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Persecution of Christians Around the World: A Voice of the Martyrs Special Report

In its 1998 Special Issue, The Voice of the Martyrs listed 42 countries where Christians are facing persecution in its various forms: arrest, imprisonment, physical torture and death. The following is a summary of what is happening to the church in the world. It is compiled from reports published in various issues of The Voice of the Martyrs magazine.

  • Tom White,
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In its 1998 Special Issue, The Voice of the Martyrs listed 42 countries where Christians are facing persecution in its various forms: arrest, imprisonment, physical torture and death. The following is a summary of what is happening to the church in the world. It is compiled from reports published in various issues of The Voice of the Martyrs magazine.

Muslim rule is very oppressive. Women are no longer allowed to attend school or hold jobs. Men must adhere to a very strict Islamic code and are required to have beards. Non-Muslims are denied freedom of assembly; open profession of faith often leads to death.

Christians suffer from a reign of violence from the Islamic Salvation Front. These rebels have been known to march through towns and slit the throats of anyone who has not lived up to his call to Islamic fundamentalism. Bitter memories of atrocities committed by "Christian" colonialists have destroyed the credibility of anything associated with Christianity. Often, Christian girls are forced to marry Muslims. Intimidation from family, friends and Muslim extremists frequently causes believers to withdraw from Christian fellowship.

Although Azerbaijan officially guarantees religious freedom, the nationalists are becoming more Islamic and anti-Christian. Many Armenian and Russian Christians have fled the country since the 1989 massacre. Armenian churches have been closed and very few Christians would feel secure attending them if they were open.

Although officially a democracy, coup attempts and corruption threaten its stability. The government and constitution allow religious freedom and do not condone persecution. However, at the village level, persecution is a common occurrence in this Muslim nation. The rise of a more radical interpretation of Islam threatens Christian work and witness. Believers are often denied access to public water wells. Muslim extremists have also destroyed rickshaws owned by believers.

When Abdul and Mjura M. became Christians, their neighbors would not let them drink from the well. Mjura and her children have to walk 1 mile to the river 3 times a day with clay pots to get water. Sometimes the river water makes them sick. The Muslim court in the village has initiated a court case against them. Abdul's uncle took their inheritance of land away. While they worship with other believers, neighbors shout in the window and throw dirt at the house. Mjura had to go to the hospital after her relatives beat her with a stick. They hit her in the ear, grabbed her hair, and jerked her around.

Milon G. sells clothing. After his conversion, he began placing Christian books in his shop. Muslim men came in and took clothing from his shop, refusing to pay for it. If Milon asked for money, they threatened to beat him. By bicycle, he carries Christian literature to other villages even though groups of Muslims threaten to cut off his feet so he can no longer travel.

For the last year, neighbors have not allowed visitors to cross their land to come and visit Abdul and Joina R. They cannot get agricultural loans for their rice field. Abdul was in bed for a month as a result of beatings.

All public worship and evangelism by non-Buddhists is illegal. Pastor Norbu who preached openly among the mountain tribal people was arrested, thrown into prison and tortured, suffering severe head injuries. He died of a heart attack 10 days after his release.

Christian leaders were expelled in 1991; Christian literature is banned, as is the celebration of Christmas. Muslims control the school systems. Conversion to Christianity is restricted since it is illegal to evangelize Muslims.

"Re-education" through labor camps detains hundreds of thousands without a hearing each year. China's "strike-hard" policy has "struck" hardest on Christians. More Christians are in prison or under detention than in any other country in the world. The confiscation of church property and Bibles continues — even Bibles officially printed by the government. It is estimated that 3,000 Chinese come to Christ each day. The house church movement comprises approximately 90 percent of China's Christians and endures unimaginable persecution.

Fu Xi Qui (Bob Fu) and his wife were arrested on May 9, 1996 for having a secret Christian training school where believers were equipped for Christian work and witness in the widespread house church movement. After being released, they fled to Hong Kong and then tried to get out of there before the Communist takeover. This was possible only because of intervention of many United States congressmen and senators.

Top Christian leaders were imprisoned and condemned as rebels. One leader, Peter Xu, leads several million Christians all over China. The government calls him a cult leader instead of a leader of unregistered home churches that number in the millions.

In 1996 the local Three-Self Patriotic Movement occupied a church building and appointed itself elders and a pastor from among 100 believers who agreed to register.

