Religious Persecution Archive

You'll find articles about this subject in each of the items listed, even if the term does not necessarily occur within the headlines or descriptive text.

Religious persecution is the practice of discouraging freedom of religion and the freedom to express and/or promote all or certain religious beliefs – with repercussions ranging from prevention to persecution (including murder).

Nigeria: Muslim extremists have killed more Christians than officials know

Violence Continues in Nigeria as Akinola Criticizes President

JOS, Nigeria, May 29 (Compass Direct News) – In Nigeria’s Plateau state, Christian leaders said more Christians have died at the hands of Muslim extremists than the 35 that the military reported thus far in May.

A Compass reporter was among a group of journalists that came under attack from Islamic extremists this month. In three local government areas in Plateau state, armed Fulani herdsmen attacked 15 Christian villages, killing and maiming Christians, destroying homes and leaving more than 1,000 villagers displaced, sources said.

The villages – Jwol, Foron, Tahoss, Bangai, Sopp, Werem, Danjol, Rinyam, Rim, Kak, Gwamrim, Gwom, Fang, Lwa and Riyas – are located in the local government areas of Barkin Ladi, Bokkos, and Riyom.

Villagers said the attackers were Muslim Fulani herdsmen likely supplied and instigated by Islamic extremist groups. Sources told Compass that Muslim gunmen invaded Rinyam village on May 9 at about 12:30 a.m. and shot seven Christians in their homes, though increasingly assailants are using only machetes and knives to avoid notice by soldiers charged with keeping order.

One of many reports about Muslim violence against Christians in Nigeria

“Seven people were shot dead, including two children,” said Daniel Dem, an area legislator in the Plateau State House of Assembly. “Three were severely injured. They are now receiving medical attention at the Vom Christian Hospital.”

In Rim village, Muslim Fulani herdsmen killed one Christian, Bulus Dakumbi, and injured two others, now receiving treatment at Vom Christian Hospital.

At Gwarim village, Muslim gunmen killed five Christians: Dinnatu Danbwarang, 48; Simi Joseph, 26; Rose Dalyop, 25; Jafates Samuel, 4; and Christiana Samuel, 7.

At Wereng village near Kuru Station, three members of a Christian family were killed when Muslim Fulani herdsmen attacked the village: Philip Francis Pam, 37; his wife Simi Francis, 28; and their only daughter, who was a few months old. Christian residents told Compass that the Muslim killers entered the family’s bedroom at 10 p.m. as they slept and murdered them.

The victims had gunshot wounds on their chests and stomachs as well as machete cuts on their necks, neighbors said. The baby had machete cuts on her ribs, and her fingers were cut off.

“Attacks have been happening in this neighborhood, and this is always the mode of operation – gunshots and machete cuts,” said a relative, Francis Pam.

Dauda Gyang, a Christian villager in Gwarim village, said his younger brother was killed when armed Muslims attacked his village over a period of two weeks.

“Muslim Fulani herdsmen came in large numbers and attacked us,” he said. “Their method of attack is that they will start shooting from a distance to scare the villagers, and as soon as the villagers run out of fear, they will come and set our houses ablaze. From my village alone they burned more than 10 houses.”

Sunday Madaki, a displaced Christian from Gwarim, said 13 people were killed and more than 20 injured in six villages.

“Over 30 residential houses have been burned,” Madaki said. “All displaced Christians have no homes to return to.”

In Riyas in the Bokkos Local Government Area, about 15 armed Muslims attacked the village, killing two Christians, 35-year-old Mangut Dakwan, and 28-year-old Magit Manaseh, before destroying their homes.

“Armed men suspected to be Muslim Fulani herdsmen invaded Riyas village at midnight,” Titus Ayuba Alams, a legislator in the Plateau State House of Assembly, told Compass.

In Fang village, the extremists killed a Christian farmer named Dantyang Bauchi, while Ana Christopher Gyang, a mother of seven, was killed at Lwa village.

Three other Christians were killed in an attack at Jwol and Foron villages, where the assailants set fire to houses and shot at Christians as they fled, residents said.

“These armed Muslim men set fire on surrounding bushes in Jwol, and when we came out to put out the fire, these Muslims shot at us, killing two of our relatives,” said one area resident. “One of us, Dung Danjuma, is still missing even as I am talking to you now.”

He added that another person was also killed in Foron in a separate attack.

At Rinyam-Tahoss village, Muslim gunmen killed seven Christians, including two children. Three Christians injured in the attack were receiving treatment at the Vom Christian Hospital, sources said.

Capt. Markus Mdahyelya, spokesman for the Special Task Force (STF) charged with keeping order in areas under national emergency, confirmed the attacks, as did Samuel Dabai, a spokesman for area police.

