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Get Updated With The Latest Christian News And Happenings Across The Globe
 
MOSCOW --New legislation being considered by Russian

Restrictions could include requiring missionaries and Russian Christians to obtain permission to engage in missionary activity and limiting its locations and participants, such as tourists and minors.While the proposals are currently in the draft stages,language introduced by the Russian Ministry of Justice Oct. 12 indicates that if these laws are enacted they will greatly restrict religious freedom.

Russian Baptist officials say they believe the new language primarily targets Roman Catholics and Protestants and believe it has already found favor with leaders of Russian Orthodoxy, Islam, Judaism and Buddhism -- Russia's four most prominent religions."Of course, when measures like this are talked about, we are always concerned and we should look at them with a measure of seriousness," said Ed Tarleton, a leader of IMB work in Russia.

"Evangelicals have enjoyed days of openness and freedom, so when lawmakers start talking about language that is contrary to that, we become concerned."The proposed changes include allowing onlyreligious groups who have been registered in Russia for at least 15 years to apply for permission to engage in missionary activity. Foreigners in Russia on a temporary visa, such as a tourist visa, would be excluded from engaging in missionary work.Russian Baptist leaders add that wording in the proposed legislation makes no distinction between professional missionaries and average believers.

"Practically all believers will become susceptible to penal sanction," says Yuri Sipko, president of the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists.In addition, the new language indicates that missions activity will not be allowed in hospitals, orphanages or homes for invalids and the aging without the approval of government officials.Missionary activity would be prohibited on the grounds of government buildings. The proposed measures also take aim at minors, saying thatRussian minors may not be present at religious activities or be given media materials without their parents' consent.

Over the past decade, Baptists in Russia, as well as other Protestants, have been involved with social work -- addressing the issues of drug and alcohol abuse. Sipko recently wrote, "Without missionaryactivities, drunkenness and the abuse of narcotics will only increase. If the state begins to destroy the social ministry of churches, it will be forced to build more prisons.

"IMB missionary Andy Leiniger has been working with Russian Baptists in Siberia as they develop social ministry programs. "If these laws were to pass and be enforced, they would officially shut them [the ministry centers] down," Leiniger said. "But I think it would be very hard to unofficially stop the work that is being done when it comes to helping people get away from their addictions."Baptist leaders are most concerned about the ambiguity of the language in the proposals. "Right now, it is like we are driving down the road and have speed limit and stop signs to tell us what we can and cannot do and police to enforce those specific rules," Tarleton said.

"If these new proposals remain as ambiguous as they appear to be at this stage, it would be like changing everything to caution signs, andreligious groups would constantly be evaluated by officials making judgment calls based on their interpretation of the new laws.

"Tarleton and Russian Baptist leaders have urged the worldwidereligious community to join them in prayer as Russian lawmakers consider the proposals, praying that language restricting missionaryactivity in Russia be excluded from new legislation, for Russian Baptist churches and leaders as they work with government officials, and for IMB missionaries serving in Russia as they continue to minister in these uncertain times.

 

COSHOCTON -- Some 400 teens will descend on Coshocton next summer from across the country for the purpose of helping citizens they don't know.

