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But he said he would not rest "while there are still men and women of any religion... whose future is stolen and are forced to become refugees". Source: BBC. Burma on the road to religious freedom. Burma is moving towards greater interfaith freedom of expression, but challenges remain, according to Christian Solidarity Worldwide's Benedict Rogers, writing for the Wall Street Journal. Rogers notes that, while the country has made great strides in recent years, there is an ongoing threat of ethnic and religious violence. However, he states that "the prospect of guns falling silent across Burma for the first time in over 65 years may be closer than ever".
"But at the same time," Rogers writes, "We heard testimonies of sexual violence, forced labour and religious discrimination from Chin Christians. Over the years, Chin state has suffered from a chronic lack of basic services, including infrastructure and medical care, thanks to the previous regime's deliberate policy of subjugation. If real change is to be secured, policies based on ethnicity or religion must end." Burma is predominantly Buddhist, but many of the non-Burmese ethnic nationalities have significant Christian populations, while Muslims may account for up to 10% of the population. Kony urged to surrender in CAR, The President of the Central African Republic (CAR) has been in contact with warlord Joseph Kony, head of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), urging him to surrender, reports Reuters. However, the African Union's (AU) special envoy on the LRA told the UN that Kony has "used the negotiations as a window of opportunity" to relocate many of his fighters to north-eastern CAR. The AU has been hunting him since he went underground in 2005. Kony has been indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court for his two-decade-long guerrilla war against the Ugandan government. Kazakh pastor's trial postponed, The court hearing for a Kazakh pastor detained since May has been pushed back again.
Bakhytzhan Kashkumbayev, 67, pastor of Grace Protestant Church in Astana, is charged with the psychological manipulation of a member of his congregation through the use of a "red-coloured hallucinogenic drink". Other members of the congregation say the drink is a harmless, non-alcoholic beverage used as part of the church's Holy Communion – to represent the traditionally used, and symbolic, red wine. The pastor was supposed to learn his fate on Sunday (Nov. 17), but his son was informed that the hearing had been postponed. Askar Kashkumbayev was told that a new date will be confirmed on Friday (Nov. 22). No reason was given for the postponement.
Boko Haram targets Christian girls, Boko Haram is abducting Christian women, converting them to Islam on pain of death and then forcing them to marry its fighters, reports Reuters.
Reuters tells the story of 19-year-old Christian Hajja, who was abducted by the Islamist group in July and was then forced to work as their slave. Hajja converted to Islam, cooked for the men, carried ammunition during an attack on a police outpost and was about to be married to one of the insurgents when she managed to escape. "If I cried, they beat me. If I spoke, they beat me," Hajja told Reuters. "They told me I must become a Muslim but I refused again and again. They were about to slaughter me and one of them begged me not to resist and just before I had my throat slit I relented. They put a veil on me and made me read from the Koran." Malaysia's 'Allah' impasse. Published: January 24, 2014 by Matt K. George. Christians remain adamant that their right to use 'Allah' is constitutional. Share on facebookShare on twitterShare on google_plusone_shareShare on redditMore Sharing Services. Should Malaysia's Muslims alone be afforded the right to use the word 'Allah'?Should Malaysia's Muslims alone be afforded the right to use the word 'Allah'?
Abu Emran / Flickr / Creative Commons. "God, what is your religion?" This cryptic question, spotted on a T-shirt at a packed public meeting on religious freedom in the Malaysian city of Petaling Jaya last week, sums up the enormity of Malaysia's 'Allah' controversy.
The wearer was a Malay Muslim woman, according to The Malaysian Insider, demonstrating solidarity with the minority Christian population as tensions rise in the country over who can use the term 'Allah'. The controversy – for which many Malaysian Christians blame the Government – has now reached a serious impasse. The Christian community remains adamant that the use of 'Allah' is their right, despite a ruling by the Court of Appeal last October that 'Allah' was exclusive to Malay Muslims. The word predates the birth of Islam and the ruling has been widely criticised by many other Muslim nations, and by the United Nations. About 64 per cent of Malaysia's Christians come from the Borneo states of Sabah and Sarawak, where the term has been part of their vocabulary for more than 100 years. The indigenous populations of the two states, whose primary language is Bahasa Malay, claim the usage is their constitutional and spiritual right. The Malay Bible dates back to the 16th century and, as the government phases out English in favour of Bahasa Malay, more and more Christians observe their faith in Bahasa Malay. "All the churches are of one mind," said Rev. Dr Hermen Shastri, the general secretary of the Council of Churches of Malaysia. "We are only defending our freedom to practise our religion as guaranteed under the Constitution."
