Friday, March 15, 2013

Moros take the battle to Sabah. Having already lost their liberty, Sabah's Christians now face losing their peace.

By Elizabeth Kendal

Between 9th and 12th February 2013, as many as 235 ethnic Tausug from the Southern Philippines landed on the coast of eastern Sabah at Masjid Lama, near Lahad Datu, many armed with assault rifles and grenade launchers. Led by Raja Muda Azzimudie Kiram, the brother of the Sultan of Sulu, Jamalul Kiram III, the militants claimed to be members of the Royal Sulu Army.

Initially the Malaysian government tread softly, asking the "intruders" to put down their arms and leave peacefully. The Tausug militants defiantly declined and a stand-off ensued. Eventually, after a fire-fight left at least six Malaysian policemen dead -- some reportedly beheaded -- Malaysia responded with force, deploying fighter jets in a full-blown air assault that killed at least 56 of the Filipino "terrorists".

Across the Moro-dominated southern Philippines, the Malaysian response has been branded an "atrocity". The fact that the Philippine's government has supported the Malaysian "atrocity" has further inflamed Moro hostility towards Manila.

Stratfor Global Intelligence (26 Feb) elaborates: "One of myriad ethnic groups spread across Southeast Asia, the Tausug are centered in Jolo in the Sulu Archipelago but stretch from Malaysia and Indonesia on Borneo to Mindanao in the southern Philippines. The territory comprises what was once the Sultanate of Sulu, and the group has claimed it does not need to leave Malaysian territory because it is still part of the Sultanate.

"[The Tausugs] are traditionally maritime people who claim Islam came to the area by the 1300s and that the first Islamic sultanate of Sulu was established in the mid-1400s by a member of the Hashemite family and a direct descendent of the Prophet Mohammed. In the 1870s, the sultanate leased its territory in Sabah on Borneo to the British, and the British passed the territory on to Malaya. Malaysia still pays a nominal 'rent' to the Sulu Sultanate -- currently less than $2,000 per year -- and this is being shown as proof by the current Sulu Sultan that even Malaysia recognized Sulu sovereignty over Sabah."

Whether Malaysia's annual payment to the Sultan is for rental or purchase of Sabah remains a hotly contested issue.  Consequently, impoverished and marginalised oil-rich Sabah is contested territory!


In 1967, plotters within the Philippine military associated with President Ferdinand Marcos conspired to establish a force of commandos that would invade and destabilise Sabah giving the Philippine government grounds to intervene in Sabah on the pretext of protecting Filipinos living there. To this end some 200 Tausug and Sama Filipino Muslims from Sulu and Tawi-Tawi were recruited, armed and trained -- wooed with promises of an allowance and eventual accession into the Philippine Armed Forces. The commando unit was named Jabidah. Initial training was conducted in the island-town of Simunul in Tawi-Tawi. Then, on 30 Dec 1967, the recruits were sent to the island of Corregidor in Luzon for "specialised training."

A few months later everything unravelled when the Tausug and Sama Muslims learned they would have to fight and kill fellow Muslims in Sabah, possibly even their own Tausug and Sama relatives.  When the Muslims mutinied, the Philippine soldiers decided to eliminate them. The exact number of how many Muslim recruits were executed in Corregidor is unknown. The Moro struggle was born!
By Paul F. Whitman

Founded by Nur Misuari in 1969, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) waged jihad against the Philippine government for independence of the Bangsamoro people in Southern Philippines. Headquartered in Sabah through the 1970s, the MNLF received backing from Malaysia.

In 1976 the MNLF and Manila agreed to a provisional peace accord -- the sides have been negotiating ever since.

Included in those negotiations has been the Philippine claim over Sabah. While Manila seems keen to drop the issue the MNLF is not. The Moros (Filipino Muslims) have strong ethnic ties to Sabah. And as part of the historic Sultanate of Sulu, Sabah has always been included in MNLF's territorial demands.

Manila has never renounced its claim to Sabah but has used the claim as leverage to win Malaysian support in brokering peace with the more hardline Islamist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) which split from the MNLF in 1978 to continue the jihad. Meanwhile Malaysia has used role as mediator in the MILF conflict for domestic political gain, promoting itself as the defender of the rights of Philippine Muslims.

