Author archives: Lela Gilbert

Pakistan’s Religious Injustice: Prayers and Pressure Needed

by Lela Gilbert

August 5, 2020

Once again, Pakistan is in the news. Unsurprisingly, the news is bad. And even less surprisingly, the latest news from that troubled country centers around religion—more specifically the lack of religious freedom in Pakistan.

This past week, an American citizen was shot dead in Peshawar, and he didn’t die in a dark alleyway or in a terrorist attack. No, according to CNN, “Tahir Ahmed Naseem, 47, died on Wednesday… after a member of the public walked into the courtroom and opened fire in front of the judge, according to officials.”

Naseem, who belonged to the Ahmadiyya sect, had been charged with blasphemy, a crime punishable by death under the Pakistan penal code. And before a judge could decide on his fate, he was assassinated by an Islamist thug.

Clearly, blasphemy certainly isn’t a deadly crime in North America. Indeed, during recent violence across the U.S., relentless insults have been hurled at Christians and Christianity, whether in word or deed. Statues of priests and missionaries have been toppled, sanctuaries and religious schools vandalized, and at least one historic mission torched. Meanwhile, verbal abuse of God-fearing Jews is common parlance in anti-Israel protests and on social media.

However, blasphemy in Pakistan is another story. Blasphemy has become a deadly preoccupation of the country’s radical Muslims, whose constitution provides them full opportunity to incite violence and when possible, to imprison or kill anyone accused—most often falsely—of insulting Allah, the Prophet Mohammad, or the Koran, Islam’s religious holy book.

A former member of the Pakistani parliament and my courageous friend and journalist, Farah Ispahani told me,

Pakistan’s blasphemy laws have become more pernicious and dangerous as the society at large has become more extremist and unwilling to share space with those of other beliefs like Pakistan’s Christians, Hindus and Sikhs – and even those of the same faith, but of different sects like Ahmadi and Shia Muslims. There is still a majority of Pakistanis who will not kill someone who believes or practices differently, but those of other faiths have become fearful of armed jihadi groups, and the madrasahs the killers come from.

Her statement has been confirmed by an article in the New York Times with the headline, “Poor and Desperate, Pakistani Hindus Accept Islam to Get By.” According to the story, in June dozens of Hindu families converted to Islam in a mass ceremony. “What we are seeking is social status, nothing else,” one of the new converts candidly told a reporter.

In an interview for the Times report, Ms. Ispahani explained, “The dehumanization of minorities coupled with these very scary times we are living in — a weak economy and now the pandemic — we may see a raft of people converting to Islam to stave off violence or hunger or just to live to see another day.”

Most Christians in Pakistan are unlikely to convert to Islam, but they are more than aware of the risks they face every day. This, not only thanks to the dehumanization they experience, but also in dread of false blasphemy accusations.

Blasphemy accusations can result if a non-Muslim speaks an unkind word against a neighbor or posts a careless insult on social media. But more than often, there’s no real offense to begin with. Such charges can emanate from the lies and libels of jealous neighbors, or from false statements made by mocking adolescents, or even from winning the jackpot at a card game.

Meanwhile, winning a case against false accusations in Pakistan is another story. As the story of Tahir Naseem makes clear, the legal system provides no protection nor opportunity for a fair trial. How did an armed fanatic find his way into Naseem’s courtroom and manage to shoot him dead? It was possible because vigilantes have virtually free reign in Pakistan. Christians accused of blasphemy have as much to fear from fanatical mobs as from unjust judges.

Who can forget the tragic story of Asia Bibi? A simple farmworker whose initial offense was drinking water from a common cup with other berry-pickers, she ended up on death row for nine years on false blasphemy charges. She was eventually freed and fled the country, thanks to a widespread international outcry.

Yet even though she escaped, Asia Bibi’s life was destroyed and her false charges ended up costing the lives of two government officials who tried to defend her. Both prominent politicians, Shahbaz Bhatti, minister for Christian minorities, and Salmaan Taseer, the governor of Punjab, were assassinated in 2011 for opposing Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, and for speaking out in Asia Bibi’s defense.

