Author:Hendon, David W.


The United Nations Security Council voted on 15 October 1999 to impose limited economic sanctions on Afghanistan if it did not hand over Saudi businessman and alleged terrorist Osama bin Laden. Bin Laden is a suspect in the organizing and implementation of the bombing of two United States embassies in Africa that killed two hundred and twenty-four people. The current regime in Afghanistan, the Taliban, which has tried to create a state based upon their strict interpretation of Islamic law, has refused to surrender bin Ladin, saying that there was no proof of his guilt. The Taliban regime is not represented at the United Nations; Afghanistan's seat is held by the "Islamic State of Afghanistan," the opposition coalition that continues to fight the Taliban for control of the country.


Vandals attacked the Church of St. George at Mborje in Korce on 17 August 1999. There have been similar attacks on other Orthodox churches since 1996. On 26 August, the Tirana-based Albanian Helsinki Committee expressed concern that these attacks were undermining religious toleration in the country. It called on the government to "react with the necessary seriousness." The Albanian Orthodox Church's Holy Synod had already called for government action even before the latest attack.


Despite some criticism of its program from church leaders, the right-wing Freedom Party (FPO) made a strong second place showing in elections in early October. It won 53 of 183 seats in the national parliament and garnered 27.2 percent of the popular vote. Its leader, Jorg Haider, campaigned in favor of limiting immigration and increasing social welfare programs. Prior to the election, Roman Catholic Cardinals Franz Konig and Christoph Schonborn had warned against "anti-immigration propaganda." After the election, Erich Leitenberger, spokesperson for the archdiocese of Vienna, said the vote for the FPO was less than expected and that some people may have not voted for the party because of the church's stance. Bishop Herwig Sturm of the smaller Lutheran Church said that the FPO's showing was. largely the result of a protest vote. Sturm has also been a critic of the FPO.


Police raided a service of the Baku Baptist Church on 5 September and arrested sixty people. On 15 October, a court ordered the deportation of eight foreigners who had attended the service. It also ordered the deportation of Reverend Gunther Oborski, a German who pastored a German Lutheran church that was raided on 26 September. In a sudden reversal of policy, President Heidar Aliev told the United States ambassador on 8 November that he was overturning the expulsion decisions.


A court in Zaventem provisionally denied a Pentecostal mother, Luz Criselda Cuarita Chavez, custody of her daughter in a divorce proceeding. It granted visitation rights only on the condition that she not take the three-month-old child to the "Church of God and Prophecy." The lawyer representing the father, Alain Verwerft, argued that the mother devoted too much time to the church and therefore neglected her children. He also described the church as a sect.

According to Human Rights Without Borders, police have been conducting surveillance of a number of the religious groups listed in parliamentary reports on sects. Among those affected are the Anthroposophical Society, the Church of Scientology, Shaja Yoga, and Spiritual Human Yoga.


In August, Islamic fighters from Chechnya invaded neighboring Dagestan with the goal of overthrowing the government there and creating a combined Islamic state that would border the Caspian Sea. Russia launched a military offensive against Chechnya on 5 September, and rebels responded by blowing up buildings in several Russian cities. Shamil Basayev, a Chechen field commander, was blamed for the bombings. There were reports that Saudi businessman and terrorist Osama bin Laden, who is in Afghanistan, has provided weapons and training to the rebels.

Chechen fighters seized Grozny's Baptist church. They said that if Baptists continued to worship there, they would be killed. Fighters began using the building for military purposes. Only ten members of the congregation remain in Grozny.


Bishops of the Chilean Catholic Church called on Britain to release former dictator Augusto Pinochet on humanitarian grounds. Pinochet is fighting extradition to Spain to stand trial for torture and other crimes against human rights. Recently, Pinochet has experienced minor strokes and is in ill health.


