January 18, 2001

"If one part of the body suffers, every part suffers with it. If one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it." (1 Corinthians 12:26-27).



The supreme leader of Afghanistan's ruling Taliban militia warned on January 8 that his regime will apply the death penalty to any Muslim who converts to another faith.

Monitored over Radio Shariat, Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar declared that any Afghan caught professing Christianity or Judaism would be executed, as required by the strict Islamic law enforced under Taliban rule. Omar also specified that "any non-Muslim found trying to win converts will also be killed."

Of necessity, secret Christian believers in Afghanistan have remained invisible since theTaliban takeover, both in terms of identity and numbers. Two Afghan men suspected of converting to Christianity were reported hanged by the Taliban in 1998, but details remain unconfirmed.



Chinese authorities in southern Zhejiang province closed or destroyed at least 450 churches, temples and shrines in a campaign launched in early November. To the astonishment of international observers, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhang Qi Yue said on December 13, "It is clear that China has been carrying out a policy of protecting religious freedom."

The campaign of closure was orchestrated from Wenzhou, a prosperous port city of 600,000 people, and extended over seven surrounding counties, which have a combined population of approximately seven million. This area has seen a massive religious revival, particularly for the religions of Buddhism and Christianity.

Last July, authorities in the eastern province of Anhui moved to discourage Christian work with young people through an article that appeared in the local newspaper headlined, "Illegal Private 'Summer Camp' Banned." A Christian source confirmed that the camp was run by evangelical house church Christians.

Through the children, the police found out about the camp and called in some of the teachers for interrogation. Eventually, the teachers were allowed to return home but warned they could be fined or arrested. Although the camp had been completed successfully, the article was placed in the local newspaper to warn Christians in Anhui who could read between the lines.



Colombia's violent groups are demanding money from churches and pastors in the form of "war taxes" to support their activities. Failure to comply invites kidnapping or death for the pastor or his family.

Extortion has become a booming industry in Colombia, fed by public fear of these violent groups. When someone claims to be acting in behalf of a guerrilla group, few will risk questioning credentials.

But the danger has forced many international ministries working in the country to rethink plans. "Over the next few months, we're going to be looking at whether we even want to leave the few that we have in Colombia," said Scott Ross of New Tribes Mission. "With the peace process collapsing and renewed fighting, it's deteriorated to the place where we have to consider whether it's good management to have our people there anymore. Missionaries from the United States and Europe are especially vulnerable as leftist rebels widely regard them as "imperialists" who are spreading a message that counters their own.



Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze is on the verge of signing a draft amendment to the constitution that would grant the status of "state church" to the Georgian Orthodox Church. Once the president signs the draft, a one-month period of public debate on the issue will begin. The Parliament will then re-examine the draft amendment and vote on it.

Western European sources in Tbilisi said that the potential Orthodox concordat is a weapon aimed at thwarting the activities of non-traditional religions in Georgia. "There are serious signs that Georgian society is drifting towards religious intolerance and violation with the tacit agreement of the political authorities and the law enforcement forces," said George Gogia, a spokesman for Human Rights Watch.



Members of the radical Hindu group the Bajrang Dal beat two Christian workers, David Massey and Simon Sakria, for more than two hours on January 4 for showing a Jesus film in Jehra, a remote village on the Rajasthan-Gujarat border in western India.

Church leaders said the two Christians had gone to visit the house of a local pastor when they were attacked. Massey and Sakria are now in a hospital in Himmatnagar in Gujarat. Doctors say they were seriously injured and are in a state of shock. Police have registered a case against the Bajrang Dal district president Jagdish Taral.



When Mahmoud Erfani escorted his wife and three daughters across the Iranian border into Turkey 18 months ago, he thought he had left a decade of troubles behind him. Although he and his family no longer face direct persecution for converting from Islam to Christianity, they still find themselves stranded in central Turkey.

Worse yet, they could be deported any day back to Iran, where Erfani could be tried and executed for apostasy, a capital offense under Tehran's strict Islamic regime.

Living hand-to-mouth, the Erfanis barely get by on a modest monthly donation from church sources abroad. United Nations stipends are reserved for accepted refugees. Erfani also cares for his disabled wife. But Erfani has no way to prove the chain of deepening harassments that finally drove him out of Iran, and thus he has not been able to gain official refugee status.


PERSECUTION NEWS is a non-regular periodic service of Foot of the Cross Publications. Articles are copied from various sources, including Associated Press, Newsweek, Compass Direct, Religious News Today and FridayFax. The information is for the sole purpose of disseminating information about persecution of Christians around the world, and subscriptions are free.

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