Every Philippine government wants to go down in history as the government that brokered peace in the south. President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's hasty 2008 deal collapsed under the weight of its own flaws and President Benigno S. Aquino III's hasty and flawed Oct 2012 Framework Agreement was always going to lead to conflict. For by brokering an agreement with the MILF that totally undermined the agreement already held with the MNLF the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) made conflict inevitable.

Indeed, the crisis in Sabah has its roots in the ill-fated "Framework Agreement" struck last October between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).


Noel Tarrazona reports for Asia Times on line of a "Quiet quid pro quo".

"In an apparent non-disclosed component of the MILF peace deal, Manila agreed to drop its historical claim to territories in Sabah in exchange for the establishment of a Philippine consulate in Sabah, according to a source familiar with the provision. Revelations of the concession to Malaysia reportedly infuriated Kiram [the sultan] and the MNLF leadership, according to the same source. Manila has cooperated with Kuala Lumpur throughout the crisis and pressured Kiram to recall his followers.

"Kiram, who resides in Manila and reportedly suffers from diabetes, has so far defied those official demands while his family members have issued new threats. After Malaysia's assault on his rag tag royal militia, Princess Celia Fatima Kiram warned of a 'long civil war' in Sabah. Kiram's apparent strong links to the MNLF, once the country's largest rebel group with 15,000 under arms and increasingly disenchanted with Manila, give weight to that threat.

"MNLF leaders have spoken out forcefully in the wake of the assaults. MNLF Islamic Council Committee Chairman Habib Hashim Mudjahab said on Tuesday [5 March] that he could no longer hold back his people from traveling to Sabah to defend their ethnic brethren from Malaysian forces. 'We are hurt and many of our people, even non-combatants are going to Sabah to sympathize with the Sultanate,' Mudjahab said.

"MNLF political chief officer Gapul Hajirul warned that the signs of a civil war are already apparent in Sabah, referring apparently to the militant ambush on police forces in Semporna. The attack indicated to some observers that an underground Tausug movement is already organized and undertaking insurgent operations in Sabah. 'I am afraid there will be civil war in Sabah because thousands of Bangsamoro (Filipino Muslims) are residing in Sabah,' Hajirul said without elaborating.

"MNLF leader Nur Misuari told reporters on Tuesday that if Malaysia targets Filipinos based in Sabah his group would consider it 'tantamount to a declaration of war.' He also warned Philippine President Benigno Aquino that any attempt to arrest Kiram would plunge the country into chaos. . ."

SEE: Threats of a wider war in Sabah
By Noel Tarrazona, Asia Times on line, 7 March 2013

Ida Lim (The Malaysian Insider, 2 March 2013) similarly warns of the danger of escalation.

"The Lahad Datu standoff could widen into a civil war engulfing Sabah, a Philippine separatist leader has warned as a Muslim rebel army moved to entrench itself in the Borneo state. . ."

She too quoted Hajirul: "I am afraid there will be a civil war in Sabah because thousands of Bangsamoro are residing in Sabah. It's only MNLF chairman Nur (Misuari) who could decide on the matter. Whatever his decision, we will follow. Our Tausug brothers and sisters of Sulu and the Samals in Tawi-Tawi were saddened and are hurting by the turn of the events."

Lim notes that the news portal the Philippine Star estimates that more than 8,500 Filipinos, mostly Tausugs or Suluk tribesmen, are residing in Sabah and are potential supporters of the Sultanate of Sulu.

Observers largely agree that the ultimate purpose of the invasion of "a few boatloads of bandits, cannot conceivably be to claim Sabah by force". On the contrary, it is widely believed that the Sultan and MNFL have merely manufactured a crisis at a strategic moment -- virtually on the eve on Malaysia's federal elections (due by June) -- so as to leverage themselves into the on-going GRP - MILF negotiations. 

Malaysian commentators have lambasted the Malaysian government: "This Umno-led effort [mediating peace between the GRP and MILF] is clearly making a grand show of Muslim solidarity, in a desperate attempt to secure Malay-Muslim votes in the peninsula, as well as Muslim Filipino and Indonesian migrants' votes in Sabah.

