Hong Kong, March 25, 2015: A Chinese court on Tuesday sentenced a Protestant pastor to one year behind bars, the first prison term handed down by authorities in Zhejiang province following a demolition campaign targeting hundreds of churches.
Pastor Huang Yizi was found guilty of “gathering a crowd to disturb public order” after he and a group of Christians tried unsuccessfully to protect the cross of Salvation Church from police in July last year.
About 600 supporters of the pastor crowded outside the Pingyang County courthouse until the trial concluded yesterday evening as many complained authorities had filled the court with officials so that only six friends and family members could attend.
“We must appeal, the entire trial is a violation of [legal] procedure,” defense lawyer Zhang Kai told US-based Christian rights group China Aid.
Pastor Huang of Fenwo Church was detained in August, a month after baton-wielding police forced their way past Christians at Salvation Church during the height of a provincial campaign in which 400 crosses were removed and 35 churches destroyed in Zhejiang.
During the police operation at Salvation Church, more than a dozen Christians were hospitalized including three people who reportedly suffered fractured skulls.
Prosecutors originally charged Pastor Huang with assaulting state officials but later altered the charges to disturbing public order.
“The culprit who hit people until they were seriously wounded is still at large while Pastor Huang — who seeks justice — is sentenced to prison. There is no justice,” one elderly Christian said outside the courtroom yesterday.
“Those who created false cases must be held accountable. This is the common aspiration of the million faithful in Wenzhou.”
Pastor Huang’s wife missed yesterday’s trial in order to travel to Beijing to petition the central government over the case.
The Communist Party yesterday issued guidelines it said would see greater public and central government oversight over provincial and city authorities after years of abuse of power, but these are not expected to be fully implemented until the end of next year.
In January, Pastor Huang’s defense filed three counter suits including wrongful detention but the court refused to accept them without justifying its decision.
In another of the three denied by the court, the pastor claimed that the Public Security Bureau and local government told him he would be released if he dismissed his lawyers, which is a violation of Chinese law.
Huang followed their request in December but then rehired his legal team after authorities failed to release him.
“Through arbitrary arrests, baseless prosecution and illegal procedures throughout this trial, this case shows once again the worsening situation of religious freedom and rule of law in China,” said Pastor Bob Fu, president of China Aid.
“We call upon China’s higher authorities to overturn this unjust decision and free Pastor Huang immediately.”
Courts in Zhejiang are scheduled to hear a number of other cases of people who tried to stand in the way of the provincial government’s church demolition campaign, which reportedly ended in December.
A court in Wenzhou’s Yongjia County on Wednesday was due to hear the cases of three Christians arrested during the demolition of Sanjiang Church, the largest in the city until it was turn down by authorities in April last year.
Beijing, March 10, 2015: The central Turkish province of Kayseri lies more than 3,000 kilometers from China’s northwestern region Xinjiang. But for 500 Uyghurs resettled there in January, ethnically similar Turkey is the closest thing to home.
Others among this mostly Muslim minority have fared less well after fleeing escalating persecution in restive Xinjiang. Hundreds, maybe thousands, remain locked up in detention centers in Southeast Asia — or worse — back in China.
“It is unprecedented in the sense that never before were Uyghurs fleeing as whole families,” said Kayum Masimov, president of the Uyghur Canadian Society, following trips to visit Uyghur asylum-seekers in Thailand and Malaysia.
As China cracks down following frequent terrorist attacks at home and pressures governments to return Uyghurs abroad, this ethnic minority complains it is running out of places to go without fear of harassment.
Beijing maintains that the reasons for ramping up security are very real. On Friday, Guangzhou train station in southern China suffered its second knife attack in a year leaving 10 people injured.
The identities of the attackers have not yet been made public but, as with other similar attacks, Uyghurs have come under strong suspicion.
On March 1, the southwestern city of Kunming marked the one-year anniversary of a bloody attack that left 33 people dead and 143 injured.
Overall, 2014 was the worst year on record in terms of Xinjiang-related violence with about 500 people reported killed.
Following an attack by Uyghur separatists at a market in Xinjiang’s provincial capital Urumqi that left 36 dead in May last year, the government launched a one-year “strike-hard campaign” recently extended until the end of 2015.
Defending China’s terrorism response on Sunday, Foreign Minister Wang Yi emphasized the need for international cooperation to deal with “a common scourge to mankind”.
