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Morning Star News Pakistan Correspondent

Religious persecution, missions, Christianity around the world

LAHORE, Pakistan, October 26, 2020 (Morning Star News) – Police in Karachi, Pakistan are ignoring the kidnapping and forcible conversion to Islam of a 13-year-old Christian girl by a 45-year-old Muslim whose two brothers are police officials, sources said.

Ali Azhar, a neighbor of the victim’s Catholic family, abducted Arzoo Raja on Oct. 13, and her family went to police that same day, said her father, Raja Lal.

“When we failed to find Arzoo, we registered a kidnapping case with the local police station,” Lal said. “On Oct. 15 we were summoned to the station, where we were shown documents which claimed that Arzoo was 18 and had willingly converted to Islam after marrying Ali Azhar.”

Police have shown no interest in arresting the accused in spite of National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) records showing Arzoo’s age as 13, as she was born on July 31, 2007, he said. Sexual intercourse with a girl below the age of 16 is statutory rape and carries a death sentence or a minimum sentence of 10 years in prison in Pakistan.

Ghazala Shafique, a Karachi-based Christian rights and social activist, said police were doing little in the case.

“Two brothers of the accused are police officials, and they are using their influence to protect him,” Shafique told Morning Star News. “Attorney [Noor Naz] Agha brought this to the court’s notice during the hearing on Saturday [Oct. 24] and also demanded that Ali and all other people involved in the case, including the cleric who signed the Islamic conversion and marriage certificates of the minor Christian girl, be arrested and tried for their crime.”

Agha, a prominent Muslim lawyer, has taken up the case pro bono, a great relief to the grief-stricken parents who have lost their jobs in the search for justice, Shafique said.

“We have asked the police to include the Child Marriage Restraint Act [in the case], but the police are reluctant to include it,” Shafique said. “The court should also ask the police why it has ignored the documents issued by NADRA and Arzoo’s school that clearly state her age. We are also ready for conducting medical tests to determine Arzoo’s age, so why are the police reluctant to produce her in court?”

She said she is demanding that Arzoo be presented in court and that special arrangements be made for recording her statement in a way that would preclude fear from coercion by her abductor.

Shafique said it was the second case of forced conversion of underage Christian girls in Karachi in a year. In October 2019, 14-year-old Huma Younas was kidnapped and forcibly converted to Islam, she said.

“Forced conversion is often disguised as voluntary conversion and both the provincial and federal governments need to act against this persecution,” she said.

In Faisalabad, Punjab Province, 14-year-old Maira Shahbaz was kidnapped and forcibly married and converted to Islam earlier this year. After sending her to a shelter, a court in Lahore on Aug. 4 ordered her to be returned to her abductor based on forged documents, but she escaped on Aug. 22. She told Morning Star News her abductor had blackmailed her into giving false court statements that she had willingly converted and married him.

In Karachi, the accused in Arzoo’s case, Azhar, was Lal’s neighbor in the Muhalla Railway Colony West Camp Road locality.

Lal and his wife, who have three other older children, have been hard-pressed to feed them after losing their jobs and were thankful for the pro bono legal help.

“Thankfully, our pleas have been noticed by Christian rights activists and political leaders, and they are helping us in highlighting the case,” Lal told Morning Star News. “My wife and I have been running from pillar to post since [reporting the case], but the police are not showing any interest in arresting the accused and investigating the case impartially.”

Police did not respond to attempts by Morning Star News to contact them by phone and text message.

Pending Legislation

In spite of growing concern over a rise in abduction of girls from minority communities, particularly Christians and Hindus, and forcibly marrying them and converting them to Islam, successive national and provincial governments have failed to pass laws against perpetrators.

A bill against forced conversions introduced in 2016 in the Sindh Provincial Assembly remains pending after Islamists threatened violent protests.

Last week a federal government commission on minorities announced that it would draft a bill to curb forced conversions only after consultations with provincial and religious leaders. Christian political and church leaders told Morning Star News that state institutions and government parties should not succumb to pressure by Islamist parties.

“The government should bring the legislation on forced conversion to parliament without capitulating to any party that objects to its contents or underlying spirit,” said National Council of Churches in Pakistan President Bishop Azad Marshall.

He said that forced conversion is not seen as a crime, much less as a problem that should concern “mainstream” Pakistan.

“But it is a very serious crime against the minority population, and the government must show some spine in addressing the matter,” he said.

Marshall added that Pakistan’s entire legal system, from police to the courts, are violating laws and facilitating such conversions especially of minor girls.