"You can go to band camp, you go to soccer camp, you can go to football camp and you can go to a work camp. And they've chosen not to go to another country or to a big city, inner city, but to go to places throughout the United States and work," said project co-chair Mayor Steve Mercer.
The work camps program started in 1975 in Colorado when a storm caused a flood that wiped out a small town and church. Locals from around the area, particularly youth, pitched in to help with the rebuilding of the city and the program grew from that.
Project co-chair Brad Fuller recently spent a week in Colorado where he learned more about the program and its workings. Fuller is in charge of home selection and assembling the needed materials.
"It's a well oiled machine," Fuller said. "They're teenagers, they're not skilled laborers, but they're all coming to this camp because they have some degree of skill."
The program will see 400 youths and 100 adult supervisors stay in Coshocton from June 13 to 19. They will do light repair and painting on 70 to 80 homes. When staying in Coshocton for the week, they will sleep and eat at Coshocton High School.
The youths ages 12 to 18 pay $424 to take part in the program, which pays for transportation, food and other needs. Those who wish to have their house worked on pay nothing.
"I see it as something that will be such a tremendous help to our community and to people in need. It's geared toward low to moderate income, the elderly or disabled, and certainly the economy the way it is it is difficult for that demographic to do much maintenance. So to have a group like this to come in at a time like this is just a perfect fit to give our community a real shine," Mercer said.
The program is Christian-based and provides more than physical repairs and work to the teens taking part and the communities they go to.
"It's not just home repair. That's a nice by-product. What happens is, it's a spirit that happens in the community and people really get on board with it and see this community spirit and take more pride in their homes," Fuller said. "Spiritually what happens (with the teens taking part) is a great thing. It's building them up personally. They know they have the ability to help their fellow man. The by-product is we get out town looking a little better."
Locally, $19,000 needs to be raised to pay for materials and supplies for the work. Paint, tools, ladders and other equipment also can be donated.
"I'm confident that we'll be able to raise the dollar amount that we need without city funds," Mercer said. "That money stays right here, it goes nowhere else."
The Coshocton Baptist Church is acting as fiscal agent for the project. Checks can be made to Coshocton Work Camps and mailed to the Coshocton Baptist Church, 1631 Denman Ave., Coshocton, OH 43812.
Applications for the project soon will be available at City Hall and those who wish to donate materials or some how aide the project can call the mayor's office at 622-1373 or Brad Fuller at 623-8027

Villagers Find Severed Head of Kidnapped Cristian Farmer In Phillippines

Al-Qaeda-linked radical group beheads elderly hostage

in series of kidnappings

 
WASHINGTON, D.C. - International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that on Sunday, May 17, villagers discovered the severed head of an elderly Christian farmer who had been abducted by Muslim militants in the southern Philippines nearly a month ago. Police believe these militants had transferred the victim to the Al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf group that is currently holding at least five other hostages.
 
The son of 61-year-old Doroteo Gonzales identified his father's face on Monday after police took on the case. His family had been warned that Gonzales would be killed if they did not pay the ransom of 25 million pesos ($525,000) by Saturday.
 
Gunmen captured Gonzales from his home in Zamboanga city on April 25 and delivered him into the hands of Abu Sayyaf rebels on nearby Basilan Island. The extremist group, infamous for its brutality against Christians is still holding Italian Red Cross Worker Eugenio Vagni, who was captured along with his two colleagues in January.
 
ICC's Regional Manager for East Asia, Natalia Rain, said,
"Imagine living in a state where you know you may be seized from your home at any moment and have your fate thrust into the hands of radical terrorists. The brazenness of men who would behead an elderly man for his impoverished family's failure to pay an outrageous ransom should wake us up to the horrifying reality of this thirty-year conflict."

 

Beaten by His Own Family for His Faith in Christ
WASHINGTON, D.C. - International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that a Pakistani man preparing to become a pastor was imprisoned for three months by his own family and continues to receive death threats on a regular basis for his decision to convert to Christianity.

Malik Abbas Ali decided with his wife and children to become Christians on October 10, 2006, and Ali changed his name to Abad Masih (Masih is a Pakistani word referring to Jesus the Messiah). He had been living a comfortable life, known and respected by businessmen and politicians in Faisalabad, Pakistan. When his extended family heard about the conversion, however, everything changed.

Abad's family and in-laws began to harass him repeatedly, accusing him of being a "crusader" and threatening him with "severe consequences" if he did not repent and return to Islam. In addition, they enlisted the support of Muslim religious leaders to put additional pressure on him. When words did not convince Abad to return to Islam, his family resorted to physical abuse. They forced him to sign away any rights to his inheritance or his current property.