China’s claims that Xinjiang separatists are increasingly linking up with jihadist groups overseas are valid, security analysts say.
Islamic State (IS) propaganda films uploaded last year showed Chinese fighting alongside militants from the Middle East, and videos purportedly filmed in Xinjiang have shown masked figures calling for Uyghurs to join the global Jihad.
“I don’t think people have a specific number as for how many Chinese are fighting in Syria [and Iraq],” said Yun Sun, a Chinese foreign affairs analyst with the Stimson Center in Washington, DC. “Some estimates point to several hundred, but I have heard bigger numbers.”
For many would-be jihadists from China, the first stop is typically Pakistan or Afghanistan. Both countries share borders with southern Xinjiang where tensions have been most pronounced, particularly around the ‘Silk Road’ city of Kashgar.
Following last year’s attack on Kunming train station, the leader of the Xinjiang rebel Turkestan Islamic Party (TIP) issued a call to arms from a hideout near Pakistan’s remote border with Afghanistan.
“China is not only our enemy, but is the enemy of all Muslims…. We have plans for many attacks in China,” he told Reuters in a rare phone interview.
As in Syria and Iraq, the number of Chinese militants operating in Pakistan and Afghanistan remains unknown, says Saifullah Mahsud, executive director of the FATA research center, an Islamabad-based think-tank that tracks Islamic militant groups. There is an enduring Uyghur presence in areas including North Waziristan, however.
Following an Islamist attack on Karachi’s Jinnah Airport in June, the Pakistan army launched Operation Zarb-e-Azb in tribal areas along the Afghan border targeting groups including the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, TIP’s armed wing.
“We have heard that perhaps 30 or 40 of them have been eliminated during the current operation,” Mahsud told ucanews.com.
Pakistan and China maintain close relations and have for years cooperated in fighting Islamic groups. In recent months, security has been stepped up due to escalating violence on both sides of the remote border that separates the two countries says Mahsud.
“But we’re talking about the Himalayas here, you know, so mountains thousands of feet high. How can you secure a border like that? It’s impossible,” he adds.
The geographic challenges have not stopped China from trying. In a bid to secure its long, remote borders that snake across the Himalayas, separating China further south from Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam, Beijing set up a special security force in April last year.
Operating well into the interior of the country as far north as Henan province in the northeast, the Ministry of Public Security has paired with local police to prevent Chinese from crossing the border. The principle target has clearly been identified as Uyghurs.
Between April and the end of January, more than 800 people were captured trying to cross illegally into Vietnam, almost all of them Uyghurs trying to join terrorist cells overseas, according to Chinese state media.
On January 18, Chinese police shot dead two Uyghurs in Guangxi province at the Vietnamese border after they “violently resisted arrest”, the official Xinhua News Agency reported. A third Uyghur man escaped and was captured the following day.
National broadcaster CCTV screened images of the man, describing him as 175cm tall. Little else is known about him, including his current whereabouts.
In recent weeks, the state media has consistently painted the vast majority of fleeing Uyghurs as would-be jihadists.
In some cases, Beijing has reached out to Interpol to try to help track down and arrest alleged terrorists. The volume of such cases remains unknown. However, a spokesman said it is Interpol policy not to specify how many ‘red notices’ individual countries submit, referring back to Chinese authorities.
Clamping down on Uyghurs in Xinjiang, Beijing has in recent months closed hundreds of madrassas, banned burqas and barred under-18s from mosques — much stricter measures than those placed on other Muslims living further east in China.
In trying to contain Uyghurs from leaving China to mix with Muslims overseas, restrictions have extended to barring most Uyghurs from the annual Hajj to Mecca, notes Alim Seytoff, director of the Uyghur Human Rights Project in Washington, DC.
“An ordinary Chinese can apply for his passport and receive it in two to four weeks,” says Seytoff. “It is almost impossible for an ordinary Uyghur to apply and get a passport in this way.”
Restrictions in Xinjiang are expected to get even tougher when Beijing passes a new anti-terrorism law in the coming weeks amid strong criticism from rights groups. Again, Beijing has been explicit that it specifically targets Uyghurs as the Communist Party tries to contain what it views as a low-level separatist insurgency.
