An 82-year-old Muslim prisoner Abdul Shakoor of conscience in Pakistan who was supported by Trump evangelical adviser Moore has been freed after three years imprisonment for blasphemy.
Ahmadiyya Muslim Abdul Shakoor was released from prison Monday after a high court in Punjab reduced his eight-year sentence for the alleged crime of selling commentary on his Ahmadiyya religious beliefs.
As adherents to a minority sect of Islam that promotes peace and tolerance, Ahmadis face severe persecution in Pakistan, which is about 97 percent Sunni Muslim. Pakistan’s constitution even declares Ahmadis to be non-Muslims and the country’s penal code prevents Ahmadis from claiming that they are Muslims.
Shakoor, the Indian-born manager of a bookshop and optician store in the Punjab province, was arrested on Dec. 5, 2015, after officials from the Punjab police and Pakistan’s Elite Force raided Shakoor’s bookshop. He was taken along with the store’s assistant, Mazhar Abbas. He was accused of selling Ahmadiyya commentary on the Quran.
At Shakoor’s trial, officers who raided the bookstore were the only witnesses. Prosecutors alleged that a letter from the Ahmadiyya director of public affairs was sent to Shakoor days earlier telling him that selling Ahmadiyya literature had been banned.
According to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, Ahmadiyya leaders have said that the prosecution fabricated the letter to support their argument in Shakoor’s case. Ahmadiyya leaders even noted that the ban on literature in question in the case didn’t even go into effect until Jan. 20, 2016, after the trial had concluded.
Throughout, Shakoor maintained that he didn’t distribute Ahmaddiya literature but admitted to possessing the literature. However, possession of Ahmadiyya literature is not a crime in Pakistan.
Last year, USCIRF Commissioner Johnnie Moore, an evangelical communications executive who has long advocated for persecuted believers overseas, adopted Shakoor as part of USCIRF’s Religious Prisoners of Conscience Project.
The project was launched in 2017 to fulfill a congressional requirement mandated by the Frank Wolf International Religious Freedom Act of 2016 for USCIRF to list names of prisoners of conscience. Through the project, each USCIRF commissioner adopts a prisoner of conscience that they personally advocate for.
“Abdul Shakoor’s release comes as welcome news to those of us who have been engaging with Pakistan’s government and civil society on issues related to religious freedom and peaceful coexistence between religious communities,” Moore said in a statement. “We hope and pray this once again becomes the trend in Pakistani society, and no longer the exception.”
As Moore noted, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan declared last month at the World Government Summit in Dubai that he has a desire to reform Pakistan.
“He remembered a more pluralistic Pakistan of his youth, and he professed his desire to have a society that protected humanity, embraced the rule of law, and saw knowledge as a sacred duty,” Moore stressed.
“Recalling the golden age of Medina, he said that these values are not at enmity with a religious and mainly Islamic society. As I tweeted then, ‘one of the best ways he can prove his reform agenda is real — taking the country back to the era he fondly describes is … Promote Tolerance, Embrace Religious Freedom, and Guard Minorities.’”
“Ahmadis have been subject to systematic persecution by means of State-sanctioned discrimination and other repressive measures, including the closing of their businesses, schools and places of worship and the imprisonment of those who violate the restrictive laws imposed on the community,” Shaheed wrote in a report submitted earlier this month.
Pakistan is also notorious as being one of the worst nations in the world when it comes to the persecution of Christians.
According to Open Doors USA’s 2019 World Watch List, Pakistan ranks as the fifth-worst nation in the world for Christian persecution.
Last month, an enraged Muslim mob reportedly attacked over 200 Christian families after four women were falsely accused of blasphemy.
Earlier this year, the Pakistan Supreme Court upheld its decision to acquit Christian mother Asia Bibi, who spent nearly a decade in prison and was sentenced to death after she was accused of blasphemy by Muslim co-workers.
Irish Bishop Against Practicing Yoga in Christian Schools
An Irish bishop has written to Catholic schools urging them to ban yoga as it is ‘not of Christian origin’ and the children should spend their time ‘in adoration of Jesus’ instead.
Bishop Alphonsus Cullinan, wrote to principals, teachers and school staff members in Waterford City and County, Ireland, on October 10.
In his letter, he said: ‘Yoga is not of Christian origin and is not suitable for our parish school setting and especially not during religious education time.