Abad had to flee his home, and has been playing a dangerous game of hide and seek with his family ever since. However, God has provided for him along the way. The director of a Christian ministry in Faisalabad gave them a place to live until Abad's family found out where he was staying.

Abad fled again, this time to Karachi. In January 2008, however, Abad's in-laws discovered his location and revealed it to his parents. Abad's family then forcibly took him back to Faisalabad, beat him, and threatened to kill him if he did not return to Islam. With the help of religious leaders, they put him in prison for three months, where Abad was poorly treated and nearly died of starvation.

After being released from prison in April 2008, Abad fled again. Three years of persecution has not diminished Abad's faith or the faith of his family. Though he continues to receive threatening phone calls, Abad told ICC that "those who believe in Christ are never afraid of hardships and sufferings." He puts his faith to practice by preaching in church and sharing his testimony whenever he gets the opportunity.

Abad's wife, Sumera, told ICC, "We are true believers of Christ and the Lord Jesus Christ always guides us and gives us strength even though people stop supporting us. Without him, since we are human, it would not be possible to be strong in such hard circumstances."
 
Abad is intending to enroll in a seminary on July 15 to become a pastor. God has paved the way for him to go as the head of the seminary has promised not to charge him tuition and agreed to take care of his children's schooling as well.

The head of Abad's church said, "Mr. Abad and his family are really an inspiration for all of us. We really feel strengthened by their strong faith. We request all of you to pray for them because they need it the most."

Please keep Abad and his family in your prayers.

Witnesses for Nun's Rape Case Threatened, Refuse to Testify

Five prosecution witnesses gave compromised testimony in the case of the nun who was raped during the August pogrom against Christians in Orissa's Kandhamal district because they had been threatened with "dire consequences." The witnesses testified on April 22 in a special court.
 
Two witnesses, Prahalad Pradhan and his wife Chanchala, in whose house Sister Meena took shelter after the rape, did not confirm the incident. Prahalad said that the two were dragged from their house by a mob, but in her deposition, Chanchala only admitted that the nun and a priest took shelter in their house and said she did not know anything else.
 
Three other witnesses, Debendra Naik, Dhaneswar Mallick and Surendra Digal, stated that they had no knowledge of the incident.

Sr. Meen local court and that she would not receive a fair trial.

The executive magistrate, Mr. Saroj Kumar Mishra, told the court, "As soon as I was informed about the nun and priest Thomas Chelan's presence at K Nuagaon police outpost, I instructed officials to shift them to the Baliguda police station where the nun lodged an FIR alleging that she was raped."

The rape of the 29-year-old nun has created an uproar across the country. Lawyers for Sr. Meena have reported that the next hearing for the case is scheduled for May 11

Mc Donald's Heir's Plan For Dozen's of Salvation Army Centres Falters(16th June 2009)

At her death in 2003, Joan B. Kroc, the widow of the founder of the McDonald’s Corporation, left a grand idea and $1.8 billion to make it happen. She wanted the Salvation Army to build some 30 lavish community centers around the nation, like the $87 million complex she paid for in San Diego, with three swimming pools, an indoor ice skating arena and a 600-seat theater.
But more than five years later, her plan is sputtering
The gift has always rested uncomfortably with some Salvation Army officials, who have a hard time reconciling the elaborate centers with the Army’s image as a frugal church that serves the needy.
Now, the plan is also proving difficult to finance. The Kroc fortune has been battered by the economic downturn, and raising additional money to make sure the centers can sustain themselves in the future has been challenging.
So far, just four centers have been completed. Two are scheduled to open this year, and at least five more next year. Plans for two complexes, in Detroit and Massena, N.Y., have recently been scuttled.
“The Salvation Army is not immune to the economic climate in which we find ourselves,” said Lt. Col. Ken Johnson, the Salvation Army’s secretary for business administration in the southern territory, one of four regional units. “When Mrs. Kroc gave her gift, it was a different economic world.”

