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).

Bible School, Church Buildings Attacked in Sudan

Islamist mob inflicts massive damages on Christian compound in Khartoum

Christians faced increased hostilities in Sudan over the past few weeks, culminating in an attack on a Christian compound in Khartoum by a throng of Muslim extremists armed with clubs, iron rods, a bulldozer and fire.

Breaking down the compound wall with a bulldozer, the assailants on Saturday (April 21) set fire to the Gerief West Bible School and the Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church (SPEC) building; they also damaged three other places of worship and other buildings in the same compound, sources told Compass by telephone. Also damaged were a clinic, a home for the elderly, classrooms and living quarters.

“What happened could not be imagined – it was terrible,” said the Rev. Yousif Matar, general secretary of the Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church synod. “They burned all furniture of the school and the church as well.”

Following a fiery call by hard-line Muslim sheikh Muhammad Abdel Kareem on Friday (April 20) to a crowd of more than 500 to destroy “the infidels’ church,” he led the attack the next day, sources said.

“Tomorrow at 8 a.m., Muslims in this area must gather in front of the infidels’ church and destroy them,” Kareem told the crowd, according to Compass sources.

The next morning, according to Christian support organization Open Doors, authorities held the mob back about a kilometer from the compound, but the assailants dispersed and found their way back early in the afternoon.

“Police at the compound stood back and did nothing to prevent the mob from vandalizing the compound,” Open Doors stated in a press release. “There was no cordon around the Bible school or church, as some have stated in other media reports.”

Besides the SPEC church building, the worship venues damaged in the attack were halls used by Ethiopian, Indian and ethnic southern Sudan congregations, according to Open Doors. The organization reported that area residents told the Sudan Tribune that the assailants were the same ones that had threatened to attack the church, apparently calling for the deportation of southerners in Sudan and terming them “foreigners.”

Ethnic southern Sudanese were ordered to register for citizenship this month or be deported following South Sudan’s secession last July 9.

Shouting “Allahu Akbar [God is greater]” and “No more Christianity from today on – no more church from today on,” the attackers stormed the Bible school bookstore and burned Bibles and other literature, sources said. They threatened to kill anyone who resisted them, they said.

All the Bible school’s office equipment, library books and students’ personal belongings were destroyed by fire, according to Open Doors.

Some students, staff and members of some churches were beaten, according to Philip Akway, a pastor and former general secretary of the Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church; SPEC clergyman John Tau’s right hand was wounded, while deacon John Bouth sustained a chest injury.

The assailants also burned trees on the property. On April 9, the mob had arrived with a bulldozer and threatened to demolish the Bible school, saying it was located on land that should be returned to “the land of Islam” because southern Sudanese were no longer legal citizens (see, “South Sudanese Christians Trapped in Hostile North,” April 19). Police arrived and forced the assailants to withdraw from the school compound, but the Islamists threatened to take the land by force.

At press time Bible school students remained scattered, with some of them taking refuge in Christian homes far from the area, while others fled to churches in northern Khartoum, sources said.

Church leaders told Compass they were concerned that such incidents could lead to Muslims in Sudan taking church lands.

Other incidents last week indicated that Christianity is not welcome in Sudan, according to Open Doors. Catholic Church personnel working for SudanAid, the church’s humanitarian organization, have been arrested in Nyala, in Darfur, and their office has been closed, the organization stated, citing a report from Sudan Catholic Radio Network.

“Church leaders in the area fear that this may escalate,” according to the Open Doors statement. “They feel very isolated and vulnerable.”

Last week, the organization added, three churches in Khartoum were warned that their buildings would be demolished if they continued services. The three churches were the Episcopal Church of Sudan Baraka Parish Church, the Sudan Interior Church in Dar Es-Salaam outside Khartoum, and a third church in Omdurman, across the Nile River from Khartoum.

Worship Stopped
Previously hostilities against Christians had flared on April 6, when police rushed into a Sudanese Church of Christ compound in Omdurman and forced the congregation to stop worshipping, Christian sources said.

The congregation was preparing for a Good Friday Easter service.

“We told the police officers who were in charge of the force that it was unfair to stop the Christians from worship while Muslims enjoy the same privilege freely without any objection from the police,” a Christian source said.

Police said that it was Friday and therefore only Muslims could pray, and that the mosque service must not be interrupted by the “songs and praises of the infidels,” a source said.

Usually churches are only barred from using loudspeakers during Islamic Friday prayers in Khartoum. Also, shops are ordered to close during Friday prayers, with those doing business fined, jailed or losing their commercial license.

“You must stop the worship because Friday’s Muslim prayers are now starting” police told the worshiping congregation, according to the Rev. Kowa Shamal.

With Christians already complaining about increased discrimination since predominantly non-Muslim South Sudan seceded, church members were greatly discouraged by the shut-down, sources said.

Muslims are favored in Sudanese law and policy, with the notorious Sudanese Public Order Police making sure that sharia (Islamic law) is enforced, often without any legal aid for non-Muslim suspects, they said. The country, which President Omar al-Bashir has vowed will become a more strictly Islamic state, plans to prohibit the construction of church buildings, they said.

