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World Watch Monitor

Religious persecution, missions, Christianity around the world

A newly implemented directive from the Chinese government forces Protestant ‘house churches’ and Catholic ‘underground’ communities to seek ‘guidance’ from recognised religious organisations.

A notification from the State Administration for Religious Affairs, issued earlier this month, requires organisers of religious activities at temporary sites to also apply for a permit that is valid for three years, Catholic news website UCAN reported.

According to Professor Ying Fuk-tsang, director of the Divinity School at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, these recognised religious organisations include the China Christian Council and the national committee of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement, which are known in China as the “two organisations”.

The directive has caused fear among the ‘underground’ communities that they will come under greater control, according to UCAN.

“It is well known that many ‘house churches’ are reluctant to register and are willing to be an illegal organisation because they do not want to be under the two organisations,” Professor Fuk-tsang wrote on his Facebook page.

The notification follows revised religious regulations in February, which spelled out criteria that religious organisations have to meet in order to be registered or to establish a place for religious activities.

100 churches closed in one month

The revised regulations have in reality been in force since the early 1980s, according to Aaron Ma, an Asia-based researcher for the Christian advocacy charity Open Doors International, but he said they were now being taken more seriously.

“There is now a heightened sense that a breach of regulations will be met by some form of warning, increased surveillance, or punishment. Certainly, most churches feel it is time to take extra precautions, to downsize or maybe even relocate some of their ministries,” he told World Watch Monitor.

The enforcement of the religious regulations varies across the country and appears to depend on local authorities’ interpretation of it, a local source told World Watch Monitor. Church leaders in several places, such as the eastern province of Zhejiang, where between 2013 and 2015 over 1,200 crosses were pulled down from churches, told the source that although “it sounds becoming more serious, yet at this moment we don’t feel much different”.

One hundred churches were closed in Nanyang, in central Henan province, in the month of March alone. Ma said local contacts told him that “Christians who used their own church building for meetings were targeted, and their buildings closed”. Consequently, he said, Christians had gone back to meeting in homes.

Elsewhere in Henan, Ma said that officials banned ‘house church’ meetings and then went door-to-door, warning residents to stop attending ‘illegal’ church meetings – or else face serious consequences.

The researcher suggested officials sometimes felt torn between superiors who voiced hostility towards Christians, and the local Christians with whom they had built positive relations. “In the wake of recent speeches by top leaders, local authorities do not want to appear weak when implementing new regulations. Conversely, they do not want to upset the tentative, but effective, relationship they have with local churches,” he said.

“There is also the possibility that a crackdown will spark demonstrations, or lead to information being leaked to overseas media [seen as ‘biased’ by the government], so authorities must be extremely prudent in their engagement with the Church. The level of enforcement also varies from region to region, depending on this tentative relationship, and how the Church responds each time pressure is applied.”

One example of what appears a measured and acceptable way for local authorities to show their subservience to the ruling party is to warn unregistered churches not to meet in rented or self-built church venues (e.g. commercial buildings), Ma said.

More and more regions are adopting this approach, and an increasing number of landlords refuse to extend leases to local churches, he added.

‘A de-stabilising force’

Two fears held by the Chinese government are foreign forces using religion to infiltrate China, and social unrest or separatism at home, said Ma.

Beijing has long sought the ‘Sinicisation’ of religion, which requires religions considered foreign to China, whose may adherents may attract foreign support, to adapt to Chinese socialist society.

Some surmise that so-called ‘foreign’ religions, particularly Islam and Christianity, will be forced to cast off their attachment to external forces and morph into Chinese-style religions that fit both culturally and politically. Affiliation with overseas religious groups and receipt of overseas funding are the primary concerns voiced by authorities,” Ma said.

In March, China’s Communist Party (CCP) disbanded its Religious Affairs Bureau to bring religion under the direct control of the party’s Central Committee. Catholic commentator Eric Lai said at the time that the Communist Party wants “to use religion as a tool for stability” – mirroring the approaches of other authoritarian governments, such as Russia.

Sinicisation is also the government’s answer to unify its culturally, linguistically and religiously diverse population, Ma said.

“Rather than encourage unity based on a celebration of diversity, they have preferred an intentional and sustained process of Sinicisation to create uniformity in order to achieve President Xi Jinping’s dream of ‘rejuvenation of the Chinese nation’. Social stability must be preserved at all cost,” he said.

In this scenario Christians are an enigma to the CCP, he explained: “The CCP believes the Church is a de-stabilising force, but not because it is bad; in fact, local communities and authorities tend to believe Christians are good people. Some suggest that because Christians’ allegiance is first and foremost to God and not the Communist Party, there is a conflict of interests that the party believes can potentially hinder the process of unification. Others are more concerned by what they perceive as potential ‘chaos’ arising from the huge number of Christians.”