Mrs. Kroc left enough money for each center to have an endowment equal to the cost of construction. It was a formula set by her financial advisers and was intended to cover any shortfall between a center’s operating revenues and its overall budget.
The Army, though, believed that was not enough, so it required each community to raise additional money — a total of $628 million nationally.
To date, the Army has received pledges and commitments of 34 percent of that amount, or $214 million, a spokesman said.
At the same time, Mrs. Kroc’s gift has shrunk. The half reserved for endowments has declined by 14 percent, or about $126 million, to $774 million, according to the Army.
“It’s one thing to build,” said Col. Steve Hedgren, chief secretary in the eastern territory, “but we’ve got to have the assurance that everyone understands the importance of these endowments and partnerships in the communities to sustain these centers.”
In some locales, deep-pocketed donors have stepped in to help. In Omaha, for example, a nonprofit fund-raising organization led by the community’s most prominent business leaders pledged to raise the necessary $15 million, while in Grand Rapids, Mich., Amway and the two families who own it have been major contributors.
But in other regions fund-raising has stalled. Long Beach, Calif., is struggling to raise $25 million. Chicago must raise $50 million.
New York City will have to raise $200 million for the Kroc Center scheduled for Staten Island, in part because the community has expanded the project.
In Massena, the cancellation of the Kroc Center was prompted by the closure of a General Motor plant, as well as other signs of economic deterioration.
“We’ll be going back to communicate with donors that have given for Kroc to let them know that we’re backing away from a Kroc center but will put up something else instead,” Colonel Hedgren said.
In Detroit, Salvation Army officials decided to cancel plans for a $40 million Kroc Center, a move that has incited outrage there and raised questions about how they have handled Mrs. Kroc’s gift. Army officials said they were simply unable to raise the needed money.
Supporters of the center disagree. Lt. Col. Clarence Harvey, a retired Salvation Army fund-raiser who was hired part-time to help raise money for the Detroit Kroc Center, said there was a financing plan in place in 2007 that local Army officials sidelined.
“There wasn’t any part of any program or future plan for Kroc that was not an example of the Salvation Army’s mission, but it made some people uncomfortable,” Colonel Harvey said. “There was fear that the Army is incapable of running such a plant, fear that the aquatics programs would be problematic — many concerns.”
The plan proposed by Colonel Harvey and a fund-raiser who was not a Salvation Army member, Russ Russell, included using a loan to give the community more time to raise the $48 million the Army was requiring.
Additionally, a major donor had pledged to line up 18 other large donors to pay down most of the loan, with the remainder coming from a grass-roots fund-raising effort.


But the plan was rejected by the leadership of the central territory. “There was never any offer on the table and never any viable deal to pursue,” said Col. Carol Seiler, the territory’s coordinator for strategic mission planning.


She said the “legal and practical” obstacles were too high.
In the end, she said, only $2 million was raised for the Detroit center, and donors in Detroit were telling Army officials there that they preferred to support the Army’s more traditional mission of serving basic needs.
Wayne Doran, a retired Ford Motor Company executive who led the Kroc fund-raising committee in Detroit, said he was confident the fund-raising goals could have been met and blamed internal Army squabbling for the cancellation of the center.
“I have great respect for the Salvation Army, but this couldn’t survive the political bickering that was going on among Army members,” Mr. Doran said. “People who give a lot of money do not want to give into a situation that is fraught with those kinds of problems.”
The Army recently turned down an offer of $250,000 from the Detroit Black McDonald’s Owners to support fund-raising and now plans to put a much smaller non-Kroc facility on the site. Community groups and others involved in the project have signed up more than 150 people to protest at the Salvation Army’s central territory headquarters in Chicago this month.
Meanwhile, other Kroc Centers are progressing. The Salem, Ore., center is scheduled to open in September, and the Omaha center in November; and at least five others are expected to open next year.
In some places, the Salvation Army has shown greater flexibility toward fund-raising goals. The central territory, for example, has allowed fund-raisers in Chicago to split their campaign into three phases.
Similarly, fund-raisers for the Kroc Center in Philadelphia say they believe that starting construction will help spur donations, so a 12-acre site there has been cleared and the holes have been dug for the pools.
“Some folks are less capable of giving because of investment returns and asset values being less, but they still want to hear from us,” said Raymond Welsh, a senior vice president at UBS Financial Services and chairman of the Philadelphia fund-raising committee. “Some are saying not now, but that’s not no forever.”
Stabbing, Bombing Attacks Strike Near Two Churches in Egypt
Copt leaving sanctuary knifed in Minya; bomb explodes near venerable structure in Cairo.