Pakistan is, indeed, a “country of particular concern,” as re-designated by USCIRF in December 2019, “for engaging in systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom, as defined by the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA).” Meanwhile, Open Doors listed Pakistan as #5 on its 2020 World Watch List of the 50 worst persecutors of Christians in the world.

So what can we do? We need to make our voices heard. Let’s encourage our legislators, the State Department and the White House to take a firmer hand in negotiating with the radicalized state of Pakistan. Let’s share the facts on social media. Let’s alert our pastors and our Bible study groups.

When it comes to religious freedom, let’s keep the old saying in mind: “Act as if everything depends on you and pray as if everything depends on God.”

Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia is Now a Mosque. What Next?

by Lela Gilbert

July 10, 2020

An outcry from around the world has greeted a Turkish court’s announced decision, permitting Turkey’s President Recep Tayip Erdogan’s regime to convert the ancient Christian church Hagia Sophia—the Church of the Holy Wisdom—into a mosque.

The revered Christian historical site has served as a museum since the overthrow of the Ottoman Empire following WWI and the subsequent secular presidency of Kemal Ataturk. The magnificent building—an architectural marvel—contains some of the most beautiful Christian frescos and mosaics in the world (including the one above). Hagia Sophia remains the most popular tourist site in Turkey and is regularly visited by millions of Christian pilgrims.

The existing church, located in the heart of Istanbul, is a truly sacred space for Christians worldwide. It stands intact as one the most ancient artifacts of early Christian history:

The first church was built at the same location where there had been a pagan temple before. It was Constantius II who inaugurated Hagia Sophia on 15 February 360. From the chronicles of Socrates of Constantinople, we know that the church was built by the orders of Constantine the Great.

That earliest church was torched during rioting; a second Hagia Sophia was inaugurated in 532. Again, violence led to the church’s damage and destruction.

Today’s Hagia Sophia was completed and inaugurated in by Emperor Justinian the Great in 537; the magnificent mosaics—some of the finest in the world—were completed later in the sixth century. It is for both historic and sacred reasons that voices are protesting the Islamization of the holy site. 

On July 10, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) decried the declaration that the ancient church would be converted into a mosque. USCIRF Vice Chair Tony Perkins said: 

USCIRF condemns the unequivocal politicization of the Hagia Sophia, an architectural wonder that has for so long stood as a cherished testament to a complex history and rich diversity. Both Christians and Muslims alike ascribe great cultural and spiritual importance to the Hagia Sophia, whose universal value to humankind was reaffirmed with its inclusion in the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage List in 1985.

Just weeks ago, on May 29, Erdogan, who is widely viewed as an aggressive pan-Islamist, celebrated the fifteenth century conquest of Constantinople with festivities centered on Hagia Sophia. It was converted into a mosque when the Byzantine (Christian) army was defeated by the armies of Sultan Mehmed II of the Ottoman Empire on May 29, 1453.

Turkey’s Hurriyet Daily News reported:

…The program was followed with the recitation of the 48th chapter of the Quran, surah Al-Fath…Erdogan expressed gratitude to all those who did not abandon Hagia Sophia, the heirloom of the conquest.  He stressed it was important to remember the 567th anniversary with prayers and surah Al-Fath.  Erdogan said he had dedicated his life to his beloved Istanbul and noted that if the city was somehow removed from Earth, world history would have to be rewritten. A presentation with the theme of the conquest of Istanbul was performed on a platform in front of the museum. 

For years, Hagia Sophia has been a coveted trophy for Erdogan, who publicly cherishes neo-Ottoman Islamist sentiments. And as of the Turkish court decision on July 10, Erdogan’s goal is likely to be achieved. 

However, there are other complaints besides that of USCIRF. In fact, another significant obstacle may block Erogan’s way—Russian President Vladimir Putin. 

