Your insight into religious freedom
Inspired by the impossible: Ten years of Kandhamal Day
Also inside this edition: China: Pastors under pressure On the frontlines: Cuba: Ladies in White Special feature: Christians in Nigeria and more...
Country in focus: India
Inspired by the impossible: Ten years of Kandhamal Day
Even today, despite constitutional guarantees of religious freedom, Christians and Muslims are still attacked.
It started early on 24 August 2008. The previous day, the local figurehead of a radical Hindu nationalist group had been assassinated. Supporters of the Hindu fundamentalists blamed the Christian community for Mr Saraswati’s death – even though police had told media that local Maoists had taken responsibility for the killing.
Ten years ago, the Christians of Kandhamal district in eastern India experienced the worst outbreak of violence in the country’s history. More than 90 people died and over 54,000 people were forced to flee their homes.
By the morning of Sunday on 24 August, mobs were setting up roadblocks, shouting Hindu nationalist and anti-Christian slogans, openly blaming Christians for the killing of Mr Saraswati and calling for revenge.
It was a tragedy that ripped a community apart. Your support enabled CSW to be there in Kandhamal, Odisha State, soon after it happened – and then to go back time and again, to support the community in their attempts to get justice and compensation.
The atmosphere turned ugly, and the violence began. Local sources tell us that more than 90 people lost their lives in the following days. Around 5,600 houses were looted and burned, while
an estimated 295 churches and other places of worship were destroyed. Ever since then, Christians around the world mark 25 August as Kandhamal Day.
History of hate This horrific attack didn’t come out of nowhere. Christians in Kandhamal have been the target of hate campaigns by Hindu fundamentalists since the 1960s, when attacks on places of worship and Christian leaders were a regular occurrence. Even today, despite constitutional guarantees of religious freedom, Christians and Muslims are still attacked by militant Hindu nationalists. And under the current government violence against religious minorities has intensified – police often turn a blind eye to harassment and violence against religious minorities. 3
Country in focus: India
I saw a huge “ number of people
from marginalised communities who were struggling for their survival. Then I thought maybe, in order to help them, we need to get into social action...
A leader and a lawyer inspired by love Father Ajay Singh is a Catholic priest who comes from Odisha State himself, and witnessed the brutal violence meted out to his fellow Christians. He could not shake the memory of those who had lost their homes, their belongings or even their lives. And in the months and years that followed, he saw how their attempts to get compensation for what they’d lost, and action against those who’d attacked them, were foiled again and again by a legal system that simply ignored their plight. “I saw a huge number of people from marginalised communities who were struggling for their survival. Then I thought maybe, in order to help them, we need to get into social action...” 4
Father Ajay realised that what this community needed was someone who would speak up for them. He has since become one of the most outspoken voices calling for justice for Kandhamal’s Christians, and we’ve been working with him in his fight.
“Callous and discriminatory”
Although over 3,300 complaints were made to the police, only 727 cases went to trial, and almost 90% of the accused were acquitted. Meanwhile thousands of Kandhamal Christians have moved to other parts of India, fearing further attacks.
In 2016 the Supreme Court ordered further compensation, and finally, in May 2018, the lawyers acting on behalf of 14 of the victims were informed that the compensation – totalling about £1.7m – will be disbursed. We’re really delighted by this result, and it means so much to the victims who are able to move on with their lives and for their lawyers, who have patiently and skilfully worked on the matter. Your prayers over the years have played an important part in this breakthrough. Thank you so much for your support and prayers!
In 2016, eight years after the violence, the Supreme Court directed the Odisha State Government to re-open 315 cases: these were all instances in which reports were made to the police but were not followed through, or did not result in prosecution of the offenders. As John Dayal, a civil rights activist and writer, said, “Right from the day the violence erupted, the administration has been callous and discriminatory on matters of compensation to the victims.”
Committed for the long haul The last ten years have seen our staff return to Kandhamal time and again, to encourage the victims, pray with them, and be briefed on their situation. The generosity of supporters like you has made it possible for us to build relationships and trust with key stakeholders, and report back to you on everyone who was affected by the violence. We’re committed to seeing justice done, even when the road to justice looks impossible.
