Persecution Watch for August 30, 2001: PHILIPPINES
In the latest attack on foreign missionaries, members of a Muslim kidnap Gang this week shot dead an Irish priest in the southern Philippines. According to Reuters, police said six gunmen shot Rufus Halley in the head Monday when he resisted attempts to kidnap him while he was traveling on a Country road in Lanao del Sur province. They also shot him several times in the arms, then fled. Halley, 57, had worked for more than 20 years on the southern island of Mindanao, trying to promote unity between Christians and Muslims in the region torn by separatist conflict.
"He was...trying to break down barriers of hatred and mistrust between Muslims and Christians," a companion of Halley since their seminary days in Dublin told Reuters. "Like the others, he loved the work, he loved bringing Muslims and Christians together...He was very conscious of the risks, but he was brave and tried to live in a way that would not antagonize anybody."
Persecution Watch for September 6, 2001: RUSSIA
Members of a Pennsylvania church were given a police escort for the remaining days of their missions trip after three members of their group were beaten by a pack of teen-agers. The men from Bethel Bible Fellowship Church in Emmaus, Pa., were attacked outside a sports complex in Bryansk, six hours from Moscow, last month. The three were part of the church's Push the Rock basketball ministry, playing games with local youth. One man suffered two broken ribs, another two black eyes, and the third suffered a gash to his face, "The (Allentown) Morning Call" reported.
Chico Schlonecker, who organized the trip, told the newspaper that Bryansk police had said the attackers had been nationalists who disliked foreigners. He said that despite the incident Push the Rock was planning to return to Russia next year, possibly with protection. The team had been hosted by John Macintosh, an American missionary based in Bryansk, who advertised the basketball games in newspapers and on local radio. He is due to give evidence about the attack at a trial expected to take place in three months, following two arrests.
Persecution Watch for September 7, 2001: TANZANIA
Churches are bracing themselves for attacks by Muslim gangs incensed by a blasphemy charge. Islamic supporters have warned that they will deliberately attack churches if they are not allowed to demonstrate in the capital, Dar es Salaam, against the detention of a fellow believer. They are incensed at the arrest of Rajabu Dibagula, a Muslim who is accused of blaspheming against Jesus. According to the United Kingdom-based Barnabas Fund (BF), Dar es Salaam was the scene of "ugly violence" Aug. 24, when Muslim mobs took to the streets after Friday prayers in the mosques. Cars were destroyed, offices set on fire, and several policemen injured. Dozens of people were hospitalized, and 170 rioters were arrested. The following week a strong police presence reinforced a ban on further demonstrations. Even so, shops and schools closed early, and few people ventured out onto the streets. "In this atmosphere of tension Muslim extremists issued their threats against the city's churches," BF reported.
The group noted that the violent reaction by Muslims stood in "stark contrast" to the peaceful response by Christians in Pakistan whenever a fellow believer there was arrested on blasphemy charges involving Islam. BF urged prayer for protection for Tanzanian Christians, and that "the current tension will swiftly pass."
Persecution Watch for September 4, 2001: TURKMENISTAN
Around 20 members of an unofficial church were arrested when security police raided the home in which they were meeting and told them they could not gather for prayer because their congregation was not registered with the government.
Last month's raid was the second one this year involving Greater Grace Protestant Church in the capital, Ashgabad, reported Keston News Service (KNS). Those arrested were taken to National Security Committee headquarters where they were interrogated separately and later released. Although Turkmen law does not specifically ban unregistered religious activity, officials repeatedly insist it is illegal, KNS said. One official declined to comment on the church raid, but told the news agency: "The law is being observed in Turkmenistan."
Only two groups - the Sunni Muslim Board and the Russian Orthodox Church - have been granted state recognition. Most Protestant churches - including Baptists, Pentecostals and Seventh day Adventists - have faced "severe pressure" in a bid to stamp them out, KNS said.
Three nuns were beaten with sticks by a mob of radical Hindus in Dahod, Gujarat state. The three women were attacked as they accompanied a group of children from an orphanage on a picnic outing, reported "The Times of India." They were assaulted when they stopped at a garage to fuel their vehicles.
According to a statement by the All India Christian Council (AICC), members of the Bajrang Dal Hindu movement took the keys of the women's vehicles and beat them. When orphanage officials went to the local police station to register a complaint, officers there attacked them and ordered them to leave the area.
The Pakistani newspaper, "Dawn," said that tensions were also running high in the town of Anakapalli, in Andhra Pradesh state, following the destruction Tuesday or 43 tombs at a Christian burial site whose ownership ahs been disputed with local Hindu leaders.
Meanwhile, mission agencies have expressed concern about a recent statement by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who accused some Christian missionaries of trying to force people to convert. Cebu Rutsa of Gospel Revival Ministries said he believed the remark could aggravate violence against Christians. "Our prime minister is trying to build up a relationship with other Hindus, and we believe that he is behind it, encouraging some of the people to do as much damage as they could.