Serving persecuted Christians worldwide


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43. Indonesia
The situation for Christians in Indonesia has deteriorated considerably.
Believers are starting to face more and more hostility. Though the national
authorities try to look neutral, in reality they are eager to win favor and
support from Muslim parties, often even extremist parties. Until 2010 more
than 50 regencies (a step lower than the provincial government) in 16 of the
33 provinces in Indonesia have passed sharia-inspired bylaws. Another source
documents 151 sharia-inspired bylaws introduced in 24 provinces during the
1999-2009 period. These regulate the citizens’ moral and religious life, e.g.
concerning prostitution, gambling, alcohol consumption, pornography,
Quran proficiency, and Muslim dress code.
The government’s changing attitude is clearly shown in the treatment of the
Indonesian Christian Church (GKI) Yasmin congregation in Bogor, West Java.
Despite the Supreme Court’s ruling in December 2010 to re-open the church,
the mayor has told Home Affairs Minister Gamawan Fauzi that the church
should not be built on a street with an Islamic name. Consequently, he has
sealed off the church and forced all meetings to cease. The authorities did
not enforce the Supreme Court’s judgment, thus depriving the believers of
their rights. Attacks against church buildings occurred regularly throughout
2010; in most cases the authorities did not investigate or charge those
responsible. For the first time in the country’s history, the Christian minority
faced an attack by a suicide bomber. On September 25, a 31-year-old Muslim
attacked the Bethel Injil Sepuluh Christian Church in Keputon, Solo, Java.
Twenty-seven people were wounded, and the attacker was killed. Had he
arrived a little earlier or chosen a different entrance, the casualty toll could
have been much higher. On September 26, police found another similar
bomb outside the Maranatha church in Ambon city, on the island of Ambon.
Several days before this took place, on September 11, Muslim and Christian
gangs in Ambon attacked each other, leaving three dead and more than a
dozen injured.
In the week leading up to Easter celebrations, police discovered five bombs
buried under a gas pipeline near a Catholic church in Serpong, near Jakarta.
The bombs were due to explode on Good Friday and were successfully
defused.
The Jakarta-based Setara Institute on peace and dialogue reported 99
incidents of violence and conflicts as of July 2011, a considerable rise
compared to the 99 cases reported in whole year 2010. Muslim extremist
groups continue to grow more and more hostile and violent towards
Christians and are experiencing no resistance from national or local
authorities. Muslim extremists have also found an ally in the blasphemy law,
which they use to legitimize their actions. Given such leniency, the future for
the Christian minority seems to be getting increasingly difficult. This has
caused the country to rise in the WWL ranking for 2012.
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44. Palestinian Territories
The Palestinian Basic Law—which functions as a temporary constitution—states that the official
religion is Islam and sharia (Islamic legislation) is a principle source of legislation. Officially, freedom
of belief and worship are guaranteed, provided public order or public morals are not violated.
The dynamics of Christian persecution in the Palestinian Territories are complex. It should be
stressed that the situation in Gaza is different from the West Bank, both territories being effectively
under different governments at present –though Hamas and Fatah are moving closer lately.
However, the Palestinian Authority, that rules over these territories—which are not recognized as an
independent nation—has an overall negative attitude towards Christians. Reports indicate that
pressure against Christians is increasing, especially with regard to incidents against Muslim-
background believers (MBB’s). The situation in general is comparable to the one of the previous
reporting period.
There are several groups of Christians in the Palestinian Territories: indigenous Christians (mostly
from Palestinian or Arab background) and MBBs. For Palestinian/Arab Christians it is important to
distinguish between political (because of their nationality) and religious persecution (because of
their faith). In general, the population in the Palestinian Territories is getting more and more
Islamic. The total number of Palestinian Christians has declined at an accelerating rate, largely due
to emigration. Increasing influence of Islam is one of the reasons for Christian emigration, but there
are other factors as well: economical reasons, the relevant ease for Christians to emigrate (they
have finances to do so and speak English, have contacts/family in the West) and restrictions from
the Israeli side. As such, Palestinian Christians find themselves persecuted from many different
sides.
Numbering 40,000, Christians are a minority in this land under Islam authority. Indigenous
Christians have the right to live and practice their religion, providing they don’t try to evangelize
the Muslims.
