Meriam Ibrahim,  a 27 year old Sudanese doctor due to have her second baby next month, has been condemned to death by hanging, after again refusing to renounce her Christian faith, despite pressure on her to do so, even in court. Her lawyer reported that, after the court had given her three days to reconsider, Ibrahim bravely asserted again that she is a Christian.  An Islamic cleric spoke with her in the caged dock for about half an hour. She was also addressed in court by her Muslim name. Earlier the Public OrderCourt in El Haj Yousef in Khartoum had sentenced Meriam to death for apostasy. Her sentence that day to 100 lashes for alleged ‘adultery’ has also been upheld.   

Amnesty International has condemned the sentences as ‘appalling and abhorrent’ . Its Sudan researcher Maner Idriss says that Sudan is a signatory of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in which “everyone has the right to freedom of religion”. This includes the”freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of their choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public orprivate, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching”. Ibrahim’s lawyers say they will appeal to a higher court to get her sentence overturned, though it is unlikely to be carried out until her second child has been weaned, a provision in local law.

Ibrahim was initially arrested and released on bail under suspicion of committing adultery after someone, claiming to be a relative, lodged a criminal complaint against her. This claimed that she was a Muslim and therefore illegally cohabiting with a Christian man. (Under Sudanese law Muslim women may only marry Muslim men. Since her father was a Muslim, the authorities regard Meriam a Muslim and do not recognise her marriage to a Christian). After she countered the adultery charge by saying that she was a Christian, the authorities arrested her with 20-month-old son. She was then accused of apostasy i.e. ‘leaving her Islamic faith’, a new charge incurring the death penalty.   

Three witnesses sought to testify of Meriam’s lifelong Christian faith, but they were not allowed to. Meriam produced her marriage certificate, which states that she is a Christian and that her marriage was conducted in a church in Khartoum. The case is unique in Sudan, as there are no other documented cases in Sudanese court records of people of different faiths coming together in marriage. The African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies says this case demonstrates “contradictions within Sudanese law and its incompatibility with Sudan’s international commitments”. Lawyers point out, for instance, that her son is being held in violation of article 37 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.  

Meriam Ibrahim was born in November 1987 in a small town in western Sudan to an Ethiopian Orthodox mother and a Muslim Sudanese father.  Her father disappeared from her life when she was 6 years old, and her Ethiopian Orthodox mother raised her in the Christian faith. Later they moved to Khartoum where the mother died in 2011. Meriam met Daniel Wani, who has dual South Sudanese and United States citizenship, in a church in Khartoum and they married in a church ceremony in 2012. Both are qualified doctors. The couple’s 20 month old son, Martin Wani also has U.S. citizenship by virtue of his father’s U.S. citizenship.  

If her death sentence is upheld her children’s custody would be granted to the government, as the husband is not granted any rights over his children due to being a Christian. Middle East Concern reported that prison guards and other prisoners have abused Meriam while she is in prison. Meriam is also being denied medical treatment, including prenatal care for her unborn child.  Muslim scholars have also been visiting her, pressuring her to return to the religion of her father. A family member said: ‘we are concerned for her well being; it is not very safe for her to be in the prison with dangerous criminals’.

The government is denying Daniel Wani visiting rights to his wife and child, and has revoked his passport. They are keeping Martin in prison with his mother because they are prohibiting his Christian father from caring for him, as they consider the child a Muslim. Ibrahim’s sentence is the latest and most significant in a series of repressive acts by the Sudanese government against religious minorities. If the sentence is carried out Ibrahim would become the first person to be executed for apostasy under the 1991 penal code, prompting concerns that the charge may increasingly be used against anyone who converts from Islam.

Source: World Watch Monitor

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It started when communist officials condemned a church in Sanjiang fordemolition because of “illegal construction”. Located in China’s heavily Christianised eastern province known as “Jerusalem of the East,” Christians from all over China flocked to the city to defend the church from destruction. Thousands of Christians formed a human shield around the newly-constructed church in Zhejiang Province after authorities  threatened to demolish the building. The Sanjiang Christian Church cost over $4.8million to construct. Hundreds of Christians, including elderly and disabled church members, stationed themselves inside the church to block access to demolition teams.