“When the parents present a certificate that the age of the girl is below 18 years, the police usually do not attach this document in the FIR [First Information Report], but we have women protection laws in the country, and we need to implement them,” he said. “Besides that, Pakistan is signatory to several international obligations, and such incidents bring a bad name to the country.”

Pakistan is a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that no one shall be subject to coercion to change their religion. The European Court of Human Rights has given some guidance regarding the distinction between permissible persuasion and coercion.

Amir Naveed Jeeva, a Christian lawmaker of the opposition Pakistan People’s Party and a member of the parliamentary committee tasked with investigating forced conversions, said the committee is trying to build consensus on the draft bill.

“One suggestion is to introduce a new marriage rule that includes the mandatory presence of a guardian at the time of marriage and the establishment of shelters managed by the district administrations to house underage girls who want to get married, in order to clear the confusion between force and consent,” he said.

Shunila Ruth, a ruling party Christian lawmaker and parliamentary secretary on human rights, said that forced conversion needs to be addressed at the federal level.

“There is a difference of opinion on the issue at the state level, but things are gradually heading in a positive direction, and we hope that all stakeholders will succeed in formulating a solution to this issue,” she said.

According to data compiled by the Peoples Commission for Minorities’ Rights and the Centre for Social Justice, of 156 incidents of forced conversions which took place between 2013 and 2019, a vast majority of the girls are minors, with numerous cases of girls as young as 12 years old. Muslim groups oppose a minimum age for conversion or marriage, claiming that this is not sanctioned by Islam.

Although intercourse with a girl below the age of 16 is statutory rape, in most cases a falsified conversion certificate and Nikahnama, or Islamic marriage certificate, influences police to pardon kidnappers.

Pakistan ranked fifth on Christian support organization Open Doors 2020 World Watch list of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian, and on Nov. 28, 2018, the United States added Pakistan to its blacklist of countries that violate religious freedom.

If you would like to help persecuted Christians, visit http://morningstarnews.org/resources/aid-agencies/ for a list of organizations that can orient you on how to get involved.

If you or your organization would like to help enable Morning Star News to continue raising awareness of persecuted Christians worldwide with original-content reporting, please consider collaborating at https://morningstarnews.org/donate/?

Article originally published by Morning Star News. Used with permission.

Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Oleksii Liskonih

One of North Carolina’s largest churches, World Overcomers Christian Church, says it will not hold in-person services until a vaccine for coronavirus is developed.

“When our people are able to come back together, they’re going to want to greet one another and hug one another, and in my estimation, the risks are too great,” Andy Thompson, senior pastor of the 15,000-member church, told CBS 17.  “We have to figure out ways to minister to people beyond just them risking contact in the middle of a pandemic.”

According to The Christian Post, the church pointed to a recent report from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, which showed an increase in clusters of coronavirus cases linked to social gatherings.

The department defines a cluster as the occurrence of five or more epidemiologically linked cases within 14 days of each other.

The report said religious gatherings ranked third on the list of social gatherings potentially creating clusters.

In light of the report, Thompson said World Overcomers Christian Church will continue streaming services online.

“Church for us is just growing. We’ve never had this many people watching,” he said. “I don’t think I’ll ever go back to having church the way I did before.”

Thompson said he worries about other churches that have decided to return to in-person gatherings.

“Every time they tell me they’re having meetings, I always say, ‘You might want to rethink that. Do you really have to have meetings to minister the gospel of Christ?'” he said.

World Overcomers Christian Church is the latest church to suspend in-person services. As Christians Headlines previously reported, over the summer, Andy Stanley, of North Point Community Church in Georgia, announced the church wouldn’t hold in-person gatherings until at least 2021.

A survey from LifeWay Research found that 87 percent of Protestant pastors in the U.S. have reopened their churches for in-person services. Thirteen percent said they are not holding in-person meetings.

Related:

11 Percent of Pastors Say Church Attendance Is Close to Pre-COVID Numbers

Joel Osteen's Lakewood Church Holds First In-Person Church Service Since Quarantine

'Open Your Church': John MacArthur Urges Pastors to Reopen Churches despite COVID-19 Restrictions

Photo courtesy: World Overcomers Christian Church Facebook


Amanda Casanova is a writer living in Dallas, Texas. She has covered news for ChristianHeadlines.com since 2014. She has also contributed to The Houston Chronicle, U.S. News and World Report and IBelieve.com. She blogs at The Migraine Runner.

JOS, Nigeria, October 23, 2020 (Morning Star News) – Protests against police brutality in Nigeria that grew into generalized unrest over poor government took on a religious dimension this week with attacks on Christians and church buildings.