Putin proudly—even pretentiously—belongs to the Russian Orthodox church, and represents it globally. And Hagia Sophia has great significance to the Russian Orthodox world community. In fact, Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kyrill was quoted just days ago in The Moscow Times stating that he is “deeply concerned” by Turkey’s moves, describing Hagia Sophia as “one of the greatest monuments of Christian culture…”

A threat to Hagia Sophia is a threat to the whole of Christian civilization, and therefore to our spirituality and history,” the Orthodox church leader said. “To this day, for every Russian Orthodox person, Hagia Sophia is a great Christian shrine,” he said, urging the Turkish government to be cautious. He said that altering the current neutral status of the historic building would cause “deep pain” among the Russian people.

Reuters reports that Erdogan has signed an official declaration that Hagia Sophia will, in fact, be converted into a mosque. He has chosen to gamble with his somewhat frayed relationship with Putin as well as with other powers who have ample reason to oppose him.

Will this move successfully fulfill Erdogan’s triumphalist Islamist vision? Or will international reactions—including Russian Orthodox resistance, Greek disfavor, and American disgust—serve as the last straw in global rejection of Erdogan’s neo-Ottoman dream empire? Time will tell.

The Threat of Genocide Darkens the Future for Nigeria’s Christians

by Lela Gilbert

June 23, 2020

Today, a dangerous darkness—radical Islamism and its genocidal intentions—is sweeping across the African continent. And it is particularly lethal in Nigeria, Africa’s largest nation.

In short, there is a bloodbath in Nigeria. And those of us who track religious freedom violations and Christian persecution are alarmed, because it seems increasingly clear that another genocide is already taking place. We know what happened in Rwanda. We saw what ISIS did in Iraq. And in recent decades, tens of thousands of Nigerians have been slaughtered. Yet their stories rarely appear in mainstream Western news reports, while virtually nothing is being done to stop the violence.

Two factions of Islamist jihadis are primarily responsible for the carnage.

One is the notorious terrorist group, Boko Haram—one faction of which has now aligned itself with the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP). Today, Boko Haram continues to hold Leah Sharibu, an enslaved Christian teenager who has refused to deny her faith.

On June 22, The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) denounced recent attacks by the Boko Haram faction ISWAP against innocent civilians in northern Nigeria.

Recent ISWAP attacks on innocent civilians are reprehensible,” said USCIRF Vice Chair Anurima Bhargava. “Hundreds have died in recent weeks as ISWAP continues to inflict terror and target civilians based on their beliefs. We condemn this deplorable violence.”

The report goes on to say, “Earlier this month, suspected ISWAP fighters killed 81 people when they attacked Foduma Kolomaiya village in northeast Nigeria. ISWAP then claimed responsibility for twin attacks that killed 20 soldiers and more than 40 civilians in Borno State on June 13.”

Another brutal Nigerian faction is often identified by the innocent-sounding name, “Fulani Herdsmen.” Initially, their violence was attributed to attempts to confiscate grazing land for their animals. However, because of ever-increasing evidence of carnage, outrageous brutality, and shouts of allah hu akbar, the Fulanis’ jihadi intentions have been clearly exposed.

Earlier this month, a report from Nigeria by the Christian Post was accompanied by a photo of a Nigerian Christian pastor who was gunned down, along with his wife, while working on their farm in the Taraba State of Nigeria. The couple left eight children orphaned, ages 1 to 19.

Just days before, CNN reported, “Uwaila Vera Omozuwa was attacked as she studied in church, according to Nigerian police. The 22-year-old died on May 30, just days after the brutal assault inside the church of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, or RCCG, in Benin city… Omozuwa was a member of the choir who had studied privately at the church since lockdown measures due to the coronavirus pandemic were put in place in Nigeria in March.”

Week after week such stories appear, primarily in Christian publications. Usually the killers are identified but not always. And unfortunately, no one really knows the precise numbers of Nigeria’s victims either, thanks to mass graves, torched villages, chaotic aftermaths, and disappearances. Still, the numbers we’ve seen are horrifying.

