NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–A 30-year-old Christian died in an Eritrean jail Feb. 15 after refusing to repudiate his faith in Jesus. Magos Solomon Semere was imprisoned in July 2002 when police raided a Protestant worship service in the country, which borders Ethiopia in the Horn of Africa.
Semere died “due to physical torture and persistent pneumonia, for which he was forbidden proper medical treatment,” a source told the Compass Direct news service. When he became ill, he reportedly was told he would receive medical treatment only if he signed a statement renouncing his faith. He refused, although three other inmates were released after signing similar statements. “Magos was determined to obey the Lord rather than men,” said one man who had been imprisoned with Semere.
Semere is the third Christian known to have died for his faith in Eritrea since last October. More than 2,000 Eritreans are imprisoned for practicing their faith. Semere was held at the Adi-Nefase Military Confinement facility just outside Assab.
CHAVEZ ORDERS FOUR OIL PROJECTS SEIZED — Venezuela President Hugo Chavez has ordered state confiscation of four projects run by foreign oil companies in the country’s Orinoco River region. Petroleos de Venezuela SA, the state oil company, will assume at least a 60 percent stake in the projects.
On Feb. 26, Chavez announced during his weekday radio show, “Hello, President,” that the seizure will be completed by May 1, according to the Associated Press. He did not explain how the government would pay for its increased share of the $17 billion the foreign companies have invested in the projects.
The Orinoco projects, which are run by British Petroleum PLC, Exxon Mobil Corp., Chevron Corp., ConocoPhillips Co., Total SA and Statoil ASA, were the only oil operations in Venezuela still under private control. Private oil companies working in other areas of Venezuela submitted to state control in 2006. Though forced to accept minority stakes in their enterprises, the companies still want to maintain operations in Venezuela, which has the largest oil deposits outside the Middle East.
In recent days, Chavez also has nationalized Venezuela’s largest telecommunications company and its electricity company.
WORLDWIDE ANGLICANS REFUSE GAY MARRIAGE, BISHOPS — Leaders of 38 “provinces” of the Anglican Church voted Feb. 19 to require that the Episcopal Church in the United States ban marriage ceremonies for homosexual couples and not consecrate any more homosexual bishops.
A statement released at the end of a six-day meeting in Tanzania said ECUSA promises of a moratorium on homosexual unions and consecrations were too vague to repair “broken relationships” in the 77 million-member Anglican Church, according to a report in Christian Today, a London-based news organization.
Relationships among Anglicans worldwide began to deteriorate in 2003 when the ECUSA consecrated its first openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson. Matters worsened in 2006, when the ECUSA installed a new presiding bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori, who immediately gave her support to homosexual unions and clergy.
Traditionalists, led by African Archbishop Peter Akinola, have accepted leadership over conservative parishes in the United States that want to affiliate with church leaders who affirm the biblical teaching that homosexuality is a sin.
FOUR POLICEMEN MURDERED IN PRISON — Four policemen were murdered Feb. 25 in a Guatemalan prison where they were being held in connection with the killings a week earlier of three representatives to the Central American Parliament in Guatemala City.
The four officers included Luis Arturo Herrera, head of the organized crime unit for Guatemala’s national police, and three of his officers, according to the Associated Press. They were expected to testify who ordered the murders of the parliamentarians.
The killers got through eight locked doors to reach the cell where they murdered the officers. Nearly two dozen prison guards were detained for questioning, and reports circulated that the killers may have been wearing guard uniforms. The killings raised questions about corruption and drug ties in Guatemala, which serves as a conduit for an estimated 75 percent of the cocaine that makes its way into America.
‘PEACE’ DELEGATES MEET IRAN’S PRESIDENT — A delegation of American Christians met Iran’s hard-line president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Feb. 26 in Tehran, ostensibly in hopes of improving relations between the United States and Iran.
A Mennonite delegation met Ahmadinejad this past September when he was at the United Nations, according to the Associated Press. The group was led by Quakers and Mennonites and included Episcopal, Roman Catholic and United Methodist delegates, as well as representatives from the National Council of Churches, Pax Christi and Sojourners/Call to Renewal.
The official Islamic Republic News Agency quoted Ahmadinejad as saying, “The Iranian nation does not hate or oppose the American people.” The comments came one day before a U.N. Security Council meeting to discuss the Dec. 23 resolution imposing economic sanctions on Iran for not halting uranium enrichment.
EGYPTIAN BLOGGER SENTENCED FOR ‘INSULT’ — A former law student in Cairo has been sentenced to four years in prison for using his website to “insult” Islam and Egypt’s president. Lawyers for Abdel Kareem Nabil said the sentence was being appealed.
Nabil, 22, who describes himself as a secular Muslim, was given three years in prison for insulting Islam and inciting sectarian strife and a fourth year for insulting President Hosni Mubarak, according to the Associated Press. He used his weblog to advocate secularism and criticize conservative Muslims, calling Al-Azhar University, Egypt’s leading Islamic institute, “the university of terrorism.”
The conviction was condemned by human rights groups, but the Egyptian government defended the decision. Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit was quoted as saying, “No one, no matter who he might be, has the right to interfere with Egyptian legal matters or comment on Egypt’s decisions.”
MERCY SHIP ANASTASIS CALLED ‘VESSEL OF GOD’ — A hospital ship that provided free medical procedures and other ministries to thousands of Ghana’s citizens was praised Feb. 22 as a “vessel of God” by the country’s president, John Kofi Agyekum Kufuor. “I am convinced you are a vessel of God,” Kufuor said. “I’m praying that you will continue to do this work. Ghana is grateful for the work you have done.”
The Mercy Ship Anastasis provided surgeries, eye care and dental treatments during its ninth-month port of call, according to mercyships.org. The Anastasia’s crew also added a maternity ward to a clinic, built a youth health center in a slum and provided additional classroom space for a school. Teams also drilled water wells, trained public health instructors and helped poor women start small businesses.
Mercy Ships was founded in 1978 with the mission of bringing world-class medical and community services to developing nations. The ships’ crews are made up of volunteers who have performed more than 1.5 million free services with a value of $600 million.