The remaining 700 members were told that if they wanted to worship in their church they must accept TSPM leadership. Church leaders decided they would pull out and organize small groups and worship at home.

On March 15, 1996 a church near Beijing was raided by police taking Christian literature and all the chairs in the room. It was raided again 3 months later and then 7 days after that — each time the church property being confiscated. Police also conducted body searches of believers and threatened to throw excrement over them and their houses if they were caught worshipping together again.

Police raided a church in Zhaosu County. Members were severely beaten and had boiling water thrown in their faces when they refused to comply with police orders. Twelve of the 17 were released after 5 women took responsibility for the gathering.

Comoro Islands
A new constitution approved by 85% of the voters increased the influence of Islam in this country. All public witness by Christians is now forbidden and believers are not allowed to meet openly.

Although Cuba's constitution was amended in 1992 to guarantee freedom of religion, Christians are still imprisoned and churches are destroyed. Bibles are confiscated from passengers entering Cuban airports. Alarmed at the growth of house churches (over 800 in the last five years) the Ministry of Justice in 1996 ordered the closure of all house churches. Believers refused to comply with this order.

A regulation enacted in December, 1995 forbade the sale of paper, ink, typewriters, computers and mechanical parts of photocopiers and printing presses to religious organizations.

The Minister of Religion, an atheist, refuses to allow new church buildings to be built. Seventy churches were closed in the months of October and November, 1996. Mario Gomez began to show Christian videos in his home almost every day. According to the Communist government, this was a violation of religious freedom. Castro says Cubans are not allowed to learn about Christ in their own homes. Marco was sentenced to 18 months in prison for the crime of "violation of the home."

Pastor Bladimir Mato was living in a small house that was used for worship. The police threw out the family's furniture and belongings and moved another family into the house. Mato and family are now living in a filthy hut.

Since 1963, members of the church in Banes have made numerous requests that their church be reopened. Finally the church re-opened in 1992. But on June 23, 1997 police closed the church again and stole the lantern, pulpit, benches and a guitar. The government threatened to throw Pastor Samuel Ricardo, his wife and baby out of the humble church parsonage onto the street.

Pastor Andres Olivares, president of Baptist convention, organized a letter-writing campaign to protest closing of churches in Cuba. He was threatened with 6 years of prison.

The government also refuses legal status to five Christian denominations. A Salvation Army pastor was imprisoned 3 months for allowing one of the non-legal groups to worship in his church.

On September 11, 1996 authorities used a bulldozer to tear down the construction of an Assembly of God Church in Guayabo, Jimaguayu. This church was founded by Pastor Orson Vila who was recently released from prison. The current pastor was sent to jail for a day.

In the Turkish north where almost everyone is Muslim, no active witness is tolerated, and the church is limited to a few small groups of believers.

The country's constitution gives preference to Muslims. Christians are treated as second-class citizens, being denied political representation and discriminated against in employment. An 1856 Ottoman Empire law is used to keep churches from being built, repaired or repainted without the permission of the president. In February, 1997 Muslim militants murdered 15 Christians inside their place of worship.

Mohammed Wagdie Dorrah, a Muslim convert to Christianity, was arrested October 3, 1996 and accused of encouraging division between Christians and Muslims. He had previously been detained for two weeks and tortured in January, 1995 because of his conversion. He was tortured with electric burners, in addition to being kicked, slapped and hanged by his hands. He was arrested a second time April 13, 1996 and dismissed on April 21. He refused to be a spy for the secret police and inform on the church and other Muslims who converted to Christianity.

Equatorial Guinea
Open witness is banned and no new church denominations are approved. There are few missionaries.

The Muslim government forces people to carry an identification card that identifies religious status. Although the government says all may choose to follow Christianity, Islam, Buddhism or Hinduism, Muslims have been receiving preferential treatment. Islam's political strength is used to limit evangelism and reduce Christian influence on public life. Since early 1996, mobs of Muslim extremists have burned or destroyed over 50 church buildings. Several Christians have died in the fires.

On May 23, 1997 a mob rioted in Banjarmasin. They set fire to the church called Katedral Keluarga Kudus. When the mob left, ten people hiding inside came out and extinguished the fire. The mob returned and set the church on fire again. People continued to put out the fire until the military arrived to assist them.

