Thousands of Christians Flee South Sudan

According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, 26,000 have left the world’s newest country since new fighting between government troops and rival forces erupted July 7.

Troops loyal to Vice President Riek Machar have fought those supporting President Salva Kiir ever since Kiir removed Machar from office in late 2013. The president said he was forced to take the action when Machar and his forces attempted a coup against him and the South Sudan government.

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The endless flow of refugees fleeing into Uganda from South Sudan is continuing at an alarming rate.

The government is dominated by members of Kiir’s Dinka tribe, an ethnic group which constitutes about 36 percent of the South Sudan population. Machar and his followers are Nuer, about 15 percent.

At least 300,000 people have died in the civil war and both sides have accused the other of committing human rights atrocities against the citizenry. Last August, negotiators signed a cease-fire agreement in Ethiopia, but sporadic fighting has occurred ever since.

A total of 1 million people have been internally displaced, 400,000 people have fled to neighboring countries.

U.N. Refugee Agency spokesman Andreas Needham said more than 90 percent of the refugees arriving in Uganda this month are women and children. The refugees report fighting is underway in South Sudan’s Magwi region where troops are reportedly stealing property and recruiting men and young boys to join their efforts.

South Sudan became an independent nation on July 9, 2011, after more than 20 years of civil war with the Islamic government of Sudan.

The country is the 193rd member state of the United Nations, and its people are primarily Christian and animist.

Source: CBN

ONE DEAD, SEVERAL INJURED IN ISLAMIST ATTACKS ON COPTS IN EGYPT

By Jeremy Reynalds, Senior Correspondent, ASSIST News Service (jeremyreynalds@gmail.com)

ISTANBUL, TURKEY:  One Christian is dead, several others have been wounded and a fire gutted a church building after Muslims across Egypt waged a weekend of violence against Copts.

According to a story by Morning Star News, In Tahana El-Gabal village in Minya Governorate, on July 17 Fam Mary Khalaf, 27, was overpowered by a group of Muslims who stabbed him repeatedly in the chest. One of the knife stabs went directly into his heart, killing him instantly, a statement from the local parish reported.

Three others were seriously injured in the attack. They were Nagib Hanna, father of Rev. Metaous, a local Coptic priest and Malak Aziz, brother of the Rev. Boutrous, another local priest. Azza Jouma, a Christian neighbor of the three victims, was stabbed in the face.

The attack started when four Muslims began harassing Metaous’s primary school-age son as his grandfather was looking after him outside his home. The men threatened to run the boy over, witnesses told human rights activists investigating the incident.

Once the stabbing began, the group of four quickly grew into a mob of more than two dozen people screaming, “Stand by your Muslim brother.”

The assault was one of numerous cases of violence against Copts in Minya Governorate over the past few months.

They included an attack in May in which an elderly Coptic woman was stripped, beaten and paraded naked through her village streets because of a rumor, later shown to be false, that her son was having a romantic relationship with a Muslim woman.

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Church building burned in Luxor, Egypt.

Ishak Ibrahim, a human rights researcher at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), said the attacks in Egypt and specifically in Minya continue because no one is being punished for committing them.

“What happened in Minya is nothing but a natural result of not enforcing the law in previous sectarian attacks against the Copts, and forcing the Copts to go through reconciliation meetings and obey illegal solutions that are demeaning,” Morning Star News reported he said.

The Tahana El-Gabal stabbing death came about a day after a mob of Muslims, enraged over a rumor that a church building was being constructed in the governorate, attacked Copts in their village.

Starting shortly after 9 p.m. on July 15, groups of Muslims set on the Copts in the village of Abu Yacoub, causing minor injuries and torching five homes.
The attack lasted into the early morning hours of July 16. Firefighters showed up several hours after the structures had been destroyed.

The bishop of Minya, identified according to tradition only by his consecrated name, Makarious, said in a news release that the rioting mobs were in complete violation of the law and that there was no excuse for the violence.

“Nobody has the right to attack others and kill and destroy their property, no matter what,” he said.

The Abu Yacoub riot was the second such incident in 15 days to take place in Minya Governorate over a rumor that a church building was being constructed, and the third in the country in 30 days.

Morning Star News said in a similar incident, on June 30 another mob rioted in response to a rumor of the building of a church in Kom El Loofy village in Minya Governorate. The 300-strong mob torched four Coptic-owned homes and harassed or assaulted Copts.

