persecution.org

Shedding light on Christian persecution around the world.

I am bewildered to think that 64% of the 70 million Christians who have been martyred in the history of our faith have died in the 20th and 21st century.  Forty five million Christian martyrs is hard to comprehend, but we have some comparisons:

  • The total population of Virginia, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey combined – nearly half the east coast.
  • The total of civilian casualties from World War II.
  • Nearly double the total deaths from the AIDS pandemic since its discovery in 1981.

Though I can hardly begin to comprehend 45 million people, I am able to grasp the number five.  Five is the number of family members that Songhwa and her two daughters, Grace and Jinhye, have lost because of the repressive North Korean regime.  I met these women recently and had the opportunity to hear their story of hunger, suffering, torture, and death amidst their search for Christ and life.  In a matter of ten years, these women lost a grandmother, two brothers, a sister, and a father, along the way discovering a profound faith in Jesus as He guided them through a dangerous and difficult escape from this repressive nation to eventual safety and freedom in the United States.

They risked it all to find a means to a life of freedom and provision, and God blessed them for their faithfulness to Him.  They had heard bits and pieces of God and the Gospel of Christ through other Christians hidden in North Korea, but had never heard a sermon, read the Bible, or openly aired their questions of faith – but their mustard seed sized knowledge gave them enough faith to move mountains in the face of persecution.  I was humbled to meet them and left with a heavy heart for those in North Korea and across the world who thirst to know more about God yet are not able to quench that thirst because others prevent them from doing so.

Responding to Persecution

Some of us hear of this sort of persecution and are emboldened to fight back and seek to end such cruelty.  Others of us encounter stories of martyrs and recall Paul’s admonition to the church in Philippi to bear under such persecution, saying “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake.” We see persecution as a privilege and opportunity to suffer in the footsteps of our Savior.  We recall that Christianity has spread like wildfire primarily when it is opposed by the ruling forces.

Whether we fight against persecution, or see it as opportunity for growth in faith, we must always remember that our words and actions have tremendous impact, not only in the lives of the persecuted, but also in those who are committing atrocious acts against followers of Christ.

How we advocate for change and how we admonish the acts of others will show to a watching world what sort of disciples of Christ we truly are.  We must always remember that Jesus called us to love, to forgive, to turn the other cheek, and to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves.  I believe that we must fight ardently against the horrific acts taking place across the globe in the name of religious intolerance.  We have the freedom to speak and worship as we please, and the knowledge and connections to mobilize resources on behalf of others – and we cannot sit idly by as others are beheaded, burned at the stake, tortured, imprisoned, and forced to live lives of hunger, oppression, and marginalization because a ruling majority has deemed them less worthy.

But we must maintain a balanced understanding that our fight will never be over, and we must continue to act wisely and lovingly. As Christians, we cannot allow our desire for revenge and retribution to determine our course of action.  Christ has ultimately paid the price for the sin of the world, and that includes the sin of Christian persecutors.  Now we are called to live out this good news amidst those who seek to abolish it, and I pray that we will each day be successful in doing so.

Kris Elliott
Advocacy Officer and Regional Manager of Southeast Asia

Shenouda Adly was shot in the chest at age 16 by Egyptian military forces

On March 8, sixteen-year-old Shenouda Adly heard gunfire on the road approaching his neighborhood in the Mokattam Hills of Cairo. When he asked what it was, Shenouda’s friends told him that the revolution had reached their doorstep. In actuality, however, a group of young Coptic men were blocking the road in protest to show their solidarity with other Coptic Christians across Cairo who were demonstrating over a church that had been burnt down by a Muslim mob days earlier. Listening to the crackle of gunshots from his home, Shenouda could not resist the urge to see the protest for himself. At 4:00 pm, he went to join his friends on the street.

