While Christians in many countries celebrated the birth of Jesus with family vacations and gifts, believers in nations known for persecution faced bombings, arson, and arrest.
In countries in the Middle East, Africa, and South East Asia, both authorities and civilians targeted Christians for arrest or abuse during the Christmas season. Todd Nettleton, the director of media development for Voice of the Martyrs, said it is not unusual for Christians to be targeted during the holiday.
In the Islamic Republic of Iran, authorities arrested five Iranian Christian converts during a Christmas celebration in a Tehran house church on Dec. 24, according to the Iranian-Christian news outlet Mohabat News. They were meeting at the house of a man named Hosseini when authorities burst in, seized Christian materials, and arrested him and four others, Mohabat News reported. As of Dec. 29, the news outlet had no further information regarding their location or condition.
Iran is ranked eighth on Open Doors’ World Watch List of the 50 most persecuted countries. In Iran, conversion from Islam to Christianity is punishable by death, evangelizing or publishing the Bible in Farsi is illegal, and authorities closely monitor house churches, according to Open Doors.
Government authorities also persecute Christians in Indonesia. Isa Almasih Church in Cimahi, West Java was unable to hold Christmas services because authorities closed the church, Morning Star News (MSN) reported. MSN said government officials sealed off the building Dec. 13, and posted a sign that read: “This building is for a residence and may not be used for worship services or similar activities.”
One pastor told MSN the closure came after hundreds of Muslims mobbed the church twice in December demanding the building not be used for services.
In Mombasa, Kenya, arsonists attacked two churches with firebombs on Christmas Day, according to Reuters. Police were still looking for suspects as of Dec. 27, but some thought the successionist group Mombasa Republican Council (MRC) may have been responsible.
Moses Andayi of Christ Outreach Church, whose building was destroyed, told Reuters they found MRC slogans on a church gate. “To do this on Christmas Day is an attempt to send a very strong message to us,” Andayi told Reuters.
Nettleton agreed that attacks on Christmas or Easter “become a way to make a ‘statement’ if you are opposed to Christians and to the spread of the gospel.”
“By striking on a Christian ‘holy day,’ attackers know they can generate more media coverage and attention,” he said. “Their hope, I believe, is to create fear among Christians as well as get attention for their causes.”
On Christmas Day in Iraq, militants bombed three locations in Baghdad killing at least 37 people. No one took immediate responsibility for the attacks, but Iraq’s Christian community has often been targeted by al-Qaeda and other insurgents. Authorities disagree over whether or not Christians were being targeted, Charisma News reported.