Global News from the Frontlines

February 9, 2005

Compass Direct is distributed monthly to raise awareness of Christians worldwide who are persecuted for their faith. Articles may be reprinted or edited by active subscribers for use in other media, provided Compass Direct is acknowledged as the source of the material.

Copyright 2005 Compass Direct





New Religious Law Promises Little Change

Tightened restrictions seek to control rapid religious growth.


Guerrillas Refuse to Return Remains of Murdered Priest

Catholic officials denied access to burial site of Father Francisco Montoya.

Prison Releases Evangelical Seminary Student

Luis Vera is under house arrest, working to clear his name.


Christian Director of Girls’ Home Put on Trial***

Coptic family refused custody of teenage runaway.

Safe-House Rescues Victimized Coptic Girls (Sidebar)


Government Cracks Down on Catholic Believers

Police target wedding parties in new arrests.


Arsonists Attack Christian School in Guwahati

School authorities say attackers were motivated by jealousy.

High Court in Gujarat to Review Murder Sentence against Christians

Defendants say police are biased in favor of Hindu fundamentalists.


Jailed Pastor Finally Produced in Court***

Christian convert is accused of deception, apostasy and proselytizing Muslims.


Kidnapped Archbishop Released Unharmed***

Abductors’ motives remain unclear.


Fresh Outbreak of Religious Violence in Plateau State

Muslim militants attack Christian community a month after state of emergency lifted.

Christians Criticize Government Report on Religious Violence

State officials warn of more attacks by Islamic militants in 2005.

Muslim Militants Target Expelled Christian Students***

Two students are in hiding after their families are attacked.

Peace-keeping Soldiers Kill Christian Woman

Kano family fears missing son killed while in custody.


Christian Accused of Blasphemy Acquitted***

Innocent defendant still forced to stay in hiding.

Enraged Muslim Chops off Christian’s Arm***

Death threats force victim into hiding.


Imprisoned Mennonites Appeal to People’s Supreme Court

Evidence emerges that church workers endure severe torture.

***Indicates an article-related photo is available electronically. Contact Compass Direct for pricing and transmittal.

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China’s New Religious Law Promises Little Change

Tightened restrictions seek to control rapid religious growth.

by Xu Mei

NANJING, January 17 (Compass) -- China has announced a new law governing the freedom of religion, which comes into effect on March 1.

The government first announced the new Religious Affairs Provisions on November 30, 2004, according to a mid-December report by the New China News Agency (NCNA). The NCNA, a government news agency, said the new law is regarded as “a significant step forward in the protection of Chinese citizens’ religious freedom.”

The NCNA further stressed that the new provisions are designed to “deal with new situations and issues that have emerged in recent years with China’s rapid socio-economic development.”

However, a detailed examination of the provisions shows that, with some minor exceptions, very little has changed in China’s religious policy. In fact, it appears some of the new regulations tighten existing restrictions.

The new law consists of 48 Articles, divided into seven sections titled General Principles, Religious Bodies, Religious Venues, Religious Personnel, Religious Finance and Property, Legal Responsibilities, and Addenda. They lay out a comprehensive system to control affairs for all religious believers in China.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) first established control over religion in the early 1950s, through its United Front Work Department and Religious Affairs Bureau -- recently renamed the State Administration for Religious Affairs.

The system ran aground during the chaos of the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), but was re-established between 1978 and 1979 and codified in Document 19 of the CCP Central Committee in 1982.

Now more than 20 years later, the new provisions re-affirm the dominance of the Communist Party and the mechanisms of control laid out in 1982.

Beijing’s overriding concern is clearly apparent in Article 3, which states, “Religious bodies, religious venues and believers must uphold the constitution, laws and regulations to safeguard national unity, harmony between the national minorities, and social stability.”

Over the past two decades, the rapid growth of religion has alarmed Party hardliners. Islamic separatism in Xinjiang, Buddhist nationalism in Tibet and Mongolia, the growth of Catholic and Protestant house churches, and the spread of religious cults such as Falun Gong and Lightning from the East, have all combined to place the control of religion at the top of the CCP’s agenda.

