Violent persecution of Christians is set to increase in 2017. The greatest area of concern is the Islamic world, where persecution is increasing from both the state and Islamic militants. There are also worrying trends in India and China. In India, recorded attacks from Hindu militants have increased dramatically, and in China, pressure is building on unregistered churches, according to Release’s annual Persecution Trends report. ‘Around the world Christians face an increasing array of violent persecutors. These include Islamic State in the Middle East, heavily armed militants in Nigeria and Hindu extremists in India,’ warns Release Chief Executive Paul Robinson. ‘Our report on the likely trends of persecution in 2017 is a wake-up call to take prayer and practical support for our persecuted family to a new level.’
Conflict in Syria and Iraq continues to force tens of thousands, including Christians, to flee their homes. The historic churches, which have maintained a faithful witness for nearly 2,000 years, now face the loss of up to half their members. Some church leaders warn of a wholesale exodus of Christians from the lands of the Bible. In 2017 the refugee crisis in the neighbouring regions is likely to continue. One focus will be Kurdistan in northern Iraq, which is now home to nearly two million internally displaced people. Despite losing ground in both Syria and Iraq during 2016, Islamic State (IS) and its supporters look set to continue targeting Christian communities. Escaping Christians have described how IS has tortured, sexually abused and even crucified those who refuse to renounce their faith.
In Iran the state is likely to continue its clampdown on underground churches. The state is targeting Christian leaders who face arrest, imprisonment and torture. To avoid jail terms Christians are being forced to pay hefty bail bonds. $10,000 or more is not uncommon. ‘Increasingly the figure can be over ten times that amount,’ adds Release’s partner, who says, ‘Persecution in Iran is increasing. The state identifies Christianity, particularly the house churches, as a threat to the Islamic Republic.’ Sporadic attacks against Christians by Islamist militants in Egypt are continuing, but in Nigeria, the scale of violent attacks is alarming, and largely unreported.
Since 2011, Islamist terror group Boko Haram have killed up to 15,000 people, including many Christians, in their fight against the Nigerian government. The conflict has made more than two million people homeless. Both Boko Haram and IS are suffering military defeats. But Christian communities in north and central Nigeria continue to face widespread violence at the hands of heavily armed Fulani militants. These herdsmen typically attack Christian villages at night. They fire shots in the air to drive people out of their homes then slaughter them and seize their land. Nigerian church leaders say the police and the military are doing little to prevent it. The suspected collusion of the authorities and the scale of such attacks suggest a concerted campaign to drive Christians out of the sharia states in northern Nigeria.
In Pakistan, Christian mother Asia Bibi remains on death row for a sixth year on a charge of blasphemy, which she denies. Politicians who have tried to defend her or repeal the law have been assassinated. The Supreme Court seems unable to find judges willing to consider her appeal. A hearing in October was postponed after 150 Muslim clerics issued a fatwa against the court. Attacks by militants have resulted in the death or injury of hundreds of Pakistani Christians. The Easter 2016 bombing in Lahore killed 75 and injured more than 300. Such attacks are likely to continue in 2017. Meanwhile, Christians face widespread discrimination in the legal system and Pakistan’s blasphemy laws remain open to widespread abuse. Pakistan Christians in 2017 will face more discrimination, forced conversions and forced marriages.’
In India, church leaders have charted a worrying increase in violent persecution from Hindu extremists. The Religious Liberty Commission of the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI) recorded 134 attacks on Christians or churches in the first half of 2016 alone, close to the annual totals for both 2014 and 2015 combined. ‘Release expects attacks on Christians will continue to rise in 2017 which looks set to be a harsh year for many Christians, under authoritarian regimes and at the hands of militants,’ says Paul Robinson of Release.
China’s policy of making the Church somehow more Chinese in character, looks set to bite harder in the new year. The thinking behind it is that the Church is an unwelcome foreign import into China. The Government’s 2016 draft Regulations on Religious Affairs looks set to increase the pressure on unregistered churches in particular. ‘The restrictions are meant to hinder house churches and reduce contact with other than the government controlled Chinese churches,’ says China Aid. ‘The Communist Party wants to take charge of religion,’ said one pastor. ‘The Government wants to control everything.’ A worrying trend in China has been to charge Christians with offences related to espionage and state security, effectively treating them as enemies of the state who are colluding with foreign powers.’
ONE CHRISTIAN DIED FOR THEIR FAITH EVERY SIX MINUTES IN 2016
One Christian died for their faith every six minutes in 2016. That is the shocking new figure published in the latest statistics on Christian martyrs. Massimo Introvigne, director of CESNUR, the Centre for Studies on New Religions, revealed the findings in an interview with Vatican Radio to mark St Stephen’s Day, which follows Christmas and commemorates the first Christian martyr. He said about 90,000 Christians were killed for their faith in 2016. In addition, there are between 500 million and 600 million Christians who cannot freely profess their Christian faith. Pope Francis has repeatedly stated that there are more Christian martyrs in today’s world even than in the early days of the Christian church during the persecutions of the Roman empire.