ISTANBUL, In separate attacks in Egypt earlier this month, a Coptic Christian suffered severe stab wounds as he left a worship service in Minya, and a car-bombing outside a venerable church in Cairo disrupted a wedding.

Without provocation, three Muslims repeatedly stabbed Coptic Christian Girgis Yousry, 21, as the army conscript was leaving the gates of the church of Saint Mary in Minya, Upper Egypt on May 2, according to Copts United.

The assault left him with severe injuries to internal organs, and he was taken to the district hospital, where he was still receiving treatment at press time.

When Yousry’s father went to the police station to report the attack, the Intelligence Services officer in charge threw him out of the station. Three men implicated in the stabbing, Wael Mohammed Hagag, Mohammed Nasr Anwar and Shabaan Sayed Amin, were arrested on May 5 and have been given a 16-day initial incarceration while the investigation is underway.

All three men stand accused of attempted murder without premeditation, which carries a sentence of five to 15 years.

But Mamdouh Nakhla, president of the Al-Kalema Centre for Human Rights, said he thinks it unlikely that they will be convicted.

“From my experience over the last 15 years, in Minya in particular, all cases of attacks and murder against Christians either went without punishment and [the accused] were totally exonerated, or they were given suspended sentences,” he said.

Home to Egypt’s largest community of Copts (approximately 4 million), Minya is considered a hotbed of anti-Christian violence.

“I am aware of severe injustices happening to Christians who are being incarcerated for no reason,” said Nakhla. “This is my experience of Minya.”

Local sources told Compass that in the last few months there has been a wave of arrests of Christians who are held with no official charges. Sources spoke of cases where detainees are held for months in prison, where they are badly beaten and tortured.

“Police brutality is a widely practiced policy,” said one source, “especially in rural areas, group punishment and systematic intimidation and humiliation are expected practices against all citizens, Christians included.”

This month Compass learned of three illegal arrests of Christians that have taken place since November 2008. Two of the men who were detained have since been released.

“When people are released, they have been beaten and electrocuted so that they are hardly standing up,” said a local Christian.

Local church leaders believe recent pressure is a response to rumors of an increase in Christian converts in Egypt due to Christian satellite programming, although arrests go beyond converts to Coptic-born Christians.

Makeshift Bomb

In Cairo, a makeshift bomb placed under a car exploded outside a renowned  Coptic Orthodox church building in Zeitoun district on May 9, incinerating the vehicle but causing no injuries.

Panicked passersby called police when the small explosion caused the car to burst into flames outside Saint Mary Church, which Egypt’s Coptic community, citing numerous sightings of the Virgin Mary there in the late 1960s, considers a holy site.

Security forces arrived at the scene within minutes and sealed off the area. They found a second bomb, also planted beneath a car. Unable to disarm it, they were forced to detonate it in a controlled fashion, sources told Compass.

The explosion interrupted a wedding and a Bible study that were taking place inside the revered, historic building. Those in attendance were evacuated through a side gate as a precaution, reported Egyptian newspaper Watani. Boutros Gayed, the church’s priest, was unavailable for comment.