Nevertheless, Islamic conservatives have staged demonstrations outside churches, seized Bibles and continued to vilify the Catholic pastor, Rev. Lawrence Andrew, who took the issue to the courts.
In early January Andrew was questioned over charges of sedition, which drew international complaints, including a piece in The Wall Street Journal. The Malay Bible is titled 'Alkitab' in the local language, which means 'The Book'.The Malay Bible is titled 'Alkitab' in the local language, which means 'The Book'. World Watch Monitor. Following the raid on the Bible Society of Malaysia two weeks ago and the seizure of more than 300 Bibles in the Malay language, the Islamic Religious Department of the state of Selangor (JAIS) posted an advertisement in The Star, an English language newspaper, defending its actions. The National Fatwa Council, comprising the muftis, or Islamic scholars, of the states of Malaysia, publicly backed JAIS's swoop in which they also arrested two officials of the Bible Society. These actions, in a country once renowned for multiracial harmony, go against the grain of a 10-point plan pronounced by the Government of Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak in April 2011 to resolve the issue. The key element of the pledge emphasised that Christians are allowed to print, import and distribute Bibles, referred to as the 'Alkitab' ('The Book') in the Malay language. The Prime Minister has so far refrained from defending his policy, while churches have asked him to speak out and to rein in Islamic extremists. But many Christians say they fear Prime Minister Najib cannot be seen to capitulate on Christian usage of 'Allah', since it would give ammunition to his political enemies in his ruling United Malays National Organisation party (UMNO), who could seek to oust him from office. Since the party brands itself as the champion of Malay Muslim supremacy and the defender of Islam, it provides tacit support to JAIS and Muslim extremists within UMNO. The Prime Minister's ambivalence is unhelpful, according to Rev. Shastri, who said: "The Government should remain consistent. It is the same Government that came out with the 10-point plan. It should also defend the Constitution." The Methodist priest has called on Christian ministers in Government, such as Idris Jala, who was a key architect of the 10-point plan, to impress upon the Prime Minister the need to protect religious freedoms. The 'Allah' controversy began in 2007 when the Government banned The Herald, a Catholic weekly, from using the word. The Catholic Church contested the order and the High Court restored its constitutional right in 2009. The Government appealed that decision and in October 2013 a three-man Court of Appeal ruled that Malay Muslims had an exclusive copyright to the word 'Allah'. Legal experts say the court's decision is flawed and that its ruling, if ratified, should only apply to The Herald and not to other Christian literature, such as the Alkitab, or in liturgy. The Catholic Church has now filed an application for leave to appeal to the Federal Court, the highest legal authority in the land. Liberal Malaysians hope an enlarged bench of 13 judges, including the Chief Judge of the Borneo states, would adjudicate on the issue. The hearing is scheduled for March 5. Whether any court decision will appease the rival sides is debatable. "Nothing is changing," said Bolly Lapok, Bishop of Kuching, the capital of Sarawak, and Archbishop of the Anglican Church of the Province of South-East Asia. "We won't stop using the word 'Allah'." The right to freedom of worship was enshrined when Sarawak and Sabah joined Malaysia in 1963. Christian and political leaders in the two states have threatened to break away from the Malaysian union if the Government forces their hand on the 'Allah' issue.
Most Malaysians are against such an outcome. Given the lack of political will to end the deepening rift, an alternative suggestion was to invite the Rulers' Council, comprising the nine hereditary Sultans, to convene and rule on the issue. The Ruler of the state of Negri Sembilan last week urged Malay Muslims to respect other religions and to live in harmony, regardless of race.
The Muslim Chief Minister of Sarawak, Taib Mahmud, is on record as saying that the use of 'Allah' is not a problem in the state and blames the central government for inciting intolerance and racism.
The Bible Society of Malaysia in Selangor.The Bible Society of Malaysia in Selangor.
