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Borno attack Troops ran out of ammunition Army General.


The death toll from last week’s attack in Borno State that saw insurgents dressed as soldiers, set up checkpoints and gun down travellers on a highway, has risen to, at least, 142.

Abdulaziz Kolomi, an official with the Environmental Protection Agency in the state said, yesterday, that “we recovered 55 bodies on Wednesday and 87 on Thursday”. The previous toll from the attack late Tuesday in the Benisheik area was 87.

The insurgents, suspected to be from Islamist extremist group, Boko Haram, also burnt scores of homes and buildings in the assault and left corpses littering the roadside.

The motivation behind the assault was not immediately clear, but Boko Haram members have repeatedly carried out revenge attacks against residents over the emergence of vigilante groups that have been formed to assist the military.

Army General Mohammed Yusuf, who briefed the state governor, Alhaji Kassim Shettima on the attack, said troops ran out of ammunition while combating the assault, adding that the insurgents were armed with “anti-aircraft guns.”

In one of the latest known attacks, Boko Haram fighters armed with Kalashnikov rifles, rocket launchers and homemade explosives reportedly raided Yadi Buni Town in Yobe State on September 18, setting fire to a makeshift police station, telecommunications masts, parts of the local government headquarters and the home of the divisional police head, whose wife was burnt to death inside the building.

Son of the Yobe Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) youth leader was also reportedly killed, while one soldier and nine sect members died in an ensuing shoot-out. On September 17, some 143 commuters were killed and several abducted when well-armed Boko Haram gunmen in military fatigues and bullet-proof vests ambushed vehicles along the busy Maiduguri to Damaturu Express Way in the early evening, said Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), an advocacy group investigating the situation.

Travellers were reportedly asked to produce their identity papers, then were lined up and shot. One survivor was quoted as saying that people from the BornoState capital, Maiduguri, were singled out for execution. The gunmen went on to overrun Benisheik Town, 75 kilometres (44 miles) west of Maiduguri, killing around 14 people and torching over 100 homes, businesses and vehicles, CSW said.

It quoted one report as saying that most of the dead were members or otherwise associated with the Civilian Joint Task Force in charge of fighting militants, and were beheaded. Three policemen and two soldiers were also reported to have died in what were seen as reprisal attacks by Boko Haram against those opposed to them.

The phone network in Borno has been switched off since the emergency measures were imposed, a move the military said was aimed at blocking the Islamists from coordinating attacks.

Some have suggested that the lack of phone service has prevented civilians from sounding the alarm during attacks. It has also made it difficult to verify information from the region.

Source: Radio Biafra.

China Denies Imprisoned Christian Rights Activist Medical Parole.

Ni Yulan
Ni Yulan (Zhang Nsn/VOA)

Imprisoned Chinese housing rights activist Ni Yulan has been denied medical parole despite suffering from a number of serious health problems, including an untreated thyroid tumor, her daughter has said. Yulan, who is a Christian, is serving a 2 1/2-year sentence for “causing a disturbance.”

Yulan began practicing law in 1986. She worked on a variety of rights-related cases, including a number relating to religious freedom. From 2001 onward, she specialized in housing rights. In 2002, she was beaten and tortured for more than 50 hours while in police detention. As a result, she has been left permanently disabled and is unable to walk without crutches.

After her release, Yulan continued to represent petitioners, despite having been disbarred, and was detained on several occasions between 2004 and 2008. On April 14, 2010, she was released but left homeless, living with her husband in a donated tent near Tiananmen Square. On April 7, 2011, Yulan and her husband were detained by police, and she was formally charged with “provoking trouble” in 2012.

In October, Yulan’s family and lawyer submitted an application for medical parole, which the authorities rejected in March. On a visit to Yulan in June this year, her daughter noticed that an untreated thyroid tumor detected in 2012 had swollen considerably.

In December 2011, Yulan was awarded the Dutch Government’s Tulip Award for Human Rights Defenders following her nomination by Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) and China Aid. Her daughter, who planned to attend the ceremony on her behalf, was stopped at the airport en route to Amsterdam and prevented from attending.

“CSW is deeply concerned at the Chinese authorities’ refusal to grant medical parole to Ni Yulan,” CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas says. “CSW believes that Ni has been detained for her defense of basic rights and that the charges brought against Ni are unjust. In light of her deteriorating condition, CSW calls on the Chinese government to grant her access to appropriate medical care. In addition, we urge the government to review her case without further delay.”


