MOGADISHU, SOMALIA (Worthy News)– A Somali woman, who converted from Islam to Christianity, was nursing her injuries Wednesday, January 11, after she was reportedly paraded before a cheering crowd and publicly flogged as a punishment for embracing a "foreign religion."
Christians said 28-year-old Sofia Osman from Janale city in Somalia's Lower Shabelle region, had been taken into custody by fighters of the Islamic militant group al-Shabab militants in November and that the public mistreatment was meant to mark her release.
Compass Direct News, a Christian news agency investigating cases of persecution, cited witnesses as saying that the young woman received 40 lashes on December 22 "while jeered by spectators".
“I saw her faint. I thought she had died, but soon she regained consciousness and her family took her away,” an identified witness was quoted as saying.
The whipping was administered in front of "hundreds of spectators" after Osman was released from her month-long custody in an al-Shabab camps, Christians said.
At her family’s home she was seen looking dazed and did not talk to anyone. There was no immediate known comment from al-Shabab, which is known for enforcing a strict brand of Islam in areas under its rule and is believed to have links to the al-Qaida terror group.
MORE CHRISTIANS ATTACKED
Al-Shabab has been linked to the mistreatment and killings of several Christians in recent years. It also blocked most international aid workers from accessing parts of Somalia suffering from drought and famine.
The reported attack against Osman came shortly after Ibrahim, a 23-year-old Somali Christian, was beaten while on his way back home in an undisclosed town in neighboring Kenya on December 5, Christians said.
Locals claimed that he was beaten by "a gang of young Muslim men" because he was an alleged "apostate", the word used for abandoning Islam. His family said in published remarks that Ibrahim had been raised as a Christian his entire life.
They only used his first name amid security concerns.
Many Somali Christians are known to seek refuge in neighboring Kenya, amid growing tensions at home.
EXTREMISM SEEN SPREADING
While it was unclear whether the men attacking Ibrahim were al-Shabab members, Kenyan authorities said they were aware of the threat posed to Christians and others by the group's sympathizers within Kenya itself.
In October, a non-Somali Kenyan man was sentenced to life in prison after confessing to carrying out two grenade attacks in Nairobi that killed one person and injured 20 people.
And, a new video message posted to a jihadist website calls on Muslim youths in Kenya to join the Somali militant group in its fight against Kenyan forces in Somalia.
The Kenyan military launched a major operation in Somalia targeting al-Shabab, which Kenya blames for a series of cross-border attacks and kidnappings.
Additionally, Al-Shabab is recruiting Western fighters, including British and American citizens, U.S. and other officials say.
This week, the United States charged a former U.S. Army major for trying to join the militant group. He was detained by Kenyan police last month on his way to the border with Somalia.
Somalia has been without an effective central government since President Siad Barre was overthrown in 1991 as international peacekeepers have been unable to secure most of the nation.
Two-decades of fighting between rival warlords and an inability to deal with famine and disease have led to the deaths of up to one million people, according to Western observers and aid groups.
RANGOON, BURMA (Worthy News)– Churches and Buddhist monasteries in a mining area of Burma's northern Kachin state have taken in nearly 1,000 refugees, many of them Christians, since New Year's Day, after the Burmese military reportedly attacked a church and killed several people, Worthy News established Tuesday, January 10.
The Kachin News Group (KNG) cited locals as saying that most refugees arrived in the Hpakant region to escape Burmese troops who launched attacks, despite President Thein Sein’s order to stop the war against insurgents.
KNG said the Lawng Hkang Kachin Baptist Church cared for 300 people while over 120 people were seen in the Maw Si Za Kachin Baptist Church. An additional 300 plus people sought shelter at the Maw Si Zar Buddhist temple and over 170 people were thought to have fled to nearby Sha-it Yang village.
Burmese soldiers have been fighting against the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) and its rebels who have fought for autonomy in the Christian-majority Kachin state since the early 1960s, when then-Burmese Prime Minister U Nu made Buddhism the state religion.
