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Remember the persecuted

"Remember the persecuted" Continued...

Issue: "Bush's moral mandate," Nov. 13, 2004

Registration has not proved much of a buffer against persecution for "nontraditional" religions, however, such as Baptists and Pentecostals. According to Forum 18 News, they fear the referendum victory-declared despite voter irregularities-will prompt Mr. Lukashenko's government to implement the religion law more forcefully. Police reportedly beat Baptist evangelist Andrei Fokun in the city of Leped on Oct. 2, after he and a friend set up a small street table with Christian literature. Authorities have repeatedly detained the two men, though they deny beating Mr. Fokun.

Central Asian countries have also become prime grounds for persecution against Christians. Compass News and Forum 18 report that on Oct. 17 police in Uzbekistan's capital, Tashkent, raided a Baptist church and demanded the pastor halt all future religious activity or face criminal charges.

The congregation has tried to register with the state for several years without success. Pastor Nikolai Shevchenko had to sign a statement saying he was conducting an illegal service, and eight volunteers from the 120 members present also penned their signatures. The congregation had not been raided for three years. Mr. Shevchenko believes the government timed the raid to coincide with the visit of members of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, a federal body: "Tashkent is using this to try and demonstrate that it is not afraid of pressure from the international community and that it does not intend to observe international standards on the rights of believers."

Threats from other religions

Militant Islam gobbles the most press, but militant Buddhism also claims Christian casualties. In the last year the island nation of Sri Lanka has seen about 200 attacks on Christian churches. Buddhists make up 70 percent of the population and Christians about 8 percent.

An ethnic civil war that has raged for more than 20 years is now dying down, and in its place Buddhist nationalism is growing. Radical monks are now pushing for a law that would make religious conversions from supposed coercion or bribery illegal, and for the first time won nine seats in parliament in April. In practice, an anti-conversion law would severely limit Christian evangelism.

The Jubilee Campaign, whose U.S. team recently returned from a fact-finding trip to Sri Lanka, reported a Nov. 1 attack on a pastor's family outside the capital of Colombo. In the early hours of the morning, four masked men identifying themselves as Buddhist activists broke into the Margaya Fellowship Church, hit the pastor's wife on the head and set fire to household appliances. They fled in a van when she and her two children screamed for help.

Even with church attacks coming almost every week, Jubilee's USA Director Ann Buwalda says Sri Lankan Christians are not losing hope, as is often the case among persecuted minorities. "The comment we heard over and over again was 'Bow the head, take the hemorrhage' and 'We want to be salt and light.' They believe that with enough influence and prayer, it could be reversed."

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