Church building in LuxorOn June 17 in Amriya, a village south of Alexandria, local Muslims accused area Copts of building a church in a Coptic-owned construction site and began rioting. The mob assaulted Coptic men in the village, and then attacked and looted several Christian-owned homes and a Coptic community center.

In the Amriya attack, police later arrested six Muslims and six Copts, including the owner of the construction site. The Muslims were released with no charges, in time to break the Ramadan day-time fast, but the Christians were charged with holding prayers without permission and building without a permit, then released the following morning.

The EIPR’s Ibrahim said the anti-church riots pose a dangerous problem for Copts, because they indicate that even if laws in Egypt change to allow them to freely construct church buildings, certain elements of Egyptian society still wouldn’t allow it.

“The government is not strong enough to protect the Copts from all these attacks,” he said.

Authorities are now trying to force Coptic communities in all the cases into what is known as a reconciliation process. Instead of criminally charging the perpetrators of Christian persecution, Morning Star News reported, the government seemingly does everything it can to force victims into “Reconciliation Committees.”

Reconciliation Committees are based on traditional tribal councils, where two equal entities come together to solve a dispute. The committees are supposed to lead to equitable justice for all parties, but because Copts have significantly less power coming to the table than members of the Muslim majority, they are often victimized a second time instead of receiving justice.

In some cases, Copts have been made to pay damages to attackers who destroyed their property in unprovoked incidents.

Bishop Makarious has urged all the victims to stand firm and refuse to participate in such committees because the perpetrators so often escape without punishment.

“We’re going to continue demanding the enforcement of the law and will not give up,” he said. “Every time they are set free, that is just encouraging others to do attacks in the same way, because they feel they are protected by the government.”

According to Morning Star News, while mobs are burning down Coptic homes, churches are destroyed in mysterious fires. On July 16 at 2:30 a.m., Copts rushed out into the streets of Al-Madamoud in Luxor Governorate to find flames shooting out of the roof of the Church of the Archangel Michael.

An iconographer restoring the church’s religious paintings was stuck inside the building on the top floor in a room for visitors.

As the fire continued to burn, he screamed for help and was about to jump, but the crowd was able to save him with a ladder.

When people pushed open the doors of the church building to go inside and fight the fire, they found the altar engulfed in flames and the blaze spreading everywhere. The men and women began trying to douse the flames with garden hoses and bottles of drinking water. By the time firefighters arrived two and a half hours later, the building was gutted.

The next morning, Safwat Samaan, director of the human rights group Nation Without Borders, was able to visit the scene. Members of the congregation crowded into the blackened shell of the build with tears welling up in their eyes.

“It broke my heart to see old men, eyes full of tears and women wailing,” Morning Star News reported he said.

Members of the congregation are now afraid authorities will claim the fire was accidental, as officials nationwide have in so many other church building fires. Authorities claim the fires are accidental, started by unattended candles or an electrical short, even when no candles are present and electricity is shut off to the building.

That was the ruling in the fire at the Catholic Church of St. George, also located in Luxor Governorate, which caught fire under mysterious circumstances on April 20 at 3 a.m.

Authorities claimed the fire was the result of either unattended candles or a short in a wire, but there were no candles, and a church attendant had turned off the main electric line to the building.

Because of the similarities between the fires at the Church of the Archangel Michael and the Church of St. George, many Copts have suspicions that a serial arsonist is targeting churches in Luxor, Samaan said.

“I wonder if this was just an accident, or if this was a planned arson, but the results will be in the hands of the firefighters and the police,” Morning Star News reported Samaan said. “I am concerned they will come to yet another all too convenient ruling.”

Source: ASSIST News Service

Nigerian Christians Feel Abandoned by Western Churches.

BY STOYAN ZAIMOV

Former Congressman Frank Wolf has noted that Christians in Nigeria, who are among the millions of displaced people suffering due to the action of radical groups, are feeling abandoned by Western churches that are failing to speak out on the developing humanitarian tragedy.

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Christians in Nigeria suffering under continued terror attacks in this undated photo. (PHOTO: REUTERS/AFOLABI SOTUNDE)

Wolf, who is a Distinguished Senior Fellow of the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative, told The Christian Post in a phone interview that he was part of a delegate team that visited Nigeria in February, and got to witness first hand the difficulties that internally displaced people face.

