Nepal: ‘Pricking My Heart’

When a Christian brother we’ll call “Bilal” died last spring in a small Nepali city, it was important to his family that his body be buried. For Nepali Christians, burial is not only a way to dispose of a body but also an “Ebenezer” (1 Sam. 7:12), a permanent landmark of a person’s faith and God’s faithfulness. But in Nepal, where 75 percent of the people are Hindus, cremation is the expected ritual following a death.

About 30,000 people live in the city where Bilal’s family live, but there are only four or five Christian families. When Bilal died, radical Hindus tried to take his body for cremation, according to Hindu custom. Death, along with birth and marriage, is one of three significant milestones in Hindu culture. By cremating Bilal’s body, the Hindus hoped to erase his Christian testimony. Cremation would be a message in their culture that Bilal hadn’t really been a Christian, that in death he’d returned to Hinduism. Conversely, a grave would be a permanent testimony that this man had died a Christian.

Bilal’s family refused to turn the body over to the Hindus; they wanted a Christian funeral and burial. The family was at home making funeral arrangements with their church’s pastor, Pastor “Sabal,” when they heard shouting outside the house. A large Hindu mob had gathered, shouting threats and demanding the body in order to perform Hindu last rights and cremation.

Sabal told the Hindus that Bilal was a Christian and that his family wanted a Christian funeral. The mob then became enraged, grabbing Sabal and two other Christians and beating them with sticks and their fists. The Christians tried to flee on their bicycles, but the mob continued to attack.

The Christians found refuge in the home of “Bima,” a Christian widow who motioned them inside her house despite the angry mob chasing them. Why would she invite attacks on her home by sheltering the Christians?

“I am the Lord’s servant,” she told VOM workers, “so I have to be strong. I will not fear, because he is with us. I thought that some of those people might make problems for me, but I have to be strong.”

The mob of angry Hindus backed off, and Christians on motorbikes came to remove Sabal and the others from danger. Sabal was treated for wounds he received in the beating and was later examined by our VOMedical director. While Sabal’s body healed quickly, he struggled emotionally. He couldn’t sleep for a week after the attack.

“I was praying for myself and I understood, when reading the Bible, I understood that I have to forgive,” Sabal said, “because the Lord says if you don’t forgive others you will not be forgiven. Those words were pricking my heart.” God helped Sabal forgive his attackers by reminding him of the forgiveness he had received.

“I have also done some wrong things, some mistakes, so the Lord is working [to forgive me],” he said. “So I have to forgive. The Lord was speaking to me, ‘Forgive them. They have to come to Me.’ The Lord was speaking to me. Then I said yes. I have to work with them so they will come to Christ.” A month after the attack, Sabal came to the point of fully forgiving those who had attacked and injured him.

He continues to minister in the same city, but after the attacks his congregation shrank by half. Many Christians left in fear, so Sabal preaches sermons designed to encourage believers to withstand the persecution he knows they’ll face.

“One day everyone has to die,” he tells his congregation. “The life here [on earth] is very short. Whatever they do to us because we’re Christian — what we will go through — even if we have to die, we’ll die because we’ll have a long life [in eternity with Christ].”

Some of the believers too fearful to attend church still ask Sabal to come to their homes and pray with them. He has faith that one day their courage will be strengthened and they will return to the church. “I believe they will come one day,” he said, “because they have tasted the Lord.”

YOUR TURN: What are you doing to leave a legacy for Christ that others will be blessed by after your death?

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Praying as a Family

imagesWe all know, at least in our heads, that prayer is important. Yet how many of us honestly believe that our prayers, the simple prayers of our far-from-perfect family, can really make a difference?

If we could comprehend, deep down in our spirits, the true power of prayer, we would all pray more — and the difference would radically impact our lives and the lives of everyone around us.

James 5:16 tells us, “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” We want our prayers to be effective, but what does it mean to stand “righteous” before God?

As a family, we’re very aware of our differences and our faults. We’ve all sinned, and we need to acknowledge that no one of earth can stand blameless before our perfect, holy, and awesome God. No matter how good we try to be, our own works are nothing but filthy rags in His sight (see Isaiah 64:6).