Indeed, in late October 2004 as officials prepared to announce the new law, bloody clashes broke out between Muslims and Han Chinese in Henan, China’s ancient rural heartland.

Beijing’s nervousness with its more than 20 million Muslim citizens is underlined by Article 43 of the new law, which authorizes the Religious Affairs department to “prohibit those who take it upon themselves to organize pilgrimages overseas.” This clause is obviously designed to prevent Chinese Muslims from traveling to Mecca.

According to Article 3, the State “protects normal religious activities.” However, “normal” and “abnormal” religious activities are not defined. The CCP reserves the right to make such distinctions.

Government registration for all religious organizations is re-affirmed in Articles 6, 12 and 15. For example, Article 12 states, “The collective religious activities of religious citizens must generally take place in religious venues which have been registered.”

Article 7 stresses continuing government control over religious publications. “Patriotic” or registered religious organizations are still restricted to printing limited numbers of religious books for their internal use.

Books with a religious content are still censored and must not promote “religious extremism.” Again, what is “extreme” is presumably defined by the CCP.

Article 19 stresses the supervisory role of state officials. “Religious venues must accept the supervision and investigation of the Religious Affairs departments.”

There are a few minor improvements in religious policy. For example, Article 15 orders local government to respond within 30 days to requests from religious believers to register a new church or temple.

If implemented, this may help Christian believers to cut through the often impenetrable thicket of bureaucracy when applying for official registration.

The rights of registered religious organizations to their property are also safeguarded, as is the right to proper compensation if religious buildings are demolished as part of China’s vast program of reconstruction, according to Articles 30 through 33.

Article 34 grants permission for registered religious organizations to “set up social service projects in accordance with the law.” Some Protestant and Catholic churches are already operating kindergartens, orphanages, old-people’s homes and clinics on a modest scale, but this provision should encourage expansion of these services.

However, the improvements are more than offset by new provisions to punish members of unregistered religious groups.

Article 43 reads, “Those who arbitrarily set up religious meetings, and religious meetings which after having had their registration cancelled continue to meet, as well as those who arbitrarily set up religious schools, will all be prohibited by the Religious Affairs departments which will confiscate their illegal gains such as illegal property.

“Non-religious bodies and non-religious organizations and venues which undertake religious activities and receive religious offerings will be ordered to stop by the Religious Affairs departments. If they have illegal gains, these will be confiscated. In serious circumstances, they can be fined two to three times the worth of what they have illegally gained.”

Article 43 could have serious repercussions for Chinese house churches. Many of these churches refuse to register for reasons of conscience; others who seek to register are sometimes turned down and thus placed in the illegal category.

Under these provisions, Christians who use their factories, shops or homes for unregistered worship meetings run the risk of losing their property.

Finally, Article 45 ambiguously states that those who “undertake religious activities masquerading as religious professionals will be ordered to stop by the Religious Affairs departments, and their illegal gains confiscated.”

This provision may be aimed at religious cults, but history shows that the government has used similar provisions to harass, arrest and even imprison unregistered Protestant and Catholic priests and teachers, simply because they operated outside the strict parameters of “patriotic” religious activities.

The NCNA claimed the government had spent six years drafting the new provisions, in consultation with “people in law, religion and human rights.”

However, it seems very doubtful that religious people outside the state-controlled patriotic associations were ever consulted. The results are likely to exacerbate tensions between state and party organs on the one hand, and religious communities and individuals on the other.

Religious life in China has mushroomed over the past 20 years and, as recent history has shown, the rigid Maoist framework laid down 50 years ago is no longer sufficient to control it.

The Chinese government has addressed this issue by tightening existing provisions. However, their approach seems to ignore the dynamics of a rapidly-changing China.

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Colombian Guerrillas Refuse to Return Remains of Murdered Priest

Catholic officials denied access to burial site of Father Francisco Montoya.

by Deann Alford

AUSTIN, Texas, January 19 (Compass) -- Guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) operating in Colombia’s northwestern department (state) of Chocó remain firm in their refusal to hand over the body of a beloved Roman Catholic priest they kidnapped, shot and buried last month.

Francisco Montoya was kidnapped December 8 while traveling from Chocó’s capital city, Quibdó, to the village of Nóvita, about 400 miles northeast of Bogota.

