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INTERNATIONAL DIGEST: Christians concerned over Orissa acquittal rate

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–A year after anti-Christian mayhem claimed at least 100 lives in India’s Orissa state, only 24 people have been convicted, while the number of acquittals has risen to 95, according to the nonprofit Peoples Initiative for Justice and Peace.

Although 11,000 people were named as attackers in 2,500 complaints filed with police, only 827 complaints were registered by authorities and fewer than 700 people were arrested, the organization reported.

The lack of help has compounded feelings of helplessness and frustration among surviving Christians, John Dayal, secretary general of the All India Christian Council, told Compass Direct News.

Calling the trials to date “a travesty of justice,” Dayal said, “The manner of the judicial processes in the [Orissa district’s] Kandhamal fast-track courts is tragic where all too many people have managed to escape conviction for crimes as serious as conspiracy for brutal, premeditated murder and deliberate arson.”

Among those acquitted was Manoj Pradhan, who allegedly led mobs that killed Christians and burned their houses a few months before he became a state legislator from the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, Compass reported. Facing charges in five cases of murder and six of arson, Pradhan has been acquitted in three cases.

More than 4,500 houses, 250 churches and 13 educational institutions were burned in the violence, which occurred in August and September 2008. An estimated 50,000 people, mostly Christians, were left homeless by the turmoil.

On Sept. 23, however, a court delivered the first life sentences on murder charges stemming from the 2008 violence. Five people were given life terms for their involvement in the killing of Akbar Digal, a Baptist pastor who was killed Aug. 26, 2008, after refusing demands to forsake Christianity and convert to Hinduism. His body reportedly was cut to pieces and burned.

JAILED BLOGGER THREATENS HUNGER STRIKE — A Christian blogger who has been imprisoned in Egypt without charges for more than a year has threatened to go on a hunger strike unless his next application for release is granted.

Hani Nazeer, a 28-year-old high school social worker from Qena, Egypt, was denied release Nov. 9 without explanation by Egypt’s interior ministry, Nazeer’s attorneys told Compass Direct News. Nazeer was arrested Oct. 3, 2008, after a group of teenagers visited his “Karz El Hob” blog and read an online novel, “Azazil’s Goat in Mecca,” written under the pseudonym “Father Utah” as a response to the Yusuf Zidane novel “Azazil,” which is critical of Christianity.

Police have never publicly produced any evidence linking Nazeer to Utah’s work, his attorneys said. After Nazeer was arrested, posts reportedly continued on Utah’s website.

Nazeer’s situation is complicated by the fact that his writings upset both Islamic authorities and the hierarchy of the Coptic Orthodox Church, his attorneys told Compass Direct. He has criticized both the increasing Islamization of Egyptian society and the political involvement of the Coptic Orthodox Church.

An emergency law, enacted after the 1981 assassination of President Anwar Sadat, allows authorities to hold people without charge and effectively ignore court orders for their release simply by re-arresting them. One human rights group estimates 14,000 people are imprisoned under the law.

15,000 BIBLES SEIZED IN MALAYSIA — Authorities in Malaysia have seized at least 15,000 Bibles in recent months because the word “Allah” for God appears in them, despite the fact the government agreed in 2005 to allow the word to be used in non-Muslim literature.

The Christian Federation of Malaysia called Nov. 4 for the immediate release of the confiscated Bibles, citing a December 2005 written agreement that said Bahasa Malaysia Bibles could be distributed as long as a cross and the words “A Christian publication” were printed on the front page.

Tan Kong Beng, CFM’s executive secretary, said the group is striving for amicable relations with government authorities. “We are open to and desire further discussion with officials so that this problem can be resolved,” he told Compass Direct.

The CFM officially represents the three major Christian groups in the country: The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Malaysia, the Council of Churches of Malaysia and the National Evangelical Christian Fellowship Malaysia. Malaysia’s population is about 60 percent Muslim, 19 percent Buddhist, 9 percent Christian and 6 percent Hindu, with 2.6 percent of the population adhering to Confucianism, Taoism and other traditional Chinese religions.
Compiled by Baptist Press assistant editor Mark Kelly.

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