As World Watch Monitor reported in October, the rapid growth of Christianity in the country has made some government officials nervous. According to Fenggang Yang, a professor of sociology at Purdue University and a leading expert on religion in China, China’s Christian population might reach 247 million by 2030, “making it the world’s largest congregation”.


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Photo: A ‘house church’ meeting in China in 2005.

Photo courtesy: World Watch Monitor

Publication date: June 22, 2018

The UN’s Secretary General has stressed the importance of Christians returning to the areas from which they fled in Iraq and Syria.

“I am fully convinced that after the stability of the situation in Iraq and Syria and the adoption of a certain political decision, it is very important to ensure the return of the Christians, in general, to the religious minorities, and the Yazidis themselves, to their homeland,” António Guterres told Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill yesterday.

“My concern is very personal,” he added.

The secretary general made his comments on World Refugee Day, as Refugee Week is marked around the world.

Pope Francis used the occasion to express his solidarity with those who had to leave their homes, in a number of tweets.

A person’s dignity does not depend on them being a citizen, a migrant, or a refugee. Saving the life of someone fleeing war and poverty is an act of humanity. #WithRefugees @M_RSection

— Pope Francis (@Pontifex) June 20, 2018

“We encounter Jesus in those who are poor, rejected, or refugees. Do not let fear get in the way of welcoming our neighbour in need,” he said in one tweet.

The 2017 Global Report of the UN High Commissioner of Refugees (UNHCR) noted that the number of refugees and internally displaced people as a result of conflicts reached a new record last year.

By the end of 2017, 68.5 million people had been driven from their homes across the world as a result of persecution, conflict, or violence, leading to 40 million internally displaced people (IDPs), 25.4 million refugees and 3.1 million asylum-seekers.

Among them were 16.6 million newly displaced people, which amounts to 44,400 people forcibly displaced from their homes every day last year and is the highest annual number recorded by the UNHCR.

As for newly internally displaced people in 2017, the six most represented countries were Syria, the DRC, South Sudan, Somalia, Iraq, and the Philippines.

As for refugees, according to the UNHCR the came mostly from five nations: Syria (6.3 million), Afghanistan (2.6 million), South Sudan (2.4 million), Myanmar (1.2 million) and Somalia (986,400).

Precise figures are hard to come by for the numbers of people who became refugees or were internally displaced because of persecution due to their Christian faith, but World Watch Monitor has reported on several cases when that has been the motivating factor.

Afghanistan – 2

Ranked second on the 2018 Open Doors World Watch List of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian, Afghanistan narrowly missed being ranked joint top of the list, losing out finally to North Korea.

Afghanistan is the source of the second-largest refugee population globally, with 2.6 million people forcibly displaced outside of their country. Many moved to the neighbouring Islamic republics of Iran and Pakistan, but hundreds of thousands more migrated elsewhere.

The country was the top source of asylum applications in 2017, with 124,900 claims submitted in 80 different countries, making Syria no longer the most common country of origin for new asylum-seekers.

And despite fleeing an ongoing conflict, Afghans aren’t always automatically given refugee status. Many have been sent home, in spite of warnings from groups such as Amnesty International, which said last year that “all returnees face a real risk of serious human rights violations” and that some, such as religious minorities and converts to Christianity, face additional risks.

Somalia – 3

In 2016, Somalia, third on the World Watch List, also produced the third-highest number of refugees, after Syria and Afghanistan. In 2017 it was fifth, with a total of almost one million refugees, while 3.2 million more were displaced, according to the UNHCR.

Although many factors lead Somali people to leave their homes, like the lack of political and civil liberties, and drought, religious persecution is a “dangerously underestimated” factor, according to a report in January 2017 by Open Doors.

Meanwhile the militant Islamist group Al-Shabaab, founded in Somalia, says it wants the country to be “free of all Christians”, and it is able to act with impunity in Somalia’s lawless and tribal society.

Syria – 15

Syria, 15th on the World Watch List, continues to be the number-one source of refugees: 12.6 million Syrians were displaced globally at the end of 2017. Among them were 6.3 million refugees, 6.2 million IDPs and 146,700 asylum-seekers.

In the midst of the civil war, churches and Christian-owned businesses have been targets of bombings by the Islamic State and other extremist groups, and there have been many reports of Christians being abducted, harmed and killed. Even so, many of Syria’s remaining Christians are committed to staying and rebuilding their country. Others are now returning home following IS’s military defeat.

Christians are seen as a vital factor in maintaining the balance in Syria’s pluralist society, Rev. Andrew Ashdown told an audience at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies earlier this month.

He quoted a Muslim writer in Damascus, who had told him: “I speak to you as a Muslim. Go back to your country and tell your country not to worry about us Muslims, but tell your country to worry about the Christians, because if your country gets rid of Assad and militants win this conflict, Christians will be destroyed in Syria. And Syria will be destroyed. And next will be Europe.”