Was Persecuted Christian’s Suicide a Murder Cover-Up?.

Hoang Van Ngai funeral
Friends and family remember Hoang Van Ngai at his funeral.

The family of Hoang Van Ngai, a Hmong Christian who died in police custody on March 17, was notified in mid-May that the Vietnamese authorities’ investigation confirmed his death was caused by “suicide by self-electrocution.” However, the family believes he was killed extra-judicially because of his defense of his church and determination to stand up to corrupt local officials.

Ngai was an elder of Bui Tre Church, which belongs to the legally recognized Evangelical Church of Vietnam (South). Ngai’s older brother believes Ngai made enemies among government officials because he stood up against abuses of power and refused to pay bribes. He also defended the church when the authorities tried to force them to close.

Ngai was arrested on March 15 with his elder brother, Hoang Van Pa. His wife and sister-in-law were forcibly detained the day before. The police did not present or refer to any arrest warrant or temporary detention order.

On March 17, Ngai’s brother heard the sound of violent beating coming from his brother’s cell. When the police took Ngai out of his cell, his brother saw that he was “completely limp as if he was dead, gone, purple marks on his throat.” Photographs of Ngai’s corpse show severe bruising that was not there before he was detained.

On March 18, the police headquarters announced that Ngai was dead; however, his family felt this announcement did not make clear the reason for his death. The family submitted an urgent petition to the chief of police in Dak Nong Province, contesting the suggestion made by the chairman of the People’s Committee that Ngai committed suicide.

The case was widely publicized, and several international organizations and government representatives raised the case with the Vietnamese authorities. In mid-May, after two months of petitioning, the authorities finally notified the family that their investigation had confirmed the original finding of suicide by self-electrocution.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide‘s CEO Mervyn Thomas says, “Ngai appears to have been targeted for his Christian faith and his determination to stand up to corrupt officials. The authorities’ failure to address the questions raised by Ngai’s death properly cast serious doubt on the government’s commitment to the rights provided for in the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, to which Vietnam is a party, including provisions against the arbitrary deprivation of life (Article 6), arbitrary detention (Article 10) and the use of torture or cruel, degrading and inhuman treatment or punishment (Article 7).

“We therefore call on the government to conduct a full investigation into this case immediately, taking into account the testimonies of Ngai’s brother and other prisoners, photographic evidence and the circumstances surrounding his arrest, imprisonment and death.”



Pentecostals Returned to Iran Jail for Evangelizing.

Iran flag

An Iranian Assemblies of God (AG) pastor, his wife and two church workers have been returned to jail after their one-year sentences for converting to Christianity and “propagation against the Islamic regime through evangelism” were upheld by a high court on May 1.

Pastor Farhad Sabokrooh, his wife, Shahnaz Jayzan, and church workers Naser Zaman-Dezfuli and Davoud Alijani were initially arrested in December 2011, after authorities in the southern town of Ahwaz raided their church’s Christmas celebrations and detained everyone in the building, including children attending Sunday school.

According to Iranian agency Mohabat News, all four were charged with “converting to Christianity and propagating against the Islamic Republic through evangelism” and were each sentenced to one year in prison by the Revolutionary Court in Ahwaz. They were temporarily released but were summoned to court on May 1 and re-arrested. Alijani was transferred to Ahwaz’s Karoon Prison to complete his sentence, while Sabokrooh, Jayzan and Zaman-Dezfuli were taken to Sepidar Prison.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) has also been informed that Mostafa Bordbar, a Christian arrested in Tehran in December 2012 and whose case details were obscure, is now confirmed to be detained in Ward 350 of Evin Prison, along with Church of Iran member Alireza Seyyedian and AG pastors Farshid Fathi and Saeed Abedini. Pastor Abedini, who had been placed in solitary confinement for taking part in a peaceful protest against prison conditions, has now been returned to Ward 350 after being taken to hospital this week following a further deterioration in his health.

Mohabat News reports that a Christian prisoner in Adel-Abad Prison in Shiraz is in urgent need of medical attention. Vahid Hakkani, who was arrested in February 2012 along with eight others during a raid on a prayer meeting, is reported to be suffering from internal bleeding and has been informed by prison doctors that he needs surgery urgently, but so far this has not occurred.

CSW has also learned that in April 2013, Ebrahim Firoozi, who was arrested for a second time in March 2013 and charged with launching and administering a Christian missionary website, distributing Bibles, cooperating with student activists and involvement in actions against national security, was temporarily released from Ward 350 of Evin Prison after 53 days in jail, following a bail payment of approximately $20,000 USD.

