INTERNATIONAL DIGEST: Christians in Laos forced from church at gunpoint

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--Members of a church -- both adults and children -- in Laos' Saravan province were forced at gunpoint from a Sunday worship service in mid-January while officials confiscated their personal belongings and destroyed six of their 11 homes.

About Jan. 18, an estimated 100 local officials, police and villagers marched the believers to an open field, where they demanded the Christians renounce their faith, Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom reported. When the Christians refused, they were forced to walk nearly four miles down the road and police were posted at the village entrance to keep them from returning.

The Christians have been sleeping on the ground in nearby woods with hardly enough food supplies, equipment or tools to survive, the Compass Direct news service reported.

In July 2008, a Christian in the village was killed by other villagers and when family members placed a cross on his grave officials accused them of "practicing the rituals of the enemy of the state" and seized livestock from them as a fine, Compass reported. A few days later, officials detained 17 of the village's 20 Christian families in a school compound, denying them food until they signed documents renouncing their faith. All the families eventually complied but some later began assembling for worship again. In spite of the persecution, more households accepted Christ in the village this past year, bringing the total of Christian households to 11.

"These tactics of starvation and destruction of personal properties as well as the use of force employed by the Lao officials in order to put pressure on the Katin believers to renounce their religious convictions should be condemned," a statement from the human rights group said.

MILITANTS KILL SOMALI CHURCH LEADER -- Militants of the al Shabaab Islamic extremist group murdered the leader of an underground church in Somalia on Jan. 1 after they heard he had organized New Year's Day festivities for Christians to take place outside of Mogadishu, Somalia's capital.

Mohammed Ahmed Ali, 41, was killed sometime after leaving his home in Hodan, on the outskirts of Mogadishu, at about noon, the Compass Direct news service reported. His wife, Amina Ibrahim Hassan, told Compass she received threatening calls from members of al Shabaab on Jan. 3, saying, "We know who you are working for. We also know your home and that you are a follower of the Christians, and we are going to kill you the way we killed your husband."

Hassan and the couple's only child, a 2-year-old son, fled to a refugee camp on the Kenya border and stayed there a few days before continuing to the home of relatives in Nairobi, Kenya, where she arrived Jan. 20.

In 2009, Islamic militants in Somalia killed at least 15 Christians, including women and children, for their faith, Compass reported.

ORISSA CHRISTIANS STILL DESTITUTE--Thousands of Christians in India's Orissa state still live in makeshift shanties along roadsides and in forests a full 18 months after Hindu extremists forced them from their homes in a spasm of violence that claimed more than 100 lives and destroyed nearly 4,900 homes and church buildings.

Government officials have failed to provide promised assistance to more than 10,000 families driven from their homes after Christians were falsely accused of killing a Hindu leader in August 2008, Raphael Cheenath, a Roman Catholic archbishop, told Compass Direct Feb. 6.

"The block officers have been playing with the facts, indulging in corrupt practices and cosmetic exercises whenever political and other dignitaries come to visit or inspect," Cheenath said in a statement. "Innocent people are coerced into giving a false picture ... This is a national calamity."

Cheenath's comments came the day after a European Union delegation concluded a visit to Orissa that Hindu nationalist leader Jual Oram called "interference into internal affairs of a sovereign independent member state under the U.N.," Compass Direct reported. EU representative Gabriele Annis said the delegation was able to hold "open and frank" discussions with officials during the visit.

Christian leaders in the area said district authorities attempted to hide the plight of Christians by evacuating nearly 100 people from one village prior to the EU delegation's visit.

Of 3,232 complaints filed with police after the 2008 violence, only 832 cases were formally registered, Cheenath said. Of that number, only 123 cases have been transferred to courts. Of 71 cases tried to date, convictions have been handed down in 25 cases. Nine of 10 murders have been closed without any conviction.

"Who will bring justice in the case of the nine murder cases?" Cheenath asked.

CHAVEZ FORCES RCTV OFF AIR -- On the 52nd anniversary of the coup that toppled Venezuelan dictator Marcos Perez Jimenez, tens of thousands of people flooded the streets of Caracas to protest social conditions under Hugo Chavez, whose policies have created electricity and water rationing, high inflation, a failing public health system and high crime levels.

The day after the Jan. 23 protests, the state-run telecommunications agency ordered cable and satellite TV providers to stop transmitting Radio Caracas Television, an anti-Chavez channel that did not broadcast a Chavez speech at a political rally, news services reported. In response, Chavez opponents leaned out apartment windows to bang on pots and pans, while others shouted slogans and drivers honked car horns. In Mérida, two people were shot and killed during student-led protests.

In August 2009, Chavez forced 32 radio stations and two small TV stations off the air, the Associated Press reported. Globovision -- the last TV station on the open airwaves allied with the opposition -- is the target of multiple government investigations that could lead to its license being revoked. The RCTV broadcasts were shut down because the station failed to comply with new requirements to carry government programming, including Chavez' marathon speeches, which can last up to seven hours.

Robin Holzhauer, speaking for the U.S. Embassy in Caracas, said, "Access to information is a cornerstone of democracy and provides a foundation for global progress. By restricting yet again the Venezuelan people's access to RCTV broadcasts, the Venezuelan government continues to erode this cornerstone." Michael Shifter of the Inter-American Dialogue think tank in Washington, D.C., said Chavez "is nervous about mounting problems and slipping popular support, so he is moving aggressively to tighten his grip."

IPCC REPORT CALLED 'CLIMATE EVANGELISM' -- Global activists promoting the "global warming" cause suffered a serious setback Feb. 4 when the government of India announced it would form its own panel to study the impact of climate change on the country.

The United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which is headed by an Indian scientist, R.K Pachauri, has faced growing criticism over the credibility of its work. Pachauri's most recent climate change assessment falsely claimed most of India's Himalayan glaciers would disappear by 2035, the Telegraph newspaper reported. Other scientists, however, say that while some glaciers appear to be melting, others are advancing and at current rates it could take more than 300 years for India's glaciers to disappear.

"There is a fine line between climate science and climate evangelism. I am for climate science. I think people misused [the] IPCC report, [the] IPCC doesn't do the original research which is one of the weaknesses ... they just take published literature and then they derive assessments, so we had goof-ups on Amazon forest, glaciers, snow peaks," said India's environment minister, Jairam Ramesh, according to the Telegraph. "I respect the IPCC but India is a very large country and cannot depend only on [the] IPCC and so we have launched the Indian Network on Comprehensive Climate Change Assessment."

The UN panel's claim that glaciers would disappear by 2035 "was clearly out of place and didn't have any scientific basis," Ramesh added.

The day after India's announcement, news services reported the Netherlands asked the UN climate change panel to explain an inaccurate 2007 claim that more than half the country was below sea level, when in fact only 26 percent of the country is below sea level. IPCC experts apparently reached that figure by adding the area below sea level -- 26 percent -- to the area threatened by river flooding -- 29 percent, a spokesman for the Dutch environment ministry told reporters.

On the basis of that 938-page IPCC report, politicians around the world vowed to take dramatic action to reverse "global warming." The false claim about India's glaciers and labeling river flood plains as below sea level provide new ammunition for critics who contend the entire "global warming" campaign is a political ruse to enrich advocates of green technology, with devastating consequences for the world's poor.


Compiled by Baptist Press assistant editor Mark Kelly.

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