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.
Oct. 11, Afghanistan
A gaffe by the Prime Minister of Australia could have jeopardized the defense of the Western Christians -- including two American women -- being held on charges of proselytism.
Intending to speak in support of the two Australians among the eight held since early August, John Howard said the pair had been guilty of nothing but preaching Christianity, "The Australian" reported. Howard commented: "We can't have a situation where the safety and the treatment of people who are doing nothing but preaching Christianity are put under threat in the way that the Taliban have done in relation to these people."
Joseph Thomas, whose sister Diana is one of those being held, said that Howard had "obviously slipped up." Shelter Now International, for whom the eight were working, has maintained that the staff were not involved in evangelism and were in the country to help with humanitarian aid. Evangelism is outlawed by the Taliban, under sentence of death.
Family and friends of Dayna Curry and Heather Mercer, the two Americans being held, fear that the outcome of the trial could be affected by the U.S. military air strikes. Newspapers have said that since the military action began, the two women and their colleagues have gone from being detainees to hostages.
Oct. 17, Philippines
Military intelligence has disclosed that an American missionary couple held hostage by Muslim extremists is being pressured by their captors to convert to Islam. According to Assist News Service (ANS), Abu Sayyaf rebels, who kidnapped Martin and Gracia Burnham along with 18 others on May 27 from a resort off the island of Palawan, are forcing conversion on the members of the Sanford, Fla.-based New Tribes Mission and a number of Christian Filipino hostages.
A Philippine newspaper reported that Reynaldo Ariston and Joel Guillo were forced to embrace Islam, otherwise they would be beheaded. The Christian farmers were able to escaped unharmed last week, but the two admitted that the Abu Sayyaf "converted" them to Islam, ANS reported. Ariston was given the name Abu Hajid while Guillo was baptized Abu Abdul. But Guillo maintained: "I still believe in Jesus. Jesus was the one who set us free.
The Associated Press reported earlier this week that the Burnhams were threatened with beheading before the country's leader visits President Bush next month, if the army doesn't stop its offensive on the group. In a radio broadcast, Abu Sabaya, a rebel leader in the southern Philippines, vowed he will kill the Manila residents, who are originally from Kansas, in time for President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's planned Nov. 20 trip to meet with Bush.
Oct. 18, Sudan
As world attention focuses on America's military action in Afghanistan, Christian groups have warned that oppression of Christians in Sudan is intensifying. They raised the alarm after recent air strikes by the Islamic government's military on villages in the predominantly Christian and animist south.
More than a dozen people were killed and as many injured in the raids. Christian Solidarity International said that aerial bombardments of civilian targets, including international aid centers, had increased since United Nations sanctions against Sudan were lifted following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in America.
The World Evangelical Fellowship (WEF) Religious Liberty Commission said in a prayer alert: "The international community needs to recognize that the Islamic government of Sudan is a perpetrator of continual terror upon its own citizens, especially Christians, and that the victims who are Arab converts and black Africans are just as worthy of protection as Americans and other Westerners."
WEF said the attempt to impose Islamic rule on the country in the last 15 years had seen "brutal, institutionalized slavery on a massive scale, constant bombing, massacres and scorched-earth raids...torture...forced conversions."
On Oct. 6, church leaders said authorities took over their two churches as officials rounded up every Christian in the town in an attempt to pressure them to sign a document denying they believed in Christ.
"They tried every possible means available to get the Christians to deny Christ, including both appearing friendly and also threatening the Christians with imprisonment," church leaders wrote in an e-mail letter to CAM, a Charlottesville, Va.-based relief organization.
Summoning 10 people from the churches to a Buddhist temple, authorities repeatedly asked church leaders to sign a document to deny Christ -- but none did. Finally, the authorities said, "If you refuse to sign, then give us the church buildings." Church leaders resisted, citing a freedom of religion provision in the Laos Constitution.