The mob targeted another church for a tribal people and set it on fire. The fire got out of control and burned several homes as well. Fourteen churches were destroyed in all. A large shopping center was also burned, killing hundreds of people trapped inside. The government issued no comment on the incident.

On May 28, 1997 a mob of Muslims destroyed three churches in Bangli. On the same day churches in other areas were destroyed. Immanuel Christian School in Situbondo was also burned.

Although there are constitutional guarantees of religious freedom, Shiite Muslims are set on crushing any faith but Islam. All open witness is banned and the government sends spies to monitor Christian groups. Believers are discriminated against in education, employment and property ownership. Several pastors have been murdered in the last 5 years.

Religions are accepted by their level of loyalty to Saddam Hussein's regime. The import of Christian literature is restricted. After the Persian Gulf War, Iraq killed select ethnic groups, including Christians. Tens of thousands were gassed, shot, or forced to leave their homes.

Sunni Islam is the state religion. Only Muslims may become citizens. Christians have the freedom to live and work in Kuwait, but worship must be within the Christian community (a physical location). Evangelism of Kuwaitis is forbidden. The government provides financial incentives for those who claim to be Muslim and has even purchased large quantities of Bibles in order to burn them.

The three or four Christian churches in the capital city of Vientiane are considered potentially subversive and are closely monitored by the government. Under the "New Mechanism"implemented in some districts, those who do not convert to Buddhism or animism can be forcibly removed from the district.

An evangelist concluded a 22-day evangelistic campaign at a Khmu village in the central region of Laos. He planted a church with 100 believers. Soon after the evangelist left, persecution began. A young leader of the new church was publicly bound in chains and placed in a pit for four days. As of August 15, he was under house arrest with freedom only to see his family and work in the field. Twenty-five of the 100 recanted their faith, 75 have not. The authorities have agreed to release the man if all the villagers recant their faith.

Qadhafi has attempted to appease the growing number of Muslims in his country by broadening Islamic law. Evangelism is difficult. Christian literature may enter only through secretive means. There are very few Libyan believers. Almost all Christians are foreign workers and their congregations are strictly monitored by the government.

Although the constitution guarantees religious freedom, fundamentalist Muslims are doing everything in their power politically to inhibit Christian evangelism. All Christian literature printed must be for non-Malays only. Ethnic Malays are not allowed to have a Christian place of worship. The Bible and many other Christian books containing certain phrases common to Indonesian have been banned by the government to prevent the unauthorized use of religious terms. Permits for building churches are rarely granted and house churches are strongly discouraged. Freedom of speech and public assembly are also restricted.

Mauritania is one of the most restricted nations in the world. Only one-fifth of one percent of the population is Christian. It is illegal for citizens to enter non-Muslim households. By law, anyone who confesses Christ faces the death penalty. People who have simply shown interest in the gospel have found themselves in prison facing torture. Christian literature and religious broadcasts are not allowed.

King Hasson is committed to the preservation of Islam as the religion of all Moroccans. Thus, Morocco is a hostile environment of Christians; anyone who comes to Christ can face charges of treachery and illegal contact with foreign missions. Many have endured ostracism from their families, loss of employment, and imprisonment. Missionary work is not permitted, but many foreign Christians are working in secular roles hoping quietly to win souls to Christ.

Nigeria's military government engages in arbitrary arrest, violence, torture, and executions to maintain power. Islam is given preferential treatment over Christianity. Northern Nigeria's predominately Muslim population often terrorizes Christians, destroying churches and occasionally killing believers. The government turns a blind eye to this injustice.

North Korea
Considered one of the most repressive and isolated Communist regimes in the world today, North Korea denies every kind of human right to its citizens. Christians must practice their faith in deep secrecy and constant danger.

Militant Islamic forces in Pakistan have initiated much violence against Christians. Many Christians have been falsely accused of breaking law 295c — blaspheming Mohammed, a crime punishable by death. Some have been killed by mobs after being acquitted of such charges.

In February, 1997 Pakistani police started a rumor that Christians had destroyed a Koran and littered its torn pages in a Muslim mosque. A mob of 30,000 Muslims descended on Christian villages burning churches, destroying shops and demolishing every home in sight. Vehicles were burned, water tanks destroyed, as well as the electric system. Nearly 15,000 Christians lost their homes and personal property.

