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Thomas Kang
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Thomas Kang

Silent treatment

News | And other news briefs

Issue: "Coming to America," April 6, 2013

Two separate incidents in Russia point to the growing trend of government-sanctioned persecution against religions not sponsored by the state. First, officers continue to hold a Presbyterian pastor with U.S. citizenship in a Russian detention center on charges of attempted bribery. 

Thomas Kang has lived in Russia for more than 10 years and had just completed the construction of a large home that was to be used as a ministry for low-income families and the children of soldiers. As pastors from across Russia, South Korea, and the United States began arriving for the grand opening of Kang’s “House of Joy,” officials from the Federal Migration Service called Kang to tell him that the work permit for one of his builders had expired just a few days earlier.

Kang rushed in to pay the small fine and added an extra 1,000 rubles ($33) as a “donation” to the police—not an unusual step. He was immediately arrested on charges of attempted bribery and has been held in a detention center in Tula, Russia, since last September. 

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Just weeks prior to Kang’s arrest, a group of men backed by local police destroyed the Holy Trinity Pentecostal Church in the suburbs of Moscow (See “Wreckage by night,” Oct. 6, 2012). Attempts to clarify the state’s intentions have been met with silence, and there are no signs of the rumored sports complex to be built on the land. The church’s pastor, Vasili Romanyuk, told me he’s received information that nothing will be built on the site except a walking park. 

Romanyuk’s congregation continues to meet at the site of the demolished church when weather permits, and two local pastors from opposite ends of Moscow have invited his congregation to use their buildings. “Pray for God’s leading to see what His will is. For now I see it in finding resources to buy land and build a simple building,” Romanyuk said.

Evangelical Christians and other religious minorities are labeled as threats to the country’s Russian Orthodox identity. —Jill Nelson

Abortion bans

Overriding a veto from Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe, conservative lawmakers in Arkansas passed the strictest abortion ban in the country March 6, prohibiting most abortions after about 12 weeks of gestation. Nine days later the North Dakota Legislature, not to be outdone, passed its own bill prohibiting abortions performed as early as six weeks.

Both state measures employ a new pro-life strategy of prohibiting abortions once a baby’s heartbeat can be detected, possible in the sixth week of pregnancy using a trans-vaginal ultrasound. (Arkansas’ law only allows the heartbeat to be measured using less invasive technology, such as an abdominal ultrasound, which picks up a heartbeat at 12 weeks.) Ohio and Kansas are also considering fetal heartbeat bills. Abortion advocates have promised to challenge the laws in court.

North Dakota’s heartbeat bill awaits a signature from Republican Gov. Jack Dalrymple—along with another that would prevent selective abortions for genetic conditions like Down syndrome.

No states’ rights on contraception

A federal judge struck down critical portions of a Missouri law that gave employers as well as individual employees an exemption from the contraceptive mandate based on religious objections. Missouri’s law, the first of its kind to provide religious freedom protections from the federal contraceptive mandate, passed last fall after the Republican state legislature overrode Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto. U.S. District Judge Audrey Fleissig in her March 14 ruling struck down the parts of the Missouri law that provided an exemption from the contraceptive mandate, saying they conflicted with federal law. The law’s backers said Fleissig’s ruling made the mandate worse than it already was: Because she only struck down the exemption portion, the portion of the state law requiring employers to provide contraceptives (even those already exempted under the federal mandate, like churches) still stands. The state attorney general has not yet indicated whether he will appeal.

Crackdown in Libya

In a growing crackdown against Egyptian Christians living in Libya, at least one evangelical died after his arrest in March, and dozens of Coptic Christians say they endured torture in a detention center in Benghazi.

By late March, Islamic militants in Libya continued to hold as many as 100 Egyptian Christians jailed for possessing Christian books and other material.

Authorities on Feb. 10 arrested an Egyptian Christian who owns a bookstore in Benghazi. Days later, officials detained four of the businessman’s acquaintances and charged the men with proselytizing. (Libya is a Muslim nation, and Christian evangelism of nationals is illegal.)

One of the men, an evangelical Christian named Ezzat Atallah, died days after his arrest. Authorities claimed Atallah died of natural causes on March 10, but his wife said she observed signs of torture on his body.

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