To make matters even more disturbing, there is mounting evidence that the present government of Nigeria is somehow complicit in the Islamist groups’ assaults. While tens of thousands of Nigeria’s Christians have been killed in recent decades, countless more have been mercilessly raped, maimed, disfigured, and disabled. And the displaced are innumerable.

In 2018, President Donald Trump raised this issue with Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari. “We’ve had very serious problems with Christians who have been murdered, killed in Nigeria,” Trump told reporters, with Buhari seated next to him. “We’re going to be… working on that problem very, very hard because we can’t allow that to happen.”

The remark seems to have fallen on deaf ears.

However, religious freedom researchers and activists continue to pursue accurate fact-finding mechanisms, consistent documentation, and an official U.S. envoy to specifically address this travesty. More and more concerned voices—including USCIRF—are demanding accountability from Nigeria’s leadership and are seeking an effective response from the U.S. government.

But meanwhile, as we watch and wait, we also need to fervently pray for spiritual intervention. Because the more time that passes, the deeper the darkness grows, and it threatens to decimate Nigeria’s Christian believers.

It’s Time to Reassess U.S. Policy Toward Turkey and Erdogan’s Islamist Agenda

by Lela Gilbert

June 22, 2020

Turkish aggression has been reported in at least five countries in June 2020. Turkey’s Islamist President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has made power moves in Israel, Libya, Iraq, Syria, and Greece.

And it is well known that whenever Turkey moves in, religious freedom moves out. Only Turkey’s Islamist practices are respected by Erdogan’s henchmen.

Israel: The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (JCPA) reported in June that “Turkey is working diligently to deepen its involvement and influence on the Temple Mount, in the Old City of Jerusalem, and in east Jerusalem neighborhoods.” In these locations, there is evidence that the activists involved are ideologically linked to the Muslim Brotherhood movement in east Jerusalem.

Israelis know very well what the Muslim Brotherhood and its cohorts think about Jews and Judaism—on the Temple Mount and elsewhere. And it is worth noting that Erdogan is a loyal supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Libya: On June 20, The Jerusalem Post reported that Egypt and Turkey might come to blows over Libya’s civil war. Egypt, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Russia, along with others, back General Khalifa Haftar in the conflict. Turkey and Qatar back the Government of the National Accord (GNA), and Turkey has been aggressively involved, providing aircraft, militias and arms. Notably, GNA is also rooted in the Muslim Brotherhood movement.

Iraq: Turkey has recently bombed Sinjar Mountain, where countless Yazidi refugees have taken shelter. On FRC’s Washington Watch broadcast, Michael Rubin, a scholar and expert on the Middle East, explained that Erdogan’s primary goal is his continued ethnic cleansing of Kurdish groups. Rubin went on to say that many Yazidis have returned to live on Sinjar Mountain, “…the refugees, the women, the girls who have been returning from Syria, liberated from ISIS. They’re trying to get their life together.”

He went on: “And it’s not clear why the Turks are insisting on bombarding them… it raises questions about whether Turkey is waging counter-terrorism, and it’s clear they’re not—or whether they’re pursuing a religious agenda—an intolerant religious agenda.”

The Jerusalem Post also reported on Monday, June 22, that Turkish attacks have also put Christian villages in jeopardy in the same area.

Syria: The Washington Kurdish Institute reported, “During the first days of June 2020, around 20 different human rights organizations signed a petition to raise awareness on crimes carried on by the many Turkish-backed militias in Afrin, Syria and asked for international intervention….”

It is well known and widely reported that Afrin’s religious minorities have been violently abused by the Turks and their militias. Thousands of Christians fled the invasion of Afrin; few remain. And today, Christian and other minority communities in the Rojava region, where many fled Afrin, are again living in fear because of ongoing Turkish threats, attacks on resources, and occasional shelling. 

Greece: Arab News reported on June 14, “In an escalating war of nerves between Athens and Ankara, bilateral relations have deteriorated, sparking fears of a military confrontation between the two NATO allies. Greek Defense Minister Nikolaos Panagiotopoulos recently highlighted the country’s ‘readiness for military conflict with Turkey.’” Even rumors of an impending Turkish invasion of Greece have been reported, although unverified.

