Along with an especially jarring list of atrocities committed against Christian minorities throughout the Islamic world, March also saw some callous indifference or worse from the U.S. government.
President Barack Obama was criticized by human rights activists for not addressing the plight of Christians and other minorities during his talks with leaders in Saudi Arabia, where Christianity is actively banned.
According to the Washington-based International Christian Concern [ICC] advocacy group, Obama did not "publicly broach the subject of religious freedom" when he spoke on March 28 with Saudi King Abdullah, despite a letter from 70 members of Congress urging him to "address specific human rights reforms" both in public and in direct meetings with the king and other officials.
"This visit was an excellent opportunity for the president to speak up on an issue that affects millions of Saudi citizens and millions more foreign workers living in Saudi Arabia," said Todd Daniels, ICC's Middle East regional manager. He added that it was "remarkable that the president could stay completely silent about religious freedom," despite pressure from Congress "to publicly address the issue, as well as other human rights concerns, with King Abdullah..."
U.S. officials reportedly responded by saying that "Obama had not had time to raise concerns about the kingdom's human rights record."
Separately, after the United States Institute for Peace [USIP] brought together the governors of Nigeria's mostly Muslim northern states for a conference in the U.S., the State Department, citing "administrative" problems, blocked the visa of the region's only Christian governor, Jonah David Jang, an ordained minister. The USIP confirmed that all 19 northern governors were invited, but the organization did not respond to requests for comments on why it would hold talks without the region's only Christian governor.
According to Emmanuel Ogebe, a Nigerian human rights lawyer based in Washington, the Christian governor's "visa problems" are due to anti-Christian bias in the U.S. government: "The U.S. insists that Muslims are the primary victims of Boko Haram. It also claims that Christians discriminate against Muslims in Plateau, which is one of the few Christian majority states in the north. After [Jang, the Christian governor] told them [U.S. authorities] that they were ignoring the 12 Shariah states who [sic] institutionalized persecution … he suddenly developed visa problems… The question remains—why is the U.S. downplaying or denying the attacks against Christians?"
March's roundup of Muslim persecution of Christians around the world includes (but is not limited to) the following accounts, listed by theme and country alphabetical order, not necessarily according to severity.
The Slaughter of Christians
Egypt: During pro-Muslim Brotherhood riots, a young Coptic woman named Mary was murdered—simply because her cross identified her as a Christian to Brotherhood rioters. According to an eyewitness who discussed the entire event on the Egyptian program 90 Minutes, Mary Sameh George was parking by the church to deliver medicine to an elderly woman: "Once they saw that she was a Christian [because of the cross hanging on her rear view mirror], they jumped on top of the car, to the point that the vehicle was no longer visible. The roof of the car collapsed in. When they realized that she was starting to die, they pulled her out of the car and started pounding on her and pulling her hair—to the point that portions of her hair and scalp came off. They kept beating her, kicking her, stabbing her with any object or weapon they could find…. Throughout [her ordeal] she tried to protect her face, giving her back to the attackers, till one of them came and stabbed her right in the back, near the heart, finishing her off. Then another came and grabbed her by the hair, shaking her head, and with the other hand slit her throat. Another pulled her pants off, to the point that she was totally naked."
Nigeria: A Muslim father allegedly slaughtered or had someone else slaughter his daughter with a machete, wounding a pastor and four others in the attack, because she had earlier converted to Christianity. According to police reports, "the suspect allegedly sneaked into the church premises and inflicted machete cuts on the four persons," which seriously wounded them and killed his daughter. Before that, the father had threatened his daughter to return to Islam or else, and she had taken refuge in the church. Police did not make clear if it was the father or an accomplice who committed the assault.
Separately, Muslim Fulani herdsmen launched another night raid into a Christian majority region. They massacred over 150 people, including a pastor, his wife and children; around 200 homes were torched. A surviving eyewitness said there were about 40 attackers, armed with knives, guns and other unidentifiable equipment. They came in the night, set fire to the homes, and burned dozens of Christians alive: "Those that tried to escape were butchered or gun down."