MBB’s are discriminated by community and family when their faith is known. The state is failing in
upholding and protecting the rights of individual Christians and in some cases they have to seek
safety in flight to a so called ‘safe house’ somewhere else in the area. In Gaza, there is also
oppression from radical Muslim groups that are active in the strip, which together with pressure
from the Hamas government continues to force Christians to leave. On the West Bank, although
there is no official persecution, Christians face some discrimination.
The total number of points for the Palestinian Territories increased compared to last year (31 versus
29.5), however the region continues to hold position 44. The main reason for this increase is the
report of a honor killing. For security reasons, we cannot publish more details about this murder.
Also, a Christian surgeon was attacked in February 2011 in Gaza. After the attack, in which he
fortunately was not wounded, he started receiving threats warning him to refrain from
“evangelistic activities.’’ However he says he does not share about his faith.
The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, asked the United Nations to recognize an independent
Palestinian State on September 23. The Security Council is now considering the request, but the
United States has already declared that it would veto the submission if it is brought to a vote.
Meanwhile, the United Nations Edurational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has
granted the Palestinians full membership on October 31, 2011. These developments might stretch
the relationship between Messianic believers and Palestinian Christians.
Expectations with regards to the future vary. Some observers do not expect any repercussions from
the revolts in the Arab world since the population in for instance Gaza is quite happy with Hamas.
Others suspect increasing influence from Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt will have its consequences
in the Palestinian Areas as well, especially resulting in increasing pressure for Christians.
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45. Kazakhstan
Kazakhstan is a member of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and
was its president in 2010. In order to make a good impression, the authorities in Kazakhstan
suspended a planned new law on religion which would have particularly harmed religious groups,
both Muslim and Christian, but of course also the smaller ones such as Jehovah Witnesses. Because
of this suspension the country dropped out of the WWL, ranking 52 last year. Observers from
several non-governmenta organizations (NGOs) warned that the country would pick up its planned
law once the government was out of the international focus again. These voices proved to be right
as in September 2011, two laws were passed by parliament, which further imposed restrictions on
religious rights, and which became effective in October 2011. Their titling show what they are
aiming at: “The Law on Religious Activity and Religious Associations,” the other one is an
accumulating law changing nine other laws touching upon religion. It is significant that the term
“freedom” does not appear in the titles, compared to its predecessor in 1992. No public
discussions were allowed and the government ignored all warnings from outside, including from
the OSCE. Regardless of this neglect of a befriended organization, the Council of Europe has invited
the country to become a full member of the “Commission for Democracy through Law”, better
known as “Venice Commission.” The laws seem to be aiming at curtailing extremist Islam (which
has off late begun to carry out attacks), but unregistered Christian churches come under attack,
too. Bigger churches, like the Russian Orthodox Church, seem to be less affected.
In connection with processing the new laws, the president stated: “We have to bring order to our
house. I believe you (the parliament) will approach this question seriously and we will all do what
needs to be done.” As in other Central Asian states, the laws require the re-registration of all
religious communities—an impossible hurdle for several smaller Christian communities. The system
with four levels of registration is very complicated; the process will be bureaucratic and
cumbersome. Unregistered religious activity is banned. Leading, participating in or financing
unregistered groups is a punishable offense. This has a great impact on those Christian groups that
refuse to register (like the Council of Baptist Churches), or those who do not pass the requirements
of the new registration procedure. The new amendments in the law will impose stiff punishment
on people who are involved in any way in such groups.
The different regulations are too numerous to list here. Every thinkable aspect of religious life will
be restricted: all materials face censorship, new places of worship need approval from local and
national government offices, founders of religious communities must be Kazakh citizens, and work
among the youth will definitely become more problematic.
The boost of 8.5 points in the WWL ranking was caused not only by the very harsh regulations of
the new laws. The government is determined to tackle all kinds of religion it considers as extremist,
including Christianity. Churches are thus likely to face serious consequences as they are a minority
and therefore easy targets. First signs coming in after the reporting period show that tough times
are ahead for believers: invited pastors are hindered to join conferences, first drafts outline the
upcoming censorship of religious literature and objects and Christian and other groups are asked
to report on a daily basis on their measures against religious extremism. If it follows this path, the
country will likely increase in ranking among the Central Asian countries on the WWL.