However, this is far from the whole story. “There are many victims of Kandhamal who are yet to receive adequate compensation and it is disappointing to see that the perpetrators of the carnage are still roaming freely,” said A.C. Michael of ADF India, a religious freedom organisation.
Stand with India. Today.
Your regular gift will enable us to commit to long-term support for people like the Christians of Kandhamal. Use the enclosed form to stand with us, to mark ten years of Kandhamal Day.
Use p.9 of the Prayer Diary to direct your prayers as you remember those in Kandhamal who lost their loved ones, homes and livelihoods ten years ago.
China: Interview with Ming
Pastors under pressure: China’s government attacks churches
Living Stone Church in China has been the target of intense government repression over the past few years, and we’ve been keeping you updated on developments in their case – especially the imprisonment of some of the church’s leaders. It’s an incredibly difficult time for the whole church community. We spoke to one of the church members, Ming,* to find out the latest. As a member of Living Stone Church in Guizhou, which has been the target of a government campaign, can you tell us a little about how the church began, and when the problems started? Our church was founded in 2009. At first we had about 20 people, but it grew quickly. By 2013 it was the biggest unregistered ‘house church’ in the area. The problems with the government started around 2015. The authorities would come to services and were very disruptive. They declared that we were an illegal religious group and tried to force us to close. All the members 6
came under a lot of pressure, and several people were arrested. Recently one of the church’s pastors was convicted of ‘intentionally divulging state secrets’, and the other pastor is already in prison. How are the two pastors doing, and what is the situation for the church now? Both Pastor Su and Pastor Yang were accused of the same crime, revealing state secrets, but this is just an excuse to take away their freedom. The other two pastors were not arrested but they are not allowed to preach freely. [Ed.: Other church officials including one of the deacons were also imprisoned.]
Pastor Su is serving a suspended sentence. He is in good spirits, but he has to report to the police every week. His family is overseas. You can imagine how difficult it is for him to be apart from his wife and children. He cannot travel freely and has to stay in his local area. Pastor Yang is in prison but he will be released in June, we think. We’ve heard that he is talking to people in prison about Jesus! He is allowed to see his family once a month, but no one else is allowed to visit. He is also allowed one ten-minute phone call with his family every month. Before he had a problem with inflammation in his legs. This has got better but overall he is not in good physical condition. He has received some medical care in prison, but only basic treatment. The police regularly follow Pastor Yang’s wife. It has been very stressful for the family. Their son is also stigmatised at school because his father is in prison. The church members have now broken down into small groups, a maximum of 20 in each. About half the members have already left though. The government threatened that they would lose their jobs or warned that their children would not get good educational opportunities. As we were going to print Pastor Yang was released. See our website for more details of this great news. *Names have been changed for security reasons.
Living Stone Church: A history of harassment January 2016: The church submits a legal complaint about official harassment. 22 January 2016: Pastor Yang Hua is arrested on suspicion of ‘divulging state secrets’. 27 January 2016: CSW shares its report on Pastor Yang’s arrest with the US State Department, the European Union and the UK Foreign Office. December 2016: CSW raises the case with the EU Special Envoy for religious freedom. 5 January 2017: Pastor Yang is sentenced to two and a half years in prison. 13 January 2017: US Senator Marco Rubio and Congressman Chris Smith speak out against Pastor Yang’s detention. March 2017: CSW shares its report on Living Stone Church with country representatives at the UN Human Rights Council. August 2017: Deacon Zhang Xiuhong is released after over two years in detention. May 2018: Pastor Su Tianfu receives a two-year suspended sentence. June 2018: Pastor Yang released from prison in very poor health.
Discover This is an
excerpt from our interview with Ming. Read the full interview online: csw.org.uk/china-interview 7
Special Feature: Christians in Nigeria The Church in the north and middle belt of Nigeria is experiencing a season of intense persecution. In most northern shariâ€™a states Christians are treated as second-class citizens, discriminated against in education, employment, and other aspects of public life. They cannot compete in certain elections or buy land to construct churches, and some remote communities are pressured to convert in order to receive wells or other amenities.
