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News from the Frontlines of Persecution
Bombed Syriac Orthodox Church of Mar Afram - WEB
Summary:
ISTANBUL, August 16 (Compass Direct News) – An insurgent blast left a church building in Kirkuk, Iraq severely damaged on Monday (Aug. 15) in a second round of attacks against the city’s Christian community in two weeks. The bombing of the Syriac Orthodox Church of Mar Afram was the only attack against Christian targets amid a wave of violence that swept across Iraq yesterday, hitting 17 cities and claiming about 70 lives, according to The Associated Press. No Christians were killed in the attack on the church building. On Aug. 2, insurgents targeted three churches in the city. Abuna Gourgis Alyes, a priest at the Mar Afram church, told Compass that Monday’s attack was the third and most devastating one against his church in the last five years. A Protestant pastor who requested anonymity spoke to Compass by phone as he stood in the rubble of Mar Afram on a visit to the Orthodox priest’s church. “Now I am here and seeing it with my own eyes,” the pastor said, overwhelmed at the sight of the blown-out wall and wreckage. “They have to demolish the church and rebuild it.”
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Insurgent Blast Ravages Church Building in Iraq
Attack on Syriac Orthodox building in Kirkuk is its third in five years.
By Damaris Kremida
ISTANBUL, August 16 (Compass Direct News) – An insurgent blast left a church building in Kirkuk, Iraq severely damaged on Monday (Aug. 15) in a second round of attacks against the city’s Christian community in two weeks.
The bombing of the Syriac Orthodox Church of Mar Afram was the only attack against Christian targets amid a wave of violence that swept across Iraq yesterday, hitting 17 cities and claiming about 70 lives, according to The Associated Press.
An explosive device next to one of the church’s walls exploded at 1:20 a.m. on Monday. Photos showed the bricks of one of the side walls strewn across the church floor and furniture, and one of the metal doors twisted open.
In two other separate attacks on Monday, insurgents placed deadly vehicle bombs in the center of Kirkuk, killing one and injuring four.
No Christians were killed in the attack against the church. Police announced higher protective measures for Kirkuk’s churches, according to Alsumaria Iraqi Satellite TV Network.
On Aug. 2, insurgents targeted three churches in the city. Police discovered and disarmed a bomb near a Protestant church building and one by a Syriac Orthodox church. A third bomb exploded in front of the Holy Family Syriac Catholic Church, killing 13 Muslims who lived nearby.
Abuna Gourgis Alyes, a priest at the Mar Afram church, told Compass that Monday’s attack was the third and most devastating one against his church in the last five years. The church building suffered minor damage from bomb blasts in 2006 and 2008.
A Protestant pastor who requested anonymity spoke to Compass by phone as he stood in the rubble of Mar Afram on a visit to the Orthodox priest’s church.
“Now I am here and seeing it with my own eyes,” the pastor said, overwhelmed at the sight of the blown-out wall and wreckage. “They have to demolish the church and rebuild it.”
The pastor’s church building was also damaged in the Aug. 2 attack, as security forces tried to neutralize a car bomb parked in front of the church complex.
Alyes said no one was hurt in Monday’s attack, but that he did not know how he would continue to perform mass for the church’s 90 families. In a matter-of-fact voice, he said the greatest damage to the congregation is the fear that will surely drive more families out of town to the Kurdish part of Iraq or beyond the country’s borders. Since January, 10 of Mar Afram’s families have fled Kirkuk.
“Many will leave Kirkuk because of this explosion,” Alyes said. “Many Christians take this event as an opportunity to make their decision to leave the city. I am sure many will leave after this.”
According to Christian support organization Open Doors, there are 300,000 to 350,000 Christians left in Iraq, down from 1.2 million before the 2003 U.S.-led military operation in the country. The U.S. government plans to withdraw its troops from Iraq by the end of 2011.
Kirkuk and its surrounding towns belong to an oil-rich territory claimed by Kurdish and Arab administrations. For years authorities have postponed a referendum to determine which side would have the right to Kirkuk, an ethnically diverse city that includes Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen, including a small minority of Arab Christians.
The conflict over the city has put Christians in the cross-fire of the opposing groups. A young Muslim Iraqi from Kirkuk’s Turkmen community told Compass that Monday’s unrest and the damage to the church is part of an effort to destabilize the country in an ongoing struggle for power.
“When Christians are targeted, they accuse extremists,” said the Iraqi, who identified himself only as Kamal. “I think some people are trying to create unrest and destabilize the situation. We have Turkmen, Arabs, Kurds; there are many politicians who benefit from Kirkuk’s instability.”
He said Kirkuk is one of the hottest points of tension in the country, with all three groups – Turkmen, Arabs and Kurds – competing for control of the city. Article 140 of the Iraq’s constitution states that the city’s future will be determined based on a demographic majority of the population in a referendum.
“There are many groups trying to take Kirkuk to their territory,” he said. “These attacks are mostly politically [rather] than terrorist motivated, so that Christians can leave the city so that it is left to other groups, who will also be targeted.”
Christian journalist Emad Matty said the attacks in Kirkuk are part of a greater, politically motivated tactic to purge Arab-majority cities, including Baghdad and Mosul, of their Christian populations.
Asked how he thought Christians saw the attacks in Kirkuk this month, he said the predominant feeling was fear.
“It’s like it was in Baghdad and Mosul: They are afraid and are under attack from unknown gunmen,” said Matty, a freelance reporter. “There are political groups, and I don’t want to say which ones, but there are groups who are targeting Christians for political reasons.”
Alyes, who has lost a relative to the violence, said he would not give up hoping for peace and stability in Iraq nor stop holding mass in the city. He asked Christians around the world to pray toward that end.
“In your heart pray for us to Jesus that he gives us peace and stability,” Alyes said. “For the sake of Jesus, even if we don’t have a building, we will keep praying.”
Kirkuk is located 250 kilometers (155 miles) north of Baghdad and has about 10,000 Christians.