As for Greece, a historic perspective reveals widespread Turkish killings of Greek and Assyrian Christians in the early 20th century, with more than a million dead. 

And even today, Greek Orthodox properties in Turkey are confiscated and desecrated. Christian refugees from Syria and Iraq—Syriac, Protestant, and Orthodox alike—who fled to Turkey from ISIS have been deprived of their ability to support themselves and dare not practice their faith. Kidnappings and murders have been reported.

In its 2020 report, the U.S. Commission on International Religion Freedom recommended that the U.S. government “Include Turkey on the U.S. Department of State’s Special Watch List for engaging in or tolerating severe violations of religious freedom pursuant to the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA).”

Erdogan’s reckless, ruthless intrusion into country after country is believed by some observers to reflect his vision of a glorious, Neo-Ottoman Empire. Other scholars are more inclined to view  his motivation as strictly religious, demanding pan-Islamist conquest. Certainly the two intentions are not mutually exclusive.

Meanwhile, the U.S. government has been exceedingly, even excessively tolerant of Erdogan’s widespread human rights abuses. Perhaps the time has come for reevaluation and restoration of an uncompromised U.S. policy toward Turkey. It needs to reflect indiscriminatory justice and equality—including uncompromising demands for religious freedom for all.

One Christian Family’s Story of Unending Persecution in India

by Arielle Del Turco , Lela Gilbert

May 14, 2020

For many westerners, India is an exotic travel destination, offering colorful cultural sites and warm-hearted hospitable people. However, thanks to the new Hindu nationalist leadership of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), today’s India is increasingly marred by religious conflict and Christian persecution. The Purty family’s double tragedy serves as a sad example of this. And for some Indian Christians, their story is not so unusual.

Chamu Hassa Purty was a Christian pastor from Sandih village in Jharkhand State. Late one night in October 2015, he was asked to pray for a sick child. He rushed to the family’s home, prayed for the boy and helped the parents admit him to a local hospital.

Shortly after Pastor Purty returned to his own home, eight armed men forced their way into his house. He and his wife urgently warned their daughters, Sharon and Neelam, to immediately leave the house through a back entrance.

In an interview with Morning Star News, Sharon recalled, “As we were about to move, two of them held us and brought us back to the front room. They fired at my father many times…”

Pastor Purty died of gunshot wounds that night.

After the murder, the Purty family left their village and rarely returned. But recently, because of the coronavirus, it was necessary that they be reunited in their home.

And very soon thereafter, on April 16, anti-Christian terrorists once again appeared at the Purty house. Sharon and her younger brother answered the door and found themselves confronted by two gunmen.

Is this the house of the pastor who was killed?” one of the intruders demanded.

Sharon stared at him as he ranted, “That pastor was killed but you didn’t learn your lesson. You’re still assembling in large numbers for Christian prayers. And where’s the woman who’s working as a spy?”

There are no spies here…”

At that moment Neelam, hearing angry voices, entered the room. The gunman shouted, “She’s the one! She’s the spy!” He aimed his gun and pulled the trigger.

Our father was shot to death in that same room,” Sharon Purty said later. “We cried for help as the two gunmen jumped on a motorbike and fled.”

Neelam Purty sustained serious injuries and was bleeding heavily. She was rushed to a hospital, where it was determined that a bullet was embedded in her thigh and her thighbone was shattered. Only after major surgery was she able to begin her painful recovery.

The police were notified. Evidence was recorded. But it should come as no surprise that there have been no reports of the gunmen being apprehended.

Attacks like those against the Purty family are on the rise in India due to a dangerous ideology gaining steam in the world’s largest democracy—Hindu nationalism. It asserts that India is a nation for Hindus, marginalizing Christians and other minorities.

This movement often inspires mob attacks against Christians. Such attacks, when committed by Hindus, are rarely rebuked by the present Indian government, and the legal system often fails to bring perpetrators of mob violence to justice.