Facing heavy restrictions on their faith and unable to leave, Uyghur Muslims have increasingly been pushed to try to flee Xinjiang by illegal means, argues Seytoff.
While Beijing has rarely deviated from the narrative that these people are would-be jihadists, Seytoff and Masimov point to the large numbers of Uyghur women and children who have fled China as evidence that the vast majority are innocents.
“It is difficult to comprehend how toddlers can possibly be joining various fighting groups in Syria but it is the only plausible excuse for the Chinese state to advance,” says Masimov.
Verifying which narrative is closer to the truth remains difficult.
Rising numbers of Uyghurs have fled to Thailand, Malaysia and Cambodia in recent years where hundreds have been caught by police and put in detention centers, though exact figures are unknown.
The UN High Commission for Refugees doesn’t count numbers along ethnic or religious lines, while some Uyghurs claim to be Turkish in a bid to resettle there and many fail to claim asylum altogether, says Vivian Tan, UNHCR’s regional spokesman.
“It’s especially sensitive in the urban context as we’ve seen that publicity often results in increased harassment, sometimes even arrest and detention,” she added.
Although Turkey resettled some 500 Uyghurs in January after they spent a year in detention in Thailand, hundreds of others are reportedly being held in the south of the country and in Bangkok.
“The Thai government in the beginning thought of sending them back to China because the Chinese government and the Chinese ambassador requested they do so,” said Veerawit Tianchainan, executive director of the Thai Committee for Refugees Foundation in Bangkok.
But following US intervention and Turkey’s indication that it would receive Uyghurs, China began to soften its position, he said.
“So what Thailand has done is just keep them in detention and then let the two superpowers fight this problem out themselves,” said Veerawit, who met with senior Thai government officials at the end of last month to discuss the situation facing the Uyghurs.
Turkey has in recent years offered a rare haven for Uyghurs while other countries have been scared off by diplomatic pressure from Beijing. Although they share Turkic ethnicity with Uyghurs, still some Turks are opposed to receiving them.
While many Turks appear to support receiving a group they consider brothers, others have argued that Turkey has already become strained after receiving millions of refugees fleeing fighting in Syria and other hotspots in the Middle East.
Meanwhile, ties between Ankara and Beijing have become strained.
The Communist Party was livid after Chinese authorities arrested 10 Turks and nine Uyghurs in January for trying to leave China with forged passports.
“The Turkish authorities’ shilly-shallying over the East Turkestan Movement has made their country a favored stopover for Uyghur militants from Xinjiang on their way to terrorist camps in other countries,” read an editorial in the state-run China Daily a few days later.
Although the Turkish government is understood to have been reticent at first in the face of Chinese pressure, so too has Thailand; but both are now expected to arrange for more Uyghurs to leave Bangkok soon, Veerawit told ucanews.com on Monday.
Like the 500 Uyghurs who reached Turkey in January, another group of an unknown number is expected to be among a lucky minority to flee Xinjiang and make it to a third country in safety, albeit after months in detention in Thailand.
Masimov, who himself was an asylum-seeker to Canada, says that Beijing needs to stop deliberately confusing ordinary people with groups determined to cause violence in the name of Islam if Uyghurs are to ever gain better treatment at home and abroad.
“Nowadays we are called ‘religious extremists’, ‘terrorists’ and ‘Islamists’,” he says. “We’ve grown accustomed to labeling by the Chinese state which blames everyone else but themselves.”
International, March 3, 2015: I first encountered Archbishop Oscar Romero when I lived in England and his image was included in a new set of sculptures for the West front of Westminster Abbey. The set of carvings (completed in time for the millennium year) was intended to immortalized twentieth-century martyrs. The ten martyrs chosen were both international and ecumenical in their scope.
On the recent martyrdom of twenty-one Coptic Christians in Libya, Pope Francis spoke of “the ecumenism of blood”. When lives are being sacrificed for Christ no one stops to ask what denomination a Christian happens to be.
The same sentiment was expressed by the Baptist pastor Richard Wurmbrand in his classic book ‘Tortured for Christ’. The Romanian ex-Jew said in the communist prisons there were no Baptists, Catholics, Orthodox or Pentecostal. There were only brothers in Christ.
