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“The Scene was Horrific”: Persecution of Christians, August 2020

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“The Scene was Horrific”: Persecution of Christians, August 2020
By Raymond Ibrahim

Originally Published by the Gatestone Institute.

Rape and Forced Conversions of Christians in Pakistan

In late August, Maira Shahbaz, a 14-year-old Christian girl, escaped from the home of Mohamad Nakash—her kidnapper, whom the Lahore High Court had recently ruled is her legitimate husband despite her objections—and fled to a police station, where she gave testimony, including on how she was being “forced into prostitution” and “filmed while by being raped,” with threats that the tape would be published unless she complies with the demands of her rapist/husband and friends. “They threatened to murder my whole family,” the girl said. “My life was at stake in the hands of the accused and Nakash repeatedly raped me forcefully.” In an interview, a friend of Maira’s family described how the family is in hiding and constantly on the run, adding:

“Maira is traumatized. She cannot speak. We want to take her to the doctor, but we are afraid we might be spotted. We are all very frightened, but we place our trust in God.”

In a separate but similar instance, a married Muslim father of four kidnapped Saneha Kinza, the 15-year-old daughter of a pastor, while she was walking to church for early morning prayers. According to the report:

“Saneha’s family fears that their daughter will be added to the growing number of Christian girls who, after a kidnapping and forced conversion to Islam, are married to Muslims… On July 28, Pastor Morris Masih’s family received a call from the kidnapper, who threatened them if they dared to take any action to bring Saneha home.”

In another incident, Muslim employers upbraided and beat Anika Shehzad, 18, a Christian housemaid, after she refused to convert to Islam. A human rights activist explained how such incidents are extremely common in Pakistan:

“Christians in Pakistan are illiterate and poor, and many poor families are forced to take risks such as sending their young daughters to rich Muslim families to work as live in domestic servants for a little money. These young girls are often sexually harassed, tortured and sometimes are asked to convert to Islam. Many times such cases are reported in the mainstream media, like the gruesome torture of 10-year-old housemaid Tayyaba by an additional district and sessions judge, and his wife, in the capital Islamabad which made headlines in 2016. Several girls have even been killed, like Shazia Masih, 12. And several cases are taken to the courts but hardly any family has got justice and the practise still continues because perpetrators are always influential and rich, and sometimes victims are pressurised to withdraw their cases and some victims are compensated with money.”

Finally, a video appeared on TikTok showing a Christian man on the floor being pressured to renounce his faith and embrace Islam. An August 25 report describes it:

“In the video in question, the Christian man is seen being pressured to recite the shahada, the Islamic creed, surrounded by people who are not seen. Despite everything, he refuses, saying that for nothing in the world would he recite the Muslim creed and reject the Christian faith. His tormentors [which include female voices] then begin to threaten him, saying that he will face serious consequences. Even then, the victim says no, stating that it is his right to keep his faith and that he is ready to suffer all the consequences, that he would not give up his religion.”

Commenting on this, Rev. Irfan James of Peshawar said:

“Pakistani Christians suffer many challenges and [endure] persecution. They face difficult situations every day. It is sad that young Muslims, the majority community, constantly threaten Christians and our faith. Time and time again, they make fun of our faith, but neither the government nor law enforcement do anything about it. If we report these cases, the offenders get away with it by apologising and saying that they did it in an unconscious way. Should a Christian do something similar, he is immediately accused of blasphemy and the local Christian community is guilty by association. They rape our women, kill our people, destroy or burn our properties…. [All] we want is for our constitution and the law to treat us as equals, with justice, and for the guilty to be put on trial.”

