incarcerated in North Korea’s network of concentration camps" celebrated Christmas Eve behind bars, most likely in secret, Saturday, December 24, religious rights monitors suggested.
And on Sunday, December 25, "multitudes of believers in Asia, Cuba, Belarus, Iran and the Arab world will celebrate the birth of the Savior [Jesus, God’s Son] in quiet, secret fellowships, risking persecution as they do every week," said Elizabeth Kendal, Principal Researcher and Writer of the World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty Commission (RLC).
In Cuba, for instance, Christmas decorations have been banned in shops while Christmas trees can only be observed in hotels for foreigners, the Cable News Network (CNN) reported Saturday, December 24.
Kendal also said the RLC, which monitors religious persecution, noted that "Christians living in jihad zones risk being targeted in their churches this Christmas."
In a statement to BosNewsLife, Kendal warned that "the most vulnerable regions for church bombings this year are Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Iraq." Intelligence reports "indicate terrorists in Indonesia have planned a major assault on churches, Western targets and foreigners."
The most vulnerable regions for church bombings this year are Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Iraq, the RLC said, referring to previous attacks against Christians around Christmas.
"In 2000 a plot to wreak massive terror over Christmas in Jordan and the Holy Land was foiled, while in Indonesia, 19 people died and some 100 were wounded when 18 bombs exploded simultaneously in churches in seven cities on Christmas Eve," the RLC said.
"On Christmas night 2002, three children were killed and 13 were injured when Islamic militants threw grenades into a special Christmas service for children in the Presbyterian chapel in Chianwali [in the Punjab province of Pakistan]," the organization added.
A BosNewsLife team investigating the plight of persecuted Christians in Burma and Laos also noted that Christians in Lao jungle villages face harassment by Communist security forces. In addition an estimated 1.5 million predominantly Christian ethnic communities, including Karens, are on the run for government backed forces in Burma, also known as Myanmar.
Elsewhere in Asia, in India, Churches anxiously awaited Christmas as violence against Christians spread in several states. Controversial anti-conversion legislation has also put pressure on church leaders and missionaries, BosNewsLife reporters in India said.
In the former Soviet Union, persecution has increased in several republics including Belarus, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Russia itself, Forum 18 and other human rights groups said. Churches have been raided, pastors and other Christians detained, and missionaries and priests have been expelled in that region.
All governments of countries where persecution has been reported have strongly denied religious rights abuses, saying people are free to practice their religion within local laws. However especially evangelical Christians prefer to worship without government interference and have stressed the Bible obliges them to spread the Gospel.
Conflict has also forced most Christian Palestinians to leave the area of Bethlehem, where the Bible teaches Jesus was born. Hanna Nasser, the former mayor of Bethlehem and a Christian, has reportedly warned that in 20 years there will be no Christians left in Bethlehem.
In a message to supporters Kendal said that Christians should realize they are part of "one body in Christ. So in our joy, let’s not neglect to lift our needy, threatened brothers and sisters before the Lord this Christmas."
An estimated 200 million Christians worldwide "suffer interrogation, arrest and even death for their faith in Christ," with another 200 to 400 million facing discrimination and alienation, according to Christian rights group Open Doors. (With Stefan J. Bos at BosNewsLife News Center in Budapest, Vishal Arora in New Delhi and Santosh Digal in Manila).