CSW’s CEO Mervyn Thomas says, “Pastor Sabokrooh and others have been jailed for exercising their right to change their religion and to manifest their new faith both privately and in communion with others. This right is protected by Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which as a signatory, Iran is obliged uphold. We continue to call on Iran to fulfill its legal obligations by guaranteeing freedom of religion or belief for all of its citizens. We also urge the authorities to ensure that as occurred in the case of Pastor Abedini, every prisoner in urgent need of medical attention is given access to medical facilities and appropriate treatment.”



North Korean Christians Plead: ‘Don’t Forget Us’.

Ooberfuse (Facebook)

North Korea is the world’s most closed nation, ruled by one of the world’s most repressive regimes. Over 200,000 people remain in desperate conditions in the country’s prison camps, where they are subjected to extreme torture, slave labor, sexual abuse and starvation.

U.K.-based band Ooberfuse released “Vanish the Night,” a new song aimed at drawing attention to North Korea’s dire human rights crisis, to mark North Korea Freedom Week. The story of North Korean escapee Shin Dong-hyuk and the work of Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) inspired the song.

The song, “Vanish the Night,” begins with a message from Shin Dong-hyuk, who was born in a North Korean prison camp: “Don’t forget us.”

Christians are among the most oppressed in a country where there is no freedom of religion or belief. The U.N. Human Rights Council recently established a Commission of Inquiry to investigate crimes against humanity in North Korea, following five years of campaigning by CSW and others. In 2011, CSW helped establish the International Coalition to Stop Crimes Against Humanity in North Korea (ICNK), drawing together more than 40 human rights organizations from around the world.

Ooberfuse has previously released songs in memory of Pakistan’s assassinated Federal Minister for Minorities Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti and jailed Pakistani Christian Asia Bibi, as well as the official English language song for the Catholic Church’s World Youth Day.

“We have joined forces with Shin Dong-hyuk, who was actually born inside one of these gulags but who managed, against all odds, to escape through a deadly high-voltage barbed wire fence patrolled by soldiers with instructions to kill on sight,” says Cherrie Anderson from Ooberfuse. “His account of the routine violence and brutality inside Camp 14 ignited our desire to respond somehow. ‘Vanish the Night’ calls for the lights to be turned on in what has been described as one of the darkest places on earth. Our song is a message of hope for the ordinary people of North Korea whose suffering often goes unnoticed and whose cries are largely unheard.”

Benedict Rogers, CSW’s East Asia team leader, hopes that “Vanish the Night” will help to “raise public awareness of the horrific human rights crisis in North Korea and encourage people to continue pray and protest until we see freedom come to its citizens.”



Vietnam: Christian Activist Blocked From Meeting US Human Rights Official.


Dan Baer
Dan Baer, deputy assistant secretary of state in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, answers questions from students at the State Department‘s Foreign Policy Classroom program. (State Dept Image)

Christian lawyer and human rights defender Nguyen Van Dai has spoken out about being barred from meeting with the U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, Daniel Baer, on April 13, when Baer visited Vietnam for the 17th U.S.-Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue.

Baer was able to meet with a number of human rights defenders during his visit, including lawyers, bloggers and advocates. He was also able to meet with some religious leaders. In a statement, the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi said, “While Mr. Baer was able to meet well-known activist Father Nguyen Van Ly in prison, we were troubled that authorities prevented a private meeting with activists Nguyen Van Dai and Dr. Pham Hong Son as planned.”

The U.S. Embassy in Hanoi sent Dai an invitation to meet with Baer, but Dai says that on April 12, a security officer phoned him and told him not to go to the Metropole Hotel for the meeting. Dai then relayed this order to the embassy, which confirmed that the deputy minister of the Vietnamese Public Security Ministry had agreed Baer could meet any Vietnamese citizen.

On April 13, the embassy told Dai that the Vietnamese authorities had allowed him to go to the meeting. However, on the same day, over 20 security officers and police came and blocked the way to Dai’s home. When a political officer from the embassy tried to pick up Dai from his house that afternoon, security officers instructed 10 elderly women to block the officer’s car. Unable to reach Dai’s home, the officer had no option but to leave. According to Dai, approximately 10 of his supporters were arrested by security officers when they came to see what was happening. They were detained and questioned for five hours.