Myanmar – 24

The third-largest group of new refugees last year originated from the Southeast Asian nation of Myanmar (also known as Burma), which is 24th on the World Watch List.

More than 655,000 Rohingya Muslims refugees were displaced to Bangladesh in the second half of 2017.

And this year an ongoing conflict in northern Kachin state has flared up, causing more than 6,000 people belonging to the largely Christian minority group to flee their homes. They joined the 150,000 people who were already displaced following the collapse of a ceasefire between Myanmar’s army and Kachin rebels in 2011.

South Sudan

Shortly after gaining its independence in 2011, South Sudan descended into a civil war. According to the UNHCR, in 2017 South Sudan was the country that showed the biggest increase in people forced from their homes.

It is accountable for the third-largest refugee population globally: 2.4 million out of a total of 4.4 million displaced.

Christians and people of other faiths are caught up in the violence and forced to flee, but generally not because of their religion. South Sudan does not feature on the World Watch List.


The post UN chief ‘personally concerned’ about return of Christians to Iraq and Syria appeared first on World Watch Monitor.

Photo: Christians are slowly returning to towns and cities in Iraq and Syria, such as Bashiqa, near Mosul. The graffiti on the wall says: “Tomorrow will be more beautiful."

Photo courtesy: World Watch Monitor

Publication date: June 22, 2018

Muslim Fulani herdsmen have killed at least 54 Christians this year in Nigeria’s northeastern state of Adamawa, according to area sources.
In a state where predominantly Christian Bachama tribesmen have formed militias in response to violence by Islamic extremist group Boko Haram and heavily-armed Muslim Fulani herdsmen, Christians were slaughtered in the Numan, Demsa, Lamurde and Girei areas, the sources  said.
At least 15 Christians were killed in the Numan area on May 2 when Fulani herdsmen attacked Bang, Nyanga, Bonki and Nzomosu villages, area resident Harold Wilson told Morning Star News by text message.
“About 400 armed Fulani herdsmen carried out the attacks,” he reported.
Arnold Jibla, chairman of the Numan Local Government Area (LGA), confirmed the attack in a phone interview with Morning Star News.
In the Demsa LGA, herdsmen attacked Gwamba village on Feb. 27, killing 20 Christians and wounding 23 others, said resident Omayan Tambaya Dilli.
“The attack occurred about 8 a.m. and lasted three hours,” Dilli said. “The Fulani herdsmen drove into Gwamba in four trucks and many motorbikes to carry out the attack.”
In apparent retaliation for attacks by ethnic Bachama militia on Fulani families, among the 20 Christians killed by the armed Muslim Fulani herdsmen was the Rev. Haruna Enoch, area residents said. The killings reportedly came in retaliation for an unspecified attack on Fulani families by young men from the predominantly Christian Bachama tribe who have formed militias in response to violence by Boko Haram and heavily-armed Muslim Fulani herdsmen.
Dilli said about 3,000 Christians in the community were displaced after the Feb. 27 attacks, and that it was the second time the community was attacked this year.
“In January, the Gwamba community was also attacked by the herdsmen, and one Christian was killed,” he said.
Also in January, Muslim Fulani herdsmen killed three Christians in Kikon in the Numan LGA. On Jan. 21 the herdsmen drove into the community on motorbikes and destroyed whatever they saw, area resident Mary Amos told Morning Star News by text message.
“They invaded our community at about 2 a.m., burning down houses and destroying farmlands,” she said, adding that other Christian communities in roughly the same period, Mbang and Baga villages, were also attacked.
Two weeks earlier in the Lamurde area, the herdsmen on Jan. 7 attacked the Christian communities of Suwa and Burukutu, resident Thomas Ayuba told Morning Star News by phone.
“The attacks by the Fulani herdsmen occurred at about 4 a.m.,” he said. “They destroyed our houses completely, forcing those of us who survived to flee.”
A day earlier in the Girei LGA, herdsmen killed 15 Christian in an attack on Luru village on Jan. 6, said area resident Christopher Ahmadu.
“The herdsmen attacked these farmers while they were working on their farms,” Ahmadu told Morning Star News.
The Rev. Musa Panti Filibus, president of the Lutheran World Fellowship and archbishop of the Lutheran Church of Christ in Nigeria (LCCN), recently said the killings were undermining the church.
“It is most saddening that the senseless killings and attacks on our people continues unabated,” Filibus told delegates to the General Church Council of the LCCN in Numan town on May 29. “We are disturbed by the monstrous acts of our attackers and killers, who raid, ransack, and set ablaze our villages and towns sometimes in broad daylight.”
Filibus urged Christians in northern Nigeria not to give up praying for the herdsmen and for a halt to the carnage, and to advocate for government action.
“I call us to continue to put pressure on our government at all levels to rise to their responsibility of protecting citizens from internal and external aggression,” he said. “We will continue to condemn in strongest terms possible the brutal and gruesome killings of innocent citizens.”
Five Christians Sentenced to Death