On the West front of Westminster Abbey, Archbishop Romero stands alongside the Grand Duchess Elizabeth of Russia, killed by the Bolsheviks in 1918; Manche Masemola, a South African teenager slain by her parents for converting to Christianity; St Maximilian Kolbe; Lucian Tapiede, a Papuan New Guinea Anglican killed by the Japanese; Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Lutheran pastor murdered by the Nazis; Esther John, a Presbyterian evangelist from Pakistan; Martin Luther King Jr; Wang Zhiming. a Chinese pastor killed by the Communists; and Janani Luwum, an Anglican Archbishop murdered by the Idi Amin regime in Uganda.
These martyrs united by blood are perhaps more important as a global witness than ever before. In moving Archbishop Romero’s cause forward, Pope Francis stands with Romero and his brothers and sisters in martyrdom to affirm as strongly as ever that Christ the Lord and his church stand arm in arm with the poor, the oppressed, the persecuted and those who fight against evil.
However, Archbishop Romero, like Pope Francis, has been hijacked by ideologues on the Left — as if they are champions of a political ideology.
Both Francis like Romero and the other modern martyrs commemorated in Westminster Abbey, transcend political allegiances and ideological causes. They are not “right wing” or “left wing”. They are not “communist” or “fascist”. They were disciples of Christ the Lord who stood up against injustice, cruelty, oppression and violence wherever it was found.
Archbishop Romero’s former secretary has spoken out recently about his friend and mentor. In an interview with Catholic News Agency, Msgr Jesus Delgado has said that Romero’s murder “was in opposition to what he preached, which is what the Church asks of all: conversion to Jesus, a personal encounter with Jesus….he called for a personal encounter with Christ Jesus, which implied a preferential option for the poor, because Jesus opted for the poor to save us all”.
The biographer of Archbishop Romero lays to rest once and for all the idea that the martyr was a liberation theologian, Msgr Delgado said “Obviously, the liberation theology proponents always visited him and left him their books. I saw them, and they were like brand new, he never even opened them. He never read them, he never looked at them. On the other hand, all the books of the fathers of the Church were worn and were the source of his inspiration.”
The Archbishop’s friend and secretary continued, “Archbishop Romero knew nothing about Liberation Theology, he did not want to know about it. He adhered faithfully to the Catholic Church and to above all to the teachings of the Popes.”
Attempts have also been made to hijack Pope Francis for progressive causes. The efforts, however, will never succeed because like the martyrs commemorated in Westminster Abbey, and like Archbishop Romero, Pope Francis’ faith is deeper than any political or economic ideology. This is because his Catholic faith transcends all political or historical movements.
Just as Catholicism absorbs and accepts all that is beautiful, good and true in other religions, so the Catholic faith endorses those aspects of political and economic theory which are beautiful, good and true. The church will also criticize those aspects of a political movement or ideology that are false, distorted and destructive.
This ability to both affirm what is good and discern what is false is an important part of the teaching authority of the whole Church of Christ. In their own ways, within their own traditions and cultures the teachers of the truth explain the way of Christ in the world while the martyrs give their lives for it. Pope Francis affirms that teaching tradition in his office of supreme pontiff and the martyrs stand with him to give a witness even with their lives to the truth that transcends politics and emerges victorious from the battle with the powers of death and hell.
Frank Wolf, co-founder of the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative, says the church and government have been relatively silent on the issue.
On a recent fact-finding mission to Iraq, he says the Christian church is facing extinction. The agency released a report warning that if the Islamic State (IS) in Iraq is not stopped, Christians, Yezidis, and other religious and ethnic minority groups face a looming genocide. What was once home to 1.5 million Christians is down to approximately 300,000.
The Wilberforce delegation traveled close to the Islamic State frontline and later visited the Nineveh Protection Unit, a Christian defensive guard being trained to defend historic Christian villages and towns if and when they become liberated from the Islamic State.
According to a press release, Wolf said they interviewed about 75 people while on their fact-finding mission in Iraq. The delegation found that six months after fleeing the Islamic State’s murderous march through their lands, Iraq’s displaced religious minorities feel abandoned, and they implore the international community to help.
Wolf said they were asked, “Does anybody in the church in the West care about us?”
The question has resonance, says Global Advance founder and chairman, Dr. David Shibley. “We used to read about those who were beheaded for the testimony of Jesus. It seemed like some sort of vague eschatology. Well today, it’s this morning’s news. We are in a very critical time in history. It’s a time to lift high the name of Jesus, to make clear and broadcast the Gospel.”