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46. Bahrain
“Unless all sides of the conflict agree to an inclusive dialogue in order to reach
meaningful reform, Bahrain is heading for prolonged and costly political
stalemate,” analyzes the International Crisis Group in its July 28, 2011, country
brief. Bahrain, where the majority Shiite population is demonstrating against the
Sunni government, is the scene of a hegemony competition between Saudi
Arabia, who sent its troops in support of the Bahraini government in order to
extinguish the spark of revolution coming from the Arab Spring, and Iran, whose
reaction up until now was limited to threatening rhetoric.
The Bahraini constitution declares that the religion of the State is Islam and that
‘the State guarantees the inviolability of worship, and the freedom to perform
religious rites and hold religious parades and meetings in accordance with the
customs observed in the country.’ Sharia (Islamic law) is a principal source for
legislation.
This mainly Shia-Islamic country is quite tolerant in general because of its
international position in banking and trade. There are two Christian bookshops
and several Christian hospitals. A considerable number of expatriate Christians
(mainly from South Asia) work and live in Bahrain and are relatively free to
practice their faith in private places of worship, but proselytizing Muslims is
illegal. While the number of compounds is limited, dozens of congregations must
use the same building. They are not allowed to advertise their services in Arabic,
but they can in English.
Traditionally, society is not tolerant towards converts from Islam to other religious
groups. Families and communities often banned them and sometimes subjected
converts to physical abuse. Muslim-ackground believers generally do not dare to
talk about their conversion and some of them believed it necessary to leave the
country permanently. Pressure comes mostly from family and community, to a
lesser extent from the state. Government persecution may have decreased in
general as they are preoccupied by remaining stability and crushing protests.
Bahrain holds position 46 in this year’s list, versus 45 last year. At the same time,
the total number of points increases slightly (from 28.5 to 31). The descent is
explained by the rise in points of other countries on the list. The reason for the
increase of points is that we received more information about the lack of freedom
for Muslims who want to change faith. Since the constitution declares Islam to be
the state religion and Islamic law as an important source of legislation, it implies
that Muslims are forbidden to change faith. MBBs are still considered Muslims by
the state and a legal challenge to this was not permitted.
In terms of religious freedom for Christians, Bahrain remains one of the most
liberal countries of the Arabian Peninsula.
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47. Colombia
Colombia is a country with multiple realities. Formally, Colombia is a modern democratic
country where the rule of law is established and religious freedom is guaranteed. However,
large areas of the country are under the control of criminal organizations, drug cartels,
revolutionaries and paramilitary groups. The two consecutive governments of President Álvaro
Uribe were quite successful in weakening the influence of these groups, but these efforts did
not succeed in completely neutralizing their activities, which continue to threaten national
security. Open Doors’ research has revealed that criminal organizations are specifically
targeting Christians, and for this reason Colombia enters the WWL again.
Persecution of Christians, particularly by criminal organizations, is generally motivated by a
combination of two elements. Organized crime views Christians who openly oppose their
activities as a threat, especially when Christians get involved in social programs or in politics.
In addition, they know the Christian faith is not compatible with their ideals. They fear
Christians will influence members of the community or even members of their own
organizations to oppose their activities.
In its 2010 report, the Christian NGO Justapaz counts 95 death threats or attempted murders,
71 forced displacements, 17 homicides, 2 disappearances and many cases of beatings,
torture, kidnapping, and forced recruitment that specifically targets Christians. According to
this information, criminal organizations are responsible for close to 90% of these incidents.
Our reports counted a total 5 cases of Christians that were martyred in 2011, but the real
numbers are probably much higher because of the ongoing armed conflict in the country. In
February, a pastor and two of his relatives were killed in the town of Dibulla, Guajira by
rightwing rebel groups in retaliation for the growing number of believers and to stop fasting
and prayer meetings. On March 5, Pastor George Ponton of the Evangelical Christian Church
of Colombia in the Cauca department was poisoned by indigenous leaders. Two missionaries
working for the World Missionary Movement Church were killed in September by illegal
militias.
In Colombia, probably the most persecution suffered by the rural Christian indigenous
population (no reliable numbers available) comes from the alliances that exist between
“pagan” (non-Christian) indigenous populations and paramilitary groups. These pagan
indigenous populations receive material support from paramilitary organizations to persecute
indigenous Christians. Paramilitary organizations (FARC and others) mislead these indigenous
groups, telling them that their Christian brothers are a threat to their culture and traditions.
In fact, the FARC uses indigenous populations as an advance army to terrorize the indigenous
Christians.
