Whatever you think of the uprisings in the Middle East, some lawless groups have used them to further their foul ends. Christians and church leaders have come under attack in Egypt in recent days. On Wednesday 23 February, church leader Dawoud Botrous was found stabbed to death inside his home in Assuit. That same day, Egyptian armed forces stormed the 5th century St Bishoy monastery in Wadi el-Natroun, 110km from Cairo. Eight Christians were wounded and rushed to hospital. Armed forces stormed the main entrance gate using tanks and a bulldozer to demolish a fence erected by the monastery for protection against lawlessness during the civil unrest in January. One of the monks said, “The army was shocked to see the monks standing there praying, ‘Lord have mercy’ without running away. This is what really upset them... As the soldiers were demolishing the gate and the fence they were chanting ‘Allahu Akbar’"
Uzbekistan is one of the worst countries in Central Asia for religious freedom, and people of various faiths and denominations are regularly imprisoned for their religious activities. Christian leader David (Dmitri) Shestakov was released on 21 January after four years in prison but news has emerged that he has been placed under “administrative supervision”, which includes a curfew and a ban on visiting certain public places. In addition, he cannot leave his home city without prior police permission, and must report to the regional police at least three times a month. Local Christians fear the police will do all they can to bring another case against him and send him back to prison.
Thousands of women dressed in black brought the city of Jos, Plateau State, Nigeria, to a standstill on 1 February as they marched through the streets to protest against the on-going violence in Plateau State. The march took place after a series of attacks on Christian villages including one incident where five people died after a group of Muslims attacked six villages overnight on 27 January. Christians have also come under attack in Bauchi State where a large explosive device was discovered under a pew at a church in Bauchi Town on 30 January. The street was blocked off by police and the device defused by the bomb squad.
A group of militant Islamists went on the rampage in Indonesia on 8 February demanding the death penalty for a Christian convicted of “blaspheming Islam”. The mob set two churches ablaze and damaged a third. Antonius Richmond Bawengan (58) had been found guilty of distributing books and leaflets that allegedly “spread hatred about Islam” in Temanggung, Central Java, and was given the maximum sentence of five years in prison. Around 1,500 Muslims protested outside the courthouse, calling the sentence too lenient and demanding the death penalty. The crowd chanted “kill, kill” as they pelted the building with rocks.
The violence then spread to surrounding neighbourhoods, where the mob cried “burn, burn” as they targeted the churches. One minister, who saw his church go up in flames, was beaten up by the mob, and at least nine people were rushed to hospital with injuries. The protesters also threw rocks and other missiles at police, attacked a school building, and torched a number of vehicles. The violence came two days after three members of a minority Islamic sect were beaten to death by a Muslim lynch mob, who considered them to be heretics. Both these incidents took place as Indonesia started its “interfaith week”, when the country was meant to celebrate its religious diversity.
Hundreds of local Christians took to the streets in protest after police refused to register the suspected murder of a young Christian man in Gujranwala district, Punjab Province, Pakistan, on 6 February. The 24-year-old, who had been married for just eight months, failed to turn up for work as a driver on 5 February because of illness. When he returned to work the following day, he is said to have been tortured and killed by his Muslim employers. They told his father that he had committed suicide. Following the protests, police did register a murder case against three Muslim men, but it remains to be seen whether or not they will face prosecution for the offence.
A Pakistani church leader said that incidents against Christians are increasing at an alarming rate, especially in Central Punjab, with the perpetrators roaming freely after having killed or robbed. He added, “Most of them have not been reported because of the influence that powerful local landowners have in the areas, and the influence of local MPs. They hold police and judges in the palm of their hands... Christians are not safe.”