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Haitian gang head threatens to kill 17 abducted missionaries if demands not met

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The boss of a notorious Haitian gang accused of kidnapping 17 members of a U.S.-based missionary group last weekend is warning that the hostages will be killed if his demands aren’t met.

“I swear by thunder that if I don’t get what I’m asking for, I will put a bullet in the heads of these Americans,” gang leader Wilson Joseph said in a video posted on social media Thursday.

Officials said early in the week that the 400 Mawozo gang was demanding $1 million for each of those kidnapped, although it wasn’t clear if that included the five children in the group, among them an 8-month-old. Sixteen Americans and one Canadian were abducted, along with their Haitian driver.

Joseph also threatened Prime Minister Ariel Henry and Haiti’s national police chief as he spoke in front of the open coffins that apparently held several members of his gang who were recently killed.

“You guys make me cry. I cry water. But I’m going to make you guys cry blood,” he said.
Later in the day, Henry’s office announced that Léon Charles had resigned as head of Haiti’s National Police and was replaced by Frantz Elbé. The newspaper Le Nouvelliste said Elbé was director of the police departments of the South East and Nippes and previously served as general security coordinator at the National Palace when Jocelerme Privert was provisional president.

“We would like for public peace to be restored, that we return to normal life and that we regain our way to democracy,” Henry said.

The missionaries who were abducted Saturday during a visit to an orphanage are with Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries, which held a news conference before Joseph’s video was posted.

Weston Showalter, spokesman for the religious group, said the families of those kidnapped are from Amish, Mennonite and other conservative Anabaptist communities in Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Oregon and Ontario, Canada. He read a letter from the families, who weren’t identified by name, in which they said, “God has given our loved ones the unique opportunity to live out our Lord’s command to love your enemies.”

The group invited people to join them in prayer for the kidnappers as well as those kidnapped and expressed gratitude for help from “people that are knowledgeable and experienced in dealing with” such situations.

“Pray for these families,” Showalter said. “They are in a difficult spot.”

The organization later issued a statement saying it would not comment on the video.

The gang leader’s death threat added to the already intense concern in and around Holmes County, Ohio, where Christian Aid Ministries is based and which has one of the nation’s largest concentrations of Amish, conservative Mennonite and related groups. Many members of those groups have supported the organization through donations or by volunteering at its warehouse.

“Many people in the community feel helpless, but they also realize the power of prayer and the power of our historic theology,” including the Anabaptist belief in nonresistance to violence, said Marcus Yoder, executive director of the Amish & Mennonite Heritage Center in Millersburg.

The same day that the missionaries were kidnapped, a gang also abducted a Haiti university professor, according to Haiti’s ombudsman-like Office of Citizen Protection. It also noted a Haitian pastor abducted earlier this month had not been released despite a ransom being paid.

Criminals “operate with complete impunity, attacking all members of society,” the office said.

UNICEF said Thursday that 71 women and 30 children have been kidnapped so far this year — surpassing the 59 women and 37 children abducted in all of last year. “They represent one third of the 455 kidnappings reported this year,” the agency said.

“Nowhere is safe for children in Haiti anymore,” Jean Gough, UNICEF regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean, said in a statement. “Whether on their way to school, at home or even at church, girls and boys are at risk of being kidnapped anywhere, at any time of the day or night.”

Meanwhile, hundreds of demonstrators blocked roads and burned tires in Haiti’s capital to protest a severe fuel shortage and a spike in insecurity and to demand that the prime minister step down.

In addition to kidnappings, the gangs are accused of blocking gas distribution terminals and hijacking supply trucks, which officials say has led to a shortage of fuel. Many gas stations remain closed for days at a time, and the lack of fuel is so dire that the CEO of Digicel Haiti announced this week that 150 of its 1,500 branches countrywide are out of diesel.

Alexandre Simon, an English and French teacher, said he and others were protesting because of the dire conditions facing Haitians.

“There are a lot of people who cannot eat,” he said. “There is no work … There are a lot of things we don’t have.”
Sources:indiatoday

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A Pentecostal Church in Chin State Burned Down by the Burmese Army

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Myanmar – A Pentecostal church in Myanmar’s Christian-majority state was torched by the Burmese Army (Tatmadaw). Its clergy quarter was also set on fire.

According to Chin Human Rights Organization, the town of Thantlang once again came under an arson attack by the Tatmadaw on December 4, where 19 structures were burned down by the junta soldiers. Along with neighboring houses, United Pentecostal Church and its clergy quarter near the center of the town were set on fire.

Salai Isaac Khin, a former regional minister, shared on his Facebook that ousted Vice President Henry Van Thio and his wife, Dr. Sui Hluan used to attend the church.

Since Sep. 9, more than 450 houses, including five church buildings were burned down in the now desolated Thantlang. Over 10,000 residents have fled to neighboring states or India to avoid the ongoing fighting between local resistance forces and the Tatmadaw.