When Shenouda arrived at the scene, his father was already there and told him to return to the house immediately. Eyewitnesses said that the protestors had been confronted by a Muslim mob, and that both sides were throwing stones at each other. When the military arrived to disperse the protestors, they first shot into the air and then opened fire into the Coptic crowd. This was no place for a sixteen-year-old boy.

Shenouda’s father returned home soon after, but could not find his son. “Where’s my son? Where’s my son?” the father shouted. Shenouda’s friend told the father that he had found him in the hospital. When Shenouda’s family arrived to see him, they learned that he had been shot through the chest and was already dead. “It was the army who killed him,” Shenouda’s uncle, who was at the scene, told ICC. “They shot at many Christian people.”

ICC visited Shenouda’s mother, sister, and uncle, as well as eight other families who lost loved ones, to offer financial assistance and to help them begin a sustainable business. Shenouda’s family lives in an area of Cairo known as a ‘garbage community.’ The family’s lone source of income comes from collecting and recycling Cairo’s rubbish. Please pray for Shenouda’s mother and sister (pictured below) as well as the eight other families who lost loved ones in this tragic attack.

Click here to learn more about Cairo’s trash collectors.

Shenouda took this photo of himself with his cell phone two hours before his death.

Shenouda's sister & mother

These nine young men were killed in Mokattam on March 8. All nine were under the age of 30.

Since the revolution, tensions between Muslims and Coptic Christians have been running high, reaching a breaking point on March 5. A Muslim mob in the village of Sol, 30 km south of Cairo, attacked a church building and burned it to the ground, almost killing the parish priest after an imam issued a call to “Kill all the Christians,” according to local sources. The attack perpetrated by Muslims against the Coptic community was reportedly the result of tensions surrounding an interfaith love affair between a Christian man and a Muslim woman. See full report by Compass Direct News here.

As a result, thousands of Coptic Christians organized a sit-in outside Cairo’s radio and television building demanding that those responsible be brought to justice, and for the government to publicly pledge to improve the condition of Copts by giving them equal rights.

According to Dr. Monir Dawoud, President of the American Coptic Association, “the Egyptian media has been largely ignoring the Christians protests, refusing to air them on television or radio while also ignoring other incidents of violence perpetrated against Christians.”

Days later, the protests against the burning of the church persisted, this time in the working-class district of Mokattam. Christians again demanded an end to what they describe as “discrimination and inaction by the State”.

On March 8, fighting broke out in Manshier Nasr, a garbage district of Mokattam, as both Christians and Muslims began throwing rocks at each other. Witnesses said the military, which came to disperse the protestors, fired shots into the air and then opened fire on the crowds of people. Once the conflict finally ended in the early morning hours of March 9, at least nine Coptic Christians had been killed and more than a hundred others from both sides were injured.

We were at one side and the Muslim on the other, we have hundreds of injured at the Coptic side,” an eyewitness told Assyrian International News Agency. “The Muslims were shooting from behind the army tanks.”

Since the revolution, many Copts have wondered about their future in Egypt. Will there be religious tolerance for Christians in the new Egypt? Will all citizens, specifically Christians, be treated equally? Will there be transparency and accountability in the future Egyptian government?

A view of the Mokattam district where the young men lived.

When asked these questions in an interview with ICC, Dr. Dawoud answered by saying, “the future outlook for Christians in Egypt is very bad. Christians fear the instability and increased hate that has followed the revolution. The revolutionaries claimed to be starting a new democratic nation that would establish equality and freedom, but that has not happened. Christians are being persecuted worse than you can imagine.”

Dr. Dawoud went on to explain, “Muslim blood and Christian blood, in Egypt, is not equal. If a Muslim kills a Muslim he is punished by capital punishment. But if a Muslim kills a Christian, Shari’a law is applied and a Muslims life cannot be taken for killing an infidel.”

The negative stance of the army has encouraged Muslims,” Dr. Dawoud continued. “Christians are now living in terror as Muslims rob, murder, and loot from them with impunity.” With no centralized government, “Christians have nobody to turn to for recourse because it changes every day.”