Saleema, a 17-year-old Christian, witnessed to an 18-year-old Muslim, Raheela. Raheela made a profession of faith in Christ. When her parents found out, they became furious. Raheela refused to marry the Muslim man her parents had arranged. She ran to Saleema and her pastor for counsel. Raheela's parents had Saleema, her pastor and his family arrested. Both Saleema and the pastor were tortured severely. Raheela's parents killed her and charged Saleema with murder. An attorney was hired, and able to have charges reduced to "converting a Muslim."She was released on bail August 1, 1997 and is awaiting trail. She and her family remain in hiding as their lives have been threatened.

A judge who acquitted 2 Christian men of the charge of blaspheming Mohammed was found murdered on Oct. 10, 1997. More than 12 Pakistani Christians have recently been accused under the harsh blasphemy laws. Five were illegally murdered by Muslim extremists after they were acquitted by the courts. Muslims protesting Manzoor Masih's acquittal gunned him down on the streets of Lahore in the spring of 1994. Others acquitted have fled the country for safety.

On October 14, 1997 in a village near Multan, Brothers Ayoob and Samsoon Masih, who had been arrested on charges of blasphemy, were attacked and heavily beaten. Their family was forced to flee their homes for safety, leaving their cattle behind. Samsoon was released from jail a few days later and once again beaten.

A 10-year-old Filipino girl was beaten to death by her father after she professed Christ. Before she died, she held the bloody dress she was wearing when she was beaten and told the missionary, "I just want Jesus to know that I was willing to bleed for him."

In addition to serving as pastor of the Alliance Church in Ipil, Zamoanga Del Sur, Wenifredo Rio was actively supporting 10 church planters mostly working where Islam is dominant. He established a business to support the church planters in his area. He operated several passenger vehicles. He received extortion letters from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels who threatened to kidnap him if he would not pay their demands for "revolutionary taxes." He was kidnapped in July, 1997. On the way to collect the ransom of approximately $2,000 from Rio's wife, his captors asked a fisherman if there were any soldiers close by. The fisherman casually answered there was a military detachment nearby. Upon hearing this, the rebels shot Rio in the back of the head.

Four Christian families from Negros fled to Mendoro because of severe persecution by Communists. They abandoned their farmland, homes, animals and other possessions after their church was burned and a layman abducted — his whereabouts is still unknown.

VOM correspondent Pastor "Raul" was resting after carrying a projector and other equipment for 21 miles. He was attacked by a group of men who destroyed most of his equipment.

The strict branch of Sunni Islam, Wahabbi, is the state religion. Criticism of the Muslim faith or the ruling family is a crime. Women are not allowed to drive or travel abroad without the permission of male relatives. Foreign believers may not worship publicly or celebrate Christmas.

In 1997, Boris Yeltsin signed a bill restricting religious freedom in Russia. This bill states that a church cannot exist if it was not registered fifteen years ago when Russia was the Soviet Union, ruling under communism. Thousands of believers — Baptists, Pentecostals, and others — who did not compromise under Communist Russia are now once again "illegal." Although VOM has not officially considered Russia as a "restricted" nation, VOM is watching this nation closely since any piece of legislation could cause the table to turn.

Saudi Arabia
Anyone who does mission work or converts a Muslim faces jail, expulsion, or execution. Even foreign Christians visiting Saudi Arabia are not allowed to meet together and worship. Since 1992, 360 cases have been documented in which Christian expatriates were arrested for taking part in private worship. It has been reported that Christians have been arrested on false charges, imprisoned, and even beheaded because of their faith.

For Christians, fellowship with other believers is dangerous since Muslim persecution is strong in many parts of the country. Many Christians have fled to neighboring countries.

Sri Lanka
Christians are persecuted by the Buddhist majority. Free choice of one's profession and access to schooling are restricted for Christians.

In this secular state, Muslims are still given preferential treatment in many areas of society. The Emergency Law of 1963 allows authorities to conduct "preventative" arrests and hold detainees without any legal safeguards. Christians find it difficult to spread the gospel freely under such conditions. Missionaries are not allowed visas, so Christians are able to exhibit their faith only in professional and informal friendship settings.

Tibet (China)
Today, Christians find themselves trapped between an oppressive religious system, and China's oppressive government. By one estimate, there may be only 300 believers in Tibet. Opposed by their government, their culture, and a false religion, Buddhists who convert to Christianity must overcome many obstacles to grow in Christ.