The bombs were rudimentary. Cell phones were used as detonators and placed with the explosive material into a bag containing shrapnel.

Police have yet to release information about possible suspects or motives, but newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm has stated security forces are investigating possible links to a Hezbollah cell, which uses similar explosive devices.

A spokesman for Hezbollah has denied its involvement, stating that the cell was focused on supporting Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and has never had plans to carry out operations in Egypt.

The head of the Orthodox Church, Pope Shenouda, condemned the attack as criminal and pointed to sectarian motives.

“[The bombers] are attempting to tamper with the future of this homeland that they do not deserve to belong to,” he said, according to Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram.

Similarities between this event and an explosion in February outside Al-Hussain Mosque, where one person was killed and 24 others wounded, have led to speculation that the attacks may be part of an attempt to inflame sectarian tensions.

Rumors also have been spread that “extremist Coptic groups” may have planted the devices in order to attract U.S. President Barack Obama’s attention to their plight on his planned June 4 visit to Cairo.

“This sounds like a ridiculous suggestion, because the Copts do not even respond to attacks against them,” said Ibrahim Habib, chairman of United Copts of Great Britain. “It is not in their agenda, and they have no precedence of violence.”

Taliban Executes Two Christians in Karachi, Pakistan

WASHINGTON, D.C., International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that the Taliban, emboldened by their success in Swat Valley and advance near Islamabad, have attacked a Christian neighborhood and executed two residents after Christians held a rally protesting graffiti ordering them to convert to Islam or die.

On April 20, residents of Taseer Town in Karachi woke up to find pro-Taliban messages chalked onto the walls of two churches. The messages included, "Long Live the Taliban," "Talibanization is our goal," and "Embrace Islam or Prepare to Die." The next day, the Christians residents staged a protest in the hopes of attracting the attention of the local government to provide protection. Officials, however, did nothing.

The night of the protest, April 21, more than 100 masked terrorists invaded Tase iron rods, and whips. They set a number of homes on fire. When two Christians resisted, the militants killed them execution-style directly in front of their families. The identity of those killed has not yet been confirmed.

According to AsiaNews, police have arrested seven of the Taliban militants involved in the attack. However, they are unsure who was behind the incident.

Jeremy Sewall, ICC's Advocacy Director, said, "The Pakistani government has created an opening for terrorists to attack Christians indiscriminately by acceding to their demands in the Swat Valley. Formerly, Christians in the major cities of Pakistan experienced discrimination, but up till now they had not had to fear threats of forced conversion or execution on a wide scale. This attack is a harbinger of worse to come if the Pakistani government continues to cower in the face of Muslim radicals."

Christians Pressed as Pakistani Military Battles Taliban

ISTANBUL, Pakistani Christians in Swat Valley are caught between the Taliban and Pakistan’s military as it assaults the stronghold where sharia (Islamic law) rules.

Nearly 15,000 troops have been deployed in the picturesque Swat Valley in Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and neighboring Afghanistan. Troops came after months of peace negotiations collapsed between the Taliban Islamist insurgents who have imposed sharia in the valley and the central government last month. Hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis have fled the war-ravaged area for fear of a full military assault.

On May 10 (Sunday) the army ordered residents to flee Swat Valley during a lull in fighting. Aid groups estimate that as many as 1.3 million could be displaced by the fighting, according to The Guardian.

Christians are particularly vulnerable in the mass exodus. Working as poor day laborers, they occupy the lowest rung of the social ladder and have little money for costly transport or to stock up on resources before fleeing.

“Christians are poor, and like in any conflict, the prices of transportation and commodities skyrocket,” said Ashar Dean, assistant director of communication of the Church of Pakistan Peshawar diocese. “Some had to go on foot to flee the valley.”