To pray effectively as a family, we need to grasp the importance of the “fear of the Lord.” We don’t need to be “afraid” of God in a fearful sense of the word, but we need to realize how powerful and mighty He is.

Teaching your Kids about Prayer, with Filthy Rags

The next time you come across an extremely dirty rag in your house, use it an opportunity to share an important lesson with your kids. We may think our own self-efforts help us earn “Brownie points” with God. But, to Him, our human works are as worthless as stinky rags.

If we try to earn favor with God — instead of trusting in Jesus — it’s like collecting yucky rags. The more they pile up, the more they stink and mildew.

In prayer, each of us must come to God in an attitude of total surrender and humility, keeping our hearts clean and open before Him. Through the cleansing sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross, every mom and dad, and boy and girl, can pray as a “righteous man” before God. Because of Christ’s forgiveness and righteousness, even your family can come before God with boldness and authority to effectively intercede on behalf of others.

Easy Prayer Projects for the Mission-Minded Family
Take a prayer-walk around your neighborhood, quietly praying for each neighbor as you walk by.
Have your children make a “Ten Most Wanted” list or poster. Have them think of ten people who need Jesus. These can be relatives, neighbors, famous people, or the man who works at the convenience store. Use this list or poster to remind you to pray for these people to come to know the Lord.
Put a small map on your refrigerator, and use this area to display newsletters from missionaries you support, along with current international news updates. Pray regularly as a family, perhaps around the dinner table, for specific world needs and for people you know who need the Lord.

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Irish Catholics continue to flee the church

BELFAST, Northern Ireland — Malachi O’Doherty says his nieces and nephews are helpless at funerals.

Raised without religion, they are flummoxed by the practices and customs that accompany a Catholic ritual. Though he himself left the church as a teenager in the 1960s, he’s ambivalent about the loss of a binding and, at times, beautiful religious culture.

“People are rejecting something they don’t even remember,” said O’Doherty, whose 2008 book “Empty Pulpits: Ireland’s Retreat from Religion” chronicled the impact of secularization on Ireland. “We may have only a sterile, secular culture that looks at the Catholic Church as an army of priests raping children.”

As Pope Francis takes over the global church, O’Doherty, like many church-watchers in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, ascribe the religion’s current troubles to secularization. In 1946, Pope Paul VI called Ireland “the most Catholic country,” but starting in the mid-1960s, a growing number of the Irish — like many in Western Europe and the United States — began questioning the authority of religious institutions. Today, the percentage of Irish practitioners remains high compared with most of the rest of Europe.

But attendance at weekly Mass continues to decline, also reflecting fallout from two decades of revelations about clergy sexual abuse. William Crawley, a BBC journalist who covers religion in Belfast, agreed that secularization and the sex abuse crisis have dealt a one-two punch to the faithful.

“People are rejecting something they don’t even remember.”
~Malachi O’Doherty
“There’s no stigma in not going to church,” said Crawley, who is an ordained Presbyterian minister. ”In fact there’s a stigma to going. Parents need to explain why they are sending their children to church.”

More from GlobalPost: Young Irish Catholics reject conservatism of new pope

Although Catholicism is declining in both the north and the south, the situation is different in each country. The south is 84 percent Catholic, while the north is 48 percent. In both places, however, the number of those practicing their faith is significantly lower than those who just check the census box. According to Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin, in 1984, nearly 90 percent of Irish Catholics went to weekly Mass. In 2011, only 18 percent did. Numbers in the north are harder to come by. Rev. Edward McGee, spokesman for the Diocese of Down and Connor, where Belfast is located, said his jurisdiction has no longitudinal surveys on membership or attendance.

That may be why northerners like McGee say the church merely faces challenges, while southerners tend to call the current situation a “crisis.”

“Northern Catholics were a persecuted people, those in the south were more like landed gentry,” said Rev. Gary Toman, Catholic chaplain at Queens University. “There is a very different experience of being [part of the] church in the north. We came through a difficult time during the Troubles and were grounded in the community.”

