Jun 19 2018

Ingo Breuer

Asia Bibi Marks Nine Years Since Arrest for Blasphemy in Pakistan

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Supreme Court Appeal Remains Indefinitely Adjourned

06/19/2018 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) www.persecution.gov – Today, June 19, 2018, International Christian Concern (ICC) marks the ninth anniversary of the arrest of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman sentenced to death for allegedly committing blasphemy in Pakistan. The case against Bibi remains the highest profile blasphemy case in Pakistan and has claimed the lives of several prominent Pakistani politicians.

In 2009, Bibi was accused of blasphemy following a dispute between herself and a group of Muslim co-workers harvesting berries in Sheikhupura. An argument broke out when Bibi drank from the same water basin as her Muslim co-workers, because she was a Christian and considered by the Muslim women to be unclean. A few days later, it was reported to a local cleric that Bibi had blasphemed against Islam by saying, “My Christ died for me, what did Muhammad do for you?”

Since her arrest, Bibi’s case has become symbolic of the persecution facing Pakistani Christians and the widespread abuse of the country’s blasphemy laws. Bibi was convicted and sentenced to death on blasphemy charges in November 2010 by the Session’s Court in District Nankana, Punjab.

Months later, the governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, visited Bibi in prison. Upon leaving the jail, he made a statement that the blasphemy laws had been misused in her case. Within days, he was murdered by his bodyguard, Mumtaz Qadri, who had been convinced by radicals that this was an attack on Islam.

Two months after this murder, in March 2011, the Federal Minister of Minorities’ Affairs, Shahbaz Bhatti—the only Christian in the Pakistani cabinet—criticized the country’s blasphemy laws, noting that they are easily manipulated. In Islamabad, shortly after the statement was made, an attacker sprayed his car with bullets. Police found a letter at the crime scene from the Tehrik-e-Taliban claiming responsibility for the murder, adding that Bhatti was killed for opposing Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.

In October 2014, Bibi’s appeal hearing was held in the High Court of Lahore. At that appeal, Justice Anwar-ul-Haq, one member of a two-judge bench, passed a short order on October 16, 2014, confirming Bibi’s death sentence. On July 22, 2015, the Supreme Court of Pakistan accepted Bibi’s petition for her case to be reviewed and suspended her death sentence.

On October 13, 2016, the Supreme Court of Pakistan indefinitely adjourned Bibi’s appeal after one of the three Supreme Court Justices hearing the case decided to recuse himself. Justice Rahman recused himself from the case, stating, “I was part of the bench that was hearing the case of Salman Taseer and this case is related.” Since then, Bibi’s final appeal has yet to be rescheduled by the Supreme Court.

William Stark, ICC’s Regional Manager, said, “It is disappointing to see Bibi mark her ninth year in prison. It has been nine long years since Asia had this false blasphemy accusation completely change her life. We here at ICC are hopeful that the Supreme Court will hear this final appeal at the soonest possible date. It is ICC’s hope that when the appeal is heard, the Supreme Court will resist outside pressure from extremists and decide Asia’s case on the merits. If decided on the merits, we believe that the court’s only conclusion will be to acquit. We also hope that the Supreme Court’s decision will lay a foundation for reforming Pakistan’s notorious blasphemy laws. This will be a signal to both Pakistan and the world that justice will prevail over extremism, even when a religious minority is accused of blasphemy.”

For interviews with William Stark, Regional Manager, please contact Olivia Miller, Communications Coordinator: press@persecution.org

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Jun 18 2018

Ingo Breuer

Pastor in Eritrea Released After Decade in Prison

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First Senior Pastor to Be Arrested After 2002 Crackdown Released

06/18/2018 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) www.persecution.org – International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that Pastor Oqbamichel Haiminot has been released after more than a decade of imprisonment. According to VOM Australia, Pastor Oqbamichel was the first senior pastor in Eritrea to be arrested and held after the controversial and wrongful crackdown on religion in 2002. Though he was only in jail for a short period after his initial arrest in 2003, he was constantly harassed and rearrested over the next four years. In 2007, he was finally arrested and jailed for more than 10 years even though no charges were ever filed against him.

Pastor Oqbamichel is one of hundreds of Christians in Eritrea who have been arrested and held for years due to their faith. In 2017, more than 200 Christians were arrested, yet never charged with any criminal activity. One of ICC’s sources shared, “There are only four legalized religions allowed in the country, which include Eritrean Orthodox, Catholic, Lutheran, and Sunni Islam. The regime touts this as religious freedom, however, to join any of these religions, people must first make four pledges.” One must pledge to never be “born again,” that his or her loyalty is to the government, not God or the Church, to never carry a Bible outside of church or the home, and to turn in any missionaries or evangelists to the government. When you turn in a missionary or evangelist, you get paid three months’ wages.

The Eritrean government is willing to go to great lengths to arrest and eradicate Christians. According to another underground pastor in Eritrea, Abraham*, “There are false brothers among us, who gather information. [He comes] to you, believing in the name of Jesus, you baptize him, but he is a spy.” These spies are sent by the government to find those who are not part of the four legal religions, and arrest them.

Abraham experienced this government-led persecution firsthand in 2010. He shared, “In 2010, we were gathered for a meeting in Asmara, 34 or 35 together, and we were arrested and taken to the police station.” He was then moved to an underground prison where “there was no sun or light or [fresh air]. It was underground and we could only see each other when we went to the bathroom.” These jail cells keep those imprisoned in the worst conditions, with extreme temperature changes, a lack of light, no space, and often isolation. The only time they experience any freedom from their cells is once or twice a day when they are allowed to use the restroom. Abraham was held in this prison for one year.