Many of the Christians forming the human shield expressed their determination to remain at the church until authorities back down.The standoff at the church reportedly began after a Communist Party secretary visited the area and insisted the church was too large. “When the Party secretary Xia Baolong visited the local areas, he found the cross on top of the church very conspicuous. So he ordered that it be demolished. Then, the officials from Yongjia county demanded that the church tear down the cross and the top floor of the church,” Zheng Leguo, a young leader at Sanjiang Church said.

Several hundred police officers with bulldozers took up positions around the church. “I held their hands and said, “Comrades, don’t take down our cross.I can give you my head instead,” Yang Zhumei, 74 said. “Even if they take my head, I can still find happiness with God,” she shouted. Sanjiang Christian Church is a part of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM), China’s government backed Protestant Church, making the conflict highly unusual. In November, nearly two dozen TSPM Church members, including a church pastor, were arrested in Henan Province in a crackdown over the church’s community activism.

Ryan Morgan, International Christian Concern’s Regional Manager for East Asia, said, “We call on the authorities in Zhejiang Province to immediately rescind their orders for the demolition of Sanjiang Christian Church. This church was legally constructed and has every right to exist in a nation which strongly claims, at least in the international community, to respect the religious freedom of its citizens. No one of any faith should have to place their life between a bulldozer and their house of worship. ICC stands with the Christians of Zhejiang Province as they take this courageous stand to protect their rights.”

Subsequent reports to hand indicate that efforts to stop authorities from tearing down the Church were ultimately unsuccessful despite the protests of the hundreds of Chinese Christians who sought to defend it. The Church was purported to occupy five times more square footage than what regulations originally designated – complicating the common narrative of “atheist government persecutes Christians.” While excavators were tearing down the church, Communist Party officials insisted the destruction was because of city zoning, not religious persecution. Government officials claim they are cracking down on illegal structures throughout the country.

Source: International Christian Concern (ICC)

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Bible films may be raking it in at the box office, but fewer people are reading the original and taking it seriously. The American Bible Society’s latest State of the Bible survey documents steep scepticism that the Good Book is a God book. “We have seen an incredible change in just a few years,”said Roy Peterson, president of the society. The data confirms, Peterson said, that “we just can’t hand out Bible’s and expect people to read them and find the answers they are searching for. We have to help people by understanding their needs and directing them to the particular Scriptures that speak to those needs. It’s urgent.” The study, conducted annually by Barna Research, finds:

.The most “engaged” readers – who read the Bible almost daily and see it as sacred – are now matched by “sceptics” who say it’s just a book of stories and advice. Both groups measured 19 percent.

.While the engaged stayed steady since 2011, sceptics grew by 10 percentage points – since the same survey was conducted in 2011.

.Sceptics cut into the number of folks Barna calls “Bible friendly,” those who read the Bible occasionally and see it as inspired by God. The”friendly” demographic fell to 37 percent, down from 45 percent in 2011.

.The percentage of people who view the Bible as sacred has dropped to 79percent, down from 86 percent in 2011

.The study is based on 2,036 interviews with U.S. adults in January and February. Peterson said that the statistics are “sobering but not discouraging.” The key, he said, is “adjusting our outreach” to reel in the next generation. Millennials, ages 18 to 29, lead the sceptics tally:

.64 percent say the Bible is sacred literature, compared with 79 percent of all adults.

.35 percent say the Bible offers “everything a person needs to know to lead a meaningful life,” compared with half of all adults.

.39 percent of millennials admit they never read the Bible, compared with 26 percent of adults as a whole.

