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Terror and hope

International | The world saw devastation and disease, restoration and release in 2018
by Onize Ohikere
Posted 12/24/18, 11:05 am

The international headlines this year included reports on terror, persecution, and anti-immigration sentiments. But stories on released religious prisoners and mending relations between decades-long enemies also brought measures of hope. Here are the top five stories from World Tour this year.

China crackdown

The Chinese government tightened its grip on power in 2018, continuing to clamp down on Christians and other minority groups. The national parliament in March abolished term limits and added President Xi Jinping’s name and ideology to the constitution—paving the way for his indefinite rule.

Government officials in the Xinjiang region intensified their crackdown on the minority Uighur Muslims, an ongoing effort since 2016 involving surveillance and detainment in mass internment camps. China defended the camps this year as reeducation centers that assimilate the Uighurs into the “modern, civilized” world, but testimony from former residents tells a story of repression and abuse.

In December, authorities arrested more than 100 members of the Early Rain Covenant Church, including the pastor, Wang Yi, and his wife, Jiang Rong. Authorities charged Wang with subversion of state power. Days later authorities also closed down the Rongguili Church in Guangzhou and confiscated more than 4,000 books. In a letter seeking to encourage the persecuting church, Wang noted, “I will resist in meekness those who resist God, and I will joyfully violate all laws that violate God’s laws.” —O.O.

Associated Press/Photo by Azeez Akunleyan Associated Press/Photo by Azeez Akunleyan Recently released schoolgirls from Dapchi at a meeting with Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari on March 23

Mass school kidnappings

An offshoot of the Nigeria-based Boko Haram extremist group staged a brazen kidnapping in February, abducting 110 girls from a boarding school in the town of Dapchi in northeastern Yobe state. The insurgents, members of the Islamic State in the West African Province (ISWAP), released 104 of the students in March. Five others died in captivity and 15-year-old Leah Sharibu—the only Christian among the group—remains a hostage. Her rescued schoolmates said the militants did not release her because she refused to convert to Islam.

In Cameroon, authorities blamed suspected armed separatists for two school kidnappings. In November, armed gunmen kidnapped and later returned 80 students and two teachers from a Presbyterian school in the restive Northwest region. Authorities rescued another nine children and their teacher, also kidnapped in November from a school in the Southwest. Unrest erupted in the two regions in 2016 when English-speakers in the bilingual country complained of marginalization. The government’s violent crackdown on demonstrations resulted in multiple armed groups springing up across the regions. —O.O.

Associated Press/Photo by Rahmat Gul Associated Press/Photo by Rahmat Gul An Afghan security officer at the site of a bombing in Kabul on Nov. 29

Rising unrest

Taliban extremists in Afghanistan continued their targeted attacks on security forces and innocent civilians alike this year. The group especially ramped up terror attacks to coincide with the country’s first parliamentary election since 2010. Insurgents staged nearly 200 attacks that killed at least 50 people, including seven parliamentary candidates, ahead of the vote. Taliban attacks on security forces have killed 14 U.S. service members this year.

The shared border between Israel and the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip also saw heightened clashes this year. Hamas launched protests in March to demonstrate the blockade by Israel and Egypt on the Palestinian territory. The militants hurled rocket bombs and grenades into Israel, and Israeli military forces retaliated with gunfire and airstrikes. At least 120 demonstrators died in the unrest. In renewed violence in November, at least 12 people died in the worst fire exchange since 2014. The two groups later agreed to an Egypt-brokered ceasefire that quelled the tensions, for now. —O.O.

Associated Press/Photo by Steve Helber Associated Press/Photo by Steve Helber Pastor Andrew Brunson and his wife, Norine, at the headquarters of Christian Broadcasting Network in Virginia Beach, Va., on Oct. 19

Notable releases

Amid global reports of religious persecution, two long-detained Christians held because of their beliefs welcomed release in 2018.

A Turkish court in October released American pastor Andrew Brunson on time served for terrorism and espionage charges. Authorities arrested him in December 2016 following a failed coup attempt in the country. Brunson, who pastored Izmir Resurrection Church for 23 years, returned to the United States. “To learn to be faithful to Jesus even when it is difficult is an empowering thing,” Brunson told WORLD.

In November, Pakistani authorities released Asia Bibi after the country’s Supreme Court overturned her 2010 death sentence, saying prosecutors failed to prove she violated a national blasphemy law. Despite her release, multiple protests by hardline Islamists and a petition challenging the ruling have left her stranded in the country.

Record Ebola outbreak

The second-largest Ebola outbreak in history struck the Democratic Republic of Congo this year—four years after the worst outbreak hit parts of West Africa. The latest epidemic began in August and has grown to nearly 500 confirmed cases and 265 confirmed deaths. A 2014 outbreak killed 11,000 people over two years across several countries in West Africa.

Health workers remain concerned because the outbreak is at the center of rebel clashes and communal unrest. Repeated clashes in the region have hindered the efforts of health responders, and authorities have warned the disease could spread into neighboring countries. —O.O.

Onize Ohikere

Onize is a reporter for WORLD Digital based in Abuja, Nigeria.

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