Indigenous territories in Colombia are protected by a national law that gives them autonomy.
Because of this autonomy, government security forces (police and military) are not allowed to
enter these territories. The indigenous territories are administrated by indigenous
organizations, but these are so weak that they are being infiltrated by guerrillas. Because
there is virtually no government presence nor enforcement of the rule of law, these territories
have become a safe haven for the guerrillas drug trafficking activities. This situation
contributes to the persecution of Christians.
In Colombia, the security situation continues to improve due to the capture of two FARC high
commanders in 2009 and another earlier this year. However, violence in Colombia is structural
and in areas where the government has lost control of public security, drug cartels and illegal
armed groups continue to operate with impunity. Christians will continue to be targeted for
persecution because of their presence as an alternative pillar of society and their witness
through their involvement in social and political activities.
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48. Kyrgyzstan
The decrease in rank this year doesn’t mean that the situation of the Christian minority has
improved. This is clearly shown by the fact that it even increased slightly in points. But as there
are three newcomers on the list overtaking it and the considerable deterioration of
persecution in Indonesia has to be kept in mind, Kyrgyzstan slid down the list.
The country lived through a troublesome political time as its old regime was toppled, giving
the interim government the difficult task of shaping future change. Though Kyrgyzstan is still
in a transitional period, the first truly democratic elections in the whole Central Asian region
were carried out at the end of October 2011. There were some irregularities but the elections
remained peaceful and brought a new president into office. Whether these changes will bring
the Christian minority relief is another question. The new president has already announced
that he will concentrate on uniting the country. Recalling the violent ethnic clashes with the
Uzbek community in the south of Kyrgyzstan back in 2010, without doubt this is important for
the country. But this idea is somewhat flawed as in other Asian and Central Asian states
policies focusing on unity and social harmony are used for harassing and harming minorities
including Christians. It is possible that Christians may come under similar pressure in
Kyrgyzstan.
The strict laws on religion introduced in 2009 are still in force. Conversion to Christianity is not
allowed which makes life for the small number of MBBs difficult. As in other Central Asian
countries, the laws distinguish between registered and unregistered communities, while
creating almost insurmountable hurdles for the Christian churches to get registration—bigger
churches like the Russian Orthodox Church are less affected. Literature and other materials are
censored and Christian education for children even for registered communities is limited.
Believers face being physically harmed and attacked and their meeting places and homes also
come under attack. MBBs receive pressure from family, friends and neighborhood. There are
also reports that Christians are monitored not only by the state, but also by Islamic clergy and
mahalla (“neighborhood”) committees.
Kyrgyzstan is at a turning-point in its history. The first free and fair elections have given the
opportunity to grant minorities legal standing, be they ethnic or religious minorities. However,
the public attitude in society points rather to ongoing discrimination, combined with disregard
for believers’ freedom by government.
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49. Bangladesh
In the World Watch List 2012, Bangladesh dropped three places although the
persecution situation remains essentially unchanged (even the points
remained the same).
On June 20, 2011, the government of Bangladesh decided to retain Islam as
the state religion. The government is proposing amendments to its
constitution, but says the proposed changes won't affect the legal system.
Inheritance and other family laws are already based on religion. The new
proposals seek to restore certain aspects of secularism, but for the Christian
minority, little change is expected.
In general, believers have freedom to live according to their faith, but they
have to be careful, particularly when including Muslims who have converted
to the Christian faith. Local authorities and the Muslim majority may disturb
church meetings or put believers under pressure. There are also reports of
Christians being physically harmed and homes, or meeting places, attacked.
On the other hand, believers who stood trial in August were exonerated by
the court; they had been accused of “hurting religious sensibility” while
organizing a health camp. Another believer was also exonerated for
distributing Christian literature near a major Muslim gathering in March.
Though the hostile attitude of family, society and government is not so
obvious as in other Muslim countries and the influence of extremist Islam is
low-profile, the outlook for the Christian minority is mixed.
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50. Malaysia
Malaysia increased considerably with 4.5 points, making it again on this
year’s World Watch List. Conversion is only allowed for non-Malay citizens.
For three quarters of society, who are Malay, conversion is therefore illegal. In
five states, it is a criminal offense which can be punished by a fine or even a
jail term. The growing hostility towards believers is probably shown best by
the following two events: Islamic authorities unlawfully entered a church on
August 3, 2011 and harassed guests at a community dinner. At least 20
officers from the central Selangor state’s Islamic Affairs Department and
police entered a Methodist church’s hall without a warrant and took
photographs and videos of a dinner attended by more than 100 people.
