Mosul in Iraq ‘empty of Christians’

The city of Mosul is now empty of Christians for the first time in the history of Iraq, according to Patriarch Louis Sako after Islamist fighters told them to convert, pay a protection tax – or be killed reports The Telegraph.

Families, the elderly and the disabled were seen walking in the fierce Summer heat on 19 July after a 12pm noon deadline was announced by the Islamic State group led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi who has declared a modern caliphate.  Mosques around the city read out the warning which was carried throughout the city via loudspeakers.

The announcement said: “We offer [Christians] three choices: Islam; the dhimma contract – involving payment. If they refuse this they will have nothing but the sword.”

Turkmen, Shabaks and Yazidis numbering at least 200 people have also been seized by the Sunni extremists in the city and 11 of them were slaughtered.

The Iraqi Government has lost control of much land especially in northern Iraq due to the progress of the ISIS extremist group last month. Mosul was captured on 10 June by the Islamist group.

Bangladesh Hindus refugee status opposed in India

Bengali-speaking Hindus from Bangladesh facing religious persecution should be refused official refugee status in India, according to the opposition Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) political party.

Governor Janaki Ballabh Patnaik of Assam received a memo from the group on 19 July objecting to the state cabinet’s acceptance of the displaced people group found in the province due to its location near Bangladesh, West Bengal and Tripura, according to The Times of India (20 July). The refugees also include Buddhists, Garos, Rajbongshis, Adivasi tribals and Bishnupriya Manipuris.

Atul Bora, AGP President, said: “We believe all illegal foreigners should be treated equally irrespective of religion. The state has taken a lot of burden in this regard. We have already accepted those who had entered the territory before March 25, 1971. We want the governor to intervene and do the needful.”

The AGP started the anti-foreign movement in 1985 and the party leadership believes accepting the refugees officially would cause problems for the state. Illegal citizenship has been a contentious issue for years in the area.

Governor Patnaik responded that he would discuss the matter with President Pranab Mukherjee. Meanwhile the AGP plans several agitation measures against the Government in the forthcoming days to express its view. The All Assam Students Union has also criticized the decision.

Northern Nigeria – ‘where chaos and fear reign’

Christians and Muslims live under a ‘reign of terror’ with almost-daily attacks in Northern Nigeria by the Boko Haram Islamic extremist group.

That is the verdict given by a delegation from the Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust (HART) following a visit to communities in the region in June and July, 2014. The team included Baroness Cox, a Vice Chair of the APPG on International Freedom of Religion or Belief. A report said the group returned from the visit ‘more worried than on any previous occasion’ – calling the area ‘a place where chaos and fear reign’.

Regular killings, abductions, destruction of homes, schools, and churches have become a common feature of Boko Haram’s strategy for Islamisation of the country, according to the HART report, with weak resistance by Government and security forces; and a clear support given to the militants by outside extremist networks, such as from Sudan and Saudi Arabia.

The HART report said: “Christians in the North, as well as dealing with the poverty, face discrimination in access to employment, health care, education, other services and political positions, particularly in the 12 states which have adopted Sharia law. Permission to build or repair places of worship is consistently denied. Gender discrimination and denial of women’s rights is deeply entrenched both in law and in practice.”

Muslims who do not support Boko Haram have suffered persecution as well at the hands of the militants. The well-funded terror group also offers a lot of money to poverty-stricken young men to join its ranks.

The HART report added: “In Jos, churches now have security to protect them from bombings, including heavy barricades to prevent cars from driving up too close to the church building, and sentries who keep watch throughout the church services. On Sundays, additional roadblocks spring up in an attempt to prevent further attacks, making roads almost impassable.”

Local residents told the HART team they saw no evidence of international experts offered by countries such as the UK to search for the missing girls kidnapped from Chibok. Some 273 Muslim and Christian students from the school attracted media coverage when they were taken in April. However abductions by Boko Haram happen often with 1800 people taken in Maidaguri alone before the Chibok incident.

Education has also been under particular attack with 173 teachers killed this year, to date, and 300 schools burnt since 2012 – depriving 10,000 children of education. Some teachers refuse to carry a pen in their pocket in case they are caught.

Inter-faith initiatives do exist building relationships between Christians and Muslims with a special focus on youth and women.

“It is hoped that such confidence-building measures between the faith communities will help to reduce the propensity for renewed violence,” the HART report added, “and may help the Muslim community who do not wish to radicalise to withstand the pressures from extremists such as Boko Haram.”

Muslims attacked in China, Sri Lanka and Myanmar

Muslim minorities face continued persecution for their faith by religious fanatics backed by authorities in China, Sri Lanka and Myanmar, according to the chief of the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY), on 16 July.

Saleh Al-Wohaibi, who leads the Riyadh-based organisation, said extremist Buddhists and other faith hardliners were systematically targeting Islamic believers in those countries. Attempts by WAMY to transfer financial aid have also been blocked by regulatory agencies, he added.