Following peaceful protests that began earlier this month against torture and killings by Special Anti­­-­Robbery Squad (SARS) forces, counter-demonstrations against the #EndSARS protestors and shootings by security forces escalated tensions. On Monday and Tuesday (Oct. 19-20) Christian leaders in Plateau, Kano and Kogi states led prayer walks of thousands of Christians in appeals for peace.

As various cultural and political groups expanded the protests to include their own interests, suspected Muslim agitators took advantage of the chaos to attack churches, sources said. In Kogi state on Monday (Oct. 19), following a prayer walk in Anyigba, Christians praying inside the Dunamis Christian Centre were attacked by suspected Muslim antagonists, an area resident said.

“A dozen pastors and more than 400 Christians were praying in the church when they were attacked,” Friday Adah told Morning Star News by text message. “I watched in horror as violence was used against Christians in Anyigba town. A peaceful prayer walk seeking God’s help for our country, Nigeria, for God to restore peace and love, was suddenly met with undue force as Christians were beaten and shot at with guns by Muslim mobs.”

Injured in the assault were bishop David Sanda, pastor Emma Ibrahim, pastor Silas Edogbo and pastor Samson Ejila of Dunamis Church, and the Dunamis church building was damaged, Adah said.

Also on Monday (Oct. 19) near Jos, Plateau state, suspected Muslim agitators opposing church prayer walks damaged the building of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) in Bukuru, area resident Esther Saleh told Morning Star News. The building is located along the Jos-Bukuru highway in an area with a large Muslim population.

In Kano state on Monday (Oct. 19), an Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA) building in the Sabon Gari area of the city of Kano was set ablaze by suspected Muslim assailants, area resident Helen Johnson told Morning Star News by text message.

Amid an unconfirmed report that two Christians were among #EndSARS protestors killed by suspected Muslim counter-demonstrators on Monday in Kano city, Johnson said justice will ultimately prevail.

“If they let them burn down all the churches and kill Christians in Kano state, they cannot stop the prayer walk and the #EndSARS protest, because God is involved,” Johnson said, adding that two other Christians besides the two #EndSARS protestors were killed. “Two Christian girls were also killed in Sabon Gari area of the city. The girls were attacked by the Muslim hoodlums with machetes and daggers.”

Suspected Muslim assailants also damaged the St. Louis Catholic Church building in Kano city on Monday (Oct. 19), Johnson said. Johnson and another area resident, Daniel Musa, said the suspects on Tuesday (Oct. 20) also damaged the building of the St. Thomas Catholic Church building on Airport Road in Kano.

In Jos, Plateau state, suspected Muslim assailants on Tuesday (Oct. 20) stoned the worship auditorium of the ECWA Good News Church, breaking windows, while a church program was underway, a local resident said. They also burned cars and broke into shops in the area.

“ECWA Good News, Ahmadu Bello Way, was attacked this morning,” Edward Ossai told Morning Star News in a text message. “Please pray for members that were affected.”

In Abuja, suspected Muslim opponents of #EndSARS protestors set fire to a Pentecostal church building in the Dutse area of the capital city and killed three Christians, one identified as Tony Onome, area resident Christiana Adamu told Morning Star News by text message.

Onome was reportedly stabbed to death on Saturday (Oct. 17). Morning Star News was unable to independently confirm the motives behind his death and whether other slain Christians were attacked for their faith.

“There were also attacks on Christians around the Apo area of Abuja, where about seven Christians were killed by these Muslims,” Adamu said.

Police in Abuja reportedly confirmed that seven persons were killed in Abuja during attacks related to counter protests.

After leading a prayer walk in Jos on Sunday (Oct. 18), pastor Isa El-Buba of Evangelical Bible Outreach Ministries, Inc. (EBOMI) was summoned for questioning by Nigeria’s Department of State Services (DSS) on Tuesday (Oct. 20). DSS agents have questioned him previously for speaking out against persecution of Christians and Muslim Fulani herdsmen attacks.

Nigeria ranked 12th on Open Doors’ 2020 World Watch List of countries where Christians suffer the most persecution but second in the number of Christians killed for their faith, behind Pakistan.

If you would like to help persecuted Christians, visit http://morningstarnews.org/resources/aid-agencies/ for a list of organizations that can orient you on how to get involved.

If you or your organization would like to help enable Morning Star News to continue raising awareness of persecuted Christians worldwide with original-content reporting, please consider collaborating at https://morningstarnews.org/donate/?

Article originally published by Morning Star News. Used with permission.

Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/omersukrugoksu

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