The Taliban had ratcheted up pressure on Christians, other religious minorities and liberal Muslims in Swat to live according to Islamic fundamentalist norms. They were forced to grow beards and don Islamic attire for fear of their safety in an attempt to blend in with Muslim residents of Swat.

Many Christians also fled for insufficient funds to pay the jizye, a poll tax under sharia paid by non-Muslims for protection if they decline to convert to Islam.

In February the Pakistani government ceded control of Swat valley to the Taliban, who imposed their version of sharia and established clerical rule over the legal system. But Christians had seen warning signs long before the formal sharia announcement. In the past year the Taliban burned or bombed more than 200 girls’ schools in Swat, including one that housed a Catholic church.

Religious minorities live in a precarious situation in the Muslim-dominated country. The legal system informally discriminates against non-Muslims, and in recent years Christian villages have been ransacked by Muslim mobs incited by dubious reports that a Quran had been desecrated.

The Taliban’s attempts to spread out from Swat into neighboring areas, however, have increased feelings of insecurity among the nation’s 3 million Christians.

“The threat of the Taliban is a hanging sword above the necks of Christians,” said Sohail Johnson, chief coordinator of Sharing Life Ministry Pakistan. “Christians could be in the situation where they would have to accept Islam or die.”

Swat Christians Flee

Approximately 40-60 Christian families lived in Swat as congregants at the Church of Pakistan. But since Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani on April 8 announced a military mission into Swat, nearly all have fled to nearby districts.

Most are in refugee housing in Mardan in the NWFP. They stay in a technical school owned by the Church of Pakistan, a congregation composed of Anglicans, Presbyterians, Methodists and Lutherans

The school dismissed its students for the school year early to make room for the refugees. Opening its doors to the displaced Christians was necessary due to government inaction toward religious minorities, said Yousaf Benjamin of the National Commission for Justice and Peace.

“The government is giving protection to Muslims, but the Christians are through waiting for their services,” he said.

Similar measures are being employed in hundreds of schools. To provide for the massive influx in refugees, the Pakistan government ended the school year early in districts near Swat and opened the schools to refugees for temporary housing. Teachers are also assisting in the humanitarian relief effort, Benjamin said.

Some Christians have complained of facing discrimination in refugee camps. Government relief workers forbade Christians, Hindus and Sikhs from setting up tents or eating with Muslim refugees, according to online news site Christian Today.

But ultimately Christians will not be able to return to Swat Valley unless the Taliban threat is completely removed, Christian relief groups said. Their possessions and property will otherwise always be under threat.

“Christians will face terrible persecution if the Taliban is not controlled by the government,” Johnson said. “They will easily attack churches, schools and other Christian institutions.”

Rehman Malik, the interior minister, said Pakistan’s military operation would continue until the last Taliban fighter had been ousted. Since April 8, government troops have killed an estimated 751 militants.

There are believed to be 5,000 Taliban militants in Swat Valley. The government hopes to minimize civilian casualties through precision air strikes and delivering emergency humanitarian aid.

Pakistan’s government has come under harsh national and international criticism for its negotiations with the Taliban and ceding control of Swat. They fear the Taliban could seize control of the nation’s nuclear weapons.

Alleged Murderer of Christian in Vietnam Strikes Again, Local authorities complicit or turn blind eye to assaults on Christians.

LOS ANGELES, A Hmong man in Vietnam’s Northwest Mountainous Region who murdered his mother in February because she had become a Christian has assaulted another Christian, leaving him critically wounded, according to area Christian sources.

    Lao Lia Po on April 25 allegedly attacked Koua Lo of Meo Vac district, Ha Giang Province because he had become a Christian, according to a local church leader. Koua sustained severe head injuries; according to witnesses, his head was split open in two places with parts of his brain visible.

    Koua was taken to a hospital, but after three days doctors said they could do nothing more for him and sent him home. As his injuries were life-threatening, those close to Koua did not expect him to recover.