Sadly, says Shibley, too many Christians in the West remain unaware. “It is an issue that we cannot intelligently ignore. Our brothers and sisters are facing some terrible situations around the world. The Bible is very clear: ‘If one member suffers, we all suffer.’”
Due to the rise in Hindu nationalism, Buddhist extremism, and the explosion of the Islamic State terror group, it’s something that they’re faced with in every Frontline Shepherd’s conference. In fact, on Monday “I received a communique from a pastor friend of mine in Asia. He asked for prayer because over the last three weeks, he and his family have been threatened with death three times–the latest being a 4:00AM phone call, threatening to kill him and all of his family.” The church this friend serves runs a school, too. The school offers a non-discriminatory education, which is embraced by much of the community. The reason he’s being targeted? He preaches the Gospel, says Shibley.
Why resist what’s good for a community? Some community leaders don’t want the power structure to change. When people turn to Christ, it means they’re leaving something else and taking with them community influence. “In some cases, because there is an attempt to lift people out of ignorance, those who chose to stay ignorant of God and His ways know of no other recourse but violence.”
During Holy month, the Global Advance team is traveling to encourage these beleaguered pastors, Shibley adds. “In April, we’re going to be in nine training events around the world. Interestingly, seven of those nine training events are in nations where the Church is experiencing rather acute persecution.” It’s a particularly dangerous time to gather a large body of Christians together. However, Global Advance teams are trying to let the Persecuted Church know they haven’t been forgotten.
Here’s how they help: “We’re going to teach them about how to more effectively evangelize and disciple their nations; how to effectively plant churches; how to become a missionary-sending church, themselves.”
Even if they didn’t do all of this, Shibley says it’s important not to underestimate the power of encouragement. It brings hope and eases the weight that comes with persecution. “In the middle of all of that, [it’s helpful] simply to be on site and say, ‘We care. We’re undergirding you. You’re not forgotten by the rest of the body of Christ.’ At this time in history, it’s a very important ministry.”
The question Congressman Wolf was asked by Iraqi Christians, “Does anybody in the church in the West care about us?” is a call to action. Shibley says it’s time to respond. “We act, first of all, by not minimizing the power of prayer: understanding that prayer is a potent force, that there is (as someone said long ago) ‘no distance in prayer,’ but we need to pray intelligently. We need to pray over the events of our day.”
Why pray for boldness? “We need to pray for what the Early Church prayed for when they experienced their first bout of persecution. They came together, they prayed; they said, ‘Lord, behold their threatenings, and grant your servants boldness that we might preach your Word.’ That’s the same thing that we need to pray for today.”
U.S., March 02, 2015: Christians around the world have been praying for Pastor Saeed Abedini, an American imprisoned for his faith in Iran. His wife, Naghmeh, is in the U.S. capital this weekend to raise awareness of her husband’s situation and to appeal to government leaders to continue working for his release.
“My question is – as I’m proud to see my husband stand up for his faith in the face of evil – how are we standing up for him? Is his country standing up for him? What kind of message are we sending to the world while we continue to negotiate while Iran continues to abuse one of our own, an American pastor?” Naghmeh asked in an address to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) Saturday.
Naghmeh said the world is watching America to see if its leaders will stand up to protect religious freedom.
“While we’re speaking with Iran, Iran needs to know where we stand on religious freedom issues. If we don’t address what’s going on across the world – it will be something we will have to deal with here. And we’re seeing we’re losing our religious freedom here,” she said. “When we don’t act, when we don’t speak, we’re doing the same things that the persecutors are doing. When we don’t speak in the face of evil we’re doing the evil ourselves.”
Naghmeh said America needs to turn from its current ways and repent, so God will heal the land.
“This nation is blessed because of our foundation on Jesus Christ. It is my prayer we will turn our eyes back to Jesus, and get back to our core value of religious freedom,” she said. “I ask you to partner with me and my family as we stand up for religious freedom across the globe. Educate yourself about religious persectuion, pray for the persecuted and continue to speak out.”
“It’s time to bring our American pastor home. He’s been there long enough.”
She spoke more with CBN News about what to expct and what progress is being made on her husband’s behalf.