The Slaughter of Christians

Philippines: On August 24, 15 people were killed in twin suicide bombings. They were carried out by the widows of two terrorists, and targeted a cathedral in the Muslim majority city of Jolo; about 80 others were injured in the blasts. Abu Sayyaf, a jihadi terror group, claimed responsibility. “There were two bombers. A suicide bomber was involved in the first explosion,” a military spokesman confirmed. “The second suicide bomber blew herself up after she was arrested after the first explosion.” “They have died as martyrs witnessing to their Christian faith,” said local Bishop Charlie Inzon, “as they braved to stay in Jolo despite constant intimidation and risks…. [I]t was treacherous, inhuman and an evil act of violence” “This crime,” added a human rights group, Church in Need, “is even rendered more unconscionable because of the hardships our people are going through during the Covid-19 pandemic.”

Ethiopia: At least 500 Christians—”including pregnant women, children and whole families”— were slaughtered between late June and August 27 in what were reported as “relentless door-to-door” attacks. Soon after a popular singer from a Muslim majority tribe was allegedly assassinated on June 29, “extremists arrived in cars and, armed with guns, machetes, swords and spears, sought out and slaughtered Christians.” The report continues:

“Children were forced to witness their parents being brutally murdered with machetes…. An Oromo Christian was beheaded for refusing to deny his faith by tearing off the thread around his neck (worn by many Ethiopian Christians as a sign of their baptism)…. Christians’ business premises and houses were burnt down, vandalised or destroyed by the extremists. Billions of dollars of damage was caused to property… The severity of the atrocities shocked local witnesses who gave accounts of harrowing scenes. In Dera, a witness described how the killers desecrated corpses by ‘dancing and singing, carrying the chopped or hacked body parts of those they slaughtered.’ Another witness reported how the hacked bodies of an elderly Christian couple, who were beaten to death in their home, were dragged through the streets… Thousands of traumatised survivors have fled for their lives, including orphaned children, and many are being sheltered in churches and community centres.”

Cameroon: Late on the night of August 1, the Islamic terror group Boko Haram sent two suicide bombers, one of whom was a girl, into a village, while its residents slept peacefully after a hard day’s work. Their target was the village’s Catholic Mission. At least 28 people —including seven children between the ages of 3-18—were killed. “The scene was horrific,” the leader of the targeted Catholic mission explained.

“I was at home when they came. We heard gunshots and then shouts from the vigilante committee alerting us. So we fled … When they got in, they first fired shots (randomly), and then people started running.”

One of the terrorists, a young girl, concealing her identity and intentions before a group of women and children who were hiding, claimed she was hurt and pleaded for their help. “They were duped,” the church leader said. “She detonated the bomb and killed many people.” According to the report:

“Further details about the bombers, including their origins, are unknown though reports in recent years indicate that Boko Haram has kidnapped thousands of children. Last year, the UN recently stated that since 2009, an estimated 8,000 children have been abducted by Boko Haram. And according to a UNICEF report, at least 117 of these children have been used as suicide bombers since 2017—and more than 80 percent of them are girls.”

Nigeria: Throughout the month of August, the “ignored genocide of Christians” continued at the hands of Muslim herdsmen and Fulani tribesmen. According to an August 4 report, in Kaduna State, at least 171 Christians, many of which were women and children, were slaughtered. On August 10, armed jihadis stormed the Lion of Judah Church in Azikoro and opened fire on worshippers; four Christians were killed. An August 24 report states that “Fulani herdsmen attacked a predominantly Christian village in north-central Nigeria, killing one resident, burning a church building and kidnapping four children among others.”

Uganda: A Muslim family severely beat two cousins for embracing the Christian faith; one died of his wounds. The surviving cousin, Ahmad Waisana, 23, as of the last report, still barely “clings to life,” and suffers severe injuries to a kidney and his head. From a sick-bed at an undisclosed place of refuge, he said:

“I have been spending sleepless nights thinking of my [cousin and] best friend, Jalilu [Kamutono, aged 20]. The whole of my body is aching. I am not sure whether I will get well or die and go to be with Christ.”