“People of faith, Christians, feel very much forgotten. Nigeria is fractured and is breaking down in so many ways, and it seems that the world has forgotten about it,” he reflected on his interactions with Christians there.

“They feel abandoned by the West, and by the Church in the West. You are not hearing many in the West advocating (for them). They would expect that the faith community in the West, Europe, would be advocating, speaking out,” Wolf told CP.

While Nigerian Christians and regular citizens have been targeted by the radical Boko Haram group since 2009, there has also been a very alarming rise in attacks carried out by Fulani herdsmen against Christian farmers in land disputes, leading to hundreds of deaths in the past year.

Groups such as the International Christian Concern have said that the raids on Christian farmers are at least partly motivated by religion, but Wolf said that the Fulani attacks are a combination of various factors.

He added that terror concern in the African country has been rising rapidly in the past few years, with some today even more worried about the Fulani radicals than Boko Haram.

“Everywhere we went, the issue of Boko Haram came up. But secondly, the issue of the Fulani militants came up even more,” the former Congressman said of his trip.

The 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative, which is focused on promoting religious freedom as a fundamental human right, put together a detailed report on the crisis in Nigeria, and made several recommendations for how the United States government can help.

Wolf said that the first recommendation is especially important, namely creating a Special Envoy for Nigeria and the Lake Chad Region.

The report, titled “Nigeria-Fractured and Forgotten,” explains the idea behind this Special Envoy: “Ensure that this office is appropriately staffed and resourced to serve as the key interlocutor, building multi-stakeholder engagement and addressing the wide range of complex realities involving refugees, IDPs, economic development, security, justice and peacebuilding.”

The report also challenges some narratives that Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has put forth, such as notions that Boko Haram has been “technically defeated.”

It says that although there are signs to show that Boko Haram has lost ground and has been pushed back in some areas, the attacks on civilians and people of faith continue in full force, and the situation on the ground remains largely unchanged.

The report insisted that claims of pushing back Boko Haram “should be best understood as political rhetoric which is not without its own merit as a tool for galvanizing support, shifting momentum and undercutting the narrative Boko Haram wants to maintain.”

Wolf also noted that although much of the world is focused right now on the Islamic State terror group and the Syrian refugee crisis, that concerns around 23-25 million people – yet Nigeria is a nation of 180 million, and is the largest African country.

“The impact for the rest of the world will be unbelievable,” he said of the consequences of Nigeria breaking apart.

He added that the West must pay closer attention to Nigeria, given how affected the country is by radical terrorism. Boko Haram was the most destructive terrorist group in the world in 2015, with IS, its affiliate, coming in at second.

“The fourth biggest terrorist group is the Fulani militant herdsmen. The first and the fourth are in Nigeria. The first has an agreement or an allegiance with the second,” Wolf observed.

Wolf, who was elected to Congress in 1981 and served Virginia’s 10th District for 17 terms, said there are several issues that need to be tackled in Nigeria to stop the country from unraveling, such as making sure that police are properly trained in human rights, and implementing programs against corruption.

He warned that “no one seems to be in charge” of the Nigerian issue as President Barack Obama’s administration enters its last months, but insisted that America should not wait around for a new president before taking action to help the millions of IDPs.

Source: Christian Post

Turkey: churches targeted during attempted coup

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Santa Maria CatholicChurch in Trabzon, Turkey, in a 2007 photo. World Watch Monitor

Two churches in cities in eastern Turkey infamous as the sites of historic killings of Christians were vandalised during the attempted coup on 15 July, reports Middle East Concern.

One of the attacks took place in the city of Malatya, where three Christians were tortured and killed in 2007, leading to a still-ongoing court case against the five suspects. Turkish Christians had hoped for a final verdict last month, but the trial was instead adjourned until September.

During the night of 15 July, unidentified assailants broke the glass panels in the door of the Malatya Protestant Church. The pastor, Tim Stone, said he thought someone with a grudge against the church had taken advantage of the general unrest.

Meanwhile, in Trabzon, on the northern coast, around 10 people smashed the windows of the Santa Maria Catholic Church, where in 2006 a priest, Fr. Andrea Santoro, was murdered. The attackers tried to break into the church, but a group of Muslim neighbours drove them away, before contacting a priest.