The Troubles, which started in the 1960s and ended in the “Good Friday” agreement of 1998, was a period of ethnic and religious violence between Protestants and Catholics. According to O’Doherty, years of fighting helped make Catholicism as much an ethnic and political identity as a religious one.

“Leaving your church had the same connotation as leaving your community,” he said.

Another reason for the church’s relative strength in the north may be that neither the northern dioceses nor the local government have thoroughly investigated clergy sexual abuse.

A series of church-based and government investigations in the south revealed widespread abuse of children as well as illicit heterosexual relationships extending over the last quarter of 20th century. Compounding the problem, offending priests had been reassigned by bishops, seeking to cover up or ignore problems.

More from GlobalPost: Pope Francis won’t change the church’s path, says Dublin city councillor

The revelations were particularly painful for a population that revered priests and saw the church as its social bedrock. In 2010, Pope Benedict apologized to the Irish Church, admitting there had been “serious mistakes.” But victims’ groups felt the statement did not go far enough in accepting responsibility or positing change.

Adding insult to injury, the church may ask parishioners to help pay settlements for abuse victims. The estimated cost of claims is 1.36 billion euros (about $1.75 billion). Since the Catholic Church is a state institution in Ireland, the government is expected to pay part of the bill, but wants religious orders and the dioceses to help.

Still, an ongoing economic slump as well as dwindling numbers of worshippers have made collecting donations difficult. In 2011, a leaked document suggested fining local parishes to help pay costs.

The church, which is the biggest property owner in the south, has been slow to turn over real estate to be sold for compensation. As of last year, a third of the buildings promised in 2002 have yet to be handed over to the state. Some of the buildings may be held in trust and unable to be transferred; others are protected by an indemnity agreement that in 2002 capped the amounts owed by 18 religious orders.

Anger over the handling of the abuse crisis has fueled calls by reformers for a more democratic church. According to Rev. Sean McDonagh, head of the Association for Catholic Priests, the clergy now needs to catch up with laity — the legion of faithful.

“The laity is way ahead of the bishops in terms of the ordination of gays and women,” said McDonagh, referring to two issues that many reformers consider basic. “I’d like to see the church as a communion of equals. The question is: How do we get there?”

 

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US and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Syria: Ghassan Hitto, Hamas, Qatar and Turkey

The United States and United Kingdom continue to support feudal monarchies throughout the Gulf region and spreading the power of the Muslim Brotherhood throughout the Levant and North Africa. Not surprisingly, the disunity between Israel and Turkey meant that two regional powers which could help to topple the secular government of Syria was a serious obstacle. Therefore, President Obama during his visit to Israel resembled the underhanded approach of John Kerry whereby more money and patching up regional divisions became the order of the day.

This reality led to major secular forces in Egypt snubbing the new US Secretary of State during his recent visit to this country. Many secular Egyptians are disillusioned by the strings of the Muslim Brotherhood turning this once proud nation into a rubber stamp. At the same time they fear clerical rule whereby the rights of individuals will be crushed and in time the very real possibility that democracy will be swallowed-up by Islamist indoctrination. Despite these genuine fears in Egypt and the ongoing demonstrations, it is clear that just like the crisis in Bahrain, that these realities are being sidelined because America, the United Kingdom, Turkey, and powers in the Gulf, have a different Islamist vision.

France is the one nation which appears to be stuck between past secular thought patterns and jumping on the bandwagon. After all, France is involved in the murky dealings against the secular government of Syria. However, the same France is alarmed by Islamist forces in Algeria, Mali and Tunisia. In the past the nation of France had a more independent foreign policy but the current leader of France, just like the last leader of this nation, is now taking the “Washington road” when it comes to foreign policy in the Middle East. Yet when it comes to Africa then France is mainly following its own independent foreign policy despite the debacle of Libya.