Holding onto hope: Persevering when the situation looks bleak Your support has enabled us to see many breakthroughs over the years. These successes, small and large, fuel faith and are a source of encouragement and joy. Yet the challenge is to maintain hope and continue praying and campaigning when things are deteriorating. This is the situation in northern and central Nigeria, where, despite years of praying and campaigning, the Church is under increasing attack. 8
The death toll in terrorist attacks is rising. Between January and April 2018, Fulani herder militiamen claimed over 900 lives in predominantly Christian farming areas in six states, displacing hundreds of thousands. No perpetrators have been arrested, let alone tried, and beyond occasional condemnations, the government has done little to end the violence. And although the Boko Haram terrorist group has split, both factions continue to mount attacks and abduct women and children of all creeds. The devastation is astonishing: in 2017 Nigeria was third on the Global Terrorism Index ranking of countries most severely impacted by terrorism.
Leahâ€™s story The individual stories are particularly gripping. As we go to print, CSW is campaigning for the release of 15-year-old Leah Sharibu. Leah was one of 110 girls abducted from their school in Yobe State by Boko Haram in February.
“is a church going
The Nigerian Church
through severe trial...
Rev Nmadu, Pursue Justice Live
A month later, as the girls boarded trucks to return home following negotiations with the government, the terrorists told Leah – the only Christian – that she would not be released unless she converted. Her friends begged her to pretend to convert so they could all leave together, but Leah refused, even after the terrorist’s commander said she’d be killed. She was forced to get out of the truck and watch as her friends were driven to safety. It was a moment of extraordinary courage and integrity. Leah’s father Nathan later said, “I am very sad...but I’m also jubilating too because my daughter did not denounce Christ.” Rev Yunusa Nmadu, CEO of CSWNigeria, added that through her actions Leah had already defeated Boko Haram.
Remembering Francis In the midst of these challenges, the CSW family suffered a major loss. On 3
June Francis Iliya Bakut, CSW’s Director of Advocacy, Training and Research in Nigeria, and National Youth President of the Nigerian Baptist Convention, collapsed at the pulpit while addressing a youth convention, and died hours later. A gifted and courageous man, he was only in his thirties. In the final weeks of his life Francis travelled to three remote communities, visiting the leader of an area regularly attacked by herder militia, and commissioning boreholes. People in one of these areas, Unguwar Gaiya, had been denied clean water because of their religion, forcing them to source water that caused illness and infection. In a letter addressed to CSW Nigeria they said, “You have made a borehole of clean water that has made us well again.” Francis’s loss is a huge blow to his wife Mary, to Rev Nmadu, for whom Francis was both a close friend and a trusted colleague, and all in CSW.
More than conquerors When Rev Nmadu spoke at our Pursue Justice Live event in April, he emphasised the need for the Church worldwide and the international community to realise what is really occurring in his country: “The Nigerian Church is a church going through severe trial. The world needs to be clear about the extent of persecution and the need for legal redress, so that terrorists and criminals will not triumph, and in order that the Church that is being crushed will not be ‘destroyed.’” Afterwards he spent two intense weeks meeting parliamentarians and Foreign Office officials, outlining these realities and calling for action. There have already been results: Rt Hon Dame Caroline Spelman MP blogged about Leah and the abductions of Christian girls; Leah and Rev Nmadu were referenced in a parliamentary debate; and several MPs joined our #FreeLeah Twitter action marking her 15th birthday.
Rev Nmadu ended his Pursue Justice Live talk with these words: “These are the realities we face. They are extremely daunting in the natural. Nevertheless, we remain confident in prayer that the gates of hell shall not prevail against the Church.” As the killings continue, we must not give in to discouragement and its accompanying inertia. CSW will continue to stand with Christians in northern Nigeria, raising awareness of their plight. We will continue to highlight the realities, calling for urgent interventions to end the bloodshed, and for the law to be enforced impartially. And we urge you to persevere with us in prayer and action until peace with justice becomes a reality.
