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International | Roundup of news of persecution against Christians worldwide

Issue: "Gagged by Tolerance," March 22, 1997

EGYPT: A February massacre of Coptic Christians meeting together in Upper Egypt has become the largest single incident of Christian blood-letting after two of the wounded died in a nearby hospital. Three other Egyptian Christians were killed in sugarcane fields directly following the attack, bringing the death toll to 15. Gunmen from the radical Gama'a Islmiya group opened fire on a youth meeting inside a Fikriya village church near Abu Qurqas. "We were attacked from behind as we were listening to the priest's sermon," said one youth, named Maged. "We tried to hide behind the benches, but they followed us even up to the altar of the church."

The Islamist group has targeted Coptic Christians in this region 125 miles south of Cairo for the past two years. They routinely demand "protection money" from villagers in exchange for safety. One year ago eight Christians were killed and 90 homes burned in Ezbet el-Aqbat; last July, grocer Mohsen Badia Girgis and his 20-year-old cousin were murdered in Atledem.

IRAN: Although he has been held in Iran since December, American missionary Daniel Baumann did not come to the attention of Christian news sources until this month. While attempting to cross the northern border of Iran into Turkmenistan, Mr. Baumann and South African missionary Stuart Timm were detained; their passports were confiscated and they were ordered to Tehran. Mission News Network reports that Mr. Baumann worked with the International Afghan Mission as an administrator in an eye hospital. He was studying the Russian language in Turkmenistan when he went into Iran, where he was traveling with Mr. Timm to make contact with Turkmen people living there. After an appeal by the South African embassy in Tehran, Mr. Timm was released. Mr. Baumann, who holds dual Swiss/American citizenship, may be charged under a new espionage law that includes a death sentence. His case is being monitored by Swiss authorities because the United States has no diplomatic relations with Iran. Mr. Baumann's father, Hans Baumann, told Mission News Network, "We completely trust the Lord, and it's all in his purpose. Even if we recognize he's in jail, he's still in God's will. And there's a purpose of having him in jail. And the gospel has to go into all the world."

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KUWAIT: An Arabic daily in Kuwait is heralding the return to Islam of the widely publicized convert to Christianity, Robert Hussein. The paper Al-Rai Al-Aam featured a photo of Mr. Hussein shaking hands with a local Muslim sheikh and said he had repeated the one-sentence creed of Islam, called the "Shahadah," before two Islamic leaders. According to Compass Direct, the 45-year-old businessman has neither confirmed nor denied the reconversion. Mr. Hussein gained worldwide attention last year when his published account of conversion to Christianity resulted in a death sentence for apostasy. Kuwaiti courts, under heavy international pressure, allowed Mr. Hussein to flee to the West rather than carry out the sentence.

ISRAEL: The Knesset gave preliminary approval to a bill that would restrict the work of Christian mission organizations as well as Messianic Jewish groups. The bill prohibits the importation, printing, or distribution of tracts or other literature "in which there is an inducement for religious conversion" and sets a one-year prison sentence as its penalty. Messianic Jews in Jerusalem say the action is part of a backlash against last year's highly publicized campaign by televangelist Morris Cerullo, which mailed to one million households in Israel, unsolicited, a booklet entitled "The Peace." Many of them were burned very publicly just outside the Knesset building. The bill must be resubmitted to the full Knesset and pass a total of three readings before becoming law.


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