Obama and Kerry are now trying to strangle Syria by creating a new forged unity between Israel and Turkey, while also putting pressure on Iraq to close down any corridors which may be assisting the government of Syria. At the same time, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt is to be given further funding and a non-entity American Muslim Brotherhood member is now a major figurehead of the so-called Syrian opposition. The one clear binding factor is the link between the American government, Qatar, Turkey and the Muslim Brotherhood and if this doesn’t wake up Syrians, Egyptians and the international community on the whole – then what will? Similarly, Qatar is increasingly trying to utilize its petrodollars in Gaza in order to put Hamas “in its pocket.”

The Global Muslim Brotherhood Daily Report states that “U.S. media is reporting that Ghassan Hitto, known to have been a leader in several U.S. Muslim Brotherhood/Hamas support organizations, has been elected by the Syrian National Coalition (SNC) as head of an interim government in Syria.”

Further down it states that “In 2002, U.S. media also identified Mr. Hitto as a “friend of the Elashi family” and who appeared to be acting as their spokesperson. In 2009, Ghassan Elashi was sentenced to 65 years in prison for his role in financing Hamas as part of the Holy Land Foundation.”

“In 2002, U.S. media identified Mr. Hitto as the Vice-President of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) Dallas Fort-Worth Chapter (see Note 1). A Hudson Institute report identifies CAIR as part of the U.S. Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas support infrastructure in the U.S.”

“According to the Texas Secretary of State, Mr. Hitto is a director of the Muslim American Society(MAS) Youth Center of Dallas. He has also been listed in the past as the contact person for the Dallas chapter of the MAS. The Hudson Institute report also identifies the MAS as part of the U.S. Muslim Brotherhood and close to the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood.”

Ghassan Hitto falls into the support mechanisms of the Muslim Brotherhood, the CIA, Hamas, Qatar and the last piece in the jigsaw applies to him moving to NATO Turkey. This anti-Syrian alliance alongside France, Saudi Arabia, and the United Kingdom, is involved in a very murky alliance whereby Islamists are in the vanguard of crushing secular powers throughout the Middle East. Iraq is also faced by the duality of Gulf powers and the infringement of its sovereignty by Turkey but other areas are different from the destabilization of Syria. Therefore, Iraq is extremely worried by anti-Syrian forces which are supporting sectarianism, terrorism and sedition against Syria in order to create the downfall of the government of Syria.

Kamal al-Labwani who is a dissident and opposed to the government of Bashar al-Assad is also equally scathing about the Muslim Brotherhood and Qatar control mechanisms within the Syrian National Council. He states that the fostered “government is controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood and the Qatar government…We will be against this government and will not give it legality. Democracy is from the land and from the people (and) not from a council that is composed by the government of Qatar.”

David Ignatius, Washington Post, comments that “The regional tension splitting the Syrian rebel movement is between Qatar and Turkey, on one side, and Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United Emirates on the other. The former group would like to see an Islamist government headed by the Muslim Brotherhood after the fall of President Bashar al-Assad. The latter group opposes any expansion of Muslim Brotherhood influence into Syria, fearing that the movement could spread from there to endanger Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E.”

He further states that “Hitto’s appointment was sharply rejected by the Syrian opposition leadership the U.S. has been cultivating. First came the resignation Sunday of Sheikh Moaz al-Khatib, the head of the opposition coalition and seemingly a U.S. favorite when he met in Munich early last month with Vice President Joe Biden. Then Gen. Salim Idriss, who claimed the title of commander of the Free Syrian Army last December, told colleagues that he and his commanders couldn’t support Hitto until a broader array of the opposition had agreed to back him.”

Some nations involved in the alliance against Syria may be worried about the Muslim Brotherhood but this doesn’t mean that Saudi Arabia doesn’t support an Islamist government. Saudi Arabia may be worried about the growing power of the Muslim Brotherhood – or not. Either way, it is abundantly clear that the government based in Riyadh is behind much of the funding which is going to Islamist terrorist groups which have a sectarian angle. The only split within the regional coalition against Syria is that each government favors a different proxy. This in itself is clear evidence that the Syrian government is the only player in Syria which is truly Syrian because all other factions are tainted by their foreign backers which seek a proxy government.