World Watch Monitor. Political observers say that religious insecurities are being whipped up to defer attention away from the Government's economic and political difficulties. The Government was recently forced to cut back on decades of subsidised petrol and sugar prices as the national debt has reached unsustainable levels. The inevitable rise in the cost of living has fuelled public anger and protests. The scheduled introduction of a Government Services Tax in April 2014 is set to further escalate the cost of goods. Public corruption, scandals, the lavish lifestyle of ministers and cohorts, and a lack of accountability have all severely damaged the Government's record and the economy in a resource-rich nation. In this volatile mix of rising prices and protests, on top of the 'Allah' controversy, Christians are concerned. The Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM), in a statement last week, observed: "What we are witnessing is the mad scramble by any and every group to grab media attention… [but] the Christian community remains undaunted in the face of these and no doubt future incidents of this nature." Rev. Dr Eu Hong Seng, chairman of the CFM, added: "We look to the courts of this land to protect, preserve and defend principles of our Federal Constitution." Christians meanwhile have taken succour from progressive Muslim groups such as Sisters of Islam, which rallied to their support, distributing flowers outside a church where Islamists had planned to protest. For this act of solidarity, conservative Islamists demanded their arrests.
Other Muslim protagonists, such as Azmi Sharom, an outspoken law lecturer, point out that nowhere in the Qur'an does it say that 'Allah' is exclusive to Muslims. "Is [Islam] a religion that is so small in its worldview that it can approve of one community claiming the term for God for itself? Is Islam so lacking in common decency and compassion?" he said. Meanwhile, the former Law Minister Zaid Ibrahim blogged: "The unwillingness of UMNO leaders to find a peaceful solution to the 'Allah' issue is a clear sign of the march towards authoritarian rule. Invoking the name of God is just a ruse to gain support for a new dictatorship." The wearer of the T-shirt posed a fundamental question. The ball is now in the court of the Malaysian Government to openly demonstrate that it subscribes to the ethos of its own Constitution, its own 10-point resolution, and that it will uphold freedom of religion for all. Related: Islamic authorities' raid on Malaysian Bible Society questioned by state government. Malaysia's 'Allah' ruling widely criticised. * Churches campaign ahead of Malaysia elections. Malaysia Set to Rule on Use of 'Allah' among Non-Muslims. UK Parliament is told Christianity is 'most persecuted religion'. UK Parliament is told Christianity is 'most persecuted religion', Published: December 04, 2013. MPs also hear that one Christian is killed every 11 minutes. Share on facebookShare on twitterShare on google_plusone_shareShare on redditMore Sharing Services. The Bishop Moussa Coptic Church in Minya was destroyted by pro-Morsi supporters in Egypt, many of whom blamed Christians for his overthrow.The Bishop Moussa Coptic Church in Minya was destroyted by pro-Morsi supporters in Egypt, many of whom blamed Christians for his overthrow. David Degner, Getty Images. The plight of Christians around the world was discussed in a three-hour debate at the Houses of Parliament in London yesterday. Members of the House of Commons were told that the persecution of Christians is increasing, that one Christian is killed around every 11 minutes around the world, and that Christianity is the "most persecuted religion globally". A long list of countries in which life as a Christian is most difficult was discussed, including Syria, North Korea, Eritrea, Nigeria, Iraq and Egypt. MP Jim Shannon said the persecution of Christians is "the biggest story in the world that has never been told". He said that although the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, there are many countries in which these rights are not given. Shannon alleged that 200 million Christians will be persecuted for their faith this year, while he said that 500 million live in "dangerous neighbourhoods". He added that in Syria Christians are "caught between opposing sides in the conflict", and mentioned the "specific targeting" of Christian-dominated locations, such as Sadad and Maaloula. MP Sammy Wilson said that in Syria, "50,000 Christians have been cleared from the city of Homs", while in Sudan two million Christians were killed by the regime over a 30-year period. He added: "Within the last month, hundreds of people, from Nigeria to Eritrea to Kazakhstan to China, have been arrested and put in prison simply because of their faith, and when they go into prison they are denied due process. They are denied access to lawyers. They are sometimes even denied knowledge of the charges facing them. They can languish in prison for a long time and in horrible conditions… This is not only happening in Muslim countries. From Morocco to Pakistan, Christians in Muslim countries are under threat, but it happens elsewhere too." The recent comments of Baroness Warsi at a lecture in Washington were echoed, including her assertion that "the parts of the world where Christianity first spread is now seeing large sections of the Christian community leaving, and those that are remaining feeling persecuted". MP Nigel Dodds said that the "persecution of Christians is not new", but that it is "staggering" how many