Pakistan: "A young Christian girl was killed by the Pakistani Taliban in the northern region of Pakistan," reported Agenzia Fide: "The girl had spent a few months on the run and in hiding with her cousin, a Muslim who converted to Christianity a few years ago. Since the conversion, the man is considered an 'apostate' and since then he has been the target of the Taliban. In past days, some militants discovered where the two were hiding: the girl in the escape was reached by a bullet and was killed, while the man managed to escape."
Somalia: Members of the militant Islamic group, al-Shabaab, publicly beheaded a mother of two girls and her cousin after discovering they were Christians. According to local sources, the Islamists "called residents to the town center to witness the executions of the 41-year-old mother, Sadia Ali Omar, and her 35-year-old cousin, Osman Mohamoud Moge." Before slaughtering the two women, an al-Shabaab member announced, "We know these two people are Christians who recently came back from Kenya—we want to wipe out any underground Christian living inside of mujahidin [jihadi] area." The two daughters of one of the women, ages 8 and 15, "were witness to the slaughter, sources said, with the younger girl screaming and shouting for someone to save her mother. A friend helped the girls, whose names are withheld, to relocate to another area." She said, "We are afraid that the al-Shabaab might continue monitoring these two children and eventually kill them just like their mother."
Attacks on Christian Churches
Egypt: After countless death sentences were handed out to convicted Muslim Brotherhood members, their supporters protested and rioted in the streets. According to Spero News, "Violence spilled over from demonstrations in the Cairo suburb of Ain Shams when Muslim protesters attacked a Coptic Orthodox Christian church on March 28. Four people were killed in the attack on the church... Among the dead are a 25-year-old journalist and a Coptic Christian worshipper. When Egyptian security forces intervened, violence spread throughout the surrounding neighborhood. Muslim radicals are frequently whipped up into frenzy by their religious leaders on Fridays when they gather for prayer."
Kenya: During Sunday worship service, two heavily-armed gunmen entered the Joy in Jesus Church in Mombasa—a region which according to authorities has a mosque with ties to the Somali Islamic terrorist group al-Shabaab. The gunmen "sprayed the congregation with bullets, killing at least seven Christians and leaving several others in critical condition," including the assistant pastor, according to the Morning Star News. The newspaper continues: "As the attackers fled Joy in Jesus Church, a box holding 26 bullets dropped outside the church" - an act indicating that they intended even more carnage. According to one church leader, "We, as the church, feel that what happened is a retaliation for the attack [by police] that took place in Masjid Musa Mosque recently. When the Muslims are attacked, there is a false generalization that the Christians are the ones doing it. We as the church became a scapegoat for the recent attack on the mosque." (This logic is similar to the barrage of church attacks the Coptic Christians of Egypt suffered after the Muslim Brotherhood and former president Morsi were ousted during the June 30 revolution.
Pakistan: One day after Christians placed a cross on a partially-constructed church that was being built on a fellow Christian's land, a Muslim mob "damaged the building and the land by ploughing the ground with the help of a tractor" and "desecrated" the cross according to the Express Tribune. The chairman of the Human Liberation Commission Pakistan added that "the Christian community was not protected in Pakistan and that they face discrimination at every level." Discussing this incident, Agenzia Fides reported that "when a large group of Islamic extremists saw the Christian symbol [the cross] they arrived unexpectedly with bulldozers and started demolishing the building. ... the perpetrators were not arrested, thanks to the political clout they have. Christians in the neighborhood who have asked for protection to civil authorities, on the other hand have received threats and have to abandon the idea of the project to build a church."
Uganda: In the predominantly Muslim districts of the Christian-majority nation, "Islamic extremists burned down two church buildings of the Free Church of Christ in February and the home of a church leader" in March, as reported by the Morning Star News. Bishop James Kinyewa, 47, said: "While I was preaching, I heard loud noise, people saying, 'Fire! Fire!' coming from nearby neighbors." He went on to say that he found "rowdy Muslim youths with clubs and machetes" who prevented him and others from trying to put out the fire from his house. "They were shouting, 'Allahu Akbar' [Allah is greater]." he said. "Now the same militant group is hunting for my life. My family and I are now hiding ourselves, homeless and waiting for God's intervention." Everything inside the two razed church buildings, which served 240 people, was destroyed. "My church members have no place to worship," the bishop said.
