-air prayer meeting at a football stadium in Yogyakarta, 300 miles east of Jakarta, were forced to cancel the event, after a Muslim group wrote to the stadium threatening to disrupt the meeting. The Muslim group claimed that the meeting was an attempt to evangelise Muslims and “had the potential to become an arena of apostasy.”
However, the outdoor meeting was being held to mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. (31 October 1517 is marked as the day when reformer Martin Luther is said to have nailed his 95 thesis on a church door in Wittenberg, Germany, triggering the Reformation).
From Reuters and UCA News
IRAQ – Christian families forced to flee homes for the second time as Kurds and Iraqis clash
A thousand Christian families have been forced to flee their homes again because of clashes between Kurdish and Iraqi forces. The Christians had returned to their village after it was liberated from Islamic State (IS).
The village of Teleskof, 19 miles north of Mosul, had recently been rebuilt with aid money from the Hungarian government. However, on Tuesday 24 October, “an emissary from the Iraqi government told the people of the village that they had until sunrise to evacuate.”
Children and other civilians have been wounded in clashes between Kurdish Pashmerga forces stationed in the village, and Iraqi Army and Shia militia. The Iraqi forces have stated they will “forcibly evict” the Kurds.
The Kurdish ethnic group have for decades campaigned for independence in the Kurdistan region, which includes parts of Iraq, Syria and Turkey. Many Christians fled to the autonomous Kurdish-controlled area of northern Iraq when IS invaded, but they have experienced discrimination from authorities in Iraqi-Kurdistan.
Christian families from Teleskof, who fled in August 2014 when IS captured the village, have now been forced out again, caught in the crossfire in the escalating conflict between the Iraqi and Kurdish governments.
From Fox News here
SUDAN – Five Christian leaders arrested after Sunday service in Omdurman
Police detained five leading members of a Sudanese church in El Sawra, Omdurman, after a Sunday service on 22 October. They were charged with disturbing the public order and released on bail at midnight.
The incident was triggered when the congregation arriving for the service found their church had been locked. Authorities explained that this was done while the Ministry of Endowments decided on a new church leadership. The worshippers denounced these attempts to interfere in internal church matters, broke the locks, and began their Sunday service. Police arrested the five leaders immediately after the service.
The opposition National Umma Party (NUP) strongly condemned these actions as “an attack on religious freedoms that may lead to a sectarian strife in the country … another proof that the lifting of the US sanctions was only a means of granting an umbrella for the regime to continue its oppression [of the people].”
Since predominantly Christian South Sudan seceded in 2011, the Sudanese government in the North has intensified its persecution of Christians. This year, over 27 churches have been demolished in Khartoum alone.
From allafrica.com here
PHILIPPINES – Government forces declare victory over IS and recapture Marawi
The Philippines government has declared victory over pro-Islamic State (IS) militants after a five-month siege to recapture Marawi city. Government forces working with former enemies, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, flushed out fighters entrenched in the southern city. Martial law remains in force in Marawi and the rest of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
Fighting has left 1,000 dead and 600,000 displaced. The historic city has been devastated, leaving many buildings gutted and reduced to rubble.
The conflict began when officials tried to serve an arrest warrant in May on Isnilon Hapilon and Omarkhayam Maute, commanders in the Abu Sayyaf and Maute groups. The groups joined forces and seized Marawi, recruiting foreign fighters from Malaysia and Indonesia. Hapilon subsequently declared his allegiance to IS.
Christians in the city spared by the jihadists were taken hostage, forced to build bombs, and scavenge for food and weapons for the Islamist rebels.
ARMM is the only Muslim majority region in the predominantly Christian Philippines. Islamist groups there have been fighting for independence and for sharia law to be established.
From Al Jazeera here
HUNGARY – Government-sponsored conference calls for action to address persecution of Christians
A conference sponsored by the government of Hungary has released a joint declaration calling for international action to address the persecution of Christians.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban opened the two-day conference on 11 October. In his inaugural address, Orban spoke of how “the forced expulsion of Christian communities and the tragedies of families and children living in some parts of the Middle East and Africa have a wider significance: in fact they threaten our European values.”
The declaration affirms “deepest solidarity with the Christians and other religious minority groups that are being persecuted all around the world.” It calls on the European Union, political decision makers and international organisations to enable Christian refugees to return to their homelands.
The “Budapest Declaration” is a welcome recognition of the specific threat and persecution faced by Christians globally, and particularly in the Middle East. However, real, lasting change will only come about if such public recognition leads to action.
Over 300 participants from 30 countries, including representatives from the Hungarian government, think tanks and charities, along with Christian leaders from around the world, were present at the conference.
From The Office of Deputy State Secretariat for the Aid of Persecuted Christians