Shi Zesheng, a leader of the officially recognized church group called the Three Self Patriotic Movement, denounced a United States State Department report of 9 September that criticized China for restricting underground Protestant and Catholic churches. Press reports about such restrictions continued. On 15 August, according to the Cardinal Kung Foundation of Stamford, Connecticut, police arrested underground Catholic Bishop Jiu Zhiguo in Hebei province. Police reportedly arrested forty leading members of an underground Protestant church in Henan province sometime in August. On 28 October, four of eight underground Catholic priests were arrested in Zhejiang province. On 9 November, authorities in Guangzhou arrested Li Dexian, pastor of a Protestant house church, and held him for fifteen days.

The government continued its crackdown on the meditation group Falun Gong, which is now outlawed. On 25 October, small groups of Falun Gong followers staged quiet protests in Tiananmen Square in Beijing. Police questioned many people that they considered suspicious and took them away. Local practitioners had sent out an electronic message calling for protests as deliberations of the Chinese Parliament regarding a law to stamp out "religious cults" continued. On 28 October, thirty members of Falun Gong met with seven foreign correspondents. They called for the United Nations and human rights groups to condemn the harassment of their groups. On 12 November, the Haikou Intermediate People's Court in Hainan province sentenced four members of Falun Gong to prison terms ranging up to twelve years. On 25 November, two Australian citizens, Jiang Hui Jie and Jiang Xi Li, who had come to China to support the Falun Gong members, were arrested. They were later released. An American woman, Jane Hutchinson, who was arrested with them was released and ordered deported.


Marxist guerillas increased intimidation of evangelical Christians in areas controlled by the rebels. On 2 August, two Pentecostal pastors were killed when they violated restrictions on preaching near San Vicente del Caguan, which is the headquarters of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The rebels strangled a third Pentecostal pastor in front of his family and congregation on 20 September. On 23 September, the National Liberation Army (ELN) issued a communique ordering Protestant churches in the northeast to restrain their activities. On 24 October, leaders of FARC said during peace talks that they were unaware of allegations that their group had attacked evangelical Christians in areas they controlled. As a result of the talks, a FARC commander was supposed to meet with fourteen local pastors.


A judge in this predominantly Muslim country sentenced two men to several months in prison for showing the video Jesus. There are about three hundred Christians on the islands, most of whom are recent converts.


A large majority of the people of East Timor voted on 30 August in favor of independence from Indonesia. East Timor is predominantly Christian while Indonesia is largely Muslim. Despite the presence of United Nations peacekeepers, retreating pro-Indonesia militiamen killed a number of people including fourteen church leaders.


Attacks on three Coptic priests in August and September left one monk dead and two seriously wounded. The government issued a statement saying that these were ordinary murders and that they had "no religious motive."


A court in Marseilles found five Scientologists guilty of fraud and attempted fraud. They were fined, and one was sentenced to six months in jail. Authorities charged them with extortion for "purification" treatments and vitamin cures.


Four evangelical Protestant congregations in Tbilisi stopped functioning at the end of August. Police raided three of the congregations, beat congregants, and sealed the buildings. Under pressure, landlords revoked the rental agreements with all four of the congregations. None owned property in their own right.


Prosecutor Celvin Galindo, who had been investigating the 1997 murder of Auxiliary Bishop Juan Gerardi, fled the country because of threats against his children. Gerardi was killed two days after he released a report blaming the military for many deaths and "disappearances" during the civil war that ended in December 1996. Church sources said Galindo was on the verge of issuing arrest warrants for two high military officers.


An angry mob killed Roman Catholic priest Aral Doss in the jungle village of Jamabani, Orissa State, on 2 September. Orissa's director general of police claimed to have evidence that the priest had violated a 1967 law prohibiting forced conversions. On 20 September, several youths attacked a nun of the Congregation of Sisters of Immaculate Heart. They stripped her, forced her to drink urine, and threatened her with rape. The youths said that the upcoming election would teach Christians a lesson.

In national elections held in early October, the National Democratic Alliance, a 24-party coalition led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), won 296 of 537 seats in the lower house of parliament. Before the election Christian leaders urged voters not to vote for the BJP. Although the coalition won a clear victory, Christian leaders pointed out that at least the BJP had not increased its strength.


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