“We have to find where they are hurting, what questions millennials are asking,” he said. The society has already started down that road by creating Bible-reading “journeys” to meet people’s needs, he said. On its website, people can key in a word such as “hope,” “parenting,” “job loss” or “loneliness” and be steered to a seven- or 10- or 40-day journey of Scripture selections designed to address that concern. There are already more than 90 topics listed, he said, and “we are adding more strategic journeys every day. We’re being invited to youth conferences as a Scripture partner. So we take it as a very urgent mission.”

Source: Religious News Service

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“Today as we join the funeral march of Lakisha Wilson who was butchered and killed at the Preterm Abortion mill, I am praying that God will comfort her family as well as bring justice for all mothers and their babies, all victims of abortion” said Dr. Alveda King, Director of African American Outreach for Priests for Life (PFL). Lakisha’s family is still reeling in shock over her late-term abortion and consequent death at the Preterm Abortion Clinic in Cleveland. Although she reportedly died on the day of her abortion, her body was kept on life support for days pending harvesting of her organs. “They didn’t value her life and her child’s, but they wanted her remains. Horrendous,” said Dr. King

Father Frank Pavone, National Director of PFL said: “Lakisha had her whole life ahead of her but she died because our nation still allows abortion on demand through all nine months of pregnancy.” “The Wilson family’s tragedy is the shame of our nation,” said Dr. King. “Abortion is decimating the African-American community. Black women who make up just 13 percent of the population account for 36 percent of the abortions. Lakisha is a victim of ‘choice,’ just like Tonya Reaves was in 2012 when Planned Parenthood let her bleed to death after a botched abortion,” Dr. King said. “Our women are dying. America needs to recognize it has a problem. Abortion is never the answer.”

Janet Morana, Executive Director of PFL and author of “Recall Abortion”, asks, “How many dead women are too many? Abortion is a harmful product that should be taken off the market before one more woman dies. It is way past time to recall abortion.”  Noting that there are now hundreds of documented deaths of mothers killed by abortion complications,  Dr. King concluded “Abortion is taking place in houses of horrors. Babies and women are dying. It is shameful. We must pray, we must expose the truth, we must demand regulation of these butchers. We must not allow Lakisha’s death to pass us by in vain.”

Source: Priests for Life

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There are fears that the landslide victory for India’s right-wing BJP party could herald an escalation of attacks against religious minorities, including India’s Christian community. There have been a growing number of attacks against Christians by extreme nationalists, pursuing the Hindutva ideology that to be Indian is to be Hindu. The huge electoral success of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been described as a victory for ‘muscular nationalism’. Its leader, Narendra Modi, stands accused of failing to prevent the 2002 religious riots in his home state Gujarat, which killed more than 1,000 people, mainly Muslims.

India’s Christian minority has also come under repeated attack from Hindu extremists. Many of these have been from the far-right RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh), which gave its strong support to Narendra Modi. The aim of the RSS is to turn India into a Hindu nation. Christians make up less than 6 per cent of India’s 1.2 billion population. Hindu nationalists have been open and violent in opposing the church. Militants have murdered several pastors and beaten others. They have attacked and threatened churches and their congregations. Persecution has been particularly intense in the south. Pastors of independent churches in rural places have been targeted.

Observers say most incidents of mass violence against Christians have taken place in states under the rule of the BJP.  Modi’s rise has led to growing insecurity among Christians, who fear ‘the scale of persecution will increase’. Seven Indian states have now passed anti-conversion laws. Christians say such laws are being used to curtail church activities, including social programmes. Hindu extremists have attacked church leaders and then accused them of ‘forcible conversion’ – even in states where such laws are not in place. In 2008, Hindu extremists launched a campaign of anti-Christian violence in Odisha (formerly Orissa) state, which left more than 120 Christians dead and more than 50,000 displaced.

Source: Release International

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Lack of interest in Communist ideology and rising interest in Christianity may help explain the relative frequency of Christian-related content on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter.  According to a recent study, Chinese President Xi Jinping only received 4 million mentions on Weibo, but Jesus more than 18 million mentions. The research also reportedly showed that the term “Christian congregation” was mentioned more than 41 million times, while “Communist Party” yielded just 5.3 million mentions.

Source: Newsmax

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