"Umno's botched attempt at brokering a peace deal in the southern Philippines has cost us heavily: hundreds of Sabahan villagers along the east coast have been made refugees, eight (or more) policemen have lost their lives, and Sabah has been drawn ever deeper into the conflict in the southern Philippines. . . "

Meanwhile, Philippine president Benigno Aquino III is also paying a heavy price in Philippine media for appearing to sanction the foreign use of deadly force against Philippine rebels seen to be making a legitimate claim to what they regard as their historic homeland.


When Sabah joined Sarawak, Malaya and Singapore to form independent Malaysia in 1963, it was on the conditions of a 20-point agreement that included the following: There should be no state religion and the provisions relating to Islam in Federal Constitution should not apply; and, English should be the official language for all purposes without limitation of time.

Donald Stephens, a Kadazan-Dusun Christian who played an important role in bringing Sabah into Malaysia, became the first Chief Minister.

According to the National Evangelical Christian Fellowship (NECF) Malaysia, "before 1963, Sabah and Sarawak were guided by their native customs and by British laws. The influence of Islam was marginal."

At that time Sabah was a multi-ethnic, plural state, with the predominantly Christian Kadazan-Dusun being the largest ethnic group, comprising around 32 percent. (Today they comprise about 17.8 percent.)

However, from 1967, under the chief ministership of Mustapha Datu Harun, policies were enacted  to unify the peoples of Sabah through the imposition of one language, Bahasa Malaysia, and one religion, Islam. The United Sabah Islamic Association, funded by the government, was established with the specific task of conversion. Mass conversion particularly in the rural areas became the norm. Rumours had it that the government applied pressure and resorted to bribery to obtain converts to Islam. Mustapha used his emergency powers to expel all expatriate Christian missionaries on the grounds that they perpetuated an imperialist mentality.

By 1973, Islam had been made the official religion of the state and Bahasa Malaysia had been adopted as the state's sole official language.

When UMNO entered state politics in Sabah in the1990s, it opened the floodgates for mass immigration and naturalisation of Muslims from Indonesia and Southern Philippines, essentially "to weaken the indigenous Kadazan-Dusun Christians and to enhance UMNO powerbase" (NECF). This systematic granting of citizenship to immigrants was known as Project IC (for Identity Card) or Project M (for Mahathir Mohamad). (See: Project IC's Chickens coming home to roost, Malaysiakini, 3 March.)

Today local Sabahans are a minority in Sabah. Asrul Hadi Abdullah Sani wrote of this July 2010, quoting MP Lim Kit Siang: "After 47 years, Sabahans are now concerned that they have become the minority and strangers in their own land. How can Sabah's population of 400,000 during the formation of Malaysia in 1963 be now multiplied to over three million today?" [That figure includes up to 1.7 million migrants (Nov 2007): NECF.]

Furthermore, religious liberty is now illusory. David Fung writes: "In Sabah, since 1978 it has been an offence for anyone to propagate any religious doctrine or belief without the permission of the Sabah Majlis Ugama Islam among Muslims, and the offence shall be tried before the magistrate's court and punishable with imprisonment of up to one year or a fine up to RM3,000 or both.

"Attempted apostasy out of the religion of Islam is apparently also an offence for the Muslim who has shown by word or conduct that he or she intentionally claims to cease to profess Islam or declares himself or herself to be a non-Muslim.

"The syariah court has the power to order that the apostate (murtad) be detained in the Islamic Rehabilitation Centre for a maximum period of 36 months on the pretext of rehabilitating the person so that the person could repent of the attempted apostasy."

For more on the Islamisation of Sabah, see:

The broken oath and Sabah’s ‘curse’
In Sabah pressure to convert to Islam 'was particularly great on those in politics'.
By David Fung (a Sabah based advocate and solicitor), 3 January 2012.

Sabah: A report by the national Evangelical Christian Fellowship (NECF) Malaysia.


Over the decades the Malaysian government has been so focused on winning Muslim votes and importing Muslim vote-cattle that they failed to consider the long-term consequences.

Rowan Callick, Asia-Pacific Editor for The Australian (9 March), describes the Sabah conflict the latest battleground of "blowback" - "where people who are trained for covert action return to bite the hand of the people who have fed and armed them."

Ramon Tulfo, Philippine Daily Inquirer (20 Feb), describes "the whole saga [as] a case of 'karma' on Malaysia".

Tolfu writes: "Malaysia is in a no-win situation as a result of the standoff in Sabah.

