By BosNewsLife News Center
BUDAPEST, HUNGARY (BosNewsLife)– BosNewsLife’s busy November 18-24 newsweek saw Christians in the crossfire worshiping behind bars or amid death and destruction from Africa to Gaza and Israel, while in Pakistan a mentally challenged Christian girl was acquitted of blasphemy against Islam. In former Communist nations, including in Hungary, thousands took to the streets, concerned that their new found freedom was once again under threat by the government…
The week began on a remarkable note with reports that Christians in Syria remained in the crossfire as rebels claimed to have captured up to 30 percent of the heavily Islamic nation, a leading Dutch legislator and investigator told BosNewsLife.
“It’s still a big question if the regime” of autocratic President Bashar Assad “will be defeated by the divided rebels,” warned parliamentarian Joël Voordewind of the Netherlands ChristianUnie (‘ChristianUnion’) party.
Amid the chaos, up to 50,000 mainly Christian refugees are without aid because they are afraid to register themselves with the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, added Voordewind, speaking from Lebanon.
Elsewhere in the Middle East, British Christian legislators expressed concern about the “serious and growing persecution and discrimination” of Iranian Christians and said at least dozens of believers remain detained amid a crackdown on Christian converts in Iran.
In their new report, obtained by BosNewsLife Monday, November 19, Britain’s ‘All-Party Parliamentary Group’ (APPG) also urged the release of Christians, including Pastor Farshid Fathi, who has held in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison since December 2010.
However at a ceremony in London where the report was presented, a letter was read from an Iranian prisoner who made clear Christians didn’t give up their hope in Christ.
“I have been insulted, humiliated and accused, but I have never doubted my identity in Christ,” the unidentified Christian detainee was quoted as saying. “We rejoice in the Lord and take joy in the God of our salvation. Because neither the walls nor the barbed wires, nor the prison, nor suffering, nor loneliness, nor enemies, nor pain, nor even death separates us from the Lord and each other.”
The next day BosNewsLife published a report that even in European countries such as Hungary, where devoted active Christians were jailed or lost their jobs during decades of Communist rule, there were fears the government wants to turn the clock back.
Ironically Hungary’s ex-Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány, himself a former Communist youth leader, led thousands into forming a human chain around parliament to protest changes to electoral laws that the government will introduce ahead of the 2014 elections, saying his nation is moving towards dictatorship.
The new laws would require voters to register two weeks or more in advance of elections or face exclusion, while Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s administration wants to forbid political parties to advertise through commercial broadcasters and possible websites.
Authorities have defended the registration measures saying they are needed as many ethnic Hungarians living in neighboring countries have the right to vote.
There was some hopeful news too Tuesday November 20 when a Pakistani court cleared a mentally challenged Christian girl of “blasphemy against Islam” charges, which can carry the death penalty.
The high court in Pakistan’s capital Islamabad found the accusations against teenager Rimsha Masih “legally unsound” in a case that drew worldwide attention. Police instead accused an imam of “fabricating evidence” that she burned pages with text of the Koran, considered a holy book by Muslims.
However Rimsha and her family remain in hiding amid death threats, Christians told BosNewsLife.
Yet, there was little time to celebrate for the world’s global Christian community as on Wednesday, November 21, news emerged that Nigerian authorities said the death toll of sectarian riots in central Nigeria has risen to 10.
Abubakar Sadani, the councilor of a ward in Ibi town in Nigeria’s Taraba state, said the victims died in clashes that began Sunday, November 18.
Besides the dead, over 200 people were said to have sustained varying degrees of injuries, fueling concerns of a widening conflict involving Muslims and Christians in this African nation.
The riots broke out after a Muslim resident was killed by what reporters called “Christian vigilante” when he tried to go through a checkpoint set up as a response to church attacks by Islamic militant group Boko Haram.
Half-a-world away however, a tense ceasefire began later that day between the ruling militant Hamas group in the Gaza Strip and Israel following week-long fighting, but Christians in Israel urged prayers amid fears of an all-out war.
The ceasefire, brokered by Egypt, was announced in Cairo by Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohammed Kamel Amr and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in Cairo.
It was aimed at ending Israeli air strikes and assassinations of wanted militants, while for Israel, it was supposed to halt rocket fire and attempts at cross-border incursions from Gaza.
