Archon News

Yemen: The persecution that Christians face is “extreme”

There are very few Christians in Yemen, and those who are there, which include a very small number of Orthodox Christians, live an extremely precarious existence. “They face persecution from the authorities (including detention and interrogation), their families and radical Islamic groups who threaten converts with death if they do not re-convert.” There are only four churches remaining in Aden, three Roman Catholic and one Anglican. Most of the people who attend them are not Yemenis. Please pray that Yemeni society would be blessed with a new opening to the light of the Holy Gospel.

“What you should know about Yemen and its tiny Christian population,” by Stoyan Zaimov, Christian Post, February 2, 2019:

…3. What it’s like for Christians

According to the U.S. State Department’s International Religious Freedom Report, Christians, Jews, Bahais and Hindus make up less than 1 percent of the population. Many of the Christians (Roman Catholics and Anglicans) are refugees or temporary foreign residents.

Islam is the state religion and Sharia (Islamic law) is the source of all legislation. Though Yemen’s constitution allows for freedom of thought and expression, it does not mention freedom of religion, belief or conscience.

Proselytizing Muslims is illegal and conversion from Islam to another religion is apostasy, a capital offense. Those charged with apostasy face the death penalty.

One ministry CP reached out to declined to comment on the situation of Christians in the country, noting that it is too sensitive to discuss.

Open Doors USA, a persecution watchdog group, reports that the persecution Christians face in Yemen is “extreme.”

“They face persecution from the authorities (including detention and interrogation), their families and radical Islamic groups who threaten converts with death if they do not re-convert,” it notes.

“Tribal law prohibits members from leaving the tribe; the punishment for denouncing Islam can be death or banishment. Both male and female converts to Christianity married to Muslims risk divorce, including losing custody of their children. Christians are suffering from the general humanitarian crisis in the country. But Yemeni Christians are additionally vulnerable since emergency relief is mostly distributed through Islamic organizations and local mosques. These groups allegedly discriminate against all who are not considered to be pious Muslims.”

The port city of Aden, the temporary capital of Yemen, has only four church buildings still standing, three Roman Catholic and one Anglican — Christ Church Aden.

Schwartz, who for eight years served as a priest in Saudi Arabia, maintained that Christians do not face overt persecution by the government but he explained to CP that “everything about their (Yemen’s) society is Islamic.”

“You don’t have the freedom of individuality — Muslims, Christians, nobody,” he pointed out.

“You belong to your family, your identity is your family. For you to choose to be different from your family is a great shame on the family. Whether it’s religion, or a choice of your profession, or field of study, who you marry — to go against your family” is extremely problematic, he pointed out.

Thus, going to a public church service “would be a problem,” he added.

“As long as my uncle doesn’t find out, I’m fine,” he illustrated. “The problem isn’t that they have to hide, it’s that they have to work out their relationships with their family.”

4. Kidnappings

Nevertheless, Christ Church Aden does not have a priest present due to the risk of being kidnapped by terrorists.

“Catholics tried to maintain a priest, but he was kidnapped and held for ransom for 18 months,” Schwartz said, referring to Father Tom Uzhunnalil.

“The dangers is not to the priest himself — that is bad enough, [but] there were [16] people killed so that Father Tom could be kidnapped.”

The kidnapping took place at the Missionaries of Charity home in Aden on March 4, 2016, when members of the Islamic State terror group killed 12 civilians and four nuns during their attack on the retirement home.

Sister Sally, who survived, was able to describe the horrifying incident to Catholic news site Aleteia:

“They caught Sister Judith and Sister Reginette first, tied them up, shot them in the head and smashed their heads. They caught Sister Anselm and Sister Marguerite, tied them, shot them in the head and smashed their heads in the sand.”

Uzhunnalil, the Salesian priest who was taken during the raid, was held by the Islamic extremists for over 18 months. Initial fears that he had been crucified on Good Friday in 2016 proved untrue, and the 57-year-old thanked “God’s intervention” following his release in September 2017.

Schwartz reflected that due to how big the kidnapping industry in Yemen is right now, with American citizens also taken, he would “put all our people in Yemen in danger” simply by visiting them.

“It is a commercial thing. The people who are coordinating it, a lot of it is al-Qaeda. They would say ‘I will give you $5,000 USD for an American.’ And then they will turn around and want $2 million. For them, it’s a business.”

As for who would be able to pay such a sum, the archdeacon noted that in Yemen, where people have been chronically impoverished for generations, they get the impression that “everyone else has more money than they know what to do with.”

“I have known many people who have been kidnapped and their families. It is pretty much a random problem based on the pathology of money.”…

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