Mdahyelya said that as a result of the attacks, the STF commander had shifted troops from other places as reinforcements to the area.

“The commander himself has visited the area and addressed the refugees,” he said. “He asked them to return to their houses with promise of adequate security. So, we are in control in the area.”

Displaced Christians have taken refuge at police stations and primary schools in other parts of the state, while others have fled to Jema’a and Sanga Local Government Areas of Kaduna state. In Rinyam-Tahoss village, for example, no fewer than 200 displaced Christians, mostly women and children, are living in a public primary school with no food or medication.

Journalists Attacked

Emmanuel Jugul, a former legislator from the affected areas, told Compass that the government is doing nothing to protect the lives and property of Christians.

“The security agencies in charge of the area are not sincere,” Jugul said. “Either they are not doing their job, or they are conspiring with the attackers, because they’ve not done anything to stop the killings, and yet the areas being attacked by these Muslims are under state of emergency.”

A Compass correspondent was among a group of journalists, along with assemblyman Dem, present in Kak when Muslim Fulani herdsmen attacked the village for the second time that week. They shot at the group, but everyone escaped unhurt.

“I have witnessed the killings of my people, and I’ve had a close shave with death,” Dem said, in tears. “You journalists have seen it yourselves that my people are not telling lies. And that my people are living in danger. There is no security for Christians here.”

Akinola v. Jonathan

The Nigerian president on Sunday (May 27) took pointed criticism for the government’s handling of Muslim extremist violence against Christians.

At a special worship service in Abuja for Democracy Day with President Goodluck Jonathan in attendance, the former Anglican primate of the Church of Nigeria criticized the government’s approach to the Muslim extremist Boko Haram sect. The Rt. Rev. Peter Akinola told those gathered at the interdenominational service at the National Christian Centre that, contrary to assertions that Boko Haram is tantamount to a social revolution against economic injustice, officials should ignore claims that the sect is motivated by anything more than jihadist desire to do away with Christianity.

The 68-year-old Akinola advised the Nigerian government against dialogue with Boko Haram.

“They want to eliminate ‘infidels,’ which includes you, Mr. President,” Akinola said. “You open yourself to ridicule if you open dialogue to a group that has made the country ungovernable. Don’t treat them with kid gloves. You don’t dialogue with criminals.”

Boko Haram (literally, “Forbidden Book,” translated as “Western education is forbidden”), has targeted state offices, law enforcement sites and some moderate mosques in its effort to destabilize the government and impose a strict version of sharia (Islamic law) on all of Nigeria.

Asserting that the government has failed to address 30 Islamist campaigns to rid the country of Christianity, Akinola said Boko Haram will not be easily stopped, as it has financial and logistical support outside and within Nigeria.

“Boko Haram must be seen in the right context – it is a continuation of the past,” Akinola said. “Shun all political claims that Boko Haram is not against Christianity. It is. It has been going on since 1966. They are committed to jihad. You can’t stop them; it is their religious obligation. They have been doing it for 36 years; they have not stopped and they won’t stop.”

He said that attacks on Christians are a clear indication that the country was in disunity, describing Boko Haram as a “blood-thirsty Islamic sect with no regard for the sanctity of human lives. Nigeria is at war against itself.”

Speaking later, Jonathan acknowledged that Boko Haram took his administration by surprise but maintained that his government was doing everything possible to keep it in check. He asserted that the country will remain indivisible.

“No individual or group, no matter their ambition or selfish purpose, will be able to divide this nation,” Jonathan said. “Nigeria will never disintegrate. Even though some people were busy predicting the disintegration of Nigeria, there would be no such thing.”

The president said he has directed security agencies to launch a complete war against Boko Haram.

“We have done a lot and committed resources to advance our security architecture in order to tackle terrorism, and, God willing, we shall overcome,” he said. “My request is for you to stand by me.”

Nigeria’s population of more than 158.2 million is divided between Christians, who make up 51.3 percent of the population and live mainly in the south, and Muslims, who account for 45 percent and live mainly in the north. The percentages may be less, however, as those practicing indigenous religions may be as high as 10 percent of the total population, according to Operation World.

– Muslim extremists have killed more than officials know, Christian leaders say, Abdias Pasoville, Compass Direct News, May 29, 2012 — © Compass Direct News. Published in Religion News Blog by permission.

Burma Reforms Offer No Respite for Ethnic Christians

KAREN STATE, Burma — Amid global euphoria over reforms in Burman-majority parts of Burma, life has changed little for more than 3 million Christians and other minorities left to suffer from one of the world’s longest running civil wars.