Pray Use p.14 of the Prayer Diary to guide your prayers for the future of Nigeria.
On the frontlines: Cuba’s Ladies in White
“We are going to continue until Cuba is free…” Berta Soler Fernandez leads the Ladies in White, Cuban women of incredible courage who stand against their government’s attempts to silence them. They are all wives or relatives of political prisoners, and every Sunday they march peacefully through the streets in protest at the continued incarceration of their loved ones. We asked Berta to explain a little more… My name is Berta Soler Fernandez, and I am part of the Ladies in White movement. We begin by participating in Mass. We go out after Mass and we hold a protest march, peacefully and in silence with gladioli in our hands.
any Cuban citizen wants to exercise
...the Cuban government “ is hostile to all rights that
in Mass but in any church activity during the week…Truthfully religious freedom for us is non-existent.
My activism really began in 2003 when the government detained 75 men and one woman just because they defended the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I and the other Ladies in White are women who are very well prepared, and aware that we are in a struggle for the freedom of political prisoners and for respect for human rights in my country.
The Cuban regime arrests us, even at the doors of the cathedral in Havana. There are even cases of women who’ve gone inside the church and have been dragged out. Unfortunately we also have priests who work with the regime, specifically in Cienfuegos, to remove the women. They say if you come dressed in white you can’t come inside the church. They have an agreement with state security and they are violating our religious freedom.
How has the government tried to stop your activism?
Why do you think the government is so hostile to religious freedom?
Over the past two years, across the island, the Cuban regime won’t allow a single woman dressed in white, a member of the Ladies in White, to participate in Mass – and not just
Firstly it’s not just hostile to religious freedom – the Cuban government is hostile to all rights that any Cuban citizen wants to exercise.
Around the world: Latest news There used to be Catholic schools and when Fidel Castro took power they took away all those Catholic schools. The Cuban regime still won’t, for example, give any space on the radio – not to us but to the priests, to the church leaders. In schools there is no religious education; the Cuban regime wants to control everything – this is with all rights, not just religious rights.
What is the greatest challenge facing the Ladies in White? The government is now targeting our families. The government tries to divide families, to separate them, kick them out of their homes. They imprison the children, they kick them out of school or out of their place of work, in order to pressure the Ladies in White to stop their activism.
AND WHAT DOES THE LORD REQUIRE OF YOU? TO ACT JUSTLY AND TO LOVE MERCY AND TO WALK HUMBLY WITH YOUR GOD.
Latest news updates
Thank God for this amazing news, and please pray for God’s continued provision for Mr Dai and his wife, and his assistant, Le Thu Ha, who was also released into exile; and pray for the activists who are still in prison.
Cuba needs freedom “ and it depends on us ”
The challenge is to continue the struggle even if they imprison us, even if we suffer the loss of a member of our family or a loved one who are so important to us as women, our mothers or our children.
We are going to continue until Cuba is free, until there is freedom and they respect the rights of the citizens. Cuba needs freedom and it depends on us – our challenge is to continue until we see change in our country.
Our manifesto #12
We believe in empowering and equipping partners and communities to create lasting solutions. 14
Vietnam Human rights lawyer Nguyen van Dai was released into exile in Germany on 7 June. In April Mr Dai was convicted of ‘carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the government’ and sentenced to 15 years in prison, after being held in detention without trial for over 600 days. Four other activists sentenced on the same day are still in prison.
An Ahmadi mosque and a neighbouring historic building in Sialkot, Punjab Province, were destroyed by a mob of around 700 people on 23 May, while police and municipal authorities stood by. Both buildings are over 100 years old and of deep significance to the Ahmadiyya community.
In May two Christians were convicted of proselytising, fined and ordered to pay legal expenses.
Please pray that the authorities would take swift action against the perpetrators of this destruction, and that the community would be protected from violence.
