When you think of ISIS, what’s likely to come to mind is Syria and other parts of the Middle East. Perhaps you even think of Europe with the terrorist attacks that have become increasingly more common and the hundreds of thousands of refugees seeking protection.
What’s less likely to come to mind is the Christian-majority country of the Philippines. However, a small militant group in the city of Marawi that has pledged allegiance to ISIS is causing significant damage, and some experts fear it has the potential to lead a tide of extremism, and the spread of ISIS occupation in South Asia.
The Maute Group, an Islamist extremist group that has joined ISIS, has been controlling parts of the city of Marawi in the Philippines and fighting against the country’s army. The group has the goal of establishing an Islamic state in Lanao province of Mindanao island.
Conflict reached a peak last week, when the Philippine army launched a mission to find high-level terrorist Isnilon Hapilon, after a tip off that he could be in the city. Upon arriving in Marawi, the army was met by intense resistance from Maute fighters and Hapilon escaped.
Despite high death tolls among the terrorists, they have remained determined and maintained control over areas of the city. The group has taken disturbing actions such as freeing dozens of prisoners, many of which joined their forces, setting fire to buildings, recruiting and using children as propaganda, and taking hostages.
The fighting last week included the extremists tying up 9 Catholics at the city gates and killing them.
Sources say that children as young as 4 have been recruited to the group; vulnerable orphans have specifically been targeted. These children have been featured in videos made by the group as well as forced to fight.
Among the hostages taken by the group is Catholic priest Teresito Suganob. Fr. Suganob was shown in a propaganda video saying that he is being held with 200 others, including children and fellow Christians. There have been claims that hostages are being used as human shields.
Military General Eduardo Ano said that over 100 militants, government personnel, and civilians have lost their lives in the fighting.
Experts fear that with international focus currently set on controlling ISIS in the Middle East, Mindanao could become a strategic place for the Islamist extremist group to spread in South Asia.
There have been two recent developments in Pakistani law that further threaten the freedom of religious minorities in the country. On Wednesday, the Senate Standing Committee on Religious Affairs passed the Ehtram-e-Ramazan (Amendment) Bill, 2017, which governs behavior during Ramazan. The punishment for hotels that violate the law rose from Rs 500 to Rs 25,000 (about $5 to $238.) People who smoke or eat openly during the Islamic holy month of fasting can now face a fine of Rs 500 and 3 months in jail. These developments affect non-Muslim Pakistanis who do not follow the Islamic traditions of Ramazan.
A further threat concerning religious minority members came in the form of a text message to millions of Pakistanis. Acting on a court order, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority sent a text to cell phone users stating that the “uploading & sharing of blasphemous content on Internet is a punishable offense under the law” and encouraging people to report such material to the government. Blasphemy laws have long been used as a trap against Christians and other religious minorities. With the government’s rally to catch anyone who speaks out against Islam, many fear that more religious minority members may be targeted. As a college student was lynched by peers just last month for his opposing views to Islam, people fear deadly attacks such as this could increase.
Jubilee Campaign condemns these recent developments in Pakistan that seek to constrict the liberties of religious minorities.
Many Pakistani Christians are forced to flee Pakistan due to social and legal persecution against them. Our organization has committed to financially support these refugees. Without outside assistance, they often cannot afford food for their families or education for their children. If you would like to support a refugee family in need, please donate here.
Last week, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) released its 2017 Annual Report. Every year, USCIRF releases this report to recommend countries to be designated as Countries of Particular Concern (CPC) by the U.S. Department of State. A CPC is a country designated by the Secretary of State as a country that is guilty of “systematic, ongoing and egregious” abuses to religious freedom, as mandated by the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA).
This year, USCIRF has recommended the following countries to be designated as CPCs:
Central African Republic
USCIRF also lists Tier 2 Countries, which are defined as “nations in which violations engaged in or tolerated by the government are serious and characterized by at least one of the elements of the ‘systematic, ongoing and egregious’ CPC standard.” USCIRF lists the following countries as Tier 2:
USCIRF also highlights the following countries to be under continued monitoring:
Jubilee Campaign commends USCIRF on their excellent report, in particular, the continued reporting on India’s persecution of religious minorities by Hindu extremists. The report includes a section on Christian persecution in India with shocking statistics:
“In early 2017, the NGO, Open Doors, estimated that a church was burned down or a cleric beaten 10 times a week on average in India between January and October 2016 – triple the number of incidents the group reported in 2015.”
A recent article by Christian Post wrote that an anti-Christian attacks happen approximately every 40 hours in India. The continued deterioration of Christian activity in India led to the child sponsorship organization, Compassion International, to be revoked of its permission to operate in the country. Last month, members of the U.S. Congress wrote a letter to India’s Minister of the Interior requesting that Compassion International be able to continue its work.
We are pleased that the U.S. government recognizes the deterioration of religious freedom in India, and continues to monitor the country closely. Please continue to pray for the Christians of India.
On May 11, 2017, Abdumonem Abdumawla and Reverend Hassan Abdelrahim Tawor of Sudan received a presidential pardon and were released from prison. We praise God for their release, and we thank you for your faithful prayers in this process.
The release of these two men finishes out a long standing case involving four Christians who were arrested and given charges pertaining to threatening the state of Sudan. The other two men, Rev. Kuwa Shamal Abazmam Kurri and Mr. Petr Jasek (from the Czech Republic, Voice of the Martyrs) were previously released.
Ali Omer, a student from Darfur and convert from Islam, was injured in a student demonstration in 2013. The four men were involved in assisting Omer in his recovery leading to their arrests. Arrests were made in December 2015.
Rev. Shamal was released on January 2, 2017 due to lack of evidence against him, but the judge decided to continue the trial for the three others. On January 29th, Mr. Jasek was sentenced to over 20 years in prison for espionage, among other smaller charges. Rev. Taour and Mr. Abdumawla were both given over ten years for assisting espionage.
In February, the Czech Minister of Foreign Affairs visited Sudan and Mr. Jasek received a presidential pardon on February 26, and returned to the Czech Republic. International advocacy continued for Mr. Abdumawla and Rev. Taour, and today we have received news of their release.
Again, thank you for your prayers and continued support of our advocacy efforts. Please continue to pray for these men, and other Christians living in Sudan.