NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–The Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea is well-known as a country where Christians are persecuted for their faith. Because the government there keeps a tight lid on communication, however, only rarely does specific information leak out. This month, details about four Christians executed for their faith have been released through the World Bible Translation Center’s Gary Bishop.
One man who worked as an evangelist was executed after being caught with two Korean New Testaments in his possession, Bishop told Mission Network News. A woman and her grandmother were washing clothes when a New Testament fell out of the woman’s clothing. Somebody reported it, and both she and her grandmother were quickly executed. And an army general who had become a believer was caught evangelizing men in his unit and was executed by a fellow officer.
Despite the oppression -– or perhaps because of it -– God seems to be working, Bishop said: “People are looking for an answer other than their own government. And, I believe that’s awakening the resilience of believers in North Korea to say, ‘We have another answer. There is another way to believe.'”
VENEZUELA’S CHAVEZ ACCELERATES SOCIALISM — Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has announced plans to nationalize the country’s telecommunications and electricity industries and four major oil fields, a move that sent Venezuela’s financial markets tumbling. He also pledged to strip Venezuela’s central bank of its autonomy and to pressure national lawmakers to give him the power to legislate by presidential decree.
Chavez revealed the plan Jan. 9 in Caracas as he swore in a new cabinet, the day before his own inauguration for third term in office, according to a report from the Voice of America. “We’re moving toward a socialist republic of Venezuela, and that requires a deep reform of our national constitution,” Chavez said in a televised speech. “We’re heading toward socialism, and nothing and no one can prevent it.”
After his December re-election to a term that runs until 2013, Chavez pledged to take a more radical turn toward creating a “Socialist Republic of Venezuela.” Critics fear he will use his sweeping victory to tighten his grip on power and establish a dictatorship modeled after Fidel Castro’s rule in Cuba.
Venezuela is the eighth largest exporter of crude oil worldwide and the fourth largest foreign supplier to the United States. Much of Chavez’ plans to relieve poverty are based on revenues collected from Venezuela’s energy sector. Nationalization of such industries, however, could result in the revenue stream drying up.
“Nationalization has a long and inglorious history of failure around the world,” White House spokesman Tony Snow told reporters.
HONDURAN CHRISTIAN LEADER IN HIDING — The president of a Christian organization that helps poor people in Honduras has gone into hiding after a lawyer for the group was murdered in December. Carlos Hernandes of the Association for a More Just Society received a death threat immediately after an associate, attorney Dionisio Diaz Garcia, was shot to death on his way to court, Steve Geurink of Worldwide Christian Schools told Mission Network News.
Hernandes was meeting with church and community leaders, families, teachers and school boards in the capital city of Tegucigalpa about a Christian school improvement process, Geurink said. His success may have caused corrupt elements in the local government to feel threatened.
The organization is raising funds to cover the cost of protecting Hernandes and his family, Geurink said.
ANTI-CONVERSION BILL RAISES CONCERN IN INDIA — Christians in northern India’s Himachal Pradesh state could be subject to up to two years in prison and heavy fines for evangelizing if a bill recently passed by the government is signed into law, according to Jerry Dykstra of Open Doors, an organization that ministers to persecuted Christians. People who want to become Christians would be required to give at least 30 days prior notice to the government or face a fine.
The bill, which has not yet been signed into law, is worded in a manner that leaves great leeway for police or local government officials to define what constitutes “forcible” conversion, Dykstra told Mission Network News. Radical Hindu elements in such offices have used similar laws in five other states to punish and restrict Christian activity at their pleasure.
Of the 6 million people in Himachal Pradesh, Christians number only about 8,000.
N. KOREA, IRAQ TOP LIST OF WORST PERSECUTORS — North Korea and Iraq are the world’s worst persecutors of Christians, according to a report recently released by International Christian Concern, a human rights group based in Washington, D.C. The annual “Hall of Shame” awards also ranked Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Iran, Eritrea, China, Vietnam and Pakistan in the top 10.
The worst persecution against Christians is shifting from nations with communist governments to Islamic countries, ICC President Jeff King told Mission Network News. Unrest in Iraq has forced many Christians out of that country and anarchy in Somalia helped radical Muslims gain a foothold in the Horn of Africa, contributing to a sharp rise in violence against Christians in Somalia and Ethiopia.
“Persecution must and can be fought,” King said. “Concerned individuals should get involved in the fight by contacting their elected representatives and by calling embassies and requesting fair treatment for Christians overseas.”
A NEW STYLE FOR CUBAN LEADERSHIP — Cuba will get relief from rambling speeches that lasted for hours, micromanagement of government policies and unquestioned decisions if Raul Castro continues to function as provisional leader of the country, say longtime observers of the communist nation that sits barely 500 miles off the Florida coast.
Raul Castro recently told about 800 university leaders they should “fearlessly” engage in public debate and analysis, and in late December said he would delegate more duties, according to a report from the Associated Press. He said that as defense minister he had learned to listen to and discuss differing ideas.
Those signals indicate a leadership style dramatically different from that of his 80-year-old brother, Fidel, who ruled Cuba with an iron fist for 47 years until “temporarily” ceding power to Raul in late July. In the past, Raul Castro has expressed interest in China’s model of capitalist reform with one-party political control. He is seen as a pragmatist who is more likely than his brother to embrace limited free enterprise.
ISRAEL ARRESTS DEPORTED MUSLIM CLERIC — A Muslim cleric deported by the United States for ties to a terrorist organization was arrested by Israeli authorities when he arrived in the Middle East, according to Shin Bet, the Israeli internal security service. Fawaz Damra was deported because he applied for American citizenship in 1994 without revealing his ties to Islamic Jihad, a militant Palestinian group with links to Iran and Syria that has carried out suicide bombings and rockets attacks against Israel.
Damra, who is the former imam of the Islamic Center of Cleveland, Ohio’s largest mosque, was delivered by U.S. agents to the Allenby Bridge, an Israel-controlled crossing into the West Bank, AP reported. When he failed to arrive at home, family members inquired, and a lawyer was able to confirm that he was being held at Israel’s Kishon prison.