Thursday, March 28, 2019

China Continues crackdown on Christianity

Chinese Authorities Shut Down Another Major House Church in Beijing

Members Detained and Ordered to Stop Attending Their Church 

Several sources, including International Christian Concern and China Aid, are reporting that on Saturday afternoon, March 23, more than 20 police officers and other Chinese government officials raided a Bible school class at Beijing’s Shouwang Church.

The authorities demanded the church to cease its activities immediately and read out an official document formally banning the church. They also demanded Pastor Zhang Xiaofeng sign and keep a document claiming that the church was "in violation of Regulations of Religious Affairs and Regulations on the Registration and Management of Social Organizations."

According to China Aid, a Christian human rights organization committed to promoting religious freedom and the rule of law in China, "this crackdown comes just months after Chinese authorities forcibly shut down another unregistered Beijing church, Zion Church. Such closures come in the wake of the Chinese government implementing a revised edition of its Regulations on Religious Affairs on Feb. 1, 2018, narrowing the margin in which unregistered churches previously thrived. The new regulations coincide with China’s attempts to force religion to align to its ideals, a tactic known as “Sinicization.” As a result, many churches have faced persecution."

All of the students at the Bible school class were taken to a nearby school and questioned by authorities. Several other Christians from another location affiliated with Shouwang were also detained, brought to the school, and interrogated. All those detained were asked to sign a letter of guarantee that they will no longer attend Shouwang, to which they refused. The Christians were only sent home hours later by local police offices.

In the meantime, the officials switched out the locks at the locations of both raids in order to prevent Shouwang Church members from returning.

Shouwang Church is one of the largest house churches in Beijing and is attended by more than 1,000 people. It was targeted and heavily persecuted for its refusal to join the state-sanctioned church in 2011. Its senior pastor, Jin Tian-ming, and two other pastors have been under house arrest ever since 2011 and its purchased property is still confiscated by the Chinese government.

In response to the March 23 raid, Shouwang Church issued a statement to its members, saying that it does not accept the authorities’ decision to ban their church, reminding everyone that the legality of the church is not determined by any religious or administrative agencies. It will continue to meet and operate while adjusting its meeting venues and methods.

Victims from another heavily oppressed church, Sichuan’s Early Rain Covenant Church, express their faith and solidarity amid this persecution against the Church — “When we heard that Shouwang Church is being persecuted again, […] and other churches facing various pressure from the government, we kneeled down to pray to give thanks and praises to our God, because we are delighted that the bride of Christ is closely following her husband.”

Pastor Bob Fu, President of ChinaAid, stated “China’s oppression against house churches will not be loosened. A systematic, in-the-name-of-law crackdown will continue to take place.”

Gina Goh of International Christian Concern, a human rights organization focusing on persecution of Christians around the world, said: “China’s disregard of religious freedom for its 1.4 billion citizens is deplorable. Christians outside of the state-sanctioned churches can no longer worship without fearing of harassment, detention, or even imprisonment. Even official churches face increasing pressure to exalt the Communist Party over God. The international community should continue to press China over its human rights abuses until it is willing to make positive change.”    

China, which remains under strict communist control despite opening up to capitalism in recent decades,  has a population of approximately 1.4 billion people. The Communist Party in China, which is officially atheist, has approximately 70 million members. However, the strong growth of evangelical Christianity in China has resulted in slightly over 100 million Chinese Christians (approximately 75 million Evangelicals and 27 million Catholics. Also, the Chinese Orthodox Church, an autonomous Eastern Orthodox church, has about 15,000 members.

This situation of Christians outnumbering official Communist Party members is at least partially behind government crackdowns on Christianity over the last few years, as they seek to exercise control over Christianity in China. Communist governments, and all other collectivist regimes, demand that the citizen's top loyalty be to the State, not to God, the Church, or even the family. The State essentially sets itself up as God, and hates competition for that slot.

Sources: 1) press release by International Christian Concern dated 3-25-2019; 2) additional information from China Aid, via their website; 3) statistics from the China entry of Pray for the World, a resource from Operation World, 4) original analysis by Tim Gamble.

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Saturday, March 23, 2019

The Islamic State is Officially Defeated

The following unedited press release by International Christian Concern (ICC) may be of interest to my readers. You can visit their website at https://www.persecution.org/ for more on Christian persecution around the world.

Territorial Defeat of ISIS Overshadowed by Threats of Insurgency and Ideological Longevity

03/23/2019 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that on March 23, 2019, Syrian Democratic Forces declared the Islamic State (ISIS) territorially defeated as the extremists lost control of their last hold in the Middle East. The final battle waged in Baghouz, Syria, which is located near the Iraqi border.