In 2015 Noureddeine’s car was stopped and searched, and police found Bibles in Arabic. Nabil was searched in 2016 when he returned from a Christian conference abroad. The police found keyrings and scarves with Christian engravings and embroidery on them, and he was charged with illegally importing Christian materials. These sentences come amid a fresh wave of government repression that has resulted in the closure of many churches. Please pray that Noureddine’s and Nabil’s sentences will be overturned. 15
Get involved: Faith and a Future
End of term report aign, Pakistan stage
Name: Faith and a Future camp
ed with ters calling for change, combin A great joint effort of CSW suppor nt. me ern gov in rs decision-make advocacy meetings with MPs and for Foreign Office and Department Signatures on the petition to the 5,000 International Development (DfID)
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ses of Commons and Lords
er to the Foreign Secretary and Parliamentarians signed joint lett al Development Secretary of State for Internation
the past few months we’ve noticed a shift in discussions “atInParliament and other fora. Decision-makers are realising what a key factor education is in relation to freedom of religion or belief and they’re talking about it in a way they weren’t just a few months ago. CSW’s South Asia Advocacy Officer
We asked you to pray for this campaign when it launched in January, so it’s hugely encouraging to see your prayers being answered. The role of education is being taken seriously as a key solution to longterm change and CSW is spearheading that change! 16
Petition latest Your thousands of signatures on the petition gave us a really strong start! We’re in discussions with DfID on the issue and are still seeking assurances that the UK government doesn’t fund biased textbooks that fuel 17
Get involved: Faith and a Future
discrimination and religious hatred. The situation is shifting and we’re waiting for the best opportunity to hand in the petition. We’ll keep you updated.
Every girl safe at school No child should miss out on an education and a future because of their faith. We’re not about to let up in our efforts, both in Pakistan and in other countries across the world. During my time in central Nigeria last year, I was struck by just how many threats and obstacles Christian children there can face if they want to go to school. That’s why the next big focus for our Faith and a Future campaign is Nigeria. You’ve probably heard about the Islamist terror group Boko Haram which has been launching lethal attacks for almost a decade, including on houses of worship. They also target schools, killing teachers and students and abducting young girls, many of them Christians. 18
Get involved: #RedWednesday As we go to print, 15-year-old schoolgirl Leah Sharibu is in grave danger. Leah was one of 110 girls Boko Haram abducted from their school in the town of Dapchi in February 2018. The next month, following negotiations by the government, the girls were put into trucks to go home. But Leah didn’t go with them. At the last minute, she was told to get out of the truck after she refused to convert in exchange for her freedom. She’s still in captivity. (For more on Leah’s story and how you can help, visit csw.org.uk/freeleah) Beyond the headline-grabbing violence, in shari’a states Christian girls are often snatched from the street by local men, and forced to convert and to marry. These kidnappers are rarely brought to justice or punished in any way, so the abductions continue. Predominantly Christian communities in these states also face more subtle difficulties every day. The state gives them fewer school buildings and teachers because of their faith. Some children have to change their names to Muslim-sounding names – or sometimes leave their parents and move to a different state – just to get an education. Children are our future, and no child should be denied that future because of their faith. School should be a place of safety and empowerment.
Join our call to keep
Every Girl Safe At School, at faithandafuture.com
#RedWednesday: 28 November 2018 We’re excited to be partnering once more with our friends at Aid to the Church in Need for this amazing event! #RedWednesday is an annual day when we remember people who are suffering for their faith, and take a stand against injustice. Each year we ask churches and individuals to mark the day by wearing red, praying together, lighting their church buildings red, or by holding a redthemed event.
Last year we “ even managed to
get the Houses of Parliament lit red!
Help us make #RedWednesday even bigger and better this year, and join with us as we stand up for faith and freedom. Save the date now with your church or small group, and start thinking about what you could do to mark the day!
Take part. Now. Go to csw.org.uk/ redwednesday to let us know you’re taking part in #RedWednesday this year. We’ll send you hints and tips on how to make the most of your event.
Our manifesto #2
We believe no one should suffer discrimination, harassment or persecution because of their beliefs.
As Christians, we stand with everyone facing injustice because of their religion or belief. T +44 (0)20 8329 0010 @CSW_UK /CSWUK csw.org.uk
PO Box 99 New Malden Surrey, KT3 3YF United Kingdom