Religion Today Summaries, December 18, 2002

Religion Today Summaries, December 18, 2002

In Today's Edition:

  • Bulgaria's Non Orthodox Churches Fear New Religious Law
  • Belarus official: Permission required for religious meetings of more than 10
  • Persecution Watch:  North Korea
  • Iranian Convert Family Begins New Life in Canada

Bulgaria's Non Orthodox Churches Fear New Religious Law
Stefan J. Bos
(ASSIST News) Bulgaria's Protestant churches have urged President Georgi Parvanov to veto a law that would force non-Orthodox Christians and other minority groups to obtain court approval to operate in the Balkan country, reports said Tuesday December 17.  News about the appeal came a day before Bulgaria's Parliament was to resume a debate Wednesday, December 18, on the proposed law aimed at further protecting the traditional Orthodox Church as Bulgaria's traditional faith.  The Keston News Service (KNS), which closely monitors religious persecution, said that the legislation would also deny recognition to breakaway Orthodox clergy opposed to the denomination's leader, Patriarch Maksim.  Pastor Theodor Angelov, a Sofia-based pastor who heads the European Baptist Federation, was quoted as saying by KNS that the law still bears the imprint of Bulgaria's Communist past.

Belarus official: Permission required for religious meetings of more than 10
Felix Corley

(Baptist Press) Despite assertions by the Belarus government's Committee for Religious and Ethnic Affairs that a "mass" religious meeting requiring state approval is one with at least 100 people, a senior official has declared that if more than 10 people gather for a religious meeting without official permission they would be committing a crime, Keston News Service reported.  Belarus' senior religious affairs official, Minsk Alla Ryabitseva, made the assertion to leaders of religious communities registered in the Frunze district of Minsk during a Dec. 10 meeting organized by the local administration to explain the new provisions of the European nation's controversial amended religion law, which entered into force on Nov. 16.  Ryabitseva told the religious leaders that from now on all religious meetings in private homes require prior permission from the local administration.  She said private homes are not places designated for holding of religious meetings and therefore such permission is obligatory.

Persecution Watch:  North Korea

(Charisma News) Some 100,000 Christians are suffering as political prisoners, according to a recent report by a human-rights group.  The Human Rights Watch (HRW) report, "The Invisible Exodus: North Koreans in the People's Republic of China," makes no mention of religious persecution because religious belief and expression is considered a serious political crime in North Korea, Assist News Service (ANS) reported.   The report featured testimonies from escaped prisoners, defecting guards and starving economic migrants who described horrific, inhumane conditions in prison camps and chronicled stories of escapes.  A severe famine has gripped North Korea since 1994.  Because of the food shortages, many North Koreans flee to China, but authorities from both countries track down refugees in the border area.  When they are caught, they are deported back to North Korea, and those who have been in contact with Christians are forced to renounce Christianity and worship communist dictator Kim Il Sung, Open Doors said.  "The treatment of prisoners in North Korea represents one of the worst abuses of human rights we have ever documented," said Mervyn Thomas, chief executive of Christian Solidarity Worldwide, which recently conducted interviews with 50 North Koreans in four different countries and heard of human-rights abuses.

Iranian Convert Family Begins New Life in Canada

(Compass) Relatives and church representatives made up a joyful airport welcoming committee for the Mahmoud Erfani family; three-and-one-half years after the former Muslims fled persecution in Iran. “The Erfanis arrived safely in Toronto amid smiles, tears and wonderment,” said Gail Holland, refugee coordinator for their sponsoring church in Canada. The family was reportedly exhausted from 48 hours of continuous travel from central Turkey to Istanbul and then to Toronto via Amsterdam. As “apostates” who had left Islam to become Christians, the Erfanis had been evicted from their home on a former church compound in Mashhad and faced growing harassment by secret police in the months before they fled to Turkey. After months of petitioning the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the Canadian Embassy granted them residence visas last August. Among those welcoming the family to Canada were relatives and friends from their native Mashhad who are also converts from Islam to Christianity.