June 23, 2011

Ethiopia

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In the first week of March, Muslim militants burned down 69 churches and several Christian homes in Asendabo, Ethiopia. More than 10,000 were displaced in the violence due to the severe losses and fear of continued attacks. ICC was the first organization to break the news about the attacks, warning of the impending destruction.

Many of you, our supporters, responded to the plight of the victims by providing for their emergency needs and by signing a petition seeking justice on their behalf. We want to thank you for your efforts and let you know that your prayers are being answered and your efforts have not been in vain. We have learned that Ethiopian courts have been working diligently to bring the perpetrators of these attacks to justice!

So far, local courts have sentenced 579 Muslims to prison terms ranging from three months to 18 years for taking part in the violence that left at least one Christian dead, in addition to massive damage to homes and property. An additional 107 individuals are accused of terrorism and the public prosecutors have brought charges against them in federal court. Eight individuals suspected to be among the masterminds of the violence are still at large, but Ethiopian authorities are searching for them.

Speaking to ICC, an Ethiopian church leader said, “I am glad that the rule of law prevailed and the church has finally got protection from the government. The judges who looked at these cases have delivered justice. We are happy that the truth has finally been revealed.”

We hope that the decision of the Ethiopian courts will send a strong message to radical Muslims in the country that violence against innocents will not go unpunished, and we want to thank those of you have helped the victims through your prayers, gifts, and advocacy on their behalf. Thank you!

June 16, 2011

North Korea

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Korea’s First Protestant Martyr

“Jesus, Jesus!” shouted the man who became known as Korea’s first protestant martyr as he stood on the deck of a burning merchant ship and desperately opened the cases of Bibles he had smuggled aboard, flinging as many copies as he could to Korean villagers and soldiers who lined the shore. Finally, with his clothes on fire, the 27-year-old missionary leapt overboard with his few remaining Bibles and swam to shore – continuing to put Bibles into any open hand until he was finally captured and dragged away to be executed with the entirety of his crew. Some accounts say that Robert Jermain Thomas of Wales was beheaded, while others say he was lanced through the heart. Whatever the case, they all agree that his last Bible was offered to his executioner.

Thomas’ martyrdom in 1866 occurred on a sandbank outside of Pyongyang, the present-day capital of North Korea. It was preceded and succeeded by two major waves of persecution against the Catholics who first brought literature into the country in 1770. Forty years after Thomas’ death, missionaries provoked by revival in India and encouraged by local revivals began to fast and pray daily for revival in Pyongyang.

Korea’s “Pentecost”

Finally, on the evening of January 14th, 1907, the Father poured out His Spirit on the people on whom Robert Thomas had spent his last breath. As a missionary who was leading an evening meeting called for prayer, the entire audience of about 1500 men burst in unison into powerful prayer that has been described in numerous accounts as the sound of falling waters. William Blair, one of two Western missionaries present at the revival, gave us a window into this revival in his book, “The Korean Pentecost and the Sufferings Which Followed.”

Blair describes the scene on the first day of the meeting:

“After a short sermon…man after man would rise, confess his sin, break down and weep, and then throw himself on the floor and beat the floor with his fists in perfect agony of conviction. …Sometimes, after a confession, the whole audience would break out into audible prayer, and the effect of that audience of hundreds of men praying together in audible prayer was something indescribable – not confusion, but a vast harmony of sound and spirit, a mingling together of souls moved by an irresistible impulse of prayer. The prayer sounded to me like the falling of many waters, an ocean of prayer beating against God’s throne. It was not many, but one, born of One Spirit, lifted to one Father above.”