During the lengthy trial for the Malatya murders, which has seen over 100 hearings, the prosecution cited evidence that the murders were linked to the assassinations of Fr. Santoro, who was killed while kneeling at the altar of his church, and an Armenian journalist, Hrant Dink, killed in January 2007 in Istanbul.

Three suspects accused of helping to orchestrate the brutal Malatya murders had in October 2014 blamed their crime on the Hizmet movement, the influential Islamic group led by Muslim scholar Fethullah Gülen, accused of masterminding the failed coup by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Testimony from two former military officers and an Islamic university researcher claimed then that the Hizmet movement had been behind the savage torture and stabbing to death of the two Turkish converts to Christianity and a German missionary in Malatya in April 2007.

The three defendants had declared that the socio-religious group, which had once been a strong ally of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), had planned the murder plot to discredit the Turkish military and overthrow the government.

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Susanne Geske, widow of Malatya murder victim Tilmann Geske, helps to open the Malatya branch of the Kurtulus Church Association in April, alongside two pastors. World Watch Monitor

However, lawyers representing the Malatya victims’ families dismissed these defendants’ “parallel-structure” accusations at the time as political manipulation, in an attempt to deflect concrete evidence pointing at military and ultra-nationalist involvement in the murders. (Links were cited to the JITEM and TUSHAD units, allegedly formed illegally within various Turkish military forces to create disinformation and eliminate enemies of the state.)
In effect, the lawyers said in October 2014, the three suspects had been exploiting the government’s “witch-hunt” against the Hizmet movement in order to try to get themselves acquitted.

The latest attacks on churches are a painful reminder to Turkey’s Christians of their vulnerability, particularly during periods of unrest.

A group of Christian and Jewish religious leaders in Turkey issued a joint declaration condemning the coup and calling for love, peace and justice. The Association of Turkish Protestant Churches also issued a press statement condemning the coup, asking for wisdom and understanding for the country’s leaders and praying for peace.

After the attempted coup, Radio Shema, an Ankara-based Christian radio station, sent a press release, reporting that the “fatihah” (Muslim prayer for the dead) was “continuously broadcast from the mosques … The news showed the civilians in downtown Ankara chanting ‘Allahu akbar’ (God is greater), the Islamic battle cry … Huge crowds gathered at 110,000 mosques around the country on Sunday at noon to remember those who died in the attempted coup, who were ‘martyrs’; soldiers, police and innocent victims who fought to prevent [the] coup.”

But now, the station reported that life “looks normal”, although “the overall general feeling of Turks is anger; anger towards different targets or personalities about the current situation, all that happened … Now more than ever there needs to be a Christian presence here in this country. It may come with some repercussion, but we must faithfully declare God’s truths to the people here without belittling anyone. People are even more ready to seek out a new belief system and definitely need a new source of hope.”

Estimates provided in the 2013 International Religious Freedom Report suggest that Christians account for approximately 0.2% of the total Turkish population of about 75 million. The largest Christian minority group in Turkey is the Armenian Orthodox. It is estimated that there are 90,000 Armenians, 25,000 Roman Catholics, 20,000 Syrian Orthodox, 15,000 Russian Orthodox, 3,000 Iraqi Chaldeans, 2,500 Greek Orthodox and around 7,000 Protestants residing in Turkey.

Background

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A 2008 snapshot of the five Malatya murder suspects. World Watch Monitor

Necati Aydin, Ugur Yuksel and Tilmann Geske were murdered on 18 April, 2007 at the Zirve Christian publishing house in Malatya. Five men, aged 19 and 20 at the time, were arrested at the scene and charged with the murders. Their trial became increasingly complicated as a result of efforts to identify those behind the perpetrators and to link the trial to political events in Turkey. The reassignment of judges, prosecutors and other court officials also resulted in significant delays.

On 10 March, 2014, the five perpetrators were released from prison and put under house arrest with electronic tags. However, they have been seen moving around freely.

Relatives of the victims expressed their disappointment in the Turkish justice system. In an interview with journalists, Geske’s widow Susanne, present with her three children at what she hoped would be the last hearing on June 30th, said: “Nine years have now passed and I haven’t seen anything. A lot of things have changed. I now only have confidence in God’s justice. I will be surprised if a fair decision will be given.”

The mother of Yuksel, Hatice, also present, said that she was very tired of coming and going over the last nine years: “I lost my child. On this holy day at least won’t they [the defendants] speak the truth? How is it that the murderers remain free?”