Christians are killed today. In Iraq, he noted the words of Canon Andrew White, who had said that Christians are "frightened even to walk to church because they might come under attack. All the churches are targets… We used to have 1.5 million Christians, now we have probably only 200,000 left… There are more Iraqi Christians in Chicago than there are here". Sir Edward Leigh said the remaining number of Christians in Iraq was likely to be closer to 600,000, but that this was still a shocking figure and that "things have become much worse since the invasion". "Within the last month, hundreds of people, from Nigeria to Eritrea to Kazakhstan to China, have been arrested and put in prison simply because of their faith." MP Sammy Wilson. MP Rehman Chishti said: "I come from a Muslim background, and my father was an imam… I know it is absolutely right and proper to have a debate on the subject". He called the persecution "completely and utterly unacceptable" and "a very sad state of affairs". He also quoted his "good friend" the former Bishop of Rochester, Michael Nazir-Ali: "He told me that the persecution of Christians was taking place in more than 130 of the 190 countries in the world at the moment". During the debate, the oppression experienced by Christians in China and Malaysia were also highlighted and outlined. As the British Prime Minister is currently in China, MP David Rutley raised the issue of the sizeable Christian community in China, and asked about the potential establishment of a deeper inter-faith dialogue to engage the Chinese authorities with Christian groups. Meanwhile, a UK-based organisation has claimed that the number of countries posing an extreme risk to the human rights of their populations has risen by 70 per cent in the past five years. Risk analysis company Maplecroft (which researched 197 countries for its annual Human Rights Risk Atlas 2014) says that since 2008 the number has risen steeply from 20 to 34, predominantly comprised of countries in the Middle East and Africa. Syria tops the list, followed by Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Pakistan, Somalia, Afghanistan and Iraq. Thu Jan 09, 2014 2:43. Syria: Survivor Recounts How Terrorists Beheaded a Youth on Homs-Marmarita Road. #TEHRAN ( #FNA) Terrorists opened fire on a car on the Homs-Marmarita road on Tuesday night and then attacked the two passengers, beheading one of them. Firas Badr Nader, who survived the attack, told SANA's correspondent at Al-Bassel Hospital in Tartous that he and his friend Fadi Michael Matta were coming back from work in a hotel in Homs when five terrorists intercepted them and opened fire on the car. Nader said that he was shot and lost control of the car, causing it to crash, and as the terrorists approached the car he played dead, and then the terrorist dragged him and his friend out of the car and tied the latter's hands. He then heard one of the terrorists instructing one of his accomplices to "slit his throat" at which point they decapitated Matta, then they stole all the documents and money they had and fled after trying to burn the car and failing. After he was sure that the terrorists had left, Nader opened his eyes and saw that Matta was lying down covered in blood and decapitated. He said he ran until he reached a friend's house in al-Meshtaye area where he called the authorities, and an ambulance arrived soon at the scene of the crime and transported Nader to Al-Bassel Hospital and took Matta's body to a hospital in Marmarita. Catching Our Eye. Kazakh pastor's trial begins. The trial against 67-year-old Kazakh pastor Bakhytzhan Kashkumbayev has started, eight months after his incarceration for allegedly "harming the health" of a member of his congregation. The pastor has also been accused of inciting hatred, propagating extremism and leading an organisation that harms others. If found guilty, he could face a lengthy prison term. Kashkumbayev denied all charges against him at a court hearing in Astana, the capital, on Jan. 22. The trial was adjourned until Jan. 31 to allow Kashkumbayev's lawyer some time to study the case materials. Catching Our Eye. This is the place where we post news updates, quick takes, and links to items of interest around the web. Bookmark this page and visit regularly to see what's Catching Our Eye. Kazakh pastor's trial begins. The trial against 67-year-old Kazakh pastor Bakhytzhan Kashkumbayev has started, eight months after his incarceration for allegedly "harming the health" of a member of his congregation. The pastor has also been accused of inciting hatred, propagating extremism and leading an organisation that harms others. If found guilty, he could face a lengthy prison term. Kashkumbayev denied all charges against him at a court hearing in Astana, the capital, on Jan. 22. The trial was adjourned until Jan. 31 to allow Kashkumbayev's lawyer some time to study the case materials. Source: Forum 18. Syrian Christian beheaded, A Christian man was beheaded last week as he drove home from work in Homs, reports Fars News. Fides confirms that Fadi Matanius Mattah, 34, was killed and his friend Firas Nader, 29, was wounded as armed jihadists opened fire on their car. A priest told Fides that, noting that Fadi was wearing a cross around his neck, they beheaded him. Afghan atheist scared of going home. An Afghan atheist has been granted asylum in the UK for 'religious' reasons, reports the BBC. Brought up a Muslim, the man has become an atheist after six years in the UK and claims he would face persecution and possibly a death sentence if he