The battle in Baghouz led to the liberation of a number of individuals held captive by ISIS as part of the extremists’ genocide against religious minorities. Thousands of captives remain missing, and ISIS remains engaged in pockets of fighting throughout both Syria and Iraq. The resulting instability, combined with the massive amount of destruction left behind, continues to generate significant regional instability.

For the victims of ISIS’s genocide, the consequences of the militants’ ideology haunt and define every aspect of life.

“Life is like it has turned into something bad,” explains Joseph, a Christian who fled ISIS in 2014. “I am having psychological problems whenever I remember those incidents. We are alive, but we cannot enjoy life again. I feel like I am in a nightmare.” 

“We are a minority, and yet we paid the biggest price of any group during these years,” adds a Christian woman who also survived ISIS’s genocide. 

The possibility of an ISIS insurgency has many Christians and other victims of ISIS’s genocide concerned that the extremists’ territorial defeat is overshadowed by ideological longevity.

“ISIS 2.0 is something possible,” adds Majid, another Christian impacted by ISIS. “ISIS is still (here)… the only difference is that they threw down their weapons, and they will pick them back up at any weak point.” 

ISIS was born out an insurgency and first rose to prominence in 2014, when the militants violently seized large swaths of territory across Iraq and Syria. They controlled territory stretching approximately 34,000 square miles, most of which historically belonged to the ancient homelands of religious minorities.

 Claire Evans, ICC’s Regional Manager for the Middle East, said, “The territorial defeat of ISIS has long been anticipated and is most welcome news. During the height of their so-called caliphate, they introduced a reign of genocidal terror that targeted religious minorities who lived across their newly acquired territories. Many lives were lost in the difficult fight to wrestle territorial control back from ISIS. The challenges of moving forward are significant. Many ISIS members have escaped and melted back into society with their ideology intact. ISIS left behind a path of destruction severely affecting families, community, and infrastructure. Territorially defeating ISIS was an essential step. 

Holistically reconstructing the damage is perhaps a greater challenge, but one absolutely necessary for the future of religious minorities in the Middle East.”  
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Thursday, March 14, 2019

Continuing Genocide of Christians in Nigeria Goes Unreported

Muslim Group Boko Haram Attacks Christian Village, Destroys Church in Latest Attack

03/14/2019  – International Christian Concern (ICC), a Christian human rights organization, is reporting that earlier today, around 6:00 a.m. local time, Boko Haram insurgents launched an attack on Ngurhlavu village of Lassa in Askira-Uba local council area of southern Borno State in Nigeria. Most of the villagers were able to flee into the bush, but the insurgents burned down six homes, destroyed the EYN Church (Church of the Brethren), killed one person, and abducted two sisters, Stella Ibrahim and Plungwa Ibrahim.

The attack by Boko Harem, a Muslim militant group, comes on the heels of an attack by Fulani militants in northern Nigeria in which at least 20 people were killed with machetes and guns. According to WorldWatch Monitor, "The Fulani were early adopters of Islam, participating in holy wars, or jihads, in the 16th Century that established them as a dominant social and economic force in Western Africa." Today, the Fulani continue to wage "holy wars" against Christians and other non-believers in Western Africa. 

Is it really genocide?

Since the Muslim genocide against Christians in Nigeria is ignored by the mainstream media in America and Europe, some may doubt that a real genocide is occurring. However, consider this fact reported by ICC on their website: "Radical Islamic militant groups such as Boko Haram and Fulani militants have decimated Christian communities throughout northern Nigeria. In the last 18 years, an estimated 50,000 to 70,000 Christians have been murdered by these groups, while another 2 million people have been displaced." Countless others have been injured. And the genocide is only increasing

The Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED), compiled data for 2018 on the ongoing genocide of Christians in Nigeria. ACLED reported that approximately 1,930 brutal deaths were attributed to Fulani militants in 2018. In addition, Boko Haram was responsible for at least another 550 deaths according to records mainstained by TheReligionofPeace.com (TROP), bringing the total number murdered in the name of Islam in Nigeria in 2018 to at least 2,480. This was a sharp increase (over 25%) from the 1,900 total people killed in 2017 by both Boko Haram and Fulani militants (both groups are Muslim).

Additional Details of This Morning's Attack

Recalling this morning's attack, a senior executive of the EYN Church, who wished to remain anonymous, said that their local pastor called around 6:00 a.m. to report the attack. He shared, “I could hear desperation in his voice, just coming out of the bush.  His voice sounded completely demoralized as he was saying only God… We don’t know what else to do! There’s no security presence here.” The insurgents dropped a concealed improvised explosive device which a church member named Avi Lassa stepped on. Avi was killed on the spot.

Lamenting the spate of repeated, violent attacks, the senior church leader said, “These frequent attacks on churches and [their] members are really weighing us down. These attacks seem to be escalating soon after the elections.” Nigeria’s presidential elections took place in late February, but has seen violence even in the build-up to Election Day.