Attacks on Christian Freedom: Apostasy, Blasphemy, Proselytism
Brunei: A new penal code in the Muslim-majority nation threatens school principals and schoolteachers with five years' imprisonment and up to $20,000 in fines if they teach or speak to a Muslim child of religions other than Islam. (Future punishments may include amputation and execution.) According to the new law, based on Sharia, or Islamic law, it is a crime "to persuade, influence, incite, encourage a child with non- Islamic teaching." It is also a crime to "expose the child to any ceremony or act of worship which is not Islamic or allow the child to participate in activities for the benefit of other religions." The new law is of especial concern to private Christian schools, which Muslim students also attend.
Iran: Vahid Hakkani, a Christian man who was imprisoned and sentenced to 44 months in jail, after being found guilty of "attending a house-church, spreading Christianity, having contact with foreign [Christian] ministries" and "disrupting national security," began a hunger strike in prison to protest the rejection of his conditional release appeal by the Revolutionary Court, despite concerns for his health. Far from rethinking his sentence, according to his family, "prison authorities will transfer him to solitary confinement because he refuses to stop his hunger strike."
Separately, eight more Christians were detained, blindfolded, and interrogated by security forces for their "Christian activities," said rights activists. Some members of the group had their personal items, including cell phones, confiscated.
Kazakhstan: Christian preaching is "extremely harmful to mental health of the people": such was the ruling of a law court which led to the sentencing of a Christian pastor, Bakhytzhan Kashkumayev, to four years in prison. According to Agenzia Fides, "the [67-year-old] Pastor, who is responsible for the Grace Church in the Kazak capital Astana was found guilty of 'causing serious mental disorder' to a presumed victim Lyazzat Almenova. The Pastor will also have to pay a heavy fine ... for the 'moral damage' inflicted." The pastor's lawyer said that this is one of the "strangest cases he has ever come across, in terms of legality."
Pakistan: Sawan Masih, accused of blaspheming, has been sentenced to death at a hearing held in his prison cell, "out of fears that Masih might be attacked on his way to court." In March 2013, after Masih, a Christian, was accused of maligning the prophet of Islam, he was arrested by police. Even after his arrest, thousands of Muslims attacked Christian colonies, and burned churches and homes. Christians who protested were attacked by the police. To this day, not one of the thousands of rampaging Muslims has been convicted.
Separately, two other Christians, a paralyzed, sickly man and his wife, also accused of "blasphemy via sms"—that is, blaspheming via text messaging—remained in prison. According to "World Vision in Progress," the "judges of the High Court were initially convinced of what was said by the defense. But after pressure from Muslim religious leaders and the threats of extremists in Gojra, the judges denied bail, saying the case will be completed within two months. Radical Muslims had already threatened defense lawyers many times." Concerning the aforementioned Christian man sentenced to death, Fr. James Channan OP, Director of the Peace Center in Lahore, Pakistan, said the following: "It was a dispute over a matter concerning property. But the Muslim took advantage, finding a shortcut and accused Sawan of blasphemy. The whole world knows what happened next. Over 100 Christian homes of Joseph Colony, a Christian neighborhood in Lahore, were destroyed, 2 churches burned, Bibles desecrated and Crosses destroyed by an angry mob of more than 3,000 fanatics. The Christians of Joseph Colony still live in danger and fear that the mob might attack again at any time. ... After Sawan's death sentence, I ask myself: where is justice? Why is nothing done against these innocent Christians who have been attacked and have lost their possessions? What about the churches which were desecrated, Bibles burned and crosses destroyed? Is this not blasphemy?"
Uganda: When a 23-year-old Muslim woman converted to Christianity and a neighbor informed her father, "My father began beating me with clubs and blows, and I started screaming in great pain," she said. "While I was down on the floor bleeding, my father went looking for a knife to kill me. A neighbor named Saleem arrived and helped me escape." She found lodging from a nearby church and was taken to a hospital the next day.
