February 27, 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).
Helsinki Commission Calls for Release of Imprisoned Baptist Minister
The co-chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, Congressman Christopher H. Smith, has called for the immediate release from prison of the Rev. Shagildy Atakov, a Baptist minister in Turkmenistan.
Smith said, "It sickens me to learn of the persecution of Atakov, who, we believe, is being held prisoner and tortured because of his faith." He sent a message to the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), with this information.
The Atakov was arrested on Dec. 18, 1998, at his home in Turkmenbashi and charged with fraud. In March 1999, he was fined $12,000 and sentenced to two years in prison.
Despite his conviction for an allegedly criminal offense, government officials have reportedly pressured Atakov and his family to renounce theirreligious faith. He reportedly has been subjected to brutal beatings and torture by prison officials. His second trial, set for July 1999, was postponed because of his weakened condition following more beatings. In November 1999, March 2000 and December, 2000 Atakov underwent more punishment and beatings, some so severe, he was temporarily blinded.
Today, his life is in severe danger, and the latest reports indicate he told his wife recently that he does not expect to survive his abuse.
State of Religious Freedom in Vietnam Studied
Vietnam's record on respecting religious freedom came under examination on Feb. 13 in a hearing of the U.S. Commission on International ReligiousFreedom (USCIRF) on Capitol Hill.
Chairman Elliott Abrams, in prepared remarks, said that with a new administration in Washington, "this is precisely the time for the U.S. government to consider how the protection of religious freedom should factor into the development and implementation of U.S. policy, and it is the commission's mandate to make recommendations to our government in that regard."
The commission was established by Congress with two purposes: to monitor the condition of religious freedom around the world, and to make recommendations.
In September 2000 the State Department issued its second Annual Report on International Religious Freedom. The report on Vietnam reveals grave violations of religious freedom committed by the Vietnamese government. These violations concern the USCIRF, and, in addition to turning our own attention to them, "we have urged the State Department to monitor the situation," according to Washington File, U.S. Department of State.
Colombian leader claims no knowledge of missing missionaries
The captured Colombian guerrilla leader believed to have knowledge of missionaries kidnapped in 1993 says he knows nothing about the crime, Colombian authorities and United States FBI officials have told New Tribes Mission (NTM).
Colombian police arrested José Milcíades Urrego Medina, known as "Commander Rigoberto," in Bogota on November 30 for aggravated homicide, extortionate kidnapping and aggravated terrorism.
NTM officials plan to appeal to Rigoberto to tell what he knows on "humanitarian grounds" of giving the hostages' families peace in knowing what became of their loved ones. That's a tall order, Ross said. "It wouldtake an exceptional man" to respond to the humanitarian plea. "These (guerrillas) are hardened criminals, thugs, crooks and murderers."
NTM has pressed Colombian officials and the FBI since December to let them talk to Rigoberto. It is not known why permission has been delayed. It may be due to the violence that Colombia has endured for 40 years.
"Kidnappings and murders are going on every day," Ross said. "New kidnappings and murders get media attention, at least initially." That makes it hard for old cases to get attention, he said.
In an unrelated kidnapping, armed men have captured a prominent Colombian pastor who operates a string of Christian radio stations around Colombia.
Bogota's "El Tiempo" daily newspaper reported that Jorge Enrique Gómez Montealegre, pastor of Bethesda Missionary Center in Bogota, was kidnapped February 14 from his country estate in Apulo some 25 miles southwest of the capital. Gómez operates the evangelical Authentic Radio, which has stations in Bogota, Cali, Medellin, Cartagena and other Colombian cities.
Several bands of common criminals and brigades of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and are active in the area where Gómez was kidnapped, the newspaper reported. Evangelical leaders told Compass they believe criminals snatched Gómez with the intent of selling him to the FARC, who would then demand a ransom.
The crime occurred at 11 a.m. when a dozen men arrived at Gómez' estate and forced Gómez into one of their cars. "Unknown armed men arrived asking for him," his wife Mélida de Gómez told "El Tiempo." "He said, 'I am he,' and they left with him."
Gómez is well known in Colombia because of his radio ministry. He has held open-air campaigns and filled soccer stadiums for peace and prayer rallies.
Missionary María Pérez*, who has known Gómez for years, said that he has a burden to reach guerrillas with the gospel. "He prayed and fasted a lot for the peace of Colombia and that the guerrillas find Jesus Christ in their lives," she said.
Gómez' daughter told "El Tiempo" that she believes her father was kidnapped because God wanted it that way. "He calls things as he sees them," she said. "Whomever has him will have to listen to him because he'll be giving a sermon, even when he's asleep."
*Name changed for security reasons (source: Compass)
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