The demise of Mubarak in Egypt was mainly an internal affair despite long-term planning behind the scenes in case this scenario would happen. Likewise, the mass demonstrations in Bahrain and other political developments in other nations have occurred because of the grass roots. However, Libya was about outside meddling which tapped into discontent and then magnified the crisis beyond recognition. Syria was a different ball game because of the Russian Federation, Iran and Hezbollah angle in Lebanon. This meant that Syria was a geopolitical ambition for some nations and for others it was about addressing the Sunni-Shia imbalance after the changed power mechanisms of Iraq. Turkey appears more opportunistic because the “Ottoman” dream lives on within the Erdogan government and the same political leader cares little about dismantling the legacy of secularism.

Robert Ford, the U.S. ambassador to Syria, told the House in America that Ghassan Hitto is “more Texan than Muslim Brotherhood.” Not only does this highlight the blindness of America to the Muslim Brotherhood but it shows that manipulating the House means little to Robert Ford. After all, if Ghassan Hitto is“more Texan than Muslim Brotherhood” then does this mean that Texans support the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas?

The Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT) highlights the role of the American government and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. It is reported by the IPT that “… a Sept. 20, 2011 State Department cable obtained by the IPT reports on a Muslim Brotherhood representative telling the U.S. embassy in Cairo that the “MB (Muslim Brotherhood) was not the extremist organization the West feared.”

“Such assurances have been reflected in comments from Obama administration officials, including the Secretary of State and Director of National Intelligence.”

“In an April 15, 2010 cable, U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson reported that Muslim Brotherhood Supreme Guide Mohammed Badie had “reaffirmed the MB was a non-violent” movement.”

“Director of National Intelligence James Clapper similarly described the Muslim Brotherhood in February 2011 as “largely secular” and said that it “eschewed violence.”

The IPT comments that “In the wake of renewed street protests after Morsi’s November (2012) decree seizing extrajudicial power, and amid reports of violence and intimidation during last month’s constitutional vote, Clinton and other Obama administration officials have issued tepid and general statements about nonviolence and protecting the rights of all Egyptians.”

However, for America the main concerns are protecting its political leverages in Egypt and maintaining the accords signed between Egypt and Israel. Therefore, issues related to pluralism, religious freedom and democracy are not high on the agenda just like it is unimportant in the Gulf region. Instead, America is continuing to develop its powerful links with the Muslim Brotherhood and this applies to Egypt and Syria respectively.

Roger Cohen from the New York Times commented that “Perhaps the most radical change in U.S. foreign policy under President Obama has occurred here in Egypt, where the Muslim Brotherhood, long shunned as a collection of dangerous Islamist extremists, is now the de facto object of American support….. Not only that: Ultraconservative Salafist politicians, who make the Brotherhood seem like moderate pragmatists, are now regular visitors to the U.S. Embassy and, on the theory that it is better to have them inside the tent than out, they are able to visit the United States to learn how things work in the land of Jeffersonian democracy.”

In another article published by Modern Tokyo Times it was stated that “…while Islamist Mursi (Morsi) will sit down with Kerry, the main leaders of the National Salvation Front (NSF) have said no based on America’s meddling in the internal affairs of Egypt. This applies to America providing a helping hand to the beleaguered Mursi despite major demonstrations frequently breaking out in this nation. Therefore, with Kerry meeting the nationalist and Islamist Erdogan in Turkey and the Islamist Mursi in Egypt, alongside America maintaining great relations with feudal monarchies in the Gulf; then where does this leave America within the Middle East when it comes to progressive forces?”

The Hamas link between Qatar, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Turkey, and the United States, is further cemented by Ghassan Hitto – after all, why pick a member of the Muslim Brotherhood who resides in Texas? Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh stated over one year ago according to The Independent news group that “I salute all the nations of the Arab Spring and I salute the heroic people of Syria who are striving for freedom, democracy and reform.” He stated this in Cairo outside the al-Azhar mosque whereby the crowd reportedly chanted “We are marching towards Syria, with millions of martyrs…No Hezbollah and no Iran.”