"If it uses deadly force on a small group of armed Filipino Muslims now holed up in the village of Tanduo in Lahad Datu town in Sabah, members of the fiercest of Philippine Moro tribe, the Tausogs of Sulu and Tawi-Tawi, will retaliate.  . . .

"There is no record of the number of Filipinos, mostly Tausogs, in Sabah. But a friend of mine who used to be in the Philippine military intelligence estimates that one-third of the population in the Malaysian state is Tausog.

"Many of the people in Sulu and Tawi-Tawi have relatives in Sabah, which is just one hour by speedboat from Simunul in Tawi-Tawi.

"If the Tausogs in Sabah rise up in revolt against the Malaysian government, their relatives in Sulu and Tawi-Tawi will go to Sabah and fight with them.

"To the Tausogs, the claim of the group purporting to represent the Sultanate of Sulu that Sabah belongs to the sultanate is legitimate."

Doubtless presenting a Western perception, The Economist (23 Feb), reports: "The sultan, Jamalul Kiram III . . . is now a merely symbolic figure. His claim to Sabah is a romantic fantasy, yet one that grips the imagination of those hoping for another golden [Islamic] era."

In contrast, Tulfo (a Filipino journalist) maintains: "The Sulu Sultanate, long dormant and somewhat forgotten because of the war waged by the Tausog-led MNLF against the government, is still revered by Moros in Sulu and Tawi-Tawi.

"Tausogs respect the Sultan of Sulu in much the same way Malaysians pay homage to their royal family.

"If harm is done to Rajah Mudah Agbimuddin Kiram, brother of Sultan Jamalul Kiram, who ordered the Mudah Agbimuddin to enter Sabah, his fellow Tausogs in Sabah and in Sulu and Tawi-Tawi will take up arms against the Malaysian government. . .

"My source in Sulu said that even before the landing of 200 men in Lahad Datu last week [early-mid Feb], the Sultanate had already sent armed men in small groups to Sabah to escape notice from authorities. The armed groups are being coddled by Tausogs in the Malaysian state. . ."

Tulfo concludes: "When the (Philippines) government was fighting the MNLF (Moro National Liberation Front) in the 1970s through the 1980s, Malaysia was secretly supporting the rebellion in the South.

"Weapons coming from Libya and other Middle East countries passed through Malaysia on their way to the MNLF.

"Now, it seems the shoe is on the other foot.

"The law of karma is being played out."

Kuala Lumpur-based political analyst Nile Bowie writes for Asia Times on line (12 March): "The Philippine government under President Benigno Aquino has sided with Malaysia and reiterated its call to Kiram's followers to surrender to prevent further bloodshed. Aquino has spoken of punishing the sultan and his men for masterminding the armed rebellion in Sabah, prompting a domestic backlash that threatens fragile peace deals with separatist militant groups sympathetic to Kiram's cause. . .

"Nur Misuari, leader of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), warned the Aquino government of chaos if Kiram is arrested or his men apprehended. . .

"At a recent press conference, Misuari stated, '. . . [If] there is an attempt even to arrest the sultan, I understand. Let them do that. The country will be in total chaos if they do, I promise you'."

Bowie concludes: "As many Filipinos categorize the actions taken by Malaysia as 'atrocities', a credible threat exists in the prospect of a wider war if MNLF soldiers establish a foothold in Sabah. While [Malaysian Prime Minister] Najib's position will likely remain firm, the risks are rising of a wider crisis as security forces engage militants and reports from the front stir nationalistic passions."

Underneath all this is Sabah's longsuffering Christian community. Having already lost their liberty, Sabah's Christians must be wondering if they are about to lose their peace. 


Elizabeth Kendal is the author of
Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah SPeaks to Christians Today
(Deror Books, Dec 2012)

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Deepening divide leaves Pakistan staring into the abyss.

by Elizabeth Kendal

On Tuesday 19 February 2013, a senior police official confirmed to Agence France-Presse (AFP) that authorities had launched an investigation into blasphemy allegations against Pakistan's Ambassador to the USA, Shehrbano "Sherry" Rehman, on order from Pakistan's Supreme Court. 

See: Sherry Rehman, Pakistani Ambassador to the U.S., to be investigated for blasphemy.
By Hunter Stuart, The Huffington Post, 21 Feb 2013

The Supreme Court of Pakistan admitted the petition against Rehman on Thursday 17 January 2013. The petition was heard by a two-judge bench comprising Justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali and Justice Ejaz Afzal who directed City Police Officer Multan Amir Zulfiqar to take action in accordance with the law.