“CSW is encouraged by Vietnam’s stated commitment to an ongoing conversation on human rights both inside and outside Vietnam-U.S. human rights dialogue, and by the broad range of Vietnamese activists who were able to meet with the U.S. delegation,” says Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) advocacy director Andrew Johnston. “However, we are concerned that religious freedom advocate Nguyen Van Dai and businessman and activist Dr. Pham Hong Son were prevented from meeting with Deputy Assistant Secretary Baer. Constructive dialogue depends on mutual trust: When the authorities say delegates are free to meet any Vietnamese citizen, they should follow through with that assurance.”


Amid Christian Persecution, Sudan Government Proclaims Religious Freedom.

Sudanese Islamists
Islamic faithfuls attend a wedding ceremony in Sudan. Sudan’s minister of guidance and endowments says no new licenses for building Christian churches will be issued, but he says the freedom to worship is guaranteed in the country, where 97 percent adhere to Islam. (Scott D. Haddow / Creative Commons)

Sudan’s minister of guidance and endowments, Al-Fatih Taj El-sir, announced Wednesday that no new licenses for building churches will be issued. The Ministry of Guidance and Social Endowments oversees religious affairs in the country.

The minister explained this decision by claiming that no new churches had been established since the secession of South Sudan in July 2011, due to a lack of worshippers, and due to a growth in the number of abandoned church buildings. He added there was therefore no need for new churches but said the freedom to worship is guaranteed in Sudan.

This decision was announced against the backdrop of a campaign of repression against Christians in northern Sudan that began in December and has continued into 2013. Days before this announcement, the Catholic Information Service for Africa reported a senior South Sudanese Catholic priest, Father Maurino, and two expatriate missionaries had been deported on April 12.

The two missionaries, one from France and the other from Egypt, worked with children in Khartoum. According to Fr. Maurino, no reason was given for the deportations. He added that Christians were in trouble in Sudan, since the government sought to Islamize the country and eliminate the Christian presence.

In a briefing published this month, Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) states that since December, the organization “has noted an increase in arrests, detentions and deportations of Christians and of those suspected of having links to them, particularly in Khartoum and Omodorum, Sudan’s largest cities. There has also been a systematic targeting of members of African ethnic groups, particularly the Nuba, lending apparent credence to the notion of the resurgence of an official agenda of Islamisation and Arabisation.

“The campaign of repression [has] continued into 2013, with foreign Christians being arrested and deported at short notice and those from Sudan facing arrest, detention and questioning by the security services, as well as the confiscation of property such as mobile phones, identity cards and laptops. In addition to the arrests and deportations, local reports cite a media campaign warning against ‘Christianisation.’”

In February, at least 55 Christians linked to the evangelical church in Khartoum were detained without charge. On Feb. 18, the cultural center of the Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church in Khartoum was raided by the National Intelligence and Security Services. Three people were arrested at the premises, and several items were confiscated, including books and media equipment. The three arrested were all from South Sudan; one was released days after the initial arrest.

CSW’s advocacy director, Andrew Johnston, says, “The recent spike in religious repression in Sudan is deeply worrying. The minister’s claims of guaranteeing freedom to worship are at odds with regular reports of Christians being harassed, arrested and, in some cases, expelled from the country at short notice. We urge the Sudanese government to end its campaign of harassment against the Christian community and respect the right of all of its citizens to freedom of religion or belief, as outlined in Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Sudan is a signatory.



Report: Christian Minister Dies in Vietnam Police Custody.

Vietnam police
(Luther Bailey / Creative Commons)

A Vietnamese church leader reportedly died in police custody on March 17 after being severely beaten and possibly electrocuted.

Vam Ngaij Vaj was an elder at a church affiliated with the Evangelical Church of Vietnam (South), a legally recognized religious denomination, and a member of the Hmong ethnic group from the Ðãk Glong district in the Central Highlands of Vietnam.

He was detained for “destroying the forest” while clearing brush from his field with his wife. The police claim he died after accidently putting his hand into an electric socket; however, photographs taken soon after his death show severe and bloody bruising on his back and neck, leading witnesses to conclude he was beaten violently before his death.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide’s sources report that members of Vaj’s community believe the official charge of “destroying the forest” was merely an excuse to terrorize local Hmong Christians and that Hmong leaders “know of no reason why they are being so mistreated, except that they are Christians.”

Many of the Hmong Christians now living in the Central Highlands are originally from the northwest of the country, where Christian communities are subject to arbitrary arrest, beatings by police, forced or coerced eviction, and fines for converting to Christianity. Over the past two decades, they have fled the north in large numbers as a result of religious persecution, believing they would be able to practice their faith freely further south.