In one instance earlier this year, an Indian pastor was dragged out of his church mid-service by a mob of Hindu nationalists and beaten for hours. Yet when the police arrived, they charged the pastor with violating a blasphemy law rather than charge the radicals for their violent assault.

Even Indian laws pose a threat to minorities, though according to the constitution, India is a secular country. Yet, anti-conversion laws remain on the books in several Indian states. These laws are intended to prevent forced conversions. In reality, they restrict the right to change one’s faith and discourage conversion away from Hinduism.

Some Hindu nationalist leaders are deeply paranoid about Hindus converting to Christianity or other religions. One former member of parliament and member of the BJP party called Christian missionaries “a threat to the unity of the country.”

Inflammatory rhetoric from national leaders, a growing exclusionary movement that ostracizes religious minorities, and draconian blasphemy and anti-conversion laws form a perfect storm for the persecution of Christians in India.

India’s dire religious freedom problems deserves far more international attention than they receive.

India is the world’s largest democracy and a strategic partner of the United States, so it is disappointing its government is failing to protect the fundamental human right to freedom of religion. This makes advocating for religious freedom in India a sensitive subject for some. But the United States has prioritized religious freedom in our foreign policy and must urge all governments around the world—whether friend or foe—to protect it. The United States has an obligation to speak up on behalf of religious minorities in India, even if it ruffles the feathers of our ally.

Nigeria’s Christians and their Endless Persecution

by Lela Gilbert

May 11, 2020

Christians murdered in Nigeria. Attacks on Christian villages across Nigeria. And, just this week, a Nigerian Christian leader, his wife and children shot. Across the past decade, how many times has West Africa’s largest nation been the subject of Christian persecution reports?

And today the country’s tragedy is going from bad to worse. 

In recent weeks, those of us at Family Research Council who focus on international religious freedom have written about Nigerian bloodshed in articles, discussed the country’s woes in radio interviews, and spoken at length with distressed activists. Violent attacks on homes, churches, and schools never seem to diminish. In fact, we’ve learned that more than a few concerned observers believe that Nigeria is on the verge of a Christian genocide.

In recent months the tempo of attacks on Nigeria’s believers has accelerated. It’s true that such activity is rarely reported in mainstream news broadcasts or in legacy newspapers. However, accounts of murdered, maimed, or kidnapped Nigerian Christians are increasingly headlined in religious freedom publications and on Christian websites.

Generally these stories involve rural villages with mostly Christian populations. And the reports are often much the same: well-armed jihadis suddenly appear in the dead of night. They attack house after house, breaking down doors, shouting allahu akbar. They shoot the elderly and able-bodied men. They rape, mutilate, and murder women. They kidnap young boys and girls. They torch houses, schools, and churches. They leave a handful of horrified survivors.

Over the past couple of weeks, new reports have appeared. They have usually involved victims without identities—unknown rural villagers. But on Thursday May 7, we heard from Lord David Alton, an Anglican friend in England, that one of their church’s clergymen and his family had been attacked.

Surprisingly, the grateful survivor told the story himself.

Yes, I was shot in the head, but the bullet didn’t enter. It’s a miracle,” said Rev. Canon Bayo Famonure, who is often called Uncle Bayo by his many friends at Messiah College in Nigeria’s troubled Plateau State. Canon Famonure went on to say that he was also grateful that bullets in his lower extremities had not broken any bones.
 
The three terrorists that attacked the family were Fulani jihadis—so-called “herdsmen”—armed with AK-47s and machetes. After targeting Canon Famonure, they also shot his wife Naomi in the back and his two children in the feet. The bullet that struck the clergyman’s wife barely missed her spinal cord and lodged in her back, but following emergency surgery she was on the mend. In fact, quite miraculously, so was the entire family. But the trauma will not soon be forgotten.

Nigeria’s Christians, who make up around half of the country’s population, are exhausted and distressed by their endless ordeal. They and their neighbors are also infuriated by the state and federal governments’ inability or, worse, unwillingness to defend them. After reporting on the murderous attack on Canon Famonure and his family, a local news source ended its report with a few words of poignant reflection.