Other recent incidents

Diyarbakir

In April, in Diyarbakir, 250km further east of Malatya, the Turkish government expropriated the city’s handful of Christian congregations, including all its Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant churches, apparently to rebuild and restore the city’s historical centre.

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The 1,700-year-old Virgin Mary Syriac Orthodox Church in Diyarbakir was one of the churches seized. World Watch Monitor

The decision effectively made the Diyarbakir churches – one 1,700 years old, another built only in 2003 – state property of Turkey.
Turkey’s southeast is heavily populated by Kurds – an ethnic Muslim group also extending across Turkey’s borders into Iran, Syria and Iraq, where Kurdish militias are prominent in all the regional fighting. Fierce fighting, centring heavily on Diyarbakir, has escalated since the end of a two-year ceasefire between the Turkish armed forces and the militants of the Kurdish Workers’ Party (the PKK) in June 2015.

Last autumn, the PKK youth declared self-rule over large parts of the Diyarbakir district of Sur, digging trenches and building barricades to keep authorities out. Blanket curfews left the populace under siege for weeks at a time, causing more than 30,000 to flee the city.

Then in late March, the government announced the “urgent expropriation” of 6,300 plots of land in the Sur district. Six churches are now under state control: the Virgin Mary Syriac Orthodox Church, the Surp (Armenian for “Saint”) Sarkis Chaldean Catholic Church, the Diyarbakir Protestant Church, the Apostolic Armenian Surp Giragos Church, an Armenian Catholic church, and the Mar Petyun Chaldean Catholic Church.

Bursa

In February, the local government of the north-western Turkish city of Bursa ordered that its only church, which serves four congregations, be vacated, before rescinding the order.

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French Church Cultural Centre, Bursa, Turkey, 2004 photo. World Watch Monitor

Ismail Kulakcioglu, the pastor of the Protestant congregation, said they were given less than a week to vacate the building. Approximately 200 Christians share the church for their Sunday worship services.

The Directorate General of Foundations originally gave oral notice to church leaders on 18 Feb. that they had only five days to leave. It eventually extended the deadline by three days, before removing the order to vacate altogether on 23 Feb.

Nationwide

In January, the Association of Protestant Churches released a report, detailing repeated threats and attacks against Protestant churches and their leaders.

In an interview with Al-Monitor, Pastor Ihsan Ozbek said Christians remain “anxious and distressed”, naming two major obstacles to his community’s quest for true religious freedom: the Turkish judiciary’s failure to respond to their members’ security concerns, and the government’s exclusion of Protestants from the state’s protocol dialogue with other religious minorities.

The report referenced graffiti scrawled on a church in Balikesir and an assailant insulting and striking the leader of the Batikent Bereket Church in Ankara. Another attacker shot at the Torbali Baptist Church pastor in Izmir with a hunting rifle, as he worked in the fields at his family farm. Two weeks earlier, the Friday sermon from the nearby village mosque had broadcast hate speech from its loudspeakers, well within the pastor’s hearing.

During August 2015, a campaign of vicious threats targeted 20 church leaders from 15 Protestant congregations, who received a barrage of text messages, Facebook postings and emails. Although these death threats were phrased in strident Islamic State (IS) terminology and reported to the police, none of the pastors were given protection. Soon afterwards, two would-be IS suicide bombers were arrested in Ankara, caught on security-camera footage, as they conducted surveillance of churches in the capital.

Source: World Watch monitor

“EVIL IS NOT OF GOD” SAYS MUSIC SUPERSTAR STEVIE WONDER (PODCAST)

One of the most celebrated and revered icons of American popular music delivered a simple yet powerful message of tolerance at the United Nations this Monday.

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Stevie Wonder. Photo: UN Radio/Laura Jarriel

Addressing gun violence and terrorism worldwide, singer-songwriter Stevie Wonder stated that “wrong is wrong, no matter how you put it.”

The multiple award-winning musician and UN Messenger of Peace was at UN Headquarters in New York to celebrate Nelson Mandela International Day.

Celebrated annually on 18 July, it provides an opportunity for people to serve their communities in honour of the late South African leader.

Dianne Penn asked Stevie Wonder what Mr Mandela’s years of public service mean to him.

Duration: 7’41”

Founder of the African Children's Choir, Music For Life and Friends In The West.