Multan's senior police superintendent, Ghulam Shabbir Jafri, confirms that the case has been registered and evidence is being collected.

As Farhan Bokhari reports for CBS News (21 Feb 2013): "The case promises to unleash another clash between conservative Muslims who vehemently back the country's Islamic laws, and those who dare to challenge them as outdated and in need of reform. . .

"The case also puts President Asif Ali Zardari's already-embattled government in an awkward position, as it tries to balance its own liberal leanings with continued pressure from conservative Islamic parties and regional populations that want the Islamic laws enforced strictly. It is added pressure that the governing Pakistan People's Party -- to which Zardari and Rehman both belong -- does not need with parliamentary elections expected in May.

"'This case is a powerful reminder of the internal divisions in Pakistan that have already caused much harm to this country,' a Western diplomat told CBS News on Thursday [21 Feb]. 'Given how divided Pakistan remains, it's practically impossible for President Zardari's government to either defend or oppose this case.'"

In an opinion piece for Pakistan's Daily Times, writer and advocate Qasim Rashid commences by noting that Ambassador Sherry Rehman's twitter bio declares: "Will take a bullet for the motherland but hope our children don't have to." Rashid then asks: "But what is an ambassador to do when that bullet comes from Pakistan and strikes her in the back?

"Last week, Pakistan took the unprecedented step and charged their own ambassador with blasphemy — a crime that carries the consequence of fine, prison time, and even execution. As Rehman valiantly fights to improve her nation's image, implores the US that her country is moderate and tolerant, and courageously defends Pakistan’s domestic and foreign policy, the motherland — of all places — proves her wrong."

Rashid comments that the "state-sanctioned persecution of Rehman is not a surprise; it is an inevitability and just the latest in a long trend."

Rashid notes that Pakistan has a history of state complicity in the persecution of Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, Ahmadis, as well as moderate reform-minded Muslims. He holds the Supreme Court responsible for the escalation in deadly violence, noting that in 1992, in the case of Zaheerudin v State, the Supreme Court ruled: "The [Ahmadis] who are non-Muslims want to pass off their faith as Islam? . . . [a] [Muslim] believer...will not tolerate a Government, which is not prepared to save him of such deceptions or forgeries. . ." Rashid asserts that with these words, the Supreme Court not merely champion the draconian blasphemy law, but it "figuratively shot its own constitution".

"And now," he asks, "as Pakistan shoots its own ambassador in the back, who will take a bullet for Sherry Rehman?"

Rashid pleads: "No other logical choice exists but to unite as one community against religious discrimination, oppression of conscience, and violence. As long as Pakistan's blasphemy law lives, those who stand up for freedom and tolerance will continue to fall at the hands of the Supreme Court-endorsed extremists."

But Pakistan's pro-freedom advocates need far more than "unity as one community". They also need massive and united international support. Ultimately, they need divine intervention. 


The blasphemy petition against Ambassador Rehman has its roots in the Asia Bibi case.

On 8 November 2010, Christian woman Asia Bibi (45) was sentenced to death by hanging for allegedly blaspheming Islam's prophet, Muhammad. The sentence left Asia, her husband, Aashiq Fauji Masih (51), and their five children totally shattered.

See: Christian woman sentenced to death in Pakistan 'for blasphemy'
By Rob Crilly in Islamabad and Aoun Sahi in Lahore, The Telegraph, 9 Nov 2010

Member of the National Assembly (MNA) Shehrbano "Sherry" Rehman was one of three eminent Pakistani leaders -- along with Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti -- to rise in defence of Asia Bibi and challenge Pakistan's infamous blasphemy law.

After Asia Bibi's death sentence was handed down, Rehman submitted a bill to the National Assembly Secretariat seeking an end to the death penalty under the existing blasphemy law.

On 30 November 2010, she spoke publically against the death sentence, criticising the blasphemy law in an interview aired on a private television channel.