Jewish people and Christians working in Israel expressed concerns about the immediate future and a dozen rockets landed in southern Israel even after the ceasefire was announced, though no injuries were reported.
On Thursday, November 22, time was running out for an abducted Christian Eritrean man in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula after his kidnappers told him to pay $25,000 or face “organ harvesting” and be killed, he and Christian rights activists said.
“If they don’t get the money, they will kill me in five days,” explained 25-year-old Philemon Semere, who has been held for three months, in published remarks.
Semere is among several refugees and migrants from the Horn of Africa, who are abducted and abused by people traffickers in Sinai, added advocacy group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) in a statement to BosNewsLife.
He escaped from Eritrea, where at least over 2,000 devoted Christians are detained for their faith in prison facilities ranging from shipping containers to military camps, according to human rights groups.
There were more setbacks for devoted Christians: In China a Christian woman who campaigned against that country’s strict one-child policy, remained in a labor camp Friday, November 23, after she was sentenced to 18 months “re-education through labor” for the third time, her husband and fellow Christians said.
House Church Christian Mao Hengfeng, 50, was seized in the capital Beijing by officials on September 20 after petitioning authorities for rights abuses she suffered during her previous labor camp sentences, including torture, her husband, Wu Xuewei, told reporters.
Mao, who lives in Shanghai and has three daughters, has been petitioning the government since she was fired in 1988 from her job at a soap factory after becoming pregnant a second time, in violation of China’s controversial one-child policy.
Christians in Central Asia also reported difficulties on Friday, November 23, including in the former Soviet republic of Turkmenistan where churches have “literally come under fire” by authorities after a Baptist church building recently burned to the ground, a mission group said.
Pastor Vasily Korobov of the ‘Baptist House of Prayer’ in the town of Turkmenbashi, 560 kilometers (348 miles) west of the capital Ashgabat, was “thoroughly” interrogated following the fire because it involved a religious organization, claimed the Slavic Gospel Association (SGA).
“It just seemed like — the questions that they were asking him — they were looking for something other than just a church fire,” added SGA spokesman Joel Griffith.
Christians reportedly face fines and threats of expulsion from villages and schools for being part of “unregistered groups.”
There were also tense moment for another pastor in the region. Kazakhstan has threatened to extradite a detained Protestant house church to his native Uzbekistan where he faces up to 15 years imprisonment for “illegal” religious teaching and Christian literature distribution, BosNewsLife monitored Saturday, November 24.
Makset Djabbarbergenov, 32, fled to neighboring Kazakhstan in 2007 after police raided his home in the Uzbek city of Nukus while holding a Christian meeting there, according to rights activists and Christians.
Prosecutors claim Djabbarbergenov invited 11 people to his home “without specialized religious education” and without official permission from a recognized religious organization, violating local laws.
The world’s media attention was focused Saturday, November 24, also on Nigeria again, as the army announced a $1.8 million reward for information leading to the capture of 19 leading members of Islamist militant group Boko Haram, amid fresh reports of deadly attacks against Christians and others.
The announcement came shortly after at least four people were feared dead in anti-Christian violence hursday, November 22, in Bichi town about 50 kilometers (30 miles) from Nigeria’s largest northern city of Kano.
There were also seperate reports that ten men were killed in the northeastern city of Maiduguri, Thursday, November 22, followed by a massacre of at least twenty women, some clad in mini-skirts, on Friday, November 23, in their Maiduguri homes and college dormitories.
However Nigeria’s Daily Trust newspaper later quoted the government’s Joint Task Force (JTF) in charge of security in Borno State as denying reports the women, including students of the University of Maiduguri (UNIMAID) were killed.
Yet amid the death and destruction, there were signs Christians continued to worship this weekend in the turbulent nation.
The same was true in autocratically ruled Turkmenistan. “If I know anything about the believers in the former Soviet Union, they’re going to stand boldly and continue to serve Christ no matter what,” stressed spokesman Joel Griffith.
(Budapest-based BosNewsLife is Central and Eastern Europe’s first international Christian online news agency. With additional reporting by BosNewsLife’s Joseph DeCaro in the United States, George Whitten in Israel, Paul Jongas in Nigeria and Stefan J. Bos at BosNewsLife News Center. At least over 100 million Christians worldwide suffer interrogation, arrest and even death for their faith, with millions more facing discrimination and alienation, according to advocacy group estimates).