February 20, 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).
MUSLIM MURDER SUSPECTS ACQUITTED
Instead of convicting the Muslim murder suspects accused of killing 21 Christians in last year's El-Kosheh massacre, a judge in southern Egypt has accused the local Coptic clergy of responsibility for the three-day rampage.
In his opening statement on February 5, presiding Judge Mohammed Affify accused three priests in the predominantly Christian village of failing to put a stop to rioting, which erupted between December 31, 1999, and January 2, 2000.
The Sohag court acquitted all but four of the 96 suspects in the El-Kosheh trial, including seven defendants who had eluded arrest. A total of 57 Muslims were being tried, 38 of them for murder.
The most serious charges against the 32 Christian defendants were looting, arson and attempted murder. Coptic Bishop Wissa of nearby Baliana village denounced the blanket acquittal of all the murder suspects as an open incitement to more killings and injustice.
ADOPTING ISLAMIC LAW
Gambia's President Yahya Jammeh declared in late December that his administration plans to introduce the Islamic legal code, or "sharia" (pronounced shar-EE-ah), in this tiny West African nation this year.
Jammeh seized power through a military coup in 1994 to become the military head of state. He transformed himself into a civilian president in 1996 after holding an election plagued with irregularities. Church leaders are concerned that the small gains Christianity has made in Gambia will be eroded with the adoption of Islamic law. There are also fears that the country's constitution which guarantees religious freedom -- will be discarded, and one that promotes Islamic fundamentalism will be adopted.
CHRISTIAN WOMEN TARGETED IN SOKOTO STATE
Muslim extremists have been deliberately targeting Christian women for rape in northern Nigeria's Sokoto state since the introduction of the Islamic legal code, Christian leaders there say. "There is intimidation of Christians and pastors within Sokoto metropolis in different ways, such as ejection from houses with little or no notice, harassment and increased cases of rape, especially on Christian ladies," Pastor Momo James said.
Church buildings have been demolished in several areas by government agents, and the threat of more church demolitions has brought fear to the Christian community. The state government adopted and began the implementation of the Islamic legal code in May 2000, disregarding protests by Christians that the system would lead to discrimination.
CHURCHES ATTACKED BECAUSE OF LUNAR ECLIPSE
Muslim extremists went on a rampage in several northern Nigerian states on January 9, attacking Christians and church buildings reportedly because of a lunar eclipse. The attacks took place in Adamawa, Yobe, Sokoto and Borno states, where Muslim mobs harassed and attacked Christians, destroyed church buildings, and vandalized Christian properties. Eyewitnesses said the mobs claimed that the lunar eclipse occurred because of the sins of non-Muslims, particularly Christians.
CHRISTIAN INFLUENCE GROWING DESPITE TURMOIL IN CONGO
Missionaries in the Democratic Republic of Congo are facing uncertainty. In the country, formerly known as Zaire, President Laurent Kabila was assassinated Jan. 16. With all modes of transportation shut down, and the government in turmoil, IMB missionaries Rusty and Debbie Pugh and Michael Hamline were not sure if they would ever be able to go to Kinshasa, the capital.
"Things seem to be settling down now," Rusty Pugh said. "Kabila's son, Joseph, has been sworn in as the new president and the government has made an effort to welcome foreigners. Even if the government stabilizes soon, there is still a chance that fighting between government troops and rebel soldiers will force missionaries to leave."
Despite the unrest, Christian influence in the country is growing. The Operation World prayer guide estimates the population as 42.1 percent Catholic, 36 percent Protestant (including 21 percent evangelical).
"Everyone knows that in the near future the missionaries will be forced out again," Rusty Pugh said. "That's why it is so important for the leaders to be trained in starting their own churches."
N.Y. CHURCH WINS CHALLENGE AGAINST SCHOOL RULE
"You can meet here, but don't do anything religious," was the cold message a church in Watertown, N.Y., got when it asked about renting a school building for a Christian concert.
Pastor Stephen Bryant said the school district told the church it could have a Christian concert, but that it couldn't pray. "I said, 'Well, that's what you do at a Christian concert.'" The church decided to challenge the school district in court, and the church won.
"They were basically violating our constitutional rights by saying, 'We allow you to say this, but you can't say that,'" Bryant said. Stuart Roth, with the American Center for Law and Justice, stated that "They had let secular music concerts take place under this brand new policy, so it was very much a viewpoint-based discrimination. The Watertown school district now hopefully understands they cannot discriminate against religious speech while renting out or leasing out the school facilities."
Roth expects the school board to appeal.
CASE DROPPED AGAINST 'NEPAL FOUR'
by Alex Buchan
LONDON, February 13 (Compass) -- The case against four Christians detained since October 29 on trumped-up proselytism charges was dismissed February 11in Rajbiraj, Nepal, after prosecution witnesses failed to appear in court. The judge ordered the four -- three Nepali nationals and one Norwegian -- to be released on February 15.
The four Christians include Trond Berg, a Norwegian national; Rev. Devi Bhattarai, a Baptist pastor; Mr. Timothy Rai, a staffer for Campus Crusade; and Mr. Prem Bahadur Rai, a local Christian businessman.
All were arrested on October 29 in the border town of Rajbiraj after 15 extremists began to attack Christians holding a two-day seminar in the local Baptist church. When the arraignment took place on November 1, the courtroom was besieged by extremist demonstrators, including many bussed over the border from India. The judge gave in to the crowd's demands and insisted the four accused Christians stay in jail and await trial.
The trial was due to begin on Sunday, February 11. According to an eyewitness at the proceedings, "The magistrate stood in frustration waiting for the witnesses to turn up. Only the government attorney was present and disappointed that his star case which had commenced with great fanfare and slogans was about to be dumped in quiet disgrace."
The government attorney demanded a postponement of the hearing, but defense lawyer Hikmat Singh objected, saying everyone had received ample notification of the date and place. Singh also argued that Christians have a right to assemble in their own private rooms and conduct worship; because these Christians were doing just that, there was no basis for claiming that they created a public disturbance.
The judge wrote a four-page verdict asking for the case to be dismissed and for the four to be released from their three-and-a-half month incarceration.
Nepal changed from being a Hindu monarchical state to a democratic state in the early 1990s, and a new constitution in 1990 supposedly guaranteed each person "the freedom to profess and practice his own religion."
Proselytizing is banned and carries a three-year jail penalty, but no one thus far has been prosecuted. Eighty-five percent of Nepal's 24.3 million people are Hindu, although Hinduism is no longer the state religion. In the past three years, extremist Hindu organizations from India have set up offices in Katmandu and aggression against Christians is on the rise.
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