– Bible School, Church Buildings Attacked in Sudan, Compass Direct News, Apr. 26, 2012 — © Compass Direct News. Published in Religion News Blog by permission.

Muslim Assailants in Egypt Escape Prosecution

Government orders closure of school’s guesthouse that villagers attacked

ISTANBUL (Compass Direct News) – A recent “reconciliation meeting” between members of a Muslim mob that attacked a Christian-owned school in Egypt and school administrators was nothing less than an attempt at legalized extortion, the director of the school said.

In exchange for peace, members of the sword-wielding mob that stormed the school last month without provocation – and held two nuns hostage for several hours – initially demanded in the meetings that the school sign over parcels of land that include the guesthouse the Muslim extremists attacked.

Magdy Melad, manager of the Notre Dame Language Schools in Aswan Province, told Compass that despite the risk of more attacks, he refused the assailants’ demand. Doing so, he said, would set a precedent in Aswan of Muslims attacking and seizing Christian-owned property and then using reconciliation councils to give the appearance of legitimacy.

“If we give in to that, they will take everything,” Melad said.

He conceded that although he escaped with the property, and the victims escaped with their lives, he may have given away something more precious – he agreed not to prosecute any of the hundreds of people who attacked his school.

“The only thing we had to give away was our rights,” Melad said sardonically, adding that the threat of future violence forced him to make the agreement. “This was all against the law.”

“Reconciliation meetings” are held throughout Egypt after incidents of “sectarian” violence in order to restore calm. Increasingly used during the administration of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, the meetings are loosely based on traditional Arabic tribal councils. Supporters of the reconciliation process, mainly government and Islamic leaders, say the meetings offer a way to defuse tensions. Those who oppose the process, including numerous human rights groups and Coptic rights activists, say the meetings are just a way to pressure powerless groups and people into giving away what little rights they have.

On March 4, about 1,500 villagers chanting Islamic slogans and brandishing swords and knives surrounded a guesthouse at the privately run, public language school in the village of Abu Al-Reesh. The mob accused nuns trapped inside of building a church in the guesthouse and threatened to burn them out unless they surrendered. The situation lasted for eight hours until police were finally able to bring the nuns to safety.

The women faced “unimaginable fear,” Melad said, adding, “No matter what I say, I cannot give a picture of the fear and the worry they had.”

During the attack, Muslims began shouting over loudspeakers from three nearby mosques, summoning more villagers to surround the guesthouse.

“People of Abu Al-Reesh, get down [there] – the Christians are building a church and building a monastery; the Christians took our ancestors’ land and are building a church,” the Muslim leaders demanded, according to Melad Kamel Garas, owner of the school.

The mob ransacked the building, stealing security cameras, electrical equipment and a satellite dish on top of the guesthouse, among other items, Melad confirmed.

The attack continued into the next day. According to Melad, at least one member of the mob told parents, “If you care for the safety of your sons, you will stop bringing them [to school].”

In the days that followed, one of the members of the mob hung a huge “closed” sign on the main school building. When a policeman told the villagers to take down the sign, they attacked him with knives, Melad said. The officer recovered after basic first-aid treatment.

“It’s a very hard time in Egypt,” Melad said.

The formal reconciliation meeting took place on March 25, with the local governor, members of the national intelligence service and representatives of the national police force in attendance, Melad said. People representing the group of villagers went in first and met with the governor for almost an hour. When they emerged, the governor assured Melad he would “never have any problems again.”

Melad acknowledged that when the governor asked him to shake hands with one of the Muslims, he thought to himself, “Shake hands for what?”

The school still owns the guesthouse, but it has essentially been stripped bare – and government officials have ordered Melad not to use it. Ignoring the order could cost Melad more than a criminal charge, he said; it could cost him or one of his family members their life at the hands of a vindictive villager.

“Someone could stab you when you are walking down the street,” he said.

Possible Danger
Melad said that Abu Al-Reesh is peaceful now, “but you can’t tell what’s going on under the surface.” Villagers are “distracted” by the political situation in the country, and Islamist groups have started quarreling with each other enough to care less about Christians in the community.

Attendance at the school is down by 30 percent, but Melad said it is hard to determine how much of the decline can be attributed to the attack. The school term is about to end, he said, and many parents traditionally keep their children home to make sure they study for upcoming examinations. Also, it is a holiday season in Egypt.

He added, however, that, “Some parents are afraid it may happen again.”

Two of the nuns are back at school, albeit in a reduced role. They only teach religious classes to Christian children. One of the nuns, however, could not come back to the school; she remains in Cairo, still suffering from the effects of a nervous breakdown caused by the attack.

As for how the children are faring, Melad said they have been resilient.

“They’re kids – they fight with each other, and 10 minutes later they are playing again,” he said.

– Muslim Assailants in Egypt Escape Prosecution, Wayne King, Compass Direct News, April 20, 2012 — © Compass Direct News. Published in Religion News Blog by permission.