For the few in Turkey who dare profess Christ, life can be dangerous. Many believers have been harassed, threatened, and imprisoned for their faith in Christ. Evangelizing is difficult because Turks tend to place Christians in the same category as Armenian terrorists and Jehovah's Witnesses.

One church in the capital city of Ashkebad, which had grown to over 100 members, was forced to close in late May, 1997 as a result of a new law passed restricting Christian worship. Christian students attending universities have been threatened with expulsion from school.

United Arab Emirates
Sunni Islam is the official religion. Only foreign Christians have freedom to worship and witness. Christian education and witnessing to nationals are severely restricted.

Christians are being persecuted under the hand of Islam. Each church must have an official government registration in order to hold services. Police make unannounced visits to churches and demand to see their registration papers. Churches that cannot immediately produce their registration are closed and their doors sealed by police. Pastors have been arrested and imprisoned, and members threatened.

Police monitor attendance at church services in Hanoi. Only 9 church buildings are allowed to remain open in northern Vietnam where believers may legally worship. Thousands of other believers must worship "illegally." Christians are arrested if caught evangelizing outside all but a few large cities.

Police confiscate house church Christian's motorcycles, possessions and state registration to their houses (this means they can be evicted). They also take their identification cards and threaten them with jail. The police also fine house churches.

Believers are harassed, beaten and imprisoned for illegally preaching and organizing evangelistic activities.

Newspaper reports state that leaders caught preaching and evangelizing among the Hmong tribe have been executed. The Communist government forbids the Hmong to read anything in their own language.

Bui Van Se and Nguyen Huu Liem of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) were arrested for illegally organizing evangelistic activities. They were fined the equivalent of 2 months' salary in Saigon.

To Dinh Trung was imprisoned from April 5, 1995 to April 30, 1998 for sharing the gospel with K'Ho tribal villagers. He was taken off his bike, beaten by police in front of the village, videotaped and ridiculed. He was held for 6 months until his trial on Oct. 4, 1995. When he asked the judge if the beating and the imprisonment without charges were legal, he was told to shut up and given an unlawful prison sentence of 3 years.

Three evangelists are being held in a northern Vietnam prison. Nguyen Van Vuong was imprisoned and his possessions confiscated on March 3, 1996. He is serving a three-year sentence for preaching, as are Lo Van Hoa and Lo Van Hen. When arrested, Hoa was forced to stand motionless in the hot sun all day. When Hen was taken to prison his legs were tightly chained, causing them to swell and cut off circulation. All three evangelists were charged with "preaching the gospel without permission, holding illegal meetings, causing rebellions and inciting a crowd to riot." They have been forced into hard labor; when the daily quota is not met, they are beaten and suffer a severe lack of food. For three months they were fed rice mixed with sand, but eventually began receiving clean rice. The authorities frequently terrorize their families and make it very difficult for the children to enroll in school.

Christians ride motorbikes up to 12 hours on crude dirt roads to share the gospel with tribes that have never heard the name Jesus. They have to travel at night to avoid run-ins with police.

Pastor Nguyen Lap Ma and his family have been under house arrest for over 15 years for refusing to give the Christian Missionary Alliance Church at Can Tho to the Communists.

Yemen is one of the world's least evangelized countries. The government will not allow the few resident Christians to witness. Their walk is difficult due to discouragement and isolation from the body.

For additional information, contact:

VOM ministries
P. O. Box 443,
Bartlesville, OK 74995-0443
(918) 337-8015
Fax: (918) 337-9287
E-mail [email protected].

  • Tom White

Tom White has worked with The Voice of the Martyrs since 1971. While teaching English in the Cayman Islands in the 1970s, he made repeated trips to Cuba dropping thousands of gospels and Bible portions into the ocean currents and through the air corridors. In May 1979 his plane crashed on a Cuban highway; he was arrested by Cuban officials. Eventually he was released in 1980 after many appeals from Mother Teresa and U. S. Congressmen. He is the author of "God's Missiles Over Cuba," "The Spiritual Battle for Cuba," "A Window in Time," and "Between Two Tigers." Tom is the director of The Voice of the Martyrs, Inc. You can reach VOM at P. O. Box 443, Bartlesville, OK 74005-0443, (918) 337-8015, fax (918) 338-0189, email [email protected], website:

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