The figures actually represent a slight decline on the figure of 105,000 deaths two years ago. Of the 90,000 deaths, 70 per cent, or 63,000, were killed in tribal conflicts in Africa. The centre, based in the United States, has included these figures in the statistics because they believe that many of these Christians were slain after they refused for reasons of conscience to take up arms. Earlier this year, the UK’s Baroness Cox narrowly escaped an ambush when visiting a village in Nigeria destroyed by the militant Islamist Fulani herdsmen. The other 30 percent, or 27,000, were Christians who in terrorist attacks, in the destruction of Christian villages and in government persecution, such as in North Korea.
Introvigne said that combining statistics from at least three different US research centres as well as his own, CESNUR, which is based in Italy, and comparing statistics from 102 countries, led him to the estimate of between 500 and 600 million Christians who cannot practice their own faith in complete freedom. “Without wishing to forget or belittle the suffering of members of other religions, Christians are the most persecuted religious group in the world,” he said. He agreed that some people might dispute the figures and argue instead that there were just a few thousand or even a few hundred Christians who died for their faith in 2016. Introvigne said: “When the discrepancies are so large, it is clear that you are counting different things.”
If the statistics were just those who had been given a straightforward choice, “Either deny your faith or perish”, the martyrs would number a few hundred. If they included also those murdered for certain practices to do with their Christian faith, the numbers rise to several thousand. “But if you talk to people who are killed in a broad sense because they are Christians, then we get to 90,000, or one death every six minutes,” he said. He revealed there were specific cases of Christian martyrs murdered by Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, including some that the Catholic Church is considering for beatification. “There are Christians who have consciously chosen to remain in these areas and to continue, as they could, to bear witness to their faith.
“Speaking of the Islamic state, we must not forget that the Islamic state also kills many Muslims and that in 2016, according to our estimates, the number of Christians killed for their faith and the number of Muslims killed for their faith, outside Africa and particularly in Asia, is a very similar number. “Muslims generally are killed by other Muslims: Shia Muslims are killed by Sunni Muslims and this is the most frequent case. Sometimes Sunni Muslims are killed by Shiite Muslims, Muslims who do not agree with a certain declination of Islam are killed by extremist Muslims, as in the case of the Islamic State.” He warned of growing intolerance across all countries, which he described as the “antechamber of discrimination” which then in turn is the “antechamber of persecution”.
INDIAN COURT RULES USE OF RELIGION TO GAIN ELECTORAL VOTES IS CORRUPT PRACTICE
The Supreme Court of India has delivered a decision that an appeal by a political candidate to vote or refrain from voting on grounds of caste, race, community or religion amounts to corrupt practices. In a 4:3 verdict, the seven-judge bench examined the relationship between candidates standing for public office under a law which bars a candidate who is standing for elections, from appealing to any person to vote or refrain from voting on the grounds of their caste, race, community or religion. Chief Justice, T.S. Thakur observed that “The State, being secular, should not identify itself with any one religion or religious denomination. This implies that religion should not play any role in the governance of the country which must at all times be secular in nature, including in the electoral processes of the State.”
“Religion can have no place in such activities for religion is a matter personal to the individual with which neither the State nor any other individual has anything to do.” Tariq Adeeb, a Supreme Court lawyer in India said, “This is a welcome decision by the Supreme Court and a big blow to the politicians and their parties who play politics in the name of religion by using their most favoured tool, hate speech and propaganda, to polarise votes. The Supreme Court once again has come forward to rescue ‘secular India’ which is under threat of being hijacked by right wing Hindu extremist groups.” While a landmark decision, the apex court did not reconsider the legal definition of Hindutva.
In 1996, a 3 judge bench lead by the late Chief Justice J.S Verma ruled that Hindutva was a way of life and a state of mind, not a religion, overturning a decision by the Bombay High Court, which had nullified Shiv Sena leader Manohar Joshi’s election results. Joshi had campaigned promising to turn the state of Maharashtra into India’s first Hindu State and the Bombay High Court had ruled that Joshi had violated his constitutional commitment to secularism by using religion to seek votes. Dr John Dayal the former National President of the All India Catholic Union, while welcoming the 2017 decision, noted, “The BJP and the Sangh and their allies are the main groups that are guilty of invoking religious arguments and hate speech. It is unlikely they will comply with this judgment in their election campaigns.”
This judgment also seems incomplete as it has not reversed or closed the Hindutva issue delivered by the late Chief Justice J.S. Verma, which effectively removed the Hindu rhetoric out of the election commission’s scrutiny. Elections were never meant to be fought on grounds of religion.”CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said, “CSW welcomes this landmark decision by the Supreme Court. We hope this decision will bring an end to religiously divisive words and actions being used for political advancement, especially during elections, and that the decision will challenge the legitimacy of far right divisive groups using communal propaganda to gain political support. CSW calls on the government of India to uphold the Court’s decision in the upcoming Assembly elections in five states in India.”
