The mass murder of Christians that occurred in one week over Christmas 2023 in Nigeria has continued into this year.
Between 23 and 30 December, 238 people were killed by Fulani militants in predominantly Christian areas of Plateau State, according to Release International and Morning Star News. The governor of Plateau State declared a week of prayer and mourning, and the attacks continue without any effective response from either the Nigerian authorities or the international community.
“The world must wake up to the religious and ethnic cleansing in Nigeria”
Despite Nigeria’s tourist office calling Plateau State, ‘The Home of Peace and Tourism’, the Christmas massacre drove 20,000 people from their homes in what seemed like a coordinated campaign. Then, on 4 January, Boko Haram terrorists murdered the pastor of a Church of Christ in Nations congregation and at least six of his church members.Also on 4 January, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom expressed “extreme disappointment that the US Department of State yet again failed to designate Nigeria as a country of particular concern”.
Release International reports that the Rev Gideon Dawel, a District Overseer of Christ’s Apostolic Church, was an eyewitness to the Christmas attacks. His wife and five daughters were all killed in Kambarpelli. He says the militants shouted ‘Allahu Akbar’ (Allah is greater) as they slaughtered people with guns and machetes and set fire to houses.
Release International CEO Paul Robinson says: “The world must wake up to the religious and ethnic cleansing that is unfolding in Nigeria before their eyes. How many people must be slaughtered, before the international community puts sufficient pressure on Nigeria to protect its Christian minority in the north?”
According to the Nigerian NGO Intersociety, since 2009, jihadists have killed 52,000 Nigerian Christians and destroyed 18,000 churches.
Police arrest Catholic priests
Nicaraguan police have recently arrested at least nine Roman Catholic priests, including a bishop, according to news agency Reuters.
Reuters’ sources say two of the priests were detained for publicly praying for imprisoned Bishop Rolando Alvarez – who has been a leading critic of President Daniel Ortega. One of the priests was later released. It is reported locally that at least two other priests were also released soon after their arrest.
Bishop Alvarez objected to the government’s use of violence to suppress mass protests in 2018
The authorities have not made any statement as to why the priests were targeted, but Ortega has previously accused Catholic leaders of trying to undermine his government.
Bishop Alvarez had objected to the government’s use of violence to suppress mass protests in 2018. He was convicted of treason and is serving a 26-year prison sentence. The second bishop to be arrested is Bishop Isidoro Mora.
The government increased its scrutiny of priests after the Pope described Ortega’s government as a “gross dictatorship” similar to communist and Nazi regimes. Ortega cut official links with the Vatican.
Exiled Nicaraguan researcher Martha Patricia Molina believes there are at least 11 Catholic leaders currently imprisoned in the country.
Church building site and Christian homes attacked
Muslim extremists have attacked workers laying the foundations for a new church and set fire to Christian houses.
Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) report that a mob entered the building site in Al-Azeeb in Minya province on 18 December. Around 3,000 Coptic Christians live in the village and had recently been given permission to build a new church. The attackers tried to prevent any work being done and even continued when police tried to stop them. They threw stones and Molotov cocktails which set fire to several Christian homes.
They threw stones and Molotov cocktails which set fire to several Christian homes
CSW President Mervyn Thomas commented: “We call on the Egyptian authorities to hold those responsible for this attack accountable, and to refrain from resorting to reconciliation meetings as a replacement for the rule of law, as they impose ad-hoc, unjust and often unconstitutional conditions on the victims of sectarian violence and perpetuate impunity for the perpetrators.”
This is despite President al-Sisi having given verbal and practical backing to the Christian community whenever anti-Christian incidents occur, according to aid organisation Barnabas Aid. It reports that Egyptian Christians say their situation is now better than it has been in living memory. Al-Sisi’s government introduced the 2016 Law for Building and Restoring Churches, which has led to 3,189 churches or church-affiliated buildings receiving licences. (Source: Barnabas Aid, January/February 2024)
Pastor jailed over Christmas
A church leader in Sri Lanka has been arrested for comments in a sermon.
Pastor Jerome Fernando, senior overseer of The Glorious Church in Colombo, was granted bail and released on 3 January after being in jail since 1 December. Police took him into custody even though a court had ordered that he should not be arrested.
Morning Star News (MSN) reports that Fernando was charged with “outraging the religious feelings of any class of persons” in an online sermon.
A Christian leader told MSN that many churches had publicly demanded his release. He said: “We stand in solidarity, because today it is he, tomorrow it could be us as well.” He added that the government and leaders of other religions have been turning Sri Lankans against churches in the country.
Police took him into custody even though a court had ordered that he should not be arrested
The National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka made a statement after the pastor’s arrest that decried the decline in religious freedom in the nation and appealed for the charges against Fernando to be dropped.
Christian couple escape to US
Sudanese couple who were threatened with death because of their Christian faith have found safety in the United States.
After Nada and her husband Hamouda were convicted of converting to Christianity, they faced 100 lashes each and a year in exile. Some of their family were also threatening to kill them.
Changing religion was decriminalised in 2020, yet people still face attacks and arrest. Nada and Hamouda were accused of “criminal adultery” as a Sharia (Islamic law) court ruled that their marriage had become illegal after Hamouda converted to Christianity.
They faced 100 lashes each and a year in exile
Religious freedom group ADF International supported Nada and Hamouda in their court case, but helped evacuate them to the USA after the court decision and death threats. The couple and their children are overjoyed to be free.
However, elsewhere in Sudan a Coptic monastery was attacked by rebels fighting the Sudanese government. Christian Solidarity Worldwide reports that the Rapid Support Forces attacked the monastery in Wad Madani, Gezira State, on 16 December and are now using it as a military base. At least five priests, five novices and four workers have been missing since the attack.
Sudan has recently experienced tumultuous political changes. Until recently, the government criminalised apostasy and adultery charges have been used to punish converts, as in the famous case of Mariam Ibrahim.
In May 2014, while eight months pregnant, she was sentenced to death for apostasy under Sudan’s Sharia law and was flogged for being married to a Christian. Mariam was forced to give birth to her baby daughter while shackled in a prison cell that she was confined to with her other one-year old child. She now advocates for everyone’s right to live out their faith freely without fear of persecution.