Daily briefs of the top news stories impacting Christians around the world.
In today's edition:
Christian Leader Beheaded as Islamists Terrorize Mali
A Christian leader has been beheaded and others are being threatened with similar treatment as Islamist militants run amok in Mali, West Africa, ASSIST News Service reports. Christians have fled the northern town of Timbuktu -- where sharia (Islamic law) has already been imposed -- amid reports that churches in Gao, 200 miles to the east, have been completely destroyed. A recent military coup in the country has left electricity supplies cut off, further delaying reports of the latest upheavals as well as pleas for help. Timothee Yattara, a British Bible college graduate who returned to Mali to share the gospel, recently fled Timbuktu with his family to Bamako, 400 miles southwest, where they are now living as refugees. "We have escaped in the wake of horrible death threats as the Islamists have a list of all the Christians in Timbuktu whom they intend to execute by beheading," he said. "As proof of their intentions, one leader has already been killed in this way and some churches in Gao have been demolished. Most Christians have already fled for safety, but sharia law has been imposed all over the north." Al Qaeda fighters and associated rebels are said to be claiming the northern part of the country as their homeland.
Israel a Haven for Christians Amid Islamic Persecution in Middle East
As radical Islamic groups are rising to power across the Middle East as a result of the so-called Arab Spring, Christians are fleeing persecution in droves. However, CBN News reports, there is one safe haven still left in the region -- Israel. Since Israel's re-founding in 1948, the number of Christians has increased by 1,000 percent. "Christians are in every aspect, every realm of Israeli society," says Michael Oren, Israeli ambassador to the U.S. "They're in the Knesset. They're on the Supreme Court, they're in academia. The Israeli Defense Forces was at one point printing out Hebrew versions of the New Testament because there's so many Christians swearing in for duty." Oren said Arab Christians living in the Jewish state were among the most educated and prosperous in the Middle East. "And we protect them," he said. Israel's overall acceptance of Christians remains a stark contrast to the Palestinian-controlled areas of Gaza and the West Bank, where Christians are frequently persecuted and even killed.
Turkey's Religious Freedom Record Slides
Hostility toward Christians in Turkey has persisted long enough for a U.S. religious rights watchdog to recommend it as a "Country of Particular Concern" -- something Turkish Christians know firsthand, Compass Direct News reports. "People here treat us like cursed enemies," said pastor Orhan Picaklar of Agape Church in Samsun, near the Black Sea region. "Our families feel anxiety." Picaklar's son received death threats on Facebook last September, and a man recently caused minor damage to Picaklar's church building. Last month, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) recommended to the U.S. State Department that Turkey be designated as a "Country of Particular Concern" -- among Iran, Saudi Arabia and Sudan -- for religious freedom violations. "[Turkey], in the name of secularism, has long imposed burdensome regulations and denied full legal status to religious groups," a USCIRF report said. Restrictions denying non-Muslim communities the rights to train clergy, offer religious education and own and maintain places of worship have led to their decline and in some cases their disappearance, USCIRF stated. Turkish officials, in response, called USCIRF's recommendation "null and void."
Anti-Sharia Bill Defeated in Oklahoma Senate
The Oklahoma state Senate voted down a bill that would have prohibited state judges from considering foreign laws, including religious laws, in their decisions, the Religion News Service reports. House Bill 1552 was widely considered to be targeting sharia (Islamic law), as have other bills in several other state legislatures. State Rep. Sally Kern (R-Oklahoma City) submitted HB 1552 last year after a similar law approved by voters in a 2010 referendum was ruled unconstitutional. Oklahoma's House of Representatives approved the new bill by a vote of 76-3 in 2011, but it wasn't heard in a Senate committee until this year. On April 5, the Senate Rules Committee rejected it in a 9-6 vote. In other states, including Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Minnesota and New Jersey, other anti-foreign law bills have also recently died or been withdrawn, but David Yurushalmi, a lawyer for the conservative Center for Security Policy that drafted the legislation on which the anti-sharia bills have been based, is not discouraged: "There is a strong grassroots movement that supports this legislation and that will keep putting these bills forward," he said.
Publication date: April 11, 2012