Hapless residents are butchered in their sleep, their houses set ablaze and farmlands destroyed….and the government calls for calm. For many…it’s a miracle to go to bed at night and wake up at the break of dawn.”

When we pray, let’s remember to pray for Nigeria and her brutally mistreated Christians. Although many miles away, those believers belong to our spiritual family.

North Korea’s Horrifying Human Rights Record

by Lela Gilbert

April 27, 2020

In recognition of North Korea Freedom Week, Family Research Council is raising awareness about the plight of Christians in the world’s most secretive country. This three-part blog series highlights the dire human rights and religious freedom situation in North Korea.

Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un rules over the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) with an iron fist. His proudest accomplishment is ownership of a deadly nuclear arsenal. A close second may very well be his horrifying human rights record. The U.S. State Department’s 2019 Country Report on Human Rights Practices features a nearly unbelievable catalog of the Kim regime’s abuses.

Freedom of religion does not exist in North Korea. And the regime is particularly hostile to Christianity. Year after year, Open Doors identifies the secretive “republic” as the world’s worst persecutor of Christians on its annual World Watch List. According to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom’s (USCIRF) 2019 report:

…Anyone caught practicing religion or even suspected of harboring religious views in private is subject to severe punishment. The government has been known to arrest, torture, imprison, and even execute religious believers and their family members, whether or not they are similarly religious. There are an estimated 80,000–120,000 political prisoners currently languishing in North Korea’s notoriously harsh labor camps, as many as 50,000 of whom may be Christians….

Meanwhile, in a shameful demonstration of 21st century idolatry, North Korea’s regime demands that all spiritual devotion be directed to Kim Jong Un and no one else.

Susanne Scholte, longtime Chairman of the North Korea Freedom Coalition, explains that the required worship of the North Korean leader is a well-organized counterfeit of Christianity, called Juche. And although the North Korean regime denies that it is a religion, it contains religious tenets, holy places, holy days—and unholy practices. 

First, if it is known that you’re a Christian,” she continues, “you will most certainly be tortured and likely executed, or sent to prison camp to suffer a slower death. We know from testimonies that if you even confess that you’ve came in contact with a Christian, you’ll likely be imprisoned.”

According to Ms. Scholte’s research, all this is because Kim Il Song, Kim Jong Il, and now Kim Jong Un have set themselves up as gods. Faith in Jesus Christ is perceived as a direct attack on the Kim family.

Right now, the rest of the world is asking a few key questions about North Korea. First, how is Kim Jong Un’s health? Rumors of critical illness and even death are circulating, and not for the first time.

Second, what has been COVID-19’s impact on North Korea? The government has denied its existence in the country. But on April 17, Radio Free Asia reported, “Ruling Party Lecturers Admit COVID-19 is Spreading in North Korea, Contradicting Official Claims.” And on April 22, a New York Times op-ed stated, “There are no cases here, Kim Jong-un’s government claims, while acting as if its survival were at stake.”

Like the coronavirus, DPRK’s nuclear arms are a grave danger to the world. But the political and religious persecution happening inside North Korea are also matters of life and death. Agonizing torture and mass murder are taking place there as we speak. For Christians locked up in the gulag, the threat of annihilation is not a rumor. It is a terrifying reality they face every day.

North Korea’s Christians are members of our spiritual family. And it is high time for us to be interceding for them—for their health, their survival, and their deliverance from despotic abuse.  This week—April 26 through May 2—has been designated as a period of focused prayer for North Korea. And April 28 will be devoted to prayer and fasting.

Will you join us in prayer for North Korea’s Christians?

Why We Remember the Armenian Genocide

by Arielle Del Turco , Lela Gilbert

April 24, 2020

On April 24, 1915, heavily armed troops rounded up hundreds of Armenian professors, lawyers, doctors, clergymen, and other elites in Constantinople (now Istanbul). These highly respected members of the community were jailed, tortured, and massacred. That April date marks the beginning of the annihilation campaign carried out by the Ottoman Empire known today as the Armenian Genocide.