On 4 January 2011, Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab province, was assassinated in Islamabad.   by one of his own security guards, the Islamist Mumtaz Qadri. Outside the court, the assassin Qadri was lionised and celebrated, not only by bearded Islamists, but by suit-clad lawyers

As threats mounted against Sherry Rehman, her own party, the Pakistan People's Party, pressured her to back down.  In February 2011, the then prime minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani, categorically stated that the government had no intention of amending the blasphemy law, leaving Rehman with no option other than to drop her bill.

On 2 March 2011, Shahbaz Bhatti, Federal Minister for Minorities Affairs and the only Christian in the Cabinet, was assassinated in a supposedly secure area of Islamabad.  Islamic militant group Tehreek-e-Taliban proudly claimed responsibility. In pamphlets found near the assassination Tehreek-e-Taliban stated, "Anyone who criticizes the blasphemy law has no right to live."  Two years on -- after one attempt to whitewash the killing -- no one has been tried for Bhatti's murder.

On 23 November 2011, after months of death threats, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani appointed Sherry Rehman to the position of Ambassador to the United States where she should presumably be safe from Islamist retaliation.

Shahid Ghauri, leader and spokesman for the Tehreek-e-Taliban, lambasted the appointment claiming Rehman was unfit for such a post on the grounds that "she tried to abolish the country's blasphemy laws."

"We are not satisfied with Sherry Rehman appointment because she is not fair with Islam or the country," he said while accusing her of spying for the US and advancing Jewish agendas. 

That same day, Multan businessman Fahim Akhtar Gill filed a petition in the Multan Bench of the Lahore High Court against the appointment of Rehman as Pakistan's Ambassador to the US claiming that in the course of her November 2010 televised interview -- where she criticised Pakistan's blasphemy law -- Rehman herself made comments that were tantamount to blasphemy.

Western diplomats assured CBS news that the case should not put Rehman in any danger, as she is outside of Pakistan.

However, a guilty verdict would leave Sherry Rehman unable to return to her homeland. Furthermore, a guilty verdict could be as effective as a fatwa, leaving her unsafe anywhere in the world. Should this happen, Sherry Rehman would doubtless join the growing list of noble and courageous defenders of freedom being forced to live their lives under suffocating police protection. 

Meanwhile, supporters of assassin Mumtaz Qadri continue to call for his release, or at least that he be tried in the Federal Shariat Court instead of Islamabad High Court (IHC) so the matter can be decided "in the light of teachings of Quran and Sunnah". Clearly they are confident that Islam would legitimise the killing and acquit the assassin. If this is permitted -- if Qadri is tried in the Federal Shariat Court on the spurious grounds that the killing of blasphemers is a matter pertaining to Islam and therefore must be decided according to Sharia -- then the future survival of Pakistan's minorities would be very tenuous indeed.

And after nearly four years in jail, Asia Bibi still has no word on whether she will be able to appeal her death sentence.  (Voice of the Martyrs Petition)

The battle for Pakistan continues.


On Saturday 9 March, up to 7000 local Muslims looted and burnt more than 160 homes, 18 shops and two churches in Joseph Colony -- a Christian colony in Badami Bagh, Lahore, in response to a blasphemy allegation.

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 201 | Wed 13 Mar 2013
By Elizabeth Kendal


Elizabeth Kendal is author of
Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today
(Deror Books, Dec 2012)

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Sudan: a campaign of systematic persecution; laws being drafted

The following is a translation of an article that appeared on the Sudan news site Al-Rakoba on 7 Feb 2013. After examining the evidence the writer concludes that the attacks on churches and Christians now escalating in Sudan are not isolated events, but part of a systematic campaign. This, he says, raises concerns about the status of Christians in the new Sudan.

Christian Sudanese: isolated events or systematic attack?
by Abdel-Qadir Mohamed,  7 Feb 2013 (in Arabic)

On a near daily basis, the newspapers are circulating news about the detention of Sudanese and foreign Christians. The last was the report in Al-Mijhar Newspaper on the arrest last week of a Sudanese Christian who owns and runs a factory in the city of Shendi. He was arrested by Criminal Investigation agents who accused him of abducting a Muslim woman. The source [for Al-Mijhar] also expressed concerns that the young woman might have been "Christianised".