    The alleged attacker, Lao, is still at large and has not been charged. The assault took place in Sung Can Village, Sung Tra Commune, Meo Vac district, Ha Giang Province.

    In the same area two years ago, a 74-year-old woman became the first Christian in the village. Today there are about 100 families who follow Christ, but the cost has been high. Stories of harassment and abuse of Christians in Meo Vac district have circulated for several months, with local Christians saying government officials are either complicit or look the other way.

    On Feb. 3, local Christians said, Lao murdered his mother in a similarly brutal fashion, smashing her head until she died. Police only held him overnight before releasing him without charge. The day he was released, local sources said, he again threatened Christians with death.

    A Vietnamese pastor petitioned the government to investigate – with no result. Another leader informed U.S. diplomats of the details. Some Vietnamese Christians have complained to Vietnam diplomatic missions abroad, all to no avail.

    Advocates of religious freedom in Vietnam say such impunity puts a serious blot on Vietnam’s slowly improving religious liberty record.

    Following heavy international scrutiny of Vietnam’s oppression of religion in general and Protestantism in particular, Vietnam promulgated new religion legislation in 2004 and 2005. To date this has led to the legal recognition of six church/denominational organizations, raising the total to eight out of about 70. Additionally, a few hundred of Vietnam’s thousands of house church congregations have been given interim permission to carry on religious activities, and large-scale government campaigns to force ethnic minority Christians to recant their faith have ceased.

    High hopes for improvement following the new religion legislation led the U.S. Department of State to take Vietnam off its blacklist of the worst violators of religious freedom in late 2006, which enabled the U.S. government to endorse Vietnam’s accession to the World Trade Organization. And Christian support organization Open Doors this year dropped Vietnam to No. 23 on its World Watch List ranking of religion persecutors. In eight of the last 12 years, Vietnam had been placed among the organization’s top 10 worst religious persecutors.

    The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), however, found exceptions to progress so widespread that it again recommended naming Vietnam a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) this year. The recommendation by USCIRF, responsible for monitoring state department compliance with the U.S. 1998 Law on International Religious Freedom, was announced on May 1.

    The commission’s report recognizes progress but notes, “There continue to be far too many serious abuses and restrictions of religious freedom in the country. Individuals continue to be imprisoned or detained for reasons related to their religious activity or religious freedom advocacy; police and government officials are not held fully accountable for abuses; independent religious activity remains illegal; and legal protections for government-approved religious organizations are both vague and subject to arbitrary or discriminatory interpretations based on political factors.”

    Given the uneven pace of religious freedom progress after removing Vietnam from the list of CPCs, continued detention of prisoners of conscience, and an overall deteriorating human rights situation, USCIRF recommended that Vietnam be re-designated as a CPC.

    In Tra Vinh Province in the Mekong Delta Region of southern Vietnam, another Christian was murdered on April 5. Thugs ambushed Thach Thanh No, described as a young and enthusiastic church elder, on his way home from Sunday worship, according to local Christian sources. His family was unable to find him quickly, and he died from his injuries as he was transported to a hospital.

    The congregation in Ngoc Bien Commune to which he belonged has long been harassed and threatened by local thugs supported by militant Buddhists, according to area Christians, who emphasized that authorities have done nothing to intervene.

    Indeed, in Thach’s case, rather than prosecute the killers, the Ministry of Public Security’s World Security newspaper published an article on April 24 – concocted without any factual basis, according to area Christians – which portrayed him as dying from crashing his motorbike while drunk. His motorbike, however, was found entirely unmarked without any signs of a crash, and his body showed clear signs of a vicious beating, according to area Christians.

    “In one case the law winks at the murder of a Christian and does nothing to punish the murderer – in another, authorities actively work to cover up a murder with elaborate lies,” said one long-time advocate for religious freedom in Vietnam. “Such behavior on the part of authorities convinces many Vietnamese Christians that their country’s top officials are still not sincere about improving religious freedom for all.”

    

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