The public confession of the people was said to include their hatred against the Japanese who were oppressing them, against foreign missionaries, and one who even confessed his hatred of Reverend Blair, who described this phenomena during the second day:

“Then began a meeting the like of which I had never seen before, nor wish to see again unless in God’s sight it is absolutely necessary. Every sin a human being can commit was publicly confessed that night. Pale and trembling with emotion, in agony of mind and body… looking up to heaven, to Jesus whom they had betrayed, they smote themselves and cried out with bitter wailing: “Lord, Lord, cast us not away forever!” Everything else was forgotten, nothing else mattered. The scorn of men, the penalty of the law, even death itself seemed of small consequences if only God forgave. We have our theories of desirability or undesirability of public confession of sin. I have had mine; but I know now that when the Spirit of God falls upon guilty souls, there will be confession, and no power on earth can stop it.”

The great revival, which spread as swiftly among children as it did among adults, took the Korean Church from deep repentance to total transformation. Repentant hearts forsook their sin and vices, forgave one another, and went knocking on doors to plead for peace with any they had wronged. The Church was also consumed with a zeal for evangelism that helped the fire of revival spread by missionaries and nationals and resulted in explosive growth of the Church.

Fortunately, the deep and purifying work wrought in the Korean people by the Holy Spirit in those times prepared them for the suffering that would follow. The Japanese perceived the revitalized Church as an organization that would be capable of resisting their rule and as a political agent of the Western powers, therefore churches were burned, hundreds of Christians were killed, and thousands who refused to abandon Christ were subjected to imprisonment and torture.  Today, North Korea’s persecution of Christians has continued to be the worst in the world. Please remember to pray for our brothers and sisters in North Korea as they risk their lives to follow the one true God and spread His Gospel. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

In late May, the president of the Protestant Church Association in Algeria (EPA) received the following notice: “I, Mr. Ben Amar Salma, the High Commissioner of the police in Béjaia, have informed Mr. Mustapha Krim, the President of the EPA… to close down all worship places; the places which are used now and the places which are under construction…  The authorities will make sure that the order will be obeyed, otherwise severe consequences and punishments will be applied.”

This notification demanded the permanent closure of the seven Protestant churches in the Béjaia province, located 200 kilometers east of the capital Algiers. The threat came as no surprise to the EPA. Since 2006, Protestants have lived at the mercy of a strict law known as Ordinance 06-03, which has prevented them from worshipping freely or legally. The ordinance regulates the worship of non-Muslims by requiring churches to obtain government permission to hold services. Despite repeated efforts by the EPA to obtain this permission, the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Religious Affairs have failed to create a clear procedure to register churches and it often takes years before approving registrations.

We were told we are not in compliance with the 2006 decree, but we have tried to comply,” EPA President Mustapha Krim told the Algerian daily La Dépêche de Kabylie. “We have spoken with the Ministry of Religious Affairs and the Interior Ministry. We have gone round-and-round with them for years, but nothing gets done.”

Similar notifications, like the one received in Béjaia, have been issued to EPA churches before. “The same thing occurred in Tizi Ouzou when several churches were ordered to close under threats that legal action would be taken against the leaders,” a church leader in Tizi Ouzou told ICC. “Our church also received this order in 2008, but because we resisted, the church continues to this day.”

In a more recent incident, a church in the village of Makouda, near Tizi Ouzou, was given 48 hours to shut its doors on April 23. The pastor presented documents to the local police department that proved his affiliation with the EPA, but the police commissioner said the documents were not sufficient proof to operate the church. Still, the church continues to meet each week.

While EPA churches continue to hold services despite being warned otherwise, they do not take the threat on the Béjaia churches lightly. “According to this decree, if one does not obey the instructions, the authorities are threatening to do the enforcement,” said Krim. “Apparently they want us to disappear from the map.”

Nonetheless, when Sunday morning services rolled around on May 29, the notification was not enough to persuade churches in Béjaia to shut their doors. “Here we are Lord to praise Thy name!” sang a hundred worshippers before Pastor Nordin stepped to the pulpit to read Psalm 23, reminding the congregation of God’s faithfulness even in hardship. “We did not understand the decision of the [governor],” a church member told La Dépêche de Kabylie. “We worship out of conviction. We are not afraid, because we did nothing wrong. We were never forced to choose Jesus, but we did so voluntarily. Whatever the circumstances, we will continue to say: we are here to praise your name Lord.”