GERMANY AT BOILING POINT: OVER 1,000 ATTACKS ON MIGRANT CAMPS
Fewer refugees arrived in Germany in 2016 yet assaults on asylum seekers and vandalism of their homes remained at a high level. German Chancellor Angela Merkel sparked mass protests in her home nation after more than one million migrants arrived to benefit from her open door policy. A string of terror attacks, sex assaults and attacks on German nationals prompted an outcry from right-wing groups which called for an end to migration. Counter demonstrations were held and in 2015 the number of attacks rose dramatically. On Christmas Eve, at 3:30am, explosives were thrown at a refugee camp in Haldensleben near Magdeburg by “three or four darkly dressed men”. Nobody was hurt but repairs will cost about a thousand euros.
The attack was only one of nearly 921 recorded by The Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) last year. In 2015, the BKA had recorded 1,031 attacks on asylum camps. Many attacks were violent and some resulted in deaths of migrants. More than 60 attacks were arson related. Complete figures from this year are not yet available meaning they could exceed that of the previous year. Right wing support has grown in Germany. Easy registration system figures show about 890,000 asylum seekers arrived in Germany in 2015, by the end of November of this year it was significantly fewer at about 305,000. Politicians from the SPD and the Greens have suggested there must be a debate in parliament on action which can be taken on crimes related to migration.
SPD’s Eva Hogl said: “This is a frighteningly high number. There is a need for action. People come here and need protection. What we cannot do now is to mix up asylum policy and terrorism.” Desperate migrants fleeing Syria and surrounding places have been trying to sneak across borders in incredible ways. These include hiding in suitcases and sleeping next to car bonnets. Irene Mihalic, a spokesperson for the Green Party, said: “The number of attacks in 2016 is striking. As politicians, we have a great responsibility with what we publicly say after such a terrible attack as the one on the Berlin Christmas market.” Ms Mihalic blamed right wing politicians like CSU boss Horst Seehofer for what she called “handing keywords to the Nazi-attackers”.
Economists have been left red-faced after admitting they were wrong in making doom-mongering predictions about the impact of Brexit as Britain ended the year with one of the healthiest economies in the advanced world. Andrew Haldane, chief economist at the Bank of England, has admitted that Britain’s economists failed badly in their post-Brexit predictions and that the profession was in crisis. Contrary to predictions, Britain’s economy post-Brexit has been shown to be thriving, with business activity hitting a 17-month high last month. Britain’s economy grew by 2.2 per cent last year, which is more than six other leading nations including the US, Germany and Japan.
The findings, produced by analyst firm IHS Markit, indicate Brexit has had a positive impact on the economy, thereby embarrassing economists who predicted damning consequences of Britain’s departure from the crumbling bloc. Haldane admitted forecasts were wrong and that “the data has surprised to the upside.” He said economists are now facing a “Michael Fish moment”, referring to Fish’s infamous assurance that there was “no hurricane” on the eve of the 1987 disaster.In a dramatic u-turn, the Bank of England is now forecasting growth for the UK economy in 2017, predicting the economy will increase by 1.4 per cent. A report published by the Centre for Business Research at Cambridge University has found that Treasury forecasts over Brexit to have been “flawed and partisan”.
Remainers are still finding it hard to accept Brexit. According to the research, only one forecast, the fall of sterling, has come to pass. Chief economist at IHSMarkit Chris Williamson said: “The UK economy ended 2016 on a high. Hiring has also revived alongside upturns in new orders and business confidence.” He added that strong economic growth could lead to rising inflation and could force the Bank to raise its official rate from the record low of 0.25 per cent. He said: “All of which adds weight to the argument that the next move by the Bank of England is as likely to be a rate hike as a cut.”
TEXAS MAKES COMMON SENSE RULING ON TRANSGENDER MANDATE
A Texas court has struck down a healthcare mandate issued under President Obama that would reportedly force doctors to perform transgender surgeries on patients, including children, even if it’s against the doctor’s medical judgment. The court ruling comes after eight states, an association of nearly 18,000 doctors, and a Catholic hospital system challenged the federal regulation. “This is a common-sense ruling: The government has no business forcing private doctors to perform procedures on children that the government itself recognizes can be harmful and exempts its own doctors from performing,” said Lori Windham, senior counsel at Becket Law, which filed a lawsuit against the new federal regulation.
“Today’s ruling ensures that doctors’ best medical judgment will not be replaced with political agendas and bureaucratic interference,” she added. The new regulation, if implemented, would have cost healthcare providers and taxpayers nearly $1 billion and forced close to 90,000 U.S. doctors to adhere to providing surgery for children and adults, who want sex reassignment surgery. Research shows that 94 percent of children with gender dysphoria grow out of it and lead naturally healthy lives without the need for surgery or lifelong hormones. “This court ruling is an across-the-board victory that will ensure that the deeply personal medical decision of a gender transition procedure remain between families and their doctor,” said Windham.