The leader said that members of the EYN Church in the village of Gwandang were attacked on February 2, 2019. This was shortly followed by another set of attacks in the village of Paya-Bulguma on February 7 and 21, during which 26 houses were burned down, large quantities of food supplies were destroyed, and motorbikes and other valuables were stolen or destroyed.  A seven-year-old boy was also abducted and has not been heard from since.


Sources: 1) Press release dated 3-14-2019 by International Christian Concern. 2) Article Who are the Fulani? by WorldWatch Monitor. 3) Additional information from the Persecution.org website. 4) Statistics from the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED) and from 5) http://thereligionofpeace.com/ (TROP).
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Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Nigeria: Muslim Fulani Militants Kill Over 20 using Machetes and Guns

The following is an unedited press release from International Christian Concern (ICC). You can visit their website at https://www.persecution.org/ for more on Christian persecution around the world.

03/11/2019 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) – International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that on the morning of March 4, 2019, Fulani militants attacked Tse-Tema Dula, Tse-Ugor, and Tse-Jabu villages of Mbacohon area in Gwer West Local Council area of Benue State. According to ICC’s local sources, 23 people were killed. Confirming the attacks, Reuben, a member of the Gwer West legislative council, said, “It was bad. They killed over 20 people. Some were killed by gunshots and some by machete hacks!” While speaking of the aftermath for those who survived, Reuben lamented, “The displaced persons are scattered all over, some in Naka, the Local Government headquarters.

Three days after the village attacks, the militants again launched another attack at Tse-Ikyo Mke, Mbapupur community in the same Local Council area. This time, three people were killed.  Commenting on this attack, a local pastor named Reverend Ajoh shared, “Even today, they attacked. One of my members came to report that his father was killed, and another member said his son-in-law was also killed.” All three of the victims, Stephen Uper, Kwaghkunda Ngyeegh, and Denis Iorundu, were married with children.

The communities in Benue State are predominantly agrarian. The farming communities have suffered several years of violent confrontation by nomadic herdsmen who prefer open-grazing cattle breeding, a practice that has resulted in instances of destruction of farmland. As an approach to a solution, the state government enacted legislation providing for ranching instead of open-grazing, which took effect on May 22, 2017. Shortly after this law was implemented, attacks worsened for several months, culminating in more than 70 people being killed in early January 2018.

The law has caused some of the herdsmen to claim that it was deliberately aimed at upturning their generational lifestyle and culture of nomadic cattle breeding, as well as a deliberate attempt to expel them from the state and deny them their constitutional right of freedom of movement. However, Taraba State, which shares a boundary with Benue, has also instituted a similar law, given the years of violence between the Christian farmers and Fulani militants.

Until this incident, the situation had been relatively calm in Benue State for almost a year, and the majority of citizens were hopeful that the peace could be sustained. But with the resurgence of attacks, some local community leaders now believe that the Fulani militants likely refrained from confrontation to allow for a peaceful presidential election, having shown support for their kinsman President Buhari. According to a local source, “Before the presidential election, they moved away, but they are now returning in their hundreds. They don’t like the current governor, and don’t want him to return, so they would want to disrupt the state elections. Buhari has not been happy with him because he refused to cede land for ‘cattle colonies.’

A senior aide in the Palace of the Tor Tiv, the paramount ruler over the Tiv tribe, confirmed the attacks, saying, “Recently, they (herdsmen’s militia) resumed attacking simultaneously in three areas now that their man has won the presidential election.” He added, “Some are still missing in the bush and the search is ongoing.” He further disclosed that security reinforcements have been sent to the affected areas. Expressing faith for divine intervention, Pastor Ajoh said, “The Church in Benue is praying and we know that our God will never disappoint us!
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Friday, March 8, 2019

Hardline Islamic Cleric Takes Control of Iran’s Judiciary

Tim's Note: The following is an unedited press release from International Christian Concern (ICC). The news does not bode well for Iran's religious minorities, including an estimated 350,000 Christians, mostly Armenian, and up to 15,000 Jews. Exact figures on religious minorities in Iran are impossible to get, and estimates vary widely. You can visit the ICC website at https://www.persecution.org/ for more on Christian persecution around the world.


Hardline Islamic Cleric Ebrahim Raisi Sworn in as Judiciary Chief of Iran

03/08/2019 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that on March 8, 2019, Ebrahim Raisi was sworn into office as the new Judiciary Chief of Iran’s Islamic Republic. His long anticipated appointment comes with a five-year term, which is approved by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Raisi’s career trajectory comes at the expense of a long line of serious human rights abuses that have provoked great alarm regarding his new position.