Summary:
LOS ANGELES, August 15 (Compass Direct News) – A court in Bangladesh on Thursday (Aug. 11) exonerated two Christians along with four Muslim friends accused of “hurting religious sensibility.” Nurul Islam, another Christian and their Muslim friends were cleared of the charge after police failed to provide documentation of any evidence against them, an attorney said. In March Christians under the direction of the Way of Peace movement had arranged a two-day health camp offering free treatment to poor villagers in Damurhuda area in Chuadanga district, some 210 kilometers (126 miles) northwest of Dhaka. Two of the Christian organizers and their Muslim friends were arrested on March 24 under Section 54 of the penal code, a special power granted to police to arrest anyone on any suspicion. Police are required to submit a primary investigation report within 15 days of the beginning of prosecution, and when they failed to do so, the Christians were released at a hearing on April 10. Police again filed a case on April 13, however, charging them with “hurting religious feelings” of area Muslims as a Japanese doctor had offered Bibles to patients at a health camp. The Japanese volunteer doctor offered Christian leaflets and Bibles to the patients, telling them they were under no obligation to take the literature, Christian said. The foreign doctor was not named in either of the cases. Lawyer Aksijul Islam Ratan told Compass that police had harassed his clients from the beginning, saying officers rather than any known victim filed the case as plaintiff. “The police harassed them from the very beginning, and what the police did was excessive,” he said. “Again police could not show relevant documents regarding their charge. So the honorable court did not take the charge into cognizance and discharged my clients.”
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Christians in Bangladesh Cleared of Charge of Offending Muslims
Workers at free health clinic exonerated after what lawyer calls police harassment.
Special to Compass Direct News

LOS ANGELES, August 15 (Compass Direct News) – A court in Bangladesh on Thursday (Aug. 11) exonerated two Christians along with four Muslim friends accused of “hurting religious sensibility.”
Nurul Islam, another Christian and their Muslim friends were cleared of the charge after police failed to provide documentation of any evidence against them, an attorney said.
In March Christians under the direction of the Way of Peace movement had arranged a two-day health camp offering free treatment to poor villagers in Damurhuda area in Chuadanga district, some 210 kilometers (126 miles) northwest of Dhaka.
Around 100 villagers attended the camp for free treatment the first day, March 23, and a Japanese doctor treated them. But two of the Christian organizers and their Muslim friends were arrested on March 24 under Section 54 of the penal code, a special power granted to police to arrest anyone on any suspicion.
They were released on bail three days later. Police are required to submit a primary investigation report within 15 days of the beginning of prosecution, and when they failed to do so, the Christians were released at a hearing on April 10. Police again filed a case on April 13, however, charging them with “hurting religious feelings” of area Muslims after a foreign doctor offered Bibles to patients at a health camp.
The Japanese volunteer doctor offered Christian leaflets and Bibles to the patients, telling them they were under no obligation to take the literature, Christian said. The foreign doctor was not named in either of the cases.
Lawyer Aksijul Islam Ratan told Compass that police had harassed his clients from the beginning, saying officers rather than any known victim filed the case as plaintiff.
“It was a very complicated case, as neither any individual nor any group filed the case,” Ratan said. “But the accusations from the government side against the Christians were baseless, so the honorable court exonerated them.”
The Christians were accused of distributing leaflets to convert poor Muslims, thus allegedly hurting the religious feelings of those in the area, said Ratan.
“The police harassed them from the very beginning, and what the police did was excessive,” he said. “Again police could not show relevant documents regarding their charge. So the honorable court did not take the charge into cognizance and discharged my clients.”
Islam told Compass that justice was done in the face of police hostility against him and the others.
“We got proper justice twice from the court,” he said.
The Bangladeshi constitution provides for freedom to propagate one’s religion subject to law, but authorities and communities often object to efforts to convert people from Islam, according to the U.S. Department of State’s 2010 International Religious Freedom Report.

Bangladesh is the world’s third-largest Muslim-majority nation, with Muslims making up 89 percent of its population of 164.4 million, according to Operation World. Christians are less than 1 percent of the total, and Hindus 9 percent.

The Pew Research Centre’s Forum on Religion and Public Life, a private U.S. research group, said government restrictions and public hostility involving religion grew in some of the most populous countries from mid-2006 to mid-2009. Besides Pakistan, the countries most restrictive or hostile towards certain religions included India, Indonesia, Egypt, Iran, China, Myanmar, Russia,Turkey, Vietnam, Nigeria and Bangladesh – although most of these did not show much change in the three years, according to the Pew report.
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Copyright 2011 Compass Direct News
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