However, even in the Central Highlands, both registered, legal churches and unregistered congregations are subject to freedom of religion or belief restrictions and, in some cases, gross violations of their human rights. Last month, Christian Solidary Worldwide (CSW) received reports of Hmong Christians being subjected to various forms of harassment and intimidation by the authorities and local thugs working with them, including destruction of property, violent physical assault and confiscation of land.

CSW’s chief executive, Mervyn Thomas, said, “We express our heartfelt condolences to Vam Ngaij Vaj’s family and community. CSW calls on the Vietnamese Government to fully investigate the circumstances surrounding his death in light of signs that he was tortured while in police custody and to hold those responsible to account. The government must also ensure that religious freedom is upheld at a local level in all parts of the country, in order to prevent further violations against Hmong Christians and other believers.”



UN Human Rights Council Investigating North Korea.

Kim Jong Un
North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un speaks at the 4th Conference of Cell Secretaries of The Workers’ Party of Korea (Facebook)

The United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) adopted a resolution establishing a commission of Inquiry “to investigate the systematic, widespread and grave violations of human rights” in North Korea.

The long-awaited resolution was welcomed warmly by Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) after years of advocacy and campaigning, along with a range of civil society organizations, to focus international attention on the crimes perpetrated on the North Korean people by one of the world’s most brutal regimes.

CSW first recommended an international inquiry in 2007 in its report North Korea: A Case to Answer, A Call to Act. In 2011 CSW helped establish the International Coalition to Stop Crimes against Humanity in North Korea (ICNK), drawing together over 40 human rights organizations around the world to campaign for an investigation into North Korea’s human rights record.

This call was echoed earlier this year by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navanethem Pillay, while the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in North Korea, Marzuki Darusman, described the North Korean government’s human rights abuses as “egregious” and recommended the establishment of “a more detailed mechanism of inquiry” in his most recent report.

The Commission of Inquiry will investigate human rights violations including “the violation of the right to food, the violations associated with prison camps, torture and inhuman treatment, arbitrary detention, discrimination, violations of freedom of expression, violations of the right to life, violations of freedom of movement, and enforced disappearances, including in the form of abductions of nationals of other states, with a view to ensuring full accountability, in particular where these violations may amount to crimes against humanity.” The resolution also extends the mandate of the Special Rapporteur for another year.

“CSW warmly welcomes this resolution, which is the result of years of advocacy and campaigning by CSW, along with other human rights organiZations and North Korean defectors,” says CSW’s Advocacy Director Andrew Johnston.

“We hope that the Commission of Inquiry will expose the extent of the North Korean government’s human rights violations and provide the first steps towards justice for the North Korean people, who have suffered terribly under one of the world’s most brutal, and most closed, regimes.”



Iran Holds 5 Christians With Exorbitant Bail Demands.

Pastor Saaed Abedini
Pastor Saeed Abedini is another Iranian Christian who has been sitting in a jail cell for religious persecution

Five members of the Church of Iran denomination appeared before a judge at the 14th Branch of the Revolutionary Court in Shiraz, Fars Province on March 10 and were handed exorbitant bail terms.

Mohammad Roghangir, Surush Saraie, Eskandar Rezaie, Shahin Lahooti and Massoud Rezaie are charged with disturbing public order, evangelizing, action against national security and an internet activity against the system.

Their trial was expected to commence on March 10; however, during their court appearance, Judge Sadati set bail for Mohammed Roghangir at US$ 200,000, while the others were asked for US$ 80,000 each. No date was set for the continuation of the trial.

The five men were among seven people arrested on October 12, 2012 during an evening raid by the security services on a house in Shiraz where a prayer service led by Mr. Roghangir was underway. They were initially held in Plaque 100, the Intelligence Ministry’s notorious detention centre, before being transferred to Adel-Abad Prison, where they are held separately from other prisoners.

“CSW is concerned that the Iranian authorities continue to characterize legitimate religious activities as crimes against the state,” said Andrew Johnston, Advocacy Director at Christian Solidarity Worldwide. “In addition to our concern at these charges, we also deplore the exorbitant bail demands, which are increasingly common and appear to be designed to economically cripple families and congregations.

“We continue to call for the release of all prisoners of conscience, without recourse to extortionate payments, and in line with Iran’s undertakings under Article 18 of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights.”

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