‘I have been asked by several people to say a word on yoga and mindfulness. My question is, ‘Will they bring us closer to God or replace him?’
The bishop claimed that Christian Mindfulness is ‘meditation on Christ’ which empties the mind of ‘everything unnecessary’ in order to become ‘aware of the presence and love of Christ’.
While he also quoted Pope Francis that practices like yoga are ‘not capable of opening our hearts up to God’.
The bishop added how people can ‘take a million courses in spirituality’ but this activity ‘will never be able to give you freedom’, echoing Pope Francis’s speech in 2015.
He said Pope Francis’s philosophy was in keeping with Ireland’s Grow In Love programme. This touches on Christian doctrine, Scripture, morality and prayer.
Teacher’s were reminded that October is the ‘month of the Rosary’ and they should each pray in a bid to get closer to Jesus, in the letter.
But the primary school curriculum allows a degree of flexibility about how its implemented, according to the Irish National Teachers Organisation, who hit-back at his view.
John Stokes, a yoga instructor in Waterford, said the practice of yoga, meditation and mindfulness should be ’embraced’ in ‘an age where children are really suffering from anxiety and stress’.
‘There is no dogma taught in our classes and Yoga in it’s truest sense is a movement and breath awareness practice for health and wellbeing.
They said ‘here’s to tolerance, love and unity’ and invited him to a one-to-one yoga session or class of his choice’ at their Wellness Centre in Youghal, Ireland.
The Irish National Teachers Organisation said the primary school curriculum allows schools a certain amount of flexibility and autonomy with regard to its implementation.
They said the schools ‘are best placed’ to make the decisions about how the subjects are taught, taking into consideration the ‘school culture, ethos and needs of the pupils’.
This is not the first time Bishop Cullinan has received backlash for his views as he said he was to establish a ‘delivery ministry’ group to rid people of the devil through exorcism, last year.
He also claimed the cervical cancer vaccine could lead to promiscuity in 2017.
The bishop said the vaccine ‘lulls girls into false sense of security’ and encourages sexual activity, adding: ‘Prevention, the number one and most effective protection, is abstinence. A good old traditional value.’
He later apologised and admitted he was not fully informed about the vaccination programme. Cullinan’s ‘intention was solely motivated to protect people from HPV’.
China Demolishes 3,000-Seat Megachurch during Worship Service
The People’s Republic of China destroyed a church that reportedly could seat 3,000 people and detained its pastors, according to a human rights organization.
An international nonprofit Christian human rights group based in Texas, reported the incident in a statement released Saturday. According to the group, Chinese authorities provided no legal papers to justify the demolition.
The church was located in Funan, Anhui province. Its pastors, Geng Yimin and Sun Yongyao, were detained under suspicion of “gathering a crowd to disturb social order.”
China Aid President Bob Fu said in a statement that the incident was “yet another clear example showing the escalation of religious persecution today by the Chinese Communist regime.”
“The total disregard of religious freedom’s protection as enshrined in the Communist Party’s own Constitution tells the whole world President Xi is determined to continue his war against the peaceful Christian faithful. This campaign will surely fail in the end.”
While China’s persecution of religious groups has existed for many years, recently under President Xi Jinping a wave of crackdowns on religious practices in China has taken place.
The Communist government has destroyed or damaged several churches, reflecting concerns about the increasing Christian population of the country.
In the summer, True Jesus Church in Henan province was razed to the ground, according to persecution watchdog Bitter Winter. Police officers reportedly dragged out all believers from the church before they demolished the property.
Bitter Winter also reported last month that the Ten Commandments have been removed from nearly every Three-Self church and meeting venue in a county of Luoyang city and replaced with the President Xi Jinping’s quotes as part of the Chinese Communist Party’s efforts to “sinicize” Christianity.
In addition to cracking down on its Christian minority, China has engaged in violent persecution of its Uighur Muslim and Falun Gong communities.
The China Tribunal, a human rights group, told the United Nations Human Rights Council last month that the Chinese government is harvesting organs from religious minorities, with possibly hundreds of thousands of victims.
“Forced organ harvesting from prisoners of conscience, including the religious minorities of Falun Gong and Uighurs, has been committed for years throughout China on a significant scale, and that it continues today. This involves hundreds of thousands of victims.”
“Victim for victim and death for death, cutting out the hearts and other organs from living, blameless, harmless, peaceable people constitutes one of the worst mass atrocities of this century.”
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