At the end of the day, authorities had not interfered and services proceeded as normal. Further indication that the situation was improving soon followed when Minister of Interior Dahou Ould Kablia stated at a June 2 press conference in Algiers that the Protestant Church of Béjaia will be “allowed to continue their activities until they receive the necessary authorization,” Algerian news agency Tout sur l’Algérie reported.

While Christians in Béjaia remain unsure about whether they will be allowed to freely worship in the future, one thing is certain – they will not close quietly. “Pastors and church officials… opted for resistance by continuing to worship instead of obeying the order to close their doors,” said a representative of the EPA. “They continued to meet and celebrate their religion despite the threats. If the authorities decide to close places of worship, Christians will gather in homes or cell group meeting in the open air, which is already being done in some communities. But, we believe the situation will improve.”

The inability to register church buildings has caused many Algerian Christian communities to worship underground, either in the homes of congregants or in the secluded countryside. One community living in a remote village nestled in the beautiful Kabylie mountainside gathered in a shabby garage, their third location that year, when ICC visited them in 2010. They were preparing to move again because the landlord received complaints from neighbors who insisted that Christian worship should not be overheard in a Muslim community. Before designating the garage as a house of worship, the congregants held gatherings near a river on the outskirts of town each week when the weather permitted. Please keep this congregation, the churches in Béjaia, and the EPA in your prayers.

One monk and six church workers were shot and wounded on February 23 when the Egyptian Army attacked a Coptic Orthodox monastery in order to destroy a wall monks had built to defend their property from raiders. Click here to view the full article by Compass Direct News.

Assist News Service reported: The Egyptian uprising has left Coptic Orthodox monasteries exceedingly vulnerable, as the police who normally guard the monasteries have either deserted their posts or been redeployed to the cities. Exploiting the security vacuum, Arab raiders, jihadists and prison escapees have attacked and raided several monasteries. When the monks requested protection at the 5th Century Monastery of St Bishoy in Wadi al-Natroun, some 110km north of Cairo, they were told they would have to fend for themselves. So they built a surrounding security wall, inside their boundary. However, Islamic law mandates that Christians may neither build nor repair churches. (See last week’s RLPB 096 for some examples of consequences.)

On 21 February soldiers arrived at the monastery of St Bishoy in tanks and bulldozers. They had not come to protect the community, but to demolish the security wall. After arguing with the monks and workers, the soldiers opened fire with live ammunition, including rocket-propelled grenades. Father Feltaows was shot in the leg and Father Barnabas in the abdomen. Six monastery workers were also wounded, one critically. The wounded are being treated in the Anglo-Egyptian Hospital in Cairo. The army also attacked the Monastery of St Makarios of Alexandria in Wady el-Rayan, Fayoum, some 130km south-east of Cairo. This monastery likewise had erected a security wall after an attack by armed thugs and Arabs left six monks wounded, one critically. Not only did the military demolish the security wall, they ‘confiscated’ the monastery’s building materials. [View full article here]

Watch the confrontation and the demolition of the wall below.

Coptic teenager killed in Naga Hammadi

On January 16, 2011, an Egyptian court issued a death sentence to one of the three murderers involved in the Naga Hammadi killings. However, the two other accomplices in the shooting that killed six young Coptic men and a Muslim security guard were acquitted of all charges just a month later. The ruling was not uncommon. In February 2010, four Muslim men were acquitted after killing a Coptic Christian in the Upper Egypt village of Dairout. Egypt has long been governed by emergency laws which have tried perpetrators of attacks on Christians in military, not civilian, courts. The perpetrators are often given a mere slap on the wrist before being acquitted. Moreover, court officials and police often take the side of Muslims and occasionally base their decision on Islamic Law (Sharia), which favors Muslims and is the foundation of the Egyptian legal code according to Article 2 of Egypt’s Constitution.