Another report, brought by Al-Qarar Newspaper last week, claimed that the Security Panel has stopped an international missionary network run by a Canadian woman in co-operation with foreigners of various nationalities. A similar story circulated by the media in early January telling that a young Muslim woman studying at a University in Khartoum had disappeared in mysterious circumstances, though later it was discovered that she had converted to Christianity and migrated to Egypt with the help of undisclosed parties. At the same time the AFP quoted an official in the Coptic Church, without revealing his identity, who confirmed, 'The Sudanese Authorities have arrested two church priests after they baptised a Muslim woman who converted to Christianity'. In the meantime, a group calling itself Al-Qaeda in the Nilien States issued a statement in which they threatened Sudanese Copts with reprisal unless they released the woman they claim had been kidnapped and Christianised. [For more detail see RLPB 198]

In addition to the news circulating in the media, a parallel message surfaced from the Imams of the mosques. The speaker of "Mugamaa Al-Nour Al-Islami", Mr. Essam Ahmed Al-Bashir, claimed that "organisations and agents, at home and abroad, are working to deviate the youth". He advocated "fighting the dens that spreads vice, by the means of taking control". Though he did not mention any particular organisation, he stressed that there are "organisations working unregulated at christianising people". It is known that Sudan, until recent times, had a law known as the Missionary Institutions Law which restricted the movements of Christians and their religious freedom, but the law was abolished in 1994. It seems that Essam Al-Basir and other mosque Imams have began asking the government, which they are part of, to activate "laws" in the face what they have called Christianisation. It seems that a new law, addressing this matter, is presently cooking on low heat away from sight.

The rising wave of media attacks against Sudanese Christians has attracted attention, especially since mid 2012, but also a little before that, specifically in April last year when the wave reached its highest and Islamist extremists set fire in the evangelical church at Gerief West before demolishing it with a bulldozer. A church was also destroyed in Al-Haj-Youssif and yet no statement was issued by any official government body regarding the two events. Meanwhile, some of the activists said that the extremists who burned the church at Gerief had received their instructions from an extremist religious leader who is an Imam in a mosque at Gerief West and a member of the Institute of Sudanese scholars.

In related developments, the security authorities in Khartoum state have launched a campaign aimed at closing schools and colleges owned and run by Christians. Life College for teaching Arabic to non-Arabic speakers was closed on 15 January and the college director, who is a Christian Egyptian, was given 72 hours to leave the country. College property was confiscated and all its foreign students were given 48 hours to leave the country. Also closed was Kreedo Collage in Haj-Youssif where English language and Computer Sciences were taught. The college, which is owned and run by an American Christian, serves mostly Christian students who come from many different regions of Sudan. At the same time the authorities closed the Nile Valley Academy and Aslan Collage for teaching English and Computer Sciences. In most cases, the Government authorities have not provided any explanation for the closure of these institutes. According to trusted sources inside those institutes - all the institutes which have been closed and had their properties confiscated had the necessary permits and legal status qualifying them to operate.

The other side of the attack, which completes it, is the media coverage on the issue of Muslims converting to Christianity -- the thing the newspapers have called Christianisation. The biased coverage has brought unjustified violence and has failed to take into consideration the slightest respect for the people who adhere to the Christian religion or to their religious feelings.

Needless to say that the media coverage by the majority of the newspapers condemns Christianisation and wants it punished as the Sudanese criminal law provides: "Whoever abuses publicly or insults, in any manner, any of the religions, or its rituals, or its beliefs, or its sanctities, or incites contempt or humiliation to its adherents is to be punished by imprisonment for a period not exceeding 6 months or by fine or by flogging that shall not not exceed 40 lashes." (Article 125 - the Sudanese Criminal Law).

It is apparent - from the hostile tone of the pro-government newspapers and Imams - that the matter constitutes a systematic attack and not isolated or unrelated events unconnected to each other, giving rise to concerns about the status of Sudanese Christians and their exposure to a new wave of persecution.

Christians have suffered more than others under the current government which has called for jihad and religious war against rebel movements that were simply demanding their natural right to development.

The suffering of Sudanese Christians has continued from the transitional period until this day; Christians are not allowed to build a new church in Sudan today, and according to Christian sources, the last church built in the north of Sudan was built 23 years ago!!

The Sudanese Government should remember that "Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance." (Universal Declaration of Human Rights - Article 18)

Also, the Government should remember that it is under international obligation to ensure and protect the right to freedom of religion in accordance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which guarantees this right.


Elizabeth Kendal is the author of
Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today
(Deror Books, Dec 2012)