Oct. 3, Saudi Arabia
The leader of a government body that monitors religious freedom has warned against overlooking persecution of Christians in countries whose cooperation is needed in the U.S. war on terrorism.
Steven T. McFarland, executive director of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, said many democratic governments may be tempted to "toss overboard" religious freedom concerns. "After all, who can worry about 13 church leaders jailed in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, when we need that kingdom's airfields and airspace?"
But jettisoning human rights would be a serious mistake because religious freedom is not a luxury but "absolutely necessary to combat terror and the conditions that incubate terrorism," he said in a statement released by Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).
Fifteen people have been arrested in Saudi Arabia in the last two months as authorities crack down on Christian activity by foreign nationals. A Filipino believer was deported after spending two days in a coma "as a direct result of the appalling conditions in which he was held," said CSW. Under Saudi law, nationals are not allowed to convert from Islam, though foreign Christians may meet privately for worship.
Oct. 10, Afghanistan
The two American women on trial for their life are bearing up well, two months after being arrested along with six other Western Christian aid workers. The report came yesterday from a British female journalist who briefly shared a cell with Heather Mercer and Dayna Curry, after being arrested by the Taliban.
Writing of her experiences in "The Daily Express" after being released, Yvonne Ridley said during part of her 10-day imprisonment she had been with the six women working for Shelter Now International (SNI) who were detained in August after Christian materials were found in an Afghani home.Oct. 4, Pakistan
Many Christians have returned to the homes they fled fearing reprisals for anti-Muslim incidents in the United States following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. But they remain uneasy, bracing themselves for likely trouble in the wake of an American strike against Afghanistan.
Despite the government's support of action against terrorism, much of the country's predominantly Muslim population has expressed support for Afghanistan's ruling Taliban. Some Muslim leaders have urged their followers to take revenge on Pakistani Christians for attacks on Muslims in the United States, "The Baltimore Sun" reported.
According to The Barnabas Fund, based in the United Kingdom, one church has already been stoned and a Christian school vandalized. Emmanuel Lorraine, pastor of a church in Rawalpindi said the country was a tinderbox, the "Sun" reported. "If this erupts in our country, I believe no one will be able to stop them."
The newspaper said that the terrorist attacks had only heightened existing religious tensions in the country, where just 2 percent of the 141 million population is Christian. S.M. Gill, a church elder, said that his home had been stoned three times in the last two months.
Oct. 9, Sudan
A student who converted to Christianity from Islam is recovering after being severely beaten and tortured by security police - allegedly according to the wishes of his family.
Mohammed Saeed Mohammed Omer Omer told Compass Direct that his uncle had threatened to kill him just three days before he was arrested off a Khartoum street last month. He was picked up by security officials as he returned from a personal discipleship appointment with a local pastor.
"He was tortured and beaten, and he lost three finger nails pulled out with pliers," a local source told Compass. Omer was forced to sign papers promising not to attend any other church or Christian meeting in the future, but he refused to renounce his faith in Christ, Compass said.
Omer became a Christian last December while studying at a university in India. When his family learned of his conversion they ordered him home and pressured him to recant. After the death threat from his uncle, he moved away from home to live with a friend. Since his arrest and torture, however, he has been under "virtual house arrest" by his family, Compass said.
The women "just had a tremendous inner strength," Ridley wrote. The Kabul prison where they were being held was "squalid," but the Taliban had made attempts to clean the cell and make it hygienic, she said. "Before, there were cockroaches, scorpions and mice." Ridley said that one of the women, whom she did not identify, had been on a hunger strike for 20 days.
Arrested after crossing into Afghanistan from Pakistan, Ridley was initially told she would be put on trial for spying, but she was released on Monday. The SNI workers have been charged with proselytizing, which carries the death sentence. The hearing was due to have resumed over the weekend. Atif Ali Khan, the Pakistani defense attorney, told the Associated Press yesterday that the SNI workers were scared but safe after the first U.S. military air raids.