Earlier, both cousins, after attending various sermons in late 2019, “made a public confession of faith in Christ.” Word instantly reached their fathers, who are brothers, even before the cousins returned from the event to the house they all lived in. The fathers “angrily chased” the apostates out of the village. After several months of moving around and trying to eke out a living, which became increasingly harder due to COVID-19 lockdowns, “we decided to return back home hoping that we were going to be welcome,” Ahmad continues:

“At home we were questioned whether we were Christians, and we affirmed to them that we were still Christians but pleaded that we be received back. To our surprise, we were received with hostility, and the relatives arrived and started beating us with sticks and blunt objects before burying us in banana leaves.”

According to the report, “Their relatives were about to set them on fire when some cattle herders and Christians happened by,” prompting their violent family to flee. “At the hospital we were diagnosed, and the finding was that Jalilu had internal bleeding, and after two weeks he succumbed [on August 5] to the injury” and died. “I could not remain at the hospital, and so I went to a nearby church.” After the hospital called Jalilu’s family to come and retrieve their son’s corpse for burial, “They were reluctant at first, but pressure from the government and the problem of COVID-19 made them to yield, and they took the body for burial; that was on Aug. 7.”

Germany: Hamzar D., a 25-year-old Muslim migrant from Tunisia, strangled the 28-year-old German mother of his child to death, partially because she had baptized the child into Christianity. They had originally met at a discotheque; by July 2019, she had given birth to his son. “But after the birth, she changed,” he said. According to the report, she “withheld his son from him for a long time, and then she made his boy a Christian too.” This and other disagreements led to his strangling her during one of their meetings.

Attacks on Churches

Greece: A Muslim migrant from Algeria, 38, attacked a Christian cathedral twice in less than a week. First, on Sunday, August 2, he threw rocks at and damaged the stained glass windows of the Metropolitan Church of Agios Minas, in Heraklion, the largest city on the island of Crete. Two days later, on August 4, he returned with a hammer and started to smash down the cathedral’s door. Camera footage helped police identify and arrest the Algerian.

Turkey: Unknown vandals defaced “priceless” Christian frescoes inside the ancient Byzantine monastery of Sumela in Trabzon. Many of the faces of Jesus and the saints were scratched out. The monastery, which was built in 386, is dedicated to the Virgin Mary and visited by many pilgrims on her feast day, August 15—less than a week before the desecration occurred. The monastery had only recently reopened, after being closed for years to repair earlier arson and vandal damages. Despite all the visible damage (pictures here), “Turkish authorities deny the disaster, with the Deputy Director General of Cultural Heritage and Museums of the country’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism stating that there was no recent damage to the frescoes in the Monastery.” Some social media users claimed responsibility for the “sacred” duty of desecrating the monastery.

Also, coming on the heels of an event that shocked and angered many Christians around the world—the transformation of the Hagia Sophia cathedral/museum into a mosque—on August 21, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced that another ancient church/museum, renowned for its exquisite Byzantine/Christian mosaics, had been transformed into a mosque. Holy Savior in Chora is a fourth century church that, like most other churches in Constantinople/Istanbul, was turned into a mosque after the Muslim conquest of 1453. Later excavations found that many of the Christian images and mosaics that had been painted over could be restored. Turkey, during its experimentation with secularism in the mid-twentieth century, had made the necessary restorations and in 1958, had turned the church into a museum, as was done earlier, in 1935, with Hagia Sophia. Like the Hagia Sophia, Chora is also a UNESCO World Heritage site. Its “beautiful mosaics and frescoes cover almost all the church’s walls and domes,” a historian noted. “It would be hard to imagine it being returned into a mosque without totally covering [or destroying] them over.” According to a report, “Other church-museums in Turkey, including less notable Hagia Sophias in the towns of İznik and Trabzon, have also been converted back into mosques in recent years.”