While no Muslim Fulani herdsmen has been prosecuted for the thousands of murders of Christian civilians in recent years in Nigeria, Christians were outraged when a Muslim judge in Yola, capital of Adamawa state, this month sentenced five Christians to death for the killing of a herdsman who had joined attacks on Christian communities.
Abdul-Azeez Waziri on June 11 rejected the self-defense argument of Alex Amos, Alheri Phanuel, Holy Boniface, Jerry Gideon and Jari Sabagi, all residents of the Demsa LGA, in the June 1 killing of Adamu Buba. The judge said the five Christians “willfully and intentionally conspired and attacked three herdsmen rearing cattle, killing one of them, Adamu Buba,” in Kadamun village, Demsa LGA.
“I hereby sentence the accused persons on counts one and two to death by hanging, while on counts four and five, I sentence the accused to three years in prison to run concurrently,” Waziri reportedly said, adding that they have the option of appealing within 90 days.
Yola resident Zidon Love said in a text to Morning Star News shortly after the ruling that the five Christians are members of the LCCN.
“These five Christians will die if nothing is urgently done to assist them,” he said.
The president of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), the Rev. Samson Ayokunle, said in a June 12 statement that there is no moral justification for the death penalty for the five Christians.
“CAN is not supporting jungle justice or any criminality,” Ayokunle said. “But hundreds of our members [Christians] in southern Kaduna, Benue, Taraba and Plateau states in the north-central geo-political zones, and a state like Enugu in the south, have been killed. Citizens stood helpless at the massacre of their peaceful fellow Nigerians; the international community watched in anguish how government security agencies could not bring perpetrators of these heinous killings to book.”
Ayokunle said that in spite of gruesome killings of Christians in different parts of Nigeria, it saddens the church that no Muslim herdsmen have been arrested and charged.
“We are shocked at the speed of light deployed by security and judicial officers in sentencing the alleged killers of the herdsman in Adamawa state,” he said, questioning the rationale behind the death sentence while Muslims who killed Christians in major Nigerian cities for evangelizing have been set free.
“Why did the court discharge the alleged killers of Madam Bridget Agbahime on the orders of the Kano state government?” he said. “Why have security officials not arrested those behind the killings of Christians in southern Kaduna? Why did Nigeria Police set free those arrested for the murder of Mrs. Eunice Elisha Olawale in Kubwa, Abuja? In view of this, CAN is calling on President Buhari to intervene in the death sentence passed on these Christian youths in Adamawa.”
Ayokunle said CAN leaders have asked attorneys to urgently study the sentencing in order to file a stay of execution motion.
The Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN) also opposed the verdict of the Yola High Court. Bishop Emmah Isong, PFN spokesman, said in a statement on Tuesday (June 19) that the Pentecostal fellowship’s opposition to the death sentence should not seen as supporting crime in any form.
Isong, who is also president of the Christian Central Chapel International in Calabar, said there should be equity and fairness when issues involving Christians and Muslims are presented before Nigeria’s courts.
Isong said it is unacceptable to the Pentecostal fellowship that no herdsman has been arrested, prosecuted and condemned to death by any court in Nigeria for killing thousands of Christians in Benue, Taraba, Nasarawa, and Kogi states.
“It looks as if it is vengeance for a Yola court to condemn five Christians to death for allegedly killing herdsman when herdsmen are rampaging everywhere killing and maiming innocent Christians and going free,” he said.
The pastor also said the leadership of PFN will have no option but to mount protests if the execution of the five Christians is not overturned.
“It is high time the federal government had to intervene and to ensure that those Christians are not killed to forestall further religious conflict within that axis,” Isong said. “Instead of killing people for herdsmen, the Nigerian federal government should rather find a way to curtail their activities and provide adequate security to all Nigerians.”
The World Council of Bishops, whose World Episcopal Headquarters is based in Texas, sent a letter dated June 13 to Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari calling for a halt of the death sentences.
“Nigeria has suffered untold bloodshed from killings, maiming, traumatizing of innocent citizens around the north-eastern, north-central and Middle Belt states, as a result of the frequent attacks by the Fulani herdsmen times without number,” the bishops stated.
Christians make up 51.3 percent of Nigeria’s population, while Muslims living primarily in the north and middle belt account for 45 percent.
Nigeria ranked 14th on Open Doors’ 2018 World Watch List of countries where Christians suffer the most persecution.

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Photo: The Rev. Musa Panti Filibus, archbishop of the Lutheran Church of Christ in Nigeria. 

Photo courtesy: LWF Albin Hillert

Publication date: June 22, 2018