returned home. It is believed to be the first time someone has been granted asylum in the UK on the basis of their atheism. CAR crisis 'far from over' The crisis in the Central African Republic is far from over, despite the resignation of President Michel Djotodia, according to a local Catholic archbishop. "The shooting has ceased, but the tensions are still there," said Nestor Desire Nongo-Aziagbia, archbishop of Bossangoa. "Resignation is a first step towards solving the crisis." The archbishop added that politicians must now elect someone to "bring the people together". Nearly one million people have been displaced since the beginning of the conflict in March. More than 100,000 are camped at Bangui's airport, while others are sleeping in churches and mosques. Source: RNS. CAR President Djotodia resigns. Central African Republic's first Muslim president Michel Djotodia has resigned from office at a regional summit aimed at ending the violence that has engulfed the country. Djotodia took power from former president Francois Bozizé in a coup in March last year, as head of the now-disbanded Séléka rebel forces. Séléka forces were accused of gross human rights abuses, including mass rape and murder, and of specifically targeting Christians. Violence has continued between the disbanded group and self-defence militias named anti-Balaka (anti-Machete). Christians had protested for Djotodia's removal from power before Christmas. Catching Our Eye. This is the place where we post news updates, quick takes, and links to items of interest around the web. Bookmark this page and visit regularly to see what's Catching Our Eye. Herald boss investigated over 'Allah'. The director of Malaysia's Catholic Herald newspaper, at the centre of the storm regarding Christians' use of the word 'Allah', is being investigated for comments made in an article on December 27 claiming Catholics have a right to use the word. Lawrence Andrew, who is also a Catholic priest, is being investigated for "sedition", reports Fides. This follows the seizure by the country's top Islamic authority, alongside police, of more than 330 Malaysian bibles from the Malaysian Bible Society last week because they used the word 'Allah' for God. The Islamic Religious Department claims the use of the word 'Allah' should be reserved for Muslims alone. In a separate development, the Malaysian government has moved to ban the country's leading coalition of 54 human rights NGOs, COMANGO, which reported to the UN Human Rights' Council Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in 2013. The government says most of these NGOs are 'un-Islamic' and un-registered. COMANGO says as a coalition entity, it is not itself bound by registration legislation. During the UPR, COMANGO called for its government to sign the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, of which Article 18 is about the rights of religious freedom. A representative of the Malaysian government defended its religious restrictions, saying they are in the interests of public order. Vatican to hold peace talks. The Vatican has scheduled a meeting for Jan. 13 to discuss the potential for a cease-fire in Syria, ahead of UN-backed peace talks in Geneva, planned to start on Jan. 24. Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo told Vatican Radio that a cessation of hostilities was vital "in order to allow humanitarian aid, to create humanitarian corridors that at the moment don't exist, and the cessation of persecution against Christians and so-called interreligious martyrdom". He said that Syria's Christians fear they are being targeted systematically by Islamist rebels seeking to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The Vatican said Egyptian politician Mohamed El Baradei and American economist Jeffrey Sachs will attend the meeting. Former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair has also been invited. 30 killed in Plateau State violence. Around 30 people were killed and 25 others injured on Jan. 7 during an attack in Plateau State, in Central Nigeria. More than 40 houses were burnt down during the attack, which local media blamed on Fulani herdsmen. Much of the violence is blamed on land disputes between mainly Muslim Fulani herdsmen and the mainly Christian Berom farmers, reports the BBC, in the area where Nigeria's predominantly Muslim north meets its Christian-majority south. Nanle Church update: 11 released. A number of Christians from Nanle County Church in Henan Province, China, have been released after almost two months in custody, although 13 are still being detained. Twenty-four church members were arrested in mid-November, including five church leaders, after a dispute over a piece of land on which the group hoped to build a new church. Source: China Aid. Iranian convert jailed for evangelism. An Iranian Christian convert has been sentenced to one year in prison for charges including evangelism. Hossein Saketi Aramsari was tried at the Revolutionary Court in Karaj, near Tehran. He was arrested in July of last year. Source: Mohabat News. Catching Our Eye. This is the place where we post news updates, quick takes, and links to items of interest around the web. Bookmark this page and visit regularly to see what's Catching Our Eye. Egypt's President visits church. Egypt's President has attended Christmas celebrations at Cairo's Orthodox Cathedral: reported to be the first time in history that the President has done so. The gesture of solidarity comes at a poignant time for Egypt's 10% Christian minority, who last year experienced their worst