Some 90 percent of the roughly 56 million people in Burma, also known as Myanmar, are Buddhist, mostly from the Burman ethnic group.
"ALL KACHIN ENEMIES"
Local Christians have suggested however that Burmese soldiers see “all Kachin civilians as the enemy” and that civilians are killed as well. In one of the latest attacks, soldiers from the Burmese army shot and killed an unarmed Kachin villager on Christmas Day in the Kachin State's Loije town near the border with China, villagers said.
"About 6 p.m. Maran Zau Ja and a friend were walking home from a sugar cane farm when government soldiers opened fire. Zau Ja, 47, died from his wounds, his friend survived" the bullets, KNG quoted relatives as saying.
The soldiers were identified as members of the Burmese Army ’s Light Infantry Battalion No. 321, which is stationed in the area.
Local residents denied that the two men were members of the KIO or its armed wing, the Kachin Independence Army.
Clashes have intensified between the KIA and Burmese government troops since June, when a 17 year cease fire between Burma's second largest armed rebel group and the central government ended. KNG explained.
The local Baptist church in Loije held a funeral service on December 27 for the murdered man, who leaves behind his wife and three children, friends said.
The funeral came despite threats against Baptist Christians.
Before the Christmas Day incident, troops of Light Infantry Battalion No. 142 burned a building housing the kitchen of a Baptist church in Dingga village, in Bhamo district, Kachin sources said. Though villagers prevented wider destruction of the church, the fire engulfed five wooden homes, KNG said.
Earlier, on November 30, Burmese soldiers reportedly killed a woman and injured six villagers as they fired mortar shells targeting civilians in Tarlawgyi area in Waingmaw Township.
A bishop in Burma said he has urged urged the international community to intervene on behalf of Kachin Christians, saying tens of thousands have already fled theirs homes since fighting resumed on a full scale in June.
“Many ethnic Kachin are trapped and blocked along the border, because they are rejected by China,” said Bishop Raymond Gam of Banmaw in published remarks. China borders Burma on the north.
“They cannot escape, they are severely suffering and are victims of war,” he added. “We ask the international community and foreign governments to stop the fighting immediately and to start a path of peace and reconciliation.”
Christians and rights groups have also expressed disappointment that only a fraction of the estimated hundreds of political detainees in Burma were among about 900 prisoners released last week.
About a dozen political detainees out of as many as 600 were released, said Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy Party.
Suu Kyi, a leading opposition figure in the country and a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, said last week she would mount a campaign for a seat in parliament.
Christians of ethnic groups fighting for more rights are believed to be among those supporting her, a Worthy News team learned in Burma.
JERURSALEM, ISRAEL (Worthy News)– A leader of Israel's Christian minority has been stabbed to death by a man dressed as Santa Claus, prompting the arrest of six locals in connection with the murder, church and police officials said Saturday, January 7.
Gabriel Cadis, the chairman of the Jaffa Orthodox Church Association, was reportedly killed late Friday, January 6, in Jaffa, a predominantly Arab port district of Tel Aviv.
Witnesses said he was attacked by a person dressed as Santa Clause while marching during a parade marking Jesus's birth according to the Eastern church calender.
Police said the stabbing occurred at the end of a march held by the Christian community along a Jaffa street. “People nearby evacuated him from the scene,” Police spokesman Moshe Katz told The Jerusalem Post news paper.
RUSHED TO HOSPITAL
Cadis was rushed to Wolfson Medical Center in nearby Holon where he was pronounced dead shortly after arrival, the news paper reported.
A funeral procession was held for him in Jaffa on Saturday, January 7, with over an estimated thousand mourners joining the Cadis family home to St. George Church.
There was no claim of responsibility and police said they do not suspect a religiously motivated attack.
Yet, the violence was expected to add to mounting religious tensions in Israel.
Hardline Orthdox groups have been linked to attacks against women as well as against Messianic Jews, who believe that Jesus is the Messiah.