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EDITORIAL
Christians Worldwide Spend Easter Behind Bars
Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
15-Apr-2006
During Easter season, Christians remember what they believe was the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ who they say gives everlasting life to everyone who believes in Him.

Christians persecuted for their faith in Christ in countries around the world were to spend this Easter behind bars in prisons and labor camps despite international pressure to release them, BosNewsLife monitored.

China, which hosts the 2008 Olympic Games, has been pressured to free leaders of rapidly growing 'house churches', including the ailing 55-year Zhang Rongliang, who was arrested by Henan province police in December 2004 and charged with "attaining a passport through cheating" as well as with "illegal border crossing."

Zhang, a key leader of the China for Christ house church movement, had been detained five times and spent a total of 12 years in prison for his religious activities, human rights watchers say.

This month a court reportedly acknowledged "there are insufficient evidence and ambiguous facts," following a two-hour hearing, and the case to the Zhengzhou City Intermediate People’s Court asking "for legal advice," but the case was not expected to be resolved in time for Easter.

The situation appears even more serious in North Korea which remains atop the annual Open Doors World Watch List of 50 countries Christians are allegedly persecuted.

NORTH KOREA "CRUEL"

"It is believed that tens of thousands of Christians are currently suffering in North Korean prison camps where they face cruel abuses. Some think the hermit regime has detained more political and religious prisoners than any other country in the world," said Open Doors, a Christian human rights watchdog.

Elsewhere in Asia, thousands of members of the predominantly Christian Karen and other ethnic communities are on the run in the jungles of Burma, also known as Myanmar, and many detained after a fresh offensive by forces linked to the military government, BosNewsLife learned.

In Communist-run Laos Christian villagers have been attacked by Communist security forces and several are held in detention where they have been tortured, BosNewsLife established. Lao officials have denied any wrongdoing.

India, described as "the largest democracy in earth" is more so on paper, suggested evangelical mission group Hopegivers International (HI) as its leader Samuel Thomas remains jailed for alleged anti-Hindu activities. But "I know that the prayers of the saints around the world have sustained us and our loved ones in India," his wife Shelley Thomas told BosNewsLife in an interview.

In Indonesia three Christian men facing possible execution in Indonesia are still awaiting a presidential pardon. The three Christian convicts -- Fabianus Tibo, Marinus Riwu and Dominggus da Silva were sentenced on what human rights watchers described as "shaky evidence" for allegedly masterminding of attacks on Muslims between 2000 and 2001 in the city of Poso in Indonesia's Central Sulawesi province.

DETAINED WOMEN

Three Christian women also were behind bars Saturday, April 15, after receiving a three-year jail sentence for inviting Muslim children to their Sunday School in the West Java town of Indramayu as Indonesia's Constitutional Court rejected a legal challenge to the ruling earlier this year.

Dr. Rebekka Zakaria, Eti Pangesti and Ratna Bangun to three years in prison on September 1, 2005 and became a symbol for reports of widespread persecution in Indonesia, including killings and the closure of evangelical house churches.

Elsewhere in Asia, thousands of members of the predominantly Christian Karen and other ethnic communities are on the run in the jungles of Burma, also known as Myanmar, and many detained after a fresh offensive by forces linked to the military government, BosNewsLife learned.

In Communist-run Laos Christian villagers have been attacked by Communist security forces and several are held in detention where they have been tortured, BosNewsLife established. Lao officials have denied any wrongdoing.

MIDDLE EAST PERSECUTION

In the Middle East, Saudi Arabia and Iran are among the top persecutors of Christians, according to Open Doors, which ranked them at numbers two and three respectively on its
World Watch List.

"Religious freedom does not exist in Saudi Arabia where citizens are only allowed to adhere to one religion: Islam. No legal protection is provided for freedom of religion neither does this protection exists in practice. The Saudi legal system is based on Islamic law (sharia) and 'apostasy' (conversion from Islam to another religion) is punishable by death," the group added.

Open Doors and BosNewsLife reported earlier that at least 70 expatriate Christians were arrested in 2005 during worship in private homes in what has been called Saudi Arabia's largest crackdown on Christians in a decade.

Most of the arrested Christians were released over a period of time, but the fate of several believers remain unknown.

IRAN'S CRACKDOWN

The situation is also tense in Iran where Open Doors said "the deterioration of religious freedom for Christians started with the victory of conservative parties at the beginning of 2004, [and] a new wave of persecution of Christians followed the election of a hard-line conservative president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad."

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad hailed his election triumph as a new Islamic revolution that could spread throughout the world and pledged to restore an 'Islamic government' in Iran, implying that the previous administrations were not sufficiently Islamic, Open Doors said.

Hamid Pourmand, a lay pastor jailed for converting from Islam to Christianity 18 months ago, came to symbolize persecution as he narrowly survived a death sentence amid international condemnation. He has regular visits at home with his family for three to five days each month, but his defense team wants to have him released.

Across the former Soviet Union, including in Belarus, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan, churches have been raided and leaders arrested, several church sources and investigators have reported. The situation is also getting more difficult in Russia itself with reports that foreign missionaries have been refused entry and a crack down on non-governmental organizations.

Among countries negotiating with the European Union for membership, Turkey became the "first" European county (number 36) to be mentioned in the widely monitored Open Doors World Watch List for alleged persecution of Christians.

AFRICAN CHRISTIANS

In Africa, churches have expressed especially concerns over the situation Eritrea where an estimated 1,700 are detained for their faith, according to advocacy group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW). Tensions rose since a government decree was issued in 2001 that outlawed all Christian activities that did not take place in the official Orthodox, Evangelical Lutheran or Catholic churches.

Violence against Christians has also been reported in other African nations such as Nigeria and Ethiopia. Worldwide an estimated 200 million Christians suffer interrogation, arrest and even death for their faith in Christ, with another 200 to 400 million facing discrimination and alienation, according to Christian rights investigators.

While so far reports of persecution come mainly from outside Western nations, rights groups say there is concern that Christians will also face persecution in countries ranging from the United States to the Netherlands. Church leaders say the Bible has predicted persecution and that following Jesus Christ comes with a price.

During Easter season, Christians remember what they believe was the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ who they say gives everlasting life to everyone who believes in Him. (With BosNewsLife Reports from Asia, BosNewsLife News Center and BosNewsLife Research).

Copyright 2006 BosNewsLife. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without our prior written consent. Publishers and Broadcasters please check our Republish policy.

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Nate MacDonald
"Do all things for Christ."
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