Headlines around the world hailed the induction on Wednesday (May 2) of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi into parliament as the beginning of a new era in Burma, officially known as Myanmar. But for the 150,000 Internally Displaced People (IDP) living in eastern Karen state’s 4,000 IDP camps, life is still about landmine blasts, gun and mortar attacks, and the possibility of a final war between armed insurgents and the Burma army.

Burmese President Thein Sein, a former military general, has introduced political reforms – the release of hundreds of political prisoners, new laws allowing labor unions and strikes and a gradual easing of media restrictions – and has reportedly ordered troops to stop offensive in ethnic areas, but senior military officials have not heeded his orders.

As part of its reform initiatives, the Burmese government is trying to ink ceasefire agreements with armed ethnic groups, including the Karen National Union (KNU) and the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO). Karen rebels, however, believe the talks are a government strategy to buy time and prepare for a showdown.

“We have seen similar efforts by the government in 1949, 1963, 1996 and 2004, but each time talks broke down,” said Saw Htee Ler, a rebel leader with the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), the armed wing of the KNU, which has been fighting for autonomy for more than five decades.

The government strategy, he added, is to engage the KNU in peace talks so that the military can bring supplies – arms, ammunition and food – into KNU-controlled areas without clashes.

“They have been able to freely bring in supplies in huge quantities without our men attacking them due to the tentative peace agreement reached in January,” Ler said. “They seem to be getting ready for major military operations against us in the near future.”

Aw John Nay Moo, a Karen commando from the KNLA’s “Special Force,” said the KNLA was still recruiting and training people.

“Peace talks do not mean our struggle is over,” he said. “We need to be ready all the time for a possible clash.”

Christian Civilians Targeted
Most of Burma’s Christians are from the ethnic minority groups of Karen, Karenni, Kachin and Chin and are predominantly Baptist. It is estimated that roughly 1.4 million Karens and Karenni, 1.1 million Chins and 900,000 Kachins are Christian.

While it is largely a struggle for self-determination in all ethnic states and all civilians suffer in the crossfire, the Burman-Buddhist dominated Burmese troops are often accused of being harsher on Christian civilians than on their Buddhist counterparts.

Ler, who was guarding a base on a hill about 30 minutes from an IDP camp, said military personnel target civilians because they are seen as the strength of the KNU.

“And Christians are targeted simply because their [government troops’] religion is Buddhist,” he said.

Ler said he had seen pictures of burned churches and received reports of such incidents.

Moo, the KNLA commando, agreed that Christian civilians were attacked more than Buddhist civilians. He cited a 2007 incident in Pekey Der village in Papu District under the KNLA Brigade 5 area, where troops burned down a church and “defecated on the Bible.” Moo said he learned of the incident from the church pastor.

Ler and Moo, who said they are Christians, said that they joined the KNLA to protect their land and people.

Saw Tu Tu, head of the Karen Refugee Committee, said that while all civilians face attacks, troops will not kill a Buddhist monk. “Military personnel usually take shelter in Buddhist temples,” he added.

Some churches, however, are attacked out of misunderstanding, he said.

“KNLA soldiers run to hilltops – that’s where churches are normally built – to take a strategic position when military personnel launch attacks on them,” Tu said. “And troops think the bullets are being fired from the church, and they retaliate.”

Naw K’nyaw Paw, an executive member of the Karen Women Organization who just returned from a trip to several Karen villages, said many Christians install Buddhist statues and keep Buddhist pictures in their homes to prevent attacks.

“A Christian-majority village under the KNU Brigade 1 area has turned into a Buddhist village, and the church there has been converted into a Buddhist temple, just so that government troops will not attack them,” Paw said.

In “White” and “Brown Zones,” where the government has full or partial control respectively, the medium of instruction is Burmese and not the Karen language, she added.

“They don’t even teach Karen history,” Paw said. “The government is clearly seeking cultural uniformity. We fear that we will be assimilated into the Burman culture if we give up our struggle.”

Women suffer more, she said, noting that government soldiers force local people, including women, to work as their porters, and women are often harassed sexually.

Some cases of extortion by KNLA soldiers have also come to light, but most Karen people believe these are isolated cases and maintain that KNU’s policies strictly prohibit unethical practices.

The religious dimension of the conflict can also be seen in the origin of the KNU. On Christmas Eve of 1948, Burmese forces launched a mortar-and-gun attack on a church in Mergui in southern Tenasserim Division, author Ashley South writes in his book, “Ethnic Politics in Burma: States of Conflict.” Over 80 Karens were killed and several injured. This was followed by deployment of Burmese troops in Karen state in January 1949. The KNU was then formed, followed by the KNLA.