A report released by the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) on February 22 provides more insight:

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) is concerned with the acquittals of two of the three men charged with killing six Coptic Orthodox Christians and one Muslim security guard in the town of Naga Hammadi, Egypt, in January 2010.

“It took over a year, and the Egyptian state security court committed serious breaches of due process and fairness in the case of the killings of six Christians and one Muslim in Naga Hammadi,” said Leonard Leo, USCIRF chair. “A new Egyptian government must, in the regular criminal courts, prosecute perpetrators for sectarian killings in the country, and the government should complete a thorough investigation and vigorously prosecute and bring to justice those responsible for the New Year’s Eve bombing in Alexandria that took the lives of at least 23 and injured nearly 100.  Incomplete justice does very little to address the perpetual cycle of violence targeting religious minorities that has remained unchecked by the government in Egypt.”

Last month, a state security court in the Qena governorate in Upper Egypt convicted and sentenced to death Mohamed Ahmed Hussein, one of the three alleged attackers in the case.  On Sunday, the court ratified the verdict against Hussein but acquitted the two other men who were known to be accomplices in the killings.  Hussein is widely identified as the man who pulled the trigger in the shooting that killed seven people outside a church on Coptic Christmas more than a year ago.

Because Egypt continues to operate under a state of emergency, the government has the option to hear cases involving terrorism or drug trafficking in state security courts rather than criminal courts.  The emergency laws are widely cited as being restrictive on many human rights, including freedom of religion or belief.  In addition, the state security court does not provide the right of appeal in a guilty verdict.  Egyptian and international human rights groups have at times been critical of the court’s procedures and limits on the rule of law and due process.

For years, the Egyptian government has failed to take sufficient steps to halt the repression of and discrimination against Christians and other religious believers, or, in many cases, to punish those responsible for violence or other severe violations of religious freedom.

[Read Full Report Here]

June 3, 2011

North Korea

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North Korea is often called a “rogue state” in the media. The media largely attribute the label to the country’s habit of inciting international controversy, lately including its recent military clashes with South Korea and its nuclear program. Unfortunately, these issues usually overshadow the atrocities that Kim Jong-Il and the North Korean government visit upon their own people.

While researching for our upcoming newsletter that will be dedicated to persecution in North Korea, I have run across numerous reports of the horrors that occur in North Korea. In a recent report released by Amnesty International, I discovered that the prison camp system in North Korea, which is easily comparable to the concentration camps of Nazi Germany, currently holds an estimated 200,000 inmates and is growing large enough to be seen from satellites in space. At left, you can see an overhead photograph of Yodok Prison Camp.

Political dissidents, religious minorities, and individuals communicating with others outside North Korea are thrown into these camps, often for life, along with three generations of their family in order to completely wipe out all forms of political or religious disagreement. In another report, I read about a man who was thrown into one of these camps for sitting on a newspaper that had Kim Jong-Il’s picture on the front.

Prisoners in these camps are often worked to exhaustion, mining coal, harvesting trees and manufacturing goods for export while being given starvation inducing portions of food. Torture and executions are common in the prison camps. One ex-guard reports that he was awarded for killing five prisoners who were attempting to escape. Perversely, the idea to escape was the guard’s, who used the prisoners as a way to get awarded an education at a state political college.

The most tragic part of this is that most people I talk to have never heard about these atrocities. Many are aware that North Korea is a “rogue state”  and that its leader, Kim Jong-Il, is a dictator; but most are unaware of the severity of the repression that is exacted upon the North Korean people.

Please take some time to remember the people of North Korea in your prayers. Pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ there who have to worship behind closed doors, risking everything to follow Jesus.