According to a statement distributed by Malaysia’s main church
confederation, the officers claimed to have received an unspecified complaint
and recorded details of several Muslims at the dinner. Malaysian law restricts
conversion of Malay Muslims to other religions. This incident resulted in
rumors about a Christian plan to convert the whole country. This was
debated publically and resulted in a rally of 5,000 demonstrators against the
Christian minority. Although this number was far less than the organizers had
expected, the youth organizations of several parties represented in
parliament took part in the demonstrations.
The second event showing the changed attitude towards Christians was the
Prime Minister’s announcement on September 16, 2011 that there was to be
a “comprehensive review” of the Publications and Printing Presses Act.
Shortly afterwards, the Malaysian government announced that Malay-
language Bibles could be printed locally. Idris Jala of the Prime Minister’s
Department promised that there would be no restrictions on Malay-language
Bibles in Sabah and Sarawak states on Borneo. Jala however cautioned that
the books that were imported or printed in the West Coast (Peninsular
Malaysia) must carry the words “Christian publication” and bear the sign of
the cross on its front cover. The statement was seen as a government
compromise to soothe the anger of the Christian community over seized
shipments of Christian literature. This all goes to show that freedom for the
Christian minority is deteriorating. This is also supported by the fact that
there have been more reports of MBBs facing arrests and physical assaults.
All these incidents show that Malay believers face increasing hostility by
government and Islamic fundamentalists while established churches are
under threat.
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Islamic Extremism
the Main Persecutor of
Christians in 2011
The 2012 Open Doors World Watch List (WWL) has a familiar look to it, with
North Korea topping the List for the tenth time in succession as the country
where Christians face the severest persecution. Islamic majority countries are
represented most heavily on the list, however, providing nine of the top ten,
and thirty-eight out of the top fifty. Afghanistan (2), Saudi Arabia (3),
Somalia (4), Iran (5), and the Maldives (6) form a block where indigenous
Christians have almost no freedom to believe at all. For the first time Pakistan
(10) entered the top ten after a tumultuous year when the highest ranking
Christian in the land, Cabinet Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, was assassinated on
March 2nd, 2011 for his attempts to change the blasphemy law. The rest of
the top ten is comprised of Iraq (9), Yemen (8) and Uzbekistan (7)—the
central Asian republic that fines, raids, and jails unregistered Christians.
The largest risers on the 2012 WWL are three countries—Nigeria (13), up
from 23, Egypt (15) up from 19, and Sudan (16), up from 35. In all three
cases, increased Islamic extremism is the culprit. Nigeria continues to be the
country where the worst atrocities in terms of loss of life occur, with over 300
Christians losing their lives this year, though the true number is thought to be
far higher. Since 2009 over fifty churches and ten pastors have been killed by
an extreme Islamic group called Boko Haram, literally translated as “western
learning is forbidden.” This group became increasingly more violent across
the reporting period. After the election of a Christian President in April,
extremists went on the rampage and slaughtered 170 Christians. Some of
the states in northern Nigeria have adopted sharia law in recent years which
causes greater tension with the local Christians, as they now feel they have a
second class status.
Two countries re-entered the recent WWL—Kazakhstan (45), and Colombia
(47). The huge central Asian republic elevated itself into the WWL thanks
significantly to the passage of an invasive and restrictive religion law, which
requires the re-registration of all religious communities, and will virtually
make youth work illegal and put all religious acts under the eyes of the
government. Unfortunately, Kazakhstan is merely following the path already
trod by its central Asian neighbours. Colombia was virtually a permanent
member of the WWL previously, particularly with the left wing insurgency
movements such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), or
the National Libveration Army (ELN), as well as paramilitary groups targeting
Christian pastors. These movements have branched into narco-trafficking,
and Christian leaders that will not cooperate in the drug trade are targeted
for assassination. Five were killed this year, and it is thought the number
could be as high as twenty.
Despite or perhaps because of these rising trends, the Church of Jesus Christ
in most of the world overcomes. As a pastor in a Gulf state confided, “When
we suffer, we bring a credibility to the gospel that cannot be ignored,
because we show that Christ is worth it, and that is the secret of growth
under persecution.”
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