Italy: On August 12, an Egyptian migrant broke through Milan Cathedral’s security and sped up to the high altar, where, at knifepoint, he forced a guard to kneel for more than eight minutes. The man was reportedly loitering around the front of the cathedral and had broken in after a patrol asked for his ID (it later came out that he had a criminal record). Police officials rushed to the scene in an attempt to negotiate with the hostage-taker, who was eventually apprehended. Although police did not reveal his identity, the Italian bishops’ news media Avvenire uncritically quoted him during the standoff saying that he had a “room” in the cathedral and that his name is “Christian.” According to a later report, however, the 26-year-old man’s name is Mahmoud Mohamed Zin Elaabdin Elhosary.

Sweden: During widespread immigrant riots believed to be connected to the burning of a Koran in Malmö, Muslims tried to torch a church in the small town of Ronneby. A local, Naem Sufan, said he intervened and prevented its burning, and was also beaten because he “defended the church” by extinguishing the fire with his jacket. His injuries include a broken shoulder and strained neck. “You get so disappointed when you see immigrants do that,” he said. “I’m an immigrant myself. And I don’t get it. Sweden has given them everything they want. We have fled war, so we can not start new wars here.”

Desecration of Christian Cemeteries

Turkey: A Christian cemetery belonging to the Holy Savior Church and another Armenian church was desecrated. According to a report, “the remains were taken out of the graves and the bones of the deceased were scattered everywhere” (pictures here).

Pakistan: On August 17, dozens of armed Muslim men occupied a 70-year-old Christian cemetery. While there, and “according to eyewitnesses,” they “desecrated graves, Christian crosses, and Biblical verses written on walls and tombstones. The men then constructed a wall dividing the graveyard in half.” A local Christian explained their motivation:

“Over 100 Christian families reside in the village. We have remains of our forefathers in this graveyard. However, influential Muslims have grabbed a big portion of the graveyard. They have grabbed the land to use for their cattle…. The Christians had no courage to stop the armed men as they were ready to open fire if the Christians resisted… Very soon the land grabbers will occupy the remaining part of the graveyard. We cannot fight as we are the poor segment of the society.”

As of the last report, local authorities had not responded to the Christians’ pleas, and the land remains occupied by the grave desecraters.

Egypt: Local officials forced Christians to exhume and remove the corpse of a young Christian boy from his resting place behind his church to somewhere else “far from Muslims.” According to the August 21 report,

“The child, Samer Mark Maher, was buried on a piece of land behind Mary Mina Church as per usual practice. The governor, however, claimed that there were no permits and ordered that the Christians remove the body to a place far from Muslims.”

Local authorities and council members are now talking about exhuming all Christian corpses at the church and moving them elsewhere, even though, as one Christian lawyer explained, “The Copts (Christians) there don’t have an official place [other than their church] to bury their bodies. Usually, they were burying the bodies in land behind their church. The nearest village which contains Coptic burials is far, around 100 kilometres [more than 60 miles] from the dead child’s village,” where few of its Christian residents have vehicular access.

In another incident in Egypt, during what are known as “reconciliation sessions,” a government-appointed village mayor ruled that a Christian family must sell its home and leave the village. (In Egypt, local authorities and involved parties of a dispute often meet outside of courtrooms in an effort to resolve matters and restore peace before getting the law involved.) The case involved a young Christian man who accidentally hit and killed a Muslim girl with his motorcycle. Despite the fact that such accidents are very common in the chaotic and near lawless roads of Egypt; despite the fact that even the girl’s father acknowledged that it was an accident; and despite the fact that these sessions are informal and meant to find the most equitable solution before the courts get involved—the Muslim official, Hanni Snofar of Fayum governorate, who was invited to the session, ordered not just the expulsion of the youth, but his entire family, who must sell their home as soon as possible and essentially go in “exile.” The August 15 report inquires:

“It was just another reconciliation session but it turned into a courtroom with the animated mayor ordering the selling of the Christian family’s home and their expulsion. By what right does the mayor judge and issue mandatory decrees to expulse a family, force them to sell their home, and create other problems? Do we no longer have judiciaries to rule on such cases?”