Africa, March 6, 2015: Last month saw a spate of Boko Haram attacks across north-eastern Nigeria, the massacre of around 90 people in Cameroon, and first-time attacks in Niger and Chad. Apparently outraged by Chadian and African Union decisions to provide military units to combat the scourge of radical Islamism in West Africa, the group is taking its revenge on Christians and on Muslims who do not share their ideology.
In the last week of February alone there were five incidents in Nigeria. On 26 February, a suicide bomber at a bus station in Biu, in Nigeria’s Borno state, killed at least 17 people as he blew himself up. On the same day, 15 people died as a result of bombs thrown from a car at a bus station and the university in the city of Jos, in central Nigeria. Educational facilities are a regular target of Boko Haram, whose name means “Western education is forbidden”.
Just two days earlier, a suicide bomber attempting to board a bus at the Dan-Borno bus station in Potiskum, in Nigeria’s north-eastern Yobe state, killed 17 people; over 30 more were injured. Just hours after the attack, another suicide bomber at the Kano Line bus station in Kano city killed 10 people after detonating the explosives strapped to his body while he got off a bus.
And on 22 February, a young girl thought to be no more than eight years old, detonated the explosives strapped to her body, killing five people just outside a market in Potiskum. This is the third time this year that Boko Haram is suspected to have used children as suicide bombers. Parents in Nigeria are being warned to take extra care of their children when they are outside the home, lest they be given explosive devices as “toys”.
Earlier in the month, Boko Haram struck Niger and Chad for the first time. After African Union countries agreed on 30 January to back a 7,500-strong unit to fight against the insurgency group, Boko Haram retaliated by attacking towns in Niger and Chad on 6 and 13 February respectively.
Christian homes in Niger had been marked with the sign “P52” to identify them for attack. “We never thought that Boko Haram would attack us, because we trust our security forces,” commented a church leader from Niger. The government of Niger invited Christians to participate in a protest against Boko Haram, putting them in a prominent place at the front of the procession.
In northern Cameroon, where the Islamist group has launched numerous attacks, jihadists shot and burned to death around 90 people in a horrific attack on the city of Fotokol on 4 February. A further 500 people were injured as a result of the brutality as around 800 militants burned churches, mosques and surrounding villages. There were at least three other attacks in northern Cameroon in the same month.
Local Christians in Cameroon report that Boko Haram often attacks markets, where militants snatch goods and kidnap young people for recruitment into their ranks. As many as 200 are reported to have been recruited in the town of Kolofata alone in just one month. There are special groups within Boko Haram assigned to kidnapping, with other groups specialising in other tasks such as seizing goods, or trying to convert people to Islam. Militants also raid villages, killing people, stealing cattle, burning corn and destroying churches. More than 100 villages are empty, hundreds of schools have closed, and huge numbers of people have been forced to leave their homes and their livelihoods. All the churches along the border with Nigeria have either closed down or been burnt down.
The Christians are fleeing south or crossing over to Chad. Some Cameroonians have expressed doubts as to whether their armed forces can be effective against Boko Haram, given that the forces deployed come from the north of the country just like the Boko Haram militants they are supposed to be fighting against.
Iraq, March 6, 2015: Terror group ISIS has been bulldozing and destroying the ancient biblical city of Nimrud, Iraqi officials have said. The U.N. and the international community at large have condemned the “war crime,” which Iraq has said is aimed at erasing the country’s history.
BBC News reported that on Thursday ISIS began the destruction of the ancient Assyrian site, founded in the 13th Century BC.
“In a new crime in their series of reckless offenses they assaulted the ancient city of Nimrud and bulldozed it with heavy machinery, appropriating archaeological attractions dating back 13 centuries BC,” the United Nations cultural agency UNESCO said.
UNESCO head Irina Bokova added: “This is yet another attack against the Iraqi people, reminding us that nothing is safe from the cultural cleansing under way in the country: it targets human lives, minorities, and is marked by the systematic destruction of humanity’s ancient heritage,” she said.
The government of Iraq argued that ISIS militants are defying “the will of the world and the feelings of humanity” by destroying the famous archeological site.
“Islamic State members came to the Nimrud archaeological city and looted the valuables in it and then they proceeded to level the site to the ground,” a Mosul tribal source told Reuters. “There used to be statues and walls as well as a castle that Islamic State has destroyed completely.”
A number of other cities and empires mentioned in the Old Testament of the Bible are located in what is now northern Iraq.