Chin activists believe that the continuous attack shows the junta’s intention of clearing more structures near the brigade’s camp. However, the targeted destruction of churches also points to the Tatmadaw’s hostilities toward Christianity.
Sources:persecution

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Two Christian Sanitation Workers Killed in Pakistan

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Pakistan – According to The Alabama Baptist, two Christian sanitation workers in Pakistan died in early October as they saved another Christian overcome by toxic fumes in a sewer.

On October 3, Faisal Masih and Nadeem Masih were ordered into a sewer to rescue Michael Masih by their Muslim supervisor Muhammad Farooq in Sargodha, Pakistan. The pair were given no personal protective equipment according to a report by Barnabas Fund.

After rescuing Michael Masih from the sewer, Faisal Maish and Nadeem Masih were swept away by a strong current. An emergency team was called to rescue the Christians, but this assistance was refused because the emergency team believed touching a Christian would make them ritually unclean.

Later, a fourth Christian was sent into sewer to recover the bodies.

Michael Masih was taken to the hospital where he likely faces long-term health problems due to his exposure to the toxic fumes. Sargodha Metropolitan Corp, the company that oversees sanitation work, claims all precautionary measures were followed.

In Pakistan, Christians make up between 80% to 90% of the sanitation workforce, including the country’s street sweepers, janitors, and sewer workers. This percentage is an extreme overrepresentation as Pakistani Christians represent less than 2% of the country’s overall population.

As has been documented by International Christian Concern (ICC), this overrepresentation is due to discriminatory hiring practices. In many cases, job advertisements for sanitation positions, considered the lowest and filthiest, are reserved for non-Muslim applicants only.

Discrimination against Christian sanitation workers is widespread in Pakistan. They are often forced to work in dangerous conditions with little to no safety equipment provide by the companies overseeing their labor.
Sources:persecution

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Taliban release decree saying women must consent to marriage

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The Taliban has issued a decree barring forced marriage in Afghanistan, saying women should not be considered “property” and must consent to marriage, but questions remain about whether the group that returned to power in mid-August would extend women’s rights around work and education.

The decree was announced on Friday by the reclusive Taliban chief, Hibatullah Akhunzada – who is believed to be in the southern city of Kandahar. “Both (women and men) should be equal,” said the decree, adding that “no one can force women to marry by coercion or pressure”.

The decree did not mention a minimum age for marriage, which previously was set at 16 years old.

The group also said a widow will now be allowed to re-marry 17 weeks after her husband’s death, choosing her new husband freely.

Widows
Longstanding tribal traditions have held it customary for a widow to marry one of her husband’s brothers or relatives in the event of his death.

The Taliban leadership says it has ordered Afghan courts to treat women fairly, especially widows seeking inheritance as next of kin. The group, which came to power in August, also said it had asked government ministers to spread awareness about women’s rights across the population.

The development was hailed as a significant step forward by two leading Afghan women, but questions remained about whether the group would extend women’s rights around work and education.

“This is big, this is huge … if it is done as it is supposed to be, this is the first time they have come up with a decree like this,” said Mahbouba Seraj, executive director of the Afghan Women’s Skills Development Center speaking from Kabul on a Reuters Next conference panel on Friday.

The international community, which has frozen billions of dollars in funds for Afghanistan, has made women’s and human rights a key element of any future engagement with Afghanistan.

Seraj said that even before the Taliban took over the country on August 15, Afghan politicians had struggled to form such a clear policy on women’s rights around marriage.

“Now what we have to do as the women of this country is we should make sure this actually takes place and gets implemented,” said Seraj.

Roya Rahmani, the former ambassador for Afghanistan to the United States, echoed her optimism and added that it was likely partly an attempt to smooth over international fears regarding the group’s track record on women’s rights as the Taliban administration seeks to get funding released.

“An amazing thing if it does get implemented,” Rahmani told the Reuters Next panel, adding details such as who would ensure that girls’ consent was not coerced by family members would be key.

“It’s a very smart move on the part of Taliban at this point because one of the (pieces of) news that is attracting the West’s attention is the fact little girls are being sold as property to others in order to feed the rest of the family,” she said.

During its previous rule from 1996 to 2001, the Taliban banned women from leaving the house without a male relative and full face and head covering and girls from receiving education, coerced men to grow beards and barred the playing of music.

The Taliban says they have changed but many women, advocates and officials remain sceptical.

The group promised freedom of expression, women’s rights and amnesty to officials who worked under the previous government of President Ashraf Ghani. But journalists have faced restrictions and reports have emerged of Taliban fighters involved in revenge killings of former officials. A large number of secondary schools for girls are still not operational, though Taliban has said it is working to open them.

The US has frozen nearly $10bn in Afghan central bank reserves and international financial institutions have suspended development funding for the country, plunging the heavily aid-dependent economy into crisis and leaving economists and aid groups warning of a humanitarian catastrophe.

Seraj said the Taliban now needed to go further, calling for the group to release more rules to clarify women’s rights to access public spaces.

“What I am really waiting to hear next from the same group, from the same person is for him to send the decree regarding the education and right of work for the women of Afghanistan, that would be absolutely phenomenal,” she said.
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