Mr Al-Wohaibi said: “The Muslim communities in China, Sri Lanka and Myanmar are being subjected to attacks as people around the world celebrate the holy month of Ramadan,”

The youth leader highlighted the recent deaths of hundreds of Muslims in southern Sri Lankan towns with many also seriously injured after attacks by mobs of Buddhists. He also said 150,000 Muslims have been displaced in Myanmar due to religious unrest since June 2012 and some 300 believers killed.

Uighur Muslims in China have faced restrictions with a ban on fasting for government employees and school children during Ramadan.

Read the Arab News article here:

Indian villages ban open practice of non-Hindu faiths

A spokesman for the Chhattisgarh Christian Forum said the village of Belar, in central India, convened a Gram Sabha, or village assembly, on 6 July and passed a resolution banning all non-Hindu religious activities. This echoed a Gram Sabha of representatives from about a dozen villages held 10 May in nearby Sirsiguda village. There, the delegates passed a resolution banning the outward practice of non-Hindu faiths.

“To stop the forced conversion by some outsider religious campaigners and to prevent them from using derogatory language against Hindu deities and customs, the Sirsiguda Gram Sabha bans religious activities such as prayers, meetings and propaganda of all non-Hindu religions,” said the text of the resolution.

Rev. Aneesh Andrews, Methodist district superintend for the region, told World Watch Monitor that after the resolutions are passed, poor Christian families in some villages have been denied government rations of staples such as wheat, rice and sugar, and access to village water sources such as tube wells and common ponds.

“In some places, the passing of the resolution has been followed by attacks on pastors and pulling down of village churches,” Andrews said.

“It is not just passing of a resolution,” he said. “This is a ploy to harass Christians.”

Kyrgyzstan restricts freedom for Ahmadis

On 10 July Kyrgyzstan’s Supreme Court rejected an appeal against two lower courts’ support of the State Commission for Religious Affairs’ (SCRA) refusal to give state registration to the Ahmadi Muslim community. Asel Bayastanova, the Ahmadi’s defence lawyer, told Forum 18 News Service that “it means that Ahmadi Muslims cannot act like Ahmadi Muslims and organise meetings for worship or any other activity together”.

An Ahmadi Muslim, who asked to remain unnamed for fear of state reprisals, told Forum 18 that “this is equal to banning us .. If we are found by the NSS secret police, the ordinary police, or any other state agency to be carrying out ‘illegal’ religious activity, we will be given harsh punishments – maybe even imprisonment.” The SCRA’s lawyer, Zhanibek Botoyev, claimed that “we are not going to send them to prisons”. He also stated that “they can individually pray or read their books in their homes but they must not worship together. Otherwise they will be punished.” He refused to say exactly what punishments will be imposed.

Pakistan: extremists taking hold in Sindh

Sunni Islamic extremists are making inroads in the southern Pakistani province of Sindh. The New York Times, in a major feature, reports that In recent months, Hindu temples have been defaced, Shiite Muslims have been assaulted and Christians have been charged with blasphemy. The Sunni supremacist ideology propagated by Pakistani sectarian groups is similar to the one that is proving so potent in the Middle East, where the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, is flourishing. More

US Senate votes for religious freedom special envoy

On 10 July the U.S. Senate passed the Near East and South Central Asia Religious Freedom Act of 2014, which creates a special envoy within the State Department to promote the religious freedom of religious minorities in the region.

The envoy would be required to:
(1) Promote the right of religious freedom of religious minorities in the countries of the Near East and the countries of South Central Asia, denounce the violation of such right, and recommend appropriate responses by the United States Government when such right is violated.
(2) Monitor and combat acts of religious intolerance and incitement targeted against religious minorities in the countries of the Near East and the countries of South Central Asia.
(3) Work to ensure that the unique needs of religious minority communities in the countries of the Near East and the countries of South Central Asia are addressed, including the economic and security needs of such communities.
(4) Work with foreign governments of the countries of the Near East and the countries of South Central Asia to address laws that are discriminatory toward religious minority communities in such countries.

The bill will now be sent back to the House. US NGO Coptic Solidarity is urging President Obama to sign the bill into law as soon as the House and Senate finalise it, and to immediately appoint a candidate to fill the position.

China restricts Muslims during Ramadan

Several university students from China’s western region of Xinjiang are being banned from fasting during the month of Ramadan. The BBC reports that students said they were being forced to have meals with professors to ensure they were not fasting. Those who refuse to eat risk being punished by officials. As part of a propaganda drive, state-run newspapers in Xinjiang have been running editorials warning about the health dangers of not eating and drinking.

Shadow Foreign Secretary pledges support

Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander MP spoke at a meeting in Parliament yesterday hosted by Christians on the Left in partnership with this APPG. Under the title International Religious Freedom – the next human rights frontier? he emphasised that “The government has a responsibility and an opportunity in this moment to take action on this issue,” adding “People of all faiths and none should be horrified by the persecution of Christians.”

He pledged that “Freedom of religion or belief would absolutely remain a human rights priority for Labour.” Read his speech in full