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OPINION

INT'L DIGEST: Egypt steps up church security; Algerian churches ordered to close

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--Egypt's caretaker government stepped up security outside worship centers after 15 people were killed in religious violence May 6. An estimated 190 people were arrested and are expected to stand trial in military courts after two churches were set on fire by Salafi Muslims, according to a report by Christianity Today.
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A spokesman for the government's justice committee said authorities would "decisively stand against incitement to hatred and sectarianism," the news service reported. Demonstrations outside places of worship and religious political slogans were banned prior to parliamentary elections set for September, the first since President Hosni Mubarak was ousted Jan. 25.

A Coptic Christian leader said authorities had been slow to act when the violence broke out in Imbaba, a western suburb of Cairo. Antonios Aziz Mina, a bishop in Giza, said: "The police need to say clearly to those who have done this: 'You cannot do this. It is not allowed.' Without action from the police and army, it will be chaos, complete anarchy," according to the news report. "We cannot make peace and reconciliation without first bringing people to justice. Otherwise, the reconciliation is just theatre and the problems will remain."

A Coptic human rights activist, Wagih Yacoub, said Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood organization and militant Salafi Muslims are allied to "empty Egypt of Christians and make it an Islamic state," the report said. "Lots of Egyptian people, including moderate Muslims, are worried. If Egypt becomes an Islamic state, it may mean civil war."

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Islamic militants were taking advantage of newfound freedoms by "imposing a radical agenda and attacking anything they view contrary to Islamic doctrine," said Aidan Clay, a spokesman for the International Christian Concern human rights organization. "They are becoming bolder because the law is not being applied and criminals are not being brought to justice."

GUNSHIPS TARGET HMONG PROTESTORS -- Vietnamese authorities are using attack helicopters against peaceful demonstrators urging human rights and land reforms in northern areas of the country populated by members of the Hmong people group.

The harsh response to the mass rallies has resulted in 63 protestor deaths, a spokesman for Vision Beyond Borders told Mission Network News.

"There's always been a certain unrest among the Hmong, primarily due to the fact that they helped the CIA during the Vietnam conflict," Wes Flint said. "This was a very peaceful demonstration. ... It was kind of a shock that the Vietnamese army lashed out with this kind of violence."

The situation is compounded by the fact that the Hmong have been very responsive to the Gospel and revival is spreading among them, Flint said. Approximately 300 Hmong pastors and Christians are currently imprisoned.

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CONVICTION OF ACTIVISTS CONDEMNED -- The United States condemned the conviction of seven Vietnamese land rights activists, including a pastor, during a one-day closed trial May 30.

A Mennonite pastor, Duong Kim Khai, was among the seven arrested in Vietnam's southern Ben Tre province, according to an Associated Press report. The defendants were convicted on charges of attempting to overthrow the government and sentences of between two and eight years in prison were handed down, along with probation of between three to five years.

Prior to the trial, five U.S. congressmen asked Vietnam's prime minister, Nguyen Tan Dung, to drop the charges, AP reported. A U.S. embassy spokesman in Hanoi told the news service diplomats were denied access to the trial and that several of the defendants reportedly were denied access to legal representation.

"Freedom of assembly and expression are fundamental internationally recognized rights," spokesman Beau Miller told the AP. "No individual should be punished for peacefully exercising these rights."

ALGERIAN CHURCHES ORDERED TO CLOSE -- A police commissioner in Algeria has ordered Christian worship places in the country to be closed under a 2006 law restricting non-Muslim worship centers.

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The head of the Algerian Protestant Church Association, Mustapha Krim, received a letter dated May 22 from the top police commissioner in his town that warned "the authorities will make sure that the order has to be obeyed and applied, otherwise severe consequences and punishments will be applied," according to a report from Christianity Today.

Algerian Protestants, who number between 10,000 and 100,000, closed more than half their 50 churches 2008 following a wave of similar orders from local authorities, Christianity Today said. Other churches tried without success to have their churches registered by the government as required by law.

Mark Kelly is an assistant editor and senior writer for Baptist Press.

Copyright (c) 2011 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press www.BPNews.net

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