Nimrud, which lies 18 miles south-east of the ISIS stronghold of Mosul, was the second capital of the ancient kingdom of Assyria. It was destroyed in 612 B.C., and rediscovered in the 19th century in a major archaeological find.
ISIS, which is seeking to establish an Islamic caliphate in Iraq, Syria, and the surrounding region, has called the artifacts in Nimrud “false idols” that need to be destroyed.
Iraqi archaeologist Lamia al-Gailani told BBC: “Nimrud for us in Iraq and for me as an archaeologist is one of the most important [sites]. There are still quite a lot of things that are standing — the reliefs and the statues, the famous winged bulls.”
He added: “They are erasing our history. I wish it was a nightmare and I could wake up.”
John Curtis, the president of the British Institute for the Study of Iraq, also called Nimrud “the best preserved Assyrian site in Iraq” and said that ISIS’ attack is a “horrific crime against the cultural heritage of the whole world.”
ISIS has targeted archeological treasures before, and last week it released a video showing militants destroying with sledgehammers historic artifacts in a museum in Mosul.
Suzanne Bott, the heritage conservation project director for Iraq and Afghanistan in the University of Arizona’s College of Architecture, Planning and Archaeology, said that she worked at Nimrud between 2008 and 2010, Fox News reported. She explained that the ancient city practiced medicine, astrology, agriculture, trade and commerce, and had some of the earliest writings.
“It’s really called the cradle of Western civilization, that’s why this particular loss is so devastating,” Bott said. “What was left on site was stunning in the information it was able to convey about ancient life.
“People have compared it to King Tut’s tomb,” she added.
- christian post
February 26, 2015: April this year will be marked as the centenary of the Armenian and Assyrian genocide. Enormous evidences indicate that the genocide was centrally planned and administered by the Turkish government, and was essentially an effort to exterminate the Christian population living in the predominantly Muslim Ottoman Empire.
That trend of anti-Christian violence continued throughout the 20th century and now in the 21st century we are faced with Islamic State, the murderous movement seizing territory in Iraq and Syria, and destroying all crosses and Christian symbols.
Why? And why the severe hardship and death meted out to Christians under Islamic authorities elsewhere in the world? The reason lies not only in how Islam sees itself but in the Cross of Christ.
At this time of the year, Christians everywhere are commemorating the Easter season. The Apostle Paul spoke of the crucifixion of Christ and by extension His resurrection as being a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks. In the divine scheme of things, however, it is the embodiment of the power and wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:22-25).
But what is there in the death and resurrection of Christ that make it so offensive, to the point where those who believe in them are rejected or even killed? Nowhere else do we see this more glaringly than in an Islamic context. Although Christians are severely persecuted under Hinduism, Buddhism and other anti-Christian models, Islam, more than any other, has a precise motive for Christian persecution.
Islam says that Muslims are a superior people with a superior religion because Muhammad was Allah’s final messenger to mankind. Islam claims that Jesus did not die on the cross, nor was there a resurrection from the dead (Q 4:157). From this some Muslims conclude that Christians are inferior and some assert that they are rebellious and enemies of Islam.
It is not very difficult now to see why Christians are persecuted under Islam. It is not economic, political or social but theological. Specifically it is the nature, work and person of Christ, condensed in the most powerful events in history – His death and resurrection. The Apostle Paul, in his defence before the Jews and the high ranking Roman officials, clearly posited that the true reason for his trial lay in his beliefs about the death and resurrection of Jesus.
The Cross will continue to be a stumbling block for generations to come, but it will also be God’s only method for global transformation.
- paul mursalin, deputy international director
Jerusalem, February 26, 2015: Suspected Jewish extremists set fire to a church-owned building in Jerusalem overnight, police said Thursday, in the second nationalistic attack in the Holy Land in recent days.
The vandals torched an annex of a Greek Orthodox seminary just outside the walls of the Old City and scrawled “graffiti insulting Jesus”, police spokeswoman Luba Samri said, describing it as a “nationalist” attack.
There were no casualties and the fire was put out before causing significant damage, she added.
Jerusalem’s mayor Nir Barkat condemned the attack.
“There is no room for such deplorable activity in Jerusalem. We must eradicate this behaviour and bring those responsible to justice,” he said in a statement.