The massacres were carried out in the most brutal ways.

After those first arrests and the subsequent murder of many husbands and fathers, family members who survived—mostly women, children, the ill, and the elderly—were forced to embark upon what has been described as a “concentration camp on foot.” They were told they would be “relocated.” In reality, they embarked on a death march—herded like animals, with whips and cudgels and at gunpoint.

These captives were provided with little or no food and water. Infants and the elderly were the first to die. Surviving mothers were gripped with insanity, helplessly watching their babies suffer and succumb. Eyewitness accounts and heart-wrenching photographs remain today. Corpses littered the roads; nude women were crucified; dozens of bodies floated in rivers. Soldiers proudly posed for pictures with decapitated heads or piles of skulls.

These photographs provide evidence of the gruesome reality forced upon Armenians due to their ethno-religious identity. An estimated 600,000 to 1.5 million Armenians fell victim to the Ottoman government’s determination to eliminate Christian Armenians and to secure Muslim Turkish dominance in the region.

Henry Morgenthau, U.S. Ambassador to Turkey from 1913-16, recounted in his memoir:

The Central Government now announced its intention of gathering the two million or more Armenians living in the several sections of the empire and transporting them to this desolate and inhospitable region… As a matter of fact, the Turks never had the slightest idea of reestablishing the Armenians in this new country. They knew that the great majority would never reach their destination and that those who did would either die of thirst and starvation, or be murdered by the wild Mohammedan desert tribes…. When the Turkish authorities gave the orders for these deportations, they were merely giving the death warrant to a whole race…

Shrouded under the cover of World War I, the genocide changed the region forever. There were once over 2 million Armenians in Turkey. By 1922, only 387,800 remained.

April 24, 2020, marks the first annual Remembrance Day since the United States’ House of Representatives and Senate both passed resolutions officially recognizing that the Armenian massacres were, in fact, a genocide.

Nonetheless, remembering the Armenian Genocide remains a sensitive issue because, unlike other 20th century atrocities, that annihilation continues to be disputed by an influential contemporary government, Turkey. And today’s Turkish strongman, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, an open Islamist, adamantly claims that the Armenian deaths were simply the result of World War I casualties. When the U.S. House of Representatives voted to officially affirm the massacres as genocide, Erdogan declared the declaration “worthless” and the “biggest insult” to the Turkish people.

Some historians insist that Armenia’s murdered Christians were “enemies of the Turkish State.” However, most agree that they were not killed because they were Armenian. They were killed for explicitly religious reasons: because they were Christians.

Sadly, even now, massacres due to religious identity are taking place in our world. In Nigeria, a slow-motion genocide is unfolding as Boko Haram and Muslim Fulani herdsmen ramp up attacks against Christians. In Myanmar, the Burmese military’s brutal efforts to drive out the Rohingya Muslim minority in recent years has killed at least 10,000 people and left almost 800,000 displaced. And in 2016, the United States officially declared the 2014 Islamic State attacks on Iraq’s Christians, Yazidis, and other religious minorities a genocide.

Why remember genocides of the past? Because they remind us how fragile civilizations have always been. Earlier tragedies should spur us to make consistently thoughtful arguments defending the inherent dignity of all human beings. And when attacks around the world fall along religious lines, the fundamental human right of religious freedom must be articulated and protected.

Today, many people are probably unfamiliar with the tragic massacres of Armenians that took place in Turkey over a century ago. However, students of World War II may be aware of it due to an infamous quote attributed to Adolf Hitler: “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?” His question implies that the failure to remember atrocities of the past gives ill-intentioned leaders confidence that history will not remember their own misdeeds. Perhaps this is the most compelling reason societies should never forget the atrocities that occurred before their time—including the Armenian Genocide.

Arielle Del Turco is the Assistant Director of the Center for Religious Liberty at Family Research Council.

Lela Gilbert is Senior Fellow for International Religious Freedom at Family Research Council.

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