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Persecuted Christians in 1996

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There is an increasing awareness that Christians world-wide are denied basic freedoms and are the target of discrimination, harassment, imprisonment, and torture by intolerant religious and government forces. We do not read much about this in the secular news media. The following article is taken from the Christian Observer, June 7th, 1996 issue, entitled Ò1996 Top Ten Offenders Against Christians.Ó It is a report supplied by International Christian Concern (ICC), 2020 Pennsylvania Ave, NW, No. 941, Washington, DC 20006. In addition to the ten countries mentioned in this article, Algeria, Burundi, Ghana, Indonesia, Morocco, Myanmar, Iran and Turkey are also intolerant towards Christians and are closely monitored by the ICC.

It is a blessing that there are organizations, mission agencies and radio broadcasts to support and encourage these persecuted Christians. We are also happy that some leading U.S. congressmen have taken up the cause of some of these persecuted believers. Churches have called for prayer and support. Let us pray too that the Lord will give these persecuted brothers and sisters persevering grace and we may stand when we are called to suffer for the sake of the Gospel.

Sudan
Over the past ten years, the Arab-Islamic radical government in Khartoum has openly declared a Òholy warÓ against the Christians and other non-Muslims of southern Sudan. An estimated 1-1/2 to 2 million Sudanese have died. The majority of the casualties resulted from the governmentÕs imposed famines, warfare, and the displacement of millions of people from their homes. The incidents of persecution against Christians include using food as an inducement to force Christians to convert to Islam as well as wide-spread reports of slavery and rape of women and children. There have been reports of crucifixions and torture of Christians. One military officer allegedly buried alive a young Christian soldier in the parade ground, head down, as a warning to other Christian soldiers to convert to Islam.

Saudi Arabia
Considered to be the most closed country in the world to Christians, the open display of Christian symbols is prohibited and Christian meeting places are forbidden. Foreign workers are commonly arrested, jailed, and deported for holding worship services in private homes. Under Saudi Islamic laws, conversion to Christianity is forbidden and these laws are strictly enforced by the religious police.

China
Perhaps more Christians consistently practice their faith in China than any other country in the world. An estimated 50-100 million Christians are meeting ÒillegallyÓ in private homes, fields, and even caves, defying a government ban on such gatherings. With government permission, Bibles and Christian literature are available only to state-registered churches which have agreed to adhere to the Communist governmentÕs restrictive regulations. It is illegal for Chinese Christians to meet with foreigners, unless special permission is granted. Frequently house churches are raided by the Public Security Bureau (government police) and their leaders arrested. Heavy fines and the confiscation of property as punishment are commonplace. Over 300 evangelists and house church leaders are serving sentences ranging from 6 months to 30 years in Òre-educationÓ labour camps. ChinaÕs law limiting the size of a family to one child is an added offence to many Christians. ICC sources have reported that the Chinese government has launched a sweeping campaign to attempt to exterminate all illegal house churches by the end of 1996.

North Korea
As one of the worldÕs most repressive regimes, the total number of Christians in prisons and labour camps is unknown. Christians are subjected to harsh persecution by the Communist government. Christians who violate the government ban on evangelizing and distributing Bibles and Christian literature are strictly punished with imprisonment, torture, and fines.

Cuba
Scores of house church leaders have been locked up and the Cuban police have closed down hundreds of churches throughout Cuba. Pastor Orson Vila is one example of the Cuban government crackdown against evangelical Protestant pastors. Pastor Vila was arrested and given a one-and-a-half year prison sentence. Vila is responsible for having started a movement that led to the founding of nearly 1,000 churches; more than half are house churches. His uncompromising stand for Christ and his growing popularity are believed to have led to his arrest. The government intends to make an example of how it will not tolerate growth of new converts in the unauthorized house churches. Pastor Vila and many more pastors have been warned to close down their house churches, but they have refused to comply. Wide-spread revival in Cuba has caused the government to fear losing control over the people.

Pakistan
Despite claims of having a secular government, PakistanÕs Islamic Sharia law serves as a constant reminder to Pakistani Christians that imprisonment or death hangs over their heads. With a score to settle, disgruntled Muslims have used PakistanÕs blasphemy laws to seek vengeance against Christians. In 1994, illiterate 12-year-old Salamat Masih, a Christian, was charged with Òscribbling blasphemous statementsÓ on a mosque wall. He escaped the mandatory death sentence, much due to international pressure. He and another defendant have since fled Pakistan to Germany. Muslim extremists have offered a $30,000 bounty to anyone who would kill them. Two other Christians were also falsely charged. The blasphemy charges gave Muslims not only the right but the obligation to kill the three. One of the defendants, Manzoor Masih, along with another man, was killed and Salamat and another Christian were wounded in a hail of gunfire from two Muslim radicals on a motorcycle. At least five Christians have died from torture and one from poisoning while in police custody. Sadique Masih remains in prison and is awaiting trial on blasphemy charges. A number of other outspoken Christian leaders have recently been accused of blasphemy and death threats have been made against them.

Egypt
Muslim violence against Christians increased during the past two years. Two Islam attacks against Christians and churches took place in February 1996 and eight Christians were killed. Security police detained a significant number of Muslims converting to Christianity. The government generally respects most human rights, but the continuing imposition of the Òemergency lawÓ is used to restrict Christian rights. At least 10 percent (5.5 million) of Egyptians are Coptic believers, the largest Christian minority. Egypt considers Islam as the official state religion. Religious activities that are considered at conflict with Islam are restricted. Muslim-Christian conflicts have resulted in the destruction of several churches and Christian businesses over the past five years. The government does little to bring to justice the perpetrators of crimes against Christians. Permits to build or remodel existing churches are currently limited to 20 permits per year. Three Christians in the town of Alexandria were arrested in January 1995 simply for having made repairs to a bathroom. In 1994, two churches were closed down in Alexandria for allegedly not having a building permit. On the other hand, mosques are being built at a steady pace; half never acquiring a building permit. Discrimination against Christians is evident in education, the media, and hiring practices.

Vietnam
Despite the normalizing of relations between the US and Vietnam in 1995, the new economic openness has done little to promote religious freedom for VietnamÕs one-half million Christians. Although arrests and tortures have decreased, the communist government has shown no sign of diverting from its previous path of a systematic campaign to divide and control religious communities. A number of Catholic and evangelical pastors are still imprisoned and new arrests, torture, and harassment have been reported. While the Vietnamese church has persevered and even grown under persecution, like China, it can be expected that the government will continue to maintain control by means of force.

Nigeria
Due to pressure from Muslim extremists and lucrative Arab inducements, persecution against Christians in Nigeria continues unabated. The Nigerian authorities have started closing down Christian schools in the SouthÑand have been attempting to force the teaching of the Koran in all Nigerian schools. Sixty Nigerian Christians are facing trial after being accused of inciting a religious war in the Muslim Bauchi State. The charges stem from Christian-Muslim violence in July 1995 in which 31 Christian villages and seven Muslim villages were destroyed. Hundreds of people were hacked, shot, and burned to death. Far more Christians than Muslims were killed, yet very few Muslims are being prosecuted. Three people are known to have disappeared over the past year after converting to Christianity.

Uzbekistan
Repression against evangelical Christians has dramatically increased in many of the former Soviet republics. The Uzbekistan government is the leading offender of religious freedom. Indigenous and foreign Christians are now being closely monitored. Uzbek Christians are frequently interrogated and intimidated by the authorities. A new law will impose a 40 percent tax on the income of foreign workers. Evangelistic efforts are hindered by Muslim leaders and the government.

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