In 1961, then-Prime Minister U Nu’s government passed the State Religion Bill in a joint session of parliament, making Buddhism the state religion. This deepened the conviction of the ethnic minorities that the Union government was being used as a tool for Burmanization and “occupation” of their areas. This followed the formation of the KIO, comprising mainly Christians, and its armed wing, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) in Kachin state, bordering China.

In predominantly Christian Kachin state, government troops have attacked KIA soldiers and civilians since a 17-year ceasefire broke down in June last year. The fighting has displaced over 75,000 people since then, according to the Kachin Development Networking Group.

Most recently, Burmese troops fired mortar shells between Bhamo area and the city of Laiza on April 26 despite ongoing peace talks. The shelling killed two children and injured two civilian adults in Kone Law village, Kachin News Group reported. The same day, heavy fighting was reported near the northern town of Laiza, KIO’s main base, as rebels sought to block attempts by the Burma army to deliver reinforcements and supplies to a strategic army position.

Around 3,000 government forces have moved into locations around Laiza, according to Agence France-Presse.

“They are preparing to attack the KIA base in Laiza … they have reinforced a lot of troops and sent a lot of artillery but have not attacked yet,” an anonymous official was quoted as saying.

Some, however, are still hopeful of a peaceful resolution in ethnic states.

Nyo Ohn Myint, a senior member of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party, who is helping the government to establish peace with ethnic armed groups, said there was a deep-rooted mistrust between the two sides that was hindering peace talks. He hoped for a change in the relationship between the two sides by around 2020.

Little or No Change
Amid conflicting media reports on how reforms have impacted ethnic minority states along Burma’s borders, where most Christians live, Compass met the displaced civilians and rebels from the KNLA at an IDP camp on a hill surrounded by landmines. The 3,000 people in this camp live in a forest area that the Burma army has unofficially designated as a “Black Zone,” an area entirely under the control of rebels.

Government troops stationed not too far from the hill can shoot-on-sight not only at Karen rebels but also civilians.

“I have no idea about the reforms being introduced in ‘Burma Proper,’ said 59-year-old Pohla Win, a lay leader of a Baptist church in the camp. “I have just heard about it on BBC Burmese radio.”

Win was seated on the floor of his house, made of bamboo and dry leaves, overlooking the Salween River where Karen children were swimming.

“I and my family will be killed on the way if we attempt to go back to our village,” he said.

Win said he fled his village in 1985 after Burmese troops launched an offensive in the area. But he arrived in this camp 18 years later, running from one village to another, walking on terrain where landmines had been laid by both the military and the rebels. Most of the families here had similar stories of how they reached the camp.

There is relative peace in the state after a tentative agreement was reached between the KNU and the government in January.

“Government check-posts are now less strict, and there are fewer clashes between troops and Karen soldiers,” said Paw of the Karen Women Organization. But there is “absolutely no change” in Black Zones, she added.

In February, more than 1,100 new refugees, about 450 of them Christian, arrived at the seven refugee camps in Thailand, “which shows there were clashes between the troops and Karen soldiers after the January’s peace agreement,” said Tu of the Karen Refugee Committee. This is in addition to the existing 74,000 registered and 53,000 unregistered refugees in those camps.

The Karen are among six other non-Burman ethnic groups – including Karenni, Kachin, Chin, Mon and Shan – that do not see their land as part of Burma. During British rule, which ended in 1948, the states where ethnic people lived were collectively known as “Frontier Areas” and were administered separately by the British, as opposed to “Burma Proper,” which was, and is, home to ethnic Burmans, mostly Buddhist.

After independence – while ethnic minority leaders were discussing with their Burman counterparts conditions under which they could join the new Union of Burma – Frontier Areas were presumed to be part of the Union under the leadership of Prime Minister U Nu, a Burman nationalist. Civil wars erupted and continue today.

Burmese President Sein is from the Union Solidarity and Development Party, which won the majority of the seats in parliament in November 2010 elections, which were seen as rigged. A source close to the government said the split between moderates and hardliners in the military was real, and that the hardliners were perhaps trying to send a signal to the president that the military “old guard” is still in power.

The constitution of Burma gives more power to the military than the civilian president and reserves one-fourth of seats for military officials in legislative bodies at all levels.

The possibility of a full-fledged war cannot be ruled out even if it is against the will of President Sein. Ethnic armed groups say they are prepared to take on the military, which could lead to an unprecedented civilian toll.

– Burma Reforms Offer No Respite for Ethnic Christians, Vishal Arora, Compass Direct News, May 4, 2012 — © Compass Direct News. Published in Religion News Blog by permission.