Raisi is a hardline Islamic religious cleric who studied at Qom Seminary and quickly rose through the ranks of Iran’s judiciary. His name first rose to prominence in 1988, when Raisi served on Iran’s notorious death commission which massacred thousands of political prisoners declared to be “apostates of Islam.” He would later serve as a prosecutor, deputy chief justice, and attorney general. He would launch an unsuccessful bid for president in 2017, after which momentum began to build for his current appointment.

Raisi has remained unapologetic for his record of serious human rights abuses. In a 2018 speech, he highlighted his involvement in the 1988 mass killings and said it “was one of the proud achievements of the system.” This is a reflection of the regime’s position that the judiciary exists to safeguard Iran’s Islamist ideology. It is for this reason that many of Iran’s Christians are tried for political crimes and viewed as apostates.

“The human rights violation of religious minorities in Iran would most likely get worse under the leadership of Mr. Ebrahim Raisi as Iran’s new judiciary chief,” worries Mike Ansari from Heart4Iran, an Iranian Christian partnership platform.

His judiciary appointment comes at a time when the regime is under significant pressure from its citizenry, who are increasingly discontent with the government’s hardline view of Islam. One Iranian woman shared with ICC, “I am a Muslim, but I don’t like the way that the government is forcing us to do it.” 

This enforced Islamist pressure on Iran’s citizens has caused an organic interest in Christianity, which the regime views as a national security threat. “As Christianity is growing fast in Iran, the top religious leaders are alarmed… Their strategy is to arrest a few, but publicize their arrest to put fear in the hearts of 1-3 million Christians and make them isolated, fearful, and prisoners in their homes,” explained Dr. Hormoz Shariat of Iran Alive Ministries.

For this reason, Christian persecution in Iran has grown significantly in recent years. Iran is rated as a Tier 1 Country of Particular Concern by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom and number 9 on Open Doors’ World Watch List.

Claire Evans, ICC’s Regional Manager for the Middle East, said, “Although human rights violations have long been the norm in Iran, today’s appointment of Raisi as Judiciary Chief marks the beginning of a worrisome new chapter. Raisi has not only been complicit in violent abuses, he has reveled in them. His new position gives him broad powers to ‘protect’ Iran’s Islamic theocracy, a cause of great concern for all Christians, many of whom converted from Islam. We must keep them, and Iran’s judges, in our prayers.” 
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Monday, March 4, 2019

February death toll is 126, as Muslim genocide against Christians continues in Nigeria

The following is an unedited press release from International Christian Concern (ICC). You can visit their website at https://www.persecution.org/ for more on Christian persecution around the world.

03/04/2019 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) – Boko Haram and Fulani militants continued their brutal campaign of violence throughout Nigeria’s Middle Belt region in February. The uptrend in attacks by Fulani militants has persisted throughout 2019, with the heaviest attacks taking place in Plateau State. This undeclared war has turned Muslims and Christians against each other in a confrontation that threatens the stability of Nigeria. In February, ICC documented at least 60 attacks by Boko Haram and Fulani militants that killed a total of 205 people. Of these, Boko Haram was responsible for 126 deaths, 83 of which were civilians. Fulani militants were responsible for at least 79 deaths.

Persistent ethnic tension, religious differences, and a lack of economic resources inflict suffering in Christian areas as Fulani militants attack defenseless farmers, impoverishing many. Human Rights Watch reported, “Increased frequency of violent conflict has been linked to intense pressures on land because of expansion of commercially cultivated areas, corporate mining activities, and competitive overuse of common resources, such as forests, pastoral rangelands, and water sources, exacerbated by climate change.” As Nigeria’s farmer-herder conflict continues to unleash bloodshed, the humanitarian crisis continues to worsens in the state.

Despite these violent attacks, there have been no major attempts by the Nigerian government to hold the Fulani accountable or disarm them. The recent re-election of President Buhari ensures that the government will remain dormant as the perpetrators continue to inflict suffering in Nigeria. Although Buhari assured Nigerians that Boko Haram would be a “thing of the past” if he were re-elected, there is little confidence that militant groups will be defeated in 2019. The Middle Belt should remain a cause of great concern for all those interested in Nigeria’s growth and stability.

Below are the largest attacks that took place in February:
  1. February 10, 2019: Fulani militants attacked Adara Christian community, killing 11
  2. February 18, 2019: Boko Haram beheads merchants, killing 18
  3. February 20, 2019: Fulani militants attack Benue State, killing 16
According to Global Terrorism Index’s 2018 ranking, Nigeria remains the third “Most Terrorized Country” for the fourth consecutive year. This trend continues to worsen as militants are able to operate freely. Boko Haram and Fulani militants’ brutal campaigns have claimed tens of thousands of lives and displaced millions more in recent years. The Nigerian government and the rest of the world must remember to pray for those affected by the deadly violence taking place in the Middle Belt.
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