Since this period many Palestinians have gone to Syria in order to kill and links between Qatar and Hamas continue to grow because of petrodollars. At the same time, despite ongoing fears about a future theocracy in Egypt the United States continues to bankroll the Muslim Brotherhood. Therefore, recent developments firmly point to a major link between America and the Muslim Brotherhood within the domestic affairs of Egypt and Syria whereby democracy, religious pluralism and liberty are far from the agenda.

In the meantime Islamist terrorists continue to kill and create havoc in Syria and even murdering people in mosques is being sanctioned by their powerful backers. The latest farce is another meeting being held in the Gulf whereby feudal monarchs are somehow concerned about the rights of people in Syria despite crushing all freedom at home. This is the sad reality of Syria whereby the last major Arabic speaking nation – which is secular and independent – is facing a daily terrorist onslaught by a powerful axis of evil which involves many nations and terrorist organizations.

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Nursing Mothers Imprisoned: UN Report Details Iranian Persecution of Non-Muslims

Iran’s hard-line regime has intensified its violent crackdown on Christians and other religious minorities, even imprisoning nursing mothers for practicing their faith, according to a new UN report.

The March report provides a rare, detailed view into the shocking treatment of Christians in Iran, where American Pastor Saeed Abedini is serving an eight-year sentence for his alleged work with Christians.

“The persecution of Christians has increased,” said Ahmed Shaheed, the UN’s expert on human rights in Iran. “It seems to target new converts and those who run house churches.”

At least 13 Protestant Christians are currently in detention centers across Iran, and more than 300 Christians have been arrested since June 2010, according to the report. In addition to Christians, the nation’s 350,000 Bahai, who form Iran’s largest non-Muslim faith, have suffered under Tehran’s repression.

While most of the cases have not made headlines, the report spotlighted some examples.

Iran’s judicial authorities sentenced Christian Pastor Behnam Irani in 2011 and church leader Farshid Fathi in 2012 to six-year prison terms. Irani was convicted of “actions against the state,” because he preached Christianity, while Fathi was convicted of “religious propaganda.”

Abedini was sentenced in late January to eight years in Iran’s Evin prison for practicing Christianity in Iran.

Fathi was accused of distributing Persian-language Bibles and coordinating trips for church members to attend religious seminars and conferences outside the country, the report stated.

Iran’s regime shut down the home-based Janat Abad Assemblies of God Church in Tehran last year.

“Fundamentally, it is an issue of intolerance of different views,” Shaheed said.

There is a “new Islamization in part of the government” that might explain the spike in repression targeting Christians, he added.

The UN report is the latest evidence that Iran’s clerical leaders seek to stamp out religious freedoms for minorities and dissent in the authoritarian Islamic Republic.

In Washington, lawmakers expressed outrage on Tuesday at Iran’s behavior.

“I strongly condemn the Iranian government’s continued persecution of religious and ethnic minorities and women,” Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., who has spearheaded key Iran economic and human rights sanctions legislation, told FoxNews.com. “The United States has a responsibility to stand squarely with the Iranian people against their oppressive dictators.”

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., told FoxNews.com the report confirms widespread and systematic violations of human rights under the Tehran regime.

“But this is what we have come to expect from [Iranian President] Ahmadinejad and his cronies,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “This reprehensible behavior will only get worse unless the United States and other responsible nations fully and vigorously enforce a wide range of sanctions against the regime and its officials responsible for human rights violations.”

Mohammad Reza Noroozpour, spokesman for Iran’s High Council for Human Rights, told FoxNews.com the Iranian Constitution prohibits investigation of individuals’ beliefs.

“It is forbidden, and no one may be molested or taken to task simply for holding a certain belief,” Noroozpour said, insisting that freedom of expression is tolerated “except where there is infringement of the basic tenets of Islam or public rights.”

