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Hope for Andrew Brunson

International | Turkish newspaper says government authorities might release the jailed American pastor
by Charissa Koh
Posted 7/10/18, 02:12 pm

American Pastor Andrew Brunson might be released from a Turkish prison after his July 18 hearing, according to a report in Hurriyet, a state-sanctioned daily news outlet.

Arrested in 2016, Brunson is “much too costly for Turkey, and his continued detention would further complicate the situation,” journalist Serkan Demirtas wrote. On June 29, U.S. Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., traveled to Turkey to discuss the case with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

After more than 22 years of pastoring in Turkey, authorities arrested Brunson for what they called conspiring with terrorists. Both Democrats and Republicans in Washington, D.C., responded with outrage. The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom sent Vice Chair Sandra Jolley to attend Brunson’s hearing in May.

Turkey’s frustration with U.S. policies could affect its willingness to negotiate Brunson’s release. The United States supports a rebel group in neighboring Syria that Turkey considers to be terrorists and refuses to extradite Fetullah Gulen, a Turkish citizen and former Erdogan ally living in the United States who is blamed for inspiring an attempted coup of the Turkish government in 2016.

But Demertis’ article listed several positive signs that could cause Turkish authorities to change course: The “warm” phone call between U.S. President Donald Trump and Erdogan, an agreement for military cooperation in the Syrian city of Manjib, and the scheduled meeting between Trump and Erdogan during the NATO summit this week.

“The truth is that this case is part of a larger decline in personal freedoms, including religious freedom and human rights, that we are witnessing in Turkey in recent years,” Jolley said in May. “We are looking to the Turkish judiciary to uphold Pastor Brunson’s innocence.”

Facebook Facebook Pema Khandu (left) greets Bishop John Thomas Kattrukudiyi of Itanagar in June.

An unexpected move for religious freedom in India

Chief Minister Pema Khandu of Arunachal Pradesh, India, told an assembly of Catholics in June he would introduce legislation to repeal the state’s Freedom of Religion Act.

Khandu made the unexpected admission that the law “is probably targeted towards Christians,” according to World Watch Monitor. The Hindu reported it was established in 1978 to “check proselytization.”

“Any misuse of the law leading to torture of people could trigger large-scale violence in the state and could break Arunachal into pieces,” Khandu said.

The misnamed law makes the state the arbiter of religious conversions and prohibits “forced” conversions through inducement, fraud, or coercion. Although a majority Christian state, Arunachal Pradesh is one of eight Indian states with such laws. Hindu radicals often use the laws to falsely accuse Christians or excuse violence against them.

International Christian Concern regional manager William Stark said Christians in India reacted with both hopeful excitement and cynicism.

“Some people see it as pandering to Christians ahead of the national elections,” Stark said.

Khandu, a Buddhist, leads Arunachal Pradesh’s Hindu nationalist BJP party—the same party as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Under BJP rule, persecution against Indian Christians has risen dramatically as Hindu radicals have felt emboldened to persecute with impunity.

“The majority of Christians I talk to say it is getting worse,” Stark said. —Julia A. Seymour

Associated Press/Photo by Shuji Kajiyama Associated Press/Photo by Shuji Kajiyama Newspaper staff members distribute extra editions about the execution of Shoko Asahara on Friday.

Japan executes cult leader

Japan executed doomsday cult leader Shoko Asahara and six other members of the Aum Shinrikyo group on Friday for staging the 1995 sarin gas attack that killed 13 people in the Tokyo subway system and injured more than 6,000 others.

The Japanese Defense Ministry confirmed the executions by hanging. Also hanged were two scientists who organized the production of sarin gas and another who helped carry out the attack. Six other followers remain on death row. In another attack in June 1994, the group released sarin gas in Maumoto in central Japan, killing at least eight people and injuring more than 140 others.

Asahara, formally known as Chizuo Matsumoto, founded the group in the mid-1980s with combined teachings from Buddhism and Hinduism. The apocalyptic cult attracted many young people, including graduates from top Japanese universities. Some of their rituals included drinking their leader’s bathwater and wearing electric caps in an attempt to synchronize their brain waves with their leader’s. —Onize Ohikere

ISIS wives seeking divorce

As Islamic State (ISIS) loses control of territory across Iraq and Syria, Iraqi officials are witnessing more militants’ wives filing for divorce.

In an NBC News report, Iraqi Deputy Justice Minister Hussein Jassem said authorities have seen “a huge increase” in divorce filings in the past three months, the majority of them filed by women. Jassem said the requests increasingly come from Sunni Muslim regions like Anbar and Nineveh, former ISIS strongholds.

One of the women, a 35-year-old identified as Fatima, said her husband, Omar, joined ISIS after serving in the Iraqi army before the 2003 U.S. invasion. She said authorities arrested him three years ago after liberating the city of Tikrit. “I am afraid of being accused that I support terrorism, and this is one of the reasons that drove me to ask for divorce,” Fatima said. Since ISIS lost control of Mosul in July 2017, the terror group has continued to lose swaths of territory within Iraq and Syria. —O.O.

Myanmar charges Reuters journalists

After six months of preliminary hearings, a judge in Myanmar, also known as Burma, charged two local journalists from the U.K.-based Reuters news agency with illegally possessing official government information. Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were reporting on the Rohingya crisis in western Myanmar, where security forces staged clearance operations that forced some 700,000 people to flee into neighboring Bangladesh. Yangon district Judge Ye Luin charged the journalists with violating the Colonial era Official Secrets Act, which carries up to a 14-year sentence. Stephen Adler, president and editor-in-chief of Reuters, said the case was baseless and called on authorities to release the journalists. “Today’s decision casts serious doubt on Myanmar’s commitment to press freedom and the rule of law,” Adler said. —O.O.

Charissa Koh

Charissa is a WORLD reporter who often writes about poverty fighting and prison reform, including profiling ministries in the annual Hope Awards for Effective Compassion competition. She is also a part of WORLD's investigative unit, the Caleb Team. Charissa resides with her husband, Josh, in Austin, Texas. Follow her on Twitter @CharissaKoh.

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