On Wednesday, a mosque near Bethlehem in the southern West Bank was set alight and anti-Arab slogans in Hebrew sprayed on a nearby wall.
Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erakat described the perpetrators of both incidents as “terrorists”, blaming Israel’s government for inciting the attacks by continuing its “illegal occupation and colonization (of the Palestinian territories) based on distorted religious claims”.
The United Nations has warned such incidents could “inflame an already volatile environment.”
Both incidents bore the hallmarks of so-called “price tag” attacks — a euphemism for nationalist-motivated hate crimes by Jewish extremists, which generally target Palestinians or Arab Israelis but have increasingly also hit Christian and Muslim places of worship.
The perpetrators of such attacks are rarely found or convicted.
The first of these was the response from the Chinese foreign ministry to the telegram sent by Pope Francis to China’s President Xi Jinping during the papal flight from the Philippines to Rome, which crossed through Chinese airspace.
And a few days later, on January 21, Hua Chunying, a spokesman of the foreign ministry, said the Chinese government is “willing to have constructive dialogue with the Vatican based on relevant principles”.
Hua has also added that “China is always sincere in improving ties with the Vatican, and has been making efforts to this end”.
Hua’s words proved once more the new religious policy put into action by Xi, who has been China’s president since March 2013.
A Vatican official involved in talks with China said Wednesday that “when the Chinese want to change a policy, they usually start issuing declarations from the mid-ranks, in order to see what is the people’s reaction”.
This is why the official reads Hua’s words “as a sort of poll, in order to make the Chinese people confident in a new Chinese position on relations with the Holy See”.
Despite these openings, the moment when China and the Holy See will hold diplomatic ties remains distant.
The first concrete step toward these improved relations could be a sort of agreement between the Holy See and China on matters such as religious freedom and freedom of worship.
One of the guidelines of the Vatican diplomats is that to seek a “reasonable freedom”.
The Church in China is often described as divided, between an ‘official’ Church, the Patriotic Association, linked to the government; and an ‘underground’ Church, persecuted and whose episcopal appointments are frequently not acknowledged by Chinese authorities.
The Patriotic Association has for years appointed illicit bishops who were not approved by Rome.
On the other hand, there are bishops appointed by the Vatican who are not acknowledged by the Chinese government.
The Chinese government has also arbitrarily cancelled some of the Chinese dioceses, and designed its own geography of dioceses of bishops which is not aligned with that in the Annuario Pontificio.
All of these issues must be raised in an eventual “Vatican-Chinese agreement”.
Another issue at stake is the treatment of the priests and bishops faithful to Rome.
The news broke January 31 that Bishop Cosmas Shi Enxiang of Yixian had died after 14 years of imprisonment, without charge, in a secret location. His family had been informed of his death the previous day, though no more information was given them. Bishop Shi was 94, and had first been arrested in 1954.
Now that Bishop Shi is dead, Bishop James Su Zhimin of Baoding is the only remaining underground bishop kept in secret detention. He has been held by the Chinese government since 1997.
Such imprisonments and deaths “have been kept under silence by the media mainstream, probably concerned not to damage relations with the economically powerful Chinese state,” the Vatican official opined. “But, as a matter of fact, this state of things must be addressed.”
The Holy See has committed to Catholics in China, intending to protect and help the country’s persecuted Christians, and relations between the Vatican and China have fluctuated.
After Benedict XVI’s 2007 letter to the Catholics of China, the relations seemed to improve, with episcopal appointments approved of by both the Vatican and the Chinese government.
Despite this, and the inauguration of Xi’s presidency, the episcopal consecration of Fr Taddeo Ma Daqin in Shanghai showed that relations could cool again.??Bishop Ma had been part of the Patriotic Association, but after his consecration he announced he would leave the association, and he was confined by the government.
“Illicit ordinations follow a rationale that is hard to explain,” the Vatican official reflected. “They can also be decided at a local level, so I would not exclude that illicit ordinations are an internal response to Xi Jinping’s wish to improve relations. When a situation is consolidated, it is quite difficult to move people toward a new state of things.”
On the Vatican’s side, there is a certain openness to make further steps in order to reach full diplomatic relations, though the Holy See’s maintenance of a pontifical representative to the Republic of China — Taiwan — will remain a hurdle for mainland China.
However, steps forward will be made with a certain caution. Yet the Holy See and China seem to be a little closer now.