violence, at the hands of lslamists, for hundreds of years. (Source: RFI) Freed priest returns to France. Georges Vandenbeusch, the French priest held hostage for nearly seven weeks in Cameroon, returned to France on New Year's Day. President Francois Hollande greeted the 42-year-old cleric at an Air Force base near Paris early on Jan. 1, after France Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius received him in the Cameroon capital of Yaounde. The Islamist militant group Boko Haram took responsibility for the kidnapping in November. Little has been revealed about the circumstances of his release, though the French government has said no ransom was paid. Source: BBc. Farsi speakers banned from church, A church in Tehran has become the latest to close its doors to Farsi speakers. St. Peter's Evangelical Church in the Iranian capital is preventing speakers of the country's official language from attending following pressure from government officials, reports Mohabat News. Armenians and Assyrians will be permitted to attend the church, but the IDs of all congregants will be passed on to the government, Mohabat adds. In May, the Central Assemblies of God church in Tehran was forced to cancel all services in the Farsi language or face permanent closure. Following this, Mansour Borji, advocacy officer for human-rights group Article 18, said: "I am certain that the AOG church in Tehran will not be the last. If the Iranian government manages to close this church, the few remaining churches that have Farsi-speaking services will follow." Iranian converts arrested. Five Iranian converts to Christianity were arrested while celebrating Christmas together in Tehran, reports Mohabat News. Ahmad Bazyar, Fagheh Nasrollahi, Mastaneh Rastegari, Amir-Hossein Ne'matollahi and another man with the surname of Hosseini were arrested on Christmas Eve at Mr. Hosseini's house and taken to an unknown location. Meanwhile Mohabat News reports that another Iranian Christian serving a six-year jail sentence in Karaj has written to the UN's High Commissioner for Human Rights to complain after his family home was raided, with his wife and children at home. Behnam Irani wrote from prison: "[The] Islamic regime of Iran does not seem to be tired of persecuting the followers of non-Islamic faiths and is seeking to establish a religious dictatorship… Iranian authorities raided our homes and made the sweetness of Christmas bitter for us." More Christians arrested in Nanle. Several more members of Nanle County Church in Henan Province in China have been arrested, China Aid reports. those reportedly detained include the youngest daughter of Pastor Zhang Shaojie, who was himself one of the 24 church members arrested last month. Seven of the 24 were reportedly released, but the whereabouts of the remaining 17 is unknown and they have been denied access to a lawyer. Catching Our Eye. This is the place where we post news updates, quick takes, and links to items of interest around the web. Bookmark this page and visit regularly to see what's Catching Our Eye. One of 'worst ever' years for Copts. Egypt's Coptic Christians are undergoing some of the worst persecution of their 2000-year history, reports CBS News. in its flagship programme, '60 Minutes', CBS reports that Copts hoped Egypt's revolution would improve their fortunes, but instead the last year has been "one of their worst ever". CAR: Djotodia to speak to militias. Central African Republic President Michel Djotodia has offered to speak to the leaders of so-called "Christian" militias, reports the BBC, in attempt to deal with the worsening sectarian conflict. Speaking to French RFI radio, he said he was ready to "extend his hand". A former rebel leader, Djotodia became the Christian majority country's first Muslim leader after a coup in March. Meanwhile, the African Union has authorised increasing the number of troops deployed in the country to 6,000. An estimated 10 per cent of the CAR's 4.6 million population have fled their homes since the beginning of the violence. Lawyers begin hunger strike
Fifteen lawyers who have been prevented from seeing their clients – a group of 24 Chinese Christians arrested in Henan Province earlier this month – have started a hunger strike outside the Nanle County Public Security Bureau. China Aid reports that of the 24 Christians detained, seven have been released, but 17 remain in custody and have been denied permission to see their lawyers. It is still unclear on what charges they are being detained. Retired Iranian pastor jailed. A retired Iranian pastor has been sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison.. rev. Vruir Avanessian, 61, who is of Armenian descent, was found guilty on Dec. 5 of anti-government activities and promotion of ideas contrary to the sanctity of the Islamic Republic of Iran. the pastor, who is reported to be unwell, has 20 days to appeal. Source: Mohabat News. Bishops arrested at Dalit protest. Bishops were arrested by police in India during a protest against the discrimination of the Christian Dalit minority. Archbishop Anil Couto of Delhi was among those arrested during the protest on Dec. 11. He and several other bishops were taken to a local police station and later released, reports UCA. Protestors were demanding a revamp of India's constitution, which guarantees a reservation of government jobs and places in educational institutions for underprivileged classes, but Christians and Muslims among these classes are denied such benefits on the grounds that their religions do not recognise the caste system.