The Coptic church weeps over the coffins of those killed in Naga Hammadi.

In this post, we look back at the horrific attack in Naga Hammadi that killed six young Coptic men on January 6, 2010. The killings remind us that persecution in Egypt is nothing new, but existed long before the revolution under former President Hosni Mubarak. In tomorrow’s post, we’ll discuss the Egyptian government’s failure to bring perpetrators of attacks on Christians to justice, including two of the three men charged with the murders in Naga Hammadi who were acquitted in court earlier this year.

On January 6, as Coptic believers were exiting Christmas Eve mass in the Upper Egypt town of Nag Hammadi, six young Christian men and a police officer were shot dead in the streets by masked Muslim men in a drive-by shooting.  At the time, the murders were the largest assault on Copts since January 2000, when 21 were massacred in Sohag.  Images of the six murdered young men were a fearful reminder of the 1990s when Copts were routinely killed in bloody sectarian attacks by Islamic militants.

The days after the attack were marked by violent protests – Copts lamented and demanded government intervention while Muslim mobs burned Christian homes and looted businesses.  The Egyptian government not only failed to intervene, but escalated the chaos by conducting random arrests of Coptic youth.  More than 100 Coptic young men were arrested on January 7th and 8th without charge.  Anwar Samuel, a teacher from Nag Hammadi, said Egyptian State Security invaded his home at four in the morning in search of a nephew who was not there, and instead “arrested my three other nephews, Fadi, Tanios and Wael Milad Samuel, and took them away in their pajamas.”  They have since been subjected to electric shock torture.

St. John’s Church in Nag Hammadi

The Coptic arrests were a method of intimidation used by the government to entice Copts to drop charges against Muslim perpetrators.  Upper Egypt Bishop Kyrollos, who was the suspected target of the shooting, had previously issued statements rebuking the negligence of Egyptian State Security.  Some believe that the arrest of Coptic youth was a pressure tactic to force the bishop to recant his accusations.

Leading up to the Nag Hammadi shooting, Muslim mobs had repeatedly attacked Coptic communities in Upper Egypt.  On October 24, 2009, hundreds of Muslim students from Al-Azhar Institute attacked Copts in Dairout, shouting “Allah Akbar!” as homes and churches were ransacked and set ablaze.  On November 21, the violence continued as a Muslim mob of reportedly 3,000 raided Coptic shops, burned property and abducted seven Coptic women in Farshoot and neighboring villages.  Attacks followed on November 23 in the nearby village of Abou Shusha where Coptic stores were again looted.

Some Muslims claimed that these attacks, including the shooting at Nag Hammadi, were in retaliation for an alleged sexual relationship between a twelve-year-old Muslim girl and a Christian young man.  This incident is what initiated the attack on Dairout and prompted a search for the accused young man.  When the young man was nowhere to be found, the mob redirected their vengeance against his father.  The father, Farouk, after failing to locate his son, was shot dead in the village market of Attaleen.  His body was then dragged through the streets and paraded through a cheering crowd.

Implications

Young man injured in Naga Hammadi shooting

In June of 2009, President Barack Obama visited Cairo and addressed the Muslim world in an effort to promote human rights.  “People in every country should be free to choose and live their faith based upon the persuasion of the mind and the heart and the soul. This tolerance is essential for religion to thrive,” he said.  However, Egypt continued to blatantly violate an individual’s right to religious freedom without being confronted.  The United States gave Egypt roughly $1.3 billion per year in military compensation and more than $500 million per year in economic assistance, yet the US did not use those funds as leverage to demand that Egypt adhere to international human rights laws.  The plight of Coptic Christians must be acknowledged.  President Obama can help the case of Copts by applying human rights sanctions on US assistance to Egypt and by affirming that human rights are a core objective of US foreign policy.  Without force and accountability, Christian persecution in Egypt will continue to deteriorate, and the blood of Copts will flow from those that suffer a martyr’s fate.