This is the type of treatment that Pastor Oqbamichel suffered for the past decade. According to VOM, he is in need of medical assistance as his heath has deteriorated due to his treatment in prison.

Nathan Johnson, ICC’s Regional Manager for Africa, stated, “We are rejoicing for the release of a faithful man and are praying for his health and safety as he returns to a somewhat free life. We also remember the hundreds of others who are still suffering under this cruel and inhumane regime. The world must come together to end the abuse of human rights in Eritrea.”

*Name changed for security

For interviews with Nathan Johnson, Regional Manager, please contact Olivia Miller, Communications Coordinator: press

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Jun 09 2018

Ingo Breuer

Vietnam Releases, Expels Christian Human Rights Lawyer to Germany

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Nguyen Van Dai and Colleague Le Thu Ha Regain Freedom

06/08/2018 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) www.persecution.org – International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that late on June 7, Christian human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai and a fellow member of the Brotherhood for Democracy, Le Thu Ha, were released from prison in Vietnam. Dai’s wife, Vu Minh Khanh joined the two as they boarded a flight to Frankfurt, Germany.

The German foreign ministry confirmed their release on Friday. Reuters reported the statement made by the ministry’s spokeswoman, Maria Adebahr: “The German government welcomes the release of Nguyen Van Dai and Le Thu Ha. We see it as remarkable humanitarian step from the Vietnamese side and a good signal to the international community.”

Dai began his human rights work in 2000 when he defended a Christian who was detained after she opposed the authorities’ attempts to dissolve her worship service. He offered pro bono legal advice to religious communities, human rights defenders, and political groups, until police arrested him in 2007 and sentenced him to four years in prison. Following his release in 2011, he was placed under house arrest until March 2015. He was arrested again in Hanoi on December 16, 2015, on the charge of “conducting propaganda against the government” under Article 79 of Vietnam’s Penal Code.

On April 5, 2018, Dai and colleague Le Thu Ha, along with four other activists, were given lengthy jail sentences for their promotion of democracy. In a follow-up interview with ICC, Dai’s wife Khanh criticized the flawed trial, stating that the “judicial panel [has] been too imposing and deliberate [in criminalizing
him]. This is because the prosecutor cannot provide any evidence. Yet Dai was still sentenced to 15 years in prison and five years of house arrest.”

According to Radio Free Asia, on June 6, 90 Vietnam-related NGOs cited Dai’s case in a letter urging the European Union to reject a proposed free trade pact with Vietnam until it releases its political prisoners and upholds freedom of speech and other rights.

During the G20 Summit last July, 40 human rights and civil society organizations in Europe, Asia, and the United States also called on the Vietnamese government to immediately and unconditionally release three prominent human rights defenders, including Nguyen Van Dai.

Dr. Nguyen Dinh Thang, the president and CEO of Boat People SOS (BPSOS), told ICC, “No doubt that this was the result of the combined pressure from multiple directions. VETO!, our long-term partner in Germany, played a critical role. Coordinated advocacy is the success factor at both the civil society and government levels. The US State Department coordinated closely with the German government to make this happen. Let us continue the coordinated advocacy drive to get others released.”

Gina Goh, ICC’s Regional Manager, said, “We rejoice at the news that Mr. Nguyen Van Dai has been freed and can finally live free from harassment. Yet we ought not forget the many others who are still imprisoned or face baseless accusations from the state. We urge the Vietnamese government to release other prisoners of conscience, including Pastor Nguyen Trung Ton and dozens of Montagnard Christians.”

For interviews with Gina Goh, Regional Manager, please contact Olivia Miller, Communications Coordinator: press

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Jun 07 2018

Ingo Breuer

Nigeria’s Middle Belt Report: May Sees Largest Attack in 2018 and Growing International Recognition of Crisis

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06/06/2018 Washington, DC (International Christian Concern) www.persecution.org– May continued to be a month of devastation and death for Nigeria’s Middle Belt region. During the month of May, there were more than 30 attacks with more than 150 people killed. Though there were fewer deaths this month than the preceding ones, May also saw the largest single attack this year. On Saturday, May 5, Fulani militants stormed Gwaska village in Birnin Gwari Local Government Area (LGA) of Kaduna State. During this single attack, militants killed 71 people and destroyed many properties in the village.

There have also been statements made by victims of these attacks that military personnel in the region colluded with the Fulani militants prior to the attack. Prior to an attack in Numan, Adamawa State, villagers said that the military entered the village to enforce the disarmament of citizens. Shortly after this, the Fulani militants invaded the town and killed more than a dozen people. Though this may not be a sure sign of collusion, it is at least another sign of the ineptitude of the Nigerian military in protecting its people.

Below are the largest attacks that took place in May.

1. May 2, 2018: Fulani militants attacked four villages, Bang, Nyanga, Bonki, and Nzomosu, killing at least 15 and completely destroying the villages. Other sources have numbered as many as 30 dead.

2. May 5, 2018: Fulani militants attack Birnin Gwari LGA of Kaduna State, killing 71.

3. May 14, 2018: Fulani militants kill 10 Tiv during an attack on Ilai and Ido-Gbede villages of Ijumu LGA.

Despite the massive attack and possible military collusion, there have been signs of possible change. There is more international attention on this issue than previously seen. After President Trump’s statement in April, lawmakers and politicians in the United States have started to speak out against the violence as well. Congressman Smith said, “Congress is watching the situation in Nigeria with growing concern, as the Nigerian government there appears too often to be indifferent to attacks by Fulani herdsmen on predominantly Christian farmers.” This growing concern by other nations may be the necessary catalyst for change in Nigeria.
For interviews with Nathan Johnson, Regional Manager, please contact Olivia Miller, Communications Coordinator: press

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