But authorities drafted their own document to close the churches, signed it themselves and went to the two church buildings, CAM reported. They nailed pieces of wood across the doors and seized bags of Bibles. Authorities also warned church members that if anyone took away the bars on the doors they would face punishment. None of the members were present when the authorities nailed the doors shut.
Also earlier this month, authorities confiscated a church in the Songkorn district of the Savannkhet province, forcing Christians to worship in tears outside the building.
Oct. 25, Bangladesh
Christian groups are concerned that recent election results reveal an alarming trend toward more radical Islam. The Bangladesh Nationalist Party, backed by radical Islamic groups, took power earlier this month in a landslide victory over a secular party favored by Christians and minority groups.
Some analysts say the Islamic fervor has been aroused by America's military action in Afghanistan, galvanizing Muslim solidarity. The World Evangelical Fellowship (WEF) Religious Liberty Commission said in a prayer alert that Christians, who number about 400,000 or less than half of 1 percent in Bangladesh's population of 130 million, are at risk of losing their religious liberties.
"The regional crisis with its language of holy war and Muslim solidarity is a threat to the security of Christians in Bangladesh, and they [and other minorities] are being attacked and harassed following the elections," WEF said.
Oct. 29, Philippines
Reports that an American missionary couple kidnapped in the Philippines have been executed have been dismissed as inaccurate. Radio broadcasts on the southern island of Mindanao claimed yesterday that Martin and Gracia Burnham, abducted five months ago, had been killed by their Muslim captors.
But the reports were dismissed today as "unreliable" by New Tribes Mission (NTM), the Sanford, Fla.-based ministry with whom the Burnhams have served in the Philippines for 16 years. NTM said that there was "no credible source" for the murder claims.
Wahab Akbar, Philippines regional governor, said in a statement today that the Burnhams were still alive "contrary to rumors they were beheaded," Reuters reported. Akbar also said that leaders of the militant Abu Sayyaf group that were holding the couple were reportedly prepared to release them for a $2 million ransom.
The Burnhams, both 42, have three children. The pair was abducted along with 18 others from a beach resort in May. NTM said that although reports suggested that the Burnhams were doing well, their lengthy captivity was "taking [its] toll." Elsewhere in the Philippines the Abu Sayyaf, said to have links to Osama bin Laden, was blamed for the weekend bombing of a food court in Zamboanga. Six people died and more than 50 others were injured.
Oct. 30, Vietnam
A Roman Catholic priest has been sentenced to 15 years in prison after being found guilty of undermining the country's unity by speaking out against religious freedom abuses.
Father Thadeus Nguyen Van Ly was placed on administrative leave and banned from serving his church after speaking to a U.S. government committee earlier this year, when he urged Congress to delay ratification of a bilateral trade agreement until Vietnam eased restrictions on religion.
Reporting the priest's imprisonment, Voice of the Martyrs said the sentencing was "only the latest in a series of actions by Vietnam's Communist government taken in the last year against members of non-approved religious groups."
A San Antonio evangelist's crusade in Khartoum, the capital of Islamic-ruled Sudan, has been canceled due to security concerns. Authorities rescinded permission for Sammy Tippit's five-day evangelistic meetings, which were supposed to start yesterday and run through Sunday, for fear that threats from Muslim extremists could result in wide-scale violence against Christians.
"Government leaders have investigated the threats thoroughly and believe they are credible and there is a potential for bloodshed at the stadium, so as a safety precaution, they've canceled the meetings," Tippit said. "But we can be encouraged that...in the opening meeting, 20,000 people attended and 5,000 people responded to the invitation to receive Christ."
Tippit's crusade was to be the first in Khartoum since evangelist Reinhard Bonnke cut short his meetings in April. Even before the cancellation, Tippit had been uncertain whether his meetings would be permitted, especially in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the bombings in Afghanistan.
Tippit had been asked to preach in Sudan by the All Sudan Council of Churches (ASCC), comprised of Catholic and Protestant congregations and denominations. ASCC representatives attended his pastor's conference last November in Cairo, Egypt. A pastor's conference being held in conjunction with Tippit's Khartoum crusade was allowed to continue.