But Dwight Bashir, deputy director for policy at the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, told FoxNews.com the report “is an indispensable catalogue of the scope and severity of abuses perpetrated by the Iranian government.

“Over the past year, the Iranian government has stooped to new lows by incarcerating infant children with their Baha’i mothers and more brutally, clamping down on Christian converts from Islam,” Bashir said. “The U.S. government also should sanction Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei and President Ahmadinejad for their culpability in committing serious human rights abuses.”

Shaheed found “that 110 Bahais are currently detained in Iran for exercising their faith, including two women, Zohreh Nikayin (Tebyanian) and Taraneh Torabi (Ehsani), who are reportedly nursing infants in prison. It was further estimated that 133 Bahais are currently awaiting summonses to serve their sentences, and that another 268 Bahais are reportedly awaiting trial.”

He called the Bahai group the “single most important persecuted community in country.”

The Bahai is Iran’s largest non-Muslim faith, and was founded by Bahá’u’lláh in Iran in 1863. There are an estimated 350,000 Bahai in Iran.

As with the cases of repression targeting Iran’s Christian community, Mohammad Reza Noroozpour, the Iranian spokesman, did not delve into the specifics of the allegations in the UN report of incarceration of Bahai members.

“Although Baha’ism is not considered an official faith, its followers are entitled to social and civil rights,” Noroozpour said. “It needs to be mentioned that this cult has not been recognized by any of the Islamic countries because of its theological content and the actions of its leaders.”

Roya Hakakian, an American-Iranian expert on the Islamic Republic, told FoxNews.com,” The Baha’is of Iran have been the targets of Iran’s regime since its inception.“

Hakakian, the author of the highly acclaimed “Assassins of the Turquoise Palace” about Iran’s assassination of Iranian-Kurdish dissidents in Germany in the early 1990s, said, ”The ebb and flow of the regime’s savagery toward the Baha’is has always had a direct correlation with the regime’s own sense of instability and insecurity,” said Hakakian. “The greater the internal or external pressures on Iran, the more vehemently the regime treats its most vulnerable minority.”

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Deadly riots continue in central Myanmar

Two days of clashes between Buddhists and Muslims in Meikhtila town leave at least 20 people dead, legislator says.
Two days of rioting between Buddhists and Muslims in a central Myanmar town has killed at least 20 people, a legislator said.

The situation in the town of Meikhtila on Friday remained tense and dangerous Win Htein, a local parliamentarian from the opposition National League for Democracy, said.

Al Jazeera’s Wayne Hay, reporting from Bangkok, said the death toll is likely to rise in the coming days.

“Violence was continuing on Friday morning. Small groups of men are roaming around the town, attacking each other and setting fires to buildings as well,” Hay said.

“Many Muslims and Buddhists are leaving the town and some of them, as they are leaving, are saying that security forces … have done nothing to restore order.”

Fires set to Muslim homes continued to burn but angry Buddhist residents and monks prevented authorities from putting out the blazes, he said.

At least five mosques were torched during the violence that started on Wednesday, reportedly triggered by an argument

A Buddhist monk was among the first killed, inflaming tensions that led a Buddhist mob to rampage through a Muslim neighbourhood.

‘Unpredictable situation’

Meikhtila is about 550km north of the main city of Yangon with a population of about 100,000 people, of whom about a third are Muslims, Win Htein said.

He said before this week’s violence, the community had 17 mosques.

It was difficult to determine the extent of destruction in the town because residents were too afraid to walk the streets and were sheltering in monasteries or other locations away from the violence.

“We don’t feel safe and we have now moved inside a monastery,” said Sein Shwe, a shop owner. “The situation is unpredictable and dangerous.”

Occasional isolated violence involving Myanmar’s majority Buddhist and minority Muslim communities has occurred for decades.

The violence in Meikhtila was the latest sectarian unrest after clashes between Rakhine Buddhists and Muslim Rohingya last year in western Rakhine state left more than 200 people dead and 100,000 homeless.

It is also the latest challenge for the government as it tries to keep peace in the country and navigate the transition from military rule to fledgling democracy.

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