The bishop of Medellín had asked Montoya, the parish priest of Istmina Tadó village, to celebrate the festival of the Immaculate Conception in Nóvita. He left November 19.

After Montoya celebrated mass and was traveling in a FARC-controlled area, guerrillas kidnapped him. “He had entered the area without their authorization. They accused him of being an army informant,” said Manuel García, Vicar General of the Quibdó diocese.

FARC guerrillas and right-wing paramilitaries control large swaths of territory in the embattled Chocó department, terrorizing local residents and profiting from the illegal narcotics traffic that thrives there.

“They didn’t know him,” García explained. “They knew he was a religious worker because the people told them so. [The guerrillas] said that maybe he was a religious worker, but [suspected] him of being an army informant just because he came from another region.”

For several days, FARC held Montoya captive, taking him to several towns and finally to a mountain base in another region. The guerrillas eventually declared the priest to be an army informant and despite “no proof, no serious investigation,” shot him, García said.

The church became alarmed when no one heard from Montoya and on December 20, sent out a group to look for him. The Aurelio Rodríguez Front of the FARC then claimed responsibility for his murder.

Guerrilla spokesmen said they had buried him on the mountain but refused to return his remains. Allowing outsiders to exhume his grave would breach security, they said.

“The church can enter, but only with their [FARC] authorization,” García said. “It’s a very painful situation.”

News accounts of Montoya’s death placed his age at 45, but García, who knew him well, said he was around 33.

“He was a very humble man with a very happy soul,” García said.

Originally from Colombia’s second-largest city, Medellín, Montoya asked the church to send him to minister to the far-away indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities in El Chocó. He HHHThe young priest eagerly embraced Chocó culture, traveling on foot throughout the region and carrying his belongings in a typical indigenous basket. He played his clarinet in the villages and entertained children with toys and magic tricks.

Chocó’s Roman Catholic priests have been threatened by illegal armed groups before, García said. When a clergyman is threatened, the bishop negotiates with the respective armed group to deactivate the threat. In some cases, the diocese has transferred priests under threat.

In November 2001, Father Jorge Luis Mazo and a representative for a Spanish non-government organization were killed. Five years ago, another religious worker was murdered in the region.

“There’s no general threat against priests,” García said. “The groups get upset with the church when it denounces their crimes. In some cases, they have threatened priests.

“This is a problem we’ve had with guerrilla groups and self-defense groups as well as with the government armed forces, all of which the church asks to respect human rights and not attack the civilian population,” García said.

Nevertheless, García maintains that clergymen themselves are not in the gravest danger. “The real danger is for the peasants,” he said. “So we clerics go to the rural areas to try to defend the peasants who are caught in the crossfire. Eventually we put ourselves in danger.”

Church leaders have also sought to broker agreements and regional dialogues with the warring factions to reduce the violence.

Meanwhile, Quibdó’s 30 priests continue to do what they can to protect themselves. They move about with prudence, travel in pairs to the most dangerous places and watch each other’s backs.

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Colombian Prison Releases Evangelical Seminary Student

Luis Vera is under house arrest, working to clear his name.

by Deann Alford

AUSTIN, Texas, January 26 (Compass) -- Luis Alberto Vera was released last month from Bellavista National Jail, a maximum security prison in Medellín, Colombia, in time to spend Christmas with his young family. Vera, however, remains under house arrest at the Biblical Seminary of Medellín.

The evangelical seminary student faces a complex legal tangle to prove he is innocent of the crime for which he was imprisoned. His lawyer says it could take four years to clear his name.

On November 26, Vera was buying bus tickets home to the city of Bucaramanga when Medellín police checked the number on his identification card and found a warrant for his arrest. He and three other men stood accused of mugging a man in Bucaramanga in 2002. (See Compass Direct, “Colombian Seminary Student Arrested on Weapons Charges,” December 3, 2004.)

Vera, 24, spent two weeks in a Medellín police processing center before being transferred to Bellavista Jail. Justice officials approved his release from the overcrowded prison in late December but placed him under house arrest on the seminary campus, where he is enrolled in theological studies, until he can prove his innocence.