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RELIGIOUS FREEDOM

Persecution Watch

By Charisma News Service

CBN.com -- India

A judge convicted 13 men this week in the 1999 murder of an Australian missionary and his two young sons, who were burned to death by a mob. Graham Stewart Staines and his sons Philip, 10, and Timothy, 8, died in January 1999 when the group burned the vehicle they were sleeping in outside a church in Manoharpur, a tribal village in eastern Orissa State.

The killings were among a series of attacks against missionaries and Christian institutions blamed on militant Hindus who complained that poor Hindus were being pressured to convert. During his Monday ruling, Judge Mahendranath Patnaik, who conducted the 2- 1/2-year trial, said he would hand down sentences next week, the Associated Press (AP) reported.

Gladys Staines, widow of the slain missionary, has remained in Orissa to work among the leprosy patients her husband cared for during his 34-year missionary career. "I have forgiven Dara," she said, referring to Dara Singh, who led the mob. "I have said that earlier and it has not changed. I forgive him," she added, Compass Direct reported.

Meanwhile, India's government, led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), is about to introduce new rules to prevent religious conversion across the nation, Compass reported. The BJP is vigorously opposing conversion of Hindus to Christianity.

"This will effectively deny a large section of Indians their right to religious faith ensured by India's Constitution," said Oliver D'Souza of the All India Christian Council. "This judgment and the present rule can be questioned on the grounds of fundamental rights. We will make sure that religious rights of the minorities are protected."

Turkmenistan

Police recently banned members of a Baptist congregation from meeting for services, threatening them with fines if they continued to meet. The raid occurred late last month during a Sunday service in the town of Balkanabad, located in the country's western region, Forum 18 News Service reported.

The church has been targeted for several raids this year. Church leaders have complained that all its members were fined the equivalent of $48 each for gathering for worship services in July and August. The congregation has refused to register with authorities.

Turkmenistan has the harshest religious policy of all the former Soviet republics, Forum 18 reported. Authorities recognize no faiths except for the officially sanctioned Muslim religion and the Russian Orthodox Church.

Russia

Police recently broke up an open-air evangelistic service by Baptists in southern Moscow. A court sided with authorities last month, saying the singing and praying "disturbed public order and the peace of those relaxing nearby," Forum 18 News Service reported.

One Baptist was fined the equivalent of $16 after police claimed he swore at them, a charge denied by local Baptists. He has refused to pay, appealing the fine but with no response from city officials so far. Church member Veniamin Khorev described the disruption of the service as "part of the normal life of our church."

Because the Baptists refuse to register, authorities say they have no legal status and cannot rent buildings for worship. Their evangelistic events have been disrupted across Russia this summer, with books confiscated, tents taken down and six church members detained for five days and four of them fined, Forum 18 reported.

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Copyright (c) 2003 Charisma News Service. Used by permission. For news, features, and inspirational stories from a Christian perspective, log on to Charisma & Christian Life.

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