Attacks on Apostates and Blasphemers

Syria: An Islamist group connected to Turkey and operating in northwest Syria seized a 40-year-old Kurdish man for apostasy in the city of Arfin. Earlier, fighters from Failaq Al-Sham ordered Radwan Muhammad to relinquish his school so they could transform it into a madrassa, an Islamic school. Radwan, its headmaster and an English teacher, refused, adding “I will hand you the building in one case only: if Jesus Christ comes down to earth again.” He was promptly apprehended. According to Pastor Nihad Hassan, who is also from Afrin,

“We are extremely worried about Radwan’s life and wellbeing, he is being held at [Failaq Al-Sham’s] Headquarters in Afrin and they may execute him. Those Islamist groups and their Turkish masters are walking in the footsteps of IS. In fact, many of their fighters are former IS and al Qaeda members.”

Moreover, “Mr. Muhammed’s wife died recently, but the group prevented the family from washing and shrouding her body according to the customs of that region. She had converted from Islam to Christianity a while ago.”

According to a separate report from August 19, “Continuing its policies of religious oppression and demographic change, factions of the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army (SNA) — a coalition of militias, several of them with extremist ideologies, formed and funded by Turkey — kidnapped 14 Kurdish youth from occupied Afrin after they converted to Christianity.”

Pakistan: On August 5, after mosque leader Muhammad Abdul complained, police arrested Sohail Masih, a Christian man, on the charge of blasphemy. Earlier, during a Facebook discussion, Masih had written, “It is not possible that the blood of goats and bulls can wash away sins. The incident of Miraj is based on a lie.” (Miraj is a reference to the Islamic tradition that, while mounted atop a supernatural winged creature named Buraq, Muhammad had flown from Mecca to al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, then temporarily ascended into heaven, all in one night.) When local Muslims learned of Masih’s blasphemous post, an “enraged” mob surrounded the police station he was being held in; some “forcefully entered the police station and exchanged angry words with police.” Soon thereafter, police formalized a case against and charged Masih under section 295-C of the Pakistan penal code, for which the maximum penalty is death.

Indonesia: A Muslim convert to Christianity was arrested for “blasphemy.” Apollinaris Darmawan, 70, wrote on twitter that “Islam is not a religion but a heretical teaching that silences and uncivilizes its people.” On August 8, before police could get to him, an angry Muslim mob stormed his home, dragged him outside and stripped him naked. The elderly Apollinaris has a history of criticizing Islam and was released from prison, where he had served four years for another blasphemy accusation just five months earlier. Discussing this incident, the deputy chairman of the human rights group Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace said that “In a democracy, views expressed by Darmawan are natural. In religious life, if people are criticizing our religion, we [should] see it as a challenge, not an insult.” The 70-year-old now faces the maximum penalty for blasphemy in Indonesia: six years imprisonment and a one billion rupiah fine ($72,000).

France: As a reflection of anti-Christian sentiment and fears of apostasy, a Muslim family beat and shaved the hair of a 17-year-old girl for dating a Christian boy. Previously her hair was about two feet long. According to the deputy prosecutor of the case, the family will be tried later this year for “violence against minors”:

“The two families knew each other and (their relationship) was not a problem, but when they started talking about marriage, the girl’s parents told her: ‘We are Muslims, you cannot marry a Christian.'”… The first blow came from the mother, then there was an outbreak of violence. She was taken to a room and beaten. She was shaved, according to her testimony, by her uncle—her father’s brother— while being beaten.”

The August 21 report closes by saying that, “Head-shaving in this context has a particularly shocking context in France. This was the punishment after the Second World War meted out to thousands of women who had relationships with Nazi occupiers in so-called ‘horizontal collaboration.'”

Raymond Ibrahim, author of Crucified Again and Sword and Scimitar, is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Gatestone Institute, a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center, and a Judith Rosen Friedman Fellow at the Middle East Forum.

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