Bangladesh: The home of a Catholic family was torched and destroyed during the night, and the culprits, according to residents, "could be Islamic fundamentalists." The family, two women and two children, managed to escape the blaze. According to one of the women, "Three days before the fire we saw some people unknown to us behind our house. They asked around if we were Christians. We feel that this attack was premeditated by them. We have lost in [sic] everything, including our Bible and the crucifix. All we have left are the cloth[e]s on our backs." A local priest adds: "This is an attack against the minority, and could be the hands of Islamic extremists. They are very powerful in the area."
Iraq: A Christian politician and member of the Assyrian Democratic Movement "denounced some officials of the Nineveh province after collecting documented evidence on the corrupt system where many properties—land and houses—belonging to Christians change hands in an illegal and secret manner, without any mandate on behalf of their legitimate owners." He also called on Iraqi Christians who fled their homeland to check the status of the property they left in Iraq and reaffirm their full rights to them.
Pakistan: A March report by Agenzia Fides offers a glimpse of the endemic rape and sexual abuse of Christian girls at the hands of Muslims: "The rape of girls belonging to religious minorities is a very common phenomenon in Pakistan. Christian women are a prime target, because the most vulnerable and defenseless. The majority of cases are not even reported to the police and, when it happens, the perpetrators of violence often go unpunished. The Christian community is still shocked by the recent case of Sumbal, a 5-year-old Christian girl, raped by a group of Muslim men on a street in Lahore. ... Another recent case ... concerns a Muslim man from Lahore who attempted to rape two Christian girls, sisters, aged 1 and 3. ... A few months ago another case aroused indignation: that of a 9-year-old Christian girl who suffered a gang rape by three young Muslims. Violence against children are [sic] committed with ease, explains a source of Fides that assists victims, especially because the perpetrators remain unpunished: injustice fuels the vicious cycle of violence. In 2004, a case that caused uproar around the world was the brutal rape of a-two-year old child Neha Munir, raped because her father, Munir Masih, a Christian, refused to convert to Islam."
Syria: Al-Qaeda-linked Islamic jihadis crossed into Syrian territory over the Turkish border and launched an attack on the Christian Armenian town of Kessab. Among other acts, "Snipers targeted the civilian population and launched mortar attacks on the town and the surrounding villages." Reportedly eighty people were killed. The jihadis later made a video touring the devastated town. No translation is needed, as the main phrase shouted throughout is Islam's triumphant war cry, "Allahu Akbar." About two-thousand Armenians were evacuated to neighboring areas. While occupying Kessab, the jihadi terrorists desecrated the town's three Armenian churches.
Jihadists pose in the deserted streets of the Christian Armenian town of Kessab, Syria, after conquering it and reportedly killing 80 people. (Image source: Salma Media Center YouTube video)
Turkey: Five men held in prison as suspects in the 2007 "Malatya Massacre"—when three Christian missionaries were tortured to death—were released. The five walked free from their high-security prison because their time in detention while still on trial exceeded new legal limits. "It is deeply disturbing to hear that the five men responsible for these brutal murders have been freed on bail, including three who were arrested at the crime scene," said Christian Solidarity Worldwide's chief executive Mervyn Thomas. "We urge the Turkish authorities to take every necessary measure to ensure they remain in the country to face justice, which has been exceedingly long in coming. This trial has been ongoing for six years with no indication of a conclusion in the near future. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of the victims, to whom the release of these men has dealt yet another blow, no doubt leaving them with a deepening sense of uncertainty as to whether they will ever see justice for their loved ones. For their sakes, the Turkish authorities must ensure that justice is served as a matter of urgency."
About this Series
While not all, or even most, Muslims are involved, persecution of Christians is expanding. "Muslim Persecution of Christians" was developed to collate some—by no means all—of the instances of persecution that surface each month.
It documents what the mainstream media often fails to report.
It posits that such persecution is not random but systematic, and takes place in all languages ethnicities and locations.
Raymond Ibrahim is author of Crucified Again: Exposing Islam's New War in Christians (published by Regnery in cooperation with Gatestone Institute, April 2013).
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